Role Of Fate And Fame In Viking Culture

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Fate and Fame in Viking Culture and Religion
“Cattle die and kinsmen die,/ thyself too soon must die” (Havamal st. 75). This oft-heard quote from the Old Norse poem Havamal is merely one example of the deep sense of finality that pervades Viking literature and religious beliefs. Unlike many contemporary faiths, chiefly the Abrahamic religions, Norse mythology lacks an eternal afterlife. For most individuals, including both men and gods, death is absolute and immutable. Intrinsically, this finality stems from Viking ideas about divine-willed fate and predestination. In this paper, I will examine the role of fate in both Viking culture, as shown in Havamal, and mythology, as evident in the Prose Edda, specifically focusing on the connections
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Norse mythology, specifically the Deluding of Gylfi (Gylfaginning) from Snorri
Sturluson’s Prose Edda, further explores this connection between fate and fame, although
Gylfaginning discusses the concept of fate itself much more explicitly than does
Havamal. In Norse mythology, specific deities are associated with fate, including mysterious, feminine beings known as the Norns. As described in the Deluding of Gylfi, the Norns decide the destinies of men, elves and dwarves by “com[ing] to every child that

McCormick 3 is born in order to shape its life” (pg. 44). Furthermore, the existence of good and bad fortune is explained by the Norns’ different dispositions: “’The good Norns who come from good stock shape good lives, but those who meet with misfortune owe it to the evil
Norns’” (Deluding of Gylfi 44). In addition, the Aesir goddess Frigg (Odin’s wife) apparently “knows the fates of all men, although she does not prophesy” (Deluding of
Gylfi 48). The fact that the Norns are outside the traditional Norse pantheon, as well
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Perhaps the most notable example of fate in Norse mythology is found in
Ragnarok, or “The Twilight of the Gods,” a titanic battle that will result in the deaths of most of the gods and the destruction of the world. Although the gods are knowledgeable about this impending doom, they resist tampering with events that would alter this fate.
For instance, at one point in the Deluding of Gylfi the gods resolve to deal with Fenrir, a son of Loki who appears as a monstrous wolf. Although Fenrir is prophesied to swallow
Odin during Ragnarok, the gods refuse to kill the wolf in advance and instead bind him with the magical fetter Gleipnir (Deluding of Gylfi 57-69). In this instance, even the gods, arguably the most powerful beings in Norse mythology, give themselves up to the whims of fate. Although it may be somewhat difficult to see in this example, the gods’ decision to spare Fenrir is intrinsically linked to the same concept of fame evident in Viking culture. For instance, if Odin were to kill Fenrir in anticipation of Ragnarok, he would essentially be depriving himself of an honorable death in battle. This would be

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