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

Jotun - Forest 87656789
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.

Jarnvid wolves 34567

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. –

Jotun - Forest 9875456

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.

Aegir 4567

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:

Modgud

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.

Jotun - Fire

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:

d4631888920ef5634a4e09fdaa812b29

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.

Chaos_Star_Divine_Spark

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.

00009k1f

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.

Utgard_Loki

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.

schneider2

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.

vign-young-giant-grimm-v89_rvp

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.

2375906_web

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.

Ran

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.

3 children - Fenrir, Hel, Jörmungand

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.)

Jörmungand ice

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.

Jarnvid - wolves, ravens

Ironwood

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.

Nidhögg with Ratatösk

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.

Loki fox 56789

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.

e2b5a93274fbd96e12cf0b986a605571

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.

our_beautiful_world_v_ii__by_realitydream-d356m0k

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.

hqdefault

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!

beautiful

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

Cavalia-logo-500x375

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.

14db9dff-f0f5-4cd1-b254-b7cf57dbfaf8
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.

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.

buchcover_wildejagd

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.

Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_053

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.

morrigan3

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.)

Winselmutter-01

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.

Everyday Aspie

Relationships through the eyes of an autistic

Ask my Cards

How to read divination systems by Madame 'Jozefa' Seaqueen

I Still Find It So Hard...

A WordPress.com journal about the life and times of a Powell Aspie

Meanderings of a Tellurian Metaphorist

a poet, a bear, a wife, a moon-child-wiccan, a moon lesbian, a history geek, a writer and a woman of a certain age

Eric Edwards Collected Works

Miscellaneous Writings & Articles

Hedniska Tankar

En Hedning Ser På Världen

Process Church Of The Final Judgment

Resource site for The Process Church and the works of Robert De Grimston

Celto-Germanic Culture, Myth and History

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Aleph's Heretical Domain

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare, my business is to create" - William Blake

Regarding Myatt

About David Myatt, A Modern Mage

Old European culture

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Naturally Ariana

Eat better - not less

Rapunzelturm

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Spiritual Satanist Blog

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

satanicviews

Left Hand Path; religion; philosophy; mind; technology; current affairs.

Nordic Wiccan

A Germanic Pagan's Musings, Religious and Magical Studies, Green Pharmacy, Recipes, Rituals and more

Choose Life.

Just another WordPress.com site

SjpielseWolf

Shared thought and interest of an indiginous germanic heathen

The Magickal Cottage

As you wind your way up the path to the Magickal Cottage, knock on the door, for you are most welcome! The kettle is about to boil and I’ll brew us some tea so we can sit and discuss how to create a magickal life. Merry Meet!

%d bloggers like this: