The Norse Gods Are Smákonungar ‘Petty Kings’

Written by Dyami Millarson

Old Scandinavian polytheism, a complex and deeply ingrained belief system of the Scandinavian peoples, provides a rich tapestry of folk religious narratives and rituals that remain relevant in modern times. One of the core characteristics of Old Scandinavian religion is what the Dutch call kleinschaligheid, which may be translated as ‘localness’ or ‘the quality of being small-scale.’ The kleinschaligheid of Old Scandinavian religion can be seen in the overlapping roles between local rulers called smákonungar ‘petty kings’ and the Æsir-Gods, Vanir-Gods, and Álfar-Gods, as well as the manner in which the local environment is deeply intertwined with the religious beliefs and rituals pertaining to the Nordic Gods.

The conception of the Gods as smákonungar is closely related to my understanding of the Nordic Gods as lords, and the latter also logically led me to the former; indeed, the former interpretation is but a slight modification of the latter idea, namely it represents the idea that the Nordic Gods are local lords or petits seigneurs ‘petty lords, small lords’ as one may call them in French. In other words, by localising our understanding of the Nordic Gods as lords, we arrive at the interpretation of the Nordic Gods as local rulers. This localisation is, in turn, the result of realising that kleinschaligheid is an essential attribute of Old Scandinavian religion.

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