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Primstav and Apocalypse Time and its Reckoning in Medieval Scandinavia

Avery Powell

UNIVERSITETET I OSLO: Master of Philosophy Thesis in Nordic Viking and Medieval Culture Spring (2011)

Time has often been contended over. How it is spent and measured. Where it has been and where it is going. The ideas of time set the way the world is perceived. The reckoning of time can be seen as a method of controlling this. Who then sets the clock? The secular man who measures the eight slices of the sky or the cleric who rings the bells, counts the hours and orders the procession of the liturgy? What did the interaction between the two look like? To investigate this, the thesis will look at attempts to explain time in word and image. The definitions of The King’s Mirror
and the example of the primstav, as well as the mysterious sayings of the vǫlva in Vǫluspá and the imagery of the Last Day with roots in the Revelation of John will all be touched on in the progress of the survey. These are all ideas that are seeking explication in a society cycling towards Apocalypse.

The instigation for this study came from a chance encounter with a primstav. Turn the staff around and around and follow the cycling course of the seasons. Yet hop from tally to tally and trudge along after the parade of the liturgical holy days. Church time was supposed to be marked out linearly, a direct, unwavering, un-repeating march to Doomsday. Rural agricultural time seemed more like a turning wheel, or staff, revolving through duties that were the same year after year after year. What were the two models doing balanced on the same stick? To answer this question more sources than just the slender Primstav would have to be consulted, both written and pictorial. With every source considered however the question remained the same: how did practical time, which was reckoned for day to day use, and religious time, which ultimately eyes the line to the end of time, relate?

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