Myths of the Norsemen - From the Eddas and Sagas
by H. A. Guerber
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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.

London 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. Nioerd 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. AEgir 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 Tannhaeuser and Frau Venus (J. Wagrez) 52 Eastre (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. Malmstroem) 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. Blommer) 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 AEgir (J. P. Molin) 186 Ran (M. E. Winge) 190 The Neckan (J. P. Molin) 194 Loki and Hodur (C. G. Qvarnstroem) 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. Blommer) 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 Helge (Knut Ekwall) 308 Ingeborg Watches her Lover Depart (Knut Ekwall) 312 Frithiof's Return to Framnaes (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 Eastre, 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, Saemund, 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."

Saemund'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 Joetun, A six-headed son."

Saemund'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 Boerr (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 Boerr 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 Joetunheim (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 AEsir (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 Boerr'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 clouds.

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

Havamal (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 Joerd (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 Skoell 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 Skoell (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.

"Skoell 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."

Saemuna'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 (Boerr) 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 Hrae-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.

"Hrae-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 AEsir (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 Bifroest

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, Bifroest (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."

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

The Vanas

Now although the original inhabitants of heaven were the AEsir, 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 AEsir 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, Nioerd, 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, Bifroest, 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 Saehrimnir, 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 Saehrimnir; '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 Saehrimni'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 aereal 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 Mesnee 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 mediaeval 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 visit.

"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."

Oehlenschlaeger (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 Joetun-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 AEsir 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 proteges. 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 Disir: Odin thou now shalt see: Draw near to me if thou canst."

Saemund'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 Fioergyn'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."

Saemund'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 Joerd (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 AEsir, 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 Odensoe. 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 AEsir, 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, Saeming, 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 Havamal, 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."

Havamal (Thorpe's tr.).


The Queen of the Gods

Frigga, or Frigg, daughter of Fiorgyn and sister of Joerd, according to some mythologists, is considered by others as a daughter of Joerd 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 Maelar, 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, Voer 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 Voer (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 mediaeval tradition, Holda dwelt in a cave in the Hoerselberg, 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 Tannhaeuser, 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."

Tannhaeuser (Owen Meredith).

Crushed with grief at this pronouncement, Tannhaeuser fled, and, despite the entreaties of his faithful friend, Eckhardt, no great time elapsed ere he returned to the Hoerselberg, 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 Tannhaeuser."

Tannhaeuser (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."

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