On Tuesday I wrote about the power of imagination. Today I write about its limits. There are some places my imagination does not wish to go. Donar (West-Germanic cognate to Thor) is one of the gods I have difficulty imagining. I admire oak trees. And I enjoy being out and about when the summer storms rage. And he is one of the few gods of whom scholars are certain he was revered in these lands, thus part of this land and of my ancestral heritage. Yet Donar does not come alive in my mind.
Stories usually help to create a lively image of a god. But perhaps, in the case of Donar/Thor, it is exactly the amount of information available that restricts me in this regard. He is well represented in the Eddas and works of art. He has always been popular and even has his own jewellery line (the hallmark of modern popularity, or is that perfume scent?). He seems too much a god of other people, of other times and of another Norse culture. Too much Thor and too little Donar. How can my imagination still run wildly?
Maybe the key is in imagining the god in this land. Donar is the name of the gods in these low countries, which are very dissimilar from Iceland, Norway or Sweden. These lands used to be swampy, with many oaks, but no mountains and little snow. I am often frustrated about the lack of local stories, local sources, local anything. These lands fell to Christianity so soon. Only the Frisians in the North remained faithful to the old gods in the 7th and 8th century. They supposedly killed Bonifatius, a missionary whose habit it was to chop down oak trees sacred to Donar (latinized as Jupiter). The oak tree then became the symbol for Bonifatius, who subsequently became a saint.
The myths are largely Norse.
Yet Donar is a Germanic god, not just a Norse one.
Yet, American devotees of Thor may think I am lucky. I do live in a country which bares some traces of him. There are a few place names here and there, a couple of Dutch sayings, legends written/noted down in the 19th century. And If you can share your experience or imaginings of Thor as a ‘more than merely Norse’ deity, please do so. What is he like in the plains of the Mid-West or the old Teutonic forests in the Alps? Which parts of the Norse imagery ring true and which are less applicable?
Perhaps a relationship between me and Donar is not to be. Perhaps we just won’t click. I am a polytheists and there plenty of other gods in the sea. But I feel obligated to at least introduce myself and share a drink.
In honour of Donar
(The words came rolling out, perhaps my imagination works just fine.)
Giant against the giants
Son of Wodan
Wielder of Mjölnir
Father of anger and strength
Protector of the Homestead
Healer of tooth ache, hemorrhoids and burns
Soother of fevers and nightmares
Witness of every marriage
Most-venerated in the land of many trees
I mourn your oaks that have fallen
I adore those that rmain still
‘Dikke boom’ the first among them*
I honour you this Thursday**
and will go to ‘the thunder mountains’
the places where your hummer struck,
and Novio Magusanus, your city***
I drink to you,
sitting in the hollow tree.
Most-beloved by my ancestors,
I present myself to you
* ‘the Thick Tree’, the thickest and oldest oak in The Netherlands
** in Dutch: donderdag, thunder’s day
*** the modern city of Nijmegen used to hold two temples dedicated to Magusanus, a latinized form of Donar.