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Lars Magnar Enoksen needs a better pair of glasses: cryptorunes, bindrunes and the Kylver rune stone

Feast your eyes on this, the Kylver rune stone:

Kylver rune stone

Look closer.

Kylver futhark

Closer.

Kylver bindrune

The Kylver rune stone is the earliest known carving of the Elder Futhark rune row in sequential order, which is followed by a tree-like symbol.  (There’s also to the right side, a palindrome S U E U S –probably related, due to its proximity, but the meaning is unknown and it uses a much later version of one of the runic characters.)  Anyway, pay attention to the tree-like symbol (bindrune) because it’s going to get more interesting.

Before we get into what the bindrune means, it would probably help to have some context.

The Elder Futhark is traditionally broken into aettir, or three groups (each one an aett) of eight runes.

aettir

 Cryptorunes are a (generally weak) code wherein the tick marks on one side of the figure indicate the aett and the tick marks on the other side indicate the number within the indicated aett.  For example, twig cryptorunes from a Neolithic burial chamber in Maeshowe, Orkney, that a group of Vikings crashed in about six centuries ago:

Orkney runes

Twig cryptorunes are easy to carve, so they form the majority of cryptorune inscriptions, though once manuscripts became a thing, cryptorunes got really fanciful:

MS AM 687d 4°

MS AM 687d 4°

Fish!  Spirals!  Whatever the hell that wolf/crocodile-looking monsters are!

Most of the cryptorunes we’ve come across seem to be unnecessary, in that they aren’t very valuable for securely encrypting information; so they must be ornamental or magical, because precision-carving stone by hand isn’t easy and I take as my first assumption that ancient people weren’t stupid.  Many bindrunes end up being similarly ornamental or magical, given that they are often given names or their meaning is not always obvious, so they would be an unreliable way of conveying information.  Again, ancient people aren’t stupid: if you’re going to the effort of carving a rune stone, you’re not going to skimp on clarity just because you’re lazy.

So with that in mind, back to the tree-like bindrune at the end of the Kylver futhark.

Some of the explanations of the bindrune include Terje Spurkland’s: “The twigs on the left of the stave represent six t runes while the twigs on the right, in pairs, stand for four a runes: tttttt, aaaa, or six times ‘Týr’ and four times ‘áss’ in the meaning of ‘god’.”  Except that doesn’t make much sense — invoking Tyr is weird contextually and neither six nor four are magically-significant numbers for a Scandinavian.  Lars Magnar Enoksen suggests it’s a bindrune of stacked Tiwaz runes, which doesn’t make sense, because the left side is missing two lines, and again, what the hell would the significance be?

Now, we can argue all day on whether the runic characters were “really” used for magic, given that it is an utterly partisan debate.  There’s substantial evidence that they were used for both magical enchantments/incantations inscribed on valuable objects, perhaps crossing over with cryptorunes or with a sort of scrambled sigilic inscription, and that even the individual characters were likely regarded as magically valuable.  But it’s pretty clear to me that you don’t painstakingly carve the alphabet in stone in 400 CE with a little bindrune at the end if it doesn’t mean something; and I figure most literate adults would be bored with putting that much effort into kindergarten-level carving unless it was magic, unless the characters were an invocation or a supplication.

What makes sense for a rational carver is that the Futhark — the runes, the rúnar, the secrets — are not merely a literary alphabet but magically significant and that the bindrune at the end is not a random repetition of runes but a magically significant distillation of the rune row preceding it.  The bindrune is not invoking Tyr and the Aesir, it’s not a sloppy repetition of the Tiwaz rune, it’s the cryptorunic encapsulation of the entire rune row in a tidy sigil, almost qabalistic in its cosmic symbolic shorthand.

Kylver bindrune

Boom.  The Elder Futhark is a script with independent magical qualities worthy of being invoked, and the ~mystery symbol~ is a crypto-bindrune for the Futhark.  That’s two mysteries solved.

 

BONUS ROUND

Let’s address the Seeland-II-C bracteate, an artefact dating to around 500 CE with a “triple Tiwaz” runic inscription often cited in connection with the Kylver rune stone.

Seeland-II-C bracteate

The bracteate has an actual message (to the tune of “Hariuha I am called: the danger-wise/travel-wise one: I give chance” with a figure that is arguably Odin). The bindrune following the inscription could be a magical bindrune linked with military power, if you take the spear-like Tiwaz and interpret it as a Tyr invocation (‘danger-wise’), or a bindrune connected to the guiding pole-star interpretation of Tiwaz, if you take the ‘travel-wise’ translation.

Or we could take the obscurists’ approach and read it not as Tiwaz-Tiwaz-Tiwaz but as a cryptorune (3-3) which gives us Ehwaz:

aettir - Ehwaz

Whether or not that’s what the writer intended, it’s certainly interesting: Ehwaz is the horse-rune, though always with a rider, an interesting synchronicity for a bracteate illustrating a horse and rider (perhaps a splendid-hoofed steed like that of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem).  As a magical inscription, Ehwaz would be appropriate for anyone travel-wise and opportunist; it is “always help” to the restless horse-riders of the stanza.  If the figure is Odin (highly likely) then yes, three Tiwaz is a valid hammering home of his martial and navigational skills; but Ehwaz would be a more cunning allusion to Sleipnir, the best of horses.

This is part of what I find infinitely interesting about deep-level rune study, which reminds me strongly of what qabalah I’ve learned — in cases like this bracteate, it’s pretty much impossible now to know which one (if not both) the writer intended, but it doesn’t matter.  At this point, everything is talking to me.


Killing Baphomet

Baphomet Buddha

Perhaps this post has been done to death on a thousand other blogs (certainly I’m not trailblazing here), but I was re-reminded of it again this week through a variety of channels.

Essentially, “Where have all the leaders gone?”

Into the dustbin of irrelevance, my friends, and don’t just sit there and complain about it, because you helped put them there.

The post I cited by Juniper generalized about three classes of leaders: the prophets, like Crowley and Gardner; the great witches, like Valiente, Farrar and Fortune; and the mentors, elders and High Priest/esses.  Juniper suggests that it’s because we wussed out and kicked them all out.  Which is true to some degree, but it’s more complicated than that.  We’ll take them apart one by one.

We “don’t have” prophets anymore, because of the way we receive information.  There are writers out there with Crowley’s vision, Gardner’s talent for synthesis, Valiente’s poetic skill — Peter Grey, Gemma Gary, Peter Carroll, Lon Milo DuQuette all spring instantly to mind — but they’re not publishing at a time when just writing a book might land them in jail, when they might be writing the only book on the topic.  There’s an entire industry devoted now to churning out occult books now, and you can get a book on witchcraft with minimal fuss at a chain bookstore most places in the Western world.  Maybe not a good book, but…

The point is, it’s not that we don’t have prophetic, mad-eyed academics howling messy sacred truths, it’s that they have a lot of competition.  It’s like asking “Why don’t we have as many hand-illuminated vellum manuscripts anymore?”  Because printing presses are easier, cheaper and more widespread than talented scribes.  Because now that the tide has shifted in favor of generally accepting Paganisms — partly because most people aren’t Crowleys, Gardners, or iconoclastic antisocial misfits — an industry with a ridiculously low barrier to entry and no required credentials.  Because we have blogs, Tumblr, Llewellyn, Witchvox, Patheos, et cetera ad infinitum.

Paganism and especially the modern neo-Wicca that dominates our publishing and public realms grew through the antiestablishment counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies, which changed their tone from the witchcrafts and paganisms that preceded them.  Every one of the great witches was a product of her time — Fortune, Valiente and Farrar included — and we have never had a time less amenable to ‘witch queens’ than now.  The way that Wicca was imported to the States in particular pretty much destroyed its emphasis on lineage, strict hierarchy and barriers to entry, for good or ill.  The reason we “don’t have” women like them in the younger generations is that we don’t recognize their authority or potential for it — they’re not becoming famous coven leaders because we don’t really have many famous covens anymore.  We’ve turned that antiestablishment Luciferian tenor inwards on our own establishment.  Most noteworthy big-name witches are noteworthy because they’re still around and evolving after winning fame (Janet Farrar) or noteworthy now less for their body of work than for being bigoted relics (Z. Budapest and her sexism/transphobia, Freya Aswynn and her nationalism/racism).

But even the pre-countercultural 2oth-century witchcraft wasn’t a pure breed, and the roots of our current half-assed pop paganism lie in the programming of our forebearers.  Gardner’s witchcraft was coming out of a conservative, nationalistic English movement with a lot of Christian programming still mixed in there.  For example, the Wiccan Rede — probably written by Valiente, though the sentiment isn’t new — summarized as “An it harm none, do what you will”cobbles together earlier works, notably Crowley’s The Book of the Law: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”  Of course, over time the Thelemic intent in the Wiccan Rede was lost and the harming none part emphasized to the point of immobilizing witches, giving birth to the pseudo-karmic mechanism, which is one part sin and one part The Secret, of the ‘three-fold law of return’.  Peter Grey points out, “The difficulty with modern pagan witchcraft is that it began with compromise. [...]  Now Ronald Hutton says not simply harm none, but be harmless.” (page 8).  Regardless of the fact that the three-fold law doesn’t exist (seriously, pay attention to the world for five minutes and it will become entirely apparent), it has jumped its banks and now spread over the whole of modern mainstream Paganisms, enforcing a tidy sanitized witchcraft through the psychological mechanism of repackaged sin — which we are prepared to absorb — and of social control and enforcement.

That doesn’t even address the generational differences between the people who should be our “elders” now and the generation who should be supposedly looking up to them.  Too many leaders in the occult realms are in it because they really want to be Important but can’t hack it outside a fringe group.  Too many are the one-eyed men carefully cultivating groups of the blind.  A few are trying to rebel against the inoffensive, consensual, righteous mainstream Paganisms instead of leading them.  Given that some Pagans are in it not for bloody, messy magic — assuming they believe in it at all; it’s a big tent now — but for an alternative to the church social groups and somewhere pleasant to take their kids at holidays, they would actively eject a young Crowley if he or she showed up in sodomitic Dionysian magical iconoclast garb.  And yeah, some of the effective teachers and mentors with experience got tired of the way they were being treated and bailed.

Like the saying goes, “Every country gets the government it deserves.”  There aren’t as many people going into the wilderness, getting completely out of their head, writing a book positioning themselves as a magic messiah, then coming back to a waiting and information-starved audience — and we blow them off when they do.

So there’s really only two things you can do if you if you’re sick of the way things are now, if you haven’t got a time machine.  One, you can start cultivating leaders, helping support the sort of people you want as the bannermen of modern witchcraft and figuring out how to root out the dysfunctional qualities of consensus and anti-authority impulses — though that is to my mind the less entertaining and instructive choice.

Two, you can go out into the wilderness or on the road, climb up into the sky or dig down into the dirt, get completely out of your head, learn something and teach yourself.  Go meet Baphomet and then kill them.  You don’t actually need a person with a pedigree or a book to teach you — half that shit’s already obsolete anyway — if you’re willing to teach yourself.  Sure, a guide might be useful and you’re going to fuck up, but you were going to fuck up with a teacher or a book anyway.  It’s inevitable; all vital, living magics are essentially unsafe.  So go get your hands dirty.  Go be the bold, terrifying magician, the filthy, powerful witch, the mad poetic prophet that you wish was out there.


Who is Gullveig?

An argument for Gullveig as Vanic

I’ll be upfront: my own thoughts are that Gullveig is the dark witch aspect of Freyja — lusting for power, lusting for gold, lusting for war, insatiable in Her hungers and nearly immortal. Freyja, though a popular and important goddess, has lost many of Her heiti and even Her personal name (Freyja means ‘lady’).  So many names have been confused and fused over the centuries that it’s not inconceivable that Gullveig is a völva aspect of Freyja’s but no longer clearly attributed.

THE FACTS

First let’s examine the only time Gullveig definitely shows up in the myths, in Völuspá, apparently to precipitate the Aesir-Vanir war:

21. The war I remember, | the first in the world,
When the gods with spears | had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall | of Hor had burned her,
Three times burned, | and three times born,
Oft and again, | yet ever she lives.

22. Heith they named her | who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, | in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched | that were moved by her magic,
To evil women | a joy she was.

(The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

That passage from Völuspá significantly predates the only other (oblique) reference to Gullveig, a connecting, interpolated passage in the Völuspá hin skamma, stuck in the middle of Hyndluljóð:

43. A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;–
With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,
And thence among men | came the monsters all.

(Hyndluljóð, translated by Henry Adams Bellows)

So all we’ve got is a thrice-burned, thrice-born witch, who probably provided the half-cooked heart that Loki rescued from the fire and ate.

Most scholars agree that Gullveig kicked off the Aesir-Vanir conflict, perhaps through being the first Van to contact the Aesir and Her poor treatment at Their hands. That alone seems to suggest that Gullveig must be a Van; although some think that the Aesir and Vanir were one people before the war, and make Gullveig a Jotun who divides Them. (I doubt this, because I disagree with the viewpoint that the Jotnar are always inimical to humanity and to the Aesir; it defies logic and lore.) Wikipedia notes, “Starting with scholar Gabriel Turville-Petre, scholars such as Rudolf Simek, Andy Orchard, and John Lindow have theorized that Gullveig/Heiðr is the same figure as Freyja, and that her involvement with the Æsir somehow led to the events of the Æsir–Vanir War.” Lindow (since it’s his book that’s to hand) also observes that “since Ynglinga saga says that Freyja first brought seid to the aesir, it is not impossible that Gullveig is Freyja,” and that Her bringing seid was either a war strategy or what started the war (Norse Mythology, pg. 155).

IDENTITY CRISIS

Other suggestions — besides Gullveig as Freyja or as a separate Van — is that Gullveig may be Angrboda, or a pre-triplicity Norns.

Most people who identify Gullveig with Angrboda seem to be following in Rydberg’s footsteps. Rydberg fails to convince, partly because his conclusions are generally haphazard, ranging from the incisive to the sloppily speculative, and especially since his theory for Gullveig seems based upon three data:

  1. Gullveig is impossible to kill with fire and spears, and becomes the old witch Heiðr.
  2. Loki has a relationship with Gullveig (through eating a heart which is probably Hers and becoming pregnant from it) and a relationship with Angrboda which is well-attested.
  3. Angrboda is alive, old and practicing magic, like Heiðr.

By this standard, Odin could be Gullveig. We’ve no other information on the myth of Loki eating the half-burned heart, though the fact that Angrboda is name-checked with Her children in the stanza before Hyndluljóð 43 suggests that whoever’s heart He’s eating, it’s not Angrboda’s.  (Although there is a minority who suggest that Angrboda and Gullveig both have been burned and that Hyndluljóð doesn’t refer to the same episode as Völuspá.)

For context, Rydberg has been criticized for “his hazardous etymologies, his identification of different mythical figures without sufficient grounds, his mixing up of heroic saga and myth, and, above all, his bent for remodeling myths in order to make them fit into a system which (they say) never existed” (Gadde, Frederik. “Viktor Rydberg and Some Beowulf Questions,” Studia Neophilologica 15:72). But Rydberg syncretized Gullveig-Heiðr with Angrboda, and then syncretized Gullveig-Heiðr-Angrboda with Aurboda and Hyrokkin, which makes Gullveig-Angrboda-Aurboda-Heiðr-Hyrokkin Gerda’s mother (and presumably her own grandpa), which offends my sensibilities as a polytheist and doesn’t make much sense. All the ‘proof’ for G.A.A.H.H. is predicated on intellectual backflips after first making the flimsy assumption that Gullveig is Angrboda.

As for the Norns, the argument’s a bit more convincing: three burnings, three births, three Norns. Before Gullveig, the Aesir are almost childlike, playing with valuables and peaceably wasting time; after Gullveig, the argument goes, the newborn Norns whip Them into shape and start stuff happening. Except the Norns argument still doesn’t satisfy the Heiðr connection, the Vanic connection which I’ll get to momentarily, or the fact that the Norns are apparently older than the Aesir. The Norns actually seem to be the three foremost members of an ancient sub-race or tribe of Jotnar, all of whom are little-N norns and who range in alignment. Besides, Völuspá mentions what is probably the Norns in stanza 8:

8. In their dwellings at peace | they played at tables,
Of gold no lack | did the gods then know,–
Till thither came | up giant-maids three,
Huge of might, | out of Jotunheim.

And again in stanza 20:

20. Thence come the maidens | mighty in wisdom,
Three from the dwelling | down ‘neath the tree;
Urth is one named, | Verthandi the next,–
On the wood they scored,– | and Skuld the third.
Laws they made there, and life allotted
To the sons of men, and set their fates.

Basically, the Norns’ appearance consistently predates Gullveig’s appearance and the three Norns are never linked — though it would be easy — to the singular Gullveig/Heiðr.

ETYMOLOGY

So what’s ‘Gullveig’ even mean?  Gullveig’s a compound name of the style common in the Norse myths — GULL + VEIG — similar to Gulltoppr (Heimdallr’s horse) or Beowulf.  The conventionally-accepted Völuspá is a combination of two manuscripts, Codex Regius and Hauksbók, which vary.  Codex Regius has gvll ueigo and Hauksbók has gullueíg.  For a name with such a contentious translation, it seems wise to go to the originals.

Cleasby-Vigfusson has (and Zoëga corroborates):

GULL, n., in the oldest [manuscripts] spelt goll:– gold

VEIG, f., pl. veigar, [A.S. wæge; Hel. wêgi], a kind of strong beverage, drink; 2. metaph. pith, strength, gist; II. in pr. names of women, Gull-veig, Þór-veig, Sól-veig, Álm-veig, Mjað-veig

Which gives us either ‘gold-drink’ (mead, presumably) or a vague metaphorical comment on the strong influence of greed for gold.  Simek gives us ”‘golden-drink, golden-intoxication’ or ‘golden-power’; at any rate ‘the personified greed for gold’” (Dictionary of Norse Mythology, pg. 123) and says “veig… is obscure, but usually means ‘alcoholic drink’, but also ‘power, strength’ and perhaps also ‘gold’” (pg. 124).  Mead makes sense in the context of intoxication, lust, unquenchable thirst, and certainly puts Gullveig towards the Vanic end of things.  Relatedly, Queen Medb — again, mead or she who intoxicates – whose seat of power is practically my backyard, is a fascinatingly Vanic-y Irish deity with a great deal of parallels with Freyja, being a sexually-voracious, wealth-loving, war-making goddess.  (Killed with a piece of cheese.)  Given the parallels in Norse culture between mead and poetry, poetry and galdr/incantations, and between poetry/incantations and war, it’s not an entirely illogical sort of name.

After Her transformation, Gullveig is known as Heiðr.  In the lore, there are several mentions of a ‘Heiðr’ besides the description of the transformation of Gullveig in Völuspá, but it’s unlikely that any of them actually refer to Gullveig-Heiðr.

Heiðr can be an adjective, meaning bright or cloudless, but only referring to the sky, as in bright stars or a bright day or a clear sky.  It can mean a heath or a fell; Cleasby-Vigfusson states that it can also denote “a [proper] name of a sybil… [frequent] in [compound] names of women, usually dropping the h, Ragn-eiðr, Baug-eiðr”, much like the construction we see in Gull-veig.  Lastly, Heiðr can refer to honour (both as the noun and the verb to honour or worship).

Which is all nice, though it doesn’t really fulfill at least Simek’s claims that Heiðr is ultimately etymologically similar to Gullveig.  (I don’t know where he gets it, but Simek translates Heiðr as ‘light, clear’ but also ‘fame’.)  Bellows goes with ‘Shining One’, but that contextually only makes sense if Heiðr is a celestial body.  ’Honour’ seems straight-forward but doesn’t make much sense in context or the culture, either for Gullveig or for a witch who gladdens evil women.

More interesting, more probable and indeed more Freyjan is Heiðr as a fee, payment, worth, value.  Consider the (abbreviated) Cleasby-Vigfusson entry:

HEIÐ, f. a fee, stipend, payment; the phrase, haptsœnis heið, the atoning fee of the gods = poetry, a song; heið-menningr, m. a nickname; heið-sær, adj. sowing gold, open-handed; heið-þegi, a, m. = heiðmaðr, esp. of a king’s man, answering to the mod. soldier; for all these words vide Lex. Poët. II. hence [metaphorical] worth, value; lítils heiðar, of small worth, of small repute.

Considering that part of what kicked off the Aesir-Vanir war is the paying of wergild for Gullveig, Heiðr as ‘fee, payment, or worth’ makes much more sense than leaning on the shaky “gold is shiny, therefore bright, therefore clear” logic.

The reason I say it’s unlikely that the other Heiðrs in the lore refer to Gullveig-Heiðr is that, as Lindow notes, Heiðr is “a common name for seeresses” in the sagas (such as Landnámabók, Hrólfs saga kraka, etc.), which Bellows agrees with.  It would be a mistake to conflate the magical realism of the sagas — which are late period and surprisingly historically accurate — with the fantasy of mythology.  Heiðr and Hrossthjof (“horse-thief”) are listed as the children of the Jotun Hrímnir in Hyndluljóð, though it’s not clear that Hrímnir’s Heiðr is even necessarily a woman; contextually, ze could easily be a man with an etymology relating back to the heath or fell definition (and the only other reference to Hrímnir doesn’t mention any kids).  A few writers, including Bugge, maintain that Heiðr is the name of the dead völva narrating the poem.

Therefore I feel confident that it’s more probable than the alternatives that Gullveig-Heiðr is the völva aspect of Freyja and the burning may well represent a mythic initiation from young and lusty witch to wise, occult völva.

(I suppose if you’d like to get really Neopagan about it, you have your choice of young, spring maiden aspects of Freyja, though Maris prefers Mardoll specifically; you have Freyja-the-mother, with Hnoss and Gersemi; and in Heiðr you have the old witch, the völva crone.  I maintain that a fourth aspect should be recognized, to match the actual phases of the moon, making it: waxing crescent, Mardoll; full moon, Freyja-as-mother; waning crescent, Freyja-as-warrior-queen; dark/new moon, Heiðr the völva.  </digression>)

WE HAVE FOUND A WITCH, MAY WE BURN HER?

To examine briefly the attributes of Heiðr and völvas in general: Heiðr is described as someone who visits people’s houses, as ‘wide-seeing’, wise in magic (‘ganda’ in the original) and able to manipulate people’s minds.  This is all pretty well-established völva stuff.

A völva is a female magician, in that she works magic, seiðr and galdr, especially incantations and enchantments; and a seer, as she practices spá, prophecy and perhaps remote viewing.   Völva means ‘carrier of a staff or wand’, specifically and tellingly only a thick, blunt, rounded stick (yeah, they did sex stuff with it; I got your ergi right here).  Völur were in fact mistrusted largely due to their arts of seduction and ability to snare minds, and Freyja was — is — regarded as the foremost völva in the Nine Worlds.

Seiðr, spá and galdr were the völur’s stock-in-trade, and while others are known to practice one or all of these arts, seiðr is distinctively Vanic.  (I would also argue that spá is, and that everyone practicing spá is either Vanir or taught by one, including Sif and Frigga, but that’s another essay.  In a roundabout way, Thrymskvida supports both that and my UPG that Heimdallr is a Van, by observing that Heimdallr “could see well into the future, / like other Vanir” (Lindow, pg. 170).)

Gandr as a description for a völva’s magic is problematic, in that it doesn’t have a clear definition, though it’s clearly related to or is the same magical practice as seiðr.  It’s generally used as part of a compound, and ranges in meaning from “anything enchanted” or “an object used by sorcerers” to snakes or serpents (Jörmun-gandr) to wolves (‘gand’ is part of heiti for Fenrir and other wolves) or spirits or ghosts, but also means magic or witchcraft itself.  There is also a confusion/connection between wolves and brooms: “In nursery tales a witch is said to ride on a broomstick; in old lore they were said to ride by night on wolves, which are hence in poetry called ’the steeds of witches’” (Cleasby-Vigfusson).  While the wolf symbolism would seem to reinforce the argument that Gullveig-Heiðr is Angrboda, I think that’s only a superficial similarity; while Angrboda may practice gandr Herself, the magic that the Jotnar practice is distinct from the seiðr that völur like Freyja practice.  It is Odin’s relationship to wolves, not Angrboda’s, that is more relevant.

To summarize about the völur and their obvious similarities to the cult of the Vanir:

They have historical ties to groups practicing war magic, prophesy and travelling in carts:

The Cimbri of Jutland (Denmark) — it’s unclear if they are Celtic or Germanic, perhaps both — were among the tribes attacking the Roman empire.  The warriors were accompanied by their wives and seer-priestesses: “these were grey-haired, clad in white, with flaxen cloaks fastened on with clasps, girt with girdles of bronze, and bare-footed” who would sacrifice prisoners-of-war and prophecy in their blood, which they collected in vessels, and entrails.  (The Gundestrup cauldron may be one of these sacrificial vessels.)  ”During the battles [the priestesses] would beat on the hides that were stretched over the wicker-bodies of the wagons [that the women and children travelled in] and in this way produce an unearthly noise. [Cimbri - Wikipedia]

Wagons/carts are a distinctive aspect of the Vanic cult, and factors into Roman-era descriptions of Vanic ritual: Tacitus describes the wagon-centric practices of Germanic tribes worshipping Nerthus.  A völva was buried in Denmark in a cart, barefoot in a long plain dress, with her wand and other tools; another völva was buried in Sweden with her wand, wagon and “a silver pendant which represents a woman with a broad necklace around her neck“, probably Freyja.  (Wands have been found in about 40 female graves, usually those of wealthy women; and chariot/cart burial is usually regarded as an Iron Age Celtic practice, which ties into my stump speech on the Vanir cultus being a Germanic-Celtic mash-up.)

As far as their appearance goes — besides being old enough to go grey and probably being barefoot in a plain (white) dress — in Örvar-Odds saga and Eiríks saga rauða, völur dressed in a long blue or black cloak and carried a wand or staff.  A blue-black cloak, a grey hat and a staff (with a couple of wolves around and an evil serpent or two in the past) sounds a lot like a certain Mr. Wednesday, who would be the #1 Most Likely Guy To Go Around Dressed Like a Völva, given the fact that Freyja personally taught Him (argr) magic.  (I’ll let you speculate on the Freyja/Óðr/Óðinn connection and, for example, the joint burial in Birka, where a völva and a warrior were buried together with her wand and his spear.)  Also, given the repeated connections between völur and Denmark, Samsø — an island just off the Jutland (or ‘Cimbrian’) peninsula — is where Odin learned seiðr from Freyja.  (Samsø is interestingly notoriously rife with magic in the sagas, though it has more a feel of contamination than of natural numen — though perhaps where the latter arises, the former follows.)

The last interesting bit to be currently squeezed from the Gullveig-Heiðr is Freyja argument is the snippet from Hyndluljóð, in which Loki eats the half-cooked heart of a woman and is impregnated with all kinds of creatures.  Loki’s argr nature is well-established in the myths; he gender-shifts enough to bear children at other times and is likely the old Jotun hag Thokk/Thaukt, who at least one (modern) writer identifies as a crow shapeshifter (which is a völva-y animal anyway, associated with witches, war and a female figure on the Gundestrup cauldron).

Two interesting things connect Gullveig-Heiðr-Freyja and Loki.  Firstly, Loki has a special relationship with Freyja which is not generally explained in the lore.  My UPG is that Loki learned seiðr/gandr from Freyja — perhaps not as much as Odin, but during the same mythically-early general time period in Samsø.  (I’d hardly suggest that Loki was less of a magician for having learned less seiðr, given that He’s ridiculously talented in Jotun and other magics as well; He may have assisted in instructing Odin).  But Freyja affords Loki privileges that no one else has, such as the use of Her falcon cloak; if She is Gullveig, and Lopt (an air aspect of Loki’s) is the mother of Her witch-children, it starts to explain some things.  Secondly and relatedly, in Lokasenna, directly before Loki accuses Odin of going about Samsø as a völva, Odin accuses Loki of living under/on the earth eight winters as a milkmaid and bearing children.  While we’ve lost whatever myth Odin is referring to, Loki’s accusation is accurate and the rules of flyting are quite particular, so we can be confident that Loki did as well.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that both references to Loki’s magical pregnancy — for which we have no other information — might refer to the same lost myth.

If Gullveig-Heiðr isn’t Freyja Herself, I think it’s clear that Heiðr is at least a talented völva and definitely a Van.  (And there’s also a neat little ritual based off the Gullveig myth that you should check out.)


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