Cult of Springs

No, not mattresses — the watery type. Ancient peoples worshipped springs by making offerings in, to or near them. The sea, lakes, rivers and bogs were also venerated — or at least places of sacrifice. For example, the bent/broken weapons of defeated enemies were often cast into bodies of water.

But, springs, lakes, etc., were also more than that.

According to the History of English podcast (Ep 24), our word “soul” comes from a much older word “siwelo.”

The words soul and sea derive from a common Germanic root word: siwas, meaning lake or inland sea. Eventually, this became sea in modern English. A later Germanic word (from southern & eastern Germany) was related: siwelo, meaning something belonging to a lake or deriving from a lake. This became our word “soul.”

The northern Germanic tribes had access to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. They believed that the dead lived at the bottom of sea. But, the southern & eastern tribes were landlocked; they believed that the kingdom of the dead was in or beneath certain lakes.

And consider that the original Germanic concept of “hell” was of an underwater kingdom of dead souls. Imagining this, I can’t help but think of the mist/fog that forms over a lake in the early mornings. Maybe ancient peoples saw this — most likely saw it — and wondered what it was  — i.e., obviously the place that housed the souls of the dead and newborns.*

Also note the prevalence of ship burials — either lighting the thing on fire & setting it adrift, burying the ship or arranging stones in the general shape of a ship. A ship was required to get to the land of the dead.**

In Norse mythology, the veneration of “springs” reflected (at least in part) the significance of the primary mythical wellspring: Hvergelmir. If you recall, it is the source for the Élivágar and, probably, Urdarbrunnr (Urd’s Well) and Mímir’s well.

The giant (Jotunn) of the sea is Aegir (literally: sea) is portrayed as a friend of the gods and he entertains them in his hall and, in the Hymiskvida, Thor fetches a cauldron/barrel for Aegir so that he can brew ale/beer.

In the Skaldskaparmal, Aegir’s wife is Rán by whom he had nine daughters who were usually identified as the waves of the sea. Ran owns a net*** with which she fishes drowned people out of the water; the drowned then go to her underwater realm (not to Hel or Valhol). So, she embodied its sinister side.

And, almost finally, the Voluspa mentions the Aesir having temples for worship. When I read that, I was confused. If the Aesir are gods, then who are they worshiping?

After a while, I had a light bulb moment. A little while after that, that idea grew into an entire religion practiced by the Aesir as well as some rituals I could use to inform that religion while lending some depth to my fictitious world (and giving a reason for certain characters to be where I needed them to be). And then, still later and spun a bit, that idea morphed into a religion for the Jotunn.****

Suffice it to say, then, that my Aesir venerate water and springs in a way that’s not so dissimilar from what I imagine what ancient Germanic peoples may have done.

As I researched my books, I also found myself more and more intrigued by what happened before — in Stone Age times and how those people, who likely spoke a language much closer to Proto-Indo-European than Old Norse, may have thought, imagined and behaved. Pushing back even further, I also began to wonder about possible, ancient Homo Sapiens interactions  with Homo Neanderthalensis.

And all that came from just diving a bit deeper into the myths and beliefs surrounding springs and water. And, like the Cylons, I have a plan for it all. But with fewer spaceships.

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* According to the History of English podcast, some scholars think that the “stork bringing babies” idea goes all the way back to the belief in lakes as soul repositories.

**Also, ancient Germanic/Norse/Icelandic folk believed that the dead lived on in their barrows. This is an interesting tangent worthy of another blog post.

***In the Reginsmol, Loki stole Rán’s nets to fish up gold from the sea. Didn’t quite work out like he’d intended.

***My Alvar and Svartalvar kinda do their own things.

mattbishopwrites

Fantasy author writing a series inspired by Norse myth.

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