Symbols in Teutonic Mythology

In Teutonic mythology, the apple symbolizes eternal youth. Without consuming the golden apples of the goddess Idun, the gods would grow old and wither because their bodies are physically human (Crossley-Holland, 38).
Apple as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Teutonic mythology portrayed blindness as simpleness and gullibility, though a trait of the good-willed. In the myths, the blind god Hod, having been tricked by Loki, accidentally slays his brother Balder, an event that was said to be the first signal of the approach of Ragnarok, the end of the world (Crossley-Holland, 150-161).

In Teutonic cultures, blood is a symbol of truth and loyalty, as well as life. Blood oaths were sacred, representing the key role of the bond between men. Also, during times of famine, royal and sacred blood had to flow to appease the gods. Like Christian holy water, blood was shed in sacrifices; it was sprinkled on temple walls and on people; and hunters often even drank warm blood--all to avert bad luck and to ensure the fruitfulness of the coming year (Chantepie de la Saussaye, p.372; Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, p.58).
Blood as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic mythology, Bifrost, a "flaming three-strand rainbow bridge" is guarded by the god Heimdall and connects the middle world of people, Midgard, to the upper world of the gods, Asgard (Crossley-Holland, 240).
Bridge as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

For Teutonic cultures, caves and clefts in the earth were seen as a means of communicating with the underworld. For example, in the myth that is the source for Wagner's Ring, the dwarf Andvari lived in a cave where he kept his treasure. However, to pay a ransom for the death of a giant named Otter, the god Loki managed to extract the treasure from Andvari by fooling him into thinking the cave spoke to him, though the voice was only Loki's echo. In retaliation against the god's theft, Andvari placed a curse upon the stolen treasure, which included the ring, saying that it would destroy whomever owned it (Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, 26; Crossley-Holland, 239).
Cave as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

For example, in Teutonic mythology, Garm is the Hound of the Underworld, a giant-dog, who at the end of the world in Ragnarok will kill the god Tyr. According to the epic Gylfaginning, Garm guards the island Lyngvi, where Loki the trickster god and his son the wolf Fenrir are chained. The "foremost of all dogs," Garm "is to bark with all its might when the chains of Loke and Fenrer threaten to burst asunder"(Rydberg, p.384-5).

Teutonic myths say that in Niflheim, near the Spring of Hvergelmir, Nidhogg the dragon and his accomplices gnaw at the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Ash Tree, trying to loosen its foundation and thereby put an end to the eternal (Crossley-Holland, 15).
Dragon as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Teutonic mythology shows an eagle who lives in the top branches of Yggdrasill, the World Ash Tree, and who watches the goings-on of the worlds below. One myth says that when this eagle first flapped its wings, the winds of the nine worlds were born. Since this bird sits in the highest position of observation in the Teutonic universe, the eagle symbolically came to represent the sky and the sovereignty, both associate with the omnipotent power of the all-father god, Odin (Davidson, Myths and Symbols, 91, 175).
Eagle as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

In the Teutonic myths, Odin gave up an eye at the Spring of Mimir in order to gain wisdom. The eye of Wotan was called "the star of the skull" because in the Teutonic myth of creation the skull of the giant Ymir became the world of man. Also, Teutonic culture said that the hero's courage and glory were exposed through the glory in his eyes (Cord, III:1, 122; Crossley-Holland, 15).
Eyes as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic mythology, fire symbolizes both fear and renewal. A land of fire, Muspellheim, is one of the nine worlds within the Teutonic universe. According to these myths, at Ragnarok, the end of the world, Black Surt, the guardian of Muspellheim, and his companions, the sons of Muspell, will savage the gods and cause all nine worlds to be engulfed in flames (Davidson, Gods and Myths of N. Europe, 37-8).
Fire as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic myths, fog symbolizes the vagueness that exists where the worlds of humans and gods come together, especially in sacred and mysterious places, like the FOREST and the CAVE. Also, fog, as that which covers the light or good, can come to represent darkness or evil. In the original myth of Siegfried and the Nibelungen, which is essentially a creation myth, Siegfried is first victorious and rises in splendor as a light hero, but falls into fog and darkness after he meets the Nibelungen or "children of the mist or fog"(Chantepie de la Saussaye, 144).
Fog in Wagner's Ring

To the ancient Teutons, forest were magical places inhabited by gods. Certain sacred groves were linked with communication with other worlds; and some woods were seen as especially close to the divine, so it was believed prayers would be heard more readily there. Forests, like the symbol of the TREE, were fundamental to Teutonic cosmology in connection to the World Ash Tree, Yggdrasill. Forests were like temples: people held ceremonies and offered sacrifices to the gods there. The mysterious silence of the forests was feared and revered--for, though forests were composed of earthly material, they were links, even portals, to the supernatural worlds (Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, 16-17, 24-5, 104, 156).
Forest as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

The origin of the word "garden" is of Teutonic origin, though the English usage of it probably derives from old French. Thus, the idea of a garden is linked directly to the Teutonic imagination through the endings "-yard" or "-jard" or "-gard" that name the mythological places of Asgard, Utgard and Midgard, the worlds of gods, giants and humans respectively.

In the Teutonic story of creation, the first being in existence was the frost giant Ymir. He was the father of the race of giants, and the nine worlds were constructed from his body. Ancient Teutons believed that though the gods created women and men, the giants preceded even the gods. In early myths, giants were seen as having great wisdom. However, in later myths, after falling out with the gods, giants were seen as stupid and slow. The giants in Teutonic myths were like the gods and dwarves in their human forms, but were bigger and stronger. Their only skill was as builders. Giants travelled in pairs, were easily angered and were very dangerous, inclined to a wildness and fierceness which later would associate them with the violence of nature (Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, 173).
Giant as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Much of the TREASURE of the Teutonic gods was of gold and was envied by the giants, dwarves and gods alike. Idun's APPLEs of gold gave the gods immortal youth; and the goddess Sif, after being the victim of one of Loki's tricks, was given HAIR of gold. Teutonic traditional beliefs held that hoards of gold were hidden in the Rhine, in the mountains, and in waterfalls (Davidson, 175).
Gold as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic mythology, the goddess Sif was renowned for her golden-yellow hair. However, the trickster god Loki mischeviously shaved off Sif's lovely locks. Once caught by the gods, Loki was forced to approach the dwarves and demand that they forge hair of real gold for Sif. So, clever and perhaps falsely repetant, Loki redeems himself in the eyes of the gods by presenting them with a gift of magical treasure, including Sif's new hair of magical GOLD and Mjollnir, Thor's short-handled hammer (Crossley-Holland, 48-9).

In Teutonic mythology, the hammer is a symbol of power to ward off cold and chaos. The god Thor owned a short-handled hammer called Mjollnir which made thunder and lightening, could shatter rocks, could make dents in mountains and worked to keep all beings under the control of the gods' laws. Mjollnir is the most famous article in all of early Teutonic thought as an instrument of consecration and resurrection, especially since this hammer will be the only divine article to survive Ragnarok (Cord, III:1, 31-9; Davidson, 12, 25).
Hammer in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic cultures, the hand symbolizes loyalty, highlighting the importance of the bond of the oath. According to one myth, to bind the wolf Fenrir who was ravaging Asgard and also posed a threat to Odin's life, the god Tyr kept the pledge of the gods by placing his hand in Fenrir's mouth as a sign of trust, though Tyr's hand subsequently was bitten off (Crossley-Holland, 192-3).

In Teutonic cultures, it was believed that after death everyone went to Hel, the realm of the dead, except for certain select warriors who would be raised up to Valhalla. Thus, Hel was inhabited by women, children and men who died ignobly. Hel is also the name of the giant-woman who guards the palace of the dead (Chantepie de la Saussaye, 280, 347).
Hell in Wagner's Ring

One of the four harts who destructively eats the leaves of Yggdrasill is a goat named EIkdrynir ("the Oak-thorned"). From one of the horns of this goat comes a stream that falls into the spring Hvergelmir out which all rivers flow (Cord, I, 16).
Drinking horns--To many societies, drinking horns are significant in festivals and sacred rites. In Teutonic cultures, wine and mead was drunk out of common large horns rather than smaller individual vessels, a practice which encouraged community and loyalty amongst family and neighbors. Also, the blood from animals was imbibed from horns after sacrifice as a silent closing to the ritual (Davidson, 43-4, 50-2).
Musical horns--

The most important animal in early Teutonic culture was the horse, especially as a symbol of fertility and warrior virtue. The name of the World Ash Tree, "Yggdrasill," means "the horse of Yggr" (Yggr is another name for Odin). Horses were the gods' main means of support, as divinities had to ride across Bifrost in order to get to the lower worlds. In some cases, a sacred horse was held to understand the will of the gods more clearly than the priests. Odin owned an eight-legged steed, Sleipnir; Night had a horse, Hrimfaxi, who rode with her around the world every two and a half days; and Day's horse, Skinfaxi, lights up the sky and earth every day with his bright mane (Davidson, 53; Rydberg, 164).
Horse as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

However, in Teutonic mythology, ice symbolizes birth and creation. At the beginning of everything, life supposedly first quickened in frozen water droplets, and from them the frost giant Ymir, the first being of the nine worlds, came into existence. According to one myth, not long after Ymir's birth, the liquid of melting ice "took the form of a cow...called Audumla" who subsequently created a man by licking him out of the ice. This man became known as Buri; Buri's son was Bor; and Bor's sons were Odin, Vili and Ve, the fathers of all gods, humans and the builders of the worlds on which they live (Crossley-Holland, 3-4).

Ancient Teutons believed a kiss had great powers. At times it could place the recipient in a state of complete forgetfulness or could revive memories. A kiss could put one into a stupor, "intensify the emotional state" and "cause one to sense a personal satisfaction in all things, a state in which no evil would be perceived"(Cord, III:1, 260-2).
Kiss as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Along with the image of the World Ash Tree, Yggdrasill, in Teutonic mythology, leaves are closely linked to the cycles of death and renewal. Yggdrasill is tortured by goats and deer tearing off new shoots and eating leaves. Yet, two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, whose names mean "life" but also may be cognates with the word "leaf", hide within Yggdrasill and survive Ragnarok to re-begin the human race in the next cycle of worlds.

Teutonic mythology attributes lightning to the god Thor. Though lightning is most often associated with Thor's hammer, Mjollnir, several myths describe the sparks of light that flash across the sky as originating from fragments of whetstone lodged in Thor's head. After the rise of a new world, natural phenomena like lightning and thunder were seen as a good thing by many in Teutonic cultures. They associated these happenings with the growth of crops and thus may have perceived lightning as a positive prophetic sign, especially if seen before planting or harvest (Cord, 35-9; Crossley-Holland, xxvii).
Lightning as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Teutonic mythology associates the necklace with fertility. According one of these myths, the goddess Freyja lusted after the Necklace of the Brisings and slept with two dwarves in order to obtain it. Through this myth, the necklace also comes to symbolize desire, especially sexual passion and material avarice (Crossley-Holland, 65-9).

The oak was the most sacred TREE to the ancient Teutons. Despite their mythology which elevated the ash tree, the Teutons revered oak for its healing and magical properties. The bark of the oak cured illness; its acorns were used in a drink of forgetfulness; and its twigs and brances were used in fertility ceremonies (Cord, I, 11; Davidson, 37).
Oak as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

For Rainbow in Teutonic mythology, see BRIDGE.
Rainbow as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

For Teutonic cultures, the ring was TREASURE, a symbol of wealth, omnipotence and magic. Two rings feature prominently in Teutonic mythology: the ring of Odin, called Draupnir, from which eight rings of equal weight will drop every ninth night; and Andvari's ring, Andvaranaut, which was supposedly cursed by its creator, the dwarf Andvari, to bring doom upon whomever owns it (Chantepie de la Saussaye, 326; Crossley-Holland, 106).
Ring in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic mythology, all rivers flowed from the third root of Yggdrasill, the World Ash Tree. Throughout stories of this culture, rivers, especially the Rhine, are connected with magic, fertility and baptism. The water of some sacred rivers was believed to give warriors strength and luck in battle (Cord, III:2, 361-6).
River as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Serpents were prominent throughout Teutonic culture, especially as decoration on artwork and materials like swords, shields and the prows of ships. These signs were thought to frighten away enemies; but, the serpent's shape was also seen as beautiful, though its bite was terrible. The serpents in Teutonic mythology commanded respect and reverence. Jormungand, the Midgard serpent, who is also the son of Loki by a giantess, was thrown into the ocean by the gods due to his enormous size. He is said to be so long that he encircles the world and thus bites his own tail. In another myth which explains why Odin is the god of poetry, this All-Father turned himself into a serpent to make his way through a small hole in a mountain to steal the Mead of Inspiration (Crossley-Holland, xxi; Cord, III:2, 393).
Serpent as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

The sword was of great "cultural ancient Teutonic life. This single weapon became the means for physical survival...but it also became something more than a mere weapon. As the sword assumed its elevated, almost divine, position in the cultural mind, it also became the principal requisite by which the warrior could achieve a noble or heroic status." The sword was also "an instrument of truth. (It) became the the most hallowed and sacrosanct of all Germanic acts, the giving of an oath...." In Teutonic cultures, the sword was the only "item that was the people" that could "boast its own deity." This god of the sword was Tyr, the god of war (Cord, 83-4).
Sword as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

Many elements in the Teutonic universe reflected the sacredness of the number three. The World Tree, Yggdrasill, had three roots one of which delved into each of the three levels of the world; the destiny of mortals was controlled by the three Norns, Fate, Being and Necessity. Moreover, multiples of the number three figure greatly into the mythology of the Teutons, especially the number nine, which thought to be the holiest and most magical number.

Teutonic mythology associates thunder with the god Thor, whose name is the basis for the word. It was believed that the loud blasting roll of thunder was caused by Thor hitting the skies with his hammer, Mjollnir.
Thunder as a symbol in Wagner's Ring

In Teutonic mythology, the backbone of the cosmos was believed to be an ash tree called Yggdrasill. This World Tree was the only living inanimate object associated with creation; it was believed that Yggdrasill will outlast both the gods and humans. As a forest culture, Teutonic society created stories that revolved around trees. A tree is permanent, eternal, and earthly but ethereal for it is at once of the Earth and of the heavens.
Tree as a symbol in Wagner's Ring


Wolf as a symbol in Wagner's Ring


Wolf as a symbol in Wagner's Ring