Enigmatic Gods, History, Culture & Worship, Reference Sheets, The Gods, War Gods, Worship, Worship Practices

The Alcis: A Reference on the Germanic Gods of (Possibly) Elks, Brotherhood, and Male Youth

Please note that this work is subject to updates and that the most recently updated version will always be the document in my google drive linked to on my Resources page. Please also note that you should not accept any of this at face value and always research any of the information I make available yourself. This is intended to be a simple reference and jumping-off point.

Second Discovered Gallehus Horn The Alcis
The Alcis (the two human figures on the far left) as depicted in a drawing of the second Gallehus Horn, which was discovered in 1734, and stolen and destroyed in 1802, etching by J. R. Paulli

Basic Info:

  • Name Origin: Latin
  • Other Names: [none historically attested; unknown]
  • Principal Race/“Family” Designation: [unknown]
  • Gods of: possibly elks and stags; possibly brotherhood; possibly young men and male youth; possibly wartime sanctuaries[1]
  • Associations: possibly European elks/moose and stags; possibly brothers; (possibly) male youth
  • Epithets: [unknown]
  • Mythological Possessions: [unknown]
  • Dwellings: [unknown]
  • Family: Father: an unnamed sky god, possibly Óðinn; Mother: [unknown]

Further Info:

On the Alcis’ Original Area of Worship: The Alcis were a pair of twin gods worshiped by the Naharvali, a tribe that is a subset of the Germanic Lugii peoples.[2]

Tacitus’ Comments on the Worship of The Alcis: While Tacitus did note that though the Alcis were gods indigenous to the Naharvali, he also saw them as being similar to the Roman gods Castor and Pollux. Tacitus also stated in Germania that their worship took place in a sacred grove and was presided over by a priest wearing women’s clothing.

On the Commonness of Divine Twins in World Mythology: The Alcis are far from unique in the sense that there are many sets of divine twins in folklore all over the world. These sets of twins include, but are not limited to, entities such as the Hindu Ashwini Kumaras and the Nara-Narayana, also from Hindu lore; Hengist and Horsa from the lore of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes; and Ašvieniai of Lithuanian folklore.

Theories:

On the Etymology of “Alcis”: At this point in time it would be a bold-faced lie for anyone to say that they knew for sure what the etymology of “Alcis” is. It could be related to the Proto-Germanic “algiz,” the Proto-Indo-European “alk,” or the Latin “alces,” all having to do with elk; it could be related to “alx,” having to do with sacred groves; or it could mean something entirely different that hasn’t yet been considered. With the dearth of information and the obscurity surrounding them, it is currently impossible to say for certain that it’s derived from one word or another, though there are different theories that can be argued. A relevant passage appears, as follows, in Stallybrass’ translation of (the beginning of chapter IV. of) Teutonic Mythology (Deutsche Mythologie) by Jacob Grimm[3]:

Possibly [alhs] appears even earlier ; namely in Tacitus, Germ. 43 : apud Naharvalos antiquae religionis lucus ostenditur ; praesidet sacerdos muliebri ornatu, sed deos interpretation romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant. Ea vis numini, nomen Alcis ; nulla simulacra, nullum peregrinae superstitionis vestigium. Ut fratres tamen, ut juvenes venerantur.—This alcis is either itself the nom., or a gen.[[4]] of alx (as falcis of falx), which perfectly corresponds to the Gothic alhs. A pair of heroic brothers was worshipped, without any statues, in a sacred grove ; the name can hardly be ascribed to them [here there is a footnote with the following text: ‘Unless it were dat. pl.[5] of alcus [or alca άλκή[[6]]]. A Wendicholz, Bohem. holec, which has been adduced, is not to the point, for it means strictly a bald naked wretch, a beggar boy, Pol. golec, Russ. gholiak. Besides, the Naharvali and the other Lygian nations can scarcely have been Slavs.’], it is the abode of the divinity that is called alx. Numen is here the sacred wood, or even some notable tree in it.’

On the Possible Roles of The Alcis: The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology[7] lists “Alcis” as being an epithet of Athena’s in Macedonia which meant “the Strong,” and Tacitus equated The Alcis with The Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux). The most obvious similarity between Athene and the Dioscuri is that they were all beings whose most pronounced traits included them being war gods, and so it seems reasonable to assume that “Strong” would have been considered an apt descriptor for all three of them. That being said, the distinction between the types of war that Athene and the Dioscuri were associated with, defensive and offensive respectively, is significant enough to imply room for the Alcis of the Naharvali under that same descriptor, “Strong,” even if they weren’t even associated with war specifically. It’s plausible that “Strong” might still be an apt descriptor for a pair of gods who had influence over things that simply affected war in a significant way (for example, like the way Freyja was a war goddess who never went to war herself but simply had connections to fallen warriors and fate-manipulating magic). Some things to consider when attempting to flesh out this theory are: one, whether or not Jacob Grimm know about Athena’s association with the word Alcis or its meaning in that area when he came to the conclusion that the true; two, a footnote in J. S. Stallybrass’ translation of Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology which states that he (Stallybrass) is not convinced that “Alcis” refers to a sacred grove and seems to be leaning more towards the conclusion that “Alcis” meant  “strength,” “safeguard,” and “I defend,” or even that the word was related to “alces”/elks; and three, whether the crossdressing of the presiding priest in The Alcis’ grove was related to feminine forms of magic, or a feminine wartime role, or if it is related to something completely different. It is also possible that, like a very large game of telephone, information about Naharvali ceremonial garb might have been completely warped by the time it reached Tacitus, or that the ceremonial garb of the Naharvali was misunderstood from the very beginning, especially since those who saw it and passed the information on were likely Roman.

References:

  • Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. 4th ed. Vol. 1. London, England: George Bell and Sons, 1882.
  • Smith, Sir William. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London, England: J. Murray, 1880.
  • Tacitus, Cornelius, Harold Mattingly, and J. B. Rives. Agricola ; Germania. London: Penguin, 2009.

Footnotes:

[1] This is my own theory.

[2] Cornelius Tacitus, Harold Mattingly, and J. B. Rives. Agricola ; Germania. London: Penguin, 2009.

[3] Jacob Grimm. Teutonic Mythology. Translated by James Steven Stallybrass. 4th ed. Vol. 1. London, England: George Bell and Sons, 1882.

[4] ‘… the [nomative], or a [genitive] of …’

[5] Unless it were [dative plural] of…

[6] I am not versed in any dialect of Greek, ancient or modern, so you should absolutely not take my word for it, but I’m reasonably sure that “άλκή” can be translated as “álkí.”

[7] Sir William Smith. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London, England: J. Murray, 1880.

© Alixander F. D. Bragiteilen and Bragiteilen.com, 2018. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alixander F. D. Bragiteilen and Bragiteilen.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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