Halfdan's Character The Weapon-myth

: Teutonic Mythology

The myths and heroic poems are not wanting in ideal heroes, who are

models of goodness of heart, justice, and the most sensitive nobleness.

Such are, for example, the Asa-god Balder, his counter part among

heroes, Helge Hjorvardson, Beowulf, and, to a certain degree also,

Sigurd Fafnesbane. Halfdan did not belong to this group. His part in the

myth is to be the personal representative of the strife-age that came

with h
m, of an age when the inhabitants of the earth are visited by the

great winter and by dire misfortunes, when the demoralisation of the

world has begun along with disturbances in nature and when the words

already are applicable, "hart er i heimi" (hard is the world). Halfdan

is guilty of the abduction of a woman--the old custom of taking a maid

from her father by violence or cunning is illustrated in his saga. It

follows, however, that the myth at the same time embellished him with

qualities which made him a worthy Teutonic patriarch, and attractive to

the hearers of the songs concerning him. These qualities are, besides

the necessary strength and courage, the above-mentioned knowledge of

runes, wherein he even surpasses his father (Rigsth.), great skaldic

gifts (Saxo, Hist., 325), a liberality which makes him love to strew

gold about him (Helge Hund., i. 9), and an extraordinary, fascinating

physical beauty--which is emphasised by Saxo (Hist., 30), and which is

also evident from the fact that the Teutonic myth makes him, as the

Greek myth makes Achilleus, on one occasion don a woman's attire, and

resemble a valkyrie in this guise (Helge Hund., ii.). No doubt the myth

also described him as the model of a faithful foster-brother in his

relations to the silent Hamal, who externally was so like him that the

one could easily be taken for the other (cp. Helge Hund., ii. 1, 6). In

all cases it is certain that the myth made the foster-brotherhood

between Halfdan and Hamal the basis of the unfailing fidelity with which

Hamal's descendants, the Amalians, cling to the son of Halfdan's

favourite Hadding, and support his cause even amid the most difficult

circumstances (see Nos. 42, 43). The abduction of a woman by Halfdan is

founded in the physical interpretation of the myth, and can thus be

justified. The wife he takes by force is the goddess of vegetation,

Groa, and he does it because her husband Orvandel has made a compact

with the powers of frost (see Nos. 33, 38, 108, 109).

There are indications that our ancestors believed the sword to be a

later invention than the other kinds of weapons, and that it was from

the beginning under a curse. The first and most important of all

sword-smiths was, according to the myth, Thjasse,[17] who accordingly is

called fadir moerna, the father of the swords (Haustlaung, Younger

Edda, 306). The best sword made by him is intended to make way for the

destruction of the gods (see Nos. 33, 98, 101, 103). After various

fortunes it comes into the possession of Frey, but is of no service to

Asgard. It is given to the parents of the giantess Gerd, and in Ragnarok

it causes the death of Frey.

Halfdan had two swords, which his mother's father, for whom they were

made, had buried in the earth, and his mother long kept the place of

concealment secret from him. The first time he uses one of them he slays

in a duel his noble half-brother Hildeger, fighting on the side of the

Skilfings, without knowing who he is (cp. Saxo, Hist., 351, 355, 356,

with Asmund Kaempebane's saga). Cursed swords are several times mentioned

in the sagas.

Halfdan's weapon, which he wields successfully in advantageous exploits,

is in fact, the club (Saxo, Hist., 26, 31, 323, 353). That the

Teutonic patriarch's favourite weapon is the club, not the sword; that

the latter, later, in his hand, sheds the blood of a kinsman; and that

he himself finally is slain by the sword forged by Thjasse, and that,

too, in conflict with a son (the stepson Svipdag--see below), I regard

as worthy of notice from the standpoint of the views cherished during

some of the centuries of the Teutonic heathendom in regard to the

various age and sacredness of the different kinds of weapons. That the

sword also at length was looked upon as sacred is plain from the fact

that it was adopted and used by the Asa-gods. In Ragnarok, Vidar is to

avenge his father with a hjoerr and pierce Fafner's heart (Voeluspa).

Hjoerr may, it is true, also mean a missile, but still it is probable

that it, in Vidar's hand, means a sword. The oldest and most sacred

weapons were the spear, the hammer, the club, and the axe. The spear

which, in the days of Tacitus, and much later, was the chief weapon both

for foot-soldiers and cavalry in the Teutonic armies, is wielded by the

Asa-father himself, whose Gungner was forged for him by Ivalde's sons

before the dreadful enmity between the gods and them had begun.

The hammer is Thor's most sacred weapon. Before Sindre forged one for

him of iron (Gylfaginning), he wielded a hammer of stone. This is

evident from the very name hamarr, a rock, a stone. The club is, as we

have seen, the weapon of the Teutonic patriarch, and is wielded side by

side with Thor's hammer in the conflict with the powers of frost. The

battle-axe belonged to Njord. This is evident from the metaphors found

in the Younger Edda, p. 346, and in Islend. Saga, 9. The mythological

kernel in the former metaphor is Njoerdrklauf Herjan's hurdir, i.e.,

"Njord cleaved Odin's gates" (when the Vans conquered Asgard); in the

other the battle-axe is called Gaut's megin-hurdar galli, i.e., "the

destroyer of Odin's great gate." The bow is a weapon employed by the

Asa-gods Hoedr and Ullr, but Balder is slain by a shot from the bow,

and the chief archer of the myth is, as we shall see, not an Asa-god,

but a brother of Thjasse. (Further discussion of the weapon-myth will be

found in No. 39.)

[Footnote 17: Proofs of Thjasse's original identity with Volund are

given in Nos. 113-115.]