CUSTOM AND BELIEF IN THE ICELANDIC SAGAS.
(Read at Meetings 20th June, 1906.)
Enquiry into Scandinavian paganism has hitherto been mainly directed to its mythological side, where the sources are so full and so alluring. The ritual and customs of the North have been left comparatively untouched, although it might be supposed that the Icelandic family and historical sagas would present a considerable field for such enquiry. Vigfússon and Powell attempted a collection of the material. But this is incomplete, and the material unclassified and for the most part without comment. Nor is any use made of the materials in the Kings' Lives: nor any attempt at enquiry into origins. Large portions of different sagas are rejected as spurious or late, without regard to their possible value as tradition, even if interpolated. As regards other work done on the subject, attention has been fixed almost exclusively on the picturesque hierarchy of Asgard and the Valhalla myth, the formularised religion of the Viking age; and the older strata of belief there and elsewhere evident have been neglected. Among Continental scholars especially there has been a tendency unduly to exalt the authority of Saxo, which also darkens counsel. Saxo's testimony may serve to confirm a better tradition, but it is worthless unless confirmed by it; it is impossible for instance