It is often said of the Nordic goddess Freyja that she is a goddess of sexuality. While that might very well be the case, the notion is often carried out into the murky realm of whoredom which folk seek to rebut simply by trying to recast “bad” as “good”. Lending to this notion of “Freyja as whore” folk will cite the Eddic lore that states that she has lain with all of the gods, her own brother included; that she is comparable to the mythic goat Heidhrun prancing about in heat, and of course the tale in which she lays with four dwarves so as to win the fabled necklace Brisingamen. Of course, the first two bits of lore come, within the stories, from the mouths of her detractors (Hyndla, Loki) and can hardly be taken at face value, while one of the Icelandic sagas, Njal’s saga I believe it was, relates how a Christian Icelander was outlawed for calling the Vanadis a whore/bitch. So, all we truly have in this regard, beyond some very questionable hearsay, is the tale of the Brisingamen, the precise nature of which we today are left largely to guess at.
My purpose however is not to disprove Freyja’s association with sexuality or, really, to wax at all academic on the matter. Rather I would simply shake up such conventionally accepted notions as surrounds the goddess and offer a perception of her that is not the product of those out to discredit and undermine her (and indeed out indigenous beliefs themselves as a whole) by an utter reluctance to see beyond the base carnal realities that all higher truth is rooted in.
It is that “higher truth” that we should be interested in.
As with all good lies, there may indeed be some kernel of truth to the words of Freyja’s detractors. Freyja may indeed have been regarded as having a strong sexual component. Rather than casting her as some two-bit mortal whore however, one might be inclined to say that she is the spirit of the passion that exists between lovers. And so that where there are lovers engaged in a “passionate embrace” there is Freyja. Following these carnal lines alone, one might say, in this regard, that highest expression of Freyja would have been more similar to Hinduisms Kama Sutra and certain Tantraic teachings rather than the “Girls Gone Wild” nonsense of the low-minded and uncultured.
Indeed, I have reason to believe that the magical art of seidhR, that is so strongly associated with Freyja, and was so “strongly opposed” by the early Church in Norway, was a cult that taught mysto-magical arts of seduction, ie. the generation of sexual energy and it’s use to manipulate the mind of other beings.
But as the spirit of sexual passion, to refer to Freyja as a whore is to misunderstand and cheapen the fundamental value of sexuality, the intense passion of lovers for one another, and to drive the very spirit of passion itself from one’s bedroom; a passion that extends well beyond the bedroom and into the higher realms of passionate devotion for one another as reflected in the supreme value the indigenous Germanic people placed on monogamy, and mythically reflected in Freyja’s own longing for her absent lover OdhR (Mental Excitement).
But Freyja is more even than the spirit of sexuality, or even of passion in general, but also of sensuality and what my high school Western Civ. teacher would have called “the aesthetic experience”; which itself was basically a recasting of Plato’s hierarchy of thought. Freyja promotes a fine appreciation of all the better things in life, noting, indeed, relishing in their fine and subtle details, like the brush strokes of a painting, the subtle differences in taste of a fine wine, etc.
A stately connoisseur of beauty. A Lady. A Freyja.
Indeed, I would tend to think that much of Freyja-lore survived, after a fashion, and can be gleaned in Eleanor of Aquitaine and her so-called “court of love”, where the ideas of ideas of courtly love, chivalry and the troubadours were brought together; not so much as a pure expression of Eleanor’s native Germanic spirit, but as a reaction of that spirit to the increasingly rigid structure of NW European society that began with the absorption of southern European culture and the introduction of Abrahamic Christianity.
The knightly notion of the lady as muse, be it in battle, or as found re-expressed in the Renaissance, in the production of art.
“Not at all do we consider him to be a god. He was evil and all his descendants. We call them rime-thursar.” — Snorri Sturlusson, Prose Edda
By the indigenous worldview of our ancestors the present is an accumulation of interwoven *layers* that set the context of our lives, both individually and collectively (in ever expanding circles of relation out to all of humanity).
We see this in the evolution of the primal realm of Niflheim, formed by the layers upon layers of rime and frost that built up around the primal spring called Hvergelmir (Seething Cauldron), and we see this in the actions of the Great Mothers at the Divine Counsel of the Tivar in Upper-Heaven, as they “lay the layers/laws” (of Divine Judgement) into the holy spring of Wyrd. And of course we see it in the folklore and the appearance of the Little Mothers at a child’s birth who would set the baby’s “orlogR”, the “primal layer/law” or “basic context” of their life … which would of course be deeply influenced — wherever that stops short of “micro-managed” — by the “primal law” of the family, tribe, culture, etc. that they sprung from.
Layers upon (interwoven) layers. Laws upon laws. A veritable three dimensional tapestry.
This is a useful perceptual tool in approaching the “Creation myth” of the Germanic peoples as embodied in the Norse-Icelandic Eddas; that each event along the path to Creation (and forward) represents successive “laws” or “precedents” that set the context of human existence on a fundamental level.
And THE primal law of all existence is, arguably (ie. Ginnungagap), the “Law of Ymir” whose “offspring” it is said are all brutish and hostile, the very forces of hardship and adversity as inherent in nature and natural existence; to which all things, great and small, are and ever shall be subject too (to one degree of another).
There is no escape from this primal law. It is set. Indeed, if one can rely on nothing else in life, it is an undeniable fact that one can always count on hardship and adversity. It shall always be there to hurt you, to make you suffer, to kill you, and then to casually step over your broken form utterly heedless that you were ever even there to begin with.
And this is how it should be; a fact that one can most certainly argue against, in all futility, but which remains a fact nevertheless. And it remains a fact that has and shall prove itself, over and over and over again, and never show itself off as anything other than the cold, hard truth.
No malicious intentions necessary.
There are of course mitigating factors, mythologically speaking, in the form of the All-Nourisher, Audhumbla, the Tivar and of course in the the foundation of the “innangeard” or “in-group/community”. But that combination of adversity (Ymir) and nurture (Audhumbla) is what gave birth to the first of the gods, to glory, and the process of the cultivation of resilience, strength and excellence, of divinity, in which adversity is a key component. And in which adversity remains ever-present, regardless of one’s degree of strength, fortitude, and excellence.
The “Law of Ymir” remains ever in place.
Adversity is a given.
And the best life is had by the those who accept that, who look upon it as a challenge; by those who have an inkling of exactly how adverse life could potentially be without the buffer of the innangeard established by the gods and maintained by our ancestors since time immemorial. And this keen awareness also makes such people some of the most thankful.
“the hardships of the freedman mark the freedom of his condition.” — Tacitus, Germania
“There is yet another AEsir, whose name is Tyr. He is very daring and firm-minded. His counsels rule over victory in war, and so it is good for men of valour to call upon him. There is an old-saying, that he who surpasses other men and does not waver is Tyr-bold. He is also so wise, that it is said of anyone who is very smart, that he is Tyr-wise.” — Snorri Sturlusson, Prose Edda
The connection between courage and wisdom was, clearly, not lost on our ancestors … though many today are happy to attribute Tiw (ON. TyR) with great courage while over-looking the great wisdom part; for all that one only has to read the very next sentence.
But it is not at all difficult to see the connection between the two … a connection made long before Aristotle was rediscovered by the West. After all, what is the essence of courage? Is it simply to face a danger? Well, that certainly is a manifestation of courage, but on a more quintessential level it is selflessness, the ability to place one’s own self aside, a trait well demonstrated by Tiw in the tale of the Fen-Wulf’s binding. One might be tempted, in terms of the cultivation of wisdom, to call it objectivity … the ability to see and judge a thing for what it inherently is rather than as one would have it be as a result of one’s own subjective hopes, fears, guilt, pride, preferences, etc., and then to act accordingly, no matter the consequences to one’s self.
There is a word for a man heading towards a war-zone that is all wrapped up in his own well-being. Coward. And how could it be otherwise? But one need not be heading towards a war-zone to demonstrate that most despised of qualities. Take the general reaction to U.S. President Trump for example, or the Left in general. All fear-based hyperbole and projection, done from within the safety of a mob.
“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.” – Aristotle
The importance of the remains of the dead, their treatment, their burial, the tending of graves and honouring of one’s dead kinsfolk and heroes. It was an important aspect of the elder Germanic beliefs; with enough parallels in both the beliefs of their fellow Indo-European cultures and the associated archaeological record, to nail it down as a very ancient, very significant, and very enduring thing.
But was Hell simply the grave and grave mound? Was the soul truly and irrevocably bound to it’s remains? Was there in fact no Germanic “afterworld”, beyond life in the grave-mound, as more than one well informed person has proposed? And indeed if the remains of one’s ancestors were lost and/or forgotten so to were their souls to the kindred?
Well, I like this perspective. It’s something that began to dawn on me a couple of decades ago after reading Gronbech’s “Culture of the Teutons”; in which he drew a parallel between the cosmology of the Eddas and the physical realities of a tribe’s surroundings. And there is a lot in elder Germanic lore that certainly points in this direction.
However, while this understanding is a very good foundation — rightly shifting our attention, energy and emphasis away from the otherworld and on to this world, away from the goldstar we will get in some otherworld and on to the legacy we leave for the benefit of our community and descendants that remain in this world after we have departed, ie. world accepting — it nevertheless presents certain inconsistencies with other aspects of both Germanic and Indo-European lore; which, from subtle indications of language and elder figures of speech to ship-burials are suggestive of both a journey, and hence a destination, following death … undertaken from within the gravemound it would “certainly seem”.
For all of that, I still find that the Eddas, paint too detailed and too certain of a picture about such things. Who knows what lies ahead in that great journey taken after death? The dead … of which none of us are at this moment. As with the nature of the Tivar, I tend to dislike sharp and certain definitions of things a person doesn’t really know anything more-or-less about than anyone else. Certainly we have a sense of “life after death” … a sense that is of course the strongest in the presence of the bones of our ancestors, but if the ancient Greeks are any testament, a mound is a mound is a mound, each as the other a gate to Hades apparently, whether or not their ancestors or heroes were actually buried in “that” particular mound or worshiped at many different mounds in different localities. But no, certitude was never a promise or pretense of elder Germanicism, which was always happy to own it’s sense of things while happily letting those things be whatever they actually are apart from their sense of them. As can be gleaned in the following passage from Bede’s History of the English Nation, the elder culture knew how to honour to *mystery*,
“The present life man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the hall wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry weather. But after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short while. But of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”
And in the poem Beowulf as it pertains to the death, funeral and otherworldly fate of Scyld Sceafing,
“Men do not know
truth be told, neither counselors
nor heroes under heaven, who unshipped that cargo.”
And in Book I of the Gesta Danorum,
“she drew him with her underground, and vanished… <snip> … purposed that he should pay a visit in the flesh to the regions whither he must go when he died. So they first pierced through a certain dark misty cloud, and then advancing along a path that was worn away with long thoroughfaring… <snip> … Going further, they came on a swift and tumbling river of leaden waters, whirling down on its rapid current divers sorts of missiles, and likewise made passable by a bridge… <snip> … Then a wall hard to approach and to climb blocked their further advance. The woman tried to leap it, but in vain, being unable to do so even with her slender wrinkled body; then she wrung off the head of a cock which she chanced to be taking down with her, and flung it beyond the barrier of the walls; and forthwith the bird came to life again, and testified by a loud crow to recovery of its breathing.
Did our ancestors believe in life after death? Certainly. But certitude about such things as no man can be certain about is not a selling point of the elder beliefs. As ever, truth is more about questions and less about answers. Beware the man who is certain about things no man could possibly be … for within him grow the seeds of evil.
Indigenous Germanic belief was never so sharply compartmentalized a thing as we think of today when we think of religion. Certainly, our ancestors had their notions of what might properly be thought of as religious … those things “set apart” in dedication to the gods and their worship, and which were mostly the preoccupation of the tribal priests and/or head of household … but those beliefs impacted all other aspects of their culture. Language, poetry, mead, farming practices, battle formations, social institutions, tribal land masses, etc. were all ascribed sacral origins by our ancestors. There was no sacred-profane dichotomy, but rather a “trichotomy” of the sacred (wih), the blessed community (holy), and everything else outside of that (unholy, ie. not whole, not integral to the community).
While, in the past, Christianity came to replace the theological aspects of our indigenous beliefs, it did not mark the end of our beliefs from a properly heathen point of view. Ideology does not define our folk in the same way as it does universalists. The conversion was not the end of our story. Our languages continued, our folk cultures continued, our cultural perceptions and biases continued … not only to BE impressed, but to IMPRESS itself upon Christianity … and our blood continued.
Our story has continued, as ever, to grow and evolve in accordance with our historical experience … in accordance with our native notion of law, of precedent. Our Christianized ancestors of yore, for better and for worse (but mostly for worse), laid down a new precedent … and we have laid down other precedents since … the Eddic “laying of layers” … that have enabled us “heathens” to arise again and lay down a new precedent of our own, which is itself an old one … that recognizes our sacral origins as a people and the value of who we are. But it is all our story as the offspring of NW Europe. There is no Christian history or Heathen history. There is only European history, Germanic history. Our story.
“In their ancient hymns (which amongst them are the only sort of records and history) they celebrate Tuisto, a god sprung from the earth, and Mannus his son, as the fathers and founders of their people. To Mannus they asign three sons, after whose names so many people are called; the Ingaevones, dwelling by the seashore; the Herminones, in the interior; and all the rest, Istaevones. Some, borrowing the liscence that pertains to antiquity, maintain that the god had more sons; that thence came more denominations of people, the Marsians, Gambrians, Suevians, and Vandalians, and that these are the names truly genuine and original.” (Tacitus, Germania)
Such is what we have of the first recorded ethnogenesis myth of the Germanic peoples. It is preserved in the works of both Tacitus and Pliny, both hailing from the 1st century A.D., and was, presumably, considered “ancient” by the tribes of Germania at the time of it’s recording. Indeed, certain aspects of the “myth” as we have it predate the emergence of Germanic culture in southern Scandinavia by over a thousand years, as we see in the case of the figure Mannus and his Aryan (aka. Indo-Iranian) cognate, Manu. Of this Manu, who’s name, like Mannus’, means “man, human”, the Mahabharate states,
“And Manu was endowed with great wisdom and devoted to virtue. And he became the progenitor of a line. And in Manu’s race have been born all human beings, who have, therefore, been called Manavas. And it is of Manu that all men including Brahmanas, Kshattriyas, and others have been descended, and are therefore all called Manavas. Subsequently, O monarch, the Brahmanas became united with the Kshattriyas. And those sons Manu that of were Brahmanas devoted themselves to the study of the Vedas. And Manu begat ten other children named Vena, Dhrishnu, Narishyan, Nabhaga, Ikshakus, Karusha, Saryati, the eighth, a daughter named Ila, Prishadhru the ninth, and Nabhagarishta, the tenth. They all betook themselves to the practices of Kshattriyas. Besides these, Manu had fifty other sons on Earth. But we heard that they all perished, quarrelling with one another.“
Both Mannus and Manu gave their name to us men, both had kingly children that rose to glory among their respective tribes, and both had many other son’s of, ahem, “lesser fame” and/or more local significance. If one goes on to relate Mannus to the Viking Age Heimdal — not an uncommon comparison based on his Eddic appellation “Father of Mankind” — and factors the Rigsthula into the comparison — which tells of how Heimdal fathered and united the various castes of men into a cohesive tribe — the match with Manu is complete. But really, the existing Mannus-Manu correspondence is already quite remarkable and adequately demonstrates the ancientness of (certain aspects of) the lost hymn.
On the other hand, the geography of the tribes would suggest that other elements of it were more recent and pertained specifically to the Germanic peoples; being no earlier than the first waves of migrations that spread and established Germanicism throughout Central Europe and gave rise to the Herminonic (interior) and the Istaevonic (everywhere else) branches of the Folk as found in the hymn. Needless to say perhaps, the Ingvaeonic tribes were made up of those people who remained in the ancestral homeland along the seashores of southern Scandinavia. This would date these elements of the hymn to somewhere in the ballpark of the 1st century B.C. at the latest, and certainly no earlier than the advent of the Celtic Iron Age and the corresponding collapse of Nordic Bronze Age culture (c.500 B.C.).
As such there does seem to be considerable truth indeed to Tacitus’ assertion that this hymn was ancient. It demonstrates a deep awareness of common heritage and shared identity that walked hand-in-hand with the evolution of a “Common” or “Proto-” Germanic tongue (c.500 B.C.) and which, to various degrees, endured the evolutionary divergence of the Germanic language into its various branches , the Migration Age, and even “the Conversion” (ie. of the Anglo-Saxons). It was in fact this enduring memory of common heritage that inspired the first Anglo-Saxon missionaries to evangelize their Danish and Continental brethren in the late 7th century A.D.
For those more familiar with Eddas, the Ancient Hymns seem at first glance an odd thing with little to no relationship to grand and “otherworldly” nature of the Viking Age Creation myths or even to the Anglo-Saxon Caedmon’s Hymn. And sometimes this is cited as evidence of the great changes that took place within Germanic culture between the Iron Age to the Viking Age … and usually for some less than honest reason that has to do with validating the misappropriation of Germanic culture for modern culturo-political ends as exemplified in Universalist Asatru, and which dismisses the numerous commonalities that thread the weave of Germanic identity together and which endured it’s spread over time or space … thus allowing for the quantification of a thing as Germanic. But really, trying to force the Ancient Hymns into the Voluspa or Gylfaginning or Caedmon’s Hymn is to mistake an ethnogenesis for a genesis. The former tells of the origins of a people, the latter the origins of the cosmos. As such, they are not different versions of the same thing. Rather they are different components of the same thing, as can be seen by those with a due familiarity with such legends that tell of the origins of tribes and aetheling (royal) houses as found in the Heimskringla or Gesta Danorum, and related in the tales of such figures as Ingui, Scyld Sceafing and Merovech. The ancient hymns are the “rainbow bridge” that link the abstract, otherworldy mythology to the more concrete and historical evolution of the people. This in the same way that the Old Testament “Genesis” gives way to the legends of the Jews, their rulers, their earthly ordeals, and their own (ethno-culturally specific) evolving relationship with the “divine mystery”.
Tuisto and Mannus
As for the figures to be found in the ancient hymns — Tuisto, Mannus, Ingui, Irmin, Istaev (and the others) — while I have already touched on Mannus above, he is named alongside Tuisto as the co-progenitor of the Germanic people. Linguistically speaking, the name Tuisto is obscure. It could be a corruption of the Proto-Germanic Tiwisko (son of Tiw/God) as Grimm suggested, or it could be some concept built upon the fairly evident Proto-Germanic twa- root, from whence we get the Modern English word two (as in the quantity) … such as twin or twist (the latter of which means dispute/conflict in all of the Germanic languages save the English). While I have been very much inclined to see Tiw himself in Tuisto over the years, and so preferred (and in fact formulated) the possible relation of Tuisto to twist (dispute; ie. Mars Thingsus, TyR is not a Peacemaker), it seems today far more likely that the name was either Tiwisko or Twin. Either would suffice, as either one will ultimately point us back in the direction of the other.
And here is why; the notion of co-progenitors is very well established in the creation of new tribal identities among the Germanic peoples and their various Indo-European relatives. It can be seen in Aggo and Ebbo for the migrating Lombards, Roas and Raptos for the migrating Asdingi, most famously in Horsa and Hengist for the migrating Anglo-Saxons, and even perceived in such Vandal co-rulers as Ambri and Assi, and Vinill and Vandill. In the greater Indo-European world we see it in Romulus and Remus for the tribes of Rome and in Castor and Pollux among the Greeks, and most specifically among the Spartans who modeled their dual kingship after the Dioscuri (Sons of God) wherein one king ruled the peace and the other ruled at war. Such a dual kingship among the Germanic peoples, made up of a priest-king and a warrior-king, is observed in the literature as early as Tacitus, and so contemporary with the “Ancient Hymns”, and as late Jordanes, rears it’s head here and there throughout the better known legends and histories of our folk, eg. Hrothgar and Halga, and can even be gleaned in the relationship between the strongly martial Carolingians and the more sacral Merovingians of France. Moreover, the iconography of the “Divine Twins” and the supremacy of the intimately related “cult of the sun” saturates the rock-art and twinned deposits of the Nordic Bronze Age and continued in high style on the Gallehus Horns and the “twin dancers” of Anglo-Saxon art.
While Tacitus names Mannus as the son of Tuisto rather than his brother, this seems more likely some form of mistake in interpretation. Take for a handy example that the Aryan Manu is remembered as the father of mankind, while his fellow Aryan, Yama (Twin), is remembered as the first mortal to have died. One could be left with the impression that Manu is Yama’s father. And yet, in fact, Manu and Yama are remembered as brothers. As such, I tend to favor the theory that Tuisto and Mannus are in fact brothers, a Germaniversal expression of the “Divine Twins” as the co-progenitors of tribes and peoples.
The Ancient Hymns and the Elder Futhark
Here it is interesting to note that the Germanic mystery alphabet, called the futhorc by the Anglo-Frisians — but more widely remembered simply as “the runes” — was formulated over a time in which the Ancient Hymns were pervasive; marking the “alphabets” beginnings with the experimentation found etched on one of the Negau helms in the 2nd century B.C. and ending with the fully crystallized elder futhark of the 2nd century A.D. This is curious because at least two of the eight staves that make up the 3rd aett or family of the futhorc share the names of the deities of the Ancient Hyms. Namely, Mannus and Ingui.
Now, I am certainly not the first person to have made this observation. And this certainly fed into my desire to equate Tuisto with Tiw, as Tiw’s rune stands at the head of the 3rd aett. The notion began to fall apart however when the notion that Tuisto and Mannus were actually brothers fell into the mix and proved itself the stronger. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, Castor and Pollux were themselves known as the “Dioscuri” or “Sons of Zeus/God”, likewise were their Baltic (Latvian) counter-parts called the “Dieva deli” or “Sons of Dieva/God” … of which Grimm’s Tiwisko (Son of Tiw/God) would represent a Proto-Germanic cognate of in the singular.
And so we find the rune of Tiw standing right where we might expect it if the theory holds water. But where then is Tuisto? I would suggest that he is to be found in the “ehwaz” stave, which means horse and stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root that gave us such other appellations for the Divine Twins as the Lithuanian “Asvieni” and the Sanskrit “Ashvins”. And so we have in the first four staves of the elder futhark the notion that Tiw (Glory father) and Birch (the fertility principle, ie. the earth, a cow, a mortal woman) gave rise to the Divine Twins as embodied in the staves for Horse and Man; even as Zeus fathered Pollux on the mortal woman Leda (and on her Pollux was made the brother of mortal Castor by the King of Sparta).
These four staves are then followed by the staves named for Water, Ingui, Day, and Homeland; which all but tell the same tale made evident in the legends of Scyld Sceafing and Merovech … of the sea bringing (Water) a divinely favoured one (Ing) who, with the wisdom of the gods (Day), went on to establish a homeland/identity for the folk (Homeland) … or, alternately, who went on to establish a homeland/identity for the folk (Homeland) and the dawning of the first day (Day).
I dunno … it all falls into place a little too conveniently to be casually dismissed.
Well, my time is burning, so I’ll have to leave the sons of Mannus for another time; which mostly means Irmin as I’ve already dealt with Ingui here while the others brothers, Istvae included, are far too obscure for anything more than sheer speculation and passing commentary.