The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 3: Worship

(Page 1)

The simplest actions by which man expressed his reverence (1) for the gods (see Suppl.), and kept up a permanent connexion with them, were Prayer and Sacrifice. Sacrifice is a prayer offered up with gifts. And wherever there was occasion for prayer, there was also for sacrifice (see Suppl.).

PRAYER---When we consider the word employed by Ulphilas to express adoration, we at once come upon a correspondence with the Norse phraseology again. For proskunew the Goth. equivalent is inveita, inváit, invitum [[different forms of the verb 'inweitan,' 'to worship, revere, salute']], Matt. 8, 2. 9, 18. Mk. 5, 6. 15, 19. Lu. 4, 7-8. John 9, 38. 12, 20. 1 Cor. 14, 25; and once for aspazomai, Mk. 9, 15 (see Suppl.). Whether in using this word the exact sense of proskunhsij was caught, may be doubted, if only because it is invariably followed by an acc., instead of the Greek dat. In Mod. Greek popular songs, proskuneiu is used of a vanquished enemy's act of falling to the ground in token of surrender. We do not know by what gesture inveitan was accompanied, whether a bowing of the head, a motion of the hand, or a bending of the knee. As we read, 1 Cor. 14, 25: driusands ana andavleizn (=antlitz), inveitið guð [[falling down upon (his) face, he worships the god]]; a suppliant prostration like proskunhsij is not at variance with the sense of the word. An OS. giwîtan, AS. gewîtan [[to depart, go]], means abire; could inveitan [[to worship]] also have signified merely going up to, approaching? Paul. Diac. 1, 8 twice uses accedere. Fraveitan is vindicare. Now let us compare the ON. vîta [[to know]] inclinare, (2) which Biörn quotes under veit, and spells, erroneously, I think, vita. From it is derived veita (Goth. váitjan [[to know]] ?); veita heiðr, honorem peragere; veita tiðir, sacra peragere; veitsla, epulum, Goth. váitislô? (3)

The Goth. bida [[prayer, request]] preces, bidjan [[to ask, pray]] precari, rogare, orare, are used both in a secular and a spiritual sense. The same with OHG. pëta [[prayer, request]] is derived a pëtôn [[to implore]] adorare, construed with acc. of the person whom: O.i. 17, 62. ii. 14, 63. nidarfallan joh mih bëtôn [[to pray for me to fall under the yoke (?)]], O. ii, 4, 86-9. 97. iii. 11, 25. T. 46, 2. 60, 1. pëtôta inan [[prayer to him]], Diut. 1, 512. But bëtôn [[to ask, pray' ]] can also express a spiritual orare, T. 34, 1, 2, 3. bëto-man [[prayer-man]] cultores, O. II. 14, 68. In MHG. I find bëten [[to ask, pray]] always followed by the prep. an (see Suppl.): bëten an diu abgot [[to pray to the false god]], Barl. 72, 4. an ein bilde bëten [[to pray to an image (idol)]], ibid. 98, 15. sô muoz si iemer mê nâch gote sîn mîn anebët, she must after God be my (object of) adoration, Ben. 146. Our bitten ask, beten pray, anbeten adore, are distinct from one another, as bitte request is from gebet prayer. The OS bëdôn [[to ask, pray]] is not followed by acc., but by prep. te: bëdôn to minun barma [[to pray to my mercy]], Hel. 33, 7. 8; and this of itself would suggest what I conjectured in my Gramm. 2, 25, that bidjan [[to ask, beg, pray]] originally contained the physical notion of jacere [[to lie down]], prosterni [[to debase (oneself)]], which again is the only explanation of Goth. badi klinidion a bed, and also of the old badu, AS beado [[war, battle]]= cædes, strages. (4)---The AS New Test. translates adorare by ge-eáð-mêdan, i.e., to humble oneself. The MHG flêhen [[to implore]], when it signifies supplicare [[to entreat, beg]], governs the dat.: gote flêhen [[to implore god]], Aegid. 30. den goten vlêhen [[to implore the gods]], Parz. 21, 6. Wh. 126, 30. Türl. Wh. 71; but in the sense of demulcere [[to caress]], solari, the acc., Parz. 119, 23. 421, 25. Nib. 499, 8 (see Suppl.). (5) It is the Goth þláihan [[to console, caress]], fovere, consolari. An OHG. flêhôn [[to vow, promise]] vovere I only know from N. cap. 8, Bth. 178, and he spells it fléhôn: ten (acc. quem) wir flehoton [[to whom we vowed]]. We say 'zu gott flehen [[to beg to god]],' but 'gott anflehen' [[to implore god]].---The Goth. aíhtrôn [[to beg for, desire]] prosenesqai, prosaitein expresses begging rather than asking or praying. The OHG. diccan [[to ask for, receive]], OS., thiggian [[to ask for, receive]], is both precari and impetrare, while AS. þicgan [[to receive, accept]], ON., þiggja [[to receive]], is invariably impetrare, accipere, so that asking has passed over into effectual asking, getting (see Suppl.)

Another expression for prayer is peculiar to the Norse and AS. dialects, and foreign to all the rest: ON. bôn or bæn [[request, petition]], Swed. Dan. bön [[boon]], AS bên [[prayer, request]], gen. bêne f., Cædm. 152, 26, in Chaucer bone, Engl. boon; from it, bêna [[suitor, petitioner]] supplex, bênsian [[to pray, supplicate]] supplicare. Lastly the Icel. Swed. dyrka, Dan. dyrke [[to worship, adore]], which like the Lat. colere is used alike of worship and of tillage, seems to be a recent upstart, unknown to the ON. language.


1. Verehrung 'reverence', OHG éra 'honor', Goth. prob. áiza 'honor'. The OHG êrôn is not merely our ehren, to honour, but also verehren 'to revere', revereri (as reverentia is adoration, cultus); AS weorðian 'to esteem, worship', OS giwerthôn 'to worship'. All that comes from the gods or concerns them is holy, for which the oldest Teutonic word is Goth. veihs 'sacred'. OHG wîh 'sacred'; but only a few of the OHG documents use this word, the rest preferring heilac 'holy', OS has only hélag 'holy', AS hâlig 'holy', ON heilagr 'holy'. On the connexion of wîh 'holy' with the subst. wih 'weak (?)', more hereafter. Frôn 'lordly (?)' denotes holy in the sense of dominicus. (back)

2. Cleasby-Vigfusson gives no meaning like inclinare, either under vîta 'to fine,' or under vita 'to wit.'---TRANS.  (back)

3. Bopp, Comp. gram. p. 128, identifies inveita with the Zend nivaêdhayêmi invoco.  (back)

4. What was the physical meaning of the Slav. moliti rogare, molitise orare, Boh. modliti se, Pol. modlié sie? The Sloven. moliti still means porrigere, conf. Lith. meldziu rogo, inf. melsti, and malda oratio. Pruss. madla, conf. Goth. maþljan [[to speak]] loqui. maþleins [[speech]] loquela, which is next door to oratio.  (back)

5. Iw. 3315 vlêgete got [[begged god]]; but in the oldest MS. vlêhete gote [[begged to god]].  (back)

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page