Sunday, 21 August 2011
Thor`s Axe-the Original Hammer
This article should be read in conjunction with `Two Hammers of Thor` posted on this blog on 17/1/10.
In addition to the transformation of Thor`s Hammer Mjolnir from a stone weapon into one of metal there is a lot of evidence to suggest that originally this weapon was an axe.
The renowned scholar of Germanic and Celtic mythology H.R. Ellis Davidson repeatedly in her books The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe and Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe refers to Thor`s Hammer as an "axe-hammer" or "hammer-axe".
In Gods and Myths of Northern Europe she states that "the hammer-shaped weapon is similar to the double axe of antiquity, which also represented the thunderbolt, and which was shown in various temples of the ancient world."[page 82]
She also draws an association between the axe-hammer and the sun-wheel, all symbols that were well known in the Bronze Age[page 83].
For more information on this particular aspect see my article Thunor and the Flyfot posted on this blog on 24/10/10.
In Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folklore Walter Keating Kelly refers to Thor`s weapon as being an axe: "It is well known in England and also in Germany, that no witch can step over a besom laid along the threshold of the house door on the inside. She will kick it or push it aside before she can enter your house, and by this token you may know her for what she is. An axe[Thor`s weapon] and a broom are laid crosswise on the inner side of the threshold over which the nurse has to step when she goes out with an infant to have it christened. This is done that the babe may be safe from all the devices of the powers of evil."[pages 226-227]
"....and German herdsmen lay a woman`s red apron, or a broad axe covered with a woman`s red stocking, before the threshold of the house, and make the animals step over it."[page 229-230].
"As Indra used to milk the cloud cows and churn the milk lakes and fountains with the thunderbolt, so did Thor. The German god`s fiery weapon was often represented as an axe, and hence it is a customary thing with witches to draw milk from the handle of an axe stuck in a doorpost."[pages 231-232]
"Se thunor hit thryscedh mid theare fyrenan aecxe."
[An Anglo-Saxon poem, quoted by Kemble, says that the thunder threshes with a fiery axe.]
We must remember that Thor`s hammer or axe was not only an offensive weapon but a defensive one also, used to protect people and animals from malignant supernatural forces and as a tool of consecration in weddings and fertility rites.
On discussing Thor`s hammer Jaan Puhvel states "It is thus the bolt, and it can be represented also as an[originally stone] ax, a club, or a counterclockwise hooked cross symbolizing a thunderball, resembling the Indic svastika-`good luck sign`[from Vedic su-asti-`well-being, good fortune`].[Comparative Mythology, page 201].
According to European Myth & Legend[Mike Dixon-Kennedy] the Lithuanian thunder God Perkunas was red bearded, brandished an axe and rattled across the heavens in a chariot drwan by a billy goat[page 187].
Lithuanian is regarded by scholars as one of the very oldest of the Indo-European languages so it is logical for us to assume that this image of Perkunas is an accurate reflection of the original Aryan thunder God and that his weapon was originally an axe, rather than a hammer. How or why the axe developed into a hammer is a issue that I hope to address in a future article.