The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Temples

(Page 1)

In our inquiries on the sacred dwelling-places of the gods, it will be safest to begin, as before, with expressions which preceded the christian terms temple and church, and were supplanted by them.

The Gothic alhs [[temple]] fem. translates the Jewish-Christian notions of naoj (Matt. 27. 5. 51. Mk. 14, 58. 15, 29. Lu. 1, 9. 21. 2 Cor. 6, 16) and ieron (Mk. 11, 11. 16. 27. 12, 35. 14, 49. Lu. 2, 27. 46. 4, 9. 18, 10. 19, 45. John 7, 14. 28. 8, 20. 59. 10, 23). To the Goth it would be a time-hollowed word, for it shares the anomaly of several such nouns, forming its gen. alhs, dat. alh, instead of alháis, alhái. Once only, John 18, 20, gudhus [[god-house]] stands for ieron; the simple hus [[house]] never has the sense of domus, which is rendered razn [[house]]. Why should Ulphilas disdain to apply the heathen name to the christian thing, when the equally hethen templum and naoj were found quite offensive for christian use?

Possibly the same word appears even earlier; namely in Tacitus, Germ. 43: apud Naharvalos antiquae religionis lucus ostenditur; praesidet sacerdos muliebri ornatu, sed deos interpretatione romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant. Ea vis numini, nomen Alcis; nulla simulacra, nullum peregrinae superstitionis vestigium. Ut fratres tamen, ut juvenes venerantur.---This alcis is either itself the nom., or a gen. of alx (as falcis of falx), which perfectly corresponds to the Gothic alhs. A pair of heroic brothers was worshipped, without any statues, in a sacred grove; the name can hardly be ascribed to them, (1) it is the abode of the divinity that is called alx. Numen is here the sacred wood, or even some notable tree in it. (2)

Four or five centuries after Ulphilas, to the tribes of Upper Germany their word alah [[temple]] must have had an old-fashioned heathenish sound, but we know it was still there, preserved in composition with proper names of places and persons (see Suppl.): Alaholf [[temple-wolf]], Alahtac [[temple-day]], Alahhilt [[temple-battle]], Alahgund [[temple-war]], Alahtrût [[temple-strength]]; Alahstat [[temple-stead]] in pago Hassorum (AD. 834), Schannat trad. fuld. no 404. Alahdorp [[temple-village]] in Mulshgôwe (AD 856A), ibid. no. 476. The names Alahstat [[temple-stead]], Alahdorf [[temple-village]] may have been born by many places where a heathen temple, a hallowed place of justice, or a house of the king stood. For, not only the fanum, but the folk-mote, and the royal residence were regarded as consecrated, or, in the language of the Mid. Ages, as frôno (set apart to the frô, lord). Alstidi, a king's pfalz (palatium) in Thuringia often mentioned in Dietmar of Merseburg, was in OHG. alahsteti, nom. alahstat [[temple-stead]]. Among the Saxons, who were converted later, the word kept itself alive longer. The poet of the Heliand uses alah [[temple]] masc. exactly as Ulphilas does alhs (3, 20. 22. 6, 2. 14, 9. 32, 14. 115, 9. 15. 129, 22. 130, 19. 157, 16), seldomer godes hûs [[god's house]] 155, 8. 130, 18, or, that hêlaga hûs [[the holy house]] 3, 19. Cædm. 202, 22 alhn (I. alh hâligne = holy temple); 258, 11 ealhstede [[temple-stead]] (palatium, aedes regia). In Andr. 1642 I would read 'ealde ealhstedas' [[old temple-steads]] (delubra) for 'eolhstedas' [[elk-steads]], conf. the proper names Ealhstân [[temple-stone]] in Kemble 1, 288. 296 and Ealhheard [[temple-hard]] 1, 292 quasi stone-hard, rock-hard, which possibly leads us to the primary meaning of the word. (3) The word is wanting in ON. documents, else it must have had the form alr, gen. als.

Of another primitive word the Gothic Fragments furnish no example, the OHG. wih [[sacred grove]] (nemus), Diut. 1, 492; O. Sax. wih [[temple]] masc. (templum), Hel. 3, 15. 17. 19. 14, 8. 115, 4. 119, 17. 127, 10. 129, 23. 130, 17. 154, 22. 169, 1; friduwih [[frith-temple]], Hel. 15, 19; AS. wih [[idol, image]] wiges, or weoh weos, also masc: wiges (idoli), Cædm. 228, 12. þisne wig wurðigean [[to worship these idols]] (hoc idolum colere), Cædm. 228, 24. conf. wigweorðing [[idol-worship]] (cultus idolorum), Beow. 350. weohweorðing [[idol-worship]] Cod. exon. 253, 14. wihgild [[idol-yield]] (cultus idol.), Cædm. 227, 5. weobedd (ara), for weohbedd, wihbedd [[idol-table, altar]], Cædm. 127, 8. weos (idola), for weohas, Cod. exon. 341, 28.---The alternation of i and eo in the AS. indicates a short vowel; and in spite of the reasons I have urged in Gramm. 1, 462, the same seems to be true of the ON. ve [[vé - temple, sanctuary]], which in the sing., as Ve, denotes one particular god; but has a double pl., namely, a masc vear dii, idola, and a neut. ve loca sacra. Gutalag 6, 108. 111: haita â hult eþa hauga, â vi eþa stafgarþa (invocare lucos aut tumulos, idola aut loca palis circumsepta); trûa â hult, â hauga, vi oc stafgarþa; han standr î vi (stat in loco sacro). In that case we have here, as in alah, a term alternating between nemus, templum, fanum, idolum, numen, its root being doubtless the Gothic veiha (I hallow), váih, váihum, OHG. wîhu, weih, wihum, from which also comes the adj. veihs [[holy]] sacer, OHG. wîh: and we saw on p. 41 that wîhan [[to hallow]] was applied to sacrifices and worship. In Lappish, vi is said to mean silva.

Still more decisive is a third heathen word, which becomes specially important to our course of inquiry. The OHG. haruc [[harrow (i.e. temple, shrine, sacred wood, sacred grove)]] masc., pl. harugâ, stands in the glosses both for fanum, Hrab. 963. for delubrum, Hrab. 959. for lucus, Hrab. 969, Jun. 212. Diut. 1, 495, and for nemus, Diut. 1, 492. The last gloss, in full, runs thus: 'nemus plantavit = forst flanzôta, edo (or) haruc, edo wih. [[planted a forest, or a harrow, or an idol.]]' So that haruc, like wih, includes on the one hand the notion of templum, fanum, and on the other that of wood, grove, lucus. (4) It is remarkable that the Lex Ripuar. has preserved, evidently from heathen times, harahus [[harrow-house]] to designate a place of judgment, which was originally a wood (RA. 794. 903). AS. hearg [[harrow, temple]] masc., pl. heargas (fanum), Beda 2, 13. 3, 30. Orosius 3, 9, p. 109. heargtræf [[harrow-dwelling, idol-temple]] (fani tabulatum), Beow. 349. æt hearge [[at harrow]], Kemble, 1, 282. ON. hörgr masc., pl. hörgar [[altar of stone]] (delubrum, at times idolum, simulacrum), Sæm. 36 42, 91, 114, 141; especially worth notice is Sæm. 114: hörgr hlaðinn steinom, griot at gleri orðit, roðit î nyio nauta bloði (h. paven with stones, grit made smooth, reddened anew with neat's blood). Sometimes hörgr is coupled with hof (fanum, tectum), 36 141, in which the former is the holy place amidst woods and rocks, the built temple, aula; conf. 'hamarr ok hörgr,' Fornm. sög. 5, 239. To both expressions belongs the notion of the place as well as that of the numen and the image itself (see Suppl.). Haruc seems unconnected with the O. Lat. haruga, aruga, bull of sacrifice, whence haruspex, aruspex. The Gk temenoj however also means the sacred grove, II. 8, 48. 23, 148. temenoj tamon, II. 20, 184.  


1. Unless it were dat. pl. of alcus [or alca alkh]. A Wendicholz, Bohem. holec, which has been adduced, is not to the point, for it means strictly a bald naked wretch, a beggar boy, Pol. golec, Russ. gholiak. besides, the Naharvali and the other Lygian nations can scarcely have been Slavs.  (back)

2. I am not convinced that numen can refer to the place. The plain sense seems to be; 'the divinity has that virtue (which the Gemini have), and the name Alcis,' or 'of Alx,' or if dat. pl., 'the Alcae, Alci'. May not Alcis be conn. with alkh strength, safeguard, and the dat. alki pointing to a nom. alx; *alkw I defend; or even Caesar's alces and Pausanias's alkai elks?---TRANS.  (back)

3. There is however a noun Hard, the name of many landing-places in the south of England, as Cracknor Hard, &c.---TRANS.  (back)

4. And in one place haragâ [[harrow]] = arae. Elsewhere the heathen term for altar, Gk. bwmoj, was Goth. biurds [[table]], OHG. piot [[table]], AS. beod [[table]], strictly a table (p. 38); likewise the Goth. badi [[bed]], OHG. petti [[bed]], AS. bed, bedd [[bed]] (lectus, p. 30) gets to mean ara, areola, fanum, conf. AS. wihbed, weohbed, weobed, afterwards distorted into weofed [[idol-table, altar]] (ara, altare), OHG. kotapetti [[gods'-bed]] (gods'-bed, lectus, pulvinar templi), Graff 3, 51; with which compare Brunhild's bed and the like, also the Lat. lectisternium. 'Ad altare S. Kiliani, quod vulgo lectus dicitur,' Lang reg. 1, 239. 255 (A.D. 1160-5); (see Suppl.).  (back)

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