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The Harvard Theological Review vol. 32 n. 4 (1939)

ICELANDt,h at island of marvels, has preserved for us, as it has done in most other fields of Germanic culture, nearly all of what we know about the religion of our pagan ancestors. The two Eddas, the Elder (Poetic) and the Younger (Prose) Edda, furnish the whole body of coherent mythology accessible to us. As for the cults themselves, we are much less well informed, but such knowledge as we have is drawn mainly from the Sagas, prose tales dealing with men and events, real and fictitious, of the heathen time, written down two or three centuries after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion in the year 1000, yet seeking to give a faithful picture of the manners and beliefs of the old days, and with scarcely a trace of the intolerance which almost obliterated the pagan traditions in other parts of Germanic territory. The distribution and popularity of the cults, their relative age and gradual expansion have been revealed by the brilliant researches of Professor Magnus Olsen on the Norwegian place-names and by the subsequent studies inspired by his work. The most recent comprehensive treatment of the whole subject, Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, devotes a first volume of 335 pages to the discussion of prehistoric and South Germanic religion taken together, while the second, dealing with North Germanic (Scandinavian) material and necessarily highly compressed, runs to 460 large octavo pages. Were it not for the evidence of Old Norse literature, preserved almost entirely in Iceland, our knowledge of the history of Germanic religion would be meager indeed.

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