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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Phol/Balder, a Germanic and Indo-European Comparison



The Second Merseburg Charm of the 9th/10th century CE refers to a Germanic God called Phol:


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.

Many scholars assume that Phol is just another name for Balder and the evidence from the charm would seem to confirm this. However it is strange that the same God should be referred to by two different names within the same charm. Rudolf Simek [Dictionary of Northern Mythology] contests the assumption that it is the same God and puts forward a different theory. He associates Phol with the Goddess Volla referred to in the charm. He asserts that the Nordic equivalent of the German Volla is Fulla, the Goddess of fullness and thus links Her to Freyja and thus Phol with Freyr. The great Jacob Grimm appears to be convinced in his Teutonic Mythology Volume 1 that Balder and Phol are one and the same divinity. He refers to a Pholesauwa or Pholesouwa 10-12 miles from Passau mentioned in a document drawn up between 774-788 CE. This would appear to be a place of His worship. There is also a Pholespiunt on the Altmuehl between Eichstaedt and Kipfenberg in a forest. The Fulla traditions also refer to Pholesbrunnen in Thuringia. He cites other examples in his work such as Poelde in the Harz mountains so it is clear that Phol was a recognised German deity whether or not He was the same as Balder.

Grimm finds parallels between Phol and other Indo-European deities:

"I incline to this last hypothesis, and connect Phol and Pol (whose o may very well have sprung from a) with the Celtic Beal, Beul, Bel, Belenus, a divinity of light or fire, the Slav. Bielbogh, Belbogh (white-god), the adj. biel, bel (albus), Lith. baltas, which last with its extension T makes it probable that Baeldag and Baldr are of the same root, but have not undergone consonant-change. Phol and Paltar therefore are in their beginning one, but reveal to us two divergent historical developments of the same word, and a not unimportant difference in the mythology of the several Teutonic races." [Grimm]

Grimm concludes that this God was known to Thuringians and the Bavarians as Phol although they knew of His alternative names of Paltar and Balder. The Saxons and Westphalians knew Him as Baldag and Baeldag. Clearly Phol was known to not only the Teutons but other northern Aryan peoples such as the Balts, Slavs and Celts. Thus we may infer from this that His origins go back to a shared northern Aryan common past.
However we may also be able to draw a link to the Hellenic Apollo. There is not only a remarkable similarity between the names of Phol and Apollo but both were divinities of light and associated with the North. Six months every year Apollo would wander north to the land of the Hyperboreans. By contrast Balder would be consigned to the underworld of Hel, although not merely for six months of the year although this part of the solar myth may be a distortion to fit in with the myth of Ragnarok. Phol or Pol/A-pol-lo may also be considered to be the God of the Pole, the pole that is which connects the Hyperborean and Thulean far North with the Pole Star. He is thus both a solar and a polar deity. There is a common connecting thread that runs through the whole of Germanic and Aryan mythology-the emphasis on BOTH the polar and the solar.
Phol, the masculine pole and polar God: Sol the feminine solar Goddess, a contrast of opposites.

I am reminded of the practice of the ancient Teutons of erecting poles as representing their Gods. A wooden pole or carved image of a God would be erected in a heap of stones and worshipped. This was common during the Germanic Bronze Age and Iron Age and also far back into the European Stone Age. The phallic association is obvious as well as the link with the Irminsul.

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