The Bronze Age: 1800-500 B.C.E.
The Bronze Age is rich in religious materials, both because the custom of depositing offerings in bogs continued and became even more prevalent and because of the frequent carving of cultic scenes on large rocks. The Bronze Age rock carvings are found largely throughout southeast Sweden and along the southern coast of Norway up to Trondheim. Although the coastlines have changed since, it is thought that at the time they were carved, nearly all of them were within sight of the sea. The most common images on these stones are the ship, the wagon, the plough, the bare footprint, the phallic man with axe or spear, the sun-wheel, and the mating couple. Many of them are carved with little cup-shaped depressions which the Swedes still call älvkvarnar, or "alf-cups"; in Sweden, offerings of milk and drink have been made in these cups up to recent times (Ellis, Road to Hel, p. 114). Some of the alf-cups are set in rows down the face of a sloping stone so that water (or ale, or blood from a sacrifice) poured into the top one will run from cup to cup. The cultic character of the stones cannot be mistaken: several stones show boat-borne processions with lur-players or acrobats. Their positions are similar to those of the little bronze figurine of the woman in the string-skirt which was sacrificed in a bog at Grevensvænge, southern Sealand together with several other figures. Among these figures were two men wearing horned helmets and holding large axes. These figurines had pegs underneath for fastening them to a base of some sort; it is theorized that they may have fit onto a model of a ship, creating a scene like those on the picture-stones (Kjærum and Olsen, Oldtidens Ansigt, p. 66).The most common interpretation of these figures is that they represent fertility rites, possibly depicting ritual dramas or processions.
The location of the majority of the rock carvings by the seaside, as well as the prevalence of the ship, implies that the sea played a very important role in religion during the Bronze Age - probably more so than during the Viking Age. At this point in time, Scandinavians were capable of crossing the Baltic and the North Sea; they were doing a thriving business with Poland and the British Isles, and their supply of bronze and gold was entirely dependent on the southward trade. Gløb points out that "Not only was enough (metal) required to counteract the wastage of tools in constant use; it was also needed for new weapons and ornaments for each succeeding generation since so many personal belongings of bronze and gold accompanied their owners to the grave. Sacrifices to the powers watching over the life and fortune of the Mound People swallowed up a large proportion of metal imports as well" (The Mound People, p. 134).
The ship may also have had some connection with the voyage to the Otherworld in the Bronze Age, as it certainly did in the Migration and Viking Ages. De Vries suggests that the tree which sometimes appears above the rock-carving ship (Kalleby, Tanum, Bohuslan) makes it less probable that these are either warships or the ship of the death-faring (Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte I, p. 108); he associates it with the Maibaume ("May-Tree") of German folk-custom, which is a fir, spruce, or birch brought out of the wood and into the village in a festive procession on May Day (see "Waluburg's Night"). This would certainly seem to emphasize the fertility side of the fertility-death equasion; it does not, however, negate the role of the ship as the vehicle of the passage between worlds. In this context, the ship-procession with its lur-players and holy dancers might be seen as bringing the might of the gods into the human world, or as bringing those who take part in the procession into the holy realm, or both at once.
The wain is, of course, the land-bound equivalent of the ship. Both appear as the bearer of the sun-wheel in the rock-carvings, and both are vehicles of the Vanic processions as recorded from the time of Tacitus onward. Probably the most famous wain of the Scandinavian Bronze Age is the Trundholm wagon: the bronze model of a six-wheeled wagon, drawn by a horse with sunlike decoration around its eyes, which bore an elaborately decorated and gilded disk. A similar model, with two horses and a disk, was found in a mound at Tågeborg in Scania. In the later Scandinavian tradition, of course, we know that "Árvakr and Alsviðr they shall up from here, / thin, draw the sun" (Grímnismál 37). By the Viking Age, the solar ship has been lost, although the combination of solar imagery with ships on the Migration Age picture stones of Gotland may suggest that the total replacement of the ship with the wain was relatively late. On a social level, the wagon, like the ship, is necessary for trade, agriculture, and even transport in war.
At the time of the rock-carvings, the sun may have sometimes been seen as a masculine being, rather than the feminine Sun known to Indo-European and later Germanic tradition: several of the carvings around Oslo Fjord show phallic figures with weapons, whose bodies or heads are sun-wheels. At Finntorp, a wheel-bodied man is shown mating with a long-haired woman; at Slänge, the phallic wheel-bodied man is approaching the woman, though they are not yet joined. This could be taken as representing the marriage of a sky- or sun-god with an earth-goddess. A number of these stones also show stags with sun-wheels in their antlers, or sun-disks with "antler-like motifs projecting from the rim" (Green, The Sun-Gods of Ancient Europe, pp. 80-1). It is possible that some of Fro Ing's solar aspects stem from this period of the development of Germanic religion.
The wedding-theme appears frequently on the rock-carvings. One, at Hoghem in Bohuslän, shows both a man and woman mating and a man copulating with a cow. The latter is especially likely to represent the mating of sun/sky-god and earth-goddess. Gløb also describes a stone from Maltegård in north Zealand which shows a man and woman with strongly emphasized sexual features reaching out to one another. A 'May-tree' stands behind the woman, and the scene is surrounded by a wreath of spring flowers (The Mound People, p. 167). The frequency with which the "holy wedding" is depicted on these stones suggests that the mating was likely to have been carried out in public as part of community ritual
The plough is an obvious symbol of fertility and prosperity. This meaning is often emphasized by its context, as on the Litsleby stone where a phallic man is shown ploughing with a branch in his hand. He is just beginning the third furrow, which probably signifies that this is meant to show a rite connected with the first spring ploughing. According to Gløb, "On Bornholm the old folk used to say, 'Three furrows in Thor give a green spring,' which expresses the hope that the old god of heaven will send the blessing of rain over the field" (The Mound People, p. 150). The frequency of the plow in the rock-carvings also suggests that many, if not all, of the ceremonies/ritual dramas depicted on these stones probably took place in the early spring, supporting the theory that some of the pictures may show a ritual "Spring Wedding".
The bare footprints which appear on many of the rock-carvings have often been associated with the story of Skaði choosing her husband by his feet, and thus with Njörðr, whose feet were the most beautiful. This tale, which, like the story of Freyr and Gerðr, describes the mating of a Vanic god with a rather unwilling giantess, can, at least in part, be classed among the "Spring Wedding" materials, and thus seems to fit in with the general symbolism shown on these stones. It has also, however, been suggested that the bare footprints were meant to show the passing of a god, or perhaps the continued presence of an unseen god; and it may be that the celebrants who trod in the holy prints were filled with the deity's might as they stood there.
In addition to the ships, wains, and wedding-couples, the rock-carvings are also dominated by giant phallic men with axes and spears. While we cannot be sure in calling these figures by the names of the Germanic gods, their imagery fits with the deities we know. The god with the axe may well have been a thunder-god, if not *Thonaraz himself. In the Bronze Age, both stone and bronze axe-heads were used as charms against lightning, and stone axes continued to be used for warding and luck in the Northern countries up until the present day. Thonar's priestly character as hallower may be present in this figure as well: .the Hvitlyke stone at Tanum shows a man with an axe raised above a mating couple, which de Vries interprets as the hallowing of a cultic marriage" (Religionsgeschichte, I, p. 106) after the example of Þrymskviða in which Þórr's hammer is used to hallow the bride. That the axes shown here were ceremonial rather than weapons of war is supported by the Västerås bronze axe (deposited as an offering with three sickles), the size and weight of which (12 in., 8 lbs.) make it unlikely that it was used in battle (Andersson, Jansson, Treasures of Early Sweden, p. 38). The spear is well known to us as the weapon of Wodan, which hallows the doomed for sacrifice; in earlier times, it could also perhaps have been the weapon of the Sky-Father *Tiwaz.
Burial customs changed considerably in the Bronze Age. Mounds became larger, perhaps as leaders and ruling dynasties began to emerge; it is fairly said that "More work was done on buildings for the dead than ever before in our history", and that the building effort for Bronze Age tombs "bear(s) comparison only with that of medieval churches" (Erikson, Lofman, A Scandinavian Saga, p. 95). The tremendous effort and expense of building the mounds and supplying the dead with their gold and bronze grave goods suggests a relatively high level of social stratification, an intense religious influence, and probably a considerable degree of worship of the dead. Some of the dead were buried in large oak coffins, which, combined with the peaty soil of Denmark, preserved the bodies and clothing remarkably well. The dead were buried fully equipped, often with very rich goods, and food and drink sent with them. One, the Egtved girl, was laid in her howe with a bark bucket that had been filled with a fermented honey-wheat-cranberry mead flavoured with bog myrtle. At her feet were the burned bones of a young girl, probably a serving-maid sent into the mound with her mistress (The Mound People, p. 60). Fresh yarrow flowers were also laid in the coffin, perhaps for magical purposes. The child in Guldhøj was buried with three crab-apples, which may have been meant to give it life in the Otherworld; the chieftain whose coffin lay beside the child's had six small split hazel-sticks by his dagger, which Gløb also interprets as a magico-religious grave-gift (The Mound People, pp. 92-94). In the later Bronze Age, cremation became common, and mound-building much less so.
The large curling bronze horns known as lurs (resembling a sort of sousaphone) appear frequently in the rock-carvings; a good number were also sunken in bogs as holy gifts. They seem to have been made and played in matching pairs (one horn curving left, the other curving right) tuned to the same pitch. Their musical character was enhanced by the use of rattle-ornaments which tinkle as the player walks. Clay drums similar to those of the Stone Age were also used in the Bronze Age, as were bull-roarers and flutes (Lund, Fornordiska klanger, pp. 45-53).
Ritual dance seems to have been practised by the women of the Bronze Age, as shown by the stone carvings and bronze figures of acrobat-women clad only in string skirts. Their positions are similar to some of those used by current-day belly-dancers, and it has also been pointed out by the modern-day shaman Annete Høst (personal conversation, Solmonth 1993) that the positioning of the round bronze stomach-disks worn by Bronze Age women would have been ideal for ecstatic ritual dance of that type.
KveldúlfR Gundarsson, Warder of the Lore (from "Spring Rites and Bronze Age Rock-Carvings", Idunna IV, I, Rhedmonth 1992, pp. 45-47).