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The gods will answer to the call, but we know their doom. By what miracle did the Germans and Norsemen, alone among pagans, become possessed with an idea apparently so antagonistic to the very spirit of paganism? How came that rude and bloodthirsty race, in times when they were as yet so little given to abstract speculation, to conceive the thought of a great consummation, in which all nature should be destroyed by fire, the gods themselves, whom they had made after their own likeness, should perish, and their own highest ideal of life, human and divine, should give place to something ineffably purer and better? Scarcely can we imagine by what impulse they were prompted for once to strain their thoughts so far beyond the ordinary reaches of their souls, but at least we can trace the line along which they moved in that astonishing flight.

Their whole religion was essentially a personification of the processes of nature. For themselves, they were before all things warriors; and such as their own habits of life were their views of nature, and the language in which they clothed them. War, elemental war, was the constant occupation of their gods; and when the usual tendency of polytheism to rise towards monotheism led them to choose a supreme deity, their choice could not be doubtful.



They raised to that rank the storm-god Odin, who better represented the national character than did any of the others, not even excepting Thor, and whose death in Autumn and resurrection in Spring corresponded to the beginning and end of nature's two greatest annual vicissitudes. Thus the annual death of nature and of its supreme god became dominant and inseparable points in their theology, just as in that of the Egyptians; but unlike the Egyptians they had among them some man of genius who was able to push the same theory to its extreme limits, and to impose his own views upon his countrymen. "Life and death," such a man would have argued, "run the round of the year, and seven months of death are a necessary preparation for five months of life. What if the death were longer, and also more profound and unbroken; for now it is suspended for twelve nights at the winter solstice, when the gods revive and visit the earth. What if the universe and the gods were once for all to die outright? Would not that perfect death be followed by a perfect life, infinitely transcending all that has come of the petty deaths of all the years since the ash-tree first became a man?"




AGNI, beloved as the hearth fire, is styled in the Vedas "the guest," but he is also worshipped as lord of the house, the family, and the tribe, and god of domestic life and of marriage. In these attributes he corresponds exactly with Thor.

The ceremonies constituting the nuptial solemnity in India are thus described by Colebrooke :*_" The bridegroom goes in procession to the house where the bride's father resides, and is there welcomed as a guest. The bride is given to him by her father in the form usual at every solemn donation, and their hands are bound together with grass. He clothes the bride with an upper and better garment, and the skirts of her mantle and his are tied together. The bridegroom makes oblation to fire, and the bride drops rue on it as an oblation. The bridegroom solemnly takes her hand in marriage. She treads

* Miscell. Essays, i. 224.

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on a stone and mullar. They walk round the fire. The bride steps seven steps, conducted by the bridegroom, and he then dismisses the spectators, the marriage being now complete and irrevocable. In the evening of the same day the bride sits down on a bull's hide, and the bridegroom points out to her the polar star as an emblem of stability. They then partake of a meal. The bridegroom remains three days at the house of the bride's father; on the fourth he conducts her to his own house in solemn procession. She is then welcomed by his kindred; and the solemnity ends with oblations to fire."

Burning torches were carried in bridal processions at Rome, and the bride always wore the flammeum or flame coloured veil, "for good omen's sake," as Festus says. Her shoes were also of the same colour. The Hindu bride wore a red girdle, the cautuka, a name which in later times designated also the bridal ring.

In Scandinavia the union of man and wife was anciently consecrated by laying Thor's symbol, the hammer, in the bride's lap; and Thursday is still regarded as an auspicious day for marrying. In Germany, where Christian tradition has partially identified Thor with the devil, it is held unlucky to marry on that day. In that country, in old times,

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when the bride first entered her husband's house, she was led three times round the hearth fire. Among other old customs, some of which are not yet extinct, was the carrying of a red banner in marriage processions. In some places, when the bridal pair are setting out for church they are made to step over a firebrand laid on the threshold of the house they are leaving. In other places, after the bride has been formally received in the house where the wedding is to be celebrated, she takes a pair of tongs and a firebrand in each hand, and carries them to the gate of the forecourt, where her friends are waiting to form the wedding procession. In times within living memory the bride wore a lofty headdress of a peculiar form, never used on any other occasion. A band of red silk wound round it was an indispensable part of its adornment. The bridal nosegays of rosemary were always tied with red thread, as they are still in Havelland. In a wood near Dahle there was formerly a great oak tree (now reduced to a stump) to which new married couples used to repair, dance round it three times, and cut a cross upon it. This cross betokened of yore Thor's hammer, the consecrator of marriage.*

Thor's wife was Sif, whose name, signifying "kin,"

* Kuhn, Westf. ii. 44.

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