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CHIEF GODS AND MYTHS OF THE GODS
1. Worship of Odin and Thor. Attention has already been called in the general introduction to the fact that Thor was the Norseman's real chief divinity from a very ancient time, and that his name "the Thunderer" designates only a single side of the God of Heaven; but he was later understood to be an independent, personal being. Odin worship is far younger and made its way north from a Germanic people dwelling farther south. In the consciousness of the common people, conceptions of Thor as the supreme god were never superseded; but Odin faith received full and pleasing development in Norse-Icelandic poetry.
as Chief God. Thor was at one time the chief divinity with
all the Gothic-Germanic peoples. Not only does the general occurrence
of the symbol of the hammer bear witness to this, but also the fact
that he is placed by the side of Jupiter, since Jupiter's day is
rendered by Thor's day. An old Low-German baptismal formula begins as
and all offerings to the devil
and all the works of the devil?"
"I renounce all the devil's works and words,
Thunar and Woden and Saxnot and all the
Trolls which are worshiped here."
Thor, Odin, and "Saxnot" (the one armed with the sword) are precisely the three chief gods who are most often named in Norse sources, provided we can identify Saxnot with Frey. It is at the same time not solely the significance of the name and the hammer-symbol, or the testimony of rune stones, which tell us about the extent of the worship of Thor. The same testimony recurs in names of persons and places, in which we find Thor in overwhelming abundance, compared with Odin and Frey. Where heathen temples are mentioned, statues of the chief gods in them are sometimes named, and in that case Thor's name ordinarily comes first, as in the baptismal formula above. Most often a temple of Thor only is mentioned, or a representation of Thor alone. The Yule-offering, the chief offering of our heathen forefathers, was consecrated to Thor, and Thor's day appears as the most important week-day in all legal questions; the court was opened on a Thursday, and Thursday is the most common court day even now. Norwegian-Icelandic poetry itself gives here and there unmistakable evidence of Thor's prominent position.
2. Mithgarth's Keeper. The Volva's Prophecy in its description of Ragnarok in the verse cited calls Thor, as Mithgarth's Keeper,1 "Veurr." Veurr, related to the Danish word vie, 'to consecrate,' and to Ve, 'sanctuary,' signifies protector and consecrator, and Mithgarth is certainly the land of human beings. Other poets call him Friend of Human Kind or Defender of the Race, and he occupies a similar position even among the gods, who constantly seek protection through his strength even if Odin or Frey is present. Therefore he is called Asa-bragr, the most prominent of Aesir. Thor is consecrator and protector of all human life; he thereby becomes the protecting divinity not merely of the individual man, but also of the home and the state. He is the great god of civilization, with the strongest and mightiest powers at his command, the lightning the hammer, i.e. the thunderbolt which crushes and splinters whatever offers resistance (desolate nature in giant forms) but which also brings with it fruit-producing rain.
3. Characteristics of Thor. People most often picture Thor to themselves as a strong middle-aged man, rarely a young man, but in both cases he has a glowing red beard. lie is tremendously strong; his flaming glance is enough to terrify any one, and he is dreadful in his wrath, but under ordinary circumstances lie is gracious and mild. When he, in his wagon drawn by he-goats, drives over the sky, this is in flames and the mountains tremble or burst in the thunder's crash. The modern Danish Torden, 'thunder,' means 'Thor-rumbling,' like the older Danish form; the Swedes say aska, the word being a contraction of as-eka, 'driving of As.'
To Thor's name there are attached a number of myths or divine traditions, and of these we shall now recount the most important.
4. The God's Treasures. Of the origin of the god's treasures, Snorri relates the following: Loki had once from malice cut off the hair of Thor's wife Sif. When Thor became aware of it, he wanted to crush every hone in Loki's body; but the latter promised to get golden hair from the dark elves for Sif in compensation. He applied therefore to the dwarfs, who are called the sons of Ivaldi, and they upon his demand made hair for Sif, the spear Gungnir which Odin received, and the ship Skithblathnir which could sail over both sea and land hut could also be folded together and carried in a pouch, in case one preferred. This good ship Frey received. After that Loki wagered with a dwarf Brok, staking his head that the latter's brother Sindri could not complete three equally good treasures. Brok plied the bellows and Sindri forged, and although Loki in the form of a gadfly three times stung the one plying the bellows and forced him to stop a moment, Sindri notwithstanding finished the three great pieces of work: the boar Gullinbursti, the ring Draupnir, and the hammer Mjolnir. Loki with his stings accomplished only this, that the hammer handle remained a little too short. The wager was to be settled in Asgarth. Thor took the hammer, Odin the ring, and Frey the boar, after which these three gods were to pronounce judgment. The hammer decided the matter, and Loki was now to lose his head. He ordered Brok to take it, but the neck must not be touched, since the wager applied only to the head itself. In exasperation, the dwarf then sewed Loki's wily mouth together.
5. The Hammer is Recovered. One of the oldest Eddic Songs relates how Thor lost his hammer and recovered it. Angry awoke Ving-Thor and missed his hammer; his beard and hair shook; the son of Jorth groped around, hut the hammer was lost and could not he found. Loki, to whom the god of thunder describes his loss, borrows Frey's feather garment and flies over to the king of the giants, Thrym. The latter admits having concealed the hammer deep in the earth, and he will not give it hack unless Freyja is brought to him as his bride. Loki flew back and the demand of the king of the giants was communicated to the goddess of love, but
Wroth grew Freyja, and she fumed,
all the Aesir's hall trembled therefrom,
there bursts that great Brisinga chain 2;
Thou knowst me to be most mad for men,
if I drive with thee to Jotunheim."
The Aesir and Asynjur, 'goddesses,' assembled for deliberation at the court to consider how the hammer could be regained. Heimdall solves the problem: "Let us bind bridal linen about Thor and give him the great Brisinga ornament to put on; keys shall rattle at his girdle, women's garments fall about his knees, head and breast be decked in woman's fashion." Thor must submit to the hard necessity, for the giants will take possession of Asgarth if he does not regain the hammer. Loki, Laufey's son, also dresses in women's clothes, so as to follow Thor as his maid upon the strange bridal journey.
Soon were the goats driven homeward,
hurried to the traces, they must run well;
mountains burst, earth burned with fire,
Odin's son drove into Jotunheim.
In Jotunheim there is prepared a splendid bridal feast, but Thor is ill adapted to the bride's part. At first his ability to eat and drink awakens amazement, nay, almost terror, in Thrym; and when the bridegroom lifts the veil to kiss his bride, he darts back terror-stricken the length of the hall, for Freyja's eyes are sharp and shine like fire. The artful bridesmaid meantime comforts him with assurance that the goddess's appetite and piercing glances were due only to her yearning for the bridegroom, since she had neither eaten nor slept in eight days.
Then quoth Thrym the giants' chief:
Bear in the hammer to bless the bride!
Mjolnir place on the maiden's knees,
bless and join us by the hand of Varr.
Now comes the hour of reparation and vengeance for Asgarth's mighty god:
Laughed Hlorrithi's heart within his breast,
when he, hard-hearted, the hammer perceived;
Thrym he slew first, the giants' chief,
and the giant's race all he crushed.
The wretched sister of the giant had begged for a bridal gift; she received a hammer-blow instead of golden rings. After this the thunder-god returned to Asgarth with his recovered weapon.
The same theme is treated in a jesting manner in the ancient Danish ballad about Tor of Havsgaard. Tor of Haysgaard rides over green meadows and loses his golden hammer. Lokke Lojemand (jester) puts on the feather cloak and seeks out the Tossegreve, 'foolish count,' who has hidden the hammer and will not give it back unless he gets "Jomfru Fredensborg (Miss Peacecastle) with all the goods she has." After this, Tor and Lokke, as in the Eddic Song, must put on women's clothes and proceed to the Tossegreve's land. Tor's appetite in the ancient ballad is quite astonishing he ate a whole ox and thirty hams; no wonder that he was thirsty after that! But when the hammer was brought in, it was evident that he could use it, and the Tossegreve with all his tribe were crushed. The ballad ends thus:
Lokke said this, crafty man,
he did consider it well:
Now we will fare to our own land,
as the bride has become a widow.
6. Hymir's Kettle. Thor one time, relates the Lay of Hymir, had to go to the giant Hymir for a great kettle which was to be used at a feast for the gods at the home of the sea-god Aegir. lie sets out together with Tyr, and they reach the giant's dwelling. The latter does not come home until towards night, and is much offended both at his guests and at Thor's appetite. The following morning Thor goes out with the giant to fish. The god demands bait of the ferocious giant, who asks him to look out for it himself. Thor then wrenches the head from one of the giant's black oxen, after which they begin to row. Hymir is frightened at Thor's violent strokes and objects to keeping on for fear of coming upon the Mithgarth serpent. This, however, is exactly Thor's purpose, and while the giant is attending to his affairs, Thor makes the "Earth-Encircler" swallow the hook and draws his head up to the surface of the sea. At the same moment when he wishes to crush his skull the terror-stricken giant cuts the line and the monster sinks back safe upon the bottom of the sea. This adventure has again and again inspired our forefathers. One of the very oldest Scalds gives a graphic picture of how the "Earth-Encircler," like a wildly floundering eel, gazes defiantly from the depths below up at the "Cleaver of the Giant's Skull," who is only waiting to give him the fatal blow (cf. Fig. 19).
Fig. 19 Thor's Fishing.
In Snorri, Thor in his godlike strength breaks through the planks of the boat until he gets a footing on the bottom of the sea. As the giant has hindered him in his purpose, Thor hurls his hammer after the serpent and chastises the giant with a frightful box on the ear, after which he himself wades ashore. The poem on the other hand has them both turn back together, just as they went out. Thor, however, may not now obtain the kettle until he can further prove his strength by crushing the giant's beaker. That does not break until the god hurls it against the owner's own skull, after which he snatches the kettle and carries it from the court, pursued by the giant's hosts, which he crushes with his hammer.
7. Hrungnir. The myth of Thor and Hrungnir has been very widespread and popular, and the Scalds often alluded to it; but in connected form it is preserved only in Snorri. Once when Thor was in the East in order to crush the trolls, Odin seated himself upon Sleipnir and rode to Jotunheim. Here he met the giant Hrungnir, who boasted that his steed Gullfaxi was far better than Odin's. Odin rode back to Asgarth, but the giant followed him even into the dwelling of the gods. Now drink was borne before him, but when his boasting become too arrogant, the gods called upon Thor, who quickly appeared and was on the point of crushing the giant. The latter intimated that it was only a slight honor to slay a defenseless foe; he must rather meet him in a duel at the frontier, where Hrungnir would then appear with shield and grindstone. Such a challenge Thor did not allow to be offered twice, and the giant went away satisfied. As help for him the other giants built now a champion of clay, nine rasts high, and three rasts broad between the shoulders. He was called Mokkrkalfi, and he had a mare's heart in his breast; Hrungnir's heart was a three-cornered stone. At the appointed time Thor made his appearance, attended by Thialfi. The giant stood with the shield before him and the grindstone in his hand. At the same time Thialfi went forward and called to him that Thor was coming from below, after which Hrungnir stepped upon his shield and grasped the grindstone with both hands. Thor meanwhile went forward through the air amidst lightning and crash of thunder. The grindstone and hammer were hurled at the same time and met midway; Mjolnir holds its course and crushes the giant, hut half of the stone strikes Thor in the forehead so that he falls to the ground in such a way that the giant's foot lies across his neck. Thialfi strove with the clay giant, who trembled with fear and fell with little glory. Meanwhile no one could lift the giant's leg away, until Thor's three-year-old son Magni came up; he then received Gullfaxi as a reward for his strength, although Odin himself had meant to have that good steed.
When Thor came back to Thruthvang, the healing woman, Groa, was brought, who recited magic songs over him until the stone began to sway in his forehead. Snorri adds that it did not, however, get completely loose, for Thor told Groa that her husband, Orvandil, was coming home presently. Thor had borne him on his back in a basket over the poisonous streams on the return journey from Jotunheim. One of his toes, however, was frozen off, and Thor had cast it up to heaven and made it into a star. But Groa became so joyful at this information that she forgot her witchcraft.
8. Geirroth. Loki had once been caught by the giant Geirroth, to whose court he had from curiosity betaken himself in Frigg's falcon cloak. In order to get free he had to promise to bring Thor to Geirroth without his hammer or his strength-belt. In this the artful Loki was easily successful, but on the way Thor visited the giantess Grith, Vithar's mother. She instructed him about Geirroth and lent him at parting her strength-belt, her iron gloves, and her staff. Thor came first to a brook in which one of the giant's daughters had occasioned an inundation. He slew her and escaped to land by drawing himself up into a mountain ash. In Geirroth's hall there was only one chair, and it went up quickly as far as the ceiling when Thor seated himself upon it. He then pressed against it with Grith's staff and pushed with all his might, after which there was heard a great roar, for the giant's daughters had been under the chair and lay there now with broken backs. On the floor there was kindled a great fire, beside which people took their seats. Geirroth then seized a glowing iron wedge and cast it at Thor, who caught it with the borrowed gloves, after which the giant hid himself in terror behind a mighty iron pillar. Thor now hurled the wedge with such force that it pierced through the pillar and Geirroth also, and went out through the wall on the opposite side. The main source of this myth is the obscure Scaldic lay Thorsdrapa, which is retold by Snorri.
9. Thor's Journey to Utgarth. In Snorri is also found the late adventure of Thor's journey to Utgarth, which probably is the best known. This tale attained great celebrity after Oehlenschlaeger made use of it as the basis for his poem, "Thor's Journey to Jotunheim," 3 the introduction to "Gods of the North."4 Snorri's long account is a free and fanciful transformation of a whole series of Thor-myths now for the most part lost.
a. Thor gets Thialfi and Roskva from the peasant (Egil).
b. The meeting with Skrymir (the gloves, lunch bag, Thor's hammer-thrust.
c. Utgarthaloki (the eating test and the race. Thor drinks from the sea, lifts the Mithgarth serpent, and wrestles with Elli, i.e. Old Age).
d. The optical illusion is removed and Thor wishes to take vengeance, but without success.
10. Alvis. An entirely characteristic but not very transparent myth lies also at the basis of the Eddic Song of Alvis. Alvis is a dwarf who, without its being evident wherefore and from whom, has received the promise of Thor's daughter. He now comes to take her, but is addressed with scornful words by Thor. The dwarf does not know him and asks him to mind his own business; only when he is informed who Thor is does he become humble and tell his errand. Thor, however, will not give him his daughter unless he can answer all questions in accordance with his name, "The All-wise." Now the interrogation begins, Thor asking the dwarf how different things, e.g. the sun, moon, earth, are named by gods, elves, dwarfs, giants, and other mythical beings. The dwarf is remarkably well informed but does not give heed to the time; he is overtaken by the day and turned to stone before the beams of the rising sun.
11. Thor-Faith long Prevalent. When the vigorous priest Tangbrand preached Christianity in Iceland, he once fell into conversation with a heathen woman, who said to him, "Have you heard that Thor challenged Christ to a holm-going (duel fought on a holmr, 'islet'), but Christ dared not contend with Thor?" This tale is significant as to our fathers' first view of the new doctrine, and it really proved that the old ideas were preserved among the people long after the introduction of Christianity. It was especially difficult to eradicate the faith in the protecting and consecrating virtue of Thor and his hammer. The sign of the hammer and the sign of the cross were confused, indeed were even placed side by side as sacred symbols in Christian churches (Fig. 20). In Norway, strange to say, the common people transferred not a few of Thor's qualities to Saint Olaf. From the Norwegian peasant's King Olaf, with flaming red beard and with ax in hand, the sorcerer's hitter foe, to the red-bearded thunder-god with the hammer, who crushes the giants' and mountain giants' skulls, is a leap not nearly so great as one at the first glance might think. But with the Christian priests, Thor and Odin naturally stood as the worst among all the evil beings of the heathen days; for them Christ and Thor are as incompatible as good and evil. It is this contrast which Oehlenschlaeger firings out in the famous conclusion of the third act of "Hakon Jarl":
OLAF. Heaven will strike thee with its flames!
HAKON. Thor shall splinter the cross with his hammer!
Fig. 20 Figure of Thor (?)
1. Worship of Odin. Together with Tyr and Thor as well as the goddess Frija ('the beloved,' Mother Earth), Odin is a common Germanic divinity, and this can be proved also by philology. Tyr's original significance as the ancient god of heaven is, in the North, completely obscured; the sources relate nothing particular about him beyond that which is stated in the foregoing. Odin's name signifies "the one blowing," and the relation here is quite the same as in the case of Thor; a single side of the god of heaven is thought of as a person and an independent divinity. Odin's worship is, as we have already remarked, somewhat young in the Northern lands; but since it permeates all Norse-Icelandic poetry, we must now look a little more closely at Odin's divinity and the myths which are attached to him.
2. Odin's Appearance and Surroundings. Odin is thought of as an old, tall, one-eyed man with a long beard, broad hat, and an ample blue or parti-colored cloak. On his arm he wears the ring Draupnir, on his shoulders sit the ravens Huginn and Muninn, 'Thought' and 'Memory,' and at his feet lie the two wolves, Geri and Freki, 'Greedy' and 'Eager.' Ordinarily he is armed with the spear Gungnir, and rides upon Sleipnir (he has many other horses; among them the war-horse Blothoghofi), and he often travels as a wanderer around the world with staff in hand.
Odin's Names. If we sum up all of Odin's names in poetry, we have more than two hundred; the most of them signify one or another characteristic of the god: All-father, the Blustering, the Changeable, the Stormer, the Wanderer, the Traveler, the Gray-bearded, the Bushy-browed, the Helmet-bearer, the Great Hat, Valfathir, 'Father of the Slain,' Herfathir, 'Father of Armies,' King of Victory, King of Spears, the Terrifier, God of Burdens, Fimbultyr ('Mighty God'), God of the Hanged, and Lord of Spirits (i.e. ghosts). From these examples alone it will appear that Norwegian-Icelandic poetry represents Odin as the world's chief divinity. But the clearest picture of him is that of God of Wisdom and the Art of Poetry, and in theories about Valhalla, as God of War.
3. Odin, God of Wisdom. First of all Odin acquired his wisdom by personal investigation: he traveled through all countries and had wide experience. But in other ways also he gained information, for the ravens fly every morning out over all the world and bring tidings back with them, and in heaven there is besides his castle Valaskjalf or Valhalla also a place Hlithskjalf, a castle or simply a high seat, from which Odin can look out over the whole world. We have already heard what sacrifice Odin was obliged to make in order to increase his knowledge at the time when he had to pledge one of his eyes to obtain a drink from Mimir's well of wisdom.
4. Vafthruthnir. In the Eddic Songs about Vafthruthnir, Odin is described as the most prominent God of Wisdom. Odin is speaking with Frigg; he has a desire to visit the wise giant Vafthruthnir, to test his sagacity. Frigg advises him to remain at home, but Odin answers:
I have journeyed much, attempted much,
I have tested oft the powers;
this I wish to know how Vafthruthnir's
household may be.
He departs, accompanied by Frigg's best wishes, and comes to the giant's hall, where, under the name of Wanderer, he challenges the latter to a contest of wisdom. First of all Odin, standing, answers the giant's question about the steeds of day and night, the boundary river Ifing between the countries of gods and giants, and the plain Vigrith. Then quoth Vafthruthnir:
Wise now thou art, oh guest, pass to the giant's bench
and let ns talk on the seat together!
Wager our heads shall we two in the hall,
oh guest, upon our wisdom.
After that the song rehearses a number of the main points of the belief in the gods in questions on Odin's part; hut the giant never hesitates about an answer, until the god asks him, "What did Odin say in Baldur's ear before he was borne upon the pyre?" Then Vafthruthnir understands with whom he has engaged in contest.
No man knows this, what thou in early days
didst say in thy son's ear:
With fated lips I uttered ancient lore
and of the downfall of the gods.
5. Grimnir. There was once a king by name Hrauthung, who had two sons, Agnar and Geirroth, of whom the first was ten, the second eight winters old. These two rowed out with a boat to fish, but the wind drove them off over the sea, and in the darkness of the night they were stranded upon a foreign shore. Here a man and woman met them and cared for them during the winter. The peasant (the man) took charge of Geirroth and gave him good counsel, while his wife preferred Agnar. In the spring they went away in a boat, but the peasant whispered something first to his foster-son. When the boys came to their father's anchoring ground, Geirroth sprang quickly ashore, thrust the boat out again, and called out to his brother, "To the Trolls with thee!" after which the boat again drove out upon the sea, while Geirroth went up to the royal castle and later became an illustrious prince. The foster-parents were, however, not poor people, but Odin and Frigg. Now, as they were sitting one time in Hlithskjalf, Odin taunted his wife on account of Agnar and his fortune, to which she answered that Geirroth was, to be sure, a king, but he was so niggardly about food that he tormented his guests in case too many came. Odin declared this to be untrue, as indeed it was, wagered upon his opinion, and set out in order to inquire into the matter for himself. But Frigg sent her maid to King Geirroth and warned him against a man versed in magic who was to come to his court and who could be known by this, that dogs did not dare to bite him. Soon afterward a man came in a blue cloak, and called himself Grimnir, "The Masked"; the dogs shrank back before him, wagging their tails, upon which the king gave orders to seize him and place him between two pyres so as to force him to say who lie was. There he sat eight nights. Then the king's ten-year-old son Agnar had pity on him and brought him a filled horn to drink. Grimnir drained it, while his cloak caught fire, after which he began to speak. Thus it is told in the prose introduction to the Sayings of Grimnir. The poem itself contains a number of disconnected names and myths, of which we shall quote a single one.
6. Saga. Odin is enumerating the dwellings of the gods. Here he says among other things:
Sokkvabekk the fourth is called, and there do cool waves
go rushing over;
there Odin and Saga drink every day,
cheerful from golden cups.
This Saga has been understood as a kind of Muse of History, since the name has been associated with the well-known words, "a saga." Philologists, however, have pointed out that this conception cannot be correct. Sokkvabekk should really be rendered 'Sinking Bench,' and Saga is doubtless a name for Frigg, according to which the myth is an allusion to the sunset, a poetic expression for the sun-god's meeting with Frigg, when the sun every day sinks below the horizon westward into the sea.
Frija, Frea in the Norse language, grew into Frigg, one of the few Germanic female divinities that can be pointed out. Originally she was married to the god of heaven TiwaR, but when Odin supplanted him he came into possession of his maid and his wife. Furthermore, in Norse mythology, she is readily confused with Freyja, for which reason it is difficult to determine which myth concerns the one or the other. It is most likely that Freyja, 'the Ruling One,' was only an epithet of the queen of heaven and was later made into a new divine being. Of the other names of the queen of the gods can be mentioned Jorth, Fjorgyn, Hlothyn. Friday means originally Frigg's day, just as the constellation Orion was first called Frigg's, but later Freyja's, Spinning-wheel.
7. Gefjon. Probably Gefjon also is originally from one of Frigg's names. In the Eddic Song Lokasenna (the Loki Quarrel), Odin says that Gefjon knows the destiny of the world as well as he himself. Far better known, however, is Snorri's account of Gefjon and Gylfi. King Gylfi in Sweden gave her as much land as she could plow about in one day with four oxen. She brought her four giant sons and transformed them into plow oxen, but this team plowed so deep that the land was loosened, whereupon the oxen drew it out westward into the sea. It is now called Zealand, and the headlands correspond to the inlets of the sea which remained behind in Sweden, where the land had been.
8. The Mead of the Scalds. The myth about Odin acquiring the Mead of the Scalds has, briefly, the following content: Scaldship (poetry) is represented as an inspiring drink; he who partakes of it is a Scald. It was kept at the home of the giants, where Gunnloth guarded it. Odin makes his way through all hindrances, gains Gunnloth's affection, and gets permission to enjoy the drink. He then carries it up to the upper world and gives it to men.
In the oldest and purest form the myth appears in the Eddic poem, Havamal: "The man must be gifted in speech who wishes to know much and to attain anything in the world. This I (i.e. Odin) proved at the home of the giants; it was not by keeping silent that I made progress in Suttung's hall. I allowed the auger's mouth to break me a path between the gray stones. The giants were going both over and under, so it was by no means without danger."
Gunnloth gave me on the golden seat
a drink of the precious mead;
ill return I later let her have
(for her faithful heart)
for her troubled mind.
Her well-gained beauty have I much enjoyed,
little is lacking to the wise;
since Othrerir is now come up
to verge of men's abode.
Doubt is in me if I had come again
out of the giant's court,
if of Gunnloth I had had no joy,
that goodly maid who laid her arm about me.
The day thereafter the frost-giants went
(to ask of Har's condition)
into the hall of Har;
for Bolverk they inquired if he to the gods had come or had Suttung him destroyed?
A ring-oath, Odin, I think, has sworn:
who shall trust his good faith?
to Suttung deceived he forbade the drink
and he made Gunnloth weep.
Snorri's account embraces the following essential points:
a. After the truce between the Aesir and the Vanir, each of them spat into a vessel, and from this fluid they made, as a token of peace, the man Kvasir, who was very wise. Kvasir was slain by two giants, Fjalar and Galar, who caught his blood in the kettle Othrerir and two vessels. The blood they mixed with honey, and from this arose the mead of the Scalds.
b. The two giants now invited another giant, Gilling, and his wife to come to them. Gilling was drowned while on a sailing party, and when his wife grieved about it they slew her. The son, Suttung, wanted to take vengeance for his parents, but agreed to accept the mead of the Scalds as compensation, and set his daughter, Gunnloth, to guard it within the mountain.
c. When Odin set out to gain the mead he came first to a field where nine slaves were mowing grass; these were Baugi's, Suttung's brother's men. Odin offered to whet their scythes, and the whetstone was so excellent that they all wanted to buy it. The god then cast it up into the air, but all were so eager to grasp it that they killed each other in the attempt. After that Odin, who called himself Bolverk, proposed to Baugi that he carry on the work of the slaves with this as reward, that he receive a draught of Suttung's mead. To this Baugi agreed.
d. When the time for work was at an end Suttung, however, refused to fulfill his brother's promise, but Bolverk thus took advantage of the fraud: he gave Baugi an auger and made him bore into the mountain where the drink was hidden. It was not long before Baugi declared that the hole was through; but when Bolverk blew, he got chips in his face, and the crafty Baugi had to bore again until the chips flew inward. Now Bolverk proceeded into the mountain in the form of a serpent, won Gunnloth's love, and received the promise of a drink of the mead for each of the three nights he was there. He drained then in three draughts both the kettle and the vessels and flew in an eagle's form toward Asgarth.
e. Suttung discovered this and pursued him, likewise in eagle's form. When they drew near to Asgarth the gods set out their vessel so that Odin might spit out the mead into it, but the giant was close upon him and some of the mead then went the wrong way; this, which the gods did not collect, became the portion of the rhymsters and the poor Scalds.
REMARK. Othrerir was perhaps at first the name for the mead of the Scalds itself.
9. Runes. The old world "rún" signifies mystery, secrecy. It was not long before the runes themselves at first certain of them, later all of them were interpreted as magic signs, and faith in the mighty runes has long been maintained in popular belief and in poetry (cf. old Danish ballads). No wonder, then, that the discovery of runes was ascribed to Odin himself. This is distinctly told in several Eddic songs, but the real meaning is difficult to discover.
Odin is then also the god of all sorcery, wherefore he is called galdrs fathur, 'Father of Magic Song,' and by the later Christian church in the North was regarded as the worst of the evil beings whom the heathen worshiped.
In the "Heimskringla" an account is given of how Odin, as an old one-eyed man, with his broad hat, came to King Olaf Tryggvason when the latter was at a feast at court. He talked long and shrewdly with the king and was surprisingly well acquainted with old traditions, with which he entertained the king even after the latter had gone to bed. At his departure he gave the steward fat horse-shoulders to roast for the king. In due time, however, the old man's deception was discovered.
10. Odin as God of Battle. "As god of war and battle Odin enters into the life of men. War is his work; he arouses it. He incites kings and earls against each other. The warriors are driven by a higher spirit. This he fosters by teaching his favorites new means of conquering, and he himself mingles in the battle to help them or bring them to himself (Harald Hildetann). All those who die in arms belong to him. He gathers only nobles about him, so that there can still be heroes when the last great battle is at hand."
Of Valhalla, the Valkyrs and Einherjar an account has already been given.
1. Worship of Frey. The third chief divinity among the people of the North, about whose worship we have definite information, is Frey, who, however, cannot with certainty be pointed out as a general-Germanic divinity and whose nature and origin therefore are difficult to determine. The name signifies The Ruling One. The corresponding feminine form is Freyja, 'The Mistress,' whose name heretofore was preserved in Danish in the word Husfrǿ, which later through German influence became Husfru and after that was changed to Hustru, 'wife.' The general mythological details about Frey have been given above, where too his significance as the supposed ancestor of the Swedish race of kings is indicated. The Ynglings in Sweden descend, according to an old Scaldic lay, from Yngvi-Frey. Through this name we can perhaps trace a. connection with Germany, since the Latin historian Tacitus in his Germania names three chief Germanic races, of which one was the Ingvaeones. In any case Frey is originally a variation of the god of light and heaven. He himself is called The Shining One, God of the World, and Chief of the Gods. He lives in Alfheim; his boar is called Gullinbursti, 'golden bristles,' his attendant Skirnir, 'Maker of Brightness,' and he is in possession of treasures which only the most prominent god can own.
According to the Volva's Prophecy he contends in Ragnarok with Surt. There he is called Beli's Blond Destroyer. Beli is brother of the giantess Gerth and one of the finest of the Eddic poems, Skirnismal, Skirnir's Journey,'6 deals with Frey's love for Gerth.
2. Skirnir's Journey. Skirnir is Frey's attendant but also his friend from youth up. Wherefore he is quite accustomed to being the god's confidant. One time something was troubling Frey, for he seated himself apart without wishing to speak with any one. Skathi then bade Skirnir ascertain what had awakened the strong god's wrath, and Frey answered:
In Gymir's court I saw walking
a maiden dear to me;
her arms shone and from them too
the air and all the sea.
A maid dearer to me than maid to any man
youthful in early days;
of Aesir and of elves this no one wishes
that we should be together.
In the prose introduction to the poem it is related that Frey had seated himself in Hlithskjalf and had looked out over all the world. He had also cast eyes upon the fair Gerth, daughter of the giant Gymir.
Skirnir offers now to ride to Jotunheim as a suitor for his friend, provided the latter will lend him the steed which will bear him most safely through the dark, flaming magic fires, and the sword which swings itself against giants and trolls. This is done, and after a dangerous and intricate ride the swift Skirnir stands in Gymir's hall in conversation with Gerth. Without circumlocution he tells his errand; first he promises her eleven golden apples, next, the ring Draupnir, provided that she will give Frey her love. He is however refused on both scores, for "gold is cheap in Gymir's court; I have the disposition of my father's wealth." Then Skirnir resorts to threats: he will strike her father down and slay her with the rune-written sword; with the magic wand he will subdue her and send her as booty to the cruel troll-people of the underworld.
Wroth with thee is Odin, wroth the most excellent of gods,
thee shall Frey hate;
Most evil maid! (thou) who hast attained
the gods' ferocious wrath.
Hear ye giants, hear, frost-giants,
ye, Suttung's sons,
(ye gods too)
how I forbid, how I deny
to the maid the joy of men
to the maid the pleasure of men.
The maid who can reject the bright, beaming god's affection shall be punished by becoming Hrimgrimnir's bride down in the death-realm. Thither shall she totter every day, broken in will and without volition, partake of the most loathsome food and live her life under the most gruesome conditions. Not until now does the stubborn maid submit, terror-stricken.38
Hail (now rather), youth! and take the crystal cup
full of ancient mead;
vet I have ne'er believed that e'er I should
love well a Vanir's son.
But Skirnir wishes to have full information and Gerth answers then that in nine nights, in the grove Barri, she will celebrate her bridal with Frey. Then Skirnir rides back to the latter and tells him the result of his journey. The poem ends with Frey's declaration of his inexpressible longing for the bride.
3. Frey-Njorth. It is well understood that there is a definite connection between Yngvi-Frey, Freyja, and Njorth, but the original relation has not been successfully determined. Both Njorth and Frey in Norse mythology are gods of fruitfulness and have about the same characteristics. The most of these are found also in Freyja. Tacitus mentions in connection with a North German tribe a female divinity Nerthus, and with this name the Norse word Njorth exactly agrees as a masculine form. Upon on island in the ocean was her sacred grove, with a consecrated wagon which only the priest might touch. In this wagon drawn by cows, the goddess in solemn procession and amid the exultation of the people was led about on festal days. Then peace and joy prevailed. Before the goddess was taken back to the temple, the wagon, the garments, and the divinity herself were washed in the sacred lake.
REMARK. The tale about Hertha and her worship at Lejre (in Zealand) is only a late tradition which is founded on a perversion of Tacitus' account, and does not belong among the heathen beliefs.
1. Heimdall is a purely Norse divinity and must according to his name and peculiarities be, like Frey, a manifestation of the god of heaven and light, perhaps more definitely the god of the morning red, the day's gleam which shows itself at the horizon immediately before the rising of the sun. The name means "he who lights the world." His steed is called Gulltopp. An account has been given above of his dwelling and employment. The Volva's Prophecy begins with the following words:VSP. 1
Hear me all ye holy kindred,
greater and smaller, Heimdall's sons!
That men are here called Heimdall's sons is not necessarily an outcome of an ancient conception of Heimdall as supreme god. This expression comes rather from an Eddic song which is somewhat older than the Volva's Prophecy, in which the god, under the name of Rig, is represented as the ancestor of the different classes of society.
2. Rig is a Celtic word which means prince or king. Long ago the wise god, strong and active though advanced in years, wandered along green paths until he came to the hut in which great grandfather and grandmother, Ae and Edda, dwelt. He took a situation with them, gave them good advice, and partook of their heavy coarse bread and soup. He remained there three nights and sought rest between them. But nine months afterwards Edda bore a child, which was baptized with water and received the name Thraell. He had a furrowed skin, long hands, an ugly face, thick fingers, long heels, and a stooping back; but he became great and strong and capable for work. Later he married Thir, "a thrall," and from the two descended all the Thralls.
Rig wandered farther along the road and came to a hall which grandfather and grandmother, Afe and Amma, owned:
The couple sat there, were busy with their work;
the man was hewing there wood for a weaver's beam;
his beard was trimmed, a forelock on his brow,
shirt was close fitting, a chest was in the floor.
The woman sat there, turning her distaff,
stretched out her arms, made ready the cloth;
a coif was on her head, kerchief on her breast,
a scarf was at her neck, clasps upon her shoulders.
Filled dishes and cooked veal were set upon the table. Rig ate and remained there three nights, and nine months later Amma bore a son, who was baptized and called Karl.6 He tamed oxen, forged tools, built houses, and tilled the ground. His wife was called Snor, and their progeny was the race of free peasants.
Rig continued his wandering until he reached the hall of father and mother, with the door towards the south, a ring in the door-post, and the floor covered.
The householder sat twisting his bow-string,
Lending the elm-bow, fitting the arrows,
But the housewife was observing her arms,
stroking her dress, drawing tight her sleeves,
her cap set high, medallion on her breast,
had long trained-dress and bluish sark.
The mother laid a white-figured cloth upon the table and set on fine wheat bread.
She set dishes silver-plated on the table,
well browned bacon, roasted fowl;
wine was in the tankard, the cups were of line metal,
they drank and talked, the day was nearly done.
But afterwards mother bore a son who was swaddled in silk, baptized, and named Jarl. "Light were his curls, bright his cheeks, sharp as a serpent's his shining eyes." Jarl from childhood had practice in arms. Rig came to him, taught him runes, called him son, and gave him great riches. Erna became his wife, and they had many valiant sons, of whom the youngest was Kon ungi ('Kon the Young,' hence Konungr, the word for "king"). He was a glorious hero and vied with or surpassed Jarl both in arms and in shrewdness. Finally he set out for adventure in order to gain celebrity and a fair bride in Denmark. The poem consists here of incomplete fragments only, yet we hear that
The shaft he shook, he swung his shield,
his steed he urged, he drew his sword;
strife he did awake, the field he reddened,
warriors he felled, gained land in war.
The Lay of Rig contains undoubtedly a glorification of kingly power and is supposed to have been composed in Norway in praise of an absolute king (Harald Harfagri?7).
3. Baldur. The myth of Baldur, the most disputed of all the myths, is also distinctly Northern. Baldur is commonly understood to have arisen, like Frey and Heiman, from an embodiment of an original epithet of the old god of heaven. Bugge, on the contrary, maintains that the theories about Baldur are formed from a combination of Irish legends about Christ and misunderstood Greek and Roman tales. This view, however, encounters great difficulties, and strong opposition to it has arisen. (See Introduction.)
4. Two Baldur Myths. Besides allusions in several Eddic songs, we find the Baldur myth in various forms in Snorri and Saxo. Both in Denmark and elsewhere in the North, place-names are found and local traditions which are connected with Baldur. The plant-name "Baldur's brow" also is an evidence of the faith in this god.
The substance of the myth is the same in Snorri's and Saxo's representations: Baldur is a son of Odin and Frigg; he is slain by Hoth but is avenged by his brother. Hoth signifies "combat" and agrees closely with the form Hotherus in Saxo, who, however, calls the avenging brother Bous, the Vali of Icelandic sources. In Saxo the contest turns upon the princess Nanna, King Gevar's daughter, who is loved by the Shielding8 Hother, while with the Icelanders she is the god Baldur's wife, and Hoth is his blind brother. In Saxo there are preserved indistinct traits of the Valkyrs (the three Forest Maids) and of the murderous sword which is kept by the giant Miming. We must also remark that as Baldur is everywhere a son of Odin, the information about him must at all events be later than the rise of Odin faith and is therefore of comparatively late development.
5. Baldur's Dreams. In addition to all we have alluded to concerning Baldur in the preceding section we will now recount a few Icelandic myths about this god.
Since evil dreams had given warning of danger to Baldur's life, Odin rode upon Sleipnir down to Helheim to the burial place of a wise sibyl. With powerful incantations he conjured up the dead and asked her for news from the underworld; in return lie agreed to tell her about earth and heaven. He wants to know why such festal preparations are being made in the hall of Hel: the floor is spread with straw, the benches strewn with rings, and the wagons filled with clear drinks and covered with shields. The sibyl confirms his gloomy forebodings: it is Baldur's coming that they await. This is the chief content of the Eddic Song of Vegtam9; but the conclusion of the poem is incomplete and unintelligible.
6. Baldur's Funeral. The .Aesir took Baldur's body and carried it to the sea. Hringhorn was the name of Baldur's ship, the largest among all ships. The gods wished to push it out and make Baldur's funeral-pyre upon it, but the ship could not be moved. They then sent a messenger to Jotunheim for a sorceress who was named Hyrrokin. She came riding upon a wolf and had a viper for a bridle. Four Berserks were to guard the wolves, but they could not hold them until they had thrown them down. Hyrrokin went to the bow of the ship and pushed it out with the first thrust, so that fire went out from the rollers and the whole country trembled. At that Thor became wroth, grasped the hammer, and wanted to crush her head, but all the gods united in saving her by their intercession. Now Baldur's body was borne out upon the ship. When his wife Nanna saw this, her heart broke from grief and she was laid upon the pyre with her husband. Thor next stepped forward and consecrated the pyre with the hammer. A dwarf ran before his feet and Thor in his rage kicked him into the fire, where he was burned. Many gods and giants were present at the funeral. Odin laid the ring Draupnir on Baldur's breast, and the god's horse was led out with all his trappings.
7. Hermoth's Hel-Ride. After Baldur's death, Odin's son, Hermoth the Swift, took it upon himself at Frigg's request to ride down to Hel to beg release for Baldur. He saddled Sleipnir and rode nine nights and days through dark and deep dales; he could not see a hand before him, until he came to the river Gjoll and out upon Gjallar Bridge, which was covered with bright gold. Mothguth, was the name of the maid who watched the bridge. She asks him for his name and race and says that the day before there rode five companies of dead men over the bridge, "but not less does the bridge resound under you alone; you have not the color of dead men; why do you ride hither upon the Hel-road?" Hermoth asks if she has seen Baldur; she answers in the affirmative and shows him the way: "down towards the north goes the Hel-road." Now Hermoth rides farther, until he comes to Hel's grated gate. He dismounts from his horse, girds him fast, mounts again, gives him the spurs, and the horse leaps over without touching the gate at all. Then Hermoth rides on to the hall and goes in. He sees his brother Baldur sitting in the high seat, but remains there over night before he discharges his commission. At his departure Baldur sends gifts to Odin. How the test of weeping failed has already been told.
8. The Death-Realm. The narrative about Hermoth's Hel-ride deviates widely from Snorri's descriptions in various places of the realm of death and the goddess of death, but contains certainly an older and more original conception. Hel means "the concealing one." She is a queen and dwells in splendid halls which are decorated like a royal castle on earth, for the floors are strewn and the benches covered with carpets and expensive materials. Dead men (but neither those dead of disease nor cowards) ride to Hel in warlike hosts and all equipped, and their king takes his place on the high seat which is prepared for him. Conceptions of Hel as a place of punishment are not at all definitely indicated in the oldest poetry, yet on the contrary a Nifl-Hel is named "to which men die from Hel." The oldest belief seems to have comprehended three worlds (although the Volva's Prophecy tells of nine): the land of the Gods, the World of Men, and the Realm of the Dead (heaven, earth, and the underworld, possibly with a hint at a place of punishment, Nifl-hel). But when the Odin-cult and with that the belief in Valhalla first made its way into the popular consciousness, men thought that the brave went to Valfather, the cowardly, and those dead of disease to Hel. Then Hel became Loki's daughter and her realm a counterpart of Valhalla.
Hel, according to Snorri's representation, gained sway over nine worlds in Niflheim. Her kingdom is called Helheim, which is reached by the Hel-road, over the Gjallar Bridge, past the Hel-gate or death boundary. The Hel-hound, Garm, runs out of the Gnipa-cave. The death-goddess herself, horrible to behold, is upon her throne in the hall Eljuthnir, her maid is Gang-lot, her threshold is called "falling deceit" and her couch is the "bed of sickness." The word Hel is even now preserved in the Danish words ihjel, 'dead'; Helved, 'hell'; Helsot, 'fatal disease'; and Helhest, 'hell-steed.' Likewise the widespread superstition that the howling of dogs presages death is probably a half-extinct reminder of the Hel-hound.
1. Loki. We have now remaining one of the most enigmatic figures within the circle of Norse gods, the one who bears the name Asa-Loki, although it is often recorded that he originally belonged to the race of giants. Many explanations have been given of the meaning of the name, and just as many of the origin and meaning of the god himself. It is most probable that Loki signifies "the one closing, bringing to an end," and in order to understand his nature we will begin with his own words in the old lay, The Loki Quarrel:
Dost remember, Odin, when we in early days
did mingle blood together?
Taste ale you never would, you vowed,
unless 'twere borne to both.
Loki is accordingly Odin's foster-brother and in the most intimate and cordial relation to the chief divinity possible between two men. He has also many of Odin's noble qualities, but his temper is such that he is not capable of exercising them in the right way. He has sense and understanding like Odin, but they express themselves in bitter malice and fraudulent acts. He is as strong in merits as in faults, but the latter gain more and more control. Odin's foster-brother, Asa-Loki, must therefore become finally the worst enemy of gods and men, who also at Ragnarok takes a commanding position among the evil powers in the destruction. Hence he is endowed in the later mythological poetry with one evil trait after another. With Angrbotha he begets the frightful trio, and since he also occasions Baldur's death, it is with a certain right that he has been called the "devil of the North." On the basis of his relation with the storming heaven-god, Loki might properly be regarded also as the god of fire, and for this a strong argument may be found in the narratives about him. Fire is the benefactor of the human race, but also its merciless enemy. Thus Loki becomes the opposite of Heimdall, and with him he fights the last battle at the crisis of the gods, just as he previously at Singasten had fought with him for Freyja's necklace, Brisingamen.
2. Seizure of Ithun. One time the three Aesir, Odin, Hoenir, and Loki, traveled from home over fields and desolate lands where they could find no food. First, down in a valley, they found a herd of oxen, of which they killed one and sought to cook it over a fire; but the flesh would not become tender, however much they cooked it. This was caused by an eagle which was sitting in a tree above them, and which said it must have its full share of the ox should the cooking succeed. The gods promised this, but when the meat was cooked the eagle took both thigh and shoulder for his part. In exasperation at this, Loki thrust at him with a rod, but the rod remained fast in his body and Loki was unable to loose his hold on the other end. The eagle flew rapidly and high; Loki's limbs were almost torn from him before lie yielded. It was the giant Thiazzi in eagle's form who had borne him away. For his freedom he was now obliged to promise to entice away Ithun with the Aesir's old-age remedy (the Apples), so that the giant could seize her. At the time agreed upon Loki coaxed Ithun out into the wood with her apples, in order that she might compare them with some others that he claimed to have found. The giant then came up in eagle's form and flew away with Ithun.
But when Ithun was away the Aesir soon turned gray. Ithun was last seen together with Loki, and the latter in order to save his life had to confess everything and promise to restore the goddess to Asgarth. In Freyna's falcon-cloak he flew rapidly to Jotunhehn, found Ithun at home alone, transformed her into a nut, and flew away with her in his claws. Shortly afterwards Thiazzi came back and missed Ithun. In eagle's form he pursued the robber, who, however, escaped over Asgarth's walls, behind which the gods had kindled a great fire. With scorched wings, Thiazzi sank to the earth when he could not stop his mad flight, and was slain by Thor.
3. Skathi in Asgarth. Thiazzi's daughter Skathi now put on full equipment and proceeded to Asgarth to take vengeance for her father. Meanwhile, to reconcile her, the gods offered to allow her to choose for herself a husband from their number; but she was to choose according to the feet alone, for the body and head she was not allowed to see. She chose then a man with very handsome feet, in the belief that it was Baldur, but it proved to be Njorth. Their experience has already been related. Skathi was even now not satisfied and demanded that the gods should make her laugh. No one was able to do this but Loki, at whose wanton jests she could not keep serious. As additional penalty Odin (or Thor) took her father's eyes and cast them upward to heaven, where they were transformed into stars.
4. Loki Scoffs at the Gods. Loki's worst offense was this, that he caused Baldur's death; but as we have seen, he had time and again defied the gods before. He offered them the greatest disdain at the feast which the sea-giant Aegir instituted for the Aesir and for which Thor had brought the great kettle from Hymir. All the gods and goddesses were present with the exception of Thor, and Loki also took part in the feast. Aegir's two servants received much praise for their swiftness, but Loki was provoked at this and struck one of them dead, after which he was driven out. Some time afterwards, however, he returned to the hall and now began to scoff at the gods and goddesses, the first with mockery and sarcasm, the latter with venomous words in which he charged them with a lack of chastity. Some sought to quiet him, others retorted, but all in vain. He stood there in the midst of the hall as the Aesir's evil conscience. To be sure, he exaggerated strongly; but there was a grain of truth in all he said, and therefore they all sat there well-nigh distracted. At last Sif, Thor's wife, became the object of his scoffing. Then they called on Thor, and the strong god stood there in the hall brandishing his strength-hammer; three times Loki ventured to defy Vingthor, but when the latter the fourth time threatened him with death, he fled:
I spoke before Aesir, spoke before Aesir's sons,
that which my mind did prompt me;
but before thee alone, shall I go out
since I know that thou dost strike.
Such is the main content of the Edda-song of Loki's Quarrel (Lokasenna).
1 Or Defender.
3 Tors Rejse til Jotunheim.
4 Nor dens Guder.
5 Indicated by the title For Skirnis often used.
6 Free man.
7 Harald Fairhair, king of Norway, 860-933.
8 Shieldings. Icel. skjoldungar, litt 'sons of Skjold,' came to mean 'princes,' 'kings.'' Heathen kings of Denmark were meant.