On the location of the Kudrun

The last month I’ve extensively been reading the Kudrun (Gudrunlied) over and over again. It’s an Middle High German epic, written probably in the early years of the 13th century. The song actually consists out of two major parts. The first part is about the wooing of Hilde by Hettel and the second part handles about the misfortune of their daughter Kudrun.

What excited me was that the story takes place in the delta of the Schelde. A map from the 14th century shows various places which belong to the Kudrun, like the Heidensee and Wulpen. On this island Hettel, Herwig and Siegfried fight against Hartmut, whose father Ludwig kills Hettel. One of the reasons that the Kudrun tickled my interest is the appearance of three heroes: Wate, Fruote and Horand. They are nobody else than Óðinn, Freyr and Hœnir.

map-1

The second map is from Mercator from the 17th century where the islands are better visible:

Mercator map

A document from Brugge, dating 1190, speaks of “Wulpingi, homines de Wulpia sive de Cassant”. Wulpa is related to the Wülpensand of the sage and reflects in the Oldnorse Frökasund where Freyki (the little Freyr) dies. Another document from 1167 talks about “Vulpa et Cadsant, tam de môrlant, quam de werplant”. Now Siegfried is called the one from “von Môrlant” (Moerkerke). It should be noted that in the southern part of Flanders there is even a region called “De Moeren”. Like the word says, it is a swampy area.

There are even more toponomical indicators that the main actions of the Kudrun takes place here and not in the high north, nor in northern Germany, although Denmark, Ireland, Normandy and the Rhein-area are also noteworthy places in the sage.

I would really recommend a read of the Kudrun in the original Middle High German to better grasp the atmosphere. Whomever speaks German or Dutch will have few problems to translate the text without constantly grabbing a dictionary.

Frau Holle und der Bauer

For people trying to read Süterlin, I give you the scan of another sage, and the transcription. Have fun reading.

manuscript-holle-003-3

The sage was recorded by Grimm and retold in the writers own words:

Als Frau Holle einmal umherzog, begegnete ihr ein Bauer mit einer Axt. Sie redete ihn freundlich an und bat ihn, er möge ihren Wagen etwas verkeilen und ausbessern. Der gute Mann machte sich an die Arbeit, und als sie vollendet war, sprach sie zu ihm: “Raff die Späne auf und nimm sie zum Trinkgelt mit”. Darauf fuhr sie ihres Weges. Dem Mann aber kamen die Späne recht unmutig und wertlos vor, darum ließ er sie zum größten Teil liegen, nur ein Stück oder drei nahm er für die Langeweile mit. Wie er aber nach Hause kam und in der Sack griff, waren die Späne eitel Gold. Alsobald eilte er zurück, um auch die andere Späne, welche er liegen gelassen hatte, noch zu holen. Aber so sehr er auch suchte, es war zu spät, von der Späne war nichts mehr zu finden.

Im Reiche der Frau Holle

I’ve transcribed another sage from the manuscript I’ve mentioned. This time the reading of Sütterlin went better. The sage contains a lot of material from Grimm, but is anyway an own interpretation of the author. It was filed under Meißnerland und Werratal.

1. Im Reiche der Frau Holle

Der Frauhollenteich ist der Eingangstor zu dem unterirdischen Reiche der frau Holle. Oft steigt sie aus ihrem Palaste empor und alte Leute erzählen, wie man die Frau Holle zuweilen badend im Frauhollenteiche gesehen habe. Bald zeigt sie sich als eine schöne weiße Frau auf der Mitte des Teiches, bald ist sie unsichtbar, und man hört bloß aus der Tiefe herauf Glockengeläute und geheimnisvolles Rauschen. Was sie in ihrem Reiche bringt, Backwerk und prächtige Gewänder, Blumen und kostbares Obst, das in ihrem sonnigen Garten wächst, das gibt sie gerne denen, die ihr begegnen und ihr zu gefallen streben. Frauen, die in ihrem Brünnnen steigen, macht sie gesund und lebensfroh. Aus ihrem Brünnen kommen die neugeborenen Kinder, und Frau Holle trägt sie selbst daraus hervor.

Aber sie zieht auch Kinder, die ihrem Brunnen zu nahe kommen gerne zu sich herein; die guten macht sie zu Glückskindern, die bösen zu ungestalteten Wechselbälgen. Wann sie die unartigen Kinder mit der Rute, den braven und gehorsamen aber bringt sie spielzeug und schenkt ihnen Äpfel und Nüsse. Sie hält sehr auf Ordnung und häuslichen Fleiß. Mägde, die schon früh morgens in reingescheuerten Eimern Wasser zur Küche tragen, fanden oft Geldstücke darin. Faule Spinnerinnen bestraft sie, indem sie ihren den Rocken besudelt, das Garn verwirrt oder den Flachs anzündet; fleißigen hingegen schenkt sie Spindeln und spinnt selbst für sie über Nacht, daß die Spulen des Morgens voll sind. Faulenzerinnen zieht sie im Schlaf die Bettdecken ab und legt sie nackend aufs Steinpflaster. Oft verwirrt und zerzaust sie den Frauen auch die Haare und man nennt daher Mädhen oder Frauen mit verworrenen Haaren “Hollerkopf” und die die Leute sagen dann: das Haar ist “hollerig” oder auch “verhollert”. Wann es am Meißner nebelt, und besonders, wenn einzelnen Wolken daran hinziehen, so hat Frau Holle ihr Feuer im Berge; wenn es aber schneit, dann schüttelt Frau Holle ihr Bett, daß die Federn in der Luft umherfliegen.

 

Hessische Sagen – Frau Holle

Recently I’ve purchased a German manuscript probably written probably between 1910-1940. The manuscript contains hundreds of hand-written legends. The name of the writer is not very good legible, but I can make out his first name Rudolf. He collected explicitly all the “Sagen” for the generations after him. The book was unfortunately never published. I’ve made it one of my goals to start publishing his writings as we go. It is not my intention to clean or modernize the language. I focus on the transcription only.

The manuscript was written in Sütterlin which makes it not easy to decipher the manuscript. I couldn’t decipher one word though, which is marked by a red frame. Maybe you can help me out?

Frau Holle

Welchem Kinde im Hessenlande wäre nicht die Frau Holle bekannt? Und wer hätte im Winter, wenn die weißen Flocken vom Himmel hernieder rieseln, nicht schon ausgerufen: “Frau Holle schüttelt ihr Bett”.

Frau Holle durchzieht zwar alle deutschen Gaue, aber ihre Wohnung hat sie im Hessenlande, eine Wohnung, wie sie kein König schöner und prächtiger haben könnte. Und größte und schönste Berg des ganzen hessischen Berglandes, der herrliche Meißner, eine mächtige Berghöhe, von der man bei klarer Lüft bis zu dem Brocken und dem Inselsberge, der Wartburg und der hohen Rhön, dem Odenberge und dem Habichtswalde schauen kann, ist ihr eigen. Hier thront sie im untererirdischen Palaste , und von hier aus tritt sie ihre Umzuge durch die Lande an.

Der Gipfel des Meißner ist abgeglattet und bildet eine Ebene, die ungefähr eine Wegstunde lang und an manchen Stellen etwa halb so breit ist. Uralte Überlieferungen knüpfen sich an einzelne Orte dieser weiten Hochfläche, und kamen von altehrwürdigen Klang, wie der Schlachtrasen und die Runen-wiese, die Kitz-Kammer, und der Gottesborn, weisen zurück in die graue Vorzeit. Eine besondere Merkwürdigkeit der Hochfläche aber bildet eine kleiner, von hohem Gras und Schilf umrahmter See, eingebettet in die muldenartige Vertiefung einen Moorwiese. Das ist der Frauhollenteich, die Wohnung der Frau Holle.

The original:

manuscript-holle-001-red

Wende 15

The new issue (15) of the magazine Wende is out. Order it on the Werkgroep Hagal website when you master the Dutch language. Among other topics these are the cornerstones from this issue:

  • “Freyr en Gerðr” by J. De Cooman
  • “Werkgroep Hagal op het European Congress of Ethnic Religions Verslag” by E. Van Der Ven
  • An interview with “Taaldacht” by A. Demoor
  • “De liefdesmei” by W. Pyck

As usual a pleasant and profound read.

Credits for the image go to JS.

Telegony and the Sacred King

Scientist of the University of South Wales proved that telegony (also known as impregnation theory), the theory stating that offspring can inherit the characteristics of a previous mate of the female parent, exists. This applies for fruit flies at least, The researchers compared the size the young  by the size of the first male the mother mated with, rather than the second male that created the offspring. In other words, the first one to mate with the mother leaves some “genetic” mark which is passed on to all offspring, regardless of the other mating-partners.

The outcome of this research is very remarkable and has great implications. Although the theory of telegony has been discarded until now, it is not new. It was observed by cattle in the previous century, although not proven. The farmers knew that when a cow mate with an outstanding bull for this first time, she would give life to a very good offspring. When a mediocre bull mated with the cow for the first time, the offspring would inherit the mediocre characteristics of the bull too. Although not all characteristics were passed on, the number must have been big enough to be observed and enter in the knowledge of cattle breeding.

The idea of telegony applies to humans too, according to Aristotle. The characteristics of the one who deflowers the becoming mother will be passed on to the direct and indirect offspring too. The same happens in the mythology when gods like Zeus mate with mortal woman. Those woman give birth to a demi-god, but also her other offspring seems to inherit some heavenly characteristics.

I have been pondering on the idea whether the “ius primae noctis” finds its origin in the telegony. The “right of the first night” appears in the early antiquity. The first explicit evidence can be found in the Gilgamesh Epic from the old Babylonian period (about -1900). In this text, Gilgamesh, the tyrannical hero and ruler of Uruk, capital of Babylonia, is said to have enjoyed several privileges because of his outstanding position in the society of Uruk: “He cohabits with the betrothed bride – He first, The husband afterwards”. Classical writers mention the right of the first night in the same context, describing it as a privilege of rulers. It is explained as a good or bad custom according to the position of the ruler. We hear of other account from Libya and the island Kepahlonia. Valerius Maximus (20 AD) mentions a similar custom that arose during the revolt of the slaves of Volsinii: no free man could marry a virgin who had not previously been deflowered by a slave. This implies the inversion of the custom to breed out certain characteristics. In 1361 Edward, the Black Prince, heir to the throne of Edward III of England, resisted in marrying Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, who had been previously married because the blood of their offspring would not be pure anymore. The offspring would still have characteristics of the first husband of Joan. It must be clear that the custom and the beliefs surrounding it, were not limited to a certain culture but was widely spread, although not always practiced.

The right of the first night was known during the Viking time. In the eighth century in the Annals of the monastery Clonmacnosie (Ireland), the Vikings are accused of demanding the right of the first night from Christian brides: “the cheefe Gouvernour of them should have the bestowinge of any woman in the k’dom the first night after her marriage, so before her own husband should have carnal knowledge of her, to whom he pleased or keep her … (Indecipherable. Part of page-end frayed) to himself by night, to satisfy his lust”.  The Irish heroes of these epics are said to have enjoyed the privilege of the first night with the brides of their inferiors.

If this custom was really widely spread in the northern lands, is unknown, but the custom survived in the middle ages. A text from 15th Century Switzerland references the Lord of Maur demanding the right to take either the virginity of a bride or a fee, to be paid on the behalf of the betrothed.

In this sense J. Wettlaufer states:

The Germanic “mundium” payment of the free bridegroom to his bride or her family implied the right to take possession of the bride by means of taking her home and having the first sexual intercourse with her. If an unfree man in the early Middle Ages wanted to marry a free woman, he not only had to ask his lord’s permission; it was also the lord who paid the mundium for the servant’s bride as a loan. The unfree man was not legally entitled to act independently from his lord, and by paying the mundium, the lord acquired not only a new subject and wife for his servant but also (in a very formal sense) the right to take the woman home and to perform the “Beilager”, a symbolic custom representing the first sexual intercourse with the bride. The Germanic “Beilager” was an important part of the Germanic marriage ritual that was later integrated into the ecclesiastical ritual of marriage.

We learn that the ruler or the king had the privilege or the right to perform the act. In the Germanic culture, we know the concept of the sacred king. He stands under the protection of the gods (Óðinn) and represents the heavenly power on earth in all its aspects. The king embodies the supreme power, fertility and might. Moreover, he must be considered equal to the gods in a physical and psychological way. This function places him between gods and mortals making him the “better” human in every way.

Does this custom find its origin in the fact that the king, the representative of the gods, must leave his mark on the woman in order to spawn better offspring? The ruler or the king represents (or should represent) courage and fertility. And those are the characteristics which are considered as very important in the Germanic culture. When telegony is “proven” for fruit-flies and has been observed in cattle, it is not unlikely that it applies to humans too rendering this theory not so unrealistic.


Sources

A runic Inscription from Sigtuna

On a cattle bone from the 12th century, a rune-master carved encoded runes. The code is pretty straightforward. It consists out of a conglomerate of lines. A small space orders the lines in small groups. Every group starts with a line which is only half as long as the other lines. The encoding is similar to the encoding of the Rök-stones. The number of half lines at the beginning of a group designates the ætt. The sum of the longer lines gives us the position of the rune inside the ætt.

The decoding is unproblematic. We transcribe the runes as 3/6 1/6 2/5 1/4 3/6 which result in k y s / m k. It must be noted that the first ætt is actually Týs ætt and the third Freys.

Recently, Nordby translated the inscription as “kiss me”. This translation made it to the mainstream media, causing a small storm about the long-lost romantic nature of the “Vikings”. The inscription was placed in a bigger sociological framework. However, Nordby neglected, as fellow researchers, the findings of Klingenberg et al. Runes has also a mathematical meaning and a lot of inscriptions where mathematically encoded (gematria or isopsephy). This kind of encoding was very popular within the Greek writings and other writing-systems in the Middle East. It was German Klingenberg and before him the Swede Agrell who argued that also the runes and the runic inscriptions were ordered by mathematical rules.

This inscription too has also been ordered mathematically. The runes form two groups from 3 and 2 runes resulting in a total of 5 runes. This is the beginning of the Fibonacci sequence or the numbers of the section aureo: 2, 3, 5. The use of the sequence is found on the Horn of Gallehus, and on others artifacts from the Thorsberger Moor and the cauldron of Gundestrup. The sequence was well known in the Northern world.

There is even a more important aspect. The total numerical value of the runes is k6 + y16 + s11 + m15 + k6 = 54. This number is 2 times 27, the duration of the moon-month. This number has a protective meaning. The word laukaR has the same value 2 * 27 = 54, just as the magical expression alu like on the ring of Körlin. The writer expressed two times alu, probably hoping on a positive effect.

The on. kyss could not only mean physical “kissing”, but like the Dutch “liefkozen” means more like “to caress”, in a broader sense “to protect”. Maybe the writer didn’t want a physical kiss, but wanted the protection of the “good” gods or wanted the help of the gods to gain his love. This remains of course guessing, but is not unlikely.

The runic master had to improvise and orders the runes so that the inscription reflects a protective number. This technique has been seen in a lot of other inscription. The writer had to change the characters or leave out characters to align the inscription to the mathematical order. Even though this seems to be otherworldly for many, we find these trade-offs also in non-runic inscriptions. It is a shame that almost no researcher at all are investigating the gematric rules behind the runic inscriptions. Leaving this aspect out, reduces the inscription with its missing of sometimes false runes to a mere, faulty human to human communication. But just as in the Greek culture, the mathematical value of the inscriptions had a higher priority than the grammatical and phonological rules, resulting in apparently faulty inscriptions but with a correct value. And the same goes also for a lot of runic inscriptions.

The statement that the “codes were used in play and for learning runes, rather than to communicate” by Nordby is not really true. Of course, runic masters would have practiced, but mostly they wanted to communicate with two worlds: the human world and the worlds of the gods.


  • Arntz, H., Handbuch der Runenkunde. (1944)
  • Klingenberg, H., Runenschrift – Schriftdenken – Runeninschriften. (1973)
  • Krause, W., Die Sprache der urnordischen Runeninschriften. (1971)