Our field is one wherein so often, we find fundamental contiguity of Essence – obscurated via the seeming diversity of transposed expression. So it is with the Alcis pairing.
These are described in Tacitus as being akin to the Classical Castor & Pollux – the Helping Hero (Horse) twins known also variously as the Asvins and the Nasatyas of the Vedic sphere. Dioscuri and Divo Napata – the Sons of Heaven/Dyaus/Rudra.
In the Germanic sphere, we have attestations for Hengist and Horsa, of course, as descended of Odin – yet these come far later and via euhemerized account written by the then-vanquished enemies of the Anglo-Saxon invasion. And do not quite match up with what little is known to us of the Alcis, despite obviously all of these descending from this same common Proto-Indo-European origin.
The major approaches to ‘unlocking’ the meaning of the Alcis have understandably been linguistic. They have sought to connect the theonym ‘Alcis’ with, via archaic Nordic ‘Algiz’, the various terms for Stag (indeed, Elk – which is similarly linguistically derived; all from PIE ‘Helkis’). Such an effort is logical (literally – it is made up of words), but may appear somewhat ‘off-target’ in a comparative mythological sense. Unless, of course, one presumes that the Scythian custom of applying antlers to horses was being referenced – in which case, the ‘Horse-Twins’ in a more martial array may have been intended. Such a thing is not impossible, and I have previously sought to connect this Scythian custom to the Marut etc. mounting upon antlered steeds in the Vedas – but I digress.
A rather better approach is to anchor our understanding of the Alcis via Proto-Germanic ‘Alhs’ – which refers to a sacred space such as a temple, a settlement or home, or a place of refuge, or defence. It may have some bearing upon the mysterious “ALU” bindrune, and therefore, for that matter, our modern term of “Ale” … an amusing occurrence, if so, given the strong linkage of the Horse-Twins to powerful brews (ref – the Asvins and Soma, Hengist and Horsa and spiritous liquor, and Polydeuces as ‘Much Sweet Wine’). Although in theory, ‘Ale’ is supposed to derive from PIE ‘helut’ – a term with an uncertain ultimate origin either connecting it to a magical empowerment/preparation, the ‘bitterness’ of the brew, or its reddish-brown colouration.
It would be tempting to presume that given the context for Tacitus’ citation of the Alcis – talking about a sacred grove where worship could take place – that he may have been in receipt of confused information, and that it was the grove which was termed the Alcis rather than the Brothers. This would seemingly accord with the aforementioned Germanic utilization of “Alhs” derived conceptry, such as the Gothic ‘Alhs’ (Temple), Old English ‘Ealh’ … or, from outside the immediate Germanic sphere (but most definitely proximate thereto), Lithuanian ‘Alkas’ (‘Altar’/’Idol’/’Holy Site’/’Sacred Grove’), and Latvian ‘Elkas’ (‘Idol’).
Except to make such a presumption is to miss the wood for the trees.
The reason that these ‘Alhs’ terms are designated such, and they appear to bear resonancy with the Alcis as a theonym – is not because there is some PIE term for ‘holy site’ which supports all of these aforementioned. That exists, of course, and it is PIE ‘Helk’ (an alternate reconstruction is, aptly enough, ‘Alk’). Yet this itself is speculated to have as its ultimate root – PIE ‘Hlek’ ; with later derivations including Ancient Greek ἀλέξω [‘Alexo’ – ‘To Protect Against’] and ἀλκή [‘Alke’ – ‘Defence / Martial Prowess’], Sanskrit ‘Raksha’ and ‘Rakshati’ [‘Guard’ and ‘To Guard’], Old English ‘Ealgian’ [‘To Protect’], and Persian ‘Iaskar’ [‘Army’].
What does ‘Hlek’ mean? ‘To Defend’, ‘To Protect’.
The Holy Place – the Helk – is therefore That Which Is Protected. Or, perhaps, That Which Is Protecting. Or, most likely – Both.
Yet how does this pertain to our Alcis Brothers?
That ‘Nasatya’ theonym I had earlier mentioned for the Hindu occurrence of the Divine Twins, the Helping/Healing Hero Horse Brothers. The root for this is PIE ‘Nes’. This is also, entirely uncoincidentally, the root for Ancient Greek ναός – ‘Naos’ – meaning a Temple.
To quote from one of my earlier works via way of explication for PIE ‘Nes’ –
“[ A] most intriguing term with what at first appears to be a quite a diverse and manifold field of meaning: ‘to return (home)’, ‘to heal’, ‘to rescue’, ‘to join/come together’, ‘to become concealed’.
And yet it does not take more than a moment’s cognizance to divine the shared underlying sense to all of these definitions and their subsequent derivations in the latter Indo-European languages of yore (‘Nasatya’ – as in the Asvins, the Helping, Healing, Heroic Horse-Twins is a great example we have written previously upon; ‘Nostos’ is probably more familiar to a Western audience from the Homeric epics).
The sense being communicated via ‘Nes’ is of a place of refuge – a place of restoration, and the journeying or retrieval to go back thereto (hence, the reinvigoration and renewal of health from injury or impairment); a place or a state where one can be at ease, and quite literally it would seem, ‘at home’.”
So, upon the face of it, PIE ‘Nes’ is most definitely resonant with the notions of Protection, Place of Refuge, Place of Residence, Shelter, and That Which Is Sacred (indeed, Restorative, therethrough) which inform the Germanic ‘Alhs’.
Ancient Greek ‘Naos’ and Germanic ‘Alhs’ would appear to be quite close in terms of these elements of their meaning and of their meaning’s ultimate PIE underpinnings.
‘Alcis’, therefore, we can safely surmise to be exactly what is understood via ‘Nasatyas’ – the Divine Twins, Sons of the Sky Father, Who are so closely correlated with these essential attributes. They Protect, They Rescue, They Unite, They Lead Their (Our) People(s) in particular circumstances, and They also preside over elements pertaining to a certain ‘Empowering Brew’.
As applies the Alcis, it would seem most logical to conclude that what has happened is the same general concept which was also understood via what became ‘Nasatya’, albeit perhaps with a slightly different nuance upon it, was resultingly carried forward down the ages with a differing name. A name which is still most definitely resonant with the shared archaic conceptry, and its cousin-of-concept elsewhere across the Indo-European expanse – yet which, if one did not know what one was looking for, or perhaps looking upon, might represent quite the quandary. In part because, other than the name itself and the brief Interpretatio Romana provided by our Latin intermediary, the Alcis are almost anonymous to our modern eyes.
A good example for this sort of occurrence – of a shared concept being labelled slightly differently, and thence producing a still-resonant yet outwardly obscurated linkage – is provided by the Father of the Divine Twins. In the Vedic tradition, they are Divo Napata – the Sons of Heaven / Dyaus Pitar … but also spoken of as Sons of Rudra. In the Classical, they are the Dioscuri, the Sons of Dios [i.e. Zeus Pater / Jupiter]. In the Germanic, we can reconstruct that Sons of Odin is what was ultimately believed. And yet if you put all of these theonymics in a row … you would have a devil of a time convincing some people that all of these terms referred to the same God. You could place Dyaus Pitar , Zeus Pater, and Jupiter alongside One Another as terms and that would get you somewhere. But Odin? Rudra? No, for that it requires analyzing what those latter-mentioned theonymics convey as Qualities of the Sky Father deific, demonstrating Their fundamental coherency and coterminity as such across the IE sphere [an endeavour I shall not seek to reduplicate again here], and in the case of Rudra take advantage of the lesser-known direct statements upon the matter in the course of Sanskrit scripture.
This represents something of a problem for us viz. the Alcis.
Because we are missing so much of the ‘Context’ via which such a constellational tracing might otherwise be endeavoured. Not only for the Alcis in specia, but also for the Divine Hero Helping Horse Twins in the Germanic context all up.
In various of the PIE-descended popular mythologies, particular features have become de-emphasized when we speak about seemingly almost any figure of note. We do not find much in the way of direct manifestation for the Horse-Twins in the later Germanic-sphere texts post-Christianization (there are only a few mentions in isolated and unsure manner in Sturluson’s Eddas; and Nennius’ History of the Britons represents a quite literally ‘foreign’ perspective upon Them), and were it not for Tacitus’ writing we should have precious little to go on for the Germanic speaking peoples of his era – when this was still the ‘living religion’ actively participated in by those folk.
Even amidst the Greeks, it is evident that some things had changed and shifted down the years – hence why we have the disagreements in their texts over which of Castor or Polydeuces was the ‘divine twin’ (the correct answer, most assuredly, should be ‘both’), and why the mention for Castor and Pollux in relation to empowering preparations is so fragmentary that we mostly know of it via the aptly twinned etymologies for Their Names.
There are some tantalizing suggestions for the Algiz (as in the Rune) conceptry and other such related occurrences elsewhere in the Germanic corpus, and we may return to address these at a later time; but suffice to say that we are basically left an occluded space whose features are so time-worn as to make more than (suitably informed) conjecture very difficult indeed.
Yet it is not a ‘blank space’ nor an ’empty slate’. Because there is most definitely something there, and it is a series of something which – as we can see via the linguistics, and the scant ‘comparative understanding’ passed down to us via Tacitus – aligns quite remarkably closely with what we know via the Vedas (and also via other Indo-European comparanda) to be the essential characteristics of the Divine Twins better attested elsewhere.
And we know all of this thanks to the Alhs, indeed – something precious, the heritage, which Protected Protects.
So, by ‘Nasatizing’ the Alcis – we are doing just exactly that. We are bringing Them home, and re-exalting Them to Their proper place of sanctuary within our broader Indo-European ken of vision and of view. An act of ‘healing’, one might say – and most certainly one of active defence, carried out through this ‘bringing [back] together’.
As we have said: ‘Nes’, but also ‘Helk’.
Nasatyas – but also Alcis.