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The dominant motif of the Northern drama is the struggle between the gods and the demons. Under the hands of later redactors and not least through the narratory skill of Snorri the myths of Thor have been transformed into subtle works of art, but for all the literary skill of the antiquarian the stamp of their origin as legends or programmes for ritual dramas is not entirely effaced, and in some cases the allusions to an underlying drama are plainly visible – preeminently in the myth which relates Thor's visit to the giant Geirrod.

Once upon a time the god was enticed by Loki into setting out for the realm of the giants without his hammer and customary accoutrements of belt and gloves. On his road he put up, along with his companions Loki and Thialfi, at the house of a giantess who was called Grid and was the mother of Vidar. Grid warned the god against the perils awaiting him in the homestead of Geirrod and supplied him with a girdle and a pair of iron gloves and in addition with her staff, Gridarvolr. Thus equipped Thor sallied forth and reached the bank of a broad river called Vimur. He put on the girdle of Grid and waded into the stream steadying his stride by thrusting the staff into the bottom against the force of the waves, and supporting his friends who caught hold of his belt. In the middle of his passage the river swelled to such a degree that its waters rose over his shoulders. Casting a glance up the mountain he saw that the daughter of Geirrod was standing astride the river, and ceased from wondering at the mighty flooding. A river should be stemmed at its source, he exclaimed and flung a stone at her with the result that the waters subsided and he was able to lift himself and his companions out of the stream. This incident explains why the rowan is called the saviour of Thor. On his arrival at the residence of Geirrod he was shown into the goat's house, but no sooner had he taken his seat than he felt the chair being raised under him, and he only saved his head by thrusting this staff against the roof and pushing back, and instantly a loud outcry was heard, for by forcing his chair toward the floor he had broken the backs of Geirrod's daughters. After this Thor was invited into the hall; he found fires burning down the length so of the room and the inmates engaged in games. He was placed opposite to the giant, and Geirrod took up a glowing bolt of iron and hurled it at the god, but Thor caught it with his gloves and raised it ready for striking. Frightened by the threatening attitude of the god the demon hurried behind a pillar for safety. Thor threw the bolt with such force that it went through the pillar and killed the giant crouching behind it.

By analogy with the rites of other religions – first and foremost those of the Aryan brethren of the Teutons in Greece and India – we are justified in supposing that the combat of the god was dramatically expressed in the slaughtering of the sacrificial victim, and in Snorri's version of the Geirrod myth there are still some traces of an ancient legend, clear enough to show that the struggle between Thor and Geirrod was enacted during the festival. On his arrival Thor is shown into the goat's house and from there into the hall where games are going on: in other words, the scene of the story is in the sacrificial feast. The narrator evidently believed that the reception was meant for a gesture of contempt, and by a rather scatter-brained copyist goat's house has been altered into guest's house; but Thor's visit to the small cattle may safely be regarded as anything but a romantic episode in the career of the hero god. The legend alluded to a dramatic scene of slaughter in which the god, or in ritual words the representative of the god among the sacrificers, started with his assistants for the fold to kill the victim and, symbolically, to slay the demon. For this purpose the leader of the ceremony was furnished with a staff. As a rule the glorious killer of the giants wields a weapon of more impressive appearance, and the myth supplies an explanation how it came about that the god was unprepared for action and had to put with this quaint substitute for his famous hammer. This episode of the visit to Geirrod intimates that the sacrificer in this part of the drama was equipped with a cult instrument of a peculiar character, and thus furnishes a parallel to the Frey myth explaining that the god had to kill his antagonist with the horn of a stag, because he had parted with his sword (S E 38). In reality this part of the myth, or rather of the legend at the back of the myth, is not explanatory, but reproduces a ceremony introductory to the sacrifice in which the officiating person was consecrated for his task and invested with the sacrificial implements appropriate to the act. The ritual character of the staff is sufficiently marked by its name; in the first place staff is expressed by a ritual word, völr; in the second place its character is defined by its relation to a power that can only be characterised as the friend of Thor.

As to the shape of this implement the first part of the myth may perhaps offer some intimation. We find there a graphic description of Thor's journey into Utgard, where his progress is hampered by foaming rivers which would have swept him off his feet if he had not thrust his staff firmly into the bottom. In all probability this part of the god's exploit, his braving the streams that flowed icily cold with venom and cutting swords, had its representation at the sacrifice, at the moment when the blood spirted from the victim. The shedding of the sacred blood was an occasion for anxiety and solicitous care, and it is probable that Thor's perilous march has been dramatically and symbolically rendered in the rite that was necessary to prevent the blood from running outside the vessel and being wasted. The connexion between legend and rite is seen in the trait that the god lifted himself out of the river by grasping a rowan – probably the sacred staff had to be made of rowan's wood; the words: “rowan is the rescue of Thor”, read like a ritual formula or a poetical kenning based on the ceremonial phrase.

As it happens, this legend has received poetical treatment in a poem which has come down to us: Eilifs' Thorsdrapa. A scrutiny of the verses reveals that the poet was in touch with the language of the drama and very probably had himself seen the myth enacted; his kennings are not mere pomp of words gathered at random from the vocabulary of courtly poets and put together according to the demands of style and metre, but for the greater part at least are chosen to fit in with the situation of the drama. In Eilif's metaphors the foaming rivers are called the blood of the giantess, the spirting jet of her blood, the sword-produced fluid. True to the ritual representation he designated the sky as the roof the hall. In v. 7 he has preserved part of the sacrificial formula; the only resource – ráđ – left to Thor when the stream all but overwhelmed him, was to cry out: “My megin shall grow up to the roof, unless the blood of the giantess is stilled”. The version of Snorri translated the formula into an epic piece of mythology: “Do not swell further, waters of Vimur, I must wade your stream unto the seat of the giant; know, if you grow higher, my asemegin will grow as highs as heaven”. The matter is identical in the poem of Eilif and in the myth of Snorri, but in the poetical version the incident is drawn from the stirring scenes in the sacrificial hall.

As to the ritual handling of the staff we are left in ignorance by the myth, but some hints, if not a complete explanation, may perhaps be sought in a story incorporated in the Landnámabok. An Icelandic peasant, Lodmund, was involved in a conflict of long standing with his neighbour, Thrasi. One day the latter became aware that a flood of water was coming down from the mountain above his homestead; he conceived the bright idea of turning this natural phenomenon to account and by some art known to himself he led the water so well and wisely that it bore down upon the farm of his adversary. Lodmund was sitting his hall when one of this thralls came panting in and shouted to his master that a sea was making for the house; the old man, who was blind, rose and bade the thrall lead him to the brink of the water and thrust his staff into the stream, then he gripped the staff, set his teeth in a ring attached to it, and the water turned right about taking its course towards the fields of Thrasi. Thrasi accepted the challenge, and now the pair of sages followed and directed the stream turn and turn about, until they met at the brink of a chasm and agreed to let the river find the nearest way through the cleft to the sea. This story, or legend as it should be properly called, reveals that the staff, cunningly applied, had power over flowing waters, and may be read as an intimation of its use in the sacrifice to guard against the blood running outside the vessel in which it had to be caught.

The myth of Geirrod affords a glimpse of a sacral art involving the use of a staff, adding by way of a commentary that his rite implied a symbolic representation of the god's journey into Utgard. This myth covers one moment only of the proceedings, the collection of the blood; the killing of the victim, and by implication the slaying of the demon, must have had a legend of its own, now lost. As a matter of course the incidents of the journey also symbolised the victory over the demons – an illustration of the comprehensiveness or fulness of the dramas alluded to above – but from the breaking of the giantesses' backs we can draw no conclusion as to the mode of killing the victim; a dramatic concept, as expounded in the legend, is not pictorially identical with the rite and cannot be used as the point of departure for a guess at the form of the ceremony. The kenning of Eitif alluding to the blood as “sword-drawn fluid” clearly points to other incidents in the sacrificial drama.

The scene in the hall of Geirrod is no less pregnant with allusions to the drama. We are told that Thor was invited into the hall to take part in “games” and was seated opposite to the giant. In the episode of the iron bolt the motif of the fight insists upon a fresh representation, and once more the character of the rite behind the legend is revealed to us by the poem of Eilif. The corresponding verses in the Thorsdrapa imply a description of the scenes all but identical with the version of Snorri, but the kennings in which Eilif clothes the contest bridge the gap between the myth and the drama in suggesting the dramatic setting of the story, and thus indirectly bring out the original legend.

We know that the sacrificial meal was initiated by a ritual testing of the entrails or some parts of the intestines which were considered eminently vital and sacred – Homer's splŁgcna pŁsanto– and on account of the holy virtue of these portions the act of tasting gave divine strength to the sacrificers and consequently dealt a crushing blow to the demons. In Eilif's metaphors the red-hot piece of iron – or mass of red iron as it probably means – is characterised as “a piece of meat cooked in the forge”, as “the red bit of the tongs”, as “the mouthful raised aloft”; and correspondingly the gripping hand of Thor is paraphrased into: “Thor gaped with the mouth of the arm and swallowed with the eager jaws of the arm”. Finally the piece of meat is rendered by segi, a word of ritual provenance, the sacral signification of heart; it recurs in a scene of ritual character in the compound fjörsegi, the flesh of life or heart Faf. 32, v. infra p. 333). The kennings are so peculiar and consistent – in their very artificiality drawing upon traditional ideas – that they disclose a dramatic core within the mythical rind; we are justified in supposing that the poetic language of the drama is refracted through the other parts of the poem, even if the scantiness of supplementary evidence prevents our understanding the allusions. Euphuistic as the Thorsdrapa is, it differs from the artificial poetry of the eleventh century to the extent that the poet does not go to mythology as to a storehouse abounding with masks and gorgeous dresses, but in the choice of his images is aiming at actual dramatic situation. It is a safe guess that he composed amidst the scenery of the ancient cult. 

Another form of the battle with the demon is recounted in the myth of Thiazi. Once upon a time when the gods Odin and Hoenir and Loki were engaged in roasting an ox, they had the misfortune that the meat would not cook. They became aware than an eagle was perched on a branch over their heads; he discovered himself as the giant Thiazi and told them that the hitch in the preparation of the meal was due to his influence. The gods agreed that he should get a share of the meal, but when he caught up at one grasp the hams and the shoulders of the ox Loki flared up and aimed a blow at him with a bough. The bough stuck in the eagle, and Loki not being able to free himself was dragged over stones and stumps until he begged for peace. Thiazi released him on the condition that he enticed Ydun, the goddess of the life-giving apples, out of Asgard and left her to the mercy of the demon. On the disappearance of the goddess the gods turned grey with age, and they compelled Loki on pain of death to set out for her rescue. He accomplished his task and carried the goddess off from the giant in the guise of a falcon; when Thiazi pursued Loki over the wall of Asgard, he was caught by the flames of a fire the gods had lighted in the courtyard, and was killed,

This myth turns upon a later moment in the sacrifice and reflects a rite used at the lighting of the fire to ward off the influence of the demon and to secure the preparation of the sacrificial meat. In this ceremony the staff of some similar instrument makes its reappearance as a cult instrument. The danger lurking in the design of the demon comes out in the latter part of the myth; if he had succeeded in his scheme and gods and men were deprived of the sacrificial meal, they would lose all luck: youth and health. This myth finds its commentary in Thjodolf's poem of Haustlong; the design of Geirrod is branded in the Thorsdrapa by the kenning: the robber of the sun; in Haustlong the demon is characterised as the thief of the treasures.

In the former legend Thor plays the leading part, whereas Odin is the principal character in the latter; this divergence only indicates that the myths represent ritual dramas originating with different circles of worshippers. Harbardsljod 19 witnesses to a form of the Thiazi myth in which Thor is the central figure. The legends agree in representing the god acting in concert with two fellow gods, thus reflecting the circumstance that in some rites the officiating chieftain was assisted by two acolytes in the performance of his task. This rule that certain ceremonies required three officiants or, from a dramatic point of view, three actors, each having his particular duty allotted to him, is vouched for by a variety of myths; here it is Thor, Thialfi and Loki or Odin, Hoenir and Loki (cf. Regin.); or Odin, Vili and Ve. One of Odin's ritual titles is Thridi, the third and by implication the most important person of a triad, another Tveggi, which probably means the god who acts in collaboration with another. In their kennings both Thorsdrapa and Haustlong hark back to the actuality of the dramatic situation; so far from being mere poetic titles their metaphors are used to give actuality to the scene in alluding to a cooperation between the gods, characteristic of the moment; Loki and Odin are “the friends of Hoenir” as Hoenir is “the friend of Odin”, and it is no straining of a hypothesis to assume that the rest of the kennings – as f.i. Loki being called “the kinsman of Farbauti” – do not owe their introduction to poetic fancy.

Concerning the ritual task of these actors the legends are not very informative. The character of Loki is apparent in the myth; he is the stirrer up of strife and thus the provoker of victory, but as to the rites expressive of this activity we are left in ignorance. From the Haustlong we learn that Hoenir had the ritual task of lighting and blowing the fire: Hoenir hlaut blása, it is said v.4, and it is worth noting that the verb hljóta is ritual in tone. The refrain of the Thorsdrapa: “angry the brother of Roskva was standing, the father of Magni was victorious, neither the heart of Thialfi nor of Thor was trembling”, is anything but poetical padding; the words indicate a ritual attitude which the officiating persons were bound to assume in order to ensure a happy result. Finally the Haustlong presents us with a number of kennings expressive of the gods' activity in pronouncing the appropriate forumlć; they are called segjandi, speakers – segja denotes ritual or legal speech; Odin is named hapta snytrir (v.3), the instructor of the gods, or in other words the leader of the sacrifice (cf. infra p. 319); sagna hroerir (v.9) probably signifies: the god who is spokesman or recites holy texts.

The slaughtering of the animal is a sacred act necessary for the preservation of life and luck; to procure the sacred meal the animal's life must be taken. At the same time it is a proceeding fraught with danger and in its principle nefarious as encroaching on something holy and divine; it implies a violation of the inviolable, no less portentous and appalling for its being inevitable – XXX. To ward off the evil consequences and the guilt involved in the act, the slaughtering is confined to strict ritual forms; moreover the recklessness and fearfulness of the act is dramatised in a ceremony which is reparative as well as exculpatory and expiatory as f.i. in the ox-killing in Attica, where the sacrificer had to undergo a mock-trial for murder before a ritual tribunal. In the legends the reverence of the worshippers finds expression in a statement that the god is struck with fear and hides himself, like Indra after he has killed Vrithra, or flees and goes through a ritual of purification, like Apollo after the slaying of the Python.

Dramatically the sacrifice symbolised victory over the demon, the power of evil, and consequently the rite of atonement implicitly stood for a form of redress, or paying of weregild, due to the adversary of the gods for the act of violence. The remains of his body or his bones were revered as sacred, objects of reverence and worship, which is identical with the part of the victim, not eaten, being sacrosanct. The Norwegian myth of Skadi turns upon an expiatory ceremony of this kind. When Thiazi had been slain, we are told, his daughter made her appearance in full panoply to ask for weregild; the gods received her with fair words and made an offer of reconciliation and reparations giving her free choice of one of the gods for her husband with one reserve only, that nothing but their feet should be on view. She chose the fairest pair of feet among the company under the erroneous belief that they could belong to none else but Balder, the perfection of beauty; instead Njord leapt up and claimed her for a bride. In addition she made her consent dependent on the gods making her laugh, and Loki satisfied her on this point by a piece of buffoonery; this legendary description of Loki's little joke evidently forms the programme of a dramatic “game” performed to restore the gladness of the sacrificers after the gloom of the slaughter or in other words to demonstrate the success of the expiatory ceremony – a parallel to the well-known scene in the Eleusinian drama.

The myths here mentioned cover only part of the ritual required by the slaughter of the victim; probably each moment of the ceremony might give rise to a legend, and one of the series is preserved in a myth relating to the cutting up of the victim symbolising the creation of the world, v. infra p.288 seqq.Another form of the divine battle is reproduced in the myth treating of Thor's fight with Hrungnir (S E 85 cf. 115, Skjald. I 17, Harb. 14). The giant made a boast that he would kill the gods and carry off the goddesses Freyja and Sif, and he challenged Thor to meet him in single combat on the border at Grjotunagard. The giants knowing that their very existence hung on the success of Hrungnir, made a man of clay, nine miles high and three miles broad across the chest, on the field of battle, but could not find a heart big enough, until they cut one out of a mare and placed it in his breast. Flanked by this clay giant Hrungnir took his stand covered with a shield of stone and carrying a hone for his weapon. Thor drove along in thunder and lightning, but in the nick of time Thialfi ran on in advance and fooled the giant into pushing his shield underfoot by shouting at him that the god had gone underground and was attacking him from beneath. Thor hurled his hammer from afar, and the weapon was met in its flight by the hone, but nevertheless it reached the head of the giant, and while he sank on his shield Thialfi made short work of the clay man. In falling Hrungnir crashed down on Thor, one of his feet pressed down the neck of the god, and none of the ases was able to free their brother until his son, Magni, came up and threw off the foot at one pull. A bit of the hone stuck in Thor's forehead and was never removed. 

This legend contains several allusions to a dramatic enactment in the sacrificial hall: the features that the giants raised a man of clay and furnished him with the heart of a mare, and that his fall was identical with the fall of Hrungnir, obviously originate in a ritual arrangement; moreover Hrungnir's head is said to have been of stone and three-cornered like the sign “called Hrungnir's heart”, a ritual symbol, in fact. The circumstance that the demon is slain on a shield directly reproduces a ceremonial act. Haustlong simply states that he fell on a shield, with no other explanation than: “thus the gods ordered, thus the dises arranged”; the death of the demon, then, took place on a shield.

The demon appears in the guise of a serpent or dragon in a myth telling how Thor killed the Serpent of Middle-garth, but this myth has come down only in a literary, rather etiolated form (Hym. Cf. S E 54 seqq.). Thor accompanied the giant Hymir on a fishing expedition, baited his hook with the head of an ox and angled for the Serpent; when the Serpent's head appeared above the surface, Hymir was so alarmed that he cut the line. Thor hurled his hammer at the disappearing head, but nobody can tell whether it took effect. In the drama Thor had to kill the demon, and the original version is implied in fragments of Thor poems (Skjald. 132 cf. 129). The fight is commemorated in Vsp. 56, where it must necessarily conform to the religious views of the poet; but though the idea of the poem requires that the gods and the demons should kill one another, the author gives Thor time enough to enjoy his victory for a few moments.

The drinking feast that succeeded the sacrificial meal runs on the same dramatic motif; when the ale was consecrated and the horn emptied, the demon suffered defeat. This scene is literally illustrated on the Gosforth cross, where the sacrificer is depicted standing, horn in hand, beside the dead body of the demon (Aarb. for nord. Oldk. 1902 p. 161 and reference; also Haas: Bilderatlas zur Religionsgeschichte I nr.49).

The episode of the ale feast was intimately connected with the sacrifice: the ale spiritually drew its power and luck from the killing of the victim and the shedding of its blood. This fact, that the drink of life was inspired by the blessing created by the sacrifice, is clothed in a mythical formula by a verse in the Grimnismal (25): the mead runs from the udders of the goat Heidrun. It is further developed in the myth of Kvasir whose blood ran into the ale vat (S E 60, 71, 79); Kvasir is called the wisest of beings, he was killed by dwarfs who collected his blood in a vessel, mixed it with honey and in this way made the precious drink of mead; later on they were compelled to give it up to the giant Suttung in ransom for their lives.

The ale was ritually called lögr (Sigrdr. 8, 13, Alvis. 34, Hym. 6), and judging by the kennings this term applied to the blood of the victim as well.

In the ritual connected with the brewing of the ale and its offering up in the drinking feast the victory was won and celebrated; the drama inherent in the ceremonies is transcribed in a myth telling how Odin robbed Suttung of the life-giving fluid. Snorri (S E 60) has retold the myth with sly humour in a version containing numerous reminiscences of the ritual, worked up with elements of fairy tales into an intricate whole that defies our attempts at analysis. The main features recur in a group of verses incorporated in the Hávamál, 104 seqq., and this version evidently keeps much closer to the original form of the legend: “I paid a visit to the ancient giant and now I have returned. I won small gain by holding my tongue, by a good many brave words I showed myself off. Gunnlod placed me in a golden chair and gave me a drink of the precious mead; she was niggardly rewarded for her true spirit and her great love. I let Rati gnaw a passage through the stone, above and below stood the roads of the giants; I risked my head in the deed. I have happily enjoyed the drink happily won, a cunning man accomplishes his aim. Now the kettle Óđrörir has been brought up and placed on the holy spot of men. I had hardly escaped from the seat of the giants even now, if Gunnlod had not given me her assistance, the noble maiden who rested in my arms. The day after, the frost giants strode into the hall of Hár and asked for Bolverk, whether he dwelt among the gods or had been slaughtered by Suttung. I think Odin swore an oath on his ring; who can trust in his covenant; he betrayed Suttung for his ale and left Gunnlod weeping”.

This version displays its authority, by its succession of ritual dialogue and ritual images, as a reproduction of dramatic scenes. Snorri completes the allusions by describing how Odin forced his way through the rock – the roads of the giants – by means of a gimlet, Rati, and further by the information that Odin in his disguise had assumed the name of Bolverk; but he has dropped such ritual reminiscences as the chair on which Odin was seated and the final scene when the giants enter to ask for compensation are once more cheated out of their right.

The deed of Odin is perpetuated in a number of kennings. These poetical heirlooms of the blot have degenerated into poetical tinsel, but now and again the original stamp shines through, for instance in the prologue of Eyvind's Háleygjatal (Skjald. 68); he apostrophizes the god Odin as the god who bore the weregild of the dwarfs on mighty wings from Surt's gloomy vales in the nether world, ór Surts Sökkdölum; Sokkdalir and Sokkmimir occur elsewhere as ritual names of the nether world and its prince (Grim. 50, Ynglingatal 2, S E 197).

The viking age celebrates the drink mainly as the source whence poets and wise men drew their inspiration. From earliest time the cup flowed with ráđ: speech, powerful words, wise thoughts – the power of the ale made the traditions of the clan ever fresh and strong – but this blessing was part of a more comprehensive luck, rich enough to renew the clansmen, body and soul, as well as their labour and possessions. In their onesided praise of the inspiratory ale, the scalds obscured its value as the drink of life. Snorri's version of the Suttung myth reflects the sentiments of the viking age, whereas the verses of the Hávamál have retained a truer conception of the mead, that of an invigorating draught which colours the checks with the hue of blooming health, the sign of youth and strength, and makes the blood run warm and red in the veins. “I happily won litar and happily enjoyed them”, ruse the verse (107); litar means simply hue, strength, and health.

The great moments in the festival, such as the sacrifice, the meal and the drinking ceremony, are but religious peaks towering above and descending by numerous degrees into a maze of ritual moments, from the very first preparations to the dismissal of the worshippers. Every little piece of arrangement: the brewing of the ale, the rinsing of the vessels, was carried out with the gravity of ceremonial, and each moment of ritual employment is implied the dramatic motif of the feast. Concerning the ceremonies of preparation we have only one piece of information in a legend connected with bringing out the ale vat and making it ready for use. Hymiskvida – in form one of the most literary poems of the Edda, but nevertheless firmly rooted in ritual legend – presents us with the programme of the brewing process or part of it. The gods decided upon holding an ale feast and took omens to the effect that Ćgir ought to prepare the ale. On his protesting that he lacked a proper vessel Thor set out to win the ale vat from the giants. This legend shows how the holiness and luck of the brewing and of the utensils were vindicated; its ceremonial import further manifests itself in the fact that the conquest of the vessel is closely bound up in the legend with the god's struggle against the Serpent of Middle-garth.

By means of a comparative examination of the evidence contained in the myths and of the information conveyed by the poetic vocabulary, we are able to form an idea of the ritual drama among the Northerners, exhibiting the features which are typical of primitive or classical religions. The events which form the theme of the drama are living in the worshippers, their memory and imagination are filled with images ready to emerge at the slightest allusion. They saw the god striding across the bleak, forbidding fells of Utgard, through fearsome ravines swept by fierce hurricanes, wading through icy rivers, which cut into his flesh with corroding venom and slicing swords, to seek out the giant in his monstrous grandeur and grimness; these visions were illustrated or rather realised in the scene when the victim collapsed and the blood spirted from the wound. The images stored in memory are called into life by the triumphant joy of victory and emerge in the objects handled during the ceremonies, in the acts and gestures which were necessitated simply by the requirements of the sacrifice. The drama was largely made up of such ritual functions as did not owe their existence and dramatic force to any histrionic or artistic impulse; on the other hand purely ceremonial operations shade off imperceptibly into poses and attitude of marked dramatic character, of the kind hinted at in the refrain of the Thorsdrapa: “Angry the brother of Roskva was standing, the father of Magni was victorious, neither the heart of Thialfi nor of Thor was trembling”. But even in these cases the attitude had primarily a ritual and religious purpose, as we see from analogous forms in other religions; in order to carry out the sacredly outrageous attack on the animal the officiant must do violence to his feelings and ceremonially stiffen or harden himself, and it is this ritual necessity which gives the gesture its dramatic force. By degrees the ceremonies pass off into genuine mimicry and imitative acting; the drama underlying the Hrungnir myth probably found outlet in a scene more closely related to our ideas of symbolic representation, and, reticent as are our sources of information on this head, the intimations of this story taken in conjunction with other allusions are sufficiently clear to complete the picture.

And yet, in this attempt to realise the sequence of ideas in primitive or classical culture and to translate the psychology underlying those ideas into modern forms of experience, we are putting the cart before the horse. We insist on explaining the spirit of the drama on lines natural to us, as if the memories stored in the minds of the worshippers were evoked by means of the suggestion of the ritual in the shape of a dramatic experience of the myth; but what ranks as secondary to our mode of thinking is primary from a classical point of view; the drama constitutes reality, and imagination or recollection are nothing but the reflexes of the mighty events experience in the drama.

Probably the demons, too, were symbolically represented in the ritual drama, but on this head our information is extremely meagre. It is worth noting, however, that gandr, the staff or magical instrument of witches, makes it appearance in mythology and probably in ritual as a synonym of demon. It is applied to the Serpent of Middle-garth – Jormungandr – and to the Wolf, in the compound Vánargandr, which contains an allusion to the river Ván of the nether world (S E 35 cf. Solar. 54). The Gosforth cross presents the demons in the characteristic shape of broad bands intertwined and terminating in a gaping head; there is a possibility that the carver chose this ornamental pattern because it resembled or recalled the customary figure in the blot hall.




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