It is WEDNESDAY – Woden’s Day – And Therefore, as has become our custom … we present an (A)Arti-cle. In this case, it is an excerpt from our previous ‘On Odin As Agni’, and looks at the correlation of Flames and Swords found with both deific expressions. Enjoy!
(Also, N.B.: various of the conceptry involved in the linkage of Odin and Agni … isn’t actually discussed in here, because of course, this is an excerpt from one of the pieces which does, at rather grander length and detailed exposition. For now … it is enough to acknowledge the Agni-Rudra co-identification of ancient Vedic precedency, which also resonates with various Odinic myth in quite direct measure. And, as I say – consult that lengthier work for more details if this is of interest and/or consternation for you.)
Part Six: The Swords – Odin’s Swords – Of Fire
And speaking to that transfer of the bearance of sovereignty in the Grimnismal – the mechanism via which it is more immediately accomplished, I mean – there is an intriguing pattern of Skaldic resonancies for the Sword with Odin. But pointedly for our purposes – the Swords in question are also referred to as being those of Fire.
The Skaldskaparmal makes reference, for instance, to “Odin’s Helm-Fire” as a way to refer to the Sword (indeed, the specific exemplar listed is Úlfr Uggason’s presentation of the aforementioned occurrence at the funeral pyre-ship of Baldr featuring Hyrrokkin) so perhaps the sense is instead of Odin’s Helm-Fire being the destructive force exerted upon the helm of the adversary by the sword’s swing. Although an intriguing alternative explanation would be that Sturluson has misunderstood something very archaic in his compiling of the Skaldic verses – and that instead, the fact that the bearers of Odin’s Helm-Fire encountered there are Berserks is what is more immediately relevant. If I am right in my speculation, this would be a way of referring to these men as having the Manyu / Ugra [‘Furor’ would be an acceptable translation] within them as His Chosen Warriors – in a manner directly cognate to the mode in which Diomedes and Achilles are spoken of in the Iliad thanks to the Bestowal by Athena of the Menos (an Ancient Greek term directly cognate with ‘Manyu’ and, for that matter, ‘Mania’ – and which I have considered at length in ‘MahaShivRatri And The Mytholinguistics Of War [Part 3] – The Mind, The Mania, The Manyu’ … or but briefly explicated upon in ‘Furor Teutonicus And Furor Poeticus – The Furious Goddess-Given Power Of Both Barbarian And Brahmin Alike’). The understanding for ‘Manyu’ and ‘Menos’ aligning quite directly with ‘Odr’ – the implications of which (especially given Manyu as a prominent Roudran theonym/Aspect/War God) ought be clear.
However, to move toward a more clear-cut instance from the same text wherein “Swords are called Odin’s Fires” –
“A sword is Odin’s Fire, as Kormákr sang:
The fight swelled, when the Warrior,
The Wolf’s blithe Feeder, in tumult
Fared with Odin’s [Gaut’s] ringing Fire-Flame;
Urdr came forth from the Well.”
And we can perhaps also make mention of the swords utilized to illuminate a Hall of Asgard at Odin’s command elsewhere in the Skaldskaparmal –
“And at evening, when it was time for drinking, Odin had swords brought into the hall, so bright that light radiated from them: and other illumination was not used while they sat at drinking. “
But why am I making such a point out of this connexion of Odin and Fiery Swords? Well, precisely because the Vedas Themselves do so – in direct reference to Agni:
Agni is depicted not only as Sword-Armed (RV X 20 6; and yes, other weapons are also associated to Agni elsewhere, including a certain sort of spear …), but this Sword is depicted to be in flickering, flaring motion as an integral part of the sacrificial pyre of living flame in RV VIII 23 – “While, served with sacrificial oil, now upward and now downward Agni moves his sword, / As doth the Asura his robe.”
There are literally too many references for Agni’s flames being a pointed weapon to include all of these here. But RV VI 16 28 – “May Agni with his pointed blaze cast down each fierce devouring fiend / May Agni win us wealth by war.” springs instantly to mind, especially given Odin’s well-storied theonymics that are of direct application to this notion of “winning wealth by war” and blessing afore raiding or other conflict has commenced as mentioned in the Ynglinga Saga, inter alia.
It would be tempting to infer that the sense being communicated in these kennings for Swords as Odin’s Fires is simply recalling the ‘pointed’ shape and destructive, life-taking and hungry element of the flame. Yet that would not quite explicate why they are pointedly “Odin’s” Fires rather than just fires in general (which, to be sure, we also see as a constituent component for kennings for swords in the Nordic poetic schemas). Instead, it is something about Odin – in connexion with the Flame – that makes the kenning work. I would surmise that it is a recalled understanding for this strong association of Agni with the Blade. Not just that we have already encountered – but also the mythic and ritual understandings of the Vedic religion, wherein the First Sword – Asi – is conjured from the Flames and described in terms that are quite intentionally those of Rudra.
To quote from the Mahabharat (and at length because it is really quite a cool piece of symbolic regaling):
“The sacrificial altar became adorned with Rishis skilled in sacrifice and competent to perform all acts appertaining thereto, with [bundles of sticks] of sacrificial fuel, and with blazing fires. And it looked exceedingly beautiful in consequence of the sacrificial plates and vessels all made of gold. All the foremost ones among the Gods took Their seats on it. The platform was further adorned with Sadasyas all of whom were high regenerate Rishis. I have heard from the Rishis that soon something very awful occurred in that sacrifice. It is heard that a creature sprang (from the sacrificial fire) scattering the flames around him, and whose splendour equalled that of the Moon Himself when He rises in the firmament spangled with stars. His complexion was dark like that of the petals of the blue lotus. His teeth were keen. His stomach was lean. His stature was tall. He seemed to be irresistible and possessed of exceeding energy. Upon the appearance of that being, the earth trembled. The Ocean became agitated with high billows and awful eddies. Meteors foreboding great disasters shot through the sky. The branches of trees began to fall down. All the points of the compass became unquiet. Inauspicious winds began to blow. All creatures began to quake with fear every moment. Beholding that awful agitation of the universe and that Being sprung from the sacrificial fire, the Grandsire said these words unto the great Rishis, the gods, and the Gandharvas. “This Being was thought of by me. Possessed of great energy, His name is Asi (sword or scimitar). For the protection of the world and the destruction of the enemies of the Gods, I have created Him.”
That being then, abandoning the form he had first assumed, took the shape of a sword of great splendour, highly polished, sharp-edged, risen like the all-destructive Being at the end of the Yuga. Then Brahman made over that sharp weapon to the blue-throated Rudra Who has for the device on His banner the foremost of bulls, for enabling Him to put down irreligion and sin. At this, the divine Rudra of immeasurable soul, praised by the great Rishis, took up that sword and assumed a different shape. Putting forth four arms, He became so tall that though standing on the Earth He touched the very Sun with His Head. With eyes turned upwards and with every limb extended wide, He began to vomit flames of fire from his mouth. Assuming diverse complexions such as blue and white and red, wearing a black deer-skin studded with stars of gold, He bore on His forehead a Third Eye that resembled the Sun in splendour. His two other eyes, one of which was black and the other tawny, shone very brightly. The divine Mahadeva, the bearer of the Sula [‘Spear’], the tearer of Bhaga’s eyes, taking up the sword Whose splendour resembled that of the all-destructive Yuga fire, and wielding a large shield with three high bosses which looked like a mass of dark clouds adorned with flashes of lightning, began to perform diverse kinds of evolutions. Possessed of great prowess, He began to whirl the Sword in the Sky, desirous of an encounter. Loud were the Roars He uttered, and awful the sound of His laughter. Indeed, O Bharata, the form then assumed by Rudra was exceedingly terrible.
Hearing that Rudra had assumed that form for achieving fierce deeds, the Danavas, filled with joy, began to come towards Him with great speed, showering huge rocks upon Him as they come, and blazing brands of wood, and diverse kinds of terrible weapons made of iron and each endued with the sharpness of a razor. The Danava host, however, beholding that foremost of all beings, the indestructible Rudra, swelling with might, became stupefied and began to tremble. Although Rudra was alone and single-handed, yet so quickly did He move on the field of battle with the sword in His arm that the Asuras thought there were a thousand similar Rudras battling with them. Tearing and piercing and afflicting and cutting and lopping off and grinding down, the Great God moved with celerity among the thick masses of His foes like forest conflagration amid heaps of dry grass spread around. The mighty Asuras, broken by the God with the whirls of His Sword, with arms and thighs and chests cut off and pierced, and with heads severed from their trunks, began to fall down on the earth. Others among the Danavas, afflicted with strokes of the sword, broke and fled in all directions, cheering one another as they fled. Some penetrated into the bowels of the earth; others got under the cover of mountains, Some went upwards; others entered the depths of the sea.
During the progress of that dreadful and fierce battle, the Earth became miry with flesh and blood and horrible sights presented themselves on every side. Strewn with the fallen bodies of Danavas covered with blood, the Earth looked as if overspread with mountain summits overgrown with Kinsukas. Drenched with gore, the Earth looked exceedingly beautiful, like a fair-complexioned lady intoxicated with alcohol and attired in crimson robes. Having slain the Danavas and re-established Righteousness on earth, the auspicious Rudra cast off His awful form and assumed his own beneficent shape. Then all the Rishis and all the celestials adored that god of gods with loud acclamations wishing him victory.”
As applies that last transition – it most certainly seems resonant with the lines of the Ynglinga Saga with reference to Odin: “When sitting among his friends his countenance was so beautiful and dignified, that the spirits of all were exhilarated by it, but when he was in war he appeared dreadful to his foes.”
Entirely unsurprisingly, along with Rudra – this most magnificent of Swords is also keyed to Agni. Something that may, perhaps, also find expression in various of the Vedic (and most pointedly, the Brahmana ritual manual) texts detailing the Vajra with which Vritra was slain. Here we have the ‘Wooden Sword’ also referred to as one of the “Weapons of the Sacrifice” forming the ‘warhead’ of this most excellent Divine demon-(dragon-)slaying weapon. And, in other verses, we have Agni referred to in the veer-y same role:
“For it was after shaping Agni into a sharp point, that the Gods rushed forward, intent on slaying Vritra; and that sharp point, Agni, swerved not. And so does he (the Sacrificer) now rush forward, after shaping Agni into a sharp point, intent on slaying his wicked, spiteful enemy; and that sharp point, Agni, swerves not: this is why he sacrifices to Agni Anîkavat.” [Shatapatha Brahmana II 5 3]
Not for nothing is Agni amongst the illustrious ranks of the handful of figures accorded the title of Vritrahan (‘Slayer of Vritra’) in the Vedas! And that theonym – Anikavat – is additionally Odinically resonant. For, per the most excellent commentary-work of Sayana, this is rendered as “Possessing An Army”. Agni Anikavat, therefore, is Agni Leading/Possessing An Army”. In a manner not entirely dissimilar to quite a swathe of Odinic theonyms – Herjaföðr, Hergautr, Herjan, Hertýr. And, of course, in the sense of being the first into the fray, leading the charge of the Divine Army here – Atriðr.
In other words, if I am correct in my presumption that underlying the Nordic mythology and mytho-poetry of which we are more directly acquainted, there lies an ancient faith that has only fragmentarily been filtered through to us via these beautiful (yet imperfect) means, and which has quite something in common with the Vedic faith … then it would stand to reason that the incredibly important ritualine conceptry we find mentioned in the Vedas around such an ultimate weapon should also have been known to the Germanics. And that this weapon, likewise, should have both the ‘Fiery’ associations connoted by Piety – and the same Patron / Embodying / Wielding Deity. That is to say Rudra-Agni.
We have already demonstrated the close concordancy of Vedic and Eddic texts in other areas of direct relevancy to this potential linkage in various of my previous works. Even if the Eddic presentation tends more usually to be a considerably ‘slimmed down’, ‘summarized’ and ‘pared back’ rendition in various ways – as we should expect given the nature of its composition and compiler.
So therefore, in just the same manner that we find expression in the Sanskrit conceptual syllabary for ‘Sword’ (indeed, all Swords) to be termed after the foremost and greatest of their kind in the manner of a mythic progenitor-prototype for their species of weapon (something that, if we think about it, is also in a manner how Manu / Mannus has become “Mankind” for our own race) – so too should we plausibly expect a suite of kennings to have come down to us in the Germanic sphere that do likewise. And with the added detail that the Sword’s Wielder, Patron, and perhaps ‘essence’ – that is to say, Agni Rudra – is also preserved as part of the ken-name.
In short: calling a blade Odin’s Flame is to recall the great weapon of the God Himself – something that is of obvious poetic import and a most powerful ‘boast’ indeed to its (human) wielder. It may also, as with the sacral Sword conceptry we have but briefly elucidated upon from the Vedas , have connotations of righteousness and the divine service built into its referencing as well. “Odin’s Flame”, in other words, being not merely a weapon – but an active implement, instrument of Piety : of Faith!