The Old Gods of the North

Before the light of Ioshua filled the Northern Mountains, it was a place of dark superstitions and false gods. These were followed by the humans of the region. The Elves never had a spirit of devotion and the Dwarrow believed in things opaque to our understanding. They are still prayed to in the North, usually alongside prayers to the One God Vahan. It is difficult to banish.

This article summarises the gods of this old belief for knowledge's sake. Nevertheless, the author of this article earnestly calls for the quick destruction of this and all pagan religions.

The Chief Gods

The Chief Gods numbered nine, the sacred number of the North. These gods held powers over the vital bodily forces, the most important natural elements, and many abstract forces.

Nairlr

"Of all the twelve round Odin's throne,
Balder, the Beautiful, alone,
The Sun-god, good, and pure, and bright,
Was loved by all, as all love light."
— Valhalla by J.C. Jones

The head of the pantheon, Nairlr was the god of the Sun, Day, Innocence, and Light. He was also god over poetry, coming often into conflict with his son Hailos over the Burgle Horn, the Poetry Horn, which produced a divine mead of inspiration every fifth morning. He was also the god of dance, healing, and was invoked in ritual dances to remove cataracts. Nairlr was also identified with resurrection and was the force that allowed the Caládolhn to rejoin the world after death in new bodies. Long the most beloved of the gods, he declined greatly in popularity after the razing of Big Taurtauc during a solar eclipse by the Chief Damanar. His primacy was eventually overthrown in favor of Hailos when the Nelqorana totally conquered the central regions of the Mountains of Das EkLachen. He was syncretised with the Nelqorana god Lerluft at the war's end, and remained influential.

He was portrayed as tall, golden-haired and bearded, slender but muscular, and in his right hand was the Pgrendil. His tongue was carved with five runes: peace, song, joy, warmth, and purity. His eyes could pierce anything, fog, stone, or flesh. But he was not privy to the future. From his snowy brow and golden locks seemed to radiate beams of sunshine which gladdened the hearts of gods and men.

Nairlr was wed to Jhenna, the daughter of Nip, a beautiful and charming goddess. His sons were usually Hailos, the god of wisdom, Raum, the god of thunder, and Ziu, the god of war. Sometimes, Hailos was Nairlr's father.

Hailos

"From the hall of Heaven he rode away
To Lidskialf, and sate upon his throne,
The mount, from whence his eye surveys the world.
And far from Heaven he turned his shining orbs
To look on Midgard, and the earth, and men."
— Balder Dead by Matthew Arnold

The most dreadful of the gods, Hailos became the head of his pantheon around the time of the invasion of the Nelqorana. But even before his ascension he had awesome powers. He was the all-pervading spirit of the universe, the personification of the air and sky, the god of universal wisdom and victory, and the leader and protector of all princes and heroes. He was the patron of the hanged and the trickster. He was the father of the Triumverate Fates, and had ultimate mastery over runes and magic. Hailos also rode in and headed the Wild Hunt, bringing death to those outdoors, and so was identified with Death in turn. Possibly, Hailos was a real person mythologized, though the author of this article finds that unlikely.

Hailos was syncretised with the Nelqorana Sky-father Husso, and was called Hundimar.

Hailos was one-eyed; the other he had given up for infinite wisdom. His remaining eye was decked with many pupils as a crown with many jewels, and its gaze was lordly. If he sat on his high seat of Thorongfkiil, which itself was placed on the peak of the Tunvgar, the highest mountain of the Northlands, then this eye could see at a glance all that was happening among the gods, Giants, Elves, Dwarrow, and Men. If his wife Orï sat beside him, then he could also pierce their hearts, and know their intent.

Hailos was generally represented as a tall, vigorous man, about fifty years of age, with dark curling hair and with long grey beard. He was clad in a suit of grey, with a blue hood, and his muscular body was enveloped in a wide blue mantle flecked with grey — an emblem of the sky with its fleecy clouds. About his head was a halo of stormy clouds. In his hand was his infallible spear, which is never named, and so is called by Men the Hailyn — the lightning of Hailos. Any oath sworn on it could not be broken. On his finger he wore the duplicating ring Draupnir. When he went to war he wore a tall silver helm, eagle wings on its sides. In battle, its reflection of light would kill those struck. In peace, he wore a brass mask and went about the world as a leper. So those of the North were called to compassion for all those afflicted with leprosy, for any of them could be Hailos in disguise.

He was accompanied by his three daughters, the Triumverate Fates, who took the forms of ravens with eyes that reflected the sky. Their names were Møy, Mor, and Kjerring.

"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."
— Norse Mythology by R.B. Anderson

Hailos was also surrounded by the many hounds of his Wild Hunt. These were black dogs of great size, with red eyes. They were especially fierce, and it was believed that if one went outside while the wind was in the chimney then they would be suddenly attacked by the dogs of the Wild Hunt and be torn to shreds. These dogs were only fed meat with Hailos's own hands.

Hailos was lord over the Glad-hall, a place for meeting for the Nine Great Gods; the Tunvgar Mountain; and the golden palace of Glad-Grove, where the leaves were of red-gold. Within the palace of Glad-Grove was another palace, called the Hall-of-the-Chosen-Slain, or Gungriven. Although it was fit in the Glad-Grove, and on the outside smaller, being situated in the central plaza, when entered through one of its five hundred and forty doors Gungriven was revealed to be immensely larger. This remarkable building was fashioned by weaponry. Its walls were of glittering spears. The roof was golden shields, and the benches were decorated with fine armor, the god's gift to his guests.

The ancient northern nations deemed warfare the most honorable occupation. So they worshipped Hailos principally as a god of war and victory and sought his succor so that they could be taken up by the Swan-Maids and join him in Gungriven and fight in unending play-battle with each other till the End of Days.

Hailos was believed to be kidnapped during the winter months, part of a conspiracy by his brother Vel to obtain his demesnes and holdings. But Hailos returned in May, and with great pomp removed his seditious brother. So the May Day festivals of today are inspired by this event. They are performed mostly in consideration of Hailos's position as a fertility chief, and tall poles are erected and decorated to resemble a phallus, and many people dance around it.

Ruivë

"Odin! dost thou remember
When we in early days
Blended our blood together?
When to taste beer
Thou did'st constantly refuse
Unless to both 'twas offered?
— Sæmund's Edda by Thorpe's tr.

The personification of mischief and evil, whom all the Northern people still curse by, is called Ruivë. In the beginning, Ruivë was merely the personification of the hearth fire and the vivacity of the bodily and mental energies. He was also the personification of lightning, matching Raum's lordship over thunder. At first a god, he gradually became like a devil, and was held by the ancient Northern peoples in comparable detestation as we hold our own devil, Gendûet.

Ruivë was portrayed as a slender person, tallish, with wild hair. He was a shapechanger. Notably, he had three eyes. The third was the eye that Hailos dropped in the pool of Mîm for wisdom, but Ruïve snuck in the Cedar Garden and stole it. He stuffed it into his left socket, so he gained much knowledge of the past and future. He took the eye prior to his rape of Lilliga, but he acted so quickly thereafter that the gods' punishment for his theft had to be done with their punishment for his rape.

Sometimes Ruivë is called Hailos's brother, though he is never the son of Nairlr in any stories. Others assert that the two were not related, but had gone through a form of swearing common in the North — becoming what is called a 'blood brother'.

While Raum embodied Northern activity, Ruivë represented recreation, and the close early companionship between the two gods shows that our ancestors realized that both were necessary to the welfare of mankind. Raum is ever busy; but Ruivë made fun of everything, until at last his love of mischief lead him astray, and he lost all love of goodness and became entirely malevolent.

Ruivë is identified with the cuckoo bird. His role among the gods was one of initial beauty, frankness, and friendliness. So he was beloved among the nine. But while in their midst his constant pranks led to the birth of the worst monsters of the Northern religion: the Dragons, the Giants, Death, and the wolves Skorn and Hate. His council often proved destructive to the gods. When his advice was fruitful for the gods, it was to extricate him from some predicament into which he had rashly inveigled them in.

Ruivë is nonetheless a prominent part of the creation of Man, endowing him with the power of motion, and causing the circulation of blood, and granted the passions of the heart. So there were some druidic schools in the North who worshipped only him, and prayed to him to grant them greater powers over their bodies.

"Loki begat the wolf"
— Sæmund's Edda by Thorpe's tr.

His wife was Glut, and she bore him Embers and Ashes. Today the goodwives of the North are still wont to say that Ruivë is beating his children, when the flaming wood crackles on the hearth.

Ruivë later wed the giant Hringer-boda, and near the end of Ruivë's tale they dually raped Raum's wife, Lilliga, in the heart of the Glad-Hall, and forced her to bear the dragon Kringer, the being Angur, the being Death, and the wolves Skorn and Hate.

This final act roused the rage of the gods, who descended from the golden halls of Heaven in wrath, and they smote the earth with the marching of their hosts. They went to find Ruivë and anally pierced him with ten-thousand spears, hewed off his legs from below the knees, and threw him into the fires beneath the sea. The gods plucked out his three eyes and hid them separately: one as a pearl in the sea, one as a star in the sky, and one as a pebble in the earth. They took the giant Hringer-boda and bound him with the Chains of Night, and forced him to sit his immense weight on the loins of Ruivë, which, because they were being crushed by a non-god, would regenerate themselves to be crushed again in quick, infinite cycles. The tumults of his agony shook the land and caused a great flood, killing many. But Ruivë remained utterly bound.

Still, it seemed that Ruivë had another wife, called Yfrin, who proved a most devoted and loving wife. She stood on a high cliff overlooking the great fiery chamber that the giant and god were bound in. There she would reveal her naked breasts to the giant, enticing him, and causing him to move as much as he could to reach her. Hringer-boda would then chew upon Yfrin's breasts, relieving Ruivë for a little while. But when she couldn't bear the stench of Hringer-boda's mouth or the violence of his gnawing she would withdraw, and the giant would return to his position, and Ruivë would shout at his wife in a stream of creative and unending curses.

Raum

"Cry on, Vingi-Thor,
With the dancing of the ring-mail and the smitten shields of war."
— Sigurd the Volsung by William Morris

Beloved Raum! Save us from the mischief of Ruivë; save us from the terrors of the giants!

The second son of Nairlr (or the first son of Hailos), and son of Orï (or the son of Rána), Raum was remarkable from early childhood for his great size and strength. A friendly and genial child, he would occasionally fly into a terrible rage. As he was very dangerous at these times, his mother, unable to control him, sent him away from home and entrusted him to the care of Vingnir and of Hlora. The foster parents, who are considered the personification of sheet-lightning, soon managed to control their troublesome charge and brought him up so wisely that the gods annually held a feast in their honor. Raum himself, recognizing all he owed them, assumed the name of Vingraum and Hlorar, by which he is also known.

Having attained maturity, Raum was admitted to Glad-Hall where he occupied one of the nine seats in the great judgment hall. He was given dominion over the realm of Thunder-Hall, and he built a palace there called Lightning.

His appearance was as a man in his prime, tall and well-formed, with long muscular limbs and bristling red hair and beard from which sprang sparks. He wore a crown so heavy that it would break the neck of any who wore it but Raum. On each point of it was a glittering star, and the runes 'Protector' and 'Fierce Love' were cut into the crown. He also sometimes wore a wide-brimmed hat, hence stormclouds in the North are called Raum's Hat. Othertimes he went about the world with a mask of tin, looking like a leper, but surprising those who taunted him with a sudden feat of strength. He also had a chariot of bronze called Hraknishr, and the crashing of thunder was said to be the crashing of its wheels. In the southern reaches of the North, people fancied that this chariot was filled with many pots and kettles and the sound of thunder was their tumbling. So Raum was called, with disrespectable familiarity, the kettle-vendor.

His chief weapon was the hammer. A tool rather than a weapon proper, the hammer was sacred for its purpose of driving in boundary stakes. So Raum is also the god of Dominions and Territories, therefore all princes of those past ages prayed to him to allow the expansion of their lands, or to protect them from the encroachment of rivals.

Raum was twice married: first to the giantess Irvsax, and then to Lilliga, the flaxen-haired god of Love, who was raped by Ruivë and so summoned the gods' wrath.

Raum was one of the most popular gods of the old Northern pantheon. He was not identified with the terrible storms that destroyed homesteads. Rather, the people of the North fancied that he only struck giants or the stone rockeries, reducing them to fertile powder, allowing the growth of many fruits. His hammer was signed upon before grave matters just as we sign upon the Sword of Ioshua. Among all the gods Raum appeared the most often in stories, being either the decisive end of the enemy or the strong, yet thoughtful, protagonist. His friendship with Ruivë was close, but his wrath after Ruivë's betrayal was doubly fierce because of that.

Rána

With Manwë dwelt Varda the most beautiful, she who in the Sindarin tongue is named Elbereth, Queen of the Valar, maker of the stars; and with them was a great host of spirits in blessedness.
— Quenta Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Beloved of the Caládolhn, Rána was the forger of the stars. Her seat was on the Moon, and in her hand was the silver rod of Ilk, which could grow in length to touch the edges of the Heavens and the Earth.

She had no parents. Rána was formed by the primordial clashing of flame and ice at the beginning of the world. She sprung out of the froth fully grown. Rána was syncretised with the Nelqorana god Akka, and was called Koter.

Rána was held by the Northern Men to have been the creator of the Elves. Her favor was on them, and the eternality of the stars was bequeathed on the Elves in turn, rendering them immortal. And while the Caládolhn did not worship her, they held her name in reverence. And because they were the lords of the Humans of the North, the Humans also held her to be a god of incredible powers.

Rána's breath was sweet and brought healing. The glitter of her blue eyes cleansed the sins of any who saw them. Her kiss could raise the dead. Rána was portrayed as a tall woman of willowy stature, pale of skin, hot to touch, with long, curling dark hair that portraited her shining face.

She was alone among the gods as a pacifist. Instead, her powers lay in her ability to create architectures, whether buildings or the fundamental natural forces, such as the lattices of diamonds, or the withering heats of wildfires. But her pacifism is said to be withdrawn from what are called the Black Ones, and that she was a master of violence towards them; though there is only one story where this is told: the Bengin.

Her realm was Folk-Home and her hall was Velsry. On her silver seat of Villifikken she could perceive all that went on in the world below her.

She wore on her head the Heavens. The stars and the shadows between the stars laid on her head like a shining veil; though her eyes gleamed brighter than any star, and her lips were darker than any shadow. She was wed to Hailos, and birthed for him Airnan of the Sea, and Sintamo of the Forge. She also birthed for Hailos the Triumverate Fates, and so also had the power of prophecy. Any prophet that sought that power would pray to her, first, because she was merciful while her children were cruel.

Orï

"Folkvang 'tis called,
Where Freyja has right
To dispose of the hall-seats.
Every day of the slain
She chooses the half,
And leaves half to Odin."
— Norse Mythology by R.B. Anderson

Orï, the fair Northern goddess of beauty, love, and fertility, was the sister of Jungrey and the daughter of Skeethii. She was the most beautiful of the goddesses. In the Iru-anc Terrain she was considered the same goddess as Rána, and they called her Orianna.

When she first arrived at Glad-Hall there was a terrible snowstorm which not even the arts of Hailos could dissuade. But the moment her foot touched the threshold of the Halls of the Gods, there sprung many wildflowers around her, and suddenly the storm stopped, and the scents of spring filled Glad-Hall. She was taken by the gods gratefully. So beautiful and charming was she that Nairlr immediately took her for his wife. Though in some tales it was Hailos that took her.

They gave to her the realm of Folk-Love and the great hall of Sessrymnir the roomy.

But though she was the goddess of love, Orï was not soft and pleasure-loving only. She was believed to be a mighty captain of many hosts, and it was held that she often descended to the earth leading many Swan-Maids to battlefields where they slew as they willed, caring not for who they killed.

But those that were killed by their blades were then taken up to Sessrymnir to be entertained forevermore. In Sessrymnir she also entertained all pure maidens and faithful wives, so that they may enjoy the company of their lovers and husbands after death. Indeed, the joys of her abode were so enticing to the heroic Northern women that they often rushed into battle when their loved ones were slain, hoping to meet the same fate; or they fell upon their swords, or were voluntarily burned on the same funeral pyre as the remains of their beloved.

She wore a beautiful necklace decked with dusky gems that, when light was shone upon it, reflected a strange half-light. This necklace she always wore, being proud of it, and it enhanced her beauty tenfold. But Ruivë coveted it, and one day stole it; and Orï was so distraught by the theft that she refused to appear beyond the threshold of her halls. This was a problem. With her absence, frost soon returned and covered the Earth and Glad-Hall. But nothing the gods said could convince her to come out. It was only after a short adventure, where Jungrey and Raum found and threatened Ruivë, that at last the trickster returned the necklace and Orï reappeared again to end the winter and herald the spring.

As Orï was considered the goddess of fruitfulness, she was represented as riding about with her brother Jungrey in a chariot drawn by a golden-bristled boar, scattering fruits and flowers to gladden the hearts of mankind. She had a chariot of her own, however, in which she generally travelled. This was drawn by black cats, her favourite animals, the emblems of caressing fondness and sensuality, or the personification of stealth, and, therefore, freedom.

Sintamo

Of the fabric of Earth had Aulë thought, to whom Ilúvatar had given skill and knowledge scarce less than to Melkor; but the delight and pride of Aulë is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither in possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.
— Quenta Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Like Rána, Sintamo is of a different order than the other gods. He is emblematic of the Dwarrow and Elves. His powers are over the forge and over music, especially over music produced from instruments of metal or bone.

His parentage is sometimes given to Rána and Hailos, but usually there is no parentage given to him. He merely is mentioned and disappears.

The smithwork of our far Northern ancestors was never great. Indeed, the largest portion of metalwork that was owned by them was made by the local Elves, the Caládolhn, or the EkLachen and VolKernen. They traded wood and amber in exchange for worked metal. Consequently, Sintamo was never very popular.

To our knowledge, Sintamo appears in only one story, in which he crafts the Chains of Night to bind Ruivë. But this passage was only three lines, going as such:

And he [Ruivë] was bound by the chains that Sintamo had wrought,
And no art could unbind him, for into that chain was put the heat of the rage of the gods,
Which burned hotter than any flame Ruivë could produce.

— Lines 839-842 in the Northern Saga

Ziu

"The hall Glads-heim, which is built of gold;
Where are in circle, ranged twelve golden chairs,
And in the midst one higher, Odin's Throne."
— Balder Dead by Matthew Arnold

The son of Hailos and Rála, the most honorable of the gods, and one of the nine principal deities of Glad-Hall, Ziu is the god of war. He was known for his bravery and cunning. He had no special realm or hall, but was welcome in any realm of the gods, and occupied one of the thrones in Glad-Hall.

As the god of courage and of war, Ziu was frequently invoked by the various nations of the Mountains of Das EkLachen, who cried to him, as well a Hailos, for victory. He was worshipped under the emblem of the sword, his distinctive attribute, and in his honour was held great sword dances, where various figures were performed.

Sometimes, the participants formed two long lines, crossed their swords point upward, and challenged the boldest among their number to take a flying leap over them. Other times the Northern people would bring their swords together in the shape of a rose or wheel, and when this figure was complete invited their chief to stand on the navel thus formed of flat, shining steel blades, and then they bore him upon it through the camp in triumph. The sword point was further considered so sacred that it became customary to register oaths upon it. And those who sought victory carved his sign on their weapon hilts.

Ziu was portrayed as a tall, slender, muscular man with fair hair. In his left fist was gripped his bright-faced sword Rewin; his right hand was obscured by a shield, for he had lost his hand while trying to court the capricious Elf princess Selia.

A distinctive feature of the worship of Ziu throughout the Mountains of Das EkLachen was the abominable practise of human sacrifice. The priestly caste, called the Goti, offered up human sacrifices upon his alters, generally cutting the bloody — or spread — eagle upon their victims. That is to say, making a deep incision on either side of the backbone, turning the ribs thus loosened inside out, and tearing out the viscera through the opening thus made. Of course, only prisoners of war were treated such. And it was a point of honor to endure this without making a sound. This practice was lampooned by the Nelqorana, and its existence was used by the Nelqorana to convince their own people about the need to conquer the Northern tribes to civilize them.

Airnan

"Beneath the watery dome,
With crystalline splendor,
In radiant grandeur,
Upreared the sea-god's home.
More dazzling than foam of the waves
E'er glimmered and gleamed thro' deep caves
The glistening sands of its floor,
Like some placid lake rippled o'er."
— Valhalla by J.C. Jones

Along with Rána and Sintamo, Airnan is one of those gods without parentage. He was formed in the depths of a large stone, and when the pressure of the deep sea cracked it open Airnan leaped out and began the rule of his dominion: the Sea. In that realm he is omnipotent, and only the eyes of Hailos and Nairlr may fully pierce its depths. But he is not the only sea divinity. Mîm and Gierden both partake in his realm. Although Airnan is senior in power, prestige, and authority.

His abode is on the Island of Caggretey. From his seat of Applingeim he occasions and quiets the great tempests which sweep over the deep. He also makes there on his forge the mail of fish. He commands the currents in their steady motions. And he leaps from his isle to crash vessels, so that he may pursue them and their sailors, and greedily drag them to the bottom of the ocean.

He was portrayed as a gaunt, old man, with eyes so dark and sunken that one could stare forever into them and not find even a flicker of life. He had a long white beard and hair, and clawlike fingers ever clutching conclusively, as though he longed to have all things within his grasp. A wicked god, but exceedingly wise, Men prayed to him to have mercy, for they trusted not his justice.

Most often Airnan was shown in stories to be hosting great parties for the gods. They would feast on mutton from his unending plates, and drink lakes' worth of mead from his unending horns. He never partook in the matters regarding Ruivë, not even to punish him for his rape of Lilliga.

Hailos
by Sir E. Burne-Jones

Contents

1 The Chief Gods

1.1 Nairlr
1.2 Hailos
1.3 Ruivë
1.4 Raum
1.5 Rána
1.6 Orï
1.8 Ziu
1.9 Airnan

Type
Religious, Pantheon
Related Ethnicities


Cover image: by Michael Handt

Comments

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20 Apr, 2020 15:35

I put this on my reading list because even though I was dashing to get to work, a dance 'invoked to remove cataracts' was a hook I couldn't pass up.   LOL   Beautiful formatting and the artwork is perfectly complimentarily to your writing--which is stunning.   Looking forward to reading more of this hopefully later today.   ...will leave more of a comment when I finish. I'm sure I'll have questions.

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Sean Sullivan
21 Apr, 2020 07:06

Thanks! I really liked your comment about my writing, which means a lot to me. I can't wait for the rest of your comment.

21 Apr, 2020 23:00

Wait, wait, wait....."Sometimes, Hailos was Nairlr's father????" WHAAAA??   Then as I'm reading, it sounds like Hailos is Odin---at least sounds like him, and then I read the poem....but...   You're going to call me nut here, but it sounds like a Dresden novel---and Hailos is also Father Winter (Santa Clause)...   My mind is spinning here.   I would like to say that this is my #1 favorite article on WA at this point.   This is fascinating and so packed with things to ponder--it took me quite a while to recognize the feelings as i read. It feel like reading the Silmirillion from Tolkein (did I spell those right?).   Its enchanting, exciting and it allows me to get lost in beautiful visuals.   Beautifully done Sean!! I'm a fan =)

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