Friday, January 28, 2005

The Torc and the Valknut

The chaining of Prometheus was part of the overall conflict between Zeus and the gods versus the Titans.

According to Hesiod, when the gods overthrew the Titans the forests were set ablaze and the oceans "seethed and boiled." Homer states that Zeus "had also thrust great Cronos down beneath earth and the restless sea" banishing him to Tartaros, the Underworld.

In Greek myth, when volcanoes erupt they reveal the Titans or Giants imprisoned by Zeus beneath the earth.

The conflict in many ways parallels that between the good and bad angels in Hebrew lore with the Titans playing the role of teachers who lead humanity toward their downfall.

In Northern Europe we sometimes find the division of the banks of a river in a manner similar to that found in Austronesia. At Skelbæk, on the Kongeå in Denmark, for example, bronze age mounds are found on one side of the river while homes and agriculture are found on the other.

Torsten Pedersen also believes that the European root for "brother" is related to the word for "to bear, carry," and might be related to relationships that existed on opposite sides of a river i.e., someone who bears something across the river. This could be something in exchange for a spouse or even the spouse him/herself. Linguistic links between Austronesian and Indo-European have long been recognized although at one time they were considered genetic relationships.

Franz Bopp, often called the "father of Indo-European," and Sir William Jones, the person who first suggested a link between European languages and Sanskrit, were two early researchers who thought the Malayo-Polynesian languages and European ones were genetically related. Pedersen's research shows that these links do indeed seem valid but as borrowings rather than inheritance.

Another interesting parallel that we find in these regions separated by half the globe involves the grisly practice of human sacrifice. As noted earlier, this ritual often pops up when we see signs of sharp social stratification. In many cases it is involved directly with funerary rites and in latter times often occurs in state or community rituals.

An artifact linked with this practice is the neck ring or torc. On the island of Nias they make elaborate neck rings, which like the ancient European ones, were plaited with fiber and metal, in this case with coconut fiber and brass.

Traditionally the neck rings or kalabubu were worn only by those who had killed one of the enemy. Tacticus mentioned that the Chatti wore 'iron collars' until they had killed someone in battle.

Oppenheimer following Frazer notes that in Scandinavia the torcs were used for ritual killings. In offerings to Odin, the victims were hung and then stabbed with a spear.

Frazer notes a similar custom in the Philippines in a fertility ritual were the victim is hung and then finished off with a spear to the side. The analogy to the Crucifixion is striking.

The torcs found on peat bog mummies at Lindow, Borromese and Tolland were fashioned into triple knots resembling the valknut motif.

Celtic god Cerunnos wearing and holding neck ring on Gundestrap Cauldron

Ancestor image with neck ring from Nias (EITE)

Although the symbolism of the valknut is not well-known it is believed that it may represent death and it has been connected with the Nornir, the three sisters of fate who weave the destinies of humans. The valknut motif is often represented by three interlinked triangles or by knots forming triangular lattices.

The triangular form is similar to the method of three-way weaving found widely distributed in Austronesia and used for extensively for a variety of purposes from constructing homes to making stick maps. The sipa or takraw a wicker ball used from Thailand to the Philippines is a good example of the three-node weaving pattern. Having twenty nodes with six great circles and eighty triangulated surfaces, the sipa maximizes compression when using tensile materials.

Bunkminster Fuller believed three-way weaving was conceived in Austronesia as a means of imparting tensile strength to flexible wooden structures. In comparision to grid-pattern weaving and structures that tend to collapse, the three-node structure has much greater "bend."

Knots as symbols were used commonly in Austronesia particularly in divination. As noted earlier knots were also used to keep records, and the trigrams created by the legendary Fu Hsi may have originated in knots used to keep weather records by the Dong Yi.

The sipa or takraw three-node wicker ball

The Fenrir wolf bound in a valknut

Paul Kekai Manansala