Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Heizmann
Meaning and Function of Magic in the Poetry of Edda and
A Comparative Study in the Presenting of Magical Traditions and World-view in Scandinavian and Finnish Epic Songs
The dissertation project focuses on the study of the varied narrative traditions of magic from the Finns and Scandinavians, considering in particular cultural- and social-anthropological aspects of magic traditions. As a comparative work on sources differing widely in language, space and time, this thesis also aims to reexamine the ways in which lore collected or recorded after the Medieval period can be incorporated into analysis of Medieval life. Accordingly, the question does not refer to alternating influences and loans, but wants to face the positions, functions and meanings of magical rites and their determining concepts within the Northern culture. It intends to show the similarities and differences that magical traditions of the North had in their conceptional imageries, in their performance and their underlying myths, not least in the drama of ritual and preservation. The achievements of this project should not only shed light on the transmitted world-picture and special literary aspects of magical songs, but also illuminate the common cultural dimension which Scandinavians and Finns shared in Northern Europe. The subjects of this research are the Old-Icelandic poems of the Poetic Edda and the Finnish Folk Poetry and the charms of the Kalevala. The chosen texts refer to magical rites and thus convey the models of magical thought beard by the respective culture. Since magical texts are based of the same or at least similar archaic models of thought in all cultures, the focus of the study has to lay on the context of the social environment from which the poems originated, in which they were performed and finally handed and written down. With regard to that folkloristic background, the respective social incorporation of magic ritual shall be included in the analysis of the sources.
The present work on the subject presented above has brought out very good possibilities for a comparison of the two traditions. It is to be expected that a well-founded and penetrative analysis of the literary records will bring new, inspiring and important results for both disciplines and also for prospective comparative research work.
The main part of the thesis will consist of several examinations of selected episodes in Finnish and Old-Icelandic epic poetry. The work aims to carve out the typical forms of magic in the sources regarding their form and function, their ritual and sociological context shared by the cultural communities. These aspects are classified by the various application areas and environmental contexts. For example among the category of active magic are to be found spells and magical operations serving problems of every day life, e.g. child-birth or distress at sea, but also love-charms and evil spells. These are categories that can mostly be performed by all members of the community, whereas for the second important field of passive magical help a ritual expert has to be consulted. In this realm those rituals are included, in which the magician participates in the supernatural world, what mainly applies to prophecy and incantation of the dead. The third very extensive domain is built up by magical traditions and customs at festivities and feasts, which can be subsumed under the term of initiation rituals. Under this category, models of wooing, wedding customs and the initiation of warriors and chieftains are to be examined more closely. The last field not to be neglected shall be the type of magical wisdom contest which forms a distinctive part of the two traditions and bears striking parallels in literary structure and composition.
The results shall be placed in a wider context of research to offer new scholarly perspectives. First of all, after having described the similarities and differences of the magical models in Scandinavian and Finnish poetry, it shall be discussed, from where they derive. It is to be expected that the answers lie in the cultural and social background of the respective communities. Since the figure of the magical expert in Finnish Folklore seems to be closely related to the character of the Northern Germanic god Odin, it has to be explained, how this connection could have originated and continued from the Viking Age to Modern times. It will be also possible to discuss, if the image of the Scandinavian magician and magical rites could be deepened or even renewed in having a contrastive look on the Finnish model.
The study focuses on interdisciplinary research of Finnish and Old-Icelandic epic poetry, which is a comparative work rarely done and only by experts who are familiar with both languages and literary traditions. These narrative traditions are to be outlined and defined newly in their relation as cultural knowledge in a wider perspective. The aim is also to compile an appendix where the variants lying beyond the Kalevala-songs which contain magical narratives and contexts shall be listed with their number in SKVR and described according to their genre and regional source area.
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