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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Thunor`s Fiery Axe





"Se thunor hit thryscedh mid thaere fyrenan aecxe."[Dialogue of Solomon and Saturn]

Translated from Old English into Modern English the above quotation reads "Thunor threshes with his fiery axe". This passage is referred to in Jacob Grimm`s Teutonic Mythology Volume 1 and Walter Keating Kelly`s Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folklore [a book which I highly recommend]. It is a passage that I have quoted before within articles on my blogs as it is probably the oldest reference to the Thunder God in Anglo-Saxon literature.
Some may argue that this passage simply refers to the xtian god`s use of thunder as a weapon with which to smite the `Devil` and this is a valid point. However thunder is one of the main attributes of the primary deity of the Indo-Europeans such As Zeus, Jupiter, Thor/Thunor/Donar and Indra and other peoples too.

What seals the bargain for me is that Thunor or thunder is referred to as wielding an axe which my readers will be aware is the original  weapon of the Indo-European Thunder God. Stylistically the hammer developed from the axe and it is the axe more than the hammer that was the favourite weapon and tool of our Germanic and Indo-European ancestors. It was both a symbol of the supreme Sky God and of royal authority.

I am reminded of the Bush Barrow stone mace which is regarded as part of the regalia of the King who doubtless governed from Stonehenge as being part of his royal seat. Some have likened it to the Lightning Sceptre of  Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae. However the Bush Barrow mace and phase III of Stonehenge predate Mycenae by at least 500 years. So any connection between them must be from a common Indo-European shared inheritance.

"A true explanation has to lie in the foundations of Indo-European cosmology, which everywhere posited a thunder-and-lightning god not unlike the well-attested Thor of Norse mythology."[Stonehenge City. A Reconstruction, Leon Stover, 2003]

From time to time I still see misinformed people expressing the view that Stonehenge was not built by Indo-Europeans. Now they may be right about Stonehenge Phase I but not Phases II and III, the last phase being the product of the distinctively Indo-European Wessex`Warrior culture. This should cause us to view the megaliths in a new sight.

Three excellent books which discuss the Indo-European aspect of Stonehenge are:

Stonehenge of the Kings. A People Appear, Patrick Crampton, 1967
Stonehenge and the Origins of Western Culture[also known as Stonehenge. The Indo-European Inheritance, Bruce Kraig and Leon Stover, 1979
Stonehenge City. A Reconstruction, Leon Stover, 2003

The first two books are out of print but the second one is still very widely available. 

The hammer as I have said developed from the axe and stylistically it is very similar apart from the Icelandic Foss Wolfs Hammer which is most certainly hammer shaped. Outside of Scandinavia, England and the very northern part of Germany I am not aware of any archaeological discoveries of Thor`s Hammer pendants unless they were left behind by Vikings in other countries. It does not appear to be a symbol which was commonly worn by the Germanic peoples except in the late 8th century CE onwards and probably as a Scandinavian reaction to creeping xtianisation of the North. That of course does not mean that it did not exist in the mythology of the North or that it was not used for cultic practice. Scholars theorise that the idea for wearing hammer amulets was a conscious reaction against the cross wearing xtians.

However the above argument is of course a simplification. We do know of Thunor`s hammers from Anglo-Saxon Kent in the 6th century CE prior to the emergence of the Vikings into recorded history. One such example is the Gilton hammer which was found with spear pendants, no doubt intended to be amulets signifying Woden`s spear, Gungnir.  A closer examination of the Gilton hammer causes me to question if it is a hammer or a long handled axe.

Whilst Thor`s Hammer amulets are a relatively late development axe amulets are found all over northern Europe, many marked with lightning symbols such as circles or dots in circles, possibly signifying hail stones, an attribute of a good old thunder storm. These axe amulets still persist right into the Viking era and amongst the Slavs, Balts and Celts this was the primary symbol of the Thunder God and continued to be so.

Therefore I find it significant that the anonymous author of the Dialogue of Solomon and Saturn should refer to Thunor as wielding an axe and not a hammer. I believe that this is how our Anglo-Saxon ancestors viewed the thunder weapon of Thunor.

"It is well known in England, and also in Germany, that no witch can step over a besom laid along the threshold of the house door on the inside. She will kick it or push it aside before she can enter your house, and by this token you may know her for what she is. An axe[Thor`s weapon] and a broom are laid crosswise on the innerside of the threshold over which the nurse has to step when she goes out with an infant to have it christened. This is done that the babe may be safe from all the devices of the powers of evil."[Kelly]

As an aside my readers may be aware that baptism, that is sprinkling on the forehead of infants with water was an ancient Germanic pre-xtian custom and like many of our ancient ways it was co-opted into xtian practice.

"As Indra  used to milk the cloud cows and churn the milk lakes and fountains with the thunderbolt, so did Thor. The German god`s fiery weapon was often represented as an axe, and hence it is a customary thing with witches to draw milk from the handle of an axe stuck in a doorpost."[Kelly]

Clearly Thunor`s axe as a concept continued to linger in Anglo-Saxon and German folklore long after the forced conversion of our ancestors as the above references establish but the axe was also an important cultic object. According to HR Ellis Davidson the famous Mammen Axe from 10th century CE Mammen in Denmark was a ceremonial axe and the top of the axe features a:

 "face with staring eyes and beard". Apparently this was a "method of representing the thunder god. The serpent on the blade was associated with Thor. Thor`s symbol in the Viking Age was both an axe and a hammer".[Scandinavian Mythology]

Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology states:

"In northern Europe a cult of axes, in which axes unsuitable for practical use played an important role, is evident and is supported by archaeological finds dating later than the Neolithic Age. In the Bronze Age numerous rock carvings, and also the little bronze figure from Grevensvaenge, indicate a widespread cult of axes which should probably be understood as a fertility cult, as the phallic figures on the rock pictures suggest. Miniature axes as amulets are also documented since the late Iron Age and then again in the Viking Age."

And again he states:

"The great age of the Germanic axe-cult, the relationship with the Cretan axe-cult and the parallels to the lightning weapons of the non-Germanic gods, such as Indra`s and Hercules` clubs or Sucellos the Gaul`s hammer all suggest an Indo-Germanic origin of the various forms of the axe."

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