Presenting excerpts from 4 influential articles

on Shamanism, Sacred Kingship, and Óðinn's Self-Sacrifice



with translations of foriegn language quotations added





I. The 'Knowledge-Criterion' in the Grímnismál:

The Case against 'Shamanism'

  An excerpt



              ...This line of investigation is not completely new: others have seen 'shamanistic features' in primitive Germanic religion, and in the figure of Óðinn in particular, in the past. It is evident that Schröder does envision Óðinn as a shaman, at least in the Grímnismál, but that he nevertheless feels obligated to express his own reservations to an 'out and out equivalency' in the form of limitations of his position. As I share these reservations, I take Schröder's statement to be an almost exemplary argument against the presence of genuine shamanism as a feature of primitive Germanic religion. After amassing the evidence and directing our attention to the conclusion he would like to draw, Schröder has in fact, albeit reluctantly, also pointed out the inherent weakness of such a theory--thus leaving the door invitingly open to further discussion.

     Other scholars have been far less reserved in their use of the term and concept of shamanism--in fact, recent years have witnessed a development in our secondary literature which amounts to a shamanism-topos. We are encouraged constantly to accept this or that figure or structure as 'shamanistic'. But little or no consideration is given to an exact definition of the term. Herein lies the pitfall, as I see it. There are in reality only two formal possibilities:


1. The 'shamanism' to be found in our Germanic sources is identical with the shamanism known to and clearly defined by ethnological science;




    2. Germanic 'shamanism' is a completely different matter.


If we accept the first alternative, the presence or absence of shamanism per se, as well as the attributive appellation: shamanistic, must be decided or assigned according to ethnological criteria. But if we accept the second alternative--namely: that 'our shamanism' is perhaps similar to but not identical with 'their shamanism'--then our terminology is highly misleading and should be abandoned.

This issue is, unfortunately, further clouded by the fact that ethnologists are not unanimously in agreement in their treatment of shamanism. Two basic positions can be polarized: a more general and a stricter definition. For the former, Mircea Eliade's book on shamanism can serve as a paradigmatic example. Eliade begins with what he proposes to be "perhaps the least daring" first definition of this "complex phenomenon", namely: "Shamanism = ecstatic technique." He then goes on to clarify his position by stating:

 Das Vorkommen eines schamanischen Komplexes in irgendeinem Bereich schließt nicht notwendig ein, daß das religiöse und magische Leben des betreffenden Volkes um den Schamanismus kristallisiert ist. Dies kann der Fall sein (so etwa in bestimmten Gegenden von Indonesien), doch es ist nicht das Übliche. Im allgemeinen lebt der Schamanismus mit anderen Formen von Magie und Religion zusammen.
 ["The occurrance of a shamanistic complex within any region does not necessarily mean that the religious and magic life of the people concerned is crystallized around Shamanism. This can be the case (as for instance in certain areas of Indonesia), but it is not the norm. Generally Shamanism occurs together with other forms of magic and religion."]
It is then clear that Eliade has based his definition of shamanism purely on religious phenomenology rather than religious typology. Since he admits that pure forms of shamanism exist, it becomes necessary to distinguish between shamanism (the religious type per se) and shamanistic (features similar to those typical of shamanism observed in a typological 'non-shamanism'). But Eliade avoids presenting his coverage along such lines;‑-the result is a book which documents and discusses 'shamanistic features' at great length, but essentially obscures the nature of shamanism.
      Eliade devotes a seven-page section of his world-wide coverage to the "ecstasy techniques of the Germanic peoples". The following documentable examples are cited:
1.     Óðinn's self-sacrifice on the tree  

2.     Yggdrasill as a 'cosmic tree'

3.     Yggdrasill is Óðinn's horse

4.     Óðinn ties his horse to the cosmic tree

5.     Sleipnir has eight legs

6.     Sleipnir carries Óðinn and other persons to the underworld

7.     Óðinn's capability of changing his physical shape

8.     Battles in animal shape

9.     Ancillary spirits in animal form

10.   Awakening the dead in order to question them

11.   Nine heavens and nine underworlds

12.   Journeys to recover a soul from the underworld

13.     Other journeys to the underworld

14.     The berserkir

15.     Óðinn's seiðr

16.     The figure of Þorbjörn lítilvölva, especially her clothing

17.     Óðinn's flight in bird-form

18.      Freyja's 'bird-costume'

Such a long list must make a positive impression; one would almost jump to the conclusion that the entire length and breadth of primitive Germanic religion was infused with shamanism. Furthermore, it is beyond doubt that each of the features discussed by Eliade does have some sort of parallel in shamanism as a religious type. The conclusion that this material presents-that of prima facie evidence for Germanic shamanism —is welcomed by Germanists;— it ties together many troublesome loose ends into a neat package. But this is the point at which we are led astray. Before we can go on to explain and interpret difficult passages in terms of the classical religious type we know of as shamanism, we must make certain that we are not basing the presence of that type in primitive Germanic religion entirely on the random presence of a large number of 'shamanistic features'. In other words, the presence of unrelated bits of evidence does not prove the presence of a religious type;--first we must investigate whether or not these features 'add up' to shamanism.

     A paradigmatic example of a strict ethnological definition of shamanism is offered by Laszlo Vajda. Vajda stresses unequivocally that criteria for establishing the presence of shamanism are functional only if they present an integral complex:

Schamanismus ist kein Kultur- "element", sondern ein Komplex von Erscheinungen, die in charakteristischer und sinnvoller Verbindung miteinander auftreten; keine der Komponenten reicht allein aus, den ganzen Komplex zu determinieren; jede von ihnen ist auch ausserhalb des Schamanismus verbreitet; erst das typische Zusammenauftreten dieser auf einander abgestimmten Züge ergibt das komplexe Phänomen, das wir Schamanismus nennen.
["Shamanism is no cultural “element,”but a complex of features, which occur with one another in characteristic and meaningful connection; none of the components is sufficient alone to determine the whole complex; every one of them is also common outside of Shamanism; only the typical appearance together of these features co-ordinated with one another shows the complex phenomenon which we call Shamanism. "]

And therewith Vajda lays his finger on the prime weakness of Eliade's definition of shamanism:


Man braucht nicht die Beziehungskriterien der kulturhistorischen Ethnologie zu kennen um einzusehen, daß ein mangelhaft definiertes Phänomen aus der Kultur 'A' auf wissenschaftlich befriedigende Weise mit einem ebenso mangelhaft beschriebenen Kulturgut des Volkes 'B' nicht verglichen oder gar verbunden werden kann.

["One does not need to know the relationship-criteria of the cultural historical ethnology to see that an unsatisfactorily defined phenomenon from culture  "A" cannot be compared in a scientifically satisfying way with a just as unsatisfactorily described cultural property of people "B" or even can be connected to it."]

Seen in this light, the wealth of  'Germanic examples of shamanism' is only the basic material on which investigation can be based. As individual 'features', the items of Eliade's list constitute no proof of 'Germanic shamanism';--first they must be shown to appear in a 'characteristic and meaningful combination'. Certainly, no scholar will contest the prime importance of the figure of the shaman himself in the complex of shamanism. In other words, in order to establish 'Germanic shamanism' it is necessary to find at least one figure in the entire corpus of Germanic tradition-mythology, heroic legend, history and pseudohistory, folklore, etc.-who can live up to a strict definition of a shaman. To paraphrase Eliade: "no shaman = no shamanism".

Vajda is quite clear on the subject of testing criteria;--he offers a list of eight sub-complexes, which constitute an integral definition:

a.  Ritual ecstasy
  Ancillary spirits in animal form
  Vocation; ancillary spirits in other than animal form
  Specifically shamanistic initiation
e.  Journey to the 'other world'
f.   Specifically shamanistic cosmology
  Shamanistic duels
  Shamanistic paraphernalia 

On the basis of these eight criteria we can test for a 'Germanic shaman', and, if we find one, assume the existence of Germanic shamanism.

The obvious place to begin our search is the figure of Óðinn;-he is without doubt the Germanic figure most frequently labeled 'shamanistic'. In order to pass the test, he must satisfy the eight-part test. In four points there is little difficulty:


a. Ritual ecstasy

Óðinn's ritual ecstasy is easily documented. We can begin with the famous etymology of his name offered by Adam of Bremen: Wodan, id est furor. ['Wodan, that is Fury'] Details of this feature appear in the Ynglinga saga VII and elsewhere. The frequently cited parallelism with the Indic god Rudra makes the likelihood of primary dependence on a model in shamanism highly questionable to say the least. But genetic relationship is not at issue here, as we are concerned purely with establishing the structural existence of the complex.


b.  Ancillary spirits in animal form

Here we can point to Óðinn's ravens and wolves. It is difficult to decide whether or not these animals are simply godly attributes; but the function of the ravens may well be thought of as shamanistic.

 e.  Journey to the 'other world'

The classical example is probably Baldrs draumar; Óðinn's function as psychopomp also belongs here.

f.   Specifically shamanistic cosmology

This feature does not, of course, apply exclusively to Óðinn -but it forms an obligatory part of the complex. Once again, Indic and Iranian parallels make Germanic borrowing from shamanism highly unlikely;--but, for the purposes of this test, the required cosmology may be stipulated.

The four other criteria are a different matter. Either there is no parallel at all, or what can be offered is not typical of shamanism:


c.  Vocation; ancillary spirits in other than animal form

We are offered no documentation of Óðinn's shamanistic vocation -a very important and highly uniform feature of the complex. Of course it would be possible to assign the ancillary function contained in this criterion to figures we know hardly more than by name; for example: Bölþor's son.

d.  Specifically shamanistic initiation

 Óðinn's self-sacrifice on the tree is usually cited to fulfil this requirement;-but it is by no means a typical initiation for a shaman. The central element of dismemberment and reconstruction of the initiant's body is absent. Furthermore, in shamanism the feature of climbing the tree is more particularly associated with journeys to the 'other world' than with the initiation.

g.  Shamanistic duels

In what might best be considered his 'obligatory duel', Óðinn opposes the wolf Fenrir rather than another shaman. There would be little support for a contention that Óðinn fights that battle in animal form. Furthermore, the encounter results in Óðinn's death and could hardly represent a shamanistic success. Viewed from the vantage point of purely Germanic tradition, this duel is simply a part of the eschatological complex of the ragnarök.

h.  Shamanistic paraphernalia

Óðinn is usually described as appearing in a long blue cloak and wide brimmed hat. This apparel can not qualify as a shaman's costume. The typical shaman's drum is completely lacking.

Of course it would be possible to supply some sort of documentation for several of the empty rubrics. Vocation seems to be present in several cases in which a human enters into a protégé-relationship to Óðinn;-the fylgjur could be considered ancillary spirits in other than animal form. As mentioned above, no documented Germanic initiation seems typically shamanistic. I know of only one example of the shamanistic physical dismemberment and reconstruction feature: that of Þorr's goats;-but that is certainly a proto-type 'lord of the hunt' sacrifice devoid of any initiation character. What does appear to be a shamanistic duel in animal form is documented in the sögur, and in this particular case influence from Lapp religion deserves consideration. A weak example of a shaman's costume might be present in Freyja's 'bird-costume'. But it is just this sort of collating of uncoordinated materials which Vajda rejects;--and Óðinn can not qualify in the eight-fold test on his own.

The situation is similar when testing for Germanic shamans other than Óðinn. Some figures-Sinfjötli for example- have what might be called a 'shamanistic aura' -but when investigated in terms of a strict ethnological definition, they satisfy the demands of the type even less than Óðinn does. There is no escape from the conclusion that our documentation can not produce even one single typical shaman. Consequently, unless we wish to misuse an established ethnological term, there was no shamanism present in primitive Germanic religion.

If no shamanism per se can be established, this raises the question of the meaningfulness of noting 'shamanistic features' in our material. It is true that the similarity of genuinely shamanistic documentation and Germanic parallels is often striking;--but similar results can be obtained by comparing Christianity and Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, the religion of the vedas and that of the Avesta. In such cases we accept the validity of the comparison because we are aware of a genetic relationship which supports and explains structural similarity. As long as we were working along Eliade's lines, there was little point in questioning the genetic interrelationship of a heterogeneous body of 'free variants' with a worldwide distribution. But once Vajda's strict definition is used as a basis, historic questions of source and flow become practical. The meaningfully integrated religious type in question is indigenous to North Central Asia;-and there is little room for doubt as to the constant religious and cultural influence from the South typical for that area. For our purposes, it is legitimate to sidestep the question as to the historic/cultural level on which the type first developed. It is sufficient for us to note that much of its external machinery-cosmology, mythology, ritual form; in short, the trappings which we have become accustomed to hear called 'shamanistic features'-shows a remarkable consistency in its comparability to parallel features of the culturally superior Indo-Iranian complex. Certainly, a genetic determination of shamanism as nothing but a degenerate off· shoot of Aryan religion would be an over-simplification;-on the other hand, North Central Asiatic cultural and religious dependence on neighbors to the South provides the genetic bridge most satisfactory for explaining 'shamanistic/Germanic parallels'. Schröder and de Vries, among others, accept Indo-Iranian/Germanic correspondencies to be the result of mutual dependence on an Indo-European tradition but seem somehow less willing to accept the likelihood that 'shamanistic elements' are of similar provenience. In any case, scholars who accept the absence of genuine shamanism in the Germania will be forced to go one of two ways. The first of these would entail the postulation of cultural Traditionswanderungen-to use Waldemar Liungman's term-to provide early and direct linkage of a far more substantial sort than 'substrata-seepage' up from a Lapp population in Scandinavia could offer. This solution I find far less viable than the second possibility: a reevaluation of Indo-Iranian/Germanic parallels as a source of interpretation of the so-called 'shamanistic features' of primitive Germanic religion.

As an example of such interpretation, let us now focus our attention on the Grímnismál-in particular, on the motif of Óðinn between the fires. We must now avoid any use of the terms 'shaman', 'shamanism' or 'shamanistic' on the grounds that their use in the context of religion devoid of the type to which they refer constitutes willful misuse of established ethnological terminology--and thereby only serves to cloud the issue.

Scholars discussing Óðinn between the fires, including Schröder and de Vries, have already taken a first step in the direction we must follow by noting the parallels offered by the Indic diksa tradition. Here, the ordeal between the fires is clearly a form of tapas [(Sanskrit) "Warmth, heat," hence psychic energy, spiritual fervor or ardor. The endurance of pain, suffering, through the performance of extreme austerity of a severe, psyche-transforming nature] intended to amass spiritual power by means of ascetic exercise. And one important result of the rite is the acquisition of numinous knowledge. It is my contention that just such knowledge served as a criterion for succession to the Germanic sacred kingship;--a criterion which could place a son on his father's throne before the latter's death, or which could override the general rule of primogeniture. But if Óðinn's ordeal between the fires is indeed an example of this sort of tapas, there must be an explanation both of the god's intention and of the role which the rite plays in the narrative of the Grímnismál.

It is a time-worn chestnut of comparative religious studies that two sequences of events may share superficial similarities, but in reality serve completely different purposes. Our first task then is to separate the particular from the general--in this case, the sacred from the profane. I submit that the two similar rites sharing an outward appearance of identity are:


1.  A heat-endurance test, paralleled by cold, hunger and thirst-endurance tests, etc., of a purely secular nature, and
2. The ritual of an ordeal between the fires, intended to result in a religious experience-in particular, the acquisition of numinous knowledge.


Schröder calls attention to the fire ordeal suffered by Hrólfr kraki,-a case in which endurance is tested involuntarily and which leads to no religiously significant result. I consider Hrólfr's ordeal just as clearly an example of the first, non-religious use of a fire ordeal, as the Grímnismál are of the second. Geirroðr's folly in not recognising his own foster-father might have led him to subject the expected guest to a test--but this would not explain the outpouring of numinous knowledge, which makes up virtually the entire content of the poem. There are too many loose ends in the frame narration;--in fact, if we are to gain any clear sight into the unity of the Grímnismál, I believe it will depend on an understanding of the material manipulation used by the final author, attempting to reconcile the inconsistencies developing out of a complex contamination.

     Consequently, I must return to the often-voiced position, that the Grímnismál represent an inter-composition of several independent units. The novelty of my presentation lies in an attempt to explain the train of thought which led to an otherwise improbable collage. Let us assume three separate units:


 1. Geirroðr's rise to power
  Agnarr's rise to power
Óðinn's performance of the tapas-rite.

 If an underlying structure can be discerned in all three narratives, this would go far to explain their contamination into one poetic entity. I contend that that common structure is present;--and that it consists of the acquisition of that numinous knowledge incumbent upon the Germanic sacred king, followed by his sudden succession to the throne.


     In my previous discussion of the 'knowledge-criterion' (see below), I presented evidence supporting the succession of Konr (Rígsþula), Óttarr (Hyndlolióð) and Geirroðr (Grímnismál) to the kingship based on just such a sequence of events. These three kings were of particular interest, as their succession does not follow the general Germanic principle of primogeniture. This led me to search for a 'trump criterion';--and all three share the particular feature of having received instruction from a godly sponsor. In the case of Konr, the knowledge consists of rúnar; Óttarr's instruction consists mainly of genealogical information; Geirroðr is provided with a magic spell. Just as Konr overthrows Iarl by besting him in a 'knowledge-confrontation'-and thereby also succeeds over his eleven elder brothers-if a· valid parallel exists in Agnarr's case, we should expect the 'knowledge-criterion' to play a vital role in his succession to his father's throne. But if, on the other hand, the acquisition of numinous knowledge surpassing that of his father is sufficient to allow Agnarr to succeed to Geirroðr's throne, as Konr did to IarI's, what is the purpose of Geirroðr's death? Furthermore, if Agnarr was Geirroðr's only son and natural heir--and the Grímnismál offer us no evidence to the contrary--the death of the father would be sufficient to assure the succession of the son--in which case, either the apparent instruction of Agnarr in religious matters is extraneous or Geirroðr's death a classic example of  'overkill'.

     But the entire narrative takes on a new dimension if we assume that, in order to succeed his father, Agnarr must receive the same sort of ritual instruction as Geirroðr, for that matter, Konr--did. The lines:

Heill scaltu, Agnarr,
allz pic heilan biðr
Veratýr vera;
eins drycciar

þú scalt aldregi

betri giöld geta.

[3. You shall be fortunate, Agnarr,
for to fortune he invites you,
the God that Governs Men.
For one drink
you will never
get richer reward.]

(Ursula Dronke Translation, 2011)

   imply that Óðinn's has decided to bestow his favor and protection on Agnarr-and we should assume that the god carries out that intention. It does not seem likely that this great benefit consists simply of removing Geirroðr's, to allow his only son and natural heir to succeed to his rightful throne earlier than he would normally. It makes far better sense to assume that in order to succeed to the throne, Agnarr must receive ritual instruction, that he has not received it yet but does in the course of the poem, and may then replace his father. As mentioned above, this makes Geirroðr's death non-functional. We may assume that it is provoked by a combination of factors: desire for a dramatic resolution of Geirroðr's role, lack of clear understanding of the decisive character of the 'knowledge-criterion',--or simply use of the topos concerning Óðinn's treatment of protégés who have lost his favor and suffer sudden accident-like death as a result. Acceptance of Agnarr's ritual education by Óðinn then forms a common bond in Geirroðr's and Agnarr's sudden rise to power;--but a parallelity has not yet been established for the god himself.

     In two articles devoted to the motif of Óðinn on the tree, I have presented evidence to support the contention that Óðinn's godly supremacy is based on the initiation depicted in the Hávamál, and in which the god's own ritual education plays a central role. It may then at first seem contradictory for me to state that I consider Óðinn's ordeal between the fires to be nothing more or less than a parallel formulation of the same initiation. But there is no contradiction if these rites are considered from a pragmatic perspective. If, as I assume, the amassing of numinous knowledge was of such prime importance in primitive Germanic religion, then it seems hardly less than probable that there were various rites actually practised with this end in mind. I hold hanging in inverted position, which I have proposed for the Hávamál--initiation," to be one of them, just as I believe a further tapas-that of enduring extreme heat-to be another. Let us not forget that the ordeal suffered by King Hjörleifr45 seems to combine the two. Furthermore, the Hávamál provide two further sources of numinous knowledge closely related to the tree-ordeal: Óðinn's instruction by Bölþor's son and a drink of the poet's mead. For each rite actually performed by humans for the purpose of amassing numinous knowledge, we should assume that a mythological example, leading to the desired results, existed. If inverted hanging was to be proposed as a rite providing numinous knowledge in order to fulfil the 'knowledge -criterion' of the sacred kingship, then the logical god to illustrate the rite mythologically was Óðinn--the ruler of the gods and possessor of numinous knowledge χατ' έξοχήν [par exellence, preiminent]—and documentation is offered in the Hávamál. If the ordeal between the fires was to have the same result, once again the mythological example should be Óðinn--and we have the documentation of the rite in the Grímnismál. If it was felt that the required numinous knowledge could be acquired simply by instruction by a godly sponsor as in the Rigsþula and the Hyndlolióð, then Óðinn must offer the example-as he does under Bölþor's son's sponsorship, again in the Hávamál. If knowledge (or poetic skill) can be gained by drinking a magic draught, Óðinn's must have done so-and the Hávamál document it. Finally, if the required knowledge can be gained by contact with the underworld, such as entering a grave-mound or even sleeping on a grave, we must look for Óðinn's paradigmatic use of such a method--and find it, translated into the mythological level, in Baldrs draumar, perhaps in the Voluspá (28 ff.), in Óðinn's dependence on the mummified head of Mímr, etc. As far as we are concerned, any attempt to establish any of these methods as the 'one and only correct one' would be absurd. We must accept them as functionally identical rites and, as such, virtually interchangeable units of one religious structure. And now we must establish what that structure is doing in the Grímnismál.

     Regardless of its function to scholars of primitive Germanic religion as an historical document, we must not lose sight of the fact that as a poem the Grímnismál may well have assumed their present form in the hands of a final author or editor more concerned with literary considerations than with any religious or even antiquarian factor. Our corpus of material offers almost countless examples of derailments caused by misunderstanding, contamination or literary freedoms taken. It has always been the problem of the student of primitive Germanic religion to distil the religiously significant out of the mash of the documentation--a process often leading to divided opinion. Each of us is almost forced to develop some sort of overall attitude towards the material, based on patterns which seem to repeat themselves in certain texts, and then to subject further material to the results of these observation to see if our key will open the door. If it does, this supports the basic premise--if it does not, we must either assume that the theoretic principle with which we are working is false, or that the sample under present investigation is at fault. No key has been discovered to date which opens every door--and external evidence assures us that our materials are not beyond suspicion. So we do not have to apologize for using this method--it remains the standard tool of the trade.

     As I have suggested repeatedly since my first investigation into the topos of the 'knowledge-confrontation', I contend that much of our written Germanic documentation--and the eddic poems in particular--is the result of a compulsion to preserve the corpus of once--relevant numinous knowledge, probably already to a large extent in metric form, by packaging in mythological frames. Such knowledge must at an earlier date have been considered esoteric and worthy of closely guarded ritual oral transmission as was the case with the vedas. During the period of Germanic geographic expansion, greatly increased contact with the non-Germanic cultural world must have had an effect on the attitude towards this tradition--essentially of a secularising nature. Furthermore, a more or less simultaneous disintegration of the formally structured Germanic pantheon into cult-worship of individual gods may well have resulted in demand, by believers in Freyr and Þórr for example, for suitably framed numinous knowledge. These 'knowledge-carriers' must have replaced previously functional frames (in which Óðinn was, as the god 'responsible' for such knowledge, the mythological carrier) with less organic frames suitable for use in other cults, resulting in, for example, the Scírnísmál and Alvíssmál, and, one step further removed, the creation of what I have called 'pseudo knowledge-confrontations' such as the Þrymsqviða and Hymisqviða. Beyond these manipulations of the 'knowledge-confrontation' topos still of religious significance begin the clearly secularised presentations such as the Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál.  

  But in all these cases, the prime concern remains the same: the preservation of the nucleus, consisting of numinous knowledge.

     Obviously also the Grímnismál center around such a nucleus;--virtually the entire poem consists of numinous knowledge. I submit that the innermost frame surrounding this core is a myth of Óðinn perfoming a first exemplary ordeal between the fires and thereby gaining the great wealth of knowledge carried in the nucleus. The performance of the rite leads to the god's ritual rebirth on a higher spiritual level, expressed in his realization of his new potential and expanded identity:


Svipom hefi ec nú ypt  jyr sigtíva sonom,

við þat seal vilbiorg vaca;

          öllom ásom  þat seal inn koma,

Ægis becci á,

Ægis drecco at.


[45. Fleeting scenes I have now shown
for the sons of victory's gods.
With that, the longed-for
deliverance shall wake
for all the Æsir.
It shall enter in
to Ægir's bench
at Ægir's drinking.]

(Ursula Dronke Translation, 2011)



This strophe has always been one of the darkest, if not the very darkest passage in the Grímnismál;--scholarly opinion shows no general agreement at all. We are offered attempts to explain these lines by considering them a continuation of the previous strophes, or as a completely misplaced unit, or as a reference to Óðinn in Geirroðr's hall. In all three cases, much juggling must be done to come up with any meaningful interpretation. But if one assumes that the ordeal or initiation has just come to a successful conclusion, the strophe is properly placed and extremely meaningful. Óðinn has accomplished his intention: he has acquired the necessary numinous knowledge through performance of the rite and now makes his new station known to the godly assembly over which he will assume rule. His next act is a listing of his names--a familiar ritual act of evidence of power common to such ceremonies as coronations, etc.--this concluding the original frame.

     Next let us observe the use of this framed material within the structure of the Grímnismál. It would appear that it is the author's intention to show us an Óðinn triumphans', present simultaneously to punish his foster-son and protégé in the ominous manner so typical of this god--but also to supply Agnarr with the numinous knowledge required of him as a criterion to succession to the sacred kingship. The narrative units mesh with difficulty and the author is forced to sacrifice overlapping motifs. Agnarr must be instructed;--therefore the knowledge core. He succeeds to Geirroðr's throne by acquisition of knowledge--a method which repeats that used by his father before him-thus linking Geirroðr and Agnarr's rise to power. The type of tapas chosen is the ordeal between the fires--and it is here that the derailment occurs. The author does not show Agnarr performing the rite, probably due to his wish to embellish his poem with the magnificent vision of Óðinn between the fires and his subsequent epiphany. The result is a 'double exposure': Óðinn, the mythological example for the fire-ordeal, is the initiant rather than Agnarr, who in turn reaps the benefit of the rite in the form of instruction by a godly sponsor. Since this instruction would suffice to place Agnarr on his father's throne, and we would expect it to occur in private as did larI's, a new motivation must be found for Óðinn's appearance in Geirroðr’s hall; this explains the composition of the 'godly bet motif into the frame. This contamination of originally independent narrative components results in the confused plot of the Grímnismál as we know them. But the feature which serves as the common denominator, and which is the key to the contamination, is the motif of the acquisition of numinous knowledge leading to succession to the Germanic sacred kingship.

I admit that it is much easier simply to envision Óðinn as 'shamanizing between the fires' and leave it at that. But as I suggested above, this pseudo-solution is inadmissable: no shamanism existed in primitive Germanic religion. Once this line of escape is cut off and we return to genuinely applicable materials, a new solution for the vagries of the Grímnismál emerges. The idea of Óðinn performing tapas between the fires is not only in keeping with a great number of other Indo-Iranian/Germanic parallels;--the motivation for the rite is also clearly functional, when explained as a further example of the 'knowledge-criterion' for succession to the Germanic sacred kingship.


University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland, U.S.A.










Vanderbilt University

An excerpt


THE Eddic poem Rigsþula presents us with a unique systematic genesis of Germanic social institutions. To a large extent this uniqueness is due to the poem's 'closed system'; no attempt is made to reconcile the world of the Rigsþula to that of any other source of Old Norse or Germanic tradition. Here we are not concerned with the genealogy of the Germanic· pantheon, but rather with the origin of a human social system consisting of three 'stands' in general and with the origin of one genealogical line of rulers in particular. Rigr, the sole godly figure of the poem, initiates the action-the three couples, Ái and Edda, Afi and Amma, Faðir and Móðir, are static prerequisite characters; the question of their origin seems of little interest: Through Rigr's intervention a ήρως άρχηγέτης  [hero archigetis (founder or ancestor)] or έπώνυμος [Eponymous] is created for each of the three stands: Þræl, Karl and Jarl. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the poem is lost, but from supporting-material it seems clear that the royal line originating in the Rigsþula is no dead end. In fact, it seems logical that the poem was constructed to supply. a tradition for that line's distinguished origin-but this supposition is not essential for the question at hand.             

Of considerably greater significance is the question of whether or not the rule of Jarl and his son Konr constitutes a sacred kingship. The following factors support that contention:


1.   Jarl is the bodily son of a godly figure.

2.   That godly figure, Rigr, is the source or organizer of the social system peculiar to the Rigsþula.

3.   Rigr, whether a name or title, is the appellative assumed by the god's human protégé on the latter's assumption of regal power.

4. Accepting the conclusions of Otto Höfler's Germanisches Sakralkönigtum, the presence of an Individualweihe, a personal consecration of Jarl to his godly father Rigr, must be established.


Such an act of consecration is the content of Rigsþula 36:


Kom þar ór runni                     Rígr gangandi,
            Rígr gangandi,             rúnar kendi;
            sitt gaf heiti,    son kvez eiga;
            þann bað hann eignaz              óðalvöllo,
            óðalvöllo,                     aldnar bygðir.


[There came from the woodland Rígr walking
Rígr walking taught him runes,
gave him his own name—
declares he has a son.
That son he bade appropriate ancestral plains—
Ancestral plains, long-dwelt-in countrysides.]

(Ursula Dronke translation, 1997)


 As a result of this confrontation Jarl receives not only his physical inheritance but also the right to carry his father's name or title: Rigr. In this context the phrase " rúnar kendi," which appears to do no more than characterize Rigr and supply a neat rhyme, escapes the notice it deserves. It is my contention that this phrase alludes to an act customary in the initiation of a sacred king, namely, ritual numinous education--and that this factor is a decisive one. The allusion is off-hand most likely because the poet and audience took its significance for granted.




Rigsþula 41 lists Jarl's twelve sons in what appears to be the sequence of their birth:


Burr var inn elzti,          enn Barn annat,

            Ióð oc  Aðal,      Arfi, Mögr

            Niðr oc Niðiungr            -- námo leica --,

            Sonr oc Svein     -- sund oc tafl--;

            Kundr hét einn,             Konr var inn yngsti.

[Boychild was the eldest and Bairn the second,
Offspring and High Kind, Heir, Scion,
Kin and Kinsman— they learned sports—
Son and Stripling —swimming and chequers—
Nearkin one was named, Konr (King) was the youngest.]



In any case, there can be no doubt that Konr was the youngest. And it is Konr, the youngest, who later assumes Jarl's Rigr-title. Various explanations present themselves for this unusual succession:

 1.   Because of the principle of ultimogeniture, Konr, Jarl's youngest son, could have been expected to inherit the throne. This pattern of succession, although familiar to the ethnologist and sporadically used in the Germanic area almost up to the present day to preserve farm holdings intact, is hardly typical of the Germanic world in general where primogeniture was the rule.
2.      Konr might be considered an example of the figure of the successful youngest brother quite common in folklore narratives. This possibility seems somewhat trivial in the primordial world of the Rigsþula; furthermore, all of the customary motifs of sibling rivalry are absent in our text.
3. Finally, Konr might be preferred above his elder brothers due to some other factor which made him most suitable for kingship.


Here, I contend, lies the crux of the matter; According to Rigsþula 43:


Enn Konr ungr   kunni rúnar,

            ævinrúnar          oc aldrúnar;

[But King the young had knowledge of runes,
runes of eternity,
runes of life;]



Konr possessed runic knowledge--and the word "enn" shows that this knowledge was not shared by all the brothers but was an attribute of the youngest son a1one. Rigsþula 45 tells of a competition or testing of this knowledge in which Konr excels over his father Jarl:


Hann við Rig jarl           rúnar deildi,

      brögðom beitti oc betr kunni;

      Þá öðlaðiz         ac þa eiga gat

      Rigr at heita,    rúnar kunna.

[With Rígr Jarl he disputed runes,
teased him with tricks and knew better than he.
Then he got his due and gained the right then
to be called Rígr, and have knowledge of the runes.]

(Ursula Dronke translation, 1997)


As a result of this confrontation, Konr receives his inheritance and the right to the royal title or name: Rigr. If ultimogeniture were the issue, this exhibition of numinous knowledge on Konr's part would be quite gratuitous. In the folklore complex of the successful youngest son Konr would be shown to better his brothers, not his father Jarl. On the other hand, Konr's possession of runic knowledge is so heavily underscored that we may well wonder why it is alluded to so massively, again at the point of throne succession, if it does not play an important role in just that matter.

In order to clear the issue, let us go back a step and establish the possession and transmission of runic knowledge within the closed system of the Rigsþula. The godly Rigr possesses it; that is attested by the phrase: "rúnar kendi" (. 36/4). Konr has it (.43/1-2); and in order to compete with his son, Jarl must have it (. 45/1-2). It is no daring combination to deduce that Jarl received his knowledge from the godly Rigr in that confrontation (Rþ. 36) which led to Jarl's succession-and that this ritual education in numinous knowledge formed a part of Jarl's individual consecration to the god. Our poem offers no information as to the source of Konr's runic knowledge; but since he surpasses his father ( 45/1-4) and the Rigsþula does in fact present a closed system, it can be deduced that Konr was instructed by his godly grandfather Rigr. I contend that here a ritual education in numinous knowledge as a part of a younger/youngest son's individual consecration to a godly figure formed the decisive factor in the succession to a Germanic sacred kingship. If this contention is to be made more convincing, the next logical step must be the presentation of corroborative evidence from further Eddic sources. That evidence exists --but due to the nature of the material, it does not become evident until viewed from that interpretory position prepared by the Rigsþula example.

The narrative motivation of the eddic poem Hyndlolióð lies in the rivalry between Óttarr and Angantýr. Hyndlolióð 9 does little to define the exact bone of contention:


 þeir hafa veðiat             valamálmi,

            Óttarr iungi       oc Angantýr;

            scyIt er at veita,            svá at scati inn ungi

            föðleifð hafi       eptir fœndr sina.

['They have wagered foriegn gold (or 'Vali's sword')
young Ottar and Angatyr;
it's necessary to help, so that the young warrior
should get his inheritence from his kinsman."]

(Carolyne Larrington translation, 1996)



Nevertheless, several points are clear:


1.   Óttarr and Angantýr are competing for something which is Óttarr's right by inheritance; Angantýr may however share in Óttarr's right--for example, if they are brothers.
2.   Constant attention is drawn to Óttarr's youth. The most logical explanation for this lies in a comparison with an elder Angantýr.
3.   Óttarr's ancestry is supremely regal. Since he is competing for his paternal inheritance, that "föðurliefð" is most likely to be a kingship.
4.   Apparently the contest is not to be decided by force of arms or some legalistic procedure in the modem sense; genealogic knowledge is to play a decisive role.  


In the terms of the Rigsþula, the situation can be reconstructed as follows. Óttarr and Angantýr are most likely brothers competing for their father's throne; Óttarr is the younger. The succession is not to be decided by primogeniture or, for that matter, by ultimogeniture, but rather is dependent on the greater possession of numinous knowledge. In order to secure this knowledge, Óttarr enters into an individual consecration and becomes the protégé of the goddess Freyja.


She, in turn, transforms him into the shape of her boar Gullinborsti, so that he may hear Hyndla's recitation of the genealogy of his forefathers. Equipped with this knowledge, he should have no difficulty in defeating Angantýr in their ritual contest and succeeding to the kingship.


One bizarre question is raised by this poem: If Óttarr becomes Freyja's protégé, why does she not provide him with the numinous instruction herself? In a previous article I have attempted to prove that ritual chastity was a prerequisite for the possession of certain types of numinous knowledge in pre-Christian Germanic religion. In Hyndlolióð 47  Freyja is accused of inchastity; similar accusations are made by Loki in Lokasenna 30, 32. Neither Freyja's own answer nor her defense by Njörðr denies these charges; they seem to be accepted as mythological fact. However, when similar charges are levelled at Gefion and Frigg (Ls. 20, 26), they are refuted. In each case the argument is the same: the accused is in possession of absolute knowledge, by nature a form of numinous knowledge and, ergo, can not be unchaste. This argument presupposes the prerequisite of chastity--which is no attribute of Freyja. She, therefore, is forced to appeal to Hyndla in order to satisfy her protégé’s needs for numinous knowledge.


      The prose introduction to the Grímnísmál provides us with still another pair of royal brothers:


Hrauðungr konungr átti tvá sono; hét anarr Agnarr, enn annarr Geirroðr. Agnarr var tío vetra, enn Geirroðr átta vetra.


["King Hraudung had two sons; one was named Agnar, and the other Geirrod. Agnar was ten winters old and Geirrod eight winters."]


Geirroðr, once again the younger brother, is the protégé of the god Óðinn. His manner of securing the succession is as follows:


... þá mælti karl [Óðinn] einmæli við Geirroðr. Þeir fengo byr oc qvómo til stöðva föðurs síns. Geirroðr var fram í scipi; hann hlióp up á land, enn hratt út scopino oc mælti; 'Farðu, þár er smyl hafi þic!' Scipit rac út. Enn Geirroðr gecc up til bæiar. Hánom var vel fagnat. Þá var faðir hans andaðr. Var þá Geirroðr til konungs tekinn …

[..."The old man [Odin] spoke privately to Geirrod. They got a breeze and came to their father's harbour. Geirrod was forward in the ship, he jumped ashore and pushed the ship out and said: 'Go where monsters will take you!' The ship was driven out, and Geirrod went up to the house. He was greeted joyfully; his father had died. Then Geirrod was taken as king...]

Agnarr, however, spends his days in what appears to be involuntary exile "hvar hann elr born við gýgi í hellinom." Here our text not only provides us with an attestation of the individual consecration, but also calls attention to Óðinn's final instructions to his protégé. Geirroðr lands and pushes the boat back. out to sea-but certainly the elder brother could row or sail back to land if it were not for some further factor. Geirroðr's words must represent a spell, and once again it is no daring combination to deduce that both plan and spell were Óðinn’s parting instructions to his royal protégé. As a result, Agnarr ends in exile--Geirroðr, the younger brother, succeeds to his father's throne. Here, unlike the events of the Rigsþula and Hyndlolióð, it was not the proof of the possession of numinous knowledge which decided the succession of the younger son despite the usual principle of primogeniture, but rather the pragmatic use of that knowledge in the form of a spell.

A further example of a younger son, who enters into an individual consecration to a godly figure and appears to assume regal power in precedence over an elder brother, is obscured by the confused eddic tradition. In any event, Frá dauða Sinfiötla presents Helgi as a younger son:


Sigmundr, Völsungs sonr, var könungr á Fraclandi. Sinfiötli i var elztr hans sona, annarr Helgi, . . .


            Sólfillöll, SnæfiöIl          oc Sigarsvöllo,

            Hringstöð, Hátún           oc Himinvanga,

            blóðorm búinn, brœðr Sinfiötla. (Helgakvida Hundingsbana I. 7-8)


       [Sigmund was a king in France. Sinfiolti was his eldest son, the second was Helgi....



       (He have Helgi a name, gave him Hringsadir)

       Sunfell, Snowfell, and Sigarvoll,

       Hringstod, Highnmeadow, and Himinvangi,

      provided with a blood-snake the brother of Sinfiolti.]


Although it can not be the task of this article to align its argumentation with the full extent of Höfler's interpretation of the "Helgi-figure," it is obvious that if HeIgi is in fact more a title than a name, this passage affords a remarkable parallel to Jarl's succession to the Rigr-title. To complete the picture, the elements of the individual consecration and ritual education must be supplied. Only the overly skeptical reader is likely to reject Höfler's case for the IndividuaIweihe; but there is no textual support for the ritual education. Readers already convinced by the Rigsþula, Hyndlulióð and Grímnísmál examples offered above will agree that Helgi's foster father Hagall (unfortunately not attested as an Óðinnsheiti) might well represent a hypostasis of Óðinn and a ritual education under Hagall's supervision would parallel that of Geirroðr neatly-but this combination must remain a conjecture by analogy due to lack of textual support.

In summary, according to my interpretation the Rigsþula, Hyndlulióð and Grímnísmál offer us three variants of the same functional narrative. A godly figure accepts the individual consecration of a royal younger or youngest son. He then provides his human protégé with that numinous knowledge necessary to decide the succession in the latter's favor despite the principle of primogeniture. In one case the ritual education consists of runic knowledge, in another of royal genealogy, and in the third of a magic spell. In each case this knowledge allows the protégé to win the throne; its possession then constitutes a knowledge criterion in deciding the succession to the Germanic sacred kingship-a criterion which takes preference over primogeniture. The choice of a younger or youngest son to serve as an example for that preference is certainly a logical one.

Once the principle of a knowledge criterion is accepted, it becomes necessary to envision a transferral of the practice of a ritual education in numinous knowledge from the idealization of myth into the world of Germanic reality. Whereas a god may serve as a teacher of an eddic hero in illo tempore, if the knowledge criterion was in fact productive, this role must have been assumed by a human in actual practice. We are looking for a man well versed in the numinous lore of his time; a professional knower, but not necessarily a priest or politico. This description fits our picture of the þulr quite well; on the other hand we must admit that, as far as substantiated facts go, what we really know about the put, does not amount to much.

Our most comprehensive coverage of available materials to date is still Vogt's work on the subject. Despite his command of the primary sources and power of argumentation, Vogt's interpretation of the role of the þulr as a Kultredner [Cult-orator] is not satisfying; it leaves the cloud surrounding the integral role the þulr played in Germanic society intact. Equally problematic is Olrik's interpretation of the þulr as an essentially political figure. On the other hand, the position taken by de Vries is quite compatible with that of the þulr as a ritual teacher of future sacred kings De Vries develops his theory out of the very existence of that large group of Eddic and other Old Norse sources, which he calls Visdomsdigtning. Here the numinous knowledge preserved has little to do with its mythologic or heroic frame; it appears that the frame was constructed to contain the knowledge rather than vice versa. De Vries argues that this large corpus must have served some ritual purpose:


In der Edda haben wir mehrere Beispiele einer Dichtart, die die Form einer in einem traditionellen Rahmen gefaßten Fragen- und Antwortenreihe ist, dem Inhalte nach aber gerade mythologische Kenntnisse enthält. Diese Poesie war wohl nicht nur eine literarische Form, sondem vielmehr dazu bestimmt, diese esoterisehen Kenntnisse in gewissen Kreisen im Gedächtnis zu erhalten. Falls man sie mit dem þulr verbindet, wäre er der Mann gewesen, der eben diese für den Kult wichtigen Kenntnisse besaß, und sie in dieser Form bewahrte. So kommen wir auf die Erklärung, die W. Vogt mit großem Geschick verteidigt bat: der þulr war anfänglich eine den KuIt redend ausübende Person, also der Kultredner und deshalb der wichtige Mittler zwischen Göttern und Menschen. Er war der Wahrer der Tradition, nicht nur auf dem Gebiete von Recht und Sitte, sondern auch von Religion und Magie. Man hat, wohl nicht mit Unrecht, auf Beziehungen zur Funktion des irischen fili hingewiesen; sogar das erzieherische System, das für letzteren bezeichnend ist, hat bei der Organisation des an þulr wahrscheinlich nicht gefehlt. Man darf sogar fragen, ob er nicht einmal eine wichtige Rolle bei der Feier der Initiation gehabt hat, die ja bei den Germanen ebensowenig wie bel anderen Völkern gefehlt haben wird. Es ist dann auch durchaus begreiflich, daß er auch ein Dichter war; die sakrale Wurzel der epischen Poesie in Griechenland und Indien wurde schon längst nachgewiesen. Dabei spielen eben Genealogien eine bedeutende Rolle; diese gehören durchaus zu der Þula-Überlieferung.


["In the Edda we have several examples of a kind of poetry that has taken the form of a frame in a traditional question and answer series, according to its content but contains just mythological knowledge.This poetry was probably not only a literary form, but rather intended to get this esoteric knowledge to be preserved in the memory of certain circles. If one connects them to the þulr, they would have been the men who possessed this very important knowledge for the cult, which they preserved in this form. Thus we come to a statement, that W. Vogt defended with great skill: the þulr probably was one of the cult's oral-performers, the speaker of the cult and therefore an important mediator between gods and humans. He was the guardian of tradition, not only in the realm of law and morality, but also between religion and magic. It has been noted, not without reason, as related to the function of the Irish fili; even the educational system, which is significant for the latter was not likely missing in the organization of þulr. One may even wonder if it did not have an important role in the initiation ceremony, which would not have been absent among the Germans any more than in other nations. It is then quite natural that he was also a poet; the religious roots of the epic poetry of Greece and India were established long ago. Thereby even genealogies, which absolutely belong to the Thula-tradition, played an important role."] 


This line of argumentation, although strongly conjectural (as is most work in the field of pre‑Christian Germanic religion due to the nature of the source material), serves to offer a logical explanation for the existence of such a large body of "numinous knowledge poetry" framed within the Eddic poems. The very existence of such a large corpus of specialized knowledge presupposes sufficient intrinsic value, needless to say, for the culture of that area and period, to support the tradition. And such a tradition in turn presupposes the existence of the carrier of that tradition, a professional or semiprofessional specialist in numinous knowledge, most likely the þulr. Here, however, the road of theory branches, leaving two distinct possibilities:

1.  The tradition was preserved as the esoteric property of its carriers: the þulr instructed only his successor or successors, the goal being the preservation of the tradition and nothing more.
2.   The tradition preserved by the þulr was made accessible to others: the þulr also instructed those to whom possession of the tradition was necessary, but who were not responsible for its preservation.
The first possibility is certainly not beyond consideration; such esoteric preservation of tradition for its own sake is familiar to the ethnologist. On the other hand, the case made above for the existence of a knowledge criterion of significance in the succession to the Germanic sacred kingship supports the second possibility.

Once the knowledge criterion is accepted not only for the mythological world of the Rigsþula, Hyndlolióð and Grímnísmál, its practice in the world of Germanic reality becomes a logical conclusion. Although it is impossible to provide certain proof for the ritual education of the successor to the sacred kingship by the þulr from our extant text material, the likelihood of such a practice seems evident. The acceptance of such a practice at least in theory not only aids in the interpretation of the three Eddie poems discussed but also throws a new light on the complex of the sacred kingship in its Germanic form.





1. The Ritual Inversion


Jere Fleck

University of Maryland, College Park



Hávamál 138 ff—The Need for a New Interpretation


The four strophes containing the narrative of Óðinn's self-sacrifice Hávamál 138-141, are usually considered to be a continuous entity. This basic assumption sets the stage for two main lines of interpretation:


  1. The passage narrates the consecutive units of a single rite, or
  2. it juxtaposes the entireties or units of similar but independent ritual entities.


Sijmons and Gering support the former contention; Detter and Heinzel and Boer opt for the latter. I also favor the latter. The episode concerning Bölþor's son appears to belong to the topos of the‘genuine knowledge confrontation’ (echte Wissensbegegnung) whereas the obligatory element of the antagonist is missing in the self-sacrifice. In his translation, Gering labels Hávamál 140 and interpolation: “eine Interpolation, welche die Erzählung von Odins Selbstopferung störend unterbricht: sie stammt aus einem Liede, das von Gewinnung des Dichtermets handelte.” This certainly refers only to Hávamál 140/4-6; the episode concerning Bölþor's son has no narrative counterpart in the mead-theft segment. It is, of course, quite possible to interpret Hávamál 138-141 as a unified sequence of 'mini-rites.' The mead-episode and Óðinn's education by Bölþor's son could be steps in such a compound rite;—but the only evidence supporting this position is the Hávamál-passage under investigation here.

Even the narrative unity of the two strophes Hávamál 138-139 is based on a factor subject to question. In Hávamál 138 Óðinn is hanging on the tree: in the next strophe he 'falls down.' Except for this 'falling,'  Hávamál 139 contains no evidence for the supposition that Óðinn is to be thought of as hanging up to the point of his fall. If Hávamál 138-141 is to be considered to narrate one complicated multipart rite at all, it can hardly be assumed that its entirety assumes Óðinn hanging from the tree. The first necessary step lies in establishing the temporal conclusion of the ‘hanging-episode.’The‘falling down’of Hávamál 139/6 can serve this end—but it can also be understood in a completely different way.

Before attacking that problem, we must devote our interest to another crux. In Hávamál 139/4-5 Óðinn ‘takes up’ the runes. Here, once again, we are forced to opt for one of two possibilities:


1.      The 'taking up' of the runes is meant figuratively, or

2.      it is to be understood as a literal, physical act.


 The second option faces us with a riddle: 'How can a man (or god) physically take up something from below if he is hanging by the neck?' Although they support the literal 'taking up', Detter and Heinzel and de Vries avoid this question. Sijmons and Gering admit the problem;—but attempt to solve it by inventing material for which there is no textual support: namk upp rúnar 'ich nahm die runen herauf', die ihm also von unten dargereicht wurden… [namk upp rúnar, I took up the runes', which were thus handed to him from below…]


In our almost 'ecological' day of‘Preserve the documented text at any cost!’such a simplistic conjecture is hardly worthy of discussion.


The figurative option is argued by Müllenhoff, Boer, and Genzmer. Their position recognises the problems of a literal ‘taking up’ of the runes and tries to solve it by free translation. Sijmons and Gering are completely justified in rejecting this freedom;—their own solution, however, is equally unfortunate. The question of how a hanging man can take something up from below remains open.

The easiest solution is simply to suppose that Óðinn, at the point at which he takes up the runes, is no longer hanging on the tree. This would suppose that he first completes the 'hanging-test' and then goes on to the 'fasting-test'. During the second part of the rite he would no longer be hanging and could ‘take up’ the runes from a standing (or sitting) position without difficulty. Then the episode with Bölþor's son, the mead-draught and Óðinn's ‘growth’ follow in sequence. But this leaves Óðinn's  'fall'  to be explained.


In his article "Odin paa Trædet" ["Odin on the Tree"] F. Ohrt subjects the Hávamál-passage to interpretation founded in the complex of superstitions surrounding the mandragora. Quite a few additional points could be offered to support Ohrt's conjecture; but in principle it remains:


1.      The mandragora grows under the gallows; Óðinn hangs on the 'gallows'.

2.      When plucked, the mandragora screams; this scream is evidenced in our text by the word æpandi, which, due to later misunderstanding, was believed to apply to Óðinn rather than to the mandragora.


Ohrt cites two Old French examples; both tell how the mandragora-plucker dies on hearing the plant's scream. Since ‘ritual death’ is a standard of the rite of initiation and Óðinn does not ‘die’ as a result of the ‘hanging-test’, his ‘ritual death’ could be caused by the mandragora. According to this theory, in Hávamál 139 Óðinn is no longer hanging on the tree;—he plucks the mandragora: nam ec upp rúnar—OHG. alrūna (ON. ölrún ?) = mandragora—hears the scream: æpanda (later erroneously corrected to æpandi) nam, and consequently falls down: fell ec aptr þaðan, (ritually) dead.

This argument sounds quite convincing, despite the necessary text-conjecture. In any event, it does show how the problem of a literal ‘taking up’ could be solved. Nevertheless, I wish to present an even more enterprising solution, which, in order to be convincing, demands a substantial structure of supporting material.

Let us assume that, at the point at which he takes up the runes, Óðinn is still hanging on the tree. The taking-up is to be understood literally;—but no helpers, unmentioned by the text, may be invented to simplify matters. Óðinn looks downwards, sees the runes below him, reaches down and takes them up by hand. This act is unthinkable on the part of an anthropomorph hanging by the neck;—but it is quite possible if Óðinn hangs by the feet, head downward, in inverted position!


The Ritual Inversion—Germanic Evidence


As bizarre as this thought may seem at first, there is actual text evidence to support it. Not only do the Germanic texts speak in its favor;—it would appear that we are considering a widespread ritual concept with the Germanic evidence:


1.      Adam of Bremen, III/8

Qui et ipse non post multos dies a filio Thietmari comprehensus, et per tybias suspensus inter duos canes efflavit.


 ["And this Arnold was himself caught not many days after by Thietmar's son and hanged by the legs between two dogs until he died.” Francis J. Tschan tr.]


2.      Gregor of Tours, III/7

…pueros per nervos femorum ad arbores appendentes.


 ["…and hung youths by the sinews of their thighs to trees…” Earnest Brehaut tr.]


3.      Saxo Grammaticus, V

Furi vero traiectis ferro nervis in suspendium acto lupum collateralem affigi praecepit


 ["Now, a thief (so he enacted) was to be hung up with a sword passed through his sinews, with a wolf fastened by his side, so that the wicked man might look like the savage beast, both being punished alike.” Oliver Elton tr.]


4.      Saxo Grammaticus, V

Quosdam enim restibus in sublime pertractos more agitabilis pilae pendula corporum impulsione vexabant.

 ["For they would draw some men up in the air on ropes, and torment them, pushing their bodies as they hung” Oliver Elton tr.]


5.      Hrafnkels saga freysgoða, V

Þá taka þeir Hrafnkel ok hans menn ok bundu hendr þeira á bak aptr. Eftir þat brutu þeir upp útibúrit ok tóku reip ofan ór krókum, taka síðan knífa sína ok stinga raufar á hásinum þeira ok draga þar í reipin ok kasta þeim upp yfir ásinn ok binda þá svá átta saman.


 ["Then they took Hrafnkel and his men, and bound their hands behind their backs. After that they broke open the storehouse and took a rope down from some hooks. They then took their knives, pierced holes through the men’s heels behind the tendons, and dragged the rope through these holes. They threw the rope over the beam, ands strung the eight of them up together.” Terry Gunnell tr.]


6.      Hälfs saga ok Hálfsrekka, VIII

Hjörleifr konungr var uppfestr í konungs höll með skóþvengjum sínum sjálfs millum elda tveggja.


 ["King Hjorleif was then hung up by his shoe thongs between two fires in the kings hall while the men sat drinking.” W. Bryant Bachman, Jr. and Gudmundur Erlingsson tr.]


Of course it must be stressed that none of these texts shows the ritual inversion within the framework of a clearly designated initiation. This is, however, hardly surprising—since clearly designated descriptions of Germanic initiations are somewhat more than hard to come by. In fact, our source material is extremely stingy in preenting description of any and all rites of primitive Germanic Religion. Even in cases where world-wide distribution of a structure leads us to suppose that it must also have existed in the Germania, we are forced to fine-tooth comb our texts with the subtlest philological tools to provide any actual evidence. On the other hand, whenever an older Germanic text presents us with a picture of a structure that is not understandable from the context of what we know of every day life of the period, we are more than justified in asking if a ritual factor is not hidden there. The more unusual the structure, the more justified is the question. Nowadays hanging criminals in the inverted position as either a form of corporal punishment or execution seems sadistic or barbaric to us;—but we must not forget that we are quite insensitive to the ritual aspect of the inversion. We must therefore ask ourselves what the ritual inversion meant to those who lived in the period described in the evidence.

It is not the hanging which attracts our attention here;—it is the inversion. Folkloristically, the first association which comes to mind is that of the 'Underworld', in which everything is reversed. Such a concept can be read out of the following 'gestures', which can only be understood in a numinous context:


1.      Kormáks Saga, X


Það voru hólmgöngulög …sá er um bjó skyldi ganga at tjǫsinum svá at sæi himin milli fóta sér ok heldi í eyrasnepla með þeim formála, …


 ["The dueling laws …he who made the preparations was to approach the tarses in such a way that he could see the sky between his legs, while grasping his ear lobes with the invocation…” Rory McTurk tr.]


2.      Vatnsdæla saga, XXVI

…hon hafði rekit fötin fram yfir höfuð sér ok fór öfug og rétti höfuðit aptr milli fótanna;…


  ["She had pulled her clothes up over her head and was walking backwards, with her head thrust between her legs.” Andrew Wawn tr.]


3.      Landnámabók CCXXVII

Þá var Ljót út komin og gekk öfug; hún hafði höfuðið millum fóta sér, en klæðin á baki sér.


 ["Ljot had come outside, walking backwards, with her head between her legs and her clothes thrown over her back.” Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards tr.]


The purpose of such actions is to 'make contact'  with the underworld; abstractly, they recreate the conditions which are those of the other world. The inversion of an initiant is, similarly, identical to his death ritual, a standard factor of the initiation. But not only do the death of the initiant—also his rebirth on a higher ritual level is a standard feature of the rite. The inversion is also symbolic of the second feature. Since most children are born head-first, the concept of the fœtus carried in the mother's body in inverted position is of worldwide distribution. So the inversion symbolises both death and rebirth:—an almost perfect topos to represent the initiation.

It should be clear by now that I see in the ritual inversion far more than simply a method for 'hanging' an initiant without killing him. Furthermore, we must consider the ethnologically correct supposition of Sijmons and Gering, that ‘dangling’ between heaven and earth has a religious significance. This, of course, would also be present if the inversion was absent. Of more importance is Saxo's explanation for the execution of thieves: …ut malitiam hominis acerbitati beluae similitudo exaequaret poenae. ["Now, a thief (so he enacted) was to be hung up with a sword passed through his sinews, with a wolf fastened by his side, so that the wicked man might look like the savage beast, both being punished alike.” Elton tr.] At first this explanation seems simply positivistic;—but there is an element of deeper truth hidden here. Execution by hanging between animals is too striking to be meaningless and too widespread to be chance. The dogs in the passage from Adam cited above show that not only wolves were used for the same purpose. The intention to insult the victim is an obvious answer;—but it is by no means the only one.

In his description of the great sacrifice at Upsala, Adam of Bremen tells us of further animals which were hanged. Seventy-two corpses hang on the trees: nine male examples of each species. That divides out to eight species;—only humans, dogs, and horses are mentioned. In any case, the seven other species can hardly be thought of as 'harshening the punishment' of the nine human victims. It is clear that we have before us an example of an intended 'universal sacrifice.'

It is of utmost importance that Adam tells us that the sacrifice at Upsala was not limited to the hanging of humans and animals:


Sacrificium itaque est: ex omni animante, quod masculinum est, novem capita offeruntur, quorum sanguine deos [tales] placari mos est. ["The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads with the blood of which it is customary to placate the gods of this sort,” Francis J. Tschan tr.]


There can be no doubt as to the central role which blood played in the Germanic sacrifice. De Vries writes:


Das Blut wurde auf Götterbilder, Tempelwände und die Teilnehmer am Opfer gesprizt; von den Altaren wird gesagt roðnir stallar af blóði.

["The blood was sprinkled on the divine images, the temple walls and the participants in the sacrifice; of the altars it is said roðnir stallar af blóði ('the pedestals were reddened with blood')."]


Óttar reddens the altar with fresh steer's blood for Freyja. Stakraðr carries off Álfhildr while she reddens the altar with blood at night. Any student of primitive Germanic religion can extend the list of examples at will: the sagas offer a wealth of them. One feature of descriptions explicit in this point is highly significant: the blood was not 'used' as it flowed out of the human or animal victim. Rather, it was collected in a vessel. De Vries writes:


Die altnordischen Quellen erwähnen bei der Beschreibung der heidnischen Opferhandlungen auch einen Kessel (hlautbolli), in dem das Blut des geopferten Tieres gesammelt wurde.


  ["The old-Nordic sources also mention a kettle (hlautbolli) in the description of the heathen sacrifice, in which the blood of the sacrificed animal was collected."]


The Kvasir-narrative of the Snorra-Edda offers us the symbolic representation of a sacrifice in which the blood of a victim plays the central role. Kvasir's body seems of little significance;—but the 'poet's mead' is made from his blood. To put it symbolically: Kvasir dies 'into' the ritual vessel as blood and is reborn 'out' of the same vessel as the 'poet's mead'. His entire being seems to be identical with his blood.

Such a sacrifice in which the blood is important but the body insignificant can, in the case of humans or larger animals, best be performed with the victim hanging in an inverted position. This is still the standard slaughter practice today. Pigs in particular, since the blood is collected to make sausage, are 'ham-strung' by either passing a hook or cord between the tibia and fibula of the hind legs (pertybiam, to echo Adam's words). And then lifted to hang head downwards. Then the arteria carotis comunis is severed (geiri undaðr), so that the blood flows down into a vessel. In cultures in which blood is considered ritually non-edible the same method is used;—but there intended to drain the cadaver of blood thoroughly. Judaism offers an example: blood is not considered edible;—in order to be pure, meat must be slaughtered by shechitah methods including complete blood drainage. The collected blood, however, may be sprinkled on the altar as a penitential act. Orthodox Islam also forbids the use of blood as food but knows of no corresponding blood sacrifice.

In any event, we must consider this Germanic slaughter tradition as a contributing factor in the complex of ritual inversion—especially in cases in which any mention of the victim's blood is made. It should not be forgotten that the ritual use of such blood was not limited to sprinkling the altars;—the Kvasir-episode proves that. Kvasir's blood is also a source of numinous knowledge (the runes), since it is identical with the 'poet's mead.' An important fertility function will be discussed in the second part of the article.




...Up to this point, I have presented evidence for the theory that in his self-sacrifice in the Hávamál Óðinn hung in an inverted position. I have accepted the well-known theory that this self-sacrifice represented an initiation, but have drawn attention to the 'lifting' of the runes as a symbolization of Óðinn's acquisition of numinous knowledge. Furthermore, I have presented material supporting the formula that the acquisition of such knowledge within the framework of an initiation may lead to the throne—in the case of a god, obviously a 'ritual kingship.'

In the second half of the article, I intend to illustrate a further highly significant feature of Óðinn's self-sacrifice, namely: the overwhelming sexual symbolism involved. After discussing the cosmic import of this feature, I will attempt to show how and why the entire ritual complex led to Óðinn's supreme position in the Germanic pantheon.




2. The Ritual Landscape


Jere Fleck

University of Maryland, College Park


Hávamál 138 ff— The Need for a New Interpretation


The Ritual Landscape


The next step in this presentation of a new interpretation of the rite recorded in Hávamál 138ff. is an investigation of the ‘ritual landscape’— the mythical/topographic surroundings in which Óðinn’s self-sacrifice was thought to have occurred. Our text itself is hardly expansive on this subject. It affords us with only one bit of explicit data: Óðinn hangs on an unnamed tree, er mangi veit, hvers hann af rótom renn. ["of which no man knows from where its roots run,” C. Larrington tr.] Despite its superficially cryptic quality, this allusion is quite sufficient—to us, just as it must have been to the audience for  whom it was written. The tree in question is not named because that was not necessary; the one fact cited placed the self-sacrifice clearly at the center of the ritual landscape familiar to the hearer. From earliest childhood on, he must have been bombarded constantly with descriptions of the entirety and of the individual details of this extremely significant mythical locality to an extent that an actual naming of the tree would have seemed disappointingly prosaic. If we are to attempt to understand Óðinn's self-sacrifice as the Hávamál's intended audience did, we must first become as familiar with its topography as a member of that audience must have been.

The central difficulty in establishing a clear picture of that ritual landscape is inherent in the nature of the tradition. As we must assume that the rite described in the Hávamál was familiar to the intended audience, we must understand that the text was not intended to provide a clear, concise first source of information—but rather a poetic presentation based on well-known‘mythical fact.’ The artistic effectiveness of such a text must depend to a large extent  on replacing pedestrian directness with literary fancy. The discovery that one and the same person, place or thing is referred to under many different names should not be surprising. If our text were skaldic verse we would accept such polyonymy simply as the poet's method of satisfying the strict metric demands of his chosen form. But the relatively unrestricted eddic strophe is far less demanding: such an explanation can not be the only one. The massive complex of heiti and kenning structures which we are about to discuss must be the result on the one hand, of a desire to replace tabu lexemes with noa correspondencies and, on the other, of a feeling of the need for elevated and esoteric language when dealing with religious tremendum.125

The religious decoding of the relevant textual corpus therefore depends largely on establishing the identities obscured by polyonymy. Since the ritual landscape under discussion is one of the most complex present in primitive Germanic Religion, a complete coverage of every detail would go far beyond the limitations of this article. Fortunately, it is possible to concentrate our attention on a handful of significant items only, without detracting either from the strength or from the validity of the argument.

a. The Tree

According to the Hávamál, Óðinn hangs on a tree, the roots of which are 'unknown'. The same feature is ascribed to another tree Mimameiðr, known to us only from the Fjölsvinnsmál.126 Since the name Mimameiðr is a hapax-legomenon, the identity of this tree with the one on which Óðinn hangs would be a cul-de-sac-if it were not for the fact that the Fjölsvinnsmál offer us a further clue. The line: er breidaz um lond öll limar127 reminds us of Snorri's description of the tree Yggdrasill both in content and choice of words: limar hans dreifask um heim allan128 It is logical that only one tree be thought of as extending out over the entire universe-so it appears that Yggdrasill, Mimameidr and the tree of Óðinn's self sacrifice are identical.

125 See Heiler, Religion, pp. 266ff.
126 Fjm. 20, 24; cited according to Boer, Edda.
127 Fjm. 19/8-9.
128 Snorra-Edda, pp. 22.

This supposition is further supported by a highly likely identity of the two 'watch-cocks': Vidöpnir129 and Gullinkambi.130 A superficial objection to the identity of these three trees might be based on the consideration that we do know a great deal about Yggdrasill's roots: their three-fold division, where they 'run', even who is gnawing away at them131-whereas the roots of the other two trees are characterised as 'unknown'. But as Yggdrasill's roots lie beyond the world of man, the formula may simply mean that no living mortal can know of them from first-hand experience.

Before we can investigate Yggdrasill further, we must turn our attention to another tree: Hoddmimir.132 Our only data on this tree is that the two humans destined to survive the ragnarök, Lif and Lifþrasir will hide in it during the fimbulvetr.133 That is to say, in the language of religious symbolism, that after the ragnarök Lif and Lifþrasir will be 'reborn' from the tree Hoddmimir. A normal winter lasts three months, but the fimbulvetr is three times as long134-which adds up to the nine months of a normal pregnancy. W. Hunke suggests a similar symbolism behind the netr allar nio of Óðinn's hanging on the tree;135 her interpretation of the god's self-sacrifice as a birth (or rebirth) within the complex of an initiatioin is quite compatible with that of this author. in any event, the functional parallelity of Hoddmimir and the tree of the Hávamál rite shows these two trees to be identical too.

Fjm. 23-24, etc.
130 Vsp. 43. Supporting the identity, see Sijmons/Gering, 1/56, 1/414; Boer, Edda, 11/384. The Völuspa does not explicitly place Gullinkambi perched on Yggdrasill. But his cries awaken the einherjar, who are quartered in Valhöll. As will be demonstrated below, Yggdrasill stands in the immediate proximity of Valhöll, making the tree as the cock's perch quite plausible.
131 See Grm. 31-35; Snorra-Edda, pp. 22,24; etc.
132 In the Codex regius: Hoddmimir, with a short i; see Hándskriftet Nr. 2365 4to. gl. kgl. Samling pd det store kgl. bibliothek i København (Codex regius af den ældre Edda) [Codex regius], ed. by L. F. A. Wimmer & Finnur Jonsson, Kobenhavn 1891, p. 16. The long vowel appears in most of the other manuscripts; see the Neckel/Kuhn Edda-edition, p. 53, textual apparatus. As will be demonstrated later, the Codex regius is not dependable in the matter of vowel length.
133 Vm. 44--45.
Snorra-Edda, p. 70.
W. Hunke, "Odins Geburt," in: Edda, Skalden, Saga (Genzmer-Festschrift), ed. by H. Schneider, Heidelberg 1952, pp. 68-71, see p. 70. We should also recall the creation of Askr and Embla (Vsp. 17; Snorra-Edda, p. 16), to which the 'rebirth' of Lif and Lifþrasir provides a parallel.

The 'world ash tree'-askr'136 has two 'given names': Yggdrasill and Leræðr.137 The etymology of the latter is difficult.138 but the former is accepted to mean 'Ygg's [Óðinn's] horse'.139 As we are familiar with Sleipnir in this capacity, Yggdrasill is certainly intended to be understood figuratively and only in conjunction with the god's self- sacrifice. There should be little objection to the assertion that Óðinn hangs from the world ash-the 'world-tree' of primitive Germanic Religion.140
Our information on the world ash is by no means limited to internal Germanic evidence; the 'cosmic tree' is a religious concept of extremely wide distribution. Comparison of the cosmic tree in the Germania with Indic, Iranian and Greek parallels shows clearly that we are working with a genetically related complex of common Indo-European, if not Proto-Indo-European provenience.141 Recent Germanistic preoccupation with shamanistic religious cultures in Central and North Asia has led to speculation that Germanic/shamanistic parallels, including the mythical cosmology in general and the cosmic tree in particular, are to be explained as the

That the ascr and Yggdrasill are identical is witnessed by many juxtapositions, for example: Vsp. 19, Grm 31 32, 34, 35, 44, etc.
Grm 25-26. The identity of Læraðr and Yggdrasill, discounting that of their physical position, can be supported by a comparison of Grm. 26 and Vsp. 19. The Identity of Hvergelmir and Urðar brunnr will be discussed below. Also see Snorra-Edda, p. 22, although Snorri's reductions of polyonymy cannot be trusted unless supported by firmer evidence.
J. de Vries, Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch [Worterbuch], Leiden 19622, p. 372; but also see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, ll/38S.
De Vries, Wörterbuch, p, 676.
Detter and Heinzel simply take this for granted: Detter/Heinzel, II/139f. Sijmons and Gering stop short of stating an identity, although they make the suggestive comment: "Die schwache form des adj. [vindga] ist völlig am platze, da der dichter an einen bestimmten baum denkt: 'an jenem (wohlbekannten) windumtosten baume'; Sijmons/Gering, p. 147. De Vries also is certain that Óðinn hangs from the world ash: Religionsgeschichte, II/7S, II/381, etc.
See de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/382-392.

result of Germanic borrowings from shamanism.142 It seems far more likely that such parallelism is due to Germanic preservation of inherited tradition on the one hand, and Central and North Asiatic borrowings from, or via Iran on the other.143 A similar dependence on Iranian materials is characteristic also of Judaism, where it entails not only cosmological concepts but also such items as paradise, angels, the war between good and evil, eschatology, etc.144 It is then not surprising to find these features preserved both in Christianity and Islam, considering their dependence on Judaism as well as the increased contact with the Iranian cultural epicenter made possible by the political developments of the Hellenistic Era.

b. The Cosmos

The overall religious conceptualisation of the cosmos, in which the cosmic tree plays a major role, is of importance to this investigation for two reasons. Firstly, it offers evidence directly comparable to our ritual inversion complex and, secondly, the duplication of the universe in temple architecture allows indirect comparison. A simplified description of this religious Urkosmos will have to suffice.145 There are three horizontal levels: above the earth curve the heavens like an overturned bowl-below its surface lies the underworld. The heaven is usually thought of as a male deity whereas the earth is female;146 the underworld is fittingly sexless, although a tendency to feminine gender is present, especially where the underworld is thought of as a mirroring of the world of the living. In the center of the earth's flat surface is a mountain, on top of which the cosmic tree grows.

142 For categoric opposition to the presence of shamanism as a religious type in primitive Germanic Religion see: J. Fleck, "The 'Knowledge-Criterion' in the Grímnismál: The Case against 'Shamanism'," to appear in: Arkiv for nordisk filologi 86 (1971).
See, for example, U. Harva, Die religiösen Vorstellungen der altaischen Volker (= FFC 125), German translation by E. Kunze, Helsinki 1938, pp. 20-140.
See: Ringgren, Religion, pp. 97, 147f., 285, 287f., 294f.
For a more complete presentation, see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/383-392; Harva, op, cit., pp. 20-89, for comparable external material and bibliography.
In Egyptian religion, the roles are exchanged: Nut, the heavens, is female- her mate, Geb, is the earth-god. See: S. Morenz, Ãgyptische Religion, Stuttgart 1960, pp. 277, 280; E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, 2 vols., London 1904 (photo-reprint: New York 1969),11/94--112.

The tree connects the center of the earth with the center of the heavens, usually identified as the North Star because the 'heavens revolve around the tree', which is thought of as a fixed axis. This axis often is believed to continue on down to the center of the underworld, either in the form of the tree's roots or as an inverted mirror image of the tree itself.147 Where the trunk of the tree meets the surface of the earth there is a fountain or lake, often specifically a 'milk lake',148 which is dependent on the tree for all or some of its fluid content.149 This body of liquid is the source of all the rivers which flow down through the world, making it fertile.150  This cosmological configuration is often reproduced as a microcosm in the architecture of the cosmic temple and/or the lay-out of its surrounding grounds. The tree, or its symbolisation in the form of a pole, tower, spire or other upright, stands in the center of the sacred area. Next to it lies the fountain or pool. The central position may be pre-empted by the temple itself-in this case, the tree is preserved as a central structural feature, such as a supporting column or an altar, or it may be placed on the roof of the temple151 or next to it. In such cases, the fountain or lake is preserved as an interior fountain, baptistery, cistern or crypt.  


147 The concept of the mirror-image cosmic tree belongs to the typical inversion of the world of the living in the world of the dead. For an example of the inverted tree in ritual use, see: Eliade, Initiation, p. 17.

148 De Vries, Religionsgeschichte, 1/270; Harva, op. cit., 85-89.

149 The ka'bat, which serves as the geographic center (qiblat) of the Moslem world (see: Qur'an, II/143ff.), stands in the middle of the rectangular courtyard of the great mosque at Mekkah. In this ritual landscape the tree is absent; the minarets, seven in this case, are functionless repetitions of the mountain of the landscape (ziggurat-representations). The brunnr is present in the spring Zemzem. See: Burton, Pilgrimage, II/294ff (with an architectural floor-plan of the mosque); Heiler, Religion, p. 39f. 150 See: Harva, op. cit., pp. 85ff., and U. Holmberg [Harva], Der Baum des Lebens, Helsinki 1922/23, pp. 70ff.

151 The Indian stupa and Sino-Japanese pagoda represent the mountain Sumeru with the cosmic tree growing on its summit. The seven (or nine) rings, which surround the upright of the roof ornament, represent the seven (or nine) heavens which it transverses. See: Miirchen aus Tibet, ed. and tr. by H. Hoffmann, Düsseldorf/Köln 1965, p. 247; Hideto Kishida, Japanese Architecture, Tokyo 1954, pp. 58f.; W. Willets, Chinese Art, 2 vols., Harmondsworth 1958, II/723ff.; L. A. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, Cambridge 1958, pp. 262ff.; Holmberg, op . cit., pp. 33-51.

This parallelism of the mythical cosmos and the temple microcosm is typical of Indic152 and Iranian153 religion and judaism.154 including also their 'religious colonies'. Further discussion below should suffice to show that it was also typical of primitive Germanic Religion.



c. The Fountain or Lake

At the foot of the world ash Yggdrasill there is a fountain.155 If the goat Heiðrun is able to eat the branches of Læraðr while standing on the roof of Herjaföðrs höll,156 then Yggdrasill must stand on or next to Valhöll. The stag Eikþrymir also eats Læraðr's branches while standing on Valhöll's roof157 A liquid drips down from Eikþyrnir's antlers into a body of water below.158 This fountain or lake, called Hvergelmir, is the source of all rivers. We must also recall to mind that Yggdrasill is 'moistened' by a white liquid, which, in turn, irrigates the valleys.159 According to the description of the great temple at Upsala by Adam of Bremen, the temple, tree and fountain stood next to one another.160 It is true that this famous temple was not placed on a mountain, but, to the contrary, in a valley. Nevertheless, the importance of physical elevation for the Germanic temple in general is successfully documented by A. Thümmel.161


152 See: J. Gonda, Die Religionen Indiens [lndien] , 2 vols., Stuttgart 1960, 1963, I/327f.

153 See: G. Widengren, Iranische Geisteswelt, Baden-Baden 1961, pp. 29ff.


154 See: Ringgren, Religion, pp. 147ff.

155 Vsp 19.

156 Grm. 25. The proximity of Valhöll and Urðar brunnr is further supported

by Hávam. 111.

157 Grm. 26.

158 Grm. 26/4-6:

                      enn af bans hornom        drypr i Hvergelmi,

                      þaðan eigo vötn öll vega.


159 Vsp. 19:

                      Asc veit ec standa,       heitir Yggdrasill,

                      hár baðmr, ausinn      hvitaauri;

                      þaðan koma döggvar,    þærs i dala falla,

                      stendr lie yfir, grõnn,         Urðar brunni.


160 Adam of Bremen, ed. cit., p. 470.

161 A. Thümmel, "Der germanische Tempel," in: PBB 35 (1909), pp. 121ff.


Acceptance of the obvious polyonymy in the case of the world ash begs the question: Was the body of liquid at Yggdrasill's foot also known by several different names? In the Völuspá, the fountain at the foot of the world ash is called Urðar brunnr.162 Urð is well known to us as one of the three norns; 163 but there is no evidence other than
this name to support a particular relationship between this one norn and the fountain. Urðar brunnr is best understood as a pars pro toto- [part represents the whole] style kenning, meaning 'the fountain of the norns'. It could just as well have been referred to as the fountain of Skuld or Verðandi—in this case, Urð was chosen because, of the three, her name alone fit the alliteration. In any event, the noms must be thought of as possessors of numinous knowledge. Since they perform their mythical function at this body of water, we must watch for a relationship between the brunnr and such knowledge in our further evidence.
The Völuspá provides us with the name of still another body of water: Mimis brunnr.164 This name recalls the world ash kenningar: Mimameiðr and Hoddmímir, already discussed above. It is clear that we will have to concern ourselves with the mythical figure Mimr too.  De Vries attempts to distinguish between the three Mim-names:  "So haben wir nebeneinander und deutlich verschieden: das Haupt von Mimr, den Baum von Mimi und die Quelle von Mimir."165  ["So we have beside one another and clearly different: the Head of Mimr, the Tree of Mimi, and the well of Mimir"] But de Vries goes on to cite material which places this clear-cut trichotomy in question. As far as the ritual landscape is concerned, the name Mimi is associated with the tree Mimameiðr, the world ash. At the foot of that tree is a body of liquid. The name Mimir is associated with a brunnr-and in this fountain Mimr drinks mead daily out of Valföðrs veð.166  Óðinn's 'pledge' is usually understood to be identical with the god's missing eye.167

162 Vsp. 19/8.
163 Vsp. 20.
164 Vsp. 28/9-10.
165 De Vries, Religionsgeschichte, 1/246; following de Vries' lead, this article also will ignore the smith Mime and the sword Mimming. For opinions supporting an identity of the Mim-names, see: Sveinbjom Egilsson, Lexikon Poeticum Antiquæ Linguæ Septentrionalis, 2nd. ed. by Finnur Jonsson, København 1932, p. 408; H. Gering, Vollständiges Wörterbuch zu den Liedern der Edda [Worterbuch], Halle (Saale) 1903, column 1324.
166 Vsp. 28/11-13.
167 See: Detter/Heinzel, II/36f.; Sijmons/Gering, 1/37; de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/82; etc.

A holy liquid pours from Valföðrs vél onto, or into Heimdallr's horn, which lies hidden under the world ash.168 Unless we are willing to accept the bizarre solution that there are, at the foot of Yggdrasill, several different bodies liquid out of which the rivers of the world flow, we must accept the identity of Hvergelmir, Urðar brunnr and Mimis brunnr. Since Mimis brunnr lies at the foot of Mimameiðr it seems far more likely that Mimir and Mimi are an identity obscured by a mythologically insignificant nominal class deviation169 than that they were distinct individuals, placed together in the ritual landscape by coincidence or due to name-attraction.  Whereas the names Mimi and Mimir are known to us only in connection with items present in the landscape, Mimr has a genuine mythological function. His embalmed head is a source of numinous knowledge, to which Óðinn turns for advice.170 The location of the place where this head is kept is not stated explicitly in our texts. But once the reader is willing to relinquish the non-functional trichotomy of the Mim-names, it becomes logical to look for *Mim-'s head in the neighborhood of his tree and his fountain. Let us recapitulate, using the head as our 'first cause'. Óðinn keeps his advisor in the proximity of Valhöll for obvious reasons. Next to Valhöll are the world ash and  the body of liquid at its foot. They may be given the kenningar 'Mim's tree' and 'Mimr's fountain' because 'Mimr's head' carries out its function as a repository and source of numinous knowledge in their immediate neighborhood. The kenningar ascribing the meiðr and brunnr to Mimr are perfectly parallel to Urðar brunnr, ascribing the same brunnr to Urð for the same reason.172

167 See: Detter/Heinzel, II/36f.; Sijmons/Gering, 1/37; de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/82; etc.
168 Vsp. 27.
169 Such nominal class deviation is not unusual; we should recall Óðnn/Óðr, Njörðr/Nertus, Ullr/Ullinn, etc.; see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/87f., II (l64f. The masculine gender of the recorded Mim-names should not be considered mythologically significant. Mimr, etymologically speaking, is the personification of thought or memory; see: de Vries, Worterbuch, p. 587; J. Pokorny, Indo-germonisches etymologisches Worterbuch, 2 vols., Bern 1948-1969, 1/726ff. And, as such, Mimr is sexually genderless-but parallelity with the norns, völva and other Wissende of the landscape would suggest feminine sex.
170 Vsp. 46; Ynglinga saga IV.
This is also true for the demands of the alliteration:
    stendr æ yfir, grœn, Urðar brunni (Vsp. 19/7-8)
    Mimameiðr hann heitir, en þat mangi veit (Fjm. 20/1-2)
    í inom mæra Mimis brunni
(Vsp. 28/9-10)
Snorri's placement of the three identical springs— Hvergelmir, Mimis brunnr and Urðar brunnr—each below one of the roots of Yggdrasill (See Snorra Edda, p. 22) is clearly a secondary attempt to provide symmetry. [The tree is also ascribed "three roots on three ways" in Snorri's source, Grímnismál 31.]
172 Only these are functional in the rite in question. The fact that Valhöll, for example, is present in the landscape, is of no importance here. In fact, the placing of Odinn's residence at the site of his self-sacrifice is more likely secondary.

d. Mimr and Kvasir
 Let us now limit our consideration of the ritual landscape in which Oðinn performs his self-sacrifice to three functional 'items':172

1. In his self-sacrifice the god hangs on a tree. That tree is the world ash the cosmic tree, the central axis connecting the heaven and the earth.   
2.  At the foot of that tree is a body of liquid. This lake or fountain is the source of all rivers, and, thereby, of the earth's fertility.
3. The third item is remarkably protean-as evidenced by its wealth of forms and names. At this point we can only say that, regardless of its external appearance, it is situated in or near the body of liquid at the foot of the cosmic tree and its function is devoted to numinous knowledge.

      This third item seems to be the key to much of the significance of the ritual landscape. There can be no doubt that the norns belong to it. So does Mimr's head. As the head drinks mead-in such a context certainly no ordinary drink, but rather the 'poet's mead' a source of knowledge in itself-from Valföðr's veð daily, that object, be it the god's eye or something else unknown to us, may belong to the third item too. Regardless of whether or not they are identical with Mimr's head and Heimdallr's horn, Heiddraupnis hauss and Hoddrofnis horn.173 I combine the elements of the fluid and connection with numinous knowledge-in this case, runes. Finally, the three containers which Snorri calls Óðrerir, Son and Boðn must be considered.174
An important facet of Mimr's role in this complex lies in his parallelity with Kvasir. The Ynglinga saga175 tells us of the exchange of hostages after the war between the Aisir and the Vanir; the latter sending Njörðr, Freyr and Kvasir in return for Hœnir and Mimr.
Snorri states that the Vanir felt that they had been short-changed because Hœnir depended entirely on the wise Mimr for advice. For this reason, the Vanir killed Mimr and sent his head back to Óðinn. Here the tradition-or at least Snorri's version of it-seems confused.
According to Snorri, neither Njörðr nor Freyr seems to have been particularly endowed with outstanding intellectual powers; this is why the wise Kvasir was sent along with them. Clearly, Mimr was sent along with Hœnir to the same end. In such a reciprocal arrangementno fraud can have been intended or was present. A more logical motivation for the killing of Mimr should be offered, if possible.
According to the Snorra-Edda176 Kvasir was created out of the combined sputum of the Æsir and Vanir. The drink of reconciliation brought to fermentation by the addition of the spittle of the concerned parties is an ancient practice.177 Kvasir is also the personification of another important drink: in order to become the 'poet's mead', he must be killed and his blood drained from his body.178 Mimr's murder is best understood as a parallel to Kvasir's death. As stressed in the first half of this article, Kvasir's nature is identical with his blood; his mythical functionality is expressed entirely in the two drinks he embodies. Mimr's only genuine mythological function is that of a source of knowledge, firstly, according to the relative chronology of our materials, to Hœnir  — later to Óðinn. Mimr's nature is therefore identical with his head: the repository of knowledge and speaker of advice. It is a valid question to ask if Mimr was thought of originally as the possessor of a complete body at all. In any case, the structural parallelity of the figures of Mimr and Kvasir can not be denied.179
173 Sd. 13.
174 Snorra-Edda, pp. 84f. As Indic evidence to be presented later shows the three containers for the mead are not an invention on Snorri's part, but based on inherited tradition; also see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/7lf.
175 Ynglinga saga, Chapter IV.
176 Snorra-Edda, p. 82.
177 See: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/67f. and the bibliography listed there.
178 Note the similarity to the English folklore figure of John Barleycorn; see: J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, 13 vols., London 19553, V /230. 179 See: G. Dumezil, Loki, German tr. by I. Kdck, Darmstadt 1959, pp. 224- 230 Dumezil offers an explanation of the Hœnir/Mimr correspondency which is very interesting, but perhaps too dependent on pyschological interpretation.

e. The horn

Still another mythological object must be considered in discussion the third item of the ritual landscape: the gjallarhorn. This horn is mentioned twice in the Snorra-Edda. Firstly, Mimr drinks from the gjallarhorn —that is the source of his wisdom.180 Directly thereafter Völuspá 28 is cited, in which Mimr drinks from Valföðrs veð  & mentioned above, this 'pledge' is supposed to be the god's eye which he exchanged for 'inner sight'.181 Doubtless, the inacceptability of drinking out of an eye led to many bizarre attempts to solve the riddle of this passage. One of the more rational theories is based on an identity of Heimdallr's horn and Óðinn's eye.182 Before investigating this possibIlity further, let us add the evidence provided by the complex surroundmg Snorri's second mention of the horn.
At the beginning of the ragnarok, Snorri tells us Heimdallr will blow the gjallarhorn.183 Heimdallr's hljóð lies hidden under the world ash tree. It seems very likely that the 'blowing' of the horn is the result of the influence of Christian apocalyptic legend; 185 but that would not explain Heimdallr's original connection with the horn as a drinking utensil. In both strophes of the Völuspá in which the horn is mentioned,   we are dealing with the cosmic tree, its fountain the mead, Óðinn's veð and Mímr's head. Furthermore, Heimdallr's association with the cosmic tree is so firm/87 that his presence in the ritual landscape would be assured even if he were never mentioned in connection with the gjallarhorn. Heimdallr, as we shall see later, is the personification of a particular aspect of the tree. 'Heimdallr's horn' is then simply another parallel to Mimameiðr and Urðar brunnr; it is Heimdallr's horn because it is to be found where Heimdallr performs his mythologic function.       
180 Snorra-Edda, p. 22.
181 See: de Vries, Religionsgeschiehte, II/81ff.
182 Fo.r an extreme statement of this position, see: A. Ohlmarks, Studien zur altgermanzsehen Rehgtonsgesehiehte, Leipzig 1943, pp, 113-121; A. Ohlmarks, Heimdalls Horn und Odins Auge, Lund 1937, passim.
183 Vsp. 51; Snorra-Edda, pp, 72f.
184 In the meaning ritual silence (compare Vsp. 1), see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/241.
185 See: de Vries, Religionsgesehiehte, II/239, II/398.
186 Vsp. 27, 46.
187 See: de Vries, Religionsgesehiehte, II/240f.; de Vries "Heimdallr dieu enigmatique,« in: BG 10 (1955), pp. 257-268; F. R. Schroder, Altgermanische  Kulturprobleme, Berlin/Leipzig 1929 pp 110-118; F. R. Schoder "Heimdall [Heimdall], in: PEB (Tübingen) 89 (1967), pp. 1-41, passim.

Völuspá 46, one of the poem's two passages citing the horn, adds a further bit of information concerning Mimr: the mention of Míms synir, generally understood to be the sons of Mimr.188  If, as suggested above, Mimr was thought of as a bodiless head, then any progeny ascribed to him would be hard to explain. It should first be noted that no other text offers us any further information concerning these 'sons of Mimr'. Investigation of the manuscript shows us that that reading  is by no means certain; the Codex regius actually reads: mims sýn~189 [see editor's note, p. 413]. The grave accent cannot be taken as a proof that the y is a short vowel;190 its use in the Codex regius is far from consistent.191 The ý of the manuscript in the words sigtýua, snýz and kný,192 chosen from the immediate neighborhood of mims sýn-, is clearly to be read as ý. The vocalisation of the r-abbreviation is equally unsure;193 there is no justification (short of the conjecture: synir) for limiting the possibilities to -ir. The sýn~ of the manuscript makes far better sense if read as the plural of sýn with the meaning: 'Gesicht, Gesehenes, Vision', according to de Vries.194 Völuspá 46/3-4 in the Codex regius reads: at en galla gial/lar horni; here galla will belong to gala rather than to gjalla.195 The original drinking horn, which, as a 'member of the third item', is indeed concerned with the transmission of numinous knowledge (gala), has been confounded with the loud blast (gjalla) of the Christian trumpet of the judgment day. As long as the horn is understood as a musical instrument, we expect to have someone (e.g., Heimdallr) blow it; but if the drinking horn is concerned purely with the mead-complex, no such additional figure is necessary. If we think of the horn as a container for the 'poet's mead', the knowledge source from which the wise Mimr draws his characteristic wisdom, we can understand that a drink at the outbreak of the ragnarok would set Mim's senses into motion. Óðinn is then the recipient of this information, as usual, via Mimr's head. Once the 'sons of Mimr' and the Christian trumpet-blast have been removed, Völuspa 46 becomes a unified and extremely meaningful strophe. 
188 See: Detter/Heinzel, 1I/61; Sijmons/Gering, I/60.
189 Codex regius, p. 3, line 32.
190 See: H. Spehr, Der ursprung der isldndischen schrijt und ihre weiterbildung bis zur mitte des 13. jahrhunderts, Halle (Saale) 1929, p. 152.
191 Codex regius, p. xlvi f. 
192 Codex regius ; p. 3, line 28; page 4, lines 4-S; p. 4, line S.
193 Codex regius, p. xlix f. 
194 See: de Vries, Wiirterbueh, p. 573; H. Gering, Wiirterbueh, column 1014.
195 See: Sijmons/Gering, I/60. According to this reading, no "hiiBliche tautologie" would be present.

The Sexual Symbolism of Óðinn's Self-Sacrifice
In the rite reported to us in the Hávamál, Óðinn hangs head downward from the cosmic tree. He is wounded by a spear-his blood must drip down-and below him, at the foot of the tree, is a body of liquid. This brunnr is, due to its association with the noms, the 'poet's mead', Mimr's head, etc., a locality constantly connected with the transmission of numinous knowledge. It seems only logical that, considering its physical position and association with such knowledge, it is the source from which Óðinn took up the runes. In this brunnr are 'housed' entities which we know of as Heimdallr's horn, Mimr's head and Valföðrs veð, etc. Óðinn's ritual inversion contains not only the standard elements of the initiation, but also incorporates features of a ritual sacrifice. Another such sacrifice was that of Kvasir, whose blood was drained into a container and became the 'poet's mead'. Functionally parallel is the case of Mimr, whose embalmed head lives on as a source of knowledge. Mimr drinks mead (= Kvasir) daily from Valföðrs veð. This configuration suggests a further parallelity: Óðinn's 'pledge' is a part of his physical body, consigned to the brunnr at the time of his ritual slaughter, which lives on there, associated with numinous knowledge, as do Kvasir's blood and Mimr's head.
We are accustomed to think of Valföðrs veð as identical with Óðinn's eye, left behind in payment for wisdom. The source for this myth is, once again, that same passage of the Snorra-Edda, which has concerned us throughout our investigation of the sacred landscape:
... ok heitir sá Mimir, er á brunninn; hann er fullr af vísindom, firir því at hann drekkr ór brunninum af horninu Gjallarhorni. Þar kom Allföðr ok beiddiz eins drykkjar af brunninum, en hann fekk eigi, fyrr en hann lagði auga sitt at veði; sva segir i Völuspá:

"...and the master of the well is called Mimir. He is full of learning because he drinks of the well from the horn Gjallarhorn. All-father went there and asked for a single drink from the well, but he did not get one until he placed his eye as a pledge. Thus it says in Völuspá:

Alt veit ek Óðinn,       hvar auga falt
i þeim enum mæra   Mímis brunni;                   

drekkr mjöð Mimir   morgun hverjan
af veði Valfóðrs.          Vituð þér enn eða hvat?
I know it all Odin, where you deposited your eye,
in that renowned well of Mimir.
Mimir drinks mead every morning 
from Val-father's pledge. Know ye yet or what?
 [Gylf. 15; Faulkes' tr.]

The idea that such knowledge cannot be gained without payment is quite natural; unless the god were to steal the mead-an, act not below his dignity. Furthermore, we know that Óðinn was one-eyed-but this need not originally have had anything to do with his veð. Rudra, Óðinn's most consistent Indic parallel, was also one-eyed;197 but we know nothing of a wisdom purchase or 'pledge' in his case. It is true that an eye might seem a logical symbolic payment for 'inner sight'- but we must question in what nature it might serve as a veð. Knowing Snorri as we do it seems far more likely that his equivalency of the god's missing eye with the Valföðrs veð of the Völuspá strophe he intended to quote was his own attempt to supply an acceptable ætiological explanation for the god's well-known infirmity. Seen in a religious sense, of course, it is far more significant that Óðinn has one single eye, than that he may ever have 'lost' one198-the misunderstanding that this condition represented an infirmity at all is probably also Snorri's invention. In any event, it is clear that the source of the mead in the Völuspá, in strophe 28 as well as in strophe 27, is Valfóðrs veð-the poetic source makes no mention of the god's eye in connection with the liquid. Since the veð, not explicitly defined in the Völuspá, and the horn are both containers for that liquid, we might tend to consider them an identity. But this need not be the case at all. Let us consider the possibility that Valfóðrs veð is something which might be preserved in the horn and drunk out of it. Then the veð would appear to be identical with the 'poet's mead'— the liquid and not the container.

196 Snorra-Edda, p. 22.
197 See: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, 11/95.
198 Óðinn's having only one eye (or even being 'blind') need not be an 'infirmity'; when sitting in his hásæti [high-seat] Hliðskjalf, the god is able to see at his will throughout the cosmos; see: Snorra-Edda, pp. 16, 25. Our texts provide no documentation for any weakness of sight on Óðinn's part.
199 A possible source for the contamination of the retiological explanation for Óðinn's missing eye with the complex of the ritual landscape is the frequent polysemy: 'eye' and 'fountain, water source' (for example, Arab. 'in); see: de Vries, Religionsgescbichte, II/82. If this were definitely the case, the Óðinn's 'eye' might simply indicate the brunnr of the landscape just as Mimis brunnr and Urðar brunnr do.

Behind this massive complex of parallel names, objects and activities—a complex which we have by no means exhausted-looms the rite of Odinn's self-sacrifice. Up to now, we have been more concerned with the details of that ceremony than with its results. As argued in the first half of this article, I believe that it was through the self- sacrifice that Odinn achieved his position of preeminence in the Germanic pantheon. To use Dumezil's terminology, Odinn rises to power by virtue of the fact that he assumes responsibility for all three functions of the Indo-European trinity. In this rite, Odinn not only reasserts his competence as a god of the first function-it also marks his assumption of secular rulership, generally an attribute of the second function, by the establishment of a sacred kingship. If the rite is indeed such a source of universal domination, it must also incorporate Odinn's new responsibility in the third godly function—as the fountainhead of cosmic fertility. This requirement is more than fulfilled in the overwhelming sexual symbolism of the ritual landscape.

200 It is generally accepted that Óðinn was originally a 'minor deity', comparable to the Indic Rudra or the Grseco-Roman Mercurius; see de Vries, Religions-geschichte, II/93ff. He later figures as the supreme god of the Germanic pantheon in a large number of texts. This raises the question of his acquisition of power. In actuality, it would seem that Óðinn's 'promotion' is only one of a set of parallel monotheistic cult developments triggered by the degeneration of the trifunctional godly trinity in the Germania. On the 'church political' level, it is clear that believers in Óðinn alone-or, for that matter, in Þórr or Freyr alone- would expect the one god in whom they placed their trust to be 'responsible' for the entire' scope of godly activity and not just for his previous function in the trinity; see J. Fleck, Die Wissensbegegnung in der altgermanischen Religion [Wissensbegegnung] (diss.), Munchen 1968, pp. 68ff. But such an extension of responsibility would have to be supported on the mythical level-and that need is well satisfied by the rite under discussion.
201 See: J. Fleck, "Konr=Ottar=-Geirroðr: A Knowledge Criterion for Succession to the Germanic Sacred Kingship" [Kingship], in: Scandinavian Studies 42 (1970), pp. 39-49.

The cosmic tree, which serves as the connecting axis between a masculine heaven and a feminine earth, is supremely phallic in nature. This configuration offers us the cosmic formulation of the heiros gamos ['holy marriage' between heaven and earth] in its purest form. The white liquid, which drips down the tree to fertilize the world, is, beyond doubt, the heavenly sperma. The phallic nature of the tree is further supported by its personification in the god Heimdallr, who functions as the sexual hypostasis of Odinn. As Rigr, he 'lies' between the future parents of the Germanic social classes, thereby leading directly to the birth of Thrall, Karl and Jarl; the heiti 'Rigr' may well refer to his rigidity as the erect penis. Once freed of Victorian modesty, Loki's dig aurgo baki þú munt æ vera ['with wet-muck on your backside, you'll always be'] is perfectly clear in meaning—even without deciding in favor of örðugr, 'erect, stiff', or aurugr, 'wet, dew-rich' although comparison with aurgom forsi af veði Valföðrs209 supports the latter. This moisture is conceptualized on two levels. In the cosmic context it flows on from the brunnr to fertilize the entire world; but in the specialized complex of Odinn's self-sacrifice, things are far more complicated. To begin with, we must assume that the god's ritual rebirth after 'nine nights' hanging inverted in the fetal position was the result of an impregnation. Here, the blood from his spear-wound provides the sperma, which drops into the brunnr below. This body of liquid serves cosmically as the genitalia of the female earth within the context of the heiros gamos. But more particularly, the horn, contained within the fountain, serves as a uterus in which Odinn's seed performs a two-fold function. Firstly, within this initiation, it leads to his own rebirth on a higher religious level, that of dominance over the other gods; Odinn's ambivalent role of parent/child is expressed in the words: ok gefinn Oðni siálfr siálfom mér ['and given to Odin, me to myself']. Secondly, his sperm is preserved in the horn, where it is identical with the 'poet's mead', awaiting a future function.
Just as the heiros gamos  of the ritual landscape functions on separate levels-world fertility and Oðinn's ritual rebirth— the cosmic and personal functions are multileveled. The cosmogony, Baldr-vita and eschatology of the Völuspá are cyclic on different 'scales'. On the cosmic level, they represent the entirety of time---on the human level they represent the agrarian year.211 In the same way, Óðinn's sperm, preserved in the horn, effects a cyclic regeneration. On the human level, it continues in the nature of the sacred king, whose body is simultaneously identical with the abstract charisma of his power to rule, but also with his family, government officials and subjects on the one hand and with his palace, capital city, country and the universe on the other. Óðinn's seed, preserved in the brunnr, constitutes an assurance of the recreation of the universe out of the 'waters' after the ragnarok:

                     Ser hon upp koma ,  óðro sinni          [She sees come up, a second time
                     jörð ór ægi,      iðjagrœna212                 earth from the ocean, again-green]

and the rebirth/return of the gods,213 as well as the preservation of humanity, Lif and Lifþrasir, contained through the ragnaroi: in his membrum virile, the cosmic tree. Therein lies, according to this interpretation, the delayed function of the seed shed by Oðinn in the rite which led to his cosmic dominance-and, considering this function, veð Valföðrs seems a very well chosen kenning.214 This author is by no means unaware of the general scepticism leveled at present at any and all attempts to interpret religious phenonema in terms of sexual symbolism. There can be little doubt but that this scientific method has suffered considerable abuse since the 'Freudian school' first made it popular. But there is a difference between interpreting everything in terms of phallic symbols discovered everywhere and calling attention to the cosmic sexuality inherent in one particular rite. We know that the ph alIos was venerated in primitive Germanic Religion; here the Völsi-verses215 provide direct evidence. The importance of Óðinn as a god of fertility is manifest216 even if seldom foremost in our minds when we think of that god. The stories of his amorous adventures are well documented; in particular, the obvious sexual symbolism of the theft of the 'poet's mead' by means of the seduction of Gunnlöð 217 is worthy of note, as related to our complex both by content and its position in the Hávamál. Despite the excellent case for this prime example of the heiros gamos in the Germania, which can be argued from the weight of internal evidence, once again much of the burden of supporting the particulars of this interpretation must be carried by comparison with genetically related religious systems.

202 See: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, 1/468; F. R. Schroder, "Die germanische Religion," in: Die Religionen der Erde, ed. by C. Clemen, München, undated 2nd. ed., pp. 219-236, p. 229; F. R. Schroder, "Mythos und Heldensage," in: GRM 36 (1955), revised in: Zur germanisch-deutschen Heldensage (= WdF XIV), ed. by K. Hauck, Darmstadt 1961, pp. 285-315, p. 296; Heiler, Religion, p. 243ff.; J. de Vries, Keltische Religion, Stuttgart 1961, p. 240ff.; Widengren, Religionen, p. 47ff.; Gonda, Indien, 1/168ff. For a cosmic union in which both partners are celestial deities, see: L. v. Schroder, Arische Religion, 2 vols., Leipzig 1914, 1916, II/392-437.
203 For the manichæn concept of the heavenly seed, which drops down to fertilize the earth, see: Widengren, Religionen, p. 304f.
204 See: Schroder, Heimdall, pp. 6, 8, et passim; de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/240ff.
205 Rp. 5-7,19-21,33-34; also note: Vsp.1/1-4.
206 See: de Vries, Wörterbuch, p. 446.
207 Ls. 48/4-5.
208 See: Sijmons/Gering, 1/302.
209 Vsp. 27/6-7.
210 Háv. 138/5-6.
 211 See: J. Fleck, Wissensbegegnung, pp. 79f.
212 Vsp. 59/1-4.
213 Vsp. 62-65.
214 De Vries seems to have been thinking in this direction when he stated that Óðinn "für die Menschen das Wasser des Lebens erworben hat" ['acquired the water of life for the people']; see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/20. Unfortunately, he did not pursue this idea to its logical conclusion.
215  Eddica minora, ed. by A. Heusler & W. Ranisch, Dortmund 1903, pp. 123-126; see: de Vries, Religionsgeschichte, II/207f.

216 In particular see: J. de Vries, Contributions to the Study of Othin especially in his Relation to Agricultural Practices in Modern Popular Lore (= FFC 94), Helsinki 1931.
217 Htiv. 105-107; Snorra-Edda, p. 84.
218 See: K. Kerenyi, Die Mythologie der Griechen, 2 vols., Darmstadt 1964, 1958 1/27.
219 See: K. Kerenyi, op, cit., 1/59.

The Blood/Sperm/Mead Complex
External sources offer substantial support for the Germanic blood/sperm/mead-identity as it appears within our ritual landscape. To begin with, ancient Greece furnishes two examples of the blood/sperm identity: Gaia, the earth, is impregnated by the blood of Uranos, the heavens, resulting in the birth of the Erinyes.218 Fertilization by the blood of Acheloos results in the birth of the sirens.219 In both cases, the blood is shed from a wound. The same cultural area provides evidence of blood sacrifice as an initiation and ritual slaughter. ...The sexual character of the Artemis-rites hardly needs to be mentioned. Further examples of the blood/sperma identity from the field of folklore are collected under Motif T541.1.  

[Examples omitted]


This brings us to the end of the presentation of materials supporting a new interpretation of Odinn's self-sacrifice; —a wealth of minor details could be added, but the results would remain the same. The Hávamál show us Odinn hanging in the ritual inversion, head downward, from the cosmic tree. Sacrificed to himself, be is, in terms of the initiation, simultaneously creator and creation—a godly model for human initiations to follow, in which the acquisition of numinous knowledge leads to succession to the Germanic sacred kingship. Just as this rite secures the throne for others not entitled to it by primogeniture, it is the source of Odinn's rise to supreme power. By performing it, be not only reinforces his position as a Wissender— he also steps beyond the limitation of his natural monofunctional role within the pantheon. To his function as god of numinous knowledge and its magical use be adds those of secular ruler and cosmic father . The landscape in which be performs the rite is the ritual landscape-- that mythical topography which symbolizes the heiros gamos of the male heaven with the female earth. From his spear-wound, the stigma of his ritual slaughter, his blood drips down into the spring below, paralleling the cosmic seed which drips down Yggdrasill into the same brunnr. Odinn's sperm is not only the source of his own ritual rebirth, but remains preserved in the spring in two separate functions: as the 'poet's mead' and as Valföðrs veð, the cosmic father's 'pledge' of fertility to rejuvenate the universe after each cyclical ragnarök. As the mead, it shares its place in the fountain with other sources of numinous knowledge: the norns, the volva to whom Odinn turns for information, and Mimir's head. As Valföðr's veð, Odinn's sperm is parallel to Kvasir's blood and Mimir's head; it is that part of his physical being which lives on after his death in sacrifice (Odinn's initiation entails a ritual death, as do all initiations!) to embody the abstraction of its particular function. The god's execution in the ritual inversion entails the implication of ritual slaughter. Such identity with the sacrificial animal connotes that separation from human society, which Zimmer stresses among the standard features of the initiation.