Hammer of Þunor
by Thorbert Línleáh
The hammer of Þunor (ON: Þórr), perhaps once known to the Anglo-Saxons as the *Þunreslecg (“Þunor’s sledge,” inferred from þunres slege, “thunder strike”), is the most widely recognized symbol in all of modern Heathendom. With his golden hammer, Þunor wards both heaven and earth, gods and men alike, from the dark doom of giants and chaotic forces that would otherwise overtake them. Furthermore it is by the magic of his hammer that Þunor renews the vitality of the fields and even, on occasion, restores life to the dead.
In elder Heathen times, the wombs of brides were blessed by the laying of a sacred hammer in their laps so that they might be made fertile and thus soon filled. Likewise, just as the sign of the hammer was made to bring about life, so it was invoked again at life’s conclusion. In the funeral rite, the hammer sign was made to hallow the pyre. And, at the holy feast, it was the sign of the hammer that was made over the meat and drink, that they might be hallowed and thus fitting for the fellowship of the folk and the gods.
A token of warding, speedsomeness, death, and hallowing, Þunor’s hammer embodied the might and main of the Ése (gods) and their tréow (troth). It is for this reason that small amulets, crafted in the shape of Þunor’s hammer, were worn in the elder Heathen age.
Though frequently thought of as originating during the Viking age (late 8th century), the oldest hammer amulet was found during the excavation of a Jutish grave in Ash Gilton, Kent in the 18th century by antiquarian Bryan Faussett. Dated to the 6th century (the heyday of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry) this bronze hammer amulet shows that, while more common during the Viking age, this symbol of Þunor was indeed worn by Anglo-Saxon Heathens as well.
While it is commonly believed that the Norsemen took to wearing the hammer in reaction to Christian wearing of the cross, similar symbols were worn by Teutonic Heathens long before Christianity became a cultural and religious threat to the Teutons. Beginning in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, amulets depicting the club of Hercules, a god often associated with Þunor via interpretatio Romana, were worn by Roman soldiers. Just as Teutonic auxiliary units serving in the Roman army implemented their own version of the Roman seven day week, the club amulet was soon adopted as well. By the 5th century, these “Donar’s Clubs” were counted among the grave goods of the Teutonic Alemanni. As noted by Christopher Abram in Myths of the Pagan North:
Hercules’s emblem was a club, and amulets representing this weapon survive from the second and third centuries AD from across the Roman Empire. It is notable that Thor is also characterized by his use of a blunt weapon, in his case the hammer. Historians have proposed that the cult of Hercules spread across Europe during the Germanic migrations in the fifth and sixth centuries, and that the club was a precursor of Thor’s hammer, the two figures having gradually melded into a single god. Among Tacitus’s Germans, Hercules was apparently also related to warfare: in Norse mythology Thor often plays the role of a warrior-god, although it was Odin who was the principle god of warfare in Scandinavia, to whom people looked for success in battle.
With roots that run deep, Þunor’s hammer is now, as it was in days of yore, a symbol of the Anglo-Saxon Heathen religion. May Þunor hallow, may Þunor ward, and may his holy hammer ever remind us of the fullness of our faith.
Christopher Abram, Myths of the Pagan North, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011
C.R. Smith, Inventorium Sepulchrale: An Account of some Antiquities dug up at Gilton, Kingston, Sibertswold, Barfriston, Beakesbourne, Chatham, and Crundale, in the County of Kent from AD 1757 to AD 1773 by the Rev. Bryan Faussett (London, 1856)
Joachim Werner: Herkuleskeulen und Donar-Amulett in: Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums. Mainz 11, 1964, S. 176 ff.
Eric Wodening, Þunor, http://www.englatheod.org/thunor.htm