Tag Archives: Alcis

The Twinfaced Figure from Thy

Ah yes, the “Thy figure”. Part of a Nordic Bronze Age find in the region of Thy, Denmark.

thyfigure

It was actually quite a thrilling find, from earlier this year (2019), and for a few different reasons. One was its timely arrival, coming as it did on the tail end of research I had been doing into the Divine Twins (Alcis, Hors and Hengist, etc.) and the Nordic Bronze Age. Incidentally, if you have not read “The Rise of Bronze Age Europe”, you know nothing, John Snow. But another reason for the thrill was the fact that the find was quite monumental. Stuff like this isn’t uncovered every day! And here I had a discovery unfolding in real time, right before my very eyes, where I was getting information on it as fast as anyone else not actually participating in the excavation itself! And of course, here on the local level there is the entire back story regarding my initial impression on it and the back-and-forth between myself and a certain prominent Youtuber in the Anglo-Nordic community; who seems like he could be a very interesting and informative chap if he could get over himself and his academic credentials long enough to have a conversation. I refrain from naming names, as he remains my favourite Youtuber among the handful of likely suspects — which I say with the caveat that I’m not at all too keen on the rest of them — but he knows who he is. And we do have mutuals. And of course, when you’ve been a part of the Anglo-Nordic (Heathen) community for as long as I have, ie. 30+ years, you just get tired of the consistent flow of desperate, insecure, and utterly effeminate drama that, collectively, has defined it since I first stepped in.

Yawn.

That said, it’s a funny story; which will no doubt bleed its way in to anything I write on this subject. And which I feel obliged to mention, at least in passing, because, well, as I suppose on immediate reflection, we apparently love our drama?

But on to the Thy figure itself…

Perhaps the first guess to be thrown out there on this find, and certainly the most interesting, was its striking resemblance to the Roman representation of their own native deity, Janus. His worship is believed to reach back to prior to the foundation of the Roman Republic (509 BC), and the earliest depictions (and all later ones) show him as doublefaced. He is believed to be uniquely Roman and — at least on the surface and to those unable to see the theme underlying various expressions/depictions — unknown to the Greeks; though both the Hindus and the Slavs did worship multifaced idols/gods.

In doing some cursory reading on Janus, I was immediately struck by his associations with the arch-way or door and all that implies in terms of liminality and duality, ie. beginnings, endings, cycle of the day and year, ie. passage of the sun, etc. He also apparently had an association with the dancing youths of the cult of Mars known as the Salii, themselves a descendant of the old Proto-Indo-European *koryos (adolescent males in training). As with Mars’ own offspring, the progenitors of Rome, Romulus and Remus, I would suggest that Janus represents an evolution of the “god-concept” embodied in the P.I.E. Divine Twins, who are also associated with youths, thresholds, liminality and duality.

That said, it is highly unlikely that the Roman Janus was at all an influence on the Thy figure, which itself predates not only the Roman Republic, but also Germanic-Roman contact (Negua helms, Cimbrian Wars, 2nd century BC) and the strong influx of Roman material goods that began soon after the time of Julius Caesar (1st century BC) by centuries. As such, it would be more plausible, if equally unlikely, to suggest that the Thy figure influenced the Roman Janus rather than vice verse.

Most likely the similarity is simply a matter of the spontaneous evolution of thought, belief and expression along similar lines, owing to a common Indo-European heritage, rather than the tired old matter of “who got what from whom?”.

Naturally, in considering both the Thy figure and Janus, the mind is drawn to the Old Germanic god, Tuisto, whose name is rooted in the concept of two, and who was mentioned as co-progenitor (alongside Mannus; see Yama and Manu in the Hindu tradition) of the Germanic peoples by Tacitus.

As for my own initial impressions…

Compare the horned helmets of this twinned figure (above) with the Vikso helmets (below). Also from the Nordic Bronze Age. And deposited as a pair.

Bronze_Age_Helmets,_Nationalmuseet_Copenhagen

Also compare with the Grevensvaenge figurine (below). It is also a product of the Nordic Bronze Age and was originally part of a large ensemble that included this figure’s twin; who would have knelt beside his brother in the ensemble.

grevensvaenge1

And also compare with the Fogdarp yoke (below); which, you guessed it, is also from the Nordic Bronze Age. Note also, in comparison to the Vikso helms, they “youthful” eyes, and particularly the “beak” set between the eyes (ie. nasal region) of both.

fogtdarpyoke

These Lads were a big deal over the course of the Nordic Bronze Age. And indeed over the European Bronze Age in general.

They are perhaps best remembered in the Indo-European context as the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, but find parallels throughout the Indo-European world; most notably, outside of Anglo-Nordic belief itself, in Hinduism (Ashvins) and Baltic belief (Ašvieniai, Dieva deli).

That they maintained some degree of pan-Germanic prestige following the collapse of the Nordic Bronze Age (c.500 BC) into the early centuries of the Migration Age (beginning c.300 AD), can be inferred from the dual brother-kings found at the head of a number of tribes in migration, ie. liminality, the most famous of whom are the mytho-historical Hors and Hengist, who are said to have led the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britannia.

One of the cool things about the Fogtdarp Lads — which, like all of these artifacts, I’ve never had the luxury to examine first person and only know through “display” type photographs, and so turned out to be quite the thrilling discovery, relating to some research I was doing at the time — is what you see from a birds eye look at them (below).

fogsdarpbirdseye

 

That is the Nordic Bronze Age “Axe of Heaven” symbol, which you can read more about here, and should keep in mind as very relevant as we progress.

Now it has been argued that, “The Grevensvaenge idols are twins, two separate entities, but the Thy figure is two-faced, so completely different.”, which, along with another criticism that I shall touch on later, represents analytical reductionism at its finest.

The fundamental idea expressed in the relationship of the Divine Twins can be perceived in the Baltic word *jumis*. This is the name that the Baltic peoples gave to their own version of the “horseheaded gables” — called “Hors and Hengist” by their Germanic neighbours in northern Germany — and its companion “runic” symbol. Not to mention one of their native divinities. The word jumis means “two grown together as one”. It is cognate to the Latin gemini — and the aforementioned Yama, twin of Manu — which was itself identified with Castor and Pollux by the Greeks.

And no, I don’t think that it is also cognate to the Old Icelandic Ymir, which, as far as the speakers of Old Icelandic were concerned meant “Noisemaker”, and within the Eddic context no doubt understood as “Bellower”.

The doublefaced Thy figure is an expression of the same notion, the same theme, that is the essence of the Divine Twins, and reflected not only by the twin idols of the Grevensvaenge ensemble, but also in the twin heads (common “body”) of the Fogtdarp yoke, and even centuries later on Gallehus horn B; where utilitarian half loops are found on both of the Lads depicted thereon, and via which a chain or leather string could be run to make a carrying strap, but which also expressed the fundamental unity of the two.

This of course also relates to the two-horsed chariot of the Indo-Europeans.

In Indo-European myth the essential unity of the Lads is perhaps best represented in Greek myth, in which Castor was mortally wounded, and so Zeus gave Pollux the option of sharing half his immortality with his brother; such that the two would spend half the year in Hades with each other, and half in Olympus with each other. This as opposed to Castor spending eternity in Hades, while Pollux would spend eternity in Olympus, ie. apart from each other.

Needless to say perhaps, Pollux chose to share his immortality with his twin brother.

Anyway, the Grevensvaenge figures, the Fogtdarp yoke, the Thy idol, the Gallehus horn twins, all different expressions of the same underlying theme, ie. of the Divine Twins.

Another criticism that came out,as alluded to above, was embodied in the question, “what do horns have to do with horse-gods???” Now, as an honest question, it is a very good question. After all, the association, like goats and thunder — or even poetry and immortality? lol — is not immediately self-evident or at all easy to explain. And yet, as a question meant only to derail, we have this image from a Minoan sarcophagi found on the isle of Crete and dated c.1,400 BC,

hornshorses

And it certainly does beg the question, what DO horns have to do with horses?

That is to say that, whether we appreciate or understand the association ourselves, the association is an observable fact. As such, like goats and thunder, the onus is on us to, first accept, and then, more poignantly, to understand.

Our lack of understanding does not invalidate the evident association.

And so, in answer to the question, “what do horns have to do with horses?” the answer is an obvious, “the Divine Twins. That is what horns have to do with horses.”

Within a couple weeks of the above mentioned criticisms the CT scan of the full find was released. Prior to this we saw the Thy figure itself along with an axe head embedded in the soil.

thyaxehead

But with the CT scan, the question about horns and horse gods was brought to an abrupt end. And the exchange deleted.

CTscanThy

And the CT scan was eventually followed by more pictures. Here’s one,

thyhorses

Hmmm. So what DO horns have to do with horse-gods? Or perhaps more accurately here, what do horses have to do with horned-gods? And axes to boot?

The sacral and hallowing power of the Alcis, the twinned sons of God and divine champions of Man. That is what horses, horns and axes all have to do with each other.

How did I know, prior to the CT scans? Well, how does anyone “get the joke” so to speak? Certainly not by reducing it to its component parts and analyzing them in isolation from one another or the larger context it exists in. In regards to humour, we have a word for that approach.

Humourless.

Suffice it to say that it wasn’t a lucky guess. Nor any presumption of “knowing it all” on my behalf; no matter how much “Wyrd” might have conspired to paint me as omniscient on this matter.

Reckon wisely, my friends! And hey, lets be whole out there!

thyaxehorse

 

 

 

The Alcis: the Divine Twins Among the Germanic Peoples

The Alcis are a pair of twin brother gods that were worshiped among the early Germanic peoples. They are first mentioned in Cornelius Tacitus’ 1st century work Germania, where he writes,

The Naharvali proudly point out a grove associated with an ancient worship. The presiding priest dresses like a woman; but the deities are said to be the counterpart of our Castor and Pollux. This indicates their character, but their name is the Alcis. There are no images, and nothing to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they are certainly worshiped as young men and as brothers.

(Note: exactly what “dresses like a woman” meant is open to debate, ie. Roman filter)

The early comparison here between the Germanic Alcis and the Hellenic Dioscuri, ie. Castor and Pollux, is of course no idle one as modern Indo-European studies prove. The “Divine Twins” are believed to be very ancient, forming part of the original Proto-Indo-European religion (4th millennium Before Common Era) and remembered in their descendant cultures as, not only the Germanic Alcis and Hellenic Dioscuri (sons of God), but also as the Vedic Ashvins, the Lithuanian Asvieniai (cognate to Ashvins), the Latvian Dieva Deli (sons of God), etc. The name Alcis itself is of obscure etymology. Some link it to the word elk, while others (more insightfully IMO) link it to a group of words springing from the Proto-Indo-European *alk-, and the ideas of “sacred space” (eg. Old English – ealh) and “protection” (Old English – ealgian).

One of the most enduring features of the Divine Twins is their association with the sun-goddess, and centuries before Tacitus we find “them” depicted on the rock-art of the Nordic Bronze Age (1,800 BCE to 500 BCE).

alcissunship

We likewise have them depicted in two of the Grevensvaenge figurines which date from the late Nordic Bronze Age.

grevensvaenge

Other parts of the “ensemble” have since been lost but were sketched by the original archaeologists upon or soon after discovery. Here is the sketch …

grevensv

Based upon such rock carvings as this (note the “acrobat”(?) above the boat) …

grevensvae

… some believe that the original Grevensvaenge ensemble might have looked something like this …

alcisbronzeage

This age also witnessed numerous paired sacrifices of lur-horns, battle axes horned helmets, etc.

Bronze_Age_Helmets,_Nationalmuseet_Copenhagenlurhorns

As shown within the greater Indo-European context, the Divine Twins are depicted either as youths and brothers, or as horses … or even as horseheaded brothers in Vedic myth! Tacitus further comments in Germania, “They like the old and well-known money, coins milled, or showing a two-horse chariot.”

alciscoin

This draws our mind back to the famous “Trundholm Sun Chariot” of the Nordic Bronze Age (image below). It’s wheels are functional and it is believed that it’s brightside represented the sun being drawn through the heavens east to west, while it’s “darkside” represented movement through the underworld and a west to east movement.

Solvogn

The connection of the Alcis with horses and chariots, their closeness to mankind, highlights another observation noted by Tacitus regarding the Germanic tribes,

“It is peculiar to this people to seek omens and monitions from horses. Kept at the public expense, in these same woods and groves, are white horses, pure from the taint of earthly labour; these are yoked to a sacred cart, and accompanied by the priest and the king, or chief of the tribe, who note their neighings and snortings. No species of augury is more trusted, not only by the people and by the nobility, but also by the priests, who regard themselves as the ministers of the gods, and the horses as acquainted with their will.”

We also find this interesting piece of lore as Tacitus ties up his survey of Germania,

“Beyond the Suiones (the Swedes) we find another sea, sluggish and almost stagnant. This sea is believed to be the boundary that girdles the earth because the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on here till dawn, with a brilliance that dims the stars. Popular belfef adds that you can hear the sound he makes as he rises from the waves and can see the shape of his horses and the rays on his head.”

The following image (below) is of the Alcis as depicted on Gallehus horn B (Denmark, 5th century CE). The horn was most likely used for ceremonial libations, and a chain would have originally linked the two brothers together, in a manner reminiscent of the dokana (or even chariot horses!). The dokana was the “cultic symbol” of the Divine Twins among the Graeco-Romans; two upright beams linked by two parallel beams. This represents the essential unity of the two.

hornalcis

Among the Spartans, the Dioscuri were associated with the custom of dual kingship, the rule of brothers. As one went on campaigns, the other would remain to uphold the tribe. Mention of the custom of dual kingship among the Germanic tribes comes as early as Tacitus, and continued well into the Migration Age; a warrior-king and a priest-king. While there are many examples of dual kingships among the early Germanic peoples, the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britannia stand out as archetypcal, in that their names are Hors and Hengist … both of which are words for horse in Old English. Keep them in mind. Here is a depiction of the Divine Twins in Anglo-Saxon art (below). Note their horned helms with a mind toward their Bronze Age depictions.

anglosaxonalcis

While belief in the Alcis may have reached it’s height over the course of the Nordic Bronze Age, the commentary of Tacitus and such examples of Anglo-Saxon art as the above show that, in some manner, the belief nevertheless persisted over the Iron Age and into the Migration Age. In fact, it did not stop there.

The image that follows (below) shows a twin horse “pendant”(?) found in the temple area of the early Viking Age settlement of Tisso, Denmark. Incidentally, the name Tisso means Tyr’s Lake … while the name Tyr means God (rooted in the idea of the radiant heavens) and is cognate to such other Indo-European god-names as the Sanskrit Dyaus, the Greek Zeus, Latin Jupiter, Lithunian Dievas, etc. It is seen in both Dioscuri (Sons of God/Zeus) and Dieva Deli (Sons of God), the Proto-Germanic form of which would have been the pluralized version of Jacob Grimm’s reconstructed *Tiwisko (Son of Tiw, Tyr).

alcis divine twins

Here is another Viking Age artifact from Bornholm, Denmark …

alcis2

And here is a reproduction of a 11th century Rus find …

ruseleventhcentury

One might even see some memory of the Alcis in the Ales Stenar of early Viking Age Sweden; which was oriented for the winter solstice and who’s customary name might indeed be related to the aforementioned alhs.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the memory of the Alcis endured in the surviving mythology of the North Germanic tribes, the Eddas, where we read “Up shall rise All-Swift and Early-Awake, hungry, to haul the Sun” and “But the gods became wroth at this arrogance, took both the brother and the sister, set them up in heaven, and made Sun drive the horses that draw the car of the sun … <snip> … these horses hight Arvak (Early Awake) and Alsvid (All-swift). Under their withers the gods placed two wind-bags to cool them

SunStoneGotland

Havor, Gotland

They are also remembered in North Germanic myth as Skinfaxi (Shining Mane) and Hrimfaxi (Frosty Mane), the horses that pull the chariots of Day and Night. In this we find a memory of the notion that one brother was (originally) mortal and the other immortal, and that they spend equal time in the heavens and in the underworld … not to mention the notion allegedly behind the Trundholm Chariot, where one horse-brother carries the sun through the heavens from day break, and the other takes over at nightfall to draw the sun through the underworld.

The Divine Twins are remembered as threshold guardians. As mentioned above, the very name Alcis is thought to go back to a root meaning “protection”, and particularly in regards to “sacred space”. It seems quite likely that this “threshold into the sacred” is what is behind the kenning “Delling’s Door” in the Eddaic myths. This association with thresholds is preserved in the horseheaded gables found in the architecture of Northern Germany and the Baltic coast. In Northern Germany these gables were referred to as “Hors and Hengist” up until the 19th century.

cropped-alcis1.jpg

And this custom of looking to the Alcis to ward the sanctity of either temple or home continued on unto this day in the form of the horseshoe hung above the door; which parallels the NW European nautical custom of nailing a horseshoe to the main mast of a ship for protection and the ancient and enduring association of the Divine Twins as the protector of sailors, eg. Saint Elmo’s fire.

Horseshoe_lucky_on_door