Sara Ann Knutson
November 10, 2020
This article explores new possibilities for the interpretation of myths. It asks how people in the past configured their world and its complex interactions, to which their orally-constructed stories bear witness. It is assumed here that myths contain structures of belief, cognition, and world-making beyond their immediate subject matter. This article focuses specifically on the preservation of material objects in myths throughout their transmission from changing oral narratives to written form. We should not assume that objects in oral traditions simply color the narratives; rather, these representations of materials can provide clues into the mentalities of past peoples and how they understood the complex interaction between humans and materials. As a case study, I examine the Old Norse myths, stories containing materials that reinforced Scandinavian oral traditions and gave the stories traction, memory, and influence. In doing so, this article hopes to help bridge materiality studies, narrative studies, and folklore in a way that does not privilege one particular source type over another. The myths reveal ancient Scandinavian conceptions of what constituted an “object,” which are not necessarily the same as our own twenty-first century expectations. The Scandinavian myths present a world not divided between active Subject, passive Object as the Cartesian model would enforce centuries later, but rather one that recognized distinctive object agencies beyond the realm of human intention.