Seemingly every other page talking about Indo-European or Germanic mythology this week: “ODIN IS / IS NOT / MIGHT BE / PROBABLY INFORMED SANTA CLAUS”
Meanwhile, Us: “Yeah, but have you thought about the Elves, though?”
As in … Santa’s Elves. Of the North Pole.
See, here’s the thing. If Santa might be said to be considerably informed by a Northern European remembrance of the Indo-European Sky Father (and we would note that ‘Bhaga’, or ‘Lord’, are both terms apt for such a deity and etymologically connote ‘apportioning/distributing boons/gifts/bread/treasure’) … those Elves are a sort of dim recollection of another ancient Indo-European mythic understanding –
Namely, that the Sky Father as Song-Smith / (A)Arti-ficer is assisted in His Endeavours at His Workshop ‘midst the Stars [i.e. near the top of the Axis Mundi … the Pole that is to our North] by a small group of Solar Smiths of supreme ingenuity and skill.
In the Vedas, these are most clearly presented – the three Ribhus brothers (alternate anglicization – Rhbus ), the Sons of Sudhanvan (‘The Great Archer’), alongside Tvastr the Forge-Father. Rhbus being either directly linguistically cognate with ‘Elf’ if ‘Elf’ is understood to hail from a Germanic term for ‘Craftsman’ [‘Arbaz’ / ‘Arbaidiz’, or potentially ‘Albiz’ dependent upon reconstruction]; or more figuratively/symbolically cognate with ‘Elf’ if ‘Elf’ is understood to come from ‘Alb’ [PIE ‘Albhos’/'(h)elbhos’] meaning ‘White’ and referring to the Solar Radiance. [Interestingly, per RV IV 51 6, the Ribhus-Elves are also renowned for having Their work done by Dawn – a feature shared with various of the latter European (cobbler) Elves]
The Greeks, meanwhile, possessed another trio of subtly ‘Solar’ Smith divinities in the form of the Ouranian Cyclopes (not to be confused with the much-better known sort encountered by Odyseus in His eponymous epic, etc.). Named ‘Brontes’ (‘Thunder’) ,‘Steropes’ (‘Lightning’), and ‘Arges’ (‘Bright’ or ‘Flash’), Their One Eye represents the Solar connotation (as shown by the various other Indo-European mentions for the Sky Father as having the Sun as His One Blazing / All-Seeing Eye; and also quite directly by RV I 111 4 referring to the Ribhus as likewise having this One Solar Eye characteristic); and Their works of artifice include not only the original Thunderbolt of Zeus with which He subdues the Titans, as well as the first Altar (amidst the Heavens, the prototype for the subsequent Greek ritual elements down here on Earth in emulation / Mythic Resonancy; something also done by the Ribhus in the Vedic reckoning) upon which the Gods swore Their Oath of Unity (another Solar association – that of Oaths and Comradeship, as we see in the Vedic comparatives). They are also held responsible for the fashioning of a myriad of other wonders such as the Invisibility Helm of Hades, and the Trident of Poseidon (Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon being a trio of expressions of the Sky Father in the Greek ‘re-organization’ of their mythology). And, like the next major figure we shall meet, These Sons of Ouranos, too, endured a period in captivity afore gaining Their freedom and revenge – working alongside Zeus to set the Heavens to rights again (I hesitate to say, sentiments of the season in mind, that this was a matter of down-casting the ‘naughty’ and exalting the ‘nice’).
Now it must be acknowledged that the notion of ‘Solar Craftsmen’ up in the heavens did not really make the transition into the canon of Nordic mythology that has come down to us. Most of the time, the figures carrying out such works of cunning artifice are decidedly un-solar – the Dwarves.
Albeit with one incredibly prominent exception – Volundr (Wayland) the Smith; a Prince amongst his people, again with two brothers (at least one of whom is a very great archer indeed – perhaps an inherited capacity). And an incredibly violent revenge story as told in the Volundarkvida which also possesses some similarity to the Greek tale of Daedalus (in particular, the manner in which Volundr makes his escape from the human king who had wronged him – by giving himself the ability to take flight, via artificial wings; rising away like the Sun laughing at the pointedly punitive havoc he had wrought against those who had done him ill). Which we may take a look at at some other time.
I mention Volundr not only because this is a ‘Smithing’ Elf that is not a Dwarf – but also because this beautiful carving (the front panel from the thirteen century old Franks Casket) depicts him and his situation upon the lefthand portion.
Although I had chosen this exquisite piece to illustrate the Christmas commentary for another reason – for if you look closely, upon the right side of the paneling, you can see a Germanic rendering of the Adoration of the Magi [‘Magi’ being spelled out in runes] of the infant Christ in the arms of Mary in the manger.
It is Christmas, after all …