Friday, June 20, 2014

Brisingamen, the necklace of Freya

Freya and Brisingamen sketch based on image in Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire's Norse Gods and Giants

Now is a particularly good time of year to go out after dark and enjoy the spectacular constellations visible along the zodiac band in the hours after nightfall and leading up to midnight (and the next week and a half will be particularly excellent, as the moon is waning and rising later and later in the night -- that is, closer and closer to sunrise -- as the sun prepares to "overtake" the moon and give us another new moon on June 28th, after which there will still be a few nights of good star-gazing while the moon sets relatively soon behind the sun).

High in the center of the sky you can locate the constellation Virgo, one of the most important constellations in the sky, and one who plays numerous roles in the ancient mythologies of the world, as demonstrated in the previous series of posts which presented some of the connections between the mythical stories of cultures as widely diffuse as those of ancient Japan, of the Indians of North America, and of the Norsemen of Scandinavia.

Virgo is easy to spot if you can locate her brightest star Spica, which Corvus the Crow is constantly staring at as described in this previous post, and her directly outstretched arm which is very prominent and which is described in this previous post.

Above her (all relative positions described from the perspective of a viewer in the northern hemisphere; please adjust for your own latitude on our planet) you can now easily make out the stars of Bootes the Herdsman, featuring the brilliant red-orange star Arcturus. A commonly-cited memory aid for locating both Arcturus and Spica tells us to follow the sweep of the handle of the Big Dipper and draw an "arc" to Arcturus, and then to continue along the same general direction and draw a "spike" to Spica. This method works quite well, especially as the well-known constellation of the Big Dipper is now high in the sky for observers in the northern hemisphere.

Another aid to locating Bootes which always helps me to find him is the fact that his long pipe reaches very nearly to the tip of the handle of the Dipper. Once you locate the Dipper's handle, you can trace the Herdsman's pipe back to his large (but faint) head, and then continue to trace out the rest of the constellation.  Both Virgo and Bootes are depicted in the star chart below, which is now familiar to readers of the three articles linked above which make the case that all the myths discussed utilize a common system of celestial metaphor, one that connects virtually all the world's ancient sacred traditions no matter how widely dispersed across the globe (including those in the Old and New Testaments).

If the night is dark and Bootes is high in the sky, you can clearly make out the beautiful semicircle of stars known as the Corona Borealis, or Northern Crown, which can be seen in the diagram above just to the left of the Herdsman's head, and which is labeled "Crown." It really is very close to the outline of the head of Bootes, and the best way to locate it is to look right at his head and it will be seen to be almost touching him. The diagram in the previously-linked post on Arcturus shows both Bootes and the Crown, and labels the brightest star in the Crown, which is known as Gemma or Alphekka or Gnosia.

We have seen from the examination of the mythology of ancient Japan that the Northern Crown was described in the Kojiki as an "augustly complete string of jewels eight feet long," which should give us a clue that another marvelous string of jewels belonging to a beautiful goddess may also be connected to this semicircle of stars next to Bootes and above Virgo: the dazzling fire-gold necklace of Freya, the Norse love-goddess.

Freya's necklace is called the Brisingamen, and it is featured in the Norse poetic Edda in the section known as the Thrymskvitha (or "Lay of Thrym"), which can be found beginning on page 173 of this online version of the poetic Edda. The Brisingamen is also featured in the prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, particularly in the section known as the Skaldskaparmal, in which the theft of the necklace by Loki is alluded to although not described at length.

Other early Norse poetic compositions outside of the Eddas describe the theft of the Brisingamen by Loki with more detail, saying that Loki (who is a master of shape-shifting) turned himself into a fly in order to steal into Freya's bedchamber while she slept, buzzing around her face until she batted at him with the hand which even in sleep rested upon the clasp of her precious necklace. The moment she did this, Loki transformed in a flash into his normal self and stole the necklace. Snorri also refers to the theft of the necklace, citing passages from other poets which refer to the theft as well, showing that the episode was well-known by his day and probably much earlier.

If any doubt remained about the identification of Loki with Bootes in the episode of Skadi's laughter described in that post on the mythology of ancient Japan, the fact that Loki is described as the thief of the Brisingamen from the sleeping goddess and the fact that the starry necklace in the celestial realm is located not on Virgo where it belongs but next to Bootes who hovers over Virgo's recumbent form should "put those doubts to bed" once and for all (so to speak).  

Additional evidence comes from the fact that Snorri mentions that it was Heimdal who challenged Loki over the suspected theft, and who fought Loki for the necklace and eventually beat Loki and returned the necklace to Freya.  The authors of Hamlet's Mill present extensive evidence that Heimdal, the "son of nine mothers" and the one who, Snorri tells us, is also referred to by the name Vindler (which the authors of Hamlet's Mill tell us is associated with turning, or a turning handle).  The authors of Hamlet's Mill argue that these clues tell us that Heimdal is associated with the "handle" that turns the entire night sky around the central pole -- and that he is in fact associated with the entire "equinoctial colure," which stretches from Ares to Virgo through the north celestial pole (and around from Virgo to Ares through the south celestial pole as well, although this half of the colure is less appropriate to this discussion about the northern constellation Bootes and the northern myth of Loki).

Based upon their arguments, if Heimdal is associated with the handle of the Dipper and the north celestial pole, we can surmise that it is only natural that Norse myth might describe him as the arch-rival of Loki, if Loki is associated with the nearby constellation of Bootes the Herdsman, who appears to be tied to the handle of the Big Dipper. For discussion of those characteristics of Heimdal, see this previous post.

The fact that Virgo's arm is raised as if in the act of "swatting away" the thief of her necklace should be even further proof that this set of constellations furnished the material for this particular episode from Norse myth.

Any doubts which still remain regarding the identification of Loki the thief who steals from the goddess her most precious possession with the constellation Bootes above Virgo can be laid to rest by noting another nearby asterism seen in the star chart above, located just above the head of Virgo and to the right of the figure of Bootes the Herdsman, the constellation known as Coma Berenices or Berenice's Hair (and marked as such on the diagram). In his outstanding book The Stars: A New Way to See Them, author H.A. Rey says of Berenice's Hair:
Small and very faint. Contains a group of dim stars, visible only on clear, moonless nights when the constellation is high up [like, right now].  36.
He goes on to explain that:
The constellation owes its name to a theft: Berenice was an Egyptian queen (3rd century BC) who sacrificed her hair to thank Venus for a victory her husband had won in a war.  The hair was stolen from the temple but the priests in charge convinced the disconsolate queen that Zeus himself had taken the locks and put them in the sky as a constellation.
This story as related by H.A. Rey almost certainly has it backwards: the story of the queen who sacrificed her hair to the goddess Venus is most likely a legend inspired by the constellations Virgo and Coma Berenices (and not an original event that happened on earth and which later inspired the naming of constellations in the sky).

Those familiar with the Norse myths will immediately be reminded of yet another theft by Loki of the treasured possession of a beautiful goddess: this time, the theft of the golden-red hair of Sif, the wife of the thunder-god Thor. The myth of the theft of Sif's hair by Loki is clearly a dramatization of these three constellations: the disembodied hair of Coma Berenices, floating above Virgo and just next to Bootes.  In all of this, it can be seen that our identification of Loki with Bootes has ample reinforcement.

This analysis provides further support for my assertion regarding the identity of Loki and Skadi in the episode of the laughter of Skadi (Loki is again Bootes, and the beautiful Skadi is Virgo, who takes on the female role in a great many of the world's myths). It also further supports  the connections we saw, discussed in the post entitled "The celestial shamanic connection: Ancient Japan," between the Norse myth related in the Eddas in which the gods must make the beautiful jotun maiden Skadi laugh, and the Japanese myth related in the Kojiki that brings laughter to the assembled gods when the goddess Amaterasu hides herself in a cave. In the Japanese myth, it is the sexually explicit dance of the goddess Uzume which brings the laughter, and in the Norse myth it is the equally graphic antics of Loki which finally bring laughter to Skadi.

In the discussion, I make the argument that both of these myths clearly involve the constellation Virgo the Virgin and and the surrounding constellations in that region of the sky, and that in the Norse myth Skadi plays the role of Virgo and that Loki is Bootes the Herdsman -- a correlation I have not seen explicitly put forward anywhere else before (although the authors of Hamlet's Mill were clearly aware of some relation between the myth of Skadi and the myth of Uzume and Amaterasu, they never tell us directly that the connection specifically involves Virgo and Bootes, or trace out the connections between these myths and those stars).

The details which indicate that Loki's role in the tale come from the location of Bootes are conclusive, in my opinion, particularly the fact that Loki eventually precipitates himself into Skadi's lap in order to finally bring a smile to her lips -- a detail which can be readily understood from the relative location of Bootes and Virgo shown in the star chart. But the further evidence we have seen for Loki as Bootes in the myth of the theft of the necklace of Freya and in the myth of the theft of Sif's hair should put the matter beyond any doubt.

And so, if we have established that Loki is Bootes in numerous episodes from Norse myths, this serves to reinforce the assertion that the episode in which Loki makes Skadi laugh and the episode in which Uzume makes the assembled gods laugh and the goddess Amaterasu come out of her cave share a clear celestial connection, in that both the Norse and the Japanese myth use many of the exact same celestial components.

Further, the fact that we have now established the Northern Crown as the celestial counterpart of the mythical Brisingamen, the gorgeous necklace of Freya, reinforces yet another connection between the Norse and the Japanese myth-systems, in that the oldest surviving Japanese text containing these myths, the Kojiki, describes a jeweled necklace in conjunction with the episode in which Uzume dances for the assembled kami. Both systems are clearly employing many common elements in their myths involving the constellations surrounding Virgo in this particular part of the night sky.

Be sure to note also the fact that both myth systems, from Japan and from Scandinavia, are doing so in texts which can be shown to date from long before the conventional paradigm would allow for contact between cultures situated so far from one another on the globe. The Kojiki was composed no later than AD 711 or AD 712 (and probably contains myths that are centuries older than that). The age of the Poetic Edda is debated among scholars, but its original composition probably predates Snorri's Prose Edda of about AD 1220, and it may contain material that had been passed down for centuries before it was ever written down. In any case, contact between the cultures of Japan and Scandinavia prior to AD 711 is not consistent with the dominant conventional narrative of history, so what can explain the existence of a common system of celestial metaphor in the mythologies of such widely-separated peoples?

There are many possibilities, but almost all of them set the conventional historical paradigm on its ear.  One possibility is that there was ongoing transoceanic contact between these cultures during the centuries that these works were composed, or at some time prior. Another possibility is that both cultures (and the many others around the world whose mythologies share the same universal allegorical system) are descended from some even earlier common predecessor civilization, perhaps one which left this ancient esoteric system as a precious inheritance for all humanity.

In any case, if it is at all possible for you to do so, now is an excellent time to head outside in the hours after nightfall, and to identify the constellations discussed, such as Virgo, Bootes, the Northern Crown, and even (if the night is dark enough and the sky clear enough) Berenice's Hair. As you do so, you can think of the legends of the beauty of Freya, and of her dazzling necklace, the Brisingamen. And as you contemplate the theft of the heavenly necklace by Loki (and his theft of another heavenly treasure, that of Sif's hair), you can reflect on the possibility that this once-universal system of celestial metaphor, which Aritsotle himself referred to as the "ancient treasure" and which may represent the legacy of some far older and possibly far more advanced predecessor civilization, has effectively been stolen from humanity, and knowledge of it suppressed, for at least the past seventeen centuries.