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The Harlequin

Most people know the figure of the harlequin as a man dressed in a garb of many colours, and a kind of jester or fool. Few people know where the name comes from, though its origins as it is are French, likely brought by the Normans.

For the origins of this figure we need to go back to an old “British” legend of a figure known as Herla. Indeed, when we trace the word back to its origins this is obviously not “British” at all –

Herlefrid –OHG
Herlolf – OHG
Herladrud – OHG
Harilpurc – OHG
Harelunc – OHG
Herilo – OHG

All of these Old High German words show that the name Herla is a Germanic one. Indeed, we have a Bishop Herlewald mentioned in England in 744, and a monk named Harlewine at Bath in 1077. Add to this the Herelingas mentioned in Widsith and the name was obviously a Germanic one.

We can recreate the true title by using an Old English reconstruction –

OE * Her(e)la cyng

Thus the root of the French “harlequin” would be King Herla. The word herla  can also be traced back to a PGmc Root *χaril which becomes OE Herel and thus Herla. The PGm Root *χaria means “army” whose leader is the *χarilan – the Hereführer. King Herla is thus Woden as the Leader of the Here – the Wild Hunter-God who leads the Wild Army.

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