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.
“The rowan is the salvation of Thor”, was a Icelandic proverb, and we have to wonder how this small tree could save a mighty god.
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.