Portrait of Heinrich von Morungen from the Codex Manesse*
Heinrich von Morungen or Henry of Morungen was a German courtly poet or more accurately a Minnesinger. Minnesang was the tradition of writing lyrics and songs about themes of love, and was prevalent between 12th and14th century. Henry was a native of Thuringia, and belonged to the class of minor knights. These Knights originated from the castle of Morungen near Sangerhause and Henry in paticular spent much of his later life in the service of Duke Dietrich of Meissen. When he retired, he received from Duke Dietrich a pension for his ‘high personal merits’. In 1217 he retired at the Monastry of St. Thomas in Leipzig. According to 16th century sources he died here after a journey to India in 1222.
Henry writes in middle high German and 35 poems of his survive today. These contain about 115 verses and 104 of them are found in the great collection of the Codex Manesse. This was a medieval song book known in German as the Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift.It was written in Zurich for the Manesse family and thus derives its name. It is the single most comprehensive source of Middle High German Minnesang poetry and it was almost entirely written and illustrated in 1304 with a last bit added in 1340.
Scholars have called it ‘the most beautifully illumined German manuscript in centuries’. The Codex Manesse contains the works of about 135 Minnesingers of the 12th – 14th century. Each poet is represented by a beautifully drawn portrait followed by the text of their works. The entries are ordered according to the social standing of the poet starting with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Kinds Conradin and Wenceslaus II, followed by the Dukes, Counts, Knights and finally the Commoners.
It is hard to get a sense of how beautiful these lyrics are because firstly they are written in middle high German and that sounds very different from current German. Secondly they were never meant to be eye-read but sung with musical accompaniments. Henry composed melodies to all his texts and sung the songs himself accompanied by early type of violins. Unfortunately none of the melodies of these lyrical poems have been preserved.
Still we can get a sense of how beautiful his songs might have been from his lyrics which even on their own are hauntingly evocative; he seems to write in picture-words, conjuring enchanting images of the sun, moon, evening star, gold, jewels and mirrors which he often compares favourably with his lady love. But there is always an undercurrent of the the anguish and intensity of loving so deeply. In many cases love seems to have taken on a personification of demonic proportions, and has even become a chief tormentor. Love in Henry’s songs is then experienced as a magical and bewitching fatal power as and given the same depth of experience as would a mystical or religious experience.
His poems have been sung and re-interpreted by modern German musicians, and although it is not quite the same, you can still get some sense of how these poems were meant to be sung and some of the interpretations are quite beautifully in themselves. Helium Vola uses the lyrics from Henry’s song 4 in a stunning melodic rendition called ‘In so hoher swebender wunne’ The song describes how he feels in the presence of an exquisitely beautiful lady. He is so overwhelmed by her that he seems to have forgotten how to speak and express himself.
Song 5 has been interpreted by two German music artists, both very different explorations but equally enthralling. Entitled Von Den Elben by Qntal and Faun, this tells the story of a man bewitched by the faeries or in German Elves. In 32 lines Henry takes you on a journey, exploring the inner working of the mind of a man completely besotted by his mistress who does not return his intensity of passion.
Here is song V by Heinrich von Morungen in its original language- Middle High German
Von den elben wirt entsehen vil manic man,
sô bin ich von grôzer liebe entsên
von der besten, die ie dehein man ze vriunt
gewan. wil aber sî dar umbe mich vên
Und ze unstaten stên,
mac si danne rechen sich und tuo,
des ich si bite. sô vreut si sô sêre mich,
daz mîn lîp vor wunnen muoz zergên.
Sî gebiutet und ist in dem herzen mîn
vrowe und hêrer, danne ich selbe sî.
hei wan muoste ich ir alsô gewaltic sîn,
daz si mir mit triuwen waere bî
Ganzer tage drî unde eteslîche naht!
sô verlür ich niht den lîp und al die maht.
jâ ist sie leider vor mir alze vrî.
Mich enzündet ir vil liehter ougen schîn,
same daz viur den durren zunder tuot,
und ir vremeden krenket mir daz herze mîn
same daz wazzer die vil heize gluot.
Und ir hôher muot
und ir schoene und ir werdecheit
und daz wunder, daz man von ir tugenden seit,
daz wirt mir vil übel – oder lîhte guot?
Swenne ir liehten ougen sô verkêrent sich,
daz si mir aldur mîn herze sên,
swer dâ enzwischen danne gêt und irret mich,
dem muoze al sîn wunne gar zergên!
Ich muoz vor ir stên
unde warten der vröiden mîn
rehte alsô des tages diu kleinen vogellîn.
wenne sol mir iemer liep geschên? Resources
This richly decorated silver vessel is an excellent example of late Iron age pagan craftsmanship and was found in 1891 in a peat bog near the hamlet of Gundestrup in Denmark. Different theories abound regarding its origin and reason for creation. It can however be dated to the La Tène III period (1st or 2nd Century BCE). The quality of workmanship is stunning, and while the style and craftsmanship suggests a Thracian origin, the imagery is most definitely Celtic.
The Gundestrup Cauldron was found in a dismantled state in several pieces; it was newly forged and had never been used. These facts strongly indicate that it was a religious vessel of some kind. One theory is that it was used by druids for sacrificial reasons – there is a depiction of such a type of scene on the cauldron itself but it is more likely to have been used as a kind of ritual offering. Seven outer, fiver inner and one base plate make up thirteen which when put together stands tall at 14 inches in height and 28 inches in diameter. It weighs around 20 lbs. The bowl was beaten from a single sheet of silver and Electron microscopic analysis show that at least three different silversmiths were involved in its making.
Some of the more well known images on the interior plates of the cauldron are as follows:
The Horned one
One of the most arresting pieces of imagery, popularly believed to be Cernunnos is the iconic stag-horned male figure in a cross legged yogic position. Holding a ram-horned snake and a torc in each hand,there are several animals surrounding him including a hyena, a lion, a young boy riding a fish and a stag with antellers very similar to his own. Decorative vine and flower motifs surround the whole scene. One of the seals found in Mohenjodaro (part of the Indus valley civilization) bears a remarkable likeness to this scene on the Gundestrup Cauldron. On the indus valley seal we see ‘Pashupati’ (Sanskrit for Lord of the animals) sitting in the same cross-legged lotus pose of Hatha Yoga. This figure of Pashupati is thought to be a kind Shiva prototype.
Goddess figure flanked by wheels
Another inner plate shows the bust of a woman flanked by two large wheels and fantastical mythical creatures : two elephant like animals and two griffins. Under the bust is a large hound or wolf.
God figure and the broken wheel
A bearded male bust is showing holding a broken wheel. A smaller figure with a horned helmet is holding the rim of the same wheel. Under the leaping figure for the second time on the cauldron we see the ram horned serpent. Surrounding the two men are griffins and other mythical creatures similar to those found on the female figure flanked by wheel. From a Celtic standpoint this central figure has been associated with Dadga who is a kind of ‘All-father’ and protector of his tribe and can be loosely likened to his Norse counterpart Odin.
Initiation or Sacrificial Scene
A man as tall as the height of the plate can be seen dunking another man into a cauldron. A dog is at his feet. The plate is divided horizontally by a vine like plant and above are horsemen with elaborate headgear riding away from the large male figure. The lower half depicts a line of warriors some with spears, shields and some carnyx players marching towards the large male figure. A celtic intepretation of this event would be – the central male figure (doing the dunking) equated with ‘Teutates’ the god of war, fertility and wealth. Human sacrifice was often made to this god, to ensure success during battle and it was done through drowning. Teutate’s Roman counterpart is the god of war Mars.
Some scenes from the exterior plates :
Plate A – A large bearded male figure holds two smaller men by their arms. The men themselves are reaching towards two small boars. To the bearded man’s left we see a dog and a winged horse to his right.
Plate B -We see a man holding a sea-horse in each hand. From a Celtic standpoint this can be linked to the irish sea god Manannán mac Lir.
Plate D- A large bearded male figure holds a stag upside down in each hand.
No matter the controversy surrounding its creation and Gaulish or Thracian origin the Gundestrup Cauldron remains a very important and unique piece of early pagan symbolism and beautiful decorative art. It can be found at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. If you are travelling to Dublin then you can see a replica of it at the National Museum of Ireland.
(c) Laila Borrie
(c) Laila Borrie
Beloved of Gods and mortal men,
Beloved of dwarves within their den.
Behold fair Balder standing in the field,
With corn gold locks and shining shield.
In Asgard, days he spent in joy,
Frigg and Odin’s beautiful boy,
Troubled now by wretched dreams!
Monstrous forms and bloody streams.
All-father Odin did espy,
Dew drops falling from Balder’s eye.
On Sleiphir mounted he rode away
Beyond Ocean, land in Gallant sway.
And just before mid morning’s bell,
He reached the misty home of Hel.
Raising the Seeress from her sleep
Seeking revelations wide and deep.
Her prophecy spoke of grief untold,
All Balder’s dreams she did unfold.
And further said in steady tone,
While Odin’s fears now turned to moan.
Back to Asgard he made his way.
Her words upon his heart now lay.
Balder would die at Hob’s blind hand,
While tears were shed through every land.
Tears for Balder, shining God of joy!
Tears for Balder, Odin’s beautiful boy!
(c) Laila Borrie
Once upon an ancient pace,
Oneness took a dual face.
Clothed inside a skin of pale,
Darkness-light beneath the vale.
Cells and tissue holding tight,
Silent embrace in the night.
Skull n bone do bear the stamp,
DNA, the blue print map.
Rocks and Trees forever gleam,
Mountains plains beloved stream.
Merged within the rocky plains,
Clothed in amber richtone mane.
Grassy green so fresh and free,
Incoherent mind, forever be.
Junction path it melts to one,
A furious stream beneath the sun.
Chronic lava bubbles in a pot,
Labels and names we slot and slot.
Take the union of the eye,
Turned into a deceiving lie.
Breathing divine inside my brain,
We try our best to go insane.
Inspite of all the blistering ties,
Our soul cant hurt, our heart can’t lie.
And into that blinding light we turn,
Retrace our steps this birth to learn.
Things we always knew in the depth,
Dreams we loved and love we kept.