No, we’re not talking about the late 60’s book or the 70’s documentary based on it. Today I’m talking about one of the favorite modes of travel for the Norse gods. The chariot pops up quite a bit in various sagas and myths, although sometimes it is called a cart and other times it is called a car. In all of the appearances there is usually something different to set this mode of travel apart from that used by ordinary folk. Let’s look at some of those cases.
Two of Every Animal
Although horses are the animal we most associate with chariots, the sagas liked mixing things up. Thor’s chariot was pulled by goats (we’ll talk more about this in a little bit) Frey’s was pulled by boars and Freya’s was pulled by cats. The last one brings up some crazy mental images for me since I imagine it would take a lot of cats to accomplish the task and it would take the powers of a goddess to get that many cats to do what you want them to do.
The Eddas list one of Thor’s names as Auku-Thor and tell us that this name means “Charioteer-Thor.” In addition, when Alvis the Dwarf visited Thor to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he calls Thor “lord of chariots.” The god of thunder did in fact have a most impressive chariot. It was pulled by a pair of goats called Tooth-Grinder and Tooth-Gnasher. (Don’t think of them as the goats you might see in petting zoos. Norse goats are great, shaggy beasts with large, curving horns.) The rumbling of the chariot’s wheels as they rolled along was said to produce the sound of thunder. Thor was not allowed to drive his chariot over Bifrost the rainbow bridge for fear that this mighty rumbling would shake the bridge apart.
Brynhildr the Valkyrie, on her funeral pyre, was placed in a chariot lined with a rich tapestry. The Eddas tells of her then riding the chariot down to Hel. Along the way she encounters a giantess (who could have been Modgud, the guardian of the Gjallerbru – the bridge into Hel.) The giantess will not let her pass, stating that Brynhildr has pursued another’s husband and was “in evil hour born.” Brynhildr’s reply is bold and brash:
“From my chariot I will truly tell thee, thou witless crone! if thou desirest to know, how Giuki’s heirs made me both lovelorn and perjured.”
The chariot of Sol, the sun, was created by the gods from the sparks of fire that flew out of Muspelheim. Two horses pulled this chariot. The first was Arvakr “Early Awake” who was needed to make sure that the sun started its journey on time. The second was Alsvidr “Very Quick” who kept the chariot moving quickly enough that it would not scorch the earth beneath it. Skins full of cold air were placed beneath the withers of the horses to help keep them cool during their passage across the sky.
Mani, the moon, also runs “the round of heaven each day.” Unfortunately we don’t know any more about how he makes the journey. Assumptions can be dangerous but I think it is safe enough to assume he also has a chariot.
See you next time!