Nordic Influences – III

William Tell – The Nordic sagas constitute the exploits of various heroes and kings. In one such exploit is the mention of the great archer Orvandel. He was surrounded and captured during the great winter wars. His captor, Halfdan commanded Orvandel to perform the finest example of his archery of which he had boasted. The failure would cause penalty of his life, but freedom if he achieved success. He was to hit it with the first arrow from his bow, a small apple placed upon his son’s head, at a great distance.

The feat was performed in front of Halfdan and his personal advisor. Orvandel took three arrows from his quiver. He aimed one arrow at the apple upon his son’s head and shot it, cleaving the apple in two. Halfdan kept his word and let him free. Before he left, Halfdan asked Orvandel why he took three arrows. To this, Halfdan’s personal advisor replied that if Orvandel had failed and killed his son, the other two arrows were meant for his captors who nearly caused his son’s death.

The tale of William Tell seems to be a fine example of copy paste!

Gandalf – Finally Wikipedia confirmed what I suspected from the start. I was into Nordic mythology a long time before I saw LOTR (never read it though). The description of Gandalf the Grey is exactly like Odin’s disguise on earth, with the exception of Gandalf having both his eyes intact. Check this wiki link.

Hel(l) – Well, you’ve heard it, lesser times than me, but someone has damned you to it at least once. Turns out, Christianity borrowed this from the pagan Nords. Hel was the child of Loki, the trickster God. Her half body was of a beautiful woman, and the other half was rotting corpse. She was banished by the Gods along with her siblings, Fenrir and Jormungandr (Also mentioned in the previous post). But before she was cast out, the Allfather Odin gave her authority over the nine worlds. She was to “administer board and lodging to those sent to her, and that is those who die of sickness or old age.” She was given her own realm where here powers were supreme, surpassing even Odin. There have been instances where even Odin failed to bring back from the dead someone he wanted, because Hel didn’t want it.

Her realm, also known as Hel, had a hall called Éljúðnir, the entrance threshold “Stumbling-block,” curtains “Gleaming-bale,” a dish called “Hunger,” a knife called “Famine,” the servant Ganglati (“lazy walker”), the serving-maid Ganglöt (also “lazy walker”) and the bed “Sick-bed.” During Ragnarok, Hel will lead all her dead in a ship made of fingernails, Naglfar, against the Gods.

No wonder. After such a description, it certainly is hell.



Nordic Influences – II

Here are some more interesting influences from Scandinavian Mythology –

Merchant of Venice – The incident of the Pound of flesh:
Its well known that Shakespeare’s works were heavily influenced by different sources. I found an interesting story which is the source of one of his better plots, the pound of flesh, wherein an adamant Shylock wants the pound of flesh, closest to heart, from Antonio. When all attempts to redeem it in gold fails, it is Portia who uses her wits and tells Shylock that he may have the flesh but not a single drop of blood could be shed. This effectively saves Antonio and Shylock’s plans are thwarted.

In Nordic mythology, there were two dwarf families who were accomplished craftsmen of fine metals, Ivalde and Sindre. They provided ornaments to the Gods and embellished their palaces. Ivalde and Sindre’s kinsmen were rivals. Once, the trickster God Loki challenged both clans to produce their best works, and the Gods would reward the better clan. Before the completion of the work, Brok, a member of Sindre’s clan, boasted the greater skill of his fellows. Loki wagered his own head against it, and the bet was readily accepted.
Upon completion, each of the gifts received praises of the Gods. But those of Sindre’s clan were considered best. Brok demanded his prize, Loki’s head, which he had wagered. Loki offered to redeem it, but Brok didn’t accept anything else. Loki, finding no alternative, vanished from sight. But the angered dwarf appealed to the mighty God Thor to seize Loki, who set forth and returned with him.
Thy head is mine,” exclaimed Brok, who prepared to cut it off.
Thine indeed is the head, answered Loki, “but not the neck.”
Brok appealed to the Gods, but they gave judgment that favored Loki. They told Brok that he might take the head, but the neck he must not injure.

Anchors of Ships – Through films, cartoons or actual observations, we have seen how a ship’s anchor looks like. As it turns out, these anchors are the Viking’s way of warding off the evil world-serpent. The story goes like this – One child of the Trickster God Loki was a serpent, Jormungandr. It was prophesied that it would grow big enough to encompass the whole world and fight the Gods in Ragnarok, the ultimate battle. It was also foretold that it would fight the mighty God Thor and both would kill each other, hence it was immediately banished in the oceans.

Considering that Vikings were a great sea-faring race, what followed was an important incident. Much after Jormungandr’s banishment, Thor was fishing, and instead of a fish, he pulled up the world-serpent! Thor saw an opportunity to change the future and grabbed his famous hammer Mjollnir. By the time he retrieved it, Jormungandr dived back and vanished in the ocean.

It was the Mjollnir, which caused the world-serpent to run from a fight; hence it has been used by ships as a symbol of warding off evils in the water. The anchor of any ship represents the Mjollnir, and this shape is still used with slight modifications.

King Arthur’s Excalibur – The Nordic sagas tell of a great hero Sigurd/ Siegfried who killed the dragon Fafnir using the sword Gram (Old Norse “wrath”). This sword had its own history. It was forged by the legendary smith Wayland and was displayed in the fabled hall of the Volsung. Odin, the chief God of Norse, took the sword and stuck it in the tree Barnstokk in the middle of the hall. Odin then announced that the man who removed the sword would have it as a gift. Sigmund, a hero and the father of Sigurd, managed to do so and achieved wealth and fame wielding it later. This motif was used similarly for Arthur, who pulled the sword Excalibur from a stone to prove his rightfulness to rule Britain.



Nordic Influences – I

I was always intrigued by the Scandinavian mythology. It is one of the few mythologies (possibly the only one) where the Gods will die fighting all evil, in the epic battle of Ragnarok. This came as a surprise because God(s) are supposed to triumph over evil, even if eventually. As I went through their holy books – Prosic and Poetic Edda, I came across some very interesting facts we take at face value.

Weekdays: The names of the six days of the week are named after six Gods of the Scandinavians – Sunday was Son(Sun)’s Day, Monday was Moon’s Day, Tuesday was the Brave Tyr’s Day, Wednesday was the All Father Wodan (Odin)’s Day, Thursday was Almighty Thor’s Day and Friday was Freyr’s Day. I guess most early cultures followed the lunar six days calendar; hence it was the Romans who added a seventh Saturn’s Day.

Directions: According to these legends, the sky is held up at the four corners by four dwarves– Austri, Vestri, Nordi and Sudri, who became East, West, North and South, the four cardinal directions.

Jack and Jill: The old English nursery rhyme has its roots in pagan mythology too. Legends say that with the Moon God are two children whom he carried away from earth-a boy who was called Hjuki (Jack), and a girl whose name is Bill (Jill). These were identified as the spots on the moon. They had been sent out in the darkness of night by their father, to draw a special kind of mead from the spring Byrger, which broke forth from the source of mythical fountain of Mimer, atop a hill. They filled their pail to the brink. (Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.)

This was a fountain special to the Gods and they did not want mortals to share it. When they began to descend the mountain, the Moon God chased them. As they fell down, He seized them and took them away with their pail. (Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.)

 I will talk about more facts in forthcoming posts.