Norse Myth, Initiation & The Seed of Yggdrasil with Maria Kvilhaug

"The Dises" (1909) by Dorothy Hardy

Due to the amazing breadth of content covered in the following conversation, an introduction will be kept brief. It was with great excitement that I discovered an incredibly informative YouTube channel by an author of Norse mythology, Maria Kvilhaug. I highly recommend her videos and books to anyone with a specific interest in Norse mythology studies or a general interest in esotericism or ancient ritual and initiation.

As you will read, Kvilhaug brings together the strenuousness of academia with emotional passion and creativity in order to bring the timeless parables and lessons of Scandinavia to a modern audience. The depth and clarity of her knowledge and understanding is truly inspiring and exciting and I thank her for sharing her wisdom with us. Be sure to check out all her social media and book links at the bottom.


Maria Kvilhaug


You began studying mythology at a young age. What is it about you or your experience that lead you so strongly down that path? Did you fit in with your peers or were you a bit of an outsider? 
I suppose I may have been an outsider on many occasions, not because I tried to be but because I may be a little different as a person. I was certainly different in the way I was rather introverted and self-sufficient as a child and young woman. I had some friends and a very close-knit extended family, but I had a great need to be by myself a lot. I spent a lot of alone time just thinking, or else reading or drawing. I could spend hours imagining what it was like to be some sort of animal, and what sort of life they had. Or I could imagine whole worlds complete with a mental mapping of its inhabitants, its nations, societal systems, their history, religion, politics, fashions, foreign relations, races, languages. 
Of course my imagination was fed by the reading of countless books, and even as a child I read many works on history, ethnography, different cultures, ancient religions and mythology that are still important to me. I liked to see the great historical lines, the important connection points. 
I say “as a child” but I am still like this in many ways. My parents were good at traveling, and I was introduced to all sorts of archaeological sites and historical museums on a regular basis. My grandparents provided me with lots and lots of stories from the old times. My father´s father in particular was always ready to talk for hours while I listened and asked questions, and he had lived such an exciting life, being a sea-man and a resistance fighter during the war and so on, he was besides a great storyteller and perhaps almost as weird as I was. He introduced me to a lot of Norse mythology and to the sagas, took me for long walks in the forests, and taught me lots of things about animals and plants and crafts. My grandfather taught me to make a knife of my own, and gave me Snorri´s Heimskringla for my 15 years birthday. I think he laid a great foundation for my interest in Norse mythology. 
But this interest grew in particular after I had studied a lot of world mythology and then moved to England. I had a sudden encounter with a sample of the Poetic Edda in a bookstore there which generated some really strange dreams that stuck with me. 
I went to buy the book, and then I began to study the Poetic Edda for real. I discovered that there was a lot more to these poems than what you could see on the surface. 
The idea that there could be hidden meanings abounding in poetical metaphors intrigued me, and I set out to learn everything I could about such metaphors. I spent a whole summer holiday in the National Library in Norway reading different translations as well as the original versions of the Eddas. That effort got me started in the path that led to my publications later. I was about 21 years old.
A depiction of Óðinn, Vili, and Vé (Odin, Vile, and Ve) creating the world by Lorenz Frølich. 

Can you tell the readers about your academic background and how that led to your YouTube channel and books?
My professional career is very much a result of how I do not fit in, I think. I grew up in an intellectual family where reading and discussing knowledge of history, evolution, astronomy, behavioral psychology and other academic stuff were every day dinner table themes. I did very well in all subjects involving reading, researching, writing and presentation. After high school I started studying philosophy and history at the University of Oslo, and got very good grades, and I even had a very active social life! 
But my twenties took many unexpected turns, I will not go into all the details but I ended up living many years in England, the USA, Mexico and Portugal. In between I managed to return to Norway almost every year to take exams at the University of Oslo, but not in the traditional manner. I did not participate in the university life, I studied on my own and stayed all over the place.  It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am a little different and was aware of this and tried to escape, when you are a foreigner people will often be more tolerant because you are supposed to be different anyway, and then I had a lot of interesting things going on in my life, and I loved learning about other cultures. Despite doing many other things I still managed to take a master degree in the History of Religions and Old Norse Philology, and wrote the (later published) dissertation The Maiden with the Mead. This was back in 2004. 
It was a bit of a shock to me when I discovered that moving straight on to a doctorate after was not as easy as I had thought it would be. I kept writing and studying and building on my previous research while working to pay my bills in completely different lines of work. By 2010, I was so brimming over with new understanding of the Norse myths that I could no longer wait to share it. I decided to ditch the whole academic ambition, realizing that I would not have fitted in there anyway. I always got on a lot better with more down to earth people and I realized that lots of people would be interested in my subject even if they were not academics. I thought I could use my talent for presenting difficult subjects in an easily accessible way and after some encouragement from the love of my life, I began making and posting those lecture videos that I named “Hidden Knowledge in Old Norse Myths.” The feedback was overwhelming, never in my life had I received this much attention and interest. I was hooked for three years making videos. By then I had also written “The Seed of Yggdrasill. 
After these YouTube and Seed projects were finished, some new sort of creative imagination almost poured into my head from above. Seriously, it felt like that. The characters came knocking on my mind´s door demanding me to tell their stories. It was and is an awesome creative experience that just keeps rolling. 
I felt as if I had been blessed with a great reward for having done all that research work, for while writing the BLADE HONER books (historical fiction), the culture and the religion and the personal relations came alive so vividly as if I had been given a time travel capsule. This novel series is the funniest project I have ever initiated and worked on.
You’ve mentioned in your videos that the old guards within academia were not ready to accept your controversial findings and felt that the doors of opportunity were closed on you. Can you describe that experience and how that felt? What did they feel so threatened by? Why is academia such a stifling place for breaking new ground?
For the record, I think that the academia is usually exactly the place where new ground is being broken, and is being broken in a professional and serious manner by people who actually spend the time and effort and professional detective work it takes. If you are going to break new ground, you need to understand that it will take a lot of time until enough people have read and decided to endorse your work. Most new theories take decades before they are finally agreed upon so that they reach the average mainstream education system. But the academia consists of people and peers, and I have social issues, as you may have understood. 
I have never been able to “make contacts” in the strategic manner that is usually needed for relation-building, and if you are an academic who want a professorate as I did, you are usually going to need contacts who are willing to support you and speak your case. You cannot just run and hide whenever you feel nervous about meeting someone or exposing yourself in person. But I cannot NOT run and hide sometimes. Now it sounds like I did not get any support, but I did. I just did not get it from the people who could have promoted me. I was in fact invited to partake in a joint academic project about the connecting points between ancient cultures and religions, but that project did not receive economic support from the government. This is what stifles some types of research; the lack of funding. If you want to get a doctorate, you will not only need to have your project endorsed by your academic peers, you will also need funding.
Maria Kvilhaug 
When certain research projects are being left to dust away in some cellar or never even finished, it is not usually about intentional stifling, it is just about what the government wants to prioritize when it comes to which research projects they are going to support economically. Lots of projects are turned down simply because other projects are chosen instead. And lots of projects never even get finished because a lack of support from peers. Most aspiring researchers have to apply and keep applying for years in order to get a doctorate. I tried a couple of times, but lost my ambition when I began to understand that I had failed to create an environment where people would even bother looking at my work.  At the time, I felt unfairly rejected. 
It was very confusing for me to learn that even though my peers agreed that my theories were well-founded and professionally researched, they completely failed to help open doors for me. Being older, I have come to understand that you cannot really expect anyone to open doors for you just because you have a good case. Lots of people have good cases and most people will open doors for people they already know, projects that seem relevant to them, and personally want to help out. While other aspiring researchers had bonded with potential mentors and connections, I had spent most of my time reading and typing away in a jungle cabin far from everywhere. I had made the mistake of believing that a serious and interesting research project in itself would be sufficient. It was not, and this was something of a shock to me. 
I cannot completely outrule the possibility that my research was too controversial for them, that I might have threatened the status quo, or that my personality lacks a certain academic dryness and detachment that other academics will expect from you – but in that case I think the greatest problem was that I, an unknown, mere master student, was posing such a radical take on Norse mythology. If I had been more ambitious and strategical I would have waited until I already had a doctorate and some standing among my academic peers. Then maybe my findings would have been of more interest to them. Most new theories take decades before they gain any ground anyway, so I am not worried. I think I have planted a seed, so to speak. 
For people who may be familiar with the Norse myths from secondary sources, what might they be missing that has been overlooked from the primary sources? Which translations of the primary sources do you most recommend for the English reader?
My own! I have not translated all the poems though, but I do provide a lot of translating with explanations in my book The Seed of Yggdrasill. Why? All the English translations that I have seen are perfectly fine in many ways, but there is an expression called “lost in translation.” The Scandinavian translations suffer from the same phenomenon. 
To translate ancient poetry, you need a good grasp on how they use metaphors and what these mean. How we translate this sort of very metaphorical poetry depends a lot on our basic understanding of these myths.  
Another important issue is that we modern people tend to take names for granted, names are but syllables and sounds to us, but in ancient poetry the names of mythical characters and places carry specific meanings that are relevant to the whole understanding of the poem and the story. 
Rather than looking for the “best” translation I think the super-serious student needs to do what I did and learn to read and understand Old Norse and the grammars. Of course that is impossible to most people, but if you get yourself maybe one or two translations, adding to that one very important work by Rudolf Simek called “Dictionary of Northern Mythology” where you can find good interpretations of almost all the names and place names – then you will have a good start. The English translation that I keep at home is the one I found when I first delved into these myths, the translation by Carolyne Larrington. I sometimes disagree with some of her interpretations but overall it is very good and it is the one that got me started.  
Frigg and Odin by Frølich

If you had to point to one myth that best encapsulated the worldview or ethics of the Pre-Christian Scandinavian culture, which would you choose and why?
Not one myth, but perhaps a poem. The Völuspá (Seeress´ Prophecy, Divination of the Witch). It encompasses the entire history of the universe, what messed it all up, the apocalyptic process of destruction and renewal, then a new and better world. It sums up most of the essential aspects of the Norse worldview. Add to that the Hávamál (The High One´s Speech) and you get a lot of both ethical and chivalrous warrior honor codes with some practical and spiritual counsel to go. 
Do you think the cosmology of the Norse Tree of Life and the Nine Worlds originated through a single poet writing inspired literature or are they a creation that developed collaboratively out of a community of efforts?
The fact that you employ the term Tree of Life illustrates a good point here. The “Tree of Life” is a term that derives from the Bible, Genesis 3.22, where God chases Adam and Eve out of Paradise after they have eaten of “The Tree of Knowledge”, because he fears that they will become like him (like a god) and also eat of “The Tree of Life” and gain immortality. 
Yggdrasil - The World Tree
In Norse myths, we do not hear of a “Tree of Life.” We hear of the Ash, the Tree of Memorythe Mead Treethe Steed of Ygg (Yggdrasill), or Barnstokkr – the Trunk of Children. According to Snorri it has branches reaching into all the heavens and all the worlds, so that we could paraphrase it to mean a “World Tree”, an expression of the universe and its many “homesteads” and “heavens” where different sorts of beings rule. When you employ a term such as “The Tree of Life”, adopted from the Bible, you are doing exactly what people have been doing to language and mythology since time immemorial; you are changing it by adding to it, bringing in your own cultural and historical references. Mythology is like language. Language is an abstract and culturally subjective system which describes the actual world in the way a certain culture at a certain time perceives it. New influx will invariably lead to changes in the language. It is the same with mythology. 
The people who wrote down the Norse myths during the 11th-13th centuries colored these myths with their own contemporary understanding and cultural references. This does not mean that these myths did not exist prior to that – they did, but we cannot know exactly how these myths were understood or used or told. There will always be variations and differences in the different ways that people have been retelling the same core myths. The tree, obviously, is very old and appears in almost all ancient cultures. 
You will find a world tree, tree of life, tree of knowledge and memory, you name it, whether you look to Sumerian, Biblical, Mexican, Norse or Siberian myths. This tree is a very, very ancient concept, a metaphor to describe something essential about our universe. 
But every culture and every poet has had different ways of describing and even ritually employing this very ancient core myth. As to the “nine worlds”, I keep hearing that, and wonder if people may have gotten a hang-up on the nine worlds beneath Níflhel described in some of the myths, the nine realms of death, associated with the nine nights of initiation and similar things that I have written extensively about in The Seed of Yggdrasill. But if you look to other sources such as the Poetic Edda, you will hear of twelve heavens, while Snorri lists up some ten or eleven. Looking to other sources we keep hearing of more worlds. I think it is a bit erroneous to insist on a simplified “nine worlds”. The nine worlds are associated with a mystery of death and resurrection, the ninth world being the world of resurrection. But mythology is a lot more complex than that. It would probably help if people stopped thinking about the “worlds” in terms of literal geography.
You started your YouTube channel Hidden Knowledge in Old Norse Myths back in 2010. Was this in reaction to the experiences you had in the university?
It was not a reaction. It was more of a personal need to share. I was brimming over and had begun to realize that I would probably never fit into a university environment. I am immensely grateful for having learned how to do professional, academic research and how to employ scientific method, but I think that my personal approach is colored by the fact that I also have a slightly visionary side to me. I think that no matter how drily academic I try to be, it will always seep through that I feel a certain personal and spiritual attachment to my subject. 
I actually think that there are some great universal spiritual truths in the myths, just like Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade did, and whereas these were once great names, their sort of approach is now often frowned upon in the present academic world. But it is not in my nature to pretend to aloofness where there is none. This meant something to me personally, it was not just an academic subject upon which I could build a career. I do not think in terms of career, so I decided to share my knowledge with whoever would be interested in my approach. 
Your videos have 100’s of thousands of views today. Did you find an immediate audience for your work or was it a slow build up? What is your feeling about the response you’ve received from around the world? 
It was a lot quicker than I had ever expected, and I was overwhelmed by all the positive response! People from all over the world wrote to me about what my work meant to them, or for asking more questions. All that attention became a bit too much for me even though I was extremely flattered, so I had to shut down a little. I stopped keeping track some years ago, so you surprised me when you pointed out how many views I have now. I can only say I am grateful, that I feel honored and that I am happy that so many people have found my efforts to be meaningful for their own lives.
Do you find that it’s people from the Scandinavian countries that are most hungry to rediscover their roots or is there a greater interest from elsewhere? 
There is a reason why I write in the English language. I had lived several years in England and some in the USA and discovered that the interest was actually greater in the English-speaking countries. I told you that my grandfather introduced me to a lot of these old stories. But my grandfather grew up in a Norway that was deeply proud of their Viking Age past as a part of our liberation process. After the Black Death in 1347, the entire noble and royal elite of Norway were wiped out, leaving only illiterate peasants. Danish and Swedish upper classes took turns taking advantage of that until 1905, so after that there was a surge of folkish nationalism where Norwegians began to feel proud of having kept so much of the old folkloristic traditions alive. 
Geirangerfjord Wasserfaelle
But then came the Second World War, and the tiny group of Norwegian Nazis who betrayed our country to the Germans were big on abusing the Old Norse symbols for their own ridiculous case, rendering the rest of us somewhat traumatized and with the wrong associations. After that, the study of the Norse past became something of a special interest for the few, and we have had to work hard to reclaim our myths back from those stupid Nazis. We still have to. 
Remember that I also began taking a new interest in the Norse myths only after I moved from Norway. I think that when you are physically removed from your roots, you may feel a greater need to reconnect with them. 
Norwegians in general have tended to feel a bit embarrassed about the Viking past. The trauma of suppression is something we carry with us, not only from the Nazi occupation but also from centuries of trying to mark a distance to this Heathen, barbaric past in order to appear culturally acceptable to a modern world that was, until very recently, deeply steeped in the Christian religion. All the fuss about Vikings in other countries has actually made many Scandinavians more interested in our own pre-Christian past, more proud, because we finally see that other people no longer just think about “raping and pillaging” when they think of our ancestors. 
A lot of recent research in Norway has also opened up for the realization that our ancestors in no way stood out as particularly barbaric in their time, that the Viking attacks were a part of a larger international political game and not just about barbarians trying to undermine civilization, and that we actually contributed to many things important to European culture – our ancestors provided the first democracies, a new novel genre, ideals of chivalry  – and hopefully my work may even contribute to a greater understanding of how the poetry they left behind is a veritable world heritage.
What was your personal experience with the spiritual aspects of the old myths once you began to start uncovering the hidden symbolism? Was there a point in which your research transcended an academic position and became a devotional pursuit as well?
Yes. I have a very vivid imagination. I can be a serious dry academic delving deeply into a subject, but I would never have bothered if it did not make my whole self tingle. 
The more I learn about a cultural subject, the more vivid it will appear to me until I will start dreaming about it and yes, I have had numerous dream encounters with mythological characters that were meaningful for my own life and which also actually helped me understand more about the myths and which often gave me pointers as to where I should look for more understanding and knowledge. It has been a magical experience. 
I have researched the theme of initiation in myths and found that it has been very helpful and meaningful in my own life. I really do think the myths are a sort of spiritual maps that are not only cultural but also to some degree universal. 
Maria Kvilhaug

Aside from your extensive research and writing, did you yourself ever take on a rite of passage or spiritual initiation ritual to better tap into these old streams of knowledge and traditions?
Not in order to better tap in. Mostly it just happened on its own accord. There was little ritual involved. I do not usually perform rituals myself. That does not mean I am against it, it just means that I am not inclined that way.  The closest thing I ever got to partaking in an actual rite of passage was when I traveled to a small place in Mexico called Huautla de Jimenez where I had an encounter with some very interesting Huichol farmers who still have a tradition of healing with sacred mushrooms. I had suffered from many weird health issues for a while. I had a very eye-opening experience that I carried with me and which changed the way I accessed Norse myths, and I was healed. 
Earlier in your life you resisted your own ancestral myths and spirituality and delved into other ancient world mythologies. You were looking for powerful female archetypes and figures that you didn’t see in the Norse stories at first. What was it like to rediscover the women from the Norse tradition and how is their role much more significant than you initially thought?
Upon entering puberty, I was increasingly appalled by the feminine world of diets, calories, fashion, self-hatred, superficial romanticism and double-standard sexuality. I did not fit in, I did not understand it, and I searched for cultures where being a woman meant something different. 
At first, I found that by studying very ancient cultures where women were more concerned with spiritual mysteries. I was trying to find mentors and models from the past that suited me better than anything I could find in more recent history or in contemporary society. I had not been taught Norse mythology from a feminine perspective and did not even think to look for that here. Then I had this re-encounter with Norse myths and started to study them properly. 
In the beginning I think I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that such a warlike and patriarchal society could still yield such astounding female characters in a way few other warlike and patriarchal societies did. It was a great puzzle for me that I had to try and figure out. Maybe my interest in Norse gender relations was spurred by how I perceived my own extended family and how that also puzzled me. From my perspective, I grew up knowing a bunch of very strong and tough men who could be very macho at times, yet who still nurtured a deep respect for women (most of the women in the family were also unusually intelligent). Few of them were afraid of a fist-fight and almost all of them had at least once beaten up people who offended women or harassed the weak. 
They had this chivalry about them, your see, a deep sense of responsibility when it came to protecting and standing up for those who were less strong than themselves. They were tough hardcore anti-bullies in many ways. 
There was a clear division of labor; the men of my family took it for granted that they as men should do all the tough and physically hard work, and in return they expected the women to organize just about everything else. I remember reacting to the gender divided work in our family, mostly I was pissed by the fact that I was expected to clear the table when what I really wanted was to sit and listen to their after dinner conversations, which were always interesting, and I have never been good housewife material. 
Valkyrie On Horse
Now that I am older I can better appreciate the way the men of my family were so chivalrous and how they truly respected the intelligence of women. I always felt very respected intellectually, even as a child I was used to grown men respecting my insights, grown men teaching me things and taking me to places for the purpose of teaching. When I began to study Norse gender relations, I began to see a connection to my own experience, to actually see the cultural continuation in my own family. 
Do you feel it is acceptable for non-Scandinavians to take on beliefs or rituals from the old Gods and try to work with them?
Why not? What part of “All-Father” is so hard to understand? All the Norse gods are gods of various natural, cosmic and psychological/spiritual phenomena. If the Norse versions of these gods are what make your heart sing, nobody else has any right to object to your relationship to them, and if genetic ancestry is what you are looking for, well, Norsemen traveled a lot and have descendants all over the world. Thunder is not culture-specific, neither is Earth or Sun or Fate or Death. 
The divine characters of the myths are cultural expressions for how Norse people understood universal powers, and the Norse people themselves were completely aware of this and had no problem seeing that other people worshipped exactly the same gods, only by different names and with different ritual customs. 
Norse/Germanic people had no problem whatsoever with adapting other gods into their worship, as we can see from ancient votive altars where there is a blend of Norse, Celtic, Roman and Middle Eastern deities. Many Vikings prayed to Jesus right next to Thor and Odin, mainly because it took several generations for the idea of monotheism to sink in. 
They were in many ways religious anarchists. If you want to be more like your Heathen ancestors you need to let go of all dogma, all doctrines, and allow for a lot of fluidity, pragmatism and open-mindedness as well as an acceptance of every individual´s right to worship in the manner they want. You should even be in acceptance of those people who fail to worship the gods but who trust in their own strength and cunning – such ancient atheists were also part of our cultural tradition and were accepted. If you had a position of power, you were expected to partake in certain ritual customs, but you were free to believe whatever you wanted. People cared about your behavior, whether you behaved honorably. But they did not care about your beliefs. That was your own business only.  
Norway
When westerners started to look for other sources to spirituality than what the church had to offer, they looked to eastern and Native American spirituality and learned a lot from that. I am sure this search into other cultures has helped many people. Now people are looking more into their own roots, which is understandable. When you feel a sort of “family relation” to some aspect of the past, it does something to you. I think it is a natural need for humans to feel some sort of ancestral connection, and lots of people in the western world descend partly from Scandinavians. Maybe they could just as easily have picked Celtic or Slavic connections, but Norse myths are the only ones that have been preserved in a fashion that almost gives us a direct window into their spiritual world. And that spiritual world is essentially pan-human and universal.
What drew me into your work was your series of presentations examining the esoteric symbolism of Norse initiation myths. The tale of Odin’s quest resonated with me a lot and has incredible parallels with Vision Quests found in other cultures. What do you attribute this culturally diverse development and necessity for a “Heroes Journey” that appears all over the world in ancient times?
I think it is hard for people today to realize just how dangerous the world once used to be. It still is for many people, but our global society is different and we seem to think we can afford to put our idealisms before the realities of a harsh world. This is in many ways a good thing, but it is also a result of privilege. 
Moving back several hundreds of years, thousands of years, and you find a world where you could never ever rely on anyone but your family, clan and tribe to take care of you, and you would always have to give something back. To serve the community you belonged to. 
Gerhard Munthe: Illustration for Harald Hårfagres saga. Snorre 1899-edition.
Most men had to learn how to protect their families against invasion, conquest, slavery, rape. To teach men how to become courageous, skillful, ruthless fighters yet with all the important ethical honor codes intact, you needed to actually teach them this. This is where the Hero comes in, the great ideal for all men to admire and live up to, the Hero who would be rewarded with the love and admiration of women, the support of men, a name that would live on. Interestingly, the Hero´s Journey, the path towards true manhood as they saw it, to become the great Protector, is very close to the shamanic journey as well as the initiations into ancient spiritual mysteries. It has to do with becoming greater than you originally were, spiritually, mentally and physically. I think it developed both out of extremely ancient shamanic traditions as well as out of need – people actually needed their heroes. 
If Odin’s journey serves as a metaphorical map for initiation, how did people who lived in the times of the Pagan tradition act that myth out in order to receive the same transformative experience? Did the old communities offer a structured path of initiation as a rite of passage?
I believe so, yes. We do not know everything they did, but we get clues here and there. For example, you have a saying from the bishop of Orkney, early 13th century, where he declares that he never learned the art of poetry by the water-source, never performed spell-songs and never sat beneath hanged man. Why would he declare that he never did that? Because he was a spiritual leader and people expected him to do things like that. He had to clarify that his particular spiritual office meant something else. 
Odin
This tells me that the practices he is describing were common practices for people who had a spiritual leader position in ancient Norse society, so common and so important that a bishop had to clarify the difference even as late as the early 13th century. Also, Adam of Bremen describes a ritual in Uppsala which clearly is a reenactment of mythical initiation stories. I really believe that the myths were employed for the framing of rituals. 
Odin hangs himself on the World's Tree in order to gain the secret magic of the Runes. This symbolic death is in fact critical to Odin’s Quest for knowledge. Does your research indicate that Scandinavian men and women in the past sought to mirror Odin by undergoing ritual mock hangings? Would the purpose of this be for the initiate to enter a state of heightened awareness that could produce a “peak experience” that allows a spiritual breakthrough to occur? 
One of the strongest arguments I ever read for this was by the Norwegian archaeologist Brit Solli, and she builds on the works of many others, such as Folke Ström. There are certainly many researchers who have suggested that the mock hangings described in the sagas describe real practices which sought to symbolically reenact the initiation of Odin, and as Brit Solli explained, there is even a case for how they could have entered a state of heightened awareness through asphyxia by hanging.

The Freemasons also perform an initiation ritual that produces a mock death experience. Do you think there’s any connection there or are both traditions just picking up on the same symbolic act coincidentally?
The latter. Norse myths fall into a large universal tendency reaching way back in to shamanism and ancient mystery cults, where symbolic and ritual death is vital to accessing magical and divine powers as well as a form of immortality (resurrection or salvation in death). 
How is the Nordic view on death different in comparison to Judeo-Christian attitudes or even from Eastern philosophies like Taoism, Hinduism or Buddhism?
The Judeo-Christian attitudes to death involve either punishment or reward for having believed in the “right” things. Hinduism is colored by the same idea of punishment and reward through karma, but is more concerned with actions than with what you believe. I will not go into Taoism or Buddhism here because these are a lot more complex and I don’t have the space. 
But I think the Norse views on death are more deeply steeped in many different customs and traditions. They had no dogma, no doctrine, the possibilities for what happens after death are many and diverse. But they obviously assumed that life would go on in some new world, they appear to have believed in reincarnation, and the Helgi poems clearly show that they had some concepts similar to the concept of “karma”. This is something I would have to write a whole essay about. But before you think there was no ethics involved, there was. They did have a concept called “norna dómr”, meaning the Judgment of the Norns. This would happen within nine nights after death and determined your afterlife fate. 
You have a video, Ancient Rituals and Modern Practice that addresses the desire people have today to go through an authentic initiation process. Can you share a bit about the tips and suggestions you offered to the seekers of the Quest today?
We have to find a new way when there is nobody to mentor us who carry thousands of years of knowledge – that knowledge was lost to us, taken from us. It is gone. Trying to revive it is probably only going to lead to a great deal of exciting role play. There is nothing wrong with dressing up and making ritual, it is probably something that may feel very fulfilling. But I would not rely on that. I would suggest that you leave the hang-up on ritual and rather look out for the essential message of the myths. 
There are three major obstacles on the path of initiation in the heroic myths are the following internal qualities; Hatred, Greed and Fear. These are important to overcome.Apart from that; Don’t take yourself too seriously. Really. Self-importance is the major obstacle to self-realization. Un-teach yourself the importance of the image of you, and start to look to your soul instead. Deal honorably with your fellow human beings, don’t try to force them to think as you do, because nobody is better than anybody else and we all think the way we do because of all the things that happened on our life´s journey. Let people be who they are, and be who you are. Focus on becoming the best version of yourself and relax. 
Do the rituals and connect with the beings that seem meaningful to you, but trust mostly in your own strength and understanding. Don’t grasp too much.  
Listen, observe, learn. Stop trying to overwrite everything you see or hear with your own ready-made script. Listen more. 
Try to understand that even those whose views and lives are the opposite of yours have something to teach you. Everybody and everything has something to teach you if you only start to listen more. Stop being judgmental, because that will close your mind to learning. Practice non-doing, that is, do the opposite of what you always did. That will rock your mind. For example, if you are strongly against some sort of political ideal or religious tradition or particular lifestyle, then stop and ask yourself exactly why you really react. Maybe you are not reacting because there is something inherently wrong in what you are reacting to. Maybe there is something in your personal and cultural history which makes you react so emotionally to it. 
Then try to learn about it in order to truly understand why other people believe in this. Then your mind will expand and your understanding will deepen, and even if it is not your preferred path, you will know better why that path is there. Your typical Norseman ancestor was curious and open-minded, so secure in himself that he did not feel threatened by different ways of life, so secure in his own path that he but could afford being curious about others simply for the sake of knowledge and wisdom. The only thing you have a right to be judgmental about is when people are abusing and bullying someone else.
Know yourself.
Can you comment about the notion of the maiden as being the keeper of ultimate Wisdom? In what other ways do female characters play indispensable roles in the old myths? 
The maiden symbolizes Fate, Soul, Death, Love and Resurrection. This is why she is female, because these concepts are feminine in the Norse language and tradition. We really need to stop fuzzing so much about the gender. The Hero reaches the Maiden when he overcomes all the obstacles to the resurrection of his soul. 
Whether you are a man or a woman, this is essentially relevant – we are all the Hero and we all seek the Maiden. Even if there was a path for actual heroes back in the day, the message is universal; They are but metaphors for something that is beyond gender.
The term “magic” or “magick” has been defined in many different ways by various occult schools and esoteric practitioners. How would you define the Norse form of magic? What can we do with that magic? Can one follow Odin and access a Nordic magic in our present reality today?
How to define the Norse form of magic – there are so many and the subject so great and so complex I cannot really even begin here in this setting. The most important aspect of Seiðr is divination – knowing the past, the present, and the way these two together make up the future. So learn the past, understand the present, and you will have a better grasp on the future. 
As to practicing today; I think we should never meddle with things that we do not understand clearly. If you want to build an altar to focus on a certain power, because you feel that you need the qualities that this power represents in your life, then do so, it is probably going to benefit you in some way or other, if nothing else so to remind you of what qualities you wish to possess or have in your life. 
It is a bit like the law of attraction, to some extent we do get what we ask for. In the Hávamál, Odin points out the importance of knowing what you are asking for. This is more important than trying to make magic – knowing what you are asking for. Better not to pray than to sacrifice too much. I think nurturing our wisdom and understanding is a lot more important than to meddle with powers one does not fully understand. 
What ceremonial tools would a Norse magician have on their altar?
Whatever makes your heart sing. There was no script for that.  
“Magic Circle” by John William Waterhouse (1886)
Can you talk a bit about the nature of Animism and how it relates to Norse religions views?
That the world is alive. That the Earth is a living being, our common mother, one we can talk to and listen to. The plants being sentient, even the stones and the minerals. The animals can be your teachers. Just start to listen to the world as one full of visible and invisible sentient beings and you will learn to feel a part of it. 
Don’t expect them to be that interested in you, but know that everybody likes a chat and some attention. Start talking. Say hello to that flower. Listen to that bird. That is what your ancestors did, as we can see from their stories. That was how they learned to recognize signs and warnings, how they expanded their minds. They listened to a living world. 
      What do you think of various groups attempting to resurrect the old ways and recreating the experience of the old religion? 
I think it is a natural result of living in a world that has been uprooted, disconnected and alienated, and where the traditional religions do not offer what people feel they need. People are looking back to a time when community meant something, when there was a certain freedom of soul, a sense of connection with a larger world. I think it is a path as good as any other if it is done for the purpose of finding back to your real humanity. 
Does it seem true that certain people are feeling unsatisfied with the type of atheistic materialism and science worship that has become dominant since the 20th Century? Do you feel a return to myth and spiritual wonder happening?
After a fashion. But I am very fond of science! I do not think science is an obstacle to spiritual understanding or growth, on the contrary I think it is vital to it. The Old Norse people knew some science, even some scientific method, as you can see in the “King´s Mirror” (Kónungs Skuggsjá), Snorri and many other Old Norse writers, although they did not have the same history of science behind them as we do now. Use science! Learn science! No scientist ever “worships science”. On the contrary, the core of science is the core of the path of Odin, the Seeker of Knowledge. Like Odin, the scientist knows that the world is a great mystery crammed with illusions, and that there are no easy or straightforward answers. Like Odin, the scientist explores, inquires, investigates, tries to make sense out of the great unknown, knowing that there is always more to add to their knowledge. 
Honestly, I have a magical experience of wonder when I learn about the cosmos, about nature, about evolution, about history. I have never been able to see how that is not spiritual at its very core. It is more spiritual than any modern religion, because it is, like Odin himself, a matter of seeking knowledge, seeking without dogmas, seeking by always asking questions, and by never settling for any one answer. That takes courage and it will make you grow. 
Do the ancient ways call us away from modern technology or should they work together, in a harmony?
What does it matter what we think of technology? We have modern technology already. It is here, for as long as we have a civilization that is capable of providing it. It is our Fate. Deal with it. The question should really be how to employ it in a way that does not destroy the planet or crush societies or suck our souls dry. But the fact that our civilization could actually fall apart and render most of our technology useless makes it wiser, perhaps, to learn of older ways of surviving. I think it is good to learn how to make things the old way. I suppose I shall go for the harmony part.
What is lost in a culture that no longer provides rites of passage or honors the spiritual, vision quest?
Meaning, I suppose, a deeper purpose with life, courage and honor. We are left with a lot of confused, disconnected, alienated, hormone-ridden teenagers who do not know where to turn and who have no mentors, and often enough with no respect for anyone and not even for themselves. 

Today in the West, and I can speak for America, many people have become infantilized and pampered to such a level that the notion of perseverance, strength and self-determination are desperately losing the footing in the culture. Instead of throwing oneself out into the world to face a noble Quest or take a journey of self-discovery, culture encourages people to stay home with mom and dad for as long as they want and put off the responsibilities of age. What do you think the Old Gods would say to this?
I think a greater problem today is that people often lack the sense of having a community that will have your back if something happens. Old Norse people usually lived together with their extended families (or in the case of married women, with their in-laws) all their lives, so most people hardly ever actually left the nest, for the most part they stayed in their nest until they died. The clan and the tribe was your social security if something befell you, and would have your back if you got into a conflict. Even women who were married off into the families of their husbands could always return to their own clan if they were unhappy, or expect them to come to her aid if she was treated badly. People usually had a place to go back to. 
Nobody could live independently of others, being “independent” was a relatively unknown concept and far from an ideal. Everybody knew that they depended on other people to survive. In return, you were legally responsible for everything anybody in your clan did, and you were expected to contribute in whatever way you were capable, and you would have to provide for the needs of your clan and tribe. Maybe people threw themselves more into the world back then, but they usually did so in the company of their clan- and tribal members. No Viking ever went a-Viking on his own. Even the young men who sought initiation in the wilderness tended to have at least one mentor to guide them through it. Only very unfortunate or else very special people lived on their own.
Odin and the Gods
People did not learn responsibility by being on their own, they learned it by having to participate in the work and needs of the community from an early age. And if you knew that your entire family would get be held responsible if you committed a crime, and you depended on that family for your survival, you would probably think twice before acting.   
Today, we tend to think that young people should go out into the world completely on their own and painstakingly find their own friends and associations and contacts that may help them, if they are lucky. Instead of following their elders at their work, and thus learning all aspects of survival by observation and participation, they live a completely separate life at school with other children or youths, and as young adults must usually move out on their own. 
This is almost unnatural and often leads to anxiety and depression instead of the strength that comes from knowing that you have a bunch of people behind you who will always support you if you have problems and where you provide a meaningful contribution that makes you feel useful. What is really sad today about young people is that they grow up in a world where they cannot look up to their elders and seek them for mentoring and teaching. That is what these ancient people had, elders. Elder people who knew more about the world and who could mentor and teach the young. 
Today, most elder people no longer understand the world and are often so confused and alienated themselves that young people cannot see them as the resources for wisdom that they once were. It is the responsibility of the elder population to become good role models and mentors, so we should just start working with ourselves instead of chiding young people for showing all the signs of being young people who unconsciously feel betrayed because they never got the mentoring that is natural to them, and because they never got good training in how to be responsible men or women today. 
Most people are very one-dimensional when they imagine the old ­Viking era. What are the perceptions of the Norse myths and the Viking Age that you seek to challenge with your efforts and why are they so hard to overcome?
People today are generally very one-dimensional. We carry with us the burden of a history where people strongly believed that there is only one truth and it has to be just so, that is, very dogmatic, and where they believed that they had to exterminate everyone who did not think exactly like themselves. This was unknown to people who grew up in a world that was ruled by countless different sorts of powers all coming together in both conflict and community in order to maintain a very fluid world of many different opinions and traits. 
People today want easy ready-made answers and will get very stressed out and angry if these answers are challenged. This ridiculous attitude is also applied to Norse myths – they get a few stereotypical impressions through the media or educational system and then they will mostly stick to that, or if they try to learn more, they will try to make everything they learn fit into a certain frame that they feel comfortable with. 
I challenge this whole attitude by trying to show people that we really don’t know that much, and that the point must be to seek and question with an open mind, and realize that there is not one truth but many different paths to becoming all that we can be. 
You have stepped away from making so many videos and focused more on your writing and research. What are you working on now or have in store for the future?
I am working on the Blade Honer historical novel series about the life of the Oseberg Priestess and the dawn of the Viking Age. I have three books out so far and am currently about to finish the fourth. 
_________________________________________________________________________________

Maria Kvilhaug born in Oslo, Norway, in 1975

PUBLICATIONS: 

Non-fiction:
The Maiden with the Mead – A Goddess of Initiation in Old Norse Myths? (2004)
Read this thesis for free at the University of Oslo online library
The Seed of Yggdrasill – Deciphering the Hidden Knowledge in Old Norse Myths 
(Whyte Tracks/Millhouse Publishing 2013)

Fiction: 
The Blade Honer historical novel series about the life of the Oseberg Priestess (783-834 AD) published by Createspace/Amazon as paperback and Kindle.
The Hammer of Greatness (2014)
My Enemy´s Head (2014)
The Hel Rune´s Claim (2015)
A Twisted Mirror (coming in 2016/2017)


5 comments:

  1. Whoa... this blew me away, and I haven't even started reading it yet.

    SKOL.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What an exquisite interview. Thank you for putting it out here for us to read!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks to all for the comments. I enjoyed it just as much.

    ReplyDelete

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