It is Monday – Lord Shiva’s Day. And therefore – fine Roudran (A)Art-i. In this case – potentially – as Midhvan, and we shall explicate that term momentarily.
Now, when one thinks of a figure of rather … apocalyptic significance turning up riding a white horse, it is perhaps rare that one’s mind would immediately go forth to Rudra. And yet – here He is. I am, of course, indebted to two associates, Manasataramgini and S.S. for bringing this to my attention as part of the research process for something else I am currently working upon.
In terms of Midhvan – this is an excellent theonym, often rendered as ‘Bounteous’ – which could, I suppose, almost simply be translated as “Lord”. Although I mean that in the rather more archaic Germanic sense – wherein implicit within it was ‘The Provider’ … as seen with its prior formulation as, effectively, ‘Loaf Warden’, or the array of Germanic terms oriented around the role of one’s chieftain as, in effect, the ‘Gift-Giver’, the ‘Treasure-Friend’, and other such directly evocative terminology.
Bhaga, in Sanskrit, is relatively similar in this respect, coming as it does from a term for spoils to be divided up (and also cognate with both ‘Bog’ in Russian to mean ‘God’; as well as, as an associate wanted pointed out in a previous piece upon this term – the first particle of Baghdad (effectively Old Persian B(h)aga + Data, with the ‘Data’, as in English ‘Dative’ meaning ‘To Give’; therefore rendering the city’s name something of a tautology, although it is more directly ‘God-Given’)).
Indeed, just as with other terms for Lordship, it is a somewhat ‘free-floating’ term in its most archaic occurrences – being affixed not only to Rudra, but also to other deifics (in particular, at least some occurrences wherein Lord Indra is hailed in such terms).
However, the major saliency for it is in reference to Lord Rudra. Although it should be noted that by this I do not simply mean Rudra as Rudra directly – but also those other occurrences wherein Rudra is appearing, as it were, as Agni [for example, RV I 27 2 – “Who pours His Gifts like Rain”], as Brahmanaspati / Brihaspati, etc..
It is perhaps rather interesting to note that one of the latter occurrences, in a Brihaspati hymnal, RV II 24 1, is immediately prior to the extolling of various mighty deeds attributed to the deific. These rather pointedly including various instances wherein demons (and at least one dragon) are killed or driven off, and the treasures or other ill-gotten spoils they had been hoarding are therefore ripe for the (re-)taking. And, flowing from there (quite literally, as we shall soon see), for Redistribution to the mortal worshippers of the Great God.
Now as applies the specifically Rudra (as Rudra) occurrences for this epithet, these come in three broad (and non-mutually-exclusive) varieties of interest for us here.
The first is the one people often tend to focus upon – and is perhaps exemplified via the prominent occurrency in RV II 33 14. To quote this in full (in translation, at any rate):
“14 May Rudra’s missile turn aside and spare us, the great wrath of the impetuous One avoid us.
Turn, Bounteous God, Thy strong bow from our princes, and be Thou gracious to our seed and offspring.”
This is a relatively common theme within Vedic invocations to the Roaring God – and for obvious reason.
It is somewhere between two of the late, great, Sir Terry Pratchett’s thoughts upon the subject of prayer:
Namely, that of prayer being “a sophisticated way of pleading with thunderstorms”; and the other, somewhat more involved observation of, and I again quote:
“The prayers of most religions generally praise and thank the gods involved, either out of general piety or in the hope that he or she will take the hint and start acting responsibly.”
Effectively, these invocations to Rudra as ‘Midhvas’ are there to ask very nicely that the Sendings from He be of the positive and bountiful nature to the petitioner. Rather than calamity, destruction, and death as is also rather directly within His might purview.
This forms part of the eternal ‘dvandva’ of the Great God in question – hence why various Vedic and post-Vedic liturgies pointedly ask that Rudra be Shiva, that is to say ‘Auspicious’ in ‘Facing’ toward us, His Worshippers. Two ‘Faces’, if you like – or perhaps more accurately, ‘Two Moods’, to the same God. One we hope for for us, and another which we hope quite earnestly to be reserved only for the Enemy.
This is evidently a quite archaic Indo-European understanding, as we find the direct restatement of this principle in the Ynglinga Saga – a much, much later Nordic work wherein Snorri Sturluson compiled (and er .. editorialized in some portions) Germanic mythology some decades following Christianization. The fact that the kernel in question was stand-out enough to make sufficient impression upon him to be incorporated within his Heimskringla efforts.
“But now, to tell why he is held in such high
respect, we must mention various causes that contributed to it.
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.
From these arts he became very celebrated. His
enemies dreaded him; his friends put their trust in him, and
relied on his power and on himself.”
I have already elsewhere in my works addressed in quite some detail various of those ‘Arts’ spoken of in the sections of the Ynglinga Saga I’ve just abridged there. Suffice to say that these include direct one-for-one concordancy with one of the deeds undertaken by Brihaspati and which was alluded to in the Brihaspati hymnal I had referenced above; as well as further points that are quite clearly ‘Roudran’.
These latter spheres including an array of the elements which the Vedic worshipper is asking to please not be afflicted by, including, to again quote from the Ynglinga Saga: “death, ill-luck, or bad health of people”. The role of Rudra’s Arrows in striking down foes through disease is well known, and might be sensibly compared, perhaps, to the situation of Apollo in Greek mythology – another famed Archer.
However, the focus upon this side of Rudra, and this understanding for the invocations to He as Midhavan – miss something rather important.
Namely, that while Rudra can strike down with His Arrows and bring about death, disease, and despair … so, too, can He furnish one with the opposite. Life, Health, and Hope.
As RV I 114 3 puts it –
“3 By worship of the Gods may we, O Bounteous One, O Rudra, gain Thy grace, Ruler of valiant men.
Come to our families, bringing them bliss: may we, whose heroes are uninjured, bring Thee sacred gifts,”
And, to return to RV II 33, in this case Lines 12-13:
“12 I bend to Thee as Thou approachest, Rudra, even as a boy before the Sire Who greets him.
I praise Thee Bounteous Giver, Lord of heroes: give medicines to us as Thou art Lauded.
13 Of Your pure medicines, O potent Maruts, those that are wholesomest and health-bestowing,
Those which our father Manu hath selected, I crave from. Rudra for our gain and welfare.”
And yes, ‘medicines’ is a reasonably apt translation; although perhaps a little insufficient insofar as the boons in question feasibly encompass ’empowerments’ rather than only therapeutics as we think of them today.
And this is why Midhvas is such an interesting term for us here.
Its Proto-Indo-European root is actually twofold:
PIE *Mey, meaning ‘To Exchange’, and PIE *Dheh – ‘To Do’ or ‘To Place’ (incidentally, this latter PIE root is also what informs Ancient Greek ‘Theos’, etc. – ‘That Which Is Placed’ … or, perhaps, more figuratively ‘Enshrined’).
This gives us the rather intriguing Sanskrit ‘Midha’, which means both a ‘Prize’ or ‘Reward’, as well as a ‘Contest’ or ‘Strife’, and further can refer to a Ram. I have my own thoughts about these latter two dimensions, but it is the first which is most keenly relevant here.
For the PIE root directly explicates the theonym. There is an ‘exchange’ involved – and Midhvan is, in effect as in output, asking the God to hold up His side of the ‘bargain’ of sacrifice. ‘Do Ut Des’, as the Latin maxim goes – or, in Vedic Sanskrit, ‘Dehi Me, Dadami Te’: ‘give me, I give you’ (TS 1.8. 4.1, VS 3.50).
‘To Do The Exchange’, following our pious Offering, ‘To Bestow The Hoped-For Boon’.
And this is where things become particularly … Germane, as we find the Vedic and Eddic understandings of the Sky Father in Raptor form bringing the Empowering Elixir – the Soma , the Mead of Poetry – as tangible expressions of that veer-y concept.
In the Vedic ritual sphere, this involves various things – up to and including a rather immense bird-of-prey shaped altar wherein Agni and Rudra are alternatingly invoked in the production of the metaphysically empowered Elixir aforementioned. This, most certainly, is Midhvan (a term which also occurs in direct reverent reference to Rudra in specific sacrificial invocations elsewhere as well toward similar overarching output beseeched for as well).
In the Eddic sphere – we merely have the literature, as run through Sturluson’s occasional filtration, to go by. I have already explored on a point-by-point basis the clear coterminity between the Eddic ‘Myth of the Mead’ and what we find in the Vedas, surrounding such obtainancy, and shall not seek to repeat all of that here.
Suffice to say, what is ‘Myth’ in the Eddas is both Myth and Manual in the Vedas.
And while we cannot directly attest that a similar ritual understanding was to be preserved amidst the Norsemen as to their Hindu cousins, it would stand to reason that such a powerful, potent, indeed vibrant recollection of the relevant symbolism even some decades post-Christianization for Sturluson to be able to pick up upon it … would suggest something similar had once indeed existed in the North.
This is also, in case you had been wondering, why I had spoken earlier of, to quote myself from a few paragraphs aforehand:
“And, flowing from there (quite literally, as we shall soon see), for Redistribution to the mortal worshippers of the Great God. “
As RV II 24 puts it, pertaining once again to Brihaspati:
“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.
4 The well with mouth of stone that poured a flood of meath, which Brahmaṇaspati hath opened with His might—
All they who see the light have drunk their fill thereat: together they have made the watery fount flow forth.”
The ‘they’ of that latter line are, of course, (human) priests acting in concert – and, indeed, in invocation as well as effective imitation of the Great Gods Who have enacted afore.
Now there is, of course, quite a lot more which can and should be said. Both upon this image particularly – as well as the surrounding, broader Indo-European mytho-religious complex to which this entire concept speaks.
That was, as it happens, why I had initially begun looking in this direction upon this eve. However, the rather amazing uncoverings of a different kind we have rendered in that more pervasive sphere are as-yet still unfurling, and so instead here is but the briefest foretaste of what is yet to come.
As the Black Yajurveda puts it ( IV 5 1 i ):
“Homage to the Blue-Necked,
Thousand-Eyed One, the Bountiful [ ‘Midhuse’ ]
And to Those That are His Warriors
I have paid my homage.”
Jai Sri Rudra !