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The Cult of Othin

By: H.M. Chadwick



Chapter 1

The Cult of Othin in the North.

Allusions to sacrifices offered to Othin on the battlefield are frequent. These sacrifices however must be discussed together with other rites connected with the cult of Othin in time of war. Sacrifices under other circumstances are not unfrequently mentioned, but the god to whom the sacrifice was offered is not usually specified. In cases where it is distinctly stated that the sacrifice was offered to Othin, the victims are, so far as I am aware, always human. This however may be an accident as the number of examples is small. The most striking case is the sacrifice of king Vikar, which is recorded in Gautreks s. konungs c. 7 (F.A.S. III. p.31 ff.) and Saxo VI. p. 276 f. According to the account given in Gautreks Saga, Vikar's fleet was delayed by contrary winds. Having had recourse to divination, they find that Othin requires a man out of their company. The victim is to be chosen by lot and hanged. Selection by lot is therefore made throughout the host, and the lot falls on the king. After this the Saga goes on to the relate Starkaðr's vision in the forest (cf. p. 68 f.). At the conclusion of the discussion Hrosshársgrani (Othin) asks Starkaðr to reward him for the services which he has rendered him, and to this Starkaðr consents. Hrosshársgrani then says that he requires Vikar to be sent to him and instructs Starkaðr how this is to be done. He gives Starkaðr a javelin and tells him that this will appear to be a reed-cane. After this they return to the host, and the following morning the king's councillors meet to consider what is to be done. They all agree that the sacrifice should be carried out in form only, to which end Starkaðr proposes a plan. In the neighborhood was a fir tree and close by it a tall stump, over which a long thin branch hung down from the upper part of the tree. The servants were at the time preparing a meal, and had killed and cut up a calf. Starkaðr took some of the calf's entrails and, climbing on to the stump, pulled down the branch and tied the strings on to it. Then he said to the king, "Here is a gallows ready for you, O king, and I do not think it looks very dangerous." The king climbed on to the stump, and Starkaðr laid the noose round his neck and leaped down. Then he thrust against the king with his cane saying, "Now I give thee to Othin," and released the branch. The cane turned into a javelin and transfixed the king, the stump fell from beneath his feet, and the strings turned into strong withies; the branch flew back and sept the king into the tree-top, and there he died. According to Ynglinga s. 29, Aun, king of Sweden, sacrificed to Othin for length of life, and obtained the answer that he should live so long as he sacrificed one of his sons every tenth year. In this way nine of his ten sons were sacrificed. Again, according to Ynlinga s. 47, there was a famine in the reign of Ólafr Trételgi, which the people attributed to the fact that Ólafr was not zealous in sacrificing. They therefore "burnt him in his house and gave him to Othin, sacrificing him that they themselves might have plenty." With this passage may be compared Hervarar s. ok Heiðreks konungs, c. 11, 12 (F.A.S. I. 451 ff.), which describes how a famine arose in Reiðgotaland during the reign of king Haraldr. It was found by divination that the famine could only be stopped by the sacrifice of the noblest youth in the land. It was unanimously agreed the Angantýr, son of Heiðrekr, was the person required. Heiðrekr took counsel to avoid this, and determined to offer the king with his son Halfdan and all their host as a sacrifice to Othin in place of his own son. He therefore attacked and slew them, and "had the temples reddened with the blood of Haraldr and Halfdan, and committed to Othin all the host that had fallen, as an offering for plenty in place of his son."

Besides these occasional sacrifices it is probable that sacrifices to Othin were offered also at certain fixed festivals, The heathen Scandinavians had three great annual sacrifices, which are thus described in Ynglinga s. 8: (1) í móti vetri til árs, at the approach of winter; (this sacrifice was) for plenty": (2) at miðirm vetri til gróðrar, "at midwinter for increase (of the crops)": (3) at sumri, þat var sigrblót, "at the beginning of summer; this was a sacrifice for victory." The first of these sacrifices was certainly connected with the worship of Frö; the second probably was that of Thor. It is probable also that the third of these sacrifices (sacrifice for victory) was associated with Othin. This is shown by the constant references to Othin as the giver of victory; by his name Sigtyr, "god of victory"; by sacrifices and vows made to Othin for victory in time of way, examples of which will be given in the following pages; lastly by the custom observed in the drinking of toasts, which is thus described in Hákonar s góða, c. 19: "It was customary first to drink Othin's toast for victory and for the glory of their king, and after that the toasts of Niordr and Frö for plenty and peace." Besides these annual festivals there were sacrifices on a great scale every nine years at Upsala and Leire, at which sacrifices of men together with various animals were offered. According to Schol. 137 to Adam of Bremen the sacrifice at Upsala took place about the spring equinox; it would coincide therefore with the annual sacrifice for victory. Consequently it is not unlikely that this sacrifice also was connected with the worship of Othin. At Leire indeed the corresponding sacrifice took place in January. It is possible however that the arrangement of the annual sacrifices in Denmark was not the same as in Norway and Sweden.

According to Adam of Bremen IV. 27 sacrifice was offered by the Swedes to Othin on the approach of war. It seems to have been at one time a common practice to sacrifice notable prisoners taken at war. In the account of the battle in Egils s. ok Ásmundar c. 8 (F.A.S. III. p. 379) it is stated that "all Ásmundr’s men had fallen and he was himself taken prisoner; it was then evening; they had decided to slay him on the morrow at Aran's tomb, and give him to Othin that they might themselves have victory; (gefa hann Óðni til sigrs sér). The same phrase is used in Orkn. saga c. 8, where it is related that Ragnar's sons captured Ella and put him to death by cutting the "blood-eagle" upon his back (cf. Ragnars s Loðbrókar, c. 18; Saxo IX p. 463). It is probable also that the hanging of captured enemies was regarded as a sacrifice to Othin. This custom is frequently mentioned, especially in stories which deal with the reign of Iormunrekr (cf. p. 17)

The dedication of an enemy's army to Othin before the commencement of a battle must have also been regarded as a sacrificial act. According to Eyrbyggia s. 44 it was the custom in ancient times to shoot a javelin over the enemy's army, in order to turn the luck in one's own favour. That this custom was connected with the cult of Othin is shown by the following examples: In Hervarar s. ok Heiðreks c. 18 (F.A.S. I. 501), before the battle between the Reiðgotar and Huns, Gizr rode up the Huns' army and said: "Your king is panic-stricken, your leader is doomed, ...Othin is wroth with you; ... may Othin let the dart fly according to my words." So also in Styrbiarnar þáttr c.2; Before his battle with Styrbiorn Eirekr went into Othin's temple and devoted himself to die after ten years, if he might obtain the victory; shortly afterwards he saw a tall man with a long hood, who gave him a cane and told him to shoot it over Styrbiorn's army with these words: "Ye all belong to Othin." This example is remarkable because the battle is a historical event and seems to have taken place about 960-970 (cf. Saxo x. p. 479). According to the Saga af Haralki Gráfeld c. 11, Eirekr died ten years after Styrbiorn's fall. With the phrase "Ye all belong to Othin" may be compared Saxo VII. p. 361, where it is stated that Haraldus (i.e. Haraldr Hilditonn, king of Denmark) had acquired the favour of Othin to such an extent that the latter granted him immunity from wounds in war. In return for this Haraldus "is said to have promised to Othin the souls which he ejected from their bodies by the sword."

According the Saxo VIII. p. 390 Haraldus repeated this vow in his last fight, in order that he might obtain the victory against Ringo (i.e. Sigurðr Hringr). In the Sogubrot af Fornkonungum, c. 8 (F.A.S. I. 380) the words of this bow are given as follows: "I give to Othin (gef ek Oðni) all the host which falls in this battle." It is noticeable that this is the sacrificial formula (cf. p. 4). Again, according to Saxo IX. p. 446, Syuardus (i.e. Sigurdhr orm i auga, son of Ragnar Loðbrók) was so severely wounded that the physicians despaired of his life, when a certain man of immense size approached his couch and promised to restore him to health forthwith "if he would devote to him the souls of those whom he should destroy in war." He declared that his name was Rostarus. But further, the slaying of an enemy in battle under ordinary circumstances seems to have been regarded as a sacrifice to Othin. This is shown by a verse in Skaldskaparmal, c.1, attributed to Thióðolfr: "There lay the dead on the sand, allotted to Frigg's one-eyed husband; we rejoiced at such a deed." With this may be compared Islendinga s.I p. 307, where Helgi after killing Thorgrimr in battle sings: "I have given the brave son of Thormóðr to Othin; we have offered him as a sacrifice to the ruler of the gallows, and his corpse to the raven." In this passage the phrase "give to Othin" is practically equivalent to "slay in battle." In like manner the phrases "go to Othin" and "receive Othin's hospitality" are used as equivalent to "be slain in battle," e.g. in Ragnars s. Loðbrokar, c. 9 (F.A.S. I. 265), when Aslaug hears of her son's death, she says: -- "Rognvaldr began to stain his shield with the blood of men; he, the youngest of my sons, in his terrible valour has come to Othin."

In Hrómundar s. Greipssonar, c. 2 (F.A.S. II.366), Kari, when mortally wounded, says to the king: --"Farewell, I am going to be Othin's guest." So also in the account of the fight between Hialmar and Oddr and the twelve "berserkir" in Hervarar s. ok Heiðreks, c. 5 (F.A.S. I. 422 f.), Hialmar says to Oddr: "It seems to me very likely that we shall all be Othin's guests in Valholl to-night.: Oddr answers: "It is not I who shall be Othin's guest to-night, but they will all be dead before night comes, and we shall be alive." In the verse the dialogue runs thus: H. "We two brave warriors shall be Othin's guests this evening, but those twelve will live." O. "They will be Othin's guests this evening, the twelve berserkir, but we two shall live." The synonymous phrase í Valholl gista ('lodge in Valholl') occurs in Hrolfs s. Kraka 51 (F.A.S. I. 106).

It has already been pointed out that the phrase "give to Othin" is applied both to sacrifice and to the slaying of an enemy. By itself the meaning of this phrase might be ambiguous; the expression "become Othin's guest" however can have only one meaning, namely that the person of whom it was used must have been regarded as still existing after death in some close relationship to Othin. That persons killed in battle were regarded as passing into Othin's presence is shown by the names Val-fodhr, "father of the slain," applied to Othin himself, and Val-holl, "hall of the slain," applied to Othin's dwelling; so also by such passages as the following: -- "The fifth dwelling is called 'Galðsheimr,' where Valholl bright with gold stands wide outspread; there Hroptr (i.e. Othin) chooses every day men who die by arms." Grímnismál, v.8. So also Krakumál, v. 29 (F.A.S. I 310: -- ..."The Disir (i.e. Valkyries) summon me home; Othin has sent them to me from Herjan's hall; I will gladly drink ale in the highseat among the Aesir... ." Ragnar Loðbrók, however, whose last words are here given, did not die actually in battle but was put to death afterwards by means of poisonous snakes. In Helgakviða Hundingsbana, II. 37 f., the slain Helgi is represented as coming to Valholl and there meeting his old enemy Hundingr. Othin offers Helgi a share in all his power. The entrance of a slain man into Valholl forms the subject also of the poems Eireksmál and Hákonarmál. In the latter poem the Val-Kyriur, "choosers of the slain," figure prominently. But it is at least questionable if in actual religious belief they occupied the same position which is ascribed to them in the poetry. They are elsewhere (Volsunga s. 2 etc.) called Othin's óskmeyiar "adopted maidens" (or "daughters"). With this may be compared the expression óskasynir, "adopted sons" in Gylf. 20: "all those who fall in battle are called Othin's óskasynir." The more usual term for the latter is however einheriar, which signifies perhaps merely "champions." Their life is described in Vafþrúðnismal 41 (cf. Grímn. 23).

The belief in immortality in connection with the cult of Othin is stated as follows in Ynglinga s. 10: -- "The Swedes often thought that Othin appeared to them when a great battle was impending; to some he gave victory, while others he summoned to him; either alternative seemed good." This attitude of mind was displayed by Sigmundr, who, when he lay mortally wounded, spoke as follows (Volsunga s. 12) : -- "It is Othin's will that we shall no longer draw the sword, now that it is broken; I have fought so long as it pleased him; .... I will now go to seek our kinsfolk who are already departed." This is to be compared with Yngling s. 10, where Othin on his deathbed is represented as saying that he was about to go to Goðheimr and to greet his friends there. It is likely however that these passages are due to the influence of Christian ideas. The heathen spirit is more clearly to discerned in the dying words of Ragnar Loðbrók (Krakumál 29, cf. p. 10): "I will gladly drink ale on the highseat among the Aesir; the hours of my life are ended; I will die laughing." But the view that "either alternative (victory or death) was good" did not always prevail. Thus in Halfs s. 13 (F.A.S. II. 45), when King Halfr has fallen with a great part of his army, Innsteinn, one of his followers, says: -- "We owe Othin an evil reward for robbing such a king of victory." So also in Saga Ketils hængs 5 (F.A.S. II 132 ff., 139), Framarr, to whom Othin had granted victory and immunity from the effects of Iron, says, when mortally wounded: -- "Balder's father has now broken faith; it is unsafe to trust him." Othin is represented as turning against his heroes at the last. Another example occurs is Saxo's account of the 'bellum Brauicim' (VIII. p. 390), where Haraldus finds that Othin has betrayed the secret of the 'wedge' (see p. 21) to his rival Ringo. He then discovers that Othin has taken the place of his councillor Bruno and is acting as charioteer to him. In spite of his prayers, Bruno throws Haraldus down to the ground and kills him. So also in Saxo v. p. 238) the army of the Huns in its distress is deserted by a certain 'Uggerus uates' of uncertain though more than human age. This man, who is clearly Othin (Icel. Yggr), goes over to Frotho and betrays to him the plans of the Huns. Othin is called "faithless" also in Hrólfss. D=Kraka c. 51 (F.A.S. I. 107), where Bodhvr Biarki looking on the ranks of the enemy says that he can not discern Othin, yet strongly suspects that he is flitting about amongst them, "the fouled and faithless son of Herian. " Othin's unfairness is made a taunt against him in Lokasenna 22; Loki says: -- "Be silent, Othin, thou hast never been able to order the course of war (fairly); often hast thou given victory to cowards, who did not deserve it" (cf. also Hárbardhsliódh 25). An explanation of Othin's inconstancy and unfairness is suggested in Eireksmál 24 ff.; when Othin praises Eirekr, who is now approaching the gate of Valholl, Sigmundr asks him: "Why hast thou deprived him of victory if thou thoughtest him to be brave?" Othin answers: "Because it cannot clearly be known when the gray of wolf shall com against the abodes of the gods." The meaning obviously is that Othin wishes to have great champions amongst his 'Einheriar' to help him in his struggle against the wolf. So also in Grímnismál 23 the Einheriar are represented as going forth to battle against the hostile powers.

It is still doubtful how great an antiquity can be claimed for the Scandinavian doctrine concerning the end of the world. Until this is settled it is clearly impossible to decide whether the explanation of Othin's inconstancy given in Eireksmál is in accordance with ancient belief or is a conception of the tenth century poets. It has been shown in the preceding pages that persons killed in battle were regarded as passing to Valholl. Now since Othin's heroes usually fell in barrel, and Othin had the control over victory and death (cf. p. 11), it follows that, as soon as death in battle came to be regarded as undesirable, a belief in Othin's inconstancy must necessarily arise, and some explanation of this inconstancy be furnished.

There seem to be traces of one other sacrificial or semi-sacrificial rite connected with the cult of Othin. In the Ynglinga saga Othin is represented as a king who had once ruled in Sweden. The account of his life ends as follows (c.10): -- "Othin died of sickness in Sweden; and when he was at death's door he had himself marked with the point of a javelin and appropriated to himself all men who met their death by arms; he said that he was about o go to Godhheimr and greet his friends there." That this is to be regarded as the establishment of a custom is made probable by the description of the death of Niordhr in the following chapter: -- "Niordhr died of sickness, he also had himself marked for Othin before he died." There are no certain references to such a custom elsewhere, so far as I am aware. But in Hyndluliódh 28, after the enumeration of Óttarr's ancestors, the following sentence occurs (referring perhaps only to the persons mentioned in the same verse): "They were men marked with a sign for the gods." It is remarkable that the same expression is used by Starkadhr in Gautreks s. 7 (F.S.A. II.35), when he is describing the sacrifice of Vikar: "I had to mark (or possible "decided to mark") Vikar with a sign for the gods." If this refers to his stabbing Vikar with Othin's javelin (cf. p.4), the passage in Hyndluliódh may very well be a reminiscence of some such rite as that described in Ynglinga s. 10,11. At the same time, however, the absence of evidence from any other source must be taken as showing that the rite was not well known, and probably not practiced in the last days of heathendom. The rite was clearly regarded by the writer of Ynglinga saga as a substitution for death in battle.

In the account of the sacrifice of Vikar in Gautreks s. 7 (see p. 3 f.) the complicated nature of the ceremonial, above all the combination of stabbing and hanging at the same time, would naturally lead on to the conclusion that th story gives more or less faithful picture of the ritual actually employed in sacrifice to Othin. It is true that the present test of the saga is late, but since the story was known to Saxo (VI. p. 276 f.) in practically the same form, it must have been current at any rate before the end of the 12th century, that is to say not more than 100-150 years after human sacrifices had ceased to be practiced. Bugge however (Studier over de nordiske Gude- og Heltesagns Oprindelse, p. 315) holds that the story has been affected by a myth to which reference is made in Hávamál 138: -- "I know that I hung full nine nights on the gallows (or 'windy tree') wounded by the javelin and given to Othin, myself to myself" etc. It seems to me totally unnecessary to suppose that the account of the Vikar-sacrifice has been built up out of this myth. But, as the question has been raised, it will be well to examine other passages in which sacrifices are described, with a view to ascertaining, if possible, the means employed for putting the victim to death.

Apart from the two examples mentioned above there is no example of the employment of hanging and stabbing combined. Indeed, apart from these cases, there is no example of the stabbing of a victim. Yet the javelin is frequently associated with Othin. His own peculiar weapon is the javelin Gungnir (skaldsk. 3). It is with a javelin that he has himself marked before his death according to Yngl. 10 (cf. p. 13 f.). When Dagr sacrifices to Othin (Helgakv. Hundingsvana II. 27, prose), Othin lends him his javelin, with which he stabs Helgi. So also in Volsunga s. 11 (F.A.S. I. 145) Sigmundr in his last battle met a man who had one eye and held a javelin in his hand. When Sigmundr attacked him with his sword he received the blow on his javelin; the sword then snapped in two pieces. So again in Egils s. ok Ásmundar c. 17 (F.A.S. III.407) Othin is said to have stabbed Ásmundr with his javelin. The practice of dedicating the enemy to Othin by throwing a javelin over their army (cf. p. 7) may also be compared. 

References to sacrificial hanging are fairly frequent. At the great festival which, according to Adam of Bremen, (IV. 27) took place every nine years at Upsala (cf. p.6), the bodies of the victims, human and animal alike, were hung in the grove close to the temple. It has been shown (p.6) that it was customary to put to death prisoners captured in war as a sacrifice to Othin. Such persons appear to have been frequently hanged. Thus according Ynglinga s. 26 Iorundr and Eirikr captured Gudhlaugr, king of the Háleygir, and hanged him. In Yngl. 28 Gýlaugr son of Gudhlaugr captures and hang Iorundr. In the verse quoted from Thiódholfr in this passage the gallows is called "Sleipnir" -- the name of Othin's horse. So also with persons arrested in acts of hostility or trespass generally. Thus in Saxo I. p.28 Gro warns Bessus that there father Sigtrug will overcome and hang him. Several cases of hanging occur in the cycle of stories relating to Iormunrekr. Thus according to Saxo VIII. p. 411 Iarmericus captured and hanged forth Slavs, hanging wolves with them. Saxo adds that this insulting punishment was formerly reserved for persons who had been guilty of "parricidium." According to Saxo VIII. p. 413 Iarmericus hanged hid nephews, who he had captured in war. In Hamdhismál 18 Handhir and Sorli, on their arrival at the court of Iormunrekr, find "their" (or "his") "sister's son hanging wounded on the beam, the wind-cold tree of the criminal, west of the palace." Possible this is a reference to the same event. In v. 22 of the smae poem Iormunrekr commands his men to hang Hamdhir and Sorli. Hanging was a frequent method of executing capital punishment, especially, it seems, in the case of persons guilty of adultery or seduction. The most famous case is the hanging of Hafbardhr (Hafbarthus; Saxo VII. p. 345), of which reference is frequently made in Scandinavian poetry. So also, according to Skáldskaparmál 47, Iormunrekr has his son Randver hanged, when he hears that he has committed adultery with his wife Svanhildr. In saxo's account (VIII. p.413 f.) of the same event, where Randver is called Broderus, the punishment is only formal. A case of suicide by hanging is given by Saxo I. p. 60. Hundingus had been drowned in a vat at a wake held through false news of Hadingus' death; Hadingus on hearing the news hanged himself in the sight of his people. There are two examples from foreign sources which prove the great antiquity of sacrificial hanging among the Swedes. Procopius (GothicWar II. 15) says that the sacrifice which is most valued by the people of Thule (i.e. Sweden and Norway), is that of the first man whom they capture in war. "This sacrifice they offer to Ares since they believe him to be the greatest of the gods. They sacrifice the prisoner not merely by slaughtering him but by hanging him from a beam, or casting him among thorns, or putting him to death by other horrible methods." In Beowulf 2939 the Swedish King Ongenþeo, after slaying Hædheyn, king of the Geartas, and besieging the remnants of his army in a wood, is represented as threatening the fugitives "that in the morning he would destroy them with the edge of the sword; some he would hang on gallows-trees as a joy to the birds(?)." The period, to which Procopius' information about "Thule" applies, is the first half of the sixth century. In all probability the same is true also of Beowulf (cf. p.50), though Ongenþei, who is rather a person of the past to the chief characters in the story may have died before A.D. 500.

It is true that Othin is not mentioned in any of these passages, except in the one quoted from Procopius, where Ares is probably meant for Othin. Yet that these sacrifices were intended for him is made probable by the following considerations: (1) It was customary to sacrifice prisoners to Othin on the battlefield (cf. p.6 ff.); there is no record of such sacrifices being offered to any other god. (2) There is no mention of hanging in sacrifices to other gods. Human victims were indeed offered to Thor, but these appear to have been put to death by being felled with a club or other wooden instrument. On the other hand the association of Othin with the gallows is frequently mentioned. Among his names (besides Galga-farmr "burden of the gallows," which perhaps has reference to Háv. 138 f.), we find Galga-gramr, Galga-valdr, Hanga-dróttinn, Hanga-týr, Hanga-gudh etc., all denoting "lord" or "god of the gallows." According to Unglinga s. 7 Othin was in the habit of sitting under a gallows. The passage perhaps refers to an obscure verse of Hávamál (155), the meaning of which seems to be as follows: "If I see a strangled corpse swinging upon a tree, I cut and paint 'runes' (on the body ?) in such a way, that the man comes and talks with me." With this may be compared an unpublished passage of Jómsvíkinga-drápa 3 quoted by Vigfusson (Dict. p. 238b): "I did not get the share of Othin under the gallows" which Vigfusson takes to mean "I am no adept in poetry." There can be no reasonable doubt that the hanging of prisoners taken in war was regarded as a sacrifice to Othin. It is at least probable also that in such cases as those quoted above, the hanging of criminals was regarded in the same light. For the close connection between sacrifice and capital punishment it will be sufficient here to refer to Golther, Mythologie p. 548f.

Since therefore both the javelin and the gallows appear to have been in a certain sense sacred to Othin, and farther since the javelin was used in dedication enemies and the gallows in sacrificing prisoners, it seems to me unnecessary to suppose with Bugge that the story of Vikar has been influenced by the myth related in Háv. 138. On the contrary there is every probability that it represents the ordinary ceremony of sacrifice; the combination of hanging and stabbing being parallel to the combination of strangling and stabbing in Ib Gazlan's story (p. 43). This was of course not the only method of sacrificing to Othin. Another and simpler plan was to set the house on fire when the victim was asleep within (cf. Yngl.47). The cutting of the 'blood-eagle' upon Ella (Orkneyinga s. 8, Ragnars s. Lodhbrókar 18, Saxo IX. p. 463; see p.6) was a sacrifice; but there in nothing to show that it was a rite of frequent occurrence. From the evidence which is at present available there is every reason to suppose that hanging, whether accompanied by stabbing or not, was the method usually employed.

In Ynglinga s 6 f. Othin es celebrated as the inventor of poetry (skáldskapr), and as proficient in, if not actually the inventor of incantations (galdrar) and runes. To Othin also is attributed (Yngl. 8) the establishment of the three annual Swedish sacrifices. Besides these, there are two institutions attributed to Othin which require notice: (1) the 'wedge' order of battle, (2) Othin's ordinances in regard to the disposal of the dead.

1. The 'wedge' (O. Norse rani, scímfylking, hamalr fulkia) is known to Othin only, though it is taught by him to his heroes: e.g. in Sogubrot af fornkonungum 8 (F.A.S. I. 380). Haraldr (Hilditonn) says: "Who can have taught Hringr to draw up his army in wedgeshaped array (hamat at fylkia); I thought this was known to none except myself and Othin. Does Othin wish to play me false in the awarding of victory?" In Saxo's account of the same event (VIII. p. 390) Haraldus is represented as asking whence Ringo could have derived this knowledge, "especially since Othynes was the teacher and inventor of this science, and no one except himself had received this new teaching in warfare." Othinus is represented as drawing up Haraldus' forces in this manner in his war against Ingo king of the Swedes (Saxo VII. p. 363). So also in Saxo I. p. 52 f., when Hadingus is fighting against the Byarmenses, his army is drawn up in wedge-array by 'an old man' who is clearly Othin.

In connection with Othin's institutions in war a passage from Ynglinga s. 6 deserves mention: "Othin's men went without coats of mail and were raving like hounds or wolves; they bit into their shields and were as strong as bears or buffaloes; they slaughtered the enemy, and neither fire nor iron had any effect on them. This is called berserksgangr." Taken in connection with the fact that the javelin appears to be Othin's sacred weapon, this would seem to show that the worshipers of Othin at one time practiced light-armed warfare, working themselves up into a frenzy before a battle began. The sword, helmet and mail coat are of course not unknown to Othin, but they figure much less prominently than the javelin.

2. Othin's funeral institutions are described in Ynglinga s. 8: -- "He ordained that all dead men should be burnt and brought on to the pyre with their property. He said that every dead man should come to Valholl with such property as he had on the pyre; he should also have the enjoyment of what he had himself buried in the earth. But the ashes were to be carried out to sea or buried down in the earth. A howe (mound) was to be raised as a memorial to noblemen; and for all such persons as had achieved any distinction 'bautastones' should be set up. This custom lasted long after." As regards the nature of the 'property' thrown on to the pyre, it seems to have comprised not only arms, gold, silver and other such things, but also animals, and occasionally even servants. Saxo (VIII. p. 391) describes at length the burning of Haraldus (Hilditonn). Ringo took his horse and harnessed it to the royal chariot which was furnished with golden sears. He laid the body of Haraldus in the chariot and prayed that thus provided he might "arrive in Tartarus before his comrades and beg Pluto, the lord of Orcus, to grant peaceful abodes for his allies and foes." He then placed the chariot on the pyre, and, as the flames rose, he implored his nobles to throw their arms, their gold, and whatever wealth they had with them, unstintingly on to the pyre, in honour of so great a king. In Sogubrot af fornkonungum 9 (F.A.S. I 387) the body of Haraldr is buried in a howe, but otherwise the description of the event agrees closely with that given by Saxo. "Hringr had a great howe made, and had the body of Haraldr laid in the chariot and driven therein to the howe with the horse which Haraldr had in battle. The horse was then killed, Then King Hringr took the saddle on which he had himself ridden, and gave it to his kinsman, King Haraldr, and begged him to do whichever he wished, whether to ride or drive to Valholl. Then he had a great feast made in honour of the departure of his kinsman, King Haraldr. And before the howe was closed, King Hringr asked all his great men and all his champions who were present to cast great jewels and good weapons into the howe, in honour of King Haraldr Hilditonn: and afterwards the howe was carefully closed." So also at the burning of Balder described in Gylf. 49, Balder's horse and the ring Draupnir were laid on the pyre. At the funeral of Sigurdhr and Brynhildr, described in Volsunga s. 31 (F.A.S. I. 204), two hawks and a number on menservants and maidservants were burnt. In Ibn Fazlan's account of a 'Russian' funeral on the Volga there were burnt a young woman, a dog, a cock and hen, two horses and two oxen (cf. p. 43).

There is a most remarkable correspondence between the funeral rites described in the last section and the rites of sacrifice. It was believed that the spirits of the dead passed to Valholl, and it was for their use there that animals and other articles were burnt upon the pyre (cf. Yngl. s. 8). Perhaps the most striking illustration of this belief is the passage from Sogubrot af fornkonungum (c.9), relating to the burial of Haraldr Hilditonn. Hringr gives Haraldr, together with a horse, both a chariot and a saddle, in order that he may have his choice of riding or driving to Valholl. But it has been shown above (p. 9 f.) that persons who were killed in battle were regarded as passing to Valholl, and at the same time their death was regarded as a sacrifice to Othin. Even in Other sacrifices the regular formula employed, when slaying the victim, was 'I give thee to Othin.' The victim must therefore have been regarded as passing to Valholl. This is confirmed by the expression used in Gautreks s. 7, 'Othin desired a man out of their company.' The story of the sacrifice in Hervarar s.11 f. (cf. p. 5) affords a close parallel. The same idea also underlies the story of Aun sacrificing his sons in Ynglinga s. 29. If further confirmation were needed it is supplied by the following curious fact at sacrifices -- at all events at the great nine-yearly sacrifices -- animals were offered together with men; these were, in part, not edible animals such as were offered as a meal to Frö and other gods, but precisely the same animals which were most usually burnt upon the pyre at funerals, namely horses, dogs and hawks. But, further, these animals seem to have been intended rather for the use of the persons sacrificed, when they arrived in Valholl, than as an offering to the gods. This is clearly shown by Thietmar's description of the sacrifice at Leire (Thietmari Chronicon I. 9, M.G. III. p. 739): "There is a general gathering at this place every nine years, in the month of January, after the season at which we celebrate the Epiphany. Here they sacrifice to their gods ninety-nine men and the name number of horses together with dogs and cocks with they offer in place of hawks. They are convinced, as I have said, that these animals will be at the service of the human victims when they reach the powers below, and that they will appease these powers for the sins which the men have committed." At the corresponding sacrifice at Upsala, described by Adam of Bremen (IV. 27), it is stated that "nine male animals of every kind are offered; with the blood of these it is their custom to propitiate the dis." Seventy-two animals were counted, but only men, dogs and horses are specifically mentioned: "There (i.e. in the grove, cf. p. 16) hang dogs and horses together with men. One of the Christians told me that he had seen seventy-two of these bodies hanging interspersed." Whatever may have been the original idea of this sacrifice, whether it was intended as an offering of firstlings or not, the mention of dogs makes it likely that in Adam's time it was regarded in much the same way as the sacrifice at Leire. Elsewhere the sacrificing of animals together with men does not appear to be mentioned. Yet it is curious that the dog and hawk should be mentioned by Saxo (VIII. p. 414) in connection with the hanging of Broderus. Possible the story had originally a different form. In Skáldskaparmál 47 and Volsunga s. 40 only the hawk is mentioned. Saxo also states (VIII. p. 411; cf. p. 17 above) that Iarmericus hanged forty Slavs together with wolves, and says further that this was in early times the punishment for 'parricidium.' It is probable that in these cases the wolf was substituted for the dog in order to disgrace the victim on his arrival in Valholl.

Modern writers have been much perplexed by Thietmar's account of the sacrifice at Leire, and it has been suggested that he confused the rites of sacrifice with the funeral ceremonies of the heathen Danes. This supposition seems to me incredible; the sacrifice at Leire, like that at Upsala, took place every nine years, and the animals sacrificed in both cases included men, horses and dogs. The season, it is true, was different, yet the time of the Leire sacrifice coincides with that of one of the great annual festivals, namelyYule. The true explanation of Thietmar's story is rather to be found in the fact that the funeral rites and the sacrificial rites of the heathen Scandinavians were in great measure identical. Othin is a 'god of the dead' and it is to his abode, Valholl ('the hall of the slain'), that the spirits of the dead pass. 'To give to Othin' is to kill; 'to go to Othin' is to die (especially in battle). In the description of the funeral of Haraldr Hilditonn in Sogubrot af fornkonungum, Haraldr is represented as riding or driving to Valholl; in Saxo's account 'Tartara' is used obviously with the same meaning. so when, in the passage immediately following, Haraldus is to pray to Pluto the lord of Orcus (prestitem Orci Plutonem), it is clear that this means 'Othin the lord of Valholl.' In Saxo II. p. 104 Biarco says: "It is no mean or unknown race, it is not the ashes or the worthless souls of the commons that Pluto seizes; it is the doom of the mighty which he compasses; he fills Phlegethon with renowned forms." With this may be compared Hárbardhsliódh 24: "Othin possesses the nobles who fall in battle, but Thor has the race of serfs."

Possibly the portraiture of Othin, as he appears in the Sagas, with black cloak and deepfalling hood, is due to his character as god of the dead. There can be no doubt that Thietmar's expression erga inferos means "with Othin in Valholl.' It appears, at first sight, somewhat singular that these victims, who in late times were as a rule probably either criminals or slaves, should regarded as passing to Valholl, and also that they should be provided with horses, dogs and hawks for their use there; the fact is however capable of explanation. The underlying idea in sacrifice to Othin is that of substitution. King Aun sacrifices his sons to Othin in order that he may have his own life prolonged. King Heidhrekr makes a great slaughter of the Reidhgotar as a ransom to Othin for the life of his son Angantýr (cf. p. 4). A man may save his own life only by giving that of another man, and similarly the state must offer human sacrifices in order to ensure its own preservation and success. The victims may themselves be regarded as worthless, but since they are going to Valholl, they must be provided with such articles as are thrown on the

pyre of distinguished warriors. It is quite possible that slaves and criminals were not the persons originally chosen to serve as victims; from the legendary sagas one would gatherthat these were frequently selected from a very different class. This change in the status of the human victims seems to harmonize with the fact that apparently no very great care was taken to provide the proper animals, cocks being sacrificed instead of hawks, which were no doubt not so easy to obtain. the change may therefore point to a decay in the vitality of the religion.

In regard to the belief in Valholl there are several questions which have not yet been satisfactorily answered. Apparently not all the spirits of the dead were believed to pass thither; indeed if one may judge from the vows of Haraldus, as related by Saxo (cf. p. 7 f.), it would seem that not all even of those who were killed in battle necessarily reached Valholl. On the other hand the practice of marking a dying man with a javelin was probably regarded as a substitution for death in battle (cf. p. 13 f.), and thus as conferring the right of admission to Valholl. There is no evidence to support the statement quoted above from Hárvardhsliódh that the souls of serfs passed to Thor. Thor does not elsewhere appear as a god of the dead, and the statement may perhaps be due to the fact that Thor was especially the god o f the lower, classes, while Othin was worshiped chiefly, if not solely, by the nobles. Lastly it is not improbable that VALHOLL has been confused to some extent with Ásgardhr ("the court of the Aesir"), though originally the two conceptions would seem to have been essentially different. It is noticeable that in the old poetry the terms Ásgardhr and Ásagardhr occur usually poems dealing with Thor. Perhaps the doctrine of the "end of the world" was originally connected rather with Ásgardh than with Valholl.


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