Jacob Grimm.

Teutonic mythology (Volume 3) online

. (page 1 of 45)
Online LibraryJacob GrimmTeutonic mythology (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



' • V * F V V * ■
















Butler & Tanner,

The Sclu'ood Priiiting WorkSt

Frome, and London,



..io: ^-



Now that I am able to put my germinated sprout of Germau
Mythology into its second leafing, I do it with a firmer confidence
in the unimpeded progress of its growth. When the first shy-
ness was once overcome, seeking and finding came more quickly
together ; and facts, that rebuked any effeminate doubt of the
reality of scientific discoveries on a field till then considered
barren, started up on every side, till now there is a glut of them.
Well, I have got my joists and rafters, drawn some lines, laid
some courses, and yet guarded against pretending to finality ;
for who would do that, so long as in one place the materials are
wanting, and in another the hands are still full with fetching ?
I wish to explain all I can, but I am far from being able to
explain all I wish.

Criticism, often brilliantly successful on foreign fields, had
sinned against our native antiquities, and misused most of the
means it had. The immortal work of a Roman writer had shed
a light of dawn on the history of Germany, which other nations
may well envy us : not content with suspecting the book's
genuineness (as though the united Middle Ages had been capable
of such a product), its statements, sprung from honest love of
truth, were cried down, and the gods it attributes to our ancestors
were traced to the intrusion of Roman ideas. Instead of dili-
gently comparing the contents of so precious a testimony with
the remnants of our heathenism scattered elsewhere, people made
a point of minimizing the value of these few fragments also,
and declaring them forged, borrowed, absurd. Such few gods as
remained unassailed, it was the fashion to make short work of,
by treating them as Gallic or Slavic, just as vagrants are shunted
oif to the next parish — let our neighbours dispose of the rubbish
as they can. The Norse Edda, whose plan, style and substance


breathe the renaotest antiquity, Avhose songs lay hold of the heart
in a far different way from the extravagantly admired poems of
Ossian, they traced to christian and Anglo-Saxon influence,
blindly or wilfully overlooking its connexion with the relics of
eld in Germany proper, and thinking to set it all down to nurses
and spinning- wives (p. 1230), whose very name seemed, to those
unacquainted with the essence of folk-lore, to sound the lowest
note of contempt. They have had their revenge now, those
norns and spindle-bearers.

One may faii'ly say, that to deny the reality of this mythology
is as much as to impugn the high antiquity and the continuity of
our language : to every nation a belief in gods was as necessary
as language. No one will argue from the absence or poverty of
memorials, that our forefathers at any given time did not practise
their tongue, did not hand it down ; yet the lack or scantiness
of information is thoughtlessly alleged as a reason for despoiling
our heathenism, antecedent to the conversion, of all its contents,
so to speak. History teaches us to recognise in language, the
farther we are able to follow it up, a higher perfection of form,
which declines as culture advances ; as the forms of the thirteenth
century are superior to our present ones, and those of the ninth
and the fifth stand higher still, it may be presumed that German
populations of the first three centuries of our era, whose very
names have never reached us, must have spoken a more perfect
language than the Gothic itself. Now if such inferences as to
what is non-extant are valid in language, if its present condition
carries us far back to an older and oldest; a like proceeding
must be justifiable in mythology too, and from its dry water-
courses we may guess the copious spring, from its stagnant
swamps the ancient river. Nations hold fast by prescription :
we shall never comprehend their tradition, their superstition,
unless we spread under it a bed on still heathen soil.

And these views are confirmed by what we know to be true of
poetry and legend. If the heathens already possessed a finely
articulated language, and if we concede to them an abundant
stock of religious myths, then song and story could not fail to


lay hold of these, and to interweave themselves with the rites and
customs. That such was the case we are assured by Tacitus ;
aud the testimony of Jornandes and Eginhart leaves not the
smallest room for doubt respecting later ages. Those primitive
songs on Tuisco, on Mannus and the three races that branched
out of him, are echoed long after in the genealogies of Ingo,
Iscio, Hermino ; so the Hygelac of the Beowulf-song, whom a
tenth century legend that has just emerged from oblivion names
Huglacus Magnus (Haupt 5, 10), is found yet again — as a proof
that even poetry may agree with history — in the ' Chochilaichus '
of Gregory of Tours. If in the 12th and loth centuries our
country^s hero-legend gleamed up for the last time, poets must
have kept on singing it for a long time before, as is plain from
the saved fragment of Hildebrand and the Latin versions of
Rudlieb and Waltharius ; while not a tone survives of those Low
German lays and legends, out of which nevertheless proceeded
the Vilkinasaga that mirrors them back. The rise of our Court-
poetry has without the slightest ground or necessity been ascribed
to the Crusades ; if we are to assume any importations from
the East, these can more conveniently be traced to the earlier
and quieter intercourse of Goths and Northmen with the Greek
empire, unless indeed we can make up our minds to place nearly
all the coincidences that stai'tle us to the account of a funda-
mental unity of the European nations, a mighty influence which
is seen working through long ages, alike in language, legend
and religion.

I am met by the arrogant notion, that the life of whole cen-
turies was pervaded by a soulless cheerless barbarism ; this would
at once contradict the loving kindness of God, who has made
His sun give light to all times, and while endowing men with
gifts of body and soul, has instilled into them the consciousness
of a higher guidance : on all ages of the world, even those of
worst repute, there surely fell a foison of health and wealth,
which preserved in nations of a nobler strain their sense of right
and law. One has only to recognise the mild and manly spirit
of our higher antiquity in the purity and power of the national


laws, or the talent inherited by the thirteenth century in its
eloquent, inspired poems, in order justly to appreciate legend
and myth, which in them had merely struck root once more.

But our inquiry ought to have the benefit of this justice both
in great thino^s and in small. Natural science bears witness,
that the smallest may be an index to the greatest ; and the reason
is discoverable, why in our antiquities, while the main features
were effaced, petty and apparently accidental ones have been
preserved. I am loth to let even slight analogies escape me,
such as that between Bregowine, Freawine, and Gotes friunt
(p. 93).

True to my original purpose, I have this time also taken the
Norse mythology merely as woof, not as warp. It lies near to
us, like the Norse tongue, which, having stood longer undisturbed
in its integrity, gives us a deeper insight into the nature of our
own, yet not so that either loses itself wholly in the other, or
that we can deny to the German language excellences of its own,
and to the Gothic a strength superior to both of them together.
So the Norse view of the gods may in many ways clear up and
complete the German, yet not serve as the sole standard for it,
since here, as in the language, there appear sundry divergences
of the German type from the Norse, giving the advantage now to
the one and now to the other. Had I taken the rich exuberance
of the North as the basis of my inquiry, it would have perilously
overshadowed and choked the distinctively German, which ought
rather to be developed out of itself, and, while often agreeing
with the other, yet in some things stands opposed. The case
appears therefore to stand thus, that, as we push on, we shall
approach the Norse boundary, and at length reach the point
where the wall of separation can be pierced, and the two mytho-
logies run together into one greater whole. If at present some
new points of connexion have been established, more important
diversities have revealed themselves too. To the Norse anti-
quarians in particular, I hope my procedure will be acceptable :
as we gladly give to them in return for what we have received,
they ought no less to receive than to give. Our memorials are


scantier, but older ; theirs are younger and purer ; two things it
was important here to hold fast : fii'st, that the Norse mythology
is genuine, and so must the German be ; then, that the German
is old, and so must the Norse be.

We have never had an Edda come down to us, nor did any one
of our early writers attempt to collect the remains of the heathen
faith. Such of the christians as had sucked German milk were
soon weaned under Roman training from memories of home, and
endeavoured not to preserve, but to efface the last impressions of
detested paganism. Jornandes and Paulus Diaconus, who must
have had plenty of heathen stories still within their reach, made
but slight use of the mythical ones. Other ecclesiastics now and
then, for a particular purpose, dole out scraps of information
which are of great value to us: Jonas (pp. 56. 109), Beda
(p. 289), Alcuin (p. 229), Widukind (p. 253), Adam of Bremen
(p. 230). As I have said on p. 9, some monk at St, Gall, Fulda,
Merseburg or Corvei might have conceived the happy idea of
putting pen to the antiquities of his country, gathering up things
of which the footprints were still fresh, and achieving for the
foreground of our history, just where it begins to disengage itself
from legend, a lasting work, such as Saxo Grammaticus accom-
plished. Even if German tradition was more blurred and colour-
less from the seventh century to the eleventh, than was Danish
in the twelfth, if estrangement from native legend had advanced
more slowly in the far North ; yet Waltharius and Rudlieb, or
the rhyme of the boar in Notker, may shew us that in the very
cloisters there was much still unforgotten of the ancient songs.
It is likely that scribes continued for some time to add to the
collection set on foot by Charles the Great, the destruction of
which has proved an incalculable loss, and from which we might
have obtained an abundance of materials and pictures of the
remotest eld. The Middle High-German poets found themselves
already much farther away from all this ; anything they might
still unconsciously borrow from it must have been preserved
accidentally in traditional forms of poetry or the living idiom
of the people. The very book in which heathen names and cha-


racfcers miglit the most innocently have found a place, Albrecht
of Halberstadt's translation of the Metamorphoses, is lost to us
in its original form ; when Rudolf in his Barlaam from a christian
point of view refutes the Grecian gods after the fashion of
Chrothilde (see p. 107), he sticks too closely to his text to let
any native characteristics come into his head : the age was too
entirely absoi-bed in its immediate present to feel the slightest
inclination to look back into its own or other people's distant
past. It is not till the 14th or 15th century that sundry writers
begin to shew a propensity to this. Gobelinus Persona bestows
a mite (p. 254) ; if Bohmer would but soon give us an edition of
the Magdeburg Schoppenchronick and the Chronicon Picturatum,
both sadly wanted ! Conf. Bohmer's Reg. ed. 1849, p. xxi,
pag. 62 ad ann. 1213; Zeuss p. 38. The statements of Botho,
uncritical as they are, claim attention, for in his day there may
have been accounts still afloat, which have vanished since. A
curious one is contained in Joh. Craemer's Chronica sancti Petri
in monte crucis ad ann. 1468 : ' Matthaeus Huntler in'cella Sancti
Martini ad Werram vidit librum Johannis Vanderi, ord. S. Bene-
dicti monachi in Reynertsborn, de omnibus gentilium deastris
in proviucia nostra, quem magna cura conscripsit, et quemlibet
deastrum in habitu suo eleganter depinxit cum multis antiquita-
tibus, in quibus bene versatus esse dicitur.' Botho drew his de-
scriptions from figures of idols that were before his eyes ; and at
Reinhartsbrunn in Thuringia there might be similar things
extant, or the very same that found their way to Brunswick, if
only PauUini, whose Syntagma p. 315 furnishes that passage
from the chronicle, were not himself suspicious. The like un-
certainty hangs over Joh. Berger (p. 96), over a Conradus
Fontanus quoted by Letzner (p. 190), and the Frisian Cappidus
whose work Hamconius professes to have used (see my chap.
XXI, Lotus). Any one that cared to read straight through
Berthold of Regensburg's works, dating from the end of the loth
century, would very likely, where the preacher gets to speak
of sorcery and devilry, come upon cursory notices of the super-
stitions of his time, as even the later sermons of Johannes


Herolt (my ch. XXXI, Berchta, Holda), Joliaunes Xider (d. cir.
1440), and Geiler von Kaisersberg offer some details. And even
historians in the IGth and 17th centuries, who rummaged many
a dusty archive, such as Aventin, Celtes, Freher, Spangenberger,
Letzuer (d. after 1612), Nicokius Gryse (d. 1614), must have had
all sorts of available facts within their reach, though to pick the
grain out of the chaff would no doubt come easier to us than to

Much then is irrecoverably lost to our mythology ; I turn to
the sources that remain to it, which are partly Written Memorials,
partly the never resting sti*eam of living Manners and Story.
The former may reach far back, but they present themselves
piecemeal and disconnected, while the popular tradition of to-
day hangs by threads which ultimately link it without a break
to ancient times. Of the priceless records of the Romans, who
let the first ray of history fall on their defeated but unsubdued
enemy, I have spoken in the fourth and sixth chapters. If
among gods and heroes only Tuisco, Mannus and Alx are named
in German, and the rest given in ' Romana interpretatio ; ' on
the other hand, the female names Nerthus, Veleda, Tanfana,
Huldana (for Hludana), Aliruna, have kept their original form;
and so have names of peoples and places that lead back to gods,
Ingaevones, Iscaevones, Herminones, Asciburgium. Christian
authors also, writing in Latin, prefer the Roman names, yet, when
occasion calls, Wodan, Thunar, Frea, Sahsnot cannot be avoided.
The refined language of the Goths, and the framework of their
hero-legend, lead us to imagine a very full development of their
faith, then just giving way to Christianity, though to us it has
sunk into such utter darkness : such expressions as frauja, halja,
sibja, unhul}?o, skohsl, anz, fairguni, sauil (as well as sunna),
vaihts, alhs, gudja, hunsl, dulj^s, jiuleis, midjun-gards, aiihns,
a]7n, blotan, inveitan, must have heathen notions lying at their
base, and these would offer themselves far more abundantly if
portions of the Gothic Old Testament had reached us. After
the lapse of a few centuries we find the other dialects all more
or less corrupted when compared with the Gothic, and as a long


interval had then passed since the conversion of most of the
races, heathenism must have retreated farther from the language
also and the poetry. Nevertheless the fragment of Muspilli,
the Abrenuntiatio, the Merseburg Lay and a few others, still
allow our glances to rove back beyond our expectation ; isolated
words occur in glosses, and proper names of men, places, herbs,
point to other vestiges ; not only do gods and heroes step out
of the mist, as Wuotan, Donar, Zio, Phol, Paltar, Froho, Sin-
tarfizilo, Orentil, and goddesses or wise women, as Frouwa, Folia,
Sindgund, Wurt ; but a host of other words, itis, wiht, urlac,
fuld, haruc, hliodar, paro, sigil, zunkal, etc. are found uneradi-
cated. Of course, among the Saxons, who remained heathen
longer, especially among the Anglo-Saxons, whose language
preserved its warmth better by poetry, such relics are trebly
numerous, for beside Woden, Thunor, Frea, Bealdor, Helle,
Eastre, HreSe, and the rich store of names in the genealogies,
there add themselves Forneot, Woma, Geofon, Grei'suma, Wusc-
frea, Bregowine, Earendel, ides, wyrd, wgelcyrge, ]>yrs, eoten,
geola, hleodor, bearo, neorxenawong, haele'tShelm, Brosingamene,
and many more. What the Middle High German poetry inevi-
tably loses by comparison with the older, is compensated by
its greater quantity : together with hero-names like Nibelunc,
Schiltunc, Schilbunc, Alberich, Wielant, Horant, which fall at
once within the province of mythology, it has treasured up for
us the words tarnkappe, albleich, heilwac, turse, windesbrut,
goltwine and the like, while in oft-recurring phrases about des
sunnen haz, des arn winde, des tiuvels muoter, we catch the
clear echo of ancient fables. Most vividly, in never-tiring play
of colours, the minne-songs paint the triumphal entry of May
and Summer : the pining heart missed in the stately march its
former god. The personifications of Saelde and Aventiui*e spring
from a deep-hidden root ; how significant are the mere names
of Wunsch and valant, which are not found in all the poets
even, let alone in O.H.German ! Yet we cannot imagine other-
wise than that these words, although their reference to Wuotan
and Phol was through long ages latent, were drawn directly


and without a break from heathenism. They are a proof of the
possibiUty of traditions lingering only in certain spots, and thus
finding their way after all to here and there a poet; totally
silenced in places and periods, they suddenly strike up some-
where else, though any district, any dialect, can boast but few
or comparatively few of these; it is not many arch-mythical
terms, like frau, holle, wicht, that our language has constant
need of, and has never to this day cast off.

If these numerous written memorials have only left us sundry
bones and joints, as it were, of our old mythology, its living
breath still falls upon us from a vast number of Stories and
Customs, handed down through lengthened periods from father
to son. With what fidelity they propagate themselves, how
exactly they seize and transmit to posterity the essential features
of the fable, has never been noticed till now that people have
become aware of their gi'eat value, and begun to set them down
in collections simple and copious. Oral legend is to written
records as the folk-song is to poetic art, or the rulings recited
by schciffen (scabini) to written codes.

But the folk-tale wants to be gleaned or plucked with a
delicate hand. Grasp it rudely, it will curl up its leaves, and
deny its dearest fragrance. There lies in it such a store of rich
development and blossom, that, even when presented incomplete,
it contents us in its native adornment, and would be deranged
and damaged by any foreign addition. Whoever should venture
on that, ought, if he would shew no gap in his harness, to be
initiated into all the innocence of popular poetry; as ho who
would coin a word, into all the mysteries of language. Out of
elben (elves) to make elfen, was doing violence to our language ;
with still less of forbearance have violent hands been laid on
the colouring and contents even of myths. They thought to
improve upon the folk-tale, and have always fallen short of it :
not even where it shews gaps, is any restoration to be dreamt
of, which sits upon it as new whitewash on old ruins, con-
triving with a couple of dabs to wipe out all the charm.
Astonishing are the various shapes its identity assumes.


additional adornments spring up on ground where we least
expect it; but it is not in every soil that it thrives luxuriantly,
here and there it shews scanty or shy ; it is sure to be vigorous
where rhymes and spells abound in it. The heaviest crops
seem to be realized by those collections which, starting from a
district rich in legend, glean cautiously from the surrounding
neighbourhoods, without straying far from its limits ; thus
Otmar's Harz-sagen found a favourable field, which is probably
worth going over a second time within the like modest bounds.
Among collections that have lately come to light, I name
Borner's Tales of the Orla-gau, which, grown up on rich
legendary soil, yield much that is valuable, though the accom-
panying discourses fail to realize the true nature of Folk-legend.
Bernhard Baader's Tales of Upper Germany aflford a rich treasure,
in simple suitable language; but in Mone's Anzeiger they are
presented in so scattered and inconvenient a form, that they
ought to be re-digested in a new edition: the two different
versions of the story of Dold (quoted on p. 983), are a good
illustration of what I meant just now by 'meagre^ and 'luxuriant.'
Bechstein's Thuringian Legends seem to me only in the last
two volumes to attain the true point of view, and to offer
something worth having. The Legends of Samogitia and the
Mark, collected by Reusch and Kuhn, satisfy all requirements ;
they furnish most copious material, and put to shame the notion
that any district of Germany is poor in popular traditions, which
only elude those who know not the right way to approach them.
Soon pei^haps we shall get collections laid out on the same
thoughtful plan from Holstein, Westphalia, Bavaria and Tyrol.

For Denmark too we have a model collection by Thiele, whose
last edition has only just reached me, and still remains unused.
Many of the finest Swedish legends have been given us in various
places, but a still greater number must be lying ungathered :
Afzelius's Sago-hiifder, welcome as they are, go too much on
the plan of extracting the juice from whatever came to hand.
Norway can hardly be less stocked with legend than Sweden,
it has moreover its popular lays to shew, into which songs of


the Edda have been transmuted, witness the lay of Thorns
hammer (p. 181) and the Solar-lay. In our own day, J. W.
Wolf is labouring on the popular traditions of Belgium, and Rob.
Chambers on those of Scotland, with zeal and visible success.

The Fairy-tale (miirchen) is with good reason distinguished
from the Legend, though by turns they play into one another.
Looser, less fettered than legend, the Fairy-tale lacks that local
habitation, which hampers legend, but makes it the more home-
like. The Fairy-tale flies, the legend walks, knocks at your
door ; the one can draw freely out of the fulness of poetry, the
other has almost the authority of history. As the Fairy-tale
stands related to legend, so does legend to history, and (we may
add) so does history to real life. In real existence all the out-
lines are sharp, clear and certain, which on history's canvas are
gradually shaded off and toned down. The ancient my thus,
however, combines to some extent the qualities of fairy-tale and
leo-end ; untrammelled in its flight, it can yet settle down in a
local home.

It was thought once, that after the Italian and French collec-
tions of Fairy-tales it was too late to attempt any in Germany,
but this is contradicted by fact ; and Molbech's collection, and
many specimens inserted in his book by Afzelius, testify also
how rich Denmark and Sweden are in fairy-tales not yet extinct.
But all collections have wellnigh been overtopt lately by the
Norwegian (still unfinished) of Moe and Asbiornsen, with its
fresh and full store; and treasures not a few must be lurking
in England, Scotland, and the Netherlands, from all of which
Mythology may look to receive manifold gain.

To indicate briefly the gain she has already derived from the
Folk-tale (legend) : it is plain that to this alone we owe our
knowledge of the goddesses Holda, Berhta and Fricka, as also
the myth of the Wild Hunt which leads us straight to Wodan.
The tale of the old beggar-wife is a reminiscence of Grimnir.
Of the wise-women, of swan-wives, of kings shut up in hills we

Online LibraryJacob GrimmTeutonic mythology (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 45)