View Full Version : Lesson Ten: Thunor

July 31st, 2008, 12:45 PM
Used by permission of Eric Wodening:

An argument can be made that Žórr was the most popular god among Viking Age Scandinavians. Norway alone boasts around thirty places that were named for Žórr. There is a gooddeal of archaeological evidence for the worship of Žórr, from carvings that may depict the thunder god to the Žórr's hammer amulets found everywhere from Scandinavia to the Danelaw. It is notable that Žórr appears in more Norse and Icelandic myths than any god save perhaps Óšinn.

Although there is much less literary evidence regarding Žunor in Old English sources than in Old Norse and Icelandic literature, from all appearances he was a very popular god in Anglo-Saxon England. In fact, he appears to have been the most popular god among the Saxons and Jutes. In all there were around twelve places in Anglo-Saxon England named for Žunor, more than any other god save Wóden, and the most of any god in the Saxon and Jutish kingdoms. Thundersley in Essex stems from Old English Žunres léah, "Žunor's grove." Thunderfield in Surrey comes from Old English Žunres feld, "Žunor's field," which was also the name of a place in Wiltshire in the Anglo-Saxon period. Žunres hlęw, "Žunor's mound" or "Žunor's barrow" was the name of a place in Kent. Judging by place name evidence Žunor was the major Anglo-Saxon Heathen god besides Wóden. Archaeological evidence for the worship of Žunor in Anglo-Saxon England exists as well. Just as the Scandinavians of the Viking Age wore Žórr's hammer pendants, so too does it appear that the Saxons and Jutes wore them. Amulets in the shape of hammers were found in a Jutish cemetary in Gilton, Kent. Of course, as in the rest of the Germanic world, the fifth day of the week was named for Žunor--in Old English, Žunresdęg.

The importance of Žunor may be reflected in an Old Saxon Christian baptism vow from the Continent from the 9th century CE. It is as follows:

end ec forsacho allum dioboles
uuwercum and uuordum, Žunęr ende
UUoden ende Saxnote ende allum
them unholdum the hira genotas
I foresake all the devil's
works and words, Žunęr and
Woden and Saxnot, and all
the demons who their companions

The very fact that Žunor is included in the vow shows his importance among the Old Saxons. The fact that he is listed first may show the Old Saxons regarded him as more important than Wóden himself. If Žunor was regarded so important among the Old Saxons, we may well expect him to be similarly important to their cousins in Great Britain.

Žunor is probably best known as the god of thunder. Indeed, the name Žunor literally means "thunder." In fact, our modern word thunder comes from his name, used as a proper noun. As if his name was not proof enough, further proof that Žunor is the thunder god can be seen in that the ancient Germanic peoples identified him with the Roman god Jupiter, who also governed thunder, lightning, and the storm. The Germanic peolpes borrowed the seven day week from the Roman. The day that the Romans called dies Jovis, "Jupiter's Day," the Germanic peoples renamed "Žunor's Day," identifying Žunor with Jupiter. In Old English glosses, Žunor is often used to gloss Jupiter. As if his name and the identification with the Roman god Jupiter was not enough, Adam of Bremen in in the Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum states that the Swedes at Uppsala believed that Žórr governed the air which held sway over thunder and lightning, winds, clouds, fair weather, and harvests.

Old Norse and Icelandic sources paint a colourful picture of Žórr as a huge, red bearded god armed with a hammer. No sources in Old English explicitly state that Žunor was considered to wield a hammer although we do have circumstantial evidence. As mentioned earlier, hammer pendants have been found in 6th century graves in Gilton, Kent. This would seem to reflect the Old Norse speakers and Icelanders' wearing of hammer amulets late in the Viking Age. Given the strong link between Žórr and the hammer among Old Norse speakers, it seems likely that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes also regarded Žunor as linked to the hammer.

More proof that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes may have regarded Žunor as wielding some sort of weapon may be seen in a line in The Dialogue of Salomon and Saturn in which Žunor is said to strike the Devil with a fiery axe (...se Žunor hit žryseš žęre fyrenan ęcxe). Given the overall Christian tone of the work, this could be a reference to the Christian god striking the Devil with lightning (thunder and the "fiery axe"). That having been said, this could also likely be a reference to Žunor being thought of as wielding a fiery axe. As to striking the Devil, it must be kept in mind Žórr was regarded as the enemy of ettins and thurses among the Old Norse speakers and Icelanders. For many newly converted Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the Christian Devil may have been just another ettin.

As to the reference being to an axe rather than a hammer, it must be kept in mind that in the Stone Age and even into the early Bronze age, the two tools would have been nearly indistinguishable. Indeed, it must be pointed out that axe amulets have been found in graves from the Viking Age and even earlier. Similarly, Bronze Age carvings have been found featuring a figure wielding both an axe and a hammer. It seems likely that the axe was identified with the hammer and vice versa, and this indentification persisted even in later centuries.

Old Norse and Icelandic sources also give us a picture of Žórr riding across the sky in a wain drawn by two goats, hence the sound of thunder. References to Žórr's wain and his goats is common in Old Norse and Icelandic sources are fairly common, a notable one being in the tale of Žórr's trip to see Śšgšaloki told in the Prose Edda. It seems very likely that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes saw Žunor as driving a wain across the sky. An Old English term for "thunder" was žunorrįd, literally "thunder ride" or "thunder travelling." This is reflected in the Old Icelandic terms reišaržruma ("noise of the ride") and reišarduna (the same), and simply reiš (most often in the plural, simply "ride") for "thunder." It also brings to mind the images of Žórr driving his wain across the sky found in Old Norse and Icelandic sources.

While we can say that the Angles and Saxons thought of Žunor as driving a wain, we can't say that they thought of it as being driven by goats. There is no literary evidence in Old English sources indicating such. That having been said, it is certainly possible. A grave on the threshhold of the Great Hall at Yeavering contained a metal staff which ended in what is thought to be a stylised goat's head. The staff is thought to have belong to a weofodžegn. The remains of a goat's skull were discovered at the foot the grave. It is possible that the heathen Angles then regarded the goat as a holy animal. If this was the case, the animal might have been regarded as a sacred animal and holy to Žunor. If so, they may have regarded goats as pulling his wain.

As mentioned earlier, in Old Norse and Icelandic sources Žórr was the enemy of ettins and thurses. In fact, he was regarded as the defender of both gods and men. Among the kennings for Žórr listed in Skįldskaparmįl is verjandi Asgaršs, Mišgaršs, "defender of Asgard and Midgard." Indeed, Žórr is regarded as the enemy of the gigantic serpent which surrounded Midgard or, in Old Norse, Mišgaršsormr. He was also called Jörmungandr. Hymiskviša tells of a "fishing trip" in which Žórr caught the serpent. The poem can be interpreted so that Žórr slew Jörmungandr. Confirming this is a work by Ślf Uggason which describes a pictoral panel of an Icelandic house which shows Žórr striking off the serpent's head. Indeed, in Hymiskviša, Žórr is called ormseinbani, "the sole slayer of the serpent." Despite this, Ragnarsdrapa by Bragi, describing a picture on a shield, claims the serpent survived the battle. Snorri in the Prose Edda claims the same.
Regardless, there seems to be no literary evidence of a battle between Žunor and the Midgard Serpent in Old English sources. The serpent is a popular theme in Anglo-Saxon jewellery. It is found on brooches and in the form of cloak clasps. Indeed, the famous belt buckle from Sutton Hoo has a serpent design. Kentish sceats from 680 to 710 CE depict an encircling serpent. Unfortunately, it cannot be said whether any of these depict the Midgard Serpent or simply serpents in general. A cross shaft from a church in Eat Merton from 950 CE depicts a human figure fighting a serpent, but given the time and place this could easily be due to Danish influence. Ultimately, it only remains an intriguiging possibility that Angles, Saxons, and Jutes believed Žunor fought the Midgard Serpent.

Of course, in Old Norse and Icelandic sources, Žórr was the enemy of ettins and thurses. Among the kennings for Žórr in Skįldskarparmįl is bani jótna ok trollkvinna ("slayer of ettins and trollwives"). From the number of them related in the Eddas and elsewhere, Žórr's battles with various ettins were among the most popular myths among Viking Age Scandinavians and Icelanders. The skaldic poem Haustlong refers to Žórr's battles with the ettins Geirroš and Hrungnir. In the Prose Edda Snorri also related Žórr's fight with Hrungnir. The Eddic poem Žrymskviša tells of the theft of Žórr's hammer by the thyrse Žrym and how Žórr got it back. Sadly, Old English literature records none of Žunor's battles with thurses, although it seems likely that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes also believed Žunor was their enemy. As mentioned earlier, The Dialogue of Salomon and Saturn states that Žunor strikes the Devil with a fiery axe. For the newly converted Angles and Saxons, the Devil may hve been just another ettin. In fact, the Old English word žyrs was apparently used of Christian demons. One of the Old English glosses translates žyrs as "heldióbul ('Hell devil')" and Latin "Orcus (the Roman god of the Underworld, often regarded as a devil in the Middle Ages)." Even after the Conversion, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes could have regarded Žunor as the enemy of demons.

As protector of the gods and men, the Old Norse speakers also regarded Žórr as the champion of heathendom against the encroaching Christianity. This may explain the preponderance of hammer amulets late in the Viking Age. Both Kristni Saga and Njals Saga tell how the female skald Steinunn opposed the German missionary Thangbrand in Iceland in the 10th century CE. When Thangbrand's ship was dashed upon a rock, Steinunn pronounced that Žórr, slayer of the son of the etitinwife, had wrecked the priest's ship and Jesus had not protected it. Njals Saga adds the detail that Steinunn also confronted Thangbrand and told him that Žórr had challenged Jesus to a duel and Jesus had dared not fight the Thunder God. Thangbrand claimed he had heard that Žórr would be nothing more than ashes and dust. Thangbrand eventually caused the death of a berserkr and was outlawed, thus being forced to return to Norway.

It seems likely that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes also viewed Žunor as the champion of heathendom as Christianity encroached. The entry for 640 CE in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that the sons of Ermenred, son of King Eadbald of Kent, were martyred by Žunor. Ermenred's brother, Erocenberht was a particularly vicious opponent of heathendom, destroying the idols in Kent. From the entry it would seem likely that the sons of Ermenred were believed to have been killed by the god himself, although it is also possible that they were slain by followers of the god. Later sources blame the deaths of Ermenred's sons on a wicked counsellor named Thunor, but this seems highly unlikely. Mortal men were never named for gods, so we can safely assume that the wicked man Thunor was an invention of later chroniclers to explain what had happened, perhaps forgetting the early Kentishmen worshipped a god called "Žunor." Regardless, the deaths of Ermenred's sons by Thunor or even Thunor's followers show that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes may have regarded Žunor as the protector of heathendom.

In Old Norse and Icelandic sources Žórr was also closely associated with the act of hallowing, of making things holy. In the Prose Edda Snorri states that Žórr hallowed Baldr's funeral pyre with Mjollnir (his hammer). In Žrymskviša, in which Žórr dresses as Freyja (whose hand in marriage Žrym had demanded in return for the hammer), at the bridal feast the hammer is placed in the "bride's" lap to hallow the "bride." In Snorri's tale of Žórr's trip to Śtgaršr, Žórr must slay his goats to feed his servants. He resurrects them by hallowing them with the hammer.

Žórr's link to hallowing is confirmed by archaeological evidence. An inscription on a memorial stone from Glavendrup in Fyn, Denmark dating around 900-925 CE reads žur viki žasi runar ("may Žórr hallow these runes"). A tenth century memorial stone from Vining in Denmark reads žur viki žisi kuml ("may Žórr hallow this memorial stone"). Often stones, such as one found in Lęborg in Jutland, will simply read žur viki ("May Žórr hallow").

Unfortunately, literary sources in Old English record no link between Žunor and hallowing. Nor does archaeological evidence provide with anything more. Still, it seems possible that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes viewed Žunor as a god of hallowing. It is possible that heathen on the Continent did. A seventh century clasp from Nordendorf in Bavaria bears an inscription, among which are the words Logažore, Wodan, Wigižonar. Wodan is easily recognisable as the god called Wóden in Old English and Óšinn in Old Norse. Logažore is a bit of a mystery. Wigižonar may be a reference to Žunor. The form wigižonar resembles the runic formula found on Scandinavian memorial stones žur viki ("may Žórr hallow"). There have been those who have interpreted wigi as the second singular form of the a word which in Gothic is the verb weihan and in Old High German wķhen, both cognates of Old Norse vigja and all three meaning "to hallow". If this is the case, the Germanic peoples of the Continent may have viewed Žunor as a god of hallowing, making it possible that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes did so as well. Unfortunately, wigižonar is also open to other interpretations, so we can be by no means certain.

As the god of hallowing, the Old Norse speakers and Icelanders associated Žórr with the taking of oaths. Eyrbyggja Saga describes a temple to Žórr in which there was a ring upon which oaths were sworn. Such oath rings also appear elsewhere in the Icleandic sagas and even other sources. The Irish Annals of the Four Masters records how the Irish king Maelseachalainn stole from the Vikings of Dublin the ring of Tomar (an Irish version of the name Žórr). From Anglo-Saxon history we know in 876 that Viking invaders swore on a holy ring to King Ęlfręd that they would leave England (they broke that oath that very same night). Žórr's status as a god of oaths can also be seen in the fact that the 11th century Russian chronicler Nestor records that the Scandinavians in Kiev ratified a treaty with the Byzantines by swearing an oath on their weapons to Perun. By Perun, the Slavic god of thunder, Nestor probably meant Žórr, the two gods having so much in common that Nestor could easily identify the two.

Unfortunately, there is no literary evidence that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes associated oaths with Žunor. The archaeological record gives us no evidence of such either. Here it must be stressed that a lack of evidence does not prove that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes did not associate Žunor with oaths. It simply means that we cannot say anything either way.
As mentioned earlier, according to Adam of Bremen the Swedes offered sacrifices to Žórr for good harvests. This is perhaps natural. as the god of thunder who brings the rain, Žórr has a direct impact on the fertility of the land. This is borne out by place name evidence. The name Žórsakr ("Žórr's field") appears occasionally, more often in eastern Sweden. The name Žórsvin ("Žórr's meadow" or "Žórr's pasture") is also found in Scandinavia. Both names show that Žórr was thought of as a god who brings fertility to crops by early Scandinavians.

The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes also quite apparently viewed Žunor as a god of fertlity. The name Žunresfeld ("Žunor's field") is found in Anglo-Saxon England, showing that they thought of Žunor as one who brings fertility to crops.

Of course, in both Scandinavia and England more places were named for Žunor than simply fields and pastures. In Scandinavia there were places named Žórslundr ("Žórr's grove"), perhaps again reflecting his status as a fertility god. There were also names such as Žórsberg ("Žórr's rock"), Žórsįss ("Žórr's ridge"), Žórshaugr ("Žórr's mound"), and Žórshörgr ("Žórr's mound" or "Žórr's holy place"). It must be noted that all of these places are ones that are frequently struck by lightning during storms, so they might have been regarded as holy to the god. Trees (as in groves--which Tacitus tells us the Germanic peoples used for worship anyhow) and high places (mounds, rocks, ridges) tend to be struck by lightning more often than other places.

Similar names were found in Anglo-Saxon England, showing similar beliefs. There were places named Žunresleah ("Žunor's grove"), again perhaps reflecting Žunor's status as a god of fertility, and Žunreshlęw ("Žunor's mound"). Curiously, places named for Žunor are entirely found in the Saxon and Jutish kingdoms of England. There are none in the Anglian areas. It can only be assumed that Žunor was not as important a god for the Angles as he was for the Saxons and Jutes.

Sadly, we can say very little definitive about how the Angles, Saxons and Jutes viewed Žunor. We can treat as a fact that they viewed him as the god of thunder. We can be very certain that they regarded him as wielding a hammer or axe and driving a wain. We can have no real doubt that he was regarded as a bringer of fertility and we can also be fairly certain that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes regarded him as the champion of heathendom and may have regarded him as the enemy of thurses and ettins as well. We can only guess that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes regarded Žunor as a god of hallowing. Sadly, we have only the evidence from Old Norse to show the role Žunor may have played in oaths among the Germanic peoples. While there are very few literary references to Žunor in Old English and only scattered evidence regarding him, we can also be sure that he was a very important god in Anglo-Saxon England

August 5th, 2008, 10:47 AM
Cool! My favourite god! And on a Thursday, too.

August 6th, 2008, 09:20 AM
LOL! Thunor is one of my favorites too. Anyone that has experinced a Midwest thunderstorm knows his power!

August 6th, 2008, 10:51 AM
or the heat lightning in the Rocky Mountains...

August 25th, 2008, 09:40 AM
Thunor is my favourite, as well. He's the one I've most diligently researched and most actively offer to.