On the Second Merserburg Charm

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On the Second Merserburg Charm

Scholars have long debated the meaning of the name Phol and the word balderes in this verse. Phol is sometimes interpreted as the male half of an otherwise unattested couple : Phol and Volla.
Likewise scholars have argued that the word balderes should be understood as a simple appellation meaning “ lord , ” also otherwise unattested in German . Today , this is a minority view . Rudolf Simek clearly states that “ this is difficult to prove , and therefore the Second Merseburg Charm should continue to be regarded as the first recording of the name Baldr . " John Lindow agrees , stating that “ Frija , the Old High German equivalent of Frigg , participates in the curing of Baldere's ( Baldur's ) horse.956 Not surprisingly then , in the Second Merseburg Charm , we find Odin and Frigg associated with Baldur , their famous son , whose death is a central storyline in later Scandinavian sources .
The verse speaks of an otherwise unknown episode in Old Norse mythology , the laming of Baldur's horse . Baldur's role as a rider is emphasized in the Second Merseberg Charm , in Saxo’s Danish History , and in the eddic poem Lokasenna ….

In the Second Merseburg Charm , balderes horse is injured when Odin and Phol ride into the wood . According to Book 3 of Saxo’s Gesta Danorum , Baldur himself , before his death , was lamed and conveyed about in a carriage. In the same narrative , he is said to open a freshwater well for his men . This ability is closely associated with Baldur's demise : 
“ The conquering Baldur , in order to slake his soldiers , who were parched with thirst , with the blessing of a timely draught , pierced the earth deep and disclosed a fresh spring . The thirsty ranks made with gaping lips for the water that gushed forth everywhere . The traces of these springs , eternised by the name , are thought not quite to have dried up yet , though they have ceased to well so freely as of old . Baldur was continually harassed by night phantoms feigning the likeness of Nanna , and fell into such ill health that he could not so much as walk , and began the habit of going his journeys in a two horse car or a four - wheeled carriage . ” 

This passage may aid our understanding of the name Phol . Saxo informs us that Baldur had the power to open springs , which were called by his name . In Denmark there is Baldersbrønde , “ Baldur's spring , ” in Sjælland , recorded as Baldorpsbrynna in 1321. Benjamin Thorpe states that “ on the right hand side of the road leading from Copenhagen to Roeskilde there is a spring called Baldur's Brönd . ... The tradition among the country people is that it was produced by a stroke of the hoof of Baldur's horse . "
In Germany , we frequently find references to “ Phoľs ” — or “ Fals spring . ” In the province of Thuringia , a Pholesbrunnen is reported . Not far from the Saale river lies a village named Phulsborn . In the Franconian Steigerwald , we find a Falsbrunn . Similarly , we find a Baldersbrunno in the Eifel mountains and in the Rhineland Palatinate , the very regions we discover widespread legends of Frau Holle , Frau Percht , and Frau Goden , who is the wife of Godan or Wodan ( Odin ) . Of the original name of the German village Pfalsau , recorded between 774 and 778 as Pholesauwa or Pholesouwa , Jacob Grimm writes : " Its composition with aue ( auwa ) quite fits in with the supposition of an old heathen worship .
The gods were worshiped not only on mountains , but on “ eas ' enclosed by brooks and rivers , where fertile meadows yielded pasture , and forests shade . Such was the “castum nemus” ( sacred grove ) of Nerthus in an insula Oceani . ” Evidence of such enclosed sanctuaries is found in several Old Norse sources as Oổinsey , Thorsey , Hlessey , etc. Pholesouwa is an Old High German equivalent of names of this type , which means Phols sanctuary.
Thus Phol or Fal is best interpreted as the name of a god . In early Christian times , partial to euhemerism , Baldur was sometimes transformed into a king in Vestphal . According to the Prologue to Gylfaginning , “ Odin's second son was called Beldegg , whom we call Baldr ; he had the country that is now called Westphalia . ” According to ancient belief , nearly all countries and peoples took their names from some ancient ruler : The Franks from Francio , the Angles from Angul , Denmark from Dan , etc. The names Phalen , and Vestphal or Westphalia can be logically explained in the same manner if Baldur was also known as Phol or Fal , and his name was said to have given rise to these districts.
As far as Jacob Grimm could determine , the name Phol was used chiefly by the Thuringians and the Bavarians , although they knew the god by the names Palter or Baldur . The same initial sound shift occurs in the names Perchta and Berchta for Frau Holle . Among the Saxons and Westphalians the names Baldag and Bældæg prevailed. If Phol can be identified with Baldur in the Second Merseburg Charm as the foregoing evidence suggests , then we have a natural explanation of its contents . The events may be seen as a presage of Baldur's death :
One day , Phol ( Baldur ) and his father are out riding with members of their family . The foot of Baldur's horse is sprained , and each family member comes to his aid in order of proximity . Closest is a female rider named Sinhtgunt , probably representing Baldur's wife Nanna , and her sister Sunna ( see further ) . Next comes Frigg , his mother , and her sister , Volla , known as Fulla in the later Icelandic sources . Last comes Odin , Baldur's father , whose superior magic cures the sprain no doubt caused by witchcraft . Thus Baldur appears by two names , Phol and Baldere , in a single verse— a not uncommon phenomenon in old Germanic poetry where , for example , Odin's wife is called Hlin and Frigg in the space of a single strophe , Völuspá 53 [ See Chapter IX : Jörd , Thor's Mother ].

By William P Reaves