The Chessel Down Bucket:
Grave goods, as we know them from Sutton Hoo, among others, should accompany the dead hero into the afterlife, serve him and presumably mark his status. But in what way should a "bucket" like the one found at Chessell Down be helpful? According to the British Museum's description, it is “a brass pail, cylindrical with a long-looped faceted handle; punched frieze of deer-hunt among trees; dog; leopard; runic inscription.”1
BSW EEE KKK ÆÆÆ
To find an access here, we analyse a scene of death and resurrection, as we know it from the Franks Casket (Auzon Runic Casket)3. So how does this path lead from the battlefield on earth to Valhalla, Odin/Woden’s kingdom in the top of the ash tree, Yggdrasil? The image on the casket provides a perfect representation of what happened, as described by the surrounding runic text:
Text (as divided on the edges):
Alliteration: hh - ea - sss
Translation (divided into long lines):
Picture (Franks Casket, Right side):
Left: The hero meets his Valkyrie - the battle-helping Fylgja who guided him through life - now in her terrifying appearance, Herh Os ( rune h), the forest deity.4
By the snake around her mouth Odin/Woden’s spell may be symbolized. The twig of fate (risci) in her hand becomes "wood" (wudu, metaphor for "spear") and thus a deadly weapon (bita). Paralyzed by the sight of the terrifying figure, our warrior succumbs to the enemy; but in the end it is the chooser of the dead, the Valkyrie, who takes him home.
Centre: The incident may take place in the forest (a sacred grove of oaks, perhaps). The Valkyrie flies in her bird shape to that place, in order to awaken (now in her human shape) the fallen (here in his grave) by a drink, from her chalice. A horse, which is marked by the Woden's Knot5 ("triskele") as Sleipnir, the god's horse, will carry the revived hero to Valhalla.
Right: Here two soul guides (Psychopomps) seem to seize the fallen in order to guide him to his final destination. However, this constellation - except perhaps on the Sutton Hoo purse - is not known.
If the sequence of runes on the Chessell Down bucket does not make any literal sense, the names of the runes6 as well as their number and rune value may be helpful. To begin with the latter, the number of runes, 12, relates to the months of the year, as the rune (Y), ger, year, a indicates. Thus it is a meaningful number. Their total value is 270, which is 3 x 3 x 3 x 10. 27 would be powerful in itself, but here it is amplified by 10 times, whereby 10 makes it infinite.
Since the first 3 runes (BSW) are followed by 3 groups of 3 runes of the same kind (E E K K Æ Æ Æ), we can regard b s w as a kind of invocation, especially as (beorc) stands for the birch tree and could thus point to a deity or Valkyrie “Berkano” who rules over life, death and rebirth7. This particular name may be picked because of its initial in order to achieve the magic value 270.
With regard to the cryptic runic sequence on the Chessell Down Bucket, this means:
The opening formula bws (3 runes) is now followed by 3 runes (m k A), each set threefold. The triple number has magical intent:
The sequence of runes on the bucket of Chessel Down is therefore a well-calculated formula for the transition from this world to Valhalla. If, therefore, it was scratched in a less elaborate manner on a container that was probably intended for quite different purposes and was placed with the dead, then this suggests that this formula had been was known to those who knew the runes, i.e., that it was a tradition. It would therefore not be surprising if it were also found in other sites.
1 The British Museum - bucket
2 Text adopted from Stephen Pollington, Wayland ‘s Work (2010) p. 468. Pollington already draws the comparison to the scene on the Franks casket. See also, Pollington, Runes, Literacy in the Germanic Iron Age (2016), p. 292 referring to Tineke Looijenga and others, who see the Initials of some Becca, Wecca and Secca in it.
3 For details see Alfred Becker, Franks Casket, Das Runenkästchen von Auzon (Berlin, 2021), p. 71 ff
H - panel (Right Side) - The Picture
4 This interpretation follows Wolfgang Krause, "Erta, ein anglischer Gott", Die Sprache 5 (1959) 46-54
5 Knots of death see A. Stone above Guest Contributions - Stone, "The Knots of Death"
6 The OE Rune Poem describes them in form of riddles from which the names can be deducted. Anyway, pagan allusions were purged.
7 Pollington, Runes, p. 129 referring to Polomé (1991). According to E. Thorsson (Stephen Flowers) the goddess Berkano rules over the process of human and earthly transformations. Thus, the crucial human rites of transition - birth, puberty, marriage and death - and the seasonal cycle of agriculture are under her control. The rune b rules the cyclical process of resurrection (birth), growing (life), passing (death) to a new resurrection (rebirth).