nificance in those religions.'4 For not only do people of mixed religion
judge of the heterogeneous elements of their faith very confusedly, if
they discriminate among them at all, but also the phenomenon of syn-
cretism itself, the intermingling of two religions, is inherently ambiv-
alent. How then can the most patient investigator hope to guess what
'the positive and respectful union of elements' might entail between
two such religions as the heiðinn siður of Iceland and other Scandina-
vian lands, and northern European Christianity a thousand years ago?
Value judgments on this bias are neither practicable nor desirable.
The study of Old Norse literature in the difficult light of the con-
version of Norway and Iceland to Christianity demands first and fore-
most that we make a firm distinction between syncretism proper - the
actual mixing of pagan and Christian rites and beliefs - and what goes
under the Tacitean label of interpretatio, i.e., the often defective syn-
cretistic preconceptions which both parties to the conversion, Chris-
tian missionaries and pagan recipients, impose upon the religions con-
fronting them, and will cling to long afterwards.5 The crossover effect
of interpretatio is immediately evidenf. from the Christian missionaries
we get an interpretatio christiana of the Germanic cults, and from the
pagan Germans, Anglo-Saxons, or Scandinavians an interpretatio ger-
manica of the Church of Rome. Nevertheless, we must not be de-
ceived: these bilateral interpretationes remained largely interpreta-
tions, oil on the troubled waters, which might calm but did not mix
with the opposing religious elements; and yet, since they impregnated
the Christianized pagan literature of the Germanic peoples in the post-
conversion period of the High Middle Ages, they are of as much in-
terest to us as the scarcer instances of true syncretism in that period.
Though there is perhaps no more than a vestige of some religious
forms of syncretism in the mid-thirteenth-century Sólarljóð, through
its imagery of heaven and hell runs an eclectic Icelandic interpretatio
christiana which freely adapts the myths of the Eddas and the kennings
of the skalds to the visions of a Christian seer, and thus synthesizes
them in Foote's phrase 'at the conceptual level,' which is to say, 'not at
4 Ibid., p. 85.
5 See again Lange's Studien, pp. 21 f., for the full schema of group interaction in re-
ligion: conversion - interpretatio - syncretism. The order of the three phenomena is not
strictly historical: interpretatio can precede conversion as well as succeed syncretism; and
it covers the stories about the gods (the myths), besides the divine names.