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Famous Men of The Middle Ages|
The Gods of the Teutons
by Haaren, John H. (LL.D.) and Poland, A. B. (Ph.D.)
|In the little volume called The Famous
Men of Rome you have read about the great empire which the Romans
established. Now we come to a time when the power of Rome was
broken and tribes of barbarians who lived north of the Danube and
the Rhine took possession of lands that had been part of the Roman
Empire. These tribes were the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks and
Anglo-Saxons. From them have come the greatest nations of modern
times. All except the Huns belonged to the same race and are known
as Teutons. They were war-like, savage and cruel. They spoke the
same language--though in different dialects--and worshiped the same
gods. Like the old Greeks and Romans they had many gods.
Woden, who was also called Odin, was the greatest of all. His name
means "mighty warrior," and he was king of all the gods. He rode
through the air mounted on Sleipnir, an eightfooted horse fleeter
than the eagle. When the tempest roared the Teutons said it was
the snorting of Sleipnir. When their ships came safely into port
they said it was Woden's breath that had filled their sails and
wafted their vessels over the blue waters.
Thor, a son of Woden, ranked next to him among the gods. He rode
through the air in a chariot drawn by goats. The Germans called him
Donar and Thunar, words which are like our word thunder. From this
we can see that he was the thunder god. In his hand he carried a
wonderful hammer which always came back to his hand when he threw
it. Its head was so bright that as it flew through the air it made
the lightning. When it struck the vast ice mountains they reeled
and splintered into fragments, and thus Thor's hammer made thunder.
Another great god of our ancestors was Tiew. He was a son of
Woden and was the god of battle. He was armed with a sword which
flashed like lightning when he brandished it. A savage chief
named Attila routed the armies of the Romans and so terrified all
the world that he was called "The Scourge of God." His people
believed that he gained his victories because he had the sword of
Tiew, which a herdsman chanced to find where the god had allowed
it to fall. The Teutons prayed to Tiew when they went into battle.
Frija (free' ya) was the wife of Woden and the queen of the gods.
She ruled the bright clouds that gleam in the summer sky, and caused
them to pour their showers on meadow and forest and mountain.
Four of the days of the week are named after these gods. Tuesday
means the day of Tiew; Wednesday, the day of Woden; Thursday, the
day of Thor; and Friday, the day of Frija.
Frija's son was Baldur; who was the favorite of all the gods. Only
Loki, the spirit of evil, hated him. Baldur's face was as bright
as sunshine. His hair gleamed like burnished gold. Wherever he
went night was turned into day.
One morning when he looked toward earth from his father Woden's
palace black clouds covered the sky, but he saw a splendid rainbow
reaching down from the clouds to the earth. Baldur walked upon
this rainbow from the home of the gods to the dwellings of men.
The rainbow was a bridge upon which the gods used to come to earth.
When Baldur stepped from the rainbow-bridge to the earth he saw a
king's daughter so beautiful that he fell in love with her.
But an earthly prince had also fallen in love with her. So he and
Baldur fought for her hand. Baldur was a god and hence was very
much stronger than the prince. But some of Baldur's magic food
was given to the prince and it made him as strong as Baldur.
Frija heard about this and feared that Baldur was doomed to be
killed. So she went to every beast on the land and every fish of
the sea and every bird of the air and to every tree of the wood and
every plant of the field and made each promise not to hurt Baldur.
But she forgot the mistletoe. So Loki, who always tried to do
mischief, made an arrow of mistletoe, and gave it to the prince
who shot and killed Baldur with it.
Then all the gods wept, the summer breeze wailed, the leaves fell
from the sorrowing trees, the flowers faded and died from grief, and
the earth grew stiff and cold. Bruin, the bear, and his neighbors,
the hedgehogs and squirrels, crept into holes and refused to eat
for weeks and weeks.
The pleasure of all living things in Baldur's presence means the
happiness that the sunlight brings. The sorrow of all living things
at his death means the gloom of northern countries when winter
The Valkyries were beautiful female warriors. They had some
of Woden's own strength and were armed with helmet and shield and
spear. Like Woden, they rode unseen through the air and their
horses were almost as swift as Sleipnir himself. They swiftly
carried Woden's favorite warriors to Valhalla, the hall of the
slain. The walls of Valhalla were hung with shields; its ceiling
glittered with polished spearheads. From its five hundred and
forty gates, each wide enough for eight hundred men abreast to march
through, the warriors rushed every morning to fight a battle that
lasted till nightfall and began again at the break of each day.
When the heroes returned to Valhalla the Valkyries served them with
goblets of mead such as Woden drank himself.
The Teutons believed that before there were any gods or any world
there was a great empty space where the world now is. It was called
by the curious name Ginnungagap, which means a yawning abyss.
To the north of Ginnungagap it was bitterly cold. Nothing was
there but fields of snow and mountains of ice. To the south of
Ginnungagap was a region where frost and snow were never seen. It
was always bright, and was the home of light and heat. The sunshine
from the South melted the ice mountains of the North so that they
toppled over and fell into Ginnungagap. There they were changed
into a frost giant whose name was Ymir (e'mir). He had three sons.
They and their father were so strong that the gods were afraid of
So Woden and his brothers killed Ymir. They broke his body in pieces
and made the world of them. His bones and teeth became mountains
and rocks; his hair became leaves for trees and plants; out of his
skull was made the sky.
But Ymir was colder than ice, and the earth that was made of his
body was so cold that nothing could live or grow upon it. So the
gods took sparks from the home of light and set them in the sky.
Two big ones were the sun and moon and the little ones were the
stars. Then the earth became warm. Trees grew and flowers bloomed,
so that the world was a beautiful home for men.
Of all the trees the most wonderful was a great ash tree, sometimes
called the "world tree." Its branches covered the earth and reached
beyond the sky till they almost touched the stars. Its roots ran
in three directions, to heaven, to the frost giants' home and to
the under-world, beneath the earth.
Near the roots in the dark under-world sat the Norns, or fates.
Each held a bowl with which she dipped water out of a sacred spring
and poured it upon the roots of the ash tree. This was the reason
why this wonderful tree was always growing, and why it grew as high
as the sky.
When Woden killed Ymir he tried to kill all Ymir's children too;
but one escaped, and ever after he and his family, the frost giants,
tried to do mischief, and fought against gods and men.
According to the belief of the Teutons these wicked giants will
some day destroy the beautiful world. Even the gods themselves
will be killed in a dreadful battle with them. First of all will
come three terrible winters without any spring or summer. The sun
and moon will cease to shine and the bright stars will fall from the
sky. The earth will be shaken as when there is a great earthquake;
the waves of the sea will roar and the highest mountains will
totter and fall. The trees will be torn up by the roots, and even
the "world tree" will tremble from its roots to its topmost boughs.
At last the quivering earth will sink beneath the waters of the
Then Loki, the spirit of evil, will break loose from the fetters
with which the gods have bound him. The frost giants will join him.
They will try to make a secret attack on the gods. But Heimdall,
the sentry of heaven, will be on guard at the end of the rainbow-bridge.
He needs no more sleep than a bird and can see for a hundred miles
either by day or night. He only can sound the horn whose blast
can be heard through heaven and earth and the under-world. Loki
and his army will be seen by him. His loud alarm will sound and
bring the gods together. They will rush to meet the giants. Woden
will wield his spear--Tiew his glittering sword--Thor his terrible
hammer. These will all be in vain. The gods must die. But so
must the giants and Loki.
And then a new earth will rise from the sea. The leaves of its
forests will never fall; its fields will yield harvests unsown.
And in a hall far brighter than Woden's Valhalla the brave and good
will be gathered forever.