Sunday, 4 October 2015
Divine Canines: Fenrir
This is the fifth of a series of posts about divine canines, gods and goddesses who are dogs, spirits in dog form and other magical canines. Years ago I did a few posts about wolf goddesses but found in my research too many male canine gods and beasts, or non-wolf canid goddesses that I couldn't include. So I promised to do something on the wider subject of myth and canid species linked to ancient legends, spirits, deities and folklore.
The last time I posted about Divine Canines was to do with Geri and Freki. This one is from Norse and Germanic mythology but of a different nature. Fenrir, knowned as a huge monstrous wolf that was bound by chains and would break free at Ragnarok (apocalypse or the end of the world) and this huge wolf would ultimately destroy everything. Fenrir is also said to eat the sun at ragnarok. Also other versions claim that the two sons of Fenrir, Hati and Skoll would both destroy the sun and the moon as Fenrir rampages over the earth killing everything. The purpose of Fenrir and his evil sons are believed by many to wipe out humanity and destroy worlds. So for this they both remain chained until that dreaded time comes.
So why is this monster on my subject of "divine" canines? Fenrir, Hati and Skoll are the opposite of divinity and so you're wondering why discuss them, right? Maybe Fenrir is NOT an evil wolf but had been misinterprated that way. I've got a different view.
First of all much of these legends come from Snorri Sturluson, a medieval monk and an academic writer. He got his research from folktales and other legends gained from the Eddas. An ancient poem "Grimnismal" is composed of 54 stanzas and dates from around the 10th Century CE. In it one stanza includes this:
"Skoll is the name of the wolf
Who follows the shining priest
Into the desolate forest,
And the other is Hati
Who chases the bright bride of the sky."
Hati's father here is said to be Hrodvitnir the "Famous Wolf", a nickname of Fenrir. Fenrir is the child of Loki, a trickster god with changing forms in myth. Ultimately bound to the earth to stop his chaos, it's interesting to mention that this father of Fenrir and other monstrous children might've been misrepresented and altered since the establishment of Christianity in Europe. In pre-Christian Scandinavia and Iceland and Germanic countries, there was no recorded evidence of worship of Loki. It might be better understood if Loki used to be a different type of character in mythology with traits that Odin has, or what everyday mortal humans have. It could also explain that Loki's name sounds like "Luke" or "Luc" the Latin for light. I believe that in mythology are different types of gods. The giants (planets, earth, moon, sun) and the humanlike gods (Aesir and Vanir). What of Fenrir? He was a giant wolf that bit off the war god's arm and will consume the earth with life inside it. Really?
Fenrir is a divine wolf god it's a vital part of nature. All of Loki's offspring are in another way a significant guardians of the earth. The siblings of Fenrir include Jormungand, Hella and Sleipnir. All of them are considered "dark", "evil", "monsters", "frightening" and "enemy of the gods". But they play an important function in stabilising the world. In popular myth:
1. Jormungand is the world serpent.
2. Hella is goddess of the underworld.
3. Sleipnir is a freakish horse.
However, consider that Jormungand sustains the spin of the world, keeping the earth alive and moving and changing. He controls the flow of tides and movements of the tectonic plates. His hot breath blows across Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia and the rest of Europe to stop bleak mini ice ages. This breath of Jormungand is also called the Gulf Stream. In "Irminsul" by Varg Vikernes, Jormangund is considered to be the equator. Jormungand is a type of comic serpent, healer and a guardian of the sea.
Hella is the goddess of the dead, and mother of the inner earth. She was considered a gentle goddess who embraced those who died.
Sleipnir is an 8 legged horse that Odin rides upon. It travels across worlds, across the earth, sea, sky and other worlds! (This reminds me that I intend to do a subject on ancient astronauts in the near future!).
Fenrir was turned bad in myths because people considered wolves as a predator but earlier in pre-Christian Europe, wolves were the symbol of warriors. The warrior caste was "wolf". In other cultures, people believe that their ancestors were wolves. The warrior trait was ceased to be viewed a noble lineage as times changed, and warriors practising ancient martial art were seen as outlaws. And so was wolves. Strange that one of the most popular household pet today is a cousin of the wolf.
Fenrir is linked in a way to the cosmos, especially with wolf star or dogstar Sirius. Sirius is part of the Canis Major constellation, also called the "Great Dog". In hindu texts, Sirius is "he who awakens the gods of the air and summons them to their office of bringing the rain." As the arrival of Sirius in the sky brought about new waters and created the Nile. The ancient Eguptians considered Sirius to be the doorway to the afterlife so they refused to bury the dead with Sirius visible. Sirius was called "Orion's Dog" by the Greeks and Romans. Some suggest Tyr and Fenris mirror the constellation Orion and Sirius. The Chinese call it "celestial wolf". The world's peoples from Europe, the Far East, Africa, Middle and Near East and the Americas believe Sirius the Canis constellations are divine wolves guarding the sky. Another aspect of the cross cultural wolf star myths is that Sirius brings climate change. Fenrir is regarded as a destroyer but also could account for his powers over weather and geology. The ancient poples studied the stars intensely and included that in mythologies.
How myths alter
Far back in time, when a lost wisdom told stories about nature and space, they symbolised everything with animals, people and adventures. Later, a breakdown in society around the time of the Bronze Age suggests a shift in people's mindsets. They changed the myths to suit their circumstances. Not interested in space anymore, they were concerned only with survival. So the characters that may have been revered once before were looming and terrifying figures of later periods.
The sagas about Fenrir being super bad and totally destructive can explain people's tension over the forces of nature. Peoples attitudes to wolves and wildlife, people's feelings about nature and the old religion, and a combination of oral myths. From the Eddas, to Snorri, to Brothers Grimm and Jung. Now Marvel have twisted Norse mythology to suit popstar loving kids. And that modern idea of the big bad wolf is still a favourite fairytale.