After the Bronze Age: Goat by Hilda Ellis Davidson (1969)

Source: ‘Part II: After the Bronze Age,’ Chariot of the Sun and Other Rites and Symbols of the Northern Bronze Age, 1969, pp. 166.

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr

Some of the figures on gold bracteates of the Migration period have been identified as goats, but it is difficult to make a clear distinction between goats and horned horses or stags. The main importance of the goat in the literary sources is its association with Thor, who is said to have driven a wagon to which two goats were harnessed. The names given to these, Teeth-gnasher and Teeth-grinder, imply association with the storm which shatters rocks, the sign of Thor’s approach through the heavens. The tradition of the goats was known in Scandinavia as early as the ninth century, since they are mentioned in the poem  Haustlöng, where the terrible aspect of Thor and his chariot crashing through the heavens is emphasized. The most impressive myth about the goats is one preserved in Snorri’s Prose Edda, in which Thor kills and eats them for dinner, then collects their bones on the skins and by raising his hammer over them restores the animals to life. It may be noted that the connection of goats with the thunder-god is found consistently over a large part of Europe, and that the goat is connected with Indra, Zeus and Jupiter.

Heiðrún consumes the leaves of Læraðr atop Valhalla in an illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.
Heiðrún consumes the leaves of Læraðr atop Valhalla in an illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.

The she-goat Heiðrún is said in Grímnismál to stand, like the stag, upon the hall of Odin, and from her the banqueters obtain the mead which is served in Valhalla, while she feeds on the branches of the World Tree. It has been suggested that all the various horned animals from which precious liquids are obtained–the hart, the cow and this she-goat–are in reality early goddesses in animal form. They may, however, be based on the conception of the milk-giving tree, found very early in Mesopotamia, since hart and goat are said to feed from Yggdrasil.

The figure of a goat remained a dominant one at the old Yuletide festivities in Norway and Sweden (Nilsson, 1938, pp. 51 ff.). This animal, like some of the English hobby-horses, was formed by two men covered with a skin, while a third man rode on its back. The goat had an artificial head and moving jaws, and he was very popular in Denmark; various ecclesiastical prohibitions against him were made from the sixteenth century onwards. Sometimes a she-goat also took part in the revels. Loki’s exhibition with a goat, in order to make Skadi laugh, when, according to Snorri, he tied the goat’s beard to his own genitals, might well be derived from the crude humour of such games. Like certain episodes included in the mumming plays, it would be wholly in place in an early fertility ceremony.

Loki tying a goat to this testicles and playing tug-of-war.
Loki tying a goat to this testicles and playing tug-of-war.
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