From Valhalla to Heaven: Norse Pagan Contact with Christianity in Anglo-Scandinavian England
In c. 962 King Edgar ‘The Peaceful’ granted a degree of cultural autonomy to the Scandinavian people of the north of England during an outbreak of plague. This thesis re-examines the religious conversion of the Scandinavians in the north of England in the context of the 962 plague, as well as in the ninth and tenth centuries to test assumptions of conversion and its mechanism. In doing so, I argue that the conversion of the Scandinavian people in the north of England during the ninth, and tenth centuries, was an ongoing and complex process encompassing changes in custom, worldview, and identity. This thesis contributes to recent scholarship in the field of Anglo-Scandinavian religious studies that has begun to challenge a longstanding assumption that shortly after their arrival in 865 the Scandinavian people rapidly gave up their religion for Christianity. In congruence with this recent scholarship, I consider two Norse terms that refer to religion, siðr (custom) and trú (faith) that are deployed by Christian authorities in order to investigate how this example of religious conversion may have occurred. In this thesis I read Edgar’s laws for potential insights into the continuation of ‘heathenism’ and argue that the outbreak of plague in 962 can possibly be read as a moment of religious ‘reversion’, whereby the laity of the north of England engaged in non-Christian practices to avoid health crises. Additionally, I read the laws of Æthelred II for the prohibition of paganism, and homiletic material from Ælfric and Wulfstan II for their attempts to eliminate and/or Christianise ‘pagan’ healing practices as well as to build cultural consensus. A close reading of Christian legal and literary material through the lens of hybridisation theory reveals that the conversion of Scandinavians in the north of England was an ongoing and complex process.