Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Chip Robinson

An Open Secret of Icelandic Otherworldly Communication

Thursday, November 2, 2017, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Chip Robinson

In this talk, it will be argued that supernatural references in medieval Icelandic literature can be approached in the light of modern Icelandic practice of otherworldly communication. Literary motifs are not merely story elements; rather, they reflect a type of experience for participants and perform a social and cultural function in historical and geographical context, then and now. What is examined is how Icelanders interact with the other world, that is, the deceased, guardian spirits, and nature beings through prophetic dreams, mediums, and direct experience in landscape and in community. Recent multidisciplinary research is considered along with current folk practice, that is, scholarly and popular aspects. Supernatural phenomena are mediated in numerous ways, not just by mediums but also by media, nature, clergy, dreams, guardian spirits, folklore, and medieval literature, to arrive at what is termed an ethnography of the other world. Syncretic traditions are taken into account as they conceal parallel spiritual experiences and practices in Icelandic society including in the beyond, or hinum megin. As a comparative study on an island over time there is cultural durability in such concepts as spáfólk, álagablettir, að vitja nafns, berdreyminn, and bænahringir—an open secret of Icelandic otherworldly communication.

Chip Robinson holds a PhD in Germanic Languages from the University of California Los Angeles 2017, MA in Medieval Icelandic Studies from the University of Iceland 2015, MA in Scandinavian from the University of California Los Angeles 2013, as well as MS in Library and Information Science from Simmons College Boston 2004. He worked as librarian in Acquisitions, Cataloging, and Technical Services in the Germanic Division of Harvard College Library 1995–2010.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.