Sunday, 28 December 2014

Halfdan, son of Thor?

Halfdan was an historical 5th-6th century CE Danish king of the Scylding lineage. However Viktor Rydberg in his Teutonic Mythology Volume 1 gives him a divine parentage:

"Like his father, Halfdan was the fruit of a double fatherhood, a divine and a human. Saxo was aware of this double fatherhood, and relates of his Halfdan Berggram that he, although the son of a human prince, was respected as a son of Thor, and honoured as a god among that people who longest remained heathen; that is to say, the Swedes. In his saga, as told by Saxo, Thor holds his protecting hand over Halfdan like a father his son."

Indeed Rydberg not only claims Halfdan to be a son of Thor but also claims that he is the divine Germanic patriarch Mannus, referred to in Germania 2.2 by Tacitus. He argues that Frigg or Jord is the mother of Mannus' father Tuisto who is "a god brought forth from the earth" (Rives translation of Germania) or "an earth-born god" (Mattingley/Handford translation). Jord (Old Norse 'the earth') is an ancient earth Goddess who is referred to as the mother of Thor in the Eddas. It may be that she is far more ancient than Frigg but as we know it was common practice in our mythology for the functions of older deities to be subsumed by newer ones. If Tuisto is the son of Jord then it is possible that Tuisto may equate with Thor or that is the reasoning of Rydberg. What he does not appear to have considered is that Tuisto and Thor may have been brothers and the interest that Thor shows in Halfdan could be that of an uncle for his nephew which we know to have been a strong and sacred bond amongst our ancestors which rivalled that of father and son.

Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology speculates that Tuisto was an hermaphrodite and the manuscript form of this name, Tuisco points to the "same basic meaning". Rydberg points out that like Mannus Halfdan has three sons:

"While Mannus has a son Ingaevo, Halfdan has a stepson Yngve, Inge (Svipdag). The scond son of Mannus is named Hermio. Haldan's son with Groa is called Gudhormr. The second part of this name has, as Jassen has already pointed out, nothing to do with ormr. It may be that the name should be divided Gud-hormr, and that hormr should be referred to Hermio. Mannus' third son is Istaevo. The Celtic scholar Zeuss has connected this name with that of the Gothic (more properly Vandal) heroic race Azdingi, and Grimm has again connected Azdingi with Hazdiggo (Haddingr). Halfdan's third son is in Saxo called Hadingus." (Teutonic Mythology Volume 1, Chapter 25)

In Our Fathers' Godsaga Rydberg refers to Halfdan as:

"Skjold-Borgar and Drott's son, the first Germanic king, regarded as Thor's son and honored with divine respect. He is Svipdag's stepfather, Gudhorm and Hadding's father. Tacitus calls him Mannus."

Now turning to the original sources there are some intriguing references in Saxo Grammaticus' The History of the Danes (English translation by Peter Fisher) to a 'champion' called Thori who fights alongside Haldan (Halfdan):

"After Haldan with his assistance had regained complete strength he summoned Thori, a champion of remarkable talents, and declared war on Erik.
"During the fight Haldan observed his line giving way and therefore clambered with Thori to the top of a cliff strewn with rocks. They prised up these boulders, rolled them down on the enemy drawn up on the slopes below and with their falling weight crushed their opponents' battle-line. Ultimately Haldan's stones achieved the victory he had lost with conventional weapons. For this victorious feat he was named Biargramm, a title which appears to be a compound of 'mountains' and 'fierceness'. For this reason he began to be held in such esteem by the Swedes that he was believed to be the son of great Thor, accorded divine honours by the people and judged worthy of public libations." (Book 7)

Dr Hilda Ellis Davidson in her commentary to Saxo states:

"Herrrmann (p.479) suggested that Saxo found the phrase het a Thor (called on Thor) in his source, and rationalised this into a summons sent to a human ally.
"The term Biargrammus (rock-strong) is not found elsewhere. It would be a suitable title for the god Thor himself, since he shattered rocks with his hammer."

Halfdan is also pictured in Saxo as often fighting with an oak club. This was also the weapon of choice of Hercules who the Germanic peoples equated with Donar, the southern Germanic version of Thor. Donarkeule or Donar Clubs were worn as a protective amulet by the early Germanic tribes, certainly until it was later replaced by the more popular Hammer amulets. The Hammer is a later development of the Axe, all three being symbolic of the Germanic and Indo-Germanic Thunder God. There are several English and Scandinavian folktales that refer to Thor or the 'Devil' (a demonised Thor) throwing rocks down upon his enemies, usually from the top of a mountain. The oak and the mountain are strongly associated with the northern European Thunder God.

"As it happened, he was walking through a tract of shady woodland when he tore up by its roots an oak which blocked his path, and by simply stripping off its branches shaped it into a hefty cudgel" (Book 7)

Oak is of course sacred to the Thunder God and you will note that Halfdan must have possessed supernatural strength to uproot an oak by its roots! On an earlier occasion he also used a club as a weapon:

"Afterwards Haldan was about to do battle with the king's nephew Eric, son of his own uncle Frothi, when he learnt that Erik's champion Hakon had the knack of blunting swords by witchcraft. He therefore fitted iron studs to a gigantic club and made it into a battering instrument, as though its wooden strength would prevail against the power of sorcery." (Book 7)

Iron of course is also sacred to Thor and the metal which his second Hammer was later constructed from. On a third occasion he again uses a club as a weapon:

"He lopped down an oak, shaped it into a club and, having joined combat with twelve single-handed, took their lives." (Book 7)

Earlier in Book 3 of Saxo there is a reference to Thor wielding a club:

"But Thor shattered all their shield-defences with the terrific swings of his club, calling on his enemies to attack him as much as his comrades to support him."

W are told that Hother (Hodr in the Eddas):

"rendered the club useless by lopping off the handle."

This caused the Aesir to lose the battle. In the Skaldskaparmal in the Younger Edda we have an explanation as to why the handle of Thor's Hammer was short. Loki had turned into a fly and had on several occasions bit the dwarf smith Sindri, the latter time on his eyelid which distracted him and caused the handle of the Hammer to be made shorter than desired. In the latter of the three accounts which refer to Haldan fighting with his oak club the later part of the tale suddenly and unaccountably refers to his weapon as being a 'giant hammer':

"With the remainder of his band he then went for Haldan, who smashed him down with the giant hammer and deprived him of life and victory." (Book 7)

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Mythology of the Germanic Peoples of the Low Countries

There has been very little written in English or translated into English on the subject of the pre-xtian heathen Gods of the Low Countries (ie the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). The usual lame and lazy excuse is that there is no single homogenous mythology as the various tribes were not just Germanic but Gaulish or indeed perhaps Celto-Germanic. I believe that the myths, legends and folklore of this part of northern Europe could provide us with a rich and hitherto unmined source of Germanic mythology which may be particularly closely related to the continental Germanic and Anglo-Saxon mythologies.

I have in the past written about Nehalennia, Tanfana (a Northwest German/Netherlandic deity; see http://celto-germanic.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-germanic-goddess-tamfana-and.html) and Fosite (see http://celto-germanic.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/fositeforseti-aspect-of-thunor.html) but more often than not this has been part of wider issue than Netherlandic mythology. This is an oversight which I intend to correct in 2015. From toponymy, folklore and historical records we know that the Germanic peoples of continental Germania which includes the Germanic speaking parts of the Low Countries, revered literally hundreds of dieties. I will attempt to resurrect some of these deities during the course of the coming year. I have already made a small start in 2014. An example of this is the almost but not quite forgotten God Krodo from the closely situated Harz Mountains of Lower Saxony (see http://celto-germanic.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/krodo-lost-saxon-god-traceable-to-aryan.html).

In addition to the lesser known deities the Germanic tribes of the Low Countries also worshipped the better known Gods, eg Wodan, Donar, Tyr and Frija. This is most evident from the Dutch days of the week: zondag, maandag, dinsdag, woensdag, donderdag, vrijdag and zaterdag.

A folktale from Gelderland in the eastern part of the Netherlands is very similar to the encounter of Thor against the Midgardsorm at Ragnarok:

This myth concerns a battle that allegedly took place between Donar the God of Thunder with the winter giants and the Midgaardsnake who strategically align against him. The giants throw hail down, while the snake climbs into a tall oak tree and blows poison into the air. Donar attacks, riding through the air on "his billy-goat wagon", the sky blazes and the earth trembles because of his "never missing thunderhammer." Donar strikes the snake on his head with such force on the head that not only was the monster crushed, the mighty thunderhammer went seven miles deep into the earth. The snake dies. However in the attack the snake's poison scorches and stuns Donar. Donar crashes down, with his "steerless goats" and wagon onto the Donderberg (meaning Donar's hill) in Dieren. Then the earth sank into the sea, the seagod blew a horn and a big black ship came to collect Donar's body. When the floodwaters receded, two lakes mark the spot that are "as deep as the world, the Uddelermeer or "Lake of Uddel" (Uttiloch), and the Godenmeer (God's lake)..." Later the legend continues that Thor's hammer surfaced from the depths. The grave of Migdaardsnake became overgrown with the forest nearby, until in 1222 a bright flame shot out of the pool and the ghost of the snake wriggled up and fled north. The forest was burned and a moor near the lake remains where the forest once was. (via Wikipedia)

The tale helps to eplain via the use of mythology how the Uddeler and Bleeke lakes were formed. Interestingly in addition to the reference to the Midgaardsnake being the cause of Donar's apparent death there is also an intriguing reference to His Hammer penetrating the ground for 7 miles, a motif clearly borrowed from the myth of the theft of Thor's Hammer by the Jotun Thrym! It would appear that the continental Germanic tribes did in fact share a common body of myth with the North Germanic Scandinavian peoples which has inevitably varied through the course of time and geography.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Modraniht-the Night of the Mothers-a Link to Ing

On the evening of the Winter Solstice we carry out our sacred rites to the Mothers, the divine Matronae of our folk. This ancient festival which is part of Yule is referred to by Bede in his De temporum ratione 13 that the heathen Angles carried out a sacrifice in the "modraniht id est matrum noctrum", meaning "the Modraniht, that is, in the night of mothers." Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology comments:

"Thus it corresponds to other Germanic Yule-tide festivals; the idea that it might have been a Celtic festival is largely refuted nowadays. The Modraniht as a Germanic sacrificial festival should be associated with the > Matron cult of the West Germanic peoples on the one hand, and to the disablot and > Disting known from medieval Scandinavia on the other hand and is chronologically to be seen as a connecting link between these Germanic forms of cult."

According to Gale R. Owen Modraniht was actually held on 25th of December:

"The winter festival which Bede called Mothers' Night marked the pagan New Year and was held on 25 December. It is likely that this Yule festival (the pagan name for December and January, we may remember, was giuli) involved the bringing in of evergreens, the burning of a Yule log and a feast centred round a boar's head, since these non-Christian features became associated with the Christmas festival celebrated at that time." (Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons, 1981)

"began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, "mother's night", because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night." (Bede)

Tony Linsell in his excellent book Anglo-Saxon Mythology, Migration & Magic (1984) speculates:

"That the heathen English used the month as a measure of time is evident from Bede's De Temporum Ratione, written in 725, in which we also learn that the new year began on Midwinter Day (25th December, that is the night of 24th/25th December). On the following night, Mothers' Night, certain ceremonies took place but we do not know what they were, although it seems reasonable to suppose that it was a time to give praise to the Earth Mother, Nerthus (or Frig), and to her son Ing, the God of Brightness."

Kathleen Herbert makes the following very interesting and important point:

"The most sacred night, when the new Year began, was called Modranect, Mothers' Night. 'Modra' is plural; it was the night 'of the Mothers' not 'of the Mother'. He says that it was so called from the ceremonies which took place then; he does not describe them, nor does he say who the Mothers were." (Looking for the Lost Gods of England, 1994)

Mr Linsell refers in his book to a theory of Kathleen Herbert's that "the celebration may have been for the birth, to Frig (Nerthus), of Ing, the God of Brightness, with whom the turning of the year is associated. The symbol of Ing is the boar, and a boar's head is traditionally served on a bed of greenery on Midwinter Day, which is also Christmas Day."

In the Eddas the God Frey was associated with the sun and portrayed as a God of brightness so it is appropriate when we consider that we are at the point of the year when the sun is beginning its long journey of return that the sun or Ing is being given birth to by His mother, who we speculate to be Nerthus. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Peredur, the Cymric Parzival

Recently I completed my first reading of Peredur the Son of Evrawc from The Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest (1812-1895) and published in 1841. Peredur, the son of a northern Earl Evrawc is nephew to King Arthur and becomes a knighted member of his court. According to Lady Charlotte he was probably an historical figure that "fell in the battle of Cattraeth, in the beginning of the 6th century, as Aneurin mentions a chieftain of this name among the slain." Aneurin refers to "Peredur of steel arms".

Lady Charlotte goes on to say in her notes to this tale:

"Peredur is frequently alluded to by the Bards of the Middle Ages, in terms illustrative of the high esteem in which his deeds of prowess then were held. Gruffydd ab Meredydd, who flourished about the end of the 13th century, in his Elegy on Tudor ap Garonwy, one of the ancestors of the House of Tudor, thus mentions him:-

"O Bountiful Creator of the radiant sun and waning moon, Sad is the fall of the chief of valiant deeds, Eagle of the battle-charge, equal to Peredur, Tudor, assaulter of the Angles*, he who never shunned the fight.

"In the old Romances, as Morte d'Arthur, &c., he is celebrated, under the name of Perceval, as one of those engaged in the quest of the Sangreal, in which character he is also spoken of in the Triads, together with Bort, the son of the King of that name, and Galath, the son of Lancelot du Lac.-Tri. lxi. Myv. Ar II. 14."

Evrawc or Efrawg is a Cymric translation of Eboracum, the Latin name for the ancient English city of York. People tend to think of York as a Viking city and that York derives from the Old Danish Jorvik. However before that it belonged to the Angles who called it Eoforwic. Prior to this under Roman rule it was called Eboracum, derived from the ancient British (Cymric) Eborakon, meaning a place of yew trees. However an error in translation from the Cymric Ebor and the Latin Ebor resulted in the similar sounding but different in meaning Eofor or Ebor which is Germanic for boar!

If Peredur was an historical character then he was obviously associated with post Roman York and thus his father was a northern Earl. The Battle of Catraeth or Cattrick took place in about the year 600 CE between the Germanic Angles from the Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicea and Deira which roughly equates with Southeast Scotland/County Durham/Northumberland (Bernicea) and Yorkshire (Deira). The Britons were defeated in this battle.

What struck me by my reading of Peredur was the heathen nature of the tale. It is marred by xtian references but despite this it is clearly based on pre-xtian Celtic mythology, indicating that whilst Peredur may have been an historical character he was based on an earlier mythological archetype just as in the case of the various potential historical candidates for Robin Hood.

Peredur is clearly the same character as the English Perceval and the German Parzival and apparently Wagner was equated with  the tale of Peredur before he penned his Parsifal sacred drama. Peredur unlike Parzival does not contain any kind of grail but it does remarkably feature the lance! Whilst in the castle of an unnamed uncle Peredur witnesses a strange spectacle:

"The Peredur and his uncle discoursed together, and he beheld two youths enter the hall, and proceed up to the chamber, bearing a spear of mighty size, with three streams of blood flowing from the point to the ground. And when all the company saw this, they began wailing and lamenting. But for all that, the man did not break off his discourse with Peredur. And as he did not tell Peredur the meaning of what he saw, he forbade to ask him concerning it. And when the clamour had a little subsided, behold two maidens entered, with a large salver between them, in which was a man's head, surrounded by a profusion of blood. And thereupon the company of the court made so great an outcry, that it was irksome to be in the same hall with them. But at length they were silent. And when time was that they should sleep, Peredur was brought into a fair chamber."

Interestingly in contrast to Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal Peredur is encouraged by his uncle not to ask the meaning of anything that should happen in the castle that would "cause thee to wonder" and that "if no one has the courtesy to inform thee, the reproach will not fall upon thee, but upon me that am thy teacher." So no guilt could be attached to Peredur's lack of compassion unlike how a similar event is portrayed in Parzival.  However later on in the tale he is reproached for failing to ask the meaning of the bloody spear. This particular apect of the story will be analysed in more detail and will be compared with the Parzival account in a future article on my Aryan Myth and Metahistory blog. My purpose in writing this article is simply to draw attention to the lesser known but earlier and more heathen tale of Peredur.

So Peredur whilst making several references to the bloody spear contains no reference or allusion to a grail of any description, unless of course one considers the head on the salver as such. This also will require further analysis. Thus the concept of a grail, whether it be a chalice as in the French romances or a stone in the German Parzival is something which does not originate with the earlier Peredur myth. Regardless of the actual written composition of  Peredur the work itself would have been at first orally transmitted by the Druidic Bards as there are definite Iron Age historical and pre-xtian mythological threads woven into it.

*my emphasis