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Sacred Legal Places in Eddic Poetry: Reflected in Real Life?
Anne Irene Riisøy

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 5 (2013): 28–41

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A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 28 Introduction The eddic poems contain traces of the pre-Christian Scandinavian religious beliefs and they provide stories about gods and long-dead heroes. The majority of these poems, often referred to as the Poetic Edda, are preserved in the manuscript Codex Regius, where an Icelandic scribe copied them down in the 1270s. The eddic poems are notoriously difficult to date; some may have been composed ca. 1200, whereas others are considerably more ancient. Based on linguistic features and correlation with material remains, some poems may even predate the Viking Age (Fidjestøl 1999, Harris 2005, Hedeager 2011:206, Herschend 2009:21–53, Kristjánsson 1997:27–28).1 Scholarship has mainly focused on religious beliefs and practices, and it has been largely overlooked that this poetry is also replete with legal terms and stories with a judicial flavor (Schier 1986:393).2 There were clearly some connections between sacred sites and assembly (thing) sites in early Scandinavia. For instance, the assembly sites at Viborg and Ringsted in Denmark were old cult sites (Sundquist 2001:633). In this study, the eddic poems will serve as the point of departure, as I see them as an important gateway into the pre-Christian legal universe of Scandinavia, in which the sacred and the profane were but two sides of the same coin (cf. Løkka 2013 [this volume]). It will therefore be argued that at least some legal places in the real world were modelled on Norse cosmology, and inspiration is drawn from Mircea Eliade (1987:32), who concludes that the gods set an ideal standard, worthy of being repeated, when space was organized in the real world. Grimnir’s Sayings: From Ideal to Reality Glimpses of the ideal layout of legal places are found in the eddic poem Grimnir’s Sayings (Grímnismál) in which it is stated that Thor must cross several rivers every day “when he goes to sit as judge at the ash of Yggdrasil”. Thor is not alone, as the rest of the Æsir also come every day to judge, although they came on horseback and across a bridge (stanzas 29 and 30; Kuhn 1962:63, Larrington 1996:56). Snorri’s Edda, a handbook for aspiring poets written by Snorri Sturluson around 1220, contains excerpts from the Poetic Edda and also information not otherwise found in the eddic poems. The ash Yggdrasil, where the gods “sit in judgment every day” was the “chief centre or holy place” (Faulkes 1995:17, Jónsson 1900:20–21). Beneath the third root of Yggdrasil is Weird’s well (Urðarbrunnr), which was said to be “very holy” (heilagr). There the gods have their dómstað, literally translated as “place of judgment” (Faulkes 1996:17, Jónsson 1900:20–21). The Seeress’s Prophecy (Völuspá) stated that the world tree Yggdrasil grew over this well, where three norns “deep in knowledge” dwelled. The norns set down laws (þær lög lögðu) that decided the fate (örlög) of men (Bugge 1867:3–4, Larrington 1996:6). The norns are placed in the center of the cosmos where they nourish Yggdrasil and, as a manifestation of their great powers, they procured primal law (Faulkes 1996:19, Jónsson 1900:23). Stanzas 5 and 6 of Grimnir’s Sayings name some of the dwellings of the gods: Yewdale (Ýdalir), Alfheim (Álfheimr), and Valaskialf (Válasciálf). Asgaut Steinnes (1949–1951) drew attention to the fact that this combination of names is only known from Tune on the eastern side of the Oslo Fjord in Norway (Kuhn 1962:58, Larrington 1996:52).3 Steinnes (1949–1951:399) suggested that the creator of Grimnir’s Sayings named the dwellings of the gods after the farms of Tune. It seems more plausible; however, that it was the other way round, i.e., that the creation of the Tune place-names was inspired by Norse myths. Tune has been classified Sacred Legal Places in Eddic Poetry: Reflected in Real Life? Anne Irene Riisøy* Abstract - Eddic poetry constitutes an important gateway into the pre-Christian legal universe of Scandinavia. This paper presents a broader, deeper discusson of how the thing functions in the eddic poems and the legal language and motifs that are used around this concept. It is argued here that eddic poetry can provide some insight into the ideal characteristics of Norse assemblies; indeed, Norse assemblies in real time may have drawn from motifs and concepts in the eddas. Place-name and archaeological evidence is used to demonstrate that the population of Viking Age Scandinavia strived to reproduce the “ideal assembly site”, described in the poetry, in their own landscape. Debating the Thing in the North I: The Assembly Project Journal of the North Atlantic *Buskerud University College, Faculty of Teacher Education, Postbox 7053, 3007 Drammen, Norway; annir@hib u.no. 2013 Special Volume 5:28–41 A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 29 as a central place, and has therefore been ascribed importance exceeding the particular settlement, and various public functions including administrative, religious, and judicial. Within this complex, there are other interesting place-names, such as Ulleøy (“The island of Ull”) and Onsøy (“The island of Odin”), while Baldr’s son Forseti is connected with the place-name Forsetalundr (“The grove of Forseti”). At one end of the Tunevannet (“The Tune lake”), close to the pre-Christian cult site, lie Tune church and also Tingvoll (“The assembly field”) (Norseng and Stylegar 2003:323–329). The place-name Tingvoll was coined in the late 1800s, probably because the medieval assembly meetings were held at Tune (Schmidt 2007:166). Moreover, within the Tune complex several place-names connected with Thor are found, including Torsnes and Tose (from Torshov: “the hof of Thor”) and Torsbekken (“Thor’s stream”) (Norseng and Stylegar 2003:323–329). This particular stream merits attention, as it could be analogous with one of the streams/rivers mentioned in Grimnir’s Sayings, which Thor had to cross to sit as judge (Steinnes 1949–1951:399–400). During the Iron Age, the water levels were higher than today. Tune, which was surrounded by water, thus becomes a mirror of the mythological land of the gods. A stone with a runic inscription that was discovered in 1627 provides evidence of legal deliberations taking place in pre-historic Tune. The inscription, dated to the late 4th century, is a unique legal document, which testifies to an inheritance settlement, and as Terje Spurkland (2005:41) points out, it is “the oldest of its kind in the Germanic area”. A mental landscape may have been imposed on the physical landscape of Tune in the Iron Age. The inspiration may have come directly from Norse myths, or as Frans-Arne Stylegar and Per G. Norseng suggest, Gudme (literally “the home of the gods”) in Denmark may have served as the template (Norseng and Stylegar 2003:323–329). Lotte Hedeager (2011:159) has argued that Gudme itself, possibly the earliest (ca. A.D. 200 to 600) and so far the biggest central place discovered in Scandinavia, was modelled on the sacred topography of Asgard. In pre-Christian times, various natural features were considered sacred and were charged with metaphysical power, and historical events, as well as myths, were remembered and embedded in particular landscape features (Brink 2001:76–117, Fabech 2001:189–201). Trees embody life and vegetation, and in many cultures they represent the center of the world (Brink 2001:99). As mentioned above, in pre-Christian mythology, the judgement place of the gods, where the ash Yggdrasil grows, was also “the chief centre” and was surrounded by water. In order to arrive at the judgement place, where a well was situated, the gods had to wade through rivers. Comparative evidence shows that rivers could provide borders between everyday events and events that took place on a more irregular basis. As Mary Douglas (2002:198–199) has pointed out in her study of ritual purity, because water dissolves everything, it also gets rid of impurities. In my opinion, it therefore made sense to locate legal places close to water because in this way the purest form of judgement would be rendered. According to the eddic ideal, then, trees and water were important factors in the location of legal places where the gods were believed to be in charge of the legal proceedings. Before these features are further discussed, the thing (ON þing), the commonly used term for the assembly in eddic poetry, will be examined.4 The Eddic Thing—The Assembly The eddic poetry contains some advice regarding the correct behavior at the assembly, typically regarding the importance of proper conduct. For instance, according to the Sayings of the High One (Hávamál), a foolish man “finds when he comes to The Assembly that he has few to speak on his behalf” (stanza 25; Kuhn 1962:20, Larrington 1996:16), and among the legal advice given in the Lay of Sigrdrifa (Sigrdrífumál), stanza 24 warns against contending with a fool at the assembly (Kuhn 1962:192, Larrington 1996:170). The Lay of Sigrdrifa also stresses the importance of learning “speech-runes”, which come in handy at the assembly (stanza 12; Kuhn 1962:194, Larrington 1996:168). “Speech-runes”, málrúnar, could be particularly germane to the legal sphere, because ON mál not only means speech but also legal case (Storm and Hertzberg 1895:428–429). Lack of proper behavior at the assembly could even result in disgrace and a slanderous stanza: “You never came back from the Assembly—or so we heard— having prosecuted a case or crushed an adversary’s” (The Greenlandic Poem of Atli, stanza 101; Kuhn 1962:262, Larrington 1996:233). The thing was a place of paramount importance because questions that concerned the well-being of the whole community were discussed here. For example, in Thrym’s Poem (Þrymskviða) a giant steals Thor’s hammer Miollnir and demands to be given Freyia as his wife in return. When Freyia refuses, all the gods and goddesses came to the assembly to discuss “how Thor and Loki should get back the hammer”. Miollnir enables Thor to strike at whatever he wanted, and the Æsir fear that unless Thor gets A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 30 his hammer back, “The giants will be settling in Asgard”. Their solution is to dupe the giants by sending Thor and Loki, dressed as bride and bridesmaid respectively, instead of Freyia. As part of the wedding ceremony, Miollnir is placed in Thor’s lap, whereupon he laughs and starts battering the giants (stanzas 14, 18, 31; Kuhn 1962:113–115, Larrington 1996:99–101). Another famous episode associated with assemblies occurs in Baldr’s Dreams (Baldrs Draumar). Baldr dreams that his life was in peril, and the gods and goddesses became most worried and gathered at the assembly to discuss these “sinister dreams” (stanza 1; Kuhn 1962:277, Larrington 1996:243). Snorri’s Edda elaborates on this story: when Baldr’s mother Frigg heard the unsettling news, she made everyone and everything, except the seemingly insignificant mistletoe, swear oaths not to harm Baldr. Thereafter, “it became an entertainment for Baldr and the Æsir that he should stand up at assemblies and all the others should either shoot at him or strike at him or throw stones at him.” (Faulkes 1996:48–49, Jónsson 1900:56–57). This story does not have a happy ending. The mischievous god Loki soon learned that the mistletoe had not sworn Frigg’s oath, and Loki went to the assembly and helped the blind Hod to shoot with the mistletoe in the direction of Baldr. “The missile flew through him and he fell dead to the ground, and this was the unluckiest deed ever done among gods and men” (Faulkes 1996:48–49, Jónsson 1900:56–57). This story may have been in circulation long before the Viking Age. Karl Hauck argued that the Baldr myth can be used as an interpretive framework for the socalled “Bracteate of the three gods”, a motif, which is found on one type of the golden bracteates. The golden bracteates date from the mid-5th century to the late 6th century, and examples in Scandinavia have been found in the context of central places. As argued by Hauck (2002), it seems most likely that the three figures depict Odin, Baldr, and Loki. For example, a branch appears to be sticking out from the central figure, which suggests that it may depict the wounded Baldr. According to Hauck, the killing of Baldr was a sacrifice made by Baldr’s father Odin. On some bracteates, Baldr is standing on a platform, which Hauck (2002:83–86) argues could be a sacrificial altar.5 Hauck (2002:83–86) also suggested that the assemblies deserve to receive more attention in the research on central places. To what extent were important questions deliberated at major assemblies in real life, and is it possible to connect sacrifices, even of humans, to assembly procedure? Assemblies of Gods—and Assemblies of Men During the 10th and 11th centuries, the Christianization efforts of Scandinavia were at a height, and according to various written sources, the assemblies played an important part in this process. The stage was often set at the thing; here pagans connected sacrifice (ON blót) with the upkeep of law as well as the upkeep of society. The pagan religion was often referred to as forn siðr (ON), ancient custom, because religion was “done” more than “thought”. We should bear in mind that, in a society that was predominantly oral, “law” also involved “doing” because it was far easier for people to remember what they had done than to remember abstract rules. In 10th-century Norway, Hákon the Good (reigned ca. 935–960) was reputedly the first king to attempt to convert his subjects. According to Heimskringla, written by Snorri Sturluson ca. 1230, the people of Trøndelag and Romsdal in the middle of Norway wanted the matter referred to the Frostathing, the main assembly for this region. The king’s demand at the assembly that people be baptized and relinquish their pagan faith and rites, was met with heavy opposition. Before the assembly was dissolved, the king had to give in and sacrifice alongside his people, or allow another ruler to be chosen. With this king, similar events repeat themselves later on (Heimskringla, Saga of Hákon the Good, ch. 13–18; Hollander 1999:106–120). On some important points, Fagrskinna, another collection of the kings’ sagas, presents additional information not found in Heimskringla. It reports that when King Hákon held a “great assembly” at Mære, he had two options: either “sacrifice according to the custom of the earlier kings” or else be driven from his kingdom. King Hákon’s friends persuaded him to partake in the sacrifice “so that the heathen worshippers would not consider him responsible for the downfall of the law” (Finlay 2004:60–61). When a later Norwegian king, Olaf Tryggvason (995–1000), went on his missionary tour around Norway he convened assemblies, and people had to choose between baptism and being killed (see, for instance, ch. 54, 55, 56, 59). It seems that the pagans considered taking a new religion as tantamount to breaking their laws (e.g., at the meeting of the Gulathing in western Norway, ch. 56), and when the assembly met at Mære (ch. 68), the king’s opponents demanded that he “should not break the laws” and therefore he should “sacrifice as other kings have done here before” (Heimskringla, Saga of Óláf Tryggvason; Hollander 1999:196–207). Additionally, in Iceland, during the time of its conversion, sacrifice was deemed necessary for the upkeep of law (Aðalsteinsson 1998:65–68, A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 31 1999:124). A notable example of this belief is ascribed to the Icelandic althing at Þingvellir on the day before the assembly was deliberating the acceptance of Christianity. The pagans present at Þingvellir decided “to sacrifice two people from each Quarter, and called on the heathen gods not to let Christianity spread throughout the country” (The Story of the Conversion; Grønlie 2006:49, Kahle 1905:39–40). Some scholars regard stories of human sacrifices as examples of Christian legend and propaganda (e.g., Ström 1942:95). However, other scholars are of a different opinion. Hilda Ellis Davidson (1994:331–340), who drew on a number of written and archaeological sources, argued that human sacrifice was rather common in the late pagan period in northwest Europe. Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson (1999), who drew on a number of written sources referring to human sacrifice, is of the opinion that this practice goes as far back as we have knowledge of Germanic culture.6 Aðalsteinsson (1999:198) pointed out that because a human being was the highest form of sacrifice, it would most likely be used in times of great need, and for the pagans such a time had definitely arrived when they were faced with the prospect of a new religion and a new law based on Christian principles. John-Henry Clay (2010:286–287) pointed out that the advance of Christianity in 8th-century Saxony and Hessia may have provoked and intensified the pagan practice of sacrificing horses and, in southern Saxony, also sacrifices of humans.7 Hence, it may not be a coincidence that horses were mentioned as sacrifices in conversion stories from early 10th-century Norway, whereas sacrifices of humans came more into focus towards the end of the 10th and early 11th century. For instance, when the time approached for the sacrifices at Mære, King Olaf Tryggvason invited the leaders from the inner Trondheim Fjord to attend a big feast at Hlathir. The entertainment at the banquet was liberal. Early the next day when the king summoned people to the assembly he stated that he would, in fact, sacrifice. The intended sacrifice, however, turned out to be on a much grander scale than the king’s opponents had anticipated: if people refused to give up the old religion, the king would choose “not thralls or evildoers, but the noblest of men as sacrifice to the gods”. Faced with these terms, the chieftains and farmers who opposed Olaf backed out (Heimskringla, Saga of Óláf Tryggvason, ch. 67; Hollander 1999:206–207). Stories about sacrifices that took place at the assemblies are also preserved in eastern Scandinavia. Adam of Bremen, who ca. 1070 wrote the history of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, told the story of one of the feasts held in Uppsala every nine years: “… when not long ago the Christian king of the Swedes, Anund, would not offer the demons the prescribed sacrifice of the people, he is said, on being deposed, to have departed from the presences of the council …” (Tschan 2002:208). The Guta Saga: The History of the Gotlanders (written between 1220 and 1330) tells about sacrificial feasts that took place at assemblies on the island of Gotland in the Baltic: “they sacrificed (Blotaþu) their sons and daughters, and cattle, together with food and ale. … The whole island held the highest sacrifice on its own account, with human victims, otherwise each third held its own. But smaller assemblies (smeri þing) held a lesser sacrifice with cattle, food, and drink. Those involved were called ‘boiling-companions’ (suþnautar), because they all cooked their sacrificial meals together” (Peel 1999:5–6).8 The early Iron Age cooking pits at the important assembly Þjóðalyng, close to Kaupang in southeastern Norway, are probably the remains of such practice. Dagfinn Skre (2007:399) pointed out that the group solidarity was created and confirmed when the participants met to sacrifice, cook, and eat together. When sacrifices of meat, food, and alcohol took place at the assembly, the gods too were probably considered to be among the so-called “boiling-companions”, and hence people were symbolically joined with the gods and gained divine protection and insight. It may have been believed that the sacrifices drew the gods to the assembly, making respect for legal procedures and decisions more pertinent. Christine Peel (1999:xxxii) has drawn attention to one of the Viking Age picture-stones (Hammars I, originally from northeast Gotland) that may depict preparations for a human sacrifice. The Law of the Gotlanders (Guta lag) prohibits various pagan traditions, and, therefore, argued Peel (1999:xxxiii), there is reason to believe that the author of The Guta Saga was aware of them too. Moreover, the Russian Primary Chronicle mentioned the people of Kiev who sacrificed their sons and daughters to idols (Peel 1999:xxxiii). These people were frequently referred to as Rus and were most likely of Swedish origin (Duczko 2004:23, 210) Ibn Rustah, an explorer and geographer taking interest in the pagan Rus in the early 10th century, referred to a sorcerer or medicine man (atibba). This atibba could authorize sacrifices, whether of women, men, or animals. According to Ibn Rustah, a man or animal was seized, had a rope put around his neck, and hanged as a sacrifice to a god (Lunde and Stone 2012:127). Unfortunately, as regards the identity of this god we are left in the dark. According to Bo Frense (1982:170–171), A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 32 the atibba bears resemblance to the Scandinavian goði (see also Turville-Petre 1964:253). The Family Sagas (Íslendingasögur), describing events that took place in the 10th and early 11th centuries, but which were written down in the 12th and 13th centuries, depict the Icelandic goði as a religious and political leader of a district or goðorð. The goði was in charge of the opening of the assembly, and he had to sacrifice within the sacred area of the assembly (Aðalsteinsson 1998:45–50, 1999:164–165). Place-names as well as runic inscriptions show that this office had once existed all over Scandinavia (Sigurðsson 2011:89–90, Sundquist 2007). The Presence of the Gods at the Assembly The gods actively participate in judgments and discussions at assemblies in the eddic poems, and people could ensure the presence of the gods at assemblies through idols. Adam of Bremen told us about Wolfred who, in AD 1030, came from England to Sweden in order to preach the word of God to the pagans: “he proceeded to anathematize a popular idol named Thor which stood in the Thing of the pagans, and at the same time he seized a battle axe and broke the image to pieces” (Tschan 2002:97–98). It comes as no surprise then, that the pagans later killed Wolfred, and plunged his body into a swamp. When King Olaf Haraldsson tried to convert the people of Gudbrandsdalen in southern Norway in the early 11th century, the issue was deliberated at the assembly on Hundorp, the central place in this valley. In order to strengthen their case, the pagans took their god Thor out from their temple and brought him to the assembly. One of the king’s men smashed the idol to pieces, and Christianity was soon accepted. The image of Thor is described as having a hammer in his hand, and, when outside, standing on a kind of pedestal. The text goes on further, reporting that: “There is a profusion of gold and silver upon him. He receives four loaves of bread every day and also fresh meat” (Heimskringla, Saint Óláf ’s saga, ch. 112; Hollander 1999:372). Of course, feeding the idols could be a way of depicting the king’s opponents as stupid (Steinsland 2000:120). However, more than a literary construction may have been at work. According to the early 10th-century travelogue of Ibn Fadlan, the Scandinavian (Rus) merchants on the Volga asked for rich and willing customers and they brought food and drink to a tall wooden pillar with a human face that was surrounded by smaller wooden figures. Success in trade brought even more reward for the idols; they were then brought sheep or cattle as thank offerings. The heads of the sacrificed animals were hung on the wooden pillar (Birkeland 1954:20; for additional references see Andrén 2004:396, 402).9 Naming the Assembly The importance of the gods and goddeses at legal places is also in evidence in the naming of such places. The most notable example is the famous Dísaþing that was held in Uppsala in central Sweden and which is connected with the sacrifices called the dísablót that was celebrated in pre-Christian times (Nordberg 2006:153-157). The dísir could refer to goddesses but also to protective spirits and women (Bek-Pedersen 2011:41–48, Gunnell 2000, Näsström 1998:145–156). The Law of Uppland briefly alluded to this assembly in terms like Dísaþing and the disæþings friþær, meaning the protection and peace at the Dísaþing and also disæþings dagh, meaning the day of the Dísaþing (Schlyter 1834:309, 1877:119). The connection between dísir and places of legal and cultic activities were probably more widespread. In Östergötland in Sweden, there is a concentration of dísir place-names, for instance Disevid, from an earlier Disavi (Ström 1985:192). The meaning of the second element ON vé could overlap with ON þing (see below). In Norway, Disahørg refers to an openair sacrificial altar (ON hörgr), which in this case has been dedicated to the dísir (Simek 1993:62). Clay suggests that the dísir had a similar ritual role among the Saxons, and that Desenberg, in 1070 referred to as Tesenberg by the chronicler Lampert of Hersfeld, was a meeting place associated with this class of supernatural females (Clay 2010:318; Holder-Egger 1894:115). Further, the first OHG Merseburg charm, written in the 9th or early 10th century, also mentions the dísir (Clay 2010:285). Specific gods too may have given names to assemblies or larger areas that were important for legal activities. Njarðarlǫ g (the name of an island in southwest Norway) probably means “the law of the god Niord as well as the district in which this law applied” (Brink 2001:94, 2002:99–100; Olsen 1938:63–85).10 On the island, there are traces of standing stones and burial mounds, and place-names like Tingsåkeren (“The assembly field”), Vevatnet (“The blessed lake), Godøy (meaning the island where the goði lived), Lunde (“Sacred grove”), and Tysnes (“The peninsula of the god Tyr”). This island continued to have legal importance during the Middle Ages. The guild of St. Olav “Onarheimsgildet” was also based here (Heggland 1964:87–169; Olsen 1938:63–85). Snorri mentioned Thórth from Njartharlog as one of the crewmembers on Olaf A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 33 Ruth Schmidt-Wiegand (1981:13–14) pointed out that some of the leges barbarorum (“Laws of the Barbarians”) dating to between the 5th and 9th centuries prescribed that the assembly should be surrounded by hazel poles, perhaps to ward off evil spirits. Karl Weinhold (1901:4) has shown that in Germanic folk beliefs the idea that hazel could protect from evil lingered on well into the 1700s. As regards the connection between hazel and activities that may have been both “sacred” and “legal”, the sacrificial bog at Dorla in Thüringen is interesting, as it contained numerous intriguing finds dating to a period that stretches over more than one and a half millennia (ca. 500 B.C.–A.D. 1100). From the Migration Period, several circular enclosures of hazel sticks were found, and within these, there were finds interpreted as altars and anthropomorphic figures of wood. Various objects were sacrificed: there were bones of horses, cows, humans, and also a boat, weapons, and utensils (Behm-Blancke 2003:111,117,161). It seems that this bog had become a huge, sacral place of super-regional importance by the Migration Period, and that an assembly was also part of this complex (Behm-Blancke 2003:255). Wet, Wet, Wet As noted in the introduction, the gods had to wade through water or cross a bridge to come to their judgement place, suggesting a landscape much like that of Tune in Østfold. The most important assembly in Iron Age Gotland also fits this description. An assembly and cult site was situated in the center of Gotland, and it was surrounded by wetlands and open water. Hence, Nanouschka Myrberg (2009:113) called it “an island in the middle of an island”.12 Myrberg pointed out that this location resembles known assemblies in Viking Age Iceland where thing sites were placed close to water. Þingvellir is situated east of the Øxará (literally “the axe-river”), and Iceland’s biggest lake, the Þingvallavatn, is also located in this area. Frequently, other Icelandic assembly place-names contain unequivocal references to the wet element: islands (compounds of ey and eyrar), but also nes and mula (see map in Byock 2001:172–173). Regarding nes (a headland projecting into a lake or into the sea, a promontory), a notable example is Kjalarnes, possibly the first assembly in Iceland (Ólafsson 1987). The Icelandic mula-name brings to mind two important assemblies in mainland Scandinavia, which deserve further comment. Mære in Trøndelag in Norway has already been mentioned. In pre-historic times, the big stretches Tryggvason’s ship The Long Serpent, and in 1165 an assembly was held on this island (Heimskringla, Saga of Óláf Tryggvason and Saga of Magnús Erlingsson; Hollander 1999:227, 809). Further, the god Ull was clearly connected to places where cultic and legal activities took place. Ull is barely mentioned in written sources; however, place-name evidence suggests that he had a far more prominent role in the Nordic pantheon before the Viking Age (Brink 2007:116–118, Olsen 1926:120). Ullevi (“place that is sacred to Ull”), is most frequently found in the provinces around Lake Mälaren in central Sweden, and this place-name also shows that Ull was connected to a vé—a term that is often translated as “sanctuary”, but which occasionally overlaps with thing. In Norwegian medieval law, vébönd (which literally means “holy bands”) enclosed the judges at the assemblies (Storm and Hertzberg 1895:695), and this practice is also described in Egil’s Saga, where the court at the Gulathing assembly was “marked out by hazel poles with a rope around them” in the early 930s (Hreinsson [vol. I] 1997:105). Recently, an archaeological investigation at Lilla Ullevi in Bro, Uppland, Sweden, uncovered the location of a cult site measuring some 2000 m2, dating from ca. A.D. 550–800. In the east and northeast, a demarcation (consisting of stones and postholes) is evidenced, and it seems plausible to interpret this as a “sacred demarcation” (Bäck et al. 2008). It is noteworthy that 65 amulet rings of various sizes have been discovered at this site, and it does not seem too far-fetched to connect these rings to Ull. After all, according to The Lay of Atli (Atlakviða), oaths were sworn and pledged “by Ull’s ring” (Stanza 30; Kuhn 1962:245, Larrington 196:214). Ull’s legal functions may have extended beyond oath swearing, because, according Snorri’s Edda, Ull “… is a good one to pray to in single combat (einvígi)” (Faulkes 1995:26, Jónsson 1900:31). A further comment on the vébönd is required. The holy bands at the Gulathing assembly were fastened on hazel poles (Egil’s Saga; Hreinsson [Vol. I] 1997:105), and we are told that the duelling ground should be “hazeled” when people fought hólmgangr. Hólmgangr was a fight with legal consequences, often concerning rights to property or women. The prose text inserted between stanzas 34 and 35 in the Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson (Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar) used the expression voll haslaþan (“staked out the duelling-ground”) (Bugge 1867:177, Larrington 1996:130). The custom of demarcating legal places with hazel may have been rather widespread among the Germanic peoples.11 A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 34 liest settlement of Jämtland may have pre-dated the Viking Age, and the settlers originated from the Norwegian area of Trøndelag (Woolf 2007). According to a letter sent by six priests to the archbishop in 1350, there was an assembly before churches were built at Bynäset on Frösön. This reference suggests the existence of an assembly during the Viking Age (Oscarsson 2010). When the church of Frösön was rebuilt in 1984, an archaeological excavation was undertaken, and under the floor a birch stump turned up. Bones of various animals surrounded the birch stump: bears, horses, elks, sheep, and squirrels, amongst others. As regards the type of sacred trees, climatic conditions may have been decisive. It makes perfect sense that a birch was considered holy at the Jamtamót; neither the ash nor the hazel nor the oak would find favorable conditions as far north as Jämtland. A closer investigation of the bones at Frösön indicated that various animals had been sacrificed and were not placed there as refuse (Hildebrandt 1989, Iregren 1989, Näsström 2001:101). Margareta Hildebrandt (1989:165) and Britt-Mari Näsström (2001:101) suggest that the animals had in fact been hanging from the tree. Adam of Bremen’s descriptions of sacrifices of animals and men in Uppsala, where the heads are offered and the bodies were hung from trees (Tschan 2002:208) probably reflects a historical reality.14 In a sacrificial context, heads and bodies may have been treated differently. At Borg, a chieftain’s farmstead in Östergötland in Sweden, where ritual activities were conducted from the later part of the 7th century until ca. A.D. 1000, many kilograms of bones were found. Analyses have shown an unusually large proportion of skulls and jawbones in relation to other bones (Nielsen 2006:243–245). In Iceland, the great hall at Hofstaðir was dismantled ca. A.D. 1000. Here was uncovered a pit deposit which contained the smashed remains of nine cattle skulls and one sheep skull. The skulls were probably displayed for some time outside the hall before they were collected in the pit (Lucas and McGovern 2007:7–30, McGovern 2002). The finds at Frösön were dated to ca. 920–1060, and the birch stump probably functioned as a sacrificial tree, especially, as Britt-Mari Näsström pointed out, “as the altar of the medieval church was placed just above it. In this way, the old cosmos was replaced by a new Christian cosmos” (Näsström 2001:102). It seems that sacred trees came under attack during the conversion of the various Germanic peoples. For instance, when the Viking settlement in Dublin was sacked in the late 900s, the Christian King of Munster, Brian, also burned the grove of the chieftain Tomair (possibly the ON name Þórr). This grove consisted of hazel trees, and it was thought of cultivated land which today surround Mære were marshes, and the place-name Mære (probably similar to modern Norwegian myr) means bog (Røskaft 2003:139–143). Underneath Mære church were found the remains of a cultic building and also gold-foil figures (guldgubbar) dating to ca. A.D. 550–800 (Lidén 1969). Mære too has several “sacred” names in the vicinity; for instance, a meadow was called Helgin or Helgvin (“the sacred meadow”) and Jørn Sandnes (1969) revealed that the name Óðinssalr once existed in the area. Hauck (1992) pointed out that bracteates of gold were discovered in the vicinity of Mære, and he draws attention to other Odin- place-names connected with sites in southern Scandinavia where bracteates have also been found, for example Odense. These may be old central and sacral places dedicated to Odin (Hauck 1992:255–259; cf. also Fabech 1994:137). The Swedish Mora assembly, southeast of Uppsala, bears a similar name, and mor probably means swampy or marshy. This assembly is situated strategically on the border between Tiundaland and Attundaland and is mentioned in the Law of Södermanland 1327 (Schlyter 1838:47, footnote 7, a morum). An episode dated to 1018 in Snorri’s Heimskringla stated that the ancestors of the Swedes drowned five kings who had shown “lawlessness” and refused to take advice from the assembly in a well “at the Múlathing” (Hollander 1999:321; for details see Sundquist 2002:183–184, 308–309). Another place of legal significance is the islet or hólmr, where single combat was fought. In Snorri’s Edda, there are several hólmr terms denoting duel (see, for instance, Faulkes 1996:78, Jónsson 1900:86), and in stanza 33 in the Poem of Helgi Hiorvardsson, occurs the alternative expression stefnt til eyrar, literally “challenged to an island duel” (Bugge 1867:176–177, Larrington 1996:129). Oren Falk (2004:101) has found that although hólmgangr literally means “going to the islet”, episodes in the sagas show that the island can sometimes be metaphorical. I think this also shows the importance of attaching this legal procedure to a place, surrounded by water, even if only metaphorically.13 Under the Tree Trees that were important in a “sacred” legal context are difficult to trace; however, this situation changed for the better in the mid-1980s in Sweden. Jamtamót, the assembly of the people of the province of Jämtland, Sweden (in Scandinavia mót may be synonymous with þing), which was held on the island of Frösön (Freyr’s island), merits attention. The earA. I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 35 necessary to destroy the grove in order to eradicate paganism (Steenstrup 1878:359–362, Weinhold 1901:2–3). The destruction of sacred groves, trees, and representations of trees like the famous Irminsul, was likewise a well-known tactic used by Charlemagne in his harsh efforts to convert the Saxons in the 8th century. In Saxony and Hessia, it also happened that Christian chapels and churches were erected where pre-Christian holy trees or groves stood before (Clay 2010:341–349). Indoors Judicial activity was not only undertaken outside. Stanza 15 of Grimnir’s Sayings states that Forseti, whose name literally means “chairman at the Thing” (Simek 1993:89), spends most of his days in Glitnir, his hall, where he svæfir allar sakir (“puts to sleep all quarrels”) (Kuhn 1962:60, Larrington 1996:54). Stylegar and Norseng pointed out that at Tingvoll in Tune were recovered the remains of a house of 17 x 7–8 m dating from ca. A.D. 500, and comparisons with similar buildings at central places in southern Scandinavia suggest that this may be a cultic building (Norseng and Stylegar 2003:323– 329). Such buildings may also have served as a place of assembly for the leading strata in the community (Herschend 1998).15 For most of the first millennium, Uppåkra in southern Sweden was a center of religious and political power, and a building of this type has been found there. The tall, timbered house, which measured 13.5 x 6 m, had high seats, probably including a high seat dedicated to a woman that is marked by a deposit consisting of a bronze beaker and a glass bowl. These were objects in drinking ceremonies and social activities involving the lady of the house (Rosengren 2007–2008:20–21). Such activities may be reflected in Snorri’s Edda, which relates an episode that took place when the Æsir sat drinking in a hall, the “… twelve Æsir who were to be judges (dómendr) took their places in their thrones (hásæti)”, and similarly the Asynior (Faulkes 1996:59, Jónsson 1900:68). The information that the gods and goddesses took their places suggests rest and order, and it marked the occasion as solemn (on the significance of sitting down on such occasions, see Bauschatz 1978). Legal Places and Special Protection The final topic for discussion is the hallowing of legal places, and the following statement from Snorri´s Edda will serve as a point of departure: when Baldr was killed, it was impossible to take vengeance because the assembly was a mikill griða-staðr (“a place of such sanctuary”) (Faulkes 1996:48–49, Jónsson 1900:57). What exactly did griða-staðr imply? The second element staðr means “place”, and grið often refers to a limited period of peace and security granted to a law-breaker to enable him to put his affairs in order, or to peace and security that was enforced at certain times and in certain places, such as at an assembly (Schlyter 1877:239– 240, Storm and Hertzberg 1895:248–249). A griðastaðr seemed to have offered special protection to someone whom otherwise would have been killed. In Snorri’s Edda, a similar notion is expressed in a story involving the wolf Fenrir. Fenrir is associated with various tales, including that of Ragnarok, the downfall of the gods (Simek 1993:80–81). The gods made Fenrir follow them to the island (hólm) called Lyngvi. Fenrir was tricked and finally tied up, but it appears that, although he would cause great trouble in the future he was not killed, because “so greatly did the gods respect their holy places and places of sanctuary (vé sín ok griða-staði) that they did not want to defile them with the wolf’s blood …” (Faulkes 1996:28–29, Jónsson 1900:34–35). In this case, the reference to the vé and griða-staði of the gods may be to the above-mentioned hólm where Fenrir was taken. As pointed out above, an islet (hólm) could serve as a place for assembly and as a place where single combat was fought. Also halls could enjoy protection; when the gods and goddesses sat drinking inside Ægir’s hall, the prose introduction to Loki’s Quarrel (Lokasenna) points out that this too was a griðastaðr mikill (Bugge 1867:114, Larrington 1996:84). The compound griða-staðr is very rare; however, it also appears in The Story of Frithiof the Bold (Friðþjófs saga hins frækna). The action in this legendary saga principally takes place in western Norway in the 8th century, but the oldest version of this saga, is probably from the late 13th century (Lindow 1997:132). This story mentions the site Baldrshagi. At Baldrshagi, a pagan temple surrounded by a fence was the scene of sacrifices and was also described as a griðastaðr (Jónsson 1954– 1959:80–81). According to John Lindow (1997), it is not possible to connect genuine worship with Baldr; additionally, fairy tale influences on the story are obvious, and the composition is relatively late. Therefore the description of Baldrshagi as a griðastaðr can be explained as the influence of Snorri Sturlusson on the author of The Story of Frithiof the Bold, and, according to Lindow (1997:132–133), the story was also was informed by the Christian concept of asylum. However, place-names in the British Isles, possibly inspired from Scandinavian usage, indicate A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 36 ment place. The bridge Bifrost is also called Asbridge, Ásbrú (Jónsson 1900:21, Faulkes 1996:17) which clearly bears semblance to the Frisian Eeswey (“the way of the Æsir”), which is the route the Frisian Foerspreken had to take in order to reach their brunna, the spring, which revealed law (Schwartz 1973:23). Of course, this Frisian spring is itself an interesting parallel to Weird’s well, where the Norse gods have their “place of judgment” and where the norns, who brought law, dwelled (for further discussion of Frisia, see Iversen 2013 [this volume]). Based on a vide variety of sources (i.e., legal texts, homilies, penitentials, saint’s lives, and sagas), Daniela Fruscione (2003) has shown that among the pre-Christian Germanic peoples there existed a well-developed notion that certain places offered legal and sacred protection. Such places often included “natural” elements (trees, groves, and wells), many of which were often demarcated, and some buildings enjoyed similar protection. In fact, the concept of asylum among the Germanic tribes was probably very important in the later development of a body of law related to crime (Fruscione 2003). It seems that the special protection granted by legal places in eddic poetry, reflected in terms like grið and heilagr, also existed in pre-historic Scandinavia. It seems that the special protection granted by legal places in eddic poetry, reflected in terms like grið and heilagr, also existed in pre-historic Scandinavia. Conclusion My main argument is that at least some important legal places in the real world were modelled on Norse cosmology. This claim is supported through the location of such places and by place-name evidence. In the eddic poems, the assembly seems to have been the most important legal place, and in the real world too, the assembly was a place of paramount importance. Gods and goddesses were connected with rendering judgement at legal places, and through statues, they made their presence felt also in this world. Sacrifices, too, attracted the gods to the assemblies, and people sacrificed because they wanted favors from their gods. Judicial activity was also undertaken indoors. The legal places, whether mythical or real, also enjoyed a special protection, and they offered protection to people who took sanctuary there, which is reflected in terms like grið and heilagr. Acknowledgments I would like to express my gratitude first to the reviewers, and also to members of the The Assembly Project, in that an assembly may also be called a griða-staðr. The term grið probably entered Anglo-Saxon legal usage with the Vikings (Fruscione 2003:176–179). It is possible that the place-name le Gremothalland in Cheshire, Wirral Hundred, contains this element (OE *grið- (ge) mót or ON *griða-mót) in the meaning of assembly (Dodgson 1972:256). Also Grista, 750 m north of the Law Ting Holm, “assembly islet” in Shetland, is derived from griðastaðr, so in this case two legal places were placed in the vicinity of each other (Sanmark 2013 [this volume]). Another descriptive term that is connected with legal places is heilagr, inviolable.1 The ash Yggdrasil, where the gods “sit in judgment every day” is described as the “chief centre or holy place” (Jónsson 1900:20–21; Faulkes 1996:17). Also some islands, being surrounded by water, may also have been “holy” legal places. The Helgö (a compound of “holy” and “island”) names, in Norway and Sweden, merit attention, because these may have been connected with pre-Christian cult and legal activities. For instance Helgö, Uppland in central Sweden included a protected place for trade and possibly also legal activities (see also Calissendorff 1994:51–53). As Stefan Brink (2001:94) put it, with the presence of the name element heilagr, “some of these islands may be understood as places where the gods were supposed to dwell or where one could get into closer contact with the gods.” As regards “holy” islands in Scandinavia there is a noteworthy similarity with Heiligland, literally the “holy island”, which is situated between Denmark, Friesland, and Saxony. According to Adam of Bremen, the Frisian god Fosite dwelled on this island, which was also called Fosetisland (Tschan 2002:189, 193). As noted above, the Norse god Forseti is explicitly described as a god who rendered judgment, and he is identified with the Frisian god Fosite (Schmidt-Wiegand 1994:254). Heiligland (Fosetisland) was a stronghold of Frisian pagan resistance, which had sacred natural features. The shrine of Fosite was held in such reverence that all animals and objects were inviolable, and judicial decisions were announced at a sacred well (Schwartz 1973). Stephen P. Schwartz (1973) draws attention to the Frisian legend Van da tweer Koningen Kaerl ende Radbod, which deals with the origin of Frisian law. Radbod was a Frisian king who died in 719, and Kaerl was probably the Carolingian king Charles Martel. In this story, there were twelve Foerspreken (literally “first speakers” which was synonymous with “law-speakers”; Schwartz 1973:7) who sat around a spring and learned law. 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A.D. 700 (Kristjánsson 1997:27–28) or perhaps even ca. A.D. 600 (Herschend 2009:21–53). According to Jónas Kristjánsson (1997:28), it is a matter of opinion whether archaic elements in the poems may be going back to the Migration Period. Various material remains have also been used as dating criteria for the eddic poems. For instance, the iconographies on some of the gold bracteates reflect scenes recognizable from the eddic poems; a well-know example is the god Tyr losing his hand in the mouth of the wolf Fenrir (the bracteate in question was found in Trollhättan in Sweden; see Hedeager 2011:206). 2There are a number of specialized articles on eddic poetry in the Reallexikon der Germanischen Atlertumskunde, and Edda und Recht, Edda und Medizin (Schier 1986:393) refers to only three articles with a legal theme. 3E.g., Yewdale (ON Ýdalir), where Ull dwells, may refer to the farm Yven or Yvin, an element possibly derived from the yew-tree. This explanation is plausible, the evergreen yew-tree was used to make bows, and Gylfaginning in Snorri’s Edda informs us that Ull was a good archer (Faukes 1995:26, Jónsson 1900:31). 4In Scandinavia, assemblies called thing were probably in existence long before the migration into Iceland commenced in about 870, and in Iceland, the early establishment of assemblies is well attested (Ólafsson 1987). The establishment of thing sites, which followed in the wake of the Viking settlements in the British Isles, are documented, e.g., through place-name evidence. Gillian Fellows- Jensen discussed, e.g., Tingwall, Shetland, Thingwala, Yorkshire, Thingwall, Lancashire, and Tynwald Hill, The Isle of Man (Fellows-Jensen 1993:53–58, Sanmark 2013 [this volume]). David H. Green (1998:34–37) has discussed the term þing in a Germanic context (see also Dilcher 2006:419–458). Simek, R. 1993. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, UK. 424 pp. Skre, D. 2007. 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Uppsala Universitet, Uppsala, Sweden. 420 pp. Sundquist, O. 2007. Kultledare i fornskandinavisk religion. Occasional papers in Archaeology, 41, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. 272 pp. Tschan, F.J. (Ed. and Tr.). 2002. History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, Columbia University Press, New York, NY, USA. 257 pp. Turville-Petre, G. 1964. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, London, UK. 340 pp. Vikstrand, P. 2001. Gudarnas platser. Förkristna sakrala ortnamn i Mälarlandskapen. Gustav Adolfs akademien, Uppsala, Sweden. 482 pp. von See, K. 1964. Altnordische Rechtswörter: Philologische Studien zur Rechtsauffassung und Rechtsgesinnung der Germanen (Hermaea, N.F. 16). Max Niemeyer, Tübingen, Germany. 263 pp. A.I. Riisøy 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 41 5One alternative interpretation of the death of Baldr is that it is analogous to the initiation of a young warrior, a ritual that presupposed a ritual death (Wiker 2008:509–525). 6E.g., the Roman politician and historian Tacitus who wrote Germania in the late 1st century A.D. mentioned the Semnonis, a Germanic tribe who sacrificed humans in their holy grove (Iversen 2013 [this volume]; Rives 2002:93, 80, 158–159). 7For example, Clay (2010:286–287) referred to the missionary Boniface, who in 732 decreed harsh punishment for those Christians who across borderlands sold slaves (baptized Christians in particular were acquired) destined for human sacrifice, and to a Saxon Capitulary of 782 that mentioned human sacrifice. 8As far as even older linguistic similarities go, Gothic sáuþs, a term that in particular appears in conjunction with alabrunsts (“burnt offering”), suggests an animal sacrifice (Green 1998:23). According to stanza 15 of Hymir’s Poem (Hymiskviða), three oxen were brought to the cooking-pit to be “boiled up” (á seyði), and in stanza 39, a huge kettle in which to brew beer was brought to the assembly of the gods (Kuhn 1962:90, 95; Larrington 1996:80, 83). Based on his results, from analyzing human bones, Terje Oestigaard argued that the passage from the Guta Saga reflects an ancient cultic practice. Considering the size of some of the cooking pits from Iron Age Scandinavia, humans may have been prepared here (Oestigaard 2000:53). 9Elaborating on the assembly Þjóðalyng in Vestfold Dagfinn, Skre (2007) referred to a report written by Niels Seierløv Stepahnsen who was parish priest of Tjølling in the early 1800s. It would appear that close to the assembly site there were remains “of a human figure formed on the level surface of boulders”, boulders that unfortunately probably found their way into the walled cellar of the vicar’s new house. Skre (2007:398) pointed out that anthropomorphic stone monuments from the early Iron Age are quite unknown. This figure may have been representing a god or goddess connected with the assembly. Although not explicitly placed at the assembly, stories from the continental Germans, often transmitted in saints’ lives and in various prohibitions, evidence the existence of pagan idols (Flint 1991:204–213, Fuglesang 2004:17). In fact, one important reason behind the creation of Christian statues of saints, a practice, which seems to have arisen in the Carolingian north, may have been in an attempt to eradicate remains of pagan “idolatry”. According to Signe Horn Fuglesang (2004:27), this attempt was met with success because the saint “could cure and succor the worshippers in the same manner as the pagan powers had done”. 10Brink (2001:100) pointed out that the second element in Njarðarlög may have a different meaning, either ON laug f. (lake) or *lókr (“calm, shallow water”), which may denote sacred lakes. It should be noted that in Norway lög also denoted “a geographical-judicial area” where this law applied (von See 1964:191–193). 11One of the most quoted runic inscription in legal studies, the Oklunda (“The Oak-grove”) inscription from Östergötland in Sweden, which may date to the first half of the 9th century, also connected a vé with legal affairs. The relevant lines assert that “Gunnarr cut these runes: And he fled under penalty, sought this sanctuary (vi)” (Jesch 1998:66, Springer 1970:43). 12In the same central place, for example, gold bracteates and several golden rings, mostly belonging to the period ca. 400–550 AD, were found. 13Some would dismiss the existence of this procedure, and hólmgangr-episodes are thus explained as an invention of the 13th-century saga authors who felt the need to characterize the pre-Christian area as a period besotted by battles and strife (Helle 2001:28, Koht 1938:63–64). However, Norwegian medieval laws show traces of this procedure; with an expression like stefnir hanom a hólm (“summon someone to an islet”), in the Older Law of the Gulathing, § 216, (Keyser and Munch 1846:74). 14Sacred trees that received offerings are mentioned in other written sources too. For details, see Sundquist (2002:182–183). 15Frands Herschend (1998) argued that at one and the same time the hall functioned as an assembly hall and cult hall. In other words, the hall was a place that united the functions of politics, religion, and law. 16Per Vikstrand (2001:226–252) pointed out that in Germanic there are at least two terms for holy *wîhaz and *hailagaz, and that the different meanings between these terms are still not satisfactorily explained. Vikstrand suggested a distinction between a spatial and more abstract meaning, as e.g., seen in vés heilags, where helagher describes the place vé. Vikstrand also suggested that there may have been a development over time; when vé died out in Scandinavian languages, it became possible to use (OSw) helagher also of sacred sites.