The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 29

Chapter 29: Personifications

(Page 1)

This is a convenient place to treat more fully of Mythical Personification.

All objects are either perceptible to our senses, ore merely exist in our thoughts. Of sensible objects a very general characteristic is, that they strike upon the eye (eij wpa, proj wpa), for which we once possessed the pretty word äugen, OHG. ougan, Goth. áugjan, to come in sight, appear (hence sich er-eignen, Gramm. 1, 226). The form and shape of this appearance was called in Goth. siuns, ON. sýn, OHG. gisiuni, which come from saíhva (I see), as species from specio, visus from video, eidoj from the lost eidw, and signify the seen, the present; (1) while vaíhts, which Ulphilas uses also for eidoj (p. 440), is derived from veiha (facio, p. 68). More commonly still we find combinations: Goth. andáugi, andvaírþi, OHG. antwerti, Goth. andavleizn, AS. andwlite, OHG. anasiuni, anasiht, gisiht; all of which formed like the Gr. proswpon, have alike the sense of aspectus, obtutus, and the narrower one of facies, vultus frons (Goth. vlits fr. vleita), because vision is directed mainly to the visage. The Lat. persona, obscure as its origin (2) may seem, agrees with the above in its use, except that siuns and proswpon may refer to any sight, vlits and persona more especially to the human form.

The freest personality is proper to gods and spirits, who can suddenly reveal or conceal their shape, appear and disappear (chap. XXX). To man this faculty is wanting, he can but slowly come and go, and his body he must bide, unless magic intervene; hence he is [not] in the strictest sense a person, his veriest self being emphasized in our older speech by the term lîp (life), body (Gramm. 4, 296). But language and an open brow distinguish him from beasts, who have only voice andprotomh, not a real proswpon or countenance. Still less of personality have plants, silent as they are, and rooted to the soil. Nevertheless both animals and plants have in common with man a difference of sex and the power of propagation; to both of them language assigns natural gender and, only where that is nonapparent, a purely grammatical. It goes yet further, and concedes it to lifeless tools and to things beyond the reach of sight or sense.

Then poetry and fables set themselves to personify, i.e. to extend personality, the prerogative of gods, spirits and men, to animals, plants, things or states to which language has lent gender. All these appear in Æsop endowed with human speech, and acting by the side of gods and men; and this not only in the case of trees and shrubs (like the bean or corn stalk in the fairy-tale), but of utensils like pots and file(cutrh, rinh), of days and seasons (eorth, usterh, ceimwn, ear), even of mere emotions, as love, shame (erwj, aiscunh). Our own simple-hearted eld loves to emphasize this livingness by the formalities of address and relationship: horse, ship and sword are gravely apostrophized by the hero (Gramm. 3, 331. 434. 441); such entities receive the title of 'herr' or 'frau' (3, 346); as animals are invested with gossiphood and brotherhood (Reinh. p. xxvii), the Edda makes alr (the awl) brother to knîfr, Sn. 133. Under this head too I bring the practice of coupling 'father' and 'mother' with lifeless things (Gramm. 4, 723).

Things deeply intergrown with speech and story can at no time have remained foreign to mythology, nay, they must have sucked up peculiar nourishment from her soil, and that universal life conceded in grammer and poetry may even have its source in a mythical prosopopœia. As all the individual gods and godlike attributes really rest on the idea of an element, a luminary, a phenomenon of nature, a force and virtue, an art and skill, a blessing or calamity, which have obtained currency as objects of worship; so do notions related to these, though in themselves impersonal and abstract, acquire a claim to deification. A distinct personality will attach to animals, plants, stars, which stand connected with particular gods, or have sprung out of metamorphosis. One might say, the heathen gods as a whole have arisen out of the various personifications that were most natural to each nation's way of thinking and state of culture; but that individual figures among them, by combining several attributes and by long continued tradition, were sure to attain a higher rank and reputation.

In this process however we notice an important distinction with regard to sex: strong, vehement forces and operations are by preference made into gods, mild and gracious ones into goddesses, which of itself determines the superior power, as a rule, of the male divinities. Yet this inferiority of the goddesses, added to their grace, tended, as I have more than once remarked, to secure their status longer, while the stern sway of the gods was being rooted out.

Everywhere the two sexes hand in hand, so that out of their union, according to human notions, may issue new births and new relationships. Wherever personfication is not directly intended, it is the habit of our language to use the crude undeveloped neuter.

Amongst elements, we find air and fire handed over more to gods, earth and water more to goddesses. Wuotan appears as an all-pervading atmosphere, as a murmur that sweeps through heaven and earth; this we made out under the words wuot (p. 131) and wôma (p. 144; conf. p. 745), and perhaps we have a right to connect even wehen (to blow) with waten (to wade), beben (to quake) with Biflindi (p. 149). The hurricane of the 'furious host' will then have real point and significance. Favourable wind (p. 636-7) was in the hands of Wuotan and Zeus, Oðinn 'weathered,' stormed or thundered, and was called Viðrir (ibid.). The shaking of the air by thunder is everywhere traced to the highest god, whom our antiquity represents separately as Donar, Thunar, the son of Wuotan, but in Zeus and Jupiter it is the father again; Thrymr seems identical with Thôrr (p. 181). Loptr (pp. 246. 632) is another emanation of Oðinn. Zio, and perhaps Phol, as whirlwinds (turbines), must be regarded in the same light (p. 632).-----Of goddesses, we have to reckon whoever may stand for the 'wind's bride' and whirlwind, Holda who accompanies the 'furious host,' and Herodias (p. 632); and bear in mind that to the same Holda and to Mary is given power over snow and rain (pp. 267. 641. 174-5). It is in Wikram 251ª that a 'frau luft' first occurs, as H. Sachs makes aër, ignis, aqua all 'fräulein.' Whenever dwarfs, giants and gaintesses raise wind, weather and storm (pp. 631-6-7), they act as servants of the highest god. Kâri also represented air.
Loki and Logi (p. 241) are gods of fire, and so was probably aúhns, ovan, which to us denotes the mere element itself (p. 629). The 'dea Hludana' (p. 257) might stand beside him. Donar, like the Slavic Perun, hurls the lightning flash, yet the Slavs make Grom, thunder, a youth, and Munya, lightning, a maiden (p. 178 n.). Fire, the godlike, is spoken to, and called 'bani viðar,' wood-killer. Balder, Phol, is perhaps to be understood as a divinity of light (pp. 227. 612-4), and from another point of view Ostara (p. 291). Mist was taken for a valkyr (p. 421.).

Hlêr (p. 240) and Oegir (pp. 137. 311) are gods of the wave, and Rân a goddess (p. 311); Geban, Gefjon (pp. 239. 311) is divided between both sexes. The fem. ahva (p. 583 n.) and the female names of our rivers (p. 600) lead us to expect water-goddesses, with which agrees the preponderance of nixies and mermaids (p. 487), also the softness of the element, though Oðinn too is found under the name of Hnikar (ibid.) Snow and Hoarfrost are thought of as male (p. 761), but the Norse Drîfa (loose drifting snow) is a daughter of Snior (Yngl. saga 16).

The Earth, like Terra and Tellus, could not be imagined other than female, so that the masc. Heaven might embrace her as bride; Rinda is a goddess too, and Nerthus (p. 251), though she and the masc. Niörðr play into one another. Out of the Goth. faírguni's neutrality unfolded themselves both a male Fiörgynn (p. 172) and a female Fiörgyn (p. 256); the former answers to Perkunas (Faírguneis) and to other cases of gods being named after mountains, conf. ans, âs (p. 25) and Etzel (p. 169). And Hamar the rock-stone (p. 181) is another instance of the same thing. The forest-worship dwelt upon in ch. IV could not fail to introduce directly a deification of sacred trees, and most trees are regarded as female; we saw (pp. 651-2-3) how the popular mind even in recent times treated 'frau Hasel, frau Elhorn, frau Wacholder, frau Fichte' as living creatures. Hlîn and Gnâ, handmaids of Frigg, are named in Sn. 38 among âsynjor, and Hlöck in Sn. 39 among valkyrjor: all three, according to Biörn, are likewise names of trees, Hlîn apparently of our leinbaum, leinahorn, lenne (acer, maple), in the teeth of our derivation (p. 874); conf. AS hlîn. Again Sn. 128 tells us more generally, why all fem. names of trees are applicable to women, e.g. selja is both salix and procuratrix.

Zio, like Zeus, appears to mean, in the first instance, sky and day (pp. 193. 736); yet our mythology takes no notice of his relation to the earth (p. 700). But still it personifies Day m. (p. 735), and makes him the son of Night f. At the same time evening and morning, Apantrod and Tagarod (p. 748) are masculine. (3) It is therefore the more surprising that the sun, the great light of day (p. 701), should be pictured as female and the moon as male, especially as the sun shines fiercely and the moon softly. Though this view is of high antiquity (p. 704), yet the identity of the Goth. sáuil, AS. segil, with sol andhlioj, makes is appear likely that with us too the relation between sun and moon was once the same as in the classical languages (p. 701), and was only departed from by slow degrees. Even in MHG. the gender of 'sunne' continued to vacillate, as the Latin conversely shows a Lunus by the side of Luna. In the same way the Goth. staírnô, ON. stiarna, is fem. like stella, but the OHG. sterno, OS. sterro, AS. steorra, masc. like asthr ; and each has its justification in the particular stars personified.

Our Summer and Winter are masculine (p. 758), the Lat. aestas and hiems feminine, to which add the Gr.Ceimwn m., and the Slav. zima f. Excepting Hrede and Eástre, all our names of months were masc., and Mai in particular often stands for summer. On the contrary, the vagueness of the neuter 'year' shows the absence of mythical prosopopœia, (see Suppl.).

On mere tools and utensils its operation seems more stinted: an exception must at once be made in favour of the sword. As this weapon received proper names and a living accusative (Gramm. 3, 441), as it was apostrophized (Klage 847. Wigal. 6514), and like Norse heroes, or like fire, was called bani (occisor, e.g. Hialmars bani, Fornald. sög. 1, 522), as its hilt and point were the haunt of snake and adder (p. 687-8); agreeable to all this is a deification of the sword of war (p. 203-4), and for this would be found available not the lifeless neuter 'swert,' but the masc. 'hairus, heru, cheru,' p. 203, to which correspond the divine names Eor, Arhj and Sahsnôt: from this divine progenitor's name proceeded the national names of Cheruscans, Saxons, conf. Suardones, with Sweordweras, in Cod. exon. 322, 13.----In contrast with the sword, which ennobles men, stands female decoration, from which our language drew similar designations; and it is a significant thing that, as one of the highest gods borrowed lustre from the sword, so did the fairest of goddesses from her necklace, she after whom all ladies are called freyja (pp. 299. 306). In our oldest laws the sword (4) was an essential part of the 'hergewäte,' war-equipment, and the necklace of the 'frauen-gerade,' woman's outfit (RA. 567 seq.); now, as we find in the Lex Angl. et Werin. 7, 3 the expression 'ornamenta muliebria quod rhedo dicunt,' it becomes a question, whether a totally different explanation of the AS. goddess Rheda from that attempted on p. 289 be not the right one. Ostara, Eástre, was goddess of the growing light of spring, and Hrede might be goddess of female beauty, another name for Frouwa, Freyja, or a personification of the necklace; (5) the root might be the same as in the OHG. hrat, AS. hræd, ON. hraðr (velox, celar), as the notions of swiftness and sweetness often meet. We must not overlook another word used for the above 'gerade:' radelêve (RA. 567), OHG. radoleiba (Graff 3, 855), more exactly hrataleipa, on comparing which with the AS. sweorda lâfe, homera lâfe (Beow. 5868. 5654), i.e. lâfe preceded by a genitive, we see that Hredan or Hredean lâfe would originally mean jewellery the legacy (leavings) of the goddess, which afterwards all women divided among them. And this explanation is supported by several other things. Not only do the Norse skalds designate women in general by the name of any ornament that she wears; but Freyja herself, whose bosom is adorned with that costly Brîsînga men (Goth. Breisiggê mani? p. 306), as mother earth too wears her 'iarðar men' the greensward (p. 643), gave birth to a divine daughter identical with herself, whose name also gets to mean ornament and jewelry. Sn. 37 says, she was called Hnoss, and was so beautiful that everything elegant and precious was named hnossir; 'hnossir velja,' Sæm. 233b, means to select jewelry for a present. Hnoss may either be derived from hnoða, glomus, nodus (as hlass from hlaða, sess from sitja), or be connected with an OHG. form hnust, nust, nusc (Graff 2, 1006-7); either way it so obviously agrees with bris (compages, nodus), or with nusta (ansula), nuskil (fibula), that it is wonderfully like the Brîsînga (or Brisînga) men of the mother. But elsewhere we find Freyja provided with another daughter Gersimi (Sn. 212. Yngl. saga c. 13), whose name exhibits the same notion over again, nay it has found its way, like rhedo, into ancient legal phraseology. Gersemi (fem.) means costly ornament, cimelium (Gloss. to Grâgâs p. 26), also arrha, and mulcta pactitia; the Östgöta-lang giptab. 18 has gärsimi, the Vestgöta-lag p. 140 görsimar, the Dan. laws giörsum, giorsum; even AS. records repeatedly use the phrase 'gærsuman, gersuman niman,' gersumam capere in the sense of thesaurum, cimelium (Spelm. p. 263ª. Ducange 3, 513), but I have not come across it in the poets. As the AS. -sum answers to OHG. -sam (Gramm. 2, 574), I conjecture an OHG. karosemi (from karo, gar, yare, paratus) meaning the same as wîp-garawi, mundus muliebris (Graff 4, 241); we should then have learnt three new equivalents for the gerade of our German law: rhedo, hnoss, gersemi, all of them personified and deified as Hreda, Hnoss, Gersemi. Again, it occurs to me that in the story of Oswald, one that teems with mythical allusions (think of Tragemund, and the raven all but Odinic), there appears a maiden Spange (Z. f. d. a. 2, 96-7. 105, ver Spange 103, vor Spange 115, like ver Hilde, ver Gaue), (6) plainly a personified spange (armilla), a meaning highly appropriate to the beautiful princess. Such goddesses of female adornment and of household implements may also be supposed among the Lithuanian deities named in Lasicz p. 48-9. Nâdala the snuggling, insinuating (p. 246) occurs at least as an OHG. proper name in Irmino 187ª; compare the personal relation attributed to alr and knîfr (p. 881). Hlöck we have explained (p. 401, conf. 421-2) as hlancha, catena (see Suppl.).


1. MHG. schin used in the same way: disen ritter oder sînen schîn, Parz. 18, 13. sante Martins gewer oder sîn schîn, Fragm. 28b. wip, man oder tieres schîn, Diut. 2, 94. sîn wesen und sîn schîn (schein), Er. 10047-9. der menschlich schîn, Ls. 3, 263. [Back]

2. Hardly from prosqpon, like Proserpina from Persefonh, where the change of sound is exactly the other way. What if the old etymology from personare should prove defensible, and sonus be conn. with siuns? There are plenty of analogies between sound and sight (e.g. that Romance 'par son', p. 745), and also changes of short vowels into long (persona); prosqpon itself happens to be an example of both (oy voice and eye, oyij visio, wy eye, face, wph look); the formation of persona would be as in Perenna, Pertunda, Pervinca. [Back]

3. Lith. 'Berlea dea vespertina, Breksta dea tenebrarum,' Lasicz 47. In our Tristan, Isot is beautifully compared to the Sun, and her mother to the Dawn, f. [Back]

4. And with it a horse and ship, the most precious of movable goods in antiquity. 'Mearas and mâðmas' are coupled together in AS. poems; out of mâ'm was developed the notion of the Goth. máiþms, a costly gift, while the MHG. meiden retained the literal meaning of horse; the formula 'schiff und geschirr,' ship and harness, which afterwards meant the land-ship (waggon) and its rigging, may originally have signified the sea-ship, which ON. and AS. poets in varying phrase denominate 'sea-horse,' Andr. and El. xxxiv.-v.; even in the French Simplic. 3, 46 I find 'to put the wooden water-horse to his paces' = to sail. This borders closely on the notion of demonic sea-horses (p. 490). [Back]

5. The personfications Hamar and Heru as weapons of the highest gods, and their counterpart the feminine spindle and necklace, support each other (conf. p. 204). The hammer was left to grow diabolic (ch. XXXIII) and superstitious (XXXVII), but the men would not allow their sword to be dishonoured. The Indians personified and apostrophized the sacrificial knife (Götting. anz. 1831, p. 1762). [Back]

6. Ettmüller's text has an erroneous unmeaning Pange. [Back]

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page