Ritual Usage of the Hammer


One of the most common tools in Asatru and Germanic / Scandinavian Heathenry is the hammer. The hammer has become an important symbol to Asatru and Heathenry for it is the physical and symbolic representation of Mjöllnir, the very same hammer that Thor uses to not only defend Asgard and Midgard but to hallow as seen in Ţrymskviđa for the hallowing of the bride as well in Gylfaginning 44-45 with the blessing of the goats and the consecration of Baldr 's pyre in Gylfaginning 49. These passages show that Mjöllnir was more then just a weapon but a holy tool as well.

We first see Mjolnir in the story told by Snorri on how the Dwarves Sindri and Brokk created three treasures in a competition with the Dwarf

"Then he took from the forge a hammer, then handed over all the precious things to his brother Brokk and told him to take to Asgard and fulfil the wager. And when he and Loki produced the precious things, the Ćsir took their places on their judgement seats and the decision uttered by Odin, Thor, Freyr was to be final. But there was a defect in it that the end of the handle was rather short.

.....

Then he gave Thor the hammer and said would be able to strike as heavily as he liked, whatever the target, and the hammer would not fail, and if he threw it at something , it would never miss, and never fly so far that it would not find its way back to his hand, and if he liked, it was so small that it could be kept inside his shirt." - Edda - Snorri Sturluson

According to Saxo in Gesta Danorum III the handle was broken off in a battle. And in Snorri's Skaldskaparmal he writes of how Mjöllnir produces thunder and lightening when it is thrown and returns like a boomerang to Thor's hand. Snorri writes in the Gylfaginning that Thor needs iron gauntlets in order to hold the hammer.

Mjöllnir has a dual use; it is used as a weapon and for consecration. Bronze age rock carvings of an axe or hammer bearing god like figures shows the role the hammer played as a consecratory instrument early on, which is connected with the shift of Thor from a war like god to a fertility god.

Also from the Bronze Age rock carvings Mjöllnir plays a role in the blessing of marriages and in Ţrymskvida Mjöllnir is used to consecrate the marriage. The Medieval German poem called Marienleich by Frauenlob with verses from Muskatplüt also demostrates the use of the hammer in the consecration of a marriage.

Another power of Mjöllnir is it is able to restore life to Thor's goats Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir as mentioned in Snorri's Gylfaginning.

"During the evening Thor took his goats and slaughtered them both. After this they were skinned and pit in the pot. When it was cooked Thor sat down to his evening meal, he and his campanion. Thor invited the peasant and his wife and their children to share the meal with him. The farmer's son was called Thialfi, his daughter Roskva. Then Thor place the goatskins on the other side of the fire and instructed the peasant and his household to throw the bones on to the goatskins. Thialfi, the peasant's son, took hold of the goat's ham-bone and split it open with his knife and broke it to get at the marrow. Thor stayed the night there, and in the small hours before dawnhe got up and dressed, took the hammer Mjöllnir and raised it and blessed the goatskins. Then the goats got up and one of them was lame in the hind leg." - Edda - Snorri Sturluson

There are Viking Age runes on ten Danish and Swedish rune stones, which either bear the formula of "May Thor bless these runes" or simply have just an image of the hammer.

It is also during the Viking Age where Mjöllnir is used as a symbol of non-Christian Scandinavians, which is support with the above mentioned rune stones, as a sign of opposition to Christianity. This is further supported with the discovery of numerous silver amulet-hammers and late Viking Age casting moulds.

* The hammers referred to can be seen in the book titled The Vikings by Graham-Cambell and D. Kidd *

There is a find of smaller amulets that represent long handled hammers, which may be Thor 's hammers. These hammers were found by Fausset in graves of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Gilton, Kent.

Another account is from Saxo, who wrote that large models of the hammer were kept in the temple of Thor in Sweden, and that in 1125 the models were taken by Magnus Nilsson.

“He took care to bring home certain hammers of unusual weight, which they call Jupiter 's, used by the island men in their antique faith. For the men of old, desiring to comprehend the causes of thunder and lightening by means of the similitude of things, took hammers great and massy of bronze, with which they believed the crashing of the sky might be made, thinking that great and violent noise might very well be imitated by the smith 's toil, as it were. But Magnus, in his zeal for Christian teaching and dislike to Paganism, determined to spoil the temple of its equipment, and Jupiter of his tokens in the place of his sanctity. And even now the Swedes consider him guilty of sacrilege and a robber of spoil belonging to the god.” – Gesta Danorum, XIII (Elton 's Translation)

The hammer weapon is similar to the double axe of antiquity, which is also represented by a thunderbolt as was shown in various various forms temples through out the ancient world. Looking at Donar, who is considered to resemble Hercules, part of the resemblance is in part to the weapon and quests. These similarities were accepted by the Romans, as is shown from inscriptions to Hercules from the Roman Period, raised by German soldiers in Western Europe. Tacitus wrote how Germans soldiers would praise Hercules as they went into battle, and they believed he had visited them.

Saxo tells us that Hotherus hewed off the shaft of the hammer during battle when he put the gods to flight. The idea of the short handle is support with Danish amulets with short handles and a ring through each handle. Ideally when throwing a hammer through the air a short handle is better and using a ring at the end of the handle would make the throw more effective. There is an image of a hammer with a short handle and a loop at the end of the handle depicted on the Stenqvista, where it is used as a sign of Thor 's protection over the grave.

The Lappish shamans also have an object like a hammer or double axe etched upon the magical symbols on their drums. These drums were used in religious ceremonies before the onset of Christianity. Even the instrument used to strike the drum resembled a hammer. This ties in with the hammers in Thor 's temple which imitate the noise of thunder. The Lappish god of thunder is Horagalles, and is thought to be derived from Ţórr karl, meaning old man Thor. Sometimes an image of a male figure with a hammer like object in either hand is shown.

The swastika is a sign found in many regions of the world and known from remote antiquity. It was very popular amount the pre-Christian Germans and was associated with fire. There may be some connection between it and the sun-wheel, well known in the Bronze Age, or may have came from the use of the hammer or axe to represent thunder, which often was accompanied by fire.

Thor, sender of lightening and God who dealt out sunshine and rain to men, seems likely that both the swastika and hammer sign are connected to him.

The Anglo-Saxon god of thunder is Ţunor, which there are many Anglo-Saxon graves from pre-Christian times have the swastika and in particular it is very prominent on cremation urns from East Anglia. Both the swastika and hammer symbol are found on stones bearing early runic inscriptions in Norway and Sweden, some of these stones call on Thor to protect the place of burial.

The Iceland Thor statuette of Thor sitting with Mjöllnir has been called in to question numerous times to whether this actually represents Thor, as the shape of the symbol (Mjöllnir) differs too drastically from the shape of other Thor's hammers.

Mjöllnir's counterpart is the whetstone used by Hrungnir as told by Snorri in the Skaldskaparmal, but also going outside of the Germanic areas:

- Sucellos the Gallic hammer-god - Dagda of the Irish - Perkunos of the Slavs - Indra of the Indians.

The concept of Mjöllnir goes back to Indo-Germanic concepts.

All etymology of Mjöllnir from Proto Norse melluniaR is controversial. It could be realted to mlunuji in Old Slavic, molnija (lightening) in Russian or early forms of Russian as the one who make lightening. From Old Norse word mjoll, which means new snow, in Icelandic mjalli which means white colour, and as such would give the meaning of the "shinning lightening weapon". Earler scholars related the world to the Gothic word malwjan and the Old Norse word mala (to grind) and therefore interpreted it as "the grinder".

In most art Thor is depicted along with Mjöllnir which varies between hammer like version of Hercules' club according to Fogelberg, an oversized sledge hammer according in Dollman. Winge's commentary on artwork of Mjöllnir is an attempt to make a reconsturction of the weapon from archaeological finds of the little amulet hammer.

Today the symbolism of Mjöllnir is still used as it was in the Viking Age. The variety of hammer styles range from sledge hammer type to the anchor type. It is the anchor type that I believe to be closer to representing Mjolnir as the sledge hammer variety became more popular with the onset of Christianity in Scandinavia. This is supported by the dualality of the Christian hammers where the head is slid down the hammer's shaft as opposed to being at the end as one would expect it to be.

Thor has a role in the home being a patron of marriage and his wife Sif representing relationship-by-marriage as his hammer blesses every bride with fertility.

The Ćsir proclaimed that Mjöllnir is the greatest treasure which they possess, for it ensured the defense of Asgard from the Jotuns, whom would wish to see Asgard destroyed.

The hammer is also raised to hallow the new-born child who has been accepted into the community, and used at funerals to hallow the pyre or mound. As was shown in Thor 's hallowing of Baldr 's pyre before it was set alight.

Like the Christian sign of the cross the sign of the hammer is used for protection and a blessing. As is shown by Hakon the Good after converting to Christianity, after being pressured into attending the autumn sacrifices, to protect himself from the heathen rites Hakon made the sign of the cross over the cup that was passed round in honour of the gods. When those attending objected, one of Hakon 's friends defended him saying:

“The King acts like all those who trust in their strength and might. He made the mark of the hammer over it before he drank.” – Heimskringla, Hákonar Saga Góđa

It would seem the power of the thunder god symbolized by his hammer, extended over all that had to do with well-being of the whole community, covering birth, marriage, and death, as well as burial, cremations ceremonies, weapons and feasting, traveling, land-taking, and the making of oaths between men.

The hammer was not only the symbol of destructive power like a storm, fire from the heavens, but the protection from evil and violence. Without the hammer Asgard would have fallen to the Jotuns, and men who relied on it to give security and support to the rule of law would not have been able to do so.

Extract taken from Ursula Dronke 's Myth and Fiction in Early Norse Lands:

Eddic poetry as a source for the history of Germanic religion

Ţórr as world pillar

Ţórr doubles the divine role of Heimdallr in several respects, and their differences within their common fields reveal the multiplicity of strands that made the Germanic religion.

Like Heimdallr, Ţórr has a role within the home. He has no genetic bond with men, but he is a patron of marriage: his wife is personified Sif, 'Relationship‑by‑marriage', and his hammer blesses every bride with fertility. To him are dedicated the high seat pillars that sustain the house, for they symbolize the pillar that sustains the world, and Ţórr is that pillar. 81 As the fragment of a lost Eddic poem records 82, Ţórr can magnify his divine strength, his ásmegin,

jafnhátt upp sem himinnup as high as heaven.

This is a boast and a threat that Ţórr utters in the first heroic adventure of his youth, when he strides his way through all the menaces of the giant world to win his hammer. It is a symbolic adventure ‑ as Clunies Ross pointedly argues 83 ‑ in which the young Ţórr frees himself from the chthonic world of his infancy ‑ his mother is the giantess Jörd ‑ and acquires the one weapon that will keep that world under control. His bond with exogamy Sif ‑ signifies his complete freeing from incestuous ties. He becomes the guardian of order, the 'shrine‑defender of Miđgarđr', miđgarđs véurr, as the poet of Völuspá calls him. This remarkable myth of Ţórr most fully told in the scaldic Ţórsdrápa by Hákon Jarl's Icelandic poet Eilíft, 84 reveals a religion contending with the socially destructive elements within itself ‑ ergi and incest. It is notable that in Rigsfiula the exogamy of Ţraell, Karl and Jarl is startlingly underlined, as each bride emerges from an outer world, beyond the three homes, that we had not thought existed.

The mythic adventure of the god, with its reflection of a primitive stage of Norse society, is made by Eilífr into a political fable of contemporary significance: Hákon Jarl has the role of Ţórr lifting from danger his faithful human follower Ţjálfi ‑ the people of Norway ‑ by growing in strength like a pillar ‑ himinsjóli ‑ touching the heavens. 85 We may perhaps wonder 'whether Eilífr also intended to represent Hákon as saving Norway not only from the giant threat of political foes, but from the effeminacies ‑ the ergi ‑ of the Christian religion as well, whose clerics in skirts lćrđir menn he would not allow to land on his shores 86.

Ţórr's hammer ‑ his mature strength and his maleness now defends gods and men. Eddic praise-­verses to Ţórr read like protective prayers, recalling Ţórr's violent victories over giant foes: 'You smashed ... you hammered ... you flung down ... you trod upon … ' 87 For this champion of fighting masculinity a very archaic myth has been adapted ‑ to tease him. In Ţrymskviđa Ţórr is obliged to dress as a bride ‑ pretending to be Freyja ‑ to get back his hammer from the giants. He wails in protest (st. 17)

Mik munu Ćsir
argan kalla ...
The Ćsir will call me
effeminate ...

‑ but only by 'losing' his masculinity in this ordeal can he 'gain' it ‑ that is, recover his hammer again. Thematically this Eddic poem is a perfect companion piece to the Ţórsdrápa but in a wholly different mode.

The myth underlying Ţrymskviđa may be seen in its oldest form ‑ as Dumézil pointed out 88 ‑ in the Mahābhārata and the Bhāgavata‑Purāna There the demons have stolen the sacred drink of the gods ‑ their drink of immortality ‑ and cry out for the goddess of beauty, Lakshmī as well.

Vishnu takes upon him a beautiful female form and goes (like Ţórr, with a companion) to the demons. Enamoured, the demons bring him the drink. Vishnu throws off his disguise and with his discus slaughters them. Dumézil notes that in the Indian texts there is not 'la moindre note comique; la scčne sera au contraire d'une gravité un peu triste'. Despite this temperamental difference, the material of the Norse and the Indian myths is clearly related. The Indian ideal of a magical elixir as the guard of life has been displaced by a symbol of a more specific personal and social significance, that of the divine defensive hammer. By a rational neatness in the Germanic version of the myth the preservative functions of the elixir and the discus have been identified.

Ţórr's strenuous task as guardian is very different from that of Heimdallr, who takes peaceful procreative care of his contented world, in which everything menacing is controlled by the god. At Ragnarök, however, Heimdallr can only warn (Völuspá sts. 27, 46); he is god of the stable perpetuity of life, without human character, and Ragnarök is outside his context. But Ţórr in his defense of humanity has grown so much at one with men, that his death at Ragnarök (as the poet of Völuspá represents it) is a human death, stumbling, grievous and desecrated (Völuspá st. 56).

Behind the Ţórr cult of the high seat pillar can be seen the outline of a cosmogonic myth different from that associated with Heimdallr as world tree. From the allusive evidence it would seem that the primordial material of life, in the form, not of a living tree, but of a piece of drift wood, was imagined as coming to a 'shore'. That shore is the 'house' of the earth. So the three Ćsir (in Völuspá st. 17) came 'to a house' (hús) and found the inert twigs, 'Ash and Embla', á landi, 'on land', 'ashore' 89. And they gave them the endowments of human life. Also Heimdallr - ­Rígr, at the start of his adventures on earth was 'following along a seashore', fór ... fram med sjóvarströndu nokkurri, when he 'came to a house (húsabar)' and began his life promoting work. The combination of drift wood and divine concern is seen in a ritual said to have been practiced by Norwegian Ţórr;worshippers coming to settle in Iceland: they threw overboard their high seat pillars and let Ţórr determine where they should come ashore 90. At that spot they would settle and build a temple. The antiquity of this custom is suggested by the comparable Greek legend of the wooden statue of Hermes, which was insistently washed towards the shore, until the fishermen who caught him in their nets built a temple to the god on the shore 91. The drifting pillar-god is the founder of new communities, and new settlers; like the Norsemen; trusted in him to guide them in his own image to terra nova overseas.

"Also from the Bronze Age rock carvings Mjöllnir plays a role in the blessing of marriages and in Ţrymskvida Mjöllnir is used to consecrate the marriage. The Medieval German poem called Marienleich by Frauenlob with verses from Muskatplüt also demostrates the use of the hammer in the consecration of a marriage." - Gods and Myths of Northern Europe - H.R. Ellis Davidson -

"Thor has a role in the home being a patron of marriage and his wife Sif representing relationship-by-marriage as his hammer blesses every bride with fertility. " - Myth and Fiction in Early Norse Lands - Ursula Dronke -

"The hammer is also raised to hallow the new-born child who has been accepted into the community, and used at funerals to hallow the pyre or mound." - Gods and Myths of Northern Europe - H.R. Ellis Davidson -

"It would seem the power of the thunder god symbolized by his hammer, extended over all that had to do with well-being of the whole community, covering birth, marriage, and death, as well as burial, cremations ceremonies, weapons and feasting, traveling, land-taking, and the making of oaths between men." - Gods and Myths of Northern Europe - H.R. Ellis Davidson -

"The combination of drift wood and divine concern is seen in a ritual said to have been practiced by Norwegian Ţórr worshippers coming to settle in Iceland: they threw overboard their high seat pillars and let Ţórr determine where they should come ashore 90. At that spot they would settle and build a temple.

...

The drifting pillar-god is the founder of new communities, and new settlers like the Norsemen trusted in him to guide them in his own image to terra nova overseas." - Myth and Fiction in Early Norse Lands - Ursula Dronke -

"The mother of Thor was said to be Earth herself, and in the earliest skaldic verse he is described in pharases meaning "son of Earth". Of his wife Sif we know little except that she had wonderful golden hair; it has been suggested that this was the sign of an ancient fertility goddess, her abundant, shining hair typifying the golden corn. There was an undoubted link between Thor as the Thunder God and the fertility of the earth, on which the lighting strikes and the rain falls, causing increase. Adam of Bremen writes of Thor as the most important of the gods, because of his power over the seasons:

'They say he rules the air which controls the thunder and the lightening, the winds and showers, the fair weather and the fruits of the earth ... Thor with a sceptre seems to represent Jove.' - History of the Bishops of Hamburg, IV, 26

It is in keeping with this link between Thor and the earth, that we find many of the first Icelandic settlers taking with them from Norway not only the high-seat pillars from Thor's temple, but also the earth from between the pillars. Moreover they were careful to hallow the land which they took for themselves in the name of the god before they built their dwellings upon it and sowed their crops." - Gods and Myths of Northern Europe - H.R. Ellis Davidson -

Sources:

81 De Vries, AR § 422. See also note 85 below.

82 SnE p. 106.

83 M. Clunies‑Ross, 'An interpretation of the myth of Ţórr's encounter with Geirrodr and his daughters' in Speculum Norroenum (op. cit. note 78 above) pp. 370‑391. For non‑anthropologists (such as myself) the importance of incest may need stressing. I cite Claude LeviStrauss, as his words seem helpful for the understanding of the myths of Ţórr:

'We know how incest prohibitions function in primitive societies. By casting sisters and daughters out of the consanguineal group, so to speak, and by assigning them to husbands who belong to other groups, the prohibition of incest creates bonds of alliance between these biological groups, the first such bonds which one can call social. The incest prohibition is thus the basis of human society: in a sense it is the society' ('The Scope of Anthropology', Inaugural Lecture, Chair of Social Anthropology, College de France, January 5th 1960, p. 32. This translation was published in London, 1967. I have not been able to obtain a copy in the original language).

84 SnE pp. 107 ‑ 10; Skjold BI pp. 139 ‑ 33. The best edition of this difficult poem is by D. Davidson (op. cit. in note 78 above) pp. 520‑680.

85 Ţorsdrapa st. 9. From the context it is evident that himinsjoli means the same as *himinsulr. I take sjoli to be an ablaut variant.

86 It is evident from Kristni Saga that the missionary clerics were often mocked as women:

Hefir born borit biskup mix ...

87 By Vetrlidi (see note 2 above).

88 G. Dumezil, Le festin d'immortalite, Paris, 1924, especially pp. 21‑23.

89 Snorri (SnE p. 16) so interprets the scene in Völuspá, no doubt correctly. See Dronke op. cit. (note 1 above) pp. 104‑5.

90 De Vries AR § 588.

91 Meuli op cit. (note 13 above p. 1069)

Additional Sources:

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe - H.R. Ellis Davidson

Dictionary of Northern Mythology - Rudolf Simek

Edda - Snorri Sturluson

Saxo Grammaticus Books I - IX - Oliver Elton Translation

Kalevala - John M. Crawford Translation

Publius Cornelius Tacitus Annals and History - Alfred J. Church and William J. Brodribb Translation

Publius Cornelius Tacitus Germania - Thomas Gordan Translation

Poetic Edda - Hollander Translation

by Noil

 


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