Irminsul Ćttir

The Sky Connection

From the south the sun, by the side of the moon,

heaved his right hand over heaven's rim;

the sun knew not what seat he had,

the stars knew not what stead they held,

the moon knew not what might she had.

Then gathered together the gods for counsel,

the holy hosts, and held converse;

to night and new moon their names they gave,

the morning named, and midday also,

forenoon and evening, to order the year.

The sky above, particularly the jewel-bedecked night sky, has held man in awe since the beginning of time, yet it is peculiar that in the great poetic and prose literature of the Eddas and sagas, there is very little mention of the sky other than the aperiodic report of an omen surrounding thunder or lightening and a couple of mentions of spectacular night phenomena such as comets, shooting stars, and the aurora borealis. Viking raiders were some of the best sailors in the world at the time, and they were able to navigate beyond the sight of land utilizing knowledge of the movements of the sun by day and stars by night. Additionally, ancient Scandinavia engaged in farming and herding indicating that there was much time for observation of the movements of the heavenly bodies for marking seasons, etc., but the greatest amount of information pertaining to sky lore must have been handed down orally through a different tradition of folklore than stories and legends since we have only scanty descriptions in written form.

This dearth of information regarding the sky lore of the ancient northern Europeans is fact, yet there are a few modern writers/ astrologers who have spent "years" allegedly re-creating systems of astrology based on Celtic or Norse sky lore apparently pulling their information out of thin air. Omens were known and are occasionally described in a document here and there. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, the name given to a collection of handwritten periodic descriptions in report form of significant events occurring in England from 1 CE to 1154 CE, even gives what is considered to be an early description of Halley's comet and its evil portents.

"A. D. 1066. This year came king Harold from York to Westminster, on the Easter succeeding the midwinter when the king (Edward) died. Easter was then on the 16th day before the calends of May. Then was over all England such a token seen as no man ever saw before. Some said that it was the comet-star, which others denominate the long-hair'd star. It appeared first on the eve called Litania major, that is, on the 8th before the calends of May; and so shown all the week."[1]

Jacob Grimm in his monumental work, Teutonic Mythology, writes that "its [a comet's] appearing betokens events fraught with peril, especially the death of king."[2] Beyond this Grimm did not find anything that would indicate that a form of northern European astrology was practiced.

"I do not find in our earlier Heathen time the fates of men were calculated from the stars at their birth. This kind of sooth-saying seems not to have become known till the latter part of the Middle Ages." [3]

In fact, Grimm was unable to even find any names of heavenly bodies that would indicate any form of divination:

"Our old heathen fancies about the fixed stars have for the most part faded away, their very names are all supplanted by learned astronomic appellations; only a few have managed to save themselves in ON. legend or among common people." [4]

Of the names which have come down to us in modern times, none indicate an astrological system of any kind.

Many of the Anglo-Saxon herbals or "leechbooks" also mention propitious days for collecting herbs, blood-letting, making charms, etc., but most of this information seems to have been imported from the medical systems which came with the Romans and later with the monks. That the night sky was important to the Germanic people has been known since the time of the Roman historian Tacitus. In his Germania, written around 0 CE, he writes that

"except in the case of accident or emergency, they [the Germanii] assemble on certain particular days, either shortly after the new moon or shortly before the full moon. These they hold are the most auspicious times for embarking on any enterprise." [5]

Even though indigenous northern European astrology is an interesting concept, its existence is not borne out by any of the facts as they exist today and does not appear to have had any place of importance in the Northern scheme of things.

The ancient Germanic peoples were privy to much "scientific information" and many very sophisticated technologies, such as navigation and time-keeping by the stars, but these do not appear in written form. They also understood well the techniques of "damascened" steel for sword-making, fancy metal-working for jewelry, very sophisticated techniques for boat-building, and had developed military strategy into an art-form which allowed them to rule northern Europe for almost a half millennium, but for them, writing seems to have been an art form reserved primarily for poetry, stories, and their dearly loved histories of families, communities, and nations, not for the transmission of technical information. Incidental pieces of information pertaining to the northern sciences and technologies did find their way into some of the sagaic and historical writings but as literary techniques to lend credibility to their stories and as "fill-in." Therefore, any claims to the discovery of an indigenous northern European astrological system should be regarded as pure wishful thinking on the part of the so-called discoverer and highly speculative at best.

On the other hand, some of the ancient technologies have been "revived" to some degree. Cultural anthropologists, archaeologists, psychologists, and other behavioral scientists occasionally come together in a team effort using historical knowledge from their respective fields to recreate some of these, such as ancient sword-making or boat-building, for example. Most all of these technologies which have been recreated in such a fashion were used to produce artifacts such as can be found in the archeological record from ancient grave or habitation sites: houses, clothing, jewelry, ancient cookware, weapons, boats, etc. Even certain medical practices have been rediscovered by "team-sleuthing," but a "system" such as astrology, without written or archeological evidence will remain little more than an armchair archeologist's evening reverie.

Germanic sky lore will probably always remain somewhat of a mystery, but from the fields of comparative folklore and comparative mythology, there is some evidence that the skies over ancient northern Europe played a fair part in the formation and maintenance of the overall Germanic world view. Much of this information would reach far back into prehistoric times, however, and most likely will not ever leave the realm of archeo-anthropological speculation. Consequently, much of what follows is little more than observations and coincidences and cannot really be proven, but backed by information from comparative folklore from neighboring geographical areas and areas which are related to the Germanic region culturally, at least there are some shreds of credibility to the theories presented here.

There is one other concept that is probably part of the Teutonic ancestral heritage that will need to be applied rather copiously in this presentation. It is named after an English philosopher of the 14th Century and modern writers and scholars often dump it by the wayside when contemplating obscure topics such as northern European sky lore: Occam's Razor. The philosopher was William of Ockham, sometimes spelled as Occam, and his philosophy was simple: the simplest explanation is often the best. Six hundred years down the line, dazzling complexity replaces simplicity, and the exquisite beauty of a Shaker chair is forgotten for all the glitter and moving parts of the "Amazing La-z-teen Vibra-lounger with Built-in End Tables." Enter: the New Age. "Vibra-lounger theories" are not necessarily wrong nor are they generally malicious, they are simply overly complex, utilizing improbable comparisons, and are usually unnecessary. All in all, the philosophy called "Occam's Razor" is good and sound and probably can stand to be applied a little more often in this day and age.

The wide ranging, personally collected folklore of Jakob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology and Otto Sigfrid Reuter's Germanische Himmelskunde play a special role in the sky lore of the North. Both writers about midway through the 19th Century, went about the rural areas of northern Europe collecting living folklore, and among the variety of information collected was much pertaining to a Germanic concept of constellations and their uses in a rural agricultural society. They did not find the remnants of a northern European or Germanic astrology but they did find that the yearly migration of heavenly bodies held special meaning for the farming, fishing, and herding communities as important markers of time. They found that there were approximately 17 constellations in use at the time of the writings and many star names which were most likely not borrowed from the classical astronomical/ astrological systems in use during the middle of the last century. A couple of these are very interesting and form a basis for the following discussion.

There are two sky features which are mentioned in the eddaic poetry; these are the rainbow and the Milky Way. The rainbow has a long history in rural areas from all over northwestern Europe up to the current century of being considered the "brig' o' dread" or the Bridge of the Dead. The eddaic writings allude that the Bifröst or the "Shimmering Way," as it is described in Sturluson, not as the Bridge of the Dead but rather the Bridge of the Gods, As-bridge, or the "Power's Way". In England, Lapland (Finnmark; northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland), the archipelagoes of the Shetlands, Orkneys, and Faroes, and many, if not most, of the northeastern European localities, the Rainbow-Bridge leads to the Otherworld. Rudolf Simek in The Dictionary of Northern Mythology concurs with this body of folklore and felt that Bifröst was the rainbow;[6] Jan de Vries, on the other hand, in his Altgermanische Releligionsgeschichte assumes that the term Bifröst, in its translation as "the Shimmering Way," refers to the Milky Way, the bright strip of starlight which progresses predictably through the night sky on a yearly basis, and, in northern Arctic and subarctic cultures closely adjoined to Scandinavia, the Milky Way is indeed considered to be the road to the Land of the Dead.

The World Tree and its associated "Homes" (ON = heim) is central to not only ancient Germanic religion/ mythology, but also to both Indo-European and non Indo-European religions as well. Cultures, diverse, and completely unrelated to the Indo-European, such as the Lakota Souix in North America, the Auricanians of Tierra del Fuego, the Mongolians of northern China, and some of the hind subcultures of India share the same theme as the center of their perceived Universes. On the other hand, cultures as close as the Saami, the Finns, the Ostiak, the Balts, and the Cheremiss of eastern Europe share a very similar belief system to the ancient Germanic peoples, yet many modern writers prefer to search through those extremely distant (often not even related at all) cultures for comparative purposes. Some even pull a little from the Hebraic Quabalah, a little from Assyrian astrology, a little "channeled info from the Pleiedians" to be able to come up with highly complex systems and charts complete with lines and circles to "make everything fit." The current descriptions of the Germanic universe have become rather complex, but for all the knowledge available, it is not known how these ancient people truly visualized the World Tree and Its homes.

It is in the modern interpretation of the underworld, the World Tree, and the sky connection that there is a dire need for the liberal application of Occam's Razor. The most recent "Germanic maps" of Yggdrasil contain nine separate worlds connected by lines and arrows despite the fact that no such ancient depictions have ever been found either in written form or pictorially. The Teutons most likely started by observing the universe around them.[7] They lived within a cosmos which was ever moving and changing, and learned to keep pace with the moving world around them. If the modern scientist starts with observation, he finds very quickly that symmetry and balance are but fleeting points in time, for not only does Nature abhor a vacuum, she also is not very fond of stasis. Without a static universe, lines and circles, no matter how pretty they look, are not of much use.

Watching the sky at night is an ancient pastime, still enjoyed by millions today which can be educational, fun, and almost addictive especially when one has a copy of Peterson's A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets in hand. One can sit outside on a summer's evening for hours hanging names onto little points of light, naming groups of stars, and drawing mental pictures much the same way the ancient Babylonians or Romans did.

Book in hand, one notices two things right away: 1) the hazy path of the Milky Way is blatantly obvious even in many cities, and 2) it moves. Another curious thing about this aggregation of stars that goes unobserved by many, if not most, is that at midnight at the winter solstice it faces almost exactly north and south. Through the progression of the months (when observed at the same time each night), this stripe of stars continues to change shape and rotate in a clockwise fashion so that around April 1st it is east and west with the section shaped like a "Y" whose "arms" touch the eastern horizon. It continues to rotate on an apparent central axis so that around October 15th it is centered again east and west with the arms of the "Y" to the west. All these configurations are seen only at midnight. [8]

There are some secondary observations which are equally interesting. The N-S shape of the Milky Way at midnight at the winter solstice is very tight and narrow as if it were constricted or frozen in the cold of winter; whereas the E-W configurations on April 1st and Oct 15 look more like flowing streams of water. In reality, there is no change in shape; it is simply an optical illusion resulting from the Milky Way's relationship to the horizons. Most interesting of all is that in mid-July at midnight, one can see the Milky Way but it never makes a clean N-S shot; one side of the galaxy is either a little too far to the southeast while the other is at the north point of the horizon, or the other is too far to the northwest.

It is quite probable that the Milky Way served the ancient Germanic people as a "year-marker" of sorts. Sturluson has recorded in the Ynglinga Saga that there were three holidays (sacrifices) during a year which were celebrated by all the Swedes and Norwegians in general.

"On winter day (October 14th) there should be a blood-sacrifice for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop (Yule, Thorri, Disting?); and the third sacrifice should be on summer day (April 14th), for victory in battle." [9]

In Scandinavian folklore, and in those non-Germanic cultures surrounding the Germanic realm, these same sacrifice dates are also associated with the dead, the underworld, and with the cross-cultural phenomenon of the "Wild Hunt" where one could be swept up by the swiftly moving hoards of souls following their leader who is variously "identified as Odin, the devil, or some other demonic being,"[10] (usually one of the Alfar or elves; see Chapt. 4). People commonly believed that at these times of the year one needed to excercise extreme caution because gates to the Land of the Dead stood open especially at Yule, the Middle of the winter sacrifice. Between April 14th and October 14th people were basically safe from attacks out of the Land of the Dead. These dates basically coincide with the observations noted above about the Milky Way in that there is no true N-S configuration for the summer months, and also with the fact that the number of nighttime hours is drastically decreased during the summer months.

It is not known for sure that the ancient Germanic folk utilized the Milky Way in this fashion, but this use was not unknown to the cultures immediately neighboring the Germanic realm, and given their tendency toward trade in both goods and technology, it is not inconceivable that the early Scandinavians either picked up the use from a neighboring culture or had even developed the use in this fashion themselves. The Lapps (the Saami), the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, call [the Milky Way] Lodde-raidaras, that is the "Path of the Birds"[11] (the 'souls'), or the Jakke-moerka, the Year-Mark and definitely use the starry strip in this fashion.[12]

The night was obviously important to the ancients; they reckoned time by nights. Tacitus in his Germania says that

"they do not reckon time by days, as we do, but by nights. All their engagements and appointments are made on this system. Night is regarded as ushering in the day." [13]

Heathen holidays which have been passed down into the modern era are started in celebration the night before: Christmas Eve, Halloween, May Eve. Additionally, they reckoned annually by the number of winters. For them the word "year" implied "season." The importance of the night sky as a marker of the passage of time is also reflected in their use of the word "moon" to mean month which was equal to two "fortnights."

During the historical period, many of the sky lore traditions seem to have fallen by the wayside. The Roman calendar was used by the church (although runic calendars continued to be used fairly commonly in the rural areas until well into the late 1800's). Whether the Milky Way, in fact, played the role as a sky-marker as well as being a candidate for the path to the Land of the Dead for the ancient Teutons is not known but it can be surmised without much effort. In any case, even though the ancient lore has been lost over the centuries to be replaced by other, more accurate, systems, the names of the ancient measurements of time have been retained and are still in use in virtually all the Germanic languages today.

There is a third set of curious features about the Milky Way. This galaxy, from the point of view of the earth, is "forked" like a large letter "Y," and the single-legged bottom of the "Y," near one side of the horizon, is in a compass direction 180° from the forked top, which touches the horizon at the opposite end of the sky. Reuter gives the names Vil and Van for each side of the "fork" but the source of his information is not given. Both supposedly were the names of mythological rivers; Van is usually translated as "hope"[14] (although the translation is highly speculative at best) Vil has never been truly translated at all. These "rivers" flow around either side of the northernmost point of the horizon at midnight on the winter solstice, the westernmost point on winter night, and the easternmost on summernight. Perhaps the arms of the "Y" were viewed by our ancestors as either a "gate" leading from the Otherworld or two bridges, one leading to the sky and one leading to the underworld. Only scanty pieces of evidence can be had for either speculation. Neither classical Germanic literature nor folklore sources contains any such specific information, but such a view of the night sky is neither impossible nor improbable within the confines of Germanic cosmology.

Like the Milky Way, rainbows exhibit some interesting features. They only appear in the morning or in the late afternoon because the sun needs to be at a fairly sharp angle from the horizon for light to be refracted properly through water particles in the air. Secondly, a rainbow only appears on the side of the sky opposite the sun so that in the morning a rainbow will appear in the western sky and vice-versa. Thirdly, because of the position of the sun necessary to produce rainbows,south of the Arctic Circle, they will only run basically N-S direction.

There is an interesting line in Snorri's Prose Edda:

"There also is a place called Himinbiorg. It stands at the end of heaven at the bridge's end where Bifröst reaches heaven."[15]

The point that Snorri is refering to is obviously the horizon where the edges of the underworld, the sky realm, and Midgard all come together at the very place where the rainbow touches the ground. The place is unattainable by people in their crude earthly bodies; it can only be reached by a discorporate being. Himinbjorg is the Hall of Heimdallr, the watching God, sometimes called the "White God." Scholars often consider His duty to watch the "gates" to make sure that that evil giants or trolls do not enter into either Midgard or the sky realm. The placement of His hall is most interesting, however; He is located at the point where the three realms come together giving additional credence to the idea that the same bridge, Bifröst, may have had a dual function in Germanic spiritual thought. It has also been shown above that the rainbow was considered by some, including Snorri, to be the Asbrü, and by others to be the "Brig o' Dread."

Tony van Renterghem in his book When Santa was a Shaman[16] speculates that all the holidays between Winternights and Summernight were all originally dedicated to the Dead, to the ancestors of the tribe, who were important to living descendents for luck, fertility (of animals, plants, and people), and general well being. The two holidays which were specifically associated with the ancestors in Scandinavia were, and in many places still are, Halloween and Yule, and the period of time in between the two holidays was considered to be an especially dangerous time for being outdoors at night. Because of the reciprocity between the middle- and underworlds (see Chapt. 4), the best time for travel for the inhabitants of the underworld would have been at night in the winter (in middleworld terms) because in the Land Below it would be early summer during the day. The primary Day of the Dead for the Scandinavians was Yule, and for the Celts it was Halloween or Samhain.

For the inhabitants of northern Europe around 1000 CE, including the Scandinavians, the Saami, the Finns, The Rus (Germanic folk living in the border area/ trade route along the Dnjeper), several of the east-European tribes, the Eve of the Dead was somewhere between December 15th and January 15th, and the gate to the Land of the Dead which lay far to the north, coincidentally at the north end of the rainbow-bridge and where the gate of the Milky Way lay at midnight on the winter solstice. For the Celts, whose underworld gate lay in the West, Samhain was the primary holiday when the gates leading to either the Land Below or the "Blessed Isles" were open, and at midnight on that date, the arms of the Milky Way embrace the westernmost point on the horizon.

With preliminary observations out of the way, an explanation of the night sky can be attempted starting with what is actually seen. Caution is necessary so that unneeded complexity is not tossed into the picture out of habit; simplicity is far more necessary than symmetry.

Looking at the night sky, these ancient people saw fixed stars in constellations with a hazy, star-studded band of light running through and around them. At midnight, once a year, the "open end" of the frozen, solid-appearing band of stars led directly from the center of the common night spectacular known to us as the aurora borealis to a point which passed immediately over the Land of the Living. All the colors were certainly awe-inspiring, but the flashing curtains of reds brought to mind bloody battles they had known in their lives with memories of ancestors and relatives who had fallen by the sword. Memories, for these pre-scientific-age people, were not by-products of neurons firing in a pattern, but were actual visits by the souls (hugr, hug: ON) of those remembered. With the sighting of the red mottled aurora borealis, memories were of those who had crossed the threshhold from life to death, particularly as the result of violence. Umo Holmberg writes

"During the pagan period, separate worlds for the good and the bad dead were unknown. But, already at that time, there seem to have been views that the dead attained to different worlds, not on account of their deeds during life, but according to that which had been the cause of their death. Those who died in battle or as the result of some accident did not go to the underworld but peopled another world up in the heavens. . . . According to the Finnish Lapps the aurora borealis is 'the dead in battle, who, as spirits still continue battling with one another in the air."[17]

He further adds that "to the same folk belief may ultimately be traced the Scandinavian belief in Valhall, where the souls of the dead in battle dwell, and, according to Gylfaginning, 'take on their accoutrements, go out into the yard and fight and kill one another'."[18] Looking more closely at the sky-gate formed by the forked end of the Milky Way, the ancients noticed one side "seemed" to lead upward and the other down. According to ancient folklore and even some of the more modern, there appears to have been a tradition of two bridges to the Otherworld, one leading to the fighting fields forming the entire north end of the sky, and the other to the more peaceful landscape of the Lands Below.

Both places were known to the travellers to the Land of the Dead, the Germanic wizards or the Saami noaides, the ones who could ride in the shape of animals. Two bridges: the one leading up is Bifröst, and the one downward-aiming, the Gjallarbrú. The Milky Road leading across the sky and down to the bridges was frozen solid enough in midwinter to carry the souls of the dead back and forth from the Land of the Ancestors, but from late spring to early fall its shape was imprecise, flowing around the night sky like swollen rivers in the spring, dangerous for the crossing of souls but because of this Midgard was left in peace during that time of year. The way to the Land Beyond certainly involved some dangers as in trying to cross a huge river on an old swaying bridge.

No one can precisely say with any degree of certainty that these forefathers thought in these images, but scholars are certain that these were exactly the images used by tribes immediately to the North, East, and West of the homeland of the Scandinavians up to the middle of the last century, and even as late as 1995 in some of the more rural areas. It would seem very peculiar indeed if the ancient Scandinavians had a completely different set of beliefs.

There seems to be substance to Jan deVries' argument that Bifröst, the Shimmering Way, may be seen in the Milky Way. The first part of the name, according to Simek, seems to mean "swaying" rather than "shimmering" from the ON bifa to "shake" or "sway"which is exactly what the Milky Way appears to do as it rotates around the sky every night. In the night sky, then, the Road to Hel or Asgard in its N-S orientation could be seen every night, but only at Yule did this orientation coincide with midnight.

The Teutonic heavens were, of course, supported by the branches of the World Tree. Nowdays, Lćrađ has become little more than a chart with circles and lines with nine worlds symmetrically spaced throughout the whole thing. It is doubtful, however, that the ancients thought of the universe in such terms. In fact, it not even clear if they really even understood how to create maps, never mind charts and diagrams! If that were in their repertoire of skills surely there would be at least one type of pictograph which would represent the universe, but to date none have been found which would suggest such an arrangement of worlds although there are glyphs which suggest the Tree Itself.[19]

With a neat application of Occam's Razor, one is returned to that which the Germanic peoples could have physically seen as an arrangement of the universe: a green Earth covered partially by wide expanses of ocean, a sky filled with objects that moved in a circular fashion, and a single sky object which did not move that they called the "Nail of the Heavens," to us it is known as the Pole-Star or the North-Star. Descriptions in Scandinavian literature do not tell us that the Pole-Star represents the upper end of the World Tree,[20] but they did consider it to be the apex of the bowl-shaped sky. It also known from northern European folk culture that it was the primary reference point in the sky from which all other movements were reckoned and compared to stationary geographical locations such as mountains, local trees, house orientations, etc. In other words, as the stars moved around the Pole-Star, the amount of movement could be easily visualized by how far they moved in relation to the "stationary" earth-bound objects. But it is the Saami to the northern end of Scandinavia, and their eastern neighbors, the Finns, who have remembered that the Nail (as they also call it) is the apex of Yggdrasil and it would be well to note that the apex is slightly to the North (hence the term North Star). This knowledge is relatively common throughout the entire circumpolar region from the Baltic sea to the Aleutians; it may even have been common enough that it was not worth mentioning in heroic poetry or family sagas, since the main thrust of such literature was to leave a record of either Gods or men not to create a forerunner to the Duden "Picture Dictionary" of Life in the Viking Age.

Now, the picture of the universe is much simpler: a disk of the Earth, one side being the World of the Living, the other, the Land of the Dead; a stationary sky much like a glass cover over a cheese plate; the land-sky connection, Lćrađ, in the middle of it all holding all life within it. There are also two other connections between the plate and the glass cover which are not stationary, but move according to the time of day or the season: the Rainbow-Bridge or the "Brig o' Dread," and the Bridge of the Night, the Shimmering Way, Bifröst. In both cases of the land-sky bridges, the ends connect to points where sky meets earth, the horizon, and the center rises up into the sky passing through the upper branches of the World Tree. This is a very simple arrangement compared to the many others floating around out there. Such an arrangement also matches up to most other tribal systems of the subarctic, both European and Asian, as well as many in the more temperate areas, for defining the cosmos. Is it too simple? After all didn't the Völva in Völuspá mention that she remembered nine worlds not just three as the system here would imply? Perhaps.

Although there are a variety of theories around, dealing with the idea that the Otherworld has a very real existence in some other parallel dimension or plane of existence, it is doubtful that northern Europeans thought about the reality of the Land of the Ancestors in terms of worlds lying truly separated from Midgard by dimensions of time and space. Such pseudo-scientific explanations are usually offered by people trying to lend some credibility to faulty arguments. The Otherworld was simply here but invisible, or under the earth/ up in the sky.

On the other hand, people who really do have something to offer will often rely on metaphors based in current technology, mainly, because people tend to explain the unknown or the difficult-to-explain with terms that both the explainer and the listener will recognize and understand. Neuroscience in the latter half of the 19th century explained the function of the human body in the simple "clock-terms" of Newtonian physics, within 30 years, the explanations from classical physics gave way to the newer concepts from radio electronics, then it was psychology, and now, computers.

Following this argument back into time, the technology of northern Europeans of 1000 years ago revolved around blacksmithing, farming/ herding, and trading/ traveling/ raiding (sailing). The world was concrete, not abstract math. These people knew of other lands or countries on Midgard. They also described lands outside the realms of man, such as floating islands like Svinoy, or invisible or underground cities, towns and homesteads. They understood well the idea of different tribes, cultures, and boundary lines, but in none of their descriptions is there anything like a world separated, truly separated, from the World of Man. Travel back and forth through the world was common and had nothing to do with careening through empty space or hyper-jumping over dimensions of time and space.

The word "heim," according to Glossary to the Poetic Edda, in its primary definition is "1) settlement, farm or farms; place of residence;" [21] as 3rd and 4th definitions the meaning changes slightly to the "whole world." However, there is no real implication that anything is ever meant beyond the idea of an inhabited region enclosed by some sort of boundaries. The word "land" carried more of the meaning of "a country," and the word "ver old" carried the meaning of "world" or "universe." The terms "Vanaheim," "Ljósálfheim," "Svartálfheim," "Helheim," "Niflheim," "Muspelheim," and "Jötunheim" all implied then the residence of . . . (fill in the blank) rather than some kind of parallel universe. It would seem that all the Otherworlds described in the eddaic poetry and in Sturluson's Prose Edda as well as Saxo's [22] Gesta Danorem were worlds that could be seen, to some degree, but could not be attained by mortal man in his mortal guise. Some worlds like the floating isles, or Vanaheim, for that matter, could be glimpsed only periodically or only by people with the "second sight" but the general direction of where the land lay was known, the effects of the "home" could be felt, such as the spring winds flowing out of Jötunheim, and travellers from these lands, or homesteads, could be spotted either in person or by their deeds. Rocks were moved, rivers changed course their courses, lakes were formed. Where do the winds originate if not in the Utlands? It appears that none of the "heims" were thought to be truly disconnected from Midgard.

All these measurements, configurations, and orientations of the Milky Way are for midnight on specific nights of the year, and although it is well documented that the Germanic peoples measured time by "nights" rather than days, is it reasonable to suggest that they would have known exactly when 12;00 am occurred since clocks would not be invented and in common use until 500 years after the invasion of Christianity? Probably not. However, exact knowledge of hours and minutes is not really necessary. Observations of the Milky Way and its orientation in the night sky point up the fact that the Bridge of the Night Sky appears most solid in its N-S (the "split of the fork" touching the northern horizon) orientation and appears to be fluid in its S-N orientation. The time of year in the far North when the bridge can be observed in its "solid" state for the highest number of hours, of course, is around Yule when there is no sun at all (above the Arctic Circle). The amount of time spent in solid form continues to increase from when the forked end of the Milky Way "rises" in the East and "sets" in the West which occurs during the ancient season of winter, mid-October to mid-April, with its high-point around Yule, the time of no sun. During summer, there is no problem with the reckoning of midnight since the amount of time spent in actual darkness is minimal.

All the evidence presented thus far would make it seem that the Milky Way, in particular, and the night sky, in general, probably played a large role in the formation of the Germanic worldview with the sky being the top of the World Tree and the Milky Way being the Path of Souls lining up with the gate to the underworld once every 24 hours. The probability of this being a fact is increased based on collected evidence taken from modern Scandinavian folklore and that from tribes of non-Germanic people living immediately to the north (Saami) and to the east (Finns, and various small tribes living just east of the Ural Mountains). However, direct evidence is sorely lacking.

By the time that the Germanic peoples had moved into the historic era and had committed their own beliefs to parchment, many changes had taken place which were the result of foreign influences being brought in by the Church and by importations made by the Vikings themselves who traveled extensively between the years of 700 CE to 1100 CE. What is missing from the body of evidence is clear information that the Celtic peoples, who also had a fairly large body of lore pertaining to the night sky, also understood the role of the Milky Way. Also lacking are vestiges of this folk belief in modern Scandinavian folklore although it still exists in Saami folklore. As a consequence, the above information can only be presented as a series of coincidences with some degree of probability of it being fact.

During the last century and continuing through the 20th century, there has been a move to reduce all religions in their "reconstructed form" to sun-moon worship. The theory was made popular with the publishing on Frazer's The Golden Bough[23] and has been used as the basis for interpretation since that time. Storms in Anglo-Saxon Magic (1948) was also caught up in this theory when attempting to interpret the Anglo-Saxon charms from the manuscript called the Lacnunga; however, eddaic literature relegates both the sun and the moon to demi-Gods who play only a minor role during the creation of the World Tree and, according to the Völuspá, at the end of the World, the Ragnarök.

Although the sun (ON Sunna = a Goddess) and the moon (ON Maani = a God) were described in the eddaic poetry, complete with their lineages and their řrlög, there is no indication that they have ever been worshipped as anything but minor Gods and markers of the passage of time. In the Norse mythology as it exists today, these two were destined to be chased across the sky by the wolves Sköll and Hati until the final battle when they will be killed and devoured. There is much folklore and folkscience pertaining to the two in their roles as "markers of time," and this is discussed quite in depth by O. S. Reuter in Germanische Himmelskunde (Germanic Skylore), but even in the Anglo-Saxon charms they do not play as large a role as many wishful modern scholars would like.

As stated earlier, astrology only began to appear in the north in conjunction with ancient medicine after the Roman and Christian invasions. Prior to that, it appears medicinal herbs were picked according to their own timing and ripeness with twilight and dawn being the most propitious times because "the sky was lit, but there were no lights in the sky;" it was an "in-between time," a crack between this world and the Otherworld. Such "cracks" are common in Germanic folk medicine and folk magic, such as making magic on the sand at a point in between the levels of the tide or in a cave.[24] This concept continues to figure in modern native herbalism of northern Europe and will be discussed at length in later chapters.

The eddaic and sagaic writings do not contain pertaining to the "lights of the sky," but there is much in Finnish and Saami folk lore mostly revolving around the idea that the aurora borealis was "souls" flying to the Otherworld, and that the reddish hues often seen were bloody battles either between warriors or noaides (shamans).[25] There is a body of folklore, particularly among the Scandinavian Lapps (Saami), and in modern northern Germanic folklore which at least concerns the phases of the moon for operations such as blood-letting, slaughtering animals, planting, harvesting, other farm chores, building , etc. However, from the information as it exists today, it is very difficult to tell what came from foreign sources, and what was only native knowledge to particular peoples such as the Saami, the Celts, or the Finno-Ugric subgroups. Many of these customs deal with the moon as a primary temporal indicator for activities, and this is congruent with the idea that the ancient Germanic peoples marked time by nights and the moon as discussed above. Tacitus, in Germania, (cited earlier) records that important activities took place according to the phases of the moon. It is likely then that the moon continued to play a large role in early Germanic culture.

Additionally, given the diversity of local customs pertaining to the moon, several other theories can be postulated.

1) The moon as a marker of time for specific events was most likely widely accepted.

2a) The moon as a component in the making of charms, medicine, or seiđr (Germanic oracle/ magic with many shamanistic overtones) probably played a role since these operations were often done at night.

2b) The waxing moon generally dealt with operations requiring an increase (cutting hair, marriages, building, etc.); the full moon for operations being done at "full maturity (cutting hay, chopping wood, etc); the waning moon for decrease (making medicines to rid pestilence, etc.).[26]

3) Sets of customs or interactions with the moon may have varied from village to village or may have been familial or personal rather than pervasive.

4) The customs may have varied easily over time depending on outside influences, exchange of information between communities, etc.

Holmberg in Finno-Ugric Mythology and Hazlitt in Faiths and Folklore of the British Isles[27] give numerous examples of lunar knowledge as it existed between approximately 1600 - 1900 CE, but very little can be said regarding the origins of the beliefs, i.e., whether they were from foreign sources. The fact, though, that pieces of lunar knowledge were accepted easily indicates that lunar knowledge was most likely part of the Germanic world view in some form or another, and it was felt that the information "needed updating" regularly; it was most likely not part of the general religious complex which tend to be more conservative in nature.

Solar folklore is even more scanty in the Germanic culture, even though the Sun was extremely important to the Saami and Finns, and as a Goddess or sometimes a God, appears in many of their legends of folk cosmology. The sun for the Germanic folk was considered to be feminine and still is in modern German (die Sonne), may have had oaths sworn to Her (or She functioned as a "witness"), and was greeted in the morning either by the baring of the head or bowing.[28] There is also the possibility that the sun and the moon, brother and sister, were originally formed out of the eyes of Ymir after His death at the hands of Ođinn, Vili, and Vé. This argument is supported by the idea that the eyes are the "lights of the head" and this kenning continues to be used in modern English in the phrase, "knock one's daylights out!" Whatever place the sun may have held in the minds of the ancient folk, it must have been relatively important to command bowing with bared head by the peasantry. Perhaps, as with the Saami, She was held in a constant state of reverence as the "Bringer of Warmth."

Lastly, the sky seems to have been the window through which the ancient Germans and Scandinavians could view the effects of the Otherworld upon Midgard. The sky held the Road of the Dead which ran over the apex of the World Tree and it was the screen against which played omens from both the Gods of the air, the Aesir, and the Ancestors. It was a physical, visual and constant reminder that the Otherworld was a reality, and was the link between this world and the next. Omens (ON heill = "portent or omen) came in the form of birds' flight patterns, shooting stars or comets, aurora borealis, or visions and were regarded as one of the best forms of prognostication, pieces of which can be gleaned from the sagaic literature and the heroic poetry.

In spite of the fact that omens were definitely important to the ancients, their interpretation seems to have been by consensus of the community or, perhaps, individual. Perusal of the entire body of northern European folklore reveals that what was considered a "good omen" for one locality was interpreted as an "evil portent" for another although there did seem to be general consensus that "red lights" in the sky or "a comet" were held to portend evil times ahead. Because of this inconsistency, any attempt to "recreate" a system of divination based on sky omens would be meaningless.

That the sky held a special place in the pre-Christian Germanic world view is obvious, but how consistent that role was may never be discovered. In the view of the World Tree complex, it represented the apex of the Tree and was home to the Road of the Dead which terminated at the gate to the underworld. Movements of lights in the sky-world marked the passage of time and presented to the inhabitants of northern Europe indications for the correct timing of schedules pertaining to work and leisure, and individual or community activities, but unlike the cultures of the more southerly countries no indigenous form or system of astrology has been discovered. The sky itself was a visual link between the Land of the Living and the Otherworld lying above Midgard like a large sheet against which played visual messages, omens and portents for those who knew how to see them and interpret them. Beyond the sky's being a link to the Otherworld very little can be said regarding any system of Skylore which would cross cultural or spatial boundaries.

The sky, as can be seen from Midgard, was part of the world of man. It could be sensed physically with the eyes, and it was a boundary that could not be crossed by the living. The surface of Midgard formed the floor of the Land of the Living and the sky formed its ceiling, these things could be touched and sensed physically by everyone. Beyond the sky and below the Land of the Living are the mysterious abodes for the disembodied.

[1] In The Saxon Chronicle, tr. by Rev. J. Ingram (Studio Editions, London) p. 257-258, 1993.
[2] In Teutonic Mythology, Jakob Grimm (Peter Smith, Mass.)p.722, 1976.
[3] ibid. p. 860.
[4] ibid. p. 723.
[5] In Tacitus: The Agricola and the Germania tr. by H. Mattingly (Penguin Books, New York) p. 110, 1970.
[6] In The Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Rudolf Simek, tr. by Angela Hall (D. S. Brewer, Cambridge) p. 36, 1993.
[7] See any of the books written by Edred Thorsson. Most of his books utilize a diagram of the World Tree which more closely resemble the quaballistic "Tree of Life." Many of the modern writers apparently have a background in the Quaballah which is not well suited for understanding northern European concepts.
[8] This phenomenon is readily observable using any commercial "Star-Finder." This rotating star map is available at most good "chain" bookstores around the United States such as B. Dalton's or Waldenbooks.
[9] In Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson, tr. by Lee Hollander (University of Texas Press), p. 13, 1964.
[10] In Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend by Kvideland and Sehmsdorf, eds., (University of Minnesota Press) p. 273, 1988.
[11] It is a common belief in many northern cultures (not just the Germanic) that the 'soul' leaves the body and travels to the underworld in the form of a bird or a butterfly (see J. Grimm's Teutonic Mythology pp. 828-829).
[12] In Turi's Book of Lappland by Juhan Turi (Anthropological Publications, the Netherlands) p. 289, 1966.
[13] Tacitus, p. 110.
[14] See Simek, p.350.
[15] In Edda by Snorri Sturluson, tr. by Anthony Faulkes, (Everyman's Library, London) p. 20, 1987.
[16] Van Renterghem, T. V. When Santa was a Shaman. Llewellyn Publications, 1995.
[17] In Finno-Ugric Mythology by Umo Holmberg ( )p. 80-81, 1928.
[18] op. cit., p. 81.
[19] Some writers such as Edred Thorsson and Nigel Pennick show a particular glyph which looks similar to two "Y's," one right-side up and the other upside down, superimposed upon one another so that there is three branches going up and three going down. The upper branches are the branches of Lćrađ, and the lower ones are the roots. This is still very simple and primitivistic compared to the diagrams of some of these modern authors.
[20] Some of the Siberian tribes describe the Pole-Star, Polaris, as being the upper point of the world's "tent-pole" or as the apex of a world tree. The reader is refered to Mircea Eliade's Shamanism:Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy for a more complete discussion of these concepts.
[21] In Glossary to the Poetic Edda by Beatrice LaFarge and John Tucker (Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg) p. , 1992.
[22] Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorem or History of the Danes has been translated several times. The work, as translated, generally consists of nine books and was written in approximately 1215 CE. The author is decidedly pro-Danish and anti-Heathen. The accuracy of the mythological material upon which the Gesta Danorem is based has been rather hotly debated over the years. For the purposes of this book, this author has chosen not to join the fray but simply regards the material for what it is, i.e., northern mythology recorded by a staunch anti-Heathen of the 13th century.
[23] Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1963.
[24] In The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland by Ernest Marwick (Rowman and Littlefield, New Jersey ) pp. 48-52, 1975.
[25] There is a body of lore among the Saami describing the "fire Lapps," but unfortunately, not much of this has been translated into English. The term "fire Lapp" refers to the noaide as he battles other shamans, and the fire refers specifically to either the "will-o'the-wisp (doubtful) or the aurora borealis (most probable).
[26] See Grimm pp. 707-719.
[27] Hazlitt, W. Carew Faiths and Folklore of the British Isles, 2 vols. Benj. Blom Publishing, New York, 1965.
[28] See Grimm pp. 700-706.

by Bil Linzie

Irminsul Ćttir