Donar (and the limits of my imagination)

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?

Donar, riding the clouds.

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.)

Hail Donar
Giant against the giants
Son of Wodan
Wielder of Mjölnir
Father of anger and strength

Hail Donar
Protector of the Homestead
Healer of tooth ache, hemorrhoids and burns
Soother of fevers and nightmares
Witness of every marriage

Hail Donar,
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,
Summer child,
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.


3 thoughts on “Donar (and the limits of my imagination)

  1. Hi. Interesting post. Nice poem, too!

    I live in Texas, which just about as far as you can get from any sort of European climate! (Except maybe Mediterranean. It’s still hotter here, but a lot of Mediterranean plants still do well enough.)

    Interestingly enough, Thor/Donar is one of the easiest gods for me to picture. One thing that might help is we can have some pretty impressive thunderstorms here. We also have tornadoes, droughts, and floods. I doubt my ancestors thought of Thor as much of a rain-bringer, since I don’t think that not having enough rain was much of a problem with them, but here he seems to serve that purpose, in addition to protecting us against severe weather. If I was ever in that path of a tornado, that’s the god I’d pray to.

    In my area of Texas, we also have plenty of oak trees. The most common species in my area is called the “live oak” Quercus fusiformis. They’re called that because they are evergreen, though we have some other species of oak that are deciduous. There are some live oaks around here that are 500 years old or so. It’s too dry here for trees to get very tall, so really old trees grow in girth instead. They also get twisted and knarled, and often hollow out on the inside. It reminds me of the baobab tree of Africa, which is a sacred tree to the native people there.

    Such tough, old trees remind me of Thor’s strength and endurance. I actually made my rune set out of live oak. I know runes are more Odin’s thing, and we do have a few ash trees here, but I just love live oaks so much, that’s what I made my runes out of.

    1. This summer I went to Wales and the trees I saw, they were so immense and old. The Netherlands has a a history of early civic democracy so we do not have these large rural (ex) estates who have often served to protect these lanes of old trees. My country is a new country, built on fresh sediments and planned forests. It is just so very organized, so it is hard to find true wilderness. Even if Thor is as much at home in swampy foresty lands (which it used to be around here), I am not sure if he would the sunken reclaimed lands and the geometric canals that characterise the West of this country.

      500 hundred years is very old. And those storms sound very intense. I am not sure if having much rain, would mean the Germanic peoples wouldn’t venerate it all the same. Freyr seems to be connected with rain fall. And spring rains are different from autumn rains etcetera. I believe last year Wales had many floods as did much of Northern Britain, but in the spring they had water shortages. Atlantic coast weather can be very changeable. My country is a new one, much of it based on river sediments, with sunken reclaimed lands in the west and neat rows of planted trees. I wonder if any gods feel at home there. Fortunately around here there are some leafy woods and heather fields. But I digress,

      Every land has its special places. And none is devoid of gods whatsoever. Thank you for reminding me.

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