Warden of the Property: Þunor Eodorweard

This article is a continuation of my previous article entitled, Threshold Guardians: Dūrupālas, where I established an Anglo-Saxon door-guardian cult based on Greek, Roman, Frankish and Southeast Asian examples.

In this article, I will attempt to extrapolate an Anglo-Saxon cult associated with the protection of the domicile, utilizing examples from Greek and Roman cults.


Zeus Herkeios, Ktesios and Kataibates

In ancient Greek religion, Zeus was a multifaceted deity possessing a number of attributes and epithets. Of specific interest here are three cults of Zeus directly associated with the household and its corresponding boundaries.

The first of the three cults- that of Zeus Herkeios– is associated with the household boundary and with guardianship over the property found therein. The name Herkeios itself comes from the ancient Greek word, hérkos, meaning ‘fence’ or ‘wall’ [1], which is indicative of the specific realm of influence associated with this particular guise of the God.

According to Homer, each home had an altar dedicated to Herkeios in the courtyard directly preceding the home, or megaron. It was in this location that libations were poured and sacrifices were made to the God to elicit his protection [2]. Because this cult was an Athenian universal, it was customary for those who lived within the polis to say “where is your Zeus Herkeios?” when asking for a particular address [3].

“The house and its fence protected man against enemies and other dangers, but it needed divine protection itself. Its protector was Zeus, whom we here meet in various roles quite different from that of the weather god.” [4]

Zeus Herkeios also plays a role in Virgil’s Aeneid, as it is upon his altar that Priam and Polites are killed by Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus). It is in this act that Virgil attempts to illustrate Neoptolemus’ savage nature, due to the connection between the altar and domestic sanctuary [5][6]. This connection between sanctuary and Herkeios is further elucidated in the Odyssey, where Phemius claims asylum at an altar of Herkeios to escape Odysseus killing him.

“To go out of the megaron and sit at the altar of great Zeus Herkeios, a properly made altar where many were the thighs of oxen that Laertes and Odysseus had burnt.” [7][8]

The cult of Zeus Ktesios differs from that of Herkeios in that it deals specifically with the inside of the Greek megaron as opposed to the outer perimeter. According to Harpocration, Ktesios lived in the storeroom and his divinity was housed in a amphora-like vessel called a kadiskos, which had dual handles crowned in white wool [9].

In his Orations, Isaeus poetically describes the cultic practices associated with Ktesios.

“When Ciron sacrificed to Zeus Ktesios, a sacrifice about which he was especially serious, he did not admit slaves or non-family members. He did everything himself, but we shared in this sacrifice and joined with him in handling and placing the sacrificial victims and in doing the other things. He prayed that the god give us health and good ‘property,’ and this was only natural because he was our grandfather.” [10][11]

The connections between Ktesios and the protection of property can be seen in the root of the God’s name, which comes from ancient Greek verb, ktéomai, meaning ‘to have,’ ‘to gain,’ ‘to possess’ [12]. The cult of Ktesios was widespread throughout the Hellenic world- a fact which is supported by a Doric etymological equivalent existing in Zeus Pasios [13].

In terms of iconography, Ktesios lacked an anthropomorphic representation. As stated above, the kadiskos was typically representative of his cult, though serpentine imagery also played a role. On a relief discovered at Thespiae, the epithet of Ktesios is recorded above the image of a large snake, iconography which was paralleled in later, Roman lararia. Snake worship associated with the home is believed to have originated in an earlier, agrarian period where the snake was seen as a chthonic protector of the storeroom against vermin and blight [14].

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In Zeus Kataibates we find a deity with a very specific function – a function which is mirrored by other Indo-European thunder deities. The title Kataibates means ‘he who descends’ and is a direct reference to the thunderbolt, which was considered in ancient times to be the resulting impact of a stone axe wielded by Zeus [15].

In the ruins of a house at Oinomaos, the altar of Kataibates was found alongside an altar of Herkeios. Altars to Kataibates were also found at a home on Thera and at Tarentum, where, like the aforementioned example, they appeared in the courtyard before the megaron alongside Herkeios [16]. Here sacrifices were made to the God to stave off lightning strike and according to Chambers Guthrie, may have acted as an ancient lightning conductor [17].

In Slavic and Germanic religion, we see parallels to this apotropaic function. In Slavic culture, Gromoviti znaci or ‘thunder marks,’ are considered by some scholars to be an ancient symbol of Perun which, when engraved on roof beams or on the threshold of the home, protect against lightning strikes [18]

We see a similar motif appear in Germanic culture where stonecrops and houseleeks were planted on the roofs of houses to protect against lightning strike. In Anglo-Saxon England, these plants were referred to as Þunorwyrt, or ‘Thunder-plant,’ [19] suggesting a possible parallel to the functions of both Kataibates and Perun.

 

Roman Boundary Deities

In Jupiter, we are met with a number of epithets associated with protection and warding, including Tutator ‘warden,’ Vindex ‘protector,’ Serenator ‘he who clears the sky,’ and Praestes ‘protector.’ [20]

Of particular interest is the epithet, Terminalus, associating Jupiter with the God of boundaries, Terminus. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Numa ordered that all Roman citizens should mark their boundaries with sacred stones consecrated to Jupiter Terminalus [21]. It was at these boundary stones that sacrifices were made to Terminalus each year at the festival of Terminalia.

In his De Condicionibus Agrorum, Siculus Flaccus gives an account of the ritual used to sanctify Terminus’ boundary stone, a ritual which consisted of placing ashes, bones and blood of a sacrificial victim, along with crops, wine and honeycomb in a hole where the estates converged. The hole was then sealed when the boundary stone was driven into it [22].

At Terminalia, families would decorate their side of the boundary marker with garlands and make offerings of crops, honeycomb and wine. The blood of a sacrificial lamb or pig would be poured over the marker, an act which was followed by communal feasting and the singing of hymns [23].

Woodard briefly explains the cultic origins of Terminus in his work, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult.

“This observation immediately raises the question why a sacred stone
of fertility should be associated with boundaries at all. One could imagine that the development would be entirely secondary. One might expect that the nomadic Proto-Indo-European pastoralists had no need for boundary stones. In the sedentary Indo-European daughter cultures, such as that of Rome, stones provide an effective means for marking boundaries, and the archaic sacred stone might naturally be assimilated to such markers. Indeed, Terminus is not always a stone but at times is identified with a stump that serves to demarcate adjacent properties (see Ovid, Fast. 2.641–642; Tibullus 1.1.11).” [24]

While Terminus is likely the most well-known of the Roman boundary deities and had the most fleshed out cult, we can also look to Silvanus to buttress our reconstructive efforts. According to Dolabella, Silvanus was the God responsible for erecting the first boundary markers, positioning him as a deity associated with the delineation of coterminous space. He also states in his Ex Libris Dolabellae, that each homestead possessed three protective Silvani. Silvanus Domesticus ‘of the home,’ Silvanus Agrestis ‘of the farmstead,’ and Silvanus Orientalis ‘of the estate boundary,’ correspond closely to the tripartite Zeuses of the earlier, Hellenic house cult [25]. In terms of sacrifices, Silvani received offerings of grapes, milk, ears of grain, meat, wine and pigs [26][27].

 

A Fyrnsidu-specific Boundary Deity

Based on information collected from Greek and Roman sources, we should now be able to reconstruct a comparable household cult based in the linguistic and cultural framework of Fyrnsidu.

The first challenge we’re presented with is the sheer multiplicity of deities one could reconstruct from the cults listed above. For simplicity’s sake, we will focus our efforts on a singular deity which presides over the domestic property in toto, encompassing elements from tripartite Zeus, Terminus/Jupiter Terminalis and tripartite Silvanus.

The deity most suited to this role would likely be Þunor, due to the obvious parallels between him and Zeus. Þunor’s Norse counterpart, Þórr was a hallower and protector, a function shared by both Zeus and Jupiter in a number of their epithets.

In terms of providing a name for this distinct divinity, we have a variety of Old English compounds available to us – Þunor Eodorweard ‘Fence/Hedge Ward,’ Þunor Hūsbonda ‘Master of the House,’ or something to that effect, would be most consistent with the epithets attributed to Silvanus and Zeus [*].

The location of the altar, if we’re following the Greco-Roman example, would likely be placed outdoors in the yard near the fence or property boundary. Gifts of honeycomb, libation, grain or the ashes from a burnt offering might be given periodically at this location – an act which would be repeated at regular intervals to ensure protection for the domestic enclosure.

Given that Terminus’ cult was aniconic, associated imagery may not be wholly necessary. If you opt to use iconography, the snake might make a good zoomorphic representation, especially considering the snake played a prominent role in both Greek and Roman house cult. Iconography associated with Indo-European thunder deities, such as the thunderbolt, hammer, or axe might be used, especially if anthropomorphic representations are to be employed. Silvanus is also regularly represented alongside a canine companion, a detail which would lend itself nicely to a cult focused on protection and vigilance.

If one were to celebrate a feast day specific to this cult, the date of Terminalia (February 23rd) might be used as a guideline.


[1]https://en.m.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=herkogamy&oldid=43964216

[2] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[3] Mikalson, Jon D. Ancient Greek Religion.

[4] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[5] Anderson, Michael John. The Fall of Troy in Early Greek Poetry and Art.

[6] Virgil. Aeneid 2. 499-500

[7] Odyssey 22.334-6

[8] Dowden, Ken. Zeus.

[9] Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion.

[10] Mikalson, Jon D. Ancient Greek Religion.

[11] Isaeus 8.16

[12]https://en.m.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=κτάομαι&oldid=47028907

[13] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[14] http://creadm.solent.ac.uk/custom/rwpainting/ch6/ch.6.6.html

[15] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[16] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[17] Chambers Guthrie, William Keith. The Greeks and Their Gods.

[18] Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3

[19] Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” þunor-wyrt. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 7 Aug. 2017.

[20] Thulin, Carl. Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft

[21] Dionysius. Roman Antiquities

[22] Flaccus, Siculus. De Condicionibus Agrorum.

[23] Ovid. Fasti 2. 639-684

[24] Woodard, Roger D. Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult.

[25] Dolabella. Ex Libris Dolabellae

[26] Tibullus. II.5.27, 30.

[27] Horace. Epodes II.21-22.

[*] These are merely the names that Sundorwic Hearth has chosen to use. For your practice, you may decide on a different name or names for this particular cult.

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