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So the horse of the wind and the horse of death may be two religious conceptions of different origin; they could not help becoming inseparably commingled with each other in the course of later development, if the German peasant [58] now-a-days throws some straws of hay or some flowers into the air as food for the wind 133), he intends to appease the dangerous storm-demon; if the Swedish peasant on the other hand leaves somc cornstalks for the horse of Othin he only intends to secure a good harvest for the next year. These practices are absolutely different. The contamination of unrelated religious spheres may be shown by another example relating to the mythical conceptions of the horse. Its importance in rites of vegetation is well-known, it may suffice to mention the asvamedha of the Indians, the ritual of the October-horse with the Romans and the curious Norwegian cult of Völsi, I dare not follow F. R. SchrOder in his conclusion 134) that Othin's horse Sleipnir has been at the same time a deathhorse and a vegetation-spirit, but that in later times these two conceptions have melted into one is shown by the curious custom in Norway which Storaker mentions: in Telemarken on Yule-eve a cake is baked which was called “Helhesten” (the hell-horse) and it was eaten on Candlemas Day. So it may be tempting to consider the custom of the last sheaf for Othin's horse as a typical form of a vegetation rite, none the less this seems open to serious doubt, when we consider the custom which is found in Halland: the last sheaf which is left standing on the field is given as fodder for the hests of the Lusselärs-family. Here the peasant tries to appease the army of ghosts which, in the same district of Sweden, is called not only by the name of Lusse-fär 135) but also of Hoajakten (the hunt of Othin or of a chthonic spirit) 136). It is quite obvious that a modern peasant who has only the wish to avert the evils of malicious beings, the number of which has been sadly increased after Christianisation, may very easily confuse different practices into one. [59]

16. Othin as a god of fertility

After such reflections we shall be rather sceptical as to the possibility of answering the question whether the Swedish harvest-custom has anything to do with an original conception of Othin as a god of fertility. The student of the religion of the Teutons will not expect any light from this modern custom which is limited to a small part of the Germanic peoples; on the other hand the student of modern agricultural rites can only explain the Othin of Swedish folklore as a god of fertility, if he is able to find reliable evidence in the historical monuments of the heathen period.

In his interesting paper on “Julkärve och Odinskult” the Swedish folklorist Hilding Celander 137) has tried to collect some material which might point in this direction. The most important fact, in my opinion, the temporary disappearing of Óðr or Othin, has been left out of the discussion and the facts he himself adduces are far from convincing. So the belief that Othin during Yule-tide visits the earth does not prove at all that he does so in his character of a vegetation god. At the heathen Yule-sacrifice, the first cup was proffered to Othin ; this certainly proves the close connection of Othin and the feast of the dead, but in no way any relation between him and the blessings of fertility: this cup, as is stated expressly by Snorri should be drunk 'till sigrs ok ríkis konungi sinum” and not “til árs ok friðar"; for this was the special domain of Njord and Freyr in whose names the two following cups were drunk.

Celander tries to gather new evidence from modern popular lore when he reminds us of the Swedish belief that Othin was the giver of wealth. How could a god who gave wealth to the peasants of Värend have done it in heathen times but by bestowing abundant harvest and cattle? The answer upon this question of Celander, however, lies already in the words he himself quotes from his [6o] source, the well-known book of Hyltén-Cavallius “Värend och Virdarna”: Othin was “den landskunnige runokarlen och afguden”. The popular tradition does not mention cattle and harvest, but on the contrary riches and money 138); if people thought that it was Othin who could procure them it certainly was as god of the runes and of all magic practices, not as a divinity of vegetation.

No, conclusive proofs for a belief that Othin was a god who bestowed the blessings of fertility are to be found neither in modern folklore, nor in the Old-Norse traditions. Even a place-name Odinsakr of which a few instances are found in Norway and Sweden does not prove much for the conception of Othin as a god of fertility, although the word akr of course has a strictly agrarian meaning. Magnus Olsen 139) makes it very probable that these names belong to the latest layer of akr-names; if, however, he brings this into connection with the late arrival of the Othin—cult in Norway, I do not consider it to be the only way of explaining this singular fact, for the rather late development of Othin into a vegetationgod might just as well account for it. So we are only justified in saying that such a belief is possible, because a god of the dead is very often thought to possess the power of fertility and because there exists a rather obscure myth of his disappearance during a part of the year, which might be interpreted in this way.

17. Othin in modern Scandinavian tradition

Finally, does the custom which I have been discussing in this paper prove by its being limited to some regions of Denmark and Sweden, that Othin had been more venerated there than elsewhere in the Scandinavian countries? The study of place-names and the literary traditions agree in giving indications for the spread of the cult of Othin [61] from the Eastern parts of Scandinavia Westwards. To account for the fact by the theory about the Herulian people who had introduced the runic art and the cult of Othin, as Celander proposes to do, is a baseless hypothesis. There are so many reasons possible for the explanation of this curious fact. If we take into consideration that this harvest custom is found in such parts of Scandinavia, where from time immemorial the tilling of the soil was the chief means of subsistence, we may conclude that a people of peasants very naturally ascribes to its most important god the blessings of fertility. While in Norway and Iceland, Othin was lifted up to the chief god of an aristocratic society, who became the protector of warriors and poets, in other parts of the North, where the bulk of the nation consisted of peasants, he became a god appropriate for the needs of an agricultural society. The harvest customs connected with Othin are found in those parts of Sweden which belonged formerly to Denmark; so they are most probably of Danish origin. Here too we find in the cult-centre of Odense the proof for his great importance. This makes it probable that he even won a place in the harvest customs of this people.

The conception of Othin as the Wild Huntsman (or more exactly: the identification of the Wild Huntsman with Othin) prevails in the Western parts of Denmark; would it be by mere chance that this characteristic of Othin is bound to the barren heaths of Jutland, while in the fertile Danish islands his relation to the rites of vegetation has become predominant 140)?

Still we should not press the argument. In Sweden also the heathen god has been debased into the leader of the army of ghosts: he is said to have resided on a large farm in the neighbourhood of Röstanga and it was as a punishment for his sins that this farm was sunk on the very spot where we now find Odensjö, "the Lake of Othin" 141). [62] Here clearly the name of this place has kept alive the remembrance of the god.

But in several popular traditions his name has been handed down in the course of ages, especially in such a semi-literary character. In the popular ballad "Stolt Herr Alf" st. 8 we read the line "hielp nu Oden Asagrim" 142). It is probably of more importance that Othin is mentioned in a couple of charms. Well known are the Swedish variants of the so-called charm of Merseburg of which a form current in Småland begins with the line "Oden rider öfver sten och bärg", another one from the same district with the opening line "Oden star på berget" 143). But we find quite the same in other charms as well; so an incantation against thieves runs as follows 144):

Jag manar dig väder i vård

Jag manar dig jord i vård

Jag manar dig Oden of Adersgård

att du tar mina håfvor tillbaka a.s.o.

If we take then into consideration the rather numerous instances of popular belief about Othin, which Hyltén-Cavallius has collected, we get the impression that the people down to modern days have known Othin as the great magician, a mighty "runokarl", whose demoniac character was quite familiar to them. So, when we find his name connected with agrarian customs in this part of Scandinavia, it may be of rather late origin and need not at any rate go back at all to a heathen period, when this god might have been an important divinity in rural life 145).

18. Conclusion

It has for a long time been a favourite method in the study of the old Teutonic religion to complement the scanty information of the extant literary monuments by the popular [63] traditions of modern times. The purpose of this paper is to show the danger of such a method. Folklore gives us valuable material in as much we may learn from it how complicated modern conceptions are; in fact they contain at the same time relics of the highest antiquity and elements of much more recent origin. Here the drags of all bygone ages are massed together but at the same time these elements are constantly shifting their form and character. If we find a name which reminds us of the heathen religion it may still be that it is a name without any content. A custom which now seems to be exclusively agrarian may have originated in quite another sphere of religious rites. When we possess an accurate knowledge of the origin of a modern popular tradition we may trace the line of development downwards, but to seek from modern folklore the way to a source which is only superficially known to us, seems to me a fruitless task. The clue of the problems of the heathen Teutonic religion is to be found almost exclusively in the ancient literary monuments and we may expect only in a very few cases that the light which modern folklore throws upon the past, is something better than a will-o'-the-wisp.

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