Icelandic Folklore and the Cultural Memory of Religious Change

A cultural memory of belief in the North placing Icelandic folktales in a context of religious doctrine, social history, and Old Norse sagas and poetry.

ISBN-13: 9781641893763

Contributor(s)

Eric Shane Bryan

Nearly all recent examinations of Icelandic (and Scandinavian) folklore from the nineteenth century and earlier have concerned themselves with the origins and production of folktales rather than with the cultural implications of their content. This volume extends those discussions by offering an interdisciplinary methodology that weaves together the literature, religious and political history, and other cultural phenomena that have impacted folk narratives as evidence of the emergent cultural memory of a society undergoing the religious developments of Christianization and Reformation.
Iceland’s uncommon proclivity towards storytelling, its robust tradition of medieval manuscripts, and the “re-oralization” of those narratives after the medieval period, create a body of folktales and legends that have encoded a hidden account of how orthodox and heterodox beliefs (sometimes pagan in origin) intermingled as Christianity, and later Reformation, spread through the North. This volume unlocks that secret story by placing Icelandic folktales in a context of religious doctrine, social history, and Old Norse sagas and poetry. The analysis herein reveals a cultural memory of belief.

Contents

Introduction: Stories, Memories, and Modalities Belief
Chapter 1—The Dead Bridegroom Carries off his Bride: Pejoration and Adjacency Pairs in ATU 365
Chapter 2—The Elf-Woman’s Conversion: Gender Spheres in Post-Medieval Icelandic Folktales
Chapter 3— The Fylgjur of Iceland: Attendant Spirits and a Distorted Sense of Guardianship
Chapter 4—The Elf Church: Memories of Contested Sacred Spaces
Chapter 5—The Stupid Boy and the Devil: Sæmundur Fróði, Magic, and Redemption
Conclusion:  The Transformation of Memory and of Self
Selected Bibliography
Index