Book Series Acta Scandinavica, vol. 10

Myths and Magic in the Medieval Far North

Realities and Representations of a Region on the Edge of Europe

Stefan Figenschow, Richard Holt, Miriam Tveit (eds)

  • Pages: 280 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:1 b/w, 7 col., 2 maps color
  • Language(s):English, Latin, Old Norse
  • Publication Year:2021

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58823-0
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58824-7
  • E-book
  • Available

This is a series of original studies concerning myths and misunderstandings about the medieval Far North, and their place within the broader spectrum of Norwegian history.


“The book’s production values are of high quality, with some exceptionally clear maps and a few well-chosen illustrations, all in colour. There is also a useful index of people and places, in addition to the general listing. (…) as the studies collected here are thought-provoking, original, and open up exciting new paths into the editors’ New North. Recommended reading for anyone interested in this vanished world.” (Neil Price, in The Medieval Review, 21.11.08)

“This volume marks an important step along the way to a strengthened understanding of the subtle nuances of a somewhat obscure history for the Far North and reveals the fundamental importance of interdisciplinarity for fields where evidence might be fragmentary.” (Roderick McDonald, in Parergon, 38/2, 2021, p. 212)

“Myths and Magic in the Medieval Far North is a welcome addition to the discussion about the role of the high north in the formation of the Norwegian kingdom and the interactions between the Sámi and the Norsemen.” (Sirpa Aalto, in Speculum, 98/1, 2023, p. 248)



The history of the Far North is tinged by dark fantasies. A remote location, harsh climate, a boundless and often mountainous wasteland, complex ethnic composition, and strange ways of life: all contributed to how the edge of Europe was misunderstood by outsiders. Since ancient times, the North has been considered as a place that exuded evil: it was the end of the world, the abode of monsters and supernatural beings, of magicians and sorcerers. It was Europe’s last bastion of recalcitrant paganism. Many weird tales of the North even came from within the region itself, and when newly literate Scandinavians began to re-work their oral traditions into written form after 1100 AD, these myths of their past underlay newer legends and stories serving to support the development to Christian national monarchies.

The essays in this volume engage closely with these stories, questioning how and why such traditions developed, and exploring their meaning. Through this approach, the volume also examines how historiographical traditions were shaped by authors pursuing agendas of nation-building and Christianization, at the same time that myths surrounding and originating among the multi-ethnic populations of the Far North continued to dominate the perception of the region and its people, and to define their place in Norwegian medieval history.



‘Bearded Women and Sea Monsters: European Representations of the Far North in the Early and High Middle Ages’ — MIRIAM TVEIT

Myth, Magic and Rituals in the Nordic World

‘On the View of "the Other" – Abroad and At Home: The Geography and Peoples of the Far North, according to Historia Norwegiae’ — LARS IVAR HANSEN

‘The Ice Giant Cometh: The Far North in the Old Norse-Icelandic Sagas’ — ELEANOR ROSAMUND BARRACLOUGH

‘Fishermen in Trouble — Grímnismál and Elf Islands in Northern Norway’ — PETTER SNEKKESTAD

‘Sámi Myths and Medieval Heritage’ — MARTE SPANGEN

‘"I Hurl the Spirits of Gandul". Pleasure, Jealousy and Magic: The Witchcraft Trial of Ragnhild Tregagaas in 1325’ — RUNE BLIX HAGEN

‘The Meaning of Ale in the North: From Ale Rituals to Ale as a Subject in Political Conflicts’ — KAROLINE KJESRUD

Myths and Representations in the Political Consolidation of the North

‘The Origins of Political Organization in the Far North? The Historical and Material Remains of Finnmórk, Hálogaland and the Mythical Omð’ — YASSIN KAROLIUSSEN

‘Norwegian or Northern: The Construction and Mythography of Háleygr Identity, c. 800–1050’ — BEN ALLPORT

‘The Formation of a Norwegian Kingdom: A Northern Counter-Narrative?’ — RICHARD HOLT

‘Approaches to Mythologized "Others" in Norwegian Expansion to the North’ — STEFAN FIGENSCHOW