The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Other Gods

(Page 1)

In addition to the gods treated of thus far, who could with perfect distinctness be pointed out in all or most of the Teutonic races, the Norse mythology enumerates a series of others, whose track will be harder to pursue, if it does not die out altogether. To a great extent they are those of whom the North itself has little of nothing to tell in later times.


Heimðallr, or in the later spelling Heimdallr, though no longer mentioned in Saxo, is, like Baldr, a bright and gracious god: hvîtastr âsa (whitest of âses, Sæm. 72ª), (1) sverðâs hvîta, Sæm. 90ª, hvîta âs, Sn. 104; he guards the heavenly bridge (the rainbow), and dwells in Himinbiörg (the heavenly hills). The heim in the first part of his name agrees in sound with himinn; þallr seems akin to þöll, gen. þallar (pinus), Swed. tall, Swiss däle, Engl. deal (Stald. 1, 259, conf. Schm. 2, 603-4 on mantala), but þöll also means a river, Sn. 43, and Freyja bears the by-name of Mardöll, gen Mardallar, Sn. 37. 154. All this remains dark to us. No proper name in the other Teutonic answers to Heimðallr; but with Himinbiörg (Sæm. 41b 91b) or the common noun himinfiöll (Sæm. 148ª Yngl. saga cap. 39), we can connect the names of other hills: a Himilînberg (mons coelius) haunted by spirits, in the vita S. Gali, Pertz 2, 10; Himelberc in Lichtenstein's frauend. 199, 10; a Himilesberg in the Fulda country, Schannat Buchon. vet. 336; several in Hesse (Kuchenb. anal. 11, 137) near Iba and Waldkappel (Niederh. wochengl. 1834 pp. 106, 2183); a Himmelsberg in Vestgötland, and one, alleged to be Heimdall's, in Halland. At the same time, Himinvângar, Sæm. 150ª, the OS. hebanwang, hebeneswang, a paradise (v. ch. XXV), the AS. Heofenfeld coelestis campus, Beda p. 158, and the like names, some individuals, some general, deserve to be studied, but yield as yet no safe conclusion about the god.

Other points about him savour almost of the fairy-tale: he is made out to be the son of nine mothers, giantesses, Sæm. 118ª,b. Sn. 106. Laxd. p. 392; he wants less sleep than a bird, sees a hundred miles off by night or day, and hears the grass grow on the ground and the wool on the sheep's back (Sn. 30). (2) His horse is Gulltoppr, gold-tuft, and he himself has golden teeth, (3) hence the by-names Gullintanni and Hallinskîði, 'tennur Hallinskiða,' Fornm. sög. 1, 52. It is worthy of remark, that Hallinskîði and Heimdali are quoted among the names for the ram. Sn. 221.

As watchman and warder of the gods (vörðr goða, Sæm. 41), Heimdall winds a powerful horn, Giallarhorn, which is kept under a sacred tree, Sæpm. 5b 8ª. Sn. 72-3. What the Völusâ imparts, must be of a high antiquity (see Suppl.).

Now at the very outset of that poem, all created beings great and small are called megir Heimðallar, sons or chldren of the god; he appears therefore to have had a hand in the creation of the world, and of men, and to have played a more exalted part than is assigned to him afterwards. As, in addition to Wuotan, Zio presided over war, and Frô over fruitfulness, so the creative faculty seems to have been divided between Oðinn and Heimðallr.

A song of suggestive design in the Edda makes the first arrangement of mankind in classes proceed from the same Heimðallr, who traverses the world under the name of Rîgr (see Suppl.). There is a much later German tradition, very prevalent in the last few centuries, which I have ventured to trace to this heathen one, its origin being difficult to explain otherwise. (4) As for the name Rîgr, it seems to me to have sprung, like dîs from idis, by aphæresis from an older form, which I cannot precisely determine, but would connect with the MHG. Irinc, as in ON. an n before g or k often drops out (conf.stinga stack, þacka þanki), and, as will be shown later, Iringes strâza, Iringes wec answers to a Swedish Eriksgata. (5) The shining galaxy would suit extremely well the god who descends from heaven to earth, and whose habitation borders on Bifröst.

Norwegian names of places bear witness to his cultus: Heimdallarvattn, a lake in Guldbrandsdalen (Guðbrandsdalr), and Heimdallshoug, a hill in Nummedalen (Naumudalr); neither is mentioned in the ON. sagas.


Above any other god, one would like to see a more general veneration of the ON. Bragi revived, in whom was vested the gift of poetry and eloquence. He is called the best of all skalds, Sæm. 46ª. Sn. 45, frumsmiðr bragar (auctor poeseos), and poetry itself is bragr. (6) In honour of him the Bragafull or bragarfull was given (p. 60); the form appears to waver between bragi gen. braga, and bragr gen. bragar, at all events the latter stands in the phrase 'bragr karla' = vir facundus, praestans, in 'âsa bragr' deorum princeps = Thôrr (Sæm. 85b. Sn. 211ª, but Bragi 211b), and even 'bragr qvenna' femina praestantissima (Sæm. 218ª). (7)

Then a poet and king of old renown, distinct from the god, himself bore the name of Bragi hinn gamli, and his descendants were styled Bragnîngar. A minstrel was pictured to the mind as old and long-bearded, sîðskeggi and skeggbragi, Sn. 105, which recalls Oðinn with his long beard, the inventor of poetry (p. 146), and Bragi is even said to be Oðin's son, Sn. 105 (see Suppl.).

In the AS. poems there occurs, always in the nom. sing., the term brego or breogo, in the sense of rex or princeps: bregostôl in Beow. 4387 and Andr. 209 is thronus regius; bregoweard in Cædm. 140, 26. 166, 13 is princeps. (8) Now, as gen. plurals are attached to it: brego engla, Cædm. 12, 7. 60, 4. 62, 3; brego Dena, Beow. 848; hæleða brego, Beow. 3905; gumena brego, Andr. 61; beorna brego, Andr. 305 (conf. brego moncynnes, Cod. exon. 457, 3); there grows up an instructive analogy to the above-mentioned 'bragr karla,' and to the genitives similarly connected with the divine names Týr, Freá and Bealdor (pp. 196, 211, 220). The AS. brego equally seems to point to a veiled divinity, though the forms and vowel-relations do not exactly harmonize. (9)

Their disagreement rather provokes one to hunt up the root under which they could be reconciled: a verb briga brag would suit the purpose. The Saxon and Frisian languages, but not the Scandinavian or High German, possess an unexplained term for cerebrum: AS. brëgen (like rëgen pluvia, therefore, better written so than brægen), Engl. brain, Fris. brein, Low Sax. bregen; I think it answers to the notions 'understanding, cleverness, eloquence, imitation,' and is connected with frhn, frenÒj, -frwn, -fronoj. Now the ON. bragr [[poetry; the best]], beside poesis, means also mos, gestus, and 'braga eftir einum' referre aliquem gestu, imitari. OHG. has nothing like it, nor any such proper name as Prako, Brago, Brëgo.

But, as we detected among the Saxons a faint trace of the god or god's son, we may lay some stress on the fact that in an OS. document of 1006 Burnacker occurs as the name of a place, v. Lünzel's Hildesheim, p. 124, conf. pref. v. (see Suppl.). Now Bragi and his wife Iðunn dwelt in Brunnakr, Sn. 121ª, and she is called 'Brunnakrs beckjar gerðr,' Brunnakerinae sedis ornatrix, as Sk. Thorlacius interprets it (Spec. 6, pp. 65-6). A well or spring, for more than one reason, suits a god of poetry; at the same time a name like 'springfield' is so natural that it might arise without any reference to gods.  


1. When this passage says further, 'vissi hann vel fram, sem Vanir aðrir,' liter. 'he foreknew well, like other Vanir,' his wisdom is merely likened to that of the Vanir (Gramm. 4, 456 on ander), it is not meant that he was one of them, a thing never asserted anywhere [so in Homer, 'Greeks and other Trojans' means 'and Trojans as well']. The Fornald. sög. 1, 373 calls him, I know not why, 'heimskastr allra âsa,' heimskr usually signifying ignorant, a greenhorn, what the MHG. poets mean by tump. Back

2. Conf. KM. 3, 125. Back

3. Li diente d' oro, Pentam. 3, 1. Of a certain Haraldr: tennr voru miklor ok gulls litr â. Fornald. sög. 1, 366. Back

4. Zeitschrift f. d. alt. 2, 257-267. Conf. ch. XIX. Back

5. Der gammel Erik, gamel Erke (old E.), has now come to mean old Nick in Swedish; conf. supra p. 124, on Erchtag. Back

6. Sæm. 113b, of Oðinn: gefr hann brag skâldom (dat carmen poetis). Back

7. Does not the Engl. Brag, Germ. prahlen (gloriari) explain everything? Showy high-flown speech would apply equally to boasting and to poetry. Then, for the other meaning, 'the boast, glory, master-piece (of men, gods, women, angels, bears),' we can either go back to the more primitive sense (gloria) in prangen, prunk, pracht, bright, or still keep to brag. 'Beauty is nature's brag, and must be shewn,' says Comus.---Trans. Back

8. In Beda 4, 23 (Stevens. p. 304) a woman's name Bregosuid, Bregoswið; in Kemble 5, 48 (anno 749) Bregenswiðestân, and 1, 133-4 (anno 762), 5, 46 (anno 747), 5, 59 (anno 798) a man's name Bregowine. In Beow. 3847 bregorôf is clarissimus. Back

9. The Irish breitheam, brethemb (judex) is said to be pronounced almost as 'brehon,' Trans. of Irish acad. 14, 167. Back

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