Dominus Ingui: symbols

Besides a depiction of the god, the best way to represent Him or His claim over something is by means of one or more symbols. In the case of Ingui’s, they derived almost entirely from Norse and wider Germanic tradition, as would be expected. Some may be used compositely and I’ll give a few examples of that.

It’s one of the best known and most used symbols of Ingui. In Snorri’s Edda, it is said that Freyr was given a golden boar named Gullinbursti (Golden Bristles), whose light shines through darkness. It can therefore represent Ingui’s solar qualities, but the boar also stands for His role as a granter of fertility and the god’s warrior side. That’s something that’s usually overlooked, partly because the translation of friðr as peace conveys the impression of Freyr’s as a non-violent deity. And that’s generally true, but being a god of sacred inviolability, Ingui’s ready to stand up and fight if necessary. Think of Him as a god of defensive struggle: He doesn’t take pleasure in the acts of war, but He will resort to it when there’s no other way.

In ancient Scandinavia, the easiest way to travel was by ship, since dense woodland, steeped terrain, or both made land routes long and hard. An idea of that is given by Adam of Bremen in his 12th century History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, where he states that it took a month to travel by land from Skaneland (southern Sweden) to Sigtuna (near Stockholm), but only five days if done by ship. This contributed largely to the importance of the vessel in ancient Scandinavian culture, of which boat burials are another expression. With it came social status and the wealth often attached to it, which could be shown-off by means of a large and well decorated ship like the Oseberg’s. Therefore, Ingui’s possession of a vessel speaks of His wealth (and ability to give it), but also of His ascendancy, since His father is a keeper of boats and equally a granter of riches.

The wagon has already been mentioned in reference to Ingui’s sacred processions. Equally a symbol of wealth and prosperity, it can be combined with the ship in the form of a wheeled vessel.

A common solar symbol, but unfortunately tainted by the Nazis and sometimes mistaken by the Christian cross. As such, more neutral variations – some seen here – are preferable to depict Ingui’s solar qualities.

By now, it pretty much goes without saying that a phallus is a symbol of Ingui.

Sheaf of wheat
A produce of the fields, the sheaf of wheat stands for Ingui’s gift of fertility and prosperity, but also the sacrifice of life that nurtures life.

A horn full of food (sometimes coins, too) and a common symbol for abundance in the Mediterranean. That makes it appropriate to represent Ingui’s gifts and the fact that a cornucopia is a horn also resonates with His Norse origin, where drinking horns were used in ritual contexts.

In Snorri’s Edda, it is said that Ingui used a stag’s antler as a weapon after He gave away His sword. He did so in order to marry with Gerð, whose courting is the theme of the eddic poem Skírnismál, and, as a consequence, Norse lore has it that Ingui will die in battle in Ragnarök. Yet the antler, being the horn of the stag, is also a symbol of virility and lordship, which fits well with Ingui. It’s used as a ritual instrument by modern practitioners as well.

The giving away of Ingui’s sword has been seen by some as symbolic castration or emasculation of the god. This may or may have been the view of the old heathens, but I have already mentioned how the Vanir are linked with a more open sexuality and a form of magic that ensued the accusation of effeminacy if it was performed by men. A further element of the sort can be found in Saxo’s Gesta Danorum, where a hero named Starcatherus is described as disliking some sort of theatrical performances during the pagan feast at Uppsala: effeminate body movements (effeminatos corporum motus), clapping actors (scaenicosque mimorum plausus), and the sound of small bells (mollia nolarum crepitacula). It’s not known how far the description reflects ancient practices (Saxo is a problematic source), but the reference has turned the bell into a modern symbol of Freyr.

Ing rune
Also a popular symbol for Ingui, given the name and the stanza associated with it in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. Modern worshippers of Freyr use it in ritual clothing and instruments, but also in artwork, tattoos, and jewelry.

It’s an animal with a strong religious significance in northern Europe. Horse fights and sacrifices were practiced by the Norse and their meat was ritually eaten. The stallion is also a symbol of virility and some sagas do point out to a link between horses and Ingui: Hrafnkell’s, for instance, speaks of a horse consecrated to Freyr which no one could ride under pain of death. This recalls another reference in Tacitus’ Germania about groves where white horses were kept, unused by humans and observed by priests and kings for divinatory purposes.

Hazel branch
More of a modern symbol than an ancient one – at least as far as the existing lore goes – but based on the traditional usage of hazel to establish sacred inviolability.

Pine cone
Also a modern symbol, but with the potential to represent the life force that survives death and Ingui’s (re)birth at midwinter.


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