Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ancient Belief in the North.

Ancient Belief.

The ancient belief in the gods were the attempts of humans to explain the mighty powers of nature and life. They felt dependent and wanted to be on good terms with these powers. During Stone Age they sacrificed to creatures which they believed lived in nature, in trees, in water streams and in fire. In Bronze Age was invoking the heavenly phenomenons especially in force. The god of thunder,Thor was considered a god who kept an eternal fight against the trolls which destroyed the crop and sent diseases. The gods were worshipped in the open, especially in sacred groves where the sacrificial feasts were celebrated. In the same place people had thing meetings and from this origin came thing places like Lund in Scania and Ringstedlund at Zealand.

During Iron Age the gods were of a more personal character. People built gudehuse/Hov = temples and carved the pictures of the gods in wood. The significance of the gods was more like a relation to the people. The god Thor became a guardian of human life in all forms and not least of the peace in the things and the sepulchral monuments, he killed the evil vætter (demons) with his stone hammer Mjølner .The young Balder became a special good too.The west German tribes worshipped another god whose fame spread stronger and stronger to the North. This was Odin , and elderly man, always hunting on wild travels, riding the storm horse. In the storm he takes the souls from the dead along to the dark land of the dead, Hel, which becomes a sinister and disgusting woman, or they are brought to Valhal, the valley of the those killed in the war. He is the god of those killed in the war "Valfader and the giver of victory" and he was therefore especially envoked by warriors. In this way every nature force was invented into a good and supernatural human. The reasonable friendly gods were called Aser.

In fjeldene/the mountains lived the huge misanthropic jætter (giants), in lesser rocks and stones lived the little dwarfs, the finest of all blacksmiths. In the meadows lived elves and fairies. In lakes, water streams, everywhere lived supernatural vætter which humans had to beware of.

But also dead people did live. They returned to the surviving, especially at night and weighed heavily upon them and scared them in their dreams. In the ancient language it was not called "I dream" - it was called "I dream me", i.e. "it weighs heavily upon me". When a father died the son had to give him jewels, a horse and a ship with him in the grave hill where the dead now had to live. He had to bring sacrifices at the grave so the dead would not grow angry and injure him. From all these spirits in the hills, in the air, from ghosts and dreams wise men and women could find out secrets and legends, make magic and be fortune tellers. They were sitting out in the open on sacred nights mostly on cross roads to receive messages from the spirits.

The Nordic people knew of no special priesthood. The worldly chief herse (the leader of the district, the earl or the king were at the same time a sacrificial priest.) The sacrifice was always bloody , animals as a rule, sometimes humans, prisoners of war or trælle (slaves). The Blot (sacrifice) took place in sacred places , in a holy grove or a temple, a hov. The blood was spread on the walls of the temple or over the crowd. Then there was a feast and the drinking horns were emptied sending a message to the gods about the wish for a good harvest and luck in war etc. Sometimes people gathered from big areas for the big Fællesblot (common blot) , either when spring came or when summer ended - and especially in midwinter, when the sun Freyr returned promising light, warmth and fertility.

A Greek historian Prokopios from the 500s tells much about the North. He knew the tribe of the Danes upon the Jutland peninsula and says that the finest sacrifice in their opinion was the very first prisoner of war. They sacrificed to the highest god(Odin) and they did not just sacrifice the prisoner, they also hang him in a tree or threw him upon thorns or tortured him in other ways. Songs and legend tell about the god's/aserne's fight against the jætterne (giants)- especially during the Viking Period there was a rich poetry describing the gods, which is preserved by the Icelandic people in den ældre Edda and den Yngre Edda.

photo 2005/2006 grethe bachmann

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