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Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Thorgerdr Holgabrudr and Irpa





Thorgerdr Holgabrudr is a fairly obscure Norse deity and yet evidence of Her worship is to be found in no less than seven Old Norse sources: Jomsvikinga Saga, Njals Saga, Thorleifs Thattr Jarlsskalds, Skaldskaparmal (Prose Edda), Faereyinga Saga, Hardar Saga ok Holmverja and Ketils Saga hoengs. Her primary follower was Jarl Haakon Sigurdarson who was de facto ruler of Norway from about 975-995. According to Adam of Bremen Haakon was "of the stock of Ivar" (Ivar the Boneless). Ivar the Boneless was a son of Ragnar Lodbrok and Aslaug which thus makes him of Volsung lineage. Coincidentally my daughter is also descended from Ragnar and Aslaug. Haakon himself claimed descent from Odin via Saemingr, a king of Norway. There are also claims that Saemingr was descended from Yngvi-Freyr. Saemingr's mother according to the Ynglinga Saga was Skadi and his father Odin.

Thorgerdr's second name Holgabrudr is Old Norse for 'Holgi's bride'. It should be noted that 'Holgi' is an eponym of Halogaland, the most northern province of Norway. Snorri indicates in Skaldskaparmal that Holgi is also Thorgerdr's father:

"They say that a king known as Holgi, after whom Halogaland is named, was Thorgerd Holgabrud's father. Sacrifices were offered to them both, and Holgi's mound was raised with alternately a layer of gold or silver-this was the money offered in sacrifice-and a layer of earth and stone." (Faulkes translation)

Snorri however also lists Thorgerd as one of the 'troll-wives' later on in Skaldskaparmal. Andy Orchard in his Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend points out that the name 'Thorgerdr' can be broken down into two elements-'Thor' and 'gerd', the latter word meaning 'fenced in'. This has the connotation of being a guardian Goddess. Interestingly the Goddess Gerd is also referred to as being a jotunn and as my readers will be aware she is the wife of Freyr. There is a very thin boundary line between the races of the Gods and the jotunn who are loosely defined as being 'giants'. In a similar way in Greek mythology we have the contrast between the Olympian Gods and the Titans. The Titans were simply an earlier pantheon of deities who were eclipsed by the Olympians. So one thing is certain and that is Thorgerdr is a divine being regardless of whether she belongs to the Aesir, Vanir or neither of these groups.

H. Munro Chadrick is of the opinion that Thorgerdr was regarded as little more than a 'troll' and that her worship did not gain widespread acceptance:

"How then is Hakon's worship to be explained? The reason is that he traced his descent from the ancient kings of Halogaland. When his ancestors migrated to the south, they must have brought their family cult with them. The persistent nature of family worship is shown by the fact that we find the family settled in the neighbourhood of the Throndheim Fjord at least a century before Hakon acquired the government of Norway." (The Ancient Teutonic Priesthood)

Chadwick adds a footnote that "it is curious that in Eyvindr's poem (Haleygiatal), of which only some fragments remain, Hakon's genealogy is traced, not to Holgi and Thorgerdr, but to Othin and Skadi. The introduction of Othin's name may be due in part to the influence of Ynglingatal, but it is probable also that Hakon may have wished to conciliate popular opinion by tracing his descent from the generally accepted deities. Skadi, a goddess of Lappish character but accepted in the Northern pantheon, has been cleverly substituted for the hated Thorgerdr."  Chadwick also points out that although "Thorgerdr is never mentioned as a member of the divine community either in the mythological poems or in Gylfaginning, nor does she stand in any kind of relationship to the rest of the gods."  and that "Her cult formed no part of the orthodox religion of the North." nevertheless she concedes that "In the North the clearest case of a tribal cult is that of Thorgerdr Holgabrudr." Chadwick is of the opinion that "Thorgerdr seems to bear a distinctly Lappish character, e.g. in her use of the bow and in the practice of magical arts." I am inclined to agree with her on this point and it is quite possible that Her cult was imported from the far north into Norway and thus is not entirely indigenous. She certainly appears to be a much wilder and archaic deity than those of the Eddas although She is referred to in Gylfaginning.

Apart from Earl Haakon other prominent followers of Thorgerdr were Ketill Haengr and Grimkell:

"She seems to have been one of the powers revered by the Halogalander Ketill Haengr, who, like other members of his family, did not worship the generally recognised gods. She is also said to have been worshipped by an Icelandic settler named Grimkell, who came from Orkadal, a district to the south of the Throndheim Fjord." (Chadwick) 

Regarding the name 'Holgabrudr' this is generally interpreted by scholars as indicating that the deity was to be considered as the 'wife' of the ruler of Halogaland. We can compare this to the Irish High Kings 'marrying' the Sovereignty Goddess. The Goddess gives legitimacy to the king's rule. By this 'marriage' both king and land are united. This may be behind the story of Thorgerdr and Haakon. Hilda Ellis Davidson also makes a connection between these concepts in her Roles of the Northern Goddess:

"If Helgi were the mythical founder of Halogaland, this would explain Thorgerd's name 'Bride of Helgi', since she could become the wife of each ruler of the kingdom in turn. The idea of the guardian goddess welcoming the king in death was essentially an aristocratic concept, just as was that of kings and leaders granted entry to Valhalla, and this is one important aspect of the goddess in the Viking Age."

Rudolf Simek is of the opinion that Thorgerdr "is probably a local deity from Halogaland, perhaps even a family goddess connected in some way with the family of Hakon who was ruling over Halogaland at the time  (Storm), since in the extant sources the cult of the goddess is almost always associated with Hakon." (Dictionary of Northern Mythology). I am inclined to agree with him.


A temple was dedicated to her in 10th century Gudbrandsdal in Norway. She was accompanied by Her sister Irpa. Her name translates as 'dark brown'. The references to Irpa are limited to the first three of the aforesaid sagas. Irpa may derive from the Proto-Germanic *erpa which again means 'brown' or 'light brown'. Irpa is very much overshadowed by Her sister Thorgerdr.


We have a very interesting description of the powers of this deity in the Jomsvikinga Saga. During a pause in the Battle of Hjorungavagr Haakon feels that the tide of this naval battle (excuse the pun!) is going against him and so he sets off to the island of Primsigned which is to the north of Hjorunga Bay and thus not far from the battle. On the island he faces north and prays to Thorgerdr for divine assistance.

"Thereupon the earl went up on the island of Primsigned, and away into a forest, and fell on his knees and prayed, looking northward. And in his prayer he called upon his patron goddess, Thorgerd Holgabrud. But she would not hear his prayer and was wroth. He offered to make her many a sacrifice, but she refused each one, and he thought his case desperate. In the end he offered her a human sacrifice, but she would not have it. At last he offered her his own seven-year old son; and that she accepted. Then the earl put the boy in the hands of his slave Skopti, and Skopti slew him." (Hollander translation)

The translator suggests in a footnote that Thorgerd was angry with Haakon because of his earlier acceptance of Christianity. Our Gods do not suffer disloyalty gladly. However it would appear that this 'conversion' had been forced upon Haakon by the Christian zealot Harold Bluetooth. The sacrifice convinced Haakon that the Goddess would intervene in the battle in his favour for his fortunes began to turn.

"And right soon the weather began to thicken in the north and clouds covered the sky and the daylight waned. Next came flashes of lightning and thunder, and with them a violent shower. The Jomsvikings had to fight facing into the storm, and the squall was so heavy that they could hardly stand up against it. 
"Havard the Hewing was the first to see Thorgerd Holgabrud in the fleet of Earl Hakon, and then many a second-sighted man saw her. And when the squall abated a little they saw that an arrow flew from every finger of the ogress, and each arrow felled a man. They told Sigvaldi, and he said: 'It seems we are not fighting men alone, but still it behoves us to do our best.'
"And when the storm lessened a bit Earl Hakon again invoked Thorgerd and said that he had done his utmost." (Hollander)

Haakon won the battle thanks to his Goddess and Her sister Irpa. They interceded very much like Valkyries, taking on the cruel warlike nature of those beings. 

In Njals Saga we have an account of the theft of gold bracelets from the images of Thorgerdr and Thor and the burning of the temple at  Gudbrandsdal:

"Meanwhile, Earl Hakon was attending a feast at Gudbrand's home. During the night, Hrapp the Killer went to their temple. Inside it, he saw the statue of Thorgerd Holgi's-Bride enthroned, massive as a fully-grown man; there was a huge gold bracelet on her arm, and a linen hood over her head. Hrapp stripped off the hood and the bracelet. Then he noticed Thor in his chariot, and took from him another gold bracelet. He took a third bracelet from Irpa. He dragged all three of the idols outside and stripped them of their vestments; then he set fire to the temple and burned it down." (Chapter 88, Magnusson and Palsson translation)  
(This was a clear act of desecration and not just theft). Haakon comments:
"A man must have fired the temple and dragged the gods out. But the gods are in no haste to take vengeance; the man who did this will be driven out of Valhalla for ever."(Magnusson and Palsson) 

We have a description of Her temple in Faereyinga Saga:

"They set forth along a certain path to the wood, and thence by a little bypath into the wood, till they came where a ride lay before them, and a house standing in it with a stake fence round it. Right fair was that house, and gold and silver was run into the carvings thereof. They went into the house, Hacon and Sigmund, and a few men with them. Therein were a great many gods. There were many glass roof-lights in the house, so that there was no shadow anywhere. There was a woman in the house over against the door, right fairly decked she was. The Earl cast him down at her feet, and there he lay long, and when he rose up he told Sigmund that they should bring her some offering and lay the silver thereof on the stool before her." (Chapter 23, translation by F. York Powell)    

The astute reader will note that Haakon, even though he was a jarl did not hesitate to prostrate himself with reverence before the Gods. There is a lesson here for modern heathens who think that it is beneath their Germanic dignity to do likewise.  

Hilda Ellis Davidson refers to a temple containing an image of Thorgerd in Trondheim which the Christian religious maniac Olaf had destroyed:

"In the Saga of Olaf Tryyvason in Flateyjarbok (I, 326:408), Olaf is said to take Thorgerd's image from the temple at Trondheim, strip it of its fine robe and gold and silver ornaments, drag it along at his horse's tail and finally break it up and burn it along with the image of Freyr……..When he destroyed her image, Olaf declared that now she had lost Hakon, her husband, 'who was very dear to her', and added that the chiefs of the land had been loyal to her in turn, and had given her high praise." (The Lost Beliefs of  Northern Europe

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Krodo-Further Reflections



Some time ago I posted some articles on the lesser known Saxon God Krodo who had a localised cult in the Harz Mountains which covers the modern German states of Lower Saxony and Thuringia. See: Krodo, a Lost Saxon God, Traceable to Aryan Times , Irmin and Krodo, Saxon GodsKrodo Represented in Saturday and The Worship of Krodo and Ostera by Sacred Fire It is important that you read these articles as well as I do not intend to cover old ground in this article.

Since then I have carried out some further research into Krodo and I wish to report some of these findings in this short update. We have of course references to this God in Grimm's Teutonic Mythology where Grimm refers to Conrad Bothe's Sachsenchronik which refers to this deity. It should be noted that the Sachsenchronik dates back to the 15th century so those of you who may be tempted to write this God off as a 19th century 'forgery' need to think again! Our ancestors worshipped many deities other than the major ones which most people have heard about such as Woden and Thunor etc. Many of these deities had very localised cults of worship which may not have extended beyond certain geographical limitations and may be Gods associated with particular mountains, hills, rivers, streams and wells etc.

According to Bothe the God Krodo was the same deity as the Roman Saturn but was referred to as Krodo by the "common people". An image of Krodo was erected on the Harzburg and subsequently overthrown by Charlemagne. Bothe describes the image as representing a man who stands on a column on top of a great fish, a basket of flowers in his right hand and a wheel in his left. According to Bothe the image of Krodo is representative of the four elements:

Fire. The wheel may be a sunwheel and thus representative of the sun.
Earth. The basket of flowers is an indication of fruitfulness of the earth.
Air. The blowing tails of his coat represents the wind, the 'breath of life'.
Water. The fish.

Bothe indicates in his writings that he has found references to Krodo in other sources which are presumably now lost to us. There is nothing to indicate that any of this has been made up by Bothe. There are references to many other Saxon and German Gods in ancient German writings which many modern 'scholars' are dismissive of for no (in my opinion) valid reason. There is a tendency among many modern academics to reject anything that does not neatly fit into their paradigms. This was not the case in the 19th and early 20th centuries when scholars were more open-minded (surely a necessary prerequisite for any authentic research?).

Apart from the reference to Krodo in the chronicle of Bothe there exist localised myths which make reference to Him. I draw my readers' attention to the fascinating collection of tales contained in Marie Elise Turner Lauder's Legends and Tales of the Harz Mountains, North Germany (1885).

"In the grey days long ago, when paganism ruled the land, there stood on the hills near the cave called the Steinkirche-altars to the gods.
          Bright were the fires to Krodo in the darkness of the night, and on the opposite cliffs rose
          the fire pillar in honour of the goddess Ostera.
     
          The crackling flames illuminated the country and the mountains, and invited the
          inhabitants of the nearlying vales and heights to the wild customs, the bloody sacrifices,
          and the raving dance of heathenism."

By virtue of a supposed 'miracle' a Christian 'holyman' managed to convert these heathen Saxons. Consequently:

"And the hearts of the wild Sassen were opened...…..They vowed to a man henceforth      to forsake the worship of Krodo, to remain true to the new faith." 

We are told in Lauder's account that this 'holyman' was a "hermit" from a "southern land". On hearing the noisy celebrations the hermit climbed the mountain and commenced preaching to the Saxons and  "he began to condemn the gods so dear to them, and challenged them to break in pieces their idols, and turn to the worship of the only true God, their rage kindled." (Not surprisingly!) The Saxons voted unanimously that the hermit should die. They led him to the summit of the mountain "to a place suitable for the execution." The hermit prayed to his god for "strength and courage in the trying moment" and receiving strength managed to free himself from them, seized a wooden battle-axe from one of them and "addressed the bloodthirsty multitude."

The hermit boasted that with the power of his god he could use the axe to split the rock which he succeeded in doing. "When he had uttered these word, he struck with trembling arm the rough cliff, and lo! the firm rock yielded like soft clay to the weak blow of the wooden axe!" The crowd accepted this trick as a 'miracle' and were subsequently baptised by him in the river Oder. On the cliff they built a chuch in an ancient cave-the Steinkirche ('stone church'). This became the meeting place of these first Christians in the Harz mountains.

If the reference to Krodo in the Sachsenchronik is entirely fictitious then this does not explain the existence of this legend which more than likely is based on (possibly distorted) fact. Friedrich Gotthelf in his Das Deutsche Altertum (1900) states that "In Einhard there is no news of Charlemagne's destruction of such an image, neither in the Life of the Emperor Charlesmagne nor in the Annals."  Whether the image of Krodo was overthrown by Charlemagne or not, that does not matter. The important point is that an image and a cult existed. Again if there is no truth to this legend then why was the 11th century Krodoaltar in Goslar named after Him? Indeed we find certain places in the Harz named after Krodo such as Grotenleide (Crotenlaide) and Goetzenthal ('valley of the idol'-a reference to Krodo).

Johannes Pomarius writing in his Chronika der Sachsen und Niedersachsen in 1588 refers to "the Idoll SEATER, fondly of some supposed to be Saturnus, for he was otherwise called CRODO, this goodly god stood to be adored in such manner as here this picture doth shew him. First on a pillar was placed a pearch, on the sharpe prickled backe whereof stood this Idoll. He was leane of visage, having long haire, and a long beard: and was bare-headed, and bare footed. In his left hand he held up a wheele, and in his right he carried a paile of water, wherein were flowers, and fruites. His long coate was girded unto him with a towel of white linen. His standing on the sharpe finnes of this fishe was to signifie that the Saxons for their serving him, should pass stedfastly, & without harme in dangerous, and difficult places.  By the wheele was betokened the knit unity, and conjoined concord of the Saxons, and their concurring together in the running one course. By the girdle which with the wind streamed from him was signified the Saxons freedome. By the paile with flowers, and fruits was declared that with kindly raine he would nourish the Earth, to bring foorth such fruites, and flowers. And the day unto Name unto which he yet give the name of SATER-DAY, did first receive by being unto him celebrated, the same appellation."    

The reference to Saturday is an interesting one and Grimm speculates that the original Germanic name of this day was Roydag and thus sacred to Krodo.

Albinus in his Novce Saxonum Historiue Progymnasmata has this description of Krodo: "Crodus is an old man, in the form of a reaper, standing with naked feet upon a little fish, called a perch. He was clad in a white tunic, with a linen girdle, in his left hand a wheel, in his right a small vessel filled with water in which floated roses and every sort of garden-fruit. The picture is in the Brunswick Chronicle."

The Steinkirche by the way does exist and is located near Scharzfeld in the Harz. It is rumoured that the hermit was none other than Boniface ( about 675-754) who felled Donar's Oak at Fritzlar in northern Hesse. However there is no way that this can be substantiated.