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Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:40:13 PM »

The heroic poems of the Edda show that heroic women of
mortal birth were regarded by the poets as Valkyries and
dowered with supernatural power. Brynhild, daughter of
Budli, is either confused with a Valkyrie of that name, or herself
regarded as one. Oddrun bids her wear the helmet and say
that she will be a Wish-maid, but she is described in human
terms. She is the c victory-bringer ’ ( sigrdrifa ), a word re-
garded as a proper name, that of a Valkyrie different from Bryn-
hild. She rides her horse Vingskornir and wears helmet and
coat-of-mail . 18 Svava, daughter of king Eylimi, is called a
Valkyrie, one of nine whom Helgi sees riding. She gives him
his name and tells him where to find a superb sword . 19 Sigrun,
daughter of king Hogni, is a third human Valkyrie. Helgi saw
the Valkyries coming and addressed Sigrun, here called £ the
southern Dis,’ and in the sequel married her . 20 According to the
poet, Sigrun was reborn as the Valkyrie Kara . 21 The epithets
applied to these heroines are those which would be applied to
supernatural Valkyries — c white,’ ‘fair, with helmed head,’
1 bright in corslet,’ ‘ sun-bright,’ ‘ with clear, brilliant hue,’



4 gold-decked / 4 richly decked with gold.’ Sometimes Valkyries
are characterized as coming from or belonging to the South —
suthronn , droser suthronar , 4 southern women,’ Diser suthronar ,
and this is true of Sigrun . 22

These heroine Valkyries shield their favourites in battle, pro-
tect their ships, and bring ill to their foes. Brynhild also taught
magic runes to Sigurd.

Were beings like Valkyries known in other parts of the Teu-
tonic area? The Idisi of the Merseburg charm (South Ger-
many) correspond to the Disir among whom Valkyries were in-
cluded. The charm says that the Idisi sat down. Some fastened
bonds, presumably on enemy prisoners. Some held back the
host, perhaps by magic or by taking part in the fight. Some
tugged at the fetters, i.e., of prisoners whom they favoured. By
repeating this charm, which must refer to some myth about the
Idisi and their actions, and by adding: 4 Leap forth from the
bonds, escape the enemy,’ fetters were supposed to be unloosed.
The actions of the Idisi correspond to some degree to what un-
derlies the names of certain Valkyries, viz., Hlok, if this means
4 Fetter,’ and Herfjotur , 4 Fetter of the host,’ or perhaps 4 panic
terror,’ such as is indicated by the ON word herjjoturr , thus
holding back the enemy by terror. In the Hardar-saga it is
said that 4 over Hord the her] jot is come,’ but he got rid of this
4 magic band ’ ( galdraband ) on two occasions. On the third he
was overcome by it and slain. The Sturlunga-saga gives several
examples of this palsying terror, followed by death. Herjj qturr
or panic terror befell men in battle or seeking security in flight.
Thus Gudmund and Svarthofdi were fleeing from Illugi, when
the former fell back. His companion asked him if herfjQturr
had come over him. Illugi now gained upon him and slew
him . 23 The Idisi who loose fetters recall the magic runes for
loosing chains in Havamal and Sv'rpdagsmal. 2i

In the Idisi as a group of female spirits of war we may thus
see an old Germanic source of the later, more specialized Norse
group of Valkyries, of whom Herfjotur would be the spirit or



goddess who causes paralysing terror, thus making the enemy as
if bound with fetters. In the field of battle which, as Tacitus
says, was called Idistaviso by the Cheruscans, or according to the
suggested reading which has won general acceptance, Idisiaviso,
some have seen a place called after the Idisi — £ field of the
Idisi,’ as if they had aided in a victory there. Idisi means
£ women ’ or, more definitely, £ supernatural women,’ like the
Greek vvfjLcfrrj. 20

The Anglo-Saxon word Waslcyrge (equivalent of Valkyrie)
is glossed Bellona, Erinys, Tisiphone, Parca, venefica. Another
gloss speaks of eyes as £ Waslcyrigean eagan ’ or £ gorgoneus,’ as
if their eyes were terrible as a Gorgon’s. 26 The Wselcyrge was
thus a sinister being, and other references rather suggest a super-
natural witch than a Valkyrie. The older War-maidens may
have degenerated into witch-like beings. An Anglo-Saxon
charm against pain supposed to be inflicted by a little spear
thrown by supernatural beings from the air calls it esa gescot ,
ylfa gescot , hcegtessan gescot ( £ shot of iLsir, of elves, of
witches’). Though the charm refers more immediately to
witches, these are described rather as Valkyries riding through
the air. £ Loud were they, yea, loud as they rode over hills ;
haughty were they as they rode over lands.’ Then it speaks of
these £ mighty women ’ mustering their hosts and sending forth
their whizzing spears. 2 ' Wulfstan, archbishop of York (1022—
23 a.d.), refering to Danish invaders and Anglo-Saxon traitors,
says of them that £ here in England there are witches and
Wselcyrgean.’ 28 Thus the name had become one of ill omen.
The word SigewTf, £ Victorious women,’ mentioned in a charm,
may point to the older functions of the Anglo-Saxon Waslcyrge,
though here referring merely to bees, the charm forming a
blessing of bees. Kemble renders it: £ Sit ye, victorious women,
descend to earth ; never fly ye wildly to the wood; be
ye as mindful to me of good, as every man is of food and
landed possessions.’ Bees were supposed to have prophetic
powers. 29



Saxo’s virgines silvestres in the Hotherus story resemble
Valkyries in their functions — taking part invisibly in battle,
giving victory to their favourites, governing the fortunes of war ;
but they have traits of the Waldfrauen of German lore and also
of fees and elfins. Very often a hero, misled by a mist as Hoth-
erus was, meets supernatural beings in a wonderful dwelling,
which afterwards vanishes with them. 30 This glamour incident
runs through all folk-belief and occurs in Snorri’s Edda. The
woodland traits of Saxo’s Valkyries recall the Valkyrie-
Swan-maidens of V olundarkvitha, as we shall see in the next

Thus supernatural women resembling Valkyries were known
elsewhere than in Norway.

In their power over the fate of men in battle and their pro-
phetic gifts as displayed, e.g., by Brynhild 31 and by the virgines
silvestres in Saxo’s story, who, by auspiciis ductibus , decide the
fortunes of war, the Valkyries have affinity with the Norns, the
youngest of whom, Skuld, is said to be a Valkyrie. The Val-
kyries in V olundarkvit ha are spinners, like the Norns, and one is
called Alvitr, c All-wise.’ An episode in the N jals-saga is also
significant. Before the battle of Clontarf in 1014 a.d. between
Irishmen and Norsemen, Daurrud in Caithness had a vision in
which he saw twelve women riding through the air to a bower,
while blood dropped from the sky. Looking in, he saw them
engaged in a horrible kind of weaving. The reels and shuttles
were arrows and a sword, the spindles spears, the weights men’s
heads, the web was of human entrails. They sang a song — the
Daurrudar-ljod — given in the Saga, as they wove the web
for the coming battle and prophesied the course of the future.
This weaving-song shows that the women were Valkyries, about
to ride to the fight, guiding its destinies, and, as 1 corpse-choosing
spirits,’ taking charge of the slain. Their gruesome weaving
forebodes the course of the fight, and the woof is £ war-winning.’
The weaving ended, they tore the web in two: six rode to the
North with one piece 5 six to the South with the other. Their


Ritual Vessel on Wheels

This vessel, perhaps used in sacrifice or in rain-
magic, or possibly for burning incense, was found at
Peckatel, Schwerin. It stands sixteen inches high, and
the diameter of the vessel’s mouth is fourteen inches.
Similar vessels have been found in Seeland and Scho-
nen. Bronze Age.



prophecy will now come to pass. A similar conception of weav-
ing fates of warriors occurs in Beowulf in the phrase wigsfieda
gewiofu } ‘ the weavings of victory,’ as if a battle’s fate were
woven by higher powers . 32

The Norns wove the fate of men in general: Valkyries could
be represented as weaving the fate of battle and the fateful death
of warriors. Norns and Valkyries are both included among the
Disir, the Valkyries being £ Herjan’s Disir ’ and Sigrun £ the
southern Dis.’ Snorri speaks of the kennings for ‘ women ’ as
1 the names of goddesses, Valkyries, Norns, and Disir.’ In the
Asmundar-saga Asmund saw in a dream women with weapons
standing over him, telling him he was singled out for supremacy,
and that they, his Spadisir, would aid him against his enemies . 33
These women are like Valkyries, but also resemble the weapon-
bearing guardian spirits or Hamingjur. The Valkyries have
also, like the Norns, a prophetic aspect. Their appearance fore-
tells battle, as already indicated, usually through a dream of
women pouring blood out of a trough, as examples in the Sagas
show . 34

Besides having affinity with the Norns the Valkyries have
some traits of Swan-maidens, as we shall see in the next

To what earlier conception may the later aspect of the
Valkyries be traced? They resemble the War-goddesses or
War-spirits of Irish mythology, whose symbols or incarnations
were scald-crows, just as ravens were connected with Valkyries
— 1 choughs of the Valkyries .’ 35 Such Germanic War-spirits
would not at first be strictly personalized: rather would they be
a group, like the Idisi. Some then became more definitely
personal, like the German War-goddesses of inscriptions —
Vihansa, Hariasa, Harimella, or the goddess Baduhenna men-
tioned by Tacitus. The derivations of these names show that
the goddesses were connected with war and the host, and the
name Baduhenna is cognate to that of the Irish War-goddess
Badb . 36 With the growing dominance of Odin and the warrior


2 56

Galhall conception, the Valkyries took more definite shape as
Odin’s servants. The passage already cited from Helgakvitha
H jorvardssonar seems to connect them with the fruitfulness of
the earth, but unless they and their steeds are poetically re-
garded as clouds dropping dew and moisture, they do not seem
to have been regarded as nature spirits.

As War-spirits the Valkyries may be reflexions of actual fe-
male warriors such as were known in Germanic custom and re-
ferred to by Flavius Vopiscus, Dio Cassius, and Paulus Dia-
conus . 87 These are the ‘ shield-maids,’ skjald-meyjar^ of the
Huns, spoken of in Atlakvitha , and apparently known also in
Scandinavia. They took part in the famous Bravalla battle, ac-
cording to the Sogubrot and Saxo, who says that they had
women’s bodies, but souls of men. Saxo also speaks of Alfhild,
daughter of Siward, king of the Goths, who was a sea-rover with
other like-minded maidens, and of Danish women who dressed
as men and devoted themselves to war. 1 They offered war
rather than kisses, and preferred fighting to love ’! 38 Such
shield-maids may have given a hint for the existence of War-
spirits, and it is possible that the ghosts of such women may
have been regarded as spirits carrying on warfare in the unseen,
as the spirits of warriors did, and so becoming spirits of battle,
Idisi and Valkyries . 39 A curious belief, perhaps based on mem-
ories of shield-maids and their ghosts, is found in the Penitential
of the German 1 Corrector,’ in a question asked of an alleged
witch: 1 Dost thou believe, as certain women are accustomed to
believe, that in the silence of the night, when the doors are
closed, thou, with other members of the devil, are raised in the
air even to the clouds, and there dost fight with others, giving
and receiving wounds? ’ 40

The derivation of the Valkyries from nightmare demons,
favoured by some scholars, rests mainly on the idea of the her-
fjqturr as indicating ‘ panic terror,’ a paralysis of the limbs
equivalent to the effects supposed to be caused by the nightmare
demon. But as only one Valkyrie bears a name, Herfjotur, re-



sembling herjjoturr> such a derivation is hardly likely. The
German Walriderske, ‘ Rider of the dead,’ is thought to be a
folk-survival of the Valkyries in this earlier aspect . 41 There is
no reason, however, to go beyond their origin in actual War-



T HE world-wide myth of the Swan-maidens has its place in
Scandinavian mythology. The main features of the
myth are that the hero of the tale sees birds — swans, geese,
or ducks — flying to a lake, where, doffing their feather dresses
or wings, they become beautiful maidens, usually of a super-
natural kind. Stealing up to their dresses, he takes one of
them, and its owner is now in his power and becomes his wife.
But long after, because she regains her dress or because her
husband breaks a tabu concerning her, she flies away.

The story is sometimes told of a dog, seal, or wolf, or the
captured woman has scarce a trace of the animal. There are
also stories in which merely part of a woman’s clothing is cap-
tured and there is no shape-shifting, and in these there seems
to lie the key to the whole group — the idea that for one person
to gain possession of an article of clothing, ornament, hair or nail
clippings, or even to learn the secret name of another person,
brings that person within his power. Any such thing contains
the power of its owner, or is so much a part of him that whatever
is done to it is done to him. To gain possession of it is to have its
owner at one’s mercy. With the weakening of such beliefs, the
story would be told of supernatural women only, and it was now
influenced by stories of the totemistic Beast Marriage group, in
which a wife is both animal and human, and can take human
form at will. When the incidents of this last group of tales
were attracted into the group which told of a woman captured
because a man gained possession of her garment or the like, the
totemistic origin of the Beast Marriage stories had been long
forgotten. But the animal skin now took the place of the gar-



ment. Two story groups thus coalesced as neatly as do the ani-
mal and human natures in the Swan-maiden . 1

The widespread occurrence of the swan in these stories may
be due to its grace and beauty, but its popularity in Scandinavian
story may also be traced to the fact that the wild swan is so well
known there.

The deities of the Eddas could assume bird form through
donning a feather-dress, fjapr-hamr , cognates of which word are
found in other Teutonic languages.

The Swan-maiden story forms part of V olundarkvitha, the
tale of Volund (Weyland the Smith), which reached Scandi-
navia from Saxon regions. It is told first in a prose Introduc-
tion, and then in the poem itself. Volund, Slagfid, and .Egil
were sons of a king of the Finns. They hunted wild beasts and
went on snow-shoes. At Ulfdalir, where was a lake Ulfsjar,
they built themselves a house. One morning they found on the
shore of the lake three women spinning flax. Near them were
their swan-dresses, aptar-hamir , for they were Valkyries. Two
of them were daughters of king Hlodver — Hladgud the
Swan- white and Hervor the All-wise: the third was Olrun,
Kjar’s daughter from Valland. The brothers took them to their
dwelling: Egil had Olrun, Slagfid took Swan-white, and Volund
took All-wise. For seven winters they dwelt there, and then
the women flew off to find battles, and came back no more. Two
of the brothers set out to seek them, but Volund remained be-
hind. Nothing is said of the heroes’ gaining possession of the
maidens through their swan-dresses, but this must have been
part of the original story. Nor do we hear that the maidens re-
captured them, but as they flew away, they must have done so.

The poem which now goes on to tell this part of the story is
fragmentary and confused. The three sisters are said to fly from
the south through Myrkwood, following their fate. They rest
by the shore, these southern maids, and spin flax. Then follow
their names, and it is said of Swan-white that she wore swan-
feathers, svan-fjaprar. The account of their capture is lost, but

26 o


the next lines tell how they threw their arms round the necks of
the heroes. In the eighth winter they yearned for Myrkwood.
The heroes returned from hunting to find them gone and sought
them everywhere.

A German version of this story, whether derived from the
original Saxon tale is unknown, occurs in a fourteenth century
poem. Wieland (Volund) was searching for Angelburga when
he saw three maidens bathing in a fountain, their doves’ feather-
dresses lying near. They had flown thither and, on touching the
ground, had become maidens. By means of a magic root which
made him invisible Wieland was able to gain the dresses. The
maidens wept, but he insisted that one should marry him ere he
gave them back. This was agreed to and Wieland chose that
one of the three who proved to be Angelburga, long loved by
him, but never seen till then . 2

The theft of swan-dresses forms an incident in Helreid Bryn-
hildar. Brynhild, who moves on her seat 1 like a swan on the
wave,’ and her seven companions had hid their swan-dresses
beneath an oak. There the king (Agnar? ) found them and they
were forced to do him service . 3

Brynhild and her companions and the Swan-maidens of the
Volund story are Valkyries. So also is Kara who appears in the
form of a swan. The Swan-maidens of V olundarkvitha long
to return to the wood — Myrkwood. Their names Hladgud
and Hervor are explained philologically as indicating connexion
with armies and war. They fly away to find battles. They thus
resemble the Valkyrie Wood-maidens in Saxo’s story, and have
obvious Valkyrie traits. The Valkyrie Kara hovered as a swan
over her beloved hero Helgi in battle. By magic charms she
blunted the weapons of his opponents. In his fight with
Hromund, Helgi swung his sword so high in air that it cut off
one of her feet. She fell to the ground and was no longer able
to protect him, so he was slain by Hromund . 4

This curious mingling of Valkyries and Swan-maidens may
have arisen from traits which they possessed in common —



flying through the air (though by different methods), knowl-
edge of the future, links with an earthly hero; but in other re-
spects they are quite distinct. While imagination dowered
Valkyries with properties of Swan-maidens, the true Swan-
maiden was never a Valkyrie.

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:39:28 PM »

The belief in three Norns, one of whom was apt to give an
evil destiny, where the others had promised what was good, is
illustrated by certain stories. In the N ornagests-thattr (writ-
ten c. 1300 a.d.) the stranger Nornagest was persuaded to tell
before King Olaf how he came by his name. He said that
prophetic women (Volor, Spakonur) travelled through the
land, foretelling to men their fates. They were invited into
houses and gifts were given to them. They came to his father’s
house when Nornagest was in his cradle, two candles burning
beside him. Two of them said that he would be greater than
any of his kindred or any sons of chiefs in the land. The third
and youngest Norn, because the crowd of people present had
pushed her off her seat, said that the child would live only as
long as the lighted candle beside him burned. The eldest now
blew it out and bade his mother keep it and not relight it.
Having heard this, Olaf persuaded Nornagest to be baptized.



He had long ago obtained the candle and now he lit it, saying
that he was three hundred years old. After his baptism, the
candle flickered out and he died. The Norns are regarded in
this story more as actual women with prophetic powers than as
supernatural. The story, which is the subject of a Faroese bal-
lad, is, like others summarized in this volume, an interesting
example of the literary use of the situation created by the com-
ing of Christianity to Scandinavia and the passing of the old
paganism. The same literary use of a like situation is found in
Irish and Welsh literature . 20

Some scholars have seen in the story of Nornagest an influ-
ence from the classical tale of Meleager and the three Parcae.
That story, however, has quite a different ending; and possibly
both are variants of an earlier folk-tale. The candle, with which
is bound up the hero’s life, is a Life-token, so well known in
innumerable stories, and a similar incident occurs in medieval
tales, as well as in later folk-tales, e.g., the German £ Dornros-
chen,’ or Perrault’s £ La Belle au bois dormant,’ where three,
seven or even thirteen fees or spae-wives appear at a child’s
birth, the last one wishing it evil, because of a fancied slight,
while the others wish it good . 21

Saxo Grammaticus, who calls the Norns Parcae and Nym-
phae, and makes them sisters, says that the ancients consulted
their oracles about the destinies of their children. Fridleif
sought to find the fate of his son Olaf, and, after offering vows,
went to the temple of the gods where he saw three Nymphs
sitting on three seats in the sacellum. The first was benignant
and bestowed on Olaf beauty and favour in the sight of men.
The second gave him the gift of great generosity. The third,
mischievous and malignant, wished to mar these gifts and or-
dained to him niggardliness, which was afterwards always
mingled with his generosity . 22 This story suggests a cult of the
Norns, but whether we are to understand that their images sat
in the sacellum , resembling those of the Celtic Matrae, or that
the Norns actually appeared, is not clear. Saxo’s Wood-



nymphs, who aid Hotherus, have some traits of the Norns, but
are on the whole more akin to Valkyries. So also have the three
maidens who prepared Balder’s magic food. The eldest
maiden, who refused Hotherus a share of this food, is like the
evilly disposed Norn . 23

Three Norns, or three chief Norns, are spoken of by Snorri,
copying Volusia, which alone of the Eddie poems names the
three. The ash Yggdrasil grows by Urd’s well:

‘ Thence come the maidens, great in wisdom,

Three from the hall beneath the tree,

Urd one is called, the second Verdandi,

(On a wooden tablet they scored), Skuld the third.

Fast they set the lot of life

To the sons of men, the fate of men.’

Urd is also named in Havamal where Loddfafnir says that he
was by Urd’s well and heard Har (Odin) speak of runes and
giving counsel. In Svipdagsmal Groa chants a rune to Svipdag
by which the bolts of Urd on every side shall guard him on the
road that he goes . 24

The names of Skuld and Verdandi do not occur again in the
Eddas , save that Skuld is named as a Valkyrie in V oluspa . 25
These names appear to be due to a learned error in the twelfth
century and interpolated into V oluspa. £ Urd’ was taken for
the preterite stem of verpa , c to be,’ and called the Norn of the
past. From the same verb came 1 Verdandi,’ the Norn of the
present j and from skulu , denoting the future tense, came
c Skuld,’ the Norn of the future. Some influence from the con-
ception of the Greek Moirae, denoted as Past, Present, and
Future in Plato’s Republic , or, more directly, from the seventh
century encyclopaedist, Isidore of Seville, who speaks of the
Fates in the same manner, may be admitted here . 26 Yet there
may have been an early belief in three Fates, even if these
names are influenced from the sources mentioned. This is sup-
ported by the V oluspa passage about the three giant-maids, if
these are Norns, and by the Helgi poem in which three Norns



are implied. Three groups of Norns are known to the poet who
wrote Fafnismal. This grouping into three may have reflected
the chief functions of the Norns — giving life, giving good or
evil destiny, and taking away life.

The Norns, like the Valkyries, are sometimes called Disir
(singular Dis). The Disir are linked to the Idisi of the Merse-
burg charm. Dis was used of a woman of higher rank and ap-
pears in such female names as Asdis, Vigdis, Freydis; but it
generally betokens female supernatural beings. We do not
know for certain that these were originally spirits of dead
women. The word Disir is used generically, and seems to
include Norns, Valkyries, and Kyn-fylgjur. c Dis ’ was applied
to goddesses: Freyja was the Vanadis, £ Lady of the Vanir,’ and
Skadi the Ondurdis, £ Snowshoe Lady.’ The word is used in
the Sagas to denote spirits, and £ Spadisir ’ is used of armed
female guardian spirits and of prophetic women . 27

Whatever the Disir were, sacrifice called Disablot was offered
to them, apparently at harvest or in winter. The H eimskringla
tells how king Adds was at a Disablot in Upsala, and rode his
horse through the Disarsalr or £ hall of the Disir.’ The horse
tripped and fell, and the king was killed. In connexion with
this Disablot there was a market and a Disathing or court, the
name surviving as that of a fair called Distingen . 28 The Disa-
blot is mentioned in other Sagas, e.g., the Hervarar-saga. A
great Disablot was held at king Alf’s at harvest-time. Alfhild
performed the sacrifice, and in the night, as she was reddening
the high place, Starkad carried her away . 29

A trace of a cult of the Norns is also seen in Saxo’s story of
Fridleif. Certain survivals point to the nature of the cult, and
show how the belief in these or similar goddesses of fate con-
tinued in later times. The German Penitential of the 1 Cor-
rector ’ has the following question, asked of women: £ Hast thou,
as certain women at certain times do, prepared a table in thy
house and placed food and drink with three knives, that if those
sisters called by the ancients Parcae come, they are there re-



freshed ; and dost thou believe that they are able now or in the
future to benefit thee? ’ The Penitential of Baldwin of Exeter
(twelfth century) also condemns this custom, performed in
hope of good gifts being bestowed on children . 30 The c Cor-
rector ’ cites as an example of a gift conferred by the Parcae, the
power of changing into a wolf at will . 31 In the Faroe Islands
the nornagreytur or 1 Norn groats ’ is the first food eaten by a
mother after childbirth — a relic of an earlier offering to
the Norns, who are supposed to show their goodwill to a
child by setting marks on its nails, the nornaspor. Those who
have white marks are believed to be lucky. Traces of this
are found in Norse and German folk-lore. White nail-
marks betoken that something new or pleasant is about to
happen . 32

The medieval belief in fees or in a group of three fees seems
to have had its origin, especially as they were associated with the
birth of children, the prosperity of a household, or the death of
its members, in three sources — the Roman Parcae, the Celtic
Deae Matres, and the Scandinavian Norns (possibly also the
Valkyries). In Teutonic folk-story three beings like fees,
though sometimes of the hag kind, are found, e.g., in £ The
Three Spinners 5 and its variants. Such beings appeared sud-
denly, haunted wells, bestowed gifts on children, and span.
Two of them might promise a good, and the third an evil,
destiny . 33 The belief in Nornir and Valkyries must have been
carried to France by the Northmen and there have influenced
the fee superstition. The practice of placing food for the Par-
cae already noted is referred to in Guillaume au court Nez;
and, in La Jus de la Feuillie of Adam le Bossu, three fees visit
a house in Arras where a table has been set for them, but as no
knife has been provided for one of them, she bestows ill fortune.
The same custom was long observed in Brittany and Provence,
where, at a birth or on the last day of the year, a table
was spread for three fees in order to propitiate them and cause
them to bring prosperity to the household or endow the



child with happiness, just as, in Iceland, food was set out for
the elves in order that they might be propitious to the house-
hold. 34

The AS wyrd is represented in English and Scots by ‘ weird,’
e.g., ‘ he maun dree his weird ’ (suffer his destiny). Some link
with Teutonic Fate-goddesses is therefore to be found in the
‘ three weird sisters ’ of our earlier literature. Holinshed relates
that three women ‘ in straunge and ferly apparell, resembling
creatures of an elder world,’ met Macbeth and Banquo and fore-
told their destinies. ‘ These women were either the weird sis-
ters, that is the goddesses of destinie, or else some nimphs or
feiries, endued with knowledge or prophecie by their Nicro-
manticall science.’ They are Shakespeare’s witches or weird sis-
ters, the Fatae or Parcae of Boece’s History. A story of c The
weird Sisters ’ is mentioned in T he Complaynt of Scotland , but
it is now unknown, and the additions to Warner’s Albion y s Eng-
land (1616 a.d.) speak of ‘ the weird elves,’ as Spenser has
‘ three fatal Impes ’ in his Ruines of Time , and Chaucer ‘ the
fatal sustrin ’ (sisters), akin to ‘ the weird lady of the woods ’ in
Percy’s ballad, who prophesied from a cave about Lord Albert’s
child, then stole him away and nurtured him. 35

Whatever the ultimate origin of the Norns and similar dis-
pensers of destiny may have been, they had human counterparts
in actual prophetesses or magic-wielders, like the old Scots
‘spae-wife,’ who foretold an infant’s future, or the Norse
Spakona or Volva. In some references to these it is not easy to
say where the human aspect ends and the supernatural begins.
As Grimm says: ‘prophesying, inspiring and boon-bestowing
women were always supposed to pass through the country,
knocking at the houses of those whom they would bless,’ and
‘ tales of travelling gifting sorceresses were much in vogue all
through the Middle Ages.’ 30 In the story of Nornagest the
Norns are called Volor and Spakonur, and are said to travel
through the land. In V iga-Glums-saga a Volva or spae-wife
called Oddibjorg goes about the land, prophesying and telling



The Gundestrupp Bowl

Above. Horned god from the Gundestrupp bowl,
copied from a Celtic original of a god with horns,
necklace, serpent, and stags. See Plates XVI and
XXV of Celtic Mythology in this Series.

Below. Sacrificial scene from the inside of the
Gundestrupp bowl. The priest is holding a human
victim over the vessel of sacrifice for the blood to gush
forth. A procession of warriors is also depicted.
Among the ancient Cimbri a priestess went with the
army. She cut the throat of a human victim over the
rim of a cauldron, and took auspices from the blood
that flowed into it.



stories, her prophecies depending on the kind of entertainment
which she receives . 37 Quite possibly the supernatural Norns
were a reflection of such actual women who claimed and were
believed to possess powers of prophecy and even of influence on
human destiny.



T HE Valkyries attained their greatest development in
Viking times, with the growth of war and of Odin as
War-god and chief deity, and skaldic poetry doubtless aided in
this. Yet their personality is of more remote origin.

The ON Valkyrjor (singular Valkyrja) means ‘ Choosers of
the slain ’ ( valr , ‘ the host of the slain,’ i.e., in battle, and kjosa>
‘ to choose ’ — a word used for the acceptance of sacrifice by a
god). They were also called Valmeyjar, ‘Battle-maids’;
Hjalmmeyjar, ‘Helmet-maids’; Oskmeyjar, ‘Wish-maids,’
because they performed the wish of Odin (or, perhaps,
‘Adopted-maids,’ i.e., adopted by Odin, just as dead warriors
in Valhall were his ‘Adopted sons,’ oska-synir) ; Herjan’s
(Odin’s) Disir. The names Hjalmvitr, Folkvitr, and Sarvitr,
meaning respectively ‘ Helmet ’-, ‘ Battle ’-, and ‘ Wound-
wight,’ also occur. To these names correspond the AS SigewTf,
ON Sigrmeyjar . 1

Snorri describes them in their final form. They serve in
Valhall, carry drink, and attend to the table-service and ale-
flagons. Odin sends them to every battle. They choose or
determine men’s feyness and award victory. Guth, Rota, and
Skuld, the youngest Norn, ride to choose ( kjosa ) the slain and
decide fights . 2

The Eddie poems have several references to purely super-
natural Valkyries and also to Valkyries who are maidens of
mortal descent with certain supernatural powers. The latter are
found in the heroic poems. In Grimnismal Odin tells how cer-
tain Valkyries bring the horn at his will, and carry beer to the
warriors in Valhall. These are Hrist or ‘ Shaker,’ Mist or



£ Mist,’ Skeggjold or £ Axe-time,’ Skogul or £ the Raging one,’
Hild or £ Warrior,’ Thrud or 1 Might,’ Hlok or £ the Shrieker ’
or £ the Fetter,’ Herfjotur or £ Host-fetter,’ Goll ( ? ), Geirronul
or £ Spear-bearer,’ Randgrid or £ Shield-bearer,’ Rathgrid,
£ Plan-destroyer ’ (?), and Reginleif, or ‘Companion of the
gods’ (?). Other names are found in V olusfa and in the
Sagas . 3 The Valkyries ride to the battle-field, helmeted, their
birnies red with blood, sparks flying from their spears. Light-
ning accompanies them. Or, as in another account, they fly from
Heaven, helmed maids, wound-givers. War follows their ap-
pearance, and a splendid description of their assembling, ready
to ride over the earth, occurs in V oluspa. They ride through air
and sea, three, nine, or thrice nine in number, one riding first.
Their horses shake themselves. From their manes drop dew in
the dales and hail on the lofty trees, bringing fruitfulness to
men. They exercise care over heroes dear to them and guard
their ships . 4 If the allusion to Valkyries in the flyting between
Sinfjotli and Gudmund in Helgakvitha Hundingsbana is based
on myth, then the warriors in Valhall fought for the possession
of some of them. Sinfjotli says of Gudmund:

‘ Thou wast, evil witch, a Valkyrie,

Loathsome and malicious, in Odin’s hall,

The warriors must ever fight,

Wilful woman, on thy account.’ J

Where the Valkyries come to the battle-field the wolf ( £ the
horse of the giantess ’) and their birds, the ravens, are gorged
with the slain . 6 Hence such kennings for battle as £ storm ’ or
£ storm-wind of the Valkyries,’ or 1 Hild’s game .’ 7

At Balder’s funeral Frigg and the Valkyries rode with Odin . 8
In the V olsunga-saga Ljod, daughter of the giant Hrimnir, is
Odin’s Oskmaer, £ wish- ’ or £ adopted-maid,’ and when Rerir
prayed for a child, Odin and Freyja heard, and Ljod was sent
to him with an apple, flying in the form of a crow and dropping
it into his lap. Eventually she married Volsung, the child



granted to Rerir . 9 Like gods and heroes the Valkyries ride on
horses, and also hover over battle-fields, sent by Odin to choose
those who are to fall, perhaps to cause their death, to award vic-
tory, and to lead the chosen to Valhall, where they serve them
with ale. Freyja also chose the slain and was called Val-Freyja
and 1 Possessor of the slain,’ and she poured ale in Valhall on
one occasion . 10

The appearing of the Valkyries indicated battle. Glum
dreamed that two women sprinkled blood over the land from a
trough, a prophecy of the fighting which was to follow. In the
verse attached to this story these women are called £ goddesses ’
and ( a host of divine beings riding over the land .’ 11 In the
Sturlunga-saga there is a dream about two blood-stained women
rowing in a boat, while blood dropped around. One of them
sang that they were Gunn and Gondul, and that blood rained
before men fell in fight. This was an omen of fighting in Ice-
land . 12 Before Harald Hardradi sailed for England, Gyrd
dreamed of a woman holding a short sword and a trough of
blood, and Thord of a woman sitting on a wolf with a corpse in
its mouth . 13 These dream-women are of the Valkyrie kind.

The skalds picture Odin sending Valkyries to choose the slain
and conduct them to Valhall. Bragi’s song of Lodbrok ends:

‘ Home bid me the Valkyries,

Who from high Valhall,

Odin hither sent to me.

Gladly ale with Tisir
Shall I drink in high seat.’ 14

In the Hakonarmal on Hakon’s death, the Valkyries Gondul
and Skogul are sent by Odin to choose among the kings one of
the race of Yngvi-Frey to enter his service. They go to the
battle-field. The king is dying. Gondul says that the gods’
army is waxing great now that Hakon and a host are coming to
Valhall. Hakon sees the Valkyries mounted, with helmets and
shields, and asks why deserved victory was withheld. Skogul



says that thus they had arranged it. Hakon kept the field till
his enemies fled. Now the Valkyries must ride to the city of
the gods to tell Odin that a mighty king is coming to him . 15 In
the earlier Eiriksmal Odin awakes from a dream in which
he had bidden the heroes prepare the benches and fill the
beer- vats, and the Valkyries to bear the wine, as if a king
and host were coming. This precedes the coming of Eirik to
Valhall . 16

The punishment of Sigrdrifa (Brynhild) by Odin shows that
a Valkyrie might be self-willed and not carry out Odin’s wishes.
Odin had promised victory to Hjalmgunnar, but the Valkyrie
slew him in battle, favouring his opponent Agnar. Odin pricked
her with a sleep-thorn, which caused her to sleep till Sigurd
waked her, and said that she would never again win victory in
battle but would be married. She was bound by this spell in a
shield-tower, surrounded by fire, on a high mountain . 17

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:38:34 PM »

In spite of this the Vaettir are remembered in one form or
another. In Norway they are still looked upon as tutelary
spirits, dwelling in Vsette-hougar, mounds at which offerings
used to be laid, in trees too sacred to be touched, or in waterfalls,
though they are also called Trolds or Nisser. In some districts
they differ but little from the Huldre-folk . 15 The Danish
Vetter have traits similar to those of Elle-folk and Trolds, but
are on the whole regarded as evil . 16 The Swedish Vatter are
elfin in character, guardians of houses, beneath which they live,
playing with the children, the females even suckling a weakly
child. When the household sleeps, they feast, but they are
unknown in a house tenanted by a Nisse or Brownie. They ask



help of women for their females in childbirth, rewarding them
well. 1. The Faroe Islanders also believe in Vasttrar which
dwell in houses, where milk is placed for them. They are small
and handsome, and give prosperity to a house, but leave it if a
new-comer is unkind . 18



I N the Fylgja we meet with an interesting Norse conception,
though one not peculiar to that region. The belief may be
traced to the idea that the soul or one of the souls which, in
primitive belief, a man is supposed to possess, could leave the
body and become visible to its owner or another person, either
as a double of the man or as an animal. It was seen in dreams
and in waking life. Such a soul tended to become a separate
entity, connected, however, with its owner and mainly appearing
before his death. So it was with the Norse Fylgja or £ Fol-

The Fylgja was a kind of guardian spirit most usually in the
form of an animal. But in one of two examples of a Fylgja in
the Poetic Edda , that of Helgi appeared to his brother Hethin
as a Troll-wife riding a wolf bridled by snakes. He refused
her advances, and she threatened vengeance upon him at the
‘king’s toast’ that night during the Yule feast. At this toast
Hethin vowed that he would have Svava, the beloved of Helgi.
Then grief seized him and he fled until he found Helgi and
told him of his vow. Helgi bade him not to grieve, for he was
about to fight a duel and feared he would not return. Hethin
now knew that he had seen Helgi’s Fylgja or, as the poem puts
it, his Fylgjur (plural), as if he had more than one . 1 The other
reference is in Atlamal. An eagle was seen flying through the
hall by Kostbera, who interpreted it as the hamr of Atli, be-
tokening an evil fate, for with blood it sprinkled those present.
Hamr is literally £ skin,’ £ covering,’ but here perhaps signifies
Fylgja, Atli’s soul in an animal covering . 2



The animal Fylgja often had some corresponding aspect to
that of the character of its owner — bulls and bears attended
great chiefs, foxes people of crafty nature. In the Njals-saga
Hauskuld saw in a dream a huge bear going out of the house
with two cubs, and entering another house. He knew that its
match was not to be found and so regarded it as the Fylgja of
the peerless Gunnar. 3 Einar dreamed that he saw a huge ox
going to the farm of his powerful brother Gudmund. At the
high seat it fell dead. From this he was able to foretell his
brother’s death. 4 The boy Thorsten Ox-foot rushed into a
room where an old man called Geite was sitting and fell on the
floor. Geite laughed because, as he explained to the boy: 1 1
saw what thou couldst not see,’ — a white bear-cub over which
Thorsten had fallen, his Fylgja in that form. 5 A bear which
fought by the side of Hrolf Kraki was regarded as the Fylgja of
Bjarki, one of his heroes, who was meanwhile asleep. When
Bjarki himself appeared on the battle-field, the bear vanished. 6
Eyj olf slew his enemy, but was himself lamed by a fall from his
horse. He was told by a seer that the Fylgjur of his enemy’s
kinsfolk had caused this, whereupon he indignantly asked if they
were stronger than those of himself and his friends. 7 An Ice-
lander dreamed that a pack of wolves fell on him and his fol-
lowers. Two of them were killed by him. A seer, who
explained the dream, said that the wolves were Manna-
hugir, £ men’s spirits,’ hostile to him. At the fight which fol-
lowed close upon this dream, the Icelander slew two of his
foes. 8 Manna-hugir is thus an alternative name for Fylgjur.
Thord saw a goat wallowing in its gore and told Njal
of this. Njal could not see the goat, and said that Thord
must be fey, as he had seen his Fylgja. Next day he was
slain. 9

A man who was near death or who was fey was apt to see his
own Fylgja. Dreaming of attacking animals also foreshadowed
a fight with the men whose Fylgjur they were. A man’s Fylgja
protected him, but its death was followed by that of its owner,


though whether this means that the Fylgja never survived its
owner’s death is doubtful.

The Fylgjukona, £ Following woman,’ always had woman’s
form and was even more definitely a guardian spirit than the
animal Fylgja. She might be guardian of an individual or of
a family, and there might be more than one of them, three, nine,
or a multitude. The name Hamingjur was also applied to
them. Hamingja (singular) is from hamr , which meant c a
caul ’ as well as £ skin ’ or £ covering,’ and as the caul was sup-
posed to bring good luck to the child born with it, so the word
Hamingja, as applied to fortune-bringing guardian spirits
showing themselves in a certain form, came to be used in the
abstract sense of £ happiness,’ £ good luck.’ 10

These guardian spirits accompanied men, shielded, warned,
consoled, and cheered them. They appeared to their -proteges
urging them to action. When one member of a family died, his
Fylgjukona would pass from him to another kinsman. In Viga-
Glums-saga Glum dreamed that a huge helmeted woman, whose
shoulders touched the mountains, came up from the sea. He
asked her to come into his house. On awaking he explained the
dream as meaning that his mother’s father, Vigfuss, must be
dead. This woman was his Hamingja, for he had been held
high in honour. She must be seeking to take up her abode with
Glum. Soon after came news of the death of Vigfuss. This
helmeted woman resembles a Valkyrie. 11 Other examples of
family guardian spirits, called CEttar-fylgj a or Kyn-fylgja,
occur in the Sagas. As the skald Hallfred lay dying on board
ship, he saw a huge woman wearing a birnie going over the
waves, his guardian spirit, whom he now knew would pass from
him. She asked his brother to accept her, but he refused, where-
upon the skald’s son Hallfred said that he would take her, and
now she vanished. 12 The Troll-woman, Helgi’s Fylgja, who
desired Hethin’s company, may have wished to be his guardian
after Helgi’s death.

With the coming of Christianity the belief in these female



guardian spirits was apparently altered. They were divided
into white and black groups, the former those of the new Faith,
the latter those of heathenism. This is illustrated in the Saga of
Olaf Tryggvason. Thidrandi, son of Hall, heard a knocking
at the door. Opening it, he saw no one 3 but going by the wood-
pile he heard the noise of people riding into the horse-garth
from the North. These were nine women in black with
drawn swords. Others were heard coming from the South, nine
women in white. Before he could return to the house, the
women in black wounded him. In this condition his friends
found him, and before his death he told what he had heard and
seen. The seer Thorhall said that the black women were the
Fylgjur of Hall and his kinsmen (more properly Hamingjur),
who followed the old faith, and they had attacked Thidrandi
because it was about to be overthrown. These Disir had fore-
seen this and they were angry because the usual respect would
not be paid to them. The brighter spirits, now about to connect
themselves with the family, must have wished to help him, but
had not been in time. 13 Here, as in other examples, these Kyn-
fylgjur resemble Valkyries, and the name Disir, c goddesses,’ is
applied to them as it was to Valkyries and Norns.

In the Gisla-saga Gisli was visited by two dream-women
(draum-konur ) , one of whom, described by him as a Valkyrie
and sent by Odin to speak his will, was evil and foretold evil.
She seems to represent the dying paganism. The other was
milder, and appeared almost as a Christian guardian angel.
Gisli was standing midway between the two faiths, pagan and
Christian. Once he saw a hall with his kinsfolk. In it were
seven fires, some burning brightly, others were low. The
milder dream-woman told him to leave the old beliefs and
witchcraft and to be good to the poor and weak. The fires were
symbols of his life: those burning brightly indicated the number
of years that he had to live. On one occasion she rode a grey
horse, and bade him follow her to her house, where he saw
benches with pillows of down. Here, she told him, he would


come when he died. The evil dream- woman often came to
Gisli, wishing to sprinkle blood over him and to bathe him in it,
and looking spitefully at him. She appeared more often as his
death drew near, saying that she would prevent what the other
had foretold from coming to pass. In this story the belief in
Fylgjukonur has been influenced by the Christian conception of
good and evil angels, associated with a man’s soul, for which
they strive. 14 In Njals-saga Hall, a pagan, would only con-
sent to become a Christian if S. Michael became his ( Fylgju-
engill ’ or guardian angel. 15

The resemblance of the Fylgjukona to other kinds of spirits,
e.g., Valkyries, is interesting. Valkyries also guarded chosen
heroes and came to their aid when called upon. 16 The Fylgju-
konur are sometimes called Spa-disir, ‘ Prophetic women.’

Such beings as the Fylgja are still known in Iceland, Norway,
and Sweden. Their names are as follows: in Iceland, Fylgja;
in Norway, Folgie (usually an animal) and Vardogr; in Sweden,
Valnad or Vard. They are generally good, protective spirits,
and care is taken, e.g., when a man leaves the house, to allow his
protector to leave with him, lest danger meet him, especially
from his evil spirits. Sometimes they are warning spirits, telling
by knocking or rattling the latch that their owners are coming,
or that death or misfortune is at hand. Such a spirit will appear
as a double of its owner, even to the person himself, as his double
was seen by the hero of Stevenson’s T iconderoga , giving thus a
warning of his death. 1 ' This Highland superstition of the
double, used in T iconderoga with such effect, or, as the Rev-
erend Robert Kirk, Episcopal minister of Aberfoyle in the
seventeenth century, called it in his Secret Commonwealth of
the Elves , the ‘ co-walker,’ seen by persons with second-sight,
resembles that of the Vardogr. Kirk, however, thought that
the co-walker was a fairy. 18



T HE Teutonic peoples seem to have been much impressed
by the idea of overruling fate or, at first, of powers con-
trolling the destinies of men and even gods, and it enters largely
into their literature. ‘ Fate none can escape,’ is the terse saying
of Gudrun in Atlamal / Different words expressed this con-
ception. The OHG wurt, Norse urpr } AS wyrd (English
‘weird’), had the meaning of ‘fate’ and are glossed fatum y
eventus. Wurt may be connected with the Indo-Germanic uert y
‘ to turn,’ with which are linked OHG wirt, wirtel , ‘ spindle.’
Hence wurt would have the meaning of a fate spun, just as the
Norns spun the threads of human fate.

In literary sources, e.g., the poem Heliand , wurd means the
spirit of death or death in the abstract as the fate of man.
‘ Wurd took him away ’ means ‘ Death took him away.’ In
Beowulf we find ‘ Wyrd ravished him away ’j ‘ it shall befall us
as Wyrd decideth.’ Wyrd ordains, or weaves, or deceives, or
harms. The weaving of fate, zvyrd gewcef , occurs in an AS
manuscript and also in Beowulf . 2 The word metody ‘ measure ’
or ‘ fate,’ the power that metes out or dispenses, is used in He -
liandy as in the phrase metodo giscapu , ‘ determined by fate ’
(AS meotody ON mjotupr). The OHG scephanten is glossed
as parcce.

Besides the general use of urpr in the sense of ‘ fate ’ (the
word occurring in the plural urper y ‘ fates ’), 3 the Norse people
believed in embodiments of fate in one or more supernatural
beings, the Norns (ON Norn, plural Nornir), the chief of whom
was herself called Urd (Urpr). The name, which still occurs
in Faroese lore as Norna, is of uncertain derivation, but some


Runic Stone and Gundestrupp Silver Bowl

Above. Runic stone, c. 800 a.d., from Seeland.
Erected for Gunwald the Thul or £ Reciter.’ On the
stone are the Thor’s hammer symbol (part of a
svastika), and the sign of Odin, three horns inter-
laced, with allusion to poetry as ‘ the mead of Odin ’
(see p. 55). After Wimmer, Danske Runemindes-

Below. Silver bowl from Gundestrupp, Jutland, in
the region of the Cimbri. It was used in the sacred
ritual. On the outside are heads of deities. Inside are
figures, human and animal, and scenes of cult. The
subjects are partly drawn from classical art, partly
from Celtic sources, e.g., the horned god is copied from
representations of the Celtic Cernunnos (see next
plate). Strabo records that the Cimbri sent their holiest
bowl to Augustus.



students connect it with Swedish dialect forms, noma , nyrna , £ to
tell secretly ,’ 1 to warn,’ and with Middle English nyrnen , £ to
recite,’ £ to utter.’ It has also been connected with * nornhi ,
£ twisting,’ £ combining .’ 4

There may first have been a number of spirits of fate, with a
later more personalized Fate-goddess, the Norn Urd. But in
Eddie literature there are three Norns, and 1 many Norns ’ are
also spoken of.

Snorri says: £ There is a fair hall by the ash under Urd’s well,
and out of it come three maids — Urd, Verdandi, Skuld. They
determine the course of men’s lives and are called Norns. Yet
there are many Norns — those who come to each child that is
born and shape its fate, these are of the race of the gods; the
second are of the Alfar; the third are of the dwarf kin.’ For
this statement Snorri cites Fafnismal:

1 Of different origin are the Norns,

Not all of one race;

Some are of the people of the Afsir,

Some of the people of the Alfar,

And some are Dvalinn’s daughters.’

At this point Gangleri interposes. £ If the Norns determine the
fates of men, then they give unequal portions. Some have a
pleasant, luxurious life, others have few possessions or little
fame; some have long life, others short.’ To this the reply is:
£ Good Norns, of honourable race, appoint good life; those who
suffer evil fortunes are ruled by evil Norns.’ Snorri also says
that the Norns who dwell by Urd’s well take water of it every
day and sprinkle it over the ash, so that its limbs may not rot or
decay . 5

We turn now to the Poetic Edda. The decision of the Norns,
viz., death, is spoken of in Fafnismal y as if it were lying in wait
at the beginning of life’s voyage, in youth. The same poem de-
scribes the Norns as helpful in need, bringing the babe from the
mother. It also says that the Norns have decided that Sigrdrifa



(Brynhild) shall not wake from her magic sleep. At the birth
of Helgi, according to Helgi Hundingsbana , it was night in the
house when Norns came and shaped his life. He would be
most famous of warriors and best of princes. Mightily they
wove the threads of fate, the golden threads, and made them
fast in the moon’s hall (the sky). The ends were hid in the East
and West, between which his lands would be, and one of the
Norns, here called 1 Neri’s kinswoman,’ cast a chain to the North
and bade it ever be firm. This betokened the widespread fame
of the hero, especially in the North . 6 In Sigrdrifumal Mim’s
head bade runes to be written on the nails of the Norns, and the
same poem describes birth-runes as those which give help in
childbirth, when the Norns (here called Disir) are asked to
aid . 7

Yet the Norns were apt to be regarded as evil, or certain
Norns were evilly disposed, as Snorri says. Thus the dwarf
Andvari, transformed to a pike, told Loki that an evil Norn in
old days doomed him to dwell in the waters . 8 Brynhild said
that grim Norns had shaped for her the longing she had for
Sigurd. Hostile fates ( urper ) had caused the complex situation
arising from Sigurd’s having Gudrun as wife, while she herself
is Gunnar’s . 9 Gudrun says that Norns awakened her with ter-
rible dreams, which she then relates . 10 In another poem she
speaks of the Norns whose wrath she seeks to escape in death,
but in vain . 11 Helgi blames the Norns for his slaying Bragi and
Hogni . 12 Hamther also speaks of the Norns (Disir) driving
him to slay Erp, and, as he is dying, says that no one outlives the
night when the Norns have spoken . 13 Angantyr found his
brother dead on the field of battle, and said that he had brought
him to death, for evil is the doom of the Norns. In the Saga of
Harald Fair-hair when Einarr slew Halfdan, he sang: £ The
Norns have ruled it rightly,’ and in Egils-saga Kveldulf ac-
cused the Norns for snatching away his son Thorolf . 14 Odin, as
Hnikar, warned Sigurd that Talar-disir, evil goddesses, pre-
sumably Norns, would be at both his sides, willing that he



should receive wounds. 15 Thus death and disaster were due to
the decree of the Norns. ‘ The Norns have done both good and
evil/ says a runic inscription on the timber church at Borgrund,
and their evil aspect may be seen in the name for wolves —
£ hounds of the Norns/ 16 and in the myth that the peace and
golden age of the gods were first broken when three giant-
maidens, of great might, came out of Jotunheim. This is told
in V olusp a , and these giant-maidens are generally regarded as
embodiments of fate, or Norns, mightier than the gods. The
same phrase, c three maidens ’ ( prior meyjar ), is applied to the
maidens in this passage and to the Norns themselves in a later
passage. 17 Similarly three hosts of maidens, who come of the
giants’ kin, according to V ajthrudnismal , are thought to be
Norns, though here kindly of nature. 18

There is no escaping the fate fixed for men by the Norns, as
Gudrun found when she sought but could not obtain death as
a relief from her ills. So Svipdag says that no one can tear the
decrees of Urd, however undeservedly these are laid upon
him. 19

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:37:47 PM »



nor those of German tradition dwell in Heaven. Grimm con-
nected with the Light elves the Teutonic White Women, ap-
pearing at noon, sitting in the sunshine or bathing, contrary to
the avoidance of sunlight by most fairy folk. This trait of the
White Women recalls the Eddie name for the sun, aljrodull ,
1 shining on the elves,’ 1 elf-ray,’ ‘ elf-light,’ perhaps because
they rejoiced in it . 14 But it might equally mean that it was a
danger to them, and in Hamthesmal dawn is called £ the grief
of Alfar .’ 16

In later folk-belief the elfin beings who most probably repre-
sent the earlier Alfar are generally a race dwelling on the earth
or under the earth ; yet distinct from dwarfs, though these have
many elfin traits. Other groups of beings haunting the forests,
the waters, the mountains, are also akin to elves. These also
were objects of belief in earlier times and survivals of cult paid
to them were frequently condemned in the earlier Middle Ages
and even later. Whether the Anglo-Saxon glosses which speak
of wudu-elfenne, munt-elfenne, dun-elf enne, f eld-elf enne, sce-
elfenne , represent a mere translation of Dryads, Oreads, Naiads,
and the like, or actual groups of native elfins, cannot be defi-
nitely known.

The older German elben seem to have been merged in the
various kinds of dwarfs and underground folk known to later
tradition. Beautiful, fairy-like women, akin to the medieval
fees, are known to German tradition, the White Women
(Weisse Frauen) already mentioned. They are seen on hills
or in woods, or haunting old castles. Sometimes spellbound in
hills, they guard treasure} they carry flowers or a bunch of keys;
or are seen turning over pods of flax. If a mortal takes such
flowers or pods, they turn to gold. The White Woman tries to
induce a mortal to do something which will release her from
enchantment, but usually the purpose fails. Some of these
White Women are ancestral spirits; more usually they represent
older native goddesses or nature spirits, and the spell under
which they suffer may be a symbol of the ban laid by Christian-



ity on the divinities of the older faith. Like Water-elfins they
are seen basking in the sun, combing their tresses, or washing in
a brook . 16

In Iceland the Alfar (elves) preserve the conception of the
Eddie Alfar, and resemble fairies, though the word has now the
equivalence of the German Zwerge and Norse Unner j ordiske.
Like the Ljosalfar they do not fear the light, but appear in the
sunshine. The name Huldu-folk, ‘ hidden folk,’ is thought to
be preferred by them as a milder term than Alfar, and they are
also called Liuflingar, 1 darlings,’ an obvious euphemism such
as is often applied to supernatural beings. Their dwellings are
in hills, stones, and rocks, or even in the sea, and they seem to
have ousted the Dvergar, now unknown to folk-belief . 17 An-
other class of beings, the Trolls, are more monstrous than
elfin — giants, fiends, demons, as in the Eddas and Sagas, yet
they possess certain elfin characteristics . 18

Though the elves as such are little known in Norway, there
are different classes of beings who have elfin traits. The Trold-
folk or Tusser, trolls, gnomes, or sprites, may be as large as
men, and they possess houses, cattle, and churches. Music is
heard from their abodes in the mountains whither they often
carry mortal maidens . 19 Huldra (from at hylja , 1 to hide,’ £ to
cover ’), a mountain fairy or wood nymph, already mentioned
in the thirteenth century, appears as a beautiful woman among
the hills, clad in blue or grey, but she possesses a tail or is hollow
behind. Her melancholy song causes sadness, others describe
it as fascinating. Fond of dancing, she appears at merry-
makings, and once when her partner, espying her tail, but not
wishing to betray her, said: 1 Fair maid, you will lose your
garter,’ she vanished, afterwards rewarding him with gifts and
cattle, of which she has a special brand. When a man marries a
Huldra, the result is not always happiness . 20 Huldra may be
regarded as queen of the green-clad Huldre-folk, or fairies, who
dwell in mounds, where their mournful music, the Huldreslaat,
is heard, and into which they invite men. The Huldreman



seeks to obtain a human wife, and a youth who discovered one
with his sweetheart fired a silver bullet at him, seized her, and
rode off, pursued by the Huldre-folk. The subterranean folk,
who are at enmity with the Huldre-folk, bade him ride on the
rough and not on the smooth as they saw him approaching his
house. He rode through a rye-field and escaped his pursuers,
but they afterwards burned his house. 21

The subterranean folk, or elves, described in some parts of
Norway as diminutive naked boys, wearing hats, live in mounds
and by lofty trees. They love music and dancing, and are de-
scribed as mischievous. The dwarfs live under the earth, and
are reputed to be long-armed and skilful. 22 The Vsetter are
tutelary spirits dwelling in Vsette-hougar or mounds, at which
offerings are laid, or in waterfalls, but they are sometimes de-
scribed as Trolds or Nisse — the House-spirits, like boys dressed
in grey with black hats. 23

Danish legend connects the elfin race with the rebel angels,
who, when cast out of Heaven, fell into mounds or barrows —
the Trold-folk, Bjerg-trolds, or Bj erg-folk — or into the
moors — the Elver-folk or Elle-folk. 24 These Trold-folk
differ from the Icelandic Trolls, and resemble the dwarfs.
Their mounds, which contain treasure, may be seen raised on red
pillars on S. John’s Eve, but they also dwell under human
habitations, coming up into these through a hole. They wear
dark clothing, and are described as like boys in size, or, as in
Jutland, four feet high, with clumsy heads, red hair, and a red
cap. They love dancing, and are friendly to men, but old bal-
lads tell of their stealing maidens, and of the seductive power of
their females over men. 25

The Elle-folk, whom legend describes as Adam’s children by
Lilith, and as called Elle because of the double ‘ 1 ’ in her name,
live in mounds on the moors, or in alder {elle) trees. The
males, who resemble old men, are seen basking in the sunbeams,
like the Ljosalfar, and entice maidens to join them. The fe-
males, who are beautiful but hollow as a dough-trough behind,


22 5

are seen dancing in the Elle-dance by moonlight. Their ravish-
ing music, often irresistible to susceptible youth, has fatal re-
sults. Their cattle feed on dew, and the cattle of men suffer
by mingling with them, or by feeding where the Elle-folk have
danced . 26 Much of the lore about the Elle-folk and the Trolds
is similar — their dances, the pillar-mounds, and their kindly
or hostile relations to men. The Danish Vetter have similar
traits, but are on the whole regarded as evil, since they suck the
breasts of children . 27

In Sweden the same likeness in the traits of beings with differ-
ent names exists. The Eddie Alfar survive in the Alvor or
Hog-folk who dwell in mounds or hills. They are more slender
and refined than mortals, and are ruled by a king and queen,
whose kingdom and laws resemble those of men. Many tales
and ballads describe the beauty and musical voices of the fe-
males, their dancing in woods, hillsides, and meadows where the
grass in the circle grows more luxuriantly than outside it. Into
the circle mortals are enticed. The dancers must disappear by
cockcrow, otherwise they remain stationary but invisible, and if
any one touches them unawares sickness and pain follow. Fever
is caused by meeting with these elves. Should a man place his
ear to an elf-mound, he hears their music, and if he promises
them redemption it becomes sweeter, but changes to lamentation
if he does not . 28 Offerings for the sick used to be laid in round
hollows cut out of rocks or stones (prehistoric rock-carvings).
The older Alfar are mentioned on a runic stone at Lagno, which
depicts one seizing two serpents . 29

The Ra is a harmless elfin, heard in workshops and houses,
but silent whenever any one seeks the cause of the noise. The
sound of his working is a good omen, but if he is heard lament-
ing, this betokens an accident. The Ra resembles, but is dis-
tinct from, the Vatter, guardians of houses beneath which they
live, playing with the children, or feasting when the household
sleeps. They are unknown in a house tenanted by a Nisse or
Brownie . 30



The older literature mentions the Lofjerskor, perhaps the
same as the Lund-folk, c Grove-folk/ or Lundjungfrur , 1 Grove-
damsels,’ invisible spirits of the heathen groves. Groves and
trees, especially lime-trees, are still associated with the Alf and
the Ra. Those who protect such trees or seek the help of these
elfins benefit by this: but if any one breaks a branch he suffers
for it . 31

The origin of the elves and fairies of popular belief, including
the older Alfar, has been sought in different directions. They
were souls of the dead, nature spirits, lesser divinities, reminis-
cences of older races, products of dream or imagination. Prob-
ably all these mingle together in the elfin belief wherever
found . 32 There is, however, some evidence that the Alfar or a
certain class of them were, if not originating in, yet connected
locally with the dead, perhaps because both dwelt in mounds or
tumuli. Olaf Gudrudsson after his death and while dwelling
in his burial-mound at Geirstad was known as Geirstadar-alf.
His kinsmen sacrificed to him for a fruitful year . 33 This evi-
dence, however, is too scanty for us to assume that all the dead
were called Alfar.

The religious or mythic aspect of the older Alfar is seen in
the dljablot and in survivals of sacrifices to elfin beings at trees
or stones, and to the House-spirit or Brownie. But, on the
whole, this aspect has vanished and given place to a merely
superstitious regard for these beings, who are the subjects of
innumerable folk-tales.

To the Alfar was offered a sacrifice called dljablot , resembling
the disablot made to the Disir. A description of this is given
in the Kormaks-saga. Thorward enquired of Thordis, a wise-
woman, how his wounds could be cured. She told him that near
by was a hillock in which lived Alfar. He must take a bullock
and redden the hillock with its blood. Then he must make a
feast to the Alfar with the meat, and he would get well . 34 Here
the Alfar in their hillock resemble the dead in their barrows.
In the time of Olaf the Holy the inland people of Norway were



still heathen or inclined to the old heathen ways. The skald
Sigvat was on a journey with his companions to the east. In
Gautland they came to a homestead where, on asking admission,
they were told that an dljablot was going on, and they must not
come in . 35 The nature of this act of worship is not described.

On Helga-fell or Holy-fell, a hill regarded as very sacred
by Thorolf, an early emigrant to Iceland, men were forbidden
to commit that form of defilement known as dlf-reka , 1 elf-
driving,’ obnoxious to the Alfar . 36



HE Eddie poems and the Sagas speak of a class of spirits

called Vaettir (singular Vaetr). Parallels to the Norse
word occur widely in the Germanic region: OHG wiht> applied
to spirits and men, like the English c wight,’ which may mean a
person as well as a spirit (cf. Chaucer’s 1 elves and wights ’) ;
MHG wihtel , wihtelen , glossed elbe, lemures , lares cum cor-
; poribus morantes, vel nocturni deemones. Later dialect forms
are Wichtlein, Wichtelmann, diminutive beings of a fairy or
dwarf kind, of whom many stories are told. The AS wiht had
the generic meaning of 1 creature ’ or sometimes a demoniac
being or devilkin.

The word Vsettir may be regarded as covering any divine or
semi-divine spirits, but it is applied to a class of spirits of a
tutelary kind, guardians of the land or of parts of it, and related
to the land much as the Fylgja was to a person. Such spirits
were called Land-vaettir, not easily distinguished from the
Alfar, and they may have included, if they are not ultimately
derived from, the spirits of the dead. In the Gulathing’s
law the king and bishop are ordered to enquire whether men
believe in Land-vaettir ( genii locorum) who dwell in tumuli
and cataracts . 1 There is no clear evidence of a cult of the

We shall first pass in review the Eddie references to Vaettir.
In Helgakvitha Hjorvardssonar Helgi asks Hrimgerd whether
one Vastr or many invaded the ships, and she replies that there
were three bands of nine. These are Valkyries, and the name is
thus applied to them. Of Agnar it is said in Sigrdrijumal that
he found no Vaetr to shield him. In Oddrunargratr the 1 hollar




Vsettir,’ good or friendly Vasttir, are appealed to for aid, and
along with them Frigg, Freyja, and favouring gods, as if they
were included among the Vsettir. 2 The word is occasionally
used, with or without a qualifying adjective, in the sense of
a miserable being. Brynhild is called ‘a miserable Vstr,’
and Gollrond is described by Gudrun as £ a Vsetr,’ in the sense
of 1 a witch.’ Thor addressed Loki as ‘ wretched Vsetr.’ 3
These, however, are secondary uses of the word, which
has the more general sense of friendly spirits in the other

The Vsettir occupied the land unseen, except by the second-
sighted, and they had to be treated properly, lest they should
leave a district, which would suffer in consequence. For this
reason men would avoid a district known to be haunted by
them, though a bold person would take such land where none
had dared to settle, like Olver who occupied land at Grims
River in Iceland. 4 This unwillingness to injure their suscepti-
bilities explains the curious heathen law of c. 930 a.d., known
as Ulfliot’s law, which announces that men must not approach
land with a figure-head on their ship. It must be taken off, so
that the land would not be approached with gaping heads and
yawning jaws, which would frighten the Land-vsettir. The
Norse ships had fearsome decorations for figure-heads, c grim
gaping heads of ships,’ as a poem by Hornklof in the Heims-
kringla describes them. 5

King Harald Gormsson of Denmark bade a wizard Finn
take a c skin-changing journey ’ to Iceland in order to see what
tidings of it he might obtain, the king having hostile ends in
view. The Finn took the form of a whale, but when he ap-
proached Iceland he found its hills and fells full of Land-vsettir,
both small and great. At four successive places he was hin-
dered from landing: at Vapreafjord by a dragon, followed by
worms, frogs, and adders blowing venom at him; at Breida-
fjord by a great bull which waded out and bellowed at him,
accompanied by many Land-vsettir; at a third place by a



Mountain-giant with many other giants ; and at Eyjafjord by
a great fowl with many others. These all appear to be guardian
spirits of the four chief families of Iceland, dwelling in these
four places. Hence there may not be a clear distinction between
the Vsetr and the Fylgja, or they are here acting in combina-
tion. As in other examples, they have the form of animals or
giants . 6

A woman with second-sight saw all the Land-vsettir follow-
ing Beorn in the south-west of Iceland to a moot, and his brother
to fishing and fowling. Beorn dreamt that a Bergbui or giant
asked him to be his partner. He agreed, and now his stock was
increased, because a buck came to his she-goats . 7 Grettir met a
huge man called Hallmund who was wounded, and said that he
would help him for the aid which Hallmund had formerly
given him. Hallmund took him to his cave, where his huge
daughter cured the wounds of both. Friendship was sealed
between them and Hallmund gave Grettir counsel. Hallmund
was a Land-vaetr, and, like many of these, interested in the
welfare of men . 8

By magical means the Land-vsettir might be compelled to
do a man’s bidding. Egil Skallagrimsson was incensed against
king Eirik and his queen Gunnhild. He was leaving Norway
for Iceland, but first landed on an island near the coast, taking
with him a hazel-pole. Setting on this a horse’s head, he fixed
it on a rock looking towards Norway. Then uttering a curse
formula, he said: c I erect this insulting-post ( nith-post ) and
turn it against Eirik and Gunnhild.’ Turning it towards the
land, he added: c I turn this insulting-pole against the Land-
vasttir of this land, that they go astray and not one of them light
on his dwelling till they drive Eirik and Gunnhild out of the
land.’ On the pole runes embodying the curse were written.
The horse’s head on the post had the effect of the gaping heads
of ships already referred to, and the curse illustrates the old
runic magic . 9

Though the Vsettir were beneficent, this story shows how



Carved Post from the Oseberg Ship

Carved post of wood ending in a head of some
threatening animal. The purpose of this post (one of
two) is unknown, but such posts were probably placed
on the vehicle on which the body was borne to the
grave. The animal head resembles the ‘ grim, gaping
heads of ships ’ by which the Land-vaettir were apt to
be frightened away, see p. 229. The two posts, each
in a different style of artistic work, were among the
many objects which the ship contained.

From a photograph, by permission of the Director
of the Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo.



they might become harmful. There were certain spirits of the
Vsettir kind regarded as harmful — Uvaettir, like the German
Unhold. They might hinder the land from being appropriated
by settlers. They did harm to men by disease or sickness, but it
was possible for these to be healed by those who had such a
gift . 10 In Odin’s Raven Song treacherous Vsettir are said to
have confounded the runes . 11

With the coming of Christianity all spirits such as the Vsettir
were regarded as evil. Tradition held that they had now de-
serted the regions once guarded by them. Just before Chris-
tianity came to Iceland, the seer Thorhall was in bed looking
through the window of his room, when his host, Sidu-Hall, who
had accepted Christianity, observed him smiling. £ Why do you
smile? ’ he asked. Thorhall replied: c I see many mounds
opening and all spirits, small and great, are packing their gear
and making ready to depart .’ 12 This is an early example of a
story, of which there are many variants in Germany, of the
Wichtelmanner leaving the country in a body, for one reason or
another . 13 In Christian custom, however, means were used to
expel all such spirits, and one of these is found in the proces-
sions at Ascension-tide and at other times through the fields with
the sprinkling of holy water and the saying of prayers directed
against them . 14

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:34:46 PM »


when offered to her, and sometimes valueless articles given
to her turn to gold .' 7 Young children were stolen by them,
and a Wasserkopf — a Nix’s child with a large head, or a
Wechselbalg or changeling was left in place of the stolen
child . 78

The female Water-spirits have many different names in the
older literature ,' 9 and the Norse Sea-goddess Ran corresponds
to these in so far as they are hostile to man and are unpleasing of
aspect. But not all are of this kind, though there might be
danger to mortals in too close an acquaintance with them. These
have more of an elfin character. They are beautiful, and sit
combing their long locks in the sun, but they may also have a
homely appearance, as when they come ashore to market, when
they may be recognized by the wet edge of skirt or apron. Ac-
cording as they pay much or little for what they purchase, a dear
or a cheap season will follow. Sometimes they are naked, but
hung round with moss or sedge. The Nixe’s exquisite song
beguiles unwary youths, who, like Hylas, are drawn into the
waters. The drowned are also her victims, and children falling
into wells come into her power . 80 In earlier Teutonic belief the
Nixen are hardly distinguishable from the Swan-maidens, and
like most of these water beings possess prophetic gifts. Hence
they are also called wisiu wip. The Nibelungenlied tells how
Hagen heard water splashing on the Danube, where certain
wisiu wip or merewij were bathing. They would have fled, but
he seized their garments, and they floated before him like water-
hens. On his restoring their garments, they foretold what
would befall the Nibelungs . 81

These female water beings sometimes marry men, but their
husbands must not see them naked or enquire into their origin
— common forms of tabu in such supernatural marriages. As
the Swan-maiden was powerless without her wings, so the Nixe
who comes ashore to dance is grieved if her partner retains her
gloves, and in one story several of them returned sorrowfully to
the water, which was seen to be reddened with blood, because



their father had slain them . 82 Youths in love with Nixen have
followed them to their home, like one who descended with an
Elbjungfer into the water at Magdeburg, but was slain by her
relations. In a variant, she herself was the victim, and her
lover, standing by the water, saw it reddened with her blood . 83
The Nixen have flocks and herds which come ashore, and min-
gling with ordinary animals, render them prolific.

The attraction of the woods has been well expressed by Emer-
son and Meredith, and men still delight in their mystery, their
silence and their voices. They were more dreadful when
peopled with supernatural beings, akin to the evil Forest-spirits
of savages, ‘ in their obscured haunts of inmost bowers.’ In
bygone ages vast forests stretched across large parts of Europe,
and wide morasses occupied land now under cultivation. From
these strange sounds were heard, or by night the Will o’ the
Wisp flitted eerily over them. On wide moorlands moss-
covered boulders protruded from the heath, or grey stones, with
a suggestion of shadowy forms lurking among them, stood
singly or in circles, or grass-grown tumuli dotted its surface.
Such was the region encircling small reclaimed areas, and we
do not wonder that men peopled it with the objects of their
imagination or their fear — demons, spirits, divinities of wood,
stream, immemorial rocks, and fells, and with ghosts of those
who lay under the c howes of the silent vanished races.’ Some
were monstrous, some beautiful, but all were more or less dan-
gerous. In the forest men worshipped the gods, for the earlier
temples were often groves, not to be approached lightly. The
men of the township would go in procession to a sacred well, to
a hoary tree in which an image was set, to rocks or boulders in
which dwelt a spirit, or to the circle or tumulus to invoke the
dead. They lit fires or placed candles by tree, stone, or well, or
by the cross-ways, and offered sacrifices there. Even after the
Germanic peoples became Christian, these beliefs in the lesser
supernatural beings and these customs continued. Through



long centuries the Church continued to condemn them, but they
were too deeply rooted to be easily displaced.

Thus the Council of Tours, 567 a.d., denounced the pagan
observances at sacred trees or springs or stones, called ( places
of the pagans,’ and some years later the Council of Auxerre
speaks of vows offered at these instead of in churches. These
and similar decrees concerned the Frankish population. 84 Eli-
gius, bishop of Noyon (ob. 658 a.d.), who laboured among the
Frisians, denounced the veneration of stones, wells, trees called
sacred, bringing lights to these or offering vows at them or in
sacred enclosures ( cancelli ) or at cross-roads. 85 The eighth cen-
tury Homilia de Sacrilegiis shows that Frankish Christians were
still resorting to the old altars, groves, trees, and rocks, to offer
animal or other sacrifices and to celebrate feasts, or to pray at
springs or rivulets. There was an observance of N eptunalia in
mare> perhaps some feast of a Water-god or Water-spirit. 86
S. Boniface counted as capital sins among the Germans to whom
he taught Christianity, offerings at stones or to springs and
trees. 87 In Charlemagne’s time, as his Admonitio Generalis
shows, the cult at trees, fountains, and stones still continued,
with the placing of lights at these, and other customs. Such
practices were forbidden, and these sacred things were to be
destroyed. 88 Among the Saxons, who were still pagan, the use
of votive offerings at fountains, trees, and groves was punish-
able by fines varying according to a man’s quality. 89 Sacrifices
at fountains are mentioned in the Indiculus Superstitionum . 90
How difficult it was to root out these customs and beliefs is seen
in the fact that the Penitential of the tenth century 1 Corrector ’
in Burchard’s collection of decrees still enquires: 1 Hast thou
gone to any place other than the church to pray — to fountains,
stones, trees, or cross-roads, and there burned a candle or torch
in reverence to such a place, or offered or eaten there bread or
any such oblation, or sought there the welfare of body or
soul?’ 91

Such superstitions remained popular in spite of all prohibi-



tions and continued long after the time here spoken of, not only
among the common people but among those of higher rank.
Few, indeed, of the superstitious customs and beliefs of the
Middle Ages cannot be traced to the earlier centuries when
pagans began to flock into the Church in large numbers without
clearly understanding the new religion and without having
abandoned either their pagan ways of looking at things or many
of their customs. But the rites and beliefs to which they ad-
hered were rooted in a far distant past, and had been dear to
the folk for long generations. The springs and wells and rocks
had been sacred from prehistoric times, and, in the thought of
the different religions, were inhabited by divinities or spirits.
Hence the old sacred wells were still visited, as well as sacred
stones and trees, in the hope of gaining a boon — healing, fruit-
fulness, prosperity — from them or from the spirits, mainly
now of an elfin kind, supposed to dwell in them. A small offer-
ing was made or a candle lit to propitiate the genius loci. The
old sacred place, familiar for generations, and visited in a hope-
ful mood, seemed friendly and easily propitiated. Men
thought, wrongly no doubt, that it was nearer to their lives than
the Church’s sacred Persons, though the Virgin and the saints
were beginning to assume a familiar form and to be invoked
about the minor ills and blessings of life as well as about things
which loomed more largely and terribly on the human horizon.

Those who persisted in such practices were excommunicated
or subjected to penance, lighter or heavier, or to a fine. They
had been deceived by the demons inhabiting these sacred spots,
and the rites were execrable in the sight of God.



C ERTAIN monstrous or giant animals play a part in Eddie
mythology — the Fenris-wolf, the Midgard-serpent, the
eagle of the winds. Some animals seem to have received a cult,
according to statements in the Sagas, but this was rendered by
individuals, like Brand to Freyfaxi. The Saga of Olaf Trygg-
vason tells of Ogvald, who was a great sacrificer to a certain
cow. He took her with him wherever he went and thought that
his health benefited by her milk, and, when she died, she was
buried in a tumulus near his own . 1 The Landnama-bok re-
counts how the viking Floci set out to seek the Snowland. He
made ready a great sacrifice, and hallowed three ravens to tell
him the way . 2

Animal forms entered into the art of the Norsemen, and, of
these, the dragon or snake is prominent. It appeared on the
bows of Norse galleys and was borne into battle as a standard by
different Germanic tribes. On swords the snake was engraved,
like that one of which the Valkyrie told Helgi — - c on the edge
lies a blood-stained serpent, on the back a serpent’s tail is
twisted.’ The snake was supposed to run from the hilt to the
point and back again. Snakes or dragons also ornamented hel-
mets, adding strength to them as to the sword . 3 Whether this
implies a cult is uncertain, but the Life of S. Barbatus shows
that the Lombards worshipped the golden image of a viper.
Having come into possession of the saint, it was melted down
and made into a chalice and paten . 4

The dragon or serpent occurs often in Norse stories, e.g., that
of Fafnir, whether as a guardian of treasure or in other aspects.
Serpents often appear in tales of the Other World and in the



Eddie description of Nastrand (p. 319). Nidhogg and many
serpents dwell in Hvergelmir and gnaw the roots of Yggdrasil.
Two of these, Ofnir and Svafnir, bear names by which Odin
calls himself in Grimnismal , and we know that Odin took snake
form occasionally. 5 A design on a helmet from a Swedish grave
in which Odin figures, shows an upreared serpent before him. 6
The snakes of the Other World have been regarded as forms of
the souls of the dead, and Odin as god of the dead might some-
times have been regarded as a serpent. 7 Some foundation for
this may be seen in many stories, though these are not peculiar
to the Teutons, of snakes in meadows and houses feeding out of
the children’s milk-bowl, coming beside them, watching over
them, and revealing treasure to them. It is unlucky to kill
such snakes. Folk-belief also tells of two snakes attached to a
house, revealing themselves when the master and mistress die,
and then themselves dying. Such snakes are soul-animals,
forms taken by dead ancestors. 8 The soul as a snake is illus-
trated by a story recorded of king Gunthram of Burgundy by
Paulus Diaconus. The king was sleeping in a forest after hunt-
ing, when a snake crept out of his mouth and crossed a rivulet
by means of the sword of one of his nobles. It now passed into
a mountain, soon afterwards returning and entering the king’s
mouth. When he woke, the king told how he dreamed that he
had crossed a river and entered a mountain full of gold. This
gold was now sought and found. 9 The soul takes the form of
other animals as will be seen in considering the Fylgja.

The stories of Balder and Hotherus, of Fafnir’s heart, eaten
by Sigurd, and others, show that the serpent was regarded as an
animal which gave health, strength, and wisdom.

The beliefs concerning serpents point to two aspects of these
reptiles, beneficent and malignant, though this is far from being
peculiar to the Teutons. 10

Animals are also associated with the gods — ravens and
wolves with Odin, the boar and the cat with Freyja, the horse
and the boar with Frey, goats with Thor. Whether this de-



noted an earlier cult of these animals, as in other religions where
an animal is connected with a deity, cannot be verified now. The
boar may have been regarded as the embodiment of a Fertility-
spirit, and so associated with Frey, a god of fertility.

It is possibly significant that, in the Eddie poems and tales,
animals are frequently found (apart from the special animals
of the gods), e.g., in the account of Balder’s funeral, in Skirnis-
mal, in Hyndluljod , in the Volsung poems (pike, otter, talking
birds, a dragon). Equally significant is the prominence given
to metamorphosis or animal disguise — Fafnir as a dragon,
Andvari as a pike, Ottarr as a boar, Odin as a snake, Loki in dif-
ferent animal forms. These indicate primitive traits in the
poems, and point to their origin among the folk themselves,
rather than among the more cultured classes.


Wolf-headed Monster

Above. God or demon with Wolf’s head on a
bronze plate found in Bavaria.

Below. A similar wolf-being and a horned warrior,
on a bronze plate found in the Island of Oland,



A LONG with the Tisir and Vanir the Eddas speak of the
Alfar or £ elves.’ These are represented in later Teutonic
folk-belief, and equivalents of the name are OHG and MHG
alf, alb , AS celf, Old Danish elv, Old Swedish alf. In Germany
the older use of al-p or alb (plural elbe , elber ) in the sense of
£ spirit,’ £ genius,’ £ fairy,’ £ ghostly being,’ shows that beings
like the Norse Alfar were known there also, as does the word
elbisch in the sense of mental unsoundness caused by such
beings. The word alf does not occur by itself before the thir-
teenth century, but it is found in proper and compound names.
The plural forms, probably denoting friendly spirits, are found
in MHG poetry. Gradually, however, alf was used rather in
the sense of £ nightmare,’ and the words tverc , zwerg , £ dwarf,’
voiht, wicht , £ wight,’ and their synonyms took its place. The
modern German Elfe was derived from English literary
sources in the eighteenth century. Whether the word Alfar is
connected etymologically with Sanskrit rbhus is uncertain. The
enigmatic rbhus , whose name is variously explained as £ dexter-
ous ’ and 1 shining,’ were seasonal divinities and skilful artificers
with magical power, three in number. They have been re-
garded as in origin £ no more than elves who gradually won
higher rank .’ 1

The Eddie Alfar are the earliest known elves, akin to the
Anglo-Saxon ylje (singular calf). The scanty notices of them
show that they had a loftier nature than the elves of later beliefs.
They are not said to be dangerous or mischievous, nor are they
yet confused with evil trolls through Christian enmity to the old
paganism. They are joined with the Tisir, as in the recurrent



phrase £ AEsir ok Alfar,’ used partly but not wholly for the sake
of alliteration, and also with both EEsir and Vanir. In the prose
Introduction to bokasenna ‘ many EEsir and Alfar ’ are said to
have been present at EEgir’s banquet, and Eldir said to Loki:

‘ None of the EEsir and Alfar here present has a good word for
thee.’ Loki says that Bragi is the most cowardly of all the .Eisir
and Alfar present, and he accuses Freyja of misconduct with
everyone of these. In V olus-p a and T hrymskvitha the question
is asked: £ How is it with the EEsir, how is it with the Alfar? ’
and the latter poem gives the reply: £ 111 is it with the EEsir, ill
is it with the Alfar.’ In Havamal Odin says: £ I know all the
EEsir, I know all the Alfar,’ and in the next verse we learn that
Thjodrorir sang £ strength to the EEsir and prosperity to the
Alfar.’ The same poem speaks of Odin carving runes for the
Eisir, and Daenn carving them for the Alfar. In Skirnismal
Frey complains that none of the EEsir or Alfar is willing that he
and Gerd should come together. Odin, in Grimnismal , speaks
of the land lying near the ASsir and Alfar as holy. Elsir, Alfar,
and Dvalinn’s people (dwarfs) are conjoined in Fajnismal as
progenitors of the Norns. 2

In Skirnismal Gerd asks Skirnir : £ Art thou of the Alfar, or
of the EEsir, or of the wise Vanir? ’ The sacred mead with
which the magic runes was sent forth is with the Eisir, the Alfar,
the wise Vanir, and with men, says Sigrdrifumal . 3

These phrases show that the Alfar are akin to divine beings.
They dwell in Heaven, in Alfheim, which is ruled by Frey, 4
and they act with gods and share their feasts. A similar com-
bination was known to the Anglo-Saxons, one of their spells
coupling esa and ylfa. 5 Though their creation is not mentioned,
the Alfar are a distinct group, supernatural, and with special
qualities. Unlike the dwarfs no individual Alf is spoken of,
save Daenn in Havamal , the name also of a dwarf in other
poems. Volund (Weyland the smith), however, is called
£ prince ’ and £ lord ’ of Alfar. 6

Only one kind of Alfar is spoken of in the poems, but Snorri



gives three groups — Ljosalfar, ‘Light elves,’ Dokkalfar,
‘ Dark elves,’ and the inhabitants of Svartalfaheim, the Svartal-
far, ‘ Black elves,’ whom, however, the context shows to be
dwarfs. Snorri says that Alfheim is the place where the Light
elves live, but the Dark elves dwell down in the earth, unlike
the others in appearance but more so in nature. The Light elves
are fairer than the sun, but the Dark elves are blacker ( svartari )
than pitch . 7 These Dark elves are not again mentioned, but
Snorri relates how Loki swore to get the Black elves to make
for Sif hair of gold, and then he went to those dwarfs called
Ivaldi’s sons, who made it . 8 Odin sent Loki into Svartalfaheim
to the dwarf Andvari in order to get his treasure . 9 He also sent
Skirnir into Svartalfaheim to certain dwarfs who made the
fetter Gleipnir . 10 The Black elves were thus dwarfs, and as
Dark elves dwell in the earth, they are presumably identical
with these. In spite of Snorri’s distinction, there was perhaps
but one class of Alfar, since no others are named in the Eddie
poems, in old writers, or in folk-tales, even if the elves of later
belief are ‘ a sort of middle being between Light and Dark
elves .’ 11

Snorri further states that at the southern end of Heaven there
are two other Heavens superimposed, and in the uppermost is
believed to be the hall Gimle, reserved for the righteous, but at
present inhabited by the Light elves . 12 There may be here a
reflexion of Christian ideas of successive Heavens, and possibly
an identification of Light elves with angels. Alfheim, the re-
gion of the Light elves, is a heavenly abode, and in Alvissmal
Heaven is called ‘ Fair roof ’ by the Alfar, as if it stretched over
their aerial home, and the sun is its 1 Fair wheel .’ 13 Unfortu-
nately the Eddas say nothing regarding the functions of the
Alfar. ‘ Light,’ as applied to them, has no moral significance,
and merely refers to their appearance.

Certain elfin groups of later Scandinavian belief, associated
with the air and with trees, and not specifically an underground
race, may represent the older Light elves, though neither they

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:34:14 PM »

Trees were associated with the souls of the dead, with elfins
and spirits, as well as with the spirit indwelling in the tree.
Many superstitions prove this, and trees, branches, and twigs
figure prominently in fertility rites. As spirits of the dead
dwelt in trees, so the Swedish Tomte or Brownie, successor to
an ancestral ghost, dwells in the V ard trad or ‘ ward-tree,’ the
lime or elm growing before the house. If it is cut down, the
prosperity of the house ceases, or, again, the Tomte dies with
the tree and then dwells in the house in the rafters made from it.
The Tomte acts as a guardian spirit of the house and family.
Such protective trees are also associated with a community . 52
Analogous to this is the North German belief in the Klabauter-
mann, a helpful Brownie of a ship, dwelling in the mast made
from a tree which, as a sapling, was split in order to pass a sickly
child through it, and then joined together again. If the child
died its soul passed into the tree. Such trees have a peculiar
form after this treatment and are used in ship-building . 53

As we shall see in a later Chapter, the mythic ash Yggdrasil
and the tree Lasrad are linked to such sacred trees as the
V ardtr'dd and the sacred tree described by Adam of Bremen.
There may be a hint at the sacredness of trees in the myth of the
creation of Ask and Embla out of tree-stumps.

Earlier and later folk-belief knew many varieties of more or
less elfin beings connected with the woods, in whom may be
seen earlier forest spirits, sometimes in new shapes and names.
The fairies and fees were fond of the woodlands, though those
are seldom directly linked to Tree-spirits, except e.g., where
trees are sacred to certain elves, or where mortals sleeping below
trees are subject to fairy enchantment. Even peculiarly wood-
land or tree elfins are more or less independent of their environ-
ment. The spirit animating a tree, rock, or stream always
tended to be separable from it, and as there are many trees,
rocks, or parts of a river, there would be many spirits animating


Rock-carvings and Bronze Razors

The designs of boats, to the left and right, upper
corner, are from rock-carvings at Bohuslan, Sweden,
and date from the early Bronze Age. Some of these
boats, of which there are many carvings, have a high
and narrow stem, terminating in an animal’s head.
The stern is decorated in the same way in some

The bronze razors (right) have spiral designs repre-
senting boats. These were common in Scandinavia,
and the boat design is sometimes associated with circles
having a cross or dot inside or lines radiating from the
circumference. These may be sun symbols. Some
have seen a sun symbol in the boat also, as if a myth
of the sun’s crossing the ocean at night in a boat had
been current in Scandinavia in the Bronze Age. See
p. 198 and J. Dechelette, Manuel d ’ archeologie , ii,
chapter 4.



these, but apt to appear apart from them and to assume a distinct
form. Teutonic folk-lore knows the distinctive forest elfins by
different names — OHG scrato, MHG holzmuoja, holzruna,
waldminne (cf. AS wuduadf); in South Germany Fanggen,
Saligen or salige Fraulein (‘ blessed maids,’ a euphemism),
wilde Leutej in Mid-Germany Moosweibel, Moosfraulein,
Holz- or Buschfrauen. In North Germany they are little
known or have assumed the qualities of dwarfs. Corresponding
to these are the Danish Skogsnufa, ‘ Forest-maidens,’ Askefruer,
‘ Ash-women ’j the Swedish Skogsra, ‘ Wood-goblin,’ Skogsfru,
‘Wood- wife, and the Lofviska. Male Wood-spirits are less
common — Waldmannlein, Wildmannel, Schrat, and the
Swedish Skogsman. The Ivithja, a female forest being men-
tioned in Hyndluljod , and the Troll- wives called Iarn-
vithja, ‘ Iron wood women,’ by Snorri, were more monstrous
than elfin, and nothing definite is known of them. 54 '

The Teutonic Schrat (Scrato), Latin Pilosus, is a wild,
shaggy, male Wood-spirit, also a form of the nightmare spirit,
with eyebrows meeting, who appears singly. Another form is
Schretel, Schretzel, a small elfin in houses. The woodland
Schrat is akin to the Fauns of classic tradition and to the Tree-
spirits of Teutonic paganism to whom temples and trees were
dedicated . 55 The wildiu wifi of early Teutonic belief were beau-
tiful, long-haired forest spirits, usually appearing singly. They
are the agrestes jeminae mentioned by Burchard, who says that
when they will they show themselves to their lovers, and with
them these say they have pleasure, and when they will they
leave them and vanish . 56 In Gudrun Wate learned the healing
art from one of them. They were famed for spinning. In one
version of Woljdietrich to the sleeping hero came a shaggy
Wood-wife, Rauhe Else, or Rauh Ells, on all fours like a bear,
asking his love. He called her a devil’s child: she cast spells
over him and he became like Nebuchadnezzar. When she next
sought his love, he agreed, if she would be baptized. She
carried him to her own land, bathed in a Fountain of Youth, and

20 6


became the lovely Sigeminne . 57 Similar amours occur in later
story, and such wildiu wip and agrestes jeminae resemble the
; puellae , dommae , matronae , seen in forests in medieval legend,
native Teutonic fees, like Saxo’s virgines sylvestres and the
Eddie Swan-maidens who love the forest.

The Moos- and Holzweibel and Buschfrauen, akin to dwarfs
though taller, live in companies, in the heath, in hollow trees,
or underground, though they also appear singly. They may
be golden-haired, but are mostly shaggy, clad in moss or with
moss on their faces, which are old and wrinkled. Their backs
are hollow, their breasts pendent. The shaggy, mossy wood-
land gave the type of these woodland folk, of Rauhe Else, and
of the Fauns. The less common males of these groups are both
kindly and tricky to the woodman. They have a queen, the
Buschgrossmutter. They beg or take food. When bread is
baked, a loaf is left for them at a certain spot, for which one of
their own loaves is afterward placed in a furrow or on the
plough, and they are angry if it is not accepted. For other
services they give a reward of a twig or leaves which afterwards
turn to gold. They both cause and cure diseases. As worms or
insects they creep from trees into men’s bodies, and these must
then wish them back into the tree in order to be rid of them.
But in time of plague a Holzfraulein will give herbs which are
effective against it, and if a Wildmannlein was caught and intoxi-
cated, he supplied secret knowledge, e.g., of cures. On the
whole, these Teutonic Wood-folk are kindly; they help with
harvesting, hire themselves to peasants, tend cattle, and bring
good luck to the house, or one will act like a Kobold or Brownie
in a house, requiring only bread and cheese as wages . 58

Wood-folk care for and protect the creatures of the wild.
The Skogsfru is Lady of those pursued by the hunter, and
may put him on their track. Sometimes the Wood-folk them-
selves appear as animals — the Holzfrauen as owls, the salige
Fraulein of Tyrol as vultures, guarding the chamois, the Fang-
gen as wild cats; the Danish and Swedish Wood-wife has a



semi-animal form or wears beast-skins or a cow’s tail. Wood-
wives and Moss-wives are pursued by the Wild Huntsman or
the devil, and seek human protection. Three crosses were
marked on a fallen tree in order that the Wood-wife might sit
within them, for the Wild Hunter fears the cross, and for such
aid men were richly rewarded . 59 But a wood-cutter who re-
fused this aid was seized and clasped by a Moss-wife, and after-
wards became ill. A peasant who mimicked the Hunter as he
pursued a Moss-wife found part of her body hanging at his door
next morning. This pursuit of the Wood- wives resembles the
North German belief in the Wind’s Bride, driven before the
Hunter . 60

Some of the Wood-folk are earlier Tree-spirits. Whoever
would fell a tree must kneel before it with uncovered head and
folded hands. In Denmark, where the Elder-mother dwelt
under an elder-tree, he who desired to take part of it had to
ask her permission thrice. The life of the Fangge is bound up
with that of a tree, like a Dryad’s. If any one twists a young
tree until the bark comes off, a Wood- wife dies, for she lives
beneath the bark . 61 All this is in accord with animistic beliefs
about Tree-spirits. The antiquity of the Wood-folk as com-
pared with man and his modern ways, is seen in their prefer-
ence for old methods. They say that there has never been a
good time since people began to count the dumplings in the pot
and the loaves in the oven, or to c pip ’ or mark loaves and put
caraway seed in them, which they cannot endure — a distaste
shared by certain dwarfs. Hence they cannot now enjoy the
peasants’ bread, and these in turn lose their prosperity . 62

Where the Wood-folk are supposed to dwell together (as in
Mid-Germany), they have many elfin and dwarf characteristics,
e.g., abducting women and children. The solitary Wood-
wife resembles a fee; the solitary male is rather a gigantic or
monstrous being. As spirits of the dead often took up their
abode in trees, according to older Teutonic belief, there is some
connexion between them and the Wood-folk, as there is between



a House-spirit, with its seat in the ‘ house-tree,’ and the ancestral
ghost. In South Tirol where the Wild-folk hang on a travel-
ler’s back until he faints, there is an example of Wood-spirits act-
ing like the Mahr or nightmare. A Moss-wife also attacked a
strong peasant and so weighed upon him that he sickened and
became wretched. 63 The characteristics of really distinct super-
natural beings are apt to be ascribed impartially to the different


The universal belief in the sacredness of streams, springs, and
wells is due to the fact that water, moving, glittering, making
audible sounds, is thought to be living and also tenanted by
spirits. These spirits were made more and more personal,
though still linked to the waters to which they owed their origin.
The waters are both beneficent and dangerous. They cleanse,
heal, give drink to the thirsty, fertilize, but they seek and take
human life on occasion — the rushing, swollen stream, the
cataract, the tempestuous sea.

The sacred fountain was often near a sacred tree, as at Upsala.
Such fountains gave oracles and healed the sick when the due
ritual was observed. In Christian times resort to wells and
springs in the old pagan manner was forbidden, though often
the guardianship of these was transferred to a saint, who now
performed miracles by its means.

In Scandinavia there are occasional references to the cult of
water, e.g., the worship of a cataract by Thorsteinn in Iceland,
who sacrificed and carried all leavings of food to it. He was a
seer and predicted how many of his sheep would perish in win-
ter. One autumn he said: c Kill what ye will, for I am now fey,
or the sheep are, or perhaps both.’ That night he died, and all
the sheep rushed into the cataract and perished. 641

Sometimes human victims were sacrificed to the waters or to
the spirits dwelling in them, as when the Franks in 539 a.d.
threw the women and children of the Goths into the river Po



as an offering and in order to know the future . 65 Before begin-
ning a long voyage Scandinavian sailors offered a human victim
to protect them against the rapacity of Ran . 66 The Normans
also offered victims to the Sea-god before setting out on their
raids . 67 The human sacrifices to the Frisian deity Fosite, after
violation of his sacred spring, were offered on the sea-shore, and
if Mogk is right, they had originally been offered to a Sea-
demon, in accordance with a long-continued Frisian belief that
the sea demanded the sacrifice of those guilty of robbery. Hu-
man victims were thrown into the sacred waters at Upsala . 68
Less sinister offerings were also made to springs and wells, and
survivals of these in Christian times were denounced in canons
of Synods and in Penitentials.

The varied extents of the waters — the broad and deep ocean,
the lake, the mere, the river, now larger, now smaller, no less
than their varied appearance, terrible or attractive, helped to
give form and character to the beings associated with them.
Many of these were dangerous, some because of their specious
beauty. Death and danger lurked in the depths of lakes or
swollen rivers, but were not unknown to the limpid, sparkling
stream or the clear pool, in which dwelt beautiful Water-elfins.
These, like other spirits, were regarded by ecclesiastical writers
as demons, and stories told how their wailing or spiteful cries
were heard when they realized that a new faith was ousting their

The more monstrous Water-spirits were like the giant Hati’s
wife who, whether a Sea-demon or not, tried to wreck the ships
of Helgi and Atli, as her monstrous daughter, Hrimgerd, con-
fessed . 69 These are types of the Hafgygr and Margygr, £ Sea-
giantess,’ of old Norse literature. The Anglo-Saxon poem,
Beowulf , gives vivid pictures of the terrible beings who haunted
inland waters or marshes. The mother of Grendel, seen on
moors, fens, and fastnesses, dwelt in a mere surrounded by
gloomy trees and rocks. She is called merewtf , brimwylf , and
grundwyrgen. The mere was of unknown depth ; its waves



mounted murkily to the clouds ; fire was seen on its surface by
night. There, too, sea-snakes, dragons, and niceras were seen,
‘ those that, in early morning, often procure disastrous going on
the sea-road.’ These niceras , like the OHG nichus y feminine
nichessa , seem to have betokened actual sea-monsters, but the
words also included Water-spirits. The different forms of the
word are AS nicor , plural niceras ; Middle English nykyr ,
meaning also ‘ siren ’ — ‘ nykeren that habbeth bodyes of
wyfmen and tayl of nisse’; 70 ON nykr; Norse and Danish
Nak; Swedish Nack; German Nix, English Nix, Nixie. The
widespread use of the word is significant of a common belief.

Other words denoted the Water-spirit, e.g., the German
Wasserman or a local form, Hakemann, who seized children
with a hook; the older Wazzerholde, Wasserjungfrau, Was-
serfraulein, Seejungfer, Seeweibel; the Danish Havfolk, Hav-
maend, Havfrue; the Swedish StrSmkarl and Vatten-elfvor
(‘ Water-elves ’), the Hafsman and Hafsfru; the Norse Grim
or Fossegrim. The Norse Nak is also known as Saetrold or
Vigtrold. Medieval literature knows the Merminne, MerwTp,
Merwif, Merfrouwe, female supernatural beings of the sea and
waters. The Marmennil, the present-day Marbendill, is men-
tioned in the Sagas. The Landnama-bok tells how Grim pulled
up a Marmennil and demanded to know the future from him
or he would never see his home again. He prophesied Grim’s
death, and other matters which came true . 71

The male Water-spirit is usually old, like a dwarf, with green
hat and teeth, or even green hair and eyes, though he may ap-
pear as a golden-haired boy, as a kind of centaur (in Iceland and
Sweden), as a horse, or in full or half fish form. He is to be
recognized by his slit ears and by his feet, which he keeps
hidden. Although his dwarf aspect does not appear promi-
nently in older tradition, the dwarf Andvari in Reginsmal took
the form of a fish and dwelt in the water . 72

All Water-elfins love music, and the Nak sits or dances on
the water, playing enchanting music on his golden harp. The



Sea-giantess or siren attacking sailors in their boat.
From an Icelandic MS of the Physiologus y c. 1200 a.d.
See p. 1 90.

pimui lararm i fojrf) rab6ar ftnor oc fctv v &
fdbtTd <d tnev^ haf^utfelo tbcrrm b oegd (jefeii?
OCVopTUtvdfe^opv -vko CTl6i> rtXJ oil rnvj ocfy^
fcma affag robbo-Svafarafc nwr

fd Sainton |icv cr K fre^efc ^ategg,tafct

4 KYtrm fivgvr^b er cHtallafc af alto v bo Idettqiar 0
prccdyrfre&mec ocfpdUf maaev^nv- CnbV


21 1

Stromkarl’s lay has eleven variations, the eleventh belonging
peculiarly to him, and if a mortal plays it, every person and
thing must dance. If a black lamb was sacrificed to him, the
offerer’s head being averted, he taught him this music ; as did
also the Fossegrim to the person who offered a white he-goat on
a Thursday evening. If it was lean, the pupil got no further
than tuning his fiddle: if fat, the Fossegrim guided his hand,
grasping it till the blood came, and now he could play so that
trees danced and waterfalls stood still . 73 The Nak assumed
youthful form to entice girls. The Swedish Nack has a passion
for women in childbed, and takes the husband’s form, though
his equine hoofs remain. If the woman does not perceive these
and admits him into her bed, she becomes demented. The Ice-
landic Nykr, as a grey horse, tempts someone to mount him,
and then dashes into the water — a trait of other Water-spirits . 74
The Nix and his kind were cruel, and even Water-maidens stay-
ing too long ashore at a dance, or other Water-spirits intruding
on his domain, were slain by him. The drowned were his vic-
tims, one or more yearly, and here may be seen a relic of human
sacrifice to the waters. The Nix also slew and ate children born
to him by his captive human wife. Like other elfins, the Water-
man knows where treasure is hid, and will communicate the
secret to favoured mortals . 75

Other elfin traits are seen in the communities of Nixen or of
each Nix and his family in their gorgeous palaces under the
water, or in an Icelandic story of Water-elves who entered a
house every Christmas Eve to hold revel, some of their number
watching for dawn. Each time, they killed the servant, left
alone in the house; but one Christmas Eve the servant concealed
himself, and, long before dawn, struck the planks of the house
and cried: ‘ The dawn! the dawn! ’ All fled to the water, leav-
ing costly vessels behind, and some were killed in their haste to
escape . 76 The Nix and his kind abduct women as wives, for
whom, in turn, human midwives are required. The midwife is
warned by the wife not to eat food or take more than her due


Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:32:46 PM »

Anglo-Saxon formulae of the tenth century for restoring fer-
tility to fields which had suffered from hostile magic are inter-
esting, as showing how memories of an older Earth cult sur-
vived into Christian times. The ritual was partly sacrificial,
with spoken spells. One of these runs: ‘ erce , erce, erce , eorthan
modord The mother of Earth, rather than Earth herself was
invoked. A similar Lettish phrase forms a parallel — Semmes-
mate, ‘ mother of Earth.’ The meaning of erce is uncertain.
Grimm connected it with the traditional German Frau Harke
or Herke. Some connexion with ero , ‘ earth,’ is also possible.
The other charm runs: ‘ Hale be thou, Earth ( folde), mother
of men} be faithful in God’s embrace, filled with food for use
of men.’ This was said before beginning to plough . 7 Folde,
‘ Earth,’ occurs also in ON as ‘ fold,’ and a similar appeal is
found in Sigrdrifumal where Brynhild cries : ‘ Hail to the gods,
hail to the goddesses, hail to the generous Earth ’ ( fjolnyta
fold ). 8 The Earth, as a productive source of what is good for
men, and as spouse of the Heaven-god, lies behind these for-
mulae. Ritual survivals of an old Earth cult are collected in Sir
James Frazer’s Golden Bough.

Obscure references to the magic or strengthening power of
Earth occur in the Eddie poems, as in the formula from Guth-
runarkvitha and Hyndluljod already mentioned. In Havamal
Earth is said to cure drink: hence before drinking ale one should
exorcise it through the magic strength of Earth. Because of the
magic strength of Earth, a newly born child was laid upon it.
The vitality or soul of the child issued from Mother-Earth.
When the child had again been lifted up by the midwife and



acknowledged by the father, it could only be exposed in excep-
tional cases. Scandinavian terms for ‘ midwife ’ are jord-
gumma , jordemoder, ‘ earth-mother.’ 9

Children or their souls were believed to come from Mother-
Earth, as this rite shows, and as is found in many folk-beliefs
regarding their coming out of hollow trees, i.e., from the earth,
out of ponds, lakes, wells, or caves. 10 Connected with this was
the rite by which men swore brotherhood. They let their blood
flow together into a footprint. Another rite was called £ going
under the earth.’ A long sod was cut so that its ends were fast
to the earth. It was propped up with a spear, and the parties
to the pact crept through it. All then let their blood from a
cut vein flow on the earth under the sod, afterwards touching it,
swearing to avenge each other, and calling the gods to witness.
The mixing of blood with the earth signified that all had come
from a common mother. 11


The myth of Sun and Moon as children of Mundilfari has
already been referred to. Sun is £ Moon’s bright sister,’ and
she drives the horses Arvak, c Early-wake,’ and Alsvid, £ All-
strong,’ harnessed to the chariot of the sun which the gods had
fashioned for lighting the world out of the glowing matter from
Muspellheim. Under the horses’ shoulders the gods set wind-
bags to cool them, though in some records this is called 1 iron-
coolness.’ Moon steers the course of the moon. 12 The poems
on which this account of Snorri’s is based say that the horses
wearily drag the weight of the sun, but the gods have set under
their yokes a cool iron. 13

In giving the kennings for ‘ sun,’ Snorri cites verses of Skuli
Thorsteinsson ( c . 980 a.d.) which refer to the sun as c goddess.’
The Eddie poems also call the sun ‘ shining goddess,’ and in
front of her stands Svalin, £ Cooling,’ as shield, otherwise moun-
tains and sea would be set on fire. The sun is ‘ Glitnir’s god-


Sun Symbols

These symbols cut on rocks and stones in Scandi-
navia during the Stone and Bronze Ages represent the
sun as a disc or wheel rolling through the sky. See
p. 198.



dess,’ Glitnir being the sky, the heavenly palace of Forseti . 14
Snorri also says that Sol, £ Sun,’ is reckoned among the Asynjur . 15
When the giant artificer asked for sun and moon as well as
Freyja for his reward, this shows that they may be regarded as
deities . 16 Some of the names given to the sun in Alvissmai are
interesting. Dwarfs call it £ deceiver of D valin elves name it
£ fair wheel . 1 The sun deceives D valin, a dwarf, because dwarfs
turn to stone if caught by its light. The name £ elf-beam 1 for
the sun refers to the danger which elves encounter from it . 17

In Voluspa the poet says that the sun cast her hand over the
rim of Heaven and had no knowledge of where her home
should be. The moon knew not what might was his, nor the
stars where their stations were, till the gods held council. Then
they gave names to night and new moon, full moon, morning,
evening, midday, and vesper. This account of the sun is best
explained as a description of the Northern midsummer night,
when the sun is at the edge of the horizon, but does not sink
beneath it, and remains near the moon. This suggested to the
poet a disordered state of things : hence he added a stanza telling
how the gods set order among the heavenly bodies . 18

The analogy of other religions would suggest that with all
these myths a cult of sun and moon existed in Scandinavia.
C^sar, on insufficient evidence, says that the Germans wor-
shipped no other deities than those which were objects of sight
and benefited men by their power — the sun, the moon, and
fire (Vulcan ). 19 This points to some cult or magical rites, and
is partly corroborated by what Tacitus says. Beyond the Suiones
(Swedes) is a sluggish sea, supposed to engirdle the earth. The
setting sun is so vivid there as to obscure the stars. People
believe that the sun can be heard emerging from the sea, and
horses and rays streaming from his head are seen. These horses
correspond to the Eddie horses of the sun. Tacitus also tells
how Boiocalus, king of the Ansivari, invoked the sun and stars.
Cassar’s opinion about a cult of the moon is not corroborated
from other sources, yet superstitious beliefs about new and full



moon found in later times may have existed in his day and have
given occasion to his assertion. The Suevic prophetesses, e.g.,
warned the tribesmen not to fight before new moon. 20 Sunna is
mentioned in the Merseburg charm as one of the Idisi. Proco-
pius says that in Thule, by which he means Scandinavia, the sun
does not appear at the winter solstice for forty days. Watchers
on the mountains look for its rising and inform the people that
this will happen in five days. A great feast is then held. 21 In
later centuries the Church forbade the cult of sun and moon or
observances in connexion with them. They were not to be
called lords, said S. Eligius. The Saxon Indiculus Supersti-
tionum mentions the custom of the pagans who say: Vince , luna y
at an eclipse. The Anglo-Saxons were told in the laws of
Canute that heathenism honoured heathen gods, sun and moon.
The worship of sun, moon, and stars, new moon, and the shout-
ing and noise at an eclipse, by which the moon was supposed to
be aided, are denounced in Burchard’s collection of ecclesiastical
decrees. 22

In folk-custom there are many survivals of rites by which the
power of the sun was supposed to be increased and fertility
aided. Further reference need not be made to these, but the
mention of the chariot of the sun in the Eddas is interesting be-
cause of certain archaeological finds.

In the Stone Age symbols of the sun were carved on stones in
Scandinavia — circles with or without inner rays in the form
of a cross, or with several rays from centre to circumference, or
concentric circles, sometimes with an inner cross or with lines
joining the two circles. These circles show that the sun was
regarded as a disc or wheel rolling through the sky. This
symbolism was continued in the Bronze Age, 23 but now more
interesting finds show the reverence for the sun in that period.
In 1902 a bronze disc decorated with spirals and overlaid with
gold was found at Trundholm in Seeland. It stood on a bronze
wagon with six wheels, set upright on the axle of the hindermost
pair. Resting on the axles of the two foremost pairs of wheels


Sun Carriage

Sun carriage, with horse and wheels, of bronze
covered with gold. Found at Trundholm, Seeland.
Described on p. 198.



is the figure of a bronze horse. The wagon on which is the disc
of the sun does not appear to have been drawn by the horse;
both horse and disc are on the wagon. 24. Other representations
of the sun, whether ornamental or used in cult or magic, have
been found. A bronze disc, with concentric ring ornamentation,
and with triangular pendants attached to the upper part of the
disc, was found at Eskelheim in Gotland. It was probably part
of the ornamentation of a horse’s trappings . 20 More elaborate
is a decorated bronze disc, fifteen inches in diameter, mounted
on a ring of metal, six inches deep, with ten wheels, each with
four spokes from a central ring. This was found at Ystad in
Schonen . 26 All these different kinds of discs represented the

Snorri tells how Gangleri spoke of the sun’s swift course, as if
hasting to destruction. To this Har replied that he who seeks
her comes close and she cannot but run away. Two wolves
cause this trouble. Skoll pursues her, and Hati Hrodvitnisson
leaps before her, and he is eager to seize the moon. They are
progeny of a giantess in Ironwood who bears many giants for
sons. Hrodvitnir, £ Mighty wolf,’ is the Fenris-wolf, father of
the brood . 27

This account is based on verses of Grimnismal and V oluspa.
The former says :

‘ The wolf is called Skoll, who in Ironwood
Follows the glittering goddess;

Hati the other, Hrodvitnir’s son,

Runs before the bright bride of Heaven.’

The latter tells how the giantess in Ironwood bore Fenrir’s
brood. Among these was one in troll’s form, the robber of the
sun. Nothing is said of the moon, as in Snorri’s account . 28 In
Vafthrudnismal Fenrir himself swallows the sun at the Doom
of the gods, but the sun bears a daughter before that, and she
will follow her mother’s path . 29 This deed of Fenrir’s belongs
to the end of the world: the pursuit of the sun by his wolf-sons



goes on always. Both incidents refer to the myths of an eclipse
as caused by a monster devouring sun or moon, which was driven
off by people making noises. Snorri gives another myth. One
of Fenrir’s brood, mightiest of all, is Managarm, ‘ Moon-
hound,’ who will be filled with flesh of all who die and shall
swallow the moon, sprinkling Heaven and the air with blood.
This precedes the great storms and darkening of the sun at the
Doom of the gods. Snorri is paraphrasing and quoting a pas-
sage in Voluspa which, however, speaks of the swallower of the
sun ( tungl , ‘sun,’ not ‘ moon ’) and not of Managarm, whom
he must have introduced from some other source . 30

V ajthrudnismal says that Delling, ‘ Day-spring,’ is father of
Day. Nor is father of Night. The steed which draws the
shining Day to benefit mankind is Skinfaxi, ‘ Shining mane,’ the
best of horses in the eyes of heroes ; his mane burns brightly.
The horse which brings Night for the noble gods is Hrimfaxi,
‘ Frosty mane.’ Foam falls from his bit each morning, and
thence come the dews in the dales — a statement made also of
the Valkyries’ steeds. Night as daughter of Nor is named also
in Alvissmal . 3 1

Snorri elaborates this. Night’s father, Narfi, is a giant in
Jotunheim. Night is swarthy and dark, as befits her race. She
was given first to the man Naglfari (who bears the same name
as the corpse-ship in Volusia ), and by him had a son Aud.
Then she was married to Anar, and from them Jord was born.
Next Delling, of the race of the Aisir, had her, and their son
was Day, radiant and fair like his father. All-father took Night
and Day and gave them two horses and two chariots, and sent
them up into the Heavens to ride round about the earth every
two half-days. Night’s horse, Hrimfaxi, bedews the earth with
foam every morning. Day’s steed, Skinfaxi, illumines earth
and air with his mane . 32

This elaborate genealogy may be due to knowledge of such
theogonic genealogies as that given by Hesiod. The skalds
worked this up, and Snorri has put it into prose. Thus it is not

Sun Symbol

Bronze sun disc mounted on a metal ring with ten
wheels. From Ystad in Schonen. See p. 199.



genuine Scandinavian mythology. The parallels are Night,
Nox; Nor, Erebus; Day, Dies; Jord, Terra; while Aud
(Authr) perhaps is .Ether, and Anar is Amor . 33 The origin of
Day from Night is genuine mythology, as with the Celts and
others, who held that night precedes or gives rise to day, dark-
ness to light. The light of day comes gradually out of the
darkness of night, whereas darkness falls over the light of day,
extinguishing it. Man also, asleep and inert during darkness,
rises to fresh activity with the light. A pre-existing state of
darkness, out of which light and life have proceeded, is thus
very widely presupposed. Tacitus says of the Teutons that
they count the number of nights, not of days, for night seems to
precede day . 34

£ Delling’s door ’ is mentioned in Havamal. Before it the
dwarf Thj odrorir c sang might for the gods, glory for elves, and
wisdom for Hroptatyr ’ (Odin). This door would be that
through which day or the sun came forth. In the Hervarar-
saga one of Gestumblindi’s riddles is : 1 What is the marvel out-
side Delling’s door, which shines on men in every land, and yet
wolves are always struggling for it? 5 The answer is, the sun,
the wolves being Skoll and Hati . 35


Caesar’s reference to a cult of Vulcan means a cult of the
visible fire. Superstitious reverence for fire, e.g., on the hearth,
or fire as a sun-charm, as a medium of sacrifice, or the like,
may lie behind his words. In Scandinavia a fire-ritual was used
in establishing a claim to property in land. Fire was carried
round it, or a fiery arrow shot over it . 36 Consecrated fires
burned in temples, for such a fire in a temple in Iceland belong-
ing to Thorgrim was never allowed to go out. There were also
fires in the midst of temples over which kettles hung and across
which toasts were carried . 37 The Anglo-Saxon laws of Canute
speak of the honouring of fire as a heathen rite . 38



Needfire, fire kindled by means of friction, was used in many
rites, especially where new fire was required. This is mentioned
in the Indiculus Superstitionum — de igne fricato de ligno , id
est nodfyr , and also in one of Charlemagne’s Capitularies —
illos sacrilegos ignes quos niedfyr vocant . 39 It was used to
kindle fire in time of cattle-plague, and through such a fire
cattle were driven, all fires in houses having first been extin-
guished. Bonfires at midsummer festivals were also kindled
from needfire . 4 * 0

Fire plays its part in Eddie cosmogony — in the Muspell-
heim conception, and in the final conflagration. The giant
Surt with the flaming sword is guardian of this final fire and he
will burn up the world. It may be that Surt was a Volcano-god
or a Volcano-demon, originating in Iceland . 41 A story in the
Landnama-bok may be cited in this connexion. Thorir was an
old man, his sight dim. One evening he saw a huge, ill-looking
man rowing in an iron boat. He came to a house and dug be-
side it. During the night fire and lava burst from this place and
did great destruction. The huge man was obviously a Fire-
demon or Fire-giant . 42

Fire was used in Scandinavia as elsewhere to cure diseases.
Hence the sayings in Havamal that 1 fire is the best gift for
men ’ and that 1 fire cures diseases .’ 43


Many hills were called after Odin, either as places of his cult
or as indicating that the dead, whom he ruled, were within them.
Others were called after Thor. Folk-belief peopled certain
hills with the dead, especially in Iceland, and these were held
to be sacred . 44 Hill-giants are demoniac beings inhabiting hills,
or personifications of the hills. A cult of mountains as such in
Scandinavia is not easily proved. Agathias in the sixth century
says that the Alemanni worshipped mountains . 45 The eccle-
siastical prohibitions include sacrifices super petras et saxa y



whether these are to be regarded as hills or great stones or out-
crops of rock or megalithic monuments. Some stones seem to
have been ruins of older temples and shrines — ‘ stones
( lapides ) which in ruinous places or woods are venerated,’ is a
phrase in one of the canons of the Synod of Nantes . 48 Examples
of the cult of spirits dwelling in stones are found in Iceland, and
the Landnama-bok tells how Eywind settled Flatey-dale up to
the Gund stones, and these he hallowed or worshipped . 47


Trees and groves were sacred among the Teutons, the grove
being a temple, a centre of religious and political life, the scene
of cult and sacrifice. Tacitus mentions several such groves in
connexion with the cult of Germanic deities — the silva Herculi
sacra near the Weser; the lucus Baduhennae in North-west Ger-
many; the grove where the Semnones sacrificed to the regnator
omnium Deus; the island castum nemus of Nerthus; the grove
where the brothers called Alcis were worshipped . 48 Lives of
Christian missionaries and other documents show the reverence
for such groves at a later time among the Frisians, Lombards,
Saxons, and others. On the branches of the trees sacrificial vic-
tims were hung. Adam of Bremen describes a grove near Up-
sala where animals were sacrificed, and other groves were sacred
in Scandinavia. We read in the handnama-bok of the Icelander
Thore who hallowed and worshipped a grove and offered sac-
rifice to it. 4S Where Christianity prevailed, such groves were
cut down and destroyed.

Single trees were also held sacred, such as those worshipped
by the Alemanni, mentioned by Agathias, or others spoken of
in contemporary documents over a period of several centuries . 50
They were sacred in themselves or dedicated to a god, e.g., the
robur Jovis dedicated to Donar at Geismar or the huge tree with
spreading branches ever green in winter at Upsala, with a spring
beside it at which sacrifices were offered. A living man was


sometimes thrown into this spring, and the whole place was
tabu . 51

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:32:10 PM »



would be an appropriate companion for her. She is perhaps no
more than a form of Frigg.


Other goddesses associated with Frigg are Lofn, Hlin, and
Gna. Lofn is kind to those who call on her, willingly hears
prayer, and is mild. She has the permission of Odin and Frigg
to bring together in marriage those to whom it had been for-
bidden before or who had found difficulties in the way. From
her name, such permission is called lof. Akin to her, though
not mentioned in connexion with Frigg, is Sjofn, who is zealous
in turning the thoughts of men and women to love. From her
name love is called sjojni. Hlin is set to guard men whom
Frigg wishes to preserve from danger. Gna is sent by Frigg
into different lands on her affairs, and rides the horse which can
run through air and sea, called Hofvarpnir, £ Hoof-tosser.’
Snorri, from whom this account of these goddesses is taken, then
cites lines from a lost Eddie poem which recounted a myth of
Gna, riding forth on an errand for Frigg. Some of the Vanir
once saw her riding through the air, and one of them said:

c Who flies there ? Who travels there ?

Who glides through the air? 5

Gna replied:

‘ I do not fly, though I do travel,

Gliding through the air

On Hoof-tosser’s back, on the swift Gardrofa
Begotten by Hamskerpir.’

Things high in air are said 1 to raise themselves ’ (gn&fa), after
Gna’s name. Apart from this notice by Snorri, nothing is known
of Gna, except that her name is used as a kenning for £ woman .’ 32
Some of these goddesses may be merely forms of Frigg her-
self. In V olusp a a new grief is said to come to Hlin when Odin
goes to fight with the Fenris-wolf. Hlin is here a name of Frigg
and means ‘ Protector .’ 33

1 86



Other goddesses are named by Snorri. Eir is the best
physician. One of the servants of Menglod in Svipdagsmal has
the same name, and Menglod had some connexion with the
healing art. She sat on the hill Lyfjaberg, £ Hill of healing,’
and £ it will long be a joy to the sick and suffering. Each woman
who climbs it, however long she has been sick, will grow well.’
There is doubtless some reference here to folk-custom, and to
local goddesses of healing. Eir is £ the one who cares for ’ (ON
eir a, £ to care for,’ £ to save ’). Her name is used in the sense
of £ goddess ’ in kennings for £ woman .’ 34

Var listens to oaths and complaints made between men and
women: hence such compacts are called varar. She takes
vengeance on those who break them, and she is wise and de-
sirous of knowledge, nothing can remain hidden from her. Var is
mentioned in T hrymskvitha , when Thrym says at his marriage
with the supposititious Freyja: £ In the name of Var consecrate
our union.’ Var has thus to do with the marriage-bond, and
marriage was one of Frigg’s concerns . 35

Syn, £ Denial,’ guards the doors in the hall and shuts them
before those who should not enter. She is appointed as guardian
in law-suits where men would deny something: hence the saying
that Syn is present when one denies anything . 36

Snotra, £ Prudent,’ is wise and decorous of manner: hence
after her name prudent persons are called snotr , 37


The giantess-goddess Skadi may have been of Finnish origin,
but she was included among the Asynjur. On the borderland
of Finns and Scandinavians, viz., in Halogaland, we find a cult
of two sister-goddesses, Thorgerd Holgabrud and Irpa, who
are never included among the Asynjur. Snorri says that Thor-
gerd’s father was Holgi, king of Halogaland, which was named



after him. Sacrifice was made to both father and daughter.
A cairn was raised over Holgi, consisting of a layer of gold and
silver (sacrificial money) and a layer of earth and stones.
Holgi was the eponymous king of the region said to be named
after him . 38

According to Saxo, Helgo, king of Halogaland, was in love
with Thora, daughter of Cuso, king of the Finns. Being a
stammerer he induced Hotherus to plead his cause with her,
and he was so successful that she became Helgi’s wife . 39 Saxo’s
Thora is Thorgerd, who was really Holga’s (Helgi’s) wife,
not his daughter, hence Holgabrud, ‘ Holgi’s bride.’

The jarls of Halogaland seem to have regarded Thorgerd
and Irpa as their guardians. Nothing is known of Irpa’s origin.
Jarl Hakon of Lather, in the later part of the tenth century, was
devoted to their cult. In some of the Sagas we hear of temples
of these goddesses, their images standing on each side of Thor,
wearing gold rings . 40

Hakon took Sigmund Brestisson to a secluded temple in the
forest, full of images, among these one of Thorgerd, before
which he prostrated himself. He then told Sigmund that he
would sacrifice to her, and the sign of her favour would be that
her ring would be loose on her finger, and the ring would bring
good fortune to Sigmund. At first the goddess seemed to with-
hold the ring, but when Hakon again prostrated himself, she
released it . 41

The Jomsvikings-saga tells how Hakon sought Thorgerd’s
and Irpa’s help during the naval battle with the Jomsvikings.
At first Thorgerd was deaf to his prayers and offerings, but
when he sacrificed his son to her, the goddess came to his aid.
From the North there came thunder, lightning, and hail, and
Thorgerd was seen with Hakon’s people by the second-sighted.
From each of her fingers seemed to fly an arrow, and each arrow
killed a man. This was told to Sigwald, who said that they were
not fighting men but evil trolls. As the storm diminished
Hakon again appealed to the sisters, reminding them of his

1 8 8


sacrifice, and now the hail grew worse, and Thorgerd and Irpa
were seen with his ships. Sigwald fled, because he could do
nothing against such demons . 42

A late Saga, that of Thorleijs Jarlaskald y tells how Hakon
removed a spear which had belonged to Horgi (Holgi) from
the temple of the goddesses. He desired to be revenged on
Thorleif and asked help from them. A human figure was
carved, and by means of their magic and that of the jarl, the
heart of a dead man was inserted in it. By magic also the figure
was made to walk and speak. It was despatched to Iceland,
armed with the spear, and Thorleif was slain . 43

In the story of Olaf Tryggvason the temple was destroyed
by him and Thorgerd’s image stripped of its gold and silver
adornments and vestments, and afterwards destroyed with that
of Frey. In the Njals-saga there is another account of a de-
struction of the temple. Hrapp went into it and saw a life-size
image of Thorgerd with a great gold ring on her arm and a
wimple on her head. These he took from her, as well as a
second ring from the image of Thor in his wagon, and a third
from the image of Irpa. Then he dragged the images forth and
set fire to the temple. When Hakon found the images stripped
of their gear, he knew what had happened, but said that the
gods did not always avenge everything on the spot. ‘ The man
who has done this will no doubt be driven away out of Valhall,
and never come in thither .’ 44

These goddesses were revered as guardians, and their cult
was prominent towards the close of the pagan period. They
were probably of the class of female supernatural beings called
Disir, of whom more will be said later. Their aid was given
through magic and through their power over the forces of
nature. Whether they were actually Finnish goddesses ac-
cepted in parts of Scandinavia, or whether, because of their
magic, they came to be so regarded, is differently answered by
different students. In Christian times an evil reputation at-
tached to Thorgerd and she was called Thorgerd Holgatroll . 45


There is some connexion between Thorgerd, the bride of
Holgi, Saxo’s Helgi and Thora, and Helgi and the Valkyrie
Svava in Helgakvitha Hjorvardssonar. In this poem Helgi is
silent and forgets names, just as Saxo’s Helgi stammered and
was ashamed to be heard speaking. Svava guards Helgi and is
betrothed to him. The horses of Svava and her fellow Val-
kyries drop hail and dew on woods and dales : she and they have
power over nature just as Thorgerd had. In this poem, how-
ever, the wooing by another is transferred to Helgi’s father
Hjorvard, and Atli woos Sigrlin on his behalf. 46 As we shall
see Valkyries were included among the Disir.



T HE skalds had many names for the sea in its different
aspects. Its hurtful character was personified in the Sea-
goddess Ran, ‘ Robbery,’ though she was rather demoniac than
divine. Of terrifying nature, she was yet wife of Aigir, the
sea in its calmer mood. The sea was called 1 Husband of Ran,’
‘ Land of Ran,’ 1 Ran’s road,’ and the wave ‘ with red stain
runs out of white Ran’s mouth.’ 1 Aigir and Ran had nine
daughters whose names show that they are personifications of
the waves. Among the riddles which Gestumblindi asked of
Heidrik was: ‘Who are the maidens who go at their father’s
bidding, white-hooded, with shining locks? ’ The answer was,
the waves or Aigir’s daughters (TEgis meyjar ). 2 In Helga-
kvitha Hundingsbana the noise of Kolga’s sister (Kolga was one
of Aigir’s daughters) dashing on Helgi’s ships is like that of
breakers on the rocks, and ‘ Tigir’s fearful daughter ’ seeks to
sink them. But the vessel was wrested from ‘ the claws of
Ran.’ In Helgakvitha H jorvardssonar Atli says to the mon-
strous Hrimgerd that she had sought to consign the warriors to
Ran. 3

In the first of these passages Ran tries to drag down the ships
with her hands. She also possesses a net with which to catch
sea-farers, and the gods first became aware of this when they
were present in Aigir’s hall. The skald Ref speaks of Ran’s
wiling ships into Tigir’s wide jaws. Hence to be drowned at
sea was ‘ to go to Ran.’ 4 The drowned were taken by Ran to
her domain : she was goddess of the drowned and dangerous to
sea-farers. Yet not all the drowned went to her halls. When
Thorsteinn and his men perished at sea, they were seen by his
shepherd within a hill near their dwellings. 5



In the Egils-saga Bodvar, Egil’s son, was drowned, and his
father cried: 1 Ran hath vexed me sore. The sea has cut the
bonds of my race. ... I shall take up my cause against the
brewer of all the gods (Tiigir) and wage war with the awful
maids of the breakers (yEgir’s daughters), and fight with
Aigir’s wife .’ 6 Folk-belief held that it was good to have gold
in one’s possession when drowning. In the Fridthjojs-saga
Fridthjof says in the storm that some of his people will fare to
Ran and they should be well adorned and have some gold. He
broke a ring and divided it among them, saying: ‘ Before .Egir
slays us, gold must be seen on the guests in the midst of Ran’s
hall .’ 7 The fate of the drowned was not altogether bad. A
piece of folk-belief about the drowned is preserved in the
Eyrbyggja-saga , and it describes how Thorod and his men,
drowned at sea, came as ghosts dripping with water to drink the
Yule-ale several nights in succession. They were welcomed by
their relatives, and it was a token that the drowned who thus
came to their own burial-ale would have good cheer of Ran.
This old belief, as the Saga says, had not been set aside though
men had been baptized and were Christian in name . 8 In Ran’s
halls the drowned feasted on lobsters and the like . 9

In later folk-belief Ran was still to be seen reclining on the
shore combing her hair, like a mermaid, or in winter drawing
near to the fires kindled by fishermen on the shores of the
Lofoden islands. Swedish folk-belief also knew Ran as Sjora,
£ lady of the sea .’ 10

Ran, the £ cruel and unfeeling,’ may be regarded as originally
a demoniac being of the waters, who tended to be viewed also
as a guardian goddess of the drowned, whom, if she slew, she
entertained in her water-world halls.

Personification of the waves is found in Celtic mythology,
Irish and Welsh. They were the Sea-god Manannan’s horses
or the locks of his wife. They bewailed the loss of Dylan, £ son
of the wave,’ and sought to avenge him. Nine waves, or the
ninth wave, had great importance in folk-belief . 11



H OW far the Eddie deities are derived from animistic spirits
of different departments of nature is a moot point. The
origin of nature worship must be sought primarily in the fact
that man viewed rivers, hills, trees, thunder, wind, and the like,
as alive in the same sense as he himself was. As he was alive,
moving and acting, so things around him, especially those which
moved and acted, or in any way suggested life, were alive.
They had varying capabilities and spheres of action. Some
were in motion — rivers, clouds, sun and moon, trees swayed
by the wind. Some were vast entities — a huge tree, a broad
river, a high mountain. Some acted or did things — the clouds
poured down rain, the trees swayed in the wind, or brought
forth leaves and fruit, earth produced vegetation, thunder
crashed and rolled, the sun gave light and heat. Some seemed
beneficial to man; some were antagonistic. They did more or
less the things which man did: they were alive: they possessed
power. Hence the more alive they were and the more power
they possessed, man saw stronger reasons for standing in awe of
them and even propitiating them. When man discovered him-
self possessed of a soul or spirit, he naturally ascribed such a
soul or spirit to these powers or parts of nature. And as man’s
soul could leave his body in sleep or at death or become sepa-
rable from it, so could the spirit or soul of a mountain, a tree, a
river. Thus in time the spirits of parts of nature might be and
were conceived as altogether detached from them. Thus a way
was open to ever-increasing hosts of nature spirits, no less than
to the dowering of certain nature spirits — those of greater
entities, e.g., the sky, a mountain, earth, sun, moon — with a



more elaborate personality. These were on their way to be re-
garded as divine, as gods or goddesses. So also groups of nature
spirits were conceived as having a chief, on the analogy of human
society, and these in time might become personal divinities of a
part of nature. Such deities tended to become more and more
separate from the objects which were their source, more and
more anthropomorphic, yet lofty divine beings, ruling sky, sun,
moon, earth, sea. Hence the number of such gods found in all
polytheistic religions, separate from, yet connected in some way
with, these natural objects. They tend to become ever wider in
their sphere of influence, yet betray by certain links the source
from which they sprang. All deities were not necessarily nature
spirits, but many of them were, though the connexion may be
difficult to trace . 1

In Teutonic polytheism some of the deities can be traced to a
source in nature. Tiuz was perhaps at first the sky. Odin,
whatever he became in later times, may have originated in con-
nexion with the wind on which the souls of the dead were
thought to be borne. Thor is in origin the personified thunder,
though this connexion was forgotten in Icelandic literature, be-
cause in Icelandic and Old Norse the word for 1 thunder 1 cor-
responding to the name of Thor had gone out of use. The con-
nexion of other deities with nature has been noted in discussing
the separate divinities. Some of the giants originated in hostile
nature powers, embodiments of frost, ice, storm, the mountains.
Individual names of giants throw little light on their origin, but
Thrym, Thor’s opponent, whose name means £ noise,’ and is
connected with ON thruma , c thunder-clap,’ is a kind of counter-
part of Thor as Thunder-god. Another giant being, the eagle
Hrsesvelg who causes the winds, is a personification of the wind.
So, too, the Midgard-serpent is the personification, in gigantic
animal form, of ocean as it was supposed to encircle the earth.

In the following sections we shall see how different parts of
nature were regarded by the Teutonic peoples and especially by
the Scandinavians.




Jord, mother of Thor by Odin, is said to be both wife and
daughter of Odin by Snorri, who counts her among the Asyn-
jur. He and the skald Hallfred speak of her as daughter of
Anar (Onar) and Night. The kennings for Jord were, among
others, 4 Flesh of Ymir,’ 4 Daughter of Anar,’ 4 Odin’s bride,’
4 Co-wife of Frigg, Rind, and Gunnlod.’ She is also called
Hlodyn. 4 The hard bones of the green Hlodyn ’ are spoken of
by the skald Volu-Steinn . 2 Inscriptions to Dea Hludana are
found in Lower Germany and Friesland, on altars consecrated
to her by fishermen. The meanings proposed for Hludana
vary with the suggested derivations. These remain uncertain,
as does the identity of Hlodyn and Hludana . 3

Still another name for Thor’s mother is Fjorgyn, which must
be a title of Jord’s. But there was also a male Fjorgynn, Frigg’s
husband, i.e., Odin, though Snorri, mistaking the meaning of
mcer , 4 beloved,’ 4 maiden,’ 4 wife,’ calls Frigg 4 daughter of
Fjorgynn .’ 4 In these two similar names or appellatives we may
see those of a primitive Sky-god and Earth-goddess, their son
being Thor. When Odin took the place of the Sky-god, Fjor-
gyn or Jord was regarded as his wife and Thor as his son. The
name is connected with Sanskrit Parjanya, Lithuanian Per-
kunas, Latin quercus y 4 oak,’ and Gothic jairguni , 4 mountain,’
OHG Fergunna, the name of a mountain covered with oaks.
Hence the supposition that Heaven and Earth, as a divine pair,
were venerated on a wooded mountain. The union of such a
pair was regarded in many mythologies as the source of all
things, Earth being a female. Often, too, they were parents of
gods and men . 6 If such a divine pair were venerated by the
Teutons, what Tacitus says of Nerthus as Mother-Earth is
significant. Jord, Fjorgyn, perhaps also Freyja, were forms
of the Earth-goddess.

Tacitus speaks of a temple of the goddess Tamfana, wor-
shipped by the Marsi, which Germanicus levelled to the ground.



The tribes had held a festival of the goddess early in winter,
and, when drunk, were surprised by Germanicus and put to the
sword. Various derivations have been proposed for Tamfana,
e.g., a connexion with Icelandic pamb , ‘ fulness,’ pqmb y ‘ abun-
dance ’; with ON tafn , ‘sacrificial animal’} and Latin daps.
Tamfana was apparently a goddess of fertility, of harvest, hence
a form of the Earth-Mother . 6

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:31:30 PM »

17 6

went into exile, and Mit-othin took his place. Odin returned
only after Frigg was dead. Probably we are to assume that
Mit-othin, like Vili and Ve, took Frigga as wife . 13 The possible
meanings of these myths have already been given . 14 Frigg,
who gives herself for the sake of personal adornments resembles
Freyja, who does the same — another suggestion of their ulti-
mate identity or that myths told of one were also told of the

The opening part of the prose Introduction to Grimnismal
shows Frigg, with Odin, in a more pleasing light. They ap-
pear as an old peasant and his wife dwelling by the sea. King
Hraudung had two sons, Agnar and Geirrod, who went fishing
in a boat. They were driven out to sea and wrecked on the coast
where Odin and Frigg dwelt. With them they spent the
winter, not knowing who the peasant and his wife were. Odin
nourished Geirrod and taught him out of the treasures of his
wisdom. Frigg took Agnar in charge. In spring Odin gave
them a ship, and as he and Frigg accompanied the lads to it,
Odin took Geirrod apart and spoke privately to him. The
youths had a fair wind and reached their father’s place, but as
Geirrod sprang ashore, he pushed out the boat with Agnar,
saying: c Go where evil spirits may have thee.’ The vessel was
driven out to sea, but Geirrod was well received by the people
and made king, for his father was dead. This explains why
Odin and Frigg are respectively foster-parents of Geirrod and
Agnar. The goddess Hlin was defender of Frigg’s favourites
or fosterlings.

Nothing is known in detail of the cult of Frigg, nor can it be
proved that she was originally an Earth-goddess, consort of a
Heaven-god, but later assigned to Odin. Her name occurs in
that of the sixth day of the week as the equivalent of Dies
Veneris , OHG Friadag, Frijetag; AS Frigedaegj Old Frisian
Frigendei; ON Frjadagr. The occurrence of these names
shows that Frigg was known both to Scandinavians and West
Germans, and that she was equated with Venus . 15 The English


Images and Grave-plate

To left. Image of a god wearing a helmet, found
in Scania. Ninth or tenth century.

To right. Bronze image of a goddess, possibly of
fertility, from Scania, c. 700 B.c. Similar figures are
common in the Baltic area, and the type goes back to
images of the Babylonian Istar, goddess of fruitfulness.

Centre. Grave plate from Kivike, early Bronze
Age. From M annus, vol. vii.



yElfric speaks of her as £ that foul goddess Venus whom men
call Frigg.’ The Lombards knew her as Freaj the Thuringians,
as Frija, whose sister was Volla, the Norse Fulla, according to
the Merseburg charm. Geoffrey of Monmouth says that, after
Woden, the Anglo-Saxons worshipped among others the most
powerful goddess after whose name the sixth day was called

Reminiscences of Frigg appear in tradition. In Sweden, at
the religious observance of Thursday, when the house was pre-
pared for the visit of deities, the expression was used £ Hallow
the god Thor and Frigg.’ On the same day no spindle or distaff
could be used, for Frigg herself then span. In the evening an
old man and woman might be seen sitting at the distaff, viz.,
Thor and Frigg. Why she was thus associated with Thor is
unknown. In Sweden the stars forming the belt in the constel-
lation Orion are called £ Frigg’s spindle and distaff.’ Thus she
was associated with women’s work. In Iceland an orchis from
which love-philtres are made is called Friggjargras, and a cer-
tain fern is called Freyjuhar . 16




I N his formal list of the Asynjur, Snorri does not mention
Idunn, but elsewhere he includes her among them . 1 She
was wife of Bragi and dwelt at Brunnakr’s brook. As goddess
of immortality she is described by Kauffmann as keeping £ the
venerable father of singers young even in old age — a beautiful
symbol of the undying freshness of poetry,’ and by Gering as
indicating the immortality of song . 2 She guarded in her coffer
the apples which the gods tasted when they began to grow old.
Thus they grew young, and so it continued to the Doom of the
gods. Gangleri, to whom this was told, said that the gods
have entrusted much to Idunn’s care. Then he was told how
once the gods’ ruin was nearly wrought, and this is the subject
of the myth of Thjazi and Idunn. Idunn was called £ keeper of
the apples,’ and they are £ the elixir of the Aisir .’ 3 Hence also
her name, from the prefix id , £ again,’ and the termination unn ,
common in female names. This gives the meaning £ renewal,’
£ restoration of youth.’ Idunn is a common woman’s name in
Iceland . 4

In hokasenna Idunn besought Bragi at Tagir’s banquet not to
speak ill of Loki. Loki accused her of hunting after men and
of winding her white arms round the neck of her brother’s mur-
derer. She replied that she would not speak opprobrious words
of Loki, but would soothe Bragi, excited by beer, so that he and
Loki would not fight in anger . 5 Nothing else is known of the
subjects of Loki’s accusation.

The myth of Thjazi is told by Snorri and by the poet Thjo-
dolf of Hvin (tenth century) in the Haustlong. Odin, Loki,



and Hoenir had wandered over wastes and mountains, and found
a herd of oxen, one of which they slew and roasted. Twice they
scattered the fire and found that the meat was not cooked. Per-
plexed at this, they heard a voice from a tree saying that he
who sat there had caused the fire to give no heat. A great eagle
was the speaker, and he said that the ox would be cooked if they
gave him a share. To this they agreed, but the eagle, the giant
Thjazi in disguise, took a thigh and two forequarters of the
ox. Loki snatched up a pole and struck him, but, as the eagle
flew off with the pole sticking in his back, Loki, hanging on to
the other end, was carried off and his feet dashed against rocks
and trees, while his arms were nearly torn from their sockets.
He cried out, but Thjazi would not free him until he promised
to induce Idunn to come out of Asgard with her apples. He
accepted these terms, and in due time lured Idunn from Asgard
by telling her of apples more wonderful than her own, growing
in a wood. When she went there, Thjazi as an eagle carried her
off to his abode, Thrvmheim. The EEsir soon began to grow
old, and consulting together, recalled that Idunn had been seen
leaving Asgard with Loki. He was now threatened with tor-
ture or death and promised to seek Idunn in Jotunheim.
Borrowing Freyja’s bird-plumage, he flew off there and
found that Thjazi had gone to sea, leaving Idunn alone.
Loki changed her to a nut, and flew off with her, grasped in
his claws.

Thjazi returned and gave chase, but when the AEsir saw the
pursuit they collected bundles of wood-chips and made a fire
with them. Thjazi was flying too swiftly to stop} his wings
caught fire and the gods slew him. Of this death of Thjazi,
Thor boasts in Harbardsljod , as if he were the sole slayer. Loki
also maintained that he was first and last at the deadly fight
when Thjazi was slain . 6

This myth has been explained in terms of nature phenomena.
Idunn is the luxuriant green of vegetation which falls as booty
to the giant, the demon of autumn storms, but is brought back



by Loki, the warm air, in spring. 7 But if the gods were believed
to owe immortal youth to magical apples, then inevitably the
Jotuns, their enemies, would seek to gain possession of these.
As apples were unknown in Iceland and only known in Norway
at a later time when grown in monastic gardens, the Idunn myth
has been regarded as one formed by skalds out of biblical con-
ceptions of the fruit of the Tree of Life, the myth of the Garden
of the Hesperides, and Irish stories of magic apples. 8 None of
these sources, however, quite accounts for the myth, and it is
quite likely that there is here a primitive conception, possibly
worked upon by outside sources, of the immortal youth or
strength of gods being dependent on certain magic foods, like
Soma, nectar and ambrosia, or, in Irish myths, Manannan’s
swine, Goibniu’s ale, or the apples of the Land of Youth. 9


Snorri includes Gefjun among the Asynjur. She is a virgin
and on her attend all who die maidens. 10 At dEgir’s banquet she
tried to stay the strife by saying that Loki is well known as a
slanderer and hater of all persons. Loki bids her be silent: he
cannot forget him who allured her to lust — the fair youth to
whom she surrendered herself for the sake of a necklace. Odin
then cried: £ Mad thou art and raving, Loki, in rousing Gefjun’s
wrath, for she knows the destinies of all as well as Id Gefjun
was called upon in the taking of oaths. 11

Certain statements in these notices of Gefjun may show that
she is like, if not identical with, Frigg and Freyja. She is mis-
tress of dead maidens, and maidens, e.g., Thorgerd, go to
Freyja after death. Her surrender of herself for the sake of
a necklace recalls the Brisinga-men myth. Her prophetic
knowledge, equal to Odin’s, makes her like Frigg who knows
all fates of men. While these common factors may not estab-
lish identity, they show that goddesses worshipped in different
localities tended to have the same traits or that similar myths
were apt to be told of them. Gefjun’s name also resembles one


of the names of Freyja, viz., Gefn (cf. AS geo f on, ‘ sea,’ but
more probably the name means £ giver ’).

The same, or, as some think, a different Gefjun, is the sub-
ject of a story told by Snorri in the Edda and in his Heims-
kringla. In the Eddie account Gylfi, king of Sweden, gave a
wandering woman named Gefjun, of the kin of the Aisir, as
much land as four oxen could plough in a day and a night. This
was in return for the pleasure which her skill had given him.
She took four oxen out of Jotunheim (her sons by a giant), and
yoked them to the plough. The land was now cut so deep that
it was torn out and drawn by the oxen out to sea, where it re-
mained in a sound. Gefjun gave it the name Selund (Seeland).
The place once occupied by it in Sweden became water, which
was now named Log (Lake Malar). The bays in that lake cor-
respond to headlands in Seeland. Snorri then quotes a verse
from the poet Bragi’s Shield-lay describing this act. 12

In the H eimskringla this story is connected with the wander-
ing of the Aisir over Denmark to South Sweden. Odin sent
Gefjun over the sound to seek land, and there Gylfi gave her
the gift. Now she went to Jotunheim, where she bore four sons
to a giant, and turned them into oxen. Then follows the account
of the formation of Seeland. Odin’s son Skjold married Gef-
jun, and they dwelt at Hleidra (Leire). Here also the Bragi
stanza is quoted. 13

This story is cosmogonic: it tells how an island was formed.
In the original myth Seeland could hardly have been regarded
as torn out of a part of Sweden at such a distance from it. This
geographical inconsistency arose from the fact that Gylfi was
regarded as king of Sweden. This piece of euhemerism dates
from the thirteenth century. Gylfi may originally have been
a god. Olrik, comparing the myth with traditional plough-rites
at New Year surviving in Scandinavia and England, in which
the plough is paraded, drawn by men masked as oxen under the
lead of a woman (or a man masquerading as a w r oman), sug-
gests that it was derived from such ritual. The rite was a fer-



tility charm, and Gefjun was a Danish goddess of fertility and
agriculture . 14 That Gefjun was a Danish goddess is shown by
her connexion with Skjold, the eponymous ancestor of the
Skjoldings or Danish kings. Skjold is £ the god of the Ska-
nians , 1 Skanunga god , and the Skanians were the people of Den-
mark or of part of it, the island Skaane. Possibly Gefjun is
Nerthus or a form of Nerthus. Her name, if connected with
gefa , ‘ to give , 1 or with Gothic gabei y £ riches , 1 would be in keep-
ing with her attributes both as a giver of fertility or as a giver of
land to Denmark. The name would then be found again in
the Gab'ue or Alagabice of Romano-German inscriptions, £ the
Givers 1 or £ All-givers . 1 15 If the myth is derived from the
ritual, it is also linked to stories regarding the origin of islands
or of land obtained by various stratagems with a plough or the
hide of an ox . 16

The association of an eponymous king, Skjold, with a god-
dess, has a parallel in Hyndluljod where Freyja is associated
with Ottarr, connected with a royal house. Gefjun must once
have been worshipped in Seeland.


Sif was Thor’s wife, and he is often known merely as c Sif’s
husband . 1 17 She was famous for her golden hair, and was
called £ the fair-haired goddess . 1 18 The myth told about her
hair will be given in Chapter XXVI. Sif poured mead for Loki
at ^Egir’s feast, wishing him £ Hail ! 1 and saying that he knew
her to be blameless among the deities. To this Loki replied
that he knew one who had possessed her, viz., himself . 19 In
Harbardsljod Harbard taunts Thor by saying that Sif has a
lover at home, and that he should put forth his strength on him
rather than on Harbard . 20 Perhaps this lover was Loki. When
Hrungnir came to Asgard in giant-fury, he threatened to carry
off Sif and Freyja . 21 Sif was mother of Thrud by Thor, and of
Ull by some other father . 22




Saga is named by Snorri as the second goddess after Frigg.
She dwells at £ a great abode,’ Sokkvabekk, £ Sinking stream,’ a
waterfall, and here where cool waves wash her abode, Odin and
she drink joyfully each day out of golden vessels . 23 Some
scholars regard Saga as a mere reflexion of Frigg. Her name
has no connexion with the Icelandic Sagas, but means £ she who
sees and knows all things,’ as Odin does, and her dwelling —
a water-world — resembles Frigg’s Fensalir, also near the
waters. As the liquor drunk is presumably a draught of wis-
dom, and as Saga dwells in or beside a waterfall, she may be a
Water-spirit, a female counterpart of Mimir. With such elfins,
no less than in wells and streams, secret knowledge was sup-
posed to reside. Unfortunately the myth which told of Odin’s
connexion with her is not now extant . 24 In Helgakvitha Hun-
dingsbana a cape called after her is mentioned, Sagunes . 25


Snorri says that Sol and Bil are reckoned among the Asynjur.
Sol is the sun, regarded as female, and, in another passage,
Snorri tells how she and her brother the moon are children of
Mundilfari, both of them so fair and comely that he called them
Sol and Mane. Sol was married to the man Glen. The gods
were so angry at Mundilfari’s insolence in giving them these
names, that they set Sol and Mane in the sky, making Sol
drive the horses that draw the chariot of the Sun, while Mane
steers the course of the moon, and determines its waxing and
waning . 26

Snorri thus distinguishes between the actual sun and moon
and those worshipful beings who direct their courses. In Vaf-.
thrudnismal Mundilfari is spoken of, and his children Sol and
Mane are said to journey daily round the Heaven to measure
time for men . 27 Here they are rather the actual sun and moon.



In the Merseburg charm Sunna, the sun, is named as sister of
Sinthgunt. The sex of the sun agrees with popular German
folk-lore regarding it . 28

Snorri also says that Mane raised the two children of Vidfinn,
1 Wood-dweller,’ from the earth as they came from the well
Byrgir. Their names were Bil and Hjuki. On their shoulders
they were carrying the basket Saegr on the pole Simul. These
two follow the moon, as one can see from the earth. As Swedish
folk-lore still speaks of the spots on the moon as two people
carrying a basket on a pole, this may be taken as the meaning of
the myth. There may be some reference to the £ Man in the
Moon ’ myth, and even the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill has
been supposed to have a link with Bil and Hjuki . 29 Why Bil
is called a goddess is unknown, but in O ddrunar gratr the phrase
linnvenges bil , in the sense of £ goddess of gold,’ is used as a
kenning for ‘ woman .’ 30


Fulla is said to be a maid who has loose tresses and a band of
gold about her head. She bears Frigg’s coffer, and has charge
over her foot-gear, and is acquainted with her secret plans.
Hence Frigg is 1 Mistress of Fulla ’; a kenning for gold is £ the
snood of Fulla,’ with reference to her golden fillet. After his
death, Balder’s wife Nanna sent Fulla a golden ring from Hel . 31

As has been seen, the Introduction to Grimnismal tells how
Frigg sent Fulla with a message to Geirrod about Odin. The
Merseburg charm tells how Vol, sister of Frija (Frigg) tried
to charm the horse’s foot. Vol is Fulla, and she was thus known
in Germany and regarded as Frigg’s sister. In the Balder story
she takes rank with Frigg, since they are the only goddesses to
whom Nanna sends gifts from Hel.

The name Fulla means 1 fulness,’ £ abundance,’ and the Dame
Habonde or Abundia of medieval folk-belief may be a reminis-
cence of Fulla, who perhaps distributed Frigg’s gifts out of her
coffer. If Frigg was an Earth-goddess, Fulla or ‘ fulness ’


Icelandic Temple

The lower part of the plate shows the remains of
an Icelandic temple, with walls of turf, eight feet thick.
Near them are two rows of foundations for wooden
pillars. The building is oblong, but divided by a low
stone cross-wall, separating the gods’ abode, in which
was an altar, from the hall. Images stood on this wall.
Along the floor of the hall hearths existed, with pits in
which meat was cooked in hot ashes. Those who
partook of the feast sat on long benches along the hall,
between the pillars.

The upper part of the plate shows the remains of a
hearth and pit.

Celtic Mythology / Re: Celtic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:29:12 PM »

To make matters worse, modern writers on Celtic tradition
have displayed a twofold tendency. They have resolved every
story into myths of sun, dawn, and darkness, every divinity or
hero into a sun-god or dawn-goddess or ruler of a dark world.
Or those with a touch of mysticism see traces of an esoteric
faith, of mysteries performed among the initiate. In mediaeval
Wales the “Druidic legend” — the idea of an esoteric wisdom
transmitted from old priests and philosophers — formed itself
among half-crazy enthusiasts and has been revived in our own
time by persons of a similar genus. Ireland and the West High-
lands have always been remarkably free of this nonsense,
though some Celts with a turn for agreeing with their interlocu-
tor seem to have persuaded at least one mystic that he was on
the track of esoteric beliefs and ritual there . 40 He did not know
his Celt! The truth is that the mediaeval and later Welsh
Druidists were themselves in the mythopceic stage — crude
Blakes or Swedenborgs — and invented stories of the creed of
the old Druids which had no place in it and are lacking in any
document of genuine antiquity, Welsh or Irish. This is true


God with the Wheel

This deity, who carries S-symboIs as well as the
wheel, was probably a solar divinity (see p. 8; for
the wheel as a symbol cf. Plate II, i, 3, and for the
S-symbol Plates II, 2, 4, 7-9, 11, III, 3, XIX, 2-5).
The statue was found at Chatelet, Haute-Marne,



also of the modern “mythological” school. Not satisfied with
the beautiful or wild stories as they stand, they must mytholo-
gize them still further. Hence they have invented a pretty but
ineffectual mythology of their own, which they foist upon our
Celtic forefathers, who would have been mightily surprised to
hear of it. The Celts had clearly defined divinities of war, of
agriculture, of the chase, of poetry, of the other-world, and they
told romantic myths about them. But they did not make all
their goddesses dawn-maidens, or transform every hero into a
sun-god, or his twelve battles into the months of the solar year.
Nor is it likely that they had mystic theories of rebirth, if that
was a wide-spread Celtic belief; and existing examples of it
always concern gods and heroes, not mere mortals. They are
straightforward enough and show no esoteric mystic origin or
tendency, any more than do similar myths among savages, nor
do they set forth philosophic theories of retribution, such as were
evolved by Pythagorean and Indian philosophy. Modern inves-
tigators, themselves in the mythopoeic stage, easily reflect back
their ideas upon old Celtic tales. Just as little had the Celts an
esoteric monotheism or a secret mystery-cult; and such genu-
ine notices of their ancient religion or its priests as have reached
us know nothing of these things, which have been assumed to
exist by enthusiasts during the last two centuries.




T HE annalistic account of the groups of people who succes-
sively came to Ireland, some to perish utterly, others to re-
main as colonists, represents the unscientific historian’s attempt
to explain the different races existing there in his time, or of
whom tradition spoke. He wrote, too, with an eye upon Biblical
story, and connected the descendants of the patriarchs with the
folk of Ireland. Three different groups of Noah’s lineage arrived
in successive waves. The first of these, headed by Noah’s grand-
daughter, Cessair, perished, with the exception of her husband.
Then came the Fomorians, descendants of Ham; and finally
the Nemedians, also of the stock of Noah, arrived. According
to one tradition, they, like Cessair’s people and another group
unconnected with Noah — the race of Partholan (Bartholo-
mew) — died to a man, although another legend says that they
returned to Spain, whence they had come. Spain figures
frequently in these annalistic stories, and a close connexion be-
tween it and Ireland is taken for granted. This may be a remi-
niscence of a link by way of trade between the two countries in
prehistoric days, of which, indeed, archaeology presents some
proof. Possibly, too, early Celtic colonists reached Ireland di-
rectly from Spain, rather than through Gaul and Britain.
Still another tradition makes Nemedian survivors wander over
the world, some of their descendants becoming the Britons,
while others returned to Ireland as a new colonizing group —
Firbolgs, Fir-Domnann, and Galioin. A third group of their

descendants who had learned magic came to Ireland — the
hi— 3



Tuatha De Danann. Finally the Milesians, the ancestors of
the Irish, arrived and conquered the Tuatha De Danann, as
these had defeated the Fomorians . 1

Little of this is actual history, but how much of it is invention,
and how much is based on mythic traditions floating down from
the past, is uncertain. What is certain is that the annalists,
partly as a result of the euhemerizing process, partly through
misunderstanding, mingled groups of gods with tribes or races
of men and regarded them as more or less human. These
various traditions are introductory to the story of the two
battles of Mag-Tured, enlarged from an earlier tale of a single
conflict. An interval of twenty-seven years elapsed between the
two battles, and they were fought in different parts of Ireland
bearing the same name, one in Mayo and the other in Sligo, the
first battle being fought against the Firbolgs, and the second
against the Fomorians, by the Tuatha De Danann.

Having reached Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann established
themselves at Mag-Rein in Connaught. The Firbolgs sent a
huge warrior, Sreng, to parley with them, and to him ap-
proached Bres, son of Elatha, of the Tuatha De Danann. The
warriors gazed long upon each other; then they mutually ad-
mired their weapons, and finally exchanged them, Bres receiv-
ing the heavy, broad-pointed spears of the Firbolg, and Sreng
the light, sharp-pointed lances of Bres. The demand of the in-
vaders was surrender of the half of Ireland, but to this the Fir-
bolgs would not agree. Meanwhile the Tuatha De Danann,
terrified at the heavy Firbolg spears, retreated to Mag-Tured,
Badb, Morrigan, and Macha, three of their women, producing
frogs, rain of fire, and streams of blood against the Firbolgs.
By mutual agreement an armistice was arranged for prepara-
tion, and some from each side even engaged in a hurling match.
Such were the tactics of the time! Each party prepared a heal-
ing well for the wounded, in which medicinal herbs were placed.
Dagda led the forces on the first day, when the Tuatha De
Danann were defeated; but under the command of Ogma,



Midir, Bodb Dearg, Diancecht, Aengaba of Norway, Badb,
Macha, Morrigan, and Danann, they were successful on the
second day. On the third day Dagda again led, “for in me you
have an excellent god”; on the fourth day badba, bledlochtana,
and amaite aidgill (“furies,” “monsters,” “hags of doom”)
cried aloud, and their voices resounded in the rocks, waterfalls,
and hollows of the earth. Sreng severed the arm of Nuada,
king of the Tuatha De Danann; Bres was slain by Eochaid,
who, overpowered by thirst, sought water throughout Ireland,
but the wizards of the Tuatha De Danann hid all streams from
him, and he was slain. The Firbolgs, reduced to three hundred,
were still prepared to fight, but when the Tuatha De Danann
offered them peace and the province of Connaught, this was
accepted . 2

As we shall see, the Tuatha De Danann were gods, and their
strife against the Firbolgs, a non-Celtic group, is probably
based on a tradition of war between incoming Celts and abori-
gines. Meanwhile the Tuatha De Danann made alliance with
the Fomorians. Ethne, daughter of Balor, married Cian, son
of Diancecht, her son being the famous Lug. Nuada’s mutila-
tion prevented his continuing as King, for no maimed person
could reign; and the women insisted that the Fomorian Bres,
their adopted son, should receive the throne, since he was son
of Elatha, the Fomorian King. Eri, sister of Elatha, was
counted of the Tuatha De Danann, perhaps because their
mother was also of them, an instance of succession through the
female line; and this would account for Bres becoming King,
though these genealogies are doubtless inventions of the annal-
ists. Bres was son of Elatha and Eri. Such unions of brother
and sister (or half-sister) are common in mythology and were
not unknown in royal houses, e. g. in Egypt and Peru, as a
means of keeping the dynasty pure. One day Eri saw a silver
boat approaching. A noble warrior with golden locks stepped
ashore, clad in an embroidered mantle and wearing a jewelled
golden brooch, and five golden torques round his neck. He



carried two silvery pointed spears with bronze shafts, and a
golden-hilted sword inlaid with silver. Eri was so overcome by
his appearance that she easily surrendered to him and wept
bitterly when he rose to leave her. Then he drew from his
finger a golden ring and bade her not part with it save to one
whose finger it should fit. Elatha was his name, and she would
bear a son Eochaid Bres, or “the Beautiful.” At seven years
old Bres was as a boy of fourteen . 3

Bres was miserly and caused much murmuring among the
Tuatha De Danann. “Their knives were not greased by him;
and however often they visited him their breaths did not smell
of ale.” No poets, bards, or musicians were in his household,
and no champions proved their prowess, save Ogma, who had
the slavish daily task of carrying a load of fuel, two-thirds of
which were swept from him by the sea, because he was weak
through hunger . 4 Bres claimed the milk of all brown, hairless
cows, and when these proved to be few in number, he caused
the kine of Munster to pass through a fire of bracken so that
they might become hairless and brown , 6 this tale being possibly
connected with the ritual passing of cattle through fires at Bel-
tane (May-Day). Another version of the tale, however, makes
it less pleasant for Bres. He demanded a hundred men’s drink
from the milk of a hornless dun cow or a cow of some other
colour from every house in Ireland; but by the advice of Lug
and Findgoll, Nechtan, King of Munster, singed the kine in a
fire of fern and smeared them with a porridge of flax-seed.
Three hundred wooden cows with dark brown pails in lieu of
udders were made, and the pails were dipped in black bog-
stuff. When Bres inspected them, the bog-stuff was squeezed
out like milk; but since he was under geis , or tabu, to drink
whatever was milked, the result of his swallowing so much bog-
stuff was a gradual wasting away, until he died when traversing
Ireland to seek a cure. Stokes conjectures that Bres required
the milk of one-coloured cows as a means of removing his wife’s
barrenness . 6


2 7

Another account of Bres’s death tells how Corpre the poet
came to his house. It was narrow, dark, and fireless, and for
food the guest received only three small unbuttered cakes.
Next morning, filled with a poet’s scorn, he chanted a satire:

“Without food quickly on a dish,

Without a cow’s milk whereon a calf grows,

Without a man’s abode under the gloom of night,

Without paying a company of story-tellers,

Let that be the condition of Bres.”

This was the first satire made in Ireland, but it had all the
effect which later belief attributed to satire, and Bres declined
from that hour. Surrendering his sovereignty and going to his
mother, he asked whence was his origin; and when she tried
the ring on his finger, she found that it fitted him. Bres and she
then went to the Fomorians’ land, where his father recognized
the ring and upbraided Bres for leaving the kingdom. Bres
acknowledged the injustice of his rule, but asked his father’s
help, whereupon Elatha sent him to Balor, grandson of Net,
the Fomorian war-god, and to Indech, who assembled a huge
force in order to impose their rule on the Tuatha De Danann . 7

Some curious incidents may be mentioned here. While Bres
ruled, the Fomorian Kings, Indech, Elatha, and TethYa, bound
tribute on Ireland and reduced some of the Tuatha De Danann
to servitude. The Fomorians had formerly exacted tribute of
the Nemedians, and it was collected by one of their women in
an iron vessel — fifty fills of corn and milk, of butter, and of
flour. This may be a memory of sacrifice. Ogma had to carry
fuel, and even Dagda was obliged to become a builder of raths,
or forts. In the house where he lived was a lampooner named
Cridenbel who demanded from him the three best bits of his
ration, and thus Dagda’s health suffered; but Oengus, Dagda’s
son, hearing of this*, gave him three gold coins to put into Cri-
denbel’s portion. These would cause his death, and Bres would
be told that Dagda had poisoned him. Then he must tell the
story to Bres, who would cause the lampooner’s stomach to be



opened; and if the gold were not found there, Dagda would
have to die. In the sequel Oengus advised Dagda to ask as
reward for his rath - building only a black-maned heifer; and
although this seemed weakness to Bres, the astuteness of Oen-
gus was seen when, after the second battle, the heifer’s lowing
brought to Dagda the cattle exacted by the Fomorians . 8

This mythical story of Bres’s sovereignty, and of the servi-
tude of beings who are gods, is probably parallel to other myths
of the temporary eclipse of deities, as when the Babylonian
high gods were afraid of Tiamat and her brood, or cowered in
terror before the flood. It may also represent an old nature
dualism — the apparent paralysis of gods of sunshine and
fruitfulness in the death and cold of winter; or it may hint at
some temporary defeat of Celtic invaders, which even their
gods seemed to share. Whatever the Fomorians be, their final
defeat was at hand.

When Bres retired, Nuada was again made King because his
hand was restored. Diancecht (a divinity of leechcraft), as-
sisted by Creidne, god of smith-work, made for him a silver
hand, but Miach, Diancecht’s son, not content with this, ob-
tained the mutilated hand and by means of such a spell as is
common to many races — “joint to joint, sinew to sinew” —
he set it to the stump, caused skin to grow, and restored the
hand. In another version he made a new arm with a swine-
herd’s arm-bone . 9 Through envy Diancecht struck Miach
four blows, three of which Miach healed, but the fourth was
fatal. His father buried him, and from his grave sprang as
many herbs as he had joints and sinews. Airmed, his sister,
separated them according to their properties, but Diancecht
confused them so that none might know their right values . 10
These incidents reflect beliefs about magico-medical skill, and
the last may be a myth of divine jealousy at man’s obtaining
knowledge. Nuada now made a feast for the gods, and as they
banqueted, a warrior, coming to the portal, bade the door-
keepers announce him as Lug, son of Cian, son of Diancecht,



and of Ethne, Balor’s daughter. He was also known as samil-
danach (“possessing many arts”), and when asked what he
practised, he answered that he was a carpenter, only to hear
the door-keeper reply, “Already we have a carpenter.” In
succession he declared himself smith, champion, harper, hero,
poet, magician, leech, cup-bearer, and brazier, but the Tuatha
De Danann possessed each one of these. Lug, however, be-
cause he knew all these arts, gained entrance and among other
feats played the three magic harp-strains so often referred to
in Irish texts — sleep-strain, wail-strain, and laughter-strain,
which in turn caused slumber, mourning, and joy . 11

In another version of Lug’s coming, from The Children of
Tuirenn ( Aided Chlainne Tuirenn ), as he approached, “like the
setting sun was the splendour of his countenance,” and none
could gaze on it. His army was the fairy cavalcade from the
Land of Promise , 12 and with them were his foster-brothers,
Manannan’s sons. Lug rode Manannan’s steed, Enbarr,
fleet as the spring wind, and on whose back no rider could
be killed; he wore Manannan’s lorica which preserved from
wounds, his breastplate which no weapon could pierce, and his
sword, the wound of which none survived, while the strength
of all who faced it became weakness. When the Fomorians came
for tribute, Lug killed some of them, whereupon Balor’s wife,
Cethlionn, told him that this was their grandson and that it
had been prophesied that when he arrived, the power of the
Fomorians would depart. As Lug went to meet the Fomo-
rians, Bres was surprised that the sun seemed rising in the west,
but his Druids said that this was the radiance from the face of
Lug, who cast a spell on the cattle taken for tribute, so that they
returned to the Tuatha De Danann. When his fairy cavalcade
arrived, Bres begged his life on condition of bringing over the
Fomorians, while he offered sun, moon, sea, and land as guar-
antees that he would not again fight; and to this Lug agreed.
The guarantee points to an animistic view of nature, for it
means that sun, etc., would punish Bres if he was unfaithful . 13



To return to the other account, Nuada gave Lug his throne,
and for a year the gods remained in council, consulting the wiz-
ards, leeches, and smiths. Mathgen the wizard announced
that the mountains would aid them and that he would cast
them on the Fomorians; the cup-bearer said that through his
power the Fomorians would find no water in lough or river;
Figol the Druid promised to rain showers of fire on the foe and
to remove from them two-thirds of their might, while increase
of strength would come to the Tuatha De Danann, who would
not be weary if they fought seven years; Dagda said that he
would do more than all the others together. For seven years
weapons were prepared under the charge of Lug . 14

At this point comes the episode of Dagda’s assignation with
the war-goddess Morrigan, who was washing in a river, one
foot at Echumech in the north, the other at Loscuinn in the
south. This enormous size is a token of divinity in Celtic
myths, and the place where Dagda and Morrigan met was now
known as “the couple’s bed.” She bade him summon the men
of knowledge and to them she gave two handfuls of the blood
of Indech’s heart, of which she had deprived him, as well as
valour from his kidneys. These men now chanted spells
against the Fomorians — a practice invariably preceding
battle among the Celts . 15

Celtic Mythology / Re: Celtic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:28:33 PM »


midday, lest the god should appear — “the destruction that
wasteth at noonday.” 14 In Galatia Artemis was thought to
wander with demons in the forest at midday, tormenting to
death those whom she met; while Diana in Autun was re-
garded as a midday demon who haunted cross-roads and for-
ests. Whether these divinities represent a Celtic goddess is
uncertain, and their fateful midday aspect may have been
suggested by the “midday demon” of the Septuagint version
of Psalm xc. 6. Both accounts occur in lives of saints.

Several references suggest that the gods punished the taking
of things dedicated to themselves, and therefore tabu to men.
Caesar says that this was a criminal action punished by torture
and death, 15 and Irish myth also discloses the disastrous results
of breach of tabu. The awe of the priest of the grove is par-
alleled by incidents of Celtic history. After the battle of Allia
in 390 b. c., where the Celts saw divine aid in the flight of the
Romans and stood awestruck before it, they were afraid of the
night. 16 After the battle of Delphi (279 b. c.) “madness from
a god” fell on them at night, and they attacked each other, no
longer recognizing each other’s speech. 17 Another fear based
on a myth is referred to in Classical sources, that of the future
cataclysm. The Celts did not dread earthquakes or high tides,
which, indeed, they attacked with weapons; but they feared
the fall of the sky and the day when fire and water must pre-
vail. An Irish vow perhaps refers to this: something would be
done if the sky with its showers of stars did not fall or the earth
burst or the sea submerge the world. Any untoward event
might be construed as the coming of this catastrophe or analo-
gous to it. How, then, was the sky meanwhile supported?
Perhaps on mountain-peaks like that near the source of the
Rhone, which the native population called “the column of the
sun,” and which was so lofty that it hid the northern sun from
the southern folk. 18 Gaidoz says that “the belief that the earth
rests on columns is the sole debris of ancient cosmogony of
which we know in Irish legends, but we have only the reflexion



of it in a hymn and gloss of the Liber Hymnorum. In vaunting
the pre-eminence of two saints who were like great gods of old
Christian Ireland, Ultan says of Brigit that she was ‘half of
the colonnade of the kingdom (of the world) with Patrick the
eminent.’ The gloss is more explicit — ‘as there are two pillars
in the world, so are Brigit and Patrick in Ireland.’” 19 In some
of the romantic Irish voyages islands are seen resting on pillars,
and an echo of these myths is found in the Breton tradition that
the church at Kernitou stands on four columns, resting on a
congealed sea which will submerge the structure when it be-
comes liquid . 20

Divine help is often referred to in Irish myths, and a parallel
instance occurs in Justin’s allusion to the guidance of the
Segovesi by birds to the Danubian regions which they con-
quered . 21 Such myths are depicted on coins, on which a horse
appears led by a bird, which sometimes whispers in its ear.
Heroes were also inspired by birds to found towns. Birds were
objects of worship and divination with the Celts, and divinities
transformed themselves into the shape of birds, or birds formed
their symbols.

The birth of heroes from a god and a human mother occurs in
Irish myth. One Classical parallel to this is found in the ac-
count of the origin of the northern Gauls given by Diodorus.
They were descended from Hercules and the beautiful giant
daughter of the King of Celtica, and hence they were taller and
handsomer than other peoples . 22 This is perhaps the Greek
version of a native myth, which is echoed in the Irish tale of
the gigantic daughter of the king of Maidens’ Land and her
love for Fionn . 23 Again, when Diodorus speaks of Hercules as-
sembling his followers, advancing into Celtica, improving the
laws, and founding a city called Alesia, honoured ever since by
the Celts as the centre of their kingdom, he is probably giving
a native myth in terms of Greek mythology . 24 Some native
god or hero was concerned, and his story fitted that of Her-
cules, who became popular with the Celts.



The Celts had beliefs resembling those of the Greeks and
Romans about incubi. Demons called dusii sought the couches
of women out of lust, a belief reported by sub-Classical authors.
The Classical evidence for Celtic belief in divine descent is also
furnished by the form of several proper names which have
been recorded, while lineage from a river or river-god is as-
sociated with the Belgic Viridomar . 25

A legend reported by Pliny concerns some natural product,
perhaps a fossil echinus , in explanation of the origin of which
this myth was current, or to it an existing serpent-myth had
been attached. Numerous serpents collected on a day in sum-
mer and, intertwining, formed a ball with the foam from their
bodies, after which their united hissings threw it into the air.
According to the Druids, he who would obtain it must catch it
on a mantle before it touched the ground and must escape
hastily, putting running water between himself and the pur-
suing serpents. The ball was used magically . 26

Classical observers cite vaguely some myths about the other-
world and they admired profoundly the Celtic belief in im-
mortality, which, if Lucan’s words are correct, was that of the
soul animating a new body there. Diodorus also affirms this,
though he compares it with the Pythagorean doctrine of trans-
migration ; 27 yet in the same passage he shows that the dead
passed to another world and were not reborn on earth. Irish
mythology tells us nothing about the world of the dead, though
it has much to say of a gods’ land or Elysium, to which the
living were sometimes invited by immortals. This Elysium
was in distant islands, in the hollow hills, or under the waters.
Plutarch, on the authority of Demetrius, who may have been a
Roman functionary in Britain, reports that round Britain are
many desert islands, named after gods and heroes. Demetrius
himself visited one island lying nearest these, inhabited by a
people whom the Britons regarded as sacred, and while he was
there, a storm arose with fiery bolts falling. This the people
explained as the passing away of one of the mighty, for when a


Gaulish Coins

1. Coin of the Senones, showing on one side two
animals opposed, and on the reverse a boar and a
wolf (?) opposed (cf. Plates II, n, XXIV).

2. Gaulish coin, with man-headed horse and bird,
and, below, a bull ensign (cf. Plates II, 3-5, 9, IX,
B, XIX, 1, 6, XX, B, XXI).

3. Coin of the Remi, showing squatting divinity
with a torque in the right hand (cf. Plates VIII, IX,
XXV), and on the reverse a boar and S-symbol or

4. Armorican coin, with horse and bird.

5. Coin of the Carnutes, with bull and bird.

6. Gaulish coin from Greek model, with boar.

7. Gaulish coin of the Senones, with animals



great soul died, the atmosphere was affected and pestilences
were caused. Demetrius does not say whither the soul went,
either to the islands or elsewhere, but islands named after gods
and heroes suggest the Irish divine Elysium, and this is con-
firmed by what Demetrius adds, and by what Plutarch reports
in another work. On one of the islands Kronos is imprisoned,
and Briareos keeps guard over him , 28 along with many deities
(Sadovas) who are his attendants and servants. What Celtic
divinities or heroes lurk under these names is unknown,
but the myth resembles traditions of Arthur in Avalon (Ely-
sium), or of Fionn or Arthur sleeping in a hollow hill, waiting
to start up at the hour of their country’s need. Elsewhere
Plutarch speaks of an island in which the barbarians say that
Kronos is imprisoned by Jupiter in a cavern. There Kronos
sleeps, fed by birds with ambrosia, while his son lies beside him
as if guarding him. The surrounding sea, clogged with earth, ap-
pears to be solid, and people go to the island, where they spend
thirteen years waiting on the god. Many remain, because there
is no toil or trouble there, and devote their time to sacrificing,
singing hymns, or studying legends and philosophy. The cli-
mate is exquisite, and the island is steeped in fragrance. Some-
times the god opposes their departure by appearing to them
along with those who minister to him, and these divine min-
istrants themselves prophesy or tell things which have been
revealed to them as dreams of Saturn when they visit his
cave. Plutarch’s alleged informant had waited on the god and
studied astrology and geometry, and before going to another
island he carried with him golden cups . 29 In this latter story
the supposed studies and ritual of the Druids are mingled with
some distorted tradition of Elysium, and the reference to cups
of gold carried from the island perhaps points to the myth of
things useful to man brought from the land of the gods . 30

The sixth century Byzantine historian Procopius has a
curious story about the island of “ Brittia,” which was divided
by a wall from north to south. West of the wall none could



live, so foul was the air, so many the vipers and evil beasts;
but in its inhabited part dwelt Angles, Frisians, and Britons.
The island lay between Britannia and Thule. Thule is prob-
ably Scandinavia; Britannia, which is, strictly speaking,
Britain, is confused with the region lying between Brittany
and the mouths of the Scheldt and Rhine. Brittia is Britain;
the wall is the Roman Wall, shown on Ptolemy’s map running
north and south at the present Scottish border, because Scot-
land was represented as lying at right angles to England. The
region beyond the wall, mountainous, forest-clad, and inac-
cessible, was easily conceived as a sinister place by those who
heard of it only vaguely. Procopius then says that on the coast
of the Continent fishermen and farmers are exempt from taxa-
tion because it is their duty to ferry souls over to Brittia, doing
this in turn. At midnight they hear a knocking at their door
and muffled voices calling; but when they reach the shore, they
see only empty boats, not their own. In these they set out and
presently perceive that the boats have become laden, the gun-
wale being close to the water; and within an hour Brittia is
reached, though ordinarily it would take a day and a night to
cross the sea. There the boats are invisibly unladen, and al-
though no one has been seen, a loud voice is heard asking
each soul his name and country . 31 The Roman poet Claudian,
writing toward the close of the fourth and the beginning of the
fifth century of our era, had perhaps heard such a story, though
he confuses it with that of Odysseus and the shades . 32 At the
extremity of the Gaulish coast is a place protected from the
tides, where Odysseus by sacrifice called up the shades. There
is heard the murmur of their complaint, and the inhabitants
see pale phantoms and dead forms flitting about . 33 This
strictly concerns the Homeric shades, for Classical testimony
to the Celtic other-world, as well as Irish stories of the return
of the dead, never suggests “pale phantoms.” Claudian may
have heard some story like that of Procopius, though it is by
no means certain that the latter is reporting a Celtic belief



for other peoples than the Celts dwelt in his time opposite
Britain. Possibly, however, the Celts believed that the dead
went to distant islands. Even now the Bretons speak of the
“Bay of Souls” at Raz, at the extreme point of Armorica, while
folk-lore tells how the drowned are nightly conveyed by boat
from Cape Raz to the isle of Tevennec . 34 If the Celtic dead
went to an island, this may explain the title said by Pliny,
quoting Philemon (second century b. c.), to have been given
by the Cimbri to the northern sea, Morimarusam = Mortuum
Mare or possibly Mortuorum Mare (“ Sea of the Dead”) — the
sea which the dead crossed. The title may refer, however, to an
unchangeably calm sea, and such a sea has always been feared,
or to the ice-covered sea, which Strabo 35 regarded as an im-
passable spongy mixture of earth, water, and air. The sup-
posed Celtic belief in an island of the dead might also explain
why, according to Pliny, no animal or man beside the Gallic
ocean dies with a rising tide 36 — a belief still current in Brit-
tany; the dead could be carried away only by an outflowing
tide. But whether or not the Celts believed in such an island,
it is certain that no Irish story of the island Elysium connects
that with them, but associates it only with divine beings and
favoured mortals who were lured thither in their lifetime.

In Wales and Ireland, where Roman civilization was un-
known, mythology had a better chance of survival. Yet here,
as in Gaul, it was forced to contend with triumphant Chris-
tianity, which was generally hostile to paganism. Still, curi-
ously enough, Christian verity was less destructive of Celtic
myths than was Roman civilization, unless the Insular Celts
were more tenacious of myth than their Continental cousins.
Sooner or later the surviving myths, more often fragments than
finished entities, were written down; the bards and the filid
(learned poets) took pride in preserving the glories of their
race; and even learned Christian monks must have assisted in
keeping the old stories alive. Three factors, however, played
their part in corrupting and disintegrating the myths. The



first of these was the dislike of Christianity to transmit what-
ever directly preserved the memory of the old divinities. In
the surviving stories their divinity is not too closely descried;
they are made as human as possible, though they are still super-
human in power and deed; they are tolerated as a kind of
fairy-folk rather than as gods. Yet they are more than fairies
and they have none of the wretchedness of the decrepit, skin-
clad Zeus of Heine’s Gods in Exile. Side by side with this there
was another tendency, natural to a people who no longer wor-
shipped gods whose names were still more or less familiar.
They were regarded as kings and chiefs and were brought into
a genealogical scheme, while some myths were reduced to
annals of supposititious events. Myth was transmuted into
pseudo-history. This euhemerizing 37 process is found in all
decaying mythologies, but it is outstanding in that of the
ancient Irish. The third factor is the attempt of Christian
scribes to connect the mythical past and its characters with
persons and events of early Scriptural history.

These factors have obscured Irish divine legends, though
enough remains to show how rich and beautiful the mythology
had been. In the two heroic cycles — those of Cuchulainn
and Fionn respectively — the disturbance has been less, and
in these the Celtic magic and glamour are found. Some stories
of the gods escaped these destructive factors, and in them these
delectable traits are also apparent. They are romantic tales
rather than myths, though their mythical quality is obvious.

Two mythical strata exist, one older and purely pagan, in
which gods are immortal, though myth may occasionally have
spoken of their death; the other influenced by the annalistic
scheme and also by Christianity, in which, though the unlike-
ness of the gods to humankind is emphasized, yet they may be
overcome and killed by men. The literary class who rewrote
the myths had less simple ideals than even the Greek mythog-
raphers. They imagined some moving situations and majestic
episodes or borrowed these from the old myths, but they had



little sense of proportion and were infected by a vicious rhetori-
cal verbosity and exaggeration. Many tales revel monoto-
nously in war and bloodshed, and the characters are spoiled by
excessive boastfulness. Yet in this later stratum the mytho-
poeic faculty is still at work, inasmuch as tales were written in
which heroes were brought into relation with the old divinities.

The main sources for the study of Irish mythology are the
documents contained in such great manuscripts as the Book
of Leinster and the Book of the Dun Cow ( Leabhar na hUidhre ), 38
written in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but based on
materials of older date. Later manuscripts also contain im-
portant stories. Floating tales and traditions, fairy- and folk-
lore, are also valuable, and much of this material has now been
published . 39

Among the British Celts, or those of them who escaped the
influence of Roman civilization, the mythological remains are
far less copious. Here, too, the euhemerizing process has been at
work, but much more has the element of romance affected the
old myths. They have become romantic tales arranged, as in
the Mabinogion, in definite groups, and the dramatis personae
are the ancient gods, though it is difficult to say whether the
incidents are myths transformed or are fresh romantic inven-
tions of a mythic kind. Still, the Welsh Mabinogion is of great
importance, as well as some parts of Arthurian romance, the
poems about Taliesin, and other fragments of Welsh literature.
The euhemerizing process is still more evident in those portions
of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History which tell of the names and
deeds of kings who were once gods.

Thus if materials for Irish and British mythology are copious,
they must be used with caution, for we cannot be certain that
any one story, however old, ever existed as such in the form of
a pagan myth. As the mountain-peaks of Ireland or Wales or
the Western Isles are often seen dimly through an enshrouding
mist, which now is dispersed in torn wisps, and now gathers
again, lending a more fantastic appearance to the shattered



crags, so the gods and their doings are half-recorded and half-
hidden behind the mists of time and false history and romance.
Clear glimpses through this Celtic mist are rare. This is not to
be wondered at when we consider how much of the mythology
has been long forgotten, and how many hands have worked
upon the remainder. The stories are relics of a dead past, as
defaced and inexplicable as the battered monuments of the old
religion. Romancers, would-be historians, Christian opponents
of paganism, biographers of saints, ignorant yet half-believing
folk, have worked their will with them. Folk-tale incidents
have been wrought into the fabric, perhaps were originally
part of it. Gods figure as kings, heroes, saints, or fairies, and a
new mythical past has been created out of the debris of an older
mythology. There is little of the limpid clearness of the myths
of Hellas, and yet enough to delight those who, in our turbulent
modern life, turn a wistful eye upon the past.

Celtic Mythology / Celtic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:27:49 PM »
A History of Britain - The Humans Arrive (1 Million BC - 8000 BC)

https://www.google.com/search?q=doggerland  between Britain and Europe Mainland

A History of Britain - Stone Age Builders (8000 BC - 2200 BC)

A History of Britain - Bronze and Iron (2200 BC - 600 BC)



Volume III


Brug na Boinne

The tumulus at New Grange is the largest of a
group of three at Dowth, New Grange, and Knowth,
County Meath, on the banks of the Boyne in the
plain known to Irish tales as Brug na Boinne, the
traditional burial-place of the Tuatha De Danann
and of the Kings of Tara. It was also associated
with the Tuatha De Danann as their immortal
dwelling-place, e. g. of Oengus of the Brug (see pp.
50-51, 66-67, 1 76 - 77 )- The tumuli are perhaps of
the neolithic age (for plans see Plate VI, A and B).



GEORGE FOOT MOORE, A.M., D.D., LL.D., Consulting Editor














Copyright, 1918
By Marshall Jones Company

Entered at Stationers’ Hall, London
All rights reserved

plate facing page

I Brug na Boinne — Coloured Frontispiece

II Gaulish Coins 8

1. Horse and Wheel-Symbol

2. Horse, Conjoined Circles and S-Symbol

3. Man-Headed Horse and Wheel

4. Bull and S-Symbol

5. Bull

6. Sword and Warrior Dancing Before it
7-8. Swastika Composed of Two S-Symbols (?)

9-10. Bull’s Head and two S-Symbols; Bear Eating a

11. Wolf and S-Symbols

III Gaulish Coins 14

1. Animals Opposed, and Boar and Wolf (?)

2. Man-Headed Horse and Bird, and Bull Ensign

3. Squatting Divinity, and Boar and S-Symbol or Snake

4. Horse and Bird

5. Bull and Bird

6. Boar

7. Animals Opposed

IV God with the Wheel 20

V Smertullos 40

VI A. Plan of the Brug na Boinne 50

B. Plan of the Brug na Boinne 50

VII Three-Headed God 56

VIII Squatting God 72

IX A. Altar from Saintes 86

B. Reverse Side of the same Altar 86

X Incised Stones from Scotland 94

1. The “Picardy Stone”

2. The “Newton Stone”




XI Gauls and Romans in Combat 106

XII Three-Headed God II2

XIII Sucellos jjg

XIV Dispater and Aeracura (?) 120

XV Epona 124

XVI Cernunnos .... 128

XVII Incised Stones from Scotland 134.

1. The “Crichie Stone”

2. An Incised Scottish Stone

XVIII Menhir of Kernuz 140

XIX Bulls and S-Symbols 132

1, 6. Carvings of Bulls from Burghhead
2-5. S-Symbols

XX A. Altar from Notre Dame. Esus 158

B. Altar from Notre Dame. Tarvos Trigaranos . 158

XXI Altar from Treves . . . .• 166

XXII Page of an Irish Manuscript 176

XXIII Artio 186

XXIV Boars 188

XXV Horned God 204

XXVI Sucellos 208

XXVII Zadusnica 237

XXVIII Djadek 244

XXIX Setek 244

XXX Lesni Zenka 261

XXXI Svantovit 279

XXXII Festival of Svantovit 281

XXXIII Radigast 286

XXXIV Idealizations of Slavic Divinities 288

1. Svantovit

2. Ziva

3. Cernobog and Tribog

XXXV Veles 300

XXXVI Ancient Slavic Sacrifice 305

XXXVII The Sacred Oak of Romowe. . . 305







Editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics,
the Dictionary of the Bible , etc.



r j a former work * I have considered at some length the re-
ligion of the ancient Celts; the present study describes those
Celtic myths which remain to us as a precious legacy from
the past, and is supplementary to the earlier book. These
myths, as I show, seldom exist as the pagan Celts knew them,
for they have been altered in various ways, since romance,
pseudo-history, and the influences of Christianity have all
affected many of them. Still they are full of interest, and it
is not difficult to perceive traces of old ideas and mythical
conceptions beneath the surface. Transformation allied to
rebirth was asserted of various Celtic divinities, and if the
myths have been transformed, enough of their old selves re-
mained for identification after romantic writers and pseudo-
historians gave them a new existence. Some mythic incidents
doubtless survive much as they were in the days of old, but
all alike witness to the many-sided character of the life and
thought of their Celtic progenitors and transmitters. Romance
and love, war and slaughter, noble deeds as well as foul, wordy
boastfulness but also delightful poetic utterance, glamour and
sordid reality, beauty if also squalid conditions of life, are found
side by side in these stories of ancient Ireland and Wales.

The illustrations are the work of my daughter, Sheila Mac-
Culloch, and I have to thank the authorities of the British
Museum for permission to copy illustrations from their publica-
tions; Mr. George Coffey for permission to copy drawings and
photographs of the Tumuli at New Grange from his book New
Grange ( Brugh na Boinne) and other Inscribed Tumuli in Ire-
land; the Librarians of Trinity College, Dublin, and the Bod-

* The Religion of the Ancient Celts, Edinburgh, 1911.



leian Library, Oxford, for permission to photograph pages
from well-known Irish MSS.; and Mr. R. J. Best for the use
of his photographs of MSS.

In writing this book it has been some relief to try to lose
oneself in it and to forget, in turning over the pages of the
past, the dark cloud which hangs over our modern life in these
sad days of the great war, sad yet noble, because of the freely
offered sacrifice of life and all that life holds dear by so many of
my countrymen and our heroic allies in defence of liberty.


Bridge of Allan, Scotland,

May, 16, 1916.

hi — 1


I N all lands whither the Celts came as conquerors there was
an existing population with whom they must eventually
have made alliances. They imposed their language upon them
— the Celtic regions are or were recently regions of Celtic
speech — but just as many words of the aboriginal vernacular
must have been taken over by the conquerors, or their own
tongue modified by Celtic, so must it have been with their
mythology. Celtic and pre-Celtic folk alike had many myths,
and these were bound to intermingle, with the result that such
Celtic legends as we possess must contain remnants of the
aboriginal mythology, though it, like the descendants of
the aborigines, has become Celtic. It would be difficult, in
the existing condition of the old mythology, to say this is of
Celtic, that of non-Celtic origin, for that mythology is now
but fragmentary. The gods of the Celts were many, but of
large cantles of the Celtic race — the Celts of Gaul and of
other parts of the continent of Europe — scarcely any myths
have survived. A few sentences of Classical writers or images
of divinities or scenes depicted on monuments point to what
was once a rich mythology. These monuments, as well as in-
scriptions with names of deities, are numerous there as well as
in parts of Roman Britain, and belong to the Romano-Celtic
period. In Ireland, Wales, and north-western Scotland they
do not exist, though in Ireland and Wales there is a copious
literature based on mythology. Indeed, we may express the
condition of affairs in a formula: Of the gods of the Conti-
nental Celts many monuments and no myths; of those of the
Insular Celts many myths but no monuments.

The myths of the Continental Celts were probably never

III — 2



committed to writing. They were contained in the sacred verses
taught by the Druids, but it was not lawful to write them
down ; 1 they were tabu, and doubtless their value would have
vanished if they had been set forth in script. The influences of
Roman civilization and religion were fatal to the oral mythol-
ogy taught by Druids, who were ruthlessly extirpated, while
the old religion was assimilated to that of Rome. The gods
were equated with Roman gods, who tended to take their
place; the people became Romanized and forgot their old
beliefs. Doubtless traditions survived among the folk, and
may still exist as folk-lore or fairy superstition, just as folk-
customs, the meaning of which may be uncertain to those who
practise them, are descended from the rituals of a vanished
paganism; but such existing traditions could be used only
with great caution as indexes of the older myths.

There were hundreds of Gaulish and Romano-British gods,
as an examination of the Latin inscriptions found in Gaul and
Britain 2 or of Alfred Holder’s Altceltischer Sprachschatz 3 will
show. Many are equated with the same Roman god, and most
of them were local deities with similar functions, though some
may have been more widely popular; but we can never be sure
to what aspect of the Roman divinity’s personality a parallel
was found in their functions. Moreover, though in some cases
philology shows us the meaning of their names, it would avail
little to speculate upon that meaning, tempting as this may be
— a temptation not always successfully resisted. This is also
true of the symbols depicted on monuments, though here the
function, if not the myth, is more readily suggested. Why are
some deities horned or three-headed, or why does one god carry
a wheel, a hammer, or an S-symbol? Horns may suggest divine
strength or an earlier beast-god, the wheel may be the sun, the
hammer may denote creative power. Other symbols resemble
those of Classical divinities, and here the meaning is more ob-
vious. The three Matres , or “Mothers,” with their symbols of
fertility were Earth Mothers; the horned deity with a bag of


Gaulish Coins

1. Coin of the Nervii, with horse and wheel-
symbol (cf. Plates III, 4, IV, XV).

2. Gaulish coin, with horse, conjoined circles,
and S-symbol (cf. Plates III, 3, IV, XIX, 2-5).

3. Coin of the Cenomani, with man-headed horse
(cf. Plate III, 2) and wheel.

4. Coin of the Remi (?), with bull (cf. Plates III,
5, IX, B, XIX, 1, 6, XX, B, XXI), and S-symbol.

5. Coin of the Turones, with bull.

6. Armorican coin, showing sword and warrior
dancing before it (exemplifying the cult of weapons;
cf. pp. 33-34).

7. 8. Gaulish coins, with swastika composed of
two S-symbols (?).

9, 10. Gaulish coin, showing bull’s head and two
S-symbols; reverse, bear (cf. Plate XXIII) eating
a serpent.

11. Coin of the Carnutes, showing wolf (cf. Plate
III, 1) and S-symbols.






grain was a god of plenty. Such a goddess as Epona was a
divinity of horses and mules, and she is represented as riding a
horse or feeding foals. But what myths lie behind the repre-
sentation of Esus cutting down a tree, whose branches, extend-
ing round another side of the monument, cover a bull and three
cranes — Tarvos Trigaranos? Is this the incident depicted on
another monument with a bull’s head among branches on
which two birds are perched ? 4

Glimpses of myths are seen in Classical references to Celtic
gods. Caesar, whose information (or that of his source) about
the gods of Gaul is fragmentary, writes: “They worship chiefly
the god Mercury. Of him there are many simulacra ; 5 they
make him inventor of all arts and guide of journeys and
marches, and they suppose him to have great power over the
acquiring of money and in matters of merchandise. After him
come Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. Concerning these
they hold much the same opinions as other nations — Apollo
repels diseases, Minerva teaches the beginnings of arts and
crafts, Jupiter sways celestial affairs, Mars directs wars .” 6
There is no evidence that all the Gauls worshipped a few gods.
Many local deities with similar functions but different names
is the evidence of the inscriptions, and these are grouped col-
lectively by Caesar and assimilated to Roman divinities. There
are many local Mercuries, Minervas, Apollos, and the like,
each with his Celtic name attached to that of the Roman god.
Or, again, they are nameless, as in the case of the Yorkshire
inscription, “To the god who invented roads and paths” —
an obvious Mercury. Caesar adds, “The Gauls declare that
they are descended from Dispater, and this, they say, has been
handed down by the Druids.” 7 If, as the present writer has
tried to show elsewhere , 8 Dispater is the Roman name of a
Celtic god, whether Cernunnos, or the god with the hammer,
or Esus, or all three, who ruled a rich underworld, then this
myth resembles many told elsewhere of the first men emerging
from the earth, the autochthones. The parallel Celtic myth



has not survived. In Ireland, if it ever existed there, it gave
place to stories of descent from fictitious personages, like
Mile, son of Bile, invented by the early scribes, or from Biblical

Apollonius, writing in the third century b. c., reports a
Celtic myth about the waters of Eridanus. Apollo, driven by
his father’s threats from heaven because of the son whom
Karonis bore to him, fled to the land of the Hyperboreans;
and the tears which he shed on the way formed the tossing
waters . 9 Some Greek myth is here mingled with a local legend
about the origin of a stream and a Celtic god, possibly Belenos,
who had a neighbouring temple at Aquileia. In an island of the
Hyperboreans (a Celtic people dwelling beyond the Rhipaean
Mountains whence Boreas blew) was a circular temple where
Apollo was worshipped. Every year near the vernal equinox
the god appeared in the sky, harping and dancing, until the
rising of the Pleiades . 10 It is natural that this “circular temple”
should have been found in Stonehenge.

Lucian (second century a. d.) describes a Gaulish god Og-
mios, represented as an old man, bald-headed and with
wrinkled and sun-burnt skin, yet possessing the attributes of
Hercules — the lion’s skin, the club, the bow, and a sheath
hung from his shoulder. He draws a multitude by beautiful
chains of gold and amber attached to their ears, and they follow
him with joy. The other end of the chains is fixed to his tongue,
and he turns to his captives a smiling countenance. A Gaul
explained that the native god of eloquence was regarded as
Hercules, because he had accomplished his feats through elo-
quence; he was old, for speech shows itself best in old age; the
chains indicated the bond between the orator’s tongue and the
ears of enraptured listeners . 11

Lucian may have seen such a representation or heard of a
Gaulish myth of this kind, and as we shall see, an Irish god
Ogma, whose name is akin to that of Ogmios, was a divine
warrior and a god of poetry and speech. Ogma is called



grianainech (“sun-faced,” or “shining-faced”), perhaps a par-
allel to Lucian’s description of the face of Ogmios. The head of
Ogmios occurs on Gaulish coins, and from one of his eyes pro-
ceeds a ray or nail. This has suggested a parallel with the
Ulster hero Cuchulainn in his “distortion,” when the Ion laith
(? “champion’s light”) projected from his forehead thick and
long as a man’s fist. Another curious parallel occurs in the
Tain Bo Cualnge , or “Cattle-Spoil of Cualnge,” where, among
the Ulster forces, is a strong man with seven chains on his neck,
and seven men dragged along at the end of each, so that their
noses strike the ground, whereupon they reproach him. Is this
a distorted reminiscence of the myth of Ogmios ?

A British goddess Sul, equated with Minerva at Bath, is
mentioned by Solinus (third century a. d.) as presiding over
warm springs. In her temple perpetual fires burned and never
grew old, for where the fire wasted away it turned into shining
globes . 12 The latter statement is travellers’ gossip, but the
“eternal fires” recall the sacred fire of St. Brigit at Kildare,
tended by nineteen nuns in turn, a day at a time, and on the
twentieth by the dead saint herself. The fire was tabu to
males, who must not even breathe on it . 13 This breath tabu in
connexion with fire is found among Parsis, Brahmans, Slavs,
in Japan, and formerly in Rugen. The saint succeeded to the
myth or ritual of a goddess, the Irish Brigit, or the Brigindo
or Brigantia of Gaulish and British inscriptions, who was like-
wise equated with Minerva.

A tabued grove near Marseilles is mythically described by
Lucan, who wrote in the first century of our era, and doubtless
his account is based on local legends. The trees of the grove
were stained with the blood of sacrifices, and the hollow cav-
erns were heard to roar at the movement of the earth; the
yew trees bent down and rose again; flames burned but did not
consume the wood; dragons entwined surrounded the oaks.
Hence people were afraid to approach the sacred grove, and
the priest did not venture within its precincts at midnight or


Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 05, 2019, 11:23:43 PM »



Detter and Neckel explain Vali’s name as derived from
Wanilo, £ the little Van,’ as if he were one of the Vanir, while
Neckel assumes that Vali was the avenger, not of Balder, but
of his father Frey. Such attempts at explaining away the state-
ments of the Edda are futile. Sievers’ derivation of Vali from
* vanula y £ shining,’ does not agree with anything told of this

god.". ” "

Vali takes no part in the strife at the Doom of the gods, but
in the renewed world he shares with Vidarr the seats of the
gods. While Vidarr and Vali are sons of Odin by giantesses}
avengers, one of Odin, the other of Balder} and sharers of the
blissful future, they are not necessarily identical, as has been
maintained. That both are later creations of poetic fancy, i.e.,
to fit into the Doom drama, is possible.

In Svipdagsmal the dead Groa recites protective charms to
her son, among others one that Rind sang to Ran. Ran is here
not the Sea-goddess, but, as the parallel demands, a hero and
even a son of Rind. Hence Ran is assumed to be another name
for Vali. The Eddas say little of Rind, but from the Swedish
place-name Vrindravi, £ Rind’s sanctuary,’ it is believed that she
must have been the object of a cult . 55


Hod (ON HQjpr), whose name nears £ war,’ £ battle,’ is son
of Odin, and is of great strength. He is the blind god among
the yEsir. Gods and men would desire him not to be named,
for the work of his hands will be long remembered . 56 This
work was Balder’s death: hence he is £ Balder’s opponent,’

£ Balder’s murderer .’ 57 Snorri tells how Loki caused Hod to
slay Balder. Of Vali’s vengeance upon Hod, no myth has
survived, and it is possible that in the earlier form of the
Balder story, Loki was not the cause of Hod’s slaying Balder.
Loki does not appear in Saxo’s version of the story, as we
have seen.

1 66


The Volus-pa poet and Snorri tell how Hod will sit down
with Balder in peace in the renewed world . 58

One of the periphrases for Balder is £ Hod’s adversary ,’ 59
and this agrees with Saxo’s story, in which Balder was adversary
of Hotherus (Hod), who is here a hero and king of Sweden,
not a god. The kennings for Hod were £ the blind god,’
£ thrower of the mistletoe,’ £ companion of Hel,’ £ foe of Valid 60
A curious theory of Detter’s as explaining the Balder myth
is that Hod was really Odin. Balder and Vali were brothers,
connected with Frey, Vali being £ the little Van,’ one of the
Vanir. Odin, the one-eyed or blind god of war, sought to
cause strife between the brothers. He placed his spear in the
form of a mistletoe-twig in Vali’s hand. Vali threw it at
Balder, who was slain . 81



MONG Water-spirits Mimir is supreme and has a promi-

nent position in the Eddie poems. If not a god, he is
brought into close contact with gods, especially Odin, whose
uncle he may have been. 1

In the V oluspa Odin pledged his eye with Mimir, presum-
ably to obtain secret knowledge from him. The eye is hidden
in Mimir’s well, and Mimir daily drinks mead out of Odin’s
pledge. But in another stanza a stream is said to issue from this
pledge and it waters the tree Mjotvid, which Snorri, in his
reference to this verse, takes to be Yggdrasil. Mimir’s well is
thus under the tree, the well which in verse 19 is called c Urd’s
well.’ The redactor of the poem which spoke of Odin’s eye
given as a pledge and hidden in a well beneath the tree which
was watered by it, has added a new and contradictory verse.
The well is that of the Water-spirit Mimir, and he daily drinks
from this eye. As Boer says : the redactor c replaces the clear
nature picture (of Odin giving a pledge in return for something
else 5 i.e., water, which falls on the tree) with a meaningless one,
that of Mimir drinking from the pledge.’ 2 The pledge, Odin’s
eye, is generally regarded as the sun, the eye of the Heaven-
god, seen reflected in the water or sinking into the sea — phe-
nomena which may have given rise to the myth. Where the
redactor speaks of Mimir’s drinking from this pledge, it is
thought of as a cup or shell — a quite different myth from that
of the eye.

From Snorri’s account of this myth, Mimir’s well is under
that root of the ash Yggdrasil which turns towards the Frost-

1 68


giants. In it wisdom and understanding are stored. Mimir
keeps the well and is full of ancient lore, because he drinks of
the well from the Gjallar-horn. Odin came and craved one
draught of the well, but did not obtain it till he had given his
eye in pledge. Then Snorri quotes the Voluspa stanza which
tells how Mimir drinks from Odin’s pledge . 3 This contradicts
what has just been said about the Gjallar-horn. There must
have been different versions of the myth of Odin’s eye and of
Mimir’s relation to it.

In Svi'pdagsmal Mimameid, £ the tree of Mimir,’ is given as
a name of the world-tree . 4

At the Doom of the gods Mimir’s sons, i.e., the rivers and
brooks, are in violent motion . 5

Another aspect of Mimir is given in Vafthrudnismai. Mimir,
called Hoddmimer, £ Hill-Mimir ’ or £ Mimir of the treasure,’
is owner of a wood ( £ Hoddmimer’s holt ’), and in it are hidden
a human pair, Lif and Lifthrasir ( £ Life ’ and £ He who holds
fast to life ’). They survive the terrible Fimbul-winter at the
end of the world. Meanwhile they feed on morning-dew, and
from them come the folk who will people the renewed earth.
According to Snorri, who quotes this verse, this human pair lie
hidden in the holt during the fire of Surt . 6 Whether this holt
or grove is identical with the world-tree is not clear. It may
have been regarded as existing underground at its roots where
Mimir’s fountain was.

Another series of Mimir myths is connected with his head,
cut off by the Vanir, as already told . 7 Odin smeared it with
worts that it should not rot, and sang words of magic ( galdra )
over it, and gave it such might that it told him of hidden
matters. In Sigrdrijumal the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa instructs
Sigurd in the wisdom of runes, and she says that he must learn
£ thought-runes ’ which Hropt (Odin) devised from the fluid
which £ dropped from Heiddraupnir’s head and from Hoddrof-
nir’s horn.’ These are evidently names of Mimir. Then she



This scene, from a sculptured Cross at Gosforth,
Cumberland, is believed to represent Vidarr attacking
the Fenris-Wolf (p. 159). His foot is on its lower
jaw. The serpentine form of the monster’s body is an
ornamental design.



‘ On the hill he stood with Brimir’s edge, [a sword]

His helmet was on his head;

Then spake for the first time wise Mimir’s head;

Giving utterance to true words.’

These were now carved on various objects. The occasion of this
incident is unknown . 8 Voluspa tells how, at the approach of
the Doom of the gods, Odin spoke with Mimir’s head, obvi-
ously seeking its advice. The poet must thus have known the
myth of the cutting off of the head, but forgot what he had
already told of Mimir himself. Snorri, who quotes this stanza
of Voluspa , gives a different turn to it in his prose narrative.
Odin rides to Mimir’s well and takes counsel of Mimir himself,
not of his head . 9

Mimir’s head may at first have been nothing more than the
source of the stream of which he was the guardian spirit or in
which he dwelt, the source being the stream’s ‘ head,’ or 1 Mi-
mir’s head,’ and the name afterwards taken literally. An ex-
planatory myth was then supplied, as well as stories of the
wisdom-giving head which are not without parallels in Scan-
dinavian custom and belief. In the Eyrbyggja-saga Freysten
found a skull lying loose and uncovered on a scree called
Geirvor. It sang a stave foretelling bloodshed at this spot and
that men’s skulls would lie there . 10 This was deemed a great

Mimir’s connexion with Odin is shown by the title given to
the latter by the skald Egill Skallagrimsson — 1 Mimir’s
friend .’ 11

Mimir’s name in its different Eddie forms — Mimir, Mim,
Mimi — is connected with words meaning c mindful ,’ 1 to brood
over,’ and it seems to have meant 1 the thinking one.’ Inspira-
tion, knowledge, prophecy were often associated with springs
and streams, or with the spirits inhabiting them, and of these
Mimir is an example, raised to a high place in Scandinavian
myth. The name occurs in place-names of rivers, etc., in Ger-
many (Mimling) and Sweden (Mimesa near the Mimessjo),



as well as in personal names, and bears witness to the widespread
belief in a Water-spirit bearing this name . 12

In the T hidriks-saga Mimir the smith is Siegfried’s master in
smith-craft, as he is of Velint (Volund) in the Vilkina-saga,
and in both he has supernatural attributes and possesses a won-
derful sword. The Miming of Saxo’s Balder story, called
satyrus silvarum , has also a magic sword and a magic bracelet
which increases its owner’s wealth, like the ring Draupnir. The
German hero-saga Biterolj speaks of Mime the old, a clever
master-smith, who made the best swords that the world has
ever seen . 13

Saxo’s Miming, satyrus silvarum , might be a dwarf or a
Wood-spirit, and the smiths who bear the name Mimir have
elfin traits. Whether they are identical with the Eddie Mimir
is uncertain. An elfin or dwarfish Wood-spirit, clever at smith-
work, and full of wisdom, might also be connected with wells
or springs, found often in forests. If they are all identical, we
see how, all over the Teutonic area, one out of the host of spirits
of the woods and waters rose to pre-eminence. Mimir as a
Water-spirit was known in late Swedish folk-lore, haunting the
Mimesa . 14

In Snorri’s list of giants, Mimir is given as a giant’s name,
though the notices of him do not suggest a giant personality.
But if the son of Bolthorn, who gave Odin nine mighty songs,
was Mimir, then he was at least a giant’s son. Mimir would
then be the brother of Bestla, Odin’s mother . 15



/ff^GIR is god of the sea (eegir , £ sea ’) or rather a Sea-giant.
/ Tv In primitive thought the sea was regarded as a mighty
being, which was personified or regarded as more or less dis-
tinct from the sea. The kennings for yEgir show that, even in
late times, there was not a clear distinction between sea (cegir)
and Sea-god (yEgir). Snorri says that see , £ sea,’ is called £ hus-
band of Ran, £ visitor of the gods,’ father of yEgir’s daughters,’
£ land of Ran .’ 1 The skald Ref speaks of £ yEgir’s wide jaws,’
as if the sea itself was a vast being. Into these jaws Ran wiles
the ships . 2 yEgir, the personal name, or eegir y £ sea,’ is con-
nected with Gothic ahva , Latin aqua , ON a , £ water,’ 1 river.’
The ON name of the river Eider (Egidora), yEgisdyr, is liter-
ally £ door of the sea .’ 3

yEgir is also called Gymir in the Introduction to Lokasenna
and in skaldic verse. Ran, his wife, is £ Gymir’s Volva ’; the
breakers or the murmur of the sea are £ Gymir’s song ’j the sea
is £ Gymir’s dwelling .’ 4 yEgir’s father is Fornjot, a giant, who
is also father of wind and fire . 5

Though on the whole depicted as a friend of the gods in the
EddaSy yEgir is of the giant folk. His name is given in Snorri’s
list of giants , 6 and Hymiskvitha calls him bergbui and jotun ,
and describes him sitting £ merry as a child ’ ( barnteitr ) like
other giants. Why the sea should be a Mountain-giant ( berg-
bui ) is not clear. Kindly and good-humoured, yEgir represents
the peaceful rather than the stormy sea.

The gods feasted in yEgir’s halls. Hymiskvitha opens by
describing a feast at which the gods found the ale scanty. They
consulted the divining-twigs and the blood and found that



there was abundance in Aiigir’s dwelling. Thor bade Aigir
furnish a banquet for them, but Aigir, in order to cause trouble,
said that Thor must procure a vessel large enough to brew ale
for all the gods. This is introductory to the story of Thor’s
adventure with the giant Hymir to whom he goes to procure
this vessel.

Lokasenna continues the story. Aigir prepared the banquet
in his halls, and to it came many gods and elves. The ale served
itself and the banquet was proceeding gaily, but the gods praised
^Egir’s servants, Fimafeng and Eldir, for their cleverness, and
this annoyed Loki, who slew Fimafeng. The bulk of the poem
is taken up with Loki and his slanders of the gods and god-
desses. Aigir takes no part in this: only at the end, ere Loki
goes away, does he address .Eligir:

‘ Ale hast thou brewed, O ACgir,

But nevermore wilt thou prepare a banquet.

All thy possessions flames shall play over,

Fire shall burn thy back,’

i.e., the fire which is to consume the world.

In explaining why gold is called ‘ Aigir’s fire,’ Snorri speaks
of this banquet. TEgir had gone to Asgard to a feast and, on
leaving, invited Odin and the Aisir to visit him three months
hence. When the guests (all but Thor) had assembled, Loki
bandied sharp words with the gods and slew Fimafeng . 7 Noth-
ing further is told by Snorri of the banquet, and neither here nor
in the story of Thor and Hymir does he speak of the mighty

Lokasenna tells how, in place of fire, bright gold served to
give light in Aigir’s hall. Snorri enlarges upon this. Aigir
caused bright gold to be brought in and set on the floor. It
illumined the hall and served as lights at the banquet. Hence
gold is called 1 fire,’ £ light,’ or i brightness ’ of ^Egir, of Ran, or
of yEigir’s daughters. Gold is also ‘ fire of the sea .’ 8 As Aigir
seems to personify the calm sea, the brilliant gleam of the sun



on its surface may have given rise to these kennings and to the
myth of the light-giving gold in his hall.

As brewer of ale for his banquet to the gods, TEglr is called
by Egill ‘ ale-brewer of all the gods,’ and as one present at their
banquets he is i the visitor of the gods .’ 9

TEgir also bears the name Hler, and the island Hlesey
(Hler’s island, Lasso in the Kattegat) was his dwelling.
Snorri begins his Bragarcedur with this statement, making ^Egir
a man versed in magic. He visits the gods in Asgard and par-
takes of their banquet, and as he sits next to Bragi, he learns
many things from him of the doings of the ^Esir and the
methods of skaldic art. Hler may have been a local name of
the Sea-giant in Denmark and in the west of Norway. In dif-
ferent accounts Hler alternates with dEgir as Fornjot’s son, who
rules the sea . 10 Hler may also be the giant Las who dwells in
Lasso according to the Annales Lundenses y or, as in another ac-
count, Olaus’ Chronica regum Danorum , a Hill-giant or troll,
with many heads, dwelling within the rocks . 11



T HE name of Frigg, Odin’s consort, OHG Frija, Lombard
Frea, AS Frig (cf. Sanskrit preya , * wife ’), means ‘ the
beloved,’ ‘ the wife.’ Odin is ‘ the dweller in Frigg’s bosom ’
and ‘ Frigg’s beloved .’ 1 Snorri makes her daughter of Fjor-
gyn, but in Lokasenna Fjorgyn is her husband, i.e., Odin.
From them are descended the races of the ASsir . 2 She is called
‘mother of Balder,’ ‘co-wife of Jord, Rind, Gunnlod, and.
Grid,’ and she is ‘ lady of the ASsir and Asynjur .’ 3 As foremost
of the goddesses and always heading the lists of these, she has
the hall Fensalir, ‘ Sea-hall,’ which is most glorious, but she
shares Hlidskjalf with Odin . 4 She speaks no prophecy, yet she
knows the fates of men . 6 Like Freyja she has hawk’s plumage,
and is called ‘ mistress of the hawk’s plumage .’ 6

Others of the goddesses are associated with Frigg — Fulla,
Gna, Hlin, Lofn, either as her servants or hypostases of herself,
creations of the skalds. From what is said of her and of these
other goddesses, Frigg may be regarded as a genial, kindly
divinity, promoter of marriage and fruitfulness, helper of man-
kind and dispenser of gifts. She stands beside Freyja as one to
whom prayers were made . 7 She was invoked by the childless,
e.g., king Rerir and his queen prayed for offspring to the gods,
and Frigg heard them as well as Odin . 8

In her hall Fensalir, Frigg wept bitterly for Valhall’s need
as a result of Balder’s death — her first grief. She comes
prominently into the Balder myth, and she is grieved because
Odin must fall before the Fenris-wolf — her second grief . 9
R. M. Meyer finds in this reference to Fensalir an explanation
of its meaning. As Sigyn weeps for Loki in the forest where



he is punished, so Frigg weeps for Balder on the sea-shore by
his pyre. Fensalir would thus be the shore, and Frigg’s abode
was really with Odin in Hlidskjalf . 10

In V afthrudnismal when Odin consulted Frigg regarding his
journey to the giant Vafthrudnir, she desired him to stay at
home rather than go to this strongest of giants. Like others
who seek advice, Odin did not follow Frigg’s guidance. She
then bade him go, j ourney, and return in safety. 1 May wisdom
not fail thee, Aldafadir, when thou comest to speech with the
giant! ’

Yet Frigg could at times act cunningly to Odin. In Grimnis-
mal we see both of them sitting on Hlidskjalf, Frigg thus shar-
ing Odin’s oversight of the world. He drew her attention to
her fosterling Agnar, who begat children with a giantess in a
cave, while his brother Geirrod, Odin’s fosterling, is a king and
rules his land. We have already seen how Frigg announced
Odin’s coming as a supposed magician to Geirrod’s hall, and
how he was tortured between two fires . 11 This act of Frigg’s
corresponds to her craft in winning Odin’s help for her favour-
ites in the Lombard story. Some myths told worse things of
Frigg. When she begged Loki and Odin at .TEgir’s feast not
to make known what things they did in old days, Loki accused
her of misconduct with Odin’s brothers, Vili and Ve . 12 This, as
we have seen, is amplified in the Y nglinga-saga. Correspond-
ing to it is Saxo’s story of Mit-othin, the earlier part of which
introduces Frigg. Speaking of Odin and his worship, Saxo says
that the kings of the North, anxious to worship him more zeal-
ously, made a golden image of him and sent it to Byzantium
(Asgard). Its arms were covered with bracelets, and Odin was
delighted. But his queen Frigga, desiring to be more adorned,
called smiths and had the gold stripped from the image. Odin
hanged them and set the image on a pedestal, and by his art
caused it to speak when a mortal touched it. In her desire of
adornment Frigga yielded herself to one of her servants, who
broke the image and gave her its treasures. In disgust Odin


Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 04, 2019, 10:31:08 PM »


Ull (ON Ullr) was son of Thor’s wife Sif by an unknown
father, and stepson of Thor, called £ Ull’s glorious step-sire ’
and his kinsman. 20 He is fair of face and has all the accom-
plishments of a warrior, therefore men do well to call on him
in single combats. He is so excellent a bowman and snow-shoe
runner that none may vie with him. Hence he is called £ Snow-
shoe-god,’ £ Bow-god,’ £ Hunting-god,’ and £ Shield-god.’
This is Snorri’s account of him. 21 His ring is mentioned in
Atlakvitha as that on which oaths were taken, probably a ring
attached to or laid on an altar-stone, and the custom of swearing
on such a ring is mentioned in Sagas. Odin singles out Ull by
name along with the gods when he is bound between two fires,
as recounted in Grimnismal:

‘ Ull’s favour and that of all gods
Has he, who first in the fire will reach;

The dwelling can be seen by the sons of the gods,

If one takes the kettle from its hook .’ 22

Odin here refers to the torments he is suffering between the
fires. Let some one draw away the kettle from its hook and



the gods will be able to look down through the roof-opening
which served as a chimney, and see his perilous position.

Ull dwells in Ydalir, ‘ Yew-dales,’ an appropriate place for a
god of the bow, since bows were made of yew. One manu-
script of Snorri’s Edda , in the passage which tells of the steeds
of the gods, says that Ull had many horses . 23

Ull’s name means ‘the lordly,’ ‘the majestic,’ and is the
equivalent of Gothic wulpus, ‘ glory.’ The few notices regard-
ing him suggest his former importance, waning before that of
other gods. Many place-names, especially in Sweden, contain
his name, and show that his cult was widespread . 24 As
Snow-shoe-god Ull’s original sphere would be the more north-
erly parts of Scandinavia, unless he is to be regarded as ruling
more particularly in winter. He has been regarded as a Finnish
god, or a god worshipped in the region where Finns and
Scandinavians mingled. Skadi, who may have been a Finnish
goddess, is also characterized by her snow-shoes. Ull would
thus be her male counterpart. The shield, according to the
skalds, was ‘ the ship of Ull ,’ 25 that on which he travelled — a
reference to a lost myth, though skjold , ‘ shield,’ may be an
error for skid , ‘ snow-shoe,’ the snow-shoes on which he jour-
neyed over the snow-fields. An interesting comment on this
skaldic periphrasis, which may point to its origin in folk-custom,
is found in what Plutarch says of the Cimbri, when opposing the
Romans in the Alps. They climbed to the tops of the hills and,
placing their broad shields under their bodies, let themselves
slide down the slopes — a primitive kind of toboggan . 26 Ol-
lerus in Saxo, the equivalent of Ull, used a bone marked with
runes to travel overseas, and quickly passed over the waters.
This seems to mingle the travelling on skates made of bone
with the skaldic conception of the shield as a ship . 27

Ull took Odin’s place when he went into exile and bore his
name, as Saxo relates. This points to his high place, as does
also the phrase ‘ Ull and all the gods ’ in Grimnismal y where he
is singled out by name as if of great importance. That he, as the



glorious god, was a form of Tiuz, ousted by Odin, is doubtful.
More likely he was a native Scandinavian, possibly Finnish, god,
whose place and cult were taken by Odin — a fact indicated in
Saxo’s story of Odin and Ollerus.

Recent research in Scandinavian place-names has caused some
scholars to see in Ull and Frey a pair of alternating divine
brothers, gods of fertility. They are believed to have been
worshipped on two hills near Leira in Sjtellend — the place
where a nine-yearly sacrifice formerly took place. These hills
are the Hyldehog and Frijszhog, and their popular names as
recorded three centuries ago, point to the belief that Ull and
Frey were buried there. These twin gods were associated in
a fertility cult with goddesses, and the cult seems to have con-
tained the representation of a ritual marriage. On a rock called
Ullaber (? Ullarberg) near Ullensvang, within recent times a
gathering was held on Midsummer Day and a girl was dressed
up as a bride . 28 The close connexion in one stanza of Grim-
nismal between Ull’s abode, Ydalir, and Frey’s, Alfheim,
whereas those of other deities have each one stanza allotted to
them, has also led to the supposition of a connexion between Ull
and Frey . 29


Vidarr is c the silent god,’ a son of Odin, c Sigfather’s mighty
son.’ His mother is the giantess Grid, whom Thor visited on
his way to Geirrod’s land. Vidarr is nearly as strong as Thor,
and the gods trust him in all struggles, for he is their avenger.
Snorri says that he is c the divine dweller in the homesteads of
the fathers .’ 30 But Grimnismal speaks of his abode thus:

‘ Underwood and luxuriant grass
Fills Vidi, Vidarr’s land;

There springs the youth from the back of his horse
Ready to avenge his father.’ 31

The latter part of the stanza refers to Vidarr’s deed at the Doom
of the gods.



As one of the ^Lsir present at ASgir’s banquet, Vidarr was
bidden by Odin to rise up and let Loki sit down in order that
he might not speak words of contempt. Vidarr obeyed and pre-
sented Loki with a cup of ale . 32 He is the one god present who
escapes the acid of Loki’s biting tongue.

At the Doom of the gods, after the Fenris-wolf swallows
Odin, Vidarr speeds to meet him and thrusts his sword into the
monster’s heart, thus avenging Odin. Snorri quotes this notice
from V olus pa, but himself gives a different account. He has
told how Vidarr has a thick shoe, hence he is c possessor of the
iron shoe.’ When Odin met his fate, Vidarr strode forth and
set one foot — that on which he wears the shoe — on the lower
jaw of the wolf. With one hand he seized the upper jaw, and
tore the two apart, killing the monster. This agrees with
V ajthrudnismal : c He will tear the jaws of the wolf, so that he
will die.’ Hence Vidarr is called c Foe and slayer of Fenris-
wolf,’ and c Avenger of the gods .’ 33 With Vali, he survives
the conflict, unharmed by the sea and Surt’s fire, and dwells in
Ithavoll . 34

Though Snorri speaks of Vidarr’s shoe as of iron, he gives
another description of it, taken from folk-belief. The materials
for this shoe have been gathering through the ages, the scraps
of leather cut by men from their shoes at heel or toe. He who
desires to aid the gods should throw these scraps away. This
tradition, which resembles that about the ship Naglfar, formed
from dead mens’ nails, must be based on some folk-custom . 35

Out of these sparse data and from the supposed source of
the god’s name, whether from vid, 1 forest,’ or from Vidi, the
plain on which he dwelt, elaborate conceptions of Vidarr have
been formed. Kauffmann says: £ In the dark solitude of the
forest the silent god watches over order and justice in the lives
of the gods and men. He is the guardian of peace, and as such
the appointed judge of those who disturb it.’ He is the god
who lives c untouched by wrong ; silent and aloof he dwells, far
from all crime, the lord of righteousness. . . . His temple



among the Norwegians, as among the German tribe of the
Semnones in the time of Tacitus, was the forest with its darkness
and awe. In him we recognize the Deus Requalivahanus , “ the
god dwelling in darkness.” ’ Kauffmann also identifies Vidarr
with Heimdall and Hoenir, all forms of one and the same god . 36

On the other hand Roediger regards Vidarr as the god of
the heath-land, wide-spreading, silent, remote. He is a divine
personification of the heath with its brooding silence and its
undergrowth, its thick grassy and mossy surface, symbolized by
the indestructible shoe . 37

While the ingenuity of these views does credit to the mytho-
poeic faculty of their authors, they are entirely hypothetical as
far as Scandinavian mythology is concerned.

Although no proof of a cult of Vidarr exists, here again the
god’s name is found in place-names — Vidarshof, Vidarsgarth,
and the like . 38


Bragi, Odin’s son and husband of Idunn, is famous for wis-
dom, and especially for fluency and skill in speech. He knows
most of skaldic art ( skaldskap ), and hence, says Snorri, this art
is called after him, bragr , and the man or woman who excels in
it is called ‘ bragr- man ’ or £ -woman.’ The word, bragr ,
however, which means both £ skaldic art ’ and £ the foremost,’
is not derived from Bragi’s name. Snorri gives the kennings
for Bragi — £ Husband of Idunn,’ £ First maker of poetry,’ £ the
Long-bearded god ’ (hence a long-bearded man was called
‘ skegg- ’ or £ beard-Bragi ’). 39

In the Eddie poems Bragi is mentioned thrice. He is £ best
of skalds runes are said to be carved on his tongue j both he
and Idunn were guests at ^Tigir’s banquet. When Loki re-
entered the hall, Bragi said that the gods would never give him
a place at their board. Odin, on the ground of their pact of
brotherhood, permitted Loki to have a place, and Loki bade all
the gods £ Hail,’ but excepted Bragi by name. Bragi said that


Bronze Trumpet

Bronze trumpet or horn ( lur ), one of several found
in Denmark and South Sweden, with ornamental disc
at the wider end and mouth-piece. These horns were
cast in several pieces, though the metal is extremely
thin, save at the ends. On Midsummer Day a concert
is held at Copenhagen where these instruments are
used. The number of the sounds produced, their purity
and force, are remarkable, and suggest a well de-
veloped artistic taste in the Scandinavian Bronze Age.
Cf. the references to Heimdall’s horn, pp. 154, 156,
and A. Hammerich, “ Les lurs de Page du bronze au
musee national de Copenhagen,’ in Soclete royale des
antiqucnres du Nord, Memoires , n. s., 1892, pp.
137 ff.



he would give him a horse and sword from his hoard, and a
ring, if he would refrain from making mischief among the gods.
Loki said that he had none of these things, and that of all pres-
ent he was the most cowardly in fight and most afraid of darts.
Bragi retorted that were he outside the hall he would carry
away Loki’s head in his hand as a punishment for lying. Loki
taunted him with being valiant on his bench, and ironically
called him £ the bench-gracing Bragi.’ If he is angry, let him
fight: a bold man does not sit considering. Idunn now inter-
vened, and said that Bragi was drunk with ale. 40 Whether
Loki’s accusation was based on a lost myth is unknown.

Critics maintain that Bragi was a creation of the skalds or
actually the poet Bragi Boddason ( c . 800 a.d.) thus apotheo-
sized by them and regarded as Odin’s son. This Bragi was
most noted of all skalds ; though, on the other hand, he him-
self has been regarded as mythical! In Eiriksmal ( c . 935)
Bragi, the god or the poet, is Odin’s favourite poet. He won-
ders at the noise of a host approaching Valhall and thinks that
it must be Balder returning. In Hakonarmal Odin bids Bragi
and Hermod go forth to meet the dead Hakon and invite him to
enter Valhall. Bragi tells him how his brothers await him in
Odin’s hall and invests him with its honours. 41

On the whole, Bragi may be regarded as distinct from the
poet of that name. He would be worshipped by skalds as god
of poetry, like Ogma among the Irish Celts and his counterpart
Ogmios among the Gauls. 42 As god of poetry, he takes Odin’s
place, for to him this function was attributed, and as £ the long-
bearded god ’ ( sidskeggia as) he resembles him, for Odin him-
self was called Sidskegg and Langbard. In Odin’s court this
divine skald, whose personality is at least so well marked as to
be assigned Idunn for a consort (after slaying her brother — a
myth referred to in hokasenna , 43 but otherwise unknown),
has the same place as the skald at a king’s court, and he greets
the heroic dead who enter it. His eloquence is emphasized by
Snorri, and he is the narrator in Bragarcedur and Skaidskafar-

i 62


mal. In the first he discusses the poetic art and its origin} in
the second he shows how poetry should be composed and tells
a number of myths. The wood called Braga-lund in Helgi
H undin gsb ana is £ Bragi’s wood .’ 4,4

The cup drunk by the heir at a feast after the death of a king
or jarl and in his memory, was called bragar-jull , 4 cup of the
foremost,’ i.e., of kings or jarls. Drinking it, an oath was taken
by the heir, and he was then conducted to his father’s seat. The
same name was given to the cup drunk at sacrificial feasts, after
those drunk to Odin, Frey, and Njord. A vow was made to
perform some great deed which might become the theme of
song . 40 In Helgakvitha Hjorvardssonar Hedin refused an
offer made to him by a troll-wife on Yule-eve, and she said:
£ Thou shalt pay for this when thou emptiest the bragar-jull .’
That night he vowed at the drinking of the cup to possess
Svava, the beloved of Helgi, but repented this so bitterly that
he left home and wandered through wild regions . 46 The name
of this cup is sometimes connected with that of Bragi, as if it
had been drunk in his honour, but it is rather derived from
bragr in the sense of £ the foremost ’ or £ the best,’ i.e., king,
chief, or hero.


Forseti, £ the President,’ £ he who has the first seat,’ the right-
speaking god, is son of Balder and Nanna. His hall is called
Glitnir, £ the Glittering’} it rests on golden pillars and the
roof is decked with silver. There he dwells and sits in judg-
ment, reconciling those who are at strife, and who come before
him with quarrels arising out of lawsuits. He was thus a god
of justice, one to whom the disputes of men must in some way
have been submitted. The place-name in Norway, Forsete-
lund, £ Forseti’s grove,’ preserves his name, and points to a
seat of his cult . 47

The Frisians worshipped a god Fosite, who had a temple on
the sacred island of Helgoland or Fositesland. Cattle grazing



near it or anything about it might not be touched, and water
from the sacred stream must be drawn in silence. Any one pro-
faning the temple was sacrificed to the god, according to the
Frisian folk-law. S. Boniface had striven to convert the
Frisians, but the heathen among them had put him to death.
His successors carried on his work, but found the Frisians jeal-
ous of their temples, sacred springs, and holy places in woods
fields, or moorlands. In the early years of the eighth century,
Willibrord, when in Helgoland, baptized some of the people in
Fosite’s spring. His companions slew some of the sacred ani-
mals. The anger of the people was roused: one of the party
was offered in sacrifice, and the rest sent back into Frankish
territory . 48

Fosite is assumed to be the same as Forseti, and his cult to
have passed from the Frisians to the Norsemen, who had rela-
tions with them. The Norse poets then made him son of

A curious story is connected by some students with this god.
Charlemagne desired the twelve Asegen from the seven Frisian
Seelands to tell him what the Frisian law was. They declared
that they could not do this, and asked for two days respite, and
then for three more. At the end of this time, being still unable
to obey the command, they were doomed to punishment, but
received the choice of death, slavery, or being set in a ship with-
out sails or rudder. They chose the last, and one of them pro-
posed to call on God for help. As Christ had appeared to His
disciples through closed doors, so He would send one who
would teach them what the law was and bring them to land.
They prayed, and now a thirteenth person was seen among
them, with an axe on his shoulder. By its means he steered the
ship to land. He threw the axe on the shore and there a well
began to spring forth. Hence this place was called Axenthove.
Then the stranger taught them the law and vanished. They
now returned to Charlemagne and told him what the law was . 49
This mysterious personage who thus revealed the Frisian law



is presumed to have been Fosite, giver of law and justice,
though the axe would rather suggest Donar.


Vali or Ali, called 4 brother of the Aisir,’ is son of Odin and
the giantess Rind, who is counted as one of the goddesses by
Snorri. Vali is described as daring in fight and a clever marks-
man. Like Vidarr he is said to be 4 a dweller in the homesteads
of the fathers .’ 50 He was born expressly to avenge Balder’s
death. In Baldrs Draumar the seeress says to Odin:

4 Rind bears Vali in the western halls,

When one night old will Odin’s son fight.

His head he will not comb nor his hand wash
Till Balder’s foe is laid on the pyre.’

V oluspa also says of him that 4 Balder’s brother is soon born,’
and repeats in almost identical words the passage in Baldrs
Draumar. The Lesser V oluspa in Hyndluljod speaks of Vali
as swift to avenge Balder’s death, when he slew his brother’s
slayer. Hence, as Snorri says, Vali is called 4 Balder’s avenger,’
4 Foe and slayer of Hod .’ 51

The Eddas relate nothing further of Vali’s origin nor of his
act of blood-revenge. In Saxo Vali is called Bous, and the
blood-vengeance is long delayed. Bous dies of a wound re-
ceived in his fight with Hotherus . 52

The passages cited from the Edda suggest that while Balder’s
corpse was still on the pyre, his slayer’s body was laid beside it.
On the other hand, the vengeance seems to be delayed — Vali
accomplishes it when one night old, but does not cut his hair or
wash his hand till it is completed. The latter points to a period
of waiting, and is the heroic aspect of an oath of blood-revenge
or of the intention to do a doughty deed. The infant hero who
arrives quickly at maturity and vigour is a commonplace of
folk-tale and hero-tale — as with the heroes Cuchulainn,
Fionn, Magni, son of Thor, Apollo, etc . 63

Nordic Mythology / Re: Nordic - Eddic Mythology
« on: July 04, 2019, 10:30:25 PM »



At the Doom of the gods Loki breaks forth. To this the dead
seeress, consulted by Odin about Balder ’s dreams, refers. No
one shall now consult her until Loki frees himself, shakes off
his fetters, and the destroyers come to the Doom of the gods . 22
How he breaks loose is not told, but V oluspa describes how he
stands at the helm of a ship with the people of Hel. Snorri
gives further details. Loki, Hrym, and the Frost-giants come
forth. The champions of Hel follow Loki, who fights with
Heimdall, each slaying the other . 23 Thus Loki acts as opponent
of the gods.

The myth of Loki’s bonds resembles one in Iranian my-
thology. The hero Thraetana conquered the dragon Azhi
Dahaka and bound him to the rock Damavand. There he lies
till the Last Day, meanwhile causing earthquakes by his
struggles. In the end he breaks loose and takes part with hosts
of evil against the gods . 24

We have seen that Thor and Loki visited Utgard, the giants’
region, where its lord, Utgard-Loki, practised deception on
them. While it is possible that Loki’s name has been used in
the name of the lord of Utgard, it can hardly be that he, Loki,
and Logi ( £ Fire ’) which devours all, are one and the same
being. Loki is as prominent in the story as the others.

Snorri gives several kennings for Loki, based on his relation-
ships and his deeds. He is 1 Foe of the gods,’ 1 the sly god,’
£ Slanderer and cheat of the gods,’ £ the bound god,’ £ Thief of
the giants, of Brisinga-men, of Idunn’s apples.’ Other by-
names are £ Wolf’s father,’ £ the cunning Loki .’ 25 He calls
himself Lopt, and this name is also given to him by others . 26
Its meaning is £ the airy one,’ or it is connected with lopteldr ,
£ lightning.’ The name Lodur, which occurs only in V oluspa,
as that of the associate of Odin and Hoenir, is generally sup-
posed to be an earlier name of Loki, who was £ companion ’ and
£ friend ’ of Hoenir according to Thjodolf of Hvin. This name
is regarded as equivalent to Luhfiurar, £ the Fire-bringer .’ 27

Loki’s original nature has been sought in the meaning of his



name, which may be connected with Logi, German Lohi, £ fire.’
Hence he is a Fire-demon, fire having the same destructive
power as he delighted in. The name has also been derived
from Lucifer, a name of the devil, and his personality regarded
as a reflexion of the devil’s . 28 Others connect it with luka,
ljuka, £ to close,’ £ to bring to an end,’ lok t £ the end.’ Hence
Loki would be £ the one who closes or brings to an end,’ because
his deeds lead up to the end of all, the Doom of the gods . 29
None of these meanings is quite satisfactory, though the sug-
gestion that Loki was originally a Fire-demon has some evi-
dence in its favour. His father is Farbauti, £ the dangerous
striker,’ i.e., the storm ; his mother is Laufey, £ the leafy isle,’
or Nal, £ needle,’ the needle-tree or fir-tree. Loki is a creation
of the storm which, in lightning, brings down fire on the wooded
isle . 30 Or, again, referring to the primitive production of fire
by friction, by means of the fire-drill, Farbauti is the piece of
stick, the drill, which by rubbing on a soft piece of wood, Laufey,
produces fire . 31 Here, again, these meanings are problematical.

Loki’s twofold nature is undoubted — he is tricky and de-
structive, yet he has the power to set things right. He is a friend
of the gods, yet he brings trouble upon them. In addition to
this, he appears in darker colours. He is father of monsters, a
base slanderer, the cause of Balder’s death, a monster chained
under the earth, the leader of hosts of evil against the gods.
Thus, for some reason not known to us, Loki becomes mon-
strous and sinister, whereas he was merely mischievous at first.
If he was originally a Fire-demon, fire is both beneficent and
dangerous, and in this may be seen both the twofold aspect of
Loki’s character, and also his later emphatically destructive
aspect. If he represents fire, then his giving vital heat to Ask
and Embla would be appropriate. Whether or not we are to
regard him as a spirit of fire, his twofold aspect, no less than
other traits, suggests the characteristics of elfin beings. These
other traits are shape-shifting, skill in theft, craft, and trickiness.
He is beautiful in form, but of evil nature. He travels swiftly



through the air either by means of bird’s plumage or shoes by
which he ran through air and over water . 32 He is chosen to go
to the dwarfs’ land in order to get them to forge Sif’s hair. His
conduct to these dwarfs is of an elfish kind. He is also associated
with dwarfs in the making of Menglod’s hall, and, like a dwarf,
he forged the sword Lasvateinn in the Underworld . 33

We may thus conclude that Loki, whether originally an em-
bodiment of fire or not, was a spirit of an elfin kind, raised to
divinity and included among the Aisir, just as Aisir and elves
are constantly named together. He was also an embodiment
of the mischief-maker, so common in all states of society, whose
mischief has often dire results for himself or others. He is like
the Greek Thersites or the Conan of the Celtic Fionn saga . 34
Such persons were common in actual life: why should there not
be one of them associated with the gods? If Loki was an elfin
Fire-spirit, then he might have been regarded as personifying
the volcanic fires known in Iceland. This has been already
hinted at in the interesting interpretation of the milkmaid myth.
Some later folk-lore is also thought to point to Loki’s connex-
ion with fire or heat. A Norse saying when the fire crackles
is: £ Loki is beating his children,’ and the skin of the milk is
thrown into the fire as a dole. On hot days when the air shim-
mers, or in spring when the mists rise from the ground in the
sunshine, a Danish saying is: ‘Loki is driving out his goats.’
The sun appearing through clouds and drawing up moisture
seems to be referred to in the sayings : £ Loki drinks water,’ or
£ Loki is passing over the fields.’ In Sweden when a little
child’s tooth falls out, it is thrown into the fire with the words:
£ Lokke, Lokke, give me a bone tooth ; here is a gold tooth.’
In Iceland chips and refuse for firing are called £ Loki’s chips,’
and subterranean sulphur fumes £ Loki’s vapour .’ 35

The elfish Loki rose in character and became the companion
of gods. Olrik tried to trace different conceptions of Loki in
myth and folk-lore. Thus he regarded him as in part a once
beneficent being. As stealer of Brisinga-men he is the Prome-



thean stealer of fire for the benefit of mankind, this famous
jewel being supposed to represent fire ( brisingr, 1 fire ’; * bu-
sing , ‘ bonfire ’), though it is never stated that this necklace did
good to men. Loki also invented the fishing-net — a myth
inserted in Snorri’s account of his capture . 30

The myth of Loki’s binding and breaking loose before the
Doom of the gods has been by some traced to the account in
Revelation of Satan’s binding and breaking out of the abyss.
But there may already have been in the North myths of a mon-
strous being bound under the earth, whose movements caused
earthquakes — a not uncommon myth . 37 If such a being bore
a name resembling Loki’s , 38 then the two would tend to be con-
fused, and the elfish Loki would become more demoniacal and
monstrous, parent of monsters, foe of the gods, and cause of
Balder’s death. We have seen the close resemblance of the
Iranian myth of Azhi Dahaka, found also in Armenia , 39 to that
of Loki. Olrik maintained that the Eddie myth of Loki chained
and breaking loose had its 'provenance in a series of myths of
giants or animals bound and causing earthquakes, found in the
Caucasus region and radiating forth in all directions . 40 The
Iranian myth is one of the series, but such a myth may have
been native to Scandinavia.

If Loki owes some of his more monstrous traits to the early
medieval devil, he is, on the whole, an original figure of Norse
mythology, one of those beings who, possibly kindly in origin,
is dowered with a more complex character as time goes on, and
ends by being wholly sinister and monstrous.

Loki’s wife Sigyn is counted among the goddesses: her func-
tion of guarding him from the venom of the snake may point to
her being a guardian-goddess against poison. To the more
monstrous Loki the giantess Angrboda was joined and was the
mother of monsters.




N OTHING is known of a cult paid to this god, but what is
said of him in the Eddas points to his being one of the
older AEsir. Snorri gives no separate account of him, but men-
tions him mainly in connexion with other gods . 1 In Voluspa he
is associated with Odin and Lodur in the creation of Ask and
Embla, giving them soul or reason, and the three gods are
called ‘mighty and benevolent.’ He is also joined with the
same gods (if Lodur is Loki) in the stories of Idunn and of
Andvari . 2 A ballad of the Faroe Islands introduces the same
gods, calling them Ouvin, Honir, and Lokkji. A peasant had
lost his son to a giant at a game of draughts, and prayed the
three gods to help him. Ouvin made a field of barley spring
up in a night, and hid the boy in an ear of the barley. When
the giant cut this down, the ear fell from his hand and Ouvin
brought back the boy to his father. Next Honir hid him in a
feather on the neck of one of seven swans. The giant caught
them, but the feather fell out and the boy escaped. Finally
Lokkji changed him into an egg in a flounder’s roe. This also
escaped from the giant, who was slain by Lokkji. All this
has been interpreted mythologically, but it is nothing more
than the invention of a poet to whom the association of the
three gods was known, making use also of a common folk-tale
motif . 3

This association of the gods is remembered by the skalds.
Hoenir is c bench-mate,’ £ friend,’ 1 companion ’ of Odin, and
Loki is Hoenir’s 6 companion ’ and c staunch friend.’ Snorri



calls Hoenir £ the swift god,’ £ the long-footed god,’ and £ king
of clay ’ or £ moisture,’ or, as some interpret the Norse words,
‘king of eld’ ( aur-konung ). 4 What lies behind these titles
is unknown, and the myths which may have given rise to them
have not survived. In a Saga fragment Hoenir is called £ the
most timorous ’ of the E£sir .’ 6 This may refer to the account
of his being sent as a hostage to the Vanir, when his apparent
goodliness proved illusory, as already narrated.® In this story
he is a big, handsome being, but stupid, unlike the Hoenir who
gave reason to Ask and Embla.

After the Doom of the gods, Hoenir survives and appears in
the renewed world. There he chooses the hlaut-vipr , i.e., a
slip of wood with runes engraved on it . 7 This perhaps signifies
his knowledge of the future.


Heimdall (ON Heimdallr) is an enigmatic being, and he has
been regarded as a mere creation of the skalds, a poetic form of
the old Heaven-god. But this is to over-emphasize the poverty
of Teutonic polytheism, as well as the argument from silence.
Though enigmatic, Heimdall stands out as an actual mythic

Heimdall, called also Vindler, is included among the Eisir
by Snorri and in Grtmmsmal: he is £ of the race of the gods,’
according to Hyndluljod , and a son of Odin . 8 In the Eddie
poems he is £ whitest of the gods,’ and, like the Vanir, he knows
the future. His abode is in Himinbjorg, where in a pleasant
house, he, the watchman of the gods, drinks mead. The name
Himinbjorg, £ Heaven mountain,’ is still used in Norway for a
steep mountain sloping down into the sea. Heimdall is £ the
man mighty in arms,’ and, as watchman of the gods, he has a
horn, the Gjallar-horn, which meanwhile rests under the ash
Yggdrasil, if the V olusfa poet is not here making it take the
place of Odin’s eye. It is curious that the divine watchman’s



From a Runic Cross at Jurby, Isle of Man. The
figure blowing a horn is believed to be Heimdall (see
p. 152). From The Saga-Book of the Viking Club ,
vol. i.



horn should not be beside him. Before the Doom of the gods,
this horn will be blown as a warning . 9

The human race, high and low, are Heimdall’s children, or,
as in Rigsthula, where he is called Rig, he is ancestor of the
jarls, yeomen, and thralls. He went along the shore and came
to a dwelling, where he called himself Rig. There he begat a
son Thrasll on his hostess Edda, and he was the first of the
thralls. Then he went to another house, where Amma bore to
him Karl, the first of the yeomen or karls. In a third dwelling
he was received by Fathir and Mothir, and the latter became
by him mother of Jarl, the first of the jarls. As Rig, Heimdall
is called the brave, old, wise god, the bold, robust walker, and
he knows well to speak wise words. Heimdall is £ the kinsman
of men,’ endowed with unusual strength, and is celebrated in
weapons. He is son of nine giantesses, Gjolp, Greip, Eistla,
Eyrgjafa, Ulfrun, Angeyja, Imd, Atla, and Jarnsaxa. This
account of his parentage is given in Hyndluljod , and by the
skald Ulf Uggason, as well as in a fragment of the lost
H eimdalar-galdr, cited by Snorri : —

c I am the offspring of nine mothers,

Of nine sisters am I the son.’ 10

In Lokasenna Heimdall opposes Loki, and is told by him to
be silent, for in the old time an evil fate was fixed for him. Now
he must stand with stiff neck and keep guard as watcher of the
gods . 11 We have already seen how he advised Thor to disguise
himself as Freyja and thus go to the giant Thrym.

Snorri combines much of this and gives further details about
Heimdall. He is £ the white god,’ great and holy, born of
nine sisters. He is also called Hallinskidi, £ ram ’ (?), and
Gullintani, £ Golden teeth.’ His horse is Gulltopp, £ Gold top,’
on which he rode at Balder’s funeral. He dwells in Himin-
bjorg, close by Bifrost, at the end of Heaven by the bridge head,
where Bifrost joins Heaven. He is warder of the gods, and
sits there to guard the bridge from the Hill-giants. Less sleep



does he need than a bird; by night or day he sees equally well
a hundred leagues; he hears grass growing on earth and wool
on sheep, as well as everything that has a louder sound. He
has the Gjallar-horn, the blast of which is heard through all
worlds . 12

The statements regarding Heimdall as watchman of the gods
point to the reality of his personality. The dualistic form of
Eddie mythology — gods opposed by giants — may early have
suggested this need of watchfulness, therefore of a watchman
ever guarding the frontier of the gods’ realm from the approach
of their enemies, just as a watchman was needed against enemies
among men. For this reason it is said of him that he needs little
sleep, though this, as well as his miraculous sight and hearing,
belongs to universal folk-tale formulae. Such powers are dis-
tributed among various beings who help a hero in his adven-
tures . 13 This £ white god ’ or £ whitest of the gods ’ may be a
god of light, light being essential to such functions as his.

As son of nine giantesses, perhaps the nine daughters of yEgir
and Ran, who are the waves, though their names differ, he was
born at the edge of the world. If we regard these giantesses as
personifications of the waves, or, possibly, of mountains, Heim-
dall might be regarded as a personification of the day dawning
out of the sea or over the mountains that look down upon it.
Another suggestion regarding his birth is that the myth alludes
to nine reincarnations of the god . 14

The skalds called a sword £ Heimdall’s head,’ £ for it is said
that he was pierced by a man’s head.’ This was told in the lost
H eimdalar-galdr , and since then a head was called £ Heimdall’s
fate,’ and a sword £ man’s fate.’ Heimdall’s sword was also
called £ head .’ 15 Does this mean that there was some myth of
Heimdall’s having been slain by a head, or is it merely an ob-
scure way of referring to his death at the future Doom when he
and Loki slay each other? If the former, then Heimdall must
have been reborn, for he is still to die at the last battle, and this
would lend support to the theory of his nine reincarnations.


1 55

In Hyndluljod it is said of his ninefold birth that he was
nourished £ with the strength of earth, with the ice-cold sea, and
with the blood of swine.’ As Heimdall was born at the world’s
edge, i.e., where sea and land meet, this may account for the
reference to earth and sea, while £ the blood of swine ’ would
mean sacrificial blood. The lines are believed by some editors
to have been transferred to Hyndluljod from Guthrunarkvitha
where earth, sea, and swine’s blood are components of the magic
drink given by Grimhild to Gudrun . 16

Heimdall is called £ the foe of Loki,’ £ the seeker of Freyja’s
necklace,’ £ the frequenter of Vagasker and Singasteinn, where
he fought with Loki for the necklace Brisinga-men.’ Accord-
ing to Ulf Uggason’s Husdrapa , Heimdall and Loki were then
in the form of seals, and Snorri quotes some lines of the poem
which refer to this without throwing much light upon it . 17 Loki
must have stolen and hid the necklace, perhaps in some
cliff by the sea, and he and Heimdall, transformed to seals,
fought for it, and Heimdall apparently recovered it. Ex-
amples of such transformation combats occur in Celtic and
other mythologies. The enmity between Loki and Heim-
dall culminates at the Doom of the gods when each slays the

As men are £ Heimdall’s sons,’ as he is £ kinsman of men and
of all rulers,’ and £ holds sway over men,’ Heimdall is in some
sense regarded as creator or progenitor as well as ruler of men
and orderer of their classes . 18 In the prose Introduction to
Rigsthula , probably later than the poem itself, Rig (from Old
Irish rig, £ king ’) is identified with Heimdall, and it is said
that £ old stories ’ tell the narrative which is the subject of the
poem. Some critics think that Odin, not Heimdall, is Rig.
While this is possible, the references in the other Eddie poems
to Heimdall in relation to men, support the identification of the
Introduction. In the third son, Jarl, Rig took peculiar interest,
calling him by his name, Rig-Jarl, teaching him runes, and
bidding him possess his wide heritage. The poem serves as a


eulogy of kingship, and to trace the descent of a royal house
to a god.

Grimm compared Heimdall at Heaven’s bridge to the angel
guarding Paradise with a sword, and his horn blown before the
Doom to the trumpet blown by the angel at the Last Day.
Heimdall’s strife with Loki is a parallel to that of Michael and
Satan. Such Christian conceptions might have influenced the
myth of Heimdall, but granting a bridge from Heaven to earth
and an expected attack on the gods’ abode, nothing is more
likely than that it should have a divine watchman with a horn. 19

Of a cult of Heimdall nothing is known, though his name
occurs in certain place-names.