Ledberg Stone

‘Bessi sætti stén þæssi æftir Þorgǿt ve[lvæ]iði, faður sinn, ok þǿ Gunna bǽði. Þistill, mistill, kistill.’
‘Bessi set this stone after Þorgǿt Good-Hunter(?), his father, and they both [he and] Gunna [did this]. Thistle, mistletoe, casket.’

The Ledberg Runestone (Ög 181) is an interesting instance of mixed Pagan-Christian imagery. On side C there is a cross, while on sides A and B, where the actual inscription is located, the images seem to be of Ragnarǫk. We see on side B a man being bit on the foot by a wolf, interpreted as Odin being eaten by Fenrir, while below him another(?) man is seen reaching out, without legs.

On side A we see two men, both armed, walking in opposite directions, one flanked by what appear to be dogs or wolves. Below them is a ship. Following the interpretation of the scene as that of Ragnarǫk, we could see the ship as Naglfar, the ship on which the jǫtnar will sail west (Jǫtunheim is said to be east of Ásgarđ) at Ragnarǫk. The man flanked by hounds may again be Odin, with his wolves Geri and Freki.

My reading of the seventh word is incredibly speculative, as most of the word is missing.

The magical formula ‘þistill, mistill, kistill,’ meaning ‘thistle, mistletoe, casket,’ is a semi-common runic charm, found on several runestones, becoming extended in later Mediaeval inscriptions. It is even found in ‘Bósa saga ok Herrauðs,’ where it is used as a riddle (unsolved) at the close of the Pagan curse (continuously derided, between the fragments given, as too wicked and unchristian to be written down in full) laid against King Hring of Götaland by Bósi’s foster-mother, the witch Busla.

Mistletoe is well known as that which kills Baldr in Norse myth, and thistle is mentioned in Fǫr Skírnis/Skírnismál, when Skírnir tells Gerđ, as part of a curse: ‘be thou as the thistle, / which was pressed / in the later part of the haying-season.’

The formula may be referencing preparation of the dead with herbs, with the ‘casket’ being a coffin.

I may return to this or another ‘þistill, mistill, kistill’ stone upon further reading, but for now see further: MacLeod, Mindy and Bernard Mees. Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. Boydell, 2006. pp. 145-6. and Thompson, Claibourne W. ‘The Runes in Bósa saga ok Herrauðs.’ Scandinavian Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, 1978, pp. 50-56. (The latter I have not yet been able to read, but recommended in Pálsson and Edwards’ translation of ‘Bósa saga ok Herrauðs.’)

Photo: Ledbergsstenen 20041231 by Olof Ekström, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s