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Popular Studies in Mythology, Romance, and Folklore, No. 12
The Divine Mythology of the North
Winifred Faraday, M.A.
Published by David Nutt, at the Sign of the Phoenix, Long Acre, London
Some explanation is needed of the form of spelling I have adopted
in transcribing Norse proper names. The spirants thorn and eth
are represented by _th_ and _d_, as being more familiar to readers
unacquainted with the original. Marks of vowel-length are in all cases
omitted. The inflexional _-r_ of the nominative singular masculine
is also omitted, whether it appears as _-r_ or is assimilated to a
preceding consonant (as in Odinn, Eysteinn, Heindall, Egill) in the
Norse form, with the single exception of the name Tyr, where I use
the form which has become conventional in English.
The Edda: I. The Divine Mythology of the North
The Icelandic Eddas are the only vernacular record of Germanic
heathendom as it developed during the four centuries which in England
saw the destruction of nearly all traces of the heathen system. The
so-called Elder Edda is a collection of some thirty poems, mythic and
heroic in substance, interspersed with short pieces of prose, which
survives in a thirteenth-century MS., known as the Codex Regius,
discovered in Iceland in 1642; to these are added other poems of
similar character from other sources. The Younger Edda is a prose
paraphrase of, and commentary on, these poems and others which are
lost, together with a treatise on metre, written by the historian
Snorri Sturluson about 1220.
This use of the word Edda is incorrect and unhistorical, though
convenient and sanctioned by the use of several centuries. It was early
used as a general term for the rules and materials for versemaking,
and applied in this sense to Snorri's work. When the poems on which
his paraphrase is founded were discovered, Icelandic scholars by a
misunderstanding applied the name to them also; and as they attributed
the collection quite arbitrarily to the historian Saemund (1056-1133),
it was long known as Saemundar Edda, a name now generally discarded in
favour of the less misleading titles of Elder or Poetic Edda. From its
application to this collection, the word derives a more extended use,
(1) as a general term for Norse mythology; (2) as a convenient name
to distinguish the simpler style of these anonymous narrative poems
from the elaborate formality of the Skalds.
The poems of the Edda are certainly older than the MS., although
the old opinion as to their high antiquity is untenable. The majority
probably date from the tenth century in their present form; this dating
does not necessitate the ascription of the shape in which the legends
are presented, still less of their substance, to that period. With
regard to the place of their composition opinions vary widely,
Norway, the British Isles and Greenland having all found champions;
but the evidence is rather questionable, and I incline to leave
them to the country which has preserved them. They are possibly of
popular origin; this, together with their epic or narrative character,
would account for the striking absence from them of some of the chief
characteristics of Skaldic poetry: the obscuring of the sense by the
elaborate interlacing of sentences and the extensive use of kennings
or mythological synonyms, and the complication of the metre by such
expedients as the conjunction of end-rhyme with alliteration. Eddie
verse is governed solely by the latter, and the strophic arrangement
is simple, only two forms occurring: (1) couplets of alliterative
short lines; (2) six-line strophes, consisting of a couplet followed
by a single short line, the whole repeated.
Roughly speaking, the first two-fifths of the MS. is mythological,
the rest heroic. I propose to observe this distinction, and to
deal in this study with the stories of the Gods. In this connexion,
Snorri's Edda and the mythical Ynglinga Saga may also be considered,
but as both were compiled a couple of centuries or more after the
introduction of Christianity into Iceland, it is uncertain how much in
them is literary explanation of tradition whose meaning was forgotten;
some also, especially in Snorri, is probably pure invention, fairy
tale rather than myth.
Many attempts have been made to prove that the material of the Edda
is largely borrowed. The strength and distinction of Icelandic poetry
rest rather on the fact that it is original and national and, like
that of Greece, owes little to foreign sources; and that it began in
the heathen age, before Christian or Romantic influences had touched
Iceland. Valuable as the early Christian poetry of England is, we look
in vain there for the humour, the large-minded simplicity of motive,
the suggestive character-drawing, the swift dramatic action, which
are as conspicuous in many poems in the Edda as in many of the Sagas.
Omitting the heroic poems, there are in Codex Regius the following: (1)
Of a more or less comprehensive character, _Voeluspa, Vafthrudnismal,
Grimnismal, Lokasenna, Harbardsljod_; (2) dealing with episodes,
_Hymiskvida, Thrymskvida, Skirnisfoer. Havamal_ is a collection
of proverbs, but contains two interpolations from mythical
poems; _Alvissmal_, which, in the form of a dialogue between
Thor and a dwarf Alviss, gives a list of synonyms, is a kind of
mythologico-poetical glossary. Several of these poems are found
in another thirteenth-century vellum fragment, with an additional
one, variously styled _Vegtamskvida_ or _Baldr's Dreams_; the great
fourteenth-century codex Flateybook contains _Hyndluljod_, partly
genealogical, partly an imitation of _Voeluspa_; and one of the MSS. of
Snorri's Edda gives us _Rigsthula_.
_Voeluspa_, though not one of the earliest poems, forms an appropriate
opening. Metrical considerations forbid an earlier date than the
first quarter of the eleventh century, and the last few lines are
still later. The material is, however, older: the poem is an outline,
in allusions often obscure to us, of traditions and beliefs familiar to
its first hearers. The very bareness of the outline is sufficient proof
that the material is not new. The framework is apparently imitated from
that of the poem known as _Baldr's Dreams_, some lines from which are
inserted in _Voeluspa_. This older poem describes Odin's visit to the
Sibyl in hell-gates to inquire into the future. He rides down to her
tomb at the eastern door of Nifl-hell and chants spells, until she
awakes and asks: "What man unknown to me is that, who has troubled me
with this weary journey? Snow has snowed on me, rain has beaten me,
dew has drenched me, I have long been dead." He gives the name Wegtam,
or Way-wise, and then follow question and answer until she discovers
his identity and will say no more. In _Voeluspa_ there is no descriptive
introduction, and no dialogue; the whole is spoken by the Sibyl,
who plunges at once into her story, with only the explanatory words:
"Thou, Valfather, wouldst have me tell the ancient histories of men as
far as I remember." She describes the creation of the world and sky
by Bor's sons; the building by the Gods of a citadel in Ida-plain,
and their age of innocence till three giant-maids brought greed of
gold; the creation of the dwarfs; the creation of the first man and
woman out of two trees by Odin, Hoeni and Lodur; the world-ash and
the spring beside it where dwell the three Norns who order the fates
of men. Then follows an allusion to the war between the Aesir and the
Vanir, the battle with the giants who had got possession of the goddess
Freyja, and the breaking of bargains; an obscure reference to Mimi's
spring where Odin left his eye as a pledge; and an enumeration of his
war-maids or Valkyries. Turning to the future, the Sibyl prophesies
the death of Baldr, the vengeance on his slayer, and the chaining of
Loki, the doom of the Gods and the destruction of the world at the
coming of the fire-giants and the release of Loki's children from
captivity. The rest of the poem seems to be later; it tells how the
earth shall rise again from the deep, and the Aesir dwell once more
in Odin's halls, and there is a suggestion of Christian influence in
it which is absent from the earlier part.
Of the other general poems, the next four were probably composed before
950; in each the setting is different. _Vafthrudnismal_, a riddle-poem,
shows Odin in a favourite position, seeking in disguise for knowledge
of the future. Under the name of Gangrad (Wanderer), he visits the
wise giant Vafthrudni, and the two agree to test their wisdom: the one
who fails to answer a question is to forfeit his head. In each case
the questions deal first with the past. Vafthrudni asks about Day and
Night, and the river which divides the Giants from the Gods, matters of
common knowledge; and then puts a question as to the future: "What is
the plain where Surt and the blessed Gods shall meet in battle?" Odin
replies, and proceeds to question in his turn; first about the creation
of Earth and Sky, the origin of Sun and Moon, Winter and Summer, the
Giants and the Winds; the coming of Njoerd the Wane to the Aesir as
a hostage; the Einherjar, or chosen warriors of Valhalla. Then come
prophetic questions on the destruction of the Sun by the wolf Fenri,
the Gods who shall rule in the new world after Ragnaroek, the end of
Odin. The poem is brought to a close by Odin's putting the question
which only himself can answer: "What did Odin say in his son's ear
before he mounted the pyre?" and the giant's head is forfeit.
In the third poem of this class, _Grimnismal_, a prose introduction
relates that Odin and Frigg quarrelled over the merits of their
respective foster-children. To settle the question, Odin goes
disguised as Grimni, "the Hooded One," to visit his foster-son Geirroed;
but Frigg, to justify her charge of inhospitality against Geirroed,
sends her maiden Fulla to warn him against the coming stranger. Odin
therefore meets with a harsh reception, and is bound between two fires
in the hall. Geirroed's young son, Agnar, protests against this rude
treatment, and gives wine to the guest, who then begins to instruct
him in matters concerning the Gods. He names the halls of the Aesir,
describes Valhalla and the ash Yggdrasil, the Valkyries, the creation
of the world (two stanzas in common with _Vafthrudnismal_), and
enumerates his own names. The poem ends with impressive abruptness
by his turning to Geirroed:
"Thou art drunk, Geirroed, thou hast drunk too deep; thou art bereft
of much since thou hast lost my favour, the favour of Odin and all
the Einherjar. I have told thee much, but thou hast minded little. Thy
friends betray thee: I see my friend's sword lie drenched in blood. Now
shall Odin have the sword-weary slain; I know thy life is ended,
the Fates are ungracious. Now thou canst see Odin: come near me,
if thou canst."
[Prose.] "King Geirroed sat with his sword on his knee, half drawn. When
he heard that Odin was there, he stood up and would have led Odin
from the fires. The sword slipt from his hand; the hilt turned
downwards. The king caught his foot and fell forwards, the sword
standing towards him, and so he met his death. Then Odin went away,
and Agnar was king there long afterwards."
_Harbardsljod_ is a dialogue, and humorous. Thor on his return from
the east comes to a channel, at the farther side of which stands Odin,
disguised as a ferryman, Greybeard. He refuses to ferry Thor across,
and they question each other as to their past feats, with occasional
threats from Thor and taunts from Odin, until the former goes off
vowing vengeance on the ferryman:
_Thor_. "Thy skill in words would serve thee ill if I waded across
the water; I think thou wouldst cry louder than the wolf, if thou
shouldst get a blow from the hammer."
_Odin_. "Sif has a lover at home, thou shouldst seek him. That is a
task for thee to try, it is more proper for thee."
_Thor_. "Thou speakest what thou knowest most displeasing to me;
thou cowardly fellow, I think that thou liest."
_Odin_. "I think I speak true; thou art slow on the road. Thou wouldst
have got far, if thou hadst started at dawn."
_Thor_. "Harbard, scoundrel, it is rather thou who hast delayed me."
_Odin_. "I never thought a shepherd could so delay Asa-Thor's journey."
_Thor_. "I will counsel thee: row thy boat hither. Let us cease
quarrelling; come and meet Magni's father."
_Odin_. "Leave thou the river; crossing shall be refused thee."
_Thor_. "Show me the way, since thou wilt not ferry me."
_Odin_. "That is a small thing to refuse. It is a long way to go: a
while to the stock, and another to the stone, then keep to the left
hand till thou reach Verland. There will Fjoergyn meet her son Thor,
and she will tell him the highway to Odin's land."
_Thor_. "Shall I get there to-day?"
_Odin_. "With toil and trouble thou wilt get there about sunrise,
as I think."
_Thor_. "Our talk shall be short, since thou answerest with mockery. I
will reward thee for refusing passage, if we two meet again."
_Odin_. "Go thy way, where all the fiends may take thee."
_Lokasenna_ also is in dialogue form. A prose introduction tells
how the giant Oegi, or Gymi, gave a feast to the Aesir. Loki was
turned out for killing a servant, but presently returned and began to
revile the Gods and Goddesses, each one in turn trying to interfere,
only to provoke a taunt from Loki. At last Thor, who had been absent
on a journey, came in and threatened the slanderer with his hammer,
whereupon Loki said, "I spoke to the Aesir and the sons of the Aesir
what my mind told me; but for thee alone I will go away, for I know
thou wilt strike." Some of the poem is rather pointless abuse, but
much touches points already suggested in the other poems.
_Hyndluljod_ is much later than the others, probably not before
1200. The style is late, and the form imitated from _Voeluspa_. It
describes a visit paid by Freyja to the Sibyl to learn the genealogy of
her favourite Ottar. The larger part deals with heroic genealogies, but
there are scanty allusions to Baldr, Frey, Heimdal, Loki's children,
and Thor, and a Christian reference to a God who shall come after
Ragnaroek "when Odin shall meet the wolf." It tells nothing new.
We have here then, omitting _Hyndluljod_, five poems (four of them
belonging to the first half of the tenth century) which suggest a
general outline of Norse mythology: there is a hierarchy of Gods, the
Aesir, who live together in a citadel, Odin being the chief. Among
them are several who are not Aesir by origin: Njoerd and his son and
daughter, Frey and Freyja, are Vanir; Loki is really an enemy and
an agent in their fall; and there are one or two Goddesses of giant
race. The giants are rivals and enemies to the Gods; the dwarfs are
also antagonistic, but in bondage. The meeting-place of the Gods is
by the World-Ash, Yggdrasil, on whose well-being the fate of Gods
and men depends; at its root lies the World-Snake. The Gods have
foreknowledge of their own doom, Ragnaroek, the great fight when they
shall meet Loki's children, the Wolf and the Snake; both sides will
fall and the world be destroyed. An episode in the story is the death
of Baldr. This we may assume to be the religion of the Viking age
(800-1000 A.D.), a compound of the beliefs of various ages and tribes.
_The Aesir._--The number of the Aesir is not fixed. _Hyndluljod_
says there were twelve ("there were eleven Aesir when Baldr went
down into the howe"). Snorri gives a list of fourteen Aesir or Gods
(Odin, Thor, Baldr, Njoerd, Frey, Tyr, Bragi, Heimdal, Hoed, Vidar, Vali,
Ullr, Forseti, Loki), and adds Hoeni in another list, all the fifteen
occurring in the poems; and sixteen Goddesses (Asynjor), the majority
of whom are merely personified epithets, occurring nowhere else. Of
the sixteen, Frigg, Gefion, Freyja and Saga (really an epithet only)
are Goddesses in the poems, and Fulla is Frigg's handmaid. In another
chapter, Snorri adds Idunn, Gerd, Sigyn and Nanna, of whom the latter
does not appear in the Elder Edda, where Idunn, Gerd (a giantess)
and Sigyn are the wives of Bragi, Frey and Loki; and two others,
the giantess Skadi and Sif, are the wives of Njoerd and Thor.
A striking difference from classical mythology is that neither Tyr
(who should etymologically be the Sky-god), nor Thor (the Thunder-god),
takes the highest place. Tyr is the hero of one important episode,
the chaining of the Wolf, through which he loses his right hand. This
is told in full by Snorri and alluded to in _Lokasenna_, both in the
prose preface ("Tyr also was there, with only one hand; the Fenris-wolf
had bitten off the other, when he was bound") and in the poem itself:
_Loki_. "I must remember that right hand which Fenri bit off thee."
_Tyr_. "I am short of a hand, but thou of the famous wolf; to each
the loss is ill-luck. Nor is the wolf in better plight, for he must
wait in bonds till Ragnaroek."
Otherwise, he only appears in connexion with two more popular Gods:
he speaks in Frey's defence in _Lokasenna_, and in _Hymiskvida_ he
is Thor's companion in the search for a cauldron; the latter poem
represents him as a giant's son.
Thor, on the other hand, is second only to his father Odin; he is
the strongest of the Gods and their champion against the giants,
and his antagonist at Ragnaroek is to be the World-Snake. Like Odin,
he travels much, but while the chief God generally goes craftily and
in disguise, to gain knowledge or test his wisdom, Thor's errands are
warlike; in _Lokasenna_ he is absent on a journey, in _Harbardsljod_
and _Alvissmal_ he is returning from one. His journeys are always
to the east; so in _Harbardsljod_: "I was in the east, fighting
the malevolent giant-brides.... I was in the east and guarding the
river, when Svarang's sons attacked me." The Giants live in the
east (_Hymiskvida_ 5); Thor threatened Loki: "I will fling thee up
into the east, and no one shall see thee more" (_Lokasenna_ 59);
the fire-giants at Ragnaroek are to come from the east: "Hrym comes
driving from the east, he lifts his shield before him.... A ship
comes from the east, Muspell's sons will come sailing over the
sea, and Loki steers" (_Voeluspa_ 50, 51). It would not, perhaps,
be overstraining the point to suggest that this is a reminiscence of
early warfare between the Scandinavians and eastern nations, either
Lapps and Finns or Slavonic tribes.
Thor is the God of natural force, the son of Earth. Two of the
episodical poems deal with his contests with the giants. _Thrymskvida_,
the story of how Thor won back his hammer, Mjoellni, from the giant
Thrym, is the finest and one of the oldest of the mythological poems;
a translation is given in the appendix, as an example of Eddic poetry
at its best. Loki appears as the willing helper of the Gods, and Thor's
companion. The Thunderer's journey with Tyr in quest of a cauldron
is related with much humour in _Hymiskvida_: Hymi's beautiful wife,
who helps her guests to outwit her husband, is a figure familiar in
fairy-tales as the Ogre's wife.
The chief God of the Scandinavians is, it must be confessed, an
unsympathetic character. He is the head of the Valhalla system;
he is Val-father (Father of the Slain), and the Valkyries are his
"Wishmaidens," as the Einherjar are his "Wishsons." He naturally takes
a special interest in mortal heroes, from whom come the chosen hosts
of Valhalla. But, in spite of the splendour of his surroundings, he
is wanting in dignity. The chief of the Gods has neither the might and
unthinking valour of Thor, nor the self-sacrificing courage of Tyr. He
is a God who practises magic, and it is as Father of Spells that he is
powerful. He is the wisest of the Gods in the sense that he remembers
most about the past and foresees most about the future; yet he is
powerless in difficulty without the craft of Loki and the hammer of
Thor. He always wanders in disguise, and the stories told of him are
chiefly love-adventures; this is true of all the deeds he mentions
in _Harbardsljod_, and also of the two interpolations in _Havamal_,
though one of the two had an object, the stealing of the mead of
inspiration from the giant Suptung, whose daughter Gunnloed guarded it.
_Voeluspa_ makes him one of three creative deities, the other two being
Lodur (probably Loki) and Hoeni, of whom nothing else is known except
the story that he was given as hostage to the Vanir in exchange for
Njoerd. The same three Gods (Odin, Loki and Hoeni) are connected with
the legend of the Nibelung treasure; and it was another adventure of
theirs, according to Snorri, which led to the loss of Idunn.
Of the other Gods, Bragi is a later development; his name means
simply king or chief, and his attributes, as God of eloquence and
poetry, are apparently borrowed from Odin. Heimdal, the watchman and
"far-seeing like the Vanir," who keeps guard on the rainbow bridge
Bifroest, is represented in the curious poem _Rigsthula_ as founder of
the different social orders. He wandered over the world under the name
of Rig, and from his first journey sprang the race of thralls, swarthy,
crooked and broad-backed, who busied themselves with fencing land and
tending goats and swine; from his second, the churls, fine and ruddy,
who broke oxen, built houses and ploughed the land; from his third,
the earls, yellow-haired, rosy, and keen-eyed, who broke horses and
strung bows, rode, swam, and hurled spears; and the youngest of the
earls' race was Konung the king, who knew all mysteries, understood
the speech of birds, could quench fire and heal wounds. Heimdal is
said to be the son of nine mothers, and to have fought with Loki for
Freyja's Brising-necklace. His horn is hidden under Yggdrasil, to be
brought out at Ragnaroek, when he will blow a warning blast. His origin
is obscure. Still less is known of Vidar and Vali, two sons of Odin,
one of whom is to avenge Baldr's death, the other to slay the wolf
after it has swallowed up the chief God at Ragnaroek. Thor's stepson
Ullr (Glory) is probably, like his sons Modi and Magni (Wrath and
Strength), a mere epithet.
Frigg, Odin's wife and the chief Goddess, daughter of Earth,
is not very distinctly characterised, and is often confused with
Freyja. Gefion should be the sea-goddess, since that seems to be
the meaning of her name, but her functions are apparently usurped by
the Wane Njoerd; according to Snorri, she is the patron of those who
_Baldr_.--The story of Baldr is the most debated point in the Edda. The
chief theories advanced are: (1) That it is the oldest part of Norse
mythology, and of ritual origin; (2) that Baldr is really a hero
transformed into a God; (3) that the legend is a solar myth with
or without Christian colouring; (4) that it is entirely borrowed
from Mediaeval Greek and Christian sources. This last theory is too
ingenious to be credible; and with regard to the third, there is
nothing essentially Christian in the chief features of the legend,
while the solar idea leaves too much unexplained. The references to
the myth in the Elder Edda are:
(1) _Vegtamskvida_ (about 900 A.D.). Odin questions the Sibyl as to
the meaning of Baldr's dreams:
_Odin_. "For whom are the benches (in hell) strewn with rings, the
halls fairly adorned with gold?"
_Sibyl_. "Here the mead, clear drink, stands brewed for Baldr; the
shields are spread. The sons of the Aesir are too merry."
_Odin_. "Who will be Baldr's slayer and rob Odin's son of life?"
_Sibyl_. "Hoed bears thither the high branch of fame: he will be
Baldr's slayer and rob Odin's son of life."
_Odin_. "Who will avenge the deed on Hoed and bring Baldr's slayer to
the funeral pyre?"
_Sibyl_. "Rind bears a son, Vali, in the halls of the west. He shall
not wash his hands nor comb his hair till he bears Baldr's foe to
(2) In _Lokasenna_ Frigg says: "If I had a son like Baldr here in
Oegi's halls, thou shouldst not pass out from the sons of the Aesir,
but be slain here in thy anger"; to which Loki replies, "Wilt thou
that I speak more ill words, Frigg? I am the cause that thou wilt
never more see Baldr ride into the hall."
(3) In _Vafthrudnismal_ the only reference is Odin's question,
"What said Odin in his son's ear when he mounted the pyre?"
(4) In _Voeluspa_ the Sibyl prophesies, "I saw doom threatening Baldr,
the bleeding victim, the son of Odin. Grown high above the meadows
stood the mistletoe, slender and fair. From this stem, which looked
so slender, grew a fatal and dangerous shaft. Hoed shot it, and Frigg
wept in Fenhall over Valhall's woe." The following lines, on the
chaining of Loki, suggest his complicity.
(5) _Hyndluljod_ has one reference: "There were eleven Aesir by
number when Baldr went down into the howe. Vali was his avenger and
slew his brother's slayer."
Besides these there is a fragment quoted by Snorri: "Thoekk will weep
dry tears at Baldr's funeral pyre. I had no good of the old man's
son alive or dead; let Hel keep what she has." _Grimnismal_ assigns
a hall to Baldr among the Gods.
There are, in addition, two prose versions of the story by later
writers: the Icelandic version of Snorri (1178-1241) with all the
details familiar to every one; and the Latin one of the Dane Saxo
Grammaticus (about thirty years earlier), which makes Baldr and Hoed
heroes instead of Gods, and completely alters the character of the
legend by making a rivalry for Nanna's favour the centre of the plot
and cause of the catastrophe. On the Eddic version and on Saxo's
depend the theories of Golther, Detter, Niedner and other German
scholars on the one hand, and Dr. Frazer on the other.
It has often been pointed out that there is no trace of Baldr-worship
in other Germanic nations, nor in any of the Icelandic sagas except
the late Frithjofssaga. This, however, is true of other Gods, notably
of Tyr, who is without question one of the oldest. The only deities
named with any suggestion of sacrifice or worship in the Icelandic
sagas proper are Odin, Thor, Frey, Njoerd, Frigg and Freyja. The process
of choice is as arbitrary in mythology as in other sciences. Again,
it is more likely that the original version of the legend should have
survived in Iceland than in Denmark, which, being on the mainland,
was earlier subject to Christian and Romantic influences; and
that a heathen God should, in the two or three centuries following
the establishment of Christianity in the North, be turned into a
mortal hero, than that the reverse process should have acted at a
sufficiently late date to permit of both versions existing side by
side in the thirteenth century. A similar gradual elimination of the
supernatural may be found in the history of the Volsung myth. Snorri's
version is merely an amplification of that in the Elder Edda, which,
scanty as its account of Baldr is, leaves no doubt as to his divinity.
The outline gathered from the poems is as follows: Baldr, Odin's son,
is killed by his brother Hoed through a mistletoe spray; Loki is in some
way concerned in his death, which is an overwhelming misfortune to the
Gods; but it is on Hoed that his death is avenged. He is burnt on a pyre
(Snorri says on his ship, a feature which must come from the Viking
age; _Hyndluljod_ substitutes howe-burial). He will be absent from
the great fight at Ragnaroek, but _Voeluspa_ adds that he will return
afterwards. Nanna has nothing to do with the story. The connexion with
the hierarchy of the Aesir seems external only, since Baldr has no
apparent relation to the great catastrophe as have Odin, Thor, Frej,
Tyr and Loki; this, then, would point to the independence of his myth.
The genuineness of the myth seems to depend on whether the mistletoe
is an original feature of it or not, and on this point there can
be little real doubt. The German theory that Baldr could only be
killed by his own sword, which was therefore disguised by enchantment
and used against him, and that the Icelandic writers misunderstood
this to mean a mistletoe sprig, is far-fetched and romantic, and
crumbles at a touch. For if, as it is claimed, the Icelanders had no
mistletoe, why should they introduce it into a story to which it did
not belong? They might preserve it by tradition, but they would hardly
invent it. Granting this, the mistletoe becomes the central point of
the legend. The older mythologists, who only saw in it a sun-myth,
overlooked the fact that since any weapon would have done to kill
the God with, the mistletoe must have some special significance; and
if it is a genuine part of the story, as we have no reason to doubt,
it will be hard to overturn Dr. Frazer's theory that the Baldr-myth
is a relic of tree-worship and the ritual sacrifice of the God,
Baldr being a tree-spirit whose soul is contained in the mistletoe.
The contradictions in the story, especially as told by Snorri
(such as the confusion between the parts played by Hoed and Loki,
and the unsuspicious attitude of the Gods as Loki directs Hoed's aim)
are sometimes urged against its genuineness. They are rather proofs
of antiquity. Apparent contradictions whose explanation is forgotten
often survive in tradition; the inventor of a new story takes care to
make it consistent. It is probable, however, that there were originally
only two actors in the episode, the victim and the slayer, and that
Loki's part is later than Hoed's, for he really belongs to the Valhall
and Ragnaroek myth, and was only introduced here as a link. The incident
of the oath extracted from everything on earth to protect Baldr, which
occurs in Snorri and in a paper MS. of _Baldr's Dreams_, was probably
invented to explain the choice of weapon, which would certainly need
explanation to an Icelandic audience. If Dr. Frazer's theory be right,
Vali, who slew the slayer, must also have been an original figure in
the legend. His antiquity is supported by the fact that he plays the
part of avenger in the poems; while in Snorri, where he is mentioned
as a God, his absence from the account of Baldr's death is only a
part of that literary development by which real responsibility for
the murder was transferred from Hoed to Loki.
Snorri gives Baldr a son, Forseti (Judge), who is also named as a
God in _Grimnismal_. He must have grown out of an epithet of Baldr's,
of whom Snorri says that "no one can resist his sentence"; the sacred
tree would naturally be the seat of judgment.
* * * * *
_The Wanes._--Three of the Norse divinities, Njoerd and his son and
daughter, are not Aesir by descent. The following account is given
of their presence in Asgard:
(1) In _Vafthrudnismal_, Odin asks:
"Whence came Njoerd among the sons of the Aesir? for he was not born
of the Aesir."
_Vafthrudni_. "In Vanaheim wise powers ordained and gave him for a
hostage to the Gods; at the doom of the world he shall come back,
home to the wise Wanes."
(2) There is an allusion in _Voeluspa_ to the war which caused the
giving of hostages:
"Odin shot into the host: this was the first war in the world. Broken
was the wall of the citadel of the Aesir, so that the Wanes could
tread the fields of war."
(3) Loki taunts Njoerd with his position, in _Lokasenna_:
"Thou wast sent from the east as a hostage to the Gods...."
_Njoerd_. "This is my comfort, though I was sent from far as a hostage
to the Gods, yet I have a son whom no one hates, and he is thought
the best of the Aesir."
_Loki_. "Stay, Njoerd, restrain thy pride; I will hide it no longer:
thy son is thine own sister's son, and that is no worse than one
_Tyr_. "Frey is the best of all the bold riders of Asgard."
There is little doubt that Njoerd was once a God of higher importance
than he is in the Edda, where he is overshadowed by his son. Grimm's
suggestion that he and the goddess Nerthus, mentioned by Tacitus,
were brother and sister, is supported by the line in _Lokasenna_; it
is an isolated reference, and the Goddess has left no other traces in
Scandinavian mythology. They were the deities, probably agricultural,
of an earlier age, whose adoption by the later Northmen was explained
by the story of the compact between Aesir and Vanir. Then their places
were usurped by Frey and Freyja, who were possibly created out of
epithets originally applied to the older pair; Njoerd was retained
with lessened importance, Nerthus passed out altogether. The Edda
gives Njoerd a giant-bride, Skadi, who was admitted among the Gods in
atonement for the slaying of her father Thiazi; she is little more
than a name. Frey and Freyja have other marks of agricultural deities,
besides their relationship. Nothing is said about Frey's changing
shape, but Freyja possesses a hawk-dress which Loki borrows when
he wishes to change his form; and, according to Snorri, Frey was
sacrificed to for the crops. Njoerd has an epithet, "the wealthy,"
which may have survived from his earlier connexion with the soil. In
that case, it would explain why, in Snorri and elsewhere, he is God of
the sea and ships, once the province of the ocean-goddess Gefion; the
transference is a natural one to an age whose wealth came from the sea.
In spite of their origin, Frey and Freyja become to all intents
and purposes Aesir. Frey is to be one of the chief combatants at
Ragnaroek, with the fire-giant Surt for his antagonist, and a story is
told to explain his defeat: he fell in love with Gerd, a giant-maid,
and sacrificed his sword to get her; hence he is weaponless at the
last fight. Loki alludes to this episode in _Lokasenna_: "With gold
didst thou buy Gymi's daughter, and gavest thy sword for her; but when
Muspell's sons ride over Myrkwood, thou shalt not know with what to
fight, unhappy one." The story is told in full in _Skirnisfoer_.
Freyja is called by Snorri "the chief Goddess after Frigg," and the
two are sometimes confused. Like her father and brother, she comes into
connexion with the giants; she is the beautiful Goddess, and coveted by
them. _Voeluspa_ says that the Gods went into consultation to discuss
"who had given the bride of Od (_i.e._, Freyja) to the giant race";
_Thrymskvida_ relates how the giant Thrym bargained for Freyja as
the ransom for Thor's hammer, which he had hidden, and how Loki and
Thor outwitted him; and Snorri says the giants bargained for her as
the price for building Valhalla, but were outwitted. Sir G.W. Dasent
notices in the folk-tales the eagerness of trolls and giants to learn
the details of the agricultural processes, and this is probably the
clue to the desire of the Frost-Giants in the Edda for the possession
of Freyja. Idunn, the wife of Bragi, and a purely Norse creation, seems
to be a double of Freyja; she, too, according to Snorri, is carried
away by the giants and rescued by Loki. The golden apples which she
is to keep till Ragnaroek remind us of those which Frey offered to
Gerd; and the gift of eternal youth, of which they are the symbols,
would be appropriate enough to Freyja as an agricultural deity.
The great necklace Brising, stolen by Loki and won back in fight
by Heimdal (according to the tenth-century Skalds Thjodulf and Ulf
Uggason), is Freyja's property. On this ground, she has been identified
with the heroine of _Svipdag and Menglad_, a poem undoubtedly old,
though it has only come down in paper MSS. It is in two parts, the
first telling how Svipdag aroused the Sibyl Groa, his mother, to
give him spells to guard him on his journey; the second describing
his crossing the wall of fire which surrounded his fated bride
Menglad. If Menglad is really Freyja, the "Necklace-glad," it is a
curious coincidence that one poem connects the waverlowe, or ring of
fire, with Frey also; for his bride Gerd is protected in the same way,
though his servant Skirni goes through it in his place:
_Skirni_. "Give me the horse that will bear me through the dark magic
waverlowe, and the sword that fights of itself against the giant-race."
_Frey_. "I give thee the horse that will bear thee through the dark
magic waverlowe, and the sword that will fight of itself if he is
bold who bears it." (_Skirnisfoer_.)
The connexion of both with the Midsummer fires, originally part of
an agricultural ritual, can hardly be doubted.
* * * * *
_Loki_, or Lopt, is a strange figure. He is admitted among the Aesir,
though not one of them by birth, and his whole relation to them
points to his being an older elemental God. He is in alliance with
them against the giants; he and Odin have sworn blood-brothership,
according to _Lokasenna_, and he helps Thor to recover his hammer
that Asgard may be defended against the giants. On the other hand,
while in present alliance with the Gods, he is chief agent in their
future destruction, and this they know. In Snorri, he is a mischievous
spirit of the fairy-tale kind, exercising his ingenuity alternately in
getting the Gods into difficulties, and in getting them out again. So
he betrays Idunn to the giants, and delivers her; he makes the bargain
by which Freyja is promised to the giant-builders of Valhalla,
and invents the trick by which they are cheated of their prize;
by killing the otter he endangers his own head, Odin's and Hoeni's,
and he obtains the gold which buys their atonement. Hence, in the
systematising of the Viking religion, the responsibility for Baldr's
death also was transferred to him. At the coming of the fire-giants
at Ragnaroek, he is to steer the ship in which Muspell's sons sail
(_Voeluspa_), further evidence of his identity as a fire-spirit. Like
his son the Wolf, he is chained by the Gods; the episode is related
in a prose-piece affixed to _Lokasenna_:
"After that Loki hid himself in Franangr's Foss in the form of
a salmon. There the Aesir caught him. He was bound with the guts
of his son Nari, but his son Narfi was changed into a wolf. Skadi
took a poisonous snake and fastened it up over Loki's face, and the
poison dropped down. Sigyn, Loki's wife, sat there and held a cup
under the poison. But when it was full she poured the poison away,
and meanwhile poison dropped on Loki, and he struggled so hard that
all the earth shook; those are called earthquakes now."
_Voeluspa_ inserts lines corresponding to this passage after the
Baldr episode, and Snorri makes it a consequence of Loki's share in
He is more especially agent of the doom through his children:
at Ragnaroek, Fenri the Wolf, bound long before by Tyr's help,
will be freed, and swallow the sun (_Vafthrudnismal_) and Odin
(_Vafthrudnismal_ and _Voeluspa_); and Joermungandr, the Giant-Snake,
will rise from the sea where he lies curled round the world, to slay
and be slain by Thor. The dragon's writhing in the waves is one
of the tokens to herald Ragnaroek, and his battle with Thor is the
fiercest combat of that day. Only _Voeluspa_ of our poems gives any
account of it: "Then comes the glorious son of Hlodyn, Odin's son
goes to meet the serpent; Midgard's guardian slays him in his rage,
but scarcely can Earth's son reel back nine feet from the dragon."
When Thor goes fishing with the giant Hymi, he terrifies his companion
by dragging the snake's head out of the sea, but he does not slay it;
it must wait there till Ragnaroek:
"The protector of men, the only slayer of the Serpent, baited his hook
with the ox's head. The God-hated one who girds all lands from below
swallowed the bait. Doughtily pulled mighty Thor the poison-streaked
serpent up to the side; he struck down with his hammer the hideous
head of the wolf's companion. The monster roared, the wilderness
resounded, the old earth shuddered all through. The fish sank back
into the sea. Gloomy was the giant when they rowed back, so that he
spoke not a word."
There is nothing to suggest that Joermungandr, to whom the word
World-Snake (Midgardsorm) always refers in the Edda, is the same as
Nidhoegg, the serpent that gnaws at Yggdrasil's roots; but both are
relics of Snake-worship.
* * * * *
_The World-Ash_, generally called Yggdrasil's Ash, is one of the most
interesting survivals of tree-worship. It is described by the Sibyl
in _Voeluspa_: "I know an ash called Yggdrasil, a high tree sprinkled
with white moisture (thence come the dews that fall in the dales):
it stands ever-green by Urd's spring. Thence come three maids,
all-knowing, from the hall that stands under the tree"; and as a
sign of the approaching doom she says: "Yggdrasil's ash trembles as
it stands; the old tree groans." _Grimnismal_ says that the Gods go
every day to hold judgment by the ash, and describes it further:
"Three roots lie three ways under Yggdrasil's ash: Hel dwells under
one, the frost-giants under the second, mortal men under the third. The
squirrel is called Ratatosk who shall run over Yggdrasil's ash;
he shall carry down the eagle's words, and tell them to Nidhoegg
below. There are four harts, with necks thrown back, who gnaw
off the shoots.... More serpents lie under Yggdrasil's ash than
any one knows. Ofni and Svafni I know will ever gnaw at the tree's
twigs. Yggdrasil's ash suffers more hardships than men know: the hart
bites above, the side decays, and Nidhoegg gnaws below.... Yggdrasil's
ash is the best of trees."
The snake and the tree are familiar in other mythologies, though in
most other cases the snake is the protector, while here he is the
destroyer. Both Nidhoegg and Joermungandr are examples of the destroying
dragon rather than the treasure-guardian. The Ash is the oracle: the
judgment-place of the Gods, the dwelling of the Fates, the source of
the spring of knowledge.
* * * * *
_Ragnaroek_.--The Twilight of the Gods (or Doom of the Gods) is the
central point of the Viking religion. The Regin (of which _Ragna_
is genitive plural) are the ruling powers, often called Ginnregin
(the great Gods), Uppregin (the high Gods), Thrymregin (the warrior
Gods). The word is commonly used of the Aesir in _Voeluspa_; in
_Alvissmal_ the Regin seem to be distinguished from both Aesir and
Vanir. The whole story of the Aesir is overshadowed by knowledge of
this coming doom, the time when they shall meet foes more terrible
than the giants, and fall before them; their constant effort is to
learn what will happen then, and to gather their forces together
to meet it. The coming Ragnaroek is the reason for the existence of
Valhalla with its hosts of slain warriors; and of all the Gods, Odin,
Thor, Tyr and Loki are most closely connected with it. Two poems of
the verse Edda describe it:
V. "What is the plain called where Surt and the blessed Gods shall
meet in battle?"
O. "Vigrid is the name of the place where Surt and the blessed Gods
shall meet in battle. It is a hundred miles every way; it is their
* * * * *
O. "Whence shall the sun come on the smooth heaven when Fenri has
destroyed this one?"
V. "Before Fenri destroy her, the elf-beam shall bear a daughter:
that maid shall ride along her mother's paths, when the Gods perish."
O. "Which of the Aesir shall rule over the realms of the Gods, when
Surt's fire is quenched?"
V. "Vidar and Vali shall dwell in the sanctuary of the Gods when
Surt's fire is quenched. Modi and Magni shall have Mjoellni at the
end of Vingni's (_i.e._, Thor's) combat."
O. "What shall be Odin's end, when the Gods perish?"
V. "The Wolf will swallow the father of men; Vidar will avenge it. He
will cleave the Wolf's cold jaws in the battle."
"A hag sits eastward in Ironwood and rears Fenri's children; one of
them all, in troll's shape, shall be the sun's destroyer. He shall
feed on the lives of death-doomed men; with red blood he shall redden
the seat of the Gods. The sunshine shall grow black, all winds will
be unfriendly in the after-summers.... I see further in the future
the great Ragnaroek of the Gods of Victory.... Heimdal blows loudly,
the horn is on high; Yggdrasil's ash trembles as it stands, the old
The following lines tell of the fire-giants and the various combats,
and the last section of the poem deals with a new world when Baldr,
Hoed and Hoeni are to come back to the dwelling-place of the Gods.
The whole points to a belief in the early destruction of the world
and the passing away of the old order of things. Whether the new
world which _Vafthrudnismal_ and _Voeluspa_ both prophesy belongs to
the original idea or not is a disputed point. Probably it does not;
at all events, none of the old Aesir, according to the poems, are
to survive, for Modi and Magni are not really Gods at all, Baldr,
Hoed and Vali belong to another myth, Hoeni had passed out of the
hierarchy by his exchange with Njoerd, and Vidar's origin is obscure.
* * * * *
_The Einherjar_, the great champions or chosen warriors, are intimately
connected with Ragnaroek. All warriors who fall in battle are taken
to Odin's hall of the slain, Valhalla. According to _Grimnismal_,
he "chooses every day men dead by the sword"; his Valkyries ride
to battle to give the victory and bring in the fallen. Hence Odin
is the giver of victory. Loki in _Lokasenna_ taunts him with giving
victory to the wrong side: "Thou hast never known how to decide the
battle among men. Thou hast often given victory to those to whom thou
shouldst not give it, to the more cowardly"; this, no doubt, was in
order to secure the best fighters for Valhalla. That the defeated
side sometimes consoled themselves with this explanation of a notable
warrior's fall is proved by the tenth-century dirge on Eirik Bloodaxe,
where Sigmund the Volsung asks in Valhalla: "Why didst thou take the
victory from him, if thou thoughtest him brave?" and Odin replies:
"Because it is uncertain when the grey Wolf will come to the seat
of the Gods." There are similar lines in Eyvind's dirge on Hakon
the Good. In this way a host was collected ready for Ragnaroek:
for _Grimnismal_ says: "There are five hundred doors and eighty
in Valhalla; eight hundred Einherjar will go out from each door,
when they go to fight the wolf." Meanwhile they fight and feast:
"All the Einherjar in Odin's courts fight every day: they choose
the slain and ride from the battle, and sit then in peace together"
(_Vafthrudnismal_,) and the Valkyries bear ale to them _(Grimnismal_).
It is often too hastily assumed that the Norse Ragnaroek with
the dependant Valhalla system are in great part the outcome of
Christian influence: of an imitation of the Christian Judgment Day
and the Christian heaven respectively. Owing to the lateness of our
material, it is, of course, impossible to decide how old the beliefs
may be, but it is likely that the Valhalla idea only took form at
the systematising of the mythology in the Viking age. The belief
in another world for the dead is, however, by no means exclusively
Christian, and a reference in _Grimnismal_ suggests the older system
out of which, under the influence of the Ragnaroek idea, Valhalla was
developed. The lines, "The ninth hall is Folkvang, where Freyja rules
the ordering of seats in the hall; half the slain she chooses every
day, Odin has the other half," are an evident survival of a belief
that all the dead went to live with the Gods, Odin having the men,
and Freyja (or more probably Frigg) the women; the idea being here
confused with the later system, under which only those who fell in
battle were chosen by the Gods. Christian colouring appears in the
last lines of _Voeluspa_ and in Snorri, where men are divided into the
"good and moral," who go after death to a hall of red gold, and the
"perjurers and murderers," who are sent to a hall of snakes.
For Ragnaroek also a heathen origin is at least as probable as a
Christian one. I would suggest as a possibility that the expectation of
the Twilight of the Gods may have grown out of some ritual connected
with the eclipse, such as is frequent among heathen races. Such
ceremonies are a tacit acknowledgment of a doubt, and if they ever
existed among the Scandinavians, the possibility, ever present to
the savage mind, of a time when his efforts to help the light might
be fruitless, and the darkness prove the stronger, would be the germ
of his more civilised descendant's belief in Ragnaroek.
By turning to the surviving poems of the Skalds, whose dates can be
approximately reckoned from the sagas, we can fix an inferior limit
for certain of the legends given above, placing them definitely in the
heathen time. Reference has already been made to the corroboration
of the Valhalla belief supplied by the elegies on Eirik Bloodaxe
and Hakon the Good. In the former (which is anonymous, but must have
been written soon after 950, since it was composed, on Eirik's death,
by his wife's orders), Odin commands the Einherjar and Valkyries to
prepare for the reception of the slain Eirik and his host, since no
one knows how soon the Gods will need to gather their forces together
for the great contest. Eyvind's dirge on Hakon (who fell in 970) is an
imitation of this: Odin sends two Valkyries to choose a king to enter
his service in Valhalla; they find Hakon on the battle-field, and
he is slain with many of his followers. Great preparation is made in
Valhalla for his reception, and the poet ends by congratulating Hakon
(who, though a Christian, having been educated in England, had not
interfered with the heathen altars and sacrifices) on the toleration
which has secured him such a welcome. A still earlier poet, Hornklofi,
writing during the reign of Harald Fairhair (who died in 933), alludes
to the slain as the property of "the one-eyed husband of Frigg."
Several Skalds mention legends of Thor: his fishing for the World-Snake
is told by Bragi (who from his place in genealogies must have written
before 900), and by Ulf Uggason and Eystein Valdason, both in the
second half of the tenth century; and Thjodulf and Eilif (the former
about 960, the latter a little later) tell tales of his fights with
the giants. Turning to the other Gods, Egil Skallagrimsson (about 970)
names Frey and Njoerd as the givers of wealth; Bragi tells the story
of Gefion's dragging the island of Zealand out of Lake Wener into
the sea; and Ulf Uggason speaks of Heimdal's wrestling with Loki.
The legend of Idunn is told by Thjodulf much as Snorri tells it:
Odin, Hoeni and Loki, while on a journey, kill and roast an ox. The
giant Thiazi swoops down in eagle's shape and demands a share; Loki
strikes the eagle, who flies off with him, releasing him only on
condition that he will betray to the giants Idunn, "the care-healing
maid who understands the renewal of youth." He does so, and the Gods,
who grow old and withered for want of her apples, force him to go
and bring her back to Asgard.
The poet of _Eiriksmal_, quoted above, alludes to the Baldr myth:
Bragi, hearing the approach of Eirik and his host, asks "What is
that thundering and tramping, as if Baldr were coming back to Odin's
hall?" The funeral pyre of Baldr is described by Ulf Uggason: he is
burnt on his ship, which is launched by a giantess, in the presence
of Frey, Heimdal, Odin and the Valkyries.
Though heathen writers outside of Scandinavia are lacking, references
to Germanic heathendom fortunately survive in several Continental
Christian historians of earlier date than any of our Scandinavian
sources. The evidence of these, though scanty, is corroborative,
and the allusions are in striking agreement with the Edda stories in
tone and character.
Odin (Wodanus) is always identified by these writers with the
Roman Mercurius (whom Tacitus named as the chief German God). This
identification occurs in the eighth-century Paulus Diaconus, and in
Jonas of Bobbio (first half of the seventh century), and probably rests
on Odin's character as a wandering God (Mercury being diaktoros), his
disguises, and his patronage of poetry and eloquence (as Mercury is
logios). Odin is not himself in general the conductor of dead souls
(psychopompos), like the Roman God, his attendant Valkyries performing
the office for him. The equation is only comprehensible on the
presumption of the independence of Germanic mythology, and cannot be
explained by transmission. For if Odin were in any degree an imitation
of the Roman deity, other notable attributes of the latter would have
been assigned to him: whereas in the Edda the thieving God (kleptis)
is not Odin but Loki, and the founder of civilisation is Heimdal.
The legend of the origin of the Lombards given by Paulus Diaconus
illustrates the relations of Odin and Frigg. The Vandals asked Wodan
(Odin) to grant them victory over the Vinili; the latter made a similar
prayer to Frea (Frigg), the wife of Wodan. She advised them to make
their wives tie their hair round their faces like beards, and go with
them to meet Wodan in the morning. They did so, and Wodan exclaimed,
"Who are these _Long-beards_?" Then Frea said that having given the
Vinili a name, he must give them the victory (as Helgi in the Edda
claims a gift from Svava when she names him). As in _Grimnismal_,
Odin and Frigg are represented as supporting rival claims, and Frigg
gains the day for her favourites by superior cunning. This legend
also shows Odin as the giver of victory.
Few heathen legends are told however by these early Christian writers,
and the Gods are seldom called by their German names. An exception is
the Frisian Fosite mentioned by Alcuin (who died 804) and by later
writers; he is to be identified with the Norse Forseti, the son of
(probably at first an epithet of) Baldr, but no legend of him is
told. It is disappointing that these writers should have said so
little of any God except the chief one. A very characteristic touch
survives in Gregory of Tours (died 594), when the Frank Chlodvig tells
his Christian wife that the Christian God "cannot be proved to be
of the race of the Gods," an idea entirely in keeping with the Eddic
hierarchy. Before leaving the Continental historians, reference may be
made to the abundant evidence of Germanic tree-worship to be gathered
from them. The holy oak mentioned by Wilibald (before 786), the sacred
pear-tree of Constantius (473), with numerous others, supply parallels
to the World-Ash which is so important a feature of Norse mythology.
A study of this subject would be incomplete without some reference to
the mythology of Saxo Grammaticus. His testimony on the old religion
is unwilling, and his effort to discredit it very evident. The
bitterness of his attack on Frigg especially suggests that she
was, among the Northmen, a formidable rival to the Virgin. When he
repeats a legend of the Gods, he transforms them into mortal heroes,
and when, as often happens, he refers to them accidentally as Gods,
he invariably hastens to protest that he does so only because it had
been the custom. He describes Thor and Odin as men versed in sorcery
who claimed the rank of Gods; and in another passage he speaks of
the latter as a king who had his seat at Upsala, and who was falsely
credited with divinity throughout Europe. His description of Odin
agrees with that in the Edda: an old man of great stature and mighty
in battle, one-eyed, wearing a great cloak, and constantly wandering
about in disguise. The story which Saxo tells of his driving into
battle with Harald War-tooth, disguised as the latter's charioteer
Brun, and turning the fight against him by revealing to his enemy Ring
the order of battle which he had invented for Harald's advantage, is
in thorough agreement with the traditional character of the God who
betrayed Sigmund the Volsung and Helgi Hundingsbane. Saxo's version
of the Baldr story has been mentioned already. Baldr's transformation
into a hero (who could only be slain by a sword in the keeping of
a wood-satyr) is almost complete. But Odin and Thor and all the
Gods fight for him against his rival Hother, "so that it might be
called a battle of Gods against men"; and Nanna's excuse to Baldr
that "a God could not wed with a mortal," preserves a trace of his
origin. The chained Loki appears in Saxo as Utgarda-Loki, lying bound
in a cavern of snakes, and worshipped as a God by the Danish king
Gorm Haraldsson. Dr. Eydberg sees the Freyja myth in Saxo's story of
Syritha, who was carried away by the giants and delivered by her lover
Othar (the Od of the Edda): an example, like _Svipdag and Menglad_,
of the complete transformation of a divine into an heroic myth. In
almost all cases Saxo vulgarises the stories in the telling, a common
result when a mythical tale is retold by a Christian writer, though
it is still more conspicuous in his versions of the heroic legends.
1. Then Wing-Thor was angry when he awoke, and missed his hammer. He
shook his beard, he tossed his hair, the son of Earth groped about
2. And first of all he spoke these words: "Hear now, Loki, what I
tell thee, a thing that no one in earth or heaven above has heard:
the Asa has been robbed of his hammer!"
3. They went to the dwelling of fair Freyja, and these words he
spoke first of all: "Wilt thou lend me, Freyja, thy feather dress,
to see if I can find my hammer?"
4. _Freyja_. "I would give it thee, though it were of gold; I would
grant it, though it were of silver."
5. Then Loki flew, the feather-coat rustled, until he came out of
Asgard and into Joetunheim.
6. Thrym, lord of the Giants, sat on a howe; he twisted golden bands
for his greyhounds and trimmed his horses' manes.
7. _Thrym_. "How is it with the Aesir? How is it with the Elves? Why
art thou come alone into Joetunheim?"
_Loki_. "It is ill with the Aesir, it is ill with the Elves; hast
thou hidden the Thunderer's hammer?"
8. _Thrym_. "I have hidden the Thunderer's hammer eight miles below the
earth. No man shall bring it back, unless he bring me Freyja to wife."
9. Then Loki flew, the feather-coat rustled, until he came out of
Joetunheim and into Asgard. Thor met him in the middle of the court,
and these words he spoke first:
10. "Hast thou news in proportion to thy toil? Tell me from on high
thy distant tidings, for a sitting man often breaks down in his story,
and he who lies down falls into falsehood."
11. _Loki_. "I bring news for my toil: Thrym, lord of the Giants,
has thy hammer; no man shall bring it back, unless he take him Freyja
as a bride."
12. They went to see fair Freyja, spoke to her first of all these
words: "Bind on the bridal veil, Freyja, we two must drive to
13. Angry then was Freyja; she panted, so that all the hall of the
Aesir trembled, and the great Brising necklace fell: "Eager indeed
for marriage wouldst thou think me, if I should drive with thee
14. Then all the Aesir went into council, and all the Asynjor to
consultation, and the mighty Gods discussed how they should recover
the Thunderer's hammer.
15. Then spoke Heimdal, whitest of the Aesir; he could see into the
future like the Vanir: "Let us bind on Thor the bridal veil; let him
have the great necklace Brising.
16. "Let the keys jingle, and let women's weeds fall about his knees;
let us put broad stones on his breast, and a hood dexterously on
17. Then spoke Thor, the mighty Asa: "Vile would the Aesir call me,
if I let the bridal veil be bound on me."
18. Then spoke Loki, Laufey's son: "Speak not such words, Thor! soon
will the Giants dwell in Asgard, unless thou bring home thy hammer."
19. Then they bound on Thor the bridal veil, and the great necklace
Brising; they let the keys jingle and women's weeds fall about
his knees, and they put broad stones on his breast, and the hood
dexterously on his head.
20. Then spoke Loki, Laufey's son: "I also will go with thee as thy
maiden; we two will drive together to Joetunheim."
21. Then the goats were driven out, urged forward in their harness;
well must they run. Rocks were riven, the earth burned in name:
Odin's son was driving into Joetunheim.
22. Then spoke Thrym, lord of the Giants: "Stand up, giants, and
strew the benches! They are bringing me now Freyja my bride, Njoerd's
daughter from Noatun.
23. "Gold-horned kine run in the court, oxen all-black, the giant's
delight. I have many treasures, I have many jewels, Freyja only
24. The guests assembled early in the evening, and ale was carried
to the Giants. One ox did Sif's husband eat, and eight salmon, and
all the dishes prepared for the women; three casks of mead he drank.
25. Then spoke Thrym, lord of the Giants: "Who ever saw a bride eat
so eagerly? I never saw a bride make such a hearty meal, nor a maid
drink so deep of mead."
26. The prudent handmaid sat near, and she found answer to the Giant's
words: "Eight nights has Freyja eaten nothing, so eager was she to
be in Joetunheim."
27. He looked under the veil, he longed to kiss the bride, but
he started back the length of the hall: "Why are Freyja's eyes so
terrible? Fire seems to burn from her eyes."
28. The prudent handmaid sat near, and she found answer to the Giant's
speech: "Eight nights has Freyja had no sleep, so eager was she to
be in Joetunheim."
29. In came the Giants' wretched sister, she dared to ask for a bridal
gift: "Take from thine arms the red rings, if thou wouldst gain my
love, my love and all my favour."
30. Then spoke Thrym, lord of the Giants: "Bring the hammer to hallow
the bride. Lay Mjoellni on the maiden's knee, hallow us two in wedlock."
31. The Thunderer's heart laughed in his breast, when the bold of
soul felt the hammer. Thrym killed he first, the lord of the Giants,
and all the race of the Giants he struck.
32. He slew the Giants' aged sister, who had asked him for a bridal
gift. She got a blow instead of shillings, and a stroke of the hammer
for abundance of rings. So Odin's son got back his hammer.
I. Study in the Original.
(1) _Poetic Edda_.--The classic edition, and on the whole the best,
is Professor Bugge's (Christiania, 1867); the smaller editions of
Hildebrand (_Die Lieder der Aelteren Edda_, Paderborn, 1876), and
Finnur Jonsson (_Eddalieder_, Halle, 1888-90) are also good; the
latter is in two parts, _Goettersage_ and _Heldensage_. The poems may
also be found in the first volume of Vigfusson and Powell's _Corpus
Poeticum Boreale_ (Oxford, 1883), accompanied by translations; but in
many cases they are cut up and rearranged, and they suffer metrically
from the system adopted of printing two short lines as one long one,
with no dividing point. There is an excellent palaeographic edition
of the _Codex Regius of the Elder Edda_, by Wimmer and Finnur Jonsson
(Copenhagen, 1891), with photographic reproductions interleaved with
a literal transcription.
(2) _Snorra Edda_.--The most recent edition of the whole is Dr. Finnur
Jonsson's (Copenhagen, 1875). There is a useful edition of the
mythological portions _(i.e., Gylfaginning, Bragaraedur_, and the
narrative parts of _Skaldskaparmal_) by Ernst Wilken (_Die Prosaeische
Edda_, Paderborn, 1878).
(3) _Dictionaries and Grammars_.--For the study of the Poetic Edda,
Gering's _Glossar zu den Liedern der Edda_ (Paderborn, 1896) will
be found most useful; it is complete and trustworthy, and in small
compass. A similar service has been performed for _Snorra Edda_ in
Wilken's _Glossar_ (Paderborn, 1883), which forms a second volume to
his edition, mentioned above. Both are, of course, in German. The only
English dictionary is the lexicon of Cleasby and Vigfusson (Oxford).
Of Grammars, the best are German; those of Noreen (_Altnordische
Grammatik_, Halle, 1892), of which there is an abbreviated edition,
and Kahle (_Altislaendisches Elementarbuch_, Heidelberg, 1896) being
better suited for advanced students; the English grammars included
in Vigfusson and Powell's _Icelandic Reader_ (Oxford) and Sweet's
_Icelandic Primer_ (Oxford) are more elementary, and therefore hardly
adequate for the study of the verse literature.
There are English translations of the Elder Edda by Anderson (Chicago,
1879) and Thorpe (1866), as well as the translations in the _Corpus
Poeticum_, which are, of course, liable to the same objection as
the text. The most accurate German translation is Gering's (Leipzig,
1893); in Simrock's (_Aeltere und Juengere Edda_, Stuttgart, 1882), the
translations of the verse Edda are based on an uncritical text. Snorra
Edda was translated into English by Dasent (Stockholm, 1842); also
by Anderson (Chicago, 1880).
III. Modern Authorities.
To the works on Northern mythology mentioned below in the note on
the Baldr theories, must be added Dr. Rydberg's _Teutonic Mythology_
(English version by R.B. Anderson, London, 1889), which devotes
special attention to Saxo.
_Home of the Edda_. (Page 2.)
The chief apologists for the British theory are Professor Bugge
(_Studien ueber die Entstehung der nordischen Goetter- und Heldensagen_,
Muenchen, 1889), and the editors of the _Corpus Poeticum Boreale_ (see
the Introduction to that work, and also the Prolegomena prefixed to
their edition of the _Sturlunga Saga_, Oxford). The case for Norway
and Greenland is argued by Dr. Finnur Jonsson (_Den oldnorsk og
oldislandske Literaturs-Historie,_ Copenhagen). The cases for both
British and Norwegian origin are based chiefly on rather fanciful
arguments from supposed local colour. The theory of the _Corpus
Poeticum_ editors that many of the poems were composed in the Scottish
isles is discredited by the absence of Gaelic words or traces of Gaelic
legend. Professor Bugge's North of England theory is slightly stronger,
being supported by several Old English expressions in the poems,
but these are not enough to prove that they were composed in England,
since most Icelanders travelled east at some time of their lives.
A later study will deal with the Heroic legends.
_Ynglinga Saga_. (Page 3.)
_Ynglinga Saga_ is prefixed to the Lives of the Kings in the collection
known as _Heimskringla_ (edited by Unger, Christiania, 1868, and by
Finnur Jonsson, Christiania, 1893); there is an English translation
in Laing's _Lives of the Kings of Norway_ (London, 1889).
_Voeluspa_. (Page 4.)
A poem of similar form occurs among the heroic poems. _Gripisspa_,
a prophetic outline of Sigurd's life, introduces the Volsung poems,
as _Voeluspa_ does the Asgard cycle.
_Riddle-poems_. (Page 6.)
So many of the mythological poems are in this form that they suggest
the question, did the asking of riddles form any part of Scandinavian
_The Aesir_. (Page 11.)
_Ynglinga Saga_ says that Odin and the Aesir came to Norway from Asia;
a statement due, of course, to a false etymology, though theories as
to the origin of Norse mythology have been based on it.
_Tyr_. (Page 12.)
Tyr is etymologically identical with Zeus, and with the Sanskrit Dyaus
_Baldr_. (Pages 16 to 22.)
The Baldr theories are stated in the following authorities:
(1) Ritual origin: Frazer, _The Golden Bough_, vol. 3.
(2) Heroic origin: Golther, _Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie_
(Leipzig, 1895); Niedner, _Eddische Fragen_ (_Zeitschrift
fuer deutsches Altertum_, new series, 29), _Zur Lieder-Edda_
(_Zeitschr. f. d. Alt_. vol. 36).
(3) Solar myth: Sir G.W. Cox, _Mythology of the Aryan Nations_
(London, 1870); Max Mueller, _Chips from a German Workshop_, vol. 4.
(4) Borrowed: Bugge, _Studien ueber die Entstchung der nordischen
Goetter- und Heldensagen_ (transl. Brenner, Muenchen, 1889).
_Vegtamskvida_. (Page 17.)
The word _hrodhrbadhm_ (which I have given as "branch of fame")
would perhaps be more accurately translated "tree of fame," which
Gering explains as a kenning for Baldr. But there are no kennings of
the same sort in the poem, and the line would have no meaning. If it
refers to the mistletoe, as most commentators agree, it merely shows
that the poet was ignorant of the nature of the plant, which would
be in favour of its antiquity, rather than the reverse.
_Saxo Grammaticus_. (Page 18.)
English translation by Professor Elton (London, D. Nutt, 1894). As
Saxo's references to the old Gods are made in much the same sympathetic
tone as that adopted by Old Testament writers towards heathen deities,
his testimony on mythological questions is of the less value.
_The Mistletoe_. (Page 20.)
It seems incredible that any writers should turn to the travesty of
the Baldr story given in the almost worthless saga of Hromund Gripsson
in support of a theory. In it "Bildr" is killed by Hromund, who has
the sword Mistilteinn. It must be patent to any one that this is a
perverted version of a story which the narrator no longer understood.
_Loki_. (Page 26.)
It is hardly necessary to point out the parallel between Loki and
Prometheus, also both helper and enemy of the Gods, and agent in their
threatened fall, though in the meantime a prisoner. In character
Loki has more in common with the mischievous spirit described by
Hesiod, than with the heroic figure of Aeschylus. The struggles of
Loki (p. 28) find a parallel in those of the fire-serpent Typhon,
to which the Greeks attributed earthquakes.
_Eclipse Ritual_. (Page 35.)
Mr. Lang, in _Myth, Ritual, and Religion_, (London, 1887) gives
examples of eclipse ritual. Grimm, in the _Teutonic Mythology_,
vol. 2, quotes Finnish and Lithuanian myths about sun-devouring beasts,
very similar to the Fenri myth.
_The Skalds_. (Page 35.)
All the Skaldic verses will be found, with translations, in the