The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 22

Chapter 22: Sky and Stars

(Page 1)

The visible heavens have in many ways left their mark on the heathen faith. Not only do gods, and the spirits who stand next them, have their dwelling in the sky, and get mixt up with the stars, but earthly beings too, after their dissolution, are transported thither, and distinguished heroes and giants shine as constellations. From the sky the gods descend to earth, along the sky they make their journeys, and through the sky they survey unseen the doings of men. And as all plants turn to the light of heaven, as all souls look up to heaven, so do the smoke of sacrifice and the prayers of mankind mount upwards.

Heaven covers earth, and our word 'himmel' comes from the root hima (tego, involvo, vestio, Gramm. 2, 55; conf. Lith. dangus coelum, from dengiu tego; OHG. himilezi laquear). The Goths and Old Norsemen agree in preferring the form himins, himinn, and most other Teutons himil; even Swed. Norw. Dan have himmel. The Saxon race has moreover two terms peculiar to itself: one is OS. hëban, hëvan, AS. hëofon, Engl. heaven, and still in Lower Saxony and Westphalia, heben, heven, häven, häwen. I have endeavoured to make out the area over which this name extends (Gramm. I, xiv.). The Frisians did not use it, for the N. and W. Fris. patois of today owns to nothing but 'himmel.' (1) Nor does the Netherl. dialect know it; but it is found in Westphalia, in L. Saxony as far as Holstein, and beyond the Elbe in Mecklenburg and Pomerania. The AS. and Engl. are wholly destitute of the word himel; OS., like the present LS. and Westph., employs both terms alike, yet apparently so as to designate by hëvan more the visible heaven, and by himil the supersensual. Alb. of Halberstadt (ed. 1545, 145b) uses hëben (rhym. nëben) of the place. Reinolt von der Lippe couples the two words: 'himel und hëben von vreuden muz irkrachen,' burst with joy. People say: 'de heven steit nümmer to'; 'wenn de heven fallt, ligg wi der all unner;' 'de sterren an dem häven;' in Westphalia hebenscheer means a sky overcast without rain, and even heben alone can signify cloud. (2) In hävenhüne (p. 156), in kukuk vam häven (p. 676), the physical sense preponderates, whereas one would hardly speak otherwise than of 'going to himel,' or himelrîk. Yet this distinction seems to be comparatively recent: as the AS. hëofon can be used in a purely spiritual sense, so the poet of our Heliand alternates between himilrîki 149, 8 and hëbanrîki 143, 24, himilfader 145, 12 and hëbancuning 143, 20. And of course himil had originally, and has everywhere in HG., the physical meaning too; hence uphimil in Hel. 88, 15, just like upheofon in Cædm. 270, 24. The root of hëbhan, hëvan, hëofon, is probably a lost Gothic, 'hiba, haf,' cognate with Lat. capio, so that it is the all-capacious, ON. vîðfeðmir, wide-fathoming or encompassing sky. (3)

The other Saxon term may be placed on a level with the Gr. aiqhr (thin upper air), whilst himil and hëvan answer to ouranoj; it is OS. radur, AS. rodor. In Cædmon we find rodor 183, 19. 207, 8. uprodor 179, 10. 182, 15. 205, 2. rodortungol (star), 100, 21. rodorbeorht 239, 10. Its root RAD lies buried as yet in obscurity; it has disappeared from all modern dialects [except as Rother in proper names?]. I am inclined to connect with it the ON. röðull (sol), which has nothing to do with rauðr [[red]] (ruber). From the AS. poets using indifferently 'wuldres gim' and 'heofones gim' (Beow. 4142. Andr. 1269); heofonbeorht, rodorbeorht, wuldorbeorht; heofontorht, swegltorht, wuldortorht; we might almost infer that wuldor (glory) originally meant coelum, which would throw light on the OHG. name Woldarhilt. And the same with swegel (aether, coelum): conf. swegles begong, Beow. 1713; under swegle (sub coelo), Beow. 2149; sweglrâd (coeli currus), Cod. exon. 355, 47; OS. suigli.

I call attention to the AS. sceldbyrig, Cædm. 283, 23, which has no business to be translated refugium or sheltering city; it is distinctly our schildburg (aula clypeis tecta), a bit of heathenism the poet let fall inadvertently; so the Edda speaks of Valhöll as 'skiöldum þökt, lagt gyltum skiöldum, svâ sem spânþak,' Sn. 2, thatched with golden shields as with shingle-roof (p. 702 and Suppl.).

Eddic names in Sæm. 49b. Sn. 177; all masculine, some obviously founded on personifcation. Heaven is pictured as a husband, embracing the female earth; he is not however admitted into the circle of the gods, like Ouranoj, whereas Earth does stand among the goddesses. To us heaven signifies simply a certain space, the residence of gods. Two poetic names for it have reference to that enigmatical being Mîmir (p. 379): hreggmîmir, rain-shedder, from hregg imber; and vetmîmir, moistener? conf. væta humor.

To express star, constellation (sidus), our older speech, in addition to staírnô, stërno, stëorra, stiarna (Gramm. 3, 392) and OHG. himilzeichan (Hymn. 4, 2), has a symbolical term, OHG. himilzungâ, Diut. 1, 526b and Gl. Doc. 249; OS. himintûngal, Hel. 18, 2; AS. heofontungol, rodortungol; ON. himintûngl [[heavenly body]]. Even the simple tungol has the same sense in AS., and a Gothic gloss on Gal. 4, 3, gives 'tuggl astrum,' whilst in ON. tûngl means the moon. This neuter noun tungal, tungol, tûngl, is no doubt from tunga (lingua), which word itself appears in OHG. himilzungâ (Graff 5, 682): the moon and some of the planets, when partially illuminated, do present the appearance of a tongue or a sickle, and very likely some cosmogonic belief (4) was engrafted on that; I know of nothing like it in other languages.

All the heavenly bodies have particular spots, seats, chairs assigned them, which they make their abode and resting-place; they have their lodges and stages (sterrôno girusti, O. i. 17, 10). This holds especially of the sun, who daily sinks into his seat or settle (see Chap. XXIII); but similar chairs (KM. 25), and a seat-going (sedelgang) are attributed to all the stars. N. Bth. 210, 223 says, Boötes 'trâgo ze sedele gange,' and 'tiu zeichen ne gânt nich in sedel.' As chair and table are things closely connected, the stars may have had tables of their own, or, what comes to the same thing, may have been regarded as tables of the sky; in saying which, I am not thinking of the Egyptian sun-table, but more immediately of the 'bioðum yppa,' sidera extollere, of the Völuspâ (Sæm. 1b), the three creative 'Börs synir' having set up as it were the tables of the firmament: bioðr is the Goth. biuds, OHG. piot (pp. 38. 68). As the stationary stars had chairs and tables, the planetary ones, like other gods, had steeds and cars ascribed to them (see Suppl.). (5)

The two principal stars are the sun and moon, whose gender and appellations I have discussed in Gramm. 3, 349. 350: a MHG. poet calls the sun 'daz mêrere lieht,' the greater light, Fundgr. 2, 12. It is worth mentioning that some of the Eddic names for the moon are still preserved in patois dialects of Up. Germany. As the dwarfs named the moon skîn (jubar), the East Franks call her schein (Reinwald's Henneb. id. 2, 159). (6) In the underworld the moon bore the name of hverfandi hvel, whirling wheel, and in Styria (esp. the Bruck distr.) she is ginoa-rat (Sartori's Styria, p. 82), if I may translate that by rota communis, though it may perhaps mean gemeiner rath (vorrath), a common provision at the service of all men. That the sun was likened to a wheel of fire, and the element blazing out of him was represented in the shape of a wheel, has been fully shown, p. 620. Tit. 2983 speaks of the sun's wheel. The Edda expressly calls the sun fagrahvel, fair wheel, Sæm. 50ª Sn. 177. 223. The Norse rune for S is named sôl sun, the AS. and OHG. sigil, sugil, for which I have proposed (Andr. p. 96) the readings segil, sagil, sahil, and may now bring in support the Goth. sáuil and Gr. hlioj. But the Gothic letter [circle with a dot in the middle] (=HV) is the very symbol of the sun, and plainly shows the shape of a wheel; we must therefore suppose it to have been the initial of a Goth. hvil = AS. hweol, ON. hvël [[hvel - wheel]]. From 'hvel' was developed the Icel. hiol, Swed. Dan. hjul, O. Swed. hiught; and from 'hweol, hweohl' the Engl. wheel, Nethl. wiel, and Fris. fial (Richth. 737). In view of all these variations, some have even ventured to bring in the ON. jol [[jól - yule]], Swed. Dan. jul (yule), the name of the winter solstice, and fasten upon it also the meaning of the wheel; on that hypothesis the two forms must have parted company very early, supposing the Gothic name of November jíuleis to be cognate. (7) The word wheel seems to be of the same root as while, Goth. hveila, OHG. huîla, i.e. revolving time; conf. Goth. hveila-hvaírbs, OHG. huîl-huerbîc, volubilis.

Another symbolic epithet of the sun seems to be of great age: the warlike sentiment of olden times saw in him a gleaming circular shield, and we noticed above (p. 700) that the sky itself formed a sceldbyrig. Notker cap. 71, finding in his text the words 'sinistra clypeum coruscantem praeferebat (Apollo),' translates: 'an dero winsterûn truog er einen rôten skilt,' then adds a remark of his own: 'wanda selbiu diu sunna einemo skilte gelîh ist.' In German law and German poetry we catch the glimmer of these 'red shields.' Even Opitz 2, 286 calls the sun 'the beauteous shield of heaven.'

The very oldest and most universal image connected with the sun and other luminaries seems after all to be that of the eye. Ancient cosmogonies represent them as created out of eyes. To Persians the sun was the eye of Ahurômazdâo (Ormuzd), to Egyptians the right eye of the Demiurge, to the Greeks the eye of Zeus, to our forefathers that of Wuotan; and a fable in the Edda says Oðinn had to leave one of his eyes in pledge with Mîmir, or hide it in his fountain, and therefore he is pictured as one-eyed. In the one-eyed Cyclop's mouth Ovid puts the words (Met. 13, 851):

Unum est in media lumen mihi fronte, sed instar

ingentis clypei; quid, non haec omnia magno

sol videt e coelo? soli tamen unicus orbis.
Like the giant, the god (Wuotan, the sky) has but one eye, which is a wheel and a shield. In Beow. 1135 'beácen Godes' is the sun, the great celestial sign. (8) With this eye the divinity surveys the world, and nothing can escape its peering all-piercing glance (9); all the stars look down upon men. (10) But the ON. poets, not content with treating sun, moon and stars as eyes of heaven, invert the macrocosm, and call the human eye the sun, moon, or star of the skull, forehead, brows and eyelashes; they even call the eye the shield of the forehead: a confirmation of the similar name for the sun. Another title they bestow on the sun is 'gimsteinn himins' (gemma coeli); so in AS. 'heofones gim,' Beow. 4142 and 'wuldres gim,' Andr. 1289 (see Suppl.). And not only is the sun represented as the god's eye looking down, but as his full face and countenance; and that is how we draw his picture still. Otfried says of the sun being darkened at the Saviour's death, iv. 33, 5:

In ni liaz si nuzzi thaz scônaz annuzzi,

ni liaz in scînan thuruh thaz ira gisiuni blîdaz.

The Edda speaks of the sun and moon as brother and sister, children of a mythic Mundilföri. Several nations besides the Lithuanians and Arabs (Gramm. 3, 351) agree with us in imagining the moon masculine and the sun feminine. The Mexican Meztli (luna) is a man; the Greenlanders think of Anningat, the moon, as pursuing his sister Mallina, the sun. An Ital. story (Pentam. 5, 5) makes Sole and Luna children of Talia (in Perrault they are named Jour and Aurore). The Slavs make the moon masc., a star fem., the sun neut.; thus in a Servian lay (Vuk 1, 134), God calls the sun (suntse, Russ. solntse, -tse dim. suff.) his child (chedo), the moon (mesets) being its brother, and the star (zvezda) its sister. To think of the stars as children or young suns is nothing out of the way. Wolfram says in Wh. 254, 5: 'jungiu sünnelîn möhten wahsen.'
Down to recent times, our people were fond of calling the sun and moon frau sonne and herr mond. (11) Aventin 19b: 'frauw Sonne geht zu rast und gnaden.' In the country between the Inn and Salzach they say 'der hêr Mân,' meaning no more than simply moon, Schm. 2, 230. 582. Gesner in Mithrid., Tur. 1555, p. 28: 'audio veteres Germanos Lunum quoque deum coluisse et appellasse hermon, id est dominum Lunum, quod forte parum animadvertentes aliqui ad Hermann, i.e. Mercurium transtulerunt;' this last guess has missed the mark. Hulderic. Eyben de titulo nobilis, Helmst. 1677. 4, p. 136: 'qua etiam ratione in veteri idololatico luna non domina, dominus appellatur:

bis gottwillkommen, neuer mon, holder herr,

mach mir meines geldes mehr! (12)

Also in Nicolaus Magni de Gawe (Superst. E, 10): 'vetulam novi, quae credidit solem esse deam, vocans eam sanctam dominam;' and earlier still in Eligius (Sup. A): 'nullus dominos solem aut lunam vocet.' (13)

In these invocations lingers the last vestige of a heathen worship; perhaps also in the sonnenlehn, sun-fief (RA. 278)? I have spoken on bowing to the sun, p. 31, and cursing by him, 'der sunnen haz varn,' p. 19, where he is made equal to a deity. (14) In the same way the knees were bent and the head bared to the new moon (Sup. E, 11). In taking an oath the fingers were extended toward the sun (Weisth. 3, 349); and even Tacitus in Ann. 13, 55 relates of Bojocalus: 'solem respiciens et cetera sidera vocans, quasi coram interrogabat, vellentne intueri inane solum' (see Suppl.).


1. Himel, Lapekoer fen Gabe scroar, Dimter 1834, p. 101. 103. hemmel, Hansens Geizhalz, Sonderbg. 1833. p. 148. himel, Friesche wetten 348. himul, As. 274. [Back]

2. Sanskr. nabas, Slav. nébo (coelum), pl. nebesá, Gr. nefoj, Lat. nubes, nebula; Ir. neamh, Wel. nêv, Armor. nef, Lett. debbes (coelum), debbess (nubes); conf. Lith. dangus above [and sky, welkin, with ON. scý [[ský - cloud]], Germ. wolke, cloud]. [Back]

3. 'Hills of heaven' are high ones, reaching into the clouds, often used as proper names: himinfiöll, Sæm. 148ª. Yngl. saga cap. 39; Himinbiörg, Sæm. 41, 92b is an abode of gods; spirits haunt the Himilinberg (mons coelius, Pertz 2, 10); Himilesberg in Hesse (Kuchenbecker's Anal. 11, 137. Arnsb. urk. 118); a Himmelsberg in Vestgötland, and one in Halland (said to be Heimðall's); Himelberc, Frauendienst 199, 10. [Back]

4. A translation of the tongue to heaven. Or was the twinkling of the stars likened to a tingling [züngeln, a quivering flickering motion like that of the tongue]? The moon's steady light does not bear that out, nor the OHG. form without the l. [Back]

5. Wagen waggon belongs to weg way, as carpentum does to carpere (viam); the car of heaven is also that of the highest god. Otfr. i. 5, 5. says of the herald angel: 'floug er sunnûm pad, sterrôno strâza, wega wolkôno.' The Indians also call the sky path of clouds, Somadeva 1, 17. 2, 157. [Back]

6. So in Mod. Gr. feggari brilliance, a name whose surprising identity with the ON. fengari [[?]] (Sn. 177) I have already noticed elsewhere. [Back]

7. The Norse initial H is occasionally dropt: in Icel. both hiula and jula stand for the babbling of infants. The dialect of the Saterland Frisians has an actual jule, jole (rota). It is worthy of notice, that in some parts of Schleswig they used at Christmas-time to roll a wheel into the village, and this was called 'at trille juul i by,' trundling yule into town; Outzen sub. v. jöl, p. 145. [Back]

8. The Servians call the deepest part of a lake oko (eye), Vuk's Montenegro 62. [Back]

9. When the Illiad 14, 344 says: oud an nwi diadrakoi Helioj per, oute kai oxutaton peletai faoj eisoraasqai, it resembles the lay of Wolfram 8, 28: Obe der sunnen drî mit blicke wæren (if there were 3 suns looking), sin möhten zwischen si geliuhten (they could not shine in between). [Back]

10. Presbiston asnrwn nuktoj ofqalmoj, Aesch. Sept. c. Th. 390. [Back]

11. Frau Sunne (Görres Meisterl. 184). Hence in O. Fr. Solaus, without the article, Bekker on Ferabras p. 163. [Back]

12. His authority is Dynkelspuhl tract. 1, praec. 1, p. 59. Is this the Nicolaus Dinkelspuel in Jöcher? [Back]

13. Conf. the wind addressed as lord, p. 631; and dobrapan, p. 130 note. [Back]

14. Some would trace the name of Salzwedel, Soltwedel in the Altmark to heathen sun-worship, (Ledebur's Allg. arch. 14, 370. Temme's Altmark p. 29), though the first syll. plainly means salt; 'wedel' will be explained when we come to the moon. [Back]

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