Friday, November 17, 2006

The Mythical Origins of the Germanic Peoples

Viktor Rydberg in his `Teutonic Mythology` states that "The human race, or at least the Teutonic race, springs, according to the myth, from a single pair, and has accordingly had a centre from which their descendants have spead over that world which was embraced by the Teutonic horizon."
He goes on to relate how the story of the creation of the first Teutonic man and woman from trees[Ask and Embla-ash and elm] has its origins in Aryan creation myth. The first humans were plants before they became human.
Odin, Vili and Ve[or Odin, Hoenir and Lodir] gave them breath, soul and intelligence. They transformed these `tree` humans into god men. No doubt the `tree` is symbolic of non-intelligent existence. The gods made man a thinking and creative being.
It is significant that the first Teutons were cited as dwelling upon the seashore. From this particular location their descendants branched out. But where was the seashore to be located?
There is a vital clue to be found in the myth of Scef, the pregenitor of the Anglo-Saxon and related Germanic peoples.
"One day it came to pass that a ship was seen sailing near the coast of Scedeland or Scani, and it approached the land without being propelled either by oars or sails. The ship came to the seabeach, and there was seen lying in it a little boy, who was sleeping with his head on a sheaf of grain, surrounded by treasures and tools, by glaives and coats of mail. The boat itself was stately and beautifully decorated. Who he was and whence he came nobody had any idea, but the little boy was received as if he had been a kinsman, and he received the most constant and tender care. As he came with a sheaf of grain to their country the people called him Scef, Sceaf.
[The Beowulf poem calls him Scyld, son of Sceaf, and gives Scyld the son Beowulf, which was originally another name of Scyld.]"[`Teutonic Mythology]
The Danish royal family according to Beowulf were descended from Scef through his son Scyld]Skjold.
He was a dininely born patriarch and according to Matthaeus Westmonast Scef ruled in Angeln.
The Anglo-Saxon chronicles indicate that the dynasty of Wessex came from Saxony and their progenitor was Scef.
Teutonic man therefore according to his own creation myths was conceived on the shores of the German Ocean or the North Sea in the area of Angeln in southern Scandinavia. From there all the Germanic peoples migrated south and gave birth to the modern Germanic nations of northern Europe.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Dragon Slaying Myths and Cosmic Order

Joyce Tally Lionarons in "The Medieval Dragon. The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature" aserts that "the Indo-European dragon myth is essentially concerned with the establishment of cosmic order and/or legitimating a prevailing cosmic regime."
This can be seen in the battles between Beowulf and the monster Grendel and Grendel`s equally monstrous mother and Beowulf`s final battle with the dragon.
The struggle between Grendel and Grendel`s mother can be interpreted as a struggle for mastery over those forces who opposed the ruling regime. Perhaps the Grendel monster is a metaphor for the very real human forces that opposed the reign of Hygelac? Perhaps Hygelac was a recent interloper as the origin myth of the arrival of the orphan Scyld Scefing in the opening verses of the Beowulf poem indicates? Quite possibly Grendel and his mother represented a displaced royal dynasty.
History and indeed even the contemporary world is replete with examples of the demonisation of political and military enemies. I am positing the theory that Grendel was just such a `demonisation` of a very human enemy. The fact that Grendel has no previous pedigree within Germanic myth and appears solely in this particular poem seems to reinforce this idea.
Lionarons makes the valid observation that Grendel is pictured as an `anti-king` who reigns over Hygelac`s hall of Heorot during the nightime hours. Grendel`s mere is also viewed as a type of `anti-hall`. Whilst Grendel could be viewed as the `host` of Heorot during the night hours Beowulf likewise is the unwelcome and hostile `guest`. In turn Grendel can also be viewed as the unwelcome guest whilst Hygelac or his champion, Beowulf is the host.
The author explains that the Old English word gaest can be interpreted as `guest`, `ghost` or `stranger`. The word is compounded in various places of the poem to indicate the notion of an unfriendly, an unwelcome or hostile guest, eg waelgast[murderous guest], inwitgaest[malicious guest] and nidgaest[hostile guest].
The shifting roles of host and guest as evidenced in the battles initiated in Heorot by first Grendel and then his mother and in the final conflict between Beowulf and Grendel`s mother in the mere. Beowulf and the monsters exchange the roles of host and guest, all in a struggle for mastery and the maintenance or creation of a new order.
Beowulf`s encounter with the dragon occurs at the end of his life when a dragon ravages Beowulf`s kingdom. The dragon represents a threat to the social order established in Beowulf`s kingdom. The dragon or monster representing the `anti-hero` is fated to lose the encounter whilst the hero must inevitably encounter and defeat the anti-hero to either establish or maintain his power and authority. Beowulf on all three occasions succeeds in his struggles against his adversaries although in the last encounter it costs him his life.
Even Grendel`s mother`s role as the avenger is typical of pre-christian Germanic society with the notion of the blood feud. In short the monsters depicted in `Beowulf` are reminiscent of human adversaries demonised by the reigning and victorious political elite.
Is there a lesson in this for us today in 2006?