3

4 .
Then Bur’s sons lifted the level land,
Mithgarth the mighty there they made;
The sun from the south warmed the stones of earth,
And green was the ground with growing leeks.

Poetic Edda, Strophe 4, Verse 4

If you look at this commented book from 1923, the author explained it as

Leeks: the leek was often used as the symbol of fine growth

The German version of the poetic Edda I am reading through, a commented version from 1877, explains that, translated;

  1. Leek (Allium) is regarded in the Edda as holy herb.

I could not however find anything as to why, and especially since leeks aren't spectacular or extraordinary in any ways I couldn't really leave this small detail alone and wanted to know the source of leeks being 'holy'. I understand why Oak trees, for example, have such an importance in the Edda - they are an amazing building material, they are around everywhere and these cultures are literally built on Oak trees. I would understand medicinal plants, things like elderberries but why leek?

Addendum:

When researching this further, and I am not sure if this is a dead end - Another word for leek is allium. Allium is a lot of things, including wild garlic, onions, chives and many more. Of those, especially wild garlic is a plant that is very famous as a wild and healing plant. I could imagine this. Another thing of research showed btw that leeks were used to revive a horses penis and a gods head

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    To me "often used as the symbol of fine growth" seems self-explanatory. It's grows vigorously, is useful, arguably has phallic characteristics, so the symbolism is unsurprising. What sort of evidence would definitively answer the question?
    – Brian Z
    Jun 22 at 15:18

1 Answer 1

8

Why not?

First off, this is the original:

Áðr Burs synir
bjöðum um ypðu,
þeir er Miðgarð
mœran skópu;
sól skein sunnan
á salar steina,
þá var grund gróin
grœnum lauki.

"Leek" is one of the reconstructed meanings of the laguz / laukaz rune, a symbol of fertility, so there is a chance that "lauki" stands here as a "backronym" symbol for general fertility.

It is a hardy plant that grows well even far to the north, and can be left in the ground for later harvesting during early winter, making it an excellent food source. That alone would probably be sufficient to explain it being mentioned in that way.

The leek is the national emblem of Wales, where it was considered...

...a medicine to cure a variety of illnesses [...] a cure for the common cold, alleviating the pains of childbirth...

...which is still true today, a good hot soup would still be considered "a good thing to do" when you don't feel that well.

Wikipedia (with attribution to Glantz, Animal and plant life in the Torah) states:

The Hebrew Bible talks of חציר, identified by commentators as leek, and says it is abundant in Egypt.

Which is corroborated by archaeological evidence. So it was not just the Norse that valued it.

As for general Norse mysticism, note that it is very different from monotheistic mysticism. Things are not always huge and majestic (like oaks), because the gods are not associated with omnipotence. "Holy" therefore means a lot less. Odin did not create the world and all there was on it, but is the son of the son of the giant that was licked from primeval ice by a cow. Thor's chariot was drawn by goats, Freija's chariot by cats...

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