A well-known Norse myth, as related in the Prose Edda, describes the god Thor cooking and eating his goats, and subsequently resurrecting them by touching their bones with his hammer. Two women accused of witchcraft in Milan in the 14th century describe the similar actions of their goddess, Madonna Oriente, who revives slaughtered animals by tapping their bones with her staff. Several Christian saints are purported to have performed this ‘bone miracle’, including St Germanus of Auxerre who revived an ox and St Pharaildis who restored to life a cooked goose by use of its skin and bones. Burchard of Worms in the 11th century accused “night-flying women” of cooking and eating the flesh of Christians before they returned them to life again. Witches in Scandinavia were believed to be able to continually replenish their food stores, such as by returning the flesh to herring bones.
Sometimes the resurrection is botched, and the animal is left with some deformity. One German story tells of three “wild women” feasting on a mountain goat who invite a goat hunter to join them. He swallows one of the goat’s small bones, and it is seen limping after the women revive it. Other tales tell of misplaced bones that leave a cow dragging its foot. One of Thor’s goats is lamed when a boy breaks one of its bones to suck the marrow from it. Sometimes a revived animal would appear whole, but would be somehow unfit for working.
For me, the ‘miracle of the bones’ - aside from what it tells us about life, death and regeneration and the forces involved - serves as a metaphor for what scholars and contemporary pagans, in studying the myths and lore of past cultures, attempt to do. In many ways, we seek to discover and breathe new life into the fragmented skeletal remains of the beliefs and practices of our ancient ancestors. We hope that some part of the soul, some of its vital essence, has remained in the bones and can be brought back into the living world. In this blog, we will explore the skeletal fragments of the spiritual traditions left to us, knowing that even if we succeed in reviving something from them, it may not be entirely whole.
References and Further Reading:
Behringer, W. (1998). Shaman of Oberstdorf: Chonrad Stoeckhlin and the phantoms of the night. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
Lecouteux C. (2003). Witches, werewolves and fairies: shapeshifters and astral doubles in the Middle Ages. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.