The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boar's Head Dinner At Oxford,

And A Germanic Sun-God

by Karl Blind, 1877

Source: Karl Blind, "Boars Head Dinner at Oxford, and a Germanic Sun-God," in John Nichols, ed. The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 242. (R. Newton, 1877), pp. 96-108.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

Last Christmas I had the honour, through kind invitation, of taking part in the celebrated Boar's Head Dinner at Queens' College, Oxford. I was thus enabled to complete, on the very spot, the investigation of a subject of comparative mythology always of great interest to me on account of its close connection with the early thoughts and the poetry of the stock from which both Englishmen and Germans have sprung. The famed dinner itself, it need not be said, has every mark of reality about it. Even if some confirmed sceptic were to doubt the pre-Columbian origin of the cocoa-nut beaker that passes round on the occasion, there are plenty of other things present to save the table from any appearance of being a myth. For all that, a tale of very ancient origin hangs by that time-honoured Yule-tide meal—a tale which took its rise in a long forgotten primaeval worship of the Aryan race.

The ceremony, as performed at Oxford, is well enough known not to require special description. Suffice it to mention that on Christmas Day a large boar's head, adorned with a crown, wreathed with gilded sprays of laurel and bay, as well as with mistletoe and rosemary, and stuck all over with little banners, is solemnly carried into the Hall by three bearers. A flourish from a trumpet announces the entry. The bearers are accompanied by a herald, who sings the old English Song of the Boar's Head. At the end of each verse those present join in the Latin refrain. A formal procession of the Professors and the Provost of the College precedes the coming in of the boar's head. The people of the town are admitted to the Hall; and before the repast begins the gilded sprays, little banners, and other ornaments of the dish are distributed to the crowd by the Provost. The song, as at present sung in Queens' College, runs thus :—

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
          Quot estis in convivio.

Caput apri defero.
Reddens laudes Domino
. [97]

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the bravest dish in all the land;
When thus bedecked with a gay garland,
          Let us servire cantico.

Caput, &c.

Our steward hath provided this,
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
          In Reginensi Atrio.

Caput, &c.

Having been assigned the place next to the venerable Provost, I walked in the procession with due respect for the hallowed custom. My mind, I confess, was in the meanwhile drawn in two different directions. It was partly bent upon realistic observation; partly filled with strange glimpses of an early race of hunters and herdsmen in Central Asia, dimly discernible in the dawn of history, who later on migrated to the dark forests of Germany, or settled near the bights of the rugged North, and among whose sacrificial customs the Sun-Boar—the symbol of Fro, or Freyr, the God of Light—played a great part at winter solstice. Thus musing, I strode to the table.

At Oxford, the origin of the Boar's Head Dinner is traditionally stated in a very fanciful and modernising form. I say this with a slight degree of Teutonic grief. Even the great pleasure experienced in genial company must not induce us to stifle the "prick of conscience" in matters mythological. So at the risk of appearing somewhat ungrateful, I will add that the tradition in question is not in good form. The well-known legend is that a scholar of Queens' College, about 400 years ago, was walking in deep meditation in a neighbouring forest, when he was attacked by a boar. He quickly despatched the animal by throwing down its throat the Aristotle he was just reading, with the remark: "Græcum est"—" It's Greek!" In honour of this miraculous escape the Boar's Head Dinner was introduced at Christmas; and a bust of Aristotle adorns to this day the large fireplace in the College Hall.

So the legend runs. To render it even more probable, the College preserves the picture of a saint, with a boar's head transfixed on a spear, and the mystic inscription beneath:—"COPCOT." A similar representation is found in the window of the church of Horspeth, a village on the southern slope of Shotover, not far from Oxford.

Now, without denying that Greek would be a most dangerous [98] and indigestible morsel for a boar, I think it will be easily granted that this wonderful explanation does not quite account for a stately dinner at an ancient seat of learning. A similar custom as at Oxford exists, though on a very much reduced scale, at St. John's College, Cambridge. There, a boar's head is served at the supper on St. John's Day, December 27. Again, the same custom, but in the more stately manner, formerly flourished in the London Inns of Court. Dugdale, speaking of the Christmas Day ceremonies in the Inner Temple, says that at the first course is served a fair and large boar's head upon a silver platter, "with minstralsye." Yet we have not heard that any London lawyer had saved himself, in the wilds of the Strand, from the tusks of a bristly quadruped, by throwing an Act of Parliament down its throat, which might have been even more deadly to an English boar than an untranslated Aristotle.

An instance of a modern re-introduction of the Boar's Head Feast may find its place here. At old St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, the original home of the Gentleman's Magazine, and which is now the abode of the Urban Club, the festival was celebrated, in archaic form, from the year 1855 to 1873. There, in the hall strewn with rushes, the gigantic Yule log was drawn in by the sons of the host; and when, with the accompanying bugle-sound, the boar's head was brought in, the cook, dressed all in white, sang the old carol ; the guests joining in the chorus. The loving cup was handed round, and wassail was duly brought in; the Lord of Misrule doing his duty "passing well."* Since the change of proprietorship of St. John's Gate, the festival has been discontinued there. It is rapidly dying out also in most places where it was anciently held.

* See letter of Mr. John Jeremiah, the hon. Sec. of the Urban Club, in Notes and Queries of December 26, 1874. [See: Ye Boare's Head - 1875]

Editor's Note: The article at Wikipedia has a listing of locations where the feast was observed in 2008. See: Boar's Head Feast. Link opens in a new window at an exterior site.

Yet in the carol sung at Oxford, one of the verses significantly says:—

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the bravest dish In All The Land.

Indeed, in all the English land, in noblemen's mansions and in yeomen's homesteads, the old Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Icelandic custom of the Boar's Head Dinner was once upheld. It was the universal Yule-tide observance, for peer and peasant, for the high and the hind. "Before the last civil wars" — Aubrey wrote in 1678 — "in gentlemen's houses at Christmas, the first dish that was brought to table was a boar's head, with a lemon in his [99] mouth." There is an account of an Essex parish, called Hornchurch, in which the inhabitants paid the great tithes on Christmas Day, and were treated with a bull and brawn. The boar's head was wrestled for by the peasants on that occasion, and then feasted upon. But it would be easy to multiply instances. All this will explain also that Boar's Head Taverns, such as we know from Shakespeare's "Henry IV.," should have been not uncommon.

In the Christmas carol literature, a general agreement is to be met with as to the Boar's high and distinguished position. There are old English carols in which a "prince with owte peere" (a prince without peer) — the " Prince of Bliss" of the present Oxford song — is mentioned. There are other carols with no ecclesiastical allusions whatever in them, except the Latin refrains; in the place of the Prince of Bliss there is simply a reference to "mustarde." Even in the former, more clerically tinged songs the boar is, remarkably enough, styled a "soverayn beste." In the carol as printed by Wynkyn de Worde, the boar's head is called the "chefe servyce in the lande." In the Porkington Manuscript, a miscellany of the fifteenth century, there is a yet earlier song, beginning with—

Hey, hey, hey, hey, the borrys hede is armyd gaye.
The boris head in hond I bring;

and there also it is said that "the boris hede ys the furst mes." The carol goes on—

The boris hede, as I yow say,
He takes his leyfe, and gothe his way,
Gone after the xij tweyl ffyt day.
                                With hay.

Or in another version, contained in the Balliol MSS.* at Oxford, which I give here in full, as it is rarely met with :—

Caput apri refero,
Resonens † laudes domino. [100]

* Coxe, No. 354. A. R. P. I. 6, p. 228.

†"Resonens" may, at first sight, seem bad Latin. But though we need not look for good Latin in mediaeval writings, the copyist of the above song had perhaps studied the old language in Ennius. Barbarous Latinity, or what may appear to be such, sometimes gives rise to puzzling difficulties. When at Oxford, I obtained a Boar's Head Song, entirely in the most distressing Latin, the second verse of which began thus: — "Venit cum scotis nitidus et cum marino rore." The word "scotis" seemed to me extraordinary, and impossible even in mediaeval Latinity. I thought it desirable to have an inquiry instituted as to the origin of this song, when it came out that the lines were mock antiques, made up, not many years ago, by two noblemen.

The boris hed in honde I brynge,
With garlands gay and byrde syngynge.
I pray you all help me to synge.
          Qui estis in convivio.

The boris hede, I understand,
Ys chiefly sirved in all this londe,
Wher so ever it may be fonde,
          Ceruitur cum sinapio.

The boris head, I dare well say,
Anon after the xvth day
He taketh his leve and goth a way.
          Exiuit de patria.

These verses clearly mark the boar's head ceremony as a peculiar custom of a fixed period in winter solstice time. After the fifteenth day the boar is said to "take his leave and go away." He even "goes out of the country "! This will presently be seen to have a deeper mythic meaning, and to be referable to a far older creed, than appears on the surface of this semi-Latin, semi-English clerical version of a probably very ancient Teutonic lay.

There is a passage in Chaucer's Franklein's Tale where "the brawne of the tusked swine" is mentioned in connection with Janus. The passage evidently refers to the same old custom as observed about the Twelve Nights. At a yet earlier date we find, according to Holinshed, that in 1170, upon the young prince's coronation, King Henry II. "served his son at the table as a sewer, bringing up the boar's head, with trumpets before it, according to the manner!' It was a well-established, ancient, and general custom, dating back to times out of mind.

Editor's Note: See The Boar's Head Feast for Young Henry, 1170

So far as I am aware, there is no further trace of it in any earlier historical record of this country. But the missing links between the facts just mentioned and the epoch of Anglo-Saxon heathendom are easily found. They are contained in one of the oldest Germanic records of the creed of our forefathers — namely, in the Edda, — as well as in the universal prevalence of the same custom throughout the nations of Germanic origin. In other words, that which is still celebrated now, with more or less pomp, on Christmas Day at Oxford, at the English Court, and perhaps in a few country houses, and in some parts of England by the common people, who have a simple sucking-pig served to them with no pomp at all, is a mere survival of what once was a regular and universal rite — a sun-rite, the connection of which with the Boar also appears from the Edda. And as is often the case with such lingering traditions, a new fable was afterwards invented to account for the meaning of [101] a ceremony which had been retained as a festive practice but which was no longer properly understood.

Walter Scott, in his "Ancient Christmas," gives a good picture and indication of the original nature of the Boar's Head ceremony :—

The fire, with well-dried logs supply'd,
Went, roaring, up the chimney wide;
The huge hall-table's oaken face,
Scrubb'd till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massire board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
There was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving man;
Then the grim boar's head frown'd on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garb'd ranger tell,
How, when, and where the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar;
While round the merry wassel bowl,
Gamish'd with ribbons, blithe did trowl.

Then came the merry maskers in,
And carols roar'd with blithsome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note and strong.
Who lists may in the mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery.

Editor's Note: See the full poem, Heap on more wood!-the wind is chill (from "Marmion" by Sir Walter Scott, 1808)

As among the Romans during the Saturnalia, so also were the divisions of rank obliterated among the Teutons during Yule, when the great clog or log was lighted in token of sun-worship. Christmas, I need scarcely observe, was introduced as a festival only as late as the fourth century. It replaced the various winter solstice celebrations among different nations addicted to sun-worship, both in Asia and Europe. The Fathers of the Church are explicit enough on this subject. The "Dies Natalis Solis Invicli" of the pagan Romans had its distinct echo in the later Christmas service song of the Roman Church: "Sol novus oritur." Indians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Teutons, performed their sun-rites at stated times of the year; and so strong was for a long time the resemblance between the ceremonial mode of races living far apart, that in Herodotus's days we find the (probably Germanic) Massagetes, who dwelt in what is now Tartary, sacrificing their horses to the deity who delivered them from the sufferings of winter, even as the Greeks sacrificed horses to Helios. [102]

The very name of Yule, meaning the sun-wheel, has, perhaps, etymological affinity with Helios. To this day the Italian people call Christmas "Ceppo"—that is, block of wood, Yule log. No wonder that sun festivals, so deeply rooted among different races, should have survived after the introduction of a new creed. In his "Vindication of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Christ" (1648), Thomas Warmstry answers a question as to whether this feast had not its rise and growth from the conformity of Christians to the mad feasts of Saturnalia and of Yule. He replies :—"If it dothe appeare that the time of this festival doth comply with the time of Heathens' Saturnalia, this leaves no charge of impiety upon it; for since things are best cured by their contraries, it was both wisdome and piety in the antient Christians (whose work it was to convert the Heathens from such as well as other superstitions and miscarriages) to vindicate such times from the service of the Devill, by appoynting them to the more solemne and especiall service of God. The Blazes" (Warmstry evidently means the Yule logs) "are foolish and vaine, not countenanced by the Church." *

* In a remonstrance to Parliament in 1652, Christmas was called "AntiChrist's masse." A journal, the Flying Eagle, of December 24 of that year, records that "Parliament spent some time in consultation about the abolition of Christmas Day, passed orders to that effect, and resolved to sit on the following day, which was commonly called Christmas Day."

We know that similar advice as to preserving heathen customs wherever possible, in order to facilitate conversions, was formally given by Pope Gregory the Great, in his letter to the Abbot Mellitus, concerning the heathen Anglo-Saxons. The same advice was tendered by the Bishop of Winchester to Winfrith, or Boniface, the missionary who went to preach the Gospel to the Germans. Winfrith, however, did not act in this sense, and was killed by the heathen Frisians. Other missionaries were content with tolerating the old pagan ceremonies as a sort of popular by-play to the new creed. Without such conciliatory policy they could not have made way at all. In this manner, numberless customs of the old Wodanic religion have remained in popular use, and in not a few instances even become mixed up with the Roman Church.

German Christmas customs still show a strong trace of heathen traditions—that is to say, in the mummeries which precede the Christian festival. All kinds of masked oddities then appear in our villages, and even yet in towns, under the name of Schimmelreiter, Pelzmärtel, Sankt Niklas, Hans Muff, Knecht Ruprecht, [103] Klapperbock, Bär, Christkindlein, Perchtl, and so forth. It is nothing but a travestied circle of Germanic gods. The figures of Wodan, Donar, Freia-Holda, and Perchta are still recognisable through the mask, just as Woden and Freia are still recognisable in Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Even the names which the German Christmas mummers at present bear, have mostly arisen from surnames, qualities, or symbols of the ancient deities.

It will therefore not create astonishment that among the Saxons of Transylvania, whose ancestors, many centuries ago, carried their popular customs from Germany into their new Carpathian home, we should to this day find a clear trace of the old worship of the Boar of Freyr, or Fro. In guisard processions at Christmas, in Transylvania, the boar figures under the name of Christ-Schwein, Advent-Sau, or Advent-Kräm. Much that has now a mean or ridiculous aspect in those vulgar performances had its origin in a creed to which a certain wild grandeur and poetical significance cannot be denied. The humble pig which is still made to trot in a boorish Christmas masquerade is the last representative of a Germanic sun-worship and Aphroditean cult that had affinity with corresponding classic forms of worship.

The blessed heroes in Walhalla were said to feast, every evening, upon the flesh of the boar Saehrimnir. That boar was the image of the sun. In the same way the sacred dish at winter solstice, among all Teutonic races, was the roasted boar, a symbol of the sun-god Freyr. Gullinbursti (Golden-bristles) was its name among the Scandinavians. The golden bristles typified the rays of the sun. It was fabled of Gullinbursti that he ran quicker than a horse through air and water. The boar of Freyr served, in fact, as the poetical image of the quick-travelling sun himself.

Sun-worship was an extensive one among the primitive Aryan races. When Caesar first met the German warrior hosts of Ariovist in Gaul, he found that form of adoration to be the most prominent part of their creed. Festivals in honour of the orb of heaven were held among the Teutonic tribes, especially in the height of summer, and in winter when the season was once more turning towards spring. The symbol of the deity to whom worship was addressed naturally became the sacred dish of the occasion. Primitive nations generally eat what they revere.* No wonder the sun-boar was made to descend substantially to the Germanic Yuletide table. An apple must once have been stuck in his mouth on the great ceremonial day; representing the heavenly orb. The lemon or orange was afterwards substituted in its place. [104]

*Editor's Note: It is also true that primitive nations often revere what they eat.

Besides being a sun-god, Freyr was a god of love and peace, of happiness and good luck. Hence Yule-tide with our forefathers became a time of general peace and goodwill. The sword was sheathed, and a three weeks' "Yule Peace" observed, in honour of Freyr. Of this radiant deity, whose dwelling is in the Home of the Light Elves, it was said that "nobody is against him,"* and even that he is "the first of the Æsir." His place is on a Throne of Bliss. His very name signifies Bliss. A "Prince of Bliss" he, therefore, may have been called, before the Yule-festival, with which his name had been identified, was changed into Christmas.

* Oegisdrecka; 35.

There is great probability, odd as it may sound, that the idea of good luck, as connected with Freyr and his boar, lingers even now in a vulgar phrase, chiefly used in German students' slang. "Er hat Schwein" is with them a synonym for: — "He has great luck." I am inclined to believe that another unrefined phrase ("Da möchte man auf dem wilden Schwein davon reiten!" — "I would like to ride away on the wild boar") — which is a synonym for a desire to get well out of an unpleasant position — has also reference to Freyr. The saying seems to be tantamount to a wish to get away from trouble into the realm of undisturbed happiness. Many such, now vulgar, locutions of the German people are clearly traceable to ancient heathen ideas.

The same character which attaches to Freyr is also found in his sister, Freyja. She, too, is a sun-goddess, and a Goddess of Love. Her symbol, also, is a golden-bristled boar;* which, however, bears a martial name — namely, Hildi-swin. Perhaps the strife-creating character of Venus is expressed in this detail of the myth. If it should be thought extraordinary that a boar is taken as the symbol of deities representing the Sun and Love, it would be wrong to ascribe this to any want of finer poetical feeling among our barbarian forefathers. Freyr and Freyja came into Asgard from the circle of Vaenir deities, whose very name has perhaps contact with that of Venus; and to Venus also a similar animal was sacred.

 * Hyndluliod; 5, 7.

In the heathen Scandinavian temples it was the custom, as in the households, to serve up at the Yule festival, as a part of the Holy Supper, a boar dedicated to Freyr and Freyja. Its name was sónargaltr; which may either mean Sun-boar or Boar of Atonement. In the Eddic "Song of Helgi, Hiörward's Son,"* that ceremony is mentioned in a Yule festival, when "vows were made, and the [105] Boar of Atonement was brought in, the men placing their hands on it and making vows by the cup of Bragi," the inspiriting God of Poetry.

* "Helgakhvida Hiörvardssonar," iv.

This heathen ceremony is yet observed in Oster-Gothland. On Christmas or Yule evening, the so-called julbucken, a block of wood covered with pig-skin, is put on the table. The house-father then places his hands on it and offers a vow that in the coming year he will be a loving father to his family, a kind master to his servants. Formerly Freyr, the God of Peace and Goodwill, and Freyja, the Goddess of Love, were honoured in this fashion. The name of Bragi was introduced as if he who made great promises wished to be remembered for his deeds in the songs of the skalds. Now the heathen deities are no longer appealed to, but the ceremony remains the same. More than a thousand years have passed since the Woden religion died out in England; nearly a thousand years since it was overthrown in northern Germany by armed force; a little above seven hundred years since it has ceased to exist in Sweden. The old customs, however, survive with wonderful tenacity.

Cakes are still baked in Sweden, at Christmas, in the form of a boar. The peasants preserve pieces of them until spring, when they mix the cakes with the seed or with the oats of the horses used in ploughing, or give the pieces as food to the ploughboys who sow the seed. A good harvest is expected from the observance of this custom. Freyr, it ought to be remembered, was a ruler of rain and sunshine, a presiding deity of generation and growth. He therefore was also a harvest god. His boar-symbol, though no longer understood, is by popular superstition in the north regarded as efficient in agriculture even now!

Again we meet with a manifest remnant of the worship of the sun-god in a superstition lingering in Germany. In Thuringia, he who on Christmas Eve does not partake of any food until suppertime, will see a golden farrow. The golden farrow is once more the Golden-bristles of the Edda. A Lauterbach law of 1599 ordains that for the court of justice held on Twelfth Day, the small peasant proprietors were to furnish a gold-ferch, or gold farrow. It may be brought to recollection here that the Christmas Day of the old style fell on January 6. In the Uckermark, in northern Germany, a pig's head is still the festive dish during the time of the twelve nights, more especially on Christmas.* [106]

* In the "Statistical Account of Scotland," of 1793, it is stated that in the parishes of Sandwick and Stromness, in Orkney, where the Norse element is so strong, every family that has a herd of swine kills one of the animals on the 17th of December; and thence it is called Sow-day. The account adds: — "There is no tradition as to the origin of the practice." In various parts of Yorkshire, as I recently learnt, a similar practice still prevails. It is to be found in various Germanic countries, and also in France, to which the Frankish and other Teuton invaders imported it. The origin is patent from the explanations above given.

In Gelder-land the superstition is, that during the night following Christmas Eve a spectral figure goes its rounds. It is called, in Nether-German, Derk met den Beer — that is, Dietrich with the Boar. Dietrich takes here the place of Freyr. Such substitutions are frequent when mythological ideas verge upon their decay. In the case at issue, the apparent change of name is all the more easy to explain, because Dietrich (signifying Ruler of Men) really corresponds to a cognomen of Freyr, who is called in the Edda the "men-ruling God" — probably on account of his being, like Odin, Thor, and Freyja, a receiver of those dead who attain eternal bliss.

The figure of Freyr is, together with that of Freyja, the noblest and most beautiful in the Teutonic Olympus. Both divine figures did, no doubt, degenerate occasionally into crudely sensual images, like similar conceptions of Greek and Roman antiquity. There were higher as well as lower kinds of Freyr and Freyja worship.* But in the [107] main, the presiding deities of the Yule festival were conceived in lofty forms of great charm. The Germanic God of Light in many respects resembles Helios and Phaëthon, or the Persian Mithra — the "Immortal with the swift steeds." Like them, he careers along the sky in his chariot, drawn by horses adorned with gems, whose sparkling splendour again typifies the rays of the sun. Sun-horses were Freyr's own, besides the boar. Once the radiant god possessed a shining sword — again the ray of the sun — which brandished itself against the Frost Giants. In other words, the warmth of the Sun vanquished the ice of Winter. A saga mentions that on a hill in which Thorgrim, a zealous worshipper of Freyr, was buried, the snow never remained, and that eternal green covered the spot. The power of the sun-god is here strongly expressed.

* I take this occasion to throw out a surmise as to the remarkable Boar's Head customs at Homchurch. There, on Christmas Day, from time immemorial, a boar's head was dressed, garnished with bay leaves, carried in procession into Mill Field, and then wrestled for. It is stated that on the chancel of the church, as well as on the vane, the horns of an ox were affixed. According to Hone, — "the inhabitants say, by tradition, that this church, dedicated to St. Andrew, was built by a female convert to expiate for her former sins." The inhabitants added that afterwards "by a certain king, but by whom they are uncertain, who rode that way, it was called Horned-Church, who caused those horns to be put out at the east end of it." (Hone, ii., 1649; and Hone's Table Book, 84.) The name at first given to the church was slightly different from what it is now, but had better be read in the work quoted. Now, one of the significant names of Freyja, in her lower form, was Horn. In the Eddic "Song of Hyndla" we read that the dwelling built for her by her favourite, Ottar, had walls glistening with the blood of oxen. All this seems remarkably applicable to the alleged origin of Hornchurch, where Freyja's, or Hörn's, boar was sacrificed at Christmas. I think there is a great deal still to be said about the affinity between Freyja and her Titanic counterpart or sister-companion Hyndla (Canicula, or "Little Hound") on the one hand, and the Egyptian Isis, who wears horns, and sometimes the dog-star between them, on the other. There is similar affinity between Freyja-Frigg, and Io-Juno; Io being much of the same character as Freyja, and having been changed into a cow, wherefore she is represented with horns, whilst Juno herself is ox-eyed. Freyja and Frigg were, no doubt, originally one; this divine female character only afterwards assumed a double form. The same may be said of Io and Juno. In both the Germanic and the Greek case, the same alliterative similarity of sound is retained; showing the trace of the early unity. In one of the names of the Teutonic goddess — Hera, or Herke — we again come upon an affinity with the ox-eyed Hellenic goddess Here, of which Herke or Harke is simply the diminutive; corresponding to the name of Har (the High One), which her consort Odin or Wodan bore. Hera or Herke is a Goddess of the Earth, like Isis and Juno. The ox or cow symbol, the symbol of fruitfulness, applies to all three. The origin of Homchurch, when its earliest name, and the traditions and customs connected with it are taken into consideration, scarcely admits therefore of any doubt.

Gerda was the name of the bride ardently wooed and at last won by Freyr. Gerda is the earth, into which the ray of the sun at last penetrates. The "nine nights" during which the god, almost dying of grief, had to wait until Gerda meets him in the secluded grove, evidently are an allusion to the nine months of unfruitful season in the high North, during which the sun has no power. As a bridal gift, Freyr sends to his beloved one eleven golden apples, which some would also interpret in an astronomical sense, as signifying eleven months of the year.

The gilt nuts on German Christmas-trees are perhaps yet a remnant of this tale. They, too, symbolise sun-worship. The same is the case with the red and golden-hued apples hung on the German Christmas-tree. To Freyr, the God of Fertility, the apple-tree was specially sacred; and in many parts of Germany and England there still prevails, or did prevail until recently, the custom of standing, during Twelfth Night, round an apple-tree, when a rhyme would be sung, praying for a good fruit-year. Keeping all this in mind, we shall better understand that German Christmas story which says that at the birth of Christ, Winter gave way to Spring; that the snow vanished from the ground, and that [108] flowers sprouted up everywhere; that apple-trees especially began to blossom, and that the Sun leapt twice for joy. Of the apple probably put in the boar's mouth at Christmas, ere the lemon replaced it, I have spoken before. Thus everything fits into the old tale.

That which is worshipped is also eaten. Therefore it is also hunted; hunted at the very time when it is worshipped. In all ancient creeds we find the dietary laws, the social customs, and the doings of every-day life in some way bound up with the system of faith. Religious tenets were brought home to the believer, or should-be believer, in every conceivable way. In an old book on the "Sports and Pastimes of the People of England"* we read that "the boar may be hunted from the Nativity to the Purification of Our Lady." This corresponds pretty well to an ancient pagan Yule-tide, during which the Boar was especially worshipped. After a stated period, it is said in the old song, the Boar's Head "takes his leave and goes away." He even "exivil de patria" — he has left the country altogether! Here we come once more upon the border-land between reality and myth; for Freyr's boar, which had until now appeared as a substantial dish on the table, suddenly vanishes into the clouds, like Lohengrin's swan.

* See also: Art de Venerie le quel Maistre Guillaume Twici renour le Roy d'Angleterre fist en son temps per aprandre Autres.

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