In 1915, the German geophysicist Alfred
Wegener published the world’s first treatise on the theory of
continental drift. He had
merely noticed what better maps had made obvious -- that the continents
of the world fit together like puzzle pieces. Similarly, those who have read a variety of European mythology
have felt much the same notion tugging at their consciousness; namely,
that the myths of most of
Comparative mythologists set out to determine if the various mythologies of the European continent were indeed related, and immediately the question grew more complex. No one is certain of where, when or by whom most of the myths have been composed, and these details can be impossibly difficult to trace. In addition, mythology, unlike temples, cannot be studied in anything approaching isolation. It reflects the fundamental ideology of a people, and as such is related to every aspect of the society. Influenced by factors as various as language, social structure, physical environment and foreign contact, it cannot simply be read in the bricks. When one does attempt to read ideology into physical artifacts, the results cannot help but be speculative.
Particularly inviting to such comparisons are the mythologies of the Indic Vedas and the Norse Eddas. Separated by a minimum of two thousand years and four thousand miles, one might expect them to bear little resemblance to one another. While superficially correct, it is also true that in certain ways they are remarkably similar, particularly when one considers their great temporal, linguistic and geographical distance from one another. They also serve well as temporal bookmarks in the history of religion.
The Indic Rig Veda has been dated by contextual evidence to approximately 1500 BCE, but
there is reason to believe it may have been composed far earlier. Today the Hindus recognize four Vedas, of which the Rig is the earliest. While
their written heritage dates only to about the 3rd century BCE, the Vedas are certainly much older. Sages known as rishis maintained an exacting oral tradition
which ensured that the Vedas would be faithfully carried through time; held to be shruti, or divine revelation, their contents were not to be altered. They may well contain the earliest
documentation of Indic polytheism known to modern scholars. If it can be said that the various
The Norse Eddas, by contrast, are of comparatively late origin. Yet they hold the unique distinction of having survived what was generally the death blow of Christianity. As such, they are some of the only existing testaments to the state of European heathenry just before and during the Christian era. While the pagan works of the Greeks and Romans still stand, the Eddas are a valuable link to the Germanic tradition which, together with these classics, form the spine of our own. Viking in temperament and dated in a range from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries of the Common Era, they represent perhaps the “last stand” of European polytheism.
“Edda” means “grandmother,” and scholars have been unable to explain why the works bear that name. While many suggestions have been offered, the simplest has been all but overlooked: that the Eddic composer Snorri was simply invoking his wise grandmother, who may have told him the tales he transcribed. “Edda” itself may be derived from the Sanskrit veda, or sacred vidyä, both of which are terms for “knowledge;” cognates include the German wissen, the Swedish veta, and the old English wit, for “to know” (Titchenell, p. 20). Therefore it is fitting that a grandmother should convey knowledge. Together the Eddas and Vedas represent bookends on the shelf of European religious history; the further apart they are set, the more knowledge can be placed in between.
PART I -- EVIDENCE FOR A COMMON FOUNDATION
It has long been obvious to scholars that certain mythological
themes appear cross-culturally. One finds remarkably similar characters
and stories throughout the diverse folklores of
The well-known comparativist Max Müller believed that
the Eddic tradition actually preceded that of the Vedas, which seems incredible considering the great antiquity of Vedic
society. Despite their
problematic dating, the content of the myths is similar enough to encourage the speculation that they
share a common parentage. Alternative hypotheses do not stand up to even the beginnings of scrutiny. The contention that the two mythologies
arose independently to develop such striking correspondences invites
the revivalization of Spencerian notions of “psychic unity.” Diffusionist arguments, too, seem to pale
in the face of the great distance between
The beginnings of this hypothesis lie in the year 1767,
when James Parsons published The
Remains of Japhet, being historical enquiries into the affinity and
origins of the European languages. Despite this early work, it is Sir William Jones, who, due to
his academic credentials, is credited with the “discovery”
in 1796 of the Indo-European family of languages. Both men, noting sweeping similarities in lexicon, proposed the
hypothesis that the languages of Europe,
Despite the limits of their vision, the basic point is sound. There are indeed characteristics present in the family of Indo-European languages that suggest its members are united by common ancestry. One great proto-language is imagined to have grown and splintered, producing branches as different from itself and from each other as they are removed in space and time. These languages have been carried across the continent by the people who spoke them, who in some cases may be as close genetically as they as linguistically.
The linchpin of this theory lies in the fact that reliable and systematic phonological shifting can be demonstrated to occur between the languages, as with the Greek g and the Germanic k: Greek gyne, Old Norse kona “woman”; Greek genos, Old Norse kyn “family”; or Greek agros, Old Norse akr “field’” (Mallory, p. 13). Simple correspondences are also abundantly present, such as the Sanskrit devas, the Latin deus, Lithuanian dievas, Old Irish dia and the Old Norse plural tivar, which are all words for “gods” (Mallory, p. 128). Of particular interest to the present paper is the following set of correspondences:
Sanskrit dyaus pita
Greek zeu pater
Latin Ju piter
Umbrian Iuve patre
Illyrian Dei patyros
Proto-Indo-European *dyeus pEter
(Mallory, p. 128)
While J. P. Mallory is not willing to deduce the role of the divinity he has named here for us, it has nevertheless become a distinct possibility that the speakers of these related languages share a related mythology. For if all of them have a term for the “Sky-Father,” then surely they must all have an explanation for who he is; he must be provided with an underlying mythological base. Since they all refer to him in the same terms, the various mythologies must have common elements. While it is true that myths appear to diffuse more readily than languages, some of these shared elements may in fact date to a time when the language, too, was shared.
Language, without writing, is nearly impossible for the archaeologist to trace. The migration of a pre-literate people leaves no linguistic clues in its wake, and when a site of occupation is discovered, it is difficult to determine its linguistic identity. While we may know where they went, how they made their pottery and what they ate for dinner, we can rarely know where they came from, who they were related to or what language they spoke. Archaeologists plod on despite this:"The linguistic identity of archaeological cultures more distant from the historical record may be thought to lie beyond reasonable inference. This is not, however, an option open to the archaeologist engaged in the Indo-European homeland problem, and we will have to follow the archaeological evidence as best we can." (Mallory, p. 165)
When there is no system of writing, information can still be maintained and transmitted by an oral tradition. If the circumstances are right, eventually the body of knowledge will be preserved as text. In the case of mythology, as old as culture itself, that preservation occurs at an exceedingly late date. A body of lore having its origin at the time of linguistic unity would not have been written down until well after the language had undergone significant change. Linguistic change, along with thousands of years of culture, likely had profound effects on the resulting mythos. Whatever similarities remained must have been truly fundamental.
It was the brilliant comparativist Georges Dumézil
who first pointed out the tripartite division of Indo-European society. While this was not immediately apparent from the archaeological
evidence, it was clear from the surviving mythologies. There is ample textual evidence to indicate that the ancient
communities of the Indo-Europeans were characterized by a tripartite
social class system and a tripartite religious ideology, as is readily
exemplified by the three “Aryan” castes of medieval and
The first function embraces sovereignty, and at the top
of the social hierarchy stands a class of priests and shamans, such
as the Indic Brahmans, to serve as administrators. Responsible for contracts both with the
gods and between people, their tasks lie in different realms. Fittingly, the function is typically fulfilled
on the divine level by a pair of sovereign gods such as Mitra and Varuna
in Vedic India, Jupiter and Dius Fidius at
The second function is characterized as military. It is expressed and fulfilled by a warrior class which is often the ruling class. Their duty is to defend the society against enemies as well as to promote its economic well-being through conquest and raiding. Examples include the Indic Ksatriyas, the Roman milites and the Norse Vikings. They are paralleled on the cosmic level by great warrior divinities such as the Vedic Indra, the Roman Mars, and the Norse Þórr (Thor). Of particular interest in this set of deities is the ambiguity inherent in the role of aggressor-defender. Þórr, smasher of Giants, while no one to antagonize, is also the warder of Miðgarð and the protector of human-kind. Both he and Indra possess a kind of potent power which is not always kept in check, and it is best to remain in their favor.
A third function embodies the concepts of fertility and sustenance, embracing the herder-cultivators or “common” people, i.e., the Indic Vaisyas. Concerns at this level include the fertility of humans, animals and land, and the well-being of the people. While ranked below the first and second strata, the third is the level upon which the other two depend for their existence. It is the herders and cultivators who feed and clothe the priests and warriors, and it is their labor which provides the surplus of goods necessary for the maintenance the class structure.
The divine representatives of the third function also tend to occur in pairs, but usually as twins (e.g., the Greek Dioscuri, the Vedic Ásvins) or close relatives. The Norse pair, Njörð and Freyr, are thought to be father and son. They are intimately associated with horses (the Indic Ásvins, “horsemen,” or Nasatyas), and they are accompanied by a goddess who is either a sister or wife of one of them. The Indic Ásvins, for example, are tied to the goddess Sarasvati, the Greeks Castor and Pollux to Helen, and the Norse Njörðand Freyr to Freya. The Roman case provides an exception, where the god Quirinus stands alone as the divine ambassador of the third function. (Mallory, p. 132)
Either the tripartite division of society is reflected
in its cosmology, or the ideology is dictating the social structure. It is a chicken-and-egg riddle; perhaps
the best guess is that reality shapes the myth, and then the myth perpetuates
the reality. In
Citing the fact that the Sanskrit term for “caste,” “várna-,”
means “color,” it has been suggested that the phrase “an-ärya,” or “non-Aryan,”
refers to the darker-skinned Dravidians, who are thought by some to
have been the indigenous population of the Indian subcontinent. Such arguments fail to consider the possibility that the word
may not have been intended quite as literally as it has been taken. In a society rich in ritual and symbolism, a literal interpretation
may be misdirected. Colors
themselves have symbolic value, and have traditionally been associated
with social status. Thus, communists were once “Reds,”
while American liberals were “Pinkos.” Green is commonly associated with nature
(third function), red with blood (second function), and white with purity
(first function); witness the flags of countries as diverse as
The Norse Lay of Ríg, or Rigsþula, provides solid evidence for the social tripartition
Karl, the second son, is born with a ruddy complexion and swift eyes. A builder and a farmer, the hard-working Karl marries Snœr (“Daughter-in-Law”).
In their homestead, happy, they had a brood,
hight Man and Yeoman, Master, Goodman,
Husbandman, Farmer Franklin, Crofter,
Bound-Beard, Steep-Beard Broad, Swain, and Smith.
By other names were known their daughters:
Woman, Gentlewoman, Wife, Bride, Lady,
Haughty, Maiden, Hussif and Dame:
thence are come the kin of carls.
(Hollander, p. 124)
Earl is born last. He is blond and fair of skin, and his blazing eyes are a mark of nobility. Only he is of high enough birth to merit any further attention from his father, Ríg, who returns to teach him the runes and take him as an heir. Earl becomes a great warrior and a generous sovereign, and the father of many children including Boy, Bairn, Heir, Squire, Son and Scion. (Hollander, p. 127)
While Vedic lore describes priests, warriors and cultivators, Eddic lore speaks of nobles, freemen and slaves. Class in both traditions was ascribed at birth, but the Norse system was far more fluid. Priests could be either nobles or freemen, and even slaves could be warriors. The emphasis seems to have shifted away from function to status. The comparativist Jaan Puhvel relates these shifts in ideology to shifts in phonology. He explains that the Germanic languages are, on the whole,"subject to wholesale yet systematic and structured slippage in phonology ( the so-called sound shifts that made English father out of *pater) and extreme stylization in verbal morphology (with “principal parts” like sing, sang, sung)." (Puhvel, p. 191)
He suggests that the entire mythos, having been constructed at some earlier time, has undergone a sort of transposition. Just as morphemes undergo slippage and shifting, so do mythos, ideology and social structure. With the loss of the priestly class among the Germans, the tripartite social system seems to have “slipped a notch.” Puhvel continues,"Caesar noted (De
Despite the general pre-eminence of the priestly class,
kingship is usually associated with the warrior class. In
Among the Vikings, war was a constant theme. A reading of Hávamál reveals the prevailing philosophy that fame was all-important. Nothing was more ignoble than dying without renown, and death itself was scorned:
"Deyr fé en orðstír
deyja frændr deyr aldre
deyr sjalfr it sama hveim er sér góðan getr.
Cattle die, kinsmen die, oneself dies the same; but fame alone will never die for him who gains a good one’." (Einarsson, p. 32)
Men desired most of all to earn fame through bravery and conquest. They cared little about death, and thought little about killing even a friend when vengeance was called for. Such a murder could be forgiven by the payment of Wergild, a sum regarded by the victim’s family as equivalent to his worth. This practice is also seen in Vedic society, where Wergeld was paid in proportion to the victim’s status (Tyler, p. 50).
As the desire for fame grew eventually to achieve the status of raison d’etre, the Norse warriors sought access to the magico-religious. If one is to be continually successful in battle, one must then acquire divine and magical power. A magical sword such as Sigurd’s, a runic spell, the assistance of a Valkyrie -- all are to be sought after and plentiful in the lore. The rage of the bersirkir, too, is divine, and sacred to Óðinn.
Óðinn himself, already a warrior, becomes a shaman, too. An extremely complex god, he is an administrator- warrior; he does not personally experience the rage of the bersirk so much as he imparts it to others. Cunning and wise, he is not a fighter but a devious and manipulative magician, an “orchestrator of conflict rather than a combatant” (Puhvel, p. 193). Warrior-king of the gods despite his lack of participation in battle, he gains shamanic wisdom by voluntarily undertaking a personal ordeal. Sacrificing himself to himself, he hangs himself, wounded, upon the world-tree Yggdrasil for nine nights until the secrets of the runes come to him. (Hávamál, st. 138)
Among the Norse, the first two functions of priest and warrior appear to have merged. Visionary fighters and magical heroes were likely more valuable to them than the maintenance of a separate class of religious practitioners, so the categories were integrated. The result is a redefined tripartite hierarchy which has opened up its classification to include bondsmen and slaves.
Combined evidence strongly indicates that the ancient Indo-Europeans had a unified conceptualization of human society as being properly composed of three classes: priests, warriors, and herder-cultivators. Slaves have probably always been part of the reality, but as they were usually taken from enemy populations, they were easy to dismiss as outsiders to the classificatory scheme. Perhaps when two of the Norse categories merged, they were recruited into the scheme to maintain the tripartition. Perhaps this tripartition came as naturally to the Norse as it does to us, and their social structure did not feel solid without it.
Georges Dumézil has argued that early evidence for the tripartition of Indo-European society can be found in a treaty between Matiwaza, King of Mitanni, and the king of the Hittites. Dating to about 1380 BCE, the agreement invokes the Indic gods Mitra, Varuna, Indra and the Nasatyas. According to Dumézil, the first two names usually occur paired in the Vedas, as “Mitra-Varuna.” They represent, as discussed above, the two distinct aspects of sovereignty encompassed by the first function; while Mitra handles matters between humans, Varuna concerns himself with the magico-religious, attending to covenants with and between the gods. Indra, the warrior-god, represents the second function, while the Nasatyas, divine twins who are associated closely with horses, livestock and people, represent the third. (Mallory, p. 131)
This tripartite conception of the order of human society has served as a lens through which the Indo-Europeans have viewed the world. Consequently there are repeated instances of tripartition in the mythology, and the number three itself appears with great frequency. Even today people speak of three fates, three tenses (past, present, and future) and three bears. A sentence such as the previous one does not feel complete if it does not contain three examples.
One recurring theme in Indo-European mythology is the “three sins of the warrior,” wherein the warrior figure commits an offense against each of the three functions, including the one he represents. In opposition to the first function, the warrior will defy or cause harm to come to his sovereign. In opposition to the second function, of which he is sovereign, he will display either cowardice or dishonor, thusly discrediting and disgracing himself. Finally, he will commit an assault, usually sexual, against a representative of the third function. (C. Scott Littleton, in his introduction to Dumézil, p. xi)
Indra is the classic “triple sinner.” His first offense is the slaying of Trisiras, the triple-headed dragon son of the Brahman god Tvashtar; the murder of a Brahman by a warrior is an offense against the first function. Later, when the demon Vrtra threatens to overpower Indra, the god sues the beast for peace. He then breaks the truce and murders him. By doing so, Indra acts in opposition to two functions: breaking a covenant works against the first function, while Indra’s cowardice in the beginning and unwarranted force in the end oppose the warrior principle, or second function. Stripping himself of his last shred of dignity, he acts in opposition to the third function when he disguises himself as the husband of a beautiful woman and has sex with her.
While a ready parallel exists in the offenses of Herakles, one must stretch considerably in the search for a Norse example. Winn Shan offers the tale of Starkad, as told in the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus and the Icelandic Gautreks Saga. Both sources are exceedingly late and the theme seems to have undergone substantial reconfiguration, if indeed it is related at all. While the hero does commit three offenses, they appear to be unrelated to the three Dumézilian functions. They are, as was Norse society, more concerned with treachery and cowardice. (Winn, p. 197) The original theme, an expression of the ambiguities inherent in the warrior role, is not found intact among the Norse, perhaps because the Vikings saw no such ambiguity.
The number three makes appearances when Indra slays a three-headed monster, and when the Norse Æsir attempt to burn their nemesis three times but she is “thrice reborn” (Voluspá st. 21, Hollander). Indra’s faithful ally, Vishnu, is often referred to as “three-stepper” or “wide-strider” in the Rig Veda. The name recalls his primordial deed of propping apart the Universe with three strides, thereby creating the two-part dwelling of both gods and mortals."Let me now sing the heroic deeds of Visnu, who has measured apart the realms of the earth, who propped up the upper dwelling-place, striding far as he stepped forth three times. They praise for his heroic deeds Visnu who lurks in the mountains, wandering like a ferocious wild beast, in whose three wide strides all creatures dwell." (
The Norse god Viðarr provides an interesting parallel; his very name contains the exhortation ‘Wider!’ (Puhvel, p. 56) At Ragnarök it is he who will stride forward to defeat the wolf Fenrir by planting one foot on his lower jaw and then ripping his mouth open. It is characteristic of Norse mythology that this great and defining deed occurs in an eschatological context, as is the case with Þórr’s slaying of the Miðgarð serpent. The Indic episode, by contrast, is an act of creation. (Puhvel, p. 204)
The number three is also of significance to what J. P. Mallory has called “The Threefold Death” of the Celts and Germans. Among these peoples, evidence has shown that human beings were sacrificed or executed in one of three ways, each being representative of one of the three Dumézilian functions:"The ancient Gauls, for example, made offerings to three gods -- Esus, Taranis and Teutates -- by recourse to hanging, burning and drowning, respectively. This pattern is replicated in the pagan Germanic punishments of hanging, stabbing and drowning, each technique correlated to the crime for which the victim was convicted." (Mallory, p. 139)
It appears that hanging was the appropriate punishment for a violation of the first function, while stabbing and drowning are associated with the second and third functions, respectively. Drowning in general has sometimes been construed to indicate a sacrifice to “Mother Earth,” as opposed to “Father Sky.”
This apparently omnipresent tripartite ideology actually
functions within a dualistic framework, as Dumézil and his colleagues
were quick to point out (Mallory, p. 140). Both the first and third functions are typically expressed through
a pair of gods, and the underlying theme of all of it seems to be a
battle between good and evil, or darkness and light. This dualistic undertow is reflected in
a mythological “War of the Functions” which pits the representatives
of the first two functions against those of the third, thus reducing
the three strata to two, and finally to one. As Michael and his angels battle Satan
and his cohorts in the Biblical Revelation,
so too battle the Suras and Asuras in the Rig-Veda, and the Æsir and Vanir in the Eddas. Theosophist Elsa
Brita Titchenell suggests that the two sides of the duality
"belong to different levels of existence, one superior to the other; they may also parallel the Hindu kumäras (Skt. virgins) and agnisvättas (those who have tasted of fire), respectively gods who remain unmanifest and those who have imbodied immaterial worlds." (Titchenell, p. 42)
The Norse “War of the Æsir and Vanir” begins with an unsuccessful murder attempt and ends with an exchange of hostages. The Vanic gods Njörð, Freyr and Freya go to Asgarður live among the Æsir and in return, the Vanir are sent Mímir, whom they promptly behead, and Hœnir (Hollander, p. 9). Unfazed, Óðinn makes priests of the three Vanir and the gods are unified.
The Indic version of the divine “War of the Functions” has as its cause Indra’s contempt for the Nasatyas, also known as the Ásvins, whom he holds to be unworthy of receiving the soma sacrifice. Soma is particularly important to Indra because it is the beverage which enables him to defeat Vrtra and become king of the gods. As healers of the people, the Asvins are polluted by their contact with humans. Such intimate involvement in the affairs of mortals is enough to earn Indra’s disdain and foment his reluctance to share any offering of the sacrificial beverage.
The priest Cyavana challenges Indra by invoking the Asvins during a performance of the soma ritual. Indra responds angrily by attempting to launch a thunderbolt at him, only to find that his arm has been stayed by the mighty seer. Cyavana then produces the powerful Asura, or demon, Mada (“Drunkenness, Intoxication”), whose gigantic mouth threatens to swallow up Indra whole. Overcome with fear, Indra is coerced into admitting the Asvins and peace is made (Winn, p. 67; Puhvel, p. 61).
The creation of Mada is reminiscent of the Norse figure
Kvasir. In the Skäldskaparmäl of the Snorra
Edda, a truce is effected between gods when the two parties spit
into a crock. Óðinn
saves the stuff and fashions out of it the wise man, Kvasir, who is
killed by dwarfs. Mixing
his blood with honey, they produce the mead of poetry. In
The Indo-European “War of the Functions” may have served, among other things, as a reminder to the lowest stratum of society that they were to be subservient to both priests and warriors, a “situation divinely chartered by a mythical war which their ancestors lost” (Mallory, p. 139). It may be an expression of the oft-stated culture versus nature dichotomy; while the first and second functions are concerned expressly with the individual acting in society, the third is occupied primarily with the natural rhythms of life. Some have even argued that the war represents actual battles that occurred in the ancient past between migrating populations and the peoples they encountered. None of these hypotheses can be substantiated.
In addition to commonalities of structure, Indo-European mythology displays some regularity in personage. While some deities can be recognized by their names alone, as in the previously mentioned case of the “Sky-Father,” others can only be identified by the pattern of interest they display in the affairs of humans. In general, the similarity between Þórr and Indra is striking, but there are of course differences. Indra has much wider scope as a warrior deity than does Þórr; much of the role that Indra plays in Indic mythology is relegated to Óðinn in the Norse conception.
Rig Veda Book 10, Hymn 153
1 Swaying about, the Active Ones came nigh to Indra at his birth,
And shared his great heroic might.
2 Based upon strength and victory and power, O Indra is thy birth:
Thou, Mighty One, art strong indeed.
3 Thou art the Vritra-slayer, thou, Indra, hast spread the firmament:
Thou hast with might upheld the heavens.
4 Thou, Indra, bearest in thine arms the lighting that accords with thee,
Whetting thy thunderbolt with might.
5 Thou, Indra, art preeminent over all creatures in thy might:
Thou hast pervaded every place.
(Griffith, vol. II, p. 593)
Indra is “the great macho deity of the Vedic pantheon;” he is sahásramuska, or “thousand-testicled” (Puhvel, p.50). Likened often to a rutting bull, he prepares for his most important deed by getting rip-roaring drunk. Puhvel calls Indra the “action-god,” sort of a celestial Schwartzenegger. He is “a dragon killer of enormous appetites who shades over into a storm-god with a thunder weapon (vájra-).” (Ibid.) Heartened by the psychotropic soma, he slays a monstrous adversary, the creature named Vrtra. As a god of rain, his foe is characterized as a “demon of drought who needs to be vanquished in order to make the rains (and hence the rivers) flow.” (Puhvel, p. 51)
In the Norse conception, it is Þórr who wields the thunderbolt. Like Indra, he is a warrior/storm god and a slayer of demons.
Comes then Mjolnir's mighty weilder;
gapes the grisly earth-girdling serpent
when strides forth Thór to stay the Worm.
Mightily mauls Mithgarth’s warder --
shall all wights in the world wander from home -- ;
back falls nine steps Fjorgyn’s offspring --
nor fears for his fame -- from the frightful worm.
(Voluspá, st. 54 - 55) (Hollander, p. 11)
His appetite, as substantial as Indra’s, has been demonstrated on at least one occasion:
Hverjan létu höfþi skemra Each one left they less by a head,
auk á seyþi síþan báru: and laid them soon on the seething fire
át Sifjar verr, áþr sofa gengi, then ere he slumbered, the Thunderer ate,
einn meþ öllu yxn tvá Hymis. himself alone, of the oxen, twain.
(Hymiskviþa, st. 15) (Bray, pp. 118-119)
Visnu, another Indic Ksatriya god, having himself slain a multitude of demons, can also be said to resemble Þórr in some respects. (Puhvel, p. 204)
While Óðinn is compared most often to Varuna in his role as mystical sovereign, the Indic god with whom he has the most in common is probably Rudra-Siva, who achieved prominence after the Rig Veda was composed. Both gods are unpredictable, dangerous and morally ambivalent, even evil. Both accept human sacrifices, both possess arcane magical knowledge, and both enjoy wandering about in disguise. Interestingly, while Óðinn is one-eyed, Rudra has three; both are manifestations of the concept of god as visionary. (Puhvel, p. 200)
Resting now on the assumption that the comparativist dogma has been sufficiently demonstrated, it remains to examine the historical and archaeological context of the texts. By this it is hoped that a temporal relationship between the two can be established, and a hypothesis proffered as to their degree of relatedness.
PART II -- History and Archaeology
The comparative mythologist Max Müller set a date for the creation of the Rig Veda at around 1500 BCE, proposing a span of about five hundred years to allow for the creation of the three succeeding Vedic works. Subsequent scholars came to take his date for fact despite its speculative basis, and there is reason to believe that Müller was himself using Biblical chronology (Frawley).
Known as the Samhitas,
the four Vedic texts are the Rig
Veda, the Sama Veda, the Atharva Veda, and the Yajur Veda. The Rig
Veda was written by people who referred to themselves as Aryan. According to Müller, the Aryans brought
the Rig Veda with them into
Sometime after the completion of the Vedas, further additions were made to the theological corpus. They include the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, or “forest books,” which were appended to the Brahmanas, and the Upanisads. These works, which take the form of elaborations, explanations and contemplations, are believed to represent the cycle of Aryan influence and native adjustment. According to anthropologist Stephen A. Tyler, each was composed during a distinct phase of the Aryan occupation, and “each reflects the facets of the process of Aryan/non-Aryan interaction and synthesis.” (Tyler, p. 43) Taken together, these texts are the primary source of information on ancient Indic civilization.
Archaeologists have traditionally looked to the
While the Rig Veda dates itself to some time preceding these occupations, archaeologists have remained skeptical. The “father” of subcontinental archaeology, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, was one of the first to suggest that the abandoned cities of the Harappans are referred to in the Rig Veda, where Indra is hailed as a “fort-destroyer.”
He boldly cast down forts which none had e’er assailed: unwearied he
destroyed the godless treasure-stores.
Like Sun and Moon he took the stronghold’s wealth away , and, praised in
song, demolished foes with flashing dart.
(Rig Veda, X. 138. 4) (Griffith, vol II, p. 584)
The walled citadels of Harappa and
The tale of the Aryan invasion also approaches dogma. The Aryans, semi-nomadic pastoralists and
fierce warriors, are said to have rained down upon the fortified cities
The Indus civilization is represented primarily by the sites of Harappa,
Lothal, located just above sea-level, shows evidence for
a shifting river as well. While
further away from the
The site at
Of the many layers of occupation at
Archaeologists have divided the Harappan civilization into
three main phases, with many subphases. The earliest layers of the occupation are
under groundwater and therefore inaccessible; were they to be excavated,
they would form the basis of the presently hypothetical Early Harappan.
The Harappan economy was based on agriculture and animal husbandry; domesticated animals included the humped bull, the domestic buffalo, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats, elephants, camels, horses, asses, and fowl (Tyler, p. 32). There was considerable craft specialization as well, and goods were transported up and down the rivers by experienced seafarers maintaining vast networks of trade. Pack caravans and ox carts were used to transport goods on dry land (Tyler, p. 32).
That there was a centralized authority is obvious in the
meticulous planning of the cities, and the various elaborations of houses
and material possessions attest to the differential access of a class
system. (Fairservis, p. 299) There is some disagreement among scholars as to whether or not
there was an established priesthood, but “ceremonial ablution,
ritual purification, fire sacrifice, possibly ritual drinking, and the
priestly offering of animals and humans are all suggested” (Fairservis,
p. 301). The Great Bath at
Of perhaps the greatest significance among all Harappan artifacts are the
numerous carved seals that have been recovered. Concentrated around
Most of the seals are rectangular, depicting an animal or animals along with objects that are assumed to have ritual purposes. The characters, some of which appear to be pictographic, are usually found above the animal’s back and limited to only a few. The brevity of the text has lead investigators to the afore-stated conclusion that the inscriptions are short words such as names and titles. There are approximately 400 known symbols and the writing is from right to left, but where there is a second line, it occurs in boustrophedon fashion. Many speculate that the system is syllabic (Fairservis, p. 278). Working on the assumption that the Harappans were not Indo-Aryan, that, indeed, they were probably related to the Dravidians, the language expressed on the seals is thought to be non-Indo- European. It has remained undeciphered throughout the period of investigation.
There were, of course, others besides the Harappans present
At later dates there is evidence of a wholly different
tradition known as Jhangar. Identified
primarily by their pottery, which is decidedly different from that of
the Jhukar, their Gray-Black Ware is thought to be unconnected to preceding
The consensus of thought has been that the Rig Veda, the foundation of all subsequent
manifestations of Indian society, was conceived by the barbarian invaders
known as Aryans, the name by which they refer to themselves in the texts. The date given for their arrival in
As uncertain as the prehistory of
The last glaciation, lasting until about 13,000 BCE, did
not free the whole of
Rock carvings dating to the Bronze Age depict sun dials,
wheels, oxen and ships; seafaring was apparently quite important. No doubt it was related to trade, which
was rather vast by that period. Bronze itself is an alloy of copper and tin, neither of which
was produced in the region. There
would have been no Bronze Age in
Iron came into use in
Scant evidence of settlement has been found, due in part
to the biodegradable nature of their buildings. Since the Scandinavians did not generally
construct stone or brick buildings, we must look to their graves for
information, which appear to have undergone considerable change over
time. At present it is not known whether the
single collective grave that has been discovered in
Cremation became preeminent during the Late Bronze Age, when urns were buried under small mounds. While the decrease in grave goods has been equated by some with a greater sense of spirituality and a less materialistic conception of the afterlife, it does not appear to be due to a radical reconceptualization. The change from burial to cremation seems to have come about slowly, since fire itself had long been part of the funeral rite. Burned grave goods have been recovered from Neolithic sites, including one cremation grave at Stenildgaard near Aars, which is “clearly exceptional” (Davidson 1967, p. 46). Single burials, too, have been found which indicate the burning of a fire inside the grave.
During the Roman Iron Age, both stone mounds and urn burials were made, and several runic monuments were erected. Tacitus informs us:"There is no ostentation about their funerals. The only special observance is that the bodies of famous men are burned with particular kinds of wood. When they have heaped up the pyre they do not throw garments or spices on it; only the dead man’s arms, and sometimes his horse too, are cast into the flames. The tomb is a raised mound of turf. They disdain to show honour by laboriously rearing high monuments of stone, which they think would only lie heavy on the dead." (Tacitus, p. 123)
The practice of cremation seems to have continued uninterrupted into the Migration period, at least among royals. After the body was burned, the bones were collected and washed. They were then placed in a simple vessel such as a clay urn or a wooden bucket and laid in a pit at the site of the funeral pyre. Stones were placed over it to create a large cairn, which was then covered by a howe topped with turf. (Davidson 1967, p. 108)
Other burials indicate the extensive use of ritual sacrifice. Horses are the preferred animal, if the finds at Skedemosse on Öland are any indication. There, at a site covering the period from 400 to 500 CE, the bones of more than one hundred individual horses were uncovered. Horse sacrifice is also present in the Indic tradition, and if one interpretation of the name Skedemosse is correct, both cultures enjoyed horse-racing, too (Davidson 1967, p. 90). At Skedemosse the remains of fifty men, women, and children testify to the use of human sacrifice as well. They were accompanied in death by a substantial number of grave goods including gold rings, swords, spear-heads, arrows, axes, belt fittings, beads and combs. (Todd, p. 194)
Human sacrifices were also common during the Viking period. Adam of Bremen, writing around 1070, tells us:"There is also a festival at
Additionally, H. R. Ellis Davidson has discussed a “tradition of suttee” associated with the cult of Óðinn. If a wife wished to join her deceased husband in the realm of the gods, she would be ritually strangled and her body burned (Davidson, 1964, p. 157). Nanna, wife of the Norse god Baldr, leapt into his funeral pyre, just as a pre-modern Hindu widow would have. Nanna, however, was acting out of grief, while the Hindu practice was virtually mandated by karmic constraints.
Hundreds of graves have been found which date to the Viking period. They reveal a great range of practices and, apparently, a corresponding variety of beliefs. Both cremation and burial occur, with burial taking place in “large wooden chambers, sometimes in modest coffins; in a big longship or in a little boat, or sometimes in a symbolical [sic] boat made of stones or in a carriage.” (Brøndsted, p. 289) Most striking are the three ship burials that have been unearthed which date to the first part of the Viking age, circa 800 - 900 CE. Contained within large mounds, they were presumably only for royals and chiefs. (Midgaard, p. 12)
There is no evidence for any real consistency in funerary
practices during the Viking era, except perhaps within communities. At Lindholm Høje in northern
Johannes Brøndsted has suggested that there were numerous factors involved in determining the rites that would be performed, including the wealth and status of the deceased, the customs of the local community, and the relative influence of Christian versus pagan traditions in the area. (Brøndsted, p. 290)
While actual funerary practices were varied, there was more consistency in Viking attitudes after burial. Each family was responsible for its own members, from the disposition of the body to the preservation of the site. The dead, it was believed, remained with the family, acting as either benevolent or malevolent spirits, depending on the mood of the moment. An angry ghost ( a “walker-after- death”) was "terrible and dangerous, and the only course open to the relatives would be to break open his grave and kill him a second time. A. W. Brøgger believes that many of the grave entries which archaeologists have noted may be explained in this way: they were not always mere looting." (Brøndsted, p. 291)
The first historical contact with the Germanic peoples
It is the Roman Cornelius Tacitus who provides us with the earliest accessible documentation of the Germani in 98 CE. Even though his account may be accurate, as far as it goes, it is uncertain whether or not it applies “to the Scandinavians who lived around the Baltic, far from the homeland of the Romans.” (Kristjánsson, p. 7) The Germani are, by this time, securely invested in the ideology of war. The quest for fame, so evident in the Eddas of more than a millennium later, is already a guiding principle."Many noble youths, if the land of their birth is stagnating in a long period of peace and inactivity, deliberately seek out other tribes which have some war in hand. For the Germans have no taste for peace; renown is more easily won among perils, and a large body of retainers cannot be kept together except by means of violence and war." (Tacitus, p. 113)
The material culture of the Germani can be traced back to about the fifth century BCE and the
beginnings of the northern Iron Age. At this time there appear to be at least three distinctive culture-provinces:
the Face-urn culture (Gesichtsurnenkultur)
in Pomerania, the Jastorf culture in northern
History is dominated by the Romans until the fourth and
fifth centuries of the Common Era, when the Germanic Migrations took
place and the Germanic tribes conquered the western regions of the
In the sixth century the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered
large areas of the old
During the Viking era, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes sought
their fame through terrible raids on most of northwestern
According to Landnámabók (the “Book of Settlements”), most of the settlers to
We are also told that the main reason for the settlement
was political. Toward the
end of the ninth century, the Norwegian King Haraldr inn hárfagri
(the Fairhaired) was attempting to consolidate rule over the many petty
The conversion of
Old Icelandic literature has been roughly divided into
two categories: the Eddic
poems, or “eddukvæði,”
and the scaldic poems, or “dróttkvæði.”
Both types originate in
It is important to note that the Eddic poems were not collected
in a written form until at least two centuries after the conversion
In 1643, Brynjolf Sveinsson, then the Bishop of Skalholt
The poems of the Elder Edda are arranged by content. While the first section of the work is concerned with the deeds of the gods, the second details the deeds of men. They are written in a meter which was, at one time, common to all the Germanic peoples, as is represented by the Old High German and Old English heroic poems, Hildebrandslied and Beowulf. (Kristjánsson, p. 34). They do not follow the Latin pattern of regular rhythm and end-rhyme; rather they make extensive use of alliteration and the irregular stress of significant words.
In fact there are two Eddas; the poetic mentioned above, and a later, prose account known as the Younger, Prose, or Snorra Edda. Snorri Sturluson, the learned Icelandic historian and poet, intended this retelling of stories as a textbook for skaldic poets, who, living in a Christian era, may not have been possessed of all the “facts.” While Snorri lived from 1179 to 1241, the manuscript that contains his book, the Codex Wormianus, dates to 1300 (Faulkes, p. xii). These two works together combine to render a reasonably complete picture of Old Norse mythology. They, along with the Icelandic sagas and skaldic poems, are the earliest written sources we have for the mythology of the Germanic peoples.
PART III -- THE LITERATURE
The Sanskrit term veda means “knowledge” or “wisdom” (Feuerstein et al., p. 16). Sacred knowledge in the ancient Indic tradition was maintained and transmitted through a rigorous oral tradition which regarded the lore as divine revelation. As such, it was not to be altered. Even when meanings were lost, the Vedic tradition required faithful transmission with absolute fidelity. Despite a lifetime of several thousand years, “only one uncertain reading of a single word can be found in the entire Rig-Veda (VII.44.3)”(Feuerstein et al., p. 16). There is abundant circumstantial evidence to indicate that the Vedas were written down by the sixth century BCE (Mallory, p. 37).
The Sanskrit word rig means “praise,” and it refers specifically to the praise of the divine (Feuerstein et al., p. 28). The Rig Veda is a collection of 1,028 hymns in celebration of the gods of an Indo-European people who called themselves Aryan. Divided into ten books called mandalas (“circles” or “cycles”) and accompanied by a 117-hymn appendix, it is more than simply a storehouse of ancient lore; its lyrical verses have the tone of intimate, ritualized communications with the gods. Composed at various times and by many individuals, it may well be the oldest book in any Indo-European language. (Feuerstein et al., p. 29)
Rarely complete tales, the hymns of the Rig Veda presuppose a body of theological knowledge, allowing them to be dominated by the use of allusion and metaphor (Puhvel, p. 46). They contain, among other things, myths, paradoxes, and riddles. Daylight and the Sun are particularly prominent, and the lore is, in general, oriented more toward cosmology than eschatology. While more than half of the hymns invoke one of three main gods, scholars have put the total count of deities at thirty-three, sometimes conceived as a scheme of 3 x 11 (Puhvel, p. 48). Surprisingly the three main Rig Veda gods are not the three that have been discussed previously; they are Indra, Agni and Soma. There do exist, however, the nuclei of gods associated with the three Ärya social classes; while the Ksatriyas have Indra to look to, the Brahmans and Vaisyas have the Adityas (e.g., Mitra and Varuna) and the Vasus (e.g., the Ásvins), respectively (Ibid.).
Indra, whose deeds have been previously discussed, is a god much like those of the Norse pantheon. He is an independent character who personifies a segment of the population, and his ability to control natural forces is an attribute conferred by his divine status. Agni and Soma however, are of a significantly different nature. While most of the gods of the Indo-Europeans have some power to control the forces of nature, both Agni and Soma actually are those forces. Agni is the sacrificial fire, as well as the god who reigns sovereign over all its functions, just as Soma is the sacrificial beverage, the corresponding ritual, and its sovereign god. The personification of ritual forces may be a reflection of the intense degree of ritualism present in the culture.
The universe of the Rig Veda is divided into dualities and tripartitions. The primordial victory of creation is one of water over drought, and the primeval battle of the Aryans is characterized as a conflict between darkness and light. While the habitable world has two halves for gods and humans to reside in, the universe itself is composed of the sat (existence, truth) and the asat (nonexistence, untruth). The sat, where both gods and men reside, consists of the land, the sky, and the vault of heaven. It contains heat, light, and water. The asat, where demons dwell, has none of these. While the sat has order, or rta, the asat is chaotic, or anrta (Tyler, p. 44). Indra reigns supreme over the thirty-three gods of the sat (the duality of ruled and ruler), who are tripartitioned into representatives of either the land, the sky or the heavens. Gods such as Agni and Soma, both terrestrial divinities, act as intermediaries between the three levels. The asat is ruled by Vrtra and his cohorts, the Raksases, who "aid evil men, or snatch unsuspecting men from the face of the earth. They are most dangerous at night and during the journey of the dead along the path to heaven. Lurking on this path, they drag the unrighteous from it. For the righteous dead, two dogs stand on the path to ward off the Raksases." (Tyler, p. 45)
There are two cosmic creation myths, that of the Devas, and that of the Asuras. The Deva myth recounts the birth of the gods along lines similar to many other Indo-European accounts. In it, “Sky-Father’” (Dyaus) impregnates “Earth-Mother” (Prthivi) with rain, who thusly conceives the gods (Tyler, p. 45). More dominant in the Rig Veda is the myth of the Asuras, which recounts the birth of the universe. The first dwelling of the gods, or Asuras, is a house made for them by the god Tvastr (artificer, builder). It is composed of both heaven and earth which, at this time, are not separated. Both the sat and the asat are contained within. The Asuras come to divide over an issue of light versus darkness, wherein the Adityas wish to expand and grow towards enlightenment, or light, while the Danavas, lead by Vrtra, prefer the darkness of intellectual and physical bondage. The Danavas are further subdivided into the Raksases (enemies of men) and Pisacas (enemies of the departed fathers). (Tyler, p. 46)
The Adityas, who wish to release the “cosmic waters” so that growth can commence, embark upon a war with the Danavas which they soon begin to lose. In need of a hero, they arrange for the birth of Indra, who, nursed on soma, grows to such enormous proportions that the earth and sky fly apart in terror. While the gods are born of the union of sky and earth, it is they who unwittingly force them apart.
Indra agrees to be champion of the Adityas on the condition
that he is made king of the gods, to which they assent. Tvastr fashions the vajra (“thunderbolt”) for him (Tyler, p. 45), and he uses it to
slay Vrtra. The “cosmic
waters” are thusly freed and the sat is set apart form the asat,
giving the world light, heat, moisture and order. The battle, however, is recurring, and the gods require help
from humans in the form of daily sacrifices in order to remain victorious. According to
The creation of human beings, among other things, is the result of a divine sacrifice made by the gods. In a manner similar to the Norse dismemberment of Ymir, the world is created from the body of a giant called Purusha.
When they divided Purusha how many portions did they make? What do they call his
mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?
The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became
the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced.
The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had birth; Indra and
Agni from his mouth were born, and Vayu from his breath.
feet, and from his ear the regions. Thus they formed the worlds.
Seven fencing-sticks had he, thrice seven layers of fuel were prepared, when the gods,
offering sacrifice, bound, as their victim, Purusha."
(Rig Veda X. 90. 11 - 15) (Griffith, vol. 2, pp. 519 - 20)
The account is strikingly similar to the Norse version:
Of Ymir’s flesh the earth was shaped,
of his blood, the briny sea,
of his hair, the trees, the hills of his bones,
out of his skull, the sky.
But of his lashes the loving gods made
Mithgarth for sons of men;
from his brow they made the menacing clouds
which in the heavens hover.
(Grímnismál, st. 41 - 42) (Hollander, p. 61)
In the earliest portions of the Rig Veda, all of the gods are referred to as Asuras, or “creatures possessed of occult powers” (Tyler, p. 45). Later, the name comes to be associated only with the demons of the Danavas, while the Adityas are known collectively as Devas. The Devas themselves are not paragons of virtue, set up to serve as divine examples of a righteous life; they are merely the powerful sponsors of human existence. They are to be praised, nourished and supplicated to continue their sponsorship. Their only perfection lies in the world they create and maintain; their power, while manifest, can be checked by demons as well as by their own mistakes. Only priests can communicate with them, and the rest of the population, firmly entrenched in the hierarchy, must be content to leave divine matters to the Brahmans.
Agni, as both the god of sacrificial fire and the fire itself, acts as a kind of divine messenger. If he approves of the offering and the manner in which it is conducted, he will carry its essence -- the vapor or smoke -- up to the realm of the gods. There they will be nourished by it and, renewed in vigor, they will go on to defeat the enemy (Tyler, p. 48). He is also of primary import to the dead, who are cremated. At the funeral, he serves at least three functions: he is asked to send the deceased to “the fathers,” to carry the oblation to the gods, and to purify the corpse. At least two fires are kindled. At the first Agni is invoked and asked to “cook” the corpse to perfection, destroying all impurities:
"Do not burn him entirely, Agni, or engulf him in your flames. Do not consume his skin or
his flesh. When you have cooked him perfectly, O knower of creatures, only then send him
forth to the fathers" (Rig Veda X. 16. 1) (O’Flaherty, p. 49)
Agni is both the chef and, usually, a diner as well (O’Flaherty, p. 46). When animals are sacrificed, he, along with the rest of the gods, are invited to consume them. There is, however, some ambivalence about this when he is called to the sacrifice of humans. Subsequent doctrines of transmigration not withstanding, men go on to be with their ancestors when they die. While a man’s breath is said to go to the winds, his body is apparently needed for the trip to the fathers, who will provide him with a new one:
"Set him free again to go to the fathers, Agni, when he has been offered as an oblation in
you and wanders with the sacrificial drink. Let him reach his own descendants, dressing
himself in a life-span. O knower of creatures, let him join with a body."
(Rig Veda, X. 16. 5) (O’Flaherty, p. 50)
It is therefore necessary that the corpse not be cremated to ash, but rather “cooked” only until it is pure enough to travel to the fathers.
While the first fire invokes Agni, entreating him to prepare the corpse, at the second he is asked to travel to the gods. A second, separate fire must be kindled for this purpose because contact with the dead has left the first impure. As the second fire is kindled, the first is purified and sent along on the divine mission (O’Flaherty, p. 47). Since both fires are Agni, it is clear that he is undergoing transformation. His role as purifier contaminates him, but the kindling of the second fire seems to “jump-start” him back to purity. Every time a match is struck, the flame is new. Agni is but one being; he cannot be at once both pure and impure -- he must make a transition from one to the other. As the second fire is struck, it pulls the first into purity. The first fire cannot simply be extinguished; to do so would not only be disrespectful to Agni, it would conclude the rite.
Similar in aspect to Agni, Soma is both the intoxicant itself and the divinity within. A psychotropic hallucinogen, the trance-inducing extract is pressed from the plant and then filtered. It effects include “a sense of immense personal power,” “intimations of immortality” -- the very qualities which make it so valuable to Indra -- and “colorful and violent visions” (O’Flaherty, p. 119; Puhvel, p. 65). A male deity, he is both the nourishment of the gods and the elixir which allows their priests to commune with them.
The majority of hymns composed to Soma extol his virtues as an intoxicant; the only story about him narrated in any detail concerns his birth and subsequent theft. Itself a common theme in Indo-European mythology, the “Theft of the Elixir of Immortality” is in this case committed by Indra, who then shares the draught with both gods and men. Soma, born in the heavens among the demons, is thought to be safe from Indra, a god of the sky who cannot quite reach him. But Indra enlists the aid of an eagle who carries him to the heavenly vault, losing only a feather in the battle.
This story resembles two Norse myths contained within the Skaldskaparmal of the Snorra Edda. In the guise of an eagle, the giant Thjazi forces Loki to deliver to him Iðunn, guardian of the golden apples of youth. The gods, feeling wizened, clothe Loki in Freya’s falcon dress and force him to retrieve her. A similar incident involves Óðinn, who manages to steal Kvasir -- now the mead of poetry -- back from the dwarfs. Disguising himself as a laborer, he dwells among them until he is able to consume all of the mead. Making his escape in the form of an eagle, he regurgitates it for all gods and men.
The Soma sacrifice draws the sacrificer into the world of the gods, where divinity cannot be denied. It connects him directly to the source of existence, where order, or rta, is perfect. It gives him the power of sacred speech, and the ability to commune with the gods themselves, as if one of them.
Mitra, god of close friendship and pacts between men, is rarely glimpsed without his companion Varuna, who is primary of the pair. A sky god bearing similarities to the Norse Týr, Varuna, too, watches over the deeds of men from his lofty perch, and the stars are his spies. He is the custodian of rta, or order, just as Týr is the keeper of law. As such, he is king of all kings. He can, however, be likened to Óðinn as the more dangerous god of the pair. O’Flaherty characterizes his relationship with mankind as “stern but loving;” when Varuna is invoked to protect the worshipper from danger, the threat includes that posed by him (O’Flaherty, p. 209). Credited with many of the same deeds as other gods, he is said to have placed the sun in the sky and then used it to measure out the universe (Rig Veda V. 85; O’Flaherty, p. 211). Evil men he condemns to a subterranean “House of Clay” (Tyler, p. 47).
Max Müller pointed out that the Nasatyas, also known as Ásvins, are closely associated with the sun, which is personified in several aspects. They are the twin sons of Vivasvan (the sun) and the brothers of Surya, whom they marry. She is either the daughter of the sun and indeed their sister, or a female aspect of the sun itself and in that case, their mother. They are the healers of the sick, and they come riding to the rescue of people in danger as a sort of divine mounted police. Divine benefactors, they represent wealth, fecundity and love.
Over succeeding millennia, these divinities have wavered
in importance, and others, such as Rudra-Siva,
The Poetic Edda is a collection of poems about both gods and mortals, several of which contain short sections of explanatory prose. Its aim, like that of the Prose Edda, is to educate; to relate its tales of gods and ancestors in an entertaining and memorable way. Like Homer’s Iliad, its oral tradition of song is betrayed often by repetition and formulaic structure. Thus while Homer has his “rosy-fingered dawn,” Eddic composers have “wit ye further, or how?” and “Hear thou, Loddfáfnir, and heed it well”.
In contrast to the Rig Veda, the Eddas are not revealed knowledge, and they are not utilized in ritual. Narrative is preeminent, and invocations, ritual songs and sacred hymns are relatively absent from the work. A notable exception to this is “the beautiful invocation at the beginning of Sigrdríƒumál:
Heill dagr Hail day!
heilir dags synir Hail sons of day!
heil nótt ok nipt! And night and her daughter now!
Óreiðum augum Look on us here
lítið okkr þinig with loving eyes,
ok gefið sitjöndum sigr. that waiting we victory win.
Heilir aesir Hail to the gods!
heilar ásynjur Ye goddesses hail!
heil sjá en fjölnýta fold! And all the generous earth!
Mál ok mannvit Give us wisdom
gefið okkr mærum tveim and goodly speech
ok læknishendr meðan lifum. and healing hands, life-long.”
(Einarsson, p. 39)
Even this occurs in a narrative context. The sole employ of the Edda is storytelling (Chantepie de la Saussaye, p. 198), and it is acknowledged to be the work of a people attempting to preserve a folk tradition.
The poems of the Edda likely trace their origin to the same period as those of the skalds, but there are significant differences between the two. The two styles employ different meters, and the skaldic poetry is notable in particular for its frequent use of kenningar, which are used sparingly within the Edda. Skaldic poems are not generally anonymous as are the Eddic ones, and the two differ in character. For while the skalds sing mostly of kings and current figures, the Eddic poets speak of bygone days and things to come. It is on this basis that they are held to be separate. (Chantepie de la Saussaye, p. 198)
The Poetic Edda is arranged in two sections; the first discusses gods, while the second concerns the exploits of mortal heroes. The first section begins with Voluspá, “The Prophecy of the Seeress,” which serves as a kind of overture to the mythos. Óðinn, having raised the Seeress from the dead in order that she might divine the future, serves as the main character for the succeeding poems up to Skírnismál, which deals with Freyr. Þórr is the hero of the rest of the poems, with the exception of Lokasenna, which he brings to an end.
The heroic lays have traditionally been divided into three groups on the basis of tone, style, and cultural clues: (1) the oldest poems, “ Hamðismál, Atlakviða, Hlöðskviða, and Völundarkviða, (2) the three Helgi lays and the Sigurðr trilogy on his youthful exploits, and (3) the heroic elegies dealing with his death and the fates of the two women who loved him, Brynhildr and Guðrún” (Einarsson, p. 35). Arranged as sagas, they overlap with historical material and as such are peopled by characters who have their basis in reality. The Hunnish king Attila, for example, is referred to as Atli. The Icelandic literary scholar Stefán Einarsson explains that while the newer elegies are characterized by “sentimental lyricism” and the Helgi lays by “Viking exuberance,” the older heroic poems are written with a “matter-of-fact acceptance of heroism” which tends to minimize the fighting itself. They seem also to have been maintained more strictly by the oral tradition, having picked up less evidence of transformation from legends into folktales. (Einarsson, p. 35)
None of the poems can be ascribed to a particular author
with any degree of certainty, and the time and place of their birth
can only be inferred from elements of form, content and style. In the year 1917 a stone was found at Eggjum
in Sogn which was dated to not later than 700. It contained, in runic writing, what appeared
to be magical verses (e.g., ni
s solu sot /
Scholars had long held that none of the poems, written
in Old Icelandic, could possibly be older than the language was. Written in alliterative verses of well-defined
meter, the poetry was not expected to survive the translation into Old
Norse. But the Swede Erik
Noreen demonstrated in 1926 that
"certain ljóðaháttr poems (Skírnismál, Vaƒþrúðnismál, Fáƒnismál, but not Sigrdríƒumál) could be turned into Primitive Old Norse without violating the metrical rules." (Einarsson, p. 19)
This kind of linguistic evidence is compelling, for the modern translator
is well aware of the difficulties presented by poetry. While many of the stories contained in
the Edda may have been known
before the settlement of
One of the oldest types of poetry, the þula, is represented in the Edda. Essentially a list of personalities, it is the foundation for several poems such as Vafþrúðnismál and Grímnismál, and the list of dwarfs in Völuspá. While it did experience a renaissance in the twelfth century, the earliest þulur on record is the Old English Wídsíþ. (Einarsson, p. 38) Wídsíþ is itself an example of the heroic tradition of poetry found throughout the Germanic tribes. It, along with Beowulf and the Old High German Hildebrandsleid, among others, offers evidence for a continuing tradition dating to at least the eighth century. The heroic boasting match, or flyting, in poems such as Lokasenna and Hárbarðsljóð, has a long history as well; we have only to look to the flyting between Beowulf and Unferð for an ancient correspondence (Einarsson, p. 29).
Christianity came to
Geographic location appears to vary from poem to poem. Many speak of a montane locale which could be either
In all likelihood the poems have both origins and influences scattered throughout
these lands, as well as many others. The Swede Fritz Askeberg has speculated
that heroic poetry spread from Scandinavia to
While the origins of the Poetic Edda remain unsettled, the Prose Edda, also known as the Younger or Snorra Edda, has definite
authorship in the person of Snorri Sturluson. Dated to approximately 1222, Snorri intended
his Edda as a handbook for
poets. Essentially a recapitulation
of Norse lore, it filled in many of the gaps left by the Elder Edda. One must read
carefully, as it is clear from the outset that Snorri is intent on reconciling
the heathen past with the Christian present, or at least on not contradicting
the teachings of his church. He
begins by ascribing human origins to the gods and maintaining that they
were travelers from the east who grew in fame, wisdom and power. Some have suggested that their title, Æsir, may be related to
The gods of the Eddas, the Æsir, live together in a fortified city known as Ásgarður. It is fortified primarily against the giants, or Jöntar, with whom they are constantly fighting despite the fact that some of them are kin. Óðinn, king of the gods, is the most powerful, and all men who are killed in battle go to his hall, Valhöll. He is the god of poetry, runes, and magic. His son, Þórr (Thor), is the warder of Miðgarð, or the land of humans, as well as the humans themselves. As such, he is among the most popular of the gods. Wielding his war hammer, Mjöllnir, as well as the thunderbolt, he slays many trolls and Jöntar. Týr, god of both war and justice, has only one arm, having sacrificed the other to save the gods. The wolf Fenrir, a loose and dangerous beast, is confined by the gods only through the intervention of Týr, who places his arm in the wolf’s mouth as a pledge. As divine representative of the covenant, its loss is the price he has to pay for breaking one.
Among the gods in Ásgarður are three who belong to a different race of divinities known as the Vanir. Njörður, the god of seafaring and safe harbors, is the father of theVanir, and of the other two hostages, Freyr and Freyja, who are associated with fertility, love, and abundance (Kristjánsson, p. 24). Some scholars have claimed that these deities represent the incorporation of an older religion, a so-called “fertility cult,” which was in decline by the time of the Vikings (Brøndsted, p. 279). The myth of their incorporation into the Æsir has been previously related.
There are many other divinities besides these. Of primary import is Loki, the divine trickster. His character, while not found with any regularity in the rest of Indo-European lore, is common elsewhere. Often the scapegoat, always the mischief-maker, he is nonetheless the prime motivator behind much of the lore. His sexual escapades engender not only the demons Fenrir and the Miðgarð Worm, but also Óðinn’s great steed Sleipnir (who in turn fathers Grani, mount of the hero Sigurd) and the goddess of death, Hel. He is responsible for getting the walls of Ásgarður built without the loss of Freya, as well as for the retrieval of both Þórr’s hammer and Iðunn. While at fault in the death of Baldr, the much-loved god of the sun, his role is more often that of an intermediary between gods and giants. And while he does battle the gods at Ragnarök, his disloyalty has been inspired in part by harsh treatment at their hands.
In addition to Freya and Hel are many other female gods. They include Frigg, wife of Óðinn and the goddess of the hearth and home; Sif, wife of Þórr and the goddess of grains and the harvest; Skaði, wife of Njörður and goddess of the hunt; Sigyn, the devoted wife of Loki; and Iðunn, wife of Bragi and keeper of the golden apples. All of these female deities act of their own accord and with independent spirit, and while there is a divine hierarchy, none are subservient to their mates.
The universe is conceived of as a giant tree, Yggdrasil, which supports nine worlds. The tree upon which Óðinn hangs, Yggdrasil’s roots support the worlds of giants (Jötunheim) and humans (Miðgarð), as well as the realm of Hel, goddess of death (Helheim). Elsewhere on the ash lie Ásgarður (home of the Æsir), Vanaheim (home of the Vanir), and Muspellheim (the fire world), among others. Besides gods, giant and humans, these worlds are populated by a variety of beings including dwarfs, alfs and hidden folk.
Both the cosmology and the eschatology of the Norse are encapsulated within Völuspá. The creation of the world out of a “gaping nothingness” referred to as Ginnungagap is initiated by a great cow known as Audhumla. For in the Norse conception, even nothingness contains great blocks of salty seawater-ice for the cow to lick, who, in doing so, reveals the head of the Frost-Giant Buri. Buri then bears the Giant Ymir, who is dismembered by Óðinn and his brothers, Vili and Vé, in order to create the universe (Hollander, p. 2). The Hindus, too, relate a cow to the beginning of life; known as väc, she represents the first vibration or sound in the universe (Titchenell, p. 47).
According to the Seeress, the end of the world, known as Ragnarök, will be ushered in by Loki and his “son,” the wolf Fenrir, both of whom have been bound by the gods. They, together with the Jöntar, will launch a massive attack against both the Æsir and Vanir. Most of the combatants will be killed in the conflict, and eventually the earth will be destroyed by the flames of the Fire-Giant Surtur. This doom is inevitable, but the Seeress speaks also of rebirth. The earth will rise again from the sea, lush and green, and the survivors will live on in the homes of their ancestors.
A superficial look at both the Rig Veda and the Poetic Edda reveals little similarity between the two. They differ in both structure and purpose, the one being highly ritualized while the other is intended, in part, to amuse. They display little overt continuity of theme or personage and one, while being far more comprehensive, is actually less informative than the other. A closer look reveals the deeper truth, however, that certain elements do indeed appear to remain consistent. Among these are the tripartite structure so thoroughly discussed by comparative mythologists, a hierarchy of gender where women are ranked below men, a vocational hierarchy where laborers rank below warriors, and an oft-mentioned emphasis on horses and cows, which is not surprising considering their importance to both societies.
Despite significant differences, both mythologies appear to share these basic structural elements, as well as some of the same distinctive themes and characters. There are too many similarities to be explained by chance, and while individual characters and tales may diffuse readily, elements of structure are far less mobile. This structural commonality is, in itself, an argument for common parentage. It as if the houses of both mythologies were built, quite differently, upon the same foundation. Significant differences between them can be explained by a multitude of factors, not the least of which are geographical and temporal placement.
There appear to be social corollaries are well. Separated by substantial amounts of both time and space, there are commonalties nonetheless. Both cultures evince social and ideological tripartition. Both place enormous stock in the warrior, advocating aggressive behavior. Both practice human and animal sacrifice, both perform cremation, and both incorporate the self-immolation of widows into the funeral rites of men. Both cultures probably made sport of horse racing, and both measured wealth by the cow. While these details alone are not sufficient to postulate a relationship between the two religious systems, when taken together with the structural similarities, the entire picture becomes quite convincing.
The question, then, is not, “Are they related?” but, “What is the temporal distance of the relationship?” Scholars have placed the date for the creation of the Rig Veda at around 1500 BCE, and that of parts of the Poetic Edda at around 700 CE, but the deities of both may have been extant long before. The date given for the Rig Veda is meant to coincide with the arrival of the Aryan invaders, but the stories it contains are about that period of time, so they must have been conceived at an even later date. 1500 BCE is the terminus post quem for the tales of the Rig Veda; likely most of its deities are older. In the case of the Edda, 700 CE is the date by which certain tales are known to have gelled; deities again may well be older. Therefore it represents a terminus ante quem for these particular tales. All these dates seem to indicate with any certainty is that Vedic mythology cannot be any older than 3500 years, while Eddic mythology, likely no older than the first period of Germanic migrations, is closer to 1500 years old. They were therefore created by peoples who lived approximately 2000 years apart.
The cosmologies underlying these works are more difficult to discuss, for they may have been extant at nearly any time prior to the appearance of their respective mythologies. It is difficult to determine where and when a cosmological schism occurs. It may coincide with the linguistic schism, which is similarly difficult to identify; the Old Icelandic example given previously demonstrated that not only mythology, but mythic poetry can survive the shift. What it probably cannot survive is a dramatic change in the culture. If a culture adapts to fit a new situation, the mythos, too, must adapt or die; if the change is significant enough, over time it may become unrecognizable.
This kind of change does not happen quickly; entire populations do not usually traverse great cultural or ideological distance within a short period of time. When a great physical distance is traveled in a short time, the people may approach as conquerors who enforce their ideology on those they subjugate, or as intruders who, over ensuing generations, eventually assimilate. Under certain circumstances the ideologies of native and intruder may merge, as in the case of modern religions such as Santeria. Ideologies do not change instantly but rather show remarkable persistence in the face of conflicting information.
While it is currently impossible to know when the cosmological schism occurred, it can safely be said that it happened before 700 CE and the birth of Eddic mythology. Vedic and Eddic mythology in fact differ widely enough to suggest that their respective cosmologies had plenty of time to evolve, likely far more than the two millennia that currently separate them. That length of time has not even been enough to significantly affect the gospel of Christ, who had a schism -- significantly smaller -- of his own  . In fact there is considerable evidence to indicate that the people who created these myths are separated by more than the two millennia claimed; surely their respective cosmologies are even older. One must simply compare the textual record to the archaeological one and the details become clear.
The Rig Veda is an extremely complex book. Read often as a work of history, it is a collection of songs requiring the eye of a poet. Academics like Wheeler and Müller offer literal interpretations, ignoring its poetry. Both poetry and prose use language which is often symbolic, particularly when the context is ritualized or dramatized; the seer-poets of the Rig Veda used symbolic language in a ritualized context to communicate with their gods. Ordinary language is not as powerful, nor does it contain as much information. Therefore to read the “dark foe” of the Rig Veda as Dravidian may be akin to reading the “Prince of Darkness” as a royal African. It is pure conjecture, and it does not take the nature of what it is evaluating into account.
To take a significant example, there is a single instance
where the Dasyus (the enemy) are referred to as amasa, or “noseless.” This has consistently been read as a pejorative
reference to the Dravidians of south
The same academic eye that has seen these “relationships”
has often been blind to the facts. While Wheeler referred to Rig Vedic hymns that speak of the Aryan
gods as destroyers of fortresses, he failed to discuss those that refer
to the Vedic people as builders of cities (Feuerstein et al., p. 79). If the Rig Veda was written before the establishment
of Gangetic civilization, to what cities did it refer? The only ones found thus far, at Harappa
The conflict between humans described in the Rig Veda offers no direct evidence for
an invasion; rather, the battles appear to have been intertribal. Careful scrutiny
of the text reveals the fact that the combatants were of the same culture
(Feuerstein et al., p. 159), and while the gods of the Aryans are referred
to as fortress-destroyers (perhaps in symbolic context), there is no
discussion of the Aryans themselves as “invaders.” It is difficult to imagine that such an
invasion ever occurred when neither the Hindus -- descendants of the
Aryans-- nor the Dravidians, who have been identified as their victims,
have any memory of the event (Feuerstein et al., p. 156), and there
is virtually no archaeological evidence to support it (Fairservis, p.
346). Additionally, if the Aryans were not native
to the region, one would expect to find clues to their origin within
the Rig Veda. Yet there is no mention of a homeland outside
The meaning, too, of the word Aryan has been construed in a number of different ways. While it is not necessary to enter into a discussion of Nazi race theory here, it is worth stating that theirs was not the only spurious interpretation. “Arya” stems from the Sanskrit term for “noble” or “cultured” (Feuerstein et al., p. 46). An Aryan is one who is arya, or a noble believer; as practicing members of the Vedic tradition, this is how the composers of the Vedic hymns described themselves. Thus, the word Aryan did not denote a particular racial or linguistic affiliation, but rather a common set of mind.
The term dasyu was applied to “fallen Aryans,” ignoble folk who could be reinstated as arya once purified (Feuerstein et al., p. 112). Often misconstrued to refer disparagingly to the Dravidians, the two terms are meant to be opposites within the same construction. While what is an-arya can never be arya, the dasyu can be arya again. Arya and dasyu are terms employed to describe not race but behavior, and the categories are not immutable (Feuerstein et al., p. 114).
Eventually, the Indians came to be called daha, cognate with dasyu, by the Iranians (Feuerstein et al., p. 111). This and the fact that the Sanskrit deva, for “god,” occurs under its Iranian cognate daeva, meaning “demon” (Mallory, p. 42), indicates that a schism separated the two cultures at some point. One of the least contested dictums of comparative linguistics states, in fact, that the Indic and Iranian languages were once one (Mallory, p. 36). Some have suggested that the Vedic conflict between the Aryans and Dasyus may represent a primeval struggle between the Indo-Aryans and Indo-Iranians (Feuerstein et al., p. 111), which would push the creation of the Rig Veda back quite some time to a period preceding the linguistic schism.
Assuming now that the Aryans were not invaders but simply
the composers of the Vedas,
the first place to look for the birth of their culture is among the
cities of the
Over 2500 settlements of various periods including the
Harappan era have been identified since Fairservis took his count. The Harappan sites form a chain from Ropar
in the Punjab to Lothal and Dhaulavira in Gujarat, all along the course
of a long-dead river in an area that is now known as the
"This stream Sarasvati with fostering current comes forth, our sure defense, our fort of iron.
As on a car, the flood flows on, surpassing in majesty and might all other waters."
(Rig Veda VII. 95. 1) (Griffith, p. 90)
The Hindus of the
The Sarasvati appears to have changed its course at least
four times prior to its extinction, gradually turning the region to
desert (Feuerstein et al., p. 91). These shifts may have been initiated by a series of tectonic
events, not unusual at a plate boundary such as the one between
When the Sarasvati dried up, the cultural locus shifted
to the Indus valley; when that, too, failed, another shift occurred
The rise of Gangetic civilization has been associated with the end of Painted Gray Ware (1200 - 800 BCE) and the introduction of Northern Black Polished Ware. Painted Gray Ware has long been thought to have been brought to India by invading Aryans, but recent scholarship has determined that it may in fact have been a “natural development in craftsmanship from earlier pottery styles” (Feuerstein et al., p. 98). Since some Late Harappan sites were contemporary with the Painted Gray Ware phase, there appears to be a continuous tradition linking the pottery of the Harappans to that of the Gangetic civilization. Feuerstein, Subhash, Kak and Frawley speculate that "scholars are beginning to appreciate that past civilizations have had their own changes in fashion, which need not necessarily have been triggered by outside influences. All the evidence points to a striking continuity between the early urban culture of Mehrgarh and the second urbanization witnessed in the fertile valley of the Ganges, which gave rise to the modern Hindu civilization." (Feuerstein et al., p. 98)
Archaeologists have traditionally argued that their excavations
If Vedic society and the
Intriguing evidence for the continuity of
Also depicted in steatite is a horned male deity. Seated in yoga posture, he is generally
placed upon a podium and surrounded by wild animals. Many scholars agree that he represents
the prototype for the Hindu Lord of Beasts. Several Vedic deities are referred to by
this term, but it later becomes associated with the Hindu deity Shiva
Pashupati, who is the “archetypal yogi” (Feuerstein et al.,
p. 122). Additionally, the
It is important to note that the Vedas themselves preserve only the lore of the priests. This knowledge was probably inaccessible to the common people, who likely had their own traditions. Vedic lore is not even “folk” lore in the sense that it was not available for mass consumption, and the folk traditions of the non- priestly classes may have differed from it significantly. There is also the possibility that, as today, the majority of people lived in a rural setting at some distance from the city where a divergent tradition was even more likely to develop (Feuerstein et al., p. 124). Engaged primarily in agriculture and animal husbandry, their concerns would be different from those of the city-dwellers, and so might their religious beliefs. One might therefore expect to find certain ritual artifacts associated with rural or private dwellings that are not found in urban, priestly settings. And while one altar may have served the entire community of priests, each family would likely have its own ritual objects.
Among the evidence in support of this idea are the numerous clay female figurines that to scholars suggest the worship of a Mother Goddess (Feuerstein et al., p. 121). The river Sarasvati, often personified as a goddess, might have been of particular importance to agriculuralists. Her importance at household shrines as opposed to priestly rites might explain the frequency of such finds, and other goddesses present in the Vedic lore as well as in modern Hinduism attest to the relevance of female divinity in Indic society. Additionally, two types of polished stones have been found with some regularity which have been taken to represent the male and female genitalia. The veneration of sexual apparatus is not out of place in Vedic society, and some scholars would name as its precursors the grinding stones of the Soma sacrifice (Feuerstein et al., p. 122).
Perhaps the most challenging question has been that posed
by the undeciphered
The languages of southern
Recent scholarship, however, appears to be bridging the
linguistic gap between the Dravidians and Aryans. While there are only about twenty Dravidian
loan-words in the Rig Veda,
more than fifty percent of the Dravidian vocabulary is “borrowed”
from Sanskrit (Feuerstein et al., p. 142). The Dravidians also appear to have “borrowed,” along
with a number of myths and divinities, the title “Aryan”
for their kings, and a Rig Veda-era
sage named Agastya to father their language (Ibid.). The possibility that the same culture may
have evolved more than one distinct language must be admitted. After all,
Assuming that the Dravidians know where their own language
came from, it is both Indo-European (at least in part) and younger than
the Rig Veda. If it is younger than the Rig Veda, its speakers cannot be the enemies
spoken of therein, as they would not yet have existed as a distinctive
group; their distinctiveness is linguistic but their language had not
yet been born. And if the
Dravidians do turn out to be, as has been almost universally claimed,
the authors of the
There is circumstantial evidence to identify the
If Proto-Elamo-Dravidian or Proto-Indo-Dravidian provides
the link from the Rig Veda to the Indus civilization, then Brahmi is the link to the
Subhash Kak has recently applied the science of statistics
to this very hypothesis. Noting
similarities in appearance between the most frequent letters of both
The Brahmi script, while still of uncertain linguistic
affiliation, links the civilization of the
Having demonstrated the continuity of the Sarasvatic, Indic
and Gangetic societies, it becomes clear that the date ascribed for
the creation of the Rig Veda can be moved back at least to the lifetime of the
Western archaeologists propounding the Aryan invasion hypothesis
have themselves provided the bullets to shoot it down. In some cases, the dates they unwittingly
suggest are incredibly early. Tyler
himself discusses the Amri culture of
An even earlier settlement at some distance from the
The earliest level of occupation reveals the remains of
several rectangular buildings made of mud brick, each containing four
to six symmetrical rooms (Feuerstein et al., p. 148). This symmetry, referred to in the case
There is evidence for the use of the potter’s wheel at Mehrgarh more than six thousand years ago, and the town, a “thriving marketplace for imported and exported goods,” had many storage facilities for the work of craftsmen such as “potters, bead makers, basket makers, and stonemasons” (Feuerstein et al., p. 148). They imported “jade and turquoise from Central Asia, lapis lazuli from northern Afghanistan, fuchsite (a jadelike material) from the south of India, shells from the coast of the Arabian Sea, and no doubt a good many other products from elsewhere” (Feuerstein et al., p. 150). Perhaps most importantly, a number of round seals similar in structure and function to those of the Harappans have been uncovered (Feuerstein et al., p. 71). Their different shape does not preclude the possibility of their being precursors to the later tradition.
The hypothesis that cattle were introduced into
J. P. Mallory has remained quite convinced that the Aryans
were invaders. When looking
Mallory is wrong here on several counts. Firstly, the earliest Vedic hymns are focused
on the Sarasvati rather than the
Additionally, while no surviving written records have been
found, this is not conclusive proof of Vedic illiteracy. As in later times, any writing from that
period may have been done on organic material that would not have survived,
such as tree bark or palm leaves (Feuerstein et al., p. 130). Perhaps the Vedic composers thought the
hymns too holy to be committed to such a perishable medium, preferring
instead to trust them to collective memory. Perhaps, as in later societies, the ignorance of the common people
was fundamental to the structure of the society. Hence, the hymns could not be written for
fear that they might find circulation among the people. Finally, if the
While Vedic society may not have been literate, it was highly skilled in mathematics; likely it did possess a system of numbers. The Rig Veda provides ample evidence for the superior skill of Vedic astrologers and mathematicians. Fire altars, for example, were surrounded by 360 stones. This number represents a mathematical compromise reached in order to reconcile the solar and lunar years. Vedic fire altars were intended to symbolize the division of the earth, the atmosphere, and the sky, which was meant to stand for the universe as a whole (Feuerstein et al., p. 202). Of the 360 stones,"21 were around the earth altar, 78 around the atmosphere altar, and 261 around the sky altar. In other words, the earth, the atmosphere, and the sky were given the symbolic value of 21, 78, and 261 respectively. Since the cosmos was thought to include the atmosphere and the sky, the two principal cosmological numbers were 21 and 339 (78 + 261)." (Feuerstein et al., p. 203)
While 21 may be a reflection of the significance of the
numbers 7, for the Land of the
It is interesting here to note the hymn mentioned earlier that discusses Varuna’s use of the sun as a measuring stick (Rig Veda V. 85; O’Flaherty, p. 211).
Geological evidence contained within the Rig Veda suggests a compositional date significantly earlier than 1900 BCE, when the Sarasvati ceased to exist. Astronomical evidence, however, points to even earlier dates, for the Vedas refer to astronomical events that could only have occurred in the period from 2000 to 6000 BCE (Feuerstein et al., p. 105)."Hermann Jacobi, a renowned German scholar of the Vedic literature, noted that one of the hymns of the Rig-Veda (V. 18 - 19) suggests a stellar pattern that could only have occurred in the period from 4500 B.C. to 2500 B.C., indicating a time in which the winter solstice occurred with the full moon in the Phalguni constellation, marking the later portion of the sign Leo and the early portion of the sign Virgo. It is clear from this hymn that its author was not referring to some distant past but to his own time." (Feuerstein et al., p. 106)
The Rig Veda may well be the oldest living body of literature in the world. It provides continuity in Indian history,
serving as a link from the Neolithic town at Mehrgarh to the buried
settlements on the Sarasvati, through the Bronze Age of the
A Vedic society that has been relocated and rebuilt several times would harmonize well with Vedic ideology. Every evening at dusk the primordial struggle renews itself; demons take the fore as the gods, nourished from the day’s sacrifices, prepare for battle. They clash throughout the night until the dawn announces the victory of the gods. For the Vedicists, creation is continuous. Cyclical and repetitive, it does not happen once, but daily, and it relies upon the religious for continuance (Tyler, p. 23). Performance of the daily sacrifices connects the individual directly to the cosmos as an active participant in the creation of the world. Ritual behavior takes on cosmic significance every single day, a hinge upon which all is hung.
What happens when something goes wrong?
There is of course nothing that they can do. Perhaps they assume that the gods are displeased and so something must be changed. The river has relocated; perhaps the people must, too. The tide has turned, so to speak, against them, and so they must move. It is true that they can follow they river, but it may rise against them. Perhaps the situation calls for drastic measures. One can imagine a purely political series of events having the same effect.
Rebirth is Vedic as well as Hindu doctrine. Death, at least to the Hindus, is not an
end, but a beginning. To
abandon a city, to leave the fields is not unthinkable, for it is only
a temporary state. As Stephen
Tyler himself said, "When we come to the realization that the
It seems clear that there is some relationship between the mythologies contained within the Hindu Vedas and the Norse Eddas. The path between them, shrouded by time and illiteracy, is nearly impossible to trace, but the remarkable persistence of certain structural features is heartening. It seems clear as well that the temporal relationship imagined to exist between them has likely been grossly underestimated. The persistence of the Aryan invasion theory, rooted in 19th century imperialism, creationism and racism, has been remarkable. Successful for decades at preventing accurate thought, the time for its retirement has surely arrived.
The theory maintains several indefensible positions. It insists that the term Aryan refers to a racial and linguistic group, which remains unproved by geneticists
and disputed by linguists and Vedicists alike. It imagines the Aryans to have had a home outside of
Some claim that the Aryans adopted the culture of the natives almost entirely, maintaining linguistic dominance despite numerical inferiority. This too seems highly unlikely. If the Aryans did indeed adopt the culture of those they subjugated, why then did they not occupy their cities? Additionally, astronomical references in the Rig Veda allude to events that predate the third millennium BCE. While the mythos may not have been fully extant at that time, the tradition may trace its beginnings to that period. Considering the age of Sarasvatic and Mehrgarh civilization, it is not unreasonable.
In all probability, the Aryans of the Rig Veda lived in
The myths of the Norse will have come then more than three millennia later. Yet despite being even further removed from the Vedas than previously imagined, they grow strangely closer. The simple persistence of structure over so vast a period of time is remarkable; a testament, perhaps, to its functionality. The Eddas and Vedas are indeed related to each other, but not in the manner most often described. Their fraternity reaches much further back into pre-history than can currently be traveled, and their relationship, while more distant temporally, has been placed upon stronger, more solid ground. The relationship shared by two such disparate works is powerful testimony to the ultimate unity of the Indo-Europeans.
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 While it is true that Christ has the benefit of the written word, it is also true that it is far easier to alter text than oral tradition. It is almost surprising that the lore has survived as well as it has despite two thousand years of tampering by scribes, kings and pontiffs.