Tag: Loki

Mind Escape Podcast #139: Comets and Catastrophe in Norse Myth

In episode #139 of the Mind Escape podcast, we talk about how comets and cosmic catastrophe may have left its marks in the Norse myths

I have been invited to Mike and Maurice’s Mind Escape for a second time to have an interesting discussion about the Norse myths again. In the first episode, we talked about how the myths of the Norse  can be linked to an ancient astronomical tradition. This second time, we talked about the possible role of comets and cosmic catastrophe in the Norse mythological poems.

In this episode, I gave an introduction into the catastrophic periods that have happened on the human timescale. Cosmic impacts were not just a thing that the dinosaurs experienced – we have received a decent dose of cosmic catastrophe ourselves. I think that it’s likely that this has found its way into our myths as well, and it’s probably one of the crucial components in understanding myth and religion.

If this topic interests you, I’d say, jump right into the episode. If you have seen it already, or if you’d rather  read a bit about it first, then here you can find more about this subject.

Some interesting questions were asked to me during the interview, and here in this blog post, I have provided some additional answers to these questions, as well as other important questions to think about. I’ve also added some links to articles and websites on the subject for those who’d like to explore this further.

If I’ve left you still with some questions, I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing. I’m having a lot of questions myself about what the myths are about, and how comets and catastrophe may be involved in them. It’s these questions that are driving me to research these topics. Some of the answers I’ll leave for future blog posts, but I’ve provided some additional information on the topics discussed in this episode here below, summarizing some of the key points:

What evidence is there that the Norse gods are linked to comets?

At this point, my research into the links between Norse myths and comets, meteorites, and cosmic impacts is still in a beginning stage, although I have consumed much information about these topics in the past few years. Any links between the Nore gods and comets are still speculative, but I have amassed enough data to strongly suspect that there is a connection between the two. 

Ever since seeing Martin Sweatman’s conclusion that the gods are comet gods in his book Prehistory Decoded, I started paying more attention, and when I started looking at the myths more and more from this perspective, several puzzling things in the myths and in ancient artwork started to make more sense.

The winged disk symbolism for example, with its fan-like rays, may not resemble so much the disk of the sun, but rather a large comet for example, as Graham Philips shows in his book End of Eden.

The winged sun disk, the Faravahar of the Zoroastrian tradition
A zoroastrian winged disk symbol with what appears to be a deity or king on it source

Researching the myths is speculative by definition. By nature, myths lend themselves to multiple interpretations, and I don’t think that these have to be mutually exclusive. I think that multiple different avenues deserve to be explored in a search for answers.

Science has proven without doubt that catastrophic events did happen in the human timeline, more than one time. We also know that giant comets are a part of the human experience. Both the rarity and magnitude of these events would have contributed to the mark that they would have left on the human psyche, when such an event did occur. Yet at the same time, these cosmic events have happened in the human past more often than we have for a long time believed.

Here below, you can see a timeline I’ve made of several major cosmic impacts and cometary events of the last 15,000 years:

A timeline of cosmic catastrophe and comets (Arthur Koopmans)
A timeline of catastrophic and cometary events that have shaped human history since the past 15,000 years. Illustration by Arthur Koopmans.

The myths are also quite clear about the existence of these recurring cosmic events, sometimes explicitly mentioning falling stars and natural disasters, which we see in the Norse myth of Ragnarök and also in other Norse myths, such as Thor’s fishing trip. When Thor fished for the World Serpent, the line snaps, and the serpent is thrown back into the water, causing volcano eruptions, earthquakes and large waves.

I think that the ancients would have used symbols that were familiar to describe those things that words themselves could hardly describe. The snake as a symbol of a comet or meteorite would have been one of the most prominent symbols. This, we may see reflected in the giant serpent Jormungandr of Norse myth, whose battles with Thor have destructive consequences, or in the evil spirit Angra Mainyu from the Avesta, falling out of the sky like a snake, causing a terrible winter.

Not only giant monsters are probably linked to cosmic impacts, but the gods themselves as well. The Mayan Quetzalcoatl is known to be linked to comets, and around 1500 BC, when a giant comet visited the earth, we see the rise of monotheism and winged disk symbolism with deities in them, such as Ahura Mazda. With all these links between gods and comets in different traditions, it would be no surprise if the Norse gods too could be linked to such phenomena.

What makes it harder to find links between the Norse myths and comet phenomena, is that there is less of it left, due to the persecution of European paganism by Christianity. Also, the runic script was not suited for writing down large stories. Only when the latin alphabet came into use in Iceland, these myths could be finally written down, ironically enough, by Christian writers.

In late Scandinavian folklore, we find the belief that pieces of meteoritic rock are pieces of Thor’s hammer. His hammer Mjollnir was originally a grindstone or whetstone, which he hurled at giants. So, was Thor as a sky god hurling meteorites at giants? And if the Norse peoples would have seen comets as well, then which parts of the myths can be linked to these bright visitors?

A sky god hurling meteors is something that can also be found in Phoenician mythology, where the god Baetylus hurled down life-endowed meteorite stones from the sky. The evidence points to a similar meteorite link with the god Thor.

Mjollnir, Thor's hammer pendant from Skane, a meteorite?
Thor’s hammer was originally not a hammer, but a whetstone or grindstone, possibly meteoric in origin – source

Speaking of grindstones, what about the cosmic mill, which grinds out wealth in several myths, like a cornucopia? The Finnish version of the cosmic mill, the Sampo, is also called the “bright-lid”. This bright mill ultimately sank into the sea, like the bright Phaëton crashing his chariot in the river Eridanus.

The suspect list

In this podcast episode, I have presented a small suspect list, with symbols in Norse myth that I think could be linked to comets (among other things). This is only a small list, with four examples that I will explore further in future blog posts here at Secrets of the Norse. 

Surtr’s flaming sword

The first on the list is the fire giant Surtr, who splits the sky in two at Ragnarök, with a sword that is brighter than the sun. Comets were also envisioned as flaming swords. In 1910, when comet Halley visited the earth, the comet appeared to an observer in Accra, west Africa ‘like a flaming sword with jewelled hilt’.  Meteorites and comets have been proven to be blinding to the eye when they descend upon the earth, as was also observed when a meteorite hit the Russian town of Chelyabinsk in 2013.

Notable comets from 1577-1652, like a flaming sword
Excerpt from “Notable comets of the period 1577-1652”. Notice how a comet might have been seen as a flaming sword? – source

Odin’s golden spear

Randall Carlson has written a great series about the Grail Legends, whose origins can largely be found in the period of the Dark Ages – a period, which I have shown in this interview to be a period of cosmic disaster. In his grail series, Randall explains how the four major grail symbols are possibly metaphors for cosmic impacts. The spear would have been one of the symbols used by ancient peoples to describe the long shape of a bright comet or meteorite’s tail. Is Odin’s golden spear Gungnir linked to comets and meteorites as well?

Comet symbols in Norse mythology, Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
List of suspected comet symbols in Norse mythology – from the Mind Escape Podcast.

Freyja’s Necklace

The Norse goddess Freyja has a golden necklace, called Brisingamen. The name means something like “fiery or glowing necklace”. When Thor tells her that she is to be wed to a giant, she bursts into anger, and her fiery necklace drops. Then, the mansions of the gods tremble. In other words, a fiery, golden-hued object falls down, causing tremors large enough to shake the mansions of the gods. 

Here, we could see a more subtle reference to a cosmic impact. One of Freya’s names, Mardöll, has the linguistic element in it that refers to something shining or bright. Heimdall is also called the white god, or the shining god. Could this refer to more than simply the sun, moon and stars? Was Freyja also linked to a bright comet?

Sif’s golden hair

The word comet itself means “long-haired”, from Ancient Greek kometai, “letting the hair grow long”. Milton describes comets like this in Paradise Lost (1667):

Just as a comet in the burnished air

Is wont to burn with bloody, horrid locks,

And, wrecking realms, still new disasters bring —

An omen of ill-luck to crimson kings.

Milton, Paradise lost (1667)

In the Greek myth of Medusa, we find the monstrous gorgon women with their snake-hair, deadly gaze and roaring screams. Medusa was once, like the Norse Sif, a golden-haired maiden.

In Norse myth, Sif’s golden hair gets cut off by Loki. The dwarves then have to make a new set of golden hair, and Loki sets two groups of dwarf smiths up against each other to produce even more golden objects, including Odin’s spear. Freyja’s necklace too, was made by the gold from the dwarfs.

Like Sif’s hair, comets can grow and lose their “hair”, their coma. Could this be subtle symbolism for a comet phenomenon? Possibly. I’ve written an entire three-part series about this topic on my blog (part one, part two, part three). Since then, I found more links between hair symbolism in myths and comets and catastrophe.

In the Finnish Kalevala for example, the divine singer Väinamöinen makes a musical instrument out of a lady’s seven locks. When he plays it, the hills and mountains shake, trees get uprooted, and boulders fall from the cliffs. Compare this to the story of Phaëton, the son of the sun, who crashes his father’s sun chariot with the seven rays of the solar crown on his head, possibly reflecting the multiple tails of a comet.

Phaëton by Gustave Moreau (1878)
Excerpt from “Phaëton” by Gustave Moreau (1878) – source. The artist depicts Phaëton with long, disheveled hair.

Cosmic Battles

Here we have a golden spear, a golden necklace, golden hair… in fact, there are many golden objects in possession of the gods that were important in their defence against the giants. Do we have here in the wars between gods and giants a symbolic struggle between the elements of the earth meeting those of the sky? Science has shown that cosmic impacts can profoundly alter the geography of the earth, causing earthquakes, tsunamis, and even causing volcanic activity.

Are the ancient Norse and their myths linked to Göbekli Tepe?

The Old Norse culture and that of Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey are far removed, both in place and in time. Yet both can be argued to have their myth and religion based upon an ancient astronomical system. David Mathisen has, to my mind, made a convincing case that the world’s myths are part of an ancient worldwide system.

The myth of Thor’s fishing trip is also found in Polynesian myth for example, in the story of Maui’s fishing trip. It is also reflected in the battle between Marduk and Tiamat, in ancient Babylonian myth. All of these myths can be argued to be based upon the constellations. The world’s myths and ancient civilization itself can be traced back to Göbekli Tepe – the first sign of civilization since the last ice age, and a monument that incorporates both megalithic architecture and a link with an ancient form of the zodiac.

Martin Sweatman, in deciphering this ancient zodiac, has come to the conclusion that the monument is dated to the Younger Dryas Impact Event, and sees in it a monument to an ancient cataclysm. Later civilizations used the same symbols linked to the stars that were used in Göbekli Tepe, although these would have been somewhat altered over the course of thousands of years, and after several more cosmic interruptions.

It is likely, he thinks, that the gods in the world’s myths actually represent comet gods. In this blog post, Martin Sweatman has collected a number of ancient symbols from ancient artwork, which he suspects are linked to comets. It is these giant comets that he thinks inspired the construction of Göbekli Tepe, and thus also the first signs of organized religion.

In the screenshot of his website below, we see first several different illustrations of comet observations:

Martin Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, collage of comet illustrations
Screenshot from Martin Sweatman’s blog, showing a collage of comet illustrationssource

And below, we see a collage that Martin Sweatman has made of what he suspects is comet symbolism:

Martin Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, comet symbolism
Screenshot from Martin Sweatman’s blog, showing a collage of suspected comet symbolssource

Eventually, this ancient astronomical system would have also reached the Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Eurasian steppes, who later conquered Europe, and from which ultimately the Norse myths of Scandinavia were derived. 

Andrew Collins thinks that the builders of Göbekli Tepe were denisovan hybrids, possibly the Swiderians. This hybrid offspring of humans and Denisovans would have come from an ancient Eurasian homeland. This takes us closer to the original homeland of the ancient Norse as well.

Denisovan DNA has even been found in modern Icelandic and Finnish people. So Iceland, the land where the Norse myths were ultimately written down, even has some genetic affinity with who Andrew Collins suspects were the builders of Göbekli Tepe.

But ultimately, this system with its astronomical tradition has dispersed around the world, and according to Laird Scranton, there were multiple key centres of learning. One of these would have been Skara Brea in the Orkney Islands around 3200 BC – again, close to Iceland, the later home of the Norse myths.

Are comets and catastrophes what the myths are all about?

I don’t deem it necessary at this point to settle for one explanation only of what the myths are about. What is sure though, is that catastrophe on an epic scale is found in myths worldwide, especially in myths dealing with the end of a world age. Martin Sweatman thinks that the experience of the Younger Dryas Impact Event was sufficient motivation for people to come together and establish the basis for an organized religious tradition, and the creation of myth.

But before the Younger Dryas, there were not only earlier episodes of cosmic catastrophe, but also long periods of relative peace and prosperity. In these periods with a more stable and favourable climate, the human spirit and civilization flourishes. It could be that in these more climatically favorable times, the horrors and the religious awe of cosmic encounters were largely forgotten, and the reverence for the sun and stars becomes more prominent. 

A giant comet, Graham Philips, Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
The author Graham Philips has pointed out that around 1500 BC, a giant 10-tailed comet visited the earth – screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast

Still, comets might have been on the radar even in less cataclysmic times, as they would still visit the earth century after century.

But when disaster strikes again, this may revive tales of gods, giants and monsters fighting each other in epic battles. When excessive rainfall due to global cooling plagues farmers, with floods swallowing their lands, a new water-based religion may ensue. This could explain the many archeological finds of sacrifices of weapons, utensils, and people into bogs and lakes.

When being confronted with the role of comets and catastrophe in the myths, one could get the idea that this is what it’s all about. The myths do take us from one conflict to another, because what’s a story without a conflict? But I think there’s much more to the myths than fire and brimstone. The myths to me, seem to reflect the entirety of the human experience, but played out in stories that centre around the world of the gods.

This would include knowledge of the stars, and quite probably, our experiences with entheogens. Forces that are larger than life were I think, personified in the form of gods, giants, elves and dwarves, so that we could relate to these phenomena on a personal and societal level. The result would have been the splendid poetry that continues to inspire and intrigue us.

David Mathisen has shown evidence that these poems are written in the stars.

How can the myths be about comets and about the stars and constellations at the same time?

Through the work of Star Myth researcher David Mathisen, I came to learn of the connections between the myths and the stars. Many scholars would admit that there is at least some presence of constellations in Norse myths and in archaeoastronomy, dealing with ancient sites. But David Mathisen has shown through numerous examples, how practically all of the world’s myths can be seen as written in the constellations.

He himself also readily admits though, that the stars were not the end-point. They were not the object of worship, but they were used as the closest metaphor for the divine realm, that part of us that is less concerned with material reality, and more concerned with spiritual matters. The Otherworld, A world outside of ordinary reality is also found in altered states, which can be accessed through entheogens and a wide variety of shamanic techniques.

The stars then, could have been used as a metaphor for explaining the world of consciousness and a connection to the larger cosmos, and how this is integral in living a fulfilled and complete life. The stars form the language in which these experiences were captured, personified in the tales of gods and other beings with humanoid qualities.

Another interesting question: could the use of psychedelics have somehow enhanced the stargazing experience? Could they have played a crucial role in the shaping of Star Myth poetry? This reddit thread contains anecdotal evidence, which shows multiple people experiencing the stars in a different state while under the influence of LSD.

But if the stars were used as a language, could they have been used as a metaphor for other experiences as well? If the stars and constellations can serve as a metaphor to explain realms outside our own, then could they also describe events that may be seen as forces of the divine or chtonic realm invading the ordinary world in world-changing or world-ending events? I would say yes.

The visitation of a giant and bright ten-tailed comet would have been like a psychedelic experience. A giant comet or cataclysm would be a paradigm-shifting experience of its own. One that I think was likely passed down in the form of Star Myths, connected to an ancient astronomical tradition.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten
Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the multi-rayed Aten, 18th Dynasty. Notice how they’re holding what seems like hallucinogenic blue lotus flowers? Perhaps they were tripping while basking in the light of a giant comet! – source

So, what came first? Star Myths, or tales of cosmic catastrophe? This seems to be a chicken or the egg question. Human beings have lived with both for a long time. The two have likely co-evolved, and since the stars are a more stable and more permanent feature in our lives, I think it’s likely that this is the reason that the stars were used as the basis for this ancient system of knowledge.

Civilizations come and go, but the stars are largely in the same place as they were tens of thousands of years ago. See also this blog post for more information on how comet symbolism may be linked to certain constellations (example: a snake deity can be linked to both the tail of a comet and to a snake-like constellation).

Comets and the constellations Scorpio and Coma Berenices
Depictions of comets compared with the constellations Scorpio and Coma Berenices. Experiences with large and bright comets were likely passed on in the form of Star Myths.

What good is knowledge of catastrophic events in my personal life?

Imagine a giant ten-tailed comet appearing in the sky, the size of four full moons. You could call it a giant piece of ice and dust lighting up in the sun’s heat, but when you as a human being are confronted with such an awe-inspiring sight, words would not suffice to describe it. To the ancients, it would have been like a god or a giant visiting the earth, or even plunging into it.

Giant comets really are a thing from the world of giants, who in Norse myth, are related to the gods themselves. In Norse myth, the realm of giants is called Jotunheim, a world on the periphery of Midgard, the world of humans. Per definition, giants and giant comets are not part of our everyday experience. Volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are the forces of giants as well, and luckily, we do not encounter these every day.

Great Comet of 1861 by E. Weiss
The “Great Comet of 1861”, drawing by E. Weiss – Source

But when such an extraordinary thing does happen, it can challenge our entire worldview. It makes us realize that we humans are part of a much larger cosmic scheme. And once in a blue moon, these forces invade the human world. The sight of a giant comet alone would suffice to profoundly alter the course of human history, let alone any cosmic cataclysm it leaves in its wake.

I think it’s good to challenge once in a while the way we view the world, and not become too complacent with what we think is ordinary reality. A giant comet may challenge our worldview, just like a psychedelic experience would. Both may have found their way in myth, possibly represented by the gods themselves. 

Psychedelics may have even helped humans deal with the trauma caused by such events. And when the planet cools down due to cometary dust, and rain keeps on falling, wouldn’t that in some places have contributed to the growth of psychedelic mushrooms?

What both the science and the myths also teach us about catastrophic events, is that life goes in cycles, both on the cosmic scale and on the scale of the human experience. No matter how catastrophic and chaotic things get when the forces of chaos threaten the established order, life will triumph eventually. This, to me, is a hopeful message.

This chaos doesn’t have to be all bad either. It’s how we grow. The comet that killed the dinosaurs paved the way for us humans (and chickens). And sometimes, we look for chaos ourselves, when too much order and routine gets into the way of growth. This is also why some of us use mind-altering substances from time to time, to break free from old patterns (or something more mundane such as taking a vacation or watching a great movie would help as well).

Ragnarök, falling stars, a screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast with Arthur Koopmans
The Ragnarök myth explicitly mentions the falling of stars from heaven – screenshot from the Mind Escape Podcast

What’s driving me to research comets and catastrophe in myth?

The subject that we talk about in this episode is not the only way in which I view the myths, but it is a subject that fascinates me, and might be crucial in understanding what the myths are about. The cryptic language of symbolism that we finds in the myths triggers curiosity. It’s curiosity which makes us human, and not programmed automatons that are satisfied with one single script.

It’s this curiosity that is driving me to research the myths. So far, it has taken me to distant lands and distant times, to the stars, and to falling stars, and from the fruit of knowledge to the plant of immortality.

Cosmic catastrophe, and the appearance of exceptionally large comets is one of these many subjects that I find utterly fascinating, and in continuing blog posts, I will continue to research this subject further, as well as its place in an ancient astronomical tradition based upon the stars and constellations.

The Theft of the Golden Hair: a Celestial Crime

We have seen the evidence that mythology isn’t just the ancient’s way of writing fantasy fiction. As much as I enjoy modern fantasy in books or television series, there is something in the myths that to me, make them more intriguing, and more loaded with mystery. The myths may be all the more vibrant in meaning compared to ordinary fiction because they are written in the stars, describing celestial phenomena through symbolism and revealing eternal truths that people in ancient times have found.

While we are still following Odin’s nighttime journey, let’s look in the meantime at another interesting story of Norse myth, to see how this one too can be linked to the constellations. The story starts with the theft of the golden hair of Sif, the wife of the thunder god Thor. This myth too has very strong links to the stars, and we will start our investigation by looking at David Mathisen’s interpretation of the myth. 

Is this an innocent story about a woman who loses her golden locks, or is there something more going on here? Let’s have a look at this myth, and explore the different theories that can explain what inspired the ancient poets to craft this wonderful tale, involving golden locks, a trickster, and the dwarfs beneath the earth.

A Celestial Crime

The myths of the Norse aren’t all doom and gloom, wrought from the imagination of bloodthirsty Vikings. The mischievous trickster god Loki knows how to create a comical note at the expense of the gods, and to the delight of us, the audience. When the gods display too much vanity and pride, and when things are going just a little bit too well, there is always Loki to stir up trouble. The lack of adversity can be a bit boring for the rebellious character that is Loki.

Sif, the beautiful wife of Thor, wakes up one morning to find that her once luscious golden locks have suddenly disappeared. The sight of his wife’s sudden baldness (or shorter coupe) must have been quite the shock for the thunderous Thor. One can imagine how Thor, a god with a fiery temper, must have been boiling with rage at the humiliation that Loki had brought upon him and his wife.

But perhaps greater than his rage was the despair at the idea that his once-perfect wife may not have her splendid golden locks return to their former glory. After all the tricks that Loki had played on the gods, Thor knew immediately who was to blame for this bold and wicked crime. 

Loki cuts the golden hair of Sif by Katharine Pyle
“Loki cuts Sif’s Hair” by Katharine Pyle (1930)

The Skáldskaparmál (the “Language of Poetry”) in Snorri’s Prose Edda, tells us about this story in prose form. Snorri tells how Thor threatened to break every bone in Loki’s body if he would not come up with a solution for his wife’s  missing hair. Loki quickly swore that he would have the black-elves make his wife a new head of hair. They would forge the new locks of hair out of gold, and they would grow on Sif’s head like any other hair. 

After that, Loki went to visit the dwarfs – the black-elves – as Snorri calls them in the Prose Edda. These dwarfs were master smiths, the sons of Ivaldi, and they forged for Loki the head of hair, and also two other wonders that would prove the gods much good in their fight against the giants and the onslaught of Ragnarök. 

Loki then wagered his head with another pair of dwarfs called Brokk and Eitri, and challenged them to create three items that are even better than the ones that the other dwarfs made. Because his head was on the line, Loki tried all he could to stop these dwarfs from succeeding, by harassing them in the form of a fly.

In his Star Myths of the World Volume Four, David Mathisen looks for a celestial interpretation for the involuntary haircut in this myth. The first constellation that we should turn to is the celestial maiden Virgo. Above her outstretched arm, we find the asterism Coma Berenices, her locks.

Virgo and Coma Berenices
Virgo as the sleeping Sif and Coma Berenices as the golden locks

Berenice’s Hair

In the image above, we can see Virgo lying on her back, as if sleeping. With her outstretched arm, we might also envision her lying on her side, perhaps sleepily reaching for the golden locks that are being taken away from her by the mischievous Loki. Coma Berenices means the “Hair of Berenice”. The very name of this asterism should be a strong clue that this asterism represents the stolen hair in the myth. H.A. Rey in his book The Stars: a New Way to See Them explains how the name of this faint cluster of stars that is visible on a moonless night came to be:

“This 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.”

H.A. Rey, The stars: A new way to see them

The asterism Coma Berenices is an ancient one, and the origin of this legend is likely to be found in an older connection between Coma Berenices and long locks of hair. In another version, the court astronomer Conon of Samos explains to the grieving queen how it was Aphrodite herself who placed her locks in the heavens as a constellation. Aphrodite is the Greek name for Venus. We know Venus as the second planet from the sun, but also as the goddess of love and beauty, victory in war and fertility among other things.

In the Norse myth, this asterism is probably linked to the long, golden hair of Sif, who herself is represented by Virgo. Sif shares this connection with Virgo with several other goddesses of Norse myth, the foremost of which is Freyja – the Norse equivalent of Venus and Aphrodite. We will turn to the significance of the connection with the planet Venus later. First, we have a thief to catch.

The Prime Suspect

Star Myth researcher David Mathisen has also unmasked the culprit of this celestial crime. When we zoom out a little, we might see him hanging above Coma Berenices:

The constellations Virgo, Coma Berenices and Boötes
Loki’s theft of Sif’s hair envisioned in the constellations

There he is, whistling with a flute in his mouth, sitting on his bum, as if he is an innocent child. But David Mathisen has provided a good deal of evidence in Part Four of his Star Myths series that Loki can be identified with the constellation Boötes in several Norse myths. He suggests that this same constellation may also play the role of the satyr god Pan with his panflute. Boötes is called the “Herdsman” in the astronomy of the Greeks, which fits the pastoral nature of the god Pan. In the Norse myth, we can see him snatching away Coma Berenices, the golden locks of Sif.

Why are the long locks of Sif described as golden in color? Is this simply because there are more blond people in Northern Europe? Or does this too have a celestial explanation? Seeing that this myth too is based on the stars, it seems like hardly any detail in the myths can be left to chance. In addition to Coma Berenices, I think that there is another constellation that can be linked to Sif’s golden hair.

When Loki had made the real hair disappear, he challenged the dwarfs in the subterranean realm Svartalfheim to forge new locks of hair out of gold. While Coma Berenices in this myth likely represents the original set of hair linked to Virgo, I think it likely that the constellation Scorpio represents the newly forged set of hair:

The constellation Scorpio with Antares
Scorpio with the red-golden star Antares

The Gold in the Underworld

The constellation Scorpio can be found in the region of the Underworld, as it is a constellation that is placed lower in the sky, in the path of the Ecliptic. This is the perceived path that the sun and the planets follow in their wanderings through the sky. The dwarfs (or black elves) in Norse mythology are described as dwelling beneath the mountains of the earth, where they forge the most splendid magical items for the gods. As we will see, there is evidence that the dwarfs and their creations can be found in this very same region.

In previous blog posts I have made the argument that Scorpio can be linked to the nine runes that Odin carved while he hung from the World Tree Yggdrasil. The bright ruddy star Antares in Scorpio likely represents the blood from his wound with which he colors the runes red. The color of  Antares is somewhere in the middle between red and yellow, giving it a red-golden hue. In the above screenshot from the star-gazing software Stellarium you can clearly see how it has a warmer, gold-like hue in comparison with its surrounding stars.

Especially at the point where Scorpio fans out to the right, out of the golden-hued Antares, we can envision this constellation as a long lock of hair with strands of hair attached to it, much like the asterism Coma Berenices. Scorpio may represent the new locks of hair that were crafted by the dwarfs from the gold of the earth, from the gold of the Underworld itself – the Underworld through which, according to many ancient traditions, the golden light of the sun travels at night.

The golden-hued Venus, along with the other planets, follow the sun closely along the Ecliptic. But Scorpio has its own fiery-gold star Antares to account for the golden color of the locks.

The true color of Antares is a little bit more red than in the above screenshot, which would perhaps also explain many red-haired figures in mythology. Set, the Egyptian god of chaos – mischievous like the Norse Loki – has long been associated with the constellation Scorpio. The earliest depiction of Set in his beast-form is as a scorpion on a ceremonial macehead. Set has been described as a redhead in myth, and so is Osiris. And what to think of the story of the biblical Samson, whose seven locks are cut off by his lover Delilah, and who has been reported by some to have had red or blond hair?

Let’s zoom out again, so that we can see dwarfs forging the golden hair in their celestial forge:

The constellations in the region of Ophiuchus.
The region of Ophiuchus as the celestial forge of the dwarfs.

Forged by Dwarfs

To the left of Boötes we find the short and stout constellation Hercules. Hercules, with its square head and his upraised arm – brandishing some sort of striking weapon – is envisioned by David Mathisen as a celestial smith in this myth. In the H.A. Rey version of the constellation, he holds a big club.

Mathisen makes the argument in his book on Norse Star Myths that by slightly altering the stars in this constellation, the club can also be envisioned as a wide range of striking weapons, including a hammer. He supports this argument by providing a large sample of artwork and sculpture from civilizations across the globe that all have depicted this constellation in their own unique ways, but still recognizably Hercules.

Compared to the towering Ophiuchus, the smaller Hercules and Boötes look more like children, or dwarfs. And compared to the two figures above it, Ophiuchus itself looks like a giant. Mathisen links the lofty figures Hercules and Boötes to the dwarfs in this myth. Remember that these dwarfs dwell in the mountains? The tall Ophiuchus with his triangular hat can also represent a mountain in myth – the very World Mountain even that is revered by ancient cultures across the globe.

In addition to a mountain, I think that Ophiuchus with its rectangular body and its pointy tip can represent something else as well in this myth. What is placed between the smith and the thing that he makes? You guessed it right: an anvil. Notice how the shape of Ophiuchus can be seen as the anvil of the celestial smith? The image below shows how the three constellations Hercules, Ophiuchus and Scorpio can together depict the celestial forge of the dwarfs:

The dwarf smiths Brokk and Eitri - Star Myth
Ophiuchus as the anvil on which the magical artifacts are created for the gods

The Scorpion’s Claws

Can we perhaps also find the tool with which Loki cuts off Sif’s hair? An alternative way in which Scorpio is sometimes depicted, is as a beast with two big claws. Perhaps the best way to envision this is by combining Scorpio with the stars of the neighbouring Libra. In Babylonian astronomy, Libra was known as the “scales” or “balance”, but also as the “Claws of the Scorpion”

Let’s combine the two constellations and see what we get:

Scoprio and Libra as scissors that cut Virgo's hair
Scorpio combined with Libra as a pair of scissors

When I connected the dots, I found that these two constellations taken together surprisingly depict the “claws” or “scissors” of a scorpion surprisingly well. In this case, they might also depict the scissors of the mischievous Loki. To the left, on the same level of Scorpio in the sky, we find Sagittarius. This too, is one of the constellations that David Mathisen identified with the shape-shifting Loki. As Mathisen makes clear, mythological figures are often linked to more than one constellation in the sky. For this, we will see plenty of evidence in later investigation of the myths.

Even in the origins of words, we find the same connections that we find in the myths. The Greek word skorpius (“scorpion”) is derived from the Proto-Indo-European word (s)ker, “to cut”, or “cut off”. The Dutch word for scissors schaar is derived from the Old Dutch skari, which comes close to (s)ker. The modern English word heart is derived from PIE kér, which comes close to the word (s)ker. From kér is also derived the French coeur (“heart”), and another name for the red-golden star Antares is the Heart of the Scorpion.  Scorpions, scissors, red or golden hair, it all comes together in the same constellation.

What happened to Loki after he had wagered his head with the dwarfs Brokk and Eitri? Despite his attempts to thwart the dwarfs’ making of three additional gifts for the gods, the duo of dwarfs succeeded, and the knife was now aimed at Loki’s neck. But the cunning Loki said to the dwarfs that the deal was to take his head off, not his neck. This proved such a conundrum for the dwarfs that they lost their patience, and simply sew his mouth shut. This too can be found in the constellations that we have visited in this story.

We could dwell further on the way that this myth can be envisioned in the stars, but I think that we should cut this story short for now (sincere apologies for this pun). I think that we have gathered a good deal of evidence that suggests that this too is a myth written in the stars. David Mathisen provided a good basis without which this further exploration of the myth wouldn’t be possible. I think that we have proven that there is probably more to this myth than just an innocent story about a maiden losing her hair.

The beauty is that not only the Norse myths can be found in the stars, but the myths around the world use this same system. When we look at any one constellation with the knowledge of the myths, we could see one symbol after another flash past our mind’s eye , drawn from the well of memory, from myths and traditions all over the world, and from different periods of time.

But there are also other phenomena that inhibit our skies, some of which mimick the events in this story quite well. In the next part of this series, we will explore the ancient connections between hair and comets, the so-called “long-haired stars”.

Continue with the next part:

The Deadly Beauty of Long-Haired Stars

Series:

Long-haired Stars and the Myths


Source Texts

Skáldskaparmál (The Poesy of Skalds)

David Mathisen’s Blog

Star Myths of the World

Books

Star Myths of the World, and How to Interpret Them: Volume Four: Norse Mythology (David Mathisen 2018)

The Stars: A New Way to See Them (H.A. Rey 1976)

Featured image: “Water Snakes I” by Gustav Klimt (1904-1907). Source: WikiArt.

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