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The 12 months of the Solar Year

s-Rune Sigel semannum symble biþ on hihte,
ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,
oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.

s-Rune Sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers
when they journey away over the fishes' bath,
until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

Having identified the four seasons and the days of the week we may wonder whether or not there is a reference to the 12 months of the year. As we have seen above, the rosette on the picture of the Magi alludes with its 13 rays to a lunar year1. Here now, the missing sun disk, if there was one, may have shown 12 rays, though this alone would require too much speculation. But as it is, there are 12 “dot-marks”, 5 of them along with Ægil, 3, respectively 2 with the bare defenders and two more between the feet of the giant with helmet and spear. If we regard these dots as numeric substitutes for runes we arrive at the 12th rune of the fuþark/fuþorc, I-Rune (ger, year), which is most appropriate in this solar context.

If we now equate runes (or rather their numeric substitutes) with months we begin with the marks between the giant’s feet. The rune-like symbol I-Rune (yew rune) indicates the cycle of life, death and resurrection, of waxing and waning2. Along with those dot-marks it separates the last month of the old year from the first month of the following one.
Consequently these dot marks would stand for Ærra Geola (the earlier Yule month, i.e. the last month of the old year) and Æfterra Geola (the later Yule month, i.e. the first month of the New Year) with Midwinter in-between, developing the pattern of the “dying-and-rising god”-myths. As a season (December, January) this is winter.
Following the course of the Sun the bare warrior above the disk is next. The three dot marks in front of him stand for Solmonað , Hreþmonað and Eostremonað, which takes us to spring equinox. As a season (February, March, April) this is spring.

The 5th and 6th months, Ðrimilcemonaðand Ærre LiÞa, are allocated to Ægil. They lead up to the period of the Summer Solstice, known as Liþa. As before with Geol, we distinguish between Ærre and Æfterra Liþa (6th and 7th month). The dot-mark between the archer’s feet indicates the solstice just as it is with the marks (separated by I-Rune in order to indicate the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year) with the giant opposing him. Speculating along this line, the earlier months may be rendered by the marks behind his back, the two months following solstice are filled into his bow. These are the 8th and 9th month, Weodmonað and Haligmonað, the last ones tied to Ægil. This was the halig i.e. “holy” time for thanks giving, for donating to the temples.
As a season (May till September) this is frost free summer.

Fig. 2: The cycle of the year according to the lid

The autumn equinox comes at the end of the 9th month, Haligmonað, which is assigned to the bare warrior below the disc, just as Winterfylleð and Blotmonað, the 10th and 11th month. As a season (September, October, November) this is hærferst or fall.

The cycle ends with the 12th month, which is part of Geol, and therefore belongs to realm of the giant. Along with the first month of the New Year (opening with Mōdraniht), this geol -couple symbolizes Death and Rebirth. Quite obviously now, this scene illustrates the traditions around “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” (Birthday of the Unconquered Sun).
Consequently the first month of the following season (~ spring) is Solmonað, thus referring to the rising Sun rather than to the “cakes” Bede mentions, while the last month of spring is Eostremonað named after a deity “probably cognate with the Roman goddess name Aurora ‘dawn’ … The OE Eostre would derive from *aus-tero- ‘east, dawn, rising sun’ …”3
The next season (~ summer) opens with Ðrimilcemonað and ends with Haligmonað
Rather significantly – as frost may now come – Winterfylleð opens the 3rd season, followed Blotmonað, thus named after the practice of butchering animals, which points into the direction of death. Geol and Liþa celebrate winter and summer solstice.
This sacred cycle is kept in balance by the opposing forces, if overcome, it will drop back into chaos. Ragnarök!

As we can conclude now, our picture shows opposing natural powers, embodied as Deities and Giants, fighting over the Sun, once a (golden?) disk in the centre of this scene. As the Geol(Yule)-months include Winter-Solstice they are symbol of Death and Rebirth. According to the dot-marks between his feet the giant with the helmet represents the last month of the “dying” year, Ærre Geola, as he is being hit by the sword of the warrior dropping out from the battlefield. Consequently, the other giant stands for Æfterra Geola, the first month of the New Year. Their opponent is Ægil, the archer, who safeguards five of the months, Summer Solstice among them. He is backed by the deity under the arch behind him. This may be Woden/Odin, and if so, with his spear Gungnir. Intended or not, there are 6 (if not seven) arrows “in the game”, as many as there are months between spring- and autumn-equinox, which are not under his control.
The two naked warriors may be interpreted as one and the same, Freyr, who guards the cycle. Else they may just symbolize the transition from shorter to longer days and vice versa.


(c) Trustees of the British Museum
Fig. 3: Franks Casket, Lid

Having identified the two giants with Geol (Yule) we now turn to Ærre Geola, the one who is on the brink of death as he is being wounded from behind. It is tempting to look for Baldur, though if he ever existed in Anglo-Saxon tradition he has left no traces. He might be the one warrior hit by an arrow in the chest. But why is he among Ægil’s enemies? Such an interpretation would assume scenic presentation of mythological content. But if all figures are comprehend as emblems of the sun this fatally wounded warrior may embody – like Baldur – the dying sun at Midwinter, Blotmonað, may be. If so, all those actors represent stations of the annual course of the sun with the archer standing for stability and the Frost-Giants for chaos. Like these antagonists at solstice the bare warriors embody equinox. They do not differ very much as they represent a comparable state of the sun at equinox. The arrows shot at the Giants are meant to repel them, i.e. the deadly frost they bring about.

Asgard: The Æsirs’ Heaven and the Way of Wyrd

As we have seen the runic inscriptions on the panels spell 10 solar years by their number of runes and 10 lunar years by their value, both adjusted by a Metonic cycle. As 10 owns the quality of infinity it turns the composition into a “permanent calendar”. If now those pictures reflect the seasons, months and days of the week, and if the sequence of pictures depicts the stations of some king’s heroic life, it would just be consequent if some cosmic order directs the way of Wyrd, his fortune and fate. Telling it by the stars would be astrology, nevertheless, we should be able to establish more rational relations between the pictorial elements. As both sequences of pictures (i.e. the one on the panels and that on the lid) follow the course of the sun, they should correlate. If so, each panel should stand for a certain season.

The Front with the picture of the Magi stands – if not for a fourth season – for Geol and Modranect. This relation results from the Mother-with-Child motif. While Christ equates with Sol, the “Invincible Sun”, Mary adopts the part of Luna, Earth Mother
This picture treats birth (in presence of the Fylgja) and death simultaneously, as the third of the Magi brings myrrh (for embalming the dead and, moreover, he is marked by a valhnut, Woden’s hallmark of death and resurrection. Six decoratively interspersed elements in the shape of yew-runes I-RuneI-Rune transform Death to Rebirth.
Similar to that is the message of the Wayland picture. Not the grief of the king’s children matters, but the resurrection of the elfish smith, who regained his power by his revenge over his tormentor. Thus the two pictures on this panel correspond with the two months linked with Yule and the two Frost Giants on the Lid.
Note: Wayland (Saturn), Christ (Sun) and Mary (Moon) are name patrons for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. They correspond with the Trinity, Vulcanus, Sol, and Luna, which according to Caesar are the only deities the Germanic people adore.

The Left Panel is next according to the course of the Sun. Here Romulus and Remus are shown as infants, being raised by the Lupa and adored by warriors on their way to war. The deity behind the scene is Þunor, who is connected with the rune r-Rune meaning rad, the ride on his roaring chariot through the clouds, as preserved in Þunorrād4. In the early agricultural society he was venerated as a god of vegetation, which reflects his vigorous part in nature.
According to our interpretation this panel describes the education of the hero before he goes to war. It is, so to say, the spring of life. This is reflected by the cosmic events on the Lid, where the unarmed warrior, only protected by his shield, represents spring equinox, a vulnerable stage of life.
Note: Þunor, the God behind the scene on this panel is name patron for Thursday.

The Back Panel reports the victory of the later Roman Emperor Titus over Jews at Jerusalem. The rune t-Rune which alludes to those virtues points at Tiw. Glory, won by victory and justice, is the ultimate life can win, thus this stage of existence compares to summer in nature. Consequently, this scene matches with the part of Ægil, the archer on the Lid, where he successfully defends the cosmic order guaranteeing the cycle of the year.
Note: Tiw, the God behind the scene on this panel is name patron for Tuesday.

The Right Panel depicts of a warrior on the battlefield, or rather how it is brought about by his Valkyrie, who later effects his resurrection into Woden’s Valhalla. The rune h-Rune (hail) brings harm about. This is averted by the rune s-Rune, the sun, granting him eternal life among Asgard’s gods. As Woden collects his Warriors on the field of battle we may think of harvest time (OE. hærfest) and fall as season. Again it is a state of vulnerability, which is properly rendered with the bare warrior on the lower part of the Lid representing fall and equinox.

The sequence ends here with the same topic the Front starts out with, thus establishing the Cycle of Life, Death and Rebirth.
Note: Woden, the God behind the scene on this panel, is name patron for Wednesday.

Comparing the earthly stages with their celestial analogies their parallel course is obvious. Next to Sun and Moon the stars, locum tenants of the deities rule the cosmic order. Thus the “Runic Poem” refers to t-Rune:
“Tir is a (guiding) star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.”

The Pleiades Sisters and Orion's Belt

Removing all scenic or emblematic elements from the picture on the Lid we are left with a constellation of dot marks which remind us of a starry sky, very much like that on the Nebra sky disk which is about 2000 or more years older than our object. If not simply the emblems of deities they may have served observations for farming and shipping purposes.

The concentration of 5 stars, right by the archer safeguarding the summer, reminds us of the star cluster on the Nebra sky disk, which shows a constellation of 7 stars, generally taken for the “Seven Sisters” or the Pleiades. There the profile of Celaeno, Electra and Merope is in accordance with the photo (Fig. 6)
This profile resembles very much the 5 star cluster around Ægil, which may have been adjusted somehow to its purpose. As the remaining 2 stars do not belong to summer they are inserted a bit remote from the rest, so that they can indicate blotmonað, the end of the season at the beginning of Ærre Geola.



Fig. 4 (left): Lid, Map of Stars ................................... Fig. 5 (right): Map of Stars [with arrows, in case of astronomical relevance]

The assumption that our star cluster may reflect the Pleiades is confirmed by correlation of months and stars (Fig 2). Their early rising (before dawn) in the second half of May (Ðrimilcemonað) designates the begin of summer, and right at this point the next 5 stars are accompanied by Ægil.
The early setting of these stars indicates the end of summer, i.e. fall. So the remaining 2 sisters belong to the warrior beneath the disk. They represent Winterfylleð and Blotmonað, two months endangered by frost. Thus it is not surprising at all that the Pleiades appear here on the Lid, as they play a mayor part in the observation of the annual cycle, where they serve as a celestial mark and indicate the begin and end of the period favourable for navigation and agriculture.5.

The three dot marks tangent to the disk (sun) most likely render "Orion's Belt". Some Germanic sources see interpret it as a plough stick, others as the belt of Thor, who used to drag Loki, clinging to that belt, along with him. Also in Scandinavian tradition, "Orion's belt" was known as Frigg's Distaff (friggerock) or Freyja's distaff6. As Frigg is the mother of Baldr, whose life is associated with the Sun, this tradition may be relevant for their identification.7


Fig. 6: Orion Belt and Pleiades on Lid and Nebra disk, Foto

 

The two (yet unknown) stars between the feet of the first of the giants indicate the two months of Geol. We may note that the two turning points of the sun (solstices) are placed between the feet of giant an archer, respectively. This hints at a more symbolic positioning, so that this is no sky map rendering a certain time and place in history. Rather we may assume certain constellations typical of each annual season.

The question remains whether or not the Sun dominates the centre of the picture, as the fight is about it, or – more realistically – the Moon, whose path at times crosses the assembly of the Seven Sisters. As it is, the picture describes the course of the solar year along with it stations at solstice and equinox. Thus it is the Sun that rules the sky.

Like Heaven ruling over Earth the Lid (Asgard) covers the panels (Midgard) depicting the stages of Life, thus guiding the royal owner over days, weeks, months and years on his Way to Valhalla.

As we have seen above 432000 warriors are fighting for the Sun, a mythical number which stands for the span of an aeon. In Hinduism four Yugas Srimad Bhagavatam constitute an aeon.8 Thus the scene on the Lid covers the span of the existence of the Gods and the entire creation.

 


1 13 months of 28 days make a year of 364 days. In this context we may note that the 13th rune counted from the end of the futhark is Y, (ger, year), vice versa number 12, counted from the beginning. This fact seems to indicate a calendar function of the fuþark.
2 There are 6 such symbols (I-Rune)in the Magi-picture, 3 with the visitors and 3 with Mary and Jesus. As the topic is “Sol Invictus” the runic sign serves the same purpose, meaning death and rise (rebirth) of the Sun (here Christ).
3 See S. Pollington, The Elder Gods, The Otherworld of Early England, p. 225 – 226 on Eostre and Solmonað
4 S. Pollington, 200, The Old English word Þunorrād means ‘roll of thunder, thunderclap’ and occurs once opnly, in the writings of Ælfric.
5 Greeks and Romans (lat. Vergiliae) regarded the early setting of the "Seven Sisters" at the beginning of November as a sign for start of sowing and the end of shipping. With the early dawn around the 20th May the Plaiades signaled the oncoming harvest time. Similar function is known from other cultures.
6 Schön, Ebbe. (2004). Asa-Tors hammare, Gudar och jättar i tro och tradition. Fält & Hässler, Värnamo. p. 228.
7 In the course of this study Dr. Harald Specht helped me identifying the 3 dot marks as Orion's belt. He also suggested the clockwise reading of the dots, i.e. the sequence of the stars.

8Wikipedia "Yuga". According to the Laws of Manu, one of the earliest known texts describing the yugas, the lengths are 4800 years + 3600 years + 2400 years + 1200 years, for a total of 12,000 years for one arc, or 24,000 years to complete the cycle, which is approximately one precession of the equinox. These 4 yugas follow a timeline ratio of (4:3:2:1).
According to Srimad Bhagavatam 3.11.19, which is dated at 200 BCE-200CE, the Yugas are much longer, using a divine year in which one day is equal to one human year, thus: one year of the demigods is equal to 360 years of the human beings. The duration of the Satya-yuga is therefore 4,800 x 360, or 1,728,000 years. The duration of the Tretā-yuga is 3,600 x 360, or 1,296,000 years. The duration of the Dvāpara-yuga is 2,400 x 360, or 864,000 years. And the last, the Kali-yuga, is 1,200 x 360, or 432,000 years in total.

 

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