Dawntime and the gentle elves

Satisfied to find in my Geologisk Ordlista (Glossary of Geology), that the longest geochronological unit is an eon followed in descending order by an era, a period and an epoch. In pre-digital times, it made sense to accumulate glossaries to avoid spending a day travelling to Stockholm to find a few obscure words related to whatever arcane corner of human endeavour I was plunging into. Now with the mighty Google, it’s hardly so, even less for me a twilight translator sated with more of yesterday rather than wild ventures into budgerigar cage terminology. I should purge my library so that I no longer have books about Kabbalah tumbling from my kitchen cupboard on to my Meissen breakfast cup (poetic licence). But I find it hard to part from my companions of the labour of decades.

Geology is a special case; every time I come to the Dorset coast and read about greensand and sandstone and gooey blue liais, I want to learn more  (when the day finally arrives that I move on from Dorset churches). I’d better keep that one for the time being, for another eon or so.

Otherwise, I’ve dabbled with place names. Around the midsummer table, mention made of Ulva kvarn, an old mill from the ancient. The many place names beginning with Ull have attracted my interest and I have a doctoral thesis “Gudarnas Platser.  Förkristna Sakrala Ortsnamn I Mälarlandskapen” by Per Vikstrand (Pre-Christian Sacral Place Names in Central Sweden). A long section on ”ul” names where he discusses whether ”Ull” was the Svears’ foremost God and hence the names or whether some place names were hydronymic. It has been suggested that “ull” was associated with the early Swedish “vaella”, to bubble up, flow, perhaps “well up” (as with tears).

If correct, it would seem an appropriate name for a mill. However, I can’t find a mention of Ulva Kvarn in Vikstrand’s thesis, Calissendorf’s Ortnamn i Uppland (Place Names in Uppland) has Ulva Vad (Vlfawadh 1344), a place where wolves waded across the river.

I am suspicious of picturesque names of this kind, ever on the look out for popular “back formations”.

We have a prime example in the town of Trollhättan in western Sweden, literally translated as “the troll’s bonnet”. It was supposed, when you looked down at the rocks in the water from on high, that they resembled the tips of the hats of fallen in the water trolls. More prosaically, Trollhättan was as far as you could navigate on the water and here boats had to be dragged (tragen) over the rock (hättan) that blocked the water way. Mundane but credible.

I don’t know about wolves fording the river at Ulva. I could look at the map and inspect the area and make some kind of reasonability assessment but this just might be an area where I must tolerate the dark of unknowing.

I’m mostly reading about the Faroes in my less serious moments. I’ve making my way slowly through William Heinesen’s Gryningssvindar, written in Danish and only later translated into Faroese.

Gryning in Swedish is Dawn so it would be Dawntime (the Dawn of Time is more mellifluent but leads thoughts astray). He takes us to a Faroes where the old traditions live on, the culture of songs important for the preservation of the Faroese language. And with a large cast of characters, which allows him to mention many major themes in island life – the increasing importance of fishing and later fish processing, religion, the missionaries and the stricter versions of protestantism, the difficulty of travelling from island to island and the freedom offered by the motor boat. Alcohol, where the Faroes had prohibition for many years. It was rumoured that he was a candidate for the Nobel prize in 1981 but said that he wrote to the Academy to withdraw his candidature as he wrote in Danish and not Faroese.

Also started to dabble in life as well as literature and I came across the following motto for the University of the Faroe Islands, which amused me:

“Mildar veittrar tendraðu ein vita føroyum stjørnuleið frá øld til øld” translated as “Gentle elves set light to lead the Faroes on the starry way from age to age”.

In my rambling around the groves of academe, I’ve yet to come across an academic who self-identified as a gentle elf. It sounds pleasantly Hobbityish.

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