Holda

I’m still failing at being a productive Heathen, as my lack of posts shows, but I still do odds and ends in my free time. Nonetheless, as always I’m interested in language. Endlessly.

I’m rather fond of Holda. She’s obviously a little outside the scope of Fyrnsidu (or *Firnsid, if you’re so inclined) in normal practices, but this is an ancestral religion and I’m only half English, the rest being from North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. In many respects, my German heritage is more important than my English heritage, as my German mother made sure that I understood my roots.

I love how many stories exist for her. I love that she has so many associated areas, which I hope to see firsthand one day. There’s just so much and it’s precious to me. Some see her as another version of Frīg/Frigg and I admit that there’s a bit of overlap in functions, but Holda is fully separate in my view.

I don’t, however, do my religious work in German and, as I’ve whined repeatedly in the past, would prefer to do all such work in Modern English. So just calling her Holda is in a way not good enough. Oddly, this doesn’t make too much of a difference, as you’ll see toward the end.

Modern High German Holda is from Proto-Germanic *hulþô “friend, trustee” < *hulþaz “inclined, favourable; gracious, loyal; graceful”. The noun isn’t attested in Old English, but the adjective survived into hold “kind, friendly, pleasant, gracious, faithful, loyal, devoted”. This actually survived into Modern English, but it’s obsolete now. This points us the right direction regardless for later work. We also have the fantastic example of unholda “fiend”. Very, very useful.

A-mutation is the reason why –u– became –o-; it caused a short /u/ or /i/ to be lowered when the following syllable contained as non-high vowel. This is how we got Old English hold from Proto-Germanic *hulþaz (among other sound changes) or, to use a more useful example with a modern version, gold from *gulþą.

Word-final overlong vowels became regular long vowels during the Northwest Germanic period, so we had *-ô > *-ō, which regularly became –a in Old English.

Medial *-– became –ld– regularly in Old English. This is why you have Old English fealdan “fold”, but Gothic falþan, both from Proto-Germanic *falþaną.

Bringing these together, we have a very familiar *Holda. Well, that was roundabout. So we can definitively say what Holda’s name is in Old English. This completely agrees with its aforementioned negated form unholda. Useful, indeed!

From here, nothing much happens. Word-final vowels that are not a part of the core syllable are lost consistently after Old English, so we’re left with Modern English *Hold, giving us a form that is identical with the obsolete adjective.

This is a fair amount of writing for a surprisingly simple outcome, but now I can definitely say that, yes, Holda is simply *Hold in Modern English and I have a proper name to use.

Modern Gods

An interesting question was asked on reddit recently that is right up my alley (archive). Sadly, my several month absence from the Internet left me nearly two weeks late to the party, so I’ll discuss it here instead.

Linguistic question for ASH heathens from asatru

All in all, the thread was pretty barren, I’m sad to say, but some did help. Wodgar and /u/CorporateHeathen were the stars.

As always in linguistics, a reconstructed, projected, or outright incorrect form is marked by an asterisk. Chevrons are also used in their standard form; “<” denotes that the lead word descends from the following word, while “>” denotes that the lead word becomes the following word.

In all cases of two modern pronunciations, the first is General American and the second is Received Pronunciation.

Tīw /tiːw/ > *Tew or *Tue /t(j)uː/

The name is fairly simple and predictable. For the same sound shift, consider hīw > hue and nīwe > new. CorporateHeathen did a fine job of pointing this out:

The two spellings are purely orthographic differences, as shown in the IPA. The biggest difference will be seen across the Atlantic: /j/ would be in England, while the sound would generally be lacking in the US.

Wōden /ˈwoːden/ > *Wooden /ˈwʊdən/

Old English <ō> /oː/ split into a few sounds on its march to Modern English. On its own it often became <oo> /uː/, but its environment could cause /ɔ(ː)/ (before <r>), /ʌ/ (occasionally before /ð/, /d/, and /v/), and /ʊ/ (often before /ð/, /d/, /t/, and /k/).

Due to this, /ˈwʊdən/ is the likeliest result, but also possibly /ˈwʌdən/. Assuming the former over the latter, the word is a homonym to wooden “made of wood”.

The issue of Wednesday does pose an interesting question. Had Wōden been the base form, we would have *Wodnesday instead, just as Old English had Wōdnesdæg /ˈwoːdnesdæj/. Wednesday is the result of Old English *Wēden, which would share a root with Old Frisian Wēda and Old Norse Óðinn in the form of Proto-Germanic *Wōdinaz, as opposed to Wōden‘s antecedent of Proto-Germanic *Wōdanaz.

Accepting this otherwise unattested variant, we would have *Weeden /ˈwidən/. This is despite the fact that Wednesday is pronounced with an /ɛ/, but this is a result of two consonants following <e>. This environment always caused <e> to become /ɛ/ later and would not be applicable to the base form.

UPDATE: Thoraborinn takes issue with the above two paragraphs.

Ing /iŋg/ > *Ing /ɪŋ/

Nothing especially changes here. /i/ becomes /ɪ/ in most environments. /ŋg/ always becomes /ŋ/ due to NG-coalescence.

Þunor /ˈθunor/ > Thunder /ˈθʌn.dɚ/ or /ˈθʌn.də/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity. The intrusive /d/ appeared between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries and is otherwise not predictable.

Frīg /friːj/ > *Frie or *Fry /fɹaɪ/

This one is interesting:

  • Popularly the goddess’s name is written as *Frīge, but this is incorrect. There is no nominative ending for feminine strong nouns with a long syllable (which is either a long vowel or a short vowel followed by two consonants). If this word had a short syllable, it would be Frigu, which is actually attested, but never in this context to my knowledge.
  • Frīge is, however, the genitive form, which is firmly attested in Frīgedæg “Friday”.
  • There aren’t too many words ending in –īg that survive into Modern English, especially once you discount the adjective ending –ig /ij/ “-y” /i/.

Old English <ī> /i:/ very often became Modern English /aɪ/, except when two consonants or /m/ followed, plus some other odds and ends.

/j/ entirely disappeared in this environment. Modern English doesn’t especially like /j/ coming after a vowel at the end of the word.

Spelling is really the issue here. Despite the spelling of Friday, ending a word in <i> just doesn’t happen, nor is <i> often pronounced /aɪ/ on its own. This immediately removes *Fri as an option. In keeping with patterns in orthography and the handful of words with similar sounds, though, *Frie or perhaps even *Fry would be the likeliest outcome.

Eorþe /ˈeorθe/ > Earth /ɝθ/ or /ɜːθ/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Folde /ˈfolde/ > Fold /foʊld/ or /fəʊld/

All word-final vowels that are not a part of the root syllable were dropped after Old English.

The word survives dialectally and thus has a known modern form regardless.

Sunne /ˈsunːe/ > Sun /sʌn/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Mōna /ˈmoːnɑ/ > Moon /muːn/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Ēastre /ˈæːɑstre/ > Easter /ˈi.stɚ/ or /ˈiː.stə/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Wēland /ˈweːlɑnd/ > Weeland /ˈwilənd/

Despite how predictable this form is, it has instead survived as Wayland /ˈweɪlənd/.

Seaxnēat /ˈsæɑksnæːɑt/ > *Saxneat /ˈsæks.nɛt/

<ea> /æɑ/ typically became <a> /æ/, while <ēat> /æːɑt/ often became /ɛt/ (as opposed to /iː/ when there is no /t/).

Seax did also survive into Modern English as sax. Nēat died out, but was borrowed back into Modern English in its full form as geneat for historical purposes.

Bēow /beːow/ > Bue /buː/

<ēo> /eːo/ often became /uː/ before/w/, written as <ue>.

Frēa /fræːɑ/ > *Frea /fɹiː/

Though often combined with Ing in emulation of the Norse form, there is no direct attestation that this was ever used as a theonym in Old English. It does, however, have a curious usage in Beowulf when Hroþgar is called frēan Ingwine “lord of the Ingwins”.1Beowulf, line 1319. If this usage implies any religious meaning, it is now lost on us. The word is included only for the sake of argument.

<ēa> /æːɑ/ very often became /iː/, usually written as <ea>.

Frēo /freːo/ > *Free /fɹiː/

It is sometimes believed that Freyja existed among the Anglo-Saxons as well, but there is no evidence of this. Personally I believe that the split between what would later be known as Frigg and Freyja had not occurred in the southern tribes at all. The word is included only for the sake of argument, though on even shakier ground than Frēa above.

Without any other conditional changes due to environment, <ēo> /eːo/ very often became /iː/, usually written as <ee>.

The Problem with Frēa and Frēo

Other than not being attested as theonyms, there’s one overarching issue: they would have become homophones, if not also possibly homographs. Had they survived into more modern times at all, the meanings would have probably collapsed together into some general “noble” definition. That alone might have killed the words later anyway.

Truthfully, though, the words were already limited largely to poetry, especially Frēa. The words were probably moribund regardless.

Conclusion

Language is fun! It’s always a delight to see what might have happened in a different word. Amusement aside, it’s not a bad idea to use these reconstructed forms instead. The language changed and that would not have skipped theonyms.

This being said, things are not always predictable, as seen in a few examples above. No one could have predicted Þunor becoming Thunder. This could be equally true for any number of other names. Religion is by its very nature conservative, which may lead to some names being severely delayed for some sound changes, if included at all.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Beowulf, line 1319.

Nature Worship

Over on reddit today Skollgrimm, a Suebian Heathen, wrote a lovely post about “personification deities”, such as Sunne, Mōna, Dæg, and Niht, to use his examples. Lately people, especially over on the /r/asatru, have been questioning the worship of such deities, as they’re poorly attested. The discussion has been coming up more because of the solstice; many people posted about holding a blōt to Sun. I recommend that you read his post.

I was oddly inspired by the topic, as I’ve grown tired of people saying that we can’t worship beneficial entities, which is largely how the Ēse/Æsir are defined. After all, one doesn’t worship Fenrir or þyrsas, as these are destructive and have no relation with us. As such, an hour of sporadic writing later, I posted a rather lengthy response in agreement. For the sake of keeping my thoughts in one place, here’s what I wrote:

Origo Gentis Langobardorum

The Origo Gentis Langobardorum is a seventh century text regarding the founding myth of the Lombards. It is the sole source of our knowledge of the Lombardic reflex of Proto-Germanic *Wōdanaz, known here as Godan, and of Proto-Germanic *Frijjō, known here as Frea.

This text is used by Paul the Deacon in his Historia Langobardorum more than a century later. It survived with over a hundred copies, while the referenced text only survived in three copies.

Est insula qui dicitur scadanan, quod interpretatur excidia, in partibus aquilonis, ubi multae gentes habitant; inter quos erat gens parva quae winnilis vocabatur. Et erat cum eis mulier nomine gambara, habebatque duos filios, nomen uni ybor et nomen alteri agio; ipsi cum matre sua nomine gambara principatum tenebant super winniles. Moverunt se ergo duces wandalorum, id est ambri et assi, cum exercitu suo, et dicebant ad winniles: ” Aut solvite nobis tributa, aut praeparate vos ad pugnam et pugnate nobiscum”. Tunc responderunt ybor et agio cum matre sua gambara: “Melius est nobis pugnam praeparare, quam wandalis tributa persolvere”. Tunc ambri et assi, hoc est duces wandalorum, rogaverunt godan, ut daret eis super winniles victoriam. Respondit godan dicens: “Quos sol surgente antea videro, ipsis dabo victoriam”. Eo tempore gambara cum duobus filiis suis, id est ybor et agio, qui principes erant super winniles, rogaverunt fream, uxorem godam, ut ad winniles esset propitia. Tunc frea dedit consilium, ut sol surgente venirent winniles et mulieres eorum crines solutae circa faciem in similitudinem barbae et cum viris suis venirent. Tunc luciscente sol dum surgeret, giravit frea, uxor godan, lectum ubi recumbebat vir eius, et fecit faciem eius contra orientem, et excitavit eum. Et ille aspiciens vidit winniles et mulieres ipsorum habentes crines solutas circa faciem; et ait: “Qui sunt isti longibarbae” ? Et dixit frea ad godan: “Sicut dedisti nomen, da illis et victoriam”. Et dedit eis victoriam, ut ubi visum esset vindicarent se et victoriam haberent. Ab illo tempore winnilis langobardi vocati sunt.

There is an island that is called Scadanan, which is interpreted “destruction,” in the regions of the north, where many people dwell. Among these there was a small people that was called the Winniles. And with them was a woman, Gambara by name, and she had two sons. Ybor was the name of one and Agio the name of the other. They, with their mother, Gambara by name, held the sovereignty over the Winniles. Then the leaders of the Vandals, that is, Ambri and Assi, moved with their army, and said to the Winniles: ‘Either pay us tribute or prepare yourselves for battle and fight with us.’ Then answered Ybor and Agio, with their mother Gambara: ‘It is better for us to make ready the battle than to pay tributes to the Vandals.’ Then Ambri and Assi, that is, the leaders of the Vandals, asked Godan that he should give them the victory over the Winniles. Godan answered, saying: ‘Whom I shall first see when at sunrise, to them will I give the victory.’ At that time Gambara with her two sons, that is, Ybor and Agio, who were chiefs over the Winniles, besought Frea, the wife of Godan, to be propitious to the Winniles. Then Frea gave counsel that at sunrise the Winniles should come, and that their women, with their hair let down around the face in the likeness of a beard, should also come with their husbands. Then when it became bright, while the sun was rising, Frea, the wife of Godan, turned around the bed where her husband was lying and put his face towards the east and awakened him. And he, looking at then, saw the Winniles and their women having their hair let down around the face. And he says, ‘Who are these Long-beards?’ And Frea said to Godan, ‘As you have given them a name, give them also the victory.’ And he gave them the victory, so that they should defend themselves according to his counsel and obtain the victory. From that time the Winniles were called Langobards.

Local Cultus

Lately people are really getting into local cultus. All in all, I’m very excited about that, as its lack has been something that annoyed me for years. Over a year ago, I was having lovely conversations with “obsessiveheathen”, a Rhode Island Anglo-Saxon Heathen who has since disappeared from the Internet, in regards to worshipping rivers and giving them offerings. Why don’t more do that? They should! It’s attested throughout Europe and it gives a good reason to throw apples into rapidly moving water, among other things.

Much of the current incarnation of local cultus, however, has been giving epithets to well attested deities. That’s a more complicated matter. My idea for such things is fairly simple: the practices of a particular region’s cultus should be one standard deviation away from the norm, at least when it comes to the divine. This is quite obviously a subjective thing, as you can’t really expect statistics to apply perfectly in such things, but it gives an idea about just how out of the way something may go before it’s just silly.

I would be inclined to say that some people have been a little too excited and instead went several deviations off the norm. Some are considerably off the charts or completely misunderstand how local cultus works.

A few days ago I noticed a particularly bothersome post on Tumblr about local cultus for Boston, outside of which I live. (Archived here in case the post disappears.) I’ll quote the relevant portion:

Demeter of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall
– of the Emerald Necklace

Persephone of the turning leaves
– of the Boston Common

Hades of the Granary Burying Ground
– of the financial district

Hekate of the Salem Witch Trials

Hermes of the Marathon
– of the MBTA
– of the Isabella Stewart Gardner art theft

Dionysus of Provincetown
– of Martha’s Vineyard
– of the state house pinecone!

Athena of the Boston Public Library
– of the science museum

Poseidon of Spectacle Island
– of the New England Aquarium
– of the duck tours

Zeus of TD Garden
– of Fenway Park and the Red Sox
– of the Hancock

Ares of Bunker Hill memorial
– of the Freedom Trail
– of the Boston Tea Party
– of the race riots

Aphrodite of the Prudential Center
– of Newbury Street

Hephaestus of the Big Dig

Hestia of the North End
– of Southie
– of Firefly

A few of those aren’t too bad. Hermes of the Marathon works well in my mind due to his associations with travelling, roads, and athletic activities. Even  his association with hospitality works well here; many people along the marathon route offer runners water and other sustenance. Likewise, Hermes of the MBTA, our mass transit system, seems tenable, though a little specific for my tastes.

And that’s where everything falls apart. Things become too specific. Poseidon of the Duck Tours? Duck Tours is a private company founded in 1994. And what’s the association here? Because the amphibious vehicles are in the water? That’s weak and comical.

Hekate of the Salem Witch Trials? You don’t have a local cultus for a very particular set of events in the past. That’s utterly silly. And it’s not as though Hekate did anything for those who were killed during that time. If anything, the name implies to me that Hekate was somehow the source of the trials.

Zeus of TD Garden? How? Why? I can’t even fathom this one. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s an arena with a history of corporate sponsorship being more important than having a real name.

Aphrodite of the Prudential Center? That’s just a mall. I don’t see the association. Why not Hermes in his role as a god of merchants and trade?

Hephaestus of the Big Dig? Again, an event in the past. And let’s not forget that the construction project was a significantly delayed nightmare that had a cost overrun of 190%. And the costs continued to climb after the fact due to deaths and leaks! Why would you ever want to associate Hephaestus with that?

I could go on and on. In the author’s excitement, he or she failed to understand associations. Most of these just don’t make any sense. Some can be assigned to a different deity entirely; a laughable number can just be assigned to Hermes due to their being business ventures. And a few made me chuckle at how absurd they are.

Heathendom isn’t immune to these problems. Sian wrote about vocational cultus in regards to biomedical research. (Archived here.) Let’s pull out a few.

Óðinn of Humanised Mice? Frigg of Phylogenetic Trees? Loki of the Unexpected Band on the Western Blot? Sif of the Neglected Diseases? Freyja of Protein Purification? I can’t even call these silly. These are just downright idiotic. If anything, these might point more toward Eir, who is so often ignored in Ásatrú.

The closest that these ever get to being reasonable is, for example, Óðinn of Basic Research or of Longitudinal Studies. But that doesn’t scream any particular cultus. That’s just Óðinn being knowledgable. That’s it.

I’m honestly disappointed in how people are handling these ideas. People are misassigning concepts to deities who just don’t handle such functions. It’s one thing to see examples of slow development toward functions that aren’t the norm elsewhere, but people don’t want development over centuries. They want everything now, even when they often lack a firm grasp of the basics.

These things take time. Development is slow. Jumping the gun gets us nowhere. I’ll quote ThorinRuriksson on the matter of developing a Cascadian Heathendom:

But it’s difficult. It’s time consuming. It’s not as simple as picking things you like out of a grab bag of heathen ideas. Things have to make sense in a cultural way. They have to make sense in relation to our ancestors and our gods. This isn’t the heathen version of eclectic paganism… It’s the taking of everything I have ever learned, and everything those close to me have learned, and trying to make those parts into a new and functioning whole. This isn’t creation of the new, but synthesis of the old, of the learning and wisdom that I and those others involved have gained over many combined decades of study and worship. I don’t know if it will work, or if it will survive, but I do know it needs to be attempted. So, myself and a couple of other users from this sub who live nearby are doing it.

These are wise words that could serve many well.

Rather than simply being dismissive of everything, I have some examples for Þórr that I find quite possible and worthwhile. These all use Norse lore as a base.

  • His association with goats could be emphasised. He is known in Old Norse as hafra dróttinn “lord of goats”, after all.1Hymiskviða 20 and 31 From there it’s not much a stretch to see him as a god of farm animals. The loss of farm animals is a devastating and costly affair. One might think of him as being concerned with a farm’s wellbeing.
  • His association with oaks could become greater. From there one might associate him with forests in general and the wealths that can be found within. As a god of the wild places, he would be related to lumber and game, in turn providing homes, tools, meat, and furs. Once more he is helping humanity. This form could go by simply Bjǫrn “bear”.2Nafnaþulur 17
  • His association with farming could become more important. He provides the rain that we need for our crops. He could be the cornerstone of a farming community, perhaps to the exclusion of his other attributes. This form could go by Hlóriði “loud rider, loud weather-god”3Hymiskviða 4, 16, 27, 29, 37 4Lokasenna 54 5Þrymskviða 7, 8, 14, 31 6Vellekla 15. This is particularly interesting, as Vellekla was written in the late tenth century, far earlier than the other sources. or perhaps Rymr “noise, roaring”7Nafnaþulur 17, both on the account of storms.
  • His associations with combat, strength, and protection might be more important for some areas. He could become a god of militiamen, police, and armies. This form could easily go by the name Vingþórr “battle-Thor”8Nafnaþulur 17 9Þrymskviða 1 10Alvíssmál 6 11Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 71. I should note that the meaning is disputed, but may be related to Old High German Wigiþonar, whose prefix is from either *wīgian “to hallow” or *wīgan “to fight”., Reiðitýr “angry god”12Haustlǫng 20 13Petra Mikolić, The God-semantic Field in Old Norse Prose and Poetry (2013) pg. 20, or, to use it again, Bjǫrn “bear”.14Nafnaþulur 17

These are logical and not a great leap from Þórr’s existing attributes. The last two are arguably already present; consider how many Heathens cheer during a good thunderstorm after a drought or have tattoos of Mjǫllnir while serving in the military.

We needn’t stop there. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s best to start honouring the environment in more concrete ways. Honouring the wights is one thing, if also a nebulous one, yet very obvious rivers are ignored.

For me, this takes the form of the nearby Charles River. It has a long history of supporting industry. More recently, a great deal of recreational activity happens in it, such as rowing and sailing. Its watershed contains around 13 square miles of protected wetlands. As luck would have it, the name is Germanic in origin, making it very easy to integrate into our habit of using older languages. So if Charles isn’t a desired name, I could easily go by Karl or Carl, but also Old English ceorl (> Modern English churl, but with a sense change) and even Proto-Germanic *karlaz or *karilaz.

To the north is the Merrimack River, whose name is of uncertain origin. It is immensely important. It runs 117 miles through many major cities that had been founded to take advantage of the available power for mills. Its watershed is around 4,700 square miles; this is a huge environment for an impressive array of life.

Both of these deserve respect and worship as powerful wights, if not outright as gods. Should one not wish to go that route for whatever reason, think of the countless wights that would inhabit these places and the ones farther afield whose homes are supported by the presence of a nearby river.

It goes beyond this, though. Every area has activities that are very important. In Massachusetts, cranberry production is a large industry. Cranberries are harvested in the fall, typically using wet-picking, which involves flooding the beds with six to eight inches of water, then disturbing the vines so that the fruit comes off and floats to the surface, at which time it is corralled.

This makes for a fine regional event, which would not be available in much of the world, let alone even most of the US. A Heathen in California or Florida does not have access to such an event, for example. Why not imbue this event with spiritual significance? The harvest as a whole is important, which many vaguely celebrate already. This is a good place to start local practices, as well as community involvement. And is that not a foundational element of Heathendom?

In the end, there are many ways of developing local cultus. It won’t be quick. Traditions aren’t formed overnight, after all, but everything starts somewhere. We have so much available already, so let’s use it. Don’t just abandon our roots as religions with homework; we can grow from an informed base.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Hymiskviða 20 and 31
2, 7, 8, 14. Nafnaþulur 17
3. Hymiskviða 4, 16, 27, 29, 37
4. Lokasenna 54
5. Þrymskviða 7, 8, 14, 31
6. Vellekla 15. This is particularly interesting, as Vellekla was written in the late tenth century, far earlier than the other sources.
9. Þrymskviða 1
10. Alvíssmál 6
11. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 71. I should note that the meaning is disputed, but may be related to Old High German Wigiþonar, whose prefix is from either *wīgian “to hallow” or *wīgan “to fight”.
12. Haustlǫng 20
13. Petra Mikolić, The God-semantic Field in Old Norse Prose and Poetry (2013) pg. 20

Abandonment

Just over two weeks ago on reddit a user asked why the gods didn’t intervene when their followers were being converted by force. Let us ignore that many were not converted by the sword, but rather gradually in many cases.

manimatr0n responded with a delightful bit:

I’m sure they care, but humanity is not some special apex of life that commands favors and privilege from the divine. We beg and bargain for it, abd [sic] sometimes it is granted. But the gods do not work for or answer to us, and they never made some primordial covenant with man like is claimed in the Old Testament and New Testament with Yahweh or the hvitakristr.

They broke no promises. We did. And our punishment was disconnection from our ancestors and their gods and subservience to a war deity and his family-breaking son. Our punishment was self-evident, and our salvation is the same. Return, rekindle the old relationships, and equilibrium will be restored. And none of that, in any way shape or form, places the onus of salvation on our gods.

We turned our backs. It is up to us to turn face forward again, and be glad they are not, as I said before, the petty, jealous, vengeful Yahweh. What else do the gods owe us? How arrogant are we to think they failed us and they allowed mass conversion when it was, and always has been, our fault and our choice?

Well said.

Altered Eyes

A delightful article has been posted and is making the rounds: “An Eye for Odin? Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo” by Neil Price and Paul Mortimer. I thoroughly recommend it.

One particular table is given on page 531 and I cannot help but present it here. It’s a listing of items with “altered eyes” in what we may assume to be representations of Wōden’s missing eye.

Object and Location Deposition Date Altered Eye
Högom textiles, Sweden c. 500 Left
Elsfleth buckle tongue, Germany c. 500–600 Left
Hellvi helmet mask, Gotland, Sweden c. 550 Right
Torslanda matrix, Öland, Sweden c. 550–700 Right
Uppåkra helmet eyebrow, Skåne, Sweden c. 550–700 Right
Gevninge helmet ocular, Roskilde, Denmark c. 550–700 Right
Vendel grave 12 shield grip, Uppland, Sweden c. 600 Right
Valsgärde grave 7 helmet crest, Uppland, Sweden c. 620–710 Left
Sutton Hoo Mound 1, East Anglia, England Helmet eyebrow, animal head, whetstone, and purse-lid figure c. 625 Left
Uppåkra figurine, Skåne, Sweden c. 700–900 Right
Øster Vandet mask-weight, Denmark c. 700–900 Left
Staraja Ladoga ferrule, Russia c. 750–800 Left
Ribe pendant head, Denmark c. 750–950 Right

Even if you limit to particular areas with more than one find, the results are still mixed as to which eye is altered. It seems like a good bet, if we’re interpreting the finds correctly, that it didn’t matter which eye was missing, just as it doesn’t especially matter now.

Solar Cycle

The sun […] was helped at sunrise and sunset by divine twins in the shape of warriors, riders, horses, or horned animals. […] At its zenith, the sun passed through the sky, where the sky god Týr ensured cosmic order. He did this by sacrificing his hand in the mouth of a chained wolf, which would otherwise devour the sun. The cosmic order was also secured by the thunder god [Þórr], who fought the powers of chaos in the sky and the world serpent in the sea around the world. During the night, the sun travelled in a night-ship in the underworld.

— Anders Andrén, Tracing Old Norse Cosmology (pg 157), on the reconstruction of the early Gotlandic solar cycle

Brothers

In Norse lore, Óðinn has two brothers: Vili and Vé.1Lokasenna 26 7Sonatorrek 23 2Gylfaginning 6 3Ynglinga saga 3 These names alliterated in earlier stages of the language4Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 362, as well as further back into Proto-Germanic as *Wōdanaz (or *Wōdinaz, dialectally varying), *Wiljô, and *Wīhą.

I personally find the alliteration interesting and useful. In West Saxon Old English, the alliteration is continued as Wōden, Willa, and Wēoh, although the last two are not attested as deities. The closest that we get to seeing the three names together is in Maxims I as Wōden worhte wēos, commonly translated as “Wōden made idols”. 5Maxims I, line 132 The whole section, however, is less supportive of heathen activities:6Translation by Michael Drout, 2007

Woden worhte weos,         wuldor alwalda,
rume roderas;         þæt is rice god,
sylf soðcyning,         sawla nergend,
se us eal forgeaf         þæt we on lifgaþ,
ond eft æt þam ende         eallum wealdeð
monna cynne.         þæt is meotud sylfa.

Woden made idols, the Almighty made heaven, the roomy skies, that is the god of the lands, the true king himself, the savior of souls, who gave us all that we live on, and again at the end will rule all, the kin of men. That is the ruler himself.

Nonetheless, Germanic poetry is very conservative. Components are often reused. It’s entirely possible that Wōden worhte wēos was a fairly common phrase and indicative of native beliefs, but only speculation may be done.

It is with this in mind that I’ve started considering worshipping Willa and Wēoh. Even with Norse sources, there isn’t much lore to go by in such things, but everything starts somewhere. Besides, it provides a possibility of using more of the story about man’s origins in our comparative mythology. More gods, more fun, I suppose.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Lokasenna 26
2. Gylfaginning 6
3. Ynglinga saga 3
4. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 362
5. Maxims I, line 132
6. Translation by Michael Drout, 2007
7. Sonatorrek 23

Wind Gods

I like to ponder what we’re missing in our religion and what we’re ignoring for simplicity’s sake. We tend to gloss over a lot of things; many act as though our world is a simple one and seemingly want as few divine entities as possible. A notable absence in my mind are wind gods.

The Greeks have a very detailed list of wind gods, mostly contained within the Anemoi (“winds”). The Romans have the Venti (“winds”), who mostly took on the attributes, but not the names, of their Greek counterparts. Slavic religion evidently has Stribog, god of winds, sky, and air. Hinduism has Vāyu, lord of the winds, also known as Vāta. There are also the Dikpāla. In Iranian religion, Vate is the god of air and wind.

Njǫrðr has this function, but to me this only makes sense in the context of sailing. Largely forgotten, there are also Norðri, Suðri, Austri, and Vestri. They are mentioned in Gylfaginning as four dwarves and may be related to Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Duraþrór, the four stags of Yggdrasill. (I’m personally inclined to say that they are unrelated, that the four stags are a later invention, and that Eikþyrnir was the original, sole stag.) Whether they are related to wind is up for debate.

I’m conflicted about these dwarves. They hold up the skull of Ymir, although this seems like an odd job for dwarves. I’m of the opinion that they were not dwarves originally or at least had a much more detailed story to themselves once. We’ll likely never know anything else.

Despite this, I decided to have some fun in reconstructing their names in Old English, even if we have no such evidence for them. Undoubtedly at least one deity governed the winds, so let’s go with what we have.

Barring any mistakes on my part, the names of the dwarves are merely the names of the cardinal directions (norðr, suðr, austr, vestr) plus the suffux –i (< Proto-Germanic *-į̄, which forms an abstract noun from an adjective). In Old English, the cardinal directions are norþ, sūþ, ēast, and west. The cognate suffix is –u, which later became –o, and causes i-mutation:

  • norþ > *nerþu
  • sūþ > *sȳþu
  • ēast > *īestu (*ēstu in dialects other than West Saxon)
  • west > *wistu

Let’s go further into Modern English. Vowel changes were drastic during the Great Vowel Shift and all word-final vowels in polysyllabic words were lost, thus erasing the suffix entirely.

  • *nerþu > *nerth /nɛ(ɹ)ð/
  • *sȳþu > *sithe /saɪð/
  • *īestu > *eest or *east /iːst/
  • *wistu > *wist /wɪst/

Had things gone very differently, we might have been worshipping Nerth, Sithe, Eest, and Wist and asking for good winds from them.