On Gods, Rindr, and ‘Gotcha’ – An Investigation Of An Account Of Saxo Grammaticus In Light Of Vedic Comparanda

Frequently, when somebody wishes to take-to-task a devotee of Indo-European religion (whether Germanic, Hindu, Hellenic, it seems to happen to  all of us all the same), they do so via the simple tactic of taking this or that morally unpalatable incident from the mythology and asking of us : “And you’re OK with that?”

Now, in various cases there’s an interesting exercise to be had in actually looking more deeply at the occurrence in question. It may be that something’s happened in the mythos and we are indeed ‘not OK with that’ – and are right to feel so. Even Gods are, upon occasion, presented as engaging in morally wrong actions – and being judiciously punished for same, in various instances that I can think of offhand (see, for instance, my work in relation to the sanctioning of Prajapati by Rudra). A core tenet of Indo-European religion, after all, is Cosmic Order / Cosmic Law Uber Alles (indeed, as we had noted when commenting upon Antoninus Liberalis’ ‘Metamorphoses’ – even Zeus gives way to Themis and the Moirae). 

However, in other cases, it is necessary to apply what we might term an exegetical perspective – a critical inquiry into the actual presentation of the narrative instance in question, to see what might really have been going on beneath the surface.

One example for why this might be necessary comes to us from antiquity – in the form of Ganymede’s situation. Various people down the ages have brought it up and claimed that this implicates Hellenic Divinity in, to use the rather directly descended term, “pederasty”. 

It is certainly a charge that ‘resonates’ with the cliched “moral degenerates armed with with olive oil” stereotype that some anti-Hellenic (or even, more broadly, anti-Mediterranean IE cultus / civilization all up) sorts seem to wish to project out upon the Classical sphere. 

Except closer inspection reveals a decided lack of support for such a narrative element being found in the actual Hellenic religious canon of texts. What we instead find are people wilfully overreading things, or bolting on in later times elements that seem calculated to titillate with disgust a Christianizing audience. 

Indeed, no less a personage than Plato quite pointedly observes in his ‘Laws’ that there was a broad Athenian (and, presumably, well-known also further afield) perception that the ‘pederastic’ dimension was a) a corruption of the actual and authentic mythology, which was b) localized to Crete specifically, due, it would seem, to c) an alleged desire on the part of the Cretans to try and give post-facto moral sanction to an occurrence in their own local culture.

In other words – it’s not a good criticism of Hellenic divinity to hurl against Them the deed misattributed to They by corrupted mortal minds down here instead. And if one has issue with the conduct contained within the charge-sheet – the appropriate figures to castigate for it are those aforementioned men (of Crete, in this case) rather than the Gods or broader (and more authentic) religious sphere. 

All of which brings us to the actual major subject for our commentary today – the situation of Odin and Rindr.

Which, for those unaware, is an incident narratively presented in Saxo Grammaticus’ ‘Gesta Danorum’ – wherein Odin is, supposedly, informed by a seer that in order to secure vengeance (and Divine Sanction be brought about) upon the Killer of Baldur, He must beget a rather particular ‘Avenging Son’ to do so. This being the swift-succeeding Vali so-named in other textual sources – which, interestingly, don’t tend to include any of the (lurid) elements mentioned by Saxo Grammaticus, with the exception of the identity of the mother. 

Per Saxo, the identified (prophecized) mother is unwilling to be involved in the process … therefore leading to Odin carrying out an escalating series of ‘gambits’ in order to either win Her affections , or force Her. Culminating in a rather bizarre episode featuring Odin allegedly disguising Himself as a woman (and a healer) – not only washing the feet of Rindr as a lady-in-waiting, but also claimed by Saxo to have drugged Her , had Her bound to Her bed so that She could not resist, and so forth. Basically a litany of ‘dishonourable conduct’, you might say. 

All of this is then declared by Saxo to have been such a shameful display that the rest of the pantheon were so disquieted by as to force Odin into banishment, lest He purportedly cause irreparable harm to the religion by discrediting it in the minds of men. With the demonstrable situation of Odin not having been deposed at the time of Saxo’s writing being ‘explained away’ (inter alia) by proffering the prospect that Odin had, perhaps, bribed His way back to plenipotentiary divinity and regency in Heaven (or, rather, regency in Byzantium – where the whole thing has re-set Asgard to be). 

The whole thing is, prima facie, a rather insistently anti-Odin telling. And it also is in many ways a ‘de-mythologization’ into the bargain, as well. Instead of ruling Asgard as a Heavenly realm, Odin’s regency is over Byzantium; instead of  Váli’s roaring rampage of revenge being carried out within a single night of His Birth (as recounted in the Voluspa – and Baldrs Draumar), Saxo seems to have the situation re-set so that it only occurs when Odin has returned following an almost decade-long exile. And whilst a lad of ten being capable of , as Nutt’s translation puts it, being “enamoured of the hardships of war” and taking up a “righteous opening for vengeance” is rather impressive … it is quite a different feat to having managed to successfully lay hands upon the notoriously slippery Loki in order to deliver Skadi’s prophecized sanction upon him, at perhaps only a single night old. [We should note at this juncture that I am, here, endeavouring to ‘correct’ for the rather confusing situation of the Gylfaginning, wherein it would appear that Sturluson has erred by having Vali as a son of Loki … and instead, the Son that transforms into a Wolf in order to tear the entrails out of Loki’s actual son so that Loki might be bound in Serpent-delivered punishment, ought quite clearly to be Odin’s]

Effectively, the entire account is by turns both euhemeric (as seen, for instance, when the adversary that Vali is conceived in order to slay turns out to be a decidedly human king, inter many alia) and distinctly disdainful toward significant of its salient subject-matter and dramatis personae. Something that, to be fair, may not have been entirely due to the Christian standpoint of its author, major audience (not least the one archbishop having pressed Saxo into penning the piece, and another to whom the work was ultimately dedicated), and writing-context …  but also due to a perhaps more fractious rivalry: that between Denmark and Sweden (the latter of which had still had quite substantive pagan religious saliency within living memory at the time – even to the point of mandating a counter-pagan Christian Crusade to be carried out by king Sigurd (‘The Crusader’) of Norway against the Swedes of Småland in 1123). 

With that major centre of the pre-Christian Scandinavian religious world, Uppsala, lying within Sweden’s dominion and closely bound up with its previous kingship, it is not hard to see how and why Saxo (as with Sturluson) should have felt on good grounds to effectively loka-lize various of the mythic elements in question (or, at least, his ‘interpretations’ of them) with his country’s ‘barbaric’ Northern neighbours – even notwithstanding the aforementioned situation of there being an aforementioned ‘pagan’ remnant sentiment amidst those folk (just as, to be sure, there had still also been in Denmark not all that long prior, as well). We so often seem to wish to ‘relocate’ our own pasts – or those elements to our own experience and makeup that are now inconvenient to us – into other lands, other peoples, turning them into garish caricatures of their truths as part of our efforts at dysjuncting ourselves therefrom. We make traits we refuse to wish to acknowledge in our own sphere as part of our own sphere, into the grotesque fixtures only of our convenient and evidently antithetical enemies. Thus, perhaps, it was with the ‘Deeds of the Danes’ [‘Gesta Danorum’] and its (mis-)rendering of Nordic myth down into Scandinavian pseudo-history – conveniently ‘projectable’ onto both an aghastly imagined ‘prior past’ of the Danes themselves, and the contemporary resonates of who they were now supposed to wish they never were.  

But I perhaps digress.

The point that should be made here for our purposes is that whilst it is demonstrably the case that Saxo Grammaticus’ work is … out-of-step with the rest of the (admittedly often heavily fragmentary) Nordic mythic canon on various incidents and their key details, it is rarely the case that he seems to have gone so far as to produce something unrecognizable in any other sourcing as if entirely from his own imagination. Instead, it would appear that he took then-known legendary tales and broadly [if perhaps lacking in all the requisite depth, following decades of Christianization] authentic mythic elements … and from there proceeded to ‘hollow them out’, ‘repurpose them’, and so forth. 

What this means is that an appropriate comparative theological method might meaningfully not only inquire of these original structures and beliefs that had existed a-priori to both Saxo and Christianization more generally … but also explore in certain of those accounts wherein there isn’t a complete parallel in other (Nordic / Germanic) texts for us to analyze instead, whether some otherwise-unattested yet similarly authentic theological or ritualistic concept lies yet waiting to be discovered. More on that in a moment.

The other point that should be made … is that it would seem to me most peculiar to hold as a serious and substantial charge against anybody’s Gods, the words of one Christian account that is demonstrably both at odds in various other particulars with more authentic recountings of the relevant culture’s mythology, and (in a word) propagandtastic (as opposed to pro-pagan-tastic) across an array of salient features. 

Why take it as unvarnished fact? Why allow one’s self to become disquieted and perturbed by it as if it somehow were? If it’s a hostile and demonstrably distortionary perspective  – why choose to engage with it as if it is anything but. 

Although having said all of that – this does not mean that there is no value to be uncovered through a CRITICAL inquiry of that which is (mis)reported to us by Saxo. 

It just requires the deployment of the appropriate toolset(s) and mindset to make sense of the elements to be found within his recounting, upon an incident-by-incident basis. 

And it is to THAT solemn endeavour that we shall now seek to turn.

With a view to divining just what the true nature and character of the situation viz. Odin and Rindr might, archaically and authentically, have really been. 

ONWARDS!

Now, the first thing that we would suggest might be … missing from the conventional perspective concerns etymology.

There’s a suite of Western / Continental Germanic terms that sound suspiciously similar to Rind / Rindr that in fact mean … Cow. [Various of these are ‘Rind’ ; from PWG *hrinþ, with the speculated PIE etymology that underpins PG *hrinþaz seeming to suggest a horned cow / cattle … ; which would be an interesting duality from the ‘hornless cow’ interpretation for Auðumbla]

So what if Rindr means ‘Cow’ ?

Consider the frequency with which the Wife of the Sky Father is encountered in Bovine hailing or form in various IE mythic perspectives. And most prominently, of course, the Vedic / Hindu.

Now, at this point we note the situation observed in the Skaldskaparmal for, say, Jord :

“Hvernig skal jörð kenna? Svá, at kalla hana Ymis hold ok móður Þórs, dóttur Ónars, brúði Óðins, elju Friggjar ok Rindar ok Gunnlaðar”

“How should one periphrase the earth? Thus: by calling her Flesh of Ymir, and Mother of Thor, Daughter of Ónarr, Odin’s Bride, Co-Wife of Frigg and Rindr and Gunnlöd,”
[Brodeur translation]

And, elsewhere:

“Hvernig skal kenna Frigg? Svá, at kalla hana dóttur Fjörgyns, kona Óðins, móður Baldrs, elju Jarðar ok Rindar ok Gunnlaðar ok Gerðar, sværa Nönnu, dróttning ása ok ásynja, Fullu ok valshams ok Fensala.”

“How should one periphrase Frigg? Call her Daughter of Fjörgynn, Wife of Odin, Mother of Baldr, Co-Wife of Jörd and Rindr and Gunnlöd and Grídr, Mother-in-law of Nanna, Lady of the Æsir and Ásynjur, Mistress of Fulla and of the Hawk-Plumage and of Fensalir.”

We mention these because in each case, we encounter the same four figures: Frigg, Jord, Rindr, and Gunnlod , and with Gridr mentioned also in the other passage in the same fashion.

Ostensibly, per Sturluson’s reckoning, these are all Co-Wives of Odin (and it is very curious that Skadi is not cited thereamongst).

We would suggest that this is not quite the case.

But rather, that in a similar fashion to what is observed in the Vedic sphere, wherein we have repeated and direct statements confirming that Aditi, Prithvi, Saraswati, Vak (etc.) are all the Same Goddess , under different names and with different ‘facings’ for particular invocatory or other mythic purposes … that the Wives of Odin are, in fact, similar in situation.

This can be demonstrated by the manner in which various of those particular Wives of Odin are coterminous in key details with various of those Goddess-forms of the Vedic sphere … that are also coterminous with other Goddess-forms in the same details elsewhere in the same canon(s) of texts. We may expand upon this further in due course.

In the Nordic sphere specifically, we are interested to observe the utilization of ‘Baldrs beiði-Rindr’ – ‘the begging Rindr of Baldur’ (assumedly in terms of His Mother begging for Baldr’s return) to refer to Frigg quite directly (Oddi inn litli Glúmsson, Lausavísur 1). Which, whilst it could be explained away by the notion of ‘Rindr’ having become a more generalized term for ‘Goddess’ or even ‘Woman’, we would surmise to possibly hold a deepa significance – after all, kennings for Frigg, so we are told [viz. Busch] are decidedly rare, and so we must assume to have been chosen with care.

Or, perhaps, part of the reason that kennings for Frigg are so uncommon … is because much the same job is carried out via the utilization of an extensive suite of other theonyms , and kennings for other Goddess-forms instead. We digress.

Now, complicating our analysis viz. Rindr is that the term also turns up in specific relation to ‘Bride Price’ (c.f. Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa 12) . As in – ‘the Rindr of the bride price’ (although this may, as with many poetic references in the Skaldic canon, acquire a potentially broader application as well).

Should ‘Rindr’ in truth have referred to ‘Cow’, then this makes eminently logical sense. Cattle are quite the symbol for wealth – viz. *Fehu and its Sanskrit cognate, ‘Pashu’ [and Pashupati [Rudra] has a saliency here that ought be readily apparent given ‘Pati’ meaning not only ‘Lord’ but also ‘Husband’] ;

Which would therefore imply that the notion of the ‘Rindr of the Bride Price’ being a Goddess associated with the concept (and the covenant to which it links) … is yet another occurrence of the Goddess in relation to Law and Order [viz. Themis, etc. – and the rather intrinsic situation occurrent also in the Vedic sphere, where the (Divine) Cow can indeed become quite the Avenger/Upholder … c.f. that suite of AV-S hymnals we have so often been writing upon in this particular direction]

However, this is not what most tend to think of when Rindr is mentioned.

Instead, it is the tale related by Saxo Grammaticus. Which we would like to ‘place to one side’, as I think it prima facie obvious that the Christian Dane with the rather less than “pious” attitude toward the Gods of both his forefathers and his country’s neighbours to the north, is not the most reliable of sources.

What we can observe, based around elements encountered in other source-material is that Rindr is mother to the famed Avenging Son, Vali. And, as others have also noted, with the ‘rapid growth’ mytheme being a prominent fixture for certain divine dragon/demon-slaying progeny in other IE mythoi.

However, perhaps the most remarkable and immediately useful of the source-material we might draw from … concerns another dimension to Her.

To quote from the Sigurðardrápa of  Kormákr Ögmundarson:

“Eykr með ennidúki
jarðhljótr día fjarðar
breyti, hún sás beinan
bindr; seið Yggr til Rindar.”

Per the Gade / Marold edition:

“‘The land-recipient [RULER], who secures the straight mast, honours the arranger of the fjord of the gods [POETRY > POET] with a headband; Yggr <= Óðinn> obtained Rindr through sorcery.’”

‘Fjord of the Gods’ we would connect to the broadly commensurate understanding in Vedic usage for the River / Stream(s) of Poetry / Divine Speech via which the Gods may be eulogized, contacted, and even brought forth.

The ‘arranger’ of said Fjord being , assumedly, the Skald .

(As a point of interest, the Brodeur rendition of the same verse in the context of the Skaldskaparmal reads:

“The Giver of Lands, who bindeth
The sail to the top, with gold-lace
Honors him who pours god’s verse-mead;
Odin wrought charms on Rindr.)

We do not consider it coincidental for these elements to be co-occurrent in the verse – that is to say, a gifted Poet being honoured for his function in praising (or perhaps, ritually invoking through such) the Gods … and then Odin, the ultimate Skald, being declared to have ‘won’ [to slightly figuratively translate ’til’ – it can be ‘moved towards’; the root is a PG term for ‘Goal’, *tilą] Rindr through the utilization of ‘Seidr’.

Seidr, as we have demonstrated elsewhere, despite its baleful and unwholesome reputation in later textual comments, appears to encompass also within its ambit an array of things that are … pretty much what we would expect to observe in the Vedic sphere as relatively orthodox (if complex and demanding) mantras, invocations, rites. As carried out by male priests.

And the reason these are male priests is, in part, due to the relevant metaphysics involved … wherein Speech , Divine Speech , Vak Devi , is a Goddess … invoked in some operations into the Altar-Fire so that a God may be born out of this to be here amongst Their People.

SBr III 2 1 contains a direct recounting of such, wherein the Priest, acting in the station of the Divine Priest, the Priest of the Gods, effectively ‘woos’ Vak with ritual invocation – in a manner quite directly described in terms of a marital courtship.

And with the relevant formulation of verse, Vak is declared to have been made ‘Their Own’ [as applies the Gods, the side of the Divine – there’s a … ‘priestly duel’ of sorts with the race of Demons going on here as well for Vak, we should perhaps note].

It is not hard to imagine that the situation encountered in the Shatapatha Brahmana (as aforementioned), and which we have noted seems to have resonancy in the Classical corpus as well [viz. some of the co-invoked deifics of the Hestia hymnals of the Homeric canon of texts] , may also have found its way into the Nordic legendarium.

After all – the way these rites are ‘preserved’ for memorization in the Vedic sphere is via ‘narrativization’ ; and as we have demonstrated viz. that other famous Odinic myth featuring one of His Wives (Gunnlod – in a placement coterminous, again, with Vak … and yes, Cows relevant again, also) – the Obtaining of the Mead of Poetry [Kvasir – ‘That Which Is Pressed’ – like ‘Soma’, which means likewise] – there is a remarkably strong concordancy of the Nordic myth with the Vedic, suggesting that just as with the Vedic, a ritual operation correlate in key respects with the mythic presentation must have been known and undertaken amidst the Norse.

Quite … ‘poetic’, you might say. For that is most certainly the chief concern of both the text presenting the aforementioned Nordic iteration of the narrative (the Skaldskaparmal), and the above-cited prize for the arranger of the Gods’ honeyed pathway here amongst us.  

And so therefore, leaving aside Saxo Grammaticus’ rather grubby narrative … or, perhaps, ‘interpreting’ certain of its details in (altar-fire) light of the Vedic ritual operations that we have in mind … a rather different picture emerges.

One of the Divine Priest utilizing ritual invocation to ‘move towards’, ‘obtain’, the Goddess – as a necessary element for ensuring the success of the Rite. And perhaps the fastening to the bed might be read in the sense outlined in SBr III 2 1, wherein Vak is securely ‘bound into’ the Altar-Fire, where the ‘incarnation’ / ‘manifestation’ of a God (a further God, Her Son, in fact) – is shortly to occur.

This would therefore explain the occurrence of Odin’s (Yggr’s) action viz. Rindar in the Sigurðardrápa immediately following an awarding to a particularly gifted Skald [with the potential for a mead-pouring metaphor also found in the ‘hrosta’, terminology utilized elsewhere viz. this ‘Fjord’ , and the potential underying sense for a Rsi as having Speech ‘pour forth’ that we shall not delve into here] – as conceptually linking these elements.

The gifted Skald indeed having ‘obtained Vak’ [and c.f. that particular DeviSukta line I am always quoting, perhaps, as well … ] and his competence being such that an oblique ‘resonancy’ with the Allfather is called for, in the poetic verse praising him likewise, as well.
As ever, there is a ‘mythic template’ for ritual operation.

And as ever, there is a bowdlerized version related via intermediaries-of-intermediaries which somehow manages to relate the similar events yet of entirely dissimilar spirit.

4 thoughts on “On Gods, Rindr, and ‘Gotcha’ – An Investigation Of An Account Of Saxo Grammaticus In Light Of Vedic Comparanda

  1. Good. Good stuff. It would be pithy to say no more than I hate Euhemerism. However, and to a degree Snorri is guilty perhaps of Saxo’s sins, which is a Christian’s evangelism can only be based on subversion. He had to know enough to twist it. To present enough to gain sympathy before slowly pulling the rug out from under you.

    But what can’t apparently be so readily subverted is etymology. It’s ironic that in recording names faithfully, despite the occasional tweaking of a decaying narrative, Snorri left an interpretive legacy that with discoveries in hand can be revived.

    I read in a book, Odin’s Wife, how pigs and cows specifically were tokens of femininity among the less worshipped Vanir. And how Nerþus was likely Njörd’s bride prior to assuming her queenship among the Æsir where it is supposed that Jörð (Nerþus) was renamed Frigga (beloved.) It goes a way to explaining Freyja who could well be her daughter, then, who was likened to both pigs and cows (in a flattering manner, which is hard for the moderner to fathom) and here I read of the cow connection to the other Sophianic archetypes symbolically bedded by Wōden. Well played, I enjoyed this, thank you.

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    • Solid comment.

      I am never quite sure with Sturluson, however, how much it’s “getting stuff past the radar”

      and that the only way something like his work could be published is if it DID engage in rather overt euhemericism.

      Hence why he includes at points stuff around “a god .. as reckoned by them of those times .. but a man we would now say” [to heavily paraphrase]

      And yes, we are blessed to have what we have from his hand – and it is rather remarkable what we *can* unlock therethrough.

      Including some elements that the author of the book you refer to .. seems rather inclined to dismiss as Sturluson interpolation :/

      But I do not know about ‘renaming’. It would seem more logical to me that the name was always there ;

      I also disagree with the situation viz. Frigg & Freyja being different deifics – but that is another thing for another time perhaps.

      In any case, thank you for your kind words.

      [-C.A.R.]

      Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure. Thank you for your response. Your balance of Aryan Vedicism and Nordicism is intriguing. I’m not well equipped with the Vedas but am becoming acquainted. I have no doubt your blog will be of great value there, as I plod along.

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  2. Pingback: On Gods, Rindr, and ‘Gotcha’ – An Investigation Of An Account Of Saxo Grammaticus In Light Of Vedic Comparanda – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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