1. Describe and compare the image of kingship in two cultures, paying special attention to the consecration of a king. (100 words for each culture)

For the Germanic tribes, the raising of someone to king was possibly done through the common cup rituals of the time.  What is interesting though is the lack of a priest to oversee the installing or recognizing the order of the society.  Instead the women of the culture, specifically the ones that served the drinks at gatherings, would be the ones to call recognition to the importance of each person there.  This would be done by the order in which people were served with the most important being done first.  This can also elevate a man to King as describe in Beowulf where Wealhtheow declares kingship during the cup ceremony (Enright 169).

There is also an example of a horse sacrifice with regards to kingship in the Germanic cultures, specifically the Sweedish King Svein that ruled between 1084 and 1087 (Blot-Sweyn).  In the The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise we see Svein performing a sacrifice of a horse, carving it up to be shared and eaten.  The horse’s blood was also spread on the tree the horse was tied to.  By doing this, he became the king of the Swedes (Tunstall 16).

For the Vedic, ceremonies were done by the priests.  There is a variation though in that the prescribed rituals were for the queen, not the king.  In the Asvemedha we have the queen having to spend a night with a dead stallion.  In the event the king couldn’t produce an heir, we also have examples from the Purusamedha of a queen copulating with a dead or dying man sacrificed for that purpose (Puhvel 270-1).  The first case is an example of joining the queenship with the land.  This is similar to an account in Ulster of how the king was installed by spending a night with a white mare (Puhvel 273).  It is thought that the change to the queen from the king as is seen in the European cultures is a matter of isolation of the Asvemedha from the myths and the lowering of the importance of the goddesses (Puhvel 275).

If we look at the horse sacrifice, the Vedic and the Germanic cultures are somewhat similar.  The biggest difference is that for the Germanic people, it was the king, where as with the Vedic it was the queen.  Both dealt with the sacrifice of a horse to raise someone to kingship, and the disposal of the victim by cutting it up and then dispersing it via further sacrifice or consumption.  On the other hand, the cup ritual is not something seen in the Vedic.

  1. Describe and compare the ritual use of intoxicating beverages in two cultures (min. 100 words per culture)

For the Germanic culture, one of the best examples of the use of alcoholic beverages is within the warbands.  Here we find a simple but powerful cup ritual.  The basic idea is that the man of most importance is served the beverage, usually mead, first.  He then directs how the mead is shared to all the other people present.  This is done for most any major event of the warrior’s life, and as seen in the previous question, can also be used to make a king.  In essence, the ritual lays down the current hierarchy in the group, and forms a contract between all of those present as a family (Enright 89-90).

For the Vedic culture, Soma is the predominant intoxicating beverage used.  Soma is made from some kind of intoxicating plant that is pressed to give the beverage.  Soma is often mentioned as being a sacrificial drink for the deities.  In general, it was sacrificed through Agni to whatever deities were being offered to, which to me sounds like a parallel to what we do when sacrificing alcohol to the fire in our own rituals.  Soma is also treated in the Rig-Veda as a deity in its own right.  Overall, Soma has a large number of hymns dedicated to him/it and the entire Ninth Mandala of the Rig-Veda, which consists of 114 hymns, is devoted to Soma. (Puhvel 65-6).

Soma was also referred to as a drink that imbued immortality:

We have drunk Soma and become immortal;

We have attained the light the Gods discovered.

Now what may foeman’s malice do to harm us?

What, O Immortal, mortal man’s deception?

(Griffith VIII.48.3)


The use of the intoxicating drink between the two cultures is rather different.  For the Germanic people, the drink was to be drunk by the participants.  When talking about the Vedic, the drink was mostly used as a sacrificial drink to be drunk only by the gods.

  1. Describe and compare the disposition of the dead in two cultures (100 words per culture)

Within the Germanic people, we have a couple examples in the lore of how the dead were treated.  One example is burial mound, which is exemplified by Freyr.  It is said that he was buried in a mound and it was common for people to make offerings to him at the mound.  There are also plenty of grave sites to support this kind of disposition of the dead in the culture (Davidson 153-7).  We also see some examples of cremation in the lore.  One example is for the death of Balder where he is burned on a pyre that was made from his ship (Davidson 136).  We also see an example of a rich funeral pyre in Beowulf in lines 1108 through 1124 (Heany 75-7).

Within the Vedic culture, we also see burial and cremation. In the Rig-Veda  and Atharva-Veda you find mention of both, with the majority of the focus being on the cremation of the remains.  We also find in both mention of the burning of cow’s and/or she goat’s skin and organs to help lessen the pain to the soul from the cremation.  Post cremation, the bones which were not burned were then buried in an urn.  The general procedure, combined from the above two sources, was the body was prepared in new clothing.  Agni was then invoked to carry the soul to Yama.  Various sacrifices were made, along with the burning of the body and the cow or she goat parts.  We can also see the roots of the more modern practice of sati where the widowed wife would lay on the pyre, but then be asked to rejoin the living before it was lit (Sanskrit Religions Institute).

In both cultures, it appears that cremation was the preferred manner of dealing with the dead.  Both the cremation and burials though included riches as the person deserved from their life.  There is also no forced practice of spousal sacrifice as we saw in the very recent past of the modern Hindu religion.  There was voluntary sacrifice though, usually of the grieving widow.

  1. Describe and compare the role of the priest in two cultures (100 words per culture)

For the Germanic people, the idea of the priesthood is not the same as the classic Dumezilian idea.  We do see the functions of the priesthood spread out some though.  For example, we have the völva who do divination and shamanic type works (Sephton Ch. 4).  We also have goði which were the tribal priest, but also were the leaders of the tribal group.  As a result, they did many of the other functions of the Dumezilian priest such as law giving as a result of being a chieftain too.  The goði were also often committed to one specific deity, and were responsible for setting up temples and maintaining the sacrifices to that deity as can be seen in Hrafnkels saga:

But when Hrafnkell had hallowed for himself the land of Aðalból, he held a great sacrificial feast, and a great temple, too, he reared up there. Hrafnkell loved no other god before Frey, and to him he made offerings of all the best things he had, going half-shares. Hrafnkell settled the whole of the valley, bestowing lands on other people, on condition of being their chief; and thus he assumed priesthood over them. From this it came to pass that his name was lengthened, and he was called Freysgoði (Coles Ch. 2).

For the Vedic people, the priest class was very evident.  Brahmans, as they were called, were similar to the goði in that it was their responsibility to uphold the prescribed rituals and sacrifices.  Unlike the Germanic people though, the priests were very specialized, and divided into four specialties, Hotr, Udgatr, Adhvaryu and Brahman, with Brahman being the head priest (Ratrija and Agnayi).  The Adhvaryu was responsible for the space and tools to be used and was well versed in the Yajur Veda.  The Udgatr was responsible for chanting the hymns and well versed in the Sama Veda.  The Hotr was the one that decorated the alter, did the invocations and poured offerings, and was well versed in the Rig Veda.  The Brahman was the priest that was responsible overall and coordinated the ceremony and sacrifices, and was well versed in the Athara Veda (Purpose and Origin of the Vedas )

Obviously, having such a prominent priesthood that was required to run the sacrificial rituals made them a very important part of the society.  This is in complete contrast to the Germanic people where the role of the priest had shifted to become an extra duty of the chieftains of the Germanic tribes or warbands.

  1. Describe and compare the connection between horse and sovereign in two cultures (min. 100 words per culture)

With the Germanic people, there was a relationship between the horse and the King.  One example from the lore would be when Loki came back with Sleipnir, the eight legged stallion, Odin took the horse, who was obviously the best horse alive, from Loki.  We also have as I mentioned in question one examples of a horse sacrifice being used as part of the installation of a king (Tunstall 16).  We also have the horse being an important animal to Freyr.  It was a common practice for there to be sacred horses for Freyr near his temples.  In general, it was forbidden to ride a horse that was given to the god.  There is an example from “The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey's Priest” where Hrafnkell, who is the leader and goði of local tribe, giving to Freyr the horse Freymane and vowing to kill anyone that rides him (Coles Ch. 3).  These examples all show that there is a connection between the horse and sovereign.

With the Vedic people, the best example is the asvemedha rite.  This was a rite that took a year to complete.  It started with the king having to spend a night chastely with the queen.  Then a prized stallion was essentially set to roam free for a year, but was heavily guarded to keep it from any mare.  Then, after a year, the end of the rite culminated with three days of celebrations, part of which included the sacrifice of the stallion and having the queen spend a night with it (Puhvel 270-1).  Now this is a bit different from the normal Indo-European connection between the king and horse in that instead it is the queen and horse.  Puhvel explains this as the Vedic people innovating as the ritual got disconnected from the underlying myth (Puhvel 275).  We also see in the Rig-Veda what appears to be a hymn describing a horse sacrifice, concluding with the line “Freedom from sin may Aditi vouchsafe us: the Steed with our oblations gain us lordship!” (Griffith I.162)

In both cultures there was definitely a connection between the sovereign and the horse.

  1. Describe and compare the importance of rivers in two cultures (min. 100 words per culture)

Within the Germanic lore we find mention of many rivers that serve as boundaries between different lands.  Examples of this would be the river Gioll (noisy) which surrounded Hel (Sturluson 50) and the river Irving that separates Asgard from the Jotunheim (Crossley-Holland xxi).  We also see a listing of rivers and some of their meanings in the Prose Edda (Sturluson 161-2).  There is also a description of how some rivers begin in Valhall and flow throughout Asgard (Sturluson 33-4).

In a more practical vein though, there is evidence that some rivers were sacred to the Germanic people.  An example of this comes from Tacitus where he talks of the salt springs of the river Saale where you see a combination of fire, water, and salt that relates to the creation myth (Davidson 200).  We also know that the Germanic people, especially those of the Norse regions, were sailors and they use the rivers and the ocean extensively for raiding and trade.

For the Vedic, we can find that Sarasvati (translates to Rich in Waters) which is both the name of a river goddess and the name of a mythical river.  Her significance is of being a fertility deity, and one of the few female deities in what tends to be a male dominated pantheon (Puhvel 61-2).  We can see the importance of both the river and the goddess in the Rig-Veda II.41.16-20:

Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, Saravati,

We are as ‘twer, of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown.

In the, Sarasvati, divine, all generations have their stay. 

Be, glad with Sunahotra’s sons: O Goddess grant us progeny.

Enriched with sacrifice, accept Sarasvati, these prayers of ours,

Thoughts which GrtSamadas beloved of Gods bring, Holy One, to thee.

Ye who bless sacrifice, go forth, for verily we choose you both,

and Agni who conveys our gifts.

(Griffith II.41)

So here we see Sarasvati being identified as a great river and goddess, and someone that is to be praised and offered to.  We also see imagery similar to the idea of the Germanic cow Audhumla.  In the Rig-Veda we see a cow also providing four streams of life into the world:

42 From her descend in streams the seas of water;

thereby the world's four regions have their being,

Thence flows the imperishable flood

and thence the universe hath life.

(Griffith I.164)

While I haven’t been able to find any direct connection between rivers and deities in the Germanic lands, there was definitely an importance associated with rivers in both cultures.

  1. Describe and compare the interaction between king and virgin in two cultures (min. 100 words per culture)

In the Germanic cultures, there was a connection between the king and virgins.  One example from the lore is how Snorri mentions that the Valkyries, who are in service to Odin, were virgins with rare exceptions.  We also have two virgin goddesses, Fulla and Gefjon, who are in service either directly or indirectly to Odin.  In Fulla’s case, she is mostly a lady in waiting.  Gefjon has a bit more to her in that she is served by women whom die as virgins, and is responsible for the acquisition of Zealand from king Gylfi with the help of her four giant sons that were turned into oxen.  Snorri does not explain how this happens and she is still considered a virgin goddess.  This is connection between virgins is not seen with any of the other deities (Puhvel 267-8).  We also see in the Volsungsaga that Brynhild and Sigurd spend nights together, but they are spent chaste, preserving her (presumed) virginity (Byock 81).

For the Vedic culture, the Asvemedha rites are a good example for the connection between virgins and the kingship.  The ritual entire ritual starts by the king spending a chaste night with his favorite wife.  A prize stallion is selected and is kept chaste for an entire year.  The company that the stallion keeps during this year are either gelded or old horses.  Essentially the virile stallion is kept in the company of horses that are not likely to have any kind of productive sex.  The rite ends with the queen spending a night with the stallion, where the queen is presumed to break the now dead horse’s chasity.  In the end, this rite helped maintain the king’s authority and promote fertility and prosperity throughout his lands (Puhvel 270-1).

Overall, there was a connection between the king and virgins.  In the Germanic lore, virgins were hard to find mentioned, but when they are, they are usually mentioned in connection with Odin.  In the Vedic, chastity was something that was required for various participants in the rites that affirmed the king’s authority.

Works Cited

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Byock, Jesse, trans. Saga of the Volsungs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Coles, John. The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey's Priest. 1882. 21 Apr 2010 <http://www.sagadb.org/hrafnkels_saga_freysgoda.en&gt;.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths. NY: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. NY: Penguin, 1990.

Enright, Michael J. Lady With a Mead Cup. Portland: Four Court Press, 1996.

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Heany, Seamus. Beowulf. NY: W. W. Norton and Co., 2000.

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. London: Johns Hopkins PRess, 1989.

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Sephton, J. Saga of Eric the Red. 1880. 28 Mar 2010 <http://www.sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda.en&gt;.

Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. Trans. Anthony Faulkes. Clarendon, VT: Everyman Press, 1995.

Tunstall, Peter. The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise. 2003. 17 Apr 2010 <http://www.northvegr.org/lore/oldheathen/index.php&gt;.