Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Germanic Gods in Charms, Poems, Folklore and Germanic Literature

In addition to the Elder and Younger Eddas[Poetic and Prose Eddas] faithfully preserved in that Germanic holy isle of Iceland we also have information concerning our Gods from other sources, some containing overt references to the deities, others more covert ones, no doubt out of fear from persecution by the xtian church.
These other sources include folk tales, popularly known as fairy tales and survivng verse charms, spells and references in ecclesiastical writings, histories and classical sources. Also by studying various laws enacted by xtian monarchs and prohibitions issued by the church we find a mine of useful information.

Many of these sources have not even been translated into English never mind researched. This is made clear in Philippe Walter`s Christianity. The Origins of a Pagan Religion, 2006, published by Inner Traditions[an excellent source for Indo-European and traditionalist literature]. The book focuses on Celtic, particularly French material but also includes Germanic references as well and makes the case for the survival of Indo-European religious and spiritual traditions in European xtianity. This work should in my opinion be read in conjunction with The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation by James C. Russell, 1996. The first part of the latter book is a bit heavy going. Readers may wish to skip this part and go immediately to what is for us the most relevant second part of the book.

Now let us turn to some of the Germanic sources that refer to our Gods! The Nine Wort Spell or Nine Herbs Charm for snakebite, contained in the Lacnunga. This is quite a long Old English spell which about half way through refers to Woden so I will only quote the most relevant part:

"Those nine are mighty against nine venoms. A worm came slithering, but nothing he slayed. For Woden took up nine wondrous twigs, he struck the adder so that it flew into nine pieces. Now these nine worts have might against nine wonder-wights. Against nine venoms and against nine flying shots."
My readers should note that in Old English as in Old Norse a worm is meant to be a snake or serpent like creature such as a dragon.The nine wondrous twigs or glory twigs may very well have contained the names of the herbs written in runes.

Woden is also referred to but in a disparaging manner in Maxims I, part B, verse 60 of the Exeter Book:

"Woden wrought idols, the Almighty glory,...."

H.R. Ellis Davidson in her Gods and Myths of Northern Europe[1964] refers to a surviving magical incantation from Lancashire:

"Thrice I smites with Holy Crock, With this mell[hammer] I thrice do knock, One for God, and one for Wod, And one for Lok."
Lok is no doubt intended to refer to Loki.

Woden or more correctly Wodan appears with other deities; Phol, Balder, Sinthgunt, Sunna, Frija[Frigga] and Volla in The Second Merseburg Charm from early 10th century CE Germany:

"Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder's foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna's sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla's sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
so joint-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints, so may they be glued."

It should be noted that in both the Old English Nine Herbs Charm and the Old High German Second Merseburg Charm Woden/Wodan is presented as having healing abilities above that of other deities.
Dr Stephen E. Flowers in The Galdrabok. An Icelandic Book of Magic refers to an ancient Scottish formula, recorded in 1842, no doubt xtianised but recogniseable to be a variant of The Second Merseburg Charm:

"The Lord rade, and the foal slade; he lighted, and he righted, set joint to joint, bone to bone, and sinew to sinew, Heal in the Holy Ghost`s name!"
We should recall that the Lowland Scots are of Germanic not Gaelic origin and this is reflected in their Lowland Scots dialect which is Germanic and probably more authentically so than Modern English! There is a corresponding passage in the Atharva Veda which no doubt suggests that this healing formula is extremely ancient and traceable to Aryan times:

"Let thy marrow come together with marrow, thy joint together with joint; together let what of thy flesh has fallen apart, together let thy bone grow over."[IV 12]

Saxnot alongside Woden and Thunor appear in the 9th century CE Old Saxon Baptismal Vow:

" I renounce all the deeds and words of the devil, Thunaer, Wōden and Saxnōt, and all those fiends that are their companions."

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles make reference to Woden as being an ancestor of various royal dynasties. Bede also in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People refers to the semi-legendary and semi-historical Hengist and Horsa as being great grandsons of Woden.

The First Merseburg Charm which is rarely referred to in books on Germanic mythology also contains an interesting reference to female divinities:

"Once there was sitting lofty ladies sitting here and there some bound bonds, some hemmed the warrior bands, some picked at the fetters, so that the hasp-bonds break, and the warriors escape."

The term "lofty ladies"[Dr Stephen E. Flowers` translation] is a translation of idisi which may be cognate with the Old Norse dis and the plural disir who are of course Mother-Goddesses or protective deities. The context of the charm as well as the terminology is certainly suggestive of this.

Thunor also is referred to in the ancient surviving Anglo-Saxon literature. The Old English poem The Dialogue of Solomon and Saturn states:

"Se thunor hit thryscedh mid thaere fyrenan aecxe."

Traslated into Modern English:

 "Thunor threshes with his fiery axe".

John Mitchell Kemble in his The Saxons in England identifies in addition to this a further reference to the Thunder God in the Exeter Book:

"and I am inclined to see a similar allusion in the Exeter Book, where the lightning is called rynegiestes waepn, the weapon of Avkv Thorr, the car-borne god, Thunder."

This article is meant to present only the most accessible material. I intend to expand further on the evidence in future articles.

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