Living Tru

Distributed by the Heathen Kinship (Based on the public domain book “Our Troth” published by Kveldulfr Gundarsson for the Ring of Troth)

For the exclusive, private use of Heathen Kinship novices and members only. Edited for the Heathen Kinship by Vithar Herren

Writers of Our Troth (The original work on which this work is based)

Alice Karl sdóttir
Freya Aswynn, Elder
Bill Bainbridge, Elder
Sven Coman-Luger, Elder-in-training
Helgi T. Dagsson, Elder-in-training
Will von Dauster
Gamlinginn, Elder
James Graham
Grendel Grettisson
Stephan Grundy
Gunnwar Skaðadóttir
Hagar Olson
D.	James O'Halloran,
William Conrad Karpen
Richard King, Elder-in-training
KveldúlfR Hagan Gundarsson, Elder
Melodi Lammond
Larsanthony K. Agnarsson, Elder-in-training
Magnus Þórfinnsson, Elder
Jamey Hrolf Martin
Gert McQueen, Elder
Andy Mendes
Karter Neal
Laurel Olson
Diana L. Paxson, Elder
J.S. Pereira
Prudence Priest, Elder
Lavrans Reimer-Møller, Elder-in-training
Dianne Luark Ross, Elder
Siegróa Lyfjasgyðja
Snorri Laurelsson
Lew Stead
Lew Stead and the Raven Kindred (Raven Kindred Ritual Book)
Paul Stigård
Sunwynn Ravenwood
Eric Wodening, Elder-in-training
Swain Wodening, Elder-in training

and all the folk of Trotliline (Troth e-mail network; see 'Organizations and Resources) who spoke up about the matters written of here or asked the questions that inspired the writing.

Living Tru: Contents

What is the Elder Troth?

Roots of the Troth (Asatru): the History of the Germanic Folks

I.	The Indo-Europeans
II.	Stone Age
III.	Bronze Age
IV.   Celtic and Roman Iron Ages
V.    Migration and Vendel Ages
VI.   Viking Age
VII.	 Rebirth

 The God/esses and Wights of the North

VIII.	The God/esses of the Troth
IX.   Tiw and Zisa
X.    Wodan
XI.	Loki
XII.	Balder
XIII.	Frija and other Goddesses: Saga, Eir, Gefjon, Fulla, Fnja's other Women,          	Iðunn, Sif, Trude, Hella, Sunna
XIV	Thonar
XV.	Wulþur, Heimdallr, and other Gods: Bragi, 
	Fosite, Móði and Magni, Viðarr and Vali
XVI.	Nerthus and Njórðr
XVII.	Fro Ing
XVIII. Frowe
XIX.	Skaði, Gerðr, Earth and other Etin-Brides: Griðr, 
	Jarnsaxa, Bestla, Angrboda
XX.   Idises
XXI.	Walkurjas
XXII.	Alfs, Dwarves, Land-Wights, and Huldfolk
XXIII.House Ghosts
XXIV.	Etins, Rises, Thurses, Trolls, and Muspilli

True Being: Thought, Life, Soul, and Afterlife

XXV.		The Nine Worlds: Their Shaping and End
XXVI.		Soul, Death, and Rebirth
XXVII.	Ethics of Asatruar
XXVIII.	Bylaws of the Heathen Kinship
XXIX.      Godhis and Gydhjas of the Heathen Kinship
XXX.		Under the Law: Rights, Choices, and Dangers

Living True: The Rites and Worship

XXXI. 	Ways of Worship
XXXII.	Writing and Working Rites
XXXIII.	Ritual, Religion, & Theatre
XXXIV.	Working Rites and Holding Feasts
XXXV.	Rituals of Need
	Hail to the Sun, Blessing of Food, Greeting a Guest, 
	Drink-Toasts, Wodan-Blessing, Frija-Blessing, Fro Ing Blessing,
	Eir-Blessing, Blood-Brotherhood, Troth-Claiming, Hammer-Rite
XXXVI.  Symbel 
XXXVII.  Sauna 
XXXIX. Man-Making
XL. 	Woman-Making
XLI. 	Marriage.
XLII. Burial Rites

 Holy Feasts

XLIV. Feast of Thonar (Þorrablót)
XLV.  Idis-þing
XLVI  .Ostara
XLVII. Waluburg's Night
XLVIII.  Midsummer
XLIX.    Loaf-Feast (Freyfaxi)
L.   Winternights

True Lore: Crafts and Lists

LI. Some Crafts of the North, Mend-Making, Non-Drinkers' Mend,
Drinking Horns:, Wood-Carving and Northern Art, Spinning, Corn-Dollies
LII. Things, Signs, and their Meanings LVII. Word-Hoard LVIII. Book-Hoard

What is the Elder Troth?

The word Troth means trust, loyalty, or a promise; it also means "belief"
in the sense "to trust in someone/something". The Elder Troth is the name
which we give to the common beliefs of the folk who speak the Germanic
languages (English, Dutch, German, and Scandinavian). These beliefs are
also often called by the Old Norse name Ásatrú ("the trust in the Æsir").
However, since the Elder Troth is not only Scandinavian, but was also
followed by the Teutonic folk of the Continent and the Anglo-Saxon settlers
in England; and since the troth is given, not only to the Æsir (Wodan,
Thunor, Tiw, and their tribe), but also to the Vanir (Fro Ing, the Frowe,
Njord, and Nerthus) and many other wights, the Ring of Troth uses the more
common term.  Here at the Heathen Kinship we use the terms interchangeably.

The Elder Troth, as it is practised now, is a reconstructed religion with
room for the whole of the Germanic world. Most of our myths were written
down in Old Norse after the close of the Viking Age; we also know about the
practises of our forebears through the accounts of foreign historians such
as the Roman Tacitus (first century of the Common Era).

The beliefs of the Elder Troth are that the god/esses of the North live and
are mighty; that we stand in the Middle-Garth at the heart of the
World-Tree, ringed about by the eight other worlds; that the birth and
death of worlds and humans alike are shaped by the three Norns who sit at
the Well of Wyrd by the World-Tree's roots; and that it is our duty to be
true, honourable, and worthy of our god/esses and our kin who have gone
before us.

This book is a collection of the writings and thoughts of
various folk who follow the ways of the North, offering a range of
perspectives on the religion of our forebears and its practise today,
particularly as carried out by the Ring of Troth, the incorporated
religious organization of which this is the official handbook. As the Elder
Troth covers a wide span of space and time, the Ring of Troth does not try
to limit its ways to any one place or period (such as Viking Age
Scandinavia or pre-conversion England, for instance). While the Germanic
languages and religious practises may have differed somewhat, all are
equally worthy. For our titles and our official informational products, we
try to use modern English or reclaimed/created Germanic English words;
however it does not matter whether the one-eyed god with the spear is
called on as *Woðanaz (Proto-Germanic), Wodan (Old High German), Woden
(Anglo-Saxon), Óðinn (Old Norse), Oden (modern Danish/Swedish/Norwegian),
Odin (Anglicized Norse) or *Woþans (Gothic). Nearly all of these names are
used by someone in the Troth (although the Warder of the Lore does not
currently know of any reconstructed Gothic kindreds), and, since they refer
to the same deity, it is better to learn to think of the different
linguistic forms interchangeably. For this reaon, different forms of
god/ess names appear throughout the book. Where there is no specific
indication otherwise, I have used general Germanic forms (Wodan, Thonar,
and so forth), but the forms used by other contributors stay as they are,
and where a reference is made to Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon sources, the form
that appears in the particular source may be used, so that the same god may
be called "Freyr" and "Fro Ing" in one sentence. In order to cut down on
any confusion this may cause, a word-list is supplied at the back which
identifies all the variant name-forms.

The Troth is, and has always been, a living and growing religion woven of
many different strands of belief - not only different god/esses and
families of god/esses, but of many ways within the path of each. Therefore
this book brings together as many different views on the ways of our
forebears as we could find folk willing to write or speak about the
subject. Nothing in here is a dogma; the closest we have to dogma is the
historical facts on which our re-creation is based, and most of those are
subject to considerable academic (let alone spiritual) debate. We have no
infallible "holy book": source and textual criticism are vital parts of the
development of our religion. Therefore, it is not likely that you will
agree with every word written here, or practise these rites and no other.
The purpose of Our Troth is not to set out absolute doctrine, but to give
true folk a wide range of materials from which each may build his or her
own troth. You may even mark, as you read through, that some statements in
the book could be taken as contradicting one another: however, everything
here was written by someone who is true to the ways and god/desses of the
Northern folk. We trust that, as a true person yourself, you have the great
thew (virtue) of free-standing, and will be able to make your own choice
between the differing views, or forge out a view of your own - for that has
ever been the way of the Northern folk.

Chapter I

The Indo-Europeans

The language of the Germanic people, and something of our culture, springs
from a much greater stem. The Germanic language, like Celtic, Latin, Greek,
Iranian, and Sanskrit (among others), is part of the Indo-European (I-E)
language group, all going back to a common root called Proto-Indo-European.

Little is known of the Indo-European homeland; what we do know about it
comes from the words that can be reconstructed from their variants in the
Indo-European languages. We know that these early forebears lived where
there were birch and willow trees; probably also ash, elm, and oak. Among
the animals they knew were wolves, bears, lynx, salmon, elk, red deer,
hares, otters, beavers, hedgehogs, mice, and perhaps roe deer; they seem to
have known eagles, geese, cranes, and ducks, as well. Their domesticated
beasts included cows, sheep, horses, pigs, and dogs. As far as their
landscape is concerned, they had both mountains (or at least big hills) and
large bodies of water. They were probably not a nomadic people, as both the
domestication of pigs and the agricultural terms suggest permanent
settlement and cultivation of land. The origins of the Indo-European
community are still a matter for debate among scholars. However, there is
general agreement that the people who lived on the steppes north of the
Black Sea between six and four thousand years ago were speaking an
Indo-European language, and were the cultural ancestors of the modern
European peoples.

It is important to note that the settlement of Europe by the Indo-Europeans
resulted in a cultural change, not a racial change. The peoples of Europe,
eastern or western, are and have always been a heterogenous mixture of
physical types.

What distinguished the steppes peoples from their western neighbors was
their language and culture. Like their western neighbors, the steppe folk
derived a large part of their living from hunting, fishing, and farming of
grains (wheat and barley) and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). However,
the basis of steppe culture was cattle raising. Cattle were absolutely the
heart and soul of their culture. The word *dhenu ("nourisher") was
originally applied to milk cows. Later it was applied to nursing mothers as
well. In time it became a name for the immortal spirit which was believed
to nurture the soul of the individual. It survived in Avestan (an ancient
Iranian language) as Daena, which meant "Religion".

The steppes people lived on the upper terraces of the Don, the Volga, and
other rivers which drained into the Black Sea. They grew their crops on the
lower terraces in summer and pastured their herds there in winter. In the
summer the herds grazed on the vast expanses of the open steppe, watched
over by groups of young men. These groups were the cultural root of the
warrior-societies known to the various Indo-European peoples.

The cattle provided the muscle-power to pull the plows and wagons which the
villagers used to grow and transport their crops. Horses became important
for transportation only with the invention of the light two-wheeled
chariot, about 4400 years ago. Cattle provided the means for migration, as
well as the cause. Because the steppe people had developed a way of using
the resources of the steppes for nourishment, their numbers increased with
each generation. This new way of life was dairy farming. Steppe grasses
were far too tough to be plowed; simple wooden plows could not cut through
their roots. By raising cattle, then milking them and making butter and
cheese, the steppe people found a non-destructive way to use the bounty of
the steppes, as well as a way to obtain food from the animals without
killing them.

Of course, the herds of cattle also provided meat, leather, horn, and bone
for food, clothing, and tools. Sheep and goats provided wool, hides, meat,
and horn. Horses were originally raised for meat and hides, but were later
used for transportation. The men of the steppes were skilled craftsmen who
made their own tools of wood, stone, bone, horn, and bronze. They used
these tools to make wagons, chariots, boats, houses, and probably
furniture, although no traces of beds or tables have survived. They also
made jewelry of gold, silver, copper, and bronze. The women were skilled in
spinning, dyeing, and weaving wool. They were also the basketmakers and
potters, decorating their pottery with simple geometric patterns of lines
and dots.

When the steppe people followed the Danube up into Europe, they found
themselves in another world: a land of unlimited forests. They built their
villages on islands or river promontories which they turned into islands by
digging ditches. They erected palisades of upright logs for protection, and
built log cabins to live in. Whereas the steppe people had lived with
entire (extended) families under one roof, in these new houses, each man
set up his own household when he married.

In the earlier system, all of the adults of one family had called all the
children "son" or "daughter" and all the children had called all the men
"father" and all the women "mother". In this system there had been no
orphans and no private property, except personal adornments. In the new
system, which we still employ, each family, though still part of the
greater kinship system, was responsible for bringing up its own children
and providing for them. The earlier system of clan and tribe still
prevailed for several millenia, each tribe being made up of several clans,
each of which claimed descent from a common ancestor. Ancient nations were
made up of tribes which had allied with each other for mutual benefit.

The Indo-Europeans were a patrilineal (not to be confused with patriarchal
- KHG) society. Descent was traced through the male line. Because life was
short and many children died in infancy, a woman's most sacred duty was to
provide children, especially sons, to carry on the clan. The steppe people
believed that spirits lived on in the tomb and required nourishment.
Failure to provide a proper burial and offerings doomed the dead to eternal
suffering as a hungry ghost. This belief persisted for millenia among many
branches of the Indo-European people, including the Germanic-speakers.

The religion of the Indo-European people has also been much debated.
Sweeping and imaginative attempts have been made to reconstruct an original
structure by the scholar Georges Dumézil and his followers. However,
Dumézil's method has often been criticized severely, as he relied on
impressions and sweeping assertions rather than actual information (cf.
Page, "Dumézil Revisited", for instance). The structures which he claims to
be common to the Indo-European folk cannot be upheld within any individual
branch (as will be discussed briefly in the section on the god/esses), and
so there is some doubt as to how far they can be taken in regards to the
Proto-Indo-Europeans. We do know that there was a cultural emphasis on the
number three and on tripartism in general. For instance: the Indo-Europeans
had three primary colours - white, red, and black; there are comparative
suggestions that at rituals, a constellation of three different types of
animal was sacrificed; the number three is the chief number of magic and
ritual throughout the Indo-European world.

The hearth was the center of the domestic religion. The head of the family
was the priest and his wife the priestess. They made offerings of the
hearth fire every day at dawn and dusk. The fire was a living god, which
contained the vital spark of the family line. For it to die out was a
terrible sin which would cause horrible consequences for the family. The
father of the family made offerings to the ancestors every month at the New
and Full Moon. He made sacrifices to the powers of the fields in the spring
and harvest-tide of every year. All through the year the father and mother
of the family made offerings to the minor deities of the household: the
powers of the courtyard, the livestock, the trees and groves, all the host
of godlets who protected the people from calamity.

The greater gods received their offerings from the priestly families of the
clans and tribes. The knowledge of the correct ritual procedures and hyms,
the right to conduct sacrifices and receive a portion of the offerings,
were the property of particular families and were passed down from father
to son. The steppe peoples built no temples. Their sacrifices were made in
temporary enclosures, aligned along an east-west axis. The sky gods
received offerings on rectangular or square altars facing east; the
terrestrial powers received their sacrifices on round altars facing west.
The enclosure surrounding the altars was usually rectangular, but
occasionally oval. It was made by cutting concentric lines in the soil or
turf. Each sacrifice was a recreation of the world. In the mythos of the
Indo-Europeans there had been three primal beings: "Man" (*Manu), "Twin"
(*Yema), and "Shaper" (*Tvastr). Man, the first priest, had sacrificed
Twin, the first king. Shaper, the first artisan, had created the world from
the body of Twin. His flesh became the soil, his bones the stones, his
breath the wind, his blood the waters, his vital energy fire, his eye the
son, his mind the moon, and his skull the vault of heaven. Whenever a
priest sacrificed, he was recreating the primal sacrifice, renewing the
cosmic and social order. All those who participated in the sacrifice were
acknowledging their common descent and kinship, for it was believed that
the first human couple had sprung up from the seed of Twin, spilled on the
ground when he died. Each birth was a bringing together of the primal
elements, a recreation of Twin. Each death was a recreation of the original

There is reasonably certain linguistic evidence that the Indo-Europeans
worshipped a Sky-Father or Bright Father, whose name survives in the Latin
Jupiter and Sanskrit Dyaus-pita, and in a more abbreviated form, Greek Zeus
and Norse Týr. Dumézil theorizes a double sky-rulership, in which the
Bright Father governed human law, social mores, the day, light and summer,
while his counterpart, the "Seer", represented cosmic law, ancestral
custom, the powers of magic, of night, and of darkness; the possibility of
this set-up is spoken of further under "Tiw". The Indo-Europeans probably
knew a Storm Lord, the god who brought the life-giving rain and snows, who
was also been the warrior god who protected the herds and the people from
enemies. The great enemy of the Storm Lord was the "Dragon". This was a
terrible serpent-like creature who swooped down out of the sky during
stormy weather and devastated the land before being bested by the Storm
Lord. To any resident of the American prairies, the "dragon" is instantly
recognisable as a tornado: it was only when the Indo-Europeans left the
steppes and moved into areas with less violent weather that the "dragon"
developed into a mythical beast.

Other important celestial deities included the Sun Goddess, the daughter of
the Bright Father; the Dawn Goddess; and the Twins. The Divine Twins were
the sons of the Bright One also. The Twins were originally the Morning and
Evening Stars, which were regarded as two separate entities. The Moon was
an unusual deity, for he died and was reborn every month. He was envisioned
as taking the shape of a white bull, and being sacrificed at the full of
every moon and reborn as a white calf two weeks later. His semen was the
dew which was gathered by bees to make honey, from which the vision-giving
mead was derived. The sacred mushroom also sprang up from his seed.

The terrestrial powers were even more numerous than the sky deities. Every
grove and spring had its protecting powers. The two most important powers
were the Lord of Water and the Moisture Mother. The Lord of Water was god
of the waters beneath the earth. The Moisture Mother was the goddess of the
fertile well-watered soils upon which the crops and the grasses depended
for life. One version of the Moisture Mother was the goddess Danu, "River".
She was the goddess of the river which still bears her name, the Don. She
was regarded as the ancestress of many Indo-European tribes: the Danaans of
India, the Danoi of Greece, the Tuatha de Danaan of Ireland, and the Danes
of Denmark. Many rivers still bear her name, including the Danube, the
"Holy River".

The Indo-Europeans had an alcoholic drink for ritual (and perhaps other)
use, called *medhu, probably very similar to the fermented honey mead of
Northern Europe. They were familiar with both verse-riddles and chanted
magic: for instance, one Old Norse riddle (set to Heiðrekr by Óðinn in
Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks) has analogies throughout the Indo-European
world, as does the "Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch", an Old High German
charm for healing a broken limb. No evidence for Indo-European shamanism
has yet been put forward.

The Indo-European people probably began to migrate from their homeland
sometime between the fourth and third millenium B.C.E. (Before the Common
Era), spreading fairly rapidly. The first major linguistic change was the
division between the Western European ("centem") and the Eastern
European/Asian ("satem") branches (the terms centem and satem are both
words for "one hundred", the marker of change being the initial letter).
The major European branches are Italo-Celtic; Aryo-Graeco-Armenian; and
Balto-Slavo-Germanic. Much is still uncertain about the process of this
migration. It was probably not a process of one folk sweeping forth to
conquer and colonize on a large scale (as with, for instance, the Celtic
domination of Central Europe during the early Iron Age followed by the
Germanic incursions), for the physical types of people who speak
Indo-European languages differ so markedly as to suggest that, whatever the
original physical character of the Indo-Europeans might have been, they did
not spread in numbers great enough to affect the genetic makeup of the
local population. However, the Indo-European influence must have been
extremely strong, for very little pre-Indo-European vocabulary made its way
into any of the Indo-European dialects, so the probability of warfare as
one of the means through which Indo-European was spread cannot be
dismissed. The technical advancements of the Indo-Europeans, (particularly
marked in their use of horses), may also have contributed to the spread of
their language and culture: an analogy might perhaps be drawn with the
dominance of the English language in the latter part of this century.

Because of the homeland problem, there is considerable difficulty in
finding out when the Indo-European language/culture might have reached
Scandinavia. While there are many cultural changes evident in early Nordic
archaeology, identifying one as Indo-European is impossible. If the
Indo-European homeland was indeed near the Urals, then Scandinavia would
have been on the farthest fringe, and thus not likely to have become
Indo-Europeanized until perhaps the second millenium B.C.E. If that were
the case, it would open the way to much discussion of which elements of the
Elder Troth were originally Indo-European and which were absorbed from the
native ways of the North. However, the possibility also exists that the
Indo-Europeans originally stemmed from Northern Europe, in which case there
would be no evidence for a major cultural discontinuity between the
Scandinavians of the Stone Age and the Viking Age Norse. Currently it is
considered likely that the Scandinavian population remained relatively
stable, with cultural changes arising from a combination of adaptation to
climactic alterations and technological innovations filtering up from the
south: if migration was a major factor in the Indo-European spread, then
current theory makes it more difficult to explain the Indo-Europeanization
of the North. Linguistically, as well, the Celtic and Germanic speeches
seem to preserve many Proto-Indo-European features intact, which may also
argue for a Northern European homeland.


Most of this chapter was written by Sunwynn Ravenwood, author of a
forthcoming book on the Indo-Europeans. Also contributing were:

D. James O'Halloran, Elder-in-Training, from Teutonic Culture: The
Development of the Folk (Eldership thesis-in-process).

Gert McQueen, Elder

Book-list (as compiled by Sunwynn Ravenwood, with the comment, "There are
dozens of books on the Indo-Europeans; (these), and the Journal, are those
that I would require as absolutely essential)

DeCoulanges, Fustel, The Ancient City: A Study on the Religion, Laws, and
Institutions of Greece and Rome (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor books, 1956.
Orig. pub. 1864).

Dumézil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1970)

- Mitra-Varuna (New York: Zone Books, 1988)

Gimbutas, Marja, Bronze Age Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe (The
Hague: Mouton & Co., 1965)

- The Prehistory of Eastern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum, 1956)

Mallory, James P., In Search of the Indo-Europeans (New York: Thames &
Hudson, 1989)

The Journal of Indo-European Studies (periodical)

Chapter II

The Stone Age

9000 B.C.E. - 1800 B.C.E.

Scandinavia was largely covered by ice during most of the Stone Age: it was
the last part of Northern Europe to become habitable. The earliest
settlements in the Northland date to roughly 9,000 B.C.E., but human beings
did not become common there until a couple of millennia later. At that
time, folk were already being buried with grave-goods: the Swedish
Bäckaskog woman was sent to the worlds beyond armed with a spearhead of
bone and flint and a chisel. The dead may have been feared as well: one of
the Skateholm burials, a powerful man whose skeleton showed evidence that
he had survived a wild boar's attack and a flint arrow in the pelvic bone,
was buried with due honour and a sprinkling of red ochre - but his head was
chopped off and placed by his foot, an act which Norse sources describe as
a means of quieting the walking dead. Red ochre was frequently sprinkled
over the dead; animals or parts of animals were also set in the graves. The
Skateholm cemetery includes a few dogs who were set in human graves with
broken necks; a Danish burial had a small child's corpse laid on the wing
of a swan.

With the rise of agriculture, the cult of the dead also seems to have
become more important. About 3500 B.C.E., the people dwelling in the areas
of Germany and Scandinavia began to build houses for the dead out of slabs
of stone, often with mounds heaped about them. By 3000 B.C.E., these houses
had developed into huge passage graves, where the dead of a whole community
could be brought over a long period of time. Clay vessels of food and drink
were given to the dead; they were fully fitted out with weapons, tools, and
jewelry. The tombs and their mounds often had one or two circles of stones
set out around them. These may have been meant to ward the dead from evil
wights, or to keep the corpses from wandering out of their graves; the
stone chambers certainly suggest that the dead were expected to live on in
their homes (The Prehistory of Germanic Europe, pp. 97-98), a belief which
was certainly very strong in Germanic culture. Around this time, another
means of burial/worship appeared in Jutland: the graves were dug into the
ground, but a hut was built beside them where the grave-gifts and perhaps
the body could be displayed until the burial (Prehistoric Denmark, p. 22).

The next major change in Scandinavian Stone Age culture was the arrival of
such items as the cart and the well-fashioned stone battleaxe, about 2,800
B.C.E. At this time, burial customs also changed somewhat: graves were
single burials covered by low mounds, which were also marked out by stone
rings. More sexual differentiation can be seen in the grave-goods at this
time: men were commonly buried with stone axes, women with amber necklaces.
It has been suggested in the past that the "Battle-Axe People" may have
been an invading horde, but that is not commonly accepted now (A
Scandinavian Saga, pp. 75-76).

For obvious reasons, we know only a few things about the religions of the
Stone Age. Amber was very important at that time, both as a magical gem and
as a sacrificial item. Many Stone Age amber deposits have been found in
bogs, some totalling as much as 10 kilos (22 lbs.) of beads. These gifts
were probably given in the form of huge necklaces, and suggest an early
worship of a goddess who dwelt in earth and water (perhaps similar to
Nerthus or Frija?). Miniature axe-heads of amber were also worn as amulets:
the double-headed form of these is strikingly similar to the Þórr's Hammer
amulets of the late Viking Age, and it is possible that the belief in the
warding might of the thunder-god's weapon could have continued unbroken
from the Stone Age to the conversion (see "Thonar"). The National Museum of
Denmark also holds several small amber animals - wild boar, swan or goose,
and two fragments that may have been elk or deer. These are thought to have
been used as hunting-magic talismans, though it should also be noted that
the wild boar and the waterfowl, in particular, continued to be major
figures in the magic and religion of the Northern folk until the conversion
to christianity. As in later Germanic religious art, the head was given
special prominence, as shown by the small amber sculpture of a bearded
man's head from Norra Åsarp (Västergotland).

Axes, usually made of flint in the earlier Stone Age and greenstone or
porphyry later, were also particularly important. They were often given as
gifts to the gods, as was probably the case at Källgårds where fifteen fine
axes were left in three neat rows in a marsh, and miniature flint axes were
worn as amulets as well. A ceremonial axe with its butt carved into an
elk-head was found in Alunda; it may have been an import from Finland,
where such axes were more common, but rock carvings from Nämforsen also
show men carrying staffs topped by elk heads (Treasures of Early Sweden,
p.34). The use of ceremonial axes is attested through the Bronze Age; in
Old Norse literature, the hallowing axe seems to have been replaced by the

There are a number of Stone Age ritual sites in Denmark where holy feasts
were clearly held: food and drink were brought in pottery vessels (which
were then broken and left behind), and animals were slaughtered for the
feast at the site. There is some slight evidence that human flesh may have
sometimes been used in the lakeside feasting as well, though this
particular form of ritual practise was mostly observed in front of the
large grave-chambers in Sweden (Erikson & Lofman, A Scandinavian Saga, p.
62). The breaking of crockery and the leaving of the shards was
particularly characteristic of religious feasting both in the marshes and
at the grave-sites. This was probably done to send the vessel and its
contents to the worlds beyond so that the god/esses and the dead would
receive them. A horse-skull found at Ullstorp (eastern Scania) with a flint
dagger in it, dated to ca. 2000 B.C.E., is also thought to have been killed
as a sacrifice - particularly interesting in view of the great importance
of horses as sacrificial animals of the Germanic peoples in later times.

Musical instruments may also have been used in Stone Age ritual. A number
of bone and flint flutes have survived from that time, as has a bone
scraper from Malmö. An artifact from Kongemose has been interpreted as a
bull-roarer (a thin oval swung about on a thong to make a humming noise,
known to primitive cultures worldwide). Clay drums, both whole and
deliberately shattered, have been found outside of the Continental
stone-slab tombs. The folk of the Stone Age probably used rattles as well
(Lund, Fornordiska klanger, pp. 36-40).

Chapter III

The Bronze Age

1800-500 B.C.E.

The Bronze Age is rich in religious materials, both because the custom of
depositing offerings in bogs continued and became even more prevalent and
because of the frequent carving of cultic scenes on large rocks. The Bronze
Age rock carvings are found largely throughout southeast Sweden and along
the southern coast of Norway up to Trondheim. Although the coastlines have
changed since, it is thought that at the time they were carved, nearly all
of them were within sight of the sea. The most common images on these
stones are the ship, the wagon, the plough, the bare footprint, the phallic
man with axe or spear, the sun-wheel, and the mating couple. Many of them
are carved with little cup-shaped depressions which the Swedes still call
älvkvarnar, or "alf-cups"; in Sweden, offerings of milk and drink have been
made in these cups up to recent times (Ellis, Road to Hel, p. 114). Some of
the alf-cups are set in rows down the face of a sloping stone so that water
(or ale, or blood from a sacrifice) poured into the top one will run from
cup to cup. The cultic character of the stones cannot be mistaken: several
stones show boat-borne processions with lur-players or acrobats. Their
positions are similar to those of the little bronze figurine of the woman
in the string-skirt which was sacrificed in a bog at Grevensvænge, southern
Sealand together with several other figures. Among these figures were two
men wearing horned helmets and holding large axes. These figurines had pegs
underneath for fastening them to a base of some sort; it is theorized that
they may have fit onto a model of a ship, creating a scene like those on
the picture-stones (Kjærum and Olsen, Oldtidens Ansigt, p. 66).The most
common interpretation of these figures is that they represent fertility
rites, possibly depicting ritual dramas or processions.

The location of the majority of the rock carvings by the seaside, as well
as the prevalence of the ship, implies that the sea played a very important
role in religion during the Bronze Age - probably more so than during the
Viking Age. At this point in time, Scandinavians were capable of crossing
the Baltic and the North Sea; they were doing a thriving business with
Poland and the British Isles, and their supply of bronze and gold was
entirely dependent on the southward trade. Gløb points out that "Not only
was enough (metal) required to counteract the wastage of tools in constant
use; it was also needed for new weapons and ornaments for each succeeding
generation since so many personal belongings of bronze and gold accompanied
their owners to the grave. Sacrifices to the powers watching over the life
and fortune of the Mound People swallowed up a large proportion of metal
imports as well" (The Mound People, p. 134).

The ship may also have had some connection with the voyage to the
Otherworld in the Bronze Age, as it certainly did in the Migration and
Viking Ages. De Vries suggests that the tree which sometimes appears above
the rock-carving ship (Kalleby, Tanum, Bohuslan) makes it less probable
that these are either warships or the ship of the death-faring
(Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte I, p. 108); he associates it with the
Maibaume ("May-Tree") of German folk-custom, which is a fir, spruce, or
birch brought out of the wood and into the village in a festive procession
on May Day (see "Waluburg's Night". This would certainly seem to emphasize
the fertility side of the fertility-death equasion; it does not, however,
negate the role of the ship as the vehicle of the passage between worlds.
In this context, the ship-procession with its lur-players and holy dancers
might be seen as bringing the might of the gods into the human world, or as
bringing those who take part in the procession into the holy realm, or both
at once.

The wain is, of course, the land-bound equivalent of the ship. Both appear
as the bearer of the sun-wheel in the rock-carvings, and both are vehicles
of the Vanic processions as recorded from the time of Tacitus onward.
Probably the most famous wain of the Scandinavian Bronze Age is the
Trundholm wagon: the bronze model of a six-wheeled wagon, drawn by a horse
with sunlike decoration around its eyes, which bore an elaborately
decorated and gilded disk. A similar model, with two horses and a disk, was
found in a mound at Tågeborg in Scania. In the later Scandinavian
tradition, of course, we know that "Árvakr and Alsviðr they shall up from
here, / thin, draw the sun" (Grímnismál 37). By the Viking Age, the solar
ship has been lost, although the combination of solar imagery with ships on
the Migration Age picture stones of Gotland may suggest that the total
replacement of the ship with the wain was relatively late. On a social
level, the wagon, like the ship, is necessary for trade, agriculture, and
even transport in war.

At the time of the rock-carvings, the sun may have sometimes been seen as a
masculine being, rather than the feminine Sun known to Indo-European and
later Germanic tradition: several of the carvings around Oslo Fjord show
phallic figures with weapons, whose bodies or heads are sun-wheels. At
Finntorp, a wheel-bodied man is shown mating with a long-haired woman; at
Slänge, the phallic wheel-bodied man is approaching the woman, though they
are not yet joined. This could be taken as representing the marriage of a
sky- or sun-god with an earth-goddess. A number of these stones also show
stags with sun-wheels in their antlers, or sun-disks with "antler-like
motifs projecting from the rim" (Green, The Sun-Gods of Ancient Europe, pp.
80-1). It is possible that some of Fro Ing's solar aspects stem from this
period of the development of Germanic religion.

The wedding-theme appears frequently on the rock-carvings. One, at Hoghem
in Bohuslän, shows both a man and woman mating and a man copulating with a
cow. The latter is especially likely to represent the mating of sun/sky-god
and earth-goddess. Gløb also describes a stone from Maltegård in north
Zealand which shows a man and woman with strongly emphasized sexual
features reaching out to one another. A 'May-tree' stands behind the woman,
and the scene is surrounded by a wreath of spring flowers (The Mound
People, p. 167). The frequency with which the "holy wedding" is depicted on
these stones suggests that the mating was likely to have been carried out
in public as part of community ritual

The plough is an obvious symbol of fertility and prosperity. This meaning
is often emphasized by its context, as on the Litsleby stone where a
phallic man is shown ploughing with a branch in his hand. He is just
beginning the third furrow, which probably signifies that this is meant to
show a rite connected with the first spring ploughing. According to Gløb,
"On Bornholm the old folk used to say, 'Three furrows in Thor give a green
spring,' which expresses the hope that the old god of heaven will send the
blessing of rain over the field" (The Mound People, p. 150). The frequency
of the plow in the rock-carvings also suggests that many, if not all, of
the ceremonies/ritual dramas depicted on these stones probably took place
in the early spring, supporting the theory that some of the pictures may
show a ritual "Spring Wedding".

The bare footprints which appear on many of the rock-carvings have often
been associated with the story of Skaði choosing her husband by his feet,
and thus with Njörðr, whose feet were the most beautiful. This tale, which,
like the story of Freyr and Gerðr, describes the mating of a Vanic god with
a rather unwilling giantess, can, at least in part, be classed among the
"Spring Wedding" materials, and thus seems to fit in with the general
symbolism shown on these stones. It has also, however, been suggested that
the bare footprints were meant to show the passing of a god, or perhaps the
continued presence of an unseen god; and it may be that the celebrants who
trod in the holy prints were filled with the deity's might as they stood

In addition to the ships, wains, and wedding-couples, the rock-carvings are
also dominated by giant phallic men with axes and spears. While we cannot
be sure in calling these figures by the names of the Germanic gods, their
imagery fits with the deities we know. The god with the axe may well have
been a thunder-god, if not *Thonaraz himself. In the Bronze Age, both stone
and bronze axe-heads were used as charms against lightning, and stone axes
continued to be used for warding and luck in the Northern countries up
until the present day. Thonar's priestly character as hallower may be
present in this figure as well: .the Hvitlyke stone at Tanum shows a man
with an axe raised above a mating couple, which de Vries interprets as the
hallowing of a cultic marriage" (Religionsgeschichte, I, p. 106) after the
example of Þrymskviða in which Þórr's hammer is used to hallow the bride.
That the axes shown here were ceremonial rather than weapons of war is
supported by the Västerås bronze axe (deposited as an offering with three
sickles), the size and weight of which (12 in., 8 lbs.) make it unlikely
that it was used in battle (Andersson, Jansson, Treasures of Early Sweden,
p. 38). The spear is well known to us as the weapon of Wodan, which hallows
the doomed for sacrifice; in earlier times, it could also perhaps have been
the weapon of the Sky-Father *Tiwaz.

Burial customs changed considerably in the Bronze Age. Mounds became
larger, perhaps as leaders and ruling dynasties began to emerge; it is
fairly said that "More work was done on buildings for the dead than ever
before in our history", and that the building effort for Bronze Age tombs
"bear(s) comparison only with that of medieval churches" (Erikson, Lofman,
A Scandinavian Saga, p. 95). The tremendous effort and expense of building
the mounds and supplying the dead with their gold and bronze grave goods
suggests a relatively high level of social stratification, an intense
religious influence, and probably a considerable degree of worship of the
dead. Some of the dead were buried in large oak coffins, which, combined
with the peaty soil of Denmark, preserved the bodies and clothing
remarkably well. The dead were buried fully equipped, often with very rich
goods, and food and drink sent with them. One, the Egtved girl, was laid in
her howe with a bark bucket that had been filled with a fermented
honey-wheat-cranberry mead flavoured with bog myrtle. At her feet were the
burned bones of a young girl, probably a serving-maid sent into the mound
with her mistress (The Mound People, p. 60). Fresh yarrow flowers were also
laid in the coffin, perhaps for magical purposes. The child in Guldhøj was
buried with three crab-apples, which may have been meant to give it life in
the Otherworld; the chieftain whose coffin lay beside the child's had six
small split hazel-sticks by his dagger, which Gløb also interprets as a
magico-religious grave-gift (The Mound People, pp. 92-94). In the later
Bronze Age, cremation became common, and mound-building much less so.

The large curling bronze horns known as lurs (resembling a sort of
sousaphone) appear frequently in the rock-carvings; a good number were also
sunken in bogs as holy gifts. They seem to have been made and played in
matching pairs (one horn curving left, the other curving right) tuned to
the same pitch. Their musical character was enhanced by the use of
rattle-ornaments which tinkle as the player walks. Clay drums similar to
those of the Stone Age were also used in the Bronze Age, as were
bull-roarers and flutes (Lund, Fornordiska klanger, pp. 45-53).

Ritual dance seems to have been practised by the women of the Bronze Age,
as shown by the stone carvings and bronze figures of acrobat-women clad
only in string skirts. Their positions are similar to some of those used by
current-day belly-dancers, and it has also been pointed out by the
modern-day shaman Annete Høst (personal conversation, Solmonth 1993) that
the positioning of the round bronze stomach-disks worn by Bronze Age women
would have been ideal for ecstatic ritual dance of that type.


KveldúlfR Gundarsson, Warder of the Lore (from "Spring Rites and Bronze Age
Rock-Carvings", Idunna IV, I, Rhedmonth 1992, pp. 45-47).

Chapter IV

The Celtic and Roman Iron Ages

500 B.C.E. - 350 C.E.

The use of iron came to Northern Europe around 500 B.C.E. The period from
500 B.C.E. - 0 C.E. is called the Celtic Iron Age because the Celts
dominated most of Europe at this time, while the Germanic peoples were
largely limited to the Scandinavian area. Although linguistic evolution is
difficult to date due to a total lack of any direct evidence, the accepted
hypothesis dates the First Sound-Shift (Grimm's Law) which distinguishes
Germanic from other Indo-European languages, to roughly 500 B.C.E., so that
it is probable that the Scandinavians were speaking Proto-Germanic at this

Compared to the riches of the Bronze Age, the Celtic Iron Age was a
relatively poor time for the Germanic peoples. The climate in Scandinavia
was growing colder and wetter, forcing farming practises and the general
lifestyle to change. Cattle had to be kept inside in the wintertime,
usually sharing a long house with their owners; the living practices of the
Northern folks in this period were probably unhealthier than they had ever
been. However, improved ploughing techniques which made it possible to till
the heavy clay soil also made it possible for fields to be used much longer
before their fertility was exhausted, making settlements more stable in the
long run and perhaps leading to a greater degree of social development and
cultural continuity. No longer maintaining the widespread trade network
which had brought them bronze, the Northerners were probably dependent on
the Celts for iron; the Germanic word is thought to have been borrowed from
the Proto-Celtic *isarno. In the early part of this period, the Celts
clearly held a position of social dominance as well, as the Germanic word
for ruler, *rikaz (German Reich/English "rich"/Old Norse ríkr, "powerful")
was also borrowed from the Celtic (Schutz, Prehistory of Germanic Europe,
pp. 312-13). The social stratification which had become noticeable in the
Bronze Age became much clearer in the Iron Age: the institution of the
warband, which was to give the heroic tales of the Migration and Viking
Ages their shape, probably grew up around this time, perhaps formed after
Celtic models.

The Germanic people were clearly not subjugated by the Celts, however; fine
Celtic-made goods often found their way north along the trading paths. The
most spectacular of these pieces is the huge silver Gundestrup Cauldron,
which was probably made by Central European Celts around 100 C.E., but was
put in a Danish bog as a sacrificial offering.

The Germanic peoples began to push southward onto the Continent roughly
around 200 C.E. It may have been about this time that the East Germanic
branch (Goths, Burgundians, and several lesser tribes) began their
migration into the steppes of Eastern Europe. It is also at this time that
we can begin to consider with any certainty that the Germanic peoples knew
their god/esses by the Proto-Germanic forms which evolved into the familiar
Anglicized-Norse Odin, Frigga, Thor, and so forth. The Gothic alphabet
preserves the names "Engus" (*Ingwaz - Fro Ing or Freyr) and "Tius" (*Tiwaz
- Tiw or Týr); it seems likely that the Germanic folk also knew *Woðanaz
(Óðinn), *Frijjo (Frigg), and *Thonaraz (Þórr), as well as the personified
Sun-goddess (and probably a corresponding Moon-god). Tacitus, writing in
the first century C.E., mentions a "Mother Earth" by the name of Nerthus
(which developed into the Old Norse god-name Njörðr - see
"Nerthus/Njörðr"). As has been pointed out by H.M. Chadwick in his
ground-breaking study, The Cult of Othin, the Roman and Greek accounts of
Germanic religion at this time and in the few centuries following are
remarkably similar to the Old Norse descriptions. It is, therefore, likely
that the basic form of the religion as we know it today from the Norse
sources was solidified in the first part of the Iron Age, though many of
the elements seem to have been present in the Stone and Bronze Ages as

Sacrifices of goods continued to be made in bogs and lakes throughout the
whole of the Iron Age. With the increased scale of warfare, it became more
and more common for the victorious warband to dedicate their foes to the
gods. Captured weapons were bent, burnt, or broken, horses killed,
battle-captives slain, and some or all of the booty tossed into a body of
water. The oldest large sacrifice of this sort is the Hjortspring find (4th
century B.C.E.), which included 169 spear-points, 11 swords, remains from
several byrnies, and a large war-boat. A similar, though much larger,
deposit was made at Illerup around 200 C.E.; smaller finds of this sort are
relatively common through the sixth century C.E. The chief receiver of
sacrifices of this type, as described in The Cult of Othin, was probably
*Woðanaz; *Tiwaz has also been suggested, as he was once the "Sky-Father"
of the Teutonic folk and later identified with "Mars" when the
weekday-names were translated into Germanic, but there is little solid
evidence for this.

Human sacrifice in the bogs also became relatively common during this
period; the peat and anaerobic environment preserved these bodies so that
not only the corpses and their clothes and gear stayed whole, but even the
contents of the stomach can sometimes be analyzed. The most famous of these
"bog people" is the Danish Tollund Man. A relatively young man, probably of
high social status (his hands showed no signs of manual labour, which is
true for an unusual number of bog people), he had been fed a porridge of
late-winter gruel including a number of wild grains, then hanged and put
into the bog clad only in skin cap, belt, and noose. P.V. Gløb theorizes
that Tollund Man was a sacrifice to the goddess Nerthus, suggesting that
the gruel of blended wild and cultivated grains may have been a symbolic
mixture to encourage the goddess' spring return. He also compares the rope
nooses which several bog-people wear to the twisted neck-rings of the
goddess, "the pass which carries (the bog man) over the threshold of death
and delivers him into the possession of the goddess, consecrating him to
her for all time" (The Bog People, pp. 165-166). It is also possible,
however, that this hanged man may have been given to Wodan: there are ten
or twelve places in Sweden called "Óðinn's lake", and a South Jutlandic
"Óðinn's bog" (de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II, pp. 50-51).

In addition to the sacrifices themselves, many god-images survive from the
Germanic marshlands throughout the whole of the Iron Age. Perhaps the
best-known of these is the "Nerthus" from Foerlev Nymølle, a 9-foot forked
oak branch with a shape naturally resembling a tall, slender female form
and carving done at the crotch of the fork to make the identification
perfectly clear. She was laid in a cairn of stones with a heap of pots
around her; Schutz suggests that this may have been "her abode, to which
she retired between festivals" (The Prehistory of Germanic Europe, p. 332).
Both distinctively female figures, such as "Nerthus" and the smaller, but
equally explicit figure from Rebild Skovhuse, and definitely male figures,
such as the phallic god from Broddenbjerg (also found among a heap of
stones in a bog with pottery around him) appear; on the Continent,
male-female pairs are also found, such as the two from Braak (southern
Jutland) and the bridge-guardians from the Oldenburg moors. Schutz comments
that, "In spite of (the Germanic peoples') sophisticated tools and skill as
craftsmen, the awkward crudeness of all these figures is striking and must
have been deliberate" (The Prehistory of Germanic Europe, p. 333).

At this time, we also have our first record of holy groves. Although it is
likely that the Germanic folk had been worshipping in groves and on top of
mountains, as well as by lakes and bogs, for a long time, only the wetlands
preserved the gifts to the gods which would have long since have rotted or
rusted away in open air. Thus, it is only through Tacitus' report in
Germania ch. 9 that the Germans "consecrate groves and coppices" and his
descriptions of the holy grove of the Semnones (Germania ch. 39) and the
grove where the booty from the Battle of Teutoberger Wald was hung (Annals
I, ch. 61), that we know that the Germans of the early Iron Age were
worshipping in much the same manner as did the Norse of the Viking Age.

By the beginning of the Common Era, the Germanic people had settled
throughout most of modern Germany. Tacitus tells us that the many tribes
were divided into three larger groups, the "Ingvaeones" nearest the North
Sea (Jutland/North Germany), the "Hermiones" in the middle part of the
country, and the "Istavaeones" everywhere else. The Germanic expansion was
stopped in the first century B.C.E. by the counter-expansion of the Roman
Empire, which had already devoured Gaul and was now reaching over the
Rhine. Rome's attempt to subjugate and acculturalize the folk of "Germania"
came to an end in 9 C.E., when Hermann the Cheruscan (called "Arminius" in
the Latin sources) entrapped and destroyed three Roman legions at the
Battle of Teutoberger Wald. After that battle, the Rhine remained the
frontier between the two folks until the Germanic tribes began to cross it
in the Migration Age.

Although the Germanic peoples were never conquered by the Romans, it was
common from a very early date for Germanic men to serve in the legions;
Hermann, in fact, had been one of those soldiers, and learned the strategy
and organization which made the victory at Teutoberger Wald possible in the
Roman army. Roman goods, such as glass vessels and swords inlaid with gold
figures of Mars, also made their way north to Denmark. As was
characteristic of Imperial practise, the Romans along the border of the
Rhine integrated local belief with their own, so that a great many votive
stones with Latin inscriptions actually refer to Teutonic deities. Our
knowledge of the Continental cult of the Mothers (matronae - see "Idises"),
for instance, comes to us solely through such Romano-Germanic votives. Much
of our knowledge of early Germanic religion is through such altars and the
writings of Roman historians. However, the tendency of Romans to not only
translate the names of foreign deities into those of their own (the
interpretatio Romana), but to do it indiscriminately and haphazardly, as
with the unarmed and cornucopia-bearing "Mars Ollodius" (Great Tree) from
Custom Scrubs, Britain (Miranda Green, Gods of the Celts, p.118-19),
sometimes makes it a problem to determine which native god was meant. Mars
and Mercury are the most difficult names to evaluate, since they were the
two most popular and, in the Celtic area, seem to have been used
interchangeably (F. Benoit, Mars et Mercure). The other source evidence,
however, suggests that most of the time, *Woðanaz was probably the god
meant by "Mercurius"; whether "Mars" sometimes referred to this god as well
is still open for question.

The fluid character of the interpretatio Romana was not solidified until
the late third or early fourth century. At that time, the Romans had
acquired the seven-day week from the Middle East and set the names of their
own gods to it: Sun-day, Moon-day, Mars'-day, Mercury's-day, Jupiter's-day,
Venus'-day, and Saturn's-day. When the interpretatio Germanica was applied
to the weekdays, it resulted in a fairly standard Sun-Day, Moon-Day,
Tiw's-day, Wodan's-day, Thonar's-day, and Frija's-day ("Saturn" never had a
standard translation, perhaps because Wodan had already been used for
Mercury and the other Germanic deity of death was a goddess - Hella -
rather than a god). Thereafter, with a few antiquarian exceptions
identifying Wodan with Mars because of his role as a battle-god, the
Germanic identities of "Mercury", "Mars", "Jupiter", and "Venus" were
firmly established.

Even though the weekday-attributions were not originally Germanic, we have
been calling them by the names of our god/esses (and hence, knowing or not,
calling on those god/esses) for some seventeen hundred years. Thus the
choice of weekdays in worshipping individual deities is a matter of some
worth: as Wodan has been called most often on Wednesdays, or Frija on
Fridays, they are likely to be stronger on the days given to them.

For the three hundred fifty years of the Roman Iron Age, major changes were
taking place within Germania. Northern tribes were continuously moving
southward, partially in search of better land and partially because the
migration from Scandinavia was apparently continuing. The East Germanic
tribes in Eastern Europe, under great pressure from the migrating horde of
the Huns, were also moving westward into Germania at this time. In the
process of these movements, the smaller tribes that Tacitus had described
were gathering into larger and more powerful groupings such as the Alamanns
("all the folk") and the Franks. In 166, the tide of Roman
expansion/invasion was abruptly reversed: the Quadi and Marcomanni broke
the Roman borders in Venetia, and the Costobocci and the Bastarnae in
Achaea and Asia. The Romans quickly regrouped and closed the frontier
again, but not easily. In the middle of the third century C.E., several
breakthroughs took place: Belgium, Upper Germany, Italy and Greece were all
invaded and Gaul very seriously ravaged by various Germanic folks.
Eventually the Romans managed to restore their old borders, except for
Dacia, which was left to the Goths. Musset comments that, "In the end the
brutal energy of Diocletian succeeded, after a generation of disasters, in
keeping the Germans out of the Empire. But they had weighed up both its
wealth and its weakness, and were not likely to forget either" (The
Germanic Invasions, p. 11).

Chapter V

The Migration and Vendel Ages

350-792 C.E.

The turning point of Germanic culture was the Migration Age (ca. 350-550
C.E.). In this time, the Germanic peoples settled throughout all of Europe
and part of North Africa, conquering the Roman Empire by a combination of
military force and political treaties. In the process, however, they lost
most of their own heritage, so that the descendants of the Franks and
Burgundians today speak French; the descendants of the Visigoths speak
Spanish; the descendants of the Lombards and Ostrogoths speak Italian; and
only the Anglo-Saxons and those tribes who stayed in the area of Germania
kept their cultural inheritance. The great events of the fifth century C.E.
began with the great surge of the tribes across the Rhine in the winter of
406-07 - the surge which broke the Roman borders forever. They ended
roughly a hundred years later with the baptism of the Frankish king Clovis
- the act which was, in time, to seal the doom of Heathenism in Continental
Europe. Yet it was from this time that many of the legends which inspired
the greatest songs and sagas of the North sprang: the Migration Age was
also the Germanic Heroic Age. This was the time of wyrm-patterned swords
and boar-crested helms, ring-giving rulers and huge hoards of gold; this
was the time of the great heroes and great betrayals.

The Migration Age got its start in earnest in 375, when the Huns devastated
the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. The Ostrogothic king, Ermanaric, committed
suicide. This is generally thought to have been a religious death connected
with his sacral kingship, though opinions differ as to whether his
orientation was Wodanic (Caroline Brady, The Legends of Ermanaric) or Wanic
(Karl Helm, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte). The Goths, however, were
forced to move westward in search of food and land. At this time, they had
been aware of christianity for several decades: Ulfila had translated the
New Testament into Gothic (giving us our only significant surviving example
of an East Germanic tongue), and christians had suffered some persecution
in 348 (when Ulfila was driven into exile) and 369. It was not until their
period of settlement within the Empire, between 382 and 395, that the bulk
of the Visigoths converted (Thompson,The Visigoths in the time of Ulfilas,
pp. 106-07). The new religion had not been accepted universally by the
beginning of the fifth century: Claudius Claudianus (d. 404 C.E.) recounts
Alaric as having said, "The Gods also drove me to these actions. Birds and
dreams are not for me; but a plain voice was emitted from the sacred grove:
'Cast away all delays, Alaric! Cross the Alps of Italy bravely and you
shall penetrate to the city!'" (Gothic War, in Grove and Gallows, tr. James
Chisholm) Alaric was successful in this: he led the Visigoths to sack Rome
in 410. However, though occasional Heathen elements survived in Visigothic
christianity, such as the wearing of torcs and arm-rings by Arian priests,
the Gothic religion itself had been lost. This process of migration,
semi-integration into Roman society through a mixture of fighting and
negotiation, and conversion, seems to have been a general model for all
those Germanic tribes who settled in Roman lands (Thompson, The Visigoths
in the Time of Ulfilas, pp. 128-29). The only exception to this rule was
the invasion of Britain under Hengest and Horsa in 449. There, not only
were the vestiges of the Roman military and society much weaker, but the
invading Saxons, stemming from a homeland far removed from the borders of
the Empire, had no reason to associate the acceptance of Roman ways with
the acquisition of a part of that large-scale power which Rome still
symbolized. Thus, Anglo-Saxon Heathenism stayed strong for another few
generations, and much of their culture still lived on even after their

In 436/37, the battle took place which, more than any other, is the key to
Germanic thought and the way in which our folk wove myth and history
together to build an understanding of themselves and the god/esses. This
was the destruction of the Burgundian kingdom on the Rhine, when (at the
encouragement of Rome's general Aetius, who was himself of Teutonic
origins) the Huns swept down, killing King Gundahari and the rest of the
royal family and devastating the Burgundian folk. From the Roman historical
record of the time, this was a political maneuver to deal with a barbarian
kingdom which was rapidly becoming too powerful for Rome's comfort; it
differs little from the other conflicts of the time. The Germanic legends,
however, swiftly made the story a different one. Thus we have the tale of
the Rhinegold - brought from the river through the workings of Wodan,
Hoenir, and Loki, guarded by the dragon Fafnir, won by Siegfried the
Dragon-Slayer, and inherited by Gunther (Gundahari) and his kin after they
slew Siegfried by treachery. According to the legend, Attila, greedy for
the Rhinegold, lured Gunther and the rest of his family to his own hall.
After a great battle, Gunther and his kinsman Hagen were captured and put
to the torture, but died without telling Attila where the gold lay; they
were then avenged by their sister Gudrun. There are various, and widely
divergent, versions of this tale; the three best-known are the Old Norse
Völsunga saga, the German Nibelungenlied, and Richard Wagner's Der Ring des
Nibelungen. Despite the fact that Siegfried probably did not exist
historically, he became the favoured hero of the Continental Germans; his
death in Nibelungenlied (where the magically protected hero is speared
through the one vulnerable spot on his body by Hagen, who is described in
Waltharius and Þiðreks saga as being one-eyed) bears both a striking
resemblance to the death of Balder and to a Wodanic sacrifice. One of the
most mystical poems in the Poetic Edda is that which describes Siegfried's
awakening of the walkurja (valkryie) Sigrdrífa, who then teaches him all
manner of runic and spiritual lore, but also makes it clear that her love
for him will be his death. The whole Völsung/Nibelungen cycle sets the
personal spiritual initiation of the characters against the doom of the
Burgundian folk, with Wodan clearly guiding the process in the Old Norse
sources and perhaps showing himself in a more hidden way, through the
one-eyed Hagen, in the German version. Historically, the tale is at best
inaccurate: Attila was still very young when the Huns destroyed the
Burgundians; Theoderic, who was supposed to have been the greatest hero in
his band, had not been born yet in 437; and the Norse version of the story
then brings Gudrun's sons to the court of that Ermanaric who died in 375.
All of this has little weight: though the roots of the story are grounded
in the Rhenish kingdom of the Burgundian tribe and its defeat in 436-7, the
stem and the fruit became the very soul of the Northern folk.

A similar process took place with Theoderic the Great, the Ostrogoth who
took power in Rome at the end of the fifth century and effectively ruled
the Western half of the Roman Empire. Theoderic himself was an Arian
christian, whose main political agenda was to create a realm in which
Romans and Germanic folk could function effectively together. In Germanic
legend, however, he became a very different figure: not only the heroic
exile of Attila's warband, but born of a supernatural father (the devil,
according to christians...) and able to shoot fire out of his mouth. German
folklore has him leading the Wild Hunt down the Rhine; the Rök stone (a
Swedish runestone, ca. 800), calls on a Theodoric who "sits ready on his
steed, his shield strapped on". The identity of this Theodoric has been
questioned, but given the prominence of Theodoric the Great in Germanic
legend, it was probably he who was meant; like many of the mythic heroes of
the Northern folk, he may well have been seen as a half-godly figure whose
name and image carried much might.

At the end of the fifth century, the Franks had conquered most of modern
France (with the Burgundians in Burgundy); Theoderic and his Ostrogoths
held Italy; the Anglo-Saxons had England; the Visigoths were still
migrating from France to Spain; and the Vandals were settled in Northern
Africa. The Franks were the last of the tribes in former Roman provinces to
forsake the troth of their folk. This was brought about by their king
Clovis, who was otherwise best known for the way in which he had made his
regal power sure by the brutal liquidation of his kinsmen (the chronicler
Gregory of Tours mentions that towards the end of his life Clovis made
great laments about his lack of kin - not because he grieved for them, but
because he hoped to find another living relative whom he could kill).
Clovis, who was already married to a Catholic woman, decided that he would
convert if he were given victory in a certain battle against the Alamanns.
His conversion encouraged his people to follow his example, and the Franks
became christians - though the magical powers of the Merovingian kings were
still believed in until the end of the dynasty.

At this time, the tribes who dwelt in "Germania" still kept to their
Heathen troth. It was through the Frankish influence that much of the
conversion across the Rhine took place. The sixth-century Frankish
dominance over Frisia, Thuringia, and Alamannia did not directly involve
conversion at first; however, the Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries of the
seventh century were strongly encouraged by the Frankish rulers, as the
spread of christianity into "Germania" represented the social and
administrative unification of Northern Europe under the Franks. At the end
of the seventh century, the conversion/subjugation process began to expand
towards the North Sea, where the Frankish reconquest of the Northern lands
they had previously held and the christianization of the Frisians "went
hand in hand" (Geary, Before France and Germany, p.215). Despite the heroic
attempts of Radbod of Frisia (best known for his refusal to convert on the
grounds that "he could not do without the fellowship of all those who had
ruled over the Frisians before him, and...did not want to have to sit
around in heaven with a little pack of beggars" - Vita s. Wulframi, quoted
by James Chisholm in "A Toast to Radbod") to resist, the Frisians were
eventually subdued. Thus the ground was laid for Charlemagne's genocidal
wars of conversion against the Heathen Saxons in the latter part of the
eighth century. Charlemagne destroyed the Saxon religious centre, the
Irminsul, in 772, and carried out mass forced baptisms, stunning with clubs
those prisoners who were reluctant. The Saxons still continued to resist;
and after his victory at Verden in 782, Charlemagne "massacred 4500
prisoners, quite possibly as an act of personal vengeance. The result, of
course, was even more widespread rebellion" (Wallace-Hadrill, The Barbarian
West, p. 98).

England holds a special place in the religious history of our folk, for in
this country we see (at least for a time) a successful Heathen settlement
in a new land, which might well be taken as a model for Heathen folk who
live in places such as North America and Australia today. Seventeen of the
place-names which are given to the Anglo-Saxon gods describe natural
features, showing that the early English could feel the might and being of
their deities in places that were not already hallowed by tradition and the
bones of their forebears. Eight such names are formed with -leah (grove or
clearing in a grove), of which six are called after Thunor and one each
after Woden and Tiw; four or perhaps five are formed with -feld (field or
open area), of which two or three are called after Woden and two after
Thunor. The other four are Tysoe ("Tiw's spur of land"), Tyesmere ("Tiw's
pool"), Wodnesdene ("Woden's valley") and Woddesgeat ("Woden's gap")
(Anglo-Saxon Paganism, p. 15). There are also three "natural" place-names
which may be compounded with Frig - Frethern (Frig's Thorn?), Froyle
(Frig's Hill?), and Friden (Frig's Valley?), but it is uncertain whether
the goddess' name is actually the first element of these words (Wilson,
Anglo-Saxon Paganism, p. 21). It was not uncommon to name burial mounds
after gods; there are three called "Woden's mound" and two called "Thunor's
mound". The Anglo-Saxons clearly lost no time in blessing their new lands
and getting on with the worship of their gods and goddesses in the old
ways. We know that they built temples: these are described by Bede in his
Ecclesiastical History of the English People. A building has been excavated
at Yeavering which is thought to have been a Heathen hof: among other
features, it lacked occupational debris, was a focal point for an
inhumation cemetery, contained a pit which had been filled with regular
deposits of ox-bones, including skulls, and had a number of
"non-structural, free-standing posts" which may have been carved
god-figures of the sort which were apparently usual from the Iron Age
through the Viking Age (Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Paganism, p. 45). During their
Heathen period, the Anglo-Saxons kept up their close ties to the other
North Sea peoples. There seems to have been considerable movement back and
forth between Jutland, Frisia, and England; and, as discussed below, very
close ties between the East Anglian royal dynasty and the kings of Sweden.
Relatively little was written about English Heathenism; however, because of
the close cultural contact, it is not too unsafe to guess that it was at
least very similar to Scandinavian religion in the late Migration and
Vendel Ages, if not necessarily identical to that described in the Norse

The conversion of England is written up in detail by Bede (Ecclesiastical
History of the English People). This process began at the beginning of the
seventh century; as with the Franks, it started with the kings and was
forced on the common people from above. Æthelberht, king of Kent, was the
first target for the Roman missionaries, perhaps because he was already
married to a Frankish christian. Of the christianization of the
Northumbrians, Bede tells us that, "The occasion of the conversion of this
race was that Edwin became related to the kings of Kent, having married
King Æthelberht's daughter Æthelburh" (Ecclesiastical History, ed. Colgrave
& Mynors, p. 163); he relates a much fuller story, which is chiefly
interesting for the traces of information it gives us about pagan practise
and what may have been an English frith-garth of the Wanic type (see "Fro
Ing"). Thereafter the conversion happened swiftly. The last of the English
kingdoms to hold out against christianity was Mercia, ruled by the staunch
old Heathen Penda. Penda was particularly notable for his brand of
tolerance: he "did not forbid the preaching of the Word...if any wished to
hear it. But he hated and despised those who, after they had accepted the
christian faith, were clearly lacking in the works of faith. He said that
they were despicable and wretched creatures who scorned to obey the God in
whom they believed" (Ecclesiastical History, p. 281). Penda died heroically
in 659, fighting against Oswiu, a king who had converted not only his own
folk, but also King Sigeberht of the West Saxons. After Penda's death,
Oswiu promised his year-old daughter to be vowed to the christian god as a
perpetual virgin in thanks for the victory, a sacrifice of another's life
and free will which some folk might consider far worse than the Wodanic
killing of battle-captives.

Although this period was a dark one for Continental Heathenism, religion in
Scandinavia seems to have reached new heights of beauty and understanding
during the Migration and Vendel Ages. The carving of runestones was
becoming common in Scandinavia about this time; most of our surviving runic
inscriptions in the Elder Futhark date from this period. Some of the
greatest holy treasures of the North were made at this time as well. Among
these treasures were counted the Gallehus horns - two horns made from
several pounds of solid gold, decorated with scenes that probably
represented myth or ritual drama. Unfortunately, they were stolen and
melted for the metal in the last century. Still surviving, however, is the
great gold collar from Färjestad (Öland, Sweden). Made of five rings of
gold ornamented with incredibly detailed wirework and tiny animal and human
figures, the whole piece weighs 700 grams (about a pound and a half), and
the precision of the workmanship cannot be reproduced with the best modern
tools (Erikson, Löfman, A Scandinavian Saga, p. 149). An even more
impressive and detailed seven-ringed collar of the same ornamented type and
from the same period (ca. 500 C.E.) was found in Möne (Västergotland,
Sweden). These collars are too large and inflexible to have easily been
worn by a human; it is probable that they were made to outfit the wooden
image of a god or goddess, "carved from tree-trunks and with sloping
shoulders suitable for the collars" (Andersson, Jansson,Treasures of Early
Sweden, p. 56). The goddess Freyja's necklace Brisingamen may have been
seen as just such a piece of work; these collars might well have been
counted worth four nights of her love.

About 450 C.E., inspired by the visual art and technical skill of Roman
coins, the Scandinavians began to make the stamped gold pendants which are
known today as bracteates. A huge number of these exist, many marked with
runes and holy signs; many of the bracteate-images can also be easily
identified in terms of Northern religion. One of the most common is a rider
accompanied by a bird or birds of prey, who may represent Wodan; several
seem to show the death of Balder; others have a spinning or weaving
goddess, who is probably Frija. A man with a boar also appears, as does a
man with his hand in a beast's mouth. There are a number of bracteates
which seem to show various forms of shamanic practise, such as
shape-shifting and howe-sitting. The style of art is remarkable as well:
the lines swirl in a way that suggests an attempt to show swift motion and
the currents of might. The later bracteates are almost totally abstract in
the sense that it is difficult to identify specific animals or human
figures, but their patterns are still very controlled and powerful.

The artistic style which we can see developing in the bracteates - the
dissolution of the classical model leading to the weaving of complex
patterns in which the shape and symbolism are most important and natural
representation virtually irrelevant - is the native style of the Northern
folk, one which carries both great beauty and great soul-might. The
interlacing, swirling patterns which Northern art began to perfect at this
time have an hypnotic magical effect, like watching a weaver at work.
Images may also have been brought together for spiritual reasons: brooches
such as the Besjebakken raven, which shows a mustached man's face on the
raven's back, or the Skørping eagle, which has a bearded face staring out
from the crook of the bird's leg, may have shown the Northern understanding
of the god/esses working through the beasts that embody their might.

At this time, also, the Scandinavian countries were beginning to form their
first large-scale states. Rulership on this scale had a very strong
religious basis: the cultic centre was one and the same with the centre of
earthly might. As the great mounds at Old Uppsala (Sweden) and Lejre
(Denmark), together with the kingly practise of sitting on a mound to make
laws and decisions, suggest, the might of the kingly dynasty was, in large
part, founded on the ruler's relationship with his forebears and ultimately
with the gods who fathered his line (Freyr and Óðinn were the two most
often named as kingly clan-fathers).

The deeds from which legends are born were taking place at this time in the
North as well as on the Continent: the foundation of the kingdom of Denmark
brought forth the tale of the Danish king Hrólfr kraki and the heroes of
his warband, while the kingdom of the Swedes rested on the deeds and holy
deaths of the Freyr-born Yngling line. But probably the best-known of the
Migration Age heroes of Scandinavia is Beowulf. Though this warrior was a
Gautish (East Swedish) atheling, he is famous because of the Anglo-Saxon
epic poem Beowulf - the greatest word-work of the early English. As a young
man, Beowulf is said to have rescued the Danish royal hall Heorot from the
troll-wight Grendel who had been attacking it at night by wrestling with
the monster and ripping his arm off, then diving into a haunted mere to do
battle with Grendel's dam. The later attack of Beowulf's king Hygelac on
the Frankish territories of Frisia, and his death there in 521, is
documented in Continental record just as it is told in Beowulf. As an old
man, Beowulf is said to have killed a dragon that was laying waste the land
of his people, receiving a mortal wound in the process. The poem was
written down by a christian, and so there is little overt Heathenism in it,
but the whole structure of the legend is soaked with Heathen belief, as
well as being a clear guide to the basic ideals of Germanic heroism.

In particular, Beowulf seems to keep alive the memory of Heathen burial
customs. The poem begins with the ship-burial of the legendary Scyld
Scefing (see "Fro Ing"), whose body is sent out onto the waves with all his
treasures. It ends with Beowulf being cremated amid his weapons and the
dragon's gold before his body is laid in a great barrow on a ness as a
landmark for seafarers to look for "when the ships drive far over
dark-misted flood". For a long time, it was thought that these descriptions
were influenced by Viking Age burial customs and signs of the late date of
the poem. This was changed by the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial
(dated to the early 630s). Like Scyld Scefing, one of the last Heathen
kings of England had been laid in his death-ship, with all his wealth and
weapons around him and a golden standard above; instead of sending him out
on the earthly ocean, his folk raised the mound over him as he fared over
the dark waters to God-Home. This burial is very like the ship-burials in
the great mounds at Vendel (Sweden). The helmets adorned with gold,
beast-figures, and religious images such as the dancing twin warriors; the
shields with opposed figures of eagle and fish; the quality and style of
the workmanship; all suggest a common culture. The similarity between the
Anglo-Saxon and Swedish burials in this period when the conversion of
England was starting to gain momentum may also show that the kin who buried
this English king so richly were deliberately making a point about their
community with the Heathenism of the Swedes, and perhaps even setting up a
religious/dynastic centre similar to those of Sweden.

Chapter VI

The Viking Age


To many folk, "Northern tradition" means "the religion of the Vikings".
While, as we have seen, that is a long way from the whole truth, the Viking
Age nevertheless plays a special part in the memory and rebirth of the
elder Troth. It was during this time that the Heathen Scandinavians swept
down on christian Europe, raiding and conquering; during this time that the
monks prayed for deliverance from "the fury of the Norsemen". The word
"Viking" itself, literally "bay-goer", was used to mean "raider" or
"pirate"; and this is the image which has fastened itself to the Northern
folk. The dragon-prowed Viking longship is thought of by many folk as the
very sign of Northern culture - fitting in more ways than one. Not only
does the longship show forth the warrior soul of the North, which is what
folk usually think of first when they see the dragon-prow raised, but it is
also one of the most advanced technological developments of Western Europe
at this time, and the exquisite wood-carving of the ship from the Oseberg
burial show that our folk were as skilled in the ways of fine art as in the
ways of war and invention.

The Viking Age is also the chief source of our surviving myths, recorded by
the skaldic and Eddic poets. This, and the following efforts of Icelandic
antiquarians such as Snorri Sturluson to preserve their country's heritage,
is the reason why most folk learn about the Germanic god/esses by their Old
Norse names, against the background of Viking Age culture. Again, it should
be noted that the elaborate word-hoard of our forebears shows us a great
degree of cultural development: the poetry of the skalds was more complex
in form and content, and called for a greater level of lore and wit to
understand it, than any poetry being composed in "civilized" Western Europe
at that time. These Northern "barbarians", in fact, believed that one of
the greatest and most impressive gifts a man could possess was the ability
to make poems as fast as he could speak. Perhaps the ultimate Viking,
showing most of the traits which characterized our forebears, was Egill
Skalla-Grímsson - a huge warrior with a furious temper and frightening
appearance, who was also one of the most skilled and subtle poets of his
age, a runic magician, and a prosperous farmer.

The dreaded "horned helmet" associated with the Vikings in popular culture
was, as most true folk know by now, not actually worn in the Viking Age -
and certainly never in battle. No horned helmet from the Viking Age has
ever been found. There is a small core of reality behind the fictional
"Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo" helms, however. Ritual horned helms were
used in Denmark in the Bronze Age (though the bronze horns were shaped far
more like lurs than like cow-horns) and archæologists have found several
Viking Age male figurines (including one from Kungsängen and one from Ribe)
wearing what at first glance appear to be horned helmets. However, a close
look at the earlier versions of the figure which appear on items such as
the Torslunda helm-plate matrices (Vendel Age) shows that the "horns" are
actually tipped with bird-heads; and those on the Ribe figure appear to be
whole birds. The heads are hardly recognisable on the Kungsängen figurine,
but if one has the other images to compare it with, it can be seen that the
slightly forked tips of the "horns" are probably meant to show open beaks.
In fact, it is likely that these images may originally have shown either
Óðinn himself, with his two ravens flanking his head, or else an
Óðinn-warrior ritually decked out to resemble the god - a far cry from
Hägar the Horrible and his cow-horn headgear!

In general, the keyword to the Viking Age is dynamism. The Northerners were
continuously reaching out in every direction, striving to fare farther and
win more - more land, more gold, more lore, more glory. The Viking Age is
thought to have officially opened with the raid on the christian monastery
of Lindisfarne, off the coast of England. This took place sometime in late
792 or early 793 (there are various readings of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's
dates). The next fifty years saw an explosion of Viking activity: the ships
of the Northmen sailed up the rivers of France (Ragnar loðbrók sacked Paris
in 845 C.E.) and were feared as far south as Moorish Spain. At the same
time, the Swedish Rus were trekking east to Miklagarðr (Constantinople).
Some of them stayed in the city as the Emperor's Varangian guard, others
simply conquered and settled their way along the Volga, building cities
there (the Rus founded Novgorod and Kiev in the 860's) and, in time, giving
their tribal name to Russia. In Ireland, where only small local
fort-settlements had been known before the Vikings introduced the very
concept of large towns and cities: Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, and Wicklow
were all founded as Viking settlements in the 840s.

The British Isles were the main target for Viking attacks, however, and in
850 C.E. the Danish warriors began not only to strike and raid England, but
also to winter there overnight and to conquer land for themselves to hold.
By the end of the third quarter of the ninth century, the northern and
eastern parts of England (the area known as the Danelaw) was almost wholly
under Scandinavian control; only the efforts of King Alfred (best-known for
the burning of fictional cakes) kept the Danes from taking over the whole
country. Alfred turned the tide of invasion in 878, defeating the Danish
leader Guthrum and forcing him and his folk to accept baptism as part of
the settlement which established the borders of their lands.

While the Danes were turning their attention to conquering other lands,
Haraldr hárfagri (Hairfair) was in the process of uniting all the small
kingdoms of Norway under himself as ruler, something which hardly sat well
with many Norwegians. Some were inspired by Haraldr's example to go win
lands elsewhere; others began to move to the newly-discovered Iceland (the
settlement of which started ca. 870).

When the Norse came to Iceland, they found it uninhabited except for a few
Irish monks, who hastily packed up and left, and a great horde of
land-wights and trolls. Although the land itself was of varied character,
including glaciers, volcanoes, and lava-fields, parts of it were green and
fruitful, the general climate relatively mild, and the waters teeming with
fish. The country was also said to have been largely covered with forest -
or rather, scrub birches of the sort that still grow there in patches. The
new settlers quickly established themselves in the farmland all around the
coast; the interior of the country was then, as it is today, totally
uninhabitable. The full story of the settlement is told in Íslendingabók
and Landnámabók; many of the better-known sagas (such as Laxdæla saga,
Eyrbyggja saga, and Egils saga) tell how certain clans came to the country
and took their lands there. This was often guided by the gods or forebears:
one settler, Raven-Floki, was shown the way by a pair of ravens which he
had blessed (blótaði) in Norway (Landnámabók); the Þórsgoði, Þórólfr
Mosturskeggi, cast house-pillars carved with his god's image into the water
and settled where they came ashore; and Egill's father Skalla-Grímr did the
same thing with the coffin of his father Kveld-Úlfr, who had died during
the voyage (Egils saga).

As well as explorers, settlers, warriors, artisans, and poets, the Viking
Age Scandinavians were also merchants, trading all the way down to the
north of Lapland and up to North Africa. Their chief items of export were
furs, walrus ivory, and slaves; many items of extreme rarity came into the
Scandinavian countries, such as the peacock found in the Gokstad
ship-burial (Erikson and Löfman, A Scandinavian Saga, p. 203) and the
lizard-skin purse from Birka (Foote and Wilson, The Viking Achievement, p.
195), but more common were such things as silk, wine, and glass. A great
deal of cash also flowed Northward; Arabic silver coins are not uncommon
items in Viking hoards. The major towns of the Viking Age were large
merchant centres such as York, Dublin, and Birka, where goods both local
and imported seem to have changed hands at a great rate. The Scandinavian
traders of the Viking Age, in fact, probably had a greater effect on the
West than the Northern raiders: as far-faring and ambitious merchants, they
can be seen to have brought a new and exciting life to the economy of

The tenth century was marked by the consolidation of Northern gains and the
integration of Scandinavian settlers into the lands they had claimed. In
911/12, the whole area of Normandy was given to the Northmen from whom it
gets its name; more and more Scandinavians were migrating either eastward
into Russia and the Byzantine Empire, or westward to the British Isles and
Iceland. Greenland was discovered by Eiríkr inn rauði in 982, and
settlement there began a few years later. Bjarni Herjólfsson (after whom
the "Bjarni Herjólfsson Icelandic Navigation Memorial Award" is named - see
"Word-Hoard"), getting lost while trying to find Greenland in 985, was
likely the first European to see America, unless one believes that the
Irish St. Brendan really did cross the Atlantic and return in a leather
boat (not impossible, as proven by Tim Severin's "Brendan Voyage", but
perhaps somewhat dubious). Attempts were made to settle "Vinland" between
1000-1005, led by Leifr Eiríksson and Freydís Eiríksdóttir, but these
proved unsuccessful, and for some time the authenticity of the saga
accounts was doubted. However, the excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows, which
turned up, among other items, a Norse soapstone spindle-whorl, a
ring-headed bronze pin, and foundations of a sort typical of Scandinavian
settlement, have proven definitively that the sagas which speak of Vinland
are based on reasonably solid fact.

On a religious level, many other changes were taking place during the
Viking Age. Thonar, or Þórr, seems to have been rising to greater and
greater prominence; the Norse rulers of Ireland, for instance, were spoken
of as the "tribe of Þórr" (Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion, p. 94), and
the most common item which we can definitely identify as a Viking Age
religious symbol is the Hammer of Þórr, which often appeared as a pendant
and/or grave-amulet at this time, perhaps in response to the christian
habit of wearing a cross. One Danish jewelry-mould, in fact, shows Hammers
and crosses being cast together (Roesdahl and Wilson, From Viking to
Crusader, p. 191). The most famous "mixed piece", however - the
dragon-headed pendant from Iceland which has often been seen as a crosslike
Hammer with the christian cross cut into it - is sometimes suspected to be
simply a rather strangely shaped cross (Graham-Campbell, The Viking World,
p. 187). In any event, Þórr seems to have been the chief god of the Viking
Age, closely followed by Freyr. Óðinn, as the patron of poets and
especially the god of battle from whose names most war-kennings were
formed, is far more prominent in skaldic poetry than other forms of
evidence suggest was the case in general worship. The skaldic influence
also seems to have led to the (probably late tenth-century) formulation of
Óðinn's hall as largely or exclusively a warriors' afterlife.

A growing interest in the end of the world and the doom of the gods also
seems to have made itself felt in the last half of the tenth century. Part
of this may have stemmed from the millenarian hysteria which was gripping
christian Europe at this time; part of it probably came from the
encroachment of christianity on the Northern countries, as well as the
series of disastrous battles ravaging them. Both Hákonarmál and Eiríksmál,
the memorial poems of Hákon the Good and Eiríkr Blood-Axe, link the deaths
of these kings with the threat of the doom of the gods. Völuspá, which
tells of the last battle in chilling terms shaped by both Heathenism and
christianity, is generally accepted as having been written around the year

It was in the tenth century that the influence of christianity first began
to really spread into the Northern lands. In 965, King Haraldr Blue-tooth
of Denmark was converted, and he in turn (as the runestone of Jelling with
its bizarre tendrilled crucifix proclaimed) christianized the Danes.
Several of the Norwegian kings were converted during their sojourns in
England. This was the case with Hákon the Good, but upon his return to
Norway, thanks to the guidance of his friend Sigurðr, jarl of Hlaðir, he
returned to the Heathen ways which were necessary for him to keep the
support of his folk, and upon his death (961), the great Heathen skald
Eyvindr skáldaspillr praised him for protecting the holy steads and spoke
of his welcome by the gods and einherjar (Hákonarmál). The sons of Eiríkr
Blood-Axe, who came after Hákon the Good, were christians who destroyed the
holy places; Eyvindr speaks of how their reign was attended by bad weather
and famine. However, they were succeeded by Hákon the Great (son of Sigurðr
jarl), whose reign Einar skálaglamm describes in the most glowing terms in
Vellekla, telling how the earth became fruitful again when Hákon restored
the hofs and wih-steads.

The next source of christian influence on Norway was Óláfr Tryggvason
(Óláfr the Traitor - not to be confused with Óláfr inn digri or "St.
Óláfr"), who was likewise converted while abroad and who, with the support
of Haraldr Blue-Tooth, found it politically expedient not only to stay
christian, but to use his faith as a pretext for rewinning the sole rule of
Norway which had been won by Haraldr inn hárfagri. Óláfr promoted
christianity by bribery and, when that failed, sword and torture. A general
example of his methods was seen in the story of Eyvindr kinnrifi, one of
the most notable folk who resisted conversion. The king tried to convince
him "with blithe words", then with gifts and great banquets, then with
threats of death. At last Óláfr had a brazier of glowing coals set upon
Eyvindr's belly, which burst from the heat; Eyvindr then spoke his last
words of defiance against the christian king and died (Óláfs saga
Tryggvasonar, ch. 76, Heimskringla). Óláfr also sent missionaries to
Iceland, with variable success. He was killed in the year 1000 C.E.,
brought down by an alliance gathered by Queen Sigríðr (whom he had
understandably angered during their unsuccessful courtship by striking her
in the face and calling her a "Heathen bitch" when she refused to convert
for him).

The southern faith had found some interest in Iceland, however, leading to
much strife. In the year 1000, the conflict had become serious enough that
it was decided that all folk should live under one troth and one law, and
that the person who should choose would be Þórgeirr the Lawspeaker. He went
"under the cloak" for a day and a night, a description which may hint at a
shamanic ritual of communication with the gods and ghosts (Jón Hnefill
Aðalsteinsson, Under the Cloak). When he came forth again, he decreed that
all the folk of Iceland should become christian, but that Heathen practice
(including the eating of horsemeat and the exposure of deformed infants)
should still be allowed in private. Upon his return home, Þórgeirr cast his
god-images into the falls called Goðafoss. It is thought by many Heathens
now that Þórgeirr's decision actually made it possible for Icelanders to
preserve the tales and poetry of Heathenism, protecting them against the
economic stranglehold which the mainland could have exerted upon them (and
would have in later years) had they officially held to the elder Troth, and
thus leading to the rebirth of our ways in the fullness of time. Þórgeirr's
act of casting the god-images into the falls is especially interesting
since, as we know, this was a usual means of making sacrifices, and earlier
holy images were likewise hidden for Heathen purposes. We may perhaps guess
that these deeds were guided by whatever Þórgeirr learned while he was
"under the cloak" - maybe, with an eye towards what should become in the
age when the gods should rise from the waters of Wyrd and take their high
seats once more?

Shortly after Óláfr the Traitor, Norway was plagued by a second christian
Óláfr - Óláfr inn digri (the Fat or Big-Mouthed), a great tyrant and
destroyer of Heathen ways. Óláfr was more hated by the folk of his country
than any king before him; in the version of his story given in
Heimskringla, Snorri tells us that "He investigated the christianity of
men, and when it seemed lacking to him, he made known the right customs to
them, and he laid so much upon it that if there was anyone who did not wish
to leave Heathenism, he drove some out of the land; some he let have their
feet or hands hewn off or their eyes gouged out; some he let be hanged or
hewn down, but he let no one go unpunished who did not wish to serve (the
christian) god" (ch. 73). For these charming activities, he became the
patron saint of Norway, whose feast day is still celebrated there today.
Before his death, even the christian Norwegians were less enthusiastic
about him: when the Danish king Knút came to Norway, there was no one who
did not support him against Óláfr, so that he won the country without
shedding a drop of blood. Óláfr then fled the country, and when he tried to
come back, the folk rose against him, so that "they had there such a great
host, that there was no one who had ever seen such a great army come
together in Norway...There were many landed men and many very powerful
farmers, but the great mass was made up of cotters and workmen...That host
was greatly raised to foeship against the king" (ch. 216). Óláfr inn digri
was slain at the battle of Stiklarstaðir in 1030.

The Viking Age is thought to have come to its official end with the death
of Haraldr hardraði at the Battle of Stamford in 1066 - the last direct
Scandinavian attempt to conquer another land. Haraldr himself, who had
previously served in the Varangian guard in Byzantium (among other
adventures) and was known as a vicious and subtle strategist as well as a
mighty warrior, is sometimes spoken of as "the Last Viking"; certainly he
was not followed by any kings with great ambitions outside their own
countries, so his death may well stand as the end of the age. Ironically,
after the English king Harold Godwinsson had defeated Haraldr hardraði, he
was called at once to march his weary army back south to Pevensey - where
the Viking-descended, but French-speaking and totally assimilated Norman,
William the Bastard, had just landed with his own host. Harold Godwinsson
fell in that battle; the Normans took England, imposing their own system of
feudalism and, to a degree, the French language upon the Saxons.

Heathenism, however, survived longer in Sweden; it was not until 1100 that
the great hof at Uppsala was broken. Sweden had always been the most
conservative and the most religious of the Northern nations; and since its
contacts tended to reach eastward rather than westward and the other lands
bordering the Baltic still by and large kept their native traditions, there
was less pressure on the Swedes until the end of the eleventh century.
Today, Old Uppsala - the heart of Swedish rule and religious activity in
the old days - is still thought of as the holiest stead of Northern
Heathendom by many true folk.

With the suppression of Heathenism, Scandinavian artistic culture, which
had been so largely based on the Northern religious beliefs, eventually
ceased to be productive. The last phase of the highly developed native art,
the "Urnes style", had effectively died out by 1200, to be replaced by
rather inferior attempts at imitating Romanesque art; Norse poetry lasted
longer, but was already beginning to go into decline by the time Snorri
Sturluson wrote the Prose Edda (about 1220). The last bastion of native
Germanic creativity was Iceland, where the antiquarian interest of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries led to the writing of the sagas and the
preservation of the older poetic lore; but eventually the Icelanders ran
out of material and, having no productive/evolving religion to support
further literary development, went into a decline similar to that of their
mainland cousins.

Chapter VII

The Rebirth

1150 C.E. - onwards!

Some 150-200 years after the conversion of their country, the Icelanders
began to show a great antiquarian interest in the tales and ways of their
forebears, writing down both historical events and legends. The first
Icelandic historian was Ari Þórgilsson the Wise, who wrote down the tales
of the settlement of Iceland, now known as Íslendingabók and Landnámabók.

The greatest of these antiquarians was undoubtedly Snorri Sturluson (born
1179 - slain 1241). Snorri was the Lawspeaker of Iceland twice (1215-1219
and 1222-1231), exerting his office from a booth at Þingvellir which he
called "Valhöll"; a major political figure who negotiated Iceland's
integration into Norway - and, most important of all, an historian and a
skald who wanted to be sure that the dying art of skaldic poetry would not
be wholly lost. For the latter purpose, he wrote his Edda, called the Prose
Edda or Snorri's Edda - a compendium of Norse religious tales and an
instructional text in skaldcraft. Snorri was highly educated in both
Classical and christian mythology, and his version of the Norse myths shows
a great deal of systematization which may not have been there in the
original (see discussion under "Books and Sources"), but it is still a
major source for us. He also wrote Heimskringla, a history of the kings of
Norway, and is strongly suspected to be the author of Egils saga
Skalla-Grímssonar (not only does the style closely resemble his, but he was
one of Egill's proud descendants). The tale of Snorri's own life is told in
the near-contemporary Sturlunga saga.

In 1643, Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson acquired a manuscript which he thought
had been compiled by Sæmundr the Wise (an Icelandic priest-magician who
lived from 1056-1133, the source of many colourful Icelandic folk stories)
and hence referred to as "Sæmundr's Edda". This belief is not founded in
anything solid, but the name stuck, so that the Poetic Edda was often also
called "Sæmundr's Edda". In 1662, Brynjólfur gave the codex to King
Frederick III of Denmark; it is therefore called "Codex Regius", and is the
main manuscript from which the Eddic poems as we have now are derived. The
other manuscript containing many of these poems is Hauksbók (written down
by Haukr Erlendsson shortly after 1300), which also holds a version of
Landnámabók. Some of the poems which are usually collected in Eddic
editions or translations today come from other sources: Hyndluljóð was
written down in Flateyjarbók, and Baldrs draumar comes from the fragmentary
fourteenth-century ms. AM 748 4to.

The sagas themselves are divided into four sorts, "family sagas" or
"Icelanders' sagas" (sagas such as Egils saga, Grettis saga, Brennu-Njáls
saga, and so forth), "kings' sagas" (historical sagas of the kings of
Norway, such as those collected in Heimskringla and Flateyjarbók), "sagas
of elder times" (fornaldarsögur - those legendary sagas such as Völsunga
saga), and "sagas of chivalry" (mediæval romances such as the tale of
Tristan and Isolde, translated into Icelandic). The kings' sagas were the
first types to be written; the later parts of these (or at least the lost
sources of some), were actually composed by contemporary chroniclers from
roughly 1150 onwards, a practice which continued through the fourteenth
century. The first sagas of Icelanders were probably composed around the
beginning of the thirteenth century, and continued to be written through
the middle of the fourteenth century. The sagas of chivalry probably began
to be widely translated around 1250. We are much less certain about the
fornaldarsögur. Most of the basic stories were surely known in some form to
general Norse oral tradition throughout the Viking Age, and may well have
influenced the Icelanders' sagas - the most obvious example of this being
the famous similarity between Grettir's battle with a certain troll and
she-troll and Beowulf's battle with Grendel and Grendel's mother.

In general, the Icelanders of the thirteenth and fourteenth century seem to
have looked back at their Viking past with much pride. Sometimes they are
thought to have gone out of their way to make their ancestors more
frightening and bloodthirsty than they actually were; Roberta Frank, for
instance, has argued strongly that the saga accounts of the "blood-eagle"
were based on a combination of antiquarian enthusiasm about the wild
Vikings with misunderstood skaldic poetry (English Historical Review,
1984). With just a few exceptions (such as Flateyjarbók, where the compiler
seems to have believed that the name Óðinn could not be written without the
words "hin ille", "the evil", in front of it), they also seem to have been
relatively sympathetic towards memories of Heathenism. Sometimes this in
itself causes problems, as when accounts of "Heathen customs" that may or
may not have been accurate were added for literary purposes to give the
sagas that certain archaic flavour, but it has also permitted the
preservation of a body of lore unparalleled among the orally-based native
religions that were destroyed by christianity.

Antiquarian interest on the Continent and mainland Scandinavia did not
really get started until the seventeenth century, when the Dane Ole Worm
began his great work of collecting the "national monuments" of the Northern
countries. In 1622, he obtained an edict forcing all the bishops of Denmark
to submit reports on runestones and other antique monuments in their areas.
At about this time, the Swede Johannes Bureus (tutor and advisor of King
Gustavus Adolphus) carried out a similar work in Sweden, drawing and
beginning to interpret a great many of Sweden's runestones (many of which
have since been lost and are known to us only through his drawings). These
two men may be thought of as the founders of modern runic studies. After
Bishop Brynjólfur's gift of the "Codex Regius" to King Frederick III, the
Eddic poems began to be published and more widely circulated and known.

This antiquarian interest continued to simmer on a low level until the
nineteenth century. At that time, the general awareness of Europe turned
towards "romanticism" - the interest in spiritual development, guidance by
soul and emotion, and the belief in an idealized past. This, combined with
the new nationalism which was particularly sparking those folks with no
direct Classical/Western heritage (mostly Germans and Scandinavians) to
seek their national identity in their own origins, led to a great upsurge
in the awareness of a Germanic past. This upsurge was manifested in such
groups as the Swedish Gotiska Förbund, which combined an interest in
ancient Norse literature and culture with the desire for national
independence and reform. It also appeared in persons such as the Grimm
Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, who collected and published their "fairy
tales" between 1816-18. Jacob Grimm went on to found modern Germanic
philology; in 1844, he produced his massive study, Deutsche Mythologie
(Teutonic Mythology), which linked Norse literature with folklore from all
over the Germanic world.

Perhaps the greatest of the German "romantics" was Richard Wagner, whose
four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, was first performed in 1876. This
huge work (15-18 hours of solid music, depending on how slowly it is
conducted) was loosely based on Völsunga saga, considerably altered by
Wagner's own rather idiosyncratic ideas on politics, love, and life, but
also informed and inspired by an immense amount of research into Norse
literature and Germanic traditions. The Ring Cycle is probably the
best-known single source for Germanic mythology today. Unfortunately,
Wagner's attitude towards the god/esses was not particularly good (in
places, bloody awful), and his version of the religion is slightly warped
(It is probably a good idea for those true folk who deal with the general
public to watch the Ring Cycle after having read both Saga of the Volsungs
and Nibelungenlied; the current Warder of the Lore found it needful at one
point to prepare a long handout detailing the differences between Wagner
and the other two versions). However, he was also a deeply inspired man
whose wide reading in Germanic tradition always makes his works worthy of
consideration, whether or not he chose to change the stories. His main
contribution to modern Germanic religion may be the linking of Loki with
Loge and the interpretation of Loki as a fire-spirit - which academics
today do not generally accept, but which has stuck deeply into the
awareness of most Ásatrúar. He has also given us an image of valkyries
which is very hard to shake...

In the last years of the nineteenth and the first two decades of the
twentieth century, Germanic mysticism found a new degree of interest among
the younger folk of Germany. A number of small bands and "Germanic
prophets" sprang up at this time. Among these, perhaps the most prominent
was Guido von List, inventor/discoverer of the eighteen-rune Armanen
futhark. At this time, unfortunately, Germanic mysticism, political
pan-Germanism, and racism, especially anti-Semitism, were beginning to be
strongly linked - a linkage which had not previously existed. In
particular, the anti-Semitism which was so deeply ingrained in continental
German culture by the nineteenth century was a product of the intense
persecution of the Jews encouraged by the christian church in the later
Middle Ages; it was a concept which would have been wholly unfathomable to
the Heathen tribes of Germany, and which seems never to have reached
Scandinavia at all. However, the combination of the mediæval christian fear
and loathing of the Jews with Darwin's discoveries about evolution and
genetic inheritance, the native Germanic love for clan and kin, and the
newfound sense of nationalism provided a deadly mixture of ideology and
powerful, though distorted imagery - which led to the greatest harm
Germanic religion and culture have suffered since the hof-breakings of the
eleventh century. "The Nazis did not invent neo-Germanism - they subverted
something that was already strong for their own political purposes.
Unfortunately, many would-be revivalists of Germanic culture, religion, and
magic are all too enamoured of the Nazi mythos and mystique. The National
Socialists did not advance the cause of Germanism - they set it back at
least 100 years" (Edred Thorsson, "A Short History of the Revival of the
Troth", p. 8).

While the Nazi movement used many Germanic signs of power, such as the
swastika and some of the runes, Germanic religion essentially played no
part in it. Aside from a few half-hearted attempts to replace christian
holidays with vaguely pagan solstice-feasts, the Nazi regime was from
beginning to end a cult focused towards a single personality, Adolf Hitler
- who himself believed in nothing but his own will and sense of destiny.
Germanic studies in general were encouraged and tolerated only insofar as
they supported Nazi ideology; discoveries or historical materials which
contradicted that ideology had to be carefully re-interpreted. A small
example of this may be seen by Nazi-era depictions of the clothing of
Bronze Age women, which was known to have sometimes consisted only of a
string skirt and a blouse (such as those in which the Egtved girl was
buried) or even only a string skirt (such as those on the
goddess/belly-dancer images from this period). In Nazi Germany, however,
Bronze Age women were always shown as wearing long and modest dresses -
sometimes with the string skirt sketched in as a kind of decorative
overgarment (Gløb, The Mound People, p. 64). The purpose of this alteration
was, of course, to demonstrate conclusively that the Germanic women had
always been the most modest and chaste of ladies, as according to proper
Nazi ideology (though some may not think this as terrible as negligently
attributing the Bronze Age string skirt to "800-1000 A.D.", two thousand
years after its actual date, as was done by Ed Fitch in Rites of Odin).
During the Nazi era, Germanic religion and history were, in short, simply
treated as any other propaganda tools, with complete disregard for the
actual beliefs of the Heathen Teutons, the god/esses in who they believed,
and the very underpinnings of the Northern culture. Anyone who doubts this
has only to try picturing a free-minded Viking or Germanic tribesman
accepting the suggestion that he be shorn like a thrall and made to wear a
uniform and march in step, obedient to the least word of his leader - or a
woman such as Signý the Völsung, Sigríðr the Proud, Unnr the Deep-Minded,
or Freydís Eiríksdóttir listening meekly to the news that her sole purpose
for being is to bear strong sons for "the race"!

Despite the fact that the Nazi movement was not, for all its trimmings, a
product of the elder Germanic culture, the imagery of native Teutonicism it
used became so closely associated with it that no more attempts were made
to revive the elder ways for some time. Even now, more than a full
generation later, the taint of Nazism is one with which all true folk who
are open about their Heathenism have to deal sooner or later. It keeps us
from using one of the holiest signs of our forebears, the swastika, in
public where it might distress people or give them the wrong idea about us
(that is, the idea that we might be neo-Nazis, fascists, or racists), and
often leads to suspicious glances when we speak about the runes, Wodan,
Thonar, or our Germanic heritage (this problem is not only rife among the
general public, but even among other Pagan folk, who have in previous years
gotten an impression that Ásatrú consists largely of the "Thor-and-swastika
boys"). In the era immediately following World War II, Germanic religion
and culture were largely taboo subjects: everything "German" was tarred
with the same brush.

In the 1950s, however, Karl Spiesberger reached back to bring up the
Armanen rune-magic of Guido von List again, while an Australian by the name
of A. Rud Mills produced a series of books on the elder religion. They did
not meet with great success, though small Armanen groups have continued in
Germany since.

The next appearance of Teutonic culture in a mainstream setting was given
to us, ironically, by a deeply christian scholar of Germanic philology -
Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's work draws
extensively on Germanic literature: for instance, his dwarf-names come
straight out of the Poetic Edda (including "Gandalf" - "wand-alf" or
"magical alf"), Bilbo's theft of the cup which awakens the dragon is a
straight steal from Beowulf, and Aragorn's ancestral sword - broken at his
father's death and reforged again when it is time for him to win his
rightful place - bears a suspicious resemblance to the sword of the
Völsungs. Tolkien's use of the English language was also strongly
influenced by his knowledge of Germanic word-roots, as well as his
extensive background in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature. It has often
been said of Tolkien that he gave the English-speaking peoples a
folk-heritage, but this is only half-true; it would be better said that he
is the little thief who brought Sága's gold cup into the light and thus
awakened the dragon of the Northern ways which had slept so long in the
barrow-mound of our forebears. From Tolkien's work stemmed, in large part,
the modern explosion of interest in "fantasy literature" - the literature
which makes use of the archetypal elements of magic, heroic questing, and
wights beyond humanity and the limited pantheon of the Abrahamic religions;
and from that stemmed a reborn interest in the magic, history, and
ultimately religion of the North, from which much of the most effective
"fantasy literature" since Tolkien has drawn its might.

The bud of rebirth blossomed in 1970.  In Texas three men were independently drawn to the Elder Troth, Stephen Flowers (Edred Thorsson), Valgard Murray, and Steve McNallen each began to study and practice the ancient ways of their ancestors.  In time they would run across each other and realize they had each independently started on the Elder Path.  In 1973, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson founded
the Ásatrú movement of Iceland and Stephen McNallen founded the Ásatrú Free
Assembly of America. The former is still going, and Ásatrú is accepted as
one of the official religions of Iceland; the history of the latter was
rockier. However, the Ásatrú Free Assembly did manage to establish Ásatrú
solidly as a re-created Heathen religion. In 1980, Edred Thorsson founded
the Rune-Gild as a magical/initiatory Order for those dedicated to the
study of runic galdr-magic.

During the same period of time, Garman Lord was also reviving the related
Northern tradition of Theodism, which, unlike the AFA (whose focus was
almost totally on the Viking Age), concentrated on the lore and beliefs of
the Heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Theodish movement continues today and is
closely linked with the Troth. The Odinic Rite was also moving to gain
acceptance in England; it split up a couple of years ago, and at present
there are two groups going by the name "Odinic Rite". The main focus of
Ásatrú in Great Britain, however, is the active and swiftly-growing
Rune-Gild UK, headed by Drightning Freya Aswynn (Troth Elder, High Rede
member, author of Leaves of Yggdrasil).

The Ásatrú Free Assembly broke up in 1987. Near the end of the same year,
Edred Thorsson (as Warden of the Lore) and James Chisholm (Steersman)
founded the Ring of Troth, an explicitly non-racist organization dedicated
to the promotion of the religion and culture of the Germanic peoples. In
1988, the Ásatrú Alliance, a small group of loosely-organized member
kindreds with a decidedly more conservative and less scholastically-based
slant on the religion than that promoted by the Troth, was also founded and
began to publish its minimal-production quarterly newsletter, Vor Tru and
to hold a general moot called the Althing in Arizona every summer. At their
last Althing, the A.A. produced the official ideological declaration that
"Ásatrú is the ethnic religion of the indigenous Northern European

Edred Thorsson's A Book of Troth, outlining some of the general ideas,
rituals, and organizational elements of the Troth, was published by
Llewellyn in 1989. Since its founding, the Troth has also continued to
produce a quarterly magazine, Idunna, heroically edited by Shope Dianne
Ross from 1988 until mid-1991, when it was taken over and dramatically
expanded by Shope Þórfinn Einarsson. At Ostara of 1992, James Chisholm
turned the Steersmanship over to current Steerswoman Prudence Priest and
Edred Thorsson stepped down from his office, leaving it to KveldúlfR
Gundarsson, current Warder of the Lore. A full High Rede was also appointed
at this time.

In 1991 Ymir Thunarsson founded Eagles Reaches in Houston, TX.  Eagles Reaches rapidly expanded and began producing a glossy magazine called “on the Wings of Eagles” late in the same year.  In 1994 Eagles Reaches evolved into Irminsway, founded by Vithar Herren (Sam Herren).  This group changed its name to The Heathen Kinship in 2006.

Another notable Northern-tradition organization which has made itself known
in the last years (though even smaller than the Ásatrú Alliance), is
Hrafnar, a San Francisco group headed by Diana Paxson. Hrafnar is
particularly well-known for reconstructing the practice of seiðr or
spae-working, a form of Northern magic loosely related to shamanism.

From mid-1991 through the end of 1993, the general Ásatrú community was
also served by the independent glossy-covered magazine Mountain Thunder, a
beautiful production edited and put out at an unreasonably low price by
Will von Dauster (careful readers will mark that many of the chapters in
this book are taken from, or refer to, works originally printed in Mountain
Thunder). Unfortunately, it proved impossible to maintain such a
high-quality magazine at such a low cost, and rather than compromise his
standards, von Dauster chose to stop publishing the magazine. Back issues
and article reprints are, however, available (address under "Organizations
and Resources"). Will von Dauster has also begun to publish a smaller
Ásatrú newsletter, which discusses matters and happenings of importance to
the Heathen community; this can be ordered via the same address.

At the time of this writing, Germanic Heathenism, while still tiny in comparison to Wicca, seems to be thriving and growing swiftly. The Troth and the AFA, based in California are the largest Heathen organizations by a factor of five or six, and the most active; there are also a number of independent kindreds and individuals who are working strongly to make the general public aware that the Teutonic ways exist, do not involve racism or fascism, and are worth learning about and following. It seems likely that Heathenism will continue to grow and become stronger for a long time to come - so long as there are folk willing to study, work, and speak up for the gods and goddesses of the North!

Chapter VIII

The God/esses of the Troth

The Elder Troth gives worship to a great many gods and goddesses. The ways
in which we do this, and the ways in which we see them, are very different
from the ways of the Abrahamic religions. To us, the god/esses are our
eldest kinfolk, to whom we give the greatest love and respect, but before
whom we do not kneel or bow. Our aim is to come to know them better and
better and to live together with them - to become one again with the clan
from which we have been long sundered. As we are descended, both in soul
and body, from them, their might also shows itself forth in us.

The god/esses themselves stem from two great kins: the Ases (Æsir) and the
Wans (Vanir). The differences between them have often been simplified by
attributing war and thought to the Ases, peace, nature, and fruitfulness to
the Wans. As a close look at the god/esses themselves will show, this is
not strictly true: Fro Ing and the Frowe both have strong battle-aspects,
for instance, while Thonar is, among other things, very much a nature-god,
and most of the god/esses have some ties to earthly fruitfulness. The
difference between the Ases and the Wans seems to be more one of character
and element: the Wans are firstly deities of earth and water, the Ases of
fire and air - though even here there is a great deal of overlap. The
best-known of the Ases are Wodan, Frija, Thonar, Sif, and Tiw; the only
Wans who we know by name are Njördhr, Nerthus, Fro Ing (Freyr) and the
Frowe (Freyja). At one time, the Ases and the Wans made war, but neither
side could overcome the other in battle. A truce was settled and hostages
exchanged: the etin Mímir and Wodan's brother Hoenir went to dwell among
the Wans, and Njördhr and Fro Ing came to live with the Ases, where,
according to Snorri Sturluson's Ynglinga saga, they held a special position
as priests, and the Frowe as a priestess.

Some folk of the Troth also set great store by Georges Dumézil's theory of
an Indo-European tripartite hierarchy reflected both in the god/esses and
the society of Germanic folk. According to this theory, there are three
"functions": Ruler (magician, priest, judge), Warrior, and Provider. Wodan
and Tiw are the gods of rulership as magician-king and judge-king
respectively; Thonar is the god of warriors, and the Wans are the deities
of peasant-farmers; Edred Thorsson explains that the hierarchy "must be
arranged in just this way: sovereignty must rule over force, and generation
must serve the interests of the whole again under the direction of
sovereignty. The king commands the warrior, and the farmer, or worker,
provides for all" (A Book of Troth, p. 72). It is undoubtedly true that the
three great things, consciousness, strength, and fruitfulness are needful
to everyone; and that the Northerners, like all folks who speak the
Indo-European languages (and many who don't), use threefold divisions for
the mightiest things of religion and magic. Many folk feel that this
tripartite structure is particularly good for designing rituals, as well,
especially since we know that Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr were the three gods
most favoured in the Viking Age: a well-formed general rite (as opposed to
one for a specific deity or purpose) should probably at least name all
three (and the corresponding goddesses), and bring in the three functions
in some way.

However, among the Germanic folk, a ruler was expected to bring
fruitfulness to the land, every free person was supposed to be able to be a
warrior at need, and the sovereign gifts of magic and skaldcraft cropped up
as often among the ordinary folk (especially the free farmers of Iceland,
who were well known to be the best poets of the Viking Age) as among the
kin of kings. Nor, as we see by looking at the being of the god/esses
themselves, can any of them be limited to a single primary function. The
Wanic Fro Ing, for instance, is equal to Wodan as a god of kingship (first
function) and appears, together with his father Njörðr, most often of all
the gods in the priestly role (first function); while Thonar, though
himself a mighty warder who often does battle, was almost never called on
as a battle-god. As far as the practising of the Elder Troth is concerned,
we have many more references to Thonar as a god of hallowing (the priestly
first function) than as a patron of warriors. Wodan himself was the chief
battle-god (second function) of the Germanic peoples at least from the Iron
Age onward; and his original function, as discussed later, was probably
that of death-god - a role which, though enfolding aspects of all three
Dumézilian functions, has no clear place anywhere in the tripartite system.
Although Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda places a great deal of emphasis on
Óðinn as the ruler of the pantheon, the sources we have describing Viking
Age religion show that the god who was seen as highest varied from place to
place and tribe to tribe, (as Freyr was particularly worshipped among the
Swedes, for example) while Þórr was most generally the chief god in the
Norse hofs. There is no evidence in any source older than Snorri, who was
writing two hundred years after the conversion of Iceland, that any one
Germanic deity was ever seen as having authority over any of the others. In
short, for the Dumézilian system to stand up within Germanic religion, one
must pass over all descriptions of the practise and history of the elder
troth in favour of the latest and most literary descriptions of it.

The tripartite system also ignores two important classes of folk: the
crafters, who are sometimes classed as "third function providers" but who,
especially as smiths, were thought to have magical powers; and the marginal
figures of the thrall and the outlaw. For those who like neat patterns, Dan
O'Halloran suggests an alternative five-fold system: First Function =
soverignty/authority; Second Function = lore and crafters; Third Function =
warrior; Fourth Function = farmer/provider; Fifth Function = thrall/outlaw.
O'Halloran cautions against associating any one god with any one function,
however, pointing out that each of the gods shows attributes of all levels
of society (Wodan even appears in the fifth function as an otherworldly
outlaw). In general, it is not the way of the Germanic folk to hierarchize
and separate, but rather to see the needful things of life (such as
rulership/magic/spirituality, strength, and fruitfulness) in a more
holistic way, as a single weave of might. Nevertheless, there are many who
have found the threefold model powerful for ritual and belief, so it cannot
be set aside too lightly, although careful consideration of the god/esses
(and of early Germanic society) would suggest that sticking too closely to
structuralist literalism may not be greatly helpful in understanding the
souls and thought of our forebears and the holy ones we worship; indeed,
inasmuch as a strict Dumézilian view requires ignoring large amounts of
data about our ancestors' beliefs and knowledge of the god/esses, it may
actually do injury to the effort to bring back the old ways.

In regards to the being of the god/esses themselves, there are also
different views within the Troth. A few choose to see them as Jungian
archetypes, or as ideal embodiments of various aspects of our souls. Most
folk of the Troth, however, know the god/esses as real and mighty beings,
as free-standing and individually aware as we are (or more so!) who work
their wills upon the Middle-Garth in different ways and whose might is with
us in all that we do. Likewise, most folk of the Troth are sure that the
god/esses came into being before we did. They are mightier than we are
(though not omnipotent), wiser than we are (though not omniscient), and
probably more complex of character than we are. Although they are greater
than we, however, there is no doubt that we are (or can be, if we are
honourable and strong) worthy of them, in much the same way as children can
be worthy of great parents and grandparents; indeed, there are many stories
from the old days which tell how gods (especially Wodan and Fro Ing)
fathered human dynasties, and the Jarls of Hlaðir, who warded Norway
against christianity for a long time, were said in Háleygjatal to be born
of Óðinn and Skaði. Thus the worship we give our god/esses is not a matter
of moaning about their highness and our lowness, but literally
"worth-ship": we honour them for what they are and have given us, and seek
to bring forth that in ourselves which mirrors them.

There is surely much knowledge about the god/esses that has been lost to
humans over time, and much more that is yet to be found. Their own beings
do not change, but different sides of what they are tend to come out at
different times. Tiw, for instance, was best known as the great Sky-Father
in earliest days, but in the Iron Age, he seems to have been called on most
as a god of battle, and in the Viking Age he was known as "ruler at the
Thing (judicial assembly)" (Old Icelandic Rune-Poem). They also take note
of changes in the world: lately, guns have been brought forth at rites for
the blessings of Tiw, and the computer on which this book was edited has
been hallowed to Wodan many times, with a little mead spilled to Loki to
keep his glitches out of it.

As to what the god/esses are and where they came from: the Eddic poems
Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál, and Snorri's Prose Edda tell of the birth of
Óðinn and his brothers, and of the making of the worlds. We also know from
the Norse sources that some of the gods, such as Thonar and Balder, are
Wodan's children; while other deities, such as Skaði, Gerðr, and Loki, are
etins who were adopted into the ætt (clan) of the Ases by the rites of
marriage (the two goddesses) and blood-brotherhood (Loki). But there are
many of the god/esses about whose kin and roots the lore of our forebears
tells us little or nothing: for instance, there is no tale of the birth of
the Wanic kind; Snorri clearly says that nothing is known of Sif's kin; and
Frija's ætt is known only by the name of her father Fjörgynn. Those who
know these deities well, and think on them often, may find their own
answers in the course of time; but most folk are content to accept and love
them as they are.

On an earthly level, as the chapters on our folk's history suggest, it is
possible to trace some of the roots of our forebears' understanding of some
of the god/esses, and to see how we came to know them as we do. To some
degree, it is sure that the Troth is, and always has been a
nature-religion: Thonar's name simply means "Thunder", and his mother is
the living Earth; we hear Wodan's voice in the storm-wind and see Sif's
hair in the ripe fields, the brightness of Wulþur's (Ullr's) arrows in the
Northern Lights. This should not be taken as meaning that the god/esses are
mere personifications of natural forces, as was often suggested in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: rather, this world shows forth
their great soul-might in everything about its shaping, and should
therefore be treated with the worship and love that we give to our elder
kin. Other things have also played a part in the growth of our
understanding of our god/esses, however. The love and worship of our
ancestors has been one of the strongest elements in the religions of the
North from the Stone Age onward, and several of our deities (especially
Wodan, Fro Ing, and the Frowe) have very close ties to those of our
forebears who still watch and care for their living kin. As our ancestors
learned new skills and new lore, these also widened their awareness of the
god/esses and their works: for instance, Wodan was surely known long before
the spread of the runes to the North, and the first artistic models for the
Gotlandic picture-stones with their horse-and-rider motif also came from
other lands, but these things gave our forebears yet another a means to
show forth what they already knew of our god/esses. For this reason, the
question of anachronism is not a matter to be thought of in the workings of
the Troth. If we were a group dedicated to pure historical re-creation, you
would not be able to scratch an inscription in runes from the Elder Futhark
(ca. 0-700 C.E.) on a reproduction of a tenth-century Þórr's Hammer; but to
us, the god/esses are one from their eldest roots to this very day, so that
we may yet see Bronze Age lurhorns blown before a Troth hof built after the
model of those twelfth-century Norwegian stave-churches which were probably
based on heathen holy architecture.

The god/esses themselves appear in many shapes to us, which are not bound
by time as we see it. Unlike some Pagan religions, which have different
deities (or major deity-aspects) for different times of life, such as the
Maiden, Mother, and Crone of Wicca, we see our god/esses as coming forth
simply according to need and how they are called. Thus, all of them have
youthful aspects and old aspects. The same goddess can, like Skaði, be the
Warrior Maiden and the mother of a dynasty; the same god can, like Wodan,
be the brave young adventurer and World-maker and the wise and sorrowful
old father. Some folk find their favoured deities shifting with changes in
their own lives, as an unmarried maid might pass from Gefjon's patronage to
Frija's at marriage; others see their own changes and growth in newly found
sides of their beloved god/esses. It is not that the god/esses themselves
change: it is rather that their being is and has always been a single
wholeness, but humans find them easier to know by looking at their various
aspects and the ways in which they come forth in different situations.

Usually Troth folk give some worship to all the god/esses, though how
strongly and how often varies widely. It is not uncommon to find those
whose interest is divided by godly ætts, so that together with the usual
term "Ásatrú" (trust in the Ases), we often now see folk who call
themselves followers of the "Vanatrú" (trust in the Wans). Generally, it is
not good to seek out one godly kindred and never give the other a thought;
however, there are many who think that (so long as all the god/esses are
duly respected), one may be able to learn more by concentrating on the
kindred that is closest to one. And it is surely true that, just as in the
elder days, most folk find in time that there is a single god or goddess
who calls strongly to their own souls. The Old Norse word for this was
fulltrúi (manly) or fulltrúa (womanly) - the one in whom you put your full
trust/belief. In Eyrbyggja saga, Þórólfr Mosturskeggi is called a "great
friend of Þórr" (ch. 3), and the god himself is called Þórólfr's ástvínr,
'beloved friend' (ch. 4): this, together with the understanding of the
god/esses as our elder kin, shows more clearly than anything the Germanic
view of the holy folk. From what the sagas show us of the relationship of
the "beloved friends" to humans, we can see why each of the god/esses must
be able in all ways: you may call upon other deities for blessing in many
things, but for the chief things of life - whether they be fruitfulness and
riches, wisdom, strength, love, or success in struggles - it is the
god/dess who has chosen you who is likeliest to give at your need. Each of
them does this in their own way, which not only matches the god/ess' being,
but is best fitted to the soul of the chosen one. For instance, Thonar
might help in a battle by strengthening your arm, Wodan by casting terror
and war-fetter on your foe, Frija by warding you against all blows, and Fro
Ing or the Frowe by giving you the fierce might of the battle-boar.

The basic relationship between god/esses and humans is one of gifts given
by each to the other. They give us our lives, our awareness, and all that
we need from the growing grain that feeds us to the highest wisdom of the
soul; we give them love, worship, and the might of the blessings we make at
the holy feasts of the year and whenever we speak their names or drink
toasts to them. Grønbech says that "The worshipper went to his grove and to
his god in search of strength, and he would not have to go in vain; but it
was no use his constantly presenting himself as receptive, and quietly
waiting to be filled with all good gifts. It was his business to make the
gods human, in the old, profound sense of the word, where the emphasis lies
on an identification and consequent conjunction of mind with soul". As we
learn from the god/esses, they also learn from us; as they fill us with
life and awareness, so do we give the same back to them. More: "(When
someone) bloted - he made the gods great and strong...The gods who were
much bloted were - according to Christian authors - worse to deal with than
ordinary supernatural beings" (II, p. 209). The gift was always a deed of
sharing, whether it happened in human life (as with the gifts of wedding or
those given by drighten to thane) or between humans and god/esses. Grønbech
comments that "The gift implies mingling of mind and life, communion and
inspiration, and this reality is heightened in the relation to the gods. To
own - eiga - implies vital connection between the owner and the thing, and
the verb eigna means to transfer body and soul, as we might say, to make
the conveyance real; thus gefa and eigna in a religious sense is identical
with blóta" (III, p. 72). At the blessings of the Troth, both god/esses and
humans are blessed!

A clear, straightforward expression of the way many (perhaps most) true
folk see the god/esses of the North is put forth by Gamlinginn in his
statement of troth, "Hér Stend Ek".

Here stand I - alone if necessary - for the things that I believe.

(1) I believe that the Æsir and the Vanir are living Deities who came out
of Ginnungagap before the beginning of time, and have ruled the Nine Worlds
since then, and will rule them until Ragnarök - whether or not humans
believe in them.

(2) I believe that the Æsir and the Vanir are inherently good, and that
they always support good and oppose evil, and that they always want all
humans to do what is right.

(3) I believe that the Æsir and the Vanir foster and value the
individuality of each person, and that each person should be proud of what
he or she inherently is - and that people should never look down on others,
or themselves, for what they inherently are.

(4) I believe that Faith in the Æsir and the Vanir constitutes the Religion
of Ásatrú, which is separate from and not connected to any other religious
faith (although it may be superficially similar in some respects), and that
Ásatrú is my religion and my only religion.

(5) I believe that, as an adherent of Ásatrú, I have a personal
relationship with each and all of the Æsir and the Vanir, individually and
collectively - that Frigg and Óðinn inspire me, that Týr and Zisa guide me,
that Sif and Þórr protect me, and that Freyja and Freyr provide for me -
and that all of the Gods and Goddesses are my friends.

(6) I believe that every human on earth can and may have a similar personal
relationship with all of the Æsir and the Vanir, individually and
collectively, and has as much right as I do to be an adherent of Ásatrú, if
he or she so chooses, and that Ásatrú is freely open to anyone who wants to
accept it - regardless of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, national origin,
language, sexual orientation, or other divisive criteria - and that no
individual or group of individuals has the right to deny Ásatrú to anyone,
or to try to force it onto anyone.

(7) I believe that religious beliefs should always be of free choice, and
that each person who chooses to adhere to Ásatrú should interpret it
according to his or her own ideas, and that no individual or group of
individuals ever has the right to try to make a person adhere to any
religious ideas or beliefs against that person's will, or to try to harm
those who do not agree with them, for any reason.

(8) I believe that the Ásatrú Religion, guided by the great Gods of Ásgarð,
provides the best Way of Life for all who choose to follow it, and that the
Ásatrú Way of Life esteems: courage, honour, hospitality, independence (and
liberty), individuality (with self-reliance and self-responsibility),
industriousness (and perseverance), justice (including an innate sense of
fairness and respect for others), loyalty (to family, friends, and the
society of which one is a part), truthfulness, and a willingness to stand
up for and do what is right.

(9) I believe that when I die my Spirit will live on in Ásgarð, if I have
earned it, in the company of all of the Æsir and the Vanir - so help me Týr
and Zisa.

Chapter IX

Tiw and Zisa (Týr, *Tiwaz, Tius; Tisa, *Týa, *Tiwon)

Although the tales of our folk speak little of Tiw, his name and what few
things we do know of him hint that he held a great place in early times.
Now, many are finding themselves touched by this god (and even his
less-known womanly counterpart, Zisa), and seek to bring his ur-old worship
back to life again and call his might forth to brighten the Middle-Garth.
Among these folk stands Bill Bainbridge, who tells of his chosen god (and
goddess) in this work, "Týr and Zisa".

The Eddic Týr may seem to some, at first blush, a relatively simple and
straightforward deity; Zisa, on the other hand, appears not at all. A
deeper investigation into Týr's nature and character, though, shows a
complexity arising, not only out of the vastly different sources of
knowledge of him, but also out of the seeming differences, even
incompatibilities, in the pictures one derives from the various references.
What, among all the different personalities that could emerge, is the
central reality that is Týr? Is Týr the transcendent Sky Father, the cold
and rational orderer, co-ruler with Óðinn, the stern but fair judge, the
patron of Þing and hólmganga, or the brave and stoic warrior who sacrifices
himself for the well-being of the folk. Each person who attempts to come to
grips with Týr must answer this question for him- or herself, and yet one
suspects that the core truths of this god and his even more obscure consort
(or womanly aspect? - KHG) must remain something of a mystery - in the best
and most sacred sense of the word - even to those who most honour them, as
befits two of the most ancient of our deities. In seeking mysteries,
however, we take them into ourselves and become one with them. It may then
be that the characters of Týr and Zisa will reveal themselves more fully
through the words and deeds of us who find in this pair a holy path
imbedded in our own souls, and an essential aspect of the wholeness that is
the Northern faith.

The earliest appearance of the god we know as Týr appears to have been as
the great sky god of the Indo-Europeans. This we surmise from the apparent
derivation of the names for many of the sky gods in Indo-European peoples -
examples include Dyaus in the Rig Veda, Zeus for the Greeks, Jupiter or
Jove among the Romans, Sius in the ancient Hittite pantheon, and perhaps
Zîu, Zîo, Tîuz, or Tîwaz in the original language of the Teutons - from a
single source, and the similarity in function displayed by these deities.
His name originally may have meant "shining", or simply "light". For the
Germanic peoples, as with others, the name was also a generic word for
"god", a circumstance that continued even into Eddic times. From this, and
from the position of this god in other Indo-European cultures, we believe
that the Sky Father was also the chief of the gods, and probably honoured
together with the Earth Mother. He appears to have been ancient, and thus,
imperfectly understood, when the Indian Vedas were composed; Indra, the
"king of the gods", was considered in some sense his offspring, and Varuna,
as the "creator and sustainer of the world", is considered to have
inherited those functions from Dyaus. According to early Vedic thought,

The Sky is the Father and, with the Earth, the origin of

everything. All the gods, Sun, Moon, Wind, Rain, Lightning,

Dawn, and the rest, are children of the Sky. Dyaus covers

the Earth and fertilizes her with his seed, that is, with rain.

One consequence of Týr's origin is that, unlike Óðinn and despite his
appearance at times as a cold and implacable god of struggle, Týr has not
been viewed as embodying both light and darkness within his nature, but has
remained for those who follow his path preeminently a god of light.

As might be expected, the Tiwaz of Heathen theology had undergone great
changes between the time the Indo-Europeans began to split into separate
peoples and the late Heathen period in Northern Europe, which furnishes us
with most of our data on ancient Germanic religion. Nevertheless, a few
circumstances indicate that at least some element of Týr's identity as the
overarching god of the heavens persisted down to that time. First, there is
the phenomenon of the sacred column of the Saxons, Irminsul. It is thought
that the name of this column is related to the name Hermiones, which,
according to Tacitus, was one of the earliest tribal names among the
Germans. The Irminsul is said to have represented the "column of the
universe upholding all things". While it is difficult to say when the
tradition of the Irminsul began, it is a fascinating coincidence that,
between approximately 170 and 240 C.E., there appeared in Northern Gaul
several "Jupiter columns", on which Jupiter was sometimes represented
mounted and holding a thunderbolt, and around which the images of the four
seasons, the days of the week, or various other deities appeared.
Certainly, it strikes one as at least somewhat plausible that the depiction
in Northern Gaul of the Roman sky god on a column may have influenced the
later use among a Germanic tribe of the column to honour the ancient
Germanic sky god (showing, by the way, that at least some Germans
understood who their sky god was, even if the Romans insisted on equating
him erroneously with Mars). Another indication that for some, Týr retained
at least the spiritual authority of the ancient Sky Father is the
description of him, in the Old Icelandic Rune Poem, as "the ruler of the

A second connection between the Germanic Týr and his ancient function as
sky god is his identification with the pole star, Polaris. This is clearly
stated in the "Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem":

(Tir) is a star, it keeps faith well

with athelings, always on its course,

over the mists of night it never fails.

Combining the idea of a "world column" with the pole star, one arrives not
only at a principle linking heaven with earth, but also an ordering
principle around which the heavens and the earth are organized and revolve.
Whether the old Saxons and their English descendants actually made this
connection or thought of Týr in such terms remains, unfortunately, a matter
of conjecture.

Finally, it appears that in the most ancient times, Týr was honoured
primarily on mountains and in forests. If Týr were, as many have assumed,
primarily a war god and a god of the political and juridical structures,
one would not expect to find his holy places in natural and somewhat
inaccessible settings, but rather, mainly in towns or near places of
military significance. That an ancient Teuton would have to climb a
mountain - that is, to place him- or herself between earth and sky - to
honour Týr completely indicates that Týr, like so many of the Heathen gods
and goddesses, retained a vital connection for the old Germanics with the
natural force in which he was first perceived, and never became entirely

In his extensive account of German society, the most comprehensive such
survey of Roman times, Cornelius Tacitus made prominent mention of three
deities, to whom he ascribed the Roman names Mercury, Hercules, and Mars.
It is generally assumed that these names correspond to Óðinn, Þórr, and
Týr, and later Roman usage in Britain decisively confirms the
identification of Týr with "Mars". This tendency to regard Týr as a god of
war has continued, for some, down to the present day, and there is ample
ground for it. It seems to have been common to engrave a "Týr rune" on
implements of war, presumably so that they would not fail their wielder in
battle. This custom was expressly sanctioned in the Sigrdrífumál of the
Poetic Edda:

Learn victory runes if thou victory wantest,

and have them on thy sword's hilt -

on thy sword's hilt some, on thy sword's guard some,

and call twice upon Týr.

In the Prose Edda, Óðinn, in the guise of Hár, "The High One", describes
Týr in terms quite consistent with his apparent function as bringer of
victory in war:

There is a god called Týr. 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 "Týr-valiant". He is also so well-informed that a very

knowledgeable man is said to be "Týr-wise".

The Saxons' progenitor deity, again decisively identified with Tiwaz, is
thought to have been one Saxnot, or later in England, Seaxneat, the divine
ancestor of the royal house of Essex. The name means something like "Sword

In modern times, this tradition regarding Týr was carried on in the ritual
manual of the Ásatrú Free Assembly:

Tyr, in his many guises, is the original Indo-European sky

god. Long before the Viking Age, though, he had been

demoted to a lesser, but still important status. Tyr is a war god,

and his virtues are those of bravery, sacrifice, and devotion to



Tyr, then, is a model for those who follow the path of the duty-

bound warrior, responsible for the welfare of others.

The "demotion" spoken of is nowhere so clear as in the "Hymiskviða" of the
Poetic Edda, where Týr serves as little more than a straight man for Þórr.

There are, however, difficulties in regarding Týr's perceived function of
"war god" as an essential element in his character. First and most
obviously, Týr was originally a chief deity, in an age and land wherein a
people not adept at warfare had little chance of long-term survival. Under
such circumstances, any deity would by necessity have become a "war god",
since victory in war was one of the crucial items the deity would be
expected to deliver. For example, there can be little doubt that Freyr also
sometimes functioned as a "war god", for all that he is also a god of peace
and plenty (see "Fro Ing"). Another problem is that none of our sources for
Týric mythos show the supposed war god actually making or participating in
war. Certainly, Óðinn, and Óðinnic human protagonists, are depicted in such
activities, and indeed, one of the reasons Óðinn is believed to have
supplanted Týr as chief god is his ability, as "chooser of the slain",
better to produce victory by producing more slain among the opposing side.
But the extant sources fail to show either Týr or Týric military heroes in
battle. And in the one Eddic tale to show Týr in any detail, he is shown as
binding violence, not unleashing it.

A third consideration is that in other Indo-European cultures, the true
counterpart of Týr is not especially associated with war. In the Indian
pantheon, neither Dyaus, nor Mitra (after Dumézil), nor Varuna (as
inheritor of the role of Sky Father) were viewed as specifically war gods.
Zeus and Jupiter, though rulers and thus capable of overcoming their foes,
were accompanied in their pantheons by deities for whom war was a
specialty, Ares or Apollo or Mars, respectively. Only if one identifies
Dyaus with Mitra, and then follows him to Persia where he becomes Mithra,
does one approach a war god, and by the time of that transformation, the
Teutonic branch of the Indo-Europeans would long have parted company with
the Indo-Iranian branch. Assuming, as from the standpoint of Ásatrú we
probably ought to, that a god is more than a social function, and retains
his essential character regardless of what people at any given time may
happen to think about him, it is difficult to support with comparative
material anything more than the view that Týr probably functioned more or
less as a "war god" for a period because the Northern peoples needed him

Finally, war is not terribly compatible with the other roles Týr has
performed in society. As Sky Father, Týr's function is quintessentially
creative, not destructive; as noted above, he tends to be viewed as a god
of light, and certainly cannot supportably be regarded as a "death-god", as
can Óðinn. In making fertile the Earth through his seed, in the form of
rain, Tiwaz is generally considered to be taking part in a marriage, not a
rape. And as Þing god, Týr's function was to manage conflict and direct it
into channels that are not destructive of the community, not to stir up
conflict for its own sake, again, as Óðinn has been known to do. Thus,
although Týr can certainly be, as McNallen wrote, the true patron of the
self-sacrificing warrior fighting for the common good, he is not
fundamentally a god of slaughter, nor does he call especially to those
whose path involves physical violence. One must look, then, far past the
battlefield to glimpse his true nature.

Týr is also referred to as the Northern god of justice. This term can be
enormously misleading. "Justice" comes from a Latin source, and expresses a
fundamentally Mediterranean concept. The word seems to imply that there is
a set of abstract, universal principles against which empirical phenomena
can be rationally measured to arrive at a "just" result, and also implies
the existence of a judge - an impartial, disinterested, and all-powerful
party who adjudicates disputes based upon the previously mentioned abstract
principles of justice. A third component of a system of "justice" has in
practice been a set of comprehensible, codified laws promulgated by an
absolute, but definitely human, "authority". The old Teutonic system of
punishing wrongdoing and resolving conflict, by contrast, was local rather
than universal, based itself on precedent, rather than a rationalistic
derivation of a result from abstract principles, often utilized an assembly
acting as jury rather than a judge, and relied on principles of conduct
that were viewed as having divine origin and as being the property of the
local folk, rather than on the edicts and decrees of political authorities.
Thus, the lore gives us no indication that Týr was a judge, or that he
decreed laws for the people to follow. Forseti, as an arbitrator, came
closest to a judge, and Heimdallr was the one who ordered society and put
people in their proper places (as described in the Eddic poem Rígsþula).
Týr simply established a framework for managing the struggles and conflicts
inherent in any community such that the community, rather than being torn
apart, emerged stronger. To call Týr, therefore, a god of right, after the
German Recht, would come nearer to the truth, although perhaps the most
accurate term would be Þing god, after the institution with which Týr was
most closely identified in later Heathen times.

The Romans clearly knew of the connection between the Teutonic "war god"
and the judicial function in society; Tacitus reported that:

Capital punishment, imprisonment, even flogging, are allowed to

none but the priests, and are not inflicted merely as punishments or

on the commanders' orders, but as it were in obedience to the god

whom the Germans believe to be present on the field of battle.

Since Tacitus later mentions that capital cases are tried in the assembly,
the link between Týr and the Þing is inescapable. This connection was also
recognized by the Frisians in Britain who crafted two Latin inscriptions
found at Hadrian's Wall referring to "Mars Thingsus". While this is not the
place to examine in detail the remarkable institution of the Þing, it would
probably be fair to describe it, at its most sedate, as a jury trial with
audience participation, and at its most raucous, as the pursuit of open
warfare by other means. In its judicial aspect, it, and Týr, are also
associated with trial-by-combat, or the hólmganga. Particularly in the
Icelandic sources, the picture clearly emerges of a forum guided to a large
extent by what were regarded as the ancient laws of the locality (as
enunciated by the Þingspeaker or Lawspeaker?), but in which the support of
powerful factions for one side or another unquestionably affected the
outcome, and the lone, unpopular litigant stood a drastically reduced
likelihood of success.

Two cultural phenomena in Britain hint strongly at the persistence of the
connection between Týr and the political and judicial systems. The first is
a symbol known as the "broad arrow", appearing as a rather truncated Týr
rune, that was used to signify the legal profession, government property,
and the military. The second is the mediæval fair, discussed at some length
by Nigel Pennick in his work, Games of the Gods (pp. 129-60). Pennick links
these fairs to locations identified through their names either with the
Þing or with Týr, and discusses how their layout, according to a "sacred
grid", implies a connection with a metaphysical/religious concept of divine
and cosmic ordering of the universe. The fairs also featured a pole in the
center (Irminsul?) on which was hoisted a glove (Týr's severed hand?).
Overshadowing these in importance, however, are the institutions of the
adversarial and jury-based (as opposed to the investigative and
judge-based) system of justice, and Anglo-Saxon common law. These are
virtually unique in the world today to English-speaking countries, and can
only have their roots in the Heathen concept of law, and in the Þing.

Týr's connection with the Þing has led Georges Dumézil, by a somewhat
torturous path, to conclude that Óðinn and Týr represent two aspects of the
social function of sovereignty, the "first function" in his tripartite
socio-theology. In Dumézil's view, Týr represents the rational, social, and
"light" aspect, and Óðinn represents the magical, inspired, and "dark"
aspect. The author is decidedly not a Dumézilian, and hence will leave a
comprehensive discussion of Dumézil's theories to someone more sympathetic
to them. An important, and apparently sound, basis for them is de Vries'
opinion that the "war god" aspect of Týr is not fundamental, and arises
largely from the almost warlike character of the Teutonic judicial system
(and indeed, on the tendency of the Teutons to regard war, as well as lots,
as a sort of judgement by the gods and hence, judicial in nature). More
troubling is Dumézil's view that Germanic law, as represented by the Þing,
expresses a corrupted and "pessimistic" view of law:

At the very least theology describes a divine Order where all is

not perfect, either, but where a Mitra or a Fides keep watch as

guarantors and shine as models of true law. Even if polytheistic

gods cannot be impeccable, they should at least, to fulfill their

role, have one of them speak for and respond to man's conscience,

early awakened, surely already well awakened and mature,

among the Indo-Europeans. But Tyr can do that no longer. The

Germanic peoples and their ancestors were no worse than those

Indo-European peoples who fell upon the Mediterranean, Iran,

or the Indus. But their theology of sovereignty, and especially their

god of Law, by conforming to the human example, was cut off

from the role of protestation against custom which is one of the

great services rendered by religion. This lowering of the sovereign

"ceiling" condemned the world - the entire world of gods and men,

to being no more than what they are, since mediocrity there no

longer results from accidental imperfections, but from essential


One with a more sympathetic view of Germanic religion would note that the
function of a native or folk religion is generally to support and
strengthen the folk, not imbue it with guilt for not living up to
artificial standards of behavior. One might also find it peculiar that
Dumézil should consider those gods admirable who encourage wishful
thinking, and mediocre who teach self-sacrifice for the common good. Still,
if Týr and we are condemned to being no more than we are, that is
nonetheless preferable to being what we are not.

Another weakness of the theory is that important aspects of Northern
theology must be distorted in order to make it fit. To conclude that Týr
has abandoned his "proper" function, Dumézil suggests as a "possibility"
that Týr, despite the obvious derivation of his name, really has no
connection with the ancient sky god, uses that lever to speculate that Týr
"might have" coexisted with Óðinn, and then assumes not only that they must
have coexisted, but that they must have been counterparts representing two
aspects of the "sovereign function", since such a nice model of this
division of labour exists in Vedic lore surrounding Mitra and Varuna, and
since some very rough correspondences seem to exist in Celtic religion and
in some relatively minor figures in Roman myth and pseudo-history. However,
the Irminsul speaks of Týr's continuing link with the sky and the universe
beyond it, and the whole of Teutonic mythology fails to show an instance of
Týr in cooperation or interdependence with Óðinn, or any indication of a
clear, recognised division of labour between them.

Dumézil does derive important support from Saxo Grammaticus' story of
Óðinn's temporary replacement:

Thus, Odin, wounded by the double trespass of his wife...took to

an exile overflowing with noble shame, imagining so to wipe off

the slur of his ignominy.

When he had retired, one Mit-othin, who was famous for his

juggling tricks, was likewise quickened, as though by inspiration

from on high, to seize the opportunity of feigning to be a god; and,

wrapping the minds of the barbarians in fresh darkness, he led

them by the renown of his jugglings to pay holy observance to

his name. He said that the wrath of the gods could never be

appeased nor the outrage to their deity expiated by mixed

and indiscriminate sacrifices, and therefore forbade that prayers

for this end should be put up without distinction, appointing to

each of those above his especial drink-offering. But when

Odin was returning, he cast away all help of jugglings, went

to Finland to hide himself, and was there attacked and slain

by the inhabitants.

Presumably, upon his return, Óðinn reinstated collective sacrifice. Dumézil
proclaims this "undoubtedly an ancient myth", and identifies Mit-othyn, or
Mithothyn, with Týr on the strength of the name's similarity with the word
mjötuðinn, meaning "the judge-leader". Then, relying on Julius Caesar's
description of Germanic society as communal, and in a rather jarring
intrusion of modern economic theory into ancient society, Dumézil
associates Óðinn with totalitarian communism, and Týr with classical
liberalism and private property. Saxo's source may indeed have been an
ancient myth, and could conceivably have had to do with Óðinn's replacement
of Týr as chief of the gods. Caesar, however, is notoriously unreliable,
having described the whole of Germanic religion as worship of tangible
things such as the sun, the moon, and fire, while Tacitus, a mere century
and a half later, found any number of deities being honoured, some in ways
that continued in use up to the christian suppression. From Tacitus on,
Teutonic society does not appear particularly communistic, nor Óðinn
especially hostile towards private property or, for that matter, individual

Theories such as Dumézil's, of course, are advanced with the idea that
certain predispositions and patterns recur in a grouping of people, in this
case Indo-Europeans, and these shape people's religious perceptions and
thus, their mythology. From the standpoint of psychology, comparative
religion, or, for that matter, political economy, this approach can provide
useful insights. From the standpoint of theology, however, and assuming
that one accepts the possibility that a god actually exists and has a
definable character apart from his social function, one cannot respect the
integrity of the available sources regarding Týr as a Germanic deity and
conclude that he is simply a rational and social counterpart to the
divinely-mad and other-worldly Óðinn. Neither Týr nor Óðinn can be
comprehensively defined in terms of one another and the roles they play in
human society, or even human psychology; given the cosmic scope of both
their natures, we would be presumptuous in believing we can comprehensively
define them at all. As believers in the folk-religion we are studying, we
seek after mysteries that expand the scope of our gods and our
understanding of them, not reductionist theories that reduce them to
manageable and socially productive "functions".

The single tale in the lore unquestionably about Týr, and expressing his
nature so clearly that it could not be transferred to Óðinn after the
latter ascended to the throne of Ásgarðr, describes the binding of Fenrir,
the wolf son of Loki and the giantess Angrboða. Because the auguries told
the gods to expect great harm from Fenrir and his siblings, the gods
"brought the wolf up at home, and only Týr had the courage to go up to it
and give it food". As the wolf grew great and strong, the Æsir sought to
find a fetter strong enough to bind him. After three failed attempts, they
obtained from Svartálfheimr a magical fetter, and went with the wolf to an
island in a lake. When they suggested, however, that Fenrir allow himself
to be bound, he balked, even though the gods promised to set him free if he
could not break the bonds:

The wolf said: "If you bind me so that I can't get free, then you will

sneak away so that it will be a long time before I get any help from

you. I don't want to have that ribbon put on me. But rather than be

accused of cowardice by you, let one of you place his hand in my

mouth as a pledge that this is done in good faith." Each of the gods

looked at the other then and thought that they were in a fix, and

not one of them would stretch forth his hand, until Týr put out his

right hand and laid it in the wolf's mouth. Now when the wolf

began to struggle against it, the band tightened, and the more

fiercely he struggled the firmer it got. They all laughed except

Týr: he lost his hand.

From this tale, Týr is known above all as the god of self-sacrifice for the
common good. The story's other implications, though, are not so easily
discerned. The spectacle of the Þing god, often called the "god of
justice", swearing a false oath has troubled many. Even disregarding that
the word "oath" was not mentioned, however, one must remember that all the
gods made the promise, and Týr alone redeemed his honour by paying the
pledge-price. Beyond this legalism is also the fact that all knew that
Fenrir must be bound if the earthly and cosmic order of things was to be
maintained, but only Týr was capable of putting the universal need above
his personal welfare; and who better to perceive the greater need and the
relative unimportance of his own appendage than the god of earthly and
cosmic order, Tiwaz, Sky Father?

But the real mystery embodied in this story lies only partially in Týr's
act, which is readily comprehensible in human terms. Týr's relationship
with the wolf adds a far deeper and more complex aspect to the myth.
Whether Fenrir represents cosmic chaos and destruction, as some theorize,
or violence and greed, which Týr also in some sense bound in the Þing, the
striking element of the story is that Týr seemed actually to have been
friends with the wolf. Whatever it was about Fenrir that so terrified the
other gods seems almost to have struck a chord in Týr. A mere god of law
and order would not have reacted in that way. Only a god fully cognizant of
the necessary part that chaos and destruction play in the cosmos, and in
his own nature, would have fed that chaos and destruction, knowing that it
must bring the end of all the god himself works to preserve. Although Týr
plays a decisive part - the decisive part - in binding the destructive
forces that threaten the worlds, he nonetheless does so from a viewpoint
that acknowledges and respects those forces, and that identifies with the
totality of being and of Wyrd, rather than his own role in Wyrd's working
out. Týr is thus the warrior, the constant star impassively recording the
warrior's deed, and the universal axis of being and destiny that joins the
two and gives them meaning, Irminsul. In Týr's defining act, the warrior,
the master of struggle presiding over the great Þing of life, and the
universal, boundless, and transcendent sky become one, and we see more
clearly than in a thousand etymologies the essentail unity among the
multitude of faces Tiwaz has chosen to show the Indo-European peoples over
the millennia.

The discerning reader will have noted by this time that practically nothing
has been said about Zisa. This is because, however sparse our sources of
knowledge are about Týr, they are infinitely sparser as to Zisa. Discussing
Teutonic religion, Tacitus tells us:

Some of the Suebi sacrifice also to Isis. I do not know the origin or

explanation of this foreign cult; but the goddess' emblem, being

made in the form of a light warship, itself proves that her worship

came in from abroad.

Jacob Grimm, our principal source for information on Zisa, makes the
eminently plausible connection between Isa and Zisa, or Cisa, and links
both with mediæval Latin references from around the 11th century to the
patroness of Augsburg, Germany, once a home of the Suebi, who also honoured
Tiwaz. September 28th seems to have been the Feast of Cisa, in fortuitous
juxtiposition with Michaelmas the following day; the archangel Michael's
character does appear to manifest some similarities with that of Tiwaz.
Cisa seems to have borne at least some relationship with the harvest.

Such is the nature of our hard knowledge; what we do with it is largely up
to us. Some have seen Zisa as a female counterpart to Týr, out of
theological necessity, and because Loki taunts Týr with cuckoldry in the
"Lokasenna". Some support is given to this view by the discovery of the
Raum-Trollhättan bracteate. This bracteate has often been seen as Týr
because it shows a figure with one hand in the mouth of a beast. However,
the hairstyle and the skirt are characteristically female, as are the
clearly defined nipples or breasts: knowing of the existence of a goddess
whose name is the womanly form of Týr, it is hard to interpret this piece
as showing anything else. On the other hand, the picture emerging from both
Tacitus and Grimm is not that of a Mrs. Warrior, a Lady Justice, or even a
Queen of the Sky. Far from representing evidence of foreign origin, the
ship is extremely ancient in Northern religion, and carries connotations
both of early goddess worship and of death and the journey to the other
world (see "Bronze Age", "Njörðr and Nerthus", and "Soul, Death, and
Rebirth"). One might even be forgiven for noticing as perhaps more than a
coincidence that the goddess Nerthus, although described by Tacitus as
Mother Earth, has her holy place on an island in the sea, on which was
found a secluded lake. Nerthus, much in the manner of Freyr in a later age,
was carried about the precinct in a chariot pulled by cows, and during her
procession, weapons were put up and the peace was kept as sacred. If one
tends, as some do, to see in the original Sky Father Týr's most essential
nature, one would also tend to seek in Zisa echoes of his earliest and only
known consort, the Earth Mother, a figure in fact quite like Nerthus; and
if Tiwaz incorporates within himself the blinding light of creation, then
his consort would have included within herself the darker mysteries of
death and the transformation within, represented since earliest times by a
ship. But such thoughts at present are no more than speculation, and time
must determine whether a truth is contained within them that will emerge in
the minds and workings of those on a Týric path.

In modern times, Týr has attracted his share of folks who accord him
especial honour. For the most part, these Týrians share many common traits
derived from their patron, such as a certain reserve, a tendency to place
more emphasis on thought and reason than on emotion and ecstatic
experience, a deep concern for fairness to others and for insuring that the
consequences of their own acts promote the common good, and most
fundamental, an uncommon capacity for seeing past their personal viewpoints
and interests, and acting on behalf of the community, the faith, and Wyrd
itself, to bring into being what the Norns have woven for us in the most
beneficial manner possible.

As Týr has many aspects, however, so those attracted to him often differ
substantially in their view of Týr, and in the way they express their
acceptance of him as a paradigm for their own lives. As the old A.F.A.
ritual book shows, there are some who place the image of self-sacrificing
warrior at the center of their concept of Týr, regarding his other facets
as secondary or too far in the past to matter. While the path of a Týric
warrior doubtless has much in common with other "warrior paths", such as
discipline, self-testing, and, most often, training in some form of martial
arts, a Týric warrior tradition would offer a stark contrast to, say, an
Óðinnic one. Few Týrians emphasize magical practice much, nor would they
find the berserker rage much to their taste. Other differences would exist
with practices inspired by Þórr or Heimdallr, both of whom have served as
models for warrior paths. A Týric warrior, for example, may incline more
than most to enquire carefully into the philosophical and moral
underpinnings of a cause, and the motives of its advocates, before
committing to defend it.

Several Týrians see the god's path as one of service to the community and
to justice. One such person summarizes this approach succinctly:

In basic terms, Týrian spirituality involves always trying to do what is

right, what is fair, what is just, and what is honest, with special stress

on service to, and protection of, the community, both the Ásatrú

community and the general community in which one lives.

While it is difficult to find fault with this description, and most Týrians
seem to adhere to it as best they can regardless of their personal
ideologies, the discussion above of Týr as Þing god provides a somewhat
different model, and one perhaps closer to the concepts of the old Heathen
Teutons. As the Þing, and the ancient law that informed it, sought to
harness the conflict and hostility in ways that strengthened and unified
the community, accorded a certain dignity and respect to both winners and
losers, celebrated the folk's traditions and heritage, and permitted the
folk to arrive at a result that it felt and considered fundamentally right,
so a modern Týrian might step into the fray, not to mediate and bring
peace, but to sharpen, define, and elevate a conflict, to make it possible
for both sides to retain their own dignity and honour while recognizing
those of their opponents, and to strengthen the contestants and the
community by encouraging better solutions and a deeper sense of
responsibility. Such a Týrian would not be "called a peace-maker", but
might nonetheless bring the community greater benefits than what many think
of as peace. Binding the wolf, after all, was not intended to make him

But yet another path calls to those who seek Týr, not on the battlefield or
in the assemblies and courts, but in the crystal clarity of dawn in the
high mountains, between Earth and Sky. This path has long seemed lost in
the mists of ancient history and pre-history, and it yet glimmered only
faintly when the Vedas were composed. It is somewhat like the path whose
perceived absence in Northern religion Dumézil so lamented, but it is not
the same. It is not, as Dumézil thought it should be, a path that opposes
or judges the folk for not living up to an intellectual's ideals. Rather,
it is a way that does justice to the complexity of the multiverse, which
far surpasses the capacity of our theological vocabulary, and yet it
remains firmly rooted in the land, and in the community. This way is akin
to Irminsul. At its top is the blinding light and pure being of sky and
sun. Its base is enveloped and supported by earth, mother of all. And from
its axis radiates the sense of natural order, relation, and meaningfulness
that allows one, whether in the stillness of contemplation, the flash of
intuition, or the immediacy of action, to grasp and become one with the
dynamic and sometimes chaotic flow of life that surrounds one, and to find
the place in that flow from which one may realize one's highest ørlög. This
way of Tiwaz does not sacrifice the self to the Self, as Óðinn taught;
having seen the transitory nature of any self, it seeks rather to express
the ever-transforming Truth of being and becoming, life and spirit. But
part of that expression is to nourish the chaos and destruction at the core
of transformation, and part of it is to pledge one's strength, honour, and
life to nourish the Truth and spirit at the core of the folk. And another
part is to seek once again the loving and peaceful embrace of Zisa, as
storm-driven rain seeks the fertile field.

A pantheon is often thought of as a sort of bureaucracy, in which each
member has his or her desk, or "function", where specific requests can be
addressed if one only has an adequate directory. I do not believe this to
be accurate, because I do not believe that gods and goddesses are
functions. Certainly, it does appear that if those scholars who have
studied the Indo-European and other religions have taught us anything, it
is that the deities people honour are not always who and what the people
imagine them to be; that is, the pronouncements of folk religion are not
always to be taken literally at face value. On the other hand, the
theologian is not accorded the scholar's luxury of assuming that nothing
happens in religion other than what takes place in people's heads. Thus, a
people may ascribe characteristics or functions to a deity that are not
inherent to the deity, and that the deity later discards at the earliest
opportunity. Further, although the Teutonic peoples are unquestionably
Indo-Europeans, not all of their deities can be derived from and
comprehended within an Indo-European context; some have uniquely Teutonic
characteristics, which is to say that some have helped shape the Northern
peoples in ways one does not find elsewhere. Consequently, some of the
native Indo-European gods who found themselves in this new, Teutonic
pantheon expressed their characters in new and different ways. One assumes
that this was intentional. And of course, the origin of peoples does not
necessarily tell us anything of the origin of gods.

With this as a preface, I would suggest that, over the centuries and
millennia, as the Northern peoples emerged, various beings whom we think of
as deities found in those peoples a fitting medium for their creative
activities, and the Teutons responded by inviting those gods and goddesses
into their hearts and minds. Many of these gods were more ancient than the
Germanic peoples, and some, including Týr, were honoured by many other
peoples as well. But all in some way committed themselves to us. For Týr,
the moment of commitment came when Ásgarðr and Miðgarðr hung in the
balance, when even All-Father Óðinn despaired of accomplishing what was
needed to insure a future for Ásgarðr and the folk to whom he had extended
his protection, and when Tiwaz, already ancient enough to have been
forgotten by peoples of whom the Teutons knew little or nothing, stretched
forth his hand as pledge to Ásgarðr and to us that his friend, the
devouring Wolf, would not, until the end of the age, keep us from knowing
and living our Wyrd together.

Týr has kept his pledge to us, and now some of us, a tiny part of the last
folk still to honour him of all the peoples he has befriended, extend our
own hands and offer pledges of our own. I believe that it is not too late
to restore the ancient and sacred bond between us, and I know that some of
us are working to that end now; may the work succeed. May Zisa once more
bring peace and renewal to the tortured Earth and to the folk, and may she
guide us to the mysteries we need to inform and empower her restored rites.
And let Týr, Sky Father, help us to erect the new Irminsul joining heavens,
earth, and folk, and celebrating the victory, not of arms over an enemy,
but of our true spirit and destiny over the centuries of falsehood and
forgetfulness we have survived. Such, then, is my view of the Týric path,
which we now claim because it is ours by nature, and because it is ours by

In the modern age, Tiw's colour is often seen as red, though it may also be
a very light blue.

Some followers of Tiw think that the god's holy beast should be the wolf
(which, together with its ferocity, is a beast with a highly developed
social character, geared towards working within the common society of the
pack). However, Jamey Hrolf-Martin argues well for seeing the dog
(Gamlinginn suggests, specifically the Wolfhound, that noblest of all dogs)
as the beast of Tiw, mentioning that "The next semi-major role Týr plays in
myth is his battle with the helhound Garmr. The choice of Týr's doom-foe
has caused some well-founded confusion, given the latent antagonism that
exists between the lord of law and Fenrir, the wild wolf. Despite this,
given the nature of the opponents faced by the other major gods at
Ragnarök, I feel Týr's pairing with Garmr is ideal. Þórr faces the earthly
wyrm, Óðinn faces the wild wolf, and keeping in context, Týr faces the
trothful hound.

"Keeping in mind Garmr's role as guardian of the Helway, he serves a lawful
purpose. Among men the hound/dog has come to be known as an ever loyal
companion to man, and in Germany, the hound/dog was a sign...of the
foundation of justice and the codification of law...Given this, one might
draw the conclusion that the hound/dog is an animal sacred to Týr, much as
the wolf is sacred to Óðinn (note the contrasting nature of both beasts and
gods)". And what is a hound if not an even more socialized wolf?

The horse may also be associated with him: the English place-name "Tysoe"
is paired with the red horse cut into the slope of Edge Hill.

Tiw's weapon may have been the spear in earliest times; there is some
question as to whether the great spear-casting men of the Bronze Age
rock-carvings represent *Tiwaz or *Woðanaz.


From the second paragraph to the discussion of Tiw's colour, this chapter
was written by Bill Bainbridge, Elder

Gamlinginn, Elder

Jamey Hrolf-Martin, from "Fenrir's Binder", Idunna V, ii, 19, For-Litha
1993, p. 37.

Chapter X

Wodan (Óðinn, Woden, Wotan, *Wodans, *Woðanaz)

(Bragi): 'Why did you take victory from him, if he seemed the bravest to

(Óðinn): 'For that which cannot be known: the gray wolf gapes ever at the
dwellings of the gods.' (Unknown skald, Eiríksmál)

The root of Wodan's name is the Proto-Germanic *Woðanaz - which may mean
"The Furious One", "The Mad One", or "The Inspired One". Wodan is all of
these, and more: his being is that wild wod which rushes through mind and
body, to be seen in the inspiration of skaldcraft, the howling of the
stormwind, and the frothing madness of the berserk warrior.

Of all the god/esses, Wodan is the one who is best known to us, as it was
his gifts for which the skalds and saga-tellers of the eldest days were
most grateful. He is the winner, keeper, and giver of the mead Wod-Stirrer
(ON Óðroerir), which he shares with those humans whom he wishes to bless so
that they may speak and write with some of his song-skill. Like all the
god/esses, he is many-sided, and more of his names and strengths have
survived than those of any other deities. He is the god of battle and
kingship; as leader of the Wild Hunt, he is greatly feared through the
Germanic lands, but farmers also leave their last sheaf out so that Wodan
and his horde of ghosts will make their fields fruitful. He is the father
of many human kindreds, and the betrayer of his chosen heroes; he sits in
dignity above the worlds on his seat Hliðskjálf, and wanders through the
worlds in the guise of an old tramp. Though all the god/esses have their
share of magic, he is best-known as a wizard, winner of the runes and
father of galdor-songs.

Wodan most often appears as a tall, one-eyed man with a long hoary beard,
wrapped in a blue-black cloak with a wide-brimmed hat or a hood drawn down
over half his face. Völsunga saga describes him as being barefooted and
wearing patterned breeches. Sometimes Wodan is also seen in full armour,
with byrnie, helm, shield, and spear (though not sword). All things about
the shapes of the holy ones tell us about their being. The blue-black cloak
Wodan wears is the colour of death and the undead, the shade our forebears
called "Hel-blue". In Icelandic sagas, men put on a blue cloak when they
were in a mood to slay, and Þiðreks saga tells us that wearing this colour
is the sign of "a cold heart and a grim nature". Yet it also shows us the
endless depths of the night sky - the realm of the god's wisdom - and his
might to hide and show forth what he chooses. Likewise the hat or hood:
Wodan's face, and what he sees through the eye that lies in Mímir's Well,
are ever half-hidden from humankind, his mirk-side ever matched evenly with
his brightness. Still, he appears differently at different times: there are
some true folk who have seen both of his eyes at once in their meditations,
and some images that are thought to be his, such as the mask-faces on the
backs of several Vendel Age raven-brooches, also have two eyes.

Although Snorri Sturluson, with the dual models of christianity and
Classical mythology before him, carefully presented Óðinn as the head of
the pantheon (and dignified ruler of Ásgarðr), the surviving evidence tends
to show that this god was not dearly loved by most folk. Unlike "Þórr" or
"Freyr", "Óðinn" was seldom used as an element in human names: there is one
late reference to a human woman named "Óðindís" on a 10th century Swedish
runestone from Vestmanland, and a relatively rare Danish man's name
"Óðinkaur" ( either "Óðinn-tresses" - in which case, perhaps a cultic title
referring to the long hair of a king or other holy man - or "the one given
to Óðinn"). The latter name survived into the christian period, and was the
name of at least two bishops of royal blood. "Óðinnphobia" is not uncommon
even today, and for good reason. Many call on him for help in one thing or
another, and hail him as kindly teacher and shaman, which he is in some of
his aspects, but those who do this without being wholly given to him should
be very careful. Of all god/desses, Wodan seems to be swiftest to claim the
geld for his gifts, and he often takes what one would rather not give. One
of the ways in which he sometimes works is shown in the tale of how King
Víkarr's mother asked Óðinn for help in her brewing. The god gave her that
help, asking in return "that which lies between your girdle and yourself".
While uncertain why he should want her dress, she agreed - only to find
that, unknown to her as yet, she was pregnant and that it was her unborn
son whom Óðinn wanted to be dedicated and, in time, sacrificed to him.

Wodan can be tricky to those who deal with him, but he is often cruel to
those who are truly given to him and love him best. He is a grim god, a
stirrer of strife; and as many of our sagas (Saga of the Völsungs perhaps
being the clearest of these) show, he is well known for testing his chosen
ones to destruction. In Icelandic literature, his heroes are usually the
type known as "dark heroes" - ugly, troublesome, tormented men of great
might and tangled character, such as Starkaðr and Egill Skalla-Grímsson.
Wodan himself is seldom a god of social order; if anything, he is the
opposite. His most beloved dynasty, the Völsungs, included outlaws,
werewolves, and brother-sister incest, and he says of himself in Hávamál
110, "I know that Óðinn swore a ring-oath: who can trust in his troth? He
swindled Suttungr, took symbel-mead from him, and left Gunnlöð to weep".
Yet of all gods, Wodan seems to be the one who is seen most often within
the Middle-Garth and who has the most to do with the affairs of humans,
especially on the large scale. He forges his chosen ones harshly and brings
about their death in time - not because he loves their suffering, but
because he is always gathering his might against the Last Battle, Ragnarök,
so that a new world may be born after the death of the old. He himself has
already undergone many great trials to gain the wisdom which makes this
possible: the nine nights' hanging and stabbing through which he found the
runes, the casting of his eye into Mímir's Well as payment for a draught of
its waters.

Despite these things, Wodan is not always dark of deeds or of heart. One of
his names is Óski, "wish" (perhaps related to the Anglo-Saxon proper name
Wusc-frea, Wish-Fro?), showing him as the kindly granter of desires. He
often appears to give rede and help to his chosen ones, as he does to
Sigurðr the Völsung and Hrólfr kraki, for instance. In a lighter mood, he
came to King Heiðrekr in the shape of a man Heiðrekr knew and challenged
him to a riddle-game; he also showed himself to Óláfr inn digri (Óláfr the
Fat, also known as "St. Óláfr") as an old storyteller, offering blessings
which the Christian king rejected by trying to hit the god with a
prayer-book. Hárbarðsljóð shows him playing a practical joke on Þórr,
appearing unrecognised to the other god as an old ferryman, introducing
himself by saying, "I am called Hoarbeard - I seldom hide my name" (this
out of a god with more than an hundred recorded by-names!), and teasing his
son until Þórr is ready to start swinging his hammer.

Wodan is more than a little fond of his drink; Grímnismál 20 tells us that
he lives on wine alone, and in Hávamál he recounts, perhaps a little
ruefully, his drinking of the three cauldrons of the mead of poetry: "I was
drunk, I was over-drunk, at the house of the wise Fjalarr". In her article
"Óminnis hegri", Ursula Dronke even offers an argument for ritual excessive
drinking to the point of vomiting as an Óðinnic act, which may or may not
be comforting on the morning after to those young thanes who have won the
somewhat uncoveted "Egill Skalla-Grímsson Drekk-til-at-Spýja Memorial
Award"...Wodan's adventures with women are also well-known: not only does
he father many dynasties on human women, but he also seduces etin-maids
such as Gunnlöð and has at least three lovers in the Ases' Garth - Frija,
the Frowe, and Skaði. In Hávamál, he boasts of his spells to win the
favours of women; and in Hárbarðsljóð, he matches his many exploits in the
bedchamber against Þórr's tales of fighting thurses.

As much as anything, Wodan is a teacher of all the wights of the worlds.
Sigrdrífumál tells how he scraped the runes into "the holy mead" and sent
them on wide ways, so that "they are with the Ases, they are with the alfs;
some with the wise Wans, some with mortal humans". The skald Þjóðólfr ór
Hvini called him hapta snytrir, "the one who makes the gods wise"
(Haustlöng), and Wodan does the same for human beings. Though this is by no
means a set rule, and has become less general in the past few years as the
elder troth has spread, many true folk whose lives are given to study and
teaching find themselves drawn to Wodan.

Wodan is also called Farmatýr, "Cargo-God". This title can be read in
several ways; it may be that, like Mercury (to whom he is compared in the
interpretatio Romana), he also had a role as a god of trade. It could be
taken as referring to the booty-loaded ship of the Viking whose raids Óðinn
blessed; it could speak of his return from Etin-Home fully laden with the
"cargo" of the mead Wod-Stirrer; or it could be related to his role as
ferryman of the dead, as seen in Frá dauða Sinfjötla. In modern practise,
however, it has also been found that Wodan as Farmatýr is a good god to
call upon when searching for things that are hard to find - not only
out-of-print books, but ritual items of all sorts.

Wodan's first shape was that of death-god: not as the keeper of Hella's
kingdom, but as the Chooser of the Dead, leading souls from world to world
and bringing the might and wisdom of the dead out from the dark realms to
the bright lands above. The rune *ansuz (Ase) is most closely tied to
Wodan; the Old Icelandic Rune-Poem says specifically that this rune names
this god. The word *ansuz itself may have first spoken of the dead
forebears whose might still worked on the living; according to Jordanes,
the Goths called their ancestor-ghosts "anses", which the christian
chronicler interpreted as "demi-gods". As drighten of the restless dead and
leader of the Wild Hunt, Wodan was known through the Germanic lands from an
early time - perhaps the earliest times. Though no Norse myths tell of the
Hunt, the Hunter's name is known as Wodan or Oden (or as the earlier form,
Wod) from Scandinavia to Switzerland. The rushing might of the dead through
the empty fields of winter brings forth all the strength that sank into the
earth at harvest's end: the Last Sheaf is left out for them so that their
blessings will make the lands fruitful again.

As the god who goes forth into the realm of death and brings might back,
Wodan became the god of magic and skaldcraft (which in itself is the skill
of galdor-magic): it is from the land of the dead that those lores rise and
that wod roars. As the Eddic poem Hávamál tells us, he got the runes by
means of a shamanic death-initiation. Hanged and stabbed at once, dangling
on the Gallows-Tree between the worlds, Wodan sank slain to find the
twenty-four-fold pattern which lies at the very roots of the worlds - the
shapes and sounds of the mights with which all things are wrought. As a
magician, he also calls the dead forth to learn lore from them and hear the
wisdom of their fore-tellings.

As the one who passes between the worlds of death and life, Wodan became
king- and forebear-god, for the might of the king in Scandinavia and Saxon
England was grounded on the mounds of his forefathers, from which he spoke
his deemings and laws with the wisdom of the holy ones who lay within.
Wodan was the first father of many of these lines, particularly in
Anglo-Saxon England where nearly all the kingly genealogies go back to him;
and it was he (together with Fro Ing, as spoken of later), who opened the
speech between the king lying beneath the mound and the ruler who sat on
its heights.

During the Iron Age, while the Germanic people were migrating, Wodan rose
more to be seen as a battle-god, in which role he was the chosen patron of
many of the Germanic tribes such as the Lombards, the Alamanns, and the
Cherusci. From the later Norse sources and the Classical references,
Wodan's place as battle-god and hence tribal patron was not due to his
might as a warrior, but his role as Chooser of the Slain: the god who made
the casualty-list was clearly the one whose choices ruled the outcome of
the struggle, and thus Wal-Father (Father of the Slain) became Sig-Father
(Father of Victory). In later Norse sources such as Styrbjarnar þáttr,
battle-hosts were given to Óðinn by letting a spear fly over them with the
words, 'Óðinn have you all!' The many deposits of weapons and accounts of
captives and booty being given as sacrifices in the Iron Age are likely to
show just such dedications: whatever survived the battle on the losing side
had already been marked out for the god's keeping.

Wodan was by no means the only god of the Vikings, not even of those who
went raiding or battling to win new lands for themselves in the south. But
his presence was surely mighty among them. The Raven Banner was borne by
the Danes in 878, as described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: "that
battle-flag...which they call Raven"; and the Ecomium Emmae Reginae tells
how the Danes had a banner of white silk in the middle of which a raven
appeared at times of war. According to Orkneyinga saga, the jarl Sigurðr of
Orkney had a raven banner (woven by his mother) which ever brought victory
to the one before whom it was borne, but death to the one who bore it -
probably as a sacrifice marked out for Óðinn. Turville-Petre suggests that
this god was also the particular patron of many of the kings of Norway,
such as Haraldr inn hárfagri (Hairfair) and Eiríkr bloðøx. Although there
are few signs of the cult of Óðinn in Iceland, where Þórr and Freyr were
the favoured gods, Óðinn was not unknown there. His worship in that land,
however, seems to have been limited to a few individuals - skalds such as
Egill Skalla-Grímsson and cross-grained adventurers like Víga-Glúmr - who
were not only suited to him by nature, but stemmed from families with a
tradition of Óðinn-worship. Even in such families, dedication to Óðinn was
by no means the rule: Egill's brother and uncle, both named Þórólfr, had no
share in either the wisdom or the surly tempers of the family Óðinnists,
Kveldúlfr, Skalla-Grímr, and Egill.

Though Wodan is a battle-god, he is hardly ever seen fighting for himself.
He chooses the slain, but seldom actually slays them; his decision is
enough to set their doom. In token of this, it may be noted that he bears
no sword: though he gives swords and armour to his heroes, and is seen
dressed in byrnie and helmet, his only weapon is the spear Gungnir ("the
shaking one"). The spear is the sign of his might, used for hallowing - but
not in the same way as the Hammer of Thonar. The Hammer-hallowing is a
blessing; the hallowing of the Spear dooms whoever or whatever its flight
passes over to be destroyed in the Middle-Garth so that Wodan may have it
in his own hall. Although most pictures of Wodan show Gungnir as a
thrusting spear, all references to his use of it, or indeed to the Wodanic
use of any spear, tell us that it is a throwing spear. The many
spear-blades with runic inscriptions from the Migration Age are also very
narrow of haft, showing that they must have been used for casting rather
than thrusting. The same is true for the Kragehul spear-shaft (Denmark, 5th
century), the inscription of which is debated, but seems to be a ritual
dedication of its victims.

Wodan is known as the ruler of Walhall - the Hall of the Slain, where his
chosen einherjar ("Single-Harriers") fight every day and feast every night
in training for Ragnarök. Although Snorri presents Valhöll as the Norse
heaven reserved only for the battle-slain elite, in contrast to Hel where
everyone else ends up, this view seems to be late; the growth of the
Walhall-belief is spoken of further in the chapter "Soul, Death, and

Together with the Walhall belief is the belief in the walkurjas
(walcyriges, valkyrjur) - the women who choose the slain for Wodan and bear
drink to the god and the heroes in Walhall. In earlier Ásatrú, the word
valkyrja was used to mean the woman who carried the drinking horn at
rituals; more recently, it has been either a very general word of honour
for a strong woman or else as a technical spiritual term for the fair
womanly being who wards, teaches, and inspires - the highest part of the
soul. The walkurjas will be spoken of further in the chapter on "Wights";
here it is enough to say that the reading of their being which is
best-supported from elder sources is that they seem to be parts of Wodan's
own self sent forth in womanly forms. The god himself is called
Valkjósandi, a manly reflection of the womanly valkyrja, and the
walkurja-name Göndul (probably related to gandr, "magical staff or wand")
mirrors Óðinn's own heiti Göndlir. The walkurja-names Herfjötur
(war-fetter) and Hlökk (fetter) are likeliest to stem from Wodan's own
skill at laying battle-fetters; "Skögul" ("shrieker") may be related to the
Óðinsheiti Viðhrimnir ("he who screams in opposition"). The walkurjas often
act as Wodan's messengers and, as Wagner had it, the embodiments of his
will. Eyvindr skáldaspillr's Hákonarmál shows Óðinn sending Göndul and
Skögul out to choose Hákon the Good in battle and bring him back to
Walhall; in Völsunga saga, the god sends a walkurja with an apple of
fruitfulness for one of his heroes.

Wodan's best-known beasts are the raven and the wolf, best known in
Northern literature as those who feed on "Yggr's barley" - the bodies of
the battle-slain. His two ravens, Huginn ('Thoughtful' or 'Bold') and
Muninn ('Mindful' or 'Desirous'), fly forth every day to bring him news of
all the worlds. The ravens' names are often incorrectly translated as
'Thought' and 'Memory', but they are in fact adjectival formations. Our
forebears thought that to see ravens flying before one was a sign of
Wodan's great favour, especially before a battle or after a holy rite. When
Hákon jarl of Hlaðir, who had been forcibly baptized, had escaped and won
his way back home, 'he made a great blessing. Then there came flying two
ravens and croaked loudly. Then the jarl thought he knew that Óðinn had
accepted the blessing and the jarl should have victory in battle'
(Heimskringla I, Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar ch. 27). The raven is also tied to
Wodan through its relationship to the gallows, so that: "There
certain way of determining whether the raven first became associated with
Óðinn as gallows-bird or battle-bird; the Germanic sacrificial practice of
hanging prisoners after a battle might indeed make a distinction between
the two sources of the raven's diet meaningless" (Grundy, "The Raven in the
Cult of Óðinn" - unpublished dissertation chapter).

Óðinn's wolves are called Geri and Freki, both names meaning "the greedy
one". In its description of Valhöll, Grímnismál 20 tells us that "glorious
Host-Father, used to battle, sates Geri and Freki; but weapon-famous Óðinn
lives on wine alone". In Norse or Anglo-Saxon poetry, "to sate wolves" is a
usual phrase for killing men, but here the image is of a great drighten
feeding the hounds in his hall - a double image which shows us Wodan as the
bright ruler in God-Home and as the dark ruler of the corpse-strewn
battlefield. The wolf shows the fiercest side of Wodan's battle-might. His
warriors were berserks and shape-shifters, often called úlfheðnar
(wolf-coats) from their use of wolfskins to bring on this wod. The
best-known image of such a warrior is from one of the Torslunda helm-plate
matrices (Sweden, ca. 700), which shows a man in a wolfskin holding a spear
before a one-eyed weapon-dancer who wears a helmet horned with bird-heads.
Similar figures also appear on the sword-sheath plate from Gutenstein and
in one of the graves from Kungsängen (Sweden, ca. 800).

As well as ravens and wolves, Wodan also has the gray eight-legged horse
named Sleipnir ("slipper"), whom he rides through the worlds. This horse is
shown on the Gotlandic picture-stones Ardre VIII and Alskog Tjängvide I.
There has been much talk over the meaning of Sleipnir's legs. The simplest
reason given is that the eight legs shown on the picture-stones could have
merely been meant to show the horse's speed, and only later taken as a
specific peculiarity of Óðinn's mount. However, in Myth and Religion of the
North, Turville-Petre tells us that 'Apparitions portending death often
appear mounted on greys...(and) misshapen horses with varying numbers of
legs have been widely reported as portents of evil' (p. 57). H.R.
Ellis-Davidson suggests that there may be a relationship between
eight-legged Sleipnir and the funeral bier borne by four pallbearers; she
also refers to an Asian shamanka (female shaman) and her eight-legged horse
(Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, pp. 142-43). Sleipnir's eight legs
could also be seen as mirroring the eight worlds ringed around the

Wodan himself appears as a serpent and an eagle, taking both shapes in his
quest for the mead of poetry; two of his heiti (by-names), Ófnir and
Sváfnir, are also listed as names of the wyrms who gnaw at the roots of the

In elder days, Wodan was particularly worshipped with human sacrifices;
though he was not the only deity to whom men's lives were given, he was by
far the most usual one. This, of course, can no longer be done. However,
there was another manner of "human sacrifice": the dedication of one's own
life to Wodan, so that the one thus dedicated was known to be fey (feigr) -
death-doomed and willing alike to live or die for the god. This was best
spoken by Sigmundr the Völsung after Óðinn had appeared to break the sword
which the god had given him long ago. When Sigmundr's wife Hjördís found
him wounded on the field, she asked if he could be helped, and he replied,
"Many live when there is little hope, but my luck (heill) has turned from
me, so that I will not let myself be healed. Óðinn does not wish me to
brandish sword again, now that it is broken. I have had my battles while he
willed it." The emblem called the walknot , made of three overlapping
triangles, is strongly associated with Wodanic sacrifice and/or death in
battle; at least, this is the context in which it appears on the Gotlandic
picture stones. Though there is still some academic debate about what this
sign might have meant in elder times, heathens now take it that the walknot
is the token of those who are thus given to Wodan and should be worn only
by those who are willing to fall at his choice. The Old Norse reconstructed
form *valknútr - "knot of the slain" - is based on the modern Norwegian
name valknut for the embroidered or woven pattern.

Wodan has two brothers with whom he made the worlds, called either Vili and
Vé (Prose Edda) or Hoenir and Lóðurr ("Völuspá"). Hoenir appears as Wodan's
brother in other myths, for instance as one of the hostages given to the
Vanir; Lóðurr is often interpreted as Loki, as a couple of myths have
Óðinn, Hoenir, and Loki wandering through the worlds together. "Vili" and
"Vé" mean "Will" and "Holiness"; they are often seen as hypostases of Óðinn
himself. De Vries points out that in the traditional Germanic genealogies
the youngest generation has three alliterating names, and that therefore
the Óðinn-Vili-Vé triad must go back at least to Primitive Norse, before
the loss of the initial W- in front of o and the change of w to v which is
one of the marks of the transition from Primitive Norse to Old Norse
(Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II, p. 281).

Holy places given to Wodan in elder days include mountains, fields, lakes,
streams, at least one bog, and groves. He himself is often seen as a god of
the wind, particularly the stormwind, but has watery aspects as well:
according to the story of Sinfjötli's death, it is he who steers the ship
of the dead over the dark waters, and Hárbarðsljóð also shows him as a

Stones which have been associated with this god in modern times are
meteorites and lapis lazuli. Because the ash-tree was used for
spear-shafts, it is thought to be a tree of Wodan; the yew is also seen as
his tree because of its close ties to both magic (especially runic magic)
and death. Nineteenth-century references speak of the fly agaric mushroom
as springing from the froth dropping from Sleipnir's mouth, but this is
likeliest to be a product of Germanic romanticism. It is also highly
unlikely that the fly agaric (or any other psychoactive substance) was used
in bringing on berserkergang, though this mushroom does have a long history
in shamanic use (Note: fly agarics are poisonous unless properly prepared -
do not try this at home). The European mandrake (not to be confused with
the American mandrake or May-Apple) has also been found to work well with
Wodan, as do hawthorn and mugwort.

The drink most associated with Wodan is mead, because of the clear tie to
the mead of skaldcraft. The Grímnismál reference to "wine" may be meant to
show Wodan's status, as wine was a rare drink imported to Scandinavia from
southerly lands; in an article in Skalk, Christine Fell suggests that the
word could have been used for any sort of fermented fruit drink. Especially
in poetic usage, it could also have referred to alcoholic beverages in
general. It has also been found in modern times that akavit is a good drink
for calling on Wodan.


Freya Aswynn, Elder

Stephan Grundy (summarized by Kveldúlfr Gundarsson from Grundy's Ph.D.
thesis-in-progress: The Cult of Óðinn: God of Death?)

Kveldúlfr Hagan Gundarsson, Warder of the Lore

Diana Paxson, Elder

and all the folk of Trothline who took part in the "Óðinn's Eyes"

Chapter XI


"They hurry to their end,

they who ween themselves so strongly standing.

I am almost ashamed to work with them.

To turn myself again into licking flames

I feel a luring lust.

To consume them who once tamed me,

instead of stupidly going under with the blind,

though they be the godliest gods!

that does not seem stupid to me.

I'll think on it: who knows what I'll do?"

- Wagner, Richard (Rheingold, scene iv)

"This subtle friend of the gods is rather refractory to a sober method of
analysis dividing him into mythological and folkloristic elements. As a
matter of course he has been caught time upon time and placed on the
anatomist's table, has had his body dissected and his inner organs numbered
as belonging partly to a corn spirit, partly to a spirit of nature and
partly to something else; but the analysis has never succeded in depriving
him of his deftness and agility, he slips from under the hands of the
anatomists and springs to his feet ready with a shocking jest" (Grønbech,
II, pp. 330 -31).

There are few god/esses who bring forth such a strong and swift reaction
among followers of the Northern ways as Loki. Particularly in the earlier
days of the Rebirth, he was seen almost as a "Nordic Satan", never called
on, and usually not acknowledged as a deity by anyone - with a few
exceptions such as Alice Karlsdóttir, whose Borealis article on Loki stands
as one of the best heathen explorations of his character (this article was
later reprinted in Gnosis). There are still plenty of folk in Germanic
religion who are shocked by the very idea of giving Loki any sort of
worship or spiritual attention, and cannot imagine how someone following
the Northern ideals of honour and troth could do so - they see Loki as a
sort of Nordic Satan. The idea that someone can call themselves "Ásatrú",
true to the Ases, and still worship or even work magically with the one who
often works to bring about their end, is still one that meets with much
challenge, and is indeed open for discussion. However, there are a few true
folk who, like Wodan himself, have found the Trickster to be someone worth
sharing a horn with. Forthwith the words of one of those folk, Paul

Picturing the Æsir, Loki doesn't fit. He is not a valorous warrior, an
incarnation of the world's fertility, nor a sage with the wisdom of the
ages. He does not represent a divine level of honour, strength, courage, or
any ideal of Teutonic society. Picturing Ásatrú, Loki still doesn't fit.
Books dealing with the Norse gods as a subject of religion or magick tend
to spend a half page on him. Just enough to show thought was given to
Mischief-maker, but not enough to encourage any thought about him by the
reader. Asking Ásatrúar brings a similar reaction. No one seems to want to
think about Loki, he just doesn't fit.

However, Loki is ever-present in Norse mythology. If our pagan ancestors
wanted to ignore him as much as modern Ásatrúar do, he would be briefly
mentioned in the Edda, rather than driving Þórr mad in every other lay.
Obviously, Loki fits somewhere.

Scholarly works on Norse mythology and paganism also only deal with him
perfunctorily. Therefore, books were written to deal with Laufey's-son
separately. De Vries wrote "The Problem of Loki" in 1933, and Rooth's Loki
in Scandinavian Mythology came out in 1961. Loki was dealt with
academically. However, reviving the religion of Óðinn and Þórr leaves no
rest for the wicked. Loki insists on having his due.

A problem arises, though, in trying to know who Loki is. This is an eternal
problem with neo-pagans. Worshipping a deity who embraces more than one
concept prevents easy understanding. Flame-hair takes this to a new level,
not only presenting himself in many different, even contradictory, aspects,
but also requiring at least minimal effort of study to understand these
aspects. He not only refuses to let himself be known, no one seems to want
to know him.

However, knowing Od's-blood is possible, whether or not it is desirable. In
doing so, another problem facing neo-pagans arises: that of reconciling
oneself with one's god. The more common case is the original pagan worship
of a deity seeming horrible: the Blood-Eagle and similar rites are no
longer desirable. But in this case, the god himself appears reprehensible.
Understanding Loki on an intellectual level becomes as much of a problem as
dealing with him on a spiritual level.

Possibly the worst act associated with Loki is the killing of Baldr. To
most Ásatrúar, this no doubt seems the worst crime possible, the killing of
a god. And Wolf's-father is not even remorseful for this act, as well he
should not be.

The Edda does not tell of the time Baldr spent in Jötunheimr, learning
their ideas before he came back, determined to undermine the gods. He
taught them of peace and became the most beloved of the Æsir. He spread
flowers and the concept of utopia. He was actually talking deities of war
into being nice. While it is not known why the others were so gullible,
Loki was not fooled. He discovered Peace-freak's weakness to mistletoe,
which was hard to find as it is not native to Iceland, and put that
knowledge to good use.

Of course, this is not serious. Baldr was not out to destroy the strength
of the Æsir, but his teachings were certainly having that effect. Ragnarök
would be coming early in the year, and the gods would not have had a chance
in Hel. And if Loki had simply spoken out against this divine hippie, no
one would have listened. After all, who trusts Loki? They would have tied
him down right then to prevent him from harming the Flower-powerful. And
his efforts would have come to naught (Warder's note: Snorri's presentation
of Baldr as a kind, sweet, peaceful Christ-figure is almost certainly a
great distortion of the god's original warrior-character, as discussed in
the chapter on Baldr, where the many spiritual implications of this myth
are looked at more closely. But when one considers what Snorri seems to
have been doing here, the Loki he knew is to be applauded as the force of
change who - even in a literary work - shows up to keep the forces of
stagnation from weakening Ásgarðr. Of course, no one thanks the guy who
rocks the boat! - KHG).

But there are other despicable acts, other atrocities Sky-walker has done.
His family tree reads like a litany of plagues and curses (as if he were
responsible for his relatives!). He is apparently the father of the
Miðgarðsormr, the Úlfr Fenris, and Hel; the brother of Byleistr ("Lame")
and Helblindi ("Death-Blind" - one of Wodan's less lovable aspects - KHG),
as well as the mother of Sleipnir, Óðinn's eight-legged horse. And if Baldr
can end up resembling Christ by the time the Edda is written, apparently
Loki can have descendants similar to Lucifer at that point as well.
However, since Loki's children by his other wife, Sigyn, turned out
wonderful, is it possible his other progeny took after Angrboda, their
mother? If so, this still does not deal with the question of marehood, but
that is another matter entirely.

This leaves the primary negative image of Loki, that of a thief. Many times
he plays a prank or steals some treasure and brings down the wrath of the
Æsir. However, they do not simply punish him or cast him out, they demand
he solve the problem. Which he does, every time. He has a trait common to
tricksters the world over: providing. Just as Prometheus gave humans fire,
Sammael gave Adam and Eve the Apple of Knowledge, and Raven gave the world
light, Loki, under the name Lóðurr, has the power to provide mind
("Völuspá" mentions life-force and good appearance - KHG) to humanity, as
well as returning anything of which he deprives Ásgarðr. In fact, he is
very likely the only one capable of retrieving such things. Simply put, he
has the power to give and take, and is the only one with the power to give
back what he has taken.

Which is one reason to worship such a god. When something disappears
mysteriously, Týr is certainly not to blame, and as such cannot help in its
retrieval. Lost objects are the province of Loki, and while his followers
may be more likely to lose possession, they do not stay lost.

Another dominion of Loki is parties, especially the crashing thereof.
Lokeans come and go unannounced, and try to avoid being bounced from
parties as ruthlessly as Venom-eye was in Lokasenna. On the other hand,
Ásatrúar who want their celebrations to go smoothly do not offend, but
please Loki. Unlike the Greek goddess Eris, he does not pick on people just
because they got his attention.

Actually, he does have many other aspects in common with Eris, including
bad puns and mental masturbation. However, choosing the path of Loki is
more than that, transforming life into the divine rebellion, demonstrating
the personal existence of free will every day. Discordians refer to such
people as "Chaosists", those who stir up chaos. "Zenarchy" (by Kerry W.
Thornley) explains a fitting sort of philosophic lifestyle for
Loki-worship, although by no means the only one.

For example, an aspect of life Thornley does not mention is the use of
computers. If there is a single greatest representation of intelligence and
freedom flowing as fire, it is the energy pulsing through electronics. The
keyboard is the taufr of inspiration and the monitor scrys into the Well of
Wyrd. No vitki should be without one, much less a follower of Loki.

But all manifestations of freedom without bounds, such as keys, and
intelligence without limit, such as books, are connected with Gold-thief.
This is why his punishment is so horrible. At the end of Lokasenna, Loki
was captured and taken to a cavern under the Earth. There he was tied down
with the bowels of his son Nari, and a serpent was placed above him to drip
venom onto his face. Sigyn catches the vile liquid in a bowl until it fills
up, and then she must pour it out while a few drops of poison spill into
her husband's eyes. When he writhes, the Earth shakes.

No doubt the binding of Loki happened in conjunction with the religious
suppression in Scandinavia. One of the most positive aspects of Ásatrú is
the free admission that every aspect of the religion is a metaphor, a motif
of life. When the binding of Loki is mentioned, it is in a prose
afterthought to a poetic lay. It is an addition, as the free spirit of the
Norse was not being bound until later in history.

But the final point is that just as Óðinn, Þórr, and even Freyr and Frigg
have dark sides, Loki has a bright spot or two, and both the "good" and
"evil" need to be accepted in any deity. Further, to be Ásatrú is to be
true to all the Æsir, not just most of them. Ásatrúar have as many layers
as Ásatrú does. Just as all are made up of small amounts of the more
popular gods, all have a little bit of Loki as well. Loki has been bound
for at least 800 years, as the Teutonic religion has. Now, his bonds are
loosening and we gain his fire in our soul and an occasional mischievous
spark in our eye.

As far as our forebears' view of Loki, we know relatively little outside of
the Eddas. He is not born of the Ases or Wans: he is an etin, with whom
Wodan swore blood-brotherhood. This is no bar to counting him among the
god/esses: Skaði and Gerðr are also of pure etin-blood, and most of the
holy folk are half-breeds. He is the son of the etin Fárbauti
("Cruel-Striker") and a womanly wight called Laufey ("Leafy Island").
Although there is no direct Norse evidence for the nineteenth-century
reading of Loki as a fire-god (based on a false etymology connecting him
with logi, 'flames'), a naturalist interpretation might read his birth as
springing from lightning setting a wood on fire - an event which, in
itself, is destructive, but is often needful for the health of the land.
One might even draw this out to suggest that, like forest fires, Loki
brings true devastation on a long-term scale forth only when he has been
kept from doing his smaller works of destruction (leading to new life) for
a while.

Loki has several heiti, including Hveðrungr (roarer? - Völuspá 55,
Ynglingatal 32), Loptr (he who fares aloft - or, as Paul translates it,
"Skywalker"), and perhaps Lóðurr (etymology difficult). Snorri describes
him as handsome, and he is normally seen as a short slight man with fiery
red hair. The small size is surprising, since he is supposed to be of
etin-kin; but other wights (mostly Þórr) are always threatening or beating
him, and he seems unable to defend himself physically. On the other hand,
Heimdallr, as Warder of the Ases' Garth, is presumably a fine warrior, and
Loki proves his equal at Ragnarök...

Not only is Loki always getting the Ases into trouble and out again - but
his solutions always bring them more good than they had before. Sleipnir,
the walls of the Ases' Garth, Wodan's spear, Thonar's Hammer, Sif's gold
hair, Fro Ing's golden boar and ship, the acceptance of Skaði among the
god/esses - we have Loki to thank for them. He does not do these things out
of loyalty, a trait he seldom shows (in fact, to save his own skin, he once
tricked his good friend Thonar into faring towards an ambush in Etin-Home
without Hammer or gauntlets). Most of the time, his motivation is to keep
from being punished for whatever he did wrong in the first place.
Nevertheless, there are many who might think that the reparations he ends
up making far outweigh the original damage. Even when he is in the worst
odour with the Ases, he is inadvertently helpful: while hiding out from
their wrath, he builds a fishing net. As he hears Þórr nearing, he burns
it, then leaps into the river and turns into a salmon - but the pattern of
the net remains in the ashes so that the Ases can recreate it, and Loki is
caught by his own invention and Þórr's quick hands.

Loki is also sometimes helpful when he was not responsible for the problem
in the first place. In the Eddic poem Þrymskviða, for instance, he has
nothing to do with the theft of Þórr's Hammer - but it is he who finds out
where the Hammer is and what Þrymr wants in return for giving it back, and
it is he whose quick wits cover so that Þórr can pass as Freyja through the
whole of a bridal feast at which the cross-dressed god shows a distinctly
unladylike character. He also goes above and beyond the call of duty to
make Skaði laugh by tying one end of a rope to a goat's beard and the other
to his bollocks, then starting a tug-o-war with the goat. All of the
stories in which it is Loki who saves the day (whether or not he was the
one who nearly lost it) hint that perhaps it is not such a bad idea to ask
him for help in the stickiest situations. In one of our older skaldic
poems, Haustlöng, which describes Loki's recapture of Iðunn from the etin
Thjazi, Loki is called "Óðinn's friend", "Þórr's friend", and "Hoenir's
friend". Simek suggests that this, together with his generally good
portrayal in the poem and the myth, "could possibly point to an originally
more positive role for Loki in Germanic mythology" (Dictionary, p. 315).

Loki often appears as Þórr's travelling companion on journeys to Etin-Home.
In fact, J.S. Pereira has suggested that travellers in highly dangerous
areas would do well to call on Thonar and Loki together - though stresses
that this would probably only be done in times of the greatest need and
most intense danger, such as a war zone where the social order has already
broken down so far that Loki's amoral swiftness of wit is the best thing
for dealing with it. In such a case, Thonar would not only give the
strength and endurance such a faring would need, but also offer a sign of
the stability lying on the other side of chaos and the traveller's hope to
get to settled steads again. For more ordinary farings, one might suspect
that calling on Loki (with or without Thonar) would, at best, be an
invitation to lost luggage. Then again, Loki might be just the god to ask
about bringing said luggage back, although we would suggest insuring it
before calling his attention to it!

Despite his usual charm, Loki appears as a terrifying figure at Ragnarök,
when all his might is turned towards destruction - when he breaks his
chains and leads the hosts of the evil dead across the sea on a ship called
Naglfar, which is made from the finger- and toe-nails of corpses. Then, one
of his sons is Wodan's bane and one is Thonar's; if Surtr can be seen as
his kinsman as well, which seems likely, it is almost wholly Loki's clan
that works the doom of the gods. It should also not be forgotten that he is
the god of earthquakes, forest fires, and such.

The earliest evidences we have for Loki are the "Balder-bracteates" of the
Migration Age, on which a winged figure - probably Loki in Freyja's
falcon-cloak - stands in front of the sacrifice. One image which is
probably of Loki has also survived from the Viking Age. The Snaptun
bellows-stone found near Horsens in Jutland (now held in the Prehistoric
Museum at Moesgård near Århus) shows a moustached face with its lips sewn
together - the revenge taken on Loki by the dwarf Brokk when Loki had
cleverly gotten out of paying for a lost wager with his head. Though there
is no way to really know, one might guess that the smith's sympathies were
with the dwarf and that this particular reference on the bellows-stone was
a warning to Loki not to get too frisky in the smithy: in fact, the
practical purpose of the stone was to feed the flames with a controlled
flow of air while protecting the bellows from their heat. This use of his
image also suggests the possibility of Loki as first stemming, not from the
etins of mountain and ice, but from Surtr's fiery kin in Muspell-Home.

As far as traditional worship goes, there is no evidence for it, neither
place-names nor literary/historical references. As Bill Bainbridge
observes, most religious practice is based, one way or the other, on
upholding social norms; while the dangerous Trickster may have had his
place in some rites, it is unlikely that he ever had an organized cult.

However, ritual drama may well have been a major feature of Scandinavian
worship; and if the myths were enacted in a cultic context, Loki would have
shown himself very important to Norse worship indeed. Here he could be
likened to the Trickster-figures of other traditional cultures, whose
clowning during ritual performances and processions - and the whole concept
of temporary reversal and "carnival" mockery of the established order
presided over by the Lord of Misrule, which ultimately strengthens social
norms - is needful to the success of the rites. Like many other Tricksters
or Lords of Misrule, Loki is of ambiguous gender: not only does he mother
Sleipnir (and it should be remembered that calling a man a mare and/or
saying he had borne children was the worst insult possible to the Vikings),
but he also dresses as Þórr's lady-in-waiting in Þrymskviða, and in
Lokasenna, Óðinn accuses him of having lived under the earth as a woman for
eight winters and borne children. When he wants to travel most swiftly, he
borrows, not Wodan's eagle-shape, but the falcon-hides of the Frowe and
Frija; this again must be seen as a form of shamanic cross-dressing. The
Trickster is the one who crosses all boundaries (especially those of social
taboo), creating the border-state in which acts of ritual shaping and
reshaping are possible. This function, particularly in regards to various
degrees of cross-dressing, is shared by other deities; but Loki is the one
who embodies it most often and thoroughly. The border-state is the time of
greatest might - but also the time of greatest danger, when nothing and
no-one is safe; this too should be remembered when dealing with Loki.

It is also worth pointing out that the poem Lokasenna ("the Flyting of
Loki"), in which Loki crashes a party of the Ases to which he was not
invited (rather like the evil fairy in "Sleeping Beauty") and trades
vicious insults with everyone there, is actually one of our richest sources
for Norse god/ess lore. Until recently, it had been thought that the
irreverent attitude this often raunchy poem shows towards the god/esses was
a sign that it had been written after the conversion; but the langage and
metre are consistent with an early date. Gurevich suggests that the mockery
of Lokasenna actually "should be interpreted not as a sign of the
'twilight' of paganism but as a mark of its strength...All these parodies,
mockeries, and profanations occur within the sacral sphere" (Historical
Anthropology of the Middle Ages, pp. 168-69), arguing that one of the
strongest and earliest characteristics of traditional religions is the
ability to weave humour with the most serious holiness and even to laugh at
the god/esses. This is surely a side of the Norse religion in which Loki
comes into his own....

Grönbech suggests that Loki "was the sacral actor whose business was to
draw out the demon, to bring the antagonism to a head and thus to prepare
for victory - hence the duplicity of his nature; to act the part he must
partake in the holiness and divinity of the sacrificial circle, and when
this ritual fact is translated into the language of the legend, it assumes
this form: Loki is of giant extraction, born in Utgard and admitted to the
company of the gods on his entering into friendship and a blood covenant
with Odin" (II, p. 331).

Loki is the total antithesis of social rules, whose very being causes them
to break down around him. Sometimes good comes of this, and sometimes ill.
Taken to its farthest reaches, this characteristic of his appears in his
role as one of the chief causes of Ragnarök. It should be marked that
Loki's chief foe is not Thonar (who thinks little of breaking guest-laws
when he has the chance to bash an etin on the head), nor even Tiw (as one
might have guessed), but Heimdallr, the warder of the Rainbow Bridge and of
the gates of the Ases' Garth.

In later Scandinavian folklore, Loki appears as the creator of fleas and
spiders, and the spider, lokke, may possibly have some etymological
connection with him. This would fit neatly with Loki's character. As well
as the father of monsters and mother of Sleipnir, he is certainly likely to
be the creator of mildly obnoxious bugs and insects which, like the spider,
can be very helpful or can be deadly poisonous. Although cockroaches seldom
appear in Scandinavia or Germany, it is a pretty good bet that Loki has
something to do with them as well. Other than that, there are no beasts
traditionally associated with Loki. However, Alice Karlsdottir suggests
that the grackle, being a small, loud-mouthed, and obnoxious cousin of the
raven, is probably Loki's bird. The fox, which seems like a smaller,
weaker, but slyer and more adaptable cousin of the wolf, has also been
suggested for him in modern times. For the same reason, American Ásatrúar
might also see Loki in the coyote; he surely has much in common with the
Amerindian spirit Coyote.

When working with Loki, it should not be forgotten that he has a truly
ill-willing side, and his sense of humour can be very nasty indeed at
times. He can, indeed, be a practical joker of the most dangerous sort.
Great care is called for, especially in a religion such as that of the
Troth, where fires of sundry sorts play such a great part. Both houses and
woodlands can go up in flames very easily... Calling Loki into your life
will surely bring changes, but there is no surety that you will like them,
or even live through them. Toasting Loki at symbel has been found to bring
small accidents within the evening (such as eyeglasses melted in campfires
or lost forever in snowbanks). Those who work with delicate equipment,
especially that through which energy runs, should be especially careful:
Loki is the God of the Glitch and the Power Surge.

Nevertheless, it is probably better to be on good terms than bad with him.
Some of us have found that a toast made to Loki, or a few drops poured to
him, before the start of a ritual/feast works well to stave off disasters,
whereas Lokasenna shows in graphic detail what happens when Loki is not
given a drink and a seat among the other god/esses - and even when he is
not invited, he will show up anyway. Further, it might even be seen as
somewhat rude to ask Thonar in and tell him his travelling-buddy has to
stay outside, or invite Wodan to a feast and let him think that his
blood-brother is unwanted.

In working with Loki today, it has been found that he is especially fond of
single-malt Scotch, and a shot of it poured out to him with the appropriate
request will often encourage him to fix whatever horrible thing he has done
to your life or your computer.

On the wilder edges of Ásatrú, there exists a disorganization by the name
"Friends of Loki" - a sort of Norse Discordianism, frequently manifesting
via computer. "The Friends of Loki are known for strict dogmas,
coordination, hierarchy, organizational rules, orthodoxy, and respect for
the staider and socially oriented aspects of mainstream Ásatrú. Not!"

But perhaps the most truly Lokean blessing/curse was not first spoken by
any Germanic folk, but by the Chinese: "May you live in interesting times!"
Whether this is a blessing or a curse...just depends on how well you get on
with Loki.


Bill Bainbridge

Alice Karlsdóttir

J.S. Pereira

Lew Stead

Paul Stigård

and very special thanks to Grendel Grettisson for "Friends of Loki", and to
all the folk from Trothline who had their say in the long-running and often
rather warm "Loki" discussion.

Chapter XII

Balder (Baldr, Bealdor)

The greatest secret of the North is a secret that only two know: "What did
Óðinn say - before he climbed on bale-fire - into the ear of his son?" With
that question as the last one of the riddle-game, Óðinn showed himself
forth to both the etin Vafþrúðnir and the human hero Heiðrekr, winning the
games and setting the dooms of his opponents. Wodan and Balder: they know
the rune that is hidden from all others, the eighteenth song of Hávamál
which Wodan will not tell.

Snorri tells us that Balder is the fairest and most beloved of the gods. He
is the heir to the Ases' Garth, the son of Wodan and Frija - but was doomed
to an early death. Snorri's version of Balder's death is one of the
best-known tales of the North: how, after Frija had gotten everything in
the worlds except the little mistletoe to swear not to harm him, the gods
played a game in which they tossed weapons at Balder. Meanwhile, Loki, in
the shape of an old woman, had gotten the secret out of Frija and cut an
arrow of mistletoe, putting it in the hand of the blind god Höðr and aiming
it at Balder. After Balder's death, Hella said that she would let him go if
everything in the worlds would weep - and this happened, except for one
giantess named Thokk, who, Snorri tells us, was Loki in disguise. However,
according to Völuspá, Baldr and Höðr (who was slain in revenge by Váli, the
son that Óðinn had gotten for that one deed) shall come back when the world
is reborn after Ragnarök and rule in Óðinn's place.

Saxo Grammaticus has a different version of the story. As he tells it,
Balder was an aggressive, highly sexed warrior who competed with Höðr (not
blind in this version) for a woman. One day, Höðr came on the house of some
"forest-maids" (generally thought to be walkurjas) who told him that they
decided the outcome of war by their invisible deeds in battle, and warned
him not to attack Baldr. Höðr then learned that there was but one sword
that would kill Balder, which could be found together with an armring that
would give wealth to its owner. After several adventures and struggle
between the two heroes, the "forest-maids" found Höðr again and told him he
would have to eat the magical food from which Baldr got his strength. Höðr
followed the three maidens who made the food and convinced them to give him
some of it, after which he was able to mortally wound Balder.

The story of Balder, especially as Snorri tells it, has often been thought
to have been influenced by christianity. This is almost certain in Snorri's
portrayal of the god: "He is the wisest of the Ases and most beautifully
spoken and most gentle, but it is one of his characteristics that none of
his decisions can be fulfilled". Snorri, in fact, gives us the image of a
beautiful, suffering, and rather passive god - very suspiciously like the
"White Christ". This is hardly consistent with the rest of what we know
about him. Like Freyr and Freyja, Balder is known to us only by a title
meaning "ruler" - a title which continued in ordinary Anglo-Saxon usage
and, less often, in Old Norse. The root of the word is probably "strength";
it may also be identical with the Old Norse adjective baldr - "daring,
courageous". His wife's name, Nanna, probably means, "the courageous" or
"the battle-joyful" (de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, p. 223). Although Saxo
is infamous for garbling his stories, as well as euhemerizing them, his
description of Balder as a warrior is likely to be closer to our forebears'
beliefs than is Snorri's pre-Christ. The tale of the Finnish legendary hero
Lemminkäinen was also probably influenced by or based on Balder's story
(Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion, pp. 117-18). Like Balder, Lemminkäinen
was slain with a weak reed or herb (cowbane) by a blind man. His mother,
too, sorrows after him and undergoes a great journey for his sake, but she
is more successful than Frija: she is able to put her son's body together
and bring him back to life. Lemminkäinen's chief characteristics are his
love for battle and his love for women, concerning both of which he is
notably successful: he is the very paradigm of the manly young hero, and it
is likely that Balder also shared this character.

Likewise in the heroic mode, Balder's dreams foretell his own doom. In
this, he closely resembles many (indeed, most) of the heroes of the North,
who typically dream their own deaths before the event comes about. The
description of these dreams in Saxo, where the goddess of the underworld
promises Balder her embraces, are particularly similar to Gísli's
death-foreboding dreams in which a dark dís claims him as her husband
(Gísla saga Súrssonar) and Glaumvor's dream of dead women beckoning to
Gunnarr, which foretells the doom of the Burgundian king ("Atlamál hin
groenlenzku"). In fact, Balder is particularly (one might even say fatally)
attractive to these dark and deathly goddesses. It is Balder whom Skaði
desires above all others, though it is not his wyrd to be claimed by her:
it is Hella who decks her hall and brews the beer for his welcome feast.

The earliest literary work we have which probably holds references to the
Balder story is the Anglo-Saxon "Dream of the Rood" (ca. 650-750), which
inverts the process demonstrated by Snorri. Although this poem was
ostensibly about Christ, many of its elements do not correspond to the
christian myth of the crucifixion. The poem's "Christ" is presented as a
strong young Germanic warrior undergoing a swift and violent heroic ordeal,
and Wyrd is in fact invoked to describe his doom: "that was a dreadful
Wyrd" (line 73). He is wounded, not with spear or nails, but "with arrows";
after his death, the whole of the world weeps, a detail which is elsewhere
only found in the Balder tale. It seems likely that the christian poet used
the story of Balder to transform his god from a meek figure undergoing a
shameful criminal's punishment to an heroic sacrifice of the sort for which
the Anglo-Saxons already had a model.

The image of Balder as a sacrifice is almost certainly native Germanic. In
Húsdrápa, which was written by the Heathen Úlfr Uggason in the tenth
century and shows no taint of christian influence, Balder is called the
"heilagr tafn" - the "holy sacrifice". The very word "tafn" was used only
for Heathen gifts to the god/esses; it could not be given a christian
interpretation after the conversion. It was most often used in skaldic
poetry as an internal rhyme for "hrafn" (raven), referring to the
battle-dead; the skaldic poet Helgi trausti Óláfsson specifically called
his slain foeman "Gaut's tafn" (Óðinn's sacrifice). The interpretation of
Balder's death as a holy, and probably Wodanic, sacrifice is also borne out
by the way in which it seems to appear on a number of bracteates of the
Migration Age, as spoken of later.

Balder's home is called "Breiðablik" (Broad-Gleaming), and it is said that
no feiknstafir (staves of harm) can come there, which de Vries reads as
speaking of Balder's invulnerability (Religionsgeschichte, p. 214). The god
Forseti (Fosite) is supposed to be his son. Balder was worshipped during
the Viking Age; several place-names in Sweden and Denmark are compounded
with his, including a "Balder's Mountain" and a "Balder's Cornfield".
Turville-Petre comments, however, that these names tell us little - only
that his cult does not seem to have been practised widely, that it might
have been connected with rocks and hills, and perhaps that there was an
element of fruitfulness to it (Myth and Religion, pp. 117-18). There is a
place-name Baldersbrønd (Balder's Spring) in Denmark, which Saxo mentions.
According to the Gesta Danorum, when Balder returned to shore after
defeating Höðr in a sea-battle, he pierced the earth to loose this spring
so that his tired soldiers could drink. This, as Stephan P. Schwartz has
pointed out (Poetry and Law in Germanic Myth, pp. 20-21), bears a close
resemblance to the Frisian legend of Fosite, and may well hint at a belief
in Balder, as well as Fosite, as a law-god (see the discussion under Fosite
in "Wuldor and Other Gods").

The "Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch" also mentions Balder:

"Phol and Wodan went to the wood.

Then Balder's horse sprained its foot.

Then chanted Sinthgunt, Sunna her sister;

then chanted Frija, Folla her sister,

then chanted Wodan, as well he knew how to.

Thus be the bone-sprain, thus be the blood-sprain, thus be the limb-sprain,

bone to bone,

blood to blood,

limb to limb:

thus be the binding".

There has been much academic argument about this charm, including the
question of whether "Balder" is meant as a personal name, or whether it is
a title for the god "Phol". If this charm has any meaning besides being the
common Indo-European healing charm with Germanic names plugged in, then the
interpretation which seems the most spiritually valid (though
Turville-Petre dismisses it as over-imaginative) is the idea that the
stumbling of Balder's horse on the way to the wood (presumably, to the holy
stead within a grove) was a sign of his coming death. The belief that the
stumbling of a horse was an ill sign was, indeed, very well known to our
forebears; and in his studies of bracteate-iconography (see below), Karl
Hauck has come to the conclusion that there is Migration Age pictoral
evidence for this reading of the charm.

The bracteate from Fakse (Denmark) has a central figure with a ring in his
left hand and a half-broken twig jutting downward from his solar plexus. He
stands in a half-marked enclosure. Behind him is a man with a spear; before
him is a man with wings who wears a feminine skirt and also holds a ring. A
bird of prey hovers above his head; there are two fish at the bottom of the
bracteate. On the bracteate from Beresina-Raum, the same grouping appears,
with the difference that the figure in feminine garb stands within the
semi-enclosure and holds the twig up; the shot has not yet been fired. The
one from Gummerup has the foremost figure holding a sword as well as a
ring; the twig is shooting overhead.

Karl Hauck, a German scholar who has specialized in bracteate iconography
for over forty years, has written extensively on these bracteates: his
conclusions can be summarized as follows. The spear-holding man is clearly
Wodan, the winged and cross-dressed figure Loki, and the man in the middle
Balder. Hauck interprets the ring which Balder holds as Draupnir, which
Wodan put on the funeral pyre, and suggests that here, it appears as the
symbol of Balder's sacrifice. As discussed in greater detail below, it is
possible that Höðr's part in the slaying was a later addition and that
Wodan originally had a more direct part in it; Hauck's interpretation is
that in the oldest version, which we see on the bracteates, Wodan gave his
son the ring while Balder was still alive, to mark him out for doom. The
enclosure, which appears in several variant forms, is especially
interesting: it seems to show a fence of some sort, and in the area from
which these bracteates stem, a number of place-names go back to an original
"Óðinn's enclosure", in which the particular term for "enclosure" seems to
describe a construction of wood ("Frühmittelalterliche Bildüberlieferung
und die organisierte Kult", p. 487). In Snorri's version of the story,
vengeance cannot be taken on Höðr at once because the slaying occured in a
holy place (griðastaðr, or "peace-stead"); this may also refer to a
specific holy enclosure. The bird of prey may represent, as Hauck has often
suggested, a baleful battle-wight whose appearance is a sign of Balder's
doom, or it may be one of Wodan's birds ready to claim its share of the
sacrifice; the fish which appear at the bottom of a couple of these
bracteates probably show the might of the Underworld where Balder,
according to the Norse sources, shall soon fare on his burning ship.

The variant forms of the Siegfried-story also offer a suspiciously close
correspondence to the tale of Balder's death. According to the German
Nibelungenlied, Siegfried had bathed in a dragon's blood and was therefore
invulnerable except for one spot on his back where a linden leaf had
fallen. Hagen found out from Siegfried's wife Kriemhild where that place
was, and speared Siegfried in the back as he bent to drink from a stream.
Both the invulnerability motif and the spearing are missing from the Norse
version - it might be suggested, because Balder was still known as a god in
the North at that time, but had long been suppressed in the south. In both
versions, however, the figure of Siegfried was very like that of Balder:
handsome and loved by all, the bravest of men and the best of warriors, but
doomed to die young in spite of all his strength and magical warding.
According to Continental tradition (the epic poem "Waltharius" and the
German source for Þiðreks saga), Hagen was also said to be one-eyed; and
his name means "hedge-thorn" (hawthorn), which is a wholly unlikely name
for a Germanic warrior (the popularity of the Old Norse name Högni was
based on this character's heroic role in the lays about the fall of the
Rhenish Burgundian kingdom). "Hagen", like "Helgi" and a few other names
which became common in the Viking Age, may well have originally been a
cultic title, referring to an enclosure like that in which the Balder of
the bracteates was sacrificed. The place-names Hauck cites also hint at the
possibility of a strong Wodan-identification for both the name and the
character. The spearing, of course, is typical for a Wodan-sacrifice; the
more so given the streamside location, since running streams were often
thought to be holy, and there is a particular connection between streams
and both Balder and his son Fosite.

The interpretation of Wodan as the chief mover in Balder's death rests on
several strong points. Firstly, the seemingly harmless missile weapon which
suddenly becomes deadly is characteristic for Wodan-sacrifices. In Gautreks
saga, Wodan gives Starkaðr a reed to thrust into King Víkarr at the mock
sacrifice which has been arranged. When Starkaðr does this, the reed
suddenly becomes a spear and the calf-gut around Víkarr's neck becomes a
strong rope. In Styrbjarnar þáttr, after King Eiríkr has sacrificed to
Wodan, the god gives him a reed to cast over Styrbjörn's army with the
words "Óðinn has you all!" He does this, and his foes are straightaway
struck blind. Wodan is also well-known for deeming the deaths of his chosen
heroes and his children. The list of heroes whom he blessed, only to have
them slain in the end, is long and enfolds both legendary and historical
warriors: Sigmundr the Völsung and Hrólfr kraki, Haraldr Hilditönn,
Heiðrekr, Eiríkr Blood-Axe and Hákon the Good, among others. Unlike the
rest, however, Balder does not take his place in Valhöll - it is not for
the last battle that Wodan wants him.

The name Höðr simply means "warrior"; and Wodan himself, as well as Bileygr
("weak-eyed") is also called Tvíblindi ("blind in both eyes"), and
Helblindi ("Hel-blind"). The figure of the blind warrior, then, is not hard
to read as Wodan himself, and this is how many scholars, including
Turville-Petre, de Vries, and Polomé, see him. However, the Beowulf poet
knew a version of the story in which Hathcyn slays his brother Herebeald;
if Beowulf is indeed to be dated to the late seventh/early eighth century,
this would show that Höðr was a part of the tale quite early. It is also to
be noted that Wodan seldom actually slays his own victims: he is the one
who deems their death, but leaves other hands to carry out his sacrifice.

De Vries (Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte) and Polomé (Essays on
Germanic Religion) both interpret Balder's death as an initiation ritual:
and surely a youth's passage through death to come back as man and ruler,
as Balder does, is one of the basic models of initiation. This can also be
compared to Wodan's initiation on the World-Tree: he dies, sinks down, and
returns more mighty than before. Balder's initiation, however, is far
longer-lasting, and may even have greater meaning for the worlds. Because
he does not join the warriors in Walhall, despite the fact that he has been
slain with a shooting-weapon and burned according to the usual practise of
Wodan's followers, he does not die at Ragnarök. Instead, he is in Hella's
safe keeping throughout the last battle, so that when the world is born
again, he can come back and take his father's place to make the might of
the gods great again. Balder's rebirth is also Wodan's rebirth, and Wodan's
great victory: but without death, as the Death-God himself knows, there can
be no rebirth. Balder's death has sometimes been read as a myth of
fruitfulness, but he has nothing to do with the fruitfulness of the fields.
Instead, his passage shows this process on the largest of all scales: the
falling and rising again of the cosmos. The worlds weep at Balder's death,
because they know that to be the sign of their doom as well, but we know
that this shall not last forever. Kveldulf Gundarsson suggests that this
lore is truly the secret which Wodan whispered in Balder's ear: the rune
eihwaz ("yew"), "the rune of the will which survives death and hidden within death as the fire is hidden within the rough,
cold bark of the yew...By this rune Baldr, hidden for a time in Hel's
protecting kingdom, is able to bring himself and Hodhr forth alive again
after Ragnarok" (Teutonic Magic, p. 103).

To Ásatrú, Balder is the seed of hope. Living, he is, like Siegfried, the
brave young hero who embodies all that is brightest within us. His
sacrifice ends the old age and brings the new to birth; as he waits in
Hella's halls for his rebirth, he reminds us that even Ragnarök cannot
destroy the might of the god/esses nor the best of what they, and we, have
wrought. In this new time, we may also think on the fact that it was
Siegfried's story which has saved more of the old lore, in poetry and
prose, than the legend of any other hero, and the same story that has
kindled the widest-reaching works of Teutonic art in this age: Siegfried's
deeds and early death have wrought much the same work for Heathendom among
the folk that Balder's early death will wreak for the god/esses, so that
the hero may well be seen as a reflection of the god.

Balder is less a god to be called on for help than one to be loved,
remembered, and toasted at symbel. There are no hints in the lore of our
forebears of him doing anything for humans: his might is not in what he
does, but in the promise of what he is and shall become. It is particularly
fitting to remember him at the four great feasts of the year: at
Midsummer's, when the Sun stands at her height and our thoughts turn to the
deeds of the bright young heroes and heroines; at Winternights, when the
world turns towards darkness and cold; at Yule, when the dead are closest
to the land of the living and only the evergreens show that life shall
spring forth again; and at Ostara, when we may most hope that the
brightness of the land's rebirth shall be echoed again in the bright
rebirth of the worlds after Ragnarök.

The plants holy to Balder are the ox-eye daisy and white flowers of the
same family, which are called "Balder's Brow"; the name is also given to
the chammomile. The linden and the mistletoe bear the obvious association
with the god, especially the latter: the "mist-twig" is the plant that
opens the way into the underworld, as it did for Balder, but it may also be
seen as the plant that will open his way back out again.

Balder's colour is white; gold may also be fitting to him.

"Siegfried's Funeral March" from Götterdämmerung is fitting music for
remembering Balder's death, the more so since Wagner quite deliberately
subsituted Siegfried for Balder in his version of the fall of the old world
and the dawning of the new.


Stephan Grundy

Diana Paxson

Chapter XIII

Frija and Other Goddesses

"Motherly Frigga, you who miss Balder,

you who bear the world's woe in your embrace,

You who comfort Odin, you who nourish all things..."

(Grieg, Edvard, from the operatic fragment Olav Tryggvason)

Frija (Frigg, Frige, Fricka, *Frijjo)

Except for Hella, Frija was (so far as we know) the most widely known of
the early Germanic goddesses. Her name appears in Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon,
and on the continent; as chief among the goddesses, it was her name that
was used for the sole feminine weekday as a translation for "Venus" - from
which we get the modern English "Friday". She is Wodan's wife not only in
the Old Norse materials, but in the Continental Origio gentum
Langobardorum, where she likewise uses her wits to trick him into giving
victory to the menfolk of a woman who had prayed to her for help.

Frija's background before her wedding to Wodan is almost unknown. In
Lokasenna she is called "Fjörgynn's maid", but nothing is told of Fjörgynn
himself. He may be a manly twin to the womanly Fjörgyn - a name which is
given to Thonar's mother Earth. In this case, it is possible that Frija
herself, like many of the goddesses and mothers of gods, was firstly one of
the etin-kin. However, it is also possible that Fjörgynn was an earlier
Germanic god, whose borrowed name survived among the Baltic peoples as the
god Perkunas and perhaps as a Gothic *Faírguneis. The name may be related
to a word for "oak"; the Baltic Perkunas was a thunder-god, so that
Fjörgynn/*Faírguneis might well have been a forerunner of Thonar (Karl
Helm, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II, pp. 40-41). The problem is
made more complicated by the fact that the word usually interpreted here as
daughter, "mær", can also mean "wife" or even perhaps "lover", which
readings may even be more likely, given that Loki is using the description
to start off an attack on Frija's chastity.

Frija's own name comes from an Indo-European root meaning "beloved", and is
probably related to the modern English word "frig" through this root,
though neither is derived from the other. De Vries also mentions the
possibility that the goddess' name could derive from the Germanic frî-,
encompassing the meaning of "belonging to the sib, protected"
(Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II, p. 305), which seems more
characteristic of the goddess.

Of all the goddesses, Frija is the most motherly. In his lament
"Sonatorrek", Egill Skalla-Grímsson uses the kenning "Frigg's descendants"
as a general term for all the dwellers in the Ases' Garth; she is the
closest thing to an All-Mother the Northern folk know. When she appears in
myth, her works are twofold: to care for and protect her children or
favourites, and to keep the bonds of society strong. In this she is often
set against Wodan, who has his own favourites and who is little concerned
with the bonds of society.

Although Frija is a goddess of social order, she is sometimes accused of
unfaithfulness to Wodan. In Gesta Danorum, Saxo accuses her of submitting
to a servant's embraces in order to get him to take the gold from the
statue of "Othinus" for her own jewelry, whereupon the god departs in a fit
of pique at the double insult to his image and his bed. Aside from Saxo's
obviously euhemeristic use of statues and servants, the basic idea -
Wodan's woman giving her body to someone of lesser status for jewelry - is
suspiciously similar to that of the Sörla þáttr account of Freyja sleeping
with the four dwarves for Brisingamen. This has sometimes been suggested to
imply that Frija and the Frowe were originally the same goddess. However,
Saxo does not seem to have known of Freyja's existence, and given his
tendency to moralize at every turn (especially about the gods) it is
unlikely that he could have left such a fruitful field as Freyja's
sexuality unploughed. Further, the reference to one deity despoiling the
shrine of another is almost certainly not authentic: whatever the original
mythological basis may have been, Saxo must have seriously altered it. It
seems likeliest that, if there is any relationship between the two myths,
Saxo simply attributed his highly diluted version of the story to the
goddess he knew as Óðinn's wife.

In Lokasenna, Loki accuses Frigg of sleeping with Óðinn's two brothers,
Vili and Vé. According to Ynglinga saga, Óðinn has been away so long that
his two brothers take his realm and Frija with it; in Saxo's Gesta Danorum,
it is told that the god was actually exiled by the other deities. In this
tale, Frija appears as the queen whose person is one and the same with
rulership: she is wedded to the god who holds the realm, whoever that may
be. Infidelity does not come into the question. Frija's association with
Venus, which has sometimes been used to support depictions of her as being
lustful and/or originally the same goddess as the Frowe, stems directly
from the Germanic translations of the weekdays, in which "Venus" was the
only goddess offered for translation; there is no reason to take it as
showing anything about Frija's character.

Frija has no direct battle-aspects - she does not, like the Frowe, go to
the battlefield to choose the slain - but she is able to ward those who do
go to fight, her blessings keeping them whole and safe. She can also bless
and ward one at the beginning of any dangerous faring, as she does for
Wodan at the beginning of Vafþrúðnismál with the words, "Heill
(holy/lucky/whole/healthy) fare you, heill come you back, / heill be you on
the way." One of her few by-names is Hlín, "Protectress". Under this name,
the linden, which was the wood used for Germanic shields, may be seen as
holy to her. Frija may also shape the turning of the battle by her spinning
from afar, and by the way in which she moves the warriors to go or stay. A
human reflection of this aspect appears in Laxdæla saga (ch. 49): the
heroine Guðrún, having brought her husband to kill her beloved Kjartan,
greets him after the deed with the words, "Great morning-work has taken
place today: I have spun twelve ells of yarn and you have slain Kjartan".
Her earthly spinning shows forth the way in which she has worked to spin
the dooms of the men around her, and perhaps (though this is not stated in
the saga) worked with the craft of her spinning to make sure the battle
went as she wished.

Frija's own dwelling-place is called "Fensalir", "Fen-Halls". This hints
that she may be one of the goddesses who was worshipped in the boggy and
marshy places of the northlands, and that gifts to her should be cast into
the waters. H.R. Ellis-Davidson mentions that "In Scandinavia, locks of
hair, gold rings, and various women's ornaments have been found at offering
places in use before the Viking Age, and also traces of flax, together with
instruments for beating it...but...such objects as cheese or bread would
leave little trace in earth and water" (Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe, p.
117). Though Frija is not one of the Wans, her might clearly overlaps with
theirs in this way.

Frija is a goddess of human fruitfulness, called upon for the getting and
bearing of children. As the careful housewife and mother, who knows whether
children can be fed and clothed with the resources at hand or not, she
might also be called upon to lend her spiritual help to ensure the success
of earthly means of fertility control and family planning. Frija is never
spoken of as making the fields fruitful - her realm is within the walls,
the realm of the home and hearth and all those who dwell there. Her only
tie to agricultural fruitfulness comes through her Continental shape as
Perchte/Holda/Fru Gode, leader of the Wild Hunt (together with Wodan).
Although Frija is not a goddess of riches in general, those who want help
in buying a house, making home repairs, or taking care of their families
would likely do well to call upon her.

Frija's magic is that of spinning and weaving, which were deeply important
to the Northern folk; and it is through this craft that her deeper ways may
most easily be learned. The woman's spindle was the weapon matching the
man's sword, for it was a tool of great might with which the wise spinner
could wreak long-lasting weal or woe, and the Spindle is as much Frija's
sign as the Hammer is Thonar's or the spear Wodan's.

The Eddas do not mention Frigg as a spinner, but the Swedish name
"Friggerock", Frigg's Spindle (or Distaff), for the constellation which
southerners named "Orion's Belt", shows very clearly that spinning was one
of this goddess' greatest works. In this connection, de Vries also mentions
the Norwegian belief that chains may not be cut through on a Friday
("Frigg's Day") because this will make the weaving unsuccessful
(Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II, p. 304). Frigg's working as spinner
and weaver ties in with her character as the one who "knows all ørlög /
though she says it not herself" (Lokasenna 30). In this way, her spinning
is very like that of the Norns.

In German folklore, spinning is one of the greatest border-deeds - a deed
of might which draws the sight of the great holy ones. This is especially
the case in regards to the southern German goddess Perchte or Berchte ("the
Bright One"), who, as spoken of below, is likely to be Frija herself. This
goddess makes sure that spinners work hard during the year, but leave off
on the eve of the Yule-season's twelfth day. In Teutonic Mythology (I,
274-275) Grimm quotes Börner's Folktales of the Orlagau for several
instances in which Perchta has been offended and gives the offenders empty
reels to fill in an hour's time. Interestingly, she is easily satisfied -
in one case, with tow-wrapped reels over which a few lengths of thread have
been spun; in a second, with a few rounds spun on each reel and cast into
the brook that ran past the house. What matters most here is clearly the
holy act of spinning as a gift to the goddess, which restores the frith
between herself and humans. As with Frigg in Norse mythology, the German
spinning goddess appears as the enforcer of the social norms which also
strengthen the oneness of the Middle-Garth with the other realms of being:
the needful work of the year and the needful rest and rejoicing of the
Weihnachten (German "Holy Nights" are alike in worth, and the one who
flouts either gains the wrath of the goddess. The German Holda is said to
be the giver of flax to humans, who taught us the crafts of spinning and
weaving. Grimm tells us that, "Industrious maids she presents with
spindles, and spins their reels full for them over night; a slothful
spinner's distaff she sets on fire, or soils it...When she enters the land
at Christmas, all the distaffs are well stocked, and left standing for her;
by Carnival, when she turns homeward, all spinning must be finished off,
and the staffs are now kept out of her sight" (Teutonic Mythology, I,

As the spinner, Frija appears in Austria under the thinly Christianized
guise of "St. Lucy" or Spillelutsche, "Spindle-Lucia", who, like Perchte,
punishes those who have not spun during the year or have spun on her chosen
feast-days. This "santeria"-identification of Frija and Lucy appears also
to have been applied in Denmark, where St. Lucy's Night (December 13) was
both a night of oracles and the night on which the year's spinning should
cease (Liutman, Traditionswanderungen Euphrat-Rhein II, 652-57). In Sweden,
the prettiest girl of the house traditionally appeared as "Lussi" or the
"Lussi-Bride" between 1 and 4 AM on Lucy Day. The chosen maid, dressed in
white with a red scarf and a crown decorated with crow-berries and nine
burning candles, would walk among the men to wake them up with a
life-bringing drink of gløgg (spirits with herbs, honey, syrup, or sugar,
sometimes set on fire); or she might bring that very holy Scandinavian
drink of new times - coffee - and pastries (Feilberg, Jul I, p. 169). As
Ostara brings light and life to the outside world at her feast, the bringer
of light and life to the household in the depths of winter is likeliest to
be Frija, the keeper of the home and the fires of the hearth.

A figure which may be Frija the Spinner also appears on several bracteates:
on the bracteate from Oberweschen, she holds a full-wound drop-spindle; on
the bracteates from Welschingen and Gudme II, she holds something that may
be a distaff.

As both spinner and mother, Frija may also be seen as the queen of that
host of lesser "norns", or idises, who set the ørlög of a child at birth.
Though Freyja's name "Vanadís" ("Idis of the Wans") has led many to think
of her as the chief of the idises, it seems more likely that this is
Frija's role, as these womanly ghosts are basically motherly wights and
work for their children in the ways that are most usual for Frija (see

German folklore does not mention Frija, but the names Perchte/Berchte and
Holda ("the Gracious One") sound suspiciously like titles given to the
goddess to keep from speaking her name - either from christian suppression
or from fear of drawing the attention of her wilder side. "Holda" is
especially likely to be a title, as both "holde" and "unholde" were used in
Middle High German as generic terms for, respectively, well- and
ill-meaning spirits. These figures of German folklore have much in common
with the Frija we know from Norse myths. Their social function and role as
spinners has already been spoken of. Like Frija, they have watery homes:
the German Holda is particularly said to dwell in wells or lakes, and
newborn babies are supposed to be fetched out of "dame Holle's pond". Both
Holda and Berchte make their rounds with the ghosts of unborn or young
children in their train, which also fits in well with Frija's role as the
Northern mother-goddess.

The German folklore may also cast some light on sides of Frija that have
not survived in Norse myth - most particularly, her place in the Wild Hunt.
On the Continent, the Hunt is not only led by Wodan or Wod, but by Holda,
Perchte, or "Frau Gode" (Mrs. Wode) - Wodan's wife. Here the goddess
appears in her wildest shape, swinging her whip as the folk run masked and
screaming through the fields with the ghosts running among them. The ritual
elements of the Wild Hunt/Perchtenlauf are spoken of under "Yule". For now,
it is enough to say that here, we may also see Frija, not only as Wodan's
quiet spouse and homemaker, but also as his female counterpart in all the
wild rites of the Yule season, when all the year's spinning is done and she
has put off her apron and unbound the ties of ordinary life for the
appointed time.

All workings having to do with home and hearth fall under Frija's rule. The
most ordinary tasks such as cooking and cleaning are holy to her, and a
well-made meal or a well-scrubbed kitchen are sure to bring her blessing.
She is also the one who brings frith and joy within the wedding: Friday,
though it is thought unlucky for most things in Germanic folklore (perhaps
because Christianity was particularly hostile towards goddesses?) was still
thought the best of days for a marriage. Indeed, we see that even when
Frija strives against Wodan, it is not by force that she wins her will, but
by subtle workings.

The birch is the tree which Ásatrúar most associate with Frija. In Northern
folklore, this tree is seen as a fair white maiden for reasons which should
be clear. It is used for cleansing both body and soul, especially in the
sauna. In Leaves of Yggdrasil, Freya Aswynn mentions that in Holland,
naughty children got birch branches from "St. Nick" (who goes about in a
big cloak with a staff and a wide hat in that country); and birch branches
were also placed above the door of a newly-wed-couple's house to bless them
with fruitfulness (pp. 68-69). Dianne Ross suggests that in our times,
runic inscriptions invoking the Birch Goddess could be carved into limbs
and the limbs tied to the child's crib or stick horse.

Other trees which may be associated with Frija are linden ("basswood" in
America), as told above, and beech, because its name "book-tree" links it
with the rune perthro, the well of Wyrd, and Frija's role as a seeress. Her
herbs are motherwort, mugwort, yarrow, and all those herbs which work on
the female system and organs. Flax has already been spoken of; we will mark
that linseed oil is often applied to runic talismans after the runes have
been carved and reddened, suggesting, again, the relationship between Wodan
and Frija. In Mecklenburg, on Woden's Day (Wednesday), all work in flax or
having to do with sewing or linseed was avoided, lest Woden's horse trample
it down!

Although there is no Norse record of any animals of Frija, the goose is
most associated with her in modern times. Dianne Ross has argued
convincingly for seeing the traditional "Mother Goose" as the last
reflection of Frija. The geese also had a special relationship with the
frowe of the hall: in "Sigurðarkviða hin skamma", it is told how Guðrún's
distress over Sigurðr's death was mirrored by the rattling of her cups in
the cupboards and the crying out of her geese. Wagner has Frija's wain
drawn by sheep or rams (Die Walküre), and suggests, "Sacrifice sheep for
Fricka, so that she will give a good marriage" (Götterdämmerung). Since the
sheep is the source of the spinner's wool, it seems reasonable to see it as
tied to Frija's might in much the same way as flax is. The cow, the source
of milk and life from early days, might also be associated with Frija. Milk
is surely the drink most traditionally given to the little wights of the
home, and in modern times, it has been found that Frija herself may be
toasted and blessed with milk just as well as with alcohol (unlike her
husband, say...).

Colours associated with Frija in Ásatrú practise today are light blue and
white. Several folk have felt in modern times (independently of one
another) that her favourite jewels are made of silver and polished rock
crystal, a combination of which many women of the Migration and Viking Ages
were certainly fond. Many Germanic women of the Migration Age also went
about with a sphere of silver-framed rock crystal dangling from the front
of their belts; the center of that fashion seems to have been the
Rhineland, though they are common in Alamannia and have been found as far
south as the Lombardic area of Northern Italy and eastward to Hungary.
These crystal balls were often worn cradled in the bowl of a (often
perforated) silver spoon (Owen-Crocker, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, p.
58). It is generally accepted that they were amulets of some sort, perhaps
used for scrying; the specific identification of them with Frija is based
on modern intuition, extrapolation from her role as a seeress, and the fact
that these amulets were also a particular mark of womanly status.

Although there is no historical evidence for it, those who wish a ritual
gesture to use as a sign for Frija (as the walknot is traced for Wodan, the
Hammer for Thonar, or the sun-wheel for the Wans) might use a spiral to
symbolize the turning and winding of the spindle.

Together with Frija, there are the many goddesses whom Snorri lists in the
Prose Edda. Some seem to be handmaidens or hypostases of Frigg; others
appear independently. Very little is known about these goddesses except the
names which Snorri gives us; however, more and more work is being done with
them now to rewin the lore which is lost forever from the sources our
forebears left us. This would not be acceptable in academic or re-enactment
circles, but our troth is not a matter of pure historical recreation: it is
a living and growing religion.


Sága is mentioned in Grímnismál 7 as having one of the great halls in
God-Home, Sökkvabekkr ("Sunken Benches"), where "cold waves ripple above;
there Óðinn and Sága drink through all days, glad, out of golden cups".
This hall has often been compared to Frija's Fen-halls - especially since
Fensalir is not mentioned in the Grímnismál list - and Sága herself taken
as another side of Frigg. She has her own personality, however. Her name is
not the same word as the Icelandic "saga", but it is closely related; she
is clearly the goddess of story-telling, who remembers old tales. It is
meaningfull that her hall is underwater: the streams of the Well of Mímir
must flow around it.

There are some who think that Sága is likely to be the patron goddess of
Iceland, where all the songs and stories of Scandinavia were written down
and kept safe through the many years to our time. It is sure that she has
been kinder to Iceland than any other deity has been in the last few
centuries; her gifts have been their greatest comfort and their greatest

Those who wish help in writing stories should call on Sága and Wodan
together, filling two golden cups with mead and sipping from one in one
deity's name while leaving the other cup for the other.


Eir (also Iær, Aer) is mentioned once by Snorri and appears once in
Svipdagsmál. Snorri tells us that she is "the best of healers"; in
Svipdagsmál, she is one of the maidens on a mountain called "Lyfja" ("to
heal through magic" - de Vries,Wörterbuch, p. 369 ), of which it is said
that it "has long been a pleasure for the sick and wounded; every woman
will become whole if she climbs it, though she has a grievous illness". The
other women also have names suggesting works of weal, such as "Hlíf"
("Protection"), "Blíð" ("Blithe"), and Fríð ("beautiful, peaceful") and it
is said of them that they offer help to those who sacrifice to them.

According to de Vries (Wörterbuch, p. 97), Eir's name is originally derived
from words meaning "honour" or "worship" (related to modern German Ehre);
it is lso seen as the Old Norse noun eir, "graciousness - mildness - help".
Related to it is the verb eira, "to care for; to help or please". There is
also a word eir meaning "copper"; though this word is not etymologically
related to the goddess-name, the healing might of copper rings and
bracelets has long been known in folk-medicine, so that this metal might
well be thought of as particularly hers.

More and more folk are becoming interested in Eir, and surely her healing
might is much needed in the world today. Eir is clearly the particular
patron of all those who work with any form of health-care or healing, but
anyone who needs healing should call on her. KveldúlfR Gundarsson's
personal opinion is that Eir is likely to be a goddess who prefers the
gentler and slower "alternative" methods of healing, such as aromatherapy,
herbalism, and massage, together with emotional counselling and balancing;
that her way of healing only uses the more drastic medical means such as
surgery and antibiotic treatments in acute cases when the condition is too
dangerous or extreme for the patient to heal safely without intervention,
and even then, the greatest care is given to such things as nutrition and
the patient's spiritual and emotional state. Gefjon mentions that Eir is by
no means a foe of technology when it is rightly applied - all healing tools
belong to her - but her focus is on prevention more than cure, care and
tending to encourage natural healing rather than unnecessary drastic
intervention (as opposed to the necessary sort, of which she is also the

As much of the healing lore of our forebears was magical, we may well guess
that Eir is a patroness of such magic - that her charms work on the soul
and mind as well as the body, to bring about truly holistic healing. As a
goddess who is both a spiritual and a physical healer, Eir is especially
good to call on for those who need help in dealing with addictions.

Eir must also have been thought of as something of a shaman, since the
Anglo-Saxon charm spells show us that many sicknesses were considered to be
the workings of alfs, dwarves, witches, or even the Ases (Storms,
Anglo-Saxon Magic); in fact, the word "elf-shot" is known in all the
Germanic languages, and Hexenschuss, "witch-shot", is still used in rural
Bavaria to describe serious pains in the bones and joints. The healer was
one who knew not only the plants to help with such a sickness, but the way
to magically prepare them and apply them so as to drive out the evil wights
or the "shots" they had left in the patient's body - and who was able to
deal with health-threatening wights in the soul-world as well as working in
the Middle-Garth.

Gefjon (craftswoman of Gefjon's Arðr) adds, from her own work with Eir and
her understanding of the goddess, that Eir does not see death as a great
foe, nor life at all cost as a prize. She is a goddess of natural
processes, which include the loosing given by death when the due time
comes. Her care is less for length of life than for its quality.

The priestess Siegróa Lyfjasgyðja has worked with Eir (using the altered
spelling Iær) and gotten much lore from her through trance and inspiration.
Such lore must stand on its own worth; some may choose to heed it and some
may not. It is certainly the only way left to find out more than the small
scatterings which have survived from the time of our forebears, but of
course, care must be taken to be sure that the myth-making or -discovering
of today does not cloud our view of that which we know from the past. It
must also be remembered that the god/esses have many aspects, and may
appear in one way to one person and a different way to another. Both
visions and understandings are equally true, and neither stands as the
total definition of the deity.

According to Siegróa's personal revelations, Iær is an elder goddess, born
from the ninth teat of the cow Auðumla, and the first of midwives who
helped at the birth of the Æsir. She was once in conflict with the male
gods, a conflict resolved by the works of Sif; she is now especially
championed by Thonar and Höðr (on whom she has bestowed personal favours.
As a Goddess of Healing, she cannot take revenge or become involved in
bloodshed. To obtain the protection she could not afford Herself, she took
refuge with Frigga and her women and lent Frigga her energies in Healing
and wortcunning. She may be called upon when there is need, for she will
never stint her aid to any, be they thrall or thane, Æsir or Overlord; and
asks the same of her priestesses. Siegróa says that Iær wishes her
priestesses to be chaste to aid the flow of the healing energies, and wants
them to abstain from the flesh of animals, milk, alcohol, and fruit when
they call upon her; also to be cleansed with smoke and sauna. Her
healing-lore, as she has shown it forth, is especially concerned with the
use of runes and herbs. Iær's holy colour is green; her runes are Berkano,
Laguz, and Uruz, and her priestesses also wear Kenaz as light-bearers. Cows
are especially holy to her, as is the raven; she seems also to have some
connection with the birch-tree. Siegróa sees the goddess herself as being
dressed in a dalmatic of white brocade, adorned with ropes of pearls and
sometimes amber. Gefjon also sees green and white as her colours.

Both Gefjon and Siegróa perceive Eir as being somewhat slow to speak,
though for different reasons. Certainly she seems to be a goddess who has
little patience with needless jabber, who communicates only when she has
something important to say - who, like Frija, watches in silent wisdom much
of the time.

The runes which Gefjon feels to be closely tied with Eir are Laguz and


Gefjon is less well-known than Frija or the Frowe, but better-known than
most of the goddesses. Snorri opens the "Gylfaginning" section of the Prose
Edda with the story of how the Swedish king Gylfi rewarded a wandering
woman who had entertained him with as much land as four oxen could plough
in a day and a night. The woman, however, was the goddess Gefjon. From the
north in Etin-Home, she brought four oxen who were the sons of herself and
an etin, and set them before the plough, ploughing out the ring of land
which is now the island Zealand. This tale dates back at least to the early
part of the Viking Age, as Snorri quotes a fragment of it one of the first
known skaldic poets, Bragi inn gamli. Gefjon is the patroness of Zealand,
and near the statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen stands a huge
fountain which shows the goddess whipping her four oxen onward, with water
frothing around their feet and great bronze serpents writhing before them.
In the version of the story which Snorri tells in Ynglinga saga, he adds
that after this, Gefjon married Óðinn's son Skjöldr and they dwelt at
Lejre, which is the ancestral seat of the kings of Denmark. Here, we may
perhaps see the idea that the king is wedded to the goddess of the land -
though Skjöldr himself (the same figure who is called Scyld Scefing in
Beowulf) is as much an ancestor-god as a king. In Lokasenna 20, Loki also
accuses Gefjon of laying her limbs over "the white youth who gave (her) a
piece of jewelry".

Despite all this, Snorri also tells us that Gefjon "is a maiden and is
attended by those who die maidens". The word maiden (ON mær) does not
necessarily mean a virgin, but rather a young woman (mær can also mean
"daughter" or even "wife"); there is no evidence that the Norse placed
special value on virginity. Gefjon is clearly the goddess of young and shy
women, however: in the Völsa þattr section of Óláfs saga hins helga, the
young farmer's daughter, when she must take up the dried horse phallus
Völsi, swears that "by Gefjon and the other goddess, I take the ruddy
phallus because I must". It may seem strange to think of a goddess of
fruitfulness as also the goddess of unmarried women; but a woman of the age
between puberty and marriage embodies all the potential fruitfulness of
which Gefjon, as a land-goddess and plough-goddess, is the warder and
tender. It seems likely that she is the goddess who sees to it that women
are not wedded before they are ready to be wives and mothers, or involved
with men against their will; she is particularly the warder of teenaged
maidens through all the difficulties young women face. She must also have
been seen as a virgin herself at times; Mundal points out that "In
translations of Latin legends the name Gefjun is rather consistently used
to translate the name of the Roman goddess Diana" and suggests that she was
much more important, at least in the last phase of paganism, than the
literary sources seem to show ("Gods and Goddesses with Reference to the
Female Divinities", p. 309).

Gefjon is also a seeress: in Lokasenna 21, Óðinn says of her that "I know
that she knows all ancient ørlögs just as well as I do".

The name Gefjon means "the giver", and is very like one of Freyja's heiti,
Gefn. As a plough-goddess, she is surely a goddess of fruitfulness;
Turville-Petre and Ellis-Davidson both compare her ploughing to the
Anglo-Saxon plough-charm which begins "Erce, Erce, Erce, mother of Earth".
Today, she is sometimes thought to embody the might of woman as the first
source of food and life, perhaps being the Norse reflection of the
archetype which the Celts expressed as the ever-full cauldron of food and
drink. Although there is no similar cauldron in Germanic myth (with the
possible exception of the one in Valhöll where the flesh of the
ever-regenerating boar is seethed every day for the einherjar), the name
Ketill (manly)/Katla (womanly), "kettle" or "cauldron", was very common
among the Norse, and was probably of magico-religious origin: the manner of
cooking sacrifices at the holy feasts was always by seething in a cauldron
(see "Things and their Meanings"). The image of the ever-full cauldron
might perhaps also be read from the name of Fulla (below).


According to Snorri, Fulla "is a maiden and fares loose-haired and with a
gold band around her head; she bears Frigg's casket and looks after her
shoes and stockings and knows secret rede with her." In its list of
magically-skilled god/esses, the Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch tells us,
"then chanted Frija and Fulla her sister"; it seems that Fulla held a
higher place in earlier knowledge than with Snorri. Snorri also mentions
particularly, however, that the gifts Baldr's wife Nanna sent to the Ases'
Garth from Hel included a linen robe and many gifts for Frija, and
finger-gold for Fulla", so Fulla's special place beside Frija had not been
wholly forgotten.

Her name, just as it seems, means "full", suggesting that she is a goddess
of riches and fruitfulness. It can also be read as stemming from the Old
Norse word for "cup" (full), hinting that she may be the bearer of a cup or
cauldron. As the bearer of Frija's casket, she is responsible for the
jewels of the other goddess - and, if the life of the god/esses mirrored
human norms, as is thought likely, she would also be responsible for the
gold and blessings which Frija wishes to give.

Frija's other women

Of the rest of the goddesses listed by Snorri, we know nothing except what
he tells us. Sjöfn "greatly cares to turn the thoughts of humans to love,
of men and maids; from her name affection is called sjafni...Lofn, she is
so mild and good to call on, that she gets leave from All-Father or Frigg
for folk to come together, women and men, although it is banned or denied.
Vár, she listens to the oaths of humans and private speech which is
contracted between women and men; for this reason these speeches are called
"varar"; she also revenges those which are broken...Vör, she is both wise
and enquiring, so that no part may be hidden from her; there is a saying,
that a woman becomes aware (vör) of something, when she learns of
it....Syn, she keeps the doors of the hall, and locks them before those who
should not go in, and she is set as a defender at the Thing, before those
speeches which someone wants to prove untrue. For this reason there is that
saying, that a denial (syn) is set before that which someone wishes to say
no to...Hlin, she is set to protect those humans who Frigg will save from
certain dangers; for that reason there is a saying, that whoever saves
himself finds a refuge (hleinir)...Snotra, she is wise and prudent; and
from her whoever is wise, woman or man, is called snotr...Gná, Frigg sends
her through various worlds on her errands. She has a horse, which runs over
air and water, which hight Hófvarpnir (Hoof-Tosser). From Gná's name it is
said, that that towers (gnæfi) which fares high up."

In modern times, Syn is seen as dressed in gray, with either a broom or a
sword; for clear reasons, women often call on her as a warder in magical
workings and for protecting their homes.

Hlin is given as a name for Frija herself in Völuspá, and is clearly an
aspect of the goddess.

Snotra is now thought to be especially concerned with manners and proper
behavior, and is good to call on when there is a chance that a feast might
get too rowdy.

Gná, the ærial messenger, is the goddess to call on to make sure that
important items sent by airmail get to their destination on time.


Iðunn is well known as the keeper of the apples of youth, which she feeds
to the god/esses to keep them young and strong. The only tale of her is the
one recounted in the skaldic poem Haustlöng (ca. 900) and the Prose Edda.
To redeem himself from the clutches of the etin Thjazi (father of Skaði -
see "Skaði, Gerðr, and other Etin-Brides"), Loki lures her out of the Ases'
Garth and Thjazi, in eagle-shape, swoops down and snatches her. Without
her, the god/esses quickly begin to fade; but they hold a meeting and find
out that Iðunn was last seen with Loki, from whom they eventually get the
truth. Loki then borrows the Frowe's falcon-coat and goes to find Iðunn,
changing the goddess and her apples into a nut and flying away with them.
Thjazi, as an eagle, pursues him, buffeting Loki with the wind from his
wings. When Loki lands in the Ases' Garth, the other gods set a fire on the
walls which singes Thjazi's wings and forces him to earth so that he can be

Iðunn is clearly the embodiment of the might of new life, that which keeps
the worlds strong and fruitful - a trait she shares with the other
goddesses desired by etin-men, the Frowe and Sif. Her very name either
means "the renewing one" or "the active one" (de Vries, Wörterbuch p. 283);
a related word, "iðiagroenn" (renewed-green), is used for the new-born
Earth after Ragnarök (Völuspá 59). Her tale is close in many ways to the
"Spring Goddess" model of Gerðr, Menglöð, and Sigrdrífa: the shining hero
must pass into Etin-home, defy or slay an etin, and cross a ring of fire to
claim the maid. Some may raise their eyebrows at the idea of Loki as
"shining hero", but not only is he likely to be a fire-being, but he
actually seems to symbolically take Balder's place in the following tale of
Thjazi's daughter Skaði. Turville-Petre also compares Loki's theft of Iðunn
to Óðinn's theft of the mead of poetry (Myth and Religion, p. 187).

Both apples and nuts are signs, not merely of fruitfulness, but
specifically of life springing forth again from death: their meaning of is
spoken of more fully in the chapter "Things and Meanings".

Today, Iðunn is called on specifially as the goddess whose might brings the
elder Troth forth "iðiagroenn"; for this reason, a form of her name is used
for the Ring of Troth's official magazine, Idunna.

Colours associated with Iðunn are gold and light green.


Sif is the wife of Thonar, the mother of Wulþur (by an unknown father) and
Trude. Snorri mentions in his prologue to his Edda that her parents are not
known, but she is a prophetess. This probably comes from his false
etymology of "Sif" as being derived from the Classical "Sibyl", but it is
not unlikely that she, like other goddesses such as Frija and Gefjon, may
also be a seeress.

Sif is best known for her long gold hair, around which the one myth in
which she appears - Loki's cropping of it and the forging of the treasures
of the gods - centers. It is often thought that her golden hair is the
embodiment of the fields of grain, which, when ripe, look very much like
long golden hair rippling in the breeze; in England, it used to be thought
that the summer lightning was needed for the crops to ripen, which speaks
of the relationship between Sif and Thonar.

It is worth marking that in saga descriptions of women as attractive, the
one physical feature which seems to define beauty is the woman's hair (most
ideally, long, straight, golden hair such as Sif's) - other bodily
characteristics are almost never mentioned. For instance Helga in fögr (the
fair) is described with many superlatives as the fairest woman of Iceland,
but the only thing said about her actual looks is that her hair was so long
that she could completely wrap herself in it and was as fair as gold
(Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, ch. 4). Aside from that, descriptions of a
saga-woman's physical beauty were wholly confined to her clothing (Jochens,
Jenny, "Before the Male Gaze: the Absence of the Female Body in Old
Norse"). Sif, with her gold hair, can thus be seen as the fairest of the
goddesses and the very embodiment of the Norse ideal of female
attractiveness. More than this, we know that hair was a very meaningful
sign of both life-force and holiness among the Germanic peoples: for a man,
it was particularly the emblem of a king, priest, or one dedicated to the
god/esses; for a woman, it was the very symbol of her being. When Loki
crops Sif's hair, it is not only an unmatched insult, it is an attack
against the life-force of the Ases' Garth similar to the theft of Iðunn or
the offering of Freyja in marriage to an etin: Sif's hair, Iðunn's apples,
and the Frowe's womb are all embodiments of the same might. It may be
significant that the etin Hrungnir, when boasting in the halls of the gods,
threatens to carry away Freyja and Sif for himself; it is these goddesses
(and perhaps Sif's daughter Trude, as spoken of below) that draw the
interest of the manly wights of the Outgarth. Loki also expresses a certain
claim to Sif in Lokasenna, saying that he has slept with her (and, again,
no one can tell him that he is simply lying); it is not impossible that his
cropping of her hair could have been a way of boasting of this deed.

It has also been suggested that Loki's deed could, on a natural level, be
seen in the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, and there may be some
truth in this, though we must remember that it is this world which mirrors
the worlds of the gods, not their world which is explained simply by
happenings in ours.

The rowan is probably Sif's tree: as mentioned in "Thonar", we know that
the Lappish version of the thunder-god, Hora galles or "Þórr Karl", had a
wife named "Rowan", to whom the tree's red berries were holy, and that Þórr
clung to this tree against the flood of Geirröðr's daughter. Turville-Petre
concludes from this that, "Probably the wife of Thór was once conceived in
the form of a rowan, to which the god clung", also making reference to the
special reverence given to this tree from the settlement of Iceland to the
present day (Myth and Religion, p. 98). We may also note that the rowan is
first crowned with white - "fair" blossoms, then loses them, but in their
stead gets bright red berries; since, as we will remember, the Germanic
people often spoke of gold as being "red", this could likewise be seen as
showing the cropping and replacement of Sif's hair. If Sif is indeed the
rowan-goddess, this sheds a little more light on her relationship with
Thonar and the way in which the two of them work together. The rowan is
first and foremost a tree of warding against all ill-willing magic and
wights of the Outgarth: next to the hallowing and battle-might of Thonar's
Hammer, we thus have the hallowing and magical might of Sif's rowan. The
two of them can be called on together as warders against all ill.

Sif is never seen as a warrior, nor are any weapons ever attributed to her,
despite the image put out by a certain popular comic-book.

Her name is related very closely to the word "sib", the kin-group. This
suggests that she is very much a deity of the clan and warder of the home
and family, just as her husband is.

Laurel Olson, who works closely with Sif, mentions that "She understands
grief and loss from personal experience and is understanding in the
extreme. She is (physical plane) wealth and prosperity, more so, I think,
than Freya. She says she sleeps in winter beneath a grey and white cloak
Frigga wove of rams' wool. She loves all things gold or golden coloured.
She favours spring green, sky blue, berry red, autumnal gold (as opposed to
yellow), and white.

As offerings she likes cooked barley with honey and butter, fresh berries
or berry strudel, and spring flowers. She also likes gold jewelry and amber

Trude (Þrúðr)

Trude is the daughter of Thonar and Sif. Her name means "Strength". She is
listed among the walkurjas who bear ale in Walhall in Grímnismál 36; her
name is also used in walkurja-type kennings, suggesting a battle-role, and
was a very common second element in Germanic women's personal names such as

Like the Frowe, Sif, and Iðunn, Trude is also desired by sundry wights of
the Outgarth or underworld. In Alvíssmál, the dwarf Alvíss (All-Wise) has
come up to the Ases' Garth in hopes of claiming her as his bride, and in
Bragi's Ragnarsdrápa (early 9th century), the giant Hrungnir is called
"thief of Þrúðr", which suggests that there may have been a different story
leading up to the battle between Þórr and Hrungnir than the one Snorri
tells. In Haustlöng, Thjóðólfr or Hvíni tells of the battle, but not its
prelude; there are no older sources for Snorri's version, making it quite
possible that the duel could have been motivated by the abduction of Þórr's
daughter, rather than simply by the etin becoming drunk and disorderly in
Ásgarðr. Snorri does in fact have Hrungnir threatening to carry off Freyja
and Sif, but, out of ignorance or editorial policy, does not mention the
theft of Þrúðr.

This role suggests that she, like the other goddesses who draw the desire
of etins, is one of the female embodiments of the life-force of the cosmos.
As she is the grand-daughter of Earth, daughter of Sif and Thonar, this is
hardly to be wondered at. Being the daughter of one of the most beautiful
of the goddesses, as well as the strongest of the gods, she must be both
very fair and very mighty. Today, she is sometimes thought of as having
lovely hair of a bright reddish-gold colour.

She and her two brothers Móði and Magni may also be seen as the bearers of
Thonar's great gifts to humans: Strength, Bravery, and Main-Strength.

From his own workings and research, Larsanthony K. Agnarsson offers another
perspective on this goddess, one which fits well with her role as daughter
of Thonar and Sif:

Thruð is an obscure goddess and little is known about her other than (that)
she is the daughter of Þórr and Sif. However, we in Skergard give her much
more credit than that.

Thruð is one of the more prominent of the Asynjur in this modern day and
age. She is the youngest goddess among the Asynjur.

The young gods and goddesses are very important in our modern world. Since
the gods have evolved as we have, the youngest of them are more prominent
in this day and age. This does not mean that the elder gods are fading from
importance. What this does mean, however, is that the younger gods and
goddesses are just as involved in our lives as their parents, if not more

As Sif represents the "Gatherer of Grains", Thruð represents the work
behind sowing the fields and the labors of organized agriculture.

Before the coming of Thruð, mankind simply gathered berries and nuts to
survive, ignorant of sowing fields, planting crops, or the inequity of
modern agriculture.

As humanity continued to evolve, Sif taught Thruð the aspects of gathering
nuts and berries, and from her grandmother Fjorgynn (Jord) she learned the
ways of the soil. When Thruð came of age, she taught humans the importance
of working with the Earth, that is, agriculture. She also taught mankind
how to use what they grow, and how to grind grain to make flour for baking
bread. Thus, Thruð is associated with the hearth, because she spends many
hours there cooking, baking, and keeping the fire. As the fire-keeper and
bread-baker, her colour is orange (not to mention that Red and Yellow make
Orange; i.e. Þórr and Sif combined). What time not spent cooking, she
spends in the fields, sorting the Earth from the stones and rocks.

Thruð is often seen as a large, strong woman whose hair is pulled back, but
nevertheless messy. Her clothes are generally torn and dirty; as a
labouring woman, she is too busy to notice her conditions.

Because of her strength, she is likened to a giantess. Rocks and stones
that are sacred to her are the ones turned over with the plow.

Other colours which have been associated with Trude are bright red and

This goddess also appears as one of the main characters in a charming work
of Heathen educational fiction (early teenage-level, Danish language),
Lars-Henrik Olsen's Erik Menneskesøn.

Hella (Hel, Hell, Hölle, Halja, *Haljon)

This goddess was known to all the Germanic peoples, including the Goths: a
Gothic word for "witch" was haljoruna - Hella-runester. She must have been
the goddess of the underworld from a very early time, as her name is given
to that land in all the Germanic tongues. The name itself stems from a root
meaning "to hide": she is the concealer. Simek compares the description of
the road to Hel as "down and to the north" to the burial mounds of European
megalithic culture, which "always have their entrances to the south and the
burial chamber to the north...also the north-south orientation is
predominant in Bronze Age ship settings and Vendel and Viking Age ship
graves". He strengthens his identification of Hel with these family cairns
by pointing out that the Old Irish cognate to her name is cuile, "cellar",
which is a reasonable development from the mound-covered rock-chamber
(Dictionary, pp. 137-38).

Hella is a rather ambiguous figure in the Norse pantheon: as ruler of the
Underworld, she has the status of a Goddess and queen; as Loki's daughter,
sister of the Wolf Fenrir and the Middle-Garth's Wyrm, she appears as a
demonic figure. The belief in Hella as ruler of the underworld is likely
very archaic; the belief that she is part of Loki's monstrous family goes
back at least to the ninth century, appearing in the skaldic poem
Ynglingatal, where it says "I tell no secret, Gná-of-Glitnir (the
horse-goddess - Glitnir, "glistening", is listed as a horse-heiti, and one
goddess' name is often subsituted for another in kennings) has Dyggvi's
corpse for her delight, for the horse-idis of the Wolf and Narvi chose the
king, and Loki's daughter has the ruler of the folk of Yngvi as her
plaything". Although it has been suggested that Hella as a person is late
and perhaps even post-heathen (Simek, Dictionary, p. 138), her appearance
in this poem makes it clear that she was firmly established as a
free-standing personality in the Viking Age. It may be particularly noted
that it is implied in Ynglingatal that the dead man will receive the
personal favours of Hella, a theme which also shows up in Saxo's version of
the Balder-story, where Balder dreams of the embraces of "Persephone"
(Hella). Grimm, citing the great many Hella-based place-names of
continental Germany, as well as her appearance as "Mother Hölle" in German
folklore, is of the opinion that she may well have preceded many of the
other deities, and perhaps even that the name and idea of the realm
devolved from the goddess herself. As a matter of fact, the older the
versions of the Germanic Goddess of Death are, the less "hellish" and more
godlike she appears.

The Goddess Hel is sometimes represented as a personification of Death,
with the Wolf and Serpent as Pain and Sin, respectively. This is another
pretty mediæval (or even Victorian) sentiment - surely death, a natural
part of the cycle of life, is not equivalent to sin (in the christian sense
- in the original sense, as Gert McQueen has pointed out, "sin" meant only
"being"). This is part of the need felt by some for all three of Loki's
children to represent awful monsters of some sort. But Hel always stands
out from the other two. Instead of being bound or imprisoned, Hel is given
rule over her own realm. In the Baldr story, she stands as an equal with
the Æsir, refusing to give in to their demands unless on her own terms. She
is very possibly an older concept, that of the Death Goddess, which was
stuck into a later myth-cycle in a convenient place, as happens to so many
other deities. Death is too ancient and primal a concept to be such a
late-comer into a pantheon.

As a goddess of death, Hel is not only the receiver of the dead, sometimes
she comes herself to claim them. This is spoken of in the quote from
Ynglingatal (above). During the Black Plague, which ravaged Norway and
other parts of Scandinavia to an even greater degree than the rest of
Western Europe, Hel was said to travel the countryside with a broom and a
rake. In villages where some survived, she was said to have used the rake;
if a whole community perished, she had used her broom.

However, generally she is simply the keeper of the souls of the departed,
welcoming them into her house, which was viewed as a sort of inn for the
dead, and holding them with an inexorable grip, on no account giving up
anyone once she had them. This idea of the Death Goddess being unpitying
and immovable, never giving back one she has taken, is certainly apparent
in Hel's refusal to let Baldr go. The giantess Þökk in the Baldr story, who
refuses to weep for him, is often supposed to be Loki, making double sure
Baldr stays dead for his own evil reasons. But the claim could be made that
she is Death herself, the one being who would feel no need to weep for
Baldr. "What Hel has, she may keep", Þökk says. Hermóðr does not understand
Hel's hidden meaning when she says all things must weep for Baldr to prove
he was universally mourned. What she means, perhaps, is that all the worlds
may wish Baldr back, but death herself will remain inexorable.

The ancient death Goddess was often pictured as having gaping jaws and a
ravening wolfish nature (which is reminiscent of Hel's brother Fenrir,
whose jaws, when open, stretched from Heaven to Earth). The Norse Hel is
pictured as a woman of very stern demeanor and parti-coloured - sometimes
half black or blue and half white, sometimes half corpse flesh and half
living, by which, as Snorri puts it in his Edda, "she is easily recognized"
(no doubt!). Sometimes it is suggested that her upper half is white/living
and her lower half is black/rotting, but one may well suspect that this has
more to do with the neuroses of modern society than with the beliefs of our
ancestors; Karter Neal, who has done much work with this goddess, says that
she always sees Hella's two halves as being right side/left side. An
interesting point to bring up here is a passage from ibn Fadlan's
descriptions of the Rus, where a corpse is buried temporarily in the frozen
earth while preparations are made for the funeral; when it was dug up, the
cold had turned the flesh black. The Norse were also surely aware of the
phenomenon of livor mortis, which, after a few hours, causes the skin of
whatever parts of the body are lowest to take on a bluish-purple hue. The
dead are either described as helblár (Hel blue/black) or nábleikr, náfölr

This two-coloured aspect can symbolize death's two sides - ugly and
peaceful. It may be worth noting that those dead who do become helblár are
usually those who walk as draugar after their deaths - the evil dead, in
other words.

Leaving scholarly speculations for more mystical ones, I (Alice
Karlsdóttir) have done a series of meditations on Hel over a few years,
trying to find out what sort of deity she is, and have seldom seen her as
two-coloured. She appears either all hideous (which seems to amuse her
greatly as being a huge joke on everyone), or all beautiful, with very pale
skin, hair, eyes, and garments, and always with her crown on. Death appears
fearsome and ugly to the living, for we see it as an end to all we know and
love, often accompanied by pain and fear. But if death is a part of life
and the natural cycle of things, and if the soul continues in another life
afterwards, might not Death appear beautiful to one who is dying, a welcome
release from pain, a doorway to a new existence? When death is truly
accepted and understood, it loses its hideous face. Perhaps this is what
Hel's two-faced quality represents. There are as many references to beauty
in her realm as ugliness. It comes down to whether we are going to be
willing to accept death or not, but willing or not, we must face her sooner
or later.

Hella's chief animal is the horse; the Scandinavian belief in the helhest
is spoken of under "Soul, Death, and Rebirth". She is also seen as a
three-legged white goat; another folk belief was that Hel had a huge ox
which went from place to place during times of sickness and whose breath
caused people to fall down dead.

Hella's colours are black or deep blue-black and white. Runes associated
with her in modern times are Hagalaz, Berkano, and Isa.

Sunna (Sól)

At least from the beginning of the Iron Age onward, the Sun was always seen
as a goddess by the Germanic folk, while the Moon was a god, her brother.
While there is little surviving evidence for Moon-worship, there is more
for worship of Sunna. In his article "Folklore in the Icelandic Sagas and
the Blót of Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir", Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson has shown that
it is very likely that the passage in Laxdæla saga where it is described
how Guðrún rose early on the day of the killing of Kjartan, "er sólu var
ofrat" (normally translated as "when the Sun got up" - lit. "when the Sun
was lifted or offered to"), actually tells of an offering to the Sun -
originally probably made by Guðrún herself. He comments that "it is worth
remembering that at the Conversion, people were for the time being
permitted to sacrifice in secret, this not being considered a punishable
offence unless witnesses were present...A sacrifice that took place before
everybody else woke up would therefore not have been seen as an offence at
this time" (p. 264). If he is correct, this would suggest that Sunna
received offerings on special occasions: Guðrún wishes to talk her husband
and brothers into killing the hero Kjartan and make sure that the slaying
will be successful, and thus she makes a blessing to the Sun. The first
brightness of dawn was often seen as a sign of sig: after Hákon the Great's
blessing to Óðinn (Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, Heimskringla), he sees two
ravens, which he takes as an omen that he will have "dagrád til at berjask"
- that is to say, "dawn", or victory, for his battling. When Guðrún's dawn
blessing is thought of in this context, it suggests that Sunna herself may
be seen as the one to whom sig-offerings are made.

Sunna is also able to bless the dying: in Landnámabók, it is mentioned that
Þórkell Þórsteinsson "had himself borne out into the rays of the Sun in his
Hel-sickness". Jón Aðalsteinsson sees the follow-up to this in which
Þórkell "commended himself into the hands of that god who had shaped the
sun" as a christian addition to an authentic tale of a Sun-worshipper's
death (p. 263). She is, of course, the foe of all those wights who dog the
dark death-paths - etins, trolls, and ill-willing ghosts - and the blessing
of her light at death might have worked in much the same way as the little
Þórr's-Hammers used as grave-amulets.

Sól is listed among the goddesses in Snorri's Edda: she has either two
horses, Árvakr and Alsviðr, or one, Skin-faxi (Shining-Mane). The image of
the horse drawing the Sun's wain goes back at least to the Bronze Age; the
best-known example is the well-known Trundholm sun-wagon (spoken of under
"The Bronze Age"). Parts of a like piece were found in the Tågaborg mound
in Helsingborg (Gløb, The Mound People, p. 103).

The Old Norwegian Rune-Poem's lines, "(Sun) is the light of lands; I lout
(bow) to the holy deeming" also suggest that the Sun was seen as a greater
goddess than the myths show her to be, as do the various descriptions of
her in the Elder Edda: she is skírleitt goð (shining-faced deity -
Grímnismál 39), heið brúðr himins (glorious bride of heaven - Grímnismál
39), and skínandi goð (shining deity - Grímnismál 38, Sigrdrífumál 15). Jón
Aðalsteinsson also cites Skúli Þórsteinsson's poem about the sunset: "Glens
beðja veðr gyðju / goðblíð í vé síðan / kømr gótt, með geislum, / gránserks
ofan Mána" - Glen's (the gleaming one's) god-blithe wife treads with her
rays into the goddess' wih-stead; afterwards the mild light of gray-sarked
Máni comes from above.

Finally, there are the many folk practices which suggest the worship of the
Sun, such as the lighting of wheels and dawn-fires at (variously) Yule,
Ostara, and Midsummer's (spoken of further in the chapters on those
blessings), and the folk custom of rising early to "see the Sun dance" on
Ostara, May Day, or Midsummer's. It is thus clear that the Germanic folk
did worship the goddess Sunna, and probably that she was seen as more than
a mere personification of the shining light in the sky: that she herself
was, in fact, seen as the source of light, life, and sig.

Sunna's colour is gold, though she is sometimes also thought of in modern
times as being white-clad. Those who live in more southerly climates, where
she is not the mild maiden that she is in the North, also see her as an
etin-maid or a furious sow in the summertime; in Runelore, Thorsson cites
the German saying "Die gelbe Sau brennt" (the yellow sow burns) for an
especially hot day.


Alice Karlsdóttir, from "The Lady Death", in Idunna IV, 4, #17, Yule-Month
1992 C.E., pp. 2-7 (nearly all of "Hella"; note that parts of this article
are also reproduced under "Soul, Death, and Rebirth").


Stephan Grundy, from "Freya and Frigg" (Ellis-Davidson, H.R., ed., Images
of the Goddess - forthcoming from Routledge; title may be subject to

KveldúlfR Gundarsson, Warder of the Lore, from "The Spinning Goddess and
Migration Age Bracteates" (unpublished article)

Melodi Lammond (for Sága)

Larsanthony K. Agnarsson, Elder-in-training, "The Goddess Thruð", from
Fjallabók #1.

Karter Neal

Laurel Olson

Diana Paxson, Elder

Siegróa Lyfjasgyðja (for Eir)

Dianne Luark Ross, Elder, from "The Birch Goddess", Idunna vol. II, #2,
October 1989

Chapter XIV

Thonar (Þórr, Thunar, Donar, Donner,


Of all the gods of the North, Thonar is likely to be the best-loved and,
together with Wodan, is the best-known - he has always been one of the most
beloved and called upon deities. He is the champion of Asgard and Midgard
against the chaos and destruction of the thurses His Hammer is the sign of
the true, worn as the emblem of the troth of our folk even by those who are
given to other god/esses. Few indeed are those who do not hold some love
for old Redbeard - the Friend of Men, the Middle-Garth's Warder, whose
Hammer-blows are ever turned

outward to protect humankind from all the threats beyond the Middle-Garth's
walls and whose mighty mod is seen in the raging of the storms from which
his name - "Thunder" - comes.

The image of Thonar as a fighter is reinforced by scholars, such as
Dumézil, who try to categorize all of the god/esses into the narrow
tripartite system, invariably classifying Thonar as just a warrior, and not
a very bright one at that. But Thonar is more than just a strong brute who
wars against chaos. He delivers the summer rains that make the crops grow;
he hallows important occasions and ceremonies, and he gives strength and
support to those who follow the old path.

Thonar is the son of the Earth and Wodan. He is the strongest of the gods,
and, as seen in Lokasenna, the only one who can intimidate Loki. He appears
as a big man with a red beard - sometimes young, sometimes as the old "Þórr
Karl"; his eyes are fiery. He drives a wain drawn by the two goats
Tanngnjóstr ("teeth-grinder") and Tanngrísnir ("teeth-gnasher") - like the
founder of Normandy, Göngu-Hrolf, he is too mighty for a horse to bear him,
and must go on his two feet or in this wagon, even when he fares between
the worlds where the other god/esses ride their steeds. He wears iron
gauntlets and a belt referred to as megingjörð (the girdle of main); he
carries the magical staff called Gríðarvölr (Gríðr's staff). Although
Snorri says that Þórr had possessed his own strength-belt and gauntlets
before the giantess Gríðr gave him these items of hers, it seems more
likely that she was the original source. He has a tremendous appetite for
food and drink; and where-ever he is, he will come when his name is called.
He is married to the goddess Sif, on whom he fathered the maiden Trude
(Þrúðr); he also has an etin-concubine, Járnsaxa, on whom he fathered his
sons Móði and Magni.

Thonar has often been described as the "common man's patron", which many of
the folk who follow him have found accurate. As Hawkmoon says, "(Thorr's)
solutions to problems are direct. If he intends to aid you with something,
you are made aware of it directly. One night, after invoking Thorr, I left
the blot bowl standing on the harrow with a goodly amount of stout
(Guinness) poured into it (several other folk have, quite independently of
each other, felt stout to be Thonar's drink - KHG). No animals were about,
and the room was not disturbed. Yet, when I woke in the morning (some 6
hours later) the stout was gone. It had obviously been drunk, as there was
no residue in the bottom, as there would have been had it dried up. Welcome
to the twilight zone, right? Yet, in a few days, the situation that I had
sought Thorr's aid for was resolved very much to my satisfaction. If that's
not direct dealing, I don't know what is...I have always felt it easy to
speak to Thorr. Whereas Odhinn enjoys a little theater in your ritual,
Thorr seems to like it when you just say what you want and get it over

Although Thonar has sometimes been put forth as a rather simple god - not
given to much thought, more like the giants than the other gods in his
great appetites for food, drink, and battle, and hardly a match for the
wits of Wodan and Loki - to see him as limited in wisdom or lacking in the
rich layers of complexity which make up the other god/esses is to greatly
misunderstand him. True, where Wodan is a deep-thought and devious god,
Thonar is simpler and more straightforward - less prone to seek out the
deeper levels of things, preferring to deal with what is already evident.
Thonar's wisdom is the wisdom of common sense, which some might call the
greatest of all. When Wodan sees a problem, he deals with it through
subtlety; Tiw might work his way through a maze by patience and rational
judgement, but Thonar simply smashes down the walls, which may even be more
rational in the end - after all, everyone knows that the shortest distance
between two points is a straight line. Thonar's wisdom is seen, for
instance, in the tale of his journey to the giant Geirröðr. Trusting that
his friend Loki is as true as he himself (naïve, but understandable, given
Thonar's own total trustworthiness), Þórr has gone off without his Hammer;
but the etin-frowe Gríðr, mother of Víðarr, gives him a staff, gauntlets,
and belt of might. While he is crossing a river with the help of these
items, the river suddenly swells into a great flood. Þórr looks up to see
one of Geirröðr's daughters standing across it, causing it to rise with her
urine and menstrual blood. He then says, "A river must be stemmed at its
source", and throws a large rock at her. Þórr shows a similar sort of
sensible wisdom in the Eddic poem Alvíssmál, where he deals with the dwarf
who has come to take his daughter by challenging the rock-dweller's wisdom.
Alvíss (All-Wise), distracted by this challenge, recounts lore until
daylight, when the first rays of dawn turn him into stone. Thonar's purpose
here is not, like Wodan's in Vafþrúðnismál, either to learn the other's
wisdom or to show off his own: he simply wants to get rid of the dwarf
(presumably it is important for him to do this without breaking the frith
of the Ases' Garth, where the poem is set), and does so with the simplest
means available to him - letting Alvíss trip over his own knowledge. Also,
we should not forget that Thonar is called djúphugaðr - the Deep-Souled or
Deep-Thinker. He may not be as swift with words and subtle ploys as some
deities - but his essential wisdom is no less than theirs.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are also some shamanic elements to Thonar's
character. His journeys to the Outgarth, in the course of which he either
battles with ill-willing wights threatening the community or brings back
objects of power (the cauldron for Ægir's brewing, his own Hammer, the
staff, belt, and gauntlets given him by Gríðr), are very typically shamanic
activities. His possession of staff and gauntlets is particularly
interesting since these are the items used by Icelandic witches in their
gandreið (magical riding or wand-riding) and, particularly the staff, are
generally characteristic of shamans. In one case, his reclaiming of his
Hammer, Thonar even has to cross-dress as a necessary condition of his
success, which is also a major element of shamanic practice. In this
aspect, Loki often seems to act as his not wholly trustworthy guide/ally
spirit who is native to the world beyond the garth. This side of Thonar has
been little explored. It is, however, worthy of note that the Korpbron
runestone (put up by a Heathen in an unfriendly area, as shown by the fact
that this part of the inscription is put in coded runes inside a cross)
calls "siþi Þur" - "Þórr, perform seiðr!" This suggests two things:
firstly, that the image of seiðr as "unmanly" which Snorri gives us so
specifically in Ynglinga saga may not have existed in Heathen times (or
even as late as the period of conversion from which the Korpbron stone
stems); and secondly, that Thonar had his own connections with magic.

Thonar's greatest might in the religious/ritual sense, however, was that of
hallowing. The Hammer is laid in the bride's lap at a wedding "brúði at
vígia" ("to hallow the bride" - Þrymskviða 30); Snorri tells us of how he
swings it over the bones and hides of his devoured goats to bring them back
to life and of how he blesses Balder's pyre with it. The latter mention is
particularly interesting given the common use of Þórr's-Hammer amulets in
Viking Age burials (see "Burial Rites"). It is Þórr, not Óðinn, who is
called on to hallow the runes of the stones from Glavendrup (ca. 900-925)
and Sönderkirkeby (late 10th century) with the inscription "Þor uiki (þasi)
runaR" (Þórr hallow these runes); the late 10th century Virring stone ("Þur
uiki þisi kuml" - Þórr hallow this memorial-marker), and the Velanda stone
of the same approximate date ("Þur uiki" - Þórr hallow) (Baetke, Walter,
Das Heilige im Germanischen, p. 113). These stones may well be Heathen
reactions against the newly-set christian runestones; however, this does
not lessen the meaning of the consistent choice of Þórr, rather than Óðinn,
as the hallower of the runes. The Þórsheiti "Véurr", which de Vries
interprets as "warder of the wih-stead" also appears in the 9th century Rök
stone's inscription, as the cultic title of a man named Sibbi (see the
discussion of the Rök stone below). The belief in Thonar as Hallower is not
limited to the Norse materials, however: the Nordendorf fibula (from
Southern Germany, 6th century C.E.), calls on "Wigithonar" - Hallow-Thonar
(together with Wodan and "Logathore"). This suggests strongly that Hallower
was one of Thonar's roles from the earliest times, and common to the
understanding of all the Germanic peoples. For this reason, the Hammer-sign
is used as the general sign with which true folk hallow food and drink,
blessings to the god/esses, and so forth. Moreover, the hallowing performed
by Thonar is not that of making something holy - blessed in the sense of
being part of the Middle-Garth, but attuned to the other worlds - but that
of making something wih - so filled with might that it is set apart from
the ordinary world, becoming a part of the world of the god/esses.

Although always mighty among the folk, Thonar seems to have risen to his
greatest heights in the latter part of the Viking Age, when he was called
on more and more as the warder of the troth against the invading "God" and
Christ of the South. The battle was one of "Red Þórr" against the "White
Christ" - a comparison which carried a subtle insult to the latter. To be
"red" meant not only literally to have red hair (a sign of fierceness,
which Germanic warriors sometimes achieved through dyeing their hair, as
reported by), but to be strong-willed, hot-tempered, and battle-mighty -
while to be "white" could mean, as well as the complimentary meaning of
fairness, to be weak-willed and cowardly (comparable to calling someone
"lily-livered"). When the christian missionary Thangbrand came to Iceland
(at the bidding of Óláfr Tryggvason), the skald Steinunn (who may well have
been a priestess of Þórr) made several verses showing clearly that Þórr was
the warder of the Heathen ways. She praises the god for wrecking
Thangbrand's ship, and also says to the missionary, "Have you heard that
Þórr bade Christ to a holmgang, and he did not trust his own strength
enough (treytisk) to battle with Þórr?" (Brennu-Njáls saga,ch. 102) The
Þórr's-Hammer pendants which are so common in the later part of the Viking
Age have often been suggested to be the Heathen answer to the christian
cross, just as the "Þórr hallow" runestones may have been a reaction
against christian practice: it was clearly he in whom our folk trusted
against all malign spiritual influences, trolls and missionaries alike. The
various sagas of the two christian Óláfrs mention great statues of Þórr;
although their descriptions may have been somewhat based on antiquarian
fancy, Adam of Bremen's description of the temple of Uppsala also has a
statue of Þórr in the highest place (above Freyr and Óðinn). Turville-Petre
mentions that "the evidence of the place-names does suggest that the public
cult of Thór increased greatly in Norway during the ninth and tenth
centuries" (Myth and Religion, p. 92).

Much is known of the worship of Thonar. Eyrbyggja saga describes how his
image was carved on the house-pillars of his "beloved friend" Þórólfr
Mosturskeggi; Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar (Flateyjarbók) mentions that Eiríkr,
the son of Hákon the Great, had an image of Þórr on his ship-pillar, and
Fostbroeðra saga speaks of a chair on which the god was carved. One of the
best-known pieces of Viking Age art is the little Icelandic statue which
appears to be Þórr sitting with his Hammer on his lap; the original of this
was probably carried in a belt-pouch by a worshipper of the god.

There are a couple of references to human sacrifice given to Thonar:
Eyrbyggja saga and Landnámabók tell how such folk had their backs broken on
a great stone. These were not, however, battle-captives or holy kings;
rather, they were "sentenced to sacrifice" - that is to say, this sacrifice
was probably the hallowing of a criminal death-penalty, rather than an act
carried out for the chief purpose of praising or thanking the god, as was
likely the case with, for instance, the Wodanic slaying of
battle-prisoners. More likely was the sacrifice of goats: the account of
how Thonar was able to kill his goats, eat them, and then bring them back
to life again with his Hammer was probably mirrored in actual sacrifices
(Simek, Dictionary, p. 321). He may have gotten other animals as well:
Flóamanna saga (ch. 20) tells how Þórgils Þorðarson, upon forsaking the
troth of his forebears, dreamed that Þórr visited him and was angry. That
night Þórgils' best boar died; the next night an old ox of his was found
dead. Þórgils would not let anyone eat of the meat, but had the boar buried
- clearly seeing that the god had taken his own sacrifice.

Thonar was a mighty fisherman: his best-known fishing trip was the one on
which he fished up the Middle-Garth's Wyrm ("Hymiskviða"), but he was also
the one who caught Loki in salmon form. In Bárðar saga (ch. 8), Þórr
appears as a red-bearded fisherman, helping Ingjaldr against a storm raised
by a troll-woman.

The oath-ring was especially holy to Thonar, and many of the Hammers have
rings soldered to the top - not as jump-rings for stringing a chain
through, as they are set in the wrong direction, but probably as images of
this oath-ring. It has often been suggested that the "all-mighty Ase" of
the Icelandic oath-taking formula from Landnámabók was Þórr (though other
gods, most notably Óðinn and Ullr, have been put forward as well).

The "god-nails" described in Eyrbyggja saga may well have been used for
striking holy fire, and thus been likewise seen as signs of Þórr. They were
set in the pillars that bore his image; one may guess that they might have
been struck into his forehead, in memory of the fragment of Hrungnir's
whetstone which stuck there after the god's hammer had shattered it. The
Stone Age tools which the Germanic folk thought of as thunderbolts were
called "Ukko's nails" in Finland - the nails of the Finnish god of thunder,
who seems to have absorbed many of Thonar's characteristics. This could
well lend strength to the idea that special, hallowed nails were used for
striking lightning-sparks. The pairing of iron Þórr's-Hammers with
miniature fire-steel amulets (see "Burials") also suggests strongly that
the fire struck by flint and steel was especially holy to this god.

The Rök stone (ca. 800), though often thought to be a memorial inscription
for a dead youth named Vamoþ, can also be read as an initiatory document
describing the hallowing of a young man. Höfler saw it as being probably
Óðinnic, due to the invocation of the great hero Theoderik. However,
Theoderik is described as "þurmuþi" - "bold as Þórr" (or literally, having
the mod of Þórr - it should, perhaps, also be noted that "Þórmóðr" was used
as a Norse personal name as well) on the Rök stone. The last part of the
inscription, as interpreted by Henry Kratz, reads: "Now let someone tell us
the memorable matter, about the initiation...I shall also tell this
memorable matter: which of the Ingoldings was rewarded by the sacrifice of
a woman. I shall also tell this memorable matter: to which warrior the son
was born. It is Vilin. He could fell a giant (iatun). It is Vilin. May much
good arise from this. I shall tell another memorable matter: Þórr! Sibbi,
guardian of the temple (uiuari, or "Véurr"), at the age of ninety
instructed him (i.e., Vamoþ) in the mysteries." ("Was Vamoþ Still Alive?",
p. 29). The references to Þórr, to the etin-felling, and the title "Véurr"
given to the old Sibbi (or "kinsman", which could also be the meaning of
the name), suggest strongly that if Höfler and Kratz are correct in seeing
the Rök stone as an initiatory document, it described an initiation within
the cult of Thonar.

Firstly, and all the way to the present day, Thonar is known as the god of
thunder. Turville-Petre mentions that Old English words for thunder include
"ðunorrad" and "ðunorradstefn" - Thunor's/thunder's travelling - which he
compars to the Icelandic "reiðarþruma", "reiðarduna", and "reið", "which
seem to imply that thunder is believed to be the noise which Thór makes
while travelling in his chariot" (Myth and Religion, p. 99). His weapon, of
course, is the Hammer "Mjöllnir"; the etymology of this name is not clear,
but it is likeliest to be related to Slavic and Baltic words for
"lightning". As early as the Stone Age, minature axes of flint and amber
were being used as amulets; in the Bronze Age, we have rock-carving images
of a god with a huge axe, and it is thought likely that the axe was the
original weapon of the Northern thunder-god, from which the Hammer
developed. Turville-Petre mentions that the Lappish thunder-god appeared on
shamans' drums with either a hammer in each hand, or a hammer in one hand
and an axe in the other (Myth and Religion, p. 98). The latter rendition
suggests the possibility that the Lapps could have maintained the older and
the newer images of axe and hammer simultaneously. Stone Age axe-heads were
seen as the embodiments of thunderbolts in all the Germanic countries, and
used as mighty amulets from the Bronze Age onward to protect a house
against all ill, especially fires and lightning-strikes (a use which
suggests that true folk might do well to attach iron Hammers to the tops of
their houses' lightning rods).

To the Germanic folks, thunder had two purposes: it brought fruitfulness to
the fields (Adam of Bremen mentions that this was particularly a function
of Þórr, and the many agricultural place-names with "Þórr" as an element
strengthen this understanding) and it showed the might of the god battling
against the etin-kin. As Audthryth points out,

It is unfortunate that modern civilization is so cut off from nature and
the weather. We have insulated ourself so much from the outdoors that,
generally, inclement weather or a bad harvest becomes little more than a
nuisance. If we get snowed in, it only takes a few days or most for the
snowplows to make the roads passable. If a crop fails, it means higher
prices at the store, not starvation. I think that this detachment makes it
hard to remember sometimes that Thor plays a big role in both the weather
and the growing of crops.

Thor was called upon by our ancestors to bring the summer rains and
lightning that made the crops grow, while warding off the destructive hail.
In many parts of Scandinavia, it is still believed that the grain will not
ripen without the energy of summer lightning Thor is also able to quiet the
seas when storms blow up. It was Thor that our ancestors called upon to
calm the waves and bring them safely into port. Personally, I always feel
the might of Thor when a storm blows down off the mountain or in from the

The belief in thunder hunting trolls lasted a long time: a folktale from
Sweden tells how a thunderbolt knocked a big black thing out of a crofter's
chimney; the thing rolled off towards the lake, when the thunder hit it
again and it disappeared. A man with the Sight who was there said that the
thing was a troll, and that the thunder had knocked one leg off when it hit
the chimney, then killed it by the lake (Simpson, Scandinavian Folktales,
pp. 185-86). Thonar is best known in the holy tales of the North as the
fighter of giants, without whose battles there would be no humans left on
the earth: for his deeds against the wights of the Outgarth, he received
several skaldic praise-poems (such as Þórsdrápa, which tells the story of
his visit to Geirröðr in some of the most complex skaldic language
surviving - showing that Þórr had the great respect and love of at least
one of the finest minds of the Heathen era).

Despite Thonar's role as a warrior, however, he is not a war-god; he is
never shown as taking part in any of the battles of humans. He is a
monster-fighter only, though he can be called upon for protection in any
circumstances. Hawkmoon mentions that "I frequently invoke him when leaving
the house for any serious period of time (more than 1 day). Also, my Hammer
(pendant) is of great comfort to me on a daily basis. Thorr, to me, is the
defender of the family and the clan, and invoking him for such defense can
be very powerful indeed". As one who often travels into the Outgarth,
Thonar as the warder of travellers is an especially good god for wayfarers
to call upon. Fairly recently, an Ásatrú woman who was normally devoted to
Freyja felt a sudden urge to hang her Hammer on her rearview mirror before
beginning a long night drive; on the way, she was hit from behind by a
drunken truck driver and her little car was totalled - but she survived
with nothing worse than a few bruises. In the old days, Thonar was
especially called on against storms at sea; Landnámabók mentions that Helgi
inn magri "trusted in Christ, but called on Þórr for sea-faring and hard
plights" (Sturlubók 218).

Thonar is, of course, the god of might and main, and according to Hákonar
saga ins goða, those who trusted in their own might and main Hammer-signed
the ritual cup and drank to Þórr when others toasted Óðinn. Thonar's might
is not only the might of the body, but the might of the soul and will.
Something of Thonar's power can be seen in the dedication of weightlifters
or other intensely physical people, who make every test of their body a
test of their will - of their total being - and are always seeking to
become stronger in every way. Followers of Thonar tend to be strongly
self-reliant, even more so than most true folk: Hawkmoon mentions that "It
should be noted that Thorr encourages you to do it yourself if you can. If
you go running to him every time you have a little problem, you're likely
to find that he isn't listening very often. However, if you've tried your
best to take care of it yourself and can't get anywhere, he will usually
help you out, although his assistance may not take the form you would like!
I find that this is true with all the Norse deities, but most evident with
Thonar". Audthryth concurs: "Thor can be counted on to provide strength and
comfort when things get rough, though it is NOT the same kind of support
that christians claim their Christ gives. To me, the christian epitome of
the support they expect is the poem 'Footprints in the Sand', where their
Christ carries them through hard times. Do not expect Thor, or any of the
God/esses for that matter, to carry you through hard times like a weak babe
in arms. I have always seen the support that I have received as more along
the lines of someone watching my back for sneak attacks and making helpful

Thonar is also particularly a god of the homestead, to be called on when
seeking and blessing a new dwelling. This was done by several of the
Icelandic settlers, as described in Landnámabók: Kollr (Hauksbók 15) prayed
to Þórr to show him a stead, as did Kráku-Hreiðarr (Hauksbók 164) and Helgi
inn magri (Sturlubók 218); Þórólfr Mosturskeggi was guided to land by his
Þórr-pillars, and Ásbjórn Reyrketilsson "hallowed his land-taking to Þórr
and called it Þórsmörk" (Melabók 8).

Although Thonar, unlike Wodan and Fro Ing, seldom or never appears as the
father of human lines, many true folk see him as fatherly, an awareness
expressed by Hawkmoon: "I have always felt that Thorr had something to
offer as a father figure as well, though not the sensitive father type that
Freyr embodies, nor the stern all-father of Odhinn. Rather, Thorr suggests
a more average sort of father. Although frequently stern, he sometimes
shows great affection, often when you least expect it. I haven't anything,
really, to back that impression up, but still it persists. Certainly his
fiercely protective nature suggests the attitude of a father towards his
children". Audthryth adds that "one of Thor's most important roles to me is
the giving of strength and support. I know that in Heathen times he was
sometimes referred to as 'Father Thor', and I have always assumed that it
was because of the support and 'fathering' he gives, but I have only my
personal experiences to support this belief. To me, Thor has always been
one of the more approachable God/esses, especially when I need strength and

Aside from the oath-ring, Thonar is not particularly a god of law. In her
article on Loki, Alice Karlsdóttir pointed out that Þórr often sets his own
understanding of what is right above any desire for order. When the god
meets with Hrungnir in the Ases' Garth, he is all ready to bash the etin
and does not care in the least that Hrungnir is protected by Óðinn's
invitation and the laws of guest-friendliness - Hrungnir only saves himself
by saying that Þórr would get no honour by killing him unarmed, and
challenging the god to a duel on equal terms, which Þórr of course cannot
resist. Hawkmoon points out that "Thorr's justice comes from his heart,
from his moral and ethical sense of what is right and wrong. The law is
irrelevant to what is fair. One has to be cautious when consulting with
this Ase on matters involving harm to members of one's own family or clan,
as the actions he encourages are often way outside societal law and perhaps
even over-reactive (despite being awfully satisfying)".

One side of Thonar which was less needed in the old days, but is coming
very much to the fore now, is his role as warder of his mother, the Earth,
against all who would harm her. Hawkmoon suggests, "Thorr, being the son of
the earth, has always struck me as being the perfect deity to invoke when
protesting some company that's destroying the environment. It makes for a
really nice combination of his origins and his protective nature". This
understanding of Thonar was spoken of at greater length by Will von Dauster
in his article "A Song From the Wood", partially reproduced here from its
original publication in Mountain Thunder:

A good friend of this author remarked recently that a forest's health could
be improved by "thinning" it, cutting down "less perfect" trees so the
remaining ones could thrive. This friend is not a pagan, and suffers from
attitudes developed in the 1950's, when it was assumed that humans could
improve anything by applying the Scientific Principle to all aspects of our
environment. That attitude also presumed that humans had an obligation and
right to bring "uncontrolled nature" to heel. An attitude born of a
thousand years of Christian conditioning, of the idea that the Earth was
under man's (sic) domain and stewardship. The arrogance of this thinking
seems never to have occurred to my friend...

Although many Asatruar think of Freya and Freyr when they think of the
woods, this picture is incomplete. According to H.R. Ellis-Davidson, Thor
was often worshipped in sacred groves. Oak groves are said to have been
popular. Massive old oaks tell us a few things about Thor's character. Oaks
are long lived, and appear to get stronger with age and weathering. They
are massive, solid, and are made of tough stuff; a hardwood much prized for
its strength and durability. As a long-lived, strong tree, oaks must have
towered above many surrounding trees, which would in turn attract the
occasional lightning strike, further strengthening the association with

We know Thor is called the "Son of Earth". This helps solidify his
identification with the forest, and nature in general. It may be a good
idea to look more closely at the lessons the forest has to teach, in order
to more fully understand the personality, character, and priorities of

Many or most of modern Asatruars tend to view Thor as a God of order. After
all, he is the defender of both Asgard and humans. How does this impute
order or law to his character? In our modern, urban-oriented world, the
defenders of people are, for the most part, the local police. Police work
within, or should work within, the framework of the Law, a codification of
abstract principles of right and definitions of wrong. If Thor is the
defender of humans, and tries to do the right thing, then he must certainly
be a god of law, yes?


...Asatru has at least one clearly defined God of law and justice; he is
Tyr. Tyr is also a god of service, self-sacrifice, and if one might infer,
patience. The stories of Thor exhibit many positive traits, but patience
with the enemies of Asgard is not prominent among them. If Tyr is
preeminent as a god of law and justice, and in olden times that more
organized of conflicts, war, where or to whom do we look for the balancing
character, the god who most involves himself with change, situations in
flux, one might even say chaos? Look over the shoulder to the old man in
the long cloak, looking through you with his one remaining eye from under
his broad-brimmed hat...

If Odin is the god of change, and Tyr the god of law and order, where does
Thor fit into this spectrum? Once again, by examining the lessons of the
forest, perhaps more can be learned of the Great Defender, the Thunderer,
the strongest of the gods...

The friend who would "improve the health of the forest" by killing a few
selected trees does not understand what a forest is. A forest is not a
park...The managed tree exhibit, with cropped grass, has as much to do with
the forest as a painted portrait with the person it represents. The painter
imparts her or his personality to the interpretation on canvas, much as
people impart their idea of what a collection of trees should look like in
a park. The painter removes or minimizes perceived imperfections from the
presentation, just as the "forest manager" would remove trees perceived as
defective from the woods. Just as with people, however, differences are not
necessarily defects.

But what of the diseased, the dying, and even the dead trees? These are
indicative of the health of the forest. "Huh?" Thinning a forest, as the
friend noted, does imporve the health of the remaining trees. The problems
are, who decides what gets thinned, and what is done with the trees felled
by humans? Regarding the first process, there is little that can be said
against the process of natural selection. Those trees which are fittest,
which are best situated, which are, well, toughest, survive. Those that
aren't, don't. When humans interfere with this process, the overall health
of the forest is, ultimately, weakened.

But what of the trees that are dead or dying? Removing a few, perhaps for
firewood or construction, is probably not harmful. Removing them all, over
a period of time, however, ultimately robs the forest of fresh soil, born
of the decay of the fallen trees. This, in turn, ultimately weakens the
health of the forest. Deprived of the fertile soil, the nutrients needed
for growth, the remaining trees are less fit to weather the vagaries of
nature, of storms, winds, and disease...

Walking through the woods, one is struck by the "untidy" nature of it.
Trees grow in random patterns, fall where they may, without any apparent
order. Grass, flowers, and trees grow wherever they can, jutting out of
rocks, even growing from the trunks of the fallen trees. While this
disorder might resemble chaos, there is little chaotic about it. It is
random, but follows a definite pattern of birth/growth/death/decay, a cycle
which has gone on for millions of years. The order is that of nature, not
humans. And perhaps here we gain some insight into the true nature of Thor.

Thor is concerned with the overall order of nature, the continuing,
natural, living nature of the Earth, his - and ultimately our - mother. He
is concerned with the larger patterns of life, larger patterns which within
themselves allow for considerable randomness. This randomness does not in
any way interfere with the progression of life, indeed, it is essential to
it. Without variety, without the strict homogenity of life forms, there is
almost certain stagnation, inbreeding, and eventually, death.

This can be seen in the forest surrounding this cabin. The trees that grew
here a hundred years ago, the old growth forest, were strip cut. Virtually
all of the local forest is second-growth. Further, since they grew
relatively quickly and made for good, straight logs, the native trees were
replaced with an almost homogenous planting of lodgepole pines. As a
result, the forest hereabouts is infested with predators and parasites that
thrive on lodgepole pines, making for a sickly and disease-prone forest. In
the areas where spruce and fir trees mix with aspens, the health of the
forest is demonstrably better...

Randomness within the natural order is a part of Thor. Perhaps his
tremendous strength results from this working within the order of nature.
Indeed, people are stronger when living in harmony with nature, not
poisoning their bodies with "managed", "harmless" chemicals, pollutants,
and additives. Thor is not concerned with the petty or trivial temporary
order people can impose on nature, with one important exception. Forcing
the forest, indeed forcing the planet's ecosystems, to conform to our
expectations and demands can, as has been described, interrupt and destroy
the cycles of life which keep the earth alive.

What of the needs of people for wood? Wood is an excellent building
material, ideal for furniture, houses, and countless other uses. True. The
key concepts are farming and sustainability. When approached with respect
for the cycle of life, trees can be a crop like any other, with the
exception of the slow gratification which so annoys Americans. The US
National Forest Service refers to "harvesting" trees in National Forests.
If they had planted them, then perhaps this would not be as absurd a term
as it is in their usage. Let's repeat it: to harvest, one must first plant.
The other concept, sustainability, means, among other things, without the
infusion of synthetic fertilizers and poisons.

When approached with respect for the cycle of life.

This is respect for Thor, and his nature. This means that approaching the
forest, the cycles of life, without respect is to disrespect Thor. This is,
simply put, unwise...

Thor, like nature itself, does whatever it takes to defend the lives of the
forest, men, the way of the gods, and the gods themselves. You are, one way
or the other, also a participant in the cycle of life. For some, this is
enough. For others, it is better to actively participate in the process,
to, like Thor, and with his help, defend the random order of nature, along
with people and the good name of our gods.

Thonar's great foe is the Middle-Garth's Wyrm: he once fished it up and
struck it on the head, but the giant Hymir with whom he was fishing became
frightened and cut the line. He will meet it at Ragnarök, and the two of
them will slay each other. There is some suspicion that originally Thonar
was thought to have slain the Wyrm during his fishing-trip (Turville-Petre,
Myth and Religion, p. 76): one kenning for the god is "orms einbani" -
single-handed Wyrm-Bane. Úlfr Uggason's Húsdrápa (late tenth century)
describes him striking off its head on the waves, but Bragi's Ragnarsdrápa
(early ninth century) has the Wyrm surviving: it is thus possible that two
parallel versions of the story existed through the Viking Age.

As mentioned above, his chief animal is the goat. No surviving sources
associate him directly with the bear, but bears, which represent strength
and nobility in Germanic thought, are often thought to fit well with him.
The two Wyrm-fighting stories of Thonar are also mirrored in the two
versions of what Friedrich Panzer called the "Bear's Son" tale (a motif
which appears in many of the stories of bear-heroes of the North such as
Beowulf and Böðvar-Bjarki): in one, the Bear's Son slays the dragon or
wyrm; in the other, the Bear's Son and the wyrm kill each other.

The eagle is not directly associated with Thonar in any of the surviving
tales, but one of the best-known Hammers is the one from Skåne with an
eagle's head beneath two great staring eyes (which remind us of the fiery
glare of Þórr in Þrymskviða). A similar piece was also found at Hiddensee
near Rügen. The Kalevala tells us that Väinamöinen first struck fire by
striking the talons and feathers of an eagle against a stone; the tribes of
Northern Asia, whose shamanic tradition may well have influenced that of
the Norse, also see the thunder personified as an eagle; and Thonar's Vedic
correspondent, Indra, takes the shape of an eagle as well (Unto Salo,
"Agricola's Ukko in the light of archaeology", in Ålback, Old Norse and
Finnish Religions, pp. 167-175). It is thus not unlikely that this bird has
some ties to Thonar.

The swastika is also often seen as a sign of Thonar. Turville-Petre
mentions that "The Lappish god Horagalles (Þórr Karl (Old Man Þórr - KHG)),
who was adapted from Thórr, perhaps in the early Iron Age, is depicted, not
only with a hammer, or two hammers, but also with a swastika. In Iceland a
form of swastika was used until recently as a charm to detect thieves, and
was called Þórshammar" (Myth and Religion, p. 84). It is generally accepted
that this sign was the emblem of Thunar among the Anglo-Saxons (Wilson,
Anglo-Saxon Paganism, p. 115), who used it rarely on weapons, more often on
brooches and funerary urns. In the latter case, it may have served the same
purpose as did the little iron Hammer-amulets of the Viking Age burials.
The swastika has been seen as showing the god's Hammer whirling in a circle
- perhaps as the sign of hallowing.

The oak is the great tree of Thonar, and has, of course, been associated
with holiness since the earliest times. There is also a plant, houseleek,
which bears the name "Thor's Beard" and was planted on the tops of houses
to prevent lightning-strikes. In his description of Þórr's journey to
Geirröðr's hall, Snorri quotes a phrase, "The rowan is the salvation of
Þórr" and has the god pulling himself out of the swollen river by one of
these trees; the Lappish thunder-god has a wife called "Ravdna" (rowan),
which suggests that this tree may have been closely associated with Sif
(Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion, p. 98).

As mentioned above, Thonar seems to be particularly fond of stout.
Blessings made to him should include food as well as drink; Þrymskviða
describes how he (even while disguised as Freyja) gobbled down a whole ox
and eight salmon as well as all the tidbits set out for the ladies.


Audthryth (article written for Our Troth - with effort far above and beyond
the call of duty to get her work to the editor in time to appear here!)

Will von Dauster, from "A Song from the Wood", in Mountain Thunder #10,
Autumn Equinox 1993, pp. 7-10.

Stephan Grundy, from "The Cult of Óðinn: God of Death?"

Hawkmoon (article written for Our Troth)

Jamey Hrolf Martin, from "Thor: Scion of Asgardh", in Idunna III, 3,
Holymonth (September) 1991, pp. 26-27.

Chapter XV

Wulþur, Heimdallr, and Other Gods

Wulþur (Ullr, Wuldor, Wulþus)

Although his name means "Glory", Wulþur is something of a shadowy figure
among the Ases. He takes no part in any of the Eddic myths; the only tale
we know of him is that, according to Saxo, he ruled the Ases during the
years of Wodan's exile. When Wodan returned and cast Wulþur out, he was
able to travel over the sea on a bone risted with spells; the kenning "ship
of Ullr" speaks of a shield, so it is possible that he may have also been
seen as sailing on a shield.

Beyond this, Snorri tells us that he is the son of Sif and the stepson of
Þórr, that he is such a good archer and skier that none can match him; that
he is fair to look on and has a warrior's accomplishments; and that he is
good to call on in single combat. He is given the names öndur-Ás
(snowshoe-Ase), boga-Ás (bow-Ase), veiði-Ás (hunting-Ase), and skjaldar-Ás

As spoken of under "Skaði", Wulþur and Skaði bear a close resemblance to
each other, sharing many of the same traits and overlapping in function;
Schröder's suggestion that they may even be brother or sister (or
half-brother and -sister) is discussed in that chapter. The resemblance
between Wulþur and the Finnish hunting/forest god Tapio is also quite
close, as may be seen in this traditional song:

"Take me, forest, for one of your men,

for one of your fellows, Tapio,

wilds, for your arrow-fetcher...

Take a man, teach him

to look up at heaven's arch,

observe the Great Bear

and study the stars!...

Lead a man on skis...

lead him to that mound

where a catch may be made, a

prey-task carried out" (Lönnrot, ed, The Kantelar, pp. 85-86).

Several references in Eddic poetry suggest that Wulþur held a higher place
in religion and ritual than his absence from the myths would seem to show.
In Grímnismál 42, Óðinn speaks of "Ullr's favour, and all the gods'"; in
Atlakviða in groenlenzca 30, the oath-ring is called "Ullr's ring". His
name is quite common as an element of Scandinavian place-names, being
especially usual in Norway and the middle of Sweden. Turville-Petre
compares this to the distribution of Týr place-names, commenting that, "It
looks as if Ull in the north was what Týr was in the south" (Myth and
Religion, p. 184). Turville-Petre also notes the place-names "Ullarfoss"
(Ullr's waterfall) beside "Goðafoss" (the gods' waterfall) and
"Ullarklettur" (Ullr's Cliff) beside "Goðaklettur" (p. 183), which hint
that the formula "Ullr...and all the gods" was more than a poet's
alliterative device.

Although there is little evidence for Wulþur south of Scandinavia, it is
also possible that some memory of him lived through the English conversion:
"Caedmon's Hymn" speaks of the wuldurfadur, which can be interpreted as
either "Glory-Father" or, with the application of more imagination, "Father
Wuldor". In either case, this poem seems to preserve several heathen
god-titles and apply them to the Christian deity (Ström and Biezais,
Germanische und Baltische Religion, pp. 102, 110), so it is not
unthinkable, though not provable, that the Anglo-Saxons may have known this
god. The Goths also had the word wulþus ("glory/majesty"), but we have no
way of telling whether they knew it as a god-name.

Beside "Ullr", there is also a god "Ullinn", whose name is an adjectival
formation meaning "the glorious one". This has often been compared to the
Óðr/Óðinn doublet, most extensively by de Vries; there is no reason to
doubt that they are the same god.

How and when our folk first learned of Wulþur is unknown. It has often been
suggested that Wulþur may actually have been one form of the old
"Sky-Father" or "Shining Father" of the Indo-Europeans; it has likewise
been suggested that he was a Finnish god whose ways were learned by the
Northerners. In the natural world, his might is thought to show itself
forth in the "glory" of the Northern Lights. His hall is called Ýdalir,
"Yew-Dales", which goes easily enough with his role as bow-god. It also
strengthens the belief that he is a god of winter, for whom the evergreen
yew would clearly be holy. This tie between Wulþur and yews also suggests
that Saxo may have known of an older tradition when he says that Ullr was a
sorcerer who could sail upon a bone. The yew was the most magical of trees,
and four Frisian inscriptions were carved upon yew-wood, at least two of
them specifically calling on the might of the yew - to make the surf
submit, in one case; in the other, to ward off ill. This warding-might may
explain part of the tie between Ullr and the shield, as well as his role as
a god of single combat. The yew is also the tree of death, or rather of
life in death; Wulþur may share this aspect, as well, with the
winter-goddess Skaði.

The third-century scabbard from Thorsberg had the name wlþuþewaR, "Wulþur's
Servant", suggesting either that the sword belonged to someone with that
name or that the sword itself was hallowed to the god.

As well on faring on snowshoes and skis, Wulþur is also a rider, though
apparently has no single steed with whom he is closely identified: the list
of heroes' horse-names in Kálfsvísa ends with the line "Ullr (rode) various
ones, but Óðinn (rode) Sleipnir".

Wulþur has been associated with the Wans several times. H.R. Ellis-Davidson
notes that his place-names are often near those called after Wanic deities,
and tentatively compares the shield-kenning "ship of Ullr" to the story of
Scyld Scefing (Shield Sheaf-Descended) in Beowulf and William of
Malmsbury's Gesta Regnum (Gods and Myths, pp. 105-106). De Vries also
suggests strongly that Ullr had a special relationship with several of the
Wanic deities: his place-names are paired with those of Freyr in Norway,
Njörðr in Sweden, and there are also two Ullr-Hörn (Freyja) and two
Ullr-Dísir pairs (Religionsgeschichte II, 157). These place-names are often
formed with "meadow" or "cornfield", suggesting a fertility connection. In
addition to these, there are three Óðinn-Ullr pairs where the names are
associated either with an island or a lake; here, one might perhaps see a
relationship to Saxo's tale of Wulþur taking Wodan's place for a time, then
fleeing by water.

One explanation which has been offered for these pairings is the theory of
an alternating Summer Ruler/Winter Ruler. Folk enactments of the battle
between the personified Summer and Winter are quite common in the Germanic
lands (though more usual at Ostara, when Winter/Death is driven out): it is
not unlikely that in Heathen times, the might of particular god/esses could
be seen in the two halves of the year, and the turning of the seasons as
mirroring their cyclical conflict. Seen in this light, Wulþur would stand
as the Winter King - the god of the woods and the snowy ski-pathways -
while Fro Ing would perhaps be the Summer King. This pairing of Ullr and
the Wanic deities is also especially interesting in the light of the
separated marriage of Skaði and Njörðr: there, too, a summer-winter
alternation may easily be thought of.

Wulþur's colours are the deep green of the yew tree's needles and the
bright red of its berries.


Heimdallr is the watchman of the Ases' Garth, standing on the bridge
Bifröst which links the Ases' Garth with the Middle-Garth. Snorri tells us
that he is called the white Ase, Loki's foe, and the recoverer of Freyja's
necklace. "A sword is called 'Heimdallr's head'; it is said that he was
struck through with a man's head...and ever since the head has been called
'Heimdallr's bane'". He also goes by the by-names Vindhler (see below),
Hallinskíði (etymology impossible), and Gullintanni ("Gold-Toothed"); his
horse is called "Gulltoppr". He needs less sleep than a bird, and night and
day are alike to him; he hears the grass growing on the earth and the wool
on sheep. Snorri quotes a scrap from a poem Heimdallargaldr ("Heimdallr's
Magical Song" - now lost), in which the god declares of himself: "I am son
of nine maids, I am son of nine sisters".

The meaning of Heimdallr's name is disputed, but the first element is
probably heimr ("world"). The second may be related to dallr (brightness);
in this case, the name "World-Brightness" could be seen as a complement to
the Frowe's by-name Mardöll, "Sea-Brightness". An alternate form "Heimdalr"
also survives, and in this case, the second element could be dalr ("bow"),
so that the name would mean "World-Bow" - that is, the Rainbow Bridge.

In Grímnismál 13, we are told that "Himinbjorg (heaven-mountains) are the
eighth, and there Heimdallr rules over the wih-steads. There the warder of
the gods gladly drinks the good mead in the restful house". Loki says that,
"For you (Heimdallr), was an ugly life laid out in earliest days. You must
ever have a wet back, watching as warder of the gods" (Lokasenna 48).

We know little of Heimdallr's elder kin. In the first line of Þrymskviða
15, he is called "whitest of the Ases"; in the second, it is said that "he
knew well the future, like other Wans". However, the Heimdallargaldr
description of the god as the son of nine sisters fits with the Hyndluljóð
account of how a mighty one was born of nine etin-maids at the ends of the
earth: "Gjálp bore him, Greip bore him, Eistla and Eyrgjafa bore him,
Úlfrún and Angeyja bore him, Imðr and Atla and Járnsaxa. He was made
greater with the main of the earth, the spray-cold sea and holy boar's
blood". Nine etin-maids also appear as the daughters of Ægir and Ran,
though their names are very different. Still, given Heimdallr's ties to the
sea (spoken of later), the possibility of a connection is worth some
thought. His father's identity is not certain: Snorri says that he may be
called "son of Óðinn"; but he says the same of Týr, who is identified as
the son of the etin Hymir in Hymiskviða 5, so this is at least a little
dubious. Turville-Petre suggests that, since we know Heimdallr has been
killed at least once and will die again at Ragnarök, it is possible that
his ninefold birth is a sequential process of nine lives (Myth and
Religion, p. 152).

However, though Heimdallr's origins are confusing, his younger kin are very
well-known indeed: the whole human race. The Eddic poem Rígsþula begins
with the tale of how "a certain one of the Ases, who was called Heimdallr,
fared on his way and forth to a certain sea-strand, came to a
house-dwelling and named himself Rígr". The title "Rígr" is probably
derived from the Irish word for "king". The poem itself tells of how he
fathered the founders of the three classes of humankind: Thrall, the father
of slaves, Carl, the father of free farmers, and Earl, the father of
rulers. The process is not simply one of separation, though: it is a
process of growth on the part of the human race. Thrall's parents are
called "Great-Grandfather" and "Great-Grandmother"; Carl's are
"Grandfather" and "Grandmother"; Earl's are "Father" and "Mother" -
Heimdallr is clearly sowing a seed and tending it through the generations.
A form of this tale goes back at least to the time of Tacitus, who reports
the Germanic belief of the god Mannus who had fathered the three great
tribes, Ingvaeones, Hermiones, and Istavaeones. In this aspect, Heimdallr
appears not only as the watcher of the Rainbow Bridge, but as its
embodiment: he is the first of the living links between the god/esses and
all humankind. The beginning of Völuspá bears this out: the seeress begins
with the words, "Hearing I bid of all holy ones, both high and low of
Heimdallr's kin". "Heimdallr's kin" must at least include the god/esses and
humans; perhaps the etins as well, if one thinks on his mothers.

Heimdallr is also a teacher, wise in all crafts and willing to give them to
those humans who are able to learn them. Rígsþula shows him coming to Earl
to teach his son runes and spur him on to win his inheritance; when Earl's
son Konr has learned the runes well enough, Heimdallr gives up the title of
"Rígr" to him. Both this reference and the title of the lost poem
Heimdallargaldr suggest that Heimdallr is a master of magic. Harry Harrison
and John Holm (in The Hammer and the Cross - fiction) present "Rígr" as the
god of human invention and technological progress, which fits well with the
picture given by this poem. It might also be suggested that Heimdallr is a
good god to call on for academic help - perhaps even better than Wodan in
subjects where wild verbal inspiration is not particularly needed.

Despite this, many Ásatrúar see Heimdallr as being rather aloof, not a god
who often brings forth the sort of love that is given to Thonar and even
Wodan. It may be that Heimdallr is particularly a god of high and rigid
standards, who will help those who are able to better themselves, but has
little patience with those who do not live up to their highest potential -
though he is not totally demanding; even he relaxes by drinking mead in his
mountain hall. However, he is very much a serious god, who shows no sign of
having a sense of fun - unless one counts his suggestion in Þrymskviða that
Þórr be dressed as Freyja and take her place to reclaim the Hammer as an
expression of humour.

It is, therefore, little surprise that Heimdallr should be Loki's mortal
foe. According to Snorri, after Loki has stolen the Frowe's necklace,
Heimdallr comes to win it back for her and he and Loki battle in the shape
of seals (Flateyjarbók tells a different version of the reclaiming of
Brísingamen, in which the Frowe arranges the Everlasting Battle of Högni
and Heðinn; but since Snorri's version is supported and Flateyjarbók's is
contradicted by Heathen skaldic poetry, it seems likeliest that Snorri
preserves the truer tradition). He and Loki will also slay each other at
Ragnarök. According to Brian Branston's interpretation, Heimdallr embodies
the "good fire", fire as the useful servant, whereas Loki is the "bad
fire", the dangerous wildfire: therefore they are deadly foes. Branston
reads Heimdallr as a personification of the holy need-fire, seeing his name
"Vindlér" as meaning "Turner" and referring to the process by which this
fire is kindled (this is not etymologically correct - see below). He sees
"Heimdallr" as a byname of Óðinn's brother Lóðurr, whose place in poetry he
thinks Loki usurped during the later Viking Age (Gods of the North, pp.
137-147). Branston's argument for this, however, is based only on his firm
and unsupported belief that Loki must always have been evil, and any
helpful aspects Laufey's son had must have come from his assumption of
Lóðurr's position.

Heimdallr owns a horn called Gjallarhorn (the Resounding Horn). He will
blow it at the end of the age when Ragnarök has come, as said in Völuspá
46: "Mím's sons play, but the Doom is made known by the old Gjallarhorn.
Heimdallr blows loudly, the horn is aloft; Óðinn speaks with Mím's head".
Some have seen this aspect of Heimdallr as a Heathen interpretation of the
Christian myth of Gabriel at Armageddon; however, the blowing of a horn at
the start of a battle must have long been known in the North, so there is
no reason to look for foreign models. In romantic artistic renditions of
Heimdallr, he is shown with a Bronze Age lurhorn; Viking Age purists would
insist on a cattle-horn, but since all that is, is in the moment for our
god/esses, true folk may see the Gjallarhorn as they will. It has been
suggested (somewhat in jest) that Heimdallr might be the patron god of tuba

The Völuspá seeress also says that she knows where Heimdallr's "hljóð" is
hidden, "under the holy, brightness-accustomed tree; she sees it sprinkled
by watery falls from Valfather's pledge". This can only be read as meaning
that the item is in the Well of Mímir, or perhaps Wyrd. There is some doubt
about what the "hljóð" is. Hollander translates it as "horn", and if it is
understood in that manner, then its coming forth at Ragnarök is greatly
meaningful: it acts as the embodiment of the ørlög of the worlds, lying
hidden in the well until the time has come for all the turnings of Wyrd to
be fulfilled. Turville-Petre, however, interprets the "hljóð" as "hearing",
comparing it to Wodan's eye: as Wodan, who sees all, has one eye deep in
the Well, thus Heimdallr, who hears all, hides his hearing (perhaps even
one ear) in the same place (Myth and Religion, pp. 149-150).

According to Grønbech's reading, Heimdallr, as a god of kinship, is
especially the embodiment of the "feast-frith"; and the Völuspá phrase
"Heimdallr's kindred" speaks of the folk gathered at the blessing. He
suggests further that, "The sanctity of the feast implied euphemia: ritual
silence and devout attention, during the performance of the ceremonies and
the chanting of the sacred texts; in the sacral language this euphemia is
called hljóð, and hljóð is bound up with the horn of Heimdal, the symbol or
incarnation of his authority" (II, p. 324).

Since Loki can take several animal forms, but Heimdallr is only seen as a
seal, it is thought that he is especially associated with seals and/or the
water. This association is strengthened by the possibility that his nine
mothers may be the nine waves, together with the prevalence of folk beliefs
about the ninth wave; the reference to him being strengthened by "the
spray-cold sea" also upholds it. His by-name "Vindhlér" means either
"Wind-Sea" ("Hlér" is a by-name for Ægir") or "Wind-Protection".

Turville-Petre argues strongly for the ram as Heimdallr's holy animal. The
god's by-name, Hallinskíði, is a poetic word for "ram", and the ram is also
called "Heimdali", a form which is seen for Heimdallr as well in a poem
attributed to Grettir. The god may once have appeared in the shape of a
ram, or it may be his beast as the boar was Fro Ing's and the goat
Thonar's. Turville-Petre also mentions that the sheep may have been a
particularly holy beast to the Germanic peoples (Myth and Religion, pp.

Though he owns the horse Gulltoppr, there is no sign that the horse was
thought to be one of Heimdallr's holy animals.

Plants associated with Heimdallr in modern times are angelica, ash, and
yew. His colours are white and gold.

No traditional sign for Heimdallr is known, but the trefot may be
associated with him. It is the sign of the Celtic Mannanan mac Lir, who has
much in common with Heimdallr; it can also be seen as representing the
three classes of humankind which he fathered - or the three realms of gods,
humans, and etins which he brings together - or the three great roots of
Yggdrasill which he, as warder of the Rainbow Bridge, watches over.


Bragi, whose name means "the best" or "the foremost", is said to be the god
of poetry; Óðinn tells us in Grímnismál 66 that he is the most awesome of
skalds. Since we already know Wodan to be (to a much stronger degree, as
nearly all the skaldic references to "poetry" attribute it to him) the god
of that craft, Bragi's function in that role is a little puzzling. However,
the first skald of recorded memory was the early ninth-century Bragi
Boddason inn gamli (the Old). This fits with traditional images of Bragi
having a long white beard in spite of his marriage to Iðunn; it could also
be theorized that a human who had been accepted among the god/esses would
have more need of her apples than the other deities. We do know that humans
were sometimes taken up among the ranks of the god/esses: when St. Ansgar
came to convert Sweden, one of the godmen at Birka had a dream in which the
Ases appeared and said that if the Swedes wanted more gods, they would take
the recently deceased king Eiríkr into their company rather than having a
foreigner among them. It is, thus, often thought that Bragi may be the
deified skald.

Another suggestion has been offered: that Bragi was gotten by Wodan on
Gunnlöð during the three nights in which he won the mead of poetry. There
is no evidence for this in the sources, but it seems a nice interpretation,
and some may prefer it to the idea of a deified Viking Age skald. Certainly
Hávamál and Snorri give us the image of the man flying away and leaving the
woman weeping behind which is also seen at the end of Völundarkviða; and in
Völundarkviða the abandoned woman is definitely pregnant.

Bragi does not appear in any Eddic myths, but he does exchange words with
Loki in Lokasenna; in fact, Loki begins by attacking him, adding to what is
clearly a standard formula - "Heilir æsir heilar ásynjor / ok öll
ginnheilog goð" (Hail the Æsir, hail the Ásynjur, and all power-holy gods)
the contemptuous "Except for one Ase who sits within, Bragi, on the
benches". Bragi, seeing that Loki is looking for trouble, offers to give
him him sword, horse, and armring if he will sit down and shut up. Loki
replies that Bragi has neither horses nor arm-rings, for he is the wariest
of battle and the most frightened of shooting, to which Bragi answers that
if they were outside he would swiftly have Loki's head in his hands, and
Iðunn has to calm her husband. Loki then mentions that Iðunn had laid her
shining arms over her brother's slayer; whether this is a deed of Bragi's
we know nothing about, or whether Loki is speaking of another event
altogether, there is no way to tell.

Bragi is seen in the skaldic poem Eiríksmál: he compares the sound of
Eiríkr (Bloodaxe) and his troops approaching Valhöll to the sound of Balder
returning (to which Óðinn replies, "Witless words should wise Bragi not
speak), and asks Óðinn why the god had not given Eiríkr victory, if he was
the braver man. Óðinn replies with the famous words, "The gray wolf gapes
ever at the dwellings of the gods", - an answer which has inspired many
skalds, then and since. He also appears in Hákonarmál, in which he seems to
act as a sort of herald, being the first to speak to Hákon as the slain
king comes to Valhöll's door and to offer him the friendship of the
einherjar. His role in the latter poem also strengthens the idea that he
was once a human who was taken up into the ranks of the god/esses, as it is
the legendary heroes Sigmundr and Sinfjötli who carry out the same act of
greeting for Eiríkr Blood-Axe in Eiríksmál.

In Sigrdrífumál, "Bragi's tongue" is listed in the category of objects on
which runes are carved. The same list includes Sleipnir's teeth, the wolf's
claw, the eagle's beak, the bear's paw, the bridge's end, the
sledge-straps, and a host of other items. These probably do not literally
have runes risted into them, but are, rather, items of the greatest might
through which the power of the runes flow. Blithely ignoring everything we
know about Norse tradition, with only this stanza to go from, Barbara
Walker (The Book of the Crone , and other feminist rewritings of everything
mystical) has recently invented a myth in which Iðunn, rather than Óðinn,
was the original finder/keeper of the runes and carved them onto her
husband's tongue. Since this contradicts all known sources and accords only
with Walker's ideology, it can safely be dismissed.

The cup of oath-drinking is called bragarfull, which means "the best cup".
Sometimes it is also referred to as "Bragi's cup", probably out of a false
etymology which derives the adjective bragr, "the best", from the god's
name. However, since songs and poems are often spoken at symbel, the
"Bragi's cup" could indeed have gotten its name from the god.

Foseti (Fosite, Forseti - Old Norse)

Snorri tells us that Forseti is the son of Balder and Nanna; in Grímnismál
15, it is said that "Glitnir (Glittering) is the tenth (hall), it is
supported with gold, and silver thatches it as well; and there Forseti
dwells most of the day and settles all cases." "Forseti" is also used as a
poetic name for a hawk in the þulur (lists of poetic names and heiti). He
does not appear often in Norse myths or place-names, but in eastern Norway
there is a "Forsetalundr" (Forseti's Grove), which hints that he was at
least sometimes worshipped in Scandinavia (Schwartz, Poetry and Law in
Germanic Myth, p. 19). Forseti's worship is unattested to in Old English
sources, but as the Frisians invaded England together with the Angles,
Saxons, and Jutes, it is a likely guess that he was known in at least some
parts of England. Eric Wodening reconstructs his Anglo-Saxon name-form as

However, Fosite seems to have been the chief god of the Frisians, and we do
have tales about him and his cult from that area. According to the legend
"Van da tweer Koningen Karl ende Radbod" (of the two kings Charles [Martel]
and Radbod), when the Frankish Charles conquered Frisia, he tried to get
the Frisians to reveal their laws to him so that he could judge them. The
twelve Foerspreken (fore-speakers) from the Frisian lands stall him twice,
but then must admit that they cannot. They are set out to sea in a
rudderless ship. Thereupon a thirteenth man appears in the stern, carrying
a golden axe (a later, and rather weak, attempt to christianize the tale
has been made at this point), with which he steers the ship to land. He
then takes the axe from his shoulder and throws it to the earth. It casts
up a piece of turf and an underground spring bursts forth. The twelve
Foerspreken sit around the spring and learn the law from him. Schwartz
reads the historical motivation as being a later interpolation, thinking it
more likely that the Foerspreken are gods (corresponding to the traditional
twelve Ases of Norse mythology) and that the legend was already old before
the Frankish invasion of Frisia.

The association of this myth with Fosite is based on an event in the Vita
s. Willibrordi. Willibrord is driven ashore on the island between Frisia
and Denmark which is called "Fositeland". Everything there was hallowed to
Fosite: the folk did not dare to touch the animals or disturb anything, and
water could only be drawn from the holy spring in silence. The location,
the special worship given to Fosite by the Frisians, and the description of
an island with a hallowed spring all fit closely with the above legend. His
spring itself may have been a place of capital punishment, as the "Life of
Wulfram" states that condemned men were sometimes drowned in fresh or salt

Schwartz also associates the spring as the font of law with the Well of
Wyrd, where the Ases' deeming is done, and comments that "Both Frisian and
Scandinavian accounts indicate that law is acquired by crossing over
water...both the Frisian legend of the thirteenth god and Snorri's
description of (the gods) crossing Bifröst indicate that a supernatural
means is necessary to traverse water" (p. 23). Schwartz interprets the name
Fosite as meaning "bridge-setter" (p.24), but the form "Forseti" seems to
mean "he who presides" (de Vries, Wörterbuch, p. 139), as a judge over a
court or a president or an assembly - a fitting name for a god the elder
Heathens saw as goberning law, arbitration, and judgement.

Colours associated with Fosite in the modern age are red and gold; the rune
we associate with him is raidho. It is significant to note Forseti's
association with precious metals (the golden axe of Frisian sources and the
gold studs and silver-thatched roof of Icelandic sources, which may reflect
the tradition of paying recompense as a punishment among the Germanic

Móði and Magni

Móði ("Bravery") and Magni ("Main-Strength") are the sons of Thonar and his
etin-concubine Járnsaxa. Magni is the strongest of all the gods; when his
father was trapped under the leg of the fallen giant Hrungnir and none of
the other deities could move the body, three-year-old Magni lifted it off
and then said that if he had gotten there earlier, he would have struck the
etin into Hel with his fist.

According to Völuspá, Magni and Móði will inherit Thonar's Hammer after

Víðarr and Váli

Both of these sons of Wodan were fathered by him on etin-women (see "Skaði,
Gerðr, and other Etin-Brides") for the purpose of the acts of revenge which
will work towards bringing about the rebirth of Wodan and Balder after
Ragnarök. Víðarr, the son of Gríðr, is called "the silent god"; his name
may mean "the wide-ruling one". According to Grímnismál 17, "Bushes grow,
and high grass, in Víðarr's land, the Wide; yet there the kinsman shall
leap from the steed's back, bold, to avenge his father". Two Norwegian
place-names, "Virsu" (from "Víðarshof") and "Viskjøl" (from "Víðarsskjálf"
- Víðarr's Crag) may suggest that this god did have his own cult, but if
so, it was not widely spread, and may not have been very old. Today, he is
often seen as the silent warder of empty plains and uncut woods.

Váli is the son of Wodan and the etin-maid Rindr, who, when only one day
old, avenges Balder. Völuspá says that he did not wash his hands nor comb
his hair until Baldr's slayer was borne to the funeral pyre. This sort of
oath was not uncommon for Northern heroes; it is similar to Haraldr inn
hárfagri's vow that he would not cut nor comb his hair until he had brought
all Norway under his rule, and also very like the oath of Tacitus' young
Chatti warriors not to cut their hair until they had slain a foe. A
place-name which may be derived from "Váli's Skjálf" also exists in Norway.
"Váli" was also used as a man's name; a character in Landnámabók is called
Váli hinn sterki (Váli the strong).

Vafþrúðnismál 51 tells us that "Víðarr and Váli shall dwell in the gods'
wih-stead when Surtr's fire is slaked".


Eric Wodening, "Forseti" (previously unpublished).

Chapter XVI

Nerthus and Njörðr

Nerthus and Njörðr are, so far as we know, the first and eldest of the
Wans. The meaning of their name is uncertain; de Vries suggests that it
might be related to "strength", "the underworld/the North", or possibly a
verb meaning "to dance", hinting at holy/ecstatic dancing as part of the
Wanic cult (Wörterbuch, p. 411). They are the same deity; the difference in
their names is only that of the linguistic shift from Proto-Germanic
*Nerthuz to Old Norse Njörðr. However, when Tacitus wrote of Nerthus in 98
C.E., he called her "Mother Earth", while all our Old Norse sources tell us
that Njörðr is a manly god. Their first being may well have been as an
hermaphrodite, or else as a deity that could be either manly or womanly at
will. However, it is likely that, if this were so, they soon became a
male-female pair of twins. The wooden male and female gods of bridges and
marshy places from the Celtic and Roman Iron Ages have already been spoken
of in that historical chapter. Such pairs have often been likened to Fro
Ing and the Frowe, but their watery and boggy steads suggest, rather, that
they may have been images of Njörðr and Nerthus.

This earthy/watery character is the very root of the Wanic might. As shall
be spoken of, Fro Ing and the Frowe have, respectively, much of air and of
fire in their beings as well; as we see in the tales left to us, they are
more active than their parents. To Nerthus and Njörðr belong the hidden
realms below the earth and the waves - the darkness from which seeds and
fish spring up, and into which the dead sink. The Wans are very often
called the "wise Wans" in Eddic poetry, and said to have fore-sight. One
reason for this may be that their realm is that of the gravemound's earth -
the silent hall in which the ur-old seeresses dwell, in which all that is
and is becoming is kept and may be known. The same realm is also the waters
deep in the Well of Wyrd: the Well and the howe, the water and the earth,
are two forms of the same might which hides and feeds the roots of the
World-Tree in darkness. That which sinks into this realm is, in the turning
of time, brought forth ever stronger; gifts which sink into the waters of
the lake or mud of the bog are known to have been taken by the god/esses,
so that they will bless the giver. This is how it was done at the great hof
of Old Uppsala: sacrifices were put into the well that stood before the
hof's great evergreen, and those that sank were known to have been accepted
and showed that the prayers given with them would be answered.

In the Viking Age, only Njörðr was known by name; but the ever-informative
Loki tells us that he had gotten Freyr and Freyja on his own sister
(Lokasenna 36). Snorri also mentions in Ynglinga saga that brother-sister
marriages were common among the Wans, but not allowed among the Ases.
Whether he knew more about this belief, or was simply extrapolating from
the references in Lokasenna to the mating of not only Njörðr and his
sister, but Freyr and Freyja, we cannot know. Njörðr's sister is never
named in any of the sources, and there are no other references to her. The
reason for that may be that only one name was known for the two of them,
and the changes in speech which transformed *Nerthuz into Njörðr may also
have rendered the name more distinctively manly, so that the goddess was
forgotten and the god remembered.

About Nerthus, Tacitus tells us that she was worshipped by the tribes of
Northern Germany and Southern Jutland, whom in an earlier chapter of
Germania he identifies as the "Ingvaeones". His description of her cult is
very close to that of the Gunnars þáttr helmings description of the cult of
Freyr (written at least 1200 years later). "In an island of the ocean there
is a sacred grove and in it a carriage dedicated (to the goddess), covered
with a vestment; only one priest is allowed to touch it. He feels the
goddess' presence in her shrine, and follows with great veneration as she
rides forth drawn by cows. Then come festive times for those whom she
dignifies with her hospitality. They do not make war, they do not take up
arms; all iron is put away; then, and only then, peace and quiet are known
and loved, until she is satiated with the company of humans and the same
priest returns the goddess to her sacred precinct. After this, the carriage
and the vestment and, if you wish to believe it, the goddess herself, are
washed in a secret lake. Slaves do this ministry and are then swallowed by
the same lake: hence a mysterious terror and an ignorance full of reverence
as to what that may be which men see only to die" (Germania, ch. 40). The
tall wooden goddess from Forlæv Nymølle (discussed in "Celtic and Roman
Iron Ages"), laid in a cairn of stones with pots around her, may have been
just such an image of Nerthus, resting in her hidden dwelling place as she
waited for her next procession.

As well as the holy wain, the ship-procession may also have been part of
the Wanic cult. Tacitus claims that the Suebi had somehow managed to adopt
the foreign cult of Isis, of which the emblem was a ship; but it seems more
likely that he was imposing what he knew from his own culture onto a native
Germanic religious practise. Grimm cites a German account from the year
1133 of how "a ship was built, set upon wheels, and drawn about the country
by men who were yoked to it, first to Aachen, then to Masetricht, where
mast and sail were added, and up the river to Tongres, Looz, and so on,
everywhere with crowds of people assembling and escorting it. Where-ever it
halted, there were joyful shouts, songs of triumph and dancing round the
ship kept up till far into the night. The approach of the ship was notified
to the towns, which opened their gates and went out to meet it" (Teutonic
Mythology I, pp. 258-59). The clerical author also comments on "malignant
spirits" travelling within it and the generally heathen and sinful
character of the event. Grimm connects this with the procession of Nerthus,
adding that one of the most significant elements of the account is "that
(the ship-procession) was so utterly repugnant to the clergy, and that they
tried in every way to suppress it...On the other hand, the secular power
had authorized the procession, and was protecting it; it rested with the
several townships, whether to grant admission to the approaching ship, and
the popular feeling seems to have ruled that it would be shabby not to
forward it on its way" (I, p. 262). The Oseberg ship, highly decorated as
it was, and unsuitable by construction for any waters but the relatively
shallow and calm bays and fjords, may also have been a ritual ship designed
to make the procession by water, as the wain did on land. It is possible
that memories of such a procession could also have been kept alive in
Snorri's description of how Freyr's ship Skíðblaðnir could travel over both
land and water; Simek comments that "The name Skíðblaðnir, which means
'assembled from pieces of thin wood', would fit well for a cult ship which
was only built for the duration of festivities" (Dictionary of Northern
Mythology, p. 289).

Tacitus also tells us that the amber-gathering Germans on the eastern coast
of the Baltic worshipped "the mother of the gods", whose emblem was the
figure of the wild boar, which was worn by her folk. This boar "takes the
place of arms and of human protection, and secures the follower of the
goddess a mind at rest even among enemies" (ch. 45). This same belief
appears in Beowulf, where the boar-crest on the helm wards the warrior who
wears it. The boar is holy to Fro Ing and the Frowe; this reference
suggests that it is also holy to Nerthus.

As the early earth- and bog-goddess, Nerthus must, like her daughter, have
owned a mighty necklace or girdle. The word njarðgörð, "girdle of
strength", appears in Old Norse and may well be related to her name; though
it is Þórr who is said to wear it in the skaldic poem "Þórsdrapa", it is
likely that Nerthus has such a girdle of her own. It is pleasing to think
of her necklace and girdle as being, like the Stone Age bog-gifts, great
strands of raw amber.

While Nerthus is mostly a goddess of earth, Njörðr himself seems to be a
god of water, particularly the ocean. He is the god of ships, seamen and
fishers. His home is called Nóatún - "enclosure of ships", or "harbour". In
the tale of his unsuccessful marriage to Skaði (see "Skaði"), his home is
by the waves and loud with the sound of seagulls. This tale also tells us
of how Skaði chose him by the beauty of his feet; interestingly, the bare
footprint is one of the signs which often appears on the Bronze Age rock
carvings, most of which were set up by the coast. It may well have been an
emblem of the god from early times, perhaps as a sign of his fruitfulness,
as the wedding-association suggests.

Today, Njörðr is also the god of water-sports. Frolicking at beaches,
rivers, lakes, or swimming pools, going out on surfboards or water-skis,
and so forth, are wholly fitting ways to celebrate this deity on holy days.

Like his son Freyr, and often together with him, Njörðr held a very high
place as a god of ritual and holiness. In Ynglinga saga, Snorri says that
the two of them were set as blótgoðar (blessing-godmen) among the gods, and
that they were díar among the Ases. The exact meaning of díar is not sure,
but Turville-Petre suggests that, as Snorri uses it, it "probably implies
priests of a particularly exalted kind" ( Myth and Religion, p. 163). The
Icelandic oath-taking formula recorded in Landnámabók (Hauksbók ch. 270)
was "so help me Freyr and Njörðr and the all-mighty Ase (probably either
Óðinn or Þórr, though Ullr has also been suggested - KHG)"; at holy feasts,
according to Snorri (Hákons saga ins goða, Heimskringla) a special toast
was drunk to Freyr and Njörðr (see "Symbel". Turville-Petre also cites
Egill Skalla-Grímsson's curse against Eiríkr Blood-Axe, where the runester
called on Freyr and Njörðr together, and Egill's later statement that Freyr
and Njörðr had blessed Arinbjörn with riches (Myth and Religion, p. 162).

In Vafþrúðnismál 38, Óðinn mentions that Njörðr has countless hofs and
harrows, though he was not born among the Ases; and in Grímnismál it is
told that Njörðr rules a high-timbered harrow in Nóatún". Place-name
evidence supports this as well; there are quite a few of the "Njörðr's vé"
type; also "Njörðr's grove", "Njörðr's hof", "Njörðr's bay", and "Njörðr's
island" ( Myth and Religion, p. 163).

Unlike Freyr, Njörðr does not fight in the last battle; Vafþrúðnismál 39
tells us that at Ragnarök, Njörðr "shall come home among the wise Wans

Colours associated with Nerthus and Njörðr in modern times are brown
(Nerthus), deep blue (Njörðr), black (both), and deep green (both).

Njörðr's holy bird, and perhaps Nerthus' as well, is likely to be the
seagull. Nerthus' holy beasts are the boar (as mentioned above) and cattle;
Tacitus mentions that her chariot is drawn by oxen. As the most nurturing
of beasts, the cow is clearly fitting to her. It is also possible that
there might be some tie between the Wanic god/desses and the ur-cow
Audhumbla, whose doings after Ymir's death are never spoken of.

There are no animals associated with Njörðr in traditional sources.
However, it may be thought that those mammals which can live both in sea
and on land, such as seals and walruses, are the most fitting to him.

Jet is the stone which is thought of as Nerthus' gem, green malachite is
Njörðr's. Amber, the gift of both sea and earth, goes well with both of

As spoken of above, the bare footprint is Njörðr's sign. There is no
traditional sign of Nerthus, though the girdle or twisted circle of rope
might be thought fitting to her.

Chapter XVII

Fro Ing (Freyr, Engus, *Fraujaz Ingwaz)

Freyr's competence (à la Nadel) was in the areas of fertility, peace,
prosperity, sex, sacred kingship, battle and death. All of which areas are
connected with the greater cycle of life: even prosperity, which is the
result of a high fertility. The name Freyr (Anglo-Saxon Frea, Old High
German Fro) is a title, meaning "lord" in the sense of the
peacetime/judicial function of rulership: the Norse references to him as
Yngvifreyr or Ingunar-Freyr have led to the conclusion that he is the same
god as the Anglo-Saxon Ing/Gothic Engus, and thus many Troth folk who
prefer to use Anglo-Saxon or general Germanic forms call him Ing.

Freyr was known throughout the Germanic world, but different areas tended
to focus on different deities as paramount. The area in which Freyr was
most important was Sweden, specifically the southeastern part.

The first evidence of worship of Freyr or a like deity comes from the
Bronze Age: the rock-carvings from Östergötland, which show a phallic man
with a sword and a boar. All the examples of this sort "are from
Östergötland, and this restricted distribution corresponds in part to the
distribution of place names containing the name Freyr. (de Vries,
Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, vol. ii, p. 201). They are commonest
just to the north of Lake Mälaren, and consequently overlap with the
Uppland group of engravings, among which the role and importance of the
sword cannot yet be assessed; but they are fairly common as far south as
Östergötland, after which they are distinctly rare in the south and west of
Sweden" (Gelling and Ellis-Davidson, The Chariot of the Sun and other Rites
and Symbols of the Bronze Age).

There are several finds of what may be images associated with Freyr. The
best known of these is the small silver figurine from Södermanland (Viking
Age), where the god sits with chin on hand and a substantial erection. This
was probably carried in a belt-pouch, like the silver image of Freyr that
Ingimundr the Old was said to carry with him in Vatnsdæla saga. From the
Celtic and Roman Iron Ages, there are also the phallic wooden figures found
in the bogs of Denmark, which, if they do not represent this god himself,
showed a deity of very similar character.

The christian historian Adam of Bremen, writing just before A.D. 1200,
describes the high temple at Uppsala thus:

"in this temple, richly ornamented with gold, the people worship

the images of three gods. Thor, the mightiest of the three, stands

in the centre of the church, with Wodan and Fricco on his right

and left. Thor, they say, holds the dominion of the air. He rules

over the thunder and lighting, winds and rain, clear weather and

fertility. The second deity, Wodan, that is to say, 'Rage', wages war

and gives man courage to meet his foe. The third is Fricco. He gives

to mortals peace and enlightenment, his image having a much

exaggerated penis. All their gods are provided with priests, who

offer the sacrifices of the people. When plague or famine threatens,

sacrifice is offered to Thor; when war is imminent, to Wodan; when

a wedding is to be celebrated, to Fricco" (Lost Gods of England, p. 114).

Branston then mentions that Fricco is the same as Frey(r), a generally
accepted interpretation. The name, however, cannot be derived from "Freyr";
it is a common Old High German man's name, which may originally have been a
manly derivation from the Proto-Germanic *Frijjo - Frija. Since Adam
translated Óðinn by the German name Wodan, he may have subsituted a more
German-sounding name for Freyr as well.

Saxo Grammaticus, writing not long after Adam of Bremen, knew that Freyr
was particularly associated with Sweden and with the kings of Sweden at
Uppsala, as well as having a special religious role there. He describes
Freyr as being the "satrap" of the gods, and introducing human sacrifice at
Uppsala. Earlier, he mentions how the king Hadding had established the
yearly feast which the Swedes called Freyr's-blót, when "swarthy" victims
were given to the god. Freyr has the particular title "blótguð svía",
"blessing-god of the Swedes", and Gunnars þáttr helmings shows the Swedish
procession of Freyr's image in graphic detail; Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar also
mentions that the Swedes called Freyr veraldar guð, "god of the world"
(Flateyjarbók I, p. 402).

The following of Freyr also appeared often among the Icelanders. For
example, Gísla saga tells how Þórgrímr is said still to be in the howe, and
"he was so dear to Freyr on account of his sacrifices to Freyr that Freyr
would have no frost between them" - that is, the barrow-mound stayed green
even in the snow. Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða recounts the story of a man who
was specifically given to Freyr and shared all his best possessions with
the god he loved, especially the horse Freyfaxi.

The most specific Freyr-beast is the boar, which is one of the fertile
early farm animals. Here we see a clear tie between Freyr and fruitfulness,
which is mirrored in Freyja's heiti Sýr, "sow". At the funeral of Baldr, it
is told how, "Battle-wise Freyr rides first on his gold-bristled boar to
the hill (pyre) of Óðinn's son, and leads the hosts" (Úlfr Uggason,
"Húsdrápa" 7). Snorri also tells us that one of the gifts forged by the
dwarves at Loki's behest was Freyr's boar Gullinbursti (Gold-Bristled) or
Slíðrugtanni (Cutting-Tusked), which could "run over air and water, night
and day, better than any horse, and it would never be so dark at night or
in mirk-worlds, that it would not be bright enough where he fared, his
bristles gave off such light". Vatnsdæla saga gives us a tale of holy swine
as showing the will of Freyr: Ingimundr the Old (who carried the
Freyr-image with him), lost some of his swine and did not find them again
until a boar named Beigath was with them. Ingimundr and his people drove
the swine to the lake now called Swine Lake, where they meant to pen them,
"but the boar jumped into the lake and swam across it, but became so tired
that his cloven feet came off him. He got to the shore at Beigatharhvól and
died there. Now Ingimundr felt happy in Vatnsdale." This was clearly a sign
of the same sort as that given to Þórólfr Mosturskeggi in Eyrbyggja saga
when he trusted the pillars carved with the image of Þórr to guide him to
the place the god meant him to live: the finding of the swine and the
boar's strength and endurance showed the blessing of Freyr and Freyja (The
Chariot of the Sun, p. 54). Similar stories are told about the swine-herds
of Steinólfr the Short and Helgi the Lean, who put a boar and a sow aboard
at a certain cliff, and came back three years later to find that the herd
had grown to seventy.

The boar was also a beast of battle, and it is probably as such that Freyr
rides it as leader of the hosts: Beowulf speaks of the boar-crested helms
of the warriors, and such helms were actually found in the Migration Age
Anglo-Saxon burials of Sutton Hoo and Bentley Grange. "Hildisvín"
(Battle-swine) and "Hildigöltr" (Battle-boar) were names for helmets;
Freyja's boar was also called "Hildisvín". Jöfurr, "boar", was an Old Norse
"glory-name" for warriors and princes; the boar was clearly one of the
noblest of beasts as well as one of the most warlike.

Lastly, the boar was a holy animal. The Yule-oaths were sworn on the best
boar of the herd, which was then given to Freyr and/or Freyja (according to
Heiðreks saga) as the Midwinter sacrifice. Here we see Freyr (and Freyja as
well, since the two cannot be parted) as the one whose might brings the
world of humans together with the worlds of the god/esses and ghosts.
Images of a man with a boar are found on some Migration Age bracteates, and
these may be connected with the cult of Freyr.

Freyr also appears to have been connected with horses. He was the owner of
a horse called "Blóðughófi", "Bloody-Hooved". Sometimes this has been read
as suggesting an injury to the horse's leg, such as that which formed the
model for the Zweite Merseburger Zauberspruch (see "Balder"); it is also
possible that the name describes Freyr's riding forth in battle, as his own
heiti Atriði suggests. The saga of Hrafnkell Freysgoði tells how Hrafnkell
dedicated a horse (Freyfaxi) to Freyr, which only he and Freyr were allowed
to ride. Such horses seem similar to the holy horses described by Tacitus
in Germania ch. 10: the "white horses, never soiled by human use" who are
"yoked to a sacred chariot and accompanied by priest or king or other head
of state, who observe their neighing or snorting. No other divination has
greater faith placed in it, not only by the ordinary people but by the
kings and priests; they are the servants of the gods, but the horses their
confidants". Another horse named Freyfaxi appears in the Vatnsdæla saga,
where the sons of Ingimundr, worshippers of Freyr, attended a horse-fight.
To Ellis­Davidson, it seems likely that horse-fights were associated with
the cult of Freyr. (Ellis-Davidson, 1964:98). In Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar
(Flateyjarbók), it is told how the christian king carried out his attack on
a Trondheim hof by riding the stallion of a herd that was dedicated to

The Völsa þáttr of St. Óláfr's saga (Flateyjarbók) tells of a family which
had a preserved horse-phallus as a holy item; this has also been associated
with Freyr, for obvious reasons. The phallus, from a horse killed at the
autumn slaughtering, was taken by the farm-wife, who preserved it with
linen and leeks and enchanted it so that it grew great and stood by itself.
It was given the name Völsi, and at the evening feasts, it was passed about
from person to person with the repeated refrain, "May the Mörnir take this
blessing!" "Mörnir" seems to mean "etin-women"; the singular is used twice
for Njörðr's wife Skaði in Þjóðólfr ór Hvíni's Haustlöng, implying the
sacrifice of manly fruitfulness to the darker womanly powers, as is in fact
hinted at both in the wooing of Gerðr and the account of Skaði's wedding
(see "Skaði and Gerðr"). Because of Freyr's own surrender of sword and
horse to bring about his wedding, the rune Ingwaz has often been
interpreted as the sacrifice of manhood, and its shape as showing the
castrated male. However, no matter how often Freyr gives his might of
fruitfulness to his bride, more power always springs forth from him; it is
more likely that the shape of Ingwaz shows the manly seed-sack, often
emptied and often refilled with the god's strength.

After Freyr gave away his sword for the sake of winning Gerðr (see below),
he had to fight with a stag's antler at Ragnarök. The stag is thus thought
of as one of Freyr's beasts. Like the boar and the stallion, it is among
the most male of animals. It also suggests a special closeness between
Freyr and the powers of the wild, though usually when he is spoken of in
Norse sources, it is because of his social and agricultural functions.
However, in modern times, Freyr is often seen as being a god of the wood
and its beasts. Freyr's use of the stag's antler has also been seen by some
as suggesting that he may be something of a Norse equivalent of the Celtic
Cernunnos (Horned One), whom the Anglo-Saxons knew as Herne the Hunter.
Though all the Wans are particularly associated with ecology and the
responsible relationship between humans and the natural world, as the
warder of the woodland's frith and well-being, Freyr would most especially
be a god of the ecology.

According to Lokasenna, Freyr has two servants, a married couple named
Beyla (perhaps "bee" or "cow", "cow-keeper" - difficult etymology) and
Byggvir ("barley"). The latter may perhaps bear some relationship to the
British "John Barleycorn"; his connection with Freyr is clear. If Beyla
does indeed mean "bee", the two of them could be read as the givers of the
basic materials for brewing - grain for ale, honey for mead.

In the natural world, Freyr is the giver of sunlight, fair winds and light
rain and all that is needed for the crops to grow. His might is known in
the bright and warm weather of a good harvest-time; as lord of the Light
Elves, he is especially associated with the air as well as the earth.

Ships were also affiliated with Freyr. He had the magical ship Skíðblaðnir
("assembled from pieces of thin wood" - see "Njörðr/Nerthus"), made for him
by the same dwarves who crafted Óðinn's spear and Sif's gold hair. This
ship could be folded up and carried in his pocket, or be put down and grow
to be large enough to hold all the gods and goddesses. It has a favorable
breeze whenever it is used, and can sail over land as well as sea. As
spoken of earlier ("The Bronze Age") the ship is the symbol of death and
rebirth; both of which functions are clearly in Freyr's domain. Death and
rebirth are often seen as a journey, into the unknown; and before modern
charts and navigation, sea travel, or at least ocean travel, must have
seemed that way at times. Ynglinga saga, however attributes the ship to
Óðinn, which is interesting, considering that both the Prose Edda and
Ynglinga saga were written by Snorri Sturluson. However, Snorri was not
always consistent between these two works; it is possible that he knew two
different traditions, one of Óðinn as the ferryman between the worlds (see
"Wodan") and one of Freyr as ship-god and/or death-god. The ship is also a
sign of fruitfulness, and the Wanic processions were carried out both in a
ship and in a wain.

The so-called Peace of Fróði (mentioned in Saxo), a sort of Norse Golden
Age when frith (fruitful peace) ruled throughout the Northlands, was
attributed to Freyr by the Swedes. Both Turville-Petre (Myth and Religion,
pp. 160-170) and de Vries (Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II 182-86)
also identify this King Fróði with Freyr. Here we see Freyr as the
frith-god, the keeper of the peace, and as the image of the best of all
possible rulers. This frith was also a great part of his holy places, where
weapons and outlaws could not be brought nor blood shed. Víga-Glúms saga
shows Freyr as being particularly angered by the Óðinnic Glúmr, who did all
these things in Freyr's holy places (Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion, pp.
69-70). Freyr's might is, as seen with the oath-boar, that of bringing the
worlds together in frith and making sure that all goes rightly: from this
work of his stem holiness, wisdom, and earthly fruitfulness.

Freyr does not scorn fighting: he is called "leader of the host of the
gods" (Skírnismál 3), and not only did he slay his brother-in-law, the etin
Beli, but Snorri mentions that he could have killed the giant with a single
blow of his fist (a reference which has led some modern Ásatrúar to think
that Freyr might be called on as a particular patron of martial artists).
However, his battles seem to be, like Þórr's, against the foes of the gods
- most especially against Surtr, the greatest force of destruction at
Ragnarök. To humans, Fro Ing is more often a giver of frith. Even in war,
the use of the boar-helms can be contrasted with that of Wodan's spear: the
spear-hallowing acts as a curse to slay the foe, the boar-image hallows and
wards the one it crowns, so that he comes safe and whole from the battle.
Eric Wodening adds that rather than being a god who loves peace so much he
is unwilling to fight, Frea is a god who loves peace so much he is willing
to fight to keep it; thus Frea is in many ways the divine equivalent of a
policeman or "peace officer". Evidence of this function of Frea can be
found in the fact that the Anglo-Saxons called the bands of men charged
with enforcing the law in Dark Ages England "frithguilds". A policeman not
only enforces the law, but protects his charges as well, and Frea does this

Bede tells us that the Anglo-Saxon high priest was not allowed to carry
weapons, or ride any horse other than a mare; and when Coifi turned against
the god/esses of his folk, he desecrated the hof by riding up to it on a
stallion and casting a spear into it. Similarities have often been seen
between these rules and Freyr's giving away his own horse and sword to win
Gerðr; the frithgarth is also typical of the Wanic cult, so it may be that
Coifi was first a priest of Ing.

Mention has already been made of one type of Fröblót, or sacrifice to
Freyr, and that is of swine. Oxen were also sacrificed to Freyr, as in
Víga-Glúms saga in which Þórkell brought an ox to Freyr's holy place with
the request that Glúmr, who had driven him from his land, should in turn be
driven out. The ox bellowed and dropped down dead, showing that Freyr had
taken the gift and would fulfill Þórkell's request.

Sacrifices to Freyr took place at certain times more often than others. One
time which they were done was on midsummer's night, when weddings were
performed: "sacrifices to Frey among the Swedes took place at the same time
as marriages. (Adam of Bremen, IV:27.) Doubtless on such occasions swine
were sacrificed. They were the most prolific of domestic animals and
therefore a most fitting sacrifice, on such occasions dedicated to Frey and
Freyja. Again, we may satisfactorily explain why weddings were set on the
"winter nights": That was the time to perform the sacrifice to Frey"
(Barthi Guthmundsson, Origins of the Icelanders, p. 57).

Another practice associated with Freyr is the procession of his idol in a
chariot through the fields. In the Flateyjarbók, part of the saga of King
Olaf Tryggvason, is preserved the tale of Gunnarr helming. In the tale it
is told that the statue of Freyr is taken around to bless the fields during
autumn, accompanied by his "wife", a priestess. Gunnarr wrestles with the
wooden image of Freyr, overcoming the god and taking his place. The Swedes
were delighted at the god's lively eating and drinking, more delighted when
the god's wife became pregnant, as that was the best of signs. This tale
was clearly meant by the christian tellers to poke fun at the gullible
Heathen Swedes, but it is just as clearly based on real memories of Freyr's
procession - and perhaps also hints at the possibility that a human man
could have housed the god's might for a little while in the holiest
rituals. The Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem also tells us that "Ing was first seen
by men among the East Danes, till he, after that, went over the sea again:
his wain ran after him - thus the warriors named the hero." As spoken of
further in "Njörðr/Nerthus", this procession may be the most typical
characteristic of the Wanic cult.

Burial in a howe without burning is associated very strongly with Freyr.
(Ellis, Road to Hel, p. 78). Euhemerizing Freyr to a mortal king in
Ynglinga saga, Snorri tells us that when he was buried in that manner,
others copied his example: "But after Freyr had been laid in a howe at
Uppsala, many chiefs raised howes as often as memorial stones in memory of
their kinsmen", and later mentions that "Freyr [was] buried secretly in a
howe, and it was said to the Swedes that he lived", and the Swedes kept
paying taxes to him, which they poured into holes in the mound.

The cult of the howe was deeply important to the Scandinavians, for it was
from the burial mounds of his forefathers that a king got his authority.
Together with Óðinn, Freyr was the great kingly deity of the North: he was
both ancestor-god, fathering the Yngling royal line of Sweden, and
mound-god. Together with Óðinn again (and in contrast to Þórr, who hardly
ever received this backhanded distinction), Freyr was the god most often
euhemerized as a king. One of the great royal treasures of the Swedes was
an armring called Svíagrís, "Piglet of the Swedes", and this ring was
probably the sign of Freyr's might passed down through the kingly line.

We know only one major myth of Freyr - that recounted in the Eddic poem
Skírnismál. Freyr had seen the etin-maid Gerðr (Snorri adds that this
happened when Freyr was sitting on Óðinn's seat Hliðskjálf) and fallen in
love with her, retiring from the company of the other gods in his sorrows.
Skaði sends Freyr's manservant Skírnir to find out what is wrong; Freyr
then sends Skírnir to woo Gerðr, but must give the messenger his horse and
his sword so that Skírnir will be able to get past the trolls on the way
and ride through the ring of fire surrounding Gerðr. Gerðr is reluctant at
first, but when threatened with enchantment, yields and says that she will
be wedded to Freyr. It is likely of pre-christian origin, as stated by
Hollander. But as for whether or not Skírnír is an hypostasis of Freyr, as
has been suggested many times, one can only guess. The name, Skírnír means
"radiance," which is a title of Freyr; but nowhere else is it suggested
that he and Freyr are the same. In fact, in Lokasenna 42, Loki tells how
Freyr will be without his weapon at Ragnarök, because he gave it to Skírnír
for his journey to seek out and obtain Gerðr in marriage for Freyr. Many
have analyzed this story as an example of Hieros Gamos, of the marriage of
heaven and earth for the fertility of the crops. Freyr, who is a solar
deity, represents heaven; and Gerðr, who is a giantess, the earth. The
shining hero's journey through a dark otherworld to win the maiden
surrounded by flames appears elsewhere in the Eddas, notably in Svipdagsmál
and Sigrdrífumál (where the maiden in question is an ex-valkyrie). This
seems to be the typical model of the "Spring Drama": the woman may embody
the powers of the sleeping earth, the man the sunlight that awakes and
makes her fruitful. Although the Sun herself is a goddess, the might of her
radiance is sometimes personified as a male, particularly with Freyr, who
seems to be descended from the phallic sun-god of the Bronze Age rock
carvings, if he was not actually that god.

Certain geographic features are associated with Freyr. That a hill
formation would be so is not surprising, considering Freyr's association
with hill burial: "For the Frey worshipper Ingimund the Old it was, to be
sure, no new thing that hillock or an elevation overgrown with woods was to
be his homestead. Such spots our heathen forbearers called a holt (stony
hill.) Frey had decided that Ingimund was to live by a holt, and so he
does. In fact, he twice chooses a place of residence by a holt before
finding the image of Frey in the hill, as is indicated by the names
Ingimundarholt and Þórdísarholt. Ingimund worships holy trees, as did the
people by the Baltic, and like the skalds Þórir snepil and Helgi
Ásbjarnarson" (Guthmondson and Hollander, 1969:79).

We know that Freyja is very much a goddess of magic, and it would be
surprising if her brother, as well as being king, hallower, warrior, and
bringer of fruitfulness, did not also have his own magical secrets. What
has survived, however, is hints which, again, must be woven together, and
there are true folk working to do this today. From his own understanding of
Freyr, William Conrad Karpen writes of an aspect of the god that is less
often considered: the possible shamanic practices of Freyr's priests in the
old days.

If you have seen anything written about Freyr, he was probably described as
a fertility god. Well, yes, he is responsible for good harvests. Yes, he is
responsible for the well-being of the land. Yes, he is usually depicted as
ithyphallic (ithy = bone, phallus = penis; you figure it out). Does this
make him a fertility god? If you ask me, to describe Freyr as a fertility
god misses the point. The mysteries of Freyr as I have experienced them
have to do with the process which transforms Desire into Pleasure into
Plenty into Desire. But Desire lives only in the moment, it does not care
about the Consequences. Desire does not manifest in order to bring Plenty
or to procreate the species or anything else. Desire manifests itself only
for the Pleasure of the moment. Freyr is a God of Ecstasy.

Freyr is not the only god of ecstasy, of course. There are others like
Dionysos, Shiva, Oberon, Herne, and Cernunnos, and it is perhaps more than
coincidental that they are all associated with wild animals, especially
horned ones, with death and the spirits of the dead, with sexual pleasure,
and quite often with sexual ambiguity. Freyr is associated with the stag,
the wild boar, and the horse. Freyr rules over Álfheim (Elf-Home), the
realm of the mighty ancestors, and is associated with burial mounds
(Davidson, Gods and Myths, p. 100). In fact, the Vanir...are often referred
to as álfar (elves). He is usually depicted with a rather large, erect
penis, and his priesthood at Uppsala, Sweden, appears to have

In connection with these links between ecstatic gods, shamanism, and
transvestite priesthoods, it is perhaps not going too far astray to mention
Timothy Taylor's theory that the Gundestrup Cauldron was forged by a group
of transvestite silversmiths from Transylvania:

The beardless ("Cernunnos") figure may, for example, be a

ritual specialist. Indeed, he may belong to the same group,

guild, or caste as the five silversmiths (who made the Cauldron),

for metalsmithing was an important ritual occupation...They might

...have resembled the Enarees of Scythia...Biologically male

but dressed as women, the Enarees interpreted omens and

settled disputes for the Scythian aristocracy. Such specialists are

attested across Eurasia in the Iron Age, not just the shamans of

Scythia and the yogis of India, but the seers of Thrace, the druids

of Gaul, and a few centuries later, the bards of Ireland. In Ireland

the biologically male bard who praised the king in song was

described as female, in opposition to the ruler's maleness" (p.88).

Taylor goes on to suggest that the "Cernunnos" figure on the Cauldron is of
ambiguous gender, having neither beard nor breasts. The figure does,
however, wear a pair of antlers. Tayler, in the course of demonstrating a
cultural continuity with certain Hindi traditions, also notes that the
figure's position is similar "to one still practised in rural India by
low-caste sorcerers...Moreover, the posture is intended to channel sexual
energy" (p.89). He goes on to link the figure's attributes - ambiguous
gender and connection to animals - to the shamanic rapport with the female,
the male, and the animal realms.

Freyr was also associated with sexual ambiguity. Saxo Grammaticus' hero
Starkaðr fled Freyr's temple at Uppsala because of the "effeminate
gestures", the "unmanly clatter of bells", and the "clapping of mimes upon
the stage" (Saxo, VI, 185, p. 228). Tacitus describes a similar phenomenon
among the Naharvali, a Germanic tribe:

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 Castor and Pollux. This indicates

their character, but their name is the Alci. There are no images,

and nothing to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they

are certainly worshipped as young men and as brothers.

(Tacitus, p. 137; emphasis mine)

The phrase that Mattingly translates as "dresses like a woman" is muliebris
ornatus, which Davidson translates as "decked out like women" (p. 169). In
relation to these twin gods, Davidson mentions several pairs of brother
kings, one of which is Alf ("elf" - Freyr is the ruler of Alfheim or
Elf-home) and Ingvi (one of the names of Freyr). She goes on to say that
the Alcis "have been sought among the Vanir, and it has been suggested that
Njord and Freyr are their descendants, or Freyr and Ull" (p. 170).
According to the "Lokasenna", Njörð is Freyr's father rather than brother,
but it is also perhaps significant that Njörð and Freyr were almost always
toasted together. While not much can be conclusively stated about these
cults, cross-dressed priesthoods were in any case not unknown among the
Germanic tribes, and it appears that at least one of them was devoted to
Freyr (in Anglo-Saxon Paganism, pp. 96-97, David Wilson also cites Grave 9
from Portway, in which a distinctively male skeleton was found buried in
women's clothing with female grave-goods, and suggests a relationship
between this find and the priests of the Narhavali - KHG).

It should be noted that in Old Norse, the words ergi, argr, and ragr all
referred both to receptive homosexual intercourse and to the practise of
seiðr...Folke Ström points out:

Both the law texts and the instances in the sagas seem to show

that the component in the ergi complex which can be

considered sexually obscene has exclusively to do with the female

role in a homosexual act. In seiðr - the element in the ergi

complex related to sorcery and magic - we find an analogous

connexion with the fulfillment of a role that was regarded as

specifically female. Thus we may conclude that it is the performance

by an individual man of a role normally belonging to the female

sex which constitutes perversity in his action and causes it to be

branded as ergi; and this applies whether we have to do with

a sexual relationship or with the carrying out of a magical function.

(pp. 9-10)

Thomas K. Johnson has suggested that argr may be translated as 'eager for
penetration', referring to sexual penetration in both women and men (when
Loki calls Freyja a slut, he refers to her as argr) as well as to
penetration by the gods, i.e., possession. This connection between passive
homosexuality and certain spiritual practices is reminiscent of the
berdache role in some American Indian tribes as well as the Siberian
Shamans and the Scythian Enarees mentioned earlier in connection with the
Gundestrup Cauldron.

Going back to Saxo's description of the priesthood of Freyr at Uppsala,
there is an interesting parallel to the English folk-plays which have
survived to the present. All of the characters, male and female, are played
by men, and these plays, including the mummers' plays, the wooing ceremony,
the sword plays, and the plough plays, have remained more staunchly
all-male than other British folk traditions (Brody, p.21). Brody links this
phenomenon to the response of an old English mummer when asked if women
ever take part in the plays: "'No, sir,' he replied, mumming don't be for
the likes of them. There be plenty else for them that be flirty-like, but
this here mumming be more like parson's work'" (p. 21). In fact, he states
that the original purpose of these folk-plays, not entirely lost on their
twentieth-century performers, is essentially of a magical nature: "As we
look at the separate elements one by one, we shall begin to see them
informing each other until the concept of magic as an essential, underlying
purpose becomes inescapable" (p. 20). It seems quite likely that these
plays are survivals of ancient pagan rituals.

English folk-plays are most often performed between Christmas and New
Year's, although sometimes at Easter or in the fall. Freyr's main sacrifice
occurred at the winter solstice, and so this time of year would have been
associated with his worship among the Scandinavians. Brody notes that the
Wooing Ceremony, which is the most complete form, occurs only in four
East-Midland counties - Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and
Rutland (p. 99). It seems more than coincidental that one of the strongest
Scandinavian settlements in England was in the boroughs of Lincoln,
Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, and Stamford (Jones, p. 421). Rutland, by the
way, is quite tiny and is bordered on three sides by Lincolnshire and
Leicestershire, and Derby and Stamford are inland and were more sparsely
settled by the Scandinavians. The word "mummer" has been related to the
Danish momme, or "mask", an etymology reinforced by the use of the term
"guizer" in some parts of England to describe the mummers, which is derived
from "disguiser" (Brody, p. 4; Chambers, p. 4). Further, the sword dance
performed predominantly in the northeastern counties is thought to have
originated in the folk-dances of the Danish settlers and resembles dances
still performed in many parts of Germany (Spicer, p. 7). While the
historical origins of these plays have been lost to us, it seems likely
that they are related to certain Scandinavian traditions, including perhaps
the cross-dressing priesthoods of Freyr and other gods.

In all of the English folk-plays, of which the mummers' plays are one type,
there is one or more female character played by men. In some, this
character is entirely peripheral to the action of the play, but as Brody
concludes, "There is good reason to believe that these two figures, the
clownish Beelzebub and the 'female', once did have a direct connection with
the central action of the ceremony and lost their place in to Hero-Combat,
as they did not in the Wooing Ceremony and some Sword Plays, when the
combat began to take place over the direct fertility elements" (p. 61).
Brody suggests that the Fool/Beelzebub is the remnant of a central
fertility figure in the rituals of ancient times. This character, as a
result of the wooing action, dies, is reborn, and weds the "female",
providing the substance of the fertility ritual that Brody believes the
Wooing ceremony to be (p. 106). In many of the Wooing Plays, there are two
female characters: Dame Jane, who claims to carry the Fool's bastard child,
and the Lady, who initially rejects the Fool's advances but later weds him.
In some plays, there is a Fool's Wife or else a Mother Christmas. Often the
old woman carries a broom and is called Besom Betty.

I cannot help but wonder, though, why the female characters of a
"fertility" ritual must be played by men. It suggests to me that something
other than purely imitative magic is going on and that "fertility" is more
than simply the mechanics of physical reproduction or the "polarity"
between "male" and "female". Rather than understanding this role simply as
an imitation of a woman, I think it helps to see it as an example of a
third distinct gender, which among the American Indians is referred to as
the "berdache". It is not as if real women were in short supply among the
British (or Scandinavians, for that matter). Even if women were scarce in
some circumstances, one would expect to see women once again playing the
roles if the roles were simply circumstantial imitations of women. It seems
more likely that the interaction in the "fertility" ritual was intended to
be, not between a man and a woman, but between a man and a berdache.
Perhaps the means of securing the fertility of the land was an ecstatic one
since the berdache role is associated in many cultures, including the
Scandinavian, with shamanism and ecstatic ritual.

In most English folk-plays, there is some sort of combat in which one of
the characters is killed. While most of the time, a doctor is called in to
revive the slain character, in certain plays it is the man-woman: "At Haxby
the Clown falls, Besom Betty runs into the ring, revives him, and leads him
out. It appears to be a dumb show. At Askham Richard a Doctor is called to
the Fool and fails. Besom Betty then says, 'A'll cure him', and does so by
brushing his face with her broom" (Chambers, p. 131). One of the male
characters, in some places the Fool, in other places Beelzebub, seems to be
a fertility figure, with his phallic club, his death and revival, and his
marriage to the Lady (Rudwin, p. 36; Brody, passim). The marriage of the
Fool to the Lady suggests a possible interpretation of the relationship
between Freyr and his cross-dressed priests. To my knowledge, Freyr himself
is not portrayed or described as cross-dressing, but he is often described
and portrayed as a fertility figure. Could it be that his cross-dressed
priests were understood in some way to be his 'wives'? One does find
stories in some tribes that the berdache were really married to their
tutelary deities, and that any human husbands they may have are only
secondary ones (Johansson, p. 1192), so this would fit in with other
cross-dressing traditions.

So we have the connections with the male and the female, which are so
common among shamanic/berdache traditions. In the folk-plays, we also see a
character called the Hobby Horse, which brings in the link with animals
that is found in shamanic traditions. "In the plays of Dorsetshire, the
hobby-horse serves yet another purpose...that of divination and prophecy.
The horse has a long history of associations with ecstatic divination, not
only in England, but all over the primitive Western world" (Brody, p. 64).
It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that Freyr was associated with the
horse. We also find the man-woman character present at the Abbotts-Bromley
Horn Dance, in which dancers carry huge, centuries-old reindeer antlers.
This man-woman is dressed in the Anglo-Saxon style, which is nearly
identical to certain illustrations of the Bessie in chapbook mummers' plays
printed in the 18th and 19th centuries. It may have been in part this type
of symbolic connection between the male, the female, and the animal that
made the Gundestrup Cauldron so desirable to some ancient Dane.

Unfortunately, while there seems to be a good deal of information about
Freyr, it is not enough in itself to build a living tradition. What we have
done to effect that transformation, which continues to be an ongoing
process, is to take all this book information and work with it in a magical
context. We have used discussion, intuition, meditation, ritual, deity
prossession, and inspiration to help fill in the gaps and to manifest in a
concrete form that which we understand about Freyr. Gradually it has come
to life. Gradually it has integrated itself into the whole Scandinavian
spirit world. Gradually it has become part of our lives.

Colours associated with Fro Ing today are gold, green, and brown. Because
of the reference in Saxo, many Freyr-godmen wear bells on or as part of
their ritual garb.

Fro Ing is particularly a god of joy and brightness, a god of enjoying
being to its fullest. He is also a god of wholeness: he brings together
body and soul, life and death, humans and god/esses, the earth and the
worlds beyond, and sees to it that they work together rightly. As
frith-god, he can also bring folk together for a single goal, and makes
sure that they all get good from what they do beneath his sign.

No single symbol is known for Fro Ing from the old days, but the Sun-Wheel
is often used for him more than for any of the other Vanir; and indeed,
many of the Bronze Age rock carvings show a phallic man with a sun-wheel
body, sometimes carrying out a ritual wedding with a female figure.


The bulk of the first part of this chapter was written by Helgi T. Dagsson
("Freyr: A God and Society").

William Conrad Karpen's article "Freyr: An Ecstatic God from Scandinavia"
was originally published in Lavender Pagan Newsletter, issue 5 (Beltaine

Also contributing: Eric Wodening, Elder-in-Training, from "God of the
World", Idunna V, i, 18 (Rhedmonth 1993), pp. 13-14.

Chapter XVIII

The Frowe (Freyja)

The Frowe is probably the best-known and most beloved of the goddesses
today. As mistress of magic and goddess of sexual love, she kindles the
imagination and sparks the heart. Whereas that other great goddess, Frija,
is wholesome and safe, the Frowe is sweet, wild, and dangerous. Though Fro
Ing is her twin brother and their mights mirror each others', the two of
them show that might forth in very different ways.

Her name, Freyja or the Frowe, is a title meaning "Lady". Though she has
many other names in the Old Norse sources, it is not known which of them
(if any) was her true name. In Scandinavia, the title was associated so
strongly with the goddess that it, like her brother's title "Freyr", was
dropped wholly from ordinary human use and preserved only as a name; but in
Germany, where she either was not known or was known by a different name,
the cognate word "Frau" has continued in human use to the modern day. To
the Scandinavians, however, there was apparently one "Lady", and one
"Lord", whose titles could be used by no one else (it was only towards the
end of the Viking Age that the word "húsfreyja", "house-Freyja", came into
use for the lady of the house; this may have stemmed from skaldic kennings,
in which a woman might for instance be called "Freyja-of-necklaces", or,
since the form húsfrú also appears, have been borrowed from the
corresponding German title). These titles clearly show the love and respect
which our forebears felt towards the Frowe and her twin. In modern times,
it has often been suggested that our "Lady" and "Lord" are the original
pair whose memories survived in Northern European folklore to be called
upon as the Wiccan Lady and Lord today. This fits well with much of what we
know of the Frowe and Fro: as well as being sister and brother, they are
also lovers, as is spoken of in Lokasenna. The possibility of a likeness
between Freyr and the Horned One is also mentioned in the chapter on "Fro

The main difference between the Frowe and the Wiccan Lady is that the Frowe
is not motherly in any way. Because she is the best-known Germanic goddess,
folk have often thought of her as possibly being a Germanic reflection of
the Mother-goddess archetype. Unlike Frija, however, we never see her
giving fruitfulness to folk, nor does she appear in a motherly way to
either deities or humans. Only once does she appear as a patron of
childbirth: in Oddrúnargratar, the childbirth-blessing calls on "kind
wights, Frigg and Freyja and many gods". However, this poem is generally
thought to be among the youngest of Eddic lays; Hollander actually suggests
that the invocation to "Frigg and Freyja" is a deliberate archaism put in
to give the poem a heathen flavour (The Poetic Edda, p. 279). Although
Snorri tells us that the Frowe has two daughters, both their names (Hnoss
and Gersimi) are ordinary words for "treasure". In fact, they are mentioned
only twice in skaldic poetry, where actual treasures are called "Freyja's
daughter". If it is not the case (as it may well be), that these references
simply speak of the belief that gold comes from the Frowe's weeping and
treasure is therefore "her daughter", these maidens may be understood as
embodiments of her might as a goddess of wealth; one might perhaps ask the
Frowe for "the love of her daughters".

To the Norse, Freyja was a goddess of riches, whose tears fell to the earth
as gold and whose most common appearance in skaldic poetry is in kennings
for "gold". Although many of the god/esses are givers of wealth, she seems
to be first among them. Here we see one of the ways in which the Frowe and
Fro Ing work differently: the riches he gives are those of the fruitful
fields and beasts, while those she gives are the worked gold - we might say
now that Fro Ing is the god to call on to bring the harvest of long-term
investments about well and to look after real estate deals, while the Frowe
is the goddess to ask about cash-flow.

The Frowe is probably best-known, however, as a goddess of love and
sexuality. The etin-maid Hyndla says to Freyja "(You) ran, ever-longing,
after Óðr, you let many creep beneath your fore-skirt - atheling-friend,
you leap about at night like Heiðrún among the goats" (Hyndluljóð 47). Loki
says that she has slept with "all gods and alfs in the hall" (Lokasenna
30), which seems to be true. Unlike Frija and Wodan, to who their chosen
humans are children or foster-children, the Frowe's heroes are her lovers;
the Eddic poem Hyndluljóð gives us a very clear description of her beloved
Óttarr, whom she has changed into a boar which she rides to the rock-hall
of the giantess Hyndla. This sort of "nightmare-riding" is typical for
witches throughout the Germanic world. Unlike the men of later folk-tales,
however, Óttarr is not only apparently willing to be ridden, but gets some
good from the faring - the account of his lineage, which he must use to win
his inheritance. Still, the Frowe's love is as dangerous as it is wildly
exciting: Hyndla says that Freyja is riding Óttarr on his "slain-faring" (í
valsinni), and since the etin-woman sees clearly otherwise, we may suspect
that the goddess' lover was not long-lived.

The story of Óttarr, who built a harrow for Freyja and reddened it with
blood until the holy fires (or the heat of Freyja's might) had turned the
stones to glass, also suggests that the Frowe was not only worshipped by
women, but had her own given godmen. Like the gyðja who was Freyr's wife in
Gunnars þáttr helmings, these men may well have been seen as the Frowe's
husbands or lovers. Some of the mysterious deaths of Yngling kings, such as
that of Agni, who was strangled with a necklace by his wife, or Aðils, who,
touched by a witch's magic, fell off his horse at the dísablót (goddesses'
blessing - see "Idises"), also suggest the possibility that these
Ing-descended kings died as holy gifts to Freyja.

Snorri tells us that Freyja is particularly fond of love songs (mannsöngr),
of a type we know to have been outlawed in Iceland even before the
conversion; and the pages of heathen publications are often brightened by
love-songs written for Freyja. Such a song of your own is a fitting gift
for her: one copy might be written out in runes and burned for her while
you read the other aloud to her.

It is strongly suspected that the Frowe's sexual character led to the
suppression of much of her lore by christianity. however, some pieces did
survive, though in a diluted and moralizing form. The best-known of these
is the tale (from Sörla þáttr in Flateyjarbók) of how she saw four dwarves
forging a necklace (the Brísingamen) and traded four nights of her love for
it. Alice Karlsdóttir reads the tale thus:

The story is usually told to demonstrate Freyja's 'immorality' or bawdy
humour. This always seemed rather unfair to me. After all, when writers
discuss Odin and how he slept with Gunnlod on three nights in order to win
the mead of poetry, they praise his efforts at winning wisdom, but when
Freyja, a goddess, does pretty much the same thing, they say, "What a
shameless hussy!"

Freyja's necklace is not, of course, just a pretty piece of vanity, but
rather a powerful symbol of the goddess' powers of fertility and life.
Giants are continually trying to win or steal Freyja for themselves, not
just because she's a good lay, but because her powers contain the essence
of the life force itself and sustain the well-bring of Asgard and the rest
of the worlds. the story of how Freyja got the Brisingamen is a story of
her quest for wisdom and power, every bit as much as Odin's adventures

One of Freyja's powers seems to be a mastery of material manifestation, the
infusing of the physical world with the spiritual. Freyja not only masters
the senses, she revels in them and shows that physical existence itself is
a wondrous thing. I always sort of imagined that the dwarves didn't create
the necklace until after Freyja slept with them, that their intercourse was
necessary to inspire the dwarves to be able to make the Brisingamen in the
first place. Freyja, on the other hand, discovers the powers of the
material world and how to control and shape them.

The goddess' necklace or girdle is an emblem that goes back to the Stone
Age, when slender amulets of schist, given human form only by the careful
carving of necklaces, were carried about (Gløb, Bog People p. 159). As
mentioned in "The Stone Age", amber necklaces of a size only a goddess
could have worn were being given to bogs at the same time. The Bronze Age
kneeling goddess-figurine who drives a small ship with a snake leashed
beside it wears only a necklace and a string-skirt; the same is true of the
little female acrobat/dancer from the same period. The huge Swedish gold
collars of the Migration Age (discussed in the historical chapter), were
clearly also holy, and by this period it is quite possible that they could
have been given specifically to the Frowe, although god-figures with
collars carved on their necks have also been found. The necklace is the
sign of the world's ring; Freyja's winning of the Brisingamen is one of the
strongest reasons to think of her as an earth-goddess like her mother
Nerthus, and therefore, though there is nothing in the Norse sources to
suggest it, perhaps also being one of the goddesses who makes the world
fruitful. It is certainly the sign of her power. We do not know what it
actually looked like: the name "Brísingamen" can either be read as "the
necklace (or girdle) made by the fiery ones (Brísings, presumably the name
of the dwarves)" or as "the fiery necklace (or girdle)". We know that gold
is called fire in kennings, so that the Brísingamen is likeliest to have
been made of gold, though it is often pictured in modern times as being
amber or at least set with amber. In Úlfr Uggason's poem Húsdrápa, the
Brísingamen is called hafnýra, "harbour-kidney", a kenning which may also
hint that amber was a part of the necklace, since amber was normally
gathered along the seashore. The workings of the four dwarves might hint at
a four-ringed collar, or a four-stranded necklace - especially since, seen
on a level plain, the cosmos also has four concentric rings (the Ases'
Garth, the Middle-Garth, the sea around the Middle-Garth, and the Out-Garth
- see "Worlds"). The Frowe's necklace would then be the embodiment of her
might through all the realms. A small Swedish pendant from Östergotland
(late Viking Age) is often thought to represent Freyja: it shows a
remarkably large-breasted woman wearing a four-layered necklace and seated
inside a ring.

As the bearer of fiery life-might, the Frowe is greatly needed by the other
god/esses; etins often seek her in marriage, as was done by the builder of
Ase-Garth's walls and the giant Þrymr, who stole Þórr's Hammer to use it as
a bargaining point in getting her.

The Frowe is first thought to have come among the Ases as the witch
Gullveigr ("Gold-Intoxication"), whose fate started the war between the
Ases and the Wans: "when Gullveigr was studded with spears and burned in
Hár's hall; thrice burned, thrice born, often, not seldom, but yet she
lives" (Völuspá 21). Here we see what is clearly a Frowe-initiation similar
to that of Wodan's hanging on the tree: while he is hanged and stabbed, she
is stabbed and burnt, each of them slain by the means which is holiest.
Just as Wodan won the runes, the Frowe came forth with the full lore of her
own seiðr: "Heiðr hight she, when she came to houses, spae-wise völva, she
knew magic; she worked seiðr as she knew how to, worked seiðr, playing with
soul - she was ever beloved to wicked women" (Völuspá 22). The name "Heiðr"
means either "the Glorious/Bright One" or "the Heath-Dweller": we can see
her wandering freely through heath and house, glowing with the seething
fires of her threefold burning and rebirth. Heiðr is seen in modern times
as the "older woman" aspect of Freyja, with the fiery might of her gold and
sex sublimated into the wisdom and magical might of the witch. The stone we
associate with her now is jet, and the colours are black and white
interwoven so that they look gray from a little way off. Eiríks saga ins
rauða mentions that the seeress was fed a meal of the hearts of several
sorts of animals; as Heiðr is the great völva (even as Wodan is Fimbulþulr,
the great thule), it is thought today that hearts are the meat which is
holiest to Heiðr.

Snorri also tells us in Ynglinga saga that Freyja taught the art of seiðr
to the Ases; Thorsson sees this as an exchange whereby Freyja learned the
runes from Óðinn and he learned seiðr from her. In any case, the situation
is, again, comparable: as Wodan teaches the craft of the runes after his
initiation, so Freyja teaches the skill of seiðr after hers - not only to
the Ases, but, as Völuspá suggests, to humans as well.

The Frowe is married to a god called Óðr - the noun from which the
adjectival "Óðinn" is derived. The folklore of the Wild Hunt suggests that
"Wod" was an older form of the name *Woðanaz; de Vries also compares the
Óðr-Óðinn to the other surviving pair of noun-adjective forms, Ullr-Ullinn
("Contributions to the Study of Othin"). There is little doubt that Óðr and
Óðinn were the same god, although this identity seems to have been
forgotten by the end of the Viking Age; it is probably very old. The
wedding between Óðr and Freyja is, at the least, a very open one: the way
in which the Frowe is sought as a bride by etins suggests that she is
thought to be effectively single. Sörla þáttr describes her as Óðinn's
mistress, rather than his wife. The two of them clearly work together -
they mirror one another in many ways and share many of the same realms -
and both being quite sexual deities, it would be surprising if their
relationship was not shown forth as a sexual one. However, the Frowe seems
to be too independent to tie herself to any single male for long; though
she wandered weeping after Óðr when he left her, there is no doubt that
sexual faithfulness was never part of the arrangement.

The Frowe is also a battle-goddess: one of the names of her hall is
Folkvangr ("Army-Plain"), and there "Freyja rules the choices of seats in
the hall: she chooses half the slain every day, and Óðinn has half". It is
not sure whether by "choosing the slain", the Grímnismál speaker meant this
in the usual sense (as when used for the walkurjas, Wodan, and Hella) of
choosing who among the living warriors shall be slain in that battle, or
whether it means that the Frowe gets her choice of those among the fallen
who she wants for her hall. In either case, she is certainly a goddess of
death and specifically the battle-dead: the men she wants are clearly the
best of heroes. What she does with them is never told to us, whether they
fight beside the einherjar at Ragnarök or stay with Freyja, who may survive
the battle (in Ynglinga s. ch. 8, Snorri tells us that "Freyja then kept up
the blessings, for she alone lived after the gods", though since he has
euhemerized them all and given them very different deaths from those they
meet at Ragnarök, this may not be a reliable indicator). As seen in the
tale of Gullveigr, she is also a cause of strife as well: wealth and women
were two of the most common causes for fighting among the Germanic folks.
The two chief social roles of women in the Icelandic sagas were as
frith-weaver and strife-stirrer: Frija embodies the first, the Frowe the
second. Here, the Frowe and Fro Ing complement each other rather than
working in the same way: the Eddic poem Grottasöngr shows how the two,
strife and frith, need each other. When Fróði harnesses the etin-maids
Fenja and Menja to turn a magical mill, they grind out gold and frith and
happiness; but instead of letting them rest, he tries to keep them working
without pausing longer than it takes to sing a lay. Then the scales tip too
far: the women become angered and grind out battle and Fróði's death, and
the balance is evened again. The Frowe stirs up Fro Ing's frith; Fro Ing
stills her strife; thus challenge and rest are balanced out.

According to Snorri, the Frowe's hall is also called Sessrumnir,
"Roomy-Seated" - which it would need to be as a hall of the dead. As is not
hard to imagine, the sexes seem to mix freely in the Frowe's realm,
warriors and young women alike: when Egill Skalla-Grímsson's daughter
Þórgerðr tells of her intention to starve herself beside her grieving
father, she says that she will take no food until she sups with Freyja.

Like her brother, the Frowe has the swine as a holy animal, and rides on a
gold-bristled boar (hers is called Hildisvín, "Battle-Swine") which was
made by dwarves. The Yule boar is holy to her, as to him. One of the
Frowe's own by-names is Sýr, "Sow", which suggests not only her
fruitfulness and sexuality, but her more frightening side: the swine is,
after all, a carrion-eater, and sows are proverbially known for eating
their own piglets at times.

Like Frija, the Frowe travels through the worlds by putting on a
falcon-hide and faring forth in that shape. Though none of the myths show
her actually using it - we only know of it because she lends it to Loki -
the falcon seems to be the womanly match to the manly eagle (a shape taken
by Wodan and, quite often, by etins). This shows her swift-faring through
the worlds; the falcon is clearly a holy bird of hers, in her most active
shape when she is not only fiery, but ærial. Some of the birds of prey
which appear so often in Germanic art may be falcons rather than eagles,
but our forebears' art was so stylized that there is no way to tell which
is which; only the hooked beaks distinguish birds of prey in general.

The Frowe is also well-known to have a wain which is drawn by two cats.
Every so often the question of what sort of cats these were, or whether
they were actually felines and not some other creature, comes up. Grimm
mentions that the Old Norse word fres "means both he-cat and bear, it has
lately been contended, not without reason, that köttum may have been
subsituted for fressum, and a brace of bears have been really meant for the
goddess" (Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 669). It has also been suggested
several times that the image of Freyja in her cat-drawn wain was borrowed
from the southern Cybele, whose chariot was drawn by lions. There is also a
special connection between seiðr and cats: the seeress in Eiríks saga ins
rauða is described as wearing catskin gloves, which has spurred many people
to hope that the Old Norse word köttr, "cat", did not really mean cat.
Alternate suggestions have included bears (gib-cats), hares, and various
sorts of ermine- and weasel-type creatures. However, wild felines such as
the lynx have been native to Scandinavia at least since the earliest human
settlements, and the first skeletal evidence of house-cats dates from the
earlier part of the Iron Age (Scandinavian Saga, 131). Further, the burial
goods of "Queen Asa" (the Oseberg queen) include elaborately carved
vehicles (generally thought to be for cultic processions) on which
cat-images are carved. In one case, the sledge-posts are unquestionably
cat-heads; the end panel of the wagon shows a repeated picture of a cat who
is apparently fighting or dancing with a snake, while either shielding her
eyes with one paw or just revealing them (perhaps to awe the snake by her
gaze?). These cats are probably house-cats or small European wildcats, as
they do not have the tufted ears of the lynx. A little amber cat-figurine
was also found lately in the archaeological excavations at the late
Viking-Age site on Birka. All of this, particularly the cat-head posts from
Oseberg, suggest very strongly that there is every reason to think that the
belief is native rather than foreign, that Freyja's cats are indeed
house-cats - and so were the seeress' gloves. No names for these cats have
survived in any sources, but in her book Brisingamen (which is highly
recommended to all Ásatrúar, especially those interested in Freyja), Diana
Paxson suggests the names "Trégull" ("Tree-Gold", or amber) and "Býgull"
("Bee-Gold", or honey) for them. Some will be amused, and others appalled,
to note that certain less-reliable books on Norse heathenism are already
solemnly reporting these fictional names as part of authentic Teutonic

The Frowe herself was known by other names in Scandinavia: Snorri gives us
the names Hörn (which is etymologically tied to "flax"), Sýr ("sow"), Gefn
("giver"), and Mardöll ("Sea-Brightness" - another name which may refer to
amber, or else to gold, which is often called "fire of the sea"). These
names are likeliest to have been local titles for either the Frowe or other
goddesses who were so like her that it made no difference.

The Frowe's stone is amber, a connection which may go back to early days.
Amber is especially beloved by Northern folk; it is "the gold of the
North". In our forebears' time, necklaces of amber were probably a status
symbol as much as anything; and even today at Teutonic rites, one can often
see women (and occasionally men) hung with as many strands of amber as they
are able to buy. Other stones which the name "Brísingamen" and the Frowe's
flame-being suggest are fire agates and fire opals; gold is clearly her
metal, if you can get it.

The elder-tree (whose very name means "fire") is especially close to her;
yarrow and dill, as traditional "witches' herbs" also belong to her. Her
flower is the rose, especially the Northern European wild rose or
"dog-rose". One Northern German church is supposed to have been built at
"Freyja's spring"; when the church was rebuilt after the last World War,
the roots of the dog-rose which had grown beside it were shown to be over a
thousand years old. The legend of "Freyja's spring" may have been a
romantic product of the eighteenth or nineteenth century, but the flower
itself surely shows her being, being both the sweetest and the thorniest of

The Frowe is especially a goddess of women who do as they will and love as
they will without worrying about social constraints or anything else. More
than any other goddess, she shows the right of women to rule over their own
bodies, to love - or not love - as they choose. Indeed, according to
Þrymskviða, it was easier for the Ases to get Þórr to put on women's
clothing and go into Etin-Home as a bride than for them to make Freyja wed
against her will!

The necklace is the sign which is traditionally that of the Frowe's might,
though there is no one picture of it that stands as "her symbol". In A Book
of Troth, Thorsson suggests that "Freya's Heart (the basic heart-shape) is
the sign of the blessings of the goddess Freya, and is the symbol of those
given to her mysteries" (p. 112). This is extrapolated from the reading of
this symbol as showing the female genitals and/or buttocks: as the stylized
picture of womanly sexuality, the heart (with or without the phallic arrow
piercing it), is clearly fitting to the Frowe.

It is thought in modern times that the Frowe likes sweet drinks, especially
berry liqueurs and German wines of the Auslese, Beerenauslese, and
Trockenbeerenauslese class. One liqueur in particular, Danziger Goldwasser
(which has actual flakes of high-karat gold foil in it), is felt to be
especially fitting to her.


Stephan Grundy, "Frigg and Freyja"

Alice Karlsdóttir, from "Freyja's Necklace", Mountain Thunder #10, pp.

Diana Paxson (esp. Heiðr and cat-names)

Chapter XIX

Skaði, Gerðr, Earth, and other Etin-Brides


Skaði, whose name means either "shadow" or "scathe", is one of the darker
goddesses of the North. She is not of godly kin, but the daughter of the
etin Thjazi, who stole Iðunn and her apples and was slain in eagle-shape by
the Ases while chasing Loki back. Still, not only is she counted among the
god/esses, but her hall in the mountains of Etin-Home, Þrymheimr
(Din-World), which she inherited from her father, is numbered among the
holy dwellings in Grímnismál 11. In the same verse, she is called the
"shining bride of gods", and the skald Þórðr Sjáreksson calls her "the wise
bride of gods". Although place-names show that she was widely worshipped in
elder days (see below), she is not called on as often now - partially
because there is little known about her, partially because her beauty is a
harsh one, and many folk find her less easy to love than Frija or the
Frowe. Those who do love her, however, see the starkest beauty of the
Northlands in her high and rocky fells, her shining ice and dark crags; to
some, the sound of her howling wolves and howling wind is the fairest of
all songs, and her ski-tracks through the snow the brightest of all paths
against the winter's long night.

There is a certain suggestion that Skaði's gender may have been ambiguous:
the name "Skaði" is a straightforward weak masculine form, which could very
easily and naturally have been changed to the weak feminine "Skaða", but
never was. "Skaði" also appears as a man's personal name in the first
chapter of Völsunga saga. It has been suggested that Skaði was first the
husband of Nerthus, changing sex when "Nerthus" became "Njörðr", but this
is by no means widely accepted. Turville-Petre comments that "Skaði, with
her armour and snowshoes and bow, has some of the features of a male god",
and compares her to Ullr, who shares her use of snowshoes and bow and is
particularly a hunting god (Myth and Religion, pp. 164-65).

Skaði is most easily seen as a goddess of winter: not only does she come
from the kin of the mountain- and rime-thurses, but our earliest skaldic
poem, Bragi inn gamli's Ragnarsdrápa, also calls Skaði öndurdís
("snowshoe-goddess"); and she is spoken of as "öndurgoð" (snowshoe-deity)
in Haustlöng and Háleygjatal. Snorri tells us in his Edda how she "fares
greatly on skies and with a bow, and shoots animals". The name of
Þrymheimr, which we know to be in the mountains, suggests the ceaseless
screaming of wind over the rocks as well as the howling of wolves; and
there are many mountains in Norway which are snow-capped all year, so that
we may guess that Skaði ever dwells where it is icy, but fares among humans
in wintertime.

The tale of Skaði and Njörðr has often been read as a nature-myth, in which
she embodies the ice and snow of winter and the the free-flowing waters of
summer; and their might can indeed be seen in these things. Here, however,
we must remember that most of the god/esses are not personifications of the
natural world, but rather, parts of the natural world are shaped by the
being of the god/esses and reflect the shiftings of their might.

Skaði's first appearance among the god/esses is as the Maiden Warrior: she
comes fully armed and armoured to avenge her father's death. Here she is
seen as very grim and fierce: when the Ases offer her weregild, the
impossible condition she asks is that they make her laugh. To achieve this,
Loki ties one end of a rope to a goat's beard and the other to his
bollocks, then starts a tug-o-war with the goat. Their antics and his
near-castration finally get Skaði to laugh; the latter aspect may also hint
that she was, indeed, specifically one of the "Mörnir" or etin-women to
whom the horse-phallus of Völsa þáttr (see "Fro Ing") was offered. Schröder
suggests that her original unwillingness (or inability) to laugh relates to
an aspect as death-goddess, for "according to Northern European tales, the
dead are not able to laugh" (Skadi und die Götter Skandinaviens, p. 25). He
also suggests that the goat may originally have been Skaði herself in
animal-form, claiming the sacrifice which causes her aspect to shift from
death-goddess to goddess of fruitfulness (pp. 25-28). As the goat is a
mountain beast, an independent wanderer, and an animal which is also
closely tied to traditional Yule rites in Scandinavia (see "Yule"), its
connection with Skaði is not wholly unbelievable, though one may or may not
choose to see the goddess in the goat itself. In Lokasenna, Loki claims to
have slept with her, which she does not deny; this may also be related to
the way in which he makes her laugh and thus brings her to be wedded.

Skaði's grimness is also seen in the prose tag to Lokasenna: when Loki has
been bound, it is she who, as a final torture, ties the snake above him to
drip bale onto his face. Her relationship with him is rather ambiguous: he
has been largely responsible for her father's death, and yet it is he who
makes her laugh so that she is willing to accept a wedding instead of the
blood of the slain as Thjazi's weregild, and claims to have shared her bed.
As her following torture of Loki suggests, her turning from death to
fruitfulness is not a permanent alteration in her character: like all the
god/esses, she can change her aspects at will and need.

Despite her seeming harshness and role as a goddess of winter, death, and
revenge, as well as her first appearance as Maiden Warrior, Skaði also has
a motherly side. Though no children were born of her wedding to Njörðr, we
see Skaði acting in a motherly way to Freyr in Skírnismál, and he is called
her son, though the term was probably used loosely to include "stepson",
which is the actual relationship. In addition to this, she is the only
goddess apart from Gerðr (see below) who is known to have been the mother
of a human dynasty. Snorri tells us in Ynglinga saga that after her
separation from Njörðr, she bore many sons to Óðinn. One of these sons,
according to the skaldic poem Háleygjatal, was Sæmingr, the father of the
Jarls of Hlaðir - an heroic line which, for several generations, staunchly
defended Norwegian Heathenism against all kingly efforts to convert the
land. His name may mean "son of the seed god"; which would suggest that the
bond between Skaði and Wodan has something to do with the working of the
Wild Hunt to make the fields fruitful; or it may mean "the grey one", which
would be a clear reference to the wolf - a beast holy to both of them.
Skaði's strong bond to her father is also worth marking: in addition to her
decision to avenge him, we see in Lokasenna that Loki's accusations against
her chastity distressed her far less than his boast that he was first among
the gods when they slew Thjazi. Skaði is clearly a goddess who cares
greatly for bonds of blood and troth, a warder of the kin; and in this
aspect, she should be called upon when the idises are hailed.

As far as we know, Skaði was not worshipped outside Scandinavia; it has
even been suggested that perhaps she was a Finnish or Lappish goddess whose
cult was taken over by the Norse. In fact, there is a Finnish goddess of
the wood and hunting, Mielikki, the wife of the hunting-god Tapio, but
whether she is the same being as Skaði is not known. It has also been
seriously put forth that the very name "Scandinavia" is derived from her
own, perhaps as "Island of Skaði"; this theory is not really accepted, but
has not really been disproven either (de Vries,Religionsgeschichte, p.
338). She was quite often worshipped; there are a good many "Skaði"
place-names, especially in mid- to eastern Sweden and southeastern Norway.
Most of these are of the "Skaði's vé" type, though "Skaði's grove" is also
seen a few times (de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, p. 339). In
Lokasenna 51, the goddess speaks of her rede coming from her wih-steads and
plains. The "plains" were probably holy fields, suggesting that she may
also have had something to do with fruitfulness. In this aspect, it is
possible that she may have been seen in the North as was Holda in Germany,
as the one who covers the earth with a blanket of snow to protect all that
sleeps in the ground through the winter; or it may, as with Gerðr, relate
to her cyclical character as the etin-goddess who shifts from being frozen
to being fruitful.

In the Kantelar (a collection of Finnish folk poetry made in the nineteenth
century), one song calls on the goddess Mielikki to lend luck to the hunter
and strew out her gifts for him, and another asks Tapio to guide the
hunter's skis. Schröder compares this Finnish pair to Skaði and Ullr
(Wuldor); he also suggests strongly that perhaps the two Norse deities were
originally brother and sister, children of Thjazi (Skaði, pp. 115-16). In
fact, we do not know who Wuldor's father is; only that his mother is Sif,
but his father is not Thonar, so (although there is no direct evidence for
it) this suggestion is as reasonable as any other, especially given the
close likeness between Skaði and Wuldor. If Skaði's name is taken as
"shadow", then the two of them also present a polar image of wintry
darkness and light, since Wuldor's name, "glory", implies brightness and
has sometimes been read as stemming from the glory of the Northern Lights.

Skaði is a goddess of hunters and hence of wild beasts as well. She is also
the goddess of skiers, and of those who dwell in or fare through the
mountains and wild places; she can be asked to help those who have to drive
on snow or ice. As a field-goddess, her feast is particularly that of
Disting/Charming of the Plough, when she accepts the gifts given to her and
the earth begins to unfreeze. Alice Karlsdottir also suggests calling on
Skaði and Njörðr together at the spring or autumnal equinoxes, when
"darkness and light are equal, and Njörðr and Skaði meet again at the
turning of the year".

Like the Frowe, Skaði is a goddess of independent women; she may be seen as
the especial patron of single mothers and of women who do things that are
usually specified as male by society (the modern equivalent of the Norse
Maiden Warrior).

She can also be called on as a goddess of justice. Though harsh, she is
fair; as we see, she was willing to accept weregild and be integrated into
godly society, rather than starting a blood-feud.

As the wild winter howler and hunter (as opposed to Wodan's
battlefield-scavenger) the wolf is thought of as Skaði's beast because of
Njörðr's complaints about the howling of the wolves in Þrymheimr. Her
possible relationship with the goat has already been spoken of. There are
no other animals given to her in traditional sources, but her father, like
many etins, was able to take eagle-shape and to use the wind of his wings
as a weapon in his flight; so there are some today who also see a dark
eagle as an image of this goddess.

In modern times, the stone associated with Skaði is the natural
(terminated) rock crystal, which is called "mountain crystal" in most of
the Germanic languages, and was known as "ice-stone" in Old High German.
Black serpentine, with its icy crystals against a dark matrix, is also
fitting for her.

For calling on Skaði, crystal cups (the "rime-cup" of the Eddas) are most
appropriate. It has been found that she is especially fond of iced vodka.

Colours associated with Skaði today are black and icy white.


Gerðr is Fro Ing's wife, an etin-maid won by the magical force of the god's
servant Skírnir. Skírnismál tells us that she was not willing to marry
Freyr: Skírnir tried to bribe her with golden apples and the ring Draupnir,
and threatened her with Freyr's sword, but she did not yield until he
brought a magical tine carved with three thurse-runes (thurisaz) against
her, threatening that if she would not have Freyr, he would curse her with
perversity and lust, and doom her to be the bride of a three-headed troll.
Then she welcomed Skírnir with a cup of mead, and said that she would be
wedded to Freyr in nine nights at the grove Barri.

The most usual reading of this myth is as a nature-myth: Gerðr is the
frozen winter earth, whose hard crust must be broken by the "shining"
Skírnir so that she can be sown and made fruitful. The name Hrímgerðr -
"Ice-Gerðr" - appears for a troll-woman in "Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar",
suggesting a contrast between the icy and the fruitful Gerðr. Her name is
related to the word "garth", the fenced enclosure; from this, it has been
taken that she has something to do with land which is settled and fenced
in. The name of the grove where Freyr and Gerðr marry is Barri, which may
either mean "barley-field" or "coniferous wood" (Simek, Dictionary, p. 32);
the first reading matches better with the understanding of the tale as a
fruitfulness-myth, the second with the poem's description of the place as a
grove (lundr). In the latter case, the fruitfulness of Freyr and Gerðr
would not only be that of the fields, but of the whole earth, both the wild
and the tame lands. Skírnismál is one of the Eddic poems which is likeliest
to have been the script for a ritual drama, as Bertha Philpotts suggests;
it might have been done every year at ploughing time, mirroring the might
of the goddess and god as the plough breaks the earth's soil.

Paul Bibire has read Skírnir's curse on Gerðr as being rooted in her own
nature: all the things he threatens her with are characteristic for
troll-women. As an embodiment of the might of the earth, she can choose to
become fruitful as Freyr's wife, or she can choose to be barren, and
therefore be a dwelling for trolls and the worst of wights.

The wooing of Gerðr can also be seen as an inversion of that of Skaði:
Skaði is thawed by Loki's symbolic self-castration; Gerðr, by the symbolic
rape of Skírnir's thurse-runes. The one etin-maid takes the gift of
fruitfulness willingly; the other, because she must. If one were to read
Völsa þáttr as a purely spiritual work, one might perhaps compare them to
the two young women who pick up the völsi in turn: one is eager for it, the
other takes it only out of need. Eventually, however, both "Mörnir" do
receive the blessing, and the earth becomes fruitful.

In Det hellige Bryllup og norrøn Kongeideologie, Gro Steinsland reads the
tale as also being closely tied to the ideology of Norse kingship. She sees
the apples, ring, and magical stick as emblems of kingship; the threats
Gerðr suffers as stemming from the belief that the king is the conqueror of
his land as well as its warder and tender. Thus, Skírnismál shows not only
the holy wedding of the god with the earth, but also of the king with his
country (which is likewise needful to make it fruitful). She also points
out that this mating, like that of Óðinn and Skaði, brings forth not a god,
but the first man of an earthly dynasty - Fjölnir, the first of the
Ynglings, a line which was particularly thought of as being holy. From the
blending of gods and etin-maids can come not only gods (such as Wodan,
Thonar and his two sons by Járnsaxa, and several others), but also the
rulers who, as ritual leaders and sometimes sacrifices, bring the might of
the god/esses forth in the Middle-Garth.

Gerðr is not seen in any other myths: even after her wedding she seems to
have little to do with the other god/esses. No signs of a cult of hers have
survived: as an embodiment of the earth, she is a goddess to be honoured,
especially at Disting when the year begins to near the doors of summer
again and the world recreates the myth of her wooing, but she is not
otherwise called upon, except generally with the other goddesses of
fruitfulness. It is, however, thought by some in modern times that one
cause of natural disasters and bad harvests is Gerðr's anger at being

The colours associated with Gerðr today are deep red and deep brown.

Earth (Jörð - ON, Erda - Wagner)

Earth is the mother of Thonar, the daughter of the goddess Night and her
husband Annarr ("the Second"). She has several other names - Fjörgyn,
Hlóðynn, Fold, and Grund. The latter three simply mean "earth"; the first
may possibly be related to an early Germanic thunder-god (see discussion of
the manly "Fjörgynn" in the chapter on Frija).

We know that she was first made out of the corpse of the hermaphroditic
etin Ymir; from this, perhaps, it can be understood that Ymir's
dismemberment was also a separation into manly and womanly elements. It
might be possible to reach out from this to the reading that Earth's male
counterpart could possibly be Ægir, the etin of the sea (which was Ymir's
blood, as the Earth was his body), though this leans out into the realm of

There is not a great deal of evidence for the worship of the personified
Earth, but some traces have lived on. In one of our few surviving Norse
prayers, the "Hail to Day" from Sigrdrífumál, the awakened Sigrdrífa calls
on Day and Day's sons, Night and her kinswoman, and "the greatly-helpful
Earth". She names these wights together with, and apparently as equals to,
the "Æsir and Ásynjur". The description fjölnýta is difficult to translate
simply; the latter element means generally, "helpful, good-bringing,
enjoyable", and appears in Saxon English as the verb nytte.

The Anglo-Saxon charm "Æcerbot" ("Field-Ceremonies", also called "Charming
of the Plough"), a sketchily christianized fruitfulness-rite, includes the
strange line, "Erce, Erce, Erce, eorþan modor". The phrase "Erce, mother of
earth" is confusing, and the name itself resists philological analysis; but
since the next lines are, "May the all-ruling, eternal drighten grant you
fields waxing and thriving, flourishing and bountiful, bright shafts of
millet-crops, and of broad barley-crops, and of white wheat-crops, and of
all the earth's crops," it seems the most reasonable guess that the first
line was originally meant to be a call to Mother Earth, accidentally or
deliberately garbled. Slightly later in the charm, a very clear call to her
is spoken: "Hail to thee, Folde ("earth"), mother of men! Be thou growing
in god's embrace, filled with food for men to enjoy". The last verb, nytte,
is cognate to the Old Norse nýta (see above); one can see the general idea
as expressing the way our Germanic forebears saw the Earth. The whole charm
is, in fact, a model for the Northern relationship to the Earth: humans are
responsible for helping to bring the god/esses' blessings to her, for
hailing her and making gifts to her in thanks, and for carefully tending
her fields and lands.

The loop of turf which was cut whole with each end still attached to the
earth and carefully raised for men to creep under as part of the
blood-brotherhood oath was called "Earth's necklace". There are also
several references in the Eddas to the "main of the Earth" as being one of
the greatest of strengths; it is clear that Thonar gets a great deal of his
might from his mother. Eysteinn Valdason (a skald writing ca. 1000) called
the Middle-Garth's Wyrm "Earth's Girdle", and we will also remember the
little goddess of the Bronze Age who rode in a ship with a leashed wyrm
beside her.


This etin-frowe is the mother of the god Víðarr, whom Wodan begot to be his
own avenger. Though never counted among the goddesses, she is especially
friendly to the gods. When Loki had tricked Thonar into going to the
Outgarth without his hammer, she gave the god lodgings, warned him about
the giant Geirröðr, and also gave him a girdle of might, iron gauntlets,
and the staff Gríðavölr (Gríðr's magical staff), with which he was able to
ward himself against all the attacks of Geirröðr and his daughters. As
discussed further under "Thonar", these items are typical for Icelandic
witches, and indeed for certain shamanic practices. Gríðr can thus be seen
as an initiator and helper for those who must deal with the might of the
etins and the sundry wights of the Outgarth.


Járnsaxa, whose name means "Iron Knife", is an etin-woman and Thonar's
concubine, the mother of his two sons Móði and Magni who shall inherit his
Hammer after Ragnarök. It may seem more than a little strange that Thonar,
of all gods, should be the lover of an etin-woman; but Járnsaxa is called
"Sif's Rival", so she must be very fair indeed. She must also be very
strong: at three years old, her son Magni could lift a weight that none of
the other gods could manage.


The etin-mother of Óðinn, Vili, and Vé (or Óðinn, Hoenir, and Lódurr). Her
father is Bölthorn (Bale-Thorn). She has a brother, who taught Wodan nine
mighty songs; Hollander suggests that this brother may have been Mímir.
This reading is supported by the fact that, according to Ynglinga saga,
Óðinn sent Mímir together with his own brother as a hostage to the Vanir,
implying at least the possiblity of a blood relationship.

The etymology of her name is difficult: the likeliest reading connects it
with "bark" (Simek, Dictionary, p. 36), and de Vries also suggests, among
other things, the possibility that she may have been a yew-goddess
(Wörterbuch, p. 34).


Loki's horrible wife (as opposed to his good wife Sigyn). Her name means
"the one who brings grief"; the "Völuspá hin skamma" section of
"Hyndluljóð" tells us that she and Loki got the Wolf Fenrir together, and
Snorri also adds the Middle-Garth's Wyrm and Hel as their children.
Possibly the best summary of her character is that given by Alice
Karlsdottir in one of her many verses for "That Old-Time Religion":

"Angrboda is voracious,

And her children are hellacious,

I guess Loki's just salacious,

And that's good enough for me!"

Needless to say, the only use for Angrboda in a religious or ritual context
is the listing of her name among those of ill-willing wights whose might
one wants to banish.


Alice Karlsdóttir, from "Njörðr and Skaði: the Marriage of Light and
Darkness", Mountain Thunder 7, pp. 19-21.

Diana Paxson

Laurel Olsen and the other women of Hrafnar

Chapter XX

Idises (dísir)

"Idis" originally seems to have meant "atheling-woman". There is considerable doubt as to whether it is actually the same word as the Old Norse dís; the loss of the initial vowel is impossible to account for, but since the use is so similar, those who prefer English or general Germanic terms use "idis" instead of the Old Norse word.

In the singular, the word itself is very general in meaning. Both "idis" (or Anglo-Saxon "ides") and dís are applied to human women, womanly ghosts, goddesses, and figures such as Grendel's mother and Hel; in skaldic kennings, someone's dís is their kinswoman, whether living or dead. As a name-element, this word was very common, especially in Old Norse (Freydís, Ásdís, Þórdís, Hjördís, and the very rare Óðindís) but also on the Continent (Agedisus, Disibod, Tiso). The walkurjas are described as "Herjans dísir" (Óðinn's idises - Guðrúnarkviða I) as well as "Herjans nönnur" (Óðinn's women - Völuspá 30).

Although the plural term is most often used specifically for the dead women of the clan who still guard their descendants and help them in various ways, it can also speak of living women; the two have basically the same might, though the dead ones, dwelling wholly in the hidden realms, are thought of as stronger in matters of magic. The Old High German "Erste Merseburger Zauberspruch" gives us a clear picture of one of the things they do:

"Once the idises sat, sat here and there.

Some fastened fetters, some loosened fetters,

some plucked at chains;

spring the chains free! the fighters come out."

In Wealtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition, Damico tried very hard to prove that this might of fettering and loosing characterized a number of Germanic women as valkyries, and ended up showing either that it was a typical power of Germanic women, or that all mighty Northern females, including christian heroines such as Juliana, had originally been valkyries.

The idises also take part in battle in other ways. The women of the Helgi lays, Sváva and Sigrún (who are probably of the special type called "spae-idis" - see "Soul, Death, and Rebirth"), ride over air and water to ward their beloved Helgis in war. In Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgi sees Sigrún and her troop of "southern dísir" in bloody byrnies with flashing lances after his battle with Hunding's sons; she also wards his fleet through a storm so that they come safely into the harbour. Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar tells how Sváva is Helgi's unseen protector when the troll-woman Hrimgerðr attacks his ship, and also shows the troop of idises as bringers of fruitfulness: "(Their) steeds whinnied; from their manes fell dew in deep dales, hail in high woods, and thence comes good harvest to men." The battle-aspects of these women have often been taken as support for the prose identification of them as walkurjas. However, Germanic women typically went to the battlelines to encourage their men, and it is very likely that those who were skilled in magic also helped their beloveds in that way, faring forth to do battle unseen above the heads of the warriors. This seems to be more a trait of Teutonic womanhood in general than something specifically associated with the cult of Wodan, as the walkurja certainly is. As seen below in the story of Þiðrandi, family idises also appear as mounted warriors, even being mighty enough to slay men in the Middle-Garth.

Two of the greatest clan-idises were Þórgerðr and Irpa, idises of the Jarls of Hlaðir, who had their own statues "as big as a man with gold ring on arm and head-dress on head" (Njáls saga ch. 88), the fulltruar (fully-trusted; that is, patron deities of) the Jarl Hákon. In his battle against the Jómsvíkings, Hákon made a sacrifice to these goddesses, whereupon a sudden storm came out of the north, in which Þórgerðr and Yrpa appeared with arrows flying out of their fingertips; and this was the chief decisive factor in the battle. Þórgerðr's statue, together with that of Freyr's, was singled out for special abuse by Óláfr Tryggvason when he came to destroy the hof at Trondheim.

The idises help in birthing: Sigrdrífa counsels Sigurðr, as part of a midwife's skills, to "bid the idises aid". They are quite likely to be the wights that Snorri describes in his Edda as the norns who come to every child when it is born to speak its doom - "some of the ætt of Ases, some of the ætt of alfs, some are daughters of Dvalinn (dwarves)". He adds that "Good norns of fine kin shape good lives; but those folk who have ill-shaping, that is ruled by ill norns". This seems to be closely tied to the belief in the luck of the clan, which the idises may perhaps have been seen as passing to the child at birth (or name-giving):

Unlike walkurjas, idises were widely worshipped. It is likely that, as with the alfs, the belief in the clan-mothers goes back to the eldest times. However, the oldest surviving examples we have of a cult specifically dealing with the "Mothers" comes from the Roman occupation of the western banks of the Rhine. There are a number of little clay figures and stone votive sculptures showing three women with (usually) crescent head-dresses and baskets of fruit, cornucopiae, or suckling children sitting in a row. All of these bear inscriptions identifying them as the "Matronen". Many of the "Matronen" inscriptions are identified by tribe: "Suebian Mothers", "Germanic Mothers", "paternal Frisian Mothers"; others' names show them to be warders or gift-givers (Simek, Dictionary, pp. 204-08).

In Ynglinga saga and Heiðreks saga, a dísarsalr (idis' hall) is spoken of. It is a place for sacrifice of various sorts. The king Aðils falls off his horse and dies in the idis' hall, and one of Heiðrekr's wives hangs herself there. The death of Aðils is especially interesting, as it is attributed to a witch; it is possible that, as with the story of Þiðrandi (discussed below), the attendant idis chose her own sacrifice.

As well as being protectors, idises also come to claim their kin when it is time for the living to die. Before Gunnarr begins his ill-fated faring to the hall of the Huns, his wife dreams that "Dead women came hence in the night; they were mourning-clad, and wished to choose thee, bidding you swiftly to their benches...they were your dísir" ("Atlamál in groenlenzco" 28).

The best-known story of the idises is that from Kristni þáttr in Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar (Flateyjarbók). At a certain Winternights feast, a man called Þórhallr had an ill boding that someone should die that night, and said that no one should go out. But when most folk were asleep there was a knock at the door. Þiðrandi "took sword in hand and went out. He saw no one....he went then under the woodpile and heard riders galloping from the north. He saw that there were nine women and they were all in black clothes and had drawn swords in their hands. He also heard riders galloping from the south; they were also nine women all in light clothes on white horses. Then Þiðrandi wanted to turn inside and tell folk of it. Then the black-clad women came forward and attacked him, but he warded himself well and manfully. Some time afterward þórhallr woke up and asked if Þiðrandi was awake, and he was not answered. Þórhallr said, "Then you must have over-slept." Then they went out. There was moonshine and frost-weather. They found Þiðrandi lying wounded and he was borne in. And when folk had words with him he said all that had happened. He died at dawn that same morning and was laid in a howe according to the old custom of Heathen folk". Þórhallr then interprets the events as meaning that a new custom should come to the land, and says, "I expect that your dísir which have followed this old faith have now learned of this changing of customs and that they shall be forsaken by their kin. Now they must not want to have no share from you before they part from you and they must have (taken) this as their part. But the better dísir must have wanted to help him and were not able to do so as things stood."

Like Þiðrandi, Gísli Súrsson (Gísli the Outlaw) had two draumkonur (dream-women) who came to him, the better one giving him advice and the other one threatening. Shortly before his death, he dreamed that the second one came and washed him in blood; and after that he had such a fear of the dark that he could not dare to be alone. Again, the author of the saga gave the tale a slightly christian slant, but the basic belief in a bright idis helping and guarding and a dark idis calling towards death is probably heathen in origin. Part of Óðinn's doom-speech, as he reveals himself to Geirroðr at the end of Grímnismál, is "(your) dísir are foelike - now you shall see Óðinn!" (that is, die). In Reginsmál, the god counsels his hero Sigurðr, "That is very dangerous if your foot drops (if you stumble) when you go to do battle. Betraying dísir stand at your two sides and wish to see you wounded." In his extensive bracteate studies, Karl Hauck has interpreted some of the animal figures, especially the bird-headed snake-monsters that appear to be threatening a rider on Tulstrup-C and Dannau-C, as showing just such ill-willing idises ("Fünens besonderer Anteil", pp. 120-27), which he sees as causing Balder's horse to stumble and be wounded as may be described in the Second Merseburger Charm (see "Balder").

Chiefly, however, the idises are helpful to their kin. Little is shown of their actual workings, except for one saga in which the family idis afflicts a kinsman with various illnesses to keep him from walking into an ambush that would otherwise have been fatal. We thus know that they have foresight (the word spádísir is used in Völsunga saga to describe Sigmundr's battle-protectresses in his final fight); to those who can hear them, they give warnings or advice. The special association of their worship with Winternights (mentioned in Víga-Glúms saga and Heiðreks saga) suggests that they are also goddesses of fruitfulness, probably in regards both to humans and their lands and cattle.

As well as having their own halls or hofs, the idises also had holy stones in which they dwelt. The Norwegian Disahrøys (stone-pile of the dísir) suggests that harrows of rocks were built to these wights. This is very like the "harrow...of heaped stones" (Hyndluljóð 10) which Óttarr, who "trusted the ásynjur" built for Freyja; though such harrows were probably not exclusive to womanly wights, they do seem to have been thought very fitting.

The Frowe is called "Vanadís", idis of the Wans. This has often been taken to show that she is the leader of the idises or the great idis, but given the general usage of the word to mean "kinswoman", this reading is probably excessive. However, as Fro Ing is the lord of Alf-Home, and it is likely that the idises and alfs are womanly and manly clan-ghosts of the same sort, it seems clear that his sister should have a similar tie with the idises, and be called on when they are called, as is the usual custom of the true today.

Together with the Frowe/Fro-idis/alf pairings, there is also reason to think of a Frija/Wodan-idis/alf connection. The reference to Óðinn as being the god who will be angered by a christian at the álfablót in Sigvatr's Austrafaravísur, as discussed under "Alfs", suggests strongly that he has a part in the cult of those wights as well. As the realm of the dead, especially the ancestors and the mound-dead, is the area in which Wodan and Fro Ing overlap most and work most closely together, this is hardly surprising. Frija and her goddesses could also be called "the idises"; the motherly character of the dísir, especially when the cult of the Matronen is thought on, seems to bring them at least as much into Frija's realm as the Frowe's.

In A Book of Troth, Thorsson offers a "Blessing of the Dises" in which several of the different women's personal names with the "dís" element are used in a call to the idises (p. 168). Here we offer a short list from which folk can put together such a call. Those slightly familiar with Old Norse can also easily generate their own idis-names/descriptions; such created forms have been marked with an * here.

*Árdís - harvest-idis

Ásdís - Ase-idis

*Barnadís - idis of children

*Eplidís - apple-idis

Freydís - Freyr's idis or Freyja's idis (forms would have been identical in ON)

Herdís - army-idis

Hjálmdís - helm-idis

Hjördís - sword-idis

Jódís - horse-idis (note: used for Hel)

*Móðirdís - mother-idis

Óðindís - Óðinn's idis (only found twice, on late Swedish runestones - may have been a cultic title, but more likely formed after the other god-idis compounds)

*Sigrdís - victory-idis

Spádís - prophecy-idis (used as a descriptive rather than personal name)

Úlfdís - wolf-idis

Valdís - slain-idis

Vanadis - idis of the Wans (the Frowe)

Vigdís - battle-idis

Þórdís - Þórr's idis

*Ættardís - clan's idis

Chapter XXI

Walkurjas (Valkyrjur, walkyriges, valkyries)

In modern times, the Walkurja has become one of the best-known figures of
Northern spirituality (with a little help from Richard Wagner). The roles
of the walkurjas that we see in our forebears' literature are several.
Firstly, they ride out to the battlefield as Wodan's representatives to
choose who shall die; this is the meaning of the name "walkurja". Secondly,
they bear drink to Wodan and the einherjar in Walhall; their images on the
Gotlandic picture stones suggest that they are especially responsible for
giving the horn of welcome to the newly slain. Thirdly, they may also be
responsible for raising the dead on Walhall's plain and healing them so
that they may slay each other again and again till Ragnarök.

The oldest recorded uses of the word are in Anglo-Saxon, where "wælcyrge"
is often used to gloss various Classical terms such as the names of the
Furies and Bellona: in The Wonders of the East, gorgoneus is translated as
wælcyrging, and mention is made of beasts which "have eight feet, and
walkyries' eyes, and two heads". These, particularly the former, might be
taken as speaking of the walkurjas' magical power of paralyzation
(battle-fetter); they certainly strengthen the image of the walkurja as a
frightening figure.

In modern times, the term "valkyrja" has often been used for the Higher
Self, the warder of the soul and the shining bride with whom the
consciousness seeks to be wedded, especially by Edred Thorsson (FUTHARK),
and, following him, Kveldulf Gundarsson (Teutonic Magic; Teutonic
Religion). This has caused much difficulty: since the walkurja is so
closely associated with the cult of Óðinn, it seems difficult, if not
impossible, for followers of other god/esses to call their own Higher
Selves "valkyrjur". Gundarsson has suggested (Teutonic Religion) that
perhaps the followers of other deities could assume manifestations of their
own god/ess along the model of the valkyrja, but known by more fitting
names (for instance, "Þrúðmaiden" for worshippers of Thonar). Likewise,
those who interpret the walkurja/Higher Self as incorporating some of
Jung's concept of the anima are baffled by the problem of women's
relationship to this figure.

The concept of the walkurja as Shining Bride and Higher Self is based
wholly on Sigrdrífumál and the Helgi poems. In the former, however, the
walkurja is specifically sentenced to be married to Sigurðr as part of her
disgrace. She has disobeyed Óðinn by choosing the wrong man to die, and so
she is no longer a walkurja: she must enter the ordinary realm of women as
a wife. Even in Völsunga saga, Brynhildr is not called valkyrja, only
skjaldmær, "shield-maiden. In the Helgi-poems, the woman is only called a
valkyrja in the prose (which was probably added by the scribe, long after
the conversion of Iceland and the composition of the poems); in the poetry
itself, she is only ever referred to as a dís. It can also be mentioned
that, although Sigrún is able to ride over air and water to ward the living
Helgi, while she lives herself, she is not able to follow the dead Helgi to
Valhöll - hardly consistent with those women who are actually called
valkyrjur, who fare to and from that hall in the course of doing Wodan's
will (Hákonarmál) and bear drink to the heroes inside. In the actual
poetry, the word "valkyrja" is used only in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, and
there it is an insult: Sinfjötli accuses Guðmundr of having been a harmful
walkurja "with All-Father", awefull and ill-willing, who set all the
einherjar to fighting her battles. Likewise, Sigrún is not called
"valkyrja" in Völsunga saga, although the compiler knew the Helgi lays.
Neckel suggests that this ommission is due to an earlier perception of the
valkyrja as a frightful being, which made the term inappropriate for
application, so that Sigrún and Sváva were not originally conceived of as
valkyries. The same holds true for the swan-maidens of Völundarkviða: both
the term "valkyrjur" and the association of the swan-women with battle
appear only in the prose, not the poetry, while the theme of the
animal-bride who is happily married to a human man for several years, but
then reclaims her beast-hide and leaves him, is very widespread and has
nothing to do with walkurjas. In one of our oldest skaldic poems, Þórbjörn
hornklofi's Hrafnsmál (ca. 900), which is also the first recorded ON usage
of the word "valkyrja", it is specifically stated that the woman speaking
to the raven is a wise valkyrja who understands bird-speech, to whom no man
is dear. The belief in a womanly soul-warder, bride, and "Higher Self"
should not be forgotten - it will be spoken of further under "Idises" and
"Soul, Death, and Rebirth" - but it is probably incorrect to give that
being the name "walkurja".

The arguments against seeing the walkurja as being essentially the hero's
higher self and bride also stand against the idea of seeing human women as
walkurjas. Today, it is quite common either to describe any strong woman
(especially warrior-women) as a "valkyrie", or to use the word for the
woman who bears the horn about at holy rites. The shield-maiden or Maiden
Warrior is, indeed, a mighty figure of Germanic literature (and probably
life in the old days, and certainly life now!), but there is no
justification for identifying her with the wild wights who ride above the
battlefield to choose men's death and doom the battle's outcome. There were
probably human women who practiced magical arts to take part in battle in
this manner, as is discussed under "Idises", but they are unlikely to have
been universally followers of Wodan. Whereas the few surviving instances of
"valkyrja" in Old Norse poetry, with the exception of Hrafnsmál where the
walkurja is actually interrogating a raven (a bird defined in skaldic
kennings almost exclusively, and interchangeably, by the names of Óðinn and
the valkyrjur) about a man who is probably an Óðinn-hero (Haraldr inn
hárfagri), not only explicitly connect these women with Óðinn, but show
them as being wholly spiritual beings. Wulfstan's Sermo Lupi ad Anglos
(C.E. 1014), which puts "wiccan ond wælcyrian" together with murderers,
kinslayers, and fornicators as destructive influences upon the nation, does
hint at a belief in human walkurjas; however, Wulfstan also emphasizes a
euhemeristic interpretation of the Heathen gods in De Falsis Deis. This,
applied to walkurjas, could reasonably turn the battle-spirits into human
sorceresses. If the supernatural walkurjas were generally seen as partaking
in Wodan's magical practises, as the name-pair Göndul/Göndlir suggests,
this could also have blurred the distinction between spirit and sorceress
in the christian cleric's eyes.

As bearers of the horn in Walhall, the walkurjas are the Wodanic mirroring
of the normal womanly role: as a drighten's hall must have the
atheling-frowes, his wife and daughters, bearing drink to the ruler and his
thanes, so Walhall must have fitting women doing this honour to the god and
his einherjar, as in Eiríksmál, when he bids "walkurjas bear drink, as if a
prince came". Despite the reading usually given to the little Viking Age
pendants of horn-bearing women from Sweden, however, this does not mean
that all women bearing drink are walkurjas - though those who appear on the
Gotlandic picture stones as holding the horn up to a rider on an
eight-legged horse, with a great hall behind them in front of which a fight
is going on, almost certainly are. However, carrying the horn about at a
holy feast or offering a greeting-drink to a guest was one of the most
usual activities of the Germanic woman, from the free farmer's hut to the
halls of the god/esses. At a blessing made to Wodan alone, the horn-bearing
woman might be thought to play the part of the walkurja in his hall; but at
other rites, this would hardly seem fitting.

As the Norse and English sources show them to us, the walkurjas are figures
of awe and even terror, who delight in the deaths of men. As battlefield
scavengers, they are very close to the ravens, who are described as
wælceasega, "picking over the dead", in the Old English interpretive
translation of Exodus, and the good Prof. Tolkien suggests that the
valkyrie-word "derived partly from the actual carrion-birds of battle,
transformed in mythological imagination" (Exodus, p. 50). The steed of the
walkurja, like that of the frightful troll-woman of Haralds saga
Sigurðarsonar (Heimskringla) who gloats over the dead and feeds corpses to
her mounts while claiming the blood for herself, is the wolf; the Rök Stone
speaks of "where Gunnr's horse sees food on the battlefield, twenty kings
who lie there". Gunnr ("Battle") is one of the most typical walkurja-names;
others include Skögul (either "Forward-Striker" or "The Raging"), Hlökk
("Shrieker"), Göll ("Loud" - cf. Óðinn names Göllnir, Göllorr, Göllungr),
and Herfjötur ("Battle-Fetter"). In Darraðarljóð, a man sees these women
weaving in a womanly way - but they are weaving human guts, with human
heads as the weights, a sword for the beater and an arrow for the shuttle.
This poem is associated with the Battle of Clontarf (1016), so it is likely
to be Heathen in conception.

As spoken of under "Wodan", the walkurjas can best be seen as the womanly
reflections of Wodan: they do his work and share in all his crafts and
being. This is a narrower role than the word "valkyrie" has held in Ásatrú
until now, but one better-founded. It also deals with the vexing question
of why a part of the soul which all human beings share - the "Higher Self"
- should have been thought to be so strongly associated with one god, and
not the most widely beloved god at that: the answer is that after the
Heathen period, the term was applied widely and romantically by the
antiquarian scribes writing down the Eddic poems.


KveldúlfR Gundarsson, "The Valkyrie in the Cult of Óðinn", Idunna.

Chapter XXII

Alfs, Dwarves, Land-Wights, and Huldfolk

The word alf (álfr, elf) is used for many sorts of wight: not only the
Light Alfs, Dark Alfs (mound-elves), and Swart Alfs that Grimm separates
out of German folklore and the Norse sources, but also different sorts of
land-wights (wood-elves, mountain-elves, field elves, water-elves, and
sea-elves). In the Troth, we usually speak of the Light Alfs and Dark Alfs
as alfs, the Swart Alfs as dwarves, and the rest of them as land-wights.

The alfs are clearly a holy folk; the alliterative phrase "Ases and alfs"
is often used in the Poetic Edda. The question, "What is (the trouble?)
among Ases? what is among alfs?" is also asked in Þrymskviða 7, hinting
that the happenings of the two are closely bound. The phrase "at ganga
álfrek" (Eyrbyggja saga ch. 4), literally "to go drive out the elves",
meant to relieve oneself, which fits in with the general belief, also
described in Eyrbyggja saga, that excreting on holy ground defiled it -
this, again, hints that the alfs and the god/esses go closely together.
This likening also, as Turville-Petre points out, appears in the
Anglo-Saxon charm "Against a Sudden Pain" in which the phrases "shot of
Ases...shot of alfs...shot of hags" appear together (Myth and Religion, p.
230) - though the context of the charm suggests rather that the Ases had
sunk to a level where they could be counted together with witches and
lesser spiritual wights than that the alfs were seen as godly beings at the
time the charm was composed. Of the Light and Dark Alfs themselves we see
nothing in the Eddas; it is only the dwarves who seem to take part in myth.

The word "alf" is likeliest to stem from a root meaning "white", with the
various suggestions of "gleaming" (as in the Anglo-Saxon man's name
Ælfbeorht - "alf-bright" and adjective ælfsciene - "beautiful as an alf"),
and "white mist-form" (de Vries, Wörterbuch p. 5). The latter reading may
be tied to the mysterious Nibelungen ("mist-folk" - ON Níflungar), who are
a supernatural tribe in the first part of Nibelungenlied but whose name is
also attached to the Burgundian royal house in the later half of the poem
and in the Norse materials, perhaps through the character of Hagen/Högni,
whom Þiðreks saga tells us was the son of an alf.

The alfs had a very strong cult in the Viking Age; the Winternights feast
was sometimes called álfablót (as well as dísablót and Freysblót). When the
skald Sigvatr, a christian converted by Óláfr inn digri, came to a
farmhouse in late autumn, he was told that he could not enter because the
Alf-Blessing was being celebrated - as a christian, he was presumably
unwelcome at the family's holy feast. We do not know what sort of alfs were
being hailed at this blessing, though, as spoken of later, it is likeliest
to have been the mound-alfs. Interestingly, although the alfs are usually
thought of as being tied to the Wanic cult, Sigvatr tells us that the
housewife told him "I am afraid of Óðinn's wrath" (Austrfararvísur, ca.
1019 C.E.), suggesting that Wodan, also, had a special relationship with
them. Since Sigvatr was a first-generation convert, he is not likely to
have confused Wodan with another god, or used the name without reason.

In his Edda Snorri tells us that the Light Alfs are bright and shining,
very fair to look upon, which fits well with the first reading of the
word's etymology. The Sun is also called "álfröðull" (Glory of the Alfs),
which seems to fit largely with the Light Alfs, as neither the Dark Alfs
nor dwarves care for her light; according to Alvíssmál, the alfs also name
the Sun "Fair Wheel". These alfs are closely tied to Fro Ing, the lord of
Álfheimr; as airy and bright wights, they may help in the bringing of fair
weather. Grimm comments that, "Of the dwellings of light elves in heaven
the folk-tales have no longer anything to tell" (Teutonic Mythology, II, p.
454). It is also possible that the term "Light Alf" may have been a synonym
for "god/ess", with "alf" being used poetically as a broad term for
"spiritual being". In modern times, the Light Alfs are sometimes seen as
messengers for the god/esses, bringing might down from the Ases' Garth to
the Middle Garth.

We know far more about the Dark Alfs, or mound-alfs, than about the other
two sorts. It is clear from both Norse sources and Scandinavian folklore
that the Dark Alfs are dead folk, especially those ghosts dwelling in the
howe. One of the many Norwegian kings named Óláfr, after his burial, was
thought to bring fruitfulness and good to his kingdom even from the howe,
and therefore was called "Geirstaðaálfr", the Elf of Geirstaðr. Indeed, the
Old Norse word álfkarl (male elf) was taken over in Irish as alcaille,
"ghost of the dead" (de Vries, Wörterbuch, p. 6). In Hávamál, when Óðinn is
speaking of those who teach runes to the various folks, he says, "Óðinn
among the Æsir, but Dáinn for the alfs, Dvalinn for the dwarves..." The
name "Dáinn", also a dwarf-name, simply means "Dead One".

Since the worship of the mound-dead has been carried out from the Stone Age
onward, the cult of the alfs is one of the oldest strands in the weave of
the elder Troth. From the oldest times, that worship has been characterized
by the offering of food and drink to the howe-dwellers. In Kormáks saga, it
is told how a badly wounded man was instructed to put the blood and flesh
of a steer on a hill in which the alfs dwelt. Gifts of food and drink put
on the howe nearest the house at holy times, especially Yule, were known up
through modern times (Feilberg, Jul, II, p. 20); it is quite likely that in
older days this was done whenever there was need. In the Bronze Age, many
holy stones were marked with small round depressions, now called alf-cups;
till modern times, again, offerings were poured or set into these little
holes in the rock. Those true folk of today who do not live near Germanic
Heathen howes can chip or grind small cup-shaped depressions into whatever
rocks are near their homes so as to make offerings of a like sort to the

Turville-Petre suggests that the álfar may have been manly counterparts to
the womanly dísir - the dead men of the clan, as the dísir were the dead
women - and this has often been taken up by true folk today, Fro Ing and
the alfs being called on together with the Frowe and the idises. Aside from
Óláfr, there is no reason to think of the mound-alfs as being necessarily
manly: women were buried in howes as often as men, and individual alfs are
not seen often enough in Norse sources for us to know whether they are
likely to have been of one sex or not. However, it may be that the words,
while referring to the same wights, were distinguished by gender in the
Viking Age. Certainly álfr is a masculine word and dís is feminine, so, at
least regarding their use in the cult of the dead, the two could quite
easily have been polarized. Turville-Petre supports this theory by
mentioning that, according to Heiðreks saga, "the woman who reddened the
altar during the dísablót was called Álfhildr; she was daughter of Álfr,
king of Álfheimar" (Myth and Religion, p. 231). Since the source is
relatively late, antiquarian consistency might have changed dísablót to
álfablót, or Álfhildr's name to one of the many names with "dís" as an
element, but this did not take place, suggesting that a tradition may have
been reported accurately.

If such a distinction did indeed exist during Heathen times, it was lost
later, and all the mound-folk called alfs; but Scandinavian folk ballads
offer tales which suggest that these alf-women still acted as the idises
(in their darker shape) could. The Danish "Herr Oluf Han Rider" tells of a
man who rides through a grove where elf-folk were dancing on his
wedding-eve. One of the women asks him to dance with her, but he refuses.
She strikes him over the heart; he rides home to his betrothed, and the two
of them are dead by the next morning. In the Icelandic "Ólafur liljurós",
the alf-woman asks the man to dwell in the hill with them; he refuses on
the grounds that he is a christian. She then asks him for a kiss, which he
gives "half-heartedly" (with half-hugr); she stabs him with her knife,
mortally wounding him. As spoken of under "Idises", such bidding and its
consequences are typical: one way or another, the chosen man will join the
woman in death.

The mound-folk are especially interested in human babies, whom they will
steal if they can, leaving changelings in their place. According to folk
belief, they can breed, but this is rare and difficult, and there are
several tales of human women called to midwife alf births.

Alfs, like trolls, etins, and god/esses, can mate with humans. This happens
often in Scandinavian folklore. From the late heathen/early mediæval
period, perhaps the most notable example is Högni (Hagen) of Þiðreks saga.
According to the saga, he was "gray as ash, and sallow as bast, and pale as
a dead man", easily mistaken for a troll in a dim light. The belief that
Hagen was the son of an alf may have come to Scandinavia through the
original German source for both Þiðreks saga and Nibelungenlied (though, as
mentioned above, the Níflungar/Burgundian association suggest the
possibility of an older connection which, like Siegfried's spear-death, was
lost in the Norse but retained in the German materials); but the
description is typically Norse. There are a number of later folk stories of
men who are seduced by alf women (and father children on them), and of
brides who are stolen by the alfs on their wedding day. There are also
stories of men who cast steel over their elvish lovers to bind them to the
Middle-Garth so that they can marry them.

Folk who spend time with the alfs often come back mad, or at the very least
sorrowful and wandering in their wits. The expression "taken into the
mountain" was used whenever someone underwent a sudden psychological
change, which was often associated with getting lost in the mountains or
woods. The ringing of church bells was thought to force the alfs to let
their captives go (Kvideland & Sehmsdorf, Scandinavian Folk Belief and
Legend, p. 212). Simek tells us that the German "Erlkönig", on whom
Goethe's ballad (set as a song by Schubert) is based, "originates from an
incorrect translation of Herder's who misunderstood the Danish elverkonge
('elf-king') to be Erlenkönig ('alder-king'), but attributed to it some of
the darker attributes of elves (Dictionary, p. 74); that is, trying to lure
a child away, and when that fails, taking it by force, leaving a corpse

Alfs are also well-known for "alf-shot" - little invisible arrows which
cause effects in humans and cattle ranging from sudden sharp pains, local
swellings, and inexplicable wasting sicknesses to bone cancer and even
death. Lumbago and arthritis are especially thought of as the result of
alf-shot. This belief is common throughout the Northern world, with forms
of the word appearing in all Germanic dialects (together with the similar
"troll-shot", "witch-shot", and "dwarf-shot"); it probably stems from the
eldest times. Those who suspect they or their animals may be suffering from
alf-shot should work the charm "Wiþ Færstice" (Against a Sudden Pain), the
text and translation of which can be found in G. Storms' Anglo-Saxon Magic.

Alfs dislike it greatly when stables are built or people relieve themselves
on their mounds. There are also several stories of mounds with trees
growing on them from which it was forbidden to break branches; when this
bidding was broken, great ill-luck overcame the one who had done it.

However, the alfs can also get along well with humans. Tales abound of folk
who have done favours for them and are well-rewarded for it. If offered a
gift by them, especially in payment for services done, it is far safer to
take it than to refuse it. Food and drink are quite common (though there is
a counter-belief that to eat alfish food within their hall will trap one
there forever) . There is also a recurring theme of an alf-gift which seems
worthless (dead leaves, wood-shavings, and such) turning into gold - quite
the opposite of the Celtic belief in "fairy gold" which looks valuable, but
is actually something worthless with a glamour laid on it. The Anglo-Saxon
names such as Ælfgifu (Alf-Gift), Ælfred (Alf-Rede - mod. Alfred), and
Ælfwin(Alf-Friend - mod. Alvin) also speak of a close and good relationship
between alfs and humans in the English tradition.

Alfs can be seen through knot-holes (elf-bore), holes made by an alf-shot
in an animal's hide (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 461), and probably
natural holes in stones, which were thought to be especially magical.

Swart Alfs (Dwarves)

Norse literature tells us more about the Swart Alfs, or dwarves, than about
the other sorts of alf. According to Snorri, the dwarves were made from the
maggots crawling in Ymir's corpse when the Middle-Garth was shaped. He also
mentions that the Swart Alfs are black as pitch, but this may well be his
own understanding drawn from the name; in Alvíssmál 2, Þórr comments on how
pale the dwarf Alvíss is, and asks if he has been with a corpse in the

Like the Dark Alfs, the Swart Alfs are closely associated with death, and
may in fact often be dead folk themselves, as the names "Dáinn" (a
dwarf-name as well as the alfs' ruler), Nár (Corpse), and Bláinn
(blue/black - cf. "Hel-Blue", a common description of corpses, especially
undead ones) suggest. Other dwarf names relate to their crafts: Næfr (the
Capable One). They have magical skills, as shown by the names Gandálfr
(Wand-Alf or Magical Alf), and are wise, as seen by the names Fjölsviðr
(Very Wise - a name shared with Óðinn), Alvíss (All-Wise), and Ráðviðr
(Rede-Wise). They can be deceitful: their ruler is called Dvalinn
(Deluder). The word "dwarf" itself has been variously etymologized as
stemming from Indo-European *dhuer- (damage), Old Indian dhvaras (demonic
being), and Indo-European *dreugh (the root of "dream", but also of the
German Trug, "deception"). The last reading fits best with the meaning of
"Dvalinn". Simek mentions that "the origin of the concept of dwarves is
either to be found in nature spirits or else in demons of death...(but)
Nature spirits are probably more likely to be elves. However, it is
possible that there was a mixture of concepts" (Dictionary, pp. 68-69).

The relationship of dwarves with dreams and delusion has led today to the
understanding that their land, Swart-Alf Home, is mirrored in the human
soul by the subconscious, the realm of shadows where thoughts are forged
into being.

Four dwarves, Austri (East), Norðri (North), Vestri (West), and Suðri
(South), hold up the sky - the dome of Ymir's skull. These dwarves are
sometimes called on today in warding the quarters of the holy ring. Alice
Karlsdottir's reading of the tale of the Brísingamen also has them as the
four forgers of the Frowe's necklace (who are not named in Sörla þáttr).

The Swart Alfs are, so far as we can tell, always male - though modern
fantasy writers have come up with the ingenious explanation that
dwarf-women exist, but are also bearded, making it difficult for humans to
tell the sexes apart. However, male dwarves are known for stealing human
women away (Grimm, II, pp. 466-67), while human men do not marry
dwarf-women; the one reference Grimm quotes to this happening speaks of a
mound-alf's daughter, not a dwarf. The dwarves usually appear to be old,
with long gray beards; they are short and gnarled, but powerful. Often they
wear red caps, which make them invisible to human folk; the Tarnkappe of
Nibelungenlied, which had the same power, was also a dwarfish product, and
part of the Nibelungen-hoard guarded by the dwarf Alberich (Alf-Ruler). In
the Norse version of the story, the magical cap from the dwarf's hoard was
the ægishjálmar (Helm of Awe), which made shape-changing possible and
terrified the foes of the one who wore it.

Like trolls, dwarves dwell in mountains and stones, which are often the
doorways to the Otherworld. Ynglinga saga tells how the Yngling king
Sveigðir sought for Óðinn's dwelling a long time, and one evening after
sunset, when he went from the mead-hall to his sleeping place, he saw a
dwarf under a great stone. The dwarf stood in the stone's door and called
Sveigðir, bidding him come in if he wanted to meet Óðinn. Sveigðir leapt
into the stone, and it closed behind him, and he never came out. In
Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, the king Svafrlami (or Sigrlami in an alternate
version) saw two dwarves, Dvalinn and Dulinn, by a stone at sunset and
barred them from the stone with his sword until they had promised to make
him the best weapon possible. That was the sword Tyrfingr: but when they
had given it to him, Dvalinn told him that it would be a man's bane
whenever it was drawn, and would do three niðing-works, and that it would
be Svafrlami's own bane. Then Svafrlami struck at him, but the dwarf had
already gone into the stone. Dwarves are not warrior-like, and can be
forced to work by threats - but they hold grudges very well, and always get
their revenge.

Again like trolls, dwarves are turned to rock by the light of the sun;
Thonar gets rid of his daughter's dwarfish suitor Alvíss by distracting him
with questions until daylight strikes him, a theme otherwise typical of
troll-tales both in Norse poetry (cf. Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar) and
Icelandic folk-tales. They can, however, fare above ground by daylight in
the form of stags; the four stags that chew at the World-Tree's bark all
have dwarf-names, and may indeed be North, East, South, and West in their
daylight shapes. The dwarf Andvari, keeper of the Rhine's hoard, took the
shape of a great pike, and the Old English charm against dwarves also
describes them in the form of spiders.

Above all, however, dwarves are the greatest of smiths (with the exception
of Weyland, spoken of later in this chapter). They made all the great
treasures of the god/esses, and many things for human folk. Although there
are no traces of a common cult of the dwarves, as there was for the alfs,
it is not unlikely that smiths might have given these wights special
worship and called on them for craft. Certainly our legends sometimes have
heroes being apprenticed or fostered by dwarves. The German Siegfried is
sent to the dwarf Mime as his apprentice; in the Norse version, Sigurðr is
the foster-son of the smith Reginn. According to the German tradition
preserved in Þiðreks saga, Weyland was also apprenticed to dwarves.

The dwarves are also the keepers of all the wealth within the earth, and do
not necessarily appreciate humans taking that wealth out: most mining
communities have legends of ill-willing wights who cut ropes and weaken
shorings. Those who work with metals and stones, as well as hailing the
dwarves for crafts, would do well to give them gifts for this sake.

Human beings can become dwarves or alfs. Such a transformation appears in
the Norse Völsung/Nibelung legend, where Reginn - originally a human, the
brother of Fáfnir and the skin-changer Óttarr - turns into a dwarf, even as
Fáfnir becomes a dragon. Since the Germanic dragon, as Professor Tolkien
pointed out in "The Monsters and the Critics", is never a natural animal,
but rather the ghost of a dead man guarding his hoard, and some dwarves
also seem to be dead people, it is possible that the transformations of
Fáfnir and Reginn were brought about posthumously by their obsessions with
the hoard of the Rhine (originally belonging to the dwarf Andvari). As a
smith, Reginn was naturally closest to the dwarf-kind.

Another such change seems to take place in Weyland, as spoken of in
Völundarkviða. Although the legendary smith is called "prince of alfs"
early in the poem, he seems wholly human: he eats, hunts, and is overcome
by sleep, making it easy for his foes to capture him. However, during the
long trial in which he is imprisoned, hamstrung, and made to forge for
Niðuðr, the might of need and his craft begin to change him. He does not
need sleep any more, but smiths continuously, becoming as tireless and
mighty a smith as any of the Swart Alfs. By the time he has wrought his
full revenge, he has passed wholly outside of the human world and become an
alf in truth. When he says "Well I...would be on my feet, those which
Niðuðr's warriors took from me", he is acknowledging the destruction of
Weyland the man; when he takes to the air on the wings he has forged for
himself, he becomes wholly Weyland the Smith of our folk-legends, the "wise
alf" who lives yet and was given gifts and worship throughout the Teutonic


The land-wights are beings who dwell in natural features such as streams,
stones, and waterfalls. They take many shapes, often humanlike, often not.
The land-wights can be roused to defend their land against magical attacks,
as in the story from Heimskringla (Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar) in which a
wizard goes to Iceland in whale-shape to see if it can be invaded. He sees
it crawling with land-wights everywhere. When he tries to go ashore, the
four guardians of the land - dragon in the east-northeast, bird in the
north, bull in the west, and mountain giant in the south-southwest - each
with a host of smaller beings in the same shape following them, attack him.
He returns to report to King Haraldr Gormsson that Iceland is too strongly
warded for an invasion to be successful. These four warders still appear on
the back of Icelandic kronur.

Unlike some alfs and dwarves, the land-wights seem never to have been
human; Iceland, which had been uninhabited except for the odd Irish monk
(and some of them were very odd indeed), was already virtually seething
with them when the Norse landed. They are the wights which can most easily
be reached by those who dwell in the New World; while those land-wights
have long been used to Amerindian ways, it has been found that they respond
well to whoever comes to them with courtesy and respect. Some true folk in
America add tobacco to the land wights' offerings of bread and drink to
honour the local customs and see that the wights get what they are used to.

Throughout the Germanic world, the cult of the land-wights lasted far
longer than the cult of the Ases and Wans; in fact, it is still a living
belief in Iceland today, where many farmhouses have boulders that they will
not mow too closely around nor let their children play on. From the period
of christianization onward, there were stringent laws against giving any
sort of worship to rocks, trees, or springs, such as the General Admonition
of Charlemagne, ca. 787, and his Special Capitulary for the Missi, ca.
v802, and the Sermon VI of the False Boniface, ca. 800 (Chisholm, Grove and
Gallows). This worship was usually characterized by bringing food and drink
to the place, then eating it in the name of the dweller there and/or
leaving a share of it at the holy stead.

According to the Heathen law of Iceland, as recorded in Landnámabók
(Hauksbók ch. 268), the dragon-prows of ships had to be taken off before
coming within sight of land to keep from frightening the land-wights away.
They were probably raised for the same reason during attacks and raids:
they terrified the wights who dwelt in the defenders' lands and kept them
from lending their aid in the battle. When Egill Skalla-Grímssonr set his
horse-head níðstöng (nithing pole) against King Eiríkr Blood-Axe and his
queen Gunnhildr, he first stated that he turned it against the royal
couple, then faced the horse-head towards in to land and said, "I turn this
nith against the land-wights who dwell in the land, so that all of them
fare wild ways, nor find nor meet their homes, before they drive King
Eiríkr and Gunnhildr out of the land" (Egils saga, ch. 57). The horse-head
pole probably worked in much the same way as the "dragon-prow"; in fact,
remnants of a Danish ship-prow show that it was a beast with a horselike
head and mane of iron curls.

If the land-wights are frightened or angered, all things in the land will
go badly until they are at rest again. It is needful to get their
permission before doing any major landscaping, especially if it involves
moving trees or boulders, in which they often dwell. The landwights tend to
dislike loud noises and are affrighted by the violent shedding of blood. It
can be guessed that they also dislike pollution, large quantities of motor
traffic, and littering. They can speak directly to those who are sensitive
enough to hear them; to others, they may appear in dreams.

Worship of the land-wights was probably not carried out as a large-scale
religious activity, though it is good to save food and drink from the holy
feasts to put by whatever creek, stone, or tree houses the ones nearest to
you. From the Icelandic sagas, we have two examples of individuals with
close personal relationships with land-wights. Kristni saga and Þorvalds
þáttr víðförla speak of how a chieftain brought sacrifice to a rock-dweller
called his ármaðr (harvest-man) or spámaðr (spae-man) until the wight was
driven out by holy water splashed on the stone. The names given to the
rock-dweller suggest that not only do land-wights bring fruitfulness to
their friends, but they can also give wise rede. In Landnámabók, a man by
the name of Goat-Björn had trouble with his goats. He dreamed that a
rock-dweller came to him, offering to become his partner. After that a new
billy-goat appeared among Björn's herd and they began to breed. When Björn
went to the Þing, or his brothers went fishing, folk with the Sight could
see all the land-wights with him. Making friends with the land-wights is
clearly a personal thing, calling for a certain degree of quiet and privacy
so that you and they can hear each other.

Although the land-wights were not subjects of myth, they seem to have been
very much a part of the daily lives of all our Germanic forebears - wights
to be loved and dealt with often. As Óðinn suggests in "Hávamál" 44: "If
you have a friend whom you trust in well, and wish to have good of him,
open your mind to him and share gifts, fare often to find him". In the old
days, as we see from the wide spread of the cult of the land-wights and the
law of the Icelanders, caring for these beings was very much in the minds
of all. That is even more needful in these times, when a great many human
activities seem as though planned to offend them. It is up to the true to
make friends with the land-wights again so that both we and they can


The Huldfolk (hidden folk) are figures of continental Scandinavian
folklore. They often overlap with both the Dark Alfs and the land-wights,
and in the later folklore the term is applied generally to every sort of
being which cannot usually be seen by human beings, particularly the

One of the most typical characteristics of huldfolk is that they appear as
beautiful human beings, but have animal features such as cow-tails or
hooves; or else their backs are hollow or overgrown with bark. They try to
keep these things hidden, as they take particular delight in seducing and
even sometimes marrying human beings.

The Swedes believed in a woman called the skogsrå (Forest Ruler), who lives
in the wood and seduces hunters and charcoal-burners. In return for their
sexual favours, she helps their work by charming their rifles so that they
will never miss, or keeping their fires burning while they sleep. Any good
done for the skogsrå is likely to be returned with good. In one folktale, a
pair of hunters run across two forest women, one of whom is about to give
birth. They give her pieces of their clothes to wrap the baby in, and she
tells them that the next day, one will shoot her dog and the other her cat.
The next day, one shoots a wolf and the other a lynx (Scandinavian
Folktales, p. 89). Such wood-wives are also found in German folklore, where
they teach humans herb-craft and help with milling and other such tasks; it
was customary to bake a little loaf for them with each lot of bread, and to
leave it out in the wood, and they would answer by leaving cakes of their
own on the plough or in the furrow. They highly dislike bread flavoured
with caraway seeds, as do several other sorts of huldfolk. There are also
male wood-wights, but they are more retiring and less good-natured (Grimm,
Teutonic Mythology, II, pp. 483-85).

Another sort of water-wight is the nöck or näck who dwells in streams,
pools, and rivers. The word is the same as our English "nicor" or the much
diminished form, "nixie". In the Anglo-Saxon sources, they are fearsome
etin-kin, worthy foes for Beowulf to use his sword on; however, in the
Scandinavian folklore, they can be helpful. The Näck will tune fiddles and
teach folk to play the fiddle if he is offered a black lamb; if a fiddler
lets this wight suck blood from his finger, the Näck will teach him a
certain tune that everyone who hears must dance to. He is still a fearsome
wight: it is said in Norway that he claims a life every year. Although
German and English folklore remember less of the wights themselves, there
are many rivers of which the same is said, including the small and sluggish
English Cam (the Warder of the Lore can verify the truth of this legend)
and the German Saale, who claims her victims on Walpurgisnacht or
Midsummer's (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 494). When going out on a
river, it is recommended to make a small gift of food and drink so that the
wight does not get the idea of choosing its own sacrifice. In Iceland, such
water-wights are said to disguise themselves as horses, which are perfectly
safe to ride so long as they do not get near open water; if they do, they
sink down and drown the rider. Landnámabók (Hauksbók 71) describes what was
probably such a creature. Auðun stoti sees an apple-gray horse running over
from the lake Hjarðarvatn; he sets the horse to work, and it works so hard
that its hooves are sunken to the fetlocks in the field, but after sundown
it breaks all its harness and runs back to the lake.

The Scandinavian näck is always male, but havfruen (harbour-maids,
mermaids) are known as well. The most famous female water-wight is probably
die Lorelei of the Rhine. These women have spae-sight, and can be made to
answer questions; in Nibelungenlied, Hagen sees three water-maids bathing
in the Danube, and they prophesy to him that all who cross the river must


The folk of Hrafnar

Kveldulfr Hagan Gundarsson, from "Wayland the Smith", in Mountain Thunder
2, 3-5.

Alice Karlsdottir, from "Freyja's Necklace", in Mountain Thunder 10, pp.

Chapter XXIII


All through the Germanic world, we have the belief in house-ghosts. These
wights are called by different names - nissen in Denmark, tomten in Sweden,
tussen in Norway, kobolds in Germany, among others - but they seem to be
all of the same sort. In Scandinavia, the house-ghosts are usually seen as
little men, often wearing gray clothes and pointed red caps; the Danish
nisse is also said to be thumbless. As with the beliefs in alfs and
land-wights, the belief in house-ghosts long outlived the worship of the
Ases and Wans; the custom of putting porridge out for the tomte or nisse
has lasted to the present day in Scandinavia, although non-Heathen
households take it no more seriously than they do putting out cookies and
milk for Santa Claus.

One of the Norwegian names for the house-ghost is haugbo (also appearing in
Orkney dialect as hogboy) - "howe-dweller" or haugbonde, "howe-farmer".
Sometimes nissen or tomten are also said to live in mounds on the land. In
"Gardvoren og senga hans", Solheim suggests that the house-ghost was the
first owner of the farm, who dwells there as the embodiment of its
prosperity - and perhaps to make sure that things are done rightly by those
who come after him. This suggests that the house-ghosts of modern
Scandinavian folklore may be much the same as the wights the Old Norse
sources knew as alfs - the ancestral mound-dwellers who look after their
kin. This idea may also be strengthened by the fact that the house-ghosts
are always, with no recorded exceptions, male.

The house-ghosts are not always tied down to their mounds, however. While
some are strongly associated with places (particularly communal places,
even making their home in churches), many others will cheerfully pick up
and follow a family where-ever it goes, whether they are asked to go or
not. The theme of a family that tries to change houses to get away from a
troublesome house-ghost, only to see him sitting on top of the wagon and
chuckling about what a fine day it is to move is widespread through both
Scandinavia and Great Britain (where it is attributed to the Gaelic brownie
as well). Such wights also guard ships, mills, and other places where folk
work - your office may have its very own house-ghost.

The chief role of these wights is to take care of the house and its
surrounding lands. In rural households, they make sure that the bread
rises, the cream turns to butter in the churn, the cows are fed well, and
the field-work is successful. Today, most of them have different ways of
looking after the families they follow. House-ghosts make sure that your
keys and glasses are where you can find them, that the house's wiring is
safe, and generally that things go as they ought. They help with cleaning
and garden-work; they are annoyed by lazy people, but make things easier
for the hard worker.

The house-ghost is also particularly responsible for bringing luck to the
household, sometimes by stealing it from other households. One story from
Denmark describes how a farmer had no fodder for his cattle, but his nisse
went out at night with a cow and brought her home loaded with hay
(Kvidelund & Sehmsdorf, Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legends, pp. 239-40).
Another tale from Norway, variants of which appear all over Scandinavia has
a man seeing his tusse struggling with a blade of grain and laughing at how
light the load is. The tusse replies that he will see soon enough how heavy
the burden was, and turns around to carry it the other way. After that
there was nothing but poverty, illness, and bad luck on the farm, because
the tusse was carrying all the good from it.

These wights work tremendously hard as long as they are appreciated, and
ask little in return - a plate of porridge and a glass of beer every
Thursday, with a share of feast-food on holy days, will usually keep them
very happy indeed. In the last couple of hundred years, it has been found
that they like tobacco as well. They are also fond of whole milk (though
not skimmed, which will make them unhappy because they think you are being
stingy with them - house-ghosts do not understand about cholesterol), and
KveldúlfR Gundarsson has found that his house-ghosts like vodka and other
sorts of schnapps as well. If you think of your house-ghosts as old folk
from rural Scandinavia or Germany and ask yourself what they would have
wanted to eat or drink at home, you probably can't go too wrong. This food
is either put in the barn or stable, where the house-ghost usually lives in
rural households or beside the hearth (Diana Paxson suggests having a stone
there to serve as his dwelling, on which the plate of food can be placed).
If you have no hearth, the stone should go in whatever place you have
chosen as the heart of the house. Grimm tells us that the house-ghost's
yearly wage, given to him on Yule morning, was "grey cloth, tobacco, and a
shovelful of earth" (II, p. 512).

One must take leaving the food out for the house-ghost very seriously.
There are a number of tales of folk who ate the house-ghost's porridge
themselves and/or defiled his plate, with consequences ranging from his
aggravated departure to the culprit being beaten to death. It is especially
important to give the house-ghost his food at Yule (and probably
Winternights as well, since he will just have finished a long and hard
stint of work). House-ghosts often revenge slights violently, and since
they are supposed to be very strong in spite of their size, this is
something to be wary of.

House-ghosts also dislike noisy evenings, although the nisse is fond of
music. If you are planning a raucous party, you should probably warn your
house-ghost beforehand, and give him fitting food and drink before and
after as a reward for his tolerance. According to Swedish superstition, the
tomte particularly hates chopping in the yard on a Thursday evening (Grimm,
II, p. 509), and probably dislikes any sort of disturbance on this evening,
as it is the night on which he gets his porridge and beer, and presumably
his night off.

One of the most common stories about house-ghosts is also told of brownies
in Scotland: the folk of the farm see their house-ghost dressed in tatters,
and either feel sorry for him or want to reward him for all the hard work
he has done for them. They make a little set of clothes, which he puts on
with delight, declaring that now he is too fine to do farm-work, and they
never see him again. However, other sorts of gift were apparently customary
in Germany: clause 103 of the Penitential of the German Church (ca. 900
C.E.) asks, "Did you make bows and shoes of a size that small boys would
use; and, then put them in your cellar or barn for satyrs and goblins to
play with so that they will bring good things and you will be made richer?"
(Chisholm, James, tr., Grove and Gallows, p. 54)

House-ghosts can often be mischievous, and like to play tricks. If they
become obnoxious, an extra gift of food or drink put down with the firmly
placed request that they kindly stop doing whatever has been annoying you
is the best way to get them to stop. Actively banishing them is the very
last resort, as a well-meaning house-ghost is the best and truest friend
you can have. Most of those that become obnoxious simply do not realize
that they are upsetting their people, and once told, become contrite and
more helpful than before.

Other sorts of requests can also be made to the house-ghosts together with
gifts of food and drink - the most common being, "Would you kindly find
this/that/the other for me?"

Some house-ghosts, however, are basically unpleasant. There are Icelandic
families even today which suffer from horrid wights called fylgidraugar
(following-undead). These wights are a type of Sending made out of babies
abandoned to die, which stay through the generations to torment a family.
The best that can be hoped from these is that, if they are given food, they
will be less obnoxious than if they exert their whole strength to make

There is an Old High German charm to banish ill-willing house-ghosts:

"Wola, wiht, taz tu weist, taz tu wiht heizist,

Taz tu neweist noch nechanst cheden 'chnospinci'."

(Well, wight, do you know that you hight 'wight',

that you do not know and cannot say 'chnospinci'.")

The wight, rather like Rumpelstiltskin, becomes so furious at not being
able to pronounce the nonsense-word "chnospinci" (chno-speen-kee - the chn
is a sneezing sort of sound), that it departs at once in a huff. This charm
is only to be used when all else has failed.

In rural households, the house-ghost often chose a favourite horse or cow
to give extra care and fodder to - the fodder being stolen from the other
beasts. If one of your pets is always fat and sleek while others seem thin
and unhappy, and (the most important step in diagnosing the problem) a vet
can find nothing wrong with the ones that are not faring as well, it is
possible that the house-ghost is interfering with them. In that case, his
unfortunate victims should be fed by themselves and given extra care by the
owner. In one Swedish tale, a farmer sold the tomte's favourite horse and
brought another one, which became thinner and more sickly every day. One
night the farmer hid in the stables, and saw the tomte come in and flog the
new horse with a big whip. He then bought the old one back again, and had
no more trouble (Simpson, Scandinavian Folktales, p. 174).

The house-ghost is especially associated with cats: Grimm mentions the
names polterkater (noisy tomcat) and katermann (tomcat man) for him (II, p.
509), and says that the cat shares the name Heinz and Heinzel with the
kobold, as well as being a stiefel-knecht (boot-servant), "coming very near
the resourceful Puss-in-Boots. The tabby-cat brings you mice, corn, and
money overnight; after the third service you can't get rid of her...A
serviceable tom-cat is not to be shaken off" (IV, p. 1432). Treating
house-cats well is clearly very important for the prosperity of the home.

Grimm also mentions the custom of having carved kobold-figures in one's
home or painted on the wall (II, 501-02). Such a figure might well serve as
a dwelling for the house-ghost, before which his food and drink could well
be placed. If you seem to have no house-ghost, such a figure could well be
used as the focus for a rite to call one to you, as suggested in
Gundarsson's Teutonic Religion. If you look closely, you may even find that
you have a statue somewhere in your house which has attracted such a wight
on its own.

Finally, it must be mentioned that in her humorous fiction, the writer
Esther Friesner has advised against letting tomten see Ingmar Bergmann
films, which throws them into deep Scandinavian depressions. There is
probably no real basis for this...but just in case...

Chapter XXIV

Etins, Rises, Thurses, Trolls, and Muspilli

Anyone who has ever picked up a book on Norse mythology knows about the
conflict between the gods and the giants. It is often pictured as an
endless dualistic struggle between the forces of good and evil, order and
chaos, creation and destruction. As always with the ways of our forebears,
however, matters are far more complex than the usual view would have

Our forebears had several terms for the race of giantish wights. It is hard
to distinguish one from another by use, as the words were used fairly
interchangeably. For the sake of clarity in the modern age, Edred Thorsson
has divided them thus: the very wise, powerful, magical ones are called
etins (jötnar, single jötunn - "the Eaters"?), the huge mountain-dwellers
are giants or rises (rísar - "giants"), the uncontrollable, hardly
conscious natural forces are thurses, and "troll" is (as it was in the old
days) used as a catch-all phrase for obnoxious supernatural wights. The
whole lot of them are referred to collectively as "etin-kind" or "Ymir's
children", as they were all born from the body of the hermaphroditic
ur-etin Ymir before Wodan and his brothers slew him and made the world from
his corpse.

All seem agreed that the etin-kind are basically wights of untamed nature,
and can be extremely dangerous and/or destructive. As the Raven Kindred
Ritual book puts it, "the Jotunn are the Gods of all those things which man
has no control over. The Vanir are the gods of the growing crops, the
Jotunn are the Gods of the river which floods and washes away those crops
or the tornado which destroys your entire farm. This is why they are
frightening and this is why we hold them to be evil.

"The Jotunn are not worshipped in modern Asatru, but there is some evidence
that sacrifices were made to them in olden times. In this case, sacrifices
were probably made "to them" rather than shared "with them", as was the
case with the Vanir and Æsir. It would be inappropriate to embrace them as
friends and brothers in the way we embrace our Gods. One doesn't embrace
the hurricane or the wildfire; it is insanity to do so. However, we must
also remember that fact that (although) we see their actions as bad, they
are not inherently evil. The storm destroys the crops, but it also brings
cleansing and renewal. We humans are only one species on this planet and in
the end we are both expendable and irrelevant to nature. This is the manner
in which the Jotunn act, and it is not surprising that we see this as evil"

The etin-kind dwell in mountains, glaciers, volcanos, and all steads that
are too wild and dangerous for humans to settle in; those who wish to see
Etin-Home made real within the Middle-Garth need only look at the interior
of Iceland, which Ymir's children still hold. Where they live, we cannot,
and vice versa. In banishing rites, various sorts of etin-kin are also
singled out as the specific wights of ill being banished.

Many embodiments of cosmic destructiveness are attributed to Ymir's
children: the wolves Sköll and Hati (or Managarmr), who chase the Sun and
Moon and will eat them at Ragnarök, are the sons of the Hag of Iron-Wood,
who seems to be a great mother of etin-kind. The Wolf Fenrir, son of Loki
and Angrboda, has already been spoken of. At the end of the age, some of
the etin-kin, most particularly Loki's children and a giant named Hrymr,
will fight against the god/esses: Snorri tells us that all the rime-thurses
will come with Hrymr, but this is not mentioned in the poetic sources. Both
in Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál, the etin-tribe as a whole seems to play
little part. We know only that Etin-Home is as disturbed as the realms of
the Ases and the dwarves (Völuspá 48), and troll women wander wildly when
Surtr comes and the mountains (their homes) collapse (52). The chief source
of destruction at Ragnarök, and the only host of foes described in Völuspá,
will be Surtr and his Muspilli, spoken of at the end of this chapter.

Although the etin-kind are dangerous to humans and often work against the
god/esses, they cannot be dismissed as wholly ill. The many etin-brides of
the gods have already been spoken of; we will remember that Skaði's father
Þjazi represented all that is most threatening about the etins, and yet she
herself is, and was, worshipped as a goddess. Thonar is the great foe of
etins, but has one as a concubine, and has gotten help from others (see
"Skaði, Gerðr, and other Etin-Brides"). Mímir, Óðinn's rede-giver and
teacher, was likewise an etin, and there is not one of the Æsir of known
parentage who cannot claim kin among these folk.

The relationship between god/esses and etin-kind is often rather ambiguous:
often the gods come as guests into etin-halls, sometimes even with
apparently friendly intentions - although such visits usually end up with
the giants dead, as at the end of Vafþrúðnismál and Hymiskviða. Although
Thonar is sometimes seen as not too swift on the uptake, the great
etin-slayer would undoubtedly have seen something very fishy in Loki's
presentation of the "friendly invitation" to come unarmed to Geirröðr's
hall if it were truly unknown for gods and giants to guest together. In
fact, unless he is directly challenged, Thonar's main fault as a guest in
etin-halls is his efforts to eat the giants out of house and home
(Hymiskviða, Þrymskviða). However, while the god/esses and Ymir's children
do not seem to be universally sworn foes, and sometimes work well together,
there is always a great tension between them - and between the etin-kind
and humans as well: as Þórr's explanation for why he slays female, as well
as male, etins (discussed by Paxson below) points out, most of Ymir's
children cannot dwell safely by human beings.

For these reasons, very few true folk have even considered working with the
etin-kind, except for the odd magician who seeks them out for lore or the
wilderness wanderer who seeks to bribe the dangerous powers around her/him.
However, a new, or perhaps very old, glance over the etins is offered by
Diana Paxson:

...Despite the gusto with which Thor bashes etins, the old literature
leaves one with a curiously ambiguous perspective. Ancient and terrible the
Jotnar may be, but are they simply destructive, or does the conflict
between them and the lords of Asgard have a deeper significance?

As I explore the spiritual ecology of the North I have come to believe that
far from being the eternal enemy, the Jotnar may have a crucial role to
play in the survival of the world and its inhabitants, including human
beings. An analysis of their origins and functions not only illuminates
their relationship to the gods (and therefore the meaning of the Aesir as
well), but suggests a new way to interpret some of the ambiguities
encountered in Norse attitudes towards the feminine and the natural world.

The mythologies of other early cultures reveal a pattern which may be
paralleled in that of the North. Bearing in mind that traditional cultures
do not have a single, canonical, "creation myth", still, almost everywhere
we find a first generation of deities who are responsible for the creation
of the world, and who are later supplanted by their children, the pantheon
whose worship becomes the religion of the land.

The Graeco-Roman creation myth tells how Gaia, Mother Earth, arose from the
empty "yawning" of Chaos and conceived the Titanic powers by Ouranos, who
suppressed them before they could be born into the world. The last of them,
Kronos, attacked and emasculated his father, separating him from the earth.
The Titans who were then released were powers of the sun and moon, darkness
and the dawn. Monsters of various kinds were also created. Kronos (Time)
married his sister Rhea (Space) and they became the parents of the Olympian
gods. Eventually the gods, aided by monstrous allies and the counsel of
Mother Earth, defeated and imprisoned the Titans in Tartaros. Nonetheless,
the time when Kronos and the Titans ruled was considered by the Greeks to
have been a golden age.

Despite the theological sophistication of Hinduism, traces remain of a
pre-Vedic system in which "The gods and the antigods are the twofold
offspring of the lord-of-progeny (Prajapati). Of these the gods are the
younger, the antigods the older. They have been struggling with each other
for the dominion of the worlds" (Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad 1.3.1. [205]).
These antigods are sometimes called asuras (later construed as a-suras, or
"not-gods"), although this term, derived from the root "to be" or Asu,
"breath", was originally used to identify the most important gods. Although
the asuras are seen as opponents, many among them are described as wise and
beneficent and aid the gods. Among the asuras the Mahabharata includes
daityas (genii), danavas (giants), kalakanjas (stellar spirits), kalejas
(demons of time), nagas (serpents), and raksasas (night wanderers, or
demons). They live in palaces in mountain caves, the bowels of the earth,
the sea, and the sky. They are said to be powerful in battle and magic.

In Egyptian religion, the oldest company of gods seems to have represented
properties of primeval matter. According to E.A. Wallace Budge, "
primeval times at least the Egyptians believed in the existence of a deep
and boundless watery mass out of which had come into being the heavens, and
the earth, and everything that is in them" (The Gods of the Egyptians, I:
283). These powers were represented by four pairs of gods and goddesses.
The world as we know it was created by the action of the Khepera aspect of
the sun-god, who says in the Book of the Overthrowing of Apepi, "Heaven did
not exist, and earth had not come into being, and the things of the earth
and creeping things had not come into existence in that place, and I raised
them from out of Nu from a state of inactivity" (295). This bears a
remarkable resemblance to the opening of Völuspá:

"Old was the age when Ymir dwelt,

was not sand nor sea nor spray-cold waves;

there was no earth nor up-heaven,

the gap was ginn- (potential power) full and grass nowhere.

Then Burr's sons rased up the land,

they who the well-known Miðgarðr shaped..."

Unless one is prepared to believe that the author of the Edda read
hieroglyphics, one must accept this idea as a way of conceptualizing
creation common to many peoples. The "inactivity" of Nu is a reasonable
southern parallel to the eternal ice that encased Ymir. In both cases, the
earth that we know is "lifted" into a state of manifestation by the action
of a more clearly personified power. In the Younger Edda, we learn that the
world was fashioned from Ymir's skull and bones, (shaped by the gods
descended from the being Burr, who was) freed from the ice by the tongue of
Audhumla, the primal female principle in the form of a cow.

In all of these mythologies, the elder gods are the...elemental powers.
Myths about them have to do with their origins and their battles against
the race of gods who supplanted them. They may be portrayed as monstrous or
fair, but always they dwell in wild places - Utgard - or in the element to
which they belong. Although they are the opponents of the gods, they do not
appear to be hostile to men. In fact, they have very little to do with
human concerns.

A number of theories have been offered to account for this cosmic struggle.
A hypothesis adopted by many scholars has been that the elder deities, such
as the asuras, were the gods of races conquered by the people who worship
the gods. The asuras were the gods of pre-Vedic India, and presumably the
Jotnar and Titans would be the deities of the pre-Indo-European peoples of
their lands. However, this theory does not explain why gods and giants
should differ in function.

Although some of the Jotnar are allies of the Aesir - Aegir, for instance,
who brews ale in his cauldron so that the gods can feast in his undersea
hall, or Vafthruthnir, who teaches Odhin wisdom - their functions clearly
have to do with natural forces. Aegir is a god of the ocean; his wife Ran
rules the depths beneath the waves, who are their daughters. However, it is
the Van, Njordh, who watches over those who make their living on sea.
Fjorgyn is Earth, but Freyr and Freyja, the alfar and ármaðr,
"harvest-man", are involved to aid in farming. It is not the gods who are
the personified natural forces beloved of 19th century folklorists, but the

The gods, be they Aesir or Olympians, can be seen as the product of
evolving human consciousness. Odhin, first of the Aesir to arise, gives us
the runes, the symbols and words of power by which the human intellect is
enabled to comprehend the world. The Jotun expresses the natural power,
while the god embodies the qualities needed for humans to deal with it. In
the myths, the Aesir are able to interbreed with Jotnar or humankind. The
stories of interaction between the gods and the giants can almost serve as
a chronicle of the changing relationship between evolving human
consciousness and the natural world.

Of all the Aesir, Thor, the thunderer and the great slayer of giants, is
the most elemental. He is the Son of Earth, and his rune is that of the
thurse (thurisaz). He joys in the chaos of the storm, but he can use its
energy to protect humankind. But his is not a war of extermination. In
Hárbarðsljóð, Thor tells us, "Great would be the clan of etins if all (the
etin-women he had slain) lived; there would be no humans in Miðgarðr". As
Gro Steinsland points out ("Giants as Recipients of Cult in the Viking
Age?", in Words and Objects), this is not a war of extermination, but of

For a long time, it was assumed that one distinction between Jotnar and
Aesir was that the giants were never worshipped. However, Steinsland has
demonstrated that the giants...did indeed receive cult worship in the
Viking Age. She proposes that Snorri's account of how the gods gave part of
the roasting ox to Thiazi while traveling to visit Utgard-Loki reflects an
ancient ritual in which offereings were made to the wilderness
powers...Skadi is not only the daughter of a giant, but the home she
inherited from him is listed among the holy halls of Asgard (see discussion
under "Skaði"). However, for the most part, the hallows of the Jotnar are
to be found in Utgard - "outside the garth" - in the wilderness beyond the
fields we know.

The Jotnar are elemental in character and force, associated with the
regions or environments in which they live (cliff-thurses, berg-rísi, or
mountain giants or trolls, rime-thurses, sons of Surtr, Aegir, Ran and the
waves, etc.). They rule the realm of Nature and can thus be viewed as
chieftains of the order of nature spirits appropriate to various
environments: the skogsrån or "wood-rulers" of the forest, who can bestow
blessings in exchange for offerings; the näckar or "nixies", sjoera,
lake-spirits, and forskarlar, waterfall-men, in the water; the duergar
(dwarves), who live under the earth, and the landvættir, or land-wights,
for a region in general. These are what the people at Findhorn in Scotland
call the devas, the spirits which inhabit and give health to the
environment, ranging from entities that express the spirit of a place or a
group or species of living things (such as a forest), to the spirits of
individual flowers or trees. Even during the Christian period they survived
in Faerie, in which noble races of elves are accompanied by all kinds of
sprites and goblins. In mediæval folklore, the Jotnar devolved into hags,
giants, and trolls, and their attendant nature spirits into dwarves,
dryads, and the like, but they continue to dwell outside the boundaries of
the human world.

But not all of the Jotnar live in the wilderness. Giantesses are co-opted
into the world of the gods as mothers and mates. In fact, a majority of the
Aesir are the children of Jotnar on one or both sides. Indeed, when an As
or Van seeks a bride outside Asgard, his only source of mates is in
Jotunheim. Scratch a goddess, and you are likely to uncover an etin-bride.
The courtships of Skadi and Gerd (see "Skaði, Gerðr, and other Etin-Brides"
- KHG) are particularly noteworthy, and it is significant that they are
married to Vanir, the gods most closely connected with the natural world.
Odhin himself sires children by a number of giantesses, most notably Jordh,
or Earth, the mother of Thor, and Rind, who bears him Vali. On the other
hand, those female Jotun who are not co-opted by marriage appear to be more
feared by the Aesir than are the males.

The male Jotnar slain by Thor are viewed as worthy antagonists who can
sometimes be tricked into sharing their wisdom or powers. But the females,
even Hyrokkin, whose strength is required to push Baldr's funeral ship out
to sea, evoke a primal terror. They are not only wild, but female, with all
of the suppressed power of both the feminine and the wilderness. In his
analysis of prayers to Thor, John Lindow identifies eight killings of
female Jotnar and four of male. "Thor was the defender of Asgard, as
Thorbjorn himself put it, against the forces of evil and chaos. These
forces seem, in the reality of peoples' have had a very strong
female component...If those who fight for order are male, then it is
appropriate that those who fight for disorder should be female"
("Addressing Thor", p. 127).

At this point a good feminist should say, "how like a man", but I think
that the causes of this hostility lie deeper than simple misogyny. Norse
culture in general approaches the feminine with a mixture of emotions,
seeing it as irrational and equating loss of (masculine) status with loss
of control, while at the same time retaining the memory of a long tradition
of reverence for women and belief in their superior spiritual powers. This
attitude is paralleled by equally ambivalent feelings about the world of
nature. Is it therefore surprising that the Jotnar - the primal powers of
nature - who are most feared should be personified as female?

Female biology makes it harder for women to suppress awareness of their
physical nature in the way that men often do, and though women are less
likely to seek battle, a woman once enraged may fight with a fury that
ignores the rules by which men like to conduct their wars (certainly some
of the women in the sagas are first-class bitches, and the men might have
been better off if their wives had been allowed to fight the bloodfeuds).
These generalizations reflect the social stereotypes of our culture; in
reality there is a considerable overlap between the genders in this regard,
and intellect, intuition, and the like are uniquely mixed in each
individual. Given this caveat, such social and biological factors may
explain why men have tended to link the feminine with Nature, which can be
both terrible and nurturing, as well as with the irrational, the
unconscious, and spiritual power.

Steinsland makes a good case for the survival of rituals addressed to the
Jotnar into the Viking Age. Rather than identifying this as a lingering
superstition, let us consider what function retaining a reverence for
powers first conceptualized at the birth of human culture might serve in a
supposedly more "civilized" age. The scholars who look upon myths of the
passage of power from Jotnar or Titans to the shining gods as a reflection
of an historical process may be seeing only part of the picture. A more
accurate way to describe the change might be as evolutionary. Evolution
does imply change over time, but this change can consist of alteration
within a continuing group as well as the replacement of one culture or
species by another.

The human brain is an excellent example of an organism which has developed
by adding new structures and functions to older ones. Most people today
have access only to the newer levels of consciousness, and are disturbed by
the "irrational" emotions that shake them when the older parts of the brain
are aroused. In the same way, our civilization thinks of itself as
"modern", and has trouble understanding the social movements that arise
when deeper needs revive older ways.

A major paradigm shift in our relationship to Nature is taking place this
century - a change that must occur if humanity is to survive. Ours is the
first generation to be aware of the fragility of the environment.
"Primitive" people retain an instinctive awareness that the only way to
survive in an environment that is more powerful than they are is by
learning how to live in harmony with its forces. But as civilization and
the development of technology have given humans more control over their
surroundings, Nature has become an adversary. In the natural world, birth
and death, creation and destruction, are parts of a continuing cycle in
which both are equally crucial to long-term survival. Modern man can accept
this theory so long as he remains insulated from realities by his
technology. But, especially in the ancient North, where the climate is
unforgiving, it is understandable that in the Viking Age the world outside
the walls of the garth should have been something to fear.

And yet, as Kirsten Hastrup shows in Culture and History in Medieval
Iceland, access to the actual or psychic wilderness was necessary for
magic. The outlaw, or "out-lier", is banished outside the boundaries of the
community, and yet that position may enable him to serve it in ways
impossible for those who stay safe within walls. "In the cases of both
hamrammr and berserkr there is a movement, in body on the one hand, in
personality on the other. Such movement seems to have been easily imagined,
in a world where every man had his fylgja, his double in wild space" (p.

The tension is not only between order and chaos, but between control and
power. This is why Thor never kills all of the giants, why the Aesir seek
Jotun-brides, why Odhin goes to Vafthruthnir to seek wisdom - and why
worship at the shrines of Skadi and other Jotnar continued into the Viking
Age. From wilderness comes the energy that humans, like other species, need
to survive.

What will happen if humans forget how to balance this energy? Ragnarok
acquires a different meaning in each age. The Völuspá foretells a
simultaneous breakdown in the natural balance and the social order. Odhin
marshals the Einherjar and the gods march out for the last time to meet
their foes. When all is destroyed, "the Sun is blackened, earth sinks into
sea, the glorious stars are cast from heaven, steam and life-nourisher
(fire) gush forth, tall flames play up to heaven itself" (57). The order of
creation described in the early myths is being reversed. The world will
return to its primal elements once more.

For the ancient Norse, the fear was that natural forces would grow too
powerful. But science shows us that it is equally dangerous to suppress a
powerful force too far or too long. The film Koyaanisqatski (Philip Glass)
presented a frightening picture of a world out of balance. Whether the
Jotnar are allowed to rage unchecked or suppressed too completely, disaster
will follow. Today's vision of Ragnarok is of an age when natural cycles
have been pushed so far out of balance that only the most chaotic and
destructive of the forces of nature will remain.

Can this disaster be avoided? Early cultures, living in a world in which
the seasonal alternation of birth and death was more accepted than it is
today, tend to think in terms of cycles rather than of linear progression.
But though the Volva foresees destruction for the gods, the victory of
chaos is not final...

"She sees the earth coming up a second time from the sea,
renewed-green...the Ases find each other again on Iða-Plain...and they
remember the mighty doom for themselves there, and Fimbultýr's ancient
runes" (59). The process of creation is repeated, and once more Odhin's
runes give meaning to the world.

In a world of vanishing rainforests and global warming, it may seem that
the Time of Earth Changes foretold by more recent prophets such as Sun Bear
is unavoidable. In the long run this is probably true, for why should
either a physical body or the world be expected to last forever? For the
world, as for us, death should be viewed not as an extinction but as a
transformation so that the cycle can begin anew. Still, just as abuse of
one's body can shorten, or healthy living extend, a human lifespan, humans
have the power to hasten Ragnarok or to lengthen this age of the world.
With that power comes responsibility.

Environmentalists have provided us with more than enough information to
start work on the physical plane, and there should be no need to repeat
their instructions here. But those of us who follow the Way of the North
have an additional opportunity. We are already vowed to stand with the gods
- what we must do now is to understand their relationship to the Jotnar so
that we do not end up sabotaging our own side.

We need the giants as we need the wilderness, as a source of the
nourishment required for our physical and spiritual survival. They provide
psychological stability by aligning the powers of nature and protections at
the species level, for they are the spiritual ancestors of all living
things. Even abandoning intellect and technology and returning to the
primitive, but as we use the gifts of the gods, we should remember that
even Thor does not attempt to completely exterminate his enemies. These
days perhaps we ought to be supporting the Jotnar rather than fighting

Jotun myths have to do with creation and cosmic patterning. In recreating
the myths we re-create the world. Along with the land-spirits, they shoud
therefore receive offerings and honour. When we seek to work in trance, to
draw on the deepest powers that lie hid in our own inner Utgards, the
Jotnar may even be invoked first in the ritual.

Like other forms of Paganism, the Northern branch of the Old Religion is an
Earth-religion. As Steinsland put it, "After all, it would be more
remarkable if Norse tradition should miss any ritual dealing with powers on
whom the whole of existence finally depended. The giants are as necessary
to the world as the gods are" (p. 221). In recreating the practice of Norse
religion, we should not forget to honour those powers.


As spoken of above, "troll" is a wide term. The span of beings it has been
used for takes in land-wights, etin-kin, house-ghosts, unfriendly idises or
an enemy's patron (Þórgerðr is called flagd, "troll-wife", by Hákon's foes
in Jómsvíkinga þáttr), magicians, unclean ghosts, big ugly people, and
possibly walkurjas in their most unpleasant forms. Magic is still called
trolldom in modern Scandinavian dialects, and there is an Old Norse verb
trylla, "to enchant", so that it is possible that the noun could have first
meant only "magical being" and later been specialized into the "troll" of
folklore. The matter is made still more complicated for English-speakers by
the existence of a number of different non-specific terms for nasty wights,
all of which are translated as "troll" or "troll-wife" in English.

The kind of wight most true folk use the term "troll" for now is an
outdweller who is smaller than a mountain-giant (folkloric descriptions of
trolls have them ranging from human norm to perhaps ten or twelve feet) and
usually lives in cliffs or mountain crags. There is little doubt that they
are of Ymir's kin; Scandinavian folk-tales collected in the nineteenth
century still kept the memory of the thunderbolt as the weapon of a
troll-fighting deity. The trolls can easily be seen as the land-wights of
wild and rocky areas, and as such can be dangerous to the humans who come
into their realm: for instance, the Icelanders who went gathering
birds'-eggs on the cliffs had to be careful lest the trolls should cut
their ropes. However, trolls can also be befriended; there are quite a few
examples of them going out of their way to be helpful to human beings.
Folkloric descriptions of trolls and their actions also have much in common
with Old Norse beliefs about the draugar (walking dead), so that the troll
of folktales may encompass both "jötunn" and "draugr".

The etymology of "troll" is not certain; the word is probably quite old,
going back to Common Germanic. It may come from a root meaning "to roll",
and it has been suggested several times that the original "trolls" were
possibly first seen in ball lightning; in folk-tales, trolls often roll or
whirl around to travel at inhuman speed, some by means of special "Rolling
Breeches". The use of the general verb for magic may also suggest that this
"rolling" or "whirling" was seen as a magical activity, which in turn hints
at interesting possibilities for magical experimentation in the modern age.

Usually trolls are thought to be ugly, hugely strong, and not very bright,
in spite of which they manage to breed with humans once in a while. There
are several characters in the sagas who bear the name "Half-Troll", and
quite a few saga-heroes, such as Grettir inn sterki, Egill Skalla-Grímsson,
and Skarp-Heðinn Njálsson, who could easily be mistaken for trolls in a dim
light. Troll-women are especially desirous of human men: Hrimgerðr
expresses jealousy of Helgi's beloved Sváva, and there is an Icelandic
folktale about two troll-women who capture a man named Jón and try to feed
him up and stretch him to troll-size so that he will be of more use to
them. Another Icelandic folktale has a troll-woman calling a human man to
her with magic and keeping him until, over the course of three years, he
has turned completely into a troll himself. Oddly, there are fewer tales of
human women desired by troll-men; but one of the most dangerous insults one
Norseman could offer another was to say that he turned into a woman and had
sex with a troll every ninth night, as Skarp-Heðinn says to Flosi in
Brennu-Njáls saga. Unbelievable as the whole idea of periodical
transsexuality may seem, it was clearly considered serious in some light or
other, symbolically if not literally, as there were actually legal
proscriptions (in the Norwegian Gulaþing law) against the statement that a
man became a woman every ninth night (Ström, Folke. Níð, Ergi, and Old
Norse Moral Attitudes, p. 7).

"Trolls take you!" is a very common curse in Old Norse. This could,
apparently, mean both dragging away and actual spirit possession (or at
least the word "troll" could be used for a possessory spirit); in
Landnámabók (Hauksbók 15) Þórleifr Þjóstólfsson was said to be
"trollaukinn", which is normally translated as "possessed by a troll"
(literally, "made greater by a troll", though there is also the possibility
that this could be referring generally to a magical frenzy), and so was
Loðmundr hinn gamli (Hauksbók 250). Whether there was ever meant to be any
relationship between "trolls take you!" and the major insult mentioned
above is not known, but the possibility certainly exists.

Trolls are turned to stone by sunlight, and there are a number of
folk-tales about people who, chased by trolls, were only saved by the first
rays of the Sun. The same happens in Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, in which
the troll-woman Hrimgerðr is drawn into talking with Helgi and his man
Atli, and becomes a rock when the Sun rises upon her.

There are water-trolls as well as rock-trolls: Grettir does battle with
wights of this sort, and Hrímgerðr and her family specifically attacked
ships in their firth. Grendel, although he is called "þyrs" (thurse) and
his mother also seem to be more like water-trolls than anything else.

Occasionally trolls are also eaters of human beings, though this trait only
seems to show up in folklore.

Trolls particularly dislike Christian church-bells, a trait they share with
etins, alfs, dwarves, witches, and Heathens who have been up late feasting
on Saturday night.

Trolls are known for stealing beer out of the brewing-house. When they
offer drink to humans, it is better not to drink it; there are a number of
Scandinavian stories in which a fleeing rider tosses such a draft away, but
a few drops touch the horse's hide and singe the hair off it.

Quite often, trolls seem to be walking embodiments of change and disorder.
Sometimes they are helpful, more often troublesome, but whatever interacts
with them is never quite the same afterwards - they can be seen as smallish
zones of "wild magic".

Trolls are sometimes thought to take the form of house-cats, especially
while waiting for a rival to die. There are several variants on the story
in which a man is coming home and hears a voice telling him to tell his cat
that So-and-So is dead - and when he does, the cat exclaims in delight and
flies up the chimney or out the window.

There is no evidence for worship of the trolls, but there are stories which
show individuals befriending trolls, giving them gifts, or doing favours
for them. If you can find a troll that means well towards you, you are
lucky: an Icelandic proverb says, "trusty as a troll". When traveling in
the wilds, especially when rock-climbing, it does not hurt to make an
offering of food and drink to the trolls. According to Swedish folklore, a
troll which takes a gift from a human is bound to help that human ever


The Muspilli are the dwellers in Muspell-Home, the fiery southern realm.
They play no part in the myths; their name is difficult to etymologize, but
most suggestions have been forms of "destroyers of the world", and this
seems to be their sole function. Völuspá tells us that, "A ship fares from
eastward, the Muspilli shall come travelling over the water, and Loki
steers: the monsters' sons fare with all greedy ones, and Býleist's brother
(Loki?) fares with them" (p. 51). Snorri tells us in his Edda that Loki
shall have the hosts of Hel with him, but this is not supported by his
sources, as Snorri then separates Loki and his hosts from the Muspilli. In
the light of Snorri's chief known material, that of Völuspá, the collective
battle-array he presents - Hrymr and the rime-thurses, Loki and the hosts
of Hel, and Muspell's sons with their own formation - looks suspiciously
like a literary attempt to clarify and systematize the situation,
especially in regards to his strong presentation of the giants as foes of
the gods. Though we cannot ignore the possibility that Snorri might have
had some sources unknown to us, in this case he is directly contradicted by
the older material, which he actually quotes verbatim.

According to both Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál, the chief figure of
destruction at Ragnarök is Surtr, the leader of the Muspilli and slayer of
Fro Ing, whose fires burn until there is nothing left to burn. Those
children of Ymir who do battle with the gods - Loki and his sons - exhaust
themselves in single combat: it is the flames of Surtr's sword which
actually end the age.

The belief in the Muspilli as the agents of the fiery death of the cosmos
may well be Common Germanic. This is suggested by the Old High German poem
Muspilli: otherwise an entirely Christian poem about Armageddon, its title
and the description of the destruction of the world by fire, as well as the
internal use of the native word "muspilli" for the end of the world, have
no parallels in Christian eschatological mythology, and very probably
reflect the survival of German beliefs. In the Old Saxon Heiland,
"mutspilli" appears as the personified end of the world, but in an even
more Christianized context, in which the theme of fiery annihilation has
been lost.

The Muspilli themselves - and not the etins, rises, thurses, or trolls -
seem to be the closest thing to unequivocally destructive forces which the
Germanic folk knew, the only absolute foes of all that lives and is. It is
little surprise that they appear only at the end of the world, and that
there is not the slightest hint that they ever interacted with the
god/esses in any way, or that they were ever given any worship by humans.


Diana Paxson, "Utgard: The Role of the Jotnar in the Religion of the
North", from Mountain Thunder 5, pp. 11-15.

Lewis Stead and the Raven Kindred, from The Raven Kindred Ritual Book.

Chapter XXV

The Nine Worlds: Their Shaping and End

We know of the making and ending of the worlds from three sources: Völuspá, Vafþruðnismál, and Snorri's retelling in his Edda. As usual, the latter is the most complete and neatest, adding many details that the others leave out (for instance, the fires of Muspell-Home are not spoken of as part of the first world-shaping in either of the poetic sources).
In the eldest times, there was nothing except the ice of Nibel-Home (Níflheimr - world of misty darkness) in the North and Muspell-Home in the South. Between them stretched Ginnungagap ("gap charged with magical potential"). A number of rivers collectively called "Élivágar" ("Stormy Sea") flowed from the well Hvergelmir ("Bubbling Cauldron") in Nibel-Home, dripping down from its glacial edge. At the same time, sparks flew from Muspell-Home. When the two of them met in the middle, they whirled together and from them were born the hermaphroditic ur-etin Ymir ("Twin") or Aurgelmir ("the Roarer born from Sand") and the ur-cow Auðumla, "hornless cow with lots (of milk)" (Simek, Dictionary, pp.22, 24). Auðumla licked the glacier's salty rim and gave forth milk which fed Ymir; he slept, and the effluvia of his body brought forth a male and a female beneath his armpit, while one leg got a son on the other leg. Meanwhile, Auðumla's licking also brought a bright being forth from the ice - the ur-god Bun ("producer"), who then brought forth a son, Burr. Burr wedded with Bestla, the daughter of the etin Bölþorn (Bale-Thorn), and their sons were Wodan (Óðinn), Will (Vili), and Wih (Vé -"Holiness") - or, according to Völuspá, Óðinn, Hoenir, and Lóðurr.
Wodan and his brothers slew Ymir; the icy rime that flowed from his corpse became the sea, drowning all the etins except two, Bergelmir and his wife, who got away on a raft. All etin-kin today are descended from them. This story of the drowning of the etins also appears in Beowulf, being told in runes on the hilt of the sword which Beowulf brings up from the underwater hall of Grendel's mother. But Wodan and his brothers dismembered Ymir's corpse:
from his body they made the earth, his hairs became the trees, his bones the rocks, his skull the dome of the sky (held up by the four dwarves North, South, East, and West), and his brains the clouds; but with his eyebrows they fenced the inner world from the outer realm where Bergelmir and his kin dwelt, and that inner world is the Middle-Garth where we live. They took sparks from Muspell-Home and fixed them in the sky as stars; two other wights, a woman named Sun and a man named Moon, they set to drive a course across the sky. The Sun's horses are called Alsviðr (Very Fast) and Árvakr Early-Awake), or Skinfaxi (Shining-Mane), and her shield and a bellows must protect them from her heat; the Moon's horse is called Hrímfaxi (Rime-Mane), for he is cold. But one of Bergelmir's kin, the Hag of Iron-Wood, perhaps the same person as Loki's wife Angrboda?), bore two troll-sons, Skoll and Hati, who run after these drivers in the shape of wolves and will eat both Sun and Moon at Ragnarök.
As we see the worlds now, they are arranged both on a level plane and as a tree - the great World-Tree Yggdrasill (Ygg-Steed - a name speaking of Wodan's nine nights' hanging, as the gallows is often called the steed of the hanged). There are nine worlds: the Ases' Garth (or God-Home), Light Alf-Home (or Elf hame), the Middle-Garth (Middenerd, Middle-Earth, or Man-Home), NibelHome, Etin-Home, Muspell-Home, Wan-Home, Swart Alf-Home, and Hel -Home (which also includes Niflhel, "Misty-Dark Hel", a lower realm into which, according to Vafþruðnismál, "men die out of Hel").
On a level plain, there are four rings (see discussion of the Frowe's necklace); and the terms Middle-Garth and Ases' Garth probably derive from this plain-view, whereas Man-Home and God-Home are more general terms. The outer one is the Outgarth (Útgarðr), where all etins, trolls, and outlaws dwell: it is the realm of untamed might and wild magic. Between the Outgarth and the Middle-Garth lies the stormy sea under which the Middle-Garth's Wyrm twines in a ring. Simek suggests that this sea stems from the river Élivágar, which, in the "Skáldskaparmal" part of his Edda, Snorri identifies as the border of Etin-Rome (Dictionary, p.73). The passage between the worlds inside the great Garth and the Outgarth is often seen as a river, as in Hárbarðsljóð, where O6inn appears in the shape of a ferryman who might (but doesn't) take Þórr back across to Ásgarðr. The ring of the Middle-Garth is within that sea; and within it is a yet holier garth - the Garth of the Ases. The outer ring is split into four parts: Nibel-Home in the North, Etin-Home in the East, Muspell-Home in the South, and Wan-Home in the West (note: in Old Norse, heimr actually means "world", but it is the same word as our "Home"). Some like to call on the Nine Worlds as the eight winds around the Middle-Garth, in which case they are: Nibel-Home   North, Swart Alf-Home = Northeast, Etin-Home = East, God-Home = Southeast, Muspell-Home = South, Light Alf-Home = Southwest, Wan-Home = West, Hel-Home = Northwest. The winds of woe are those which blow from the East and the three Northern directions; the winds of weal blow from the West and the Southerly angles. However, the North is also the greatest source of might, and the East is also the direction of new birth. True folk today usually carry out their rites facing North for most things, East especially for Ostara's feast. Some also choose to face West for rites that deal especially with the Wans.
Seen as a tree, the worlds are arranged with God-Home at the crown, with Light Alf-Home between it and Man-Home. Around Man-Home, beyond the stormy waters, are the four elemental worlds: Nibel-Home (ice), Etin-Home (sometimes seen as air; in Thorsson's cosmology, venom), Muspell-Home (fire), and Wan-Home (water, or yeast). Nibel-Home is tilted downwards (often seeming to be actually set below Hel-Home), Muspell-Home upwards. Below Man-Home is Swart Alf-Home, and below that, Hel-Home. The World-Tree itself is usually understood as an ash, though many folk today think that it is actually a yew. The reasons for the latter are that it is called "needle-ash"; in Völuspá 20, it is said to be ever green (and an evergreen stood by the well at the Old Uppsala hof); and the Abcedarium Nordmannicum includes the verse "yew holds all". In Svipdagsmál, the World-Tree is also said to bring forth fruit, which sounds more like a yew than an ash. However, ideas differ: many true folk in Northern California, for instance, have found that their own vision of the World-Tree is as a redwood. In a larger view, the tree-shape is made of three realms pierced by the single axis: the Overworld (God-Home and Light Alf-Home, perhaps with the upper/southerly realm of Muspell-Home as well), the Middle World (Man-Home, Wan-Home, and Etin-Home), and the Underworld (Swart Alf-Home, Nibel-Home, and Hel-Home). Great rivers roar between the Middle-Garth and the Ases' Garth, and between the Middle-Garth and Hel-Home, as well as between the Middle-Garth and the worlds of the Outgarth. A like picture is described by shamans the world over; this universe-shape, and the waters which separate each realm from the other, are the most "objective" and least culture-specific elements of the realities beyond this world.
It may well be asked how, if the worlds are arranged so, the etin-kind (for instance) can also be seen as kin to the land-wights and dwelling in certain places that can be reached by travelers on this earth. The answer is that the sundry ways in which we can see the shaping of the worlds are not physical, but spiritual boundaries. The Nine Worlds are separate, but they also overlap and sometimes blend with each other. For instance, Skaði's home, Þrymheimr, was first owned by her father, who surely dwelt in the reaches of Etin-Home; yet in Grímnismál, it is counted among the holy dwellings within the garth of the gods. When Skaði married Njörðr, she and her realm became no longer spiritually part of the Outgarth, but of the holy lands within, although Þrymheimr still stands in the howling wilds. The parts of this earth that are the "Middle-Garth" are only those parts which are fenced and settled - the lands of humans. One may find the Ases' Garth on mountaintops or in holy groves; one may wander into the Outgarth, or walk into a cave and enter Swart Alf-Home. The holiest steads on this earth are those which have been marked off as the garth of the gods - the wihsteads - and to come into such a hallowed place is to step into God-Home. Such overlap can also be temporary, and happen even in an ordinary living room or cluttered bedroom. It is the aim and function of those rituals which are done at the beginning of all rites for the purpose of marking a place off as holy to bring the realms together in a single stead of might, in which the elder kin, the living kin, and the god/esses can meet for a time. Here, we see the special meaning of the Middle-Garth: we stand between all the worlds, and all of their mights are blended about us. The Middle-Garth is the realm of becoming, the heart of the Tree which both mirrors and shapes all that comes to pass in the other homes. When this world is whole and fares well, so it is with the worlds around us; but when things fare ill in the Middle-Garth, then we know that the whole of the World-Tree is ill at ease - and our works, our holy blessings and our most ordinary deeds, can help to shift the Tree's balance.
Another Norse view of the arrangement of the worlds, as described by Snorri, shows them as beneath the roots of the World-Tree. There are three great roots, one over the Ases' Garth, one over Etin-Home, and one over Nibel-Home.  As soul-lore, we understand that these three "roots" are the three stems of might - the white brightness of the Overworld (God-Home), the rawest red strength of the Middle World (Etin-Home), and the blackness of the Underworld (Nibel-Home), from which the strands of being are braided and the Tree and the worlds find their shape.  Beneath each root is a well - the Ases' well is the well of Wyrd, the etins' is the well of Mímir, and Hvergelmir stands in Nibel-Home. In The Well and the Tree (the work which laid the foundation for the whole following discussion of Wyrd) Paul Bauschatz showed that this triplicity was probably an over-systemization of three different levels, or aspects, of the Well. According to his model, which is accepted by many among both mundane academics and true folk,  Hvergelmir, the bubbling cauldron of venom, yeast, and icy water, is the lowest level and the source of raw might. Mímir's Well is the next level, that where all that is is kept and shapes the waters rising up from Hvergelmir. The highest level is Wyrd's Well, where the Norns lay ørlög and the Ases come to deem at their Þing. The roots of the Tree are sunken into the Well; the waters of Wyrd flow up again and again through its branches (the embodiments of time/space), shaping a new layer of events each time and dripping back. Those drops that fall into Hvergelmir - happenings of little worth - are simply recycled as part of the general might of the Well. Those that fall into Mímir's Well are the happenings that build on what is already set and help to bring it to being, without making any change. But those drops that fall into Wyrd's Well are the drops of might: these are the magical, ritual, or heroic actions that work the willed turnings of Wyrd.
According to Völuspá, the three Norns Urðr (Wyrd), Verðandi (Werþende - Becoming), and Skuld (Should [Become]) "lay laws and choose lives" at the Well of Wyrd. These Norns, the embodiments of causality, are probably the three maids spoken of in stanza 8, "maids of the thurses, awful and mighty, (come) out of Etin-Home)". They are the great ones who shape the wyrd of the worlds; but the greatest of them is Wyrd, for it is by her might that the other two work. Superficial texts often explain the Norns as "Past, Present, and Future", but this is not correct: the Germanic time-sense is not triple, like that of the Greeks and Romans (from whom contemporary Western culture inherited it) but dual. For our forebears, there was only the great structure of "that-which-is", in which the eldest and the youngest layers were at the same time and the one was just as close and real as the other, and the current moment, "that-which-is-becoming". There was no sense of future as such: spae-sayings, that told of what "should" happen, were literally statements of Wyrd - that-which-is, seen with the wisdom that knows what must then arise as the effect of an existing cause. This is one of the reasons why the religion of the North has always placed so much trust in forebears and tales of old, why the Germanic peoples have often been accused of living in the past and dreams of the past - we, like Wodan, ever have one eye in the Well of Memory and one eye on the moment of becoming. To us, that-which-is, "the past", is not gone or lost: it is forever living and green, and more, it is the source from which all springs, even as the roots are the source of the tree. New branches can spring forth if the crown is chopped off; but the destruction of the roots is the end:
and thus it is with our folk. To lose the ways of our forebears - to lose our foothold in that-which-is, or get too far from their thoughts and beliefs - is to be rootless trees and to die. Yet the roots need the strength and growth they get from the branches and leaves as well; so it is likewise part of our troth to feed the old lore with what we learn, to give our worship to our forebears and the hero/ines of elder days, and to make the whole Tree greater by so doing.
The image of the World-Tree growing from the Well of Wyrd, with the Nine Worlds in its branches and roots, is the center point of the Troth - the axis of the worlds. Our forebears often carried out their worship around holy trees; the Continental Saxons had the Irminsul ("Great Pillar" - destroyed by Charlemagne in 772), which was probably their earthly embodiment of the World-Tree. In our hofs and homes, it is represented by the high-seat pillars or the Bairnstock: it is the heart of every holy stead. Grønbech mentions that "At first sight (the description of the three worlds/wells under the  three  roots)  impresses  the  reader  as  lacking  inner coherence.. but it is by no means improbable that the altar contained several representations of the water... The sacred tree and the well belonged to the holy place outside, but the principle of the blot rendered it indispensable that they should be represented on the altar. When it is said that the rivers take their rise in the center of the world, it is identical to saying that they flow from the feast and spring from the ideal - i.e. the real - world situated on the altar in the sacrificial place" ('I, p.195).
The Tree itself is home to many wights. On the top sits an eagle, with a falcon perched between his eyes; the dragon Nith-Hewer (Níðhöggr) coils about its roots, with a nest of lesser wyrms who gnaw at it. The squirrel Ratatosk runs up and down to carry malicious messages between dragon and eagle. There are four stags
- Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyr, and Duraþror - who gnaw at the bark; as spoken of in "Alfs, Dwarves, Land-Wights, and Huldfolk", these are probably dwarves in their daylight shape, since Dáinn and Dvalinn are two of the greatest among the dwarves. In his Edda, Snorri also tells us that the Norns take water and mud from the well every day and pour it over the Tree to heal its hurts and keep it from rotting, and that the water is so holy that whatever is put into the well turns white as an egg's membrane. He adds that the drops falling onto the earth are called honeydew, and bees feed on it; also that there are two swans that feed in the Well.
The Norns are also compared to spinners and weavers (as in the beginning of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I), and this image offers another way at looking at being and causality, as told by Eric Wodening:

the process of wyrd can be seen as the process of spinning thread and weaving cloth. To understand this comparison, one must know a little bit about spinning and weaving.
Thread is spun by using a spindle and a distaff to twist animal (wool) or vegetable (flax, nettle, or cotton) fibers. A bundle of the fiber is wound loosely around the distaff, which is held in one hand or tucked in one's belt. The spindle is a smaller, tapered rod, the turning of which gives the twist, and around which the thread is wound as it is twisted.
Weaving itself is a process whereby a set of crosswise threads, the woof are interlaced with a set of lengthwise threads, the warp. Each warp thread is stretched out parallel to the others upon the loom. The woof thread is then passed back and forth between the warp threads by way of the shuttle. A comb is afterwards used to force each individual woof thread against the one before it, thus forming the woven cloth or web. The web is then taken up on a roll, or cloth beam, at the front of the loom. As weaving continues more warp is provided by way of a roll at the back of the loom, the warp beam.
Viewing the process of wyrd as one of spinning and weaving, then, the various actions occurring throughout the Worlds would be the fibers used in the spinning. Some of those fibers, those with no real impact on the worlds, would be useless for spinning and would be thrown out. Other fibers, those with some impact on the worlds, would be spun into thread. These threads would consist of fibers related to each other in some way. Each person's life would make up a thread, and the significant actions in his life would make up the fibers.
Within the process of weaving itself, series of interrelated actions taking place in the present would make up the woof threads. The influence of the past upon the present would be the warp, through which the present passes back and forth according to the ørlög spoken by the Wyrdæ, which acts as the shuttle. The past -the great realm of "that-which-is" - is represented by the web itself, ever growing as more and more woof is woven in with the warp.
Seeing the process of wyrd as one of spinning and weaving emphasizes the interconnectivity of all things. Consider, each thread represents a number of interrelated actions. These threads are
further interlaced with, and structured by, influences from the past ("warp threads") to form one great web.
Of course, some "threads" would be more closely related to each other than they would to yet other threads. A husband's life (his "thread") would be more related to his wife's than that of a total stranger. In such cases where threads are interrelated through kinship, alliance, and so on, it may be safe to say that such interrelationship are manifested as "patterns" upon the web of Wyrd, not unlike the patterns found in a tapestry or carpet. The web of Wyrd, then, is a colorful cloth indeed.

Within this web, or the branches and roots of the Tree, we find the Nine Worlds, each with a shape and might of its own. Some of these are well-known; some have yet to be sought further into.
Hel-Home is divided into Hel's realm - which, despite Snorri (see "Soul, Death, and Rebirth") seems not to be a bad place - and "Niflhel", that worst of realms where those go whose deeds have made them outcast from all the halls of god/esses. That is the hall the seeress of Völuspá sees standing "far from the Sun on Corpse-Strand, with doors turned towards the north - drops of venom fall in around the smoke-hole; the hall is all wound with the spines of wyrms.. There she saw main-sworn men and murder-wargs wading the swift-flowing stream. There Níðhöggr sucks dead corpses, and the warg slits men" (38-9). The river that runs between Hel-Home and the other worlds is crossed by a broad bridge, the Gjallarbrú (Resounding Bridge), warded by the etin-maid Móðguðr (Brave Battle) who, as described in Snorri and Helreið Brynhildar, challenges those who would pass. In the soul, Hel-Home is also the realm of the deep subconscious. It is to Hel-Home that spae-seers fare to bring forth their wisdom, as Óðinn called forth the völva of Baldrs draumar, and it was in Hel-Home, at the roots of the worlds, that the runes shone forth to Wodan as he gazed down from where he hung on the World-Tree.  Of the geography of Swart Alf-Home, Light Alf-Home, and the four "elemental worlds" we know little or nothing. However, we know much about God-Home. It is seen as being either on top of a mountain or at the World-Tree's crown, and is reached by crossing the rainbow bridge called Bifröst, "the shaking road to heaven" or Bilröst, "the fleetingly glimpsed rainbow" (Simek, Dictionary, pp. 36-7). In Grímnismál, Óðinn tells us a great deal of lore about the god/esses and their dwellings. There are twelve great halls counted as part of God-Home: Þórr's Þrymheimr (Home of Strength), UlIr's Ýdalir (Yew-Dales), Valaskjálf (Crag of the Slain) or Válaskjálf (Váli's Crag) - either ruled by (Óðinn or Váli; alas, the manuscript has no acute-marks, so there is no way to tell which was the original meaning - Sökkvabekkr (Sunken-Benches), where (Óðinn and Sága drink together, Glaðsheimr where Valhöll stands, Skaði's Þrymheimr, Baldr 's Breiðablik (Wide-Gleaming),  Heimdallr 's Himinbjörg (Heaven-Mountain, which is also the name of Denmark's highest, or rather least low, hill), Freyja's Fólkvangr (Army-Plain), Forseti's Glitnir (Glistening), Njórðr 's Nóatun (Ship-Garth), and Víðarr's land, Víði (The Wide). Freyr's Alfheimr is also named, but not numbered, perhaps because it is a whole different world (though, as the Ases and alfs are so close together, it may still be thought of as within the holy garth). As well as these, Frija has her own hall, Fensalir, and we may guess that many of the other less well-known god/esses have theirs as well; it is unlikely that Tiw, for instance, does not possess his own dwelling and judgment-seat. Whether a full tally would agree or not, however, twelve is one of the great numbers by which our forebears counted holy things (along with nine, three, and their various multiples); and the gods and goddesses are also tallied respectively as twelve and twenty-four. It has been suggested that the twelve halls of Grímnismál correspond to the signs of the Zodiac, beginning with Þrúðheimr in Capricorn and ending with Víði in Sagittarius, and certainly similarities can be seen by those who want to see them; this is not necessarily a reflection of our forebears' star-lore, but has found a place in the practices of some today.

For human folk, the span of life-age (aldr) is given at birth; and so it is with the worlds: they shall not last forever, and the manner of their ending is well-known - the final battle which is called Ragnarök, "The Doom of the Gods". A corrupt form, ragna rökr ("Twilight of the Gods") appears in "Lokasenna" 39 and Snorri's  Edda.  This  has  led  to  the  German  translation "Götterdämmerung", best known as the title of the last opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle (the one in which it is proven that a good Heldentenor can sing on for half an hour with a spear through his lungs).
One of the oldest descriptions of Ragnarök, and certainly the clearest, is found in the poem Völuspá, (the "Spae of the Völva"), in which an ancient etin-seeress tells Óðinn of the beginning of the worlds and their end. This poem was probably composed around 1000 CE, when the end of the world was much on the minds of Christian Europe and the fate of the gods a matter of some concern to the Heathens of Scandinavia. The author's own spiritual orientation is unknown: some elements suggest a degree of Christian contamination (for instance, the stanza that begins with the Sun turning black is from the book of Revelation, and contradicts the poem's earlier reference to the troll-wolf swallowing her), but the general attitude is one of love and respect towards the Heathen god/esses, so that Völuspá is often thought to have been produced by a person of mixed troth. Still, whoever the composer was, s/he was clearly rich in old lore.
Certain signs will lead up to the last battle. According to Vafþruðnismál, there will come a time called "Fimbulwinter" (the Great Winter), which Snorri describes as three very hard winters with no summer between them. Brothers will battle and slay one another, and sister-sons will destroy their sibs. It will go hard with the world; there will be an ax-age, a sword-age, a wind-age, a warg-age before the world ends, and no human shall spare another. Then Eggþér, the troll-woman's herdsman who watches from the mound where he sits, shall gladly strike his harp. The fair-red cockerel Fjalarr shall answer him from the gallows-tree (or the great tree" - text uncertain, but Yggdrasill is probably meant here); then Gullinkambi, the gold-crowned cockerel of the Ases who keeps watch for Óðinn, shall crow, and he shall be answered by the soot-red cockerel from Hel's hall beneath the earth. The hound Garmr will bay mightily before Gnipahellir (perhaps the cave at the entrance to Hel?), and fetters shall be broken; Yggdrasill shall tremble, and the etin probably Loki) shall be loosed. All shall be fearful on the Hel-ways. Hrymr comes from the East, lifting his shield before himself, and Jörmungandr (the Middle-Garth's Wyrm) turns in etin-mood; the wyrm thrashes the waves, but the eagle screams, slitting corpses with his beak, and Naglfar (the ship made of dead men's nails) is loosed. A ship fares from the East: the Muspilli shall come traveling over the water, and Loki steers; the monsters' sons fare with all greedy ones, and Býleist's brother (Loki?) fares with them.. How fare the Ases? Row fare the alfs? All Etin-Home resounds, the Ases are at Ping; the dwarves groan before stone-doors, rock-wall's princes.  Surtr fares from the South with the harmer-of-twigs (fire), the slain gods' sun (fire) shines from sword. The cliffs collapse, and troll-women wander, heroes tread the Hel-way, and the heaven is cloven. Then Hlín (Frigg) has a second sorrow, when Dáinn fares to battle the wolf, and Beli's Bane (Freyr), bright, against Surtr; then shall Frigg's sorrows fall upon her. Then the mighty son of Sigfather, Víðarr, comes against the Beast of the Slain; with his hand he lets the blade stand in the heart of Hveðrung's son; thus is his father revenged. The girdle-of-Earth (Middle-Garth's Wyrm) yawns aloft, the terrible jaws of the Wyrm gape on high. Óðinn's son shall meet the Wyrm. . .then comes the mighty son of Hlóðyn  (Earth). . he slays in fury, Middle-Garth's Warder; all heroes must ride from home-steads; Fjörgyn's bairn steps back nine feet from the Adder, fearing no shame. The Sun is blackened, earth sinks into sea, the glorious stars fall from heaven; steam gushes forth with life-nourisher (fire), tall flames play up to heaven itself.
She (the Völva) sees the earth coming up a second time from the sea, renewed-green; waterfalls stream down, an eagle flies above, hunting fish from the fell. The Ases find each other on IðaFields, and deem concerning the mighty earth-rope (the Middle-Garth's Wyrm - likely speaking with honor of Þórr's battle against it), and remember the mighty doom for themselves there, and Fimbultýr's ancient runes. And afterwards they must find the wondrous golden tafl-pieces in the grass there, which they had in earliest days. Unsown acres shall wax, and all bale be made better. Baldr shall come; Höðr and Baldr shall dwell there, the Slain-Gods well in Hroptr's sig-steads (Valhöll?).  Then Hoenir shall be able to choose the lot-woods, and the two brothers shall dwell in wide Wind-Home.  She sees a hall stand, fairer than the Sun, thatched with gold, in Gimlé. There shall the doughty troops dwell, and enjoy the pleasures of ancient days. Then the mighty one shall come to the gods' deeming, powerful, from above, who rules all. Then the dark dragon shall come flying, the Adder forth from below, from Niða-Fells; Níðhöggr bears corpses in his feathers, flies over the field - now she shall sink (speaking of the seeress who has finished her prophecy; an alternate manuscript has "now he shall sink", speaking of the dragon)".
Vafþruðnismál adds to this that two humans, Líf (Life) and Lífþrasir (Stubborn Will to Live, or Striver After Life), will survive by hiding themselves in "Hoddmímir's (Treasure-Mímir's) Wood", and nourish themselves on morning dew. "Hoddmímir's Wood" is often taken to be the World-Tree, or its young shoots. The etin Vafþrúðnir also says that the Sun shall bear a daughter before the wolf (here, Fenrir) swallows her; that Víðarr and Váli shall dwell in the wih-steads of the gods when Surtr's flames are slaked, and Móði and Magni shall have Mjöllnir. Likewise, he mentions that Njörðr shall return to Wan-Home. Interestingly, Wan-Rome is the only worlds which is not specifically mentioned as being disturbed by Ragnarök: the alfs are coupled with the Ases, Etin-Home resounds and the mountains fall, the dwarves groan, the Muspilli are on the move, Nith-Hewer is stirred from his stead in Nibel-Home, and even Hel is not untouched by the world-shaking last battle. Only Wan-Home and the Wans (apart from Fro Ing, the world's last warder) take no known part in it - though some may perhaps see their might in the rising of the new earth from the sea.
Snorri's version of Ragnarök differs from the poems in only a couple of particulars: he adds the hosts of the frost-giants and Hel to those fighting against the gods; he informs us of a few more single combats (Heimdallr and Loki, Týr and Hel's hound Garmr, shall slay each other; and Freyr fights against Surtr with a stag's antler); and, according to him, Víðarr does not stab Fenrir, but rips his jaws apart with a great leather boot made from the cast-off scraps of all human leather-workers. The last element is thought to preserve an older tradition; the motif of the beast who swallows someone whole, only to be ripped apart so that the swallowed one may spring alive from its belly, appears frequently in Germanic folk tales ("Little Red Riding Hood" probably being the best-known example), and many true folk think that this shows that Wodan shall come forth again in some form - perhaps embodied in one of his kinsmen. In Runelore, Edred Thorsson suggests Hoenir, who now handles the lot-woods (runes); Óðinn's sons Balder and/or Höðr and/or his avenger Víðarr are all also possibilities. Þórr's might is reborn in M6~i and Magni (and, we may expect, Þrúðr as well): his Hammer, like the sword of the Völsungs and Týrfingr, is the embodiment of the Thonarings' clan-soul, passed on and brought forth in generation after generation.  As for the "mighty one" of Völuspá, there are different readings. Some see this stanza as a Christian interpolation giving the southerners' god a place among ours; others compare it to the section of Hyndluljóð which is called "Völuspá hin skamma" (the Short Spae of the Völva), in which a "mighty one" who, because of his birth from nine mothers, is generally thought to be Heimdallr, is spoken of in similar terms (see "Heimdallr"). As Jarnsaxa Thonar's concubine) is one of the nine women named in Hyndluljóð, the possibility that these references could perhaps speak of Magni - physically the mightiest of the Ases, even at three years old - has been suggested as well in Freya Aswynn's runic correspondence course.
To true folk, Ragnarök is not something to be feared, no more than death is; the two are essentially the same on different levels. The great beasts of death for our forebears were the wolf and the wyrm (in its various shapes from maggot to dragon); Surtr's fires might well be seen as the flames of the funeral pyre leaping up to eat the whole of the world - as they do for the individual at cremation. However, as spoken of in "Soul, Death, and Rebirth", death takes many shapes, and many things may lie beyond it, according to how life is lived and how death itself is met. Thus, our need is to strengthen ourselves and the god/esses so that it will be possible for them to fulfill their parts in the battle and for the new world to be born again. It could happen at any time - "the gray wolf gapes ever at the gods' dwelling" - and we must be ready for it. This is not a call to stockpile guns, as some Christians do in the expectation that their myth of Armageddon will soon play itself out in physical form; rather, our readiness lies in warding and healing the Earth, in strengthening our own selves so that we will be able to fight alongside the holy ones when the time comes, and - most of all - in seeking to know the god/esses, to work with them, and to give them might and bring them through more strongly into this world by holding the blessings of the seasons and living as true folk who call on them every day.


Freya Aswynn, Elder (Runic Correspondence Course, Lesson 8)
Sunwynn Ravenwood, in "Letters from Midgard", Idunna V, ii, 19
(For-Litha 1993 CE)
Eric Wodening, Elder-in-Training, from "Heathen Cosmography",
Idunna V, i, 18 (Rhedmonth 1993 CE)

Chapter XXVI

Soul, Death, and Rebirth

The "soul" of our forebears was made up of many different elements, woven together to become a whole being. As Thorsson points out, "the strong body-soul split so heavily emphasized in christianity is missing in true soul-lore. We would rather talk of a body-soul-mind complex for a more complete understanding not only of what the parts are, but also how they relate to one another" (A Book of Troth, p.90). As usual, accounts of these elements vary from place to place and time to time. In modem times, several folk have written clear and organized descriptions of the various parts of the soul and the ways in which they work together, though whether our forebears were so systematic is open to question. Some folk find these models extremely useful; some do not. Probably the most precise version of such a model is that drawn out by Edred Thorsson in A Book of Troth, which shows the different elements of the whole-self as overlapping, interwoven rings (p.91).

Swain Wodening has thoroughly analyzed the soul-lore of the Anglo-Saxons, conning up with a system that is similar, though not identical, to Thorsson's. He uses the Saxon English term *ferth to describe all of the non-physical parts of the body-soul complex except for the fetch (see below). This part survives death, and is capable of seeing or traveling into the other worlds even when still in the living body. The ferth was to the forebears what "the self' is to modem psychologists.
Contained within the soul are the memory, intellect, and emotions. The Old English knew these as the mind (OE mynd), high (OH hyge, ON hugr), and mood (OE mód). The mind can be broken down further into the gemynd (OS) or min (OH myne), and the orþanc (ur-thought). The min is the personal memories of deeds done in one's lifetime as well as knowledge and wisdom learned. The orþanc, on the other hand, is inborn thought, ancestral memory, and/or instinct. Some might call it the collective unconscious. It is tied to the fetch and one's orlõg, personal and clanic. It contains all the deeds, lessons, and errors of forebears and adopted forebears formerly linked to the soul's fetch for use by the individual. While the orlõg is the shilds (debts) and meeds (rewards) of past deeds waiting to be dispensed, the orþanc is the memory of the deeds themselves.
The high, like the mind, can also be broken down. The high is made of the angit (OE andget), sefa (OE), and wit. The angit is the five senses, that which collects information from the world around us. The angit is the "intelligence agency of the ferth. While the angit collects knowledge, it is the sefa that uses this information. The sefa is the seat of reasoning and thought. However, the angit's and the sefa's reasoning are worthless without the wit. One could think of the angit as a computer keyboard, the sefa as a data processing program, and the wit as memory retrieval (with the mind being ROM).
While the mind and high are easy to explain, the mód and wode (OE wod - also modernized to wood or simply wod) are not. The mod is the seat of emotions, and alongside the wode and the will (OE willa), it is one of the most runic or dern (secret) parts of the soul. The mod governs all emotions from the simplest to the most complex. The mod is also linked to such qualities as boldness and are (honour). In Old English, it was combined with many words to express states of mind (i.e. deormodig -bold of mind), much as the word "heart" is used today (i.e. bold-hearted). Often mod was used in place of ferth or high, hut one must realize it was used as we use the word "heart'.
If the mod isn't complex enough, its brother aspect, the wode, is even more so. while the mod governs emotions such as bravery, the wode reigns over everything from ecstasy and madness to inspiration. Wode is the actor's adlib, the athlete's drive, the fury of the berserker, and the inspiration of the shope and gleeman.  Its common thread is its unrelenting drive akin to obsession, and its ability to well up out of nowhere. Some compare it to psychologist Rollo May's daimonic which uncontrolled leads to madness, but used with wisdom can accomplish great deeds (note: even the Gothic christian Ulfila translated daimonizomenos and daimonistheis
"possessed by a daimon", as wods - KHG). The wode is Woden's domain, and to understand wode is to better understand the god. Strangely enough, wode was the gift of Willa, the god of the will, in the Prose Edda (and of ~ brother Hoenir in Voluspá - KHG). Whereas the wode seems to well up inspiration within us seemingly from without, it is the will that brings self-determination from within. It is the will controlling the wode that allows us to fight negative orlóg or to flow with it. The will is the part of the ferth that allows us to bring thoughts from the high or inspiration from the wode into physical reality on Middenerd. Using the will one can call forth main from unseen places. And by using the will to harness the wode one may do most anything, for the will can call forth the wode instead of waiting for the wode to well upon its own.
Where the will fails, luck may prevail. Tied to the ghost is one's luck which in Old English was called speed (OE spæd), craft (OE cræft), main (OE mægen), thracu (OE), and might (OF miht). Strength and thew were sometimes used occasionally. Speed or main is the luck or power of the individual which determines the chances of success in any undertaking. It is the same as the Old Norse concept hamingia, as far as hamingja meaning luck and not the fetch faring hame. Speed is tied to eldorlog or orlog, and as such is passed down family lines. Good deeds add to main while evil deeds take away main. The dispenser of main as regulated by one's orlóg is the fetch (ON fy1gia, or "follower').
The Anglo-Saxons had no recorded word for fetch, although fecce-mare (fetch-demon) appears in a 9th century document (it is possible that the scribe meant mere, a female horse). The first appearance of fetch as a written word outside of a compound was in the Scottish dialect, where the word wraith (ON vorðr - warder or guardian) also arose with a similar meaning. The fetch is an independent being attached to one's soul for life, so long as one does not grow too wicked. The fetch records all one's deeds in one's orlóg. The orlóg, also called elder1og and orlaw (or ur-law), is the record of all the deeds committed by all who have belonged to the fetch, and determines how much speed or main a person will receive. The fetch, orlóg, and speed are passed down family lines, even to adopted family members. The fetch may serve as a warder or guardian, though this aspect is usually left to ides and wælcyrge (See chapters on "Idises" and 'Walkurja"). The fetch usually appears as an animal compatible to the personality of the individual it serves, or a member of the opposite sex.  One usually will not see one's fetch outside of dreams until just before death, when it will lead the soul to its abode in the hereafter. One may send one's fetch forth to get knowledge from the other worlds...
The high, mind, mod, and speed are contained in the hame (OE hame, ON hamr), hide (OH hid), or shinehue (OH scinnhiw). The hame is the energy/matter form underlying the body, and contains the ferth after death or when faring forth. It is the hame that allows us to see ghosts. You might wish to think of it as the astral image or ectoplasm. It looks like the body its ferth belongs to, though powerful runesters, witches, wights, and gods can shape-shift theirs. It is sent with the ferth when faring forth from the body, leaving the athem behind to keep the body alive. The Old English knew this as shinelock (OE scinlac) or shinecraft (OF scincræft), the ability to send one1s hamr from the body to appear somewhere else. The hame is the skin of the soul; without it the ferth's energies would be lost among all else.
The link between body and soul is the athem (OE æþem), also called the blead (OE blæd), edwist (OE), and eldor (OE). The athem is the breath of life; a related term, ande (OF anda) is cognate to ON ónd, one of the three gifts of the gods to humankind. The athem is the animating principle of the body, or in Latin the animus. It holds the ghost to the body, and this bond is needed to maintain normal life in Middenerd. In other philosophies and sedes (religions, customs), this could be seen as "the silver cord' Without it the soul would leave the body and move on to the abodes of Hell, Folkwang, or Waleball. In order for this bond to stay, the athem is fed with energies from the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. Main is sent across the athem to the lich. This can be shown in the Old English rnanuscripts by the uses of athem and blead for breath, and edwist and eldor for physical nourishment. Upon death the athem, dissolves, setting the ferth free to leave the lich forever. Should the athem fail to dissolve, the result could be the draugr (ON - OE gidrog) or walking dead of the sagas.
Native English words for the body are flaw or tich (OH lic). During life the soul is contained in the 11th which allows us to live in Middenerd As such, one should see the lich and ferth as one great whole. Without the ferth the lich would be a vegetable, without the raw the soul would find it hard being in Middenerd. It is the lich that allows the ferth time to obtain wisdom in a friendly abode (Middenerd) before faring on to another.
Interestingly, the parts of the ferth-lich complex (minus the warders) number nine, mirroring in a way the nine worlds of Yggdrasil. However, such a comparison truly isn't feasible, but it leaves us something to ponder on (perhaps while browsing through Bosworth-Toller' s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary or the O4ord English Dictionary).

In his Culture of the Teutons (vol. I, pp.248-270), Vilbeim Ortanbech undertakes, among other things, an analysis of the vanous words used by the Norse for parts of the soul. Some of these, particularly hugr and munr, are in common use among Asatruar today; others are more obscure.
In Old Norse, the word hugr can mean thought, bravery, or general mood; one can be in good or ill hugr, for example. Thorsson uses the term hugr, or 'hugh', specifically for the intellectual/rational part of the mind -the left hemisphere of the brain. However, the Norse often used the word to mean intuition; it is the hugr that passes knowledge gathered by various soul-parts to the consciousness. It can be used for the general psychic-emotional complex as well. As Gronbech says, "(Hugr) inspires a man's behavior, his actions and his speech are characterized according to whether they proceed out of whole hugr, bold hugr, or downcast hugr. . - when the hugr is uneasy, as when one can say with Gudrun, "Long have I hesitated, long were my hugrs divided within me", then life is not healthy. But when a man has followed the good counsel from the within, then there rises from his soul a shout of triumph, it is his hugr laughing in his breast" (I, p.250).
Munr can mean memory; it can also mean desire. After the model of Wodan's ravens,  Huginn  ('Thoughtful'  or  "Bold")  and  Muninn ('Mindful" or "Desirous'), true folk today often couple the hugr and munr as thought and memory/left-brain and right-brain/analytic intellect and creativity.
Aldr, "life-age", is seen as one's store of life, which is given at birth by the idises or noms (see "Idises'), but can be taken away or lessened by dishonorable deeds, or in light: Gronbech mentions that "A man can hazard his aldr and lose it, he can take another man's aldr from him in battle. Aldr is the fiör (life) residing in the breast, which the sword can force its way in to bite' (I, p. 255). It determines both the quantity and the quality of life.
Fjör is the life itself, encompassing both consciousness and luck.

	Ond, "life-breath", is Wodan's gift. It can also be used as a general word meaning "soul", or "awareness (as opposed to the wild inspiration of wod). As the Flateyjarbok saga of "St. Ólafr" (quoted below) shows, this breath/awareness was one of the elements which could be reborn, and bore a specific individual character.
Móðr, like its Saxon cognate mod, means bravery. However, in Old Norse it is often used very specifically for a state of intensity in which one suddenly brings forth all one's innate powers. For instance, when fording the swollen river on his way to Geirröðr's dwelling, Þorr must take on his "Asmóðr". when the great Wyrm Jörmungandr wakens at Ragnarók to thrash the seas, he takes on his "jötunmóðr", as does the etin who built the walls of the Ases' Garth when he realizes that the gods have tricked him and goes into a rage.
The hamingia is one's store of psychic power and "luck". It is possible to lend part of one's hamingja to other folk; hamingja, like aldr, speed, and other related elements, is made greater by deeds of honor and lessened by dishonor.
Might and main (or "main-strength"), máttr ok meginn, usually appear together. They speak of a blending of earthly strength and soul-strength -the exertion of all physical power together with total concentration and spiritual force.  To our forebears, bodily might and soul-might could hardly be separated; one often reflected and perhaps even shaped the other. Meginn, in particular, was the strength that supported the soul, while máttr was more the strength of the muscles.
Orlog, the "ur-law", is the root of being: it is the first layer of Wyrd which shapes all that follows. To be "without orlog" is not to exist in any meaningful way; in Voluspa, the phrase is used of the logs on the beach before (Óðinn, Hoenir, and Lóðurr make them into human beings. Orlóg is that which determines how all of life shall be shaped, from beginning to end: it is the that-which-is, the wyrd of the individual.
The hamr, or hide/hame, is, as Swain describes, the "astral body" underlying the physical shape. Shape-shifters, such as Egill's grandfather Kveld-Ulfr, are said to be hamrammr (hide-mighty) or eigi einhamr (not one-hided).
Together with the fylgja, or fetch, there are also other warding-wights tied to the soul, most particularly the sort which has previously been called the "valkyrja" but, as discussed in "Walkuijas", probably was not known as such by our forebears. In Volsunga saga, however, there is a description of Sigmundr's last battle in which the Vólsung is bloody to the elbows, "but his spae-idises helped him so that he was not wounded" - These women are clearly not walkurjas, as this is the battle in which Oðinn has decided that Sigmundr shall die; but they are both protective and, as the name spae-idis" shows, wise and foresighted. This is the role which the thrice-reborn Sváva/Sigrun/Kara plays to the thrice-reborn Helgi, and perhaps the role to which Sigrdrifa has been demoted from her former station as walkurja: warder, rede-giver, and soul's shining bride or Higher Self, who also incorporates elements of the Jungian anima. Although there are no sources showing a manly warder, rede-giver, and soul's shining husband for women, if the anima/animus theory is indeed valid here, we may guess that women's Higher Selves may appear in manly shape, and be called "spae-alfs". These wights cannot be commanded or controlled: although they are part of the soul, they seem to have their own consciousness, and indeed perhaps to serve as a bridge between their humans' individual awarenesses and the specific godless to whom the individual's soul is closest.
Many families have a kin-fetch, who appears as a great woman clad in armour in both Hallfreðar saga and Viga-Glums saga. This wight usually attends the head of the family until death, when she goes to the next family member whom she finds fitting. If that person is not willing to have her (as in Hallfreðar saga where Þórvaldr refuses), she will continue until she finds someone who is. The kin-fetch may probably be thought of as a specialized type of idis; H.R. Ellis cites several examples of such women warning their descendants or prophesying their deaths (Road to He!, p.131).
Another form of clan-soul is that which seems to be embodied in a sword. The most famous blade of this sort is the sword of the Volsungs, which Óðinn thrusts into the tree Barnstokkr (Bairn-Stock). When Sigmundr draws it forth, he is taking up his inheritance as 6oinn's great-great-grandson; when his posthumous son Sigurðr has the broken blade reforged, he is initiating himself fully into the clan of which he is the last survivor. A similar act is performed by Angantyr's posthumous daughter

Hervor (Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks), when she claims the ancestral sword Tyrfingr from her father's burial mound.
As H.R. Ellis has discussed at some length in The Road to Hel, arid Stephen Flowers in Sigurðr: Rebirth and Initiation, the belief in clan-soul is closely tied up with the Germanic beliefs about rebirth. The Óðinn-hero Starkaðr, for example, was born showing the marks on his body where Þórr had ripped off the extra arms of his grandfather, Starkaðr the giant.  The younger Starkaðr, thus, had clearly inherited the elder one's hamr  together with his name (and the continued enmity of Þórr). A similar occurence is seen in Þorðar saga hræðu, where the posthumous son of Þórðr is given his father's name, and has a scar on his left arm where his father had been wounded, Luck, hamingia, aldr, and the related elements are also reborn in the family line. There is some question as to whether the individual consciousness is reborn (through inheritance or name-giving) or not: however, the Helgi poems seem to suggest that it can be, as Helgi's own spae-idis is reborn with him, and the spae-idis (or spae-alf), though a
separate aspect of the soul, seems to be very closely bound to the individual's awareness.
Rebirth is also especially connected with name-giving: Ellis cites a number of examples in which a dying man asks another to be sure that a child is named after him. In Svarfdela saga; Þórólfr specifically states that he will give all his luck to the child who bears his name. This is usually within the family line, and many families were actually characteriz&1 by the use of specific name-elements for all members (as with the Völsungs, Sigmundr, Signy or Sieglinde, and Sigurðr or Siegfried), which may have assured the oneness of the clan-soul. However, it did not have to be a blood relationship. None of the three Helgis are known to be related to one another, but the second (Hunding's-Bane) was named after the first (Hjörvarðsson), who in turn received his name only when lull-grown, while sitting on a howe. Ellis also mentions that there secins to be a close connection between howe-burial howe-sitting and rebirth.
The most famous prose description of the Norse belief in rebirth comes from Óláfs saga inn helga (Flateyjarbdk). In this saga, it is told how the dead Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr comes to a man named Hrani (which is also the name by which Óðinn goes in Hrolfs saga kraka) in a dream, telling him to break into Óláfr's own howe, cut the head off the corpse, and take the sword, ring, and girdle from the mound. He is to put the girdle around the waist of the pregnant queen Asta and tell her that if her child is a boy, he is to be named Óláfr  and he shall have the ring and sword. All of this duly happened - but as we know, Óláfr chose to convert to christianity, and became a tyrant to Norway rather than a hero. Later in his saga (chapter 106, titled "Óðinn came to King Óláfr with deception and wiles"), Óláfr is visited by Óðinn, who speaks to him of kings of old and asks which among them he would prefer to have been if he could choose. Olaft says that he would not prefer to be any Heathen man, king or otherwise, though eventually he admits to a grudging liking for Hr6Ifr kraki~. When he recognises Óðinn, he tries to hit the god with a prayer book. The next event in the chapter has Óláfr riding past the howe of Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr, where one of his followers asks him, '"Tell me, lord, if you were buried here." The king answered him, "My soul (önd) has never had two bodies and never will it have, neither now nor on the day of Resurrection. And if I said otherwise there would be no right troth in me." Then his follower said, "Men have said this, that you came to this stead before and you had spoken thus: 'Here we were and here we fare'." The king answered, "I have never said that and I shall never say that." And the king was greatly shaken in his thoughts (í hugnum) and spurred on his horse and flew most swiftly from that stead. As H.R. ElIis comments, "Here the belief in rebirth seems to be clearly expressed, all the more convincingly because of the christian king's determined denial of it later on" (Road to Hel, p.139). To this, it may be added that it seems clear that Óðinn was making an effort to make Olafr aware of the source of his soul - to awaken his urthoughts, or inherited memory - and the king's rejection of the god is of a piece with his reaction at the howe of his predecessor.
It seems, then, that all the sundry aspects of the soul have the potential to be reborn, either separately or together. However, there are many things besides rebirth that can befall the soul. There are some folk who continue to live within the howe, as both the (usually) well-meaning alfs and the malign draugar (walking corpses) do. The mound-dead (or often undead) are particularly seen as still dwelling within their bodies in the grave; the Germanic link between body and soul is generally much stronger than that of Abrahamic religions. Ellis also cites several families who believed that all their kin would "die into" certain holy mountains, such as the clans of Þórólfr Mosturskeggi, Svanr the wizard, and the matriarch Auðr (pp. 87-89). The life in howe or hill does not seem too bad: Eyrbyggja saga describes how, after the drowning of Þórólfr son Þórsteinn, the mountain opened and there was a great feast within, at which Þórsteinn was welcomed among his kinsmen. After Gunnarr of Hlïðarend's death, he is seen lying in the mound with lights shining from within, and seems cheerful and in the best of spirits as he chants verses (Brennu-Njáls saga, ch. 78). The giving of grave-goods, food, and drink to the dead -continuously done from the earliest times through the end of the Viking Age - also strengthens the thought that they were thought to live in the howe. Often the atheling-dead were given company - a man's thrall, as seen in the double graves of Stengade and Lejre, or woman's maidservant, as in the Oseberg burial - but they did not always appreciate it. Landnamabok tells of how a man named Asmundr is laid in his howe and a thrall slain to go with him, but he is later heard (or appears to his wife in a dream) complaining loudly of the lack of room, so that the mound has to be opened and the thrall removed.
However, there is also a strong belief that the soul fares between realms. Ellis links these paired beliefs with the paired practices of howe-burial and burning, a view supported by the account of Ibn Fadlan, who claims that a Rus told him that they burn their bodies so that the dead could enter swiftly into 'Paradise', and added that the wind which had sprung up to fan the recent ship-burning was sent by the dead man's "Lord out of love, to take him away. Burning was certainly a very important practice to our forebears, as seen both in the legendary examples of Balder, Sigur6r and Brynhildr, Beowulf, and Sigurðr Hringr and in the archaeological record (for instance, the kings' bodies in the great mounds at Gamla Uppsala were burnt before burial). The importance of it becomes clearer when one thinks on how difficult the actual process of cremation was: a great deal of fuel, time, and effort is needed to char flesh from bones (Barber, Vampires, Burial, and Death, pp.76-8), but our forebears seem to have thought burning the dead to be worth the trouble. Part of this practice surely stemmed from the fear of the walking dead, and it is only the bodies of draugar that are burned in the sagas of the Icelanders - though even their ashes can make trouble: according to Eyrbyggja saga, when Þórólfr Twist-Foot is burned, a cow licks the ashes up and from that gets a calf which grows up into a man-killing bull. However, the other sources mentioned show that burning could also be a rite of great respect. Snorri tells us in Ynglinga saga that the practice of cremation was introduced by Óðinn, and it is thus particularly thought to be associated with that god's cult. The popular idea of a "Viking ship-burial" where the burning ship is sent out on the waves actually only appears in the description of Baldr's funeral in the Prose Edda, but ibn Fadlan's account tells us that ship-burning was done on land. Our only known male Viking grave in Fr