Viktor Rydberg.

Teutonic mythology online

. (page 42 of 68)
Online LibraryViktor RydbergTeutonic mythology → online text (page 42 of 68)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

revenge is not mentioned ; but in the very nature of the case
those persons from whose persecutions he has fled must have been
mightier than he, and as he himself is a chief in the godlike clan
of elves, his foes are naturally to be looked for among the more
powerful races of gods.

And as Volundarkvida pictures him as boundlessly and reck-
lessly revengeful, and makes him resort to his extraordinary skill
as a smith — a skill famous among all Teutonic tribes — in the satis-
faction which he demands of Nidudr, there is no room for doubt
that, during the many years he spent in Wolfdales, he brooded on
plans of revenge against those who had most deeply insulted him, and
that he made use of his art to secure instruments for the carrying out
of these plans. Of the glittering sword of which Ni&a&r robbed
him, Volund says (str. 18) that he had applied his greatest skill in
making it hard and keen. The sword must, therefore, have been
one of the most excellent ones mentioned in the songs of Teutonic
heathendom. Far down in the middle ages, the songs and sagas
were fond of attributing the best and most famous swords wielded
by their heroes to the skill of Volund.

Tn the myths turned by Saxo into history, there has been
mentioned a sword of a most remarkable kind, of untold value
(ingens prccmium), and attended by success in battle (belli fortuna
comitarctur). A hero whose name Saxo Latinised into Hotherus
(see Hist. Dan., p. 110) got into enmity with the Asa-gods, and
the only means with which he can hope to cope with them is the


possession of this sword. He also knows when to secure it, and
with its aid he succeeds in putting Thor himself and other goda to

In order to get possession of this sword, Eotherna had to make
a journey which reminds us of the adventurous expeditions already

described to Gudmund-Mimer's domain, but with this difference*
that he does not need to go by sea along tin 1 coast of Norway in
order to get there, which circumstance ia sufficiently explained by
the fact that, according to Saxo, Hotherus has his home in Sweden.

The regions which Hotherus has to traverse are pathless, full of
obstacles, and for the greater part continually in the cold embrace
of the severest frost. They are traversed by mountain-ridges on
which the cold is terrible, and therefore they must be crossed as
rapidly as possible with the aid of "yoke-stags". The sword is
kept concealed in a specus, a subterranean cave, and " mortals " can
scarcely cross its threshold (haud facile mortalibus jmhrr pass, .
The being which is the ward of the sword in this cave is by Saxo
called MimingU8.

The question now is, whether the sword smithied by Volund
and the one fetched by Hotherus are identical or not. The former
is smithied in a winter-cold country beyond Myrkwood, where the
mythic NiSwfir suddenly appears, takes possession of it, and the
purpose for which it was made, judging from all circumstances,
was that Volund with its aid was to conquer the hated powera
which, stronger than he, the chief of elves, had compelled him to take
refuge to the Wolfdales. If these powers were Asas or Vans, then
it follows that Volund must have thought himself able to give to
hifl -word qualities that could render it dangerous to the world of
Bods, although the latter had Thor's hammer and other subterranean
weapons at their disposal. The sword captured by Hotherus is
said to possess those very qualities which we might look for in the
Volund weapon, and the regions he lias to traverse in order to get
possession of it refer, by their cold and remoteness, to a land
similar to that where Ni&a&r Burprisea Volund, and takes from him
the dangerous sword.

As already stated, Nidad at the same time captured an arm-
ring of an extraordinary kind. If the saga about Volund and his
sword was connected with the saga-fragment turned into history
by Saxo concerning Hotherus and the sword, whose owner he


becomes, then we might reasonably expect that the precious arm-
ring, too, should appear in the latter saga. And we do find it
there. Mimingus, who guards the sword of victory, also guards a
wonderful arm-ring, and through Saxo we learn what quality makes
this particular arm-ring so precious, that Nidad does not seem
to care about the other seven hundred which he finds in Volund's
workshop. Saxo says : Eidem (Mimingo) quoque armillam esse mira
quaclam arcanaque virtute possessor is opes augere solitam. " In the arm-
ring there dwells a wonderful and mysterious power, which increases
the wealth of its possessor." In other words, it is a smith's work,
the rival of the ring Draupner, from which eight similar rings drop
every ninth night. This explains why Volund's smithy contains so
many rings, that Nidad expresses his suspicious wonderment
(str. 13).

There are therefore strong reasons for assuming that the sword
and the ring, which Hotherus takes from Mimingus, are the same
sword and ring as Nidad before took from Volund, and that the
saga, having deprived Volund of the opportunity of testing the
quality of the weapon himself in conflict with the gods, wanted to
indicate what it really amounted to in a contest with Thor and
his hammer by letting the sword come into the hands of Hotherus,
another foe of the Asas. As we now find such articles as those
captured by Nidad reappearing in the hands of a certain Mimingus,
the question arises whether Mimingus is Nidad himself or some
one of Nidad's subjects ; for that they either are identical, or are
in some way connected with each other, seems to follow from the
fact that the one is said to possess what the other is said to have
captured. Mimingus is a Latinising of Mimingr, Mimungr, son or
descendant of Mimer.

Ni&adr, Ni&u&r (both variations are found in Volundarkvida),
has, on the other hand, his counterpart in the Anglo-Saxon Nidhad.
The king who in "Deor the Scald's Complaint" fetters Volund bears
this name, and his daughter is called Beadohild, in Volundar-
kvida Bodvild. Previous investigators have already remarked
that Beadohild is a more original form than Bodvild, and Nidhad
than NichtcTr, Ni&a&r. The name Nidhad is composed of niff
(neuter gender), the lower world, Hades, and had, a being, person,
forma, species. Nidhad literally means the lower world being, the
Hades being. Herewith we also have his mythical character


determined. A mythical king, who is characterised aa //>• being of
the lower world, must be a subterranean king. The mythic records

extant speak of the subterranean king Mimer (the middle-age
saga's Gudmund, king of the Glittering Fields ; see Nos. 45, 4(1), who
rules over the realm of the well of wisdom and has the dis of fate
as his kinswoman, the princess of the realm of Urd's fountain and
of the whole realm of death. While we thus find, on the one hand,
that it is a subterranean king who captures Volund's sword and
arm-ring, we find, on the other hand, that when Hotherus is about
to secure the irresistible sword and the wealth-producing ring, he
has to betake himself to the same winter-cold country, where all
the traditions here discussed (see Xos. 45-49) locate the descent to
Mimei's realm, and that he, through an entrance "scarcely ap-
proachable for mortals," must proceed into the bosom of the earth
after he has subdued a Mimingus, a son of Mimer. Mimer bein-
the one who took possession of the treasure, it is perfectly natural
that his son should be its keeper.

This also explains why NicFacJr in Volundarkvida is called the
king of the Njares. A people called Njares existed in the mytho-
logy, but not in reality. The only explanation of the word is to
be found in the Mimer epithet, which we discovered in the varia-
tions Narve, Njorve, Nare, Nere, which means " he who binds ".
They are called Njares, because they belong to the clan of

Volundarkvida (str. 19, with the following prose addition)
makes Xidad's queen command Volund's knee-sinews to be cut.
Of such a cruelty the older poem, '• Deor the Scald's Complaint;'
knows nothing. This poem relates, on the other hand, that Nidad
bound Volund with a fetter from a strong sinew :

sifijja7i hinnc N iff had on
nede legde
sveoncre seono-omde.

Though Volund is in the highest degree skilful, he is aol able
to free himself from these bonds. They are of magic kind, and
resemble those orlogjxvttir which are tied by Mimer's kinswoman
Urd. Nidad accordingly here appears in Mimer-Njorve's chara
as "binder". With this fetter of sinew we must compare the one
with which Loke was bound, and that tough and elastic "lie which



was made in the lower world and which holds Fenrer bound until
Ragnarok. And as Volund— a circumstance already made probable,
and one that shall be fully proved below— actually regards himself
as insulted by the gods, and has planned a terrible revenge against
them, then it is an enemy of Odin that Nidhad here binds, and
the Above-cited paraphrase for the death-dis, Urd, employed by
Egil Skallagrimson, " the kinswoman of the binder (Njorva) of
Odin's foes" (see No. 85), also becomes applicable here.

The tradition concerning Mdhad's original identity with Mimer
flourished for a long time in the German middle-age sagas, and
passed thence into the Vilkinasaga, where the banished Volund
became Mimer's smith. The author of Vilkinasaga, compiling both
from German and from Norse sources, saw Volund in the German
records as a smith in Mimer's employ, and in the Norse sagas he
found him as Nidhad's smith, and from the two synonyms he made
two persons.

The Norse form of the name most nearly corresponding to the
Old English Nidhad is Ni&i, " the subterranean," and that Mimer
also among the Norsemen was known by this epithet is plain both
from the Sol-song and from Voluspa. The skald of the Sol-song sees
in the lower world " Nide's sons, seven together, drinking the clear
mead from the well of ring-Begin ". The well of the lower world
with the "clear mead " is Mimer's fountain, and the paraphrase ring-
liegin is well suited to Mimer, who possessed among other treasures
the wonderful ring of Hotherus. Voluspa speaks of Nide's moun-
tain, the Hvergelmer mountain, from which the subterranean dragon
Nidhog flies (see No. 75), and of Nide's plains where Sindre's race
have their golden hall. Sindre is, as we know, one of the most
celebrated primeval smiths of mythology, and he smithied Thor's
lightning hammer, Frey's golden boar, and Odin's spear Gungner
(Gylfaginning). Dwelling with his kinsmen in Mimer's realm, he
is one of the artists whom the ruler of the lower world kept around
him (cp. No. 53). Several of the w r onderful things made by
these artists, as for instance the harvest-god's Skidbladner, and
golden boar, and Sif's golden locks, are manifestly symbols of
growth or vegetation. The same is therefore true of the original
Teutonic primeval smiths as of the Bibhuians, the ancient smiths
of Eigveda, that they make not only implements and weapons, but
also grass and herbs. Out of the lower world grows the world-tree,


and is kept continually fresh by the liquids of the sacred fountains.

In the abyss of the lower world and in the Bea is ground that mould
which makes the fertility of Midgard possible (see No. 80); in the

lower world "are smithied" those flowers and those harvests which
grow out of this mould, and from the manes of the BUbterranean
horses, and from their foaming bridles, tails on the fields and
meadows that honey-dew "which gives harvests t" men".

Finally, it must be pointed out that when Nidhad hinds
Volund, the foe of the gods, this is in harmony with Mimer'a
activity throughout the epic of the myths as the friend of the
Asa-gods, and as the helper of Odin, his sister's son, in word and

Further evidences of Mimer's identity with Nidhad are to be
found in the Svipdag myth, which 1 shall discuss further on.

Vafthrudnersmal states in strophe 25 that " beneficent regin
(makers) created Ny and Xedan to count times for men," this being
said in connection with what it states about Narve, Nat. and Dae.
In the Voluspa dwarf-list we find that the chief of these regin was
Modsogner, whose identity with Mimer has been shown (see Xo.
53). Modsogner-Mimer created among other "dwarfs" also Ny
and Xedan (Voluspa, 11). These are, therefore, his sons at least in
.the sense that they are indebted to him for their origin. The
expressions to create and to beget are very closely related in the
mythology. Of Xjord Vafthriulner also says (str. 39) that " wise
regin created him" in Vanaheim.

As sons of Xide-Mimer the changes of the moon have been
called after his name Niffi, and collectively they have been called
by the plural Nidjar, in a later time Niffar. And as Nat's
brothers they are enumerated along with her as a stereotyped
alliteration. In Vafthrudnersmal Odin asks the wise giant
whether he knows whence Xat and Xidjar (Nott mo'T XiJ><>n>)
came, and Voluspa (6) relates that in the dawn of time the high
holy gods [regin) seated themselves on their judgment-seats and
gave names to Xat and Xidjar {Nott oh Nipiom). 'Hie giving of a
name was in heathen times a sacred act, which implied an adop-
tion in the name-giver's family or circle of friends.

Xicfjar also appears to have had his signification of lnoon-
ehang's in regard to the changes of months. According to Saxo
(see No. 46), King Gorm saw in the lower world twelve sons of


Gudmnnd-Mimer, all "of noble appearance". Again, Solarljod's
skald says that the sons of Nide, whom he saw in the lower world,
were " seven together ". From the standpoint of a nature-symbol
the difference in these statements is explained by the fact that the
months of the year were counted as twelve, but in regard to seasons
and occupations there were seven divisions : gor-mdnudr, frer-m.,
hrut-m., cin-m,, sol-m., sel-m., Jcornskurffar-mdnudr. Seven is the
epic-mythological number of these Ni&jar. To the saga in regard
to these I shall return in No. 94.


A General Review of Mimer's Names and Epithets.

The names, epithets, and paraphrases with which the king of
the lower world, the ward of the fountain of wisdom, was designated,
according to the statements hitherto made, are the following :

(1) Mimir {Hodd-mimir, Mimr, Mimi, Mime der cdtc).

(2) Narfi (Narvi, Njorvi, Norr, Nari, Neri).

(3) Ni&i (Nidhad, Ni&a&r, Ni&udr, Nidungr).

These three names, which mean the Thinker, the Binder, the
Subterranean, are presumably all ancient.

(4) Modsognir, " the mead-drinker ".

(5) Hoddrofnir, presumably " the one bounteous in treasures ".

(6) Gavta sjy'alli, " the one with whom Gaute (Odin) counsels "•

(7) Bang-regin, Ring-regin.

(8) Go&mundr, the name by which Mimer appears in Christian
middle-age sagas of Norse origin. To these names may still be
added :

(9) Fimfadfrvlr, "the great teacher" (the lecturer). Havamal
(str. 142 ; cp. str. 80) says that Fimbulfiuh drew (faffi) the runes,
that ginn-rcgin "made" (gor&o) them, that is to say, in the older
sense of the word, prepared them for use, and that Odin (hroptr
rev una) carved (reist) them. In the strophes immediately pre-
ceding, it is said that Odin, by self-sacrifice, begot runes out of the
deep and fimbul-songs from Beistla's brother. These statements,
joined with those which mention how the runes given by Mimer
were spread over the world, and were taught by various clan-chiefs
to different clans (see No. 53), make it evident that a perfect myth
had been developed in regard to the origin of the runes and the


spreading of runic knowledge. Mimer, as tlie possessor of the well
of wisdom, was the inventor or source of the runes. When Sigr-
drifuinal (str. 13) says that they dropped out of Hoddrofher's hum,
this is, figuratively speaking, the same as Ilavamal tells, when it

states that Finibulthul carved them. The oldest powers (<///<//-
regin) and Odin afterwards developed and spread them.

At the time of Tacitus, and probably one or two centuries
earlier, the art of writing was known among the Teutons. The
runic inscriptions that have come down to our time bear evidence
of a Greek-Roman origin.

By this we do not mean to deny that there were runes — at least,
non-phonetic ones — before them. The many kinds of magic runes
of which our mythic records speak are perhaps reminiscences of
them. At all events we must distinguish the latter from the
common runes for writing, and also from the many kinds of
cypher-runes the keys of which are to be sought in the common
phonetic rune-row.

(10) Brimir. By the side of the gulden hall of Sindre, Voluspa
(str. 36) mentions the giant Brimer's " bjor " hall, which is in
OMlnir. Bjdrr is a synonym for mead and ale (Alvism., 34).
Okdlnir means "the place where cold is not found". The refer-
ence is to a giant dwelling in the lower world who presides over
mead, and whose hall is situated in a domain to which cold cannot
penetrate. The myth has put this giant in connection with Ymer,
who in relative opposition to him is called Lrirhriinir, clay-Brimer
(Fjollsvinnsmal). These circumstances refer to Mimer. So also
Sigrdrifumal (str. 1-4), where it is said that " Odin stood on the
mountain with Brimer's sword" {Brim/is cggiar), when Mimer's
head for the first time talked with him. The expression " Brimer's
sword " is ambiguous. As a head was once used as a weapon against
Heimdal, a sword and a head can, according to Skaldskapannal,
be employed as paraphrases for each other, whence " Brimer's
sword" may be the same as "Mimer's head" (Skaldskapannal,
&J, Cod. H. ; cp. Skaldskapannal, 8, and Gylfag., 27). Sigrdri-
fumal certainly also employs the phrase in its literal sense of a
famous mythological sword, for, in the case in question, it repre-
sents Odin as fully armed, with helmet on his head; and the most
excellent mythological sword, according to an added line in strophe
2-i of Grimnersmal (Cod. A.), bore Brimer's name, just as the


same sword in the German saga has the name Miminc (Biterolf,
v. 176, in Vilkinasaga changed to Mimmung), doubtless because it
at one time was in Mimer-Nidhad's possession ; for the German
saga (Biterolf, 157; cp. Vilkinasaga, ch. 23) remembers that a
sword called by Mimer's name was the same celebrated weapon as
that made by Volund (Wieland in Biterolf; Velint in Vilkinasaga),
and hence the same work of art as that which, according to Vil-
kinasaga, Nidhad captured from him during his stay in Wolfdales.

The Mead Myth.

We have seen (ISTos. 72, 73) that the mead which was brewed
from the three subterranean liquids destroys the effects of death
and gives new vitality to the departed, and that the same liquid is
absorbed by the roots of the world-tree, and in its trunk is distilled
into that sap which gives the tree eternal life. From the stem the
mead rises into the foliage of the crown, whose leaves nourish the
fair giver of " the sparkling drink," in Grimnersmal symbolised as
Heidrun, from the streams of whose teats the mead-horns in Asgard
are filled for the einherjes. The morning clew which falls from
Ygdrasil down into the dales of the lower world contains the same
elements. From the bridle of Eimfaxe and from the horses of the
valkyries some of the same dew also falls in the valleys of Mid-
gard (see No. 74). The flowers receive it in their chalices, where
the bees extract it, and thus is produced the earthly honey which
man uses, and from which he brews Ids mead (cp. Gylfag., ch. 16).
Thus the latter too contains some of the strength of Mimer's and
Urd's fountains (veigar — see Nos. 72, 73), and thus it happens that
it is able to stimulate the mind and inspire poetry and song — nay,
used with prudence, it may suggest excellent expedients in im-
portant emergencies (cp. Tacitus, Germania).

Thus the world-tree is among the Teutons, as it is among their
kinsmen the Iranians (see below), a mcad-trec. And so it was
called by the latter, possibly also by the former. The name
miotviffr, with which the world-tree is mentioned in Voluspa (2)
and whose origin and meaning have been so much discussed, is
from a mythological standpoint satisfactorily explained if we as-
sume that an older word, miod'vid'r, the mead-tree, passed into the


wonl similar in Bound, miotviffr, the tree of fate (from miot,
measure; cp. wjdtuSr in the sense of fate, the power which
measure, and the Anglo-Saxon meted", Old Saxon metod, the
of measure, fate, providence).

The sap of the world-tree and the veigar of the horn of the
Lower world are not, however, precisely the same mead as the pure
and undefiled liquid from Mimer'a fountain, that which Odin in his
youth, through self-sacrifice, was permitted to taste, nor is it pre-
cisely the same as that concerning the possession of which the
powers of mythology long contended, before it finally, through
Odin's adventures at Suttung's, came to Asgard. The episodes of
this conflict concerning the mead will be given as my investigation
progresses, so far as they can be discovered. Here we must first
examine what the heathen records have preserved in regard to the
closing episode in which the conflict was ended in favour of Asgard.
What the Younger Edda (Bragarsedur) tells about it I must for the
present leave entirely unnoticed, lest the investigation should go
astray and become entirely abortive.

The chief sources are the Havamal strophes 104-110, and
strophes 13 and 14. Subordinate sources are Grimnersnial (50)
and Tnglingatal (15). To this must be added half a strophe by
Eyvind Skaldaspiller (Skaldskaparmal, ch. 2).

The statements of the chief source have, strange to say, been
almost wholly unobserved, while the mythologists have confined
their attention to the later presentation in Bragarsedur, which
cannot be reconciled with the earlier accounts, and which from B
mythological standpoint is worse than worthless. In 1877 justice
was for the first time done to Havamal in the excellent analysis
of the strophes in question made by Prof. M. 15. Richerts, in his
" Attempts at explaining the obscure passages not hitherto under-
stood in the poetic Edda ".

From Havamal alone we get directly or indirectly the following :

The giant Suttung, also called Fjalar, has acquired possession of
the precious mead for which Odin longs. The Asa-father resolves
to capture it by cunning.

There is a feast at Fjalar's. Guests belonging to the clan of
rimthurses are gathered in his halls (Havamal, 1 1 <>). Besides
these we must imagine that SuUung-Fjalar's own nearest kith and
kin are present. The mythology speaks of a separate clan entirely


distinct from the rimthurses, known as Suttungs synir (Alvismal,
Skirnersmal; see No. 78), whose chief must be Suttung-Fjalar, as
his very name indicates. The Suttung kin and the rimthurses are
accordingly gathered at the banquet on the day in question.

An honoured guest is expected, and a golden high-seat prepared
for him awaits his arrival. From the continuation of the story we
learn that the expected guest is the wooer or betrothed of Suttung-
Fjalar's daughter, Gunlad. On that night the wedding of the
giant's daughter is to be celebrated.

Odin arrives, but in disguise. He is received as the guest of
honour, and is conducted to the golden high-seat. It follows of
necessity that the guise assumed by Odin, when he descends to
the mortal foes of the gods and of himself, is that of the ex-
pected lover. Who the latter was Havamal does not state,
unless strophe 110, 5, like so many other passages, is pur-
posely ambiguous and contains his name, a question which I
shall consider later.

After the adventure has ended happily, Odin looks back with
pleasure upon the success with which he assumed the guise of the
stranger and played his part (str. 107). Vel keyptz litar hefi ec vel
notip : " From the well changed exterior I reaped great advantage".
In regard to the mythological meaning of litr, see No. 95. The
expression kcyptrlitr, which literally means "purchased appearance,"
may seem strange, but kaupa means not only to " buy," but also
to " change," " exchange " ; kaupa klcedum vi& einn means " to
change clothes with some one ". Of a queen who exchanged her
son with a slave woman, it is said that she hcyptr urn some vi&
ambdtt. But the cause of Odin's joy is not that he successfully

Online LibraryViktor RydbergTeutonic mythology → online text (page 42 of 68)