Northern German New Year’s Traditions

by Týra Sahsnotasvriunt

WHY IS NEW YEAR’S CALLED SILVESTER IN GERMAN?

pope

Since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 the last day of the year has been named after the Roman Catholic pope Silvester (Lat. silva = forest, silvester = forest (hu)man), who had died on December 31st, 335 in Rome.
For some reason most people pronounce it “Sylvester” (y = ü) rather than Silvester up here though.
Like most Catholic clerics pope Silvester was an incredibly degenerate and cruel man. He was known for torturing Pagans resisting to be baptized to death by forcing them to eat fishbones.

RUMMELPOTT & MASQUERADE

Rummelpott

I already mentioned the North Frisian variant of Rummelpott (“noisy pot”) in https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/pagan-remnants-of-north-frisian-holiday-celebrations-and-customs-19th-21st-century/.
However in most of the rest of Northern Germany the children put on costumes and masks,  so that the spirits of the old year would not recognize them and try to pass over into the new year by clinging to them. Groups of children would then go from door to door singing songs such as “Fru, mok de Dör op” swinging their Rummelpott rhythmically and asking for food, candy, a few coins or other small good luck tokens such as pig, horseshoe, chimney sweeper, toadstool or clover figurines.
Unfortunately this custom has been dying out rapidly ever since the introduction of the American commercialized version of Halloween around 1998.

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When I was a girl some 30 years ago my family and I would still masquerade ourselves and keep the masks on until midnight, so that the spirits would not recognize us. Children nowadays aren’t even ware of this custom anymore though. People usually either wear little party hats you can buy at the drugstore before Silvester or nothing at all.

RUMMELPOTT TEXTS in Plattdüütsch (Saxon Platt or generally mistakenly known as “low German”)

Fru, maak de Döör op,                    Wife, open the door,
de Rummelpott will rin,                 the Rummelpott wants to come in,
dor kummt en Schipp ut
Holland an,                                         a ship from Holland just arrived,
dat hett en goden Wind.                 which had a good wind.
Un wenn dat Schipp vun
Holland kummt,                               And when the ship arrives from Holland,
denn hett dat goden Wind,            then it has had good wind,
un wenn de Schipper vun
Holland kummt,                               and when the sailor is from Holland,
denn hett he n goden Sinn.           then he is a strong-willed fella.
Schipper, wullt du wieken,            Sailor, do you want to move away now?
Fährmann, wullt du strieken,       Ferryman, do you want to strike?
sett dat Seil op den Topp                Stow the sails on top (=away)
un giff mi wat in n
Rummelpott.                                     and put something into my Rummelpott.
Laat mi nich to lang stahn,            Do not let me stand here too long,
ik mutt noch en Huus
wedder gahn,                                     I have to move on to the next house,
halli halli hallo,                                helli, helli, hello,
dat geiht na Holland to!                 Now we are off to Holland!
Halli halli hallo,                                Helli, helli, hello,
n Appelkoken dorto,                       Give me an apple pie also,
en Stück Speck un en
Stück Broot,                                       A piece of bacon and a slice of bread,
dat is goot för Hungersnoot.        that helps against starvation.
In düt Huus wahnt n
rieken Mann,                                      A rich man lives in this house,
de uns de Büdel füllen kann,         who can fill our bags,
een, twee, dree, veer,                       one, two, three, four,
wenn’t ok en halven Daler wee     if only it were just half a coin.
Rummel, rummel um dat Huus,   Rummel, rummel around the house,
hesst keen Ei, denn geev mi
n Wurst,                                                if you have no eggs give me sausage,
een vun de witten,                             one of the white ones,
de swatten kann ik nich bieten.    I can’t chew the black ones.
Witten Tweern un
swatten Tweern,                                 White thread and black thread,
dat ool Wief dat gifft nich geern!   that old housewife doesn’t like to be                             generous!
Hau de Katt den Swanz af,                Chop off the cat’s tail,
hau em nich to lang af,                      Chop it good and short,
(literally: Don’t chop it (leave it) too long)
laat n lütten Stummel stahn,           let (only) a little stump remain,
de Rummelpott mutt
weddergahn!                                          the Rummelpott has to move on!
Een Huus wieder wahnt
de Snieder,                                              One house down lives the tailor,
een Huus achter wahnt
de Slachter,                                             one house behind that one the butcher,
een Huus wiederan                               one house up lives Santa Claus,
wahnt de Wiehnachtsmann,
un in dat Huus in e Mitt                 and in the house in the middle
wahnt de dicke Smitt!                    lives the fat smith!
Ooltjohr, Niejohr,                            Old year, new year,
Moder, sünd de Förten goor?       mother, are the Berliner done?
Sünd se goor, so giff mi n poor.   If they’re done yet then give me a few.
Krieg ik een, so bliev ik stahn,     Give me one and I shall remain,
krieg ik twee, so will ik gahn.       Give me two and I shall leave.
Sünd se n beten kleen,                    If they’re a wee bit small,
so gifft dat twee för een.                then give me two for one
Sünd se n beten groot,                    If they’re a little big,
so smeckt se mal so goot.              at least they’re going to taste well
Sünd se n beten fett,                        If they’re a bit greasy,
denn smeckt se ok noch nett!       it will still taste well enough!
Un giff mi nich to knapp,               Don’t be greedy,
dor sünd noch welk int Schapp!   There are some left in the wardrobe!
Man ümmer her, man ümmer
her,                                                         Give me, give me,
dat Schapp, dat is noch lang
nich leer!                                               the wardrobe isn’t empty yet!

*

Ik bin en lütten König                        I am a little king
giv mi nich so wenig                           Do not give me too little
lot mi nich so lange stohn                Do not let me stand here too long
denn ik mut noch wedder gohn      Because I have to leave soon again
mutt noch ganz nach Bremen         Have to get all the way to Bremen
Bremen is ne grode Stadt                  Bremen is a large city
giv mi all de Lüd wat                           Where all the people will give me sth.
mi wat, di wat,
all de lütten Kinner wat.                    Something for me, something for you,                                                                             something for all the little children

*

“Rummel Rummel rusch                Noisy, noisy woosh
De Neger sit in´n Busch                   The negro sits in the bush
Gif mi eenen Appelkoken               Give me some apple pie
Oder eene Wursch                             Or a sausage
Is de Wursch to kleen                       If the sausage is too small
Gif mi twee för een                            Give me two for one
Een Hus wider wohnt de Snider    One house down is where the tailor lives
Een Huus achter wohnt
de Schlachter                                       Another house down the butcher
Een Huus achtern leevt
de Wiehnachtsmann                         And behind that house lives Santa Claus

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Foreigners are often put off by how rude and violent these songs seem to be (much like they are afraid of Krampus, the Perchtenlauf and Knecht Ruprecht for example).
But in these kinds of songs several Pagan elements and codes were often hidden. For example said “tailor” in the song above was a code for the Norns, weavers of fate. The butcher was Thunar (Thor) and Santa Claus obviously is Wotan.
The part about the cat in the first song above represents the death of Paganry. Cats used to be regarded as animals connected to the Gods, they appear in lore (Freija’s cats, Thor wrestling the Midgardserpent in disguise of a cat) and were held in high regard, they were also a symbol for magic and the otherworld. In the middle ages cats came to be viewed as bringers of bad fortune, a symbol of the devil and everything “Pagan”, i.e. evil though.
The chopping off of the cat’s tail describes the violent Christianization of Northern Europe – but alas – a stump remains, our roots, our history and customs which might have been taken over, christianized but not entirely eradicated.

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GOOD LUCK SYMBOLS

THE FOUR-LEAF CLOVER

four-leaf-clover

The four-leaf clover is rare and thus it was considered lucky even in pre-Christian times. Later of course, Christians re-interpreted the four-leaf clover to represent the cross, due to its form. But in old times the four-leaf clover was a magical weed, its leaves representing the elements, the cardinal points, the seasons, the sun and sunwheel, which is why it has been popular to keep around the house and close to the body around Yule, the time the sun is reborn.
In Northern Germany grocery and drug stores offer pots of clover about a week before New Year’s Eve. They usually come with little figurines of other good luck symbols.

Usually every member of the family buys their own pot over clover. The family then sits down together, checking for a four-leaf. Four-leafs are often cut off and framed or dried and put in one’s purse to attract money.

THE PIG

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The pig is another lucky symbol from Pagan times. The boar is one of Wanen God Fro (Frey)’s totem animals, representing fertility, good fortune, joy and especially prosperity. It appears to have been a sacrificial animal as well, as all throughout Germany boar and pig tusks, bones have been found around ritual areas.
The belief that pigs are “unclean”, unworthy and lower animals is a judeo-Christian one completley foreign to us Europeans.
There are several things and idioms reminding us of the pig symbolizing prosperity and good fortune even today. The piggy bank or the old German saying “Schwein gehabt!” (Literally: “You have (had) pig!” meaning “You are lucky!”) for example.
Since boars were also among the animals in Frau Harke’s (Holle, Holda, Frija) Wild Hunt, chasing away the old year and ringing in the new one they still have significance to our contemporary New Year.
Northern German favorites are Marzipan in the shape of a pig or a “good luck penny” with a tiny plastic pig attached to it so as to act as a charm to attract money.

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Fro on his boar and his sister Freija with her cat-drawn chariot

THE HORSE SHOE

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As I have mentioned on this blog many times the horse was an especially sacred animal to Pagans in Northern Germany.
Touching especially white horses was considered a goog luck charm up until the 19th century. Likewise the horse shoe remains as a symbol of good luck. Although nowadays miniature horse shoes are sold in stores before New Year’s the actual folk belief was (is) that one must obtain a used horse shoe, preferably from a horse they own, know or at least have seen and touched before.
It is essential for the charm to work that the horse shoe be hung up with the entrance up, so the good fortune will “fall” into it and remain there. Horse shoes are usually hung up above the front door.

TOADSTOOL

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The toadstool has been used for shamanic travels in pre-Christian times especially.
It is highly poisonous, so I just want to make perfectly clear I am not advocating or recommending the use of this in any way.
The recipe for the medieval “Flugsalbe” (flight ointment) can be found online and in quite many witches’ grimoires, history books on witchcraft etc.
So because of the alleged clairvoyance and knowledge of the future the toadstool is said to bring, it is of course considered another symbol of good fortune. For if you know your future, even a dark one, you may just as well change it for the better.

CHIMNEY SWEEP

Silvester-Schornsteinfeger2

The chimney sweeper is a relatively modern good luck symbol, at least it does not stem from Pagan times but from the late 18th century where a functional exhaust/chimney was essential to keeping the whole house running. (Cooking, warmth, etc.)
New Year’s Eve or not, seeing a chimney sweep is considered a good omen, in Germany they still wear their traditional uniforms and as reserved and cold-natured as we are, whenever we see one we run up to him asking permission to touch his jacket or his buttons, so a little of his luck will rub off on us.

PENNY

Putting a penny in your wallet, under your pillow or putting it with your four-leaf clover pot is believed to be a guarantee for prosperity and good luck in the new year. There’s obviously no Pagan tradition connected to this either.

SCALE OF A CARP

Das-Schwein-unter-den-Fischen

This is actually a Southern German and essentially Catholic tradition that has found its way up to the North unfortunately. It is directly related to pope Silvester torturing Pagan’s to death by forcing them to eat fishbones. The Silvesterkarpfen (New Year’s Carp) enjoys great popularity in some rural parts up North, although people are mainly atheist or Protestant up here. Counting the fishbones after the Silvesterkarpfen dinner was to “count your blessings”. To keep a scale of the carp in your wallet is said to ensure prosperity throughout the whole next year.

DECORATIONS in general

Multi-colored garlands or banners are hung all over the house. What appears to be a modern tradition was actually known in the 19th century already though. This was another way to ensure that the spirits of the old year would not recognize the house and its owners and hopefully move on.

ORACLES

POURING LEAD

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Pouring lead has been practiced in Pagan times already. I have not verified this, but I assume that the Romans brought this custom with them to “Germania”.
Lead pouring sets are also sold in most grocery and drugstores in the North about a week before Silvester.
They usually contain 4-6 pieces of lead in the shape of good luck symbols, a spoon and a little brochure.
Most families pour lead about an hour before midnight. You melt the lead on the spoon over a candle and once molten pour the lead into a bowl of cold water.

ATTN.! You can NOT use this bowl in the kitchen, for the preparation of food, anymore afterwards! This is why many people either buy a cheap bowl that they toss afterwards or keep a special lead pouring bowl for this occasion!

When you retrieve your piece of lead you and your family will examine its shape, could it be an animal? An object, a face…? Once you have made up your mind you look up the meaning of your symbol in the little brochure. Most of them are rather limited so my family and I always kept the 10 volume “Handbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens” at home, not just for lead pouring though. 😉

ORACLE BON BONS

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Another modern one: Giant confetti-filled bon bons are another way of predicting the future. One person grabs one end and another family member of friend the other and then you pull it apart. The person holding the longer end is believed to have a luckier year than the other person. (This custom is similar to the one where chicken or other animal bones are pulled apart.)

OTHER BELIEFS, SUPERSTITIONS & CUSTOMS

LAUNDRY

It is believed to bring bad luck to hang up your laundry to dry over New Year’s, as the spirits of old attach themselves to the clothes and hide inside them to enter the new year this way.
They will then continually keep you back, put obstacles in your way and they might even make you mad.
Another folk belief is that disease and death will sneak into the clothes and make you and yours sick.

STRANGE ANIMALS

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If one comes across strange animals during the 12 Rauhnächte (twelve nights of Yule) one is supposed to move away from them as quickly as possible. These animals might be connected to the Wild Hunt and/or possessed by spirits, which is why touching them was considered a risk as spirits are also passed on via touch.

BROOMBINDING

Making a new broom on New Year’s was considered to bring good luck. On the stroke of midnight women often began sweeping counter-clockwise around the house in order to purge the old year and the spirits of old from the ground.

TELEVISION

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Unrelated to anything Pagan but a modern tradition that began in the 60’s ad 70’s is to watch the original British “Dinner for One” and the episode “Der Silvesterpunsch” (The New Year’s Eve Punch) from the popular 1970’s TV show “Ekel Alfred” (Jerk Alfred). You can find both of them on youtube.

40 Jahre Dinner for one

FOOD & DRINK

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Traditionally most of us in the North (Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and parts of Lower Saxony) have potato salad with sausage and mustard (Kartoffelsalat mit Würstchen) on New Year’s Eve.
This tradition stems from the late 18th century. For once, it is easily prepared and the ingredients rather cheap.
On Christmas people usually spent a lot of money on food, gifts and donations to their local church, so there was not a lot of money left at the end of the month for a lavish feast.
The housewife had been busier than usual all throughout December, first with St. Nicholas Day and Christmas preparations and then sowing costumes for the children, making a Rummelpott and decorating the house among other things, so on New Year’s she was happy not to spend half the day in the kitchen but be able to rest and enjoy New Year’s with her family.
Since the late 1960’s many people have moved on to having Fondue on New Year’s Eve also. Potato salad and sausage were considered “poor people food” and in the golden 60’s, our “Wirtschaftswunder” years, people were insanely happy to be able to afford a large amount of quality meat, so many of our traditional dishes were either replaced or modified to include meat or anything but than sausage.

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Berliner (in Platt: Förten or Futtje pronounced futtshah) have been a popular New Year’s Eve dessert since the late 18th century as well. Berliner are a kind of donut filled with strawberry jam although in the past twenty years popular fillings include plum marmelade, strawberry-charmpagne marmelade, Bailey’s cream, vanilla cream, nougat cream, apple cinnamon marmelade and a few others. These kinds of donuts are either glazed or covered in sugar or powdered sugar.
This tradition stems from a Berlinian confectioner who was drafted to serve as a gunner in Frederic the Great’s army in 1750. Unsurprisingly he was considered unfit for this task and instead accompanied the army as their personal baker.
Half out of gratitude and half as a joke he began baking “sugar cannon balls” – our Berliner.
Why exactly this dessert is traditionally consumed on New Year’s Eve is a mystery though. It’s possible Friedrich the Great had something to do with it, since he was also the one introducing the potato to the Germans (who were at first rather reluctant about this “strange fruit” as they called it), but this is mere speculation.

friedrich_klein

Friedrich der Große

An important tradition is the mustard Berliner (Senfberliner). One of the Berliner is filled with mustard and put on the dessert tray among the others. The person who unwittingly picks the mustard one is considered to be especially lucky in the upcoming year. (Edit: I just read that in other parts of Germany it is the other way around.)
Neither books nor online resources offer much in terms of where this belief originates. I personally believe that – since many of our current New Year’s tradition are heavily influenced by Christianity – this might be one of them. In Luke and Matthew the mustard seed is basically equated with faith, the kingdom of heaven, (spiritual) prosperity and good fortune. So all things that people usually wish each other and for themselves for the new year.
I should mention that of course the mustard Berliner, once discovered, is not consumed. We might be quirky, but not quirky enough for that.

RECIPE for NORTHERN GERMAN POTATO SALAD:

1kg potatoes
1 jar of mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
1 jar of sour cucumbers
salt, pepper

Boil potatoes in salt water for 20 minutes. Chop into 2×2 cm large chunks. Chop onions into tiny pieces, fry until golden yellow. Chop cucumbers into ca. 0,5-1cm large bits. Combine everything in a large bowl. Add mayonnaise (as much as you like) and some of the cucumber juice from the jar. Add salt and pepper. Let sit and/or refrigerate for 1 hour.

Northern Germans love to drink champagne or Feuerzangenbowle (Burnt Punch) on Silvester.

RECIPE for BURNT PUNCH for one person:

feuerzangenbowle

1 bottle of dry red wine
250g sugar loaf
1/4 orange
1/8 lemon
1-2 cloves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 of a bottle of Rum
Heat up everything – save for the Rum – nicely, do  not let boil though. Put sugar loaf on the fire tongs, drip some Rum on top, and – CAREFUL, HIGHLY FLAMMABLE!!! – set aflame. Once caramellized drop sugar loaf into the mug of punch, stir and –
Enjoy!

MIDNIGHT

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On the stroke of 12 people shout “Happy New Year”, clapping, hugging, toasting the new year with champagne (“Prost Neujahr”! – Cheers to the New Year!) and then going outside to fire rockets, bangers and special Silvester cannons.
I personally detest that this modern custom replaced the tradition of swinging your Rummelpott at the new year, clapping and stomping loudly  or making loud music in order to scare the spirits of old away and welcome the new.
For once as someone who has grown up in a rural area it frightens pets and farm animals horribly.
And then also it is an incredible waste of money that could certainly be put to better use (donations anyone?) on top of being rather bad for the environment. The air is thick with smoke for several days at a time afterwards and the plastic rockets, wrappers, etc. are found everywhere and anywhere up until late February.
The 1st of January is an official holiday where no one works.

Quick Facts – Lares, Lemures and Manes of the Romans

Lares

by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The Lares (singular: Lar) are Roman guardian spirits of deceased family members protecting their descendants and their homes.
They were included in religious holidays as though they were still alive – plates of food and drink were poured for them and they were being spoken to as if they were still alive.
On special occasions and on the holidays dedicated to them, Parentalia and Feralia (like the Disenblot held in February) they were also venerated or asked in prayer and ritual to continue blessing the house, an individual family member who needed extra protection or similar.
If a family moved the Lares were believed to move with them, so they were not bound to a particular place like most of the Germanic guardian spirits and wights for example.

LarHowever there were those kids of Lares who were guardians of a specific city, village or sacred site, the Lares Loci and Lares Publici. Shrines built to honor the Lares Publici were often erected at crossroads or near cemeteries.

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In Roman belief you can become a Lar if you lived a good and honest life.
However, if you turn to evil you might find yourself a Lemure, a spirit of evil and mischief, after death. These spirits were similar to what we know as poltergeists.

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In addition to the Lares there are the Manes, a different kind of guardian spirit. They are the deceased souls of the enemies of the Romans. In order to appease them the Romans would regularly sacrifice a goat or offer milk to special altars dedicated to their enemies’ ancestors. On religious holidays the whole village would flock to the “atonement rock” (Lapis Manalis) – a rock covering a larger cave or hole in the ground, into which the sacrifices and offerings were placed.
Likewise, when some of the men went to battle, they would offer not only to the Lares to keep their family safe while they were gone, but especially to the Manes to spare them.

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If a specific Lemur or Mana caused too much trouble the Romans took to eventually pleading their case to the Goddess of the dead, known as Lara or also Mania, in the hope she would recall these spirits to the underworld forever.

Quick Facts: Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, Bullerklaas

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by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The Northern German Knecht Ruprecht (Slave Ruprecht/Farmhand Ruprecht) also referred to as Bur Klaas or Bullerklas is “Santa’s little helper”, a grim assistant clad in a brown who isn’t shy about using his rod on naughty children. He is referred to as a “tamed devil”, utterly obedient to “Wiehnachtsmann” though not by personal choice.
The name Ruprecht possibly derives from the word “Hruodperaht” meaning “glouriously shining one” – a byname of Wotan. This might be another way of Christians having attempted to assert their dominance over the Pagan population by stealing one of their Gods and turning him into a Christian slave.
However, many scholars also believe the name comes from the word “Ruhperht”, “rough Perchte”. Perchta or Berchta herself is Frija-Holle, her companions are the Perchten, both male and female figures who remind a lot of the Southern Krampus.

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Krampus in turn is just another Alpine figure who – on Saint Nicholas’ order – punishes bad children with the rod. On the contrary to Knecht Ruprecht he looks like a sterotypical “devil” complete with horns and cloven hoofs a big crooked nose.
In the North Ruprecht was often depicted from the side and some say this is indeed a hint at the “one-eyed God”, Wotan;

Knecht_Ruprecht_und_das_Christkindknecht-ruprecht04dae7916900fdddcc7600f6164069a3and taking into consideration the hooded cloak and hat, the rod that often looked like a (walking) staff or spear one can easily make this connection.

ruprecht wotan

Quick Facts: The Stüpp of the German Rhineland Area

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by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The Stüpp is a kind of werewolf from the Rhineland area. He lies in wait for his victims at a crossroads, near a river, lake or at a cemetery and preferably attacks around midnight, jumping his victims’ backs, digging his claws deeply into them, so they can’t shake him off. (In Rhinish dialect this procedure is called “pöözen” or “hackeln”).
Once attached to his victim the parasitic Stüpp grows heavier and larger with each step the victim takes and also grows in size the more fear his victim feels, until he or she will go mad before dying from physical and mental overexhaustion and panic.
The Stüpp appears to be more of a blend between a werewolf and aptrgangr; he does not physically but mentally “deflesh” his victims and lies in wait for them in places traditionally inhabited by aptrgangr.
A tale from the Eifel confirms this: It tells of a man who committed suicide and who returned in the shape of a giant wolf who began tormenting those who he felt had wronged them when he was still alive/human.
Traditionally one could only limitedly fight a Stüpp. Some folk tales speak of people having fought off a Stüpp successfully by ramming an iron knife into his paw or snout while others say that if you knew the Stüpp’s once human name and called it out loud he would immediately let go and vanish completely.

Pagan Remnants of North Frisian Holiday Celebrations and Customs (19th – 21st Century)

Nordfriesland
by Týra Sahsnotasvriunt

Folklore is based on man’s relationship to the soil“.

The North Frisians, once part of the Saxon clan, kept many Pagan traditions alive up until the early 20th century, in fact they still  uphold a few of those ancient traditions to this day.
Even the village youth will gladly partake in customs such as setting out the Niehjahrsgaaf (Yule gift) out for the Puken (elf-like house wight).

These are a few of their traditions:


St. Nicholas’ Day (Nikolaustag)

Sönnerklaas is the Frisian version of Bishop Nikolas of Myra/Greece, more commonly known as “St. Nick” in most English-speaking countries.

Although a Christian holiday, the North Frisians have “paganized” Nikolaus and its annual procession in honor of Nikolaus on Dec. 6th as much as possible. Nikolaus himself reminds of Wotan and his carriage is often drawn by white horses (> Tiuz/Saxnot).

The children traditionally dress up as dwarves, black angels (originally: dark elves/svartalfar) and as “Nikoläuse” which has come to mean Kobolde (goblins).

Yule (Hali-Een)

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As already mentioned the Puken is a North Frisian house-wight who keeps the house from harm, protects the family and who even has some influence over the weather, redirecting storms from house or farm and crops to unpopulated areas.

The word is similar to the German word “Puck”. Pucks are the more impish variety of the Puken though.

The Puken used to be honored with a small house altar, but nowadays they are usually only remembered on Yule Eve called Hali-Een, Holy Eve and pronounced similarly to “Halloween”.

They typical Niejahrsgaaf to them is a small bowl of sweetened rice pudding or another sweet treat.

milchreisUntil the 20th century Yule pastries were formed in the shape of horses (Saxon), roosters (Heimdall), boars (Frey) but also unsurprisingly ships, helms (resembling sunwheels) and other objects related to seafaring.

The so-called Isenkuken or Isenkage (iron cakes) were once supposed to ward off the Andersvolk, those of the wee people who showed resentment against humans. After christianization these cakes were still popular in the lower classes and garnished with crosses they were believed to keep the devil out of the house on “Christmas”.

On the day of the Equinox the people of Föhr and Fahrentoft (still!) practice Tamsen. The solstice is the time when the old Germanic people believed that the “wheel of the world” literally stood still. This is why even today it is considered bad luck to leave wheels – or basically anything that can be turned and twisted – outside. This includes hinged gates, bikes, carts with hand levers, handcarts like children often use, etc.

The village youth will scourge the farms and gardens for anything rotatable or hinged on the evening of the equinox and viciously vandalize anything they find. Interestingly, vandalism committed on this day is not persecuted by the law.

New Year’s Eve (Sylvester)

The following is a custom which was practiced on the island of Amrum until the early 20th century.

Children are being dressed up as Hulken, the word being related to Holle, Holde, Holda, Hulda. Hulken are the ghost-like beings following the Wild Hunt once led by Frija (often associated with Frau Holle.)

The disguised children move from house to house in packs and the parents are supposed to “pick their child” out of the crowd.

The original meaning of this tradition was that as ominously disguised and unknown as the children thus arrived the new year. By picking your child out of the crowd you “claimed your own fate” basically.

rummelpottRummelpott used to be a German favorite until it was replaced with Halloween (…) On Sylvester the children would move from house to house in groups, turning a strange-sounding and -looking instrument made of boar or pig bladder, singing songs and asking people for candy or little gifts at their doors.

It was especially important the Rummelpott was made out of a pig’s bladder. The boar and pig are animals holy to Frey (“The Lord”) who is often equated with Balder (“The Lord”).
See also https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/balder-frija-and-the-relics-of-the-pre-germanic-fertility-cult/

Epiphany (Twasche Ülj en Naj)

ascheTwasche Ülj en Naj (Between Old and New) are the nights between December 25th and January 6th. The Pagan equivalent are the Rauhnächte, twelve days of Yule.

The heeds, warnings and rules surrounding North Frisian Epiphany are laden with superstition, many christian ones but also a few pre-christian ones of which we can at least make some sense: Twasche Ülj en Naj is regarded as the time of standstill in nature.

Hence it was believed to be bad luck to leave the plough out on the field, because Mother Nature might feel put under pressure. (That’s actually a bit of a sweet superstition.)

Housewives weren’t supposed to weave, because Frija (“Frigg”) as well as the rest of the Gods were believed to be resting during this time.

FriggaLater already christianized customs involved pouring ash on the livestock’s heads.

“Ashes on my head” is a contemporary German saying to convey one feels guilty. It has its roots in the medieval custom of rubbing ash into ones’ clothes and onto ones forehead after a loved one died. This kind of public grief was expected during those times.

Later people started believing that this practice might also keep you from death and the ash became a “lucky charm” of sorts.

During winter the North Frisians were cut off from the mainland completely. Their survival relied on their livestock. In the light of all this, the strange superstition at least becomes more understandable.

Shrove Tide (Vahsnächte/”Imbolc”)

Before Christianity stole yet another holiday and named it Fastnacht (night of fasting) this night was known as Faslnacht or as the North Frisians called it, Vahsnächte. Fasln and vahsen literally means “to frolic in boundless joyfulness”. So much for “fasting”… The North Frisians still sometimes refer to what some other Pagans know as “Imbolc” as Vahsnächte und rather than go to church they gather at a pub, singing jolly songs and praising the shy beginnings of spring.

Spring Rituals (Frühlingsbräuche)

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Biikebrennen is one such (pre-)spring ritual. Christians turned the Biikebrennen day into “St. Petri’s Day”, but the ancient customs yet remained until the late 19th century. On this day during spring the village gathered to light up bundles of straw sometimes shaped like a man (wicker man) chanting and singing praise to Wotan, begging him to grant them a good harvest.

The calling upon the former chief God of the North Frisians is remarkable for that time and was probably only possible because they were rather far away from the mainland. Anywhere else such a procession would certainly have caused an outrage and immediate prohibition.

Easter (Oostern)

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In the 1800s children on the isle of Föhr used to paint eggshells and then catapult the eggs as high and far away as they could with a slingshot. This was meant as a symbolic fertilization of nature. No one remembers where this custom originated but undoubtedly it has quite obvious Pagan connotations rather than Christian ones.

Pötjrin (Föhr) or Njötjrin (Amrum) was another tradition. Children knocked the tip of two eggs together until one of the shells broke. The winner was the one whose shell had stayed intact and he had to consume both broken and intact egg immediately.

Here the fertility ritual is one of competition and the struggle of survival: Whose eggshell (“seed”) is stronger, basically unbreakable?

Harvest Home (Erntefest, “Lughnasad”)

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Up until the 1800s the person to last thresh their crops had the Vessegomp (scarecrow, high German: Vogelscheuche). The village youth snuck up to the farmer’s house at night, leaving an actual scarecrow on his threshold as a means of taunting him.

Historians assume that the Vessegomp on the fields wasn’t originally intended to just ward off birds or other animals. From descriptions of the early Vessegomp it appears they were supposed to be modeled after either the Lord Frey or Wotan who was supposed to bless and oversee the growth of crops.

The vilification described above was hence also a means of renouncing the old Gods.

Autumn Rituals and Customs (Herbstfeste)

laterne laufen1Laternelaufen (lantern procession) is a custom still loved all over Germany but especially in the North where it originates. It was a way to greet autumn and that magical yet eerie time between Idisenblót and Mittwinteropferfest, although they were not celebrated anymore during the 1800’s of course.

Catholics claim that the lantern procession at the beginning of autumn has no Germanic or Northern origin at all of course and it is hence also mainly only known as a procession in honor of Martin of Tours, “St. Martin”.

laterne laufen umzug

Quick Facts: The Klabautermann, a Northern German water goblin

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by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

A Klabautermann (from low German “klabastern” – “to rumble”) is a kind of water or ship goblin who assists sailors and fishermen on the North and Baltic Sea and saves sailors washed aboard.
He is approximately one foot (30cm) tall, dressed in sea-green or blue  and a red woollen sailor’s cap, often wearing a caulking hammer and/or a pipe.
Klabautermänner are joyful and eager creatures with an expert understanding of all watercrafts, they live to serve, but also like to play pranks on those they serve and bless with their protection.
They also are quite skilled musicians and singers and as long as you hear your Klabautermann singing onboard, even during a heavy storm, you know your ship is safe.
Sailors better hope never to set eyes on the Klabauter though; he only shows himself to sailors and crews doomed to die.

Walpurgisnacht: Why it has nothing to do with Anglo-Saxon Benedictine nun Walburga but everything with Paganism

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

Surprisingly the misinformation that Anglo-Saxon Benedictine nun Walburga (710-779), who proselytized in Germany (ironically in Heidheim, “Heathen Home”) is the originator of Walpurgis’ Night and that it is a Catholic holiday is a wide-spread one.
This is even something promoted by German bloggers on wordpress, one of them even mentioning that “some” believe there “might be” Pagan roots to this holiday, but “this has never been definitively proven”.
A rather strange claim to those who have researched sources other than wikipedia or the countless Pagan and witches’ forums, groups and pages on here.

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No. No. No. The Christian nun Walpurgis/Walburga had *nothing* to do with Walpurgisnacht, the ancient Pagan holiday…!

A translation of the name Walpurgis might already shed some light on the meaning of this holiday. Wal is a word with many translations and meanings, amongst other things, it means “large” and “staff”/”wand” but also “chosen” and “corpse”.
For example: The Walküren (Old Norse: valkyrjar) are the ones choosing the corpses off the battlefield. These Einherjer will fare to Walhalla, the hall of the slain, the chosen warriors, and reap the rewards of their bravery.
As already mentioned on this blog in https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/its-a-girl-thing-germanic-heroines-warriors-seers-witches-and-goddesses-part-1/, Waluburg (Walborg, Walburg) was also a famous seer of the Semnone tribe.
Naturally, her wand was her instrument of power and she was believed to – metaphorically – carry inside her the (knowledge of the) fate (=life and death) of her tribe if not mankind in general. This is the origin of the (term) “mental pregnancy” that various occult traditions adopted about a thousand years later.

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Walpurgisnacht was also called Hexennacht (witches’ night). Magic conducted on this night would “ripen” especially fast and “be born” in the course of May, the ultimate “birth-month”.
Purgis for once is related to the German word Burg, homestead, castle and to the word Berg, mountain, and it also means motherly womb.
The rune Berkana in which the German words “Burg” or “Berg” are being preserved, is the “May”-rune, the birch-tree rune, also known as the rune of birth, rebirth, (fertility), motherly nourishment.
What does Berkana look like? Like a big-breasted and pregnant woman from the side. Mother nature at the height of her life.
Around the time of Walpurgisnacht nature really is “pregnant”; about to give birth to the fruits and flowers of the forests and fields, animals are having their litters, nature is basically exploding with new life.
The cycle of life, especially birth was not only viewed as something sacred but also female mystery and magic.
Metaphorically speaking we are all being suckled at the breasts of mother nature around this time of year: She is the great sustainer, the nourisher who is encouraging us to be fertile, to be productive, to create.
This is why the spirit of especially fertile creatures was “invoked” during this time also – the rabbit and the hen especially.
We already know that Christians also stole Easter, amongst many other things, but indeed the idea of easter eggs and putting up small figurines of rabbits, chicks and spring flowers is a Pagan one. It is unclear whether Eostre (“Ostara” – Easter) was an actual Germanic Goddess or a figure like Frau Holle that was later apotheosized or whether she might have any correlation to Norse Skadi, the “hare-headed” Goddess. This might be a blog post for another day.
Anyhow, May is also the time of year we still celebrate Mother’s Day in Germany and as far as I know also in several other Northern European countries.

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Needless to say, the Christian Church hated the idea of women holding such a special, sacred and “powerful” role as creators of life and weavers of magic. The whole Christian religion appears to have been built on males’ inferiority complexes mainly anyhow.
The idea of pregnancy not conceived by the “holy spirit” but ordinary means, was a constant reminder of “original sin” and to celebrate it a sacrilege and an outrage. In the spirit of Exodus 22:18’s “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, magic was condemned and banned just the same.

Like with so many other Pagan festivals and holy days, the Christian monks had trouble weeding out the beliefs and celebrations associated with Walpurgisnacht and thus claimed it for themselves.
Conveniently the above mentioned nun Walpurga was made the Christian matron of this celebration, May 1st was dedicated to her.

And suddenly the holiday was not so much about birth but about warding off evil witches and ungodly powers.
As if that was not enough, it was also the day in the middle ages, on which evil witches were hanged, drowned, burned and otherwise tortured to death during public spectacles. This event was then lavishly celebrated with dance and song.

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This is why it is exceptionally hard to bear that even today’s Pagans and Heathens subscribe to this Christian nonsense. Many Pagans of different traditions gather at the Blocksberg (Brocken area, Saxony-Anhalt/Germany), a mountain (“Berg” > Berkana!) of age-old spiritual significance, and celebrate in a manner that does not befit this blessed day of Mother Nature giving birth.

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View over the Brocken area (near Wernigerode in Saxony-Anhalt) from the Blocksberg. This stone altar was renamed “devil’s pulpit” by Christians, a term modern Pagans kept unfortunately…

Instead they are warding off those”evil” powers known as birth, rebirth, motherhood and the magic of creation – without even knowing it (or at least I strongly presume they don’t!)
Nowadays’ Pagans and witches will often sweep the area around the Brocken mountain on April 30th with fern, also known as “devil’s brush” since the early middle ages. This is to keep away the devil, demons, evil spirits and so forth. An obviously VERY Pagan thing to do…

There are several other disturbing traditions that modern Pagans and witches follow without questioning them even once. Why? Because they read them online or in “some medieval book”.
Those who have read the accounts of Tacitus or Cesar on the Germanic tribes know that just because a book is ancient, it is not necessarily completely true. These two above mentioned Romans were experts in confusing facts and even names.

So how can we reconstruct Walpurgisnacht? Even Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn Theodor Storm or Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had it more right than most of today’s polytheists. One of our German “Bauernregeln” (country sayings/folk lores) states that “Ist die Hexennacht voller Regen, wird’s ein Jahr wohl voller Segen”. (If it rains during the witches’ night it will be a year full of blessing.) Another indication of this holy day being a celebration of fertility and (re-)birth. Despite brutal Karl the Great’s conversion of the Saxons to Christianity the “Tanz in den Mai” (dancing into May) remained a beloved and popular religious holiday here, up until today.
Dancing around a Maypole – think about this.
The Maypole symbolizes the phallus. (In our case Ingivi-Fro/Saxnot-Balder’s phallus). The men and women dancing around this pole were blessing his fertility, they were celebrating life itself and ultimately the union or the end-result of the union between “the God and Goddess”.
Our Irish brothers celebreated “Beltane”, not only etymologically related to the Semitic/(Hittite)God Baal or in the North “Balder”.
If you want to celebrate a more authentic Walpurgisnacht, do “freestyle” as much as you like, but always remember the actual reason and intention of this sacred day. Dance around a Maypole, is invoking the powers of the Mother, “Frija” and Saxnot or her/his equivalent, depending on your tradition. Otherwise, meditate, invoke your fertility and “love” deities, divine, drink, eat, be merry, make love in honor of the Gods who made us, who love us and sustain us, still – despite everything we are doing to their worlds – but don’t banish them with silly fear-filled rituals originating in a monotheist religion foreign to us (and basically foreign to life itself).
A popular recipe from early medieval times is the “Walpurgisbowle” or “Waldmeisterbowle” (woodruff punch). It was said to grant everyone who consumes it “the freedom to fly, imagine the future, see (reflect) on the past. (Of course the amount of sugar ensures that you will get drunk rather soon, the punch itself has a similar effect as Absinth has, meaning it will get you “high”) and Basically this punch consists of half a quart (500ml) white wine, half a quart (500ml) champagine, 1 ounce (approx. 30g) of sugar and a handful of woodruff leaves.
Enjoy your “inner journey”.

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Builders, Heroes, Primal Gods – The Giants in the Germanic and Norse Traditions

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

In Germanic and Norse cosmology not Gods came first but Giants. Out of them the multiverse was made, they are at the core essence of everything existent; the primal forces of nature, that – despite being bound to the law and order of the world tree – remain raw and in some ways forever untamed, unbound, evolution unleashed.
That most of mankind and most Germanic Pagans view these forces as “hostile” comes as no surprise, how tiny and insignificant are they in comparison, how powerless and envious.
Just as the Gods created the multiverse by murder thus the majority of mankind copies their actions, intruding, invading and destroying nature and the order of it by any means possible. To conquer and rule these ancient forces is their goal.
Yet once nature retaliates and puts mankind in its place, then the cry is waxen great, to speak in biblical terms.
“Enemies of the Gods”, “world destroyers”, “dumb”, “underdeveloped” “evil”, thus have the Giants been reviled.
All because mankind and Gods are not at the core of their concerns and are but a fraction of it, another wheel in the machinery of life, no more – or less – important than an ant.
Of course neither is all of mankind out to uproot the order of nature nor are all Giants the same. So let us take a look at how versatile these beings, these Primal Gods, truly are.

Ymir - his murder

The murder of Ymir

Etymology

In Old Norse they are called Jotonn, (Swedish Jotun (sg), Jötnar (pl)), the Anglo-Saxons knew them as Eoten and (German) Saxons as Etan or Etin. All of these words are related to the word “to eat” or “hungry” and this is indeed one of the main attributes of the Giants. They are always boundlessly hungry, just like life itself, metaphorically speaking.
Another term for Giant is Thurse, Old Norse þurs (Strength).
The German word “Riese” or Old High German risi or riso, originally wrisi, wriso means the same thing, “strong” or “powerful”. Nowadays the German word “riesig” means “huge”, “gargantuan” though.
The word Hiune (German: Hühne) was first used in Middle High German. It is believed to point to the intermixture between some of the Germanic tribes with the “barbarian Giant-like Huns”, but there is no definitive proof for this assumption.

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Runes

Thurisaz is the rune of the incredible strength of the Thursen-Giants. It is also associated with brutish Thunar, slayer of the Thursen and Jöten.

Uruz is the aurochs rune, the rune of the cosmic (“Allmother”) cow Audhumla. It also represents the power of creation and regeneration. For those that equate Audhumla with the Dark Mother figure (Angerboda etc.) Uruz also plays an important role.

uruz web
Kenaz, the “fire rune” is mostly associated with Loki, sometimes with King Surt or the Giants of Muspili in particular.

In modern times further attempts were made to assign runes to particular Gods and Giants.
For example Hagalaz or Isa are sometimes thought to be Hel’s rune(s), however others believe that Isa is solely Angerboda’s rune and Hagalaz in combination with Thurisaz representative of Ragnarök.

Laguz is linked with Ran or Aegir (and I assume would have to be representative of the Undines and all other “water beings” or beings linked to water, which begs the question whether the Idisen to whom many a pond and lake was dedicated are included in this equation.)

laguz

Rökkatrúr believe the Futhorc rune Ac to represent Angerboda, likewise some Rökkatrúr believe that Tiwaz (original chief God Týr’s rune) is a link to the Fenriswolf.

And there are many more examples.
Whatever one may think of reinterpreting and changing a system as ancient and well thought out as the runes everyone must decide for themselves, though.

Jotun - Frost

The Natures and Responsibilities of the Giants

There are Wind-, Weather-, Water-, Mountain-, Forest-, Frost- and Fire Giants and several more.
What all of them have in common is that they “stand as tall as trees and hills”, are usually even-natured unless provoked and keep to themselves and their own kind most of the time.
Plenty of Giant Gods have been described as especially handsome and proportionate.
They do not appear to fit the prejudice of being monstrous, barbarian dim-witted creatures. –

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The Thurse Thrym is described as combing his horses’ manes and tending to his dogs with special care.
Gerd is so beautiful that she conquered Wanen God Frey’s heart at first sight.
Thjazi’s daughter Skadi is just as lovely, a skilled and disciplined huntress. She even marries into the Asen line.
Loki’s wit is beyond comparison. If not for him the Asen Gods would not have their most valued weapons and treasures.
Mimir is especially wise, his name translates to “The Pondering”.
Fenja and Menja cannot only see all of the worlds’ past but see the future as well.
And Aegir, Loki’s brother, is a generous host; his feasts are infamous and visited by both giants and Gods alike. He keeps the peace with Thunar even after he calls the Lord of the Sea a slave and inferior to the Asen, insulting Aegir’s hospitability.

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Aegir, the “barnteitr”

Whereas certain criteria must be met to be allowed into Wal’s hall, Hel is welcoming to all, no matter how they met their end.
Eggdher is the giant’s watchman, a thorough and meticulous Thurs who is sitting atop a mountain watching for intruders or playing his flute.
Suttung is also known as “Fjalar the Wise”.
Jord/Fjörgyn/Fitjung/Hlödyn is the embodiment of the earth. Is she not all-wise and by being welcoming to all all-loving in her own way?
Wafthrudnir (mighty riddler) is known for his boundless wisdom. The only question he can in fact not answer is what Wotan whispered into Balder’s ear on the latter’s deathbed.
Sunna (sun) and Dag (day) light our days and Mani (moon) and Nott (night) our nights; we have their parents Nör, Mundilfari (world-turner) and Delling to thank for their existence.
Other attributes of the Giant Gods are fjólkunnig and hundvíss (knowledgeable), froþe (smart), ámáttegr (almighty), trolltrygg (faithful as a Giant) meaning faithful till death, something that holds especially true for Sigyn who remained by bound Loki’s side for aeons.

Odense Braun (1)

Statue of Fenja and Menja in Odense/Denmark, ~1967

So where does the idea originate that they are dim-witted, underdeveloped and inferior to the Asen and Wanen Gods?
For once the Giants are often known to be barnteitr, happy as children, a term especially attributed to Aegir.
This term at least implies a certain kind of emotional simplicity; as knowledgeable and intelligent as many of them are, they have no interest in the complications that Gods and humans have created for themselves and the rest of the multiverse, be they of emotional or another nature.
Nature itself is rather “simple”; there are few grey areas. Nature’s laws are black and white, they are impartial to a large degree and do not place the well-being and survival of mankind, which is grandiose enough to deem itself special, first.
A good example for this would be Brünhild’s Helvegr (“ride to Hel” in the Elder Edda) on which she is halted by an unnamed Giantess (most likely Modgud). The Giantess speaks:

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Modgud, the Giantess that initially refuses to let Brünhild pass

“Depart! You shall not pass though
My tall gates of towering stone:
It befits a wife to wind yarn,
Not to know another’s husband.”

It takes Brünhild a while to explain to the Giantess that she was tricked by evil men and that Siegfried is her true husband, that she belongs with him in death as she would have in life. She did not break any oaths (on her own accord), she did not violate the laws of nature hence. Such treachery, betrayal and cunning is apparently completely unknown to the otherwise rather knowledgeable Giantess, who is not unfamiliar with Brünhild and her fate save for the manmade trials and tribulations.
I often hear people say they wished they could live a simpler life, return or reconnect with nature, far away from the rest of society and its complex systems, only then would they be happy.
This is basically the “Giant life”. To return to nature means to absolutely and unquestioningly submit yourself to the primal and unchangeable forces of life.

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In addition to the wise and witty Giants there are indeed those who are not just emotionally but intellectually simpler.
They don’t expect to be cheated and betrayed as they so often are in lore, folk and fairy tales either; they are true to their word, upright and honest and have no ulterior motives hence it is easy to make a fool of them, because they keep repeating their “mistake” of being honest and having no ulterior motives. For a while at least…until they catch on and unleash their terrible (though justified) wrath upon men, the earth and Gods alike.
To call these Giants dumb and insensitive is unjust though. They are the natural urges, the subconscious powers embodied. They, too, play an important role in the cycle of life, even if an uncomfortable one that is harder to comprehend oftentimes.

Their names already speak volumes:

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We have Surt (dark), Syrpa (dirty colored), Lodin (shaggy) and Skinnnefja (fur nosed), Hrimgrimnir (frost-grim); all of who might just fit the common criteria for beauty a little less than the Giants mentioned in the second paragraph.
Jarnhaus (iron head), Hardhaus (hard head) and Skalli (skull) sound like stubborn but possibly also quite steady fellows.
A tad more intimidating sounding names are Hardgreip (hard grip), Wolvesmage (wolf stomach – voracious) Hrungnir (constantly hungry one), Hástígi (fast runner).
Many of these Giants are described as multi-headed creatures with dysmorphic proportions and some are alleged to have multiple extremities.
Scholars assume that these originally non-Germanic Giant beliefs may have been influenced by extended contacts with the Orient.

The unruliness and chaotic raw power of these type of Giants is not only displayed in their names but their features also. It is as though the power within is too large for them, fighting to break free again, misshaped their bodies in the process.
These are the Giants, often Thurses, who are responsible for floods, tornadoes, avalanches, tsunamis and other natural disasters. It includes Surt, King of Muspelheim, who longs to burn the world to the ground with his sword of fire. He sits on his throne biding his time until Ragnarök.

Surt Ragnarök

King Surt

They all are the cleaning agents of nature, dangerous and sometimes deadly. Hostile? In a way, yet only if you consider death the enemy of life rather than a part of the everlasting cycle.
Personally I have no desire to leave this mortal coil just yet, but I would prefer dying in a natural disaster rather than being shot dead by a thug out to get the 20 Euros in my purse. Fact is mankind is much more hostile towards mankind than nature could ever be.
Nature does everything for a reason whereas mankind acts on whims and trends according to their “Zeitgeist” most of the time.

Jotun's Revenge

The Worlds of the Giants plus Utangard and Ginnungagap

The first two worlds were Muspelheim and Nifelheim, realm of ice – Hel’s domain.
On top of these two there is Jötunheim, home to Giants of all tribes. Jötunheim is surrounded by the mountain range Grjótúnagard, where King Thrym and his Thursen folk reside.
Not only are the Giants found in all of the above mentioned realms but also in Midgard (and most likely all other remaining worlds), where they live in boulders, trees, in mountains, in the ocean and deep inside the earth. Again: they are what everything in the multiverse is made of, there is no way of locking them in or out of a world. Their power transcends everything.

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Lastly there is Utgard or Utangard, the “outer limits” of Germanic cosmology, home of King Utgard-Loki and more wild Thursen folk.
To make this very clear, Utgard is traditionally not one of the nine worlds, it is considered an Otherrealm by most Germanic and Norse Pagans.
Thursatrú acknowledges eleven worlds of which Utgard and also Ginnungagap are a part. Ginnungagap is the empty space, the great divide, nothingness, in which everything comes undone and is re-assembled before returning to order; the runes for example.
Whether it is a world but rather a state is debatable though I presume.
The same holds true for Utgard. It is not part of the order of the multiverse, something that becomes evident in the traits of its Giants. They appear not to have any of the trolltryggd in them that are innate in their world tree-cousins and are sly and often deceitful too.
Whilst the Yggdrasilian Giants still carry in them the original (Gnostic or primal divine) spark of a state of being before order, they too were forced into shape.
They are known to be able to shape shift in most (or possibly all) cases, but are still bound to the cycle and its order while residing in the multiverse.
Let it be noted that they willingly remain in it as it is made clear throughout the Eddas and other lore that Yggdrasilians and Utgardians can very well cross over into each other’s realities.

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Utgardians are free of the cycle and its laws in their realm, but are they free in ours? – Skrymir, who has a run-in with Thunar at the outskirts of Midgard, is often equated with Utgard-Loki. While Thunar is traveling to Utgard, a Giant named Skrymir joins him.
We know that Thunar regularly journeys to Jötunheim to slaughter Giants with his hammer Mjölnir. Never has it been mentioned that Mjölnir did not fulfill its purpose.
Yet when Thunar attempts to murder Skrymir in his sleep three nights in a row he fails. Skrymir’s only comments in the mornings are that he wonders whether a tree leaf, acorn or bird refuse accidentally landed on his face at night, as he is noticing a slight itch on it.
The Utgardians appear to possess greater strength (and slyness) even in our realm.
In their own outer limits they can take shape if they want to, as they did when Thunar and Loki fared to visit them, but they don’t appear to remain in one form for long or only take it on in order to trick the Yggdrasilians visiting Utgard.
The “great Thunderer” Thunar was completely powerless against the Utgardian Thursen. His strength and knowledge was no match for the forces of boundless freedom, formlessness and chaos.
This is why I would view both Ginnungagap as well as Utgard as completely separate from the tree, with qualities and goals that run diametrically opposed to ours.
There is no reason for enmity though; different realities can indeed co-exist without (much) interference and especially without warfare after all.

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Utgard-Loki

The Price and Reward of Reintegrating into the Circle

The Eddas, folk tales and later (christianized) German fairy tales are filled with accounts of Giants as great builders, fine constructionists but also brutish simpletons with either rather basic needs or demands beyond human perception.
The story of Blast whose terms of building the walls of Asgard the Gods pretend to agree to, while really plotting to murder him, was already told in https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/holy-horse-horses-in-the-germanic-and-other-polytheist-traditions/.
Usually these kinds of stories are rather similarly constructed. The Giant agrees to do as he was asked by God or mortal and in return demands the home owner, his virginal daughter or in the case of Blast, the Wanen Goddess Freija as payment.
If we look at this as a metaphor, the meaning could not get much more obvious than this. This is the harsher (sounding) version of three times three.
If you invoke the primal, all-powerful forces of nature you better be prepared to pay the price to keep the balance intact.
Living in accordance with the natural laws, giving yourself to these ancient forces will bring you unimagined knowledge. – But you will lose your metaphorical “virginity”, basically your innocence and ignorance, in the process. There is no turning back. And this is not an easy road to walk.

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Grimm’s fairy tale “Das tapfere Schneiderlein”

The trolltrygga – ever-loyal – Giants never breech their contract in lore. They neither lie nor deceive, yet they are merciless in their demands and in their conduct, that much is true.
In the Grimm’s fairy tale Das tapfere Schneiderlein (The brave Tailor) the tailor has a run-in with a Giant who invites him to compete with him. Whilst the Giant plays fairly, the tailor cheats his vis-á-vis in order to win.
Needless to say the tailor is the “hero” in this story, alas, what moral of the story this is supposed to teach us I am not quite sure, but it remains a popular fairy tale nonetheless.

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In another Grimm’s fairy tale, Von einem jungen Riesen (Of a Young Giant) a human boy the size of a thumb is adopted by a Giant who feeds him of his own breast milk. 7 years later, when the boy is as tall as his stepfather, the Giant takes him to the forest and asks him to uproot a group of trees. The boy completes the task after some struggle.
Dissatisfied, the Giant takes home the boy again and feeds him for another 7 years until he asks him once more to uproot a group of trees. This continues once more until the boy has become a Giant himself. He returns home to his birth parents. Yet they are terrified of his height and strength and send him away.
In the course of the fairy tale it is emphasized that the once human boy is not just a Giant physically but he has become a Giant emotionally as well.
He finds employment on a farm, but instead of asking for food, shelter or money as payment he asks to strike his employer three times.
Interestingly the farmer agrees to this demand because he does not believe the Giant will complete the chores he assigned him on time. A big mistake.
On payday the farmer attempts to talk the Giant out of the agreed three strikes.
Enraged, the Giant hits his employer so hard he is cast out of sight, far beyond the horizon. The Giant then turns to the farmer’s wife and tells her she will have to pay the rest of her husband’s debt. The terrified woman begs for mercy; in vain.

Domino-Effect

In this story we find another universal law. That energy set in motion will have to discharge somewhere. This is the impartial, seemingly “careless” and merciless side of the Giants (or basically nature itself) mentioned earlier.
Likewise, in the Bible it is written that God will haunt and persecute the children and their children’s children of those breaking the covenant. This is the same principle. This is part of a person’s orlog (family fate) or as the Bible calls it, “original sin”.

Of course not all interactions with Giants demand a hard price to pay. There are also those tales of great reward and friendship between humans and Giants in which their strength is praised but also their meekness and goodness of the heart are emphasized.
In those tales Giants literally cry a river when witnessing the death of small forest animals and give them a worthy burial.
They are the protectors of the forests, tending to wounded animals and nursing them back to health, helping pregnant animals deliver their young, or they uproot dead trees and craft from them nice winter homes for rabbits, birds and other small or larger animals.
Some Forest Giants seek shelter on farms during especially stormy, icy winter nights. Come spring they grant the farmers their protection from spring floods and tend to their fields, granting them a good harvest.

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That the forces of nature are always both gentle and cruel, raw and merciful, steady and turbulent is emphasized in the marriage between Aegir and Ran. Aegir interacts friendlily with the Gods and grants good speed to every ship of mortals that he encounters.
His wife Ran (greedy robber) is the exact opposite. The sea witch in the fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” is based on her and like the original she collects unlucky souls and offers unholy contracts.
Ran herself sinks ships and forces sailors to live in her dark, wet, chilly hall. Neither Gods nor men interest her much if they don’t do as she pleases. The sea is both friend and foe to humans and especially seafarers.

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Ran

 Animal Giants

The most popular animal Giants are probably the Fenriswolf and Jörmungand, the Midgard Serpent. Fenris’ only crime was to grow swiftly in size and be insanely hungry at all times, gladly devouring everything the Asen Gods presented him with.
A great appetite is not exactly unusual for Giants, yet fearing young Fenris’ great strength and that they might be overthrown, the Asen Gods tricked and bound him.
In the process they betrayed and dismembered one of their own, Týr, who had given his word to Fenris that he would not be harmed.

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Hel, Fenris and Jörmungand

Jörmungand (from Old Norse jormun = Mighty and gandr = staff/wand) is sometimes described as curling around Midgard after he was thrown so carelessly into the sea by the Asen Gods.
Neither is Jörmungand’s sex mentioned nor are there any accounts about it other than a short notion that Thunar will slay the great serpent during Ragnarök and that he is known to go and stir it, poking, prodding and beating at it without much success – and most importantly – without point nor apparent reason.
Jörmungand could easily plague if not annihilate Midgard if it is large enough to curl around it. However, it doesn’t cause much trouble other than stir the sea at times and feed off careless sailors. Only when provoked by Thunar does Jörmungand display its true might.
(Although it might be concluded that – Jörmungand aside – generally minimizing the giant population as Thunar regularly does or “keeping the forces of unbound evolution in check” is a way of ensuring at least some form of stability and keeping the powers in “balance” for now.)

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Jörmungand, the “Mighty Staff”

In order to trick Jörmungand into thinking that it was just another sea serpent gliding through the waters rather than a boat full of mortals, the Vikings’ figurehead was a serpent head.
It is interesting that save for Loki’s only humanoid daughter with Angerboda, Hel, all of his children are bound in some form or another. Jörmungand is basically being “bound” around the countries of this earth and forced to eat its own tail.
Fenrir is bound by magically crafted rope.
Nari and Narfi are not bound but their intestines are used to bind Loki after Balder’s death.
Obviously, the binding of all these above-mentioned Giants was not very conductive to the survival of the Asen in the very end, but maybe they knew this and their story is not the Greek tragedy it appears to be at first sight. If they are the “Gods of consciousness” they will most likely be aware that a multiverse created the way it was would end (or keep repeating itself) in the same way.

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There are also the wolves of Ironwood, Angerboda’s other children. She nurses and prepares them until it is time for the end battle.
Her wolverine sons Skoll (greedy) and Hati (hateful) roam the skies, hunting Sunna, the sun, and Mani, the moon. For now we will have to thank them for chasing after the two, for Sunna and Mani had been too vain and lazy to shine their lights upon Gods, Giants, wights and men. If not for Loki who unleashed Skoll and Hati on them, we would all sit in eternal darkness now.
Skoll is so gargantuan that he will swallow Sunna whole, come Ragnarök. Luckily “Elf Candle” as she is also known, bore a child before her death, who will illuminate the New World.

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Nidhögg with messenger squirrel Ratatösk

The Storm and Weather Giant Hräsvelg (corpse-eater) is sitting atop the world tree, causing both storm as well as gentle breeze when flapping his wings.
The serpent (dragon) Nidhögg (low cowerer) curls around the base of the Yggdrasil, chewing at its roots. Nidhögg and Hräsvelg do not grow tired of throwing insults back and forth at each other. Alas they are so far away from each other on the tree that the squirrel Ratatösk keeps running back and forth between them, delivering their snarky messages.

Eight-legged Sleipnir is the size of a regular horse, yet since both his parents are the newly-called “Rökkr”-Giants (a term I’m not opposed to but that should be mentioned is not historical) what else would he be? He is well-liked by Germanic and Norse Pagans while his siblings are usually condemned and hated. Yet…it is Sleipnir that carries Wotan towards his death, his brother Fenrir will devour that once foreign and most likely originally Eastern/Slavic God.

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All these animal Giants appear not to be able to change shape. The Giants born into humanoid shape are often described as transforming into animals though.
Loki regularly turns into a fox.
Thjazi transforms into a Giant eagle.
Fafnir on the other hand used to be human and later changed himself into the grisly dragon that Siegfried slew.
Grendel might just be a kind of Giant, he is described as a strange blend between animal and human.
Is it supposed to tell us something that the animal Giants cannot change shape? Do they possess less power? Or are they more primal and hence powerful in turn, more Giant-like in nature because they are all instinct without complicated thoughts confusing them?
All of the above mentioned play a pivotal role in Ragnarök, without them the cycle could not be ended, a new cycle could not be begun.

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Storm Jotun

Historical and Modern Giant Cult

Ich paut dir Fasolt, dass du das wetter verfirst mir und meinen nachpauren ân schaden.
(“I beg you, Fasolt, that you grant me good weather and keep harm from my neighbors and me”).
Thus goes an ancient German prayer to Storm- and Weather Giant Fasolt.
To say that there are no traces of a historical Giant cult or of Giant veneration is not completely correct hence. There are – admittedly scarce – traces in the fairy tales and in classical lore as mentioned before. One other example is the prayer of Thorvald Holbark to Surt (!) in Landnamabók.
Save for the above weather blessing and a few vardulokkur and galdralát as sung in Seid rituals – such as the Buslabaen – there are however few testimonies that Giants were called upon. Which is not to say that they could not have existed, a lot got lost in the course of christianization after all.
One German(ic) incantation to stop heavy bleedings addresses “Tumbo” (unfeeling, silent, the name of a Stone Giant). It speaks of how Tumbo is sitting in a mountain with a child in his arms. The Giant is being flattered by calling him “holy” and then asked to close the wound.
Whether this charm or prayer was tied to the rock formation of a specific location that looked like a Giant holding a child cannot be determined anymore.
It’s possible that just like the German Horse Blessing there are forgotten allegories or metaphors we just cannot decipher anymore nowadays.

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Even if there had never been a historical Giant cult, who says they cannot or should not be venerated? They have truly remained trolltrygg and have kept this world alive and still in relative balance despite what we have done and continue to do to it. For this alone they deserve the utmost respect that they were so long denied.

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Their path is one of selflessness. They know of their personal futures, of their fates, and yet they accept it, working towards the next great leap in evolution (Ragnarök) without fear or regret. Nature itself cannot die. Nothing can. There is no death, only transformation.
The Asen are fighting so that there will be something left after our world has been burned, that is their role and they fulfill it just as dutifully. They are the stabilizing forces, without the giants they would represent stagnation. Without the Asen the giants would be “Utangardian”, unpredictable and most likely utterly dangerous.

If you praise the Asen and the Wanen, blot to the Alben, toast the dwarves, bow to the Idisen and give a nightly thanks to your Fylgja, yes, even give an acknowledging nod to Hel around the time of the second Idisenblot, do not be a hypocrite and shun or ignore those forces this world was made of and still essentially consists of. Hail the Giants!

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Balder, Frija and the Relics of the pre Germanic Fertility Cult

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The hero was inextricably connected to the matriarchal Goddess. Just as she, the Earthmother, was the embodiment of the cycle of life as maiden, mother and crone, the hero, Sunfather, in his birth/son, sacrifice and rebirth aspects was too.
He was not permitted to age or die of old age; otherwise the cycle would have been broken. Instead, he was sacrificed.
In other words, he was given back to the cycle during the height of his fertility, so he would return renewed, refreshed and the cycle would begin anew.
By returning into the Earth (mother) he fertilized her until she was ready to give birth to him again.
Some people are offended by these apparently “incestuous” ideas, but it is important to understand that they are not to be taken literally.
These were metaphors known in almost every ancient culture. They were merely a way of explaining the circle of life in a non-scientific way with strong images everyone could relate to at that time.

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Frija/Frigga/Frikka the great Weaver, depicted with swans (also the attribute animals of the Valkyries and Idisen).

Traces of the Earthmother/Sunfather idea can be found in the tale of Balder and Frija (Frigg). Balder (Lord) and Frija (Lady, originally “beloved” from Sanskrit priya) belong together as the later siblings Frikka and Frikko or Freija (Lady) and Frey (Lord) do.
Originally these were not divine names but only titles with which they were respectfully addressed.
These titles lived on the Old High German word frouwe and nowadays German Frau for “woman”, “miss/misses”, (“wife”) or Fräulein for “young miss” (literally: “little lady”).

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Balder’s death

Balder is not just gentle and fair, his beauty is so overwhelming that it is described as “gleaming”, he is “like the sun”, loved and appreciated by all.
Frija, his mother, knows the future of all beings. She foresaw Balder’s death.
It is hard to believe she would just “forget” to ask the thistle to swear an oath on not harming her beloved son.
Especially if she foresaw that in order to rule in the New World Balder had to “die”/fare to Hel so he would survive Ragnarök.
She must have acted in accordance with Loki and the “masterplan”.
This was remembered in the annual ritual spearing of a boar, slaughter of a white horse or the stag that was shot with an arrow around the time of harvest. This ritual sacrifice and the following celebration were similar in style to the original Celtic Lughnasad celebrations, although the background stories differ mostly.
By the way, boar, white horse and stag are attributed to the God Frey as well.
(Compare https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/holy-horse-horses-in-the-germanic-and-other-polytheist-traditions/).
In this charm Balder is first called “Phol” (Foal God) before it is mentioned that the foal he was riding on had twisted its ankle. Most scholars were quick enough to identify Phol as Frey, but for some reason refused to equate him with Balder.

bacchus03In Southern Germany Frija was known as Frikka. At least two local legends in the Schweinfurt (“Pig (boar)’s ford” – !) area near Frikkenklingen are about her and her son Lall (also: Loll, Löll, Lell, Lull), meaning “Little Lord”, to whom a fenced iron statue was dedicated.
It was the statue of a young boy with poppy wreath draped around his neck and shoulders and curly hair as fair as the sun (>sunwheel/cycle of life).
With his right hand he was touching his tongue in lustful jest (>maturation), in his right hand he held a cup of wine filled with ears of corn (>sacrifice).
He was naked save for a loincloth and the effigy of vitality, fertility, youth and beauty, a remnant of the ancient “Sunfather” God, youthful companion of the Mother Goddess.
The German word lallen (to babble) is directly based on the child-God Lall. He marks the transition from babbling infant to child and child to young adulthood. These children are still called “toothers” (Zahner) in German.
This is also where the idea of the “tooth fairy” comes from:
A Swedish legend says that when Frey was little the Gods gave him Albenheim (Alfheim) as a gift for growing his first tooth.
A custom that was adopted by many peoples in the North, giving little gifts to their toothing children in order to soothe their pain and welcome the next stage of their lives.

tooth-fairy-silhouetteAs the patriarchal Wotan cult and the Roman influence altered the originally matriarchal structures of pre and early Germanic society from simple to developed to dependent matriarchy and then – at last – patriarchy, this had to be explained in lore somehow.
This is the origin of the Wanen-Asen war.
The Wanen deities were given male counterparts who dominated them or had distinctly more power.
In some cases they were replaced by superior male Gods; in Saxon Nerthus’ case: Njörd who was made father of Freija and Frey.
Wotan did not replace but marry Frija, but he “stole” her presidency as head of the Wild Hunt, amongst many other things.
In fact Frija, the weaver of fates, the Nornen Queen, was suddenly good for little else than to bless marriages and watch over them.
When her husband had been away on his travels for so long the Asen thought he was not to return anymore, his brothers Vili and Ve decided to divide all his riches but share (!) Frija.
This humiliating practice was common law in the Germanic and Norse societies in the early middle ages.
Furthermore, Freija, both maiden and crone aspect of Frija, the mother, was degraded to being a whorish love deity who slept with four dwarves for a necklace…amongst other things… Welcome to patriarchy.

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It’s a Girl Thing – Germanic Heroines, Warriors, Seers, Witches and Goddesses *Part 2*

written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

This is the second part of the Germanic Women series. In the first part the role of the Sibyllen/Völvas, Matrons, Norns and Disir were covered.

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Walküren (Valkyries)

The Walküren once were more than just „Wotan’s Wishmaidens“. The independent guardian spirits of the dead suddenly had a stern, “all-powerful” master in Wotan, and were not good for much else than to fulfill his personal demands and act on his whims.
The origins of the Walküren lie in the pre indo-Germanic mother/Goddess cult. Their name alone sparks terror, for Old Norse valkyrjar and Old English waelcyrge mean those who choose the corpses (from the battlefield) or literally “corpse-chooser”.
The only account regarding the original independent nature of the Walküren is found in the Njalssaga. It speaks of twelve females sitting at a weaving chair inside a mound. Their weaving wool is made of human intestines, the weights for looms are made up of male skulls. They are singing a song about harvesting the warriors on a battlefield.

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After finishing their grisly incantation the Walküren leave the mound, six of them ride towards the South and six towards the North. (Six to Muspilli and six to Nifl? Also, six is the number of rebirth or renewal by destruction; this is the Kenaz rune principle, the sixth rune of the Futhark dedicated to world-renewer Loki.)
It is insinuated that while they are sitting inside the mound weaving the warriors’ fates they are at the same time present on the battlefield itself.
Like the Nornen the Walküren alone decide what to weave, what warriors, both male and female, to choose and who to spare.
Neither prayer nor offering will change their decision; they are independent and do not answer to any God such as Wotan, let alone humans.

Walküren

As already mentioned their independence was taken from them later on; but even worse, in Medieval Skaldic Poetry the Walküren are described as lowering themselves enough to fall in love with mortals.
These beings obviously have nothing in common with the strong, independent female guardian spirits that once wove the fates of warriors; instead they let humans determine theirs (!) as the story of Brünhilde and Siegfried (Das Nibelungenlied) shows.

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This particular storyline of the Nibelungs is especially interesting as it points to the death of the Mother Goddess cult, which did not suit the rigid and patriarchal structures of Medieval, and most importantly increasingly Christian, society.
In the course of the story Brünhilde the Walküre is betrayed and dethroned by men. Still, as long as she is in possession of her magical belt, she remains independent to a degree.
Siegfried and Gunther trick her, forcing off her belt and Siegfried rapes her in front of her husband, Gunther. The matriarch is dead, figuratively speaking, and as she falls and the balance between male and female rule is destroyed, thus falls all of mankind: The saga of the Nibelungs ends with an inferno no one survives, a kind of Ragnarök on a smaller scale.

Die Walkurie! (The Valkyrie)

The same principle can be found in Véølundarkvipa. Here, as much as in several folk tales, the Walküren are depicted as swans. The swan, representing purity both spiritually as well as physically, was also associated with the soul and death in general.
In Véølundarkvipa the swan girls fly through the dark forest to “ørlog drýgja” – decide (clan/family) fate. They sit down at a lake, taking off their wings and feathers to “weave fine linen”, in other words they weave the fate(s) of the warriors on the battlefield.
Wölund and his brothers steal their feathers and force them to take them as husbands. 7 years go by in which the Walküren yearn to return to weaving the fates of the warriors. In the 8th year they plot their escape, in the 9th year (note the sacred number 9 in this context) they leave behind their captors and children to become what they once were. This, of course, is a bit of a happier ending, if only slightly.

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There is also an Anglo-Saxon blessing in which the Walküren are basically described as a witch army riding in the sky and casting their spears down into the warriors’s backs, claiming them thus. The (German) Saxons held a similar view of the Walküren and so even in today’s German we use the word Hexenschuß (“witch shot”) for lumbalgia.

It is the Idisen (Disir) that are specifically named in the first Merseburg Incantation, yet it is impossible not to think of the Walküren when reading the following:

“Eiris sazun idisi, sazun hera duoder,
suma hapt heptidun, suma heri leridun,
suma clubodun umbi cuoniouuidi:
insprinc haptbandun, inuar uigandun”

 Once Disir were sitting, sitting here and there.
Some were binding fetters, some were restraining the army.
Some were undoing the fetters, ????????
Free yourself from the fetters, escape the warriors!

Are the Walküren Hlokk (“restraint/chain”) and Herfjotr (“fetter”) described in this charm? It becomes clear that the idea of Idisen, Walküren, Nornen, Alrunen (witches), anthropomorphic Fylgjen, Hamingjen and others all seem to have influenced each other to some degree; it can be tricky to distinguish between them nowadays because contemporary Norse and Germanic Pagans mostly don’t make the same tribal distinctions between Gods, beings and practices anymore as was common in the old days. To shed some light on the Idisen/Walküren mystery though: In Germany the Norse Valkyries were adopted from the Norse and the Idisen turned into meek, benevolent female spirits, often ancestral spirits.

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Alrune, Heid, Haegse – The Witches

There is a common misconception amongst the majority of today’s witches that everything was peachy for witches in “ye olden days”. This is not completely the case with the Germanic peoples.

There were Healers and Herbalists, those we would call Naturopaths today. They applied their potions, crèmes and herbs while whispering charms or prayers.
Healing used to be a solely female occupation and was passed on from mother, aunt or grandmother to the younger female generation of one family; there are no accounts of male healers from those times at all. Under certain circumstances women could fight alongside the men on the battlefields, yet men were barred from entering the areas of “female mysteries” without exception.

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Countless accounts from Viking times mention that the Germanic healers that accompanied their army or troop set up their tents near the battlefield and treated both their own men as well as the hostile warriors.
They treated them no differently and if need arose, they buried them and spoke a blessing over their grave as well.
One example is the account of the healer Halldora:
“Halldora called her women to follow her into the battle between Glums against Thorarinn. – “We shall tend to the wounds of the men who are still filled with life, no matter which army they are from”.
The story mentions another interesting belief from those days; healers could not only heal but resurrect the dead as Helga did with Thorarinn.

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What might the mighty Walküren have thought of this? Or did this happen in accordance with them?
Another thought comes to mind. – What of Iduna and her “magical” (healing) apples? Once the Asen Gods did not have them at their disposal they grew old and withered. Had Iduna not returned in time to rejuvenate them and they had died, would she have been able to resurrect them as well?
It is Eir that is the healer amongst the Asen, but not even she holds the power to resurrect the dead. This truly is a practice that reeks of witchcraft rather than (natural) healing.
Many unanswered questions remain when it comes to “loopholes” in the usually very structured Germanic belief system of old.

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The Völven (aka Sibyllen, Spákonur, Wicce – Wise Women/Seers), already mentioned in part 1, often traveled from Hof (farm) to Hof, offering their services and in return demanding food and shelter until they journeyed on.
Whether these women, who were often called to mediate between two opposing tribes or political factions within one tribe, possessed actual magical powers or were mainly mentalists with exceptional power of observations is a matter of interpretation I presume.
They did, however, consult the runes (as described in the accounts of the battle between Sueban king Ariovist against Cesar 58 BC for example) and worked with other oracles and incantations called vardlokkur (spirit-luring) in Old Norse.
The lines were blurred between Völven and Wîsiu Wîp, wise women, as they were called in German and Spákonur (seeing women) in Old Norse.

bded9915dd4405a531e923cecaf6e7eeDivination was regarded as a high magical art indeed, yet witchcraft was also often viewed as harmful and dangerous as it was a direct infringement onto the personal wyrd and orlog of a person. The further the North was christianized the more Christianity influenced the beliefs of those who remained Pagan.
Had they already been skeptical and partly fearful of certain types of witchcraft, they now fell prey to the mass-hysteria and bottomless fear of witches; they persecuted and banished those accused of practicing magic almost as much as the Christians did.
There were many different names for witches, specifying what kind of witchcraft they practiced. The more Christianity wreaked havoc the more negative connotations these originally rather neutral names received.

seidr 1To give a few examples:

The word Haegse originally meant fence-seer in Old High German. It was related to the Old High German word Hagazussa meaning fence-sitter and the Old Norse word Túnridur meaning fence-rider.
Both are pointing to the Shamanic practice of traveling between the worlds.
Later, however, the Haegsen and Hagazussen were suddenly described as being monstrous, evil magic-weavers living in the deep, dark forest and coming out at night to plague and harm common people.
The word fence-sitter or fence-rider was reinterpreted as meaning that the witches were breaking the “Hoffrieden” (literally: farm-peace) and destroying the sacred barriers (fences) of the community against unlucky and negative forces.

CaptureLikewise the terms Myrkridur (Old Norse: Darkrider), Kveldridur (Old Norse: Eveningriders), or Nahtvrouwen (Old High German: Nightwomen) were also reinterpreted to mean something solely negative and sinister, instead of describing the practice of diving into the “dark”, i.e. subconscious powers within via Shamanic or other magical journeys.

The Hamhleypa (Icelandic: Running into a different Shape = shapeshifter) were accused of transforming into an animal and bringing on hail, storms, being responsible for a bad harvest, the death of cattle or children. These misconceptions about witches lived far beyond the middle ages and frighteningly are embraced by a majority of the followers of the monotheistic religions to this day.

familiar_medThere is one famous incantation in the Hávamál (13th century) against the “evil witchcraft” of the Hamhleypa:

“One tenth I know, when Trollkonor (Magical Women)
Ride through the air in flight:
Make them change their route I can[.]
Homeward, robbed of their cover (their animal form or (dis)guise)
Homeward with a confused mind.”

The author of the Hávamál, the Icelander Snorri Sturlason, was a Christian who lived in a completely Christian society already, so his accounts of witches (and alleged incantations warding them off) better be taken with a grain of salt.

0362ba31c164f7c63bd5f558b6f333a8Similar to the Hamhleypa was the practice of Hamfór and Gandreiðr. As mentioned in part 1, a Gand or Gander was a kind of wand, but Gandr also meant spirit, ghost, other-worldly creature. A Gandreiðr was “spirit-riding”, basically a magical, Shamanic journey during which you could see your past, present or future in a different light. Likewise the Hamfór was a spiritual journey during which your soul left the body and traveled through different spheres to gather information.
The giantess Hyrrokin was described as riding on a wolf (gezäumt) with snakes when attending Balder’s funeral. Hyrrokin is sometimes equated with Angerboda. Did Angerboda-Hyrrokin attend Balder’s funeral during her Gandreid in order to see or secure his future after Ragnarök? If not by her consort Loki’s doing, Balder would not have been kept safe by Hel during the end battle so he could return to the New World afterwards.

p206Other names for witches were Alrunen (all-whisperers/rune-expert), Heid (clear, bright), Fordoeða (Murderer), Wicce (pronounced “witcheh”. Anglo-Saxon: knowledgable, wise, from which the modern term “Wicca” comes from), Anglo-Saxon Witega (knowing signs), Old High German Wizago (German: “Weissager”) and Old Norse Vitki all describe someone who is knowledgeable in the art of divination (usually conducted with runes).
The Old Norse word Galster is related to Old High German Kalstahari, a term for someone who knows how to sing the magical songs, the vardulokkur or galdralát as described above.
Although there are some historians and scholars who insist that all witchcraft was persecuted pre-Christian times, the different descriptions and attributes of the different terms for ‘witch’ indicate otherwise.
After all several Gods (Freija, Holle-Frigga, Iduna, etc.), Jöten and Thursen (Hyrrokin, Heid, Gullveig, Elli, Fenja and Menja, etc.) and wights practice magic and/or witchcraft without any negative connotation in lore. The Völva of the Völuspa, Heidi, is human even and both humanity as well as Gods were grateful for her messages.

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Bindrunes for galdraworkings

The Edda teaches that Wotan even crossed the social taboo of forcing himself into the sacred space of female mysteries such as healing, witchcraft and divination; he learned the “womanly” art of Seid, the art of divining with the help of the spirits (of the deceased), something that Völven traveling from Hof to Hof also often engaged in.
However, Seid (Old Norse: Seidhr) became popular enough for several males to become Seidmen. These men were often looked down upon, probably because this “womanly” practice was of female Wanen origin and it was mentioned that the war-happy Asen were helpless against the Seid magic of the Wanen deities.

tumblr_lu81k7dtRq1r1d1wro1_500Seid could also be used against people as described in the stories of the witch Busla who curses a king with galdr to do her bidding and in Laxdoelasaga it is the farmer Thorleikr who asks the witch Grima to help him curse his neighbor.
In both cases the witches cursed the men while they were asleep and helpless, something that influenced the medieval (Christianized) belief of “demonic” Alben riding people’s chests at night in order to cause bad dreams and bad luck.
Since the Germanic peoples were all highly virtuous and incredibly brave folks with a strong morale of right and wrong it comes as no surprise that such cowardly practices that avoided a fair and open fight were condemned and despised.
In fact, they were even punishable by fine or in the case of Ragnvold in the Förnmannasaga it was even punishable by death.
It’s also possible that Seid, “death magic”, was also feared more than other forms of divination, because of the old Germanic belief in aptrgangr, draugr, other kinds of revenants and ghostly beings out to harm humans.
Seid is often described as being accompanied by heavy storms, the Gerningaveðr (magical weather).
In later times people were of the opinion that only evil magic brought on such storms.

tattooYet…where was Thor when his domain was invaded like this? Is this just an indication that the Gods did not intervene unasked, much like nowadays when we pollute and destroy the earth given to us, or that while humans viewed such witchcraft and storms as evil the Gods did not? Who knows.
Fact is that even in today’s Germany we know the term Wetterhexe (weather witch) which is used either to describe meteorologists but also people very sensitive to the weather, and is not associated with anything harmful or negative (anymore).
Viking female warriorFemale Warriors

There were active and passive female warriors. The passive warriors accompanied their tribe’s army or troop and cheered them on from the sidelines of the battlefield.
Plutarch writes that during one particular battle the Teutonic warriors tried to retreat. Their women ran at them with axes and swords, fighting them – the traitors – as much as their enemies, the Romans. This appears to be a common phenomenon amongst the Germanic tribes as Tacitus in his “Germania” and Cesar in his “De Bello Gallico” confirm.
Furthermore, Tacitus writes that the women used psychological warfare against their own men by shouting at them to spare them and the children the humiliation of Roman captivity and all the gruesomeness it entailed.
If their men fought successfully the Germanic women would bear their breasts and shake them so as to keep up the motivation of the warriors.

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Active female warriors (“shieldmaidens”) often bore names ending with or including the syllables wig, hild, gund, gart, hadu, ger (spear), brünne, helm (helm) etc. They were found in all known Germanic and Scandinavian tribes. Were they raised to become warriors or did they choose their (warrior) names later on as they decided to join the army?
Even in the saga of Erik the Red we hear of brave Freydis, the pregnant wife of a warrior, who actively joins the battle, fighting with exposed breasts. Something that confused and frightens the enemies so much that they escape as quickly as possible.

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Two factors influenced the drastic change in Pagan Germanic societal structure in which women had had a relatively good standing: The diffusion of the Wotan cult and the increasing contact with the Christian Romans who did not grant any rights to women.
Before the Winniles had accepted the Wotan cult and renamed themselves Langobards their women had had the right to carry swords, axes and other weaponry and use it as well. If not for them, they would not have defeated the Vandals.
However, in 568, after they had settled in Northern Italy, they enacted laws that clearly stated that women were absolutely forbidden to carry or use weapons.
Either due to societal change or by (Christian) law and conversion, one after another all Germanic tribes began treating their women as second-class citizens without any rights, feelings nor wits. The beginning of the dark age.

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“Holy Horse!” – Horses in the Germanic and other polytheistic Traditions

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

Alongside the multitude of deities in Germanic Paganism there are several other beings of importance, which are all too often overlooked.
The horse is an especially sacred animal in the Northern traditions, particularly to the Saxons.

Horses attested to in Lore

Sleipnir

There is, of course, the most famous horse Sleipnir, the eight-legged son of Loki. Unlike his siblings Fenris, Hel and Jörmungand, he is not met with general hostility. This is the story of his conception:

mason-svadilfariBlast, a Hrimthurse (frost giant) was asked to build an impenetrable wall around Asgard. As payment he asked for the giant siblings Sunna (the sun), Mani (the moon) and – should she have him – Wanen Goddess Freija, hostage of the Asen deities.
The Asen pretended to agree to Blast’s terms, but resorted to threatening Loki with a painful death if he didn’t find a way to cheat the great builder out of his payment.
Svadilfari (“Unlucky traveler”) was the name of the Thurse’s horse that helped him carry the heavy boulders used to build the Asgardian walls.

Odin_Loki_and_Sleipnir_by_Hellanim

image by Hellanim

Loki turned himself into a female horse, luring away Svadilfari from his master and mating with him in the forest. The story’s end varies from culture to culture. Here we know that despite being delayed by the absence of his horse Svadilfari the great builder still finished Asgard’s walls on time. Outraged, Wotan and the rest of the Asen Gods sent Thunar to murder the Hrimthurs. Another story is that they murdered him only after finding out he belonged to the race of giants.
Shortly afterwards Loki gave birth to Sleipnir (“Swift Glider”) who – according to different stories – was either claimed by or given to Wotan as a gift.

Sunna’s Horses

Many other horses are attested to in the lore. Amongst them are Alswinn (“Very swift one”) and Arwark (“Early Guard”), Sunna’s horses. Then there are the Goddess Dag’s (“Day”) horse Skinfaxi (“Shining Mane”) and Hrimfaxi (“Frost Mane”) who belongs to the Goddess Nótt (“Night”).

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In 1902 a Bronze age artifact was unearthed in the Moor of Trundholm in Sjelland, Denmark. As can be told from the image below this sun chariot has six wheels (Could this possibly be linked to the sixth rune of the Futhark, Kenaz, the fire-sun of life?) and carries one large disk which strikingly resembles the sun itself – the Goddess Sunna.

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The Nibelungs and others

In the Nibelungs we have Goti, Gunther’s (Gunnar/Gundahar) horse that refused to pass Brünhild’s ring of fire and famous Siegfried’s (Sigurd) Grani, a descendent of Sleipnir. The name Grani has been translated as “Grey” but also as “Conifer” (even today the word gran means conifer in the Scandinavian languages.) The latter translation would point to a connection with Saxnot-Týr and the world yew tree Yggdrasil.

There are those horses belonging to humans, Beli, Falhofnir (“Fallow hooves”), Skeidbrimir (“Snorting”), Swedish King Adil’s horse Slöngwir and King Ali’s horse Hrafn (“Raven”).

Giants’ Horses

The horses of giants like Gullfaxi (“Golden Mane”) who belongs to the giant Hrungnir (“Hunger”), the giant who challenged Wotan to a horse race and who was then murdered by Asgardian Thunar.

CaptureThere is even a giant with the name of Hrosstjofr, simply meaning “Horse Thief”.

A German folktale from the Harz region knows of the giant Bodo who had a run-in with Brünhilde in the forest.
He wanted her for a wife, but terrified, she fled on her horse. Bodo, also on his giant horse, chased after her.
Finally, Brünhilde reached a great ravine. As Brünhilde preferred death over being married to a giant she forced her mare to leap, but instead of falling into the divide they both safely landed on the other side.

Brunhilde-Sprung__716x500_The impact had been so severe that until this day you can see Brünhild’s horse’s hooves on the “Roßtrapp” stone.
On the other hand Bodo and his horse – too heavy for the jump – had both fallen into the ravine. All he has left of Brünhilde is her crown that she had lost during the fall. He is still holding on to it and keeps everyone who attempts to dive to the ground of “Bodo River” (Bode) in order to retrieve it in his watery grave.

_hufabdruck2There are even children’s books loosely based on or inspired by this tale such as “The Giant and the Nymph” (Der Riese und die Nixe) from the 60’s.

Dwarves’ Horses

One of the known dwarves’ horses is Verdrasill, usually translated as “Path-Horse” but possibly meaning Earth-Horse, which appears to make a little more sense.

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Asen Horses

The horses of the Asen we know of are Gisl (“Whip”), Glad (“Happy”), Heimdall’s Gulltopp (“Golden Braid” NOT Golden Mane!), Gna’s Hofwapnir (this could mean “He who throws his Horse-Shoes” but it could also mean “Farmyard Protector”), Lettfetti (“Lightfoot”), Silfintopp (“Silver Braid”) and Sinir (“Sinewy”).

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 Horses, Magic and Shamanism

 Horse Blessing

Northern polytheistic Shamans use the ancient “Horse Blessing” (Pferdesegen) to this day. In recent years the medieval rock band In Extremo has turned the Pferdesegen into a song quite popular on our Medieval Fairs.

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The Original Text (plus translation):

Fonna demo uelle in diz tulli
Gang ut, nesso, mid nigun nessiklinon
Ut fana themo marge an that ben
Ut fan themo bene an that flesg

: Ut fan themo flesgke an thia hud
Ut fan thera hud an thesa starla :

Gang uz, nesso, mit niun nessinchilinon
Uz fonna demo marge in deo adra
Uonna den adrun in daz fleisk
Fonna demu fleiske in daz fel

: Ut fan themo… :

Translation:

Crawl out,
Worm, with nine other worms,
From marrow into vein,
From vein into flesh,
From flesh into skin,
From skin into hoof. (Literally: sole of the hoof)

Crawl out, Worm,
with nine other wormies,
From marrow into bone,
From bone into flesh,
From flesh into skin,
From skin onto this arrow head.
So you can be shot far away.

There have been countless (fruitless) attempts at making sense of the Horse Blessing intellectually and several German shamans have warned academics that this is something to be understood “with the heart and soul only”. Of course, the questions are valid and remain: Why 10 worms all in all? Was the Horse Blessing only meant for horses or for men as has been stated before?

Runes

Whatever the answer, one thing that is for certain is that horse and man have a deep (spiritual) connection in the Germanic belief system(s). Even in rune lore we don’t only have Raido, literally ride, but find that Mannaz (“Man”) is strikingly similar to the Ehwaz rune (“Horse”). Maybe because “Marr er manns Fylgja” (Mare is man’s Guardian Spirit see https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/the-fylgjen-guardian-animal-spirits/) was the motto of several Germanic tribes, and especially the Saxons, the “horse people” as they often called themselves.

ehwazmannaz
Ehwaz is etymologically related to the Eiwaz rune also known as “Eo” or “Eolh”; eoh in Old High German means horse. This would complete the yew world tree/Shamanic horse travel circle.

Oracles

009 white horseWhite horses were the oracle animals of the Saxons. The white horse represents spirituality and spiritual purity, the “Otherworld” or other realm, Shamanic travel, also in other cultures. These horses were kept in sacred groves where they were tended to with loving care. Alrunen (witches), Sibyllen (seers) or other cunning women read the future of their tribe from the behavior of the animals, sometimes in combination with the runes.

NiedersachsenLower Saxony’s crest consists of a rearing white horse (German “Schimmel”) connecting horse divination with the legend of the Schimmelreiter (rider of the white horse, linked to the Wild Hunt). The story has survived in stories such as Theodor Storm’s novel of the same name, albeit drastically altered.

Second Merseburg Incantation

Original text (plus translation):

Phol ende Uuôdan uuorun zi holza.
Dû uuart demo Balderes uolon sîn uuoz birenkit.
thû biguol en Sinthgunt, Sunna era suister,
thû biguol en Frîia, Uolla era suister;
thû biguol en Uuôdan sô hê uuola conda:
sôse bênrenkî, sôse bluotrenkî,
sôse lidirenkî:
bên zi bêna, bluot zi bluoda,
lid zi geliden, sôse gelimida sin!

Translation:

Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods.
And the foot of Balder’s foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna’s sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla’s sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
so joint-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints, so may they be mended.

merseburger zauberspruchOn 5th and 6th century bracteates Wotan is often shown as healing the front leg of a foal or horse, so the content of the second Merseburg Charm is clear.
However, some of the names in this old 9th/10th century incantation had scholars scratching their heads for a long time.
Who or what is Phol/Fol? – It is none other than Balder-Frey himself. In Germanic lore there is hardly one God that did not appear as the aspect of another at some point.
Both Balder and Ingvi-Fro (Frey) are referred to as “Fohlengott” (Foal god).
Unrelated to this, one of Frey’s Swedish attributes is “yew tree god”. The god of the (world) yew tree or Yggdrasil was Saxnot/Sahsnotas to the Saxons and Týr-Tiuz in the rest of the North of Germany. And thus the story comes full circle.

As for Sinthgunt, her name is mentioned nowhere else. Might she be a personified star if she is Sunna’s sister? The Northstar perhaps? Whether any of this will ever be reliably solved is doubtful.

History and Legends

The Saxons

Offering_by_LundThere have been some misconceptions about the “Barbaric, brutish” Saxons having slaughtered and eaten horses in twisted ceremonies.
This is not correct in its entirety and derives from the attempt of (early – and later…) Christians to present everything non-Christian as blood-crazed insanity. (Ironic considering they practice theophagia, something that no sensible Germanic Pagan would have ever dreamt up in their wildest nightmares).
The truth is that on major holidays or very special occasions – such as a Blót or wedding – a horse was slaughtered and its body consumed completely, as was the standard for that time.
Its head was often hung from a pole or from the main hall’s door.
Its blood was sprinkled on an offering stone and sometimes on the foreheads of the newlyweds or participants. This was considered a blessing, as the horse was “holy” due to being tied to the Yggdrasil (Yewhorse, Yewpillar see https://paganmeltingpot.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/yggdrasil-yew-not-ash-tree/) and its blood, the essence of its life, held significant magical/Shamanic powers.
The horse’s skull, its hooves and some of its bones were later used for a Nidstang, but that is a post for another day.
Anyhow, the idea that you can eat deer, hares, pork or beef but not horse meat is a socio-cultural development, a Christian development. This hysteria could be compared to the hysteria of moslems who claim that pork is “unclean” and pig and dog  “filthy beasts”.

gans2These “horse Blóts” are still somewhat remembered in Grimm’s Fairy Tale The Goose Girl/The Goosemaid (“Die Gänsemagd”) in which the horse Falada’s (note the runic incantation in this name!) still speaking head is hung from the city gate, dripping blood onto everyone who passes under him.

Hengist and Horsa

Hengist HorsaFamous even across the borders of both Germany and England are Hengist (“Stallion”) and Horsa (“Horse”), the legendary Saxon warriors and conquerors who invaded the English island.
To some they are only heroes, to others semi-Gods, and then there are those that apotheosize them.
The Greek historian Timaeus (345-250 BCE) already wrote about the North Sea Germanic peoples that they worshipped a pair of mythological twins, which he equated with the Greek Dioskouri (Castor and Pollux).

Hengist Horsa PferdeschmuckFact is that the beautiful carved horse head gables representative of Hengist and Horsa embellish many of our houses in the North. Like back then, these horse head gables are supposed to watch over the household and family, and they literally do.
Whether White Horse Hill (Uffington in Oxfordshire/Berkshire) has anything to do with Hengist and Horsa has been wildly disputed, however, this impressive piece of art was formed by filling dug trenches with crushed chalk.

horse in ukHorses in other polytheistic religions

Gallo-Roman

Of course the horse wasn’t only sacred in the Germanic belief system. Epona is a Celtic horse Goddess or more accurately a Goddess in the shape of a horse.

Celtic

Celtic horse Goddesses are Irish Macha (“Mare”) and Etain Echraide (“Etain Horserider”) for example.

Welsh

rihannonRihannon is usually depicted as riding on her white mare.

Pictish (Scottish)

The Kelpie is a water being or spirit inhabiting the lochs (lakes) of Scotland. It either appears as horse or human to other humans.

Greek

Poseidon is the Greek God of the Sea whose waves were called “mares of Poseidon” by poets and whose chariot was pulled by a hippocampus.
In his hieros gamos, sacred (spiritual) wedding, with Demeter, the latter turns into a white horse in order to express her grief over Hades having kidnapped her daughter Persephone.
Poseidon falls in love with equestrian Demeter and changes himself into a steed to woo her.

Another famous Greek horse is winged Pegasus, who was born out of the bleeding neck of Medusa after Poseidon had decapitated the Gorgon woman.

birth-pegasusAbraxas, Bronte, Eous, are sungod Helios’ faithful horses.

Aithon has alternately been used to identify the horse of Ares but also one of the horses of Helios. Other horses belonging to Ares are Phobos (“Fear”) and Phlogeus.

Zeus’ four horses, corresponding with the four winds, are called Anemoi. Their individual names are Euros, Boreas, Zephyrous and Notos.

Kyllaros and Harpagos are the horses of Castor and Pollux.

Hindu

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHayagriva is a guise/avatar of the God Vishnu. The early Indus Valley population venerated Hayagriva as the deliverer of the Vedanta and horses in general for their speed, strength and intelligence.

Ancient seals of the Indus Valley population already depict the Unicorn as we still know it.

Roman

Since Latin poet Virgil was the first to mention them, Hippogriffs might just be of Roman origin. However, Hippo is Greek for horse but griff comes from Roman gryph for griffin.

The October Horse was the annual sacrifice of a horse to the God Mars.

Mongolian

wz-windhorse1The soul of a person is referred to as wind-horse.

Ksaya Tngri is an equestrian deity protecting souls and earthly riches.

The horse of a Mongolian “Robin Hood” figure lifted itself and his master off the earth and flew across a river when they were pursued by lawmen.

Slavic

sva

The God Svantovit owns a white horse.

Chinese

langmaHorse is part of the Chinese zodiac. Horses in general play an important role in Chinese mythology. Langma is the “dragon horse” and Tianma is a type of Chinese Pegasus for example.

Swedish (contemporary)

dalahc3a4stIn Sweden the Dalahästar, the crafty and beautifully painted wooden horses from the Dalarna region are popular souvenirs and are usually found in standard Swedish homes as well.

English (contemporary)

The Red Vale Horse is a work of art first recorded in the 16th century and maintained until this day. It is similar to the White Horse Hill mentioned earlier in this post. The only difference is that instead of using white chalk, red clay was used.

Yggdrasil – Yew, not Ash Tree

world_tree

written by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

In my specific belief system it is uncontested that Yggdrasil is a yew tree and not the ash tree that is only once mentioned in the Völuspa of the Edda, although the descriptions of Yggdrasil clearly are not those of the ash tree.

In the light of the persisting Wotan cult we mostly read that Ygg, “the terrible”, is another name for Wotan and drasil is the Old Norse word for horse.
This has been linked to the Wild Hunt, led by Wotan. Alas, originally it was Frau Holle (Hulda, Frigg) who led the nightly Wild Hunt before Wotan replaced her.

Another attempt at a translation is “terrible tree” (Gallowtree), also linking this to Wotan hanging himself from the world tree for nine days and nights in order to receive the runes.
The hanged Wotan is also known as Hangatyr. Why would Wotan’s name be “Hanging Tyr”? Here we have more proof for Wotan replacing all the old (high) Gods and his cult establishing him as some sort of almighty Allfather figure.

On top of this, Wotan’s tree is the ash, his spear Gungnir made of this wood as well. Since Wotan had replaced our old chief God(s) it is not surprising that certain elements were modified.

Sahsnotas Irminsul

Hangatyr, Týr-Irmin who hung himself from the world tree

The term Gallowtree is not so far-fetched, considering that the yew tree is linked to death (and rebirth), basically the circle of life. The Elder Futhark rune Eiwaz/Eo and the Anglo-Saxon rune Yr symbolize this tree. There is no rune symbolizing the ash tree.

A more reliable translation for “Yggdrasil” would hence either be Yewhorse or Yewpillar. The Old Norse yggja and Germanic igwja are words for the yew.
Drasill could as well be a form of the indo-Germanic syllable –dher, meaning pillar, support.

Another name for Yggdrasil is Irminsul, Irmin’s pillar. Irmin is another name of our original chief God Sahsnotas (Saxnot-Týr).

Irminsul my old poster

From “Drasill’s” Mouth – Accounts of the Nature of Yggdrasil in the Eddas and other Lore

In modern translations of Gylfaginning 17 (Edda) the word barr has been mistranslated as leaves. Barr means conifer.

Throughout the Edda it is emphasized that the world tree is an evergreen tree. The ash is not evergreen but the coniferous yew is. Even in the Norwegian Rune Song it is said of the Eiwaz/Eo rune: “Yr is the most evergreen tree”.

In Gylfaginning 16 it is mentioned that intoxicating honeydew (mead) is dripping from the world tree. The ash tree has many wonderful healing properties, it does not have one single component that is intoxicating though.
The yew tree on the other hand does. Its poison Taxin has an equally intoxicating and hallucinatory effect similar to LSD.

Valknut-I-Wotans-Knoten-I-Walknut-T-Shirts

The Walknut, originally not a symbol of Wotan, (just as the line of Wal and the Wal-küren were once not of this God either) is representative of the world tree (nine worlds). What tree does this remind you of, a yew perhaps?

In Fjölswid 13 we are asked, “Tell me the conifer’s name whose branches are encompassing all lands?”

The rune Eiwaz is also known as Iwaz and the Old High German word iwa means everlasting, eternal. As eternal as the “evergreen” leaves of the yew tree and as everlasting as the circle of life.

eihwaz-yew

The God Ull lives in Ydal (Yew Valley) and his bow and arrow are made of yew, just like Skadi’s are. Even in Iceland Yggdrasil was associated with bow and arrow. Bows and arrows were traditionally made out of yew due to its near indestructible, robust quality. Europe and especially Germany was “the land of yew”.

The Yule tree has traditionally been a conifer tree and where I live it was traditionally a yew tree up until the 19th century. The Yule tree is symbolic of the world tree Yggdrasil. I am not sure about you, but I have never heard of anyone having put up an ash tree for Yule…

Now, this might be coincidence or over-interpretation, but it always struck me as funny that when you turn around Thunar’s hammer Mjölnir, it resembles a tree, or yew tree more accurately. Mjölnir is the sustainer of the world tree and ultimately the multiverse. Since most of our ancestors were not Viking raiders but farmers it is obvious why they depended on the hammer which brought on rain and hence growth of crops. Thus hammer and tree are connected.

Irminsul yule

Here you have it from the horses – or “drasill’s” – mouth, it is made very clear in lore what kind of tree Yggdrasil really is and always will be.

Things that go Bump in the Night – “Nightmares”: Germanic Elves

Kansi-net
by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The original German word for “nightmare” is Nachtmahr, a Mahr, Mare or Mara being a kind of nightly Alb (Elf) believed to ride people, trees or horses while they are sleeping and bringing on dreams or visions.

Even today we still know the English word “mare” for horse and several Germanic tribes, especially the Saxons, regarded horses as sacred walkers between worlds, animals with Shamanic qualities.
Loki’s equestrian offspring, eight-legged Sleipnir was given to Wotan and in later mythology it is Wotan instead of Frau Holle who is leading the “Wild Hunt” at night; a nightly spectacle in the sky in which spirit-beings and Alben are wildly dancing and celebrating.

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The word mare is also related to the German word “Mär”. It has been mistranslated as “story” or “fairy tale”, but it really means “message from the spirit realm”.
We can see this from one of the traditional Christmas Carols where it says, “From Heaven above is from whence I come, I bring you many good messages” (Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, ich bring Euch manche gute Mär).

Nowadays nightmare is called “Albtraum” – Elf Dream, formerly “Albdruck” – Elf Pressure, since the Alben were believed to sit on people’s chests when riding them.
Of course what we associate with the word nightmare nowadays is a bad dream, something that stems from Christian influence unsurprisingly.
The Alben were demonized, the messages from the other realm considered satanic. When the belief in these messages persisted, the Christians did what they do best, they made up a distinction between “good” messages coming from heaven and “bad” messages coming from demons.
The Christians went as far as turning the Shamanic riding into something sexual. Female Alben, the Succubi and their male counterparts, Incubi, were believed to either rape or seduce men and women in their sleep, stealing semen and children and causing barrenness.
The Germanic people did not make a distinction in quality between the dreams that dark elves and light elves brought them, all messages were equally important.

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Johann Heinrich Füssli’s painting already shows the Christian misconception of the “night-rider”/nightly Elf being demonic and “evil”

If you are unsure whether you were visited by an Alb the previous night, check your hair. Legend is that if your hair is extremely ruffled in the morning or you inexplicably have a few braided strands of hair that an Alb or Frau Holle herself brought you a message.
In Ireland it is not Frau Holle but the Mórrigan (her name obviously related to OE “maere”), the “phantom queen” who brings such Shamanic dreams.

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Other German night-beings are the Frankish Nachtgiger, possibly related to the Butzemann (bogeyman, boggart) which kidnaps children that keep playing outside after duskfall. It carries them so far away from home that they never find their way back.
In Swabia this being was called Nachtkrabb, which has nothing to do with the word “Krabbe” meaning crab, it comes from OHG hraban, raven. Ravens were mystical birds of the dead and the other realm. (Wotan, the later “god of the dead” is often accompanied by his two ravens Hugin and Munin and so is the Irish Mórrigan.)

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Winselmutter

The Winselmutter, Whining Mother (White Lady) is a Thuringian night-spirit who haunts the houses of severely ill and dying people, crying for their pain and calling them to the other side. She is described as either an elderly lady, a white light or even as an anthropomorphic cow, a fact that reminds of the relation between Holle (Frigg) as described above and Audumla, the cosmic cow, Mother of all.

A Nature endowed by Spirit – Animism & Pagan Values in Germany’s early 20th Century Childrens’ Literature

written by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

The animism as portrayed in the works of mainly early 20th century German authors was prompted by the epoch of Romanticism of roughly a century earlier.
It was an attempt to rekindle the early spirit of this movement which sought to defy the cold, sterile trend of Realism and the age of industrialism.
It strove to keep alive something sacred and mystical, something that could not be explained with science and logic.
Romanticism is essentially the science of the heart and soul.

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Especially three female authors/artists come to mind when thinking of animism, pantheism or an anthropomorphic display of nature and animals in children’s literature; Ida Bohatta (*April 15th 1900 †1992) Else Wenz-Viëtor (*April 30th 1882 †1973) and Sibylle von Olfers (*May 8th 1881 †1916).

While hardly anything is known about Bohatta’s personal life, Wenz-Viëtor’s life was considered turbulent and scandalous back then. She divorced a fellow artist only to get remarried shortly afterwards.

The scandal von Olfers caused her wealthy family was nothing in comparison to this, but nonetheless refusing a promising marriage proposal only to join the “Grey Sisters” – a Catholic order – came as a shock to her parents.

As different as the lives of these three women were, they had one thing in common, the belief in the inherent goodness of a nature endowed by spirit and an unshakable belief in the order of it.

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Sibylle von Olfers’ most famous work remains Something about the Root Children (“Etwas von den Wurzelkindern”), a book about an elderly lady, Mother Earth, living underground with her countless little “root children” – anthropomorphic flowers and plants.

Mother Earth is depicted as a crone throughout the whole book. This is to emphasize her knowledge and wisdom and the fact that she is not only mother but a grandmotherly – gentle mother figure – to her (root) children.

In the beginning of the book she wakes up the root children who get ready to sow their own spring gowns.

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The children then spend a lovely summer dancing out in nature and celebrating the season with their friends – beetles, grasshoppers and other insects – until they are called back home to Mother Earth again come fall.

As Mother Earth takes the root children to bed again, so they will rest underground over the winter, they are already looking forward to the next season outside again.

The root children do not mature over the summer, they remain the same in size and age, only their gowns change from pastel spring blossoms to bright summer colors to rusty autumn reds and oranges.

This emphasizes that we and our fellow creatures are and always will be Mother Earth’s children, her offspring. We may grow and mature and increase knowledge, but we will never be as wise and grand as our sacred Mother, who we are but a part of.

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Of course von Olfers has been heavily criticized by (German) liberals, the ”’68ers”. They view her work as dangerous to children, accuse her of misrepresenting nature and “teutomanic ideal world nonsense”; something they are also quick to accuse Bohatta and Wenz-Vietor of.

As a Pagan who grew up with these books as a guide on how to treat nature and all living creatures – with love and respect – I will leave this uncommented…

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Bohatta’s famous The Spring Children (“Die Frühlingskinder”) a book about anthropomorphic flowers is also in the vein of von Olfers’ books. Both her and Wenz-Viëtor do not only portray nature as animated but add dwarves (or literally “little root men”/”root wights”), elves and fairies and other Vaetten to the mix.

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Other German authors:

In her Woodsman’s Pucki (“Försters Pucki”) novels Magda Trott (*March 20th 1880 †1945) wrote about the special relationship between children, their pets, animals and nature. A nature they still view as mystical, yet holy, complete and just. The faith in the order of nature is at the center of the first few Pucki novels as well, but more importantly Pucki – representative of mankind in general – is too. The morale of the stories is that we all have a place in nature, a role to fulfill, a wyrd and orlog, even though these terms are not specifically mentioned.

Trott, too, has been criticized by the German liberals who tried to ban her books due to a “dangerous” portrayal of right and wrong and “antiquated gender roles” and the fact that Trott had to find a middle way between writing about headstrong, independent Pucki whilst appeasing and promoting the nazi regime.

Later versions of the novels have been edited to the effect that all traces of nazi-friendliness were erased. I have the original books which I also read at age 6. Luckily my parents chose to explain to me the political background and that some things had changed instead of robbing me of the experience of reading and enjoying the books regardless of the sparse political nonsense on the fringe of the story.

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Bunny School (“Die Häschenschule”) and Little Sabina the Chicken (“Sabinchen das Hühnchen”) are further examples. Little Sabina is a rather lazy young chicken lady, who wants to go and enjoy the comforts of the world instead of laying eggs. Finally, the farmer’s wife has had enough and plans to slaughter her for dinner. A reformed Sabina becomes the prime example of a dutiful hen who finds true happiness only as she embraces who and what she is.

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Conrad Ferdinand Meyer’s works were usually rather lugubrious in nature save for Little Thimble (“Fingerhütchen”)

Many international childrens’ books today still portray animals as anthropomorphic, but whereas in early 20th century (German) literature the natural hierarchy and order are emphasized, international bestsellers such as Wilbur and Charlotte by E.B. White (1950’s) or Julia Cunningham’s Maybe, a Mole (1960’s) are about incompatible species helping each other out or predators and their prey becoming best friends, whereas the predator is only reformed once being ashamed of what he is. Something that Disney has made a habit of promoting as well.

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German version of Maybe, a Mole by Julia Cunningham

Just as much as I like certain aspects about the Pucki books I still love some of the storylines in the two books mentioned above. This is not an attempt to bash the books, merely to point out the shift in literature and pedagogy. The traces of animism and sometimes pantheism and being a part of a greater picture were all moved more and more into the background. Instead anthropomorphized animals were used to teach children about inter-human relationships. Something that neither worked nor could it ever have in my personal opinion, considering how I see too many children treat nature, animals and even their trusted friends – their pets.

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I, for one, am grateful I grew up in a world filled with magic, faeries, tree and stone wights and many more creatures like that. I’m grateful my parents taught me to take every living thing for what it is and not try to change it; that I had no right to do so, because everything alive had a right to be free in being true to itself. That is something that I for one took from these wonderful books and the lovely illustrations.

Else Wenz-Vietor Der Heuschreck und die Blumen by Max Dingler 1924-10

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