Ullr is still on my mind. Scraps of knowledge drift through my head and combine with reason and gut feeling as I try to connect the dots and form an image of who he might really be. I might be entirely wrong, or I might be only partially right, who knows? New insights strike, new doubts apear, and things chance. This is the process through which I form my views, and it is never done, as it is an always ongoing process.
A google search leads to so many simplified explanations of Ullr that it makes me frustrated. The Norwegian God of Snow, some say. The God of Snowshoes! The God of skiing! Oh and the God of Archery too. A Norse version of Old Man Winter?
Hnngh. Right. For a moment, just forget this god-of-something syndrome. While it’s a practical simplification when trying to teach kids who is who in ancient mythology or modern polytheism, it turns complex ideas and identities into simple materialistic concepts. The God of Snowshoes, for crying out loud WAT?! What is even meant by that? A deity who… cares for snowshoes?
Indignation aside, what do we know about Ullr? The sources are sparse. It would seem like the cult of Ullr had started to wane when time came to commit the Norse faith to writing, so while he appears to have been an important figure in Norse beliefs there is terribly little in the way of written sources of who he was.
The name itself speaks of glory and some point at Ullr as a possible sun god – while that might be a stretch he does seem to be associated with light. This is not a dark winter figure – this is someone bright.
He is described as a master archer, a master skiier, a master skater. A beautiful man too! He is a greatly skilled fighter and it was suitable to call on him before going into a duel. He is associated with oath keeping and justice, and according to myth he even stepped up to rule in Odin’s stead at some point.
Old Main Winter or Father Winter he is sometimes likened to now, but I can’t see that a good comparison. Look at how Ullr is described – this is not an old, grey man. This is someone strong, beautiful, skilled and honourable. His time may be winter but while winter is a season of darkness, Ullr is light.
Which makes sense in associating him with snow. Snow turns the dark times into glimmering, bright beauty.
There, a clue into the greatness of Ullr. A light in the darkness.
The archer, then? The hunter. Think of times of old, winter. Think of food supplies growing sparse, a world covered in snow and ice where nothing grows, no fruit ripens, no crops grow. Unless you have plentiful stores your only source of food, and life… is that. Hunting. The hunter who can bring down prey during the harsh winter times is hope, and survival.
The whole association with skiing and skating then? And yes, snowshoes. That is often how he is portrayed today after all, Ullr the god of skiing and wintertime sports! Typical modern people to take a matter of survival and turn it into sports. What was skiing, skating and snowshoe walking? Means of transport in times when you otherwise would be isolated. A way of moving and thus surviving even when you can not walk, or can only walk with great effort.
Somewhere I came across the idea that Ullr and Apollon may be one and the same. Why? Apollon is associated with summer! Well, where did he go during the winter? According to some sources his winters were spent in the wilds, up north. The same classic source also speak of him being revered by the people of the North. There is the association with light, archery, and justice. May there perhaps even be a linguistic connection between the names? Apollon – Ollerus – Ullr ? I don’t know about this, part of me thinks one shouldn’t try to squeeze Greek mythology into everything, Greece isn’t the center of the world etc etc. But I gotta admit, it is an interesting potential connection.
Put everything together, and an image slowly builds of he who is Ullr. Still blurry and uncertain but there are features that stand out.
Light in dark times.
Food in times of starvation.
Freedom, not confinement.
Honour and loyalty, not injustice and deceit.
See… Suddenly I don’t have any trouble understanding why Ullr was so important.
The sharp among you will at this point say HEY YOU NEED TO CITE YOUR SOURCES! Well I am afraid I don’t have any to give just yet. This blog post is not the result of an academic study but of me sifting through scraps of information lingering in my memory and my own thoughts. So don’t take this as fact. I would need look way, way more seriously at historical and archaeologcal sources to say something more seriously – then I’ll give you sources as well, I promise.