View Full Version : Donar

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005, 09:35 PM

The god ruling over clouds and sky, announcing himself through rolling thunder and flashes of lightning, whose bolt flies through the air and strikes the earth, was described in our ancient speech with the word Donar itself, OS Thunar, AS Thunor, ON Thorr. Thor is imagined as driving, since the rolling of thunder resembles a heavy wagon passing by. His wagon is drawn by two he-goats. Other gods have their wagons too, especially Odin and Freyr, but Thor is distinctively thought of as the god who drives. Thor is never seen as riding like Wodan nor is he provided with a horse. He either drives or he goes on foot. It is expressly said that he walks to hold court, to pass judgement. He is never represented in a wild host or in company with women. Although his son and yielding to him in degree of influence, Donar again appears to resemble Wodan as an older god worshipped before the latter, enthroned in forests, on mountain tops, hurling the ancient stone weapon and lightning bolt.

Thunder, lightning and rain, among all natural phenomena, are regarded as his actions. Thunder, in particular, is attributed to an angry and punitive god. Donar also resembles Wodan in his capacity for anger.

Donar purifies the weather and sends down fruitful rain. The oak is sacred to Donar and his hammer measures land, just as later does Wodan's staff. He attacks giants more often than he fights in battles at the head of heroes or reflects upon the art of war.

His name persists in popular curses, Wodan's only in protestations. In the figure of Rotbart (Barbarossa) Donar could also be imagined as waiting within a mountain. All heroes ascend to Wodan's heaven, ordinary folk return to Donar. Compared with the noble, fine Wodan, Donar reveals something about himself which is boorish, peasantlike, uncouth. He seems a very old deity, displaced in course of time by another closely-related but more all-embracing god, although not everywhere pushed into the background.

We can trace mountain names in Germany with complete certainty to the worship of this native god. Universally known is the Donnersberg in the Rhine Palatinate, on the border of the old state of Falkenstein, between Worms, Kaiserslautern and Kreuznach. Another, Thuneresberg, is in Westphalia, on the Diemel, not far from Warburg. In the Middle Ages a great popular court was still held there, linked to the sacredness of the place. On the Knüllberg in Hessen is found a Donnerkaute, in Bernerland a Donnerbühel. In Scandinavia also there is no lack of mountains and rocks bearing Thor's name.

As the fertility of the land depends on thunderstorms and rains, thunder gods such as Zeus appear as the oldest divinities of agricultural nations, to whose bounty they look for the thriving of their cornfields and fruits. Adam of Bremen too attributes thunder and lightning to Thor expressly in connection with dominion over weather and fruits: "Thor, inquiunt, praesidet in aëre, qui tonitrua et fulmina, ventos imbresque, serena et fruges gubernat," "Thor, they say, rules in the air, governing the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops." Here then the worship of Thor coincides with that of Wotan, to whom likewise the reapers paid homage, as on the other hand Thor as well as Odin guides the events of war and receives his share of the spoils. To the Norse mind Thor's victories and struggles with the giants have put in the shade his peaceful office, the rule over weather and harvest. Nevertheless to Wodan's mightiest son, whose mother is Earth herself [Jorth], we must, if only for his lineage's sake, allow a direct relation to agriculture. He clears up the atmosphere, he sends fertilizing showers, and his sacred tree supplies the nutritious acorn. Thor's minni [remembrance drink] was drunk to the prosperity of cornfields.

Like Zeus and Jupiter the German thunder god was also portrayed as wearing a long beard. In the old Norse sagas he appears everywhere as red-bearded, which must be related to the fiery phenomenon of lightning in the air. If he is angry, he blows in his red beard and thunder resounds. Men in need of help call on Donar's red beard. There is often talk of his divine anger. The red beard of the Thunderer is not forgotten in curses of a later, Christian time. Even today the North Frisians exclaim: Diis ruadhiiret donner regiir! = "This is red-haired thunder's work!").

Just as the thunder god is given red hair and a wagon, so he is also given the thunderbolt as a weapon or "missile" in present day language.
According to popular belief, when the lightning flashes from a cloud a black bolt simultaneously flies down to earth, embedding itself as deep as the highest church tower. Whenever there is renewed thunder, it begins to rise towards the surface. After seven years it is again to be found on the earth. Every house in which it is kept is safe from storm damage and as soon as a storm approaches, it begins to sweat. Such stones are also called thunder axes, thunderstones, thunder hammers, Albdonar, Alpgeschosse (from the Elbe), ray stones, devil's fingers. Stone hammers and stone measures found in pagan graves also bear the same name.

Norse mythology provides Thor with a wonderful hammer called Mjollnir in the Edda, which he hurls against the giants. It has the quality of returning by itself into the hand of the god after throwing. As this hammer flies through the air, the giants know it. Its throwing is preceded by thunder and lightning. Skilled dwarfs have forged it. The hammer of the god was held to be a sacred tool. Just as it knocked hostile giants to the ground, so it hallowed the sealing of marriage bonds and made sacred land and boundaries like the sign of the cross with Christians. The flash of lightning was held in the Middle Ages to be the lucky consecrating omen of an enterprise. The hammer is the primeval, simple tool essential for almost all handwork, which is used symbolically with many trades. To denote boundaries the Hamarsmark is hammered in, a cross provided with hooks. Later, crossed oaks were often used as a boundary, called Mälbaume ("marking trees") (in the Sachsenspiegel). [Image: M.E. Winge's "Thor and the Giants" (1890). Alone among the gods, Thor never rides a horse, but either travels on foot or rides in his goat-drawn chariot, as depicted here.]

Just as Christ, through his death, overpowered the monstrous serpent, so Thor triumphed over the Midgardworm or Midgard serpent, the snake that encircles the world. The similarity of the sign of the cross and of the hammer makes it possible that the newly converted Germans imagined Christ to be the god of thunder and provider of rain. In fact, the earliest troubadour still calls Christ the Lord of thunder.

According to the Edda, Thor's thunder wagon is drawn by rams. A half-concealed relationship may exist between them and another mythical "weather" creature which is imagined to be a goat or horse but always as a wagon-pulling beast. It is significant that the Devil, the modern representative of the thunder god, is also attributed with the creation of goats and rams, and Ziu like Thor lays aside and picks up the bones of goats which have been eaten, so that he can bring them back to life again. According to the belief of Swiss shepherds the goat has something devilish about it, a creation of the Devil. In fact, goats feet are held to be diabolical and are not eaten. In Carinthia, cattle killed by lightning are regarded as hallowed by God. No one, not even the poorest, dares eat them.

Thor was regarded after Odin as being the mightiest and strongest of all the gods: the Edda represents him as Odin's son. Usually Thor is named at the same time as Odin, sometimes before him, and perhaps he was feared even more than Odin.

An unmistakable relic of the worship of the thunder-god is the special observance of Thursday, which was not extinguished among the people till quite recent times and was revealed in early traditions of the Middle Ages. On Thursday evening there must be no sawing or cutting of wood.

If we compare Thor with Wodan, then the latter is more mentally alive and loftier, whereas the former has the advantage of a rough, sensual strength. Prayers, oaths and curses preserved his memory more often and longer than any other god, but only a part of the Greek Zeus is incorporated in Thor. Clearly both gods have shared in the power which is also fitting to Zeus. However, Wodan is represented as Donar's (Thor's) father and superior to him, just as the father is more powerful than the son.

Jakob Grimm: "The Principal Germanic Gods" (http://library.flawlesslogic.com/grimm_2.htm)