Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Heathen Heritage of the Harz Mountains

The Harz mountains range of Niedersachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen was an important centre for German heathen religion and the moutains were the Heimat of many Gods which were specific to the continental Germanic peoples and the local Saxon and Thuringian tribes, eg Krodo, Biel, Stuffo, Frau Holla and Ostara. There are also local legends concerning the Thunder God Donar as well as a remembrance of the sacred union of Woden and Freya in the annual gathering of the Hexen upon the moutain peak of the Brocken. The Harz is part of the famous Hercynian Forest referred to in the annals of classical writers. Harz is said to derive from the Middle High German Hardt or Hart (mountain forest).

My Harz-born mother would often tell me nursey tales regarding the Harz and pass onto me tit bits of local lore that have survived down the centuries. My maternal line apparently were local wise women or witches as we call them today. However they had to be very careful in not attracting the attention of the repressive local authorities of the time. Now this aspect of the Harz is celebrated as a part of the local culture, no doubt in order to attact tourists and their Geld.

I have in recent years begun to explore and examine my maternal heathen heritage on this blog and I will continue to do so. Whether we call our religion Wodenism, Wotanism, Odinism, Asatru or Germanic Heathenism the Norse interpretation of our Gods and Goddesses unfortunately tends to dominate everything. I am grateful of course to the existence of the Eddas and Saga literature as without them we would have struggled to resurrect our ancient religion in the 20th century but as English, German and Netherlandic peoples we must explore other and more obscure source material in order that we may encounter a more authentic spiritual experience and not be too dependent on the Icelandic and Scandinavian material. 

The work of Grimm is an important starting point for our quest for Jacob Grimm attempted in his 4 (or 3 volume) work Deutsche Mythologie to present a continental Germanic mythology. The English version of this monumental work is Teutonic Mythology which tends to obscure the German emphasis of Grimm's research. A better translation of the title would have been German Mythology. However the work does incorporate Scandinavian material but the emphasis is on German, Dutch, English and Indo-European sources.

The following is an interesting quotation from Maria Elise Turner Lauder's Legends and Tales of the Harz Mountains, North Germany:

"The Harz is the birth-place of the " Wild Hunter," of the " Wild Army " of South Germany, of the Gold Crown, and of the noble Brunhilda. The view from the top of the granite mountain, the Hexentanzplatz, to the distant Brocken in clear weather, and across to that mass of granite, the Rosstrappe, the swift Bode leaping over huge blocks of fallen granite between, and a thousand feet below, is one of the finest in these mountains. This spot is the scene of the legend of Brunhilda.
"On the summit of the Rosstrappe is a giant horse-hoof, hewn in the solid granite, measuring nearly three feet. How this mark came there is a mystery; but it is supposed that it was hewn by the Druid priests. In the Scandinavian mythology Wodan's white steed was worshipped as well as the god himself.
"When Charlemagne, in the eighth century, compelled the people of this district to embrace Christianity (by fire and sword) the wild mountaineers are supposed to have fled before his victorious forces, and to have entrenched themselves on the Ross trappe, where traces of their rude fortifications may still be seen. They had no white steed to worship in this retreat, hence probably, the priests cut this rut of a horse-hoof, and invented the story of Briinhilda and the Giant's White Horse, in order to impress the people with the mighty power of the Thunder-god, and prevent them from entertaining any sympathy for the new religion."

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Early Primacy of Thunor/Thonar/Thor

The Icelandic Eddas portray Thor as the son of Odin but this concept does not apply to all parts of the pre-xtian Germanic world. An example of Thor occupying the primary role amongst the Aesir is the account of the temple at Uppsala given by Adam of Bremen in about 1070CE:

"This people owns a very famous temple at Uppsala, not far from Sigtuna. In this temple, which is made exclusively of gold, the people worship the statues of three gods. Thor, the mightiest of them, has his seat in the middle of the room, and the places to the left and right of him are taken by Wodan and Fricco."

Wilhelm Waegner writing in his Asgard and the Gods states:

"In such manner people used, in the olden time, to call on the strong god of thunder, Thunar,- in the North, Thor. He was held in great reverence, and was pehaps even regarded as an equal of the God of Heaven. Traces of this are still recogniseable, for wherever he was spoken of in connection with the other gods, he was given the place of honour in the middle."

Chantepie De La Saussaye in his The Religion of the Teutons conjectures that the verbal contest in the Harbardhsljodh between Odin (Harbardh) and Thor is an expression of:

"the antithesis between the old and the new era. That in the time of the warlike vikings and the poetic scalds Odhin, the god who welcomes warriors to Walhalla and who won the poets' mead, gradually supplanted Thor, is a theory that was advanced long ago and which has found ready acceptance with many scholars. In Norway, Thor was doubtless of old the chief god, as he was in Sweden alongside of Freyr, but Eddic song as well still assigns him a high rank, and in Iceland he was zealously worshipped."

According to Dr Karl E. H. Siegfried:

"The surviving records of the continental form of the Thunderer are quite different from the later Scandinavian version.  He wears a golden crown that is alive with sparking electricity - a clear sign that he was once the primary tribal sky god with, perhaps, a crown of stars to signify his dominion over the heavens."

Karl Mortensen writing in A Handbook of Norse Mythology when discussing the wording on certain ancient rune stones states:

"Only on these two stones is the name of the god of thunder expressly given, but on others we find engraved trefoils, quatrefoils ('hooked crosses'), or hammers (Fig 14), which is an evidence of the fact that Thor at this time was the chief god of the Danes; and for the rest of the North also."

Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology Volume 1 affirms that:

He is the true national god of the Norwegians, landas (patrium numen), Egilss. p. 365-6, and when ass stans alone, it means especially him, e.g., Saem. 70a, as indeed the very meaning of ans (jugum montis) agrees with that of Fairguneis. His temples and statues were the most numerous in Norway and Sweden, and asmegin, divine strength, is understood chiefly of him. Hence the heathen religion in general is so frequently expressed by the simple Thor blota, Saem. 113b, het (called) a Thor, Land. 1, 12, truthi (believed) a Thor, Landn. 2, 12."

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Biel, a 'Lost' God of the Saxons and Thuringians

It has been my goal in recent years to attempt to bring to the fore 'lost' Gods, particularly those of the continental and Anglo-Saxon Germanic peoples. One such example of a 'lost' God is Biel who I dontsurprisingly is not referred to in Grimm's Teutonic Mythology. He does make an appearance though in Gardenstone's Gods of the Germanic Peoples. From Roman Times to the Viking Age Volume 1 (2014).

"All sources which have been found for the god Biel are late, they're all from after the Viking Age. In a work about the life of Saint Boniface (673-755) written in the late 11th Century by Otloh von Sankt Emmerman, it is reported that the holy man 'exterminated' several local and regional cults of pagan gods, like Biel, Jecha and Stuvo (Stuffo)." (Gardenstone)

Various lexical works from the 19th century refer to Biel as being a forest deity. He is said to be a Sun God who protects forests and promotes growth, indicating that he is a fertility God. I am reminded of the more well known God Frey who is also regarded as both a Sun God and God of fertility. The cult of Biel is said to be centred in the southern part of the Harz Mountains and His statue was located on a rocky height situated near Ilfeld in Thuringen (Thuringia) called Bielstein or Bielsteinkanzel until it was destroyed by Boniface. Gardenstone reports that the worship of Biel continued after Boniface had left, His statue and altar having been repaired and restored by His priests. Quite possibly His worship continued secretly in the nearby cave named after Him, the Bielshöhle.

There is an etymological connection between Biel and the Slavic God Bilovog, a God of the light and the sun as well as the Celtic Belenus, another God of light. The name could also be derived from the Old German word for axe and hill, Buhl. This would explain why "In his name priests consecrated the axes of woodcutters and the weaponry of hunters and bowmen." (Gardenstone) Although Biel as a proper name is not found in Grimm nevertheless he does make this intriguing reference when discussing the God Paltar:

"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." (Teutonic Mythology Volume 1)

Biel is a God of the Saxons and Thuringians who occupied the Harz (and still do) but there are other places where His cult prospered such as in Nordhessen. There are many place names which bear testimony to Him that have survived to this day, eg the River Pöhl, the mountain Der Pöhlberg or Bielberg, Die Bielshöhe and Bielen, east of Nordhausen and also in the Teutoburger Wald. The fact that there are etymological connections with similar Celtic and Slavic Gods could be an indication that He hearkens back to Proto-Indo-European or Aryan times.