(_To Robert Gould Shaw_) Flushed with the hope of high desire, He buckled on his sword, To dare the rampart ranged with fire, Or where the thunder roared; Into the smoke and flame he went, For God's great cause to die-- A youth of h... Read more of My Hero at Martin Luther King.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Myths The Myth Concerning The Earliest Period And The Emigrations From The North.

Sorcery The Reverse Of The Sacred Runes Gullveig-heidr The Source Of Sorcery The Moral Deterioration Of The Original Man

The Teutonic Emigration Saga Found In Tacitus

Halfdan's Birth And The End Of The Age Of Peace The Family Names Ylfing Hilding Budlung

Gulveig-heidr Her Identity With Aurboda Angrboda Hyrrokin The Myth Concerning The Sword Guardian And Fjalar

Halfdan's Enmity With Orvandel And Svipdag

Halfdan's Identity With Mannus In Germania

Borgar-skjold's Son Halfdan The Third Patriarch

Halfdan's Conflicts Interpreted As Myths Of Nature

The World War Its Cause The Murder Of Gullveig-heidr

The War In Midgard Between Halfdan's Sons

Review Of The Svipdag Myth And Its Points Of Connection With The Myth About Halfdan

Hadding's Journey To The East Reconciliation Between The Asas And Vans

Halfdan And Hamal Foster-brothers The Amalians Fight In Behalf Of Halfdan's Son Hadding

The Position Of The Divine Clans To The Warriors

The Sacred Runes Learned From Heimdal

Evidence That Halfdan Is Identical With Helge Hundingsbane

Hadding's Defeat Loke In The Council And On The Battle-field

Heimdal And The Sun-dis Dis-goddess

Scef The Author Of Culture Identical With Heimdal-rig The Original Patriarch

Loke Causes Enmity Between The Gods And The Original Artists

The Breach Of Peace Between Asas And Vans Frigg Skade And Ull In The Conflict

Halfdan's Character The Weapon-myth

The Significance Of The Conflict From A Religious-ritual Standpoint

The Creation Of Man The Primeval Country Scef The Bringer Of Culture



The Breach Of Peace Between Asas And Vans Frigg Skade And Ull In The Conflict






Category: THE MYTH CONCERNING THE EARLIEST PERIOD AND THE EMIGRATIONS FROM THE NORTH.

Source: Teutonic Mythology

When the Asas had refused to give satisfaction for the murder of
Gulveig, and when Odin, by hurling his spear, had indicated that the
treaty of peace between him and the Vans was broken, the latter leave
the assembly hall and Asgard. This is evident from the fact that they
afterwards return to Asgard and attack the citadel of the Asa clan. The
gods are now divided into two hostile camps: on the one side Odin and
his allies, among whom are Heimdal (see Nos. 38, 39, 40), and Skade; on
the other Njord, Frigg (Saxo, Hist., 42-44), Frey, Ull (Saxo, Hist.,
130, 131), and Freyja and her husband Svipdag, besides all that clan of
divinities who were not adopted in Asgard, but belong to the race of
Vans and dwell in Vanaheim.

So far as Skade is concerned the breach between the gods seems to have
furnished her an opportunity of getting a divorce from Njord, with whom
she did not live on good terms. According to statements found in the
myths, Thjasse's daughter and he were altogether too different in
disposition to dwell in peace together. Saxo (Hist., 53 ff.) and the
Younger Edda (p. 94) have both preserved the record of a song which
describes their different tastes as to home and surroundings. Skade
loved Thrymheim, the rocky home of her father Thjasse, on whose
snow-clad plains she was fond of running on skees and of felling wild
beasts with her arrows; but when Njord had remained nine days and nine
nights among the mountains he was weary of the rocks and of the howling
of wolves, and longed for the song of swans on the sea-strand. But when
Skade accompanied him thither she could not long endure to be awakened
every morning by the shrieking of sea-fowls. In Grimnismal, 11, it is
said that Skade "now" occupies her father's "ancient home" in
Thrymheim, but Njord is not named there. In a strophe by Thord Sjarekson
(Younger Edda, 262) we read that Skade never became devoted to the
Vana-god (nama snotr una godbrudr Vani), and Eyvind Skalda-spiller
relates in Haleygjatal that there was a time when Odin dwelt i
Manheimum together with Skade, and begat with her many sons. With
Manheimar is meant that part of the world which is inhabited by man;
that is to say, Midgard and the lower world, where are also found a race
of menskir menn (see Nos. 52, 53, 59, 63), and the topographical
counterpart of the word is Asgardr. Thus it must have been after his
banishment from Asgard, while he was separated from Frigg and found
refuge somewhere in Manheimar, that Odin had Skade for his wife. Her
epithet in Grimnismal, skir brudr goda, also seems to indicate that
she had conjugal relations with more than one of the gods.

While Odin was absent and deposed as ruler of the world, Ull has
occupied so important a position among the ruling Vans that, according
to the tradition preserved in Saxo, they bestowed upon him the task and
honour which until that time had belonged to Odin (Dii ... Ollerum
quendam non solum in regni, sed etiam in divinitatis infulas
subrogavere--Hist., 130). This is explained by the fact that Njord
and Frey, though valtivar and brave warriors when they are invoked,
are in their very nature gods of peace and promoters of wealth and
agriculture, while Ull is by nature a warrior. He is a skilful archer,
excellent in a duel, and hefir hermanns atgervi (Younger Edda, i.
102). Also after the reconciliation between the Asas and Vans, Thor's
stepson Ull has held a high position in Asgard, as is apparently
corroborated by Odin's words in Grimnismal, 41 (Ullar hylli ok allra
goda).

From the mythic accounts in regard to the situation and environment of
Asgard we may conclude that the siege by the Vans was no easy task. The
home of the Asas is surrounded by the atmospheric ocean, whose strong
currents make it difficult for the mythic horses to swim to it (see Nos.
65, 93). The bridge Bifrost is not therefore superfluous, but it is that
connection between the lower worlds and Asgard which the gods daily use,
and which must be captured by the enemy before the great cordon which
encloses the shining halls of the gods can be attacked. The wall is
built of "the limbs of Lerbrimer" (Fjolsv., 1), and constructed by its
architect in such a manner that it is a safe protection against
mountain-giants and frost-giants (Younger Edda, 134). In the wall is a
gate wondrously made by the artist-brothers who are sons of "Solblinde"
(Valgrind--Grimnism., 22; thrymgjoell--Fjoelsvimsm., 10). Few there
are who understand the lock of that gate, and if anybody brings it out
of its proper place in the wall-opening where it blocks the way for
those who have no right to enter, then the gate itself becomes a chain
for him who has attempted such a thing (Forn er su grind, enn that fair
vito, hor hve er i las um lokin--Grimn., 22. Fjoeturr fastr verdr vid
faranda hvern er hana hefr fra hlidi--Fjoelsv., 10).

Outside of the very high Asgard cordon and around it there flows a rapid
river (see below), the moat of the citadel. Over the eddies of the
stream floats a dark, shining ignitible mist. If it is kindled it
explodes in flames, whose bickering tongues strike their victims with
unerring certainty. It is the vaferloge, "the bickering flame," "the
quick fire," celebrated in ancient songs--vafrlogi, vafreydi,
skjot-brinni. It was this fire which the gods kindled around Asgard
when they saw Thjasse approaching in eagle guise. In it their
irreconcilable foe burnt his pinions, and fell to the ground.
"Haustlaung," Thjodolf's poem, says that when Thjasse approached the
citadel of the gods "the gods raised the quick fire and sharpened their
javelins"--Hofu skjot; en skofu skoept; ginnregin brinna. The "quick
fire," skjot-brinni, is the vaferloge.[21]

The material of which the ignitible mist consists is called "black
terror-gleam." It is or odauccom; that is to say, ofdauccom ognar
ljoma (Fafn., 40) (cp. myrckvan vafrloga--Skirn., 8, 9; Fjolsv., 31).
It is said to be "wise," which implies that it consciously aims at him
for whose destruction it is kindled.

How a water could be conceived that evaporates a dark, ignitible mist we
find explained in Thorsdrapa. The thunder-storm is the "storm of the
vaferfire," and Thor is the "ruler of the chariot of the
vaferfire-storm" (vafreyda hreggs hufstjori). Thus the thunder-cloud
contains the water that evaporates a dark material for lightning. The
dark metallic colour which is peculiar to the thunder-cloud was regarded
as coming from that very material which is the "black terror-gleam" of
which lightning is formed. When Thor splits the cloud he separates the
two component parts, the water and the vafermist; the former falls down
as rain, the latter is ignited and rushes away in quick, bickering,
zigzag flames--the vaferfires. That these are "wise" was a common Aryan
belief. They do not proceed blindly, but know their mark and never miss
it.

The river that foams around Asgard thus has its source in the
thunder-clouds; not as we find them after they have been split by Thor,
but such as they are originally, swollen with a celestial water that
evaporates vafermist. All waters--subterranean, terrestrial, and
celestial--have their source in that great subterranean fountain
Hvergelmer. Thence they come and thither they return (Grimn., 26; see
Nos. 59, 63, 33). Hvergelmer's waters are sucked up by the northern root
of the world-tree; they rise through its trunk, spread into its branches
and leaves, and evaporate from its crown into a water-tank situated on
the top of Asgard, Eikthyrnir, in Grimnismal, str. 26, symbolised as a
"stag"[22] who stands on the roof of Odin's hall and out of whose horns
the waters stream down into Hvergelmer. Eikthyrnir is the great
celestial water-tank which gathers and lets out the thunder-cloud. In
this tank the Asgard river has its source, and hence it consists not
only of foaming water but also of ignitible vafermists. In its capacity
of discharger of the thunder-cloud, the tank is called Eikthyrnir, the
oak-stinger. Oaks struck by lightning is no unusual occurrence. The oak
is, according to popular belief based on observation, that tree which
the lightning most frequently strikes.

But Asgard is not the only citadel which is surrounded by vafermists.
These are also found enveloping the home where dwelt the storm-giant
Gymer and the storm-giantess Aurboda, the sorceress who knows all of
Asgard's secrets, at the time when Frey sent Skirner to ask for the hand
of their daughter Gerd. Epics which in their present form date from
Christian times make vaferflames burn around castles, where goddesses,
pricked by sleep-thorns, are slumbering. This is a belief of a later
age.

To get over or through the vaferflame is, according to the myth,
impossible for anyone who has not got a certain mythical horse to
ride--probably Sleipner, the eight-footed steed of the Asa-father, which
is the best of all horses (Grimn., 44). The quality of this steed, which
enables it to bear its rider unscathed through the vaferflame, makes it
indespensable when this obstacle is to be overcome. When Skirner is to
go on Frey's journey of courtship to Gerd, he asks for that purpose mar
thann er mic um myrckvan beri visan vafrloga, and is allowed to ride it
on and for the journey (Skirn., 8, 9). This horse must accordingly have
been in the possession of the Vans when they conquered Asgard, an
assumption confirmed by what is to be stated below. (In the great epic
Sigurd's horse Grane is made to inherit the qualities of this divine
horse.)

On the outer side of the Asgard river, and directly opposite the Asgard
gate, lie projecting ramparts (forgardir) to protect the drawbridge,
which from the opening in the wall can be dropped down across the river
(see below). When Svipdag proceeded toward Menglad's abode in Asgard, he
first came to this forgardir (Fjoels., i. 3). There he is hailed by the
watch of the citadel, and thence he gets a glimpse over the gate of all
the glorious things which are hid behind the high walls of the citadel.

Outside the river Asgard has fields with groves and woods (Younger Edda,
136, 210).

Of the events of the wars waged around Asgard, the mythic fragments,
which the Icelandic records have preserved, give us but very little
information, though they must have been favourite themes for the heathen
skaldic art, which here had an opportunity of describing in a
characteristic manner all the gods involved, and of picturing not only
their various characters, but also their various weapons, equipments,
and horses. In regard to the weapons of attack we must remember that
Thor at the outbreak of the conflict is deprived of the assistance of
his splendid hammer: it has been broken by Svipdag's sword of victory
(see Nos. 101, 103)--a point which it was necessary for the myth to
assume, otherwise the Vans could hardly he represented as conquerors.
Nor do the Vans have the above-mentioned sword at their disposal: it is
already in the power of Gymer and Aurboda. The irresistible weapons
which in a purely mechanical manner would have decided the issue of the
war, were disposed of in advance in order that the persons themselves,
with their varied warlike qualities, might get to the foreground and
decide the fate of the conflict by heroism or prudence, by prescient
wisdom or by blind daring. In this war the Vans have particularly
distinguished themselves by wise and well calculated strategies. This we
learn from Voeluspa, where it makes the final victors conquer Asgard
through vigspa, that is, foreknowledge applied to warlike ends (str.
26). The Asas, as we might expect from Odin's brave sons, have
especially distinguished themselves by their strength and courage. A
record of this is found in the words of Thorbjorn Disarskald (Younger
Edda, 256).

Thorr hefir Yggs med arum
Asgard of threk vardan.

"Thor with Odin's clan-men defended Asgard with indomitable courage."

But in number they must have been far inferior to their foes. Simply the
circumstance that Odin and his men had to confine themselves to the
defence of Asgard shows that nearly all other divinities of various
ranks had allied themselves with his enemies. The ruler of the lower
world (Mimer) and Honer are the only ones of whom it can be said that
they remained faithful to Odin; and if we can trust the Heimskringla
tradition, which is related as history and greatly corrupted, then Mimer
lost his life in an effort at mediation between the contending gods,
while he and Honer were held as hostages among the Vans (Ynglingas., ch.
4). Asgard was at length conquered. Voeluspa, str. 25, relates the final
catastrophe:

brotin var bordvegr
borgar asa
knatto vanir vigspa
vollo sporna.

Broken was the bulwark
of the asaburg;
Through warlike prudence were the Vans able
its fields to tread.

Voeluspa's words seem to indicate that the Vans took Asgard by strategy;
and this is confirmed by a source which shall be quoted below. But to
carry out the plan which chiefly involved the finding of means for
crossing the vaferflames kindled around the citadel and for opening the
gates of Asgard, not only cunning but also courage was required. The
myth has given the honour of this undertaking to Njord, the clan-chief
of the Vans and the commander of their forces. This is clear from the
above-quoted passage: Njordr klauf Herjans hurdir--"Njord broke Odin's
doors open," which should be compared with the poetical paraphrase for
battle-axe: Gauts megin-hurdar galli--"the destroyer of Odin's great
gate,"--a paraphrase that indicates that Njord burst the Asgard gate
open with the battle-axe. The conclusion which must be drawn from these
utterances is confirmed by an account with which the sixth book of Saxo
begins, and which doubtless is a fragment of the myth concerning the
conquest of Asgard by the Vans corrupted and told as history.

The event is transferred by Saxo to the reign of King Fridlevus II. It
should here be remarked that every important statement made by Saxo
about this Fridlevus, on a closer examination, is found to be taken from
the myth concerning Njord.

There were at that time twelve brothers, says Saxo, distinguished for
courage, strength, and fine physical appearance. They were "widely
celebrated for gigantic triumphs." To their trophies and riches many
peoples had paid tribute. But the source from which Saxo received
information in regard to Fridlevus' conflict with them did not mention
more than seven of these twelve, and of these seven Saxo gives the
names. They are called Bjorn, Asbjorn, Gunbjorn, &c. In all the names is
found the epithet of the Asa-god Bjorn.

The brothers had had allies, says Saxo further, but at the point when
the story begins they had been abandoned by them, and on this account
they had been obliged to confine themselves on an island surrounded by a
most violent stream which fell from the brow of a very high rock, and
the whole surface of which glittered with raging foam. The island was
fortified by a very high wall (praealtum vallum), in which was built a
remarkable gate. It was so built that the hinges were placed near the
ground between the sides of the opening in the wall, so that the gate
turning thereon could, by a movement regulated by chains, be lowered and
form a bridge across the stream.

Thus the gate is, at the same time, a drawbridge of that kind with which
the Germans became acquainted during the war with the Romans already
before the time of Tacitus (cp. Annal., iv. 51, with iv. 47). Within
the fortification there was a most strange horse, and also a remarkably
strong dog, which formerly had watched the herds of the giant Offotes.
The horse was celebrated for his size and speed, and it was the only
steed with which it was possible for a rider to cross the raging stream
around the island fortress.

King Fridlevus now surrounds this citadel with his forces. These are
arrayed at some distance from the citadel, and in the beginning nothing
else is gained by the siege than that the besieged are hindered from
making sallies into the surrounding territory. The citadel cannot be
taken unless the above-mentioned horse gets into the power of Fridlevus.
Bjorn, the owner of the horse, makes sorties from the citadel, and in so
doing he did not always take sufficient care, for on one occasion when
he was on the outer side of the stream, and had gone some distance away
from his horse, he fell into an ambush laid by Fridlevus. He saved
himself by rushing headlong over the bridge, which was drawn up behind
him, but the precious horse became Fridlevus' booty. This was of course
a severe loss to the besieged, and must have diminished considerably
their sense of security. Meanwhile, Fridlevus was able to manage the
matter in such a way that the accident served rather to lull them into
increased safety. During the following night the brothers found their
horse, safe and sound, back on the island. Hence it must have swum back
across the stream. And when it was afterwards found that the dead body
of a man, clad in the shining robes of Fridlevus, floated on the eddies
of the stream, they took it for granted that Fridlevus himself had
perished in the stream.

But the real facts were as follows: Fridlevus, attended by a single
companion, had in the night ridden from his camp to the river. There his
companion's life had to be sacrificed, in order that the king's plan
might be carried out. Fridlevus exchanged clothes with the dead man,
who, in the king's splendid robes, was cast into the stream. Then
Fridlevus gave spur to the steed which he had captured, and rode through
the eddies of the stream. Having passed this obstacle safely, he set the
horse at liberty, climbed on a ladder over the wall, stole into the hall
where the brothers were wont to assemble, hid himself under a projection
over the hall door, listened to their conversation, saw them go out to
reconnoitre the island, and saw them return, secure in the conviction
that there was no danger at hand. Then he went to the gate and let it
fall across the stream. His forces had, during the night, advanced
toward the citadel, and when they saw the drawbridge down and the way
open, they stormed the fortress and captured it.

The fact that we here have a transformation of the myth, telling how
Njord at the head of the Vans conquered Asgard, is evident from the
following circumstances:

(a) The conqueror is Fridlevus. The most of what Saxo relates about
this Fridlevus is, as stated, taken from the myth about Njord, and told
as history.

(b) The brothers were, according to Saxo, originally twelve, which is
the well-established number of Odin's clansmen: his sons, and the
adopted Asa-gods. But when the siege in question takes place, Saxo finds
in his source only seven of the twelve mentioned as enclosed in the
citadel beseiged by Fridlevus. The reason for the diminishing of the
number is to be found in the fact that the adopted gods--Njord, Frey,
and Ull--had left Asgard, and are in fact identical with the leaders of
the besiegers. If we also deduct Balder and Hoedr, who, at the time of
the event, are dead and removed to the lower world, then we have left
the number seven given. The name Bjorn, which they all bear, is an Asa
epithet (Younger Edda, i. 553). The brothers have formerly had allies,
but these have abandoned them (deficientibus a se sociis), and it is
on this account that they must confine themselves within their citadel.
The Asas have had the Vans and other divine powers as allies, but these
abandon them, and the Asas must defend themselves on their own fortified
ground.

(c) Before this the brothers have made themselves celebrated for
extraordinary exploits, and have enjoyed a no less extraordinary power.
They shone on account of their giganteis triumphis--an ambiguous
expression which alludes to the mythic sagas concerning the victories of
the Asas over Jotunheim's giants (gigantes), and nations have
submitted to them as victors, and enriched them with treasures
(trophaeis gentium celebres, spoliis locupletes).

(d) The island on which they are confined is fortified, like the Asa
citadel, by an immensely high wall (praealtum vallum), and is
surrounded by a stream which is impassable unless one possesses a horse
which is found among the brothers. Asgard is surrounded by a river belt
covered with vaferflames, which cannot be crossed unless one has that
single steed which um myrckvan beri visan vafrloga, and this belongs
to the Asas.

(e) The stream which roars around the fortress of the brothers comes
ex summis montium cacuminibus. The Asgard stream comes from the
collector of the thunder-cloud, Eikthynir, who stands on the summit of
the world of the gods. The kindled vaferflames, which did not suit an
historical narration, are explained by Saxo to be a spumeus candor, a
foaming whiteness, a shining froth, which in uniform, eddying billows
everywhere whirl on the surface of the stream, (tota alvei tractu undis
uniformiter turbidatis spumeus ubique candor exuberat).

(f) The only horse which was able to run through the shining and
eddying foam is clearly one of the mythic horses. It is named along with
another prodigy from the animal kingdom of mythology, viz., the terrible
dog of the giant Offotes. Whether this is a reminiscence of Fenrir
which was kept for some time in Asgard, or of Odin's wolf-dog Freki,
or of some other saga-animal of that sort, we will not now decide.

(g) Just as Asgard has an artfully contrived gate, so has also the
citadel of the brothers. Saxo's description of the gate implies that any
person who does not know its character as a drawbridge, but lays violent
hands on the mechanism which holds it in an upright position, falls, and
is crushed under it. This explains the words of Fjoelsvinnsmal about the
gate to that citadel, within which Freyja-Menglad dwells: Fjoeturr

fastr verdr vid faranda hvern, er hana hefr fra hlidi.

(h) In the myth, it is Njord himself who removes the obstacle, "Odin's
great gate," placed in his way. In Saxo's account, it is Fridlevus
himself who accomplishes the same exploit.

(i) In Saxo's narration occurs an improbability, which is explained by
the fact that he has transformed a myth into history. When Fridlevus is
safe across the stream, he raises a ladder against the wall and climbs
up on to it. Whence did he get this ladder, which must have been
colossal, since the wall he got over in this manner is said to be
praealtum? Could he have taken it with him on the horse's back? Or did
the besieged themselves place it against the wall as a friendly aid to
the foe, who was already in possession of the only means for crossing
the stream? Both assumptions are alike improbable. Saxo had to take
recourse to a ladder, for he could not, without damaging the
"historical" character of his story, repeat the myth's probable
description of the event. The horse which can gallop through the
bickering flame can also leap over the highest wall. Sleipner's ability
in this direction is demonstrated in the account of how it, with Hermod
in the saddle, leaps over the wall to Balder's high hall in the lower
world (Younger Edda, 178). The impassibility of the Asgard wall is
limited to mountain-giants and frost-giants; for a god riding Odin's
horse the wall was no obstacle. No doubt the myth has also stated that
the Asas, after Njord had leaped over the wall and sought out the
above-mentioned place of concealment, found within the wall their
precious horse again, which lately had become the booty of the enemy.
And where else should they have found it, if we regard the stream with
the bickering flames as breaking against the very foot of the wall?

Finally, it should be added, that our myths tell of no other siege than
the one Asgard was subjected to by the Vans. If other sieges have been
mentioned, they cannot have been of the same importance as this one, and
consequently they could not so easily have left traces in the mythic
traditions adapted to history or heroic poetry; nor could a historicised
account of a mythic siege which did not concern Asgard have preserved
the points here pointed out, which are in harmony with the story of the
Asgard siege.

When the citadel of the gods is captured, the gods are, as we have seen,
once more in possession of the steed, which, judging from its qualities,
must be Sleipner. Thus Odin has the means of escaping from the enemy
after all resistance has proved impossible. Thor has his thundering car,
which, according to the Younger Edda, has room for several besides the
owner, and the other Asas have splendid horses (Grimnism., Younger
Edda), even though they are not equal to that of their father. The Asas
give up their throne of power, and the Vans now assume the rule of the
world.

[Footnote 21: The author of Bragaraedur in the Younger Edda has
understood this passage to mean that the Asas, when they saw Thjasse
approaching, carried out a lot of shavings, which were kindled (!)]

[Footnote 22: In the same poem the elf-artist, Dainn, and the
"dwarf"-artist, Dvalinn, are symbolised as stags, the wanderer Ratr (see
below) as a squirrel, the wolf-giant Grafvitner's sons as serpents,
the bridge Bifrost as a fish (see No. 93), &c. Fortunately for the
comprehension of our mythic records such symbolising is confined to a
few strophes in the poem named, and these strophes appear to have
belonged originally to an independent song which made a speciality of
that sort of symbolism, and to have been incorporated in Grimnismal in
later times.]





Next: The Significance Of The Conflict From A Religious-ritual Standpoint

Previous: Gulveig-heidr Her Identity With Aurboda Angrboda Hyrrokin The Myth Concerning The Sword Guardian And Fjalar



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