Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The riddle of Odin's ravens



Odin had two ravens named Huginn (Old Norse “thought”) and Muninn (Old Norse “mind”). Every day, Odin would send them out at dawn, and the birds would fly all over the world before returning at dinner-time. They would then tell Odin everything they saw and heard. It is said that this is the reason why one of Odin's names was “raven-god” (hrafnaguð). 

In the Poetic Edda sonnet Grímnismál, the god Odin (camouflaged as Grímnir) tells Agnarr, the young son of King Geirröðr a very strange thing about his two ravens. I include here four different translations of the stanza in question so that you can get better feeling for what Odin is saying. 

1797 Amos Simon Cottle in Icelandic Poetry “The Song of Grimnir”

Hugo, in azure fields of air,
And Mumin too each day appear:
I fear lest Hugo safe return,
But more for Mumin inly mourn.

1851 C.P. in The Yale Magazine, Vol. 16 “The Song of Grimner”

Huginn and Muninn, over the fields of earth 
Fly daily; fear creepeth upon my soul, 
Of Huginn, lest he come not faithfully; 
But of Muninu I have greater fear than this.


1866 Benjamin Thorpe in Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða “The Lay of Grimnir” 1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson in Corpus Poeticum Boreale “The Sayings of the Hooded One”
 
Hugin and Munin
fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin,
that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.

1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson in Corpus Poeticum Boreale “The Sayings of the Hooded One”

Thought and Mind [his two Ravens] fly every day over the mighty earth
I fear for Thought lest he never come back, but I am still more fearful about Mind. . . .

Scholars have been wondering for a long time about the meaning of the above verses. 

John Lindow relates Odin's ability to send his "thought" (Huginn) and "mind" (Muninn) to the trance-state journey of shamans. Lindow says the Grímnismál stanza where Odin worries about the return of Huginn and Muninn "would be consistent with the danger that the shaman faces on the trance-state journey."

Rudolf Simek is critical of the approach, stating that "attempts have been made to interpret Odin's ravens as a personification of the god's intellectual powers, but this can only be assumed from the names Huginn and Muninn themselves which were unlikely to have been invented much before the 9th or 10th centuries" yet that the two ravens, as Odin's companions, appear to derive from much earlier times. 

Anthony Winterbourne connects Huginn and Muninn to the Norse concepts of the fylgja—a concept with three characteristics; shape-shifting abilities, good fortune, and the guardian spirit—and the hamingja—the ghostly double of a person that may appear in the form of an animal. 

Bernd Heinrich theorizes that Huginn and Muninn, along with Odin and his wolves Geri and Freki, reflect a symbiosis observed in the natural world among ravens, wolves, and humans on the hunt. He proposed that the Odin myth was a metaphor that playfully and poetically encapsulates ancient knowledge of our prehistoric past as hunters in association with two allies to produce a powerful hunting alliance. It would reflect a past that we have long forgotten and whose meaning has been obscured and badly frayed as we abandoned our hunting cultures to become herders and agriculturists.

I believe that the above stanza is a riddle, a koan, which was used for teaching the novices about the difference between Thought and Mind. The fact that Odin has two ravens called thought and mind is already very significant. Most people equate thought, thinking, the thought machine and mind. But interestingly mystics all over the world, since the beginning of time have been trying to tell us that the truth is exactly the opposite. Thought, thinking, thought machine and mind are two different things independent of each other. Odin is trying to tell us the same. 

Many books were written on the subject of dualism of Thought and Mind. Basically anything ever written about meditation, mindfulness and achieving enlightenment actually tries to explain the relationship between the Thought and Mind. In my opinion one of the best was written by the guy called Eckhart Tolle. The book is called "The Power Of Now". This is not a religious book. This is a practical guide to understanding the relationship between Thought and Mind.

But how are we to understand Odin's worry that his ravens will not return. John Lindow is partially correct when he relates Odin's ability to send his "thought" (Huginn) and "mind" (Muninn) to the trance-state journey of shamans. Only the Muninn's flight is a metaphor for the meditative process. Huginn's flight is a metaphor for the thought process. Lindow says the Grímnismál stanza where Odin worries about the return of Huginn and Muninn "would be consistent with the danger that the shaman faces on the trance-state journey." But actually I believe that Odin is not worried. It is a riddle. He is opposite from worried. He is hoping that the ravens will not return. 

The reason why scholars are still wondering what the meaning of the above stanza is, is because they are not vikings. 

Ravens were used by Vikings to determine if there was a land ahead during their long voyages across the open sea. They carried ravens with them in cages. When they found themselves far away from the shore, and didn’t know which way to go, they would set a raven free. Raven would fly high in the air and then start flying in circles searching for land in the distance. Because ravens can't land on water, if the raven could not see a land, he would return to the ship. But if the raven saw land in the distance, it would fly straight for it. All the Vikings had to do is follow the raven. So raven acted as a guide, which guided Vikings through the unknown and uncharted waters to a safe haven. Which means that raven must be directly related to the idea of a guide, leader, just like Odin, Wodan whose name actually means Guide, Leader. You can read more about it in my post called "Odin the wandering deity".

As I said already it is very important that there are two ravens of Odin. Thought and Mind. They are two ravens which each of us can use to search for the way forward through the unknowable future. Most people only ever use Thought. This is because they are not even aware of the existence of the other raven, Mind because they think that Thought and Mind are one and the same. That mind is a sum of our thoughts, rather than a completely separate entity. This is a pity because all the mystics in the world throughout the history have been telling us that it is the mind, clear of all thought, the mind of no mind, which gives us the true vision, the true sight. The sight that reaches much further in space and time then our thoughts would ever be able to reach. And this is exactly what Odin is telling Agnarr. Odin says that although there is a possibility that thought might not return, he is more anxious about Mind not returning than thought. What this actually means is this:

It might be possible to use your thought to successfully guide you through life. This is symbolised  by Odin's fear that Hugin, Thought, might not come back. As I have already said, raven Thought would not come back only if it had found the way (Tao) through life which you can follow. But Odin says, that he is more worried about the Muninn, Mind, not returning. This means that Odin thinks that raven Mind, mind empty of thought, the opposite of thought, is more likely to find you the way (Tao) through life which you can follow. This is, I believe, the message Odin was trying to convey to Agnarr and everyone else.

And so, I believe, the riddle of Odin's ravens is solved. A fitting message from the God whose name means Guide, Leader. What do you think?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Death = Stink

In some dialects of Serbian there is a word "baz" meaning stink, stench. In Serbian there is also the word "bazdi" meaning "it stinks". Bazdi = bas + di = stink + where or bazdi = bas+ ti = stink + it is. If we look at etymology of this word we see that it has very old cognates but no etymology. The word is said to come from the Proto Slavic root "pьzděti" which comes from Proto-Indo-European root "pesd-". Cognates are:

Belarusian: бздзець ‎(bzdzjecʹ)
Russian: бздеть ‎(bzdetʹ)
Ukrainian: бзді́ти ‎(bzdíty)
Serbo-Croatian: ба̀здети, ба̀здјети, bàzdeti, bàzdjeti
Czech: bzdíti
Polish: bzdzieć
Slovak: bzdieť

Italic: *pezdō

Latin: pēdō

Latvian: bezdêt

Lithuanian: bezdė́ti

Slavic: *bьzděti


Ancient Greek: βδέω ‎(bdéō)


One thing that I have to ask here is why does the proposed root start with "p" when all the cognates except Latin start with "b"? Wouldn't it be much more logical that the root is "bsd" rather than "psd"? 

Anyway, all these words mean stinking air, stink, fart. But not any fart. They mean "sbd", Silent but deadly. This means that the word is used for the smell of the fart and not the sound. 

In Serbian word for loud, audible fart is "prd" and word for farting is "prdeti". This is onomatopoeic  word which developed from an imitation of the sound of farting. The word "prd" is said to come from the Proto Slavic root "*pьrděti" which is in turn derived from the Proto-Indo-European root "perd-". The cognates include:

Latvian: pirst
Lithuanian: persti
Slavic: *pьrděti 

Germanic: *fertaną

Ancient Greek: πέρδομαι ‎(pérdomai)


Sanskrit: पर्दते ‎(párdate)

Bengali: পাদা ‎(pādā)
Gujarati: પાદવું ‎(pādavuṁ)
Hindi: पादना ‎(pādanā)
Avestan: ‎(pərəðaiti)

Albanian: pjerdh


Phrygian: perdomai


I believe that the above Latin verb "pedo" comes from "prd". Basically it a mispronounced "prd-o", where middle "r" was too difficult to pronounce, so it was replaced first with "er" and then with "ē". 

Now the etymology of the root word "prd" is obvious. It is an onomatopoeic root which imitates the sound of farting. "prrrrd or frrrt

I also believe that the other word used for silent farts, stinky air, stench is also onomatopoeic and comes from the sound of the buzzing of flies. Let me explain why I think this is to be the case.




In Irish the word "bás" means death. The Wiktionary says that the official etymology says that this word comes from Middle Irish bás, from Old Irish bás, from Proto-Indo-European *gʷes- ‎(“to extinguish”). However this is not certain and actually we don't know where this word comes from. If we look at the Pokorny's dictionary we find: "Ob hierher kelt. *bās- `sterben'?" which means: "Does Celtic *bās- come from this root too". I believe not. 

Is it possible that the Serbian word "baz" meaning stink comes from the Irish word "bás" meaning death? Or is it the other way round. Does the Irish word "bás" meaning death come from the Serbian word "baz" meaning stink? I believe that these two words are closely related. How do we know that someone or some animal is dead? It stinks. Really badly, it reeks. I remember playing in fields and forests when I was a kid. A bad stink coming from a bush or a ditch or a hole was a sign that there was something dead in there. 

The word "bas" meaning smell, scent but also foul smell, stench also exists in Hindi.

There's no verb 'to die' in Irish. It's expressed by the formula 'fuair sé bás' -> 'he got death'. Which means that the expression could originally have meant 'he got a bad smell'.

The actual word "baz" could be onomatopoeic, coming from "bz" the sound of flies flying around the stinking rotting corpse. In south of Serbia the word "baz" is actually pronounced "bz". The word "bazdi" meaning it stinks is pronounced "bzdi".  If it "bzdi" and you can hear the "bz" sound of the flies then it is definitely "bás", dead.



I believe that all the other words from the first cluster denoting the silent fart, stinky air, stench come not from the root "pesd" but from this onomatopoeic root "bz" "bzd".

That indeed there is a connection between death and stench can be see from the relation between these two Serbian words "smrt" (death) and smrd (stench).

In Serbian word for "to die" is "mreti". It is said that this word comes from the Proto Slavic root "merti" which is itself derived from the Proto-Indo-European root "mer-" meaning to die. Serbian word for death is "smrt" = s + mrt, which literally means "with death". Serbian word for a dead person is "mrc" pronounced mrts, or "mrtav" from mrt + sav = dead + completely, all. 

The main Serbian word for stink is "smrd" or "smrad". This word is said to come from the Proto Slavic root "smerd" which is derived from the Proto-Indo-European root "smerd". Basically the word for death and stench are almost identical, and i believe that they used to be one and the same. What is dead stinks, and what stinks is dead. So smrt - smrd (death - stink) is exact copy of the bas - baz (death - stink) relationship. What stinks is dead what is dead stinks....

We even have the same pattern of hardening the last consonant to form the word stink from word for death in both word pairs.

bas (death) - baz (stink)  s --> z
smrt (death) -  smrd (stink) t --> d

I believe that the smrt - smrd word pair comes from R1a genetic language group, which genetic language group does word pair bas - baz come from? R1b, Celtic?




Thursday, 1 October 2015

Acorns in ancient texts

A few months ago I have published several articles about oaks and acorns and their almost symbiotic link with people since Palaeolithic times.

In my first post entitled "Oaks", I tried to answer the question why were oak trees and oak groves considered sacred in the past? I proposed that the reason for this veneration could be the fact that the oaks are one of the most useful trees in the world. At the end of the post I mentioned that the oaks were particularly valued as a source of acorns which were in the past used as human food world wide.

In my second post entitled "Acorns in archaeology" I presented archaeological evidence we have for human consumption of acorns during the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper age, Bronze age and Iron age.

In my third post entitled "How did oaks repopulate Europe" I discussed the possibility that it was people who brought oaks back into Europe after the last ice age. I argued that people venturing up north, brought acorns with them as food and either deliberately or accidentally planted them.

In my fourth post entitled "Eating acorns" I tried to answer the question whether the acorn was the original corn and whether this is why are Thunder deities which are linked with oaks are also linked with agricultural grain cults?

In my fifth post entitled "Christmas trees from garden of Eden" I talked about the origin of Christmas trees (pine and oak). I discussed the possibility that these trees were considered the trees of life because they were the main sources of food during the Mesolithic. I ask whether these two trees are somehow connected to the ancient idea of the garden of Eden, the Golden age "when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labour in a state of social egalitarianism"?

Finally in my sixth post entitled "Bulaun stones" I wrote about the possibility that the so called Bulaun stones from Ireland are ancient acorn grinding stones, like the ones we find in North America.

In this post I will list all the references to the human consumption of acorns found in ancient (pre medieval) texts. I will present the list of references to the human consumption of acorns found in medieval and modern historical and ethnographic texts in my next post.


This is a coin minted in Arcadia, Mantineia; c. 420-385 BC.


Nicochares, who lived in the 4th century BC, was an Athenian poet of the Old Comedy. In one of his plays we find this line: “Tomorrow we will boil acorns instead of cabbage To treat our hangover.” I want to thank "SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE" blog for pointing this fragment to me.

Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BC) in Argonautica, talks about the time when only acorn eating Arcadians lived in Greece. 

“...when not all the orbs were yet in the heavens, before the Danai and Deukalion races came into existence, and only the Arcadians lived, of whom it is said that they dwelt on mountains and fed on acorns, before there was a moon.”

Diodorus Siculus (60 - 30 BC), a Greek historian, in his "Library of History"  talks about wild Arcadian acorn eating warriors.

"When the Lacedaemonians were setting out to conquer Arcadia,1 they received the following oracle:

Arcadia dost thou demand of me?
A high demand, nor will I give it thee.
For many warriors, acorn-eaters all,
Dwell in Arcadia, and they will ward
Thee off. Yet for my part I grudge thee not.
Tegea’s land, smitten with tripping feet,
I’ll give to thee, wherein to dance and plot
The fertile plain with measuring-line for tilth."

Pausanias (110 - 180 AD), a Greek Geographer, in his Description of Greece, described the founding of the kingdom of Arcadia by Pelasgus.

"...Pelasgus on becoming king invented huts that humans should not shiver, or be soaked by rain, or oppressed by heat. Moreover; he it was who first thought of coats of sheep-skins, such as poor folk still wear in Euboea and Phocis. He too it was who checked the habit of eating green leaves, grasses, and roots always inedible and sometimes poisonous. But he introduced as food the nuts of trees, not those of all trees but only the acorns of the edible oak. Some people have followed this diet so closely since the time of Pelasgus that even the Pythian priestess, when she forbade the Lacedaemonians to touch the land of the Arcadians, uttered the following verses:

In Arcadia are many men who eat acorns, who will prevent you;

It is said that it was in the reign of Pelasgus that the land was called Pelasgia..."

Though Pausanias was writing about what to him was antiquity, he notes that still in his own time, the Arcadians were fond of acorns.

Claudius Aelianus (175 – 235 AD), often seen as just Aelian, a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric, in his Various History. Book III, also writes that Arcadians ate acorns.

"The Arcadians fed on Acorns, the Argives on Pears, the Athenians on Figs, the Tyrinthians on wild Figs,24 the Indians on Canes, the Carmans on Dates, the Maotians and Sauromatians on Millet, the Persians on Turpentine and Cardamum."

Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus (129 – 216 AD), better known as Galen, a prominent Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher, wrote "acorns afford as good nourishment as many sorts of grain; that in ancient times men lived on acorns alone, and that the Arcadians continued to eat them, long after the rest of Greece had made use of bread corn."

Strabo (63 BC - 24 AD), a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian, in his Geography writes about Lusitanians in Iberia that they ate acorn as staple food for two thirds of the year.

"...that they lead a simple life, are water-drinkers, sleep on the ground, and let their hair stream down in thick masses after the manner of women, though before going into battle they bind their hair about the forehead. They eat goat's-meat mostly, and to Ares they sacrifice a he-goat and also the prisoners and horses; and they also offer hecatombs of each kind, after the Greek fashion — as Pindar himself says, "to sacrifice a hundred of every kind." They also hold contests, for light-armed and heavy-armed soldiers and cavalry, in boxing, in running, in skirmishing, and in fighting by squads. And the mountaineers, for two-thirds of the year, eat acorns, which they have first dried and crushed, and then ground up and made into a bread that may be stored away for a long time..."

Virgil (70 - 19 BC), a Roman poet, in his Georgics claims that acorns were the first human staple food which was later replaced by corn.

"O Liber [Dionysos] and bounteous Ceres [Demeter], if by your grace Earth changed Chaonia’s acorn for the rich corn ear, and blended draughts of Achelous [water] with the newfound grapes."

"Ceres [Demeter] was the first to teach men to turn the earth with iron, when the acorns and the arbutes of the sacred wood began to fail, and Dodona withheld her food [acorns]."

Apuleius (124 - 170 AD), a Roman writer, in his The Golden Ass hails Ceres for replacing the barbaric diet of acorns with the civilized diet of grain.

"At one time you [Egyptian Isis] appear in the guise of Ceres [Demeter], bountiful and primeval bearer of crops. In your delight at recovering your daughter [Persephone], you dispensed with the ancient, barbaric diet of acorns and schooled us in civilizes fare; now you dwell in the fields of Eleusis."

Ovid (43 BC - 18 AD), a Roman Poet, in his Amores repeats that acorns were the original human staple food and that Dodona was goddess of old agriculture (oaks and acorns) just like  Ceres was the goddess of new agriculture (corn).

"Here comes the annual festival of Ceres:
my girl lies alone in an empty bed.
Golden Ceres, fine hair wreathed with ears of wheat,
why must your rituals spoil our pleasure?
All peoples, wherever, speak of your bounty, Goddess,
no other begrudges good to humanity less.
Before you, the bearded farmers parched no corn,
the word threshing-floor was unknown on the Earth,
but oak-trees, the first oracles, carried acorns:
these and tender herbs in the grass were our food.
Ceres first taught the seeds to swell in the fields,
and first with sickles cut the ripened sheaves:
first bowed the necks of oxen under the yoke,
and scarred the ancient earth with curved blade."

Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD), a Roman writer and naturalist, in his Natural History gives detailed description of various known types of oaks and their acorns and explains which of them can be used as food. One of the oak types he lists is called Æsculus which means edible. He also says:

"It is a well-known fact that acorns at this very day constitute the wealth of many nations, and that, too, even amid these times of peace. Sometimes, also, when there is a scarcity of corn they are dried and ground, the meal being employed for making a kind of bread. Even to this very day, in the provinces of Spain, we find the acorn introduced at table in the second course: it is thought to be sweeter when roasted in the ashes. By the law of the Twelve Tables, there is a provision made that it shall be lawful for a man to gather his acorns when they have fallen upon the land of another.

The varieties of the glandiferous trees are numerous, and they are found to differ in fruit, locality, sex, and taste; the acorn of the beech having one shape, that of the quercus another, and that, again, of the holm-oak another. The various species also, among themselves, offer a considerable number of varieties. In addition to this, some of these trees are of a wild nature, while the fruits of others are of a less acrid flavour, owing to a more careful cultivation. Then, too, there is a difference between the varieties which grow on the mountains and those of the plains; the males differ from the females, and there are considerable modifications in the flavour of their fruit. That of the beech is the sweetest of all; so much so, that, according to Cornelius Alexander, the people of the city of Chios, when besieged, supported themselves wholly on mast. The different varieties cannot possibly be distinguished by their respective names, which vary according to their several localities. The quercus and the robur we see growing everywhere, but not so with the æsculus; while a fourth kind, known as the cerrus, is not so much as known throughout the greater part of Italy. We shall distinguish them, therefore, by their characteristic features, and when circumstances render it necessary, shall give their Greek names as well."

Hesiod (750 - 650 BC), a Greek poet, in his Works and Days, asserted that acorns were staple human food:

"But they who give straight judgements to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them. Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents. They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit."

Lucretius (99 - 55 BC), a The Roman poet and philosopher,  also tells us that acorn decked oak boughs were carried in procession in the rites of the Eluesian Mysteries, so important was the oak to people's lives. He also says in Of The Nature of Things that 

"during the savage period of mankind soft acorns were man's first and chiefest food".


Oribasius or Oreibasius (320 – 403 AD), a Greek medical writer, also wrote about the the acorns as human food (as quoted by Abu Rihan Burini, the 10th century Iranian scientist).

"Acorn’s nutritional value is superior to that of [other] fruits, and even approximates that of the grains with which bread is made; and in the past, people used to live on balūṭ alone."

In Assyrian records from the Harran district, from the time of the king Sargon the second (720 - 700 bc), we find inventory of "belut" (white oak) trees. We know from ethnographic records that acorns of these white oaks are used as food.
In Sumerian mythology and literature we find a character called Lugalbanda who features as the hero in two Sumerian stories dated to the Ur III period (21st century BCE), called by scholars Lugalbanda I (or Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave) and Lugalbanda II (or Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird). In the story "Lugalbanda and the Anzud bird" we find the reference to eating acorns.

"...The banks of the mountain rivers, mothers of plenty, are widely separated. With my legs I stepped over them, I drank them like water from a waterskin; and then I snarled like a wolf, I grazed the water-meadows, I pecked at the ground like a wild pigeon, I ate the mountain acorns."

So these are all the ancient historical record of acorn eating which I managed to find so far.  I would be more than grateful to anyone who can send me any reference that I have missed so that I can update my post. I am particularly interested in ancient North African, Near and Far Eastern records. We know that people in these areas consumed acorns as staple starch food from Mesolithic time to the 20th century and in some areas they still do. So there must be more records of this in ancient texts from those areas.
Anyway stay happy and healthy. And keep smiling. 

Oak chapel


This is a chapel dedicated to St Pantelija which was built inside of a hollow ancient oak near the village of Jovac, Vladičin Han region, South-eastern Serbia. The chapel was built by a local villager Dragoljub Krstić in 1991.

St Pantelija to whom the chapel is dedicated is the last of the "fiery" summer saints. He is celebrated at the beginning (9th) of August at the end of Kresovi, the fire days, the days of the highest heat. St Pantelija is in the Serbian folk tradition the brother of St Ilija the Thunderer (Sveti Ilija Gromovnik). St Ilija the Thunderer is in the Serbian folk Tradition the saint who controls the thunder. His day is the 2nd of August which was originally the day of Perun. This means that both St. Ilija the Thunderer and St. Pantelija Christian personifications of Perun, the thunder god, the third and most powerful head of Triglav.

It seems fitting that the chapel dedicated to the St Pantelija is inside of an Oak, the holy tree of the thunder gods.