Beliefs, rituals, and mythology of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples, in a geographic area extending from the Black Sea across central Europe and Scandinavia to Iceland and Greenland. The religion died out in central Europe with the conversion to Christianity (4th century) but continued in Scandinavia until the 10th century. The Old Norse literature of medieval Iceland, notably the Poetic Edda (circa 1200) and the Prose Edda (circa 1222), recounts the lore of the Germanic gods. The earth was held to have been created out of a cosmic void called Ginnungagap; in another account the first gods formed it from the body of a primeval giant, Aurgelmir. There were two sets of gods in the Germanic pantheon, the warlike Aesir and the agricultural Vanir. Germanic religion also encompassed belief in female guardian spirits, elves, and dwarfs. Rites were conducted in the open or in groves and forests; animal and human sacrifice was practiced. Ragnarok is the Germanic doomsday.
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Branch of the Indo-European language family, comprising languages descended from Proto-Germanic. These are divided into West Germanic, including English, German, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, and Yiddish; North Germanic, including Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Faeroese (the language of the Faroe Islands); and East Germanic, now extinct, comprising Gothic and the languages of the Vandals, Burgundians, and a few other tribes. The Gothic Bible of AD 350 is the earliest extensive Germanic text. The West Germanic languages developed around the North Sea and in overseas areas colonized by their speakers. The North Germanic, or Scandinavian, languages, were carried as far west as Greenland and as far east as Russia in the Viking expansion of the early Middle Ages. The continental Scandinavian languages were strongly influenced by Low German in the late Middle Ages, but Icelandic and Faeroese have preserved many characteristics of Old Scandinavian grammar.
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