WODAN (ODIN)The highest and most supreme deity, universally worshipped among all Germanic tribes, was called Wuotan in Old High German, Odin in Norse. According to pagan conception, Wodan is the ruler of the world, wise and skilled in arts, the all-powerful and all-pervading god, ordainer of wars and battles, on whom at the same time depends the fertility of the soil. He carries a spear or staff and is the all-seeing eye of the sun. He stands at the head of all dynasties of kings. His name is indelibly imprinted on many places. In language the "Wodan span" describes a portion of the hand. Ravens and wolves, which before all other animals were associated by our people with his name, scent his victorious approach. Because he simultaneously appears as the god of poetry, of measure, of apportioning, of boundary, of dice, so can talents, treasures, arts, be regarded as emanating from him.
Wodan looks down to earth through a window from his dwelling in the sky, which is completely in accord with the old Norse idea. Wodan has a throne named Hlidskjalf, sitting upon which he can look over the entire world and can hear everything which takes place among men. When Loki wished to conceal himself, Wodan spied out his hiding-place from this seat. Sometimes Frigga, Wodan's wife, is also conceived as sitting near him, then she too enjoys the same prospect. Pagan perception makes the divine quality of seeing through everything dependent on the placing or adjustment of the chair and just as this quality leaves the god when he does not sit upon it, so can others, as soon as they take the chair, participate in the power. This was the case when Freyr spied the beautiful Gerd away down in Jotunheim. The word hlidscialf seems to mean literally door-bench, from hlid and skialf. This idea of a seat in heaven, from which god looks down to earth, is still not extinguished among our people.
"There is a great dwelling called Valaskjalf, owned by Odin, which the gods built and roofed with pure silver. It is there in this hall that Hlidskjalf is to be found, the high seat as it is called; and whenever the All-Father sits on this throne he can see over the entire world" (Deluding of Gylfi 16).
In the eyes of our forefathers, victory was the foremost and highest of all gifts. However, they regarded Wodan not only as awarder of victory; he was also conceived by them generally as the god by whose favor man has to expect every other distinction, in whose hands all higher goods are held.
Just as the souls of slain warriors arrive in Indra's heaven, so the victory-granting god of our forefathers takes up heroes fallen in battle into his company, into his army, into his heavenly dwelling. Probably it was the belief of all gods and noble men that they would be allowed after their death into closer fellowship with the deity. Valhall (Valhalla) and Valkyrja (Valkyries) are closely related with the idea of wish and of choice. Therefore dying means, and even according to Christian view, to go to God, to return to God. In the North, to journey to Odin, to be a guest of Odin, or to visit Odin meant nothing other but dying and was synonymous with journeying to Valhalla, being a guest in Valhalla. But among Christians curses developed from this: Go to Odin! Here is shown the reversal of the good-natured being with whom one wishes to abide, into an evil one whose abode inculcates fear and terror.
Concerning the peculiarities of the shape and outward appearance of the god, as these are imprinted on the Norse myths, I have discovered few remaining traces with us in Germany. Odin is one-eyed, wears a wide-brimmed-hat and broad cloak. When he desired to drink from Mimir's well, he had to leave one eye as a pledge.
Norse myth provides Odin with a wonderful spear named Gungnir, which would compare with the lance or sword of Mars, not the staff of Mercury. This spear he lends the hero for victory. The god of victory is given two wolves and two ravens which as warlike, courageous animals follow the battle and throw themselves on the corpses of the fallen. The wolves were called Geri and Freki and Hans Sachs drolly relates in a verse that God the Lord has chosen wolves for hunting dogs, that they are his animals. The two ravens are called Hugin and Munin, from Hugr and Munr ("thought" and "memory"). They are wise and clever, sit on the shoulders of Odin and speak into his ear everything which they see and hear. Wolf and raven were also sacred to the Greek Apollo. The Gospels represent the Holy Ghost as a dove which during baptism flies down to Christ and hovers in the air above him. Is this a pagan memory? [Image: Odin carving runes on his spear; illustration by F. Von Stassen (1914). To learn the secret of the runes Odin hung himself on the World-Tree, Yggdrasil.]
I know I hung on the wind-swept tree nine full nights
In the shape of a bearded old man Wodan appears like a water spirit or water god and to do justice to the Latin name Neptune, which some older writers use of him. Wodan's rule over the water as over the wind explains how he walks on the waves and approaches through the air in a storm. Odin provides ships with a favorable sailing wind (oskabir).
Our antique stories tell of Odin's wanderings, of his wagon, trackway and companions. We know that even in remotest antiquity the seven stars which form the Bear in the northern sky were conceived as a four-wheeled wagon whose shaft consists of three stars inclined downwards. This constellation may in pagan times have borne the complete name of Wodan's wagon, after the supreme god of heaven.
In some districts, the great open highway of heaven -- to which people long attached a peculiar sense of sacredness, and perhaps allowed this to eclipse the older fancy of a "milky way" -- was possibly also called Wodan's Way or Wodan's Street.
Of greater significance appear the names of certain mountains which were sacred to the worship of the god in pagan days. Not far from the holy oak in Hesse which Boniface cut down, lay a Wodansberg. Other names are Gudensberg, Gotanesberg. Of the Hessian Gudensberg the story goes that King Charles lies imprisoned in it, that he there won a victory over the Saxons, and opened a well in the wood for his thirsting army, but he will yet come forth of the mountain, he and his host, at the appointed time.
These names, which describe the wagon and mountain of the old god, are found principally in Lower Germany where paganism long asserted itself, and a remarkable practice of Lower Saxon folk during corn harvest alludes to this. It is the custom to leave a bushel of grain standing on the field for Wodan to give his horse. According to the Edda, Odin rides the best of all horses, Sleipnir, to whom eight legs are attributed; Sleipnis verdr (food) is a poetic name for hay. Other legends speak of a tall white horse by which the god of victory was to be recognized in battles. Besides the gift of drink for Odin, a gift of grain was often left for Odin's horse.
The generosity of antiquity shines from such customs. Man does not wish to take possession of everything for himself, of all that has grown for him. He gratefully leaves a part back for the gods, who will in future also protect his crops. Greed increased, when the offerings ceased. Ears of corn are set apart and offered here to Wodan, as elsewhere to kind
spirits and elves, e.g., to the brownies of Scotland.
Wodan is, as far as it is possible to piece together an idea of his nature from fragments of the old beliefs, the most spirited god of our antiquity. Among all other gods he shines forth. All heroes and royal families trace back their ancestry to him. Among his sons are several divinely celebrated -- especially Baldur and Saxnot appear as his sons.
But the high place which the Germans allot to their Wodan leads to yet another observation. Monotheism is something so necessary and essential that almost all pagans, consciously or unconsciously, proceed accordingly from recognizing among the bright throng of their gods, a highest deity who bears within himself the qualities of all the others so that the latter are only to be regarded as emanations from him, his rejuvenation and renewal. This explains how separate qualities come to be attributed now to this, now to that particular god, and why one or another of them, according to different peoples, comes to be invested with the highest power. Thus Wodan resembles Hermes and Mercury; on his own he stands higher than both. Conversely the German Donar (Thunor, Thorr) is a weaker Zeus or Jupiter. What was added to the one, must be taken away from the other. Ziu (Tiw, Tyr), however, hardly does more than administer one of Wotan's offices, yet he is identical in name with the first and highest god of the Greeks and Romans. The Greek Hermes is youthful, the German Wodan fatherly, in their conception. Ziu and Fro (Freyr) are mere offshoots of Wodan and thus all manifestations of the gods meet and intermingle.
Throughout paganism trilogies appear of the principal gods which I have arranged below according to the third, fourth and fifth day of the week: Tuesday (Ziu's day), Wednesday (Wodan's day) and Thursday (Thor's day).
This is the power that is warlike, creative and thunderous (fertilizing the earth).
DONAR (THOR): THE THUNDER GODThe god ruling over clouds and sky, announcing himself through rolling thunder and flashes of lightning, whose bolt flies through the air and strikes the earth, was described in our ancient speech with the word Donar itself, OS Thunar, AS Thunor, ON Thorr. Thor is imagined as driving, since the rolling of thunder resembles a heavy wagon passing by. His wagon is drawn by two he-goats. Other gods have their wagons too, especially Odin and Freyr, but Thor is distinctively thought of as the god who drives. Thor is never seen as riding like Wodan nor is he provided with a horse. He either drives or he goes on foot. It is expressly said that he walks to hold court, to pass judgement. He is never represented in a wild host or in company with women. Although his son and yielding to him in degree of influence, Donar again appears to resemble Wodan as an older god worshipped before the latter, enthroned in forests, on mountain tops, hurling the ancient stone weapon and lightning bolt.
Thunder, lightning and rain, among all natural phenomena, are regarded as his actions. Thunder, in particular, is attributed to an angry and punitive god. Donar also resembles Wodan in his capacity for anger.
Donar purifies the weather and sends down fruitful rain. The oak is sacred to Donar and his hammer measures land, just as later does Wodan's staff. He attacks giants more often than he fights in battles at the head of heroes or reflects upon the art of war.
His name persists in popular curses, Wodan's only in protestations. In the figure of Rotbart (Barbarossa) Donar could also be imagined as waiting within a mountain. All heroes ascend to Wodan's heaven, ordinary folk return to Donar. Compared with the noble, fine Wodan, Donar reveals something about himself which is boorish, peasantlike, uncouth. He seems a very old deity, displaced in course of time by another closely-related but more all-embracing god, although not everywhere pushed into the background.
We can trace mountain names in Germany with complete certainty to the worship of this native god. Universally known is the Donnersberg in the Rhine Palatinate, on the border of the old state of Falkenstein, between Worms, Kaiserslautern and Kreuznach. Another, Thuneresberg, is in Westphalia, on the Diemel, not far from Warburg. In the Middle Ages a great popular court was still held there, linked to the sacredness of the place. On the Knüllberg in Hessen is found a Donnerkaute, in Bernerland a Donnerbühel. In Scandinavia also there is no lack of mountains and rocks bearing Thor's name.
As the fertility of the land depends on thunderstorms and rains, thunder gods such as Zeus appear as the oldest divinities of agricultural nations, to whose bounty they look for the thriving of their cornfields and fruits. Adam of Bremen too attributes thunder and lightning to Thor expressly in connection with dominion over weather and fruits: "Thor, inquiunt, praesidet in aëre, qui tonitrua et fulmina, ventos imbresque, serena et fruges gubernat," "Thor, they say, rules in the air, governing the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops." Here then the worship of Thor coincides with that of Wotan, to whom likewise the reapers paid homage, as on the other hand Thor as well as Odin guides the events of war and receives his share of the spoils. To the Norse mind Thor's victories and struggles with the giants have put in the shade his peaceful office, the rule over weather and harvest. Nevertheless to Wodan's mightiest son, whose mother is Earth herself [Jorth], we must, if only for his lineage's sake, allow a direct relation to agriculture. He clears up the atmosphere, he sends fertilizing showers, and his sacred tree supplies the nutritious acorn. Thor's minni [remembrance drink] was drunk to the prosperity of cornfields.
Like Zeus and Jupiter the German thunder god was also portrayed as wearing a long beard. In the old Norse sagas he appears everywhere as red-bearded, which must be related to the fiery phenomenon of lightning in the air. If he is angry, he blows in his red beard and thunder resounds. Men in need of help call on Donar's red beard. There is often talk of his divine anger. The red beard of the Thunderer is not forgotten in curses of a later, Christian time. Even today the North Frisians exclaim: Diis ruadhiiret donner regiir! = "This is red-haired thunder's work!").
Just as the thunder god is given red hair and a wagon, so he is also given the thunderbolt as a weapon or "missile" in present day language.
According to popular belief, when the lightning flashes from a cloud a black bolt simultaneously flies down to earth, embedding itself as deep as the highest church tower. Whenever there is renewed thunder, it begins to rise towards the surface. After seven years it is again to be found on the earth. Every house in which it is kept is safe from storm damage and as soon as a storm approaches, it begins to sweat. Such stones are also called thunder axes, thunderstones, thunder hammers, Albdonar, Alpgeschosse (from the Elbe), ray stones, devil's fingers. Stone hammers and stone measures found in pagan graves also bear the same name.
Norse mythology provides Thor with a wonderful hammer called Mjollnir in the Edda, which he hurls against the giants. It has the quality of returning by itself into the hand of the god after throwing. As this hammer flies through the air, the giants know it. Its throwing is preceded by thunder and lightning. Skilled dwarfs have forged it. The hammer of the god was held to be a sacred tool. Just as it knocked hostile giants to the ground, so it hallowed the sealing of marriage bonds and made sacred land and boundaries like the sign of the cross with Christians. The flash of lightning was held in the Middle Ages to be the lucky consecrating omen of an enterprise. The hammer is the primeval, simple tool essential for almost all handwork, which is used symbolically with many trades. To denote boundaries the Hamarsmark is hammered in, a cross provided with hooks. Later, crossed oaks were often used as a boundary, called Mälbaume ("marking trees") (in the Sachsenspiegel). [Image: M.E. Winge's "Thor and the Giants" (1890). Alone among the gods, Thor never rides a horse, but either travels on foot or rides in his goat-drawn chariot, as depicted here.]
Just as Christ, through his death, overpowered the monstrous serpent, so Thor triumphed over the Midgardworm or Midgard serpent, the snake that encircles the world. The similarity of the sign of the cross and of the hammer makes it possible that the newly converted Germans imagined Christ to be the god of thunder and provider of rain. In fact, the earliest troubadour still calls Christ the Lord of thunder.
According to the Edda, Thor's thunder wagon is drawn by rams. A half-concealed relationship may exist between them and another mythical "weather" creature which is imagined to be a goat or horse but always as a wagon-pulling beast. It is significant that the Devil, the modern representative of the thunder god, is also attributed with the creation of goats and rams, and Ziu like Thor lays aside and picks up the bones of goats which have been eaten, so that he can bring them back to life again. According to the belief of Swiss shepherds the goat has something devilish about it, a creation of the Devil. In fact, goats feet are held to be diabolical and are not eaten. In Carinthia, cattle killed by lightning are regarded as hallowed by God. No one, not even the poorest, dares eat them.
Thor was regarded after Odin as being the mightiest and strongest of all the gods: the Edda represents him as Odin's son. Usually Thor is named at the same time as Odin, sometimes before him, and perhaps he was feared even more than Odin.
An unmistakable relic of the worship of the thunder-god is the special observance of Thursday, which was not extinguished among the people till quite recent times and was revealed in early traditions of the Middle Ages. On Thursday evening there must be no sawing or cutting of wood.
If we compare Thor with Wodan, then the latter is more mentally alive and loftier, whereas the former has the advantage of a rough, sensual strength. Prayers, oaths and curses preserved his memory more often and longer than any other god, but only a part of the Greek Zeus is incorporated in Thor. Clearly both gods have shared in the power which is also fitting to Zeus. However, Wodan is represented as Donar's (Thor's) father and superior to him, just as the father is more powerful than the son.
ZIU (TYR): THE WAR GODIf Wodan and Donar can be regarded as lofty gods of heaven, then Ziu or Tius may be regarded as even more so since his name directly expresses the idea of the sky, while Wodan signifies the air, Donar the storm. Just as Wodan directs victories, so Ziu reveals himself as the actual war god, Saxnot as the sword god, Donar as hammer god, Wodan as spear god. Like Wodan, Ziu also seems to roar down from the sky as a storm.
The old Nordic name Tysdagr (Tuesday) coincides to that of the Eddic god Tyr. Represented in the Edda as Odin's son but in the song of Hymir as son of the giant Hymir and his mistress, he seems subordinate to the former in power and importance. But he also completely accords with him, insofar as both direct battle and war and the glory of victory emanates from one as from the other. Primeval times attributed all glory to the warlike; indeed along with Wodan and Ziu it had need of a third war god, Hadu. The subtler differences in the cult are now concealed from us. Undoubtedly, mountains were hallowed to Ziu as to Wodan and Donar. It will only remain uncertain which god, whether Wodan or Ziu, is meant by a particular name.
Ziu is brave and eager for battle like Ares, granting abundance of fame, but also cruel and bloodthirsty; he raves and rages like Zeus and Wodan. He pleases ravens and wolves who follow him on the battlefield, although these creatures again must be assigned more to Wodan. Battle songs were certainly also composed in Ziu's honor, possibly warlike dances were held, to which I link the still existing and widespread custom of the ceremonial sword-dance which was completely proper to the god of the sword. Besides a sword the war god is appropriately given a helmet. The Edda does not emphasize the war sword, it makes no mention of Saxnot from whom the Saxons took the name Schwengenoss (sword comrade) because they carried the stone sword or placed the god at the head of their tribe.
The Edda represents Tyr as one-handed because the wolf in whose jaws he had placed his right hand as a pledge, tore it off at the elbow. I prefer to accept the appropriate explanation by Wackernagel: Tyr appeared one-handed because he would only grant victory to one of the combatants, in the same way that Hadu, another god of fortune in war, or Pluto and Fortune with the Greeks and Romans, are represented as sightless because they blindly distribute their gifts. Since victory was held to be the greatest fortune, the god of fortune is provided in full degree with the most striking qualities of fortune in general, namely partiality and changeability. [Image: Ziu/Tyr, Germanic god of war, descendant of the old Indo-European sky-god. His name is etymologically related to Greek Zeus, Latin Jupiter, and Indo-Aryan Dyaus, which indicates that he must have played a much more prominent role in the earliest Germanic religion. His right hand was bitten off by the monstrous wolf Fenrir, into whose mouth he had placed it as a pledge of cosmic security, when the wolf, destined to devour the sun and the moon, allowed himself to be bound in the net that will hold him fast till Ragnarok.]
There is a god called Tyr. He is the boldest and most courageous and has power over victory in battle; it is good for brave men to invoke him. It is a proverbial saying that he who surpasses others and does not waver is "Tyr-valiant." He is also so well informed that a very knowledgeable man is said to be "Tyr-wise." Here is one proof of his daring. When the gods tried to persuade the wolf Fenrir to allow the fetter Gleipnir to be placed on him, he did not believe that they would free him until they put Tyr's hand in his mouth as a pledge. Then, when the Aesir would not loose him, he bit off the hand at the place now known as the "wolf-joint." So Tyr is one-handed and he is not called a peace-maker.
Snorri Sturluson, Deluding of Gylfi 25.
Tyr is described as Odin's son. His mother, whose name is unknown to us but whose beauty is alluded to in the adjective allgullin (all golden), was a giant's daughter who bore to Odin his immortal son.
Frô (FREYR) AND NIRDU (NJORD)The next god in power and fame in old Nordic belief is Freyr; with the Swedes he seems even to have occupied the third place. His name ["Lord"] of itself proclaims how widely his worship prevailed among the other German tribes, a name sacred enough to be given to the Supreme Being even in Christian times. The original meaning of Freyr, Frauja, Frô, seems to be: the happy, gladdening, beneficent holy lord, which could be a reference to a worldly ruler as well as to a deity. [Image: ithyphallic Frô/Freyr, god of fertility, an eleventh-century Swedish figurine.]
Frô's godhead seems to hold a middle place between the notion of the supreme lord and that of a being who brings about love and fruitfulness. He has Wodan's creative quality, but performs no deeds of war; horse and sword he gives away, when consumed with longing for the fair Gerd, as is sung in one of the most glorious lays of the Edda. Snorri says, rain and sunshine are in the gift of Freyr; he is invoked for fertility of the soil and for peace. The Swedes revered him as one of their chief gods, and Adam of Bremen says that at the temple of Uppsala his statue stood by those of Thor and Wodan. Adam calls him Fricco, which is precisely parallel to the frequent confusion of the two goddesses Freya and Frigg. But he paints him as a god of peace and love: "Tertius est Fricco, pacem voluptatemque largiens mortalibus, cujus etiam simulachrum fingunt ingenti priapo; si nuptiae celebrandae sunt, (sacrificia offerunt) Fricconi," "The third god is Fricco, who bestows peace and pleasure to mortals and whose likeness they fashion with an immense phallus; if marriages are to be celebrated, they offer sacrifices to Fricco."
Then there is the story, harmonizing with this, though related from the Christian point of view and to the heathen god's detriment, of Freyr's statue being carried around the country in a wagon in the manner of a king. The people flock to meet the car, and bring their offerings; then the weather clears up and men look for a fruitful year. Live animals were presented, particularly oxen, which seems to explain why Freyr is reckoned among the poetic names for an ox; in like manner, horses were consecrated to him, such a one was called Freyfaxi and accounted holy; and human victims fell to him in Sweden.
As a fertility god he is a friendly, kindly deity, in contrast to the two gods previously mentioned and to Wodan's one side, for as god of wishes, Wodan also seems amiable and creative like Frô.
Freyr's beloved, afterwards his wife, was named Gerd. She came from the race of giants but is nevertheless included among the female Aesir. The Edda describes her beauty in a charming story: when Freyr looked down from heaven, he saw her enter a house and close the door, and then air and water sparkled from the radiance of her arms. His courtship of her was difficult and was only made successful by the skill of his loyal servant Skirnir.
Freyr possessed a boar, Gullinbursti, whose golden bristles lit up night like day, ran with the speed of a horse and pulled the god's wagon. His sacred, golden-bristled boar was celebrated on helmet insignia, in baking and at festive banquets. Therefore in Freyr's cult boars are used as expiatory offerings. The Swedish folk bake cakes in the shape of a boar on Yule Eve. Even our Christmas cake is referred to as the back of the Yule boar. Gullborst is the name of a plant which is also called Eberwurz (boar's root).
The Edda provides Freyr with a magnificent sword which swings of its own accord against the race of giants. The fact that he gave it away in distress later caused his destruction and is regarded as the cause of his death when at the time of Ragnarok he had to fight with Surtr and lacked his good sword. The dwarfs had made a wonderful ship, Skithblathnir, which could fold up like a cloth for glittering Freyr, the benevolent son of Njord.
German mythology would know little about Njord, had not Tacitus fortunately mentioned details of a goddess, Nerthus, whose identity with the god is evident.
Njord, who rules over the sea, appears much celebrated, admittedly chiefly by peoples who lived on the seaboard. According to the Edda he rules over wind, sea and fire. He longs to be away from the mountains of the interior and down by the cool shore amidst the song of the swans. A water plant, the spongia marina, bears the name Niardar vöttr, "Njord's glove", which was elsewhere certainly transferred to Freya or Mary.
BALDUR: THE BRIGHT GODBaldur, Balder, or Palter is a god of light according to his entire nature, a pure innocent, almost feminine god. His heavenly home is called Breitablick, Broad Glitter, which could be a reference to the Milky Way. In order to avert danger from the beloved god, Frigga took oaths from water, fire, earth, stones, plants, beasts, worms, indeed from all personified sicknesses, that they would spare him. A sole plant, the mistletoe, had not taken the oath because it was too young. A bough of it killed Baldur. [Image: "Baldur" by E. Fogelberg (1840).]
All creatures -- men, animals, plants, stones -- weep for the dead Baldur. The Edda describes how the pure, innocent god, struck down by blind Hödr at Loki's instigation with mistletoe, must journey, wept over by all, down to the underworld, with nothing able to fetch him back, while Nanna, his beloved wife, follows him to death.
The myth of Baldur, one of the most beautiful and spiritual of the Edda, has fortunately been passed down to us by another, divergent version. There is no more apt example of the pervasiveness of the myth of the gods. The song about Baldur's foal, preserved in the Merseburg Fragment as one of the earliest poems of our national antiquity, relates the following:
When Phol (Baldur) and Wodan once rode to the forest, Baldur's foal sprained its foot and at once the greatest concern of the heavenly Gods was shown to set it to rights again. But neither Sindgung and Sunna, nor Frua and Fulla, were able to do it; only Wodan, skilled in magic, could conjure the foot, bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, so that it was healed.This entire event is as little known in the Edda as in other old Norse sagas. However, what was known even before the 10th century, is a pagan saying in Thuringia that has retained its essential content in conjuration formulae which are still alive among Scottish and Danish country folk, except that what the pagans believed of Balder and Wodan is applied to Jesus.
I have been successful in tracing the content of the Merseburg Charm about Baldur's foal to an earlier magical formula and as a result to prove irrefutably the relationship just asserted for this. What, however, is particularly remarkable is that it makes its appearance in a very remote region in Scandinavia. Jesus, so it runs, traveled to the heath, where the foal he was riding broke a leg; whereupon Jesus dismounted and healed it by putting sinew on sinew, bone to bone, flesh to flesh, binding it with leaves so that it would remain in the same place.
Two formulas, the old Thuringian and the Norse, the latter in the 10th, the former circulated only in the 18th century, have certainly the same foundation: a myth about the pagan Baldur. Jesus may have been substituted here both for Wodan, the god who was successful in magic, as well as for Baldur, whose foal suffered injury. I incline to the last opinion, because in fact Christ was known to Northlanders as hviti Kristr -- "the White Christ" -- and Baldur also as hviti as, the White God, from his radiant glittering color -- indeed, even other similarities between Christ and Baldur, the purest, most spotless god of the pagans, have been emphasized.
No effort is needed to lend deeper meaning to this simply represented fable. As soon as the Sun god's horse is lamed and he is forced to interrupt his course, everyone is in danger and nothing is more expedient to the kindly deities, than to overcome this speedily. To undertake healing and magical conjurations was a woman's business; therefore here also four goddesses attempt magic, although vainly. Only Wodan, the supreme head of all the gods, is successful in providing a solution.
As far as can be seen, a god with the unfamiliar name of Phol was honored by the Thuringians and Bavarians, i.e. according to ancient nomenclature the Hermunduri and Markomanni. However, alongside this name they also seem to have given him other names, Paltar and Balder, while among Saxons and Westphalians, Baldag, Bældæg, was used and the Anglo-Saxon bealdor ["prince, lord"] passed into a common noun. The time of Midsummer was sacred to Baldur, and John seems to have taken his place among Christians.
Among the Aesir, the Edda introduces Forseti, a son of Baldur and Nanna, who like his father dwells in a glittering hall built of gold and silver called Glitnir and, as with Baldur himself, is called the wisest, gentlest god and the one most gifted with speech whose utterance is irrevocable. He is said to be the wisest judge among gods and men, he settles all affairs under dispute. Forseti is linked with the Frisian god Fosite who loved islands and was worshipped on Helgoland. Both provide us with widespread evidence of the worship of Baldur.
HEIMDALL: THE GUARDIAN OF THE HEAVENLY BRIDGEBesides the gods dealt with above who can be proved beyond any doubt as worshipped by all or most German tribes, the Norse mythology includes a succession of others whose traces are either more difficult follow or have completely vanished. Heimdall is, like Baldur, a kindly god of light, guarding the rainbow bridge to heaven (Bifrost) and living in Himinbjörg, the mountain of heaven. Other features are almost fabulous: he is said to have been the son of nine mothers, to need less sleep than a bird, to see a hundred miles into the distance by night as by day, and to hear the trees growing on the earth, the wool on the back of a sheep. [Image: Heimdall, watchman of the gods.]
His horse is called Gulltoppr ("golden crop") and he himself has golden teeth. As sentinel and keeper of the gods Heimdall blows a loud horn (Gjallarhorn) which is kept under a sacred tree. He seems to have ruled during the creation of the world and of men and to have played a higher role than was afterwards allotted to him. Just as war was superintended by Ziu along with Wodan, fertility by Frô, so may creative power also have been shared between Odin and Heimdall.
A song of suggestive design in the Edda [viz. Rigsthula] makes the first arrangement of mankind in classes proceed from the same Heimdall, who traverses the world under the name of Rig.
LOKI: THE INSTIGATOR OF MISFORTUNE AND THE GOD OF FIREThe three brothers Hlêr, Logi, Kari on the whole seem to represent water, fire and air as elements. Now a striking narrative in the Prose Edda places Logi ["flame, fire"] by the side of Loki, a being from the giant province beside a kinsman and companion of the gods. This is no mere play upon words; the two really signify the same thing from different points of view, Logi the natural force of fire, and Loki, with a shifting of the sound, a shifting of the sense. From the burly fire-giant Logi has developed a crafty, seductive evil-doer. Both can be compared to the Greek Prometheus and Hephaestus.
Loki, as punishment for his misdeeds, is laid in chains, like Prometheus who gave men fire, and from which he will be freed at the end of the world. One of Loki's children, Fenrir, pursues the moon in wolf's shape and threatens to swallow it. Eclipses of sun and moon were terrifying to many pagan peoples. The gradual darkening over of the glittering sphere seemed to be that moment of time when the yawning gullet of the wolf threatened to swallow the moon and they believed that aid was given to the latter by uttering loud cries. [Image: "Loki and Hod" by C. Qvarnstrom (c. 1890). Loki tricks the blind god Hod into killing Baldur with a dart of mistletoe.]
This breaking loose of the wolf and the future release of Loki from his bonds, who at the time of Ragnarok will fight and overcome the gods, coincides strikingly with the release of Prometheus by whom Zeus is to be overthrown. Prometheus is chained to rocks by Hephaestus, like Loki in similar manner by Logi, son of the giant Fornjotr.
A half-burnt heart which he had found --
Short Seeress' Prophecy 14
Loki was beautiful in appearance but evil of mind. His father, a giant, was called Farbauti, his mother's names were Laufey and Nal, slim and supple. By his wife, Sigyn, Loki had Nari or Narvi, and three children with a giantess, Angrbotha: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jormungandr and Hel, a daughter with whose name the personal concept vanished and was dissolved in the local idea of Hellia, underworld and place of punishment. Loki is said to be the terminator and destroyer of all things, in contrast to Heimdall, the beginner and originator.
NERTHUS: MOTHER EARTHIn almost all tongues earth is female in gender and, in contrast to the father sky surrounding her, regarded as the mother who gives birth, who brings forth fruits. Nowhere is her maternal quality expressed purer and simpler than in the oldest information which we possess in the Germania of Tacitus about the goddess Nerthus. Writes Tacitus: "The German peoples as a whole honor Nerthus, who is Mother Earth, and believe that she mixes in human affairs and comes journeying in a wagon among her people. On an island in the sea lies an inviolate wood sacred to her; her wagon stands there, veiled with a cloth, and only a single priest may approach it. The latter knows when the goddess appears in the wagon. Two she-oxen pull it away and the priest devoutly follows. Wherever she condescends to come and accept hospitality, there are days of rejoicing and weddings, no war is fought, no weapon reached for, every iron object is locked away. Only peace and calm are then known and desired. This lasts until the goddess has sojourned long enough among humans and the priest leads her back again into her sanctuary. Cover and goddess are washed in a remote lake. But the servants who perform are afterwards swallowed by the lake. A secret terror and sacred uncertainty are therefore always spread over this, which only those who die immediately afterwards witness." [Image: Earth Mother Nerthus on her chariot/wagon.]
This beautiful tale of Mother Earth agrees with what is contained in reports about the cult of a deity to whom peace and fertility were attributed. In Sweden it was Freyr, son of Njord, whose curtained car passed through the land in Spring, with the people all praying and holding feasts.
The alternation of male and female deities sheds a welcome light here on why spells and rhymes used with Wodan as harvest god are actually transferred in other Lower German districts to a goddess. When the cottagers, we are told, are mowing rye, they leave a few stalks standing, tie flowers among them, and when they have finished work, assemble around the clump left standing, grasp the ears of rye, and shout three times over:
Lady Gaue, keep your fodder
on the wagon this year,
on the wheelbarrow next year!
Whereas Wodan had better fodder promised him for the next year, here Lady Gaue seems to be told of a future reduction in the gifts brought. In both cases I see the reserve of Christians about retaining the pagan offering. The old gods must, at least according to the words, now stand in low and ill repute.
In the district about Hameln, the custom prevailed that if a reaper during binding passed over a sheaf or otherwise left something standing in the field, the others mockingly called out to him: "Shall Lady Gaue have that?"
The widespread worship of the productive, nourishing earth also occasioned a variety of names among our forefathers, in the same way as the divine service of Gaia and her daughter Rhea mingled with that of Ceres and Cybele. The similarity between the cult of Nerthus and that of the Phrygian mother of the gods, Cybele, seems to me worth noting. Lucretius describes the peregrination of the magna deûm mater [great mother of the gods] in her lion-drawn car through the lands of the earth:
Adorned with a turreted crown, the image of the divine mother is carried through wide lands with awe-inspiring effect ... When first borne in procession through great cities she silently enriches mortals with a wordless blessing; they strew all her path with brass and silver presenting her with bounteous alms, and scatter over her a snow-shower of roses, overshadowing the Mother and her retinue of attendants. (Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 597-641)Ammianus Marcellinus, XXIII, 3: "There [at Callinicum in Mesopotamia], on the twenty-seventh of March, the day on which at Rome the annual procession in honor of the Mother of the Gods takes place, and the carriage in which her image is carried is washed, as it is said, in the waters of the Almo, he [Emperor Julian] celebrated the usual rites in the ancient fashion."
Nerthus is likewise, after she has been driven around the land, bathed in the sacred lake on her wagon, and I find it recorded that the Indian Bhavani, Shiva's wife, is also driven around on her festival day and bathed by the Brahmans in a secret lake.
Rügen or Fehmarn have been held to be the islands of the sea mentioned by Tacitus. In the middle of Rügen [an island in the Baltic sea] there is still a lake called the Black Lake or Burgsee (Herthasee) about which a legend circulates. In olden times the Devil was worshipped there, keeping a maiden in his service who, when he had grown tired of her, was drowned in the Black Lake. However bad the distortion, this will have sprung from the ritual reported by Tacitus, who says that when the goddess had finished her dealings with humans, she vanished in the lake together with her servants.
FRIGGA AND FREYAGermanic goddesses, travelling around and visiting houses, are chiefly thought of as mothers of the gods from whom the human race learned the affairs and arts of the household as well as of farming: spinning, weaving, sowing and harvesting. These labors bring peace and calm into the land and the memory of this persists in delightful traditions even more firmly than in wars and battles, which most goddesses, like women generally, avoid. But as some goddesses also take kindly to war, so do gods on the other hand favor peace and agriculture; and there arises an interchange of names or offices between the sexes.
Among the goddesses of the Norse religous system, of whom unequivocal traces are forthcoming in the rest of Teutondom, we first encounter Frigga, Odin's wife, and Freya, sister of the god Freyr, a pair easy to confound and often confounded because of the their similar names. The forms and even the meanings of the two names border closely on one another. Freya means the gay, joyful, dear, gracious goddess. Frigga, Wodan's wife, signifies the free, beautiful and amiable one. With the former is connected the general concept of Frau (woman, lady), with the latter that of fri (wife, mistress).
Frigga, as wife of the highest god, has rank before all other goddesses. She knows the destinies of men, is consulted by Odin, administers oaths; she superintends marriages and is entreated by the childless.
In some parts of northern England, in Yorkshire, especially Hallamshire, popular customs show remnants of the worship of Frigga. In the neighbourhood of Dent, at certain seasons of the year, especially autumn, the country folk hold a procession and perform old dances, one called the giant's dance: the leading giant they name Woden, and his wife Frigga, the principal action of the play consisting in two swords being swung and clashed together about the neck of a boy without hurting him.
The distinct trace of the goddess in lower Saxony is worth noting where she is called Fru Freke by the people and appears in the roles which we allot to Frau Holle. Then in Westphalia, legend may derive the name of the old convent Freckenhorst, Frickenhorst, from a shepherd Frickio, to whom a light appeared in the night on the spot where the church was to be built; the name really points to a sacred hurst or grove of Frecka fem., or of Fricko masc., whose site Christianty was perhaps eager to appropriate.
A constellation of the heavens, Orion's belt, is called Fraggiar rockr after the highest goddess. But the constellation also means Mariarock, Marirock in Danish because Christians applied the old name to Mary the heavenly mother.
Freya, from whose name comes the sixth day of the week, is after, or alongside Frigga the most honored goddess, indeed her cult seems to have been even more widespread and important. She was married to a man called Odr, not a god, at least not included among the Aesir, but who forsook her and whom she, shedding tears, sought all over the world among alien peoples. Freya's tears were golden, gold is called after them, she herself is gratfagr, beautiful in weeping. In children's tales, pearls and flowers are shed with tears or laughter. But according to the oldest evidence, Freya appears warlike. She drives to the battlefield on a wagon drawn by two cats, just as Thor drives with two goats, and she shares with Odin in the slain. She is called supreme head of all Valkyries. As a consequence it seems a remarkable similarity that in legend from Christian times, besides Wodan, Holda or Berchta also take up unbaptized, dying children into their host, i.e., as pagan goddesses they take the souls of pagans.
Freya in her cat-drawn chariot; N.J.O. Blummer (1852).
Freya's dwelling is called Folkvangr, Folkwang, the fields on which hosts of the (dead?) folk gather. This possibly resembles St. Gertrud, whose minne is drunk for the souls of the departed; with Gertrud the souls of the dead are given hospitality the first night. Freya's hall is called Sessrymir, roomy in seats, taking up hosts of people. Dying women believe they come into her company after death. Thorgerd in Egils saga refuses earthly nourishment; she thinks to feast with Freya soon in the afterlife: "I have not had supper, and I will have none till I am with Freya". Yet love-songs please her too, and lovers do well to call upon her. Because the cat is sacred to her, as the wolf to Wodan, perhaps explains to us why this animal is regarded as the associate of night-hags and witches and is called Donneraas, Wetteraas (thunder carrion). If a bride goes to her wedding in good weather, then it is remarked: "She has fed the cat well," i.e. not offended the animal of the goddess of love.
According to the Edda, Freya owned a precious necklace. How she obtained the jewel from dwarfs, how it was cunningly robbed from her by Loki, is recorded in an original tale. When Freya snorts in rage, the necklace breaks off at her breast. When Thor, to get his hammer back, dresses up in Freya's garments, he does not forget to put on her famous necklace, Brisinga men ["necklace of the Brisings.]
Now this very trinket is evidently known to the Anglo-Saxon poet of Beowulf (line 1199); he names it Brosinga mene ["necklace of the Brosings"], without any allusion to the goddess. I would read "Brîsinga mene," and derive the word in general from a verb which is in MHG brîsen, breis (nodare, nodis constringere, Gr. kentein to pierce), namely, it was a chain strung together of bored links. The jewel is so closely interwoven with the myth of Freya, that from its mention in Anglo-Saxon poetry we may safely infer the familiarity of the Saxon race with the story itself.