Rather than listing and defending all the standard objections that have been levied against the concept of reincarnation (such as the devastating mathematical argument, the impossibility of moral progression from lower life forms, the lack of continuity of memory from one incarnation to the next, etc.), I wish here to tie in instead with my previous essay on the Christian belief in the existence of the soul and in Heaven and Hell.

Although the trend appears to now be reversing itself, during the last generation a significant number of people in the U.S. sought to shuck off the shackles of their parents’ Old Time Christian religion. There are many reasons for this, psychological, sociological, etc. But as is always the case when human belief systems are concerned, the rejection of an old system leaves a vacuum. Few are able to adopt a strictly scientific world view, as such a view rarely serves to meet the same emotional needs that had been satisfied by aspects of the rejected system. People thus, quite naturally, begin searching for an alternate religious or spiritual world view that will, it is hoped, fulfill all the necessary requirements and yet not contain the same negative qualities as the old view.

The majority of those who free themselves from the Christian superstition do so by immediately gravitating to either one of the neo-pagan traditions or to various tenets of Eastern religions such as those evinced by Buddhism and Hinduism. Most still insist on believing in the existence of the soul, a carryover from their Christian upbringing. As I mentioned in my essay WHY ARE WE SO DAMNED SPECIAL?: A SHORT ESSAY ON THE QUESTION OF THE EXISTENCE OF THE HUMAN SOUL, belief in a soul demands belief in a place for that soul to go. For Christians, that place is either Heaven or Hell. For Reincarnationists, that place is Earth.

The Reincarnationists face a different, though similar problem, than their Christian counterparts. While the Christians need only claim that we survive bodily death so that we may go either to Heaven or Hell – places which by their very nature can be equated with Eternal Reward and Eternal Punishment, respectively – the Reincarnationists must account for why we would need to come back to earth to re-inhabit other bodies, not just once, but many times. The reason they came up with is both clever and self-sabotaging: the principle of karma.

Karma, very broadly defined, is a built-in system of externally-imposed moral justice or correction that provides the ONLY explanation for why it is necessary for us to be reborn into other bodies on earth. I will repeat this important point: without the principle of karma operating in the world, there can be no possible reason for our having to be reborn on earth numerous times.

Karma performs the same function as Hell, simply put. In the case of the Christian system, it is fear of eternal punishment in Hell which is supposed to keep us on the straight and narrow. For Reincarnationists, morality is enforced by the fear of being reborn either in an inferior form (an absurd notion, as a tree or a worm or a frog or a pig cannot act morally, and so can never escape their forms) or again as a human who will be subjected to the same evils that were inflicted on others during a previous life.

Thus, although superficially the Christian system and that of the Reincarnationists seem very different, in reality they are, essentially, identical. Both propose the survival of the consciousness or self or person, yet can justify that survival only by predicating a moral system of punishment and reward. One puts Hell someplace else and makes it a permanent destination. The other puts Hell on earth for however long an individual consciousness must undergo rebirth in physical bodies before it can escape the round of rebirths and enjoy union with Godhead (a sort of extinction of the self, along with the union of opposites or the end of our dualistic experience of life; we might whimsically compare this with Star Trek’s Borg Collective and its ‘hive mind’ or ‘collective consciousness’).

My question to my Reincarnationist friends is, therefore, this: if you’re going to free yourself from the constraints of Christianity, why would you immediately jump into the fetters of another system that, at its core, is exactly the same?

Buddhism, like Christianity, has as one of its core tenets the negation of physical existence or, rather, the negation of the VALUE of physical existence. It is for this reason, more than any other, that Buddhism itself should also be abjured.

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“Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak.  His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on… He [Joab] took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak…They took Absalom, threw him into a great pit in the forest, and raised over him a very great heap of stones.”


2 Samuel 18: 9-17


As I’ve mentioned in the “Note to the Reader’, it is common today to accept the historicity of the man Christ.  But what to do about the god Christ is another matter.  Clearly, Primitive Christianity included within its development a heavy mythologizing of its central figure.  Everything about the god Christ points to a solar deity and an interpretation of Yahweh his father as being identical with the Egyptian Amun (see my book THE REAL MOSES AND HIS GOD for the Angel of Yahweh as the storm-cloud manifestation of Amun, who in turn accords very well with the old storm god Amurru/El). 


Only in the last few years have astronomers confirmed the importance to the Christ story of astrological events.  In subsequent chapters I will explore leading theories which definitively link Christ’s birth and death with significant celestial phenomena.


Yet while it became customary from a very early date TO suggest that events in Christ’s life were prefigured by Old Testament prophecies, to my knowledge no one has come forth with an examination of some key Old Testament passages dealing with executions by hanging which shed considerable light on the true nature of Christ’s Passover sacrifice.


In the first place, Joshua himself, the traditional leader during the conquest of Canaan, hangs his enemies.  Joshua or ‘Jah[weh] is salvation’, is the Hebrew form of the Aramaic name Jesus. 


As Jesus was doubtless thought of by some as the promised Messiah, someone who through military might would defeat and expel the Romans, it is appropriate that he should bear the same name as the man who first took the land of milk and honey from the Canaanites.


In Joshua 10:1-27, we are told of five kings who hide on Joshua in the Cave of Makkedah after being defeated in battle.  Joshua finds out where they are hidden and has large stones rolled against the mouth of the cave.  He then posts guards there.  Later he has the stones removed, brings out the five kings, slays them and hangs their bodies from trees.  They remain hanging until evening.  At sunset he has the kings taken down from the trees and cast into the same cave.  Again, large stones are rolled against the opening, sealing it.


Now, we immediately recognize some of the parallels between this account of hanging by Joshua and the Crucifixion of Christ.  There is the act of hanging itself, the deposition in a cave (or tomb), the sealing of a cave (or tomb), the guarding of the cave (or tomb).  But despite these parallels, the Joshua hanging story does not help us understand the significance of Christ’s Crucifixion. We can only say that the standing still of the sun and moon on the same day just prior to the hiding of the five kings in the cave records a solstice coupled with a major or minor lunar standstill.


What meaning lies behind the Crucifixion of Christ must be sought in 2 Samuel 21:1-9. These Biblical passages tell the following story:  in the days of King David, there was a three-year famine.  God tells David the famine is a punishment for Saul’s putting the Gibeonites the death.  Thus to put an end to the famine, David asks the Gibeonites what he can do to expiate Saul’s sin.  The Gibeonites ask for – and are given! – seven sons of Saul.  These seven sons of Saul are impaled on the mountain of God at Gibeon at the beginning of the barley harvest, i.e. Passover.  This expiation sacrifice ends the famine.


According to the New Testament accounts, Jesus is given up by the Jews to the Romans for execution.  Varying explanations have been given for Christ’s crime, one which necessitated capital punishment.  But there can be little doubt that it was his refusal to deny that he was the Messiah which led to his condemnation in front of Pilate’s court.


As mentioned previously, Messianic expectations were of a military nature.  The pro-Roman government of Palestine, backed by the majority of the priesthood, had no interest in promoting the cause of a self-proclaimed or publicly-appointed Messiah.  Quite the contrary!  They were doing very well under Roman rule and doubtless understood what would happen if a popular uprising against Rome’s might were allowed to occur.  We need only look at what did happen when Palestine later rebelled: hundreds of thousands of Jews were slain or dispersed and their Temple destroyed.


So how were the ruling elite of Palestine, civil and religious, to expiate for their role as fellow Jews in what had come to be viewed as the Messianic mission of Christ?  How were they to demonstrate to Rome that they had no intention of supporting the seditious act of crowning a new king of Palestine who would urge the Jewish populace to take up arms against their foreign oppressors?


They accomplished this in an ingenious way: by offering Christ up as an expiation sacrifice.  Just as the sons of Saul had been given over to the Gibeonites to avoid more of the famine, itself a punishment for the transgressions Saul committed against the Gibeonites, so were the government and priesthood of Palestine giving over Christ to the Romans to avoid the destruction that would be issued in by a Messiah-inspired rebellion. Both expiation sacrifices were offered up during Passover, because the human victims were substitutes for the paschal lambs.  As such they were not only given to the enemies of the Jews, but also to God himself.


During the course of the evolution of primitive Christianity, two things were realized:


1) The promised military Messiah had not come during Christ’s lifetime.  Hence it came to be believed that Christ would come again at some ill-defined moment in the future, this time as a genuine militaristic Messiah.  According to “The Revelation of St. John”, Christ’s return will happen during the reign of the Roman emperor who is the eighth and the same time one of the seven.  Although the number of the Beast (666 or 616; the early MSS. have both readings) is usually taken to be derived from gematria and to represent Nero, Caligula or Domitian, the eighth Roman emperor was Vespasian.  The 42 months of authority given to the Beast does not match the length of any of the early Roman emperors; instead, this time period stands for either the interval in which Vespasian was appointed military commander of Judaea in the Autumn of AD 66 to his confirmation as emperor by the Roman senate in the Autumn of 69 or, perhaps, to his arrival in Antioch in the early Spring of 67 to the Fall of Jerusalem under his son Titus in September AD 70.


It has long been recognized that Greek Apollyon, Hebrew Abaddon, the ‘Destroyer’ of Revelation 9:1-11, is a play on the name Apollo, the Greco-Roman sun god. The Greeks themselves proposed that the name Apollo was derived from a root meaning “to destroy”. This probably occurred to them because Apollo’s arrows were the instruments by which he shot plague down upon mankind. But as is usually the case with the code of Revelation, a celestial being often represents an earthly ruler. We know that the first Roman emperor Augustus identified himself with Apollo as harp-player, and Nero followed suit. Nero has often been proposed as the Beast of Revelation. However, in the case of Apollyon/Abaddon, i.e. Apollo, we are specifically told that his monstrous army was given authority to torture the people for five months.


This five month period points to only one relevant figure in the history of Judea from the time of Christ to the composing of Revelation c. 90 A.D.: the Roman emperor Titus, son of Vespasian. According to Seutonius, it was at first feared that Titus would be another Nero. But this proved not to be the case. Nero appointed Titus legate of the 15th Legion of Apollo, the Legio XV Apollinarus. Under Titus, the siege of Jerusalem began on 14 April A.D. 70 during Passover, and ended with the destruction of the Temple on 10 August of the same year. This is approximately five months and thus in all likelihood is the five months Apollyon/Abaddon/Apollo is given control over the Jews.


Titus’s bore the same name as his father:  Titus Flavius Vespasianus.


Christ himself, in Matthew 24:34, says to his disciples of the imminent fulfillment of Messianic expectancies: “Truly I tell you, this generation [i.e. that of the disciples themselves] will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”   One of these “things”, mentioned in Mt. 24:2, is the destruction of the Temple by the Romans under Vespasian. These passages have created tremendous discomfiture among believers, and as an attempted remedy for this problem, the generation mentioned by Christ has been redefined to mean today’s current generation.  However, the text simply does not bear out this interpretation.  And, indeed, when Christ cries out in a loud voice (Mt. 27:46) “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, he is plainly expressing his bitterness and despair at not being delivered by God as the chosen Messiah.  There is no other way to explain this statement other than that Christ, right up to the moment of his death on the cross, was fully expecting to be saved by divine intervention so that he could play out his Messianic role.


2) The idea that Christ’s sacrifice had been for the benefit of the Romans and the Jewish God could not be condoned.  Thus a shift was made in the value attached to the Crucifixion.  Instead of Christ being offered up as an expiation for supposed Jewish sins committed against Rome, his placement on the Cross was an expiation for sin in general and, even more broadly, for all mankind.  In the “Golden Legend” of the Middle Ages, we learn that the wood that went into the making of Christ’s Cross had come from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden east of Eden.  This identification is brilliant, as it allows us to see Christ as the gnosis or ‘knowledge’-fruit being returned to the tree from which it had been plucked by Eve at the bidding of the serpent.  It was the fruit of the tree from the garden that had brought sin on mankind.  By placing that same fruit back on the tree in the form of an atonement sacrifice, mankind was cleansed of the earlier sin. Cosmologically speaking, the fruit and Christ came to symbolize the eternal sun god, whose Resurrection on the morning of the Sun’s Day was a natural corollary to his seasonal death on Passover.  For more on Christ as the sun, see the next chapter. 


This, as I see it, is essentially what we have now in modern Christianity.  The religion is built upon a series of mythologized events thrust upon the original story of Christ and steadfastly perpetuated now for centuries.  These mythical elements were invented to prevent the ministry of Christ from being forgotten, and to supply his sacrificial death with a meaning deemed profound and vital for the salvation of the soul.  To these elements were bound yet more, all culled from the prevailing wealth of knowledge pertaining to important astrological, agricultural and traditional historical/religious events.

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For quite a long time now, people have been trudging up mountains in search of Noah’s ark. This a vain quest, of course, because the story of the Flood is a myth*, and no pieces of wood will be found atop any of the traditional candidates for Noah’s mountain. However, we may be able to narrow down our search to the “prototypical” mountain, which then became relocated in the usual way through folk movements and folklore development.

To begin, it is important we know two things. First, the story of Noah as we have it betrays all kinds of problems with proper names and aetiologically ex-plained place-names. Second, we do actually already know where the first Flood mountain is to be found. For those who would like to familiarize themselves with the Mesopotamian Flood story, the precursor of the Biblical version, as well as the parallels that exist between the former and the latter, I refer you to the following excellent links. There is no longer any doubt among scholars that the different versions of the story are related, and that they betray an original source.

Noah, Hebrew Noach, it might surprise people to know, it not a real personal name. It is said to mean “rest” in Hebrew and to be from a root meaning “rest-ing place”. Lots of theological thought has been put into accounting for the name, but we need not waste our time here with that. Suffice it to say that its cognate in Akkadian, nahu, is not a personal name, either. There it means not only “rest”, but interest-ingly enough ‘to abate, subside’, in the sense of the subsiding of flood-waters. It is even found in the Gilgamesh Epic’s story of the Flood, where we are told, for example, “the sea subsided [i-nu-uh], the destructive storm calmed, the flood ceased”, and “let the vast sea subside together with you [li-nu-uh].”

We encounter the same oddness with the Hebrew word used for the ark, tebah. This word is so rare that it is used in the Bible only one other time – to describe the flotation device contrived for the baby Moses. I would trace this, rather solidly, to Akkadian tebu, used in the context of floods, as in “a flood will arise and sink the boats”. The word means “sunken, submerged”, or “to sink, to down, to submerge”. Tibu is the rising of water, high waters rise and the like, while tubbu is to submerge or immerse boats, e.g. “the flood waters will rise and swamp the boats”. What has happened here is that the Jews, during the Babylonian Captivity, learned of the Mesopotamian Flood story and made it their own. However, in the process of converting it to their own sacred story, they took in some loanwords from Akkadian that they either did not properly understand or, more likely, these words gradually changed meaning over time. Hence a word that meant “submerged” or “sunken” in Akkadian took on the meaning of the OBJECT of the action of sinking or submerging, i.e. a boat.

The most important clue we have to the real name of the mountain of Noah is not found in our Bible, but in very early sacred scriptures that did not make the cut. In “The Book of Jubilees” and a few other sources, the mountain in Ararat, ancient Urartu, modern Armenia, is given a name: Lubar. This name is found in what appears to be the truncated form of Baris in the works of the Jewish historian Josephus. He claims the mountain is in Armenia, and this agrees with the placement of Lubar.

The secret to the true whereabouts of Noah’s moun-tain as always lies in the unlocking of such place-name riddles. First, I am providing here two full ex-tracts from the ancient sources that actually name the specific mountain in Ararat, ancient Urartu, modern Armenia, where the ark supposedly came to rest.

From the Book of Jubilees, Chapter 7:

“And in the seventh week in the first year [1317 A.M.] thereof, in this jubilee, Noah planted vines on the mountain on which the ark had rested, named Lubar, one of the Ararat Mountains, and they pro-duced fruit in the fourth year, [1320 A.M.] and he guarded their fruit, and gathered it in this year in the seventh month.
And he made wine therefrom and put it into a ves-sel, and kept it until the fifth year, [1321 A.M.] until the first day, on the new moon of the first month.
And he celebrated with joy the day of this feast, and he made a burnt sacrifice unto the Lord, one young ox and one ram, and seven sheep, each a year old, and a kid of the goats, that he might make atonement thereby for himself and his sons.
And he prepared the kid first, and placed some of its blood on the flesh that was on the altar which he had made, and all the fat he laid on the altar where he made the burnt sacrifice, and the ox and the ram and the sheep, and he laid all their flesh upon the altar.
And he placed all their offerings mingled with oil upon it, and afterwards he sprinkled wine on the fire which he had previously made on the altar, and he placed incense on the altar and caused a sweet sa-vour to ascend acceptable before the Lord his God.
And he rejoiced and drank of this wine, he and his children with joy.
And it was evening, and he went into his tent, and being drunken he lay down and slept, and was un-covered in his tent as he slept.
And Ham saw Noah his father naked, and went forth and told his two brethren without.
And Shem took his garment and arose, he and Japheth, and they placed the garment on their shoulders and went backward and covered the shame of their father, and their faces were backward.
And Noah awoke from his sleep and knew all that his younger son had done unto him, and he cursed his son and said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; an enslaved servant shall he be unto his brethren.’
And he blessed Shem, and said: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant.
God shall enlarge Japheth, and God shall dwell in the dwelling of Shem, and Canaan shall be his serv-ant.’
And Ham knew that his father had cursed his younger son, and he was displeased that he had cursed his son. and he parted from his father, he and his sons with him, Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan.
And he built for himself a city and called its name after the name of his wife Ne’elatama’uk.
And Japheth saw it, and became envious of his brother, and he too built for himself a city, and he called its name after the name of his wife ‘Adataneses.
And Shem dwelt with his father Noah, and he built a city close to his father on the mountain, and he too called its name after the name of his wife Sedeqetelebab.
And behold these three cities are near Mount Lubar; Sedeqetelebab fronting the mountain on its east; and Na’eltama’uk on the south; ‘Adatan’eses towards the west.”

From Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews – Book I, Chapter 3:

“5. When God gave the signal, and it began to rain, the water poured down forty entire days, till it be-came fifteen cubits higher than the earth; which was the reason why there was no greater number pre-served, since they had no place to fly to. When the rain ceased, the water did but just begin to abate af-ter one hundred and fifty days, (that is, on the sev-enteenth day of the seventh month,) it then ceasing to subside for a little while. After this, the ark rested on the top of a certain mountain in Armenia; which, when Noah understood, he opened it; and seeing a small piece of land about it, he continued quiet, and conceived some cheerful hopes of deliverance. But a few days afterward, when the water was decreased to a greater degree, he sent out a raven, as desirous to learn whether any other part of the earth were left dry by the water, and whether he might go out of the ark with safety; but the raven, finding all the land still overflowed, returned to Noah again. And after seven days he sent out a dove, to know the state of the ground; which came back to him covered with mud, and bringing an olive branch: hereby Noah learned that the earth was become clear of the flood. So after he had staid seven more days, he sent the living creatures out of the ark; and both he and his family went out, when he also sacrificed to God, and feasted with his companions. However, the Armeni-ans call this place Apobahtayreon, The Place of Descent; for the ark being saved in that place, its remains are shown there by the inhabitants to this day.

6. Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: “It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.” Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: “There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.

NOTE 16: This Apobahtayreon (Greek) or Place of Descent, is the proper rendering of the Armenian name of this very city. It is called in Ptolemy Naxuana, and by Moses Chorenensis, the [5th cen-tury A.D.] Armenian historian, Idsheuan; but at the place itself Nachidsheuan, which signifies The first place of descent, and is a lasting monument of the preservation of Noah in the ark, upon the top of that mountain, at whose foot it was built, as the first city or town after the flood. See Antiq. B. XX. ch. 2. sect. 3; and Moses Chorenensis, who also says elsewhere, that another town was related by tradition to have been called Seron or, The Place of Dispersion, on ac-count of the dispersion of Xisuthrus’s or Noah’s sons, from thence first made. Whether any remains of this ark be still preserved, as the people of the country suppose, I cannot certainly tell. Mons. Tournefort had, not very long since, a mind to see the place himself, but met with too great dangers and difficulties to venture through them.”

Lubar is the result of a standard Hebrew attempt to provide a place-name origin. The Bible is full of such stories, and rarely do they have anything to do with the real etymologies of the names they treat of. Lubar, given the tale of Noah’s sons covering him with a garment, is a clear reference to Akkadian lubaru, clothing, garments, lubartu, clothing, gar-ment. The word used in the Hebrew account is simlah, but this does not disguise the lubar word particularly well. Now, Akkadian also has barru, a piece of apparel, barsillu, a garment, bura’u, an ad-jective describing a garment, and Sumerian has barim, garment, barsig, a garment, bur, a garment and bardul, a garment. Some of these last words remind us of Josephus’s Baris.

Certainly, we cannot take seriously the notion that the mountain was called “Garment”. Instead, what we have here is a fairly typical aetiological story con-cocted in an attempt to explain the place-name. The etymology of the mountain name is actually quite different.

Fortunately, the Mesopotamian Flood mountain, called Mt. Nisir and Kinipa in the Assyrian records, was in a kingdom called Lullu or Lullubi or Lullumu. And one of the main cities of this kingdom was called Bara. The language of the Lullubi is not known, so we cannot offer an etymology for Bara. We might guess at something akin to Sumerian or Old Akkadi-an barag, ‘dais, seat’, Akkadian parakku, dais, pedestal, socle, sanctuary, shrine, divine throne room, also found as ba-ra/BARA. But we would probably be wrong!

Professor Karen Radner of University College, London, who is working on an Assyrian geography project in this part of Iraq, says this about Bara and Mt. Numush:

“The fullest discussion of the historical geography of Ma-zamua is still Speiser 1927 and I attach that pa-per (see p. 19 and his maps). On the basis of the itinerary of Assurnasirpal II, he locates the place next to the Pira Magrun = Mt. Nimush and that seems acceptable.”

The following on Bara is from “Southern Kurdistan in the Annals of Ashurnasirpal and Today”, Ephraim A. Speiser, The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Vol. 8 (1926 – 1927), pp. 1-41:

“As Bara is captured by Ashurnasirpal in his first campaign against Nur-Adad, it should be sought near the western entrance into the Sulaimania valley, not far from Tasluja… Bara may be located at Girdabor, the “Mound of Bor”, which lies five miles south of the peak of Gudrun [= Shak-i Pira Magrun].”

Assyrian geography expert Professor Mario Liverani adds:

“I think that Speiser’s location of Bara is most prob-ably correct. I adopted it in my book on the topograhy of Ashurnasirpal’s campaigns (1992). By the way, if you give me your postal address I can send it to you (I still have some copies). But note that the “deluge” mount is to be read Nisir, not Nimuš (the same sign can be read muš or sir), and means ”(Mount of) protection / shelter” (hinting at the deluge story).”

My conclusion would be, simply, that Lubar, from Akkadian lubaru, was a later development from the Mountain of Bara (= Nimush/Kinipa), as Bara itself had been wrongly interpreted in Hebrew tradition as a word for clothing or garment. Thus ALL the flood heroes can be placed on the same mountain. This might make the peak a bit crowded, what with all those arks jockeying for grounding rights, but it does make a great deal more sense than continuing to chase after pieces of wood in Armenia.

We have seen above that the ‘Place of Descent’ from the mountain of the ark is traditionally said to be Nakhchivan. Conventional logic, which identifies the purely modern name Nakhchivan with the Nachidsheuan of Moses, chooses Agri Dagi to the northwest, i.e. the traditional Mount Ararat. I don’t think this is correct. Why?

Edward Lipinksy (ibid) discusses the likely identifica-tion of Agri Dagi/Mt. Ararat with the Mount Masu (“Twins”) of the Gilgamesh Epic. The Armenian name for Agri Dagi is, indeed, Masis, and while this is sometimes said to be either Moses by the Arabs or a legendary hero Amaysis by the Armenians, if Mt. Ararat IS Masu, then the name Lubar or Baris would not seem to apply to it.

Mount Judi or Cudi Dagi, another favored location for Noah’s mountain, was picked for only one reason: as photos of it make clear, the mountain itself has a remarkable natural rock formation upon it which perfectly resembles the shape of an ark! We can thus dispense with this mountain.

Another place-name we’ve just seen associated with the ark is Seron, the Place of Dispersion. This word can clearly be associated with words like Hebrew zarah, “disperse”. The Biblical Sirion, Akkadian Si-ra-ra, i.e. Mt. Hermon, is unlikely. We must remem-ber that Moses Chorenensis was an Armenian. Thus his Seron, like Nahkchivan, must have been in Ar-menia. Unless, of course, we are once again dealing with the fairly standard migration of legendary place-names.

We would not know where to look for Seron were it not for the reference to Xisuthrus. This is the Meso-potamian Zuisudra, equated in the ancient sources with Utnapishtum. Both heroes brought their arks down on Mt. Nimush, now firmly identified with Shak-I Pira Magrun in As Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.

This mountain was in the lands of the Lullubi, whose territory was centered about the Sharazor Plain. Their capital of Lullubum has been identified with Halabja in the southern part of the plain. Later called Zamua, this kingdom lay between the source of the Lower Zab and the source of the Turnat River/Diyala. According to Mario Liverani (“Studies in the Annals of Ashurnasirpal II, Volume 2, Topographical Analysis”, 1992), Zamua corresponds to the modern province of Sulaymaniya, the valley of the upper course of Diyala, and to the valleys of the left tributaries of the upper Lesser Zab. The kingdom was delimited on the southwest by Qara Dagh (dagh = mountain).

As it happens, on the very north of Sharazor Plain, butted up against the mountains not far SE of Shak-I Pira Magrun, is a place called Seran. Although the name is doubtless Kurdish, Turkish or Arabic in its present form, it may preserve an earlier name. One would expect the Mesopotamian Flood heroes of the primary mountain of Lullubum to descend onto the plain of the Lullubi – and Seran is here perfectly po-sitioned to receive them.

We know that at least some of the Lullubi were of Urartu: the country of Him(m)e, for example, which lay on the borderland between NE Mesopotamia and NW Iran, was inhabited by Lullubi groups, yet it be-longed to Urartu (see Trevor Bryce’s The Near East from the Early Bronze Age to the Fall of the Persian Empire).

So where is Noah’s mountain? Where the other Mesopotamian Flood heroes were placed: Shak-I Pira Magrun next to Bara.

Just for fun, I’m appending a comparison chart of the antediluvian patriarchs from both the Mesopotamian and Biblical traditions. Not surprisingly, the number of one category matches perfectly that of the other.

From THE SUMERIAN KING LIST by Thorkild Jacob-sen, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1973, and the NRSV of the Bible:

Alulim(ak) Adam

Alalgar Cain

Bad-Tibira(k) Abel

En-men-lu-anna(k) Seth

En-men-gal-anna(k) Enosh

Dum-zi(d) Kenan

Bad-tibira(k) Mahalalel

En-sipa(d)-zi(d)-anna(k) Jared

En-men-dur-anna(k) Enoch

Ubar-Tutu(k) of Shuruppak/ Methuselah

SU.KUR.LAM [= Shuruppak] Lamech from LAM?

Utnapishtum/Zi-u-sud-ra Noah




Well, we are left with three additional clues as to the location of Noah’s mountain, none of which have heretofore proven to be of any value: the cities said in the Song of Jubilees to surround the said mountain. While these city-names may be literary creations only, it may help us to see if we can do anything with them.

To the east of the mountain – and AT the mountain – Sedeqetelebab (Shem)

To the south of the mountain, Ne’eltama’uk (Ham)

To the west of the mountain, ‘Adatan’eses (Japheth)

The only important site is that belonging to Shem, as we are specifically told he stayed with his father at the mountain. The other two sites may be ANY dis-tance south and west of the mountain. And, indeed, as the three sons are given sons who are merely geo-graphical and/or ethnic designations, and as Shem is the only one whose sons “fit” into the scheme of the mountain’s location, we will concentrate on Sedeqetelebab.

Sons of Shem:

Elam, a personification of the Elamites, whose king-dom lay in southern Mesopotamia.

Asshur, a personification of the Assyrians, who were again a Mesopotamian-centered empire.

Arpachshad, a personification of the city of Arrapha, modern Kirkuk in Iraq in northeastern Mesopotamia.

Lud, a personification NOT of Lydia, which has no connection at all with Shem’s other sons geograph-ically, but with a place called Ludbu in the Assyrian record of Adad-Nirari II. The place is mentioned as being in the lands of the Kassites, Kuti, Lullumu and Shubari , with Rapiku between itself and Eluhat. Once again, we are talking about Mesopotamia, in-cluding the northeastern region.

Aram, a personification of the Aramaeans, for whom Aram Nahrin or Aram “Between the Rivers” of the Ti-gris and the Euphrates was named.

It goes without saying that Mesopotamia was the lo-cation of the Flood stories. So we should not be surprised that Shem, whose sons describe a map of various Mesopotamian territories and kingdoms, should be the one to remain with his father at the mountain.

As for Sedeqetelebab, the first component Sedeq or Zedeq could be from Hebrew s.d.q., ‘righteousness’. However, as is made clear in the entry for ZEDEQ in “The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible”, it was also the name of a West Semitic and Mesopo-tamian deity, possibly an aspect of the sun god Shamash (Akkadian shamash, Syriac shemsha, He-brew shemesh and Arabic shams). The comparable Akkadian deity was named Kittu. The word’s con-nection with Shem’s wife is obvious, as Shem was the “righteous” son of Noah, and thus the one who stayed closest to his father on the mountain. We have many ancient personal names where sdq is used either as a first or last component.

And what of (e)telebab?

Well, we have several ancient names beginning with Til (Akkadian “mound”, especially the mound upon which a city stands). This would leave us with a Til ‘Ebab’ or some such – which is easy! This is similar (or identical) to the Tel Abib homeland of Ezekial during the Babylonian Captivity. The name is from Akkadian Til Abubi, “Mound of the Deluge”. Abubi is from abubu, meaning a Deluge as a cosmic event. So a Til Abubi was a ‘hill of ruins made by the Deluge’ (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary).

Do we know specifically where Tel Abib was in Baby-lonia? Well, yes, we do. From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:


The river by the side of which his first vision was vouchsafed to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1). It is described as in “the land of the Chaldeans,” and is not, therefore, to be sought in northern Mesopotamia. This rules out the Habor, the modern Chabour, with which it is often identified. The two names are radically distinct: chabhor could not be derived from kebhar. One of the great Babylonian canals is doubtless intended. Hilprecht found mention made of (naru) kabaru, one of these canals large enough to be navigable, to the East of Nippur, “in the land of the Chaldeans.” adds an important detail:

“The “river” has been identified as the “Naru Kabari” because of two cuneiform inscriptions from Nippur. According to these tablets there was an irrigation canal that brought the water of the Euphrates River from Nippur to Babylon and looped around to the River near Erech. The canal’s modern name is Shatt en-Nil.”

I say important because Erech is the earlier Uruk, and this was the city over which the famous Gilga-mesh of the Flood story was king. Even better, the city Shuruppak or modern Tall Fa’rah was located SOUTH OF NIPPUR and originally on the bank of the Euphrates River! The Flood heroes Utnapishtum/Ziusudra built their arks at Shuruppak.

It is possible the ‘ZEDEQ-Tel-Abib’ may represent a different ‘Mound of the Deluge’, the first component here being a sort of qualifier meant to distinguish this particular mound from that of the Babylonian Captivity. In the Akkadian records, the term is used of any site that resembled a flood-destroyed city. The phrase was often used by kings as an expression of the thoroughness with which they destroyed an enemy’s town. The storm god Adad was frequently blamed for creating such flood-ravaged mounds.

However, Zedeq as wife of Shem may say even more about the latter. First, to quote from The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible:

“The West Semitic god Zedek seemingly corresponds to the deity known as Kittu in the Babylonian pan-theon and as Isar in the Amorite pantheon. In Mesopotamia the preservation of truth and justice was considered to be the particular domain of the sun god Shamash. Truth or Right was personified and deified as the god Kittu (‘Truth’, ‘Right'; from Akk root kanu, cf. Heb root KWN). Kittu was often invoked together with the god Misharu (‘Justice’) (see CAD K 471 s.v. kittu A 1b4; MI2 118 S.”. misaru A 2d; cf. Heb root YSR). One or both of these deities were described as ‘seated before Shamash’, i.e. Shamash’s attendant, or as ‘the minister of (Shamash’s) right hand’. While Misharu wall always considered a male deity, Kittu was identified sometimes as the daughter of Shamash, sometimes as the son of Shamash. Meanwhile, at Mari offerings were made to the divine pair Isar u Mesar (ARM 24.210.24-25: cf. 263.5-6 where these same gods are listed separately but contiguously; see P. TALON, Un nouveau pantheon de Mari, Akkadica 20 [1980] 12-17). As a theophoric element Isar is common in both Akk and Amorite personal names (HUFFMON 1965:216). From the interchangeability of the names Kittu, Isar, and Sidqu/Zedek in the pairing with Misar(u), it appears that the deity known as Kittu in Babylonia was known further to the West under the names Isar and Sidqu/Zedek Zedek-all three names having essen-tially the same meaning but operative in different linguistic communities. Additional support for the identification of Sidqu and Kittu comes from the Amorite royal name Ammi-saduqa, which was trans-lated in the Babylonian King List as Kimtum-kittum, showing an equivalence between the West Semitic root SDQ and Akk kittu (cf. BAUMGARTEN 1979:235).”

It will be noted here that Kittu, the Akkadian goddess who equates with Zedeq, could be FEMININE IN FORM, a daughter of the sun god. This suggests to me, quite strongly, that Shem (Hebrew sm), which means literally “name”, is a substitute for the sun god Shamash (Hebrew semes). The author of the en-try on Shamash in the dictionary says “… the ele-ment sm in the [theophoric] names does not refer to a deity Shem, but functions as a substitution for a godhead.” The godhead he is referring to in this con-text is, of course, Yahweh, but as I’ve made a case of Yahweh being Amun-Re (see my The Real Moses and His God), Shamash would do just as well.

Zedeq, wife of Shem, who hails from a Mound of the Deluge in Mesopotamia, is Kittu daughter of Sha-mash.

*The Flood is likely an exaggerated historical event. Archaeologists excavating the ancient cities of Sumer on the Euphrates did find a significant ‘flood layer’, and this proves that at about the time the Flood was supposed to have occurred, there indeed was a major flood OF THE RIVER. Not OF THE WORLD. Obvi-ously, people caught in such a flood – including the king of a city – would seek high ground either on their own ziggurat-mountain or on a nearby hill, which they would have to reach by boat. Over time, this event became “mythologized” into the Mesopotamian and Biblical accounts of the Flood.

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“7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” Genesis, New Revised Standard Version

This one passage has given rise to endless speculation about the true location of the Garden, which is either east of Eden or in Eden, in the east (depending on how the eighth verse is translated). I do not think that this is such a mystery, and can demonstrate why I think the Garden is rather easy to find – once we start with an identification of Eve with the Hurrian goddess Hebat/Heba.

Readers who wish to research the etymological intri-cacies of the Eve/Hawwah = Hebat/Heba equivalency are welcome to do so. There has been a great deal written on the probable correspondence and it is not the aim of the present paper to go over these arguments. To best summarize a recent scholarly position on the issue, I am quoting Note 30 from I.M. Diakonoff’s “Evidence of the Ethnic Division of the Hurrians”, in Studies on the Civilization and the Culture of the Nuzi and the Hurrians by E. R. Lacheman, 1981:

“It is Heba in all PN (and therefore this form is the more archaic) but Hebat, Hebatu in Bogazkoy, in Ugaritic lists, in the Hieroglyphic Luwian texts and elsewhere. E.A. Speiser had pointed out that this t does not, contrary to the rules of Hurrian phonetics, develop to *d, and hence is (a) late, (b) Semitic. He compared West Semitic *Hawwatu, Hebr. Hawwa “Eve”. The name cannot be borrowed from West Se-mitic because, first, the form Heba is earlier than the Semitic addition –t- (this is, among other proffs, shown by the existence of Huba in Urartian), and se-cond, because intervocalic *b may develop to West Semitic b > /w(w)/, but Semitic *w cannot be reflect-ed as Hurrian b… Therefore, although there may have been an identification of Hurr. Heba > Hebatu with West Semitic Hawwa < Hawwatu, either the two mythological figures must have originally been quite separate, or it was Heba who was the original. The Semitic etymology of Hawwa is not above some sus-picions.”

Gary Beckman, Professor of Hittite and Mesopotami-an Studies, Department of Near Eastern Studies, at the University of Michigan, passed along this on the goddess Hebat, her name and other goddesses with whom she was identified:

It has recently been demonstrated that her name de-veloped through some complicated sound changes from *Halabat, “the (female) one of Aleppo.” She be-came the chief goddess of the western Hurrian pantheon and spouse of the Storm-God Teshshub. Among Hurrians in the east, this position was held by Shaushga, a goddess whose name was usually hidden under the word-sign Ishtar. [At Nippur, Innana/Ishtar was called nin edin "the Lady of Eden"]. Within the syncretistic late pantheon of the Hittite empire, when figures from the earlier Anatoli-an god world were assimilated to members of the newly-adopted Hurrian pantheon, Hebat was also identified with the Sun-goddess of Arinna. But this was simply because each was the partner of the Storm-god in the respective systems (Anatolian Tarhunt and Hurrian Teshshub). This is most fa-mously illustrated in a prayer of Queen Puduhepa in which she addresses the Sun-goddess, mentioning that “in the Land of Cedars (Syria) they call you Hebat.”

Dr. Mark Weeden of Oxford and other top Assyriologists agree on the derivation of Hebat’s name from the city-name Aleppo.

If we provisionally accept the equation of Eve with Heba (= Ishtar, who was primarily associated with the planet Venus), the Garden – and, incidentally, Adam himself – becomes quite knowable.

Some scholars (although to a degree considered “fringe”) have made a case for an identification of the four rivers of Eden. David Rohl (see The Jerusalem Report, February 1, 1999, “Paradise Found”), deriving his material primarily from the earlier independent scholar Reginald Walker, equated the Gihon with the Aras or Araks, and the Pishon with the Uizhon (and alternate spellings, the P showing a supposed Semitic shift; the river is now known as the Qezel Qwzan and is the upper half of the Sefid Rud ). Unfortunately, he is an archaeologist and not a linguist, and his analysis of the river-names and other place-names has been disputed. Such identifications rely on late Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian names and therefore cannot be trusted to be accurate forms.

If we “respect” the Biblical account (yes, I know – an exercise fraught with peril!), we need to fulfill some conditions. First, we cannot opt for a location for the garden that runs directly contrary to the account. One example of this would be the recent effort to find Eden at the head of the Persian Gulf by identifying the Pishon with the newly discovered dry ‘Kuwait’ river (see James A. Sauer, “The River Runs Dry,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, Ju-ly/August 1996, pp. 52-54, 57, 64. Molly Dewsnap, “The Kuwait River,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, July/August 1996, p. 55.). Second, the ac-tual river of the garden HAS to have four rivers branching out from it (or at the very least three; see below). Furthermore, we MUST have a verifiable as-sociation of the said river of the garden with Heba/Eve and Adam. Rohl neglected to fulfill the last two of these critical requirements.

The Tigris and Euphrates we know and they are not a problem. Gihon and the Pishon are quite the op-posite.

The Pishon is said to surround the land of Havilah (Hebrew Chaviylah). This land, mentioned only once in the Bible, is not otherwise known and researchers have sought it all over the place, primarily in south-west Arabia or even in Africa. However, there is an ancient city that can tentatively be located on the upper Khabur, the largest tributary of the Euphrates. The name of this place is Hawilum (Hawalum, Hawlum). A temple at the site was dedicated by the king of Urkesh (Tell Mozan) and Nawar (Tell Brak) – both on the headwaters of the Khabur. Thus these cities are in the region of the Turkish-Syrian border, pretty much exactly between the Euphrates to the west and the Tigris to the east. I would equate Hawilum with Havilah.

The inscription concerning Hawilum may be found here:

While Hawilum has not be precisely located, the Syr-iac lexicographer Bar-Bahlũl (10th century) mentions the toponym HWYL´ (Hwilā, Huwaylā, and in one exemplar of his lexicon H/Kwilā or H/Kuwaylā), which he associates with the city of GWZN (vocalised Gawzan; Lexicon Syriacum ed. R.Duval [1888-1896] col. 426 and n .25). This GWZN is probably Guzana, which we now know to be Tell Halaf. Thus Hiwalum may have been in the vicinity of the latter ancient city.

I have confirmed the above with Professor Amir Harrak. He writes (personal communication):

“It is a 10th century AD Syriac source that says lit-erally: GWZN, according to Bar-Saroshway (ca. 900 AD) is a city which is HWYL’. The latter name is not consistent in all manuscripts. There are 2 issues here: whether or not Syriac GWZN is Guzana and I think it is since Syriac authors were native of the Khabur for centuries if not millennia , and whether or not HWYL’ is Hawilum. Because of the variant spellings of this name found in the Syriac sources I am not sure of the association HWYL’ Hawilum. An-cient names do appear in late Syriac sources and an important one is Edessa near the Upper Euphrates whose Syriac name is Urhay. The same 10th century source gives its ancient name (Adme) known since the 19th century BC in Assyrian sources; see my article on this in JNES 51 (1992) pp. 209-214.”

Other scholars now agree in placing Hawilum in the western part of the Khabur Triangle. The following, for example, is from G.Buccellati and M. Kelly-Buccellati’s “The Great TempleTerrace at Urkesh and the Lions of Tish-atal”, SCCNH (Owen Volume), De-cember, 2005:

“The fact that NERGAL is called ‘Lord of Hawalum” implies that his temple was in that locality, and the name Hawalum had no known link with Urkesh (its localization remains unknown, though it is assumed to be in the Khabur Triangle, west of Urkesh).”

Allowing for Hawilum = Havilah, “Cush” is pretty plainly a reference to Urkesh, i.e. the City (= Ur) of Kesh, itself at Tell Mozan on the Upper Khabur. The Gihon, however, cannot be another name for the Khabur (ancient Hubur or Habur), but must instead be the Wadi Darca, as Urkesh/Tell Mozan is near the headwaters of this stream. The Khabur’s name was known anciently (and will be discussed below), so equating it with Gihon is not something we can al-low.

The Pishon (Hebrew Pison), being associated with Hiwalum near/at Guzana/Tell Halaf, has to be the Wadi Djirjib. The name itself could be from Old Bab-ylonian pis, meaning “quay, port; bank, shore, rim; stream, wadi, gorge” (Pennsylvania Sumerian Dic-tionary). However, from Old Babylonian on, including Akkadian, there is pisannu, ‘drainage passage’ or ‘drainpipe’ (Chicago Assyrian Dictionary). The Djirjib is to the west of the Wadi Darca of Urkesh and both are within the Khabur Triangle.

So how does the identification of the four rivers help us? Well, we need to begin at Tell Ahmar, the site of ancient Aramaean Til Barsip (Hittite Masuwari) and the capital of the small kingdom of Bit-Adini, Biblical Beth-Eden (Amos 1:5).

Til Barsip is on the Euphrates a dozen miles to the southeast of Carchemish, and Carchemish is roughly 75 miles west of Abraham’s Haran. Bit-Adini/Beth-Eden stretched from the the Sajur River, a tributary of the Euphrates whose mouth was approximately opposite the capital to the west, to the Balikh River, another tributary of the Euphrates further south. Scholars now believe it embraced some territory to the west of the Euphrates as well. I hastily add that the name of the Balikh was also known anciently and cannot be associated with either a ‘Kush’ or a ‘Havilah’. While I have not found an ancient name for the Sajur it, too, cannot be associated with Kush or Havilah.

The following wonderful description of Til-Barsip is courtesy

“Tell Ahmar, ancient Til Barsib, on the east bank of the Euphrates River, close to the confluence of the Sajur River, was ideally placed to function as a crossing point from upper Mesopotamia to northern Syria. To a large extent the prominent and strategic location of Tell Ahmar determined the Assyrian in-terest in the site and its apparent that Tell Ahmar reached its maximum size under the Assyrians.”

While the location of Eden in the Bible has been in-tentionally mystified, no verse better than 2 Kings 19:12-13 shows better where it is to be found:

“Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the na-tions that my predecessors destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar (Tell Assur, ‘Hill of the god Assur’ of the Assyrians)? Where is the King of Hamath, the king of Arpad, etc.”

All these places are known to be in northern Mesopo-tamia and Syria. 2 Kings 19:12-13 is repeated in Isaiah 37:12-13.

Now, let’s see if Til-Barsip and Bit-Adini/Beth-Eden fits into our river scheme. Remember the Bible pas-sage in question says “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and be-comes four branches”. Let us start with the river that flows out of Eden.

This can only be the Euphrates. The kingdom of Bit-Adini lay to both sides of the Euphrates. Thus the mysterious river of Eden is actually one of the other four rivers listed in the Genesis account.

The Wadis Darca and Djirjib as headwater tributaries of the Khabur are important precisely because the latter itself was important. As the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary and other sources make clear, the Hubur/Habur was the river of the nether world, and the place of the river-ordeal – it was even a DESIGNATION for the nether world. It could also be the name of a deity (i.e. a deified river), and we find it used for Tiamat, called umma hu-bur, ‘mother Hubur’. This incredibly sacred river lies directly be-tween the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The Euphrates further downstream joins the Tigris (in this modern age, near Basra), so all these rivers are joined together, in a sense, and are thus “branches” of the Euphrates.

This is a very precise geographical fix for Eden. So, we can identify the four rivers of Paradise as follows:

Euphrates/river of Eden

Pishon – Wadi Djirjib of Hiwalum (Khabur)

Gihon – Wadi Darca of Urkesh (Khabur)


More exciting than the identification of the rivers is the presence at Til Barsip/Tell Ahmar of inscriptions bearing the name of the goddess Hebat/Hepat, as well as theophoric personal names containing her name. Hebat’s main cult center is believed to have been Aleppo some 50 miles to the SW. Also attested three times at Til Barsip is the goddess Kubaba, who became the patron goddess of Carchemish. The Syro-Canaanite goddess named Adamma, known principally from Ebla (35 miles SW of Aleppo), was borrowed into the Hurrian pantheon by being identi-fied with this very same Kubaba (= Cybele). Heba is often accompanied by Kubaba in lists of deities (see, for example, Tell Ahmar II: A New Luwian Stele and the Cult of the Storm-God at Til Barsib-Masuwari, Guy Bunnens, John David Hawkins, I. Leirens, 2006).

Francesco Domponio (in “Adamma Paredra Di Rasap”) gives as the various forms of Adamma’s name Adamma, Adama, Adamaum, Adammaum and Adamtum.

In E. Lipinski’s “Resheph. A Syro-Canaanite Deity. (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 181, Editions Peeters, Leuven 2009)”, the author rejects the asso-ciation of the name of the goddess Adamma with the similar looking word in Semitic languages for ‘earth’. More likely in his opinion is the relation to ‘blood’ (Hebrew dam). Adamma was the consort of Rasap (Resheph).

According to Alfonso Archi (“The Gods of Ebla”, NIT Annual Report, 2010):

“A common epithet of Rashap was “of-the-garden” [rsp gn, with gn being the Canaanite equivalent of Hebrew gn, the word used to describe the Garden of Eden], which does not seem to refer to “the cemetery”, neither at Ebla, nor at Ugarit. At Ebla the spouse of Rashap was Adamma – there is also an “Adamma-of-the-garden.” In the second millenium this goddess was no longer associated with Rashap, but was included in the Hurrian pantheon and associated with the goddess of Karkamish, Kubaba.”

[It will be admitted that some scholars do not read GN as 'garden', but as a place-name GUNUM. The following is from Mary Seeley, Subject Librarian (His-tory & Religions; Ancient Near East, Semitics & Judaica), Teaching and Research Support (Library), School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Uni-versity of London:

"SOAS Library has a copy of Lipinksi's book Resheph: a Syro-Canaanite deity (classmark QK929.4 / 738142).

I have had a quick look at the contents, and in Chapter 1 (Resheph in the Ebla Archives) Lipinski transcribes the GN epithet of both Resheph and Adamma as "Gunu". He states that this is possibly derived from the suffix - kunu, and may represent a derivative of the root kun (to be firm).

Lipinski states categorically that the gu-nu qualifier in the name of Resheph is not "garden" (gann in all the Semitic languages that provide a vocalization).

In Chapter 2 (Resheph and Adamma) he mentions the following places associated with the worship of Adamma - Emar, Boghazkoy, Ugarit and Alakh. The goddess frequently carries a topographical epithet. Adamma of Adani, Gunu, DU-anir, Du-lum and Tunip are among those noted in the original sources."]

Adamma’s primary cult center (according to Robert R. Stieglitz in “Divine Pairs in the Ebla Pantheon”, Eblaitica Volume 4 and Pelio Alfonso Archi in Semitic and Assyriological Studies, ed. by Pelio Fronzaroli, 2003) was Adani or Ataanni, thought to possibly be Tell ‘Asharneh on the Orontes not far from Hama.

The name Adam, of course, has been derived from various words in the languages of the region, in addi-tion to the Hebrew: Sumerian adama “a dark-colored bodily discharge”, e.g. blood, to which we may com-pare Akkadian adamu, “blood”, adamatu, “black blood”, [as plural only] “dark red earth (used as a dye)”. But a similarly spelled word in Akkadian also means “an important, noble person” (Chicago Assyr-ian Dictionary). Thus is it not difficult to see how the notion of a man made out of earth came to be a popular one.

If all this is so, what about the serpent in the Gar-den? To learn more about him, we need to go to the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic. The best part of the Epic for our purposes is actually an added episode called “The Huluppu Tree [perhaps a willow or pop-lar]”:

“Once upon a time, a tree, a huluppu, a tree –

It had been planted on the bank of the Euphrates,

It was watered by the Euphrates –

The violence of the South Wind plucked up its roots,

Tore away its crown,

The Euphrates carried it off on its waters.

The woman, roving about in fear at the word of An,

Roving about in fear at the word of Enlil,

Took the tree in her hand, brought it to Erech:

‘I shall bring it to pure Inanna’s [Inanna/Ishtar = Venus] fruitful garden.’

The woman tended the tree with her hand, placed it by her foot,

Inanna tended the tree with her hand, placed it by her foot,

‘When will it be a fruitful throne for me to sit on,’ she said,

‘When will it be a fruitful bed for me to lie on,’ she said.

The tree grew big, its trunk bore no foliage,

In its roots the snake who knows no charm set up its nest,

In its crown the Imdugud-bird placed its young,

In its midst the maid Lilith built her house –

The always laughing, always rejoicing maid,

I, the maid Inanna, how I weep!”

Her brother, the hero Gilgamesh,

Stood by her in this matter,

He donned armor weighing fifty minas about his waist –

Fifty minas were handled by him like thirty shekels –

His “ax of the road” –

Seven talents and seven minas — he took in his hand,

At its roots he struck down the snake who knows no charm,

In its crown the Imdugud-bird took its young, climbed to the mountains,

In its midst the maid Lilith tore down her house, fled to the wastes.”

First, we have a “garden” at Uruk, and the Euphrates being mentioned as the origin point of the huluppu tree. We have seen how Inanna could be called ‘Lady of Eden’. The Imdugud bird (or Anzu, etc.) was a symbol for the stormcloud. It often battles the storm god in the mountains as his evil twin. Lilith or, ra-ther, Lilitu, was a goddess or demon whose name derives from the word for “wind”. According to The Dictionary of Deities and Demons of the Bible, she was especially associated with “stormy winds”.

And the serpent?

What we are seeing in this World Tree is a tripartite division of the cosmos. The stormcloud bird floats above the air, where the wind demoness lives. Be-neath the earth, at the roots of the tree, is the river, which rises out of the ground to flow over the earth. A meandering, sinuous stream, which can strike with deadly force, is very appropriately symbolized as a serpent.

If I’m right here, then we can reconstruct what the Creation story may have been like before it was adapted by the Hebrews for their own Bible.

Firstly, we need to bear in mind that Kubaba (= Adamma) was said to be a tavern-owner. She has, therefore, been compared with the Siduri of the Gil-gamesh Epic, also a tavern owner, whom the hero finds keeping an inn at a GARDEN with jeweled trees on the shore of the sea. We are reminded, of course, of the Greek Garden of the Hesperides with its golden sun-apples, the source of the golden light of sunset in the west. These apples were guarded by the hundred-headed Drakon. In the Gilgamesh Epic, we are told of a plant of eternal youth. The hero is bathing in a spring (doubtless the source of a river) when the plant is stolen BY A SNAKE, whose shedding is cited as proof that the animal has rid itself of old age. To this we may compare the Euphrates river in the above-quoted section of the Epic, carrying off the huluppu tree.

Adam, then, is made of the earth that is, quite liter-ally, the earth-goddess Adamma-Kubaba. The Assyro-Babylonian parallels assign the act of the creation of man primarily to various goddesses, alt-hough gods like Enlil the storm god can direct, advise or assist in the operation. The materials used are clay and, in some accounts, clay and blood. The blood can come from gods, e.g. Kingu, whose blood mixed with clay was used by Marduk to make man, and Geshtu-e, who plays the same role in the story of the goddess Aruru. The fact that Adamma’s name could mean both ‘earth’ and ‘blood’ (despite Lipinski’s reservation) probably indicates that she provided the first man with flesh as well as the life-liquid that flowed through his veins. The sacrificed Geshtu-e’s blood was the source of the intelligence in man (cf. the fruit of knowledge).

Prompted by the guardian river-serpent – in this case, the river of Til-Barsip or Bit-Adini, which is probably the Sajur (remember the river of Eden has to be a tributary of one of the other four rivers) – Heba/Ishtar/Inanna provides the first man with the fruit of the sacred World Tree, i.e. the solar fruit. After all, it was her tree. Adam thus obtains the wisdom and intelligence that allows him to differentiate himself from the lower animals and thereby become semi-divine. But the sun-fruit also bestows immor-tality. The Bible version, confused as always, seems to imply that the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” are two different trees. They are not. They are identical.

While we don’t know what the original fruit of the tree was, one of the main iconographic elements of the goddess Kubaba-Adamma was the pomegranate, although some scholars think what she holds in ex-tant images is a poppy capsule. In terms of a fruit that resembles the sun, the pomegranate is the logi-cal choice.

Both Kubaba (the latter as Cybele/Agdistis) and Inanna are associated with sacred trees and their fruit. Of the former, we are told the following:

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 17. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :

“The local [Phrygian] legend about him [Attis] being this. Zeus [equated here with the Phrygian sky-god], it is said, let fall in his sleep seed upon the ground, which in course of time sent up a Daimon, with two sexual organs, male and female. They call the daimon Agdistis. But the gods, fearing Agdistis, cut off the male organ. There grew up from it an almond-tree with its fruit rip [in some versions, this is a POMEGRANATE TREE], and a daughter of the river Sangarios, they say, took the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child. A boy was born, and exposed, but wastended by a he-goat. As he grew up his beauty was more than human, and Agdistis fell in love with him. When he had grown up, Attis was sent by his relatives to Pessinos, that he might wed the king’s daughter. The marriage-song was being sung, when Agdistis appeared, and Attis went mad and cut off his genitals, as also did he who was giving him his daughter in marriage. But Agdistis repented of what she had done to Attis, and persuaded Zeus to grant the body of Attis should neither rot at all nor decay. These are the most popular forms of the legend of Attis.”

The Sumerian A shir-namshub to Utu (Utu F) has Inanna eating of pine nuts, etc., in order to acquire sexual knowledge. This was so she could properly attend to the god Dumuzi’s needs:

1-2317 lines fragmentary

Youthful Utu …, calf of the wild cow, calf of the wild cow, calf of the righteous son, Utu, royal brother of Inana! He who brings thirst to streets and paths (?), Utu, he of the tavern, provided beer, youthful Utu, he of the tavern, provided beer.

24-30 (Inana speaks:) “My brother, awe-inspiring lord, let me ride with you to the mountains! Lord of heaven, awe-inspiring lord, lord, let me ride with you to the mountains; to the mountains of herbs, to the mountains of cedars, to the mountains; to the moun-tains of cedars, the mountains of cypresses, to the mountains; to the mountains of silver, the mountains of lapis lazuli, to the mountains; to the mountains where the gakkul plants grow, to the mountains; to the distant source of the rolling rivers, to the mountains.

31-34 “My brother, come, let me… My brother, the midst of the sea… my eyes. My brother, women… Utu, women…

35-38 “I am unfamiliar with womanly matters, with ……. I am unfamiliar with womanly matters, with sexual intercourse! I am unfamiliar with womanly matters, with kissing! I am unfamiliar with sexual intercourse, I am unfamiliar with kissing!

39-43 “Whatever exists in the mountains, let us eat that. Whatever exists in the hills, let us eat that. In the mountains of herbs, in the mountains of cedars, in the mountains of cedars, the mountains of cy-presses, whatever exists in the mountains, let us eat that.

44-49 “After the herbs have been eaten, after the ce-dars have been eaten, put your hand in my hand and then escort me to my house. Escort me to my house, to my house in Zabalam. Escort me to my mother, to my mother Ningal. Escort me to my mother-in-law, to Ninsumun. Escort me to my sister-in-law, to Jectin-ana.”

50-56 For those who venture forth single-handed, who venture forth from a man’s house, for those who venture forth from a man’s house, who venture forth single-handed, Utu: you are their mother, Utu, you are their father. Utu, as for the orphans, Utu, as for the widows, Utu: the orphans look to you as their fa-ther, Utu, you succour the widows as their mother. With you…”

And what of the supposed creation of Heba the god-dess from the rib of the man Adam? What do we make of this motif?

“21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

this one shall be called Woman,

for out of Man this one was taken.”

24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” Genesis, New Revised Standard Version

Obviously, we have here an iconographic misinter-pretation (or REINTERPRETATION!), or a different story that became hopelessly muddled over time. This method of the making of woman has always been seen as yet another usurpation of matriarchal privilege by the patriarchal. In the Hebrew account, there is no goddess in on the act of Creation. Yahweh does it all by himself. The idea of a mother goddess making the first man and first woman was not one the priestly authors wished to convey. Superficially, the account de-emphasizes the significance of woman by even denying her a non-masculine compositional material. Adam was made of earth – the flesh of the earth goddess herself. But Eve, a demoted goddess, had to be content with acknowledging that she owed her very existence to a ‘spare rib’ of the first man

My feeling is that the whole rib episode came about in this fashion: a rib is white and sickle-shaped and thus resembles the crescent moon, symbol of the Luwian (and Hittite-borrowed) moon god Arma, the Hittite moon god Kaska and the Hurrian moon god Kushukh. The crescent moon is common in the reli-gious iconography of the region, and Heba herself is shown depicted with the crescent-horned moon god.

But we must remember that Inanna/Ishtar was most often called the DAUGHTER of Nanna/Sin THE MOON GOD, whose symbol was THE CRESCENT MOON. Thus the ‘rib’ of Adam is actually Nanna/Sin the moon god father of Hebat/Inanna/Ishtar. Its being extracted from Adam, whose name could mean ‘earth’, is an error for it being taken out of the earth, i.e. this is a symbolic representation of the rising of the crescent moon.

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[Odin by Edward Burne Jones]

By August Hunt

Several attempts have been made to link the legendary Robin Hood, the most famous folk hero of England, with pagan entities.  The problem with all of them is precisely that we have what looks to be, on the surface at least, quite sufficient evidence for this personage as a historical character (or characters).  Nice, online summaries of the historical candidates for Robin Hood may be found on these pages:

While history does make a good case for Robin Hood, scholars concede that as the legend evolved all kinds of folkloristic accretions became manifest.  Here I would like to explore only one aspect of the legend – the name Hood itself.  It may be that an exploration of the etymology of this name, and its possible very early presence in the English landscape, may help us towards finding a truly ancient pagan element preserved in the later tradition.

To begin, it is generally agreed that Hood means exactly that – a hood, or perhaps ‘the Hooded One’ in the context of a personal name.  This would be from Old English hod and the name is spelled this way in early records.  In Old Norse the word is found as hottr.  As has been pointed out before in the context of the Robin Hood legend, Hottr is a name for the god Odin when he is travelling in disguise.  This Viking deity is also called Sidhottr or ‘long/hanging/deep hood’.

The Nottinghamshire of Robin Hood was in the Viking Danelaw.  It is, of course, in this part of England that we tend to find the most relics of Norse paganism embedded in place-names.  A curious example of such may be Hodsock.  The name means (according to Ekwall) ‘Hod’s Oak’, Hod supposedly being an Old English personal name found in other places such as a second Hodsock in Worcestershire (which bordered on the Danelaw), Hodcott, Hoddesdon, Hoddington, Hoddlesden, Hodnell and Hodson.  The interesting thing about the Nottinghamshire Hodsock is that not only is it found pretty much directly between Robin Hood’s two forests of Sherwood and Barnsdale (in contradistinction to the ‘Major Oak’ associated with Robin, which is squarely in Sherwood Forest), but the name is recorded as early as the time of the Domesday Book, i.e. 1086.  Such a date for the name greatly predates our records for the historical Robin Hood.

Now, the real question is what to make of the name Hod as it is found in the place-name Hodsoch.  As the same element is found in places well outside of the Danelaw, we must accept the fact that there is probably an Old English origin for the personal name.  Pagan Anglo-Saxon religion was much akin to the Norse and, therefore, we might be allowed to surmise for the sake of argument that at some point in their history the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons also knew of Odin as ‘the hooded one’.

However, as Norse mythology makes plain, the oak was NOT Odin’s tree. His sacred tree was the ash.  The oak has always been the tree of the thunder god, who in Anglo-Saxon tradition was Thunor and in the Viking Thor.

The oak is linked in reality and in mythology with the mistletoe, and we are instantly reminded of the myth of the Norse god Hodr, slayer of Balder.  Hodr is a blind god whose aim of the mistletoe spear (in some later versions an arrow!) is directed by Loki.  This weapon kills Balder, who was impervious to injury by anything else.

Hodr is believed to mean ‘war, slaughter’ (cf. Old Icelandic hod, OE headu-/heado-, ‘war, battle’, OHG hadu-, ‘fight’, MHG hader, ‘quarrel, strife’).  The etymology of Balder is uncertain, although it may be related (see Simek) to ON baldr, OHG bald, ‘bold’.  I will explore in a moment why this possible meaning for the name of Hodr’s victim may be significant.

Baldr's death is portrayed in this illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.

[Balder's Death from an 18th century Icelandic MS.]

Elsewhere, I’ve shown that Hodr not only has a strong affinity with Thor (for the mistletoe taken from the Jupiter/thunder god’s tree is emblematic of the divine lightning weapon, found both in the form of Thor’s hammer Mjollnir and Odin’s spear Gungnir), but with All-father as well (Odin is not only missing an eye, but is known by the name Tviblindi, ‘blind in both eyes’). It is not inconceivable that at some point in the process of legend-making the god Hottr/Hod, viz. Odin, became confused with Hodr.

It may even be that the famous – though unnamed – Sheriff of Nottingham can be brought into this picture.  The very first “sheriff”, if such he may be called, was one Hugh fitz Baldric.  We can learn a great deal about him from consulting sources such as these:

The name Baldric is to be derived from the same Bald, ‘bold’, we discussed briefly above, plus the common name component –ric, meaning roughly ‘ruler’.  Hugh (or another man of the same name?) was thought to be not only German, but an archer.

We thus have a man set over the region known to be the home of the later historical Robin Hood whose patronymic resembled to an uncanny degree the name of the god Balder. A region where the god Hottr/Hod, perhaps conflated with Hodr, may have left an imprint.

For any of this to work, however, we must ask whether the Anglo-Saxons even knew of the god Hodr.  Fortunately for us, there is some evidence that they may well have possessed knowledge of the Hodr-Balder myth.

From John Lindow’s “Murder and Vengeance Among the Gods”:

“Killings within the family turn up with considerable frequency throughout Germanic heroic literature. Perhaps the richest case of homicide between full brothers is the accidental slaying of Herebeald by Haeðcyn in Beowulf 2425-72, an analogue that has long been part of the Baldr dossier because of the similarities of the name components, -beald and Haeð-, to the names of the main players in the Scandinavian versions, and the fact that a projectile was used in both cases. The parallels, however, go beyond the names and flying agent of death. Like Baldr, Herebeald enters the story only to be cut down, but, like Hötherus, Haeðcyn plays a role in legendary history, for he was killed in battle by Ongenðeow at Hrefnuwudu. Herebeald and Haeðcyn are the sons of King Hreðel of the Geats, father of Hygelac and grandfather of Beowulf and thus in the poem the founder of the dynasty, just as Óðinn stands atop his dynastic line. The _griðastaðr_ of Gylfaginning is repeated in the incident in Beowulf — clarified by the focus on the intolerable situation created by this slaying within a family.

That was an inexpiable quarrel, a great wrong,

heart-wearying; nevertheless, the noble had to

depart from life unavenged.

“The poet likens the position of Hreðel to that of a old man who sees his son swinging on the gallows and gives in to his sorrow. A few lines later, Hreðel tums his face to the wall:

Then with that sorrow, which affected him so greatly,

he gave up the joys of men, chose the light of God,

he left to his sons, as a happy man does,

his lands and ancestral towns, when he went from life.

“With the death of Hreðel comes chaos, as the tribe of Ongenðeow of the Swedes attacks the Geats. Bad as this appears to be, it offers an opportunity for vengeance to occur as it should. Haeðcyn, now king of the Geats, dies in this unrest, apparently at the hands of Ongonðeow. The sole surviving brother is Hygelac.

“In the long scholarly record on Baldr and on Beowulf, various scenarios have been proposed to account for the relationship between the Herebeald-Haeðcyn episode and the myth of Baldr’s death. Neckel (1920) thought that the incident at Hreðel’s court, which he assumed to be based on a real accident, was influenced by the Baldr myth to assume the form it took; Nerman (1915) and Malone (1962) argued that the myth may have been influenced by the historical event. The latest word appears to be that of Dronke (1968), who finds in the Herebeald-Haeðcyn episode possible evidence that the Beowulf poet had access to at least some of the Norse myths. Clunies Ross (1994) declines to take a position, but notes that “the core elements of the myth are all present” in Beowulf. These include the problem of a dynastic crisis: Herebeald is Hreðel’s oldest son, and the kingdom is invaded soon after Hreðel’s death. For Clunies Ross this is a center of the myth: Baldr is likely to be Óðinn’s oldest son and presumptive heir; as a result of the incident Óðinn loses both Baldr and another heir, Höðr; he is forced to dispatch a third heir, Hermóðr, on a fruitless journey to the underworld; finally he must sire Váli for the purpose of vengeance.”

Here is the complete passage from Beowulf (lines 2430-2440, Seamus Heaney translation):

King Hrethel kept me and took care of me,

Was open-handed, behaved like a kinsman.

While I was his ward, he treated me no worse

As a wean about the place than one of his own boys,

Herebeald and Haethcyn, or my own Hygelac.

For the eldest, Herebeald, an unexpected

Deathbed was laid out, through a brother’s doing,

When Haethcyn bent his horn-tipped bow

And loosed the arrow that destroyed his life.

He shot wide and buried a shaft

In the flesh and blood of his own brother.

Admittedly, any such connection of this very ancient mythic material to the Robin Hood legend must be considered extremely tangential.  One might say it could represent only part of the substratum of the folkloristic overlay that came to dominate the kernel of historical truth.   In any case, none of what I’ve tentatively proposed above can be convincingly proven.  Nor should it be sanctified by the dictates of neopagan zeal.  Instead, it is my hope that future researchers may find my ideas worth pursuing as a departure point on their own quest for the elusive outlaw.

For those who are interested, I’ve pasted below the Icelandic and Danish versions of the story of Hodr and Balder.  The first translation is by Anthony Faulkes from Edda Snorra Sturlusonar [i.e., the Edda of Snorri Sturluson], London: Dent, 1987. The second is an edited version of Oliver Elton’s 1905 translation of the tale (courtesy


 [T]he beginning of this story is that Balder the Good dreamed great dreams boding peril to his life. And when he told the Æsir the dreams they took counsel together and it was decided to request immunity for Balder from all kinds of danger, and Frigg received solemn promises so that Balder should not be banned by fire and water, iron and all kinds of metal, stones, the earth, trees, diseases, the animals, the birds, poison, snakes. And when this was done and confirmed, then it became an entertainment for Balder and the Æsir that he should stand up at assemblies and all the others should either shoot at him or strike at him or throw stones at him. But whatever they did he was unharmed, and they all thought this a great glory. But when Loki Laufeyiarson saw this he was not pleased that Balder was unharmed. He went to Fensalir to Frigg and changed his appearance to that of a woman. Then Frigg asked this woman if she knew what the Æsir were doing at the assembly. She said that everyone was shooting at Balder, and moreover that he was unharmed. Then said Frigg: “Weapons and wood will not hurt Balder. I have received oaths from them all.”

    Then the woman asked: “Have all things sworn oaths not to harm Balder?”

    Then Frigg replied: “There grows a shoot of a tree to the west of Valhalla. It is called mistletoe. It seemed young to me to demand the oath from.”

    Straight away the woman disappeared. And Loki took mistletoe and plucked it and went to the assembly. Hod was standing at the edge of the circle of people, for he was blind. Then Loki said to him: “Why are you not shooting at Balder?”

    He replied: “Because I cannot see where Balder is, and secondly because I have no weapon.”

    Then said Loki: “Follow other people’s example and do Balder honor like other people. I will direct you to where he is standing. Shoot at him this stick.”

    Hod took the mistletoe and shot at Balder at Loki’s direction. The missile flew through him and he fell dead to the ground, and this was the unluckiest deed ever done among gods and men. When Balder had fallen, then all the Æsir’s tongues failed them, as did their hands for lifting him up, and they all looked at each other and were all of one mind towards the one who had done the deed. But no one could take vengeance, it was a place of such sanctuary.

    When the Æsir tried to speak then what happened first was that weeping came out, so that none could tell another in words of his grief. But it was Odin who took this injury the hardest in that he had the best idea what great deprivation and loss the death of Balder would cause the Æsir. And when the gods came to themselves then Frigg spoke, and asked who there was among the Æsir who wished to earn all her love and favor and was willing to ride the road to Hel and try if he could find Balder, and offer Hel >> note 1 a ransom if she would let Balder go back to Asgard. Hermod the Bold, Odin’s boy, is the name of the one who undertook this journey. Then Odin’s horse Sleipnir was fetched and led forward and Hermod mounted this horse and galloped away. So the Æsir took Balder’s body and carried it to the sea. Hringhorni was the name of Balder’s ship. It was the biggest of all ships. This the Æsir planned to launch and perform on it Balder’s funeral. . . . Then Balder’s body was carried out on to the ship, and when his wife Nanna Nep’s daughter saw this she collapsed with grief and died. She was carried on to the pyre and it was set on fire. . . .

    Balder’s horse was led onto the pyre with all its harness. But there is this to tell of Hermod that he rode for nine nights through valleys dark and deep so that he saw nothing until he came to the river Gioll and rode on to Gioll bridge. It is covered with glowing gold. There is a maiden guarding the bridge called Modgud. She asked him his name and lineage and said that the other day there had ridden over the bridge five battalions of dead men:

    “But the bridge resounds no less under just you, and you do not have the color of dead men. Why are you riding here on the road to Hel?”

    He replied: “I am to ride to Hel to seek Balder. But have you seen anything of Balder on the road to Hel?”

    And she said that Balder had ridden there over Gioll bridge, “but downwards and northwards lies the road to Hel.”

    Then Hermod rode on until he came to Hel’s gates. Then he dismounted from the horse and tightened its girth, mounted and spurred it on. The horse jumped so hard and over the gate that it came nowhere near. Then Hermod rode up to the hall and dismounted from his horse, went into the hall, saw sitting there in the seat of honor his brother Balder; and Hermod stayed there the night. In the morning Hermod begged from Hel that Balder might ride home with him and said what great weeping there was among the Æsir. But Hel said that it must be tested whether Balder was as beloved as people said in the following way, “And if all things in the world, alive and dead, weep for him, then he shall go back to the Æsir, but be kept with Hel if any objects or refuses to weep.”

    Then Hermod got up and Balder went with him out of the hall. . . . Then Hermod rode back on his way and came to Asgard and told all the tidings he had seen and heard.

    After this the Æsir sent over all the world messengers to request that Balder be wept out of Hel. And all did this, the people and animals and the earth and the stones and trees and every metal, just as you will have seen that these things weep when they come out of frost and into heat. When the envoys were traveling back having well fulfilled their errand, they found in a certain cave a giantess sitting. She said her name was Thanks. They bade her weep Balder out of Hel. She said, “Thanks will weep dry tears for Balder’s burial. No good got I from the old one’s son either dead or alive. Let Hel hold what she has.” It is presumed that this was Loki Laufeyiarson, who has done most evil among the Æsir.


In Book Three of his Gesta Danorum, the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus tells an alternate version of the death of the Norse god Baldr. In Saxo’s version, Baldr is a demigod, killed by a mortal rival for a maiden’s hand in marriage.

When Helgi had slain Hodbrodd, his son Hother passed the length of his boyhood under the tutelage of King Gewar. While a stripling, he excelled in strength of body all his foster-brethren and compeers. Moreover, he was gifted with many accomplishments of mind. He was very skilled in swimming and archery, and also with the gloves; and further was as nimble as such a youth could be, his training being equal to his strength. Though his years were unripe, his richly-dowered spirit surpassed them. None was more skilful on lyre or harp; and he was cunning on the timbrel, on the lute, and in every modulation of string instruments. With his changing measures he could sway the feelings of men to what passions he would; he knew how to fill human hearts with joy or sadness, with pity or with hatred, and used to enwrap the soul with the delight or terror of the ear. All these accomplishments of the youth pleased Nanna, the daughter of Gewar, mightily, and she began to seek his embraces. For the valour of a youth will often kindle a maid, and the courage of those whose looks are not so winning is often acceptable. For love hath many avenues; the path of pleasure is opened to some by grace, to others by bravery of soul, and to some by skill in accomplishments. Courtesy brings to some stores of Love, while most are commended by brightness of beauty. Nor do the brave inflict a shallower wound on maidens than the comely.

Now it befell that Balder the son of Odin was troubled at the sight of Nanna bathing, and was seized with boundless love. He was kindled by her fair and lustrous body, and his heart was set on fire by her manifest beauty; for nothing excites passion like comeliness. Therefore he resolved to slay with the sword Hother, who, he feared, was likeliest to baulk his wishes; so that his love, which brooked no postponement, might not be delayed in the enjoyment of its desire by any obstacle.

About this time Hother chanced, while hunting, to be led astray by a mist, and he came on a certain lodge in which were wood-maidens; and when they greeted him by his own name, he asked who they were. They declared that it was their guidance and government that mainly determined the fortunes of war. For they often invisibly took part in battles, and by their secret assistance won for their friends the coveted victories. They averted, indeed, that they could win triumphs and inflict defeats as they would; and further told him how Balder had seen his foster-sister Nanna while she bathed, and been kindled with passion for her; but counselled Hother not to attack him in war, worthy as he was of his deadliest hate, for they declared that Balder was a demigod, sprung secretly from celestial seed. When Hother had heard this, the place melted away and left him shelterless, and he found himself standing in the open and out in the midst of the fields, without a vestige of shade. Most of all he marvelled at the swift flight of the maidens, the shifting of the place, and the delusive semblance of the building. For he knew not that all that had passed around him had been a mere mockery and an unreal trick of the arts of magic.

Returning thence, he related to Gewar the mystification that had followed on his straying, and straightway asked him for his daughter. Gewar answered that he would most gladly favour him, but that he feared if he rejected Balder he would incur his wrath; for Balder, he said, had proffered him a like request. For he said that the sacred strength of Balder’s body was proof even against steel; adding, however, that he knew of a sword which could deal him his death, which was fastened up in the closest bonds; this was in the keeping of Miming, the Satyr of the woods, who also had a bracelet of a secret and marvellous virtue, that used to increase the wealth of the owner. Moreover, the way to these regions was impassable and filled with obstacles, and therefore hard for mortal men to travel. For the greater part of the road was perpetually beset with extraordinary cold. So he advised him to harness a car with reindeer, by means of whose great speed he could cross the hard-frozen ridges. And when he had got to the place, he should set up his tent away from the sun in such wise that it should catch the shadow of the cave where Miming was wont to be; while he should not in return cast a shade upon Miming, so that no unaccustomed darkness might be thrown and prevent the Satyr from going out. Thus both the bracelet and the sword would be ready to his hand, one being attended by fortune in wealth and the other by fortune in war, and each of them thus bringing a great prize to the owner. Thus much said Gewar; and Hother was not slow to carry out his instructions. Planting his tent in the manner aforesaid, he passed the nights in anxieties and the days in hunting. But through either season he remained very wakeful and sleepless, allotting the divisions of night and day so as to devote the one to reflection on events, and to spend the other in providing food for his body. Once as he watched all night, his spirit was drooping and dazed with anxiety, when the Satyr cast a shadow on his tent. Aiming a spear at him, he brought him down with the blow, stopped him, and bound him, while he could not make his escape. Then in the most dreadful words he threatened him with the worst, and demanded the sword and bracelets. The Satyr was not slow to tender him the ransom of his life for which he was asked. So surely do all prize life beyond wealth; for nothing is ever cherished more among mortals than the breath of their own life. Hother, exulting in the treasure he had gained, went home enriched with trophies which, though few, were noble.

Balder entered the country of Gewar armed, in order to sue for Nanna. Gewar bade him learn Nanna’s own mind; so he approached the maiden with the most choice and cajoling words; and when he could win no hearing for his prayers, he persisted in asking the reason of his refusal. She replied that a god could not wed with a mortal, because the vast difference of their natures prevented any bond of intercourse. Also the gods sometimes used to break their pledges; and the bond contracted between unequals was apt to snap suddenly. There was no firm tie between those of differing estate; for beside the great, the fortunes of the lowly were always dimmed. Also lack and plenty dwelt in diverse tents, nor was there any fast bond of intercourse between gorgeous wealth and obscure poverty. In fine, the things of earth would not mate with those of heaven, being sundered by a great original gulf through a difference in nature; inasmuch as mortal man was infinitely far from the glory of the divine majesty. With this shuffling answer she eluded the suit of Balder, and shrewdly wove excuses to refuse his hand.

When Hother heard this from Gewar, he complained long to Helgi of Balder’s insolence. Both were in doubt as to what should be done, and beat their brains over divers plans; for converse with a friend in the day of trouble, though it removes not the peril, yet makes the heart less sick. Amid all the desires of their souls the passion of valour prevailed, and a naval battle was fought with Balder. One would have thought it a contest of men against gods, for Odin and Thor and the holy array of the gods fought for Balder. There one could have beheld a war in which divine and human might were mingled. But Hother was clad in his steel-defying tunic, and charged the closest bands of the gods, assailing them as vehemently as a son of earth could assail the powers above. However, Thor was swinging his club with marvellous might, and shattered all interposing shields, calling as loudly on his foes to attack him as upon his friends to back him up. No kind of armour withstood his onset; no man could receive his stroke and live. Whatsoever his blow fended off it crushed; neither shield nor helm endured the weight of its dint; no greatness of body or of strength could serve. Thus the victory would have passed to the gods, but that Hother, though his line had already fallen back, darted up, hewed off the club at the haft, and made it useless. And the gods, when they had lost this weapon, fled incontinently.

As for Balder, he took to flight and was saved. The conquerors either hacked his ships with their swords or sunk them in the sea; not content to have defeated gods, they pursued the wrecks of the fleet with such rage, as if they would destroy them to satiate their deadly passion for war. Thus doth prosperity commonly whet the edge of licence. The haven, recalling by its name Balder’s flight, bears witness to the war. Gelder, the King of Saxony, who met his end in the same war, was set by Hother upon the corpses of his oarsmen, and then laid on a pyre built of vessels, and magnificently honoured in his funeral by Hother, who not only put his ashes in a noble barrow, treating them as the remains of a king, but also graced them with most reverent obsequies. Then, to prevent any more troublesome business delaying his hopes of marriage, he went back to Gewar and enjoyed the coveted embraces of Nanna. Next, having treated Helgi and Thora very generously, he brought his new queen back to Sweden, being as much honoured by all for his victory as Balder was laughed at for his flight.

At this time the nobles of the Swedes repaired to Denmark to pay their tribute; but Hother, who had been honoured as a king by his countrymen for the splendid deeds of his father, experienced what a lying pander Fortune is. For he was conquered in the field by Balder, whom a little before he had crushed, and was forced to flee to Gewar, thus losing while a king that victory which he had won as a common man. The conquering Balder, in order to slake his soldiers, who were parched with thirst, with the blessing of a timely draught, pierced the earth deep and disclosed a fresh spring. The thirsty ranks made with gaping lips for the water that gushed forth everywhere. The traces of these springs, eternised by the name, are thought not quite to have dried up yet, though they have ceased to well so freely as of old. Balder was continually harassed by night phantoms feigning the likeness of Nanna, and fell into such ill health that he could not so much as walk, and began the habit of going his journeys in a two horse car or a four-wheeled carriage. So great was the love that had steeped his heart and now had brought him down almost to the extremity of decline. For he thought that his victory had brought him nothing if Nanna was not his prize. Also Frey, the regent of the gods, took his abode not far from Uppsala, where he exchanged for a ghastly and infamous sin-offering the old custom of prayer by sacrifice, which had been used by so many ages and generations. For he paid to the gods abominable offerings, by beginning to slaughter human victims.

Meantime Hother learned that Denmark lacked leaders, and that Hiartuar had swiftly expiated the death of Rolf; and he used to say that chance had thrown into his hands that to which he could scarce have aspired. Thereupon he took possession, with a very great fleet, of Isefjord, a haven of Zealand, so as to make use of his impending fortune. There the people of the Danes met him and appointed him king; and a little after, on hearing of the death of his brother Athisl, whom he had bidden rule the Swedes, he joined the Swedish empire to that of Denmark.

While Hother was in Sweden, Balder also came to Zealand with a fleet; and since he was thought to be rich in arms and of singular majesty, the Danes accorded him with the readiest of voices whatever he asked concerning the supreme power. With such wavering judgment was the opinion of our forefathers divided. Hother returned from Sweden and attacked him. They both coveted sway, and the keenest contest for the sovereignty began between them; but it was cut short by the flight of Hother. He retired to Jutland, and caused to be named after him the village in which he was wont to stay. Here he passed the winter season, and then went back to Sweden alone and unattended. There he summoned the grandees, and told them that he was weary of the light of life because of the misfortunes wherewith Balder had twice victoriously stricken him. Then he took farewell of all, and went by a circuitous path to a place that was hard of access, traversing forests uncivilised. For it oft happens that those upon whom has come some inconsolable trouble of spirit seek, as though it were a medicine to drive away their sadness, far and sequestered retreats, and cannot bear the greatness of their grief amid the fellowship of men; so dear, for the most part, is solitude to sickness. For filthiness and grime are chiefly pleasing to those who have been stricken with ailments of the soul. Now he had been wont to give out from the top of a hill decrees to the people when they came to consult him; and hence when they came they upbraided the sloth of the king for hiding himself, and his absence was railed at by all with the bitterest complaints.

But Hother, when he had wandered through remotest byways and crossed an uninhabited forest, chanced to come upon a cave where some maidens whom he knew not dwelt; but they proved to be the same who had once given him the invulnerable coat. Asked by them wherefore he had come thither, he related the disastrous issue of the war. So he began to bewail the ill luck of his failures and his dismal misfortunes, condemning their breach of faith, and lamenting that it had not turned out for him as they had promised him. But the maidens said that though he had seldom come off victorious, he had nevertheless inflicted as much defeat on the enemy as they on him, and had dealt as much carnage as he had shared in. Moreover, the favour of victory would be speedily his, if he could first lay hands upon a food of extraordinary delightsomeness which had been devised to increase the strength of Balder. For nothing would be difficult if he could only get hold of the dainty which was meant to enhance the rigour of his foe.

Hard as it sounded for earthborn endeavours to make armed assault upon the gods, the words of the maidens inspired Hother’s mind with instant confidence to fight with Balder. Also some of his own people said that he could not safely contend with those above; but all regard for their majesty was expelled by the boundless fire of his spirit. For in brave souls vehemence is not always sapped by reason, nor doth counsel defeat rashness. Or perchance it was that Hother remembered how the might of the lordliest oft proves unstable, and how a little clod can batter down great chariots.

On the other side, Balder mustered the Danes to arms and met Hother in the field. Both sides made a great slaughter; the carnage of the opposing parties was nearly equal, and night stayed the battle. About the third watch, Hother, unknown to any man, went out to spy upon the enemy, anxiety about the impending peril having banished sleep. This strong excitement favours not bodily rest, and inward disquiet suffers not outward repose. So, when he came to the camp of the enemy he heard that three maidens had gone out carrying the secret feast of Balder. He ran after them (for their footsteps in the dew betrayed their flight), and at last entered their accustomed dwelling. When they asked him who he was, he answered, a lutanist, nor did the trial belie his profession. For when the lyre was offered him, he tuned its strings, ordered and governed the chords with his quill, and with ready modulation poured forth a melody pleasant to the ear. Now they had three snakes, of whose venom they were wont to mix a strengthening compound for the food of Balder, and even now a flood of slaver was dripping on the food from the open mouths of the serpents. And some of the maidens would, for kindness sake, have given Hother a share of the dish, had not eldest of the three forbidden them, declaring that Balder would be cheated if they increased the bodily powers of his enemy. He had said, not that he was Hother, but that he was one of his company. Now the same nymphs, in their gracious kindliness, bestowed on him a belt of perfect sheen and a girdle which assured victory.

Retracing the path by which he had come, he went back on the same road, and meeting Balder plunged his sword into his side, and laid him low half dead. When the news was told to the soldiers, a cheery shout of triumph rose from all the camp of Hother, while the Danes held a public mourning for the fate of Balder. He, feeling no doubt of his impending death, and stung by the anguish of his wound, renewed the battle on the morrow; and, when it raged hotly, bade that he should be borne on a litter into the fray, that he might not seem to die ignobly within his tent. On the night following, Proserpine was seen to stand by him in a vision, and to promise that on the morrow he should have her embrace. The boding of the dream was not idle; for when three days had passed, Balder perished from the excessive torture of his wound; and his body given a royal funeral, the army causing it to be buried in a barrow which they had made.

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By August Hunt

runestone U_240,_Lingsberg sweden

[Runestone U240, Lingsberg, Sweden]

In the Norse Eddic poem “Havamal”, the god Odin cryptically refers to eighteen magical songs or spells meant to be used in conjunction with the runes.  These songs have been variously interpreted in the past, and different runes or combinations of runes have been applied to each.  Unfortunately, as is true of Guido von List’s “Armanen” system (see, mystical or intuitive approaches have failed to yield any convincing analyses.  Some more rationalistic attempts have shown promise in their methodology, but have also produced dubious conclusions.

What follows is my own brief attempt to grapple with the problem posed by the eighteen Havamal songs.  My method is rather simple: begin by explaining why there appear to be 18 runes referred to when we know the Younger Futhark or runic alphabet of the time was comprised of 16 letters, and then, once that is accomplished, properly assign one rune to each spell.

I will begin with the 18th runic song.  Note that the translations offered here are from the Carolyne Larrington version of the Poetic Edda.

 163      I know an eighteenth, which I shall never teach

           to any girl or man’s wife—

           it’s always better when just one person knows,

           that follows at the end of the spells—

           except one woman whom my arms embrace,

           or who may be my sister.

The rune meant to attend this charm, as the context makes clear, is a so-called “secret rune”.  Secret runes were used to send or record coded messages.  One rune could be arbitrarily chosen to represent the meaning of another or the rune could actually be altered in appearance to take on a wholly new meaning, one known only to the originator of the coded text.  As such, this spell is not meant to be included in the 16 letter futhark, but is instead to be considered an “extra” rune whose nature cannot possibly be revealed.

This leaves us with 17 songs.  Fortunately, we know that the fourth letter of the Younger Futhark, /a/, could have two meanings.  It could represent ass, ‘god’ (perhaps, in particular, Odin himself), or it could stand for oss, ‘estuary, mouth’.  If we allow for both of these definitions for /a/ being found in the eighteen spells, which we have already reduced to seventeen, then we would be permitted to claim that, in reality, only sixteen runes belong to Havamal.

[The /u/ rune in the Younger Futhark means ‘slag, drizzle’, but in the Elder Futhark it appears to have been defined as “aurochs”, the wild ancestor of domestic cattle.  I don’t think this meaning was still significant for the inhabitants of late medieval Iceland, and probably it was no longer even recognized.  Domestic cattle as a measurement of wealth fell under the /f/ rune, and the Icelandic Runic Poem specifically describes /u/ as “lamentation of the clouds and ruin of the hay-harvest and abomination of the shepherd.”]

Assuming this to be true, I will proceed with an examination of the remaining seventeen spells.

146     I know those spells which a ruler’s wife doesn’t know,

           nor any man’s son;

           ‘help’ one is called,

           and that will help you

           against accusations and sorrows

           and every sort of anxiety.

This, of course, is for the /n/ or naudr rune, ‘need, necessity, distress’.

147      I know a second one which the sons of men need,

           those who want to live as physicians.

The /k/ or kaun rune, ‘sore, ulcer.’

148      I know a third one which is very useful to me,

           which fetters my enemy;

           the edges of my foes I can blunt,

           neither weapon nor club will bite for them.

The /t/ or Tyr rune, said in the literature to have been applied to blades.  We can assume that such a rune would have an apotropaic function against the enemy in addition to providing power and resilience to one’s own weapons.

149      I know a fourth one if men put

           chains upon my limbs;

           I can chant so that I can walk away,

           fetters spring from my feet,

           and bonds form my hands.

The ‘fetters’ referred to here are usually thought of as the battle-fear that freezes a person, immobilizing them even if just for a split second so that they can more easily be dispatched.  For this reason I would say the appropriate rune is /i/, ‘ice’.

150      I know a fifth if I see, shot in malice,

           a dart flying amid the army,

           it cannot fly so fast that I cannot stop it

           if I see it with my eyes.

The word dart here (flein in the Old Norse text) means also shaft, pike and the like, and so we must look for a corresponding potentially damaging natural force that could mimic such a weapon.  Hail is our best bet, and so I would risk attaching the /h/ rune to this spell.   Poetic kennings often refer to missile weapons in terms of weather phenomena, as in ‘hail of battle’.

151      I know a sixth one if a man wounds me

           with the roots of the sap-filled wood:

           and that man who conjured to harm me,

           the evil consumes him, not me.

The /y/ or ‘yew, yew bow’ rune.  The yew in European tradition is the tree of death.

152      I know a seventh one if I see towering flames

           in the hall of my companions:

           it can’t burn so widely that I can’t counteract it,

           I know the spells to chant.

Water is the opposing element to fire, so the rune for this song is /l/, ‘water’.

153      I know an eighth one, which is most useful

           for everyone to know;

           where hatred flares up between the sons of warriors,

           then I can quickly bring settlement.

The most commonly cited cause of such strife is gold or wealth (also cattle), and so the /f/ rune belongs here.  Wergild was money offered for settlement in the case of a slaying and payment could also be offered to compensate for other slights involving personal or family honor.

154      I know a ninth one if I am in need,

           if I must protect my ship at sea;

           the wind I can lull upon the wave

           and [sic] quieten all the sea to sleep.

The wind in the primitive, pre-scientific mind was related to breath, and for this reason I would tentatively place the first /a/ rune here, i.e. ‘estuary or mouth’, as the breath is drawn in and out of the mouth.

155      I know a tenth one if I see witches

           playing up in the air;

           I can bring it about that they can’t make their way back

           to their own shapes

           to their own spirits.

The /u/ rune is ‘slag, drizzle’.  By drizzle here is meant cold rain that freezes upon contact with the ground.  Slag, of course, is similar in the sense that it is a by-product of the ore smelting process that runs off in liquid form only to harden when it cools.  If we metaphorically view the spirits of the witches as being transformed into drizzle, then they have effectively been prevented from returning home to their bodies (which would be lying in trance).

156      I know an eleventh one if I have to lead

           loyal friends into battle;

           under the shields I chant, and they journey inviolate,

           safely to the battle

           safely from the battle

           safely they come everywhere.

The shield in Norse mythopoeic language is referred to as the sun.  So the /s/ rune, ‘sun’, belongs here.

157      I know a twelfth one if I see, up in a tree,

           a dangling corpse in a noose:

           I can so carve and colour the runes

          that the man walks

           and talks with me.

Odin’s “riding” on the gallows-tree Yggdrasill, and poetic use of “riding” for men on the “horse” known as the gallows-tree,  strongly suggests the rune for this song should be /r/, ‘ride, a riding’.

158      I know a thirteenth if I shall pour water

           over a young warrior:

           he will not fall though he goes into battle,

           before swords he will not sink.

One might think this is for water, the /l/ rune, but given the emphasis on youth we can point to the letter /b/ for ‘birch’, a tree in European tradition that symbolized birth and beginnings.  Here the young warrior should be seen as being “watered” like a new birch tree.  In the poetic kennings, warriors are often likened to trees.  The first man and woman in the world were created from trees.

159      I know a fourteenth if I have to reckon up [give the number of]

           the gods before men:

           Æsir and elves, I know the difference between them,

           few who are not wise know that.

The other /a/ rune, namely ‘ass’ or “god [= Odin?]”.  It is Odin as the triune god who in Snorri Sturlusson’s “Gylfaginning” enumerates and describes the gods.

160      I know a fifteenth, which the dwarf Thiodrerir

           chanted before Delling’s doors:

           powerfully he sang for the Æsir and before the elves,

           wisdom to Sage.

Delling, whose name may mean ‘the shining one’ (see Rudolf Simek’s Dictionary of Northern Mythology), is here chanting before the doors of the mountain or barrow, both being symbolic of the earth into which heavenly bodies pass, seed is planted and to which men go in death  – and from which all is ultimately reborn.  In fact, Thiodrerir has been etymologized as ‘the famous one in the burial mound’ (see again Simek).  The song is probably for a plentiful harvest, a good year, and thus a fertility charm.  The letter /a/ (for ar, not ass), ‘good harvest, plenty’, can be linked to this song. See H.R. Ellis Davidson’s “Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe” (p. 104) for the spirit known as the ar-madr in Icelandic saga.  This scholar says: “ar means harvest or season, and the implication is that the being in the stone could bring about a prosperous harvest.”

161      I know a sixteenth if I want to have all

           a clever woman’s heart and love-play:

           I can turn the thoughts of the white-armed woman

           and change her mind entirely.

We know from the Eddic poem “Skirnismal” that the /th/ rune, ‘thurs’ or ‘giant’, causes “lust” and “burning” and “unbearable need” to women (or at least to goddesses!).  For that reason, we can place that letter here.

162      I know a seventeenth, so that scarcely any

           young girl will want to shun me…

This is the ‘m’ or ‘man’ rune, the symbol of male virility.  The idea is, obviously, that young women cannot resist handsome, strong, well-endowed men, who are the human incarnation of the god, just as the woman is the avatar of the goddess.

It might, of course, be possible to arrange the runic letters differently in accordance with the “Havamal” songs.  It is also quite possible that instead of one runic letter being designated by each song, there originally were entire runic formulas composed of multiple letters, a phrase or even entire sentences.  If either of these alternatives hold true, then what I have offered above is quite worthless.  My suggestions are just that and sometimes a ‘best guess’ is merely a method for deriving the wrong answer to an unfathomable riddle.

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By August Hunt


In Book 1 of Saxo Grammaticus’s HISTORY OF THE DANES (Elton translation), we are told about a certain sorcerer named Mithothyn who takes over rule of the gods upon Odin’s exile:


“At this time there was one Odin, who was credited over all Europe with the honour, which was false, of godhead, but used more continually to sojourn at Upsala; and in this spot, either from the sloth of the inhabitants or from its own pleasantness, he vouchsafed to dwell with somewhat especial constancy. The kings of the North, desiring more zealously to worship his deity, embounded his likeness in a golden image; and this statue, which betokened their homage, they transmitted with much show of worship to Byzantium, fettering even the effigied arms with a serried mass of bracelets. Odin was overjoyed at such notoriety, and greeted warmly the devotion of the senders. But his queen Frigga, desiring to go forth more beautified, called smiths, and had the gold stripped from the statue. Odin hanged them, and mounted the statue upon a pedestal, which by the marvellous skill of his art he made to speak when a mortal touched it. But still Frigga preferred the splendour of her own apparel to the divine honours of her husband, and submitted herself to the embraces of one of her servants; and it was by this man’s device she broke down the image, and turned to the service of her private wantonness that gold which had been devoted to public idolatry. Little thought she of practicing unchastity, that she might the easier satisfy her greed, this woman so unworthy to be the consort of a god; but what should I here add, save that such a godhead was worthy of such a wife? So great was the error that of old befooled the minds of men. Thus Odin, wounded by the double trespass of his wife, resented the outrage to his image as keenly as that to his bed; and, ruffled by these two stinging dishonours, took to an exile overflowing with noble shame, imagining so to wipe off the slur of his ignominy.


When he had retired, one Mit-othin, who was famous for his juggling tricks [‘a famous illusionist’ in the Peter Fisher translation], was likewise quickened, as though by inspiration from on high, to seize the opportunity of feigning to be a god; and, wrapping the minds of the barbarians in fresh darkness, he led them by the renown of his jugglings [or ‘reputation for magicianship’] to pay holy observance to his name. He said that the wrath of the gods could never be appeased nor the outrage to their deity expiated by mixed and indiscriminate sacrifices, and therefore forbade that prayers for this end should be put up without distinction, appointing to each of those above his especial drink-offering. But when Odin was returning, he cast away all help of juggling [or ‘conjuring’], went to Finland to hide himself, and was there attacked and slain by the inhabitants. Even in his death his abominations were made manifest, for those who came nigh his barrow were cut off by a kind of sudden death; and after his end, he spread such pestilence that he seemed almost to leave a filthier record in his death than in his life: it was as though he would extort from the guilty a punishment for his slaughter. The inhabitants, being in this trouble, took the body out of the mound, beheaded it, and impaled it through the breast with a sharp stake; and herein that people found relief.


The death of Odin’s wife revived the ancient splendour of his name, and seemed to wipe out the disgrace upon his deity; so, returning from exile, he forced all those, who had used his absence to assume the honours of divine rank, to resign them as usurped; and the gangs of sorcerers that had arisen he scattered like a darkness before the advancing glory of his godhead. And he forced them by his power not only to lay down their divinity, but further to quit the country, deeming that they, who tried to foist themselves so iniquitously into the skies, ought to be outcasts from the earth.”


The problem has been an inability to determine exactly whom Mithothyn is – and this is because no good etymology has been proposed for his name.  It has long been suspected that the –othyn component of this name does preserve that of “Odin”.  Other gods in Norse myth take Odin’s place, including Ullerus (probably Ullr) and Odin’s brothers, Vili and Ve. 


The three leading etymological theories are:


1) A derivation from Old Norse mjotudr, ‘dispenser of fate, ruler, judge’; ‘bane, death’


2) An otherwise non-extant Norse form of Old Indian mithu, ‘false’, for a ‘False Odin’


3) Old Norse med, ‘with’, plus Odin, thus an error for a phrase reading ‘with Odin’, thought to be a reference to another deity who regularly accompanied Odin, such as Loki, who was known for getting the gods into and out of bad predicaments


None of the proposed derivations are particularly attractive.


Would the following work better, perhaps?  If we bear in mind we are getting this name from Saxo’s rather late medieval Latin, could this not be ‘Meid(r)-Odin’?  From Norse myth we know well of the Mimameidr or Mimi’s (Mimir’s) Tree, another name for Odin’s Yggdrasill.  We also find Mimir, Hoddmimir and Sokkmimir.  Odin is brought into close connection with Mimir, especially the latter’s head; in fact, I have elsewhere made a case for Mimir being but an aspect of Odin himself.  Certainly, Odin (who even bears the name of Yggr) is linked to Yggdrasill the world tree, and to gallows-trees as vehicles of human sacrifice.  Like Mimir, Mithothyn is decapitated.  One cannot help but wonder (the obvious draugr motif parallel aside) if the stake with which Mithothyn is impaled may not be the pole or tree, ritually speaking, and thus be symbolically representative of Mimameidr/Yggdrasill.


Mimir is also part of the story of the Aesir and the Vanir, and some (see Dumezil) have thought Mithothyn’s role may have some bearing on that particular myth. 


That the Mithothyn in Saxo Grammaticus who takes Odin’s place is actually Meid(r)-Odin or Tree/Gallows Odin receives some additional support from the ancient Old Icelandic Eddic poem, Havamal (strophe 138):


Veit ek, at ek hekk

vindga meiði á

nætr allar níu,

geiri undaðr

ok gefinn Óðni,

sjalfr sjalfum mér,

á þeim meiði,

er manngi veit

hvers af rótum renn.


Here Odin himself tells us he has hung on the windy tree, ‘vindga MEIDI’, for nine nights, a sacrifice to himself.  This sacrifice is performed so that he may win the runes.

Yggdrasil Marek Hlavaty

It may be that the form of Odin worshipped at Odense or ‘Odin’s Ve’, Odin’s Shrine, on Fyn was none other than Meidr-Odin, i.e. Odin of the Gallows-Tree. I would note in passing that the Ve who is called Odin’s brother is the same word for “shrine” or “temple” as that found in the Odense place-name.  

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