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Was Heimdall known to the Saxons?

Updated: Jan 23

Heimdallr (Heimdall) is one of the few Gods mentioned several times in the Eddas, proving Heimdall's importance. He is called "gold toothed," and most likely is the mysterious Rígr of the Rigsthula Heimdall is called "the whitest of the Ése (Aesir)" in the Þrymskviða due to his purity, the Prose Edda calls him the "White God." His hall in Ésagard (Asgard) is called Hevenburg (Norse, Himinbjorg) which means "Heaven Mountain."  And he bears the Gjallarhorn, a horn with which he will notify the Gods that Mudspelles (Norse: Ragnarök) is beginning. To the Angles and the Old English, in the poem Beowulf Heimdall is called "Hama": Nænigne ic under swegle selran hyrde hordmaðum hæleþa, syþðan Hama ætwæg to þære byrhtan byrig Brosinga mene, sigle ond sincfæt, searoniðas fleah Eormenrices, geceas ecne ræd.

Ne'er heard I so mighty, 'neath heaven's dome, a hoard-gem of heroes, since Hama boreto his bright-built burg the Brisings' necklace,jewel and gem casket. -- Jealousy fled he, Eormenric's hate: chose help eternal.


**This being said, some suggest that Hama was a human hero, not associated with Heimdall.**


Reasons Hama would have been known to the Saxons:


Scholars believe that the Saxons shared the same religion as the Danes. Dr. Matthias Springer, in his German Book Die Sachsen, wrote that he strongly believes that the Saxons in Saxony had the same religion as their Danish neighbors. [Die Sachsen (Urban-Taschenbucher, September 16, 2004 Matthias Springer]


Heimdall is known for bringing three classes of people (or three castes) to mankind. The Saxons shared this belief with the Scandinavians.


There is one extant lay about Heimdall, and it is the Rígsþula of the Poetic Edda.  In it he roams the earth as Rígr and stays with three couples.  First he stays with a couple known as "Great-Grandfather" and "Great-Grandmother" and begats on "Great-Grandmother" the child known as thrall.  Next he stays with  "Grandfather" and "Grandmother" and begats with "Grandmother" the child known as Karl.  Finally he stays with "Father" and "Mother" and begats Jarl.  According to the lay the three classes of men were born. The Saxons in Saxony absolutely were like their Norse neighbors, staunchly Heathen, and having three classes of men.


Res gestae saxonicae sive annalium libri tres ("Deeds of the Saxons") Ch. 14, Book 1, 10th century CE. written by Widukind of Corvey:

“It is for the following reason, that the Saxon people, aside from those in slavery, is divided into three classes according to their descent and the law. Leadership."

Nithard wrong in his "Histories" in the 9th century the Saxons: “Emperor Charles, deservedly called ‘the Great’ by all peoples, converted the Saxons by much effort, as it is known everywhere throughout Europe. He won them over from the adoration of idols to the true Christian religion of God. From the beginning the Saxons have often proved themselves by many examples to be both noble and extremely warlike. This whole tribe is divided into three classes. There are among them those who are called edhilingui in their language; those who are called frilingi, and those who are called lassi; this is in the Latin language ‘nobles’, ‘freemen’, and ‘serfs’." (In Old Saxon terms: “edhilingui,” “frilingi,” and “lassi.”)

Lebuini Antiqua 4, THE LIFE OF ST. LEBUIN, 9th Century CE “In olden times the Saxons had no king but appointed rulers over each village; and their custom was to hold a general meeting once a year in the center of Saxony near the river Weser at a place called Marklo. There all the leaders used to gather, and they were joined by twelve noblemen from each village with as many freedmen and serfs. There they confirmed the laws, gave judgment on outstanding cases and by common consent drew up plans for the coming year on which they could act either in peace or war.” (This passages says noblemen, freedmen, and serfs.)


Due to several historical writings on the Saxons in Saxony having three castes, it seems clear to me that the Saxons would have known Heimdall. While the Old English would have called Heimdall "Hama", I believe that scholars like Dr. Matthias Springer are right, that the Old Saxons shared the same faith as the Danes, their neighbors and allies, and the Saxons, who spoke Old Saxon, would have had a name for Heimdall more similar to their Danish neighbors, than the Old English Hama. This is my opinion. I believe the Old Saxon version of the name would be along the lines of Hem, based on word occurances of the Old Saxon word for home being "Hem." However, while Hama is attested in Old English, Old Saxon writings do not contain the Old Saxon name for Heimdall, so we will most likely never know for sure what the Old Saxons called "Heimdall."


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Interesting Narrative in the Eddas & Sagas on Heimdall:

Heimdall has strong eyesight and hearing. Hence he became the watchman of the Ese. Heimdall has the horn Gjallarhorn which he will use to warn the Ese of the beginning of Mudspelles (Norse Ragnarök.) Heimdall is the son of Uuoden (Norse "Othinn") and nine mothers. Heimdall is attested in Beowulf, the Poettic and Prose Eddas, as well as Heimskringla. The passage Heimdall is most famous is in the Voluspa: "Fast move the sons of Mim and fate Is heard in the note of the Gjallarhorn; Loud blows Heimdall, the horn is aloft, In fear quake all who on Hel-roads are."


The Prose Edda, Gylfaginning ch51 foretells Ragnarök. When the enemies of the Gods gather, Heimdall will blow Gjallarhorn. The gods will assemble at Thing. Heimdall and Loki will kill one another. Then Middilgard will be in flames.

In Skáldskaparmál, Heimdall is recorded as having attended a banquet in Esegard with various other deities. Later in the book, Húsdrápa, a poem by 10th century skald Úlfr Uggason, is cited, during which Heimdall is described as having ridden to Baldr's funeral pyre. Scholars struggle with the idea that nine sisters were all nine mothers of Heimdall.


Ynglinga Saga's story of Heimdall and Saxony, home of the Saxons:

In Ynglinga saga compiled in Heimskringla. Snorri gives a euhemerized account of the Norse gods, being humans with human rulers descending from them. (Please keep in mind, surviving genealogies also show that royal houses in Germanic countries claimed descent from the Gods.) Here is chapter 5 of the Ynglinga Saga: There goes a great mountain barrier from north-east to south- west, which divides the Greater Swithiod from other kingdoms. South of this mountain ridge it is not far to Turkland, where Odin had great possessions. In those times the Roman chiefs went wide around in the world, subduing to themselves all people; and on this account many chiefs fled from their domains. But Odin having foreknowledge, and magic-sight, knew that his posterity would come to settle and dwell in the northern half of the world. He therefore set his brothers Ve and Vilje over Asgaard; and he himself, with all the Gods and a great many other people, wandered out, first westward to Gardarike, and then south to Saxland (Saxony). He had many sons; and after having subdued an extensive kingdom in Saxland (Saxony), he set his sons to rule the country. He himself went northwards to the sea, and took up his abode in an island which is called Odins in Fyen. Then he sent Gefion across the sound to the north to discover new countries; and she came to King Gylve, who gave her a ploughgate of land. Then she went to Jotunheim, and bore four sons to a giant, and transformed them into a yoke of oxen. She yoked them to a plough, and broke out the land into the ocean right opposite to Odin's. This land was called Sealand, and there she afterwards settled and dwelt. Skjold, a son of Odin, married her, and they dwelt at Leidre. Where the ploughed land was is a lake or sea called Laage. In the Swedish land the fjords of Laage correspond to the nesses in Sealand. Brage the Old sings thus of it: "Gefion from Gylve drove away, To add new land to Denmark's sway, Blythe Gefion ploughing in the smoke That steamed up from her oxen-yoke: Four heads, eight forehead stars had they, Bright gleaming, as she ploughed away; Dragging new lands from the deep main To join them to the sweet isle's plain." Now when Odin heard that things were in a prosperous condition in the land to the east beside Gylve; he went thither, and Gylve made a peace with him, for Gylve thought he had no strength to oppose the people of Asaland. Odin and Gylve had many tricks and enchantments against each other; but the Asaland people had always the superiority. Odin took up his residence at the Maelare lake, at the place now called Old Sigtun. There he erected a large temple, where there were blots according to the customs of the Asaland people. He appropriated to himself the whole of that district, and called it Sigtun. To the temple priests he gave also domains. Njord dwelt in Noatun, Frey in Upsala, Heimdall in the Himinbergs, Thor in Thrudvang, Balder in Breidablik; to all of them he gave good estates.


Above we see that the Vikings called Saxony "Saxland." Below the picture of Heimdall is the Runestone evidence that the Norsemen called England "Anglaland" and the people of England "Anglisc."


Image is Public Doman in the United States. [Doepler, Emil. ca. 1905. Walhall, die Götterwelt der Germanen. Martin Oldenbourg, Berlin. Page 54.]


Ynglinga Saga chapter 45:

Ivar Vidfavne subdued the whole of Sweden. He brought in subjection to himself all the Danish dominions, a great deal of Saxland, all the East Country, and a fifth part of England. From his race the kings of Sweden and Denmark who have had the supreme authority in those countries, are descended. After Ingjald the Evil-adviser the Upsal dominion fell from the Yngling race notwithstanding the length of time they could reckon up the series of their forefathers.

Saxony and England are clearly two different countries in Norse literature.

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