Introduction Belief in the existence of ghosts, or spirits, changed world history in the period between the Middle Ages

and the eighteenth century. This was because witches, baobhs or hagges supposedly controlled these supernaturals. That was a time which belonged to the dark side: its saga was one of grotesque actions by those accused of withcraft and brutal reactions by those who chased them down. It has been estimated that continental Europeans killed nine million of their citizens following the biblical command: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Exodus 22.18). The paranoia was a little later arriving in Britain, where it became tied to political causes; as a result only one thousand English and Scottish witches went to their death between 1542 and 1735. There were even victims in the New World, the best known being the sixteen executed at Salem Massachusetts. Like most people of our century, folklorist Helen Creighton preferred to believe that the Maritime Provinces had "no history of witch burnings, drownings, or hangings" although she admitted that "enemies real or imagined have often been dispatched through torment by sympathetic magic." A well documented case of death by magic occurred at Belleisle Bay, N.B., when an accussed witch named Mrs. Tennant was ritually harassed to death by her neighbours in the early seventeenth century. Unfortunately, we did have a death by more direct means during the French colonial period; which explains why a peninsula near Charlottetown was afterwards called Pointe de Flamme. The English laws against witchcraft were lifted in 1736, but in 1842, "The New Statistical Account of Clackmannshire" claims that one last victim was burned at Gloom Hill in the Ochil Mountains of Scotland. Most of the educated people who emigrated to North America preferred to think of these events as the abherent behaviour of other people's ancestors. Writing in 1836, Catherine Parr Traill counted herself "happy and contented in this country" which she perceived to have a history which was a blank book. Traill said that "ghosts and spirits appear totally banished from Canada." Supporting her rational disbelief was another writer, her sister Mrs. Susanna Moodie: "It is the most unpoetical of all lands; there seems no scope for the imagination; here all is new-the very soil seems newly formed..." Later in that century they had support from the English poet Rupert Brooke who said flatly, "There are no ghosts in Canadian lanes." In the twentieth century, Earle Birney seems to have been taken in by this concept. In a celebrated line from his 1962

poem "Can. Lit." he noted: "It's only by our lack of ghosts were haunted." Birney and Brooke may not have understood the nature of ghosts, or spirits, which are now regarded as intangible remnants of the human dead, things vaguely aligned with something named the soul. Being closer the burning days, Traill understood that these two words were synonyms for supernaturals: fays, fairies, bogles, satyrs, wood nymphs, naiads, dryads and hamadryads to quote a list of her composition. Ghost is the older of the two words, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon "gast", which had the meaning "breath". A ghost was regarded as the breath of life, or the vitalizing principle common to all plants and animals. After 1066, "spirit", from the Old French "espirit", was substituted to describe this "gift from the gods or God". The Norman invaders of England brought a French dialect to the court, and ghost was afterwards relegated to describing "disembodied human spirits, especially those that were dangerous or malevolent." The Anglo-Saxons were never completely subjugated, and their somewhat modified tongue eventually comprised fifty percent of the vocabulary of English. The antagonism of the Normans toward the Anglo-Saxons is deeply embedded in our language. C.S. Lewis insisted that spirits and ghosts should never be confused: "Ghosts must be pictured, if we are to picture them at all, as shadowy and tenuous, for ghost are half-men, one element abstracted from a creature that ought to have flesh." The introduced word "spirit" replaced the native "ghost" in general use but Henry Bradley noted a theological survival, "The designation "Holy Ghost" (as it) occurred in the baptismal formula and in the Creed...Although it is now permissible to speak of the "Holy Spirit", the older expression still retains the special solemnity that belongs to the traditional terms of ritual." He continues that the substitution of the Latin synonym was once considered improper, being seen as a breach of tradition. Before the Normans arrived it was common to speak of "The Ghost" meaning "the Ghost of God", or of "God's Ghost", identifying the Being who came to be called the "Divine Spirit". In this century, Bradley thought that revival of this usage would prove "utterly shocking" since it would imply that God was dead. He notes that where the Christian Ghost survives he is now distinguished from less potent relatives by teaming the word with Holy. 1


Bradley, The Making of English, p. 192.

While Christians assumed that God supplied the creatures of his universe with ghost, or spirit, the concept was pagan. In the north lands of Europe and America, the elder day tribes all recognizeda pre-eminent creator-god, the maker of the "worlds" and the source of "gast". In northwestern Europe he was known as the Allfather and in America as Kjikinap, these being a few of his many names. The most primitive people were probably monotheistic, having little time or energy for religious rites. These hunters gave their creator-gods a very short history, and even less attention, since it was a matter of observation that they were all unmoved by prayer and praise. The history of religion would probably have stopped at that place expect for the invention of farming. Security of the food source gave people more spare time for considering their relationships with the unknown. A few cagey individuals either discovered, or invented, the principles of magic, thus becoming interpreters of divine reason, and supporters of the many gods they saw personified in the forces of nature. The most impressive magicians became kings, but their kingdom was always at hazard if their magic failed. A notable example was King Olaf "Tree Hewer", whose grasp on life slipped when he was unable to stop a Norwegian famine. In 710 A.D. his adherents returned his spirit to the soil as that of the incarnate god Odin. The creator-gods stood outside of time, as did the elder or elemental gods, who were a trinity long before the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The earliest theologians noted storms of fire, wind and water, which they credited to immortal gods of the underworld, the air and the world's oceans. These gods were never considered a safe focus for worship, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tidal waves occurring without any regard for priests or ordinary men. God-kings were found more compliant to requests, being open to flattery, bribery, coercion, threats, and death. A problem in worshipping priest-god-kings was their mortality, but this was explained by saying that their ghost or spirit was immortal but the forms they occupied were temporary. When King Odin became aged he "cut the geir odds", or committed ritual suicide, explaining to his followers that he was departing for Valhalla where he intended to prepare a paradise for his earth-bound followers. The mortalgod of the Abenaki Indians, a "giant" named Glooscap refrained from taking his own life, but in his old age paddled a canoe away into the north-west after telling the tribesmen that he went to prepare a place for the dead. In the oldest theologies it was supposed that all things were

incarnate and animate, and that the spirit tended to ebb and flow, passing from object to object. It was usually suggested that the god-spirit was given to the elemental gods by the creator god, and that they gifted their realms with this important life-force. It was observed that living things moved, and that motion sometimes characterized the land, the sea, and the air. Any absence of animation was seen as a case of where the spirit of that object was temporarily bound by a spell or enchantment. Mountains were therefore spoken of giants held in the thrall of a powerful magic. When the earth quaked, men said that these giants strained against the forces that held them, expressing pain and grief in their agitated struggles. The bondage of some spirits was seasonal. It was noted that rivers and streams were free to travel except when the land was in the grip of the god, or gods, of winter. Thus it was held that all things possessed a ghost or spirit which might undergo a destruction of form and reincarnation at any time. An Abenaki magic-man explained that "rocks, trees, roots, sticks and stones, bones, parts of bodies (of men and animals) and the various forms of nature are each the living tombs of diverse beings and spirits." The Indians were certain of rebirth as long as any fraction of their corpse remained as a focal point for the spirit. Thus, when the legendary Kikwaju was about to be flattened by a falling rock his last cry to his friends was "Let my backbone be preserved!" From this "power-core" Kikwaju was able to reassemble his body in the material world. Later, in the tales, he was killed three more times, but reincarnated himself, his deaths lasting only long enough to give him rest in the spirit world. Because of this former belief, tribesmen used to treat the bones of the animals they hunted with great respect reasoning that the animal might not otherwise wish to reflesh itself in that form, providing them with a source of meat. Conversely ever atom of an enemy had to be obliterated if he was to be prevented from re-assembling himself after death and kept from seeking revenge. Having seen the process four times, Kikwaju killed the Rock Person, and ground his body to dust. Realizing that even this material contained the life-force, he cast a spell upon it and threw this grit into the air transforming it into blackflies. Sincve the flies flew off in every direction, Kikwaju was certain that it would be many seasons before Rock Person was able to reassemble himself. This view of the nature of the spirit was also common in Europe: "It was held. during the seventeenth century, that corpses, the ashes of animals and even the ashes of burned plants contained reproductive seeds: that a frog, for example, could

engender other frogs even as it decayed, and that the ashes of roses had produced new roses..."2 Ruth Holmes Whitehead has noted that the Micmac language has an absentive-case, conveying the suggestion of something animate but beyond sight. A tree was given the present tense while it stood green-sheathed, but it might be spoken of in the past tense after it fell,if it was reasoned that it contained no spirit. If the spirit remained resident it was recognized that it might live again and the absentive case was applied to it. Things which walked the earth, or grew upward in its sunlight, or lay upon its soil might return in an old pattern but the spirit might be forced into a new form or choose to reanimate in some new manner. Irving Hallowell once asked an elderly Micmac man, "Are all the stones we see about us here alive?" and got the only possible answer, "No, but some are!" In Indian villages the identification of spirited rocks or wood was left to the power-brokers known as the puoinaq. They would carve or engrave images upon bone, sticks or stones thus reforming absent spirits. These objects immediately took the animate case-ending. A painted eelskin, a rock figurine, a carved walking stick or a box decorated with pocupine quills and sweet-grass often combined old spirits in new intimacies creating a new spirit with different characteristics. In other times, a man's weapons, clothing and personal effects were thought to assume some of his spirit through contact, and all of these spirited objects were known as manifestations of power, recreations from "dead" matter which had the potential to change shape, rise to consciousness and speak. One magician explained that spirited objects, "hold a light" which may be felt on the palm of the hand in the daylight. "This is the same light animals leave behind on the stones along the river where they have passed the night."3 In local legends of the white men and the Indians natural night-lights were associated with the spirits of the dead. All the northern Europeans were convinced that the tombs of their heroes emitted a lambent flame, the manifestation of a spirit which guarded the ashes of dead men. The Scandinavians referred to the light as "hauga elldr", or the
2Collin 3Red

de Plancey, Dictionary of Witchcraft, p. 17.

Hawk, as quoted by Whitehead, Stories From the Six Worlds, p. 5.

sepulchral fire. Here, as in the Maritime Provinces this cold flame was supposed to particularly surround tombs which contained hidden treasure. In pre-Christian times it was claimed that these guardians were provided by the gods to each person at birth. They were then suspected of belonging to the class of invisible "little people" known as alfs, ylfs, or elfs. The missionaries renamed these useful creatures, which guarded men throughout life, engels, or angels. It is interesting to notice that most proper names, such as Alprich and Alphart, were, at the same time, rewritten as Engelrich and Engelhart. Among the Abenaki the counterpart of these elfs was the skitekmuj. All of our ancestors suggested that flame-spirits lingered at the burial site until the spirit of the dead moved on to another destination and eventual reincarnation. The Micmacs said that the skitekmuj provided faithful companionship after death just as it provided protection and advice during the life of the individual. In the Atlantic Provinces the flame carried by the guardian was referred to as a corpse-candle, since it was often observed marking the route that the burial party would follow from the home to the grave. The "candle" was called a "fetch" when observed at sea. These flames were not the elfs proper, but the the fires they carried. The spirits were known as the will o' the wisps in our region, but they have many other names: In Scandinavia they were referred to as the lyktgubbe or irrbloss and in Germany as the huckepoten or irrlichter. In Wales they were the ellylldan; in France, the Tan Noz (burnt nosed people), culards or loumerottes. The English once knew them as the elf-fire men, kit-wi'-canstick (candlestick), jack o'lanthorn, joanin-the-wad, or hob-and-lanthorn (lantern). The English and Scottish spunkies were traditionally associated with the spirits of the unbaptized spirits of dead children. While men lived, their guardians stood close by as invisible shadowmen, or women, sometimes referred to as runners or home-shadows, fylgiar, or nornir, the elfin servants of the three giant Wyrd Sisters. According to ancient myth this trinity controlled the destinies of all the spirits resident on earth. Wyrd was the eldest and had control of the past; Verthandi determined events in the present; while Skulld had charge of the future. Between them these women were said to weave the fates of men and the mortal-gods. In prose Edda, Gangler noted that the Wyrds were very unequal in their dealings with men: "Some (people) have a good life and rich, but some have little wealth and praise, some long life, some

short." Har agreed adding, "The good nornir and well descended certainly shape a good life; but those who meet with misfortune have negligent nornir." Thomas Keightley said that the home-shadows bore "a remarkable resemblance to the classical parcae and the fairies of romance. They are all alike represented as assisted at the birth of eminent personages, as bestowing gifts either good or evil, and as foretelling the future fortune of the being that has just entered existence." 4 The Abenaki described these attendant-spirits as a "ghost-bodies": "For a man or woman it looks like a black shadow of a man or woman. It has hands and feet, a mouth, a head and all the other parts of a human body. It drinks and eats. It puts on clothes, it hunts and fishes and amuses itself." 5 Although this was not the only form of the English homeshadow, it was considered a possible manifestation. On overcast days, the guardian was observed to be entirely invisible and was presumed to be free to travel as far ahead of, or behind, its human as it might wish. In this situation, the spirit often materialized as the totem-animal of the clan to which the individual belonged. In a few situations, where it might serve the interests of that person, the shadow appeared as his or her double. This "doppelganger" was supposedly responsible for individuals being seen in two widely separated communities at the same time. Very important individuals were born with two or three guardians. and might be observed simultaneously in as many as four diffrent places. Even when it was invisible, the shadow-man often heralded the arrival of his or her human by by knocking on the walls or door of a house about to be visisted, or by shuffling its feet in a hallway. If left too long separated from its host, the spirit became restless and might resort to opening or closing doors, or swinging on them, to pass the time. In the elder days it was considered a impolite and perhaps hostile to shut a door quickly behind a visitor, an act that might separate the shadow from helping his master. While Saint Patrick's two guardian-angels provided him with nothing beyond theological advice, those at the call of the Celtic hero Cu Chullain

Keightley, Gnomes, Fairies And Other Little

People, p. 65.

Holmes Whitehead, Stories From The Six Worlds,


supported him in battle. When he was near death at the hands of Ferdiad, one came to either side and soon his opponent "felt the onset of the three together smiting his shield...Then Ferdiad remembered that Cu Chullain had an unusual number of invisible helpers and complained, "Thy friends of the sidh (elf or fairy folk) have succored thee, and thou did not disclose this." "Why complainest thou here, O Ferdiad, thou hast the invincible horn skin (armour) whereby to multiply feats and deeds on me, and thou has not explained how that may be opened or closed!" With these words, Cu Chullain dismissed the advantage of having Dolb and Indolb support his cause, and went on to kill his combatant. Very few of our ancestors were aware of their double, exceptions being "gifted" individuals; those born with a double part, or a widow's (or devil's) peak of hair between the eyes; those delivered into our world with eyes of differing colour, which eventually merged into one; and posessors of the caul, fylgia, or birth membrane. Usually the caul, which is a portion of the amniotic sac becomes separated from the child at birth but sometimes it is intact over the head. Folklore insisted that this was a favourable omen, and the mother was expected to walk upon her child's caul and hide it for fear it might be taken. At one time, midwives supplemented their income by stealing cauls which were offered in the black-market for purposes of witchcraft. If this was avoided, the caul was sometimes placed beneath the threshold stone of the home for safekeeping. The baby would then be blessed with help from a very powerful attendant spirit. In addition, children who were gifted were protected against death by drowning, fire or lightning strikes, and this advantage extended to the house. As adults, these lucky people usually carried their cauls on their person, or kept them close at hand. In Maritime communities, the caul-carriers were sought after for work in lumber mills or on ships at sea, since no damage could come to either while these men were about. Helen Creighton has noted that females were made to take a few stitches in their caul as soon as they were able, thus assuring their abilities as seamstresses. It was claimed that gifted people had the ability to see their shadow-duplicates, and to direct them to their advantage. Normal individuals usually bumbled through life aware of their runners on a subliminal level, when they implanted vague notions of danger in the minds of their wards. Most were unable to see the runner until it materialized before them as a warning of impending death. Particularly clumsy people are still accused of "tripping over their own shadow", but few realize this once considered a fact rather than a figure

of speech. Among most primitive peoples the shadow, as well as reflections, are considered an embodiment of the ghost, or spirit, a vital part of the person and a possible source of danger to that individual. While the "breath of life" was not considered a physical thing, the soul was thought of as a concrete object, capable of being seen, captured or injured. Observing the beating of his heart, man sometimes assumed this to be the seat of his soul. When the "little animal within" ceased to move it was assumed that the spirit had departed and the soul was declared AWOL. Sleep and illness were taken as times when the the soul was temporarily absent, death being its final departure. According to the Nootka Indians of British Columbia the soul has the shape of a tiny man: "its seat is the crown of the head. So long as it stands erect, its owner is hale and healthy, but when from any cause it loses its upright position, (the man) loses his senses. Among the Indian tribes of the Lower Fraser River, man is held to have four souls, of which the principal one has the form of a mannikin, while the other three are shadows of it." This same authority noted that the Innu also thought that "the soul exhibits the same shape as the body it belongs to, but is of a more subtle and ethereal nature." 6 The belief in internal souls is not restricted to the past and primitive men. The following report comes from Tancook Island, Nova Scotia, and was made in the middle of the current century: "When Sebastian died, when his last breath came, the whole shape of him came out of his mouth like he was a young man, no longer old and wrinkled, and it went out the door. Just before he died three little taps came to the door, just a couple minutes before. He must have heard them because he looked to the door."7 Noteworthy here, is the typical description of the soul coupled with the traditional "death knock", supposedly the responsibility of the the individual's runner or home shadow. In the last decade, Cape Breton Magazine interviewed a faith-healer named Cleve Townsend. This Louisbourg, Cape Breton resident made it clear that older concepts linger: "There's no death for the inner man. The inner man is

James George Fraser, from "The Soul as a Manikin", The Golden Bough, 1922, one-volume edition.


Creighton, Bluenose Ghosts, p. 79.

what controls this body, not you. It's the inner man that's controlling everything."8 The relationship between the home-shadow and the human was entirely symbiotic, injury or death to one reflecting very rapidly upon the other. The runner has been identified as the residence of a second-soul in European folklore. It has been suggested that those who sleep, hallucinate, or are in a trance-state have projected their internal soul upon this external double. In the case of the witch, this external soul often occupied an animal body and was commonly called a familiar. All those who were psychic, or gifted, shared the witches' ability to see through the eyes and hear through the ears of this shadow-creature. In earlier times, the home-shadow was called a runner, or a fetch, from its use as errand-boy or girl. The mortal-god Wuotan possessed two familiars in the form of ravens which sat upon his shoulders. As black as shadows they departed each morning to gather intelligence for this "father of the gods". One of these he called Hugin (thought) and the other Munin (memory). At dusk they returned to him and whispered news of the world into his ears. He was keenly aware of their value: "Hugin and Munin fly each day over the spacious earth. Always I fear for Hugin that he come not back, Yet more anxious am I for Munin." If the familiar of the witch, or the runner of one who was gifted, was sent to observe the future, then that shadow-creature was called a forerunner, and the ability was known as foresight. If the runner was sent into the past, it was called a hindrunner and the craft of the human was named hindsight. A third function of the runner was to act as a telescope for his human, allowing distant views of activities taking place in the present. The Anglo-Saxons called this ability clearsight; the Normans, clairvoyance. Forays in the past were usually considered most informative, the craft being referred to as fortune-telling in the Anglo-Saxon world, and as divination among the Normans. In eastern North America, the Abenaki's consulted "those who know in advance", a class they called the nikani-kjijitekewinu. While the seers could call upon their shadow-people at will, views of future events were often forced on ordinary individuals. In Maritime Canada, these unexpected foresights have been common. Called tokens or visions, they were frequently connected with impending death or disaster. Aside from meeting their own runner face-to-face some have seen the

Caplan, editor, Down North, p. 165.

shades of friends or relatives prior to death. Others have observed pending ecological disasters, the erections of mines, running of railways and creation of manufacturing plants, in days when the land consisted of nothing more than forest. The Gaels called the ability "an da shealladh", the double visiion, or second-sight, because the phenomena has been described as the imposition of a view of the future upon a present-day landscape. When Helen Creighton was researching folklore in 1956 she was, "amazed to find this strange faculty possessed by so many people." 9 The shadow people possessed all of the five senses normally attributed to man so it is not surprising that gifted individuals often received auditory tokens, or sounds from the past or the future, the ability being named clairaudience. Others could feel or smell aspects of other times and places. Hence, a Cape Bretoner once rubbed his lips and said, "indeed I feel the itch of a kiss (or perhaps a dram) today." Our ancestors knew that a forerunner was shaking hands with a stranger when they felt a sympathetic itch of the right palm. Again, a quiver of the left eyelid meant bad news lay ahead. Motion in the right eye was taken as a good omen, and it was presumed that the runner was looking at something favourable to fortune. Where the contact between a guardian and his ward was tenuous, he was forced to resort to shorthand; hence heat in the right ear meant unfavourable rumors were being passed about a person. If his left ear burned, this was also the case, but he could be sure his reputation was being defended by a friend. Tasting the past, or the future, was not a particularly useful ability, but a few Maritimers had their lives saved by forerunners who warned them of fire by allowing them a early-warning smell of smoke. Children were considered vulnerable to witchcraft during their first year since the protectors of their souls were also undeveloped. As some peoples believe a man's external soul lies within his shadow, some also believe it is resident in his reflection. This explains the local superstition that one should not allow a child of less than one year to look

Creighton, Bluenose Ghosts. See Chapter One, "Forerunners" and Chapter Four, "Foresight And Hindsight". It should be noted that she does not understand the nature of the forerunner, describing it as the equivalent of clairaudience.


into a mirror. 10 In other times, adults were equally leery of still ponds, thinking that some malignant water-spirit might seize their reflection and thus take their life. In this century mirrors were shielded at Cape Breton wakes, in the belief that the soul of the dead might come looking for the company of a living spirit. As with shadows and reflections, so with images. People who held the belief that souls could reside in portraits were naturally loth to have their likeness drawn or photographed. The possessor of the portrait, it was reasoned, was in a position to exercise a fatal influence over the original. The native people of the Lower Yukon River were once menaced by a photographer, who went unnoticed until he allowed a tribesman to look beneath the light shield of his camera. Seeing the figures of his friends moving inverted on the ground glass screen, the man withdrew and shouted fearfully, "he has all your shades in this box". A panic ensued and that was the end of the photographer's work.11 To kill or injure a witch it is only necessary to produce a rude drawing naming it after her. Any injury done to the image is expected to sympathetically reflect through the captured external soul on her internal soul. Hence, a shotgun blast directed at it, upon tearing away an arm of the drawing, would be expected to cause equal injury to the original. "Beliefs of this same sort still liner in parts of Europe. Not very many years ago some old women in the Greek island of Carpathus were very angry at having their likenesses drawn, thinking that in consequence they would pine and die. There are persons in the west of Scotland who refuse to have their likenesses taken lest it prove unlucky; and give as instances the cases of several friends who never had a day's health after being photographed."12 In our provinces, those who succumbed to "witchcraft" of this, or any other sort, were considered jinxes, jonahs, hoodoos, rent-payers to

Creighton Bluenose Magic, p. 143: "If you let a baby less than a year old look in a mirror, it will never live to grow up. (Conquerall Banks, N.S.)"
11James 12Ibid,


George Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 224.

p. 225.

hell, or the "droch-chromhalaichean" (duty bound to the the old Gaelic daygod named Crom). These were thought of as people whose guardians had been stolen, or driven off, through the craft. Usually this loss took place at an early age, the soul of the victim becoming an easy prey for subsequent bewitchment. Mrs. J., interviewed by Helen Creighton in 1947 had particualr trouble with visits from familiars in the form of a creatures known as Night Mares, the supposed causative agent in bad dreams and night-sweats. She explained that her troubles were related to the fact that a spell had once been placed on her by her great-greatgrandmother. A similar fate awaited those who were parted from their caul, or "cap of luck". These unlucky people were considered an omen of bad luck if they were the first people met on taking a journey. Maritime farmers, confronted by a jinx, usually turned their horse from the market, and returned home to avoid accidents to themselves or their beast. The hoodoos were never welcome about work-places and their arrival usually resulted in an unusual calm in the day's activities. The unwelcome visitor was usually advised to "journey on over", and afterwards it was thought that there was lessened danger of men falling, or being injured by their tools. The jonahs were invariably blamed for poor fishing or accidents at sea, and quite frequently the malevolent spirits that followed them attached themselves to the ship even after the responsible party had became shore-bound. In the mid-fifties my father's car-dealership acquired a hoodooed Chevrolet, appropriately named "the gray ghost". The original owner had extremely bad luck with this vehicle, and the hoodoo apparently remained, for the car was sold, and traded, on a monthly basis. All spirits may be sub-divided into those that are immortal and those that are mortal. The creator-gods, such as the Anglo-Saxon Alfadur, the Abenaki Kjikinap, and the Gaelic Dagda belong to the first group. The elementals were also considered unchanging, timeless, and not subject to periodic death and reincarnation. The god of fire was called Loki in Scandinavia. His German counterpart was Laugar, and in England he was Lob-Lie-By-Fire. The Gaelic equivalent was named Lugh. The god of the waters was variously known as Hler, Eagor, Ler or Llyr in the northern countries. The god of the air was Kari, Carey or Wyn ab Nudd. All of these gods were easily recognized by the fact that they have names which reveal nothing of their character: Kjikinap, for example translates as Great Power; Dagda as the Father of Day; Loki as Bound Fire and Wyn ab Nudd as Wind of the Night. Fraser noted that the immortal gods had no marked individuality and no accepted traditions as to origin, life, adventures and

character. Like the Christian "God the Father", they were remote characters with their own objectives and hobbies, and rites aimed at them were magical rather than propitiatory. The elemental gods had names synonymous with the elements and their powers were always restricted to this domain. No special class of persons was given charge of firing flaming arrows into the air to promote sunlight, and priests were not considered necessary to the act of sprinkling water on the ground to encourage the help of the water god. These were all rites of simple sympathetic magic, as was flapping a rag in the air, or whistling, to encourage the wind-god. The rites were performed informally without the need for a temple, as occasion demanded. We have spoken of the spirits of men, who were a mortal-race. In most countries folklore identifies other spirited beings who were classed apart from either men or the higher divinities. Almost all legends agree that the first race on earth was the giants. After them, the creator-gods constructed the mortal-gods, who immediately warred with the giants. Because the big fellows had few magical abilities beyond the "evil-eye", divination, and shape-changing, they were defeated and suppressed by the wonder-working latter-day gods. The mortal-gods were credited with creating the little people as their first experiment. Variously called the sidh, elfs, wights, fairies, or mikumwees, they were gifted with the forms of men but were superior to them in their knowledge of magic, longevity and intelligence. Men were the last race to people the earth, and only gained superiority over the others through their use of iron, which allowed the construction of superior tools and weapons. What little magic they possessed survives in the technological crafts. Most men did not care for the suggestion that the mortal-gods, giants and little people were variants of homo sapiens, but folklorists, archaeologists and historians suspect they were stone or bronze-age peoples forced into the outback by superior numbers or weapons. If they possessed spirit, Christian theologians said that it was not represented in a soul. There is little evidence that the mortal-gods, or the "cannibalistic" giants were disturbed by this lack, but the elfs were often pictured as melancholy, "as if bewailing a half-quenched hope of redemption." The Christians observed a sufficient number of very large and very small people to be convinced of the reality of giants and elfs, but they

could not credit their invention to any of the pagan gods: "Authors vary respecting their essence and origin. Some hold that they have been created by God immediately and without the intervention of parents, like some other kinds of spirits (notably those of earth, fire, water and air): others maintain that they are sprung from Adam, but before the creation of Eve: lastly some refer to them as another race of men, or to a stock of pre-Adamites. Some bestow on them not merely a human body, but an immortal soul: others assign to them merely mortal breath (spiritum) instead of a soul, whence a certain blockhead, in an essay respecting them, calls them our "half-kyn". 13 Obviously, by Victorian times, the soul was regarded as something other than a little spirit, resident under the breast-bone, or in the head, given responsibility for the physical workings of the body. Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible points out that the word "soul" is used throughout most of the Bible as an exact synonym for "life". In the earliest versions of the Old Testament it was never confounded with "spirit", or "the animating principle", as is now the case. The idea that the soul was immaterial and capable of surviving death has no Biblical foundation, but seems to have derived from the Church Fathers, especially St. Augustine. He argued that this immaterial force, which drove the human spirit, had to be immortal "because it was the repository of imperishable truth." In redefining the soul as the "immortal essence of life" the Christians made the word soul nearly synonymous with ghost, or spirit. The major difference between this, and pagan belief, is that the latter held out for periodic rather than a single rebirth. Christians agreed with the pagans that "everything is eternal" but did not share their insistence that "life is a kaleidoscope of power, and death a mere shifting of the glass."

Keightley, Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, p. 159. The "blockhead" he noted was Janus Gudmund author of De Alfis et Alfheimum (The Elfa and Elfhome).


The Yule, Christide And Christermas

In the introduction to his book The Norsemen, H.A. Guerber noted "an extraordinary indifference" to the religious tradition and mythical lore of Icelandic literature, which was the basis of his writing. He supposed that, "The introduction of Christianity into the North brought with it the influence of the Classical races, and this eventually supplanted the native genius (of Scandinavia and Iceland)...the alien mythology and literature of Greece and Rome have formed an increasing part of the mental equipment of the northern peoples in proprtion as the native literature and tradition have been neglected." He argued this gave undue prominence to the Mediterranean peoples since, "Undoubtedly Northern mythology has exercised a deep influence upon our customs, laws and language, and there has been..a great unconscious inspiration flowing from these into English literature..." 14 This misdirection of effort is suprising, for the English were AngloSaxons before they crossed the Channel to the western islands. These former residents of northern Germany were anciently allied with the Scandinavians in tongue, customs and religious beliefs. When they came to the new land, they pushed the Celtic Britons into the extreme northwest and had few dealings with them or the other aboriginal races. The Romans had vacated the land they called Britannica, leaving it open to invasion by these Angles, or Engles or Englishmen. The invaders had no direct contact with them, and nothing of their lore from the Celtic peoples. It has been estimated that as few as five hundred Celtic words became engrafted to the English tongue, and most of these were geographical terms necessary to their conqest. The depths of Wales, Ireland and Scotland remained independent, and there does not seem to have been much commerce or social activity involving the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. The French languague is one of the Romanesque tongues. That land was under Roman occupation much longer than Britannia and French became a repository for the classical languages. When the Norse went viking, they occupied a portion of the French countryside, now known as Normandy (Norse-mens country). They settled there, and their language became a mixture of Teutonic and French words and usage. In 1066, they invaded England, defeated the Anglo-Saxons, and introduced the Norman language to the king's circle, the courts and official life. This French

Guerber, The Norsemen, pp xi-xii.

dialect was spoken until 1327 when the Anglo-Saxon tongue regained its place. Much of the French vocabulary remained, but most of the classical words were added with a revival of learning that took place in the reign of Henry the Eighth. Speaking of English, which still retains a vocabulary which is fifty percent Anglo-Saxon, Grimm suggested: "It possesses, through its abundance of free medial tones, which may be learned indeed, but which no rules can teach, the power of expression such as was never perhaps attained by any human tongue. Its altogether intellectual and singularly happy foundation and development has arisen from a surprising alliance between the two oldest languages of antiquity, the German and the Romanesque..." The foot-up that the latter gained among the literrati was due to the fact that education was, at first, in the hands of the Church, and the fathers spoke and used Latin. For this reason, the myths and legends of the north-lands were largely ignored, those of the Mediterranean lands being better known. The Christians were especially aware of the competing eastern religions, which their Roman brethern had successfully put down. A major Roman cult which survived the establishment of Christianity by Constantine was the worship of the "Great Mother of the Gods", a focus of orgiastic rites which were "a curious blending of crude savagery with spiritual aspirations." This was only one of a number of eastern religions brought back by legionaires posted far from home. This woman-deity they left to the civilian population, showing a preference for Mithra, or Mithras. This Persian god carried a Greecian name as a result of his travels. Like Woden and Glooscap, he was identified as a mortal man-god, being spoken of as "the rock born", or "the earth born". As Woden was inferior to the Alfadur, and Glooscap to Kjikinap, Mithras was the creation of the world-maker named Ormazd, also known as Ahura Mazda. In a fit of boredom, the immortal god had created men and Ahriman, his divine alterego, a creature of the dark side. Mazda slew the divine bull of heaven thus creating, from its blood, the plants and animals that were beneficial to man. He then turned to instucting them in the useful arts and crafts and as a result was declared a mortal-god. After his death he was "translated" to another world, where he stood watch over the interests of men. He was expected to make a second-coming to earth, at which time he would destroy all evil and lead the faithful into eternal life. The Mithric cult was the centre of secret initiation ceremonies, or mysteries, and had

rites which were celebrated in grottoes and underground chapels. It was first introduced at the time of Trajan but its greatest backing from Commodus, who was an initiate. After that it became the principal religion of legionaires, was carried by them into the west, and in the last days of paganism was the most dangerous rival of Christianity. The rites of Mithras were surprisngly similar to those of the Mother Of God religion and Christianity. Shocked by this, some of the Church Fathers declared it a diabolical counterfeit. As Tindall has said Christianity had novel elements (notably its asceticism) but it was never a complete innovation: "No religion is ever entirely new. Christian dogma contained a number of ideas which are older than itself and which seem to form a psychological staple in most religions. The Holy Trinity was foreshadowed...The Virgin Mary, both "mother and maiden", is clearly akin to older virgin-fertility goddesses, and virgin birth crops up in other religions...So do the themes of a dangerous childhood, a mission to the people, and god's ultimate sacrifice and ressurection. The traditional language and rituals of Christianity betray an un-Christian origin. The phrase "Saved By His Blood" evoked the pagan ceremony of sprinkling blood on the land to ensure a good harvest, and the periphrasis "Lamb of God" introduces even more strongly the idea of sacrifice...The whole crucixionepic belongs with the widespread folk-myth that the god must die, either actually, or by proxy, after a term of years. His death is forseen and not resisted, and eventually he rises from the dead in his own or some other form...Even...the Holy Communion, where the Body and Blood are ritually eaten, is an emasculated version of a more barbaric sacrificial ceremony. The reverencing of the cross or rood-tree reflects earlier tree-cults..." 15 Tindall thought that Christianity "was (nevertheless)a considerable new departure, being monotheistic, ascetic and moral". It is true they were committed to certain forms of self-denial, but the One Lord had reflections in various creator-gods. As for fair play: "the Mithraic religion proved a formidible rival..., combining as it did a solemn ritual with aspirations after moral purity and a hope of immortality." 16

15Gillian 16Sir

Tindall, A Handbook On Witches, pp. 31-32.

James G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 416.

A relic of the long struggle between the two faiths is preserved in the holy day we call Christmas, which was the Mithraic festival named the Nativity of the Sun. The winter solstice is an astronomical event which occurs about December twenty-first. At that time the sun is furtherest from the equator, and the night that follows is the longest of the year. While the sun appears to be travelling southward or into the north at other times, it hestitates in the sky during this day, hence the designation "sol" + "stice" (the sun that stands at rest). By the twenty-fifth, it was evident that the sun's power was increasing, or reborn. The ritual of this nativity was celebrated in Syria and Egypt before it came to Rome. In these countries celebrants retired to hidden shrines, from which, on the eve of December twenty-fifth, they greeted the morning sun with shouts such as "The virgin brings forth, the sun is renewed." The Egyptians even fashioned a clay image of an "infant sun" which they displayed on his "birthday". Fraser suggests that this "heavenly infant was, at maturity, the "Great Mother", later worshipped in Greece as Astarte and Hecate. Mithras was also identified as the first born of the sun, and his birthday was also celebrated on the twenty-fifth day of the month. The gospels say nothing concerning the nativity of the man-god named Christ and the early Church did nothing to celebrate his birthday. In the third century, the Christians of Egypt finally agreed that Jesus had been born on January sixth (which is still named Old Christmas, or Epiphany). The eastern half of the Church accepted this date, but in the fourth century, the western Church decided to celebrate on December twenty-fifth. No pretense of historical accuracy was ever made at Rome, in fact the motive was stated with surprising frankness: "The reason why the Fathers transferred the celebration from the sixth of January to the twenty-fifth of December was this: It was the custom of the heathen to celebrate, on this day, the festival of the sun. The worshippers then kindled lights as tokens of the rebirth of this heavenly body. In these festivals our Christian brethern also took part against the wishes of the Fathers. Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church assembled and saw that the brethern had laeanings in favour of this time, they counselled and decided that the true Nativity might best be celebrated on that day rather than later in the year. Accordingly, customs were fired between December twenty-fifth and Januray sixth." 17

A similar quote may be found in James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, pp. 416-417.


The heathen connection was tacitly admitted by the Roman emperor, Augustine, when he strongly suggested that Christians were not celebrants of the new-born sun, but those who believed in the god who made the sun. The "Son of Righteousness" was thus deliberately confused with the man-god, who was the progeny of the sun. Descriptions of the latter rites are informative. The "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" was preceeded, in Rome, by a seven-day tribute to Saturn, the god of agriculture and followed by the Kalends. The rites of the Saturnalia were borrowed from the Greeks, the god named Saturn being the Roman equivalent of Cronus. He was one of the race of Titans or "sea-giants", supposedly worshipped by the unfortunate citizens of Atlantis. In Greek mythology, he was the son of Uranus and Gaea. He overthrew his father to gain the throne and was in turn defeated by his own "son" Zeus, the leader of the Olympian "gods". The Romans took this mortal god into their panoply about the third century B.C. He was, from the first, recognized as a man who had taught the Greeks the arts of farming and led them in an earlier golden age. After he became a god of agriculture, he was confounded with Saturn and statues were placed in Rome in a building which was also used as the state treasury. His Saturnalia began December fifteenth with official religious rites but from then until "Dies Solis Invicti Nati" (December twenty-fifth, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun) normal life was turned upside down. Gambling was made legal, debts forgiven, the courts closed, and all but criminal acts tolerated. Slaves dressed in clothes above their station and were served meals by their masters. A mock king was chosen to rule festivities and gifts were exchanged. These were simple in the early days, wax candles to be used on December twenty-fifth, or simple clay dolls, but in the end gift-giving was excessive. "The festival of the kalends is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend...Within it may be seen carousals and well laden tables; luxurious the houses of the rich, but also in the houses of the poor, better food than usual appears upon the table. The desire to spend seizes all. He who previously preferred to live in poverty, now indulges in feasting as his means will allow. Streams of presents flood the country...The highroads and the footpaths are filled with parades of men and beasts...It may be honestly said that this is the

fairest time of the year...The kalends banish all toil and allows men the fullest enjoyment." 18 The "laws" laid down by the Priest of Saturn were easily obeyed and are comparable with those now attached to Christmas Day: 1. All business must cease during the Saturnalia, save that involved in the sports, cooking and baking. 2. For the interval all men are equal, slave and free, rich and poor men. 3. Anger, resentment, threats, quarrels and flighting are contrary to the law. 4. No discourse is to be exchanged except that which is witty and lusty and devoted to giving mirth. The Church Fathers were never able to destroy the "spirit" of the season, but they successfully limited it to a single day and were able to restrict "excesses" by attaching religious rites to this feast-day. Between the fifth and the tenth centuries, Christ's Mass was considered the start of the ecclesiastical year. In 529 A.D. the emperor Justinian declared it an official hoiliday and prohibited all work and business. Seeing the continuing influence of the Saturnalia and the Kalends, the Council of Tours met in 567 and declared the pre-Christmas days the Advent, a time to be used in fasting in preparation for the holy day. At the same time, they declared the twelve days following Christmas a Christian season, terminating at Epiphany (December 6). The most ascetic Christians came close to starving themselves between Advent and Epiphany, so that when the Council of Braga met in 563 they had to forbid fasting on Christmas Day. As a result, many took liberties which went far beyond the edict and Christmas became a virtual dumping-ground for all kinds of popular pagan rites and mid-winter customs, which have remained with us to this day. The Fathers were no entirely happy with the result, but seemed to have accepted it, since it compressed most of the "evils" of the season into a single day. Many of the customs of the present have parallels in the Roman Saturnalia, Nativity of the Sun and Kalends, but the ghosts of Yule were

P. Coffin, The Book of Christmas Folklore.

Similar to p. 4.

not built on classical models. Before historic time, the northern parts of Europe were occupied by two important language groups, the Celts and the Teutons, who came to the region in successive migrations from the east. The Celts of the continent shared a dialect with the Britons, who occupied what is now England. The Cymry, or Welsh had a similar vocabulary, but different pronounciations, as did the people latterly called the Gaels, who held Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. According to their myths, the Celts were led out of the "summer country" by a warriormagician who had something of the character of Cronus. He was variously called Aod, Hu, or Hugh, all of which are complete synonyms of an ancient Celtic word for fire. In the Welsh tongue "huan" still identifies the sun , while "till a late period the word Hu..was frequently used to express God..." Paralleling the career of Saturn, Aod found his first home over-populated and hunted, so he led them out of the Near East "across many lands ending with Britain." This last was described as a country of great forests in which bears, wolves and bisons wandered at will,a place of morasses and pools filled with the dreadful "efyncs" (crocodile-like monsters). Here, the Gaelic Aod finally settled teaching his people the arts of civilization. The same was said of the Cymric man-god called Hu, who "taught the Cumry the arts of civilized life, to build comfortable houses, to sow grain and reap, to tame the buffalo and bison, and turn their mighty strength to profitable account, to construct boats with wicker and the skins of animals, to drain pools and morasses, to cut down forests, cultivate the vine andd encourage bees, make wine and mead, frame lutes and fyfes and play upon them, compose rhymes and verses, fuse minerals and form them into various instruments and weapons, and to move in masses against their enemies..." Under this first land-developer, the isles of the socalled Albans became, "a smiling region". The old records admit that "after his death Hu was worshipped as the God of agriculture and war by the Cumry and the Gauls (Britons). Further, "The Germans paid him divine honours under the name Heus, from which name the province of Hesse, in which there was a might temple devoted to him. The Scandinavians worshipped him under the name Odin and Gautr, the latter word a modification of the Cumric Gardarn or mighty. The wild Finns feared him as a wizard and honoured him as a musician under the name Wainoemoinen..."19


Borrow, Wild Wales, pp. 526-527.

It is a well known tenant of mythology that the man-god called Odin, or Woden, or Wuotan displaced an earlier god named Thor, or Donar, who was invited to enter the Odin's court, where he became the god of thunder. Woden assimilated the fire-god Loki in a similar manner, and took on the attributes of other man-gods. In the Eddas he is named Ygg, Asa, the Valfadur, and it is noted that "he had no less than two hundred names, all descriptive of some phases of his activities." The truth is, probably, that he assumed the names of others. While the immortal gods were not interested in the affairs of men, the mortal-gods were always tampering with fate, which explains why the word "odin" indicates an "oathbreaker".20 An interesting foot-note is the fact that the Christians insisted that no responsible man should possess more than two given names. This idea continues in local folklore, thus Creighton was told: "A man with more than two Christian names never gets on in the world." 21 In his own time, Odin was not unsuccessful. It was claimed that the mortal-gods were recarnate, which explains why folklorists suggest that there was an ancient Odin (or Odins) in addition to at least one semihistoric personage. As the pre-eminent god-spirit named Odin, suggested his claim was backed by the creator-god when he surnamed himself Allfather. Following this pattern, other persons who took up the name assumed the virtues, failings, powers and adventures of any predecessors. One of the last to arrive on the scene was King Odin, a former resident of Asia Minor (possibly Crimea, which was the supposed original home of Hugh the Mighty). The Romans had barely made their first landfall in the island kingdom called Alba or Britannia when the race known as the Aesir (Norse, pillars of the world) decided to migrate because of presence of the Roman Empire on their southern borders. The people of Odin are supposed to have left their native land in 70 B.C. and migrated westward across Europe, conquering REussia, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden as they progressed. In Denmark, the Aesir built the town of Odensoe (Odin's Isle) and in Sweden they founded Sigtuna. Here, Odin introduced a new system of worship, supplanting Thor with a god who shared his own name. In this place, seeing his end draw near, Odin drew a sword nine times across his chest, and returned to his kingdom of Asgard, above the sky as

20Similarly, 21Helen

the Abenaki glooscap is a synonym for a liar.

Creighton, Bluenose Magic, p. 166.

well as the earth. According to an ancient poem Odin's sons Weldegg, Beldegg, Sigi, Skiold, Saeming and Yngvi Frey became kings of the north-lands after his departure. From the last, a king of Sweden, are descended the AngloSaxons, and notably Hengist and Horsa, whose seven sons formed the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy and established their line in Britannia, that place being afterwards called England, the land of the Ings, or Engs. Before the Roman calendar was known in the north, the various Teutons had their own means of reckoning time, the month which occupied mid-winter was named "geola" among the Anglo-Saxons. The Celts called this season the "geamhradh" (time of the parade of the gamer, or hunter), December being "an Dudlachd" (the wild black time). The Middle English transcribed "geola" as "yola" and this is confluent with a number of other names that appear throughout northern Europe, the commonest being "ylir". The shortest day of this winter month was "geol", which the Old Norse termed "jul". It has been guessed that the word had some connection with the Latin word "joculus", a diminished for of "jocus" from which we have the English word joke. It has also been argued that the English word Yule may relate to the French Noel. In any event, the month of geola was originally considered sacred to the mortal-god called Thor, the eve of the longest night, which fell within it, being called Mother Night or geol-eve. Even at a late date, Thor was considered the most important pagan god in Norway, and was considered second to Odin in most other countries. He was often referred to as "Old Thor" in recognition of the fact that he was part of a dynasty that predated the Aesir. In spite of his age he was always represented as a man in his prime, with red hair and beard and a temper to match. Thor wore a crown whose three points each carried a glittering star of the north, and his head was surrounded by a will o' the wisp, or surround of static fire, which was considered his element. He carried the magic hammer called Miolnir (crusher) which always returned to his hand and wore one iron glove to protect himself from its heat. It appears that he was distinct from the other gods since he was also called Aku-thor (Thor the chariotdriver). The other gods rode astride their horses, while Thor's animals were two he-goats, whose hooves scattered sparks as he travelled through the clouds. He was originally the god of the north-wind, but he surrendered this job to Odin when he agreed to affiliate himself with the

court of the Aesir. Admitted to Asgard, he became the god of thunder and lightning and built Bilskirnir (the lightning castle). Because of his attachment to the losing race, Thor welcomed dead thrall to his home, for he became the patron god of peasants and men of the lower classes. Thor was a confirmed enemy of the giants and the closest friend of Loki. It has been suggested that Thor epitomized the serious side of mankind, while Loki represented the playful, unsettled characteristics of our race. We know little of the Yule as it honoured Thor. It was co-opted by Odin and usurped from him by his brothers Vili and Ve. These three aided their father, the immortal god Borr (from whose name, beer, bear, boar and bore) in the successful struggle against the hostile frost-giants. Later, while Odin was on an extended tour of his holdings on earth, these two seized his kingdom, took his throne and even his wife Frigga. She did not seem distressed: Be thou silent Frigg! Thou art Fiorgyn's daughter And ever hast been fond of men, Excerpt from Saemund's Edda Upon Odin's unexpected return, the usurpers suddenly retreated. In commemoration of the return of the benevolent deity after seven months of misrule, "the heathen Northmen formerly celebrated yearly ferstivals, which were long continued as May Day rejoicings. Until very lately, there was always, on that day, a grand procession in Sweden, known as the May Ride, in which a flower-decked May King (Odin) pelted with blossoms the fur-enveloped Winter (his supplanter), until he put him to ignominious flight. In England also the first of May was celebrated as a festive occassion, in which Maypole dances, May queens, Maid Marian, and Jack in the Green played prominent parts."22 Whether all this represents a simple personification of summer and winter, or commemorates an actual event, is unknown. In some versious of the struggle Odin's protagonist was Uller, the winter-god, a son of Sif and the stepson of Thor. His father is never mentioned in the myths, but may be assumed to have been one of the

Guerber, The Norsemen, p. 38.

dreaded frost-giants who were constantly at war with the gods. Uller loved the cold and travelled the countryside pursuing game with his huge bow. Since bows were originally constructed of yew wood this was his totem tree, and his keep was at Ydalir (the vale of the yews). "As the winter-god, Uller, or Oller, was considered second to Odin, whose place he usurped during his absence in the winter months. During this period he exercised full sway over Asgard and Midgard, and even...took possession of Frigga...But as Uller was very parsimonious, and never bestowed any gifts upon mankind, they gladly hailed the return of Odin, who drive his supplanter away, forcing him to take refuge in the frozen North or on the tops of the Alps."23 While Uller spent the summer in these parts his retreat was temporary and he might be expected to re-appear in the hindpart of the year. There are several reasons for seeing Uller as the alter-ego of Odin: Both were reputed to have espoused Skadi, the goddess of the hunt, and Uller, like Odin was considered a gatherer of the spirits of the dead. At the very least he rode in the Odin's Wild Hunt, but in some of the tales he lead it. Uller perhaps invented the prototype of Santa's sleigh, for it was said that he said his runes over pieces of bone which changed into a "vessel" capable of moving him very rapidly over both land and sea. Among the Anglo-Saxons, Uller was called Vuller, and in parts of Germany, he was Holler, and considered the husband of the goddess known as Frau Holle, a certain counterpart of Frigga, the wife of Odin. On Uller's altars lay a "sacred ring" which was donned when matters of truth were at issue. It was claimed that any man who perjured himself while wearing this ring would have his finger severed by the shrinking force of the cold. People visits Uller's shrine in November and December, when the entreated him to provide "shield cover", or a good coat of snow, to protect the earth. In Christian times, this god had his reputation assumed by St. Herbert, the hunter, who was made patron of the first day of and month of each New Year, which was formerly set at November 22 in Scanadinavia.

Physically, Odin resembled the winter-king; a tall vigorous man at

H.A. Guerber, The Norsemen, pp. 139-140.

least fifty years of age, with a long white beard and dark curling hair tending to baldness. He usually dressed in a blue hood and mantle, the latter flecked with gray, as representing the northern sky. In an angry mood Odin wore his eagle crested helmet, but on peaceful journeys to earth he wore a low slouch-hat to cnceal the fact that he possessed only one eye. While Odin had many configurations it as the god of the northern wind that he was attached to the Yule season. His steed was white and eight-footed and travelled on the winds of winter. His mission at that time was the gathering and carrying off of the spirits of the dead, whether animals or men. As warden of the dead, he was called the Wild Huntsman. Those who heard the rising of the north wind fancied they heard his host assembling, and when the wind rushed south from the pole star they claimed to see his entourage of wasted bodies following a pack of baying hounds. His Wild Hunt was alternately known as the Raging Host or the Asgardreia, a presage of war, pestilence and misfortune. In the elder days it was considered bad form to imitate sounds heard on the wind, for it was known that those who mocked the Hunt might be snatched away before their time was up. Those who shouted in good faith, were however, usually rewarded when a join of some unknown meat was thrown at them from the heavens. If this was kept overnight, it invariably turned to gold. Less frequently Odin left behind a small black dog, that whined without let-up. This had to be kept for a full year unless it could be exorcized or tricked into leaving. Aside from the spirits of the dead, the Hunt was said to seek the German moss-maidens, or follow after a visionary wild boar. The Hunt was said to appear regularly once in seven years. While some folklorists have suggested that the moss-maidens represented the autumn leaves torn from the trees and whirlerd away by the winter gale, it is likely that the mortal-god known as Odin was engaged in real rape and plunder. Odin was considered abroad on any winter storm, but was said to prefer the hunting during the time between Yule and year-end, which we now call Christmastide. Wise peasants sought to propitiate King Odin, while he lived, by leaving grain in the fields to facilitate his passing. This custom, once established continued into our century. The Hunt was given various names throughout Europe, new men receiving the honour as leader. When Woden was no longer worshipped the English called it the Herlathing, after their mythical King Herla. In

northern France it was "Mesnee d'Hellequin" after Hel, the Old Norse goddess of death. In the Middle Ages, Cain's Hunt, or Herod's Hunt was the more usual form. A Swedish king named Gabriel added his name to a long list that included Charlemagne, Barbarossa, Rodenstein, von Hackelberg, King Arthur, and Fontainebleau, who were all disliked by some of the people of the north. The peasantry insisted that "le Grasnd Veneur de Fontainebleau" was last heard as he swept across the sky on the eve of Henry IV's murder, at the outbreak of the French Revolution. In Scotland, the winter-wind and soul-taker was personified as the Cailleach Bheur (Winter Hag). She was represented , significantly, as a one-eyed giantess who had single-handedly created Alba and the western isles. According to the "senachies" (tale-tellers) ahe gathered earth from the Scandinavian mainland and carried it in a wicker-creel across the western waters, where she dumped it to form a land for her cattle and wild animals. A custodian of these beasts she often travelled her realm leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop in the form of a gray mare. In more human form, she went about perpetually shedding snow from the rod that she carried. This magical wand was the source of thunder and lightning, like Thors hammer, and men sought to take it from her but always ended their lives as burnt cinders. When men saw her power diminish towrd the end of winter, they often mocked her, but she always retaliated by sending wolves, wind-sharks and birds of death among them. Her correspondence with Thor is shown in the fact that she always ended her season by "throwing her hammer beneath the mistletoe". After that she was shape-changed into the Celtic moon-goddess named Samh, who had charge of the Samradh, or summer. Female deities were considered as demanding as the gods, and even after demotion they were feared. The Christians introduced the Germans to Saint Lucy, the patron of light, but the tribesmen continued to see an Odinesque darker side of her personality. Some said that she shapechanged into the witch called Lutzelfrau, "a fearsome creature who rode the winds at Yuletide and had to be bribed with little gifts." Another of her kind is more patently a female Odin: Mother Gode, or Wode, is supposed to have been a great huntress, and like Odin, led the Wild Hunt, mounted on a white horse, "her attendants being changed for that time into hounds and all manner of wild beasts." Her ride down the north wind was not regarded as seriously as that of Woden, "her appearance being

considered a harbinger of great prosperity." 24 Surprisingly, Mother Gode has survived in Atlantic Canada as an elfin creature called Mother Goody. When I was a child she arrived in our home on New Year's Eve, leaving small gifts or candies for children who had show "reasonable" behaviour during the Yule. This tradition was transmitted through my mother's family, who were German immigrants to the Fundy Isles of New Brunswick, and is consistent with the character of Mother Gode (god). It can be guessed that this character corresponds exactly with Frigga, or Frigg, the wife of Woden. While Odin was the god of the biting north-wind, she was considered the goddess of the clouds, and wore snow-white or dark garmets according to her ever-chjanging moods. She was the patroness of domestic love and housewifes and the protector of children. Although worshipped as Frigga in southern Germany and Scandinavia, she was represented under many other names: Holda, Hulda, Frau Holle, Eastre, Bertha, the White Lady, Frou-elden, Frau Venus, Nerthus (Mother Earth), and Ostara, to mention a few. Irrespective of the name her character was consistent: She presided over the weather, and dispensed valuable gifts, particularly fax, which she gave to mankind, teaching women to spin and weave the material. As she was particularly interested in the use made of this gift, Mother Gode was said to flit through every village during the Yulke-tide, peering into every window to accept inspect the spinning done in each household. If the work was up to standard the goddess left a distaff of especially fine flax, or even one filled with golden threads. The careless spinner could expect other treatment: either he wheel was broken or her fax despoiled with cow dung. The only recompense was to eat one of the festive cakes during each of the days of the Yule, otherwise a cruel physical punishment (such as being hurled into a manure pile) followed. It was once claimed that the mother of the gods was the leader of the Seligen Fraulein who lived within the hollow-hills of Germany. Their most celebrated dwelling place was the Wunderburg (Under Mountain) on the great moor near Salzburg in northern Germany. This place was said to be quite hollow and filled with stately oalaces, places of worship, gardens, and springs flowing with silver and gold. Its inhabitants, aside

Guerber, The Norsemen, p. 57.

from the "wild-women" (who were actually described as "having great piety ") little-men "who haver charge of its treasure", giants, and by times, "the great emperor Charles V". Interestingly, the Seligen were threatened once in seven years by the "wilde-manner", storm-causing giants (like Odin), who pursued them with such lust that "they have all but disappeared." When they were not the quarry of a wild hunt, they were said to be fierce environmentalists, protecting "chamois and deer from hunters, and milking them in underground stalls." For men, they often made the flax grow faster and stronger and lent a hand at the harvest. "They help with the milking and herding, spinning and weaving. They teach their favourites the art of herb-healing and rescue lost travellers. Despite their willingness to work, the Seligen can be driven away if their hair is touched by a man, if anyone curses in their presence, if they are hit in anger, if they are called by their proper names or if they are given gifts of clothing."25 "This gracious goddess was so dearly loved by the old Teutons, that even after Christianity had been introduced they retained so pleasant a ressurrection of her , that they refused to have her downgraded to the rank of a demoness, like many of their other divinities, and transferred her name to their great Christian feast (Easter)." 26 It was formerly common to celebrate this day be exchanging gifts in honour of the earth-mother. Since she was regarded as a fertility goddess her symbol was the egg, and decorated erggs were often given. The early Christians continued this tradition with the proviso that the egg represented pregnant life and was symbolic of the Ressurection. In various parts of Germany stone altars may still be seen, all dedicated to Ostara. These used to be crowned with flowers at the May celebrations, and at these sites young people danced about great bonfires, "a species of popular games practised until,the middle of the present century, in spite of the priest's denunciations and the repeatedly published edicts against them." 27


Arrowsmith, A Field Guide To The Little People, pp.

26H.A. 27H.A.

Guerber, The Norsemen, p. 55. Guerber, The Norsemen, p. 56.

It should not be thought that the Mother Gode was without failings. At one point in mythological history Odin's throne was supposedly usurped by Uller, the god-giant of winter, and Frigga willing submitted to him, being "generally pleased with the company of men". When Odin returned after seven weary snow-filled months his wife was able to convince him that she had had little choice and that the counterfeir "looked exactly like him". In the guise of Frau Venus, Frigga was said to be an enchantress who lured mortals into her realm, where she detained them forever, steeping their senses in all manner of "sensusal pleasures." Her most famous victim was Tannhauser who escaped her wiles, but condemed by the Pope at Rome for "living in sin" returned to the cave of Horselberg in the province of Thuringia. Finally, it is noteworthy that this White Lady was the mythic mother of Charles the Great, and through him the entire German imperial family. The White Lady was said to materialize at the death of any member of this clan, or any other misfortune that befell the family. This myth was so widely believed that an appearance was noted in an offical report made in 1884. Goddesses who stalked the land, rode white stallions, supported the causes of man, and possessed vast sexual appetites were never restricted to the Teutons. The Celts had a similar earth-mother named Don, Dan or Danu, the supposed ancestress of all the gods and the Celtic race. Her mate was Dagda (Father of the Day) a obscenely magnificent creature, who had something of the form of the modern Santa Claus: "They filled him with porridge from the king's cauldron. It was five fists deep, containing four-score gallons of new milk and an equal quantity of meal and fat. The meat of goat , sheep and swine were mixed in and boiled with the porridge. When ready, the Dagda took his ladle, big enough to carry a coupling man and woman, and ate. "Good food, he commented and then fell into sleep. Bigger thana house-cauldron was the belly of this god. It was never easy for this hero to move owing to his fat. Unseemly too was his apparel from droppings of food..."28 Danu does not seemed to have objected to his untidy appearance, perhaps submitting because he was "good at everything in a non-specific way." The goddess must have been equal to him in physique as they were recorded as coupling out-of-doors, with their feet planted on the two banks of the River Boyne. Incidentally that river is named for the

Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover, Ancient Irish Tales, paraphrased from "The Second Battle of Mag Tured".


Boann (Cow-fire) an equally ancient goddess, whose history is often confounded with Danu. The "fire" referred to in her name was lightning, and it may not be coincidence that the name "Thonar" or "Donar" (the Norse god of lightning) has a superficial resemblance to "Don". The Celtic goddesses are, in fact, totally confused, the product of an admittedly nonliterate socety. "Some of the goddesses were mother and fertility figures; others were agents of death. There was an amorpous quality to them; they are figures of multiple personality veiled shadows behind the clear, bright singleness of the male deities." 29 Like mother Gode, the ultimate motherearth figure had many names. In the Welsh Mabinogion she is identified as Rhiannon, "a woman dressed in shining god brocade and riding a great pale horse." The Gaels has a similar deity called Emain Macha, who actually beat the king's racing-stallions over the course. Surely these are related to the Glas Lair (Gray Mare) one of the forms taken by the Scoto-Irish Cailleach-Bheur (Winter Hag)? The Welsh Rhiannon has mich in common with Rigatona (litterly, the one who wiggles, the whore, the wanton woman) and she is no more sexually active than Morrigan (Born of the Sea) who appears in myth as a horse that rides the waves. This is the same raven-haired summer-witch that some named Samh, or Nemain (the lithe thief),the moon goddess of youth. Like the Norse gods Loki, Kari and Hler, Morrigan was one of a trinity, her mature form being the Baobh (carrion crow), whose name is also seen as Medb, or Maeve. Emain Macha was the aged warrior woman, but like all of them she possessed the ability to shape-change into a creature who seemed young and desirable. All of the crow-goddesses were dangerous shape-changers. Medb, for example once fought hand-to-hand with the northern Irish hero Cuchullain, changing into a wolf which stampeded cattle in his direction and later taking the form of various wild animals, including a huge serpent which attempted, unsuccessfully, to strangle him. More often, she was content to fly the battlefield as a huge black bird collecting the souls of those who were dead and announcing deaths by materializing before men whose lives were drawn thin. In the Maritime provinces, witch women were referred to as "gorbeys" (a diminuation of "corbel", the crow). Suprisingly, our continent possessed a similar hunter of souls before

Scherman, The Flowering of Ireland, p.53.

the white man was established in these parts. His name was as varied as that of Odin. In the Maritime Provinces, he was the woods-whooper and in the Canada, the wendigo (an Algonquin word meaning cannibal). The whooper has been described as a personification of storm and hunger, one that stalks the woods in search of men it may consume. "It may take the form of a cannibalistic Indian breathing flames or it may assume the guise of a supernatural creature with a heart of ice that flies through the night in search of a victim to satisfy its craving for human flesh. The wendigo may...frighten its victim to death, or may attack and, amid shrieks and growls, slaughter him. Yet again it may allow its victim to escape with its life, though transformed by the encounter and devoid of individuality." 30 When Odin undertook "geir-odds" he was succeeded to the earththrone by a "sea-giant" entitled King Niord. The gods were enemies of the frost-giants and the separate race known as the Vana, or sea-giants. When Odin's Wrath invaded the north, they soon discovered and warred with this race, which had its headquarters in the south of Sweden. Unfortunately they could not gain a decisive edge, so they arranged a treaty with them. Under the terms, one of Odin's brothers went as a hostage to Vanaheim, while Niord became a resident of Asgard. Niord was given a palace at Noatun, near the seashore and proved invaluable in stilling the tempests created by Hler, the god of the sea. A handsome man, Niord married Skadi, the goddess of winter. They were incompatible, and Skadi left him for Uller, the god of winter. Skadi is another interesting winter-goddess, a daughter of the giant Hrim-thurs, who was inadvertently killed by the gods. She came to them seeking compensation and agreed to marriage in return for her loss. Skadi has been described as wearing a short white shift and white fur leggings with an over-covering of silvered armour. She travelled on snowshoes accompanied by a wolflike dog, and was always invoked by winter travellers lost in the barrens. Before their separation Skadi gave birth to a child named Frey, who was greatly liked by the Aesir. It was customary for northerners to gift children when they cut a first tooth, thus Frey was given Alfheim (Elf home) as his kingdom and birthright. Frey was afterwards declared the god of the sun (paralleling the history of Mithra). As a symbol of power he was given a marvellous sword which gave off sunbeams and fought of its

R. Columbo, p. 201.

own volition. Frey used it against the continuing ravages of the frostgiants. The little people had been divided by Odin into those that were politically reliable (the Liosalfar, or light elfs) and the others (the Svartalfar, or dark elfs). The latter were banished to the underground where they specialized in mining and forging. They were nevertheless adherents of the Frey and gave him Gullinbursti, the golden-bristled boar, which was both a symbol of the sun and agriculture. While the boar was later thought of as a destroyer of fields, the north men said that it taught men how to plough as they watched it use its tusks to tear up the ground. Frey often rode astride this boar but at other times harnessed him to a golden chariot, which he used to scatter the seeds of fruits and flowers upon the earth. In the chronicles of the ancient kings of Norway, Snorri Sturleson insists that Ingvi-Frey was an historic personage, who ruled at Upsala, Sweden after the death of Odin and Niord. Under his rule there was great prosperity and once again a man was elevated to godhood. There was such great admiration for the monarch while he lived, a cult developed around him. When he proved mortal, Frey's priest were unwilling to admit the losss and entombed his body in a huge cairn rather than burning it in approved ritual fashion. THe people were told that Frey had "gone to earth", an expression now taken as a phrase indicating death. The priests arranged that taxes should be paid to the king through three tubes which penetrated his "undergound home". After three years, suspicions mounted and the corpse was unearthed. As the peace and prosperity of the land continued as before, the priests convinced the people that mound-burila was preferable to the funeral pyre. One of the three mounds at Gamla Upsala continues to bear the bname of Frey suggesting that there may be truth in this narrative. His statues were certainly placed in the great temple at that place and his name was a part of every solem oath: "I swear by Frey, Niord and the Almighty Asa". Freya, the female equivalent of Frey was probably an invention of the scalds (poets) of Scandinavia. Her image was often placed beside that of Frey, where she was worshipped conjointly or in place of him. As Frey was considered a fertilty god, his sister was identified as a goddess of love. She took this role very seriously cohabiting with Odin, Odur, her brother Frey and others, in such numbers that Loki wryly observed that she had "loved and wedded all the gods in turn." She was

contented for a time with Odur, the sky god, but he was a rover. She pursued him and in passing through many lands was remembered as Mardel, Horn, Gefn, Syr. Skialf and Thrung. On her serch the tears she shed sunk into the earth forming mother-lodes of gold. Eventually she recoverred him in the far south beneath a myrtle-tree. In remembrance, it is the flowering myrtle that northern brides wear for good luck. Freya was a shape-changer being able to change into a bird by putting on her falcon garb. She sometimes rode in Frey's chariot helping him distribute fruits and flowers, but she also had a chariot of her own powered by black cats, the perfect emblems for a goddess of fruitfulness , sensuality and love. The names of this god and goddess are retained, in modified form, to indicate "master" and "mistress", and Freya's day is known as Friday to the English-speaking world. Freya's temples were very numerous, and the last at Magdeburg was only torn down in the reigh of Charlemagne. It was once customary to drink Freya's health with that of the male gods, but when sex-fearing Christianity was introduced this toast was given to the Virgin Mary or Saint Gertrude. Freya, being an undersirable goddess was declared a witch-demoness and was banished to the various mountain tops. In Germany, he residence was the Brocken, a general gather0ng-place for demon-spirits which pour down over the countryside on Walpurgis Night. As the cuckoo and swallow, as well as the cat were the totem animals of Freya, these are still under some suspicion, and to this day witches prefer coal-black cats. No weapons were permitted in the temples of the "peace-king" and his sister-consort. In these temples, as in those of Mithra, oxen or horses were sacrificed as yearly incarnations of one or both deities, a heavy gold ring being dipped in the blood before solemn oaths were made while touching it. The statues of Frey and Freya, or Freyja, were like those of all northern gods, roughly hewn from wood, which is why none contine. What did persist was the fire-wheel. In general, the tide of the Yule was devoted to eating, drinking and sexual acts all supporting the return of the sun after the long nights of winter. The festival month has a name which translates as wheel. It was called this because of the resemblance that people saw between a wagon wheel and the sun-ball as it rolled across the sky. The similarity may not be obvious, but, "until late years, the people were wont to assemble yeraly upon a mountain to set fire to a huge wooden wheel, twined with straw, which all ablaze, was sent rolling

down the hill to plunge with a hiss into the water." 31 The poet Naogeorgus explained, "they suppose their mischiefs are thus likewise throwne to hell, And from harmes and dangers they now, in safetie dwell." The ritual intent of the wheel was noted at Echternach in Luxemborg, where the ceremony was blatantly called, "burning the witch". Freya is obviously a prototype for the witch, so in her day some other magical enemy was on the receiving end of this procedure. The fiery wheel was only one possible variant on a theme. In a few places people tried to reinvigorate the sun-spirit by carving flat wooden discs, with "rays" cut into the circumference. These were lighted, and thrown to the air, with the dual intent of catching the eye of the sun while taking evils to earth. Fire-festivals were once common throughout Europe and the rites surrounding the Yule log, clog, or block were well known until recent times. Bonfires, round dancing, ritual drinking and ritual sex were a regular part of celebration of the summer solstice, but these acts were often uncomfortable or impossible at the winter solstice. The English antiquarian John Brand noted the neccesity of holding winter celebrations indoors, lending the rites more domestic and private than would otherwise be the case. Until the mid nineteenth century, the rites of the Yule log were kept in central Germany. The log was a heavy block of oak, cut to fit the floor of the hearth. Here it glowed beneath fires set with softer woods, being hardly reduced in a year of burning. When the new log was laid at a subsequebt Yule, the remains of the old were ground to powder and scattered over the fields during the Twefth-tide. It was generally supposded that this promoted crop growth in the next spring season, and this was probably the case potash arising from this source. In some regions a smaller log was used (called a Christbrand in recognition of Frey's defeat). This log was removed from the flames when slightly charred, and then rushed to the fireplace whenver thunder threatened. People firmly believed that lightning could not strike a home where a Yule log smouldered, an idea that must date to the days when Thor, the god of thunder, was thought to take his rest in oak trees? In still other districts the Yule log was tied within the last sheaf cut at harvest-time. The customs always incorporated these basic beliefs, but there were

Guerber, The Norsemen, pp. 124-125.

many supplementary advantages in keeping the Yule brand (called a trefoir in French-speaking places) in the home: "it can prevent the inmates from having chilblains on their heels in can cure the cattle of may maladies...a piece of it steeped in the water which cows drink helps them to calve; (also) ahes of the log (may) be strewn on the fields (to) save the wheat from mildew." 32 Elsewhere, on the continent, the ashes were applied as a compress to heal swollen glands. Partially burned brands placed under the bed were expected to drive off vermin as well as witches, while the ploughman often cut a wedge from his plough from the unburned part believing the act made the seeds more generative. In England, the Yule log was sometimes called the Christmas block, and John Brand said that it was lit along with Christmas Candles "of uncommon size". Aside from the usual advantages, he noted it was used to completely illuminate the house. "to turn day into night", thus discouraging the uncanny creatures abroad at that time. He also guessed that relics of the log were kept so that, "the fiend could do no mischief." 33 In most places it was agreed that the log, once set,had to burn throughout the night (in some places, throughout the season), its failure being taken as a bad omen, Our homes have little room for a Yule log, but it was once a common part of North American rites. A stump or root of hard wood was hauled in on Christmas Eve and placed on the open hearth, where it was lighted with a burnt relic from the previous year. It was thought essential to keep it burning during all of the night hours, thus it became the focus for long hours spent telling ghost-stories. The Yule log could not be purchased, but had to be cut by family members from their own land. The local preference was for ash, which was cut as a whole tree, drawn to the house in the earliest days by oxen. As it burned, and the householders sat drinking mulled cider, recounting memories along with traditional tales, they searched the shadows on the walls for any that might appear headless, knowing that the people who were tied to these spirits would be dead before the year was complete. The most important Yule spirit used to be Frey, the god of

32James 33James

G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 738. G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 739.

agriculture, whose presence was seen as necessary to the growth of crops and the protection of the community from malignant "ghosts". We have already noted that his familiar-spirit, or symbol, was the boar. The name of this beast arises in English from the god Borr, the father of Wodin, and the last immortal born in the north. "Frey is supposed to have reappeared on earth many times" according to Guerber. This might explain why he was identified as Ingvi-Frey among the Swedes, as Fridleef in Denmark and as Fro in Germany. As a mortal-god, he died and was re-born, a symbolism implicit in the Scandinavian custom of the Yule Boar. When the harvest was cut it was said that the spirit of the boar of the fields was entrapped within the last sheaf. This was used to construct a "corn-sprit" 34 in the form of a pig-shaped cake entitled the "Yule Boar". All through the Yule, the Boar stood on the festive table. In parts of Britain, it was kept until seed planting time when it was fed to the oxen and the ploughman, returning to the fields through their digestive systems. It was thought that this act returned the spirit (which was seen as a sub-division of the god) to the soil, thus guaranteeing a good growth of the crops. Formerly, a real boar was cut down before the Yule, and with him a man dressed as a representative of Frey. "This, at least, may be inferred from a Christmas custom still observed in Sweden. A man is wrapt up in a skin, and carries a wisp of straw in his mouth, so that the projections look like the bristles of a boar. A knife is brought, and an old woman with her face blackened, pretends to sacrifice him." 35 On the island of Oesel in Estonia, now a part of the USSR, Fraser said that people baked "a long cake with the ends turned up" also called the Yule Boar. Varying the procedure, these people kept the Boar until New Year's Day and then fed it to the cattle, thus passing the god to earth a little before he was needed. As the bedding from the barns was later burned in the spring bonfires, and the ashes distributed on the fields, the spririt of agriculture was made avaliable to renew the soil. In other parts

is used here in the European sense, identifying the dominant crop of a local region; hence, oats, wheat, barley, but probably not maize, which is the North ASmerican equivalent of corn.


ames . raser, he olden 39ough, p. 535,

of this country, the Boar was baked of the first, rather than the last, rye cut in the harvest and was marked with a cross using the bone of a pig. On New Year's and At Epiphany a taste was given to the animals, but most of the Boar was held back until the day when the cattle were allowed to return to the fields. The herdsmen then offered a portion to each animal assured that it would guard them against magic and any other harm. There are records of European kings having been cut down in times of crisis "for the good of the land". It was known that the god-spirit was always unequally distributed, some men being superior at war, song, poetry or the crafts, while others were obviously dis-spirited and of little account. Priests who wished to ascend to kingship and eventual godhood sometimes ate their way to fame since cannibalism was one means of attaining extra spirit. Overeating was generally admired, and Dagda, the father of the Celtic gods was admired for his conquest of porridge and women. In sexual unions it was noted that spirit flowed from the less agressive to the more agressive person, thus the old-world interest in the crafts of seduction and rapine. An individual who failed to replenish the spirit of life, lost some of it with each breath and excretion, which is why men aged and died. THe higher gods of agriculture and war were always whimsical and might rob a king of his spirit for no obvious reason. When kings began to lose physical vigor it was reasoned that they were being abandoned by the essential god-spirit. It was considered sensible to return the god to full vigor as soon as possible and in Scanadinavia divine-kings were often restricted to a set number of years after which they were ritually cut down, so that the god-spirit might relocate in a more healthy body. The Celts had a similar view, but were slightly more subtle, arranging that the aging king should be a casualty of battle at the hands of his successor. Warfare was frequent enough at that time that this was easily arranged. This went on for some time, before kings hit upon the idea of death by proxy. At first, a close relative was selected as a stand-in for the king, but realizing that the life force was present in the most lowly individuals, enemies and criminals were finally provided, their bodies burned after death and their ashes scattered on the fields. The scattering of the ashes of the Yule log, and the eating of the Yule boar and return of its "seed" to the ground, ultimately represent the death of a man-god. The "god" supposedly had no fear of death since his reincarnation was guaranteed. Since he went to earth for a brief spell of rest and

recreation, he was not bothered by the idea of being ritually loaded with the woes of the community. Caput Apri defero Reddes laudes Domino The Boar's head in hand bring I, With garlands gay and rosemary. Qui estis in convivio. Queen's College Carol, Oxford. Frey's Boar was considered Frey's flesh, a delicacy which imparted renewed spirit to each person at the Yule-table. It was crowned with laurel and rosemary, and paraded into the banquet hall with the honours due any king. The head was feared and no man could cvarve it except one who had an unblemished reputation and tried courage. Even the symbolic boar's head was reserved for the helmets and shields of proven heroes and god-kings. Before the flesh was cut and distributed the head of each household approached it and laid a hand upon it (as men now do with the Bible). Upon this "boar of atonement", each in turn swore allegiance to family, tribe and king. Any person who had failed in these matters during the previous year was expected to confess his failures. The Anglo-Saxons brought this process to Britain and during medieval times a great deal of dirty laundry was strung out at the Yule. Those who had lived in unexpected harmony with their neighbours or mates and had nothing to report were given an especially large portion of Boar's flesh to take home. As the wild boar became increasingly scarce ham or bacon from a domesticated pig was substituted. The Yule might have been a time of civil as well as domestic harmony except for the unwanted secrets that were revealled, many from the necessity of toasting the gods. Odin himself never tasted food, handing everything he was offered to two wolf-familiars who were his followers. His only sustenance was golden mead, a liquor said to have created the quarrel between the sea-giants and the gods. The Vana alone knew the secrets of brewing and were said to possess a "cauldron of the deep", which was perpetually filled with intoxicating drink. The land-gods learned of this beverage when they invited the sea-people to join them at their harvest feast. Lusting after the secret drink, the Wodin invaded the

halls of Gullveig (literally, golden drink) or Gunlod and stole the recipe. This liquid was considered the well-spring of poetry, song and music, and the special province of Bragi, the son of Gullveig and Odin. As Bragi was the god of poetry, history and song, his name became a synonym for poetry and the scalds, or poets were sometimes referred to as bragamen or bragawomen. Bragi was always among those toasted on special occassions, but he was repeatedly brought to mind for funerals and at the Yule. When his toast came up, the drink was served in a communal cup, shaped like a ship, and called the bragaful. As the food was eaten periodic toasts were raised, the first by the king. The ruler usually propsed an objective, or deed of valour, to be undertaken in the New Year. His thralls were expected to follow his example, drinking a toast as a solemn pledge of intent. As drunkeness progressed, there was some brooding over revelations that had come earlier in the day and a tendancy to make grandoise promises. The English verb "to brag" arose from the Yule feast, which sometimes ended in fights, but always with a drunken stupor all about the table. The next day frequently coupled a hang-over with the uncertain suspicion that some impossible deed had been promised. To contain mayhem, some realms executed those who disturbed the peace of the Yule. This usually had the result of giving men and women more time to brood over imagined or real ills, and led to warfare in the New Year. Nevertheless, the reign of Frey and his family was a civilized time, and he was often hailed as a god of peace and prosperity. Frey's immediate successor in Denmark was his son Frodi, who ruled the north in the last days when there was "peace throughout the world." Because his subjects lived in complete harmony he was labelled Peace Frodi. As a gift this Ingling-king received gigantic grindestones able to grind gold from the rock. Since Frodi's servants were unable to turn it he hired to Swedish giantesses to do the work: Let us grind riches to Frothi! Let us grind him, happy In plenty of substance On our gladdening Quern Grotta-Savngr Unfortunately Frodi became greedy and pressed his hirelings to slave

for gold. Exasperated, Menia and Fenia turned against him and chanted a spell that gathered an armed host rather than prosperity. While the Danes slept they were overrun by the viking named Mysinger who did not free the Swedish women but made them grind salt aboard his longboat. Still overworked producing a commodity that was a valuable staple in its time, they revolted and ground so much salt it sank the ship. The grindestone sank to the bottom where they continue to salt the Atlantic Ocean and are perceieved at the surface as the giant whirlpool named the Maelstrom. Perhaps by coincidence Frodi's peace failed just as Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea. There is one other character of Anglo-Saxon myth who had a part in the development of Yule, and he was the elder-god named Loki. He belonged to the earliest immortal trinity being the equal of Hler, god of the waters and Kari, god of the air. He was at first an unbound god of fire, capable of any magic within his realm. When Odin invaded the north, he invited Loki to his court. After the Aesir created Asgard and Middle Earth, Loki, or Lodur, assisted in the creation of man, providing the first couple with "blood and blooming complexions", or the fire of life. Odin housed these spirits within souls, while his blind brother Hoenir gifted them with the five senses. A red-headed extrovert, Loki was sometimes named Loki lojemand (playfellow) and became the comapnion of Thor, whose disposition was towards earnest and productive labour. Loki was called Laugar in Germany and the expression "filthy lucre" reflects on his personality. In Mansfield, Germany he was named the Good (god) Lubber and in France became the Lubin. In England he was called Lubberkin, Lob of the Spirits, Lob Lie By Fire, the Loby, the Looby, and the Lubbard. To get into trouble was to be "caught in Lob's pound", suggesting the sportive nature of all these creatures. The Anglo-Saxon word "lacan", to play, derives from Loki's name as does the Ulster, Lucharman, which derives from it. Loki corresponds with the Celtic god Lugh, whose interests were free-love and music. When he became a magically bound god he was shape-changed into the little man the Irish call the leprachaun or lubarkin (the kin of Lugh or Lob or Loki). The company of this trickster was at first very much appreciated. When Skadi the huntress came after the Aesir seeking blood recompense for the death of her father, Loki forced her to laugh by animating the skin

of a goat, forcing it take rediculous postures. He was the original lord of chaos, and his history among the mortal gods was one of jealousy and mischief turned to selfishness and malevolence. In many respects he was the alter-ego of Thor, as Satan was the antagonist of Christ. He was handsome, lithe and beautiful and a good listener, but his advice was usually flawed and his sense of humour warped. He did help Thor recover his hammer when it was stolen by the giaants but he was implicated in the loss. He later stole Freya's necklace and Sif's hair and betrayed Idun to the frost-giants. He mated with the giantess Angurboda, who gave birth to the Fenris-wolf, Ioormungandr, and Hel, creatures which caused Odin unceasing woe. In confining Fenris with elf-rope, the god Tyr lost his right arm. The world-serpent has since grown to encircle the globe and when it occassionally bites its own tail earthquakes develop at sea. Fearing the giant-goddess named Hel, Odin banished her to Niflheim where she was given charge of the "straw-dead" (those who did not die in battle) and the punishment of evil spirits, including those destined to bring down the gods at the end of time. The Aesir bore all of this with patient good humour, but this changed with the birth of Baldur, the favourite son of Odin. As god of the sun, Baldur was given charge of powers, which seemed to Loki, the perogative of the god of fire. Jealous, he persuaded the blind god Hoenir to cast a lance made of mistletoe at the young god. At birth, Baldur had been given an impervious skin by being dipped in a magic liquid. Unfortunately the place where he had been held was untouched by the substance, leaving him with an "Achille's Heel". Baldur was killed and went to an after-life in the land of Hel. She promised his release provided every creature on earth would mourn his loss. Shape-changed into a witch, Loki refused consent. Learning of this, Thor ran him to ground and imprisoned him in the underworld, beneath the head of a poisonous snake, which continues to drip venom on his face. The elemental god named Loki was thus demoted to a devil-god, "the originator of deceit and the backbiter of the Aesir". He was often personified as the legarthic south-wind of summer, and hence the opposite of Odin, god of the north-wind. Again he was thought to control sheetlighning which pervaded the summer-sky and was considered an omen of disease. While the Christians had difficulty suppressing some of the better-liked deities such as Frey and Ostara (Easter), they had no trouble discrediting Loki who they confounded with God's antagonist, the Hebrew Satan. In spite of his troubles, and the fact that no shrines were ever erected to his memory, Loki was once commemorated in Laugardag, the

last day of the week. There is a suspicion that Loki may have been a Celtic "god" adopted by the Aesir. The Great Lugh, or Lugg, who was his counterpart, had a better reputation in Alba or Britannia that Loki possessed on the continent. A scout for the race of warrior-wizards known at the Tuatha daoine, he obtained admission to the Firbolg court at Tara and Ireland by virtue of the fact that he was the "stem of the crafts", an expert carpenter, smith, harpist, poet, warrior, magician, physician, cupbrearer and goldsmith. He was a deadly man with the throwing spear and with the sling (being called Lugh of the Long Arm for his prowess with the latter). His sister Brigit was entitled the goddess of the hearth fire and dometic love, while he was known as the god of wild fire and free love. In seducing the opposite sex he cast spells with his harp, which could lull men, as well as women, into a compliant twelve-hour sleep. This god of music could bring tears, laughter, or anger from the strings of his instrument. While the Scandinavians remembered Loki, or Laugi, in Laugardag, the Anglo-Saxons referrred to this same day as Sataeredag, after Sataere, an agricultural god, sometimes known as "the thief in ambush". Folklorist H.A. Guerber suspects that the day we now call Straurday honoured a god who was "merely another personification of Loki". The Gaelic sathurna appears to be borrowed from the Angles, but their month of Lugnasdal (August) is directly associated with the old god of love and music. The Scots and Irish once had a festival week which commenced on the first day of August: known as the Lugnasad, or Lunastain, it was largely devoted to play-time activities and athletic games. The games were largely centred about the northern Irish town of Taillte (now Telltown) which was named for Lugh's foster-mother. It was appropriate that the Games of Lugh, or the Tailltean Games also supported a marriage market, where prospective inlaws gathered to show their offspring and arrange clan as well as individual unions. The Anglo-Saxons called the first day of each week Sunnadaeg, and persumably dedicated it to various personifications of the sun, particularly Frey and Balder, and to some extent Uller, who was thought responsible for the winter sun as well as the "Dancing Goats". In Scotland these lights came to be called the Merry Dancers or Nimble Men, and are now identified as the Northern Lights. When the Christians appropriated Sunday they recognized it as the analogue of the Jewish sabbath and rededicated as a weekly commemoration of Christ's ressurection.

The conferent Gaelic day has no such connotations being named the "domhnaich". This is a two-part word; "domh" being translated as master and "naich", or "null" (the word frequently appears as Domhnull, the equivalent of Donald) as yule. Others have suggested that Donald corresponds with with the English "master of the world", but "master of the yule" seems closer the original meaning. The first yule-masters, Thor, Odin, Niord and Frey, were certainly world-masters, so general understanding does not suffer whichever translation is taken. It is just possible that Domh makes reference to Don or Danu, the Celtic Matriarch, but the Gaelic nation historically had two components: the people of the lion, who were of Irish extraction, and the people of the galley (or longboat) who were originally Norsemen. It is therefore equally possible that "an domhnaich" might refer to the old thunder-god named Donar or Thonar (from which thunder). Certainly, the Macdonalds (sons of the master of the world) hailed from the Lochlann (land of lochs, Norway). Again, the Gaelic festival named Nollaig (Yule Ygg or Egg) is seen to be overtly Scandinavian. This is shown in the fact that it is not given much notice in mainland Scotland, being celebrated on the islands which were last held by the Old Norse peoples. It may be noted that Ygg (Egg) and Yggle (Eagle) are names that correspond with Odin, suggesting that the day following mid-winter was once devoted to that northern god. The "englished" name Macdonald derives from the Gaelic personal name through addition of the Norse-Gaelic suffix "ach" (thus Domhnullach), this ending being the equivalent of the Gaelic prefix "mhac" or the English "son of". These Norse sea-kings were well named but they never managed the whole world being overcome by the Stewart kings of mainland Scotland. They were never universally admired and in parts of that land "Auld Donald" is another way of naming the Devil, although he was a "world-ruler" in his own right. In Scotland the clans bearing the name Yuill, Yule, Yul, and Zuill have to be recognized as former Norse "visitors". The Poles, Polesons and Pollards are also Yulemen, or Juls, although this not so obvious unless one understands that these names derive from the Swedish "hjul" and the Old Norse "hjol" (pole), which in turn is closely related to "jul". As we've noted these words correspond with the English "wheel", thus the Wheelans and Wheelers of England may be considered people of the Yule.

The Anglo-Saxons understood the rites of Yule, but the Celtic races picked up garbled versions of the northern religion through Norse occupation or the taking of "broken me", who they incorporated into their clans. The lowland Scots, having closer contact with the Anglo-Saxons shared a sense of the season, as the following ballad makes clear: Atween Yule and Year mas, Auld wives shouldna spin; And nae house should be waterless (without whisky) Where maidans (maidens) lie within. In the south, these days came to be called "The Daft Days". The old meaning of the word "daft" was "frolicsome" or "merry", approaching the current, "mentally incompetent". We suspect that the superintendant of this mirth was the King of the Yule, a stand-in for one of the Norse gods. Most folklorists have dismissed northern lore, and traced the Christmas characters to the Saturnalia. At that celebration men of the lowest rank were forced to cast lots to play the part of Saturn. This should have been a popular role, as the person selected by the Fates enjoyed the title of king and was able to issue commands of a playful and ludicrous nature to his temporary subjects. Thus, the "king" might order a nobleman "to mix the wine, another to drink, another to sing, another to speak in his own dispraise, another to carry a flute-girl on his back round the house." 36 It was said that this "Saturn" was accompanied by a guard and went about "with full license to indulge his passions and to taste every pleasure, however base and shameful. But if his reign was merry, it was short and ended tragically; for when the days were up, he cut his own throat upon the altar of the god he had personated."37 Classical scholasticism and the preference for Mediterranean myths developed because literate peoples preferred literary subjects and the Greeks and the Romans had left massive records waiting for translation. The situation was quite different in northwestern Europe where the

36James 37James

G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 676. G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 677.

history of the lands was orally transmitted through scalds, bards and filids. The latter tales were dismissed as the lies of other people's priests, as badly preserved history, or superstitions. C.S. Lewis thought that Anglo Saxon myth had "the gleam of divine truth", while Seumas MacManus insisted the ancient myths of the Gaels were "far from baseless." He said that the seanachie (historian) and filid (poet) were honoured next to the king, pointing up their value in past societies. In recounting the past the "essential facts had to remain unaltered. The things of importance no poet of repute, however highly he might colour, could or would dare falsify." 38 There is no real evidence that the Romans passed the customs of Saturnalia to the Teutons and the Celts, in fact Tristam Coffin suggests the opposite: "Here and there the conquering Romans joined ...(northern) such ceremonies with their own festivals." Human sacrifices, particularly by fire, were recorded by Julius Caesar. "as conqueror of the hitherto independent Celts of Gaul (France), Caesar had ample opportunity of observing the national Celtic religion and manners, while these were still fresh and crisp from the native mint and had notyet fused in the melting pot of Roman civilization." 39 The outline of Celtic customs follows: These people divided the year into halves, summer and winter, with no intervening seasons. The beginning of their year was what is now November lst; summer commenced May lst. The evening before each was devoted to a "feasannas" (evening fire) the former being the "bealtaine" and the latter the "samhainn". It is notable that the Irish-Gaelic month of May is still named the Bealtaine (the Scottish form: Ceitean). In both Gaelic tongues, the month of November is Samhainn. The word "bealtaine" transaltes into English as "mouth of fire, or the devouring fire" while "samhainn" means "the hill of Samh" (Hence my grandfather's favourite curse, "What the Sam Hill?") Within this framework, Caesar found that religious rites were celebrated with particular fervour every fifth year. The fires were kindled with the intention of burning alive condemned criminals. The more

MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race, footnote,

p. 9.

G. Fraser, The Golden Bough, p. 757.

there were of such victims, the greater was believed to be the fertility of the land. If there were not enough criminals to be had, captives taken in war were impaled, or killed with arrows, (and thus spared gradual death) to supply the need. At the time of "leave-taking" the dead and the living, along with cattle, animals and certain totem-plants, were herded, or placed within, huge wicker-work cages, which were then burned to ash. Fraser noted that the Beltane fires lingered in the highlands of Scotland until the middle of the past century, although human sacrifices were abandoned a few centuries earlier. The folklorists have guessed that the Celts were "putting down" a god of vegetation since there are special reasons for consigning such spirits to reincarnation through fire. Light and heat are essential to plant growth, and exposing a representative of the plant world to death by this means, was seen as a means of insuring heat and light for the ash "seeds" produced in the burning. In medieval survivals of the fire-festivals it is clear that the older god-spirits of vegetation were no longer known by name or reputation. The great evil against which the latter-day fires was directed was stated as witchcraft. The fires of Hallowe'en were lit in Buchan-shire, Scotland until comparatively recent times, and the boys who gathered fuel used to go from house to house requesting, "Ge us a peat, t'burn the witches!" In the hag-ridden days, the Christian clerics forbade the burning of godspirits, or their representives, but the principle was the same; when the witch was ash, her remains were scattered on the fields following solid tradition. Further, the witch was often spoken of as "demon-possessed", and demons were the demoted elder gods of the northlands. When the Celtic peoples surrendered druidism for Christianity they were easy converts but remained "the most recalcitrant pagans in all Europe." What they practised was "the old paganism with a new veneer. The missionary was only another tribal wizard who had proved himself more powerful than the druid. Stones used in pagan worship were given the addition of a Christian symbol; wells haunted by pixies and water spirites were rededicated to a saint..." 40 Apparently, the Anglo-Saxons, who crowded the Celts into the north and west of Britain were also happy with their customs although willing to give up their gods. Pope Gregory, writing to an English missionary recommended that, "the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols themselves

Houghton, In The Steps of The Anglo Saxons, p.


be taken down; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing and adoring the true God, may more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed...For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface every thing at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest places, rises by degrees or steps and not by leaps." 41 In point of fact, the full suppression of "obdurate minds" is not yet complete. At that, the Christians were established in Ireland at the end of the fifth century; had infiltrated England, Switzerland and Austria by the seventh; came to Germany in the eighth; gained Scandinavia in the tenth, and had swept up the rest by 1100. In this haste, every conceivable mixture of pagan and Christian rites was formulated, while the Church fathers did their best to squeeze pagan practices into a single day, or a few days, ar "summer's end". Since the first snows came in various regions at different times, "The winter feast was spread over all the winter from All Souls Day to Twelfth Night..." 42 Irrespective of when it was held, it was always remembered with more merriment that the ascetic Christians though decent. Attempts to associate various pagan dates with the saints created St. Martin's Day (Nov. 11), St. Nicholas' Day (Dec. 6) and St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26) but the average person often failed to give full attention to the Christian rites identified with them. The original replacement for the Yule was Christermas, or Christmas, but with the Reformation in the sixteenth century there was a rejection of this Popish tradition. The three Eucharists of that day, with their stress on pomp, liturgy and Latin, became natural targets for the followers of Luther and Calvin. William Prynne, a noted Puritan wrote: "Our Christmas lords of Misrule, together with dancing, masques, mummeries, stage players, and

Magazine, The Glory and Pagentry of Christmas, p.

113. Chambers, The Medieval Stage, as quoted by Tristam Coffin, The Book of Christmas Folklore, p. 7.

such other Christmas disorders, now in use with Christians, were derived from those Roman Saturnalia and Bacchalian ferstivals, which should cause all Christians eternally to abominate them." 43 In spite of such railing, Charles I, and his crowd, and many Protestants continued burning their Yule logs, hanging up holly and mistletoe and enjoying a day devoted to appetites, which were sometimes quite carnal. Coffin defined three types of mid-winter celebration in Renaissance Europe: the continuing medieval Roman Catholic Christmas, which was a religious holiday and a secular celebration; the Protestant Christ-tide which was entirely spiritual in intention; and the neo-pagan Yultide, "which was quite merry" and unconcerned with the birth of Jesus Christ.


by Tristam Coffin, The Book of Christmas

Folklore, p. 8.