Quebec's Hammer of Thor

In 1964, archaeologist Thomas E. Lee was scouting near an excavation under way near the village of Imaha, in northern Quebec, when he found a tall, curious monument on the desolate north bank of the Payne Estuary, 15 miles above the village of Payne Bay, near the west coast of Ungava Bay. The two-ton stone structure stands 8 feet high and measures 4-1/2 feet across at its pointed lintel, surmounted by a 14-inch-high capstone. While the pillar was a surprise to Lee and his colleagues, he later learned from the native Inuit that they had known of it for generations. Yet, they laid no claim to it, insisting that the strange object was already standing long before the first of their ancestors arrived in the area. Moreover, the Inuit never worked in stone on such a large scale. Lee was struck by its roughly Nordic design and dubbed it “the Hammer of Thor.”

The stone structure might also be a direction indicator, because it appears to point toward the remains of a rectangular stone structure (80 feet long and 30 feet across) not far away. The outline of slanting walls half-buried in the hard ground resemble a Viking long-house from the 10th or 11th centuries.

Greenland is not very far from this point in Quebec, so Norse visitors 1,000 years ago could have sailed the distance in their sturdy dragon-ships and left a memorial to their arrival. Lee’s characterization of the Ungava Bay object as a “Hammer of Thor” does not seem inappropriate. Similar stone structures appeared throughout Viking Age Scandinavia; the Temple of Thor in Sweden dates before 1125. We know that Nordic seafarers voyaged at least as far as Newfoundland and that they certainly did not lack ships to bring them to Quebec from relatively nearby Greenland. Thor’s hammer was the most commonly reproduced religious object of the period. It was known as Mjoellnir, and was envisioned as the lightning, as it flew from the stormgod’s hand. He was the patron deity of fertility, but also of courage and decisive action. Thor was portrayed in saga and art as a middle-aged man of great strength, with long, red hair and beard. He was sometimes shown being carried across the universe in a great chariot drawn by rams.

Hammer of Thor

The 1,000 year old Quebec monument was probably set up to call upon his strength of will in a difficult land. Interestingly, a bronze statuette from Northern Iceland (National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik) of Thor with his hammer, circa 1000, portrays him wearing a conical hat virtually identical to the headgear worn by male figures depicted at the white stone of Ontario’s Petroglyph Provincial Park. Mjoellnir was not merely a symbol for meteorological events, however. The gods of Valhalla (the Aesir) proclaimed it the single most valuable object they possessed, and its likeness appears to have been reproduced by Viking shamans to hallow marriage rites, to bless the recently departed souls of the dead at funerals and to consecrate newborns into the community. Mjollnir’s image was inscribed on a Swedish tombstone at Stenqvista. It thus resembles a higher symbol of the birth-death duality not unlike the sacred Double-Headed Axe of the Bronze Age, particularly as realized in Minoan Crete.

In a particularly revealing myth of Thor and his Hammer, he restores the dead to life through the potency of its magic. As the Norse specialist, Ellen Davidson, writes, “It would seem indeed as though the power of the thunder-god, symbolized by his Hammer, extended over all that had to do with the well-being of the community. It covered birth, marriage and death; burial and cremation ceremonies; weapons and feasting; traveling; land-taking and the making of oaths between men. The famous weapon of Thor was not only the symbol of the destructive power of the storm and of fire from heaven, but also a protection against the forces of evil and violence.” But “Thor’s Hammer” is not the only stone structure of its kind in Canada.

During August 1972, Dawn French took up residence in the small town of Pushthrough, an outpost thirty miles west of Bay du Nord, on the south coast of the island of Newfoundland. While there, she heard strange tales of the legendary Stone Cross, a structure supposedly venerated by the local Micmac Indians for centuries before the arrival of modern European immigrants. No one had actually seen it and its whereabouts were unknown. Curious to learn more, French studied the native traditions, which described a sacred precinct, lonely and barren, where people in need of healing would find a large, unusually shaped cross spread out on the ground. It was the site of supposedly miraculous cures, but, over time, with the advent of the white man’s medicine, the place was abandoned to myth. The Micmacs are an interesting people. Their name means “Allies,” a reference to the confederacy of clans they formed and led, thus becoming the largest and most important native tribe in Canada’s eastern Maritime Provinces.

A seasonally nomadic people, the Micmacs’ Algonkian dialect differs greatly from that of their neighbors, and has some suggestion of Scandinavian cognates. Their possible linguistic links to Medieval Europe are underscored by what appear to be Nordic recessive gene traits among the Micmac (recurring blondness) and especially by the discovery at the island’s northern extreme of the first professionally authenticated Viking site in the New World, at L’Anse aux Meadows, today a National Historic Park.

Even more intriguing, the late epigrapher Dr. Barry Fell demonstrated a fascinating parallel between Micmac birch-bark characters and ancient Egyptian script. What, if anything, these possible prehistoric themes may have had to do with the lost Stone Cross of southern Newfoundland, French was not sure, but she was determined to find it. Basing her work primarily on old legends, she compiled a rough map that took her inland from the Bay du Nord and over the high cliffs of Devils Dining Table. On their opposite side, in a barren plain surrounded by hills thick with spruce trees, she found the object of her quest. It was spread out on the arid ground, the huge outline of a diamondshaped cross, as though it were opening itself up from the center. Measuring 30 feet from north to south, it more closely resembled a compass.

The design was encircled by a ring of numerous white stones, some of boulder proportions and others piled into rough heaps, mimicking crude towers or the abstract configuration of statues. From the vantage- point of one of these piles, French could make out the faint image of a man upon the cross, not in a crucified position, but as though he were emerging from the diamond opening. She remembered a Micmac tradition concerning these stones: It was permissable for a visitor to remove one, to keep it for his own healing purposes, so long as he replaced it with another. Two stone basins lay near the south end of the structure, one perhaps for ablutions, the other for donations; in the latter she found several old coins, a single example dated 1865.

Although French had discovered (perhaps re-discovered) the Stone Cross, she found no answers to her questions: How old was it? Who made it and why? Who was the last to see it before us? What illnesses had been cured? How many had been truly healed? Beyond these enigmas, she experienced a feeling of profound wonder, a sensation of being in a sacred zone, a sacrosanct area with an emotional character all its own that was not frightening, but certainly powerful.

If the Stone Cross of Newfoundland is Norse, its diamond shape renders it a most peculiar Christian design occurring nowhere else, its compass-like configuration might refer to a kind of “Christ-of-the Mariners” for Vikings far from home, even if that home were only L’Anse aux Meadows. It could also pass for an icon of that other people who supposedly impacted the Micmacs, the ancient Egyptians. For them, Ausar (better known by his Greek name, Osiris), the man-god of resurrection, was a proto-Christian concept associated with the Cross of the Four Cardinal Directions.

(Atlantis Rising Magazine Vol.66: "Quebec's Curious Hammer" written by Frank Joseph)


Unknown said...

This is a surprise and interesting article. I know Dawn French personally and a friend of mine Wish Benoit and I overnighted at her cottage in Pushthrough (it's still there). Had I known of her interest in this very special site, she could have availed of Wish's knowledge of this area. Though I had known about the sacred place from my youth, it was Wish that I first traveled with to the site, and I can truly say, as Dawn indicated, there is a special feeling of sacredness one feels when entering the site. I saw a mikmaq friend who seldom showed christian church leaning become very reverend upon approaching the site during my first visit to the site.

Josep (Melvin) Jeddore

Tripzibit said...

Hi, Joseph. Thanx for sharing your story. I'm glad that u like this article ^_^

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