Saturday, 25 July 2015

Woden in Old English Literature

Due to the early and enforced xtianisation of the Germanic peoples in England much of our Anglo-Saxon lore has been lost and inevitably we must look to other sources such as the Icelandic Eddas and Sagas along with references to the Gods made by xtian scribes, law makers, chronicles, classical writers and historians and the remnants found in folkore and toponymy.

In Old English literature there are very few references to our ancient deities but the references that are there are certainly important to us. Altogether there are just two references to Woden in the surviving Old English literature. One example is the reference to Woden in the Nine Herbs Charm:

"Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.

And you, Plantain, mother of herbs,
Open from the east, mighty inside.
over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
May you likewise withstand poison and infection
and the loathsome foe roving through the land.

'Stune' is the name of this herb, it grew on a stone,
it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison
Nettle (?) it is called, it attacks against poison,
it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.
This is the herb that fought against the serpent,
it has power against poison,  it has power against infection,
it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
Put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons,
though you are the lesser, until he is cured of both.

Remember, Chamomile, what you made known,
what you accomplished at Alorford,
that never a man should lose his life from infection
after Chamomile was prepared for his food.

This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,

A worm came crawling, it killed nothing.
For Woden took nine glory-twigs,
he smote the the adder that it flew apart into nine parts.
There the Apple accomplished it against poison
that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house.

Chervil and Fennell, two of much might,
They were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.
It stands against pain, it fights against poison,
it avails against 3 and against 30,
against foe´s hand and against noble scheming,
against enchantment of vile creatures.

Now there nine herbs have power against nine evil spirits,
against nine poisons and against nine infections:
Against the red poison, against the foul poison,
against the white poison, against the pale blue poison,
against the yellow poison, against the green poison,
against the black poison, against the blue poison,
against the brown poison, against the crimson poison,
against worm-blister, against water-blister,
against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister,
against ice-blister, against poison-blister,

If any poison comes flying from the east,
or any from the north, [or any from the south,]
or any from the west among the people.
Christ stood over diseases of every kind.

I alone know a running stream,
and the nine adders beware of it.
May all the weeds spring up from their roots,
the seas slip apart, all salt water,
when I blow this poison from you.

Mugwort, plantain open form the east, lamb's cress, venom-loather, camomile, nettle, crab-apple, chevil and fennel, old soap; pound the herbs to a powder, mix them with the soap and the juice oaf the apple.
Then prepare a paste of water and of ashes, take fennel, boil it with the paste and wash it with a beaten egg when you apply the salve, both before and after.
Sing this charm three times on each of the herbs before you (he) prepare them, and likewise on the apple. And sing the same charm into the mouth of the man and into both his ears, and on the wound, before you (he) apply the salve."

Bill Griffiths in his Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic (1996) makes the interesting observation (via Grimm) that "In Swedish tradition, nine types of wood were sometimes used to kindle special fire: could the present charm be a construct, almost a fantasia, around the figure 9?"

Tony Linsell in his remarkable and now sadly out of print Anglo-Saxon Mythology, Migration & Magic (1994) states "The line mentioning Christ is an addition which can be removed or Woden can be substituted for Christ." I agree with Mr Linsell as it is clear to me that the Nine Herbs Charm although datable in manuscript form to about the year 1000 CE contains authentic archaic mythological material. The astute reader will also note that the reference to the "wise Lord, holy in heaven as He hung" could just as easilly be a reference to Woden as to Christ. Indeed is not Woden noted for His wisdom? The reference to the "seven worlds" is a Germanic heathen concept, not a xtian one. Unlike the ancient Norse the Anglo-Saxons believed in seven not nine worlds.

The charm is contained in the Old English Lacnunga, a collection of Anglo-Saxon remedies. Despite the fact that xtianity had been the dominant religion in England over 250 years prior to that time, the name of Woden survives in this text and clearly 'Christ' was added later as an interpolation in a poorly disguised attempt at censorship. With the suppression of the old religion herb lore survived and is inextricably linked to our mythology. The Nine Herbs Charm demonstrates that Woden is a God of healing and this concept is reinforced by the German Second Merseburg Charm, written down in either the 9th or 10th centuries CE and which also refers to Woden/Wodan:

"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 mended."

These kinds of charms or spells are not limited to the Germanic world but are known throughout the Indo-European world with similar charms in Gaelic, Lettish and even Finnish (a non-Indo-European language influenced by Germanic). Similar charms have been found in Scandinavia but the name of Woden/Odin has been replaced with that of Jesus. This substitution of ancient pre-xtian deity names with biblical ones is a familar story throughout northern and eastern Europe. One that has survived intact from Denmark does refer to Oden: 
"Oden rides over rock and hill;
he rides his horse out of a sprain and into joint
out of disorder and into order, bone to bone, joint to joint,
as it was best, when it was whole."

Another reference to Woden can be found in Maxims I, part B, verse 60 of the Exeter Book, datable to the 10th century:

"Woden wrought idols, the Almighty glory, the spacious skies. That is a mighty God, the very King of truth, the Saviour of souls."

Thus the memory of Woden continued to linger centuries after the cruel suppression of our ancestral religion by the xtian church. Although not a literary reference to Woden but interesting nonetheless is H.R. Ellis Davidson's reference in Gods and Myths of Northern Europe:

" "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."

This incantation was recorded in nineteenth century Lincolnshire by a clergyman who heard it from an old countrywoman whilst he was a boy.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Woden and Thunor, Mountain Deities

Our primary deities Woden and Thunor are both Gods of the storm and the sky. Their natural habitat is to be found on hills and mountain tops. Here in the Tees Valley in England we have a marvellous reminder of this fact in Roseberry Topping, previously named Othenesberg and first attested in 1119. One could compare this name with Wodnesberg (Woodnesborough) in Kent. This naming of hills after Odin/Woden follows the continental pattern of naming hills and mountains after the German/Dutch Wodan, eg Wodansberg. I am reminded that in Germany there are many legends that have survived the xtianising distortions of the Middle Ages which depcit Wodan as the sleeping king of the mountain. See my article http://celto-germanic.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/woden-as-sleeping-king-in-mountain.html

Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology Volume 1 gives many examples of such sacred hills and mountains including Othensberg (Denmark), Odensberg (Sweden), Godesberg (Wodenesberg/Gudenesberg) near Bonn, Wuodenesberg near Donar's Oak in Hesse and many others. Thunor/Donar follows a similar pattern with examples such as Donnersberg (Thoneresberg) in the Rhineland, Tuniesberg (Donersperg/Duonesberc/Tunniesberg) near Regensburg, Donershauk in the Thüringer Wald, Thors klint in East Gothland and Thorsborg in Gothland.

Grimm goes on to say: "And the Thunder-mountains of the Slavs are not to be overlooked." He then gives both Slavic and Baltic examples. The Russian Perun also means 'mountain, rock'. This bears a strong affinity with the Hittite peruna ('rock'), Sanskrit Parvata ('mountain') and Thracian peru ('rock').

In the Harz Mountains, south of Halberstadt there stands a massive rock formation called the Glaeserner Moench-the Glass Monk or Crystal Monk. However the ancient Teutons called this sandstone rock the Thorstein-Thor`s Stone. Only with the enforced xtianisation of my Saxon ancestors did the name change to the Glass Monk. The shape of the rock is suggestive of both a monk`s hood but also of Donar`s hammer. Donar and Wodan have more elemental and primitive characteristics than the Thor and Odin of the later polished tales of the Eddas.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Woden, Raging God of the Storm

Woden/Wodan/Wotan of the continental Germanic peoples and the Anglo-Saxons is much more of a storm and weather God,  more closely related to Thunar/Thonar/Donar than the Odin of the Norse Eddas and Sagas. He dwells in the forests and on the mountain tops. This extract from Walter Keating Kelly's Curiosities of Indo-European Folklore puts across this aspect of our High Lord very well:

"The name of Woden or Wuotan denotes the stormy or furious goer, being derived from a verb which is closely related to the Lowland Scotch word Wud, mad or furious. The verb itself survives in English, but greatly tamed down and restricted in meaning, for it now signifies nothing more violent than to walk through shallow water, to wade. Originally it meant to go like one that is 'wud', to go as the winds go when they rend the forests in their furious course. So went Woden or Odin, whose original nature was that of the storm-god; and it is that character he sustains at this day in the popular legends of Germany. They picture him as sweeping through the air in the roaring winds, either alone or with a great retinue consisting of the souls of the dead, which have become winds, and have, like the Maruts, taken the shape of men, dogs, boars &c."
I cannot but help think of the marvellously sounding German adjective wütend, meaning raging and furious. Woden, although a typically German God may be compared with the Indo-Aryan Vata-Vayu.

 "O The Wind`s chariot, O its power and glory! Crashing it goes and hath a voice of thunder. It makes the regions red and touches heaven, and as it moves the dust of earth is scattered. Along the traces of the wind they hurry, they come to him as dames to an assembly. Borne on his car with these for his attendants, the God speeds forth, the universe`s Monarch. Travelling on the paths of air`s mid-region, no single day doth he take rest or slumber. Holy and earliest-born, Friend of the waters, where did he spring and from what region came he? Germ of the world, the Deities` vital spirit, this God moves ever as his will inclines him. His voice is heard, his shape is ever viewless. Let us adore this Wind with our oblation."(Rig Veda Hymn 168)

This version of the German Woden is best articulated by Friedrich Nietzsche:

 "To the Unknown God"

I shall and will know thee, Unknown One,
Who searchest out the depths of my soul,
And blowest through my life like a storm,
Ungraspable, and yet my kinsman!
I shall and will know thee, and serve thee.

Twenty years later he wrote:

"The Mistral Song"

Mistral wind, chaser of clouds,
Killer of gloom, sweeper of the skies,
Raging storm-wind, how I love thee!
Are we both not the first-fruits
Of the same womb, forever predestined
To the same fate?

And from "Thus Spake Zarathustra" we have:-

"Ariadne`s Lament"

Stretched out, shuddering,
Like a half-dead thing whose feet are warmed,
Shaken by unknown fevers,
Shivering with piercing icy frost arrows,
Hunted by thee, O thought,
Unutterable! Veiled! horrible one!
Thou huntsman behind the clouds.
Struck down by thy lightning bolt,
Thou mocking eye that stares at me from the dark!
Thus I lie,
Writhing, twisting, tormented
With all eternal tortures,
By thee, cruel huntsman,
Thou unknown-God!
These mystical experiences of Nietzsche were discussed by Carl Gustav Jung. According to the Swiss-German father of analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung in his 1936 essay Wotan Nietzsche had an experience of meeting the hunter god Wotan at the age of 15 in Pforta. This is described in a book by Nietzsche`s sister, Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, "Der werdende Nietzsche". Jung goes on to say: "As he was wandering about in a gloomy wood at night, he was terrified by a "blood-curdling shriek from a neighbouring lunatic asylum", and soon afterwards he came face to face with a huntsman whose "features were wild and uncanny". Setting his whistle to his lips "in a valley surrounded by wild scrub", the huntsman "blew such a shrill blast" that Nietzsche lost consciousness-but woke up again in Pforta. It was a nightmare. It is significant that in his dream Nietzsche, who in reality intended to go to Eisleben, Luther`s town, discussed with the huntsman the question of going instead to "Teutschenthal"[Valley of the Germans]. No one with ears can misunderstand the shrill whistling of the storm-god in the nocturnal wood."

What is also less well known is the personal encounter which Jung had with Wotan in dream form which he relates in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections[1963]. On pages 344-347 Jung relates this dream to us. The night before his mother`s death he had a dream in which he encountered Wotan:
"The night before her death I had a frightening dream. I was in a dense, gloomy forest: fantastic, gigantic boulders lay about among huge jungle-like trees. It was a heroic, primeval landscape. Suddenly I heard a piercing whistle that seemed to resound through the whole universe. My knees shook. Then there were crashings in the underbrush, and a gigantic wolfhound with a fearful, gaping maw burst forth. At the sight of it, the blood froze in my veins. It tore past me, and I suddenly knew: the Wild Huntsman had commanded it to carry away a human soul. I awoke in deadly terror, and the next morning I received news of my mother`s passing.
"Seldom has a dream so shaken me, for upon superficial consideration it seemed to say that the devil had fetched her. But to be accurate the dream said that it was the Wild Huntsman, the `Gruenhuetl`, or Wearer of the Green Hat, who hunted with his wolves that night-it was the season of  Foehn storms in January. It was Wotan, the god of my Alemannic forefathers, who had gathered my mother to her ancestors-negatively to the `wild horde`, but positively to the `saelig Luet`, the blessed folk. It was the Christian missionaries who made Wotan into a devil. In himself he is an important god-a Mercury or Hermes, as the Romans correctly realised, a nature spirit who returned to life again in the Merlin of the Grail legend and became, as the spiritus Mercurialis, the sought after aracanum of the alchemists. Thus the dream says that the soul of my mother was taken into that greater territory of the self which lies beyond the segment of Christian morality, taken into that wholeness of nature and spirit in which conflicts and contradictions are resolved."

I am not the first to comment on this more archaic interpretation of the God:

 "We may examine the two sides of Woden's character in turn, and first that suggested by those who derive the name Wodenaz from an Indo-European word which is also the parent of Sanskrit vata and Latin ventus meaning 'wind'. Wodenaz would then be a god of wind and storm like the Hindu Vata, Lord of the Wind. In his turn, Woden is taken to be a deified development of the German storm giant Wode leading his 'wild army' (das wuetende Heer), his procession of the homeless dead across the sky. This view is supported by Adam of Bremen's definition 'Wodan, that is to say Fury' (Wodan, id est furor), and by the Anglo-Saxon wodendream which is glossed into Latin as furor animi, and also by the fact that in Sweden das wuetende Heer is known as 'Oden's jagt' or 'Woden's Hunt'.(The Lost Gods of England, Brian Branston, 1957)

 "The primitive west Europeans had called the god Wodenaz. This later developed into Wuotan (Old High German) and Wodan (Old Saxon). It is generally believed that he was first thought of as a sky deity-perhaps a wind or storm god-with great wisdom, and with some sort of powers over life and death. This may be evidenced by the derivation of Wodenaz from an Indo-European word, parent also of the Sanskrit vata and the Latin ventus, both meaning 'wind'. He could be compared to the Hindu Lord of the Wind, Vata, and the German storm giant Wode." (Buckland's Book of Saxon Witchcraft, Raymond Buckland, originally published in 1974)
 Gudmund Schuette states in his Our Forefathers the Gothonic Nations Volume 1 that the storm giant Wode developed into Woden or Odin:

  "The German Wode=O.N. Odr is a storm giant, the Wild Huntsman and Leader of the Host of the Dead who is finally exalted to the chief god under the name of Woden, Odin."

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Survival of the Cult of Thunor in Place-Name, Folklore, Stone and Saga

It is interesting how our native racial Gods survived following the coming of xtianity and the heathen holocaust in both Britain and Europe. Sometimes our ancient law and Gods are hidden away in the sub-text of xtian monkish writings; at other times they are more openly displayed. This is particularly the case with Thunor, a God much beloved and relied upon by the people. He not only was the defender of Middangeard but the bringer of the fruitful  rains, thus a God of both the second and third functions or castes and attracted a large following. He was particularly beloved in Iceland which had many temples dedicated to Him. His name survives in the English landscape, examples being:

Thunderfield (Thunor's Plain) from  Þunresfeld.

Thunderley Hall (Hall at Thunor's Clearing) from Tunresleam.

Thundersley (Thunor's Clearing) from Thunreslea.

Thursley (Thunor's Clearing) from Thoresle.

Thundridge (Thunor's Ridge) from Tonrinch.

Thurstable (Thunor's Pillar) from Thurstapell.

Tusmore (Thur's Pool) from Toresmere.

Thunderlow Hundred (Thunor's Mound) from Þûnor + hlæw.

In addition to place name survival we also have the remarkable synthesis of Germanic heathen imagery with xtian imagery on Anglo-Saxon stone crosses and slabs. The Gosforth Cross is such an example. Gosforth is in the ancient English county of Cumberland which was part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. The cross in the churchyard of St Mary's Church dates back to between 920-950 CE and is constructed of sandstone. This area was subject to Scandinavian settlement between the 9th and 10th centuries CE and doubtless these Germanic images were the product of these settlers rather than the Angles that arrived centuries earlier and who would have been xtianised by then. Nevertheless it demonstrates a certain tolerance by the xtian church at that time and a lasting regard for Thunor/Thor and our other deities. The cross depicts the attempt by Thor to catch the world serpent but also it has images of the binding of Loki, Heimdall blowing His horn and Vidar tearing at the jaws of the Fenris Wolf.

In the ruins of an old church in Ottrava, Vastergotland, Sweden an old font was discovered in the 19th century which became the focal point of a book by Professor George Stephens-Thunor the Thunderer, carved on a Scandinavian font of about the year 1000. Again it is remarkable how despite the general intolerance of the xtian fanatics Thunor/Thor enjoyed a greater degree of tolerance than many of our other deities. He was far too beloved by the mass of people for the Church to successfully eradicate or demonise.

Even after the peaceful conversion to xtianity in Iceland many of the people still worshipped the old Gods but had to do so privately. This example of tolerance is unique and I am not aware of any similar accommodation in the Germanic world but one must bear in mind that if the Icelanders had not voted to accept xtianity at their Allthing in 1000 CE the might and terror of the king of Norway would have raged against them and they would have lost their precious independence, something which this small but remarkable people still treasure today.

An interesting account of the continuation of the Cult of Thor is contained in Eirik the Red's Saga in which Thorhall (a devotee of Thor) and his xtian shipmates were washed ashore and starving and Thorhall after discovering a beached whale said: "Didn't Old Redbeard prove to be more help than your Christ? This was the payment for the poem I composed about Thor, my guardian, who's seldom disappointed me." Unfortunately his ungrateful shipmates were subsequently poisoned by the whale-meat!

We have many direct and indirect references to Thunor in English folklore:

"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." (Curiosities of Indo-European Folklore, Walter Keating Kelly, 1863)

In folktales we have the example of Jack and the Beanstalk in which Jack is the giant-killer, Thunor. 
There is a surviving tale of an encounter between the `Devil` and Thor recorded in In Search of the Lost Gods. A Guide to British Folklore by Ralph Whitlock (1979). A legend from Treyford Hill near Midhurst in west Sussex refers to an argument between the `Devil` and Thor whose sleep was disturbed by the `Devil` leaping from barrow to barrow on the hill. The `Devil` taunted him by saying that Thor "was too old to go jumping about in this way." Thor thus flung a rock which caught the `Devil` in his midriff. It is certainly unusual to see the two beings on separate sides which could be an indication of a remembrance of a local cult to Thor or Thunor and that even with the xtian conversion His followers still stayed loyal to him.

In folklore there is an abiding superstition that a girl can dream of her future husband by placing her shoes in the form of a T by her bed at Hallowe'en. The 'T' of course represents the Hammer of Thunor/Thor. (See Whitlock).

In the Germanic lands there is a tradition that Belemnites are missiles shot down from the thunder-cloud and have all sorts of beneficial uses such as stroking the udders of cows when they go dry in order to produce more milk which reminds me of how in tales of Indra the clouds are personified as cows trapped in caves.