Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Symbolic and Ornamental Similarities of the Nordic Goths and Buddhist Asia

Golden Leaf offerings in Iron Age Norway and Sweden and in Buddhist India & Pakistan

A larger version photo: Buddhist golden leaf offerings in India

Offerings found in Bodh Gaya or Bodhgaya under the "Enlightenment Throne of the Buddha", with a decorated coin of Huvishka. Photo by PHGCOM, 2007.

In this site you can see Kushan period Gold foil offerings on a Gandhara Buddha statue. The Gift of Anathapindada schist with traces of gold foil, Pakistan, the ancient region of Gandhara, Kushan period, 2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE.

A few of nearly 2500 Gold foil images Iron Age c. 500 - 600 CE, settlement Sorte Muld, Danish Bornholm, photo by Martin Stoltze 2009. These gold leafs or gold foils are called "Gullgubber" or "gullgubbar" in the Nordic.

Iron Age in the Nordic from about 500 BCE to 800 CE.
Recently archaeologists found a pre-Christian temple in Vingrom near Lillehammer in southern Norway: Article about the finding, text in Norwegian.
The decorated offerings are pure leaf gold (illustrating figures of a man and a woman and one with only one man), these have likely been used as offerings to heathen Gods.

A golden leaf (guldgubbe) amulet from the Iron Age, found by Kongsvik, Nordland, Norway in 1747.

Similar gold leaf offerings in Uppakra, Sweden, from Iron Age and many other places in Sweden: Guldgubbar. Religious use: Pure Gold foil from Sweden ca. 375 – 550 CE. Visa föremål | Sök i samlingarna | Historiska museet

However Christian Churches have been built over some Pagan-temples, for instance Mære Church in Mid Norway. There are archaeological finds of pagan time gold offerings at Borg in Lofoten in Northern Norway and in Kongsvik in Nordland, Northern Norway. Most of these gold leaf offerings are dated to the Period 500-600 CE.

The Wheel and the Symbolism of the Dharma

This is from Sarnath in India showing Buddha's five disciples and a Dharama Wheel. In the following URL you can see a similar scene from Gandhara in the Kushan Period about 3rd century CE. Buddha’s first ceremony. The wheel represents Buddha’s Dharma i.e. doctrine, truth or law.
The Dharmachakra, Dharma wheel was depicted in the Maurya era of Asokha. In Mahayana Buddhism the Wheel of Life is called Bhavachakra. The wheel of life symbolizes the continuous- repeating circle of birth, life and death. The photo is from Sanchi that first were built in the 3rd century BCE.

The eight spooked-wheel is found in coins dated to the time after Buddha e.g. in Rome and Greece. A coin from the era of Luceria Apulia dated to ca. 211 - 200 BCE is an example.

The Gundestrup plate C, Denmark Iron Age. Here you can see the wheel and the horned hats symbolised.

The Dharmacharka is an ancient symbol dating back to before the time of Emperor Ashoka. The Buddhist teachings of Dhamma or Dharma are symbolized by the Wheel of Dharamacharka which represents the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Modern versions of Dharmacakra normally have eight spokes symbolizing the noble eight fold path of Buddhism to enlightenment and Nirvana. In ancient times the number of spokes seems to have been irrelevant.

Iron Age Swirling Wheel Ornament from Birkenes, Norway. Dated to ca. 300 CE. Similar Iron Age wheel ornaments are found several places in Norway.

Iron Age Gotland Picture stones in 3D Photo credits to: Gotlands Museum. The photographer is Raymond Hejdström. A picture stone dated to 400 - 600 CE from Sanda in Gotland, Sweden.

Picture Stones from Länsmuseet in Gotland, Sweden. There are several picture stones in the museum with similar wheels dating back to Iron Age.

More picture stones from Gotland

Photo Credits to the following website: The goat sacrifice to Sajigor the Kafir god of power, wealth and fertility.

Figurative depictions of deities were almost unknown in Kalash during the 1960ies according to studies by Morgenstierne, only a figure of the fertility goddess Nirmali was discovered in the Prasun area of Nuristan. With Camera to India, Iran and Afghanistan: Access to Multimedia Sources of the Explorer, Professor Dr. Morgenstierne (1892-1975). National Library of Norway, Oslo.

Areas of interest: North Eastern Pakistan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tibet and Kashmir. Kailash, Kalash, Lakadi, Nagas. The people of northern India that have migrated along the mountain fringes of the Himalayas and some of them were worshipers of Siva. The worshipers of Siva or Shiva are called the Saivas.

Worship of Trees and Serpents

Stelæ at the east end of the Buddhist Chapel, Abhayagiri Dagaba, Sri Lanka, 1st century BCE. Such Naga stone icons from before and after the Common Era are found in many places within India, for instance in Kanganhalli (1 BCE - 3 CE) and the same symbol is also part of many ancient Buddha thrones.

Wood carved portal from Hylestad stavkirke ca. 1175 CE in the county of Aust Agder, Norway. The Stave churches in Norway very likely were built in traditions from the Pre-Christian era. Some were built over old heathen temples. Heathen = Pre-Christian. The Stave Churches surprisingly have a lot of symbolism from the heathen religion in the Nordic.
Runic scripts (Runes) and a person surrounded by snakes on a baptismal font from c. 1100 Norums Church, Bohuslän, Sweden. Photo by Berig 2008.

Ancient Roman Pre-Christian religion with Serpent worship at Casa dei Vettii at Pompei, Italy before 79 CE. Larario. Autore della foto is by Patricio Lorente.

Naga people worshiping a Buddhist triratna. From Amaravati, India.

Nagas and Serpent Worship in India

Buddhist Iconography Identification Guide Meaning of different animals.

Serpent worship in a detail of the Kanishka casket found near Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo by PHGCOM, 2005 Wikimedia GNU. This particular casket i likely the copy exhibited at the British Museum, the original is exhibited at the Museum of Peshawar.

In the linked text “The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Lanka from 6th Century BC to 4th Century AD” translated from Pali by Wilhelm Geiger. It is told that the dwellers of Kahsmira and Gandhara worshiped the Naga-king (Serpent King) and that the Serpent kings had a Dragon’s palace under the Sea (The rise of the Mahayana).

"Naga" means serpent in Sanskrit.

Naga Mythology

Serpent symbolism

Snake worship

In Iron and Medieval Age Nordic areas people worshiped serpents, one dragon like figure called Nidhogg Nagar or Níðhöggr, which lived by gnawing on the roots of the “world tree” Yggdrasil. Other types of serpents worshiped in the Nordic areas is for instance "Gormes Guolle" (Sami language) meaning Troll-fish. These serpents and snakes were often symbolized on the shaman drums, on picture stones, jewelery and woodcarvings.

Early IronAge Ornaments Norway View Photo Slideshow

Iron Age Gotland Picture stones in 3D (Sweden). Photo credits to: Gotlands Museum. Photographer: Raymond Hejdström.

Relief from Väte Church at Gotland, Sweden. Photo by Berig, 2008. The church is from ca. 1100. This is not a Christian ornament. These figures are called Snake-witches in Sweden.

The worship of snakes and other reptiles in the Nordic by the ancient Goths is known from ancient (particularly Iron Age) ornaments, picture stones and the Nordic Sagas. These Sagas are often called the Norse Sagas, but Nordic is a more precise description.

The reptile Nidhogg Nagar from the Nordic Saga Literature, is a dragon gnawing the roots of the tree of life. Illustration from a 17th century Icelandic Manuscript.

Ancient Goths have from early on intermarried the indigenous Laplander people and their cultures have been mixed (particularly in present Sweden and Finland). Today the indigenous people of the Nordic areas are called the Sami people. The culture of the ancient Nordic Goths have partly been preserved by the Sami people, for instance the Sami worshiped Snakes and reptiles until the 1800-eds, this is both observed and reported history and the old shaman drums of the Sami pictured their worship of snakes, reptiles and trees. You can read more about the mixed ancient Goth and Sami culture in Saamiblog. Much of the ancient cultural expression have been destructed and redefined by the later Christian settlers of the Nordic areas, this includes linguistic changes also in the Sami language. Tremendous efforts have been made to destroy the "ancient heathen religion" since the medieval period, but particularly from the 1800eds.

An old dictionary (1852) from Danish / Norwegian to Sami language shows that the Sami (Lappish) Language have about 140 words with the letter combination “naga”. For example the Sami word "Gànagas" or "Gonagas" means "King", the word "Varranaga" meaning "bloody" or "covered in blood", the word "mainagas" that means "the prominent and wise among the people" and the expression "datanaga aige" means "at present time".

“Bodi” is in Sami language a conjugation of the verb "to come" in dative: bodi - bodime- bodide - bodiga - bodimek - bodidek. Source: Ræsonneret Lappisk sproglære efter den sprogart: som bruges af fjældlapperne i porsangerfjorden (1832) by Rasmus Rask.

A small temple under a Bodhi or Bodi tree, Bodh Gaya, this temple were built in 7th century after an original built by King Ashoka in 3rd century BCE. The Bodhi tree that at the present grows in Bodh Gaya was planted in the late 1800eds.

The Bodhi Tree was first mentioned in Rig Veda (1700–1100 BCE). In Buddhism the Bodhi tree is an important symbol. Buddha got enlightened under a Bodhi tree and as you can read from the article from it is a symbol of the presence of Buddha. Trees are important in Indian thinking and art such as in architecture. Read about it in the following site: India Temple Architecture. Trees are central in the ancient Greco-Buddhist art and Buddhist sculptures in general: Here you can learn more about it and about Worship of the Bodhi Tree, Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh.

Tree Worship relief at The Stupa of Bharhut A Buddhist Monument BCE.

The Bodhi Tree Network

Worship of trees (e.g. Yggdrasil tree) was also common in the Nordic areas in pre-Christian times and at least since Iron Age.

The world or life tree in the center of the Sanda picture stone from Gotland in Sweden (400 - 600 CE). Photo is cropped and modified from a Wikimedia photo by Wolfgang Sauber (2007).

The Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus retold many stories about serpent worship in his historical accounts and even if serpents were not worshiped in Southern Sweden in the 1500eds there were still remains of serpent worship in the stories among common people. James Fergusson mentions in the book “Tree and Serpent Worship” (1873) that the Sami people still worshiped serpents and trees in the early 1800eds.

”Castren in his travels in Lapland, gived some very curious details about the feelings of the Lapps with regard to serpent and tree worship at the present day: “Reiseerinnerungen aus den Jahren 1838 – 1844". At the same time it seems tolerably clear that such a serpent mythology as existed in Sweden could never have sprung up naturally in so northern a climate, were all the snake tribe are so insignificant. It must have been imported from the East, though we have yet to learn by whom this was done, at what exact time it was effected.” (End of quote from Source: Tree and Serpent Worship Or Illustrations of Mythology and Arts in India by James Fergusson, London (1873). Comment: It is told in several ancient texts (e.g. Jordanes, see references) that the first Scandinavian Goths came to Scandinavia a few hundred years before Common Era.

A segment of the Överhogdal tapestries dated to 800 – 1100 CE found in Överhogdal, Härjedalen in Sweden.

The Nordic mythology world tree “Yggdrasil” with the animals that live in it and of it e.g. a squirrel called Ratatoskr and at the bottom a reptile called “Nidhogg Nagar” or “Nydhogg Nagar”. Source: From the 17th century Icelandic manuscript.

Tree decoration from Rollag Stavkirke in Norway. Wikimedia photo by eaglestein (2008).

A Tree ornament from Torshov Akershus Norway 800 - 900 CE.

Endless Knot
Iron Age Gotland Picture stones in 3D (Sweden). Photo credits to: Gotlands Museum. Photographer: Raymond Hejdström.

Endless knots were part of the Symbolism in heathen Nordic religion. Such a knot is Pictured in a Stone from Havor from Hablingbo, Gotland in Sweden dated to 400 – 600 CE. This endless knot is simpler than the Buddhist hexagram.

The Jaina Buddhist Shrivatsa (sanskrit) or Endless Knot is seen in the given URL is one of the 8 sacred Dharma symbols of Buddhism. In Sanskrit "ashta" means 'eight'.

The Flaming Gem

The flaming jewel or Mani is a symbol in Buddhism. Traditional Roots of Buddhist Symbols and Rituals: “before first century AD, Buddha was only represented on the relief scupltures of Stupas at Bharhut (Southwest of Allahabd, Pakistan) and Sanci (Madhya Pradesh) such as footprints, Bodhi Tree or a flame." (End of quote from the given URL).

The flaming jewel similar symbol in the following photo is a picture stone from Laxare, Boge at Gotland in Sweden. Very likely it is dating back to Iron Age.
Iron Age Gotland Picture stones in 3D (Sweden). Photo credits to: Gotlands Museum. Photographer: Raymond Hejdström.

The same type of flaming jewels are often seen in ancient traditional Tibetan Rugs:

Tibetan flaming gem symbol on a rug. Photo credits to Thomas Cole and

Gandhara devotee holding a flaming jewel, 1 - 2 century. Photo by sailko (2009) wikimedia.

“The Precious Jewel or Flaming Gem, known as mani (Tib. Nor-bu) or cintamani (Tib. nor-bu dgod-hdod dpunys-hjom) , corresponds to the Manipura-Cakra, the solar plexus or navel centre, where the 'Inner Fire' (tapas, Tib. gTum-mo) of yogic integration is kindled” (End of quote from Rgyal - Srid Rin – Chen Sna - Bdun by Lama Anagrika Govinda, Bulletin of Tibetology, 1969.

Both the Swastika and the Flaming Jewel are ancient symbols in Asia. The Swastika is at least dating back to 1500 BCE (over 3500 years ago) and the Harappan cultual era. This symbol is present in many old cultures in Asia, America and in Scandinavia. The most ancient Swastika from Geghama Mountains of Armenia is dated to the neolithic period (about 10000 years ago).

The Lion

The Lion is the most powerful Buddhist symbol according to the following Site: Buddhist Symbols

Asokan pillar at Vaishali, Bihar, India by mself, 2007 Wikimedia. Now at the Indian Museum in Calcutta.

Temple Guardian Lions in Norwegian Stave Churches
Unexpected, there were lions seated on each side of the port in some of the medieval Norwegian Stave Churches, in the same way as the lions in Buddhist Asian Temples. In India and the rest of Asia these lions were called “Temple Guardians”. These carved lions is one among several other ornaments that makes me wonder if the most ancient of these churches really were built as heathen temples that later were rebuilt to Christian Churches. Many of the ancient Stave Churches dates back to a period when it is known that the old heathen religion were still practiced particularly in the present areas of Norway. What is now called Sweden was Christianized earlier than present Norway, and there are many archeological finds even in southern Sweden dated to 1100 - 1200 that clearly have heathen symbolism.

Wooden Carved Lion Pedestal. Borgund Stave Church in Norway. Photo:Nina Aldin Thune User:Nina-no

As you see from this pillar Acanthus leaves was a common ornament in Iron Age and Medieval Era in the Nordic, as it were in ancient India and Hellenic areas.

Compare the Medieval Wood Carved ornaments with the lions on pillars in the Indian Lakshna Devi Temple at Bharmaur from ca. 700 CE:

Wood Carvings and Lion on pillar (India in the URL)

You can see carved Acanthus Leafs in another medieval stave church in the linked site and in the following photos.

Historical museum (History Museum in Oslo, Norway). This is wood carved ornaments from a portal of a Medieval Norwegian Stavkirke from Ål,

Ål Stavkirke was built about 1100 when the heathen Gods still were worshiped in the Nordic areas. Heathen Gods were still worshiped in the Nordic in the 1600eds and in a few areas as late as 1800eds. Other archaeological findings such as woven tapestries from the present areas of Sweden dated to about 1100 CE clearly have heathen symbols such as the Gods Odin, Thor and Frøy (Frö). The present Swedish areas were Christianised earlier than the present Norwegian areas.

Historical museum (History Museum in Oslo, Norway). Wood carvings.

Photo by John Erling Blad, 2005. Stone lion ornament on a schist from 1100 CE at Lunner church, Oppland Norway. It is dated to a time when heathen i.e. Pre-Christian religon still was practiced in Norway and the Nordic.

The lion ornamentation in the Nordic was used before the Medieval Period. This is a carved animal that likely represents a lion is from the Oseberg Vikingship mound grave dated to Iron Age Norway, about 834 CE. There was no Christian symbols or ornaments in the Viking ship Oseberg or Gokstad mound graves that both were found in the present areas of Southern Norway.

Lions and Prakrit inscriptions (Kharoshti) on a stupa with the relics of Buddha. Time period of Kushan in the 1st century CE. From Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India by PHGCOM 2005 Wikimedia.

Stone Lion Links

The Third Eye

Masks from Gol Stavkirke in Norway with something that might be a representation of the "third eye".

Read more about Buddha's Wisdom Eye also called The third Eye.

Thunderbolt Hammers and Vajra or Dorje

Prajnaparamita, bodhisattva from Tibet, 13ème siècle. Musée Guimet, Paris.

Vajra Mudra. Tokyo National Museum. Gandhara, 2nd century by Vataraja 2005 Wikimedia

Indo - Tibetan Phurba or Vajrakīla or Vajrakīlaya by frater5.

Religious item, likely a scepter with head found in Gamlebyen, Oslo, Norway. Dated to ca. 1100 - 1200 CE, the heathen tradition were still likely practiced in southern Norway at that time.

Thors hammers from Iron Age Sweden. The following photo seems to be a photo of the same amulet.

Foto: Christer Åhlin SHM Torshammer from the Iron Age in Gold and Silver found at Ödeshög, Erikstorp in Östergötland (Gotland), Sweden.

From the Crypt in Lund Cathedral in Southern Sweden, the woman and child of the Giant Finn. Photo by Christian Bickel. The older part of the Lund Cathedral is built from ca. 1000 to 1100 CE, in a period when the heathen religion was actively practiced in Southern Sweden.

A relief of a figure that is interpreted as an "angel" over the entrance to the crypt holding a scepter. The crypt belongs to the older part of the Lund Cathedral, Southern Sweden. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, 2007. In this old stone carving there is also another important Buddist symbol, the Lotus palmette ornaments under the figure.

Main Gods of the Scandinavian Goths, engraving by the Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus, 1555. The thunder god Thor in the middle hold some sort of a hammer or a scepter. The heathen (pre-Christian) religion were still practiced by some Nordic and Russian people in the 1500 eds.

A Buddha similar pre-Christian deity in the Nordic areas first published by Scheffer in the 1600eds and later by Picard in 1725. Some people in the Scandinavia and Northwestern Russia still practiced the heathen religion in the 1600eds according to Scheffer (1674). In this engraving a hammer or a scepter is held in the hand of the deity, it also have a crown on the head and an amulet on the chest.

The deity seen in the picture resembles a Buddhist deity in India called Karttikeya, Karttikeva, Skhanda, or Skanda.

Skanda or Karttikeya, 601 – 700 CE in India, Bhubanesvara
at the Parasuramesvara Temple.

An architectural fragment of Skanda or Karttikeya 401 – 500 CE in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Karttikeya in the Nataraja, cave 1 Badami, India.

The meaning of "Skanda" is in Sanskrit 'that which is spilled or oozed, namely seed'.

Skanda rides a peacock and the peacock symbolises the Vedas, the universe or the evolutionary trend of Maya. According to this source Skanda worship were prevalent in northern part of India very early and mentions inscriptions from ca. 415 CE.

Pavo Muticus, Peacocks.

The remains of a peacock was found in an Iron Age (about 890 CE) Gokstad Viking boat burial mound grave in southern Norway.

It is known that Picart was a propagandist of Christianity and often made rather ridiculing illustrations and descriptions of people practicing other religions.

Take a look at the images in this URL to see for instance how he illustrated Ceylonese worshiping of religious deities, and how he illustrates worshipping of Shiva in India. Picart, 1723.

These engravings and the different symbols used in the Nordic areas combined with the knowledge of the fact that the Nordic areas clearly have had some ancient influx of people from Asia indicate that people here practised an early form of Buddhism. It is well known that the Christians have systematically destructed most of the heathen religious expressions in the Nordic since the medieval period. I will add more to this blog that supports the idea of early Buddhism in the Nordic.