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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Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose EDDA: Norse Mythology. Trans. Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.
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Odhinssen, Northvegr and A. “Rydberg’s Teutonic Mythology Part 5: THE LATER FORTUNES OF THE VOLUND SWORD.” Northvegr – Rydberg’s Teutonic Mythology. Web. 14 Aug. 2021.
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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.
Näsström, Britt-Mari. Freyja: The Great Goddess of the North. Harwich Port, Mas: Clock & Rose, 2003. Print.
Crawford, Jackson, trans. The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2015. Print.
Byock, Jesse L. The Prose Edda. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.
Sturluson, Snorri, Erling Monsen, and A. H. Smith. Heimskringla, or The Lives of the Norse Kings. New York: Academic, 1990. Print.
Dashu, Max. Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100. Richmond, CA: Velona, 2016. Print.
Lecouteux, Claude. Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic. Inner Traditions Bear And Comp, 2016. Print.
There was a once a soldier who conducted himself with such honor and bravery that he was always the foremost when bullets rained. As long as the war lasted he lived well and knew merriment but eventually, a peace was made. the soldier was dismissed from service and his captain said he might go where he liked. His parents were dead, so he went to his elder brothers and begged for them to allow him into their home. The brothers however saw no use for him he could not farm nor craft and a life of war had made him fierce and dangerous in their eyes. “What use do we have for you?” The brothers would ask “go and make your own way in the world”. He had nothing but his gun, which he strapped over his shoulder and went forth to the world and then through the forest. Where he came upon a circle of trees surrounding a wide heath.
He sat down in sorrow “I have no money nor have I learnt a trade but for fighting, as we are at peace they now see no need for me. It seems I am destined to starve” Just then he heard a rustling and a growl and as he looked around, before him appeared a horned man in a green coat. “I see you are in need and I am able to help”. The soldier was no fool he knew before him stood The Eternal Hunter, master of the forests and the hunt. “Gold and riches thou shalt receive as much as thou wilt ever need, but first I must know that you are fearless. That I not bestow my treasures in vain upon a coward but a worthy warrior”.
“For a warrior cannot allow himself to be consumed with fear”. The Eternal Hunter gestured behind the soldier “Look behind thee” The soldier turned to look around him and saw a large bear, which came growling towards him. The soldier was not afraid in the slightest “I will tickle thy nose and soon you shall learn to loath thy love of growling” The soldier sprung forth his gun seemed to fall behind the years into a blade and he and the bear fought, a short fight and decisive blow to the muzzle and the bear fell to the ground never to stir again. “I see that you have passed the first part of the trial young soldier” The Eternal Hunter stood beside the young soldier. “Are you capable of fulfilling the remaining trials?” The Eternal hunter asked. “If I am able and do not falter, if it does not corrupt me nor deny me a seat at my ancestors table” said the soldier. “Thou wilt decide that for thyself” said the hunter. “For seven years you shall not shave nor cut one hair from your body, you shall not comb your hair nor wash any part of your body, and your nails you shall not trim” The Hunter then took his green coat off and exchanged it for the soldiers. “and this shall be your coat if ever you are in need of money look to the pockets and you shall find all that you need or desire”. The Hunter than reached to the bear and took its skin placing it over the soldier. “You shall wear this bearskin as a mark of your trial, you shall always carry it it will be thine cloak and thy bed and no other bed shalt thou sleepest or lieth within, and from henceforth you shall be known as bearskin”.
“If you survive those seven years you shall have passed and will live in wealth and renown but die and you will fail and fade away” Bearskin agreed to his terms and the Eternal Hunter vanished before his eyes.
With the coat and bearskin the soldier went forth into the world enjoying himself. During the first year his appearance passed for human, but during the second he began to look like a monster, His hair had grown to cover nearly all of his face and body, his hair and beard had matted and his nails had grown into claws, the parts of him not covered with hair were so caked in dirt that if someone has sown cress on him it would have come up. Those who saw him ran away calling him bear or monster, but everywhere he went he shared his riches to the poor and needy of his people.
Hoping that he may survive the seven years and lead a better life amongst his people. In the fourth year he came upon an inn where the landlord refused to allow him to stay. Bearskin reached into his pockets and pulled out a handful of ducats and the landlord agreed to allow him to stay in the outhouse. Bearskin however was obliged to promise to not let himself be seen, lest he give the inn a bad name.
As bearskin sat alone in the evening and wishing from the bottom of his heart that the seven years were over he heard a loud lamenting and sobbing from a nearby room. Bearskin had compassion in his heart and went to open the door to the room, and saw an old man bitterly weeping and wring his hands. Bearskin went nearer but the man in fear tried to escape until Bearskin spoke and the man calmed down realizing Bearskin was human. The man allowed Bearskin to prevail him and eventually told him what was the cause of such grief. He had lost everything, his property had dwindled away and he and his daughters would likely starve he did not even have the money to pay the innkeeper and would likely be tossed into prison. “If that is the cause of your trouble I have plenty of money” Bearskin had the innkeeper come thither, and paid him in gold and put a purse of gold into the poor mans pocket, when the man saw himself set free from his troubles he did not know how he could possibly be grateful enough to the man before him.
“Come with me” the man said to Bearskin “My daughters are all miracles of beauty, choose one of them for thyself as a wife. When they hear what thou hast done for me, they will not refuse thee. Thou dost indeed look like a beast, but she will soon put thee to rights as a man again” This pleased Bearskin and he went with the man to his home. When the eldest daughter saw him she was so terrified that she ran away screaming. The second stood still and looked him from head to toe, but then said with scorn “How can I accept a husband who no longer has human form? The shaven bear who once was here and passed himself off as a man was far more pleasing, it wore fine Hussar clothes and white gloves. If he were but ugly I may have grown used to him”. The youngest however spoke thusly “Dear father, he must be a good man to have given aid in your time of troubles, so if you have promised your daughters hand for doing so, your oath must be kept.”
Twas a pity that Bearskin’s face was too coated in hair and dirt, for if not they might have seen how much joy he felt when he heard these words. He took a ring and broke it in half, he gave her one half and he kept the other. His piece held her name and hers held his. He begged her to keep her piece safe and take care, then he took his leave and said “I must continue to wander for three more years, if I do not return then, thou art free, for I shall have died, may my strength not fail me in this trial”.
The sorrowful betrothed bride dressed herself in mourning clothes, and when she thought of the bear of a bridegrrom she was promised too, her eyes filled with tears. Nothing but contempt and mockery came from her elder sisters. “Take care” would say the eldest “If thou givest him thy hand he may sink his claws into it” “Beware!” said the second “Bears love sweet things and if you find his fancy he may will gobble you up”. “Thou must always does as he fancies” the eldest would began again “or else he will growl and roar” the second one would giggle and say “At least the wedding will be merry for bears are fine dancers” The bride remained silent and did not let their mocking vex her. Bearskin however traveled around the lands from one place to another, doing good for his people where he was able, giving gold generously to the poor to ease their sorrows.
At length as the last day dawned of his seven year trial, he went once more to the circle of the trees and seated himself in the heath. Soon the winds whistled and before him appeared the Eternal Hunter who still held Bearskin’s coat he threw it to him, an impressed yet perturbed smirk across his face. “We have not reached that far yet” said Bearskin “thou must first wash and groom me”
The Eternal Hunter obliged and waters washed the dirt from Bearskin’s skin and his hair was trimmed and combed The Hunter even made sure his nails were cut back. Bearskin now stood before the Eternal Hunter a strong built brave warrior his face had a well kept and respectable beard and he was far handsomer than he had been before the trial. The Eternal Hunter vanished once more, Bearskin was overjoyed, his heavy heart was far lighter he went into town and the people found him to seem a man of great renown and honor he purchased the finest velvet coat he could find and seated himself in a carriage drawn by four white horses, and drove to his bride’s house. No one recognized him and the man he had helped took him for a distinguished general, and led him into a room where his daughters sat. He was forced to sit in between the two eldest daughters. They helped Bearskin to wine and gave him the best pieces of meat, and thought that in all the world never had they seen a more handsome man. His bride however sat in a black dress never raising her eyes, nor did she speak a word.
At some point Bearskin turned the conversation to marrying one of his daughters the eldest daughters jumped up and ran to their bedrooms and put on splendid dresses for they each assumed they were the chosen bride. Bearskin as soon as he was alone with his bride, brought out his half of the ring and placed it in a wine glass, offered it to her, the bride took the wine, and when she had half finished it she found his half of the ring at the bottom of the glass, her heart began to beat. She took the second half from a ribbon around her neck. They joined the halves and when she saw they fit together perfectly Bearskin spoke “I am thy bridegroom, whom thou saw in my bearskin, but through trials and tribulations I have regained human form and once more become clean” He went up to her embracing her and tenderly kissing her.
In the meantime the two sisters had returned and upon finding that the youngest was the chosen bride and that the handsome man was Bearskin they ran out through the woods full of anger and rage. They heard the baying of the hunter’s hounds and the hunt began to descend they ran until one fell though the trees and the other threw herself into a well to escape the Eternal Hunter’s hunt. For the hunt had found its quarry.
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.
The God The Eternal Hunter also known as Ewicher Yeeger is one of many possible gods who could fit this role. However, he fit the best combining the symbolism with the role. Other deities could also fulfill the role.
2. It’s rather blatant but this is a clear folk tale featuring a Berserker trial
America is a comparatively young country when compared to the cultures of Europe such as England, Rome, Sweden, and beyond. Yet we are not lacking in our own folklore, spirits, heroes and even demigods. Among these mythic figures perhaps it may surprise those outside of the coasts of Lady Liberty’s lands. Yet here it not only makes sense but brings a knowing smile to my face when I say in all seriousness that the first two gods of America are a Lumberjack and a Groundhog. This is the Story of The Legendary Lumberjack the one and only Paul Bunyan.
The most well known and beloved of the American demigods. This folk hero and giant of the Northwoods, had stories told about him for the better part of the last 200 years. His height differed depending on who you asked from seven feet to seven ax handles high (21 feet approx) to well over 50 ax handles high making him as tall if not taller then the trees he felled. Paul’s stories seem to have likely originated in the North-Midwestern great lakes region (Michigan and Wisconsin). Arising out of the folk culture of the American lumberman AKA Lumberjacks or just Jacks. He is often thought of as the American Thor or Heracles. Being a folk hero who was seen as both strong and clever as well as a role model for young men. While undoubtedly clever Paul was often thought of as illiterate ordering supplies for his camp via pictures he carved or drew. Many of Bunyan’s tales tell of setbacks he had to solve or beasts he had to defeat. Most notably those of the Sidehill gouger (a sort of giant cat with feet that are shorter on one end so it can go around the mountain easier), the Hodag (The most feared Northwoods beast said to be the spirits of abandoned or lost oxen), or the terrifying 6 foot tall Bumblebee-Mosquitoes.
The latter of which were born of mosquitoes that were so big that they flew off with their prey, in an attempt to stop them from killing his crew Bunyan sent one of his men to get 6 feet tall bumblebees from Texas. The two species warred for awhile but upon finding peace, mated and produced enormous predatory insects able to prey on grown men with a stinger in the back and a large needle to absorb the blood of their victims in the front. He eventually defeated these beasts though smaller brethren continue to swarm the Northwoods. Another epic fight was that in which Bunyan fought the whistling river. A sentient river that would climb out of its banks and whistle loudly alerting all the lumber camps in North America when quitting time was and when it was time to wake up. However after it decided to play a prank on Paul squirting water in his face that littered his beard with plants, fish, and debris from its banks. Paul swore revenge and eventually figured out how to defeat it. Heading north with Babe he captured a blizzard (Creating icebergs for fun in the process) and had it forged into chains that could freeze the whistling river and then pulled the river straight. He eventually sliced it up and stored it for later use.
Bunyan has many animals who are often there to aid him. Having a massive herd of oxen (Many of which likely became Hodags). Among his Oxen some notable examples include Benny the oxen, Lucy a giant cow who produced the sweetest milk and butter for the men who worked in Bunyan’s camps. But the most famous of Paul’s oxen was Babe the big blue ox. Babe was originally unnamed but received the title of Babe after the stories had been published.
He varied in height usually proportional to Bunyan. Being slightly over-sized to the size of Bunyan, to being so large that when an eagle flew from one of his horns to the other it went bald from stress, creating the Bald eagle in the process.
Another notable animal Paul had was his hunting dog. While its origins and breed and even name often differ it is notable for being accidentally sawed in half then reattached improperly resulting in its bottom half being on top of it. So that it would run on two legs then flip upside down so as to continue running. Oddly this made it an even better hunting dog. More nimble and energetic.
Paul was also a former of a landmarks. Bunyan is credited with creating many bays, lakes, and landmarks in America such as Pikes Peaks, The Mississippi River, and even the great lakes at times. Some stories even tell of him being in love with and for a time living and being married to a spirit of the lakes (The lady of the lake). Though others have him perpetually single avoiding domestic bliss in favor of the wild woods and spending his time in mythic brothels and taverns. By building Pikes peak he ties into other American folklore such as Pike’s peak being the throne of Uncle Sam (a propaganda formed spirit of America who replaced the beautiful Columbia who still adorns the Capitol building), therefore he formed the seat where the personification of the USA keeps watch in defense of its people. There are other famous stories of Paul Bunyan I shall focus on the main ones so as to avoid making this too overly long.
The first is that of the Round River Camp, a logging camp Paul ran in which the river was a closed circle. Many motifs and stories have been written about this. Including that Paul upon accidentally sending his logs down the river before realizing its shape made the best of it by eventually building a method of sawing them to the proper size within the river eventually filling it up with sawdust. Another has a borderline rip van winkle story happen in which Paul leaves his men to finish the work on the round river only to return later to his men still trying to get the now fishing pole sized logs through the river. The men old and grey haired with thick, long, unkempt beards still trying to get the logs out of the river as per Paul’s orders. Another is the story of the Pyramid forty, forty acres on a pyramid shaped land surrounded by the Big Onion River. This pyramid was also the home of the Sidehill gouger as well as birds that laid square eggs so they would not fall and drown in the big onion river. Here the top of the pyramid 40 could only be seen after three weeks of climbing and by the time the top was logged the bottom had already had a new crop of trees at the bottom. Another story tells of how Paul Bunyan is responsible for the Dakotas being prairie having logged it clean long ago.
Bunyan was also aided by many loyal men such as Sourdough Sam and Joe Muffraw his camp cooks, the latter famous for his sourdough (that once blew up taking an arm and/or a leg from him). The other for his magnificent cooking who to feed Paul and his large crew of lumberjacks would have two or more cookies tie a piece of pork fat, bacon, or whole hams to their feet and have them skate around the oversized griddle or in some cases a converted frozen lake to grease the pan for pancakes. Another notable member is Ole the blacksmith “The big swede” who declared he had no religion and even stuck the camp evangelist up his forge chimney having the zealot pop out the top looking more devil then man. Ole was the only one able to properly shoe Babe, with the weight of the shoes pushing him down into solid rock. Another notable member was Brimstone Bill, who often took care of the camp livestock such as Babe. Bill was often thought to have invented most modern cuss words and when he died he was buried in Hawaii by a distraught Paul, but the firey swears stored in bill turned the mountain he was buried in, into a volcano. The final notable member of Paul’s crew was Johnny Inkslinger. In many ways the right hand man to Paul who kept the books, managed salaries, and did all the office Work Paul didn’t have time or the talent for, sometimes considered a giant himself and the inventor of figures for record keeping.
Other stories tell of Pauls prowess for hunting and other Northwoods activities. A story tells of Paul’s ingenuity when he invents a shotgun so good that he can shoot a bird down from so high up that by the time it hits the ground it has spoiled. To avoid this Paul began salting his shot to preserve the meat. Paul also at one point had his camps whole supply of beans and/or Peas (Depending on the version) fall into the lake, after which he ordered a part of the lake dammed off and the edges of the lake were heated to the point of boiling the lake creating enough bean or pea soup to feed the whole camp for months. Bunyan often fought creatures and beasts such as the ones spoken of above. Yet more exist and another notable one is that during the winter of the blue snow (A mythic trope in american folklore of a winter so cold the snow was blue and flames froze and words froze in the air before thawing in a confusing and cuss filled jumble of shouts). The Pacific Ocean froze and snow snakes up to and above 20 feet long crossed over from Siberia and raided and hunted among the camp. However they eventually froze as well and Paul used them for skids for the logs. In another year there was no winter and Paul crossing with his Oxen pulled snow over from Asia across the still frozen Pacific to be able to get the logs down to the mill.
When depicted in his colossus size Paul has an unkempt beard that he grows until it interferes with his work combing it with pine trees. When he needs it trimmed a massive amount of shaving cream is applied and his beards hairs are felled like pine trees. When he was very young one theory as to why Paul is so big is that a full moon shone on him when he was in the cradle (a similar story is often attributed to Babe) which had some sort of magic blessing (perhaps from the man in the moon or Mani). His size grew so fast his parents would use the lake to rock the infant Paul to sleep, but when angered he rocked so much that the lake overflowed creating swamps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
He is also said to have either gotten babe as a child or have found him frozen solid creating his blue color (other reasons for his color is either that Babe ate a certain kind of blue flower or berry, or that the winter of the blue snow turned his coat blue).
Paul was also not a fan of fire, this is possibly due to Paul’s friend in one of the more down to earth stories having his whole town nearly burned to the ground. Resulting in Paul defending the forest against fires and being extremely paranoid about fires that his crew made. Paul’s finale of sorts differs depending on who you ask and which story you follow.
Some say he retired to a lakeside house (Perhaps to the women of the lake he loved so dear), perhaps upon jumping and creating a bay he saw Venus was full of trees and jumped so far he landed there to begin logging. Another says he died of unknown causes and the grief killed Babe. Others say he went north with Babe where the two’s roughhousing created the Northern Lights.
Paul Bunyan is many things in the North of the continent. He is a legendary hero for many. A tall tale born of whoppers and jokes for many around a campfire. A virile and rugged man who is a role model for the more wild part of us. He has been depicted as a bumbling oaf, a strong man, a wildman veering towards a neanderthal like visage, a giant of the woods, a continent shifting demigod, a caring husband, and a devoted leader. The Yankees, French-canadians and various Europeans who came through his camp were forged into Americans under his tutelage. As the country expanded and headed west so did Paul, becoming the spirit of Manifest Destiny alongside Columbia. His continent shifting, tree felling, mountain making, and lake filling actions seem to make him almost a personification of the Laurentide ice sheet that once covered North America and built much of the landscape and topography we now know today and also filled in the Bering land bridge creating the connection between Eurasia and America. He has had many many statues and claims of his birthplace come about. With many of his said statues once proudly displayed throughout the Northern USA disappear under government regulations and the death of small towns. As his legend is torn down and infantilized to sell films and toys. However he still lives in his people man or giant he is an American hero, who has been beloved and honored for over a century.
Botkin, Benjamin Albert, and Carl Sandburg. A Treasury of American Folklore: Stories, Ballads, and Traditions of the People. Globe Pequot, 2016.
Stott, John C. Paul Bunyan in Michigan: Yooper Logging, Lore and Legends. History Press, 2015.
Edmonds, Michael. Out of the Northwoods: the Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, With More Than 100 Logging Camp Tales. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2014.
One of the most widely known goddesses of West Germanic myth is that of “Earth”, her name is given to one of the four elements of Western tradition, it is also the name of the planet we walk on, yet for having such a ubiquitous name this goddess is often relegated to the side. Existing less as her own entity and more as a nickname for the Greek Goddess Gaia, at least within the popular consciousness. But just as the days of the week did not arise out of a vacuum so too the name of “Earth” has its own roots in the mythology of the West Germanics and its interplay over the years with other mythologies and the conquering culture of the Roman Church. So who is Earth? What if anything can we glean from this near forgotten but ever present deity?
The Witch Holda and Frau Perchta
For starters we must begin by stating a common misunderstanding in regards to the ethnic gods and traditions of the various Germanic tribes. The idea that they were all the same. While it is certainly true that many gods had substantial size to their cults, spreading across numerous tribes largely indifferent to modern borders. So the deities of Iceland and the deities of say the Alps or the Anglo-Saxon’s while they may possess some overlap any concept of a one-for-one transference can be discarded forthright. As it stands there are within the Germanic tribes numerous potential and possibly simultaneous “Earth Mother” goddesses including but not limited to: Holda, Nerthus, Herodias, Perchta, Erde, and Hertha. Each one has potential links to each other, but also many differences as well.
I will begin by discarding Holda as an option. As the origin of the word “Earth” spawning from Holda or even Holle is extremely unlikely. Holda’s status as a “Mother Earth” goddess candidate can largely be attributed not to her being an outright Earth goddess in her lore, but in the sheer breadth and volume of her stories. Easily surpassing gods such as Odin or Tyr, who are much more well known. As a result of the variance in her tales Holda could be argued as a goddess of the Earth, but so can her status as a goddess of love, or fertility, or apples, or childbirth, or summer, or winter, or weather, or wealth, and on and on. While the attractive idea is to mark her as all of them, it is more complex than that. The concept of “God of” is already a rather stripped bare idea, not befitting a goddess with such extensive lore.
The case for Holda as Mother Earth has more to do with another goddess, who has been notoriously conflated with related goddesses, Frigg. This conundrum begins with the goddess Frigg being equated to Jord. Jord is still the word used for “earth” in Icelandic. The conflation of Frigg to Jord is fairly common place with many attempting to shoehorn her into the role to fit a preconceived idea of how the gods should be related. There is nothing to indicate the two are identical other than wishful thinking of those who desire a clear cut example of the Sky Father-Earth Mother theme. Jord is not the only goddess that Frigg has been equated to for the purpose of supporting such a theory, other goddesses have suffered the same fate. Yet it is important I bring up the Jord-Frigg comparison as it allows me to explain why Holda is even a consideration for the “Mother Earth” role beyond her massive lore.
A common misconception in Germanic circles is that Frigg and Holda are identical goddesses who have drastically transmogrified over time. Though this is a groundless claim and is due to a misinterpretation of an old church text mentioning Strigam-Holda or “Witch Holda” as Friga-Holda. Due to the “S” and “F” looking similar in older writings. In other words the “Mother Earth” conception of Holda is a result of cherry picking her lore and a misread passage from a church text. There is nothing directly tying her to being the goddess of or personification of the Earth. The sheer volume of Holda’s stories leads to a myriad of interpretations, while she is clearly tied to the land. She is not herself the land. There is even a tale where Holda is given her task by the goddess Hertha. To watch over her “steading” as it were. This by no means diminishes the importance of Holda, but as the goddess of the Earth, such a role is a result of numerous conflations and especially as we are searching for the origin of “Earth” I do believe Holda can be set aside as such a figure.
In regards to Perchta, there is plenty I could bring up, but the main reason I will remove her as “Earth” despite her name fitting far better than Holda’s, is that she is a Celtic goddess. Who just so happens to largely reside in what is now a Germanic territory. Her veneration and name are often thought to originate from the Celtic tribes that inhabited the Alps, and as such calling her an Alpine goddess rather than a Germanic or Celtic goddess would be far more apt.
Then there is the fact that Perchta is found too far South to be the goddess who gave the English language the name for planet Earth. While Perchta is often conflated with Holda, this has no bearing on her status as “Earth” so Perchta too can be set aside as the figure we are looking for. Though I will remark on her having considerable fertility and agricultural aspects to her lore, which makes her an attractive prospect for a similar role in her mountain range.
Witch Goddess Herodias and Fertility Goddess Erda
Now with Perchta and Holda set to the side we can now turn our attention to the other goddesses mentioned above: Herodias, Erda, Hertha, and Nerthus. To begin with I should explain where each of these goddesses can be found. All four of them are present to some degree in West Germanic sources. With Nerthus coming from Tacitus’ Germania, Hertha from German Folklore, Erda from the Saxon Aecerbot-Ritual, while Herodias was largely a Christianized form of a goddess found in Church texts. Similar to the goddesses mentioned above these four goddesses are often made to be identical. Though unlike the two above this is a more well founded argument at least for some than is made for Perchta and Holda. However, as always I will warn against fusing gods firmly, and instead take a look at each one individually beginning with Herodias.
Herodias is most likely not this goddesses name. Which is the first point to bring up in regards to this goddess. In truth the exact name of this supposed leader of the Witches in medieval Europe is unknown. Given her range the most likely goddess is Hera, and not the one you are thinking of. Hera was a powerful Greek goddess, this is true. However, Hera was also the name given for a goddess in Germany. Whether this was a result of covering up a German goddess with a Greek name, or if it is more akin to how there are two separate gods named Aker one a goat god of magic and fertility among the basque and one an Egyptian Earth god. Who is to say? There are only so many letters in the Latin alphabet so some similarities are inevitable, even amongst unrelated gods.
The German goddess equated to and perhaps spelled the same as “Hera” is mentioned in Gobelin Persona’s text Cosmidromius he describes Hera as flying through the air with wings and bells. She is also worshiped in the same area as Irmin, a Saxon god. Persona also mentions that she is known as Frau Here, and brings abundance as she flies across the sky. This is akin to another German goddess Frau Harke/Herke and may indicate a connection between the two. Harke is depicted as a Cthonic goddess who flies on the Wild Hunt or in the form of a Dove and gives fertility to the land. More information on all figures would be needed to fully suss out the connection or lack thereof for Harke and Hera. Though one key difference I can mention here is that Hera has been depicted as riding a goose in Gaulish art while Harke is more associated with badgers, oxen, and doves. The fact that Hera is depicted on Gaulish art indicates a possible Gallo-Germanic goddess.
Though the main issue with Herodias is that her name is merely used to villify a goddess beneath. Herodias being a biblical figure who caused the death of St. John the Baptist, as such the continuation of the interpretation of Northern gods as Roman or Christian figures continued. Of all the goddesses mentioned here Herodias could be argued as the most liquid as she is so undefined to begin with.
Aside from her role in bringing abundance and as a Witch goddess. Other possible goddesses that Herodias was covering up include but are not limited to Hero, Ero, Erada, Hretha, Erda and Hertha. The latter two are who we shall discuss next. Beginning with the goddess Erda.
As mentioned above Erda is seen in the Aecerbot Ritual, a Christian/Pagan agricultural remedy. Showing the survival of pagan customs that persisted under the church. In which Erda is also at times written as Erce or Ertha depending on who translates it. It is as follows:
Erce, Erce, Erce, earth's mother,May the all-ruler grant you, the eternal lord,fields growing and flourishing,propagating and strengthening,tall shafts, bright crops,and broad barley crops,and white wheat crops,and all earth's crops.May the eternal lord grant him,and his holy ones, who are in heaven,that his produce be guarded against any enemies whatsoever,and that it be safe against any harm at all,from poisons [lyblaca] sown around the land.Now I bid the ruler, who shaped this world,that there be no speaking-woman [cwidol wif] nor artful man [craeftig man]that can overturn these words thus spoken.
The naming of Erce/Erda as Earth’s Mother rather than “Mother Earth” calls to mind the god Tuisto, the supposed divine progenitor of the Germanic peoples. The grandfather of the aforementioned Irmin. As mentioned before the possibility that Erda is Herodias has been discussed as well as the possible links to the figure of Frau Here. The fact that Frau Here’s or Hera’s veneration was done in the same region of Irmin lends itself to the possibility that somehow the two are connected. Again Erda is tied into fertility, and aside from the above ritual and other similar traditions Erda is not a commonly occurring deity. Which again marks her as a rather ill defined figure. Which brings me to the goddess Hertha and the final goddess we shall discuss. That of Nerthus.
Hertha and The Nerthus Tribes
In the case of Hertha it is impossible to discuss her without also discussing Nerthus. The two are joined at the hip and are the most likely goddesses to in fact be one and the same. Similar to many old texts, the translations and transcribing of Germania over time has led there to be considerable controversy over what the name of “Nerthus” actually was, that’s before the fact that Nerthus is a latinized name to begin with is factored in. Many possible translations have been put forth including: Nerthus, Nerthum, Herthum, Ertham, and many others. So Nerthus as a defined figure is already on shaky ground and is in fact a fairly recent development as the popular name for the goddess venerated by the Nerthus Tribes in Germania. With Hertha in fact once being the preferred name, this changed after the name Nerthus was pushed heavily by Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology. Finding an extremely tenuous link to Njordr in the eddas. However, since then Nerthus has been the popular translation for the goddess mentioned in Germania. Before Grimm’s publishing of his Teutonic Mythology Hertha had many folk tales, poems, and sacred sites attributed to her.
Like Herodias and Erda, Hertha is also a Saxon goddess. As among the tribes named in the Germania “The Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suardones and Nuitones” the Saxons as well as other components of the modern English are often seen as present. The Eudoses are often seen as related to the Jutes, The Anglii are the Angles (The Anglo part of Anglo-Saxon), and the Aviones are often seen as a former name or Roman name for the Saxon tribes. While the first and last of these can be seen as a bit of a stretch the Angles are much more blatant in their ties. So one if not three components of the modern English ethnicity are part of the worshipers of Nerthus/Hertha. So here as with Erda we find a possible link to “Earth”. Linguistically it would seem a done deal, but before this is done the lore and legends of these figures deserve their time in the sun. Because while the question of where “Earth” the word came from may be within our grasp, it is not only the “where” but the “who” I am after. So who is Hertha? Who is Nerthus? And do they connect as well to Erda and Herodias as one might presume?
Hertha, Witch Goddess
Hertha and Nerthus both suffer from a similar problem in the form of a “Chicken or the egg” situation. Did they exist as Hertha/Nerthus in the folklore before Germania was widespread? Or did they arise in response to the revelation of such a goddess? With the name entering the folklore and perhaps even subsuming deities such as Erda or Frau Here. It is impossible to know for sure. Yet Hertha most assuredly has a presence in the folklore and myths of the West Germanic’s. There is one notable example of the folklore being turned more towards tourism than in any honest tradition. That is the case of Hertha’s Castle and Hertha’s Lake on the island of Rugen. Which is generally considered to be the location of Hertha’s Sacred grove or “Temple” mentioned in Germania. It is highly unlikely the castle was originally associated with Hertha and was most likely renamed as a means to draw people to the island, same with the lake. Yet this does not stop the stories that arise from it, many of which take inspiration from the description in Germania. While the stories are most likely not ancient in origin, they are rather fitting and if nothing else show the way people viewed Hertha. There is also the possibility that they are in some way tied to older stories of Hertha or a related goddess.
Hertha Castle is said to have once had an idol within it known by the name of Hertha and she was considered “Mother Earth”, not far from the castle surrounded by Beech trees is a dark lake known as Hertha Lake.
Where especially when the moon is bright, a beautiful woman is said to walk out into the forest and bathe herself in the lake. Attended to by many maidens, it is said that any who see this will be drawn into the lake where they will surely drown. It is also said to be unwise for anyone to bring a boat to the lake. As someone once left a boat there overnight and found it the next day placed in a beech tree, a spiteful voice called out “My brother Nickel and I did it!”. Nickel might be a reference to a Germanic water spirit (Nixie/Nikker/Nykur) or it may simply be the name of a water spirit who did not like having a boat in its lake.
Aside from the stories surrounding Hertha Castle and Hertha Lake there are other tales involving Hertha. In one tale she is credited with giving Holle her steading, effectively gifting a goddess her high status. Though this is a more modern tale, its inspirations are far older. In others Hertha travels around at harvest time in her cattle drawn wagon and aids her people. In one such story creating a healing wellspring where Binz and Prora meet. Which healed the sick in a camp of outcasts. In some tales Hertha shares in Herodias’ role as a Witch goddess. Leading the Wild Hunt and riding a stag. The stag wears a crown of hops and Hertha uses a stalk of Valerian as a riding crop. Both aid in sleep, and the point between waking and asleep was said to be the sweet point where “Witches” would go to their sabbaths or have night battles with more malicious spirits, defending their people and land with the aid of a powerful goddess. Hertha is by no means the only god or even goddess to lead the wild hunt, yet it shows that like the other hunters and huntresses of the Furious Host her tales have persisted. Though so have Nerthus’ and in her tales the hand of Jacob Grimm can be seen to have played a part in her revival.
Nerthus and Fro
It is hard to discuss Nerthus without bringing up Germania. As that is the core testament to her existence and long standing veneration. While now her name is generally the favored translation, especially as it allows people their desired connection to Njordr and by extension the Icelandic eddas, as explained above it is by no means the only possible name. There is even some level of discussion that Germania itself is a forgery, thereby making the entirety of its contents little more than historical fiction. In either case it has little bearing on whether Nerthus has or does not have folklore over the last few hundred years. As she most certainly does, yet the possibility of the forgery is important to bring up before delving into the rest of the tales, as Germania is often the crutch of the argument regarding Nerthus, and by extension Grimm and her connection to the Vanir gods. So to begin the below passage from Germania must be mentioned:
“The Langobardi are distinguished by being few in number. Surrounded by many mighty peoples they have protected themselves not by submissiveness, but by battle and boldness. Next to them come the Reudigni, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarines and Huitones protected by rivers and forests. There is nothing especially noteworthy about these states individually, but they are distinguished by a common worship of Nerthus, that is, Mother Earth, and believe she intervenes in human affairs and rides through their peoples. There is a sacred grove on an island of the Ocean, in which there is a consecrated chariot draped with a cloth, which the priest alone may touch. He perceives the presence of the goddess in the innermost shrine and with great reverence escorts her in her chariot, which is drawn by female cattle. There are days of rejoicing then and the countryside celebrates the festival, wherever she deigns to visit and to accept hospitality. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms. All objects of iron are locked away then and only then do they exercise peace and quiet, only then do they prize them, until the goddess has had her fill of society, and the priest brings her back to the temple. Afterwards the chariot, the cloth, and if one may believe it, the deity herself are washed in a hidden lake. The slaves who perform this office are immediately afterwards swallowed up in the same lake. Hence arises dread of the mysterious, and piety, which keeps them ignorant of what only those who are about to perish may see.”
It is doubtful that actual human sacrifice was performed, as atrocity propaganda was common enough among Rome and even more so among the clergy who would often be the ones transcribing such writings. Yet the idea of a drowned sacrifice has persisted in her lore, as shown above with the tale of Hertha’s Lake. Though the rest of her tales show a much less blood thirsty side to the goddess. Both Nerthus and Hertha have been influenced by the above text, and some say originated from it. The keeping away of iron and the enforcement of peace while it may have to do with Nerthus’ procession, it is also possible that Nerthus’ procession coincided with the end of the war season. To this day it is unknown if Nerthus’ festival was in the spring or fall, or any other time of the year. Though I would argue that it likely takes place in the Fall. When the war season would end. As mentioned above they are neighbored by many warlike tribes, and while the other tribes may show some level of respect for Nerthus’ festival and not attack when the entire tribe is in a spiritually mandated peace, it seems more likely that the washing and return of a goddess that was seen as of the land would coincide with modern day Fall or the end of Summer and beginning of Winter to the ancient Germanic tribes. With the lake acting as a liminal space through which she could return to the other world.
Along with these points another piece of Nerthus’ lore is that of her association with Njordr. Which was pushed heavily by Jacob Grimm and has contributed to much of her modern lore. Adding to this is the tale of German’s on the Eastern Coast of the Baltic Sea, who gathered Amber and were said to worship “The Mother of the Gods, Whose Emblem was the figure of the Wild Boar” this is used to tie her into Freyr and by extension Fro. Both Freyr and Freyja have boars as mounts and Fro as a result shares this distinction. While this is not a unique attribute other gods such as Dirk and Frau Gode also ride boars, but combined with Grimm’s theories it was enough to cement the relation to some.
Enough that a tale from Dutch folklore mentions Nerthus as the Mother of “Fro” here a sort of parallel Freyr even referred to as “Ing Fro” by some. He is born an only child and a god of sunbeams and fertility. As a teething gift the “fairy” Fro is given a boar made by the dwarves called Gullin, or “Golden”. Nerthus is overjoyed at her son and the gift he had received.
Fro and Gullin would go on to show man how to plant and plow fields, giving them the gift of agriculture. Gullin also became the progenitor of all tusked animals including boars, elephants, and walruses. This story relies heavily on the Nerthus as Freyr’s mother comparisons. But it also differs enough that there is likely some validity to parts of it. As this sort of sideways view of Germanic and Norse folklore is common in Dutch myth and folktales. From here there is one more figure of folklore that I feel must be mentioned and that is not a goddess but a Saint. Saint Notburga, patron of domestic servants and farm workers who is eerily familiar to many of the goddesses described above.
St. Notburga, The Oxen, and The Stag
Saint Notburga is a notable Austrian folk saint. It is also much more accurate to refer to her as Saint “Notburgas” as there are multiple figures who bear the name all of them folk saints. One of which has many many children, and bears an eerie resemblance to Perchta or Holda. The other St. Notburga and the one I will discuss at length today shares many of her similarities with Hertha and Nerthus.
It’s no secret that the Church would often cover up or replace a god with a saint. It was a common practice, The Virgin Mary or Jesus were the most common, but at other times a less prominent Saint, or even just the title of “Saint” would be enough. Notburga is most likely one of those figures. She is a folk saint and was never officially canonized, not to mention the entirety of her story reeks of German myth and legend. Though whether this is a St. Brigid or a St. Nicholas situation I am not sure. As Notburga is a Germanic name that means “Protector of the Needy” a rather apt name for what she is known for, and a possible goddess name. Though she may also be covering up gods such as Hertha and Perchta.
While the following stories are heavily Christianized their pagan core shines through. There are two core threads that can be followed in regards to St. Notburga. The first has her as a pious maid of a royal family. She would often share the food scraps from her masters with the poor, she was eventually let go though the reason varies. One example holds that the wife of the king didn’t like that the maid was giving away food scraps and dismissed her, while another holds that the entire family beat her horribly for her charitable acts and made her flee into the mountains.
At some point she worked for a farmer as a harvester of wheat on the condition that she would be allowed to attend church and not work on holy days, when the bells rang for vespers and the farmer refused to let her go for fear of losing the crop, she said “All right, let this sickle decide between us”. She then let her sickle go and it hung in the air like a new moon.
She was then allowed to go to vespers, in some tales she ends up back in the employ of the royal family after disaster strikes them. Though in the end her body is carried away by two oxen, and the king or whoever is with her is told to bury her where they stop. In some tales even crossing the River Inn, where the raging waters calm themselves on the approach of her corpse.
Another version holds Notburga not as a servant but as a princess. In this saga told on the River Neckar, a powerful king is said to have lived in Hornberg Fortress in times of old, with his pious daughter Notburga. In this story Notburga is in love with a knight, but he left for distant lands and never returned.
Notburga would cry night and day over her knights death and refuse any suitor that came her way. Her father was hard of heart and demanded she ready herself for an arranged wedding in three days time. Notburga refused and said she would rather “Go as far away as the heavens are blue than break my word” she then conspired with a servant to help her escape when the moon was bright. When they came to the woods and the river a snow white stag appeared. When it reached Notburga it stood still. Notburga climbed on the Stag’s back held onto the antlers and the Stag ran off with her. It easily swam across the River Neckar and bounded into the woods while the servant watched.
The King was furious when he discovered she was gone, and sent messengers to every part of his kingdom. They all returned without finding a trace of the girl. Every day at lunch the Stag would come to the fortress at Hornberg and have the servant place bread in its antlers to bring to Notburga. Eventually the King discovered the Stag, and forced the old servant to reveal the truth. The King saddled his horse and the next day followed the Stag to Notburga. Following it through the brush, across the river, and finally up to a cave upon a cliff. Where Notburga was said to be in pious prayer, her hands folded as she sat next to a cross, the white stag rested next to her. As Notburga had not been touched by the suns rays in quite some time, she was as pale as death, which caused the king to recoil in horror.
The King attempted to force her to return to Hornberg Castle with him, but she refused claiming she had pledged her life to God. The King tried to pull her away while Notburga held tight to the cross. The King eventually pulled Notburga’s arm off, it remained in his hand and he was overcome with such horror than he left and never returned to the cave. When people heard what had happened they revered Notburga as a saint. The Hermit in the woods would turn people away from him and send them to her to seek guidance and to pray to God. Notburga would take on their heavy burdens. When Autumn came and the leaves fell, angels came and carried her soul to heaven. They wrapped her body in a shroud and adorned it with roses, and just as in the previous tale Notburga was pulled to her resting place by two snow white steers, they crossed the river without getting their hooves wet. The bells in the nearby church began to ring on their own and Notburga’s image to this day is said to be hewn in stone near the River Necker, and Notburga’s cave remains and is called the Maidens cave.
Before I dive into this story which is rife with pagan imagery, I shall first tell a short alternate version of the above story that had several changes. In this version Notburga refused to marry a Pagan Wendt, she was only kept alive by a snake who brought her herbs and roots. She eventually died in the cave and wandering will-o-the-wisps revealed her grave. Again two steers carried her to her grave and stood there. Supposedly a carving of the snake still remains at the church of Hochhausen on the River Neckar.
This time the story is again supremely pagan. Both the Stag and the Snake are messengers of the Otherworld. Often used by what the modern world refers to as “Shamans” but would’ve originally been known as something akin to “witches”. The Christian aspects of Notburga’s story can largely be removed and have the story stay intact. Her being known as a saint could be replaced with being a wise woman, especially as hermits are not a christian conception. The hermit sends people to her as he believes she is more “holy” than him. But the story as a whole could be rewritten with Notburga as a pagan heroine or even a goddess with little to no change.
Notburga’s love would still vanish, whether he would be alive or dead is up for debate. Then her father would force the marriage. Wanting to keep to her word and evade an unwanted marriage she recruits a servant to help her escape. She takes the white stag across the river and waits in a cave, the white stag feeds her. Later her father comes and pulls her arms off. Word spreads that she is a woman with powerful magic. People start coming to see her, she eventually dies in the fall after taking on the burdens of the downtrodden. She is carried to her resting place by two snow white steers and calms the waters as she goes. The place of her burial from then on has miraculous properties.
The stag or the snake would be a sort of guide to the Otherworld. As the crossing of a river is often used in a tale to indicate that a figure has left the mortal realm and entered another. The stag and snake would be her spirit guides or familiars. As she is now in the Otherworld, perhaps even the land of the dead, she no longer experiences sunlight as she is underground in the Underworld. Her father comes to bring her back. Then her arm breaks off, but because she is functionally dead there is no pain or gore. When she eventually does “ascend to heaven” or “die” she is carried much like Nerthus is and even crosses the river to a place where she is laid to rest. Making the land magical. If she never crossed the river again after the first time. Then it could be said that when she “died” she was in fact returning to the mortal realm, at least in spirit. Or she may have truly ascended and left the world behind save her miraculous touch. The stag bringing her food is reminiscent of other tales involving a woman and a deer such as Genevieve of Brabant, or the Grimm Brother’s story “Brother and Sister”.
There is simply too much to unpack, but suffice to say for our purposes that this figure is a blatant deity masquerading as a folk saint. Or perhaps a myriad of goddesses being covered up by a single figure. Not unlike the way Sinterklaas behaves in German lore. The figure of Nerthus or Hertha is present in both the stag and the oxen pulling the wagon. While in the former tale the harvest symbolism and scythe is more akin to Perchta. As was mentioned before, there are multiple “Notburgas”. It is unlikely it is a singular deity behind Notburga, but many. There is even a possibility that Notburga was a sort of lunar, harvest, and death deity. Which would fit her imagery though it also fits Hertha rather well. Perhaps Hertha’s lore when seen in tandem with that of Notburga, shows what could be a more fleshed out form of the goddesses lore. A loving self-sacrificing goddess, who travels to the land of the dead, the underworld deep within the earth. Acting via her familiars the stag and the snake, and her divine steeds befitting a mother goddess. Her travel with the steers allowing her to observe those she aided. There is also the lunar symbolism that appears in each version to consider. Perhaps a reference to how her veneration differs at different points of the year. So with all that in consideration, who and what is “Earth”?
At the start of this writing the question was who is Earth? And what can we glean from such a goddess, that everyone knows the name of but can’t say a word about? What is the origin of the word Earth? Why a goddess of course! Which brings me to two points that must be made in regards to Germania. The first is the aforementioned comments of the text being a forgery which would take Nerthus out of the picture and possibly even Hertha, which leaves us with Erda AKA Ertha AKA Eartha. The name of the goddess need not be so complex as to derive from a name that veers too far off. The Germanic goddess of whom I speak is also not an “Earth Mother” in the sense that many will attribute to Gaia. As the term Terra Mater, while often equated to Gaia or the Roman literary form Terra. Is actually a term often used by the Roman’s to describe goddesses that are not their own. These include goddesses such as Cybele, a goddess whose own procession was compared to Nerthus’. It also was not meant to mean a literal Mother Earth goddess, but rather a goddess who was tied to the land. While it is attractive to place any of the goddesses that have been mentioned throughout here firmly in some prearranged archetype, I would advise against it. It oversimplifies the complex nature of deities, and their tribal cults and ranges. Yet, I can say with some level of certainty that Eartha (Erda) is the goddess whom our planet is named after in the English language, and to whom the element of Earth has derived its name from.
The likelihood of Notburga, Hertha, Herodias, and Nerthus being a part of that larger mythology is fairly high. So now that we have the origin of the name, who is this goddess? She is loving, she is harsh, she is self sacrificing, and healing. She dies and is reborn, she keeps her word, and rides with the witches, presides over magic and over fertility.
She is not a minor goddess, nor is she a goddess that can be directed as a singular force as the new age movement may have tried to paint her. Mother Earth is not Gaia, Mother Earth is Earth, a goddess of the West Germanic’s. Much, much, more could be said of Earth. Yet, I think it wise to leave it here. If you need to get to know her better walk by the river, barefoot in the soil and just be.
The tale of American folklore is an odd one. A collection of stories shaped by the many tropes and traditions of the European settlers, as well as the new and different world that said settlers found themselves in. Among these tales are many monsters, legends, jokes, and long drawn out whoppers told around the fire. Long before literacy rates were high and television was king the stories of our American past had their own flavor and traditions that formed here with us. One of the most notable and often ignored aspects of these tales, are the herculean heroes that populate many of them. Their tall tales and legends are part of the foundations of American mythology. Our own personal demigods from lumberjacks to cowboys, steel workers to apple peddlers. It’s time their legends came home.
Paul Bunyan & The Legendary Northwoods
Among the most well known of these legends is that of Paul Bunyan, the legendary lumberjack of the Northwoods. Many of the older lumbermen had at one point known or claimed to have known him in real life. With many theories and arguments being made as to whether Bunyan was a real person, a composite, or a pure fiction. Many states and groups have laid claim to Bunyan From Maine to Oregon, and from the French-Canadians to the Irish. Statues adorn various small towns and roadways in the north of America, honoring and calling back to this legend of America’s lumber camps.
Many notable stories have been told of Paul Bunyan, such as the story of the pyramid 40, the winter of the blue snow, his conflict with the bumblebee-mosquitoes, and the round river drive are probably the most notable and reoccurring of the group. Along with Bunyan himself, Paul was often accompanied by many camp mates and critters such as; Babe the Big Blue Ox, Lucy the giant milking cow, Johnny Inkslinger, Brimstone Bill, Ole the Blacksmith, Sourdough Sam and Joe Muffraw. These colorful characters populate the many American myths of Paul Bunyan. Within American folklore Paul Bunyan is often considered to fulfill a similar role to that of Hercules or Thor from European mythology, a hero of the every man. He was a man of gargantuan stature, who could cut lumber, manage a camp, drink, whore, outsmart, and fight with the best of them.
Yet Bunyan like any folkloric character has many origins and many ends, as the tale is told it is stretched and reshaped. Though this does not take anything away, instead it embeds Bunyan further into the landscape and culture of all who told his story. The origin of his legend was the lumber camps of the Northwoods.
However, Paul’s mythic origins and reason for his size can vary wildly. One such story involved the light of the full moon hitting Paul in his cradle, he began to grow wildly due to whatever magic had been in the moonbeam. He grew so large that his father had to build a cradle that could be rocked in the lake by the waves, so that the enormous infant could fall asleep. However, on one occasion the infant Paul began to rock his cradle violently, the lake overran its banks and flooded neighboring areas making many of the swamps in what is today the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A similar story concerning moonbeams was used to describe the size of Babe, Paul’s sidekick and giant ox.
By the time he was grown however, Paul was supposedly just seven feet tall or over 50 ax handles high, depending on who you asked. Making him as tall if not taller than many of the trees he felled, or only as tall as the average athlete. Though Paul is usually depicted in art and pop culture as the man responsible for cutting or felling the trees with his mighty ax or scythe. He was almost always more the manager of the camp. With his strength and intelligence usually being used to solve far larger problems than the felling of trees. An action that his large crews of men usually take care of. Often times it is either through the discovery by one of his men or by their bumbling oafishness that Paul is truly called upon to shine.
Such was the case of minor but widespread tales like the loss of the camps bean or pea supply into a lake, which Paul using the manpower at his disposal and some quick thinking converts part of the lake into a closed inlet and begins to boil some soup for his crew. Typically, with the help of his camp cooks, Joe Muffraw or Sourdough Sam and their army of cookees.
Another common motif is that of babe and the stretching harness. The harness made of tanned deer hide is tied to Babe and then used to pull the logs. However, it stretches and until a temperature change causes it to shrink again, it goes on for miles before shrinking back and bringing the logs to camp. Things like the harness, Babes metal shoes, and any other borderline magical item that was made in Paul’s camps likely came from Ole the Blacksmith. The only blacksmith man enough to be able to shoe Babe.
Many stories depict Paul’s fights, while he was most definitely a brawler, the most legendary fights were not with other men, but with creatures such as bears or Hodags. Hodags one of if not the most fearsome critter in the North. Described as either some sort of relict creature with horns and the body of a dinosaur. Or as a sort of spirit of lost Oxen that had been transmogrified in the woods somehow.
In some stories he even battles nature itself, defeating the sentient whistling river by freezing it with a captured blizzard and slicing it up for later use. He would use such ingenuity to both create and defeat the bumblebee-mosquitoes.
The bumblebee-mosquitoes are one of the most famous beasts that Paul Bunyan faced. The Northwood camps that Bunyan and his men lived in were no stranger to large insects. Bedbugs big enough to be mistaken for cats and fleas as big as frogs. But the worst of the bug beasts were the mosquitoes, the big ones were as tall or larger than a man measuring 6 feet in length and even the small ones would swarm a man and carry him off for dinner. Often poking through a kettle or pot that the poor victim had hidden under. In order to get rid of these beasts, Paul heard of a race of giant bumblebees and sent for them. Depending on the tale, the origin of the bees change from Texas to as far away as Africa. The bees, for a time, keep the mosquitoes at bay in a war fought to a stalemate and the lumber camps are safe, for a while. But eventually the two giant insects make peace and mate. Resulting in the most fearsome beasts the lumber camps had ever seen. Six foot tall insects with a large stinger in the front to suck blood and a large one on the back to impale prey.
Such beasts were terrors in the camps and would’ve potentially made off with all of Paul’s crew had he not ordered a large amount of sorghum up to his camp. The sorghum syrup was gleefully eaten by the bumblebee-mosquitoes as they were led to the Gulf of Mexico by the time they were there they were so fat that they quickly drowned in the gulf. Though their much smaller cousins still fly around the Northwoods. Yet such a tale is nothing compared to some of the whoppers told of Paul. Some say he made many of the most famous landmarks in North America. From Mt. Hood to the Great Lakes, from the Mississippi to the plains of the Dakotas. Having dug, piled, or chopped down something to make such a place possible. Though among his most famous stories is that of the Pyramid 40.
The Pyramid 40 was a piece of woodland atop a pyramid so tall that the top couldn’t be seen until three weeks of climbing, and by the time the top was harvested the bottom had grown new woods. Populating this strange woodland surrounded by the Big Onion River were birds that laid square eggs so that the eggs would not roll out of the nest. As well as sidehill gougers, a predator of colossal size with legs shorter on one side so it could travel around the pyramid easier, if only in one direction. These and many other beasts were found and fought by Paul and his men upon the Pyramid 40 before the top was harvested. The Pyramid had given millions of cords of wood and had already begun to regenerate new woods when they finished. It was another river and another camp that brought far more tales to Paul Bunyan’s legend though.
Such is the tale of the Round River camp, a story with varied ends, beginning, and even middles. The Round River Camp is exactly what it sounds like; a camp near a round river. The Round River camp serves more as a backdrop for storytellers to go wild crafting varied tales from the river being made into a makeshift sawmill to a Rip Van Winkle story of a crew working the river for 40 years and ending up grizzled gray bearded old men. The story usually begins the same however, with the Winter going as usual and the logs ready to be sent downriver. Paul’s crew is horrified to find that the logs are spinning around and around. The river is without an end. Though depending on the tale Paul either finds a way around this or believing his crew competent enough to send the logs down leaves, not knowing the rivers true shape. Only to return and find his men old and worn down like the logs now the size of fishing poles in the spiraling rapids. Yet some of the strangest and greatest feats of the legendary lumberjack happened in the winter of the blue snow.
The winter of the blue snow is a common setting in Paul Bunyan tales. It was a winter in which it was so cold that the snow turned blue. It was so cold that flames froze, and words froze in the air. The snow was so deep that winter trees that were logged left stumps 40 feet high. It was during this time that Babe supposedly got his blue color from being in the snow too often. Though another similar story has Babe being found by a younger Paul, frozen and after being thawed staying the same frigid blue color. Paul’s camp and crew were so cold that the men were forced to learn sign language as their words froze in the air. Many died of fatigue due to the sheer amount of coats they wore around. Others were forced to sleep with their feet in oil and their clothes on fire, acting as a wick. It was around this time that the Pacific froze over and animals such as Snow Snakes, winter dwelling Siberian serpents 20 feet long or more, crossed over. However, it was so cold even these predatory winter snakes froze and were often used as skids for the trees or as skis. Oddly, this is often followed by a year without winter which impeded much of the logging operation. Forcing Paul to import snow over from Asia using his giant oxen, of which he actually had many not just Babe and Lucy. The Pacific being still frozen over from the winter of the blue snow allowed Paul to use it as a land bridge to carry the snow over. Many more tales arose out of the winter of the blue snow, far too many to speak of in one go around. Though even in a normal logging camp absent any round rivers, blue snow, or giant pyramids. Paul and his crew still found themselves in odd situations and adventures.
There have been many companions of Paul Bunyan, and many stories centered around them. Ole the Blacksmith who was often the one who made whatever contraption Paul had invented or had need for. Sourdough Sam and Joe Muffraw the cooks for his gigantic crews, found clever wars of feeding so many men as well as Paul. They had their cookees grease the oversized griddle by skating atop it with bacon or hams tied to their feet. The army of cooks making enough pancakes to feed a small country and turning small lakes into pea soup. Such was the life of the camp cooks in Paul’s lumber camps. Along with this the colorful cast also included Johnny Inkslinger, the camp accountant and office worker who at times was considered a giant like Paul and the inventor of figures for record keeping, as well as magic items similar to Ole and Paul. There was also Brimstone Bill who invented most cuss words used to this day, and the keeper of many of Paul’s animals. When he died Paul buried him in Hawaii where the pent up cussing spawned a volcano. Paul’s hunting dog is another odd critter, he was sadly cut in half and put back together with the back legs on the top giving it twice as much endurance, as it would just flip over if its two legs got tired, and of course Lucy the giant cow whose milk kept the camp spirits up with the sweet taste of butter.
Many more animals and crew members make an appearance throughout Paul’s legends. From all over the place, From Western and Eastern Europe, New England, and French-Canada. Some say Paul’s camp made them into proper Americans, the lumberjacks camp culture forging bonds and traditions between the men. Yet there is one character who despite his connection to Paul seems to have had little impact on his stories the man some call Paul’s brother, Pecos Bill.
Pecos Bill, The First Cowboy
Pecos Bill was a legend all his own, some call him the first cowboy. The man who invented the art of Lassoing and was weaned on whiskey and panther piss. Born during a storm that some say coincided with the birth of Texas. He was born with a full set of teeth, a mop of red hair on his head and chest and his first words were “Gim’me a drink”. By the time he was 3 his family up and left for Texas, it was then that on a bumpy road and at the back of the wagon filled with his many kin he fell out into the Pecos river. Giving him his moniker as well as washing him downstream where he was found by an elder coyote. Some say it was an old and wizened patriarch of the coyotes, though others say it was a grandmother coyote. Either way, Pecos spent the better part of his youth among the coyotes hunting bears and other beasts with his coyote brethren. Under the assumption he was just a deformed and rather ugly coyote. Despite his deformities, he found himself to be the best out of the Coyote pack. Better at hunting, marking, and howling then any of the other varmints. Though eventually as Texas was settled Pecos Bill would find himself among men again.
Depending on the story, Pecos was either found near a riverside watering hole or in the middle of a kill. But he is always found by some human. Chastised for his nakedness and the raw meat upon his face. Pecos is convinced he is a coyote, but is quickly proven wrong either with his own reflection or with the lack of a tail extending from his behind. He is taken into town where he enjoys all the ways of men, especially the vices such as gambling, roughhousing, and whoring. At this point amongst other men Pecos no longer content on bear steaks and whiskey. Has begun taking shots of explosives mixed with hot peppers, crushed poisonous bugs, and of course rattler venom. His meals consist of the flesh of the more fearsome beasts due to poison or claw and of course a topping of barbed wire. This on at least one if not more occasions caused the head of an outfit to hand over the role of boss to him. Resulting in Pecos running with many a crew of outlaws.
He invented lassoing to rope cows from horses when he found the herders to be unable to keep the cows together while on foot. He found a way to rope them from horseback. Inventing the role of cowboy in the same moment. When he was not content with a rope, or could not find any, he would use a rattler as his lasso. A man like that requires a steed to match.
When he was young Pecos by some accounts had a trained grizzly bear for a mount. Later on when an over-sized cougar challenged him, Pecos tamed it and made it his mount for a time. Facing down a giant rattlesnake atop it.
He even at one point lassoed a tornado and rode all through the southwest. Unable to buck the legendary cowpoke, the twister turned into clouds and rained down on the southwest below him. At the time many a river system that we have now was not there, or at least not as big.
So Pecos was often forced to head to the gulf and herd some water up into Texas. Growing tired of this, he dug a ditch instead and this eventually became the Rio Grande. It was around this time that two of the most important people to Pecos would become a clear part of his legend. The first was his horse, the greatest horse in Texas, he was known as Widow-maker on account of anybody other than Pecos who rode him would be bucked off and likely killed. Only Pecos was able to tame such a powerful and unruly beast. They had many adventures together, train robberies, brawls, and even digging the Grand Canyon. The other was the eventual victim of Widow-maker, the love of Pecos’ life, Slue Foot Sue.
Pecos was a known womanizer and had many a fling and whore. Never before was he smitten quite like he was by Sue when he saw her. Sue was not a timid girl, far from it. She dressed to impress the menfolk and had many wrapped around her finger. She was spirited and stubborn a true woman of the wild west. The moment she earned the heart of Pecos though was when she road the great fur bearing catfish. The southwest has many rivers and the catfish in them are much bigger especially the great fur bearing catfish. Who was twice the size of a whale. Sue rode it like a bull in its own river, the only woman to ever do so. From then on Pecos couldn’t help himself around Sue, she was destined to be his gal. Though their story is often tragic.
After the two meet and Sue is courted and wooed by Pecos. The day of their wedding arrives, Sue was never one to buck a challenge and was far too contrarian to simply do as she was bid, regardless of sense. Often going into enemy territory or into an area overrun with wolves just because she was told not to. But the most notable instance of Sue’s stubbornness was when she rode Widow-maker.
Depending on the one who spun the yarn, Sue either asks Pecos who can’t refuse her pleas to ride Widow-maker or she sneaks out after being told no and rides him anyway. Widow-maker won’t tolerate anyone other than Pecos riding him and eventually bucks Sue off. Now Sue always dressed to impress, so she had a rather springy contraption beneath her dress atop her derriere. Made of whalebone and springs, it bounced her higher and higher every time she landed on it. How this ends depends. Either Sue bounces til she lands on the moon stuck there from that day forward. Or some say the landing broke her neck and poor Sue died that day. Though others say after letting her bounce and dwell in worry for a bit, Pecos lassoed the moon to bring her down and threw it back up into the sky. Though with Pecos Sue continued her contrarian nature. In the former story Pecos drowned his sorrows in drink, nitroglycerin to be exact and he blew to pieces as small as water vapor, in others he and Sue lived happily ever after, or as happy as two wild souls could be. Now with folks like Pecos and Paul you’d start to think the legends of America are all rough and tumble men, but there is one notable fella who bucks the trend. A kindly wanderer by the name of Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny Appleseed, Wise Hermit of the Frontier
Johnny Appleseed, also known as John Chapman was born around the same time as the American nation he would help to define. His father was a soldier in the revolutionary army and his mother cared for John and his two siblings. She died shortly before the war ended, along with Johns younger brother. He and his sister were eventually integrated into his father’s second marriage with a large family as their father and step-mother had many offspring. This large family dwelt in a small house as Johnny matured. All while the nation was spreading west across the Appalachian mountains. This imbued in Johnny a sense of wanderlust. He went west, collected seeds from the cider mills and began sowing orchards throughout the northeast. Not one for material possessions, Johnny had a sack in which he contained his apple seeds and tomes that allowed him to teach himself many a skill. Most notably religious texts as he was a devout believer of Swedenborgianism a new form of Protestantism. One of the most notable things that caused this new church to differ from the old was a belief in a spirit world and a view of heaven that seemed to coincide with the concept of halls of the gods and ancestors. Only in their place, were angels and spirits. This fit well with Johnny’s gentle and animistic worldview. Both of which became integral parts of his legend.
While Johnny’s main portrayals in media portray him as scrawny and timid, he would’ve been fierce to behold. With long dark untamed hair and beard. Creating a mane of hair beneath his cooking pot hat, from which two piercing eyes stared. His feet were almost always bare even in the dead of winter and the little clothes he did wear were often ill fitting and ragged. Often given to him as a gift or in barter for his saplings. As a result, Johnny appears more a gentle wild man of the woods than the scrawny boy he is portrayed as in films. Through the many years that Johnny roamed the countryside planting his orchards and living beneath the stars, he always seemed to find that niche, that point where the settlers ended and the frontier faded into woods and wild beasts.
Wandering as a disheveled eccentric man planting apple trees and speaking of a spirit realm proclaiming his New Church doctrine. Occasionally finding refuge in an inn or country home where he was welcomed, often entertaining his hosts, especially the children with spiritual tales or his own growing legend. He would do tricks for the young ones such as plunging needles into his feet, that had long past become immune to such minor torments. Adding to Johnny’s queerness was this super human endurance.
Along with braving the cold dark winters of the Northeast barefoot, he was also not averse to jamming sharp objects or red-hot pokers into his feet for the entertainment of the onlookers. He was also nimble, quick thinking, and able to give even Paul Bunyan a run for his money when it came to logging. Far from scrawny and weak, Johnny was gentle and strong. In certain famous tales, Johnny went house to house in the spirit of Paul Revere. Proclaiming, during the war of 1812, that the enemy was coming and the townsfolk must flee for their lives. Running the length of a marathon in a night through the winding woods in order to warn the settlers of their doom. He shed no blood that day, but he ran through dark forests filled with bears, boars, and wolves. Hollering at the top of his lungs on the brief stopovers at each homestead. Johnny’s acts of selflessness combined with his ability to live in such a hostile land yet be so gentle made him one of the most well known oddities throughout the region.
Each time he shifted west to follow the frontier, his new orchards and saplings allowed people to more easily own their property by the rules of the government. Orchards meant they were sure to stay and work the land, and Johnny’s many apple orchards made getting to such a point take half the time. Yet there was another mistake often made when speaking of Johnny Appleseed, he did not plant the sweet apples we know of today. Rather in the randomized fashion frowned upon by grafters he spread the seeds of the trees, producing a plethora of cider apples.
That Johnny’s trees had more to do with hard cider and vinegar then the sweet and tart apples we see today, does not take away from his reputation then or now. In fact, it has resulted in his modern nickname “The American Dionysus” as Dionysus was with wine, Johnny seems to have made the American frontier replete with hard cider. He was as a wild man not truly of the domestic lifestyle nor of the wild woods, who communed with spirits and animals in the untamed wilderness, yet gave gifts and joys to those that lived near the edge. It is an odd yet apt parallel. Though Johnny is not known for partying nor a raucous sexual nature like Pecos, Paul, or Dionysus. Rather, he was said to be celibate, adding to his almost saintly nature.
His animistic worldview that made him unwilling to graft or “harm” trees also made him see animals the same way. Unwilling to keep a fire lit for fear of burning mosquitoes or weeping in sorrow when he accidentally killed a rattlesnake. At times this even went so far as to have him gain an animal companion. Helping a wolf in pain resulted in him having a wolf tag along on his wanderings. Such acts as well as his immense herbal knowledge from years in the woods and from texts read long ago, marked him as a sort of medicine man in the eyes of the local Amerindians. A spirit of the woods more so than a man. Which is what he seemed in many ways to those unfamiliar to the old hermit.
There is much more of Johnny than is spoken of here. His many speeches about Swedenborgianism, his encounters with native tribes and other hermits, his communing with spirits and “angels” as well as many adventures that have slipped from the public’s imagination. Though like any legend, his story is incomplete without an end. I have heard two tales of Johnny’s demise one the more prevailing is the one in which upon staying with a family for the night, he died in his sleep after one of his powerful speeches of the spirit world. The other, a rather odd one that I have heard from only one person who grew up with the stories, is that before his death Johnny seeing his work was not done took an apple tree and bent it so that its seeds would spread and those seeds eventually spread throughout America. Forming the many wild apples that grow across the continent. Whether his death was peaceful or mythic matters not. The impact Johnny had in his life and the legacy he left behind both of devout woodsman and of eccentric hermit have endured within the American spirit long after his life concluded. He became more than a man, he became the embodiment of the pioneer spirit, and of a romantic wilderness lost to time. As much as Johnny Appleseed was at home in the lands and rivers of the continent there is one legend who loved the sea as much as Johnny loved the land. The original able bodied sailor of American folklore.
Stormalong, “The” Able Bodied Sailor
Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, better known as Old Stormalong or Stormie to his friends. A giant of a man between 4 and 14 fathoms high. The initials for able bodied sailor are said to come from him, for to him all other sailors are to be compared. Stormalong’s diet was equally as outsized as the man himself, he was fond of Ostrich eggs and his favorite fish to eat was shark, when he’d finish eating he’d lay down and pick his teeth with an oar.
He was a fiercesome sailor and a fearless whaler. When there was trouble Stormalong would throw himself head first into the problem. When his then ship “The Lady of the Sea” was held down by a giant octopus it was Stormie who jumped overboard knife in mouth and fought the kraken below the depths. When he climbed back on the ship he had defeated it by tying its many arms into knots, something that would take it a long time to get free of.
On one occasion Stormalong made the mistake of trying to be a farmer, he found it so miserable he couldn’t fathom why anyone would do it. He gleefully returned to the sea where he could truly be free. However despite his many boons and bonds with his fellow sailors aboard his vessels. His size often caused him to jump ship. As the ship he was on was almost never for a man of his size, he would always jump ship if he saw a bigger one that may accommodate him better. The ship that was finally of a proper size was the “Courser”.
Upon seeing such a large ship Stormalong became distraught and in the night jumped from the Lady of the Sea and swam to join the gargantuan Courser. The Courser was so large that only Stormie was able to keep the wheel on course. It was so big that the silver masts extended high up into the clouds with the the sails dragging them along. A young man would climb up the mast and by the time they came down again they had become grizzled old graybeards. To even keep watch upon such a ship required the men to be on horseback. The Courser was more a man-made island than a ship. It was the perfect size for Old Stormalong however.
Though its size was more of a hindrance in many cases. As it traveled the Northern seas and the Atlantic ocean, and in certain seas like the North Sea above Europe it ended up stuck on course to go through the English Channel, and didn’t have room to turn around. Where it was only able to escape by using the ship’s supply of soap to make the sides slippery enough to squeeze through. This, of course is the origin of the White Cliffs of Dover. In this same incident came the supposed birth of the channel islands, born of the disposed cargo when they needed to lighten the load in the shallows. Another instance of the ship’s size leading to creation via destruction was that of the Panama Canal. Created by the ship accidentally sailing through the Isthmus of Panama, when it was thrown off course in a storm in the Caribbean. Stormalong like many sailors was destined to make his lasting impact upon the open seas and foreign shores far more than his own. Eventually Stormalong would perish aboard that great ship of giants. As they were dropping cargo off in Mexico. How he died I do not know, but they buried him near the shore so that the salty spray of the sea would always be with him. But on the eastern shores Stormalong left behind, another legend would be born.
Joe Magarac, The Soul of American Steel
Among the steelworkers of the Northeast, especially those of Slavic or Hungarian descent, there is a legend known as “The Saga of Joe Magarac”. Joe Magarac was sometimes known as the Paul Bunyan of steel workers. Born of a mountain filled with ore. Joe Magarac was made of the very steel he worked to form, and he was far stronger than any average man, able to do effortlessly what caused men in their primes, eyes to burst from their head in exhaustion. He would work day and night in the steel mills. He had no use for a wife or a house, and in fact his very workstation had been labeled “The Home of Joe Magarac”. Where he stirred the molten steel with his bare hands and took handfuls to form the rails and implements the steel became. He made steel so well and so fast that the plant eventually was forced to close for a few days, due to supply exceeding demand.
This didn’t sit well with Joe, and while he waited in the steel mill, he had an idea. All the men arrived to work on Monday and Joe was nowhere to be seen. Eventually a man heard his voice call to him from a ladle. Joe was sitting in molten steel. The men were worried he would be melted down into the very steel he made. But Joe said that was what he wanted and that from him would come the very best steel, and to use him to build the new mills that they planned to build.
He dipped his head back into the molten metal and melted down. After which came the very best steel, the steel made from Magarac was used to build the new mills. From then on the steel that was made in those mills was the very best, flawless and without seams. Joe had given his whole self to the creation of steel.
There is one more notable legend however, a man who dealt with steel as well, a steel driving man by the name of John Henry.
John Henry, Man Against Machine
John Henry is an oddity in American folklore. As each legend of American folklore has its clear origins, among the lumber camps or the cattle drives, in the frontier or the seas, in the city or the fields. John Henry was a hero of the south though where is not known, most likely West Virginia or neighboring Appalachia. Given that is where his Ballad was born. He was a well liked and well known tall tale in America. When Paul Bunyan began his feud with the Whistling river, it was upon John Henry’s hammer he swore his oath of vengeance. John Henry had even begun to influence those who told tales of other herculean heroes. Or perhaps even the heroes themselves. Yet it is hard to know where John Henry’s story originated, you’d think he was farther out west if you looked at modern media, while most evidence favors somewhere in the American south in the mid to late 1800s.
John Henry was a large man able to swing his 10 pound hammer one handed. His most famous story and by far the most widely told is his race against the steam drill. Wherein John Henry is seen as the Hercules of the camp; strong, courageous, with many women in pursuit of him. He was an every-man of the railroad workers. Driving the spikes through steel rails beside his crew as quick as lightning, the steel ringing with the sound of thunder.
Eventually the steam drill is invented and threatens to put many men out of a job. John Henry puts forth a bet that he will defeat the steam drill in a race. Depending on the version, the bet differs. The more famous one holds that John Henry using two 10 pounds hammers not only was able to keep up with the drill but tore through a mountain before it. While another version has it being a simple race where John Henry defeated the steam drill 14 feet to 9 feet of lain track. Though in every time-honored version this exertion kills him. Either immediately in the form of a heart attack, or later that night as a burst blood vessel. This bet may be for money or for all the men to keep their jobs, it all depends on who you ask. The little known about John Henry is that all the stories say he was a former slave and they refer to him by derogatory terms reserved mostly for those of African descent in the USA. The key word here is “mostly”.
An often forgotten aspect of history is that there were Irish slaves in the United States, and that they were often referred to with the same derogatory words now hoisted upon the Black community in the United States. John Henry is known far and wide as an African -American folk hero. But there are some holes in this theory. For one, the time period and area that his legend originated would not have been the kind of place for such a legend to arise. Especially not among the Appalachian region. But furthermore the name John Henry was far more common a name for people descended of the British Isles than of African-Americans. This does not mean that John Henry was or wasn’t black. But his most famous story and the one I grew up hearing was of him and the steam drill and his sorrowful demise. His facing down a stronger enemy and sacrificing himself, as well as the lightning quickness with which he wields his large hammer. His story was told by many of both races throughout the years, each one infusing their own color and cultures into his story. It is possible that multiple John Henry’s were made into this singular folk hero. Perhaps some of both races. This may be the reason that in such a region his ballad arose and why he seems to fit so well into the vein of Thor or Irish hero Cú Chulainn. He doesn’t fit into the often indestructible and trickster heroes in African-American folklore such as Br’er Rabbit or High John the Conqueror. Perhaps that is why his story seems more in line with a European hero than an African one.
The Legacy of America’s Demigods
These demigods are an integral part of American heritage, becoming characters that exemplify the can-do spirit of the nation that’s told their tales. As well as the natural forces that they in many ways personified.
Bunyan was not just an overgrown lumberjack. He was a hero, a masculine role model, a legend of a culture and era that has come and gone. Yet the lessons and folklore that spawned from him are still with us to this day. He was both the rugged man within nature and the ability to conquer it. He was both the man pushing against the unforgiving natural world and its molder in many ways.
Paul created mountains, lakes, rivers, and even a land bridge. His story not only tells of a powerful masculine leader but also of a northern giant as much a force of nature as the giants of European myth. Perhaps the Thor comparison was a bit more apt than at first glance. As Thor was both a heroic god and the son of a frost giant. Even the very visage of Paul seems to radiate into American culture as the masculine ideal of many a man. The very garb with which American men seem to dress calls back more to this burly lumberman than to Washington or Roosevelt.
Pecos as well calls back to a time and place that takes a special place in many an American’s heart, the wild west. He was both a tamer of beasts and a roustabout, a man who made the west what it was and according to legend created one of the most iconic roles in American culture, the cowboy. Together with his gal Sue, Pecos’ myth radiates not only the wild untamed spirit of the west with its many dangers and moral gray areas. It also calls to mind one thing the southwest is often thought to lack, water.
Pecos becomes tied to the rivers and waterways of Texas and the rest of the southwest as integrally as Paul is tied to the Northwoods. He carves the Rio Grande, brings water from the gulf, digs the Grand Canyon, and even captures a twister which eventually become the very rain that fills the riverbeds. Pecos is not merely a hero of the old west, in many ways the rivers and water he made give life to the Southwest, both people and animals.
Johnny Appleseed may not be as rough and tumble as Pecos or Paul, but his impact still remains. As one of the most well known folk heroes of the American frontier, he is hard to miss. The wandering wild man, spreading wisdom and cider apples all across the land.
The mythic spirit of the frontier and wise forest wanderer. This American legend changed not only the landscape but the feel of the nation. When the land was awash in hostile intentions, he was a man of peace and gentle acts. He not only aided the lands he roamed, he became the progenitor of not only his own legend but of the apples throughout the continent. Far from the mere caricature that he became known as in later times.
Then there is Stormalong for all his strength and prowess he is one of the most obscure of these heroes of myth. He embodied the spirit of the men who cast their lot upon the mercy of the sea rather than the mercy of the soil. Unable to even stand such work. Instead, the call of the open ocean and the many adventures therein sang to him. For even a man as large as he is dwarfed by the majesty of the sea. Even in death he could not be parted from his beloved ocean, buried with the salty spray of the sea upon his grave. While the mythic ship that carried forth his spirit still sails through the domain of Davy Jones and Triton long past his stories end.
Then Magarac who was born of mountain ore and became the greatest steel. While his name may translate to Joe “Jackass” he truly worked like his namesake animal. Never resting, he eventually became part of the very steel with which he built the world we live in today. His spirit became imbued in every steel beam and railroad track lain.
Just as the men who built such modern marvels across this land did. Their blood, sweat, and tears is what pushed the world to build towers to the sky and train tracks from coast to coast. Magarac was not only the ore that made the steel, but the human component as well. In that way he became steel incarnate, for without man and his labors steel is merely mountain stone. In this way, the lands of America have been built from Joe Magarac.
Lastly John Henry, who was of the men who took that steel and put it to use. He became a symbol as well of the defiant spirit of the American people. He sacrificed himself for his people before the altar of modernity. He won his bet but lost his heart. His hammer beat the steel as thunder beats the sky and his hammer became something worthy to swear by.
Regardless of his origins and true ethnicity, he has truly made a mark upon this mythic landscape. His ballad made many a man speak of the power of humanity in a world increasingly based on metal muscles and mindless drudgery.
These are by no means the only heroes to have come out of American myth and folklore. Febold Feboldson, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, Doc Holliday, Betsy Ross, and many more have made their legends known upon this land. They fought, loved, swore, made and destroyed with the best of them. The legends they left behind became far more than their day-to-day life. They became forces of nature and heroes to look up to. They were lessons and warnings of the world around us. They exemplified the spirit of a people from coast to coast and to the seas beyond and the skies above. It is high time we recognized these myths we have inherited; it is high time for these legends to come home.
Botkin, Benjamin Albert, and Carl Sandburg. A Treasury of American Folklore: Stories, Ballads, and Traditions of the People. Globe Pequot, 2016.
Erdoes, Richard. Legends and Tales of the American West. Pantheon Books, 1998.
Means, Howard B. Johnny Appleseed: the Man, the Myth, the American Story. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012.
Stott, John C. Paul Bunyan in Michigan: Yooper Logging, Lore and Legends. History Press, 2015.
Edmonds, Michael. Out of the Northwoods: the Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, With More Than 100 Logging Camp Tales. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2014.
A time-honored tradition of the past most notably from Albion according to writings. However, it must be mentioned this tradition extends into the rest of the Hyperborean peoples and customs as well, though different words might be used to describe the same custom. While the form may vary from region to region the intention is the same. A battle of both wit and word!
The battle of wit to prove one’s cunning and word as the weapon to prove one’s intellect. The word aspect of the contest however is not dependent on a large or obscure vocabulary as those who witness the battle must understand what is being said. Instead, the word aspect of the battle is the use of the words not their complexity, poetic and rhythmic, descriptive, and of course as always, a crowd favorite is double meanings. These competitions might be poetic or verse or the favorite of all of us low born is the flyting or flinging of insults.
The rules of these games might vary region to region as well as from time period to time period depending on what was in fashion during that particular time in that particular place. As to who is the victor and who is the loser in these competitions the reasoning may vary but the intention remains the same. As, I am sure; Someone once said, “We shall duel to the wit!”. The victor often declared by the crowd or by concession of one participant declaring the other victor finding himself at a loss of words unable to continue the fight admirably. Another important fact to raise here is a flyting competition need not always be taken seriously but must be seriously taken as they would often be spontaneously initiated at large gatherings such as feasts or celebrations, being boisterously declared with the first rhythmic utterance usually leveled in jest.
Now as has been stated these battles of wit and word may take several forms; in this article as indicated by the title we shall focus on the flyting. In many ways this particular game of serious jest still continues to this day and is often referred to as “Giving him shit” or “Ribbing” where two or more participants fling insults at each other in jest. Though it must be mentioned that the talent for such games has in general long fled our people and so we must take it upon ourselves to rediscover this talent. And truly it is a talent as you will soon discover. In addition, there is in the loosest sense a pointing system however it is a pointing system that does not possess math or even actual points. Much like gallows humor flyting is more about winning the crowd.
The rules possess a simple yet complex beauty to them.
First and probably most importantly the jabs or insults must be true as there is no room for lying in a contest of flyting. Truth after all is both the keenest of weapons as well as the basis of comedy upon which true wit is built. A player might exaggerate or embellish even elaborate upon the truth, but each pass must at its core be true though the expression might be more or less than true.
The second rule is also very simple yet might become very difficult to uphold if you find yourself sparring with one seasoned in flyting. You must take turns. You cannot interrupt or cut your opponent off and must remain calm. To interrupt or to lose your temper is to lose the contest of wits. So, the custom is to stand and grin at your opponent in the most nonchalant and arrogant way possible as if you have not a care in the world.
Rule three is also pretty simple in concept. The retort must be returned in short order taking no more than the space of two or three breaths to begin the retort. The longer the time for the response the less power it has and can indeed indicate a lack of wit. One must be able to think on their feet and instantly improvise thus the quick retort, not the speed of the speech but the length of time to the speaking is of utmost importance.
The rest of the rules are not rules so much, as they are guidelines for a good performance and do not doubt flyting is a performance. To doubt or fail in the performance aspect of flyting will all but ensure a loss of the contest. A good performance will highlight and showcase your wit as well as your grasp and understanding of language, not only the words but their meanings and implications. Good flyting is performed with a rhythmic cadence and if it can set to a rhyme all the better. In addition, while it is an insult game the insults cannot be direct as that too is an indication the speaker lacks wit and imagination while also having a poor grasp of language and its usage. Body language, tone of voice, confidence being bigger than life all add to the performance of the flyting. Remember performance is the key to winning. You might have the best of the language skills, the quickest wit, the most cutting of remarks yet! If you fail to win the audience, you will surely lose the contest. You must win the audience!
When it comes to flyting there is no such thing as a private contest. That is sparring or practicing. For true flyting there must be an abundance of witnesses who very well might end up participating or interfering. Which again is why performance is as important if not more important than the sentences uttered. The speaker must be able to take control of the situation from everyone present. His opponent as well as those present to command their attention, to guide their emotions through shock and awe and wonder at his magnificence! Should the participants of this contest lose control of the audience it will surely at best be declared a draw. Should they lose control of themselves then they will surely be considered the vanquished. However, should all the proper conditions be met through skill and eloquence then surely, he shall be crowned the victor.
Many people when they first attempt flyting will resort to low brow, low wit insults due to their limited understanding of insults as well as a lack of imagination and may very well resort to something along the lines of “You son of a bitch!” however this is merely aggressive and lacks any poetry or eloquence. Should however they open with something more like “You mewl like a wet pup whining after his mothers last tit.” Now you have painted a verbal picture of the opponent as a puppy that is scared and weak in addition to being the son of a bitch which is indeed a female dog.
Or you might wish to describe your opponent as “Yeah? Well, you are ugly and stupid!” this once again is not flyting but simply an insult the likes of which you might here children leveling at each other. Do not be the child. Instead, you might respond with a chuckle to the first onslaught and a grand gesture to pull the audience in while responding “Truly a pup like myself could never compare to one who is so grand as to possess the face of a mule and very quite nearly the intelligence to match!”. In this case you have taken control from the opponent by acknowledging his insult as well as playing off it; by using the word mule in place of mewl, as well as building up the insult to insinuate he has an inflated ego while not realizing himself to in actuality to be mentally inferior as well as ugly.
Then to remain with the school yard insults one might respond “At least I don’t stink like you. You smell like shit.” As one might notice by now there is a decided lack of flare to such a response that is not fitting in such a competition of wit. Instead, to shake his head as a mule might; again, acknowledging the slight offered by the opponent he might even stamp his foot in mocking display at being called a mule to then mockingly retort “Truly and truly I cannot compare to the groveling mutt that follows so shortly upon my rear that he finds himself crawling through my muck.”. Once again, this statement and the body language acknowledges the comment made but seconds before while playing it up for laughs then once again makes reference to previously calling his opponent the offspring of a female dog then builds upon it by describing his opponent as so small and insignificant as to be forced to crawl through the speaker’s dung. This also implies that his opponent stinks and sets up a possible later insult to clearly state it in some manner befitting the next round.
In this way round after round they will continue and attempt to win over the audience through comedy or simply dazzling them with the words spoken as well as the cadence and general performance with includes more than a little audacity. To insult in such a thoroughly descriptive manner without the need to resort to base insults that can be flung with little to no thought while delivering a physical performance on the fly. Well that my people does indeed require skill and finesse. True wit and cunning, quickness of mind and a kind of brutality that might indeed sharpen the minds of everyone involved. In addition, quite frankly. It is fun! A game worthy of our people! The ruthless and brutal nature of such a game fits our own ruthless and brutal nature which can be truly entertaining for both the participants as well as those who spectate.
I truly hope this inspires you to learn and practice this beloved custom of our people from long ago to breathe life back into what was discouraged in our people long ago, returning this wonderful expression of our frivolity to our people. To share it and elevate this custom once again into prominence in drinking houses and at back yard festivities everywhere once again.
Our Second issue of Europe and Diaspora the Grundsow (Groundhog) issue is finally ready.
The second issue of Europe & Diaspora continues to bring forth the lore, legends, and culture of the Hyperborean Peoples. From stories of German Goddesses to the tale of the Hero Bear of World War II, this issue takes a deep look at fairy tales, holidays, and the simple things we may not notice at first glance. Like the Groundhog who awakens in Spring and speaks of his vision of the future. So too do we at Europe & Diaspora look to a new dawn and the possibilities before us. Our love for our people and culture pushes us forth and we hope with each issue we can show and return some of our culture and spirit to our people.