Two days ago, Tolkien fans toasted the legendary author on what would have been his 125th birthday. J.R.R. Tolkien in some ways is a mysterious person. He was a devout Roman Catholic with a strong interest in Norse Mythology. And it was his writing that took the Norse mythology that he studied and loved, and created an entire literary genre around it.
THE NORSE INFLUENCE
During Tolkien’s education at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, the then young Tolkien read and translated from the Old Norse on his own time. One of his first Nordic purchases was the Völsunga saga ( a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan). Both the Volsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied were texts that had roughly the same date and origin. And both of these provided some of the basis for Richard Wagner’s opera series, Der Ring des Nibelungen, featuring in particular a magical golden ring and a broken sword reforged. In the Völsungasaga, these items are respectively Andvarinaut and Gram, and they correspond broadly to the One Ring and the sword Narsil (reforged as Andúril).
So hmmm…Tolkien was inspired by a story about a magical ring, that sounds kind of familiar…
THE ROMANTIC INFLUENCE
One important thing to understand about Tolkien is that he had an intense hatred of industrialization, which he considered to be devouring the English countryside. And much of the forces of evil in Lord of The Rings can be analogous to the forces of industrialization both Tolkien’s time, as well as our time today.
What is interesting to note, is that in the late 19th century and early 20th century there was a movement of “neo-romanticism.” The romanticism of the late 18th century had a strong emphasis on emotion, and the glory of the past and nature, as well as an intense disdain for industrialization. So neo-romanticism was a reinvention of that in later times.
(Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818)
In the Romantic as well as Neo-Romantic movements, there was a romanticized ideal of the past as a time when people were more noble and heroic. Many of these themes are obvious in Wagner’s extraordinary operas (for instance, Flight of the Valkyries). Afterall, as mentioned above, Wagner wrote a certain opera about a certain magical ring and the curse of material greed (very familiar sounding).
Of course, Wagner had very controversial associations, given his anti-semitic ideas, and the Nazis’ love for Wagner. So if Tolkien was inspired by Wagner, he certainly wasn’t going to go around saying so. Especially not after World War II.
But in Tolkien’s work, he did manage to express a sort of Romantic yearning for the glory of the past, as well as a contempt for the power and forces of greed in modern times. The Lord of the Rings Films are also like a work of Romantic art, in Peter Jackson’s emphasis on large, powerful landscapes in which man is only a tiny, and small wanderer lost in the power of nature.
(Landscape from The Hobbit Trailer)
(Here’s a piece of romantic landscape art in comparison. Albert Bierstadt’s Storm in the Rocky Mountains, 1866)
ELVES AND DWARFS
In continuation with the discussion about Tolkien’s norse influences, there are the elves and dwarfs in his story. They’re not something he just made up. They were based on Norse and Germanic mythology. The Prose Edda and the Elder or Poetic Edda contain descriptions of elves and dwarfs.
In Germanic mythology, dwarfs are short, humanoids who dwell in mountains and in the Earth. They are associated with wisdom, smithing, mining and crafting. Dwarfs are also described as short and ugly.
(Here’s a dwarf!)
In terms of elves, there are the Dökkálfar (Old Norse “Dark Elves”, singular Dökkálfr) and Ljósálfar (Old Norse “Light Elves”, singular Ljósálfr). The Dark Elves dwell in the Earth and are swarthy. While the Light Elves live in Álfheimr (one of the nine Norse worlds) and are fairer than the sun to look at.
(Here’s an elf!)
GANDALF THE GREY
The figure of Gandalf the Grey is also influenced by the Norse deity Odin, who was described as a wanderer, an old man with one eye, a wide-brimmed hat and a long beard. In a letter of 1946, nearly a decade after the character was invented, Tolkien wrote that he thought of Gandalf as an “Odinic wanderer (Carpenter 1981, #181)”. Much like Odin, Gandalf promotes justice, knowledge, truth, and insight.
(Gandalf fan art)
However, Norse myth wasn’t the only cultural influence. Tolkien’s work was also influenced by Old and Middle English, he based the Elvish language on Finnish, Greek mythology (in terms of the island Numenor being an allusion to Atlantis), Celtic influence in terms of the exile of the Noldorin elves and the parallels of that with the mythical Tuatha Dé Danann, and Arthurian Legend .
Tolkien was also influenced by his own Christian religion as well. The biblical narrative about the fall of man influenced The Silmarillion (in terms of the fall of the elves).
The poem below is from The Fellowship of the Ring. I think it definitely shows the Romantic influences in Tolkien’s work. I.E. the yearning for ancient ways. The contempt for greed.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Also read: “I Sit Beside the Fire and Think“
(Image Source. Note, it’s very hard to find non-marvel images of Loki)
The Norse trickster Loki has become a hot topic in the last few years. In addition to appearing as the bad guy in the Avengers movie, he was also the theme of the most recent Amon Amarth album, “Deceiver of The Gods” (2013).
His popularity in the media has brought up much debate about “who he was really.” Even in the pagan community (which is already fairly small), there is an even smaller number of people who consider themselves devotees of Loki (Lokeans). They honor him as a patron of change, trickery and chaos. This has been somewhat of a source of contention in the Heathen community, because many Heathens see Loki as the antithesis of everything the Ancient Norse stood for. It doesn’t help that he’s the one fated to fight the Aesir on the day of Ragnarok.
If people today want to worship Loki, I certainly don’t have a problem with it. But I can see how a Lokean honoring Loki at a Heathen gathering may be somewhat like declaring oneself a Cowboy’s fan in a Washington D.C. Sports Bar.
MOST SCHOLARS AGREE THAT LOKI WAS NEVER WORSHIPED AS A GOD
While many people today may see Loki as a “God of trickery or mischief,” the fact remains that most scholars believe that in ancient, pre-christian times, Loki was never worshiped as a God.
SO WHO WAS LOKI?
Loki, son of a jötunn, was a sort of interloper who hung out with the Aesir, sometimes causing mischief and other times helping out (usually as a way to clean up the mess he caused).
In modern times many people interpret Loki as an “evil character.” But the ancient Norse did not have black and white, Judeo-Christian ideals of “good and evil,” like we do today.
Instead there were standards of behavior for how one ought to act in the community. Ideally, people were supposed act with honor and courage, which is the opposite of how Loki acted. Loki in turn was a figure of cowardice and duplicity. Yet he wasn’t entirely terrible, because he was allowed to coexist with the Aesir until he was responsible for getting Baldur (The God of light and beauty) stuck in the Underworld. Then that was when his trickery went too far.
However, despite his trickery, he did help the struggling Gods get Asgard built, by contracting a giant to do the job. The giant asked for the sun, the moon and the Goddess Freya in payment. While the Gods were not too sure about this arrangement, Loki insisted that the giant would never get the work finished in time. When the giant came close to finishing the job, Loki turned himself into a mare and seduced the giant’s stallion, which prevented the giant from getting the job done in time.
There was another situation where Loki helped Thor find his missing hammer in a comedic escapade, where Loki convinces Thor to cross dress and pretend to be a bride at a wedding.
However, Loki’s role as an antagonist cannot be white washed, considering that he will eventually fight against the Aesir during Ragnarok.
LOKI AND ODIN: BLOOD BROTHERS
Yet despite Loki’s mischief, the fact remains that Odin and Loki were blood brothers – a very serious bond deeper than any other. Perhaps this is because Odin saw Loki as being useful, when a job required brains and negotiating, rather than brawn. I have even heard interesting theories that there was a deeper motivation behind Loki’s mischief than people think (I emphasize the word theories here). As mentioned earlier, Loki was responsible for keeping Baldur trapped in the Underworld. However, in the aftermath of Ragnarok, Baldur emerged from the Underworld to return to the land of the living where he and his brother Höðr would rule the new earth together with Thor’s sons. Had Baldur not been trapped in the Underworld, he may have died in Ragnarok. So was there a method behind Loki’s madness? Who knows…
But perhaps the point of Loki was that the Norse saw the world in a much more nuanced way than we do today. The world wasn’t simply a place of good and evil. The world was a place where courage and bravery were ideal, but even so – sometimes there were situations that called for a little trickery, trickery that yielded results that were good, bad and highly comedic.
AMON AMARTH – FATHER OF THE WOLF
(Historians have assumed this woman was holding a cleaning tool – um she looks more like she’s ready to cut someone’s head off with that thing than polish the floor.)
Cracked isn’t always the most accurate place for news, but the article I posted above makes some good points.
In modern depictions of the past, such as a TV series like Spartacus, we are shown an image of muscular slave men battling each other to death in the gladiatorial arena, while a woman’s maximum participation is cheering from the sidelines or later rewarding one of the gladiators with a blow job.
However, the truth is that female gladiators were quite common in Rome. There were many graves of decorated gladiators that historians assumed to be male, only to be surprised when the bone analysis revealed these warriors to be women – as if the woman just so happened to fall into the wrong grave!
The assumptions don’t just end there. Most heroic warrior figures, such as vikings or samurai are all assumed to be male, and this depiction is the norm in television dramas, comics and movies. Yet in most warrior societies – such as that of the Spartans, the Mongols, the Celts and the Vikings, the art of war was such an important skill that everyone was expected to know what they were doing – including the women. In ancient Celtic societies, there were even fighting schools where female teachers called a BAN-GAISGEDAIG taught boys the art of fighting and love.
In fact, in a DNA analysis of the Japanese battle of Senbon Matsubaru in 1580, 35 of the 105 bodies tested were female. Not to mention that this is only one of several archaeological finds that show a similar story.
Then there is the fact that most ancient societies had goddesses associated with war and death, such as Athena, Freya, Sekhmet, the Morrigan, Brigid and Kali. In fact, some of these named Goddesses were more terrifying than their male counterparts. If the idea of a woman fighting was really so unrealistic to the people of the ancient world, then why were there Goddesses entirely devoted to warfare?
So today’s reality of women in the military or police force actually isn’t anything new. If anything, it is a return to long term historical trends. Look at the fact that more than 30% of the Kurds fighting the ISIS scum are female. When a group of people are in danger, and bodies are needed to fight for survival, women will be among that number. This is why it is unrealistic for people today to think that women don’t need to know anything about fighting or self defense. What society has a better chance of survival – one where only half the population knows how to fight, or one where 100% of the population can kick some ass?
So next time someone complains that the portrayal of women warriors in historical dramas is “not realistic,” remind them that the more historically inaccurate fallacy is one where there are no women warriors at all in societies that prized the art of battle in all aspects of life.
Masha Scream of Arkona (Source)
LINKS OF INTEREST
ORIGINAL ARTICLE (More Information Here)
Ásatrúarfélagið website (The group for which the temple is being built)
For the first time in 1,000 years, a temple to the Norse Gods will be built in Iceland. Most pagans these days tend to worship in each other’s houses or outside somewhere, since our numbers are pretty low. So this will definitely be a historic landmark for Iceland – if not for the whole Pagan community in general.
Icelanders will soon be able to publicly worship at a shrine to Thor, Odin and Frigg with construction starting this month on the island’s first major temple to the Norse gods since the Viking age.
While the number of Norse Pagans is small in Iceland, the rate of growth itself is pretty large. The number has tripled in the last decade. So it makes sense that a temple will be built to accommodate this growing community.
This temple will be a place where weddings, funerals and initiation rites will take place.
After 1,000 years of oppression the old ways will re-emerge once again.
Amon Amarth – Thousand Years of Oppression
Attention Heathens, Asatru and Vikings of the internet. You will no longer have to raid the nearest settlement to find an adequate wench or knave to warm your bed this winter. There is a new dating site that has started up to help members of the Asatru community connect with one another and hopefully find romance – or lust – or a good time – or at least some pictures of guys with cool beards to look at.
The site is very new indeed. When I did a search for all the women in the world between 18-90, I only came up with 33 lasses total. (Apparently 90 is the age limit for this site, I guess after 90 you were supposed to die valiantly in battle instead of languishing around, getting older and eating up social security checks). If you are looking for a man, prospects are somewhat better. There are about 100 men on the site so far – another reminder that the world of Asatru can sometimes be a sausage fest. But that’s okay, if everyone on the site is okay with each woman having 3 men to herself, I’m sure everything will be just fine!
(Okay…this date actually looks a little awkward…)
Those in the United States will get the best odds, as most of the people I found were U.S. locals. For the rest, you could always try your luck putting together a ship, a crew, and making your way across the ocean as Leif Ericson did long ago (or do something far less epic, like just buying a plane ticket or sit around waiting for the invention of teleportation devices).
When you build your profile, you are given the typical dating site options: are you seeking male or female, are you divorced, single in an open relationship, etc. You are also required to answer questions such as your sense of humor, your interest in shows, whether you smoke, drink and all that other good stuff.
(“What do you mean you don’t like Cannibal Corpse? Sorry. We’re gonna have to see other people.”)
My main criticism is that the profile options need to give you a blank field where you can write in your own response if the preexisting responses don’t apply. For example, you can only be interested in males or females. But what about someone on the site who is bisexual? I actually do have a few bisexual heathen friends, so they would be a bit put off by this restriction. You can also only list a male or female gender, but what if someone identifies as a different gender orientation than either of those options? Also, the site requires you to list your exact location, down to the city you live in. I feel that some people would want to retain more privacy than that. Therefore, they should have an option that allows you to leave the option blank.
Yet with criticisms aside, I know that the site is very new, so they probably have quite a few quirks and kinks to work out. But I think it is a good idea that this site is attempting to do such a thing. It shows that the Asatru community is indeed growing and becoming more recognized. There is also an option to add blogs, classifieds and events, even though this hasn’t been utilized very much yet. It will be interesting to see where this site goes.
(“You mean you also enjoy crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentations of their women? You’re a keeper!”)
STANZA 39 of HAMAVAL:
No man is so generous he will jib at accepting
A gift in return for a gift,
No man so rich that it really gives him
Pain to be repaid.
Gifts were a big deal in Ancient Norse culture. They weren’t just a way to celebrate a holiday. The act of giving a gift is something that bound you to a person. This stanza is a rational explanation of gift giving and human nature. Nobody gives a gift without expecting something in return. We’re taught that that is what we’re supposed to do, but realistically few people are this altruistic. This is why many women are hesitant to accept a drink or a gift from a male stranger, because there is the underlying thought of (if I accept this gift, he thinks he deserves a sexual favor in return). This line of thought extends to political realities. If a donor (like Monsanto or the Christian Right) gives a politician a large sum of money, they are going to expect some political favors in return. So this basic line of thought can be summarized with, “if I scratch your back, you’ll scratch mine.”
A further analysis of the stanza is at the following link.
GEBO: THE RUNE OF GIFT GIVING
The Rune Gebo represents gifts, both in the sense of sacrifice and of generosity. This is an indication of balance. This rune represents all matters in relation to exchanges, including contracts, personal relationships and partnerships. The opposite of Gebo is greed, loneliness, dependence, over-sacrifice, obligation, toll, privation and bribery (Click here to learn more about the runes).
If the Rune of gift giving represents balance itself, this is an indication that gift giving wasn’t a one way street in Norse culture. It was a way to create balance in a relationship as well as to establish a bond between two parties.