Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Donnerkeile and Odin Stones, a Protection Against Lightning

Northern European folklore is replete with information and stories about Thunderstones or to use the German term, Donnerkeile. Our ancestors believed that they were the physical remnants of thunderbolts where the core had become spent. Often farmers would collect them and take them home, siting them in their houses and barns as protection against lightning. Sometimes beer was poured upon them as an offering to the Thunder God. Hag Stones, Holey Stones or Odin Stones also served a similar process. When an oncoming storm was detected the householder would swing it three times around his head and then throw it at the door. Odin Stones made this easy as they were naturally perforated with a hole to allow the thread to pass through. I have in my possession an Odin Stone of good size which is threaded with a red thread; red representing the colour of Thunor's beard. I also have a Donnekeil amulet which is inscribed in Runes on its wooden mount. Another smaller Odin Stone is attached to the head of a runic wand which I have crafted.

Donnerkeile and Odin Stones again remind us of the link with our Neolithic past when our ancestors were far more in touch with their environment and its numinous qualities. They understood that stone was not lifeless as assumed by modern man but vibrated with a different and lower frequency but nevertheless were alive and were repositories of energy and power.

"In Germany, Stone Age celts known as Donnerkeil ('Donar's wedges') were supposedly thrown to earth by the thunder god. Similar ceraunia were also treasured in Viking-period Scandinavia, as well as elsewhere in Europe into the nineteenth century." (The Divine Thunderbolt. Missile of the Gods, J.T. Sibley)

Donnerkeile could of course also be carried on the person as a general means of protection, especially in warfare as J.T. Sibley states:

"Until about 1870, a German soldier would carry a Donnerkeil (cerauniam, especially a Stone Age arrowhead) in his pocket as a protective ward against rifle fire." 

This ancient tradition has not died out. Indeed a cursory look on the Internet is sufficient to indicate that their use is enjoying a revival as our folk rediscover their ancient spiritual and magical pathways.

In England these ceraunia have been interpreted as elfshot or arrows, causing sickness and so have a malevolent interpretation but this may be a later  Christian interpretation as most of our lore was of course demonised and a contrary interpretation applied. However people still wore them as protection against disease! If mixed with or dipped into water they could effect a cure.

"'Fairies,' says Grose, 'sometimes shoot at cattle with arrows headed with flint stones; these are often found and are called elfshots. In order to effect the cure of an animal so injured, it is to be touched with one of these elfshots, or to be made to drink the water in which one is dipped." (Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk-lore, Walter Keating Kelly)

It should be remembered that before the introduction of the thunder axe or hammer the Thunder God would cast down thunderbolts to the earth in the form of these stones and thus they were much highly prized. There is a possibility that these stones at times did literally fall from the sky as fragments of meteorites or a remembrance of such events. It is conjectured by some that Thor's Hammer may indeed have been forged from meteorite stone or iron from the stone.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Hrungnir as a Proto-Thunder God

I have many times in the past discussed the transformation of the Neolithic axe into the iron hammer of the Germanic and Indo-European Thunder God. A story contained in Skaldskaparmal in the Younger Edda relates how Thor defeated the giant Hrungnir in a dual. The story begins with Odin's visit to Jotunheim on His eight-legged steed Sleipnir. Odin arrived at the abode of Hrungnir who commented:

"Then Hrungnir asked what sort of person this was with the golden helmet riding sky and sea, and said he had a marvellously good horse. Odin said he would wager his head on it that there would be no horse as good to be found in Giantland. Hrungnir said it was a good horse, but declared he had a horse that must be much longer-paced, it was called Gullfaxi."

What follows is a chase by Hrungnir of Odin who led him through the gates of sacred Asgard and into the hall of Valhall. After the drinking of much alcohol Hrungnir boasted that he could "remove Val-hall and take it to Giantland, but bury Asgard and kill all the gods, except that he was going to take Freyia and Sif home with him,..." Tiring of his boasting the Aesir invoked the name of Thor who immediately entered the hall. Thor could not slay Hrungnir on the spot because he had been invited there by Odin and so the giant was under His protection. Thor agreed to a duel which was planned to take place on the frontier at Griotunagardar which is at the frontier of Jotunheim. To slay anyone in the sacred precincts of Asgard would have been an act of sacrilege and also the giant was unarmed and so it would also have been considered as a dishonourable act.

Hrungnir was regarded as the strongest of the giants and so much was at stake on the outcome of this duel, namely the continued existence of Jotunheim and indeed even Asgard as Thor was considered to be the strongest of the Gods. This duel was not just a contest between Thor and Hrungnir but also between Thor's servant Thialfi and a clay giant called Mokkurkalfi, constructed by the giants and given a heart of a mare. This image which became animated was designed to strike terror into the hearts of Thor and Thialfi. However the reality was that the clay giant quaked with fear when he saw the God of Thunder approach. Interestingly Skaldskaparmal makes this interesting comment concerning Hrungnir:

"Hrungnir had a heart that is renowned, made of solid stone and spiky with three points just like the symbol for carving Hrungnir's heart has ever since been made. His head was also of stone. His shield was also stone, broad and thick, and he had a whetstone as weapon and rested it on his shoulder and he did not look at all pleasant."

Because of the triangular nature of Hrungnir's heart it has been associated with the valknut and triquetra. Hrungnir's weapon of choice was a whetstone. Christopher Fee in his rather good Gods, Heroes, & Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain makes the point that the collision of the whetstone and the iron hammer caused divine sparks to fly for this was the meeting of flint and iron. Like wise in Lappish mythology:

"As late as the end of the seventeenth century, some Lappish clans still worshiped a thunder-god shaped out of a block of wood, holding a hammer, with iron nails and sometimes flint imbedded in its head. The association of the thunder-god with sacred fire such as might be sparked in this way seems to have been a commonplace throughout the Baltic region and Scandinavia, and was exported abroad with the Germanic invasions." (Fee)

Subsequently Thor had a piece of this broken whetstone lodged in His head. This fits in well with picture that we have of the Thunder God in Lappish mythology. Intriguingly in Irish legend the hero Cuchulain has a bright shining 'Champion's Light that protrudes from his forehead like a whetstone.

Naturally Thor defeated his opponent but the most interesting part of the story for me is the way in which Hrungnir is in my mind represented as an earlier Neolithic thunder deity, supplanted by the Iron Age Thor. During the Neolithic Age flint and stone had sacred properties and the Thunder God of this era wielded a stone axe which morphed into a hammer. The duel between Hrungnir and Thor is a mythological representation of this change.

The Eddas have further examples of more ancient thunder deities amongst the races of giants and I will speak of these in future articles.

*The translation of Skaldskaparmal which I have used is by Anthony Faulkes