This page deals with an important pair of Vanir divinities, more important than the sketchy information available might suggest.  People like Saxo and Snorri, wishing to revive the memory of a heroic past liked the combative Aesir.  The oversexed Vanes were an embarrassment.  When the Viking hero of a story from the Christian era visits a place dominated by Vanir worship, he is disgusted by the indecency and effeminacty of the rites.  However, these authors possess useful material.
    This is not a final word, but a perliminary one.  Others are much better qualified than I am to run down the various threads.  In fact, much of this is not my research, but that of Georges Dumezil.  Many in Asatru dislike Dumazil's "three functions" theory, but that is hardly grounds for dismissing so important a scholar.  We will start, however, not with Dumazil, but Tacitus:

              The Naharvali proudly point out a grove associated with an ancient
         worship.  The presiding priest dresses like a woman; but the dieties are
         said to be the counterpart of our Castor and Pollux.  This indicates their
         character, but their name is the Alci.  There are no images, and nothing
         to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they are certainly
         worshipped as young men and as brothers.  (Germania, 43)

    This is not a lot, and it would have helped if Tacitius had explained "are said to be," and told why the Alcis are said to be, but this is a start.  First, the brothers are undoubtedly twins, not just because Castor and Pollux are but, since most men are someone's brother--it's only an issue when speaking of twins.  Also, probably one, and maybe both die--that would be a key factor in any comparison.  Besides, they are "worshipped as young men," as opposed to mature gods.  This is not an overwhelming argument since there are some young gods--Hermes and Dionysus for instance, but it is suggestive of dying gods such as Tammuz or Dionysus, who are inevitably young.  If one or both dies, then there is probably a resurrection; in other words, they are fertility gods.  As for as I know cross-dressing priests only exist for with gods of fertility-- effeminate, cross-dressing, or eunuch priests, as in the cult of Cybele, for instance.  (I do not personally see the logic of a fertility eunuch, but apparently that is something that functions at a level deeper than consciousness.)  We have evidence of cross-dressing and effeminacy in relation to the Vanir in later times, and so it seems reasonable to suppose that the Alcis are Vanes.  Besides, we have better family trees for the Aesir, and they would probably be on one of them if they were Aesir.  The chief functionary in the cult of Castor and Pollux was a priestess, suggesting that they were originally connected with fertility, since fertility is the particular realm of women in religion.  If not a priestess, a priest in drag seems a logical substitute.  In any case, the fact that Castor  returns from death, even on alternate days suggests a fertility theme.  So much for Tacitus, but there are other sources, though none uses the title, Alcis. 
Back to Vanir Page
Day, Mildred Leake, trans. The Story of Meriadoc, King of Cambria (Historia                 Mericaoci, Regis Cambie), Garland, 1988.

Dumezil, Georges. From Myth to Fiction:  The Saga of Hadingus, U. of Chicago
    Press, 1973.

Gantz, Jeffrey, trans. The Mabinogion. Penguin Classics, 1976.

Morris, William, trans.  Volsung Saga.  (I'll get the rest of the citation when I get the
    chance to make a search of my office.)

Saxo Grammaticus. The History of the Danes.  I got this from an online source, and
    will have to find it again.  Surprisingly, the whole book is available online.

Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla:  History of the Kings of Norway, trans. Lee
    Hollander.  Austin, 1991.

Tacitus. The Agricola and Germania, trans. H. Mattingly.  Penguin, 1970.

"The Three Snake Leaves."  This is in Grimm's Household Tales.  I know it by
    heart, and so did not use any particular translation.

The story of Castor and Pollux.  I used several handbooks of classical myth.  They all
    say essentially the same thing.

The story of the prince of Crete.  I read this years ago in a book on Cretan religion.
    I'll try to find the book and include it when I get the chance.

The Indian material.  I got this initially in Dumezil.  I checked a copy of the
    Mahabbarata (sp.?) in the library, but found little or nothing to add.
    How proper a retelling is this?  I think it possible that early Germanic people might recognize it as the story of the Alci, though probably a somewhat eccentric version.  Still, myth tends to exist in a variety of versions until some priest writes it down and declares that version canonical, and all others heretical.  There was probably never a single authoritative version.  The problem with this telling is not so much that it is wrong, but that it is by itself, and so claims more authority than it has a right to.  The Alci need more scholarship and research, but their story also needs more versions.  If anyone else would care to take a try at it, I would be glad to post that version here--with the author's permission, of course.  If I managed to collect several, I would move them to a separate page.  Even without more information,  I think two or three more versions would serve to spread the net wide enough that what was significant about these two gods would be largely captured.

    The key event in this telling is the old woman drawing Raftas down to the underworld.  This comes from Saxo's story of Hadingus.  It is obviously not a cliche of Viking adventure stories, and it does relate directly to rebirth.  Thus it may well have belonged to the myth.  In any case, it is thematically appropriate.  The cattle raid as a cause of Rauzaz's death comes from the Dioscuri.  The Indian twins also go on a cattle raid and suffer serious, though not fatal, consequences as a result.  I also had in mind the cattle raid of Cooley.  Apparently this is a standard Indo-European means of getting into serious trouble.  As for Rauzaz's arrow wound near the tree, that was suggested by the killing of Castor in a hollow tree by arrows, and by the fact that the Alcis were worshipped near a sacred tree in a grove.  The hollow tree and arrows also appear in the story of Meriadoc, which may be a sort of cousin to this story.  The worship in a grive is also my main motive for moving the action outdoors, contrary to Saxo and Snorri.  A mead or beer vat would obviously be indoors, but I have made the death by drowning honey as in the Cretan story.  I also chose this rather odd circumstance for two reasons.  First, I have never liked the idea of simply falling into a mead vat and drowning--how big a klutz would you have to be?  The version from Ynglingsaga with the story-high vat makes sense, but I doubt that houses laid out in such a way existed in early Germania. My second reason is that I liked the idea of a mysterious disappearance suggestive of the mystery of death.  Again, I follow the Cretan story.  Since the old woman appeared to Raftaz at Yule, it seemed probable that the brothers were rulers of half-years, as my be the case with the Dioscuri; death on alternate days has no real logic whatever.  If they represent half-years, then it seems logical that their mother would be Jera.  The idea of the Alcis as protectors of sailors as well as gods of fertility was suggested partially by the example of the Dioscuri, and partly by the fact that Saxo's Hadingus, after an initial weather curse seemed able to control the winds.  Who is the divine father?  The late tradition all suggests Odin, perhaps rightly, but Odin seems an odd father for a pair of Vanes.  My version, therefore, implies that the father is Njord.
    The next day Raftz had a large cairn prepared near the tree.  Then in sight of all the workmen he hanged himself from a limb of the tree, and was buried with his brother Rauzaz.  Raftaz, however, did not go down to the realm of Hel, but up to his divine father wo offered him eternal life in the realm of the gods.  Raftaz, however, refused, saying that he wanted nothing but the return of his brother and the life of Midgard, of which he was by no means weary.  His father, therefore, gave him power over wind and over growing things, and returned him to earth, allowing him to remain on earth half the year--from Yule to Summer Sunstead, but his brother the other half-year, for the goddess will not give up those she has claimed without another to replace him.  But though the brothers are separated, they are together as well, for when any in need calls upon them, whether a sailor in a storm, or a farmer worried for his crop, the come not singly, but together, and always bring help unless the other is too deeply enmeshed in fate for even a god to help him.
    Raftaz returned to the glade where Rauzaz's horse had been killed, and found the tree, for it was a huge oak old as mankind, and there was a hollow at its bottom in which a man could stand upright.  With his sword, he cut at the rotton wood above his head until it fell away, and with it a great quantity of honey as well as the body of his brother.  Raftz washed the body and wrapped it in linen, then built a low platform to keep it from the earth, but he would neither allow the body to be taken or depart from it.  All through summer and autumn he ramained beside it.  When neither brothers nor parents could persuade him to leave they sent him by a servant and he ate only enough to keep alive.  The year grew colder and leaves fell, and the servant would build a fire nightly, though most often he let it go out.  Thus he reamined until Yule.  But as he sat watching the guttering fire that night an aged woman suddenly appeared out of the earth.  She threw her cloak over him and drew him down past the roots of the oak to a room deep underground.  The earth closed behind him, and there was no way out except over a high wall in front of him.  Time after time he tried to scale it, until at last he fell down exhausted.  Then the old woman drew a cock from beneath her cloak, wrung its neck, and threw it over the wall.  In a little while he heard the cock crow.  Then the old woman drew him back to the surface of the earth.
    The rest of the brothers made it home safely, but when Rauzaz did not return, Raftaz went in search of him.  He soon found the horse dead, but found no sign of his brother, and no one, friend or enemy, could tell him anything.  He came at last to the home of the sun, but she had not seen Rauzaz.  "Go to my brother, the moon," she said.  "Perhaps he has seen your brother."  Raftaz went to the moon, and the moon replied, I saw him struck with an arrow and fall, but then I went behind a cloud, and saw him no more.  But in the stillness of the night, I can her the bees murmurring of a body that has falolen into their honey and spoiled it.  Perhaps your brother is there."
    Many adventures the twins had, and many women they got with child, for all women desired them, and for that reason many great and famous families claim descent from them.  One day all the brothers together went on a cattle raid into a neighboring kingdom and drove back a great many cattle.  Their enemies, however, gathered and gave pursuit, and at last caught up with Rauzaz who was at the back of the herd.  As he fled he was struck by an arrow that passed through both his thigh and the heart of the horse he was riding.  Rauzaz manged to free himself from the
horse, but was too badly hurt to escape.  Therefore he climbed into the branches of a large oak to wait until his enemies were gone.  The search continued a long time, and at last he fainted from loss of blood.  Bees had made a hive in the tree, and he fell into the hollow and was drowned in the honey.
    After the twins were born, everything the husband undertook turned out well.  When plowing he turned up a bag of gold hidden by warriors in ancient times, and all his crops produced twice as abundantly as those of his neighbors, and never did he throw a net into the water with drawing it out full.  In time he grew to be a wealthy man, and with the help of his strong sons he at last became a mighty king.
The Alcis
    One day a young woman whose name was Jera went down to the stream to cut reeds for thatch.  She worked all morning, wading in the water and cutting the reeds, then tying them into bundles and stacking them.  At noon her husband, who had been working in a field nearby joined her.  They shared a simple meal of black bread and beans, and then her husband lay with her by the stream before returning to work.  Jera gathered up as many bundles as she could carry and returned to the house.  She climbed onto the roof and began laying thatch.  Shortly, however, a wind came up, making her work impossible, and so she lay down on a beam to wait for it to pass and shortly fell asleep.  The god who is master of the wind saw her wile passing and was struck by the beauty of her faceand of her long, golden hair which hung nearly to the floor.  He paused to lay with her, then passed by.  Some days later Jera consulted a wise woman who told her that in nine months she would give birth to twins, and that the first would be the son of her mortal husband, and the second the son of a god, and they they would grow into mighty men.  It all happened as the old woman had foretold.  The first son she named Rauzaz, which means reed, for he was conceived beside the reeds of the stream, and the second, Raftaz, which means beam or rafter, for he was conceived on a beam.  Further, she thought, "My second son, who is the child of a god, will uphold the first as rafter holds reeds.  And when my husband and I are old they shall be  reed and rafter to shelter our feebleness."  Afterwards Jera bore other sons, and all grew to be mighty men, but the twins were ever considered to be the best in every way, and all that they did they did together.  They were the handsomest of men, and like their mother they had bright, golden hair which they wore long like a woman's, but so mighty were they that no one cared to speak ill of the matter.
    I am prepared to tell an Alcis story, but it cannot be quite like the orginal, or more likely, like any of the original versions.  We simply don't have enough information.  I do think, though, that more information does exist somewhere--in pseudo-history, myth, saga, heroic legend, folktale, or ballad.  One need merely to find it, and then to recognize it when it is found.  If no one has dones so yet, it is because no one has tried very hard.  Dumezil actually provides a lot of information but, ultimately, his real interest in not in the Alcis as such, but in supporting his three-function theory.
    The Cretan story has similarities to the Alcis story--death and rebirth, and more particularly, accidental death by drowning in a vat of honey.  The serpent, however, is a very durable rebirth image; if it belonged to the Alcis story, there should be evidence of it, and that I cannot find.  Therefore, I will settle for the one sure thing the story does provide--knowledge that death by such a means is an ancient and widespread concept, a fact that supports the idea that one of the brothers does die by this means.  The question of how the other dies is less sure, though in the case of the Dioscuri the one death apparently follows close on the other.  Neither the Greeks nor the Indians give any help as to means, however.  Logically, though, it should be a contrasting death, and so voluntary, and by some means quite opposed in nature to drowning, which brings us back to the death of Hadingus--by hanging.
    Returning to the Cretan story, there are a couple of oddities.  First, how does this knowledge help in finding the child?  Second, as to the riddle, so what?  Various berries go through this sequence--what is so special about it?  I would suggest that this is a code answer.  The real answer is not a berry, but the moon, which also goes through this sequence, which may have horns like the heifer, and which like the snake is associated with rebirth.  Thus the question rephrased is, "What happens to that which disappears from the earth?"  The answer is, "That which dies shall be reborn."  Thus, the story is a mythic allegory.
    Here we have two major elements, accidental drowning in a vat, and the concept of rebirth.  Not only in a vat, but a vat of honey, the closest thing to mead one could find.  There are not two brothers, but we have a pair whose fate is certainly bound up together.  But is there any reason to suppose that Germans would know this story?  Oddly enough, yes.  "The Three Snake Leaves" from Grimm's Household Tales contains the central element, the two snakes in the tomb, and the leaf (in this case, leaves) of rebirth.  In this story, a princess wishes to be placed living in the tomb if her husband dies before she does, and that he do the same if she dies first.  She does die, and he is placed in the tomb with her.  He kills and cuts up one snake, but a second comes with leaves and brings the snake back to life just as in the Cretan story.  We also have something similar from the Volsunga Saga.  While he and Sinfjotli are in wolf form, Sigmund, in a sudden wolfish rage, bites Sinfjotli (his son and nephew) in the throat and kills him.  Shortly he sees two weasels fighting.  One kills the other, but brings it back to life with a leaf on the wound.  A raven flies over and drops a leaf at Sigmund's feet, and he tries the same experiment with Sinfjotli, with the same results.  This is very like the two previous examples but for the substitution of a weasel for the serpent.  With its low, tubular body, however, the weasel is the most suggestive of a serpent of any northern creature.
    The son of King Minos of Crete, while chasing a mouse, fell into a vat of honey and was drowned, and no one knew what had become of him.  The king called upon his seers who informed him that there was a heifer in his herd that changed its color daily from white to red to black, and that if anyone could explain this mystery the child would thereby be found.  After a long search a young man was found who knew the answer--the mulberry tree whose fruit is first white, then red, then black.  Thus the child was found.  Minos, however, wanted a live child, and had the young man placed in the tomb with his son, promising to free him when he brought his son back to life.  Sitting disconsolately beside the body, the young man saw a serpent glide out from a hole in the wall and approach the corpse.  Thinking that it meant to feed on the body, he picked up a stone and killed the snake.  Presently a second snake looked out, but seeing the first dead withdrew into the hole.  A little later the snake returned with a leaf in his mouth, placed the leaf on the wound, and the first snake came back to life.  The man did the same with the prince and revived him.  Then they beat on the door and yelled until they were released.

    Ms Day's translation, cited above, describes a seemingly ritual hanging presented as an intended murder.  The children are hanged by a weak rope liable to break at any time in such a way they can breathe at least enough to maintain life, while a dozen men with spears and bows stand around waiting.  What is going on?  The story, unfortunately, doesn't say; we only know that it makes no common sense.  Is this a ritual that requires at least one fatal wound be inflicted between the time the rope breaks and before the body hits the ground, or something of that sort?  Possibly.  But if such a ritual involved an adult rather than a young, light child, he would require some support for the feet, or he would quickly choke.  (The children survive thus a whole morning.)  Any connection to the Alcis would seem too tenuous to consider except for the fact that the attempted murder takes place in a sacred grove, and from the limb of a very ancient and hollow oak.  Remember Castor killed by arrows while hiding in a hollow oak, and the ancient tree and grove involved in the rites of the Alcis.  In another Celtic work, the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion, Lleu Llaw Gyffes can not be killed indoors or outdoors, on horseback or afoot, and only with a weapon a year in the making.  He is, therefore, killed in a minimal shelter without walls while standing with one foot on a caldron and the other on a goat.  At his death his spirit flies up in the form of an eagle and is later found by Gwydion in the top of a tree, still in eagle form, and shedding rotting flesh from his wound that a pig at the foot of the tree was eating.  If merely standing is replaced by hanging, and the apparently empty caldron with a full one we are closer to the ritual death.  Here is certainly a story about rebirth.  What about the pig?--the Welsh story only makes it the means of finding the eagle, and nothing further.  What about Gwydion, the trickly, Celtic god of magic--is he somehow related to Odin?  All this is worth looking into, but it is too much for the present context, and so I will drop this line of thought.

    Another very ancient story, however, offers a slightly different direction.  This is from Crete, and from before 1,000 B.C., though whether originally from the native Cretans, or from the later Greek-Minoan culture I am not sure:
    So far we have found a great deal of Alcis material--relationship not only with other Indo-European sources, but material on the priest with his woman's hair style, the connection with the Vanir, and the manner of one of the deaths--accidental drowning in a vat.  We also have a couple of dubious elements--glorification of Viking heroism, and the Odinic death as opposed to a Vanic one.  Both of the are necessarily late.  And we still have the question of the second brother's death.  By hanging, as Dumezil prefers, and as the in the story of Hadingus?  Possibly.  The name Raftaz, meaning beam or rafter, suggests hanging.  Further, though Dumezil stresses hanging as a means of Odinic rebirth of the individual psyche, we know that hanging was widely used around the world in fertility ritual, as we would expect in a Vanic context.
    There is a parallel in Ynglingsaga involving another Swedish/Danish friendship.  Fjolnir, the Swedish king, visits the Danish Frothi, who has a mead barrel many ells tall with an opening at the top in the floor of a second story room.  Fjolnir gets up to urinate during the night, still drunk, and returning gets into the wrong room and falls into the vat and drowns.  There is no mutual suicide, but later Fjolnir's son, Sveigthir visits Vanland, marries a woman named Vana, and has a son named Vanlandi.  His story ends when he goes into a rock to join Odin and is never seen on earth again.  Dumezil also quotes a ballad from the Faeroes in which Veraldur, Odin's son, visits Zealand seeking the kings daughter in marriage.  Not liking the suitor, the king causes him to fall into a brewing vat and drown.  Odin, when he learns of his son's fate, dies and goes to Asgard, wheer his followers will be welcome after death.
    Saxo's hero does have a brother, but he disappears from the story so early and with so little comment that I suspect he is a vestigial element of some earlier version where he played a larger role.  The child Hadingus is saved from a usurper by a pair of giants, and later lives incestuously with his giant forster-mother until her death--a detail suggesting the frequent references to incest among the Vanir.  Later, with Odin's help he becomes a Danish king.  The brother, dropped from the story, is replaced at the end with a close, and not very clearly justified relationship between Hadingus and the son of a bitter enemy from Sweden, Hundingus.  The similarity of the names alone suggests more than a common pairing.  The story ends when Handingus hears a false story that Hadingus has died, and prepares a feast in his honor.  That night Hundingus, somewhat drunk, falls into a large vat of beer and drowns.  Hadingus, hearing about the death of his friend, and not to be outdone, then hangs himself in Hundingus' honor and goes off to join his patron and protector, Odin.
    From Myth to Fiction is taken up mostly with Scandinavian sources, where we find many references to the Haddinjar.  It is the name of a ruling family of Sweden.  In this context one supposes that the ruling family claims descent from the divine twins and serve them in a priestly function.  We also meet them as legendary heroes in the sagas.  The saga contexts probably have little to do with any actual mythic material; rather, they are being picked up as legendary names to fill out and add lustre to a list. (Dumezil, ch. 8).  What Dumezil calls The Saga of Hadingus, however, are chapters v-vii of Book One of Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes.  This story cannot be a literal retelling of the myth.  For one thing, as Dumezil shows, Saxo makes his character a standard Viking hero, something that did not exist in earlier times.  For another, details of Hadingus' life are apparently taken from stories about the god, Njord; since the brothers die young, there may never have been a lot of story about them.  Elaborate stories are more proper to literature than to myth.  It is significant, though, that there are close parallels to Saxo's story from Snorri and elsewhere.
    Tacitus is not the only source for the divine twins.  Demezil cites Paul the Deacon's familiar story from History of the Lombards of how the Winnili (later, the Lombards) with the help of Frigga trick the Vandals who are led by two brothers, Ambri and Assi.  One could assume that these were historical rather than mythic brothers if we did not have later evidence of the brothers in association with the Vandals.  Cassius Dio (Epitome, 12) tells of a people called the Hastingi led by two brothers, Raos and Raptos.  From other sources, however, we learn that the people in question are the Vandals, and that Hastingi is not the name of the tribe, butj of the ruling family, a common enough situation, equivalent to calling Danes Scyldings, as in Beowulf.  Hastingi, like its Scandinavian equivalent, Haddinga, means "a woman's hairstyle," thus we are back to the effeminate priest.  As for the names, Raos and Raptos, here given a Greek form, they are probably Rauzaz and Raftaz, meaning reed and beam, or rafter.  Beam, of course, suggests the two parallel beams that represented the Dioscuri. (For a fuller, better documented version of this discussion, see Dumezil, ch. 8).
    We will move on to Georges Dumezil's From Myth to Fiction:  The Saga of Hadingus.  This work deals with the Alcis in the late Norse period, and is primarily concerned with contrasting the death of one dedicated to Odin, and thus destined  to a conscious afterlife, to one who is only reborn as living matter through the natural cycle.  This attitude  glorifies the heroic, Odinic tradition, while devaluing anything Vanir.  Such a reading may be appropriate to Saxo and Snorri, both glorifiers of the heroic past from the vantage of a Christian society, but it avoids what must have been the earlier significance of the divine twins--it surely was not the glorification of Odin.  Further, if they are Vanir, their significance cannot be the glorification of the leading figure of the Aesir.
    My next source, the one that put me on this track, is Mildred Day's translation of the Medieval romance, Historia Merdaoci, Regis Cambrie.  In her introduction she discusses a scene in which the hero comes to a castle of fear and while there is attacked by a large man who punches him so hard he is laid out flat, bu a shaved bald, beardless man who breaks a spit over his back, and who Meriadoc throws into a well, and finally by a man who throws a half beam or rafter at him.  I might not have drawn any connection my own, though the nature of the adventure is so odd, and so untypical of perilous castles that perhaps I should. (Normally it is a lion, a shower of arrows or spears from the wall or from above, or some other truly fearsome thing.)  Being punched, hit with a spit, and having a beam thrown at one seems hardly worth the trouble.  We do not know for sure that one of the Alcis is a boxer, but it may well be.  The hairless man could be equivalent to the priest of the Alcis who would wear a woman's wig during the ritual.  Ms Day also points to other episodes in this largely Celtic story which show Germanic roots, and so she may be right in making the association.
    Here are lots of questions and few answers.  Why a boxer?  Why a tamer of horses?  The divine twins in India, the Asvin-Nasatya, who also had a divine and a mortal parent
(Whether one was mortal or not is actually a matter for dispute.), and one of which was also a manager of horses.  As in the case of the Dioscuri, a central element in their story is a cattle raid, though it is not quite fatal to either twin.  What is the big deal about these twins anyway?  There are other divine children who cause no such stir--Sarpedon, son of Zeus, Ascalapus, son of Ares, even Achilles gets no special immortality.  How do a boxer and a horse tamer become patrons of sailors?  Oddly, they were especially worshipped at Sparta, which is nowhere near the water; there isn't even a decent river.  Crosspieces might represent the connection between the brothers, but why beams?  Finally, and this seems to me very important, how did Pollux die?  If he is to spend alternate days in the grave, he must have died.  Further, what is the point?  Brotherly affection seems to be the issue in the versions we have, with a typically Greek bittersweet irony that the brothers, living on alternate days, never actually meet.  However, though brotherly love may be sweet, it's not the stuff of myth and religious ritual.  We are dealing with dying and coming back to life, which suggests fertility ritual, a suggestion reinforced by the fact that the rites were presided over by a priestess rather than by a priest.  If brotherly affection is not the issue, however, the irony that has always seemed to lie at the heart of the story disappears as well.  If they do live on alternate days, or seasons, or whatever, it is significant in terms of natural cycles, rather than at a merely personal level.  A close look at the story of the Dioscuri may shed a litle light on the Alcis, but it also reveals that we know less about the Greek myth than we might have supposed.
    First, however, what do we know about the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuce in Greek)?  Less, it turns out, than meets the eye.  They are children of Leda.  According to most accounts, Castor is fathered by an earthly father, while Pollux is a child of Zeus, though they are twins.  Castor is noted as a boxer, Pollux as a tamer of horses, or vice versa; there is disagreement on this point.  They are involved in a cattle raid, and as a result Castor is trapped in a hollow tree and killed by arrows from those they had robbed. (Sort of like the gangster, Mad Dog Coll being gunned down in a phone booth.)  Pollux is incosolable.  He does, however, have a claim on immortality since Zeus is his father.  Zeus arranges for each of them to live on alternate days, and to spend the other day dead in the earth.  They become patrons of sailors, save ships from sinking or, failing that, sailors from drowning.  We also learn from Plutarch that they were worshipped in groves, and that there were none of the usual trappings of classical religion, such as statues.  Their symbol was two parallel beams with crosspieces.  I presume this means two beams lying down, since they can only be parallel by being laid side by side.  If they were standing, parallel would mean in a row, and it takes three to make a row.  Also, their worship was conducted by a priestess.
A Final Note
    In looking at a passage from Grimm's Teutonic Mythology, Ch. 4, p. 1 quoted on the Midhnott Sol Regintroth web site I came upon some additional support for the points argued here, especially for Ms Day's arguable hypothesis about the bald priest.  The passage quoted is a discussion of the term Alcis in its several forms, alah, alhs, or alx as referring to a sacred location, sacred grove, or sacred tree, and pointing out numerous place names which apparently incorporate this term in one form or another.  A very similar word, however, the Grimms reject in their endnotes as in any way related, since it is a term for "a bald naked wretch."  It is very easy to see how a ragged bald person could derisively be called after a bald priest.  For this whole long discussion by Grimm, see
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