Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Nordendorf Fibulae

In 19th century Bavaria, two silver brooches (of the type used to fasten clothing) were recovered from the grave of a woman possibly of Lombardic origin. Dating to between 550 and 650 CE, each bears a scratched runic inscription which may have been added later. Whilst each impressive in its own right, interest in these items is sparked particularly by the inscription on the first, which, mentioning the names of three Gods of the South Germanic pantheon; Wodan,  Ðor and Logðer, is one of the few primary sources for students of the Germanic religion. 

The two brooches were found in the same woman’s grave, in an Alemannic cemetery of 448 row graves. Each brooch bears a scratched runic inscription, in the Common Germanic Fuþark.

The find known as the second fibula (uncovered in 1844) is more ornate and features a short, partly illegible inscription, read as *irl*ioel* that has been interpreted as birlin io elk “(little) bear and elk”, but far more important are the runes scratched into the first find (uncovered in 1843) described by Düwel (1982) as “the most important runic document of the continent”; an inscription in two parts;
  • Awa (l)eubwini
  • logaþore / wodan / wigiþonar

Runic Inscription of  the Nordendorf I Fibula

While the first part is written in a single line across most of the width of the fibula, the second part (shown above) is arranged upside-down with respect to the first, in three lines crowded into one side, with one word per line.
Awa leubwini is, presumably, a dedication; Awa being a woman’s name (affectionate pet-name of Awila), and leub-wini meaning either “dear friend” or “beloved” (compounded of leub “love” and wini “friend”), or a second personal name, thus perhaps “(a gift from) Awa and Leubwini”.  However, the third rune is unclear and may have been an “I” rather than an “a”. Similarly, the first rune in the second word is now invisible but "L" is by far the best suggestion.
The second part, apparently added to the conventional dedication, is an almost unique testimony of continental Germanic heathenism. Explicit theonyms are extremely rare in all of the runic corpus, including the later (younger futhark) “Viking” texts and this is why this little item is so exciting.


The prefix wigi- preceding the name of Þonar is interpreted either as from wīgian "to hallow" or as from wīgan "to fight" (so the thunder god is called either "holy thunder" or "fight-thunder"). From our knowledge of the Thunder God, via the admittedly much later Icelandic Eddas, either are likely. Our ancestors’ love of word-play and double-meanings is again clear, though personally I prefer ‘Hallowing Þunor’ to ‘Hammering Þunor’ as an interpretation.


In Old High German, the god’s name could be spelled Wodan, Wotan, Wuotan or Woatan, depending on regional dialect. It derives from proto-germanic Wodenaz, probably deriving from wod (meaning raging, mad, inspired) from the base wet (to blow, inspire).
Wodenaz was a very complex god, a personification of the raging power of the tempest and leader of the Wild Hunt (das Wütend Heer - "the furious host"). Throughout the Germanic world, this posse of gods, goddesses and undead warriors was believed to gallop through the skies during the most violent storms, sweeping up human victims who dared to venture outside of their homes. Woden rode in the vanguard of the host, accompanied by his loyal wælcyriges and followed by Ðunor with his terrible hammer.
During the Völkerwanderung as the Germanic tribes migrated northwards and westwards, their language evolved from Proto-Germanic to Old High German, Englisc and Norse. 'Wodan' became 'Wotan' in the German homelands, 'Óðinn' in Scandinavia and 'Woden' in England.


Perhaps the most intriguing of the three divine names : logþore has not been clearly identified by conventional academics. Clues are sparse but do exist as we dig a little below the surface.
If we look at the story of the creation in the Norse Eddas we find the story of the creation of the first Man and Woman by a triad of gods. In the Poetic Edda, they are called Óðinn, Vili and (equivalent to Woden, Wili and Wéa in Old English). In the Prose Edda they are called Óðinn, Hœnir and Lóðurr.
In Old English 'logðer' means cunning / artful. This sounds very much like the character of the Norse god Loki. Perhaps then, Logþore is the third person of the All-Father trinity. The etymological reasoning is tenuous but such is the nature of the heathen theology of Western Europe - few clues remain.

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