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.

Two Trees

There are two passages in surviving Norse lore about the first two humans. I find them particularly fascinating.

From Vǫluspá 17 and 18:

Unz þrír kvámu
ór því liði
öflgir ok ástkir
æsir at húsi,
fundu á landi
lítt megandi
Ask ok Emblu

Until there came three mighty and benevolent Æsir to the world from their assembly. They found on earth, nearly powerless, Ask and Embla, void of destiny.

Önd þau né áttu,
óð þau né höfðu,
lá né læti
né litu góða;
önd gaf Óðinn,
óð gaf Hænir,
lá gaf Lóðurr
ok litu góða.

Soul they possessed not, sense they had not, blood nor motive powers, nor goodly colour. Soul gave Óðinn, sense gave Hœnir, blood gave Lóðurr, and goodly colour.

In chapter nine of Gylfaginning it is said:

Þá er þeir gengu með sævarströndu Borssynir, fundu þeir tré tvau ok tóku upp trén ok sköpuðu af menn. Gaf inn fyrsti önd ok líf, annarr vit ok hræring, þriði ásjónu, mál ok heyrn ok sjón, gáfu þeim klæði ok nöfn. Hét karlmaðrinn Askr, en konan Embla, ok ólst þaðan af mannkindin, sú er byggðin var gefinn undir Miðgarði.

When the sons of Borr1Presumably Óðinn, Vili, and Vé. were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them: the first gave them soul and life; the second, wit and feeling; the third, countenance, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla, and of them was mankind begotten, which received a dwelling-place under Miðgarð.

Despite the differing list of gods, the two passages are largely in agreement. My fascination only grows because of the basic similarity to Mašyā and Mašyānē, the first two humans in Zoroastrianism who grew from the branches of a tree.

While Askr is unambiguously “ash tree”, Embla is more of an issue. It’s been supposed to mean “elm”, derived from *Elm-la < *Almilōn < *elmaz, but this is not without its problems. A competing theory is that it means “vine” from an unrecorded *Ambilō, which may be related to Greek ἄμπελος “vine”.2Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 74

Possibly also related, but hardly with sufficient proof, is Æsc of Kent, son or grandson of Hengest, the ancestor of the Æscingas.3Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 21 I’m personally not inclined to agree with the interpretation. Elsewhen and elsewhere, the Braak Bog Figures may be related, but nothing can be definitively said.

As for why any of this is fascinating, it’s because this is an indication that the gods have taken an interest in us. I don’t take any of this literally, of course, as we were never trees, but it’s a good way to describe us. They shaped us and made us into something useful, just as we would for a tool or a godpole. I see this as being something over the long term. It wasn’t overnight; it was over countless generations. It was our evolution from earlier primates into anatomically modern humans.

Unlike Christian creationists, I don’t take this idea of divine involvement very far. Evolution is real and undeniable. I see it as the gods poking about here and there, moving us in certain directions for a desired outcome. Fascinating, indeed.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Presumably Óðinn, Vili, and Vé.
2. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 74
3. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 21

The Legend of Woud and Freid

Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was a skilled collector of folklore in the Upper Palatinate, located in Bavaria. He worked from 1854 to 1880, later dying in 1886; he would correspond with Jacob Grimm during part of this time.

Below is one piece of particularly interesting folklore.

Die Mär von Woud und Freid The Legend of Woud and Freid
Es war einmal ein Herrscherpaar mit großem Gebiet, in der Zauberkunst wohl erfahren. Selbst die Elemente waren ihnen Untertan. Er hieß Woud, sie Freid. Der König war ein gewaltiger Mann mit langem wallenden Bart, sein Auge so feurig blitzend, daß Menschen, welche hineinblickten, darob erblindeten. Gewöhnlich ging er nackt, nur an der Hüfte bekleidet. Gehalten wurde das Hüftenkleid durch einen endlosen Gürtel, an diesen war die Herrschergewalt gebunden: So lang er ihn trägt, herrscht er. Doch kann er ihm nicht entwendet werden, denn Hüften und Schulter sind so breit, daß der Gürtel sich nicht abziehen läßt. So oft er zum Herrschen ging, hängte er einen Mantel um, der ihn ganz einhüllte. Once upon a time there was a royal couple who ruled over a large area; they were well-versed in magic; even the Elements were their subjects. His name was Woud, and hers was Freid. The king was a powerful man with a long, flowing beard, and his eyes were so fiery that the humans who looked into them turned blind. He usually walked naked, only his waist was clad; his waist garment was fastened with a cast belt buckle to which his ruling power was tied—as long as he wears it, he will rule. However, one cannot steal it from him, for his hips and shoulders are so broad that the belt cannot be pulled over them. Every time he went about the business of ruling, he put on a coat which covered him completely.
Seine Gemahlin war das schönste Frauenbild. Sie trug ein Hüftenkleid gleich ihrem Gatten, aber die Haare so reich und lang, daß sie sich darin ganz verhüllen konnte. Sie trank nur Wasser aus der Quelle, ihr Gatte eine Art Wein. Wenn sie sich bückte über der Quelle, um mit der hohlen Hand Wasser zu schöpfen, erglänzte ihr Haar im Sonnenglanz, und ihr Arm war wie Schnee. His queen consort was the most beautiful woman ever seen; like her husband, she wore a waist garment, but her hair was so rich and long that she could cover herself with it entirely. She drank only water from a well; her husband, some kind of wine. When she bent over the well to scoop water into her hand, her hair shone in the light of the sun and her arms [shone as white] as snow.
Doch wurde sie eifersüchtig, sie fürchtete, dem feurigen Gatten nicht zu genügen. In ihrer Leidenschaft ging sie zu kunstreichen Zwergen. Diese arbeiteten ihr einen Halsgürtel, der die Kraft hatte, daß, wer ihn trug, alle Herzen bezauberte und den Geliebten nie in seiner Treue wanken ließ. Doch mußte sie sich den Zwergen zum Lohne ergeben. However, she grew jealous; she feared that she no longer satisfied her fiery husband. In a fit of passion, she went to see the skilled dwarves. They fashioned a necklace for her which had the power to turn the hearts of all toward the bearer and made the [bearer’s] beloved never waver in his loyalty. However, as payment, she had to give herself to the dwarves.
Mit dem Schmuck angetan, fesselte sie den Gatten in Liebe. Doch erfuhr er, um welchen Preis sie den Schmuck erworben. Da entwich er von ihr. Als Freid am Morgen im Bett erwachte, streckte sie den Arm aus nach dem Gatten. Er war nicht da. Sie fuhr mit der Hand an den Hals, das Halsgeschmeide fehlte. Namenlos unglücklich machte sie der Verlust des Schmuckes erst recht in Liebe zu Woud entbrennen. Sie eilte dem Flüchtigen nach in viele Länder, lange Jahre. Wenn sie abends ermüdet von der Fahrt sich niedersetzte, weinte sie in ihren Schoß, und jede Träne ward zur kostbaren Perle. Adorned with the jewels, she captivated her husband’s love. He learned, however, at what price she had acquired the jewellery. Thereupon he fled from her. When Freid awoke in bed in the morning, she reached out her arms for her husband. He was not there; when she quickly reached to her neck, the necklace was gone. Sad beyond words, she began to burn with love for Woud more than ever. She rushed after the fugitive, travelling to many countries over the course of many years. When she sat down in the evening, weary from the journey, she cried into her lap, and each of the tears turned into a precious pearl.
Endlich, als die Zeit um war, traf sie ihn, klagte ihm ihr Leid und wies auf die Perlen, die sie um ihn geweint hatte. Und er zählte die Perlen. Sie waren gerade so viele als Sternchen im Halsgeschmeide. Da wurde er weich und reichte ihr zur Versöhnung den Schmuck. Weit sei er herumgewandert, aber keine habe er gefunden, ihr gleich an Schönheit. So habe er ihr die Treue bewahrt. At last, when the time came to an end, she encountered him and told him her woes and showed him the pearls that she had cried for him. And he counted the pearls and there were as many as there were jewels in the necklace. Thereupon he softened and gave her [back] the jewels in reconciliation. [He told her that] he had travelled far and wide, but had found no other equal to her in beauty, so he remained faithful to her.

The German text is from Project Gutenberg, while the English translation, albeit a marginally amended version on my part, is by Dr. M. Charlotte Wolf in Original Bavarian Folktales: A Schönwerth Selection, pp. 208-211.

A similar story appears in Sǫrla þáttr:

To the East of Vanakvísl in Asia was a country called Asialand or Asiaheim. Its inhabitants were called Æsir and the chief city they called Asgarth. Othin was the name of their King, and it was a great place for heathen sacrifices. Othin appointed Njörth and Frey as priests. Njörth had a daughter called Freyja who accompanied Othin and was his mistress.

There were four men in Asia called Álfrigg, Dvalinn, Berlingr and Grérr, who dwelt not far from the King’s hall, and who were so clever that they could turn their hands to anything. Men of this kind were called dwarfs. They dwelt in a rock, but at that time they mixed more with men than they do now.

Othin loved Freyja very much, and she was the fairest of all women in her day. She had a bower of her own which was beautiful and strong, and it was said that if the door was closed and bolted, no one could enter the bower against her will.

It chanced one day that Freyja went to the rock and found it open, and the dwarfs were forging a gold necklace, which was almost finished. Freyja was charmed with the necklace, and the dwarfs with Freyja. She asked them to sell it, offering gold and silver and other costly treasures in exchange for it. The dwarfs replied that they were not in need of money, but each one said that he would give up his share in the necklace…. [omitted: for nothing else except  for her to lie one night with each of them.] And at the end of four nights they handed it to Freyja. She went home to her bower and kept silence about it as if nothing had happened.

In the following chapter, Loki would steal the necklace on the order of Óðinn, who would not return it unless she caused a perpetual battle between two kings.

It is noteworthy that Freyja is married to Óðr1Vǫluspá 25 2Gylfaginning 35 3Skáldskaparmál 28 and 44 4Ynglinga saga 13, who left on long journeys and for whom she wept red gold. It is not known if Óðr and Óðinn are one and the same.5Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 250 Óðinn is numerously said elsewhere to be married to Frigg. These comparisons are in part the basis for the Frigg–Freyja origin hypothesis.6This Wikipedia article is horribly lacking.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Vǫluspá 25
2. Gylfaginning 35
3. Skáldskaparmál 28 and 44
4. Ynglinga saga 13
5. Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology (2007) pg. 250
6. This Wikipedia article is horribly lacking.

Myth and Religion

There is a habit in certain corners of Heathendom—most often in /r/asatru, of the groups that I’ve joined—to decry the mixing of myth and religion. It comes up whenever someone, for example, asks how a particular story relates to the world around us. Almost invariably the response is unqualified and used to stop discussion.

Sometimes it’s just a simple statement:

Don’t confuse Mythology for religion.

Other times it’s buried with other things in a list:

3) Don’t confuse mythology with religion.

Perhaps it’s at the end of several paragraphs:

And stop confusing myth for religion.

And occasionally it’s given additional details that border on being useful:

You confuse Mythology with Religion

This is actually something that is very common in Heathenry, particularly with newer heathens. The Myths do have information, but they are not scripture. It helps to understand that the myths are born from ritual, they do not create ritual. With that in mind, you can reconstruct ritual from myth, but the cause and effect cycle must be understood or you will not make the best choices in your reconstruction.

There’s a singular issue with this: a religion without myth is no religion at all. Myth is an integral part. It informs us of so much. It preserves information. It provides reasoning for things. It gives context for things elsewhere within the religion. To lose one’s mythology is to lose one’s culture. The very people who complain incorrectly are also people who simultaneously mourn over the lack of information—practices, beliefs, rituals, and more—that has survived the centuries.

A person cannot necessarily say that all myths are not divinely inspired. It is a certainty that at least a portion—indeed, a probable, vast majority—of the tales originates from man. But to deny that the gods may have pushed some information onto us is a short step away from saying that the gods simply don’t provide anything at all. (As annoying as it is to make a slippery slope argument.) I have met many people who have claimed to have been told something or helped by a non-human entity in some manner. Perhaps they’re all insane, but this is an alternative that brooks no trust in the community.

My own favourite story to mention regards Óðinn’s missing eye in Norse mythology. So he gave up his eye for knowledge, but, according to some, this is just a story with no additional value. He’s just missing an eye then, although this could be stretched further to say that no myths mean that we know nothing about his description at all. Wouldn’t you want to know more? I certainly would. Perhaps there was a sacrifice of an eye, as the story goes. Perhaps it’s a reference to a ritual that existed in forgotten times, as seemingly excessive as that appears. Perhaps it’s an allegory for what one may need to give up in order to achieve one’s goals. Or perhaps it’s a mixture of the three. Regardless of the source(s), a myth has its value.

Myth is not a separable thing. It is not fully distinct from ritual, theology, and morality. All portions of a religion are interconnected and play off each other. In this sense, myth is not religion, but ritual is not religion either. All things must be together in order to make the whole.

People in unrelated discussions like to point out how holiness is defined in Heathendom: it’s about being whole, unbroken, and healthy. It’s literally the Proto-Germanic root. By this very definition, our religion without myth is incomplete and thus no longer worthy of being considered holy. If we can ascribe no acts to greater forces and choose instead to embrace solely science, why be involved in Heathendom at all? Be an atheist and free up some counter space now that you won’t need that altar.

People who want to see myth pushed to the side do not understand the value of myth. It’s our connection to the past. It shapes our religion and how we see the gods and the world. It gives us a narrative in which we find meaning; a meaning that changes over time because our world changes, too. It can be the result of practices, but it can also cause new practices. Forgetting its importance results in a loss from which we cannot recover readily.