The volumes of 'Forbidden Knowledge' seek to extract from Old Scandinavian mythology such barely discernible traces of the preliterate age as still remain to be found. In doing so, the picture we obtain is one of a world in which people, via their own special conduit, were able to “plug into” the realm of the invisible. The mythological elements, sagas, stories, folk tales, magical spells, runes, pagan customs, and rituals that survive tell of a holistic – even esoteric – approach to life.
But why should we care?
Recently, stories of gods, sorcerers, kings, and other beings based to some extent on the world of Old Norse mythology have occupied an increasing proportion of the media spotlight. Millions of fans look forward expectantly to each new episode of shows like Game of Thrones or Vikings, while on-line games such as Vikings: War of Clans, Age of Empires, and Ragnarok garner the attention of multitudes of gaming enthusiasts. Revived schools of pagan and esoteric thought even revere various northern divinities: Freyja, Óðin, Loki, and the rest. Popular culture, on the other hand, handles the topic and everything related to it with artistic license.
Though it might seem out of reach, perhaps there is nevertheless something of this long-gone age we can still put our finger on. The aim of our book is to offer facts that can benefit this renewed interest.
Serving as its primary source material were the extant Icelandic manuscripts, transcriptions of the sagas as told during the Viking Age itself. Dating to as early as the 13th century, these texts represent an attempt to preserve an oral tradition that at the time, was already fast fading out of memory. Because Iceland had been a Christian nation since the turn of the first millennium, the stories are coloured by the worldviews of the scribes who put them to paper. Still, upon careful study, the force of an older narrative still shines through the numerous alterations to which they have been subjected, and we were, in fact, able to deduce something of the ancient world from which they arose.
Almost every word of these extant texts is symbolic and filled with hidden meaning; and because the hypotheses and opinions we express in our book rely heavily on interpretation of this symbolism, we have taken the unique approach of including in our writing the original texts of the Old Icelandic manuscripts, accompanied by our own verbatim translations, in the hope of avoiding the loss of information that has generally arisen in scientific, artistic, and other renditions of the already heavily redacted stories.
The same thinking lies behind our decision to present all Sumerian, Greek, and Latin texts used to support our thesis by translating ourselves the sources we considered to be most original.
Our perspective, too, is peculiar in that it approaches the subject matter not only logically, rationally, and scientifically, but from another angle, as well, summoning the Viking Age back up from time immemorial with a focus on its wonderful and fearful female players. The writings it employs in doing so bear the memory of a culture in which women, who spoke for the divine and understood the will of the gods, were invested with the fundamental responsibility of decision making, a point that bears noting given manner in which they were later undeservedly stripped of this role and their power and abilities suppressed.
In fact, evidence we discovered in the original manuscripts suggests that women’s ancient knowledge was gradually transformed and, eventually, prohibited. By following this evidence, our series demonstrate precisely what this transformation comprised: how the goddess became a witch.
Illustration 1: Gutenberg Bible
Shown here are the last page of the book of Joshua and the first page of the book of Judges from Volume I of the Gutenberg Bible (the back of page 114 and front of page 115). The photo is of the Bible owned by the Harry Ransom Center (Austin, Texas).
The Gutenberg Bible, symbol of the early printing industry, was the first book to be issued in significant numbers using the technique of moveable type. Various editions of the book were produced in the workshop of Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany between 1450 and 1455.
Illustration 2: The Funen Bracteate
This gold bracteate with a diameter of 37mm was discovered on the island of Funen in Denmark. Presumed to date to the 5th century, the piece is currently found in the Danish National Museum.
The bracteate (from the Latin word bractea, meaning “thin sheet of metal”) is a thin, flat, single-sided golden medallion of a type worn as jewellery in Northern Europe.
Illustration 3: Female figure holding her hair
This object belongs to a hoard of more than 12 thousand pieces found on the Danish island of Sjælland near Lake Tissø. The figure is made of silver and is thought to date to between the 6th and 8th centuries.
The National Museum of Denmark, where it currently resides, believes it to depict a Valkyrie and to have been worn as an amulet.
Illustration 4: The Halla Picture Stone
Originally found in Halla, Sweden, this carved stone was later transferred to the Gotland Museum. In its upper section, a female figure hands a horseman a drinking horn. Below, a ship bears a full complement of figures with shields. Both scenes are found carved on large numbers of others stones, this particular one dating to around the 8th or 9th century.