A journal dedicated to the Vanir
Summer 1997 Issue No. 1
Contents Include :
The Riddles of Gestumblindi
Freyja – Lady of the Wildwood
Freyr in England – A historical assessment
Turning of the Wheel
Sources & Sayings
Welcome to the very first issue of a journal which is dedicated
to the Vanir ! I would not argue against the notion that using the word
‘journal’ may be a little over the top for this little periodical but everything
has to start somewhere. How will it grow ? Who can say ? Everything has its’
season and I hope that this journal will ‘flower’ in time and that it will bring
forth a good harvest of ideas, information and images. Time will tell if this
‘seed’ was ‘planted’ well. Enough gardening metaphors – I hope you enjoy this
issue and would look forward to hearing from you whatever your views.
I am very grateful to all my contributors. Especial thanks to Thorskegga for
‘The Wain’ logo and to Jim Kirkwood for the front coverwork of the Vanadis. Any
articles, poetry, artwork, etc on the Vanir would be warmly welcomed (but not
any item which promotes hatred or division due to racial, gender or sexual
orientation differences). Freyr’s frith will not be threatened through this
P. Deegan : Editor Fealcen Stow
Submissions and Subscriptions
Subscription is £2 for four issues. Subscriptions and/or submissions
for publication are welcome and should be sent to: P. Deegan c/o Thorshof
The Riddles of Gestumblindi
The most frequently forgotten rule of the Norse religion is there are
no rules. Our ancestors’ faith varied from village to village, and a
lord and a cowherd working on the same farm might have utterly incompatible
beliefs. The myths we know today would have been known in many forms, with
subtle changes of emphasis to cater for the different cults.
When Snorri recorded the Norse lore it must have been a terrible mess, two
centuries after the conversion, merged with Christian beliefs and half forgotten
by a community mostly satisfied with the new God and his multitude of saints.
Invaluable as Snorri’s Edda is, it is the product of a very tidy mind and the
myths it contains have been desperately organised. To produce the gentle run of
interlocking stories building up to the climax of Ragnarok, Snorri had to
choose one religious cult to dominate the others. He choose a faith steeped in
poetic tradition but almost alien to the shores of his native Iceland, the cult
The effects of Snorri’s housekeeping are unfortunate, we are now accustomed
to seeing the Norse religion from one consistent angle: a fixed hierarchy with Óðinn
the undisputed all-father enthroned at the top. It is now very difficult to
envisage our gods in any other scenario. Of all the Norse gods Freyr has
probably suffered the worst. In the Edda he is a hostage taken from the Vanir
race, a minor god of little influence, powerless after the loss of his magic
This image of Freyr is far removed from his status in the Vanir cult, where
he would have been the supreme lord of all creation with Freyja at his side.
Snorri writing in Iceland (where the cult of Freyr was well established) must
have omitted many myths of the Vanir to allow Óðinn’s myths to
dominate his work. One obvious example is the reference to Freyr’s battle with
the giant Beli, which Snorri clearly knew but declined to relate in his
The tale of Gestumblindi is of great importance as it shows a world
very different from the ordered mythology of Snorri’s Edda. The story is
told of the court of king Heithrek who is dedicated to Freyr and clearly
sees his patron as supreme above all the other gods …..
There was once a very wise king called Heithrek. Heithrek worshipped Freyr
and every Yule he would choose the finest boar from his herds to be an offering
to his god. On Yule eve the boar was brought into the hall and it was the
custom for members of his court to swear oaths on its bristles. Heithrek
himself had sworn that if any captive could ask a riddle the king could not
answer, the man would be freed without charge. Heithrek was so wise that such
mercy would be hard to win, for no man had yet asked a riddle the king could not
One of the king’s subjects, a fellow called Gestumblindi, had broken the
kings laws and was called to appear before the royal council for sentence.
Gestumblindi knew his only chance of freedom was to challenge Heithrek to a
contest of riddles, but Gestumblindi was well aware that his wits could not
match the king’s. Gestumblindi made a sacrifice to Óðinn and
promised many offerings if the god would aid him.
Shortly before Gestumblindi needed to leave for the king’s court, a man
appeared who shared his likeness. The stranger introduced himself as
‘Gestumblindi’ and explained that he would represent him. The two men changed
clothes and they were so alike that one could not be told from the other.
The new Gestumblindi travelled to the king’s court and presented himself
to king Heithrek. Gestumblindi said he had come to make his peace. Heithrek
asked if he was ready to be tried by the king’s seven judges. Gestumblindi
asked if there was any other path open to him and Heithrek replied that he could
try asking riddles. If he could ask a riddle the king could not answer he could
go free, but if the king answered them correctly and he ran out of riddles to
ask, he would be handed over to the judges. Gestumblindi gave the matter
some thought and reluctantly agreed to try the riddles, as he felt he had little
hope before the judges.
A chair was brought up for Gestumblindi and the contest began. Each riddle
Gestumblindi asked was answered quickly and accurately by wise king Heithrek.
But Gestumblindi’s store of riddles showed no sign of abating. Heithrek showed
more and more respect for his humble opponent.
Eventually Gestumblindi asked the king his final riddle ‘What did Óðinn
whisper in Balder’s ear before he was placed on his funeral pyre ?’. At these
words the king realised the true identity of his opponent, as only Óðinn
would know what he had told his dead son. Heithrek stood up and drew his sword
crying ‘I am sure that it was something scandalous and cowardly ! But only you
know the answer, you evil creature !’ Óðinn turned himself into a
falcon to escape the king’s wrath but his tail feathers were cut short when the
king swung his sword. And this is why the falcon’s tail has been short to this
Óðinn was enraged by this attempt on his life and arranged for
the king’s death that very night.
The most striking element of this story is king Heithrek’s undisguised
disgust when he realises that he is facing Óðinn. There is no sign
of respect here for a benign all-father figure, Heithrek simply goes in for the
kill, fully aware of what he is doing. Why he should do so is somewhat puzzling
but Óðinn has beguiled the king with trickery, both by appearing as
Gestumblindi and by asking his final and unanswerable riddle. There is also an
element of hatred between this devotee of Freyr and Óðinn, as if the
two faiths had a tradition of hostility in this region, which is seen elsewhere
in myths concerning Óðinn and Þórr.
Heithrek’s opinion of both Óðinn and his son Balder is very
similar in style to the writings of Saxo Grammaticus (13th century Danish
historian). Saxo was mercilessly damning of the Norse gods in general but he
recorded a Danish version of the Balder myth in which Balder is clearly the
villain and Hoder is the hero. The varying myths associated with the highly
diverse Norse cults may be a clue as to how Saxo’s tale arose.
A less obvious lesson in this tale is the connection between the wise king
and his patron. Heithrek appears to be the wisest man in the land and he would
expect Freyr to live up to the same standard. Thus for followers of the Vanir
cult Freyr is the god of wisdom. It is interesting to note that Óðinn
is unable to win the contest without resorting to trickery, despite the fact
that his riddles are new to the king, and many of them could have several
The tale of Gestumblindi is very reminiscent of the story of Ottar and
Freyja. Again in this myth the devotee requires knowledge to present an
appeal. Freyja aids Ottar by giving him magic to extend his memory. As Ottar’s
case is based on him knowing his ancestry no trickery is required because his
reward is deserved. On the other hand Gestumblindi is a far more shady
character, one can only assume that Heithrek was well justified in calling
him before the royal judges.
In the two sources named below Gestumblindi’s riddles are quoted in full,
both the riddles and the answers, and they make very interesting reading on
their own. Riddles would have been an important part of the Norse oral
tradition, and many of the riddles in this story draw on mythological material.
Norse Poems, WH Auden & Paul B. Taylor (tr), Faber and Faber 1983
Northern Lights, legends, and sagas folk tales, Kevin Crossley-Holland
(ed.), Faber and Faber 1987
Stories and Ballads of the Far Past, N. Kershaw, Cambridge University Press
Edda, Snorri Sturluson. JM Dent & Sons 1987 (translated by Anthony
Poetic Edda translated by Lee M. Hollander University of Texas Press 1962
The History of the Danes Saxo Grammaticus (translated by P. Fisher)
D.S. Brewer 1980
Freyja – Lady of the Wildwood
Far beneath the canopy
amongst the great tree wights
the Lady dances a wild step through
calling all the animals too
to join her dance of life
Freyr in England : An Historical Assessment
In this article I propose to look at the worship of this god in England.
There is the Viking heritage in England and they could well have brought
across the worship of Freyr, although the real religious aspects of the Vikings
have been very successfully suppressed. There are hints, such as artefacts
like the Gosforth cross which shows Loki bound (this is a heathen story known
from surviving Scandinavian sources). But there are also signs that point to an
earlier worship in England of the god known to the Norse as Freyr.
First comes in section/chapter Two of The Germania by the Roman historian
Tacitus, written in approximately 98 c.e. He tells of a god, one of the sons of
Mannus, who was worshipped by the Germanic Ingaevones tribe on the North sea
coast and who had given his name to the tribe.
From the Anglo-Saxon rune poem we can see that the English certainly knew of
Ing as this poem has retained the rune for Ing and a poetic stanza. However it
is not obvious if this stanza has had an more obviously heathen element
bowdlerised by the christian writer as the other runes alluding to other major
Germanic gods within this futhorc were changed so the gods are only discernible
within the basic form of the rune or through puns in the Anglo-Saxon poem: the
Ansuz rune (Wodan) in the elder futhark changed into the Os rune and the Tiwaz
rune (Tiw) into Tir within the Anglo-Saxon futhorc. Unfortunately, as the pagan
or heathen period of our history was a period of oral rather than written
culture, we are dependent on the records of the later christian writers who
recorded history and bits of early lore.
The stanza that has come down to us reads:
‘Ing as first seen among men
among the East Danes
till he later departed east
over the sea; the wain ran after;
thus the warriors named the hero.’
The rune itself is extended from the earlier version, i.e. from the diamond
form to the interlocking chevrons.
Their descendants would have been amongst the Germanic tribes who came
across to Britain, in the fifth and sixth centuries c.e., and eventually formed
The three main tribes involved in the conquest of, or movement into, Britain
were named later in 731 by the Venerable Bede as the Saxons, Angles and Jutes.
Only the Angles (Anglii) were identified by their later name in The Germania.
Kathleen Herbert has suggested that the Saxons came from the Suebic tribes but
the Jutes are not identified as such in this early account.
Ing and Freyr may, at first sight, seem to be different gods but there is a
known link between them. The Norse sources sometimes refer to Freyr as
Ingvi/Yngvi-Freyr or Ingunar and the royal dynasty of Sweden was the Ynglings.
The Anglian kings of Bernicia, which was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the
north-eastern part of the country now known as England, included Ingui,
Ingibrand and Inguec at the beginning of their genealogies.
The Mercian royal genealogies go back to Woden but as Woden Frealafing.
One animal strongly associated not only with Freyr but also with his sister
Freyja is the boar. In Scandinavian mythological sources he has a special boar,
made by dwarves, called Gullinbursti or ‘Golden Bristles’. As can be seen
in the preceding article, “The Riddles of Gestumblindi”, it was
a devotee of Freyr (king Heithrek) who brought in a boar at Yule for oaths
to be sworn on its’ bristles. The boar was known in Anglo-Saxon England and
used in what can be argued are significant sacral fashions here.
Firstly a boar figure has been found attached to the top of a sixth or
seventh century helmet found in a tumulus at Benty Grange and also recently in
Northamptonshire. David Wilson refers to this kind of boar figure as having
‘significance in terms of protection and strength for its’ owner’. The
magificent ship burial in mound 1 at Sutton Hoo has stylised boars both over the
eyeholes in the helmet and on the shoulder clasps. A boar’s head decoration has
been found on a shield boss in Warwichshire.
Boars teeth, some perforated, have been found in various female inhumations
in England in a manner which suggests more than a simple necklace to accompany
English Yule customs retain memories of the ancient boar’s head at the heart
of the feast, such as that which has developed into the famous tradition at
Queen’s College in Oxford where a boar’s head is ceremonially carried into the
christmas feast while a special carol is sung.
The title ‘Lord’, seen in the Norse countries, was Frea in Anglo-Saxon or
Old English. It was certainly used in connection with the christian god in the
Anglo-Saxon poem “The Dream of the Rood”. However this reference
would not mean an allusion to Freyr as, by the time the title was written down,
it had come to refer to any lord or the christian ‘Lord’.
In various Scandinavian sources there is found the phrase “Æsir
and alfar” (the alfar being elves) and in these countries Freyr was known
as the ruler of Alfheim or the realm of elves. In looking at the Old English
sources, there is only one comparable surviving reference in an Anglo-Saxon
“If it be shot of Æsir, or the shot of elves,
or the shot of hags, I will help you now.”
No. 2. 11. 23-24.
Certainly elves (Old English ælf or ælfe) were known in
Anglo-Saxon England and although they were believed to be the source of various
sicknesses and diseases (elf-shot), they were also believed to distribute
favours and be a benign influence. The Old English word ælfsciene means
‘bright as an elf’ and a number of proper names using this root word show its
favourable connotations: ælfred, ælfric, ælfwine, etc.
Although we cannot know with a certainty that the Anglo-Saxon god Ing was also
linked with elves, as was Freyr in Scandinavia, this is still a suggestive
pointer to the worship in England of the god known as Ing or Freyr.
One notable source confirming the worship in England of some of the major
Germanic gods has been the etymological base of some original English
place-names. The thunder god, Thunor or Þórr, was the base of
place names such as Thundersley (Thunor’s grove) in Essex, whilst Wodan or Óðinn
was the base of Wednesbury (Wodan’s stronghold) in Mercia and even the great
mother goddess Frige or Frigg was the base of the Derbyshire location originally
called Frigedene (Frige’s valley).
However when it comes to Ing the evidence cannot definitely confirm his
worship, despite the numerous place-names which start with ‘Ing’. The
main element of confusion derives from the use of the word Ing, apart from being
used as the god’s name, as a patronymic meaning ‘son of’ or ‘people of’. This
can be seen even in areas of known worship of Ingvi-Freyr with the names of
families such as the afore-mentioned Ynglingas or in the Scyldings. All the
Anglo-Saxon place names are usually translated today as being from the folk or
family link rather than referring to the name of the god.
Another problem in England is that research has been done into Old English
place names with the element ‘..inga..’ in them and it has been shown that these
are usually from a later phase of settlements and thus this version of the word
is unlikely to represent a heathen element.
If any reader has any ideas on how to tackle the problems of assessing
place-names with ‘Ing’ in it, I should be very interested to hear from you.
Another major source in England, felt to confirm the worship of the gods is
the naming of the days of the week: Tiw, Woden, Thunor and Frige are
commemorated in the days Tuesday to Friday inclusively. The absence of a day
obviously named after Freyr does not mean he was not a major god in England.
One major god in England, who also cannot be found in a day of the week is
Seaxnet/Saxnot. This god is known of as the East Saxon kings claimed him,
rather than Wodan, as their ancestor, and because the Old Saxon christian
baptismal vow named certain gods who had to be renounced: Thunaer, Woden and
Back in the north-east of England, at the place identified as Goodmanham, I
would like to mention the account of Coifi, the pagan ‘high priest’ from the
Venerable Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’. Great play is
made of the fact that, to spite the god(s) he has forsaken, he deliberately
rides a stallion and carries arms which was forbidden to the priest. Although
horses are associated with both the Oðinnic and Vanic cults, there are no
hints in any surviving Norse literature that I am aware of which suggests that
riding horses was an Oðinnic prohibition but there is old material on horses
which could not be ridden as they had been given to Freyr.
Flateyjarbók tells of Olaf Tryggvason deliberately riding one of
Frey’s sacred stallions at Thrandheim, in Norway, to the temple since it was
forbidden to ride a horse which had been given to Freyr. Hrafnkell’s Saga
tells of the horse Freyfaxi in Iceland which had been given to Frey and of the
tragedy that breaking the riding prohibition leads to (albeit from a christian
The story does not specify whether he is the priest of any particular god
although there is sometimes an assumption (especially with the desecration by
the spear) that he must have been a priest of Wodan. It could be argued however
that the spear was a common weapon and that it was deliberately used to simply
desecrate an area that was a frithgarð where weapons were forbidden. An
area where weapons were forbidden would be in line with the processions of
Nerthus (often identified as one of the Vanir – more in another issue) where
weapons had to be laid aside as she came to the area. In Vatndæla Saga,
a sword that is accidentally brought into Freyr’s temple where this was
forbidden, has to then forfeit it to the priest but the Sagas tell of weapons
(along with men and horses) being sacrificed to Óðinn.
However Coifi could have been the temple priest for a temple on the Uppsala
lines with more than one god of the people within it and that he deliberately
broke both the riding the sacred horse prohibition of Ing (Freyr) and mocked
Wodan by casting a spear not to give him an army but to desecrate the temple.
There are tantalising elements in considering the history of Freyr in
England, such as the assimilation of his title to both mundane usage and for the
christian ‘Lord’ and the alternative usage of his name to a simple element of
the Old English language to indicate ‘people’, which has so confused the
question of whether Ingvi-Freyr was commemorated in place names. But there
are also the records which tell of the god Ing on the main European continent
from whence the original English came. Even the christianised Anglo-Saxon
rune poem has retained memories of Ing and the Vanic wagon, known in Scandinavia
where it was recorded in sacral processions. Also the tale of Coifi’s
desecration of the temple and deliberate breaking of riding a stallion and
carrying arms taboos suggests that probably it was Ing (Freyr’s) temple, or at
least that He was one of the gods within, whom Coifi was dishonouring.
Margaret Baker, Discovering Christmas customs and Folklore, © 1968,
1992 (Shire Publications)
Bede (L. Sherley-Price – trans), Ecclesiastical History of the English
People, ©1955, 1968 (Penguin Classics 1990)
H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, ©1964 (Penguin
H.R. Ellis Davidson, The lost beliefs of Northern Europe, © 1993
Kathleen Herbert, Looking for the Lost Gods of England, ©1994
(Anglo-Saxon Books 1995)
Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, ©1991
Gale R. Owen, Rites and Relions of the Anglo-Saxons, © 1981 (Barnes &
The Ring of Troth, Our Troth, © 1993 (Private Publication, USA)
Dr. G. Storms, Anglo-Saxon Magic, ©1948 (Martinus Nijhoff)
Tacitus (H. Mattingley/S.A. Handford-trans), The Agricola & The
Germania, © 1948,1970 (Pentguin Classics)
David Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Paganism, © 1992 (Routledge)
Eric Wódening, Gods of the World, © 1996 (Theod)
Turning of the Wheel
This is the time of the year when high summer is celebrated.
In 1997 spring actually came a lot earlier than the spring equinox on March
20th. Buds and the greening of deciduous trees could be seen in late February –
which caused problems for those of us who had left repotting a bit close to the
normally expected start of spring. Early April has also brought exceptionally
fine day time weather to England. A report in the Daily Mail newspaper on 17th
April 1997 told how spring has been arriving earlier each year for some time.
By the start of the 1990’s spring was arriving eight days earlier than even in
1981 within a broad band of the Northern Hemisphere.
There are still arguements as to whether this is due to global warming
arising from environmentally disruptive and exploitative practises of modern
commercial operations or whether this is simply a period, which is hotter and
drier, within a very long weather cycle of Mother Earth. Our meterological
records only cover 200-300 years so there is not enough evidence to
objectively consider the pros and cons of these arguements.
The traditional heathen celebrations of summer include the celebrations at
midsummer – are generally held on the summer solstice. This falls on June 21st
in 1997. This is the height of the sun’s path and a time of intense plant
Folk customs at this time include fires being lit in the street or on high
places, wreaths which can be made up of all sorts of plants and carried through
the local area (or even exchanged as love tokens) or even the burning of
sun-wheels. One tradition says that if you sit under an elder tree at
midnight you can see the “king of Fairyland” riding by with all his
host (shades of Freyr ?).
Another tradition, believed to have heathen origins, was the Icelandic fairs
in early August where there was horse-fighting. This is also the time of
the start of the grain harvest.
As this journal was being compiled, reports were issued in England about an
Anglo-Saxon helmet that has been found in a gravel quarry in Northamptonshire.
Dated to mid seventh- century, this is an exceedingly rare find and the precise
location is currently being kept a secret (for obvious reasons). As there was
also a fine sword buried next to the helmet, this would indicate a nobleman or
chieftain (‘princeling’ as one of the tabloids put it). There have only been
three other finds of helmets of this early medieval date – one Viking age helmet
in Coppergate in York, one early seventh helmet in the Sutton Hoo mound 1 and
the Benty Grange helmet. This is being reported again here because – yes, it has
a boar on top. The Daily Telegraph reported Professor Rosemary Cramp as saying
that any later helmet under christian influence would have also had a cross on
Sources and Sayings
One intriguing little sidelight on potentially sacred places connected with
the goddess Freyja – albeit purely word of mouth rather than from literary or
archaeological proof – can be found in ‘Twilight of the Celtic Gods’ by David
Clarke and Andy Roberts.
They discuss the fertility connotations of the carved stone ‘Sheela-na-Gig’
figures found on churches in the British Isles. (For those unfamiliar with this
term, it is a gaelic expression meaning “immodest woman” and is
normally a squat little naked, and bald, female figure who holds open her vulva,
normally disproportionately large, with one or both hands).
At Pennington in Cumbria, at the twelfth century St. Michaael and All Angels
Church, there was a Sheela-na-Gig that used to be firstly in the church wall and
then in the porch. A later vicar had it removed as an ‘evil influence’. The
authors quote a 1930s account which specifically described this carving as a
depiction of ‘the goddess of fertility Frea or Freya’ and that there appears to
be a local verbal traditions that this figure is her.
Unfortunately its current location cannot be confirmed – one place may be
the church cellar.
AUTHORS : David Clarke and Andy Roberts
TITLE: Twilight of the Celtic Gods