The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Donar, Thunar, (Thorr)

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The god who rules over clouds and rain, who makes himself known in the lightning's flash and the rolling thunder, whose bolt cleaves the sky and alights on the earth with deadly aim, was designated in our ancient speech by the word Donar itself, OS. Thunar, AS. Thunor, ON. Thôrr. (1) The natural phenomenon is called in ON. þruma [[clap of thunder]], or duna [[a rushing thundering noise]], both fem. like the GOthic þeihvô, which was perhaps adopted from a Finnic language. To the god the Goths would, I suppose, give the name Thunrs. The Swed. tordön, Dan. torden (tonitru), which in Harpestreng still keeps the form thordyn, thordun, is compounded of the god's name and that same duna, ON. Thôrduna? (see Suppl.) In exactly the same way the Swed. term åsikkia, (2) has arisen out of âsaka, the god's waggon or driving, from âs, deus, divus, and aka, vehere, vehi, Swed. åka. In Gothland they say for thunder Thorsåkan, Thor's driving; and the ON. reið [[vehicle, wagon]] signifies not only vehiculum, but tonitru, and reiðarslag, reiðarþruma, are thunderclap and lightning. For, a waggon rumbling over a vaulted space comes as near as possible to the rattling and crashing of thunder. The comparison is so natural, that we find it spread among many nations: dokei ochma tou Dioj h bponth einai, Hesychius sub. v. elasibponta. In Carniola the rolling of thunder is to this day gottes fahren. [To the Russian peasant it is the prophet Iliâ driving his chariot, or else grinding his corn.] Thôrr in the Edda, beside his appellation of Asaþôrr, is more minutely described by Ökuþôrr, i.e. Waggon-thôrr (sn. 25); his waggon is drawn by two he-goats (Sn. 26). Other gods have their waggons too, especially Oðinn and Freyr (see pp. 107, 151), but Thôrr is distinctively thought of as the god who drives; he never appears riding, like Oðinn, nor is he supposed to own a horse: either he drives, or he walks on foot. We are expressly told: 'Thôrr gengr til dômsins, ok veðr âr,' walks to judgment, and wades the rivers (Sn. 18). (3) The people in Sweden still say, when it thunders: godgubben åkar, goffar kör, the gaffer, good father, drives (see Suppl.). They no longer liked to utter the god's real name, or they wished to extol his fatherly goodness (v. supra, p. 21, the old god, Dan. vor gamle fader). The Norwegian calls the lightning Thorsvarme, -warmth, Faye p. 6.

Thunder, lightning and rain, above all other natural phenomena, proceed directly from God, are looked upon as his doing, his business (see Suppl.). (4) When a great noise and racket is kept up, a common expression is: you could not hear the Lord thunder for the uproar; in France: le bruit est si fort, qu'on n'entend pas Dieu tonner. As early as the Roman de Renart 11898:

Font une noise si grant

quen ni oist pas Dieu tonant.

29143: Et commenca un duel si grant,

que len ni oist Dieu tonant.

Ogier 10915: Lor poins deterdent, lor paumes vont batant,

ni oissiez nis ame Dieu tomant.

Garin 2, 38: Nes Dieu tomnant in possiez oir.

And in the Roman de Maugis (Lyon 1599, p. 64): De la noyse quils faisoyent neust lon pas ouy Dieu tonner.

But thunder is especially ascribed to an angry and avenging god; and in this attribute of anger and punishment again Donar resembles Wuotan (pp. 18, 142). In a thunderstorm the people say to their children: the gracious God is angry; in Westphalia: use hergot kift (chides, Strodtm. osnabr. 104); in Franconia: God is out there scolding; in Bavaria: der himmeltatl (-daddy) greint (Schm. 1, 462). In Eckstrom's poem in honour of the county of Honstein 1592, cii, it is said:

Gott der herr muss warlich from sein (must be really kind),

dass er nicht mit donner schlegt drein. (5)

The same sentiment appears among the Letton and Finn nations. Lettic: wezzajs kahjâs, wezzajs tehws barrahs (the old father has started to his feet, he chides), Stender lett. gramm. 150. With dievas (god) and dievaitis (godkin, dear god) the Lithuanians associate chiefly the idea of the thunderer: dievaitis grauja! dievaitis ji numusse. Esthonian: wanna issa hüab, wanna essä wäljan, mürrisep (the old father growls), Rosenplänters beitr. 8, 116. 'The Lord scolds,' 'heaven wages war,' Joh. Christ. Petris Ehstland 2, 108 (see Suppl.).

Now with this Donar of the Germani fits in significantly the Gallic Taranis whose name is handed down to us in Lucan 1, 440; all the Celtic tongues retain the word taran for thunder, Irish toran, with which one may directly connect the ON. form Thôrr, if one thinks an assimilation from rn the more likely. But an old inscription gives us also Tanarus (Forcellini sub v.) = Taranis. The Irish name for Thursday, dia Tordain (dia ordain, diardaoin) was perhaps borrowed from a Teutonic one (see Suppl.).

So in the Latin Jupiter (literally, God father, Diespiter) there predominates the idea of the thunderer; in the poets Tonans is equivalent to Jupiter (e.g., Martial vi. 10, 9. 13, 7. Ovid Heroid. 9, 7. Fasti 2, 69. Metam. 1, 170. Claudian's Stilicho 2, 439); and Latin poets of the Mid. Ages are not at all unwilling to apply the name to the christian God (e.g., Dracontius de deo 1,1. satisfact. 149. Ven. Fortunat. p. 212-9. 258). And expressions in the lingua vulgaris coincide ith this: celui qui fait toner, qui fait courre la nue (p. 23-4). An inscription, Jovi tonanti, in Gruter 21, 6. The Greek Zeus who sends thunder and lighting (keraunoj) is styled kerauneioj. Zeuj ektupe, Il. 8, 75. 170. 17, 595. Dioj ktupoj, Il. 15, 379. (6) And because he sends them down from the height of heaven, he also bears the name akrioj, and is pictured dwelling on the mountain-top (akrij). Zeus is enthroned on Olympus, on Athos, Lycaeus, Casius, and other mountains of Greece and Asia Minor.

And here I must lay stress on the fact, that the thundering god is conceived as emphatically a fatherly one, as Jupiter and Diespiter, as far and tatl. For it is in close connexion with this, that the mountains sacred to him also received in many parts such names as Etzel, Altvater, Grossvater. (7) Thôrr himself was likewise called Atli, i.e. grandfather.  


1. So even in High German dialects, durstag for donrstag, Engl. Thursday, and Bav. doren, daren for donnern (Schm. 1, 390). In Thôrr it is not RR, but only the first R (the second being flectional), that is an abbrev. of NR.; i.e. N suffers syncope before R, much as in the M. Dut. ere, mire, for ênre mînre.  (back)

2. Conf. Onsike (Odin´s drive?) supra, p. 159.  (back)

3. Scarcely contradicted by his surname Hlôrriði; this riði probably points to reið, a waggon; Hlôrriði seems to me to come by assimilation from hlôðriði, conf. ch. XIII, the goddes Hlôðyn.  (back)

4. A peasant, being requested to kneel at a procession of the Host, said: I don't believe the Lord can be there, 'twas only yesterday I heard him thunder up in heaven; Weidners apophthegmata, Amst. 1643, p. 277.  (back)

5. In a poem made up of the first lines of hymns and songs: Ach gott vom himmel sieh darein, und werfe einen donnerstein, es ist gewislich an der zeit, dass schwelgerei und üppigkeit zerschmettert werden mausetodt! sonst schrein wir bald aus tiefer noth.  (back)

6. One might be tempted to connect the Etruscan Tina = Jupiter with Tonans and Donar; it belongs more immediately to Zhn (v. infra, Zio).  (back)

7. Zeitschr. des hess. vereins 2, 139-142. Altd. blätt. 1, 288. Haupts zeitschr. 1, 26. Finnish: isäinen panee (Renval. 118), the father thunders. To the Finns ukko signifies proavus, senex, and is a surname of the gods Wäinäsnöinen and Ilmarinen. But also Ukko of itself denotes the thundergod (v. infra). Among the Swedish Lapps aija i both avus and tonitrus (see Suppl.).  (back)

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