Ancient Europe has something of a missing Sun God problem. Certain prehistoric cultures probably bequeathed a powerful Solar God-Concept to later generations, starting in the Age of Bronze. But why does so much of Iron-Age (read: historical) Europe seem to be missing the Solar Gods you’d expect to see?
In my book The House of the Giantess I make a proposal that the Bell Beaker culture of prehistoric Europe was centered on a supreme divinity who had three characteristic features: he was an archer, he was associated with entheogenic or visionary experiences mostly derived from ingesting Henbane (perhaps mixed with other things) in a sacred drink, and he had solar qualities. To say that he had solar qualities is not the same as claiming he was a “Sun God”, though he may have been. To say he was a solar divinity is to suggest that he was associated with the wider spectrum of features we lump together as “solar”: light, radiance, warmth, heat and life-force, healing, fertility, vision and sight, and the sky-world above the earth.
In my book, I describe the building of the later phases of the great monument Stonehenge and give my theory that Stonehenge’s greatest re-design and remodeling was done to create (among other things) a temple to this solar-cultural divinity who began as a Bell Beaker God, but became a British God when the Neolithic Britons were “Beakerized” through contact with the Beaker folk. This happened at the cusp of the Bronze Age in Britain.
I also give a timeline of what happened after that remodeling of Stonehenge, a timeline that tracks the rise and development of the Beaker culture in Britain all the way into the Iron Age. I talk about the end of Beaker culture in Britain and how it gave rise to successor Bronze Age cultures (The Wessex cultures) and how even they finally bent and transformed after the Bronze Age collapse, and as the Age of Iron came to Britain’s shores.
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Anyone who reads my book can probably sense the great importance I feel like the prehistoric Beaker Solar God played in the lives of the Beaker Folk, but also the enormous impact this proposed divine figure had on so many other people who met the Beaker culture. I even spend a little time trying to guess the original names for this God- a fun exercise that I have a few more things to say about at the end of this article.
One thing I do suggest- and which I myself strongly believe- is that the prehistoric Beaker Solar God was the lost or forgotten precursor divinity that stands behind the existence of the later God Apollo, and the God Belenus in Celtic lands. It would be easy (and correct) to simply state that the Bell Beaker Solar God continued being worshiped under the names of Apollo and Belenus, even though the Iron Age peoples worshiping them probably had no clue of the forms this divine figure took in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages long before them.
And it would also be safe to say that the many Cults of Apollo and Belenus, found all over Europe, were probably not worshiping their God in the same manner that the prehistoric precursor figure was worshiped. If my theories are anywhere near correct, the precursor divinity was often seen as a form of “supreme being”- the head of a pantheon or cosmology, with all other divine or supernatural beings arrayed somehow below him in power and/or prestige. The later figure of Apollo was naturally not the head of pantheon, but subordinated to Zeus or Jupiter- a sky, storm, and weather divinity who took the Pantheonic lead across southern Europe and in many other places after certain points in history.
I believe that the Beaker Culture, originally a Western European culture, was Indo-European in origin. This is to say that certain indigenous peoples of Iberia and such points west received (through trade and migration) new technologies, beliefs, and even new language from the Proto-Indo-European cultural influences that radiated out from Eastern Europe and arrived eventually at the Atlantic seaboard.
The original proposed “Supreme” Indo European divinity from the steppe lands of the East was Dyeus, a sky God who is the direct forerunner of Gods like Zeus or Jupiter. But the Bell Beaker culture (in my theorizing) did not arrange itself around a Sky God like Dyeus; something happened at the genesis of Bell Beaker culture to give birth to a different supreme divine concept, one that dealt with ecstasy and visionary experience, archery, bows, and arrows, and solar themes.
It is clear to me that the Bell Beaker supreme God was likely partly derived from or influenced by the Indo-European notion of a “Great God Above” who ruled over all other beings or was somehow the highest and strongest. He just took on a unique character for the Beaker folk and proceeded to come to influence many other regions of Europe over time as the Beaker culture spread.
It is tempting to think that perhaps the (Proto) Indo-European Beaker folk thought of their Solar Archer Divinity as a son of a more distant Sky God (the original Indo European Father God) but that the Solar Archer’s cult simply became very powerful and organically evolved to the point that his worship was first and foremost; that, or the Warrior-Chiefs of the Bell Beaker people adopted the Solar Archer as their own chief divinity, thus assuring his cultural supremacy among such a warlike and adventure-prone people as the Beaker folk.
In my way of thinking, the Beaker Solar Archer God was probably not seen as the son of another, greater (though more distant) God, but was another spin, another version, of the more primordial Indo-European “Great God”.
Everywhere the Beaker Culture spread, great changes followed with them. I spend a good deal of time discussing their theoretical impact on Neolithic Britain, chiefly through how prehistoric British monuments were transformed after the coming of this Solar-Bronze culture. But the Beaker culture spread to more places than Britain; as the culture trickled eastward in continental Europe, it met with the very widespread Corded Ware culture (also a Proto-Indo-European culture) and as expected, the blending and meeting of cultures brought about many changes. Neolithic Britain was not the only place where the Beaker Solar/Archer God came to find a new home and assume new forms.
Welcome to Bronze Age Scandinavia
The blending of Beaker culture with the Corded Ware culture yielded a cultural tradition that moved northward on the continent and met with the Neolithic Funnelbeaker people in Northern Germany, Denmark, and Scandinavia. In much the same manner that Britain was “Beakerized”, the Funnelbeaker people underwent similar long-term transformations leading to the end of their Neolithic life-ways.
The Funnelbeaker people were also a megalithic people, and a cousin culture to the Neolithic people of Southern Britain; both the Funnelbeaker People and the large contingent of the settlers who colonized lower Britain from the east were originally members of the Neolithic Michelsberg Culture. It is my belief- which I will expand upon elsewhere- that the Funnelbeaker People of Germany and Scandinavia represent the historical core of the mythical Vanir beings that feature prominently in Iron-Age Scandinavian myths.
The lands of Scandinavia were transformed immensely at the dawn of the Bronze Age. The fall/complete transformation of the Neolithic Funnelbeaker culture gave way to the Nordic Bronze Age. And if any culture in European prehistory was ever most solar in orientation, it was certainly the culture of the Nordic Bronze Age folk. It is clear that the sun, depicted in so many characteristic ways in their carvings and art, was the center of their lives and cosmology.
Several repeated motifs appear for countless centuries: the sun-disk, solar-cross disk, or sun emblems being carried on solar boats, or on solar chariots pulled by horses. Horned serpent-looking beings sometimes appear, apparently threatening the course of the sun as it moves on its boat or chariot; this very same motif is found in Egypt, where the Typhonian serpents or monsters attempt to stay the course of the sun at night as it moves on a holy boat through the underworld. The sun-boat or vehicle requires protection (which it gains from other Godly beings) to rise again.
It can come as no shock that Scandinavia during the Bronze age might have Mediterranean influences; the grand Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean world were tightly connected to Scandinavia during this time in prehistory. Trade routes linked northern and southern Europe, and the Bronze Age Mycenean culture in Greece was clearly linked to the Scandinavian lands in more than a few ways. The art of Myceneans has an eerie parallel with some of the art of the Nordic Bronze Age; so much so that early historians and archaeologists thought of the Nordic Bronze Age culture-centers in Scandinavia as outposts of Mycenean culture.
The famous bronze horned helmets that were produced by the Nordic Bronze Age cultures (and never worn or even known about by later Iron Age Scandinavians) were likely ceremonial headgear worn by Bronze Age kings; much can be learned from these treasures. Their most obvious feature are the great curved horns that showed how much the ancient symbol of the bull still featured in these people’s thinking; the Neolithic divine bull continued as a sign of kingship and power- but the helmets also take on two other associations: they feature the faces of eagles (a creature of the solar God or the Sky God) and also feature impressive plumes of horse-hair. The Sun-Horse and the Eagle are totemic with regards to the solar Bronze Age cultures and their warrior-kingships; the horns of the bull continue an earlier bedrock of sacredness.
Other solar-related divine images and figures appear in Bronze Age art; chief among them are the Twin Gods– two figures, often wearing horned helmets and bearing axes. The idea of the divine twins is one of the most repeated motifs to be found in Indo-European polytheism ranging from the Alcis to Castor and Pollux who were the subject of the widely-held Dioscuri cult. Precursors to these are found in Proto-Indo European culture as the Divine Twins who were seen as helpers and rescuers of their worshipers- and held to be sons of the Chief God. Clearly, the Divine Twins obtained a high level of cultural prestige during the Age of Bronze and may have been seen as Sons of the Solar God to the Beaker people and their successor cultures.
I think it important to try and visualize what kind of world you might see if you could get into a time machine and head back to Bronze Age Denmark or Sweden. The Nordic Bronze Age (at least until its later phases) was a time of magnificent wealth and cultural affluence for these peoples. Rich and thriving trade connections and the new technologies of the age created cultures that bear little resemblance to the successor Iron Age cultures that would rise to the surface of recorded history.
One such notable difference would be in the faces of the men you might meet. While it’s certain that some men from the Nordic Lands during the height of the Bronze Age sported beards, it’s likely that many also went clean-shaven. Shaving razors are often found in Bronze Age archaeological sites. When we think of Scandinavia now, or at least the Scandinavia of the Viking Age, we can’t really imagine clean-shaven Vikings, and indeed every fictional portrayal of Pagan Scandinavia has nearly every man bearded; beards in the Iron Age North may have been seen as signs of masculine maturity, strength, and virility.
The (usually clean-shaven) Romans certainly picked up on the distinction; in their many encounters with Gauls and the tribal peoples of Germania, the “hairiness” of their Northern Neighbors is remarked upon. It may be that the Romans associated being clean shaven with being civilized, and looked down upon hairy faces as a sign of barbarism. It’s a bit mind-bending to imagine that long before Rome was ever a dream, and long before men from Northern lands ever went “Viking” in the spring and summer, the men of the prehistoric North may have been clean-shaven and wearing clothing that was sometimes styled along the lines of Mediterranean clothing or clothing from the Near East- all thanks to trade by sea and land.
Beyond this one point, the Bronze Age North was artistically, astronomically, and technologically advanced for its time. With the wealth of trade came connection to the larger ecology of human ideas, and the organization of farming and settlements was clearly immense and impressive. Clothing for men and women has survived remarkably intact, recovered by archaeologists from oak coffins interred in burial mounds; the style and workmanship is incredible. Kingships that would have rivaled Mycenean and Near-Eastern kingships clearly existed in Scandinavia. This time in Northern Europe was apparently a halcyon age.
Bronze Age Northern Europe seems a far cry from depictions of Northern Europe in the later Iron Age. By the time of Iron Age Greek and Roman historians, Germania, Britain, and Scandinavia are depicted as cold, miserable places occupied by huddled, disorganized, hairy and violent barbarians. Since we must be cautious about those historians and their depictions, it’s fair to say that these historical visions likely contain a fair share of cultural propaganda.
But there’s probably some truth here, too. Compared to the advanced city-states of Southern Europe, Iron Age Northern Europe seemed like a wasteland or a hinterland of more primitive peoples. To be fair, it’s a safe guess that the hairy men of Iron Age Barbarian Europe probably looked down on the clean-shaven faces of Roman men, considering them less masculine for those smooth faces.
Something did happen to topple the advanced cultures of the Nordic Bronze Age- and the successor cultures in those lands never did re-achieve those heights. It’s also worth considering that (at least in some places) they might not have wanted to re-achieve what came before them.
But Then Things Get Dreary
Here, a mystery begins that we should ponder a while. The Bronze Age in Europe (generally speaking) but especially the Bronze Age in Scandinavia and points north, might be regarded as the height of solar worship and reverence. If we are reading archaeology, myth, folklore, and other sources correctly, it would appear that the European Bronze Age world contained a dominant religio-cultural strain of solar spirituality, perhaps embodied in the worship of Sun divinities, or simply focused around solar concerns and the (presumably luminous) divine or supernatural beings who mediated power towards those concerns.
Naturally the Bronze Age world contained more than Sun Gods or even the occasional Sun Goddess who may have survived from her Neolithic roots; of course the divine outlay of human cultural worldviews in the Bronze Age was as varied and layered as we would have seen in the previous Neolithic or as we see in the following Iron Age. To focus on the most obvious features of sun or solar-metaphysical worship and reverence can always be thought a kind of over-simplification, and I hope my readers will be charitable on this point.
Most scholars that I’ve read focus on the immense solar-divine fixations of the Nordic Bronze Age, and they do it for mostly the same reason anyone does: the art and artifacts that have survived from those times feature so many stirring, powerful solar images. The chances of these images not relating to some kind of solar-divine religious complex (perhaps common to many Bronze Age cultures, in the region of Scandinavia and beyond) are so small as to be safely put aside.
I believe that the Beaker Culture was at least partly responsible for the rise of the great Sun-cultus in the Nordic Bronze Age. I think that the Beaker meeting with the various Corded Ware groups led to the adoption of their Solar-Archer God, and his cult being carried into the Funnelbeaker Lands further north. I believe that something similar happened in Britain, and I can imagine that the arrival of that Solar-Archer God and the culture whose warrior elites and priests were so devoted to him caused the same or similar kinds of changes among the megalithic Funnelbeaker folk in Scandinavia.
Perhaps the art of the Nordic Bronze Age gives us hints or clues about how things went for the Beaker People’s God in Britain, during the heyday of that God after the creation of the majestic final phase of Stonehenge. I believe that Southern Britain (and perhaps other parts of it) saw a thriving Bronze Age culture just like the one that developed in Scandinavia. I believe that Stonehenge itself became a famous temple for the Solar God, known around most of the Bronze Age world, and a place of pilgrimage from many lands.
In the same manner that the Neolithic and megalithic Funnelbeaker people in Scandinavia were a first cousin people to the Neolithic and megalithic people of Britain, the Bronze Age cultures that emerged in both Scandinavia and Britain had “cousin roots” as well. Thanks to the Beaker folk, massive cultural changes came to both places, and around the same time. The Stonehenge “solar temple” phase was being built in Britain around the same time the Funnelbeaker culture’s replacement and fall was nearly complete. It is certain, at least in my mind, that the “Age of the Sun” was alive and well in Britain and Scandinavia for a very long time.
And so now the question: what happened to the Great Sun God? How could the Nordic Bronze Age, so flush with majestic solar-religious art, give way to a world of Iron in which a solar divinity features in myths and the religions of the people almost not at all, and in which the mythic sun-entity itself is seen as a mere personification of a natural body? With regards to Scandinavia and the Continent, this is often the case. By the time of the Iron Age, the sun in Norse myths is merely an embodied force of light and life which is not a God, but a female entity called Sunna or Sol. Further, there is no evidence of a cult devoted to Sunna; she appears to be a colorful subject of stories and tales, and nothing more.
I believe that the image of Sunna- a female sun-being- is a long-distance resurgence of an original belief in the sun as a female divinity, or potentially a “female sun” concept that arose from contact with the Baltic lands later in history. But how could we possibly have gotten to that point, in lands that once saw an enormous solar-divine reverence, and almost certainly had a powerful Sun God or Solar Entity at their religious hearts? Where did he go?
There was a massive collapse of Bronze Age cultures in the North, and after a long and dreary “dark age” there was a slow emergence of iron-using cultures that also had very different ideas about religion compared to their Bronze Age ancestors. Their art is telling; in the North, the great solar ships and sun-boats are gone. The solar chariots (and chariots) are also gone. Boats do remain in depictions, and (as always) boats remain important to the sea-going peoples of the north.
Burials for elites are still connected to boats, though the symbolism seems to have changed. The boat now bears the (elite) dead into an afterlife, an echo of the earlier metaphysical notion that boats were cosmological vehicles of transition for supernatural forces. This could show some vague continuity with a Bronze Age idea, but it is stripped of all its deeper layers.
Religion and art now depict great heroes and gods going about the mythical tasks we know them for now; stories are told of human heroes and Godly exploits, but these Gods are now very human like: red-bearded Thor and his endless fights with giants; white-bearded Odin going about his mischief or his various quests for knowledge; Frey falling in love and trying to obtain his heart’s desire, and so forth.
Gods are going about very human-seeming tasks in human-seeming stories; they are holding feasts in ale-halls, having feuds, trying to recover stolen items, and so forth. No single Norse God is truly strongly associated with the sun, though some have clear solar qualities, a thing I will return to momentarily. The sun is now Sol or Sunna, and in one tale she is engaged in driving two horses and a solar chariot. Beyond this one story intended to explain the motions of the sun (and moon) around the earth, Sol is only known for her eventual destiny: to be caught by the wolves who chase her and to be devoured at the end of the world-cycle, when the sun must go dark.
The solar horses and chariot of Sol or Sunna are almost certainly remnants of Bronze Age cultural material. The complete lack of anything resembling cult or any metaphysical centrality for this solar figure or the sun itself, is rather perplexing. The people of Old Norse culture certainly weren’t worshiping the Sun or even ultra-luminous Gods that were connected to solar concerns with one possible exception: the God Freyr. Freyr’s possible solar connections are things I will discuss momentarily.
What is strange about Freyr having the only real “solar” connections that can be sensed from Old Norse myth is that Freyr was not, in my opinion, originally an Indo-European God at all, but a Neolithic Grain God, a Neolithic Consort to the Great Mother or Earth Goddess who died and was regenerated on a cyclical basis. In my view, Freyr (and his sister Freya) were Neolithic divine figures from the Funnelbeaker culture, as all the “Vanir” Gods and spirits ultimately were.
Naturally, as the Funnelbeaker culture merged with their successor cultures and were transformed, Freyr, Freya, and the Vanir-Beings became part of the new culture, became part of the new order, but in new ways. In the case of the Nordic Bronze Age, I certainly believe that the native Vanir divinities were subordinated to the Gods of the Bronze Age successor cultures, even as they were incorporated and potentially given new names, new myths, and new modes of worship more suitable to the new rulers of the human world.
But to have Ingvi-Freyr (of all the divine beings) given the solar mantle would be strange. If a Bronze Age Indo-European Solar God was once higher than all, the patron of kings and now-lost high cultures, how would that life-giving, fertility-giving solarism end up on the shoulders of a Vanic God from a much earlier time?
It would seem that something very disastrous happened to the Bronze Age Solar God, leading to his worship to be all but wiped out or abandoned, and in the case of Freyr, there was a resurgence of an older God, whose cult stepped up to take on that solar mantle. Perhaps Freyr’s Neolithic precursor was originally the holder of those divine powers to his original culture, and this was a resurgence of an older way of seeing and believing in those lands. Sometimes such things did happen: new cults come, get powerful, fall from power, and older beliefs re-emerge.
While I’m busy focusing on Scandinavia and Germania, it’s worthwhile to point out that the “missing Sun God” is likewise missing in other parts of Europe, too. By the time of the Iron Age, the Greeks and Romans aren’t sitting around waxing poetic over any sun god or sun divinity. They have Apollo, who wasn’t quite a sun God; he was a God with solar qualities, however, who later does become linked in ways to the southern Sol and Helios. But even the titan Helios, as the sun, was hardly a prestige God in the southern Iron Age. Again, this titan was a personification of the sun, and a minor figure in the religious life of the Classical Greeks.
Helios does go on to obtain more prestige much later, in the final centuries before Christianity, as esoteric cults and groups associate him with Apollo, Sol, and eventually even style him a kind of “supreme being” in the various attempts to save Paganism through doomed syncretistic religious creations. But Helios is another example of a personified sun without much cultural power. The Southern Europeans are not “solar” cultures by the time of the Pagan Iron Age; they might be described as grim and warlike weather worshipers, as evidenced by the Zeuses and Jupiters at the heads of their pantheons.
Like their Northern European neighbors, they are primarily concerned with weather for crops, making babies, preserving health from disease, and success in war or protection from foes. And like their northern neighbors, a pantheon of somewhat human-like Gods was seen to be in control the natural forces, including the sun and the thunder or rain. The sun wasn’t ruling anything; it was being ruled by other forces. The sun-entity was placed in the heavens by other beings, who set its course for the good of the world or the beings in the world. And at least to the Old Norse, one day the sun would be simply swallowed up and gone; this is a cosmological expression of a people who feel that the sun is temporary and perhaps even unreliable.
With the exception of some Baltic lands, in which the cults of powerful Sun Goddesses still managed to survive and thrive (and I believe those Sun Goddesses stem back from Neolithic times), and with the possible exception of a few Eastern European strains of pre-Christian religion, no one can really successfully make a case that Iron Age European polytheism was in any way “solar” in its central tone, in any place around Europe. Compared to the warm age of Bronze that came before, Iron Age Pagan Europe seems downright dreary.
It’s worth mentioning here that one ancient civilization in the Mediterranean did not fall because of the Bronze Age collapse: Egypt. Having survived the Bronze world-ending disaster intact, Egypt was allowed to culturally evolve and proceed into the Iron Age in a more unbroken, linear manner- and what do we see when we look at ancient Egyptian religion from later periods? Solar symbolism and solar figures galore. Practically every Egyptian God gets associated (somehow) with the Kemetian Sun Divinity in sacred texts and iconography. This is only more evidence of the “solar” nature of Bronze Age religion, and more grounds for us to wonder what happened to Europe’s Bronze Age Solar or Sun God(s).
I believe that Apollo (and the Celtic Belenus) were two of the strongest survivals of the original Beaker Solar-Archer God, who was seen as a giver of visions or prophecy and a giver of plague and healing. And I know that I’m right about Apollo being a long-term cultural descendant of the prehistoric Archer/Solar God who obtained such glory in the Bronze Age of Northern Europe; the ancient Greeks themselves give one of the best bits of supporting evidence.
Apollo, they said, left the south and traveled to the north every year- to the “mythical” land of Hyperborea in the extreme north. Hyperborea, far beyond the northern wind, was inhabited by a magical people who were Apollo’s special people. Apollo let Dionysos take over his Oracle at Delphi and flew to Hyperborea to be with his people, who were called “sun worshipers.”
Hyperborea was a real place; I believe it refers to both Britain and Scandinavia, but chiefly, it was likely a “mythologized memory” of Bronze Age Scandinavia, a long-mangled but still existing cultural memory from the Bronze Age, when the Mycenean forerunners to the Classical Greeks had a living relationship of cultural exchange with the Bronze Age Scandinavian kingdoms. Mycenean and Phoenician traders and adventurers certainly visited Scandinavia and Britain in the Bronze Age, and brought back stories of the great sun and solar worship held there. It was enough for memories of the luminous sun-lands of the far north to be remembered in a mythical form after the Bronze Age Collapse and after the long Greek Dark Ages.
Before anyone thinks this idea is strange, it is now a recognized fact that Homeric poetry also contains memories of historical events from the Bronze Age: the account of the Trojan War was a poetic or bardic memory- passed down by word of mouth through the entirety of the Greek Dark Ages- of a great and destructive Bronze Age war between the Myceneans and the Luwians of Anatolia. It was this prehistoric war (called by some “World War Zero”) that may have been one of the factors that brought down many of the great Bronze Age empires of the Mediterranean, including the Myceneans.
The Bronze Age collapse doubtless had several causes, but this great war may have been a very critical one. And countless centuries later, Greek Iron Age epic poetry “remembered” this war and told tales of it, albeit tales transformed for dramatic purposes. I think the stories of the magical northern land of Hyperborea are in a similar vein; and the fact that the Greeks linked Apollo to Hyperborea is support for my entire thesis about the prehistoric Solar-Archer God and the Bronze Age cultures of Britain and Scandinavia.
The historian Diodorus Siculus says:
“Of those who have written about the ancient myths, Hecataeus and certain others say that in the regions beyond the land of the Celts, there lies in the ocean an island no smaller than Sicily. This island, the account continues, is situated in the north and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, who are called by that name because their home is beyond the point whence the north wind (Boreas) blows; and the island is both fertile and productive of every crop, and since it has an unusually temperate climate it produces two harvests each year. Moreover, the following legend is told concerning it: Leto was born on this island, and for that reason Apollo is honoured among them above all other gods; and the inhabitants are looked upon as priests of Apollo, after a manner, since daily they praise this god continuously in song and honour him exceedingly. And there is also on the island both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollo and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape.”
Diodorus’ account here certainly refers to the island of Britain, being situated northward beyond the “land of the Celts”, by which he must mean the Alpine regions and Gaul. He describes well the fertility of the productive lands of southern Britain, and his mention that Britain is “inhabited by Hyperboreans” adds a perfect element of evidence to the larger picture. He is describing the Bronze Age Britons here, from accounts he gained from other (obviously older) sources. And naturally, the prehistoric chief God of the British Bronze age is being interpreted as “Apollo”. The mention of a “notable, spherical” temple can only be a memory of the prehistoric celebrity that the later monument of Stonehenge had around the ancient world as a legendary place of power, veneration of the Solar God, and pilgrimage.
The Archer God in the Snow
It is tempting to imagine that the Beaker God never achieved quite the same heights of worship in southern Europe’s Bronze Age as he did in the Northern European Bronze Age lands; and yet the Bronze Age Mycenean culture may have contained solar elements that stood out prominently, only to be lost in their own collapse. Having said that, this divinity clearly survived into recorded history as Apollo and Belenus- and just as clearly did not survive in the myths and cults of lands further north.
…Or maybe he did. After copious research, I will suggest that there is a God from Norse mythology who could be a long-term survival of the great Solar God of the Nordic Bronze Age, which would (to me) make him the “northernmost” survival of the now-lost original Bell Beaker God. I will give my reasoning too, and suggest what might have happened to wipe out the great Solar Worship or solar-oriented cultures of the far north.
I believe that the relatively obscure Norse God Ullr might be all that remains, in Norse culture and myth, of the (theoretical) once-great Solar God of the forgotten cultures of the Nordic Bronze Age. I believe the historical cult of Ullr and the God Ullr himself was, like Apollo and Belenus, a cultural-spiritual remnant of the Bell Beaker Archer-Solar God of prehistory.
Ullr’s consistent presence in Scandinavia, alongside the linguistics of his name, provide us with tiny (but more direct) glimpses of what the Scandinavian Bronze Age Solar God might have been like. There are small hints we can “back engineer” in a theoretical way to get glimpses into cult, and maybe even to the earlier name of the God.
Why do I think this about Ullr? To begin with, Ullr is a very mysterious God about whom not much is known- and he always stood out to me as odd. It’s clear that Ullr was once a widespread God in Scandinavia, but by the time of the Viking age he is reduced to only a good quantity of place-names and a few rune-stone or artifact inscriptions, and only has a few mentions in the Eddas. He has dwindled in modern perceptions to a God associated with Northern reaches and winter, with skis, and with archery.
As one might imagine, this has left modern people to see Ullr largely as a patron of skiing, winter sports, the wilderness, and hunting. But the evidence of lore and archaeology points to a wider, more mysterious place.
Gabriel Turville-Petre points out that Ullr might have more place-names in the landscape of Scandinavia named after him than any other God. More tellingly (if Ullr was once a much greater God in prehistoric times) Ullr place names in the north have nearly the same frequency of distribution as place-names connected to Tyr or Tiwaz in the southern Germanic regions. This is a powerful piece of evidence, as place-names tend to preserve annals of lost history (and lost cults) over very long periods of time. And to have a God getting places named after him with the same frequency as Tyr/Tiwaz, who was himself (at least briefly) a supreme pantheon-head of the later Indo-European Germanic peoples, is telling.
In the tale of Grimnismal from the Prose Edda, we are treated to a story in which Odin (in disguise) allows himself to be captured by a villainous king. That king binds Odin between two fires, and tortures him this way for eight days. Odin speaks at length about cosmological themes, but is also asking for help from anyone who will aid him in escaping his predicament. Odin says something quite telling, as he promises a blessing to the one who will help him:
“He will have the favor of Ullr / and of all the Gods / who first in the flames will reach…”
Odin, the chief of the Gods, promises the favor, blessing, and protection on his savior of “Ullr” first- and then “of all the (rest of the) Gods.” Why on earth would a minor Godly being like Ullr, of whom almost nothing is known, be set apart from the rest of the Gods in Odin’s speech? Ullr’s protection or favor seems to be a thing apart from that of the rest of the Gods. If Ullr was once viewed as a more powerful (and culturally, historically distinct) divinity from the later Iron Age Gods, this would make sense.
Another strange but telling mention is made of Ullr in relation to Odin in Gesta Danorum. In that work, Ullr is Latinized into Ollerus. It is said that Odin, the chief of the Gods, was once exiled for ten years and in the time he was gone Ollerus ruled in his place. Again we’re left wondering why an obscure-seeming God like Ullr would be important or powerful enough to take Odin’s place for a while- unless Ullr was seen as the ruling divinity of a distinct but parallel (and older) cultural tradition- perhaps even one slightly at odds with later ruling Gods.
The works Gylfaginning and Skaldskaparmal tells us pretty much everything else that Norse myth has to say about Ullr. Gylfaginning says:
“Ull is the name of one, son of Sif, stepson of Thor. He is such a good archer and skier that no one can compete with him. He is also beautiful in appearance and has a warrior’s accomplishments. He is a good one to pray to in single combat.”
And Skaldskaparmal says:
“How shall Ull be referred to? By calling him son of Sif, stepson of Thor, ski-As (As = God), bow-As, hunting-As, shield-As.”
I will comment in a short while about the claim that Ullr is the son of Sif and the stepson of Thor. It is important to point out that Ullr is called “beautiful in appearance” and is a great warrior, particularly one to call upon in single combat. If my theory is correct, and Ullr is a long-term descendant of the Bell Beaker Solar-Archer God who was at the center of (among other things) an archer and warrior cultus, the idea of the God being “beautiful” fits the solar profile- and so does the idea that warriors in single combat should call upon him, so skilled is he in fighting.
Also, the idea that “he is such a good archer that none can compete with him” mingles perfectly with the fact that the Bell Beaker warrior-cult was especially focused on archery (as I believe their original God was), and so many Bell Beaker men are found in their graves with their bows and special man-killing arrowheads.
Even though it is more difficult to see now, solar and sun-related symbolism is attributed to Ullr. In Atlakviða we find this verse (Translated by Dronke):
“May your fate, Atli,
fit the oaths you swore
often to Gunnar
and pledged long ago,
by the sun southward-curving
and by Oðinn’s crag (by Sig-Tyr’s Hill, the God of War and Victory’s sacred hill)
by the steed of sleep’s pillows
and by Ullr’s ring.”
Here we run into something that combines perfectly with archaeological evidence we are about to see that Ullr was a God who was especially connected with the act of making oaths. Atli is reminded of oaths he swore “by the sun southward-curving, by the War and Victory God’s hill, by the steed of sleep’s pillows, and by Ullr’s ring.”
Ullr is associated with rings and shields. Both things are round and depicted as golden or bronze- perfect symbols of the sun. That Ullr is called “Shield-God” might even connect to Svalinn, the shield that protects the world from the heat of the sun in Norse Myth. But when Svalinn is mentioned in Grimnismal, something interesting is stated:
“In front of the sun
does Svalinn stand,
The shield for the shining god;
Mountains and sea
would be set in flames
If it fell from before the sun.”
This shield is called “the shield for the shining god.” This is the only place, to my knowledge, that the sun is called “the shining god” in Norse myth-literature. And it certainly plays up the connection of a shield with “the shining god”. One would expect the sun here to be called a Goddess, and indeed Dronke does translate it that way. But Herbert and Bellows both translate it to say “The shining god”- and that seems more correct, because the line reads skínanda goði, “shining god”.
Ullr, as I mentioned, is associated with rings and shields, but also with boats. In Skaldic poetry, “Ullr’s Boat” is a kenning for a shield, and “Ullr’s shield” is a kenning for a boat. In Gesta Danorum, we are told that Ollerus (Ullr) is a sorcerer of some sort, who was able to enchant a bone, by which he crossed water.
“The story goes that he (Ollerus) was such a cunning wizard that he used a certain bone (probably a sledge or similar conveyance), which he had marked with awful spells, wherewith to cross the seas, instead of a vessel; and that by this bone he passed over the waters that barred his way as quickly as by rowing.”
This passage could be a garbled memory of something that actually occurred in history: the cult of the prehistoric (Beaker) Archer-Solar God did reach Scandinavia from the mainland of Europe, and must have gotten there on boats. The idea of this God Ullr- if he is a descendant of the original prehistoric God- being able to enchant a bone (or a sledge or something) to cross water as though it were a boat could be a badly degenerated memory of that event.
Throughout the Nordic Bronze Age, the sun is often depicted as being carried on a boat. It is possible that the “sun boat” began as a memory of the sun-cultus coming over the water in boats carrying sacred solar-related artifacts or cult objects, and a priesthood or group of elites connected to the cult- potentially even a prehistoric “Sun King” of the sort that I discuss in The House of the Giantess.
But naturally, the symbolism of the Solar Vessel runs deeper than this; as I mentioned before, the idea of a solar vessel conveying the sun across the sky during the day and through the underworld at night is a well-established notion that connects with the Bronze Age cultures of the Mediterranean, particularly Egypt. I believe it to be a parallel idea to the notion of a Solar Chariot/Solar Horses that convey the sun or the solar divinity. It would not be a stretch at all to imagine the prehistoric Beaker folk evolving a sun-boat cultus when the spread of their culture happened so much that maritime concerns (and voyages) began to feature prominently in their lives.
It is known now that both the Neolithic people of Europe and the later Bronze Age peoples were far more seafaring than anyone first guessed. It may not be a matter of the Beaker Folk first conceiving of their God as associated with sky-horses or even chariots, only later to associate him with boats; boats may have featured largely in their consideration all along. The very notion of boats may have held a spiritual place for human beings since the inception of such craft- for if the great waters (or any waters) were seen as spiritually distinct places from land, if waters were seen as barriers between worlds or as closer somehow to the strange, surreal substance of the otherworld, boats allowed human beings to cross these cosmological barriers safely.
It is not hard to imagine the sun or the moon “sailing” themselves through the sky, as they make their graceful arcs. And it may be the arcs or curves here that are the point: the arc of the sun curves like the prows of ships that are depicted in art in the North. Rings and shields have their own curves which could (among other things) call to the golden arc-path of the sun.
It bears mentioning that in the rock-carvings of the Nordic Bronze Age, there is found a solar-figure who has a sun-disc for his body and is holding a bow and arrow. Naturally it can’t be proven that this figure may have been the forerunner to Ullr, but I think it likely. It also should be pointed out that skis are themselves devices that have often have upward curves on either end, much like the boats of these ancient times. Skis like boats also cross water, albeit in the form of ice.
The Little Shrine of Ullr
In Bro Parish, in Uppland Sweden, an Iron Age shrine to Ullr was found and excavated in 2007. The place is called Lilla Ullevi, which means “The Little Shrine of Ullr.” This is only one of the many examples of place-names connected to Ullr, and the name, along with the finds at this incredible place, are the reasons why the temple or shrine here is believed to have been a shrine to Ullr.
The Lilla Ullevi site has a low hill or knoll that was crowned with a large platform of stones, with two “arms” of stone coming away from the platform. Between those two arms of stone, post-holes were found showing that a wooden platform of some sort stood between them. Other post-holes show that poles stood in many places around the site, and there may have been an enclosed hall to the side, along with a field for celebrations and other activities. On the south side of the hill was discovered a horde of bronze and metal rings- which had to have been oath rings, examples of the very “Rings of Ullr” mentioned in the Eddas. The large platform of stones is likely where sacrifices were done.
What is interesting to me is how the shrine itself is clearly solar in orientation; the stone “arms” of the rock-platform are open to the rising sun. But further, if one looks at the shape made by the stone pile and the arms, it is a horseshoe-shaped figure; as hard as it may be for some to believe, I think this is meaningful. I think the resemblance this figure or plan has to the horseshoe-shaped central structure in the Stonehenge monument (which was designed to open to sunrise on the summer solstice) is not an accident.
This shrine was built around 100-200 CE, and I’m not suggesting that the builders of the Lilla Ullevi shrine at such a late date still had any conscious awareness of some connection between the shape of the shrine they made, and Stonehenge or anything going back as far as prehistory. But they had a reason why they made the stone platform and the stone arms in this shape- even if they didn’t know the reason.
Many Ullr shrines, going back to a time before memory, may have had this shape. That the “arms” opened to the east and the glory of the rising sun is easy to understand. But this horseshoe-shape may have begun in the Neolithic or Bronze Age, as a replica of the “D” shaped meeting halls used by the ancients, and which I believe later Stonehenge’s central arrangement of stones was meant to replicate. And just like at Stonehenge, I think that the Solar God was thought to enter this horseshoe-shaped sacred area as his solar body rose over the horizon.
Further, the wood platform that stood between the arms must have been a fine place for priests or ritualists to stand to see the sun rise- but it could have been something else, too. It has been suggested by some that this platform could have been a seiðhjallr, a platform upon which a seiðkona or sorceress-seeress sat to do seiðr work.
If this was the case, and a seiðkona or Volva sat on this “high seat” to make prophecies, this would make another long-distance connection between the idea of Ullr having sprung from the prehistoric solar divinity from whom Apollo also springs: Apollo, too, was connected to a group of seer-women (the Pythian seeresses). Perhaps the prehistoric precursor solar divinity himself always had a special connection to women in terms of a female priestesshood or a group of female devotees who acted as his oracles.
The fact that so many oath rings were found at this shrine (perhaps they hung on wooden posts before being deposited in the hill) suggests that people came to Lilla Ullevi to make oaths, oaths witnessed by Ullr and those sacred beings connected to him. While it is true that any God could be a witness to oaths in Old Norse religion, it’s clear that Ullr had a special connection to this practice of oath-taking and oath-making. For me, this is yet another connection between Ullr and a warrior-cultus that may go back to prehistory. I say this because I believe the institution of oathing and swearing on oath-rings was originally a product of the prehistoric warrior caste within European societies.
When life and death (not to mention a lot of wealth) depend upon the loyalty of warriors to a chief or a king, and when the security of a village or a clan or even a whole tribe depends on bonds between war-leaders and war-fighters, making sacred oaths was the only manner that our most distant Ancestors could assure certain degrees of predictability and cohesion between these men tasked with keeping the rest of society safe. More than just safety, but economic stability could come to depend on this.
When one’s own life depends on other men’s support or quick response in fast-evolving dangerous situations, oaths act as a glue of certainty. That prehistoric (and later warriors in historic times) would oath on rings, on bronze or gold rings which have clear solar symbolism, only speaks to me of the Bronze Age Beaker Warriors having their solar god witness their oaths, as a means of making their words and promises into sacred, fateful things.
When men and women stood at the shrine of Lilla Ullevi to make oaths in the name of Ullr, I don’t believe any of them would have understood that the Ullr they knew was once a supreme-type Sun or Solar God of a forgotten age that came before them. By the time of the Iron Age, Ullr’s cult and presence was greatly reduced to just these functions: oath-taking, aid in single combat for warriors or for strength in combat generally; and to the idea of an archer-God of great beauty who might be a help in the task of hunting or shooting, and who still had the power of a God.
For all that fact, place-names connected to Ullr dot the ancient landscape, showing that he was once someone much greater. So, what happened to Ullr?
A better question would be “What happened to the Religion of the Sun in the Bronze Age of Northern Europe?” Part of the answer was given in The House of the Giantess: a powerful climate change began around 1800-1700 BCE, in which average temperatures fell and more rain fell, causing a lot of once-food producing land to become boggy. This climate shift affected Scandinavia as well as Britain, and caused its own sorts of problems, particularly issues of severe food shortages.
In this first climate shift- which may have caused some doubts in the power of the Sun God or Solar Divinities in general- a trend away from the iconography of the solar twins, the solar boats and chariots and the like, begins. Religious iconography devoted to a cup-bearing water Goddess starts to appear. And yet, I believe that the Solar Religion in Scandinavia manages to persist, albeit in a more and more diminished form, for quite a long time after.
But then, sometime around 500 AD, a final nail in the metaphysical coffin comes for the already weakened Sun Powers. The Fimbulvetr happened- the “Great Winter”. Almost back-to-back volcanic eruptions caused ash clouds that led to decades worth of darker and colder years for Scandinavia and other places- even causing frost to appear in Mesopotamia. Öland and Gotland apparently received the worst of this: thousands of Iron Age homes show signs of being abandoned, and the impact upon culture and society across the Germanic world was clearly enormous.
This event happened only several centuries before Christian missionaries began their larger attempts to convert and subvert Heathen culture in the North, and this “Great Winter” (which lasted decades) happened only 500 or so years before Heathen culture was finally destroyed and replaced by Christian culture. This age of darkness caused by the volcanic ash would have led to extreme famine and displacement, and greatly impacted and traumatized the recent cultural memory of Scandinavians and others by the time of the Viking Age. It very neatly explains why the late Norse Pagan eschatological myth of Ragnarök includes a mention of the Fimbulvetr, a prophesized future Great Winter that will herald the end of the world.
And it also explains how (in conjunction with what began further back during the prehistoric climate shifts) cults of the Sun and Solar Light may have been discredited and finally diminished or wiped out. After all, why would the people continue to pray and sacrifice to the Sun or the Solar powers, if they clearly will not respond, or are not able to respond and return in the full force of their warmth and food-giving power?
Further, it was obvious to all who lived through these times that perhaps humans didn’t need the Sun God or the solar forces as much as previously believed. Though many died, humans still survived the Great Winter, and without the help of the absent or wounded (or deceased) Sun God. It is almost certain that men and women turned to other Gods for help; I believe that the thunder and weather God Thor (and parallel figures to him) was the chief God that many turned to for help or deliverance in desperation, and this could explain why Thor’s cult was so powerful when Christian missionaries finally penetrated deeply into Heathen lands.
The theoretical turn towards Thor’s power and help in the dark times has a parallel in prehistory, as well. When the prehistoric climate-shift happened, Bronze Age Britain was impacted, too- and at that time, someone entered Stonehenge’s central precinct and carved the signs of over 70 bronze axe-heads, blades facing upwards, on some of the central stones. The Axe and the Axe-head is an ancient symbol of the thunder and storm God, and almost certainly the origin of the “Thor’s Hammer” sign so popular in Heathen history and today.
It would appear that someone in Bronze Age Britain was appealing to a Storm or Weather divinity for help when the sky darkened and the world turned colder. That they defaced the stones with the image of axe-heads (or perhaps they were carved there by a new religious order that had seized power in the crisis) is suggestive, and it sets the stage for future religious alterations when the weather goes sour and cold.
Old Norse sources tell us that Ullr was the stepson of Thor, and the son of Sif the grain goddess who was the wife of Thor. For me, this makes perfect sense if my theorizing here holds any water. It would make sense that the former high divinity of the Sun or Solar Force, who was entrusted with the well-being of crops and life itself, would be demoted in such a way, to be made subordinate to the weather-related God whose cult became powerful enough to replace him.
By making him a son of Sif, of an earth and crop-producing Goddess (who almost certainly has roots in much older Goddesses of this sort) there’s an insult added; the original Beaker Solar God was likely not seen as the son of any Earth Goddess, but as her overlord and finally her conquering husband. This placement of Ullr in the family of Thor (now being the “red headed stepchild” of the most famous red-head in Norse myth) and his subordination even to Sif seems to be a mythologization of actual historical events suffered by a discredited but once-powerful cult. Further, the later marriage of Ullr to Skadi, whose name may mean something like “Shadow” or even “Harm”, could be an example of more (somewhat literal) poetic shade.
Further south, it seems that one of the prehistoric Sun God’s other “descendants”- Apollo- might have undergone something of the same fate, but without quite as much dishonor or demotion. Apollo ends up being the son of another God of the Weather and Thunder: Zeus.
Earlier in this essay I mentioned that Ullr and Freyr had their own special connection, and this is true- and there’s a few more things I need to say on this point. I believe that the God that came to be called (by Proto-Indo Europeans and Indo-European speaking cultures) Inguz/Ingvi and Freyr was once the supreme God of the Neolithic Funnelbeaker people. As that Neolithic culture was diminished, absorbed, and changed at the start of the Bronze Age, the “Lord” consort of the Earth Mother was placed into his own box, diminished into a fertility figure who still had some connections to war and kingship.
Freyr was beloved even into the Iron Age, and it’s likely that his cult regained a lot of power as the Bronze Age Solar forces waned. But before this happened, I think it’s obvious that the original Neolithic Freyr was replaced or demoted by an incoming Solar God Concept, in this case the prehistoric Beaker/Corded Ware Archer/Solar God that I’ve been saying so much about. The landscape itself reveals the patterns: place-names related to Ullr very often occur near place-names related to Freyr in Norway. The same is true for other Vanic powers and beings that I believe were chief during the Neolithic age: Ullr place-names appear near place names for Freya and Njord, too.
To my mind, this points to a reality that isn’t even a bit different from how early Christian culture-warriors built their churches near to, or directly on top of, the temples and shrines of Pagan divinities. A new God and a new culture will want to place their temples in a visible and competitive manner near to or onto previous sacred places.
Freyr’s seeming association with the sun and solar themes (or at least themes of rain, pleasure, sunshine, and good weather) leaves him something of a stand-out in Heathen myths. I believe that he may have had all those themes or powers before the Bronze Age, and after a point, regained them when the Ullr-cultus finally dwindled in power. Further supporting these points, In Grimnismal Freyr is mentioned in a passage with Ullr- a closeness between these two divine beings (or perhaps a rivalry) might be established thereby. Odin says:
“Yew Dales they are called
where Ullr has
made halls for himself.
Elf Realm to Freyr
in the old days
the gods gave as a first-tooth penny.”
That Ullr’s special realm would be called “Yew Dales” (Ýdalir) makes perfect sense; the yew-tree gave the wood that was most desirable for making bows, owing to its flexibility and other qualities. And yet, the deeper mythology connected to Yew trees is profound; a God associated with Yew trees only for their power to make the best bows is a bit of a let-down. The many metaphysical powers and legendary magic of the Yew tree in Folklore, and the cosmological importance of the Yew to Scandinavian and Germanic Pagans, is all pronounced. It would be a good tree for a once nearly all-powerful God to have been associated with, a tree that always spoke of eternity, world-structure, life and death, and most importantly to my theory, entheogenic intoxication.
Because the Yew Tree is a poisonous one, and some of the substances within it can cause not only death, but trances and visionary states. As I take pains to show in The House of the Giantess, the Bell Beaker Archer-Solar God was a God primarily connected to entheogenic visions and intoxication through a poisonous plant. This point may be a minor one, but to me it’s just another supportive brick in this curious (albeit theoretical) wall.
It wasn’t just the weather that knocked the Bronze Age Solar God’s power knob down. I believe that climate and weather-related changes, which impact human lives so much, was the largest part of it; my book The House of the Giantess gives many examples of ways that weather and climate change caused a lot of havoc- and a lot of sweeping cultural transformations- even as far back as the Neolithic. But there’s another factor to mention: the Bronze Age Collapse.
Around 1200 BCE, the advanced Bronze Age cultures of the Mediterranean all fell, all except for Egypt. The “ripple effect” of this enormous collapse of civilizations hit Britain and Scandinavia very hard; they were linked by trade to the Mediterranean world, and as those trade routes became empty, the wealth and goods that Northern elites and their cultures depended on dried up. This certainly led to in-fighting and the loss of power and status for kings and elites. It also set the stage for cascading cultural revisions and changes.
If the Bronze Age Solar God was tied (as he must have been) to the power-bases of Bronze Age kings, the cults of this Solar God would have suffered as well. When people’s lives are unable to be as good as they were before, they expect Gods to do something about it. If no help seems forthcoming, religious sentiment can fade or become prone to looking for new divine solutions.
If Gods can esoterically be (among other things) “the recitation of their names“, they are certainly exoterically their cults. The God and the God’s cult are tied together in critical ways- and if my studies have shown me anything at all, it’s how vulnerable Gods and their cults (and thus entire cultures) are to the weather and climate, and how ultimately faithless human cultures are to their Gods. “Faithless” may be a poor choice of words; fickle may be a better term.
Humans may be as intransigently devoted to the Gods of their Ancestors as you can imagine, but in the sweep of one significant disaster, or in the face of a bad enough cultural crisis, or in the reception of one strong culture-transforming technology or idea from outside, everything can be different in the space of a handful of generations. This is history’s oft-repeated and final verdict on the nature of human cultures and religions.
If the Bronze Age Solar God’s cultural power continued on in some form in Scandinavia after the Bronze Age collapse (and in the face of prehistoric down-turns in the climate), it certainly would have been diminished greatly. But nothing could save it from the Fimbulvetr, countless centuries later in the Iron Age, which would spell its doom more completely.
Names and (Theoretical) Linguistics
The final piece of our grand puzzle here comes from looking at the linguistics of Ullr’s name. Ullr (who may also have been called Ullinn in Old Norse) has a name that is believed to derive from the Proto-Germanic word *Wulþuz, which means “glory”. This has a cognate in the Gothic wulþus which means both “glory” and “wealth”. This in turn derives from the Proto-Indo-European *wul-tus, which means “sight, gaze, appearance.” Ultimately, that derives from *wel, which means “to see”.
The Proto Germanic *Wulþuz is clearly cognate to the Latin vultus, which refers to a facial expression or appearance. As the PIE term *wul-tus transformed into the Gothic wulþus, it underwent a semantic shift from “sight and appearance” to “wealth and respect”. This is the kind of shift I would personally expect, if something like this name- Wulþuz- was ever used for the prehistoric Solar-Archer God, who was the leader and patron of wealth and prestige-hungry warriors.
The Bell Beaker people almost certainly spoke an Indo-European language; some may have spoken a pre-proto-Celtic language or some form of speech descended from Proto-Indo European, and so there is a space here to ponder what the Sun God of the Nordic Bronze Age might have been called. The people of the Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia probably spoke Pre-Proto Germanic; the name *Wulþuz comes later, from Proto-Germanic, but it may have had a cognate root in pre-Proto Germanic.
My thought is that the Beaker settlers in Britain probably spoke a pre-Proto-Celtic or Proto-Celtic language, but that the Beaker culture-carriers who mingled with the (also Proto-Indo-European) Corded Ware people and then moved north into the Funnelbeaker lands evolved the pre-Proto-Germanic language, after having their own tongue mixed with a now-lost substrate language that could only have been the Neolithic language spoken by the Funnelbeaker people.
The name Wulþuz comes, as we have seen, from the Proto-Indo-European *wl-tu pr *wltus, which means sight, gaze, or appearance. From the start, I think this is a fine beginning for the name of a solar God, because the light-giving sun itself has always been connected with sight. The idea of the sun as a thing that “gazes” upon the earth, a great eye in the sky, is also an old notion. But there’s something in the term “appearance” that coordinates well with sight or vision. The appearance of the sun or the sight of the sun is an extraordinarily moving thing to see when it comes up above the dark horizon to herald a new day.
It might be considered one of the most “glorious” things ancient people ever saw was the beauty of the sun when it rose- and it was certainly a reassuring thing to have the sun overhead, illuminating day and keeping cold powers far away in the warmer half of the year (or even in winter). To have a word which means “glory” descend from the idea of seeing, gazing, or an appearance, only makes sense to me.
But what if the “sight” or the “seeing” had a meaning connected to seeing things like visions? Of course this is all theoretical, but what if the Sun God’s name translated into something like “Great Appearance” (referring to the great appearance of the sun or the solar-face)? And what if the ultimate root of the name- which is “wel” (to see) referred to not only exoteric seeing, but mystical seeing? Because I certainly think that the Solar God of the Bell Beaker people was connected with mystical visions brought about by drinking a special (entheogenic) drink.
Ullr’s name already implies “Glorious One”. That by itself would be a fine name for a Solar God. I am going to just go out on an imaginative limb and assume that the Proto-Germanic Wulþuz had a cousin in Pre-Proto Germanic that was the same or similar, something like wl-tus or wl-tu. By itself, Wltu (pronounced Ultoo) or Wldu (Ul-doo), implying “The one seen” is already a stirring enough root name for a Bronze Age sun God.
But my imagination and intuition leads me to guess that at least some of the Nordic Bronze Age people called their chief Solar God “The Great One Seen”, or “The Great Appearance” or “The Great Vision” or “The Great Glorious One”. The word *megh in Proto-Indo-European gives the meaning of “great”; so does *meh and *moh-ro. The PIE term *henr does too, but it really refers to “manly strength”.
If we combine *wul-tu(s) with *megh, we can try and tease out some possible names: Ul-tu-mag or Uldumag or Uldumac or Uldumoc- all intended to mean “The Great Glorious One Seen” or the “The Great Sight/Vision”. I personally like the completely guess-work name of Wul-tu-meh or Uldumei (ool-doo-may). In my imagination at least, that “sounds” like a proper name for such a majestic God in a Bronze Age world.
Wul-tu-hen(r), somehow meaning “Glorious Strong One”, might work as well, shaped into Ultuhen, Ulduin, or Ulduwen. I enjoy these total guessing games, and it’s fun to imagine that somewhere, by some stroke of real luck, these proposed names could be in the ballpark of correct. We’ll never know now, but it’s fun to guess.
So there we are. In the lands of Hyperborea, the very far north, the Prehistoric Western European Solar-Archer God of the Beaker people (and possibly later of the Corded Ware people) may have sailed in and become the Bronze Age Sun God so well celebrated in Nordic Art from that age- but saw his own miniature “Ragnarök” or twilight created by culture-collapse and climate shift, before finally degenerating into the obscure Ullr of later eras.
While his name remained chiseled on the landscape, his shrines became smaller and more remote like the God himself- but if one looks at them (and him) in a certain way, hints remain as to who he might have been in a time before recorded history. It is at places like Lilla Ullevi, the Little Shrine of Ullr built on a rural hill in Sweden 600 years into the Iron Age, that we see one of the last “homes” of the Once-Great God.