Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Sacred Rock Art of Bohuslän

The antiquity of our Germanic Gods is not in any doubt. Despite the written evidence of the Eddas and Sagas, historical records and folklore we also have the sacred rock carvings at Bohuslän in the province of Götaland in Sweden, the home of the Geats, referred to in Beowulf. Interestingly the Geats or gēatas in Old English were probably worshipers of Odin as Geat is etymologically linked with Gaut, one of the Odinsheite.

The rock carvings, dating back to the Nordic Bronze Age of the 2nd millenium BCE are scattered throughout  Bohuslän and they abound with solar symbols such as ships, horses, sunwheels and God-like figures wielding axes and spears. Felix R. Paturi in his Prehistoric Heritage (1976)  states:

"Sceptics have protested that the famous collection of legends was committed to writing only around 1220 A.D., which would mean that they were about 2,000 years more recent that the rock carvings. However Professor Herbert Kuhn meets the criticism with the remark that religious images live for thousands of years.
"Even more convincing is the fact that the descriptions of the gods in the Edda are illustrated with the old pictures of Thor, the most powerful of Germanic gods. His symbols are the wheel divided into four and the hammer, and his sacred animal is the stag. This is exactly how the ancient Germanic peoples portrayed him in their rock carvings. His body is the four-spoked wheel, he swings the hammer high above his head which is often represented by the head of a stag."

It should be noted that Mr Paturi was not a scholar of mythology and he is no doubt confusing the stag with Thor's goats. It is Indra, the Indo-Aryan equivalent of Thor whose chariot was pulled by deer. Nevertheless he is correct in drawing an association between these figures and symbols with the Gods of the Eddas.

H.R. Ellis Davidson in the now out of print but richly illustrated Scandinavian Mythology (1969) comments on the Germanic Bronze Age:

"From this period we find clear evidence of ritual from many symbolic objects recovered from the earth, and from the rich and crowded pictures of what appear to be religious ceremonies on the rock surfaces of Scandinavia. Now for the first time we find clear traces of a deity or deities connected with the sky and with battle, the god of a warrior people whose year was governed by the movements of the sun. The axe, already venerated in the Neolithic period as as man's most treasured tool and weapon, is brandished in the hands of a powerful phallic figure, dominating lesser figures on the rocks. A giant figure is also shown with a spear in hand, and spears and axes are represented many times as if they were sacred symbols, linked with the divine powers.
"The axe must be associated with the god who ruled the sky and sent thunder and lightning and the life-giving rain. Whether the spear-bearing figure represented him in another aspect, as leader in battle and giver of victory, we do not know for certain, but this seems probable. These male figures and the weapons which they carry are connected constantly in the carvings with ships and horses. It seems that the primary myth of the Northern Bronze Age concerned the wheeled wagon or chariot of the sun journeying across the heavens, and also the ship of the sun, which is thought to have symbolised the sun's journey below the earth when it disappeared beneath the western sea." 


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