The Northern Way

The Voluspá, The Sibyl’s Lay in the Edda of Sæmund

The Cult of Nerthus

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5. OLAF TRYGGVASON'S SAGA ON FREYR(Flateyjarbook II., 337): Norwegian Gunnar Helming was suspected of having committed a murder. For fear of King Olaf he fled to Sweden. There happened to be great sacrifices in the honour of Freyr, and his idol had such a power that the devil spoke through it, and it had been given a young wife. People believed that they could have sexual intercourse. Freyr's wife was pretty, and she had the dominion over the temple. Gunnar asked her for shelter. She answered: "You are not fortunate, for Freyr does not like you. Nevertheless, stay here for three nights, and we may see." He said: "I like better to be helped by you than by Freyr." Gunnar was a very jolly and cheerful person. After three nights he asked whether he might stay there any longer. "I do not know exactly," said she. "You are a poor fellow, and still, as it seems, of good extraction, I should like to help you, only I am afraid that Freyr hates you. Still, remain here half a month, and we may again see." . Gunnar pleased the Swedes well because of his cheerfulness and smartness. After some time, he talked again with Freyr's wife. She said: " People like you well, and I think it is better you stay her this winter and accompany us when Freyr makes his annual journey. But I must tell you that he is still angry with you." Gunnar thanked her well. . . Now the festival time came, and the procession started. Freyr and his wife were placed in the carriage, whereas their servants and Gunnar had to walk beside. When driving through the mountains, they were surprised by a tempest and all the servants fled. Gunnar remained. At last he got tired of walking, went into the carriage and let the draught_cattle go as they liked. Freyr's wife said: "You had better try and walk again, for otherwise Freyr will arise against you." Gunnar did so, but when he got too tired, he said: "Anyhow, let him come, I will stand against him." Now Freyr arises, and they wrestle till Gunnar notices that he is getting weaker. Then he thinks by himself that if he overcomes this load Foe he will return to the right faith and be reconciled with King Olaf. And immediately after Freyr begins to give way, and afterwards to sink. Now this Foe leaps out of the idol, and it lay there empty. Gunnar broke it into pieces and gave Freyr's wife two alternatives: that he would leave, or that she might declare him publicly to be the god Freyr. She said that she would willingly declare what he liked. Now Gunnar dressed in Freyr's clothes, the weather improved and they went to the festival. People were very much impressed by the power of Freyr, because he was able to visit the country in such a tempest, allthough all the servants had fled. They wondered how he went about among them and talked like other men. Thus Freyr and his wife spent the winter going to festivals. Freyr was not more eloquent towards people than his wife, and he would not receive living victims, as before, and no offerings except gold, silk, and good clothings. Alter months, people began to notice that Freyr's wife was gravid. They thought it splendid, and many expected great wonders of their god Freyr. Also the weather was fine, and it looked like such a harvest as nobody remembered to have seen before. The rumours of Freyr's power were reported to Norway, and also brought before King Olaf. He had some suspicion of the truth and asked Gunnar's brother Sigurd what he knew about the exiled. Sigurd knew of nothing. The King said : "I believe this mighty god of the Swedes, who is so famous in all countries, is no other person than your brother Gunnar. For otherwise, those are the greatest where living men, are slaughtered. . . . . Now I send you to Sweden, for it is terrible to know that a Christian man's soul should be situated thus. I shall give up my wrath, if he comes voluntarily, for now I know that he has not committed the murder.” . . . . Sigurd immediately went to Sweden and brought his brother these news. Gurinar answered : “Certainly might I willingly go back; but if the Swedes discover the truth, they will kill me.” Sigurd said: "We shall secretly carry you away, and be sure that King Olaf's good fortune God's mercy is more powerful than the Swedes." Now Gunnar and his wife prepare their flight, taking with them as many goods as they were able to carry. The Swedes went in pursuit of them, but lost the trace and did not find them. So Gunnar and his people arrived in Norway and went to King Olaf, who received them well and made him his wife to be baptized

5. EDDA POEM SKIRNISMAL ON FREY'S LOVE OF GERÐ – Freyr here appears as the incarnation of sensual desire.

ADAM OF BREMEN ON FRICCO. — According to Adam , the three main gods of the Swedes had a temple in Upsala. The most venerated was Fricco, who was represented “cum ingenti priapo.” The name of Fricco may contain the same Aryan root as Priapos, but it may at the same time have been regarded as a pet form of "frið-goði," "the peace-good."

8. SAXO ON KING FRØ. — According to Saxo, Once the Swedes were ruled by King Frø, who was a cruel tyrant. After conquering a Norwegian, King Siward, he used to carry off the wives and daughters of the most notable men in Norway, compelling them to a sort of infamy. Because of his cruelty and lecherv he was at last slain by Ragnar Loðbrók.

9. SAXO ON KING FRØ’S SONS . — The champion Starkad, dwelt for seven years with King Frø’s sons in Sweden. At last he could no longer stand the lascivious dancing and jingling which took place in Upsala during the times of sacrifice. So he departed for Denmark. [Not King Frø, but the god seems to be meant directly.] The report goes on with a description of quite similar rites at the court of the Irish King, Hugleth, who is killed by Starkad and Haki. Snorri has exactly the same report on the destruction of the lascivious king and his court. But here the scene is at Upsala. Among King Hugleik's people, Snorri also mentions sorcerers (“seiðmenn”). It is obviously Snorri who preserves the correct localisation; the whole tradition must be referred to the Swedish cult of Freyr.

10. SAXO ON KING FRODE FREDEGOD. — What Saxo relates in his 5th book on King Frode Fredegod is mixed up wjth Icelandic fancy sagas of more or less individual fabrication. The whole story of Frode's battles and conquests must be eliminated. What remains is a ritual tradition which may be summed up in the following way. Frode established the firm and sacred peace (fróða friðr). In order to manifest its firmness, he placed unlocked treasures near the high roads on two spots in Norway and also in Jutland. Nobody ventured to steal them. At last a witch persuaded her son to steal them for her, and when the king set out to punish the thief, she transformed herself into a sea-cow and gored him with her horn. Frode died of the wound. But his chieftains embalmed his corpse, put it on a chariot, and dragged it round the country; so credulous people believed that he was still living, and paid their taxes as before. The corpse at last rotted so much that they could not bear the stench; so they buried it near Værebro, on the island Sealand. N. B. — This locality is close to Ud-Lejre, minding one of the name of the famous Sealandic place of worship.

We do not take into account the myths about Gefn, Baldr, and King Skjold, which have been regarded by several scholars as closely connected with the Nerthus-cult. As the connection is not strictly obvious, we think it better to leave this material aside.

III. LOCALISATION OF THE NERTHUS-PEOPLE OF TACITUS. — Tacitus says, " Germania," c. 40 : Nerthus worshipped by Rendingi, Aviones, Anglii, Varini, Eudoses, Suarines, Nuithones. Sanctuary: an island the ocean.

Corresponding group in Widsith: Rondings, Brondings, Wærnes, Eoves, Ytes. The Angles are left out, as they must be named at the end of the whole list, acording to the law of '' back stress.''

The hapax legomenon Reudigni of Tacitus no doubbt must be read Rendingi or Randingi = the Rendings of Widsith. (2) They may have lived near the river Gudenaa in North Jutland; this river must formerly have been called Rand, since the town at its mouth has the name of Randers, Randar-ós, "mouth of Rand. “Besides, there is a firth near Fredericia called Randsfjord.

Avions, Eowan, are either "Island-dwellers " or “River-dwellers." The first interpretation has been referred to the islands along the coast of South Jutland. Detlefsen, in Sieglin's "Quellen u. Forschungen zur alten . . . Geographie," Heft 8, Nachtrag, p. 10, suggests that the Avions might be the inhabitants of Abo Syssel in North Jutland, i.e., the environs of Randers and Aarhus. Abo means exactly " River - dweller." If the Rondings lived near Randers, the said localisation of the Avions would fit in very well. Yet we must provisionally leave the suggestion as a vague possibility.

Anglii, Angles, are inhabitants of the South Jutlandic district of Angel, perhaps also of the neighbouring east coast of Holstein.


2. Chadwick, The Origin of the English Nation, p. 599, combines the Varini with the South Jutlandic peninsular district of Varnæs, in the neighbourhood of Angel = "promontorium Varinorum in a document the thirteenth century." It is not quite excluded that this suggestion of Müllenhoff could be correct. But the assertion that the cited words actually found in a document," Liber census Daniæ," is false ; it due to a careless quotation from Müllenhoff in the extremely unreliable treatise of Seelman, in "Jahrbuch des Vereins für niederdeutsche Sprachforschung” 1886, p.31. Back

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