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The Waning Sword: Conversion Imagery and Celestial Myth in 'Beowulf'
More info and resources at: https://doi.org/10.11647/obp.0190

10. Freyr, Heorot and the Hunt for the Solar Stag

© Edward Pettit, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0190.10

Freyr’s solar aspect informs his association with the stag, which he shares with Hroðgar chiefly through the latter’s rulership of the hall Heorot ‘Hart’. The present chapter explores this commonality, the existence of which increases the likelihood that swords wielded by Freyr and Hroðgar and their chief agents (Skírnir, Unferð and Beowulf) similarly have a solar aspect. I also examine in detail northern myths about the hunting of the sun by giant lupine creatures (and a small-looking dog), at least some of which have a lunar nature. By the end of this study, these celestial myths will, I hope, be seen to have an important bearing on the interpretation of Grendel’s wolfish mother, her predatory son and their possession of the giant sword. The myths I examine in this chapter appear broadly comparable to a stag-hunting passage found immediately before Beowulf’s discovery of the giant sword and beheading of the giants. Wordplay in this passage hints, I suggest, at the presence in the mere of the giant sword, and that the predatory giants had seized and kept it there wrongly.

Freyr, Beli and the Hart’s Horn

Gylfaginning records that after giving his sword to Skírnir, Freyr was vápnlauss er hann barðisk við Belja ok drap hann með hjartar horni ‘weaponless when he fought against Beli and he [i.e., Freyr] slew him with a hart’s horn’.1 Although Freyr is not explicitly cervine here, this was possibly originally a myth in which he and the giant Beli ‘Bellower(?)’ fought each other as antlered stags during the rut,2 when male deer bellow and lock antlers to deter rivals from their chosen females. If so, Freyr and Beli perhaps fought over a hind.3 Since Vǫluspá describes Beli’s slayer as bjartr ‘bright’, we have reason to think that Freyr’s solar aspect was prominent in this battle. His ‘hart’s horn’—his sword-substitute—would then probably be a solar antler, perhaps the very one we shall meet in Chapter 13.

Heorot, the Hart-Hall

Hroðgar is associated with a stag not only because he rules the hall called Heorot, but also because, as we have seen, he is implicitly identified with Heorot: he is the eodor Ingwina ‘shelter of the Ing-friends’ (1044). Furthermore, it is not only the hall’s name that suggests an antlered stag. The hall is also described as horngeap ‘horn-curved’ (Beowulf 82) and a hornreced ‘horn-house’ (704)—terms usually assumed to refer to gables.4 Additionally, the hall has a muþa ‘mouth’ (i.e., door) (724). It is easy to imagine Heorot decorated by tapestries or carvings representing deer, like the carvings which adorn the twelfth-century Urnes stave church in Norway.5

Additionally, there is reason to think that Heorot may have been surmounted by antlers, like the palace of the giant-slaying King David illustrated in the ninth-century Utrecht Psalter,6 a work thought to have been made near Reims c. 820 but which was in Canterbury by 1000. In the Utrecht Psalter this striking detail is doubtless the illustrator’s interpretation of the words cornu eius exaltabitur in gloria ‘his horn will be exalted in glory’ in Psalm 111:9. Other details in the same illustration are curiously suggestive of Beowulf. Near David’s palace is a tree-bordered Hell, in which a devil armed with a trident stands before a group of flinching spearmen. The devil looks over his shoulder at three beggars next to him, who approach David in single file to request alms. The devil is presumably the illustrator’s interpretation of verse 10’s peccator vibebit et irascetur ‘the transgressor/sinner will look and grow angry’. We may compare the proximity to Heorot of Grendel’s hellish abode; Grendel’s description as a sinful fiend; Grendel’s hostility towards Heorot and its inhabitants; Grendel’s arm, which, though not a trident, is forked and tipped with metal points;7 and the Gar-Dene ‘Spear-Danes’ whom Grendel brought to his lair, apparently along paths restricted to a single file (Beowulf 1410). Since the psalm’s fourth verse observes that exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis ‘a light is arisen in darkness for the upright/righteous’, radiance seems implicitly attributed to the exalted stag’s head. In that case we may compare Heorot’s radiance (noted below) and the light which appears in the mere when God grants the upstanding Beowulf victory over Grendel’s mother in the giants’ lair.8

Heorot is strongly suggestive of a solar hall, which would be a perfect residence for devotees of a stag-god with solar power. It was in Heorot that a poet sang, early in Beowulf, of God’s establishment sunnan ond monan ‘of sun and moon’ (94) as leoman to leohte landbuendum ‘luminaries as light for land-dwellers’ (95). Additionally, Heorot is a goldsele ‘gold-hall’ (715, 1253, 1639, 2083), a beorhte bold ‘bright building’ (997), a beahsele beorhta ‘bright ring-hall’ (1177). It is the most famous hall under roderum ‘under the skies’, a hof … torht ‘bright house’,9 from which lixte se leoma ofer lande fela ‘the light shone over many lands’ (309–13), the hall being on heahstede ‘in a high place’ (285). It is surely no coincidence that, similarly, lixte se leoma ‘the light shone’ like the sun in Grendel’s lair (1570).

That Heorot probably shone like the sun partly reflects the nature of its roof, which was goldfah (308), golde fahne (927) ‘adorned/shining with gold’, these descriptions perhaps referring to gilded sheets or shingles10—and/or to golden antlers. Heorot’s radiance is increased by that of its frea, Hroðgar, who is glædman and glædne ‘bright, cheerful, gracious’ (367, 863), a leader of Beorht-Dene ‘Bright-Danes’ (427, 609), glæde Scyldingas ‘bright Scyldingas’ (58), the oldest meaning of glæd being ‘shining’.11

Finally, a specific parallel exists between Heorot’s wide-ranging radiance and freedom from facenstafas ‘deceit-staves’ (1018)12 and the site of a radiant hall of Norse mythology. Breiðablik ‘Broad-Shining’ was the name of the land, located by Snorri á himni ‘in the sky’,13 where Baldr had built his halls, and where the poet of Grímnismál 12 declares ek liggja veit / fæsta feiknstafi ‘I know fewest deceit-staves lie’.14 I consider this no chance similarity, especially as Richard North argues for close links between Baldr and Yngvi-Freyr; indeed, he claims that ‘Baldr seems to have developed as a variant of Ingvi-freyr’.15

The ‘Hunted Hart’ Passage in Beowulf

Given Heorot’s cervine identification, it is unlikely to be fortuitous that the only other reference to a stag in Beowulf appears in Hroðgar’s description—spoken within Heorot—of the mere, shortly before Beowulf dives into it to behead Grendel’s mother and Grendel with the giant sword:

‘Ðeah þe hæðstapa  hundum geswenced,

heorot hornum trum  holtwudu sece,

feorran geflymed,  ær he feorh seleð,

aldor on ofre,  ær he in wille

hafelan hydan;16  nis þæt heoru stow!’ (1368–72)

‘Although the heath-stepper harassed by hounds, the hart with strong horns, may seek the copse-wood, put to flight from afar, he gives up his life/body before, his life on the shore [or ‘the lord, on the shore’], before he will go in [i.e., into the mere] to hide his head; that is not a pleasant place!’

The heorot harassed by hounds mirrors Heorot attacked by wolfish giants. Additionally, the hart’s overwhelming aversion to the mere prefigures the revulsion doubtless felt by Hroðgar and his men when they approached the same place, which was not far from Heorot (1361–2).17 There it was that they discovered the head of Æschere (1420–21), the warrior and councillor of Heorot with whom Hroðgar recalls having hafelan weredon ‘defended (their) heads’ (1327).

Furthermore, as Robert Schichler has observed, the hart in this passage is suggestive of references to harts in the psalms, and of illustrations of harts in early psalters, such as the Utrecht Psalter. Schichler observes that ‘the psalter representations of the hart—variously identified with the Psalmist, the just man at his house, and the Lord Triumphant—help to dispel the ambiguity surrounding modern interpretations of the hart image in Beowulf, illuminating favourably the intentions and activities of Hrothgar at Heorot.’18

As others have noted, among the possible allusions to Biblical harts in the quoted passage is an inverse reference to the opening of Psalm 41, Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus ‘As a hart longs for water-sources, so longs my soul for thee, O God’,19 which is among the Easter prayers in the eleventh-century Missal of Robert of Jumièges.20 This possibility is strengthened by the content of subsequent verses of the same psalm, in which the psalmist is engulfed by violent waters, attacked by foes and temporarily downcast, before reaffirming his faith in his saviour, God. Similarly, Beowulf was engulfed by the turbulent waters of the mere, attacked by foes and temporarily overthrown by Grendel’s mother, before being saved by God (1554–6, 1657–64). Additionally, the psalmist’s agonized question quare oblitus es mei ‘why have you forgotten me?’ prefigures that of Christ on the Cross, an event evoked during Beowulf’s time in the mere by the poet’s observation Ða com non dæges ‘Then had come [or “came”] the ninth hour of the day’ (1600), the time of Christ’s death.

Beowulf’s stag-hunt is also interpretable as a symbol of the wolfish Devil’s pursuit of Christ, who was often symbolized in medieval bestiaries and art by a stag,21 and who gave up his life before visiting Hell during the Harrowing. At the same time, the passage is suggestive of the Devil’s pursuit of the Christian soul.22

More significantly for our immediate purpose, the stag-hunt passage may, from a different perspective, represent another instance of the poet’s veiling of a Germanic myth—a myth extant in various forms in other texts. Before examining this myth’s surviving forms, however, we should note that the passage quoted above embeds in the listener’s subconscious the half-formed image of a strongly antlered head, which, despite the stag’s aversion, is hidden in Grendel’s mere. The poet, I suggest, thereby subtly prepares listeners for the discovery therein of a related or equivalent weapon, the sun-like giant sword, of which only its head—a hilt potentially made partly of antler—eventually remains, and which probably does not belong there.

Wordplay may strengthen this implied connection, even if Hroðgar was unconscious of it. Coming shortly before the discovery of the giant sword in the mere and shortly after a reference to the heorot, the words nis þæt heoru stow ‘that is not a pleasant place’ tease the ear. Especially following the earlier wordplay of unheoru ‘unpleasant/un-sword’ (987), these words may subtly suggest the following senses to an alert listener (especially one familiar with this story or similar ones), any of which might raise a wry smile:

  1. *nis þæt heorustow ‘that is not a sword-place’. This could intimate any or all of the following senses: ‘that is no place for a sword’, hinting at the wrongfulness of the giants’ possession of such a weapon; ‘that is not a place where your sword works’, as Beowulf finds out when Hrunting fails for the first time in its career; ‘that is not a place where you find or use swords’, which would be misleading and therefore increase the surprise at the giant sword’s discovery and success; ‘that is not a place where they use swords’, which is true (if Grendel’s mother’s seax is considered a knife).
  2. *nis þæt heora stow ‘that is not a sword’s place’.23
  3. *nis þæt heora stow ‘that is not a place of swords’. Beowulf finds only one sword therein.
  4. *nis þæt heorutstow ‘that is not a hart-place’.24

Although *heorustow ‘sword-place’ is unattested, heoru often appears as the first element of compounds, such as heorosweng ‘sword-stroke’ (1590) and heorudreore/heorodreore ‘sword/battle-blood’ (487, 849).25 There is no attested *heorutstow ‘hart-place’ either, but heorut/heorot ‘hart’ also appears as the first element of compounds, albeit only outside Beowulf: for example, heorotsmeoru ‘hart-fat’ and heorotsol ‘stag’s wallowing-place’.26 Apart from the immediate context, it is only the metre’s requirement for a long initial syllable in the penultimate word of the quoted passage that secures its primary sense as ‘pleasant’.

Support for this proposal of an implied link between the strong-antlered stag and a sword in Beowulf’s hunting passage comes from other texts and archaeological discoveries from Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Iceland and Scandinavia. They indicate conceptual equivalences and material links between antlers and swords.27

We saw earlier that, according to Snorri, when Freyr was without his sword he instead used an antler to kill Beli. This substitution may have been influenced not just by the basic facts that antlers and swords are both piercing weapons and that sword-handles often incorporated animal horn antler (sometimes antler),28 but also by the similarity of antlers and swords to twigs and by their shared association with wood. Both antlers and swords are, like twigs, slender, branched objects, which sometimes break; stags rub their antlers against tree trunks;29 and swords, which often had wood in their handles, were drawn from scabbards made mainly of wood; some swords were even made wholly of wood.30 We have already encountered likely twig-swords in the gambanteinn, Lævateinn and the weapon of the wood-creature Mimingus; I shall adduce others later.

The Old English Prose Dialogue of Solomon and Saturn features a unique, golden, sword-like weapon with a leoma ‘light’ of supremely radiant purity belonging to a personification of the Pater Noster. It is compared with the sharpness of the tined iron horns of imaginary wild beasts, evidently fabulous stags:

Ond on ðæs Pater Nosters ðære swiðran handa is gyldennes sweordes onlicnis, ðæt is eallum oðrum wæpnum ungelic. His leoma he is hlutra ond beorhtra ðonne ealra heofona tungol, oððe on ealre eorðan sien goldes ond seolfres frætwednessa ond fægernessa. Ond ðæs dryhtenlican wæpnes seo swiðre ecglast, he is mildra ond gemetfæstra ðonne ealles middangeardes swetnissa oððe his stencas. Ond seo wynstre ecglast ðæs ilcan wæpnes, he is reðra ond scearpra ðonne eall middangeard, ðeah he sie binnan his feower hwommum full gedrifen wildeora, ond anra gehwylc deor hæbbe synderlic . xii . hornas ierene, ond anra gehwylc horn hæbbe . xii . tindas ierene, ond anra gehwylc tind hæbbe synderlice . xii . ordas, ond anra gehwilc sie . xii . ðusendum siða scearpra ðonne seo an flan ðe sie fram hundtwelftigum hyrdenna geondhyrded.31

And in the right hand of the Pater Noster is the likeness of a golden sword, which is unlike all other weapons. Its light, it is purer and brighter than all the heavenly bodies, or if there were adornments and beautiful things of gold and silver in all the earth. And the right edge-track [i.e., edge] of this lordly weapon, it is milder and more moderate than the sweetnesses of all middle-earth or its scents. And the left edge-track of the same weapon, it is fiercer and sharper than all middle-earth, even if wild beasts were driven within its four corners to the fullest extent, and each beast individually were to have twelve iron horns, and each horn twelve tines, and each tine individually twelve points, and each [tine] were twelve thousand times sharper than one arrow thoroughly hardened from one hundred and twenty hardenings.

A c. 700 Anglo-Saxon sword taken from the Thames has what is thought to be a golden deer stamped into its blade.32 Anglo-Saxon swords and seaxes also survive with handles and hilts made partly from animal horn.33 A notable example is a possibly seventh-century sword-hilt, thought to have been discovered in Cumberland, which bears gold panels, like Beowulf’s giant sword.34 Some early Scandinavian swords also have handles of bone and ivory.35

Norse sagas mention swords with hilts made at least partly of horn, though without specifying which type of animal this material came from.36 Most interesting are references to the sword Hornhjalti ‘Horn-Hilt’ in the fourteenth-century Icelandic Gull-Þóris saga ‘Saga of Gold-Þórir’37 and Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar ‘Saga of Hálfdan Eysteinsson’.38 This sword was greatly ornamented in gold and never failed in its blow. Although its provenance is not explicit, Hornhjalti was probably among the swords that Þórir, the manna mestr ‘greatest of men’ and the sterkastr jafngamall ‘strongest of those of equal age’,39 took from a cave of dragons, which in Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar is located below a waterfall, in an episode recognized as being analogous to Beowulf’s adventure in the mere.40

Together, this Anglo-Saxon and Norse evidence of links between swords and horned beasts, including stags, encourages the perception of wordplay on heoru- ‘sword’ and heorut- ‘hart’ in Beowulf’s stag-hunt passage. The analogous references to the sword Hornhjalti also provide a basis for thinking that the giant sword’s hilt may have been made partly from animal horn, perhaps antler. If so, the gold-plated hilt that Beowulf presented to Hroðgar in his stag-hall might have been, in essence, a gold-plated antler.

The Solar Stag in Early Europe

Apart from these implied links with Heorot, Hroðgar and the giant sword, is there is any other reason to think that Beowulf’s stag-hunt may have a solar aspect? There is indeed, as it would be in keeping with mythological traditions about stags and stag-hunts attested from early Europe, including pre-Conquest England and, more clearly, Scandinavia. The following detailed review of some of these traditions will support this claim. It will also introduce a major theme of subsequent chapters, namely the predation of lunar creatures, often wholly or partly lupine, on the sun, which was sometimes imagined as a stag. We shall see in due course that such predators may well be present at the heart of Beowulf in the form of Grendel and his mother, their prey being Heorot, the sun-like stag-hall, and its bright inhabitants. These findings will suggest the potential importance of solar and lunar traditions to Beowulf, and more specifically to the nature and interpretation of the probably sun-like giant sword and its possession by nocturnal giants.

Surviving art and artefacts make it clear that the concept of a solar stag was widespread among ancient European peoples.41 This notion presumably stemmed from three main observations:

  1. The sun’s ‘horned’ appearance during some solar eclipses.42
  2. The occasional sight of a ‘horned’ circumzenithal arc (which resembles an upside-down, smiling rainbow) above the sun, especially in atmospheric conditions when threatening ‘sun-dogs’ may also flank the sun as if encircling their prey.43
  3. The vigorous growth of new antlers in spring and summer, the seasons when the sun’s strength returns and grows.44

Miranda Green observes that evidence for the ‘visual association between sun and stag begins in the Neolithic’ in an Iberian passage grave, on which is carved ‘a stag with its head in the form of a rayed sun associated with two other sun-images’.45 She goes on to identify other Iberian examples from the Neolithic, including a combination of antlers with a solar symbol. More immediately interesting for this investigation is her observation that:

[I]t is in the Bronze Age rock-art of north Italy and Scandinavia that stag and sun appear, from the imagery, to have been closely integrated in a consistent fashion. Stags pull sun-discs, like a horse drawing a cart, in Bohuslän, and suns and stags frequently occur together at Camonica. But even more evocative of the intense association is where antlers and sun are fused to form a solar-deer image. This happens at Kyrkestigen, Svenneby, in southern Sweden where stags are depicted with their antlers meeting in a rayed solar circle. In the same area is the image of a stag in a ship with its antlers again curling together in a sun-symbol …46

Bronze Age Anatolia supplies further likely examples. Among the treasures found in royal tombs at Alaca Höyük are figures of large-antlered stags, adorned with gold and silver, and marked with circular symbols, probably of solar significance.47

In the Iron Age, an instance of a celestial stag, solar or lunar (or both), appears on a bronze coin minted by the Ambiani of the Somme Valley in southern France. Dating from c. 60–50 BC, and found near St. Albans in England, its reverse shows a large-antlered stag with a likely representation of the sun or moon between its legs. A series of smaller circles leads from the sun or moon around the right side and top of the coin, presumably tracing a passage across the sky. Circles close to the antlers suggest radiance, and, together with another circle forming the stag’s chest, presumably indicate either a solar stag or a lunar stag sporting with radiance taken from the sun.48 The coin’s obverse almost certainly shows a ‘Cernunnos’-head with a large ring suspended from either ear, Cernunnos being a deity closely associated with the stag. Most famously, he appears as an antlered figure beside a large-antlered stag on the Gundestrup Cauldron, found in a bog in Northern Jutland, where he probably represents the Thracian Orpheus.49 He reappears on a silver coin found at Petersfield, Hampshire, which was perhaps minted by immigrants fleeing the Gallic War. One side of this coin, which dates from c. AD 20, shows a horse surrounded by likely solar symbols. The other side shows an antlered Cernunnos-head surrounded by similar symbols. A ‘spoked wheel’-symbol sits between the god’s antlers and attached to the top of his head by a short ‘ladder’. This symbol, which effectively functions as the god’s third, central antler, may be compared to the wheel of the Celtic thunder-god Taranis or, I suggest, identified as the sun.50

It is possible, therefore, that, even if from no other source than the observation of ancient art and artefacts, the solar stag was known in early medieval northern Europe. But a well-known literary source would also have encouraged the idea. Pliny’s Naturalis Historia (8.117) records a belief that stags hardened their antlers solis vapore ‘in the sun’s heat’.51 In any case, surviving literature and archaeology indicates that, from whatever source, the concept of the solar stag was probably part of both Christian and heathen tradition in medieval Scandinavia and pre-Conquest England.52

An explicitly solar stag appears in stanza 55 of the thirteenth(?)-century Eddic poem Sólarljóð, in an image which, like many others in the poem, ‘clearly partakes of Christian and indigenous mythological associations’:53

Sólar hjört  leit ek sunnan fara;

  hann teymðu tveir saman;

fætr hans  stóðu foldu á,

  en tóku horn til himins.

The sun’s hart I saw journey from the south;54 two together led him by the rein/bridle; his feet stood on the earth, but his horns reached to heaven.

This hart principally symbolizes Christ, who was also commonly identified with the sun, though the identities of the creature’s leaders are uncertain.55 One of its antlers, most likely inscribed with runes, probably appears subsequently in the poem symbolizing at once a sunbeam, the Cross and the Word of God (see Chapter 13).

Older evidence indicates that such a creature, or similar, was probably also present in heathen Norse tradition.56

Two bronze figures of horned animals from Solberga (sol- ‘sun’), Öland, Sweden encourage this conclusion. They date from the third to the fifth century AD and may be interpreted as solar beasts, possibly horned horses.57

The second of two early fifth-century gold-plated horns found at Gallehus, Southern Jutland seems likely to have depicted a solar hart.58 Both horns were melted down in the early nineteenth century, but surviving drawings record that Horn B bore, in addition to a maker’s runic inscription in Proto-Norse and other pictorial designs, a scene featuring an antlered stag surrounded by wolves, on either side of which stood a horned humanoid, one with a large ring, the other with a sickle. Since this scene also features stars, the stag, one of whose antlers touches a star, presumably had celestial significance; it seems likely to have been a solar stag hunted by wolves in an eclipse-scene.59 This impression is bolstered by the pair of flanking humanoids (the Heavenly Twins?), whose ring and sickle are suggestive of the sun and/or a crescent moon; despite the large chronological gaps, it is tempting to relate them to the pair of figures who flank a stag on a c. 600 BC bronze wagon from Strettweg, Austria, each of which holds one of the stag’s exaggeratedly large antlers,60 as well as to the unnamed pair who led the solar hart in Sólarljóð. Possibly also eclipse-scenes are the same Gallehus horn’s depictions of an archer shooting a deer as it suckles a calf, and of a tricephalous, axe-wielding giant pulling a horned deer by a leash attached to its foreleg, against which the deer rears up; both are also set among stars.

The likelihood of a heathen Norse stag of heavenly radiance is strengthened by a stanza from the Eddic Helgakviða Hundingsbana ǫnnur ‘Second Lay of Helgi, Slayer of Hundingr’, although Christian influence on this poem is conceivable:61

‘Svá bar Helgi  af hildingum

sem ítrskapaðr  askr af þyrni,

eða sá dýrkálfr,  dǫggu slunginn,

er øfri ferr  ǫllum dýrum

ok horn glóa  við himin sjálfan.’ (38)

‘Thus Helgi “Holy One” surpassed (other) warriors, as nobly shaped ash (surpasses) thorn, or the deer-calf, drenched in dew, which walks superior to all beasts, and whose horns glow against heaven itself.’

The reference to dew, together with the glowing horns, probably identifies this young stag with the early morning sun. In Chapter 13 we shall later encounter Helgi’s namesake and ‘kind of doublet’,62 Helgi Hjǫrvarðsson, overcoming a hostile, probably lunar giantess by striking her with deadly solar staves.

Samsons saga fagra, which admittedly is a late medieval text, contains a further instance of a solar stag: Samson sér einn fagran hjört í einu rjóðri, svo aldri sá hann annan slíkan. Sýndist honum geislar standa af hans hornum ‘Samson sees a fair hart in a clearing, such that he never saw another such. It seemed to him that (sun)beams emanated from its horns’.63 It appears that this stag was actually a shape-shifted klókur dvergur ‘cunning dwarf’, or at least that it was conjured by him; we shall return to him in Chapter 12.

In my view, though, the most important evidence for the solar stag’s presence in heathen Norse tradition, and for its accommodation within Christianity, survives in carvings on the tenth-century Anglo-Norse Gosforth Cross in Cumbria. Amid other scenes depicting events at or connected with Ragnarǫk (most of which show no obvious distortion by Christianity), this remarkable monument shows an antlered stag being pursued by a wolf identifiable as the monstrous Fenrir, devourer of the sun. I examine this matter in detail later in this chapter.

Turning to Anglo-Saxon England, as we have seen, the concept of a solar hart most likely informs Beowulf’s description of the stag-hall Heorot as a bright building that shone from a high position over many lands; additionally, it was to Heorot that the probably sun-like giant sword was brought. The golden deer on the Thames sword could also be a solar stag. Additionally, the notion of a sun-hart may inform the bronze model of the large-antlered, twelve-point, ‘royal’ red deer which stood on a metal ring above the stone ‘sceptre’ from the seventh-century ship-burial in Mound One at Sutton Hoo,64 a beast which perhaps links the buried monarch either with Ing,65 or with Woden/Óðinn, another deity with solar connections. The model’s placement in a ship (conceptually on water?) and connection with a ring (the sun?) above a stone (the earth?) are suggestive of some of the Scandinavian solar stags described earlier.66 Much later, an Anglo-Saxon instance of the fusion of sun and antlers appears on a fragment of a tenth- or eleventh-century cross-head from Winston on Tees, Durham, noted later in the present chapter. Other possible, but more obscure Anglo-Saxon evidence for the concept of the solar stag receives separate examination in Chapter 12.

The Hunt for the Sun

Beowulf’s description of the strong-antlered hart being chased to a wood by hounds merits comparison to Norse and English myths and traditions about the pursuit, sometimes to a wood, of the sun by an (implicitly giant) wolf or wolves, or a wolfish creature, or a man and his dog.67 This section demonstrates the widespread nature of this basic mythic theme, which increases the chance that it may inform Beowulf. In one of the theme’s manifestations, as carvings on the Gosforth Cross, the sun is probably symbolized by an antlered stag chased by a wolf against the likely background of the world-tree.

The ‘Battle-Thief/Wolf of the Sky-Shield’

The earliest datable reference to such a myth in Old Norse texts comes in the c. 1000 Þórsðrápa ‘Þórr’s Poem’ by Eilífr Goðrúnarson. Its fifth stanza records that Þórr and his companions went walking to the gunnvargs himintǫrgu fríðrar vers. This complex kenning has sparked much discussion, but has recently been interpreted as ‘sea of the battle-wolf of the splendid sky-shield’, the sky-shield being the sun and the battle-wolf being the monstrous sun-devouring Fenrir, whose ‘sea’ is the mountains. If this is correct, the kenning alludes to the myth of Fenrir devouring the sun (evidenced more clearly below).68

Alternatively, the gunnvargr ‘battle-wolf/thief’ might be a more usual mountain-dweller, a giant. We may compare, for example, a certain mountain-giant’s desire for the sun and the moon as payment, if he were to complete a fortification for the gods in a single winter, according to a tale told in Gylfaginning.69 Perhaps, though, we should envisage more precisely a lupine giant akin to those noted elsewhere in this study, such as the mere-giants of Beowulf and the wolf-giant of the Sigtuna amulet. Fenrir was certainly a giant wolf, and his name appears in a list of poetic terms for jǫtnar ‘(devouring) giants’.70

Skǫll and Hati

According to Grímnismál, the sun seeks the shelter of a wood when hunted by two wolves:

‘Skǫll heitir úlfr  er fylgir inu skírleita goði

  til varna viðar;71

en annarr Hati,  hann er Hróðvitnis sonr,

  sá skal fyr heiða brúði himins.’ (39)

‘The wolf is called Skǫll ‘Mockery’ who follows the pure/shiny-faced god [i.e., the sun]72 to the shelter of the wood; and the other, Hati ‘Hater’—he is Hróðvitnir’s ‘Notorious Watcher’s/Wolf’s’ [i.e., Fenrir’s] son—he must be in front of the shining bride of the sky [i.e., the sun].’

As we shall see, this stanza’s ‘shining bride of the sky’ was most likely also interpreted in medieval times as the moon, though probably less satisfactorily. Since wolves often hunt in pairs or packs and encircle their prey, it is most likely that Skǫll (female) and Hati (male) work together here in an attempt to capture the same solar quarry, with Skǫll driving the sun from behind, presumably with loud mockery, into the clutches of Hati in front. Although this shiny-faced god is not described as cervine, wolves, of course, hunt large animals, especially deer.

This exclusively solar interpretation of the stanza receives support from most manuscripts of Gylfaginning, such as the Uppsala Edda in which the authoritative character Hár ‘High’ explains why the sun (sólin) races fearfully across the sky: Nær gengr sá er hana leiðir. Úlfar tveir gera þat, Skoll ok Hatti Hróðrvitnisson ‘Near (her) goes the one who leads [‘loathes’?] her. Two wolves bring that about: Skoll and Hatti Hróðrvitnisson’.73 One manuscript of Heiðreks saga, which calls the wolves Skalli and Hatti, also supports this interpretation by stating that annarr þeira ferr fyrir, en annarr eptir sólu ‘one of them goes before, and the other after the sun’, again without mentioning the moon.74 The image of twin wolves before and behind presumably reflects the meteorological phenomenon of parhelion, which may appear on either side of the sun; it is popularly known as a ‘sun-dog’ or ‘mock sun’ in English, as a solvarg ‘sun-wolf’ in Norwegian and as a solulv ‘sun-wolf’ in Swedish.75

That the exclusively solar interpretation of Grímnismál 39 was not the only one is shown by two manuscripts of Gylfaginning in which Hár has—perhaps due to interpolation—Skǫll pursuing and capturing the sun (a detail which implicitly equates her with an eclipsing dark moon), and Hati running ahead to take the moon:

‘Þat eru tveir úlfar, ok heitir sá er eptir henni ferr Skǫll. Hann hræðisk hon ok hann mun taka hana, en sá heitir Hati Hróðvitnisson er fyrir henni hleypr, ok vill hann taka tunglit, ok svá mun verða.’76

‘There are two wolves, and the one that goes after her [i.e., the sun] is called Skǫll. She fears him and he will take her, but the one who runs before her is called Hati Hróðvitnisson, and he wants to take the moon, and that will come to pass.’

Subsequently, all manuscripts of Gylfaginning record that at Ragnarǫk:

‘Þá verða þat er mikil tíðindi þykkja, at úlfrinn gleypir sólna, ok þykkir mǫnnum þat mikit mein. Þá tekr annarr úlfrinn tunglit, ok gerir sá ok mikit ógagn. Stjǫrnurnar hverfa af himninum.’77

‘Then comes to pass that which will seem major news, that the wolf will swallow the sun, and that will seem to men a great injury. Then the other wolf will take the moon, and that will also work great disadvantage. The stars will vanish from the heavens.’

The wolves’ separate pursuit of sun and moon, though an acceptable variant tradition, may appear less compelling than their coordinated hunting of the sun in Grímnismál 39, assuming my interpretation of that stanza is correct. Snorri, and/or others, may (understandably) have misinterpreted Grímnismál, given that wolves and other canids are widely associated with the moon in world mythology78—a connection that persists in the popular term ‘moon-dog’ for paraselene;79 in particular, mythological canids often devour the moon.

The Old One, the Pitchforker and Mánagarmr

In my view, a passage from Vǫluspá records another myth of solar seizure by a wolfish creature, specifically a lupine troll. Stanzas 40 and 41 read:

‘Austr sat in aldna  í Járnviði

ok fœddi þar  Fenris kindir;

verðr af þeim ǫllum  einna nǫkkurr

tungls tjúgari  í trolls hami.

‘Fylliz fjǫrvi  feigra manna,

rýðr ragna sjǫt  rauðum dreyra;

svǫrt var ða [v.l. verða] sólskin  of sumur eptir,

veðr ǫll válynd.  Vituð ér enn, eða hvat?’

‘East in Járnviðr ‘Iron-Wood’ sat the old one80 and there gave birth to [or ‘fed/reared’] Fenrir’s brood [WOLVES]; from among all those a notable one of (them) all will become the moon’s pitchforker in troll’s shape.

‘He fills [or ‘will fill’] himself with the flesh of doomed [i.e., dying/dead] men, reddens [or ‘will redden’] the gods’ dwellings with red blood; dark was [v.l. ‘becomes’ or ‘will become’] the sunshine then in following summers, all weather treacherous. Would you know more, or what?’

The key phrase here is tungls tjúgari, which admits more than one interpretation, and may have given rise to such. This phrase’s second word, tjúgari, is a hapax legomenon interpretable as an agent noun meaning ‘drawer (down)’ (ON tjúga ‘to draw’), perhaps by extension ‘destroyer’—but I propose more specifically ‘pitchforker’, from tjúgapitchfork’.81 The phrase’s first word is the genitive singular of tungl, a noun which could potentially denote the sun or another heavenly body (plural himintungl means ‘heavenly bodies’), but which in the singular generally denotes the moon, as in preceding quotations. Due to the ambiguity of tungl, scholarly opinion is divided about the prey of the tungls tjúgari. Some commentators believe the monster seizes or destroys the moon,82 others the sun.83

Without seeking to impoverish through disambiguation an image possibly designed to suggest more than one thing, I suggest that prior interpretations obscure the chief point. Strongly encouraged by the presence in medieval tradition of the fork-wielding, dog-owning Man in the Moon (whom we meet later in this chapter),84 as well as the likely presence of other fork-wielding lunar beings in medieval Norse stories (discussed in Chapter 14), I interpret tungls tjúgari principally as ‘the moon’s pitchforker’. And by this I mean not a creature which takes the moon on a fork or otherwise draws it to destruction, but one which belongs to the moon and acquires something for the moon on a fork.85 Otherwise, if I am wrong, the Man in the Moon’s use of a fork to gather twigs (explained below) is a remarkable red herring.86

A mythical pitchfork might serve as a brutal weapon, which would tie in with the lupine troll’s bloody predation upon men in the gods’ dwellings. But its primary purpose would presumably be to transport hay, straw or sheaves. Accordingly, I suggest that the moon’s pitchforker in Vǫluspá not only preys on men but also uses its fork to draw away the sun’s radiance, its beams, which we shall find imagined elsewhere in Old Norse poetry as runic ‘staves’, on behalf of its parent, the moon. This would explain why the sunshine—what remains of it—darkens in following summers, the sun having been severely weakened but not yet destroyed.

Interpreted in this way, stanzas 40 and 41 of Vǫluspá refer to a wolfish lunar troll.87 If, as seems likely, a solar eclipse is implicit, they refer specifically to a wolfish troll of the dark (new) moon.88 These two stanzas are then seen to continue the likely dark-moon theme of the preceding three stanzas in the Codex Regius text.89 These successively treat:

  1. A dwarven hall on Niðavellir, a name principally meaning ‘Waning/Dark Moons’ Plains’ or ‘Plains of Niði [‘Waning/Dark Moon’, a dwarf]’ (37).90
  2. A venomous hall sólu fjarri ‘far from the sun’ (38), where …
  3. Morðvargar ‘murderous thieves/criminals/wolves’ wade through heavy streams and sauð Niðhǫggr nái framgengna, / sleit vargr veraNiðhǫggr ‘Waning/Dark-Moon Striker’91 sucked the corpses of the deceased, a/the thief/criminal/wolf tore men’ (39).92

Additionally, in the poem’s final stanza (66), Niðhǫggr, identified as inn dimmi dreki ‘the dim/dark dragon’ and a naðr ‘snake’, arises neðan frá Niðafjǫllum ‘from below, from Dark Moons’/Niði’s Mountains’.

I defer further analysis of ‘the old one’ and her pitchforker until Chapter 14. Here it remains to examine Hár’s commentary on these stanzas in Gylfaginning. Immediately after the passage concerning Skǫll and Hati Hróðvitnisson, he explains their origin:

‘Gýgr ein býr fyrir austan Miðgarð í þeim skógi er Járnviðr heitir. Í þeim skógi byggja þær trǫllkonur er Járnviðjur heita. In gamla gýgr fœðir at sonum marga jǫtna ok alla í vargs líkjum, ok þaðan af eru komnir þessir úlfar. Ok svá er sagt at af ættinni verðr sá einn mátkastr er kallaðr er Mánagarmr. Hann fyllisk með fjǫrvi allra fleira manna er deyja, ok hann gleypir tungl ok støkkvir blóði himin ok lopt ǫll. Þaðan týnir sól skini sínu ok vindar eru þá ókyrrir ok gnýja heðan ok handan.’93

‘A giantess lives east of Miðgarðr in the forest which is called Járnviðr.94 In that forest there dwell the troll-women who are called Járnviðjur. The old giantess breeds as sons many giants and all in the likeness of a wolf/thief/outlaw [vargs],95 and these wolves are descended from there. And it is said that from that family will come one, the mightiest, who is called Mánagarmr. He will fill himself with the flesh of all men who die, and he will swallow the tungl and bespatter with blood all the sky and air. From that the sun will lose its shine and winds will then be unquiet and will roar to and fro.’

Here Snorri clearly paraphrases Vǫluspá 40–1, but without reusing the word tjúgari. The tungls tjúgari becomes the otherwise unattested Mánagarmr, who appears distinct from Skǫll and Hati. If Skǫll and Hati together hunt only the sun, we may identify Mánagarmr’s prey, the tungl, as either ‘the moon’ or ‘heavenly bodies’. Alternatively, if Skǫll captures the sun and Hati the moon, then Mánagarmr’s prey is presumably unspecified ‘heavenly bodies’,96 unless we admit the presence of a glaring inconsistency in Gylfaginning. Assuming Mánagarmr is not Snorri’s invention, it would not be surprising if there had been traditions about him devouring the moon or heavenly bodies in general. But his name admits the possibility that his prey (like Hati’s) was originally the sun in particular, and that he, like (in my view) the tungls tjúgari, took sunshine on behalf of his owner or parent, namely the moon—on whom, however, he might later have turned. For Mánagarmr means either ‘Moon’s/Máni’s Garmr’ or ‘Mána-Garmr’. Máni, as well as being the common masculine noun for ‘moon’ (genitive mána), is the name of a male lunar personification mentioned shortly earlier in Gylfaginning in an episode, possibly indebted to traditions about the Man in the Moon, describing how Máni took two children from the Earth;97 Mána ‘Moon’ is the name of a lunar troll-woman or giantess whom we met earlier and shall re-encounter.98 Mánagarmr might be so-called, therefore, not (or not so much) because he was notorious for devouring the moon, but because he belonged to the moon. In this regard, it may be significant that the second element in Mánagarmr presumably references Garmr ‘Baying One’, an apocalyptic canine in Vǫluspá whose final baying in stanza 58 comes soon after sol tér sortna ‘the sun turns black’ and the stars disappear from the sky. If, as is very often supposed, Garmr is in origin a double of Fenrir, we may note that the latter will explicitly destroy the sun (not the moon), according to Vafþrúðnismál 46–7, in a likely image of a solar eclipse that implicitly identifies Fenrir with the dark moon:99

Óðinn kvað:

‘Fjǫlð ek fór,  fjǫlð ek freistaðak,

  fjǫlð ek reynda regin:

hvaðan kømr sól  á inn slétta himin,

  þá er þessa hefir Fenrir farit?’

Vafþrúðnir kvað:

‘Eina dóttur  berr Álfrǫðull,

  áðr hana Fenrir fari;

sú skal ríða,  þá er regin deyja,

  móður brautir mær.’

Óðinn said:

‘Much have I travelled, much have I tried, much have I tested the powers; how will the sun come (back) to the smooth sky, once Fenrir has destroyed [or ‘overtaken’]100 it?’

Vafþrúðnir said:

Álfrǫðull ‘Elf-Halo’ [i.e., the sun] will bear one daughter before Fenrir destroys [or ‘overtakes’] her; that girl must ride, when the powers die, the paths of her mother.’101

Albeit removed from these Norse sources in space and time, an Iron Age Gaulish coin supplies vivid support for the concept of a monstrous canid attacking the sun, quite likely on behalf of the moon. It depicts an open-mouthed wolf or dog apparently about to devour the sun (a circle containing a cross) from the right, while on the left a crescent moon attacks, or waits for, the sun; alternatively, the wolf may be regurgitating the sun for the incomplete moon.102 Either way, it appears likely from this coin, possibly together with others from Britain which may show a sun-devouring wolf of the Norfolk fens (compare Fenrir),103 that the concept of a canid attacking the sun on behalf of, or as, the moon existed in parts of Iron Age northern Europe.

Wolf-Snake versus Sun-Stag: Norse Myth on the Gosforth Cross

Having so far failed to adduce an explicit hunt for a solar hart in Old Norse mythology, in this section I aim to remedy that shortcoming by examining the carvings on a tall and slender tenth-century Anglo-Norse cross of red sandstone which stands in the grounds of St. Mary’s Church in Gosforth, Cumbria. These carvings are rather worn, which makes it hard to discern some details. However, after studying three-dimensional photographic models of the monument by Dominic Powlesland,104 together with drawings by the English antiquary W. G. Collingwood (1854–1932) which I reproduce in Figure 4,105 they seem to me likely to include perhaps the earliest surviving representation of this form of the sun-destroying myth. They merit investigation in detail not just for their intrinsic interest, but also because, as far as I know, the presence therein of a solar hart has been overlooked by scholars, who might also have misinterpreted other details.

Figure 4. The Gosforth Cross as Drawn by W. G. Collingwood.Order of faces from left to right: south, west, north, east.

Source: W. G. Collingwood, Northumbrian Crosses of the Pre-Norman Age (London, 1927, rpt. Felinfach, 1989), 156, fig. 184. Image courtesy of Archaeology in Europe.

On all four faces of this monument, immediately below the wheel-cross at the top, we find differing representations of a huge monster (or monsters) with the head or heads of a wolf (or other canid), and a long, thin, limbless and intertwined or interlinked body suggestive of a snake. On at least three of the faces I take these representations to denote the same wolf-headed snake in different states at different times during, or connected with, Ragnarǫk. The wolf-snake strongly suggests a fusion of two or more apocalyptic monsters known from Old Norse mythological texts: on the one hand, a wolf or wolves, either Fenrir/Fenrisúlfr (and/or perhaps Garmr), or Skǫll and Hati; and on the other hand, Miðgarðsormr ‘Miðgarðr’s Snake’, Fenrir’s world-encircling sibling.106 Their union on the Gosforth Cross might have been encouraged by limitations of space in which to carve. I rather believe, however, that the conflation has a genuine mythological basis, as we shall find that the Gosforth Cross is not the only Norse source to suggest a fusion of apocalyptic wolf and snake, and other mythological traditions—some very old—evince similar monsters.107 An ancient Babylonian astrological tablet, for example, shows a lion-headed serpent within the moon, with which it might be identified, or with which it might be linked as an eclipse-monster, given that a divine hero armed with a sickle-shaped weapon is shown grappling with it.108 More famously, the Greek hellhound Cerberus had multiple heads and snake appendages, including a snake-headed tail.109

On the south, west and east faces of the Gosforth Cross the wolf-snake gapes upwards at a wheeled cross, which, with its central eye-like protrusion amid four ray-like arms, very probably symbolizes the sun.110 It appears, therefore, that the wolf-snake is about to devour the sun. In other words, the wolf-snake probably represents the dark/new moon on the point of obscuring the sun during a solar eclipse—we may compare, albeit distantly, the crescent moon’s possible representation by the Babylonian lion-serpent, and Cerberus’ likely association with Hecate, goddess of the dark moon.111

We saw earlier that Skǫll and Hati hunt the sun in Grímnismál and that Vafþrúðnismál records how Fenrir will destroy the sun. What seems to have gone unnoticed by scholars is that Miðgarðsormr may also be associated with the dark moon and therefore with the ‘devouring’ of the sun during a solar eclipse. I base this claim on a partly new interpretation of Vǫluspá 56–7 (Codex Regius text), two stanzas which describe Þórr’s encounter with this monster and the darkening of the sun at Ragnarǫk:

‘Þá kømr inn mæri  mǫgr Hlóðynjar,

gengr Óðins sonr  við úlf vega;

drepr hann af móði  Miðgarðs véur;

munu halir allir  heimstǫð ryðja;

gengr fet níu  Fjǫrgynjar burr,

neppr, frá naðri  niðs ókvíðnum.

‘Sól tér sortna,  sígr fold í mar,

hverfa af himni  heiðar stjǫrnur;

geisar eimi  við aldnara,

leikr hár hiti  við himin sjálfan.’112

‘Then comes the glorious child of Hlóðyn, Óðinn’s son [ÞÓRR] goes to fight against the wolf; it strikes Miðgarðr’s guardian [ÞÓRR] in anger; all men will abandon the homestead; Fjǫrgyn’s son [ÞÓRR] goes nine steps, expiring, from the snake (that is/was) unapprehensive of the dark moon.

‘Sun turns black, earth sinks into sea, bright stars vanish from the sky; ember-smoke rages against the life-nourisher [FIRE or THE WORLD-TREE], high flame plays against the sky itself.’

The first of these stanzas contains two main difficulties of interpretation, at least as perceived by scholars: úlf ‘wolf’ and niðs ókvíðnum.

The reference to the úlf is unexpected, as Víðarr, Óðinn’s son, has only just killed a carrion-beast, presumably Fenrir, in stanza 55. In stanza 56 úlf could easily be a scribal error for the expected orm ‘snake’, prompted by the similar second line of stanza 53 er Óðinn ferr við úlf vega ‘when Óðinn goes to fight against the wolf’, and perhaps by other traditions.113 But whatever the original reading of stanza 56, it is striking that, as things stand, it ostensibly refers to a wolf that is also a snake—a composite wolf-snake, which is just what we see on the Gosforth Cross.114

As for niðs ókvíðnum, some commentators view ókvíðnum ‘unapprehensive’ (dative singular, referring to the snake) as a corruption of ókvíðinn (nominative singular, referring to Þórr).115 And all the editions I have consulted interpret the first word as níðs (not niðs), the genitive singular of níð ‘malice’, ‘slander’, ‘reproach’, ‘vile act’, although the quantity of its vowel cannot be determined from the metre. In my view, however, no corruption need be assumed, and the first word should be interpreted principally as the genitive singular of a neuter noun nið ‘waning/dark moon’.116 Some dictionaries of Old Norse record nið solely as a feminine noun (which would have genitive singular *niðar),117 but the situation is potentially more complicated, as modern Icelandic attests a neuter noun nið in this sense, which I think is anticipated here.118 If niðs is interpreted in this way, the immediate sense becomes clear, and we may also attribute it broader contextual suitability. Thus, we have a reference to a snake that was ‘unapprehensive of the dark moon’ (as presumably was the dragon Niðhǫggr from Niðafjǫll in the same poem). This reference to the moon’s darkness then leads on naturally to a description of the sun turning black, presumably when eclipsed by the dark moon, and to the vanishing of the stars. By including the moon, this interpretation also has the potential virtue of describing all the heavenly lights as vanishing in darkness, not just the sun and the stars. If this reading is accepted, we may deem fairly straightforward a passage that one respected scholar called ‘the most difficult line in the poem’.119 At the same time, we may find the conflation of sun-devouring wolf and world-serpent on the Gosforth Cross more understandable and significant.

Further evidence that, for one reason or another, medieval people associated a darkened moon with a snake—in the following case a fire-breathing one—comes from a passage in the Chronica ‘Chronicle’ of the English monk Gervase of Canterbury (died c. 1210).120 He records that on Sunday 18 June 1178:

post solis occasum, luna prima, signum apparuit mirabile, quinque vel eo amplius viris ex adverso sedentibus. Nam nova luna lucida erat, novitatis suæ more cornua protendens ad orientem; et ecce subito superius comu in duo divisum est. Ex hujus divisionis medio prosilivit fax ardens, flammam, carbones et scintillas longius proiciens. Corpus interim lunæ quod inferius erat torquebatur quasi anxie, et, ut eorum verbis utar, qui hoc michi retulerunt et oculis viderunt propriis, ut percussus coluber luna palpitabat. Post hoc rediit in proprium statum. Hanc vicissitudinem duodecies et eo amplius repetiit, videlicet ut ignis tormenta varia sicut prælibatum est sustineret, iterumque in statum rediret priorem. Post has itaque vicissitudines, a cornu usque in cornu scilicet per longum seminigra facta est. Hæc michi qui hæc scribo retulerunt viri illi qui suis hoc viderunt oculis, fidem suam vel jusjurandum dare parati, quod in supradictis nichil addiderunt falsitatis.121

after sunset, when the moon had first become visible, a miraculous sign appeared to five or more men who were sitting facing it. For the new moon was clear, and as is customary in its new state, its horns were stretching to the east; and, behold, suddenly the upper horn divided in two! And from the middle of this division there sprang forth a burning torch, throwing out flame, glowing coals and sparks a long way. Meanwhile, the body of the moon which was below [i.e., the lower part of the moon] writhed as if anxiously, and, according to the words of those who reported this to me and who saw it with their own eyes, the moon throbbed like a snake that has been struck. After this it returned to its proper state. It repeated this change twelve times or more, so that the fire clearly sustained various torments, as it were freely, and then returned again to its former state. And so, after these changes, from horn to horn, manifestly along its length, it became semi-black. These things were related to me, the present writer, by those men who saw it with their own eyes, and who are prepared to stake their honour on oath that they have added no falsehood to what is said above.122

Whatever the scientific explanation for this extraordinary sight,123 we may observe that at Ragnarǫk the Miðgarðsormr similarly writhes snýz ‘writhes’ in Vǫluspá 50, and blows out poison (there is no mention of fire) in Gylfaginning.124

Interesting as this hopefully is, we still have yet to see a hunt for a solar stag. I come to it in the following reading of the whole iconographic programme of the Gosforth Cross, without which any interpretation of individual details may fail to convince for lack of a coherent context. The following reading, which has the basic solar eclipse myth at its heart, aims to explain the whole chiefly from the perspective of Germanic apocalyptic myth, although the programme’s climax appears principally Christian and some aspects remain obscure. I offer it tentatively, given the monument’s lack of accompanying inscriptions and the weathering of centuries, which as well as damaging the carvings themselves has removed any paint that might once have made them stand out. My reading proceeds from the south face to the west, north and east faces in turn (left to right in Figure 4)—a propitious progression implicitly leading to the sun’s return at dawn.125

I read the carvings on the south face from the bottom up. Above what could well be a representation of the bark of the sacred Norse world-tree, which is present on all faces (though not mentioned again in this discussion) and which implicitly blends into the wood of the cosmological Christian Cross above,126 we see a figure fettered in a coiled position. His identity is uncertain, but two Norse candidates spring to mind. One is Loki, whom the gods bound as punishment for his instigation of the slaying of Baldr. The other is the dead Baldr himself, shown bound in the confines of Hel, the Norse underworld, from which the gods failed to redeem him; a horizontal knot-pattern above him might denote the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead. Since a substantially dissimilar fettered Loki appears, albeit in a corresponding position, on the west face, I favour identification with Baldr. In that case, the iconographic programme starts immediately with a stark depiction of the central tragedy of Norse mythology: the dead Baldr’s captivity in Hel.

Above the horizontal knot-pattern (also suggestive of a snake) is a rider holding a downward-pointing spear. His spearhead points to the fettered ‘Baldr’-figure below, implying a connection between them. The rider may therefore be Baldr’s father, the spear-god Óðinn. He appears, however, to have one arm shorter than the other. This detail, if not illusory due to flexure of the arm, suggests the god Týr, whose hand was bitten off by the fettered Fenrir.127 (Perhaps we may entertain a composite representation of both gods.) An identification with Týr would link with the image immediately above of a wolf apparently escaping from snake-like fetters.128 This is doubtless Fenrir (or Garmr) escaping from his bonds at Ragnarǫk, in contrast to the ‘Baldr’-figure below. Above the wolf is an antlered stag, which the wolf is doubtless hunting. In my view, the wolf’s quarry is a solar hart identifiable with the solar wheel-cross at the top of the monument.129 Both are about to be devoured by Fenrir in a symbolic representation of the sun’s destruction.

Immediately above the hart is another wolf-headed snake. This one is gaping, like the one above it, but either devouring, or gagged by, a ring-like feature.130 The image might anticipate an annular solar eclipse, during which the new moon (the snake) and the sun (the ring-like feature) appear in syzygy, literally ‘yoked together’.131 At the same time, since the ring-like feature passes between (or in front of?) the back of the monster’s head and the upper part of its body, it might be interpretable as part of the monster’s body, in which case the creature would be biting itself and effectively gagged by itself.132 This could be explained as an economical depiction of the world-encircling Miðgarðsormr biting its own tail, as described in Gylfaginning.133

Directly above this monster’s head, and immediately below the cross-head, is the free, coiled tail of an ungagged wolf-snake, which I interpret as the same monster as the one below it. Together, these images suggest a progression from the wolf-snake’s constriction to its advance at Ragnarǫk, when, according to Old Norse texts, the world falls to ruins and both the wolf (see below) and the snake gape horribly, like a return of the primordial gap … ginnunga ‘gap … of yawnings(?)’ (Vǫluspá 3). Of the snake’s gaping Vǫluspá (Hauksbók text, stanza 55H) records: Gínn lopt yfir lindi jarðar, / gapa ýgs kjaptar orms í hæðum ‘The earth’s girdle [SNAKE] yawns across the sky, the jaws of the terrible snake gape in the heights’; that this snake has kjaptar ‘jaws’, like the apocalyptic úlfr ‘wolf’ of Vafþrúðnismál 53, might be another indication of wolf-snake fusion.134 At any rate, it therefore appears that the south face may have two comparable scenes of apocalyptic release: of the wolf from its snake-like fetters and of the wolf-snake from its gag, both of which creatures are in pursuit of the sun.135

I read the west face similarly from bottom to top. First, we see a scene easily identifiable from Gylfaginning.136 A horizontal Loki lies bound beneath a snake.137 Immediately above him his wife, Sigyn, kneels with a receptacle in which she catches poison that would otherwise drip from the viper’s fangs into her husband’s face. Possibly implicit is the moment when she leaves to empty the receptacle, when the venom falls on Loki’s face and he writhes, causing earthquakes. Parallels with the correspondingly placed, but differently styled, ‘Baldr’-figure and the snake-like knot on the south face seem likely: both the criminal (Loki) and his victim (Baldr) end up in captivity, from which the former will be released before Ragnarǫk and the latter after. This parallel is reinforced by another. Immediately above the Loki-Sigyn scene on the west face is an inverted rider who, except for the inversion, parallels the mounted ‘Óðinn/Týr’-figure on the south face—we therefore have three corresponding images in sequence. The identity of the inverted rider is unclear, but it may also be Óðinn/Týr, shown upside down in anticipation of death.

Above the inverted rider is a horizontal but standing figure. Judging from his horn, he is the divine watchman Heimdallr. He appears on the same face as Loki, with whom, according to Gylfaginning, he will fight to the death at Ragnarǫk. Here, however, Heimdallr is merely holding his horn out from his body in one hand, rather than raising it to his mouth to herald Ragnarǫk’s arrival (Vǫluspá 46). As such, it is apparently before Ragnarǫk that he has placed his other hand on a staff that props open the gums, and therewith the outermost jaws, of the lower two wolf-heads of the wolf-snake immediately above him.138 The natural inference is that he has placed the staff there. In my view, this scene depicts a form of another myth told in Gylfaginning.

According to Snorri, after Fenrir had gapði ákafliga ‘gaped mightily’ and tried to bite the gods, they fettered him. They also skutu í munn honum sverði nokkvoru ‘shoved in his mouth a certain sword’ as a gómsparri ‘gum-spar’,139 with its hilt against his lower gum, and its point against his upper gum. Consequently, Fenrir howled horribly and slaver ran from his mouth in a river called Ván ‘Expectation/Hope’.140 Much later, at Ragnarǫk, he will break free from his bonds and ferr með gapanda munn ok er hinn efri kjǫptr við himni en hinn neðri við jǫrðu. Gapa mundi hann meira ef rúm væri til ‘go with gaping mouth and the upper jaw will be against the sky and the lower against the earth. He would gape more if there were room to’.141

Essential elements of this myth seem to appear here on the west face. The Gosforth-carver apparently knew a version of these events in which Heimdallr—possibly enacting the gods’ collective will—separated Fenrir’s gums with a staff, rather than a sword. It would make sense for Heimdallr to perform this action, for two reasons.

Firstly, there are strong grounds for thinking that Heimdallr was identified as a male sheep, which would make him tempting food with which to worsen Fenrir’s torture by (it seems to me) tantalization. As potential prey, we may compare Heimdallr with his horn to the antlered stag pursued by Fenrir on the south face,142 which is similarly the fourth figure from the bottom. The basis for comparison might be strengthened by the finding that an Old Norse term for ‘ram’ was heimdali ‘home-stag(?)’.143 Also encouraging the comparison is Heimdallr’s whiteness in Old Norse texts—he is hvítastr Ása ‘the whitest of Æsir/gods’ and the hvíti Áss ‘white god’144—this probably being a quality which the ‘horned’ god shared not just with the ram but also with the solar hart and the Hvíta-Kristr ‘White Christ’, with whom, in turn, the solar hart and the sun were identified.

Secondly, as Heimdallr ‘Bright/Burgeoning Tree of Home’ and Hallinskiði ‘Leaning Stick’, the Norse god was probably also identified with the world-tree as axis mundi.145 It therefore seems reasonable to infer that the staff Heimdallr used as a gum-prop was either the trunk of the world-tree itself (the staff on the Gosforth Cross is the same height as Heimdallr), which was heiðvanr ‘accustomed to brightness’ (Vǫluspá 27), or perhaps rather a branch thereof, which, judging from Svipdagsmál, may have been radiant.146 What other tree could supply a prop tall or strong enough to separate the jaws of such a monstrous wolf?

Further, we might identify the gum-prop-branch(?) as a sun-beam, more specifically as the meteorological phenomenon known as a ‘sun-pillar’. As this name suggests, a sun-pillar is a tall, thin shaft of sunlight which, depending on the sun’s position, extends either upward from the horizon into the sky or downward from the sun to the horizon.147 For a wolf desperate to devour the sun, to have its jaws propped open by a solar shaft would have been the most tantalizing torture.

No textual source records what happened to the gum-prop at Ragnarǫk, but for Fenrir to destroy the entire sun, it must have broken, become dislodged or been removed. The Gosforth Cross’s west face might offer clues to its fate (as might the east, as we shall see later).

One such clue on the west face may be the peculiar arrangement of the twin wolf-heads next to Heimdallr, which look to be at once propped (upper jaws) and unpropped (lower jaws). I interpret this arrangement as an economical artistic device—effectively a static animation—by which to communicate in the same space the transition of a single wolf-head from a propped to an unpropped state. As such, this design parallels, albeit in different form, the correspondingly placed pairing of ‘gagged’ wolf-snake and ‘freed’ wolf-snake on the south face.

A second clue on the west face is the nature of the snake-body joined to the twin side-by-side wolf-heads. Two fairly short ‘knot’-patterns, one attached to each wolf-head, connect to a single snake-body that is wider, longer and of markedly different appearance. Its pattern also appears on the east face, though apparently not as a snake-body. There it rather resembles a rolling cloud of smoke, fire or poison emitted from the lower mouth of what is presumably the same snake. I suggest that, on the west face, this cloud-like design similarly denotes smoke, fire or poison, but contained within the monster’s body, which is attached to a single wolf-head whose unpropped jaws gape at the sun-cross above. Together, the disappearance of the solar(?) staff-prop and the progression from ‘knot’-body to ‘cloud/smoke/fire/poison’-body may suggest the monster’s acquisition and internalization of heavenly fire. Gylfaginning offers some support for this interpretation, firstly by implying that Fenrir’s gaping at Ragnarǫk is now voluntary—Gapa mundi hann meira ef rúm væri til ‘He would gape more if there were room to’;148 secondly by indicating that eldar brenna ór augum hans ok nǫsum ‘fires burn from his eyes and nostrils’;149 and thirdly by recording how Miðgarðsormr blæss svá eitrinu at hann dreifir lopt ǫll ok lǫg, ok er hann allógurligr, ok er hann á aðra hlið úlfinum ‘Miðgarðsormr blows out poison so that it bespatters all the sky and sea, and he is very terrible, and he is on the other side of the wolf’.150 Since Fenrir’s fieriness was not mentioned earlier, it perhaps derived from his consumption of the sun or part thereof. From the Gosforth Cross I tentatively infer that the wolf-snake’s fieriness at this point derives at least partly from having swallowed the staff-prop. We may find another clue to this effect when we examine the east face. For now, though, we should appreciate that it is but a short step from this staff-prop to the sword-prop of Gylfaginning, given that sparri (in gómsparri) literally denotes ‘a length of wood to hold something apart’.151 This finding, together with the Norse concept of the twig-sword, makes it easy to suppose that one version of the myth of Fenrir’s torture might have featured a sword and another a staff.152 And in that case, if Fenrir did swallow the prop, we may recall the wolfish Vargeisa’s transference of the radiant sword Snarvendill between her hand and mouth;153 the greed of Grendel’s wolfish mother for swords, including presumably the sun-like giant sword; and perhaps the protracted trembling of the fish-hall Lýr, dwelling place of the sun-bright Menglǫð, on a weapon-point in Svipdagsmál.154

Turning to the badly worn north face, I read its carvings from top to bottom. This change of direction is immediately suggested by the downward course of the single-headed wolf-snake at the top of the shaft. It is curious that it has only one head, but that this monster is probably the same wolf-snake is indicated by its tail apparently ending in a loop through which passes a cord that leads to the cross-head.155 In other words, the lunar wolf-snake and the sun now seem to be in syzygy in the context of a solar eclipse (as may be anticipated on the south face), with the former apparently towing the latter. This accords with the monster’s apparent volte-face: its capture of the sun is a pivotal turn of events.

The monster’s body also looks markedly different. It now appears skeletal, perhaps due to the burning of its flesh by the sun or its long starvation by the gods.156 Either way, the monster’s downward-facing head gapes to attack a new victim: a rider holding a downward-pointing spear. He is shown in mirror-image, first upright and then upside down, and he strongly resembles the mirrored riders on the south and west faces. He could well be Óðinn again, first alive (upright) before his swallowing by Fenrir, and then dead (upside down)—Óðinn, the all-seeing god of the single blazing eye, potentially having a solar aspect.157 Below the ‘dead’ image of the warrior is a large ‘knot’-pattern, perhaps symbolic of the inescapable fetters of death.

I also read the east face from top to bottom. Immediately below the sun-cross we see another variation on the twin-headed wolf-snake, this time with a knot- or lattice-like body similar to the twin-body-pattern of the monster facing Heimdallr on the west face.158 That the monster is no longer skeletal perhaps indicates that it has eaten Óðinn. A certain person has one foot placed on the lower jaw of the monster’s lower head, and one hand placed under its upper jaw, so that its mouth gapes, revealing a forked serpentine tongue.159 At this moment in time, the person is effectively propping the monster’s jaws open, in which case the scene parallels the ‘gagged’ but gaping wolf-snake similarly placed on the south face. Another parallel is with Heimdallr and his staff-prop on the west face, especially as the person’s other hand holds a staff very similar to Heimdallr’s away from the monster’s mouth. As others have noted, the scene with the person standing on the wolf-snake’s lower jaw must be a version of the myth of the god Víðarr killing Fenrir as told in Gylfaginning. In Snorri’s account Víðarr ‘Wide-Ruler(?)’ (the name may pun on víðari ‘wider’) avenges his father, Óðinn, by adopting the same position and tearing apart Fenrir’s jaws.160

Immediately beneath the Víðarr-figure is a recurrence of the ‘cloud/smoke/fire’-design that forms most of the wolf-snake’s body on the west face. Here, though, as noted earlier, it appears to denote a moving cloud of smoke, fire or poison. I identify it as the monster’s breath, through which Víðarr has walked, rather as Beowulf did to kill the fire-dragon he faced.161 I infer that the wolf-snake breathed out fire or venom before Víðarr killed it, which may partly explain why its body—shown at the point of death—is not now composed of the cloud/smoke/fire-design seen on the west face. I also suggest, albeit without support from textual sources, that the staff Víðarr holds in his other hand does not just resemble Heimdallr’s staff-prop but is that very sunbeam/solar pillar, which Víðarr has extracted from the inwards of the doomed beast; this could further explain why its body is no longer composed of the cloud/smoke/fire-like design. In tearing apart the sun-devouring Fenrir, Víðarr extracts the sun or at least a sunbeam. We may, I suggest, compare the liberation of Snarvendill from the wolfish Vargeisa, the taking of the giant sword from Grendel’s wolfish mother, and less obviously Menglǫð’s implicit liberation from Lýr. If so, the staff in Víðarr’s hand may anticipate the first visible sunbeam at dawn—appropriately for the first scene on the cross’s east face.

Further down the east face the wolf-snake’s breath approaches a representation of the crucified Christ, who perhaps subsumes Óðinn hanging on the world-tree.162 It is important to note that Christ is shown dead, albeit in a ‘standing’, implicitly unconquered, position with his head upright. That he is lifeless is clear from the depiction beneath him of the soldier mentioned in John 19:34 who, following Christ’s death, pierced the Saviour’s side with a spear, causing blood and water to gush forth. Since the sun was obscured at Christ’s death, and since Christ was commonly identified with the sun, the Gosforth Cross’s crucified Christ—implicitly identifiable also with the solar cross-head and the solar hart on the south face163—participates in the monument’s overarching theme of the sun’s destruction by a wolf-headed snake, who, from a Christian perspective, represents the variously lupine and serpentine Devil.

But that, of course, is not the end of the story. In both religious traditions, the forces of evil, symbolized by wolf and snake, are destroyed and the sun returns. As we have seen, in Norse mythology, the female sun had a daughter who was destined to succeed her in the post-Ragnarǫk age. Similarly, Christ the Sun was reborn at Easter.164 Hence beneath Christ, the soldier and his valkyrie-like female companion on the Gosforth Cross,165 we see one final representation of the wolf-snake.166 This time its twin heads are attacking each other and, judging by its juxtaposition with the fettered ‘Baldr’ on the south face, the fettered Loki on the west-face and the knot-pattern on the north face, the beast has been consigned to a fettered confinement in Hel(l).167

Hunted Stags on Other Anglo-Saxon Crosses

If the wolf-hunted stag on the Gosforth Cross is solar, this raises the possibility that other hunted stags carved on other crosses of similar date from northern England may have a similar aspect, with or without heathen associations. Among the surviving Anglo-Saxon carvings of hunted stags, I find four noteworthy:168

  1. A fragment of a tenth- or eleventh-century cross-head from Winston on Tees, Durham shows a pair of antlered stags, one on either side of a circle containing a ring of pellets around a partially obliterated central cross—a sun-cross.169 One of each of the stags’ antlers is fused with the circle, thereby identifying them as solar antlers of solar (Christ-)stags. The left-hand stag appears to baulk at a quadruped—presumably an attacking wolf or dog—immediately before it and below the solar disc.
  2. Beneath a wheeled sun-cross, one side of a tenth-century cross-shaft from Middleton, East Yorkshire depicts a stag-hunt.170 At the foot of a carved scene stands a large-antlered stag. Above this stag, descending vertically upon its hindquarters, are two wolves or dogs, a larger one above a smaller one. To their right, above the stag’s antlers, stands a warrior with a downward-pointing spear in his right hand and a sword or long knife in his left. The other side of the cross-shaft shows a large, fettered dragon, quite possibly gagged. In terms of Norse mythology, the stag-hunt may represent the celestial wolves Skǫll and Hati, perhaps under the direction of a huntsman personifying the acquisitive moon (the Man in the Moon?), attacking a solar hart. The bound dragon on the other side of the cross-shaft may symbolize the dark-moon dragon Niðhǫggr,171 or another snake of Germanic myth, bound in defeat. From a Christian perspective, the stag-hunt probably symbolizes the death of Christ (the stag) on the Cross and the loss of sunlight at that time; the bound serpent would be the conquered Devil.
  3. One face of a damaged cross-shaft from Sockburn, Durham, which dates from the third quarter of the tenth century, shows, in the lowermost of three surviving carved panels, a left-facing stag with large antlers.172 In the panel above it stands a left-facing helmeted warrior with upward-facing spear in one hand and the hilt of his sword in the other. The fragmentary panel above the warrior contains a plaited design. Another face shows, on the same level as the aforementioned stag, a wolf or dog looking back over its shoulder, presumably at the stag. Above the wolf or dog are two plaitwork designs. The other two sides show serpent-like coil patterns, in one case above a triquetra. This cross’s iconography appears broadly comparable to that on the Middleton cross.
  4. A tenth- or eleventh-century cross-shaft from Dacre, Cumbria shows a large, right-facing, antlered stag with a dog or wolf on its back.173 Between the stag’s fore and hind legs, it seems to me, is a large square block that might represent a sacrificial altar for the stag. This scene surmounts a depiction of the Fall of Man, with Eve on the left picking the fateful apple from a snake-entwined tree with a block-like base, to the right of which stands Adam. Above the stag-scene is a likely depiction of the sacrifice of Isaac, with Abraham on the left of Isaac, the pair separated by a sacrificial block. One of the stag’s antlers extends upwards between the legs of Isaac, linking the two scenes and suggesting an identification of the two figures. Similarly, Isaac’s head is between the forelegs of the quadruped—a ram(?)—carved above him, again suggesting a connection. The stag, Isaac and the ram were all ‘types’ of Christ, who was sacrificed on the Cross, of which the tree of Eden, shown here with an altar-like block as a base, was a ‘type’. There is no apparent heathen dimension to this cross’s carvings and no clear solar imagery survives, but it would be no surprise if the now headless shaft had originally been topped by a sun-cross.

The Ovingham Stone

One side of a fragmentary cross-shaft from Ovingham, Northumbria also appears relevant to this topic, although it features no stag and its worn carving is hard to interpret.174 It has, however, been plausibly explained as a Ragnarǫk-scene.175

It shows two figures on either side of a quadruped—presumably a wolf or dog, but one with a curiously elongated body (another wolf-snake?). The beast gapes toward a comparatively small circle, perhaps representing a weak sun or the moon, immediately above its mouth.

The figure on the right bears in his right hand what looks like a large curved horn or perhaps a weapon (a scythe?). If it is a horn, this would probably identify him as Heimdallr, as on the Gosforth Cross. The thin end of his horn appears to pass through (or behind?) the animal’s belly.

The figure on the left apparently has two arms around the animal’s neck. The back of his head has a curious curled appendage. Perhaps this represents long hair or part of a hat. Alternatively, it might be a ram’s horn and therefore part of a (second?) representation of Heimdallr.

One Man (in the Moon) and His Dog

Finally in this chapter, I adduce later medieval and post-medieval English traditions about the mythological figure of the Man in the Moon. I do so partly by way of introduction to the allied theme of solar theft to which I turn in the next chapter. Although these traditions do not record that the Man hunted a solar stag as such, they do indicate a belief that he had a dog and that he stole branches or sticks—originally symbolic, I propose, of shafts of sunlight, of sunbeams. Since many dogs enjoy fetching and carrying sticks, this was perhaps a crime in which his canine assisted.

A seal of a certain Walter de Grendon, dating from the 1330s, shows the Man within a thin crescent moon. He carries a bundle of sticks on his back with the aid of a long-shafted wooden tool (a fork?), the other end of which he raises toward the upper of two six-pointed stars, which may well represent the very bright ‘morning star(s)’ Venus and/or Sirius, the Dog Star.176 To the right of the Man is a dog—a small and distinctly unterrifying specimen—which looks up at him excitedly,177 perhaps in anticipation of his master’s capture of the latter star. Surrounding the whole scene is an ambiguous Latin inscription: Te Waltere dicebo cur spinas phebo gero. This is translatable as either ‘I will tell you, Walter, why I bear thorns from Phoebus [i.e., the sun]’ or ‘I will tell you, Walter, why I bear thorns to/on Phoebe [i.e., the moon]’. The ambiguity is perhaps deliberate.178

Subsequently, Ben Jonson’s masque entitled News from the New World Discovered in the Moon mentions both the Man’s ‘dog at his girdle’ and ‘the bush of thorns at his back’; one character identifies these as ‘stale ensigns of the stage’s man in the moon, delivered down to you by musty antiquity’.179 William Shakespeare also confirms that the Man’s dog and thornbush were traditional by mentioning them in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (5.1.259) and The Tempest (2.2.141).180

Earlier, in the late twelfth century, Alexander Neckham quoted a Latin saying identifying the image of the Rusticus in luna ‘Peasant in the Moon’, burdened by thorns, as an exemplification of the profitlessness of robbery, but he mentions no dog.181

Another source, the late thirteenth- or early fourteenth-century Middle English poem known as Mon in the mone,182 similarly makes no mention of a dog, but conceives of the Man as a peasant pilferer with a burden of thorny sticks, as do later sources.183 In this poem the man bears the sticks on a bot-forkeboatfork’.184 He has, in this source, illicitly gathered thorny sticks to repair a manorial hedge. But if this is a rustic debasement of an earlier mythological idea that the moon stole sunbeams, the Man’s thorny sticks could then be comparable to the rune-staves which symbolize piercing solar rays in medieval Norse poems that I shall discuss later.185 Walter de Grendon’s seal invites this suggestion. Another possible clue to this interpretation comes toward the end of the Middle English poem, when the poet addresses the Man as Hubert, hosede pie ‘Hubert, hosed magpie’. The magpie is a bird not only ‘stained’ like the Man but notorious as a supposed pilferer of shiny objects.186

To my knowledge, no post-Conquest medieval English text describes the Man, his dog, or even just the moon, as a taker of the sun or sunlight. Later, however, Shakespeare attests this tradition in Timon of Athens (4.3.437–8): ‘the moon’s an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun’.

Returning to pre-Conquest England, to my knowledge no Anglo-Saxon source mentions the Man. However, as we shall see in Chapter 14, traditions about such a figure appear illuminating for the interpretation of Beowulf. For now, it will suffice to observe that the fact that the moon derives its light from the sun was known in Anglo-Saxon England from quite an early date, though apparently by far from all. Bede refers to Luna … et stellae, quae non proprio ut dicunt, sed adventitio, et a sole mutuato lumine fulgent ‘the Moon and stars, which shine, not with their own light (as they say), but with an adventitious light borrowed from the Sun’.187 Later, Ælfric similarly states: Soðlice se mona ond ealle steorran underfoð leoht of ðære micclan sunnan. Ond heora nan næfð nænne leoman buton of ðære sunnan leoman188 ‘Truly, the moon and all the stars receive light from the great sun. And none of them have any radiance except from the sun’s light’.

A few Old English poems show that some Anglo-Saxons conceived of the moon not as a luminary shining of its own accord or as an adventitious beneficiary of the sun’s light, but as a thief or robber of sunshine. I end this chapter by quoting one of them. In his Metres of Boethius (4), King Alfred the Great (849–99), observed that:

Blacum leohte  beorhte steorran

mona gemetgað  ðurh ðinra meahta sped;

hwilum eac þa sunnan  sines bereafað

beorhtan leohtes,  þonne hit gebyrigan mæg

þæt swa geneahst  nede weorðað. (8–12)189

With pale light190 the moon moderates the bright stars through the efficacy of your [i.e., God’s] powers. At times, it also robs191 the sun of its bright light, when it may happen192 that, by necessity, they become so very proximate.

Here the eclipsing moon is a reaver of sunlight in a solar eclipse. In the next chapter we examine an Old English riddle that portrays the moon as a creature who stole sunlight in apparently more mundane, daily circumstances—light which the sun, or a solar emissary, then reclaimed. This text, like an Old English charm which seems to draw on related heathen mythology (treated in Chapter 12), will prove a valuable analogue for clarifying and enriching our understanding of Grendel, his mother and their possession of the giant sword.

1 SnEGylf, 31.

2 Tolley, Shamanism, I, 543–4.

3 Later in this study I propose a curious equivalence between certain stags and certain dwarves, creatures related to giants.

4 See R. Cramp, ‘The Hall in Beowulf and in Archaeology’, in H. Damico and J. Leyerle (ed.), Heroic Poetry in the Anglo-Saxon Period: Studies in Honor of Jess B. Bessinger, Jr. (Kalamazoo, 1993), 331–46 at 339. It is uncertain whether the description of Heorot as banfag ‘bone-adorned’ (780) refers to antler; see KB, 162.

5 See D. Lindholm and W. Roggenkamp, Stave Churches in Norway: Dragon Myth and Christianity in Old Norwegian Architecture (London, 1969), pl. 26, 28, 29. Bishop Aldhelm of Sherborne (died 709) reported that West Saxon Christian learning was conducted in buildings on the site of pagan shrines where small pillars of snake and stag (cervulusque) had once been worshipped; see HG, 51.

6 Folio 65v, http://psalter.library.uu.nl/page?p=137&res=2&x=0&y=0. See also the derived illustration in the early eleventh-century Harley Psalter: London, British Library MS Harley 603, fol. 57v; http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=harley_ms_603_fs001r. In Norse mythology, a stag called Eikþyrnir ‘Oak-Thorned One’/‘Oak-Antlered One’ stood on the hall of Óðinn (Grímnismál 26), a god who shares more than one attribute with Freyr.

7 Cf. the various fork-wielders whom I shall relate to Grendel later in this study.

8 Also noteworthy is the Cross surmounting the right-hand part of David’s palace in the Utrecht Psalter. Its presence there implies an equivalence with the antlered stag’s head, from which it is separated by the radiant hand of God. This detail is especially relevant to the symbolism of the Old Norse poem Sólarljóð discussed in Chapter 13.

9 OE torht can describe the brightness of the sun and heavens; cf. wuldortorhtan weder ‘gloriously bright weather’ (1136). Note also Beowulf’s heaðotorht ‘battle-bright’ warcry directed at the fiery dragon (2553).

10 Cramp, ‘Hall in Beowulf’, 339–40.

11 See KB, 386; R. L. Schichler, ‘Glæd man at Heorot: Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Psalter’, LSE 27 (1996), 49–68 at 50–51.

12 Presumably a term for malicious or treacherous deeds.

13 SnEGylf, 23.

14 The same term recurs in Sólarljóð 60 in association with heathen stellar radiance and the damned dead: heiðnar stjörnur stóðu yfir höfði þeim / fáðar feiknstöfum ‘heathen stars stood over their heads, coloured with deceit-staves’; Clunies Ross, Poetry on Christian Subjects, 338. For the observation of an implicit contrast with the hreinir kyndlar ‘pure candles’ that brendir bjartliga ‘were being burned brightly’ over the heads of virtuous men in Sólarljóð 69, see G. Tate, ‘“Heiðar stjörnur/heiðnar stjörnur”: The Confrontation of Paganism and Christianity in Sólarljóð’, in J. Louis-Jensen, C. Sanders and P. Springborg (ed.), The Sixth International Saga Conference, 28.7–28.8 1985: Workshop Papers I–II, 2 vols (Copenhagen, 1985), II, 1021–35 at 1031–2.

15 HG, 129. For a parallel to Heorot as golden, heavenly hall in Iranian myth, see C. Monette, ‘Heroes and Hells in Beowulf, the Shahnameh, and the Táin Bó Cúailnge’, Journal of Indo-European Studies 36 (2008), 99–147 at 120–3; C. Monette, The Medieval Hero: Christian and Muslim Traditions (Saarbrücken, 2008), 165–8.

16 The verb is missing from the manuscript. I supply hydan following various previous editions (e.g., ASPR 4). KB, 48, however, emends hafelan [beorgan] ‘to protect its head’. I favour hafelan [hydan] as these words find exact parallel in line 446. There Beowulf observes that there will be no need for Hroðgar to ‘hide [i.e., bury] his head’ if Grendel defeats him, as the monster will take him back to the mere to eat. Also, in view of the emphatic ‘h’-alliteration in lines 1368–9, it is attractive to conclude this passage similarly. However, for a recent argument for a different emendation, to hafelan hafene ‘with its head raised’, see T. Porck and B. Bossenbroek, ‘A Hart with Its Head Held High: a New Emendation for Beowulf, Line 1372a’, ANQ (14 February 2019), https://doi.org/10.1080/0895769X.2019.1579082. Whichever emendation is adopted, this passage flirts with the image of a stag’s antlered head in the mere.

17 There is a likely double meaning in aldor (1371), a word that means both ‘life’ and ‘lord’ in Beowulf. The Danes’ (e)aldor ‘lord’ is Hroðgar (aldre 346, ealdre 592, aldor 668). Cf. the aldorlease ‘lordless/lifeless’ (15) state of the Danes at the start of the poem, which the Liffrea ‘Life-Lord’ (16) remedied by granting them Beow. See further S. L. Higley, ‘Aldor on Ofre, or the Reluctant Hart: a Study of Liminality in “Beowulf”’, NM 87 (1986), 342–53.

18 Schichler, ‘Glæd man’, 59–60.

19 D. W. Robinson, Jr., ‘The Doctrine of Charity in Mediaeval Literary Gardens: A Topical Approach through Symbolism and Allegory’, Speculum 26 (1951), 24–49, at 33–4; Lee, Guest-Hall, 210.

20 Wilson, Missal, 93.

21 See Chapter 13.

22 Cf. Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, 174.

23 The genitive singular of heoru ‘sword’ is not attested, but A. Campbell, Old English Grammar (Oxford, 1959, corr. rpt. 1977), §614 states that this noun declines like sunu ‘son’, which has genitive singular suna.

24 Medieval tradition sometimes imagined Cain as horned or even specifically antlered (see Chapter 14). The Beowulf-poet’s rich ambiguity is such that we might therefore also entertain thoughts of Beowulf as a wulf ‘wolf’ who hunts Grendel (a horned devil?) and his mother, descendants of Cain.

25 On the fading of the literal meaning ‘sword’ for heoru(-) in surviving Old English poetry, see Cronan, ‘Poetic Words’, 31–2. For a detailed study of this word, see Teresi, ‘Old English Term Heoru’. Old Norse has a cognate poetic term for ‘sword’, hjǫrr; see Falk, Altnordische Waffenkunde, 51; also PTP, 790, for its occurrence in a list of ‘sword’-terms in which it immediately precedes and alliterates with Hrotti (cf. OE Hrunting).

26 For the latter word, see BT s.v. sol; J. R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, 4th edn. (Toronto, 1960, rpt. 1991), s.v. heorotsol.

27 In addition to the evidence adduced below, note Riddle 88 of the Old English Exeter Book, in which an inkhorn probably refers to its former existence as one of a pair of antlers used as weapons by a stag.

28 For a Viking Age sword-hilt guard made of elk-antler, found at Sigtuna, Sweden, see Graham-Campbell and Kidd, Vikings, 168–9. A. MacGregor, Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn: The Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman Period (Abingdon, 2015), 165 observes that although grips made from antler or bone ‘seem to have maintained only limited popularity beyond the end of the Roman period, finds of pommels and guards are rather more numerous’. The same writer observes that ‘an overwhelming number’ of Anglo-Saxon tools and weapons were hafted with animal horn, as distinct from antler, in A. MacGregor, ‘Bone, Antler and Horn: An Archaeological Perspective’, Journal of Museum Ethnography 2 (1990), 29–38 at 32.

29 Additionally, on links between deer and trees in Old Norse mythology, see Heide, ‘Fjølsvinnsmål’, 101–9.

30 See Chapter 3 n. 50.

31 Anlezark, Old English Dialogues, 74, 76; Anlezark translates His leoma as ‘His light’, not ‘Its light’.

32 See R. A. S[mith], ‘Anglo-Saxon Sword with Stamps’, British Museum Quarterly 4 (1930), 109.

33 SASE, 58, 62, 157; SASE5-7, 180; G. Drinkall and M. Foreman, The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Castledyke South, Barton-on-Humber (Sheffield, 1998), 248; I. Meadows, The Pioneer Burial: A High-Status Anglian Warrior Burial from Wollaston Northamptonshire (Oxford, 2019), 36.

34 E. Blakelock, A. Mongiatti and S. La Niece, Scientific Investigation of an Anglo-Saxon Sword Hilt from Cumberland (1876,0717.1) (unpublished British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, report no. AR2012-211, 2013).

35 H. Shetelig and H. Falk, Scandinavian Archaeology (Oxford, 1937), 377–8.

36 SASE, 181. Generally on the sword-hilt in Old Norse literature, see SASE, 177–86.

37 Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Harðar saga, 203, 211.

38 FSN, IV, 283–5; Falk, Altnordische Waffenkunde, 52.

39 Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Harðar saga, 178, 181.

40 Garmonsway and Simpson, Beowulf, 324–7.

41 It is, however, absent from H. R. E. Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions (Manchester, 1988).

42 For a photograph of this phenomenon, see http://www.atoptics.co.uk/atoptics/sunecl.htm. For an interpretation of the name of Baldr’s ship, Hringhorni ‘Ring-Horned One’, as an image of such an eclipse, see Bjorn Jonsson, Star Myths of the Vikings: A New Concept of Norse Mythology (Manitoba, 1994), 126 and 127, fig. 34. This appearance might also have inspired association of the sun with other horned animals, such as the bull and the ram; for bull-symbolism, see J. R. Conrad, The Horn and the Sword: The History of the Bull as Symbol of Power and Fertility (London, 1959). Additionally, the horned moon was associated with horned creatures, as in the Old English riddle discussed in Chapter 11.

43 See ‘Circumzenithal arc’, in Wikipedia (19 December 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumzenithal_arc; http://www.atoptics.co.uk/halo/czaform.htm; and D. Eggert, ‘Display from Achsheim’ (27 January 2012), http://www.thehalovault.org/2012/01/display-from-achsheim.html. I return to the phenomenon of sun-dogs (parhelion, plural parhelia) below.

44 D. Gricourt and D. Hollard, Cernunnos, le dioscure sauvage: Recherches comparatives sur la divinité dionysiaque des Celtes (Paris, 2010), 122, amid a discussion of the solar stag and related concepts (122–32).

45 Green, Sun-Gods, 55.

46 Green, Sun-Gods, 55. On the interpretation of prehistoric Scandinavian rock-art in light of solar myth, see also K. Kristiansen, ‘Rock Art and Religion: The Sun Journey in Indo-European Mythology and Bronze Age Rock Art’, in A. C. Fredell, K. Kristianse, and F. Criado (ed.), Representations and Communications: Creating an Archaeological Matrix of Late Prehistoric Rock Art (Oxford, 2010), 93–115. On the artistic realization of the solar stag in early Siberia, see A. I. Martynov, ‘The Solar Cult and the Tree of Life’, Arctic Anthropology 25 (1988), 12–29.

47 See, for example, N. Thierry, ‘Le culte du cerf en Anatolie et la Vision de saint Eustathe’, Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot 72 (1991), 33–100 at 67 fig. 6.

48 See Chris Rudd List 74 (March 2004), 11; S. Lilly, Ancient Celtic Coin Art (Glastonbury, 2008), 56. Cf. the lunar creature with stolen sunlight between its horns in the Old English riddle examined in Chapter 11.

49 See F. Kaul, I. Marazov, J. Best and N. de Vries, Thracian Tales on the Gundestrup Cauldron (Amsterdam, 1991), 81, 87–8, with figs. 6, 10, 22.

50 On this coin, see G. C. Boon, ‘A Coin with the Head of the Cernunnos’, Seaby Coin and Medal Bulletin 769 (1982), 276–82; M. Green, Animals in Celtic Life and Myth (London, 1992), 231–2 with fig. 8.20; C. Rudd, ‘Horned God or Druid Priest?’, Chris Rudd List 103 (January 2009), 2–5 with figs. 1, 2. Ladders are associated with the sun in Bronze Age iconography; see Cahill, ‘Here Comes the Sun …’. With the position of the coin’s wheel, compare the solar vessel between the lunar creature’s horns in the Old English riddle examined in Chapter 11, and the crucifix between a stag’s antlers in the legend of St. Eustace mentioned in Chapter 13.

51 H. Rackham, Pliny: Natural History with an English Translation in Ten Volumes, 2nd edn., 10 vols (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1983), III, 84.

52 There is no mention of it, however, in a recent survey of the stag in Anglo-Saxon tradition in P. Mortimer and S. Pollington, Remaking the Sutton Hoo Stone: The Ansell-Roper Replica and Its Context (Ely, 2013), 109–16. For early Chinese and Etruscan instances, see Suhr, ‘Interpretation’, 97, 102; for a Greek instance, see E. G. Suhr, ‘The Griffon and the Volcano’, Folklore 78 (1967), 212–24 at 221; for possible instances in much later European tales, including one in Grimms’ Fairy Tales (no. 163 ‘The Glass Coffin’), see Suhr, ‘Maerchen’, 279.

53 Clunies Ross, Poetry on Christian Subjects, 335.

54 Similarly, the stag on the Gosforth Cross appears on the monument’s south face (see below).

55 See Clunies Ross, Poetry on Christian Subjects, 335. If Ing leads the solar wagon in the Old English Rune Poem, perhaps they are Yngvi-Freyr and Skírnir, or Yngvi-Freyr and Freyja.

56 W. Schultz, ‘Bemerkungen zum Sonnenhirsch und Opferhirsch’, in P. Grimm (ed.), Varia Archaeologica, Wilhelm Unverzagt zum 70. Geburtstag dargebract (Berlin, 1964), 435–9 at 435 claims there is no trace of the concept of the solar stag in late Norse heathen tradition. Similarly, F. Amory, ‘Norse-Christian Syncretism and interpretatio christiana in Sólarljóð’, in J. Louis-Jensen, C. Sanders and P. Springborg (ed.), The Sixth International Saga Conference, 28.7–28.8 1985: Workshop Papers I–II, 2 vols (Copenhagen, 1985), I, 1–25 at 9–10, 15 denies any heathen-Christian syncretism in Sólarljóð’s solar stag; as ‘no stag cult existed in medieval Iceland’, he sees it as a purely Christian creation from diverse ‘literary, legendary, and biblical materials’. The Gosforth Cross contradicts Schultz’s view, however, and no ‘stag cult’ is necessary for the preservation of an ancient image.

57 See Andrén, Tracing, 159–61. Also noteworthy are twenty-six gilded wooden stags from Filippovka, Orenburg, Russia, which were found in a burial-mound in a cemetery dating from the fifth or fourth century BC; see G. Windfuhr, ‘The Stags of Filippovka: Mithraic Coding on the Southern Ural Steppes’, in J. Aruz, A. Farkas and E. V. Fino (ed.), The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Perspectives on the Steppe Nomads of the Ancient World (New Haven, 2006), 46–81, especially 54–5.

58 For illustrations, and for a bold interpretation of the horns as objects created in response to a total solar eclipse of 413 AD, see W. Hartner, Die Goldhörner von Gallehus (Wiesbaden, 1969). Hartner’s views were received enthusiastically by some, sceptically by others; see, for example, A. Beer, ‘Hartner and the Riddle of the Golden Horns’, Journal for the History of Astronomy 1 (1970), 139–43, https://doi.org/10.1177/002182867000100204; R. W. V. Elliott’s review in 40 (1971), 176–9; and H. A. T. Reiche’s review in Isis 64 (1973), 236–9.

59 Cf. Schultz, ‘Bemerkungen’, 437; Hartner, Goldhörner, 62–3. On the visibility of certain stars and planets during total solar eclipses, see F. Krojer, Astronomie der Spätantike, die Null und Aryabhata (Munich, 2009), 133–40.

60 Photographed in Schultz, ‘Bemerkungen’, Tafel 74a.

61 See M. Bampi, ‘“Gǫfuct dýr ec heiti”: Deer Symbolism in Sigurðr Fáfnisbani?’, in A. Ney, H. Williams and F. C. Ljungqvist (ed.), Á austvega: Saga and East Scandinavia. Preprint Papers of the 14th International Saga Conference Uppsala, 9th-15th August 2009, 2 vols (Gävle, 2009), I, 78–84 at 82.

62 C. Larrington (trans.), The Poetic Edda, rev. edn. (Oxford, 2014), 119.

63 Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Riddarasögur, III, 369.

64 See M. J. Enright, The Sutton Hoo Sceptre and the Roots of Celtic Kingship Theory (Dublin, 2006), 49–50, 173, 208.

65 Mortimer and Pollington, Remaking, 116.

66 We shall later examine another stanza from Sólarljóð (78) which describes a probably solar antler similarly concealed within a burial-mound, the earth of which is implicitly that of the jarðar skip ‘ship of the earth’ (77).

67 As, perhaps, on the second Gallehus horn (see above). Generally, on many of these myths, see A. Olrik, Om Ragnarok (Copenhagen, 1902), 189–95.

68 See PTP, 85.

69 SnEGylf, 34–6; discussed in J. Harris, ‘The Masterbuilder Tale in Snorri’s Edda and Two Sagas’, ANF 91 (1976), 66–101 (reward of sun and moon at 95–6).

70 PTP, 722–3.

71 With varna viðar, perhaps compare Járnviði in Vǫluspá 40 (below).

72 Note the association of skír- (also seen earlier in Skírnir) with the sun.

73 Heimir Pálsson (ed.), Snorri Sturluson: The Uppsala Edda DG 11 4to (London, 2012), 22. Additionally, for references to Skoll/Skǫll and Hati in a list of poetic terms for vargr ‘wolf/thief/outlaw’, see PTP, 902–5.

74 Tolkien, Saga, 81. Skalli is also a giant-name; see PTP, 713, 715.

75 Simek, Dictionary, 292. For the survival of this concept in nineteenth-century Icelandic folklore, see Jón Árnason, Íslenzkar þjóðsögur, I, 658–9; Gísli Sigurðsson, ‘Snorri’s Edda: The Sky Described in Mythological Terms’, in Tangherlini, Nordic Mythologies, 193–5. The same phenomenon perhaps accounts for the gýgjar sólir ‘giantess’s suns’ which skinu grimmliga ‘shone grimly’ in Sólarljóð 51, an image that I suspect scholars have misinterpreted (see Clunies Ross, Poetry on Christian Subjects, 332). Cf. Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3, II.i.25: ‘Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?’

76 SnEGylf, 14 (with note on 60–1).

77 SnEGylf, 49.

78 Cashford, Moon, 113–4. For traditions about moon-eating dogs and other monsters, see E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom, 6th edn., 2 vols (London, 1920), I, 328–35; R. C. Carrier, ‘Cultural History of the Lunar and Solar Eclipse in the Early Roman Empire’, http://richardcarrier.info/culturaleclipse.pdf; MIFL, motif A737.1 ‘Eclipse caused by monster devouring sun or moon’. On the association of Hecate with moonless nights and barking dogs, see S. Karouzou, ‘An Underworld Scene on a Black-Figured Lekythos’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 92 (1972), 64–73 at 72–3.

79 ‘Moon Dog’, in Wikipedia (30 January 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_dog. Cf. EDD s.v. moon 1 (9): ‘At Whitby, . . when the moon is surrounded by a halo of watery clouds, the seamen say there will be a change of weather, for the “moon-dogs” are about’; OED s.v. ‘moon’ 16, however, records ‘moon-dog’ only in the senses ‘watchdog’ and ‘dog that bays the moon’. The phenomenon of paraselene might explain how it was that, on Maunday Thursday 1106, wæron gesewen twegen monan on þære heofonan toforan þam dæge oðer be eastan, ond se oðer be westan begen fulle ‘two moons were seen in the sky before day, one to the east and the other to the west, both full’; C. Plummer, Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel, 2 vols (Oxford, 1892–9), I, 240. Another text indicates that a dream of such a sight signifies joy and happiness; Liuzza, Anglo-Saxon Prognostics, 118–9.

80 A female, whom Gylfaginning identifies as a gýgr ‘giantess’ (see below).

81 For this simplex, see CV. The noun also appears in the compound heytjúgahayfork’ (see Chapter 14) and in the name of a Dane who briefly ruled England in 1014, Sveinn Tjúguskegg ‘Forkbeard’. The notion of a celestial pitchforker may have been inspired by the sight of a crescent moon’s twin ‘horns’, and perhaps encouraged by the appearance of forked lightning and of comets with forked tails; cf. DOE s.v. fyrclian.

82 E.g., Hermann Pálsson (ed.), Vǫluspá: The Sibyl’s Prophecy (Edinburgh, 1996), 80 (though his glossary defines tungl as ‘a heavenly body; the sun’); Dronke, Poetic Edda, II, 16–7, 142–3, who translates ‘moon-snatcher’; Ármann Jakobsson, Nine Saga Studies: The Critical Interpretation of the Icelandic Sagas (Reykjavík, 2013), 97–8, who sees a ‘moon-chewing wolf’.

83 E.g., Sigurður Nordal (ed.), Vǫluspá (Durham, 1978, corr. rpt. 1982), 80; SnEGylf, 61, 149; Faulkes, Snorri Sturluson: Edda, 15.

84 MIFL, motif A751 ‘Man in the moon’.

85 Cf. ON fengari, a term for the moon in SnESkáld, I, 85, interpretable as either ‘shiner’ (< Greek φεγγάρι) or, I suggest, ‘seizer’ (cf. fengr ‘haul’, ‘booty’, fanga ‘to fetch, capture’); PTP, 912, 914. The homonymy of fen- and fenfen’ may be noteworthy, given Grendel’s marshy environs and the moon’s captivity in fenland in the English folk-tale The Dead Moon (see Chapter 14).

86 Note, too, the forked tongue of the sun-devouring wolf-snake on the east face of the Gosforth Cross (discussed below).

87 For a discussion of the earliest references to trolls, including this one, see J. Lindow, Trolls: An Unnatural History (London, 2014), 14–29.

88 Secondarily, the reference to blood may evoke a ‘blood moon’ during a lunar eclipse. In reality, the sight of ‘dark sunshine’ may be due to atmospheric ash after a volcanic eruption; see Sigurður Nordal, Vǫluspá, 81–2.

89 Though not in the variant version of Vǫluspá in Hauksbók. These two versions of the poem, together with a third quoted by Snorri in his Prose Edda, appear to differ mainly as a result of oral composition, rather than scribal variation. Quotations from Vǫluspá are from the Codex Regius text, unless otherwise stated.

90 A secondary meaning may be ‘Kinsmen’s Plains’.

91 Or (secondarily in my view) Níðhǫggr ‘Hostile Striker’, the interpretation adopted by many editors. Niðhǫggr/Níðhǫggr is also the name of a dwarf, one that appears immediately after Niði in a verse list of dwarf-names; PTP, 695. It is also a name for a sword; ibid., 807–8; SnESkáld, I, 120.

92 Whether the snake Niðhǫggr and the vargr are one and the same is unclear. They might be, as assumed by Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason (ed.), Eddukvæði, ÍF, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), I, 301 (note also my discussion below of a composite wolf-snake on the Gosforth Cross). Alternatively, the vargr might be the moon’s man-eating pitchforker of stanza 40, whom, we shall shortly see, Snorri describes as having the likeness of a vargr.

93 SnEGylf, 14.

94 She is possibly the Angrboða ‘Grief-Announcer’ of SnEGylf, 27. This name’s resemblance to Aurboða, mother of Gerðr, might be noteworthy.

95 Cf. the Romanian vârcolaci ‘wolf-hairy ones’ and related Slavic and Greek monsters, who include werewolfish terrors with vampyric and sometimes nightmarish associations. In Romanian tradition the vârcolaci seize and devour the sun and the moon; see Cashford, Moon, 326–7; ‘Vârcolac’, in Wikipedia (10 July 2019), https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A2rcolac; ‘Vrykolakas’, in Wikipedia (30 September 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vrykolakas

96 As translated in Faulkes, Snorri Sturluson: Edda, 15.

97 SnEGylf, 14. For an earlier personification of the moon as Máni, see North, Haustlǫng, 8–9, 63. Máni was also the name of a medieval Icelandic poet (also jokingly called Tungli) who asked for a favourable wind for sailing from the þungstalls konungr sólar ‘king of the sun’s heavy/load-stool [HEAVEN]’; Mána þáttur skálds (October 1998), https://www.snerpa.is/net/isl/th-mana.htm

98 See Chapters 3 and 14.

99 Cf. the Greek hellhound Cerberus, whose link with the dark-moon goddess Hecate I note below. Also note the baying hellhound which confronts Óðinn in the Eddic poem Baldrs Draumar ‘Baldr’s Dreams’ (2–3), though it has no clear lunar significance.

100 See T. W. Machan (ed.), Vafþrúðnismál, 2nd edn. (Durham, 2008), 101. The ambiguity is satisfying: the implicitly lunar Fenrir ‘destroys’ the sun when his silhouette ‘overtakes’ it during a solar eclipse.

101 Cf. a Sámi myth highlighted in Dubois, ‘Mythic Sun’, 208. Whether, in the Norse myth, the sun’s daughter ‘rides’ on a steed or in a vehicle is unknown.

102 The beast appears to me less likely to be about to devour both sun and moon, although I do not wholly discount this possibility. See P.-M. Duval, Monnaies Gauloises et mythes celtiques (Paris, 1987), 22–5; M. Aldhouse-Green, An Archaeology of Images: Iconology and Cosmology in Iron Age and Roman Europe (London, 2004), 124–5, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203647455; D. N. Briggs, ‘Reading the Images on Iron Age Coins: 3. Some Cosmic Wolves’, Chris Rudd List 110 (2010), 2–4 at 2.

103 Briggs, ‘Reading the Images … 3’; D. N. Briggs, ‘The Language of Inscriptions on Icenian Coinage’, in J. A. Davies (ed.), The Iron Age in Northern East Anglia: New Work in the Land of the Iceni (Oxford, 2011), 83–102 at 98; the sun’s coffee-bean shape on some of these coins probably reflects its conception as an eye, which opens at dawn and closes at sunset; cf. West, Indo-European Poetry, 198–9. In addition, for parallels between an Icenian god, associated iconographically with grain, boar and horse, and Freyr, see D. N. Briggs, ‘Sacred Image and Regional Identity in Late-Prehistoric Norfolk’, in T. A. Heslop, E. Mellings and M. Thøfner (ed.), Art, Faith and Place in East Anglia (Woodbridge, 2013), 30–49 at 40–1. For a possible Anglo-Saxon depiction of Fenrir, or a related wolf, pursuing a ship (of the sun or the dead?) on a late sixth- or seventh-century Anglo-Saxon funeral urn from Caistor St Edmund, Norfolk, see T. Pestell, ‘Paganism in Early-Anglo-Saxon East Anglia’, in ibid., 66–87 at 76–7.

104 See D. Powlesland, ‘Gosforth Cross Colour Annotated’ (March 23 2016), https://sketchfab.com/models/3d7f7b702a584d54a6a8c016a5b750a9; and R. Land, ‘Gosforth Cross Project: Teachers Resources’ (6 June 2016), http://gosforthcrossproject.blogspot.com/2016. Additionally, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a nineteenth-century plaster copy of this cross.

105 See W. G. Collingwood, Northumbrian Crosses of the Pre-Norman Age (London, 1927, rpt. Felinfach, 1989), 156 fig. 184. Also valuable for illustrations and commentary are R. N. Bailey and R. Cramp, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. Volume II: Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire North-of-the-Sands (Oxford, 1988), II, 100–4 and illustrations 288–308; K. Berg, ‘The Gosforth Cross’, JWCI 21 (1958), 27–43, https://doi.org/10.2307/750485; Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, 125–31; E. L. Risden, ‘The Gosforth Cross Narrative and Beowulf’, Enarratio: Publications of the Medieval Association of the Midwest 3 (1995), 1–14, http://hdl.handle.net/1811/71220; Kopár, Gods and Settlers.

106 For other pictorial representations of these and some other characters shown on the Gosforth Cross, see Kopár, Gods and Settlers.

107 Additionally, Brown, ‘Firedrake’, 439 observes that serpents in medieval illustrations often look ‘a good deal like a dog’.

108 See P.-A. Beaulieu, ‘The Babylonian Man in the Moon’, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 51 (1999), 91–9, https://doi.org/10.2307/1359732. Beaulieu shows that the Babylonian moon-dragon was fifty or sixty leagues long; compare the climactic dragon of Beowulf, which was fiftiges fotgemearces lang ‘fifty foot-marks long’ (3042–3), and which may well also have a lunar aspect (see Chapter 14). With the Babylonian imagery, compare also that within a representation of the sun on a Viking Age sword-pommel from Bedale, North Yorkshire (see Chapter 16). On the ancient significance of the dragon, including specifically the uroboros and the dragon’s head and tail, in relation to eclipses, see also G. Azarpay and A. D. Kilmer, ‘The Eclipse Dragon on an Arabic Frontispiece-Miniature, with a Note on the Babylonian Mythological Explanation of the Lunar Eclipse’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 98 (1978), 363–74, https://doi.org/10.2307/599748

109 See T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, 2 vols (Baltimore, 1996), I, 22–3; D. G. Gershenson, Apollo the Wolf-God (Washington, 1991), 93–4. Grendel and his wolfish mother are not described as snake-like, but they are associated with the Devil, the most notorious medieval serpent, and their mere is home to wyrmcynnes fela, / sellice sædracan ‘many of snake-kind, strange sea-dragons’ (Beowulf 1425–6). For another potential link between Grendel’s mother and a serpent, the Biblical Leviathan, see Chapter 15. In addition, recall the serpentine devourer on the Repton Stone mentioned in Chapter 1.

110 Similarly Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 35. Alternatively, perhaps we have the sun on the east face and the moon on the west (or vice versa). For an identification of the monsters at the top of the south and west sides as Skǫll and Hati attacking the sun and moon, see ibid., 28.

111 For this, see Karouzou, ‘Underworld Scene’.

112 The wording of the Hauksbók version of the poem differs significantly. Parts of that text are illegible, but it seems that Óðinn fights a wolf and Þórr fights a snake.

113 Lokasenna 58 raises the prospect of a fight between Þórr and the wolf, though implicitly questions whether it will come to pass. Loki taunts Þórr with the words ‘En þá þorir þú ekki, er þú skalt við úlfinn vega, / ok svelgr hann allan Sigfǫður!’ ‘But you won’t be daring then, when you shall/should fight against the wolf, and he [the wolf] swallows Sigfaðir ‘Victory-Father’ [Óðinn] whole!’

114 A close kinship between snake and wolf in Old Norse myth is also apparent from the siblings Fenrir and Miðgarðsomr, and from Grímnismál 34, which records that various snakes that lie under Yggdrasill are sons of Grafvitnir ‘Grave/Digging-Wolf’.

115 See Sigurður Nordal, Vǫluspá, 108–9; Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, Eddukvæði, I, 305.

116 Both niðs and níðs are metrically acceptable, and the ambiguity may be deliberate; see also my discussion in Chapter 14 of potentially ambiguous instances of OE nið in Beowulf. Also note another potential use of ON nið ‘dark moon’ in the unique compound niðfǫlr in the Hauksbók text of Vǫluspá 50:

‘Hrymr ekr austan,  hefiz lind fyrir,

snýz Jǫrmungandr  í jǫtunmóði,

ormr knýr unnir,  en ari hlakkar,

slítr nái niðfǫlr.  Naglfar losnar.’

‘Hrymr [a giant] drives from the east, raises his shield before him, Jǫrmungandr “Enormous Staff” [Miðgarðsormr] writhes in giant-rage, the snake lashes waves, and an eagle shrieks, one pale as/in the waning moon(?) tears corpses. Naglfar [a ship] breaks loose.’

Whether the word is niðfǫlr ‘pale as the waning moon’ or ‘rust-pale’ (cf. Gothic nidwa ‘rust’) or níðfǫlr ‘derision-pale’ is uncertain. So is whether it describes the preceding eagle or another creature (Niðhǫggr?). The Codex Regius text has a different word, neffǫlr ‘nose-pale’, which might describe the preceding eagle, as some eagles have beaks lighter than their plumage. Gylfaginning’s quotation of this stanza has either niðfǫlr or níðfǫlr. For differing opinions, see H. Falk, ‘Oldnorske ordforklaringer’, ANF 5 (1889), 111–24 at 111; Sigurður Nordal, Vǫluspá, 97–8; SnEGylf, 127; Dronke, Poetic Edda, II, 146; Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, Eddukvæði, I, 303.

117 See s.v. nið in CV and ONP. The word also appears in compounds, such as niðmyrkr, niðamyrkr ‘pitch-darkness’ and most likely Niðhǫggr ‘Dark-Moon Striker’, where its gender cannot be determined. Relatives include Danish in the phrase i ny og næ ‘now and then’, and Swedish nedan in månen är i nedan ‘the moon is on the wane’ (compare nedan ‘(down) below’). For discussions of this word, see A. M. Sturtevant, ‘Irregularities in the Old Norse Substantive Declensions’, SS 19 (1946), 79–88 at 85–6; K. G. Ljunggren, ‘Isl. nið, nysv. nedan (månfasen) och deras närmaste släktingar’, ANF 67 (1952), 54–69.

118 See Árni Böðvarsson, Íslensk orðabók, 2nd edn. (Reykjavík, 1993), s.v. 1 nið, -s, which gives three meanings: ‘waning moon (not seen except as a thin sliver),’ ‘darkness’ and ‘dark snowfall’ (my translations). LP records both neuter nið and feminine plural niðar in medieval Norse poetry; La Farge and J. Tucker, Glossary to the Poetic Edda: Based on Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Wörterbuch (Heidelberg, 1992) also records neuter nið ‘waning moon’ (queried as a plural form), though not here, as well as feminine plural niðar ‘waning moon; phases of the moon’. According to Sturtevant, ‘Irregularities’, 85–6: ‘The substantive nið appears in the plur. as a neuter ja-stem, often without the regular j-suffix (cf. nið, nið[j]a, nið[j]um, nið), to denote the phases of the waning moon. But occasionally there occur also the plur. forms of a fem. ō-stem (nið-ar, -a, -um, -ar) in the same sense .… The fem. plur. forms of the substantive could all the more easily supplant the neut. forms in that the two declensions converged in the gen. and dat. cases (nið-a, nið-um); hence nið-ar, nom.-acc, for nið, nom.-acc.’ Ljunggren, ‘Isl. nið’, identifies other related neuters in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, but concludes that the neuter is secondary to the feminine, perhaps having developed under the influence of neuter ON ‘new (i.e., waxing/full) moon’. Either way, the presence of a neuter genitive singular niðs in Vǫluspá, which neither scholar discusses, would be explicable. See also ANEW s.v. nið 1; ÍO s.v. nið 1.

119 Dronke, Poetic Edda, II, 151.

120 Generally on connections in world mythology between snakes and the moon, including the dark moon, see Cashford, Moon, 101–3, 156–9, 212–3, 307–9. Cashford also observes that ‘The time taken by the Moon to circle back to the same node is called the draconic month (from the Greek drakon, meaning ‘dragon’). In Europe, the Ascending Node of the Moon is still known as the “dragon’s head” and the Descending Node as the “dragon’s tail”, testimony to the ancient idea of eclipses brought about by celestial dragons’ (327). Hartner, Goldhörner, argues that the notion of the eclipse-dragon is key to the interpretation of the iconography on the Gallehus horns. See also W. Hartner, ‘The Vaso Vescovali in the British Museum: A Study on Islamic Astrological Iconography’, Kunst des Orients 9 (1973–4), 99–130.

121 W. Stubbs (ed.), The Historical Works of Gervase of Canterbury, 2 vols (London, 1879–80), I, 276.

122 My translation, aided by that of R. Y. Hathorn in J. B. Hartung, ‘Was the Formation of a 20-km-Diameter Impact Crater on the Moon Observed on June 18, 1178?’, Meteoritics 11 (1976), 187–94 at 187–8.

123 See A. Saiber, ‘The Giordano Asteroid and the Giordano Bruno Lunar Crater: A Tale of Two Namings’, Bruniana & Campanelliana 10 (2004), 183–91 at 185–91.

124 SnEGylf, 50.

125 By contrast, the reading by W. S. Calverley, Notes on the Early Sculptured Crosses, Shrines and Monuments in the Present Diocese of Carlisle, ed. W. G. Collingwood (Kendal, 1899), 138–66 proceeds from west to south to east to north (see also the comment at 167).

126 On this topic, see further G. R. Murphy, Tree of Salvation: Yggdrasil and the Cross in the North (Oxford, 2013), with this point being made at 102. For the notion that the sun, represented on the Gosforth Cross by the surmounting wheeled cross, rested in the branches of a tree, see MIFL, motif 714.2 ‘Sun and moon placed in top of tree’; cf. the moon’s position in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale ‘Der Mond’ (summarized in Chapter 14).

127 See SnEGylf, 25. A scene carved on a Viking Age hogback stone from Sockburn on Tees has been interpreted as showing Týr with his hand in the mouth of a large fettered wolf—Fenrir; see Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, 134–6.

128 For indications that this myth once had a place in solar mythology, see Andrén, Tracing, 144, 148, 155–7, 187–9. The evidence includes a picture-stone from Austers, Hangvar, Gotland showing, above what is probably a huge solar wheel-cross, a large centipede-like monster into whose gaping mouth a man seems to place his hand; for this stone, see also S. Lindqvist, Gotlands Bildsteine, 2 vols (Stockholm, 1941–2), I, fig. 27, II, 69, figs. 403–4; E. Nylén and J. P. Lamm, Stones, Ships and Symbols: The Picture Stones of Gotland from the Viking Age and Before (Stockholm, 1988), 31.

129 Previously the stag has been identified as ‘the divine hart—the fountain of living waters’; as the hart Eikþyrnir, which stands on Óðinn’s hall, according to Grímnismál 26 (though there is no hall on the Gosforth Cross); and vaguely as a representation of ‘good, perhaps a symbol for one particular god, being attacked by the hound, representing evil’; see Calverley, Notes, 152–3; Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 29, 39–41. Note also the carving on the Gosforth ‘fishing-stone’ (mentioned in Chapter 5), which shows a deer, perhaps representing Christ, separated by a horizontal knot-pattern from a scene showing Þórr and the giant Hymir fishing for the Miðgarðsormr.

130 This feature might have been influenced by medieval Christian tradition, or at least might have been accommodated to it. The Christian theologian Honorius Augustodunensis (c. 1080-c. 1140) described Leviathan’s jaw as having been pierced by the ring of Christ’s love. The Icelandic Hómilíubók ‘Homily Book’ also refers to a ring in a similar context, while Niđrstigningarsaga ‘The Saga of the Descent (into Hell)’ equates Satan with the world-encircling Miðgarðsormr trapped on God’s fishing hook. See Marchand, ‘Leviathan’, 328–32.

131 See my interpretation of the north face below.

132 Another carving of an intimidating snake, gagged by means of a cord threading either its jaws or enormous fangs, appears on a tenth-century cross-shaft from Middleton, East Yorkshire; see http://www.ascorpus.ac.uk/catvol_search_results.php?id=801 (Middleton 02); Murphy, Tree, 114–8. Note also the possibly gagged snake on another cross from the same place (Middleton 01), mentioned below.

133 SnEGylf, 27: bítr í sporð sér ‘it bites into its own tail’. For other representations of this idea in Germanic art, see G. Speake, Anglo-Saxon Animal Art and its Germanic Background (Oxford, 1980), 90–1.

134 Cf. Dronke, Poetic Edda, II, 77; K. J. Wanner, ‘Sewn Lips, Propped Jaws, and a Silent Áss (or Two): Doing Things with Mouths in Norse Myth’, JEGP 111 (2012), 1–24 at 13. It seems noteworthy that where the Codex Regius text (56) refers to the wolf when we expect the snake, the Hauksbók text attributes the wolf’s(?) jaws to the snake.

135 Cf. also the positions of the wolves behind and before the sun in Grímnismál and Heiðreks saga.

136 SnEGylf, 49.

137 Given the other instances of binding and oral incapacitation on the Gosforth Cross, it may also be relevant that, according to one myth, Loki had his lips sewn together by dwarves; SnESkáld, I, 43; Wanner, ‘Sewn Lips’.

138 S. Cöllen, Heimdallr—der rätselhafte Gott: eine philologische und religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Berlin, 2015), 174, https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110421958 similarly sees a staff (‘einem Stab’) propping open the monster’s mouth. Calverley, Notes, 147 sees a staff holding back ‘Hel worms’; Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 36 and Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, 128 see Heimdallr holding out a spear to check the monsters. The worn state of the monument prevents certainty, but I can discern no spearhead on what I therefore take to be a staff. Either way, I believe that it functions as a prop between the outer jaws, not as a barrier before them. For further thoughts on oral incapacitation in Old Norse, see Wanner, ‘Sewn Lips’.

139 The same ‘gum-prop’ is mentioned earlier as a kenning for ‘sword’ in Einarr Skúlason’s mid-twelfth-century poem Geisli ‘Beam of Light’; Clunies Ross, Poetry on Christian Subjects, 46–7. A stanza from the anonymous skaldic Stríðkeravísur ‘Grief-Pick’s Verses’, of similar date, refers to the prop as a tugga ‘(chewed) mouthful’; PTP, 628–9. Cf. Snarvendill’s implicit stretching of Ýma’s wolfish ‘lower mouth’ in Hjálmþés saga (see Chapter 7). Gershenson, Apollo, 93 mistakenly identifies the prop on the Gosforth Cross as ‘Thor’s sword’.

140 SnEGylf, 29. For both senses of ván, see CV s.v.

141 SnEGylf, 50. As noted above, the Hauksbók text of Vǫluspá (55H) describes the snake gaping, not the wolf, and it omits details of the latter’s death. The Codex Regius text says nothing about either monster gaping.

142 Heimdallr may also equate to Christ, the Lamb of God, on the east face, of whom the ram was a medieval ‘type’.

143 Potentially sometimes one with a glowing, shining golden horn or horns (like the solar hart); see W. Sayers, ‘Irish Perspectives on Heimdallr’, alvíssmál 2 (1993), 3–30 at 9, 26–7.

144 Þrymskviða 15; SnEGylf, 25.

145 Andrén, Tracing, 140–1 interprets a gilded pendant from Västergötland, dated to the early fifth century AD, as showing ‘the world tree reaching to the sky as well as the underworld’. Within the tree are representations of the sun at sunrise, noon and sunset, and in the underworld. I would add that the tree’s branches curl like ram’s horns and terminate in heads resembling those of sheep. It may be, therefore, that the notion of Heimdallr as both world-tree and ram has deep roots in solar tradition.

146 On Heimdallr, a complex, enigmatic god, see Sayers, ‘Irish Perspectives’; Tolley, Shamanism, I, 369–405; Cöllen, Heimdallr. Curiously, Snorri also records that Heimdalar sverð er kallat hǫfuð ‘the head is called “Heimdallr’s sword”’ (SnEGylf, 25–6). This is probably mainly because a ram uses its head as a weapon, but an association between a sun-drenched branch from the ‘crown’ of the world-tree and a a shining twig-sword might also be entertained.

147 It is caused by the reflection of sunlight by atmospheric ice crystals, usually around sunrise or sunset. For photographs, see ‘Light Pillar’, in Wikipedia (4 April 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_pillar. The tall, thin form of the Gosforth Cross might itself, in addition to representing a tree, suggest this phenomenon, or at least a sunbeam.

148 SnEGylf, 50.

149 Snorri’s source for this detail is unknown. Neither text of Vǫluspá records that Fenrir was fiery.

150 SnEGylf, 50.

151 SnEGylf, 101 s.v. gómsparri.

152 If Fenrir did swallow the sword, it is conceivable that he was, in a sense, swallowing a second divine hand, as we have seen that a sword is conceptually an extension of the wielder’s arm and that in Old Norse a sword may be called a hnefi ‘fist’ with benknúar ‘wound-knuckles’. The knuckle-like pommels of some Scandinavian swords may also be noted.

153 Note that Fenrir is presumably the ‘vargr of Víðarr’s kinsman [i.e., Óðinn or Loki]’ (vargs … Víðars niðja) in the Hauksbók text of Vǫluspá (55H).

154 For Lýr ‘Pollack/Pike’ as a potentially wolfish hall, see Chapter 15.

155 The drawing in Figure 4 looks to me slightly inaccurate here.

156 Calverley, Notes, 164, however, sees Surtr ‘riding at the head of the fiery flying sons of Muspell (the personification of fire)’. Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 38 similarly sees Surtr, and observes that ‘this monster has a larger eye than the other monsters on the cross, and a large eye is an attribute of fire-demons’. If that is the case, I would rather explain this feature as a consequence of the wolf-snake’s capture of the sun.

157 Cf. remarks on Óðinn’s use of the gambanteinn in Chapters 7 and 16. Less likely, I think, the figure could be Týr confronting a creature equatable with Garmr (hence the difference in the appearance of the wolf-snake?), as Gylfaginning pits this pair against each other to their mutual destruction (SnEGylf, 50).

158 For reticulation as a symbol of the eclipsing moon, imagined as ‘a filter-like cloth through which the eclipsed sun shines with a subdued light’, see E. G. Suhr, ‘The Daughter of the Dragon’, Folklore 80 (1969), 1–11 at 5–6.

159 The monster’s forked tongue appears comparable to the pitchfork employed by the sun-assaulting wolfish troll of Vǫluspá 40 (if my interpretation is correct) and to the various forks described in analogues thereof.

160 SnEGylf, 50–1. In Vǫluspá, however, Fenrir dies differently. There is no mention there of Víðarr tearing the wolf’s jaws apart. Instead, lætr hann megi Hveðrungs mund um standa / hjǫr til hjarta ‘with his hand [or mundum ‘hands’] he lets a sword stand at the heart of Hveðrungr’s kinsman [i.e., Fenrir]’ (55). Vafþrúðnismál 53 says that Víðarr will klyfja ‘cleave’ the wolf’s cold jaws in battle.

161 Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 29, however, identifies it as ‘a headless creature, the incarnation of all evil, slain’. Another possibility is that this design, like the ‘cloud’ comprising the upper part of the wolf-snake’s body on the west face, might symbolize the moon’s shadow during a solar eclipse; cf. Suhr, ‘Griffon’, 220–2.

162 On this figure’s relationship to Óðinn, see Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 29; T. H. Ohlgren, ‘The Pagan Iconography of Christian Ideas: Tree-Lore in Anglo-Viking England’, Mediaevistik 1 (1988), 145–73 at 154–60.

163 Since the wolf-head at the top of the east face is also attacking a cross, both this monster’s heads are effectively doing the same thing. The Christ figure may also be implicitly identified with the similarly positioned Heimdallr on the west face and the inverted Óðinn/Týr on the north face.

164 The stream of liquid shown flowing from Christ’s side above the soldier might also allude to the return of light after darkness, as Longinus (as the soldier was called in medieval tradition) was often imagined to have been blind until Christ’s blood fell upon his eyes.

165 Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 30–2 identifies her as a personification of Ecclesia (the Church) advancing to gather Christ’s blood in a chalice.

166 Cf. Luke 10:19.

167 The Gosforth Cross may also be compared with much earlier Gotlandic picture-stones which probably focus on the sun. They show paired serpents and other monsters that arguably envelope or threaten the sun, horned quadrupeds, the underworld and, in one case, the world-tree; see Andrén, Tracing, 136–9, 145, 156.

168 On the ‘hart and hound’ motif in northern sculpture, see further Berg, ‘Gosforth Cross’, 39; Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, 72, 172, 174, 220; ‘Ellerburn 05, Eastern Yorkshire’, http://www.ascorpus.ac.uk/catvol_search_results.php?id=724; ‘Stonegrave 07, Eastern Yorkshire’, http://www.ascorpus.ac.uk/catvol_search_results.php?id=867

169 Cramp, Corpus, I, part 1, 145–6; part 2, pl. 147 (774).

170 See ‘Middleton 01, Eastern Yorkshire’, http://www.ascorpus.ac.uk/catvol_search_results.php?id=800

171 See Murphy, Tree, 106–19.

172 Cramp, Corpus, I, 138; part 2, pl. 134 (726–9).

173 Bailey and Cramp, Corpus, II, 91–2, illustrations 240, 245–6.

174 Cramp, Corpus, I, part 1, 215–6; part 2, pl. 210 (1199).

175 Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture, 133–4.

176 The speaker of the probably early seventeenth-century English poem Tom o’ Bedlam’s Song declares, in stanza 6, that the moon ‘doth horne ye star of morne’ or, in a variant reading, ‘doth horn The Stars of the Morn’; R. Graves, The Crowning Privilege: Collected Essays on Poetry (New York, 1956), 221–38 at 223–4; a related poem, ‘Loving Mad Tom’, also refers to the moon’s morning ‘Horning’ (ibid., 230). Cf., in Chapter 14 below, the probably lunar Norse hunchback called Kolr who glues stars to stud(s) of horses.

177 Rev. T. Harley, Moon Lore (London, 1885), 28–9; K. Zarins, ‘Caliban’s God: The Medieval and Renaissance Man in the Moon’, in M. W. Driver and S. Ray (ed.), Shakespeare and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Performance and Adaptation of the Plays with Medieval Sources or Settings (Jefferson, 2009), 245–62 at 248.

178 Zarins, ‘Caliban’s God’, 248, 259 n. 12 argues for the translation ‘on the moon’.

179 O. F. Emerson, ‘Legends of Cain, Especially in Old and Middle English’, PMLA 21 (1906), 831–929 at 843–4. Emerson (844, 869, n. 1, 873, n. 3) attributes the dog to Jewish tradition about Cain. That Cain was sometimes associated with a dog is of interest, given the similar association of his descendants—Grendel and his mother—with wolves in Beowulf.

180 On the Man in the latter play, see Zarins, ‘Caliban’s God’.

181 R. J. Menner, ‘The Man in the Moon and Hedging’, JEGP 48 (1949), 1–14 at 3.

182 R. T. Davies (ed.), Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology (London, 1963), 71–3; see also Menner, ‘Man in the Moon’.

183 Cf. EDD s.v. nitch, sb.1: ‘The stolen bush borne by the Man in the Moon is still called the “nitch”.’

184 I return to this word in Chapter 14.

185 Suhr, ‘Maerchen’, 278 suggests the Man’s thorny sticks may be ‘a development from the flashing rays of the corona guarding the black disk of the moon’. A partial literary basis for the Man’s sticks may be Numbers 15:32–6, which tell of a man stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath (i.e., Sunday to Christians); see Zarins, ‘Caliban’s God’, 248; C. Kren, ‘The Medieval Man in the Moon’, Mediaevalia 7 (1981), 221–38 at 221, which also observes that late medieval schoolmen rarely mention the burdened-Man tradition.

186 Note also that Hubert derives from either OE Hygebeorht or OHG Hugubert, both of which mean ‘Mind/Heart-Bright’. On the Man’s identification with the magpie, see also Menner, ‘Man in the Moon’, 12–4. The Hubert-reference warrants brief examination in the context of the immediately surrounding words: Hupe forth! Hubert, hosede pie. / Ichot th’art amarscled into the mawe (37–8). The meaning of line 38 in particular has prompted debate, especially about amarscled, with a recent contributor concluding that the line’s sense is either ‘I know that you are confused to the innards’ or ‘I know that you are completely under a spell’; M. Stenroos, ‘A-marscled in “The Man in the Moon”’, N&Q 55 (2008), 400–4 at 404. In my view, the distinct possibility raised by Stenroos’s article that amarscled means ‘fascinated’, the connections Stenroos makes with Old English words associated with evil beings and the temptations of the devil, and the poet’s preceding exclamation the Del him to-drawe! ‘(may) the Devil tear him apart!’, together suggest that the poem’s climax may rather envisage Hubert in a state of fascination between the jaws of a devouring monster, perhaps especially a serpent, from which the poet urges him to ‘hop forth’; cf. M. Rissanen, ‘Colloquial and Comic Elements in The Man in the Moon’, NM 81 (1980), 42–6 which asserts on p. 46 that the translation of into the mawe as ‘to the core’ (essentially Stenroos’s approach) ‘sounds somewhat artificial’; MED s.v. maue first attests the sense ‘jaws; throat, gullet’ in the late fourteenth century, so this would be an earlier instance, but not dramatically so. A mid-nineteenth-century citation in the OED (s.v. ‘fascination’) may point to the intended idea: ‘The fascination of the serpent on the bird held her mute and frozen’. The two lines might be translated ‘Hop forth, Hubert, (you) hosed magpie! I know you’re fascinated into the maw (i.e., jaws)’; cf. the Middle English tale of Hubert the kite eaten by a fox, noted by Rissanen, ‘Colloquial’, 45, and his additional suggestion (46 n. 19) that amarscled might relate to Middle English mors(c)el ‘bite’, ‘mouthful’ or Old French morsillier ‘bite’. The image of Hubert in the jaws of a devouring monster in Mon in the mone could allude to either a waning moon or a lunar eclipse.

187 Bede, De temporum ratione, chapter 6 (PL 90, col. 318); translation from F. Wallis (trans.), Bede: The Reckoning of Time (Liverpool, 1988, corr. rpt. 2004), 25; Bede makes similar statements in chapters 50 and 64; Wallis, Bede, 132, 152. More generally on this theme, see Cashford, Moon, 163.

188 Blake, Ælfric’s De Temporibus Anni, 80 (adapted). Note also ibid., 90: heo hine atent ‘it [i.e., the sun] kindles it [i.e., the moon]’.

189 Irvine and Godden, Old English Boethius, 18.

190 Cf. the blacne leoman in Grendel’s mere (1517).

191 Cf. how the moon wyrð … bereafad ‘becomes bereaved/robbed’ of its light by clouds and darkness in Metres of Boethius (28), quoted in Chapter 14.

192 Given the context of a solar eclipse, there may be wordplay on other senses of (ge)byr(i)gan: ‘taste, eat’ and ‘bury’.