LILLEHAMMER MYTHOLOGY

Posted in absentia. I’m off on a business trip, but left this behind.

A couple of people did write to say they would be interested in reading more about the symbols on the Lillehammer. Please bear in mind that this is just one person’s interpretation. I may be reading more into the little bits than the designers intended. And I am not someone schooled in this stuff. This is just one Avid Reader’s observations. Apologies if I’ve forgotten my Eddas and sagas, or have messed up the spellings.

Here’s my Lillehammer:

Starting with Lozenge C, just because I like to skip around, we see Odin chief and father of the gods, and god of battle and honorable death. He is riding on his ultra-speedy, eight-legged horse Slepnir (the extra legs are implied by the zig-zags). He carries his customary spear Gungnir (hard to see, but I think it’s here because he’s holding something long and thin in his hand) and has a raven following him. (More on Odin’s ravens below). I think he’s shown in profile because Odin has one eye (more on that below, too). The flower shapes might be an obscure reference to poetry (flowering words), as he was the source of bardic poetry and runic writing; and was the special protector of bards and poets.

Slepnir has a nifty parentage of his own, involving Loki masquerading as a mare to distract the dray stallion of a giant (the adversaries of the gods), to get him to default on a building deadline. The trick worked, the giant was unable to complete his project and received the penalty specified in the bargain, but Loki (a male god) was too tempting to the stallion, and ended up with foal.

Lozenge B carries Yggrdasil or Hoddmimir, the world tree. It’s a giant ash tree, most often described as white and covered with flowers. It grows from three roots in springs of knowledge, while its top shades all nine worlds, including Asgard (home of the gods), Midgard (where people live), Jotunheim (where the giants live) and Niflheim (the underworld). One of the roots was in the spring of Mimir. Mimir was an all-knowing god, whose head (some say skull) was thrown in the spring after he was beheaded. His knowledge though wasn’t lost, and some of it could be obtained by drinking from his spring. I see Mimir’s head in the ovoid object at the tree’s base.

On Yggdrasil are flowers that drip a honey-dew of inspiration, and are the ultimate source of all bees’ honey (and the exaltation that comes from drinking mead – a fermented honey-wine). Odin’s two ravens, Huginn and Munin perch on its branches. These two birds overfly the earth every day, observing everything and whispering that information back to Odin every night.

Odin is also closely associated with Yggdrasil because he sacrificed part of himself to obtain knowledge from the springs that feed the tree. In some tales he allows a raven sitting on the Yggdrasil to peck out one eye in exchange for a sip from Mimir’s spring. In others he hangs for nine days on the tree, transfixed to it by his own spear. During this ordeal he learns nine songs of power and the basic runes.

Lozenge A holds Freya, wife of Odin, and foremost female deity of the pantheon. Freya is a fertility goddess and wards agriculture and birth. I’m kind of stumped by the creature she’s riding because Freya’s mount was Hildesvini – a former lover disguised as a fierce boar. Either that or she got pulled around in a cart drawn by cats. The thing she’s riding on is way too long-legged to be a big pig. But the pattern calls out this motif set as being her, so I’ll try to find more in it. Freya did have the ability to transform herself into a bird by use of a magic cloak of bird feathers. She does have a large flat thing in her lap (perhaps the cloak); and there are birds around her. Perhaps the strange shapes at her mount’s feet are supposed to be cats as well. Her palace of Folkvang is supposed to be flower-strewn, so perhaps that’s a big flower below the cats. The royal crown above her is not uncommon on Norwegian embroideries, and so might signify her queenship over the gods.

Lozenge D and the partials up along the neck/shoulder line and sleeve tops all carry the same sort of organic growing thing. To me they look like fruit. The most famous fruit in this cycle of tales would be the apples of Idun. Idun was the goddess of youth, married to the Bragi, whose special charge was poetry. She kept a tree and stock of golden apples, which the gods ate to stay eternally youthful. Idun was once captured by a giant, and without her apples the gods aged quite quickly. There’s a whole cycle of stories about the quest mounted to get Idun and her apples back.

That’s about all the figural elements I can pick out from the design. The rest is just generally decorative. I do however particularly like the use of the close color banding at the top and edges. It looks reminiscent of tablet weaving, in a geometric that wouldn’t be inappropriate for before 1000AD. Likewise with the lozenge framing mechanism and brocade-like voided and filled dots. That’s not to say that knitting of this type was done back then (it wasn’t); but the style of the ornament on this sweater echoes weavings and textile decorative composition of a time when worship of these deities was widespread.

If you want to read more about Norse mythology, there’s always the public library – that wonderful resource in your own back yard. On line there’s also the Prose and Poetic Eddas, translations of which are both available on-line.

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