Thursday, 28 March 2019

Monday, 18 March 2019

Review of Equus (1977)

"Equus" (with Survive the Jive and John Morgan) - Guide to Kulchur, ep 13

Friday, 15 March 2019

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Corn God: Endurance of pagan habits in 19th century Sweden!

An account of residual pagan practice in Sweden from 1877!

(Västergötlands Fornminnesförenings Tidskrift, Part 3. 1877. Page 60-61.)

A magazine by Västergötlands Fornminnesförening tells the interesting story of a wooden figure called "the Corn God", which used to be kept in the local church of Vånga. The journalist wrote: 

"Several years ago, Skara Museum was visited by an old man and his wife from Vånga. When he saw the figure he cried, ”Mother, here stands the corn god.” This prompted me to ask him what he knew about the sculpture. He then told me that folk in Vånga called it the Corn God, and that the farmers at spring time would smuggle him out from the church and at sunrise carry him around on the fields to attain good harvest that year. When, despite this, the crops still failed in 1826, one farmer knocked the nose off the figure on a Sunday. Shortly thereafter, the old man added, the sculpture went missing, but no one dared ask where it might have gone to.” 

Even though these people regarded themselves as Christians, they were still aware that this was something the priest didn't want them to do. They even called the figure a god. Not a very Christian thing to do! The figure itself is from late 13th century and depicts an unidentified apostle. The persona of the Corn God, reminiscent of Freyr, was imposed on it by the parishioners, but why? Montelius claimed it was not an apostle but Saint Olaf:

‘The fact that the worship of Saint Olaf [the Norwegian king killed in 1030 AD] was not, like that of the Swedish Saint Erik, limited principally to his own country, shows that there must have been some special reason for the prominent position he occupied within the northern Church … If the Christian Scandinavians looked upon him in the same way as their heathen ancestors had looked upon Thor, we can easily understand why it was so. Just as people in old days believed that Thor could grant good harvests, so even in the nineteenth century they have supposed Olaf to be in possession of the same power. Stories from the south of Sweden and from Denmark tell how the peasants were wont to drag the image of Saint Olaf round the fields after the sowing. The image of Saint Olaf in Vånga church in Vestergötland was carried round in that way, in spite of vigorous protests from the clergy. The peasants had given it the name of the “corn god”’


Montelius, O.A. 1910. The Sun God’s Axe and Thor’s Hammer. Folk-Lore 21(1910): 60-78.

This tradition is an obvious continuation of a Germanic tradition of parading an idol around the land to bestow it with fertility. The earliest source we have on this is Tacitus' Germania (98AD) in which he describes how the Germanic peoples worshipped a goddess called Nerthus whose idol toured the country in a ceremonial wagon drawn by Oxen. Similarly, the 5th century Palestinian historian Sozomenos wrote that the Goths under Athanaric had led about a wooden idol placed on a covered wagon. They passed by a tent of Goths who had converted to Christianity and demanded they pay respect to the idol and make offerings to it. He wrote that those who refused to honour the idol were burned alive in their tents. Finally, in the 8th century Einhard wrote that Childeric III, the last of the long-haired Merovingian kings (long haired rulers being a residual pagan custom) was a degenerate king who was purveyed about the country on a wagon drawn by oxen in an annual celebration, which we can infer was of pagan origin, and originally involved the ruler filling a similar role the idol of Nerthus had 700 years earlier. The touring of idols is also common in other Indo-European religions such as Hinduism. 

Montelius provides more on the enduring cult of Thor in modern Sweden:

Writing about Wärend, that old part of Småland where so much of the belief and customs of former ages still remains, Mr. Hyltén-Cavallius says, - ‘They still look upon the thunder as a person whom they call alternately “Thor” or “Thore-Gud,” “Gofar,” and “Gobonden” [The Good Farmer]. He is an old redbearded man. In 1629 a peasant from Warend was summoned for blasphemy against God. He had said about the rain,— “If I had the old man down here I would pull him by the hair on account of this continual raining.” Thus it is Thor that gives the summer rain, which therefore in Wärend is called “Gofar-rain,” “Gobonda-rain” [The Good Farmer rain] or “As-rain.” The rumbling of the thunder is produced by Thor’s driving in his chariot through the clouds. It is therefore called Thordön after him. People also say that “Gofar is driving,” “Gobonden is driving,” “The Thunder is driving.” Thor drives not only in the air but also on earth. Then they say that “he is earth-driving.” … The most noticeable trace of our country’s older worship of Thor is that “Thor’s day” (Thursday) was still in the nineteenth century considered as a sacred day, almost as a Sunday’ (Montelius 1910:76-77).