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Title: Myths of the Norsemen - From the Eddas and Sagas
Author: Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline), 1859-1929
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Myths of the Norsemen - From the Eddas and Sagas" ***

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                             Myths of the Norsemen

                            From the Eddas and Sagas


                                 H. A. Guerber

                 Author of "The Myths of Greece and Rome" etc.

                           George G. Harrap & Company
                          15 York Street Covent Garden


                      Printed by Ballantyne & Co. Limited
                    Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London


        Chap.                                                      Page

        I.      The Beginning                                         1
        II.     Odin                                                 16
        III.    Frigga                                               42
        IV.     Thor                                                 59
        V.      Tyr                                                  85
        VI.     Bragi                                                95
        VII.    Idun                                                103
        VIII.   Niörd                                               111
        IX.     Frey                                                117
        X.      Freya                                               131
        XI.     Uller                                               139
        XII.    Forseti                                             142
        XIII.   Heimdall                                            146
        XIV.    Hermod                                              154
        XV.     Vidar                                               158
        XVI.    Vali                                                162
        XVII.   The Norns                                           166
        XVIII.  The Valkyrs                                         173
        XIX.    Hel                                                 180
        XX.     Ægir                                                185
        XXI.    Balder                                              197
        XXII.   Loki                                                216
        XXIII.  The Giants                                          230
        XXIV.   The Dwarfs                                          239
        XXV.    The Elves                                           246
        XXVI.   The Sigurd Saga                                     251
        XXVII.  The Frithiof Saga                                   298
        XXVIII. The Twilight of the Gods                            329
        XXIX.   Greek and Northern Mythologies--A Comparison        342


        Norsemen Landing in Iceland   (Oscar Wergeland)    Frontispiece

                                                           To face page
        The Giant with the Flaming Sword   (J. C. Dollman)            2
        The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani   (J. C. Dollman)            8
        Odin   (Sir E. Burne-Jones)                                  16
        The Chosen Slain   (K. Dielitz)                              18
        A Viking Foray   (J. C. Dollman)                             20
        The Pied Piper of Hamelin   (H. Kaulbach)                    28
        Odin   (B. E. Fogelberg)                                     36
        Frigga Spinning the Clouds   (J. C. Dollman)                 42
        Tannhäuser and Frau Venus   (J. Wagrez)                      52
        Eástre   (Jacques Reich)                                     54
        Huldra's Nymphs   (B. E. Ward)                               58
        Thor   (B. E. Fogelberg)                                     60
        Sif   (J. C. Dollman)                                        64
        Thor and the Mountain   (J. C. Dollman)                      72
        A Foray   (A. Malmström)                                     88
        The Binding of Fenris   (Dorothy Hardy)                      92
        Idun   (B. E. Ward)                                         100
        Loki and Thiassi   (Dorothy Hardy)                          104
        Frey   (Jacques Reich)                                      118
        Freya   (N. J. O. Blommér)                                  132
        The Rainbow Bridge   (H. Hendrich)                          146
        Heimdall   (Dorothy Hardy)                                  148
        Jarl   (Albert Edelfelt)                                    152
        The Norns   (C. Ehrenberg)                                  166
        The Dises   (Dorothy Hardy)                                 170
        The Swan-Maiden   (Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I.)           174
        The Ride of the Valkyrs   (J. C. Dollman)                   176
        Brunhild and Siegmund   (J. Wagrez)                         178
        The Road to Valhalla   (Severin Nilsson)                    182
        Ægir   (J. P. Molin)                                        186
        Ran   (M. E. Winge)                                         190
        The Neckan   (J. P. Molin)                                  194
        Loki and Hodur   (C. G. Qvarnström)                         202
        The Death of Balder   (Dorothy Hardy)                       206
        Hermod before Hela   (J. C. Dollman)                        210
        Loki and Svadilfari   (Dorothy Hardy)                       222
        Loki and Sigyn   (M. E. Winge)                              228
        Thor and the Giants   (M. E. Winge)                         230
        Torghatten                                                  234
        The Peaks of the Trolls                                     244
        The Elf-Dance   (N. J. O. Blommér)                          246
        The White Elves   (Charles P. Sainton, R.I.)                248
        Old Houses with Carved Posts                                250
        The Were-Wolves   (J. C. Dollman)                           260
        A Hero's Farewell   (M. E. Winge)                           264
        The Funeral Procession   (H. Hendrich)                      268
        Sigurd and Fafnir   (K. Dielitz)                            274
        Sigurd Finds Brunhild   (J. Wagrez)                         278
        Odin and Brunhild   (K. Dielitz)                            280
        Aslaug   (Gertrude Demain Hammond, R.I.)                    282
        Sigurd and Gunnar   (J. C. Dollman)                         284
        The Death of Siegfried   (H. Hendrich)                      288
        The End of Brunhild   (J. Wagrez)                           290
        Ingeborg   (M. E. Winge)                                    304
        Frithiof Cleaves the Shield of Helgé   (Knut Ekwall)        308
        Ingeborg Watches her Lover Depart   (Knut Ekwall)           312
        Frithiof's Return to Framnäs   (Knut Ekwall)                316
        Frithiof at the Shrine of Balder   (Knut Ekwall)            318
        Frithiof at the Court of Ring   (Knut Ekwall)               320
        Frithiof Watches the Sleeping King   (Knut Ekwall)          324
        Odin and Fenris   (Dorothy Hardy)                           334
        The Ride of the Valkyrs   (H. Hendrich)                     344
        The Storm-Ride   (Gilbert Bayes)                            358


The prime importance of the rude fragments of poetry preserved in
early Icelandic literature will now be disputed by none, but there
has been until recent times an extraordinary indifference to the
wealth of religious tradition and mythical lore which they contain.

The long neglect of these precious records of our heathen ancestors
is not the fault of the material in which all that survives of
their religious beliefs is enshrined, for it may safely be asserted
that the Edda is as rich in the essentials of national romance
and race-imagination, rugged though it be, as the more graceful
and idyllic mythology of the South. Neither is it due to anything
weak in the conception of the deities themselves, for although
they may not rise to great spiritual heights, foremost students of
Icelandic literature agree that they stand out rude and massive as the
Scandinavian mountains. They exhibit "a spirit of victory, superior
to brute force, superior to mere matter, a spirit that fights and
overcomes." [1] "Even were some part of the matter of their myths
taken from others, yet the Norsemen have given their gods a noble,
upright, great spirit, and placed them upon a high level that is all
their own." [2] "In fact these old Norse songs have a truth in them,
an inward perennial truth and greatness. It is a greatness not of
mere body and gigantic bulk, but a rude greatness of soul." [3]

The introduction of Christianity into the North brought with it the
influence of the Classical races, and this eventually supplanted the
native genius, so that the alien mythology and literature of Greece
and Rome have formed an increasing part of the mental equipment of the
northern peoples in proportion as the native literature and tradition
have been neglected.

Undoubtedly Northern mythology has exercised a deep influence upon
our customs, laws, and language, and there has been, therefore,
a great unconscious inspiration flowing from these into English
literature. The most distinctive traits of this mythology are a
peculiar grim humour, to be found in the religion of no other race,
and a dark thread of tragedy which runs throughout the whole woof,
and these characteristics, touching both extremes, are writ large
over English literature.

But of conscious influence, compared with the rich draught of Hellenic
inspiration, there is little to be found, and if we turn to modern
art the difference is even more apparent.

This indifference may be attributed to many causes, but it was due
first to the fact that the religious beliefs of our pagan ancestors
were not held with any real tenacity. Hence the success of the
more or less considered policy of the early Christian missionaries
to confuse the heathen beliefs, and merge them in the new faith,
an interesting example of which is to be seen in the transference
to the Christian festival of Easter of the attributes of the pagan
goddess Eástre, from whom it took even the name. Northern mythology
was in this way arrested ere it had attained its full development,
and the progress of Christianity eventually relegated it to the limbo
of forgotten things. Its comprehensive and intelligent scheme, however,
in strong contrast with the disconnected mythology of Greece and Rome,
formed the basis of a more or less rational faith which prepared the
Norseman to receive the teaching of Christianity, and so helped to
bring about its own undoing.

The religious beliefs of the North are not mirrored with any
exactitude in the Elder Edda. Indeed only a travesty of the faith of
our ancestors has been preserved in Norse literature. The early poet
loved allegory, and his imagination rioted among the conceptions of
his fertile muse. "His eye was fixed on the mountains till the snowy
peaks assumed human features and the giant of the rock or the ice
descended with heavy tread; or he would gaze at the splendour of the
spring, or of the summer fields, till Freya with the gleaming necklace
stepped forth, or Sif with the flowing locks of gold." [4]

We are told nothing as to sacrificial and religious rites, and
all else is omitted which does not provide material for artistic
treatment. The so-called Northern Mythology, therefore, may be regarded
as a precious relic of the beginning of Northern poetry, rather than
as a representation of the religious beliefs of the Scandinavians,
and these literary fragments bear many signs of the transitional stage
wherein the confusion of the old and new faiths is easily apparent.

But notwithstanding the limitations imposed by long neglect it is
possible to reconstruct in part a plan of the ancient Norse beliefs,
and the general reader will derive much profit from Carlyle's
illuminating study in "Heroes and Hero-worship." "A bewildering,
inextricable jungle of delusions, confusions, falsehoods and
absurdities, covering the whole field of Life!" he calls them,
with all good reason. But he goes on to show, with equal truth,
that at the soul of this crude worship of distorted nature was a
spiritual force seeking expression. What we probe without reverence
they viewed with awe, and not understanding it, straightway deified
it, as all children have been apt to do in all stages of the world's
history. Truly they were hero-worshippers after Carlyle's own heart,
and scepticism had no place in their simple philosophy.

It was the infancy of thought gazing upon a universe filled with
divinity, and believing heartily with all sincerity. A large-hearted
people reaching out in the dark towards ideals which were better than
they knew. Ragnarok was to undo their gods because they had stumbled
from their higher standards.

We have to thank a curious phenomenon for the preservation of so much
of the old lore as we still possess. While foreign influences were
corrupting the Norse language, it remained practically unaltered in
Iceland, which had been colonised from the mainland by the Norsemen
who had fled thither to escape the oppression of Harold Fairhair after
his crushing victory of Hafrsfirth. These people brought with them the
poetic genius which had already manifested itself, and it took fresh
root in that barren soil. Many of the old Norse poets were natives
of Iceland, and in the early part of the Christian era, a supreme
service was rendered to Norse literature by the Christian priest,
Sæmund, who industriously brought together a large amount of pagan
poetry in a collection known as the Elder Edda, which is the chief
foundation of our present knowledge of the religion of our Norse
ancestors. Icelandic literature remained a sealed book, however,
until the end of the eighteenth century, and very slowly since that
time it has been winning its way in the teeth of indifference, until
there are now signs that it will eventually come into its own. "To
know the old Faith," says Carlyle, "brings us into closer and clearer
relation with the Past--with our own possessions in the Past. For
the whole Past is the possession of the Present; the Past had always
something true, and is a precious possession."

The weighty words of William Morris regarding the Volsunga Saga
may also be fitly quoted as an introduction to the whole of this
collection of "Myths of the Norsemen": "This is the great story of
the North, which should be to all our race what the Tale of Troy was
to the Greeks--to all our race first, and afterwards, when the change
of the world has made our race nothing more than a name of what has
been--a story too--then should it be to those that come after us no
less than the Tale of Troy has been to us."


Myths of Creation

Although the Aryan inhabitants of Northern Europe are supposed by some
authorities to have come originally from the plateau of Iran, in the
heart of Asia, the climate and scenery of the countries where they
finally settled had great influence in shaping their early religious
beliefs, as well as in ordering their mode of living.

The grand and rugged landscapes of Northern Europe, the midnight
sun, the flashing rays of the aurora borealis, the ocean continually
lashing itself into fury against the great cliffs and icebergs of
the Arctic Circle, could not but impress the people as vividly as
the almost miraculous vegetation, the perpetual light, and the blue
seas and skies of their brief summer season. It is no great wonder,
therefore, that the Icelanders, for instance, to whom we owe the most
perfect records of this belief, fancied in looking about them that the
world was originally created from a strange mixture of fire and ice.

Northern mythology is grand and tragical. Its principal theme is the
perpetual struggle of the beneficent forces of Nature against the
injurious, and hence it is not graceful and idyllic in character,
like the religion of the sunny South, where the people could bask
in perpetual sunshine, and the fruits of the earth grew ready to
their hand.

It was very natural that the dangers incurred in hunting and fishing
under these inclement skies, and the suffering entailed by the long
cold winters when the sun never shines, made our ancestors contemplate
cold and ice as malevolent spirits; and it was with equal reason that
they invoked with special fervour the beneficent influences of heat
and light.

When questioned concerning the creation of the world, the Northern
scalds, or poets, whose songs are preserved in the Eddas and Sagas,
declared that in the beginning, when there was as yet no earth, nor
sea, nor air, when darkness rested over all, there existed a powerful
being called Allfather, whom they dimly conceived as uncreated as
well as unseen, and that whatever he willed came to pass.

In the centre of space there was, in the morning of time, a great
abyss called Ginnunga-gap, the cleft of clefts, the yawning gulf,
whose depths no eye could fathom, as it was enveloped in perpetual
twilight. North of this abode was a space or world known as Nifl-heim,
the home of mist and darkness, in the centre of which bubbled the
exhaustless spring Hvergelmir, the seething cauldron, whose waters
supplied twelve great streams known as the Elivagar. As the water of
these streams flowed swiftly away from its source and encountered
the cold blasts from the yawning gulf, it soon hardened into huge
blocks of ice, which rolled downward into the immeasurable depths of
the great abyss with a continual roar like thunder.

South of this dark chasm, and directly opposite Nifl-heim, the realm
of mist, was another world called Muspells-heim, the home of elemental
fire, where all was warmth and brightness, and whose frontiers were
continually guarded by Surtr, the flame giant. This giant fiercely
brandished his flashing sword, and continually sent forth great showers
of sparks, which fell with a hissing sound upon the ice-blocks in
the bottom of the abyss, and partly melted them by their heat.

    "Great Surtur, with his burning sword,
    Southward at Muspel's gate kept ward,
    And flashes of celestial flame,
    Life-giving, from the fire-world came."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Ymir and Audhumla

As the steam rose in clouds it again encountered the prevailing cold,
and was changed into rime or hoarfrost, which, layer by layer, filled
up the great central space. Thus by the continual action of cold and
heat, and also probably by the will of the uncreated and unseen,
a gigantic creature called Ymir or Orgelmir (seething clay), the
personification of the frozen ocean, came to life amid the ice-blocks
in the abyss, and as he was born of rime he was called a Hrim-thurs,
or ice-giant.

    "In early times,
    When Ymir lived,
    Was sand, nor sea,
    Nor cooling wave;
    No earth was found,
    Nor heaven above;
    One chaos all,
    And nowhere grass."

            Sæmund's Edda (Henderson's tr.).

Groping about in the gloom in search of something to eat, Ymir
perceived a gigantic cow called Audhumla (the nourisher), which
had been created by the same agency as himself, and out of the same
materials. Hastening towards her, Ymir noticed with pleasure that
from her udder flowed four great streams of milk, which would supply
ample nourishment.

All his wants were thus satisfied; but the cow, looking about her for
food in her turn, began to lick the salt off a neighbouring ice-block
with her rough tongue. This she continued to do until first the hair of
a god appeared and then the whole head emerged from its icy envelope,
until by-and-by Buri (the producer) stepped forth entirely free.

While the cow had been thus engaged, Ymir, the giant, had fallen
asleep, and as he slept a son and daughter were born from the
perspiration under his armpit, and his feet produced the six-headed
giant Thrudgelmir, who, shortly after his birth, brought forth in
his turn the giant Bergelmir, from whom all the evil frost giants
are descended.

    "Under the armpit grew,
    'Tis said of Hrim-thurs,
    A girl and boy together;
    Foot with foot begat,
    Of that wise Jötun,
    A six-headed son."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Odin, Vili, and Ve

When these giants became aware of the existence of the god Buri, and
of his son Börr (born), whom he had immediately produced, they began
waging war against them, for as the gods and giants represented the
opposite forces of good and evil, there was no hope of their living
together in peace. The struggle continued evidently for ages, neither
party gaining a decided advantage, until Börr married the giantess
Bestla, daughter of Bolthorn (the thorn of evil), who bore him three
powerful sons, Odin (spirit), Vili (will), and Ve (holy). These three
sons immediately joined their father in his struggle against the
hostile frost-giants, and finally succeeded in slaying their deadliest
foe, the great Ymir. As he sank down lifeless the blood gushed from
his wounds in such floods that it produced a great deluge, in which
all his race perished, with the exception of Bergelmir, who escaped
in a boat and went with his wife to the confines of the world.

    "And all the race of Ymir thou didst drown,
    Save one, Bergelmer: he on shipboard fled
    Thy deluge, and from him the giants sprang."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Here he took up his abode, calling the place Jötunheim (the home of the
giants), and here he begat a new race of frost-giants, who inherited
his dislikes, continued the feud, and were always ready to sally
forth from their desolate country and raid the territory of the gods.

The gods, in Northern mythology called Æsir (pillars and supporters
of the world), having thus triumphed over their foes, and being no
longer engaged in perpetual warfare, now began to look about them,
with intent to improve the desolate aspect of things and fashion a
habitable world. After due consideration Börr's sons rolled Ymir's
great corpse into the yawning abyss, and began to create the world
out of its various component parts.

The Creation of the Earth

Out of the flesh they fashioned Midgard (middle garden), as the earth
was called. This was placed in the exact centre of the vast space,
and hedged all round with Ymir's eyebrows for bulwarks or ramparts. The
solid portion of Midgard was surrounded by the giant's blood or sweat,
which formed the ocean, while his bones made the hills, his flat
teeth the cliffs, and his curly hair the trees and all vegetation.

Well pleased with the result of their first efforts at creation, the
gods now took the giant's unwieldy skull and poised it skilfully as
the vaulted heavens above earth and sea; then scattering his brains
throughout the expanse beneath they fashioned from them the fleecy

    "Of Ymir's flesh
    Was earth created,
    Of his blood the sea,
    Of his bones the hills,
    Of his hair trees and plants,
    Of his skull the heavens,
    And of his brows
    The gentle powers
    Formed Midgard for the sons of men;
    But of his brain
    The heavy clouds are
    All created."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

To support the heavenly vault, the gods stationed the strong dwarfs,
Nordri, Sudri, Austri, Westri, at its four corners, bidding them
sustain it upon their shoulders, and from them the four points of
the compass received their present names of North, South, East, and
West. To give light to the world thus created, the gods studded the
heavenly vault with sparks secured from Muspells-heim, points of light
which shone steadily through the gloom like brilliant stars. The most
vivid of these sparks, however, were reserved for the manufacture of
the sun and moon, which were placed in beautiful golden chariots.

    "And from the flaming world, where Muspel reigns,
    Thou sent'st and fetched'st fire, and madest lights:
    Sun, moon, and stars, which thou hast hung in heaven,
    Dividing clear the paths of night and day."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

When all these preparations had been finished, and the steeds Arvakr
(the early waker) and Alsvin (the rapid goer) were harnessed to the
sun-chariot, the gods, fearing lest the animals should suffer from
their proximity to the ardent sphere, placed under their withers great
skins filled with air or with some refrigerant substance. They also
fashioned the shield Svalin (the cooler), and placed it in front of the
car to shelter them from the sun's direct rays, which would else have
burned them and the earth to a cinder. The moon-car was, similarly,
provided with a fleet steed called Alsvider (the all-swift); but no
shield was required to protect him from the mild rays of the moon.

Mani and Sol

The chariots were ready, the steeds harnessed and impatient to begin
what was to be their daily round, but who should guide them along
the right road? The gods looked about them, and their attention was
attracted to the two beautiful offspring of the giant Mundilfari. He
was very proud of his children, and had named them after the newly
created orbs, Mani (the moon) and Sol (the sun). Sol, the Sun-maid,
was the spouse of Glaur (glow), who was probably one of Surtr's sons.

The names proved to be happily bestowed, as the brother and sister
were given the direction of the steeds of their bright namesakes. After
receiving due counsel from the gods, they were transferred to the sky,
and day by day they fulfilled their appointed duties and guided their
steeds along the heavenly paths.

    "Know that Mundilfær is hight
    Father to the moon and sun;
    Age on age shall roll away,
    While they mark the months and days."

            Hávamál (W. Taylor's tr.).

The gods next summoned Nott (night), a daughter of Norvi, one of the
giants, and entrusted to her care a dark chariot, drawn by a sable
steed, Hrim-faxi (frost mane), from whose waving mane the dew and
hoarfrost dropped down upon the earth.

    "Hrim-faxi is the sable steed,
    From the east who brings the night,
    Fraught with the showering joys of love:
    As he champs the foamy bit,
    Drops of dew are scattered round
    To adorn the vales of earth."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

The goddess of night had thrice been married, and by her first husband,
Naglfari, she had had a son named Aud; by her second, Annar, a daughter
Jörd (earth); and by her third, the god Dellinger (dawn), another son,
of radiant beauty, was now born to her, and he was given the name of
Dag (day).

As soon as the gods became aware of this beautiful being's existence
they provided a chariot for him also, drawn by the resplendent white
steed Skin-faxi (shining mane), from whose mane bright beams of
light shone forth in every direction, illuminating all the world,
and bringing light and gladness to all.

    "Forth from the east, up the ascent of heaven,
    Day drove his courser with the shining mane."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

The Wolves Sköll and Hati

But as evil always treads close upon the footsteps of good, hoping to
destroy it, the ancient inhabitants of the Northern regions imagined
that both Sun and Moon were incessantly pursued by the fierce wolves
Sköll (repulsion) and Hati (hatred), whose sole aim was to overtake
and swallow the brilliant objects before them, so that the world
might again be enveloped in its primeval darkness.

    "Sköll the wolf is named
    That the fair-faced goddess
    To the ocean chases;
    Another Hati hight
    He is Hrodvitnir's son;
    He the bright maid of heaven shall precede."

            Sæmuna's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

At times, they said, the wolves overtook and tried to swallow their
prey, thus producing an eclipse of the radiant orbs. Then the terrified
people raised such a deafening clamour that the wolves, frightened by
the noise, hastily dropped them. Thus rescued, Sun and Moon resumed
their course, fleeing more rapidly than before, the hungry monsters
rushing along in their wake, lusting for the time when their efforts
would prevail and the end of the world would come. For the Northern
nations believed that as their gods had sprung from an alliance between
the divine element (Börr) and the mortal (Bestla), they were finite,
and doomed to perish with the world they had made.

    "But even in this early morn
    Faintly foreshadowed was the dawn
    Of that fierce struggle, deadly shock,
    Which yet should end in Ragnarok;
    When Good and Evil, Death and Life,
    Beginning now, end then their strife."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Mani was accompanied also by Hiuki, the waxing, and Bil, the waning,
moon, two children whom he had snatched from earth, where a cruel
father forced them to carry water all night. Our ancestors fancied
they saw these children, the original "Jack and Jill," with their pail,
darkly outlined upon the moon.

The gods not only appointed Sun, Moon, Day, and Night to mark the
procession of the year, but also called Evening, Midnight, Morning,
Forenoon, Noon, and Afternoon to share their duties, making Summer and
Winter the rulers of the seasons. Summer, a direct descendant of Svasud
(the mild and lovely), inherited his sire's gentle disposition, and
was loved by all except Winter, his deadly enemy, the son of Vindsual,
himself a son of the disagreeable god Vasud, the personification of
the icy wind.

    "Vindsual is the name of him
    Who begat the winter's god;
    Summer from Suasuthur sprang:
    Both shall walk the way of years,
    Till the twilight of the gods."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

The cold winds continually swept down from the north, chilling all
the earth, and the Northmen imagined that these were set in motion
by the great giant Hræ-svelgr (the corpse-swallower), who, clad in
eagle plumes, sat at the extreme northern verge of the heavens, and
that when he raised his arms or wings the cold blasts darted forth
and swept ruthlessly over the face of the earth, blighting all things
with their icy breath.

    "Hræ-svelger is the name of him
    Who sits beyond the end of heaven,
    And winnows wide his eagle-wings,
    Whence the sweeping blasts have birth."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

Dwarfs and Elves

While the gods were occupied in creating the earth and providing
for its illumination, a whole host of maggot-like creatures had
been breeding in Ymir's flesh. These uncouth beings now attracted
divine attention. Summoning them into their presence, the gods first
gave them forms and endowed them with superhuman intelligence, and
then divided them into two large classes. Those which were dark,
treacherous, and cunning by nature were banished to Svart-alfa-heim,
the home of the black dwarfs, situated underground, whence they were
never allowed to come forth during the day, under penalty of being
turned into stone. They were called Dwarfs, Trolls, Gnomes, or Kobolds,
and spent all their time and energy in exploring the secret recesses
of the earth. They collected gold, silver, and precious stones,
which they stowed away in secret crevices, whence they could withdraw
them at will. The remainder of these small creatures, including all
that were fair, good, and useful, the gods called Fairies and Elves,
and they sent them to dwell in the airy realm of Alf-heim (home of
the light-elves), situated between heaven and earth, whence they
could flit downward whenever they pleased, to attend to the plants
and flowers, sport with the birds and butterflies, or dance in the
silvery moonlight on the green.

Odin, who had been the leading spirit in all these undertakings,
now bade the gods, his descendants, follow him to the broad plain
called Idawold, far above the earth, on the other side of the great
stream Ifing, whose waters never froze.

    "Ifing's deep and murky wave
    Parts the ancient sons of earth
    From the dwelling of the Goths:
    Open flows the mighty flood,
    Nor shall ice arrest its course
    While the wheel of Ages rolls."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

In the centre of the sacred space, which from the beginning of the
world had been reserved for their own abode and called Asgard (home of
the gods), the twelve Æsir (gods) and twenty-four Asynjur (goddesses)
all assembled at the bidding of Odin. Then was held a great council,
at which it was decreed that no blood should be shed within the limits
of their realm, or peace-stead, but that harmony should reign there
for ever. As a further result of the conference the gods set up a
forge where they fashioned all their weapons and the tools required
to build the magnificent palaces of precious metals, in which they
lived for many long years in a state of such perfect happiness that
this period has been called the Golden Age.

The Creation of Man

Although the gods had from the beginning designed Midgard, or
Mana-heim, as the abode of man, there were at first no human beings to
inhabit it. One day Odin, Vili, and Ve, according to some authorities,
or Odin, Hoenir (the bright one), and Lodur, or Loki (fire), started
out together and walked along the seashore, where they found either
two trees, the ash, Ask, and the elm, Embla, or two blocks of wood,
hewn into rude semblances of the human form. The gods gazed at first
upon the inanimate wood in silent wonder; then, perceiving the use it
could be put to, Odin gave these logs souls, Hoenir bestowed motion
and senses, and Lodur contributed blood and blooming complexions.

Thus endowed with speech and thought, and with power to love and to
hope and to work, and with life and death, the newly created man and
woman were left to rule Midgard at will. They gradually peopled it
with their descendants, while the gods, remembering they had called
them into life, took a special interest in all they did, watched over
them, and often vouchsafed their aid and protection.

The Tree Yggdrasil

Allfather next created a huge ash called Yggdrasil, the tree of the
universe, of time, or of life, which filled all the world, taking
root not only in the remotest depths of Nifl-heim, where bubbled the
spring Hvergelmir, but also in Midgard, near Mimir's well (the ocean),
and in Asgard, near the Urdar fountain.

From its three great roots the tree attained such a marvellous height
that its topmost bough, called Lerad (the peace-giver), overshadowed
Odin's hall, while the other wide-spreading branches towered over the
other worlds. An eagle was perched on the bough Lerad, and between
his eyes sat the falcon Vedfolnir, sending his piercing glances down
into heaven, earth, and Nifl-heim, and reporting all that he saw.

As the tree Yggdrasil was ever green, its leaves never withering,
it served as pasture-ground not only for Odin's goat Heidrun, which
supplied the heavenly mead, the drink of the gods, but also for the
stags Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, and Durathor, from whose horns honey-dew
dropped down upon the earth and furnished the water for all the rivers
in the world.

In the seething cauldron Hvergelmir, close by the great tree, a
horrible dragon, called Nidhug, continually gnawed the roots, and
was helped in his work of destruction by countless worms, whose aim
it was to kill the tree, knowing that its death would be the signal
for the downfall of the gods.

    "Through all our life a tempter prowls malignant,
      The cruel Nidhug from the world below.
    He hates that asa-light whose rays benignant
      On th' hero's brow and glitt'ring sword bright glow."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

Scampering continually up and down the branches and trunk of the
tree, the squirrel Ratatosk (branch-borer), the typical busybody
and tale-bearer, passed its time repeating to the dragon below the
remarks of the eagle above, and vice versa, in the hope of stirring
up strife between them.

The Bridge Bifröst

It was, of course, essential that the tree Yggdrasil should be
maintained in a perfectly healthy condition, and this duty was
performed by the Norns, or Fates, who daily sprinkled it with the
holy waters from the Urdar fountain. This water, as it trickled down
to earth through branches and leaves, supplied the bees with honey.

From either edge of Nifl-heim, arching high above Midgard, rose the
sacred bridge, Bifröst (Asabru, the rainbow), built of fire, water,
and air, whose quivering and changing hues it retained, and over which
the gods travelled to and fro to the earth or to the Urdar well, at
the foot of the ash Yggdrasil, where they daily assembled in council.

                        "The gods arose
    And took their horses, and set forth to ride
    O'er the bridge Bifrost, where is Heimdall's watch,
    To the ash Igdrasil, and Ida's plain.
    Thor came on foot, the rest on horseback rode."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Of all the gods Thor only, the god of thunder, never passed over the
bridge, for fear lest his heavy tread or the heat of his lightnings
would destroy it. The god Heimdall kept watch and ward there night
and day. He was armed with a trenchant sword, and carried a trumpet
called Giallar-horn, upon which he generally blew a soft note to
announce the coming or going of the gods, but upon which a terrible
blast would be sounded when Ragnarok should come, and the frost-giants
and Surtr combined to destroy the world.

    "Surt from the south comes
    With flickering flame;
    Shines from his sword
    The Val-god's sun.
    The stony hills are dashed together,
    The giantesses totter;
    Men tread the path of Hel,
    And heaven is cloven."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

The Vanas

Now although the original inhabitants of heaven were the Æsir,
they were not the sole divinities of the Northern races, who also
recognised the power of the sea- and wind-gods, the Vanas, dwelling
in Vana-heim and ruling their realms as they pleased. In early times,
before the golden palaces in Asgard were built, a dispute arose between
the Æsir and Vanas, and they resorted to arms, using rocks, mountains,
and icebergs as missiles in the fray. But discovering ere long that
in unity alone lay strength, they composed their differences and made
peace, and to ratify the treaty they exchanged hostages.

It was thus that the Van, Niörd, came to dwell in Asgard with his two
children, Frey and Freya, while the Asa, Hoenir, Odin's own brother,
took up his abode in Vana-heim.


The Father of Gods and Men

Odin, Wuotan, or Woden was the highest and holiest god of the
Northern races. He was the all-pervading spirit of the universe, the
personification of the air, the god of universal wisdom and victory,
and the leader and protector of princes and heroes. As all the gods
were supposed to be descended from him, he was surnamed Allfather,
and as eldest and chief among them he occupied the highest seat in
Asgard. Known by the name of Hlidskialf, this chair was not only an
exalted throne, but also a mighty watch-tower, from whence he could
overlook the whole world and see at a glance all that was happening
among gods, giants, elves, dwarfs, and men.

    "From the hall of Heaven he rode away
    To Lidskialf, and sate upon his throne,
    The mount, from whence his eye surveys the world.
    And far from Heaven he turned his shining orbs
    To look on Midgard, and the earth, and men."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Odin's Personal Appearance

None but Odin and his wife and queen Frigga were privileged to use
this seat, and when they occupied it they generally gazed towards
the south and west, the goal of all the hopes and excursions of the
Northern nations. Odin was generally represented as a tall, vigorous
man, about fifty years of age, either with dark curling hair or with
a long grey beard and bald head. He was clad in a suit of grey, with
a blue hood, and his muscular body was enveloped in a wide blue mantle
flecked with grey--an emblem of the sky with its fleecy clouds. In his
hand Odin generally carried the infallible spear Gungnir, which was
so sacred that an oath sworn upon its point could never be broken,
and on his finger or arm he wore the marvellous ring, Draupnir, the
emblem of fruitfulness, precious beyond compare. When seated upon
his throne or armed for the fray, to mingle in which he would often
descend to earth, Odin wore his eagle helmet; but when he wandered
peacefully about the earth in human guise, to see what men were doing,
he generally donned a broad-brimmed hat, drawn low over his forehead
to conceal the fact that he possessed but one eye.

Two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), perched upon his
shoulders as he sat upon his throne, and these he sent out into the
wide world every morning, anxiously watching for their return at
nightfall, when they whispered into his ears news of all they had
seen and heard. Thus he was kept well informed about everything that
was happening on earth.

    "Hugin and Munin
    Fly each day
    Over the spacious earth.
    I fear for Hugin
    That he come not back,
    Yet more anxious am I for Munin."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

At his feet crouched two wolves or hunting hounds, Geri and Freki,
animals which were therefore considered sacred to him, and of good omen
if met by the way. Odin always fed these wolves with his own hands
from meat set before him. He required no food at all for himself,
and seldom tasted anything except the sacred mead.

    "Geri and Freki
    The war-wont sates,
    The triumphant sire of hosts;
    But on wine only
    The famed in arms
    Odin, ever lives."

            Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).

When seated in state upon his throne, Odin rested his feet upon a
footstool of gold, the work of the gods, all of whose furniture and
utensils were fashioned either of that precious metal or of silver.

Besides the magnificent hall Glads-heim, where stood the twelve seats
occupied by the gods when they met in council, and Valaskialf, where
his throne, Hlidskialf, was placed, Odin had a third palace in Asgard,
situated in the midst of the marvellous grove Glasir, whose shimmering
leaves were of red gold.


This palace, called Valhalla (the hall of the chosen slain), had five
hundred and forty doors, wide enough to allow the passage of eight
hundred warriors abreast, and above the principal gate were a boar's
head and an eagle whose piercing glance penetrated to the far corners
of the world. The walls of this marvellous building were fashioned
of glittering spears, so highly polished that they illuminated the
hall. The roof was of golden shields, and the benches were decorated
with fine armour, the god's gifts to his guests. Here long tables
afforded ample accommodation for the Einheriar, warriors fallen in
battle, who were specially favoured by Odin.

    "Easily to be known is,
    By those who to Odin come,
    The mansion by its aspect.
    Its roof with spears is laid,
    Its hall with shields is decked,
    With corselets are its benches strewed."

            Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).

The ancient Northern nations, who deemed warfare the most honourable
of occupations, and considered courage the greatest virtue, worshipped
Odin principally as god of battle and victory. They believed that
whenever a fight was impending he sent out his special attendants,
the shield-, battle-, or wish-maidens, called Valkyrs (choosers of the
slain), who selected from the dead warriors one-half of their number,
whom they bore on their fleet steeds over the quivering rainbow bridge,
Bifröst, into Valhalla. Welcomed by Odin's sons, Hermod and Bragi,
the heroes were conducted to the foot of Odin's throne, where they
received the praise due to their valour. When some special favourite
of the god was thus brought into Asgard, Valfather (father of the
slain), as Odin was called when he presided over the warriors, would
sometimes rise from his throne and in person bid him welcome at the
great entrance gate.

The Feast of the Heroes

Besides the glory of such distinction, and the enjoyment of Odin's
beloved presence day after day, other more material pleasures awaited
the warriors in Valhalla. Generous entertainment was provided for
them at the long tables, where the beautiful white-armed virgins,
the Valkyrs, having laid aside their armour and clad themselves in
pure white robes, waited upon them with assiduous attention. These
maidens, nine in number according to some authorities, brought
the heroes great horns full of delicious mead, and set before them
huge portions of boar's flesh, upon which they feasted heartily. The
usual Northern drink was beer or ale, but our ancestors fancied this
beverage too coarse for the heavenly sphere. They therefore imagined
that Valfather kept his table liberally supplied with mead or hydromel,
which was daily furnished in great abundance by his she-goat Heidrun,
who continually browsed on the tender leaves and twigs on Lerad,
Yggdrasil's topmost branch.

    "Rash war and perilous battle, their delight;
    And immature, and red with glorious wounds,
    Unpeaceful death their choice: deriving thence
    A right to feast and drain immortal bowls,
    In Odin's hall; whose blazing roof resounds
    The genial uproar of those shades who fall
    In desperate fight, or by some brave attempt."

            Liberty (James Thomson).

The meat upon which the Einheriar feasted was the flesh of the divine
boar Sæhrimnir, a marvellous beast, daily slain by the cook Andhrimnir,
and boiled in the great cauldron Eldhrimnir; but although Odin's
guests had true Northern appetites and gorged themselves to the full,
there was always plenty of meat for all.

    "Andhrimnir cooks
    In Eldhrimnir
    'Tis the best of flesh;
    But few know
    What the einherjes eat."

            Lay of Grimnir (Anderson's version).

Moreover, the supply was exhaustless, for the boar always came to
life again before the time of the next meal. This miraculous renewal
of supplies in the larder was not the only wonderful occurrence in
Valhalla, for it is related that the warriors, after having eaten and
drunk to satiety, always called for their weapons, armed themselves,
and rode out into the great courtyard, where they fought against one
another, repeating the feats of arms for which they were famed on
earth, and recklessly dealing terrible wounds, which, however, were
miraculously and completely healed as soon as the dinner horn sounded.

    "All the chosen guests of Odin
    Daily ply the trade of war;
    From the fields of festal fight
    Swift they ride in gleaming arms,
    And gaily, at the board of gods,
    Quaff the cup of sparkling ale
    And eat Sæhrimni's vaunted flesh."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

Whole and happy at the sound of the horn, and bearing one another
no grudge for cruel thrusts given and received, the Einheriar would
ride gaily back to Valhalla to renew their feasts in Odin's beloved
presence, while the white-armed Valkyrs, with flying hair, glided
gracefully about, constantly filling their horns or their favourite
drinking vessels, the skulls of their enemies, while the scalds sang
of war and of stirring Viking forays.

    "And all day long they there are hack'd and hewn
    'Mid dust, and groans, and limbs lopped off, and blood;
    But all at night return to Odin's hall
    Woundless and fresh: such lot is theirs in heaven."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Fighting and feasting thus, the heroes were said to spend their days
in perfect bliss, while Odin delighted in their strength and number,
which, however, he foresaw would not avail to prevent his downfall
when the day of the last battle should dawn.

As such pleasures were the highest a Northern warrior's fancy could
paint, it was very natural that all fighting men should love Odin, and
early in life should dedicate themselves to his service. They vowed
to die arms in hand, if possible, and even wounded themselves with
their own spears when death drew near, if they had been unfortunate
enough to escape death on the battlefield and were threatened with
"straw death," as they called decease from old age or sickness.

    "To Odin then true-fast
    Carves he fair runics,--
    Death-runes cut deep on his arm and his breast."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

In reward for this devotion Odin watched with special care over his
favourites, giving them gifts, a magic sword, a spear, or a horse,
and making them invincible until their last hour had come, when he
himself appeared to claim or destroy the gift he had bestowed, and
the Valkyrs bore the heroes to Valhalla.

    "He gave to Hermod
    A helm and corselet,
    And from him Sigmund
    A sword received."

            Lay of Hyndla (Thorpe's tr.).


When Odin took an active part in war, he generally rode his
eight-footed grey steed, Sleipnir, and bore a white shield. His
glittering spear flung over the heads of the combatants was the signal
for the fray to commence, and he would dash into the midst of the
ranks shouting his warcry: "Odin has you all!"

    "And Odin donned
    His dazzling corslet and his helm of gold,
    And led the way on Sleipnir."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

At times he used his magic bow, from which he would shoot ten arrows at
once, every one invariably bringing down a foe. Odin was also supposed
to inspire his favourite warriors with the renowned "Berserker rage"
(bare sark or shirt), which enabled them, although naked, weaponless,
and sore beset, to perform unheard-of feats of valour and strength,
and move about as with charmed lives.

As Odin's characteristics, like the all-pervading elements, were
multitudinous, so also were his names, of which he had no less than
two hundred, almost all descriptive of some phase of his activities. He
was considered the ancient god of seamen and of the wind.

            "Mighty Odin,
      Norsemen hearts we bend to thee!
    Steer our barks, all-potent Woden,
      O'er the surging Baltic Sea."


The Wild Hunt

Odin, as wind-god, was pictured as rushing through mid-air on his
eight-footed steed, from which originated the oldest Northern riddle,
which runs as follows: "Who are the two who ride to the Thing? Three
eyes have they together, ten feet, and one tail: and thus they travel
through the lands." And as the souls of the dead were supposed to be
wafted away on the wings of the storm, Odin was worshipped as the
leader of all disembodied spirits. In this character he was most
generally known as the Wild Huntsman, and when people heard the
rush and roar of the wind they cried aloud in superstitious fear,
fancying they heard and saw him ride past with his train, all mounted
on snorting steeds, and accompanied by baying hounds. And the passing
of the Wild Hunt, known as Woden's Hunt, the Raging Host, Gabriel's
Hounds, or Asgardreia, was also considered a presage of such misfortune
as pestilence or war.

    "The Rhine flows bright; but its waves ere long
      Must hear a voice of war,
    And a clash of spears our hills among,
      And a trumpet from afar;
    And the brave on a bloody turf must lie,
    For the Huntsman hath gone by!"

            The Wild Huntsman (Mrs. Hemans).

It was further thought that if any were so sacrilegious as to join
in the wild halloo in mockery, they would be immediately snatched up
and whirled away with the vanishing host, while those who joined in
the halloo with implicit good faith would be rewarded by the sudden
gift of a horse's leg, hurled at them from above, which, if carefully
kept until the morrow, would be changed into a lump of gold.

Even after the introduction of Christianity the ignorant Northern
folk still dreaded the on-coming storm, declaring that it was the
Wild Hunt sweeping across the sky.

                    "And ofttimes will start,
    For overhead are sweeping Gabriel's hounds,
        Doomed with their impious lord the flying hart
    To chase forever on aëreal grounds."

            Sonnet (Wordsworth).

Sometimes it left behind a small black dog, which, cowering and
whining upon a neighbouring hearth, had to be kept for a whole year and
carefully tended unless it could be exorcised or frightened away. The
usual recipe, the same as for the riddance of changelings, was to brew
beer in egg-shells, and this performance was supposed so to startle
the spectral dog that he would fly with his tail between his legs,
exclaiming that, although as old as the Behmer, or Bohemian forest,
he had never before beheld such an uncanny sight.

    "I am as old
    As the Behmer wold,
    And have in my life
    Such a brewing not seen."

            Old Saying (Thorpe's tr.)

The object of this phantom hunt varied greatly, and was either a
visonary boar or wild horse, white-breasted maidens who were caught
and borne away bound only once in seven years, or the wood nymphs,
called Moss Maidens, who were thought to represent the autumn leaves
torn from the trees and whirled away by the wintry gale.

In the middle ages, when the belief in the old heathen deities
was partly forgotten, the leader of the Wild Hunt was no longer
Odin, but Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, King Arthur, or some
Sabbath-breaker, like the Squire of Rodenstein or Hans von Hackelberg,
who, in punishment for his sins, was condemned to hunt for ever
through the realms of air.

As the winds blew fiercest in autumn and winter, Odin was supposed to
prefer hunting during that season, especially during the time between
Christmas and Twelfth-night, and the peasants were always careful to
leave the last sheaf or measure of grain out in the fields to serve
as food for his horse.

This hunt was of course known by various names in the different
countries of Northern Europe; but as the tales told about it are
all alike, they evidently originated in the same old heathen belief,
and to this day ignorant people of the North fancy that the baying
of a hound on a stormy night is an infallible presage of death.

    "Still, still shall last the dreadful chase,
      Till time itself shall have an end;
    By day, they scour earth's cavern'd space,
      At midnight's witching hour, ascend.

    "This is the horn, and hound, and horse
      That oft the lated peasant hears;
    Appall'd, he signs the frequent cross,
      When the wild din invades his ears.

    "The wakeful priest oft drops a tear
      For human pride, for human woe,
    When, at his midnight mass, he hears
      The infernal cry of 'Holla, ho!'"

            Sir Walter Scott.

The Wild Hunt, or Raging Host of Germany, was called Herlathing
in England, from the mythical king Herla, its supposed leader; in
Northern France it bore the name of Mesnée d'Hellequin, from Hel,
goddess of death; and in the middle ages it was known as Cain's Hunt
or Herod's Hunt, these latter names being given because the leaders
were supposed to be unable to find rest on account of the iniquitous
murders of Abel, of John the Baptist, and of the Holy Innocents.

In Central France the Wild Huntsman, whom we have already seen in
other countries as Odin, Charlemagne, Barbarossa, Rodenstein, von
Hackelberg, King Arthur, Hel, one of the Swedish kings, Gabriel,
Cain, or Herod, is also called the Great Huntsman of Fontainebleau
(le Grand Veneur de Fontainebleau), and people declare that on the
eve of Henry IV.'s murder, and also just before the outbreak of the
great French Revolution, his shouts were distinctly heard as he swept
across the sky.

It was generally believed among the Northern nations that the soul
escaped from the body in the shape of a mouse, which crept out of
a corpse's mouth and ran away, and it was also said to creep in and
out of the mouths of people in a trance. While the soul was absent,
no effort or remedy could recall the patient to life; but as soon as
it had come back animation returned.

The Pied Piper

As Odin was the leader of all disembodied spirits, he was identified in
the middle ages with the Pied Piper of Hamelin. According to mediæval
legends, Hamelin was so infested by rats that life became unbearable,
and a large reward was offered to any who would rid the town of these
rodents. A piper, in parti-coloured garments, offered to undertake
the commission, and the terms being accepted, he commenced to play
through the streets in such wise that, one and all, the rats were
beguiled out of their holes until they formed a vast procession. There
was that in the strains which compelled them to follow, until at last
the river Weser was reached, and all were drowned in its tide.

    "And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
    You heard as if an army muttered;
    And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
    And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
    And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
    Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
    Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
    Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
      Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
    Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
      Families by tens and dozens,
    Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives--
    Followed the Piper for their lives.
    From street to street he piped advancing,
    And step for step they followed dancing,
    Until they came to the river Weser,
    Wherein all plunged and perished!"

            Robert Browning.

As the rats were all dead, and there was no chance of their returning
to plague them, the people of Hamelin refused to pay the reward, and
they bade the piper do his worst. He took them at their word, and a
few moments later the weird strains of the magic flute again arose,
and this time it was the children who swarmed out of the houses and
merrily followed the piper.

    "There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
    Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling;
    Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
    Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
    And, like fowls in a farmyard when barley is scattering,
    Out came all the children running.
    All the little boys and girls,
    With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
    And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
    Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
    The wonderful music with shouting and laughter."

            Robert Browning.

The burghers were powerless to prevent the tragedy, and as they
stood spellbound the piper led the children out of the town to the
Koppelberg, a hill on the confines of the town, which miraculously
opened to receive the procession, and only closed again when the last
child had passed out of sight. This legend probably originated the
adage "to pay the piper." The children were never seen in Hamelin
again, and in commemoration of this public calamity all official
decrees have since been dated so many years after the Pied Piper's

    "They made a decree that lawyers never
      Should think their records dated duly
    If, after the day of the month and year,
    These words did not as well appear,
    'And so long after what happened here
      On the Twenty-second of July,
    Thirteen hundred and seventy-six:'
    And the better in memory to fix
    The place of the children's last retreat,
    They called it the Pied Piper Street--
    Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
    Was sure for the future to lose his labour."

            Robert Browning.

In this myth Odin is the piper, the shrill tones of the flute are
emblematic of the whistling wind, the rats represent the souls of
the dead, which cheerfully follow him, and the hollow mountain into
which he leads the children is typical of the grave.

Bishop Hatto

Another German legend which owes its existence to this belief is
the story of Bishop Hatto, the miserly prelate, who, annoyed by the
clamours of the poor during a time of famine, had them burned alive
in a deserted barn, like the rats whom he declared they resembled,
rather than give them some of the precious grain which he had laid
up for himself.

    "'I' faith, 'tis an excellent bonfire!' quoth he,
    'And the country is greatly obliged to me
    For ridding it in these times forlorn
    Of rats that only consume the corn.'"

            Robert Southey.

Soon after this terrible crime had been accomplished the bishop's
retainers reported the approach of a vast swarm of rats. These, it
appears, were the souls of the murdered peasants, which had assumed the
forms of the rats to which the bishop had likened them. His efforts
to escape were vain, and the rats pursued him even into the middle
of the Rhine, to a stone tower in which he took refuge from their
fangs. They swam to the tower, gnawed their way through the stone
walls, and, pouring in on all sides at once, they found the bishop
and devoured him alive.

    "And in at the windows, and in at the door,
    And through the walls, helter-skelter they pour,
    And down from the ceiling, and up through the floor,
    From the right and the left, from behind and before,
    From within and without, from above and below,
    And all at once to the Bishop they go.
    They have whetted their teeth against the stones;
    And now they pick the Bishop's bones;
    They gnaw'd the flesh from every limb,
    For they were sent to do judgment on him!"

            Robert Southey.

The red glow of the sunset above the Rat Tower near Bingen on the
Rhine is supposed to be the reflection of the hell fire in which the
wicked bishop is slowly roasting in punishment for his heinous crime.


In some parts of Germany Odin was considered to be identical with
the Saxon god Irmin, whose statue, the Irminsul, near Paderborn, was
destroyed by Charlemagne in 772. Irmin was said to possess a ponderous
brazen chariot, in which he rode across the sky along the path which
we know as the Milky Way, but which the ancient Germans designated
as Irmin's Way. This chariot, whose rumbling sound occasionally
became perceptible to mortal ears as thunder, never left the sky,
where it can still be seen in the constellation of the Great Bear,
which is also known in the North as Odin's, or Charles's, Wain.

        "The Wain, who wheels on high
    His circling course, and on Orion waits;
    Sole star that never bathes in the Ocean wave."

            Homer's Iliad (Derby's tr.).

Mimir's Well

To obtain the great wisdom for which he is so famous, Odin, in the
morn of time, visited Mimir's (Memor, memory) spring, "the fountain
of all wit and wisdom," in whose liquid depths even the future was
clearly mirrored, and besought the old man who guarded it to let him
have a draught. But Mimir, who well knew the value of such a favour
(for his spring was considered the source or headwater of memory),
refused the boon unless Odin would consent to give one of his eyes
in exchange.

The god did not hesitate, so highly did he prize the draught, but
immediately plucked out one of his eyes, which Mimir kept in pledge,
sinking it deep down into his fountain, where it shone with mild
lustre, leaving Odin with but one eye, which is considered emblematic
of the sun.

    "Through our whole lives we strive towards the sun;
    That burning forehead is the eye of Odin.
    His second eye, the moon, shines not so bright;
    It has he placed in pledge in Mimer's fountain,
    That he may fetch the healing waters thence,
    Each morning, for the strengthening of this eye."

            Oehlenschläger (Howitt's tr.).

Drinking deeply of Mimir's fount, Odin gained the knowledge he
coveted, and he never regretted the sacrifice he had made, but as
further memorial of that day broke off a branch of the sacred tree
Yggdrasil, which overshadowed the spring, and fashioned from it his
beloved spear Gungnir.

    "A dauntless god
    Drew for drink to its gleam,
    Where he left in endless
    Payment the light of an eye.
    From the world-ash
    Ere Wotan went he broke a bough;
    For a spear the staff
    He split with strength from the stem."

            Dusk of the Gods, Wagner (Forman's tr.).

But although Odin was now all-wise, he was sad and oppressed, for
he had gained an insight into futurity, and had become aware of the
transitory nature of all things, and even of the fate of the gods,
who were doomed to pass away. This knowledge so affected his spirits
that he ever after wore a melancholy and contemplative expression.

To test the value of the wisdom he had thus obtained, Odin went to
visit the most learned of all the giants, Vafthrudnir, and entered
with him into a contest of wit, in which the stake was nothing less
than the loser's head.

    "Odin rose with speed, and went
    To contend in runic lore
    With the wise and crafty Jute.
    To Vafthrudni's royal hall
    Came the mighty king of spells."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

Odin and Vafthrudnir

On this occasion Odin had disguised himself as a Wanderer, by Frigga's
advice, and when asked his name declared it was Gangrad. The contest of
wit immediately began, Vafthrudnir questioning his guest concerning
the horses which carried Day and Night across the sky, the river
Ifing separating Jötun-heim from Asgard, and also about Vigrid,
the field where the last battle was to be fought.

All these questions were minutely answered by Odin, who, when
Vafthrudnir had ended, began the interrogatory in his turn, and
received equally explicit answers about the origin of heaven and
earth, the creation of the gods, their quarrel with the Vanas, the
occupations of the heroes in Valhalla, the offices of the Norns, and
the rulers who were to replace the Æsir when they had all perished
with the world they had created. But when, in conclusion, Odin bent
near the giant and softly inquired what words Allfather whispered
to his dead son Balder as he lay upon his funeral pyre, Vafthrudnir
suddenly recognised his divine visitor. Starting back in dismay, he
declared that no one but Odin himself could answer that question,
and that it was now quite plain to him that he had madly striven
in a contest of wisdom and wit with the king of the gods, and fully
deserved the penalty of failure, the loss of his head.

    "Not the man of mortal race
    Knows the words which thou hast spoken
    To thy son in days of yore.
    I hear the coming tread of death;
    He soon shall raze the runic lore,
    And knowledge of the rise of gods,
    From his ill-fated soul who strove
    With Odin's self the strife of wit,
    Wisest of the wise that breathe:
    Our stake was life, and thou hast won."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

As is the case with so many of the Northern myths, which are often
fragmentary and obscure, this one ends here, and none of the scalds
informs us whether Odin really slew his rival, nor what was the answer
to his last question; but mythologists have hazarded the suggestion
that the word whispered by Odin in Balder's ear, to console him for
his untimely death, must have been "resurrection."

Invention of Runes

Besides being god of wisdom, Odin was god and inventor of runes,
the earliest alphabet used by Northern nations, which characters,
signifying mystery, were at first used for divination, although in
later times they served for inscriptions and records. Just as wisdom
could only be obtained at the cost of sacrifice, Odin himself relates
that he hung nine days and nights from the sacred tree Yggdrasil,
gazing down into the immeasurable depths of Nifl-heim, plunged in deep
thought, and self-wounded with his spear, ere he won the knowledge
he sought.

    "I know that I hung
    On a wind-rocked tree
    Nine whole nights,
    With a spear wounded,
    And to Odin offered
    Myself to myself;
    On that tree
    Of which no one knows
    From what root it springs."

            Odin's Rune-Song (Thorpe's tr.).

When he had fully mastered this knowledge, Odin cut magic runes upon
his spear Gungnir, upon the teeth of his horse Sleipnir, upon the
claws of the bear, and upon countless other animate and inanimate
things. And because he had thus hung over the abyss for such a long
space of time, he was ever after considered the patron divinity of
all who were condemned to be hanged or who perished by the noose.

After obtaining the gift of wisdom and runes, which gave him power over
all things, Odin also coveted the gift of eloquence and poetry, which
he acquired in a manner which we shall relate in a subsequent chapter.

Geirrod and Agnar

Odin, as has already been stated, took great interest in the affairs
of mortals, and, we are told, was specially fond of watching King
Hrauding's handsome little sons, Geirrod and Agnar, when they were
about eight and ten years of age respectively. One day these little
lads went fishing, and a storm suddenly arose which blew their boat
far out to sea, where it finally stranded upon an island, upon which
dwelt a seeming old couple, who in reality were Odin and Frigga in
disguise. They had assumed these forms in order to indulge a sudden
passion for the close society of their protégés. The lads were warmly
welcomed and kindly treated, Odin choosing Geirrod as his favourite,
and teaching him the use of arms, while Frigga petted and made much
of little Agnar. The boys tarried on the island with their kind
protectors during the long, cold winter season; but when spring came,
and the skies were blue, and the sea calm, they embarked in a boat
which Odin provided, and set out for their native shore. Favoured by
gentle breezes, they were soon wafted thither; but as the boat neared
the strand Geirrod quickly sprang out and pushed it far back into the
water, bidding his brother sail away into the evil spirit's power. At
that self-same moment the wind veered, and Agnar was indeed carried
away, while his brother hastened to his father's palace with a lying
tale as to what had happened to his brother. He was joyfully received
as one from the dead, and in due time he succeeded his father upon
the throne.

Years passed by, during which the attention of Odin had been claimed by
other high considerations, when one day, while the divine couple were
seated on the throne Hlidskialf, Odin suddenly remembered the winter's
sojourn on the desert island, and he bade his wife notice how powerful
his pupil had become, and taunted her because her favourite Agnar had
married a giantess and had remained poor and of no consequence. Frigga
quietly replied that it was better to be poor than hardhearted,
and accused Geirrod of lack of hospitality--one of the most heinous
crimes in the eyes of a Northman. She even went so far as to declare
that in spite of all his wealth he often ill-treated his guests.

When Odin heard this accusation he declared that he would prove the
falsity of the charge by assuming the guise of a Wanderer and testing
Geirrod's generosity. Wrapped in his cloud-hued raiment, with slouch
hat and pilgrim staff,--

    "Wanderer calls me the world,
    Far have I carried my feet,
    On the back of the earth
    I have boundlessly been,"--

            Wagner (Forman's tr.).

Odin immediately set out by a roundabout way, while Frigga, to outwit
him, immediately despatched a swift messenger to warn Geirrod to
beware of a man in wide mantle and broad-brimmed hat, as he was a
wicked enchanter who would work him ill.

When, therefore, Odin presented himself before the king's palace
he was dragged into Geirrod's presence and questioned roughly. He
gave his name as Grimnir, but refused to tell whence he came or what
he wanted, so as this reticence confirmed the suspicion suggested
to the mind of Geirrod, he allowed his love of cruelty full play,
and commanded that the stranger should be bound between two fires,
in such wise that the flames played around him without quite touching
him, and he remained thus eight days and nights, in obstinate silence,
without food. Now Agnar had returned secretly to his brother's palace,
where he occupied a menial position, and one night when all was still,
in pity for the suffering of the unfortunate captive, he conveyed to
his lips a horn of ale. But for this Odin would have had nothing to
drink--the most serious of all trials to the god.

At the end of the eighth day, while Geirrod, seated upon his throne,
was gloating over his prisoner's sufferings, Odin began to sing--softly
at first, then louder and louder, until the hall re-echoed with his
triumphant notes--a prophecy that the king, who had so long enjoyed
the god's favour, would soon perish by his own sword.

    "The fallen by the sword
    Ygg shall now have;
    Thy life is now run out:
    Wroth with thee are the Dísir:
    Odin thou now shalt see:
    Draw near to me if thou canst."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

As the last notes died away the chains dropped from his hands, the
flames flickered and went out, and Odin stood in the midst of the hall,
no longer in human form, but in all the power and beauty of a god.

On hearing the ominous prophecy Geirrod hastily drew his sword,
intending to slay the insolent singer; but when he beheld the sudden
transformation he started in dismay, tripped, fell upon the sharp
blade, and perished as Odin had just foretold. Turning to Agnar, who,
according to some accounts, was the king's son, and not his brother,
for these old stories are often strangely confused, Odin bade him
ascend the throne in reward for his humanity, and, further to repay
him for the timely draught of ale, he promised to bless him with all
manner of prosperity.

On another occasion Odin wandered to earth, and was absent so
long that the gods began to think that they would not see him in
Asgard again. This encouraged his brothers Vili and Ve, who by some
mythologists are considered as other personifications of himself,
to usurp his power and his throne, and even, we are told, to espouse
his wife Frigga.

    "Be thou silent, Frigg!
    Thou art Fiörgyn's daughter
    And ever hast been fond of men,
    Since Ve and Vili, it is said,
    Thou, Vidrir's wife, didst
    Both to thy bosom take."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

May-Day Festivals

But upon Odin's return the usurpers vanished for ever; and in
commemoration of the disappearance of the false Odin, who had ruled
seven months and had brought nothing but unhappiness to the world,
and of the return of the benevolent deity, the heathen Northmen
formerly celebrated yearly festivals, which were long continued
as May Day rejoicings. Until very lately there was always, on that
day, a grand procession in Sweden, known as the May Ride, in which a
flower-decked May king (Odin) pelted with blossoms the fur-enveloped
Winter (his supplanter), until he put him to ignominious flight. In
England also the first of May was celebrated as a festive occasion,
in which May-pole dances, May queens, Maid Marian, and Jack in the
Green played prominent parts.

As personification of heaven, Odin, of course, was the lover and spouse
of the earth, and as to them the earth bore a threefold aspect, the
Northmen depicted him as a polygamist, and allotted to him several
wives. The first among these was Jörd (Erda), the primitive earth,
daughter of Night or of the giantess Fiorgyn. She bore him his
famous son Thor, the god of thunder. The second and principal wife
was Frigga, a personification of the civilised world. She gave him
Balder, the gentle god of spring, Hermod, and, according to some
authorities, Tyr. The third wife was Rinda, a personification of the
hard and frozen earth, who reluctantly yields to his warm embrace,
but finally gives birth to Vali, the emblem of vegetation.

Odin is also said to have married Saga or Laga, the goddess of history
(hence our verb "to say"), and to have daily visited her in the crystal
hall of Sokvabek, beneath a cool, ever-flowing river, to drink its
waters and listen to her songs about olden times and vanished races.

    "Sokvabek hight the fourth dwelling;
    Over it flow the cool billows;
    Glad drink there Odin and Saga
    Every day from golden cups."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

His other wives were Grid, the mother of Vidar; Gunlod, the mother
of Bragi; Skadi; and the nine giantesses who simultaneously bore
Heimdall--all of whom play more or less important parts in the various
myths of the North.

The Historical Odin

Besides this ancient Odin, there was a more modern, semi-historical
personage of the same name, to whom all the virtues, powers, and
adventures of his predecessor have been attributed. He was the
chief of the Æsir, inhabitants of Asia Minor, who, sore pressed by
the Romans, and threatened with destruction or slavery, left their
native land about 70 B.C., and migrated into Europe. This Odin is
said to have conquered Russia, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden,
leaving a son on the throne of each conquered country. He also built
the town of Odensö. He was welcomed in Sweden by Gylfi, the king,
who gave him a share of the realm, and allowed him to found the city
of Sigtuna, where he built a temple and introduced a new system of
worship. Tradition further relates that as his end drew near, this
mythical Odin assembled his followers, publicly cut himself nine
times in the breast with his spear,--a ceremony called "carving Geir
odds,"--and told them he was about to return to his native land Asgard,
his old home, where he would await their coming, to share with him
a life of feasting, drinking, and fighting.

According to another account, Gylfi, having heard of the power
of the Æsir, the inhabitants of Asgard, and wishing to ascertain
whether these reports were true, journeyed to the south. In due time
he came to Odin's palace, where he was expected, and where he was
deluded by the vision of Har, Iafn-har, and Thridi, three divinities,
enthroned one above the other. The gatekeeper, Gangler, answered all
his questions, and gave him a long explanation of Northern mythology,
which is recorded in the Younger Edda, and then, having finished his
instructions, suddenly vanished with the palace amid a deafening noise.

According to other very ancient poems, Odin's sons, Weldegg, Beldegg,
Sigi, Skiold, Sæming, and Yngvi, became kings of East Saxony, West
Saxony, Franconia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and from them are
descended the Saxons, Hengist and Horsa, and the royal families of the
Northern lands. Still another version relates that Odin and Frigga had
seven sons, who founded the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy. In the course of
time this mysterious king was confounded with the Odin whose worship
he introduced, and all his deeds were attributed to the god.

Odin was worshipped in numerous temples, but especially in the
great fane at Upsala, where the most solemn festivals were held,
and where sacrifices were offered. The victim was generally a horse,
but in times of pressing need human offerings were made, even the
king being once offered up to avert a famine.

    "Upsal's temple, where the North
    Saw Valhal's halls fair imag'd here on earth."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

The first toast at every festival here was drunk in his honour, and,
besides the first of May, one day in every week was held sacred to
him, and, from his Saxon name, Woden, was called Woden's day, whence
the English word "Wednesday" has been derived. It was customary for
the people to assemble at his shrine on festive occasions, to hear
the songs of the scalds, who were rewarded for their minstrelsy by
the gift of golden bracelets or armlets, which curled up at the ends
and were called "Odin's serpents."

There are but few remains of ancient Northern art now extant, and
although rude statues of Odin were once quite common they have all
disappeared, as they were made of wood--a perishable substance, which
in the hands of the missionaries, and especially of Olaf the Saint,
the Northern iconoclast, was soon reduced to ashes.

    "There in the Temple, carved in wood,
    The image of great Odin stood."

            Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Odin himself is supposed to have given his people a code of laws
whereby to govern their conduct, in a poem called Hávamál, or the
High Song, which forms part of the Edda. In this lay he taught
the fallibility of man, the necessity for courage, temperance,
independence, and truthfulness, respect for old age, hospitality,
charity, and contentment, and gave instructions for the burial of
the dead.

    "At home let a man be cheerful,
    And toward a guest liberal;
    Of wise conduct he should be,
    Of good memory and ready speech;
    If much knowledge he desires,
    He must often talk on what is good."

            Hávamál (Thorpe's tr.).


The Queen of the Gods

Frigga, or Frigg, daughter of Fiorgyn and sister of Jörd, according to
some mythologists, is considered by others as a daughter of Jörd and
Odin, whom she eventually married. This wedding caused such general
rejoicing in Asgard, where the goddess was greatly beloved, that ever
after it was customary to celebrate its anniversary with feast and
song, and the goddess being declared patroness of marriage, her health
was always proposed with that of Odin and Thor at wedding feasts.

Frigga was goddess of the atmosphere, or rather of the clouds, and as
such was represented as wearing either snow-white or dark garments,
according to her somewhat variable moods. She was queen of the gods,
and she alone had the privilege of sitting on the throne Hlidskialf,
beside her august husband. From thence she too could look over all
the world and see what was happening, and, according to the belief
of our ancestors, she possessed the knowledge of the future, which,
however, no one could ever prevail upon her to reveal, thus proving
that Northern women could keep a secret inviolate.

    "Of me the gods are sprung;
    And all that is to come I know, but lock
    In my own breast, and have to none reveal'd."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

She was generally represented as a tall, beautiful, and stately woman,
crowned with heron plumes, the symbol of silence or forgetfulness, and
clothed in pure white robes, secured at the waist by a golden girdle,
from which hung a bunch of keys, the distinctive sign of the Northern
housewife, whose special patroness she was said to be. Although she
often appeared beside her husband, Frigga preferred to remain in her
own palace, called Fensalir, the hall of mists or of the sea, where
she diligently plied her wheel or distaff, spinning golden thread or
weaving long webs of bright-coloured clouds.

In order to perform this work she made use of a marvellous jewelled
spinning wheel or distaff, which at night shone brightly in the sky as
a constellation, known in the North as Frigga's Spinning Wheel, while
the inhabitants of the South called the same stars Orion's Girdle.

To her hall Fensalir the gracious goddess invited husbands and wives
who had led virtuous lives on earth, so that they might enjoy each
other's companionship even after death, and never be called upon to
part again.

    "There in the glen, Fensalir stands, the house
    Of Frea, honour'd mother of the gods,
    And shows its lighted windows and the open doors."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Frigga was therefore considered the goddess of conjugal and
motherly love, and was specially worshipped by married lovers and
tender parents. This exalted office did not entirely absorb her
thoughts however, for we are told that she was very fond of dress,
and whenever she appeared before the assembled gods her attire was
rich and becoming, and her jewels chosen with much taste.

The Stolen Gold

Frigga's love of adornment once led her sadly astray, for, in her
longing to possess some new ornament, she secretly purloined a piece
of gold from a statue representing her husband, which had just been
placed in his temple. The stolen metal was entrusted to the dwarfs,
with instructions to fashion a marvellous necklace for her use. This,
when finished, was so resplendent that it greatly enhanced her charms,
and even increased Odin's love for her. But when he discovered the
theft of the gold he angrily summoned the dwarfs and bade them reveal
who had dared to touch his statue. Unwilling to betray the queen of
the gods, the dwarfs remained obstinately silent, and, seeing that
no information could be elicited from them, Odin commanded that the
statue should be placed above the temple gate, and set to work to
devise runes which should endow it with the power of speech and enable
it to denounce the thief. When Frigga heard these tidings she trembled
with fear, and implored her favourite attendant, Fulla, to invent some
means of protecting her from Allfather's wrath. Fulla, who was always
ready to serve her mistress, immediately departed, and soon returned,
accompanied by a hideous dwarf, who promised to prevent the statue
from speaking if Frigga would only deign to smile graciously upon
him. This boon having been granted, the dwarf hastened off to the
temple, caused a deep sleep to fall upon the guards, and while they
were thus unconscious, pulled the statue down from its pedestal and
broke it to pieces, so that it could never betray Frigga's theft,
in spite of all Odin's efforts to give it the power of speech.

Odin, discovering this sacrilege on the morrow, was very angry indeed;
so angry that he left Asgard and utterly disappeared, carrying away
with him all the blessings which he had been wont to shower upon gods
and men. According to some authorities, his brothers, as we have
already seen, took advantage of his absence to assume his form and
secure possession of his throne and wife; but although they looked
exactly like him they could not restore the lost blessings, and allowed
the ice-giants, or Jotuns, to invade the earth and bind it fast in
their cold fetters. These wicked giants pinched the leaves and buds
till they all shrivelled up, stripped the trees bare, shrouded the
earth in a great white coverlet, and veiled it in impenetrable mists.

But at the end of seven weary months the true Odin relented and
returned, and when he saw all the evil that had been done he drove
the usurpers away, forced the frost-giants to relax their grip of the
earth and to release her from her icy bonds, and again showered all
his blessings down upon her, cheering her with the light of his smile.

Odin Outwitted

As has already been seen, Odin, although god of wit and wisdom, was
sometimes no match for his wife Frigga, who, womanlike, was sure to
obtain her way by some means. On one occasion the august pair were
seated upon Hlidskialf, gazing with interest upon the Winilers and
Vandals, who were preparing for a battle which was to decide which
people should henceforth have supremacy. Odin gazed with satisfaction
upon the Vandals, who were loudly praying to him for victory; but
Frigga watched the movements of the Winilers with more attention,
because they had entreated her aid. She therefore turned to Odin
and coaxingly inquired whom he meant to favour on the morrow; he,
wishing to evade her question, declared he would not decide, as it
was time for bed, but would give the victory to those upon whom his
eyes first rested in the morning.

This answer was shrewdly calculated, for Odin knew that his couch
was so turned that upon waking he would face the Vandals, and he
intended looking out from thence, instead of waiting until he had
mounted his throne. But, although so cunningly contrived, this plan
was frustrated by Frigga, who, divining his purpose, waited until he
was sound asleep, and then noiselessly turned his couch so that he
should face her favourites. Then she sent word to the Winilers to dress
their women in armour and send them out in battle array at dawn, with
their long hair carefully combed down over their cheeks and breasts.

    "Take thou thy women-folk,
    Maidens and wives:
    Over your ankles
    Lace on the white war-hose;
    Over your bosoms
    Link up the hard mail-nets;
    Over your lips
    Plait long tresses with cunning;--
    So war beasts full-bearded
    King Odin shall deem you,
    When off the grey sea-beach
    At sunrise ye greet him."

            The Longbeards' Saga (Charles Kingsley).

These instructions were carried out with scrupulous exactness, and
when Odin awoke the next morning his first conscious glance fell upon
their armed host, and he exclaimed in surprise, "What Longbeards are
those?" (In German the ancient word for long beards was Langobarden,
which was the name used to designate the Lombards.) Frigga, upon
hearing this exclamation, which she had foreseen, immediately cried
out in triumph that Allfather had given them a new name, and was
in honour bound to follow the usual Northern custom and give also a
baptismal gift.

    "'A name thou hast given them,
    Shames neither thee nor them,
    Well can they wear it.
    Give them the victory,
    First have they greeted thee;
    Give them the victory,
    Yoke-fellow mine!'"

            The Longbeards' Saga (Charles Kingsley).

Odin, seeing he had been so cleverly outwitted, made no demur, and in
memory of the victory which his favour vouchsafed to them the Winilers
retained the name given by the king of the gods, who ever after watched
over them with special care, giving them many blessings, among others
a home in the sunny South, on the fruitful plains of Lombardy.


Frigga had, as her own special attendants, a number of beautiful
maidens, among whom were Fulla (Volla), her sister, according to
some authorities, to whom she entrusted her jewel casket. Fulla
always presided over her mistress's toilet, was privileged to put
on her golden shoes, attended her everywhere, was her confidante,
and often advised her how best to help the mortals who implored
her aid. Fulla was very beautiful indeed, and had long golden hair,
which she wore flowing loose over her shoulders, restrained only by
a golden circlet or snood. As her hair was emblematic of the golden
grain, this circlet represented the binding of the sheaf. Fulla
was also known as Abundia, or Abundantia, in some parts of Germany,
where she was considered the symbol of the fulness of the earth.

Hlin, Frigga's second attendant, was the goddess of consolation,
sent out to kiss away the tears of mourners and pour balm into hearts
wrung by grief. She also listened with ever-open ears to the prayers
of mortals, carrying them to her mistress, and advising her at times
how best to answer them and give the desired relief.


Gna was Frigga's swift messenger. Mounted upon her fleet steed
Hofvarpnir (hoof-thrower), she would travel with marvellous rapidity
through fire and air, over land and sea, and was therefore considered
the personification of the refreshing breeze. Darting thus to and fro,
Gna saw all that was happening upon earth, and told her mistress
all she knew. On one occasion, as she was passing over Hunaland,
she saw King Rerir, a lineal descendant of Odin, sitting mournfully
by the shore, bewailing his childlessness. The queen of heaven,
who was also goddess of childbirth, upon hearing this took an apple
(the emblem of fruitfulness) from her private store, gave it to Gna,
and bade her carry it to the king. With the rapidity of the element
she personified, Gna darted away, and as she passed over Rerir's head,
she dropped her apple into his lap with a radiant smile.

    "'What flies up there, so quickly driving past?'
    Her answer from the clouds, as rushing by:
    'I fly not, nor do drive, but hurry fast,
    Hoof-flinger swift through cloud and mist and sky.'"

            Asgard and the Gods (Wagner-Macdowall).

The king pondered for a moment upon the meaning of this sudden
apparition and gift, and then hurried home, his heart beating high
with hope, and gave the apple to his wife to eat. In due season,
to his intense joy, she bore him a son, Volsung, the great Northern
hero, who became so famous that he gave his name to all his race.

Lofn, Vjofn, and Syn

Besides the three above mentioned, Frigga had other attendants in her
train. There was the mild and gracious maiden Lofn (praise or love),
whose duty it was to remove all obstacles from the path of lovers.

    "My lily tall, from her saddle bearing,
    I led then forth through the temple, faring
    To th' altar-circle where, priests among,
    Lofn's vows she took with unfalt'ring tongue."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

Vjofn's duty was to incline obdurate hearts to love, to maintain peace
and concord among mankind, and to reconcile quarrelling husbands and
wives. Syn (truth) guarded the door of Frigga's palace, refusing to
open it to those who were not allowed to come in. When she had once
shut the door upon a would-be intruder no appeal would avail to change
her decision. She therefore presided over all tribunals and trials,
and whenever a thing was to be vetoed the usual formula was to declare
that Syn was against it.


Gefjon was also one of the maidens in Frigga's palace, and to her
were entrusted all those who died unwedded, whom she received and
made happy for ever.

According to some authorities, Gefjon did not remain a virgin herself,
but married one of the giants, by whom she had four sons. This same
tradition goes on to declare that Odin sent her before him to visit
Gylfi, King of Sweden, and to beg for some land which she might call
her own. The king, amused at her request, promised her as much land as
she could plough around in one day and night. Gefjon, nothing daunted,
changed her four sons into oxen, harnessed them to a plough, and began
to cut a furrow so wide and deep that the king and his courtiers were
amazed. But Gefjon continued her work without showing any signs of
fatigue, and when she had ploughed all around a large piece of land
forcibly wrenched it away, and made her oxen drag it down into the sea,
where she made it fast and called it Seeland.

    "Gefjon drew from Gylfi,
    Rich in stored up treasure,
    The land she joined to Denmark.
    Four heads and eight eyes bearing,
    While hot sweat trickled down them,
    The oxen dragged the reft mass
    That formed this winsome island."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

As for the hollow she left behind her, it was quickly filled with water
and formed a lake, at first called Logrum (the sea), but now known
as Mälar, whose every indentation corresponds with the headlands of
Seeland. Gefjon then married Skiold, one of Odin's sons, and became
the ancestress of the royal Danish race of Skioldungs, dwelling in
the city of Hleidra or Lethra, which she founded, and which became
the principal place of sacrifice for the heathen Danes.

Eira, Vara, Vör and Snotra

Eira, also Frigga's attendant, was considered a most skilful
physician. She gathered simples all over the earth to cure both wounds
and diseases, and it was her province to teach the science to women,
who were the only ones to practise medicine among the ancient nations
of the North.

    "Gaping wounds are bound by Eyra."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Vara heard all oaths and punished perjurers, while she rewarded those
who faithfully kept their word. Then there were also Vör (faith),
who knew all that was to occur throughout the world, and Snotra,
goddess of virtue, who had mastered all knowledge.

With such a galaxy of attendants it is little wonder that Frigga was
considered a powerful deity; but in spite of the prominent place she
occupied in Northern religion, she had no special temple nor shrine,
and was but little worshipped except in company with Odin.


While Frigga was not known by this name in Southern Germany, there
were other goddesses worshipped there, whose attributes were so exactly
like hers, that they were evidently the same, although they bore very
different names in the various provinces. Among them was the fair
goddess Holda (Hulda or Frau Holle), who graciously dispensed many
rich gifts. As she presided over the weather, the people were wont to
declare when the snowflakes fell that Frau Holle was shaking her bed,
and when it rained, that she was washing her clothes, often pointing
to the white clouds as her linen which she had put out to bleach. When
long grey strips of clouds drifted across the sky they said she was
weaving, for she was supposed to be also a very diligent weaver,
spinner, and housekeeper. It is said she gave flax to mankind and
taught them how to use it, and in the Tyrol the following story is
told about the way in which she bestowed this invaluable gift:

The Discovery of Flax

There was once a peasant who daily left his wife and children in the
valley to take his sheep up the mountain to pasture; and as he watched
his flock grazing on the mountain-side, he often had opportunity to
use his cross-bow and bring down a chamois, whose flesh would furnish
his larder with food for many a day.

While pursuing a fine animal one day he saw it disappear behind a
boulder, and when he came to the spot, he was amazed to see a doorway
in the neighbouring glacier, for in the excitement of the pursuit he
had climbed higher and higher, until he was now on top of the mountain,
where glittered the everlasting snow.

The shepherd boldly passed through the open door, and soon found
himself in a wonderful jewelled cave hung with stalactites, in the
centre of which stood a beautiful woman, clad in silvery robes, and
attended by a host of lovely maidens crowned with Alpine roses. In his
surprise, the shepherd sank to his knees, and as in a dream heard the
queenly central figure bid him choose anything he saw to carry away
with him. Although dazzled by the glow of the precious stones around
him, the shepherd's eyes constantly reverted to a little nosegay of
blue flowers which the gracious apparition held in her hand, and he
now timidly proffered a request that it might become his. Smiling with
pleasure, Holda, for it was she, gave it to him, telling him he had
chosen wisely and would live as long as the flowers did not droop and
fade. Then, giving the shepherd a measure of seed which she told him
to sow in his field, the goddess bade him begone; and as the thunder
pealed and the earth shook, the poor man found himself out upon the
mountain-side once more, and slowly wended his way home to his wife,
to whom he told his adventure and showed the lovely blue flowers and
the measure of seed.

The woman reproached her husband bitterly for not having brought some
of the precious stones which he so glowingly described, instead of the
blossoms and seed; nevertheless the man proceeded to sow the latter,
and he found to his surprise that the measure supplied seed enough
for several acres.

Soon the little green shoots began to appear, and one moonlight
night, while the peasant was gazing upon them, as was his wont,
for he felt a curious attraction to the field which he had sown, and
often lingered there wondering what kind of grain would be produced,
he saw a misty form hover above the field, with hands outstretched
as if in blessing. At last the field blossomed, and countless little
blue flowers opened their calyxes to the golden sun. When the flowers
had withered and the seed was ripe, Holda came once more to teach the
peasant and his wife how to harvest the flax--for such it was--and from
it to spin, weave, and bleach linen. As the people of the neighbourhood
willingly purchased both linen and flax-seed, the peasant and his
wife soon grew very rich indeed, and while he ploughed, sowed, and
harvested, she spun, wove, and bleached the linen. The man lived to
a good old age, and saw his grandchildren and great-grandchildren
grow up around him. All this time his carefully treasured bouquet
had remained fresh as when he first brought it home, but one day he
saw that during the night the flowers had drooped and were dying.

Knowing what this portended, and that he too must die, the peasant
climbed the mountain once more to the glacier, and found again the
doorway for which he had often vainly searched. He entered the icy
portal, and was never seen or heard of again, for, according to the
legend, the goddess took him under her care, and bade him live in
her cave, where his every wish was gratified.


According to a mediæval tradition, Holda dwelt in a cave in the
Hörselberg, in Thuringia, where she was known as Frau Venus, and
was considered as an enchantress who lured mortals into her realm,
where she detained them for ever, steeping their senses in all
manner of sensual pleasures. The most famous of her victims was
Tannhäuser, who, after he had lived under her spell for a season,
experienced a revulsion of feeling which loosened her bonds over his
spirit and induced anxious thoughts concerning his soul. He escaped
from her power and hastened to Rome to confess his sins and seek
absolution. But when the Pope heard of his association with one of
the pagan goddesses whom the priests taught were nothing but demons,
he declared that the knight could no more hope for pardon than to
see his staff bear buds and bloom.

    "Hast thou within the nets of Satan lain?
    Hast thou thy soul to her perdition pledged?
    Hast thou thy lip to Hell's Enchantress lent,
    To drain damnation from her reeking cup?
    Then know that sooner from the withered staff
    That in my hand I hold green leaves shall spring,
    Than from the brand in hell-fire scorched rebloom
    The blossoms of salvation."

            Tannhäuser (Owen Meredith).

Crushed with grief at this pronouncement, Tannhäuser fled, and,
despite the entreaties of his faithful friend, Eckhardt, no great
time elapsed ere he returned to the Hörselberg, where he vanished
within the cave. He had no sooner disappeared, however, than the Pope's
messengers arrived, proclaiming that he was pardoned, for the withered
staff had miraculously bloomed, thus proving to all that there was
no sin too heinous to be pardoned, providing repentance were sincere.

    "Dashed to the hip with travel, dewed with haste,
    A flying post, and in his hand he bore
    A withered staff o'erflourished with green leaves;
    Who,--followed by a crowd of youth and eld,
    That sang to stun with sound the lark in heaven,
    'A miracle! a miracle from Rome!
    Glory to God that makes the bare bough green!'--
    Sprang in the midst, and, hot for answer, asked
    News of the Knight Tannhäuser."

            Tannhäuser (Owen Meredith).

Holda was also the owner of a magic fountain called Quickborn, which
rivalled the famed fountain of youth, and of a chariot in which she
rode from place to place when she inspected her domain. This vehicle
having once suffered damage, the goddess bade a wheelwright repair it,
and when he had finished told him to keep some chips as his pay. The
man was indignant at such a meagre reward, and kept only a very few of
the number; but to his surprise he found these on the morrow changed
to gold.

      "Fricka, thy wife--
    This way she reins her harness of rams.
    Hey! how she whirls
    The golden whip;
    The luckless beasts
    Unboundedly bleat;
    Her wheels wildly she rattles;
    Wrath is lit in her look."

            Wagner (Forman's tr.).

Eástre, the Goddess of Spring

The Saxon goddess Eástre, or Ostara, goddess of spring, whose name has
survived in the English word Easter, is also identical with Frigga,
for she too is considered goddess of the earth, or rather of Nature's
resurrection after the long death of winter. This gracious goddess
was so dearly loved by the old Teutons, that even after Christianity
had been introduced they retained so pleasant a recollection of her,
that they refused to have her degraded to the rank of a demon, like
many of their other divinities, and transferred her name to their great
Christian feast. It had long been customary to celebrate this day by
the exchange of presents of coloured eggs, for the egg is the type of
the beginning of life; so the early Christians continued to observe
this rule, declaring, however, that the egg is also symbolical of the
Resurrection. In various parts of Germany, stone altars can still be
seen, which are known as Easter-stones, because they were dedicated
to the fair goddess Ostara. They were crowned with flowers by the
young people, who danced gaily around them by the light of great
bonfires,--a species of popular games practised until the middle of
the present century, in spite of the priests' denunciations and of
the repeatedly published edicts against them.

Bertha, the White Lady

In other parts of Germany, Frigga, Holda, or Ostara is known by
the name of Brechta, Bertha, or the White Lady. She is best known
under this title in Thuringia, where she was supposed to dwell in
a hollow mountain, keeping watch over the Heimchen, souls of unborn
children, and of those who died unbaptized. Here Bertha watched over
agriculture, caring for the plants, which her infant troop watered
carefully, for each babe was supposed to carry a little jar for that
express purpose. While the goddess was duly respected and her retreat
unmolested, she remained where she was; but tradition relates that
she once left the country with her infant train dragging her plough,
and settled elsewhere to continue her kind ministrations. Bertha
is the legendary ancestress of several noble families, and she is
supposed to be the same as the industrious queen of the same name,
the mythical mother of Charlemagne, whose era has become proverbial,
for in speaking of the Golden Age in France and Germany it is customary
to say, "in the days when Bertha spun."

As this Bertha is supposed to have developed a very large and flat
foot, from continually pressing the treadle of her wheel, she is
often represented in mediæval art as a woman with a splay foot,
and hence known as la reine pédauque.

As ancestress of the imperial house of Germany, the White Lady is
supposed to appear in the palace before a death or misfortune in
the family, and this superstition is still so rife in Germany, that
the newspapers in 1884 contained the official report of a sentinel,
who declared that he had seen her flit past him in one of the palace

As Bertha was renowned for her spinning, she naturally was regarded
as the special patroness of that branch of female industry, and was
said to flit through the streets of every village, at nightfall,
during the twelve nights between Christmas and January 6, peering
into every window to inspect the spinning of the household.

The maidens whose work had been carefully performed were rewarded by
a present of one of her own golden threads or a distaff full of extra
fine flax; but wherever a careless spinner was found, her wheel was
broken, her flax soiled, and if she had failed to honour the goddess
by eating plenty of the cakes baked at that period of the year,
she was cruelly punished.

In Mecklenburg, this same goddess is known as Frau Gode, or Wode, the
female form of Wuotan or Odin, and her appearance is always considered
the harbinger of great prosperity. She is also supposed to be a great
huntress, and to lead the Wild Hunt, mounted upon a white horse,
her attendants being changed into hounds and all manner of wild beasts.

In Holland she was called Vrou-elde, and from her the Milky Way is
known by the Dutch as Vrou-elden-straat; while in parts of Northern
Germany she was called Nerthus (Mother Earth). Her sacred car was
kept on an island, presumably Rügen, where the priests guarded it
carefully until she appeared to take a yearly journey throughout
her realm to bless the land. The goddess, her face completely hidden
by a thick veil, then sat in this car, which was drawn by two cows,
and she was respectfully escorted by her priests. When she passed,
the people did homage by ceasing all warfare, and laying aside their
weapons. They donned festive attire, and began no quarrel until
the goddess had again retired to her sanctuary. Then both car and
goddess were bathed in a secret lake (the Schwartze See, in Rügen),
which swallowed up the slaves who had assisted at the bathing, and
once more the priests resumed their watch over the sanctuary and
grove of Nerthus or Hlodyn, to await her next appearance.

In Scandinavia, this goddess was also known as Huldra, and boasted of
a train of attendant wood-nymphs, who sometimes sought the society of
mortals, to enjoy a dance upon the village green. They could always
be detected, however, by the tip of a cow's tail which trailed from
beneath their long snow-white garments. These Huldra folk were the
special protectors of the cattle on the mountain-sides, and were said
to surprise the lonely traveller, at times, by the marvellous beauty
of the melodies they sang to beguile the hours at their tasks.


The Thunderer

According to some mythologists, Thor, or Donar, is the son of Jörd
(Erda) and of Odin, but others state that his mother was Frigga,
queen of the gods. This child was very remarkable for his great size
and strength, and very soon after his birth amazed the assembled
gods by playfully lifting and throwing about ten great bales of bear
skins. Although generally good-tempered, Thor would occasionally fly
into a terrible rage, and as he was very dangerous at these times, his
mother, unable to control him, sent him away from home and entrusted
him to the care of Vingnir (the winged), and of Hlora (heat). These
foster-parents, who are also considered as the personification of
sheet-lightning, soon managed to control their troublesome charge, and
brought him up so wisely, that the gods entertained a very grateful
recollection of their kind offices. Thor himself, recognising all he
owed them, assumed the names of Vingthor and Hlorridi, by which he
is also known.

                            "Cry on, Vingi-Thor,
    With the dancing of the ring-mail and the smitten shields of war."

            Sigurd the Volsung (William Morris).

Having attained his full growth and the age of reason, Thor was
admitted to Asgard among the other gods, where he occupied one of the
twelve seats in the great judgment hall. He was also given the realm
of Thrud-vang or Thrud-heim, where he built a wonderful palace called
Bilskirnir (lightning), the most spacious in all Asgard. It contained
five hundred and forty halls for the accommodation of the thralls,
who after death were welcomed to his home, where they received equal
treatment with their masters in Valhalla, for Thor was the patron
god of the peasants and lower classes.

    "Five hundred halls
    And forty more,
    Methinketh, hath
    Bowed Bilskirnir.
    Of houses roofed
    There's none I know
    My son's surpassing."

            Sæmund's Edda (Percy's tr.).

As he was god of thunder, Thor alone was never allowed to pass over
the wonderful bridge Bifröst, lest he should set it aflame by the
heat of his presence; and when he wished to join his fellow gods by
the Urdar fountain, under the shade of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, he
was forced to make his way thither on foot, wading through the rivers
Kormt and Ormt, and the two streams Kerlaug, to the trysting place.

Thor, who was honoured as the highest god in Norway, came second in
the trilogy of all the other countries, and was called "old Thor,"
because he is supposed by some mythologists to have belonged to an
older dynasty of gods, and not on account of his actual age, for he
was represented and described as a man in his prime, tall and well
formed, with muscular limbs and bristling red hair and beard, from
which, in moments of anger, the sparks flew in showers.

    "First, Thor with the bent brow,
      In red beard muttering low,
      Darting fierce lightnings from eyeballs that glow,
    Comes, while each chariot wheel
    Echoes in thunder peal,
      As his dread hammer shock
      Makes Earth and Heaven rock,
    Clouds rifting above, while Earth quakes below."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The Northern races further adorned him with a crown, on each point
of which was either a glittering star, or a steadily burning flame,
so that his head was ever surrounded by a kind of halo of fire,
his own element.

Thor's Hammer

Thor was the proud possessor of a magic hammer called Miölnir
(the crusher) which he hurled at his enemies, the frost-giants,
with destructive power, and which possessed the wonderful property
of always returning to his hand, however far away he might hurl it.

    "I am the Thunderer!
    Here in my Northland,
    My fastness and fortress,
    Reign I forever!

    "Here amid icebergs
    Rule I the nations;
    This is my hammer,
    Miölnir the mighty;
    Giants and sorcerers
    Cannot withstand it!"

            Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

As this huge hammer, the emblem of the thunderbolts, was generally
red-hot, the god had an iron gauntlet called Iarn-greiper, which
enabled him to grasp it firmly. He could hurl Miölnir a great distance,
and his strength, which was always remarkable, was doubled when he
wore his magic belt called Megin-giörd.

    "This is my girdle:
    Whenever I brace it,
    Strength is redoubled!"

            Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Thor's hammer was considered so very sacred by the ancient Northern
people, that they were wont to make the sign of the hammer, as the
Christians later taught them to make the sign of the cross, to ward
off all evil influences, and to secure blessings. The same sign
was also made over the newly born infant when water was poured over
its head and a name given. The hammer was used to drive in boundary
stakes, which it was considered sacrilegious to remove, to hallow
the threshold of a new house, to solemnise a marriage, and, lastly,
it played a part in the consecration of the funeral pyre upon which
the bodies of heroes, together with their weapons and steeds, and,
in some cases, with their wives and dependents, were burned.

In Sweden, Thor, like Odin, was supposed to wear a broad-brimmed hat,
and hence the storm-clouds in that country are known as Thor's hat, a
name also given to one of the principal mountains in Norway. The rumble
and roar of the thunder were said to be the roll of his chariot, for
he alone among the gods never rode on horseback, but walked, or drove
in a brazen chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngniostr (tooth-cracker),
and Tanngrisnr (tooth-gnasher), from whose teeth and hoofs the sparks
constantly flew.

    "Thou camest near the next, O warrior Thor!
    Shouldering thy hammer, in thy chariot drawn,
    Swaying the long-hair'd goats with silver'd rein."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

When the god thus drove from place to place, he was called Aku-thor,
or Thor the charioteer, and in Southern Germany the people, fancying
a brazen chariot alone inadequate to furnish all the noise they heard,
declared it was loaded with copper kettles, which rattled and clashed,
and therefore often called him, with disrespectful familiarity,
the kettle-vendor.

Thor's Family

Thor was twice married; first to the giantess Iarnsaxa (iron stone),
who bore him two sons, Magni (strength) and Modi (courage), both
destined to survive their father and the twilight of the gods,
and rule over the new world which was to rise like a phoenix from
the ashes of the first. His second wife was Sif, the golden-haired,
who also bore him two children, Lorride, and a daughter named Thrud,
a young giantess renowned for her size and strength. True to the
well-known affinity of contrast, Thrud was wooed by the dwarf Alvis,
whom she rather favoured; and one evening, when this suitor, who,
being a dwarf, could not face the light of day, presented himself in
Asgard to sue for her hand, the assembled gods did not refuse their
consent. They had scarcely signified their approbation, however, when
Thor, who had been absent, suddenly appeared, and casting a glance of
contempt upon the puny lover, declared he would have to prove that his
knowledge atoned for his small stature, before he could win his bride.

To test Alvis's mental powers, Thor then questioned him in the
language of the gods, Vanas, elves, and dwarfs, artfully prolonging
his examination until sunrise, when the first beam of light, falling
upon the unhappy dwarf, petrified him. There he stood, an enduring
example of the gods' power, to serve as a warning to all other dwarfs
who might dare to test it.

    "Ne'er in human bosom
    Have I found so many
    Words of the old time.
    Thee with subtlest cunning
    Have I yet befooled.
    Above ground standeth thou, dwarf
    By day art overtaken,
    Bright sunshine fills the hall."

            Sæmund's Edda (Howitt's version).

Sif, the Golden-haired

Sif, Thor's wife, was very vain of a magnificent head of long golden
hair which covered her from head to foot like a brilliant veil; and
as she too was a symbol of the earth, her hair was said to represent
the long grass, or the golden grain covering the Northern harvest
fields. Thor was very proud of his wife's beautiful hair; imagine
his dismay, therefore, upon waking one morning, to find her shorn,
and as bald and denuded of ornament as the earth when the grain has
been garnered, and nothing but the stubble remains! In his anger,
Thor sprang to his feet, vowing he would punish the perpetrator
of this outrage, whom he immediately and rightly conjectured to be
Loki, the arch-plotter, ever on the look-out for some evil deed to
perform. Seizing his hammer, Thor went in search of Loki, who attempted
to evade the irate god by changing his form. But it was all to no
purpose; Thor soon overtook him, and without more ado caught him by
the throat, and almost strangled him ere he yielded to his imploring
signs and relaxed his powerful grip. When he could draw his breath,
Loki begged forgiveness, but all his entreaties were vain, until he
promised to procure for Sif a new head of hair, as beautiful as the
first, and as luxuriant in growth.

    "And thence for Sif new tresses I'll bring
      Of gold, ere the daylight's gone,
    So that she shall liken a field in spring,
      With its yellow-flowered garment on."

            The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

Then Thor consented to let the traitor go; so Loki rapidly crept down
into the bowels of the earth, where Svart-alfa-heim was situated,
to beg the dwarf Dvalin to fashion not only the precious hair, but
a present for Odin and Frey, whose anger he wished to disarm.

His request was favourably received and the dwarf fashioned the spear
Gungnir, which never failed in its aim, and the ship Skidbladnir,
which, always wafted by favourable winds, could sail through the air
as well as on the water, and which had this further magic property,
that although it could contain the gods and all their steeds, it
could be folded up into the very smallest compass and thrust in
one's pocket. Lastly, he spun the finest golden thread, from which
he fashioned the hair required for Sif, declaring that as soon as it
touched her head it would grow fast there and become as her own.

    "Though they now seem dead, let them touch but her head,
      Each hair shall the life-moisture fill;
    Nor shall malice nor spell henceforward prevail
      Sif's tresses to work aught of ill."

            The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

Loki was so pleased with these proofs of the dwarfs' skill that he
declared the son of Ivald to be the most clever of smiths--words which
were overheard by Brock, another dwarf, who exclaimed that he was sure
his brother Sindri could produce three objects which would surpass
those which Loki held, not only in intrinsic value, but also in magical
properties. Loki immediately challenged the dwarf to show his skill,
wagering his head against Brock's on the result of the undertaking.

Sindri, apprised of the wager, accepted Brock's offer to blow the
bellows, warning him, however, that he must work persistently and
not for a moment relax his efforts if he wished him to succeed; then
he threw some gold in the fire, and went out to bespeak the favour
of the hidden powers. During his absence Brock diligently plied the
bellows, while Loki, hoping to make him pause, changed himself into
a gadfly and cruelly stung his hand. In spite of the pain, the dwarf
kept on blowing, and when Sindri returned, he drew out of the fire
an enormous wild boar, called Gullin-bursti, because of its golden
bristles, which had the power of radiating light as it flitted across
the sky, for it could travel through the air with marvellous velocity.

    "And now, strange to tell, from the roaring fire
      Came the golden-haired Gullinbörst,
    To serve as a charger the sun-god Frey,
      Sure, of all wild boars this the first."

            The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

This first piece of work successfully completed, Sindri flung some more
gold on the fire and bade his brother resume blowing, while he again
went out to secure magic assistance. This time Loki, still disguised
as a gadfly, stung the dwarf on his cheek; but in spite of the pain
Brock worked on, and when Sindri returned, he triumphantly drew
out of the flames the magic ring Draupnir, the emblem of fertility,
from which eight similar rings dropped every ninth night.

    "They worked it and turned it with wondrous skill,
      Till they gave it the virtue rare,
    That each thrice third night from its rim there fell
      Eight rings, as their parent fair."

            The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

Now a lump of iron was cast in the flames, and with renewed caution not
to forfeit their success by inattention, Sindri passed out, leaving
Brock to ply the bellows as before. Loki was now in desperation
and he prepared for a final effort. This time, still in the guise
of the gadfly, he stung the dwarf above the eye until the blood
began to flow in such a stream, that it prevented his seeing what
he was doing. Hastily raising his hand for a second, Brock dashed
aside the stream of blood; but short as was the interruption it had
worked irreparable harm, and when Sindri drew his work out of the
fire he uttered an exclamation of disappointment for the hammer he
had fashioned was short in the handle.

    "Then the dwarf raised his hand to his brow for the smart,
      Ere the iron well out was beat,
    And they found that the haft by an inch was too short,
      But to alter it then 'twas too late."

            The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

Notwithstanding this mishap, Brock was sure of winning the wager and
he did not hesitate to present himself before the gods in Asgard,
where he gave Odin the ring Draupnir, Frey the boar Gullin-bursti,
and Thor the hammer Miölnir, whose power none could resist.

Loki in turn gave the spear Gungnir to Odin, the ship Skidbladnir to
Frey, and the golden hair to Thor; but although the latter immediately
grew upon Sif's head and was unanimously declared more beautiful than
her own locks had ever been, the gods decreed that Brock had won
the wager, on the ground that the hammer Miölnir, in Thor's hands,
would prove invaluable against the frost giants on the last day.

            "And at their head came Thor,
    Shouldering his hammer, which the giants know."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

In order to save his head, Loki fled precipitately, but was overtaken
by Thor, who brought him back and handed him over to Brock, telling
him, however, that although Loki's head was rightfully his, he
must not touch his neck. Hindered from obtaining full vengeance,
the dwarf determined to punish Loki by sewing his lips together,
and as his sword would not pierce them, he borrowed his brother's
awl for the purpose. However, Loki, after enduring the gods' gibes
in silence for a little while, managed to cut the string and soon
after was as loquacious as ever.

In spite of his redoubtable hammer, Thor was not held in dread as
the injurious god of the storm, who destroyed peaceful homesteads
and ruined the harvest by sudden hail-storms and cloud-bursts. The
Northmen fancied he hurled it only against ice giants and rocky walls,
reducing the latter to powder to fertilise the earth and make it
yield plentiful fruit to the tillers of the soil.

In Germany, where the eastern storms are always cold and blighting,
while the western bring warm rains and mild weather, Thor was supposed
to journey always from west to east, to wage war against the evil
spirits which would fain have enveloped the country in impenetrable
veils of mist and have bound it in icy fetters.

Thor's Journey to Jötun-heim

As the giants from Jötun-heim were continually sending out cold
blasts of wind to nip the tender buds and hinder the growth of the
flowers, Thor once made up his mind to go and force them to behave
better. Accompanied by Loki he set out in his chariot, and after
riding for a whole day the gods came at nightfall to the confines of
the giant-world, where, seeing a peasant's hut, they resolved to stay
for rest and refreshment.

Their host was hospitable but very poor, and Thor, seeing that he
would scarcely be able to supply the necessary food to satisfy his
by no means small appetite, slew both his goats, which he cooked and
made ready to eat, inviting his host and family to partake freely of
the food thus provided, but cautioning them to throw all the bones,
without breaking them, into the skins of the goats which he had spread
out on the floor.

The peasant and his family ate heartily, but his son Thialfi,
encouraged by mischievous Loki, ventured to break one of the bones
and suck out the marrow, thinking his disobedience would not be
detected. On the morrow, however, Thor, ready to depart, struck the
goat skins with his hammer Miölnir, and immediately the goats sprang up
as lively as before, except that one seemed somewhat lame. Perceiving
that his commands had been disregarded, Thor would have slain the whole
family in his wrath. The culprit acknowledged his fault, however,
and the peasant offered to compensate for the loss by giving the
irate god not only his son Thialfi, but also his daughter Roskva,
to serve him for ever.

Charging the man to take good care of the goats, which he left there
until he should return, and bidding the young peasants accompany
him, Thor now set out on foot with Loki, and after walking all day
found himself at nightfall in a bleak and barren country, which was
enveloped in an almost impenetrable grey mist. After seeking for
some time, Thor saw through the fog the uncertain outline of what
looked like a strangely-shaped house. Its open portal was so wide and
high that it seemed to take up all one side of the house. Entering
and finding neither fire nor light, Thor and his companions flung
themselves wearily down on the floor to sleep, but were soon disturbed
by a peculiar noise, and a prolonged trembling of the ground beneath
them. Fearing lest the main roof should fall during this earthquake,
Thor and his companions took refuge in a wing of the building, where
they soon fell sound asleep. At dawn, the god and his companions
passed out, but they had not gone very far ere they saw the recumbent
form of a sleeping giant, and perceived that the peculiar sounds
which had disturbed their rest were produced by his snores. At that
moment the giant awoke, arose, stretched himself, looked about him
for his missing property, and a second later picked up the object
which Thor and his companions had mistaken in the darkness for a
house. They then perceived with amazement that this was nothing more
than a huge mitten, and that the wing in which they had all slept
was the separate place for the giant's great thumb! Learning that
Thor and his companions were on their way to Utgard, as the giants'
realm was also called, Skrymir, the giant, proposed to be their guide;
and after walking with them all day, he brought them at nightfall to
a spot where he proposed to rest. Ere he composed himself for sleep,
however, he offered them the provisions in his wallet. But, in spite
of strenuous efforts, neither Thor nor his companions could unfasten
the knots which Skrymir had tied.

    "Skrymir's thongs
    Seemed to thee hard,
    When at the food thou couldst not get,
    When, in full health, of hunger dying."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).


Angry because of his snoring, which kept them awake, Thor thrice
dealt him fearful blows with his hammer. These strokes, instead of
annihilating the monster, merely evoked sleepy comments to the effect
that a leaf, a bit of bark, or a twig from a bird's nest overhead had
fallen upon his face. Early on the morrow, Skrymir left Thor and his
companions, pointing out the shortest road to Utgard-loki's castle,
which was built of great ice blocks, with huge glittering icicles
as pillars. The gods, slipping between the bars of the great gate,
presented themselves boldly before the king of the giants, Utgard-loki,
who, recognising them, immediately pretended to be greatly surprised
at their small size, and expressed a wish to see for himself what
they could do, as he had often heard their prowess vaunted.

Loki, who had fasted longer than he wished, immediately declared
he was ready to eat for a wager with any one. So the king ordered
a great wooden trough full of meat to be brought into the hall, and
placing Loki at one end and his cook Logi at the other, he bade them
see which would win. Although Loki did wonders, and soon reached the
middle of the trough, he found that, whereas he had picked the bones
clean, his opponent had devoured both them and the trough.

Smiling contemptuously, Utgard-loki said that it was evident they
could not do much in the eating line, and this so nettled Thor that
he declared if Loki could not eat like the voracious cook, he felt
confident he could drain the biggest vessel in the house, such was
his unquenchable thirst. Immediately a horn was brought in, and,
Utgard-loki declaring that good drinkers emptied it at one draught,
moderately thirsty persons at two, and small drinkers at three,
Thor applied his lips to the rim. But, although he drank so deep
that he thought he would burst, the liquid still came almost up to
the rim when he raised his head. A second and third attempt to empty
this horn proved equally unsuccessful. Thialfi then offered to run
a race, but a young fellow named Hugi, who was matched against him,
soon outstripped him, although Thialfi ran remarkably fast.

Thor proposed next to show his strength by lifting weights, and was
challenged to pick up the giant's cat. Seizing an opportunity to
tighten his belt Megin-giörd, which greatly enhanced his strength,
he tugged and strained but was able only to raise one of its paws
from the floor.

    "Strong is great Thor, no doubt, when Megingarder
    He braces tightly o'er his rock-firm loins."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

A last attempt on his part to wrestle with Utgard-loki's old nurse
Elli, the only opponent deemed worthy of such a puny fellow, ended
just as disastrously, and the gods, acknowledging they were beaten,
were hospitably entertained. On the morrow they were escorted to the
confines of Utgard, where the giant politely informed them that he
hoped they would never call upon him again, as he had been forced
to employ magic against them. He then went on to explain that he
was the giant Skrymir, and that had he not taken the precaution
to interpose a mountain between his head and Thor's blows, while
he seemingly lay asleep, he would have been slain, as deep clefts
in the mountain side, to which he pointed, testified to the god's
strength. Next he informed them that Loki's opponent was Logi (wild
fire); that Thialfi had run a race with Hugi (thought), than which no
swifter runner exists; that Thor's drinking horn was connected with
the ocean, where his deep draughts had produced a perceptible ebb;
that the cat was in reality the terrible Midgard snake encircling the
world, which Thor had nearly pulled out of the sea; and that Elli,
his nurse, was old age, whom none can resist. Having finished these
explanations and cautioned them never to return or he would defend
himself by similar delusions, Utgard-loki vanished, and although Thor
angrily brandished his hammer, and would have destroyed his castle,
such a mist enveloped it that it could not be seen, and the thunder
god was obliged to return to Thrud-vang without having administered
his purposed salutary lesson to the race of giants.

        "The strong-armed Thor
    Full oft against Jotunheim did wend,
    But spite his belt celestial, spite his gauntlets,
    Utgard-Loki still his throne retains;
    Evil, itself a force, to force yields never."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

Thor and Hrungnir

Odin himself was once dashing through the air on his eight-footed steed
Sleipnir, when he attracted the attention of the giant Hrungnir,
who proposed a race, declaring that Gullfaxi, his steed, could
rival Sleipnir in speed. In the heat of the race, Hrungnir did not
notice the direction in which they were going, until, in the vain
hope of overtaking Odin, he urged his steed to the very gates of
Valhalla. Discovering then where he was, the giant grew pale with
fear, for he knew he had jeopardised his life by venturing into the
stronghold of the gods, his hereditary foes.

The Æsir, however, were too honourable to take even an enemy at a
disadvantage, and, instead of doing him harm, they asked him into their
banqueting-halls, where he proceeded to indulge in liberal potations
of the heavenly mead set before him. He soon grew so excited that he
began to boast of his power, declaring he would come some day and take
possession of Asgard, which he would destroy, together with the gods,
save only Freya and Sif, upon whom he gazed with an admiring leer.

The gods, knowing he was not responsible, let him talk unmolested;
but Thor, coming home just then from one of his journeys, and
hearing his threat to carry away the beloved Sif, flew into a
terrible rage. He furiously brandished his hammer, with intent to
annihilate the boaster. This the gods would not permit, however, and
they quickly threw themselves between the irate Thunderer and their
guest, imploring Thor to respect the sacred rights of hospitality,
and not to desecrate their peace-stead by shedding blood.

Thor was at last induced to bridle his wrath, but he demanded that
Hrungnir should appoint a time and place for a holmgang, as a Northern
duel was generally called. Thus challenged, Hrungnir promised to meet
Thor at Griottunagard, the confines of his realm, three days later,
and departed somewhat sobered by the fright he had experienced. When
his fellow giants heard how rash he had been, they chided him sorely;
but they took counsel together in order to make the best of a bad
situation. Hrungnir told them that he was to have the privilege of
being accompanied by a squire, whom Thialfi would engage in fight,
wherefore they proceeded to construct a creature of clay, nine
miles long, and proportionately wide, whom they called Mokerkialfi
(mist wader). As they could find no human heart big enough to put in
this monster's breast, they secured that of a mare, which, however,
kept fluttering and quivering with apprehension. The day of the duel
arrived. Hrungnir and his squire were on the ground awaiting the
arrival of their respective opponents. The giant had not only a flint
heart and skull, but also a shield and club of the same substance,
and therefore deemed himself well-nigh invincible. Thialfi came
before his master and soon after there was a terrible rumbling and
shaking which made the giant apprehensive that his enemy would come
up through the ground and attack him from underneath. He therefore
followed a hint from Thialfi and stood upon his shield.

A moment later, however, he saw his mistake, for, while Thialfi
attacked Mokerkialfi with a spade, Thor came with a rush upon the scene
and flung his hammer full at his opponent's head. Hrungnir, to ward
off the blow, interposed his stone club, which was shivered into pieces
that flew all over the earth, supplying all the flint stones thereafter
to be found, and one fragment sank deep into Thor's forehead. As the
god dropped fainting to the ground, his hammer crashed against the
head of Hrungnir, who fell dead beside him, in such a position that
one of his ponderous legs was thrown over the recumbent god.

    "Thou now remindest me
    How I with Hrungnir fought,
    That stout-hearted Jotun,
    Whose head was all of stone;
    Yet I made him fall
    And sink before me."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Thialfi, who, in the meanwhile, had disposed of the great clay giant
with its cowardly mare's heart, now rushed to his master's assistance,
but his efforts were unavailing, nor could the other gods, whom he
quickly summoned, raise the pinioning leg. While they were standing
there, helplessly wondering what they should do next, Thor's little
son Magni came up. According to varying accounts, he was then only
three days or three years old, but he quickly seized the giant's
foot, and, unaided, set his father free, declaring that had he only
been summoned sooner he would easily have disposed of both giant and
squire. This exhibition of strength made the gods marvel greatly,
and helped them to recognise the truth of the various predictions,
which one and all declared that their descendants would be mightier
than they, would survive them, and would rule in their turn over the
new heaven and earth.

To reward his son for his timely aid, Thor gave him the steed Gullfaxi
(golden-maned), to which he had fallen heir by right of conquest,
and Magni ever after rode this marvellous horse, which almost equalled
the renowned Sleipnir in speed and endurance.

Groa, the Sorceress

After vainly trying to remove the stone splinter from his forehead,
Thor sadly returned home to Thrud-vang, where Sif's loving efforts
were equally unsuccessful. She therefore resolved to send for Groa
(green-making), a sorceress, noted for her skill in medicine and for
the efficacy of her spells and incantations. Groa immediately signified
her readiness to render every service in her power to the god who had
so often benefited her, and solemnly began to recite powerful runes,
under whose influence Thor felt the stone grow looser and looser. His
delight at the prospect of a speedy deliverance made Thor wish to
reward the enchantress forthwith, and knowing that nothing could give
greater pleasure to a mother than the prospect of seeing a long-lost
child, he proceeded to tell her that he had recently crossed the
Elivagar, or ice streams, to rescue her little son Orvandil (germ) from
the frost giants' cruel power, and had succeeded in carrying him off
in a basket. But, as the little rogue would persist in sticking one of
his bare toes through a hole in the basket, it had been frost-bitten,
and Thor, accidentally breaking it off, had flung it up into the sky,
to shine as a star, known in the North as "Orvandil's Toe."

Delighted with these tidings, the prophetess paused in her incantations
to express her joy, but, having forgotten just where she left off,
she was unable to continue her spell, and the flint stone remained
embedded in Thor's forehead, whence it could never be dislodged.

Of course, as Thor's hammer always did him such good service, it was
the most prized of all his possessions, and his dismay was very great
when he awoke one morning and found it gone. His cry of anger and
disappointment soon brought Loki to his side, and to him Thor confided
the secret of his loss, declaring that were the giants to hear of it,
they would soon attempt to storm Asgard and destroy the gods.

    "Wroth waxed Thor, when his sleep was flown,
    And he found his trusty hammer gone;
    He smote his brow, his beard he shook,
    The son of earth 'gan round him look;
    And this the first word that he spoke:
    'Now listen what I tell thee, Loke;
    Which neither on earth below is known,
    Nor in heaven above: my hammer's gone."

            Thrym's Quida (Herbert's tr.).

Thor and Thrym

Loki declared he would try to discover the thief and recover the
hammer, if Freya would lend him her falcon plumes, and he immediately
hastened off to Folkvang to borrow them. His errand was successful and
in the form of a bird he then winged his flight across the river Ifing,
and over the barren stretches of Jötun-heim, where he suspected that
the thief would be found. There he saw Thrym, prince of the frost
giants and god of the destructive thunder-storm, sitting alone on a
hill-side. Artfully questioning him, he soon learned that Thrym had
stolen the hammer and had buried it deep underground. Moreover, he
found that there was little hope of its being restored unless Freya
were brought to him arrayed as a bride.

    "I have the Thunderer's hammer bound
    Fathoms eight beneath the ground;
    With it shall no one homeward tread
    Till he bring me Freya to share my bed."

            Thrym's Quida (Herbert's tr.).

Indignant at the giant's presumption, Loki returned to Thrud-vang,
but Thor declared it would be well to visit Freya and try to prevail
upon her to sacrifice herself for the general good. But when the Æsir
told the goddess of beauty what they wished her to do, she flew into
such a passion that even her necklace burst. She told them that she
would never leave her beloved husband for any god, much less to marry
a detested giant and dwell in Jötun-heim, where all was dreary in the
extreme, and where she would soon die of longing for the green fields
and flowery meadows, in which she loved to roam. Seeing that further
persuasions would be useless, Loki and Thor returned home and there
deliberated upon another plan for recovering the hammer. By Heimdall's
advice, which, however, was only accepted with extreme reluctance,
Thor borrowed and put on Freya's clothes together with her necklace,
and enveloped himself in a thick veil. Loki, having attired himself as
handmaiden, then mounted with him in the goat-drawn chariot, and the
strangely attired pair set out for Jötun-heim, where they intended to
play the respective parts of the goddess of beauty and her attendant.

    "Home were driven
    Then the goats,
    And hitched to the car;
    Hasten they must--
    The mountains crashed,
    The earth stood in flames:
    Odin's son
    Rode to Jötun-heim."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Thrym welcomed his guests at the palace door, overjoyed at the thought
that he was about to secure undisputed possession of the goddess
of beauty, for whom he had long sighed in vain. He quickly led them
to the banqueting-hall, where Thor, the bride elect, distinguished
himself by eating an ox, eight huge salmon, and all the cakes and
sweets provided for the women, washing down these miscellaneous viands
with the contents of two barrels of mead.

The giant bridegroom watched these gastronomic feats with amazement,
whereupon Loki, in order to reassure him, confidentially whispered
that the bride was so deeply in love with him that she had not been
able to taste a morsel of food for more than eight days. Thrym then
sought to kiss the bride, but drew back appalled at the fire of her
glance, which Loki explained as a burning glance of love. The giant's
sister, claiming the usual gifts, was not even noticed; wherefore
Loki again whispered to the wondering Thrym that love makes people
absent-minded. Intoxicated with passion and mead, which he, too,
had drunk in liberal quantities, the bridegroom now bade his servants
produce the sacred hammer to consecrate the marriage, and as soon as
it was brought he himself laid it in the pretended Freya's lap. The
next moment a powerful hand closed over the short handle, and soon
the giant, his sister, and all the invited guests, were slain by the
terrible Thor.

    "'Bear in the hammer to plight the maid;
    Upon her lap the bruiser lay,
    And firmly plight our hands and fay.'
    The Thunderer's soul smiled in his breast;
    When the hammer hard on his lap was placed,
    Thrym first, the king of the Thursi, he slew,
    And slaughtered all the giant crew."

            Thrym's Quida (Herbert's tr.).

Leaving a smoking heap of ruins behind them, the gods then drove
rapidly back to Asgard, where the borrowed garments were given back
to Freya, much to the relief of Thor, and the Æsir rejoiced at the
recovery of the precious hammer. When next Odin gazed upon that part
of Jötun-heim from his throne Hlidskialf, he saw the ruins covered
with tender green shoots, for Thor, having conquered his enemy,
had taken possession of his land, which henceforth would no longer
remain barren and desolate, but would bring forth fruit in abundance.

Thor and Geirrod

Loki once borrowed Freya's falcon-garb and flew off in search of
adventures to another part of Jötun-heim, where he perched on top
of the gables of Geirrod's house. He soon attracted the attention
of this giant, who bade one of his servants catch the bird. Amused
at the fellow's clumsy attempts to secure him, Loki flitted about
from place to place, only moving just as the giant was about to lay
hands upon him, when, miscalculating his distance, he suddenly found
himself a captive.

Attracted by the bird's bright eyes, Geirrod looked closely at it and
concluded that it was a god in disguise, and finding that he could
not force him to speak, he locked him in a cage, where he kept him
for three whole months without food or drink. Conquered at last by
hunger and thirst, Loki revealed his identity, and obtained his release
by promising that he would induce Thor to visit Geirrod without his
hammer, belt, or magic gauntlet. Loki then flew back to Asgard, and
told Thor that he had been royally entertained, and that his host had
expressed a strong desire to see the powerful thunder-god, of whom
he had heard such wonderful tales. Flattered by this artful speech,
Thor was induced to consent to a friendly journey to Jötun-heim,
and the two gods set out, leaving the three marvellous weapons at
home. They had not gone far, however, ere they came to the house of
the giantess Grid, one of Odin's many wives. Seeing Thor unarmed,
she warned him to beware of treachery and lent him her own girdle,
staff, and glove. Some time after leaving her, Thor and Loki came to
the river Veimer, which the Thunderer, accustomed to wading, prepared
to ford, bidding Loki and Thialfi cling fast to his belt.

In the middle of the stream, however, a sudden cloud-burst and freshet
overtook them; the waters began to rise and roar, and although Thor
leaned heavily upon his staff, he was almost swept away by the force
of the raging current.

    "Wax not, Veimer,
    Since to wade I desire
    To the realm of the giants!
    Know, if thou waxest,
    Then waxes my asa-might
    As high as the heavens."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Thor now became aware of the presence, up stream, of Geirrod's daughter
Gialp, and rightly suspecting that she was the cause of the storm, he
picked up a huge boulder and flung it at her, muttering that the best
place to dam a river was at its source. The missile had the desired
effect, for the giantess fled, the waters abated, and Thor, exhausted
but safe, pulled himself up on the opposite bank by a little shrub, the
mountain-ash or sorb. This has since been known as "Thor's salvation,"
and occult powers have been attributed to it. After resting awhile
Thor and his companions resumed their journey; but upon arriving at
Geirrod's house the god was so exhausted that he sank wearily upon
the only chair in sight. To his surprise, however, he felt it rising
beneath him, and fearful lest he should be crushed against the rafters,
he pushed the borrowed staff against the ceiling and forced the
chair downward with all his might. Then followed a terrible cracking,
sudden cries, and moans of pain; and when Thor came to investigate,
it appeared that the giant's daughters, Gialp and Greip, had slipped
under his chair with intent treacherously to slay him, and they had
reaped a righteous retribution and both lay crushed to death.

    "Once I employed
    My asa-might
    In the realm of giants,
    When Gialp and Greip,
    Geirrod's daughters,
    Wanted to lift me to heaven."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Geirrod now appeared and challenged Thor to a test of strength and
skill, but without waiting for a preconcerted signal, he flung a
red-hot wedge at him. Thor, quick of eye and a practised catcher,
caught the missile with the giantess's iron glove, and hurled it
back at his opponent. Such was the force of the god, that the missile
passed, not only through the pillar behind which the giant had taken
refuge, but through him and the wall of the house, and buried itself
deep in the earth without.

Thor then strode up to the giant's corpse, which at the blow from his
weapon had been petrified into stone, and set it up in a conspicuous
place, as a monument of his strength and of the victory he had won
over his redoubtable foes, the mountain giants.

The Worship of Thor

Thor's name has been given to many of the places he was wont to
frequent, such as the principal harbour of the Faroe Islands, and to
families which claim to be descended from him. It is still extant
in such names as Thunderhill in Surrey, and in the family names of
Thorburn and Thorwaldsen, but is most conspicuous in the name of one
of the days of the week, Thor's day or Thursday.

    "Over the whole earth
    Still is it Thor's day!"

            Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Thor was considered a pre-eminently benevolent deity, and it was for
that reason that he was so widely worshipped and that temples to his
worship arose at Moeri, Hlader, Godey, Gothland, Upsala, and other
places, where the people never failed to invoke him for a favourable
year at Yule-tide, his principal festival. It was customary on this
occasion to burn a great log of oak, his sacred tree, as an emblem of
the warmth and light of summer, which would drive away the darkness
and cold of winter.

Brides invariably wore red, Thor's favourite colour, which was
considered emblematical of love, and for the same reason betrothal
rings in the North were almost always set with a red stone.

Thor's temples and statues, like Odin's, were fashioned of wood,
and the greater number of them were destroyed during the reign of
King Olaf the Saint. According to ancient chronicles, this monarch
forcibly converted his subjects. He was specially incensed against
the inhabitants of a certain province, because they worshipped a
rude image of Thor, which they decked with golden ornaments, and
before which they set food every evening, declaring the god ate it,
as no trace of it was left in the morning.

The people, being called upon in 1030 to renounce this idol in favour
of the true God, promised to consent if the morrow were cloudy;
but when after a whole night spent by Olaf in ardent prayer, there
followed a cloudy day, the obstinate people declared they were not
yet convinced of his God's power, and would only believe if the sun
shone on the next day.

Once more Olaf spent the night in prayer, but at dawn, to his
great chagrin, the sky was overcast. Nevertheless, he assembled the
people near Thor's statue, and after secretly bidding his principal
attendant to smash the idol with his battle-axe if the people turned
their eyes away but for a moment, he began to address them. Suddenly,
while all were listening to him, Olaf pointed to the horizon, where
the sun was slowly breaking its way through the clouds, and exclaimed,
"Behold our God!" The people one and all turned to see what he meant,
and the attendant seized this opportunity for attacking the idol,
which yielded easily to his blows, and a host of mice and other vermin
scattered hastily from its hollow interior. Seeing now that the food
placed before their god had been devoured by noxious animals only,
the people ceased to revere Thor, and definitely accepted the faith
which King Olaf had so long and vainly pressed upon them.


The God of War

Tyr Tiu, or Ziu was the son of Odin, and, according to different
mythologists, his mother was Frigga, queen of the gods, or a beautiful
giantess whose name is unknown, but who was a personification of the
raging sea. He is the god of martial honour, and one of the twelve
principal deities of Asgard. Although he appears to have had no
special dwelling there, he was always welcome to Vingolf or Valhalla,
and occupied one of the twelve thrones in the great council hall
of Glads-heim.

    "The hall Glads-heim, which is built of gold;
    Where are in circle, ranged twelve golden chairs,
    And in the midst one higher, Odin's Throne."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

As the God of courage and of war, Tyr was frequently invoked by the
various nations of the North, who cried to him, as well as to Odin,
to obtain victory. That he ranked next to Odin and Thor is proved
by his name, Tiu, having been given to one of the days of the week,
Tiu's day, which in modern English has become Tuesday. Under the name
of Ziu, Tyr was the principal divinity of the Suabians, who originally
called their capital, the modern Augsburg, Ziusburg. This people,
venerating the god as they did, were wont to worship him under the
emblem of a sword, his distinctive attribute, and in his honour held
great sword dances, where various figures were performed. Sometimes
the participants forming two long lines, crossed their swords, point
upward, and challenged the boldest among their number to take a flying
leap over them. At other times the warriors joined their sword points
closely together in the shape of a rose or wheel, and when this
figure was complete invited their chief to stand on the navel thus
formed of flat, shining steel blades, and then they bore him upon it
through the camp in triumph. The sword point was further considered
so sacred that it became customary to register oaths upon it.

    "... Come hither, gentlemen,
    And lay your hands again upon my sword;
    Never to speak of this that you have heard,
    Swear by my sword."

            Hamlet (Shakespeare).

A distinctive feature of the worship of this god among the Franks and
some other Northern nations was that the priests called Druids or Godi
offered up human sacrifices upon his altars, generally cutting the
bloody- or spread-eagle upon their victims, that is to say, making a
deep incision on either side of the back-bone, turning the ribs thus
loosened inside out, and tearing out the viscera through the opening
thus made. Of course only prisoners of war were treated thus, and it
was considered a point of honour with north European races to endure
this torture without a moan. These sacrifices were made upon rude
stone altars called dolmens, which can still be seen in Northern
Europe. As Tyr was considered the patron god of the sword, it was
deemed indispensable to engrave the sign or rune representing him
upon the blade of every sword--an observance which the Edda enjoined
upon all those who were desirous of obtaining victory.

    "Sig-runes thou must know,
    If victory (sigr) thou wilt have,
    And on thy sword's hilt rist them;
    Some on the chapes,
    Some on the guard,
    And twice name the name of Tyr."

            Lay of Sigdrifa (Thorpe's tr.).

Tyr was identical with the Saxon god Saxnot (from sax, a sword),
and with Er, Heru, or Cheru, the chief divinity of the Cheruski,
who also considered him god of the sun, and deemed his shining sword
blade an emblem of its rays.

    "This very sword a ray of light
    Snatched from the Sun!"

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Tyr's Sword

According to an ancient legend, Cheru's sword, which had been fashioned
by the same dwarfs, sons of Ivald, who had also made Odin's spear,
was held very sacred by his people, to whose care he had entrusted it,
declaring that those who possessed it were sure to have the victory
over their foes. But although carefully guarded in the temple, where
it was hung so that it reflected the first beams of the morning sun,
it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared one night. A Vala, druidess,
or prophetess, consulted by the priests, revealed that the Norns had
decreed that whoever wielded it would conquer the world and come
to his death by it; but in spite of all entreaties she refused to
tell who had taken it or where it might be found. Some time after
this occurrence a tall and dignified stranger came to Cologne, where
Vitellius, the Roman prefect, was feasting, and called him away from
his beloved dainties. In the presence of the Roman soldiery he gave
him the sword, telling him it would bring him glory and renown, and
finally hailed him as emperor. The cry was taken up by the assembled
legions, and Vitellius, without making any personal effort to secure
the honour, found himself elected Emperor of Rome.

The new ruler, however, was so absorbed in indulging his taste for
food and drink that he paid but little heed to the divine weapon. One
day while leisurely making his way towards Rome he carelessly left it
hanging in the antechamber to his pavilion. A German soldier seized
this opportunity to substitute in its stead his own rusty blade, and
the besotted emperor did not notice the exchange. When he arrived at
Rome, he learned that the Eastern legions had named Vespasian emperor,
and that he was even then on his way home to claim the throne.

Searching for the sacred weapon to defend his rights, Vitellius
now discovered the theft, and, overcome by superstitious fears, did
not even attempt to fight. He crawled away into a dark corner of his
palace, whence he was ignominiously dragged by the enraged populace to
the foot of the Capitoline Hill. There the prophecy was duly fulfilled,
for the German soldier, who had joined the opposite faction, coming
along at that moment, cut off Vitellius' head with the sacred sword.

The German soldier now changed from one legion to another, and
travelled over many lands; but wherever he and his sword were found,
victory was assured. After winning great honour and distinction, this
man, having grown old, retired from active service to the banks of the
Danube, where he secretly buried his treasured weapon, building his hut
over its resting-place to guard it as long as he might live. When he
lay on his deathbed he was implored to reveal where he had hidden it,
but he persistently refused to do so, saying that it would be found
by the man who was destined to conquer the world, but that he would
not be able to escape the curse. Years passed by. Wave after wave
the tide of barbarian invasion swept over that part of the country,
and last of all came the terrible Huns under the leadership of Attila,
the "Scourge of God." As he passed along the river, he saw a peasant
mournfully examining his cow's foot, which had been wounded by some
sharp instrument hidden in the long grass, and when search was made
the point of a buried sword was found sticking out of the soil.

Attila, seeing the beautiful workmanship and the fine state of
preservation of this weapon, immediately exclaimed that it was
Cheru's sword, and brandishing it above his head he announced that
he would conquer the world. Battle after battle was fought by the
Huns, who, according to the Saga, were everywhere victorious, until
Attila, weary of warfare, settled down in Hungary, taking to wife the
beautiful Burgundian princess Ildico, whose father he had slain. This
princess, resenting the murder of her kin and wishing to avenge it,
took advantage of the king's state of intoxication upon his wedding
night to secure possession of the divine sword, with which she slew
him in his bed, once more fulfilling the prophecy uttered so many
years before.

The magic sword again disappeared for a long time, to be unearthed once
more, for the last time, by the Duke of Alva, Charles V.'s general,
who shortly after won the victory of Mühlberg (1547). The Franks
were wont to celebrate yearly martial games in honour of the sword;
but it is said that when the heathen gods were renounced in favour
of Christianity, the priests transferred many of their attributes to
the saints, and that this sword became the property of the Archangel
St. Michael, who has wielded it ever since.

Tyr, whose name was synonymous with bravery and wisdom, was also
considered by the ancient Northern people to have the white-armed
Valkyrs, Odin's attendants, at his command, and they thought that
he it was who designated the warriors whom they should transfer to
Valhalla to aid the gods on the last day.

    "The god Tyr sent
    Gondul and Skogul
    To choose a king
    Of the race of Ingve,
    To dwell with Odin
    In roomy Valhal."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

The Story of Fenris

Tyr was generally spoken of and represented as one-armed, just as Odin
was called one-eyed. Various explanations are offered by different
authorities; some claim that it was because he could give the victory
only to one side; others, because a sword has but one blade. However
this may be, the ancients preferred to account for the fact in the
following way:

Loki married secretly at Jötun-heim the hideous giantess Angur-boda
(anguish boding), who bore him three monstrous children--the wolf
Fenris, Hel, the parti-coloured goddess of death, and Iörmungandr,
a terrible serpent. He kept the existence of these monsters secret as
long as he could; but they speedily grew so large that they could no
longer remain confined in the cave where they had come to light. Odin,
from his throne Hlidskialf, soon became aware of their existence,
and also of the disquieting rapidity with which they increased in
size. Fearful lest the monsters, when they had gained further strength,
should invade Asgard and destroy the gods, Allfather determined to
get rid of them, and striding off to Jötun-heim, he flung Hel into
the depths of Nifl-heim, telling her she could reign over the nine
dismal worlds of the dead. He then cast Iörmungandr into the sea,
where he attained such immense proportions that at last he encircled
the earth and could bite his own tail.

    "Into mid-ocean's dark depths hurled,
      Grown with each day to giant size,
    The serpent soon inclosed the world,
      With tail in mouth, in circle-wise;
        Held harmless still
        By Odin's will."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

None too well pleased that the serpent should attain such fearful
dimensions in his new element, Odin resolved to lead Fenris to
Asgard, where he hoped, by kindly treatment, to make him gentle
and tractable. But the gods one and all shrank in dismay when they
saw the wolf, and none dared approach to give him food except Tyr,
whom nothing daunted. Seeing that Fenris daily increased in size,
strength, voracity, and fierceness, the gods assembled in council
to deliberate how they might best dispose of him. They unanimously
decided that as it would desecrate their peace-steads to slay him,
they would bind him fast so that he could work them no harm.

With that purpose in view, they obtained a strong chain named Læding,
and then playfully proposed to Fenris to bind this about him as a test
of his vaunted strength. Confident in his ability to release himself,
Fenris patiently allowed them to bind him fast, and when all stood
aside, with a mighty effort he stretched himself and easily burst
the chain asunder.

Concealing their chagrin, the gods were loud in praise of his strength,
but they next produced a much stronger fetter, Droma, which, after
some persuasion, the wolf allowed them to fasten around him as
before. Again a short, sharp struggle sufficed to burst this bond,
and it is proverbial in the North to use the figurative expressions,
"to get loose out of Læding," and "to dash out of Droma," whenever
great difficulties have to be surmounted.

    "Twice did the Æsir strive to bind,
    Twice did they fetters powerless find;
    Iron or brass of no avail,
    Naught, save through magic, could prevail."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The gods, perceiving now that ordinary bonds, however strong, would
never prevail against the Fenris wolf's great strength, bade Skirnir,
Frey's servant, go down to Svart-alfa-heim and bid the dwarfs fashion
a bond which nothing could sever.

By magic arts the dark elves manufactured a slender silken rope from
such impalpable materials as the sound of a cat's footsteps, a woman's
beard, the roots of a mountain, the longings of the bear, the voice of
fishes, and the spittle of birds, and when it was finished they gave
it to Skirnir, assuring him that no strength would avail to break it,
and that the more it was strained the stronger it would become.

    "Gleipnir, at last,
    By Dark Elves cast,
    In Svart-alf-heim, with strong spells wrought,
    To Odin was by Skirnir brought:
    As soft as silk, as light as air,
    Yet still of magic power most rare."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Armed with this bond, called Gleipnir, the gods went with Fenris to the
Island of Lyngvi, in the middle of Lake Amsvartnir, and again proposed
to test his strength. But although Fenris had grown still stronger,
he mistrusted the bond which looked so slight. He therefore refused to
allow himself to be bound, unless one of the Æsir would consent to put
his hand in his mouth, and leave it there, as a pledge of good faith,
and that no magic arts were to be used against him.

The gods heard the decision with dismay, and all drew back except
Tyr, who, seeing that the others would not venture to comply with
this condition, boldly stepped forward and thrust his hand between
the monster's jaws. The gods now fastened Gleipnir securely around
Fenris's neck and paws, and when they saw that his utmost efforts to
free himself were fruitless, they shouted and laughed with glee. Tyr,
however, could not share their joy, for the wolf, finding himself
captive, bit off the god's hand at the wrist, which since then has
been known as the wolf's joint.


    "Be silent, Tyr!
    Thou couldst never settle
    A strife 'twixt two;
    Of thy right hand also
    I must mention make,
    Which Fenris from thee took.


    I of a hand am wanting,
    But thou of honest fame;
    Sad is the lack of either.
    Nor is the wolf at ease:
    He in bonds must abide
    Until the gods' destruction."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Deprived of his right hand, Tyr was now forced to use the maimed arm
for his shield, and to wield his sword with his left hand; but such
was his dexterity that he slew his enemies as before.

The gods, in spite of the wolf's struggles, drew the end of the fetter
Gelgia through the rock Gioll, and fastened it to the boulder Thviti,
which was sunk deep in the ground. Opening wide his fearful jaws,
Fenris uttered such terrible howls that the gods, to silence him,
thrust a sword into his mouth, the hilt resting upon his lower jaw
and the point against his palate. The blood then began to pour out
in such streams that it formed a great river, called Von. The wolf
was destined to remain thus chained fast until the last day, when he
would burst his bonds and would be free to avenge his wrongs.

    "The wolf Fenrir,
    Freed from the chain,
    Shall range the earth."

            Death-song of Hâkon (W. Taylor's tr.).

While some mythologists see in this myth an emblem of crime restrained
and made innocuous by the power of the law, others see the underground
fire, which kept within bounds can injure no one, but which unfettered
fills the world with destruction and woe. Just as Odin's second
eye is said to rest in Mimir's well, so Tyr's second hand (sword)
is found in Fenris's jaws. He has no more use for two weapons than
the sky for two suns.

The worship of Tyr is commemorated in sundry places (such as Tübingen,
in Germany), which bear more or less modified forms of his name. The
name has also been given to the aconite, a plant known in Northern
countries as "Tyr's helm."


The Origin of Poetry

At the time of the dispute between the Æsir and Vanas, when peace
had been agreed upon, a vase was brought into the assembly into which
both parties solemnly spat. From this saliva the gods created Kvasir,
a being renowned for his wisdom and goodness, who went about the
world answering all questions asked him, thus teaching and benefiting
mankind. The dwarfs, hearing about Kvasir's great wisdom, coveted it,
and finding him asleep one day, two of their number, Fialar and Galar,
treacherously slew him, and drained every drop of his blood into
three vessels--the kettle Od-hroerir (inspiration) and the bowls Son
(expiation) and Boden (offering). After duly mixing this blood with
honey, they manufactured from it a sort of beverage so inspiring that
any one who tasted it immediately became a poet, and could sing with
a charm which was certain to win all hearts.

Now, although the dwarfs had brewed this marvellous mead for their own
consumption, they did not even taste it, but hid it away in a secret
place, while they went in search of further adventures. They had not
gone very far ere they found the giant Gilling also sound asleep,
lying on a steep bank, and they maliciously rolled him into the water,
where he perished. Then hastening to his dwelling, some climbed on
the roof, carrying a huge millstone, while the others, entering,
told the giantess that her husband was dead. This news caused the
poor creature great grief, and she rushed out of the house to view
Gilling's remains. As she passed through the door, the wicked dwarfs
rolled the millstone down upon her head, and killed her. According to
another account, the dwarfs invited the giant to go fishing with them,
and succeeded in slaying him by sending him out in a leaky vessel,
which sank beneath his weight.

The double crime thus committed did not long remain unpunished, for
Gilling's brother, Suttung, quickly went in search of the dwarfs,
determined to avenge him. Seizing them in his mighty grasp, the giant
conveyed them to a shoal far out at sea, where they would surely have
perished at the next high tide had they not succeeded in redeeming
their lives by promising to deliver to the giant their recently
brewed mead. As soon as Suttung set them ashore, they therefore
gave him the precious compound, which he entrusted to his daughter
Gunlod, bidding her guard it night and day, and allow neither gods
nor mortals to have so much as a taste. The better to fulfil this
command, Gunlod carried the three vessels into the hollow mountain,
where she kept watch over them with the most scrupulous care, nor
did she suspect that Odin had discovered their place of concealment,
thanks to the sharp eyes of his ever-vigilant ravens Hugin and Munin.

The Quest of the Draught

As Odin had mastered the runic lore and had tasted the waters of
Mimir's fountain, he was already the wisest of gods; but learning
of the power of the draught of inspiration manufactured out of
Kvasir's blood, he became very anxious to obtain possession of the
magic fluid. With this purpose in view he therefore donned his
broad-brimmed hat, wrapped himself in his cloud-hued cloak, and
journeyed off to Jötun-heim. On his way to the giant's dwelling he
passed by a field where nine ugly thralls were busy making hay. Odin
paused for a moment, watching them at their work, and noticing that
their scythes seemed very dull indeed, he proposed to whet them,
an offer which the thralls eagerly accepted.

Drawing a whetstone from his bosom, Odin proceeded to sharpen the
nine scythes, skilfully giving them such a keen edge that the thralls,
delighted, begged that they might have the stone. With good-humoured
acquiescence, Odin tossed the whetstone over the wall; but as the
nine thralls simultaneously sprang forward to catch it, they wounded
one another with their keen scythes. In anger at their respective
carelessness, they now began to fight, and did not pause until they
were all either mortally wounded or dead.

Quite undismayed by this tragedy, Odin continued on his way, and
shortly after came to the house of the giant Baugi, a brother
of Suttung, who received him very hospitably. In the course of
conversation, Baugi informed him that he was greatly embarrassed,
as it was harvest time and all his workmen had just been found dead
in the hayfield.

Odin, who on this occasion had given his name as Bolwerk (evil doer),
promptly offered his services to the giant, promising to accomplish
as much work as the nine thralls, and to labour diligently all the
summer in exchange for one single draught of Suttung's magic mead when
the busy season was ended. This bargain was immediately concluded,
and Baugi's new servant, Bolwerk, worked incessantly all the summer
long, more than fulfilling his contract, and safely garnering all the
grain before the autumn rains began to fall. When the first days of
winter came, Bolwerk presented himself before his master, claiming
his reward. But Baugi hesitated and demurred, saying he dared not
openly ask his brother Suttung for the draught of inspiration, but
would try to obtain it by guile. Together, Bolwerk and Baugi then
proceeded to the mountain where Gunlod dwelt, and as they could find
no other mode of entering the secret cave, Odin produced his trusty
auger, called Rati, and bade the giant bore with all his might to
make a hole through which he might crawl into the interior.

Baugi silently obeyed, and after a few moments' work withdrew the tool,
saying that he had pierced through the mountain, and that Odin would
have no difficulty in slipping through. But the god, mistrusting this
statement, merely blew into the hole, and when the dust and chips came
flying into his face, he sternly bade Baugi resume his boring and not
attempt to deceive him again. The giant did as he was told, and when
he withdrew his tool again, Odin ascertained that the hole was really
finished. Changing himself into a snake, he wriggled through with
such remarkable rapidity that he managed to elude the sharp auger,
which Baugi treacherously thrust into the hole after him, intending
to kill him.

    "Rati's mouth I caused
    To make a space,
    And to gnaw the rock;
    Over and under me
    Were the Jötun's ways:
    Thus I my head did peril."

            Hávamál (Thorpe's tr.).

The Rape of the Draught

Having reached the interior of the mountain, Odin reassumed his usual
godlike form and starry mantle, and then presented himself in the
stalactite-hung cave before the beautiful Gunlod. He intended to win
her love as a means of inducing her to grant him a sip from each of
the vessels confided to her care.

Won by his passionate wooing, Gunlod consented to become his wife,
and after he had spent three whole days with her in this retreat,
she brought out the vessels from their secret hiding-place, and told
him he might take a sip from each.

    "And a draught obtained
    Of the precious mead,
    Drawn from Od-hroerir."

            Odin's Rune-Song (Thorpe's tr.).

Odin made good use of this permission and drank so deeply that he
completely drained all three vessels. Then, having obtained all that
he wanted, he emerged from the cave and, donning his eagle plumes,
rose high into the blue, and, after hovering for a moment over the
mountain top, winged his flight towards Asgard.

He was still far from the gods' realm when he became aware of a
pursuer, and, indeed, Suttung, having also assumed the form of an
eagle, was coming rapidly after him with intent to compel him to
surrender the stolen mead. Odin therefore flew faster and faster,
straining every nerve to reach Asgard before the foe should overtake
him, and as he drew near the gods anxiously watched the race.

Seeing that Odin would only with difficulty be able to escape, the
Æsir hastily gathered all the combustible materials they could find,
and as he flew over the ramparts of their dwelling, they set fire to
the mass of fuel, so that the flames, rising high, singed the wings
of Suttung, as he followed the god, and he fell into the very midst
of the fire, where he was burned to death.

As for Odin, he flew to where the gods had prepared vessels for
the stolen mead, and disgorged the draught of inspiration in such
breathless haste that a few drops fell and were scattered over the
earth. There they became the portion of rhymesters and poetasters,
the gods reserving the main draught for their own consumption, and
only occasionally vouchsafing a taste to some favoured mortal, who,
immediately after, would win world-wide renown by his inspired songs.

    "Of a well-assumed form
    I made good use:
    Few things fail the wise;
    For Od-hroerir
    Is now come up
    To men's earthly dwellings."

            Hávamál (Thorpe's tr.).

As men and gods owed the priceless gift to Odin, they were ever ready
to express to him their gratitude, and they not only called it by
his name, but they worshipped him as patron of eloquence, poetry,
and song, and of all scalds.

The God of Music

Although Odin had thus won the gift of poetry, he seldom made use of
it himself. It was reserved for his son Bragi, the child of Gunlod,
to become the god of poetry and music, and to charm the world with
his songs.

    "White-bearded bard, ag'd
    Bragi, his gold harp
    Sweeps--and yet softer
    Stealeth the day."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

As soon as Bragi was born in the stalactite-hung cave where Odin had
won Gunlod's affections, the dwarfs presented him with a magical golden
harp, and, setting him on one of their own vessels, they sent him out
into the wide world. As the boat gently passed out of subterranean
darkness, and floated over the threshold of Nain, the realm of the
dwarf of death, Bragi, the fair and immaculate young god, who until
then had shown no signs of life, suddenly sat up, and, seizing the
golden harp beside him, he began to sing the wondrous song of life,
which rose at times to heaven, and then sank down to the dread realm
of Hel, goddess of death.

    "Yggdrasil's ash is
    Of all trees most excellent,
    And of all ships, Skidbladnir;
    Of the Æsir, Odin,
    And of horses, Sleipnir;
    Bifröst of bridges,
    And of scalds, Bragi."

            Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).

While he played the vessel was wafted gently over sunlit waters, and
soon touched the shore. Bragi then proceeded on foot, threading his
way through the bare and silent forest, playing as he walked. At the
sound of his tender music the trees began to bud and bloom, and the
grass underfoot was gemmed with countless flowers.

Here he met Idun, daughter of Ivald, the fair goddess of immortal
youth, whom the dwarfs allowed to visit the earth from time to time,
when, at her approach, nature invariably assumed its loveliest and
gentlest aspect.

It was only to be expected that two such beings should feel
attracted to each other, and Bragi soon won this fair goddess for his
wife. Together they hastened to Asgard, where both were warmly welcomed
and where Odin, after tracing runes on Bragi's tongue, decreed that
he should be the heavenly minstrel and composer of songs in honour
of the gods and of the heroes whom he received in Valhalla.

Worship of Bragi

As Bragi was god of poetry, eloquence, and song, the Northern
races also called poetry by his name, and scalds of either sex were
frequently designated as Braga-men or Braga-women. Bragi was greatly
honoured by all the Northern races, and hence his health was always
drunk on solemn or festive occasions, but especially at funeral feasts
and at Yuletide celebrations.

When it was time to drink this toast, which was served in cups shaped
like a ship, and was called the Bragaful, the sacred sign of the hammer
was first made over it. Then the new ruler or head of the family
solemnly pledged himself to some great deed of valour, which he was
bound to execute within the year, unless he wished to be considered
destitute of honour. Following his example, all the guests were then
wont to make similar vows and declare what they would do; and as some
of them, owing to previous potations, talked rather too freely of
their intentions on these occasions, this custom seems to connect the
god's name with the vulgar but very expressive English verb "to brag."

In art, Bragi is generally represented as an elderly man, with long
white hair and beard, and holding the golden harp from which his
fingers could draw such magic strains.


The Apples of Youth

Idun, the personification of spring or immortal youth, who, according
to some mythologists, had no birth and was never to taste death,
was warmly welcomed by the gods when she made her appearance in
Asgard with Bragi. To further win their affections she promised them
a daily taste of the marvellous apples which she bore in her casket,
and which had the power of conferring immortal youth and loveliness
upon all who partook of them.

    "The golden apples
    Out of her garden
    Have yielded you a dower of youth,
    Ate you them every day."

            Wagner (Forman's tr.).

Thanks to this magic fruit, the Scandinavian gods, who, because
they sprang from a mixed race, were not all immortal, warded off the
approach of old age and disease, and remained vigorous, beautiful, and
young through countless ages. These apples were therefore considered
very precious indeed, and Idun carefully treasured them in her magic
casket. No matter how many she drew out, the same number always
remained for distribution at the feast of the gods, to whom alone she
vouchsafed a taste, although dwarfs and giants were eager to obtain
possession of the fruit.

    "Bright Iduna, Maid immortal!
    Standing at Valhalla's portal,
    In her casket has rich store
    Of rare apples gilded o'er;
    Those rare apples, not of Earth,
    Ageing Æsir give fresh birth."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The Story of Thiassi

One day, Odin, Hoenir, and Loki started out upon one of their usual
excursions to earth, and, after wandering for a long while, they
found themselves in a deserted region, where they could discover no
hospitable dwelling. Weary and very hungry, the gods, perceiving a
herd of oxen, slew one of the beasts, and, kindling a fire, they sat
down beside it to rest while waiting for their meat to cook.

To their surprise, however, in spite of the roaring flames the carcass
remained quite raw. Realising that some magic must be at work, they
looked about them to discover what could hinder their cookery, when
they perceived an eagle perched upon a tree above them. Seeing that he
was an object of suspicion to the wayfarers, the bird addressed them
and admitted that he it was who had prevented the fire from doing its
accustomed work, but he offered to remove the spell if they would give
him as much food as he could eat. The gods agreed to do this, whereupon
the eagle, swooping downward, fanned the flames with his huge wings,
and soon the meat was cooked. The eagle then made ready to carry off
three quarters of the ox as his share, but this was too much for Loki,
who seized a great stake lying near at hand, and began to belabour
the voracious bird, forgetting that it was skilled in magic arts. To
his great dismay one end of the stake stuck fast to the eagle's back,
the other to his hands, and he found himself dragged over stones and
through briers, sometimes through the air, his arms almost torn out
of their sockets. In vain he cried for mercy and implored the eagle
to let him go; the bird flew on, until he promised any ransom his
captor might ask in exchange for his release.

The seeming eagle, who was the storm giant Thiassi, at last agreed
to release Loki upon one condition. He made him promise upon the
most solemn of oaths that he would lure Idun out of Asgard, so that
Thiassi might obtain possession of her and of her magic fruit.

Released at last, Loki returned to Odin and Hoenir, to whom, however,
he was very careful not to confide the condition upon which he had
obtained his freedom; and when they had returned to Asgard he began
to plan how he might entice Idun outside of the gods' abode. A few
days later, Bragi being absent on one of his minstrel journeys, Loki
sought Idun in the groves of Brunnaker, where she had taken up her
abode, and by artfully describing some apples which grew at a short
distance, and which he mendaciously declared were exactly like hers,
he lured her away from Asgard with a crystal dish full of fruit,
which she intended to compare with that which he extolled. No sooner
had Idun left Asgard, however, than the deceiver Loki forsook her,
and ere she could return to the shelter of the heavenly abode the
storm giant Thiassi swept down from the north on his eagle wings,
and catching her up in his cruel talons, he bore her swiftly away to
his barren and desolate home of Thrym-heim.

    "Thrymheim the sixth is named,
    Where Thiassi dwelt,
    That all-powerful Jötun."

            Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).

Isolated from her beloved companions, Idun pined, grew pale and sad,
but persistently refused to give Thiassi the smallest bite of her
magic fruit, which, as he well knew, would make him beautiful and
renew his strength and youth.

        "All woes that fall
        On Odin's hall
    Can be traced to Loki base.
      From out Valhalla's portal
    'Twas he who pure Iduna lured,--
        Whose casket fair
        Held apples rare
      That render gods immortal,--
    And in Thiassi's tower immured."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Time passed. The gods, thinking that Idun had accompanied her husband
and would soon return, at first paid no heed to her departure, but
little by little the beneficent effect of the last feast of apples
passed away. They began to feel the approach of old age, and saw
their youth and beauty disappear; so, becoming alarmed, they began
to search for the missing goddess.

Close investigation revealed the fact that she had last been seen in
Loki's company, and when Odin sternly called him to account, he was
forced to admit that he had betrayed her into the storm-giant's power.

    "By his mocking, scornful mien,
    Soon in Valhal it was seen
    'Twas the traitor Loki's art
    Which had led Idun apart
    To gloomy tower
    And Jotun power."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The Return of Idun

The attitude of the gods now became very menacing, and it was clear
to Loki that if he did not devise means to restore the goddess,
and that soon, his life would be in considerable danger.

He assured the indignant gods, therefore, that he would leave no
stone unturned in his efforts to secure the release of Idun, and,
borrowing Freya's falcon plumage, he flew off to Thrym-heim, where
he found Idun alone, sadly mourning her exile from Asgard and her
beloved Bragi. Changing the fair goddess into a nut according to
some accounts, or according to others, into a swallow, Loki grasped
her tightly between his claws, and then rapidly retraced his way to
Asgard, hoping that he would reach the shelter of its high walls ere
Thiassi returned from a fishing excursion in the Northern seas to
which he had gone.

Meantime the gods had assembled on the ramparts of the heavenly
city, and they were watching for the return of Loki with far more
anxiety than they had felt for Odin when he went in search of
Od-hroerir. Remembering the success of their ruse on that occasion,
they had gathered great piles of fuel, which they were ready to set
on fire at any moment.

Suddenly they saw Loki coming, but descried in his wake a great
eagle. This was the giant Thiassi who had suddenly returned to
Thrym-heim and found that his captive had been carried off by a falcon,
in whom he readily recognised one of the gods. Hastily donning his
eagle plumes he had given immediate chase and was rapidly overtaking
his prey. Loki redoubled his efforts as he neared the walls of Asgard,
and ere Thiassi overtook him he reached the goal and sank exhausted in
the midst of the gods. Not a moment was lost in setting fire to the
accumulated fuel, and as the pursuing Thiassi passed over the walls
in his turn, the flames and smoke brought him to the ground crippled
and half stunned, an easy prey to the gods, who fell ruthlessly upon
him and slew him.

The Æsir were overjoyed at the recovery of Idun, and they hastened
to partake of the precious apples which she had brought safely
back. Feeling the return of their wonted strength and good looks with
every mouthful they ate, they good-naturedly declared that it was
no wonder if even the giants longed to taste the apples of perpetual
youth. They vowed therefore that they would place Thiassi's eyes as
a constellation in the heavens, in order to soften any feeling of
anger which his kinsmen might experience upon learning that he had
been slain.

    "Up I cast the eyes
    Of Allvaldi's son
    Into the heaven's serene:
    They are signs the greatest
    Of my deeds."

            Lay of Harbard (Thorpe's tr.).

The Goddess of Spring

The physical explanation of this myth is obvious. Idun, the emblem of
vegetation, is forcibly carried away in autumn, when Bragi is absent
and the singing of the birds has ceased. The cold wintry wind, Thiassi,
detains her in the frozen, barren north, where she cannot thrive,
until Loki, the south wind, brings back the seed or the swallow,
which are both precursors of the returning spring. The youth, beauty,
and strength conferred by Idun are symbolical of Nature's resurrection
in spring after winter's sleep, when colour and vigour return to the
earth, which had grown wrinkled and grey.

Idun Falls to the Nether World

As the disappearance of Idun (vegetation) was a yearly occurrence,
we might expect to find other myths dealing with the striking
phenomenon, and there is another favourite of the old scalds which,
unfortunately, has come down to us only in a fragmentary and very
incomplete form. According to this account, Idun was once sitting upon
the branches of the sacred ash Yggdrasil when, growing suddenly faint,
she loosed her hold and dropped to the ground beneath, and down to
the lowest depths of Nifl-heim. There she lay, pale and motionless,
gazing with fixed and horror-struck eyes upon the gruesome sights
of Hel's realm, trembling violently the while, like one overcome by
penetrating cold.

    "In the dales dwells
    The prescient Dis,
    From Yggdrasil's
    Ash sunk down,
    Of alfen race,
    Idun by name,
    The youngest of Ivaldi's
    Elder children.
    She ill brooked
    Her descent
    Under the hoar tree's
    Trunk confined.
    She would not happy be
    With Norvi's daughter,
    Accustomed to a pleasanter
    Abode at home."

            Odin's Ravens' Song (Thorpe's tr.).

Seeing that she did not return, Odin bade Bragi, Heimdall, and another
of the gods go in search of her, giving them a white wolfskin to
envelop her in, so that she should not suffer from the cold, and
bidding them make every effort to rouse her from the stupor which
his prescience told him had taken possession of her.

    "A wolf's skin they gave her,
    In which herself she clad."

            Odin's Ravens' Song (Thorpe's tr.).

Idun passively allowed the gods to wrap her in the warm wolfskin,
but she persistently refused to speak or move, and from her strange
manner her husband sadly suspected that she had had a vision of great
ills. The tears ran continuously down her pallid cheeks, and Bragi,
overcome by her unhappiness, at length bade the other gods return
to Asgard without him, vowing that he would remain beside his wife
until she was ready to leave Hel's dismal realm. The sight of her
woe oppressed him so sorely that he had no heart for his usual merry
songs, and the strings of his harp were mute while he remained in
the underworld.

    "That voice-like zephyr o'er flow'r meads creeping,
    Like Bragi's music his harp strings sweeping."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

In this myth Idun's fall from Yggdrasil is symbolical of the autumnal
falling of the leaves, which lie limp and helpless on the cold bare
ground until they are hidden from sight under the snow, represented
by the wolfskin, which Odin, the sky, sends down to keep them warm;
and the cessation of the birds' songs is further typified by Bragi's
silent harp.


A Hostage with the Gods

We have already seen how the Æsir and Vanas exchanged hostages after
the terrible war they had waged against each other, and that while
Hoenir, Odin's brother, went to live in Vana-heim, Niörd, with his
two children, Frey and Freya, definitely took up his abode in Asgard.

    "In Vana-heim
    Wise powers him created,
    And to the gods a hostage gave."

            Lay of Vafthrudnir (Thorpe's tr.).

As ruler of the winds, and of the sea near the shore, Niörd was
given the palace of Nôatûn, near the seashore, where, we are told, he
stilled the terrible tempests stirred up by Ægir, god of the deep sea.

    "Niörd, the god of storms, whom fishers know;
    Not born in Heaven--he was in Van-heim rear'd,
    With men, but lives a hostage with the gods;
    He knows each frith, and every rocky creek
    Fringed with dark pines, and sands where sea-fowl scream."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

He also extended his special protection over commerce and fishing,
which two occupations could be pursued with advantage only during
the short summer months, of which he was in a measure considered
the personification.

The God of Summer

Niörd is represented in art as a very handsome god, in the prime
of life, clad in a short green tunic, with a crown of shells and
seaweed upon his head, or a brown-brimmed hat adorned with eagle or
heron plumes. As personification of the summer, he was invoked to
still the raging storms which desolated the coasts during the winter
months. He was also implored to hasten the vernal warmth and thereby
extinguish the winter fires.

As agriculture was practised only during the summer months, and
principally along the fiords or sea inlets, Niörd was also invoked
for favourable harvests, for he was said to delight in prospering
those who placed their trust in him.

Niörd's first wife, according to some authorities, was his sister
Nerthus, Mother Earth, who in Germany was identified with Frigga, as we
have seen, but in Scandinavia was considered a separate divinity. Niörd
was, however, obliged to part with her when summoned to Asgard,
where he occupied one of the twelve seats in the great council hall,
and was present at all the assemblies of the gods, withdrawing to
Nôatûn only when his services were not required by the Æsir.

    "Nôatûn is the eleventh;
    There Niörd has
    Himself a dwelling made,
    Prince of men;
    Guiltless of sin,
    He rules o'er the high-built fane."

            Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).

In his home by the seashore, Niörd delighted in watching the gulls
fly to and fro, and in observing the graceful movements of the swans,
his favourite birds, which were held sacred to him. He spent many an
hour, too, gazing at the gambols of the gentle seals, which came to
bask in the sunshine at his feet.

Skadi, Goddess of Winter

Shortly after Idun's return from Thrym-heim, and Thiassi's death within
the bounds of Asgard, the assembled gods were greatly surprised and
dismayed to see Skadi, the giant's daughter, appear one day in their
midst, to demand satisfaction for her father's death. Although the
daughter of an ugly old Hrim-thurs, Skadi, the goddess of winter,
was very beautiful indeed, in her silvery armour, with her glittering
spear, sharp-pointed arrows, short white hunting dress, white fur
leggings, and broad snowshoes; and the gods could not but recognise
the justice of her claim, wherefore they offered the usual fine in
atonement. Skadi, however, was so angry that she at first refused
this compromise, and sternly demanded a life for a life, until Loki,
wishing to appease her wrath, and thinking that if he could only make
her cold lips relax in a smile the rest would be easy, began to play
all manner of pranks. Fastening a goat to himself by an invisible cord,
he went through a series of antics, which were reproduced by the goat;
and the sight was so grotesque that all the gods fairly shouted with
merriment, and even Skadi was forced to smile.

Taking advantage of this softened mood, the gods pointed to the
firmament where her father's eyes glowed like radiant stars in the
northern hemisphere. They told her they had placed them there to show
him all honour, and finally added that she might select as husband
any of the gods present at the assembly, providing she were content
to judge of their attractions by their naked feet.

Blindfolded, so that she could see only the feet of the gods standing
in a circle around her, Skadi looked about her and her gaze fell upon
a pair of beautifully formed feet. She felt sure they must belong to
Balder, the god of light, whose bright face had charmed her, and she
designated their owner as her choice.

When the bandage was removed, however, she discovered to her chagrin
that she had chosen Niörd, to whom her troth was plighted; but
notwithstanding her disappointment, she spent a happy honeymoon in
Asgard, where all seemed to delight in doing her honour. After this,
Niörd took his bride home to Nôatûn, where the monotonous sound of
the waves, the shrieking of the gulls, and the cries of the seals
so disturbed Skadi's slumbers that she finally declared it was quite
impossible for her to remain there any longer, and she implored her
husband to take her back to her native Thrym-heim.

    "Sleep could I not
    On my sea-strand couch,
    For screams of the sea fowl.
    There wakes me,
    When from the wave he comes,
    Every morning the mew."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Niörd, anxious to please his new wife, consented to take her to
Thrym-heim and to dwell there with her nine nights out of every twelve,
providing she would spend the remaining three with him at Nôatûn;
but when he reached the mountain region, the soughing of the wind in
the pines, the thunder of the avalanches, the cracking of the ice,
the roar of the waterfalls, and the howling of the wolves appeared
to him as unbearable as the sound of the sea had seemed to his wife,
and he could not but rejoice each time when his period of exile was
ended, and he found himself again at Nôatûn.

    "Am weary of the mountains;
    Not long was I there,
    Only nine nights;
    The howl of the wolves
    Methought sounded ill
    To the song of the swans."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

The Parting of Niörd and Skadi

For some time, Niörd and Skadi, who are the personifications of summer
and winter, alternated thus, the wife spending the three short summer
months by the sea, and he reluctantly remaining with her in Thrym-heim
during the nine long winter months. But, concluding at last that their
tastes would never agree, they decided to part for ever, and returned
to their respective homes, where each could follow the occupations
which custom had endeared to them.

    "Thrym-heim it's called,
    Where Thjasse dwelled,
    That stream-mighty giant;
    But Skade now dwells,
    Pure bride of the gods,
    In her father's old mansion."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Skadi now resumed her wonted pastime of hunting, leaving her realm
again only to marry the semi-historical Odin, to whom she bore a son
called Sæming, the first king of Norway, and the supposed founder of
the royal race which long ruled that country.

According to other accounts, however, Skadi eventually married Uller,
the winter-god. As Skadi was a skilful marksman, she is represented
with bow and arrow, and, as goddess of the chase, she is generally
accompanied by one of the wolf-like Eskimo dogs so common in the
North. Skadi was invoked by hunters and by winter travellers, whose
sleighs she would guide over the snow and ice, thus helping them to
reach their destination in safety.

Skadi's anger against the gods, who had slain her father, the storm
giant, is an emblem of the unbending rigidity of the ice-enveloped
earth, which, softened at last by the frolicsome play of Loki (the
heat lightning), smiles, and permits the embrace of Niörd (summer). His
love, however, cannot hold her for more than three months of the year
(typified in the myth by nights), as she is always secretly longing for
the wintry storms and for her wonted activities among the mountains.

The Worship of Niörd

Niörd was supposed to bless the vessels passing in and out of port,
and his temples were situated by the seashore; there oaths in his
name were commonly sworn, and his health was drunk at every banquet,
where he was invariably named with his son Frey.

As all aquatic plants were supposed to belong to him, the marine sponge
was known in the North as "Niörd's glove," a name which was retained
until lately, when the same plant has been popularly re-named the
"Virgin's hand."


The God of Fairyland

Frey, or Fro, as he was called in Germany, was the son of Niörd and
Nerthus, or of Niörd and Skadi, and was born in Vana-heim. He therefore
belonged to the race of the Vanas, the divinities of water and air,
but was warmly welcomed in Asgard when he came thither as hostage
with his father. As it was customary among the Northern nations to
bestow some valuable gift upon a child when he cut his first tooth,
the Æsir gave the infant Frey the beautiful realm of Alf-heim or
Fairyland, the home of the Light Elves.

    "Alf-heim the gods to Frey
    Gave in days of yore
    For a tooth gift."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Here Frey, the god of the golden sunshine and the warm summer
showers, took up his abode, charmed with the society of the elves
and fairies, who implicitly obeyed his every order, and at a sign
from him flitted to and fro, doing all the good in their power,
for they were pre-eminently beneficent spirits.

Frey also received from the gods a marvellous sword (an emblem of the
sunbeams), which had the power of fighting successfully, and of its
own accord, as soon as it was drawn from its sheath. Frey wielded
this principally against the frost giants, whom he hated almost as
much as did Thor, and because he carried this glittering weapon,
he has sometimes been confounded with the sword-god Tyr or Saxnot.

    "With a short-shafted hammer fights conquering Thor;
    Frey's own sword but an ell long is made."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

The dwarfs from Svart-alfa-heim gave Frey the golden-bristled boar
Gullin-bursti (the golden-bristled), a personification of the sun. The
radiant bristles of this animal were considered symbolical either
of the solar rays, of the golden grain, which at his bidding waved
over the harvest fields of Midgard, or of agriculture; for the boar
(by tearing up the ground with his sharp tusk) was supposed to have
first taught mankind how to plough.

                    "There was Frey, and sat
    On the gold-bristled boar, who first, they say,
    Plowed the brown earth, and made it green for Frey."

            Lovers of Gudrun (William Morris).

Frey sometimes rode astride of this marvellous boar, whose speed was
very great, and at other times harnessed him to his golden chariot,
which was said to contain the fruits and flowers which he lavishly
scattered abroad over the face of the earth.

Frey was, moreover, the proud possessor not only of the dauntless steed
Blodug-hofi, which would dash through fire and water at his command,
but also of the magic ship Skidbladnir, a personification of the
clouds. This vessel, sailing over land and sea, was always wafted
along by favourable winds, and was so elastic that, while it could
assume large enough proportions to carry the gods, their steeds,
and all their equipments, it could also be folded up like a napkin
and thrust into a pocket.

    "Ivaldi's sons
    Went in days of old
    Skidbladnir to form,
    Of ships the best,
    For the bright Frey,
    Niörd's benign son."

            Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).

The Wooing of Gerda

It is related in one of the lays of the Edda that Frey once ventured
to ascend Odin's throne Hlidskialf, from which exalted seat his gaze
ranged over the wide earth. Looking towards the frozen North, he saw
a beautiful young maiden enter the house of the frost giant Gymir,
and as she raised her hand to lift the latch her radiant beauty
illuminated sea and sky.

A moment later, this lovely creature, whose name was Gerda, and who
is considered as a personification of the flashing Northern lights,
vanished within her father's house, and Frey pensively wended his
way back to Alfheim, his heart oppressed with longing to make this
fair maiden his wife. Being deeply in love, he was melancholy and
absent-minded in the extreme, and began to behave so strangely that
his father, Niörd, became greatly alarmed about his health, and bade
his favourite servant, Skirnir, discover the cause of this sudden
change. After much persuasion, Skirnir finally won from Frey an account
of his ascent of Hlidskialf, and of the fair vision he had seen. He
confessed his love and also his utter despair, for as Gerda was the
daughter of Gymir and Angur-boda, and a relative of the murdered
giant Thiassi, he feared she would never view his suit with favour.

    "In Gymer's court I saw her move,
    The maid who fires my breast with love;
    Her snow-white arms and bosom fair
    Shone lovely, kindling sea and air.
    Dear is she to my wishes, more
    Than e'er was maid to youth before;
    But gods and elves, I wot it well,
    Forbid that we together dwell."

            Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).

Skirnir, however, replied consolingly that he could see no reason why
his master should take a despondent view of the case, and he offered
to go and woo the maiden in his name, providing Frey would lend him his
steed for the journey, and give him his glittering sword for reward.

Overjoyed at the prospect of winning the beautiful Gerda, Frey
willingly handed Skirnir the flashing sword, and gave him permission to
use his horse. But he quickly relapsed into the state of reverie which
had become usual with him since falling in love, and thus he did not
notice that Skirnir was still hovering near him, nor did he perceive
him cunningly steal the reflection of his face from the surface of the
brook near which he was seated, and imprison it in his drinking horn,
with intent "to pour it out in Gerda's cup, and by its beauty win
the heart of the giantess for the lord" for whom he was about to go
a-wooing. Provided with this portrait, with eleven golden apples, and
with the magic ring Draupnir, Skirnir now rode off to Jötun-heim, to
fulfil his embassy. As he came near Gymir's dwelling he heard the loud
and persistent howling of his watch-dogs, which were personifications
of the wintry winds. A shepherd, guarding his flock in the vicinity,
told him, in answer to his inquiry, that it would be impossible to
approach the house, on account of the flaming barrier which surrounded
it; but Skirnir, knowing that Blodug-hofi would dash through any fire,
merely set spurs to his steed, and, riding up unscathed to the giant's
door, was soon ushered into the presence of the lovely Gerda.

To induce the fair maiden to lend a favourable ear to his master's
proposals, Skirnir showed her the stolen portrait, and proffered the
golden apples and magic ring, which, however, she haughtily refused
to accept, declaring that her father had gold enough and to spare.

    "I take not, I, that wondrous ring,
    Though it from Balder's pile you bring
    Gold lack not I, in Gymer's bower;
    Enough for me my father's dower."

            Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).

Indignant at her scorn, Skirnir now threatened to decapitate her with
his magic sword, but as this did not in the least frighten the maiden,
and she calmly defied him, he had recourse to magic arts. Cutting
runes in his stick, he told her that unless she yielded ere the spell
was ended, she would be condemned either to eternal celibacy, or to
marry some aged frost giant whom she could never love.

Terrified into submission by the frightful description of her cheerless
future in case she persisted in her refusal, Gerda finally consented
to become Frey's wife, and dismissed Skirnir, promising to meet her
future spouse on the ninth night, in the land of Buri, the green grove,
where she would dispel his sadness and make him happy.

    "Burri is hight the seat of love;
    Nine nights elapsed, in that known grove
    Shall brave Niorder's gallant boy
    From Gerda take the kiss of joy."

            Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).

Delighted with his success, Skirnir hurried back to Alf-heim, where
Frey came eagerly to learn the result of his journey. When he learned
that Gerda had consented to become his wife, his face grew radiant
with joy; but when Skirnir informed him that he would have to wait
nine nights ere he could behold his promised bride, he turned sadly
away, declaring the time would appear interminable.

    "Long is one night, and longer twain;
    But how for three endure my pain?
    A month of rapture sooner flies
    Than half one night of wishful sighs."

            Skirner's Lay (Herbert's tr.).

In spite of this loverlike despondency, however, the time of waiting
came to an end, and Frey joyfully hastened to the green grove, where,
true to her appointment, he found Gerda, and she became his happy wife,
and proudly sat upon his throne beside him.

    "Frey to wife had Gerd;
    She was Gymir's daughter,
    From Jötuns sprung."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

According to some mythologists, Gerda is not a personification of the
aurora borealis, but of the earth, which, hard, cold, and unyielding,
resists the spring-god's proffers of adornment and fruitfulness (the
apples and ring), defies the flashing sunbeams (Frey's sword), and
only consents to receive his kiss when it learns that it will else be
doomed to perpetual barrenness, or given over entirely into the power
of the giants (ice and snow). The nine nights of waiting are typical
of the nine winter months, at the end of which the earth becomes the
bride of the sun, in the groves where the trees are budding forth
into leaf and blossom.

Frey and Gerda, we are told, became the parents of a son called
Fiolnir, whose birth consoled Gerda for the loss of her brother
Beli. The latter had attacked Frey and had been slain by him, although
the sun-god, deprived of his matchless sword, had been obliged to
defend himself with a stag horn which he hastily snatched from the
wall of his dwelling.

Besides the faithful Skirnir, Frey had two other attendants, a
married couple, Beyggvir and Beyla, the personifications of mill
refuse and manure, which two ingredients, being used in agriculture
for fertilising purposes, were therefore considered Frey's faithful
servants, in spite of their unpleasant qualities.

The historical Frey

Snorro-Sturleson, in his "Heimskringla," or chronicle of the ancient
kings of Norway, states that Frey was an historical personage who bore
the name of Ingvi-Frey, and ruled in Upsala after the death of the
semi-historical Odin and Niörd. Under his rule the people enjoyed such
prosperity and peace that they declared their king must be a god. They
therefore began to invoke him as such, carrying their enthusiastic
admiration to such lengths that when he died the priests, not daring
to reveal the fact, laid him in a great mound instead of burning his
body, as had been customary until then. They then informed the people
that Frey--whose name was the Northern synonym for "master"--had
"gone into the mound," an expression which eventually became the
Northman's phrase for death.

Not until three years later did the people, who had continued paying
their taxes to the king by pouring gold, silver, and copper coin
into the mound through three different openings, discover that Frey
was dead. As their peace and prosperity had remained undisturbed,
they decreed that his corpse should never be burned, and they thus
inaugurated the custom of mound-burial, which in due time supplanted
the funeral pyre in many places. One of the three mounds near Gamla
Upsala still bears this god's name. His statues were placed in the
great temple there, and his name was duly mentioned in all solemn
oaths, of which the usual formula was, "So help me Frey, Niörd,
and the Almighty Asa" (Odin).

Worship of Frey

No weapons were ever admitted in Frey's temples, the most celebrated
of which were at Throndhjeim in Norway, and at Thvera in Iceland. In
these temples oxen or horses were offered in sacrifice to him, a heavy
gold ring being dipped in the victim's blood ere the above-mentioned
oath was solemnly taken upon it.

Frey's statues, like those of all the other Northern divinities,
were roughly hewn blocks of wood, and the last of these sacred images
seems to have been destroyed by Olaf the Saint, who, as we have seen,
forcibly converted many of his subjects. Besides being god of sunshine,
fruitfulness, peace, and prosperity, Frey was considered the patron
of horses and horsemen, and the deliverer of all captives.

    "Frey is the best
    Of all the chiefs
    Among the gods.
    He causes not tears
    To maids or mothers:
    His desire is to loosen the fetters
    Of those enchained."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

The Yule Feast

One month of every year, the Yule month, or Thor's month, was
considered sacred to Frey as well as to Thor, and began on the longest
night of the year, which bore the name of Mother Night. This month
was a time of feasting and rejoicing, for it heralded the return of
the sun. The festival was called Yule (wheel) because the sun was
supposed to resemble a wheel rapidly revolving across the sky. This
resemblance gave rise to a singular custom in England, Germany, and
along the banks of the Moselle. Until within late years, the people
were wont to assemble yearly upon a mountain, to set fire to a huge
wooden wheel, twined with straw, which, all ablaze, was then sent
rolling down the hill, to plunge with a hiss into the water.

    "Some others get a rotten Wheele, all worn and cast aside,
    Which, covered round about with strawe and tow, they closely hide;
    And caryed to some mountaines top, being all with fire light,
    They hurle it down with violence, when darke appears the night;
    Resembling much the sunne, that from the Heavens down should fal,
    A strange and monstrous sight it seemes, and fearful to them all;
    But they suppose their mischiefs are all likewise throwne to hell,
    And that, from harmes and dangers now, in safetie here they dwell."


All the Northern races considered the Yule feast the greatest of
the year, and were wont to celebrate it with dancing, feasting,
and drinking, each god being pledged by name. The first Christian
missionaries, perceiving the extreme popularity of this feast, thought
it best to encourage drinking to the health of the Lord and his twelve
apostles when they first began to convert the Northern heathens. In
honour of Frey, boar's flesh was eaten on this occasion. Crowned
with laurel and rosemary, the animal's head was brought into the
banqueting-hall with much ceremony--a custom long after observed,
as the following lines will show:

        "Caput Apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.
    The boar's head in hand bring I,
    With garlands gay and rosemary;
    I pray you all sing merrily,
      Qui estis in convivio."

            Queen's College Carol, Oxford.

The father of the family laid his hand on the sacred dish, which was
called "the boar of atonement," swearing he would be faithful to his
family, and would fulfil all his obligations--an example which was
followed by all present, from the highest to the lowest. This dish
could be carved only by a man of unblemished reputation and tried
courage, for the boar's head was a sacred emblem which was supposed
to inspire every one with fear. For that reason a boar's head was
frequently used as ornament for the helmets of Northern kings and
heroes whose bravery was unquestioned.

As Frey's name of Fro is phonetically the same as the word used in
German for gladness, he was considered the patron of every joy,
and was invariably invoked by married couples who wished to live
in harmony. Those who succeeded in doing so for a certain length of
time were publicly rewarded by the gift of a piece of boar's flesh,
for which in later times, the English and Viennese substituted a
flitch of bacon or a ham.

    "You shall swear, by custom of confession,
    If ever you made nuptial transgression,
    Be you either married man or wife:
    If you have brawls or contentious strife;
    Or otherwise, at bed or at board,
    Offended each other in deed or word;
    Or, since the parish clerk said Amen,
    You wish'd yourselves unmarried again;
    Or, in a twelvemonth and a day
    Repented not in thought any way,
    But continued true in thought and desire,
    As when you join'd hands in the quire.
    If to these conditions, with all feare,
    Of your own accord you will freely sweare,
    A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
    And bear it hence with love and good leave:
    For this our custom at Dunmow well known--
    Though the pleasure be ours, the bacon's your own."

            Brand's Popular Antiquities.

At the village of Dunmow in Essex, the ancient custom is still
observed. In Vienna the ham or flitch of bacon was hung over the
city gate, whence the successful candidate was expected to bring
it down, after he had satisfied the judges that he lived in peace
with his wife, but was not under petticoat rule. It is said that in
Vienna this ham remained for a long time unclaimed until at last
a worthy burgher presented himself before the judges, bearing his
wife's written affidavit that they had been married twelve years and
had never disagreed--a statement which was confirmed by all their
neighbours. The judges, satisfied with the proofs laid before them,
told the candidate that the prize was his, and that he only need
climb the ladder placed beneath it and bring it down. Rejoicing at
having secured such a fine ham, the man speedily mounted the ladder;
but as he was about to reach for the prize he noticed that the ham,
exposed to the noonday sun, was beginning to melt, and that a drop
of fat threatened to fall upon his Sunday coat. Hastily beating a
retreat, he pulled off his coat, jocosely remarking that his wife
would scold him roundly were he to stain it, a confession which made
the bystanders roar with laughter, and which cost him his ham.

Another Yuletide custom was the burning of a huge log, which had to
last through the night, otherwise it was considered a very bad omen
indeed. The charred remains of this log were carefully collected,
and treasured up for the purpose of setting fire to the log of the
following year.

      "With the last yeeres brand
      Light the new block, and
    For good successe in his spending,
      On your psaltries play,
      That sweet luck may
    Come while the log is a-tending."

            Hesperides (Herrick).

This festival was so popular in Scandinavia, where it was celebrated in
January, that King Olaf, seeing how dear it was to the Northern heart,
transferred most of its observances to Christmas day, thereby doing
much to reconcile the ignorant people to their change of religion.

As god of peace and prosperity, Frey is supposed to have reappeared
upon earth many times, and to have ruled the Swedes under the name
of Ingvi-Frey, whence his descendants were called Inglings. He also
governed the Danes under the name of Fridleef. In Denmark he is said
to have married the beautiful maiden Freygerda, whom he had rescued
from a dragon. By her he had a son named Frodi, who, in due time,
succeeded him as king.

Frodi ruled Denmark in the days when there was "peace throughout
the world," that is to say, just at the time when Christ was born
in Bethlehem of Judea; and because all his subjects lived in amity,
he was generally known as Peace Frodi.

How the Sea became salt

It is related that Frodi once received from Hengi-kiaptr a pair of
magic millstones, called Grotti, which were so ponderous that none
of his servants nor even his strongest warriors could turn them. The
king was aware that the mill was enchanted and would grind anything
he wished, so he was very anxious indeed to set it to work, and,
during a visit to Sweden, he saw and purchased as slaves the two
giantesses Menia and Fenia, whose powerful muscles and frames had
attracted his attention.

On his return home, Peace Frodi led his new servants to the mill,
and bade them turn the grindstones and grind out gold, peace, and
prosperity, and they immediately fulfilled his wishes. Cheerfully
the women worked on, hour after hour, until the king's coffers were
overflowing with gold, and prosperity and peace were rife throughout
his land.

    "Let us grind riches to Frothi!
    Let us grind him, happy
    In plenty of substance,
    On our gladdening Quern."

            Grotta-Savngr (Longfellow's tr.).

But when Menia and Fenia would fain have rested awhile, the king,
whose greed had been excited, bade them work on. In spite of their
entreaties he forced them to labour hour after hour, allowing them
only as much time to rest as was required for the singing of a verse
in a song, until exasperated by his cruelty, the giantesses resolved
at length to have revenge. One night while Frodi slept they changed
their song, and, instead of prosperity and peace, they grimly began
to grind an armed host, whereby they induced the Viking Mysinger to
land with a large body of troops. While the spell was working the
Danes continued in slumber, and thus they were completely surprised
by the Viking host, who slew them all.

    "An army must come
    Hither forthwith,
    And burn the town
    For the prince."

            Grotta Savngr (Longfellow's tr.).

Mysinger took the magic millstones Grotti and the two slaves and put
them on board his vessel, bidding the women grind salt, which was
a very valuable staple of commerce at that time. The women obeyed,
and their millstones went round, grinding salt in abundance; but
the Viking, as cruel as Frodi, would give the poor women no rest,
wherefore a heavy punishment overtook him and his followers. Such an
immense quantity of salt was ground by the magic millstones that in
the end its weight sunk the ship and all on board.

The ponderous stones sank into the sea in the Pentland Firth, or
off the north-western coast of Norway, making a deep round hole,
and the waters, rushing into the vortex and gurgling in the holes
in the centre of the stones, produced the great whirlpool which is
known as the Maelstrom. As for the salt it soon melted; but such was
the immense quantity ground by the giantesses that it permeated all
the waters of the sea, which have ever since been very salt.


The Goddess of Love

Freya, the fair Northern goddess of beauty and love, was the sister
of Frey and the daughter of Niörd and Nerthus, or Skadi. She was the
most beautiful and best beloved of all the goddesses, and while in
Germany she was identified with Frigga, in Norway, Sweden, Denmark,
and Iceland she was considered a separate divinity. Freya, having
been born in Vana-heim, was also known as Vanadis, the goddess of
the Vanas, or as Vanabride.

When she reached Asgard, the gods were so charmed by her beauty and
grace that they bestowed upon her the realm of Folkvang and the great
hall Sessrymnir (the roomy-seated), where they assured her she could
easily accommodate all her guests.

    "Folkvang 'tis called,
    Where Freyja has right
    To dispose of the hall-seats.
    Every day of the slain
    She chooses the half,
    And leaves half to Odin."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Queen of the Valkyrs

Although goddess of love, Freya was not soft and pleasure-loving only,
for the ancient Northern races believed that she had very martial
tastes, and that as Valfreya she often led the Valkyrs down to the
battlefields, choosing and claiming one half the heroes slain. She
was therefore often represented with corselet and helmet, shield
and spear, the lower part of her body only being clad in the usual
flowing feminine garb.

Freya transported the chosen slain to Folkvang, where they were duly
entertained. There also she welcomed all pure maidens and faithful
wives, that they might enjoy the company of their lovers and husbands
after death. The joys of her abode were so enticing to the heroic
Northern women that they often rushed into battle when their loved
ones were slain, hoping to meet with the same fate; or they fell upon
their swords, or were voluntarily burned on the same funeral pyre as
the remains of their beloved.

As Freya was believed to lend a favourable ear to lovers' prayers,
she was often invoked by them, and it was customary to compose in
her honour love-songs, which were sung on all festive occasions,
her very name in Germany being used as the verb "to woo."

Freya and Odur

Freya, the golden-haired and blue-eyed goddess, was also, at times,
considered as a personification of the earth. As such she married Odur,
a symbol of the summer sun, whom she dearly loved, and by whom she
had two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi. These maidens were so beautiful
that all things lovely and precious were called by their names.

While Odur lingered contentedly at her side, Freya was smiling
and perfectly happy; but, alas! the god was a rover at heart, and,
wearying of his wife's company, he suddenly left home and wandered far
out into the wide world. Freya, sad and forsaken, wept abundantly,
and her tears fell upon the hard rocks, which softened at their
contact. We are told even that they trickled down to the very centre
of the stones, where they were transformed to gold. Some tears fell
into the sea and were changed into translucent amber.

Weary of her widowed condition, and longing to clasp her beloved in her
arms once more, Freya finally started out in search of him, passing
through many lands, where she became known by different names, such
as Mardel, Horn, Gefn, Syr, Skialf, and Thrung, inquiring of all she
met whether her husband had passed that way, and shedding everywhere
so many tears that gold is to be found in all parts of the earth.

    "And Freya next came nigh, with golden tears;
    The loveliest Goddess she in Heaven, by all
    Most honour'd after Frea, Odin's wife.
    Her long ago the wandering Oder took
    To mate, but left her to roam distant lands;
    Since then she seeks him, and weeps tears of gold.
    Names hath she many; Vanadis on earth
    They call her, Freya is her name in Heaven."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Far away in the sunny South, under the flowering myrtle-trees,
Freya found Odur at last, and her love being restored to her, she
was happy and smiling once again, and as radiant as a bride. It is
perhaps because Freya found her husband beneath the flowering myrtle,
that Northern brides, to this day, wear myrtle in preference to the
conventional orange wreath of other climes.

Hand in hand, Odur and Freya now gently wended their way home once
more, and in the light of their happiness the grass grew green, the
flowers bloomed, and the birds sang, for all Nature sympathised as
heartily with Freya's joy as it had mourned with her when she was
in sorrow.

    "Out of the morning land,
    Over the snowdrifts,
    Beautiful Freya came
    Tripping to Scoring.
    White were the moorlands,
    And frozen before her;
    Green were the moorlands,
    And blooming behind her.
    Out of her gold locks
    Shaking the spring flowers,
    Out of her garments
    Shaking the south wind,
    Around in the birches
    Awaking the throstles,
    And making chaste housewives all
    Long for their heroes home,
    Loving and love-giving,
    Came she to Scoring."

            The Longbeards' Saga (Charles Kingsley).

The prettiest plants and flowers in the North were called Freya's hair
or Freya's eye dew, while the butterfly was called Freya's hen. This
goddess was also supposed to have a special affection for the fairies,
whom she loved to watch dancing in the moonbeams, and for whom she
reserved her daintiest flowers and sweetest honey. Odur, Freya's
husband, besides being considered a personification of the sun,
was also regarded as an emblem of passion, or of the intoxicating
pleasures of love; so the ancients declared that it was no wonder
his wife could not be happy without him.

Freya's Necklace

Being goddess of beauty, Freya, naturally, was very fond of the
toilet, of glittering adornments, and of precious jewels. One day,
while she was in Svart-alfa-heim, the underground kingdom, she saw
four dwarfs fashioning the most wonderful necklace she had ever
seen. Almost beside herself with longing to possess this treasure,
which was called Brisinga-men, and was an emblem of the stars, or of
the fruitfulness of the earth, Freya implored the dwarfs to give it to
her; but they obstinately refused to do so unless she would promise
to grant them her favour. Having secured the necklace at this price,
Freya hastened to put it on, and its beauty so enhanced her charms that
she wore it night and day, and only occasionally could be persuaded
to lend it to the other divinities. Thor, however, wore this necklace
when he personated Freya in Jötun-heim, and Loki coveted and would
have stolen it, had it not been for the watchfulness of Heimdall.

Freya was also the proud possessor of a falcon garb, or falcon plumes,
which enabled the wearer to flit through the air as a bird; and this
garment was so invaluable that it was twice borrowed by Loki, and
was used by Freya herself when she went in search of the missing Odur.

    "Freya one day
    Falcon wings took, and through space hied away;
    Northward and southward she sought her
    Dearly-loved Odur."

            Frithiof Saga, Tegnér (Stephens's tr.).

As Freya was also considered the goddess of fruitfulness, she was
sometimes represented as riding about with her brother Frey in the
chariot drawn by the golden-bristled boar, scattering, with lavish
hands, fruits and flowers to gladden the hearts of mankind. She had a
chariot of her own, however, in which she generally travelled. This
was drawn by cats, her favourite animals, the emblems of caressing
fondness and sensuality, or the personifications of fecundity.

    "Then came dark-bearded Niörd, and after him
    Freyia, thin robed, about her ankles slim
    The gray cats playing."

            Lovers of Gudrun (William Morris).

Frey and Freya were held in such high honour throughout the North
that their names, in modified forms, are still used for "master"
and "mistress," and one day of the week is called Freya's day,
or Friday, by the English-speaking race. Freya's temples were very
numerous indeed, and were long maintained by her votaries, the last,
in Magdeburg, Germany, being destroyed by order of Charlemagne.

Story of Ottar and Angantyr

The Northern people were wont to invoke Freya not only for success
in love, prosperity, and increase, but also, at times, for aid
and protection. This she vouchsafed to all who served her truly,
as appeared in the story of Ottar and Angantyr, two men who, after
disputing for some time concerning their rights to a certain piece of
property, laid their quarrel before the Thing. That popular assembly
decreed that the man who could prove that he had the longest line of
noble ancestors should be declared the winner, and a special day was
appointed to investigate the genealogy of each claimant.

Ottar, unable to remember the names of more than a few of his
progenitors, offered sacrifices to Freya, entreating her aid. The
goddess graciously heard his prayer, and appearing before him, she
changed him into a boar, and rode off upon his back to the dwelling of
the sorceress Hyndla, a most renowned witch. By threats and entreaties,
Freya compelled the old woman to trace Ottar's genealogy back to
Odin, and to name every individual in turn, with a synopsis of his
achievements. Then, fearing lest her votary's memory should be unable
to retain so many details, Freya further compelled Hyndla to brew a
potion of remembrance, which she gave him to drink.

    "He shall drink
    Delicious draughts.
    All the gods I pray
    To favour Ottar."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Thus prepared, Ottar presented himself before the Thing on the
appointed day, and glibly reciting his pedigree, he named so many
more ancestors than Angantyr could recollect, that he was easily
awarded possession of the property he coveted.

    "A duty 'tis to act
    So that the young prince
    His paternal heritage may have
    After his kindred."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

The Husbands of Freya

Freya was so beautiful that all the gods, giants, and dwarfs longed for
her love and in turn tried to secure her as wife. But Freya scorned
the ugly giants and refused even Thrym, when urged to accept him
by Loki and Thor. She was not so obdurate where the gods themselves
were concerned, if the various mythologists are to be believed, for
as the personification of the earth she is said to have wedded Odin
(the sky), Frey (the fruitful rain), Odur (the sunshine), &c., until
it seems as if she deserved the accusation hurled against her by the
arch-fiend Loki, of having loved and wedded all the gods in turn.

Worship of Freya

It was customary on solemn occasions to drink Freya's health with
that of the other gods, and when Christianity was introduced in the
North this toast was transferred to the Virgin or to St. Gertrude;
Freya herself, like all the heathen divinities, was declared a demon
or witch, and banished to the mountain peaks of Norway, Sweden,
or Germany, where the Brocken is pointed out as her special abode,
and the general trysting-place of her demon train on Valpurgisnacht.

    Chorus of Witches.

    "On to the Brocken the witches are flocking--
    Merry meet--merry part--how they gallop and drive,
    Yellow stubble and stalk are rocking,
    And young green corn is merry alive,
    With the shapes and shadows swimming by.
    To the highest heights they fly,
    Where Sir Urian sits on high--
    Throughout and about,
    With clamour and shout,
    Drives the maddening rout,
    Over stock, over stone;
    Shriek, laughter, and moan,
    Before them are blown."

            Goethe's Faust (Anster's tr.).

As the swallow, cuckoo, and cat were held sacred to Freya in heathen
times, these creatures were supposed to have demoniacal attributes,
and to this day witches are always depicted with coal-black cats
beside them.


The God of Winter

Uller, the winter-god, was the son of Sif, and the stepson of Thor. His
father, who is never mentioned in the Northern sagas, must have been
one of the dreaded frost giants, for Uller loved the cold and delighted
in travelling over the country on his broad snowshoes or glittering
skates. This god also delighted in the chase, and pursued his game
through the Northern forests, caring but little for ice and snow,
against which he was well protected by the thick furs in which he
was always clad.

As god of hunting and archery, he is represented with a quiver full of
arrows and a huge bow, and as the yew furnishes the best wood for the
manufacture of these weapons, it is said to have been his favourite
tree. To have a supply of suitable wood ever at hand ready for use,
Uller took up his abode at Ydalir, the vale of yews, where it was
always very damp.

    "Ydalir it is called,
    Where Ullr has
    Himself a dwelling made."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

As winter-god, Uller, or Oller, as he was also called, was considered
second only to Odin, whose place he usurped during his absence in
the winter months of the year. During this period he exercised full
sway over Asgard and Midgard, and even, according to some authorities,
took possession of Frigga, Odin's wife, as related in the myth of Vili
and Ve. But as Uller was very parsimonious, and never bestowed any
gifts upon mankind, they gladly hailed the return of Odin, who drove
his supplanter away, forcing him to take refuge either in the frozen
North or on the tops of the Alps. Here, if we are to believe the poets,
he had built a summer house into which he retreated until, knowing
Odin had departed once more, he again dared appear in the valleys.

Uller was also considered god of death, and was supposed to ride in
the Wild Hunt, and at times even to lead it. He is specially noted
for his rapidity of motion, and as the snowshoes used in Northern
regions are sometimes made of bone, and turned up in front like the
prow of a ship, it was commonly reported that Uller had spoken magic
runes over a piece of bone, changing it into a vessel, which bore
him over land or sea at will.

As snowshoes are shaped like a shield, and as the ice with which he
yearly enveloped the earth acts as a shield to protect it from harm
during the winter, Uller was surnamed the shield-god, and he was
specially invoked by all persons about to engage in a duel or in a
desperate fight.

In Christian times, his place in popular worship was taken by
St. Hubert, the hunter, who, also, was made patron of the first month
of the year, which began on November 22, and was dedicated to him as
the sun passed through the constellation of Sagittarius, the bowman.

In Anglo-Saxon, Uller was known as Vulder; but in some parts of Germany
he was called Holler and considered to be the husband of the fair
goddess Holda, whose fields he covered with a thick mantle of snow,
to make them more fruitful when the spring came.

By the Scandinavians, Uller was said to have married Skadi, Niörd's
divorced wife, the female personification of winter and cold, and their
tastes were so congenial that they lived in perfect harmony together.

Worship of Uller

Numerous temples were dedicated to Uller in the North, and on his
altars, as well as on those of all the other gods, lay a sacred ring
upon which oaths were sworn. This ring was said to have the power of
shrinking so violently as to sever the finger of any premeditated
perjurer. The people visited Uller's shrine, especially during the
months of November and December, to entreat him to send a thick
covering of snow over their lands, as earnest of a good harvest; and
as he was supposed to send out the glorious flashes of the aurora
borealis, which illumine the Northern sky during its long night,
he was considered nearly akin to Balder, the personification of light.

According to other authorities, Uller was Balder's special friend,
principally because he too spent part of the year in the dismal depths
of Nifl-heim, with Hel, the goddess of death. Uller was supposed to
endure a yearly banishment thither, during the summer months, when
he was forced to resign his sway over the earth to Odin, the summer
god, and there Balder came to join him at Midsummer, the date of his
disappearance from Asgard, for then the days began to grow shorter, and
the rule of light (Balder) gradually yielded to the ever encroaching
power of darkness (Hodur).


The God of Justice and Truth

Son of Balder, god of light, and of Nanna, goddess of immaculate
purity, Forseti was the wisest, most eloquent, and most gentle of all
the gods. When his presence in Asgard became known, the gods awarded
him a seat in the council hall, decreed that he should be patron of
justice and righteousness, and gave him as abode the radiant palace
Glitnir. This dwelling had a silver roof, supported on pillars of gold,
and it shone so brightly that it could be seen from a great distance.

    "Glitner is the tenth;
    It is on gold sustained,
    And also with silver decked.
    There Forseti dwells
    Throughout all time,
    And every strife allays."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Here, upon an exalted throne, Forseti, the lawgiver, sat day after
day, settling the differences of gods and men, patiently listening
to both sides of every question, and finally pronouncing sentences
so equitable that none ever found fault with his decrees. Such were
this god's eloquence and power of persuasion that he always succeeded
in touching his hearers' hearts, and never failed to reconcile even
the most bitter foes. All who left his presence were thereafter sure
to live in peace, for none dared break a vow once made to him, lest
they should incur his just anger and be smitten immediately unto death.

    "Forsete, Balder's high-born son,
      Hath heard mine oath;
    Strike dead, Forset', if e'er I'm won
      To break my troth."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

As god of justice and eternal law, Forseti was supposed to preside
over every judicial assembly; he was invariably appealed to by all
who were about to undergo a trial, and it was said that he rarely
failed to help the deserving.

The Story of Heligoland

In order to facilitate the administration of justice throughout their
land it is related that the Frisians commissioned twelve of their
wisest men, the Asegeir, or elders, to collect the laws of the various
families and tribes composing their nation, and to compile from them
a code which should be the basis of uniform laws. The elders, having
painstakingly finished their task of collecting this miscellaneous
information, embarked upon a small vessel, to seek some secluded spot
where they might conduct their deliberations in peace. But no sooner
had they pushed away from shore than a tempest arose, which drove
their vessel far out to sea, first on this course and then on that,
until they entirely lost their bearings. In their distress the twelve
jurists called upon Forseti, begging him to help them to reach land
once again, and the prayer was scarcely ended when they perceived, to
their utter surprise, that the vessel contained a thirteenth passenger.

Seizing the rudder, the newcomer silently brought the vessel round,
steering it towards the place where the waves dashed highest, and in
an incredibly short space of time they came to an island, where the
steersman motioned them to disembark. In awestruck silence the twelve
men obeyed; and their surprise was further excited when they saw the
stranger fling his battle-axe, and a limpid spring gush forth from
the spot on the greensward where it fell. Imitating the stranger, all
drank of this water without a word; then they sat down in a circle,
marvelling because the newcomer resembled each one of them in some
particular, but yet was very different from any one of them in general
aspect and mien.

Suddenly the silence was broken, and the stranger began to speak in
low tones, which grew firmer and louder as he proceeded to expound
a code of laws which combined all the good points of the various
existing regulations which the Asegeir had collected. His speech
being finished, the speaker vanished as suddenly and mysteriously as
he had appeared, and the twelve jurists, recovering power of speech,
simultaneously exclaimed that Forseti himself had been among them, and
had delivered the code of laws by which the Frisians should henceforth
be judged. In commemoration of the god's appearance they declared the
island upon which they stood to be holy, and they pronounced a solemn
curse upon any who might dare to desecrate its sanctity by quarrel
or bloodshed. Accordingly this island, known as Forseti's land or
Heligoland (holy land), was greatly respected by all the Northern
nations, and even the boldest vikings refrained from raiding its
shores, lest they should suffer shipwreck or meet a shameful death
in punishment for their crime.

Solemn judicial assemblies were frequently held upon this sacred isle,
the jurists always drawing water and drinking it in silence, in memory
of Forseti's visit. The waters of his spring were, moreover, considered
to be so holy that all who drank of them were held to be sacred, and
even the cattle who had tasted of them might not be slain. As Forseti
was said to hold his assizes in spring, summer, and autumn, but never
in winter, it became customary, in all the Northern countries, to
dispense justice in those seasons, the people declaring that it was
only when the light shone clearly in the heavens that right could
become apparent to all, and that it would be utterly impossible to
render an equitable verdict during the dark winter season. Forseti
is seldom mentioned except in connection with Balder. He apparently
had no share in the closing battle in which all the other gods played
such prominent parts.


The Watchman of the Gods

In the course of a walk along the sea-shore Odin once beheld nine
beautiful giantesses, the wave maidens, Gialp, Greip, Egia, Augeia,
Ulfrun, Aurgiafa, Sindur, Atla, and Iarnsaxa, sound asleep on the
white sand. The god of the sky was so charmed with these beautiful
creatures that, as the Eddas relate, he wedded all nine of them,
and they combined, at the same moment, to bring forth a son, who
received the name of Heimdall.

    "Born was I of mothers nine,
    Son I am of sisters nine."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

The nine mothers proceeded to nourish their babe on the strength of the
earth, the moisture of the sea, and the heat of the sun, which singular
diet proved so strengthening that the new god acquired his full growth
in a remarkably short space of time, and hastened to join his father
in Asgard. He found the gods proudly contemplating the rainbow bridge
Bifröst, which they had just constructed out of fire, air, and water,
the three materials which can still plainly be seen in its long arch,
where glow the three primary colours: the red representing the fire,
the blue the air, and the green the cool depths of the sea.

The Guardian of the Rainbow

This bridge connected heaven and earth, and ended under the shade of
the mighty world-tree Yggdrasil, close beside the fountain where Mimir
kept guard, and the only drawback to prevent the complete enjoyment
of the glorious spectacle, was the fear lest the frost-giants should
make their way over it and so gain entrance into Asgard.

The gods had been debating the advisability of appointing a trustworthy
guardian, and they hailed the new recruit as one well-fitted to fulfil
the onerous duties of the office.

Heimdall gladly undertook the responsibility and henceforth, night
and day, he kept vigilant watch over the rainbow highway into Asgard.

    "Bifröst i' th' east shone forth in brightest green;
    On its top, in snow-white sheen,
    Heimdal at his post was seen."

            Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

To enable their watchman to detect the approach of any enemy from afar,
the assembled gods bestowed upon him senses so keen that he is said
to have been able to hear the grass grow on the hillside, and the
wool on the sheep's back; to see one hundred miles off as plainly by
night as by day; and with all this he required less sleep than a bird.

    "'Mongst shivering giants wider known
    Than him who sits unmoved on high,
    The guard of heaven, with sleepless eye."

            Lay of Skirner (Herbert's tr.).

Heimdall was provided further with a flashing sword and a marvellous
trumpet, called Giallar-horn, which the gods bade him blow whenever he
saw their enemies approach, declaring that its sound would rouse all
creatures in heaven, earth, and Nifl-heim. Its last dread blast would
announce the arrival of that day when the final battle would be fought.

    "To battle the gods are called
    By the ancient
    Loud blows Heimdall,
    His sound is in the air."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

To keep this instrument, which was a symbol of the crescent moon,
ever at hand, Heimdall either hung it on a branch of Yggdrasil above
his head or sank it in the waters of Mimir's well. In the latter it
lay side by side with Odin's eye, which was an emblem of the moon at
its full.

Heimdall's palace, called Himinbiorg, was situated on the highest
point of the bridge, and here the gods often visited him to quaff
the delicious mead which he set before them.

    "'Tis Himminbjorg called
    Where Heimdal, they say,
    Hath dwelling and rule.
    There the gods' warder drinks,
    In peaceful old halls,
    Gladsome the good mead."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Heimdall was always depicted in resplendent white armour, and he was
therefore called the bright god. He was also known as the light,
innocent, and graceful god, all of which names he fully deserved,
for he was as good as he was beautiful, and all the gods loved
him. Connected on his mothers' side with the sea, he was sometimes
included with the Vanas; and as the ancient Northmen, especially the
Icelanders, to whom the surrounding sea appeared the most important
element, fancied that all things had risen out of it, they attributed
to him an all-embracing knowledge and imagined him particularly wise.

    "Of Æsir the brightest--
    He well foresaw
    Like other Vanir."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Heimdall was further distinguished by his golden teeth, which
flashed when he smiled, and won for him the surname of Gullintani
(golden-toothed). He was also the proud possessor of a swift,
golden-maned steed called Gull-top, which bore him to and fro over
the quivering rainbow bridge. This he crossed many times a day, but
particularly in the early morn, at which time, as herald of the day,
he bore the name of Heimdellinger.

    "Early up Bifröst
    Ran Ulfrun's son,
    The mighty hornblower
    Of Himinbiörg."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Loki and Freya

His extreme acuteness of hearing caused Heimdall to be disturbed
one night by the sound of soft, catlike footsteps in the direction
of Freya's palace, Folkvang. Projecting his eagle gaze through the
darkness, Heimdall perceived that the sound was produced by Loki,
who, having stealthily entered the palace as a fly, had approached
Freya's bedside, and was trying to steal her shining golden necklace,
Brisinga-men, the emblem of the fruitfulness of the earth.

Heimdall saw that the goddess was resting in her sleep in such a
way that no one could possibly unclasp the necklace without awaking
her. Loki stood hesitatingly by the bedside for a few moments, and
then began rapidly to mutter the runes which enabled the gods to
change their form at will. As he did this, Heimdall saw him shrivel
up until he was changed to the size and form of a flea, when he crept
under the bed-clothes and bit Freya's side, thus causing her to change
her position without being roused from sleep.

The clasp was now in view, and Loki, cautiously unfastening it,
secured the coveted treasure, and forthwith proceeded to steal away
with it. Heimdall immediately started out in pursuit of the midnight
thief, and quickly overtaking him, he drew his sword from its scabbard,
with intent to cut off his head, when the god transformed himself into
a flickering blue flame. Quick as thought, Heimdall changed himself
into a cloud and sent down a deluge of rain to quench the fire;
but Loki as promptly altered his form to that of a huge polar bear,
and opened wide his jaws to swallow the water. Heimdall, nothing
daunted, then likewise assumed the form of a bear, and attacked
fiercely; but the combat threatening to end disastrously for Loki,
the latter changed himself into a seal, and, Heimdall imitating him,
a last struggle took place, which ended in Loki being forced to give
up the necklace, which was duly restored to Freya.

In this myth, Loki is an emblem of drought, or of the baleful effects
of the too ardent heat of the sun, which comes to rob the earth
(Freya) of its most cherished ornament (Brisinga-men). Heimdall is a
personification of the gentle rain and dew, which after struggling
for a while with his foe, the drought, eventually conquers him and
forces him to relinquish his prize.

Heimdall's Names

Heimdall has several other names, among which we find those of
Hallinskide and Irmin, for at times he takes Odin's place and is
identified with that god, as well as with the other sword-gods, Er,
Heru, Cheru and Tyr, who are all noted for their shining weapons. He,
however, is most generally known as warder of the rainbow, and god
of heaven, and of the fruitful rains and dews which bring refreshment
to the earth.

Heimdall also shared with Bragi the honour of welcoming heroes to
Valhalla, and, under the name of Riger, was considered the divine
sire of the various classes which compose the human race, as appears
in the following story:

The Story of Riger

    "Sacred children,
    Great and small,
    Sons of Heimdall!"

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Heimdall left his place in Asgard one day to wander upon the earth,
as the gods were wont to do. He had not gone far ere he came to a poor
hut on the seashore, where he found Ai (great grandfather) and Edda
(great grandmother), a poor but worthy couple, who hospitably invited
him to share their meagre meal of porridge. Heimdall, who gave his
name as Riger, gladly accepted this invitation, and remained with
the couple three whole days, teaching them many things. At the end of
that time he left to resume his journey. Some time after his visit,
Edda bore a dark-skinned thick-set boy, whom she called Thrall.

Thrall soon showed uncommon physical strength and a great aptitude
for all heavy work; and when he had grown up he took to wife Thyr,
a heavily built girl with sunburnt hands and flat feet, who, like
her husband, laboured early and late. Many children were born to
this couple and from them all the serfs or thralls of the Northland
were descended.

    "They had children
    Lived and were happy;
    They laid fences,
    Enriched the plow-land,
    Tended swine,
    Herded goats,
    Dug peat."

            Rigsmál (Du Chaillu's version).

After leaving the poor hut on the barren seacoast Riger had
pushed inland, where ere long he came to cultivated fields and a
thrifty farmhouse. Entering this comfortable dwelling, he found Afi
(grandfather) and Amma (grandmother), who hospitably invited him to
sit down with them and share the plain but bountiful fare which was
prepared for their meal.

Riger accepted the invitation and he remained three days with
his hosts, imparting the while all manner of useful knowledge to
them. After his departure from their house, Amma gave birth to a
blue-eyed sturdy boy, whom she called Karl. As he grew up he exhibited
great skill in agricultural pursuits, and in due course he married
a buxom and thrifty wife named Snor, who bore him many children,
from whom the race of husbandmen is descended.

    "He did grow
    And thrive well;
    He broke oxen,
    Made plows;
    Timbered houses,
    Made barns,
    Made carts,
    And drove the plow."

            Rigsmál (Du Chaillu's version).

Leaving the house of this second couple, Riger continued his journey
until he came to a hill, upon which was perched a stately castle. Here
he was received by Fadir (father) and Modir (mother), who, delicately
nurtured and luxuriously clad, received him cordially, and set before
him dainty meats and rich wines.

Riger tarried three days with this couple, afterwards returning to
Himinbiorg to resume his post as guardian of Asa-bridge; and ere long
the lady of the castle bore a handsome, slenderly built little son,
whom she called Jarl. This child early showed a great taste for the
hunt and all manner of martial exercises, learned to understand runes,
and lived to do great deeds of valour which made his name distinguished
and added glory to his race. Having attained manhood, Jarl married
Erna, an aristocratic, slender-waisted maiden, who ruled his household
wisely and bore him many children, all destined to rule, the youngest
of whom, Konur, became the first king of Denmark. This myth well
illustrates the marked sense of class among the Northern races.

    "Up grew
    The sons of Jarl;
    They brake horses,
    Bent shields,
    Smoothed shafts,
    Shook ash spears
    But Kon, the young,
    Knew runes,
    Everlasting runes
    And life runes."

            Rigsmál (Du Chaillu's version).


The Nimble God

Another of Odin's sons was Hermod, his special attendant, a bright
and beautiful young god, who was gifted with great rapidity of motion
and was therefore designated as the swift or nimble god.

    "But there was one, the first of all the gods
    For speed, and Hermod was his name in Heaven;
    Most fleet he was."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

On account of this important attribute Hermod was usually employed
by the gods as messenger, and at a mere sign from Odin he was always
ready to speed to any part of creation. As a special mark of favour,
Allfather gave him a magnificent corselet and helmet, which he
often donned when he prepared to take part in war, and sometimes
Odin entrusted to his care the precious spear Gungnir, bidding him
cast it over the heads of combatants about to engage in battle,
that their ardour might be kindled into murderous fury.

    "Let us Odin pray
    Into our minds to enter;
    He gives and grants
    Gold to the deserving.
    He gave to Hermod
    A helm and corselet."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Hermod delighted in battle, and was often called "the valiant in
battle," and confounded with the god of the universe, Irmin. It is
said that he sometimes accompanied the Valkyrs on their ride to earth,
and frequently escorted the warriors to Valhalla, wherefore he was
considered the leader of the heroic dead.

    "To him spake Hermoder and Brage:
      'We meet thee and greet thee from all,
    To the gods thou art known by thy valour,
      And they bid thee a guest to their hall.'"

            Owen Meredith.

Hermod's distinctive attribute, besides his corselet and helm, was a
wand or staff called Gambantein, the emblem of his office, which he
carried with him wherever he went.

Hermod and the Soothsayer

Once, oppressed by shadowy fears for the future, and unable to obtain
from the Norns satisfactory answers to his questions, Odin bade Hermod
don his armour and saddle Sleipnir, which he alone, besides Odin, was
allowed to ride, and hasten off to the land of the Finns. This people,
who lived in the frozen regions of the pole, besides being able to
call up the cold storms which swept down from the North, bringing much
ice and snow in their train, were supposed to have great occult powers.

The most noted of these Finnish magicians was Rossthiof (the horse
thief) who was wont to entice travellers into his realm by magic
arts, that he might rob and slay them; and he had power to predict
the future, although he was always very reluctant to do so.

Hermod, "the swift," rode rapidly northward, with directions to seek
this Finn, and instead of his own wand, he carried Odin's runic staff,
which Allfather had given him for the purpose of dispelling any
obstacles that Rossthiof might conjure up to hinder his advance. In
spite, therefore, of phantom-like monsters and of invisible snares
and pitfalls, Hermod was enabled safely to reach the magician's abode,
and upon the giant attacking him, he was able to master him with ease,
and he bound him hand and foot, declaring that he would not set him
free until he promised to reveal all that he wished to know.

Rossthiof, seeing that there was no hope of escape, pledged himself
to do as his captor wished, and upon being set at liberty, he began
forthwith to mutter incantations, at the mere sound of which the sun
hid behind the clouds, the earth trembled and quivered, and the storm
winds howled like a pack of hungry wolves.

Pointing to the horizon, the magician bade Hermod look, and the
swift god saw in the distance a great stream of blood reddening the
ground. While he gazed wonderingly at this stream, a beautiful woman
suddenly appeared, and a moment later a little boy stood beside
her. To the god's amazement, this child grew with such marvellous
rapidity that he soon attained his full growth, and Hermod further
noticed that he fiercely brandished a bow and arrows.

Rossthiof now began to explain the omens which his art had conjured
up, and he declared that the stream of blood portended the murder
of one of Odin's sons, but that if the father of the gods should woo
and win Rinda, in the land of the Ruthenes (Russia), she would bear
him a son who would attain his full growth in a few hours and would
avenge his brother's death.

    "Rind a son shall bear,
      In the western halls:
    He shall slay Odin's son,
      When one night old."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Hermod listened attentively to the words of Rossthiof and upon his
return to Asgard he reported all he had seen and heard to Odin,
whose fears were confirmed and who thus definitely ascertained that
he was doomed to lose a son by violent death. He consoled himself,
however, with the thought that another of his descendants would avenge
the crime and thereby obtain the satisfaction which a true Northman
ever required.


The Silent God

It is related that Odin once loved the beautiful giantess Grid, who
dwelt in a cave in the desert, and that, wooing her, he prevailed
upon her to become his wife. The offspring of this union between Odin
(mind) and Grid (matter) was Vidar, a son as strong as he was taciturn,
whom the ancients considered a personification of the primæval forest
or of the imperishable forces of Nature.

As the gods, through Heimdall, were intimately connected with the
sea, they were also bound by close ties to the forests and Nature
in general through Vidar, surnamed "the silent," who was destined to
survive their destruction and rule over a regenerated earth. This god
had his habitation in Landvidi (the wide land), a palace decorated
with green boughs and fresh flowers, situated in the midst of an
impenetrable primæval forest where reigned the deep silence and
solitude which he loved.

    "Grown over with shrubs
    And with high grass
    In Vidar's wide land."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

This old Scandinavian conception of the silent Vidar is indeed
very grand and poetical, and was inspired by the rugged Northern
scenery. "Who has ever wandered through such forests, in a length of
many miles, in a boundless expanse, without a path, without a goal,
amid their monstrous shadows, their sacred gloom, without being filled
with deep reverence for the sublime greatness of Nature above all
human agency, without feeling the grandeur of the idea which forms
the basis of Vidar's essence?"

Vidar's Shoe

Vidar is depicted as tall, well-made, and handsome, clad in armour,
girded with a broad-bladed sword, and shod with a great iron or leather
shoe. According to some mythologists, he owed this peculiar footgear
to his mother Grid, who, knowing that he would be called upon to fight
against fire on the last day, designed it as a protection against
the fiery element, as her iron gauntlet had shielded Thor in his
encounter with Geirrod. But other authorities state that this shoe
was made of the leather scraps which Northern cobblers had either
given or thrown away. As it was essential that the shoe should be
large and strong enough to resist the Fenris wolf's sharp teeth at
the last day, it was a matter of religious observance among Northern
shoemakers to give away as many odds and ends of leather as possible.

The Norn's Prophecy

When Vidar joined his peers in Valhalla, they welcomed him gaily, for
they knew that his great strength would serve them well in their time
of need. After they had lovingly regaled him with the golden mead,
Allfather bade him follow to the Urdar fountain, where the Norns
were ever busy weaving their web. Questioned by Odin concerning his
future and Vidar's destiny, the three sisters answered oracularly;
each uttering a sentence:

"Early begun."

"Further spun."

"One day done."

To these their mother, Wyrd, the primitive goddess of fate, added:
"With joy once more won." These mysterious answers would have remained
totally unintelligible had the goddess not gone on to explain that time
progresses, that all must change, but that even if the father fell in
the last battle, his son Vidar would be his avenger, and would live to
rule over a regenerated world, after having conquered all his enemies.

    "There sits Odin's
    Son on the horse's back;
    He will avenge his father."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

As Wyrd spoke, the leaves of the world tree fluttered as if agitated
by a breeze, the eagle on its topmost bough flapped its wings, and
the serpent Nidhug for a moment suspended its work of destruction
at the roots of the tree. Grid, joining the father and son, rejoiced
with Odin when she heard that their son was destined to survive the
older gods and to rule over the new heaven and earth.

    "There dwell Vidar and Vale
    In the gods' holy seats,
    When the fire of Surt is slaked."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Vidar, however, uttered not a word, but slowly wended his way back to
his palace Landvidi, in the heart of the primæval forest, and there,
sitting upon his throne, he pondered long about eternity, futurity,
and infinity. If he fathomed their secrets he never revealed them, for
the ancients averred that he was "as silent as the grave"--a silence
which indicated that no man knows what awaits him in the life to come.

Vidar was not only a personification of the imperish-ability of Nature,
but he was also a symbol of resurrection and renewal, exhibiting
the eternal truth that new shoots and blossoms will spring forth to
replace those which have fallen into decay.

The shoe he wore was to be his defence against the wolf Fenris, who,
having destroyed Odin, would direct his wrath against him, and open
wide his terrible jaws to devour him. But the old Northmen declared
that Vidar would brace the foot thus protected against the monster's
lower jaw, and, seizing the upper, would struggle with him until he
had rent him in twain.

As one shoe only is mentioned in the Vidar myths, some mythologists
suppose that he had but one leg, and was the personification of a
waterspout, which would rise suddenly on the last day to quench the
wild fire personified by the terrible wolf Fenris.


The Wooing of Rinda

Billing, king of the Ruthenes, was sorely dismayed when he heard
that a great force was about to invade his kingdom, for he was too
old to fight as of yore, and his only child, a daughter named Rinda,
although she was of marriageable age, obstinately refused to choose
a husband from among her many suitors, and thus give her father the
help which he so sadly needed.

While Billing was musing disconsolately in his hall, a stranger
suddenly entered his palace. Looking up, the king beheld a middle-aged
man wrapped in a wide cloak, with a broad-brimmed hat drawn down
over his forehead to conceal the fact that he had but one eye. The
stranger courteously enquired the cause of his evident depression,
and as there was that in his bearing that compelled confidence, the
king told him all, and at the end of the relation he volunteered to
command the army of the Ruthenes against their foe.

His services being joyfully accepted, it was not long ere Odin--for
it was he--won a signal victory, and, returning in triumph, he asked
permission to woo the king's daughter Rinda for his wife. Despite the
suitor's advancing years, Billing hoped that his daughter would lend
a favourable ear to a wooer who appeared to be very distinguished,
and he immediately signified his consent. So Odin, still unknown,
presented himself before the princess, but she scornfully rejected
his proposal, and rudely boxed his ears when he attempted to kiss her.

Forced to withdraw, Odin nevertheless did not relinquish his purpose to
make Rinda his wife, for he knew, thanks to Rossthiof's prophecy, that
none but she could bring forth the destined avenger of his murdered
son. His next step, therefore, was to assume the form of a smith,
in which guise he came back to Billing's hall, and fashioning costly
ornaments of silver and gold, he so artfully multiplied these precious
trinkets that the king joyfully acquiesced when he inquired whether
he might pay his addresses to the princess. The smith, Rosterus as
he announced himself, was, however, as unceremoniously dismissed by
Rinda as the successful general had been; but although his ear once
again tingled with the force of her blow, he was more determined than
ever to make her his wife.

The next time Odin presented himself before the capricious damsel, he
was disguised as a dashing warrior, for, thought he, a young soldier
might perchance touch the maiden's heart; but when he again attempted
to kiss her, she pushed him back so suddenly that he stumbled and
fell upon one knee.

    "Many a fair maiden
    When rightly known,
    Towards men is fickle;
    That I experienced,
    When that discreet maiden I
    Strove to win;
    Contumely of every kind
    That wily girl
    Heaped upon me;
    Nor of that damsel gained I aught."

            Soemund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

This third insult so enraged Odin that he drew his magic rune stick
out of his breast, pointed it at Rinda, and uttered such a terrible
spell that she fell back into the arms of her attendants rigid and
apparently lifeless.

When the princess came to life again, her suitor had disappeared,
but the king discovered with great dismay that she had entirely lost
her senses and was melancholy mad. In vain all the physicians were
summoned and all their simples tried; the maiden remained passive
and sad, and her distracted father had well-nigh abandoned hope when
an old woman, who announced herself as Vecha, or Vak, appeared and
offered to undertake the cure of the princess. The seeming old woman,
who was Odin in disguise, first prescribed a foot-bath for the patient;
but as this did not appear to have any very marked effect, she proposed
to try a more drastic treatment. For this, Vecha declared, the patient
must be entrusted to her exclusive care, securely bound so that she
could not offer the least resistance. Billing, anxious to save his
child, was ready to assent to anything; and having thus gained full
power over Rinda, Odin compelled her to wed him, releasing her from
bonds and spell only when she had faithfully promised to be his wife.

The Birth of Vali

The prophecy of Rossthiof was now fulfilled, for Rinda duly bore a son
named Vali (Ali, Bous, or Beav), a personification of the lengthening
days, who grew with such marvellous rapidity that in the course of
a single day he attained his full stature. Without waiting even to
wash his face or comb his hair, this young god hastened to Asgard,
bow and arrow in hand, to avenge the death of Balder upon his murderer,
Hodur, the blind god of darkness.

    "But, see! th' avenger, Vali, come,
    Sprung from the west, in Rinda's womb,
    True son of Odin! one day's birth!
    He shall not stop nor stay on earth
    His locks to comb, his hands to lave,
    His frame to rest, should rest it crave,
    Until his mission be complete,
    And Balder's death find vengeance meet."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

In this myth, Rinda, a personification of the hard-frozen rind of the
earth, resists the warm wooing of the sun, Odin, who vainly points
out that spring is the time for warlike exploits, and offers the
adornments of golden summer. She only yields when, after a shower (the
footbath), a thaw sets in. Conquered then by the sun's irresistible
might, the earth yields to his embrace, is freed from the spell (ice)
which made her hard and cold, and brings forth Vali the nourisher,
or Bous the peasant, who emerges from his dark hut when the pleasant
days have come. The slaying of Hodur by Vali is therefore emblematical
of "the breaking forth of new light after wintry darkness."

Vali, who ranked as one of the twelve deities occupying seats in the
great hall of Glads-heim, shared with his father the dwelling called
Valaskialf, and was destined, even before birth, to survive the last
battle and twilight of the gods, and to reign with Vidar over the
regenerated earth.

Worship of Vali

Vali is god of eternal light, as Vidar is of imperishable matter;
and as beams of light were often called arrows, he is always
represented and worshipped as an archer. For that reason his month
in Norwegian calendars is designated by the sign of the bow, and is
called Lios-beri, the light-bringing. As it falls between the middle
of January and of February, the early Christians dedicated this month
to St. Valentine, who was also a skilful archer, and was said, like
Vali, to be the harbinger of brighter days, the awakener of tender
sentiments, and the patron of all lovers.


The Three Fates

The Northern goddesses of fate, who were called Norns, were in nowise
subject to the other gods, who might neither question nor influence
their decrees. They were three sisters, probably descendants of the
giant Norvi, from whom sprang Nott (night). As soon as the Golden
Age was ended, and sin began to steal even into the heavenly homes of
Asgard, the Norns made their appearance under the great ash Yggdrasil,
and took up their abode near the Urdar fountain. According to some
mythologists, their mission was to warn the gods of future evil, to
bid them make good use of the present, and to teach them wholesome
lessons from the past.

These three sisters, whose names were Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, were
personifications of the past, present, and future. Their principal
occupations were to weave the web of fate, to sprinkle daily the sacred
tree with water from the Urdar fountain, and to put fresh clay around
its roots, that it might remain fresh and ever green.

    "Thence come the maids
    Who much do know;
    Three from the hall
    Beneath the tree;
    One they named Was,
    And Being next,
    The third Shall be."

            The Völuspâ (Henderson's tr.).

Some authorities further state that the Norns kept watch over
the golden apples which hung on the branches of the tree of life,
experience, and knowledge, allowing none but Idun to pick the fruit,
which was that with which the gods renewed their youth.

The Norns also fed and tenderly cared for two swans which swam over
the mirror-like surface of the Urdar fountain, and from this pair of
birds all the swans on earth are supposed to be descended. At times,
it is said, the Norns clothed themselves with swan plumage to visit
the earth, or sported like mermaids along the coast and in various
lakes and rivers, appearing to mortals, from time to time, to foretell
the future or give them sage advice.

The Norns' Web

The Norns sometimes wove webs so large that while one of the weavers
stood on a high mountain in the extreme east, another waded far out
into the western sea. The threads of their woof resembled cords,
and varied greatly in hue, according to the nature of the events
about to occur, and a black thread, tending from north to south, was
invariably considered an omen of death. As these sisters flashed the
shuttle to and fro, they chanted a solemn song. They did not seem to
weave according to their own wishes, but blindly, as if reluctantly
executing the wishes of Orlog, the eternal law of the universe, an
older and superior power, who apparently had neither beginning nor end.

Two of the Norns, Urd and Verdandi, were considered to be very
beneficent indeed, while the third, it is said, relentlessly undid
their work, and often, when nearly finished, tore it angrily to shreds,
scattering the remnants to the winds of heaven. As personifications
of time, the Norns were represented as sisters of different ages
and characters, Urd (Wurd, weird) appearing very old and decrepit,
continually looking backward, as if absorbed in contemplating past
events and people; Verdandi, the second sister, young, active, and
fearless, looked straight before her, while Skuld, the type of the
future, was generally represented as closely veiled, with head turned
in the direction opposite to where Urd was gazing, and holding a book
or scroll which had not yet been opened or unrolled.

These Norns were visited daily by the gods, who loved to consult them;
and even Odin himself frequently rode down to the Urdar fountain
to bespeak their aid, for they generally answered his questions,
maintaining silence only about his own fate and that of his fellow

    "Rode he long and rode he fast.
      First beneath the great Life Tree,
      At the sacred Spring sought he
    Urdar, Norna of the Past;
    But her backward seeing eye
    Could no knowledge now supply.
    Across Verdandi's page there fell
    Dark shades that ever woes foretell;
    The shadows which 'round Asgard hung
    Their baleful darkness o'er it flung;
    The secret was not written there
    Might save Valhal, the pure and fair.
    Last youngest of the sisters three,
    Skuld, Norna of Futurity,
    Implored to speak, stood silent by,--
    Averted was her tearful eye."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Other Guardian Spirits

Besides the three principal Norns there were many others, far less
important, who seem to have been the guardian spirits of mankind,
to whom they frequently appeared, lavishing all manner of gifts
upon their favourites, and seldom failing to be present at births,
marriages, and deaths.

    "Oh, manifold is their kindred, and who shall tell them all?
    There are they that rule o'er men folk, and the stars that rise
    and fall."

            Sigurd the Volsung (William Morris).

The Story of Nornagesta

On one occasion the three sisters visited Denmark, and entered the
dwelling of a nobleman as his first child came into the world. Entering
the apartment where the mother lay, the first Norn promised that the
child should be handsome and brave, and the second that he should be
prosperous and a great scald--predictions which filled the parents'
hearts with joy. Meantime news of what was taking place had gone
abroad, and the neighbours came thronging the apartment to such a
degree that the pressure of the curious crowd caused the third Norn
to be pushed rudely from her chair.

Angry at this insult, Skuld proudly rose and declared that her
sister's gifts should be of no avail, since she would decree that
the child should live only as long as the taper then burning near the
bedside. These ominous words filled the mother's heart with terror,
and she tremblingly clasped her babe closer to her breast, for the
taper was nearly burned out and its extinction could not be very long
delayed. The eldest Norn, however, had no intention of seeing her
prediction thus set at naught; but as she could not force her sister
to retract her words, she quickly seized the taper, put out the light,
and giving the smoking stump to the child's mother, bade her carefully
treasure it, and never light it again until her son was weary of life.

    "In the mansion it was night:
    The Norns came,
    Who should the prince's
    Life determine."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

The boy was named Nornagesta, in honour of the Norns, and grew up to
be as beautiful, brave, and talented as any mother could wish. When he
was old enough to comprehend the gravity of the trust his mother told
him the story of the Norns' visit, and placed in his hands the candle
end, which he treasured for many a year, placing it for safe-keeping
inside the frame of his harp. When his parents were dead, Nornagesta
wandered from place to place, taking part and distinguishing himself
in every battle, singing his heroic lays wherever he went. As he
was of an enthusiastic and poetic temperament, he did not soon weary
of life, and while other heroes grew wrinkled and old, he remained
young at heart and vigorous in frame. He therefore witnessed the
stirring deeds of the heroic ages, was the boon companion of the
ancient warriors, and after living three hundred years, saw the
belief in the old heathen gods gradually supplanted by the teachings
of Christian missionaries. Finally Nornagesta came to the court of
King Olaf Tryggvesson, who, according to his usual custom, converted
him almost by force, and compelled him to receive baptism. Then,
wishing to convince his people that the time for superstition was
past, the king forced the aged scald to produce and light the taper
which he had so carefully guarded for more than three centuries.

In spite of his recent conversion, Nornagesta anxiously watched the
flame as it flickered, and when, finally, it went out, he sank lifeless
to the ground, thus proving that in spite of the baptism just received,
he still believed in the prediction of the Norns.

In the middle ages, and even later, the Norns figure in many a story
or myth, appearing as fairies or witches, as, for instance, in the
tale of "the Sleeping Beauty," and Shakespeare's tragedy of Macbeth.

	"1st Witch. When shall we three meet again,
		    In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

	2nd Witch.  When the hurlyburly's done,
		    When the battle's lost and won:

	3rd Witch.  That will be ere the set of sun."

		    Macbeth (Shakespeare).

The Vala

Sometimes the Norns bore the name of Vala, or prophetesses, for they
had the power of divination--a power which was held in great honour
by all the Northern races, who believed that it was restricted to
the female sex. The predictions of the Vala were never questioned,
and it is said that the Roman general Drusus was so terrified by the
appearance of Veleda, one of these prophetesses, who warned him not
to cross the Elbe, that he actually beat a retreat. She foretold his
approaching death, which indeed happened shortly after through a fall
from his steed.

These prophetesses, who were also known as Idises, Dises, or Hagedises,
officiated at the forest shrines and in the sacred groves, and
always accompanied invading armies. Riding ahead, or in the midst
of the host, they would vehemently urge the warriors on to victory,
and when the battle was over they would often cut the bloody-eagle
upon the bodies of the captives. The blood was collected into great
tubs, wherein the Dises plunged their naked arms up to the shoulders,
previous to joining in the wild dance with which the ceremony ended.

It is not to be wondered at that these women were greatly
feared. Sacrifices were offered to propitiate them, and it was only in
later times that they were degraded to the rank of witches, and sent to
join the demon host on the Brocken, or Blocksberg, on Valpurgisnacht.

Besides the Norns or Dises, who were also regarded as protective
deities, the Northmen ascribed to each human being a guardian spirit
named Fylgie, which attended him through life, either in human or
brute shape, and was invisible except at the moment of death by all
except the initiated few.

The allegorical meaning of the Norns and of their web of fate is too
patent to need explanation; still some mythologists have made them
demons of the air, and state that their web was the woof of clouds,
and that the bands of mists which they strung from rock to tree,
and from mountain to mountain, were ruthlessly torn apart by the
suddenly rising wind. Some authorities, moreover, declare that Skuld,
the third Norn, was at times a Valkyr, and at others personated the
goddess of death, the terrible Hel.


The Battle Maidens

Odin's special attendants, the Valkyrs, or battle maidens, were either
his daughters, like Brunhild, or the offspring of mortal kings,
maidens who were privileged to remain immortal and invulnerable as
long as they implicitly obeyed the god and remained virgins. They and
their steeds were the personification of the clouds, their glittering
weapons being the lightning flashes. The ancients imagined that they
swept down to earth at Valfather's command, to choose among the slain
in battle heroes worthy to taste the joys of Valhalla, and brave
enough to lend aid to the gods when the great battle should be fought.

    "There through some battlefield, where men fall fast,
    Their horses fetlock-deep in blood, they ride,
    And pick the bravest warriors out for death,
    Whom they bring back with them at night to Heaven
    To glad the gods and feast in Odin's hall."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

These maidens were pictured as young and beautiful, with dazzling white
arms and flowing golden hair. They wore helmets of silver or gold,
and blood-red corselets, and with spears and shields glittering,
they boldly charged through the fray on their mettlesome white
steeds. These horses galloped through the realms of air and over
the quivering Bifröst, bearing not only their fair riders, but the
heroes slain, who after having received the Valkyrs' kiss of death,
were thus immediately transported to Valhalla.

The Cloud Steeds

As the Valkyrs' steeds were personifications of the clouds, it
was natural to fancy that the hoar frost and dew dropped down upon
earth from their glittering manes as they rapidly dashed to and fro
through the air. They were therefore held in high honour and regard,
for the people ascribed to their beneficent influence much of the
fruitfulness of the earth, the sweetness of dale and mountain-slope,
the glory of the pines, and the nourishment of the meadow-land.

Choosers of the Slain

The mission of the Valkyrs was not only to battlefields upon earth, but
they often rode over the sea, snatching the dying Vikings from their
sinking dragon-ships. Sometimes they stood upon the strand to beckon
them thither, an infallible warning that the coming struggle would
be their last, and one which every Northland hero received with joy.

    "Slowly they moved to the billow side;
      And the forms, as they grew more clear,
    Seem'd each on a tall pale steed to ride,
      And a shadowy crest to rear,
    And to beckon with faint hand
    From the dark and rocky strand,
      And to point a gleaming spear.

    "Then a stillness on his spirit fell,
      Before th' unearthly train;
    For he knew Valhalla's daughters well,
      The chooser of the slain!"

            Valkyriur Song (Mrs. Hemans).

Their Numbers and Duties

The numbers of the Valkyrs differ greatly according to various
mythologists, ranging from three to sixteen, most authorities, however,
naming only nine. The Valkyrs were considered as divinities of the
air; they were also called Norns, or wish maidens. It was said that
Freya and Skuld led them on to the fray.

    "She saw Valkyries
    Come from afar,
    Ready to ride
    To the tribes of god;
    Skuld held the shield,
    Skaugul came next,
    Gunnr, Hildr, Gaundul,
    And Geir-skaugul.
    Thus now are told
    The Warrior's Norns."

            Sæmund's Edda (Henderson's tr.).

The Valkyrs, as we have seen, had important duties in Valhalla, when,
their bloody weapons laid aside, they poured out the heavenly mead for
the Einheriar. This beverage delighted the souls of the new-comers,
and they welcomed the fair maidens as warmly as when they had first
seen them on the battlefield and realised that they had come to
transport them where they fain would be.

    "In the shade now tall forms are advancing,
    And their wan hands like snowflakes in the moonlight are gleaming;
    They beckon, they whisper, 'Oh! strong Armed in Valour,
    The pale guests await thee--mead foams in Valhalla.'"

            Finn's Saga (Hewitt).

Wayland and the Valkyrs

The Valkyrs were supposed to take frequent flights to earth in swan
plumage, which they would throw off when they came to a secluded
stream, that they might indulge in a bath. Any mortal surprising them
thus, and securing their plumage, could prevent them from leaving the
earth, and could even force these proud maidens to mate with him if
such were his pleasure.

It is related that three of the Valkyrs, Olrun, Alvit, and Svanhvit,
were once sporting in the waters, when suddenly the three brothers
Egil, Slagfinn, and Völund, or Wayland the smith, came upon them,
and securing their swan plumage, the young men forced them to remain
upon earth and become their wives. The Valkyrs, thus detained,
remained with their husbands nine years, but at the end of that time,
recovering their plumage, or the spell being broken in some other way,
they effected their escape.

    "There they stayed
    Seven winters through;
    But all the eighth
    Were with longing seized;
    And in the ninth
    Fate parted them.
    The maidens yearned
    For the murky wood,
    The young Alvit,
    Fate to fulfil."

            Lay of Völund (Thorpe's tr.).

The brothers felt the loss of their wives extremely, and two of them,
Egil and Slagfinn, putting on their snow shoes, went in search of
their loved ones, disappearing in the cold and foggy regions of
the North. The third brother, Völund, however, remained at home,
knowing all search would be of no avail, and he found solace in the
contemplation of a ring which Alvit had given him as a love-token,
and he indulged the constant hope that she would return. As he was a
very clever smith, and could manufacture the most dainty ornaments of
silver and gold, as well as magic weapons which no blow could break,
he now employed his leisure in making seven hundred rings exactly
like the one which his wife had given him. These, when finished, he
bound together; but one night, on coming home from the hunt, he found
that some one had carried away one ring, leaving the others behind,
and his hopes received fresh inspiration, for he told himself that
his wife had been there and would soon return for good.

That selfsame night, however, he was surprised in his sleep, and
bound and made prisoner by Nidud, King of Sweden, who took possession
of his sword, a choice weapon invested with magic powers, which he
reserved for his own use, and of the love ring made of pure Rhine
gold, which latter he gave to his only daughter, Bodvild. As for the
unhappy Völund himself, he was led captive to a neighbouring island,
where, after being hamstrung, in order that he should not escape, the
king put him to the incessant task of forging weapons and ornaments
for his use. He also compelled him to build an intricate labyrinth,
and to this day a maze in Iceland is known as "Völund's house."

Völund's rage and despair increased with every new insult offered
him by Nidud, and night and day he thought upon how he might obtain
revenge. Nor did he forget to provide for his escape, and during the
pauses of his labour he fashioned a pair of wings similar to those his
wife had used as a Valkyr, which he intended to don as soon as his
vengeance had been accomplished. One day the king came to visit his
captive, and brought him the stolen sword that he might repair it;
but Völund cleverly substituted another weapon so exactly like the
magic sword as to deceive the king when he came again to claim it. A
few days later, Völund enticed the king's sons into his smithy and
slew them, after which he cunningly fashioned drinking vessels out
of their skulls, and jewels out of their eyes and teeth, bestowing
these upon their parents and sister.

    "But their skulls
    Beneath the hair
    He in silver set,
    And to Nidud gave;
    And of their eyes
    Precious stones he formed,
    Which to Nidud's
    Wily wife he sent.
    But of the teeth
    Of the two
    Breast ornaments he made,
    And to Bödvild sent."

            Lay of Völund (Thorpe's tr.).

The royal family did not suspect whence they came; and so these gifts
were joyfully accepted. As for the poor youths, it was believed that
they had drifted out to sea and had been drowned.

Some time after this, Bodvild, wishing to have her ring repaired, also
visited the smith's hut, where, while waiting, she unsuspectingly
partook of a magic drug, which sent her to sleep and left her in
Völund's power. His last act of vengeance accomplished, Völund
immediately donned the wings which he had made in readiness for
this day, and grasping his sword and ring he rose slowly in the
air. Directing his flight to the palace, he perched there out of reach,
and proclaimed his crimes to Nidud. The king, beside himself with
rage, summoned Egil, Völund's brother, who had also fallen into his
power, and bade him use his marvellous skill as an archer to bring
down the impudent bird. Obeying a signal from Völund, Egil aimed
for a protuberance under his wing where a bladder full of the young
princes' blood was concealed, and the smith flew triumphantly away
without hurt, declaring that Odin would give his sword to Sigmund--a
prediction which was duly fulfilled.

Völund then went to Alf-heim, where, if the legend is to be believed,
he found his beloved wife, and lived happily again with her until
the twilight of the gods.

But, even in Alf-heim, this clever smith continued to ply his craft,
and various suits of impenetrable armour, which he is said to have
fashioned, are described in later heroic poems. Besides Balmung
and Joyeuse, Sigmund's and Charlemagne's celebrated swords, he is
reported to have fashioned Miming for his son Heime, and many other
remarkable blades.

    "It is the mate of Miming
    Of all swerdes it is king,
    And Weland it wrought,
    Bitterfer it is hight."

            Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Coneybeare's tr.).

There are countless other tales of swan maidens or Valkyrs, who are
said to have consorted with mortals; but the most popular of all is
that of Brunhild, the wife of Sigurd, a descendant of Sigmund and
the most renowned of Northern heroes.

William Morris, in "The Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon,"
gives a fascinating version of another of these Norse legends. The
story is amongst the most charming of the collection in "The Earthly


The story of Brunhild is to be found in many forms. Some versions
describe the heroine as the daughter of a king taken by Odin to serve
in his Valkyr band, others as chief of the Valkyrs and daughter of
Odin himself. In Richard Wagner's story, "The Ring of the Nibelung,"
the great musician presents a particularly attractive, albeit a more
modern conception of the chief Battle-Maiden, and her disobedience
to the command of Odin when sent to summon the youthful Siegmund from
the side of his beloved Sieglinde to the Halls of the Blessed.


Loki's Offspring

Hel, goddess of death, was the daughter of Loki, god of evil, and of
the giantess Angurboda, the portender of ill. She came into the world
in a dark cave in Jötun-heim together with the serpent Iörmungandr
and the terrible Fenris wolf, the trio being considered as the emblems
of pain, sin, and death.

    "Now Loki comes, cause of all ill!
    Men and Æsir curse him still.
      Long shall the gods deplore,
      Even till Time be o'er,
    His base fraud on Asgard's hill.
    While, deep in Jotunheim, most fell,
    Are Fenrir, Serpent, and Dread Hel,
    Pain, Sin, and Death, his children three,
    Brought up and cherished; thro' them he
    Tormentor of the world shall be."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

In due time Odin became aware of the terrible brood which Loki was
cherishing, and resolved, as we have already seen, to banish them from
the face of the earth. The serpent was therefore cast into the sea,
where his writhing was supposed to cause the most terrible tempests;
the wolf Fenris was secured in chains, thanks to the dauntless Tyr;
and Hel or Hela, the goddess of death, was hurled into the depths of
Nifl-heim, where Odin gave her power over nine worlds.

    "Hela into Niflheim thou threw'st,
    And gav'st her nine unlighted worlds to rule,
    A queen, and empire over all the dead."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Hel's Kingdom in Nifl-heim

This realm, which was supposed to be situated under the earth, could
only be entered after a painful journey over the roughest roads in the
cold, dark regions of the extreme North. The gate was so far from all
human abode that even Hermod the swift, mounted upon Sleipnir, had to
journey nine long nights ere he reached the river Giöll. This formed
the boundary of Nifl-heim, over which was thrown a bridge of crystal
arched with gold, hung on a single hair, and constantly guarded by
the grim skeleton Mödgud, who made every spirit pay a toll of blood
ere she would allow it to pass.

    "The bridge of glass hung on a hair
    Thrown o'er the river terrible,--
    The Giöll, boundary of Hel.
    Now here the maiden Mödgud stood,
    Waiting to take the toll of blood,--
    A maiden horrible to sight,
    Fleshless, with shroud and pall bedight."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The spirits generally rode or drove across this bridge on the horses
or in the waggons which had been burned upon the funeral pyre with the
dead to serve that purpose, and the Northern races were very careful to
bind upon the feet of the departed a specially strong pair of shoes,
called Hel-shoes, that they might not suffer during the long journey
over rough roads. Soon after the Giallar bridge was passed, the spirit
reached the Ironwood, where stood none but bare and iron-leafed trees,
and, passing through it, reached Hel-gate, beside which the fierce,
blood-stained dog Garm kept watch, cowering in a dark hole known as
the Gnipa cave. This monster's rage could only be appeased by the
offering of a Hel-cake, which never failed those who had ever given
bread to the needy.

    "Loud bays Garm
    Before the Gnipa cave."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Within the gate, amid the intense cold and impenetrable darkness,
was heard the seething of the great cauldron Hvergelmir, the rolling
of the glaciers in the Elivagar and other streams of Hel, among which
were the Leipter, by which solemn oaths were sworn, and the Slid,
in whose turbid waters naked swords continually rolled.

Further on in this gruesome place was Elvidner (misery), the hall of
the goddess Hel, whose dish was Hunger. Her knife was Greed. "Idleness
was the name of her man, Sloth of her maid, Ruin of her threshold,
Sorrow of her bed, and Conflagration of her curtains."

    "Elvidner was Hela's hall.
    Iron-barred, with massive wall;
    Horrible that palace tall!
    Hunger was her table bare;
    Waste, her knife; her bed, sharp Care;
    Burning Anguish spread her feast;
    Bleached bones arrayed each guest;
    Plague and Famine sang their runes,
    Mingled with Despair's harsh tunes.
    Misery and Agony
    E'er in Hel's abode shall be!"

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

This goddess had many different abodes for the guests who daily came to
her, for she received not only perjurers and criminals of all kinds,
but also those who were unfortunate enough to die without shedding
blood. To her realm also were consigned those who died of old age
or disease--a mode of decease which was contemptuously called "straw
death," as the beds of the people were generally of that material.

                "Temper'd hard by frost,
    Tempest and toil their nerves, the sons of those
    Whose only terror was a bloodless death."


Ideas of the Future Life

Although the innocent were treated kindly by Hel, and enjoyed a state
of negative bliss, it is no wonder that the inhabitants of the North
shrank from the thought of visiting her cheerless abode. And while
the men preferred to mark themselves with the spear point, to hurl
themselves down from a precipice, or to be burned ere life was quite
extinct, the women did not shrink from equally heroic measures. In the
extremity of their sorrow, they did not hesitate to fling themselves
down a mountain side, or fall upon the swords which were given them
at their marriage, so that their bodies might be burned with those
whom they loved, and their spirits released to join them in the bright
home of the gods.

Further horrors, however, awaited those whose lives had been criminal
or impure, these spirits being banished to Nastrond, the strand of
corpses, where they waded in ice-cold streams of venom, through a cave
made of wattled serpents, whose poisonous fangs were turned towards
them. After suffering untold agonies there, they were washed down
into the cauldron Hvergelmir, where the serpent Nidhug ceased for a
moment gnawing the root of the tree Yggdrasil to feed upon their bones.

    "A hall standing
    Far from the sun
    In Nâströnd;
    Its doors are northward turned,
    Venom-drops fall
    In through its apertures;
    Entwined is that hall
    With serpents' backs.
    She there saw wading
    The sluggish streams
    Bloodthirsty men
    And perjurers,
    And him who the ear beguiles
    Of another's wife.
    There Nidhog sucks
    The corpses of the dead."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Pestilence and Famine

Hel herself was supposed occasionally to leave her dismal abode to
range the earth upon her three-legged white horse, and in times of
pestilence or famine, if a part of the inhabitants of a district
escaped, she was said to use a rake, and when whole villages and
provinces were depopulated, as in the case of the historical epidemic
of the Black Death, it was said that she had ridden with a broom.

The Northern races further fancied that the spirits of the dead were
sometimes allowed to revisit the earth and appear to their relatives,
whose sorrow or joy affected them even after death, as is related
in the Danish ballad of Aager and Else, where a dead lover bids his
sweetheart smile, so that his coffin may be filled with roses instead
of the clotted blood drops produced by her tears.

    "'Listen now, my good Sir Aager!
      Dearest bridegroom, all I crave
    Is to know how it goes with thee
      In that lonely place, the grave.'

    "'Every time that thou rejoicest,
      And art happy in thy mind,
    Are my lonely grave's recesses
      All with leaves of roses lined.'

    "'Every time that, love, thou grievest,
      And dost shed the briny flood,
    Are my lonely grave's recesses
      Filled with black and loathsome blood.'"

            Ballad of Aager and Else (Longfellow's tr.).


The God of the Sea

Besides Niörd and Mimir, who were both ocean divinities, the one
representing the sea near the coast and the other the primæval ocean
whence all things were supposed to have sprung, the Northern races
recognised another sea-ruler, called Ægir or Hler, who dwelt either
in the cool depths of his liquid realm or had his abode on the Island
of Lessoe, in the Cattegat, or Hlesey.

    "Beneath the watery dome,
      With crystalline splendour,
      In radiant grandeur,
    Upreared the sea-god's home.
    More dazzling than foam of the waves
    E'er glimmered and gleamed thro' deep caves
    The glistening sands of its floor,
    Like some placid lake rippled o'er."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Ægir (the sea), like his brothers Kari (the air) and Loki (fire),
is supposed to have belonged to an older dynasty of the gods, for he
ranked neither with the Æsir, the Vanas, the giants, dwarfs, or elves,
but was considered omnipotent within his realm.

He was supposed to occasion and quiet the great tempests which swept
over the deep, and was generally represented as a gaunt old man,
with long white beard and hair, and clawlike fingers ever clutching
convulsively, as though he longed to have all things within his
grasp. Whenever he appeared above the waves, it was only to pursue and
overturn vessels, and to greedily drag them to the bottom of the sea,
a vocation in which he was thought to take fiendish delight.

The Goddess Ran

Ægir was mated with his sister, the goddess Ran, whose name means
"robber," and who was as cruel, greedy, and insatiable as her
husband. Her favourite pastime was to lurk near dangerous rocks,
whither she enticed mariners, and there spread her net, her most
prized possession, when, having entangled the men in its meshes and
broken their vessels on the jagged cliffs, she would calmly draw them
down into her cheerless realm.

    "In the deep sea caves
      By the sounding shore,
    In the dashing waves
      When the wild storms roar,
    In her cold green bowers
      In the Northern fiords,
    She lurks and she glowers,
      She grasps and she hoards,
    And she spreads her strong net for her prey."

            Story of Siegfried (Baldwin).

Ran was considered the goddess of death for all who perished at sea,
and the Northern nations fancied that she entertained the drowned
in her coral caves, where her couches were spread to receive them,
and where the mead flowed freely as in Valhalla. The goddess was
further supposed to have a great affection for gold, which was called
the "flame of the sea," and was used to illuminate her halls. This
belief originated with the sailors, and sprang from the striking
phosphorescent gleam of the waves. To win Ran's good graces, the
Northmen were careful to hide some gold about them whenever any
special danger threatened them on the sea.

    "Gold, on sweetheart ramblings,
    Pow'rful is and pleasant;
    Who goes empty-handed
    Down to sea-blue Ran,
    Cold her kisses strike, and
    Fleeting her embrace is--
    But we ocean's bride be-
    Troth with purest gold."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

The Waves

Ægir and Ran had nine beautiful daughters, the Waves, or
billow-maidens, whose snowy arms and bosoms, long golden hair,
deep-blue eyes, and willowy, sensuous forms were fascinating in
the extreme. These maidens delighted in sporting over the surface
of their father's vast domain, clad lightly in transparent blue,
white, or green veils. They were very moody and capricious, however,
varying from playful to sullen and apathetic moods, and at times
exciting one another almost to madness, tearing their hair and veils,
flinging themselves recklessly upon their hard beds, the rocks,
chasing one another with frantic haste, and shrieking aloud with joy
or despair. But they seldom came out to play unless their brother,
the Wind, were abroad, and according to his mood they were gentle
and playful, or rough and boisterous.

The Waves were generally supposed to go about in triplets, and were
often said to play around the ships of vikings whom they favoured,
smoothing away every obstacle from their course, and helping them to
reach speedily their goals.

    "And Æger's daughters, in blue veils dight,
    The helm leap round, and urge it on its flight."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

Ægir's Brewing Kettle

To the Anglo-Saxons the sea-god Ægir was known by the name of Eagor,
and whenever an unusually large wave came thundering towards the shore,
the sailors were wont to cry, as the Trent boatmen still do, "Look out,
Eagor is coming!" He was also known by the name of Hler (the shelterer)
among the Northern nations, and of Gymir (the concealer), because he
was always ready to hide things in the depths of his realm, and could
be depended upon not to reveal the secrets entrusted to his care. And,
because the waters of the sea were frequently said to seethe and hiss,
the ocean was often called Ægir's brewing kettle or vat.

The god's two principal servants were Elde and Funfeng, emblems of
the phosphorescence of the sea; they were noted for their quickness
and they invariably waited upon the guests whom he invited to his
banquets in the depths of the sea. Ægir sometimes left his realm to
visit the Æsir in Asgard, where he was always royally entertained, and
he delighted in Bragi's many tales of the adventures and achievements
of the gods. Excited by these narratives, as also by the sparkling
mead which accompanied them, the god on one occasion ventured to
invite the Æsir to celebrate the harvest feast with him in Hlesey,
where he promised to entertain them in his turn.

Thor and Hymir

Surprised at this invitation, one of the gods ventured to remind
Ægir that they were accustomed to dainty fare; whereupon the god
of the sea declared that as far as eating was concerned they need
be in no anxiety, as he was sure that he could cater for the most
fastidious appetites; but he confessed that he was not so confident
about drink, as his brewing kettle was rather small. Hearing this,
Thor immediately volunteered to procure a suitable kettle, and set
out with Tyr to obtain it. The two gods journeyed east of the Elivagar
in Thor's goat chariot, and leaving this at the house of the peasant
Egil, Thialfi's father, they wended their way on foot to the dwelling
of the giant Hymir, who was known to own a kettle one mile deep and
proportionately wide.

    "There dwells eastward
    Of Elivagar
    The all-wise Hymir,
    At heaven's end.
    My sire, fierce of mood,
    A kettle owns,
    A capacious cauldron,
    A rast in depth."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Only the women were at home, however, and Tyr recognised in the
elder--an ugly old hag with nine hundred heads--his own grandmother;
while the younger, a beautiful young giantess, was, it appeared,
his mother, and she received her son and his companion hospitably,
and gave them to drink.

After learning their errand, Tyr's mother bade the visitors hide under
some huge kettles, which rested upon a beam at the end of the hall,
for her husband Hymir was very hasty and often slew his would-be guests
with a single baleful glance. The gods quickly followed her advice, and
no sooner were they concealed than the old giant Hymir came in. When
his wife told him that visitors had come, he frowned so portentously,
and flashed such a wrathful look towards their hiding-place, that
the rafter split and the kettles fell with a crash, and, except the
largest, were all dashed to pieces.

    "In shivers flew the pillar
    At the Jötun's glance;
    The beam was first
    Broken in two.
    Eight kettles fell,
    But only one of them,
    A hard-hammered cauldron,
    Whole from the column."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

The giant's wife, however, prevailed upon her husband to welcome
Tyr and Thor, and he slew three oxen for their refection; but
great was his dismay to see the thunder-god eat two of these for
his supper. Muttering that he would have to go fishing early the
next morning to secure a breakfast for so voracious a guest, the
giant retired to rest, and when at dawn the next day he went down
to the shore, he was joined by Thor, who said that he had come to
help him. The giant bade him secure his own bait, whereupon Thor
coolly slew his host's largest ox, Himinbrioter (heaven-breaker),
and cutting off its head, he embarked with it and proceeded to row
far out to sea. In vain Hymir protested that his usual fishing-ground
had been reached, and that they might encounter the terrible Midgard
snake were they to venture any farther; Thor persistently rowed on,
until he fancied they were directly above this monster.

    "On the dark bottom of the great salt lake,
    Imprisoned lay the giant snake,
    With naught his sullen sleep to break."

            Thor's Fishing, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

Baiting his powerful hook with the ox head, Thor angled for
Iörmungandr, while the giant meantime drew up two whales, which seemed
to him to be enough for an early morning meal. He was about to propose
to return, therefore, when Thor suddenly felt a jerk, and began pulling
as hard as he could, for he knew by the resistance of his prey, and the
terrible storm created by its frenzied writhings, that he had hooked
the Midgard snake. In his determined efforts to force the snake to rise
to the surface, Thor braced his feet so strongly against the bottom
of the boat that he went through it and stood on the bed of the sea.

After an indescribable struggle, the monster's terrible venom-breathing
head appeared, and Thor, seizing his hammer, was about to annihilate
it when the giant, frightened by the proximity of Iörmungandr, and
fearing lest the boat should sink and he should become the monster's
prey, cut the fishing-line, and thus allowed the snake to drop back
like a stone to the bottom of the sea.

    "The knife prevails: far down beneath the main
    The serpent, spent with toil and pain,
    To the bottom sank again."

            Thor's Fishing, Oehlenschläger (Pigott's tr.).

Angry with Hymir for his inopportune interference, Thor dealt him
a blow with his hammer which knocked him overboard; but Hymir,
undismayed, waded ashore, and met the god as he returned to the
beach. Hymir then took both whales, his spoil of the sea, upon his
back, to carry them to the house; and Thor, wishing also to show his
strength, shouldered boat, oars, and fishing tackle, and followed him.

Breakfast being disposed of, Hymir challenged Thor to prove his
strength by breaking his beaker; but although the thunder-god
threw it with irresistible force against stone pillars and walls,
it remained whole and was not even bent. In obedience to a whisper
from Tyr's mother, however, Thor suddenly hurled the vessel against
the giant's forehead, the only substance tougher than itself, when it
fell shattered to the ground. Hymir, having thus tested the might of
Thor, told him he could have the kettle which the two gods had come
to seek, but Tyr tried to lift it in vain, and Thor could raise it
from the floor only after he had drawn his belt of strength to the
very last hole.

    "Tyr twice assayed
    To move the vessel,
    Yet at each time
    Stood the kettle fast.
    Then Môdi's father
    By the brim grasped it,
    And trod through
    The dwelling's floor."

            Lay of Hymir (Thorpe's tr.)

The wrench with which he finally pulled it up did great damage to the
giant's house and his feet broke through the floor. As Tyr and Thor
were departing, the latter with the huge pot clapped on his head in
place of a hat, Hymir summoned his brother frost giants, and proposed
that they should pursue and slay their inveterate foe. Turning round,
Thor suddenly became aware of their pursuit, and, hurling Miölnir
repeatedly at the giants, he slew them all ere they could overtake
him. Tyr and Thor then resumed their journey back to Ægir, carrying
the kettle in which he was to brew ale for the harvest feast.

The physical explanation of this myth is, of course, a thunder storm
(Thor), in conflict with the raging sea (the Midgard snake), and the
breaking up of the polar ice (Hymir's goblet and floor) in the heat
of summer.

The gods now arrayed themselves in festive attire and proceeded
joyfully to Ægir's feast, and ever after they were wont to celebrate
the harvest home in his coral caves.

    "Then Vans and Æsir, mighty gods,
    Of earth and air, and Asgard, lords,--
    Advancing with each goddess fair,
    A brilliant retinue most rare,--
    Attending mighty Odin, swept
    Up wave-worn aisle in radiant march."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Unloved Divinities

Ægir, as we have seen, ruled the sea with the help of the treacherous
Ran. Both of these divinities were considered cruel by the Northern
nations, who had much to suffer from the sea, which, surrounding
them on all sides, ran far into the heart of their countries through
the numerous fiords, and often swallowed the ships of their vikings,
with all their warrior crews.

Other Divinities of the Sea

Besides these principal divinities of the sea, the Northern nations
believed in mermen and mermaids, and many stories are related of
mermaids who divested themselves for a brief while of swan plumage or
seal-garments, which they left upon the beach to be found by mortals
who were thus able to compel the fair maidens to remain on land.

    "She came through the waves when the fair moon shone
      (Drift o' the wave and foam o' the sea);
    She came where I walked on the sands alone,
      With a heart as light as a heart may be."

            L. E. R.

There were also malignant marine monsters known as Nicors, from whose
name has been derived the proverbial Old Nick. Many of the lesser
water divinities had fish tails; the females bore the name of Undines,
and the males of Stromkarls, Nixies, Necks, or Neckar.

    "Where in the marisches boometh the bittern,
    Nicker the Soul-less sits with his ghittern,
    Sits inconsolable, friendless and foeless,
    Wailing his destiny, Nicker the Soul-less."

            From Brother Fabian's Manuscript.

In the middle ages these water spirits were believed sometimes to
leave their native streams, to appear at village dances, where they
were recognised by the wet hem of their garments. They often sat
beside the flowing brook or river, playing on a harp, or singing
alluring songs while combing out their long golden or green hair.

    "The Neck here his harp in the glass castle plays,
    And mermaidens comb out their green hair always,
    And bleach here their shining white clothes."

            Stagnelius (Keightley's tr.).

The Nixies, Undines, and Stromkarls were particularly gentle and
lovable beings, and were very anxious to obtain repeated assurances
of their ultimate salvation.

Many stories are told of priests or children meeting them playing by
a stream, and taunting them with future damnation, which threat never
failed to turn the joyful music into pitiful wails. Often priest or
children, discovering their mistake, and touched by the agony of their
victims, would hasten back to the stream and assure the green-toothed
water sprites of future redemption, when they invariably resumed
their happy strains.

    "Know you the Nixies, gay and fair?
    Their eyes are black, and green their hair--
      They lurk in sedgy shores."


River Nymphs

Besides Elf or Elb, the water sprite who gave its name to the Elbe
River in Germany, the Neck, from whom the Neckar derives its name,
and old Father Rhine, with his numerous daughters (tributary streams),
the most famous of all the lesser water divinities is the Lorelei,
the siren maiden who sits upon the Lorelei rock near St. Goar, on
the Rhine, and whose alluring song has enticed many a mariner to
death. The legends concerning this siren are very numerous indeed,
one of the most ancient being as follows:

Legends of the Lorelei

Lorelei was an immortal, a water nymph, daughter of Father Rhine;
during the day she dwelt in the cool depths of the river bed, but
late at night she would appear in the moonlight, sitting aloft upon
a pinnacle of rock, in full view of all who passed up or down the
stream. At times, the evening breeze wafted some of the notes of
her song to the boatmen's ears, when, forgetting time and place in
listening to these enchanting melodies, they drifted upon the sharp
and jagged rocks, where they invariably perished.

    "Above the maiden sitteth,
      A wondrous form, and fair;
    With jewels bright she plaiteth
      Her shining golden hair:
    With comb of gold prepares it,
      The task with song beguiled;
    A fitful burden bears it--
      That melody so wild.

    "The boatman on the river
      Lists to the song, spell-bound;
    Oh! what shall him deliver
      From danger threat'ning round?
    The waters deep have caught them,
      Both boat and boatman brave;
    'Tis Loreley's song hath brought them
      Beneath the foaming wave."

            Song, Heine (Selcher's tr.).

One person only is said to have seen the Lorelei close by. This was
a young fisherman from Oberwesel, who met her every evening by the
riverside, and spent a few delightful hours with her, drinking in her
beauty and listening to her entrancing song. Tradition had it that ere
they parted the Lorelei pointed out the places where the youth should
cast his nets on the morrow--instructions which he always obeyed,
and which invariably brought him success.

One night the young fisherman was seen going towards the river,
but as he never returned search was made for him. No clue to his
whereabouts being found, the credulous Teutons finally reported that
the Lorelei had dragged him down to her coral caves that she might
enjoy his companionship for ever.

According to another version, the Lorelei, with her entrancing
strains from the craggy rocks, lured so many fishermen to a grave in
the depths of Rhine, that an armed force was once sent at nightfall
to surround and seize her. But the water nymph laid such a powerful
spell upon the captain and his men that they could move neither hand
nor foot. While they stood motionless around her, the Lorelei divested
herself of her ornaments, and cast them into the waves below; then,
chanting a spell, she lured the waters to the top of the crag upon
which she was perched, and to the wonder of the soldiers the waves
enclosed a sea-green chariot drawn by white-maned steeds, and the
nymph sprang lightly into this and the magic equipage was instantly
lost to view. A few moments later the Rhine subsided to its usual
level, the spell was broken, and the men recovered power of motion,
and retreated to tell how their efforts had been baffled. Since then,
however, the Lorelei has not been seen, and the peasants declare that
she still resents the insult offered her and will never again leave
her coral caves.


The Best Loved

To Odin and Frigga, we are told, were born twin sons as dissimilar
in character and physical appearance as it was possible for two
children to be. Hodur, god of darkness, was sombre, taciturn, and
blind, like the obscurity of sin, which he was supposed to symbolise,
while his brother Balder, the beautiful, was worshipped as the pure
and radiant god of innocence and light. From his snowy brow and golden
locks seemed to radiate beams of sunshine which gladdened the hearts
of gods and men, by whom he was equally beloved.

    "Of all the twelve round Odin's throne,
    Balder, the Beautiful, alone,
    The Sun-god, good, and pure, and bright,
    Was loved by all, as all love light."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The youthful Balder attained his full growth with marvellous rapidity,
and was early admitted to the council of the gods. He took up his
abode in the palace of Breidablik, whose silver roof rested upon
golden pillars, and whose purity was such that nothing common or
unclean was ever allowed within its precincts, and here he lived in
perfect unity with his young wife Nanna (blossom), the daughter of Nip
(bud), a beautiful and charming goddess.

The god of light was well versed in the science of runes, which were
carved on his tongue; he knew the various virtues of simples, one of
which, the camomile, was called "Balder's brow," because its flower
was as immaculately pure as his forehead. The only thing hidden from
Balder's radiant eyes was the perception of his own ultimate fate.

            "His own house
    Breidablik, on whose columns Balder graved
    The enchantments that recall the dead to life.
    For wise he was, and many curious arts,
    Postures of runes, and healing herbs he knew;
    Unhappy! but that art he did not know,
    To keep his own life safe, and see the sun."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Balder's Dream

As it was so natural for Balder the beautiful to be smiling and
happy, the gods were greatly troubled when on a day they began to
notice a change in his bearing. Gradually the light died out of his
blue eyes, a careworn look came into his face, and his step grew
heavy and slow. Odin and Frigga, seeing their beloved son's evident
depression, tenderly implored him to reveal the cause of his silent
grief. Balder, yielding at last to their anxious entreaties, confessed
that his slumbers, instead of being peaceful and restful as of yore,
had been strangely troubled of late by dark and oppressive dreams,
which, although he could not clearly remember them when he awoke,
constantly haunted him with a vague feeling of fear.

    "To that god his slumber
    Was most afflicting;
    His auspicious dreams
    Seemed departed."

            Lay of Vegtam (Thorpe's tr.).

When Odin and Frigga heard this, they were very uneasy, but declared
that nothing would harm their universally beloved son. Nevertheless,
when the anxious parents further talked the matter over, they
confessed that they also were oppressed by strange forebodings, and,
coming at last to believe that Balder's life was really threatened,
they proceeded to take measures to avert the danger.

Frigga sent her servants in every direction, with strict charge to
prevail upon all living creatures, all plants, metals, stones--in
fact, every animate and inanimate thing--to register a solemn vow
not to harm Balder. All creation readily took the oath, for there was
nothing on earth which did not love the radiant god. So the servants
returned to Frigga, telling her that all had been duly sworn save
the mistletoe, growing upon the oak stem at the gate of Valhalla,
and this, they added, was such a puny, inoffensive thing that no harm
could be feared from it.

    "On a course they resolved:
    That they would send
    To every being,
    Assurance to solicit,
    Balder not to harm.
    All species swore
    Oaths to spare him;
    Frigg received all
    Their vows and compacts."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Frigga now resumed her spinning in great content, for she felt assured
that no harm could come to the child she loved above all.

The Vala's Prophecy

Odin, in the meantime, had resolved to consult one of the dead Vala
or prophetesses. Mounted upon his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, he rode
over the tremulous bridge Bifröst and over the weary road which leads
to Giallar and the entrance of Nifl-heim, where, passing through the
Helgate and by the dog Garm, he penetrated into Hel's dark abode.

    "Uprose the king of men with speed,
    And saddled straight his coal-black steed;
    Down the yawning steep he rode,
    That leads to Hela's drear abode."

            Descent of Odin (Gray).

Odin saw to his surprise that a feast was being spread in this dark
realm, and that the couches had been covered with tapestry and rings of
gold, as if some highly honoured guest were expected. But he hurried on
without pausing, until he reached the spot where the Vala had rested
undisturbed for many a year, when he began solemnly to chant a magic
spell and to trace the runes which had the power of raising the dead.

    "Thrice pronounc'd, in accents dread,
    The thrilling verse that wakes the dead:
    Till from out the hollow ground
    Slowly breath'd a sullen sound."

            Descent of Odin (Gray).

Suddenly the tomb opened, and the prophetess slowly rose, inquiring
who had dared thus to trouble her long rest. Odin, not wishing her to
know that he was the mighty father of gods and men, replied that he
was Vegtam, son of Valtam, and that he had awakened her to inquire for
whom Hel was spreading her couches and preparing a festive meal. In
hollow tones, the prophetess confirmed all his fears by telling him
that the expected guest was Balder, who was destined to be slain by
Hodur, his brother, the blind god of darkness.

    "Hodur will hither
    His glorious brother send;
    He of Balder will
    The slayer be,
    And Odin's son
    Of life bereave.
    By compulsion I have spoken;
    Now I will be silent."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Despite the Vala's evident reluctance to speak further, Odin was not
yet satisfied, and he prevailed upon her to tell him who would avenge
the murdered god and call his slayer to account. For revenge and
retaliation were considered as a sacred duty by the races of the North.

Then the prophetess told him, as Rossthiof had already predicted,
that Rinda, the earth-goddess, would bear a son to Odin, and that
Vali, as this child would be named, would neither wash his face nor
comb his hair until he had avenged upon Hodur the death of Balder.

    "In the caverns of the west,
    By Odin's fierce embrace comprest,
    A wondrous boy shall Rinda bear,
    Who ne'er shall comb his raven hair,
    Nor wash his visage in the stream,
    Nor see the sun's departing beam,
    Till he on Hoder's corse shall smile
    Flaming on the fun'ral pile."

            Descent of Odin (Gray).

When the reluctant Vala had thus spoken, Odin next asked: "Who would
refuse to weep at Balder's death?" This incautious question showed a
knowledge of the future which no mortal could possess, and immediately
revealed to the Vala the identity of her visitor. Therefore, refusing
to speak another word, she sank back into the silence of the tomb,
declaring that none would be able to lure her out again until the
end of the world was come.

    "Hie thee hence, and boast at home,
    That never shall inquirer come
    To break my iron sleep again,
    Till Lok has burst his tenfold chain;
    Never, till substantial Night
    Has reassum'd her ancient right:
    Till wrapt in flames, in ruin hurl'd,
    Sinks the fabric of the world."

            Descent of Odin (Gray).

Odin having learned the decrees of Orlog (fate), which he knew could
not be set aside, now remounted his steed, and sadly wended his
way back to Asgard, thinking of the time, not far distant, when his
beloved son would no more be seen in the heavenly abodes, and when
the light of his presence would have vanished for ever.

On entering Glads-heim, however, Odin was somewhat reassured by
the intelligence, promptly conveyed to him by Frigga, that all
things under the sun had promised that they would not harm Balder,
and feeling convinced that if nothing would slay their beloved son he
must surely continue to gladden gods and men with his presence, he cast
care aside and resigned himself to the pleasures of the festive board.

The Gods at Play

The playground of the gods was situated on the green plain of Ida,
and was called Idavold. Here the gods would resort when in sportive
mood, and their favourite game was to throw their golden disks, which
they could cast with great skill. They had returned to this wonted
pastime with redoubled zest since the cloud which had oppressed their
spirits had been dispersed by the precautions of Frigga. Wearied at
last, however, of the accustomed sport, they bethought them of a new
game. They had learned that Balder could not be harmed by any missile,
and so they amused themselves by casting all manner of weapons, stones,
etc., at him, certain that no matter how cleverly they tried, and
how accurately they aimed, the objects, having sworn not to injure
him, would either glance aside or fall short. This new amusement
proved to be so fascinating that soon all the gods gathered around
Balder, greeting each new failure to hurt him with prolonged shouts
of laughter.

The Death of Balder

These bursts of merriment excited the curiosity of Frigga, who sat
spinning in Fensalir; and seeing an old woman pass by her dwelling,
she bade her pause and tell what the gods were doing to provoke such
great hilarity. The old woman was none other than Loki in disguise,
and he answered Frigga that the gods were throwing stones and other
missiles, blunt and sharp, at Balder, who stood smiling and unharmed
in their midst, challenging them to touch him.

The goddess smiled, and resumed her work, saying that it was quite
natural that nothing should harm Balder, as all things loved the light,
of which he was the emblem, and had solemnly sworn not to injure
him. Loki, the personification of fire, was greatly chagrined upon
hearing this, for he was jealous of Balder, the sun, who so entirely
eclipsed him and who was generally beloved, while he was feared and
avoided as much as possible; but he cleverly concealed his vexation,
and inquired of Frigga whether she were quite sure that all objects
had joined the league.

Frigga proudly answered that she had received the solemn oath of
all things, a harmless little parasite, the mistletoe, which grew on
the oak near Valhalla's gate, only excepted, and this was too small
and weak to be feared. This information was all that Loki wanted,
and bidding adieu to Frigga he hobbled off. As soon as he was safely
out of sight, however, he resumed his wonted form and hastened to
Valhalla, where, at the gate, he found the oak and mistletoe as
indicated by Frigga. Then by the exercise of magic arts he imparted
to the parasite a size and hardness quite unnatural to it.

From the wooden stem thus produced he deftly fashioned a shaft with
which he hastened back to Idavold, where the gods were still hurling
missiles at Balder, Hodur alone leaning mournfully against a tree the
while, and taking no part in the game. Carelessly Loki approached
the blind god, and assuming an appearance of interest, he inquired
the cause of his melancholy, at the same time artfully insinuating
that pride and indifference prevented him from participating in
the sport. In answer to these remarks, Hodur pleaded that only his
blindness deterred him from taking part in the new game, and when Loki
put the mistletoe-shaft in his hand, and led him into the midst of the
circle, indicating the direction of the novel target, Hodur threw his
shaft boldly. But to his dismay, instead of the loud laughter which
he expected, a shuddering cry of horror fell upon his ear, for Balder
the beautiful had fallen to the ground, pierced by the fatal mistletoe.

    "So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
    Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts, and spears,
    Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
    At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clove;
    But in his breast stood fixed the fatal bough
    Of mistletoe, which Lok, the Accuser, gave
    To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw--
    'Gainst that alone had Balder's life no charm."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

In dire anxiety the gods crowded around their beloved companion,
but alas! life was quite extinct, and all their efforts to revive the
fallen sun-god were unavailing. Inconsolable at their loss, they now
turned angrily upon Hodur, whom they would there and then have slain
had they not been restrained by the law of the gods that no wilful
deed of violence should desecrate their peace-steads. The sound of
their loud lamentation brought the goddesses in hot haste to the
dreadful scene, and when Frigga saw that her darling was dead, she
passionately implored the gods to go to Nifl-heim and entreat Hel to
release her victim, for the earth could not exist happily without him.

Hermod's Errand

As the road was rough and painful in the extreme, none of the gods
would volunteer at first to go; but when Frigga promised that she
and Odin would reward the messenger by loving him above all the Æsir,
Hermod signified his readiness to execute the commission. To enable
him to do so, Odin lent him Sleipnir, and the noble steed, who was
not wont to allow any but Odin upon his back, set off without demur
upon the dark road which his hoofs had beaten twice before.

Meantime, Odin caused the body of Balder to be removed to Breidablik,
and he directed the gods to go to the forest and cut down huge pines
wherewith to build a worthy pyre.

    "But when the Gods were to the forest gone,
    Hermod led Sleipnir from Valhalla forth
    And saddled him; before that, Sleipnir brook'd
    No meaner hand than Odin's on his mane,
    On his broad back no lesser rider bore;
    Yet docile now he stood at Hermod's side,
    Arching his neck, and glad to be bestrode,
    Knowing the God they went to seek, how dear.
    But Hermod mounted him, and sadly fared
    In silence up the dark untravell'd road
    Which branches from the north of Heaven, and went
    All day; and daylight waned, and night came on.
    And all that night he rode, and journey'd so,
    Nine days, nine nights, toward the northern ice,
    Through valleys deep-engulph'd by roaring streams.
    And on the tenth morn he beheld the bridge
    Which spans with golden arches Giall's stream,
    And on the bridge a damsel watching, arm'd,
    In the straight passage, at the further end,
    Where the road issues between walling rocks."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

The Funeral Pyre

While Hermod was speeding along the cheerless road which led to
Nifl-heim, the gods hewed and carried down to the shore a vast amount
of fuel, which they piled upon the deck of Balder's dragon-ship,
Ringhorn, constructing an elaborate funeral pyre. According to custom,
this was decorated with tapestry hangings, garlands of flowers,
vessels and weapons of all kinds, golden rings, and countless objects
of value, ere the immaculate corpse, richly attired, was brought and
laid upon it.

One by one, the gods now drew near to take a last farewell of their
beloved companion, and as Nanna bent over him, her loving heart broke,
and she fell lifeless by his side. Seeing this, the gods reverently
laid her beside her husband, that she might accompany him even in
death; and after they had slain his horse and hounds and twined
the pyre with thorns, the emblems of sleep, Odin, last of the gods,
drew near.

In token of affection for the dead and of sorrow for his loss, all
had lain their most precious possessions upon his pyre, and Odin,
bending down, now added to the offerings his magic ring Draupnir. It
was noted by the assembled gods that he was whispering in his dead
son's ear, but none were near enough to hear what word he said.

These sad preliminaries ended, the gods now prepared to launch the
ship, but found that the heavy load of fuel and treasures resisted
their combined efforts and they could not make the vessel stir an
inch. The mountain giants, witnessing the scene from afar, and noticing
their quandary, now drew near and said that they knew of a giantess
called Hyrrokin, who dwelt in Jötun-heim, and was strong enough to
launch the vessel without any other aid. The gods therefore bade one of
the storm giants hasten off to summon Hyrrokin, and she soon appeared,
mounted upon a gigantic wolf, which she guided by a bridle made of
writhing snakes. Riding down to the shore, the giantess dismounted and
haughtily signified her readiness to give the required aid, if in the
meantime the gods would take charge of her steed. Odin immediately
despatched four of his maddest Berserkers to hold the wolf; but,
in spite of their phenomenal strength, they could not restrain the
monstrous creature until the giantess had thrown it down and bound
it fast.

Hyrrokin, seeing that now they would be able to manage her refractory
steed, strode along the strand to where, high up from the water's edge,
lay Balder's mighty ship Ringhorn.

    "Seventy ells and four extended
      On the grass the vessel's keel;
    High above it, gilt and splendid,
    Rose the figure-head ferocious
      With its crest of steel."

            The Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Setting her shoulder against its stern, with a supreme effort she
sent it with a rush into the water. Such was the weight of the mass,
however, and the rapidity with which it shot down into the sea, that
the earth shook as if from an earthquake, and the rollers on which
the ship glided caught fire from the friction. The unexpected shock
almost caused the gods to lose their balance, and this so angered
Thor that he raised his hammer and would have slain the giantess
had he not been restrained by his companions. Easily appeased, as
usual--for Thor's temper, although quickly roused, was evanescent--he
now boarded the vessel once more to consecrate the funeral pyre with
his sacred hammer. As he was performing this ceremony, the dwarf
Lit provokingly stumbled into his way, whereupon Thor, who had not
entirely recovered his equanimity, kicked him into the fire, which
he had just kindled with a thorn, and the dwarf was burned to ashes
with the bodies of the divine pair.

The great ship now drifted out to sea, and the flames from the pyre
presented a magnificent spectacle, which assumed a greater glory
with every passing moment, until, when the vessel neared the western
horizon, it seemed as if sea and sky were on fire. Sadly the gods
watched the glowing ship and its precious freight, until suddenly it
plunged into the waves and disappeared; nor did they turn aside and
return to Asgard until the last spark of light had vanished, and the
world, in token of mourning for Balder the good, was enveloped in a
mantle of darkness.

    "Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,
    And the pile crackled; and between the logs
    Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt
    Curling and darting, higher, until they lick'd
    The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,
    And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the ship
    Drove on, ablaze above her hull with fire.
    And the gods stood upon the beach, and gazed;
    And while they gazed, the sun went lurid down
    Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and night came on.
    Then the wind fell with night, and there was calm;
    But through the dark they watch'd the burning ship
    Still carried o'er the distant waters, on
    Farther and farther, like an eye of fire.
    So show'd in the far darkness, Balder's pile;
    But fainter, as the stars rose high, it flared;
    The bodies were consumed, ash choked the pile.
    And as, in a decaying winter fire,
    A charr'd log, falling, makes a shower of sparks--
    So, with a shower of sparks, the pile fell in,
    Reddening the sea around; and all was dark."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Hermod's Quest

Sadly the gods entered Asgard, where no sounds of merriment or
feasting greeted the ear, for all hearts were filled with anxious
concern for the end of all things which was felt to be imminent. And
truly the thought of the terrible Fimbul-winter, which was to herald
their death, was one well calculated to disquiet the gods.

Frigga alone cherished hope, and she watched anxiously for the return
of her messenger, Hermod the swift, who, meanwhile, had ridden over
the tremulous bridge, and along the dark Hel-way, until, on the tenth
night, he had crossed the rushing tide of the river Giöll. Here he was
challenged by Mödgud, who inquired why the Giallar-bridge trembled
more beneath his horse's tread than when a whole army passed, and
asked why he, a living rider, was attempting to penetrate into the
dreaded realm of Hel.

    "Who art thou on thy black and fiery horse,
    Under whose hoofs the bridge o'er Giall's stream
    Rumbles and shakes? Tell me thy race and home.
    But yestermorn five troops of dead pass'd by,
    Bound on their way below to Hela's realm,
    Nor shook the bridge so much as thou alone.
    And thou hast flesh and colour on thy cheeks,
    Like men who live, and draw the vital air;
    Nor look'st thou pale and wan, like man deceased,
    Souls bound below, my daily passers here."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Hermod explained to Mödgud the reason of his coming, and, having
ascertained that Balder and Nanna had ridden over the bridge before
him, he hastened on, until he came to the gate, which rose forbiddingly
before him.

Nothing daunted by this barrier, Hermod dismounted on the smooth ice,
and tightening the girths of his saddle, remounted, and burying his
spurs deep into Sleipnir's sleek sides, he put him to a prodigious
leap, which landed them safely on the other side of Hel-gate.

    "Thence on he journey'd o'er the fields of ice
    Still north, until he met a stretching wall
    Barring his way, and in the wall a grate.
    Then he dismounted, and drew tight the girths,
    On the smooth ice, of Sleipnir, Odin's horse,
    And made him leap the grate, and came within."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Riding onward, Hermod came at last to Hel's banqueting-hall, where he
found Balder, pale and dejected, lying upon a couch, his wife Nanna
beside him, gazing fixedly at a beaker of mead, which apparently he
had no heart to quaff.

The Condition of Balder's Release

In vain Hermod informed his brother that he had come to redeem him;
Balder shook his head sadly, saying that he knew he must remain in
his cheerless abode until the last day should come, but he implored
Hermod to take Nanna back with him, as the home of the shades was
no place for such a bright and beautiful creature. But when Nanna
heard this request she clung more closely to her husband's side,
vowing that nothing would ever induce her to part from him, and that
she would stay with him for ever, even in Nifl-heim.

The long night was spent in close conversation, ere Hermod sought
Hel and implored her to release Balder. The churlish goddess listened
in silence to his request, and declared finally that she would allow
her victim to depart provided that all things animate and inanimate
would show their sorrow for his loss by shedding tears.

    "Come then! if Balder was so dear beloved,
    And this is true, and such a loss is Heaven's--
    Hear, how to Heaven may Balder be restored.
    Show me through all the world the signs of grief!
    Fails but one thing to grieve, here Balder stops!
    Let all that lives and moves upon the earth
    Weep him, and all that is without life weep;
    Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones.
    So shall I know the lost was dear indeed,
    And bend my heart, and give him back to Heaven."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

This answer was full of encouragement, for all Nature mourned the
loss of Balder, and surely there was nothing in all creation which
would withhold the tribute of a tear. So Hermod cheerfully made his
way out of Hel's dark realm, carrying with him the ring Draupnir,
which Balder sent back to Odin, an embroidered carpet from Nanna for
Frigga, and a ring for Fulla.

The Return of Hermod

The assembled gods crowded anxiously round Hermod as soon as he
returned, and when he had delivered his messages and gifts, the Æsir
sent heralds to every part of the world to bid all things animate
and inanimate weep for Balder.

    "Go quickly forth through all the world, and pray
    All living and unliving things to weep
    Balder, if haply he may thus be won!"

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

North, South, East and West rode the heralds, and as they passed tears
fell from every plant and tree, so that the ground was saturated with
moisture, and metals and stones, despite their hard hearts, wept too.

The way at last led back to Asgard, and by the road-side was a dark
cave, in which the messengers saw, crouching, the form of a giantess
named Thok, whom some mythologists suppose to have been Loki in
disguise. When she was called upon to shed a tear, she mocked the
heralds, and fleeing into the dark recesses of her cave, she declared
that no tear should fall from her eyes, and that, for all she cared,
Hel might retain her prey for ever.

    "Thok she weepeth
    With dry tears
    For Balder's death--
    Neither in life, nor yet in death,
    Gave he me gladness.
    Let Hel keep her prey."

            Elder Edda (Howitt's version).

As soon as the returning messengers arrived in Asgard, the gods
crowded round them to learn the result of their mission; but their
faces, all aglow with the joy of anticipation, grew dark with despair
when they heard that one creature had refused the tribute of tears,
wherefore they would behold Balder in Asgard no more.

    "Balder, the Beautiful, shall ne'er
    From Hel return to upper air!
    Betrayed by Loki, twice betrayed,
    The prisoner of Death is made;
    Ne'er shall he 'scape the place of doom
    Till fatal Ragnarok be come!"

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Vali the Avenger

The decrees of fate had not yet been fully consummated, and the final
act of the tragedy remains to be briefly stated.

We have already seen how Odin succeeded after many rebuffs in securing
the consent of Rinda to their union, and that the son born of this
marriage was destined to avenge the death of Balder. The advent of
this wondrous infant now took place, and Vali the Avenger, as he
was called, entered Asgard on the day of his birth, and on that
very same day he slew Hodur with an arrow from a bundle which he
seems to have carried for the purpose. Thus the murderer of Balder,
unwitting instrument though he was, atoned for the crime with his
blood, according to the code of the true Norseman.

The Signification of the Story

The physical explanation of this myth is to be found either in the
daily setting of the sun (Balder), which sinks beneath the western
waves, driven away by darkness (Hodur), or in the ending of the short
Northern summer and the long reign of the winter season. "Balder
represents the bright and clear summer, when twilight and daylight
kiss each other and go hand in hand in these Northern latitudes."

    "Balder's pyre, of the sun a mark,
    Holy hearth red staineth;
    Yet, soon dies its last faint spark,
    Darkly then Hoder reigneth."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

"His death by Hodur is the victory of darkness over light, the darkness
of winter over the light of summer; and the revenge by Vali is the
breaking forth of new light after the wintry darkness."

Loki, the fire, is jealous of Balder, the pure light of heaven, who
alone among the Northern gods never fought, but was always ready with
words of conciliation and peace.

    "But from thy lips, O Balder, night or day,
    Heard no one ever an injurious word
    To God or Hero, but thou keptest back
    The others, labouring to compose their brawls."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

The tears shed by all things for the beloved god are symbolical of
the spring thaw, setting in after the hardness and cold of winter,
when every tree and twig, and even the stones drip with moisture;
Thok (coal) alone shows no sign of tenderness, as she is buried deep
within the dark earth and needs not the light of the sun.

    "And as in winter, when the frost breaks up,
    At winter's end, before the spring begins,
    And a warm west wind blows, and thaw sets in--
    After an hour a dripping sound is heard
    In all the forests, and the soft-strewn snow
    Under the trees is dibbled thick with holes,
    And from the boughs the snow loads shuffle down;
    And, in fields sloping to the south, dark plots
    Of grass peep out amid surrounding snow,
    And widen, and the peasant's heart is glad--
    So through the world was heard a dripping noise
    Of all things weeping to bring Balder back;
    And there fell joy upon the Gods to hear."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

From the depths of their underground prison, the sun (Balder) and
vegetation (Nanna) try to cheer heaven (Odin) and earth (Frigga)
by sending them the ring Draupnir, the emblem of fertility, and the
flowery tapestry, symbolical of the carpet of verdure which will
again deck the earth and enhance her charms with its beauty.

The ethical signification of the myth is no less beautiful, for Balder
and Hodur are symbols of the conflicting forces of good and evil,
while Loki impersonates the tempter.

    "But in each human soul we find
    That night's dark Hoder, Balder's brother blind,
    Is born and waxeth strong as he;
    For blind is ev'ry evil born, as bear cubs be,
    Night is the cloak of evil; but all good
    Hath ever clad in shining garments stood.
    The busy Loke, tempter from of old,
    Still forward treads incessant, and doth hold
    The blind one's murder hand, whose quick-launch'd spear
    Pierceth young Balder's breast, that sun of Valhal's sphere!"

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

The Worship of Balder

One of the most important festivals was held at the summer solstice,
or midsummer's eve, in honour of Balder the good, for it was
considered the anniversary of his death and of his descent into
the lower world. On that day, the longest in the year, the people
congregated out of doors, made great bonfires, and watched the sun,
which in extreme Northern latitudes barely dips beneath the horizon
ere it rises upon a new day. From midsummer, the days gradually grow
shorter, and the sun's rays less warm, until the winter solstice,
which was called the "Mother night," as it was the longest night
in the year. Midsummer's eve, once celebrated in honour of Balder,
is now called St. John's day, that saint having entirely supplanted
Balder the good.


The Spirit of Evil

Besides the hideous giant Utgard-Loki, the personification of mischief
and evil, whom Thor and his companions visited in Jötun-heim, the
ancient Northern nations had another type of sin, whom they called
Loki also, and whom we have already seen under many different aspects.

In the beginning, Loki was merely the personification of the hearth
fire and of the spirit of life. At first a god, he gradually becomes
"god and devil combined," and ends in being held in general detestation
as an exact counterpart of the mediæval Lucifer, the prince of lies,
"the originator of deceit, and the back-biter" of the Æsir.

By some authorities Loki was said to be the brother of Odin, but
others assert that the two were not related, but had merely gone
through the form of swearing blood brotherhood common in the North.

    "Odin! dost thou remember
    When we in early days
    Blended our blood together?
    When to taste beer
    Thou did'st constantly refuse
    Unless to both 'twas offered?"

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Loki's Character

While Thor is the embodiment of Northern activity, Loki represents
recreation, and the close companionship early established between
these two gods shows very plainly how soon our ancestors realised that
both were necessary to the welfare of mankind. Thor is ever busy and
ever in earnest, but Loki makes fun of everything, until at last his
love of mischief leads him entirely astray, and he loses all love
for goodness and becomes utterly selfish and malevolent.

He represents evil in the seductive and seemingly beautiful form
in which it parades through the world. Because of this deceptive
appearance the gods did not at first avoid him, but treated him as one
of themselves in all good-fellowship, taking him with them wherever
they went, and admitting him not only to their merry-makings, but also
to their council hall, where, unfortunately, they too often listened
to his advice.

As we have already seen, Loki played a prominent part in the creation
of man, endowing him with the power of motion, and causing the blood
to circulate freely through his veins, whereby he was inspired with
passions. As personification of fire as well as of mischief, Loki
(lightning) is often seen with Thor (thunder), whom he accompanies
to Jötun-heim to recover his hammer, to Utgard-Loki's castle, and
to Geirrod's house. It is he who steals Freya's necklace and Sif's
hair, and betrays Idun into the power of Thiassi; and although he
sometimes gives the gods good advice and affords them real help,
it is only to extricate them from some predicament into which he has
rashly inveigled them.

Some authorities declare that, instead of making part of the creative
trilogy (Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur or Loki), this god originally
belonged to a pre-Odinic race of deities, and was the son of the
great giant Fornjotnr (Ymir), his brothers being Kari (air) and Hler
(water), and his sister Ran, the terrible goddess of the sea. Other
mythologists, however, make him the son of the giant Farbauti, who
has been identified with Bergelmir, the sole survivor of the deluge,
and of Laufeia (leafy isle) or Nal (vessel), his mother, thus stating
that his connection with Odin was only that of the Northern oath
of good-fellowship.

Loki (fire) first married Glut (glow), who bore him two daughters,
Eisa (embers) and Einmyria (ashes); it is therefore very evident
that Norsemen considered him emblematic of the hearth-fire, and when
the flaming wood crackles on the hearth the goodwives in the North
are still wont to say that Loki is beating his children. Besides
this wife, Loki is also said to have wedded the giantess Angur-boda
(the anguish-boding), who dwelt in Jötun-heim, and who, as we have
already seen, bore him the three monsters: Hel, goddess of death,
the Midgard snake Iörmungandr, and the grim wolf Fenris.

    "Loki begat the wolf
    With Angur-boda."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).


Loki's third marriage was with Sigyn, who proved a most loving and
devoted wife, and bore him two sons, Narve and Vali, the latter a
namesake of the god who avenged Balder. Sigyn was always faithful
to her husband, and did not forsake him even after he had definitely
been cast out of Asgard and confined in the bowels of the earth.

As Loki was the embodiment of evil in the minds of the Northern races,
they entertained nothing but fear of him, built no temples to his
honour, offered no sacrifices to him, and designated the most noxious
weeds by his name. The quivering, overheated atmosphere of summer was
supposed to betoken his presence, for the people were then wont to
remark that Loki was sowing his wild oats, and when the sun appeared
to be drawing water they said Loki was drinking.

The story of Loki is so inextricably woven with that of the other
gods that most of the myths relating to him have already been told,
and there remain but two episodes of his life to relate, one showing
his better side before he had degenerated into the arch deceiver,
and the other illustrating how he finally induced the gods to defile
their peace-steads by wilful murder.

Skrymsli and the Peasant's Child

A giant and a peasant were playing a game together one day (probably a
game of chess, which was a favourite winter pastime with the Northern
vikings). They of course had determined to play for certain stakes,
and the giant, being victorious, won the peasant's only son, whom he
said he would come and claim on the morrow unless the parents could
hide him so cleverly that he could not be found.

Knowing that such a feat would be impossible for them to perform,
the parents fervently prayed to Odin to help them, and in answer to
their entreaties the god came down to earth, and changed the boy into
a tiny grain of wheat, which he hid in an ear of grain in the midst
of a large field, declaring that the giant would not be able to find
him. The giant Skrymsli, however, possessed wisdom far beyond what
Odin imagined, and, failing to find the child at home, he strode
off immediately to the field with his scythe, and mowing the wheat
he selected the particular ear where the boy was hidden. Counting
over the grains of wheat he was about to lay his hand upon the right
one when Odin, hearing the child's cry of distress, snatched the
kernel out of the giant's hand, and restored the boy to his parents,
telling them that he had done all in his power to help them. But as
the giant vowed he had been cheated, and would again claim the boy
on the morrow unless the parents could outwit him, the unfortunate
peasants now turned to Hoenir for aid. The god heard them graciously
and changed the boy into a fluff of down, which he hid in the breast
of a swan swimming in a pond close by. Now when, a few minutes later,
Skrymsli came up, he guessed what had occurred, and seizing the swan,
he bit off its neck, and would have swallowed the down had not Hoenir
wafted it away from his lips and out of reach, restoring the boy safe
and sound to his parents, but telling them that he could not further
aid them.

Skrymsli warned the parents that he would make a third attempt to
secure the child, whereupon they applied in their despair to Loki,
who carried the boy out to sea, and concealed him, as a tiny egg,
in the roe of a flounder. Returning from his expedition, Loki
encountered the giant near the shore, and seeing that he was bent
upon a fishing excursion, he insisted upon accompanying him. He felt
somewhat uneasy lest the terrible giant should have seen through his
device, and therefore thought it would be well for him to be on the
spot in case of need. Skrymsli baited his hook, and was more or less
successful in his angling, when suddenly he drew up the identical
flounder in which Loki had concealed his little charge. Opening the
fish upon his knee, the giant proceeded to minutely examine the roe,
until he found the egg which he was seeking.

The plight of the boy was certainly perilous, but Loki, watching his
chance, snatched the egg out of the giant's grasp, and transforming it
again into the child, he instructed him secretly to run home, passing
through the boathouse on his way and closing the door behind him. The
terrified boy did as he was told immediately he found himself on land,
and the giant, quick to observe his flight, dashed after him into
the boathouse. Now Loki had cunningly placed a sharp spike in such a
position that the great head of the giant ran full tilt against it,
and he sank to the ground with a groan, whereupon Loki, seeing him
helpless, cut off one of his legs. Imagine the god's dismay, however,
when he saw the pieces join and immediately knit together. But Loki
was a master of guile, and recognising this as the work of magic, he
cut off the other leg, promptly throwing flint and steel between the
severed limb and trunk, and thereby hindering any further sorcery. The
peasants were immensely relieved to find that their enemy was slain,
and ever after they considered Loki the mightiest of all the heavenly
council, for he had delivered them effectually from their foe, while
the other gods had lent only temporary aid.

The Giant Architect

Notwithstanding their wonderful bridge Bifröst, the tremulous way,
and the watchfulness of Heimdall, the gods could not feel entirely
secure in Asgard, and were often fearful lest the frost giants should
make their way into Asgard. To obviate this possibility, they finally
decided to build an impregnable fortress; and while they were planning
how this could be done, an unknown architect came with an offer to
undertake the construction, provided the gods would give him sun, moon,
and Freya, goddess of youth and beauty, as reward. The gods were wroth
at so presumptuous an offer, but when they would have indignantly
driven the stranger from their presence, Loki urged them to make a
bargain which it would be impossible for the stranger to keep, and
so they finally told the architect that the guerdon should be his,
provided the fortress were finished in the course of a single winter,
and that he accomplished the work with no other assistance than that
of his horse Svadilfare.

    "To Asgard came an architect,
    And castle offered to erect,--
        A castle high
        Which should defy
    Deep Jotun guile and giant raid;
    And this most wily compact made:
    Fair Freya, with the Moon and Sun,
    As price the fortress being done."

            Valhalla (J.C. Jones).

The unknown architect agreed to these seemingly impossible conditions,
and immediately set to work, hauling ponderous blocks of stone by
night, building during the day, and progressing so rapidly that
the gods began to feel somewhat anxious. Ere long they noticed that
more than half the labour was accomplished by the wonderful steed
Svadilfare, and when they saw, near the end of winter, that the work
was finished save only one portal, which they knew the architect
could easily erect during the night:

    "Horror and fear the gods beset;
      Finished almost the castle stood!
        In three days more
        The work be o'er;
      Then must they make their contract good,
    And pay the awful debt."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Terrified lest they should be called upon to part, not only with the
sun and moon, but also with Freya, the personification of the youth
and beauty of the world, the gods turned upon Loki, and threatened
to kill him unless he devised some means of hindering the architect
from finishing the work within the specified time.

Loki's cunning proved once more equal to the situation. He waited until
nightfall of the final day, when, as Svadilfare passed the fringe of a
forest, painfully dragging one of the great blocks of stone required
for the termination of the work, he rushed out from a dark glade
in the guise of a mare, and neighed so invitingly that, in a trice,
the horse kicked himself free of his harness and ran after the mare,
closely pursued by his angry master. The mare galloped swiftly on,
artfully luring horse and master deeper and deeper into the forest
shades, until the night was nearly gone, and it was no longer possible
to finish the work. The architect was none other than a redoubtable
Hrim-thurs, in disguise, and he now returned to Asgard in a towering
rage at the fraud which had been practised upon him. Assuming his
wonted proportions, he would have annihilated the gods had not Thor
suddenly returned from a journey and slain him with his magic hammer
Miölnir, which he hurled with terrific force full in his face.

The gods had saved themselves on this occasion only by fraud and by
the violent deed of Thor, and these were destined to bring great sorrow
upon them, and eventually to secure their downfall, and to hasten the
coming of Ragnarok. Loki, however, felt no remorse for his part, and
in due time, it is said, he became the parent of an eight-footed steed
called Sleipnir, which, as we have seen, was Odin's favourite mount.

    "But Sleipnir he begat
    With Svadilfari."

            Lay of Hyndla (Thorpe's tr.).

Loki performed so many evil deeds during his career that he richly
deserved the title of "arch deceiver" which was given him. He was
generally hated for his subtle malicious ways, and for an inveterate
habit of prevarication which won for him also the title of "prince
of lies."

Loki's last Crime

Loki's last crime, and the one which filled his measure of iniquity,
was to induce Hodur to throw the fatal mistletoe at Balder, whom he
hated merely on account of his immaculate purity. Perhaps even this
crime might have been condoned had it not been for his obduracy when,
in the disguise of the old woman Thok, he was called upon to shed a
tear for Balder. His action on this occasion convinced the gods that
nothing but evil remained within him, and they pronounced unanimously
upon him the sentence of perpetual banishment from Asgard.

Ægir's Banquet

To divert the gods' sadness and make them, for a short time, forget
the treachery of Loki and the loss of Balder, Ægir, god of the sea,
invited them to partake of a banquet in his coral caves at the bottom
of the sea.

    "Now, to assuage the high gods' grief
    And bring their mourning some relief,
        From coral caves
        'Neath ocean waves,
        Mighty King Ægir
        Invited the Æsir
        To festival
        In Hlesey's hall;
    That, tho' for Baldur every guest
        Was grieving yet,
        He might forget
    Awhile his woe in friendly feast."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The gods gladly accepted the invitation, and clad in their richest
garb, and with festive smiles, they appeared in the coral caves at
the appointed time. None were absent save the radiant Balder, for
whom many a regretful sigh was heaved, and the evil Loki, whom none
could regret. In the course of the feast, however, this last-named
god appeared in their midst like a dark shadow, and when bidden to
depart, he gave vent to his evil passions in a torrent of invective
against the gods.

    "Of the Æsir and the Alfar
    That are here within
    Not one has a friendly word for thee."

            Ægir's Compotation, or Loki's Altercation (Thorpe's tr.).

Then, jealous of the praises which Funfeng, Ægir's servant, had won
for the dexterity with which he waited upon his master's guests,
Loki suddenly turned upon him and slew him. At this wanton crime,
the gods in fierce wrath drove Loki away once more, threatening him
with dire punishment should he ever appear before them again.

Scarcely had the Æsir recovered from this disagreeable interruption
to their feast, and resumed their places at the board, when Loki
came creeping in once more, resuming his slanders with venomous
tongue, and taunting the gods with their weaknesses or shortcomings,
dwelling maliciously upon their physical imperfections, and deriding
them for their mistakes. In vain the gods tried to stem his abuse;
his voice rose louder and louder, and he was just giving utterance to
some base slander about Sif, when he was suddenly cut short by the
sight of Thor's hammer, angrily brandished by an arm whose power he
knew full well, and he fled incontinently.

    "Silence, thou impure being!
    My mighty hammer, Miöllnir,
    Shall stop thy prating.
    I will thy head
    From thy neck strike;
    Then will thy life be ended."

            Ægir's Compotation, or Loki's Altercation (Thorpe's tr.).

The Pursuit of Loki

Knowing that he could now have no hope of being admitted into Asgard
again, and that sooner or later the gods, seeing the effect of his
evil deeds, would regret having permitted him to roam the world, and
would try either to bind or slay him, Loki withdrew to the mountains,
where he built himself a hut, with four doors which he always left
wide open to permit of a hasty escape. Carefully laying his plans,
he decided that if the gods should come in search of him he would
rush down to the neighbouring cataract, according to tradition the
Fraananger force or stream, and, changing himself into a salmon,
would thus evade his pursuers. He reasoned, however, that although
he could easily avoid any hook, it might be difficult for him to
effect his escape if the gods should fashion a net like that of the
sea-goddess Ran.

Haunted by this fear, he decided to test the possibility of making
such a mesh, and started to make one out of twine. He was still
engaged upon the task when Odin, Kvasir, and Thor suddenly appeared
in the distance; and knowing that they had discovered his retreat,
Loki threw his half-finished net into the fire, and, rushing through
one of his ever-open doors, he leaped into the waterfall, where, in the
shape of a salmon, he hid among some stones in the bed of the stream.

The gods, finding the hut empty, were about to depart, when Kvasir
perceived the remains of the burnt net on the hearth. After some
thought an inspiration came to him, and he advised the gods to weave
a similar implement and use it in searching for their foe in the
neighbouring stream, since it would be like Loki to choose such a
method of baffling their pursuit. This advice seemed good and was
immediately followed, and, the net finished, the gods proceeded to
drag the stream. Loki eluded the net at its first cast by hiding
at the bottom of the river between two stones; and when the gods
weighted the mesh and tried a second time, he effected his escape by
jumping up stream. A third attempt to secure him proved successful,
however, for, as he once more tried to get away by a sudden leap,
Thor caught him in mid-air and held him so fast, that he could not
escape. The salmon, whose slipperiness is proverbial in the North,
is noted for its remarkably slim tail, and Norsemen attribute this
to Thor's tight grasp upon his foe.

Loki's Punishment

Loki now sullenly resumed his wonted shape, and his captors dragged
him down into a cavern, where they made him fast, using as bonds the
entrails of his son Narve, who had been torn to pieces by Vali, his
brother, whom the gods had changed into a wolf for the purpose. One
of these fetters was passed under Loki's shoulders, and one under
his loins, thereby securing him firmly hand and foot; but the gods,
not feeling quite satisfied that the strips, tough and enduring though
they were, would not give way, changed them into adamant or iron.

    "Thee, on a rock's point,
    With the entrails of thy ice-cold son,
    The gods will bind."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Skadi, the giantess, a personification of the cold mountain stream,
who had joyfully watched the fettering of her foe (subterranean
fire), now fastened a serpent directly over his head, so that its
venom would fall, drop by drop, upon his upturned face. But Sigyn,
Loki's faithful wife, hurried with a cup to his side, and until the
day of Ragnarok she remained by him, catching the drops as they fell,
and never leaving her post except when her vessel was full, and she was
obliged to empty it. Only during her short absences could the drops
of venom fall upon Loki's face, and then they caused such intense
pain that he writhed with anguish, his efforts to get free shaking
the earth and producing the earthquakes which so frighten mortals.

    "Ere they left him in his anguish,
    O'er his treacherous brow, ungrateful,
    Skadi hung a serpent hateful,
    Venom drops for aye distilling,
    Every nerve with torment filling;
    Thus shall he in horror languish.
    By him, still unwearied kneeling,
      Sigyn at his tortured side,--
    Faithful wife! with beaker stealing
      Drops of venom as they fall,--
      Agonising poison all!
    Sleepless, changeless, ever dealing
      Comfort, will she still abide;
    Only when the cup's o'erflowing
      Must fresh pain and smarting cause,
    Swift, to void the beaker going,
      Shall she in her watching pause.
        Then doth Loki
        Loudly cry;
        Shrieks of terror,
    Groans of horror,
    Breaking forth in thunder peals
    With his writhings scared Earth reels.
    Trembling and quaking,
    E'en high Heav'n shaking!
    So wears he out his awful doom,
    Until dread Ragnarok be come."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

In this painful position Loki was destined to remain until the twilight
of the gods, when his bonds would be loosed, and he would take part
in the fatal conflict on the battlefield of Vigrid, falling at last
by the hand of Heimdall, who would be slain at the same time.

As we have seen, the venom-dropping snake in this myth is the
cold mountain stream, whose waters, falling from time to time
upon subterranean fire, evaporate in steam, which escapes through
fissures, and causes earthquakes and geysers, phenomena with which
the inhabitants of Iceland, for instance, were very familiar.

Loki's Day

When the gods were reduced to the rank of demons by the introduction of
Christianity, Loki was confounded with Saturn, who had also been shorn
of his divine attributes, and both were considered the prototypes of
Satan. The last day of the week, which was held sacred to Loki, was
known in the Norse as Laugardag, or wash-day, but in English it was
changed to Saturday, and was said to owe its name not to Saturn but
to Sataere, the thief in ambush, and the Teutonic god of agriculture,
who is supposed to be merely another personification of Loki.



As we have already seen, the Northern races imagined that the giants
were the first creatures who came to life among the icebergs which
filled the vast abyss of Ginnunga-gap. These giants were from the
very beginning the opponents and rivals of the gods, and as the
latter were the personifications of all that is good and lovely,
the former were representative of all that was ugly and evil.

    "He comes--he comes--the Frost Spirit comes! on the rushing
    northern blast,
    And the dark Norwegian pines have bowed as his fearful breath
    went past.
    With an unscorched wing he has hurried on, where the fires on
    Hecla glow
    On the darkly beautiful sky above and the ancient ice below."

            J. G. Whittier.

When Ymir, the first giant, fell lifeless on the ice, slain by the
gods, his progeny were drowned in his blood. One couple only, Bergelmir
and his wife, effected their escape to Jötun-heim, where they took
up their abode and became the parents of all the giant race. In the
North the giants were called by various names, each having a particular
meaning. Jötun, for instance, meant "the great eater," for the giants
were noted for their enormous appetites as well as for their uncommon
size. They were fond of drinking as well as of eating, wherefore they
were also called Thurses, a word which some writers claim had the
same meaning as thirst; but others think they owed this name to the
high towers ("turseis") which they were supposed to have built. As the
giants were antagonistic to the gods, the latter always strove to force
them to remain in Jötun-heim, which was situated in the cold regions of
the Pole. The giants were almost invariably worsted in their encounters
with the gods, for they were heavy and slow-witted, and had nothing
but stone weapons to oppose to the Æsir's bronze. In spite of this
inequality, however, they were sometimes greatly envied by the gods,
for they were thoroughly conversant with all knowledge relating to
the past. Even Odin was envious of this attribute, and no sooner had
he secured it by a draught from Mimir's spring than he hastened to
Jötun-heim to measure himself against Vafthrudnir, the most learned
of the giant brood. But he might never have succeeded in defeating
his antagonist in this strange encounter had he not ceased inquiring
about the past and propounded a question relating to the future.

Of all the gods Thor was most feared by the Jötuns, for he was
continually waging war against the frost and mountain giants,
who would fain have bound the earth for ever in their rigid bands,
thus preventing men from tilling the soil. In fighting against them,
Thor, as we have already seen, generally had recourse to his terrible
hammer Miölnir.

Origin of the Mountains

According to German legends the uneven surface of the earth was due
to the giants, who marred its smoothness by treading upon it while
it was still soft and newly created, while streams were formed from
the copious tears shed by the giantesses upon seeing the valleys made
by their husbands' huge footprints. As such was the Teutonic belief,
the people imagined that the giants, who personified the mountains
to them, were huge uncouth creatures, who could only move about in
the darkness or fog, and were petrified as soon as the first rays of
sunlight pierced through the gloom or scattered the clouds.

This belief led them to name one of their principal mountain chains
the Riesengebirge (giant mountains). The Scandinavians also shared
this belief, and to this day the Icelanders designate their highest
mountain peaks by the name of Jokul, a modification of the word
"Jötun." In Switzerland, where the everlasting snows rest upon the
lofty mountain tops, the people still relate old stories of the time
when the giants roamed abroad; and when an avalanche came crashing
down the mountain side, they say the giants have restlessly shaken
off part of the icy burden from their brows and shoulders.

The First Gods

As the giants were also personifications of snow, ice, cold, stone, and
subterranean fire, they were said to be descended from the primitive
Fornjotnr, whom some authorities identify with Ymir. According to this
version of the myth, Fornjotnr had three sons: Hler, the sea; Kari, the
air; and Loki, fire. These three divinities, the first gods, formed the
oldest trinity, and their respective descendants were the sea giants
Mimir, Gymir, and Grendel, the storm giants Thiassi, Thrym, and Beli,
and the giants of fire and death, such as the Fenris wolf and Hel.

As all the royal dynasties claimed descent from some mythical being,
the Merovingians asserted that their first progenitor was a sea giant,
who rose out of the waves in the form of an ox, and surprised the
queen while she was walking alone on the seashore, compelling her to
become his wife. She gave birth to a son named Meroveus, the founder
of the first dynasty of Frankish kings.

Many stories have already been told about the most important
giants. They reappear in many of the later myths and fairy-tales,
and manifest, after the introduction of Christianity, a peculiar
dislike to the sound of church bells and the singing of monks and nuns.

The Giant in Love

The Scandinavians relate, in this connection, that in the days
of Olaf the Saint a giant called Senjemand, dwelt on the Island of
Senjen, and he was greatly incensed because a nun on the Island of
Grypto daily sang her morning hymn. This giant fell in love with a
beautiful maiden called Juterna-jesta, and it was long ere he could
find courage to propose to her. When at last he made his halting
request, the fair damsel scornfully rejected him, declaring that he
was far too old and ugly for her taste.

    "Miserable Senjemand--ugly and grey!
    Thou win the maid of Kvedfiord!
    No--a churl thou art and shalt ever remain."

            Ballad (Brace's tr.).

In his anger at being thus scornfully refused, the giant swore
vengeance, and soon after he shot a great flint arrow from his bow
at the maiden, who dwelt eighty miles away. Another lover, Torge,
also a giant, seeing her peril and wishing to protect her, flung
his hat at the speeding arrow. This hat was a thousand feet high
and proportionately broad and thick, nevertheless the arrow pierced
the headgear, falling short, however, of its aim. Senjemand, seeing
that he had failed, and fearing the wrath of Torge, mounted his steed
and prepared to ride off as quickly as possible; but the sun, rising
just then above the horizon, turned him into stone, together with the
arrow and Torge's hat, the huge pile being known as the Torghatten
mountain. The people still point to an obelisk which they say is the
stone arrow; to a hole in the mountain, 289 feet high and 88 feet wide,
which they say is the aperture made by the arrow in its flight through
the hat; and to the horseman on Senjen Island, apparently riding a
colossal steed and drawing the folds of his wide cavalry cloak closely
about him. As for the nun whose singing had so disturbed Senjemand, she
was petrified too, and never troubled any one with her psalmody again.

The Giant and the Church Bells

Another legend relates that one of the mountain giants, annoyed by
the ringing of church bells more than fifty miles away, once caught
up a huge rock, which he hurled at the sacred building. Fortunately
it fell short and broke in two. Ever since then, the peasants say
that the trolls come on Christmas Eve to raise the largest piece of
stone upon golden pillars, and to dance and feast beneath it. A lady,
wishing to know whether this tale were true, once sent her groom
to the place. The trolls came forward and hospitably offered him a
drink from a horn mounted in gold and ornamented with runes. Seizing
the horn, the groom flung its contents away and dashed off with it
at a mad gallop, closely pursued by the trolls, from whom he escaped
only by passing through a stubble field and over running water. Some
of their number visited the lady on the morrow to claim this horn,
and when she refused to part with it they laid a curse upon her,
declaring that her castle would be burned down every time the horn
should be removed. The prediction has thrice been fulfilled, and now
the family guard the relic with superstitious care. A similar drinking
vessel, obtained in much the same fashion by the Oldenburg family,
is exhibited in the collection of the King of Denmark.

The giants were not supposed to remain stationary, but were said to
move about in the darkness, sometimes transporting masses of earth
and sand, which they dropped here and there. The sandhills in northern
Germany and Denmark were supposed to have been thus formed.

The Giants' Ship

A North Frisian tradition relates that the giants possessed a colossal
ship, called Mannigfual, which constantly cruised about in the Atlantic
Ocean. Such was the size of this vessel that the captain was said
to patrol the deck on horseback, while the rigging was so extensive
and the masts so high that the sailors who went up as youths came
down as gray-haired men, having rested and refreshed themselves in
rooms fashioned and provisioned for that purpose in the huge blocks
and pulleys.

By some mischance it happened that the pilot once directed the immense
vessel into the North Sea, and wishing to return to the Atlantic
as soon as possible, yet not daring to turn in such a small space,
he steered into the English Channel. Imagine the dismay of all on
board when they saw the passage growing narrower and narrower the
farther they advanced. When they came to the narrowest spot, between
Calais and Dover, it seemed barely possible that the vessel, drifting
along with the current, could force its way through. The captain,
with laudable presence of mind, promptly bade his men soap the sides
of the ship, and to lay an extra-thick layer on the starboard, where
the rugged cliffs of Dover rose threateningly. These orders were no
sooner carried out than the vessel entered the narrow space, and,
thanks to the captain's precaution, it slipped safely through. The
rocks of Dover scraped off so much soap, however, that ever since
they have been particularly white, and the waves dashing against them
still have an unusually foamy appearance.

This exciting experience was not the only one through which the
Mannigfual passed, for we are told that it once, nobody knows how,
penetrated into the Baltic Sea, where, the water not being deep enough
to keep the vessel afloat, the captain ordered all the ballast to be
thrown overboard. The material thus cast on either side of the vessel
into the sea formed the two islands of Bornholm and Christiansoë.

Princess Ilse

In Thuringia and in the Black Forest the stories of the giants are
legion, and one of the favourites with the peasants is that about
Ilse, the lovely daughter of the giant of the Ilsenstein. She was so
charming that far and wide she was known as the Beautiful Princess
Ilse, and was wooed by many knights, of whom she preferred the Lord of
Westerburg. But her father did not at all approve of her consorting
with a mere mortal, and forbade her to see her lover. Princess Ilse
was wilful, however, and in spite of her sire's prohibition she
daily visited her lover. The giant, exasperated by her persistency
and disobedience, finally stretched out his huge hands and, seizing
the rocks, tore a great gap between the height where he dwelt and the
castle of Westerburg. Upon this, Princess Ilse, going to the cleft
which parted her from her lover, recklessly flung herself over the
precipice into the raging flood beneath, and was there changed into
a bewitching undine. She dwelt in the limpid waters for many a year,
appearing from time to time to exercise her fascinations upon mortals,
and even, it is said, captivating the affections of the Emperor
Henry, who paid frequent visits to her cascade. Her last appearance,
according to popular belief, was at Pentecost, a hundred years ago;
and the natives have not yet ceased to look for the beautiful princess,
who is said still to haunt the stream and to wave her white arms to
entice travellers into the cool spray of the waterfall.

    "I am the Princess Ilse,
      And I dwell at the Ilsenstein;
    Come with me to my castle,
      And bliss shall be mine and thine.

    "With the cool of my glass-clear waters
      Thy brow and thy locks I'll lave;
    And thou'lt think of thy sorrows no longer,
      For all that thou look'st so grave.

    "With my white arms twined around thee,
      And lapped on my breast so white,
    Thou shalt lie, and dream of elf-land--
      Its loves and wild delight."

            Heine (Martin's tr.).

The Giantess's Plaything

The giants inhabited all the earth before it was given to mankind, and
it was only with reluctance that they made way for the human race, and
retreated into the waste and barren parts of the country, where they
brought up their families in strict seclusion. Such was the ignorance
of their offspring, that a young giantess, straying from home, once
came to an inhabited valley, where for the first time in her life she
saw a farmer ploughing on the hillside. Deeming him a pretty plaything,
she caught him up with his team, and thrusting them into her apron,
she gleefully carried them home to exhibit to her father. But the
giant immediately bade her carry peasant and horses back to the place
where she had found them, and when she had done so he sadly explained
that the creatures whom she took for mere playthings, would eventually
drive the giant folk away, and become masters of the earth.


Little Men

In the first chapter we saw how the black elves, dwarfs, or
Svart-alfar, were bred like maggots in the flesh of the slain giant
Ymir. The gods, perceiving these tiny, unformed creatures creeping in
and out, gave them form and features, and they became known as dark
elves, on account of their swarthy complexions. These small beings
were so homely, with their dark skin, green eyes, large heads, short
legs, and crow's feet, that they were enjoined to hide underground,
being commanded never to show themselves during the daytime lest they
should be turned into stone. Although less powerful than the gods,
they were far more intelligent than men, and as their knowledge was
boundless and extended even to the future, gods and men were equally
anxious to question them.

The dwarfs were also known as trolls, kobolds, brownies, goblins,
pucks, or Huldra folk, according to the country where they dwelt.

    "You are the grey, grey Troll,
      With the great green eyes,
    But I love you, grey, grey Troll--
      You are so wise!

    "Tell me this sweet morn,
      Tell me all you know--
    Tell me, was I born?
      Tell me, did I grow?"

            The Legend of the Little Fay (Buchanan).

The Tarnkappe

These little beings could transport themselves with marvellous celerity
from one place to another, and they loved to conceal themselves
behind rocks, when they would mischievously repeat the last words
of conversations overheard from such hiding-places. Owing to this
well-known trick, the echoes were called dwarfs' talk, and people
fancied that the reason why the makers of such sounds were never
seen was because each dwarf was the proud possessor of a tiny red
cap which made the wearer invisible. This cap was called Tarnkappe,
and without it the dwarfs dared not appear above the surface of the
earth after sunrise for fear of being petrified. When wearing it they
were safe from this peril.

    "Away! let not the sun view me--
      I dare no longer stay;
    An Elfin-child, thou wouldst me see,
      To stone turn at his ray."

            La Motte-Fouqué.

The Legend of Kallundborg

Helva, daughter of the Lord of Nesvek, was loved by Esbern Snare,
whose suit, however, was rejected by the proud father with the scornful
words: "When thou shalt build at Kallundborg a stately church, then
will I give thee Helva to wife."

Now Esbern, although of low estate, was proud of heart, even as
the lord, and he determined, come what might, to find a way to win
his coveted bride. So off he strode to a troll in Ullshoi Hill,
and effected a bargain whereby the troll undertook to build a fine
church, on completion of which Esbern was to tell the builder's name
or forfeit his eyes and heart.

Night and day the troll wrought on, and as the building took shape,
sadder grew Esbern Snare. He listened at the crevices of the hill
by night; he watched during the day; he wore himself to a shadow
by anxious thought; he besought the elves to aid him. All to no
purpose. Not a sound did he hear, not a thing did he see, to suggest
the name of the builder.

Meantime, rumour was busy, and the fair Helva, hearing of the evil
compact, prayed for the soul of the unhappy man.

Time passed until one day the church lacked only one pillar,
and worn out by black despair, Esbern sank exhausted upon a bank,
whence he heard the troll hammering the last stone in the quarry
underground. "Fool that I am," he said bitterly, "I have builded
my tomb."

Just then he heard a light footstep, and looking up, he beheld his
beloved. "Would that I might die in thy stead," said she, through
her tears, and with that Esbern confessed how that for love of her
he had imperilled eyes and heart and soul.

Then fast as the troll hammered underground, Helva prayed beside her
lover, and the prayers of the maiden prevailed over the spell of the
troll, for suddenly Esbern caught the sound of a troll-wife singing
to her infant, bidding it be comforted, for that, on the morrow,
Father Fine would return bringing a mortal's eyes and heart.

Sure of his victim, the troll hurried to Kallundborg with the last
stone. "Too late, Fine!" quoth Esbern, and at the word, the troll
vanished with his stone, and it is said that the peasants heard at
night the sobbing of a woman underground, and the voice of the troll
loud with blame.

    "Of the Troll of the Church they sing the rune
    By the Northern Sea in the harvest moon;
    And the fishers of Zealand hear him still
    Scolding his wife in Ulshoi hill.

    "And seaward over its groves of birch
    Still looks the tower of Kallundborg church,
    Where, first at its altar, a wedded pair,
    Stood Helva of Nesvek and Esbern Snare!"

            J. G. Whittier

The Magic of the Dwarfs

The dwarfs, as well as the elves, were ruled by a king, who, in
various countries of northern Europe, was known as Andvari, Alberich,
Elbegast, Gondemar, Laurin, or Oberon. He dwelt in a magnificent
subterranean palace, studded with the gems which his subjects had
mined from the bosom of the earth, and, besides untold riches and the
Tarnkappe, he owned a magic ring, an invincible sword, and a belt of
strength. At his command the little men, who were very clever smiths,
would fashion marvellous jewels or weapons, which their ruler would
bestow upon favourite mortals.

We have already seen how the dwarfs fashioned Sif's golden hair,
the ship Skidbladnir, the point of Odin's spear Gungnir, the ring
Draupnir, the golden-bristled boar Gullin-bursti, the hammer Miölnir,
and Freya's golden necklace Brisinga-men. They are also said to
have made the magic girdle which Spenser describes in his poem of
the "Faerie Queene,"--a girdle which was said to have the power of
revealing whether its wearer were virtuous or a hypocrite.

    "That girdle gave the virtue of chaste love
    And wifehood true to all that did it bear;
    But whosoever contrary doth prove
    Might not the same about her middle wear
    But it would loose, or else asunder tear."

            Faerie Queene (Spenser).

The dwarfs also manufactured the mythical sword Tyrfing, which could
cut through iron and stone, and which they gave to Angantyr. This
sword, like Frey's, fought of its own accord, and could not be
sheathed, after it was once drawn, until it had tasted blood. Angantyr
was so proud of this weapon that he had it buried with him; but his
daughter Hervor visited his tomb at midnight, recited magic spells, and
forced him to rise from his grave to give her the precious blade. She
wielded it bravely, and it eventually became the property of another
of the Northern heroes.

Another famous weapon, which according to tradition was forged by
the dwarfs in Eastern lands, was the sword Angurvadel which Frithiof
received as a portion of his inheritance from his fathers. Its hilt
was of hammered gold, and the blade was inscribed with runes which
were dull until it was brandished in war, when they flamed red as
the comb of the fighting-cock.

                            "Quick lost was that hero
    Meeting in battle's night that blade high-flaming with runics.
    Widely renown'd was this sword, of swords most choice in the

            Tegnér's Frithiof (G. Stephens's tr.).

The Passing of the Dwarfs

The dwarfs were generally kind and helpful; sometimes they kneaded
bread, ground flour, brewed beer, performed countless household tasks,
and harvested and threshed the grain for the farmers. If ill-treated,
however, or turned to ridicule, these little creatures would forsake
the house and never come back again. When the old gods ceased to be
worshipped in the Northlands, the dwarfs withdrew entirely from the
country, and a ferryman related how he had been hired by a mysterious
personage to ply his boat back and forth across the river one night,
and at every trip his vessel was so heavily laden with invisible
passengers that it nearly sank. When his night's work was over, he
received a rich reward, and his employer informed him that he had
carried the dwarfs across the river, as they were leaving the country
for ever in consequence of the unbelief of the people.


According to popular superstition, the dwarfs, in envy of man's
taller stature, often tried to improve their race by winning human
wives or by stealing unbaptized children, and substituting their
own offspring for the human mother to nurse. These dwarf babies were
known as changelings, and were recognisable by their puny and wizened
forms. To recover possession of her own babe, and to rid herself of
the changeling, a woman was obliged either to brew beer in egg-shells
or to grease the soles of the child's feet and hold them so near the
flames that, attracted by their offspring's distressed cries, the dwarf
parents would hasten to claim their own and return the stolen child.

The troll women were said to have the power of changing themselves
into Maras or nightmares, and of tormenting any one they pleased;
but if the victim succeeded in stopping up the hole through which a
Mara made her ingress into his room, she was entirely at his mercy,
and he could even force her to wed him if he chose to do so. A wife
thus obtained was sure to remain as long as the opening through which
she had entered the house was closed, but if the plug were removed,
either by accident or design, she immediately effected her escape
and never returned.

The Peaks of the Trolls

Naturally, traditions of the little folk abound everywhere throughout
the North, and many places are associated with their memory. The
well-known Peaks of the Trolls (Trold-Tindterne) in Norway are said
to be the scene of a conflict between two bands of trolls, who in
the eagerness of combat omitted to note the approach of sunrise,
with the result that they were changed into the small points of rock
which stand up noticeably upon the crests of the mountain.

A Conjecture

Some writers have ventured a conjecture that the dwarfs so often
mentioned in the ancient sagas and fairy-tales were real beings,
probably the Phoenician miners, who, working the coal, iron, copper,
gold, and tin mines of England, Norway, Sweden, etc., took advantage
of the simplicity and credulity of the early inhabitants to make
them believe that they belonged to a supernatural race and always
dwelt underground, in a region which was called Svart-alfa-heim,
or the home of the black elves.


The Realm of Faery

Besides the dwarfs there was another numerous class of tiny creatures
called Lios-alfar, light or white elves, who inhabited the realms of
air between heaven and earth, and were gently governed by the genial
god Frey from his palace in Alf-heim. They were lovely, beneficent
beings, so pure and innocent that, according to some authorities,
their name was derived from the same root as the Latin word "white"
(albus), which, in a modified form, was given to the snow-covered
Alps, and to Albion (England), because of her white chalk cliffs
which could be seen afar.

The elves were so small that they could flit about unseen while
they tended the flowers, birds, and butterflies; and as they were
passionately fond of dancing, they often glided down to earth on a
moonbeam, to dance on the green. Holding one another by the hand,
they would dance in circles, thereby making the "fairy rings," which
were to be discerned by the deeper green and greater luxuriance of
the grass which their little feet had pressed.

    "Merry elves, their morrice pacing
      To aërial minstrelsy,
    Emerald rings on brown heath tracing,
      Trip it deft and merrily."

            Sir Walter Scott.

If any mortal stood in the middle of one of these fairy rings he
could, according to popular belief in England, see the fairies and
enjoy their favour; but the Scandinavians and Teutons vowed that the
unhappy man must die. In illustration of this superstition, a story is
told of how Sir Olaf, riding off to his wedding, was enticed by the
fairies into their ring. On the morrow, instead of a merry marriage,
his friends witnessed a triple funeral, for his mother and bride also
died when they beheld his lifeless corpse.

    "Master Olof rode forth ere dawn of the day
    And came where the Elf-folk were dancing away.
      The dance is so merry,
    So merry in the greenwood.

    "And on the next morn, ere the daylight was red,
    In Master Olof's house lay three corpses dead.
      The dance is so merry,
    So merry in the greenwood.

    "First Master Olof, and next his young bride,
    And third his old mother--for sorrow she died.
      The dance is so merry,
    So merry in the greenwood."

            Master Olof at the Elfin Dance (Howitt's tr.).

The Elf-dance

These elves, who in England were called fairies or fays, were also
enthusiastic musicians, and delighted especially in a certain air known
as the elf-dance, which was so irresistible that no one who heard it
could refrain from dancing. If a mortal, overhearing the air, ventured
to reproduce it, he suddenly found himself incapable of stopping and
was forced to play on and on until he died of exhaustion, unless he
were deft enough to play the tune backwards, or some one charitably
cut the strings of his violin. His hearers, who were forced to dance
as long as the tones continued, could only stop when they ceased.

The Will-o'-the-wisps

In mediæval times, the will-o'-the-wisps were known in the North as elf
lights, for these tiny sprites were supposed to mislead travellers;
and popular superstition held that the Jack-o'-lanterns were the
restless spirits of murderers forced against their will to return
to the scene of their crimes. As they nightly walked thither, it
is said that they doggedly repeated with every step, "It is right;"
but as they returned they sadly reiterated, "It is wrong."

Oberon and Titania

In later times the fairies or elves were said to be ruled by the king
of the dwarfs, who, being an underground spirit, was considered a
demon, and allowed to retain the magic power which the missionaries
had wrested from the god Frey. In England and France the king of
the fairies was known by the name of Oberon; he governed fairyland
with his queen Titania, and the highest revels on earth were held on
Midsummer night. It was then that the fairies all congregated around
him and danced most merrily.

    "Every elf and fairy sprite
    Hop as light as bird from brier;
    And this ditty after me
    Sing, and dance it trippingly."

            Midsummer-Night's Dream (Shakespeare).

These elves, like the brownies, Huldra folk, kobolds, etc., were
also supposed to visit human dwellings, and it was said that they
took mischievous pleasure in tangling and knotting horses' manes and
tails. These tangles were known as elf-locks, and whenever a farmer
descried them he declared that his steeds had been elf-ridden during
the night.


In Scandinavia and Germany sacrifices were offered to the elves to
make them propitious. These sacrifices consisted of some small animal,
or of a bowl of honey and milk, and were known as Alf-blot. They were
quite common until the missionaries taught the people that the elves
were mere demons, when they were transferred to the angels, who were
long entreated to befriend mortals, and propitiated by the same gifts.

Many of the elves were supposed to live and die with the trees and
plants which they tended, but these moss, wood, or tree maidens, while
remarkably beautiful when seen in front, were hollow like a trough
when viewed from behind. They appear in many of the popular tales, but
almost always as benevolent and helpful spirits, for they were anxious
to do good to mortals and to cultivate friendly relations with them.

Images on Doorposts

In Scandinavia the elves, both light and dark, were worshipped
as household divinities, and their images were carved on the
doorposts. The Norsemen, who were driven from home by the tyranny of
Harald Harfager in 874, took their carved doorposts with them upon
their ships. Similar carvings, including images of the gods and heroes,
decorated the pillars of their high seats which they also carried
away. The exiles showed their trust in their gods by throwing these
wooden images overboard when they neared the Icelandic shores and
settling where the waves carried the posts, even if the spot scarcely
seemed the most desirable. "Thus they carried with them the religion,
the poetry, and the laws of their race, and on this desolate volcanic
island they kept these records unchanged for hundreds of years,
while other Teutonic nations gradually became affected by their
intercourse with Roman and Byzantine Christianity." These records,
carefully collected by Sæmund the learned, form the Elder Edda, the
most precious relic of ancient Northern literature, without which we
should know comparatively little of the religion of our forefathers.

The sagas relate that the first settlements in Greenland and Vinland
were made in the same way,--the Norsemen piously landing wherever
their household gods drifted ashore.


The Beginning of the Story

While the first part of the Elder Edda consists of a collection
of alliterative poems describing the creation of the world, the
adventures of the gods, their eventual downfall, and gives a complete
exposition of the Northern code of ethics, the second part comprises a
series of heroic lays describing the exploits of the Volsung family,
and especially of their chief representative, Sigurd, the favourite
hero of the North.

The Volsunga Saga

These lays form the basis of the great Scandinavian epic, the Volsunga
Saga, and have supplied not only the materials for the Nibelungenlied,
the German epic, and for countless folk tales, but also for Wagner's
celebrated operas, The Rhinegold, Valkyr, Siegfried, and The Dusk of
the Gods. In England, William Morris has given them the form which
they will probably retain in our literature, and it is from his great
epic poem, by the courteous permission of his trustees, and of his
publishers, Messrs. Longmans, Green and Co., that almost all the
quotations in this section are taken in preference to extracts from
the Edda.


The story of the Volsungs begins with Sigi, a son of Odin, a powerful
man, and generally respected, until he killed a man from motives
of jealousy, the latter having slain more game when they were out
hunting together. In consequence of this crime, Sigi was driven from
his own land and declared an outlaw. But it seems that he had not
entirely forfeited Odin's favour, for the god now provided him with
a well-equipped vessel, together with a number of brave followers,
and promised that victory should ever attend him.

Thus aided by Odin, the raids of Sigi became a terror to his foes,
and in the end he won the glorious empire of the Huns and for many
years reigned as a powerful monarch. But in extreme old age his
fortune changed, Odin forsook him, his wife's kindred fell upon him,
and he was slain in a treacherous encounter.


His death was soon avenged, however, for Rerir, his son, returning
from an expedition upon which he had been absent from the land at the
time, put the murderers to death as his first act upon mounting the
throne. The rule of Rerir was marked by every sign of prosperity, but
his dearest wish, a son to succeed him, remained unfulfilled for many
a year. Finally, however, Frigga decided to grant his constant prayer,
and to vouchsafe the heir he longed for. She accordingly despatched
her swift messenger Gna, or Liod, with a miraculous apple, which she
dropped into his lap as he was sitting alone on the hillside. Glancing
upward, Rerir recognised the emissary of the goddess, and joyfully
hastened home to partake of the apple with his wife. The child who
in due time was born under these favourable auspices was a handsome
little lad. His parents called him Volsung, and while he was still
a mere infant they both died, and the child became ruler of the land.


Years passed and Volsung's wealth and power ever increased. He was the
boldest leader, and rallied many brave warriors around him. Full oft
did they drink his mead underneath the Branstock, a mighty oak, which,
rising in the middle of his hall, pierced the roof and overshadowed
the whole house.

    "And as in all other matters 'twas all earthly houses' crown,
    And the least of its wall-hung shields was a battle-world's renown,
    So therein withal was a marvel and a glorious thing to see,
    For amidst of its midmost hall-floor sprang up a mighty tree,
    That reared its blessings roofward and wreathed the roof-tree dear
    With the glory of the summer and the garland of the year."

Ten stalwart sons were born to Volsung, and one daughter, Signy,
came to brighten his home. So lovely was this maiden that when she
reached marriageable age many suitors asked for her hand, among whom
was Siggeir, King of the Goths, who finally obtained Volsung's consent,
although Signy had never seen him.

The Wedding of Signy

When the wedding-day came, and the bride beheld her destined husband
she shrank in dismay, for his puny form and lowering glances contrasted
sadly with her brothers' sturdy frames and open faces. But it was
too late to withdraw--the family honour was at stake--and Signy so
successfully concealed her dislike that none save her twin brother
Sigmund suspected with what reluctance she became Siggeir's wife.

The Sword in the Branstock

While the wedding feast was in progress, and when the merry-making was
at its height, the entrance to the hall was suddenly darkened by the
tall form of a one-eyed man, closely enveloped in a mantle of cloudy
blue. Without vouchsafing word or glance to any in the assembly, the
stranger strode to the Branstock and thrust a glittering sword up to
the hilt in its great bole. Then, turning slowly round, he faced the
awe-struck and silent assembly, and declared that the weapon would be
for the warrior who could pull it out of its oaken sheath, and that
it would assure him victory in every battle. The words ended, he then
passed out as he had entered, and disappeared, leaving a conviction in
the minds of all that Odin, king of the gods, had been in their midst.

    "So sweet his speaking sounded, so wise his words did seem,
    That moveless all men sat there, as in a happy dream
    We stir not lest we waken; but there his speech had end
    And slowly down the hall-floor, and outward did he wend;
    And none would cast him a question or follow on his ways,
    For they knew that the gift was Odin's, a sword for the world
    to praise."

Volsung was the first to recover the power of speech, and, waiving
his own right first to essay the feat, he invited Siggeir to make the
first attempt to draw the divine weapon out of the tree-trunk. The
bridegroom anxiously tugged and strained, but the sword remained
firmly embedded in the oak and he resumed his seat, with an air of
chagrin. Then Volsung tried, with the same result. The weapon was
evidently not intended for either of them, and the young Volsung
princes were next invited to try their strength.

    "Sons I have gotten and cherished, now stand ye forth and try;
    Lest Odin tell in God-home how from the way he strayed,
    And how to the man he would not he gave away his blade.


The nine eldest sons were equally unsuccessful; but when Sigmund,
the tenth and youngest, laid his firm young hand upon the hilt, the
sword yielded easily to his touch, and he triumphantly drew it out
as though it had merely been sheathed in its scabbard.

    "At last by the side of the Branstock Sigmund the Volsung stood,
    And with right hand wise in battle the precious sword-hilt caught,
    Yet in a careless fashion, as he deemed it all for nought;
    When, lo, from floor to rafter went up a shattering shout,
    For aloft in the hand of Sigmund the naked blade shone out
    As high o'er his head he shook it: for the sword had come away
    From the grip of the heart of the Branstock, as though all loose
    it lay."

Nearly all present were gratified at the success of the young prince;
but Siggeir's heart was filled with envy, and he coveted possession of
the weapon. He offered to purchase it from his young brother-in-law,
but Sigmund refused to part with it at any price, declaring that it
was clear that the weapon had been intended for him to wear. This
refusal so offended Siggeir that he secretly resolved to exterminate
the proud Volsungs, and to secure the divine sword at the same time
that he indulged his hatred towards his new kinsmen.

Concealing his chagrin, however, he turned to Volsung and cordially
invited him to visit his court a month later, together with his sons
and kinsmen. The invitation was immediately accepted, and although
Signy, suspecting evil, secretly sought her father while her husband
slept, and implored him to retract his promise and stay at home,
he would not consent to withdraw his plighted word and so exhibit fear.

Siggeir's Treachery

A few weeks after the return of the bridal couple, therefore, Volsung's
well-manned vessels arrived within sight of Siggeir's shores. Signy
had been keeping anxious watch, and when she perceived them she
hastened down to the beach to implore her kinsmen not to land,
warning them that her husband had treacherously planned an ambush,
whence they could not escape alive. But Volsung and his sons, whom
no peril could daunt, calmly bade her return to her husband's palace,
and donning their arms they boldly set foot ashore.

    "Then sweetly Volsung kissed her: 'Woe am I for thy sake,
    But Earth the word hath hearkened, that yet unborn I spake;
    How I ne'er would turn me backward from the sword or fire of bale;
    --I have held that word till to-day, and to-day shall I change
    the tale?
    And look on these thy brethren, how goodly and great are they,
    Wouldst thou have the maidens mock them, when this pain hath
    passed away
    And they sit at the feast hereafter, that they feared the deadly
    Let us do our day's work deftly for the praise and glory of folk;
    And if the Norns will have it that the Volsung kin shall fail,
    Yet I know of the deed that dies not, and the name that shall
    ever avail.'"

It befell as Signy had said, for on their way to the palace the
brave little troop fell into Siggeir's ambush, and, although they
fought with heroic courage, they were so borne down by the superior
number of their foes that Volsung was slain and all his sons were
made captive. The young men were led bound into the presence of the
cowardly Siggeir, who had taken no part in the fight, and Sigmund
was forced to relinquish his precious sword, after which he and his
brothers were condemned to death.

Signy, hearing the cruel sentence, vainly interceded for her brothers:
all she could obtain by her prayers and entreaties was that they should
be chained to a fallen oak in the forest, to perish of hunger and
thirst if the wild beasts should spare them. Then, lest she should
visit and succour her brothers, Siggeir confined his wife in the
palace, where she was closely guarded night and day.

Every morning early Siggeir himself sent a messenger into the forest
to see whether the Volsungs were still living, and every morning
the man returned saying a monster had come during the night and had
devoured one of the princes, leaving nothing but his bones. At last,
when none but Sigmund remained alive, Signy thought of a plan, and
she prevailed on one of her servants to carry some honey into the
forest and smear it over her brother's face and mouth.

When the wild beast came that night, attracted by the smell of the
honey, it licked Sigmund's face, and even thrust its tongue into
his mouth. Clinching his teeth upon it, Sigmund, weak and wounded
as he was, held on to the animal, and in its frantic struggles his
bonds gave way, and he succeeded in slaying the prowling beast who
had devoured his brothers. Then he vanished into the forest, where
he remained concealed until the king's messenger had come as usual,
and until Signy, released from captivity, came speeding to the forest
to weep over her kinsmen's remains.

Seeing her intense grief, and knowing that she had not participated
in Siggeir's cruelty, Sigmund stole out of his place of concealment
and comforted her as best he could. Together they then buried the
whitening bones, and Sigmund registered a solemn oath to avenge
his family's wrongs. This vow was fully approved by Signy, who,
however, bade her brother bide a favourable time, promising to send
him aid. Then the brother and sister sadly parted, she to return to
her distasteful palace home, and he to a remote part of the forest,
where he built a tiny hut and plied the craft of a smith.

                                "And men say that Signy wept
    When she left that last of her kindred: yet wept she never more
    Amid the earls of Siggeir, and as lovely as before
    Was her face to all men's deeming: nor aught it changed for ruth,
    Nor for fear nor any longing; and no man said for sooth
    That she ever laughed thereafter till the day of her death
    was come."

Signy's Sons

Siggeir now took possession of the Volsung kingdom, and during the next
few years he proudly watched the growth of his eldest son, whom Signy
secretly sent to her brother when he was ten years of age, that Sigmund
might train up the child to help him to obtain vengeance if he should
prove worthy. Sigmund reluctantly accepted the charge; but as soon
as he had tested the boy he found him deficient in physical courage,
so he either sent him back to his mother, or, as some versions relate,
slew him.

Some time after this Signy's second son was sent into the forest
for the same purpose, but Sigmund found him equally lacking in
courage. Evidently none but a pure-blooded Volsung would avail for
the grim work of revenge, and Signy, realising this, resolved to
commit a crime.

    "And once in the dark she murmured: 'Where then was the ancient
    That the Gods were but twin-born once, and deemed it nothing wrong
    To mingle for the world's sake, whence had the Æsir birth,
    And the Vanir and the Dwarf-kind, and all the folk of earth?"

Her resolution taken, she summoned a beautiful young witch, and
exchanging forms with her, she sought the depths of the dark forest
and took shelter in Sigmund's hut. The Volsung did not penetrate his
sister's disguise. He deemed her nought but the gypsy she seemed,
and being soon won by her coquetry, he made her his wife. Three days
later she disappeared from the hut, and, returning to the palace,
she resumed her own form, and when she next gave birth to a son,
she rejoiced to see in his bold glance and strong frame the promise
of a true Volsung hero.


When Sinfiotli, as the child was called, was ten years of age, she
herself made a preliminary test of his courage by sewing his garment
to his skin, and then suddenly snatching it off, and as the brave boy
did not so much as wince, but laughed aloud, she confidently sent him
to the forest hut. Sigmund speedily prepared his usual test, and ere
leaving the hut one day he bade Sinfiotli take meal from a certain
sack, and knead it and bake some bread. On returning home, Sigmund
asked whether his orders had been carried out. The lad replied by
showing the bread, and when closely questioned he artlessly confessed
that he had been obliged to knead into the loaf a great adder which
was hidden in the meal. Pleased to see that the boy, for whom he felt
a strange affection, had successfully stood the test which had daunted
his brothers, Sigmund bade him refrain from eating of the loaf, for
although he was proof against the bite of a reptile, he could not,
like his mentor, taste poison unharmed.

    "For here, the tale of the elders doth men a marvel to wit,
    That such was the shaping of Sigmund among all earthly kings,
    That unhurt he handled adders and other deadly things,
    And might drink unscathed of venom: but Sinfiotli was so wrought
    That no sting of creeping creatures would harm his body aught."

The Werewolves

Sigmund now began patiently to teach Sinfiotli all that a warrior
of the North should know, and the two soon became inseparable
companions. One day while ranging the forest together they came
to a hut, where they found two men sound asleep. Near by hung two
wolf-skins, which suggested immediately that the strangers were
werewolves, whom a cruel spell prevented from bearing their natural
form save for a short space at a time. Prompted by curiosity, Sigmund
and Sinfiotli donned the wolf-skins, and they were soon, in the guise
of wolves, rushing through the forest, slaying and devouring all that
came in their way.

Such were their wolfish passions that soon they attacked each other,
and after a fierce struggle Sinfiotli, the younger and weaker, fell
dead. This catastrophe brought Sigmund to his senses, and he hung
over his murdered companion in despair. While thus engaged he saw two
weasels come out of the forest and attack each other fiercely until
one lay dead. The victor then sprang into the thicket, to return with
a leaf, which it laid upon its companion's breast. Then was seen a
marvellous thing, for at the touch of the magic herb the dead beast
came back to life. A moment later a raven flying overhead dropped a
similar leaf at Sigmund's feet, and he, understanding that the gods
wished to help him, laid it upon Sinfiotli, who was at once restored
to life.

In dire fear lest they might work each other further mischief, Sigmund
and Sinfiotli now crept home and patiently waited until the time of
their release should come. To their great relief the skins dropped
off on the ninth night, and they hastily flung them into the fire,
where they were entirely consumed, and the spell was broken for ever.

Sigmund and Sinfiotli taken by Siggeir

Sigmund now confided the story of his wrongs to Sinfiotli, who swore
that, although Siggeir was his father (for neither he nor Sigmund
knew the secret of his birth), he would aid him in his revenge. At
nightfall, therefore, he accompanied Sigmund to the king's hall, and
they entered unseen, concealing themselves in the cellar, behind the
huge vats of beer. Here they were discovered by Signy's two youngest
children, who, while playing with golden rings, which rolled into
the cellar, came suddenly upon the men in ambush.

They loudly proclaimed their discovery to their father and his guests,
but, before Siggeir and his men could take up arms, Signy took both
children, and dragging them into the cellar bade her brother slay the
little traitors. This Sigmund utterly refused to do, but Sinfiotli
struck off their heads ere he turned to fight against the assailants,
who were now closing in upon them.

In spite of all efforts Sigmund and his brave young companion soon
fell into the hands of the Goths, whereupon Siggeir sentenced them to
be buried alive in the same mound, with a stone partition between them
so that they could neither see nor touch each other. The prisoners were
accordingly confined in their living grave, and their foes were about
to place the last stones on the roof, when Signy drew near, bearing a
bundle of straw, which she was allowed to throw at Sinfiotli's feet,
for the Goths fancied that it contained only a few provisions which
would prolong his agony without helping him to escape.

When all was still, Sinfiotli undid the sheaf, and great was his
joy when he found instead of bread the sword which Odin had given to
Sigmund. Knowing that nothing could dull or break the keen edge of
this fine weapon, Sinfiotli thrust it through the stone partition,
and, aided by Sigmund, he succeeded in cutting an opening, and in
the end both effected their escape through the roof.

    "Then in the grave-mound's darkness did Sigmund the king upstand,
    And unto that saw of battle he set his naked hand;
    And hard the gift of Odin home to their breasts they drew;
    Sawed Sigmund, sawed Sinfiotli, till the stone was cleft atwo,
    And they met and kissed together: then they hewed and heaved
    full hard
    Till, lo, through the bursten rafters the winter heavens bestarred!
    And they leap out merry-hearted; nor is there need to say
    A many words between them of whither was the way."

Sigmund's Vengeance

As soon as they were free, Sigmund and Sinfiotli returned to the king's
hall, and piling combustible materials around it, they set fire to
the mass. Then stationing themselves on either side of the entrance,
they prevented all but the women from passing through. They loudly
adjured Signy to escape ere it was too late, but she did not desire
to live, and so coming to the entrance for a last embrace she found
opportunity to whisper the secret of Sinfiotli's birth, after which
she sprang back into the flames and perished with the rest.

    "And then King Siggeir's roof-tree upheaved for its utmost fall,
    And its huge walls clashed together, and its mean and lowly things
    The fire of death confounded with the tokens of the kings."


The long-planned vengeance for the slaughter of the Volsungs having
thus been carried out, Sigmund, feeling that nothing now detained
him in the land of the Goths, set sail with Sinfiotli and returned to
Hunaland, where he was warmly welcomed to the seat of power under the
shade of his ancestral tree, the mighty Branstock. When his authority
was fully established, Sigmund married Borghild, a beautiful princess,
who bore him two sons, Hamond and Helgi. The latter was visited by
the Norns as he lay in his cradle, and they promised him sumptuous
entertainment in Valhalla when his earthly career should be ended.

    "And the woman was fair and lovely and bore him sons of fame;
    Men called them Hamond and Helgi, and when Helgi first saw light,
    There came the Norns to his cradle and gave him life full bright,
    And called him Sunlit Hill, Sharp Sword, and Land of Rings,
    And bade him be lovely and great, and a joy in the tale of kings."

Northern kings generally entrusted their sons' upbringing to a
stranger, for they thought that so they would be treated with less
indulgence than at home. Accordingly Helgi was fostered by Hagal,
and under his care the young prince became so fearless that at the
age of fifteen he ventured alone into the hall of Hunding, with whose
race his family was at feud. Passing through the hall unmolested and
unrecognised, he left an insolent message, which so angered Hunding
that he immediately set out in pursuit of the bold young prince,
whom he followed to the dwelling of Hagal. Helgi would then have been
secured but that meanwhile he had disguised himself as a servant-maid,
and was busy grinding corn as if this were his wonted occupation. The
invaders marvelled somewhat at the maid's tall stature and brawny
arms, nevertheless they departed without suspecting that they had
been so near the hero whom they sought.

Having thus cleverly escaped, Helgi joined Sinfiotli, and collecting an
army, the two young men marched boldly against the Hundings, with whom
they fought a great battle, over which the Valkyrs hovered, waiting
to convey the slain to Valhalla. Gudrun, one of the battle-maidens,
was so struck by the courage which Helgi displayed, that she openly
sought him and promised to be his wife. Only one of the Hunding race,
Dag, remained alive, and he was allowed to go free after promising not
to endeavour to avenge his kinsmen's death. This promise was not kept,
however, and Dag, having obtained possession of Odin's spear Gungnir,
treacherously slew Helgi with it. Gudrun, who in the meantime had
fulfilled her promise to become his wife, wept many tears at his death,
and laid a solemn curse upon his murderer; then, hearing from one of
her maids that her slain husband kept calling for her from the depths
of the tomb, she fearlessly entered the mound at night and tenderly
inquired why he called and why his wounds continued to bleed after
death. Helgi answered that he could not rest happy because of her
grief, and declared that for every tear she shed a drop of his blood
must flow.

    "Thou weepest, gold-adorned!
    Cruel tears,
    Sun-bright daughter of the south!
    Ere to sleep thou goest;
    Each one falls bloody
    On the prince's breast,
    Wet, cold, and piercing,
    With sorrow big."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

To appease the spirit of her beloved husband, Gudrun from that time
ceased to weep, but they did not long remain separated; for soon after
the spirit of Helgi had ridden over Bifröst and entered Valhalla,
to become leader of the Einheriar, he was joined by Gudrun who, as a
Valkyr once more, resumed her loving tendance of him. When at Odin's
command she left his side for scenes of human strife, it was to seek
new recruits for the army which her lord was to lead into battle when
Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, should come.

The Death of Sinfiotli

Sinfiotli, Sigmund's eldest son, also met an early death; for, having
slain in a quarrel the brother of Borghild, she determined to poison
him. Twice Sinfiotli detected the attempt and told his father that
there was poison in his cup. Twice Sigmund, whom no venom could injure,
drained the bowl; and when Borghild made a third attempt, he bade
Sinfiotli let the wine flow through his beard. Mistaking the meaning
of his father's words, Sinfiotli forthwith drained the cup, and fell
lifeless to the ground, for the poison was of the most deadly kind.

    "He drank as he spake the word, and forthwith the venom ran
    In a chill flood over his heart and down fell the mighty man
    With never an uttered death-word and never a death-changed look,
    And the floor of the hall of the Volsungs beneath his falling
    Then up rose the elder of days with a great and bitter cry,
    And lifted the head of the fallen; and none durst come anigh
    To hearken the words of his sorrow, if any words he said
    But such as the Father of all men might speak over Baldur dead.
    And again, as before the death-stroke, waxed the hall of the
    Volsungs dim,
    And once more he seemed in the forest, where he spake with nought
    but him."

Speechless with grief, Sigmund tenderly raised his son's body in
his arms, and strode out of the hall and down to the shore, where he
deposited his precious burden in a skiff which an old one-eyed boatman
brought at his call. He would fain have stepped aboard also, but ere
he could do so the boatman pushed off and the frail craft was soon
lost to sight. The bereaved father then slowly wended his way home,
taking comfort from the thought that Odin himself had come to claim
the young hero and had rowed away with him "out into the west."


Sigmund deposed Borghild as his wife and queen in punishment for
this crime, and when he was very old he sued for the hand of Hiordis,
a fair young princess, daughter of Eglimi, King of the Islands. This
young maiden had many suitors, among others King Lygni of Hunding's
race, but so great was Sigmund's fame that she gladly accepted him
and became his wife. Lygni, the discarded suitor, was so angry at
this decision, that he immediately collected a great army and marched
against his successful rival, who, though overpowered by superior
numbers, fought with the courage of despair.

From the depths of a thicket which commanded the field of battle,
Hiordis and her maid anxiously watched the progress of the strife. They
saw Sigmund pile the dead around him, for none could stand against
him, until at last a tall, one-eyed warrior suddenly appeared, and
the press of battle gave way before the terror of his presence.

Without a moment's pause the new champion aimed a fierce blow
at Sigmund, which the old hero parried with his sword. The shock
shattered the matchless blade, and although the strange assailant
vanished as he had come, Sigmund was left defenceless and was soon
wounded unto death by his foes.

    "But lo, through the hedge of the war-shafts, a mighty man
    there came,
    One-eyed and seeming ancient, but his visage shone like flame:
    Gleaming grey was his kirtle, and his hood was cloudy blue;
    And he bore a mighty twi-bill, as he waded the fight-sheaves
    And stood face to face with Sigmund, and upheaved the bill
    to smite.
    Once more round the head of the Volsung fierce glittered the
    Branstock's light,
    The sword that came from Odin; and Sigmund's cry once more
    Rang out to the very heavens above the din of war.
    Then clashed the meeting edges with Sigmund's latest stroke,
    And in shivering shards fell earthward that fear of worldly folk.
    But changed were the eyes of Sigmund, and the war-wrath left
    his face;
    For that grey-clad, mighty helper was gone, and in his place
    Drave on the unbroken spear-wood 'gainst the Volsung's empty hands:
    And there they smote down Sigmund, the wonder of all lands,
    On the foemen, on the death-heap his deeds had piled that day."

As the battle was now won, and the Volsung family all slain, Lygni
hastened from the battlefield to take possession of the kingdom and
force the fair Hiordis to become his wife. As soon as he had gone,
however, the beautiful young queen crept from her hiding-place in
the thicket, and sought the spot where Sigmund lay all but dead. She
caught the stricken hero to her breast in a last passionate embrace,
and then listened tearfully while he bade her gather the fragments of
his sword and carefully treasure them for their son whom he foretold
was soon to be born, and who was destined to avenge his father's
death and to be far greater than he.

    "'I have wrought for the Volsungs truly, and yet have I known
    full well
    That a better one than I am shall bear the tale to tell:
    And for him shall these shards be smithied: and he shall be my son,
    To remember what I have forgotten and to do what I left undone.'"

Elf, the Viking

While Hiordis was mourning over Sigmund's lifeless body, her handmaiden
suddenly warned her of the approach of a band of vikings. Retreating
into the thicket once more, the two women exchanged garments, after
which Hiordis bade the maid walk first and personate the queen, and
they went thus to meet the viking Elf (Helfrat or Helferich). Elf
received the women graciously, and their story of the battle so
excited his admiration for Sigmund that he caused the remains of the
slain hero to be reverentially removed to a suitable spot, where they
were interred with all due ceremony. He then offered the queen and
her maid a safe asylum in his hall, and they gladly accompanied him
over the seas.

As he had doubted their relative positions from the first, Elf took
the first opportunity after arriving in his kingdom to ask a seemingly
idle question in order to ascertain the truth. He asked the pretended
queen how she knew the hour had come for rising when the winter days
were short and there was no light to announce the coming of morn,
and she replied that, as she was in the habit of drinking milk ere
she fed the cows, she always awoke thirsty. When the same question
was put to the real Hiordis, she answered, with as little reflection,
that she knew it was morning because at that hour the golden ring
which her father had given her grew cold on her hand.

The Birth of Sigurd

The suspicions of Elf having thus been confirmed, he offered marriage
to the pretended handmaiden, Hiordis, promising to cherish her
infant son, a promise which he nobly kept. When the child was born
Elf himself sprinkled him with water--a ceremony which our pagan
ancestors scrupulously observed--and bestowed upon him the name of
Sigurd. As he grew up he was treated as the king's own son, and his
education was entrusted to Regin, the wisest of men, who knew all
things, his own fate not even excepted, for it had been revealed to
him that he would fall by the hand of a youth.

    "Again in the house of the Helper there dwelt a certain man,
    Beardless and low of stature, of visage pinched and wan:
    So exceeding old was Regin, that no son of man could tell
    In what year of the days passed over he came to that land to dwell:
    But the youth of king Elf had he fostered, and the Helper's
    youth thereto,
    Yea and his father's father's: the lore of all men he knew,
    And was deft in every cunning, save the dealings of the sword:
    So sweet was his tongue-speech fashioned, that men trowed his
    every word;
    His hand with the harp-strings blended was the mingler of delight
    With the latter days of sorrow; all tales he told aright;
    The Master of the Masters in the smithying craft was he;
    And he dealt with the wind and the weather and the stilling of
    the sea;
    Nor might any learn him leech-craft, for before that race was made,
    And that man-folk's generation, all their life-days had he

Under this tutor Sigurd grew daily in wisdom until few could surpass
him. He mastered the smith's craft, and the art of carving all manner
of runes; he learned languages, music, and eloquence; and, last but
not least, he became a doughty warrior whom none could subdue. When he
had reached manhood Regin prompted him to ask the king for a war-horse,
a request which was immediately granted, and Gripir, the stud-keeper,
was bidden to allow him to choose from the royal stables the steed
which he most fancied.

On his way to the meadow where the horses were at pasture, Sigurd met
a one-eyed stranger, clad in grey and blue, who accosted the young
man and bade him drive the horses into the river and select the one
which could breast the tide with least difficulty.

Sigurd received the advice gladly, and upon reaching the meadow he
drove the horses into the stream which flowed on one side. One of the
number, after crossing, raced round the opposite meadow; and, plunging
again into the river, returned to his former pasture without showing
any signs of fatigue. Sigurd therefore did not hesitate to select this
horse, and he gave him the name of Grane or Greyfell. The steed was
a descendant of Odin's eight-footed horse Sleipnir, and besides being
unusually strong and indefatigable, was as fearless as his master.

One winter day while Regin and his pupil were sitting by the fire,
the old man struck his harp, and, after the manner of the Northern
scalds, sang or recited in the following tale, the story of his life:

The Treasure of the Dwarf King

Hreidmar, king of the dwarf folk, was the father of three sons. Fafnir,
the eldest, was gifted with a fearless soul and a powerful arm; Otter,
the second, with snare and net, and the power of changing his form
at will; and Regin, the youngest, with all wisdom and deftness of
hand. To please the avaricious Hreidmar, this youngest son fashioned
for him a house lined with glittering gold and flashing gems, and
this was guarded by Fafnir, whose fierce glances and Ægis helmet none
dared encounter.

Now it came to pass that Odin, Hoenir, and Loki once came in human
guise, upon one of their wonted expeditions to test the hearts of men,
unto the land where Hreidmar dwelt.

    "And the three were the heart-wise Odin, the Father of the Slain,
    And Loki, the World's Begrudger, who maketh all labour vain,
    And Hænir, the Utter-Blameless, who wrought the hope of man,
    And his heart and inmost yearnings, when first the work began;--
    The God that was aforetime, and hereafter yet shall be
    When the new light yet undreamed of shall shine o'er earth
    and sea."

As the gods came near to Hreidmar's dwelling, Loki perceived
an otter basking in the sun. This was none other than the dwarf
king's second son, Otter, who now succumbed to Loki's usual love of
destruction. Killing the unfortunate creature he flung its lifeless
body over his shoulders, thinking it would furnish a good dish when
meal time came.

Loki then hastened after his companions, and entering Hreidmar's
house with them, he flung his burden down upon the floor. The moment
the dwarf king's glance fell upon the seeming otter, he flew into
a towering rage, and ere they could offer effective resistance the
gods found themselves lying bound, and they heard Hreidmar declare
that never should they recover their liberty until they could satisfy
his thirst for gold by giving him of that precious substance enough
to cover the skin of the otter inside and out.

    "'Now hearken the doom I shall speak! Ye stranger-folk shall
    be free
    When ye give me the Flame of the Waters, the gathered Gold of
    the Sea,
    That Andvari hideth rejoicing in the wan realm pale as the grave;
    And the Master of Sleight shall fetch it, and the hand that
    never gave,
And the heart that begrudgeth for ever, shall gather and give and rue.
    --Lo, this is the doom of the wise, and no doom shall be spoken

As the otter-skin developed the property of stretching itself to a
fabulous size, no ordinary treasure could suffice to cover it, and the
plight of the gods, therefore, was a very bad one. The case, however,
became a little more hopeful when Hreidmar consented to liberate one
of their number. The emissary selected was Loki, who lost no time in
setting off to the waterfall where the dwarf Andvari dwelt, in order
that he might secure the treasure there amassed.

    "There is a desert of dread in the uttermost part of the world,
    Where over a wall of mountains is a mighty water hurled,
    Whose hidden head none knoweth, nor where it meeteth the sea;
    And that force is the Force of Andvari, and an Elf of the Dark
    is he.
    In the cloud and the desert he dwelleth amid that land alone;
    And his work is the storing of treasure within his house of stone."

In spite of diligent search, however, Loki could not find the dwarf,
until, perceiving a salmon sporting in the foaming waters, it occurred
to him that the dwarf might have assumed this shape. Borrowing Ran's
net he soon caught the fish, and learned, as he had suspected, that it
was Andvari. Finding that there was nothing else for it, the dwarf now
reluctantly brought forth his mighty treasure and surrendered it all,
including the Helmet of Dread and a hauberk of gold, reserving only a
ring which was gifted with miraculous powers, and which, like a magnet,
attracted the precious ore. But the greedy Loki, catching sight of it,
wrenched it from off the dwarf's finger and departed laughing, while
his victim hurled angry curses after him, declaring that the ring would
ever prove its possessor's bane and would cause the death of many.

    "That gold
    Which the dwarf possessed
    Shall to two brothers
    Be cause of death,
    And to eight princes,
    Of dissension.
    From my wealth no one
    Shall good derive."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

On arriving at Hreidmar's house, Loki found the mighty treasure none
too great, for the skin became larger with every object placed upon it,
and he was forced to throw in the ring Andvaranaut (Andvari's loom),
which he had intended to retain, in order to secure the release of
himself and his companions. Andvari's curse of the gold soon began
to operate. Fafnir and Regin both coveted a share, while Hriedmar
gloated over his treasure night and day, and would not part with an
item of it. Fafnir the invincible, seeing at last that he could not
otherwise gratify his lust, slew his father, and seized the whole
of the treasure, then, when Regin came to claim a share he drove him
scornfully away and bade him earn his own living.

Thus exiled, Regin took refuge among men, to whom he taught the arts
of sowing and reaping. He showed them how to work metals, sail the
seas, tame horses, yoke beasts of burden, build houses, spin, weave,
and sew--in short, all the industries of civilised life, which had
hitherto been unknown. Years elapsed, and Regin patiently bided
his time, hoping that some day he would find a hero strong enough
to avenge his wrongs upon Fafnir, whom years of gloating over his
treasure had changed into a horrible dragon, the terror of Gnîtaheid
(Glittering Heath), where he had taken up his abode.

His story finished, Regin turned suddenly to the attentive Sigurd,
saying he knew that the young man could slay the dragon if he wished,
and inquiring whether he were ready to aid him to avenge his wrongs.

    "And he spake: 'Hast thou hearkened, Sigurd? Wilt thou help a
    man that is old
    To avenge him for his father? Wilt thou win that treasure of Gold
    And be more than the Kings of the earth? Wilt thou rid the earth
    of a wrong
    And heal the woe and the sorrow my heart hath endured o'er long?'"

Sigurd's Sword

Sigurd immediately assented, on the condition, however, that the curse
should be assumed by Regin, who, also, in order to fitly equip the
young man for the coming fight, should forge him a sword, which no
blow could break. Twice Regin fashioned a marvellous weapon, but twice
Sigurd broke it to pieces on the anvil. Then Sigurd bethought him of
the broken fragments of Sigmund's weapon which were treasured by his
mother, and going to Hiordis he begged these from her; and either
he or Regin forged from them a blade so strong that it divided the
great anvil in two without being dinted, and whose temper was such
that it neatly severed some wool floating gently upon the stream.

Sigurd now went upon a farewell visit to Gripir, who, knowing the
future, foretold every event in his coming career; after which he
took leave of his mother, and accompanied by Regin set sail for the
land of his fathers, vowing to slay the dragon when he had fulfilled
his first duty, which was to avenge the death of Sigmund.

    "'First wilt thou, prince,
    Avenge thy father,
    And for the wrongs of Eglymi
    Wilt retaliate.
    Thou wilt the cruel,
    The sons of Hunding,
    Boldly lay low:
    Thou wilt have victory.'"

            Lay of Sigurd Fafnicide (Thorpe's tr.).

On his way to the land of the Volsungs a most marvellous sight was
seen, for there came a man walking on the waters. Sigurd straightway
took him on board his dragon ship, and the stranger, who gave his name
as Feng or Fiöllnir, promised favourable winds. Also he taught Sigurd
how to distinguish auspicious omens. In reality the old man was Odin
or Hnikar, the wave-stiller, but Sigurd did not suspect his identity.

The Fight with the Dragon

Sigurd was entirely successful in his descent upon Lygni, whom he
slew, together with many of his followers. He then departed from his
reconquered kingdom and returned with Regin to slay Fafnir. Together
they rode through the mountains, which ever rose higher and higher
before them, until they came to a great tract of desert which Regin
said was the haunt of Fafnir. Sigurd now rode on alone until he met
a one-eyed stranger, who bade him dig trenches in the middle of the
track along which the dragon daily dragged his slimy length to the
river to quench his thirst, and to lie in wait in one of these until
the monster passed over him, when he could thrust his sword straight
into its heart.

Sigurd gratefully followed this counsel, and was rewarded with complete
success, for as the monster's loathsome folds rolled overhead, he
thrust his sword upward into its left breast, and as he sprang out
of the trench the dragon lay gasping in the throes of death.

    "Then all sank into silence, and the son of Sigmund stood
    On the torn and furrowed desert by the pool of Fafnir's blood,
    And the Serpent lay before him, dead, chilly, dull, and grey;
    And over the Glittering Heath fair shone the sun and the day,
    And a light wind followed the sun and breathed o'er the fateful
    As fresh as it furrows the sea-plain, or bows the acres' face."

Regin had prudently remained at a distance until all danger was past,
but seeing that his foe was slain, he now came up. He was fearful
lest the young hero should claim a reward, so he began to accuse him
of having murdered his kin, but, with feigned magnanimity, he declared
that instead of requiring life for life, in accordance with the custom
of the North, he would consider it sufficient atonement if Sigurd
would cut out the monster's heart and roast it for him on a spit.

    "Then Regin spake to Sigurd: 'Of this slaying wilt thou be free?
    Then gather thou fire together and roast the heart for me,
    That I may eat it and live, and be thy master and more;
    For therein was might and wisdom, and the grudged and hoarded lore:
    --Or, else depart on thy ways afraid from the Glittering Heath.'"

Sigurd was aware that a true warrior never refused satisfaction of
some kind to the kindred of the slain, so he agreed to the seemingly
small proposal, and immediately prepared to act as cook, while Regin
dozed until the meat was ready. After an interval Sigurd touched the
roast to ascertain whether it were tender, but burning his fingers
severely, he instinctively thrust them into his mouth to allay the
smart. No sooner had Fafnir's blood thus touched his lips than he
discovered, to his utter surprise, that he could understand the
songs of the birds, many of which were already gathering round the
carrion. Listening attentively, he found that they were telling how
Regin meditated mischief against him, and how he ought to slay the
old man and take the gold, which was his by right of conquest, after
which he ought to partake of the heart and blood of the dragon. As
this coincided with his own wishes, he slew the evil old man with a
thrust of his sword and proceeded to eat and drink as the birds had
suggested, reserving a small portion of Fafnir's heart for future
consumption. He then wandered off in search of the mighty hoard,
and, after donning the Helmet of Dread, the hauberk of gold, and the
ring Andvaranaut, and loading Greyfell with as much gold as he could
carry, he sprang to the saddle and sat listening eagerly to the birds'
songs to know what his future course should be.

The Sleeping Warrior Maiden

Soon he heard of a warrior maiden fast asleep on a mountain and
surrounded by a glittering barrier of flames, through which only the
bravest of men could pass to arouse her.

    "On the fell I know
    A warrior maid to sleep;
    Over her waves
    The linden's bane:
    Ygg whilom stuck
    A sleep-thorn in the robe
    Of the maid who
    Would heroes choose."

            Lay of Fafnir (Thorpe's tr.).

This adventure was the very thing for Sigurd, and he set off at
once. The way lay through trackless regions, and the journey was long
and cheerless, but at length he came to the Hindarfiall in Frankland,
a tall mountain whose cloud-wreathed summit seemed circled by fiery

    "Long Sigurd rideth the waste, when, lo, on a morning of day,
    From out of the tangled crag-walls, amidst the cloudland grey,
    Comes up a mighty mountain, and it is as though there burns
    A torch amidst of its cloud-wreath; so thither Sigurd turns,
    For he deems indeed from its topmost to look on the best of
    the earth;
    And Greyfell neigheth beneath him, and his heart is full of mirth."

Sigurd rode up the mountain side, and the light grew more and more
vivid as he proceeded, until when he had neared the summit a barrier
of lurid flames stood before him. The fire burned with a roar which
would have daunted the heart of any other, but Sigurd remembered
the words of the birds, and without a moment's hesitation he plunged
bravely into its very midst.

    "Now Sigurd turns in his saddle, and the hilt of the Wrath
    he shifts,
    And draws a girth the tighter; then the gathered reins he lifts,
    And crieth aloud to Greyfell, and rides at the wildfire's heart;
    But the white wall wavers before him and the flame-flood rusheth
    And high o'er his head it riseth, and wide and wild its roar
    As it beareth the mighty tidings to the very heavenly floor:
    But he rideth through its roaring as the warrior rides the rye,
    When it bows with the wind of the summer and the hid spears
    draw anigh;
    The white flame licks his raiment and sweeps through Greyfell's
    And bathes both hands of Sigurd and the hilt of Fafnir's bane,
    And winds about his war-helm and mingles with his hair,
But nought his raiment dusketh or dims his glittering gear;
    Then it fails and fades and darkens till all seems left behind,
    And dawn and the blaze is swallowed in mid-mirk stark and blind."

The threatening flames having now died away, Sigurd pursued his
journey over a broad tract of white ashes, directing his course to
a great castle, with shield-hung walls. The great gates stood wide
open, and Sigurd rode through them unchallenged by warders or men at
arms. Proceeding cautiously, for he feared some snare, he at last came
to the centre of the courtyard, where he saw a recumbent form cased
in armour. Sigurd dismounted from his steed and eagerly removed the
helmet, when he started with surprise to behold, instead of a warrior,
the face of a most beautiful maiden.

All his efforts to awaken the sleeper were vain, however, until he
had removed her armour, and she lay before him in pure-white linen
garments, her long hair falling in golden waves around her. Then as the
last fastening of her armour gave way, she opened wide her beautiful
eyes, which met the rising sun, and first greeting with rapture the
glorious spectacle, she turned to her deliverer, and the young hero
and the maiden loved each other at first sight.

    "Then she turned and gazed on Sigurd, and her eyes met the
    Volsung's eyes.
    And mighty and measureless now did the tide of his love arise,
    For their longing had met and mingled, and he knew of her heart
    that she loved,
    And she spake unto nothing but him and her lips with the
    speech-flood moved."

The maiden now proceeded to tell Sigurd her story. Her name was
Brunhild, and according to some authorities she was the daughter of
an earthly king whom Odin had raised to the rank of a Valkyr. She
had served him faithfully for a long while, but once had ventured to
set her own wishes above his, giving to a younger and therefore more
attractive opponent the victory which Odin had commanded for another.

In punishment for this act of disobedience, she had been deprived
of her office and banished to earth, where Allfather decreed she
should wed like any other member of her sex. This sentence filled
Brunhild's heart with dismay, for she greatly feared lest it might be
her fate to mate with a coward, whom she would despise. To quiet these
apprehensions, Odin took her to Hindarfiall or Hindfell, and touching
her with the Thorn of Sleep, that she might await in unchanged youth
and beauty the coming of her destined husband, he surrounded her with
a barrier of flame which none but a hero would venture through.

From the top of Hindarfiall, Brunhild now pointed out to Sigurd her
former home, at Lymdale or Hunaland, telling him he would find her
there whenever he chose to come and claim her as his wife; and then,
while they stood on the lonely mountain top together, Sigurd placed
the ring Andvaranaut upon her finger, in token of betrothal, swearing
to love her alone as long as life endured.

    "From his hand then draweth Sigurd Andvari's ancient Gold;
    There is nought but the sky above them as the ring together
    they hold,
    The shapen ancient token, that hath no change nor end,
    No change, and no beginning, no flaw for God to mend:
    Then Sigurd cried: 'O Brynhild, now hearken while I swear,
    That the sun shall die in the heavens and the day no more be fair,
    If I seek not love in Lymdale and the house that fostered thee,
    And the land where thou awakedst 'twixt the woodland and the sea!'
    And she cried: 'O Sigurd, Sigurd, now hearken while I swear
    That the day shall die for ever and the sun to blackness wear,
    Ere I forget thee, Sigurd, as I lie 'twixt wood and sea
    In the little land of Lymdale and the house that fostered me!'"

The Fostering of Aslaug

According to some authorities, the lovers parted after thus plighting
their troth; but others say that Sigurd soon sought out and wedded
Brunhild, with whom he lived for a while in perfect happiness until
forced to leave her and his infant daughter Aslaug. This child, left
orphaned at three years of age, was fostered by Brunhild's father, who,
driven away from home, concealed her in a cunningly fashioned harp,
until reaching a distant land he was murdered by a peasant couple for
the sake of the gold they supposed it to contain. Their surprise and
disappointment were great indeed when, on breaking the instrument open,
they found a beautiful little girl, whom they deemed mute, as she would
not speak a word. Time passed, and the child, whom they had trained
as a drudge, grew to be a beautiful maiden, and she won the affection
of a passing viking, Ragnar Lodbrog, King of the Danes, to whom she
told her tale. The viking sailed away to other lands to fulfil the
purposes of his voyage, but when a year had passed, during which time
he won much glory, he came back and carried away Aslaug as his bride.

    "She heard a voice she deemed well known,
    Long waited through dull hours bygone
    And round her mighty arms were cast:
    But when her trembling red lips passed
    From out the heaven of that dear kiss,
    And eyes met eyes, she saw in his
    Fresh pride, fresh hope, fresh love, and saw
    The long sweet days still onward draw,
    Themselves still going hand in hand,
    As now they went adown the strand."

            The Fostering of Aslaug (William Morris).

In continuation of the story of Sigurd and Brunhild, however, we are
told that the young man went to seek adventures in the great world,
where he had vowed, as a true hero, to right the wrong and defend
the fatherless and oppressed.

The Niblungs

In the course of his wanderings, Sigurd came to the land of the
Niblungs, the land of continual mist, where Giuki and Grimhild were
king and queen. The latter was specially to be feared, as she was well
versed in magic lore, and could weave spells and concoct marvellous
potions which had power to steep the drinker in temporary forgetfulness
and compel him to yield to her will.

The king and queen had three sons, Gunnar, Högni, and Guttorm,
who were brave young men, and one daughter, Gudrun, the gentlest
as well as the most beautiful of maidens. All welcomed Sigurd most
warmly, and Giuki invited him to tarry awhile. The invitation was
very agreeable after his long wanderings, and Sigurd was glad to
stay and share the pleasures and occupations of the Niblungs. He
accompanied them to war, and so distinguished himself by his valour,
that he won the admiration of Grimhild and she resolved to secure him
as her daughter's husband. One day, therefore, she brewed one of her
magic potions, and when he had partaken of it at the hand of Gudrun,
he utterly forgot Brunhild and his plighted troth, and all his love
was diverted unto the queen's daughter.

    "But the heart was changed in Sigurd; as though it ne'er had been
    His love of Brynhild perished as he gazed on the Niblung Queen:
    Brynhild's beloved body was e'en as a wasted hearth,
    No more for bale or blessing, for plenty or for dearth."

Although there was not wanting a vague fear that he had forgotten
some event in the past which should rule his conduct, Sigurd asked for
and obtained Gudrun's hand, and their wedding was celebrated amid the
rejoicings of the people, who loved the young hero very dearly. Sigurd
gave his bride some of Fafnir's heart to eat, and the moment she
had tasted it her nature was changed, and she began to grow cold and
silent to all except him. To further cement his alliance with the two
eldest Giukings (as the sons of Giuki were called) Sigurd entered the
"doom ring" with them, and the three young men cut a sod which was
placed upon a shield, beneath which they stood while they bared and
slightly cut their right arms, allowing their blood to mingle in the
fresh earth. Then, when they had sworn eternal friendship, the sod
was replaced.

But although Sigurd loved his wife and felt a true fraternal affection
for her brothers, he could not lose his haunting sense of oppression,
and was seldom seen to smile as radiantly as of old. Giuki had now
died, and his eldest son, Gunnar, ruled in his stead. As the young
king was unwedded, Grimhild, his mother, besought him to take a wife,
suggesting that none seemed more worthy to become Queen of the Niblungs
than Brunhild, who, it was reported, sat in a golden hall surrounded
by flames, whence she had declared she would issue only to marry the
warrior who would dare brave the fire for her sake.

Gunnar's Stratagem

Gunnar immediately prepared to seek this maiden, and strengthened
by one of his mother's magic potions, and encouraged by Sigurd, who
accompanied him, he felt confident of success. But when on reaching
the summit of the mountain he would have ridden into the fire, his
steed drew back affrighted and he could not induce him to advance a
step. Seeing that his companion's steed did not show signs of fear,
he asked him of Sigurd; but although Greyfell allowed Gunnar to mount,
he would not stir because his master was not on his back.

Now as Sigurd carried the Helmet of Dread, and Grimhild had given
Gunnar a magic potion in case it should be needed, it was possible
for the companions to exchange their forms and features, and seeing
that Gunnar could not penetrate the flaming wall Sigurd proposed to
assume the appearance of Gunnar and woo the bride for him. The king
was greatly disappointed, but as no alternative offered he dismounted,
and the necessary exchange was soon effected. Then Sigurd mounted
Greyfell in the semblance of his companion, and this time the steed
showed not the least hesitation, but leaped into the flames at the
first touch on his bridle, and soon brought his rider to the castle,
where, in the great hall, sat Brunhild. Neither recognised the other:
Sigurd because of the magic spell cast over him by Grimhild; Brunhild
because of the altered appearance of her lover.

The maiden shrank in disappointment from the dark-haired intruder,
for she had deemed it impossible for any but Sigurd to ride through
the flaming circle. But she advanced reluctantly to meet her visitor,
and when he declared that he had come to woo her, she permitted him
to take a husband's place at her side, for she was bound by solemn
injunction to accept as her spouse him who should thus seek her
through the flames.

Three days did Sigurd remain with Brunhild, and his bright sword lay
bared between him and his bride. This singular behaviour aroused the
curiosity of the maiden, wherefore Sigurd told her that the gods had
bidden him celebrate his wedding thus.

    "There they went in one bed together; but the foster-brother laid
    'Twixt him and the body of Brynhild his bright blue battle-blade;
    And she looked and heeded it nothing; but, e'en as the dead
    folk lie,
    With folded hands she lay there, and let the night go by:
    And as still lay that Image of Gunnar as the dead of life forlorn,
    And hand on hand he folded as he waited for the morn.
    So oft in the moonlit minster your fathers may ye see
    By the side of the ancient mothers await the day to be."

When the fourth morning dawned, Sigurd drew the ring Andvaranaut from
Brunhild's hand, and, replacing it by another, he received her solemn
promise that in ten days' time she would appear at the Niblung court
to take up her duties as queen and faithful wife.

    "'I thank thee, King, for thy goodwill, and thy pledge of love
    I take,
    Depart with my troth to thy people: but ere full ten days are o'er
    I shall come to the Sons of the Niblungs, and then shall we part
    no more
    Till the day of the change of our life-days, when Odin and Freya
    shall call.'"

The promise given, Sigurd again passed out of the palace, through the
ashes, and joined Gunnar, with whom, after he had reported the success
of his venture, he hastened to exchange forms once more. The warriors
then turned their steeds homeward, and only to Gudrun did Sigurd reveal
the secret of her brother's wooing, and he gave her the fatal ring,
little suspecting the many woes which it was destined to occasion.

The Coming of Brunhild

True to her promise, Brunhild appeared ten days later, and solemnly
blessing the house she was about to enter, she greeted Gunnar
kindly, and allowed him to conduct her to the great hall, where sat
Sigurd beside Gudrun. The Volsung looked up at that moment and as he
encountered Brunhild's reproachful eyes Grimhild's spell was broken and
the past came back in a flood of bitter recollection. It was too late,
however: both were in honour bound, he to Gudrun and she to Gunnar,
whom she passively followed to the high seat, to sit beside him as
the scalds entertained the royal couple with the ancient lays of
their land.

The days passed, and Brunhild remained apparently indifferent, but
her heart was hot with anger, and often did she steal out of her
husband's palace to the forest, where she could give vent to her
grief in solitude.

Meanwhile, Gunnar perceived the cold indifference of his wife to his
protestations of affection, and began to have jealous suspicions,
wondering whether Sigurd had honestly told the true story of the
wooing, and fearing lest he had taken advantage of his position to win
Brunhild's love. Sigurd alone continued the even tenor of his way,
striving against none but tyrants and oppressors, and cheering all
by his kindly words and smile.

The Quarrel of the Queens

On a day the queens went down together to the Rhine to bathe, and as
they were entering the water Gudrun claimed precedence by right of
her husband's courage. Brunhild refused to yield what she deemed her
right, and a quarrel ensued, in the course of which Gudrun accused
her sister-in-law of not having kept her faith, producing the ring
Andvaranaut in support of her charge. The sight of the fatal ring
in the hand of her rival crushed Brunhild, and she fled homeward,
and lay in speechless grief day after day, until all thought she must
die. In vain did Gunnar and the members of the royal family seek her
in turn and implore her to speak; she would not utter a word until
Sigurd came and inquired the cause of her unutterable grief. Then,
like a long-pent-up stream, her love and anger burst forth, and she
overwhelmed the hero with reproaches, until his heart so swelled
with grief for her sorrow that the tight bands of his strong armour
gave way.

    "Out went Sigurd
    From that interview
    Into the hall of kings,
    Writhing with anguish;
    So that began to start
    The ardent warrior's
    Iron-woven sark
    Off from his sides."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Words had no power to mend that woeful situation, and Brunhild
refused to heed when Sigurd offered to repudiate Gudrun, saying,
as she dismissed him, that she would not be faithless to Gunnar. The
thought that two living men had called her wife was unendurable to
her pride, and the next time her husband sought her presence she
implored him to put Sigurd to death, thus increasing his jealousy
and suspicion. He refused to deal violently with Sigurd, however,
because of their oath of good fellowship, and so she turned to Högni
for aid. He, too, did not wish to violate his oath, but he induced
Guttorm, by means of much persuasion and one of Grimhild's potions,
to undertake the dastardly deed.

The Death of Sigurd

Accordingly, in the dead of night, Guttorm stole into Sigurd's chamber,
weapon in hand; but as he bent over the bed he saw Sigurd's bright
eyes fixed upon him, and fled precipitately. Later on he returned
and the scene was repeated; but towards morning, stealing in for
the third time, he found the hero asleep, and traitorously drove his
spear through his back.

Although wounded unto death, Sigurd raised himself in bed, and seizing
his renowned sword which hung beside him, he flung it with all his
remaining strength at the flying murderer, cutting him in two as
he reached the door. Then, with a last whispered farewell to the
terrified Gudrun, Sigurd sank back and breathed his last.

                    "'Mourn not, O Gudrun, this stroke is the last
                    of ill;
    Fear leaveth the House of the Niblungs on this breaking of
    the morn;
    Mayst thou live, O woman beloved, unforsaken, unforlorn!'
    'It is Brynhild's deed,' he murmured, 'and the woman that loves
    me well;
    Nought now is left to repent of, and the tale abides to tell.
    I have done many deeds in my life-days; and all these, and my love,
    they lie
    In the hollow hand of Odin till the day of the world go by.
    I have done and I may not undo, I have given and I take not again:
    Art thou other than I, Allfather, wilt thou gather my glory
    in vain?'"

Sigurd's infant son was slain at the same time, and poor Gudrun mourned
over her dead in silent, tearless grief; while Brunhild laughed aloud,
thereby incurring the wrath of Gunnar, who repented, too late, that
he had not taken measures to avert the dastardly crime.

The grief of the Niblungs found expression in the public funeral
celebration which was shortly held. A mighty pyre was erected, to
which were brought precious hangings, fresh flowers, and glittering
arms, as was the custom for the burial of a prince; and as these sad
preparations took shape, Gudrun was the object of tender solicitude
from the women, who, fearing lest her heart would break, tried to open
the flood-gate of her tears by recounting the bitterest sorrows they
had known, one telling of how she too had lost all she held dear. But
these attempts to make her weep were utterly vain, until at length
they laid her husband's head in her lap, bidding her kiss him as if
he were still alive; then her tears began to flow in torrents.

The reaction soon set in for Brunhild also; her resentment was all
forgotten when she saw the body of Sigurd laid on the pyre, arrayed
as if for battle in burnished armour, with the Helmet of Dread at his
head, and accompanied by his steed, which was to be burned with him,
together with several of his faithful servants who would not survive
his loss. She withdrew to her apartment, and after distributing her
possessions among her handmaidens, she donned her richest array,
and stabbed herself as she lay stretched upon her bed.

The tidings soon reached Gunnar, who came with all haste to his wife
and just in time to receive her dying injunction to lay her beside the
hero she loved, with the glittering, unsheathed sword between them,
as it had lain when he had wooed her by proxy. When she had breathed
her last, these wishes were faithfully executed, and her body was
burned with Sigurd's amid the lamentations of all the Niblungs.

In Richard Wagner's story of "The Ring" Brunhild's end is more
picturesque. Mounted on her steed, as when she led the battle-maidens
at the command of Odin, she rode into the flames which leaped to heaven
from the great funeral pyre, and passed for ever from the sight of men.

    "They are gone--the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient
    It shall labour and bear the burden as before that day of their
    It shall groan in its blind abiding for the day that Sigurd
    hath sped,
    And the hour that Brynhild hath hastened, and the dawn that waketh
    the dead:
    It shall yearn, and be oft-times holpen, and forget their deeds
    no more,
    Till the new sun beams on Baldur and the happy sea-less shore."

The death scene of Sigurd (Siegfried) is far more powerful in the
Nibelungenlied. In the Teutonic version his treacherous assailant
lures him from a hunting party in the forest to quench his thirst at
a brook, where he thrusts him through the back with a spear. His body
was thence borne home by the hunters and laid at his wife's feet.

The Flight of Gudrun

Gudrun, still inconsolable, and loathing the kindred who had
treacherously robbed her of all joy in life, fled from her father's
house and took refuge with Elf, Sigurd's foster father, who, after the
death of Hiordis, had married Thora, the daughter of King Hakon. The
two women became great friends, and here Gudrun tarried several years,
employing herself in embroidering upon tapestry the great deeds of
Sigurd, and watching over her little daughter Swanhild, whose bright
eyes reminded her vividly of the husband whom she had lost.

Atli, King of the Huns

In the meantime, Atli, Brunhild's brother, who was now King of the
Huns, had sent to Gunnar to demand atonement for his sister's death;
and to satisfy his claims Gunnar had promised that when her years of
widowhood had been accomplished he would give him Gudrun's hand in
marriage. Time passed, and Atli clamoured for the fulfilment of his
promise, wherefore the Niblung brothers, with their mother Grimhild,
went to seek the long-absent princess, and by the aid of the magic
potion administered by Grimhild they succeeded in persuading Gudrun
to leave little Swanhild in Denmark and to become Atli's wife in the
land of the Huns.

Nevertheless, Gudrun secretly detested her husband, whose avaricious
tendencies were extremely repugnant to her; and even the birth of
two sons, Erp and Eitel, did not console her for the death of her
loved ones and the absence of Swanhild. Her thoughts were continually
of the past, and she often spoke of it, little suspecting that her
descriptions of the wealth of the Niblungs had excited Atli's greed,
and that he was secretly planning some pretext for seizing it.

Atli at last decided to send Knefrud or Wingi, one of his servants,
to invite the Niblung princes to visit his court, intending to slay
them when he should have them in his power; but Gudrun, fathoming this
design, sent a rune message to her brothers, together with the ring
Andvaranaut, around which she had twined a wolf's hair. On the way,
however, the messenger partly effaced the runes, thus changing their
meaning; and when he appeared before the Niblungs, Gunnar accepted
the invitation, in spite of Högni's and Grimhild's warnings, and an
ominous dream of Glaumvor, his second wife.

Burial of the Niblung Treasure

Before departing, however, Gunnar was prevailed upon to bury secretly
the great Niblung hoard in the Rhine, and he sank it in a deep hole
in the bed of the river, the position of which was known to the royal
brothers only, who took a solemn oath never to reveal it.

    "Down then and whirling outward the ruddy Gold fell forth,
    As a flame in the dim grey morning, flashed out a kingdom's worth;
    Then the waters roared above it, the wan water and the foam
    Flew up o'er the face of the rock-wall as the tinkling Gold
    fell home,
    Unheard, unseen for ever, a wonder and a tale,
    Till the last of earthly singers from the sons of men shall fail."

The Treachery of Atli

In martial array the royal band then rode out of the city of the
Niblungs, which they were never again to see, and after many adventures
they entered the land of the Huns, and arrived at Atli's hall, where,
finding that they had been foully entrapped, they slew the traitor
Knefrud, and prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible.

Gudrun hastened to meet them with tender embraces, and, seeing that
they must fight, she grasped a weapon and loyally aided them in the
terrible massacre which ensued. After the first onslaught, Gunnar kept
up the spirits of his followers by playing on his harp, which he laid
aside only when the assaults were renewed. Thrice the brave Niblungs
resisted the assault of the Huns, until all save Gunnar and Högni had
perished, and the king and his brother, wounded, faint, and weary,
fell into the hands of their foes, who cast them, securely bound,
into a dungeon to await death.

Atli had prudently abstained from taking any active part in the
fight, and he now had his brothers-in-law brought in turn before him,
promising them freedom if they would reveal the hiding-place of the
golden hoard; but they proudly kept silence, and it was only after
much torture that Gunnar spake, saying that he had sworn a solemn
oath never to reveal the secret as long as Högni lived. At the same
time he declared that he would believe his brother dead only when
his heart was brought to him on a platter.

    "With a dreadful voice cried Gunnar: 'O fool, hast thou heard
    it told
    Who won the Treasure aforetime and the ruddy rings of the Gold?
    It was Sigurd, child of the Volsungs, the best sprung forth from
    the best:
    He rode from the North and the mountains, and became my summer
    My friend and my brother sworn: he rode the Wavering Fire,
    And won me the Queen of Glory and accomplished my desire;
    The praise of the world he was, the hope of the biders in wrong,
    The help of the lowly people, the hammer of the strong:
    Ah, oft in the world, henceforward, shall the tale be told of
    the deed,
    And I, e'en I, will tell it in the day of the Niblungs' Need:
    For I sat night-long in my armour, and when light was wide o'er
    the land
    I slaughtered Sigurd my brother, and looked on the work of
    mine hand.
    And now, O mighty Atli, I have seen the Niblung's wreck,
    And the feet of the faint-heart dastard have trodden Gunnar's neck;
    And if all be little enough, and the Gods begrudge me rest,
    Let me see the heart of Högni cut quick from his living breast,
    And laid on the dish before me: and then shall I tell of the Gold,
    And become thy servant, Atli, and my life at thy pleasure hold.'"

Urged by greed, Atli gave immediate orders that Högni's heart should
be brought; but his servants, fearing to lay hands on such a grim
warrior, slew the cowardly scullion Hialli. The trembling heart
of this poor wretch called forth contemptuous words from Gunnar,
who declared that such a timorous organ could never have belonged
to his fearless brother. Atli again issued angry commands, and this
time the unquivering heart of Högni was produced, whereupon Gunnar,
turning to the monarch, solemnly swore that since the secret now
rested with him alone it would never be revealed.

The Last of the Niblungs

Livid with anger, the king bade his servants throw Gunnar, with
hands bound, into a den of venomous snakes; but this did not daunt
the reckless Niblung, and, his harp having been flung after him
in derision, he calmly sat in the pit, harping with his toes, and
lulling to sleep all the reptiles save one only. It was said that
Atli's mother had taken the form of this snake, and that she it was
who now bit him in the side, and silenced his triumphant song for ever.

To celebrate his triumph, Atli now ordered a great feast, commanding
Gudrun to be present to wait upon him. At this banquet he ate and
drank heartily, little suspecting that his wife had slain both his
sons, and had served up their roasted hearts and their blood mixed
with wine in cups made of their skulls. After a time the king and his
guests became intoxicated, when Gudrun, according to one version of
the story, set fire to the palace, and as the drunken men were aroused,
too late to escape, she revealed what she had done, and first stabbing
her husband, she calmly perished in the flames with the Huns. Another
version relates, however, that she murdered Atli with Sigurd's sword,
and having placed his body on a ship, which she sent adrift, she cast
herself into the sea and was drowned.

    "She spread out her arms as she spake it, and away from the earth
    she leapt
    And cut off her tide of returning: for the sea-waves over her
    And their will is her will henceforward, and who knoweth the
    deeps of the sea,
    And the wealth of the bed of Gudrun, and the days that yet
    shall be?"

According to a third and very different version, Gudrun was not
drowned, but was borne by the waves to the land where Jonakur was
king. There she became his wife, and the mother of three sons, Sörli,
Hamdir, and Erp. She recovered possession, moreover, of her beloved
daughter Swanhild, who, in the meantime, had grown into a beautiful
maiden of marriageable age.


Swanhild became affianced to Ermenrich, King of Gothland, who sent his
son, Randwer, and one of his servants, Sibich, to escort the bride to
his kingdom. Sibich was a traitor, and as part of a plan to compass the
death of the royal family that he might claim the kingdom, he accused
Randwer of having tried to win his young stepmother's affections. This
accusation so roused the anger of Ermenrich that he ordered his son to
be hanged, and Swanhild to be trampled to death under the feet of wild
horses. The beauty of this daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun was such,
however, that even the wild steeds could not be induced to harm her
until she had been hidden from their sight under a great blanket,
when they trod her to death under their cruel hoofs.

Upon learning the fate of her beloved daughter, Gudrun called her
three sons to her side, and girding them with armour and weapons
against which nothing but stone could prevail, she bade them depart
and avenge their murdered sister, after which she died of grief,
and was burned on a great pyre.

The three youths, Sörli, Hamdir, and Erp, proceeded to Ermenrich's
kingdom, but ere they met their foes, the two eldest, deeming Erp too
young to assist them, taunted him with his small size, and finally
slew him. Sörli and Hamdir then attacked Ermenrich, cut off his hands
and feet, and would have slain him but for a one-eyed stranger who
suddenly appeared and bade the bystanders throw stones at the young
men. His orders were immediately carried out, and Sörli and Hamdir
soon fell slain under the shower of stones, which, as we have seen,
alone had power to injure them.

    "Ye have heard of Sigurd aforetime, how the foes of God he slew;
    How forth from the darksome desert the Gold of Waters he drew;
    How he wakened Love on the Mountain, and wakened Brynhild the
    And dwelt upon Earth for a season, and shone in all men's sight.
    Ye have heard of the Cloudy People, and the dimming of the day,
    And the latter world's confusion, and Sigurd gone away;
    Now ye know of the Need of the Niblungs and the end of broken
    All the death of kings and of kindreds and the Sorrow of Odin
    the Goth."

Interpretation of the Saga

This story of the Volsungs is supposed by some authorities to be
a series of sun myths, in which Sigi, Rerir, Volsung, Sigmund, and
Sigurd in turn personify the glowing orb of day. They are all armed
with invincible swords, the sunbeams, and all travel through the world
fighting against their foes, the demons of cold and darkness. Sigurd,
like Balder, is beloved of all; he marries Brunhild, the dawn maiden,
whom he finds in the midst of flames, the flush of morn, and parts
from her only to find her again when his career is ended. His body is
burned on the funeral pyre, which, like Balder's, represents either
the setting sun or the last gleam of summer, of which he too is a
type. The slaying of Fafnir symbolises the destruction of the demon
of cold or darkness, who has stolen the golden hoard of summer or
the yellow rays of the sun.

According to other authorities, this Saga is based upon history. Atli
is the cruel Attila, the "Scourge of God," while Gunnar is Gundicarius,
a Burgundian monarch, whose kingdom was destroyed by the Huns, and who
was slain with his brothers in 451. Gudrun is the Burgundian princess
Ildico, who slew her husband on her wedding-night, as has already
been related, using the glittering blade which had once belonged to
the sun-god to avenge her murdered kinsmen.


Bishop Tegnér

Probably no writer of the nineteenth century did so much to awaken
interest in the literary treasures of Scandinavia as Bishop Esaias
Tegnér, whom a Swedish author characterised as, "that mighty Genie
who organises even disorder."

Tegnér's "Frithiof Saga" has been translated once at least into every
European tongue, and some twenty times into English and German. Goethe
spoke of the work with the greatest enthusiasm, and the tale, which
gives a matchless picture of the life of our heathen ancestors in the
North, drew similar praise from Longfellow, who considered it to be
one of the most remarkable productions of his century.

Although Tegnér has chosen for his theme the Frithiof saga only, we
find that that tale is the sequel to the older but less interesting
Thorsten saga, of which we give here a very brief outline, merely to
enable the reader to understand clearly every allusion in the more
modern poem.

As is so frequently the case with these ancient tales, the story begins
with Haloge (Loki), who came north with Odin, and began to reign over
northern Norway, which from him was called Halogaland. According to
Northern mythology, this god had two lovely daughters. They were
carried off by bold suitors, who, banished from the mainland by
Haloge's curses and magic spells, took refuge with their newly won
wives upon neighbouring islands.

Birth of Viking

Thus it happened that Haloge's grandson, Viking, was born upon the
island of Bornholm, in the Baltic Sea, where he dwelt until he was
fifteen, and where he became the biggest and strongest man of his
time. Rumours of his valour finally reached Hunvor, a Swedish princess,
who was oppressed by the attentions of a gigantic suitor whom none
dared drive away, and she sent for Viking to deliver her.

Thus summoned, the youth departed, after having received from his
father a magic sword named Angurvadel, whose blows would prove fatal
even to a giant like the suitor of Hunvor. A "holmgang," as a duel
was termed in the North, ensued as soon as the hero arrived upon the
scene, and Viking, having slain his antagonist, could have married
the princess had it not been considered disgraceful for a Northman
to marry before he was twenty.

To beguile the time of waiting for his promised bride, Viking set
out in a well-manned dragon ship; and cruising about the Northern and
Southern seas, he met with countless adventures. During this time he
was particularly persecuted by the kindred of the giant he had slain,
who were adepts in magic, and they brought upon him innumerable perils
by land and sea.

Aided and abetted by his bosom friend, Halfdan, Viking escaped every
danger, slew many of his foes, and, after rescuing Hunvor, whom, in
the meantime, the enemy had carried off to India, he settled down in
Sweden. His friend, faithful in peace as well as in war, settled near
him, and married also, choosing for wife Ingeborg, Hunvor's attendant.

The saga now describes the long, peaceful winters, when the warriors
feasted and listened to the tales of scalds, rousing themselves to
energetic efforts only when returning spring again permitted them to
launch their dragon ships and set out once more upon their piratical

    "Then the Scald took his harp and sang,
    And loud through the music rang
        The sound of that shining word;
    And the harp-strings a clangour made,
    As if they were struck with the blade
        Of a sword.

    "And the Berserks round about
    Broke forth into a shout
        That made the rafters ring:
    They smote with their fists on the board,
    And shouted, 'Long live the Sword,
        And the King!'"

            Longfellow's Saga of King Olaf.

In the old story the scalds relate with great gusto every phase of
attack and defence during cruise and raid, and describe every blow
given and received, dwelling with satisfaction upon the carnage and
lurid flames which envelop both enemies and ships in common ruin. A
fierce fight is often an earnest of future friendship, however, and
we are told that Halfdan and Viking, having failed to conquer Njorfe,
a foeman of mettle, sheathed their swords after a most obstinate
struggle, and accepted their enemy as a third link in their close
bond of friendship.

On returning home from one of these customary raids, Viking lost
his beloved wife; and, entrusting her child, Ring, to the care of a
foster father, after undergoing a short period of mourning, the brave
warrior married again. This time his marital bliss was more lasting,
for the saga tells that his second wife bore him nine stalwart sons.

Njorfe, King of Uplands, in Norway, also rejoiced in a family of
nine brave sons. Now, although their fathers were united in bonds of
the closest friendship, having sworn blood brotherhood according to
the true Northern rites, the young men were jealous of one another,
and greatly inclined to quarrel.

The Game of Ball

Notwithstanding this smouldering animosity, the youths often met;
and the saga relates that they used to play ball together, and gives
a description of the earliest ball game on record in the Northern
annals. Viking's sons, as tall and strong as he, were inclined to be
rather reckless of their opponents' welfare, and, judging from the
following account, translated from the old saga, the players were
often left in as sorry a condition as after a modern game.

"The next morning the brothers went to the games, and generally had
the ball during the day; they pushed men and let them fall roughly,
and beat others. At night three men had their arms broken, and many
were bruised or maimed."

The game between Njorfe's and Viking's sons culminated in a
disagreement, and one of Njorfe's sons struck one of his opponents
a dangerous and treacherous blow. Prevented from taking his revenge
then and there by the interference of the spectators, the injured
man made a trivial excuse to return to the ground alone; and, meeting
his assailant there, he slew him.

The Blood Feud

When Viking heard that one of his sons had slain one of his friend's
children, he was very indignant, and mindful of his oath to avenge all
Njorfe's wrongs, he banished the young murderer. The other brothers,
on hearing this sentence, vowed that they would accompany the exile,
and so Viking sorrowfully bade them farewell, giving his sword
Angurvadel to Thorsten, the eldest, and cautioning him to remain
quietly on an island in Lake Wener until all danger of retaliation
on the part of Njorfe's remaining sons should be over.

The young men obeyed; but Njorfe's sons were determined to avenge
their brother, and although they had no boats to convey them over
the lake, they made use of a conjurer's art to bring about a great
frost. Accompanied by many armed men, they then stole noiselessly
over the ice to attack Thorsten and his brothers, and a terrible
carnage ensued. Only two of the attacking party managed to escape,
but they left, as they fancied, all their foes among the dead.

Then came Viking to bury his sons, and he found that two of them,
Thorsten and Thorer, were still alive; whereupon he secretly conveyed
them to a cellar beneath his dwelling, and in due time they recovered
from their wounds.

Njorfe's two surviving sons soon discovered by magic arts that their
opponents were not dead, and they made a second desperate but vain
attempt to kill them. Viking saw that the quarrel would be incessantly
renewed if his sons remained at home; so he now sent them to Halfdan,
whose court they reached after a series of adventures which in many
points resemble those of Theseus on his way to Athens.

When spring came round Thorsten embarked on a piratical excursion,
in the course of which he encountered Jokul, Njorfe's eldest son,
who, meanwhile, had taken forcible possession of the kingdom of Sogn,
having killed the king, banished his heir, Belé, and changed his
beautiful daughter, Ingeborg, into the similitude of an old witch.

Throughout the story Jokul is represented as somewhat of a coward,
for he resorted by preference to magic when he wished to injure
Viking's sons. Thus he stirred up great tempests, and Thorsten,
after twice suffering shipwreck, was only saved from the waves by
the seeming witch, whom he promised to marry in gratitude for her
good offices. Thorsten, advised by Ingeborg, now went in search of
Belé, whom he found and replaced upon his hereditary throne, having
sworn eternal friendship with him. After this, the baleful spell was
removed, and Ingeborg, now revealed in her native beauty, was united
to Thorsten, and dwelt with him at Framnäs.

Thorsten and Belé

Every spring Thorsten and Belé set out together in their ships; and,
upon one of these expeditions, they joined forces with Angantyr,
a foe whose mettle they had duly tested, and proceeded to recover
possession of a priceless treasure, a magic dragon ship named Ellida,
which Ægir, god of the sea, had once given to Viking in reward for
hospitable treatment, and which had been stolen from him.

    "A royal gift to behold, for the swelling planks of its framework
    Were not fastened with nails, as is wont, but grown in together.
    Its shape was that of a dragon when swimming, but forward
    Its head rose proudly on high, the throat with yellow gold flaming;
    Its belly was spotted with red and yellow, but back by the rudder
    Coiled out its mighty tail in circles, all scaly with silver;
    Black wings with edges of red; when all were expanded
    Ellida raced with the whistling storm, but outstript the eagle.
    When filled to the edge with warriors, it sailed o'er the waters,
    You'd deem it a floating fortress, or warlike abode of a monarch.
    The ship was famed far and wide, and of ships was first in
    the North."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Spalding's tr.).

The next season, Thorsten, Belé, and Angantyr conquered the Orkney
Islands, which were given as a kingdom to the latter, he voluntarily
pledging himself to pay a yearly tribute to Belé. Next Thorsten and
Belé went in quest of a magic ring, or armlet, once forged by Völund,
the smith, and stolen by Soté, a famous pirate.

This bold robber was so afraid lest some one should gain possession of
the magic ring, that he had buried himself alive with it in a mound
in Bretland. Here his ghost was said to keep constant watch over it,
and when Thorsten entered his tomb, Belé, who waited outside, heard
the sound of frightful blows given and returned, and saw lurid gleams
of supernatural fire.

When Thorsten finally staggered out of the mound, pale and bloody,
but triumphant, he refused to speak of the horrors he had encountered
to win the coveted treasure, but often would he say, as he showed it,
"I trembled but once in my life, and 'twas when I seized it!"

Birth of Frithiof and Ingeborg

Thus owner of the three greatest treasures of the North, Thorsten
returned home to Framnäs, where Ingeborg bore him a fine boy, Frithiof,
while two sons, Halfdan and Helgé, were born to Belé. The lads played
together, and were already well grown when Ingeborg, Belé's little
daughter, was born, and some time later the child was entrusted to
the care of Hilding, who was already Frithiof's foster father, as
Thorsten's frequent absences made it difficult for him to undertake
the training of his boy.

    "Jocund they grew, in guileless glee;
    Young Frithiof was the sapling tree;
    In budding beauty by his side,
    Sweet Ingeborg, the garden's pride."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

Frithiof soon became hardy and fearless under his foster father's
training, and Ingeborg rapidly developed the sweetest traits of
character and loveliness. Both were happiest when together; and as
they grew older their childish affection daily became deeper and more
intense, until Hilding, perceiving this state of affairs, bade the
youth remember that he was a subject of the king, and therefore no
mate for his only daughter.

    "To Odin, in his star-lit sky,
    Ascends her titled ancestry;
    But Thorsten's son art thou; give way!
    For 'like thrives best with like,' they say."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Frithiof's Love for Ingeborg

These wise admonitions came too late, however, and Frithiof vehemently
declared that he would win the fair Ingeborg for his bride in spite
of all obstacles and his more humble origin.

Shortly after this Belé and Thorsten met for the last time, near the
magnificent shrine of Balder, where the king, feeling that his end was
near, had convened a solemn assembly, or Thing, of all his principal
subjects, in order to present his sons Helgé and Halfdan to the people
as his chosen successors. The young heirs were very coldly received
on this occasion, for Helgé was of a sombre and taciturn disposition,
and inclined to the life of a priest, and Halfdan was of a weak,
effeminate nature, and noted for his love of pleasure rather than of
war and the chase. Frithiof, who was present, and stood beside them,
was the object of many admiring glances from the throng.

    "But close behind them Frithiof goes,
      Wrapp'd in his mantle blue;
    His height a whole head taller rose
      Than that of both the two.

    He stands between the brothers there--
      As though the ripe day stood
    Atween young morning rosy-fair,
      And night within the wood."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

After giving his last instructions and counsel to his sons, and
speaking kindly to Frithiof, for whom he entertained a warm regard,
the old king turned to his lifelong companion, Thorsten, to take
leave of him, but the old warrior declared that they would not long
be parted. Belé then spoke again to his sons, and bade them erect his
howe, or funeral mound, within sight of that of Thorsten, that their
spirits might commune over the waters of the narrow firth which would
flow between them, that so they might not be sundered even in death.

Helgé and Halfdan

These instructions were piously carried out when, shortly after, the
aged companions breathed their last; and the great barrows having been
erected, the brothers, Helgé and Halfdan, began to rule their kingdom,
while Frithiof, their former playmate, withdrew to his own place at
Framnäs, a fertile homestead, lying in a snug valley enclosed by the
towering mountains and the waters of the ever-changing firth.

    "Three miles extended around the fields of the homestead; on
    three sides
    Valleys and mountains and hills, but on the fourth side was
    the ocean.
    Birch-woods crowned the summits, but over the down-sloping
    Flourished the golden corn, and man-high was waving the rye-field."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

But although surrounded by faithful retainers, and blessed with much
wealth and the possession of the famous treasures of his hero sire,
the sword Angurvadel, the Völund ring, and the matchless dragon
ship Ellida, Frithiof was unhappy, because he could no longer see
the fair Ingeborg daily. All his former spirits revived, however,
when in the spring, at his invitation, both kings came to visit him,
together with their fair sister, and once again they spent long
hours in cheerful companionship. As they were thus constantly thrown
together, Frithiof found opportunity to make known to Ingeborg his
deep affection, and he received in return an avowal of her love.

    "He sat by her side, and he pressed her soft hand,
    And he felt a soft pressure responsive and bland;
    Whilst his love-beaming gaze
    Was returned as the sun's in the moon's placid rays."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

Frithiof's Suit

When the visit was ended and the guests had departed, Frithiof informed
his confidant and chief companion, Björn, of his determination to
follow them and openly ask for Ingeborg's hand. His ship was set free
from its moorings and it swooped like an eagle over to the shore near
Balder's shrine, where the royal brothers were seated in state on
Belé's tomb to listen to the petitions of their subjects. Straightway
Frithiof presented himself before them, and manfully made his request,
adding that the old king had always loved him and would surely have
granted his prayer.

    "No king was my sire, not a jarl, ev'n--'tis true;
    Yet Scald-songs his mem'ry and exploits renew;
    The Rune-stones will tell
    On high-vaulted cairn what my race hath done well.

    "With ease could I win me both empire and land;--
    But rather I stay on my forefathers' strand;
    While arms I can wield--
    Both poverty's hut and king's palace I'll shield.

    "On Belé's round barrow we stand; each word
    In the dark deeps beneath us he hears and has heard;
    With Frithiof pleadeth
    The old Chief in his cairn: think! your answer thought needeth."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Then he went on to promise lifelong fealty and the service of his
strong right arm in exchange for the boon he craved.

As Frithiof ceased King Helgé rose, and regarding the young man
scornfully, he said: "Our sister is not for a peasant's son; proud
chiefs of the Northland may dispute for her hand, but not thou. As
for thy arrogant proffer, know that I can protect my kingdom. Yet if
thou wouldst be my man, place in my household mayst thou have."

Enraged at the insult thus publicly offered, Frithiof drew his
invincible sword; but, remembering that he stood on a consecrated spot,
he struck only at the royal shield, which fell in two pieces clashing
to the ground. Then striding back to his ship in sullen silence,
he embarked and sailed away.

                "And lo! cloven in twain at a stroke
    Fell King Helge's gold shield from its pillar of oak:
    At the clang of the blow,
    The live started above, the dead started below."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

Sigurd Ring a Suitor

After his departure came messengers from Sigurd Ring, the aged King
of Ringric, in Norway, who, having lost his wife, sent to Helgé and
Halfdan to ask Ingeborg's hand in marriage. Before returning answer
to this royal suitor, Helgé consulted the Vala, or prophetess, and
the priests, who all declared that the omens were not in favour of the
marriage. Upon this Helgé assembled his people to hear the word which
the messengers were to carry to their master, but unfortunately King
Halfdan gave way to his waggish humour, and made scoffing reference
to the advanced age of the royal suitor. These impolitic words
were reported to King Ring, and so offended him that he immediately
collected an army and prepared to march against the Kings of Sogn to
avenge the insult with his sword. When the rumour of his approach
reached the cowardly brothers they were terrified, and fearing to
encounter the foe unaided, they sent Hilding to Frithiof to implore
his help.

Hilding found Frithiof playing chess with Björn, and immediately made
known his errand.

                "'From Bele's high heirs
    I come with courteous words and prayers
    Disastrous tidings rouse the brave;
    On thee a nation's hope relies.
    In Balder's fane, griefs loveliest prey,
    Sweet Ing'borg weeps the livelong day:
    Say, can her tears unheeded fall,
    Nor call her champion to her side?'"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

While the old man was speaking Frithiof continued to play, ever and
anon interjecting an enigmatical reference to the game, until at this
point he said:

    "Björn; thou in vain my queen pursuest,
    She from childhood dearest, truest!
      She's my game's most darling piece, and
        Come what will--I'll save my queen!"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Hilding did not understand such mode of answering, and at length
rebuked Frithiof for his indifference. Then Frithiof rose, and
pressing kindly the old man's hand, he bade him tell the kings that
he was too deeply offended to listen to their appeal.

Helgé and Halfdan, thus forced to fight without their bravest leader,
preferred to make a treaty with Sigurd Ring, and they agreed to give
him not only their sister Ingeborg, but also a yearly tribute.

At Balder's Shrine

While they were thus engaged at Sogn Sound, Frithiof hastened to
Balder's temple, to which Ingeborg had been sent for security, and
where, as Hilding had declared, he found her a prey to grief. Now
although it was considered a sacrilege for man and woman to exchange a
word in the sacred building, Frithiof could not forbear to console her;
and, forgetting all else, he spoke to her and comforted her, quieting
all her apprehensions of the gods' anger by assuring her that Balder,
the good, must view their innocent passion with approving eyes, for
love so pure as theirs could defile no sanctuary; and they ended by
plighting their troth before the shrine of Balder.

    "'Thou whisp'rest "Balder,"--His wrath fearest;--
      That gentle god all anger flies.
    We worship here a Lover, dearest!
      Our hearts' love is his sacrifice;
    That god whose brow beams sunshine-splendour,
      Whose faith lasts through eternity,--
    Was not his love to beauteous Nanna
      As pure, as warm, as mine to thee?

    "'His image see!--himself broods o'er it--
      How mild, how kind, his bright eyes move!
    An off'ring bear I here before it,
      A warm heart full of purest love.
Come, kneel with me! no altar incense
      To Balder's soul more grateful is
    Than two hearts, vowing in his presence
      A mutual faith as true as his!'"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Reassured by this reasoning, which received added strength from the
voice which spoke loudly from her own heart, Ingeborg could not refuse
to see and converse with Frithiof. During the kings' absence the
young lovers met every day, and they exchanged love-tokens, Frithiof
giving to Ingeborg Völund's arm-ring, which she solemnly promised to
send back to her lover should she be compelled to break her promise
to live for him alone. Frithiof lingered at Framnäs until the kings'
return, when, yielding to the fond entreaties of Ingeborg the Fair,
he again appeared before them, and pledged himself to free them from
their thraldom to Sigurd Ring if they would only reconsider their
decision and promise him their sister's hand.

                            "'War stands and strikes
    His glitt'ring shield within thy boundaries;
    Thy realm, King Helge, is in jeopardy:
    But give thy sister, and I'll lend mine arm
    Thy guard in battle. It may stead thee well.
    Come! let this grudge between us be forgotten,
    Unwilling bear I such 'gainst Ing'borg's brother.
    Be counsell'd, King! be just! and save at once
    Thy golden crown and thy fair sister's heart!
    Here is my hand: by Asa-Thor I swear
    Never again 'tis stretch'd in reconcilement!'"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Frithiof Banished

But although this offer was received with acclamation by the assembled
warriors, Helgé scornfully demanded of Frithiof whether he had spoken
with Ingeborg and so defiled the temple of Balder.

A shout of "Say nay, Frithiof! say nay!" broke from the ring
of warriors, but he proudly answered: "I would not lie to gain
Valhalla. I have spoken to thy sister, Helgé, yet have I not broken
Balder's peace."

A murmur of horror passed through the ranks at this avowal, and when
the harsh voice of Helgé was raised in judgment, none was there to
gainsay the justice of the sentence.

This apparently was not a harsh one, but Helgé well knew that it
meant death, and he so intended it.

Far westward lay the Orkney Islands, ruled by Jarl Angantyr, whose
yearly tribute to Belé was withheld now that the old king lay in
his cairn. Hard-fisted he was said to be, and heavy of hand, and to
Frithiof was given the task of demanding the tribute face to face.

Before he sailed upon the judgment-quest, however, he once more sought
Ingeborg, and implored her to elope with him to a home in the sunny
South, where her happiness should be his law, and where she should
rule over his subjects as his honoured wife. But Ingeborg sorrowfully
refused to accompany him, saying that, since her father was no more,
she was in duty bound to obey her brothers implicitly, and could not
marry without their consent.

The fiery spirit of Frithiof was at first impatient under this
disappointment of his hopes, but in the end his noble nature conquered,
and after a heartrending parting scene, he embarked upon Ellida, and
sorrowfully sailed out of the harbour, while Ingeborg, through a mist
of tears, watched the sail as it faded and disappeared in the distance.

The vessel was barely out of sight when Helgé sent for two witches
named Heid and Ham, bidding them by incantations to stir up a tempest
at sea in which it would be impossible for even the god-given vessel
Ellida to live, that so all on board should perish. The witches
immediately complied; and with Helgé's aid they soon stirred up a
storm the fury of which is unparalleled in history.

        "Helgé on the strand
        Chants his wizard-spell,
        Potent to command
        Fiends of earth or hell.
    Gathering darkness shrouds the sky;
    Hark, the thunder's distant roll!
    Lurid lightnings, as they fly,
    Streak with blood the sable pole.
    Ocean, boiling to its base,
    Scatters wide its wave of foam;
    Screaming, as in fleetest chase,
    Sea-birds seek their island home."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

    "Then the storm unfetter'd wingeth
      Wild his course; in Ocean's foam
    Now he dips him, now up-swingeth,
      Whirling toward the God's own home:
    Rides each Horror-spirit, warning,
      High upon the topmost wave--
    Up from out the white, vast, yawning,
      Bottomless, unfathom'd grave."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

The Tempest

Unfrighted by tossing waves and whistling blasts, Frithiof sang a
cheery song to reassure his terrified crew; but when the peril grew
so great that his exhausted followers gave themselves up for lost, he
bethought him of tribute to the goddess Ran, who ever requires gold of
them who would rest in peace under the ocean wave. Taking his armlet,
he hewed it with his sword and made fair division among his men.

    "Who goes empty-handed
    Down to sea-blue Ran?
    Cold her kisses strike, and
    Fleeting her embrace is."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

He then bade Björn hold the rudder, and himself climbed to the mast-top
to view the horizon. While perched there he descried a whale, upon
which the two witches were riding the storm. Speaking to his good
ship, which was gifted with power of understanding and could obey
his commands, he now ran down both whale and witches, and the sea was
reddened with their blood. At the same instant the wind fell, the waves
ceased to threaten, and fair weather soon smiled again upon the seas.

Exhausted by their previous superhuman efforts and by the labour
of baling their water-logged vessel, the men were too weak to land
when they at last reached the Orkney Islands, and had to be carried
ashore by Björn and Frithiof, who gently laid them down on the sand,
bidding them rest and refresh themselves after all the hardships they
had endured.

    "Yet more wearied than their Dragon
      Totter Frithiof's gallant men;
    Though each leans upon his weapon,
      Scarcely upright stand they then.
    Björn, on pow'rful shoulder, dareth
      Four to carry to the land;
    Frithiof, all alone, eight beareth,--
      Sets them so round the upblaz'd brand.

        'Nay! ye white-fac'd, shame not!
        Waves are mighty Vikings;
        Hard's the unequal struggle--
        Ocean's maids our foes.
        See! there comes the mead-horn,
        Wand'ring on bright gold-foot;
        Shipmates! cold limbs warm,--and
        Here's to Ingeborg!'"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephen's tr.).

The arrival of Frithiof and his men, and their mode of landing, had
been noted by the watchman of Angantyr, who immediately informed his
master of all he had seen. The jarl exclaimed that the ship which had
weathered such a gale could be none but Ellida, and that its captain
was doubtless Frithiof, Thorsten's gallant son. At these words one
of his Berserkers, Atlé, caught up his weapons and strode from the
hall, vowing that he would challenge Frithiof, and thus satisfy
himself concerning the veracity of the tales he had heard of the
young hero's courage.

Atlé's Challenge

Although still greatly exhausted, Frithiof immediately accepted
Atlé's challenge, and, after a sharp encounter with swords,
in which Angurvadel was triumphant, the two champions grappled in
deadly embrace. Widely is that wrestling-match renowned in the North,
and well matched were the heroes, but in the end Frithiof threw his
antagonist, whom he would have slain then and there had his sword been
within reach. Atlé saw his intention, and bade him go in search of the
weapon, promising to remain motionless during his absence. Frithiof,
knowing that such a warrior's promise was inviolable, immediately
obeyed; but when he returned with his sword, and found his antagonist
calmly awaiting death, he relented, and bade Atlé rise and live.

    "Then storm they, nothing yielded,
      Two autumn-billows like!
    And oft, with steel round shielded,
      Their jarring breasts fierce strike.

    "All like two bears they wrestle,
      On hills of snow; and draw
    And strain, each like an eagle
      On the angry sea at war.
    The root-fast rock resisted
      Full hardly them between
    And green iron oaks down-twisted
      With lesser pulls have been.

    "From each broad brow sweat rushes;
      Their bosoms coldly heave;
    And stones and mounds and bushes
      Dints hundred-fold receive."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Together the appeased warriors now wended their way to Angantyr's hall,
which Frithiof found to be far different from the rude dwellings of
his native land. The walls were covered with leather richly decorated
with gilt designs. The chimney-piece was of marble, and glass panes
were in the window-frames. A soft light was diffused from many candles
burning in silver branches, and the tables groaned under the most
luxurious fare.

High in a silver chair sat the jarl, clad in a coat of golden
mail, over which was flung a rich mantle bordered with ermine,
but when Frithiof entered he strode from his seat with cordial hand
outstretched. "Full many a horn have I emptied with my old friend
Thorsten," said he, "and his brave son is equally welcome at my board."

Nothing loth, Frithiof seated himself beside his host, and after he
had eaten and drunk he recounted his adventures upon land and sea.

At last, however, Frithiof made known his errand, whereupon Angantyr
said that he owed no tribute to Helgé, and would pay him none; but
that he would give the required sum as a free gift to his old friend's
son, leaving him at liberty to dispose of it as he pleased. Meantime,
since the season was unpropitious for the return journey, and storms
continually swept the sea, the king invited Frithiof to tarry with
him over the winter; and it was only when the gentle spring breezes
were blowing once more that he at last allowed him to depart.

Frithiof's Home-coming

Taking leave of his kind host, Frithiof set sail, and wafted by
favourable winds, the hero, after six days, came in sight of Framnäs,
and found that his home had been reduced to a shapeless heap of ashes
by Helgé's orders. Sadly Frithiof strode over the ravaged site of his
childhood's home, and as he viewed the desolate scene his heart burned
within him. The ruins were not entirely deserted, however, and suddenly
Frithiof felt the cold nozzle of his hound thrust into his hand. A
few moments later his favourite steed bounded to his master's side,
and the faithful creatures were well-nigh frantic with delight. Then
came Hilding to greet him with the information that Ingeborg was
now the wife of Sigurd Ring. When Frithiof heard this he flew into a
Berserker rage, and bade his men scuttle the vessels in the harbour,
while he strode to the temple in search of Helgé.

The king stood crowned amid a circle of priests, some of whom
brandished flaming pine-knots, while all grasped a sacrificial flint
knife. Suddenly there was a clatter of arms and in burst Frithiof, his
brow dark as autumn storms. Helgé's face went pale as he confronted the
angry hero, for he knew what his coming presaged. "Take thy tribute,
King," said Frithiof, and with the words, he took the purse from his
girdle and flung it in Helgé's face with such force that blood gushed
from his mouth and he fell swooning at Balder's feet.

The silver-bearded priests advanced to the scene of violence, but
Frithiof motioned them back, and his looks were so threatening that
they durst not disobey.

Then his eye fell upon the arm-ring which he had given to Ingeborg
and which Helgé had placed upon the arm of Balder, and striding up
to the wooden image he said: "Pardon, great Balder, not for thee
was the ring wrested from Völund's tomb!" Then he seized the ring,
but strongly as he tugged it would not come apart. At last he put
forth all his strength, and with a sudden jerk he recovered the ring,
and at the same time the image of the god fell prone across the altar
fire. The next moment it was enveloped in flames, and before aught
could be done the whole temple was wreathed in fire and smoke.

    "All, all's lost! From half-burned hall
      Th' fire-red cock up-swingeth!--
    Sits on the roof, and, with shrilly call
      Flutt'ring, his free course wingeth."

            Tegnér's Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Frithiof, horror-stricken at the sacrilege which he had involuntarily
occasioned, vainly tried to extinguish the flames and save the costly
sanctuary, but finding his efforts unavailing he escaped to his ship
and resolved upon the weary life of an outcast and exile.

    "Thou may'st not rest thee,
    Thou still must haste thee,
    Th' wide world about.
    Yes! rock on! roaming
    Mid froth salt-foaming
    My Dragon good!

    "Thou billow bold
    Befriend me!--Never
    I'll from thee sever!--
    My father's Mound
    Dull stands, fast-bound,
    And self-same surges
    Chaunt changeless dirges;
    But blue shall mine
    Through foam-flow'rs shine,
    'Mid tempests swimming,
    And storms thick dimming,
    And draw yet mo
    Down, down, below.--
    My Life-Home given,
    Thou shalt, far-driven!
    My Barrow be--
    Thou free broad Sea!"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Frithiof an Exile

Helgé started in pursuit with ten great dragon-ships, but these had
barely got under way when they began to sink, and Björn said with a
laugh, "What Ran enfolds I trust she will keep." Even King Helgé was
with difficulty got ashore, and the survivors were forced to stand in
helpless inactivity while Ellida's great sails slowly sank beneath the
horizon. It was thus that Frithiof sadly saw his native land vanish
from sight; and as it disappeared he breathed a tender farewell to
the beloved country which he never expected to see again.

After thus parting from his native land, Frithiof roved the sea as a
pirate, or viking. His code was never to settle anywhere, to sleep on
his shield, to fight and neither give nor take quarter, to protect
the ships which paid him tribute and to plunder the others, and to
distribute all the booty to his men, reserving for himself nothing
but the glory of the enterprise. Sailing and fighting thus, Frithiof
visited many lands, and came at last to the sunny isles of Greece,
whither he would fain have carried Ingeborg as his bride; and the
sights called up such a flood of sad memories that he was well-nigh
overwhelmed with longing for his beloved and for his native land.

At the Court of Sigurd Ring

Three years had passed away and Frithiof determined to return
northward and visit Sigurd Ring's court. When he announced his
purpose to Björn, his faithful companion reproached him for his
rashness in thinking to journey alone, but Frithiof would not be
turned from his purpose, saying: "I am never alone while Angurvadel
hangs at my side." Steering Ellida up the Vik (the main part of the
Christiania Fiord), he entrusted her to Björn's care, and, enveloped in
a bear-hide, which he wore as a disguise, he set out on foot alone for
the court of Sigurd Ring, arriving there as the Yuletide festivities
were in progress. As if nothing more than an aged beggar, Frithiof sat
down upon the bench near the door, where he quickly became the butt
of the courtiers' rough jokes. When one of his tormentors, however,
approached too closely, the seeming beggar caught him in a powerful
grasp and swung him high above his head.

Terrified by this exhibition of superhuman strength, the courtiers
quickly withdrew from the dangerous vicinity, while Sigurd Ring,
whose attention was attracted by the commotion, sternly bade the
stranger-guest approach and tell who thus dared to break the peace
in his royal hall.

Frithiof answered evasively that he was fostered in penitence, that
he inherited want, and that he came from the wolf; as to his name,
this did not matter. The king, as was the courteous custom, did not
press him further, but invited him to take a seat beside him and the
queen, and to share his good cheer. "But first," said he, "let fall
the clumsy covering which veils, if I mistake not, a proper form."

Frithiof gladly accepted the invitation thus cordially given, and when
the hairy hide fell from off his head and shoulders, he stood disclosed
in the pride of youth, much to the surprise of the assembled warriors.

But although his appearance marked him as of no common race,
none of the courtiers recognised him. It was different, however,
with Ingeborg. Had any curious eye been upon her at that moment
her changing colour and the quick heaving of her breast would have
revealed her deep emotion.

    "The astonish'd queen's pale cheeks, how fast-changing rose-tints
    So purple Northlights, quiv'ring, on snow-hid meadows lie;
    Like two white water-lilies on storm-wave wild that rest,
    Each moment rising, falling,--so heaves her trembling breast!"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Frithiof had barely taken his seat at the board when with flourish of
trumpets a great boar was brought in and placed before the king. In
accordance with the Yule-tide custom of those days the old monarch
rose, and touching the head of the animal, he uttered a vow that with
the help of Frey, Odin, and Thor, he would conquer the bold champion
Frithiof. The next moment Frithiof, too, was upon his feet, and dashing
his sword upon the great wooden bench he declared that Frithiof was
his kinsman and he also would vow that though all the world withstood,
no harm should reach the hero while he had power to wield his sword.

At this unexpected interruption the warriors had risen quickly
from the oaken benches, but Sigurd Ring smiled indulgently at the
young man's vehemence and said: "Friend, thy words are overbold,
but never yet was guest restrained from uttering his thoughts in
this kingly hall." Then he turned to Ingeborg and bade her fill to
the brim with her choicest mead a huge horn, richly decorated, which
stood in front of her, and present it to the guest. The queen obeyed
with downcast eyes, and the trembling of her hand caused the liquid
to overflow. Two ordinary men could hardly have drained the mighty
draught, but Frithiof raised it to his lips, and when he removed the
horn not one drop of the mead remained.

Ere the banquet was ended Sigurd Ring invited the youthful stranger
to remain at his court until the return of spring, and accepting the
proffered hospitality, Frithiof became the constant companion of the
royal couple, whom he accompanied upon all occasions.

One day Sigurd Ring set out to a banquet with Ingeborg. They travelled
in a sleigh, while Frithiof, with steel-shod feet, sped gracefully
by their side, cutting many mystic characters in the ice. Their way
lay over a dangerous portion of the frozen surface, and Frithiof
warned the king that it would be prudent to avoid this. He would
not listen to the counsel, however, and suddenly the sleigh sank
in a deep fissure, which threatened to engulph it with the king and
queen. But like falcon descending upon its quarry, Frithiof was at
their side in a moment, and without apparent effort he dragged the
steed and its burden on to the firm ice. "In good sooth," said Ring,
"Frithiof himself could not have done better."

The long winter came to an end, and in the early spring the king and
queen arranged a hunting-party in which all the court were to take
part. During the progress of the chase the advancing years of Sigurd
Ring made it impossible for him to keep up with the eager hunt, and
thus it happened that he dropped behind, until at length he was left
with Frithiof as his sole companion. They rode slowly together until
they reached a pleasant dell which invited the weary king to repose,
and he declared that he would lie down for a season to rest.

    "Then threw Frithiof down his mantle, and upon the greensward
    And the ancient king so trustful laid on Frithiof's knee his head;
    Slept, as calmly as the hero sleepeth after war's alarms
    On his shield, calm as an infant sleepeth in its mother's arms."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (Longfellow's tr.).

Frithiof's Loyalty

While the aged king was thus reposing, a bird sang to Frithiof from a
tree near by, bidding him take advantage of his host's powerlessness
to slay him, and recover the bride of whom he had been unfairly
deprived. But although Frithiof's hot young heart clamoured for his
beloved, he utterly refused to entertain the dastardly suggestion,
but, fearing lest he should be overcome by temptation, despite his
horror at the thought, he impulsively flung his sword far from him
into a neighbouring thicket.

A few moments later Sigurd Ring opened his eyes, and informed Frithiof
that he had only feigned sleep; he told him also that having recognised
him from the first, he had tested him in many ways, and had found
his honour equal to his courage. Old age had now overtaken him and
he felt that death was drawing nigh. In but a short time, therefore,
Frithiof might hope to realise his dearest hope, and Sigurd Ring told
him that he would die happy if he would stay by him until the end.

A revulsion of feeling had, however, overtaken Frithiof, and he told
the aged king that he felt that Ingeborg could never be his, because
of the wrath of Balder. Too long had he stayed; he would now go once
more upon the sea and would seek death in the fray, that so he might
appease the offended gods.

Full of his resolve, he quickly made preparations to depart, but when
he returned to the court to bid farewell to his royal hosts he found
that Sigurd Ring was at the point of death. The old warrior bethought
him that "a straw death" would not win the favour of Odin, and in
the presence of Frithiof and his court he slashed bravely the death
runes on his arm and breast. Then clasping Ingeborg with one hand,
he raised the other in blessing over Frithiof and his youthful son,
and so passed in peace to the halls of the blessed.

            "Gods all, I hail ye!
                Sons of Valhalla!
    Earth disappears; to the Asa's high feast
            Gjallar-horn bids me;
                Blessedness, like a
    Gold-helmet, circles their up-coming guest!"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Betrothal of Frithiof and Ingeborg

The warriors of the nation now assembled in solemn Thing to choose a
successor to the throne. Frithiof had won the people's enthusiastic
admiration, and they would fain have elected him king; but he raised
Sigurd Ring's little son high on his shield when he heard the shout
which acclaimed his name, and presented the boy to the assembly as
their future king, publicly swearing to uphold him until he was of
age to defend the realm. The lad, weary of his cramped position,
boldly sprang to the ground as soon as Frithiof's speech was ended,
and alighted upon his feet. This act of agile daring in one so young
appealed to the rude Northmen, and a loud shout arose, "We choose thee,
shield-borne child!"

    "But thron'd king-like, the lad sat proud
        On shield-floor high;
    So the eaglet glad, from rock-hung cloud,
        The Sun will eye!

    At length this place his young blood found
        Too dull to keep;
    And, with one spring, he gains the ground--
        A royal leap!"

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

According to some accounts, Frithiof now made war against Ingeborg's
brothers, and after conquering them, allowed them to retain their
kingdom on condition that they paid him a yearly tribute. Then he and
Ingeborg remained in Ringric until the young king was able to assume
the government, when they repaired to Hordaland, a kingdom Frithiof
had obtained by conquest, and which he left to his sons Gungthiof
and Hunthiof.

Bishop Tegnér's conclusion, however, differs very considerably,
and if it appears less true to the rude temper of the rugged days
of the sea-rovers, its superior spiritual qualities make it more
attractive. According to Tegnér's poem, Frithiof was urged by the
people of Sigurd Ring to espouse Ingeborg and remain amongst them as
guardian of the realm. But he answered that this might not be, since
the wrath of Balder still burned against him, and none else could
bestow his cherished bride. He told the people that he would fare over
the seas and seek forgiveness of the god, and soon after, his farewells
were spoken, and once more his vessel was speeding before the wind.

Frithiof's first visit was paid to his father's burial mound, where,
plunged in melancholy at the desolation around, he poured out his soul
to the outraged god. He reminded him that it was the custom of the
Northmen to exact blood-fines for kinsmen slain, and surely the blessed
gods would not be less forgiving than the earth-born. Passionately
he adjured Balder to show him how he could make reparation for his
unpremeditated fault, and suddenly, an answer was vouchsafed, and
Frithiof beheld in the clouds a vision of a new temple.

    "Then sudden, o'er the western waters pendent,
    An Image comes, with gold and flames resplendent,
    O'er Balder's grove it hovers, night's clouds under,
    Like gold crown resting on a bed of green.
    At last to a temple settling, firm 'tis grounded--
    Where Balder stood, another temple's founded."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

The hero immediately understood that the gods had thus indicated a
means of atonement, and he grudged neither wealth nor pains until a
glorious temple and grove, which far exceeded the splendour of the
old shrine, rose out of the ruins.

            "Finish'd great Balder's Temple stood!
                Round it no palisade of wood
                    Ran now as erst;
            A railing stronger, fairer than the first,
            And all of hammer'd iron--each bar
                Gold-tipp'd and regular--
    Walls Balder's sacred House. Like some long line
    Of steel-clad champions, whose bright war-spears shine
                And golden helms afar--so stood
            This glitt'ring guard within the holy wood!

    "Of granite blocks enormous, join'd with curious care
    And daring art, the massy pile was built; and there
                (A giant-work intended
            To last till time was ended,)
    It rose like Upsal's temple, where the north
    Saw Valhall's halls fair imag'd here on earth.

    "Proud stood it there on mountain-steep, its lofty brow
    Reflected calmly on the sea's bright-flowing wave.
    But round about, some girdle like of beauteous flow'rs,
    Went Balder's Dale, with all its groves' soft-murmur'd sighs,
    And all its birds' sweet-twitter'd songs,--the Home of Peace."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).

Meantime, while the timbers were being hewed, King Helgé was absent
upon a foray amongst the Finnish mountains. One day it chanced that his
band passed by a crag where stood the lonely shrine of some forgotten
god, and King Helgé scaled the rocky summit with intent to raze the
ruined walls. The lock held fast, and, as Helgé tugged fiercely at
the mouldered gate, suddenly a sculptured image of the deity, rudely
summoned from his ancient sleep, started from his niche above.

Heavily he fell upon the head of the intruder, and Helgé stretched
his length upon the rocky floor, nor stirred again.

When the temple was duly consecrated to Balder's service, Frithiof
stood by the altar to await the coming of his expected bride. But
Halfdan first crossed the threshold, his faltering gait showing
plainly that he feared an unfriendly reception. Seeing this,
Frithiof unbuckled his sword and strode frankly to Halfdan with hand
outstretched, whereupon the king, blushing deeply, grasped heartily
the proffered hand, and from that moment all their differences were
forgotten. The next moment Ingeborg approached and the renewed amity
of the long-sundered friends was ratified with the hand of the bride,
which Halfdan placed in that of his new brother.

    "Over the copper threshold Halfdan now,
            With pallid brow
      And fearful fitful glance, advanceth slow
    Tow'rds yonder tow'ring ever-dreaded foe--
        And, silent, at a distance stands,--
        Then Frithiof, with quick hands,
      The corslet-hater, Angurvadel, from his thigh
    Unbuckleth, and his bright shield's golden round
      Leaning 'gainst the altar, thus draws nigh;--

                While his cow'd enemy
          He thus accosts, with pleasant dignity.--
          'Most noble in this strife will he be found
            Who first his right hand good
        Offers in pledge of peaceful brotherhood!'--
      Then Halfdan, deeply blushing, doffs with haste
    His iron-gauntlet and,--with hearty grasp embrac'd,--
          Each long, long, sever'd hand
      Its friend-foe hails, steadfast as mountain-bases stand!

                    "And as th' last deep accents
        Of reconcilement and of blessing sounded;
        Lo! Ing'borg sudden enters, rich adorn'd
        With bridal ornaments, and all enrob'd
        In gorgeous ermine, and by bright-ey'd maidens
        Slow-follow'd, as on heav'n's broad canopy,
        Attending star-trains guard the regent-moon!--
            But the young bride's fair eyes,
                    Those two blue skies,
                    Fill quick with tears,
        And to her brother's heart she trembling sinketh;--
            He, with his sister's fears
      Deep-mov'd, her hand all tenderly in Frithiof's linketh,
        His burden soft transferring to that hero's breast,
            Its long-tried faith fit place for Ing'borg's rest."

            Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens's tr.).


The Decline of the Gods

One of the distinctive features of Northern mythology is that the
people always believed that their gods belonged to a finite race. The
Æsir had had a beginning; therefore, it was reasoned, they must have
an end; and as they were born from a mixture of the divine and giant
elements, being thus imperfect, they bore within them the germ of
death, and were, like men, doomed to suffer physical death in order
to attain spiritual immortality.

The whole scheme of Northern mythology was therefore a drama, every
step leading gradually to the climax or tragic end, when, with true
poetic justice, punishment and reward were impartially meted out. In
the foregoing chapters, the gradual rise and decline of the gods have
been carefully traced. We have recounted how the Æsir tolerated the
presence of evil, personated by Loki, in their midst; how they weakly
followed his advice, allowed him to involve them in all manner of
difficulties from which they could be extricated only at the price
of part of their virtue or peace, and finally permitted him to gain
such ascendency over them that he did not scruple to rob them of
their dearest possession, purity, or innocence, as personified by
Balder the good.

Too late the gods realised how evil was this spirit that had found
a home among them, and too late they banished Loki to earth, where
men, following the gods' example, listened to his teachings, and were
corrupted by his sinister influence.

    "Brothers slay brothers;
    Sisters' children
    Shed each other's blood.
    Hard is the world;
    Sensual sin grows huge.
    There are sword-ages, axe-ages;
    Shields are cleft in twain;
    Storm-ages, murder-ages;
    Till the world falls dead,
    And men no longer spare
    Or pity one another."

            Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

The Fimbul-winter

Seeing that crime was rampant, and all good banished from the earth,
the gods realised that the prophecies uttered of old were about to be
fulfilled, and that the shadow of Ragnarok, the twilight or dusk of the
gods, was already upon them. Sol and Mani grew pale with affright, and
drove their chariots tremblingly along their appointed paths, looking
back with fear at the pursuing wolves which would shortly overtake and
devour them; and as their smiles disappeared the earth grew sad and
cold, and the terrible Fimbul-winter began. Then snow fell from the
four points of the compass at once, the biting winds swept down from
the north, and all the earth was covered with a thick layer of ice.

    "Grim Fimbul raged, and o'er the world
    Tempestuous winds and snowstorms hurled;
    The roaring ocean icebergs ground,
    And flung its frozen foam around,
    E'en to the top of mountain height;
        No warming air
        Nor radiance fair
    Of gentle Summer's soft'ning light,
    Tempered this dreadful glacial night."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

This severe winter lasted during three whole seasons without a break,
and was followed by three others, equally severe, during which all
cheer departed from the earth, and the crimes of men increased with
fearful rapidity, whilst, in the general struggle for life, the last
feelings of humanity and compassion disappeared.

The Wolves Let Loose

In the dim recesses of the Ironwood the giantess Iarnsaxa or Angur-boda
diligently fed the wolves Hati, Sköll, and Managarm, the progeny of
Fenris, with the marrow of murderers' and adulterers' bones; and
such was the prevalence of these vile crimes, that the well-nigh
insatiable monsters were never stinted for food. They daily gained
strength to pursue Sol and Mani, and finally overtook and devoured
them, deluging the earth with blood from their dripping jaws.

    "In the east she was seated, that aged woman, in Jarnrid,
    And there she nourished the posterity of Fenrir;
    He will be the most formidable of all, he
    Who, under the form of a monster, will swallow up the moon."

            Voluspa (Pfeiffer's tr.).

At this terrible calamity the whole earth trembled and shook, the
stars, affrighted, fell from their places, and Loki, Fenris, and Garm,
renewing their efforts, rent their chains asunder and rushed forth to
take their revenge. At the same moment the dragon Nidhug gnawed through
the root of the ash Yggdrasil, which quivered to its topmost bough;
the red cock Fialar, perched above Valhalla, loudly crowed an alarm,
which was immediately echoed by Gullin-kambi, the rooster in Midgard,
and by Hel's dark-red bird in Nifl-heim.

                "The gold-combed cock
    The gods in Valhal loudly crowed to arms;
    The blood-red cock as shrilly summons all
    On earth and down beneath it."

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

Heimdall Gives the Alarm

Heimdall, noting these ominous portents and hearing the cock's
shrill cry, immediately put the Giallar-horn to his lips and blew the
long-expected blast, which was heard throughout the world. At the first
sound of this rally Æsir and Einheriar sprang from their golden couches
and sallied bravely out of the great hall, armed for the coming fray,
and, mounting their impatient steeds, they galloped over the quivering
rainbow bridge to the spacious field of Vigrid, where, as Vafthrudnir
had predicted long before, the last battle was to take place.

The Terrors of the Sea

The terrible Midgard snake Iörmungandr had been aroused by the general
disturbance, and with immense writhings and commotion, whereby the
seas were lashed into huge waves such as had never before disturbed
the deeps of ocean, he crawled out upon the land, and hastened to
join the dread fray, in which he was to play a prominent part.

    "In giant wrath the Serpent tossed
    In ocean depths, till, free from chain,
    He rose upon the foaming main;
    Beneath the lashings of his tail,
    Seas, mountain high, swelled on the land;
    Then, darting mad the waves acrost,
    Pouring forth bloody froth like hail,
    Spurting with poisoned, venomed breath
    Foul, deadly mists o'er all the Earth,
    Thro' thundering surge, he sought the strand."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

One of the great waves, stirred up by Iörmungandr's struggles, set
afloat Nagilfar, the fatal ship, which was constructed entirely out
of the nails of those dead folks whose relatives had failed, through
the ages, in their duty, having neglected to pare the nails of the
deceased, ere they were laid to rest. No sooner was this vessel
afloat, than Loki boarded it with the fiery host from Muspells-heim,
and steered it boldly over the stormy waters to the place of conflict.

This was not the only vessel bound for Vigrid, however, for out of a
thick fog bank towards the north came another ship, steered by Hrym,
in which were all the frost giants, armed to the teeth and eager for
a conflict with the Æsir, whom they had always hated.

The Terrors of the Underworld

At the same time, Hel, the goddess of death, crept through a crevice
in the earth out of her underground home, closely followed by the
Hel-hound Garm, the malefactors of her cheerless realm, and the dragon
Nidhug, which flew over the battlefield bearing corpses upon his wings.

As soon as he landed, Loki welcomed these reinforcements with joy,
and placing himself at their head he marched with them to the fight.

Suddenly the skies were rent asunder, and through the fiery breach
rode Surtr with his flaming sword, followed by his sons; and as
they rode over the bridge Bifröst, with intent to storm Asgard,
the glorious arch sank with a crash beneath their horses' tread.

    "Down thro' the fields of air,
    With glittering armour fair,
    In battle order bright,
    They sped while seething flame
    From rapid hoofstrokes came.
    Leading his gleaming band, rode Surtur,
    'Mid the red ranks of raging fire."

            Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The gods knew full well that their end was now near, and that their
weakness and lack of foresight placed them under great disadvantages;
for Odin had but one eye, Tyr but one hand, and Frey nothing but a
stag's horn wherewith to defend himself, instead of his invincible
sword. Nevertheless, the Æsir did not show any signs of despair, but,
like true battle-gods of the North, they donned their richest attire,
and gaily rode to the battlefield, determined to sell their lives as
dearly as possible.

While they were mustering their forces, Odin once more rode down to
the Urdar fountain, where, under the toppling Yggdrasil, the Norns
sat with veiled faces and obstinately silent, their web lying torn at
their feet. Once more the father of the gods whispered a mysterious
communication to Mimir, after which he remounted Sleipnir and rejoined
the waiting host.

The Great Battle

The combatants were now assembled on Vigrid's broad plain. On one side
were ranged the stern, calm faces of the Æsir, Vanas, and Einheriar;
while on the other were gathered the motley host of Surtr, the grim
frost giants, the pale army of Hel, and Loki and his dread followers,
Garm, Fenris, and Iörmungandr, the two latter belching forth fire and
smoke, and exhaling clouds of noxious, deathly vapours, which filled
all heaven and earth with their poisonous breath.

                    "The years roll on,
    The generations pass, the ages grow,
    And bring us nearer to the final day
    When from the south shall march the fiery band
    And cross the bridge of heaven, with Lok for guide,
    And Fenris at his heel with broken chain;
    While from the east the giant Rymer steers
    His ship, and the great serpent makes to land;
    And all are marshall'd in one flaming square
    Against the Gods, upon the plains of Heaven."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

All the pent-up antagonism of ages was now let loose in a torrent
of hate, each member of the opposing hosts fighting with grim
determination, as did our ancestors of old, hand to hand and face to
face. With a mighty shock, heard above the roar of battle which filled
the universe, Odin and the Fenris wolf came into impetuous contact,
while Thor attacked the Midgard snake, and Tyr came to grips with
the dog Garm. Frey closed with Surtr, Heimdall with Loki, whom he
had defeated once before, and the remainder of the gods and all the
Einheriar engaged foes equally worthy of their courage. But, in spite
of their daily preparation in the heavenly city, Valhalla's host was
doomed to succumb, and Odin was amongst the first of the shining
ones to be slain. Not even the high courage and mighty attributes
of Allfather could withstand the tide of evil as personified in the
Fenris wolf. At each succeeding moment of the struggle its colossal
size assumed greater proportions, until finally its wide-open jaws
embraced all the space between heaven and earth, and the foul monster
rushed furiously upon the father of gods and engulphed him bodily
within its horrid maw.

    "Fenrir shall with impious tooth
    Slay the sire of rolling years:
    Vithar shall avenge his fall,
    And, struggling with the shaggy wolf,
    Shall cleave his cold and gory jaws."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

None of the gods could lend Allfather a helping hand at that critical
moment, for it was a time of sore trial to all. Frey put forth heroic
efforts, but Surtr's flashing sword now dealt him a death-stroke. In
his struggle with the arch-enemy, Loki, Heimdall fared better, but his
final conquest was dearly bought, for he, too, fell dead. The struggle
between Tyr and Garm had the same tragic end, and Thor, after a most
terrible encounter with the Midgard snake, and after slaying him with
a stroke from Miölnir, staggered back nine paces, and was drowned in
the flood of venom which poured from the dying monster's jaws.

    "Odin's son goes
    With the monster to fight;
    Midgard's Veor in his rage
    Will slay the worm;
    Nine feet will go
    Fiörgyn's son,
    Bowed by the serpent
    Who feared no foe."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

Vidar now came rushing from a distant part of the plain to avenge the
death of his mighty sire, and the doom foretold fell upon Fenris, whose
lower jaw now felt the impress of that shoe which had been reserved
for this day. At the same moment Vidar seized the monster's upper
jaw with his hands, and with one terrible wrench tore him asunder.

The Devouring Fire

The other gods who took part in the fray, and all the Einheriar having
now perished, Surtr suddenly flung his fiery brands over heaven, earth,
and the nine kingdoms of Hel. The raging flames enveloped the massive
stem of the world ash Yggdrasil, and reached the golden palaces of
the gods, which were utterly consumed. The vegetation upon earth was
likewise destroyed, and the fervent heat made all the waters seethe
and boil.

    "Fire's breath assails
    The all-nourishing tree,
    Towering fire plays
    Against heaven itself."

            Sæmund's Edda (Thorpe's tr.).

The great conflagration raged fiercely until everything was consumed,
when the earth, blackened and scarred, slowly sank beneath the boiling
waves of the sea. Ragnarok had indeed come; the world tragedy was
over, the divine actors were slain, and chaos seemed to have resumed
its former sway. But as in a play, after the principals are slain and
the curtain has fallen, the audience still looks for the favourites
to appear and make their bow, so the ancient Northern races fancied
that, all evil having perished in Surtr's flames, from the general
ruin goodness would rise, to resume its sway over the earth, and that
some of the gods would return to dwell in heaven for ever.

                        "All evil
    Dies there an endless death, while goodness riseth
    From that great world-fire, purified at last,
    To a life far higher, better, nobler than the past.

            Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).


Our ancestors believed fully in regeneration, and held that after a
certain space of time the earth, purged by fire and purified by its
immersion in the sea, rose again in all its pristine beauty and was
illumined by the sun, whose chariot was driven by a daughter of Sol,
born before the wolf had devoured her mother. The new orb of day
was not imperfect, as the first sun had been, and its rays were no
longer so ardent that a shield had to be placed between it and the
earth. These more beneficent rays soon caused the earth to renew its
green mantle, and to bring forth flowers and fruit in abundance. Two
human beings, a woman, Lif, and a man, Lifthrasir, now emerged from the
depths of Hodmimir's (Mimir's) forest, whence they had fled for refuge
when Surtr set fire to the world. They had sunk into peaceful slumber
there, unconscious of the destruction around them, and had remained,
nurtured by the morning dew, until it was safe for them to wander
out once more, when they took possession of the regenerated earth,
which their descendants were to people and over which they were to
have full sway.

                "We shall see emerge
    From the bright Ocean at our feet an earth
    More fresh, more verdant than the last, with fruits
    Self-springing, and a seed of man preserved,
    Who then shall live in peace, as then in war."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

A New Heaven

All the gods who represented the developing forces of Nature were
slain on the fatal field of Vigrid, but Vali and Vidar, the types of
the imperishable forces of Nature, returned to the field of Ida, where
they were met by Modi and Magni, Thor's sons, the personifications
of strength and energy, who rescued their father's sacred hammer from
the general destruction, and carried it thither with them.

    "Vithar's then and Vali's force
    Heirs the empty realm of gods;
    Mothi's thew and Magni's might
    Sways the massy mallet's weight,
    Won from Thor, when Thor must fall."

            Vafthrudni's-mal (W. Taylor's tr.).

Here they were joined by Hoenir, no longer an exile among the Vanas,
who, as developing forces, had also vanished for ever; and out of
the dark underworld where he had languished so long rose the radiant
Balder, together with his brother Hodur, with whom he was reconciled,
and with whom he was to live in perfect amity and peace. The past
had gone for ever, and the surviving deities could recall it without
bitterness. The memory of their former companions was, however, dear
to them, and full often did they return to their old haunts to linger
over the happy associations. It was thus that walking one day in the
long grass on Idavold, they found again the golden disks with which
the Æsir had been wont to sport.

    "We shall tread once more that well-known plain
    Of Ida, and among the grass shall find
    The golden dice with which we play'd of yore;
    And that will bring to mind the former life
    And pastime of the Gods, the wise discourse
    Of Odin, the delights of other days."

            Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

When the small band of gods turned mournfully towards the place
where their lordly dwellings once stood, they became aware, to their
joyful surprise, that Gimli, the highest heavenly abode, had not
been consumed, for it rose glittering before them, its golden roof
outshining the sun. Hastening thither they discovered, to the great
increase of their joy, that it had become the place of refuge for
all the virtuous.

    "In Gimli the lofty
    There shall the hosts
    Of the virtuous dwell,
    And through all ages
    Taste of deep gladness."

            Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (Howitt).

One too Mighty to Name

As the Norsemen who settled in Iceland, and through whom the
most complete exposition of the Odinic faith has come down to us
in the Eddas and Sagas, were not definitely converted until the
eleventh century,--although they had come in contact with Christians
during their viking raids nearly six centuries before,--it is very
probable that the Northern scalds gleaned some idea of the Christian
doctrines, and that this knowledge influenced them to a certain
extent, and coloured their descriptions of the end of the world and
the regeneration of the earth. It was perhaps this vague knowledge,
also, which induced them to add to the Edda a verse, which is generally
supposed to have been an interpolation, proclaiming that another God,
too mighty to name, would arise to bear rule over Gimli. From his
heavenly seat he would judge mankind, and separate the bad from the
good. The former would be banished to the horrors of Nastrond, while
the good would be transported to the blissful halls of Gimli the fair.

    "Then comes another,
    Yet more mighty.
    But Him I dare not
    Venture to name.
    Few farther may look
    Than to where Odin
    To meet the wolf goes."

            Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (Howitt).

There were two other heavenly mansions, however, one reserved for
the dwarfs and the other for the giants; for as these creatures
had no free will, and but blindly executed the decrees of fate,
they were not thought to be responsible for any harm done by them,
and were therefore held to be undeserving of punishment.

The dwarfs, ruled by Sindri, were said to occupy a hall in the Nida
mountains, where they drank the sparkling mead, while the giants took
their pleasure in the hall Brimer, situated in the region Okolnur
(not cool), for the power of cold was entirely annihilated, and there
was no more ice.

Various mythologists have, of course, attempted to explain these myths,
and some, as we have already stated, see in the story of Ragnarok the
influence of Christian teachings, and esteem it only a barbaric version
of the end of the world and the coming judgment day, when a new heaven
and earth shall arise, and all the good shall enjoy eternal bliss.


Comparative Mythology

During the past fifty years learned men of many nations have
investigated philology and comparative mythology so thoroughly that
they have ascertained beyond the possibility of doubt "that English,
together with all the Teutonic dialects of the Continent, belongs to
that large family of speech which comprises, besides the Teutonic,
Latin, Greek, Slavonic, and Celtic, the Oriental languages of India
and Persia." "It has also been proved that the various tribes who
started from the central home to discover Europe in the north,
and India in the south, carried away with them, not only a common
language, but a common faith and a common mythology. These are facts
which may be ignored but cannot be disputed, and the two sciences
of comparative grammar and comparative mythology, though but of
recent origin, rest on a foundation as sound and safe as that of
any of the inductive sciences." "For more than a thousand years the
Scandinavian inhabitants of Norway have been separated in language
from their Teutonic brethren on the Continent, and yet both have not
only preserved the same stock of popular stories, but they tell them,
in several instances, in almost the same words."

This resemblance, so strong in the early literature of nations
inhabiting countries which present much the same physical aspect and
have nearly the same climate, is not so marked when we compare the
Northern myths with those of the genial South. Still, notwithstanding
the contrast between Northern and Southern Europe, where these myths
gradually ripened and attained their full growth, there is an analogy
between the two mythologies which shows that the seeds from whence
both sprang were originally the same.

In the foregoing chapters the Northern system of mythology has been
outlined as clearly as possible, and the physical significance of
the myths has been explained. Now we shall endeavour to set forth the
resemblance of Northern mythology to that of the other Aryan nations,
by comparing it with the Greek, which, however, it does not resemble
as closely as it does the Oriental.

It is, of course, impossible in a work of this character to do more
than mention the main points of resemblance in the stories forming the
basis of these religions; but that will be sufficient to demonstrate,
even to the most sceptical, that they must have been identical at a
period too remote to indicate now with any certainty.

The Beginning of Things

The Northern nations, like the Greeks, imagined that the world
rose out of chaos; and while the latter described it as a vapoury,
formless mass, the former, influenced by their immediate surroundings,
depicted it as a chaos of fire and ice--a combination which is only
too comprehensible to any one who has visited Iceland and seen the
wild, peculiar contrast between its volcanic soil, spouting geysers,
and the great icebergs which hedge it round during the long, dark
winter season.

From these opposing elements, fire and ice, were born the first
divinities, who, like the first gods of the Greeks, were gigantic in
stature and uncouth in appearance. Ymir, the huge ice giant, and his
descendants, are comparable to the Titans, who were also elemental
forces of Nature, personifications of subterranean fire; and both,
having held full sway for a time, were obliged to yield to greater
perfection. After a fierce struggle for supremacy, they all found
themselves defeated and banished to the respective remote regions of
Tartarus and Jötun-heim.

The triad, Odin, Vili, and Ve, of the Northern myth is the exact
counterpart of Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, who, superior to the
Titan forces, rule supreme over the world in their turn. In the Greek
mythology, the gods, who are also all related to one another, betake
themselves to Olympus, where they build golden palaces for their use;
and in the Northern mythology the divine conquerors repair to Asgard,
and there construct similar dwellings.


Northern cosmogony was not unlike the Greek, for the people imagined
that the earth, Mana-heim, was entirely surrounded by the sea, at
the bottom of which lay coiled the huge Midgard snake, biting its
own tail; and it was perfectly natural that, viewing the storm-lashed
waves which beat against their shores, they should imagine these to
be caused by his convulsive writhing. The Greeks, who also fancied
the earth was round and compassed by a mighty river called Oceanus,
described it as flowing with "a steady, equable current," for they
generally gazed out upon calm and sunlit seas. Nifl-heim, the Northern
region of perpetual cold and mist, had its exact counterpart in the
land north of the Hyperboreans, where feathers (snow) continually
hovered in the air, and where Hercules drove the Ceryneian stag into
a snowdrift ere he could seize and bind it fast.

The Phenomena of the Sky

Like the Greeks, the Northern races believed that the earth was
created first, and that the vaulted heavens were made afterwards to
overshadow it entirely. They also imagined that the sun and moon were
daily driven across the sky in chariots drawn by fiery steeds. Sol,
the sun maiden, therefore corresponded to Helios, Hyperion, Phoebus,
or Apollo, while Mani, the Moon (owing to a peculiarity of Northern
grammar, which makes the sun feminine and the moon masculine), was
the exact counterpart of Phoebe, Diana, or Cynthia.

The Northern scalds, who thought that they descried the prancing
forms of white-maned steeds in the flying clouds, and the glitter
of spears in the flashing light of the aurora borealis, said that
the Valkyrs, or battle maidens, galloped across the sky, while the
Greeks saw in the same natural phenomena the white flocks of Apollo
guarded by Phaetusa and Lampetia.

As the dew fell from the clouds, the Northern poets declared that
it dropped from the manes of the Valkyrs' steeds, while the Greeks,
who observed that it generally sparkled longest in the thickets,
identified it with Daphne and Procris, whose names are derived from
the Sanskrit word which means "to sprinkle," and who are slain by
their lovers, Apollo and Cephalus, personifications of the sun.

The earth was considered in the North as well as in the South as
a female divinity, the fostering mother of all things; and it was
owing to climatic difference only that the mythology of the North,
where people were daily obliged to conquer the right to live by a
hand-to-hand struggle with Nature, should represent her as hard and
frozen like Rinda, while the Greeks embodied her in the genial goddess
Ceres. The Greeks believed that the cold winter winds swept down from
the North, and the Northern races, in addition, added that they were
produced by the winnowing of the wings of the great eagle Hræ-svelgr.

The dwarfs, or dark elves, bred in Ymir's flesh, were like Pluto's
servants in that they never left their underground realm, where they,
too, sought the precious metals, which they moulded into delicate
ornaments such as Vulcan bestowed upon the gods, and into weapons
which no one could either dint or mar. As for the light elves, who
lived above ground and cared for plants, trees, and streams, they were
evidently the Northern equivalents to the nymphs, dryads, oreades,
and hamadryads, which peopled the woods, valleys, and fountains of
ancient Greece.

Jupiter and Odin

Jupiter, like Odin, was the father of the gods, the god of victory,
and a personification of the universe. Hlidskialf, Allfather's lofty
throne, was no less exalted than Olympus or Ida, whence the Thunderer
could observe all that was taking place; and Odin's invincible spear
Gungnir was as terror-inspiring as the thunderbolts brandished by his
Greek prototype. The Northern deities feasted continually upon mead
and boar's flesh, the drink and meat most suitable to the inhabitants
of a Northern climate, while the gods of Olympus preferred the nectar
and ambrosia which formed their only sustenance.

Twelve Æsir sat in Odin's council hall to deliberate over the wisest
measures for the government of the world and men, and an equal number
of gods assembled on the cloudy peak of Mount Olympus for a similar
purpose. The Golden Age in Greece was a period of idyllic happiness,
amid ever-flowering groves and under balmy skies, while the Northern
age of bliss was also a time when peace and innocence flourished on
the earth, and when evil was as yet entirely unknown.

The Creation of Man

Using the materials near at hand, the Greeks modelled their first
images out of clay; hence they naturally imagined that Prometheus had
made man out of that substance when called upon to fashion a creature
inferior to the gods only. As the Northern statues were hewn out
of wood, the Northern races inferred, as a matter of course, that
Odin, Vili, and Ve (who here correspond to Prometheus, Epimetheus,
and Minerva, the three Greek creators of man) made the first human
couple, Ask and Embla, out of blocks of wood.

The goat Heidrun, which supplied the heavenly mead, is like Amalthea,
Jupiter's first nurse, and the busy, tell-tale Ratatosk is equivalent
to the snow-white crow in the story of Coronis, which was turned black
in punishment for its tattling. Jupiter's eagle has its counterpart
in the ravens Hugin and Munin, or in the wolves Geri and Freki,
which are ever crouching at Odin's feet.

Norns and Fates

The close resemblance between the Northern Orlog and the Greek Destiny,
goddesses whose decrees the gods themselves were obliged to respect,
and the equally powerful Norns and Moeræ, is too obvious to need
pointing out, while the Vanas are counterparts of Neptune and the
other ocean divinities. The great quarrel between the Vanas and the
Æsir is merely another version of the dispute between Jupiter and
Neptune for the supremacy of the world. Just as Jupiter forces his
brother to yield to his authority, so the Æsir remain masters of all,
but do not refuse to continue to share their power with their conquered
foes, who thus become their allies and friends.

Like Jupiter, Odin is always described as majestic and middle-aged,
and both gods are regarded as the divine progenitors of royal
races, for while the Heraclidæ claimed Jupiter as their father, the
Inglings, Skioldings, etc., held that Odin was the founder of their
families. The most solemn oaths were sworn by Odin's spear as well as
by Jupiter's footstool, and both gods rejoice in a multitude of names,
all descriptive of the various phases of their nature and worship.

Odin, like Jupiter, frequently visited the earth in disguise, to
judge of the hospitable intentions of mankind, as in the story of
Geirrod and Agnar, which resembles that of Philemon and Baucis. The
aim was to encourage hospitality; therefore, in both stories, those
who showed themselves humanely inclined are richly rewarded, and in
the Northern myth the lesson is enforced by the punishment inflicted
upon Geirrod, as the scalds believed in poetic justice and saw that
it was carefully meted out.

The contest of wit between Odin and Vafthrudnir has its parallel in
the musical rivalry of Apollo and Marsyas, or in the test of skill
between Minerva and Arachne. Odin further resembled Apollo in that
he, too, was god of eloquence and poetry, and could win all hearts
by means of his divine voice; he was like Mercury in that he taught
mortals the use of runes, while the Greek god introduced the alphabet.

Myths of the Seasons

The disappearance of Odin, the sun or summer, and the consequent
desolation of Frigga, the earth, is merely a different version of
the myths of Proserpine and Adonis. When Proserpine and Adonis have
gone, the earth (Ceres or Venus) bitterly mourns their absence, and
refuses all consolation. It is only when they return from their exile
that she casts off her mourning garments and gloom, and again decks
herself in all her jewels. So Frigga and Freya bewail the absence of
their husbands Odin and Odur, and remain hard and cold until their
return. Odin's wife, Saga, the goddess of history, who lingered by
Sokvabek, "the stream of time and events," taking note of all she saw,
is like Clio, the muse of history, whom Apollo sought by the inspiring
fount of Helicon.

Just as, according to Euhemerus, there was an historical Zeus,
buried in Crete, where his grave can still be seen, so there was an
historical Odin, whose mound rises near Upsala, where the greatest
Northern temple once stood, and where there was a mighty oak which
rivalled the famous tree of Dodona.

Frigga and Juno

Frigga, like Juno, was a personification of the atmosphere, the
patroness of marriage, of connubial and motherly love, and the goddess
of childbirth. She, too, is represented as a beautiful, stately
woman, rejoicing in her adornments; and her special attendant, Gna,
rivals Iris in the rapidity with which she executes her mistress's
behests. Juno has full control over the clouds, which she can brush
away with a motion of her hand, and Frigga is supposed to weave them
out of the thread she has spun on her jewelled spinning wheel.

In Greek mythology we find many examples of the way in which Juno
seeks to outwit Jupiter. Similar tales are not lacking in the Northern
myths. Juno obtains possession of Io, in spite of her husband's
reluctance to part with her, and Frigga artfully secures the victory
for the Winilers in the Langobarden Saga. Odin's wrath at Frigga's
theft of the gold from his statue is equivalent to Jupiter's marital
displeasure at Juno's jealousy and interference during the war of
Troy. In the story of Gefjon, and the clever way in which she procured
land from Gylfi to form her kingdom of Seeland, we have a reproduction
of the story of Dido, who obtained by stratagem the land upon which she
founded her city of Carthage. In both accounts oxen come into play,
for while in the Northern myth these sturdy beasts draw the piece
of land far out to sea, in the other an ox hide, cut into strips,
serves to enclose the queen's grant.

Musical Myths

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, who could attract all living creatures
by his music, is like Orpheus or Amphion, whose lyres had the same
power; and Odin, as leader of the dead, is the counterpart of Mercury
Psychopompus, both being personifications of the wind, on whose wings
disembodied souls were thought to be wafted from this mortal sphere.

The trusty Eckhardt, who would fain save Tannhäuser and prevent his
returning to expose himself to the enchantments of the sorceress,
in the Hörselberg, is like the Greek Mentor, who not only accompanied
Telemachus, but gave him good advice and wise instructions, and would
have rescued Ulysses from the hands of Calypso.

Thor and the Greek Gods

Thor, the Northern thunder-god, also has many points of resemblance
with Jupiter. He bears the hammer Miölnir, the Northern emblem of the
deadly thunderbolt, and, like Jupiter, uses it freely when warring
against the giants. In his rapid growth Thor resembles Mercury, for
while the former playfully tosses about several loads of ox hides a
few hours after his birth, the latter steals Apollo's oxen before he
is one day old. In physical strength Thor resembles Hercules, who also
gave early proofs of uncommon vigour by strangling the serpents sent
to slay him in his cradle, and who delighted, later on, in attacking
and conquering giants and monsters. Hercules became a woman and took
to spinning to please Omphale, the Lydian queen, and Thor assumed a
woman's apparel to visit Thrym and recover his hammer, which had been
buried nine rasts underground. The hammer, his principal attribute,
was used for many sacred purposes. It consecrated the funeral pyre
and the marriage rite, and boundary stakes driven in by a hammer were
considered as sacred among Northern nations as the Hermæ or statues
of Mercury, removal of which was punishable by death.

Thor's wife, Sif, with her luxuriant golden hair, is, as we have
already stated, an emblem of the earth, and her hair of its rich
vegetation. Loki's theft of these tresses is equivalent to Pluto's rape
of Proserpine. To recover the golden locks, Loki must visit the dwarfs
(Pluto's servants), crouching in the low passages of the underground
world; so Mercury must seek Proserpine in Hades.

The gadfly which hinders Jupiter from recovering possession of
Io, after Mercury has slain Argus, reappears in the Northern myth
to sting Brock and to endeavour to prevent the manufacture of the
magic ring Draupnir, which is merely a counterpart of Sif's tresses,
as it also represents the fruits of the earth. The fly continues to
torment the dwarf during the manufacture of Frey's golden-bristled
boar, a prototype of Apollo's golden sun chariot, and it prevents
the perfect formation of the handle of Thor's hammer.

The magic ship Skidbladnir, also made by the dwarfs, is like the
swift-sailing Argo, which was a personification of the clouds sailing
overhead; and just as the former was said to be large enough to
accommodate all the gods, so the latter bore all the Greek heroes
off to the distant land of Colchis.

The Germans, wishing to name the days of the week after their gods,
as the Romans had done, gave the name of Thor to Jove's day, and thus
made it the present Thursday.

Thor's struggle against Hrungnir is a parallel to the fight between
Hercules and Cacus or Antæus; while Groa is evidently Ceres, for she,
too, mourns for her absent child Orvandil (Proserpine), and breaks
out into a song of joy when she hears that it will return.

Magni, Thor's son, who when only three hours old exhibits his
marvellous strength by lifting Hrungnir's leg off his recumbent father,
also reminds us of the infant Hercules; and Thor's voracious appetite
at Thrym's wedding feast has its parallel in Mercury's first meal,
which consisted of two whole oxen.

The crossing of the swollen tide of Veimer by Thor reminds us of
Jason's feat when he waded across the torrent on his way to visit
the tyrant Pelias and recover possession of his father's throne.

The marvellous necklace worn by Frigga and Freya to enhance their
charms is like the cestus or girdle of Venus, which Juno borrowed to
subjugate her lord, and is, like Sif's tresses and the ring Draupnir,
an emblem of luxuriant vegetation or a type of the stars which shine
in the firmament.

The Northern sword-god Tyr is, of course, the Greek war-god Ares,
whom he so closely resembles that his name was given to the day of
the week held sacred to Ares, which is even now known as Tuesday or
Tiu's day. Like Ares, Tyr was noisy and courageous; he delighted in
the din of battle, and was fearless at all times. He alone dared to
brave the Fenris wolf; and the Southern proverb concerning Scylla and
Charybdis has its counterpart in the Northern adage, "to get loose
out of Læding and to dash out of Droma." The Fenris wolf, also a
personification of subterranean fire, is bound, like his prototypes
the Titans, in Tartarus.

The similarity between the gentle, music-loving Bragi, with his harp,
and Apollo or Orpheus, is very great; so is the resemblance between
the magic draught Od-hroerir and the waters of Helicon, both of which
were supposed to serve as inspiration to mortal as well as to immortal
poets. Odin dons eagle plumes to bear away this precious mead, and
Jupiter assumes a similar guise to secure his cupbearer Ganymede.

Idun, like Adonis and Proserpine, or still more like Eurydice, is also
a fair personification of spring. She is borne away by the cruel ice
giant Thiassi, who represents the boar which slew Adonis, the kidnapper
of Proserpine, or the poisonous serpent which bit Eurydice. Idun is
detained for a long time in Jötun-heim (Hades), where she forgets all
her merry, playful ways, and becomes mournful and pale. She cannot
return alone to Asgard, and it is only when Loki (now an emblem of
the south wind) comes to bear her away in the shape of a nut or a
swallow that she can effect her escape. She reminds us of Proserpine
and Adonis escorted back to earth by Mercury (god of the wind), or
of Eurydice lured out of Hades by the sweet sounds of Orpheus's harp,
which were also symbolical of the soughing of the winds.

Idun and Eurydice

The myth of Idun's fall from Yggdrasil into the darkest depths of
Nifl-heim, while subject to the same explanation and comparison as the
above story, is still more closely related to the tale of Orpheus and
Eurydice, for the former, like Bragi, cannot exist without the latter,
whom he follows even into the dark realm of death; without her his
songs are entirely silenced. The wolf-skin in which Idun is enveloped
is typical of the heavy snows in Northern regions, which preserve the
tender roots from the blighting influence of the extreme winter cold.

Skadi and Diana

The Van Niörd, who is god of the sunny summer seas, has his counterpart
in Neptune and more especially in Nereus, the personification of the
calm and pleasant aspect of the mighty deep. Niörd's wife, Skadi,
is the Northern huntress; she therefore resembles Diana. Like her,
she bears a quiver full of arrows, and a bow which she handles with
consummate skill. Her short gown permits the utmost freedom of motion,
also, and she, too, is generally accompanied by a hound.

The story of the transference of Thiassi's eyes to the firmament,
where they glow like brilliant stars, reminds us of many Greek star
myths, and especially of Argus's eyes ever on the watch, of Orion and
his jewelled girdle, and of his dog Sirius, all changed into stars
by the gods to appease angry goddesses. Loki's antics to win a smile
from the irate Skadi are considered akin to the quivering flashes of
sheet-lightning which he personified in the North, while Steropes,
the Cyclops, typified it for the Greeks.

Frey and Apollo

The Northern god of sunshine and summer showers, the genial Frey,
has many traits in common with Apollo, for, like him, he is beautiful
and young, rides the golden-bristled boar which was the Northern
conception of the sunbeams, or drives across the sky in a golden car,
which reminds us of Apollo's glittering chariot.

Frey has some of the gentle Zephyrus's characteristics besides, for
he, too, scatters flowers along his way. His horse Blodug-hofi is
not unlike Pegasus, Apollo's favourite steed, for it can pass through
fire and water with equal ease and velocity.

Fro, like Odin and Jupiter, is also identified with a human king, and
his mound lies beside Odin's near Upsala. His reign was so happy that
it was called the Golden Age, and he therefore reminds us of Saturn,
who, exiled to earth, ruled over the people of Italy, and granted
them similar prosperity.

Freya and Venus

Gerda, the beautiful maiden, is like Venus, and also like Atalanta;
she is hard to woo and hard to win, like the fleet-footed maiden,
but, like her, she yields at last and becomes a happy wife. The golden
apples with which Skirnir tries to bribe her remind us of the golden
fruit which Hippomenes cast in Atalanta's way, and which made her
lose the race.

Freya, the goddess of youth, love, and beauty, like Venus, sprang from
the sea, for she is a daughter of the sea-god Niörd. Venus bestowed
her best affections upon the god of war and upon the martial Anchises,
while Freya often assumes the garb of a Valkyr, and rides rapidly
to earth to take part in mortal strife and bear away the heroic
slain to feast in her halls. Like Venus, she delights in offerings
of fruits and flowers, and lends a gracious ear to the petitions
of lovers. Freya also resembles Minerva, for, like her, she wears
a helmet and breastplate, and, like her, also, she is noted for her
beautiful blue eyes.

Odur and Adonis

Odur, Freya's husband, is like Adonis, and when he leaves her,
she, too, sheds countless tears, which, in her case, are turned
to gold, while Venus's tears are changed into anemones, and those
of the Heliades, mourning for Phaeton, harden to amber, which
resembles gold in colour and in consistency. Just as Venus rejoices
at Adonis's return, and all Nature blooms in sympathy with her joy,
so Freya becomes lighthearted once more when she has found her husband
beneath the flowering myrtles of the South. Venus's car is drawn by
fluttering doves, and Freya's is swiftly carried along by cats, which
are emblems of sensual love, as the doves were considered types of
tenderest love. Freya is appreciative of beauty and angrily refuses
to marry Thrym, while Venus scorns and finally deserts Vulcan, whom
she has been forced to marry against her will.

The Greeks represented Justice as a goddess blindfolded, with scales
in one hand and a sword in the other, to indicate the impartiality and
the fixity of her decrees. The corresponding deity of the North was
Forseti, who patiently listened to both sides of a question ere he,
too, promulgated his impartial and irrevocable sentence.

Uller, the winter-god, resembles Apollo and Orion only in his love for
the chase, which he pursues with ardour under all circumstances. He
is the Northern bowman, and his skill is quite as unerring as theirs.

Heimdall, like Argus, was gifted with marvellous keenness of sight,
which enabled him to see a hundred miles off as plainly by night as
by day. His Giallar-horn, which could be heard throughout all the
world, proclaiming the gods' passage to and fro over the quivering
bridge Bifröst, was like the trumpet of the goddess Renown. As he
was related to the water deities on his mother's side, he could,
like Proteus, assume any form at will, and he made good use of this
power on the occasion when he frustrated Loki's attempt to steal the
necklace Brisinga-men.

Hermod, the quick or nimble, resembles Mercury not only in his
marvellous celerity of motion. He, too, was the messenger of the gods,
and, like the Greek divinity, flashed hither and thither, aided not by
winged cap and sandals, but by Odin's steed Sleipnir, whom he alone
was allowed to bestride. Instead of the Caduceus, he bore the wand
Gambantein. He questioned the Norns and the magician Rossthiof, through
whom he learned that Vali would come to avenge his brother Balder and
to supplant his father Odin. Instances of similar consultations are
found in Greek mythology, where Jupiter would fain have married Thetis,
yet desisted when the Fates foretold that if he did so she would be
the mother of a son who would surpass his father in glory and renown.

The Northern god of silence, Vidar, has some resemblance to Hercules,
for while the latter has nothing but a club with which to defend
himself against the Nemean lion, whom he tears asunder, the former
is enabled to rend the Fenris wolf at Ragnarok by the possession of
one large shoe.

Rinda and Danae

Odin's courtship of Rinda reminds us of Jupiter's wooing of Danae,
who is also a symbol of the earth; and while the shower of gold in
the Greek tale is intended to represent the fertilising sunbeams, the
footbath in the Northern story typifies the spring thaw which sets in
when the sun has overcome the resistance of the frozen earth. Perseus,
the child of this union, has many points of resemblance with Vali,
for he, too, is an avenger, and slays his mother's enemies just as
surely as Vali destroys Hodur, the murderer of Balder.

The Fates were supposed to preside over birth in Greece, and to
foretell a child's future, as did the Norns; and the story of Meleager
has its unmistakable parallel in that of Nornagesta. Althæa preserves
the half-consumed brand in a chest, Nornagesta conceals the candle-end
in his harp; and while the Greek mother brings about her son's death
by casting the brand into the fire, Nornagesta, compelled to light
his candle-end at Olaf's command, dies as it sputters and burns out.

Hebe and the Valkyrs were the cupbearers of Olympus and Asgard. They
were all personifications of youth; and while Hebe married the great
hero and demigod Hercules when she ceased to fulfil her office, the
Valkyrs were relieved from their duties when united to heroes like
Helgi, Hakon, Völund, or Sigurd.

The Cretan labyrinth has its counterpart in the Icelandic Völundarhaus,
and Völund and Dædalus both effect their escape from a maze by a
cleverly devised pair of wings, which enable them to fly in safety
over land and sea and escape from the tyranny of their respective
masters, Nidud and Minos. Völund resembles Vulcan, also, in that
he is a clever smith and makes use of his talents to work out his
revenge. Vulcan, lamed by a fall from Olympus, and neglected by Juno,
whom he had tried to befriend, sends her a golden throne, which is
provided with cunning springs to seize and hold her fast. Völund,
hamstrung by the suggestion of Nidud's queen, secretly murders her
sons, and out of their eyes fashions marvellous jewels, which she
unsuspectingly wears upon her breast until he reveals their origin.

Myths of the Sea

Just as the Greeks fancied that the tempests were the effect of
Neptune's wrath, so the Northern races attributed them either to the
writhings of Iörmungandr, the Midgard snake, or to the anger of Ægir,
who, crowned with seaweed like Neptune, often sent his children,
the wave maidens (the counterpart of the Nereides and Oceanides),
to play on the tossing billows. Neptune had his dwelling in the coral
caves near the Island of Euboea, while Ægir lived in a similar palace
near the Cattegat. Here he was surrounded by the nixies, undines,
and mermaids, the counterpart of the Greek water nymphs, and by the
river-gods of the Rhine, Elbe, and Neckar, who remind us of Alpheus
and Peneus, the river-gods of the Greeks.

The frequency of shipwrecks on the Northern coasts made the people
think of Ran (the equivalent of the Greek sea-goddess Amphitrite) as
greedy and avaricious, and they described her as armed with a strong
net, with which she drew all things down into the deep. The Greek
Sirens had their parallel in the Northern Lorelei, who possessed the
same gift of song, and also lured mariners to their death; while
Princess Ilse, who was turned into a fountain, reminds us of the
nymph Arethusa, who underwent a similar transformation.

In the Northern conception of Nifl-heim we have an almost exact
counterpart of the Greek Hades. Mödgud, the guardian of the
Giallar-bridge (the bridge of death), over which all the spirits of
the dead must pass, exacts a tribute of blood as rigorously as Charon
demands an obolus from every soul he ferries over Acheron, the river
of death. The fierce dog Garm, cowering in the Gnipa hole, and keeping
guard at Hel's gate, is like the three-headed monster Cerberus; and
the nine worlds of Nifl-heim are not unlike the divisions of Hades,
Nastrond being an adequate substitute for Tartarus, where the wicked
were punished with equal severity.

The custom of burning dead heroes with their arms, and of slaying
victims, such as horses and dogs, upon their pyre, was much the same
in the North as in the South; and while Mors or Thanatos, the Greek
Death, was represented with a sharp scythe, Hel was depicted with a
broom or rake, which she used as ruthlessly, and with which she did
as much execution.

Balder and Apollo

Balder, the radiant god of sunshine, reminds us not only of Apollo and
Orpheus, but of all the other heroes of sun myths. His wife Nanna is
like Flora, and still more like Proserpine, for she, too, goes down
into the underworld, where she tarries for a while. Balder's golden
hall of Breidablik is like Apollo's palace in the east; he, also,
delights in flowers; all things smile at his approach, and willingly
pledge themselves not to injure him. As Achilles was vulnerable only
in the heel, so Balder could be slain only by the harmless mistletoe,
and his death is occasioned by Loki's jealousy just as Hercules was
slain by that of Deianeira. Balder's funeral pyre on Ringhorn reminds
us of Hercules's death on Mount OEta, the flames and reddish glow of
both fires serving to typify the setting sun. The Northern god of sun
and summer could only be released from Nifl-heim if all animate and
inanimate objects shed tears; so Proserpine could issue from Hades
only upon condition that she had partaken of no food. The trifling
refusal of Thok to shed a single tear is like the pomegranate seeds
which Proserpine ate, and the result is equally disastrous in both
cases, as it detains Balder and Proserpine underground, and the earth
(Frigga or Ceres) must continue to mourn their absence.

Through Loki evil entered into the Northern world; Prometheus's
gift of fire brought the same curse upon the Greeks. The punishment
inflicted by the gods upon the culprits is not unlike, for while
Loki is bound with adamantine chains underground, and tortured by
the continuous dropping of venom from the fangs of a snake fastened
above his head, Prometheus is similarly fettered to Caucasus, and a
ravenous vulture continually preys upon his liver. Loki's punishment
has another counterpart in that of Tityus, bound in Hades, and in
that of Enceladus, chained beneath Mount Ætna, where his writhing
produced earthquakes, and his imprecations caused sudden eruptions
of the volcano. Loki, further, resembles Neptune in that he, too,
assumed an equine form and was the parent of a wonderful steed,
for Sleipnir rivals Arion both in speed and endurance.

The Fimbul-winter has been compared to the long preliminary fight under
the walls of Troy, and Ragnarok, the grand closing drama of Northern
mythology, to the burning of that famous city. "Thor is Hector;
the Fenris wolf, Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, who slew Priam (Odin);
and Vidar, who survives in Ragnarok, is Æneas." The destruction of
Priam's palace is the type of the ruin of the gods' golden halls;
and the devouring wolves Hati, Sköll, and Managarm, the fiends of
darkness, are prototypes of Paris and all the other demons of darkness,
who bear away or devour the sun-maiden Helen.

Ragnarok and the Deluge

According to another interpretation, however, Ragnarok and the
consequent submersion of the world is but a Northern version of the
Deluge. The survivors, Lif and Lifthrasir, like Deucalion and Pyrrha,
were destined to repeople the world; and just as the shrine of Delphi
alone resisted the destructive power of the great cataclysm, so Gimli
stood radiant to receive the surviving gods.

Giants and Titans

We have already seen how closely the Northern giants resembled the
Titans. It only remains to mention that while the Greeks imagined
that Atlas was changed into a mountain, so the Northmen believed that
the Riesengebirge, in Germany, were formed from giants, and that the
avalanches which descended from their lofty heights were the burdens
of snow which these giants impatiently shook from their crests as
they changed their cramped positions. The apparition, in the shape of
a bull, of one of the water giants, who came to woo the queen of the
Franks, has its parallel in the story of Jupiter's wooing of Europa,
and Meroveus is evidently the exact counterpart of Sarpedon. A faint
resemblance can be traced between the giant ship Mannigfual and the
Argo, for while the one is supposed to have cruised through the Ægean
and Euxine Seas, and to have made many places memorable by the dangers
it encountered there, so the Northern vessel sailed about the North
and Baltic Seas, and is mentioned in connection with the Island of
Bornholm and the cliffs of Dover.

While the Greeks imagined that Nightmares were the evil dreams which
escaped from the Cave of Somnus, the Northern race fancied they were
female dwarfs or trolls, who crept out of the dark recesses of the
earth to torment them. All magic weapons in the North were said to
be the work of the dwarfs, the underground smiths, while those of the
Greeks were manufactured by Vulcan and the Cyclopes, under Mount Ætna,
or on the Island of Lemnos.

The Volsunga Saga

In the Sigurd myth we find Odin one-eyed like the Cyclopes, who, like
him, are personifications of the sun. Sigurd is instructed by Gripir,
the horse-trainer, who is reminiscent of Chiron, the centaur. He is
not only able to teach a young hero all he need know, and to give him
good advice concerning his future conduct, but is also possessed of
the gift of prophecy.

The marvellous sword which becomes the property of Sigmund and of
Sigurd as soon as they prove themselves worthy to wield it, and the
sword Angurvadel which Frithiof inherits from his sire, remind us of
the weapon which Ægeus concealed beneath the rock, and which Theseus
secured as soon as he had become a man. Sigurd, like Theseus, Perseus,
and Jason, seeks to avenge his father's wrongs ere he sets out in
search of the golden hoard, the exact counterpart of the golden fleece,
which is also guarded by a dragon, and is very hard to secure. Like
all the Greek sun-gods and heroes, Sigurd has golden hair and bright
blue eyes. His struggle with Fafnir reminds us of Apollo's fight with
Python, while the ring Andvaranaut can be likened to Venus's cestus,
and the curse attached to its possessor is like the tragedy of Helen,
who brought endless bloodshed upon all connected with her.

Sigurd could not have conquered Fafnir without the magic sword, just
as the Greeks failed to take Troy without the arrows of Philoctetes,
which are also emblems of the all-conquering rays of the sun. The
recovery of the stolen treasure is like Menelaus's recovery of Helen,
and it apparently brings as little happiness to Sigurd as his recreant
wife did to the Spartan king.


Brunhild resembles Minerva in her martial tastes, physical appearance,
and wisdom; but her anger and resentment when Sigurd forgets her
for Gudrun is like the wrath of OEnone, whom Paris deserts to woo
Helen. Brunhild's anger continues to accompany Sigurd through life,
and she even seeks to compass his death, while OEnone, called to cure
her wounded lover, refuses to do so and permits him to die. OEnone
and Brunhild are both overcome by the same remorseful feelings when
their lovers have breathed their last, and both insist upon sharing
their funeral pyres, and end their lives by the side of those whom
they had loved.

Sun Myths

Containing, as it does, a whole series of sun myths, the Volsunga Saga
repeats itself in every phase; and just as Ariadne, forsaken by the
sun-hero Theseus, finally marries Bacchus, so Gudrun, when Sigurd has
departed, marries Atli, the King of the Huns. He, too, ends his life
amid the flames of his burning palace or ship. Gunnar, like Orpheus
or Amphion, plays such marvellous strains upon his harp that even
the serpents are lulled to sleep. According to some interpretations,
Atli is like Fafnir, and covets the possession of the gold. Both are
therefore probably personifications "of the winter cloud which broods
over and keeps from mortals the gold of the sun's light and heat,
till in the spring the bright orb overcomes the powers of darkness
and tempests, and scatters his gold over the face of the earth."

Swanhild, Sigurd's daughter, is another personification of the sun,
as is seen in her blue eyes and golden hair; and her death under the
hoofs of black steeds represents the blotting out of the sun by clouds
of storm or of darkness.

Just as Castor and Pollux hasten to rescue their sister Helen when
she has been borne away by Theseus, so Swanhild's brothers, Erp,
Hamdir, and Sörli, hasten off to avenge her death.

Such are the main points of resemblance between the mythologies
of the North and South, and the analogy goes far to prove that
they were originally formed from the same materials, the principal
differences being due to the local colouring imparted unconsciously
by the different races.


[1] "Northern Mythology," Kauffmann.

[2] Halliday Sparling.

[3] Carlyle, "Heroes and Hero Worship."

[4] "Northern Mythology," Kauffmann.

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