The War In Midgard Between Halfdan's Sons
Category: THE MYTH CONCERNING THE EARLIEST PERIOD AND THE EMIGRATIONS FROM THE NORTH.
Source: Teutonic Mythology
The conflict between the gods has its counterpart in, and is connected
with, a war between all the Teutonic races, and the latter is again a
continuation of the feud between Halfdan and Svipdag. The Teutonic race
comes to the front fighting under three race-representatives--(1)
Yngve-Svipdag, the son of Orvandel and Groa; (2) Gudhorm, the son of
Halfdan and Groa, consequently Svipdag's half-brother; (3) Hadding, the
son of Halfdan and Alveig (in Saxo called Signe, daughter of Sumbel),
consequently Gudhorm's half-brother.
The ruling Vans favour Svipdag, who is Freyja's husband and Frey's
brother-in-law. The banished Asas support Hadding from their place of
refuge. The conflict between the gods and the war between Halfdan's
successor and heir are woven together. It is like the Trojan war, where
the gods, divided into parties, assist the Trojans or assist the Danai.
Odin, Thor, and Heimdal interfere, as we shall see, to protect Hadding.
This is their duty as kinsmen; for Heimdal, having assumed human nature,
was the lad with the sheaf of grain who came to the primeval country and
became the father of Borgar, who begat the son Halfdan. Thor was
Halfdan's associate father; hence he too had duties of kinship toward
Hadding and Gudhorm, Halfdan's sons. The gods, on the other hand, that
favour Svipdag are, in Hadding's eyes, foes, and Hadding long refuses to
propitiate Frey by a demanded sacrifice (Saxo, Hist., 49, 50).
This war, simultaneously waged between the clans of the gods on the one
hand, and between the Teutonic tribes on the other, is what the seeress
in Voeluspa calls "the first great war in the world." She not only gives
an account of its outbreak and events among the gods, but also indicates
that it was waged on the earth. Then--
sa hon valkyrior saw she valkyries
vitt um komnar far travelled
gaurvar at rida equipped to ride
til Godthjodar to Goththjod.
Goththjod is the Teutonic people and the Teutonic country.
When Svipdag had slain Halfdan, and when the Asas were expelled, the
sons of the Teutonic patriarch were in danger of falling into the power
of Svipdag. Thor interested himself in their behalf, and brought Gudhorm
and Hadding to Jotunheim, where he concealed them with the giants Hafle
and Vagnhofde--Gudhorm in Hafle's rocky gard and Hadding in Vagnhofde's.
In Saxo, who relates this story, the Asa-god Thor appears partly as
Thor deus and Thoro pugil, Halfdan's protector, whom Saxo himself
identifies as the god Thor (Hist., 324), and partly as Brac and
Brache, which name Saxo formed from Thor's epithet, Asa-Bragr. It is
by the name Brache that Thor appears as the protector of Halfdan's sons.
The giants Hafle and Vagnhofde dwell, according to Saxo, in "Svetia"
probably, since Jotunheim, the northernmost Sweden, and the most
distant east were called Svithiod hinn kalda.
Svipdag waged war against Halfdan, since it was his duty to avenge the
disgrace of his mother Groa, and also that of his mother's father, and,
as shall be shown later, the death of his father Orvandel (see Nos. 108,
109). The revenge for bloodshed was sacred in the Teutonic world, and
this duty he performed when he with his irresistible sword felled his
stepfather. But thereby the duty of revenge for bloodshed was
transferred to Halfdan's sons--less to Gudhorm, who is himself a son of
Groa, but with all its weight to Hadding, the son of Alveig, and it is
his bounden duty to bring about Svipdag's death, since Svipdag had
slain Halfdan. Connecting itself with Halfdan's robbery of Groa, the
goddess of growth, the red thread of revenge for bloodshed extends
throughout the great hero-saga of Teutonic mythology.
Svipdag makes an effort to cut the thread. He offers Gudhorm and Hadding
peace and friendship, and promises them kingship among the tribes
subject to him. Groa's son, Gudhorm, accepts the offer, and Svipdag
makes him ruler of the Danes; but Hadding sends answer that he prefers
to avenge his father's death to accepting favours from an enemy (Saxo,
Hist., 35, 36).
Svipdag's offer of peace and reconciliation is in harmony, if not with
his own nature, at least with that of his kinsmen, the reigning Vans. If
the offer to Hadding had been accepted, we might have looked for peace
in the world. Now the future is threatened with the devastations of war,
and the bloody thread of revenge shall continue to be spun if Svipdag
does not prevent it by overpowering Hadding. The myth may have contained
much information about the efforts of the one camp to capture him and
about contrivances of the other to frustrate these efforts. Saxo has
preserved a partial record thereof. Among those who plot against Hadding
is also Loke (Lokerus--Saxo, Hist., 40, 41), the banished ally
of Aurboda. His purpose is doubtless to get into the favour of the
reigning Vans. Hadding is no longer safe in Vagnhofde's mountain home.
The lad is exposed to Loke's snares. From one of these he is saved by
the Asa-father himself. There came, says Saxo, on this occasion a rider
to Hadding. He resembled a very aged man, one of whose eyes was lost
(grandaevus quidam altero orbus oculo). He placed Hadding in front of
himself on the horse, wrapped his mantle about him, and rode away. The
lad became curious and wanted to see whither they were going. Through a
hole in the mantle he got an opportunity of looking down, and found to
his astonishment and fright that land and sea were far below the hoofs
of the steed. The rider must have noticed his fright, for he forbade him
to look out any more.
The rider, the one-eyed old man, is Odin, and the horse is Sleipner,
rescued from the captured Asgard. The place to which the lad is carried
by Odin is the place of refuge secured by the Asas during their exile i
Manheimum. In perfect harmony with the myths, Saxo refers Odin's exile
to the time preceding Hadding's juvenile adventures, and makes Odin's
return to power simultaneous with Hadding's great victory over his
enemies (Hist., 42-44). Saxo has also found in his sources that
sword-slain men, whom Odin chooses during "the first great war in the
world," cannot come to Valhal. The reason for this is that Odin is not
at that time the ruler there. They have dwelling-places and plains for
their warlike amusements appointed in the lower world (Hist., 51).
The regions which, according to Saxo, are the scenes of Hadding's
juvenile adventures lie on the other side of the Baltic down toward the
Black Sea. He is associated with "Curetians" and "Hellespontians,"
doubtless for the reason that the myth has referred those adventures to
the far east.
The one-eyed old man is endowed with wonderful powers. When he landed
with the lad at his home, he sang over him prophetic incantations to
protect him (Hist., 40), and gave him a drink of the "most splendid
sort," which produced in Hadding enormous physical strength, and
particularly made him able to free himself from bonds and chains.
(Compare Havamal, str. 149, concerning Odin's freeing incantations by
which "fetters spring from the feet and chains from the hands.") A
comparison with other passages, which I shall discuss later, shows that
the potion of which the old man is lord contains something which is
called "Leifner's flames," and that he who has been permitted to drink
it, and over whom freeing incantations have simultaneously been sung, is
able with his warm breath to free himself from every fetter which has
been put on his enchanted limbs (see Nos. 43, 96, 103).
The old man predicts that Hadding will soon have an opportunity of
testing the strength with which the drink and the magic songs have
endowed him. And the prophecy is fulfilled. Hadding falls into the power
of Loke. He chains him and threatens to expose him as food for a wild
beast--in Saxo a lion, in the myth presumably some one of the wolf or
serpent prodigies that are Loke's offspring. But when his guards are put
to sleep by Odin's magic song, though Odin is far away, Hadding bursts
his bonds, slays the beast, and eats, in obedience to Odin's
instructions, its heart. (The saga of Sigurd Fafnersbane has copied this
feature. Sigurd eats the heart of the dragon Fafner and gets wisdom
Thus Hadding has become a powerful hero, and his task to make war on
Svipdag, to revenge on him his father's death, and to recover the share
in the rulership of the Teutons which Halfdan had possessed, now lies
before him as the goal he is to reach.
Hadding leaves Vagnhofde's home. The latter's daughter, Hardgrep, who
had fallen in love with the youth, accompanies him. When we next find
Hadding he is at the head of an army. That this consisted of the tribes
of Eastern Teutondom is confirmed by documents which I shall hereafter
quote; but it also follows from Saxo's narrative, although he has
referred the war to narrower limits than were given to it in the myth,
since he, constructing a Danish history from mythic traditions, has his
eyes fixed chiefly on Denmark. Over the Scandian tribes and the Danes
rule, according to Saxo's own statement, Svipdag, and as his tributary
king in Denmark his half-brother Gudhorm. Saxo also is aware that the
Saxons, the Teutonic tribes of the German lowlands, on one occasion were
the allies of Svipdag (Hist., 34). From these parts of Teutondom did
not come Hadding's friends, but his enemies; and when we add that the
first battle which Saxo mentions in this war was fought among the
Curetians east of the Baltic, then it is clear that Saxo, too, like the
other records to which I am coming later, has conceived the forces under
Hadding's banner as having been gathered in the East. From this it is
evident that the war is one between the tribes of North Teutondom, led
by Svipdag and supported by the Vans on the one side, and the tribes of
East Teutondom, led by Hadding and supported by the Asas on the other.
But the tribes of the western Teutonic continent have also taken part in
the first great war of mankind. Gudhorm, whom Saxo makes a tributary
king in Yngve-Svipdag's most southern domain, Denmark, has in the mythic
traditions had a much greater empire, and has ruled over the tribes of
Western and Southern Teutondom, as shall be shown hereafter.
[Footnote 23: Filii Gram, Guthormus et Hadingus, quorum alterum Gro,
alterum Signe enixa est, Svipdagero Daniam obtinente, per educatorem
suum Brache nave Svetiam deportati, Vagnophto et Haphlio gigantibus non
solum alendi, verum etiam defensandi traduntur (Saxo Hist., 34).]
[Footnote 24: The form Loki is also duplicated by the form Lokr. The
latter is preserved in the sense of "effeminated man," found in myths
concerning Loke. Compare the phrase "veykr Lokr" with "hinn veyki
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