Some Norse gods are famous – Odin, Loki and Thor, for example. Others, like Forseti or Magni, are only known to the cognoscenti. Tyr isn’t quite as obscure as those two, but he can’t compete with the big three. It seems strange that a god whose name means “god” should be so little-known. Did he fade away, or is there another explanation?
Fate is an important part of Norse myth and culture, from the all-encompassing poem Völuspá with its vision of creation, end times, and rebirth, to the heroic sagas whose heroes and heroines are pushed by their fates into destructive acts and violence.
Fate was not just an impersonal force, but was often imagined as the norns, women who laid down fate for mortals and immortals alike. These women were present at the beginning of the world, and at births, but people’s view of them was not sentimental.
There are two stories in Norse myth where part of a dead body is transformed by being rubbed with herbs. One of these is the mystical, cosmological story of Mimir’s head, which Odin revived by smearing with herbs and chanting over it. The other is a conversion narrative, in which a preserved horse’s penis is part of a house cult that St. Olaf brings to an end.
So these stories could not be more unalike. But the penis grows and “becomes lively” after the woman of the house covers it in herbs and wraps it in linen. So what herbs do you use to enliven a horse’s penis and a god’s head?
Berkana, or Birch, the 18th rune, is often said to be named after the birch goddess. I think however the “goddess” part is modern mythology. Before I go any further I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with that – that’s how mythology gets made. It is interesting to see how ideas get put together and grow into something new.
In this post I have assembled all the written evidence I could find for sun-worship in pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian culture. I haven’t covered rock art or other visual evidence for the cult of the sun here as that is a post in itself.
The god Ullr is another of Norse myth’s enigmatic gods, along with Heimdall. Both seem to have faded in importance by the time that the myths were being written down, although people in Sweden and Norway worshipped Ullr, and we know that invoked him when they swore oaths. He is clearly a god of winter and winter pursuits, which has led to a rebirth of sorts in the Ullr Fest held in Colorado each winter.
The porch of an Anglican church might seem like a strange place to find an altar to a pagan goddess. In Lanchester, Co. Durham, however, a stone altar to the goddess Garmangabi coexisted with the established church.