In Norse mythology, Ullr (Old Norse: [ˈulːz̠])[1] is a god associated with archery. Although literary attestations of Ullr are sparse, evidence including relatively ancient place-name evidence from Scandinavia suggests that he was a major god in earlier Germanic paganism. Proto-Germanic *wulþuz ("glory") appears to have been an important concept of which his name is a reflex; as owlþu-, the word appears on the 3rd-century Thorsberg chape.

Figure on skis and with a bow, possibly Ullr, on the 11th-century Böksta Runestone
The coat of arms of Ullensaker displays Ullr as a charge.

Literary traditionEdit

Gesta DanorumEdit

 
Ollerus traverses the sea on his magic bone; 16th-century woodcut

In Saxo Grammaticus' 12th-century work Gesta Danorum, where gods appear euhemerized, Ullr, latinized as Ollerus, is described as a cunning wizard with magical means of transportation:

Fama est, illum adeo praestigiarum usu calluisse, ut ad traicienda maria osse, quod diris carminibus obsignavisset, navigii loco uteretur nec eo segnius quam remigio praeiecta aquarum obstacula superaret.[2]
The story goes that he was such a cunning wizard that he used a certain bone (probably a sledge or similar conveyance), which he had marked with awful spells, wherewith to cross the seas, instead of a vessel; and that by this bone he passed over the waters that barred his way as quickly as by rowing.– Elton's translation

When Odin was exiled, Ollerus was chosen to take his place and ruled under the name Odin for ten years until the true Odin was called back.

Poetic EddaEdit

 
Illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript showing Ullr on his skis and with his bow

Ullr is mentioned in the poem Grímnismál where the homes of individual gods are recounted. The English versions shown here are by Thorpe.

Ýdalir heita
þar er Ullr hefir
sér of görva sali.
Ýdalir it is called,
where Ullr has
himself a dwelling made.

The name Ýdalir, meaning "yew dales", is not otherwise attested. The yew was an important material in the making of bows, and the word ýr, "yew", is often used metonymically to refer to bows. It seems likely that the name Ýdalir is connected with the idea of Ullr as a bow-god.

Another strophe in Grímnismál also mentions Ullr.

Ullar hylli
hefr ok allra goða
hverr er tekr fyrstr á funa,
því at opnir heimar
verða of ása sonum,
þá er hefja af hvera.
Ullr’s and all the gods’
favour shall have,
whoever first shall look to the fire;
for open will the dwelling be,
to the Æsir's sons,
when the kettles are lifted off.

The strophe is obscure but may refer to some sort of religious ceremony. It seems to indicate that Ullr was an important god.

The last reference to Ullr in the Poetic Edda is found in Atlakviða:

Svá gangi þér, Atli,
sem þú við Gunnar áttir
eiða oft of svarða
ok ár of nefnda,
at sól inni suðrhöllu
ok at Sigtýs bergi,
hölkvi hvílbeðjar
ok at hringi Ullar.
So be it with thee, Atli!
as toward Gunnar thou hast held
the oft-sworn oaths,
formerly taken -
by the southward verging sun,
and by Sigtý’s hill,
the secluded bed of rest,
and by Ullr's ring.

Both Atlakviða and Grímnismál are often considered to be among the oldest extant Eddic poems. It may not be a coincidence that they are the only ones to refer to Ullr. Again Ullr appears to be associated with some sort of ceremony, this time the practice of swearing an oath on a ring; the ring was later associated with Thor in a reference to the Norse settlers in Dublin.[3]

Prose EddaEdit

In chapter 31 of Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, Ullr is referred to as a son of Sif (with a father unrecorded in surviving sources) and thus a stepson of Sif's husband, Thor:

Ullr heitir einn, sonr Sifjar, stjúpsonr Þórs. Hann er bogmaðr svá góðr ok skíðfœrr svá at engi má við hann keppask. Hann er ok fagr álitum ok hefir hermanns atgervi. Á hann er ok gott at heita í einvígi.[4]
Ullr, Sif's son and Thór's stepson, is one [too]. He is such a good archer and ski-runner that no one can rival him. He is beautiful to look at as well and he has all the characteristics of a warrior. It is also good to call on him in duels.– Young's translation

In Skáldskaparmál, the second part of the Prose Edda, Snorri mentions Ullr again in a list of kennings, informing his readers that Ullr can be called ski-god, bow-god, hunting-god and shield-god. In turn a shield can be called Ullr's ship. Despite these tantalising tidbits, he relates no myths about Ullr. It seems likely that he did not know any, the god having faded from memory.

Skaldic poetryEdit

Snorri's note that a shield can be called Ullr's ship is borne out by surviving skaldic poetry with kennings such as askr Ullar, far Ullar and kjóll Ullar all meaning Ullr's ship and referring to shields. While the origin of this kenning is unknown it could be connected with the identity of Ullr as a ski-god. Early skis, or perhaps sleds, might have been reminiscent of shields. A late Icelandic composition, Laufás-Edda, offers the prosaic explanation that Ullr's ship was called Skjöldr, "Shield".

The name of Ullr is also common in warrior kennings, where it is used as other god names are.

Ullr brands – Ullr of sword – warrior
rand-Ullr – shield-Ullr – warrior
Ullr almsíma – Ullr of bowstring – warrior[5]

Three skaldic poems, Haustlöng, Eilífr Goðrúnarson's Þórsdrápa, and a fragment by Eysteinn Valdason, refer to Thor as Ullr's stepfather, confirming Snorri's information.

ToponymyEdit

Ullr's name appears in several important Norwegian and Swedish place names (but not in Denmark or in Iceland). This indicates that Ullr had at some point a religious importance in Scandinavia that is greater than what is immediately apparent from the scant surviving textual references. It is also probably significant that the placenames referring to this god are often found close to placenames referring to another deity: Njörðr in Sweden and Freyr in Norway.[6] Some of the Norwegian placenames have a variant form, Ullinn. It has been suggested that this is the remnant of a pair of divine twins[7] and further that there may have been a female Ullin, on the model of divine pairs such as Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn.[8] Probably Ullr's name also can be read in the former Finnish municipality of Ullava in Central Osthrobothnia Region.

NorwayEdit

Magnus Olsen suggested in addition that the names of some Norwegian places including Ringsaker derive from a nickname *Ringir for Ullr based on his association with ring-oaths, but there is no evidence of this.[9]

SwedenEdit

IcelandEdit

Icelandic scholar Ólafur Lárusson suggested that some of the Icelandic placenames in Ullar-, usually interpreted as "wool", might also be named for Ullr, especially those such as Ullarfoss and Ullarklettur that are close to similar placenames in Goða- ("gods").[11]

Other derivatives of Proto-Germanic *WulþuzEdit

Derivatives of Proto-Germanic *wulþuz have the meaning "glory"; for example, Gothic wulþus. Anglo-Saxon, wuldor, with the same meaning, stems from another root, *wuldra-.[12] Although not used as a proper name, in Anglo-Saxon literature wuldor occurs frequently in terms for the Christian God, such as wuldres cyning "king of glory", wuldorfæder "glory-father", and wuldor alwealda "glorious all-ruler".

EpigraphyEdit

The Thorsberg chape (a metal piece belonging to a scabbard found on the Thorsberg moor) bears an Elder Futhark inscription, one of the earliest known altogether, dating to roughly AD 200.

owlþuþewaz / niwajmariz

The element owlþu, for wolþu-, is a derivative of *wulþuz and thus means "glory", "glorious one", or possibly the name of the god. The second element of the same word, -þewaz, means "slave, servant". The whole compound is therefore a personal name or title, either "servant of the glorious one" or possibly "servant/priest of Ullr". Niwajmariz means "well-honored".

Scholarly theoriesEdit

The place-name evidence and the *wulþuz cognates have led many scholars to conclude that Ullr was one of the older Norse gods, whose importance had waned by the time of settlement of northern parts of Norway, well before the medieval Old Norse texts were written down.[13] This is reflected in the lack of literary evidence for the name Ullinn.[14] Some scholars have suggested that he was an aspect of the ancient Germanic sky-god,[15] perhaps corresponding in northern Scandinavia to Týr in Denmark.[16] Based on the association of Ullr and Ullinn placenames with Vanir deities, Ernst Alfred Philippson suggested that contrary to his placement in the Prose Edda among the Æsir, he was himself one of the Vanir,[17] and the similarity between the Prose Edda description of his characteristics and those of Skaði have suggested to some that there was a link between him and Skaði's husband, Njörðr.[18]

Viktor Rydberg speculates in his Teutonic Mythology that Ullr was the son of Sif by Egill-Örvandill, half-brother of Svipdagr-Óðr, nephew of Völundr and a cousin of Skaði, and that Ullr followed in the footsteps of Egill, the greatest archer in the mythology, and helped Svipdagr-Eiríkr rescue Freyja from the giants. Rydberg also postulates that Ullr ruled over the Vanir when they held Ásgarðr during the war between the Vanir and the Æsir, but Rudolf Simek has stated that "this has no basis in the sources whatsoever".[19]

Modern receptionEdit

 
Early 20th-century German lead medal depicting Ullr, Schutzpatron der Skifahrer
 
Reverse of the same medal

Within the winter skiing community of Europe, Ullr is considered the Guardian Patron Saint of Skiers (German Schutzpatron der Skifahrer). An Ullr medallion or ski medal depicting the god on skis holding a bow and arrow, is widely worn as a talisman by both recreational and professional skiers as well as ski patrols in Europe and elsewhere.

The town of Breckenridge, Colorado has since 1963 held a week-long "Ullr Fest" each January, featuring events designed to win his favor in an effort to bring snow to the historic ski town.[20]

Ullr is a playable character in the video game Smite.[21]

In the television series The Almighty Johnsons, Ullr is depicted as a reincarnation of himself named Mike Johnson, played by Tim Balme.[22]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ In Modern Icelandic Ullr is usually referred to as Ullur [ˈʏtlʏr̥]. In the mainland Scandinavian languages the usual form is Ull, without the nominative case marker -r. The latter form is sometimes used as an anglicization, as is Uller.
  2. ^ "Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Liber 3, Caput 4". kb.dk.
  3. ^ De Vries, Jan. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte. 2 vols. Volume 1, 2nd ed. 1956, repr. as 3rd ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1970, p. 390.
  4. ^ "Gylfaginning 23-32". hi.is.
  5. ^ Eysteinn Björnsson. "GLOSSARY: T - Ú (tafn - úrfræningr)". Lexicon of kennings. Archived from the original on 2003-05-13.
  6. ^ Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology, tr. Angela Hall, Cambridge / Rochester, New York: Brewer, 1993, ISBN 9780859913690, p. 339.
  7. ^ Davidson, Hilda Ellis; Gelling, Peter (1969). The chariot of the sun: and other rites and symbols of the northern bronze age. Praeger. p. 179.
  8. ^ Davidson, Hilda Ellis (1990). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books Limited. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-14-194150-9.
  9. ^ Olsen, Magnus. Hedenske kultminder i norske Stedsnavne Vol. 1, Videnskabs-Selskabet i Kristiania, Historisk-Filosofisk Klasse, 1914 no. 4, Oslo, 1915, pp. 220–23, cited in de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, Vol. 2, 2nd ed. 1957, repr. as 3rd ed. 1970, p. 160.
  10. ^ Mathias Bäck, Ann-Mari Hållans Stenholm, and Jan-Åke Ljung, Lilla Ullevi - historien om det fridlysta rummet: Vendeltida helgedom, medeltida by och 1600-talsgård : Uppland, Bro socken, Klöv och Lilla Ullevi 1:5, Jursta 3:3, RAÄ 145, Arkeologiska uppdragsverksamheten (UV) rapporter (1982) 1605-1702, samla.raa.se; M. Bäck, A. Hållans Stenholm, Lilla Ullevi: en unik kultplats, Populär arkeologi - 0281-014X. ; 1658(27):5, 96-10; A. H. Jakobsson, Cecilia Lindblom, Gard ok Gravfält vid Lilla Ullevi, Rapporter fran Arkeologikonsult 31014:9654.
  11. ^ Ólafur Lárusson, "Kultminne i stadnamn 4. Island", in: Nils Lid, ed., Religionshistoria, Nordisk kultur 26 (1942) 74–79, cited in Turville-Petre, E. O. G., Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, History of Religion, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964, p. 183.
  12. ^ Kroonen (2013), p. 599.
  13. ^ De Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, Volume 2, pp. 156–57.
  14. ^ Olsen, Magnus., trans. Theodor Gleditsch. Farms and Fanes of Ancient Norway. Oslo: Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, 1928, pp. 140, 301.
  15. ^ De Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, Volume 2, p. 160.
  16. ^ Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North, p. 184.
  17. ^ Philippson, Ernst Alfred. Die Genealogie der Götter in Germanischer Religion, Mythologie, und Theologie. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1953. pp. 30–31.
  18. ^ Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North, p. 182.
  19. ^ Simek, Rudolf (December 2010). "The Vanir: An Obituary". Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter. University of Helsinki: University of Helsinki. Dec 2010: 12. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  20. ^ "Breckenridge Ullr Fest". Breckenridge Resort Managers. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  21. ^ "SMITE". www.smitegame.com. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  22. ^ "The Almighty Johnsons". thealmightyjohnsons.co.nz.

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit