Thors Rite, 3. Degree

The Sagas of the Icelanders report that settlers in Iceland in the Viking Age threw the high seat pillars overboard as they approached land. The god Thor decided where his pillars would float ashore, and thereby where they would settle. The high seat pillars were often equipped/decorated with a head and a nail at the top. The pillars stood in the hov, the shrine. The altar stood innermost in the hov, where a holy fire burned. Thor, the God of Thunder, had his helper Tjalve as Herakles in Greece had his helper Ifikles. The original twin gods in Scandinavia were Loke and Thor. (Loke became a somewhat comic god in Viking Age Scandinavia).

The Twin’s (Gemini’s) zodiac sign

We probably find the twin gods again as the (high seat) pillars in our oldest stave churches; see the picture below from Gol stave church which is now at the Folke-museum at Bygdø near Oslo.

From Gol stave-church in Bygdø near Oslo. Two pillars with Thor’s head and with the stone in his head

The God of Thunder’s rite is very old. Archaeological tracks indicate that it came from the East along with the waves of Indo-European people; they also brought us the Indo-European languages. The followers of this god have probably been burnt after death. Throughout the period, from the early Bronze Age until Christianity was introduced, both cremation and earth burials were common in Scandinavia.

The gods were also burnt. Odin was burnt with great splendour, Snorre Sturlason says. At Balder’s pyre, Thor was the master of ceremony and set fire to Balder’s ship with his hammer. The Church put an end to cremation when it came to power; it was not until 1905 that cremations were allowed again in Norway.

The Vikings and settlers on the islands west in the sea in the Viking Age, brought their laws, social order and religion with them. Irish sources told that the Norse were «Thor’s children», the Scots said they were “eager Thor-worshippers”. In Iceland, the new god Christ and his mother Mary were put up against the god Thor and his mother Earth (Jord) when the Allthing discussed the change to Christianity.

Snorre’s story Thor’s fight with Rungne has created great interest among mythology scholars like Georges Dumezil. He believed it contained ancient elements and «remains of an initiation rite». Thor has a duel with the giant Rungne on the high battlefield;-he throws his hammer against Rungne and crushes his head so that he falls dead to the ground. Thor’s flash of lightning divides Rungne’s weapon in two. One half of the grindstone fastens in Thor’s forehead (see the picture from the stave church) and he falls with Rungne’s leg over his neck. Thor lies dead on the battleground. «All the gods» rushed to help Thor, trying to raise him up. None of them succeeded. Then his three-day-old son Magne (“Force”) arrives, he lifts Rungne’s leg and raises Thor on his feet again. He represents rebirth and the new life. Snorre must have heard this story when he travelled around in Norway for two years (1218-20) and gathered material about the old religion that was about to disappear.

The high-seat pillars, and similar pillars of other Indo-European peoples, have probably symbolized a great fire tinderbox (Feuerzeug), said Dutch religious scholar Jan de Vries. Here, two men stood on each side and pulled a rope that ran around a crossbeam that was loosely fastened between the two pillars. The friction between the crossbeam and the pillars ignited a fire in the pillar tops.

Feurzeug, from Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte II

The two pillars was a “Feuerzeug”[1]

The two pillars with the fire were thus the symbol of the Thunder god and his helper – it is the lightning, the thunder, the wind and the holy rain that bless people, animals and the earth.

The plot in Thor’s fight with Rungne is very similar to the narrative in the third degree of Freemasonry in Scandinavia. When the candidate is lead between the pillars, from west to east, he gets three blows over his neck. This probably symbolizes lightning strikes from the pillar tops. Later, he is knocked down with three strikes to his forehead by the Worshipful Master. These blows to his head by the hammer, happens as he stands just in front of the pillars.

The Freemasons now imitate the sound of thunder (trampling on the floor), rain (clinking the swords against each other) and wind (whispering from east to west and back) – which follow powerful lightning strikes in the spring.

A procession with «all the officiants» then come up to the candidate, who is now lying in a cave. All the officiants attempt to raise the candidate, one by one, but in vain. This is only achieved by the Worshipful Master, who now has taken on the role of Magne.

The English Freemasonry here uses the word «raised» about the Freemason and the third degree of Freemasonry. This is a word in English of Norse origin, that came with the Vikings. The god Thor and the Freemason have symbolically been in the cave or uterus of Thor’s mother Earth (Jord). From this cave they are born again and resurrected as nature in the spring and after the rain.

The first church in Norway was built in a cave on the West coast by St. Sunniva, who had drifted across the North Sea from Ireland in a boat, according to a legend. St. Sunniva was probably meant to be Christ’s mother Mary. Caves were possibly the original territory of ​​the God of Thunder; here the earliest initiation rites could have been carried out. The new god Christ and his mother Mary (St. Sunniva) now conquered the area belonging to Thor and his mother Earth (Jord). This was a symbolic language that everyone could understand.

The rope that was pulled by two men to produce fire, is now called «the sacred union band» and is stretched between the two pillars in the lodge room.

Throughout Scandinavia we find traces of our ancestors’ old religion, of which Freemasonry is now a continuation. Here are two more examples.

In Vallhagar on Gotland in Sweden, archaeologists have found a ceremony hall from the Migration Period with inside dimensions 15 m x 6.5 m and with 1.5 m wide and 1 m high walls. There were four post holes to the east. Four flat stone foundations for pillars were found right next to these post holes. The two black marks to the west (see drawing below) are also stone foundations for pillars. Thus, there were a total of six flat stone foundations for pillars in the hall. The archaeologists also found remains of benches along the walls[2].

I believe that four movable pillars were placed near the roof-bearing posts when rites to Freya and Odin were to be performed. Two more pillars were put up on the west side when the brothers were to celebrate Thor’s rite. The pillars correspond to what we find in the third degree halls of Freemasonry today, except that one pillar is removed, which probably dates back to the alteration made by King Athelstan in York in the 920’s.

The hall in Vallhagar also held an extensive craft production of pottery and knives and remnants of spinning and weaving products. The elegant glasses found indicate that the hall was also used for entertainment. («The Craft» is today another name on Freemasonry).

The fireplace was “peculiar” (according to an archaeologist), a big, flat, white limestone. The firewood must have been stacked up against the stone. Just east of the fireplace, there was an area (hatched in the drawing below) with a layer consisting of burnt clay and thick ash with small bits of charcoal and bone fragments[3]. The bone remains were probably taken from the many graves in the village, which have been «pillaged», as the archaeologists say. (Such «pillages» are also known from other important grave sites in Scandinavia).

Hall from Vallhager Gotland with 6 flat stone fundaments for pillars and 4 postholes for roof pillars. Notice the burnt area between the pillars

I think that these relics, as the Church later called such objects, were placed on the white stone in the fire, and then brushed out on the floor between the pillars before the candidate was to appear. After entering, he was lead three times around the remains of the ancestors (and the pillars), then he took three steps over the burnt bones lying on the hall’s floor. This tradition must be older than the Freemasons Tracing board, which originally may have been a black ox-skin as a foundation for the bone remains and the bone coffin. The Tracing board’s position in the lodge room in Scandinavia today corresponds to the hatched area in the Vallhagar hall. I have identified what must be the bone coffin symbol on the Tracing board in Scandinavia.

«The world’s oldest freemason» was found in a copper cauldron along with the owner’s burnt bone remnants, in a field on the farm Freyhov (Frøyhov) by the river Glomma in Akershus, Norway. This little bronze figure is meant to be attached to a bandoleer. He has an apron around his waist with symbols of three gods: Freya (a figure with a noose around his neck), Odin (Odin’s rune As, Anzuz, ”Åss” in Norwegian, meaning ”God”), and Thor (the Saltire or diagonal cross like the shape of the letter X). The owner of this 1900-year old bronze figure was therefore probably initiated to these gods; he held the third degree, to use today’s Freemasonry language.

There are archaeological traces in Scandinavia that indicate that Freemasonry rites may have been carried out for thousands of years, back to the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, and probably to the Stone Age. Freemasonry is a unique treasure from the past; an exceptional carrier of our ancient cultural heritage in Scandinavia and Europe.

[1] Jan de Vries, Altgermanischer Religionsgeschichte I and II, 1970, par 499, s 250

[2] Mårten Stenberger, Vallhagar, A Migration Period settlement on Gotland, Sweden, 1955

[3] Frands Herschend, The Origin of The Hall in Southern Scandinavia, Tor, Uppsala, 1993, p 183