“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”).

109487_orig

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.

thumbelina_smallest_horse

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”).

 *

 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.

gullfa6

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.

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It’s a Girl Thing! – Germanic Heroines, Warriors, Seers, Witches and Goddesses *Part 1*

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt

 Germanic lore is filled with heroines, fierce women, both mortal and immortal. It seems important to note that neither mortal women – priestesses and seers, amongst others – nor the Goddesses were meek, gentle loving mother figures; the warrior aspect was very strong in each of them.
Too many Pagans pervert Freija into nothing but a “Love Goddess”, completely ignoring her role as head of the Walküren. – Once the Walküren bring in the slain warriors it is not Wotan who first gets to choose the strongest, bravest and boldest ones but Freija. If you have ever listened to German or Scandinavian folk tales in which Freija angrily rides on her chariot drawn by gargantuan cats bearing their claws, you might not look at her as nothing but a gentle deity of love anymore.

The Sibyllen (Seers)

seerThe Sibyllen (seers) had a very high standing in Germanic culture.
Waluburg is one that deserves more credit than she receives these days; the Walpurgisnacht fest is named after her. On the contrary to popular belief it does not derive from Christian Benedictine nun Walburga who lived in the 700’s AC. – !
Walurburg’s name was mentioned on Greek ceramic shards found in Egypt from around 2 AD.
Another source for her existence was found on a list of Greek-Egyptian soldiers – “Waluburg, Semnoni Sybilla”, meaning Waluburg, Seer of the Semnone tribe.

It is unclar how she wound up in Egypt, it may be concluded that she was either a hostage or more possibly accompanied a Germanic troop of the Roman army. Seers were highly valued by both the Germanic and also the Roman people.

In fact, Waluburg’s name already points to her profession. Walus means stave. Sibyllen worked with rune staves but also a wand-like stave with which they directed power.

gambara

Gambara is another potent Sibylle. She was a Winnile high priestess who represented the female principle of the Goddess(es) and of her tribe, just as her two sons, warriors, represented the male principle. The name Gambara also reveals her position. Gambara comes from gand, gander, gandr = stave and bara means to bear.
The Laiamicho-myth describes in detail how the Langobards received their name and Gambara’s role in it. But it is mainly a tale about how the formerly rather Goddess-centric culture and religion of the Winniles saved their tribe from Vandal annihilation by converting to the Wotan cult, quickly spreading up North from the Nether-Rhine region. The Mother cult was long dead before the rise of Christianity for those tribes who followed the Wotan cult.

 220px-Velleda

Weleda/Veleda/Velleda of the Bructeri might be the most commonly known of the Sibyllen due to the accuracy of her predictions during the Batavian rebellion. Seers often had a great amount of political power as well. Tacitus writes in his “Germania” that Veleda was requested as a referee and witness during a dispute between the Tencteri tribe with their Roman neighbors.
On a side-note she appears not to have been held in high esteem by the Greek. A satirical poem on a marble fragment speaks of her as “That long (tall) snobbish virgin who is venerated by the Rhinewater-drinkers”. Message received.

Veleda’s name might derive from the word völva, another term for Seer or possibly from the Celtic word welet, to see. Some argue that her name might mean “good leader” from vel/vael = good and leda = to lead.

The Matronae

 

How much of the Matron cult was Roman- and Celtic-inspired is unclear. Votiv-stones were primarily Roman and the layout of the temples and altars dedicated to the Matrons reminded of Celtic traditions.
The ancient German votive-stones, altars and temples were meant to honor the Mothers, both human and immortal, with inscriptions such as “To my Germanic Mothers” or “To all Sueban Mothers”.

Interestingly, the Matrons were always depicted in pairs of three, one virgin, one married woman (as illustrated by her bonnet) and one elderly woman.
You might recognize a familiar principle here. – Maiden, mother and crone.
Matrons, similar to the Idisen, are female guardian spirits and worshipping them was a highly personal and individual matter.
In the family home this motherly spirit was represented by a serpent and little bowls of milk were offerings to her.

From Anglo-Saxon historian Beda Venerabilis (673-735 AD) we know that Yule Eve was called “modra nect” – Mothers Night and the temples of Matrons were overflowing with offerings that night.

Saxo Grammaticus (1150-1220 AD) describes how a man named Fridlevus, who was deeply immersed in prayer, approached the shrine of a Danish temple depicting three Teutonic Goddesses.

The Nornen (Norns)

 index

The Nornen are three sisters (here we have the threefold Goddess theme again) who weave every being’s fate from birth to death. They weave our wyrd, personal fate and our orlog, family karma/fate.

Urd is the Norne of the past. Her name comes from the word wurd and even in modern German the word “wurde” means “was”. Her name is also related to the term wyrd, fate, something that was also determined in the past.

Verdandi is the Norne of the present. In German she is“die Werdende”, becoming. – The present is a rather timeless zone, it is gone as soon as you think “now” and not just there yet whenever you think “soon”, so it is constantly becoming.

Skuld is the Norne of the future. The meaning of her name is a little harder to translate into English. Skuld can mean guilt but here it is rather debt, to owe something. Etymologically the English word “should” probably comes closest. In the future there is always something you “should” or must do.

Apart from those three there is a wide variety of other Nornen, some of them of divine origin, some of them Dunkelalben (dark alfs), Vaettiir/Vaesen (wights), Dverger or of other descent.

In ancient times it was believed that the good Nornen grant good, happy, easy lives whereas the bad Nornen granted difficult lives filled with strife, illness and bad fortune.

A runic inscription in a 12th century church (!) in Norway says, “The Norns determine the good and the bad, to me they only brought sorrow”.

What they determine for us is the law, only they know why they weave our lives the way they do and we only have a limited amount of free choice. No matter what we do, we are always being led back to crossroads or situations determined for us. Personality or conduct don’t matter, all must bow to their universal law. A harsh truth, but a truth nonetheless.

The Norns are basically the rulers of the multiverse, not even the Aesir Gods can escape the fate woven for them – they will fall in the end battle of Ragnarök to make way for the New World.

The Idisen (Disir)

 1922685

The Idisen are a group of semi-divine origin. They were named in the Merseburger Zaubersprüche (Merseburgian Incantations):

“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!

As mentioned before the Idisen were female guardian spirits, mostly thought of as ancestors watching over their family line. In the above incantation they intervene during war, on the battlefield. I’m curious as to what the Walküren would think of that!

Etymologically the word Disir derives from the indo-Germanic root dhei. Flamish “dyze”, old Slavic “deva” = virgin and the Sanskrit words “devi” = female aspect of the divine and “dhisanas” = female godlike beings are related to it as well. The singular Idis or Dis is synonymously used as Lady (or Queen), for example Wanendis is another title of Freija, Lady/Queen of the Wanen. Jodis is another name for Hel, Queen of the Dead.

see

Countless places, especially forests and lakes in Germany and places in Scandinavia attest to exactly how venerated the Idisen were. Diseberg, Disevid, Disasen, Disin (Sweden), Dispe, Dissau, Disinsfurt in Germany. Also Itzehoe (Itz being etymologically related to Dis) and hoe meaning forest.

In the same way in which the Idisen were revered as the female guardian spirits of a family clan the Alben (alfar, elves) were revered as the male guardian spirits of a clan or Hof (family farmhouse). However, the veneration, blot, sumble, libation, etc. was always conducted by the women of the house. This is also accounted for by Sighvat of Norway. In 1018 the Christian skald traveled from Norway to Sweden. When nightfall came he stopped at several farms, asking for a place to stay. The men of the houses did not answer him. Finally one woman confronts him and yells at him,

 Heathen_altar

“Do not dare come inside,
you miserable man!” said the wife.
“I fear Odin’s wrath, for we are Heathens!”

The nasty woman, who senselessly
chased me away from her farm
like a wolf said
that they were having an Alfablót inside.

The Idisen were also offered to and worshipped during the Rauhnächte (the twelve days of Yule), also still called the Mothers’ Nights in the Ore Mountains of Germany and in Bohemia (In nowaday’s Czech Republic).

Modraniht

Next up: Part 2 including the Valkyries, the White Lady: Frau Holle and more.

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