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worthily doubted whether they were more hard or cruel to our countrymen than the Danes, or more heavy and intolerable to our island than the Saxons or the Romans.” (Vol. I, p. 6). This grave and sensible author (whose moral reflections are like apples of gold in pictures of silver) repeating the concurrent testimony of all our ancient Chroniclers, has however, like them, overlooked the cause of the inhumanity of the Northmen. This spirit was the dictate of religion, rather than the impulse of wantonness and barbarity; for they were taught, that human sacrifices were acceptable to their gods and to the manes of those slain in battle: accordingly, they always decimated their prisoners, putting every tenth captive to death by the most excruciating tortures.?
Tantum relligio potuit suadere malorum. But, if their cruelty was great, their insolence was greater. “For if a Dane met an Englishman upon a bridge (says J. Brompton) the latter would not presume to stir a foot, until the Dane had crossed; nay further, if the English did not bow the head in honour of the Dane, they quickly felt the grievous punishment of stripes.” “ Hardecanute suffered the Danes to domineer to such a pitch, that every family through the kingdom had one Dane as the guard and master of the house, and thus (says H. Knyghton) they defloured our wives, daughters, and maid-servants, and inflicted many insults and indignities on our own countrymen, to the dishonour and disgrace of the English.” And similar is the testimony of all our Chroniclers.
3. It is not easy to form a just idea of the religion of those tribes who occupied the North of Europe. What we find in Tacitus and others, is vague and uncertain. The only genuine source from which any clear views may be drawn hereon, is, that summary of Icelandish Mythology, called the Edda, the Bible of the northern heathens. Let us, then, taking this as our guide, examine this religion in its purity. “He was the author of all that exists, the Eternal, the Ancient, the Living and Awful One, the Searcher-out of hidden things, the Immutable.” To him are attributed “power infinite, knowledge without bounds, justice in
(7) Sidon. I. VIII. Symmachus, I. II.
(8) Tacitus asserts that the Germans believed—what indeed reason teaches to all menthe being of a Supreme God, to whom all things were subject and obedient. “Regnator omnium Deus ; cætera subjecta atque parentia. c. 83.
And whatever is recorded concerning this people, is equally applicable (we repeat) to tie Northmen.
: corruptible.” “ He is the Universal Father; He lives for ever ;
He governs all kingdoms, and directs great things as well as small. He hath formed the heavens, earth, and air; He hath made more than the sky and the earth ; He hath made mankind, and given to him a soul that shall live and never be lost, even after the body shall have vanished into dust and ashes. And all just men shall dwell with Him in a place called Gimlee, i. e. the palace of peace and harmony; but the wicked shall go down to Hella or death ; and thence to Nifhleim, which is below in the ninth world.” This sublime doctrine is the sum of all natural religion, so far as mere reason can carry us, teaching the Unity of the Godhead, the immortality of the soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments. This religion forbids the representation of the Deity under any corporeal form, as derogatory to his greatness and also the confining within the walls of a temple, of Him who is Immensity, whose temple is the Universe, and whose altar is the whole earth : like the ancient Persians, and the Druids they consecrated to Him woods and groves, in the dark, silent and awful recesses of which they might contemplate the Deity seemingly present."
But this pure fountain of worship at length became turbid and corrupt with the taint of idolatry and polytheism; the pure gold 3 was alloyed and almost lost amidst the dross. For from this
Great Supreme they drew, as it were emanations, an infinite host of inferior divinities. The sun, moon, stars, earth, water, trees, forests, rivers, mountains, thunder, and tempests had each its presiding deity or genius. And these are the chief traits of that
. ancient heathenism, common, in the earliest ages, to almost all the nations of Europe, and without doubt to many in Asia, even till the decline of the Roman republic, that is, till the dawning of Christianity. And such is the tendency of all religious systems, however pure their origin, and however enlightened their founders. For men are by nature so gross, weak, and carnal, so narrow in the ideas they form of their Creator, that they cannot conceive how that God, who fills immensity with his presence,
(9) This work has been translated by Mallet. See his Introduction to the Hist. of Denmark, pp. 48, 9.
(10) Cæterum ne cohibere parietibus Deos, neque in ullam humani oris speciem assimilare, ex magnitudine cælestium, arbitrantur. Lucos ac nemora consecrant, Deorumque nominibus appellant secretum illud quod solâ reverentiâ vident. Tacit. Germ. c. 9.
whose centre is every where, can be present every where at the same moment ; how He who made all things by the word of His mouth, can sustain and inform them by the same power; how that Being who is present to all, cannot but be attentive to all, and will, therefore, hear their prayers, and minister to their wants Thus enveloped in a cloud of ignorance, they have had re course in time of need, to what they imagined, like all nations ignorant of the nature of the true God, to be a more speedy, certain, and available help, and invoked a host of false deities and tutelar spirits, demons, or angels, to the general neglect of the only and true God. Hence His image being gradually effaced from their hearts, they drew the moral attributes of their imaginary divinities to the standard of their own character, as those who took delight in the display of courage in battle, and in the inflicting of vengeance, in carnage and desolation. And, as war was the dominant passion among the northern nations, before the arrival of Odin among them from Scythia, he became, from his prowess, cruelty, success in battle, and his powers as a magician, the very Being to their humours and habits. Appearing to them something superhuman, his apotheosis and that of his companions in arms, was the natural result. But what a God! instead of a merciful and just One, the maker and sustainer of heaven and earth ; the Author of all good, the rewarder of the virtuous, we find him depicted in the Icelandish Mythology, as “the God of
“ war, the terrible and severe God, the father of slaughter, the Depopulator; the Incendiary, the active and roaring Deity, he that giveth victory, who re-animates the combatants, who nameth those who are to be slain.”
As this monster of humanity was the principal Deity, like the Jupiter of the Latins, so was Friga, or Frea, his wife the principal goddess. She became, in the sequel, the patroness of love and debauchery, the Venus of the North, and, like her prototype, passed for the principle of all fecundity—for the mother of all that exists. It was to her that women addressed themselves to obtain happy marriages and prosperous accouchments. She was the dispenser of sensual pleasures, repose, and voluptuousness.
The third in this monstrous Theology, was the redoubtable Thor, the God of Thunder. He was always represented as bearing
: a massive club or mace, indicative of his immense strength. In 1 these three Persons have we not a glimpse of the Heathen
Trinity, denoting wisdom, love, and power ? To this Deity they į dedicated the fifth day of the week, Thor'sday, as to the Sun and r Moon, the first and second; to Woden, the fourth, or Woden’s-day, nas Tuesday, to the God Tuisco, Friday, to Friga, and Saturday,
to a divinity, called Soter. To another goddess, named Eoster, they dedicated the month of April, or that period of the year subsequent to the vernal Equinox, when the wind blows usually
from the East; and was, therefore, favourable to their maritime e enterprises
But we refer the curious and learned, for more ample information upon this part of our subject, to the elaborate work of M. Pelloutier. But as to the many popular fictions which their poets taught to the credulous people,-fictions sometimes in
genious, and oftener puerile, with which they sought to gloss : over the
pure and ancient religion,—we may not believe, that the intelligent portion of those nations looked upon them in any & other light.
The manners and customs, as the religion of the Scandinavians, differed little from those of the Saxons; but in human sacrifices, the former were far more cruel. Ditmarus, an ancient bishop, writes thus : " Because I have heard wonderful reports of the ancient sacrifices of the Danes and Normans, I will not pass it by unnoticed. At certain seasons they assemble, and sacrifice, to their Gods, ninety-nine men, as many horses and dogs and cocks, instead of hawks, assuring themselves, that hereby their Gods are fully pleased and pacified.” And not only the vulgar, but men of rank and quality were the victims, especially in times of great danger and extremity, thinking that the more noble the victim, the more appeasable will be the Gods. Nay, their very kings. were unspared. The first king of Wermland, a petty province in Sweden, was burnt in honour of Odin, to put an end to a great dearth ; and kings, in their turn, spared not the blood of their subjects, or even of their children. For, Hacon king of Norway offered his own son, to obtain of Odin a victory over his enemy Harold"; and Anne, king of Sweden,
(1) Histoire des Celtes.
(2) See also Camden and Speed. (3) Wormius, in Monum. Danica and North Antiq. I, p. 134. (4) Saxo-Gram. I. X.
devoted to the same God the lives of nine sons, to prevail or him to prolong his life. It is also reported that, when the inhabitants became too numerous, they selected the young mer by lot, whom they drove forth like bees from a hive, to possess themselves of settlements in a foreign land, by the sword. While sending forth these emigrants, they offered human sacrifices for the success of the enterprise, deeming them the most precious and acceptable of all burnt-offerings to their sovereign God Thor. But the true cause of these emigrations may have arisen not so much from scarcity of food and poverty of soil,—for the earth, even in such a rugged climate, is ever bountiful and rewards those who cultivate her,--as from the roving, restless, and adventurous spirit of the people, and the desire of winning the lands of others by the glory of the sword, rather than, by the drudgery of the plough, of cultivating their own.
In the catalogue of their various superstitions stand foremost Witchcraft, and Divinations by lots and augury. Auspicia sortesque ut qui maxime observant,” says Tacitus. These may be, in some degree, palliated, since the former, a system of knavery and delusion, was rife all over Europe long after the period of the Reformation, and in England was not
not wholly extinct even at the opening of the last century; the latter was prevalent among the enlightened Greeks and Romans. Their divination by lots was simple, and was performed by cutting slips of wood from a fruit-bearing tree, which were distinguished by various marks, or notches. These they jumbled in a white bag. Then, the priest, if it was a public occasion, or the father of a family, if private, implored the favour of their Gods; and raising his eyes to heaven, took up one slip three times successively, and prognosticated good or evil, according to the marks fortuitously presented. Future events were divined not only by the flight and singing of birds, but by the neighing of horses, which they considered as the ministers of the Gods, and these were fed in woods and groves at the public expense. But the circumstances, from which they drew their surest presages touching the issue of a war, was the decision by a single combat between one of
(5) Wormius, I, p. 28.
(6) Dudo de St Quentin.—Deorum maxime Mercurium colunt, qui certis diebus humanis quoque hostiis litare fas habent. Tacit. Germ. c. 9.