The Sacred Runes Learned From Heimdal

The mythic ancient history of the human race and of the Teutons may, in

accordance with the analysis above given, be divided into the following

epochs:--(1) From Ask and Ernbla's creation until Heimdal's arrival; (2)

from Heimdal's arrival until his departure; (3) the age of

Skjold-Borgar; (4) Halfdan's time; (5) The time of Halfdan's sons.

And now we will discuss the events of the last three epochs.

In the days of Borgar the moral condition of men grows worse, and an

event in nature takes place threatening at least the northern part of

the Teutonic world with destruction. The myth gives the causes of both

these phenomena.

The moral degradation has its cause, if not wholly, yet for the greater

part, in the activity among men of a female being from the giant world.

Through her men become acquainted with the black art, the evil art of

sorcery, which is the opposite of the wisdom drawn from Mimer's holy

fountain, the knowledge of runes, and acquaintance with the application

of nature's secret forces for good ends (see Nos. 34, 35).

The sacred knowledge of runes, the "fimbul-songs," the white art, was,

according to the myth, originally in the possession of Mimer. Still he

did not have it of himself, but got it from the subterranean fountain,

which he guarded beneath the middle root of the world-tree (see No.

63)--a fountain whose veins, together with the deepest root of the

world-tree, extends to a depth which not even Odin's thought can

penerate (Havam., 138). By self-sacrifice in his youth Odin received

from Bestla's brother (Mimer; see No. 88) a drink from the precious

liquor of this fountain and nine fimbul-songs (Havam., 140; cp. Sigrdr.,

14), which were the basis of the divine magic of the application of the

power of the word and of the rune over spiritual and natural forces, in

prayer, in sacrifices and in other religious acts, in investigations, in

the practical affairs of life, in peace and in war (Havam., 144 ff.;

Sigrdr., 6 ff.). The character and purpose of these songs are clear from

the fact that at the head is placed "help's fimbul-song," which is able

to allay sorrow and cure diseases (Havam., 146).

In the hands of Odin they are a means for the protection of the power of

the Asa-gods, and enable them to assist their worshippers in danger and

distress. To these belong the fimbul-song of the runes of victory; and

it is of no little interest that we, in Havamal, 156, find what Tacitus

tells about the barditus of the Germans, the shield-song with which

they went to meet their foes--a song which Ammianus Paulus himself has

heard, and of which he gives a vivid description. When the Teutonic

forces advanced to battle the warriors raised their shields up to a

level with the upper lip, so that the round of the shield formed a sort

of sounding-board for their song. This began in a low voice and

preserved its subdued colour, but the sound gradually increased, and at

a distance it resembled the roar of the breakers of the sea. Tacitus

says that the Teutons predicted the result of the battle from the

impression the song as a whole made upon themselves: it might sound in

their ears in such a manner that they thereby became more terrible to

their enemies, or in such a manner that they were overcome by despair.

The above-mentioned strophe of Havamal gives us an explanation of this:

the warriors were roused to confidence if they, in the harmony of the

subdued song increasing in volume, seemed to perceive Valfather's voice

blended with their own. The strophe makes Odin say: Ef ec scal til

orrostu leitha langvini, undir randir ec gel, en their meth riki fara

heilir hildar til, heilir hildi fra--"If I am to lead those to battle

whom I have long held in friendship, then I sing under their shields.

With success they go to the conflict, and successfully they go out of

it." Voeluspa also refers to the shield-song in 47, where it makes the

storm-giant, Hrymr, advancing against the gods, "lift his shield

before him" (hefiz lind fyrir), an expression which certainly has

another significance than that of unnecessarily pointing out that he has

a shield for protection. The runes of victory were able to arrest

weapons in their flight and to make those whom Odin loved proof against

sword-edge and safe against ambush (Havam., 148, 150). Certain kinds of

runes were regarded as producing victory and were carved on the hilt and

on the blade of the sword, and while they were carved Tyr's name was

twice named (Sigrdr., 6).

Another class of runes (brimrunar, Sigrdr., 10; Havam., 150)

controlled the elements, purified the air from evil beings (Havm., 155),

gave power over wind and waves for good purposes--as, for instance, when

sailors in distress were to be rescued--or power over the flames when

they threatened to destroy human dwellings (Havam., 152). A third kind

of runes (malrunar) gave speech to the mute and speechless, even to

those whose lips were sealed in death (see No. 70). A fourth kind of

runes could free the limbs from bonds (Havam., 149). A fifth kind of

runes protected against witchcraft (Havam., 151). A sixth kind of runes

(oelrunar) takes the strength from the love-potion prepared by another

man's wife, and from every treachery mingled therein (Sigrdr., 7, 8). A

seventh kind (bjargrunar and limrunar) helps in childbirth and heals

wounds. An eighth kind gives wisdom and knowledge (hugrunar, Sigrdr.,

13; cp. Havam., 159). A ninth kind extinguishes enmity and hate, and

produces friendship and love (Havam., 153, 161). Of great value, and a

great honour to kings and chiefs, was the possession of healing runes

and healing hands; and that certain noble-born families inherited the

power of these runes was a belief which has been handed down even to our

time. There is a distinct consciousness that the runes of this kind were

a gift of the blithe gods. In a strophe, which sounds as if it were

taken from an ancient hymn, the gods are beseeched for runes of wisdom

and healing: "Hail to the gods! Hail to the goddesses! Hail to the

bounteous Earth (the goddess Jord). Words and wisdom give unto us, and

healing hands while we live!" (Sigrdr., 4).

In ancient times arrangements were made for spreading the knowledge of

the good runes among all kinds of beings. Odin taught them to his own

clan; Dainn taught them to the Elves; Dvalinn among the dwarfs; Asvinr

(see No. 88) among the giants (Havam., 143). Even the last-named became

participators in the good gift, which, mixed with sacred mead, was sent

far and wide, and it has since been among the Asas, among the Elves,

among the wise Vans, and among the children of men (Sigrdr., 18). The

above-named Dvalinn, who taught the runes to his clan of ancient

artists, is the father of daughters, who, together with dises of Asa and

Vana birth, are in possession of bjargrunar, and employ them in the

service of man (Fafnism., 13).

To men the beneficent runes came through the same god who as a child

came with the sheaf of grain and the tools to Scandia. Hence the belief

current among the Franks and Saxons that the alphabet of the Teutons,

like the Teutons themselves, was of northern origin. Rigsthula expressly

presents Heimdal as teaching runes to the people whom he blessed by his

arrival in Midgard. The noble-born are particularly his pupils in runic

lore. Of Heimdal's grandson, the son of Jarl Borgar, named Kon-Halfdan,

it is said:

En Konr ungr But Kon the young

kunni runar, taught himself runes,

aefinrunar runes of eternity

ok alldrrunar. and runes of earthly life.

Meir kunni hann Then he taught himself

monnum bjarga, men to save,

eggjar deyfa, the sword-edge to deaden,

aegi legia, the sea to quiet,

klok nam fugla, bird-song to interpret,

kyrra ellda, fires to extinguish,

saeva ok svefia, to soothe and comfort,

sorgir laegia. sorrows to allay.

The fundamental character of this rune-lore bears distinctly the stamp

of nobility. The runes of eternity united with those of the earthly life

can scarcely have any other reference than to the heathen doctrines

concerning religion and morality. These were looked upon as being for

all time, and of equal importance to the life hereafter. Together with

physical runes with magic power--that is, runes that gave their

possessors power over the hostile forces of nature--we find runes

intended to serve the cause of sympathy and mercy.

The Sacred Fire Of Nachez The Saga In Heimskringla And The Prose Edda facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail