No such thing as sin?
Morality and its links with Old Norse religion
Thursday, March 3, 2022, at 16.30
For all that researchers over the last sixty years have carefully highlighted the industry, intellect and artistry of early Scandinavians and Icelanders, the word viking remains associated with activities like violence, theft and murder. To some onlookers, it has appeared impossible that the situation could be otherwise, given the dominance of paganism in contemporary society, while the majority of handbooks on Old Norse religion and culture do not consider a relationship between morality and religion at all.
In this talk, I will question that rough consensus and emphasize links between Old Norse religion, morality and social structure. My discussion will be split into two sections. The first will consider several episodes from mythological and legendary poetry, in particular from Skírnismál, which appear to reflect and build on contemporary moral norms. Here, I am chiefly interested in how far the gods are implicated in monitoring, rewarding and punishing human activity and the types of conduct with which the gods are believed to concern themselves.
In the second half of the seminar, I will examine how religious actions and images generate prosocial behaviours (i.e. conduct that benefits others, such as sharing, donating and co-operating). Key is a theory called costly signalling, which posits that (often personally expensive) religious acts demonstrate sincere commitment to a group and thereby trustworthiness. This theory will be applied to Old Norse funeral customs and afterlife beliefs to contemplate the impact of religious rituals and imagery on behaviour and, thereby, on solidarity within communities and dominant social hierarchies.
Declan Taggart is a postdoctoral researcher at Háskóli Íslands working on moral norms, religion and social structure in pre-Christian Iceland and Scandinavia. He has published a book on change in representations of the god Þórr called How Thor Lost His Thunder, and, for his last postdoctoral project, produced a short choose-your-own-adventure game based on the mythological poem Vǫluspá called Choose your own end to the viking world. It can be played for free here: https://dtaggart919.itch.io/choose-your-own-end-to-the-viking-world.
Live stream on Zoom: https://eu01web.zoom.us/j/69221891262?pwd=RDIrRnkwakUzMkdUQ2plbjdIempLQT09
The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend