I wager one can scarcely broach the topic of the European Pantheon without at least a mention of the Germanic Gods. Of these, most famous is the Nordic Gods, their lore and mysteries. Some claim it is by handicap that the Nordic Gods have let their talons so easily sink into the perseverance of memory. Not so. If there is a handicap it comes from the fact that the vitality of the Nordic Gods is laid bare and so readily accessible. The stark contrasts of the religion, of fires and frosts, of rising suns and falling moons, of wolf and raven, God and man and monster; such we say, is the stuff of legends. The Eddas today are as relevant as they ever were, and some might admit, moreso now.
Our Gods were men and women like us, with dreams and missions, they fought greed, dripped with lust. They loved and lost and won and hated. They mourned their dead and awaited the resurrection of the sun, as we all of us do down here below in the Valley of Tears we got for trading in the Mountains of Triumph. The Gods wandered the Earth in disguise, and one never knew if a stranger in their midst was a man, a God or a monster . Such a wonder to behold, that every day that lived and died could have been a legend in itself. One would assume such a weltanschauung would make life seem somehow rather… sacral.
But we romanticise the past because it is an easy thing to do, like the young man who closes his eyes to imagine the lassie of his dreams it is no great thing to make her do as you please – in the kingdom of imagination. So it goes with history. We imagine the Mythic Eras in paradisiac language. But the Gods remind us what Hobbes would so famously decry – life is nasty, British and short. To that end our Gods had codes of morals, harsh and unflinching, their honour was called true, but only to kin. Outside that church, there was no salvation, no taboo. Until, of course, there was.
So it goes that the Living and Dieing Gods have remained in our heart, never having really left, never really needing to be resurrected, so much as rediscovered. Relearned, of course, and maybe more, reintroduced. So many of our traditions are shaped by the Minds of the Gods, holidays, customs, superstitions, more even than these the unspoken desires and dark shadows in the heart. We owe the Gods much, and so it should surprise none that when it comes to the Rise of the Gods from the whitewashed tombs of the post-industrial hellscape, the Norse should have stood at the head of that hallowed host. There again rides Odin, with his spear aimed to sail aloft over the heads of the damned.
I myself pray for their return, to reign upon the Earth, whereupon the alien idols are ground to golden dust and made into glitter to adorn the pretty little cheeks of all our daughters. They can dance around the Maypole until their youth abandons them, but my prayer is that they never know the suffering we have known, of identities stolen and raped, of love lost and hatred risen. That part of the innocence, may each God and every drop of blood in my veins and yours sing this prayer, that this stage of innocence never leaves them; that they may never need ask who they are, and who they are to become. My prayer is that they may lie forever in the shadow of the Gods and never know the instability, insecurity we have known. Such a prayer should sound in your mind louder than the fiercest drum and stick longer than the greatest song.
Maybe you shall share a care, mayhap you shall share a prayer. But to pray, should you not first be acquainted with the object of your devotion? Let me tell you about my Gods, and in so learning, perhaps you shall see something of them in yourself, or yourself in them. So it was for our ancestors, this was good enough for them, good enough to propel them across the four corners of the world when now we see that godless rule leads men to little else but rot and ruin. I think, then, that we should seek for the wisdom of our ancestors, seek for to know and feel what they knew and felt. I shall here and again remind you that at the front of all our genealogies, a God once stood, whether it was Wōden or some other chief among us, I might be a fool to guess. Every tribe had Gods, so now I shall tell you what I know of mine.
See now that my God is Odin, I begin with him. The All-Father whom my English forefathers called Wōden, whom my German antecedents called Wotan, know the Dutch among whom my forefathers lived called him Wodan. All these names, they are the same, and come from Wōðenaz, the spirit of wilderness and the frenzy that the wilds may bring, here you see was a chthonic God, mayhap, risen to celestial heights. Many assert he, master of Runes, lent his name, whose root is Oð to Oðala, which in English becomes EÞel and shall be the name of my first daughter. And why not? It is my favourite Rune, as Odin is my favourite God, and lends itself as he does to illustrate certain necessities of the order of our day. This Rune is often the final Rune in traditional Futharks and stands for inheritance, immobile property, and the spiritual inheritance of esoteric things such as honour, kith and kin. It is also said he lent his title to the Rune Ansuz, which in time becomes the English ōs, which the English named after a God called Mouth, a title once used by Wōden. This God has many names to each of his tribes throughout Magna Germania, such as it is now. And for each of his names he has many a cognomen. In the Nordic Lands alone Odin has more than a hundred nicknames, for it is said that when he took on human flesh to wander the lands of mortal men he not once took the same name twice. Hangatyr he has been called, the Hanged God, Bolverk he has been called by his foes – the worker of evil, and Grim he has been known, Hod he has been called. There is no end to the names he has taken. So it is the Norse form of the God we shall first speak. Odin we know, is King of the Aesir, for he lords over Valhalla where the noble dead men dwell in their numbers behind each of Valhöll’s 540 doors. Those who saw Valhalla were said to become Einherjar and would fight for their God in the last. Higher still than Valhalla is Hlidskjalf, a tower from which Odin goes to observe the worlds, from whence nothing can be hidden before him. On his arm he wears an Oath Ring called Draupnir which on every ninth night drops eight more of a kind, multiplying ever in multiples of nine – the North’s sacral number. The God carries a spear by the name of Gungnir which when thrown can never miss her target. Often it is on the back of his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, that he carries Gungnir. While he possesses splendid battle armour capped by a golden helm, Odin often chooses to wander about in a heavy cloak, coloured Prussian Blue, bedecked in stars. On his head he wears a wide brimmed hat, hiding his one-eyed visage. Possessed of wisdom, Odin is a hard God to know, hence his disguises. Cloaked min mystery, he has matched wits with giants, wagering their lives. And those who have given their life to forfeiture he has held communion with, often interrogating the souls of the Völvar, those dead seeresses from whom naught was hidden when dredged up from Nifel’s mist. Though on some occasions he has revealed himself in his threefold mystery, as Har, Jafnhar and Thride – this he did for Gylfi, King of Sweden when he revealed the mysteries of the Nordic Universe. You would be forgiven to remember that Odin was once reckoned a trinity in Odin Vili and Ve, though sometimes called Odin, Hoenir and Loedur. Dark and mysterious, Odin is a God to whom those concerned with the occult should flock. His domain was and is and shall be secret knowledge, prophecy and portents. More than this he is a God of progeny and is keen in establishing bloodlines in whose ourview we find Odal’s Rune, a Lordly God who watches the construction of dynasties with interest. Here is a God that takes to kennings and speaks in riddles, prizing poetry, wit and wordcraft. A God who masters himself, making his body a temple where sacrifices are performed, Odin is God of Life and Death. So it was, that this God never ate food for himself, but idly sipped at wine, itself a symbol of wisdom and refinement as mead was poetry. Rather he gave scraps to his wolves, wolves a symbol of passion and carnality. The implication was clear, Odin was master of his own passions, his familiars being wolves and ravens, with ravens being clear symbols of his arcane mastery as wolves were party to the physical. He was there when the Nine Worlds came into being, and he alone sees so far into the future that he knows whence the elements shall be dissolved and the cosmos be plunged into the deep dark waters of rebirth, emerging again triumphant under the new Heavens, Andlang and Sindri and Gimli. Some have whispered that the risen God, mysteriously called Almatki Áss, the Almighty God, is he himself renewed as the fruit of Yggdrasil’s sacrificial altar. So Odin follows the path of resurrection, offering himself a living host to himself, God of death – he pierced himself to the Tree of Life, and in bleeding out on the sacred bark, was himself reborn. He was reborn with the Knowledge of the Runes, which he and his sons, the Aesir, would share with the worthy. To this day those who learned the Runes could set themselves apart and transcend the limits of daily knowledge, for coded in our language is a rubric to enlighten your understanding the world. Our language was meant to hold a story in every letter, and in every letter hold a promise. He who cuts and stains, who rists and reads, knows much, and like Odin and Frigga, may choose to say little, or like Odin and Freyja may choose to say much to those, if those to whom they speak were first deemed worthy of Wisdom to hold. A God not limited to any station, Odin accepts the valiant dead into Valhalla, but is not confined to this lot. He is also a God of sex, having learned even Seidr from the secretive Vanir Goddesses and establishing lineages of demigods among women from the Tribes of God and Men. Though for you peckish brothers, you must confess among the Gods for whom flesh is a myth itself, sex becomes poetry, allegory, lore and simile. So it should be for us again, an act neither beginning with nor ending in flesh – sex is life, but also heat and even a kenning in wisdom. Ever Odin possesses the great spirit of Wisdom, who herself takes many names, many faces, and has given herself to many a man before. A man should know that to seek for wisdom is to blur a line between love, lust, of a platonic and erotic sort. In his quest for wisdom and knowledge he matches wits and cunning with those of every creed and colour, and in every case comes out victorious. There is only one thing which can finally defeat the Allfather, and that is the dissolution of the cosmos into the great consummation of the elements. Even this is subject to debate. Such is his thirst for wisdom that to slake it he reached his fingers into his very eye socket and left an eye at the bottom of Mimir’s well for a chance to drink from the waters of prophecy now clouded with the rich crimson cloud of his blood. The God of victory, he who blesses the lineages he created and shapes them into tribes to be blessed. Odin seeks to forestall the Ragnarok, the inevitable decline and disintegration of the order of the cosmos through violence and degeneration. Over the course of the ages he sires many children, each of whom is guided by Orlög and Wyrd to play a role in ensuring something of this world survives into the next. Such was his conviction that he was willing to live a life knowing full well the end, if it meant he could give his progeny new life. Surely All-Father, you make a fine God for the discerning connoisseur who knows the value of Blood and Soil. So much now for the Nordic Lands, among the Germanic Tribes Wotan was a God of Battle. We know his sway was great, for when the tribe of Christ came with a practise run of their own Ragnarök for the soul of the world that went before, Wotan’s hold was so great that he above all Gods needed to be silenced. Even in Germany his power was so vast that unlike in every other day where the midweek held his name, the Germans had only Mittwoch. We English have Wednesday, Wōdensdæg. Little then is known of Wotan beyond the popular image of Wotan given by the great composer, Wagner. Those images were borrowed from the Nordic Folk, but there is a surviving document which bespeaks God’s character. The Merseburger Zaubersprüche tells of a God of healing who knows the charm to heal Baldur’s wounds when he fell from his horse. This is an image that my English forebears would know, for among the Anglo-Saxons Wōden came as a wanderer and a shaman. So much less brooding than our Nordic cousins, the Anglo-Saxons knew a Wōden keenly bound to nature who rendered knowledge of the plants. There is no wonder, for his name is connected to wood, he was a God of the trees and the forests. A nature spirit. His charms were credited to Iesvs Khristos, for a time called Hälend, and these served as folk medicines for ages. He gave to the peoples rituals and remembrances for kindling nature and bringing vitality to the land and earth. One might assume that EarÞ was his wife. For the English hid their pagan rites in dedication to Drihte, whom they called the new Christian God, a mirror in whom Wōden’s face was shown, and Mother Earth whose belly he filled yearly. God and now unnamed Goddess were invoked later even after the church had come to bear. Indeed, the character of Wōden was drained like the British cup of life, now called grail, into the new God, and when one gazes upon the Catholic Christ they see an image inspired by the King of the Pagans they once claimed to resist. My ancestors could not abandon our God, and even King Alfred the Great, Christian saint of educators and nationalists, called upon Wōden as his ancestor. But the Folk Soul is not satisfied to let things lie as they have been, and so as Jung knew he would, Wotan returns, and he brings the Asatruar with him, among others blooded by conviction. Wæs Þu hæl, Fæder God, wilcuma! May you ever lend me your wisdom on my endeavours, as I swear by your name to carry the Torch of Herodotus as I may and paint the pictures which I pray my brothers see the signs.
What is man without woman, king without queen, and God without Goddess? Odin’s wife is Frigga, the embodiment of love and motherhood. As Odin brings ecstasy and passion, Frigga brings stability and conscience. What Odin knows and does, so does Frigga, for she is his wife, the bearer of his keys, the keeper of his flame. She knows much and says little, tending to her sons and teaching her women to weave. Frigga is unparalleled in her knowledge of herblore and prophecy. She is famed for her ability to spin and weave, and like her husband she is known for her hospitality and generosity. Being a good mother and a Goddess of all those who seek to bring up fine sons and daughters, she cared for all her young. Perhaps none more so than her youngest son by Odin, named Baldur. Of Baldur you shall hear more, but for now know that the Teutonic woman could move heaven and earth, scour mountain and bury valley if it meant securing a future for her children. See to it brother, her example is not lost on you or your wife. Her name, you will know, means love. In our petulant age her name has become a base cuss word. Some think that she and Freyja were of the same substance, in the same way Odin is of the same substance as Har and Jafnhar.
One should know, Frigga, being the great queen of the Aesir, had attendants. Handmaidens of whose number there were twelve. Some, my friend, believe that she and the maidens were one and that they were aspects of the Great Goddess as she travelled the worlds, much in the way Odin’s disguises may have become as Gods to man below. So it goes. Gna is such a Goddess as one gifted with flight, she soars between worlds upon the rainbow bridge carrying messages between Gods and from Gods to men. It is said her name means ‘soaring,’ or ‘towering.’ Then there is Fulla, from her the name full comes. This fleshy Goddess wore a golden headband and was known to carry a casque full of Frigga’s holdings. There was Saga, sweet Saga. Many of the Nordic Gods carry a mystery about them. Saga is such a one. Her name becomes a form of storytelling, for a Saga is a long story that follows not a man but a clan. No small wonder that she was a Goddess who sat in her hall. Sokkvabek, it was called, the sunken hall. Odin Allfather visited her at night, and the two would drink together. Saga told her stories, and in her veins ran the history of the world, she knew the name of every God and the history of every family. Perhaps this is what Odin and the Winter Goddess discuss, whom some say is Freyja or Frigga, who others say are all one, in her shade of the crone had to discuss, the stories of old, if you will, the sagas of the Gods. Eir was called physician among the Gods, learned in the herbal lore as well as how to leech. Curiously she finds her name in the registry of Odin’s maiden’s, and she is known as both a Norn and a Valkyrie – a powerful asset to the Gods, indeed. There was Gefjun, this is the name of a gigantic Goddess who in the form of an ox gave birth to four plough draggers and created the boundaries of Zealand. Gefjun is also a name taken by Freyja, and this name means ‘giver.’ Gefjun was said to be a virgin, and that the souls of the unmarried found their way to her hall after death. Surely a virgin Goddess would pine for affection, and this is precisely the meaning of the name Sjöfn. She was one who turned the hearts of men and women toward one another in love. And she stands over Lof, whose name means at once permission and praise. It was she who asked the All Father and Great Mother to break down the stigma of marriage and allow those whom fate had decreed not marry otherwise do so. Her attribute is the golden key. Now, when one asks permission there is ever the looming chance of denial, so we understand the meaning of Syn’s name. She was the guardian of doors and entries, the Goddess who knew what spirits were welcome where, and whose souls entered what realm. She watches thresholds and the changes they bring. After her comes Hlin, a protectress, and the mother of all shield-maidens, such as they were. The eyes of Hlin are ever upon the backs of those whom Frigga loves. Some swear that it is in this form Frigga comes to protect those whom she will. Snotra was a Goddess after whom the young married maid was named, but her role is broader, she is mistress of self-knowledge and shepherds intuition. So now comes Vör, the Goddess of prophecy whose eyes are escaped by no shadow, whose ears miss no whispered secret. Her name relates to prophecy, and from it we get the English fore, as in forewarn and foreknowledge. All prophetic intonations. At last we come to Var who hears oaths and prayers as they are given over there hearth, and it is the hearth of everyman where she might be found. She was also called as witness before private contracts, and she who punished infidelity.
Freyja is the Goddess of love, a sultry maiden of great appetite. We can never be certain that the more sordid tales told in her name are accounts of her deeds or the attempts of latterday monks of a bookish nature to besmirch her good name, who would go so far as to relay that she would sink so low as to consort with dwarves, the most loathsome of creatures. Be that as it may, the Goddess had taste and craved fine things. Some times this got her into trouble, as many a woman has encountered trouble before by heedlessly following craving. However, whatever may be said of Freyja’s carnal nature, her importance as a role model to women seeking power cannot be underestimated. Odin shared half his bounty with her. Where Odin sat in judgement over Valhalla, Freyja walked among the dead held in Folkvang. Where Odin fared forth with the Einherjar, who but Freyja rode at the head of the Valkyrjur host? Like Odin Freyja plied herself at occult knowledge, coming from the Vanir, she was accomplished in a magickal art known as Seidr, whose purpose is mysterious to us now. She was known to consort with the dead, and to seek for knowledge from the seers. Surely if the shieldmaidens had a goddess, it would he she. Now, though, be forewarned, real women with power do not become obelisks hewn from stone. Freyja, who could strike fear into God and Man, cried tears of gold as she waited for her husband Od to return from his journeys. On one occasion Loki made an arrangement to sell her away as a bride to the Jotun mason whom Loki tricked into building Asgard’s wall. Such was her disgust for the foreign tribe that even the mighty Gods feared her scorn. Like Odin she sometimes gave mortals heroic progeny, such as one tale where she flirted with a mortal man whose doom was sealed despite her efforts to trick an angry witch into brewing herbs for him into a potion of invulnerability.
What discussion of Norse myth could be complete without mention of Thor? Thor, by my elder folk called Þūnor, by my German cousins called Donner, and by the scholars of our day known as Þurisaz. God of Thunder, bearer of the Mjolnir, whose English name is Miller. Thor, whose hands are girt with strength, and around his waist, might in the form of Megingjord. Thor is borne on a chariot drawn by goats, Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Grinder. His red mane and beard burn like sunfire, and his eyes spark like the storms he conjures in mist and rain, thunder and lightning. If Odin his Father is the God of Lords and Poets, than it follows Thor is God of the Workingman and the Everyman. Born of the Goddess Jord, who was once named Earð, whom we call Mother Earth, Thor embodied the summer storms. He was said to be so great and so strong that he could not cross the Bifrost – the rainbow bridge – without breaking it. Friend of the peasant, Thor wielded the hammer, a symbol of creation and destruction. Mjolnir, the Miller, crusher of Etin and Jotnar bones, grinder of the foes of the Gods, could quicken as well as fell. For Thor could strike death into his enemies, but raise life from his friends and kin. It was by his Hammer that marriages are said to have been hallowed, and no small wonder, for the hammer was a homebuilder’s tool as well as a shipbuilder’s. And what is a marriage but an esoteric institution built from the love worked on by Herr und Frau? Thor was the everyman’s God because he is relatable. Thor makes jokes, has a temper and while quick to anger, will nevertheless make right. Unlike his father, Odin, Thor has no time for the endless pursuit of the esoteric. He prefers life lived in the moment, hard at work or war, a strong man accustomed to solving problems with his arms and not his mind. However, like many good men, he was not incapable of rising to the occasion when the esoteric called. He was able to defeat a vile and moneygrubbing dwarf in a competition of riddles, this he did not by matching wits with the pathetic wretch, but waiting for the sun to rise – turning the wicked kobold to stone. However, he was not too terribly easy to fool, as we learn from his journey to Utgard – my own favourite tale of the God. For all his strength, Thor was a God who was humble and willing to learn from his faults and overcome. Another God for our times, not one riddled in hubris, but humble, and smitten with his homeland and obsessed with its defence and the extirpation of those that threaten Asgard from without and within. Such is his good nature that he often takes Loki on as a travelling companion, enjoying his sense of humour. Few travelled with the trickster but Odin and Thor.
Now Thor being a God cherished by families, whose blessing consecrated weddings, surely had a wife. And her name is Sif. Sif, a harvest Goddess, has the most beautiful mane of golden hair, with skin pale as crushed wheat and eyes as blue as water beneath the cloudless sky at high noon. A lucky man roughnecked Thor is, to have such a gentle wife. With her blessing, harvests came and go, as her name was and is related to sheaf. On one such occasion Loki, God of tricks, thought it would be a fun joke to sneak into her bedroom and shear away her hair. Her hair itself, was symbolic of the coming stalks, and when Thor awoke to a bald wife he knew at first whose neck his hands would embrace. Were it not, again as with so many other times, for the intervention of Odin Allfather Thor would have wrung the trickster’s neck. And again as so often was the case, Loki was forced to undo his dirty deeds and reset the balance of the cosmos he exists to test. So it was that the wicked dwarves were cajoled to do right from their craft and make for her a mane of gold that would take root to her scalp. Whole again, her radiance shown and the crops grew.
And what miraculous Goddess gave the Lady her Husband, but Jord, the Earth Mother herself? Mother Earth spread her legs for the Wild God of Spirit and Ecstasy, she gave birth to Thunder, none other than Thor. Some say she disguised herself as a giantess to give her son his attributes, his belt and gloves to wield his hammer. While she may not have shared the precise nomenclature with the Norse, my ancestors venerated Jord under a plethora of names. We called her Nerthus, and Erce, among many others. There are some who feel that Nehellenia is a kind of Nerthus, which would equate the path of this Goddess’ masques with the very face of Hela, an interesting riddle. Our kind favoured the Earth Goddess, fattened by the bounties of the Sky God in arcane rituals in which the effigy of the Goddess was drawn by a chariot, her image so holy that the handler was himself drowned as an offering in holy water. Or so the jealous Romans tell us. If true, and if so, an exciting notion, for perhaps that procession symbolised the withdrawal of the faithful into the womb of the Earth God, with the expectation that bounties would be borne of the exchange. Nevertheless, even into the Christian era, the mysterious Mother Earth, wife to Father God, continued to be placated by farmers. What we know, is that to the English mind, in a way the Norse did not understand, the Goddess held a firm grip, our folk in thrall, so to this day the poet’s tongue is tied in praise of Her bounties, passed down in our wives, remembered in the stories told us by our mothers – women, the torchbearers of culture. Ah, and surely we speak of Christians when we speak of ourselves? What English speaker has not heard or uttered the name ‘Mother Earth?’ in this way, the Goddess never left. But questions remain of this enigmatic Goddess. Was she a face worn by Frigga, the Lady and the Lover, who comes as so many others? So many questions, and not enough lives to live for to find the answers my heart so seeks.
As Sif saw to sustenance, so another Goddess saw to youth. Her name was Idunn, and by her fruit, the Gods were made whole. In the solace of her groves and orchards she tended to the apple trees that she grew. It was said that a taste of her blessed fruit would drain old age from the bodies of the Gods, and make them as young as they were when the cosmos was new. So, imagine their disdain when on one such occasion Loki sought to entertain himself by bringing the high Gods low. He tricked Idunn and arranged for her apples to be stolen, and this time, Odin himself would have dispatched Loki to his daughter in Helheim. Of course Loki was able to resecure access to the apples, and the Gods were ensured their strength would not fail until the final day.
Not all Goddesses were sweet and innocence, nor were they all sultry and lusty. Some were downright mean. Skadi is such a one. Skadi comes to the Asgard on a quest of vengeance after her father, Thjialfi, made the fatal mistake of challenging Odin King of Gods. She came demanding wergild, as was her right. At first she could not be brought to reason, and so Loki was dispatched to entertain her. Having no dignity intrinsic to himself, Loki humiliated himself in the guise of a goat and so goaded her to laugh. Now willing to negotiate, she claimed for an interesting price, she sought for a husband. The Aesir, cunning Gods, acquiesced to her demand. However no man would wish for a bride so dour, unless he truly appreciated suffering. Thus, in the interest of fairness, for it was Baldur she wanted, and it was Baldur Odin would not give, they made a deal. Allowed to see only their feet, she would choose her suitor from the Gods. In the end, she chose the shapeliest and strongest feet and earned Njord, whose feet were apparently kept spry by sea-salt, as her husband. Their marriage would not last, Njord was a God of the sea and shore, and Skadi of the field and hillside. Of course, for her name is related to the ski, an invention of hers she used to hunt. In the end, however, she became a fierce defender of the Aesir, and when Loki pressed his luck for the final time and caused the death of Baldur it was Skadi who arranged for his last humiliation. After Odin ordered Loki bound, Skadi hung a serpent above his head. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that we find her name gives us the modern English “scathe.” She was a Goddess that took sheer delight in tormenting her foes. And why not?
Njord was husband to the most scathing Goddess. He was also father of Freyja and Freyr, the Lady and Lord of the Vanir given to the Aesir as hostages to secure peace after the first war. He himself joined them in the exchange, unwilling to let his children go alone. He was known as a cool and temperate God, and his realm was Noatun.
Tyr, the sword-God, one handed Lord of War. Called Tīw by my kind before the Nordic name came to dominate our minds. Tiwaz, we are told, he was called in the long days before the Germanic kin made our parting of the ways to carry the weight of world history on our backs like an Atlas following the fall of Rome. Tiwaz he was called they say, once upon a time when the Proto-Europeans roamed the face of the Earth. This name, our learned scholars tell us, once belonged to the God who became Zeus and Jupiter in Greece and Rome. This leads some to say that Tyr was once rightful King of Asgard. Tyr was a warrior of great renown, and many a foe had learned to fear his sword hand. It is a tragic irony that the most famous of his tales involves his losing that hand. Even so, he sometimes journeyed with Thor. Tyr was known to travel to secure the things Asgard needed in order to thrive, as in the time he travelled to secure a beer cauldron for Aegir from his father. In England my ancestors called him Tiw. Some say that he once had another name and was called Irmin, after the Irminsul – great tree of the Saxons. Charlemagne’s dogs it was that were ordered to cut it down. A shame they wasted their efforts on us, only for them to be betrayed later by the devil’s children they would convert, who have been burning down their crosses ever since. Perhaps Charlemagne’s children shall remember whence their bloodline comes when we stand the Irminsul up once more.
Seeing as we have talked a spell about Freyja, it’s worth speaking of her brother a bit. Freyr, often said to be her twin, is a chivalrous God, highborn among his people. Like most Vanir he had a love for crops, and it was to Freyr that the people prayed for the insemination of their crops. That was not the only thing Freyr fertilised. In surviving iconography Freyr is frequently depicted with a phallus that could scare an ogress. One might expect that for a God so generously endowed he might carry with him tales of cavorting and infidelity. Perhaps there was a time he did, however, of his tales one stands above the lot in the Folkish memory. His wooing of Gerd, or, perhaps a better description is his arrangement to secure her. He sent his servant, the supreme gentleman did, Skirnir, who himself was less gentlemanly. His price was Freyr’s sword, and the knowledge of Runes to bind and loose. Of particular importance to the Swedes in the formation of their dynasties, he was sometimes called Yngwi, or simply Yng – a Rune is named after him in this guise. In the once great Temple of Uppsalla Freyr stood with Odin and Thor, a praiseworthy honour, to be sure. In Saksenland, and later England, the God was called Freo.
Bragi is the God of poetry, a son of Odin, doubtless is he. Bred from wisdom, Runes of eloquence were carved in his very tongue – a tongue whose words never failed to bewitch. He inspires the hearts of those smitten by the wordsmiths forge, whose sparks shoot out as kennings, metaphor and allegory. It is from him we draw the word brag, as a braggart was once one who used wit and charm to make his way. Like all heathen words, it was not always a term of derision, for braggarts like Bragi once fulfilled their word.
Aegir, of the Vanir, came to the Aesir after the first war. He was renowned for his brewery, and was at one point known as a bit of a crank. In time, however, the Aesir set him straight and he came to host many events for the Aesir Gods in his splendid hall. This earned him his role as God of Hospitality. Added insult to injury, some time after Baldur’s death, Aegir would host a feast to brighten Asgard’s mood. It was here that Loki sealed his fate by flyting, or poetically insulting, each of the Gods and Goddesses to their face. It was only Thor’s return that put him to flight, and thereafter the Gods would pursue him to his gruesome, yet very hard earned fate.
Now Asgard had a watchman named Heimdall, the whitest God whose teeth shone as gold and whose eyes could see a hundred miles in every which way. One might be tempted to think of the watchman as a lonely God, but Heimdall often took on mortal form, having crossed the mists of Bifrost to walk the strands of Midgard. Some days he might come as a wanderer named Rig, whose name we know means King in Irish. Other days he might come with no name at all. Mankind owes Heimdall much; the White God himself once acted as Odin’s mouth and gave the caste system to mankind, ordering the kinds of men and women born so that they might seek their best destinies. Heimdall, like Odin, also upbred kings, and was known to teach the Runes to worthy seekers of wisdom and knowledge. His natural enemy is Loki, the God of mischief. And who should question why? Loki was a rabble-rouser, and Heimdall the great guardsman who must well have known it would be for Loki’s mischief that he would at last sound the once silent Gjallarhorn which would herald the end of the world.
There was Forseti, kinsman of Baldur, who was a Lord of the Law. It was to his hall the Gods went to hold Thing, debate questions of legality and to settle disputes. None left his hall unhappy, and none were ever slighted for the God rendered perfect equanimity.
Of course there was Baldur, Baldur the youngest son between Odin and Frigga. He was most likely a warrior of renown and skill, for from his name we get today’s English bold. Brave, the word tends to mean, so it is we call the eagle after him – the Bald Eagle, a bird of prey. Some say Baldur was a warlord, but in the Eddas he comes to us as a paschal lamb. He comes to us as the joy of his parents marriage, a light in dark times, an innocence personified. A youth plagued by dreams that his mother, Frigga, knows are all too real. Baldur dreamt of his own death, and was afraid. So Frigga, sweet mother, took to the falcon skin and soared throughout Worlds Nine and visited upon each denizen her solemn prayer that they should swear to do her son no harm. Long was her quest, and even a mighty Goddess grows tired, in her weariness, she forgot the lowly mistletoe. The long and short of the story, which I’m sure we shall tell before the end of this array, is that Loki makes his switch from trickster to devil – he arranges for mistletoe to be the end of Baldur, Baldur who could have been invincible before God and man, were it not for the tragic machinations of the Norns. Unable to bear her grief, Baldur’s loyal wife, Nanna, threw herself down with Baldur and went with him in flame. You must understand that when Baldur’s body was sealed with fire and then by water, Hela rose up from the deep to claim him, when she did, he brought the Summer of Midgard with him, leaving the world in line to receive the last Winter, Fimbul – and then Ragnarök. So it would go that when the ashes of the Old World were washed away and a new creation might rise from the Waters of Life beneath the Almatki Áss, Baldur would emerge again from Hell – a new dawn. If nothing else, understand that from innocence and mirth come light and prospect, without them, doom follow – always, until innocence is recovered at last. However, this tale, the most renowned and celebrated among them, is but the Nordic call. To the Germans, Baldur may not have ever died, but we know from a tablet called the Merseburger Zauberspruche that Baldur was a horsemen, this we know for he once fell from his horse and was healed by Wodan. Bældæg he was called in the Anglo-Saxon tongue, and to my knowledge our ancestors knew nothing of his death, for to my knowledge neither did we Saxons await a final hour as the Norseman did. If we did, than this grimmery is not what the fates have allowed us to remember.
What can be said of the tragedy of Baldur at Loki’s hands that does not mention Hel? Her names are many, her age is great. It is likely she predates Norse religion by itself, and has a lost role among the low Germans. Hel, Hela, Hella, are among her Nordic names. Some say she is also Frau Hulda, sometimes called Holda. And others make a sound argument for her being known to the Low Germans as Nehellenia, who among my own ancestors was known as Elen and Elena. Let us begin our ditty on the so-called death-Goddess here. There is far more to her than the dour image of the Norseman. And that image is this, that we may dispel it for now. Hel was said to be the spawn of Loki, born deformed, a beautiful maiden from her crotch to her scalp, but rotten from her crotch to her toes. Speculations abound. Had she leprosy? Was this metaphor? This, and it is only the opinion of your host, is that it is poetry; the beautiful Goddess of Death was given feet of clay to stand upon, this giantess among our kind. It is said Odin took one look at her at her presentation after birth and threw her headlong from the edge of the Earth where she crashed into Nifleheim and was given her own realm, the titular Helheim, to rule upon. It is said she sits in a throne of despair before a table named Famine with Longing and Misery her fork and knife, doted on by Ganglati and Ganglot the loathsome, draugr-like couple whose names mean shuffler. In the tale, she was said to have coolly regarded Hermod the messenger that should all of Midgard weep she would release Baldur from her care. Yet! Yet it remains, it was said also that Baldur was received at Hela’s table with flower and song. This bespeaks a Goddess not of grimmery and despair, but of nature and function. Baldur was a God of Light and innocence. Remember this. Now, if it is true that Holda was a shade of Hel, and there is a definite etymological argument to be made, than know this. Frau Holda was said to care for the souls of those that died in their infancy. Surely such a deed as this invites no cruelty, my good friend? Said also is that Frau Holda gave Lord Odin the ravens which carry his thoughts and memories in spirit form across the 9 worlds each day. It is said she has a club foot, which she uses to press the lever to her spinning wheel, suggesting she was also a dictatress of fate. This also reminds us of Hela and her deformed lower body. Holland bears her name. Nehellenia was a Goddess known among the people who become the Dutch. She was akin to crops, harvest and the sea. She cared for dogs. More, she was shown with a basket of apples, rendering her a symbol of life, and not mere death. A curious extrapolation from a Goddess who has suffered much at the hands of callous assumption. Curious, the Goddess whose names betray her origin, for etymology relates Hella and Holda to brightness, and those things hidden. Her home is in Nifleheim, whose name means ‘mist home,’ and it was Nifleheim who gave forth the ice needed to melt and become life. Her name is often given to the Rune Hagalaz, a Rune related to both creation and hail. Her home, death, is rooted in something ancient. This suggests, perhaps, that those who went to her home were brought back up again, the shining light within expels life from the deep to become new life.
The ultimate tragedy of Baldur would perhaps never have been written were it not by Loki’s hand. So, it is here we reach the end of our catalogue today. A fitting conclusion. For if Odin is a God of Wisdom who brings Kosmos from Khaos, than Loki is a God of Cunning who seeks to plunge Kosmos back into Khaos, through instinct, in the guise of entertainment. Mindless egotism. Our Nordic Brothers should tell us that Loki, while counted among the Aesir, is no Asa. He is Jotun-kin, and he acts in accordance to the unknowable tenets of his race. Loki displays intelligence and wit, but appears to lack any compass of morale beyond his own wants, not needs. Even more, he lives for the pleasure of the moment, often countermanding his very needs. This, more than anything, is what pits him against the Gods – lawlessness, selfishness. Loki has no hierarchy, respects no authority, hails nothing sacred. This is the downfall of the Etin-Kin, passionate undoing, enveloped by the consequences of their actions. More, Loki was a Father to Monsters, as Odin was Father to Gods. Copulating with the Giantess Angrboda, whose name means yielder of sorrow, Loki got three of his brood; Hela, the Goddess of death, afflicted by cruel leprosy and rendered grim. She Odin threw to Helheim after her name to rule the dreary dead. Fenrir, the Wolf who swallowed Sword-Tyr’s hand, this wolf was bound as Loki would be bound, trapped until the end of days. And finally the Midgard Serpent, Jormungand, whose only redemption was that Odin tied the serpent’s fangs to his tail and compelled him to hold the inner parts of the earth together – fastening land and sea beneath the memory of the sky. These were not the only monsters Loki got, he took upon himself the form a foal one fine day and tricked a giant’s horse into sexual relations, from this the otherworldly steed Sleipnir came. Now how did Loki come to stand amongst the Aesir, an enemy in the heartland of the Gods? Loki, through some unknown past sentimentality, was made a blood brother to Odin. Odin gave his word that at whatever table he was set upon, Loki too would find welcome. In the beginning, his mischief was innocuous enough, but as it goes with Untermensch, there came a craving for more. More mischief, more leeway, more freedom from consequences. Boundaries were tested. Always the Gods forced Loki to rectify his sins, but never would Loki learn, always plotting the next trick. He arranged the theft of Idunn’s apples, he sheared Sif’s hair, he once tried to sell indignant Freyja to the giants in exchange for a wall to protect Asgard from the Etin race. On and on it went, Loki sealed the fate of Otter’s Ransom and incurred the wrath of Andvari and his cursed hoard which in German song and legend begat the Götterdammerung. He could have stopped there and adopted the way of the Aesir, but the myth is clear, there are some strangers who can never become kin, some tribes who can never learn. Filled with spite, incapable of empathy, Loki saw the love of Frigga for her son and arranged for Baldur to die. We shall tell the tale in time. Even this, murder most foul, the bright Gods might have forgiven, had Loki paid wergild, but instead he gave flyting. Insulting the Gods in their hour of grief. His fate was sealed, Thor chased him from Aegir’s hall on that day. In the end, Odin devised a fitting punishment. The entrails of Narvi, Loki’s son, were pulled writhing and girt in blushing blood and sweet steam from his belly until there was nothing between his ribs. The gut was wound into a chord, and with that Loki was bound to a great stone in a cave where no kiss of the sun ever shone. Here now the cruel, but in this moment beautiful Goddess of vengeance, Skathi, hung a serpent from the roof, hissing, spitting sumptuous justice down. And Loki, Loki was compelled to look with his eyes and seen the venom drip, burning his retinae until his eyes flaked and peeled. The transformation was complete, the God of Mischief had become the Devil in his Hell, splendidly struggling, screaming and howling – not in repentance but in self-pity. In this, the hermaphroditic God of Lies gave birth to yet another monster – earthquakes, his final gift before The End.