Hörgr

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A hörgr (Old Norse, plural hörgar) or hearg (Old English) was a type of religious building or altar possibly consisting of a heap of stones, used in Norse paganism. Hörgar are attested in the Poetic Edda; compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda; written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, sagas, in the poetry of skalds, the Old English poem Beowulf, and in various place names, often in connection with Germanic deities.

Etymology[edit]

Rudolf Simek says that hörgr may have originally exclusively meant "holy place", whereas the Old English noun hearg could mean "holy grove" and/or "temple, idol".[1]

Attestations[edit]

The term hörgr is used three times in poems collected in the Poetic Edda. In a stanza early in the poem Völuspá, the völva says that early in the mythological timeline, the gods met together at the location of Iðavöllr and constructed a hörgr and a hof (Henry Adams Bellows and Ursula Dronke here gloss hörgr as "temples"):

Old Norse:
Hittoz æsir á Iðavelli,
þeir er hǫrg ok hof hátimbroðo.[2]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
At Ithavoll met the mighty gods;
Shrines and temples they timbered high;[3]
Ursula Dronke translation:
Æsir met on Eddying Plain
they who built towering altars and temples.[2]

In the poem Vafþrúðnismál Gagnráðr (the god Odin in disguise) engages in a game of wits with the jötunn Vafþrúðnir. Gagnráðr asks Vafþrúðnir whence the Van god Njörðr came, for though he rules over many hofs and hörgar, Njörðr was not raised among the Æsir (Benjamin Thorpe here glosses hörgr with "offer-steads" and Bellows glosses with "shrines"):

Benjamin Thorpe translation:

Tell me tenthly, since thou all the origin
of the gods knowest, Vafthrudnir!
whence Niörd came among the Æsir's sons?
O'er fanes and offer-steads he rules by hundreds,
yet he was not among the Æsir born.[4]

Henry Adams Bellows translation:

Tenth answer me now, if thou knowest all
The fate that is fixed for the gods:
Whence came up Njorth to the kin of the gods,—
(Rich in temples and shrines he rules,—)
Though of gods he was never begot?[5]

In the poem Hyndluljóð, the goddess Freyja speaks favorably of Óttar for having worshiped her so faithfully by using a hörgr. Freyja details that the hörgr is constructed of a heap of stones, and that Óttar very commonly reddened these stones with sacrificial blood (Thorpe glosses hörgr with "offer-stead", Bellows with "shrine", and Orchard with "altar"):

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
An offer-stead to me he raised,
with stones constructed;
now is the stone
as glass become.
With the blood of oxen
he newly sprinkled it.
Ottar ever trusted the Asyniur.[6]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
For me a shrine of stones he made,
And now to glass the rock has grown;
Oft with the blood of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever did Ottar trust.[7]
Andy Orchard translation:
He made me a high altar
of heaped-up stones:
the gathered rocks
have grown all bloody,
and he reddened them again
with the fresh blood of cows;
Ottar has always
had faith in the ásynjur.[8]

Runestones[edit]

The place name Salhøgum that is mentioned on a 9th-century Danish runestone known as the Snoldelev Stone has a literal translation which combines Old Norse sal meaning "hall" with hörgar "mounds," to form "on the hall mounds," suggesting a place with a room where official meetings took place.[9] The inscription states that the man Gunnvaldr is the þulaR of Salhøgum, which as been identified as referring to the modern town Salløv, which was in the vicinity of the original site of the runestone.[10]

Place names[edit]

Many place names in Iceland and Scandinavia contain the word hörgr or hörgur, such as Hörgá and Hörgsdalur in Iceland and Harg in Sweden. When Willibrord Christianized the Netherlands (~700 AD) the church of Vlaardingen had a dependency in Harago/Hargan, currently named Harga. This indicates that near those places there was some kind of religious building in medieval times.[11]

In England, the London Borough of Harrow derives its name from the Old English form of hearg.[12] The temple for which it was named was probably on Harrow Hill where St. Mary's Church stands today. Herga Road in Harrow is a surviving earlier form of the name.[13]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Simek (2007:156).
  2. ^ a b Dronke (1997:8).
  3. ^ Bellows (1936:5).
  4. ^ Thorpe (1866:16).
  5. ^ Bellows (1923:79).
  6. ^ Thorpe (1866:108).
  7. ^ Bellows (1936:221).
  8. ^ Orchard (1997:89).
  9. ^ Sundqvist (2009:660-661)
  10. ^ Peterson (2002).
  11. ^ Kvaran (2006).
  12. ^ Room, Adrian: “Dictionary of Place-Names in the British Isles”, Bloomsbury, 1988. ISBN 0-7475-0170-X
  13. ^ Briggs, Keith "Harrow", Journal of the English Place-name Society, volume 42 (2010), 43-64

References[edit]