Tag Archives: horses

Aine: Goddess of Midsummer

Áine is the Celtic Goddess of love, the sun, fertility, water, summer and sovereignty. She is honored for her ability to grant abundance and fertility over the land. Being a Goddess of the sun Aine is said to have been given the nickname “bright”.

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Image by Bhupendra Shrestha from Pixabay

 

Fulla: goddess of secrets

Fulla is one of the lesser-known Norse goddesses, described in the Prose Edda as Frigga’s right-hand woman. (Closest comparison Ninshubur and Iris/Hebe?) Her name means “Bountiful”. She only appears in one myth, but we do know a few things about her, thanks mainly to Snorri Sturluson’s efforts to preserve pagan lore for poets.

Poetic Edda

Fulla has a small role in the prologue to the poem Grimnismal. In it, Frigg tries to turn Odin against his protege Geirroth. Odin already made sure that his protege became king instead of hers, so she sets up a plan to put an end to Geirroth’s kingship.

She tells Odin that his protege is reknowned for his stinginess and the two make a wager about it. Frigg then sends Fulla ahead to make sure that Odin’s reception is a poor one:

Frigg sent her handmaiden, Fulla, to Geirröth. She bade the king beware lest a magician who was come thither to his land should bewitch him, and told this sign concerning him, that no dog was so fierce as to leap at him.

(As if dogs would attack a god who had two wolves as pets.) This is the only time Fulla appears in a myth, but it shows Fulla’s role as Frigg’s messenger/confidante. The Merseburg Charm below, if it also refers to Fulla, also emphasizes their closeness.

Frigg and Fulla. Wikimedia.

Prose Edda

Snorri Sturluson, in his efforts to catalogue the pagan lore of Scandinavia, left us the names of many goddesses we would never have known about otherwise. The first quote from the Gyflaginning part of his Prose Edda comes from his list of the Norse goddesses, the second from the story of Baldr’s death:

Fifth is Fulla. She too is a virgin and goes around with her hair flowing free and has a gold band around her head. She carries Frigg’s casket and looks after her footwear and shares her secrets. (Gylf. 34-5)

Then Hermod got up and Baldr went with him out of the hall and took the ring Draupnir and sent it to Odin for a keepsake, and Nanna sent Frigg a linen robe and other gifts too; to Fulla finger-ring. (Gylf. 49)

That Baldr and Nanna sent a gift to Fulla alongside their gifts for Frigg points to her status within their family circle – Fulla might be a servant but she is an honoured one.

She’s also mentioned in the Skaldskaparmal as present at the Aesir’s feast for the giant Aegir (ch. 1). Snorri’s quotes from the poets include her name being used as a kenning for gold in a verse by Eyvind skaldaspillir (36-7):

The falling sun [gold] of the plain [forehead] of Fulla’s eyelashes shone on the poets’ Ull-boat [shield-] fells [arms] throughout the life of Hakon.

and one from Kormakr Ogmundarson uses her name as a kenning for “woman”:

bauð gulls Njorun auðar
mitt villat fe Fylla
fingrgoll gefit trollum

commanded the finger gold [both]
to be given to trolls – the
goddess of gold doesn’t want my riches

and she also appears (by implication) in a verse by Orm Barreyjarskald (23):

However mighty, goddess of Draupnir’s band [lady], I learn the lord is – he rules his realm – the ruler of the constellation’s path will welcome me.

Apart from the poems cited in Snorri’s Edda, a poem quoted in Gisli’s saga Sursonnar uses the name Fulla as a kenning for “woman”:

Fals hallar skal Fulla
fagrleit, sús mik teitir,
rekkilát at rökkum,
regns, sínum vin fregna;
vel hygg ek, þótt eggjar
ítrslegnar mik bíti;
þá gaf sínum sveini
sverðs minn faðir herðu.

or in English:

“Wife so fair, so never failing,
So truly loved, so sorely cross’d,
Thou wilt often miss me wailing,
Thou wilt weep thy hero lost.
But my soul is stout as ever ,
Swords may bite, I feel no smart
Father! better heirloom never
Owned thy son than hardy heart.”

Merseburg Charm

Moving away from Scandinavia, a manuscript in Old High German from the 9th century also mentions Fulla alongside Frigg, Woden and the mysterious Phol. In fact, there are two pairs of women in the charm, the sun and her sister, and Frigg and her sister Volla, or Fulla.

Phol and Wodan
rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:

The verse is similar to other charms for healing horses, but it does leave us with the questions of who Phol and Sinthgunt were. I’m going to cover Sunna and Sinthgunt in another post, but Phol is usually assumed to be Baldr, although it could be a male form of the name Volla. (Leading some to assume that Phol and Volla are Freyr and Freyja.)

What’s interesting is that it shows all four female deities using magic. And while some scholars have seen the sequence as implying that Wodan was able to heal the horse while the goddesses weren’t, it could equally mean they were all chanting togeher, or that Wodan is learning from them (as Odin seeks knowledge from Saga and various volvas and giantesses). We’ll never know for sure, but we can be certain that the charm is telling us that Fulla/Volla knew healing magic.

Frigg and Her Maidens. Fulla carries the casket. Wikimedia.

Fulla’s Casket

A lot of the standard reference works on Norse myth assume that Fulla is an aspect of Frigg, although if you look at her carefuly you can see the delination of a distinct goddess with her own concerns and attributes. Fulla is connected with gold (ring, snood) and wears her hair loose lke an unmarried woman, her name means Abundance, and she carries Frigg’s casket and knows her secrets.

I think we can get at her nature by looking at her casket, or in Old Norse, eski. The Icelandic-English Dictionary defines eski as:

eski, n. [askr], an ashen box, Edda 17, 21, Fms. ii. 254, Fas. i. 237, Ísl. ii. 79; mod. spelt askja, and used of any small box.

eski-mær, f. a lady’s maid, Gm. (pref.)

Lest anyone think I’m suggesting that Fulla is merely Frigg’s maid, I’m not. I do think, however, that her position is that of a subordinate to Frigg, someone who knows her secrets and carries out her will. In fact, when I think of Fulla the first goddess I think of is the Babylonian Ninshubur, who was Inanna’s servant, rescued her from the underworld and helped her fight off demons.

The other Norse goddess who carries an eski is Idunn, who keeps the apples of immortality in hers. This suggests to me that whatever Frigg has in that box, it’s not mere fripperies, although given how powerful Freyja’s necklace Brisingamen is, Frigg’s jewels may be more than just adornements.

(And remember that letters supposedly written by Mary Stuart to her lover Bothwell became famous as the Casket Letters.)

The other use for apples is food, and apples are a fruit that can be stored. Thus Fulla’s box may well connect to her name, Abundance. Food stored in a box was food available for winter and spring when there was little to eat. I was struck by a verse attributed to Kormakr Ogmundarson, which also mentions an eski:

You do not need to bring with you
either basket (eski) or tankard
to the generous man.

Kormakr was praising Earl Sigurdr’s generosity (we’re back to that again) and his mention of an eski leads up to a reference to Thiazi, Idunn’s kidnapper. After all, we never hear of Idunn running low on apples, so we have to assume that her supply is never-ending. (Especially since kidnapping her for the apples would make no sense if they ran out.)

Fulla is an intriguing goddess, because she embodies both abundance and something more mysterious – something kept back, or hidden. We’re told she knows all Frigg’s secrets, and perhaps that is what her casket symbolizes: all the secrets that she holds, and the power that knowledge gives her. After all, Fulla is the confidential servant of the goddess who “knows fate, though she does not say [it].”


References and Links:
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman Press, Penguin, 1992. (reprint)
The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Jesse Byock, Penguin Classics, 2005.
The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996.

Lindow, John 2001: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, OUP, New York and Oxford.
Orchard, Andy 2002: Cassell’s Dictonary of Norse Myth and Legend, Cassell Reference.
Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall) 1996: Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.
Sundqvist, Olaf Sagas, “Religion and Rulership: The Credibility of the Descriptions of Rituals in Hakonar Saga Goda,Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 1: 225-50.

dooley, d. Kate 2006: The Spinde Hearth: A Sourcebook for Goddess-Centered Living, Yarrow Press, Asheville-Lewisburg.
Karlsdottir, Alice 2003: Magic of the Norse Goddesses: Mythology, Ritual, Tranceworking, Runa-Raven Press.
(And my own Asyniur: Women’s Mysteries in the Northern Tradition.)

Diana Paxson on Frigga’s Handmaidens
Journeying to the Goddess
Lofn’s Bard
Lesser-Known Goddesses in Norse Mythology
Fulla from LadySaga
Fulla, from the Almighty Johnsons Wiki
Icelandic-English Dictionary

Image at the top by kropekk_pl from Pixabay

The Vanir and their cult

Time has obliterated many of the pagan elements of Scandinavian culture, and much of the pre-Christian belief system has vanished from hman memory. But while the cults of Thor and Odin no doubt included lore and practices now lost to us, the cults of the Vanir deities are even more obscure, perhaps because certain features offended Christian sensibilities.

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Going to Hel: the Goddess and the Place

In Norse myth Hel is a place and a person, like the Greek Hades. The word hel means “hidden,” linked to hylja, “to cover”. Lindow speculates it may have referred to the grave at first, since that is where the dead live (171). Both he and Rudolf Simek (138) seem to think Hel was just a personification of the place, perhaps because unlike Hades, she has very little myth attached to her.

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Celtic Hercules

When you consider what Hercules did for Gaul, it’s no wonder that they loved him. He founded the city of Alesia, and introduced the rule of law. “And for the entire period from the days of Heracles this city remained free and was never sacked until our own time…”1 (Diodorus Siculus 4.19.1)

Other myths said that Hercules was the father of Celtos, Galatos and Iberus, the ancestors of the Celts, Galatians and Iberians. This would make him the ancestor of the French, Spanish and Anatolian Celts, who would thus become many-times-grand-children of Jupiter.

To honour their fore-father, they offered statuettes of him at shrines (especially the god Borvo’s), and many Gaulish gods, including Ogmios and Smertrios, were paired with him as part of interpretatio celtica. (MacKillop: 248)

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Medusa, Rhiannon, Macha: the horse-goddess and her twins

The imagery of the Greek Gorgon can be traced back to Persian and Near Eastern art, but the myth of the beautiful Medusa seems to come from a different source. A story found in various forms in Greece, India, Ireland and Wales tells of a woman who either becomes a horse or has a strong equine connection, gives birth to twins and suffers greatly.

However, Demeter, Saranyu, Macha and Rhiannon are goddesses, while Medusa is considered a monster. Still, her story is so similar to these others that it obviously descends from the same Indo-European myth.

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Boreas: Horses, Hyperborea and the North Wind

In Greek myth, the North wind had a home: a cave on Mount Haemus in Thrace. From there he sent the cold winds, and to emphasize this artists painted him with his hair and beard spiky with ice. As its name suggests, the land of Hyperborea lay beyond Boreas’ realm, where cold, along with old age and want, was unknown.

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Medusa and the Gorgon

I was originally going to call this piece Poseidon’s Scary Girlfriends, with Demeter the Furious and an unnamed Harpy joining Medusa. But when I began researching Medusa I found so many layers of interpretation that it seemed worth going back to the original sources and seeing what went into the myth.

In fact, it seems like there are almost two different myths, one involving a headless demon that terrified all who saw it, and another about the mortal Medusa, who either was a snaky-headed monster or became one.

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Poseidon: Horse God

Poseidon has three main aspects: sea-god, earth-shaker, and giver of horses. As sea-god he could stir up the waves or calm them, while as the earth-shaker his power was terrifying. Only as the god of horses was Poseidon a clear friend to humans.

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Travelling Vanir: Freyr, Nerthus and Njord

We know very little about the gods known as the Vanir, or their cult. One common thread, especially in the cult of Freyr, was taking the god’s statue for a tour in a wagon, so worshippers could see their deity, and be blessed by them.

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