Norse Articles

AnthonyRThompson's picture
As the best of the skalds, Bragi is a perfect deity to call upon for Bardic inspiration.In the Norse cosmology, just as the high one Odin is the most holy of gods, and the rainbow bridge to Asgard, Bifrost, is the best of bridges, so too is the god Bragi named the best of skalds. (1) In fact, his words are filled with such power that it is said runes are inscribed upon his tongue. (2) In Gylfaginning, "High" (the enthroned king, Odin) says that Bragi is "renowned for wisdom and... for eloquence and command of language. Especially he is knowledgeable about poetry, and because of him poetry is called brag, and from his name a person is said to be a brag [chief] of men or women who has eloquence beyond others.(3) Bragr as an adjective also means first or best, and our modern English word brag (someone who speaks excessively of her/his deeds or possessions) may derive from this earlier meaning of a person who speaks eloquently.(4)Unlike many other gods, we know that the god Bragi may have once been a mortal man, or at the least had a very notable namesake, in the early ninth century.(5) It may be this Bragi who instructs the reader of Skaldskaparmal in the art of skaldic poetic verse and of the metaphoric poetic devices called kennings. There is also a Bragi, perhaps the same, who sits in Valholl (Odin's "hall of slain warriors") among the other great heroes Sigmundr and Sinfjotli and welcomes Eirikr Bloodaxe ("Erik the Red" of Icelandic history) in Eiriksmal, and in Lokasenna ("the flyting of Loki") it is Bragi who trades insults with Loki and warns him of the Aesir's wrath.(6)As a renowned god of eloquence, poetry, and powerful speech, Bragi is a perfect deity to call in a Norse ritual for the Bardic Inspiration part of the ADF liturgy. In World Tree Grove, we actually call to Bragi for inspiration during the "light" half of the year (Beltaine/Maitag to Mabon/Gleichennact) and to Saga for inspiration during the "dark" half (Samhain/Dieses to Oestara/Gleichentag). Saga will be the subject of a forthcoming article, but for the moment you may find a call to Bragi below that we use in our rites. If you wish to offer sacrifice to Bragi, mead is best but beer will also do nicely.Bragi, Odinson Best of the wordsmiths And first of the skalds, You with the tongue of gold, Whose words are like the finest mead, We ask you best of bards To inspire us And make our words mix well. Bragi, let your inspiration flow!ReferencesGrimnismal St. 45, in The Poetic Edda by Edda Saemundar, Lee M. Hollander (tr.), University of Texas Press 1986.Sigrdrifumal St. 18 in The Poetic Edda.Gylfaginning, p. 25 in Edda. by Snorri Sturluson, Anthony Faulkes (tr.), Everyman's Library 1995.p. 73 in Teutonic Religion by Kveldulf Gundarsson, Llewellyn Publications 1993.Hamthismal, pp. 316, 320n in The Poetic Edda.Grimnismal St. 8 in The Poetic Edda. Eiriksmal, cited on p. 73 of Teutonic Religion. and Lokasenna Sts. 8-16 in The Poetic Edda.
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none's picture
The following pages are about Norse (aka Teutonic) gods and spirits:NerthusThe Lore of TyrBragi The Golden TonguedThe Norns: Three Sisters in the Wasteland
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Earrach's picture
"They (several of the celto-germanic tribes of northern Germany) have in common the worship of Nerthus, that is Mother Earth. They believe She is interested in humanity's affairs and drives about among them. On an island in the Ocean sea there is a sacred grove wherein waits a holy wagon covered by a drape. One priest only is allowed to touch it. He can feel the presence of the Goddess when She is there in Her sanctuary and accompa-nies Her with great rever-ence as She is pulled along by kine. It is a time of festive holiday-making in whatever place She deigns to honour with Her advent and stay. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms, in fact every weapon is put away: only at that time are peace and quiet known and prized until the Goddess, having had enough of the people's company, is at last restored by the same priest to her temple. After which, the wagon and the drape, and if you are like to believe me, the deity Herself are bathed in a mysterious pool..."- from Germania (ch.40) by Tacitus the Roman, apx 98 C.E."ERCE! ERCE! ERCE! MOTHER OF EARTH... HAIL TO THEE, MOTHER OF THE PEOPLE ! BE FRUITFUL IN HIS EMBRACE, FILLED WITH FOOD FOR THE USE OF THE PEOPLE... -then take every kind of meal and have a loaf baked no bigger than the palm of your hand, having kneaded it with milk and holy water, and lay it under the first turned furrow."- from an Anglo-Saxon "Charm" MS from the 900's
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Earrach's picture
Perhaps one of the most ancient and widely distributed traditions in the western Indo European lore is that of the Three Sisters of Destiny; known to the Northern tribes as the Norns. Each of the sisters represent a different aspect of time: the first, an old hag, peers off into the left or west... Urdr, the past. The second, a woman of middle-years, stares straight ahead to the south... Verdandi, the present. And the third, a youth, looks off to the right or east... Skuld, the future. The Greeks knew them as the Morari: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. To the Romans they were the Parcae: Nona, Decima, and Morda. The hag spools the thread from her spindle to the middle woman who measures it, passing it on to the youth who, faceless, cuts it with her shears. Each sister sees and knows and to a large degree governs her own temporal realm of destiny. These ancient and powerful spirits are perhaps best approached after All Hallows, in the Dead of the Year; between the worlds, in the Wasteland: the desolate wandering place much like the blasted heath upon which Macbeth encountered the same three Weird Sisters later immortalized by Shakespeare. The story of Macbeth and Banquo's encounter with three weird sisters who address Macbeth in terms of his past, present and future, had already long been a part of the folk record by the time Shakespeare incorporated it into his play. In the lore of the Northern Tradition preserved in the Icelandic Eddas, the Norns were to be found at the base of Ygddraisil, the World Ash-tree. In the shadowy realm between this world and the underworld, at the roots of the Tree, they dwell in a cave that embraces a pool fed by the twelve fountains (or nine rivers) which ever feed and replenish that representative of the Great Well or Cauldron of all origins. It is there they continually tend the roots with water and clay and there they spin and weave their Great Webs; the great fabric of existence: the Wyrd. To the Dark-Ages people of ancient Northern Europe (including most of the British Isles,) the Wyrd was a very familiar and important dimension of their view of the world; a philosophy not unlike the Eastern Tradition's Tao. Whereas the oriental view has the world and our lives made up of the dynamic interplay of a set of opposites, Yin and Yang, in the west a similar dynamic was seen in the meshing of the Weavers' threads. Consider the powerful old European metaphor of the Wyrd: the stuff of existence being like a woven fabric: an infinite number of fibers meshed at right angles to as many more opposing fibers; each single thread at some point touches and affects every single other opposing thread... a truly profound image for our contemplation...
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Member-65's picture
Tyr is a god misunderstood and in large part forgotten by today's neo-pagans. When most of us think of Norse warrior gods, visions of Thorr and his hammer flash before our eyes, and when one thinks of leadership or kingship we see Odinn and maybe Freyr. Yet Tyr was very important to our ancestors, as evidenced by the fact that a day of the week was named after him, and two of the eight high holidays were dedicated to him.Much of the mythology of Tyr is at present lost except for the story of the binding of the Fenris Wolf, the son of Loki and Angrboda, as told in the Prose Edda. In short, the Norns warn the gods that Fenris is dangerous, and will one day kill Odinn. The gods, alarmed, decide that they must bind him. They create a strong chain and ask Fenris if he is stronger than the chain. He allows the gods to try to bind him so that he can prove his strength. He easily breaks both that chain and the next, which is twice as strong. But when they try a magical ribbon made by the dwarves, Fenris, suspicious, ups the ante because he fears that despite their promises, they won't unbind him if he can't break free. Not wanting to be called a coward, he finally agrees to be bound if one of the gods will lay his hand in his mouth as a pledge of troth. "And each of the Ases looked at the other, and none of them was willing to lose his hand, until Tyr reached forward his right hand and lay it in the mouth of the Wolf." Needless to say, the wolf can't break free on his own, and they don't untie him. Tyr loses his hand, the wrist becomes known as the 'wolf joint,' and Tyr picks up the name of Wolf Leavings.Tuesday is named after Tyr because in the Roman calendar that day was Mars' day, and the Romans associated Tyr with Mars. This seems strange given that we have no myths associating Tyr with battle, but the binding of Fenris gives us some insight into the association. Fenris is the savage beast who knows no bounds, and, because of his trustworthiness and honor, Tyr alone is able to fetter him. The Norse warriors are oft associated with the berserker image, the warrior raging out of control. But it is the self-discipline of Tyr which allows the warrior to martial his power. Further, the true warrior wants nothing more than justice, which is why he must bind the chaotic forces which would destroy it. Tyr fights only the just war.Dumézil argues that Tyr, (also Tiwaz and Zio, cognate to Zeus), is more properly understood as the legal half of the dual first function of law and magic. Odinn gives up an eye for a more magical or mystical sense of vision, while Tyr sacrifices his hand so that the violence of war is bound by cosmic justice. Just as the eye needs to be sacrificed for true vision, so too does the right hand, a symbol of one's honor, (as in the handshake), need to be sacrificed for true justice. It is not uncommon for first function figures to go through some sort of mutilation (e.g. the Celtic Nuada of the Silver Hand, and the Roman heroes Horatius Cocles and Mucius Scaevola). Tyr's weapon was the spear, another sign of first function deities.Some of the symbols associated with Tyr are the spear, the hand or glove and the North Star called the Tyr-star or The Nail. Medieval fairs were started by raising a pole in the center with a glove on top. With the cry, "the glove is up," the Fair was opened, and the law of the Fair took effect. A Saxon rune poem states that the Tyr-star keeps faith with princes.Tyr is associated with two holidays, Disting (Imbolg) and Thingstide (Lughnasadh). Both are Things, in which the people can ask that the law be exercised on their behalf. Disting is the time of swearing of oaths, (the signing on to war-bands and Viking crews), as it is the beginning of the war season. Thingstide, the end of the war season, is the annual time of making treaties, marriages, and was the time for trials. The legal practices, like wergild and strictly controlled duels, were not abstract, but were designed to stop a fight. Tyr's loss of his hand to Fenris in a knowingly false bond may have resulted in what Dumézil called "a pessimistic view of the law" where we do what we must to keep the peace.Tyr's followers not only need to keep their oaths, but must also take an active role in enforcing justice. Their judgment must include both sides of the situation. After all, it is because Tyr is the only one willing to feed Fenris that Fenris trusts him. In today's world an eco-warrior who follows Tyr would recognize that while the paper mill cuts down trees, the recycling plant may produce more pollution. True justice is served not by letting violent emotions rule our actions, but by binding the violence both in ourselves, and in that which threatens the justice and peace of our world.Möge Ihre Ehre und Ihr Mut immer glänzen! May your honor and courage ever shine!Sources:Dumézil, Georges, Gods of the Ancient Northmen, trans. Einar Haugen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.Gundarsson, Kveldulf, Teutonic Magic. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1990.Gundarsson, Kveldulf, Teutonic Religion. Manuscript.Paxson, Diana, "Coming to Terms with Tyr." Mountain Thunder 10, pgs.17-20.Pennick, Nigel, Games of the Gods. York Beach, ME: Samual Weiser, 1989.Sturluson, Snorri, The Prose Edda. Retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Norse Myths. New York: Random House, 1980.
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