Irminsul Ăttir


ę 1998 Haukur Ůorgeirsson


This is a short list of words that can be encountered in discussions of ┴satr˙. It has short and (hopefully) to the point entries. It does not attempt to explain proper names. In parentheses after each word its plural is given. The spelling is standardised, more or less orthodox, Old Icelandic spelling. The exception is the letter "Ô" which I use instead of the unavailable ˇ with tail.

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The Glossary

Ăgishjalmr (Ăgishjalmar) - In Icelandic folklore this is a magical symbol. Worn to make people fear the wearer.

Ătt (Šttir) - 1. Family. 2. A unit of eight. The younger futhark consists of two Šttir whereas the older one has three. The two meanings are thought to be etymologically unrelated. The first did not develop from the second.

Alfa­ir - All-father. Ë­inn.

Alfr (alfar) - Elf, hulduma­r. See VŠttr.

Allsherjargo­i (allsherjargo­ar) -In the years of the old Icelandic republic (930-1262) this name was applied to the go­i of Kjalarnes■ing. He was to hallow (open) the old Al■ing. In more modern times this is the title of the leader of the Icelandic ┴satr˙arfÚlag. The first one was Sveinbj÷rn Beinteinsson. His successor is J÷rmundur Ingi.

Al■ing - When the settlers came to Iceland they quickly found the need for establishing assemblies (■ing) such as the ones they were used to in Norway. Various "things" were established to settle regional disputes. In 930 the "Al■ing" was established as the supreme legislative and judicial assembly of the country. It was cited at Ůingv÷llr and maintained its power until 1262 when Iceland came under control of the kings of Norway (and later Danmark). When Iceland became independent again the Al■ing was re-established (albeit in a changed form). In modern ßsatr˙ context, an Al■ing might simply be a large thing, such as a national event.

┬ss (Šsir) - A god of the Norse, such as Odin and Thor. This word is sometimes used to include the Vanir and is often capitalised. It is not true that this is the same word as ┴ss = rafter, beam, axis.

┬satr˙ -The word was coined in the early 1800's by scholars studying the Eddas and sagas for the old faith of the Norse people The words below are derived from it and are thus no older. For other words, see "si­r".

┬satr˙ar -In Icelandic this is the genitive singular of the word Ôsatr˙, and thus means "of Ôsatr˙.". In English the word has been made into the nominative singular of a noun. The plural is most often unchanged but sometimes "Ôsatr˙ars" is used. Thus, people might say "What an Ôsatr˙ar must do..." or "There were a couple of Ôsatr˙ars at the party". It is only natural for a borrowed word to gain the meaning that is needed for it in the language that is borrowing. Thus there is nothing wrong with this usage of the word.

┬satr˙arma­r (Ôsatr˙armenn) - This is the Icelandic word used to mean "a follower of Ôsatr˙". It is long and awkward and thus has not been borrowed into English.

┬synja (Ôsynjur) - A female Ôss, such as Frigg or Sif.

Berserkr (berserkir) - A berserk. The literal meaning is probably either "a man dressed with a bear's skin." or "bare-skin".

Blˇt (blˇt) - The worship of heathen gods, may or may not involve sacrifice.

Blˇtbolli (blˇtbollar) - A cup in which the blood of sacrificed animals was stored.

DÝs (dÝsir) - Originally the dÝsir were some kind of heathen "goddesses", worshipped in their own right. They probably had some connection with Freyja and the other vanir. However, the word is used with quite a wide meaning in the Eddas. The valkyries, for example, are called "the dÝsir of Odin". See vŠttr.

DÝsablˇt (dÝsablˇt) - Religious ceremony to honour the dÝsir, held at winter nights.

DÝsa■ing (dÝsa■ing) - Seems to refer to the same (Swedish?) festival as DÝsablˇt.

D÷kkalfr - Dark elf. See vŠttr.

Draugr (draugar) - Ghost.

Drˇttinn (drˇttnar) - A lord. This word is derived from "drˇtt" = court and originally it meant the leader of a court. Later it gained a more general meaning of "lord". Later yet it become "king".

DrˇttkvŠtt - Court poetry or scaldic poetry.

Drˇttning (drˇttningar) - Female drˇttinn, thus "lady" or "queen".

Drykkjarhorn (drykkjarhorn) - Horn to drink from. "Drekkahorn" is not correctly formed.

Dvergr (dvergar) - "Dwarf". See vŠttr.

Edda - The name of two books. They can be considered the most important source of old heathendom: 1. The Edda of Snorri Sturluson (Snorra-Edda, The Prose Edda, The Younger Edda) which is a book written by Snorri Sturluson approximately 1220 on poetics. It was intended as a guide to composing scaldic poetry. To serve as such a guide it explains the scalds' allusions to the gods and tells stories of them. 2. The SŠmundar-Edda (The Poetic Edda, The Elder Edda). This is not really a book but a term used to refer to Eddaic poetry which came to us from other sources than Snorri. The name "Elder Edda" is misleading as the oldest and most important collection of Eddaic poems was probably compiled at about the same time Snorri was writing.

Einheri (einherjar) - Fallen soldiers who are gone to Valh÷ll and will fight with the Ăsir against etins and other evil at Ragnar÷k.

Ergi (always in singular) - A difficult word. When applied to men it meant 'homo-sexuality' and was very offensive. When applied to women it seems to have meant 'randy' and was also offensive.

Fˇstbrˇ­ir (fˇstbroe­r) - Blood brother or sworn brother. In the viking age blood-brotherhood was established by a certain ceremony, in which the participants (two or more) swore to protect each other and to avenge each other's death. "Blood sister" would presumably be fˇstsystir.

Fri­r (always in singular) - Peace (or even) friendship.

Fu■ark - The runic alphabet, named after its first six runes. There were in fact many versions of the Futhark. It is popular to talk about an "elder" and a "younger" Futhark. The elder one consists of 24 runes and the younger, scandinavian, one consists of 16.

Fylgja (fylgjur) - Protective spirit (the verb "fylgja" means to follow).

Galdr (galdrar) / Gal­r (gal­rar) - Incantation, magic.

Galdrastafr (galdrastafir) - A magical symbol.

Gandr (gandar) - A (magical) staff or wand.

GlÝma (glÝmur) - Wrestling. Icelandic GlÝma is a particular type of wrestling with a strict set of rules.

Go­ (go­) - A god.

Go­i (go­ar) 1. Chieftain and priest in the old Icelandic Commonwealth. 2. Modern leader or priest of ßsatr˙.

Go­or­ (go­or­) - Office of the go­i. In times of old, Iceland was divided into 36 go­or­.

Gri­ (gri­) - Peace, truce, mercy. There is an archaic English word, grith, which means the same.

Gy­ja - 1. A goddess. 2. A female go­i. 3. Priestess at a hof, hofgy­ja.

Hamr (hamir) - Skin (of a bird or some other animal). Those who can change their hamir are shapeshifters and are said to be hamramm.

Hamingja (hamingjur) - A positive word meaning much the same as fylgja.

Heilsa - A word taken by some modern age people to be a viking greeting. That Is not completely accurate. See 'Heil'.

Heimskringla - "The orb of the world". A book by Snorri Sturluson on the history of Norway. In the first part of the book "Ynglinga saga" Snorri describes the origin of the gods, whom he considered to be kings, later elevated to godly status.

Heimr (heimar) - A word cognate with "home", meaning a world or its inhabitants. This occurs in various combinations, e.g. J÷tunheimr (etin-world, etin-home).

Hersir (hersar) - Regional chieftain in Norway in days of old. Can be applied generally to chieftain or kings.

Hjallr (hjallar) - Shelf, raised platform where Sei­r took place.

Hleyti (hleytis) - Blood relation. Kinship.

Hof (hof) - A temple (of Ôsatr˙).

H÷rgr (h÷rgar) - Not quite clear. Sometimes it seems to mean a pile of rocks used as a place for heathen rituals. Snorri took it to mean 'temple for the goddesses'.

HrÝm■urs (hrÝm■ursar) - Frost etin, troll. See vŠttr.

Huldufolk (always in singular) - The hidden people. The alfar. See vŠttr.

J÷rmungandr - Great staff. A kenning for Mi­gar­sormr.

J÷rmuns˙la - 1. Great column. The huge tree of the heathen Saxons of Eresburg. Destroyed by Charlamagne in 772 AD. Usually called Irminsul but here I have translated its name into Norse. 2. A certain galdrastafr.

Jarl (jarlar) - Earl. Original meaning perhaps: "Warrior, free man".

Jˇl (always plural) - Yule.

J÷tunn (j÷tnar) - Etin. See vŠttr.

Kenning (kenningar) - A special type of condensed metaphor much used in Old Norse poetry. Calling Thor "Protector of Midgard" or Odin "The enemy of the wolf" are examples of kennings.

LandvŠttir - The vŠttir that protect a land. Iceland has four landvŠttir: A dragon, a vulture, an ox and a giant (risi). Those fellows can be seen on one side of Icelandic coins, the other side illustrates fish.

Ljˇsalfr (ljosalfar) - Light elf. See vŠttr.

Mi­sumarsblˇt (mi­sumarsblˇt) - Mid-summer blˇt.

Mj÷­r (always in singular) - Mead. An alcoholic drink brewed from fermented honey.

NÝ­ (nÝ­) - Libel, defamation, calumny, cursing.

NÝ­st÷ng nÝ­stangir) - A pole with cursing carved on, preferably with runes..

Norn (nornir) - A goddess of fate. There are three great nornir, Ur­r, Ver­andi and Skuld. They seem to represent past, present and future.

Íl (always singular) - Beer, mead, ale.

ěrlag (°rl÷g) - "That which is laid on", fate, destiny, weird. Usually used in plural.

Risi (risa, risar, risa) - Giant. See vŠttr.

R˙n (r˙nar, r˙nar, r˙na) - 1. Secret. 2. Rune, a letter of the old Germanic alphabet, FUTHARK.

Saga (s÷gur) - Story, history. When used in English this word is much more specific. It refers to a number of stories (mostly) taking place in pre-christian Iceland. They tell of family feuds, love, revenge and such things. The major ones include: Egils saga, Njßls saga, Laxdťla saga, Grettis saga, GÝsla saga, Fˇstbrť­ra saga, Kjalnesinga saga, Eyrbyggja saga. The authors of the sagas are not know but some of them, Egils saga in particular, have been attributed to Snorri Sturluson.

Sei­r (sei­ir) - Magic. An attempt to deliver a more specific meaning for the word will not be made here.

Sei­hjallr (sei­hjallar) - Raised platform on which sei­r was conducted.

Skßl (skßlar) - 1. Bowl. 2. Toast!

Skald (skald) - Poet, bard.

Sˇlsta­a (sˇlst÷­ur) - Solstice.

Spß (spßr) - Prediction, divination or prophecy.

Spßkona (spßkonur) - Woman who predicts. Fortuneteller, soothsayer.

Sta­a (st÷­ur) - Posture, position, standing.

Stafr (stafir) - 1. Staff 2. Letter of an alphabet, even the runic one.

Stallr (stallar) - Stall, a heathen altar.

Sumbl (sumbl) - Drinking session, drinking party, drink.

Svartalfr - Black elf. See vŠttr.

Ůing (■ing) - Meeting, assembly, conference (parliament).

Ůingv÷llr (Ůingvellir) - Used in either plural or singular. "Plains of ■ing" Iceland's most holy place, cite of the ancient Al■ing.

Ůula (■ulur) - Female ■ulr.

Ůulr (■ulir) - 1. Old wise man, story-teller, speaker. 2. It is possible that in days of yore the word was used to mean some kind of go­i, a man taking care of diction during religious ceremonies.

Ůurs (■ursar) - Etin, giant. See vŠttr.

Tala - Number.

TÝvar (already in plural) - The gods (Šsir and vanir).

Troll (troll) - Troll. See vŠttr.

Tr˙ (always in singular) - Faith, trust.

Var­loka / var­lokka (var­lokur/var­lokkur) Rhyme sung at sei­r. Magical poem. The exact meaning and origin of this word is unclear.Magical poem.

VŠttr (vŠttir) - Supernatural being, wight. There is confusion about the usage of the words vŠttr, dÝs, norn, j÷tunn, ■urs, hrÝm■urs, berg■urs, alfr, svartalfr, d÷kkalfr, ljˇsalfr, fylgja, hamingja, huldufolk, risi, bergrisi, troll etc. This is understandable because of the scarcitiy of sources we have about the lesser beings of ßsatr˙. Even in heathen days all those words were probably not clearly defined. Nevertheless I shall try to explain a bit. See the entries for each and the text below. VŠttr has the broadest meaning, it can include any of the others (it might even be used to include the gods). J÷tnar or ■ursar are the descendents of Ţmir and opponents of the gods. They are ancient beings and come in various types. HrÝm■ursar are creatures of frost, Ţmir himself was a hrÝm■urs, but only some of his descendants are. M˙spellsmegir or eldj÷tnar are the fire etins. They live in M˙spellsheimr and their leader is Surtr. Bergrisar are the giants of the mountains. Troll are also some kind of etins, they are more prominent in folklore than myth. Dvergar are dwarfs but may also be called svartalfar or d÷kkalfar. They were worms on the flesh of Ţmir but the gods gave them minds and a humanoid shape. They dwell in the earth and rocks. Alfar (who should be called ljˇsalfar if the dwarfs are called d÷kkalfar) are elfs. Their origin is uncertain but they seem to have some relation with the vanir, sometimes they even appear to be the same. They are usually thought of as bright, beautiful and noble. It should be noted that little distinction is made between light and dark elves in Icelandic folklore. Our latter day elves live in rocks but have the appearance of light elves. They prefer to be called huldufolk (hidden people). Fylgjur or hamingjur are spirits which follow men and protect them. They sometimes assume the shape of women. DÝs is a word with broad meaning, it can be used to mean any (supernatural) female being (nornir, fylgjur, valkyrjur etc.). However it would appear that the dÝsir originally were godly beings in their own right and worshipped as such. Nornir are women (of the races of Šsir, light elfs or dark elfs, perhaps even etins) which control the fate of men. The three most prominent ones are Ur­r, Ver­andi and Skuld (Wyrd, Becoming and Shild).

Valkyrja valkyrjur) - Valkyrie (or walkyrie). Valkyrja literally means "chooser of the slain". The valkyries are a group of women of unknown origin. They are in service of Ë­inn and are sent by him to gather the "souls" of slain warriors. The warriors are brought to Valhalla where they will become einherjar.

Vanr (vanir) - God from another family of gods than the Ăsir.

VÚ (vÚ) - Heathen sanctuary.

VetrnŠtr - (already in plural) - Winter-nights.

VŠringi (vŠringjar) - Nordic man serving the emperor of Mikligar­r (Constantinopel).

VÝkingr (vÝkingar) - Viking (although, etymologically, the English word should be "wiking", that form does not exist). The original meaning of the word is debated.

V÷lva (v÷lur) - Sybil, prophetess..

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ę 1998 Haukur Ůorgeirsson
Irminsul Ăttir