Saturday, 30 January 2010

Death and Afterlife in Germanic Mythology

The Eddas tell us that the body of man is divided into the following constituent parts:-

La-blood/lifegiving warmth.


Lik-the physical body consisting of natural elements.

Litr goda-colour/image/countenance.


Odr-the soul/reason.

The Elder or Poetic Edda[Voluspa 17 and 18] contains one of the two myths concerning the creation of man or the first Teutons. Odin along with Hoenir and Lodurr acted as a trinity of Gods in the creation of Teutonic humanity from the form of two trees known as Ask[the male and cognate with the ash tree] and Embla[the female and probably cognate with the Elm tree but there is much scholarly debate over this].
The second creation myth is to be found in Gylfaginning 8 in the Younger or Prose Edda and the ceating Gods in that myth are Odin and Vili and Ve, His brothers.
The body[Lik] has already been formed by the dwarves Mimir and Durinn which is an indication that the dwarves at one time were an early race of Gods as were the giants. Indo-European mythologies have many similar exampes of where early races of Gods are supplanted by more recent ones. One thinks in particular of the struggles between the Titans and the Olympian deities and the wars between the Aesir and Vanir and the Asa/Vana Gods against the giants. Irish or Celtic mythology also has examples of struggles between competing pantheons of Gods which point to a mythologising of actual historical struggles between different ethnic groups for possession of land.
The God Lodurr who is only mentioned once in the Eddas grants la, litr goda and laeti to the lik.
Hoenir according to Voluspa 63 is one of the 7 named Gods who survive Ragnarok and his role in Germanic mythology is uncertain but nevertheless he is one of the three creating Gods and grants odr to the lik.
Odin grants ond which is fitting when one considers that He is the most important deity and the granting of breath or spirit is associated with the highest of Gods or the supreme God of monotheistic religions.
In Gylfaginning Odin grants the breath of life, Vili intelligence and movement and Ve outward appearance, speech, hearing and sight. The etymology of Ve suggests that he is associated with the word ve meaning `holy` whilst Vili is associated with the `will`. Both are brothers of Odin.
At the point of death the various elements, physical and spiritual/psychic seperate.
The earthly matter, la and lik seperate from a person`s higher elements and remain on Midgardr. What remains, the ond, odr and litr goda travel to the underworld, Jormungrund for judgement. The ond and litr goda are seperated from the odr at Nagrindar, the gates of Niflhel and the remaining odr receives a new litr goda corresponding to the spiritual condition of the odr. So in effect we create our own judgement and our own ultimate destiny whilst here on Midgardr.
Those who die in battle or have led the life of a warrior[spiritual `warriors` included] are selected to reside in either Valhalla with Odin or in Folkfangr with Freyja.
"The earthly death consists of the earthly matter, the la and the lik, being seperated from the person`s higher elements and staying behind on Midgardr. The dead who have fared to Jormungrund are made up of ond, odr, and litr. If one is sentenced to a second death at Gimle, the ond and the litr goda will be seperated from him at the Nagrindar. Then there remains only the odr; and this receives a litr that corresponds with the condition of the odr. The higher elements return to the Godin, traveling to the afterworld; whereas the lower elements are spread across the earth, returning to the waters, to the plants, and to all that lives."[XXIV.9. Asatru Edda].
Those who are judged by the Gods at the Helthing as being guilty of crimes against the Folk or the Gods such as perjury, murder, adultery, defaming of temples, opening of gravemounds, treason and villainy will be sentenced to the second death and punishment in the halls of Niflhel.
"Once a person has died, their higher elements remain around the corpse for three days, and attend their own Helfor. All will have a guide that will lead them to Hel, which appears before them right before their death, carrying their summons to the Helthing. Foremost among them are the Valkyrjur, beautiful maidens with contemplative faces. Whenever a battle takes place, they appear fully armed there on their horses, although some wear feather guises, and with their spear shafts point out the champions whom Odinn and Freyja have selected for their halls, and they carry the fallen to Jormungrund, and from there on Bifrost to Asgardr.
Urdr sends maidservants of a very different sort to the inhabitants of Midgardr who are not among the heroic dead, each by the nature of their death. To those who surrender to the burden of years comes the Dis who is the handmaiden of the bent and stooping. This kind-hearted Dis removes the burden which Elli puts on men, and which gradually gets too heavy for them to bear. Children have their guides, who are motherly, tender, and kind. To those who were snatched away by plague or other epidemics come Leikn and the beings of Niflhel who resemble her, and those who die of disease are carried away by the corresponding vaettir of disease to the Helthing to be judged by the Godin."[XXIV 15, 16 Asatru Edda].
The brave dead who reside in Asgardr with the Gods and Goddesses spend their `time` feasting and fighting, preparing for the day of Ragnarok when they must go forth with the Gods to fight their last battle to prevent the triumph of the forces of chaos, the sons of Muspel.
"All those who die in battle heroically are his adopted children. He assigns them places in Valhol land they are known as Einherjar."
[XXV 6, Asatru Edda].
The etymology of Einherjar is Old Norse and means` those who fight alone`. Thor is designated as Einheri in Lokasenna 62 and means `the one who fights alone`.
Sometimes the dead choose to remain in their burial mounds close to their kin and clan in order to protect them by their presence. There are examples of this to be found in the Icelandic sagas. The concept is also linked to the idea of the dead residing in mountains, particularly dead kings that await their return to their people in times of great national distress. I think in particular of the legends that relate to Friedrich Barbarossa, Friedrich II, Widukind, King Arthur, Bran the Blessed, Charlemagne, Fionn mac Cumhaill, Ogier the Dane, Heinrich the Fowler, etc, etc.
One thing is for sure and that is our ancestors do act as guardians, watching over their descendants down the generations.
"Those who have become immortal look down on the mortals and protect their children on earth. In Midgardr`s atmosphere, through the entire airspace they travel, and where one prepares sacrifice and invokes them, there come holy, faithful, wise fathers with help and blessings for their children. They bring power, wealth, and descendants; they hear, help, and console; and they fight bravely and heroically in battle."[XXIV 29, Asatru Edda].
There is also evidence to support the case for reincarnation in both Germanic and Celtic mythology and such reincarnation appears to manifest within the same family and genetic lines with forefathers reincarnating as their own descendants.
One of the most interesting examples of reincarnation is to be found in the story of Helgi Hjorvardsson who reincarnates as Helgi Hundingsbane and Helgi Haddingjaskati in the Poetic Edda.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Etymology of Woden

This article is solely concerned with discussing the etymology of Woden`s name and its various cognates; it is not concerned with an exploration of his many and diverse roles.
Volume 1 of Grimm`s Teutonic Mythology gives quite a detailed analysis of the etymology and the various cognate forms of the name.
Among the Anglo-Saxons He was called Woden, the Langobards knew Him as Wodan or Guodan, the Old Saxons as Wuodan or Wodan, the Frisians called Him Weda, the Goths referred to Him as Vodans and the Scandinavians as Odinn. In the Faroe Isles He was called Ouvin and Saxo Grammaticus refers to Him as Othinus. In Old High German He was known as Wuotan. Another variant is Woatan.
The word is immediately derived from the Old High German watan from which comes the substantive wuot[modern German Wut] meaning wrath, fury, wildness and impetuosity. Grimm deduces from this that by extension Wuotan, Odinn "would be the all-powerful, all-penetrating being".
He goes on to say "How early this original meaning may have got obscured or extinguished , it is impossible to say. Together with the meaning of wise and mighty god, that of the wild, restless, vehement, must also have prevailed, even in the heathen time. The christians were the better pleased, that they could bring the bad sense into prominence out of the name itself. In the oldest glosses, wotan is put for tyrannus, herus malus.......so wueterich......."
He goes on to give examples of how the adjective was used to describe evil kings and evil deeds and thus the christians succeeded in further demonising Woden through their choice and use of language.
"The former divinity was degraded into an evil, fiendish, bloodthirsty being, and appears to live yet as a form of protestation or cursing in exclamations of the Low German people, as in Westphalia: O Woudan, Woudan! .....and in Mecklenburg: Wod, Wod!"
This primary aspect of Woden`s furious nature has in the past manifested itself in the battle rage of the ancient Teutons and the Berserker rage. Furor Teutonicus[Teutonic Fury] was a Latin phrase that referred to the aforesaid fierceness. In the Viking Age the christianised victims of the Viking raids would pray "From the wrath of the Northmen, O Lord, deliver us."

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Two Hammers of Thor?

The Eddas state that Thor`s hammer Mjollnir was made by the smith dwarves Sindri and Brokkr and is the subject of many giant slaying myths. It had special properties, being able to produce thunder and lightning and when it is thrown it returns to the hand of the thrower. It was also used as a means of consecration at funerals and weddings, thus alluding to Thor`s joint role as God of war and as a fertility deity. In order to handle Mjollnir Thor needs special iron gloves.
It is of great antiquity and features in Bronze Age rock carvings.
In the Viking Age it became the most important symbol for Scandinavian heathendom in its opposition to the alien religion of Christianity and was worn by adherents of the old faith as an amulet. Today those of us who have heard the call of the blood, the call of the ancient Germanic Gods wear this symbol as a visible expression of our faith in our ancestral Gods.
The etymology of Mjollnir is traced to the Proto Norse *melluniaR
Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology specuates that "it may be related to Old Slavic mlunuji, Russian molnija, `lightning`[either borrowed from there or else from an early stage] which would allow an interpretation of `the one who makes lightning; another attempt to explain it, however, relates Mjollnir to ON mjoll `new snow`, Icelandic mjalli `white colour`, and as such would mean `the shining lightning weapon`. In earlier scholarship Mjollnir had been connected with Gothic malwjan and ON mala `to grind` and interpreted as `the grinder`".
The etymology is also discussed in Jaan Puhvel`s Comparative Mythology and Puhvel cites the Welsh cognate mellt and also adds: "It is thus the bolt, and it can be represented also as an[originally stone] ax, a club, or as a counterclockwise hooked cross symbolizing a thunderball, resembling the Indic svastika-`good luck sign`[from Vedic su-asti- `well being, good fortune`]. It was a tool that the god used to `hallow` [vigja] beings in a positive vein[consecrate a bride, revive his own goat team, sactify the dead;cf. Indra`s vajra-cognate with Latin vegeo `arouse, quicken`]."
He goes on to add that both Thor and Indra used it as a thunder weapon against giants, serpents and demons. Clearly Thor/Indra relate back to a much earlier Proto-Indo-European thunder God as they like their other Aryan cousins-the Baltic Perkunas, the Slavic Peruna and the Celtic Taranis.
Viktor Rydberg in his Teutonic Mythology volume 1 states: "The hammer is Thor`s most sacred weapon. Before Sindre forged one for him of iron[Gylfaginning], he wielded a hammer of stone. This is evident from the very name hamarr, a rock, a stone."
Ryberg in his Teutonic Mythology volume 2[Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume II Part 1] repeats this argument: "Thor`s oldest weapon is made of stone. The name itself says so, hamarr, and this is confirmed by the folk-idea of the lightning bolt as a stone-wedge. Likewise Indra`s oldest weapon was made of stone; it is called the `celestial stone`[Rigv.II,30,5] and is said to be `four-edged`[Rigv.IV,22,1,2]. This `four-edged` weapon has its symbol in the swastika, a figure that is rediscovered in the realm of Germanic memory and therefore must have derived from the Proto-Indo-European era.
All this brings me to the passage in the Asatru Edda: "Thorr was brought up in Jotunheimr by a jarl named Vingnir, and when he was ten years old, he received the stone hammer, Vingnir`s Mjollnir."
Far from the Eddas being a mediaeval Christian monkish construction they have their origins deep into the Stone Age as this transition from a stone to an iron Mjollnir represents.