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

1 comment:

Kilo McStrife said...

Hrungir's heart may well be a kenning for the rune "thurs". 3 pointed and sharp [thorn], and oft associated with both Thor and jotuns.