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Germanic-Scandinavian mythological images

By quantity of pagan figurative art monuments, among all peoples of Barbarous Europe, The Celts can compete with the Scandinavians unless. The greatest interest is represented with monuments of three periods: Migration period, Vendel period and Viking Age.

Among treasures of epoch of Migration period the special place is occupied with two gold horns from Hallehuse. They, similarly to the boiler from Gundestrup, are covered with mythological images. These monuments are usually dated 5 c. A.D. Runic inscription on one of horns ("I, Legest from Holt have made this horn") allows to speak about the given objects as made in the North. Unfortunately, both horns have not reached us, they in 1802 were stolen from royal library in Copenhagen and fused. But engravings of 18 centuries were kept. Scientists on miscellaneous interpret the plots represented on these subjects. "Worsaae saw in them images Edda mythology; Olrik believed, that they are connected with Celtic tradition; Ringbom considered, that their authors represented dancers and acrobats, being are inspired with amusements on the Byzantian hippodrome. Eric Oxenstierna has presented detailed research of horns <...> Proceeding from seasonal customs of medieval Scandinavia and Germany. <...> Main theses Oxenstierna are, that horns show images of gods and draw the seasonal ceremonies connected to their cult, that, in his opinion, is a parallel to the boiler from Gundestrup". (I Quote on Davidson, 1967, 84 - 86). Oxenstierna believed that horns could be used for collecting sacrificial blood. He accented attention on small long-haired sculpture, shown on a horn without fleeces (ill. 26.), Which itself holds a horn. She can be priestess or priest. Further, if we shall consider the same plate we shall see serially the horseman, the soldier, bower, shooting at the horse, and we shall return to a figure with a horn. Oxenstierna considers that sacrifice with a present of sacrificial blood here is shown. The scientist means the image of a mask with the mutton horns as the sun attacked by monsters. Figures from the top part the panels occupied with dance, game in a ball and acrobatics can represent ceremony of returning of the sun after a winter gloom (see in the same place, with 86 - 87).

On the runic horn (ill. 27.) similar stages are shown. One panel contains a deer and the snake, feeding the posterity, while bower shooting in them. Davidson believes it can symbolise the conflict between forces of fertility and the beginning hostile to them (see in the same place, with 87). Special interest is represented with images of man's figures. On the top panel the horns without runes we see similar two pairs. Representatives of one have the long bent horns on a head, similar with it of a Bronze Age. In hands they hold on a dart and a sickle, one figure holds also a ring. Men from other pair are armed with boards and swords. E. Davidson does not recognise as their gods (as they do not inspire her impression of nobleness or supernatural power), but is faster inclined to count figures of attendants of deities of war and fertility (it, in my opinion, it is important). Soldiers with swords and boards can be followers of the god of the sky. Between man's figures the deer (or a horned horse) attacked by dogs is shown.

E. Davidson marks that the horse sacrifice shown on the first horn, represents new accent and synchronously to occurrence of horse victims in Scandinavia. It has replaced bringing in a victim of the bull, having come (in opinion Davidson) through islands of Baltic Sea during the Period of great resettlement from the East. This is very important supervision. If the bull was closely connected from Gods of Earth Powers the horse is attribute of the Hero. Other prominent aspect - connection of functions of war and the fertility, expressed horned sculptures. M. Gaimster in the research devoted Vendel gold bracteates, writes: "The significant aspect of the horned god is present at his connections with barbarous groups 'cornuti' in the Roman army of 4 century A.D. In research, connected to Constantine, Andreas Alfoldi has shown the important role, which played "cornuti" in fights of emperor in quality infantry. Their emblem appears on Constantine's arch in Rome, put in honour of a victory above his opponent at Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. but also on statues of great emperor. The mythological basis for an emblem "cornuti" can be found in the horned helmets known from cultures of Bronze Age and Celtic Laten" (Gaimster, 1988).

Horned sculpture of men with spears - so-called "dancing warriors" are, probably, the most typical plot of the following, Vendel period. There are on helmets from Valsgarde - Sweden (ill. 28.) we see a steady composition: the horseman, whose horse trambles down the enemy (which, in turn, sticks to a horse into a belly a sword). The helmet of the horseman is decorated with top like a head of an eagle, or (on the other exemplar) - the boar. Behind the horseman is small sculpture, directing his spear. The sculpture has also an own spear, there are the horns terminating bird's heads on its head. The same type, but already pair (as on a horn from Hallehuse) is and on Vendel period helmets from other places, including Anglo-Saxon Sutton-Hoo. At last, on a bronze matrix from Torslund (Oland, 8 c. A.D.) the horned warrior with two spears is shown in "dancing" pose. Beside the person with the wolf head, amazing the warrior a spear in his heel (ill. 29.). Horned soldiers usually count images of Odin, or his emissaries (that from the point of view of mythology not essentially - all of them equally play his role). But the features of the god, which are a little bit distinct from described in "Edda", have the big value. In the first why Odin is so small growth? Where his favourite eightlegged horse? Why Odin is horned, you see it is attribute of the God of Earth Powers? Is allowable to assume, that here we deal with earlier concept Odinn, in process of " cult increase ", but yet not achieved its peak. He gradually superseded many gods, for example Freyr (it, in particular, it is visible from replacement of the bull to the horse in sacrifice).

The great interest causes the image of the "armed" wolf defeated Odin in his heel (ill. 29.б). As far as it is known from "Edda", in final fight with forces of a gloom owner Valhall was swallowed by World Wolf Fenrir. Means, on a matrix from Torslund earlier version of a myth quite can be represented. It is allowable even to consider, that in due time the wolf could belong to German-Scandinavian God of Thunder Donner/Thor as it belonged to Celt Taranis . This werewolf in general the interesting character. It, with a spear and a sword is represented on Allemanic sword (ill. 30.а). And later image from Ekhammar represents werewolf, swallowing a certain sprout (ill. 30.б).

As one of main symbols Vendel period Davidson supposed the ship, whether it be the present a vessel used for burial, or its image on memorial stones. It was distributed over all North with the speed comparable to speed of "expansion" of megalithic constructions. The ship can be connected with Odin and at this same moment with vanes, especially with Freyr, of a legendary primogenitor of Swedish dynasty which developed "the concept of the divine king who has come to them from for the seas." (Davidson, 1967, 121) (it is interesting to note, that the same theory existed in political life of Russia in connection with Ruric and a calling varyags). On the other hand, the ship which is taking away dead, is equivalent to a horse being Odin's symbol- the intermediary between the worlds (by the way, even in Etruskan culture the horse was considered as means of transportation in Otherworld (see picture Vanth ), it is well-known also Greek Pegas). Reverence in Vendel period simultaneously Odin and Freyr who in common, are poorly connected in "Edda", has serious sense. The Cultural Hero and the God of Earth Powers are close images.

Very significant material on Scandinavian Paganism represent gold bracteates - ornaments which were run after (in the guarding purposes) and which originally represented a copy of the Roman medallions. By today of them it is known about 1000, in the majority found on territory of Scandinavia, but also in Britain and on continent. They belong to epoch of resettlement of peoples and partly to Vendel period, being subdivided on some groups. Images with A-bracteates "are least advanced" and are similar to imperial busts on Roman coins. B- bracteates show one, two or three human figures. C- bracteates represent the majestic structure placed above the skipping horse. At last, D and F- bracteates show animals and monsters.

Images with B- bracteates are considered mythological as stages. The motive showing a human figure, whose hand is in a mouth of a four-footed essence was interpreted by Eric Oxenstirna and then K. Haukk as history Tyr and wolf Fenrir. A composition from three figures (ill. 31.) it is treated by Haukk as early variant of Baldur's death. Thus the figure with wings is the initiator of tragedy, Loki; the average character - Baldur; the person with a spear - Odin. To tell the truth, given stage with not smaller probability can be interpreted as image of Uppsala triad: Odin (with a spear), Thor (with ground) and Freyr.

Odin, probably, is mainly, embodied on the bracteates. Images on C- bracteates (ill. 32.) caused many disputes, but the majority of researchers are declined to idea, that the structure atop of a horse belongs to him. For the benefit of such identification it is necessary to name the first argument idea of a composition of these gold medallions. It is borrowed from images of the Roman emperors, these governors and heroes. One is tsar and the hero of northern world. Further, often presence by a number of the birds - satellites known as Odin's ravens testifies to it. On some A- bracteates in spite of the fact that they are close to the Roman model, the composition shows the majestic head growing from a bird. Haukk has assumed that it is Odin, known for the gift of transformations and connection with birds. Besides Haukk interpreted presence of a head above the horse as a stage of magic healing of an animal by "inflation", according to rules of archaic medicine. In so-called "the Second Merzeburg spell", kept in the manuscript 9 c. A.D., healing Baldur's horse by Odin is described. Shaman features marked in bracteates art, obviously belong Odin, as itself "shaman" god of the Scandinavians. (Sturluson writes about his ability to leave the body in a trance and to allow the soul to travel in the form of an animal or a bird.). Amplification of a role of this god (outstanding of art is not casual and changes of features of sacrifices) has fallen to the period of Migration period. Contacts of German-Scandinavians with Ugrian tribes among which the cult of the divine hero - horseman Mir-Susne-Humprevailed connected with the world of birds at this particular time amplify.

At the same time, the certain attributes speak about certain "merge" of cult Odin to a cult of vanes, first of all Freyr. So for example, on C- bracteates sometimes there are wild boars that in "Edda" serve as attributes of both gods. (Freyr went by wild boar. Odin, in Valhall fed the dead soldiers with not running low meat of wild boar). Besides the horse under a structure sometimes has the bull horns. All this returns us to a problem of horns at "dancing warriors", recognized as Odin's images.

As already it was marked earlier, the God of Earth Powers was object of the best worship of priests and the Hero could be an example, inspiring carriers of imperial authority. At the same time, last two images are not always easy for differentiating. The Germanics (and the Scandinavians here did not represent exception) had no allocated estate of priests, and religious practices were made by leaders of tribes. Thus, any time there could be a tendency to some merge of these closely related characters.

Occurrence of the new German elites grouped around of successful military leaders (that represented "demolition" in traditional tribal structure of a society) is recognised as a historic fact. It is reflected, in particular, in the termination of mass communal sacrifices of the weapon (so-called "votive gifts"). Instead of them rich individual burial places which sometimes count an attribute of political instability (Gaimster, 1988) have appeared. It, together with contacts to Ugrian tribes, has served as the reason of Odin's eminence and Tyr's decline (there is an explanation in the appropriate myth). On subjects of art of epoch of Migration period and Vendel period process of this eminence which have achieved apogee in images on Gotland stones was fixed.

In 8 century A.D. among memorial stones of Gotland there are samples with the characteristic "mushroom" form, with a rounded top. The space of this "top" is occupied with the horseman. Frequently he is met with the female figure holding a drinking horn. In a similar stage sometimes see an embodiment of a plot stay of the dead hero in Other World and his meeting by Valkyrie (Davidson, 1967), known on scaldic poems of 10 centuries. But sometimes the horseman is accompanied by a bird and a dog, and the horse has eight legs (ill. 33.). The eight legged horse, it agrees "Edda" belongs to Odin and represents a new detail, unknown of earlier German and Indo-European sources. Probably, it is consequence of the mentioned contacts with the Finno-Ugrians (compare eight legged lamb of Ugrian legends and the eight legged horse of Odin). In any case trip to Other World should take the central place in cult of Odin.

It is necessary to tell, that the plots submitted on stones from Gotland (Viking Age) show full concurrence by that it is known from "northern literature". The woman worth between two armies corresponds to motives "Legends about Hilde" where sorceress Hilde ("Fight") becomes the reason eternal fight between her father and her husband. The significant amount of stones is devoted to display of feats of hero Sigurd. At last, the big group of stones shows images of the Scandinavian apocalypse - "Ragnarok". In Swedish runic stone we see the chthonic monsters causing destruction to gods: World Serpent, World Wolf Fenrir and the ship of dead men Naglfar. And on runic stone from Man isle (England), where the image of the big cross is cut (The Vikings were christianised in Britain early) the person swallowed by the wolf is shown. On a raven sitting at the person on a shoulder. It is possible to recognise Odin, this time perishing according to description "Edda": "the Wolf swallows Odin and to that there comes death".

The great interest represents increase of cult Thor to last period Scandinavian heathenism - Viking Age. It has achieved the top in 10 and 11 centuries A.D., having left a bright trace in the north literature. If to exclude great creative and eschatology myths of both "Edda" the basic content North mythology appears the short stories describing Thor's heroic feats (see Thor and Jormungand ). Scandinavian God of Thunder imposed the struggle against disastrous forces of a nature (mountain and ice giants) and shook imagination by an opposition World Serpent (pictured on stones of epoch of the Vikings). It is necessary to tell, that the Vikings were some kind of "late aristocracy" (despite of a combination military remove also poetic skill with merchant employment). However, we can observe increase of a role of the God of Thunder in the given epoch also at east Balts (Perkunas) and east Slavs (Slav Perun ]). But at the last it represented princely attempt, was accompanied by excesses and not maintained by people. As against east analogues, Thor did not demand human victims. His symbol - a hammer, replaced the former weapon - an axe, and was frequently represented on funeral stones. Besides hammer-amulets (which practice of carrying, probably, has arisen under influence of crosses of the Christians) in plenties are known from late Viking Age.

So, summarising, it is possible to approve that in this culture to the basic types of a structural nucleus corresponded: to the God of Sky - Germanic Tiw, Scandinavian Tyr; to the God of Thunder - Germanic Donner, Scandinavian Thor, to the God of Earth Powers - Freyr, to the Great Goddess, advantage - Freyja. In Migration period when the role of the successful barbarous leaders accepting in the teams of people has increased, torn with tribal community, the role of the Cultural Hero (Odin) has increased. Such situation was kept and during the following - Vendel period. Odin's cult has incorporated many features of cults Tyr and Freyr (Freyr as an embodiment of the God of earth Powers has not a wide social support as specially allocated priestly estate at German-Scandinavian peoples practically was not present). Is of interest that the Cultural Hero on the German-Scandinavian cultural ground practically had no tendency to splitting for secondary images (some exception makes character of Balder). Probably, this fact is connected with increased (in comparison with the Celts) value of this type in German-Scandinavian culture (in what they are close to barbarous cultures of East and Central Europe). However, on a decline of Viking Age there was a revival of reverence of the God of Thunder (Thor), apparently, connected with specificity of social conditions of this time (movement of the Vikings).


Alex Fantalov

Chapter 3. Mythological characters in culture Central and East-European barbarians:

3.1. Mythological characters in Thraco-Dacian and Illyrian cultures.



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