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Thread: The Value of the Lokasenna (Hollander's Translation)

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    Question The Value of the Lokasenna (Hollander's Translation)

    I just finished reading the Lokasenna in Hollander's translation. He maintains that "it is impossible to believe that the 'Lokasenna' was composed in any spirit of serious propaganda, or even with a faith in the gods" (page 90, footnote 1).

    I don't know whether Hollander is a believing heathen, but I got the feeling that he was imposing his own scholarly view onto our ancestors' religion. After all, how does he know whether our folk did or did not take the Lokasenna seriously?

    That got me wondering: how do our folk today who practice our ancestral religion view the Lokasenna? Do you find anything in it that strengthens your faith? Does it help you to be a better heathen and a better person? Do you believe what it says about the gods? Do you think it's just a poem that got thrown into the Poetic Edda without being spiritually valuable?

    What are your thoughts?

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    Lee M. Hollander was one of the most well regarded Old Norse scholars of the last century.

    The Lokasenna is a sort of flyting, a ritual form of argument in which an instigator challenges someone, and that person must respond in defense of himself, and then, if necessary, challenge the instigator. You can find a formal flyting in the Beowulf, when Hrothgar's thule Unferth attempts to determine for his king Beowulf's motivation for coming to Heorot and offering to slay Grendel. In bringing up a remarkable story, laden with rumour, from Beowulf's youth, Unferth tries to discover if over-wheening pride might be Beowulf's motivation.

    Therefore, Loki's accusations need not contain much if any truth. This is what Hollander means.

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    I know about flytings, and I am aware of Hollander's value as a scholar. But neither was really the point of my question, which I guess I need to clarify.

    Faith and scholarship don't always match up. Hollander offers his view as a scholar when he implies that the compositor of the poem had no religious intent. But I am interested in knowing how believing heathens today view the poem. Regardless of the scholarly view of the poem's value or of the poet's original intent, is there anything in the poem taken as a whole (not just Loki's accusations, but the whole text) which contemporary heathens derive spiritual benefit from? If so, what and why?

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    I think you will find that most believing heathens of today are not actually studying the material, and if they are, then they see it all, especially the "Elder Edda", as accurately reflecting the actual pagan world view of ancient times. But most scholars agree that the mythic poems of the "Elder Edda" are the least valuable source, determining that even the Völuspá, so valuable to Snorri, is mostly worthless.

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    What sources would you recommend, Bennet? Do you have an opinion on the work of H.R. Ellis Davidson?

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    I have not read Davidson's work, but from what I have heard her specialty is the archaeology, etc. of the myths. She is valuable for that aspect, but is not so much a scholar of them. This is according to John Lindow in:

    Old Norse-Icelandic Literature - A Critical Guide, edited by Clover and Lindow
    (not to be mistaken for the one by O'Donoghue, which is meant for classrooms)

    His large article Mythology and Mythography in that title is one of the best ever written in the field, and is a brilliant survey of much of the important literature up to its time. It also has a full bibliography to 1984. But, one should first read the standard introduction to Norse mythology:

    Myth and Religion of the North, by E.O.G. Turville-Petre

    One must know this book before anything else. Also beware of the fact that Turville-Petre's style seems to be to offer a variety of opinions of certain figures spread out over different sections. He has at least three or four opinions and estimations of Thór.



    Quote Originally Posted by Siegfried
    What sources would you recommend, Bennet? Do you have an opinion on the work of H.R. Ellis Davidson?

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    I think the Lokasenna is actually a clever text. At first sight it seems perhaps as an attempt to ridicule the Aesir, by having Loki uninvited to a feast at Aegir's Hall force his way in and in their own hall he insults them and thus undermines them.
    Witht he coming and rise of Christianity and the threat that had on the Ancient Ways then a cryptic text like Lokasenna that would at first sight seem like an unserious and comical text but with closer scrutiny would be quite revealing would be important in preserving that knowledge. Wether it was for this purpose or not i dont know.

    Take for example Loki's insult to Odin v22

    "Be silent, Odin, you never know ho to
    apportion honour in war among men;
    often you've given what you should'nt have given,
    victory, to the faint-hearted."

    This looks like Loki is insulting Odin by saying that sometimes he lets the weakest in battle win, the "faint-hearted" and the best or strongest lose. For a God of War he is quite useless.
    However it is revealing because, well for me anyway, it can be interpreted that Odin, by letting the strongest lose and die in battle, would have his halls Valhalla, populated with his favourites and the best fighters amongst men. It shows that Odin is much more interested in keeping Valhalla full of great warriors for the coming of Ragnarock than the petty minor scuffles of Men.
    Great men may lose in battle but it will because Odin wants them to join him for such a great cause as the preparation for Ragnarock.
    So is it really a ridicule of Odin?

    It is only when Thor returns and threatens Loki with his hammer does Loki leave and thus showing Loki's wimpish and mischevious character and at the end the only one really humiliated is Loki.

    "I spoke before the Aesir, I spoke befpre the sons of the Aesir,
    what my spirit urged me,
    but before you alone I shall go out,
    for i know that you do strike."
    A! Fredome is a noble thing
    Fredome mays man to haiff liking.
    Fredome all solace to man giffis,
    He levys at es that frely levys.
    A noble hart may haiff nane es
    Na ellys nocht that may him ples
    Gyff fredome failyhe, for fre liking
    Is yharnyt our all other thing.
    Na he that ay has levyt fre
    May nocht knaw weill the propyrte
    The angyr na the wrechyt dome
    That is couplyt to foule thyrldome,
    Bot gyff he had assayit it.
    Than all perquer he suld it wyt,
    And suld think fredome mar to prys
    Than all the gold in warld that is.
    Thus contrar thingis evermar
    Discoveryngis off the tother ar,


    Scots is our mither tung; an gin we dinna hain it,
    thare naebody gaun tae hain it for us.


    Scots is our mother tongue; and if we do not preserve it,
    nobody will preserve it for us.

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    Yes, Wayfarer, when I read it that was exactly the feeling I got — that the occasional grains of truth in Loki's insults were enlightening and that even more enlightening were the responses of the other gods to the insults.

    Are these thoughts shared by all the heathens here? Can anyone add more than this to an understanding of how heathens today view the Lokasenna in their spiritual lives?

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    Quote Originally Posted by Bennett
    I think you will find that most believing heathens of today are not actually studying the material, and if they are, then they see it all, especially the "Elder Edda", as accurately reflecting the actual pagan world view of ancient times. But most scholars agree that the mythic poems of the "Elder Edda" are the least valuable source, determining that even the Völuspá, so valuable to Snorri, is mostly worthless.
    I beg to differ as most everyone I know of who considers themselves heathen (or whatever they want to call it) studies "the lore" at least to some extent and none consider it a "holy book" to be believed unquestionably, they know most of it was set down by christians. This is alot of what drew me to the religion in the first place, you have to think for yourself and study, truth is not dictated to you from outside but something that you must find. I'm sure the type you refer to exists but most actually revel in critical thinking and anthropology. But I can really only speak for myself and I don't want to lump myself in with all the "heathens" I know as far as the conclusions we draw from our research:-)

    If the "Elder Edda" is so worthless what would you recommend as more valuable sources? I like anthropological findings the best myself. Unfortunatly I'm stuck with things in English.
    I agree with Leofric about the grains of interesting information. They are at least likely to shed light on how those gods were seen at the time if nothing more.

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    Post Re: The Value of the Lokasenna

    The "Elder Edda" is far from worthless, but the world view it offers is mostly worthless. For example, the Norse story of "creation" as presented in the Völuspá is of great value, but the theme of the poem, in the Decline and the Ragnarök, is of no value. A story of creation does not present a world view. Genesis presents no world view.

    What we find for the most part in the mythological poems is a fully degenerate tradition. Even Indra in the later Hindu tradition never is mocked and lied about so fully as is Thór. The recent head of the Norse pantheon is not even allowed the status of a demon, as is Indra in the Zoroastrian tradition, by the lowly-born creators of several of the poems in the "Elder Edda".

    For sources, Snorri's Gylfaginning offers the most pagan information, and is indispensible, even though much of what he relates is clearly degenerate or innacurate. But he offers no pagan world view. That must be found in the sagas, especially in the fully pagan Eyrbyggja Saga, and in the great corpus of skaldic poetry, alot of the (surviving) best and oldest and most pagan of which is compiled by Snorri in his Skáldskaparmál.

    I will admit that I am not yet familiar with Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum. This apparently offers a great deal of pagan narrative, but which is mostly euhemerized. And it is in Latin. I have read criticism dealing with it, but can place no value on it from that. Perhaps I should finally purchase a copy.
    Last edited by Edwin; Tuesday, November 1st, 2005 at 05:18 AM.

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