Where three roads meet

July 9, 2010 § 3 Comments

A Vendel era bronze plate found on Öland, Swed...

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My reason for writing this blog post

Basically because I wish to apply my open yet critical mindset to “Hólmganga” after reading The Notebooks of an Outlaw Thinker on a “Genocide of the Ulfhednar”.

GENOCIDE ULFHEDNAR: One of the ancient genotypes to pass almost entirely out of existence in this century is that of the Ulfhednar. This genocide is aided and abetted by the fact that mankind does not recognize the existence of the Ulfhednar as a valid genetic type, and it is not politically correct to speculate on the existence of types such as Ulfhednar. See genotype behavioral. The term ulfhednar is here used to describe a person who has inherited the frenzy of wodin, and the holmgang. He is further distinguished from the bersarkir by physical build. The Ulfhednar being tall and slim, the Bersarker being large and heavy. The names derive from the Eddas and mean respectively wolf coat and bearshirt.

Frenzy of Odin

Odin (Old Norse Óðinn) is a god of war, death and poetry and the protector of warriors. He was the son of the god Bor and the giantess Bestla, grandson of Buri and brother of Ve and Vili. His wisdom was perceived as endless and all-embracing. He could see the future and was a symbol for the soul of the universe. Those multiple rulerships indicate a complex archetype with multiple guises (shapeshifting).

His looking backward and forward is definitely something that can be inherited, perhaps by nurture, maybe nature, most likely both. And the temper that comes with it too. It is not just looking forward a couple of days ahead. Odin is not only lord of the logical left brain. What the classical AND contemporary western world more or less neglect ~ the path of the right brain, the truths of the shaman ~ is preserved in the Northern European god, Odin. Odin is a guide of souls to the Underworld, and ruler of crossroads and other transitional states. He is a shapeshifter, and wisdom passed on by my grandmother states that One is not to learn from the same animal for too long, or it can “fix” itself. Learn more guises.

The inspiration of a wordsmith; the altered and visionary state of the shaman; the ecstatic frenzy of the warrior: what do they have in common? Inspiration by Odin as a way of non-linear knowing, learning or communicating in non-ordinary states of consciousness, along with rational thought processes.

Odin has two ravens, Thought and Memory. Left brain and right brain. Reason and intuition. Alertness to the present moment, with full knowledge of the past. The Elder Edda states:

Thought and Memory
every day fly over the earth.
I fear for Thought,
that he may not return
Yet still more I fear
the loss of Memory.


Ulfhednar (Úlfhéðnar) folk take the wolves essence into their psyche much like the Berserker folk work with bear and Svinfylkin with boar.

The Ulfhednar in a sense, are a parallel Brotherhood to that of the Berserker, by wearing wulf skins to get the power of a wulf. Berserker and Ulfhednar may resemble one another, but are not the same. The rites were different, and the archetypes are wildly different. Ulfhednar dedicate their lives to Odin. Berserker to Thor. Ulfhednar also ate the hearts of animals to gain their nature in an additional rite. For as far as we know, those that dedicated their life to Thor and Thunder did not. They are mentioned in Vatnsdœla saga, Haraldskvæði (raven song) and the Völsungasaga, and more. Lots more. We are talking of a wide spread cultus in Europe.

Just as we find many names in Nordic families referring to “bear” and “boar”, many names referring to “wolf” still exist and are in use today, even hidden under later transformations of meaning and significance. Freca, Freki, the entire lineage of the Wölflinge, Wolfdietrich, Adolf (Atha-ulf, Aethwulf), Rudolph (Hrudolph, Hrölfr), Wolfram (Wolf connected with Hraban, Raven, both mythical companions of Odin) …

The Þorsteinssaga (one of the fornaldarsögur) mentions Gubmundr as ruler of Glaesisvellir?, a warrior paradise (Avalon?). His father also carried that name, as did all that lived there. His full name was Gubmundr Ulfhedhin (singular of Ulfhednar). Perhaps this is a transformation of Valhalla (Valhöll) and Odin?

The idea that one could learn from animals, and wolves in particular, existed for all tribes in Northern Europe. The followers of Theodorik named Wülflinge come to mind.
And the Gallehus runic posture horn ~ the original horn was stolen and melted down, but copies existed so the information wasn’t lost. It depicts twin wolf-headed warriors that obviously represent the Ulfhedhnar. One Wolf’s Head holds a club (the cultic weapon of the Odin Brotherhood) and the other an axe (the cultic weapon of the Thor brotherhood). In the center of the two figures an ancestral “shade” and below the twin-serpents can be seen. Perhaps it is important to note that many of the so-called “ghost-roads” or “hell-ways” were straight paths (ley lines in contemporary words) along which the ancestral spirits were thought to travel.

Likely, the Ulfhednar Brotherhood and their counterpart Brotherhoods in Northern Europe gave rise to the myth of werewolves, because of some of the rites performed where wolf skins were used.

Complex system

Not unlike with druidry, the image that we have been fed by the Romans and its wife Christianity (straaange marriage) of the Northern Brotherhoods is of blood thirsty barbarians ravaging and plundering their way across Europe. Politics of course. Most people do not know of the highly complex social structure of the Nordic people before the Romans came. Historians, archeologists, linguists, yes, but those that matter mostly not.

One area of this complex social structure is “the thing”, “lög”, or “law”. The English word “law” even comes from the Old Norse word lög.

For example, you got kicked out of the Joms-wikinger at fearful speak, gossip, and telling news if you were not an assigned leader for that.

The Steinir had some interesting additional public law regarding women. You got kicked out if you captured a woman, held a woman hostage, raped a woman, hurt the wife of another man (note: not your own!), or if you gained a wife without giving her a dowry or without her family’s consent. Yowsa!

To become a Joms-wikinger, one had to be between 18 and 50. No wikinger was allowed to run from a battle with an equally tempered (spirited) and armored enemy. Every wikinger will avenge the other as a brother. The latter is a rule intending to restore by murder disrupted order. This did not have to do with contemporary notions of “revenge”, though hate emotions probably played a part on occasion too. And it can lead to feuds.

Feud by its nature tends to escalate, involving more and more members of a society in its bonds of avenge, and it is to the benefit of a community to develop limiting mechanisms to protect not only its individual members and families, but also the society as a whole from death and dissolution. The first step in limiting feud is to narrow the circle of those directly involved in each battle. Anyone could challenge his opponent to a duel after which the case is closed.

Einvigi and Hólmganga

Apparently the concept of dueling as a means of channeling violence into accepted patterns of feud and to regulating conflict was developed well before the Viking Age by their Germanic ancestors, for cognates appear in Old Swedish (Einvighe), Old High German (Einwic), and Old English (Artwig), as well as in Old Norse (“Hólmganga and Einvigi”).

It is impossible to date the start of Hólmganga in Old Norse or exactly where it originated. It’s name gives some further clues. It literally translates to “to go to a small island” and that suggests western Norway, a Nordic area with many coastal islands.

It is said that Hólmganga had many rules, stated at the beginning of the duel by the challenger (Kormáks saga), but that is a generalization based on only a few surviving descriptions.

Both were the simplest of all legal procedures, and required no proof, no pleading, no sophistries, and no subtleties. Rules were highly localised and what worked in the different contexts. In some cases many rules to combat were laid down, in some less. Simply first blood wins!

No divine intervention

Divine intervention did not play any part. Combatants trusted in themselves and in their Hamingja (luck). Honor was at stake.

Honor was a kind of equilibrium which a man could not allow to be disturbed. It was intolerable if you were not on even terms with society at large; if you and your family could be spoken of with scorn. Balance and good name were restored only with successful retaliation for insult or injury” ~ Foote and Wilson, The Viking Achievement.

In short, the answer to “what is allowed” was not a simple “what you can (do)”.

Modern law can be twisted to benefit the unjust, so too could the law of the Northern people. With Christianity the invisible informal regulating force of Honor was replaced by Christian values calling for divine intervention, and the hólmgangulög was abused. Some people made a job out of making false claims, then winning their claim, and getting extravagantly rich at the expense of innocents. Entirely dishonorable, but hey, they went to church on sunday.

And since the right of settling a legal dispute by duel has a neutralizing influence at (the uncertainty of) the formalized dominating principles of law, it was abolished. The final resort in a lawsuit was now purgatorial oath.

And with that a wealthy man can purchase compurgators to swear to his case, and deprive a litigant the right to disprove a false oath via trial by combat.

Attempt at genocide of the Ulfhednar?

In the natural (genes/physical) way? No.
In the nurturing (cultural/spiritual) way? Yes.
Has it been successfully eradicated? No. Ásatrú lives.


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