Ancient Word of the Day: Thule

Thule as Tile on the Carta Marina of 1539 by Olaus Magnus, where it is shown located to the northwest of the Orkney islands, with a "monster, seen in 1537", a whale ("balena"), and an orca nearby.

Thule or Tile is a legendary island in the North Europe, which was first written about by Ancient Greek Explorer Pytheas of Massalia during his travels between 330-20 BC. Later, a Roman citizen named Strabo wrote about Thule in his treatise named Geographica c. 30 AD.

Thule – is the great unknown. The land of fire and ice where the sun never sets. About six days north of Britain.

Children of wild Thule, we

From the deep caves of the sea,

As lark springs from the lea

Hither come, to share your glee.

‘Song for the Mermaids and Mermen’ Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)

Thule as Tile on the Carta Marina of 1539 by Olaus Magnus, where it is shown located to the northwest of the Orkney islands, with a “monster, seen in 1537”, a whale (“balena”), and an orca nearby.

“The people (of Thule) live on millet and other herbs, and on fruits and roots; and where there are grain and honey, the people get their beverage, also, from them. after first gathering in the ears thither; for the threshing floors become useless because of this lack of sunshine and because of the rains”.

Strabo, Geographica (c. AD 30)

In the Middle Ages, philosophers and thinkers often conflated the mythical isle of Thule with other remote, cold and misty isles close to the Arctic Circle, such as the Shetland Islands, Orkney Faroe Islands, Iceland, Jutland, Scandinavia or Greenland.

The ancient and ‘lost’ isle of Thule shouldn’t be confused with the immediate ancestors of modern Greenlanders, who are known as the Thule Inuit culture of the 17th to 19th Century.

Dreamland by Edgar Alan Poe

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright.
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule –
From a wild weird clime, that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space – out of Time.

Septentrionalium Terrarum

Mercator: Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio. A map of the North Pole.
Septentrionalium Terrarum Map of the Arctic by Gerardus Mercator. First print 1595, this edition 1623.

Ultima Thule (Thyle ultima) is an island of the Ocean in the northwestern region, beyond Britannia, taking its name from the sun, because there the sun makes its summer solstice, and there is no daylight beyond (ultra) this. Hence its sea is sluggish and frozen.

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies c. 7th Century AD
Here be the Viking Hoard: The Mystery of the Lewis Chessmen
Walrus hunting in the Middle Ages

Thule, the period of cosmography,
Doth vaunt of Hecla, whose sulphureous fire
Doth melt the frozen clime and thaw the sky;
Trinacrian Etna‘s flames ascend not higher

~ A madrigal by Thomas Weelkes, entitled Thule (1600)

The Voyage of St Brendan

Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot) c. AD 900. According to the legend, Saint Brendan performed a mass on the back of a whale.

St. Brendan of Ardfert circa 484-578, was an Irish monk who set sail with sixty men through the northern Atlantic’s sluggish and icy oceans towards the elusive and mysterious islands of Hy Brasil and Thule. According to the story, they sailed for five years and saw many wonders, even conducting a mass on the back of a whale (see above) and eventually reaching a beautiful island where they met a holy man. Brendan believed this to be his “Promised Land of the Saints.”

Read about another mythical island of Hy Brasil

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

6 thoughts on “Ancient Word of the Day: Thule

  1. Love the idea of Thule Catnip. It always brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’

    We come from the land of the ice and snow
    From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow
    The hammer of the gods
    W’ell drive our ships to new lands
    To fight the horde, and sing and cry
    Valhalla, I am coming!
    On we sweep with threshing oar
    Our only goal will be the western shore


    1. Oh yeah you are so right. I love that song too Kev, epic…the strings and these lyrics it is an amazing song! Thanks for reading. Yes if the mythical land of Thule had a soundtrack, this would be it!


    1. I am so glad you enjoy them! It is such a joy to put these posts together. I will keep making them. Hope you have a relaxing weekend 😊🌄


  2. love learning these words as well…shared this with my friend today as well because i love this story. he brought up the Thule society of nazi germany, it sucks that they ruined this idea

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading 📚 Yes it’s a fascinating story of this word how it was reappropriated and misused by the Nazis is such a shame, yes I agree it sort of tarnishes a great idea.


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