Book: Traces of the Norse Mythology in the Isle of Man
Author: P. M. C. Kermode

Traces of the Norse Mythology in the Isle of Man By P. M. C. Kermode

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 37
Publication Date: 1904

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With 10 Illustrative Plates. Read before the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Ramsey, December 18th, 1903.

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As pointed out in the Corp. Poet. Bor., the old Norse mythology, with its very primitive conceptions of the origin of the universe--the earth the flesh of a mighty giant, ocean his blood, the rocks his bones, heaven made out of his skull, clouds out of his brains, and so on; its gods the personifications of natural forces or deified heroes; its belief in ghosts living in barrows--ancestor worship; all this gave way to the more complex ideas of the Viking period, due to contact with the Celtic folk and a smattering acquaintance with the Christian religion.

"In this system Odin became King of the Slain in Battle, head of a royal race of Anses, a Charlemain of the Empyrean, with a splendid Hall, a host of Hand-maidens, a chosen guard of the fallen kings and heroes of all generations, who feast on (boiled) pork and mead, and spend the day in war-like sport, just as their earthly types did. Then there is a great Last Battle to be fought by the Warrior-Angels and the Elect against the Beast and the Dragon, and the Demons of Fire, an eschatology the origin of which is very plain."

As the authors point out, however, this Wicking religion was never the accepted faith of the Norsemen, Danes, and Swedes. Some of its most famous myths, such as that which transformed the gallows-tree--Yggdrasil (lit., Odin's Steed) to a Tree of Life, may never have travelled beyond the single poem in which it was wrought out by a master mind!

Besides the remarkable illustrations carved on stone, showing the hold their ancient myths and legends had on the sculptors of these Christian monuments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we are able to trace them in many of the usages, rites, and customs which have come down to our own day, in sayings, and proverbs, and names--in a word, in our Folklore.

Now, as to the High Gods, or Anses, we are met with the curious fact, which our familiarity with it alone accounts for our regarding as a matter of course, that of the seven days of the week all but the first two are called after Scandinavian Gods.

The third day, Dies Martis, was assigned to Ty, Tiu, a god of war, the most daring of the gods. It was he who placed his right hand in the jaws of the Fenri Wolf when that monster demanded such a pledge of good faith before suffering the gods to bind him in the charmed fetters (gleipnir). His hand was bitten off, and he feels the loss when in the last great battle he meets the hound Garm and each slays the other. As we have no figure of Tiu, nor do I recognize him in our folklore, except that Tuesday was considered lucky, I pass on to the next.

Dies Mercurii, becomes the day of Odin, Woden, the supreme god, god of Heaven, the Heaven itself (Ouranos); the fountain-head of wisdom and founder of poetry, writing, and culture; lord of battle and giver of the highest blessings, especially of victory; later, of magic and sorcery. His is the creative power: out of Ash and Elm he made man and woman. The later tales of his wonderful travels, his many names and disguises, his eloquence and magical power, may have suggested to the Romans a resemblance to Mercury (Hermes).

He is represented as old, long-bearded, one-eyed. A myth of the earliest type relates how his eye was given in pledge to Mimi, Giant of the Abyss, for a single draught of the deep Well of Wisdom. He is clad in a blue cloak (invisibility) and, like Hermes, a broad-brimmed hat or a Hood, whence one of his many names--Grim, which became a favourite man's name, and, as such occurs in two of our runic inscriptions. Another name, Gautr, Father (as in Vsp:--"Upp reiss Odin alderen Gautr"--Up rose Odin, the ancient sire), was also a favourite, and occurs as that of our greatest Scandinavian sculptor, who, on a cross at Michael, claims to have "made this and all in Man"! He is "wielder of Gungnir," the spear, which, as he hurls it over the battlefield, all those over whom it passes are doomed to fall, and " fare to Odin."

He is accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki--Greed and Fierceness. Two Ravens, Hugin and Munnin--Mind and Memory, fly through all the worlds and return to rest on his shoulders bringing him tidings of all that is being done.

The word Oðin appears to be related to Óðr (A.S., wod; Eng., wood), mad, wild, furious, and with his tall white horse, Sleipnir, the slipper, which, by way of implying its exceeding swiftness, is represented as eight-footed, he appears in folklore throughout the north of Europe as the "Wild Huntsman," of which we still meet with faint echoes in the Isle of Man, reduced to stories of Fairy hunters, hounds, and horn. Again we trace him in our harvest customs, such as that of the last sheaf, and, of the Laare-vane (white horse), as may be seen by comparison with similar customs in the North of England and in Europe; for example, in Saxony, the last clump of standing corn is dedicated to Woden for his horse.

In one or two Manks stories a Hair rope figures conspicuously. Can this in any way refer to Odin? In Ynglinga-tal the halter is described as "Hagbard's goat-hair rope," and, elsewhere we read of Odin's horse-hair beard."