Observations in
Eddic Astronomy

by Dr. Christopher Johnsen
© 2014

  The Weapon Myth, Part 2:
The “Shield Hero”
The poem Rígsþula tells the story of Heimdall, here named Ríg, as he arrives from the ocean in Scandinavia and wanders along the seashore until he comes to a farm.  Beginning here, Rig/Heimdall goes on to father the progenitors of the three classes of human beings, the youngest of which inherits the name "Ríg" and he then passes the name on to his own son.  This third “Ríg”, Konr the young, was the first true king (Konungr) and founder of a royal clan. The name Ríg appears to be from the Old Irish rí, ríg meaning "king", and is cognate to Latin rex, Sanskrit rajan and Gothic reiks.

These children of Heimdall are symbolic and reflect “personified myths symbolizing the development of human society on a religious basis into a political condition of law culminating in royal power” (Teutonic Mythology, page 96, Viktor Rydberg).  Heimdall fathers Rig Jarl who fathers Rig-Konr. The symbolic interpretation would thus meant that the god (religious) brings forth the Jarl-Judge (Secular/Political) who then fathers the King (Royal).

Rydberg says that “Rig-Heimdal secured the sun-dis with bonds of love and ruled the earth in a golden age.” He has a child named by Saxo as Borgar, also known as Skjöld, who is the progenitor of the Skjöldungs.  Borgar appears as a chief in Skane, named Burgarus, and his activities have a resemblance to those of Skjöld the son of Heimdal. He is not a king but he has a son who founds a royal dynasty in Denmark just like Heimdal's son Rig Jarl is not a king but he has a son who becomes a Danish king and the progenitor of the Skjöldung dynasty.

The story has many Teutonic variants.  The name Borgarr is a synonym of Skjöldr and means “the protecting one” or “the shielding one” derived from “bjarga” which means “a shield.” Heimdal's son is named both Skjöld Borgar and Rig Jarl and in the German poem Wolfdieterich Konig Ruther Borgar is called Berchtung Berker and Berther.

Thus the “Shield Hero” is Skjöld/Borgar who is named for this implement.  In the Viking age, fighting men used large, round, wooden shields gripped in the center from behind an iron boss. Shields represent one of several instances where the literary sources and archaeological sources do not agree on how these items were constructed.

The Norwegian Gulaþing and Frostaþing laws specify the construction of a shield. They say that the shield should be made of wood with three iron bands and a handle fastened to the back side by iron nails. A later revision of the law says that the shield should be made of a double layer of boards (tvibyrðr), and the front should be painted red and white.

Those shields that have actually survived from the Viking age, however, notably the shields from the Gokstad ship (10th century AD, above left), were made from a single layer of planks butted together, with no iron bands, and the fronts were painted black and yellow. There was a leather rim on the shield.  The edging helped to bind the shield together, as well, since the leather shrunk after it was installed, forcing the planks more tightly together.

Even earlier are the Thorsberg shields (top right), 2 round shields with a metal boss in the center, discovered in a moor in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, presumably deposited as votive offerings, and dating to the 4 century AD. At the center of the shield was a domed iron boss, which protected the hand. The boss had to be big enough to allow the hand to grasp the shield and to shift position freely with the movements of the fight. 

Typical Viking shields were about 32-36 inches in diameter - the Gokstad shields were approximately 1/4in. thick near the center and were thinner at the edges.  Surviving examples were made from spruce, fir, or pine.  Literary sources contradict the evidence of archeology and suggest that shields were made from linden wood, which is light weight and doesn’t split easily. The word “lind” is used to mean "shield" in Völuspá (50), and “lindiskjöldr (linden shield) is used in some sagas.  Egils saga (chapter 53) says that Þórólfr was equipped with a large, thick shield. Later in the battle, he threw his shield on his back to wield his spear with two hands.

All the surviving examples are made from solid butted planks, despite literary evidence (10th century Frankish poem Waltharius, and the Gulaþing laws) stating that they were supposed to be made of laminated wood. No archaeological evidence supports this style of construction during the Viking era in Norse lands.

The Greeks have a tradition about who created the first shields for battle (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 24 - 25 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.):
"Abas [king of Argos] and Aglaia, daughter of Mantineus, had twin sons Akrisios and Proitos. These two were at odds with each other while still in the womb, and when they had grown they warred over the kingdom. In the course of fighting they became the first to develop the use of shields. Akrisios won and drove Proitos out of Argos. Proitos made his way to Iobates, or, according to some, to Amphianax in Lykia, and married his daughter, whom Homeros calls Anteia, although the tragic poets call her Stheneboia. Proitos’ father-in-law with the Lykian army conducted him home again, where he seized Tiryns, which had been walled for him by the Kyklopes. The two brothers then split up all of Argeia between them and settled down, Akrisios lord of Argos, and Proitos lord of Tiryns.”
Disappointed by his lack of luck in having a son, Akrisios consulted the oracle at Delphi, who told him that he would one day be killed by his daughter's son with Zeus. In order to keep his daughter, Danaë childless, Akrisios imprisoned her in a bronze chamber, open to the sky, in his palace courtyard. Zeus came to her in the form of a shower of gold, and she became pregnant. Soon after, their child Perseus was born.  Perseus - Akrisios’ grandson - was the first in a line of heroes which also included Hercules.

Fearing for his future self, but unwilling to provoke the wrath of the gods by killing the offspring of Zeus and his daughter, Akrisios cast Perseus and Danae into the sea in a wooden coffin which eventually washed ashore on the island of Serifos.  This echoes the story of Scef/Heimdal, who came to shore on Scandia by a boat that had no sail and was drawn by Swans (an apt description of a floating coffin – a “boat” being “pulled” by the bird foreboding death with its’ “swansong”).  Both stories would seem to indicate the same thing; the representative of the gods is washing ashore somewhere and brings some gift of the gods with him.

Danaans are one of the collective names for the Greeks in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, usually given to just the people from Argos in the Peloponnese, but sometimes applied to Greeks in general. Remarkably similar to the Irish, Tuatha Dé Danann (Tribe of the Goddess Danu) and also in Sanskrit, Dan means “to give” whereas Danu means “water” - the name is perhaps anciently the name of a river goddess, such as seen in the river name “Danube.”

Argos was the greatest center in Greece for the worship of Hera, and the Heraeum, the hill where Hera’s sanctuary stood, was the religious center of the whole area. Argos has been continuously inhabited for the past 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest cities in Greece and Europe.  The people of Argos worshipped the more Vanir-like gods and goddesses such as Hera and Poseidon the equivalents of Frigg and Njörd.

There are several similarities between the Norse stories about Heimdal/Rig’s line of descent in Scandia and the stories surrounding Perseus’.  Both Perseus and Skjöld/Borgar were said to have founded a royal dynasty; the Perseid dynasty of Danaans and the Skjöldungs of the Norse.  Perseus’ grandfather and grand uncle were the first to create the shield and this is the meaning of  Skjöld’s name.  The shield given to Perseus by Athena reflects the gorgon Medusa’s image and makes it possible for him to decapitate her.  There would seem to be every reason to believe that the constellation Perseus is holding is a shield with the Medusa’s head displayed upon it either as a reflection or as a depiction on the outside of the shield since he holds Athena’s shield.  Given these similarities in attributes, position and character, it would seem that Skjöld/Borgar, would admirably be represented by the constellation Perseus in the heavens.

Scef-Heimdall brought the fire-auger to early man who had up until then, lived without the sacred fire.  The fire auger of the Norse sources was, in the Rig Veda, the press that was used to make the Soma sacrament.  The “fire” that Heimdall brought was most likely that same sacrament which was known as the “Kykeon” by the Greeks and “Haoma” by the Persians.  It was brought by Prometheus “forethought” to the Greeks and was the esoteric way of referring to the “fiery” psychedelic effects of the red topped Amanita mushroom which brings on expanded consciousness and was also named Nectar, Amrita, Soma Madhu or Mead of Poetry. 

Perseus, like Skjöld, is part of a kingly line of descent from one of the earliest named places from ancient times.  He protects Andromeda from the evil monster Cetus using the head of Medusa, which he uses like a shield.  The head of the Medusa was emblazoned upon Greek shields and was the most common form of ornamentation upon a shield in ancient Greek times.  Perseus founded a city, having dropped his cap or found a mushroom (both named myces) at Mycenae (“Myc” as in “mycelium” or mushroom). 

Perseus was assisted in completing his tasks by the god Hermes (who has many of the same attributes of Heimdall) and the goddess Athena.  When Perseus arrives at the cave of the Gorgons, they are all asleep. In order to see Medusa without being turned to stone, Perseus uses the reflection in his shiny shield. He then cuts off her head, drops it into his bag, and flees from Medusa's angry sisters.

Next comes the scene from the popular movie The Clash of the Titans where Perseus saves the princess Andromeda by holding up the head of the Medusa and “the Kraken” turns to stone.  Turning to stone is a metaphor for the catatonic state that is induced by overconsumption of the mushroom. The decapitated head of the Medusa is a symbol of the mushroom cap separated from its’ stalk, similar to that of Mimer’s decapitated head, kept by Odin to access its wisdom. It is also a symbol of death, bringing with it an implicit warning that use of the “Medusa’s head” can bring about death. 

In Ivaldi and Skjöld, we have two ancient progenitors of different lines of descent in the Norse tradition; those allied with the Elf princes on one side and their patriarch, the Spear-Ale hero, Ivaldi, whose spear is similar in shape to the stalk of the mushroom and those associated with this line wield sharp weapons such as the spear, arrow and sword; on the other side we have the Shield hero, Skjöld/Borgar whose shield is similar to the cap of the mushroom and those associated with this line (Skjöld, Halfdan, Thor) use battle implements that are dull; shields, clubs and hammers. 

We will further explore the weapon myth in the next installation of this series by examining the next generation of heroes:  the Elf Prince, Egil and the son of Skjöld, Halfdan.