He was born in 1854 in Glasgow, Scotland. He became a Fellow of Classics at Trinity College, Cambridge. From there he leapfrogged sideways into folklore studies and comparative anthropology, two disciplines he knew nothing about (although to be fair, at the time, neither did anyone else really.) His masterwork was The Golden Bough, two volumes of meticulously researched albeit fairly wrong comparative mythology from all over the world.
Recently, I’ve been wondering about Silvanus, Faunus, and Pan. The former has been an interest of mine for some time, though I haven’t added Him to my religious life (at least not yet); the latter two are a recent focus, but all three inevitably raise the issue of who’s who: one god or different ones?
Historically, the interpretatio has been diverse. In late sources, Silvanus and Faunus were equated, as indicated by Peter Dorcey in his Cult of Silvanus (1992, 34). According to the same scholar, Augustine’s reference to a childbirth ritual in Civitas Dei intended to ward off Silvanus may also derive from a confusion between Him and Faunus, but I’ll get to that later. Earlier sources are no less complex, since they appear to refer to the two gods interchangeably, but then there are also cases of distinction: Martial mentions altars to Silvanus and trees of Faunus (
Frigg was the Queen of Heaven, but she had many other goddesses around her, including several who functioned as her ladies-in-waiting. Fulla carried her casket and kept her secrets, Lofn sought her permission for unlawful lovers, and Hlin protected those that Frigg wanted to save.
The first humans, in Norse myth, were made from two pieces of wood. Trees, humans and gods are closely connected, and the guardian god Heimdall and the world-tree Yggdrasil have a particularly strong bond. Humans, too, are a special care of his, as he intervened at time’s beginning to make them his kin.
Back in the spring I was inspired by Adam Hyllested’s ideas about the Hyldemoer to write my own post about the Elder Mother. This led on to two other posts, on rowan and birch. I assumed that I had exhausted the subject of feminine powers associated with trees, but I was wrong.
A week ago Neorxnawang passed on a link to a paper on the mysterious goddess Ilmr. She appears in a list of goddesses and another of kennings for “woman” in the Prose Edda. Her name also appears in poetry, mostly as – you guessed it – part of a kenning for “woman”. The paper, by Joseph Hopkins, suggests that Ilmr may be an elm goddess, connecting her name to the word almr, elm.
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.
There are elder trees all over Europe and Asia, but no one has been able to trace a root word common to the Indo-European languages for it. Considering that other widespread trees like birch and oak do have names that are clearly related across the whole language family, it seems strange that a useful tree like the elder should be overlooked. (Hyllested: 119) Or was there a reason behind this refusal to name the tree?
When I was young, I imagined the manna that fell from heaven as being some sort of bread, possibly akin to communion wafers. It made sense to my young, Catholic, self.
Much later in life, I had to rethink the nature of manna, because of two books. One was the Poetic Edda, and the other was The Hive by Bee Wilson (a very appropriate name). Wilson’s book talks mainly about honey from the hive, but she does mention manna or meli, as the ancient Greeks called it, which falls from ash trees.