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Sunday, 5 October 2008

Gungnir, the Spear of Odin


"The spear which, in the days of Tacitus, and much later, was the chief weapon both for foot-soldiers and cavalry in the Teutonic armies, is wielded by the Asa-father himself, whose Gungner was forged for him by Ivalde`s sons before the dreadful enmity between the gods and them had begun."
[Viktor Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology]

However Wagner presented a different explanation for the origins of Gungnir:

"A dauntless god
Drew for drink to its gleam,
Where he left in endless
Payment the light of an eye,
From the world ash
Ere Wotan went he broke a bough;
For a spear the staff
He split with strength from the stem."

[Dusk of the Gods, Wagner-Forman`s translation]

The spear of Odin, Gungnir was the sacred weapon on which oaths were sworn and treaties were agreed.
By the use of Gungnir Odin pierced his side when he offered himself to himself on the world tree.
[Ynglinga saga 9]

"In his hand Odin generally carried the infallible spear Gungnir, which was so sacred that an oath sworn upon its point could never be broken....."
[The Norsemen, H.A. Guerber]

According to Sigdrifumal 17 there are runes carved into the point of the spear Gungnir and runic inscriptions have been found on spears excavated during archaeological finds. Bronze Age rock carvings also depict a spear-god which has been identified as Odin by the presence of his eight-legged horse Sleipnir.

"When he had fully mastered this knowledge, Odin cut magic runes upon his spear Gungnir, upon the teeth of his horse Sleipnir.........."
[A.H. Guerber]

The `knowledge` referred to is the knowledge of the runes.

In the Poetic Edda in the Lay of Sigrdrifa[Sigrdrifumal] verse 17 the valkyrie Sigrdrifa on giving advice to Sigurd on the use of the runes says they can be cut "on the point of Gungnir and the breast of Grani, on the nail of the norn, and the beak of the owl."

Rudolf Simek comments in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology "However it is not very likely that the `rise` of the spear god Odin and a `fall` of of the older sword god Tyr reflect an actual change in the form of battle from the sword to the spear[Schwietering]; perhaps the spear is significant as the symbol of lordship which was as relevant for the god of justice Tyr as well as for Odin in his function of lord."

In the beginning when war broke out between the two pantheons of Germanic gods, the Aesir and the Vanir, Odin threw his spear over the heads of the assembled Vanir. It does not specifically state in the Poetic Edda that this was Gungnir but the assumption appears to be there.

At the end at Ragnarok Odin again rides into battle with Gungir at his side.[Gylfaginning]

Wotan[Odin/Woden/Wodan/Wuotan] appears as one of the central characters of his Der Ring des Nibelungen tetralogy.
In Scene Two of Act Three of Siegfried[The third music drama in the Ring tetralogy] there is a confrontation between Wotan and his grandson Siegfried[Sigurd], the semi-divine Germanic hero in which Wotan`s spear Gungnir is shattered by Siegfried`s sword.

Wotan: "If you`re not afraid of the fire,
my spear will bar your way for you!
My hand still holds
the haft of power;
the sword you wield
was shivered ere now by this shaft:
once more let it
splinter upon my eternal spear!"

Siegfried: "My father`s foe!
Do I find you here?
What a glorious chance
for vengeance is this!
Stretch forth your spear:
my sword shall strike it in splinters!"

["With one blow, he strikes the Wanderer`s spear in two: a flash of lightning bursts forth from it towards the summit, where the glow, previously somewhat faint, now begins to blaze with ever-increasing fury. The blow is accompanied by a loud clap of thunder, which quickly dies away. The fragments of the spear fall at the Wanderer`s feet. He calmly gathers them up."]

Attempts have also been made over the years to draw a link between Gungnir and the Spear of Longinus[which pierced the side of Christ] or Parsifal`s spear.
Parsifal was the last of Wagner`s music dramas and follows on directly from Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Both Gungnir and Parsifal`s/Longinus` spear are weapons that bestow rulership of the world upon its owner and a future article will focus more closely on this legend.

There is also an obvious link between Gungnir and the Tir/Tiw/Teiwaz rune in both shape and meaning.
Tir heads the third aett of the Common Germanic Futharc and it has the meaning of war, victory, law and cosmic order and is associated with the ancient Germanic and Aryan sky god Tir. This rune also resembles Irmunsul the world tree.
Odin largely eclipsed and took over many of Tir`s functions and is often viewed as being a more recent deity than Tir.
The British Army along with other government departments inscribe this rune upon government property. This rune is often found upon ancient sword blades and spear points.
In the Anglo-Saxon and Northumbrian Futhorcs the Gar rune which is the 33rd and final rune has the literal meaning of a spear. Interestingly this rune unlike the previous 32 is not assigned to a specific aett in the Northumbrian system. This rune is considered to contain all the others within its form. It represents the beginning of a brand New Order.

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