Tag Archives: gods

Lord of the Ingvaeones

The third is Frikko, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus” — Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis

 

yngvifrey

The name Fricco is of course the Latinized version of the better known Old Norse god-name FreyR; itself a title of rulership (rather than a proper name) with a feminine cognate in Old Norse Freyja, and as reflected it’s Old English cognate Frea (fem. Freo). While generally rendered simply as “Lord” the title is indicative of sacral leadership and the peaceable side of rulership, and stands in complimentary juxtaposition to the Old Norse drottin (Old English – drihten), which was also, both, a title of rulership (albeit it martial in this case) and used as a deific title on into Christian times. The word itself stems from the Proto-Indo-European root *pro-, meaning foremost, and so coincides with Snorri Sturlusson’s own assertion that “FreyR is the most renowned of the Æsir” and the words attributed to Tiw (Old Norse – TyR), ie. the glorifying light, in the Eddic poem Lokasenna where he states,

Frey is best of all the exalted gods in the AEsir’s courts“.

The priestly nature of the titular-name “Frea” is itself indicate in the mythology surrounding the deity himself. In the Yngling saga of the Heimskringla we are told that,

Odin placed Njord and Frey as priests of the sacrifices, and they became Diar of the Asaland people

Meanwhile, more subtly, in the Eddic poem Skirnismal we read of how Frea was required to give up his sword and steed in order to win the etinwif, Gerd, as his bride. The name Gerd is of course related to the Old Norse “gard” (OE. – geard), as we see in As-gard and Mid-gard, as well as in Modern English yard and gard-en. It expresses the notion of ordered/settled land, as defined by the presence of the human community and as juxtaposed to the “utangeard” or “wilds” (where the ways of nature reign supreme).  And so this is a myth that reflects the marriage between the spirit of the tribe (as embodied in the priest-king) and the spirit of the (tribal) lands (as embodied in the horse among the Indo-Europeans). The yielding up of weapon and steed in the myth as a necessary act in the ritual of “coronation” is reflected in what Bede said of the Anglii high-priesthood in heathen Northumbria,

it was not lawful before for the high-priest either to carry arms, or to ride on anything but a mare“.

It might also be inferred in Tacitus’ remarks that the high-priests of the tribes of Germania went into battle carrying the sacred standards of their tribe; which itself has a mythic parallel in Frea’s fight against the etin Beli, in which, lacking a weapon, the god is said to have used a stag’s antlers … which are themselves well remembered as a royal standard in the North. To cite a parallel within the greater context of Indo-Europeanism, we have the Roman Flamen Dialis for whom touching either a horse or iron was likewise considered taboo. One might also note the “wizard hat” of the Flamen Dialis’ attire and that we see on Frea in the picture above (among other things).

In the Ynglinga saga we read that,

Frey was called by another name, Yngve; and this name Yngve was considered long after in his race as a name of honour“.

The name Yngvi (Old English – Ingui) means “Offspring, Offshoot, Descendant”, while the Ynglinga saga paints the god as a mortal man who, in ancient times, rose to kingship among the Swedes and founded the royal house known as the Ynglings. Their saga further tells that the Swedes enjoyed a period of great peace and prosperity during his reign, which became known as the “Frith of Frodhi” — frith is a complex concept that expresses a range of inter-related notions that include sacrality, kinship, security, and prosperity — such that when Ingui-frea at last died, they sealed his body within a mound (as opposed to cremating him) and continued to pay taxes to him; believing that as long as they did so peace and prosperity would prevail.

Incidentally, Sweden was perhaps the wealthiest of the Scandinavias into and beyond the Viking Age, and until relatively recently stood as a glowing example of how successful a Socialist system could be; before they (apparently) forgot such fundamentally important concepts as “geard” and it’s companions “(w)holy” and “good”.

Outside of Viking Age Scandinavia, we find reference to Ingui in the Old English poem Beowulf, where the Danes are referred to as “Ing’s Joy”, while the 22nd stave of the Anglo-Frisian futhorc (alphabet) was named for him. The accompany stanza in the Old English Rune Poem states that,”Ing was first seen among the East Danes“, that in the end he departed back over the waves (to Sweden? to the afterlife?), and that thence he was regarded as a “haele”; a word that generally translates simply as “hero” but which can also carry strong connotations of omen or destiny. As with the Swedes, the name Ingui also appears in the genealogy of the royal house of Anglish Bernicia (one of the two Anglii kingdoms that made up united Northumbria), and interestingly, even as the Swedes believed that holy power still emanated from the interred corpse of Ingui, so were the blood and bones of the convert, ie. to Catholicism, King Oswald of Bernica associated with miracles of wholeness and healing. Some even speculate that the tribal name Anglii (from whence we get today’s English) has it’s roots in the god-name Ingui; which would hardly be surprising given the original proximity of the Anglii to the both the Danes and Swedes and the enduring memory of their shared heritage, eg. the Beowulf poem.

Taking a step further back in time and closer to the “Common Germanic” or “Proto-Germanic” period, we find in Tacitus’ 1st century AD work Germania a reference to the ethno-genesis myth of the tribes of Germania. This “ancient hymn” as Tacitus called it is said to have celebrated Tuisto and Mannus as the co-progenitors of the greater Germanic peoples, and that the names for the three main divisions of the folk were named after the most prominent of the children of Mannus. The first of these branches, who comprised all of those tribes living along the seashore, were called the Ingvaeones.

Culture of the Nordic Bronze Age; the Iron Age lands of the Ingvaeones.Interestingly, the seashores of southern Scandinavia are in fact the cradle of Germanic culture and language, and were the homeland of those tribes from c.2,700 BC until the Great Cooling of c.500 BC., when the first waves of migration out of the homeland and into Continental Europe began. The Nordic Bronze Age itself, beginning c.1,800 BCE  was defined by a warmth comparable to that of northern France, a tripling of the infant survival rate, the establishment of trade-routes leading to the British Isles, Egypt, and Greece, the prominence of the Sun-cult and the Divine Twins, and the building of massive burial mounds at which regular offerings were made. It was also the age of the famous seashore rock-carvings, upon which we frequently find the very same ithyphallic imagery that Ingui-Frea would be depicted with centuries later.

The gods association with the seashore lingered on into the Viking Age, as seen in Viga-Glum’s saga where he appears in a dream, enthroned by the waters edge and surrounded by a great crowd of people. We can also easily perceive it in the origins of the Salian Frank royal house, the Merovingians, where a virile bull comes out of the sea to impregnate the Frank-Queen with Merovech, and of course in the legend of Scyld Sceafing, where the child is washed up on the seashore of the Danes and comes to be hailed as their king and to found their royal house, ie. the Skjoldungs); both of which tie in of course with what has already be noted of Ingui’s association with sacral kingship.

While this is hardly an exhaustive study on Ingui-Frea — and didn’t even touch on the wagon-procession, questions of apotheosis vs. euhemerism, relation to the Divine Twins, etc. — I hope it gives the reader a real sense of the great honour and significance of the god; which might be lacking in the Eddic myths with their fixation on Woden (Odhinn) and Thunor (ThorR).

FreyR is the most renowned of the Æsir (gods); he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth; and it is good to call on him for fruitful seasons and peace. He governs also the prosperity of men.” — Snorri Sturlusson, Prose Edda

Tiw : Our Father Whom Art in Heaven

The Old English god Tiw (also Tiu, Tig) is cognate to the Old Norse Tyr, the Old High German Ziu (also Zio), and the Gothic Teiws. These are all believed to stem from a proto-Germanic Tiwaz, which itself stems from a Proto-Indo-European root that references the heavens and their radiance.

This notion of “heavenly radiance” formed the basic Indo-European perception of godhood as seen in the various *deiwos group of words, eg. the Baltic Dievas (God), the Latin deus (god), the Indo-Iranian deva/daeva (god), Old Norse tyr (god, hero, sage), tivar (gods, heroes), and diar (gods, priests). Such Latin sprung words in Modern English as deity and divine also spring from this same root, while a brother stem provides us with such other Indo-European god-names as the Sanskrit Dyauspitar, the Greek Zeus, and the Latin Jupiter.

The very concept of the halo in the West likely has it’s roots in this perception of the divine. While we generally associate it with Catholicism and saints, the earliest depictions of halo’d figures comes from ancient Greece, where they were depicted as surrounding the heads of various heroes and philosophers from as early as the 6th century B.C., and were described as early as Homer (9th century B.C.),

Minerva flung her tasseled aegis round his strong shoulders; she crowned his head with a halo of golden cloud from which she kindled a glow of gleaming fire”. 

It’s equivalent in specifically Germanic art can be gleaned in the sun-wheeled bodied figures of Nordic Bronze Age rock-art and much later in the so-called “sunheaded” man of Anglo-Saxon art.

sunheadedmananglosaxon

That the Germanic Tiw retained his ancient connection with the ideas of the heavens and their radiance that are at the very root of his name can be clearly seen in the 10th century Abecedarium Nordmannicum where we read the cosmological statement, “Tiu, Birch, and Man in the middle”, while the imagery of the stanza associated with his rune in the Old English Rune Poem is glaringly celestial; conjuring the ever constant star in the night skies and reflecting the ancient Vedic perception of Dyaus as a black horse (the night sky) draped in pearls (the stars). We might further glean Tiw’s enduring association with the heavens in the name of his Eddic father, the etin Hymir, and in the symbolism of the Hymskvidha.  The name Hymir is likely related to the Old Icelandic word huma, meaning “twilight, dusk”, while his hall is said to stand at “heaven’s edge” and the greatest of his kingly herd of cattle was the ox named Heavenbellower. 

The O.E.R.P. also connects Tiw with the notion of glory — having substituted his name with the Old English word tir (glory) — and this is laid bare by Snorri Sturlusson in his Prose Edda, where he states that a man of great boldness is called tyr-bold, while he who is exceedingly well-informed is called tyr-wise. We also see it reflected in Tiw’s Eddic appellation “the Leavings of the Wolf”, which is of course — understanding the pan-Indo-Germanic  symbolic value of the wolf as one of death and the grave — a glaring reference to the “name undying” or “glory”. To paraphrase the Havamal, “Cattle die, kinsmen die, and the ravenous wolf shall eat it’s fill, but I know one thing that never dies, a good name well earned”.

Of the various lines of speculation, investigation, and thought one can pursue from this point, one that immediately jumps out is Tiw’s association with the Thing (Assembly) — which is an interesting path of inquiry itself, as it is at the Thing that the “collective light” of the Tivar is assembled — and the Thing’s own association with the heavens, the celestial bodies, and the creation/maintenance of time, ie. observation of the celestial bodies (a tradition extending as far back as Tiw’s name, as seen in the Nebra Skydisc, Stonehenge, and the Goseck Circle). As we read in the Voluspa,

“The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast | over heaven’s rim;
No knowledge she had | where her home should be,
The moon knew not | what might was his,
The stars knew not | where their stations were.

Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held;
Names then gave they | to noon and twilight,
Morning they named, | and the waning moon,
Night and evening, | the years to number.”

It is an interesting fact that the Old English word thing (meeting, assembly) springs from the same P.I.E. root as the Gothic theihs (time). This root meant “stretch, span, finite space” and is speculated to have originally referred to the set time that assemblies occurred in.

Here one’s mind is drawn to the “sub-pantheon” of the Eddas, perhaps the same as that (over?) emphasized by Caesar in the Gallic Wars when he wrote,

“They (the Germans) rank in the number of the gods those alone whom they behold, and by whose instrumentality they are obviously benefited, namely, the sun, fire, and the moon.”

Such figures a Mundilfari (the Turner, axis (of time)) and Delling (Shining One) — who begat Sun and Moon and Day, and who are otherwise associated with Night — would all seem to have had a special association with Tiw  … if indeed they are not, in the case of Mundilfari and Delling, aspects of him.

In light of all this (no pun intended), in doing a comparative analysis, we might place aside, at least for a moment, such figures as Zeus, and even Mars, and look instead toward the Greek Uranus or, more poignantly, that Titan’s own offspring, Hyperion, who is the father of Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn) and of whom Diodorus Siculus wrote,

Of Hyperion we are told that he was the first to understand, by diligent attention and observation, the movement of both the sun and the moon and the other stars, and the seasons as well, in that they are caused by these bodies, and to make these facts known to others; and that for this reason he was called the father of these bodies, since he had begotten, so to speak, the speculation about them and their nature.

Be whole!

Tiw and Irmin: Mistaken Identity

There is a wide-spread theory that has been around … for a long time now — at least since I first started to seriously research native Germanic belief back in the early 90’s — that links Tacitus’ Irmin to the better known Germanic god Tiw (Old Norse – TyR). As I was strongly drawn to Tiw in my early years, I was initially as hungry as a wolf for whatever lore I could muster on him; Irmin, Seaxneat, the Suebian “God and Ruler of All” … you name it, I was an eager-beaver when it came to anything that could be even remotely connected to him. No matter if it be by actual evidence or mere authoritative suggestion. Of course, as the information continued to flow in I constantly went back to reevaluate various pet notions that ultimately gave sincerity the upper hand over zeal, and led to a reevaluation of my opinion on the matter.

In the end I had to conclude that it was, at best, unlikely that Irmin was one of Tiw’s by-names. Why, you ask?

Well, for one, the Norse-Icelandic Eddas make a concrete connection between Irmin and the god Woden; ranking the former’s Old Norse cognate, ie. Jormun, among the latter’s many, many by-names.

Disputing this, people will often cite the theoretical ascension of the cult of Woden and it’s absorption of various elements of the cult of Tiw. And while I do happen to agree with the gist of this theory, I really don’t like to reach when a more viable answer is right at hand. I certainly don’t mind well-founded theories, but when one starts formulating theories based on theories, and offering it up as ancestral belief, I begin to get a little shy.

Getting back to the actual evidence left to us by the ancestors, we have the 10th century writings of the Old Saxon monk Widukind of Corvey, who references the Saxon Irminsul and states that it was erected in honour of Hermes, whom the Saxons call Hermin, ie. Irmin,  but whom they worship as Mars. Now, it was Woden who was equated with the Roman Mercury, who was in turn equated with the Greek Hermes. Mars on the otherhand was the customary gloss for Tiw, but we do know that as early as the 1st century AD the Germanic Mercury, ie. Woden, was being worshiped alongside the Germanic Mars, ie. Tiw, in the “cult of war”, and so must even then have had a clear martial association. Indeed, from the Migration Age forward we can plainly see that it is Woden who dominates the lore of warfare, the “port of Mars”; with Tiw’s continued association with war being limited to a mere mythic reference or two, but never actually seen or heard of in history, legend or the archaeological record. It seems to me that Widukind’s “befuddlement” of Hermes and Mars in regards to Irmin strongly suggested an association with the “Marslike Mercury” of the Germanic peoples. Namely, the Marslike Mercury that is the god Woden.

One might also observe that, as one of the noble sons of Mannus, Irmin was — like his elder brother Ingui and the Ingvaeones — a patron of the Irminonic mega-tribal-grouping of the Folk. As such, both sons of Mannus were most likely gods/progenitors of sacral leadership. This latter point is clearly “reflected” in, ie. spun out of, the clear association of their Migration and Viking Age “counter-parts” with kingship; Yngvi-FreyR and his association with the Bernician line of Anglo-Saxon England, the Danes, and the Ynglings of Sweden and Odhinn with … virtually every other kingly house in NW Europe. In contrast, Tiw himself has no direct association with kingship or the founding of kingly lines.

Finally, it is also worth a mention in passing that the Irminonic tribes occupied the interior of Germany, in relation to the seashore dwelling Ingvaeones of southern Scandinavia. According to Snorri Sturlusson, in his preface of the Prose Edda, Woden came first to Germany, and there founded lines of kings before moving up into the Northlands and his meeting with the Yngling-King, Gylfi of Ingvaeonic Sweden; which might well be a mythologization of the evolution of the cult of Woden among the tribes of Germania and the spread of these revised, Roman influenced and Woden centered beliefs, back up into the cradle of Germanicism.

 

Symbols of the Nordic Bronze Age

axeofheaven

I’ve been researching and chewing on this symbol from the Nordic Bronze Age for a few months now. Prevailing popular opinion has it that the symbol is either a (magic) mushroom or is evidence of the Old Saxon “Irminsul-as-depicted-on-the-Externsteine”, and indeed my initial research was in part spurred by the latter notion.

As we have it, the symbol is present on less than a dozen Nordic Bronze Age rock-carvings and razor handles, but is nevertheless present enough and shows enough variance in depiction to see that it was known to many artists along the coasts of the old Ingvaeonic tribes.

bronzeagerazors

It appears in different sizes and shapes, sometimes in the hand of an anthropomorphic figure, sometimes free standing, but always in association with the “solar ship”; where it can be found in various parts of the ship including in place of the prow and/or the rudder.

irminsul3.2

The Mushroom?

Regarding the notion that the symbol depicts a mushroom, I’ll simply quote Richard Rudgely on the matter of the mushroom in Germanic culture and belief,

“The vast amount of European folklore compiled by Wasson and his wife on the fly-agaric and other mushrooms indicates that in many areas of the Continent there were taboos in place against the use of certain fungi, suggesting an ancient ritual role for them. Despite the great efforts of the Wassons, neither archaeological sites nor archival materials have yielded up sufficient proof of such a cult”.

(The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances)

The Irminsul?

irminsulex

The supposed “bent Irminsul” of the Externsteine relief

Regarding the notion that the symbol is a Nordic Bronze Age depiction of the Irminsul, and so validates the notion that it is the Old Saxon Irminsul that is depicted on the Externsteine; well, to start, at least 2,000 years separate the Nordic Bronze Age symbol from the Extersteine relief with little to no intervening evidence to suggest a continuous tradition of the symbols use.

I personally, in my 30 years as a Germanic Heathen, have never bought into the notion that this image depicted the Irminsul; which IMO would more likely have resembled a Slavic god-pole or a Roman Jupiter column. The image on the Extersteine is simply “out of place” in the broad spectrum of Germanic symbolism; though admittedly the Nordic Bronze Age symbol might give one pause to wonder.

At this point, it would suffice to say that my opinion of the Extersteine image is that, whatever the “bent palm-tree” was meant to depict, ie. the Saxon Irminsul for example, that the actual Saxon Irminsul that was cut down by Charlemagne did not look like this image. People can of course fill a symbol with whatever content they want, regardless of it’s “original content”, and that is fine and dandy, but in terms of education there is always the matter of integrity.

So what then?

As alluded to above, symbols have little to no inherent meaning, and rely on culture and context to give them content. It is not enough to ask what does this symbol mean to me, or us here today? Nor even what might it have meant to a 10th century Saxon monk. A Bronze Age symbol must be understood within the context of the Bronze Age, which of course leaves us at a severe disadvantage as we are limited solely to the physical/archaeological record for anything even vaguely resembling a first hand reckoning of Nordic Bronze Age culture; though we do have the broader context of Proto-Indo-European ancestry and better represented Bronze Age relations to make up for this lack.

We might also care to remember that symbols can “layer” meaning in culturally idiosyncratic ways that allow for (and even encourage) a range of interpretations. They are not the product of analytical reductionist thought, but of a more expansive and poetic form of thinking.

Before looking at the evidence of the Nordic Bronze Age itself, we might take a gander at their Neolithic ancestors and Bronze Age relations, for any light these cultures might hope to shed on the matter.

The following images (below) were found etched into the rocks that make up the solar megalith of Stonehenge. They are believed to have been put there in the Bronze Age, long after Stonehenge’s construction, and are commonly regarded as upward turned axe-heads of the variety common to Bronze Age Britain; who’s people were of both Proto-Indo-European stock and engaged in trade with southern Scandinavia over the course of the Nordic Bronze Age.

stonehengeaxes

The axe, particularly the double-headed ax or labrys, was also a prominent symbol among the Mycenaeans and Minoans; the former of whom, like the Celts of Bronze Age Britain, shared both a common Proto-Indo-European and carried on trade with the folk of the Nordic Bronze Age. Here we find the labrys depicted between the “horns of the Minoan bull” … otherwise known as the “horns of consecration”,

minoan-labrys-vase

If I understand it correctly, it would only be later in hidyotu that the labrys would also take on an association with the lily, ie. layered meaning, depictions of which bare an even stronger resemblance to our Nordic Bronze Age symbol. Also, both axe and lily are often accompanied by solar imagery, not unlike the presence of the axe-head on the “solar symbol” that is Stonehenge itself.

axelilies

What relation our Nordic Bronze Age symbol might have to the Minoan lily is a line of research that will have to wait for another time and/or person. From here on I will focus on it’s relation to the axe.

It is a curious fact that the evolution of Nordic Bronze Age culture began with the arrival of, not simply that culture dubbed the “Battle Axe People” in southern Scandinavia, but rather of a sub-category of that culture known as the “Boat-Axe People” in the late Neolithic era. These people were called so as a result of the boat-like shape of the axe-heads they produced. The relationship of the axe to the boat is of course inherent; as trees were felled and boats shaped via the use of axes and axe-head-like tools.

Curiously, examples of our Nordic Bronze Age symbol always occur in direct relation to the boat, and often in relation to solar imagery (other than the boat itself).

boat-axe

boat-axe head

In the late Neolithic era the tribes of southern Scandinavia also wore axe-heads made amber as ornamentation; or perhaps (more likely?) as charms similar to the much later “Donar’s Cudgel” and “ThorR’s Hammer”.

Note the double-headed axe head in the image below. Despite the prominence of the labrys among the Mycenae, we don’t find these during the Nordic Bronze Age. We do however find plenty of dual imagery, axes being no exception, in both the art and deposits of the Nordic Bronze Age, much of which is associated with the cult of the Sun and her brothers, the Divine Twins.

amberaxes

Following this trail on into the Nordic Bronze Age itself, one cannot help but be immediately struck by the similarity of our subject symbol to this ceremonial axe-head. I’ve rotated the image for ease of comparison.

irminsulaxehead

Excessively large axe-heads, far bigger than would be at all practical for combat, and so which are believed to have had a ceremonial purpose, not unlike the Minoan labrys, have in fact been unearthed in Scandinavia; thus confirming such rock carvings as the following,

SouthSwedenCultAxeSimrislund1400Bc

We again see a reflection of our subject symbol (below) in one of the very peculiar, ie. stylistically, Kivik stones ( c.1,000 B.C.), where we find what appears to be twin axe-heads depicted in association with the sun-wheel.

bronze-age-drawings-on-slabs-in-the-kivik-grave-scania-sweden-3227294

These two youths (below), the Divine Twins, are found on the Fogtdarp yoke. A direct comparison can be drawn between them, the twin Grevensvaenge figurines and the Vikso helmets. They are all from the Nordic Bronze Age.

fogtdarpyoke

In Kristian Kristiansen and Thomas B. Larsson’s excellent work, “The Rise of the Bronze Age Society”, a bird’s eye view is provided of the top of their helmets (below), where we find our subject symbol set between the horns of their helmet and mention is made of it’s Mycenaean parallel in the labrys set betwixt the horns of the bull.

fogsdarpbirdseye

Our next image is a drawing of the Nordic Bronze Age’s Grevensvaenge twins; yet another Nordic Bronze Age depiction of the “Divine Twins” as seen in the rock art and testified to in the dual or twinned offerings — of axes, swords, lur horns — of the era. The basic idea of these brothers is expressed in the Latvian word jumis meaning “two grown together as one” … each holding a half of the elder double-headed axe?

alcis1

When thought of in terms of the concept of jumis, one might also note the ceremonial swords of the Nordic Bronze Age, deposited as pairs, with curling tips quite reminiscent of our subject symbol when taken together as a whole.

ceremonialswords

While best represented in Migration and post-Migration Age lore as the sons of Woden, the Divine Twins are more roundly remembered in the broader Indo-European context as the offspring of the Skyfather (Zeus, Dyaus, Dievas, etc), who’s name and attributes are reflected in the Germanic Tiwaz (Tiw, Zio, TyR, etc.). It is at least curious to note the shape of his rune-stave (below) in the elder futhark in relation to our subject symbol.

tyrrune

While the etymology of the Germanic word heaven is open to debate, it is interesting in this context to note that Watkins “derives it elaborately from PIE *ak- “sharp” via *akman- “stone, sharp stone,” then “stony vault of heaven.” (Online Etymology Dictionary). We are reminded at once of the characteristic Proto-Indo-European stone battle axe, and of course of the stony skull of Ymir from Viking Age Nordic myth, where it was said to be used to form the roof of the heavens. In Greek legend the stony skull of Atlas comes to form of the mountain summit; while Indo-Iranian myth also (more loosely) associates the skull with the heavens and the divine.

Anyway, this same P.I.E. root (also) yields the Proto-Germanic *hamaraz (hammer) and various other Indo-European words with a range of meanings that include “anvil, pestle, battering ram” (Greek), “stone, hammer, thunderbolt” (Sanskrit), “sky, heaven” (Persian).

This of course calls to mind the famous hammer of the Viking Age North Germanic peoples. Rotated (below) for ease of reference, of course. It is worth noting that the Balto-Slavic Thunderer, Perun to use the Slavic, plays a strong role in their solar mythology. Their names are suspected to be etymologically related to the Old Norse Fjorgyn (fem.) and Fjorgynn (masc.), the former of whom is said to be the mother of Thunor (Donar, ThorR) in the Eddic myths. I interpret this as the seemingly obvious; that Thunor is the uniquely Germanic heir to the older “Fjorgynn”.

Whatever the case, Thunor is one of the very few deities who are portrayed as driving the patently anachronistic (sun) chariot. The other chariot-drivers of Eddic myth are Freo (Freyja) — who shares solar associations, indirectly, via her (twin) brother Ingui-Frea (FreyR) and the pig — and of course the “time-keeping deities” so central to the “sun-cult” (Sun, Moon, Day, Night). It is also Thunor who was believed to force the Wulf to disgorge the Sun during a solar eclipse, while his wife, Sif, is said to have had hair as brilliant as gold.

thorshammer

All-in-all, it would seem that our subject symbol was related to such notions as heavenly authority, hollowing power, and protection.

Certainly, there is no way of knowing, positively, what the symbol might have meant, let alone the extent of it’s meaning. And to some this might strike one as due leave to consider all opinions to be equally valid. Of course, with due respect to the theory of it all, I will say this … it was educated guessing, and not idle speculation (or absolute certainty), that put mankind on the moon.

Reckon wisely, my friends!

Musings: Of Gods and Men and the Natural World

The notion of euhemerism (Google it! 🙂 ) … insofar as we are talking about an observable pattern in Western literature that places the origins of all great things in Greece, and insofar as it reduces all of the gods our ancestors worshiped to (devious and manipulative) mortals, I’m sure we can all agree that it is complete and utter nonsense.

Nevertheless, insofar as we are talking about the possibility of a mortal ascending to divinity, it seems to me that too many (lore-wise) people are too quick to adopt a reactionary stance, and berate the notion without a second thought or consideration of indigenous nuance … as though the pot really hit a nerve when it called the kettle black. And indeed, it really does come down to the pan-Germanic concept of wih, a vital concept to be sure in my reckoning, that defines the fundamental reality of the Vear as *separate* … mysterium tremendum et fascinans!

I’ve also noticed a tendency of the very same lore-wise people, in separate conversations, to be very quick on the draw with the notion that elder Germanicism was a “world accepting” religion — which certainly is another vital notion in my estimation — and that, therefore, there is no Germanic “otherworld” and that even the gods themselves dwell here and permeate “this world”.

But it is here, where we bring these two separate notions together, that we run into what seems to be a bit of cognitive dissonance. After all, if there is no “otherworld” and the gods permeate this world, and can be found in so many things, why can they “absolutely not” be found in man?

In fact, we know what Snorri stated of Ingui and Woden and the grave-mound, what Procopius stated of the Goths and “Mars” (Woden). And taking a shameless glance over at the beliefs of our great and glorious fellow Indo-Europeans, the Greeks, we can see that while they too drew a distinction between the worship of the dead (up to and including “Heroes”) and the worship of the Olympians, rare examples nevertheless exist of figures such as Hercules and, perhaps THE case study in divine-mortal interrelations, the Dioscuri, who were born as men but were accepted among the Olympians after death.

Personally, I don’t know if Ingui for example was ever a mortal priest-king, who reigned in Ingvaeonic southern Scandinavia over (and over, and over?) the course of the Nordic Bronze Age. And I know even less if he was first a god who “incarnated” into the world as a man, or was first a man who rose to glory and achieved divinity. I do however know of the long tradition of making offerings at grave-mounds that extends at least as far back as the Nordic Bronze Age. I know of Olaf the Alf of Geirstad. And I know that in the 8th century A.D. “Index of Superstitious and Heathen Practices” we find references to such things as, “sacrilege at the tombs of the dead” and “Those who carve images for dead persons whom they say are saints.” And of course, I know that one etymology of the Germanic word *god* goes back to an Indo-European root meaning “to pour (libations)”, and that within the greater context of the linguistic evidence that this is believed to refer, in the first instance, to the spirit imminent within the grave-mound. And further, that the Old Norse word tiv/tyr was used, not simply in reference to the, ahem, “gods”, but also in reference to men of exceptional ability; who’s deeds expressed that “heavenly radiance”, that “glory”, that is so intimately bound up with Tiw (Tyr) and the basic Indo-Germanic conception of divinity.

Here it might all be a matter of ancestral semantics of course … gods, tivar, vear, aesir, alfar, vanir, regin, etc. I tend to imagine that such words were no more or less redundant than Inuit words for white, and likewise express nuance based on close familiarity. But if the “to pour” etymology holds true, the question of whether or not a mortal man can become a god would seem to answer itself … and maybe also why the word god became the standard divine reference when that “devious and manipulative mortal” named Jesus Christ, ie. the pot, “took his place” on the altar of Germanic culture.

Insofar as we might perceive the Vear to be simple (or complex!) personifications of nature, well, thunder stands as a convenient and very telling example. Who is the thunder? Thunor you say? Because his name means *thunder*? Well, so to does Thund, but that is one of Woden’s by-names. And indeed, no men ever prayed to Thunor for thunder. Rather, they prayed to him for fair weather, to combat the etins of violent weather. If the phenomenon of thunder is in any way related to Thunor, as it clearly seems to be of course, it is metaphorically; a very profound answer to the question of “how strong?”

In the final analysis, we should remember that wih (separate, other) was but one concept, and that it existed in tandem with the seemingly contradictory, but actually complimentary concept of holy (integrated, whole); as holiness is the worldly (observable) product of the consecrating power of wih, of the Vear. And so, indeed, the Vear can make their presence felt in this world, can permeate certain aspects of it, eg. the innangeard, and might even be able to be born into the world, and yet they remain, fundamentally, apart from it. They are knowable, perceivable, on human terms, but that far and no further. Beyond that “event horizon” of human perception, it is indeed as the Anglii high-priest Coifi said on the eve of Northumbria’s conversion, “the more I sought, the less I found” as a statement to the fundamental mystery, and utter lack of pretentiousness or desire for certitude, found in elder Germanic belief.

Germanic Belief and the Experience of the Divine

One can experience the divine in the small and familiar as much as in the great and majestic. I personally have even experienced it in a random “street fight” (assault, jumped) of all things! And aye, as much in joy as in sorrow as well. But all of these experiences are … an expression of the divine in human terms, an uplifting of our awareness and appreciation for what surrounds and/or comprises us, and our sense of “belonging” or relation to it. One might use the term sublime, “impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc”, as the general category of spiritual experience that all of these varied experiences, in all of their differences and nuances, in all of their varying intensities and artfulness of expression, can confidently be lumped under.

I’d prefer to categorize them the “holy” of course — from the Old English hal root, which is also seen in such other Modern English words as health and, more poignantly, whole — but either way this general category of experience is at once comfortable, warm, empowering and uplifting. You could say it is the “experience of the masses”, both high and low.

But there is another experience of the divine … raw, primal, jarring, and anything but comfortable. It is what Rudolph Otto, in his book Idea of the Holy, called the mysterium tremendum et fascinans and described as an encounter with something “wholly other”. But to get the full sense of what Otto meant I’ll provide a definition of the Latin words he chose to use and based on his work,

Mysterium (Mystery): wholly other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor.

Tremendum (Tremendous): awefulness, terror, demonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, “wrath” of God, overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its powe, creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence, energy, urgency, will, vitality.

Fascinans (Fascination): potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.

This is an experience, as I’m sure one can gather, that overwhelms one, terrifies one, leaves one feeling small, insignificant, and at a complete loss of how to describe, symbolize, or otherwise express the experience; but which the fascination-aspect nevertheless incites us to at least try to come to terms with.

A likeness of this “terrible and fascinating mystery” can be found in a “holy experience” of course, and is in fact the source of the holy, as I’ll touch on later. I recall as a youngster going to church with my grandfather, and that eerie sense that would fall over me when I entered the church. I didn’t like it. And for a while in my young life I deemed it a bad thing … the harsh and unapproving glare of the god of the Christians, but honestly, the experience is by no means limited to Christianity, or the Abrahamic religions. Some would say, as seems fitting I suppose, that it is not even confined to religion or spirituality, ie. religious/spiritual people, in general and that atheists can be struck by an identical experience. It can arise, or better said impose itself irrespective of culture; which again seems quite fitting that it should.

Needless to say perhaps, our preChristian Germanic ancestors knew of this experience of the divine as well. And for all intents and purposes they had a word for it, as seen in Old English weoh (Old Norse – ve, Gothic – weihs) and it’s sibling terms; all of which reference things given over to the divine (altar, idol, etc.) or issuing from the divine (hallowing power, consecration). At it’s root the terms mean “separate, other, set apart” and carry strong connotations of “mystery” (see definition above).

We get a sense of this “otherness” in Tacitus’ 1st century work Germania where he (blunderingly) relates,

they judge it altogether unsuitable to hold the Gods enclosed within walls, or to represent them under any human likeness. They consecrate whole woods and groves, and by the names of the Gods they call these recesses; divinities these, which only in contemplation and mental reverence they behold.

The Germanic people did in fact fashion idols, and had been doing so since, ahem, at least the Nordic Bronze Age, so it is likely that Tacitus and/or his equally Latin go-between misunderstood what was actually being expressed here, but it seems to speak toward the “wih-nature” of the divine. And indeed, while the Germanic peoples did fashion idols, the early one’s, closer to Tacitus’ era, show these to be only vaguely anthropomorphic in nature, accentuating natural features but utterly unconcerned with detail; despite a culturally high degree of wood carving skills, ie. the lack of detailed expression was intentional here and speaks towards the understanding of the divine as wih.

inguiviborg

The Broddenbjerg idol, 6th century BCE, Denmark, stands 35 inches tall.

We also get a sense of the overwhelming and humbling nature of wih, comparable to Moses and the Burning Bush, in another of Tacitus’ remarks,

At a stated time of the year, all the several people descended from the same stock, assemble by their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by superstitious awe in times of old. There by publicly sacrificing a man, they begin the horrible solemnity of their barbarous worship. To this grove another sort of reverence is also paid. No one enters it otherwise than bound with ligatures, thence professing his subordination and meanness, and the power of the Deity there. If he fall down, he is not permitted to rise or be raised, but grovels along upon the ground. And of all their superstition, this is the drift and tendency.”

Despite the very modern Asatruar fancy of standing proudly in worship, not to mention their general contempt for kneeling and the like, evidence of such postures in Germanic worship (as touched on in my last entry) span the Nordic Bronze Age to the Viking Age and point directly toward the experience of “wih” … of the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”.

In the Old English Exeter Book we read, “Woden worhte weohs” (Woden fashioned the weohs), while in Eddaic Creation he is brothered up with a god named Ve. In fact, one of the terms the speakers of Old Norse used to refer to the gods collectively was Vear, but clearly Woden stands in special relation to wih. And among Woden’s many bynames we find YggR (the Terrible One), Fjolnir (the Concealer), Grimnir (the Hooded), while his very name is rooted in the word wod; meaning fury, possession, madness, but also inspiration (fascinans).

All of this speaks towards Otto’s description of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

At it’s root the concept of wih stands in sharp juxtaposition to holy, ie. separate vs. integrated respectively, and yet we see them compounded on the Gothic ring of Pietroassa (wíhailag) and used in complimentary manner in the Old Norse phrase “vé heilakt”, and used in a manner which might be described as bordering on interchangeable. Of course, as wih is the hallowing power it seems fairly evident that holiness is it’s (temporal) product; the gist of which is glaringly evident within the context of Germanic creation myths and legends in which the gods shape Creation, in which the gods shape Mankind, in which the gods establish the innangeard (inside the yard, the community, the dwelling/s of the race of man), in which the gods give the gifts of language and culture, and in which the life of the “World Tree” itself hinges upon the nourishment it receives from the heavenly realm (reflected in the Hindu concept of the World Tree growing down from out of the heavens).

Holiness is the product of wih … or as I’m using the term here, ie. in relationship to experience and resulting speculations/culture (as opposed to sheer quality of life), holiness is the experience/expression/evolution of the divine mystery within a culturally specific human framework, rather then on the ineffable, “wholly other” terms of the gods themselves. The distinction is important to note.

Too often in modern Germanic Heathenism do we see an over emphasis on the cultural/holy forms of the divine and a profaning of ultimate nature of the Vear, eg. “Thor doesn’t have blonde hair! It’s red, idiot!” or “Woden talks to me all of the time! We had tea and biscuits yesterday at lunch”. Certainly there are many and varied “soft” experiences of the divine, as mentioned above, but we would be wise to chose our words carefully if or when we chose to talk about them. And really, if Woden is talking to someone “all of the time”, I would expect to see something more than average, exceedingly exceptional actually, ie. the product of wih, in their endeavors and accomplishments, in the quality of their life.

This sense of mystery and magnitude, and the resulting “humbility” and reverence, is what most needs to be (re)kindled among modern day Germanic Heathens. The knowledge that while we might speak of our beliefs about the gods, the fruits of our relationship with them, and while we might be insistent regarding our beliefs, ie. what is and is not Germanic belief for instance, we cannot speak toward the fundamental being of the gods. And while some might fear that this is but a step away from monotheism, ie. God is the Mystery, the reality of “the mystery” is that it is ineffable and defies all mortal categories of thought and experience; monotheism for instance. For our own part as heathens, we simply *believe* there are many gods, as this seems the healthiest way to go for a community. Either way, there is that point in seeking the nature of the divine where words, figure, metaphor, and symbols all fail, where they prove even at their most glorious to fall short and prove inadequate, where the highest honour is silence, and where only shameless profanity dares to tread. And there, what we are left with, really, as a matter of honesty, is “our beliefs”.