[From P.M.C. Kermode "Traces of Norse Mythology", 1904]
As pointed out in the Corp. Poet. Bor., the old Norse mythology, with its very primitive conceptions of the origin of the universe-the earth the flesh of a mighty giant, 2 ocean his blood, the rocks his bones, heaven made out of his skull, clouds out of his brains, and so on; its gods the personifications of natural forces or deified heroes; its belief in ghosts living in barrows-ancestor worship; all this gave way to the more complex ideas of the Viking period, due to contact with the Celtic folk and a smattering acquaintance with the Christian religion.
"In this system Odin became King of the Slain in Battle, head of a royal race of Anses, a Charlemain of the Empyrean, with a splendid Hall, a host of Hand-maidens, a chosen guard of the fallen kings and heroes of all generations, who feast on (boiled) pork and mead, and spend the day in war-like sport, just as their earthly types did. Then there is a great Last Battle to be fought by the Warrior-Angels and the Elect against the Beast and the Dragon, and the Demons of Fire, an eschatology the origin of which is very plain."3
As the authors point out, however, this Wicking religion was never the accepted faith of the Norsemen, Danes, and Swedes. Some of its most famous myths, such as that which transformed the gallows-tree-Yggdrasil (lit., Odin's Steed) to a Tree of Life, may never have travelled beyond the single poem in which it was wrought out by a master mind!
Besides the remarkable illustrations carved on stone, showing the hold their ancient myths and legends had on the sculptors of these Christian monuments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we are able to trace them in many of the usages, rites, and customs which have come down to our own day, in sayings; and proverbs, and names-in a word, in our Folklore.
Now, as to the High Gods, or Anses, we are met with the curious fact, which our familiarity with it alone accounts for our regarding as a matter of course, that of the seven days of the week all but the first two are called after Scandinavian Gods [from the names of the Old Norse gods]
The third day, Dies Martis, was assigned to Ty, Tiu, a god of war, the most daring of the gods. It was he who placed his right hand in the jaws of the Fenri Wolf when that monster demanded such a pledge of good faith before suffering the gods to bind him in the charmed fetters (gleipnir). His hand was bitten off, and he feels the loss when in the last great battle he meets the hound Garm and each slays the other. As we have no figure of Tiu, nor do I recognize him in our folklore, except that Tuesday was considered lucky, I pass on to the next.
Dies Mercurii, becomes the day of Odin, Woden, the supreme god, god of Heaven, the Heaven itself (Ouranos) ; the fountain-head of wisdom and founder of poetry, writing, and culture ; lord of battle and giver of the highest blessings, especially of victory ; later, of magic and sorcery. His is the creative power: out of Ash and Elm he made man and woman. The later tales of his wonderful travels, his many names and disguises, his eloquence and magical power, may have suggested to the Romans a resemblance to Mercury (Hermes).
He is represented as old, long-bearded, one-eyed. A myth of the earliest type relates how his eye was given in pledge to Mimi, Giant of the Abyss, for a single draught of the deep Well of Wisdom. He is clad in a blue cloak (invisibility) and, like Hermes, a broad-brimmed hat or a Hood, whence one of his many names-Grim, which became a favourite man's name, and, as such occurs in two of our runic inscriptions. Another name, Gautr, Father (as in Vsp :-" Upp reiss Odin alderen Gautr "-Up rose Odin, the ancient sire), was also a favourite, and occurs as that of our greatest Scandinavian sculptor, who, on a cross at Michael, claims to have " made this and all in Man " ! He is " wielder of Gungnir," the spear, which, as he hurls it over the battlefield, all those over whom it passes are doomed to fall, and " fare to Odin."
He is accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki-Greed and Fierceness. Two Ravens, Hugin and Munnin-Mind and Memory, fly through all the worlds and return to rest on his shoulders bringing him tidings of all that is being done.
The word Óðin appears to be related to Óðr (A.S., wod ; Eng., wood), mad, wild, furious, and with his tall white horse, Sleipmr, the slipper, which, by way of implying its exceeding swiftness, is represented as eight-footed, he appears in folklore throughout the north of Europe as the " Wild Huntsman," of which we still meet with faint echoes in the Isle of Man, reduced to stories of Fairy hunters, hounds, and horn. Again we trace him in our harvest customs, such as that of the last sheaf, and, of the Laare-vane (white horse),4 as may be seen by comparison with similar customs in the North of England and in Europe; for example, in Saxony, the last clump of standing corn is dedicated to Woden for his horse.
In one or two Manks stories a Hair rope figures conspicuously.5 Can this in any way refer to Odin? In Ynglinga-tal the halter is described as " Hagbard's goat-hair rope," and, elsewhere we read of Odin's horse-hair beard."
From his name, Ygg (Awe), comes that of the World-Ash, Ygg-drasil, Odin's steed, because he hanged on the tree "himself to himself a sacrifice," when he sought wisdom at Mimi's burn.6 (So, in English poetry, the Cross is " Christ's palfry.") As lord of the gallows, all who die by hanging are thereby dedicated to Odin !
Under his naive Hnikar, he is a water-god, and as such we commemorate him in the Nickey, a favourite rig of fishing boats. The term "Old Nick" of course refers to him. Mr. Quine points out an ancient place-name-" Nikkeson," a pool in Glen Roy, and another at Groudle, both having legends of a water sprite.7
In the oldest myths we hear of him in his " high-seat," looking out of the Litho-skial f-window in Heaven whence all things can be seen. In later Viking times Valhall, his dwelling, is a great and magnificent abode, with 540 doors, through any one of which 800 champions can ride abreast. It is thatched with golden shields, raftered with shafts, and has the "wall-panelling all covered with fair shields " ; for torches, when required, Odin sends for swords! Hither come the kings of the earth and the champions slain in battle, einherja, conducted and welcomed by the Valkyrie or shield-maidens, to spend their days in sport, their nights in feasting, till, at Ragnarök-the great Day of Doom-they ride forth with the gods to meet in deadly combat the monsters, giants, and demons led to the attack by the treacherous Loki.
The fifth day, Dies Jovis, we call after Thor, son of Odin and Frigga (mother earth), husband of Sif, the golden-haired goddess. (Cornfield, Ceres.) He is called Okuthor -Wagon Thor-as he never rides like the other gods, but always walks or drives the car drawn by two he-goats,Tanngniostr and Tann-grisnir-Tooth-gnasher and Toothtearer. He is the husbandman's god (Goffar-good-father), whose wrath and anger are ever directed against the evil powers that injure mortals and their possessions. He is the special god of the Norwegians, and I think we may explain a phrase in S. Olaf's Saga-" Thor Engels manna god, ok Odin Saxa god . . . ok Frey Svia god " -concerning which Vigfusson asks, " Why the poet should describe him as the Englishman's god," in this way, that the reference was to the western settlers-Norwegians -now one with the English!
Thor is represented as in the prime of life, red-bearded. When he blows in anger in his beard, men say it is lightning; when they hear the rumbling of his car across the heavens, it thunders. He is lord of the "Hammer of Might "Miolnir, the mauler (Thunderbolt)-which returns to him when he has thrown it; he owns the " Belt of Strength "-
Medingarde. Brides and the bodies of the dead are consecrated by his Hammer. He is a constant foe to the giants, and the deadly enemy of Loki and his fearful brood. In Doomsday he slays the world-dragon-Jörmund gandr. His dwelling-Bilskirnir (Bright-Time)-is in the south-west corner of the sky, whence summer lightnings come.
He enters largely into the medieval conception of the Devil!
We find traces of him in the Isle of Man in holding Thursday as a lucky day and favourite for weddings, also in our regard for the Rowan, which enters into one of his myths, where it is called " Thor's rescue." His following is further attested in our runic inscriptions by the many names compounded with his :-Thor-biaurn, at Baldwin, Braddan (?) and Michael (?) ; Thor-fiak [stain] and Thor-libr, Braddan ; Thor-waltr, Andreas; Thor-ulfr, Michael; and Thurith at Conchan. So also two of our existing names :-Corkill, from Mac Thor-Ketill, and Corlett, from Mac Thor-leod.
The next day, Dies Veneris, is dedicated to Frigga, wife of Odin, who, however, seems rather to resemble Juno than Venus. As Odin's consort she " knows the fates of men," and sometimes crosses his intentions in regard to them. For example, a tale is told in medieval times to explain the origin of the Lombards. By Frigga's advice they set their women in the ranks, their hair so done as to resemble beards. Odin, looking out of his window, exclaimed, " Who are these Long-beards? " Thereupon Frigga confessed the trick, and claimed the customary forfeit for having bestowed upon them a new name-in this case victory for her friends! To this legend we may trace our story of the Battle of Santwat, when the women of the north (or of the south, for I have heard it told both ways, according as the narrator hailed from south or north) appeared in the ranks, and the battle was won.
We have no illustration of Frigga, but I think one may recognize her in a usage now dying out. On our Fair-days we would have cakes of ginger-bread (fairings), moulded in the figures of a man, a woman, man and woman conjoined, a horse, a man on horseback, and a cock.
The man was probably Thor, the woman Frigga, the man and woman Odin and Frigga, the man on horseback Odin, and the horse his steed Sleipnir. The cock might be Giollan-kambi - Gold-comb-which crows in Valhalla, or possibly intended to represent Heimdall, who summons the gods by a blast on the Gialla-horn at the dawn of Ragnarök. I have not seen this idea suggested by any Folklorist, but, that it is not a mere guess appears by the fact that in Sweden cakes were baked in the form of Frey's Boar on Yule eve. In Fridthiof's Saga, also,, we read of baked images o f gods, smeared with oil. By Fridthiof's fault a baked Baldr falls into the fire, blazes up, and burns down the house.
But Frigga-tag is also Fria-tag, and this arises from a confusion of Freya with the former, whose handmaid she was, and mistress of the Valkyrie. She was one of the Vanir-gods of a lower caste than the Anses, merging into the Elves. She was deserted by her husband Od, whom she seeks through the nine worlds, weeping tears of gold. Her car is drawn by two cats, which animals are sacred to her. The unluckiness of meeting a cat on New Year's morning, and the popular association of the animal with witches may be due to a dim recollection of Freya.
Her brother Frey, son of Nibrdr, the special god of the Swedes, who again is confused with Freya, and so with Frigga, is lord of love and fruitfulness, of fertility and peace.8 His car is drawn by the boar Gullinbursti, whose " golden bristles " light up the night like day, who runs with the speed of a horse. His sword, which could put itself into motion against the brood of giants, he gave up for the fair Gerbr, which was held to be the cause of his death, when, at Ragnar6kr, he had to stand single combat with Surtr.
The seventh day was known in old Norse as Laugardagr (Dan., Löverdag), and though the popular idea connected it with the " bath " (tub-night), Grimm suggests a reference to Loki, son of giant Farbauti, a Fire god.
In the "Edda " we read of Utgarðaloki, son of Giant Forniot ; from early times these two have become merged. Grimm thinks they may be compared to the Prometheus and the Hephaestus (Vulcan) of the Greeks.
In Viking days Loki was regarded as one of the Anses. Fair of form, he is the only god of an evil disposition. He is described as guileful, cunning, crafty, " Back-biter of the Anses." " Full oft hath he brought the Asa into great straits, and oft set them free by cunning redes." It was only on account of the constant amusement he afforded them that he was tolerated. He is the mischief-maker, mocker, seducer, tempter; and as such enters largely into our conception of the Devil.
In Jötunheim (Giants' home) he got with the witch Angrbotha, a family of dread monsters-a daughter, Hel, and two sons, Fenris wolf and Jbrmundgand or Mibgardsworm. When they grew up, Odin cast Hel into Nifleheim, and all who die of sickness or old age go to her. A lost song, quoted by Snorri, gives a grim description of her surroundings in language worthy of the author of the " Faerie Queen." Sleet-den hight her hall, Hunger her dish, Famine her knife, Starvation her spoon. Despair is the porch, Stumbling-stone the threshold, Pale Woe the door, Care-bed the couch, and so on. The Wolf a mighty monster, meets Odin at Ragnarök. The Serpent, " Earth's girdle," he cast into the sea, where it grew so that it coiled itself round all the earth and bit its tail with its teeth.
Loki's worst deed was the death of Baldr. When at last the gods were as wroth with him as was to be weened, they , chased and captured him. They then turned his son Vali into a wolf's likeness, and he tore his brother Nari, with whose entrails they bound Loki over three great stones. Then took Skadi, daughter of the giant Thiassi and wife of Njörd, an adder-worm and fastened it over him, so that the venom should drop on his face; but Sigyn, his wife, stands by him and holds a dish under the venom drops, which, when full, she empties; but while the venom drops on his face he is so racked that the whole earth shakes; "that call ye earthquake. There lieth he till the Doomsday of the gods." (Pr. Ed. 77-)9 In the end he breaks loose and steers the ship Nagl far (Nail-board), made of dead men's nails, at Ragnarök, when he meets Heimdal, and they are, each other's bane. Our folklore notion that all nail-cuttings should be carefully destroyed may have reference to this, the idea being to delay the building of the Ship and so postpone the Day of Doom!
Besides the gods of the week, we have in our sculpturings a figure of Heimdall, and in our folklore faint traces of Balder.
Heimdall is the warder of the gods' dwelling and set in Himinbiorg at the foot of the Rainbow, Bifrost" quaking bridge," which leads from Earth to Asgarth. He is " the whitest of the Anses," a god of Day, and has the peculiarity of being born of nine mothers.
"I am nine Mothers' child, nine Sisters' son am I "
so he sings in a fragment of a lost poem.
It was he who created the three classes of men-Earls, Churls, and Thralls. From his name Rig is derived that of Ericksgata, the Milky Way, the gods' highroad across the skies. This is evidently the origin of our story of King Orry and the Milky Way.
Heimdall, the " wind-listening god," hears the grass grow, and the wool on the back of the sheep. As warder of the gods he has charge of the Gialla-horn, kept at the roots of the sacred Tree, the blast of which rings through the nine worlds when he summons the gods for the last great battle, in which he meets and slays Loki, by whom he himself is slain.
Finally, so far as the Isle- of Man is concerned, we have Balder, son of Odin and Frigga, a divinity of Light and Fire, in many respects resembling the Celtic Beal. He was done to death through the treachery of Loki, who, learning that he was invulnerable to everything except the Mistletoe, maliciously placed a wand of that plant in the, hands of Hoyr (Hood), Balder's blind brother, and, giving him the direction, urged him to throw it for sport. So Balder fell dead. Hermobr, his twin brother, galloped away on Sleipnir to treat with Hel for his release, and finally she agreed that if indeed Balder were so beloved that everything quick and dead should weep for him, he might fare back to the Anses. But when all things were willing to do so, the returning messengers passed a cave, where was an Ogress called Thokk, who replied, " Thokk will bewail with dry tears Balder's balefire. . . . Let Hel hold what she has." After Ragnardk, the Sibyl in Voluspa :tells-Balder shall come back and "all sorrows shall be healed."
In the Hibbert Lectures, "Celtic Heathendom," 1886, Professor Rhys compares this story with the old Celtic myths of "The Sun Hero." He points out that Balder was not simply the sun, but the summer sun, whose return is witnessed in the north only after protracted waiting. His dwelling-place in the heavens (Breiðablik, Broad-gleam) seems to refer to the arctic summer, when the sun prolongs his stay above the horizon.
Only one incident connected with Balder is figured in our sculpturings-the dwarf Lit, who runs across Thor's path when he is going to hallow the funeral pyre.[error see p26]
We trace him in our folk-lore. Kelly, in the "Manx Society's Dictionary," s.v. " Baaltinn," refers to the local custom of kindling fires on the summits of the highest hills, " but the modern practice is for each balla or town to kindle a fire, so that the wind may drive the smoke over their corn fields, cattle, and habitations. . . . It is also the usage to put out the culinary fires on that day, and to re-kindle them with some of the sacred fire." He then refers to the mock engagements between Summer and Winter on May-day, Laaboaldyn, 10 also to the strewing of "primroses" and the crosses of mountain ash.
Now the Midsummer fires obtained almost all over Europe in early Christian times, but there is little doubt they were of Heathen origin. The authors of " Corp. Poet. Bor." ask:-"Do the fires of John commemorate the burning of Balder's body?" The northern Easter fires too were certainly heathen, and sacrificial in origin. Grimm points out that the Celtic Belfires and the Teutonic Phol-days (Balder) were nearly midway betwixt Easter and Midsummer, but nearer Easter when it falls late. The battle of Summer and Winter, as Mr. Moore says in his Folklore," is undoubtedly of Scandinavian origin, but it is rather Swedish and Gothic than Norwegian.
Besides the Arises and the Vanir and the Elves (light and dark), we have the Giants, generally hostile to the gods, but sometimes friendly. They are the " hill-folk " or " cave-men," and live at Jotunheim, on the edge of the Earth, which is imagined flat, and surrounded by the Ocean.11 Some of these appear in our carvings, and our folk-tales refer to others.
Then we have the Dwarves--"not always baneful." The firmament is upheld by four of these, named after the cardinal points of the compass. They live chiefly in rocks and caves underground, hence are gatherers and hoarders of precious stones and metals. Trolls, from which we get a place-name-Trollaby-seem to be between Giants and Monsters.12 Our Phynnodderee and Glashtin, if of Celtic
origin, as seems likely, partake of the nature of Trolls, showing the Scandinavian influence on our Folklore. Loki's brood of monsters has already been referred to; there were others also, as the Wolves of the Eclipse, " the gripper and tearer of the Moon, the swallower of the loaf of the heavens, the destroyer of the sky's light " ; also the wicked, venomous " tearer of corpses "-Nidhogg, and, lastly, the fire-fiends, Mu-spilli, sons of treason, sons of destruction, etc.
Finally, we have to do with the semi-divine beings-the Heroes-who were human, but of divine descent. The greatest of these, and the favourite from earliest times, was Sigurd the Volsung, whose slaying of the dragon Fafni and capture of the gold-hoard, with the effects of the baneful curse accompanying it, are vividly pourtrayed on at the least four of our sculptured stones.
1 I draw this sketch from Snorri's "Prose Edda" (G. W. Dasent, Trans.) ; Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology"; Cleasby and Vigfusson's "Icelandic Dictionary "; and Vigfusson and York Powell's " Corpus Poeticum Boreale."
3 " Corp. Poet. Bor." II. 459. But the Authors say " roast " pork !
4 "Folklore of the Isle of Man."-A. W. Moore, pp. 104, 122, 144.
5 Thus Train relates how a felon was cut down by the angry populace, and hanged again in a hair halter! There is also a story both at Ballaugh and S. John's of a lost skeleton of the Irish Elk, which the workmen endeavoured to haul out by a hair rope.
6 " I mind me hanging on the gallows-tree nine whole nights, wounded with the spear, offered to Odin, myself to myself; on the 'free whose roots no man knoweth."-Hava-anal.
7 11 Lioar Manninagh," III., p. 445.
8 In fact, Frigga, Frey, and Freya were originally one deity, and their joint names survive in the word Friday; Freya as goddess of Love accounts for this assignment of the Day of Venus !
9 Loki bound, with his faithful wife Sigyn catching the venom in a basin, is carved on the beautiful cross at Gosforth, near Whitehaven. Rev. W. S. Calverley, Crosses, &c., in the Diocese of Carlisle. I thought I recognised this subject carved on a stone at Andreas (Saga Book, 1895-6), but now consider that it is intended for Gunnar in the Snake-pit i Our only other illustration of the bound Loki is that at Kirkby Stephen.
10 See " Folklore of the Isle of Man. "-A. W. Moore, pp. 112, 1 18, 146.
11 As Carlyle puts it:-" The dark, hostile Powers of Nature they figure to themselves as Jåtun's Giants-huge, shaggy beings of a demoniac character. Frost, Fire, Sea-tempest-these are Jotuns. The friendly Powers again-as Summer-heat, the Sun-are Gods. The Empire of this Universe is divided between these two ; they dwell apart, in perennial internecine feud."-Heroes and Hero Worship.
12" Troll Kalla mik :' -" They call me Troll; Gnawer of the Moon, Giant of the Gale-blasts, Curse of the rain-hall, Companion of the Sibyl, Nightroaming hag, Swallower of the loaf of heaven. What is a Troll but that?" From a loth Century ditty.