THUNDER- ISSUE 2, SPRING 1997
Welcome to the second issue of Thunder, the journal dedicated to the thunder gods of Northern Europe. Well, well another equinox already, and for what it’s worth Spring this year started on a Thursday. This journal is the joint venture two organisations from opposite sides of the Atlantic, Thunderway Hall in America which promotes the revival of the Anglo-Saxon Thunor cult, and Thorshof in homely Buckinghamshire which encourages research into the Teutonic religion as a whole (though with an emphasis on the cult of Thor and the Teutonic goddesses). If anyone would like to submit articles, poems, rituals, letters, stories or artwork their assistance would be greatly valued, but please note no political or spiteful submissions will be printed. Enjoy your Easter eggs!
THOR AND THE GODDESSES
By Thorskegga Thorn
No less than six goddesses are associated with Thor in the Eddic myths (1). His mother is Jord (the Earth Mother), his foster mother is Hlora, his step mother is Frigg, his wife is Sif, his mistress is the giantess Jarnsaxa and his daughter is Thrud (one of the valkyries). Barlaams Saga gives him a further nine daughters who act as norns.
The importance of Thor’s relationship with Jord comes across strongly in skaldic poetry where he is repeatedly titled ‘Earth’s Son’. The Earth Mother is also known from Anglo-Saxon sources in the famous ‘Erce, Erce, Erce, Eorthan Modor’ poem, but insufficient material survives to show if she was connected to the thunder god in Anglo-Saxon England.
This close association between a thundergod and an Earth mother has parallels in other mythologies across Europe to the Middle East. Zeus and Hera follow this pattern of earth and sky joined in marriage, the Greek myths also explain that they are brother and sister. The Finnish deities Ukko and Rauni and also represent the married union of thundergod and Earth goddess. This arrangement is also seen in the Vanir cult where the sky god Frey is coupled with Freyja the goddesses of fertility. Again these deities are brother and sister.
Many different cultures across the world have a basic religious instinct to combine a feminine Earth and a male sky to explain life and fertility. Thor is an ancient deity and his origins go back before the Norse religion as we know it came into being. Jord is a survival of this earlier age. She is probably his original consort, now faded into obscurity with the increased importance of Frigg and Freyja. Thor’s wife Sif is a puzzling character. Despite the importance of Thor’s cult in Iceland where the myths were recorded she is given very little status as a goddess compared to the domineering figures of Frigg and Freyja. She is mentioned in the well known myth of the making of Thor’s hammer but she appears as a wife rather than a goddess of any importance. The myth makes it clear that it is Thor’s anger that gets results, not his wife’s humiliation.
The cutting of Sif’s hair has been given several meanings. Firstly that her golden hair represents the corn harvest which is cut and grows anew. This interpretation gives Sif the role of harvest or fertility goddess (Uhland 1836). The second is that Loki cut Sif’s hair to announce that she had made Thor a cuckold by sleeping with him (6) as he declares in Lokasenna (2). Both these interpretations call for a lot of reading between the lines!
Sif’s name means sib or relative, which is normally explained as meaning ‘the wife of Thor’, a further pointer to the goddess’s low importance. But when this marriage is compared to the Indo-European tradition of the incestuous earth sky / marriage, this name takes on a whole new meaning. If Thor was originally married to an earth goddess, could Sif and Jord be the same deity? This would explain Sif’s unusual name because Thor would be married to his mother, his sib, a situation very common in the earliest Middle Eastern mythologies. This also adds weight to the ‘harvest goddess’ theory as the early Middle Eastern fertility goddesses were depicted with crops growing from their hair.
Further evidence for Thor being married to an Earth Goddess exists in Lapp mythology where the married deities of thunder and Earth have borrowed Norse names – Hora Galles, from ‘Thor karl’ (Old Man Thor) and Ravdna, from ‘raun’ (rowan tree) (7). Ravdna is a fertility goddess and the red berries of the rowan were held sacred to her. The rowan is also sacred to Thor, so Ravdna, Sif and Jord may all be strongly connected.
If this idea still sounds far fetched consider the situation of Frey and Freya who are clearly meant to be lovers, and the Norse fabrication of respectable partners for this incestuous pair represented by Gerd and Odur. Like Sif these were minor deities and probably never worshipped. The Norse had developed a strong dislike of sexual deviancy and would not even allow it among their gods, hence the myths had to be ‘cleaned up’.
There are several references in the myths to Sif being less than faithful to her husband. As already stated Loki claims to have seduced her in the poem Lokasenna (2). As many of the insults in this poem are backed up by other mythological material it is likely that this taunt was also meant to based on truth. Sif is also named as the mother of the mysterious god of hunting, Ull, and Thor is not his father.
Thor’s lack of fidelity is clear from the reference to his lover, the giantess Jarnsaxa. Snorri names Jarnsaxa as the mother of Thor’s son Magni and one of his kennings for Sif is ‘rival of Jarnsaxa’. Thor’s active interest in the fairer sex is also made clear in Gautreks Saga and the Tale of Queen Eagle Beak (8).
The relationship between Thor and Frigg, his stepmother is never explained in the Eddas. However they appear to share parents. One of Jord’s names is Fjorgyn and Frigg’s father is given as Fjorgynn, a male form of the same name. The existence of a god called Fjorgynn is dubious (3), this reference is far more likely to refer to Jord, thus making Thor and Frigg brother and sister. Frigg has many aspects of an Earth Goddess herself and it may be no co-incidence that she is considered the daughter of the primeval Earth goddess. Another point linking Thor and Frigg is the fact that they would have been the two main deities of many of the Icelandic settlers. As neither Sif nor Jord had any significant cult following in the late Viking period Frigg appears to have replaced the Earth goddess in the cult of Thor (4).
Snorri names Hlora and Vingnir as the step-parents of Thor, but gives no explanation for his statement (1). This information appears to have been invented by Snorri to explain two of Thor’s nicknames, Hlorridi and Vingnir (3). There have been some amazing modern embellishments made to Snorri’s brief statement which should be completely disregarded.
Another goddess who may have a connection with Thor is Freyja. The two are thrown together in the Lay of Thrymr where Thor has to disguise himself as Freyja to recover his hammer. This tale is very late – composed well after the conversion and cannot be a very reliable account of the relationship between Thor and Freyja from the pagan perspective. We do have one clue though, Snorri lists among his kennings for Thor ‘old friend of Freyja’ suggesting a certain amount of intimacy. Again Freyja would have been frequently worshipped beside Thor to replace the obscure goddess in his own cult. Thor’s womanising in several of the myths and Freyja’s blatant promiscuity would allow a devotee of both deities to consider them lovers.
Thor’s daughter Thrud (power) appears in Snorri’s list of valkyries and appears to be a personification of her father’s strength. Thrud’s name appears occasionally in kennings for Thor with a emphasis on a loving family (1). Like the nine daughters of Thor mentioned in Barlaams Saga, Thrud may also be one of the norns, helping shape the fate of Thor’s worshippers (5).
Overall Thor’s position in relation to the various Norse goddesses betrays the long and complex history of his cult. Jord’s position as Earth goddess seems to date from a period before the cults of Thor, Odin and the Vanir were combined into the Norse religion. It is due only to Thor’s importance in the religion that her name has survived at all. Frigg and Freyja were adopted as Thor’s ‘wives’ by his late Viking worshippers aided by the fact that Thor is never directly named as Frigg’s son.
1). Edda. Snorri Sturluson. Trans. by A. Faulkes. Everyman 1987.
2). The Poetic Edda. Trans. by L.M. Hollander. Univ. of Texas Press 1987.
3). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Rudolf Simek. D S Brewer. 1993.
4). Frigg and Thor. Thorskegga Thorn. Lina volume 2 issue 4. 1996.
5). Thor and Fate in Gautrek’s Saga. Thorskegga Thorn. Thunder issue 1 1996.
6). Teutonic Religion. Kveldulf Gundarson.
7). Myth & Religion of the North. Turville-Petre. London. 1964.
8). Seven Viking Romances. Trans. by Palsson and Edwards. Penguin Classics 1985.
OLD FRISIAN THUNER BIAD
By Hildiwulf Ceorl
Smithe in smithem isern smitand, (Smiths in smithies iron smiting)
Hit werthath warm brond burnand, (Grows it hot, fires burning)
Erme sterkath, stifna kaltiand: (Arms strengthen, voices calling:)
‘Hal thu Thuner, homerhaldand!’ (‘Hail thou Thunor, hammer holding!’)
Ekkera bura, thorstiche, stuviche, (Farmers’ fields, thirsty, dusty,)
Fretlike zerle, benmithiche, (Fretful churls, bone-weary,)
Kinda ondleta, herda, hungriche, (Children’s faces, hard, hungry,)
‘Hal thu Thuner, triowewerthich!’ (‘Hail thou Thunor, trustworthy!’)
In threthhamum thawlika, ezenhringida, (In Thryth-home thewsome, oaken-ringed)
Thuner Almechticha, unbeid, unbrezen, (Thunor Almighty, unbowed, unbroken,)
Erthe sunu radieth reinwolken, (Earth’s son readies rainclouds,)
Homer klinnand, blixen liachtand. (Hammering ringing, lightning flashing.)
Thiu triowe hi haldeth is isern, ezen, (The troth he keeps is iron, oaken,)
Ethe send wichtiche, mein is mechtich (Oaths are weighty, main is mighty,)
Mod is mizil to monnum bisitta (Mood is much to men beset,)
Sa anskir tha tiaga ond wes forthfarand! (So gear the goats and be forthfaring!)
(Orthographic note – due to technical difficulties, I am unable to insert all the proper accent marks and such. If anyone is interested in seeing a fully marked copy of this Biad, please contact me via the editors. Also, the ‘z’ (zerle, etc.) is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in modern English ‘church’.)
THE FOLKS NOISY FRIEND
There used to be Anthropologists who said that the gods began in the childhood of mankind as personifications of natural phenomena. That kind of thinking has since gone out of style, of course. The idea that mankind had a childhood period during which he was more naive than he is now, is itself considered naive these days, or at the very least, ‘Progressivist’, a Bible-spawned intellectual conceit, after all. In particular, we Heathen would tend to think that when a man is talking about some god, what he is really talking about is some god, per se, no smug self-outsmarting rationalizations needed on our parts. What gives even ourselves pause in such reflections, however, is when we come upon a god obviously named after a natural phenomenon. I’m talking about Thunor here, of course. Okay, let’s see your sophisticated savages reify that one away, says mister smug Scientistic smarty-pants.
Actually, some attempt to do so might not be a bad idea; it might lead to a few fresh insights. So why, then would the elderen have named one god, and no others, after a natural phenomenon? Well, what if they just didn’t think of thunder as a natural phenomenon, then, as we do? What if they, shrewd thinkers and keen observers that they were, as a matter of survival, perhaps knew some things about thunder that we don’t or something, and really thought of it as a god? Or at least, as a god first, and only secondly as a natural phenomenon?
After all, who is to say that the elden conceptualized and categorized the world around them in the same ways that we take for granted today? Isn’t it really more likely that they did not? Our reductionist way of understanding ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ things, after all, is a much more arbitrary and artificial contrivance of our own minds than we sometimes realize, as any taxonomist or quantum physicist or Indian medicine-man can readily tell you. We set up our intellectual conventions and then try as best we may to fit all reality in its turn into the neat pigeonholes that we have created for it, but in fact reality was not created with a view to the convenience of our mortal understanding, and there are plenty of other ways of looking at things than the ways we are used to. Our ways, after all, have been imposed upon us by a millennium and more of Xtianity, which shows everywhere in its thinking the Mediterranean mentality behind it, with its clockwork universes, codes of laws, perfect gods and devils, natural/supernatural dualisms and systematically pre-ordained destiny for the world and everything in it from the beginning to the end of time. And their god co-operates in their thinking processes; he’s a geometer after all. If our god is a geometer, however, he seems to be a very abstract, even surrealistic one, who seems to understand that nothing is ever perfect, everything that is is just there to be harvested in its own season, and that it should be enough to make the crops grow and ward the mains and weals of gods and men and otherwise let life go on, for them and us. So why don’t we just loosen up our thinking a bit here? Isn’t it possible that a more sensible, organic, pragmatic science could be reared by the minds of men on such ontological foundations, were we but clever enough, that might well turn out to be a smarter and more useful kind of science than we have now, and moreover that the elderen were themselves, indeed clever enough, and in their own time did just that? Is it not the case that we have tomes preserved of the elder lore, fragmentary and incomplete though its form may be, written in words and languages that we can pretty well understand, yet full of ideas that we constantly find baffling and mysterious, over which scholars must constantly argue basic meanings; ideas formed in the minds of men whose thinking processes are in some ways eerily familiar to us and yet in other vital ways not familiar at all? Never mind their mere skaldaskap and other outward trappings; when they thought, what did they really think? When they dreamed, what did they really dream? I suspect that it is that rich arch-Heathen level the Xtians were as anxious as anything else to expunge from thinking and replace with their own cultural overlay, and that we should be as anxious as anything else to recover, if we can.
What, then, might the elderen have known about thunder, aside from its obvious mere titanic power, that our meteorologists of today do not, that might have impelled them to think of it as holy? In fact some answers might not be so far to seek. Most people would be surprised to realize how little scientists today really know about static electricity and magnetism, other than in terms of ways to put such practical phenomena to practical technological use. And the elderen? There is plenty of evidence that they knew things that no scientist or meteorologist ever talks about, or even has any way of talking about, today.
At the least, a god should be superhumanly powerful. On that point of knowledge at least, the elder and modern scientists are surely in good agreement about lightning bolts. Moreover, a god should be good for something. Again, no elder or modern scientists need be rocket scientists to observe the wonderful way that a thunderstorm has of clearing the air, even though today’s wizards might be more inclined to talk about molecular atmospheric ionic polarities and other such weofodgeraed of their own faith. But for the elderen it seemed to always go a good deal beyond that. To their minds, it seemed that thunderbolts made the crops grow, were necessary to crop growth, in fact, and they cultivated them as assiduously as they dunged their croplands. Perhaps today’s wizards would agree, and would want to talk again about ionic polarities there, too, but indeed, for whatever reason, when the crops sulked in summer and would not come to blow, it was to Thunor they prayed and bloted, for a thunderstorm and a bolt of his lightning to strike the field, which would destroy the crop-fettering thurses and set life back to rights there, and who are we to doubt that at least as often as not their prayers were answered? In fact, by some accounts, the standing stones we find all over Europe were anciently set there by wizards who knew how to set them just right to attract lightning bolts to the croplands in which we find them. It was undoubtedly a matter of polarities and of something else that the elderen seemed to associate with thunderbolts, magnetism. Few things were more precious that the meteoric iron that sometimes crashed to middle earth in a blaze of glory, its dross burned away by the fiery forge of the earth’s atmosphere, and always at least mildly magnetic. Such ‘thunderstones’ and other natural magnets used to be dragged through the furrows by the landsmen at times when Thunor himself might seem to be sulking or otherwise indisposed, to produce the same thurse-banishing effects as a lightning strike; cow magnets are sometimes used for such purposes today by the craftier sort of farmer. And then, of course, since Thunor is a bit too big and strong to be always gentle and precise, there is the natural concern amongst us little guys for staying out of his way, too. It is said that in one European archaeological dig the remains of a hut was dug up that had been burnt, evidently by a lightning strike, and subsequently rebuilt on the same spot. In the rebuilding, however, an iron ax blade had been planted blade up in the floor, presumably by a wizard, as a charm against further lightning strikes. We are not told, as it happens, whether the blade was more than mildly magnetic or which way up such magnetic polarity might have been orientated… however, even the report of the find notes dryly that the charm seems to have worked! (There were no subsequent lightning strikes.)
So a god (which word, after all, is cognate with the concept of ‘good’) should be powerful and ‘good for something’; i.e., be able to give us something in exchange for our votive attentions, and of course that means one more thing, that there must be some sort of sentience or intelligence there, to hear our prayers, if nothing else. While Thunor is not famous for his lofty intellectual prowess, at least as compared to other gods, the Hall Drihten has elsewhere shown us that that doesn’t mean he is stupid, by any means. It seems rather to mean that he is generally too true hearted to bother being crafty, something that yeoman who must trust in his good will generally to prosper seem to especially admire and appreciate about him, and too impatiently busy about his own warding and fructating business to lose himself in deep thought if he can get other trusted friends to do his thinking for him and just steer him to the right answers. Thunor likes to just give it straight from the shoulder, and get it the same way. Deceitfulness is an ettin trait, after all, and Thunor seems to find it merely annoying, rather than interesting. And of course it is never well to have Thunor getting unnecessarily annoyed, now is it!
Obviously there is that in magnetism that partakes of the quality of intelligence, then and now. At the very least magnetism is the quality about iron that unfailingly finds north, no small matter to folks without maps who live and wander in the wild. Even today’s wizards are not without a certain regard for magnetism’s ‘truthful’ sentient qualities. These very words as they fly from my brain have begun their lives in ferromagnetic media, after all, and ridden ‘lightning-bolts’ to get where they were bound. The elderen’s own priorities may have been a bit different from what we are used to, of course. What, then, other than the thunderstone’s natural ability to find north, or in the oft-heard observation that lightning may sometimes act ‘as if it had a mind of its own’ would it have taken for the elderen to believe that thunder was ‘godly’
That one is almost too easy; the fact that it answers prayer. If worshipping, bloting and praying to Thunor brought better luck and better health and wealth and better harvests, that was undoubtedly all the proof their pragmatic curiosities needed! But what more might they have also known about Thunor’s ‘intelligence’ than we do today? It is surely worth some speculation. For one thing, magnetic iron, amber, static electricity, etc., when used cunningly in the right hands, had powers not just to clear fields of undesirable wights, but likewise witch’s bobs, even sick humans and animals by some accounts, just as a magnet can clear the signal off a recording medium today, or Thunor can ‘weoh’ a horn drink, a new brides lap or anything else with his hammer. There must at one time have been a whole secret science about such things, crushed out by Xtianity. Even piezoelectric energy has much wider potential uses than in microphone pickups, which the ancients must have known about. If nothing else, together with static electricity, tectonic piezoelectric field mechanics has its part to play in power spots sought out and used by wizards and shamans, then and now. Considering that the brain itself is an electrochemical organ that generates its own electromagnetic field, it should be no surprise to discover that, under the right moon phase, at least, power spots in the earth may induce spontaneous hallucinations in those who happen upon them. Anyone for UFO sightings, hmmm? Then again, what about those Indian shamans whose idea of a quick surefire way to do a vision quest is to go stand on a mountain outcrop where lightning is about to strike, until they light up like Yule trees with static electricity, jumping off the rock to safety (hopefully) at the last possible moment? Talk about seeing god…
In fact, it is so much easier for us toady to conceive, with our scientific constructs, that thought itself is nothing more than ‘electric’ that our thoughts themselves are literally shaped out of patterns of static electric polarities, that we may almost marvel at the ability of ‘unscientific’ elder wizards to have made that same acrobatic perceptual leap; to have perceived that all these ‘witchy’ electrostatic/electromagnetic phenomena of interest to them were but suckling babies of the mother of all static electric phenomena; the lightning bolt. Not that they traditionally assigned many of these lesser, more refined phenomena to Thunor, of course; they had other gods for such things. To Thunor, it was obviously enough in their spiritual constructs to assign the lightning-bolt, and all the uses and powers thereof. But from what they knew of the lessor they were able to induce what attributed they needed to about the greater; that it could not be what it was without godly intelligence, however necessarily voltaically large, raw and unrefined. So why did the elderen call a natural phenomenon a god, then? Maybe because, unlike most folks today, they knew that, on some more abstract, more important level of knowing, that’s what it really is!
FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE THORSHOF ARCHIVES
Hill Figures – Survivals of Anglo-Saxon Paganism?
The Cerne Giant.
The Cerne Giant is a chalk figure of indeterminate age cut into a hillside at Cerne Abbas in Dorset. The figure shows a front facing naked man wielding a large club. His erect penis has led to many local supersistions regarding fertility. There is an Iron Age earthwork besides the figure called ‘The Trendle’ which was used up until the last century for maypole dancing. ‘Trendle’ is an Old English word meaning ‘circle’, and it is conceivable that a spring celebration had taken place on the site since pagan times.
The giant is generally considered to be a fertility deity, possible candidates being Thunor or Donar, a patron of the German soldiers in the Roman army. Jennifer Westwood points out the weapon, which may represent a thunderbolt and the maypole which may once have symbolised the thundergod’s sacred oak tree.
The Romans did equate Donar with Hercules who is more likely to be seen scantily dressed with a large knobbly club. Thor is armed with a club in Saxo Grammaticus’ account of the battle between Hodur and the gods in his ‘History of the Danes’.
Albion, a Guide to Legendary Britian. Jennifer Westwood. Palladin 1987.
The Vale of the Red Horse
One of England’s lost hill figures is the Red Horse which used to grace a hillside near Banbury in Warwickshire until the eighteenth century. Davidson suggests a possible link between the horse symbol and the local Tiw cult which is evident from the place name Tysoe.
Tiw is a very misunderstood god. His original role was god of the sky and he dominated the religion of the ancient Germans. His name comes from a ancient word for ‘god’ which is linked both to the word ‘deity’ and to the name Jupiter. It is very likely that he was once worshipped as a thunder god. His influence was similar to the combined roles of Thor and Odin with a strong emphasis on justice.
Gods & Myths of Northern Europe. HR Ellis Davidson. Penguin 1990.
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