Middle Age Sagas With Roots In The Myth Concerning The Lower World Erik Vidforle's Saga





Far down in Christian times there prevailed among the Scandinavians the

idea that their heathen ancestors had believed in the existence of a

place of joy, from which sorrow, pain, blemishes, age, sickness, and

death were excluded. This place of joy was called Odainsakr,

the-acre-of-the-not-dead, Joerd lifanda manna, the earth of living men.

It was situated not in heaven but below, either on the surface of the

earth or in the lower world, but it was separated from the lands

inhabited by men in such a manner that it was not impossible, but

nevertheless exceeding perilous, to get there.



A saga from the fourteenth century incorporated in Flateybook, and with

a few textual modifications in Fornald. Saga, iii., tells the following:



Erik, the son of a petty Norse king, one Christmas Eve, made the vow to

seek out Odainsaker, and the fame of it spread over all Norway. In

company with a Danish prince, who also was named Erik, he betook

himself first to Miklagard (Constantinople), where the king engaged the

young men in his service, and was greatly benefited by their warlike

skill. One day the king talked with the Norwegian Erik about religion,

and the result was that the latter surrendered the faith of his

ancestors and accepted baptism. He told his royal teacher of the vow he

had taken to find Odainsaker,--"fra honum heyrdi ver sagt a voru

landi,"--and asked him if he knew where it was situated. The king

believed that Odainsaker was identical with Paradise, and said it lies

in the East beyond the farthest boundaries of India, but that no one was

able to get there because it was enclosed by a fire-wall, which aspires

to heaven itself. Still Erik was bound by his vow, and with his Danish

namesake he set out on his journey, after the king had instructed them

as well as he was able in regard to the way, and had given them a letter

of recommendation to the authorities and princes through whose

territories they had to pass. They travelled through Syria and the

immense and wonderful India, and came to a dark country where the stars

are seen all day long. After having traversed its deep forests, they saw

when it began to grow light a river, over which there was a vaulted

stone bridge. On the other side of the river there was a plain, from

which came sweet fragrance. Erik conjectured that the river was the one

called by the king in Miklagard Pison, and which rises in Paradise. On

the stone bridge lay a dragon with wide open mouth. The Danish prince

advised that they return, for he considered it impossible to conquer the

dragon or to pass it. But the Norwegian Erik seized one of his men by

one hand, and rushed with his sword in the other against the dragon.

They were seen to vanish between the jaws of the monster. With the other

companions the Danish prince then returned by the same route as he had

come, and after many years he got back to his native land.



When Erik and his fellow-countryman had been swallowed by the dragon,

they thought themselves enveloped in smoke; but it was scattered, and

they were unharmed, and saw before them the great plain lit up by the

sun and covered with flowers. There flowed rivers of honey, the air was

still, but just above the ground were felt breezes that conveyed the

fragrance of the flowers. It is never dark in this country, and objects

cast no shadow. Both the adventurers went far into the country in order

to find, if possible, inhabited parts. But the country seemed to be

uninhabited. Still they discovered a tower in the distance. They

continued to travel in that direction, and on coming nearer they found

that the tower was suspended in the air, without foundation or pillars.

A ladder led up to it. Within the tower there was a room, carpeted with

velvet, and there stood a beautiful table with delicious food in silver

dishes, and wine in golden goblets. There were also splendid beds. Both

the men were now convinced that they had come to Odainsaker, and they

thanked God that they had reached their destination. They refreshed

themselves and laid themselves to sleep. While Erik slept there came to

him a beautiful lad, who called him by name, and said he was one of the

angels who guarded the gates of Paradise, and also Erik's guardian

angel, who had been at his side when he vowed to go in search of

Odainsaker. He asked whether Erik wished to remain where he now was or

to return home. Erik wished to return to report what he had seen. The

angel informed him that Odainsaker, or joerd lifanda manna, where he

now was, was not the same place as Paradise, for to the latter only

spirits could come, and the land of spirits, Paradise, was so glorious

that, in comparison, Odainsaker seemed like a desert. Still, these two

regions are on each other's borders, and the river which Erik had seen

has its source in Paradise. The angel permitted the two travellers to

remain in Odainsaker for six days to rest themselves. Then they returned

by way of Miklagard to Norway, and there Erik was called vid-foerli,

the far-travelled.



In regard to Erik's genealogy, the saga states (Fornald. Saga, iii. 519)

that his father's name was Thrand, that his aunt (mother's sister) was a

certain Svanhvit, and that he belonged to the race of Thjasse's daughter

Skade. Further on in the domain of the real myth, we shall discover an

Erik who belongs to Thjasse's family, and whose mother is a swan-maid

(goddess of growth). This latter Erik also succeeded in seeing

Odainsaker (see Nos. 102, 103).





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