An evolution of attitudes towards pre-Christian custom in , North-West Europe, as shown in early .medieval word-fields and texts in Old English and Old Icelandic literature, is represented in six variously focussed studies. The first three chapters,
Pagan Words, form a network of research on pre-Christian concepts of mind and soul as they survived, still active, in Christianized heroic poetry. This was part of. the heathen matrix through which the first expressions of Christianity in Old English and Icelandic literature were possible. The second half of this book,
Christian Meanings, shows .how the same Christian literature produced reinterpretations of paganism. The literary range stretches from the earliest epic formulae to the polished genealogical novels of thirteenth-century Iceland- An ancient tradition of augury is invoked by the poet of
The Seafarer to illustrate a believer's passage to heaven. In
Havamal, an artificially pagan creed of ritual teaching and responses is compiled in Iceland as an antiquarian entertainment, perhaps on a Christian model. The last chapter shows a variety of Christian interpretations of, paganism in four sagas of Icelanders from the early to late thirteenth century. Overall where paganism was concerned, the tendency was first to cast off a way of life, then later, when that life was lost forever, to reinvent it for the imagination.