The Nordic textual corpus is a frustrating, glinting thing. So often we glance across a passage therein which evidently speaks to something that is evidently far deeper in meaning than what is written there upon the page … and yet which the ravages of time and obscurity mean that we now cannot feasibly interpret except via (informed) guess-work.
Or can we …
Something I have recurrently demonstrated in the course of our work is that even despite Christianization having occurred some decades previously – the Nordic texts of Sturluson do a surprisingly fantastic job of preserving elements that are evidently much more ancient still. How ancient? They run right the way back to the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat – and afore the divergence of the Vedic and ‘Eddic’ mythologies’ respective bearer-peoples.
What this means, of course, is that when we encounter one of these frustratingly tantalizing seeming dead-end passages that is evidently referring to something now irrecoverable … occasionally it turns out not to be so. Because it is a direct parallel expression of something also found in the Vedas. Often rather condensed, and occasionally it is clear that Sturluson either did not understand or chose not to convey his understanding of what he was seeking to compile – but unmistakable in its resonancy, all the same.
A grand example of this is to be found within the Ynglinga Saga, wherein the following line otherwise seems almost innocuous in its relative mundanity:
“Odin knew finely where all missing cattle were concealed under the earth, and understood the songs by which the earth, the hills, the stones, and mounds were opened to him; and he bound those who dwell in them by the power of his word, and went in and took what he pleased.”
And yet, reading that simple line – it was as if thunder had roared with its pleasing familiarity. For I at once recognized this as a more succinct synopsis of something found in well more than half a dozen Hymns of the RigVeda – wherein it is the deed of Brihaspati , the Lord of Prayer [compare the theonym Galdrfodr] and the inspirational/emblematic combat theologian par excellence Who acts as template for later Vedic priests.
I have previously argued in a number of earlier works that Odin and Brihaspati are the same deity – and, for that matter, that Brihaspati and Rudra are likewise one; so I shall not seek to repeat all of that here. Instead, we shall just take a brief look at these parallel Vedic-Eddic expressions of the same archaic Indo-European mythic tradition.
Now, there are a number of ‘moving parts’ to the Vedic presentations of the myth – so it is useful to consider the ‘basic’ version first and thence start ‘building in’ some of the ‘enhancements’ which build thereupon.
At its most succinct, we have the version of the verses presented in RV I 62 3:
“Bṛhaspati cleft the mountain, found the cattle: the heroes shouted with the kine in triumph.”
Interestingly, this same hymnal also mentions Sarama, the Wolf-Goddess, and Her ‘Brood’ [which would presumably be the Hounds of Yama] – something that is considerably relevant given Her own exploits in this area in RV X 108 against the Panis – but more upon that, perhaps, some other time.
A more elaborate presentation occurs in RV II 24:
“2 He who with might bowed down the things that should be bowed, and in his fury rent the holds of Śambara:
Who overthrew what shook not, Brahmaṇaspati,—he made his way within the mountain stored with wealth.
3 That was a great deed for the Godliest of the Gods: strong things were loosened and the firmly fixed gave way.
He drave the kine forth and cleft Vala through by prayer, dispelled the darkness and displayed the light of heaven.”
Now, this is useful to us because it sets out just how it is that Brihaspati [Brahmanaspati is a slightly more elaborate rendering of the same theonym] is able to ‘open the mountain’ / remove the concealment of earth in order to liberate the cattle / treasure [and it is, of course, useful to note that ‘wealth’ and ‘cows’ are not so dissimilar in the ancient Indo-European conceptual syllabry – Waters and even the Sun and the Moon, as well as certain Womenfolk are also occasionally found in this role in other employments of the same formula].
So how do you think Brihaspati acquired this wealth?
Through Prayer. The Spoken – or, we should more properly say, perhaps, the Sung – Powerful Speech, of which He, after all, is the Lord and Teacher. (Also Husband – and I do not simply mean that as the potential translated rendering of ‘Pati’ .. Brihaspati’s Wife is Vak Devi [‘Vak’ being the ‘Divine Speech’] : Who has a suite of conceptual resonancies for Freyja, the Wife of Odr – as we have explored in, amidst other works, “Furor Teutonicus And Furor Poeticus – The Furious Goddess-Given Power Of Both Barbarian And Brahmin Alike”]
In some tellings, perhaps unsurprisingly, righteous violence is involved – specifically in the form of an orbital bombardment; Brihaspati’s Prayer conjuring a Meteorite (occasionally referred to as a ‘Vajra’ – understandable given the Sonic Boom of one entering the atmosphere, the source of meteoric iron, but most especially that this is the congealed force of the Supreme – Brahman , Law – in in-universe expression, as we see with the one wielded by Indra [see, for instance, my previous work “On Athena Storm-Bringer And The Thunderbolt Also Of Zeus”, or “Foe-Slayer Claims Our Eulogy – Understanding RigVeda VIII 100: Indra, Vak” – and note that it is Vak that ‘unlocks’ this weaponry and makes it available to the Sky Father and His Sons].
Yet rather than simply being employed as a ‘brute-force’ landscaping tool to open up the side of a mountain – it is also spoken of as smiting ‘Vala’; which is a term that must be appropriately understood.
For whilst on the one hand, Vala is a demon-dragon akin to Vritra … in another sense, “Vala” simply means a “covering”, an “enclosure”. Which is not inappropriate for a serpentine demon, after all – it may act as a constrictor, entwining itself around its ill-gotten hoard of wealth in the manner of many a Dragon depiction we are familiar with today!
However, as is often the case with the Vedic hymnals, it is not quite clear which sense is being meant – the creature bearing the name, or the generalized concept of there being a ‘covering’ to the wealth that must be rent asunder so as to allow the entry of the Heroic Lordly Priest and the consequent egress of the treasures now under His command.
Indeed, in some Hymnals, what we see is not only the ‘covering’ of earth – but also of Darkness or even CLoud, that is pierced by the Prayer of Brihaspati … and His aforementioned precision Orbital Bombardment, to be sure.
Consider RV X 68:
“4 As the Sun dews with meath the seat of Order, and casts a flaming meteor down from heaven. / So from the rock Bṛhaspati forced the cattle, and cleft the earth’s skin as it were with water.
5 Forth from mid air with light he drank the darkness, as the gale blows a lily from the river. / Like the wind grasping at the cloud of Vala, Bṛhaspati gathered to himself the cattle,
6 Bṛhaspati, when he with fiery lightnings cleft through the weapon of reviling Vala, / Consumed ḥim as tongues cat what teeth have compassed: he threw the prisons of the red cows open.
7 That secret name borne by the lowing cattle within the cave Bṛhaspati discovered, / And drave, himself, the bright kine from the mountain, like a bird’s young after the egg’s disclosure.
8 He looked around on rock-imprisoned sweetness as one who eyes a fish in scanty water. / Bṛhaspati, cleaving through with varied clamour, brought it forth like a bowl from out the timber.
9 He found the light of heaven, and fire, and Morning: with lucid rays he forced apart the darkness. / As from a joint, Bṛhaspati took the marrow of Vala as he gloried in his cattle.”
As you can see – the Vedic Rsis often delighted in putting quite a lot of poetic effort into saying the same thing repeatedly. Which is understandable – it’s certainly one way to ensure that the ‘magic’ of the mythic referential material is ‘encoded’ and drawn as if from multiple threads together in parallel weaving for greater empowerment to the resultant invocation.
Although this also helps to explicate just why Sturluson’s versions of things are so often much more ‘brief’ than what we find in the Vedas – he is presenting the mythology as narrative, rather than (for the most part – there are plausible exceptions) something intended to be read as a ritual scripting.
And a ‘ritual scripting’ as laid down by the Vedic Rsis is rather heavily relevant here – because, of course, per the well-known Indo-European principle of Mythic Recurrence / Eliadian Eternal Return / Mythic Resonance … part of how and why we do rites is a staged re-enactment of sorts of the original Mythic event in question, so as to re-immanentize its benefits, its results, into our community, loka-lized environment, and the world around us. [I have previously argued, as a point of comparative interest, that what’s contained in Sturluson’s presentation of the Myth of the Mead of Poetry being obtained – is similarly sourced from a narrative ‘guide’ or ‘manual’ for the re-enactment of the myth in the ritualized reproduction of the Mead by man]
RV X 67 puts some Priests, the students/followers/sons of Brihaspati into the frame in just such a manner:
“2 Thinking aright, praising eternal Order, the sons of Dyaus the Asura, those heroes, / Aṅgirases, holding the rank of sages, first honoured sacrifice’s holy statute.
3 Girt by His friends who cried with swanlike voices, bursting the stony barriers of the prison, / Bṛhaspati spake in thunder to the cattle, and uttered praise and song when He had found them.
4 Apart from one, away from two above him, He drave the kine that stood in bonds of falsehood. / Bṛhaspati, seeking light amid the darkness, drave forth the bright cows: three He made apparent.
5 When he had cleft the lairs and western castle, He cut off three from him who held the waters. / Bṛhaspati discovered, while He thundered like Dyaus, the dawn, the Sun, the cow, the lightning.”
Or RV IV 50 5 :
“With the loud-shouting band who sang his praises, with thunder, he destroyed obstructive Vala. / Bṛhaspati thundering drave forth the cattle, the lowing cows who make oblations ready.”
As we can see – the sudden occurrence of the Priests praying to Brihaspati in this portion of the mythic cycle is simultaneously to connote something within the narrative of the myth … but also to indicate what the Priests engaged in this particular prayer to Brihaspati are implicitly seeking to do, as well. It sets up, if you like, something of an ‘infinite loop’ [‘eternal return’, you might say, via another name] in reality. And is all the more powerful for so doing.
A perhaps rather different approach to this general concept is also upon display in RV X 108, the aforementioned Sarama Hymnal, wherein She manages to successfully track down the Panis in a far-flung mountain holdfast beyond the River at the edge of the world [a location perhaps somewhat comparable to the Nordic ‘Outgard’ / ‘Utgard’], and ‘negotiates’ the Panis to return the ill-gotten spoils they have stolen from The Gods … by threatening to return with the might of Brihaspati and an assemblage of Vedic War-Priests to carry out a mythically resonant ‘re-enactment’ against these demons as well unless they relent:
“5 [Panis:] These are the kine which, Saramā, thou seekest, flying, O Blest One, to the ends of heaven. / Who will loose these for thee without a battle? Yea, and sharp-pointed are our warlike weapons.
6 [Sarama:] Even if your wicked bodies, O ye Paṇis, were arrow-proof, your words are weak for wounding; / And were the path to you as yet unmastered, Bṛhaspati in neither case will spare you.
7 [Panis:] Paved with the rock is this our treasure-chamber; filled full of precious things, of kine, and horses. / These Paṇis who are watchful keepers guard it. In vain hast thou approached this lonely station.
8 [Sarama:] Ṛṣis will come inspirited with Soma, Aṅgirases unwearied, and Navagvas. / This stall of cattle will they part among them: then will the Paṇis wish these words unspoken.
9 [Panis:] Even thus, O Saramā, hast thou come hither, forced by celestial might to make the journey. / Turn thee not back, for thou shalt be our sister: O Blest One, we will give thee of the cattle.
10 [Sarama:] Brotherhood, sisterhood, I know not either: the dread Aṅgirases and Indra know them. / They seemed to long for kine when I departed. Hence, into distance, be ye gone, O Paṇis.
11 Hence, far away, ye Paṇis! Let the cattle lowing come forth as holy Law commandeth, / Kine which Bṛhaspati, and Soma, Ṛṣis, sages, and pressing-stones have found when hidden.”
Now, at this point it should be noted that the Ynglinga Saga does not contain details of an assemblage of war-priests assisting the Nordic figure of Brihaspati (i.e. Odin) in the recovery of cattle from neath the shrouding of earth within a mountain. Evidently, the ‘summary’/synopsis version of the myth that Sturluson was working from was descended from one of those archaic Indo-European flowerings of the tale that lacked this element – as, to be sure, is the case with various of the Brihaspati contra Vala Vedic verses we have aforementioned earlier.
However, what we DO have is the situation which reasonably closely resonates with the relationship of Brihaspati / Agni with the Vedic Priests in question – that of teacher, instructor, and something of a father figure unto them.
To quote the Ynglinga Saga again, and from the same section (literally the next line down) as the material around Odin opening up the earth to reveal the cattle and march in and take them :
“From these arts [i.e. the abilities that enabled the opening of the earth, as well as numerous further ’empowered’ potencies] He became very celebrated. His enemies dreaded Him; His friends put their trust in Him, and relied on His power and on Himself. He taught the most of His arts to His priests of the sacrifices, and they came nearest to Himself in all wisdom and witch-knowledge. “
And, from the section immediately prior:
“He and His temple priests were called song-smiths, for from them came that art of song into the northern countries.”
Or, phrased another way – in just the same manner that we have Brihaspati presented as the foremost (exemplar) Priest, and acting as the guide, inceptor-instructor, Teacher, and Father to the Priests of quite specific clades [as seen, for instance, with the occasional references to Agni (also hailed as a ‘Dragon-smiting’ ‘Enclosure-Smasher’) as the First of the Angirases] . Indeed, I would even go so far as to suggest that ‘Song-Smith’ as a sort of ‘priestly’ title (insofar as it is directly stated to be held by Odin’s ‘temple priests’) is not only an apt rendering for our concept of Rsi [‘Seer’ – of Vedic verses, in particular, to Whom these are attributed in their composition .. or compilation through ‘hearing’ [Shruti]], but is also quite an eloquent way to speak of Brihaspati in one of His other roles within the Vedas. Namely, that of the ‘Orderer’ of the Universe (otherwise known as Vishvakarman), wherein through Speaking / Singing / Prayer [and Vishvakarman is hailed as both Brihaspati and Vak Pati – the ‘Husband of Vak’] , He does exactly that. I was unaware of this ‘Song-Smith’ rendering in the Ynglinga Saga when I penned and titled my previous work, “On Svarog As Sky Father – The Indo-European Sky Father As Song-Smith Of The Cosmos”, which does make reference to Odin’s role in ‘ordering the cosmos’ as an instance of that typology … and yet, I said it, and have later found my words coming back to me with a slightly different inflection (the ‘smithing’ being done to the ‘songs’ as well as with the ‘songs’) several months later. What was it that we said about ‘Shruti’…
So, whilst we might not have direct presentation of various Priests of Odin directly assisting Odin in the course of the feat of opening up the earth, cracking wide the mountain in order to liberate the wealth of cattle hoarded therein – we most certainly do have the quite direct statement of Sturluson that “He taught the most of His arts to His priests of the sacrifices, and they came nearest to Himself in all wisdom and witch-knowledge” immediately following the regaling of that expression of His Power.
It would therefore seem eminently logical that in the same way that Brihaspati’s (original, mythic) actions form the template to the (later, ritual) enactments of the human priests – the pre-Christian Nordic/Germanic religion that Sturluson was at pains to preserve at least in synopsis may have also incorporated such imitative engagements in its ritualine corpus. Rites that, for obvious reasons, Sturluson either would not have had (direct) access to, or would have chosen not to (directly) represent in the course of his writing. Instead reasoning that it would be enough to preserve the narrative that was keyed to same. Even though, as we can plainly see, much of the actual detail to the mythic instance in question has been rendered obviated from our understanding of the actual beliefs of the Germanic peoples – we don’t know why these cattle were hidden under the earth, nor who put them there; and the closest we get to our suspicions of a Dragon being involved, is Tolkien’s presentation of Gandalf’s entering of the Lonely Mountain as part of an effort to liberate its underground-hoarded wealth in The Hobbit.
Perhaps it was enough, for the Nordic imagination, to know that there was treasure over there in them thar hills – and that treasure implicitly meant an adversary, a fight on one’s hands against the current possessors of same; no explicit spelling out of this required except against truly mighty foes worthy of the commenting upon. Or perhaps it’s that Sturluson (or his sources) did not preserve the same ambiguity of meaning as found in the Vedic material – and rather than regarding the ‘coverer’ or ‘encircler’ of the wealth as being both earth (or darkness) and the monstrous miser of same, only the former sense (that of a physical obstacle, a visual obstruction and telluric barrier to entry) was maintained. And while it might be tempting to postulate that this ‘dual sense’ – or, for that matter, the demonic sense specifically – of Vala to be some sort of Vedic interpolation or innovation not found in the original PIE form of the myth … given that both the ‘dual sense’ as well as the demonic-dragon identification for Vala’s better-known brother Vritra appears to have been preserved reasonably well by the Norse (in the form of Jormungandr – with Vritra’s literal meaning of ‘encircler’ , ‘encloser’, ‘restrainer’ preserved via Jormungand doing just exactly that in the waters around the world, biting his own tail to form a ring; and the demon-dragon understanding for Vritra being preserved with, well, Jormungandr, likewise, hence the conflict with Thor – the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer akin to Herakles (Who fought the Hydra, inter alia) and Indra (Who fights Vritra, again inter alia)), the supposition that this ‘dual sense’ for the obstacle or adversary thus encountered is a Vedic innovation would seem rather unlikely.
Whatever the true explanation for this seeming-divergence between Vedic & Eddic traditions upon this matter, we must count ourselves incredibly fortunate (or, with reference to another translation of the same Sanskrit term – ‘Blessed’) to have the former canon of material available to us to aid in our interpretation and understanding of the latter.
Even if, much like this author, it can occasionally go on at great length with three times as many words as might be held necessary by the more taciturn northman to seemingly repeat the same core point half a dozen (hundred) times.
3 thoughts on “On Odin Brihaspati As Song-Smith – The Sung Seizing Of The Wealth Of Cows”
Worth pointing out that Wotanaz would not have been associated with runic writing as it probably didn’t exist yet but I expect he was associated with “runes” meaning secret wisdom and it is interesting tht Finns borrowed the germanic word Rune to describe their traditional folk songs as runo songs.
“Combat Theologian” could be the most evocative seven syllables I’ve read this year.
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