Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Thor and Sif – Chaoskampf and Divine marriage

Posted by Fredsvenn on June 21, 2016

Ninurta / Hercules – Thor

Thor

Thor (from Old Norse Þórr) is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing and fertility. The cognate deity in wider Germanic mythology and paganism was known in Old English as Þunor and in Old High German as Donar (runic þonar), stemming from a Common Germanic *Þunraz (meaning “thunder”).

Ultimately stemming from Proto-Indo-European religion, Thor is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania, to the tribal expansions of the Migration Period, to his high popularity during the Viking Age, when, in the face of the process of the Christianization of Scandinavia, emblems of his hammer, Mjölnir, were worn in defiance and Norse pagan personal names containing the name of the god bear witness to his popularity. The swastika symbol has been identified as representing the hammer or lightning of Thor.

Into the modern period, Thor continued to be acknowledged in rural folklore throughout Germanic regions. Thor is frequently referred to in place names, the day of the week Thursday (“Thor’s day”; Old English Thunresdæg, Thunor’s day; German “Donnerstag” Donar’s day; Dutch “donderdag”) bears his name, and names stemming from the pagan period containing his own continue to be used today.

By employing a practice known as interpretatio germanica during the Roman Empire period, the Germanic peoples adopted the Roman weekly calendar, and replaced the names of Roman gods with their own. Latin dies Iovis (‘day of Jupiter’) was converted into Proto-Germanic *Þonares dagaz (“Thor’s day”), from which stems modern English “Thursday” and all other Germanic weekday cognates.

The earliest records of the Germanic peoples were recorded by the Romans, and in these works Thor is frequently referred to—via a process known as interpretatio romana (where characteristics perceived to be similar by Romans result in identification of a non-Roman god as a Roman deity)—as either the Roman god Jupiter (also known as Jove) or the Greco-Roman god Hercules. Tacitus refers to the god Odin as “Mercury”, Thor as “Hercules”, and the god Týr as “Mars”.

Numerous tales and information about Thor are provided. In these sources, Thor bears at least fourteen names, is the husband of the golden-haired goddess Sif, is the lover of the jötunn Járnsaxa, and is generally described as fierce-eyed, red-haired and red-bearded. With Sif, Thor fathered the goddess (and possible valkyrie) Þrúðr; with Járnsaxa, he fathered Magni; with a mother whose name is not recorded, he fathered Móði, and he is the stepfather of the god Ullr.

The same sources list Thor as the son of the god Odin and the personified earth, Fjörgyn, and by way of Odin, Thor has numerous brothers. Thor has two servants, Þjálfi and Röskva, rides in a cart or chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (that he eats and resurrects), and is ascribed three dwellings (Bilskirnir, Þrúðheimr, and Þrúðvangr). Thor wields the mountain-crushing hammer, Mjölnir, wears the belt Megingjörð and the iron gloves Járngreipr, and owns the staff Gríðarvölr.

Thor’s exploits, including his relentless slaughter of his foes and fierce battles with the monstrous serpent Jörmungandr—and their foretold mutual deaths during the events of Ragnarök—are recorded throughout sources for Norse mythology.

Dumézil’s trifunctional hypothesis

In Georges Dumézil’s trifunctional hypothesis of Indo-European religion, Thor represents the second function, that of strength. Dumézil notes that as a result of displacements, he does not lead armies; most of the functions of Indra have been in effect taken over by Odin.

The trifunctional hypothesis of prehistoric Proto-Indo-European society postulates a tripartite ideology (“idéologie tripartite”) reflected in the existence of three classes or castes – priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen) – corresponding to the three functions of the sacral, the martial and the economic, respectively.

The trifunctional thesis is primarily associated with the French mythographer Georges Dumézil who proposed it in 1929 in the book Flamen-Brahman, and later in Mitra-Varuna. According to Dumézil, Proto-Indo-European society comprised three main groups corresponding to three distinct functions: the function of sovereignty, the military function, and the function of productivity.

Sovereignty fell into two distinct and complementary sub-parts, one formal, juridical and priestly but worldly, the other powerful, unpredictable, and also priestly but rooted in the supernatural world. The second main social division was connected with force, the military and war while the role of the third, ruled by the other two, was productivity, herding, farming and crafts. Proto-Indo-European mythology was divided in the same way: each social group had its own god or family of gods to represent it and the function of the god or gods matched the function of the group. Many such divisions occur in history.

Terje Leiren discerns a grouping of three Norse gods that corresponds to the trifunctional division; Odin as the patron of priests and magicians, Thor of warriors, and Freyr of fertility and farming.

However, many scholars have noted the association of Thor with fertility. For Dumézil, this is the preservation by peasants of only the side-effect of the god’s atmospheric battles: the fertilizing rain. Others have emphasized Thor’s close connection to humanity, in all its concerns.

Theshub

Thor closely resembles other Indo-European deities associated with the thunder: the Celtic Taranis, the Baltic Perkūnas, the Slavic Perun, and particularly the Hindu Indra, whose red hair and thunderbolt weapon the vajra are obvious parallels. Although in the past it was suggested that Thor was an indigenous sky god or a Viking Age import into Scandinavia, these Indo-European parallels make him generally accepted today as ultimately derived from a Proto-Indo-European deity.

Teshub (cuneiform IM; hieroglyphic Luwian (DEUS)TONITRUS, read as Tarhunzas) was the Hurrian god of sky and storm. Taru (Luwian Tarhun / Tarhunt- / Tarhuwant- / Tarhunta) — a word derived from the Hattic root *tarh “to defeat, conquer”) — was the name of a similar (Indo-European, pre-Hittite) Hattic Storm God, whose mythology and worship as a primary deity continued and evolved through descendant Luwian and Hittite cultures.

Teshub is depicted holding a triple thunderbolt and a weapon, usually an axe (often double-headed) or mace. The sacred bull common throughout Anatolia was his signature animal, represented by his horned crown or by his steeds Seri and Hurri, who drew his chariot or carried him on their backs.

The Hurrian myth of Teshub’s origin—he was conceived when the god Kumarbi bit off and swallowed his father Anu’s genitals, similarly to the Greek story of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus, which is recounted in Hesiod’s Theogony. Teshub’s brothers are Aranzah (personification of the river Tigris), Ullikummi (stone giant) and Tashmishu.

In the Hurrian schema, Teshub was paired with Hebat the mother goddess; in the Hittite, with the sun goddess Arinniti of Arinna—a cultus of great antiquity which has similarities with the venerated bulls and mothers at Çatalhöyük in the Neolithic era. His son was called Sarruma, the mountain god.

According to Hittite myths, one of Teshub’s greatest acts was the slaying of the dragon Illuyanka. The context is a ritual of the Hattian spring festival of Puruli, a Hattian spring festival, held at Nerik, dedicated to the earth goddess Hannahanna, who is married to a new king. The central ritual of the Puruli festival is dedicated to the destruction of the dragon Illuyanka by the storm god Teshub. The corresponding Assyrian festival is the Akitu of the Enuma Elish.

Chaoskampf

Thor’s exploits, including his relentless slaughter of his foes and fierce battles with the monstrous serpent Jörmungandr—and their foretold mutual deaths during the events of Ragnarök—are recorded throughout sources for Norse mythology.

Scholars have compared Indra’s slaying of Vritra with Thor’s battle with Jörmungandr (Old Norse: Jǫrmungandr, meaning “huge monster”), often written as Jormungand, or Jörmungand and also known as the Midgard Serpent (Old Norse: Miðgarðsormr), or World Serpent, a sea serpent, the middle child of the giantess Angrboða and Loki.

 

The motif of Chaoskampf (German for “struggle against chaos”) is ubiquitous in myth and legend, depicting a battle of a culture hero deity with a chaos monster, often in the shape of a serpent or dragon. The same term has also been extended to parallel concepts in the religions of the Ancient Near East, such as the abstract conflict of ideas in the Egyptian duality of Maat and Isfet.

The origins of the Chaoskampf myth most likely lie in the Proto-Indo-European religion whose descendants almost all feature some variation of the story of a storm god fighting a sea serpent representing the clash between the forces of order and chaos.

Early work by German academics such as Gunkel and Bousset in comparative mythology popularized translating the mythological sea serpent as a “dragon.” Indo-European examples of this mythic trope include Thor vs. Jörmungandr (Norse), Tarhunt vs. Illuyanka (Hittite), Indra vs. Vritra (Vedic), Fereydun vs. Aži Dahāka (Avestan), and Zeus vs. Typhon (Greek) among others.

In Mesopotamian Religion, Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with Abzû (the god of fresh water) to produce younger gods. She is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation, depicted as a woman, she represents the beauty of the feminine, depicted as the glistening one.

Tiamat was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.

It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a “Sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.

In the myth recorded on cuneiform tablets, the deity Enki (later Ea) believed correctly that Apsu, upset with the chaos they created, was planning to murder the younger deities; and so captured him, holding him prisoner beneath his temple the E-Abzu. This angered Kingu, their son, who reported the event to Tiamat, whereupon she fashioned eleven monsters to battle the deities in order to avenge Apsu’s death.

Tiamat possessed the Tablet of Destinies and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.

Slicing Tiamat in half, he made from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth. Her weeping eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates, her tail became the Milky Way. With the approval of the elder deities, he took from Kingu the Tablet of Destinies, installing himself as the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Kingu was captured and later was slain: his red blood mixed with the red clay of the Earth would make the body of humankind, created to act as the servant of the younger Igigi deities.

The principal theme of the epic is the justified elevation of Marduk to command over all the deities. It is generally accepted amongst modern Assyriologists that the Enûma Elish – the Babylonian creation epic to which this mythological strand is attributed – has been written as political and religious propaganda rather than reflecting a Sumerian tradition; the dating of the epic is not completely clear, but judging from the mythological topics covered and the cuneiform versions discovered thus far, it is likely to date it to the 15th century BCE.

Ninurta was a Sumerian and the Akkadian god of hunting and war. He was worshipped in Babylonia and Assyria and in Lagash he was identified with the city god Ningirsu. In older transliteration the name is rendered Ninib and Ninip, and in early commentary he was sometimes portrayed as a solar deity.

Ninurta often appears holding a bow and arrow, a sickle sword, or a mace named Sharur: Sharur is capable of speech in the Sumerian legend “Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and can take the form of a winged lion and may represent an archetype for the later Shedu.

In another legend, Ninurta battles a birdlike monster called Imdugud (Akkadian: Anzû); a Babylonian version relates how the monster Anzû steals the Tablets of Destiny from Enlil. The Tablets of Destiny were believed to contain the details of fate and the future.

Ninurta slays each of the monsters later known as the “Slain Heroes”. Eventually, Anzû is killed by Ninurta who delivers the Tablet of Destiny to his father, Enlil. There are many parallels with both and the story of Marduk (son of Enki) who slew Abzu (or Apsu), and delivered the Tablets of Destiny from Kingu to his father, Enki.

 

Ouroboros

According to the Prose Edda, Odin took Loki’s three children by Angrboða—the wolf Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr—and tossed Jörmungandr into the great ocean that encircles Midgard. The serpent grew so large that it was able to surround the earth and grasp its own tail. As a result, it received the name of the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent. When it lets go, the world will end. Jörmungandr’s arch-enemy is the god Thor. It is an example of an ouroboros, (“tail-devouring snake”), an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.

The ouroboros often symbolizes self-reflexivity, introspection, or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things such as the phoenix which operate in cycles that begin anew as soon as they end. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.

The first known appearance of the ouroboros motif is in the tomb of Tutankhamun in the 14th century BC. The text concerns the actions of the god Ra and his union with Osiris in the underworld. In an illustration from this text, two serpents, holding their tails in their mouths, coil around the head and feet of an enormous god, who may represent the unified Ra-Osiris. Both serpents are manifestations of the deity Mehen, who in other funerary texts protects Ra in his underworld journey. The whole divine figure represents the beginning and the end of time.

The ouroboros appears elsewhere in Egyptian sources, where, like many Egyptian serpent deities, it represents the formless disorder that surrounds the orderly world and is involved in that world’s periodic renewal. The symbol persisted in Egypt into Roman times, when it frequently appeared on magical talismans, sometimes in combination with other magical emblems. The 4th-century AD Latin commentator Servius was aware of the Egyptian use of the symbol, noting that the image of a snake biting its tail represents the cyclical nature of the year.

Wolf-Dieter Storl argues that “When Shakti is united with Shiva, she is a radiant, gentle goddess; but when she is separated from him, she turns into a terrible, destructive fury. She is the endless Ouroboros, the dragon biting its own tail, symbolizing the cycle of samsara.”

Ouroboros symbolism has been used to describe Kundalini energy. According to the second century Yoga Kundalini Upanishad, “The divine power, Kundalini, shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body”. Another interpretation is that Kundalini equates to the entwined serpents of the caduceus of the Greek god Hermes, the entwined serpents representing divine balance in the west or, esoterically, DNA.

Carl Jung interpreted the ouroboros as having an archetypal significance to the human psyche. The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann writes of it as a representation of the pre-ego “dawn state”, depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.

Divine marriage

Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson summarizes: The cult of Thor was linked up with men’s habitation and possessions, and with well-being of the family and community. This included the fruitfulness of the fields, and Thor, although pictured primarily as a storm god in the myths, was also concerned with the fertility and preservation of the seasonal round.

In our own times, little stone axes from the distant past have been used as fertility symbols and placed by the farmer in the holes made by the drill to receive the first seed of spring. Thor’s marriage with Sif of the golden hair, about which we hear little in the myths, seems to be a memory of the ancient symbol of divine marriage between sky god and earth goddess, when he comes to earth in the thunderstorm and the storm brings the rain which makes the fields fertile. In this way Thor, as well as Odin, may be seen to continue the cult of the sky god which was known in the Bronze Age.

Sif is a goddess associated with earth. She is the wife of the thunder god Thor and is known for her golden hair. She is named as the mother of the goddess Þrúðr by Thor and of Ullr with a father whose name is not recorded. The Prose Edda also recounts that Sif once had her hair shorn by Loki, and that Thor forced Loki to have a golden headpiece made for Sif, resulting in not only Sif’s golden tresses but also five other objects for other gods.

Scholars have proposed that Sif’s hair may represent fields of golden wheat, that she may be associated with fertility, family, and wedlock. Sif’s name means “relation by marriage”. The name is the singular form of the plural Old Norse word sifjar, which only appears in singular form when referring to the goddess as a proper noun.

Sifjar is cognate to the Old English sib (meaning “affinity, connection, by marriage”) and in other Germanic languages: Gothic language sibja, Old High German sibba, and German Sippe. Sifjar appears not only in ancient poetry and records of law, but also in compounds (byggja sifjar means “to marry”). Using this etymology, scholar John Lindow gives the meanings “in-law-relationship”, scholar Andy Orchard provides “relation”, and scholar Rudolf Simek gives “relation by marriage”.

Hieros gamos or Hierogamy (“holy marriage”) refers to a sexual ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities.

Sacred prostitution was common in the Ancient Near East as a form of “Sacred Marriage” or hieros gamos between the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare.

Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there were many shrines and temples dedicated to Inanna. The temple of Eanna, meaning “house of heaven” in Uruk was the greatest of these. The temple housed Nadītu, priestesses of the goddess. The high priestess would choose for her bed a young man who represented the shepherd Dumuzid, or Tammuz (Sumerian: Dumuzid (DUMU.ZI(D), “faithful or true son”), consort of Inanna, in a hieros gamos or sacred marriage, celebrated during the annual Duku ceremony, just before Invisible Moon, with the autumn Equinox (Autumnal Zag-mu Festival).

Tammuz was the name of a Sumerian god of food and vegetation, also worshiped in the later Mesopotamian states. In Babylonia, the month Tammuz was established in honor of the eponymous god Tammuz, who originated as a Sumerian shepherd-god, the consort of Inanna and, in his Akkadian form, the parallel consort of Ishtar. The Levantine (“lord”) Adonis, who was drawn into the Greek pantheon, was considered by Joseph Campbell among others to be another counterpart of Tammuz, son and consort.

Beginning with the summer solstice came a time of mourning in the Ancient Near East, as in the Aegean: the Babylonians marked the decline in daylight hours and the onset of killing summer heat and drought with a six-day “funeral” for the god. In cult practice, the dead Tammuz was widely mourned in the Ancient Near East.

Recent discoveries reconfirm him as an annual life-death-rebirth deity: tablets discovered in 1963 show that Dumuzi was in fact consigned to the Underworld himself, in order to secure Inanna’s release, though the recovered final line reveals that he is to revive for six months of each year.

Adonis, in Greek mythology, is a central figure in various mystery religions. In 1966, Wahib Attalah wrote that the “cult of Adonis belonged to women,” and further asserted “the cult of dying Adonis was fully developed in the circle of young girls around Sappho on Lesbos, about 600 BC, as a fragment of Sappho reveals.”

There has been much scholarship over the centuries concerning the multiple roles of Adonis, if any, and his meaning and purpose in Greek religious beliefs. Modern scholarship sometimes describes him as an annually renewed, ever-youthful vegetation god, a life-death-rebirth deity whose nature is tied to the calendar. His name is often applied in modern times to handsome youths, of whom he is the archetype.

The Greek Adōnis was a borrowing from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning “lord”, which is related to Adonai, one of the names used to refer to the God of the Hebrew Bible and still used in Judaism to the present day. Syrian Adonis is Gauas or Aos, akin to Egyptian Osiris, the Semitic Tammuz and Baal Hadad, the Etruscan Atunis and the Phrygian Attis, all of whom are deities of rebirth and vegetation.

Adonis is the Hellenized form of the Phoenician word “adoni”, meaning “my lord”. It is believed that the cult of Adonis was known to the Greeks from around the sixth century BC, but it is unquestionable that they came to know it through contact with Cyprus. Around this time, the cult of Adonis is noted in the Book of Ezekiel in Jerusalem, though under the Babylonian name Tammuz.

Adonis originally was a Phoenician god of fertility representing the spirit of vegetation. It is further speculated that he was an avatar of the version of Ba’al, worshipped in Ugarit. It is likely that lack of clarity concerning whether Myrrha was called Smyrna, and who her father was, originated in Cyprus before the Greeks first encountered the myth. However, it is clear that the Greeks added much to the Adonis-Myrrha story, before it was first recorded by classical scholars.

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