A bonfire burns, dances are danced, songs are sung, hot food and warm drinks populate the hands of many as they wait for the seer of seers, the prophet of prophets, the prognosticator of prognosticators. In anticipation the people crowd around and chant the seer’s name, effigies and writings pepper the crowd, with eager anticipation they assemble around the ceremonial stump. The caretakers and most trusted of the seer stand around in formal wear, their leader with his magical cane standing proud. Then…. silence coats the celebration. As a speech is given, scrolls are procured and the stump is tapped with the cane. Then they reach inside to present the immortal king of all weather prophets, lifted high to the sky to his adoring followers whiskers, winter weight, and wide eyed. Is a Groundhog.
This is no ordinary groundhog though, this is ‘The’ Punxsutawney Phil the one true prophet groundhog. Or so he claims. Octoraro Orphie supposedly has called Phil a sell out, while Punxsutawney has labeled Orphie and his home of Quarryville, upstarts. Which is before additional “upstarts” such as Confederate General Beauregard Lee in Georgia who waddles out of his southern mansion as if to address the people like a noble lord of old and deliver his prophecy. There are even more “pretenders” to the throne of the prophet groundhog such as Wiarton Willie in Canada, the only Albino prophet groundhog. Or Jimmy in Sun Prairie, Staten Island Chuck, Dixie Dan, Buckeye Chuck, Ridge Lea Larry, Connecticut Chuckles , and many many more spread across North America. Each one greeting their adoring fans on Groundhog Day to answer with their oracular gifts, the question on all of their minds. Will there be an early spring?
Yet of all these Groundhog prophets it is arguably none of them that holds this true title, The Groundhog itself is considered far older. While Punxsutawney Phil is immortal, The Groundhog itself is eternal. The only true seer as proclaimed by Mother Earth herself, emerging from the primeval storm, controlling the weather and possessing the gift of prophecy. Punxsutawney Phil whose fame has grown so much as to become synonymous with the holiday itself has even been “hung” in some plays at Groundhog Lodges places where followers of The Groundhog pledge themselves to him as “Baby Groundhogs”. It is here Phil was hung for being a pretender to this powerful entity. In this way none of the Groundhog prophets are “The Groundhog” itself. Yet instead they act more as the Oracles of Apollo once did. Proclaiming in place of the godlike being that is The Groundhog as the Oracles once did for Apollo. Carrying messages through their burrows connecting to other realms through their many tunnels. These messengers of the gods carry the truth before the people across the North American continent, with Phil taking the role of the most popular much like the Oracle of Delphi once did in the days of legend. In this sacred duty they carry on their charge before adoring fans. Yet it was not always this way. Long before it became a household name, long before Deitsch men in hunters outfit consumed the flesh of their totemic animal, before the Mayflower touched the beaches of North America, before the Holy Roman Empire fell, before Herman defeated legions of Rome, there was an animal who held such sway in Europe and its form was just as round and brown as The Groundhog.
That animal was The Bear. An animal so important to Europeans before the spread of Christianity that the Church had to attempt to wipe it out for fear of competition. The Bear was said to be a god in physical form and have many of the powers that The Groundhog now possesses. After The Bear had been extirpated from much of the Church’s lands, it was to other hibernating animals that these same traditions then passed to. The Hedgehog was one such animal, but to the ancestors of the Pennsylvania Dutch it was at the Badger’s feet the torch of tradition was passed. The animal predicted the weather when it left its burrow at the Quarter Month period between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. A time that combined with Celtic Imbolc traditions and Christian Candlemas traditions to eventually transmogrify into what we call Groundhog Day. For as the Germanic settlers of the Deitsch nation crossed the Atlantic carrying old traditions from before the conquest of Rome, from the time of Catholicism and the time of the Protestant Reformation. Here it was not back to a bear that the honor fell, nor at the feet of the American Badger but to a small rodent. An animal whose original scientific name of Arctomys Monax translated loosely to, Rodent-Bear. It was in this pint size ursine impostor that the spirit of the tradition would continue. Long after Imbolc was a historical memory, and Candlemas faded from common memory on these shores. The Groundhog would reign supreme, a god amongst men.
As the farmers and villagers of the Deitsch nation grew and spread their culture the belief in The Groundhog grew and spread with them. Even the pious Amish found themselves retaining The Groundhog in their traditions. He became grander and was embodied in the groundhogs who burrowed in the farm fields, and frolicked and feasted upon wild clover. Each one of them both The Groundhog and not The Groundhog. He became the lord of weather and bit by bit this animal was recognized as godlike becoming the totemic animal of the Pennsylvania Dutch rivaled only by the distlefink in this place of honor. As the holiday grew an entire week in Punxsutawney enveloped the celebration as Old Home Week, which featured a celebration of the town of Punxsutawney which had become “The Weather Capitol of the World”. With the now world famous Punxsutawney Phil as the focal point of the whole celebration. Weather and season symbolism was rife in this week long cavalcade culminating in the slumbering prophet greeting his adoring cult of followers. Yet it was not always such a celebration. Before the grand parades and fanfare were humble beginnings in Pennsylvania. As a fraternity of men would hunt and consume The Groundhog.
Rather than top hats and suits it was in traditional groundhog hunting uniforms that the now well known inner circle of Phil would celebrate. Only a few men outside of the circle and perhaps some visiting dignitary would arrive at the field of the hunt. Often consuming Groundhog flesh in a stew, or roasted, a taste which some describe as “heavenly” while others warn of it as being too “greasy”. Yet this continuation of ancient tradition with the bear-rodent would eventually become the celebration now renowned across the globe.
Bit by bit, little by little, The Groundhog would win the hearts of America and Canada and become a household name beside Mother Earth, Jack Frost, and Old Man Winter. In 1952 the hunter outfits were swapped for the suits and top hats, his hunters had become his honor guard. Gobblers Knob had gone from a field to a veritable throne and he had become almost as famous as The Groundhog itself. Though The Groundhog’s roots were not with Phil, no, Phil had spawned from the older lore of The Groundhog itself, and at least within the Pennsylvania Dutch he would not subsume it.
While Phil’s Inner Circle would dress in formal wear, his most notable rival Octoraro Orphie would find his Quarryville group adorned in a night shirt and top hat. This represented the slumbering Groundhog this attire being one of the defining differences of the Quarryville celebrators when compared to Punxsutawney. While many other towns have spawned Groundhog Day celebrations it is between Quarryville and Punxsutawney that the true rivalry has been formed. Orphie’s group had arisen after Phil’s, when some Deitsch men had met to discuss Groundhog lore and decided to start their own celebration. Which grew and grew into what is now, alongside Punxsutawney’s revelry an exemplary spectacle of Groundhogism. The Inner Circles and members of the respective Groundhog Lodges of the Deitsch would take nicknames upon themselves with Phil’s inner circle taking names such as Iceman, Thunder Conductor, Stump-Warden, and Cold Front. While Orphie’s took an even more playful crack at epithets: Guardian Against False Weather Forecasters, Bifocal Shadow Gazer, Dr. of Arctomys Physics, and Superintendent of Mediocre Entertainment, among others. Each serving a role as keepers of the Godhead.
These clubs hold up The Groundhog and care for The Groundhog prophets. Keeping Punxsutawney Phil young via the magical Groundhog Punch or tending to the successors of his numerous rivals. All this spawning from the Groundhog traditions and continued in the Groundhog Lodges of the Pennsylvania Dutch. A place where The Groundhog is honored in a fraternal order not dissimilar to the Order of Elks, though with a much more Tongue-in-Cheek approach to tradition. Here the language of the Deitsch is preserved, the traditions kept, the stories told, and even new poetry and plays are written in what would otherwise be a dead language keeping the flame alive of tradition.
Here the “baby groundhogs” are sworn in as new members, their paws before them as if groundhogs themselves. Here pledges of property, duty, and life are made to The Groundhog. A giant statue of The Groundhog is crowned in ceremony, and a stuffed effigy of The Groundhog serves as a focal point of pomp. These Versammlinge’s or “meetings” preserve the culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. It is from them this tradition has spawned and rooted across America.
The holiday has been on a millennia long journey to its present state from the ancient forests of Europe to the silver screen of America. Yet it has become a sensation. Groundhog Day is no mere sideshow attraction. It is an international holiday that has dignitaries the world over keeping their eye on it. While The Groundhog may have been usurped by Punxsutawney Phil as the focal point of the holiday and lore, the heart of the holiday remains. In the cold nights of the year the followers of this “Cult of Groundhogism” come together. Bonfires are lit, carols are sung, ceremony is held, music is played in the spirit of a holiday that is older than history. To a being who is eternal. Whether Phil, Beau, Jimmy, Orphie, or any of the prophet groundhogs are correct has never been the point. Perhaps there was some logical reason for looking to hibernating animals once, but that was not the spirit nor the point of the holiday. It was in the time we spend together, when it seems the sun may never return. When Jack Frost bit at our neck, Old Man Winter blew piercing winds, and Mother Earth is asleep we wake and we wait for a small source of joy. In the darkest time the little lights of a small pudgy rodent can mean the world. For while much of the ceremony is tongue-in-cheek, do we not all believe just a little, or at least wish The Groundhog to be true in its powers. The whimsy and joy passed from one smiling face to the next, bonfires burn and songs are sung as they were eons ago before bears and godheads, and in the small hands of our young no bigger than the groundhog itself, for a moment their eyes are full of wonder and magic. In them, the legend of The Groundhog lives on.
Reader, J. (2020). The story behind Groundhog Day. New York: PowerKids Press.
Pulling, A. F., Sr. (2001). Images of America Around Punxsutawney. Charleston, SC: Arcadia.
Donner, W. W. (2016). Theatricality: Performing Tradition. In Serious nonsense groundhog lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German heritage (pp. 63-77). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Kalapos, G. (n.d.). GROUNDHOG DAY February 2nd. In Fertility Goddesses, Groundhog Bellies & the Coca-Cola Company: The Origins of Modern Holidays. Insomniac Press.
Schreiwer, R. L. (2012). ADictionary of Urglaawe Terminology. Lulu Com.
Schreiwer, R. L. (n.d.). The Legend of Delbel de Butzeman. In The First Book of Urglaawe Myths (pp. 15-27).
Once Upon a Time, there was a woman who deeply wanted a child, a ferry man that heard a shout, an old oak forest, a small black dog, a wicked witch, and a story. In fact, many stories populate the woods and wells, the mountains and caverns throughout a land you may have heard of, its name is Germany. Where they speak of loving sisters, big bad wolves, spirits atop red and white mushrooms, glass mountains cursed long ago, and much much more. These stories never stopped, they are still there and in them are the Frauen, the goddesses of Germany, the mistresses of the mountains, the wild huntresses, who dwell in old oak woods, who keep small black dogs, who call to ferrymen, who dwell in gingerbread cottages, and who give the gift of a darling babe. To this day, these ladies of their people give boons and happy memories. Still Mother Holle makes the snow, still Perchta leads the ghost children, still Harke hurls her stones, still Gode rides with her hounds atop the clouds, still Frick flies with dragons. To this day; there are still so many tales to tell. Where to start…
Perhaps Frick would be good to start with? The Old Frick a wicked witch if ever I saw one, though her kindness can still be found here and there, a goddess whose head was garlanded by storm clouds, who tried to drink a river dry for the children whom she pursued. Who perhaps desired love but could not find it.
Or perhaps Perchta would be a better goddess to begin with? The wandering queen of the ghost children. Whose retinue contains raven headed women, and goat men, alongside the souls of lost children who drag her plow or ride atop mountain goats. The one whose name means “The Bright One” the light in the dark with her crown of stars and iron nose who dwells within the Alps.
Though Harke would be a good one to start as well, the lovely “Dame Knife” or “Lady Rake” who dwells in old oak forests, a giantess of Saxony-Anhalt. She was said to dwell within the high hill of Frau Harkenberg. The Frau who appears in the guise of a scarecrow to strike fear at carnival, who watches over and tends her beloved badgers. Who threw stone and fury at the growth of the church.
Perhaps even Frau Gode? Who so adored hunting and whose dogs howled more and flew more than any other. Whose name means Lady Divine, who adores the songs of children and like Holle grants the wishes for a “little lamb.” Who was proud and resolute, who flies across the sky with an insatiable desire for the Wild Hunt among the furious host.
No, no, it must be Mother Holle, the most well-known of the goddesses. It is her tale that was retold by the Brother’s Grimm. Though it is by no means the only tale of her, no, no, she has far more stories to tell of her. Whether atop the Meissner in Hesse, within the Haselberg in Thuringia or atop the Hexenkopf in America, the goddess whose name means kindness and tender mercy watches over her people. They dwell on her mountains or spin in her name, they drink from her wells hoping for health, or care for the small white cats that she tends. For Mother Holle loves her people as fierce as she may be when needed, it is with care and love that she guides and aids her people. It is with her I must begin the tale.
…And what a tale it is; romance, wishes, wild hunts, giants and mountains, snow capped lands and sleeping kings. Mother Holle is never short a story, with a just yet fair hand she guided her people.
Some say Holle is a giant, others say a wild woman or faerie, a ghost or a witch, why must a goddess have but one shape? Who can say. Still many a tale was told of her over the centuries. Some such legends tells us that it is Mother Holle who keeps the souls of infants before they come to their families. She keeps them in her wells and the realm beyond, from there Holle will send them out plucked when ready and ripe as if apples from a tree, and sent to their mothers via storks.
Many ask for the aid of Mother Holle, in childbirth, and in health, in protection and in times of dire need. The belief in Holle remained for centuries long after so many others faded from memory or became too hidden for one to notice at first glance. Some such goddesses even seemed to have become embroiled in Holle’s own legend such as Eastre and a summer maiden perhaps Volla, Rosenrot or Walpurga. They perhaps fell into Holle’s legend as her name Holle or Holda found parallels in a villainess from the Christian’s book, and Holle’s name survived. Though many attempts were made to vilify Mother Holle, they rarely took deep enough root to those who knew of her, those she walked among.
For when it snows children would gleefully call out:
“It’s snowing, Frau Holle is shaking her beds,”
as the feathery snow coated the earth. Upon her mountains Holle could control the weather, when she baked bread the mountains would be covered with fog, when it began to snow Holle was said to be shaking her beds and the snow was the feathers from her cushions and blankets. For in the mountains of Middle Germany and beyond Holle would govern the weather and wander the woodlands upon the mountains interacting with her people.
It was in these mountains that many of her stories took place, with figures such as the Devil’s Grandmother, wicked witches, the Mountain Monk and more would enter into her various legends. It was from Holle the gift of Flax was to have come from, when a man chased after a magnificent mountain goat, he came across a gem encrusted cave with many beautiful women around the beautiful Frau Holda. He was so respectful that Holda offered him a gift and after looking at the many jewels he chose instead the purple flowers within her hand. “You have chosen wisely,” Holda told him. The flowers were those of the flax plant and Holle had given him an unending supply of the flax seed and over time he reaped many a harvest of flax from the gift of Holle, he was said to have eventually gone to search for Holle to thank her. Whether he found her or not is not known, for the farmer never returned from his quest. Though for centuries afterwards in the harvest and spinning of flax in ancient dialects songs were sung in praise to Holle.
Others would go to her many wells and sacred areas and ask for a child or a spouse. The waters of her wells were said to heal, and Holle would heal the ill, help the honorable and punish the wicked. Many tales are told of such deeds by Mother Holle, in one tale a girl was cursed by a powerful witch and it was with Holle’s aid that the girl overcame her plague and the wicked witch was no more.
Another such tale speaks of a small kitten found by an impoverished mother, barely able to feed her children. Yet she took the kitten and placed it inside her clothes keeping it warm and revealing it to her children. They were overjoyed at the soft white cat, and played with it and let it sleep by the fire, though they had to go hungry yet again, a few days later the kitten was gone. The mother looked all over for it, til she came back to the spot at which she had found the shivering kitten, and Mother Holle appeared and tossed to her a ball of yarn saying “this is for the cat” and disappeared. The woman took the yarn home and found out it was unending, Frau Holle had gifted the woman an enchanted endless ball of yarn, and with it she created many goods and garments and lifted her and her children up out of their crushing poverty. It may seem an odd thing to do for such a small act, but cats are sacred to Holle, especially white ones which were said to mayhaps be a girl she has punished who has not learned her lesson or a devotee of Holle who shape changed into a cat to follow Holle where she went.
Other tales tell of Holle helping those already on their journeys. A girl who saved a cursed king only to find a witch snatching him while she was away, his memory erased and taken from her. It was Holle who aided her with three apples containing a golden spindle, reel, and spinning wheel within them, sending her to a glass mountain to save her king from his curse, for the old stories tell us that glass mountains are nearly always enchanted or cursed in some way.
Though perhaps it is the much more well known tale of “Frau Holle” that you wish to hear? The one the Grimm brothers recorded, the one that includes the figures of Pitchmary and Goldmary? That story has many versions not all have Holle in them, though some say the two Mary’s are the sun and the moon, Goldmary being the diligent and kind sun, while Pitchmary was the lazy moon. They were gifted for their work accordingly with Goldmary being given a shower of gold and Pitchmary a shower of pitch. Perhaps these are newer names for the Wendish goddesses Yr and Om? Or perhaps they are the goddesses Sunna and Sinthgunt? Who’s to say.
Though in each story with the two girls they travel separately to a land with a fearsome ruler, an otherworld of sorts and are gifted fairly. They are mythic figures in their own right with Holle being merely another member of this tale of the divine, one of many figures one could find in another realm.
Holle herself does bring light and warmth. She is said to sit and spin in her chair upon the Meissner on the 2nd of May and from her golden curls shines bright light to which Holle would say “This is my morning gift,” here she brings the dawn to her people, forecasting the time of summer and plenty. Though perhaps this is an example of Eastre being conflated with Holle or perhaps the goddess’ shared this role. Mother Holle is not only the softer side of kindness though, she may give you gold or she may give you pitch. It is this darker side that the church emphasized and made into a bugbear, a tale to make the young fear whom once they would love.
Though it is not mere Christian propaganda, like any mother when protecting her loved ones she can become fearsome indeed. Such as in the tale of Crooked Jacob, where a lame legged prince is kicked out by his elder brother. Despite the elder brother promising their father to take care of Jacob. He comes upon Holle who has him work for her. Under her tutelage Crooked Jacob increases in strength and skill. Eventually Holle takes Crooked Jacob back to his brother to demand his half of the inheritance. The elder brother again denies his brother his birthright and Holle in her anger destroys a linden tree on the grounds that had been said to protect their families castle, soon after, misfortune befell the elder brother. Getting worse and worse until he died when the castle collapsed onto him. Holle then went to the corpse and took half the treasure from it and gave it to Crooked Jacob, though she told him to abandon any dreams of being part of the aristocracy and instead to become a farmer, which he did and prospered with Holle’s blessings.
In another far more frightful tale a beautiful maiden is pursued by numerous suitors leading them on before settling on a hunter under the protection of Holle. He ends up leaving her, but she becomes with child, though to which suitor is unknown. She then lies and tells the first suitor that she chooses him in order to get him and the other suitor to try to kill the Hunter, whom she claimed she had never loved and had instead been bewitched by the sinister Holle Witch. However, while the two suitors try to kill the Hunter, Holle warns him and causes the two to take each others life, bringing the corpses to the girls doorstep and proclaiming that the girl had been the cause of this. Her and “The Devil’s Grandmother” she was in league with. A figure no more sinister than Holle, yet here she appears mentioned in a story by Holle herself. Who was she?
The Old Frick & The Devil’s Grandmother
For that I must speak on yet another of the Frauen. For the Devil’s Grandmother appears in many tales, yet who she is is rarely agreed upon. Some say she is Holle, and that name may have applied to Holle at times, as well as to many of the Frauen. Yet it is to Frick whom the name is most associated with. A goddess made far more demonic than any of the other Frauen, though she was no less beloved. Known as The Old Frick, a man eater and ogress. Other times a spirit or goddess, like the other Frauen she has many forms some demonized some wondrous, others powerful and regal. It is often to her that the Wicked Witch in the tale of “Hansel and Gretel” is ascribed. There is a tale similar to the famous story of breadcrumbs and gingerbread cottages in that of “The Old Frick.”
In this tale The Old Frick lures in a brother and sister into her cave and begins to fatten up the brother while his sister becomes her slave. However, The Old Frick has a magic rod that the sister then stole, freed her brother, and fled to the river where they used said rod to turn into ducks. The Old Frick was unable to cross the river and began to drink from it. Draining it further and further until she popped. The two were then free to go home, magic rod and all.
Some say this is Frick demonized and I tend to agree, though it also points to an interesting aspect of Frick that differs from others of the Frauen, an aversion to water. While she could drink a handful at a time to try to get to the children, she could not cross it. While this is a stark contrast from the wells and water that many of the gods and goddesses are associated with. Harke with her bathing pond, Holle with her wells, and many more examples. Frick has something that the others do not, a clear association with fire.
Like many of the Frauen she is a member of the wild hunt, appearing with her head garlanded with storm clouds as she rides the winds on the Twelve Nights of Yule. Like most members of the wild hunt she possesses hunting dogs, though hers are odd. In many ways they seem to be closer to dragons than the typical dogs like those of Frau Gode or other members of the wild hunt, such as Wode and The Eternal Hunter. They are large and breathe fire with a habit of consuming flour. Such as in the tale when a man after milling grain and heading home hears the carriage of Frick approaching with her hunting dogs in tow. In order to escape the dogs the man spills all the flour upon the road and flees. The fire breathing dogs consume the corn, yet later there is plenty of flour in the bags when he checks the next day. The animals and especially the dogs of the Frauen often are a form taken by another being, whether children, spirits, or gods themselves.
In the case of Frick the dogs she has are at times thought to be a kind of corn spirit known as a Drac. This corn spirit is in many ways a domesticated spirit, being used for the fertility of corn and appearing in the shape of a dragon. This corn spirit was cast as the devil in another tale from the Brother’s Grimm “The Devil and His Grandmother” here it appears in a corn field as a dragon shaped trickster figure aiming to gain “the souls” of deserters of the military. So long as they cannot solve his riddle in seven years time. Not only does Frick become associated with dracs, but also a trickster spirit, one whom the soldiers are able to best with her help. For as demonized as Frick became she never truly lost the affection of the people.
Even as some of her possible names like Frû Friên became demonized as little more than screaming spirits and devilish vandals. She continued on albeit in less standing than she had had. Tales tell that Friên is said to lack a lover though she wishes for one greatly. Screaming her laments in their absence, a possible inversion of a loving goddess or perhaps she is one who knows only heartbreak. Reducing her down to a minor bugbear more befitting an imp than a goddess such as Frick, whose name it is said means “Beloved.
Another of her possible names, Frikka, found it’s way into the stories of Wagner’s Operas. Where she is cast as a synchronized figure of Holle and Frigg and the wife of Wotan. Here she is depicted as harsh and associated with rams. Though the figure has lost much of what made her who she was and merely her name is present in this tale. It is possible she finds a male counterpart in the form of the god Frikko found further north. Though from here comes mere conjecture, perhaps Frick found herself as a hearth goddess for the ashes of the hearth would make fertile fields indeed, marking a deeper meaning to the firey dogs and the flour they consume. Yet perhaps it is truly heartbreak and woe that seems to govern Frick. For like many goddesses she was slandered and her people began to think of her as more of a bugbear than who she was. Such were the methods of the church.
Frau Perchta: Christmas Belly Slitter & Queen of the Ghost Children
She was not alone in this, other goddesses among the Frauen found themselves fighting a battle against an encroaching enemy in the form of the church. As they traveled the land calling them devils, Frick and Perchta found themselves increasingly cast as monsters and demons. Perchta especially survived more in a monstrous tradition as “The Christmas Belly Slitter”. A bugbear that far surpassed that of the neighboring Holle Witch.
She was known as the Queen of the Heimchen also known as “The Ghost Children”. With a retinue of the souls of lost children. Who follow their surrogate mother Perchta across the alps. With the smallest pulling the plow of Perchta behind the others, this little child is said to pull the plow until someone gives it a name then it is freed from the retinue of Perchta. Though whether this has something to do with reincarnation or if it is something that was added after the church began calling her a devil is not known. Some say the Heimchen are actually a kind of gnome that only resembles children and lies were told of an evil Perchta witch that took the souls of unbaptized children into her retinue. For the old stories tell us that any unbaptized individual’s soul belongs to the heathen gods. Though Perchta’s treatment of the children and the stories surrounding them, show her to be the keeper of the souls of children tragically lost in this life, and a diligent and protective surrogate mother to them.
Such as the tale of Perchta and the ferryman. Perchta called out to a ferryman to aid her in crossing the river, she gifted him the sight to see her Heimchen some of which were riding goats or tending to her plow. She made sure the Heimchen crossed and paid the ferryman with pebbles or wood shavings. To which he is unhappy about and throws most of them away. Only for the few he kept to become gold the next morning. Another tale speaks of the children following her with their own weight to bear, such as the ghost child with a jar of his mothers tears. His mother cried each night for her lost child, until Perchta came across the land with her ghost children and the mother seeing her own child came to him and lifted him up. The child than said to not worry for him. For he was fine, but that he may not be able to keep up with the other children if the jar he held got much heavier. For it contained all of his mothers tears she had cried for him. From that day forward the woman stoically carried her pain so that her child’s time with Perchta would not be weighed down with her grief.
As she passed the land with her Heimchen she was also fiercely defensive of them, for any mockery or laughter directed at those in her care, or those who chose to spy on her or the Heimchen during Yuletide were often blinded. Though at times she would give even odder punishments such as antlers or an over-sized head. Only reversing the effects one year later or after the blind or disfigured had learned their lesson and become humble and respectful. This action of blinding them was often said by Perchta to be “The blowing out of lights” an interesting choice of words for a goddess whose name means “The Bright One”. Perchta’s harshness is in many ways a result of her own extreme dislike for the Christian influence upon her people. Though Perchta’s legend has maintained itself throughout the Alps and beyond. As Queen of the Ghost Children and as the Christmas belly slitter.
A much harsher and monstrous Perchta can be found in the latter tales. One who resembles more a misshapen and demonic witch than the regal queen and mountain goddess that she is in other tales. Here her iron nose, sickle, and children become far more heinous. She becomes a bugbear for spinners threatening the lazy ones and testing their ability and cunning with their lives on the line. Other times Perchta would come upon the naughty and slit their bellies before stuffing them full of filth, dirt, straw or any other number of trinkets and refuse. Then she would sew them up with an iron chain until they seemed to have merely died in their sleep. This is the most well known and monstrous Perchta as the legends of her as keeper of lost souls and agricultural goddess seemed to fade. Stories of her and the Heimchen tending farms and plowing them from beneath the earth became fewer, until they were seen as evil spirits and felt unwanted and despised. At times even leaving for what they hoped to be greener pastures.
Frau Perchta is also known for appearing at crossroads as her carriage breaks down and if you are asked to help and do. You shall find yourself rewarded with dirt or wood shavings turned to gold. Though approach her at the crossroads with the intention of making gold from her you may find she is far less forgiving of those who wish to take advantage of her. Finding yourself stabbed through or knocked to the ground. While her gentle and loving nature is truly present she has also it seems lost patience over the years for the actions of her people under Christianity and is not afraid to punish severely. Perhaps this is why her processions across the alpine include not only the Schönperchten (Beautiful Perchten), but also many more spirits, most notably the Schlachtperchten (Wild Perchten). While the beautiful perchten depict themselves with a headdress decorated extravagantly with everything from paintings to taxidermy that rise so high that it doubles their height. The wild perchten appear as goat men with shaggy coats, whips, chains, and horns. Calling to mind Krampus and similar Wilder Mann costumes across Europe. Far more Perchten exist in these processions springing and whipping where upon the people exclaim:
“The perchten dance & spring
You should spring too,
Fortunes blessing are to bring,
all the time anew”
these carnival processions of the perchtenlauf include even more perchten ones that sweep and ones with raven bills, running through the towns in hundreds, in a dark and beautiful furious host all their own. Though Perchta is not the only goddess to find herself amongst these revelers. Another goddess finds herself within the procession, that of the scarecrow costume of the giantess Harke.
In Saxony-Anhalt there is tell of a beautiful blond giantess, she is known by the name of Herke or Harke which mean “Lady Knife” and “Dame Rake” respectively.
There she dwells atop the Frau Harkenberg in an old oak forest bathing in nearby Lake Kamern every morning, If the water was frozen the giantess would take an oak tree and shatter the ice upon the lake. Among the Frauen few despised the spread of Christianity more than Harke, who would lob boulders at the churches such as the story surrounding the Brandenburg Maria church. Only failing to destroy it by virtue of the stone being too greasy to grip properly, causing her to miss and make a pit instead. Her ire was not only a result of the church’s effect on her people, but also the felling of the oak forests where she resided in relative solitude save her retinue.
She was a lady of the forest and fields, being a protector of both humans and animals especially the badger. Which was sacred to her especially the “Sows with one eye” or perhaps those badgers who were scarred period, protecting and caring for them. One such story has hunters go into her woods and hills to hunt what they perceived as an overabundance of badgers only to hear a voice call “ Quêms, quêms!”. When they asked what is wrong the voice said they were looking for the “Big one eyed sow”. The men fled home and checked the badger they had caught. It was indeed one of “Frau Harke’s badgers”. Since then supposedly hunters are careful not to shoot badgers near Frau Harke’s hill.
Like Perchta or at times Holle, Harke also has a costume so that she may take part in Carnival proceedings. Taking the form of a scarecrow she appears in Carnival to scare children. At other times she would take the form of a dove and fly above the fields to deliver them fertility. A job she also performs while riding with the wild hunt, gifting fertility wherever she rode. Other times she would appear in a gigantic form and place a farmer and his oxen together and carry them in her apron. Yet for all the legends that tell of Frau Harke there are some that speak of her heading elsewhere as her forests grew smaller and smaller, and her nemesis the church grew closer and closer.
Fed up she collected her retinue and headed for Thuringia. Where it was said there were still wild places, she was unhappy to leave her home and as a goodbye gift she placed her fork near Lake Kamern and gave her life force and a great pine tree grew from the fork, where it was said to be seen at the entrance of the town of Wulkau. Though she still rides among the hunt, she still dwells under the earth of her homeland. Perhaps she never left or perhaps she returned. Who’s to say. Unlike many of the other Frauen, Harke is rarely mentioned with children or with hunting dogs, though a Frauen close to her and the final one I will go into detail on could not be further from such a description. The goddess who wished to hunt for all eternity who was affectionately called a “Dog goddess” Lady Divine herself, Frau Gode.
Frau Gode also known as Frau Gauden among many other derivative names, is a goddess who straddles much of the North European plain in Germany. She was at times said to have once been a noble woman who enjoyed hunting so much she would say “Hunting is better than heaven” over time she gave birth to twenty four daughters who all held that opinion as well, and at one point while driving her hunting carriage she allowed such an exclamation to leave her mouth yet again, and she was forced to watch as her 24 daughters lost their beauty and grew fur and their feet turned to paws, her beloved daughters all became bitches before her eyes and four took the place of horses for her carriage and the others surrounded her and she rose up into the sky to join the wild hunt. They say she has since grown weary of hunting.
This is a clear euhemerized legend, where the goddess was made into a woman who was damned for her blasphemy. A common tactic to hide many of the gods who partook in the wild hunt. With Dirk supposedly shooting the sky to kill god. Being cursed to hunt atop a boar for the rest of his life. Or King Herla, a euhemerized Harlequin, who became displaced from time and the earth after attending an otherworld wedding.
The hunting dogs of the hunt find no goddess they are more at home with then Gode, alongside them she is tied into many stories of the wild hunt. Like the other Frauen she is a wild huntress within the furious host, but for her the dogs are by far the core of her legend when compared to the others. Though she also appears in harvest celebrations being invoked in the “Vergōdendēl” (Frau Gode’s Portion) a ceremony surrounding the final sheaf of grain, this ceremony is similar to one devoted to Wode and when combined with her name has led many to translate her name not merely as Lady Divine, but also “Mrs. Wode” tying this goddess into the god Wode. She is also associated with childbirth being said to give fertility and children, for as children play people are said to sing:
“Frau Gauden has given me a little lamb,
so that I may live happily”
crediting Frau Gode with having given them their children. With her prolific offspring and love for children it is not surprising she was often called upon for fertility of field and family. She was also said to deliver gifts to children at Yule and especially adored hearing them singing. While she shares the crossroads stories and morbid Wild Hunt tales of Frick and Perchta, she like them is also one who deeply cares for her people especially children as any goddess of a people would.
The Wider German Mythology
The Frauen do not exist in a vacuum, while many of their stories depict them in a solitary fashion they are tied to the heroes and mythic figures of the land and it’s people. In some stories even appearing alongside such figures. Frau Gode even appears at times not as a solitary goddess, but as a part of the retinue of Perchta during the Wild Hunt. While tales of Holle tell of her in opposition to the Devil’s Grandmother, or keeping watch over King Barbarossa as he sleeps beneath his mountain. Even stories involving Holle and the giant known as Wode, which culminate in the creation of the Brunhilde Stone. Which had originated as a drawer from Holle’s kitchen, before Wode’s fit of rage over Blueberry jam.
Another tale speaks of Holle and the “Mountain Monk” each giving a gift to a married couple in “The Miner and His Wife”. Holle gives the wife an everlasting“wonder spindle” and the Mountain Monk gives her husband, the miner, an ever burning lantern.
Though both are required to keep their respective gifts secret. Eventually the two grow suspicious of each other and begin to argue and eventually proclaimed the origin of their gifts. The Mountain Monk than appeared and took the gift’s away, though they reconciled and stopped their fighting for they had already reached a better life due to their gifts. This Mountain Monk is possibly either Wode or Rübezahl, for both mythic figures may take the form of monks when they walk among the people. Though The Mountain-Monk also appears as a distinct mining spirit at other times.
The Wild Hunt
As the Frauen like many of the gods of Germany partake in the wild hunt, it is in the tales of the hunt itself that many of their connections and tales are found. As well as many of the mythic figures they find themselves connected to. Poetry written about them even mentions the “Sorceress Sisters” when referring to the Frauen as part of the wild hunt.
Figures such as the Hullewaatsch, a bugbear through and through who belongs in the retinue of Holle, beside her cats, fae, elves, witches, and Hollen (Imps), though she is not especially favored by Holle herself. Though other more kindly figures exist in Holle’s retinue such as The Faithful Eckhart. The herald who goes before the Wild Hunt warning those he comes across to get out of the way to avoid the dangers of being caught in the hunts cross-hairs. The Faithful Eckhart is said to perhaps have been a priest of Holle whose devotion transcended death and he became her loyal herald in godhood. Figures like Wode and Ewicher Yeager also ride across the sky in the hunt and are both considered as possible consorts for the dear mother.
She is not alone in having gods that seem to be connected to her as romantic companions. Perchta is often said to find consorts in Berchtold, Krampus, and a lord of the forest in Tyrol. While Harke is often attributed the figures of Heuke or Harlequin though this seems to have more to do with their names than anything else. Like traces of the goddess found in folk customs, especially those of the Wilder Mann variety, the other mythic figures find their way into Carnival and the costumed processions of the continent. Harlequin may appear by name or as the prancing fool, Eckhart often leads a procession himself and Perchta, Holle, and Harke appear in monstrous guises as well as beautiful ones. Like the Frauen the other spirits, gods, and heroes of the Hunt have tales of being cursed into the hunt, of being unable to cross water, or being used as a threat if work continues on Yuletide. Dirk would crush farm implements atop his wild boar if they were not put away by the nights of Yule. Just as many of the Frauen were often said to punish spinners who had been lazy throughout the year. The whole of the hunt would find themselves enforcing these rules and even taking the place of the Frauen in many a tale. With the hunt crossing the river instead of Perchta and her Heimchen or giving gifts of meaningless trinkets that become gold the next day, or send their coal black hounds through the village.
Both inside and outside the hunt the Frauen are often depicted with a myriad of magical objects such as bells, spindles, or even keys. the latter likely being symbolic of their dominion over the home and household. Though one of the most interesting objects is the rods they are often seen with, an item reminiscent of a well known spirit of the woods, the wildmen.
The gods and goddesses are often hidden as witches and wildmen. Covered inhair and shrouded in leaves and like many depictions of the wildmen they carry a club or stick with magical powers at times. Many of the Frauen such as Frick and Holle carry this wand, but so does Harlequin as well as other mythic figures. Their wild form echoed through into the more civilized form. For the gods often connected the wild with the civilized. Being the bridge between the two. Stewarding both the people and their wild twins. Even after years of Christianization the stories of the gods and goddesses remained. Permeating the folklore and customs of Germany and beyond.
The Frauen Vs. The Church
They have dealt with many setbacks and slanders against their names. Labels of lustful demons, devil queens, evil witches, and much more have followed them around. Yet the people still spoke kindly of them. Even as stories circulated of them gobbling up children or slitting stomachs. Still people recalled the tales of the goddesses and wrote new ones as they went. Over the years the Frauen did not fade quietly, they hurled stones, rewarded the just and punished the wicked and those who besmirched the old ways. While in the countryside away from the claws of the Church, Holle would continue to teach her people. Giving the recipe for Thuringian potato dumplings long after heathen gods such as her were supposed to have faded away. The people still put out the milk for Perchta and her ghost children. They still tended the black dogs of the wild hunt that were left with them. They made up stories to the church to excuse their continuance of the old ways. Such as honoring Frau Gode and taking care of her dog was said to be a curse they must remove instead of a duty they fulfilled. While within many traditions Holle became a witch or bugbear, not the goddess who had tended her people for as long as they could remember. Later tales even had her watch over the slumbering king Barbarossa, guarding him and sending his prophecies to those who need hear them. The tales did not die in fact they thrived, though pyres burned and lies were told the gods and goddesses of Germany and the rest of Europe continued on albeit beleaguered.
Over the years many people sadly forgot the old ways. What the Church had failed to destroy with fire, slander, and slaughter they almost accomplished with urban sprawl and the encroachment and demonization of the culture itself. The hearths, the spinning rooms, the tales of ghost children, the gifts of mother Holle, the dogs of Gode, and the kindness of the Devils Grandmother began to be forgotten. Not because people wanted it too, but because the old ways started becoming consumed by the modern. Though as they always had in the past, they found a way to continue on.
Conclusion: The Frauen Persevere
Just when things began to fall and the stories seemed to be fading, and the victory of the invading religion seemed imminent. They began to reemerge, stories of the wild hunt began to become more and more popular. The Grimm brother’s tale of “Frau Holle” began to be seen more and more as what it is, a story of gods. Krampus began a whole craze of Yuletide monsters to which Perchta and the other Frauen came along for the ride. More and more their stories rose and were preserved and remembered. A statue was put up of Harke in the city of Rathenau, the result of a student competition on folklore. Bit by bit the gods returned, even in places they supposedly had never been, such as North America.
Stories have long been told among the Pennsylvania Dutch, legends of Holle, Perchta, Eckhart, Ewicher Yeager and much more. For it was Mother Holle who was credited with leading the Deitsch nation to America. In the tale “How the Deitsch Nation was Born” after the failure of Iceland as a last refuge for pagans it was to America the gods looked. Holle decided it was best to send the farmers and common folk for they had most kept to the old ways and sending aristocrats and scholars to Iceland had failed miserably. She came to the leaders of the Deitsch nation in their dreams and led them to bring their people to America and found the Pennsylvania Dutch. Her people stewarded to safety from the harsh and oppressive rulers of the time she took her seat upon the Hexenkopf mountain and watched over her people.
Over time the Deitsch nation recalled it’s heathen roots and Urglaawe was born, a sort of tribal tradition with Mother Holle at the center. More and more tales and images and people came forward for these gods of Germany. Bit by bit as the legends spread their people began to return to the old ways, they began to return home.
Slowly but surely the gods and goddesses of Germany return amidst neglect and slander and centuries of faulty scholarship trying to match them up to the gods of Iceland, they are finally beginning to be seen as who they are. It is not only the Frauen, no no, far more gods and mythic figures populate these legends: Harlequin, Dirk, Rübezahl, Heuke, Wode, Else, Eiwcher Yeager, Berchtold, Krampus, Orc, Laurin King of the Dwarves, and much much more. They exist in the enchanted woods and mountains across the landscape, through wells and rabbit holes, in faerie circles and magic castles, atop glass mountains and under mounds of old. They exist among the same forests and fairy tales that we know so well today, those of Snow White, Rose Red, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Slayer. Hidden in plain sight for all to see these gods and goddess be. Yet the tales I have told are not the only ones. There are far more tales to be told and songs to be sung. Perhaps we can continue this tale another time…….
Goos, Gunivortus. Goddess Holle. Norderstedt: BoD – Books on Demand, 2019.
Fréger Charles. Wilder Mann. Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2017.
Reaves, William P. Odin’s Wife Mother Earth in Germanic Mythology , 2018.
Breckin, Edmund. Frau Perchta The Christmas Belly Slitter, n.d.
Grimm, Wilhelm, Jacob Grimm, Jack Zipes, and Dezsö Andrea. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: the Complete First Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.
Lecouteux, Claude. Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic. Inner Traditions Bear And Comp, 2016.
Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, and Peter Harness. Grimms’ Fairy Tales. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004.
Raedisch, L. (2014). A Christmas Bestiary. In The old magic of Christmas: Yuletide traditions for the darkest days of the year (pp. 145-149). Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Siefker, P. (2006). When Out on the Lawn there Arose Such a Clatter. In Santa Claus, last of the wild men: The origins and evolution of Saint Nicholas, spanning 50,000 years (pp. 107-116). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Pub.
In Europe there are many animals of note; the Bear king of beasts, the Eagle regal symbol of empires, the Stag whose antlers adorn gods and kings. Yet there is one animal whose history and impact upon Europe has enjoyed a state of infamy. Some may say he is big and bad, bewitching and wicked, yet in the paw prints of this animal we find a trail of European lore going back to the point of myth and wonder, a point where the soul beckons us to follow the pack as they run through the woods and mountain peaks, their chorus lighting the sky, and haunting us in moonlit nights, suckling babes and fighting devils. I speak of course of the Wolf.
The wolf has always held an important place in the lore of Europe though intentional meddling by the Church relegated it to a less honorable even despicable station. No longer was it an honored creature, totem of warriors and spirit workers, instead merely a beast, another demonic creature that prowled the forests eager to greedily consume whatever it could spread its maw around. Tales of Wolves became more about how wicked they were often portraying the antagonist to a hero in more modern stories such as those of Reynard the Fox where the Wolf Ysengrimus often fills this role. Or even in films such as Disney’s Robin Hood or Old Yeller.
In folklore the wolf is often made the fool by the Fox, being treated as foolish more akin to a brute than the proud animal he once was. This attitude is often placed backwards onto the Pagans of the areas as if the Christian idea of the wolves was prevalent and the animal was but a monster to be slain.
People still quake in fear of the wolf coming and consuming their sheep or chickens or gods forbid their children. To the point even the idea of the animal being near is enough to rally cries of extermination of the wicked beast. Such is the fear placed upon the animal, while like any predator there is always the concern if they are hungry or desperate that they will attack, on average wolves have little interest in going toe to toe with another predator, of which we are ourselves a rather dangerous one, this sheer terror we see has been placed there. While in Pagan beliefs Europeans were strong relatives of the bear, wolf, boar, stag, horse, or any number of powerful northern animals. Under the church we became the sheep for them to shepherd and in doing so, the symbol of all that was wrong with the world all that could corrupt or consume became seen in the Wolf. This conditioning still lingers to this day.
The Evil Wolf & The Lamb of God
To understand what the wolf once was we must first see what it became. The Wolf had already had its more negative attributes accentuated in the folklore of Greece where the forces of civilization and the influence of cultures further East had begun to force the wolf towards a darker role. Greece was not without positive depictions of wolves (Which will be discussed later) but plenty had been done to shame them up to the time of Christ and the subsequent birth of his revealed religion.
The myth of Lycaon depicted the form as a punishment for the cannibalistic tendencies of the egotistical Lycaon. Via Aesop’s Fables we find a myriad of tales that depict the wolf as symbolic of everything wicked. The Wolf devouring the lamb or the flock, the famous tales of the boy who cried wolf or that of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The sheep was also sacred to several gods including the popular Hermes. Greece was becoming civilized and its interactions with its neighbors had inevitably shifted its culture.
Yet in the other half of what we call the Classical world, Rome, this change was not so easily done. The Wolf was far more entrenched for the very founding of Rome was tied to the nurturing She-Wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus. Though this very element of the wolf, and its ties to the very being of Rome, would seal its inevitable role in Christian symbolism centuries later. Who or what Jesus Christ actually was has very little bearing on the Mythic Christ, or as he was called “The Lamb of God” Jesus was a shepherd and his flock of sheep needed to be protected from the wickedness of the devil. A symbol that the Wolf fell so naturally into representing. Not only was it the constant antagonist of sheep in folklore of the time it was also the symbol of one of Christ’s and his followers earliest antagonists (And ironically eventual benefactors) Rome. The Christian Sheep stood stalwart against the Roman wolf and was (seemingly) victorious.
The Wolf would then become something driven out by the “civilized religion” of Christ. Alongside the bear and any other animal that posed a danger either physically or spiritually to the Church. Though the Church would flirt with a more positive association over the centuries, notably with Saint Francis of Asisi, patron saint of animals. Who would protect and even care for a wolf, discouraging villagers from attacking the starving creature. Though largely the Wolf had been vilified and buried. Saints would appear often filling the void left by the Wolf. Saint Blaise is a notable one, a Wild Wizard of a Saint who would live in caves and cast spells. Reminiscent of an animalistic wild man or animal god in the Celtic world. The Wolf had been shifted from animal of renown to a servant of evil, and so he would remain…..
The Wolf as God
But peeling back the years to before the reign of the church, or parallel where their influence had yet to be felt, the Wolf was still a being of renown. Magical, majestic, powerful, and commanding. It is unclear how much wolves were understood by our ancestors in Europe, but we know that there was an element of the divine found within them. Greece itself had its share of divine wolves notably Lycaon in his role as a culture hero, which predated the more negative and despotic king presented in the well known tale, Zeus in Arcadia was even venerated not as a bearded king but as a Wolf. A clue to a different possibility for the supposed cannibal king. Zeus was not alone in the Greek pantheon to have wolves in their association. Apollo was also associated with wolves, as one of his Epithets was “Apollo the Wolf Born”. A reference to a version of his and his sisters birth via the goddess Leto. A version where Leto takes the form of a she-wolf. Some versions even have her children born as wolf cubs, only later taking human form. As mentioned above the association of Wolves would eventually sour in Hellenic culture, yet it is undeniable this was a later development and not some long standing grudge and disgust. Nearby in Dacia (Modern day Romania) one can find another wolf legend. That of Zalmoxis and the Big White Wolf.
he story goes that before Dacia was invaded by the Romans, the Dacians had their god Zalmoxis (Bear Skin) and he had a priest who despite his youth had pure white hair and beard, he would go around tending to the people and the animals, Zalmoxis asked him to come and stay with him. Eventually Zalmoxis saw how well he treated the animals, but the wolves were the only ones without a leader. To fix this and to provide the land with a protector he offered his priest the chance to change into “The Big White Wolf” and in doing so he became the leader of the wolves and with his wolf pack he would often run forth into battle with the Dacians, him and the wolves fighting beside them. Eventually the change was permanent and The Big White Wolf would continue to fight, but when the Romans invaded many cowards became scared and began to kill the wolves in hopes of offering the head of the Big White Wolf to the Romans, to save their own lives. With tears in their eyes Zalmoxis and the Big White Wolf fled into the Sacred mountain, it is said the Big White Wolf is still in Dacia (Romania) and appears time and again in the folklore, and that to this day you can hear his howls from the sacred mountain.
Without leaving the Southeast corner of Europe we find yet more deities associated with wolves. In Serbia the god Dajbog functions as a wolf Shepherd, tending the forest animals especially the injured wolves who become his loyal companions. Nearby another Slavic deity, Weles, was also associated with the wolf. His head was even that of a wolf in depictions of the deity. In Russian mythology the Demigod Volga often transforms into a wolf, in Poland the Moon goddess was associated with wolves as was the Mother goddess of the area (Perhaps Marzanna). Just beside Poland in the Baltic we find the goddess Medeina, who was often seen as a she-wolf, or surrounded by a pack of wolves around her voluptuous and youthful visage. Across the Baltic sea we find the Nordic pantheon replete with wolves.
Hyndla, a giantess, sleeps in a cave filled with wolves and travels across the realms astride one. There is also Angrboda the Wolf Chieftess who tends the Ironwood full of Witches, Troll Women, and deities in the shape of wolves, she is mother to the Great Wolf himself, Fenrir, and by extension related to his children Hati and Skol. Among the Aesir Odin is sometimes considered a wolf god, for he is accompanied by his two wolves Geri and Freki. Across the sea in the British Isles we find deities such as the Morrigan taking the form of a wolf, across the straits the Continental Gauls possessed numerous gods associated with wolves, one of which though unnamed was covered up with St. Blaise during Christianization. Other deities included Cernunnos who some claim road atop a wolf, while Sucellos was at times depicted wearing a wolf skin. The Iberians further West had a wolf god themselves, Vaelico, a god of the underworld, who was depicted simply as a wolf. As we come full circle and arrive in Rome we find the aforementioned legend of Romulus and Remus and the mother wolf. A festival, Lupercalia, was even held every year to honor the twin founders and the she wolf who suckled them. There are many many more examples but suffice to say pre-Christian Europe was replete with gods who appeared as wolves, used them as messengers, or had them as companions. The wolf was neither evil nor greedy often serving as an honored being with a myriad of associations.
The Wolf as Ancestor
Many tribes of Europe trace their lineage through to the gods. Creating a divine wing of our various families, and from here the wolf becomes the symbol of a divine ancestor. A role much more commonly held by the bear yet not unknown in Europe. The modern day Romanians continue the ancient veneration of Wolves that the Dacians practiced long ago. The howls of wolves across their mountains are constant reminders of the wolves who they consider their divine ancestors, even leaving out offerings for the wolves many of which are ancestors in spirit form. In Poland a tradition exists where young children are passed through a wolf skin after which it would be proclaimed they were “Born of the she-wolf”. An Earth goddess of unclear name who remained in the folklore as a shape shifting she-wolf.
Tales of her remain and some resemble those of the Selkie in Ireland and Scotland, with her removing her skin to change from wolf to human, only to have her skin stolen and forced to marry the man who captured it. Much as with Romulus and Remus, and the tale of Leto and Apollo, this She-Wolf too had two sons who grew into strong men. They would eventually find their mothers skin and after taking it from them, she would return in wolf form to run amongst the trees once more. Her children much like Apollo were descended of a wolf, a divine one at that. Tales such as these are fairly common as origins for a people, hero or clan. Just as with tales of Heracles, Perseus and other demigods the descent from a divine god in human or animal form, or the animal itself often served as the founding myth for an entire culture.
Yet perhaps the most notable Wolf ancestor is Lycaon himself. Both barbarian and civilizer, a king of Arcadia, and grandfather of the origin of its name Arcas. There is little doubt that the role Lycaon and his descendants played in Arcadian mythology was important, yet one cannot help but wonder if something has been done as the more prominent Greek cults subsumed the other cultures especially in the literature that has come down to us from Ancient Greece. Lycaon is considered at once a near cannibalistic barbarian and a civilizing force that brought the worship of Zeus to Arcadia. Suspiciously Zeus is in Wolf form, something that isn’t really common in other parts of Zeus’ legends. Rather one wonders if these three generations that of Lycaon, his daughter Callisto, and his grandson Arcas are not something more important than at first glance. Perhaps Lycaon truly was a culture hero and king, who became a wolf. Just as perhaps Callisto is just a princess or nymph turned into a bear by Hera for being seduced by Zeus, and then giving birth to her son as a bear. Her son Arcas would go on to found the very Kingdom that she and her father supposedly already lived in and ruled. Greek myth by its very nature is somewhat contradictory. It is not a single tradition but a myriad of tribal ones whose cults and regional traditions slowly melded, and in the literature the confusion is dialed up heavily. Many of Zeus’ regional wives, were goddesses of high import that had been dominated by larger city states and were often relegated to affairs and little more. Though the culture heroes and mythic founders they produced were a bit harder to downgrade so they were often made the son of Zeus. All of these odd traits together make it hard for me to believe what has been presented to us about Lycaon and his line. I think much more is here than at first glance. Especially as via their founder Arcas, the Arcadians effectively were descended not only of a deity, but a bear and wolf respectively. Something that would become much more pertinent as we discuss the wolves functions beyond a godhead and ancestor.
Perhaps the most notable reference to Wolves is as a symbol of Warriors. The Wolf was a fierce and cunning fighter. Being the totem animal of many warriors most notably the sub-class of Berserker known as Ulfhednar, Who adorned themselves in wolf skins before heading into battle. There seems to have been little difference between these wolf-berserkers and werewolves by the time the Nordic myths were put to writing. As in the Volsung Saga Sigmund and his son Sinfjotli kill men who wear cursed wolf skins. After putting them on they are cursed with a kind of Lycanthropy. Earlier in the tale an enemy of theirs would come in the form of a She-Wolf and consume and kill all nine of Sigmunds brothers.
Though the Ulfhednar is not the only place in which “Wolf Warriors” or werewolves would serve as powerful combatants, this was also seen in Ireland where entire tribes of Werewolf warriors lived. Two of the most notable groups were the Laignach Faelad of Tipperary and the Ossorian werewolves of Ossory. The former was known for their immense battle prowess. Considered people who were “Half Men and Half Wolf” they could be hired out as warriors but at a steep price, as they demanded a human infant as payment. The legends say that these pagan warriors ate these infants. Yet especially given when the legend was written down, the Medieval Era in the text Coir Anmann, it is far more likely these pagan warriors would take infants as payment to replenish their numbers in a time where the land was increasingly hostile to pagans and their culture. Most likely bringing the child up in the old ways and perhaps teaching them to be Wolf-Warriors as well.
The latter Ossorian Werewolves were not much different. Though they are never mentioned as taking the flesh of infants as payment. They dressed in Wolf Skins and adopted lupine haircuts. They would go on raids known as “Wolfing” This was not a unique ability as it was said that everyone in Ossory once had the ability to turn into wolves at will. As such the totem animal of Ossory was of course the Wolf. Though like much of European lore of Werewolves, the physical transformation seen in modern film was not so literal. Two other forms of shape-shifting existed that were far more common. One involved the casting of ones consciousness into another being or “borrowing” as one might call it. Odin is seen doing this in Ynglinga Saga. Another much more common version is that of casting ones soul out into the world where it would take the form of an animal. The Werewolves of Ossory were likely the latter as the idea of the human body laying lifeless while the Wolf ran around or fought is mentioned in their legends. Implying that the spirits of the Ossorians were those of wolves. Their dress and actions of embodying the wolf in their styles and by wearing the animals skin calls to mind the Ulfhednar of the Nordic tribes, yet the casting of their soul from their body is much more well known in the more spiritual side of the legends of Werewolves.
Wolves and Spirit Walking
The traditions of war and spirituality are not separate entities but interlinked, the Wolf functions as both. It is both a being of immense spiritual connotations but also many warlike ones. Both of these traditions fed into the legend of the Werewolf. Among those who were spiritually inclined whatever their title or their tribe, a common element appears across Europe of the casting of ones soul out in the form of an animal. Though as mentioned above there were two main forms of shape-shifting in Europe. Before getting into those it is important to look at one more, a version that occurs in a land we have already discussed, Arcadia. Here the legend of the Werewolf is rather ingrained, it is the heart of the very word Lycanthropy, and Lycaon was not the only one to “turn into a wolf” nor were his sons. Rather here we find an old legend concerning the changing of a man into a wolf. It is said that in Arcadia a tradition exists where a person takes off their clothing and hangs it on a tree, they then swim across a small lake, at the other end they emerge a wolf, and must spend nine years as a wolf without harming another human being. These legends tell of them living amongst wolves as one of the pack, changing not their bodies, but their inner selves, their souls. This trial, if it can indeed be called that, resembles the trials faced by Berserkers and Ulfhednar such as those seen in the folklore in tales such as Bearskin. The abilities, information, and skills picked up in this life as a wolf (whether truly in wolf form or merely clad in skins, or even buck naked) could then be brought back to the people. The idea told in the common tale of Lycaon’s transformation as a punishment doesn’t seem to truly hold up when this practice is taken into account. Rather Lycaon becomes more an arbiter between the animal side and human side, perhaps a culture hero who understood some secret of the wolf, or perhaps he was a deity supplanted by Zeus and then vilified. Perhaps Callisto the Bear mother of the Arcadians was in fact his mate or if still his daughter, definitely a goddess herself. Or perhaps in the cultural elements of Lycaon, Arcas, Callisto, and Pan (who was also Arcadian) we find remnants of an animistic tradition that dominated much of Arcadia in the time of myth and legend.
Regardless, the Wolf transformation in Arcadia was by no means a negative punishment but rather an odd blessing or helpful curse. Perhaps even a trial, for what exactly who can tell. Though the transformation from man to wolf is far less physical in other parts of the lore. Throughout much of Europe Wolves were associated with witches. For good reason, the same people demonized as witches were often the same who could be considered werewolves. Able to cast their soul from their body and partake in spiritual combat for the good of the people. Others would ride them such as was a common depiction of Wolves in folklore, especially in Scandinavia where two Witch like goddesses Hyndla and Hyrrokin rode wolves, and many witches shape-shifted into or rode atop wolves. The same beings who would be the wolves with Angrboda in the Ironwood.
Werewolves were not always something feared or even considered odd. Some areas would not even bat an eye if one were to suddenly cast their soul as a wolf, casually remarking that that was a werewolf battling spirits. A more detailed account of such an individual comes from “The Land of Werewolves” the Baltic Land of Livonia. This is the account of Old Thiess, an eighty year old man who claimed to be a werewolf along with many others who were “The Dogs of God” they would transform into wolves equip themselves with Iron whips to do battle with devils and sorcerers at the edge of the sea to take back the fertility of the fields. A common practice of spirit warfare for the fertility of the land found across Europe. Old Thiess was whipped for his insolent beliefs, even if he framed them in a positive and pseudo-Christian light that he probably believed. These werewolves and witches were an ancient custom and in some cases priests of a god, such as with the Slavic god Simargl. They did not have nearly as many negative connotations as they do today, yet this is where once again we must look to the evil wolf that Christianity so arduously built, only then can we begin to see how to move forward, from where we once were.
The Demon Wolf
As mentioned before The Wolf came to symbolize everything the church loathed, while its fall from grace was not quite as dramatic as say the bear, we still see it all the time. In the lore Ysengrim who was the wolf in the tales of Reynard the Fox is often made the fool by his clever counterpart, including castration or disfigurement, and is even made the cuckold by the smaller canine. So the ferocity of the Wolf had been dealt with, where it could not be removed however, it was vilified. Wolves are by no means dumb, brutish or violent creatures, they will help humans at times, and are capable of getting help from us when they truly need it, they have devoted family structures and unlike domestic dogs who can end up killing an entire coop of chickens if improperly trained, wolves tend to kill only what they need. As such Wolves were once easily placated by the weaker members of a farmers herd. Being given the stillbirths, unfit calves, or elderly offering themselves up. As such the domestic herd could be guarded by the wolves similar to wild ones. Though with the added benefit of the farmers protection. The Wolves placated would then guard the flock from other potential predators.
That is the way wolves are, now what did wolves become?
Wolves under the rule of the church and of the soft and civilized Greco-Roman cultures of the time of Christianity’s inception were not so disciplined or understood. Civilization had long ago pushed away the Wolf and people no longer understood the animal, they only feared the pack of large predators. Armed with claws and a maw of sharp fangs. To the shepherds of late stage Greece and Rome, The Wolf was certainly a very dangerous animal. It would consume their sheep they feared, their whole flock devoured by the blood soaked maws of the wolves at the door. Combining the hysterical fear of the wolf, with the spiritual devotion it had in the North. It was inevitable that just as the association with their old enemy of Rome had led the Wolf to being the symbol of all that was wrong with the world, that the Wolf found its vilification and eradication continue as the Church went North. Step by step the wolf was killed, dismissed, and made increasingly monstrous to the point the line between Wolf as animal and Wolf as demon was incredibly blurred. It became the quintessential villain of folklore, save the odd survival of pagan beliefs. The Wolf had changed from ancestor, deity, guide, respected fellow being to monster and demon. It was truly at this point that “The Big Bad Wolf” would come into being.
Yet even in the most famous instance of the Big Bad Wolf in folklore we find an animal not malicious, but simply hungry. The tale of Red Riding Hood (AKA Little Red Cap) involves a little girl with a Red Riding Hood, cloak or cap and food for her grandmother traveling down the path in a wood to deliver said food. During this errand she encounters a wolf, the wolf is clever and beguiling and tricks the girl after finding out about her grandmother into wandering off the path. The Wolf then consumes the Grandmother, and then Red Riding Hood herself. Only for them all to be released by a Woodsman later on, the Wolf then tries to consume them again but this time is tricked into falling down a chimney into boiling water, and is himself killed as a result. This common tale combines both the foolish wolf that had been built in literature and the monstrous man eater that had been cultivated in the minds of those who never saw the animal itself.
Yet, there is an older version, one where the Wolf is far less the monster of the tale. In it the Wolf hungry and afraid of the Hunter (in this version a thinly veiled deity) he asks for her cloak for warmth and after rejection leaves only to return to ask for food. Eventually desperate, hungry, cold, and afraid for his life the Wolf finds the Grandmothers house and consumes her and Red Riding Hood. Though he himself is later consumed by the Hunter along with the contents of his stomach (The Hunter here is far from a humanoid god). We can see how easily the tale can be twisted to serve the idea of “The Big Bad Wolf” as opposed to a more balanced view.
This effect was not only in Christian lore and post-Conversion folklore. It is also found in the lore of various pagan traditions. The Celtic Pagan werewolves mentioned before were plenty vilified by the Church, and the Wolf gods of Norse Lore were framed squarely as the villains of the tale. Fenrir consumes Odin, Hati and Skol the sun and the moon, the giants many of which rode wolves are pitted against the gods in Ragnarok. Yet Hyrrokin a giantess is placed on a runestone to honor the deeds of the dead on the Hunnestad Monument. Hyrrokin, a giantess who was almost killed by Thor for helping them bury Balder, such is the distaste shown for her in the Eddas. It doesn’t require much thought to see issues begin to brew with how the primary Norse sources deal with certain characters. The Wolves by this point had been so thoroughly demonized even the Pagans who had once honored it so, could only be allowed to have thought of it as a monster.
In bestiaries the Wolf was given many nonsensical beliefs more befitting some kind of mythic creature than the animal itself. Including if a man is seen by a wolf before he sees the wolf he will lose his voice, at the tip of a wolf’s tale is a hair that can be used for making a love potion when captured the wolf will bite it off so no man will have it, the wolf kills everything it walks on, its breath is evil, that Wolves only mate for twelve days (probably a hold over of Werewolves being active on the Twelfths). The animal is even directly compared to the devil as the congregation is to sheep:
“Like the wolf, the devil always sees mankind as prey and circles the sheepfold of the faithful, that is the Church. As the wolf gives birth when thunder first sounds, so the devil fell from heaven at the first display of his pride. The shining of the wolf’s eyes in the night is like the works of the devil, which seem beautiful to foolish men. As the wolf cannot turn his neck, so the devil never turns towards the correction of penitence. Like the man who, because of the wolf has lost his voice, can save himself by removing his clothes and banging two rocks together, so can the man who is lost in sin be saved by stripping off, through baptism, his worldly self and then appealing to the saints, who are called “stones of adamant”.
The Wolf was no longer an animal of renown gone were its roles as ancestor, deity, messenger, guide, or honored beast. Instead it was the Big Bad Wolf, a dog of Satan, or Satan himself. Werewolves too had changed from their role of Spirit Warriors to monsters to fight even being used as the psychosis for serial killers such as Peter Stumpp “The Werewolf of Bedburg” who killed eighteen people in Germany during the 16th century. He claimed he had received a belt that turned him into a werewolf from the devil when he was twelve. In the 18th century we find most likely the most famous of the “Killer Wolves” or Demonic creatures that are described as wolf-like, The Beast of Gévaudan. With over 300 victims, a varied description that sounded like everything from a Chimeric monster of Arthurian or Hellenic lore, to a large wolf, sometimes the beast sounds closer to an overgrown Pine Marten.
Some theorize it was a Hyena that had escaped from a Menagerie. Whatever the case the general fervor, eventual finale, and cultural impact of the legend of this beast has cast it as a wolf or group of wolves, sometimes even a Werewolf or Wolf Whisperer (One capable of controlling wolves). The horrific deeds of the beast, seem an outstanding example of the evils and horrors of the Wolf. Yet looking closer we see that Gévaudan was an area very much Wild, it is certainly possible that a rather large amount of fully grown wolves would have caused the deaths of all these people. Yet I have to wonder if that is truly the case. Partly I suspect this is a situation similar to Stumpp where many were in fact victims of serial killers and murderers who used the hysteria surrounding the beast to hide their crimes. The fact most of the victims were women or children also points to either a Human killer or an animal disinterested in taking down stronger prey. Wolves would not leave most of their kill to rot, nor would they kill the way the Beast did. Its description of Reddish fur, with a heart shaped mark on its chest is indeed closer to a Pine Marten as is the method of killing and consuming the victims. While more than likely some of the victims were a result of Wolves, the chance of a successful kill for wolves being mostly wasted is just unlikely for them to be the main culprit. Though the rather large wolves of Gévaudan were indeed hunted, and the death of the animals supposedly stopped the killing. Today the Beast plays a role in many fictional werewolf mythologies and has become something of a landmark for such conceptions. The fully formed Demon Wolf.
With this much against it one would think the Wolf had lost, no way would it ever again reach its heights of spiritual and cultural influence. Doomed to be a boogeyman, a monster, a terrifying carnivore, the Devil itself! Yet…. as the Church lost power their efforts began to falter, the wolf would not stay down, though the damage done would take forever to begin to heal, bit by bit the Wolf reclaimed ground.
The Wolf Today
As the years passed the Wolf did not easily regain its positive associations. In C.S. Lewis’ novel The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Wolf is firmly on the side of the White Witch. Wargs (named after Wolves of Norse Mythology) are ridden by Goblins and Orcs in Tolkien’s Middle Earth series of books. Cartoons often depicted the wolf as lecherous, greedy, and foolish often lusting after a female character. Disney often placed the Wolf in a more negative light with its films. Their version of Robin Hood casts the Sheriff of Nottingham as a Wolf against the Thief and Hero Robin Hood who is the Wolf’s nemesis the Fox. Time and again the Wolf is the bad guy. Recent films such as The Gray even cast the Wolf as the villain themselves. With the main character hounded and being forced to fight for his life against a pack of wolves. The fear that had been ingrained in the civilized and soft area that birthed Christianity has continued to the modern day. Routine culling of the Wolf is performed despite its status as an endangered species. Just this year (2021) a culling took place of numerous wolves in Idaho over fears of the population growing too large. Farmers worry over small animals like badgers and weasels, the idea of letting a wolf near their farm fills them with fear and anger. Time and again the Wolf continues to take a beating, but as time has gone on the Wolf has seen its prominence arise once more. No longer merely a monster the Wolf was able to slowly but surely fight back, and cracks have begun to appear in the story of the Churches Evil Demon Wolf.
These changes have happened gradually but surely. Perhaps due to the nature of Wolves of living in the woods, fields, and other wild places it was natural that it would take a land where the churches reach was minimal and wilds were plentiful to begin the repairs, America.
Early American settlers were not immune to cultural biases regarding animals, but those who came across the Atlantic were somewhat self selected to fit well over here. As they were those who could not thrive or fit in, in a Europe in the grip of the Christian Religion in one form or another. So early on in American folklore, the Wolves role would begin to again take prominence. Folkloric heroes such as Johnny Appleseed; friend to animals, hermit of the woods, the American Dionysus. This Wandering Wise Man burly chested and wild bearded traveled with a wolf at his hip, a loyal companion who had joined him in one of his many adventures. Other folk heroes like Pecos Bill would be raised by a pack of Coyotes (The Wolf’s notoriously sneaky and rather cowardly cousin), a clear continuation of children raised by wolves in the folklore of Europe. Which appears not only in folklore but also in literature, perhaps the Jungle Book despite its setting could not help but mimic the European mythic traditions that its author Rudyard Kipling would know and love.
Even recent shifts in culture have begun to repair the perception of Wolves. Films such as Balto began to turn the tide of the Wolf from monster to regal respectable beast. The idea of the lecherous beast began to fade as scientists proved this supposedly lustful animal was actually a devoted parent and mate. Perhaps most notably the Wolves near extinction forced people to decide whether to allow its end or to protect it. The idea of losing the wolf was too terrible and it became a protected species though outcries against it from those who never knew them still continued.
Yet the proof of the Wolves true nature is coming about bit by bit, scientific study and human interaction is forcing a new viewpoint of the animal into focus. Their importance in the ecosystem let alone the culture has begun to be recognized. As famously in Yellowstone when the elk and deer were left alone the land began to grow barren, as the herbivores greedily picked it clean. When the wolves were reintroduced, life returned. The Wolves kept the population of the deer species at healthy levels and kept them on the move so they never destroyed an area completely.
The Wolf bit by bit crept into the hearts and minds of people once more. A veritable wolf cult began to develop once more in various forms, conservationists, pagan practitioners, and even just fans of Wolves and Werewolves began to consider the importance of the Wolf, rather than its former demonic self.
The Werewolf had seen a similar return to form as film and literature began to view the monster with renewed vigor. Films such as the Wolfman laid the groundwork for all that came after it. Though films like Teen Wolf, Twilight, and a number of supernatural shows, films, books, and comics have made what was a terrifying monster into almost an attractive proposition. People even form “werewolf clubs” pretending to be werewolves. While much of this can be relegated to teen angst or running the gambit of all possible ideas for an overdone premise. I would argue the very saturation has forced people to look further into the lore in hopes of putting something ‘original’ out and behold Werewolves as sacred guardians, Werewolf or “Wolf Walkers” as a form of spirit walker. In recent years stories more true to the lore of Europe have become more and more prevalent as films like Wolfwalkers and shows like The Order come out. Only time will tell how much of this repairs not only the idea of werewolves but of wolves period. How far out of the mire that the Church cast the wolf can the Wolf climb?
A Howling Conclusion
The Wolf is not alone. The wolf is never alone. To quote one of the most positive turns for the wolf in recent history “The Lone Wolf Dies but the Pack Survives”, it may be a line from Game of Thrones yet it is the truth. The Wolf remains because people demanded the Wolf stayed alive. Among the anger and fear of billions enough spoke up to guard the wolf that it remains. Now that it can catch its breath, even if barely, and now that it has not only its fellow wolves in its corner but those who have lived next to it for eons it can finally begin to regain some ground. From its place as demon and fool of proverbs, fables, film and literature it can return to what it once was. The Kin of Man, the Messenger of Gods, or even a god in its own right. The likes of Vaelico, Hyrrokin, Fenrir, Dajbog, Weles, Romulus, Remus, Lycaon, Apollo, and many more are still there in our lore and in our hearts. One day, with the force of legends, lore, history, and science the Wolf and ourselves will run free once more.
Wolf mythology: Greece. Wolf deities in greek religion and myth: Wolf-born gods, Apollo Lykaios, lord of the Wolves; Arcadia, etc.: Werewolves and shapeshifters,, Lykaion, Dolon, argos, loups en Grèce, Griechische Wolfsmythen. Homepage Ralph Häussler. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://ralphhaussler.weebly.com/wolf-mythology-greek.html.
Wolf mythology: Greece. Wolf deities in greek religion and myth: Wolf-born gods, Apollo Lykaios, lord of the Wolves; Arcadia, etc.: Werewolves and shapeshifters,, Lykaion, Dolon, argos, loups en Grèce, Griechische Wolfsmythen. Homepage Ralph Häussler. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2021, from https://ralphhaussler.weebly.com/wolf-mythology-greek.html.
Pastoureau, M., & Holoch, G. (2011). The bear: History of a fallen king. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Pagans have always guarded their folk-traditions closely and have understandably been deeply suspicious of anyone seeking to record their history. This is not just the aftermath of oppression, persecution and marginalization, but they are a big part of our past. Traditional heathenism, even in its modern form, can be spiritual or non-spiritual because it is not a religion, per-se but a state of being, or a way of life. It is, in fact, who we are and as such can co-exist as a folk culture, with any spiritual dimension or lack of it.
In the early years of interaction between the Celts and Christians it would have been more reasonable to define a pagan as someone who is “non-christian” meaning indigenous, pre-christian Celtic beliefs, especially associated with nature. Later the church assumed the right to define “pagan” as one who was ‘anti-christian’. This label was intended as a slander to belittle adherents to the old ways as people who are anti-religious, or superstitious. This is far from the truth and in light of actual historical fact these accusations were used to establish spiritual domination and social control, spreading the idea that heathenism is a lower level of human existence, and an inferior worldview, than universalistic belief.
These effects are still felt today.
Don’t believe me? Just mention to an Abrahamic family member or friend that you are a heathen. See the disgust in their eyes, change in demeanor and utter horror. Instead of accepting you for the person that you are, you will be viewed through universalistic-tinted spectacles.
This is an aftereffect of the stranglehold universalistic religion has upon Hyperboreans, turning one against the other, but now we see in modern times that eyes are being opened to the dangers of abrahamism, and the rich beauty that goes hand-in-hand with ethnic faith. Church pews are being opted out in favor of seeking out forefather gods, cultural enrichment, ancestral heroes and a spirituality born out of the wilderness.
As people of the North, we would do well to remember this as we approach the end of the year. The tide is turning, and our people are going back to the old ways as the death throes of organized religion howls through the land, crawling on its last leg in defiance.
Get together with friends, family and pagan acquaintances during the time of MidWinter to celebrate and invite as many of our people as you can. The heathen community is regarded in many ways as an extension of the family, in which all contribute, support each other in their daily lives and make lasting friendships that will allow us to thrive.
During the time of year when the veil is at its thinnest and the spirits freely walk this, our mortal plane. The air turns crisp, biting and gnawing at the flesh of the unwary. When the sun glows red as blood while retiring early, the moon climbs higher to shine bright and eerie. Clouds skitter across the sky like great hounds pursuing their prey. The time of year when the shadows come to life and the blood runs cold.
This is the time of year when the Haunted house we are all familiar with becomes a most prominent feature in our lives and minds. The haunted house or castle, forest or trail has been with us for several centuries at least and the oldest descriptions hint at this custom being the continuation of a much older tradition itself. This is when we get to test the courage of our young and possibly ourselves.
So why do we do this? Well because it is fun of course! The thrill of the unknown, the what if, the maybe and the unseen!
While we know the spirits are not evil and most are not malevolent, only coming to our realm to teach and remind us of who we are. We find ourselves also acknowledging that maybe just maybe, some are. “Perhaps we might not know the lessons to be taught!”, we might think, beginning to doubt ourselves. “What if that means… oh no! Monsters are real!”.
The monster under the bed coming to devour our soul or to hunt us through the forest like a great wolf stalking its unwary prey! What tricks might they play? Some haven’t been alive for quite some time others may never have been. What could they possibly think a lesson worth teaching is? If they consume me might the lesson be for others who witness my slaughter at the hands of the unseen? Worst of all… what if they come to steal all my candies and cookies and things!
Fear. Fear allows not only the birth of but the growth of courage. This is the true point of the Haunted House. We know the danger is false, yet we all enter with that sense of dread and wonder, that tiny thought of “what if this time it is real?”. We all take count of how many times we jump or give that involuntary shriek of fear mixed with delight. We keep track of who can stride boldly through the darkened corridors or round that corner with confidence only to be jolted with the unexpected causing our spines to clatter to the floor. We laugh and make merry at the fear and unexpected delights of these places where we might test our metal. We congratulate each other for successfully resisting the urge to run or scream or jump out of our skin. We congratulate and honor those who play the part, those who don the likeness of the monsters that drive fear into our hearts for a part well played.
Truly in the end, this time of year is about bringing us together, both the living and the dead. A time when we might all remember. A time for developing and showing our courage not only to ourselves but each other. Many might think this time of year is about fear and tricks and candy. I however would argue this time of year is about family and friends and the courage of giving. The most loving time of the year because all we need to give each other is the most precious of gifts, ourselves.
In the middle of winter a woman sat by the window and embroidered. The land was covered in snow and her embroidery frame was of ebony. Just then she pricked her finger and 3 drops of blood fell from her onto the snow. She saw how beautiful and crimson it was upon the snow and said to herself “Would I had a child as red as blood, white as snow, and black as the ebony frame.” Then from the blood rose a young maiden as beautiful as her mother had described, her lips red as blood, her skin white as snow, and her hair black as the ebony of the frame. She named her Winter and the cold serene beauty of her namesake followed her wherever she went.
It so happened that as summer and fall had begun their slumber and winter approached that Idunn saw her beautiful orchards and the fruit rotting and frostbit on the ground and she wept tears of great rage. “This is Winter’s doing!”, she cried. When nothing was left but winter apples she felt she had had enough and went to the hunter deep in the woods. She exclaimed loudly and with such passion at the thievery and ruin of her labor never before seen as a result of Winter. The Hunter took pity on Idunn and she asked of him to bring her the heart of Winter in a small box so that she knew she had truly perished. She presented the box before him carved elegantly from part of one of the trees that had fallen to Winter’s chill.
The Hunter quickly found and cornered Winter telling her that her thievery of Idunn’s orchard had come to an end. She began to cry and beg for her life.
The hunter looked at her and found he could not bring himself to kill her. She was the most beautiful maiden he had ever seen. Her hair black as the night in which he stalked, her skin white as the snow of a good hunt, her lips red as the blood of his prey. Finally Winter exclaimed “Let me leave, I will go far away to another land!” The Hunter motioned for her to leave and head to another land far away. She ran through the forest out of sight upon the snow covered land. Just then a young boar ran across his field of vision the hunter loosed an arrow sailing past the leafless trees for a quick kill. He took out his knife and carved out the boars heart and placed it in Idunn’s box. Then presented it to her a smile on her face. Idunn hoping that such an action would bring her beautiful orchard back to her.
Winter fled, she fled until she came across a cottage, she was tired and half starved. So she entered and found it had seven chairs at the table with seven plates of supper and seven cups of wine. She ate a bit of bread and veg from each plate and a drop of wine from each cup so as not to take too much from any one individual. Then she saw seven beds and lay down to sleep trying each til she found the seventh to be just right. Then when night fell the masters of the house came home. Seven dwarves who spent their days mining for gold and jewels among the mountains. They lit their seven candles and found the house not as they had left it.
The First one exclaimed “Who has been sitting in my little chair?”
The Second one exclaimed “Who has eaten from my little plate?”
The Third one exclaimed “Who has eaten of my little bread?”
The Fourth one Exclaimed “Who has eaten of my little vegetables?”
The Fifth one exclaimed “Who has used my little fork?”
The Sixth one exclaimed “Who has cut with my little knife?”
The Seventh one Exclaimed “Who has drunken of my little cup?”
Then the first dwarf looked around and saw through the hollow in his bed frame and said “Who has been sleeping in my bed?” All seven of the dwarves crowded around the sleeping Winter the fire of their little candles casting light upon her great beauty. “By god, by the lord” They said never had they seen a beauty such as her. The dwarves took great joy in her and to avoid waking her the first slept in the beds of his comrades taking turns in each til the sun came up. When Winter awoke and saw the seven hairy dwarves before her she was quite frightened, but they calmed her and were very friendly. They asked her name and where she had come from.
She told them her name and how the wrath of Idunn had forced her to flee. They told her “If you will keep our house a home, cook and wash, knit and sew, we shall gladly allow you to stay here. Dinner must be ready for when we arrive back from working all day in the mines for we shall be very hungry.” Winter agreed for all these were things she excelled at.
Now Idunn had hoped her orchard would regrow with winter dead but no blossoms had arisen from the branches of her trees. The snow had not let up upon the ground and her store of apples dwindled. Not sure of what actions to take she took the box containing her enemy’s heart and left for the three sisters’ well. Roots covered it and the waters of the well reflected in the light as if it were a mirror. “I have come to ask a question of you”, Idunn said her voice cracking from her pain. Just then a woman rose from beneath the surface of the water. She was young and plain her face stoic and serene. The next one of matronly sophistication with slight wrinkles at the edge of her eyes and purpose glittered in her stare. The third rose, her face was crone like, a long nose adorned her visage and thin pale hair fell behind and her eyes were near blind. “Then ask” said the three Norns their heads floating just above the water. “Is the heart in this box the heart of Winter”, Idunn said holding the box aloft. The two elder heads fell below as the maiden stayed aloft. “No, the hunter has placed the heart of a young boar inside in its place” said Urdr. Idunn’s face glowed red as an apple in rage. “And where is winter now!”, she demanded.
The maidens head fell below and the matron floated above. “She has gone away to a land of dwarves, where she stays in the cottage of seven miners”, said Verdani. “I shall find her then” exclaimed Idunn. “Then take her life as she has taken my orchards” The matron fell below as the crone floated above a slight smile upon her face “And you shall succeed that much I have seen”, said Skuld right as she fell back below the water the smile never leaving her face as all three sank back to their work in the well.
Idunn went back to her home and quickly disguised herself placing old ash on her face and branches and twigs to mess her hair.
Appearing as an old peddler woman she went to the cottage and knocked at the door “Fine wares for sale” she exclaimed in a hoarse croaking voice. Winter peered through the window “The masters of the house are away come back later” she said. “Oh but such a beautiful lass deserves beautiful lace”, said Idunn. She reached into a basket and pulled out beautiful lacework brightly colored and intricately stitched. Winter couldn’t help herself and thought that the old woman was merely a nice old lady, and the lace was so beautiful. She let the old peddler woman in and they sat down to talk and Winter inquired after the lace. Idunn took it out and offered to put the lace on for her. “Now you shall be laced properly my dear”, she said and laced Winter so quickly and tightly that she fell over as if she had died. Cackling Idunn sped away back to her orchard, waiting for the first blossom to come back to her.
As night fell the dwarves came home and finding Winter on the ground as if dead went to her and cut the lace and Winter sprang back to life. The dwarves then warned her to be careful to not let anyone in as the old woman had been Idunn and she could not risk another attempt on her life. Idunn saw that her orchard had not returned and reasoned that her attempt had failed. She disguised herself again this time slightly different and took a piece of pear wood normally set aside for her husband and carved it into a comb of magnificent quality. She then poisoned it so as its use would cause Winter’s death.
She knocked on the door of the cottage “Fine wares for sale” said Idunn. Winter looked through the window “I was told not to let anybody in”, she said. “But I have such lovely items for sale”, said Idunn as she pulled a comb out of a bag beautifully carved with ornate designs. Winter longed for that comb and thought to herself that this was clearly a different woman than before and could not be Idunn. She opened the door and bought the comb but barely had she put the comb in her hair that she fell over as if dead. Idunn cackled and fled back to her orchard waiting for the flowers to bloom on her trees. The dwarves arrived and after checking her lace they searched and found the comb in her hair and tossed it away. Winter arose and was chastised for disobeying and allowing herself to nearly be killed yet again.
Idunn found her orchard barren yet again. Enraged and out of patience she went to her storeroom and got one of her few remaining apples from the harvest. She took it and using magic she turned the apple to poison creating a pale white apple with a rosy red blush on one end. She disguised herself yet again and went again to the cottage. “Lovely apples for sale”, she called inside. Winter looked through the window. “I cannot allow anyone inside nor open the door for anybody”, said Winter. “But I have such lovely apples”, said Idunn holding out the beautiful pale apple. Winter was mesmerized, for she had never had an apple especially one of such beauty. “Are you worried of poison?”, said Idunn “Here I shall take this white half, you have the beautiful rosy half” Idunn cut the apple in half and bit into the white part. For her magic had been so clever as to put all the poison in the rosy side. Winter could not hold herself back. She took a bite of her half and quickly fell over as if dead. Idunn fled back to her orchard as the Dwarves arrived soon after. Seeing Winter on the ground they checked her lace and her hair they looked all over for what had been used against their maiden. But finding nothing they resigned themselves with tears in their eyes to her fate.
They could not bring themselves to bury or burn her so cut a tree and carved a beautiful altar for her to lay on. With runes of luck carved on to the side they placed her and as she lay there as if dead she did not age nor fade but was as beautiful as if alive. The orchard bloomed again and Idunn was overjoyed in her success. The thief of her efforts was gone and she could reap the rewards of her hard labor. But as Winter had been gone a long time her brother Jack Frost had gone about looking for her. He flew to his sisters’. He stayed briefly with Spring, then Summer shooed him along, til he came to Autumn who spoke of Winter’s feud with Idunn and how she had sworn revenge. Thinking she knew of what had become of Winter, Frost flew to Idunn who was not happy to see him. He stood there and asked “Where has Winter gone?”. “Gone?”, said Idunn “She has gone nowhere, for that is where she is. Look around, no more is Winter here nor will she ever come back”. Frost knew Idunn knew where Winter was and worried dearly for his beloved sister. He decided to play a ruse on Idunn in hopes of learning where Winter had gone. “Good riddance”, said Frost. Idunn looked surprised yet pleased. “She was never well liked by me or our sisters. If I were to see her again I would cast my spittle upon her”. Idunn laughed at this “If that is what you wish to do then I say go to the land of dwarves you will find her at a cottage of seven miners”, a smirk creeping across her face.
Frost flew off then. To find Winter he came to the cottage and told the dwarves he was looking for his sister Winter. The dwarves all looked sorrowful and pointed him towards the altar they had laid her on.He went to her and Frost overwhelmed with grief upon seeing the corpse of his sister Winter, lain out in loving respect inside the heart of a fallen tree and held her cold hand within his own and gently kissed her upon the brow. Frost patterns cascaded down her hands and her face. Finding their way into her mouth they froze the apple til it shifted and fell out of her mouth of its own accord, hard as stone. Winter rose her face glowing in the shiny frost of her brother. He was overjoyed and snow began to fall in beautiful downy patterns around them.
Idunn found her trees one again wilting and being nipped by ice as both Winter woke and Frost returned freezing her crop with frostbite. Idunn shook her fist and screamed “I will find her again as many times as it takes”. And Frost called back chuckling as he said it “And I will find my sister again as many times as it takes for that is our way”.
Grimm Remything Project
This was the second finished myth of a larger project concerning the mythology hidden in the folklore. As Christianity spread across the land many of our gods and myths were hidden in our folk tales. Behind saints, faeries, spirits, devils, and so on. The goal of this project is to show what could be hidden in the fairy tales we all know and love. While we do our best to see what could be hidden, we do not claim these to be the original versions – far from it. Our goal is to show what lies just beneath the page in the fairy tales we all know and love.
It was fairly obvious that this was a seasonal myth, though this draft is over a year old and better gods than Idunn such as Holda or Perchta would probably do better in place of Idunn, though than again perhaps not.
Jack Frost is a fairly common spirit/god and the decision to use him was based on him fitting the theme best, as always the Remything is designed to show what could be beneath not to show exactly what it once was before Christianization.
The word cairn or càrn comes from the Scottish Gaelic language which describes stones dry stacked to form a balanced tower to great and impressive structures or megaliths. Cairns from prehistoric times to the present have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes from landmarks to graves and barrows even bearing spiritual significance.
Cairn building is a continued custom carried into the modern world straight through since ancient times, Hyperboreans having never ceased in their construction.While many peoples have stacked stones for a variety of reasons each people having their own purposes, Hyperboreans of course have their own unique approach and reasoning.
While technically any heap of stones can and often will be described as a cairn by “experts” striving to prove useless points while pushing the idea of universalism, we however are going to set a stricter definition upon the word which will then set the builders apart from everyone else. Now again Hyperboreans will not have the only examples of the cairn or càrn like structures, however the examples of each will now become much clearer and unique and does not allow the local gravel or sand pit to be described as a cairn.
What we will be talking about specifically is the art of dry stacking stones which might range in size from great boulders to the tiniest pebble taking any of many forms and is exactly what it sounds like. Dry stacking is the art of stacking natural stones without the use of mortar, other adhering materials or using techniques such as jointing or shaping.
Using this method, a cairn might be built by nearly anyone for nearly any purpose, but it must be said that for the Hyperborean people this technique has been with our people for so long that it has become a spiritual act in and of itself from the smallest and most simple stack to the largest structure and requires much practice to perfect. Perhaps you might start today taking any three or more random stones and stacking them to see how long they might stand before succumbing to gravity and wind.
The Warrior Poet, Bardic Warrior or Warrior Bard while a romantic concept, popularized by Role Playing Games such as D&D first published in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc. (TSR) and since by many movies, videogames as well as a mountain of fantasy novels. This is in reality a misnomer, leading to many misunderstandings in the real world of each, which in reality are brothers. The very concept of a Warrior Bard is in reality an insult to both the Warrior and the Bard implying that neither is worthy of note on their own. Now while this common misperception might be substantiated in lore if one chooses to ignore the descriptors given of each in the tales themselves, this cursory substantiation does not accurately describe the true depth of these heroes. For the sake of argument if this character or rather caricature, were real he would hold nothing over either and find himself lacking the skills that would lead him to a place in the legends of our people.
First, I shall lay out many examples of “proof” that the Warrior Poet did indeed exist and enjoys a long and intricate history throughout our many tribes ranging back to ancient history and prehistory. Along the way I will explain in a cursory manner as to why this is an inaccurate description of these heroes, and I shall end with describing why this description is unfair and unjust to both the warrior and the bard by describing what they were by describing the expectations of both as well as the dedication required of each to achieve the requisite proficiency within their given field. Finally, I will end with some basic questions to which most “experts” seem to lack the knowledge to provide a satisfactory answer to.
So, to start. Yes, there are tales of warriors dueling while uttering poetry to prove a point such as the Icelandic tale in Egil’s Saga. A tale where a Swedish Berserker named Ljot the Pale crossed over into Norway challenging wealthy landowners to duels and claiming their land after each victory for himself. Egil Skallagrimsson then challenged Ljot to a duel due to extraneous circumstances involving family friends and of course a woman as every good heroic tale does. During this duel there were many bouts or rounds during the time between the fighting he describes himself as taunting the Berserker with scathing poetry as to the character of his opponent while heralding his own virtues depending on which version(s) you might read. At which of course the hero Egil Skallagrimsson dispatches his opponent proving his great heroism.
This however does not prove him to be a great poet of the land besides his own description of himself. As a warrior, which he clearly was, having fought in many military campaigns and partaking in many Viking raids he does however prove warriors are not incapable of poetry or writing or any number of other pursuits. The same is true of a Bard, however. Bards are very capable of becoming proficient fighters in many regards as the world is and always has been a rather rough place and the ability to fight is often quite the boon to ones continued existence. The question of specialization is all that is really in question here. After all there is a world of difference between a warrior and a bard though their drive and passion often derive from the same place though specializing in different expressions and potentially having some overlap. The reason for describing Egil Skallagrimsson as a warrior that performs poetry as opposed to a poet that wars or a warrior poet which would indicate not being great enough at either to take down a Berserker who had much combat experience having already taken down several landowners who themselves would have been hardened by the field of combat.
But what about the Spartans? You might ask. The Spartans after all were known to march into battle playing drums and pipes while singing merry tunes. Legends also tell they were known to bellow out poetry often made up on the spot to both encourage their brothers in arms as well as insult the enemy. In addition, they were also renowned warriors and soldiers! Indeed, this glorious example exemplifies the spirit of the hyperborean people which is echoed all across our lands proving the Warrior Poet to be true. The depth and dedication to war of this particular tribe while not well documented directly are the stuff of myth and legend worthy of gods! The notion of this is best illustrated in my opinion in the movie 300 directed by Zack Snyder, released in 2006 based off the 1998 comic by the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley in which Leonidas played by Gerard Butler on the way to the battle of Thermopylae and the battle of the Hot Gate meets with the garrison of Athens and their leader at which point they have a heated discourse centered around the number of men brought by each in the defense of Greece.
During this exchange King Leonidas having been insulted by having his dedication to the task brought into question by the number of warriors he brought with him, asks a soldier of Athens what he does for a living to which the man responds, “I am a potter” King Leonidas nods appreciatively then asks the same of another who responds, “Sculptor sir” he then asks a third that responds “blacksmith”. He then smiles and nods to himself turning to his own men bellowing “Spartans! What is your profession?” to which they respond “Haroo, Haroo, Haroo!” while brandishing their spears and shields indicating that their profession is the field of battle and only the field of battle.
These men were warriors born of the blood of Hercules, born to fight, born to die, born to live and love while they might! Trained from a tender age to fight individually, and to fight in a unit as though they were one body living and breathing. These men were trained to be war incarnate. One might wonder why then they were also taught music, poetry, history and much more. Why for war of course! But the details of these things are best left for later so as not to diminish the bard who truly is the brother of the warrior.
When speaking of the Warrior Poet many images come to mind usually stimulated by pop culture and may take many forms however these wonderful and romantic ideas are completely unreasonable as you will soon see. Perhaps not impossible but definitely not the common or uncommon nor even rare but the exceptionally rare that might occur once every several generations. To show why this is so we must first go into all of the glory and dedication required by each the Warrior and the Poet, brothers of war!
The Bard, More than a Sexy Lute Player
Let us begin with the Poet or Bard if you prefer, perhaps you prefer one of the other myriad of titles given to one of this profession depending on the language. That is fine as they all indicate the same profession and profession is the key to his description. Not hobby or pursuit but profession. In the world of modernity this might mean one of many pursuits, professions, or specialties. He might be of the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien or any number of other popular and undeniably skilled writers and poets. Perhaps a famous musician, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, or Jeff Beck, perhaps comparable to Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, or Antonio Vivaldi. The list goes on. An actor! An actor in today’s world might be considered a bard of great renown whether he be from stage or cinema or even serials. How about a world class dancer. Surely, they are among the great entertainers and yes, you would be correct.
However, none of these are bards. Poet perhaps if that is precisely what they do however in the traditional and now antiquated sense. I must respond with a resounding no. A bard to truly be considered a bard was to be in possession of the most exquisite skill and knowledge in both performance and range. This is not to belittle or demean the modern or even not so modern performers but to truly herald the skill and dedication of the true bard of antiquity!
Imagine one that dedicates his entire life, every fiber of his being not simply to one skill which may take a lifetime to master but many. Mastering one or many instruments as well many classical and modern performances from the most complex of musical pieces for the entertainment of the rich and elite, to the bawdiest of tunes fit for the drinking rooms and countryside celebrations. Now in addition you must be able to recite the grandest of epics with a moment’s notice in which some take days to tell in their orations! As well as being able to recite many a folktale and rhyming story as to which might appeal to the more common among us. As if this is not enough you must then also be an actor, a playwright, a historian, a dancer and performer of many arts, a comedian, capable of reading and writing official documents drawing up letters and proofs of nobility in combination with remembering which noble line is connected with which families where. To recite and document great battles of great heroes of both the past and the present. Then as if all of that is not enough after a lifetime of training and honing your skills, you must now become a teacher.
Now bear in mind this is in addition to being able to translate the material at his disposal into many different languages and dialects in addition to witnessing and possibly partaking in negotiations between leaders of varied clans as well as lands. A Bard is truly a great man capable of so much more than many give him credit for. A true Bard cannot live merely for himself but must dedicate himself to something so much greater than he himself could ever be! Do not demean the Bard by also demanding he become a warrior as his own path requires an amount of time and dedication few would choose to pursue even for all of the fame and riches the world might provide.
The Warrior, More than a Burly Meathead
Then there is the Warrior who is much more than a mere fighter with a shield made of the barn door and his father’s wood axe in his mighty grip. While most people envision a warrior as being a killing machine leaving the corpses of his enemy in the wake of his fury, he is indeed far more than this. Gaming and other works of fiction are in part responsible for this vision as it conjures to the imagination the mindless and savage barbarian swinging his great ax with chest bared in defiance or the heavily armored “tank” standing steadfastly before hordes of enemies and in some cases the crazed and lethally swift duel wielding maniac bringing whirling death with his passage. As romantic and exciting as these images are, they remain just that, fiction. It is true the warrior must be a competent combatant, but he must be more, much more. He must be cunning, a commander, a general, a soldier capable of not only following orders but seeing the larger picture and making decisions for himself. He must be capable of complex thought and reason under even the most intense pressures which he will certainly come under during the heat and confusion of battle. He must be capable of great nobility as well as sacrifice both of himself, and that of others, capable of the most terrible of triages while buried under the pressure of emotional and mental stresses which would certainly break most men. If that were not enough, he must be willing and capable of weighing on the fly the cost benefit ratios of any given scenario and most importantly be willing to live with the price of his decisions and all that means. All of these things and more is at the heart of being a warrior. A lifetime of training and learning, contemplation, and a development of his body, mind, and spirit are required to be capable of bearing the weight of these responsibilities.
To these ends he must cultivate many skills which may at first not seem to have anything to do with combat. Or war. But anyone who has been in the heat of it. Those who have experienced friends and kin dying and bleeding all around them. Smelled their blood and foul. Tasted this horror in the air as men scream in agony and fear all around them. Begging for help or mercy. During which, the entire time the enemy is trying to push into their ranks with no sense of mercy, intent on killing not only you but those you care for most, these people can surely attest what I tell you is true. I am trying to let you, you who have never dared to dream of this experience, blocking it from your mind as any sane person surely would, this is the reality of war I share with you. These things and more are why veterans of wars do not freely share their experiences with civilians, whether friends, loved ones or the odd adoring fan of soldiers. Simply put the average person cannot understand nor comprehend no matter how much they might wish to, until they experience it themselves.
The warrior must become unbreakable. Not for himself but for those around him. Psychology, philosophy, medicine, butchery, husbandry, ecology, biology, chemistry, history, tactics, and strategy. In many ways the warrior must be well-educated. Not a specialist in these things but quite familiar with them as his specialty will be war and combat, but rather how these things apply to his specialty that they are a part of. Through his training he would learn to completely destroy his enemy if he must or even if he must. However far more important than these things, he must learn to see beauty. The reason to fight far beyond his natural ability to endure.
To this end warriors were introduced to and encouraged to participate in the arts often taking up such things as dance, musicianship, singing, poetry, carving, metalwork, painting, to not only teach him how the beauty is created and with no expectation of mastery, as mastery requires the total commitment of one’s entire life, but to appreciate the beauty created by those who may. In addition, the warrior is shown the intangible and frail nature of beauty. Its fleeting moment and how easily this is shattered.
A baby bird fallen from a nest, nursed by his own hands only to have it slowly grow cold and fail, the moment the sun breaks the horizon and the flare as it bursts to life or sinks into night. How the cry of the baby fades into the laughter of a child, to then turn into the cry of sorrow or delight in the adult, to finally pass from this world altogether. Those moments of beauty always seen but rarely noticed. The beauty of the fluttering wings of the butterfly and the intricacy of the web into which it flies to be followed by the methodical way the spider wraps his prey in his web only to consume his meal later.
He already knows his own strength as he has been tested again and again by those who would teach him, those who train with him and even life itself, as his training is anything but safe. He is taught the value of beauty so that he might better understand his place. To protect and defend as many of these moments as he may. He has learned not only what beauty is but that it is frail, and it might be destroyed by interfering with it or by not interacting with it at all. The value of life is in its beauty and its frailty and so while he adds to it as he might his purpose is to protect, encourage and value that beauty to the end of his days.
The children screeching as they play, the old passing on a lifetime of stories and songs, the lamenting sigh of the young lover and the banter of friends passing time round the table late at night. These things are all that is good in the warrior’s life, war is just a necessity he must endure to ensure that the beauty of his loved ones, his home, his people continues and so he does. If he must go take beauty from another he will, if he must kill another so that he might feed, cloth or shelter those under his protection he will and he will do so with no reservation or regret so long as the beauty he values so dearly might continue. He has come to understand peace is only purchased. It only has one cost which cannot be negotiated. Peace is purchased in the blood of another. Whether that is the cow or rabbit, the tree or the flower, the fish in the brook or the blood of men. The eternal price must always be paid, and no amount of tears or denial will refute that price. This is why the bard, the artisan, the mother, and the farmer are so dearly held in high regard by the true warrior. He is the sacrifice they will pay for their moment of peace whether they acknowledge it or not.
The Warrior and Bard are Brothers
The Bard. The Warrior. These two men are brothers as they have strode nearly every battle ever fought, together. The witness and the sacrifice. The bard knows should he fail in his duty; whether in recounting or should he flee before all is lost and he is sent away, then his brothers sacrifice may very well go unrecognized and so be forgotten to the mists of time as so many before him. For this reason, he will often play heroic songs or recount great deeds to inspire his brothers as they march to war, through it and if all goes well home once again. To ensure these men they will not be forgot if he might have his way.
The warrior too will defend this brave man with his dying breath knowing that should the bard fall not only he will be forgotten but so will his brothers in arms and no chance at immortality in the memories of men will be his. No beauty created in his name. And so, this comes to near the end. To make claim of the warriorbard or warriorpoet is in reality to slander both. It is to claim the sacrifice, dedication, and the ability of either the warrior or the bard to be inadequate, unworthy of memory. While well intentioned and often uttered with awe these claims are made by those people who understand neither war nor beauty and its true cost.
Beware the weeping warrior for you surely threaten all he holds dear and precious, this will without doubt be your undoing for at this moment he is without mercy and shall accept no recompense except in your blood.
Deep in the realm of Jotunheim, among the mountains and shivering cold forests lies The Ironwood. A place of werewolves, trolls, and giants. Of magic and prophecy and blood…. It is far more wild, far less safe than the glittering home of the Aesir in Asgard. Instead everything in it is of arcane power, and near eldritch aura. Among the giants only the toughest may survive, they are not merely forced to bear the elements, they are the elements, the gods of nature. The beautiful and the horrifying, the calm sea and the treacherous storms, the fire that warms and the wildfire that consumes. At the front of it all is the Wolf Chieftess herself, Angrboda. The wise women of the Jotnar, and a myriad of giants and giantesses that populate the edges of Norse Mythology, and it is the Ironwood to which Angrboda calls home.
Giants are often the antagonists of the myths, attempting and sometimes succeeding in capturing Freya or Idunn. Insulting or tricking gods such as Thor and Odin. The Jotnar are in fact merely another tribe of gods, in comparison to the warlike Aesir, and the more magic and fertility oriented Vanir, the Jotnar are far more wild, untamed, and deadly. While this may seem a fair reason to point to them as the “evil” of the Norse mythos, it is anything but. Numerous giants are friendly to the gods, often helpful, or even intermarrying. Gods such as Aegir invite them over for a party, Thor is the son of Jord a giantess, Skadi is the wife of Njordr as well as the namesake of Scandinavia. So it’s clear its not as cut and dry as Aesir good and Jotnar bad. While the text states this to be so, it also goes out of its way to call the whole mythic tradition an ancestral folly and that all should worship Christ. So to say there has been some blatant defacing of the myths, would be a massive understatement.
While we are meant to root for the Aesir, it is clear that they are not the only ones with potential for people to find help in, the Vanir, elves, dwarfs, trolls, and giants can all also lend aid to heroes or people when needed. The Jotnar would probably be termed “Chaotic Neutral” in the language of the modern age. Just as a wildfire may seem chaotic at first glance and even aggressively deadly as it cooks the rabbit or the lost child, it is in fact indifferent. Just as the land is indifferent to hunger, so to are the giants indifferent to you or I. Like nature they will constantly test, judge, and force you to either live or die, in nature only the strong survive, and that is clearer nowhere more in Norse Mythology, than in the Ironwood.
Within the Ironwood dwells many giants, though most of the ones we are given detail on are female. The matriarchal system that largely governs Jotun culture is relatively clear. While they too are ruled by a king, as are the fire giants in Muspelheim, the overall families are more aligned among the matriarchs. Here comes the tricky part though, while Angrboda is certainly among them, the issue arises from the possibility that Angrboda appears many times under multiple names. While I do not deny this is possible, I will reserve judgment and attempt to use each giantesses name separately, as while some people claim Gullveig to be Angrboda, others claim she is Freya, while others still will say Gullveig is Gullveig. Hence the conundrum, the kennings of Norse Mythology complicate matters consistently, and we are forced in many ways to decide which is which, invariably falling back on individual interpretations.
Angrboda fulfills a similar role among the Jotnar as Freya does for the Vanir and Frigg for the Aesir, the wise woman. It is unclear if she could be considered queen, or merely the chieftess of the Ironwood Jotnar and troll-women. Many of the wolves mentioned here are female as the troll-women will take the shape of wolves, as mentioned before this wood is also considered to have given birth to werewolves in some form. The wolves are considered “Fenrir’s-kin” and are likely the children of the great wolf.
Most notable among these wolves are Hati, Skoll, and Managarmr. The two wolves who consume the sun and moon, and the one who will feast on the dead, and eventually consume the moon. It is likely that these three are separate examples of the myth used to explain the disappearance of the sun and moon at times, or the phases of the moon, or wolf clouds, or parhelions (Mock Suns/sundogs/sunwolves) though in the mythology they fulfill a more doomsday role alongside their father Fenrir.
Skadi is another giant, she once lived in Jotunheim and in some stories still does, residing in her fathers hall after her failed marriage to Njordr. Though in other tales she is married to Odin, perhaps a sign of the king wedding the land? But either way Skadi is also often depicted with wolves, it is their howling that drives Njordr mad when he stays with her in her mountains.
Hyrrokkin is yet another giantess, her name means “fire smoked” which many have used to connect her to Gullveig, who was burned by the Aesir. Hyrrokkin is the giantess that was called for when the gods were unable to push Balder’s funeral pyre out to sea. She rode when called atop a stead turned wolf, with serpents for reins. With one hand she was able to push the boat out to sea, though in the meantime the Berserkers tasked with watching the wolf had been forced to kill it due to it being uncontrollable even with four of them there to guard it. Thor even intended to kill her, this may indicate jealousy or a former grudge that he’d been forced to put aside for the greater need at the time.
Hyrrokkin’s insane levels of strength are comparable to the Giantess Elli, who was the embodiment of old age and one of the few beings to best Thor in a fight. It is unclear if without Utgard-Loki’s shape changing abilities if Elli is an independent giantess. Like Elli Hyrrokkin may also embody something that no one can escape, but more on that later.
Hyndla is a giantess with aspects of the Volur, she spends her days traveling in spirit (likely in wolf form). She lives in a cave in Jotunheim, not in the Ironwood at least not that is mentioned. She is knowledgeable about genealogies and some consider that she travels in spirit up and down family lines, gaining knowledge of lineages.
She like Angrboda and Hyrrokin are also shown with wolves, in the Lay of Hyndla she even rides one of her wolves as a spirit animal alongside Freya atop Hildisvini (Actually her lover Ottar in disguise). Freya at first offers to speak to the leaders of the Aesir Odin and Thor, though eventually devolves into threats similar to Freyr’s servant Skirnir when wooing Gerdr for his master. As all she wants is peace and quiet she travels with Freya to Valhalla where she reads the river Thund and tells Ottar his lineage.
Hel is yet another giantess that we find is associated with wolves. She is the goddess of the dead, and of the underworld. The caretaker of the souls of those who died a normal death of age or sickness. Hel is not actually half corpse as she is often portrayed, instead appearing in various guises, usually with dark hair. She cares deeply for the dead in her care, why else would they choose to fight the very gods themselves for her and her kin? Her steed is Helhest, and her brother is Fenrir, her realm of Helheim is guarded by Garmr, a wolf or hound of immense power who eventually will consume Tyr at Ragnarok.
The Norns are another set of Giantesses, the three; Urdr, Verdani, and Skuld are three of the most powerful deities in Norse mythology. Governing fate, weaving wyrd at the cradle of newborns, and tending the tree of life, Skuld doubles as a Valkyrie and again we find the common aspect of the wolf. Wolves are the hounds of the Norns.
Grendel’s Mother is also at times considered a Jotun or “troll woman” with a loose affiliation with wolves, specifically in the name of her killer Beowulf. Who is at times translated to mean “wolf” or “war wolf” though at times “bear” so the association is less obvious but again wolves are connected to the mythic feminine, in a Jotun or Troll-woman.
Trolls, witches, and giantesses are all associated with wolves. Troll-women and witches would often ride wolves, and as seen with Hyrrokin and Hyndla so do giantesses. Many troll-women turn into wolves, and many of them seem to have Volur like abilities. Why is this? Well for that we must look at the progenitor of the Volur ability, the figure of Vidolfr or “Forest Wolf”. Vidolfr is considered to be male though he is not mentioned nor does he appear outside of the mention of the origins of the various magic using beings in “The Lay of Hyndla” which includes Volur, Wizards, Seidr users, and Jotnar.
The above giantesses seem to fall into two of these categories. Along with the prophetic abilities they have, as even Skadi is said to possess some, it is likely that the giantesses possess the blood of both or that Vidolfr was also a Jotnar, just one that was either separate or differed from Ymir. Much as Odin is himself a giant, but delineated himself in his actions and by founding his own tribe with the Aesir. Perhaps the same can be said of Vidolfr. Though these Volur Jotnar are all tied in some way or another to death. Now strap in, here is where things get interesting.
As already mentioned the sources for Norse Mythology have been heavily altered, and it can be hard to fully suss out what is and isn’t messed with. Though one of the most obvious manipulations was that of the Wolf from positive creature to that of negative creature. Ulfhednar (wolf berserkers) are an obvious example of where there is a more positive element, but it was more than that. Hundreds of years after the viking age, werewolves and wolf riders would still populate folklore and witch cults. Old Thiess, the “Livonian Werewolf” asserted that he and other werewolves were the “hounds of god” that they traveled in spirit form as wolves and fought other mystical beings such as devils and malignant spirits. All in order to protect the harvest and the seeds of the crop. While witches would ride animals long before brooms and staffs, as the distaff and Volur staff of the Volur eventually displaced the original animal familiar spirit, and among the most common animal witches rode in these journeys were wolves. In order to enter this Werewolf form or to travel in spirit atop ones animal companion, one was forced to enter a death-like trance.
They would send the soul out to ride the animal familiar or to change into the animal themselves. In essence traveling across realms and planes of existence, much as Hyndla does or perhaps Hyrrokkin, as she shows up at Balder’s Funeral pyre it is possible that Hyrrokkin is the embodiment of the funeral pyre and like Elli, would therefore be relatively inescapable, and unable to be fought. While Hyndla’s name means “she-dog” it is more her attachment to the souls of the dead, and the ability to track ancestral lines that is her connection to the dead and to knowledge. Skadi meanwhile is associated with winter, and by extension the season of rest, as death is in Norse Mythology. Hel is herself the guardian and caretaker of a realm of the dead, the Norns lay the potential death of someone at their feet when they give their three blessings to newborn babes, Angrboda meanwhile has a name that means roughly “she who brings strife” and for a goddess with such prophetic abilities as hers, this makes sense.
While the desire to paint Angrboda as evil or sowing chaos is likely most peoples go to, this is not the case. Like all the Jotnar she would have reason to dislike the Aesir, most of the Jotnar were killed when Odin crafted Midgard, save the line of Bergelmir, whose vow of vengeance on Odin is what differentiated the Aesir tribe of Odin from the Jotnar line of Bergelmir. From the perspective of the Jotnar Odin has a blood debt to be repaid, and they have no issue when harm comes the Aesir’s way though they also help them as often as they harm. Angrboda is a talented seeress, while I have mentioned above that Angrboda is the caretaker of the wolves in the Ironwood it is also possible that the “witch” awoken from death by Odin’s Necromancy in Balder’s dream is in fact Angrboda as the Witch is buried near but not in Helheim, and is described by Odin as “The Mother of Three Monsters” possibly Loki’s brood of Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel. Thus making the witch Angrboda. She not only knows the downfall of the Aesir, but had no intention of sharing it with Odin, who uses a pseudonym in order to ask her questions. The conversation ends when she discovers his true identity, than taunts him with the future tragedy he faces.
Odin is also associated with Wolves, the dead, and is mentioned in Ynglinga Saga as possessing the ability to shape change his spirit. In Huldrsaga the giantess Huld gives Odin his ravens as a thank you gift for his diplomatic mediation, but along with Huginn and Muninn there is also Geri and Freki, as wolves are usually associated with the giants this has always stood out to me as an odd addition. Wolves are beings associated with the dead and with shamanic journeying, while the latter is certainly something traditionally attributed to Odin, it is clear by the fact that he must request audience with Volur or use necromancy to the get the answers from dead witches, that when it comes to non-battle magic or trickery he is lacking.
So it is possible that just as the ravens who feed him knowledge were a gift, so too were his wolves. Perhaps a gift from a giantess who could journey in order to aid him. If this is the case these stories are lost to time. Geri and Freki’s names mean “ravenous” this could potentially indicate Odin’s hunger for knowledge, and be a sort of nod to his desire to understand magic typically barred from men such as Seidr. This is speculation but it would make sense, as Odin’s magical abilities largely function as a form of battle magic or shapeshifting. The use of Sleipneir may be a later addition after Loki gives birth to him, as the horse is far better suited to Odin’s needs than the wolves were, rendering them mere animals he must feed table scraps to.
The above is largely conjecture but I wished to touch on the two most notable wolves of Norse Mythology that I hadn’t discussed as of yet and further tie them in to the wolf witches and giantesses. Angrboda may well be the witch in the Ironwood, though similar to Hyndla she has sent her spirit out. She is not truly laid to rest beside her daughters home, but her spirit wanders caring for other “wolves”, as the Jotnar are eternal forces of nature and even when “dead and buried” are still there. As such the Troll-Women, Witches, Giantesses, and Werewolves may all be there in spirit and while she may not be “giving birth” to them she is allowing others (mostly women) the same shape changing, and volur style ability that Odin desires but does not possess. Not only growing the Jotnar forces, but also giving a bit of a middle finger to her tribes mortal enemy.
This does not render Angrboda, the giants, or the werewolves as villains merely as antagonistic for the most part to the Aesir. As seen with Hyndla they maintain their generally indifferent opinion of those around them even to the Aesir. It is important at this point to bring up one last bit of lore, and that is that the Jotnar are often regarded as older gods than the Aesir, while this may certainly be the case as they represent more primeval concepts, they are if nothing else competitors. Angrboda and her kind are of the wild and of nature, they are untamable and unkillable, as even if the wildfire ends it will burn again, as the rain fades it also readies itself for another downpour. These Jotnar are ancient and they tie into the most fundamental needs, especially the spiritual, being connected to death in a myriad of ways and customs. Hyrrokkin is even placed on a carving dedicated to the accomplishment of a task, potentially a lethal one. While Frigg and Freya are both capable of immense magic and power, Angrboda simply is. She like the rest of the Jotnar possesses innate magical ability as a Jotun. Perhaps the male figure for the werewolves could be Fenrir himself, who is also considered the consort of the Ironwood Witch. The father of all these wolves, the guardian of the wolf spirit form, or something of that ilk. Or perhaps it is the herder of the wolf spirits who is the masculine wolf shaman, who appears beside the Ironwood Witch.
It is impossible to say, and while the Christianized texts have painted these myriad of gods and animals as the evil demonic beings of the Norse cosmos, they are nothing of the kind. Merely indifferent to the world as the hurricane is to the shore, or plague is to a child’s hopes and dreams. Yet some still find themselves helping and interacting with mankind, at the intersection of it all, Death. In the Ironwood it is not monsters that roam but wild souls, untamed and in the forms of their hearts desire. The Ironwood is itself a spiritual land of myth and brutality, where the ancient meets the civilized, where the great and powerful Aesir and Vanir request audience with tribal seeresses clothed in animal skins and the weight of hard won knowledge. Here Angrboda cares for the Wolf witches and spirits, tending “Fenrir’s-kin” as always the wild heart of nature only respects the strong, and only so long as they remain so, slip and you die in mother natures calloused bloody hands. Some will shirk away, others will revel in it, Angrboda cares not. The Jotnar will do as they always do, whatever they want, and the Ironwood is their domain.
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Among the Norse Pantheon many notable deities exist. Thor, Loki, Heimdall, Hoenir, Odin, Skadi, Ullr, and more. Though one goddess that has a bit of a complex history and one that I think deserves a bit more of a deep dive. Is the beloved, complex, and extremely popular goddess of Freya. However, who is Freya? Many have likely heard the name, whether from cursory looks into Neo-pagan spheres, or a brief read of Icelandic myth, or meeting any of the myriad of women and girls who have been given her name in recent decades. Yet I find Freya is often left in an odd place. Sometimes she is so powerful that all the other goddesses are at best aspects of her. While other times she is a minor goddess whose importance is over emphasized. Or even just an aspect of another goddess or god. This complexity is partly due to the nature of the Scandinavian pantheon. Attempts to standardize the fragmented, and contradictory myths of the Icelandic’s and the fragments remaining from Scandinavia proper has led to so many varied conceptions it can seem as if people aren’t even talking about the same deity. So who is Freya? That is the question I sought to unravel.
Freya of Sweden?
The first thing we must do while discussing Freya is look at where she was most prominent. Freya was far and away the most popular goddess in Sweden. While her veneration did spread outside of it, both her and Freyr were the focus of spiritual activities in the area. Representing kingship, magic, witchcraft, seers, fertility of the land and its people, and much much more. The two even after the Church began to move in are mentioned extensively in the folk customs. Indicating that the so called “Vanir” were the most prominent in Sweden and likely Scandinavia for the most part. However, most of our sources find their written origin not in the Scandinavian peninsula, but in Iceland. A land removed from the mainland of Europe, with a drastically changed societal structure, and landscape. Despite this the prominence of both Freyr and Freya remains in the area in myths and folk customs, albeit in the most famous source the Eddas. They are overshadowed by the Aesir gods, many of which have their likely origins from areas outside the countries of Norway and Sweden.
The reason for describing where the cult of Freyr and Freya originates, is that cult centers indicate where a deities veneration was likely strongest. For example Holle’s tends to be Middle Germany, while Perchta was most prominent in the Alps, Brigid was most notably venerated in Ireland, Ares was huge in Sparta, Athena in Athens, Pan never really got off his mountain in Arcadia in terms of sizable spread until long after Christianity came in. In essence while the main seat of veneration by no means denotes a gods entire range, it does allow us to see where the cults heart was. Freyr and Freya most definitely had Southern Sweden and neighboring areas as their primary seat of worship. Deities like Odin would come in later and primarily in the kingless country of Iceland take considerable power at least among the aristocracy. In other words, one of the most important things when discussing deities is that the concept of “Pantheon” is simply a modern conception largely derived from oral and literary epics. This is most noticeable in folklore where deities rarely interact with each other, in comparison to skaldic sagas and Homeric epics where the gods are part of a sprawling complex story.
Frikka, Frea, and Frigga
From here we can now discuss the supposed extensive spread of Freya to other areas, and look at each from the angle of validity and possible equation to Freya. The most notable deities to mention are Frikka, Frea, and Frigga. Like Freya there are several ways each of these deities can be spelled. However, I will first begin with Frikka as she is possibly one that can most easily be discussed.
Frikka also exists as Frau Frick, or the Old Frick, sometimes spelled Fricka. She is depicted often as an ogress who similar to the Wicked Witch in Hansel and Gretel tries to eat children, she possesses a magic wand and a mournful personality.
Like many gods who take part in the wild hunt she possesses black dog fertility spirits as part of her retinue, her more regal form is that of a tall woman in white with storm clouds garlanding her hair.She is also tied into Dragons, especially corn spirits in the form of dragons. While she shares fertility aspects similar to Freya it is unlikely the two are similar, even demonized. She is also too different from Frigg to place as equivalent to Frigg. However, Wagner used the name of Fricka as his version of Frigg in his operas, fusing her with Holda. This can largely dismiss Frikka as equating to Freya.
Frea, there are two notable examples I’ve seen of the word Frea being used. The first and most notable is the story of how the Lombards got their name. Involving women disgusing themselves with long beards, and Godan being turned around by Frea so that he faces the Lombards. During this instance Godan gives them their name and victory. This one I would separate away from Freya not because of any etymological disagreement, by any means they even seem pronounced the same though here is where the main issue comes in for this story. While many will try to claim Odin and Frigga/Freya as the deities pictured here. A rather sound argument can be made that the two deities here are merely called “God” and “Lady” in essence there is no confirmation that these were even the names of the gods, so much as means for Paul the Deacon to relay the tale. So at best we have a male and female deity of what is now a Northern Italian Germanic Tribe. The other tale featuring Frea is that involving Walpurgisnacht. Where Wotan as the Devil takes his bride a goddess of Spring here known as Frea. This example may indicate Freya, though one thing to take into account is that I could not find the raw tale involving these two deities, as such it may be an attempted reproduction converting the devil to his most likely figure in Northern Germany as Wotan or Woden, and his bride as a goddess associated with Spring and Fertility, in doing so the name Frea was chosen. However I highly doubt that Freya’s cult did not reach the Northern shores of the continental Germanic’s, the question is more how far and how impactful it may have been.
Finally I come to Frigga, also known as Frigg. The two goddesses are often equated due to their similarities. However, I would say it is more likely the two fulfilled similar roles in different tribes and similar to the unseating of Freyr in the eddas, the same was done to Freya. This would’ve caused confusion as two prominent goddesses traditions were warped around each other. Frigg eventually for whatever reason won out as Queen of the gods, and is married to Odin in the eddas. There is a recording of Saxon gods, among them the goddess Friga. Which the recordings describe as alternatively titled Frea, and even described as a hermaphrodite. I doubt this is the case, rather more likely is that Frigga like Odin was originally of a differing tribe from the Scandinavians and instead was integrated in later stages.
She likely finds her origins more in the Saxon’s homelands. More than likely many tribal deities contained names that could be translated as “beloved” or “Lady”, for what other name would you call a prominent goddess in the language. Frigga, Freya, and Freyr likely were venerated here, though unlike in Southern Sweden where Freyr and Freya were primarily venerated, here Frigga took prominence. As the other two were more minor gods in the area they could be interpreted by an onlooking Christian as the same deity. Resulting in the both male and female nature of the deity, from the eyes of an outsider.
Freya & The Vanir
From here I would say that Freya’s veneration spread across much of the Northern half of the Germanic’s up into Iceland, and across much of Scandinavia, but the further from her cult center she went the less important she became. With the Southern Half likely not even hearing of her and having different gods and interactions by and large. With the range largely established from here I can discuss the importance of Freya with an emphasis on her homeland and primary worshipers in Sweden.
Like any deity Freya had both a primary geographical range and primary tribal worshipers. Though like other gods she went where her people went and the veneration of her spread with them. Just as Holle spread to Pennsylvania with the Pennsylvania Dutch, and Ullr ended up being prominent in Greenland, as settlers relied heavily on hunting to sustain themselves, so too has Freya’s veneration spread far and wide. Yet, to deny that Freya was indeed primarily a Swedish goddess would be simply fraudulent. In Scandinavia archaeological sites and geographic toponyms show that the six gods that were most highly venerated were Thor, Ullr, Skadi, Njordr, Freyr, and Freya. With four of these being Vanir, one being a part Jotun and Aesir, and the other being a full on Giantess. I will say that the Aesir were not especially prominent at least for long before the Church came in.
Many fields bear the name of Freyr and Freya. The emphasis of the two gods of Fertility in Southern Sweden makes sense, as that area would’ve been far more suited to farming, while Njordr and Skadi became more prominent further West in Norway, where mountains and sea would be the most notable part of the landscape. Like Freyr and Freya Skadi and Njord were most definitely not contained there and the cult of the three “Vanir” gods was clearly connected. Though the prevalence of a deity directly corresponds to their relevance to the people.
Just as certain deities like Tyr seem to have had prominence in Denmark but clearly spread further out then there, So too did the cult of these Vanir gods. Though I can’t help but wonder if the “Vanir” is in fact merely a way to distinguish between gods that had been in Sweden longer than other incoming European gods, or if the distinction even really existed. As it doesn’t truly appear anywhere before the writings, with the distinction all but meaningless in German folklore.
Fertility, Magic, and Death
Freyr was the preeminent male deity in Sweden before the cult of Odin, representing Kingship and the fertility of the land. He is often equated to Ing, and was the god of the Yngling tribes. It is certainly possible that Ing and Freyr are different deities, with the title Yngvi-Freyr simply being the name “Lord” tacked on to emphasize the deity. Much like Tyr’s name appears in many kennings such as hrafntyr or Raven god for Odin. To add to this is that the Ingaevones were descended from the god Tuisto, by his son Mannus. Though whether the Yngling’s and the Ingaevones were the same tribal grouping is unknown. While Freyr ruled as king, Freya was far more at home in the spiritual space. While Freyr brought fertility and prosperity, Freya did her part for such things as well and governed the more feminine sphere of magic. As well as women’s work especially in regards to their own fertility, being the vital energy needed to produce offspring and helping through childbirth. A role she would come to share with Frigga later on.
From here one could infer the possibility that Freyr and Freya formed a divine couple where Freyr was the king and Freya was the fertility of the land. Perhaps this was before the genealogies were done to make them siblings, or perhaps in a vein similar to deities such as Zeus and Hera and that whole line, that the two gods simply didn’t think much of it. Genealogies rarely were consistent and varied wildly even among highly “civilized” people like the Greeks, so the possibility that the twin nature of the deities was a later addition as a result of a more standardized form of the myths is not out of the question, as various cults were sewn into the pattern of the Olympian pantheon, perhaps the same was done for the Scandinavians. Freya was also the goddess of sex and pleasure similar to Freyr.
Perhaps this even tied into her role in both fertility and magic, as well as the sacred space. It is not out of the question that female wise women may have served a sexual role as well as an advisory one. Given that Freya is also considered the goddess whom officiates sacrifices it would not be out of the question that Freya was invoked in many cases akin to Janus in Rome, as a sort of by way between the people and the gods. Though this last bit is stretching.
The Völva most certainly tied back into Freya, many mythical ones appear, in many cases knowing things that even Odin doesn’t. With him even seeking some out or bringing gifts to learn information from them. In one case supposedly bringing them back from the dead. It is Freya who teaches Odin Seidr and also Freya who is said to teach many of the gods magic. In this role especially among the Völva Freya is the goddess most tied to these shamanic (Witchcraft) practices. She was likely not the only deity to be so, but at least in Sweden she was likely the most prominent at least for a time. Perhaps much like Odin with Sleipneir Freya too journeyed the realms, perhaps in her feather cloak, flying through them as a falcon or hawk or perhaps atop Hildisvini. There is no way to know, as it is incredibly rare to see Freya in a tale where she is given considerable autonomy for such actions. Though she is seen as fairly capable when she is, in her search for Odr as well as her aiding of Ottar we may find her role in the shamanic practices of both wise women and warriors.
Freya and Freyr governed the fertility of both animals and land. When the church moved in while it took hundreds of years to get the Swedish to even tacitly lay down their heathenism, they eventually found a way and placed the Virgin Mary and likely St. Gertude over her. As the fertility of the fields became the domain of the Virgin Mary, while St. Gertude supposedly took over the death elements of Freya. With St. Gertude having the dead lodge with her the first night. This was likely to split the difference between the Christian afterlife and the heathen halls.
Many women would go to Freya as would many warriors, as Freya was the leader of the Valkyries and had first pick over the slain. Able to choose before Odin could for his Valhalla, her hall Sessrumnir therefore seated both warriors and women. This makes one wonder how old the connection is between Odin and the Valkyries and if it was not a later addition or if these were parallel tales of two separate Shamanic warrior traditions, and their respective gods.
Given that Freyr ruled over Alfheim, it is certainly possible that originally both Freyr and Freya served as lords over afterlives. As elves are often seen as the same as ancestors, or at least there is considerable overlap. With Tomte being ancestral deities made into their current gnome-like form over the course of several centuries. Freya clearly had prominence in female circles, and possibly the Disir were a group specifically associated with her similar to Freyr’s rulership over Alfheim and by extension the elves.
If it wasn’t split by gender which given Freya’s battle and death god aspects seen in her getting first pick of the slain, and leadership of the once bloody Valkyries, seems unlikely. Perhaps similar to Freyr’s ruling of the Elves, Freya had her dominion over dark elves or dwarfs.
This would make some interesting interpretations of her story of receiving her torc, which may have indicated her rulership over the dwarfs. Though this has never really come up otherwise so it seems unlikely this was the case, I will mention it nevertheless as a torc must be given not bought, and the greater its majesty the greater the respect. Given Freya is meant to be irresistible with the brilliant adornment of Brísingamen the torc was clearly of high quality and value.
There were once holidays to the elves with Alfablot and to the Disir with Disablot. It seems certainly possible that these were overseen by two separate deities perhaps Freyr and Freya. Though again this would be oversimplified and if this was once the case it is hard to prove, and stands in the realm of conjecture.
Aesir, Vanir, and Jotun’s
From here I wish to discuss Freya and her interactions between the three main groupings of deities. The Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jotuns. Each sub-section of gods, even if the distinctions are less important than may appear, have a different way of viewing Freya and a different way of utilizing her. The first thing to speak about though is the tale of the Aesir-Vanir War. In the war the Aesir and the Vanir are shown to be at war, though in the case of the version relayed by Saxo Grammaticus it is depicted in a rather jumbled version wherein the Aesir actually fight the giants, and its hard to distinguish exactly where or for whom the Vanir fought. Another version mentioned in the Edda’s is more straightforward, though the detail is scarce. Freyr, Freya, and Njord are sent as hostages in order to keep the peace, and Kvasir is made of the gods spit. In a third version from Snorri Sturlson’s Ynglinga Saga, Odin leads the Aesir against the Vanir and when the two reach a stalemate the two exchange hostages. The Vanir trade Freyr, Freya, Njord, and Kvasir. While the Aesir send Mimir and Hoenir. In all three cases the trade is made, though as mentioned above I do wonder how old this myth is and if it doesn’t merely delineate the cults of old Scandinavia and those that moved in. Regardless, this is the beginning of Freya’s direct dealings with the Aesir, as anything other than a force she fights on the battlefield, with her great magical prowess. At least according to the myths at our disposal. From here we can see the actions of the Aesir towards Freya and also the distinction between them and the Vanir.
From here the Aesir are shown to highly value Freya, though her role is less relevant. She is demoted no longer a queen, one must wonder why such a valuable goddess would be traded, especially given the general disregard she seems to be shown. While she is certainly powerful, and the gods don’t intend to lose her. Most of the time the gods are more than happy to use her as a bargaining chip either to try to trade her for Mjolnir’s return, or as payment for the building of the wall around Asgard. Though each example involves trying to get her back or avoiding giving her away entirely. In the case of the theft of Mjolnir the very mention by Thor that she should go to the giants, offends Freya and she fears for her reputation should she comply, her anger is such that Asgard shakes and her torc splits apart.
Both of the above examples are of the Jotun’s trying to get Freya for themselves, which I will cover shortly. Odin has no problem with sexual relations with Freya, he will also hold any discrepancies over her head such as her receiving her torc from the dwarfs, which is often interpreted as for sexual reasons, though it is possible it initially was more a conflict of interest, if Freya has power over another realm, it undermines the power of Odin and the Aesir. Though again this part is conjecture. Odin uses Loki to get her necklace, but when Freya finds out while she agrees to and fulfills Odin’s terms she takes the necklace from him without any concern for reprisal. She is not weaker or less important than Odin, though her current role has placed her as such.
In another tale involving Loki and the theft of Freya’s torc, Heimdall is the one to retrieve it for her. Allowing for a more generous and helpful side from the Aesir in regards to Freya. Though some have speculated that Heimdall is also a Vanir god, however, this is debated. Freya’s relationship with the Aesir is not without issues, and at times it seems as if she behaves despite them not because of them. Freya’s relationship with her own tribe is far more positive. She is defacto female head of the Vanir. Her magic prowess was instrumental in their side of the war against the Aesir. She has good relations with Freyr and Njord.
Both of whom receive high praise from the other gods as “The Greatest Among us” or “Perfect”. The gods Hoenir and Mimir it is important to note do not live with the Vanir in most of the myths, as mentioned above they were supposedly traded in Ynglinga saga for Freya and her family. So whether this was something that was reversed or the hostages only went one way in other versions is up for debate. In either case Freya’s relationship with the Vanir is one of high respect, and her abilities were highly valued. Which while true with the Aesir, there is an undercurrent of disdain that seems to arise from the myths, though if this was a part of the myths or a result of the Christian writers I could not say. It is notable that the Vanir have never tried to get Freya and her kin back, at least in extant myths. Though the giants are incredibly eager to do so.
The giants try several times to get Freya for themselves. Hrungnir even drunkingly threatens to destory Asgard, take Valhalla back to Jotunheim and make off with the beautiful goddesses Freya and Sif. In another tale Freya, along with the Sun and the Moon, is the prize for a jotun who agrees to build a wall around Asgard. Though he is eventually foiled by Loki, as the gods had no intention of losing Freya or the sun and moon. A third example involves the theft of Mjolnir, with the promise of its return in exchange for Freya. Though this ends in the hilarious tale of Thor dressing as Freya in order to get the hammer back from the jotuns, the original plan was to send Freya to them. Freya is lusted after by the male giants, save Loki who has some level of disdain for her, though she is willing to give him her falcon cloak to rescue Idunn.
In Wagner’s opera’s Freya is stolen, in this tale she is fused with Idunn and as such with her gone the gods begin to age. It is unlikely that Freya and Idunn are identical goddesses, though it saved on cast members for Wagner. Instead it is likely Freya’s beauty and power are things the Aesir wish to keep on their side. As Freya will survive Ragnarok, and her magic and power would likely turn the tide against the giants, even with Thor on their side. As even Thor does not wish to cross Freya. Likely the possession of Freya who while not exactly highly respected by the gods, is well known by her sheer power, with her home being impenetrable save by Loki’s shapeshifting into a fly.
It is clear she is strong enough to be a threat on another side of the war. In regards to female Jotuns though Freya is generally insulted, called all manner of names that mock her for her supposedly promiscuous nature. This possibly ties into her role with the giants, as the males, especially those who do not tend to act feminine at times like Loki, desire her greatly, largely for her beauty. While the females are likely not fond of their men desiring a woman of another tribe so greatly. Between all of them the Vanir clearly treat Freya the best, while the Aesir and Jotun’s tend to prefer to have her on their side and at least in regards to the Jotun are in awe of her beauty.
Freya, Odr, and Brísingamen
Now we come to the tale of a god who is barely mentioned but is incredibly important to Freya, that of her husband Odr. While many will claim Odin is identical to Odr, pointing to etymology and both gods tendencies to wander. I doubt this is the case, rather I think the two became more conjoined over time. Odr is the father of their daughters Hnoss and Gersemi, but he is gone so often that Freya weeps for him.
Her tears turn into red gold if they touch land though if they touch the sea they turn to amber, which is likely due to the Amber in the Baltic sea. A similar origin of “amber tears” is found in the Baltic myth of Jurate. Though the red gold is a bit harder to place, the fact she weeps so hard in her search for Odr to me indicates he is rarely at home. Which considering that Odin and Freya are both typically in Asgard in stories or legends it seems unlikely the two are one and the same.
While Odr has little to no legends himself, Freya is said to search all over for him. This is said to be where many of her names come from such as Mardoll. Gaining them as she goes around searching for him. Some say Odr is a god while others say he is a mortal man. This may indicate that the reason she is separated from her husband is that he spends time on earth and then spends time with her before reincarnating, and she must search among the people for him all over again.
There is another tale that combines both the story of Freya’s torc and the story of Freya’s search for Odr, this tale comes from Bavarian folklore and is called Woud and Freid. While the figures cannot be confirmed to be Freya and Odr. Or Even Odin and Freya. It must be said that the tale echoes the two stories strongly. In it Woud and Freid are two powerful magic users, a king and queen of the land. Woud had a long flowing beard and eyes that flashed with fire that could blind you if you looked into them too long, he wore nothing but a loincloth and a belt to accompany it, the belt kept him the sole ruler. It could not be removed as his shoulders and hips were far too broad. Freid on the other hand wore a sarong, and had beautiful thick hair that covered her and shimmered in the light, when she would bend down to drink from a stream her hair would sparkle and her skin resembled the beauty of pure snow.
From here the tale is fairly recognizable. Freid is terrified of losing Woud and consults dwarfs who practice magic, they agree to make a necklace that will make her irresistible to anyone who wears it, though they demanded her love in exchange. When Woud found out he was furious and left with the necklace, which was full of precious jewels.Freid woke up and was horrified that both Woud and the jewels were gone, she pursued Woud across the world and at night would sit and weep tears of precious pearls. When time had run its course, Woud and Freid found each other. She showed him the pearls she had wept for him, and when he counted them they were the same number as the jewels on the necklace.
Woud took her back for in all his travels he had never discovered a more beautiful woman. This causes me to wonder if the tale involving the necklace was not originally one involving Odr, which given its highly Christianized origins, could in fact be the case. This could’ve been the result of her devotion to another being whether that was her lover Ottar, Freyr, or the dwarfs. Her natural promiscuity led him to leave her, and it will not be until long in the future that she will find her beloved. That’s one possibility at least.
As mentioned Brísingamen is a magnificent Torc, potentially indicating some level of rulership. Some will indicate it is symbolic of the spark of life, or of Freya’s dominion over the land. In essence Freya must be promiscuous if she is the goddess of the fertility of the land, one could argue she must symbolically marry the king. As a result the marriage of Odr and Freya may have been doomed from the start, as her very nature and role requires her to be unfaithful to Odr, though despite this Freya still loves him and wishes for his return.
Those Darn Cats?
Freya also possesses several animals. She possesses the Battle Swine “Hildisvini” a clear reference to her fertility aspects. But what of the cats? Freya is said to have tomcats that pull her chariot. Though the word that was translated to Tomcat “Fress” could mean any number of animals including both Martens/Weasels, and most notably Bears. The cats won out largely due to the association with witches that Freya gained in the middle ages. More than likely in my humble opinion, Freya’s cart or chariot was drawn by bears, this would tie into both her fertility and magic aspects. As the bear is often seen as a wise and magical animal, and would make an interesting tie in to the tale of White Bear King Valemon, often considered a rendition of the myth of the Fertility Goddess and Bear/Wildman god.
The Bear is said to be the teacher of magic, medicine, and is often considered the consort of the earth goddess.
Freya would as such be far more at home with bears, and they would cause Freya to fit a bit of a bear mother archetype and serve as far more obvious steeds fit to pull a cart. The cat debate won out long ago, but not because of evidence, but due instead to their association with witches. As such an entire possible angle with which to look at Freya faded and an attempt to trace Freya to cats became the normal line of thought. With the cats appearing in carnival, and a myriad of artistic depictions throughout the years. While it gave a convenient origin for the witches cat, it holds neither more nor less weight than that of the bear or even the weasel. As the word “Fress” translates to Snarler, which could be any number of northern animals. The Weasel argument gains ground in some ways however, as in Westphalia the Weasel was directly tied into Freya.
This may be due to its burrows connecting it to the other world, or because it is such a fierce and swift predator, it also knows how to access places that other animals might not due to its lithe nature. In an odd way it is a very feminine animal, and animals in the weasel family have been common fur adornments for women for quite a while, though whether this is connected remains to be seen.
Though to return to the cats, there is a more modern folktale from Russia that mentions their origin. It involves Thor and the magical cat of Russian folklore Bayun. Thor was fishing when he was lulled to sleep by a beautiful song. He awoke and Bayun was singing to his kittens, Bayun asked for his help as Bayun did not want to take care of the kittens, whose mother had left them. Thor decided to give them to Freya and they grew into the cats that pull Freya’s chariot. While this is likely a newer tale it is still a folk tale that for anybody who favors the cat option can grab a hold of as the origin of Freya’s cats. The cats are unnamed, though they received the names of Bygul and Trjegul from a modern author.
The cats are also described as gray and blue by many modern heathens, possibly alluding to the Norwegian Forest Cat or Lynx. The fact that Tomcat is not a definitive translation does not disprove Freya having cats, it merely makes it multiple choice, the middle ages was more than happy to give Freya swans or geese similar to other love goddesses and following a trend of Swan and Goose Goddesses present in the folklore. So in the end like many things about Freya, her animals are up for debate.
Lastly I think it pertinent to bring up the place that Freya rules and her hall. Freya lives in Folkvangr a meadow, that is sometimes translated as “Field of the Host” or “Army Field” though it also translated as “People-field” within it is the hall of Sessrumnir which is sometimes described as a ship. Leading some to connect Freya to the Isis of Suebi and to the stone ships of Europe. Though what I think is very noticeable is that Freya receives not only half of the noble dead from the battlefield, taking precedence over Odin. But is also said to receive plenty of women. Perhaps nobility or perhaps she is the keeper of the female ancestors for mothers night or Disablot. Who can say?
The idea that Folkvangr translates to “People-field” draws comparisons to the various “Meadow of the ancestors” legends in Europe and makes me wonder how much Freya may tie into the Norse version. Differing from Hel. As many many halls and gods have dominion over different subsections of dead, in this example of whom in particular went to Freya I am looking at her in a more isolated fashion. More akin to the time when she was less caught up in other deities such as Odin and Hel.
In terms of the possibility that Sessrumnir is a ship it keeps to the pattern of the Vanir gods being tied into the ocean. As Njord is tied directly into sailing and trade and lives by the sea. While Freyr possesses the massive yet compact ship Skidbladnir, which is the best of ships and can be folded into a small piece of cloth to fit into a pocket. Possibly ships were seen as a way to the afterlife similar to the dutch story involving Donnar and the World Snake, where Donnar after defeating the snake is led away on a ship via the sea god.This may be why the Stone Ship burial custom existed, and it merely fell out of favor when the lore was written down. As the other realms are often across the sea in Scandinavian folklore such as in the tale “The Three Princesses of Whiteland” Save to say Freya was not a bit player in the afterlife any more than any other god whose hall was frequented whether Valhalla with Odin or any of the other halls and gods.
I started this discussion of Freya with the intent to discuss her myths, traditions, and aspects especially in regards to her relegation to either Great and near all encompassing goddess or minor deity and aspect. Freya was by no means minor, though she did not merely split into other goddesses like Frigga or Gefjun, nor do I believe she was Gullveig as many will try to claim. She need not be Frikka or the Frea of the Lombards. She is what she has always been, the goddess of Sweden, with her range spreading to Denmark, and Norway. In the modern day Freya’s cult has greatly expanded finding fans in England, Southern Germany, and beyond even out to America. The veneration of a god is not stagnant and the heart of a gods cult is not the only place they may call home. Holle is greatly at home in Germany, but also Holland, and even Pennsylvania where she has her own mountain to call her throne. Freya has done the same. She was carried over with the Vinland settlers, and with the Scandinavian immigrants to America. She is more than enough in and of herself, a powerful and lovely goddess, who is not afraid to be a bit of a lustful and promiscuous being, while also holding a deep devotion to her beloved and missing Odr. In the years to come I’m sure much more will be discovered of this goddess, though it is not by fusing her with Frigga or with Gullveig or any other goddess or god that we find more of her, it is in Freya herself that the key to her tales comes through. I’ve heard she likes strawberries, and well everything that goes with that.
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