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MISTRESSES OF THE CULT –EVIDENCE OF FEMALE CULT LEADERS FROM AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

John Ljungkvist

Female elite and cult leaders is a subject that has not been as thoroughly dealt with as male cult leaders, but recently the topic has been more systematically discussed from different perspectives, partly archaeologically, partly from the viewpoint of the history of religion, as well as from a linguistic perspective. What can be seen in the written sources regarding cult activities are largely male activities – simply since the authors were men, writing or narrating for a male audience. Rudolf Simek has pointed out that the heathen literary genre is dedicated to the eulogy of princes and kings. In the archaeological material, the female representation is to some degree not as manifest as the male when dealing with both grave rituals and ritual depositions. Male burials are generally larger, and ritual depositions of weapons are more eye-catching than many other things. Mighty men simply got more attention than women – which also leads scholars towards certain paths, whether they are conscious of this fact or not. On the other hand, to some degree, the archaeological material tells another story.The aim of this paper is to discuss the evidence of female cult leaders based on archaeological records primarily from Central Sweden. As a study, it is partly based on the grave material, partly upon settlement excavations. Thus, it consists of two themes: the sites/space where religious rituals were performed and the elite and identity of female cult leaders. When we look at the growth of new material to interpret, settlement excavations form the primary source. A renewed interest in Old Norse religion has produced new perspectives on old material, and new exciting finds regularly appear. In short, the possibilities for discussing Old Norse religion are better than ever. However, we still lack major works that for example cover the distribution of ritual-related amulets within different kinds of contexts and regions. It is difficult to get an overview of the archaeological material.

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