Sunday, 18 January 2015

Thunor's Hammer on the Runic Dover Grave Slab.

Whilst reading Nigel Pennick's The Book of Primal Signs, 2007 recently I encountered a drawing of the runic grave slab found in St Peter's Church, Dover in 1810 and is now housed in Dover Museum. The slab bears the following runic inscription: Gyfu or Nyd, Ior, Is, Sigel, Lagu, Haegl, Ear, Rad, Daeg.

Professor R.I. Page interprets this inscription as a personal name; Gislheard. Clearly he interprets the first rune as Gyfu rather than Nyd but it is ambiguously inscribed. I completely disagree with his interpretation that the second rune is "the ambiguous rune 'i' with its early value of a high front vowel." (An Introduction to English Runes, 1973). The second rune which is shown very clearly in the drawing from Pennick's book, is Ior. The third rune he draws as Eoh but it is clear from Pennick's drawing to be a badly inscribed Is rune. However the end result of either interpretation is the same, the man's name Gislheard.

What is of additional interest is the engraving of a hammer like symbol along the full length of the slab:

"An Anglo-Saxon runestone found at Dover has an image that may represent the hammer of Thunor, the Anglo-Saxon version of Thor, though in outline shape it resembles some form of brooch of the same period, demonstrating the mutability of forms and their interpretation." (The Book of Primal Signs)

Pennick also states that "this glyph is called Ul by Herman Wirth, who likens it with rock carvings a thousand years earlier". The Ul rune is a mediaeval rune and does not belong to a traditional Aett although Nigel Pennick does suggest that they could be incorporated as a fifth Aett added to the Northumbrian Futhorc (see Secrets of the Runes, 1995). Ul is sacred to the Frisian God Waldh.

Professor Page however does not interpret the image on the slab as a hammer though:

"The stone is large roughly oval slab some 190 cm (75 inches) long. In relief is a cross on whose arms the name appears, cut upside-down with respect to the design. The stone is well weathered and probably came from a churchyard. It is fairly clear that this is a slab to cover a grave."

What does not appear to have occured to Professor Page is that a supposed xtian cross which is "upside-down" is not a xtian cross at all. I bring to mind the controversy regarding the Icelandic Wolf Hammer which appears superficially to be an invereted cross. Stylistically and graphically it is a hammer resembling a judge's gavel and indeed the same type of hammer is portrayed in the hands of Thor in the Eyraraland Thor bronze scupture which is contemporary with the Foss Wolf Hammer.

Also the reader will notice that the bottom of the hammer engraving is rounded. This is a typical feature of Anglo-Saxon Thunor's Hammer depictions.

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