Halfdan's Conflicts Interpreted As Myths Of Nature

: Teutonic Mythology

In regard to the significance of the conflicts awaiting Halfdan, and

occupying his whole life, when interpreted as myths of nature, we must

remember that he inherits from his father the duty of stopping the

progress southward of the giant-world's wintry agents, the kinsmen of

Thjasse, and of the Skilfing (Yngling) tribes dwelling in the north. The

migration sagas have, as we have seen, shown that Borgar and his people

ad to leave the original country and move south to Denmark, Saxland,

and to those regions on the other side of the Baltic in which the Goths

settled. For a time the original country is possessed by the conquerors

who according to Voeluspa, "from Svarin's Mound attacked and took

(sotti) the clayey plains as far as Jaravall." But Halfdan represses

them. That the words quoted from Voeluspa really refer to the same mythic

persons with whom Halfdan afterwards fights is proved by the fact that

Svarin and Svarin's Mound are never named in our documents except in

connection with Halfdan's saga. In Saxo it is Halfdan-Gram who slays

Svarin and his numerous brothers; in the saga of "Helge Hundingsbane" it

is again Halfdan, under the name Helge, who attacks tribes dwelling

around Svarin's Mound, and conquers them. To this may be added, that the

compiler of the first song about Helge Hundingsbane borrowed from the

saga-original, on which the song is based, names which point to the

Voeluspa strophe concerning the attack on the south Scandinavian plains.

In the category of names, or the genealogy of the aggressors, occur, as

has been shown already, the Skilfing names Alf and Yngve. Thus also in

the Helge-song's list of persons with whom the conflict is waged in the

vicinity of Svarin's Mound. In the Voe1uspa's list Moinn is mentioned

among the aggressors (in the variation in the Prose Edda); in the

Helge-song, strophe 46, it is said that Helge-Halfdan fought a

Moinsheimom against his brave foes, whom he afterwards slew in the

battle around Svarin's Mound. In the Voeluspa's list is named among the

aggressors one Haugspori, "the one spying from the mound"; in the

Helge-song is mentioned Sporvitnir, who from Svarin's Mound watches

the forces of Helge-Halfdan advancing. I have already (No. 28B), pointed

out several other names which occur in the Voeluspa list, and whose

connection with the myth concerning the artists, frost-giants, and

Skilfings of antiquity and their attack on the original country, can be


The physical significance of Halfdan's conflicts and adventures is

apparent also from the names of the women, whom the saga makes him

marry. Groa (grow), whom he robs and keeps for some time, is, as her

very name indicates, a goddess of vegetation. Signe-Alveig, whom he

afterwards marries, is the same. Her name signifies "the nourishing

drink." According to Saxo she is the daughter of Sumblus, Latin for

Sumbl, which means feast, ale, mead, and is a synonym for Oelvaldi,

Oelmodr, names which belonged to the father of the Ivalde sons (see No.


According to a well-supported statement in Forspjallsljod (see No. 123),

Ivalde was the father of two groups of children. The mother of one of

these groups is a giantess (see Nos. 113, 114, 115). With her he has

three sons, viz., the three famous artists of antiquity--Ide,

Gang-Urnir, and Thjasse. The mother of the other group is a goddess of

light (see No. 123). With her he has daughters, who are goddesses of

growth, among them Idun and Signe-Alveig. That Idun is the daughter of

Ivalde is clear from Forspjallsljod (6), alfa aettar Ithunni heto

Ivallds ellri yngsta barna.

Of the names of their father Sumbl, Oelvaldi, Oelmodr, it may be

said that, as nature-symbols, "oel" (ale) and "mjoed" (mead), are in the

Teutonic mythology identical with soma and somamadhu in Rigveda and

haoma in Avesta, that is, they are the strength-developing, nourishing

saps in nature. Mimer's subterranean well, from which the world-tree

draws its nourishment, is a mead-fountain. In the poem "Haustlaung" Idun

is called Oelgefn; in the same poem Groa is called Oelgefion. Both

appellations refer to goddesses who give the drink of growth and

regeneration to nature and to the gods. Thus we here have a family, the

names and epithets of whose members characterise them as forces, active

in the service of nature and of the god of harvests. Their names and

epithets also point to the family bond which unites them. We have the

group of names, Idvaldi, Idi, Idunn, and the group, Oelvaldi

(Oelmodr), Oelgefn, and Oelgefion, both indicating members of the

same family. Further on (see Nos. 113, 114, 115), proof shall be

presented that Groa's first husband, Orvandel the brave, is one of

Thjasse's brothers, and thus that Groa, too, was closely connected with

this family.

As we know, it is the enmity caused by Loke between the Asa-gods and the

lower serving, yet powerful, divinities of nature belonging to the

Ivalde group, which produces the terrible winter with its awful

consequences for man, and particularly for the Teutonic tribes. These

hitherto beneficent agents of growth have ceased to serve the gods, and

have allied themselves with the frost-giants. The war waged by Halfdan

must be regarded from this standpoint. Midgard's chief hero, the real

Teutonic patriarch, tries to reconquer for the Teutons the country of

which winter has robbed them. To be able to do this, he is the son of

Thor, the divine foe of the frost-giants, and performs on the border of

Midgard a work corresponding to that which Thor has to do in space and

in Jotunheim. And in the same manner as Heimdal before secured

favourable conditions of nature to the original country, by uniting the

sun-goddess with himself through bonds of love, his grandson Halfdan now

seeks to do the same for the Teutonic country, by robbing a hostile son

of Ivalde, Orvandel, of his wife Groa, the growth-giver, and thereupon

also of Alveig, the giver of the nourishing sap. A symbol of nature may

also be found in Saxo's statement, that the king of Svithiod, Sigtrygg,

Groa's father, could not be conquered unless Halfdan fastened a golden

ball to his club (Hist., 31). The purpose of Halfdan's conflicts, the

object which the norns particularly gave to his life, that of

reconquering from the powers of frost the northernmost regions of the

Teutonic territory and of permanently securing them for culture, and the

difficulty of this task is indicated, it seems to me, in the strophes

above quoted, which tell us that the norns fastened the woof of his

power in the east and west, and that he from the beginning, and

undisputed, extended the sceptre of his rule over these latitudes,

while in regard to the northern latitudes, it is said that Nere's

kinswoman, the chief of the norns (see Nos. 57-64, 85), cast a single

thread in this direction and prayed that it might hold for ever:

ther austr oc vestr

enda falo,

thar atti lofdungr

land a milli;

bra nipt Nera

a nordrvega

einni festi,

ey bath hon halda.

The norns' prayer was heard. That the myth made Halfdan proceed

victoriously to the north, even to the very starting-point of the

emigration to the south caused by the fimbul-winter, that is to say, to

Svarin's Mound, is proved by the statements that he slays Svarin and his

brothers, and wins in the vicinity of Svarin's Mound the victory over

his opponents, which was for a time decisive. His penetration into the

north, when regarded as a nature-myth, means the restoration of the

proper change of seasons, and the rendering of the original country and

of Svithiod inhabitable. As far as the hero, who secured the "giver of

growth" and the "giver of nourishing sap," succeeds with the aid of his

father Thor to carry his weapons into the Teutonic lands destroyed by

frost, so far spring and summer again extend the sceptre of their reign.

The songs about Helge Hundingsbane have also preserved from the myth the

idea that Halfdan and his forces penetrating northward by land and by

sea are accompanied in the air by "valkyries," "goddesses from the

south," armed with helmets, coats of mail, and shining spears, who fight

the forces of nature that are hostile to Halfdan, and these valkyries

are in their very nature goddesses of growth, from the manes of whose

horses falls the dew which gives the power of growth back to the earth

and harvests to men. (Cp. Helg. Hund., i. 15, 30; ii., the prose to v.

5, 12, 13, with Helg. Hjoerv., 28.) On this account the Swedes, too, have

celebrated Halfdan in their songs as their patriarch and benefactor, and

according to Saxo they have worshipped him as a divinity, although it

was his task to check the advance of the Skilfings to the south.

Doubtless it is after this successful war that Halfdan performs the

great sacrifice mentioned in Skaldskaparmal, ch. 64, in order that he

may retain his royal power for three hundred years. The statement should

be compared with what the German poems of the middle ages tell about the

longevity of Berchtung-Borgar and other heroes of antiquity. They live

for several centuries. But the response Halfdan gets from the powers to

whom he sacrificed is that he shall live simply to the age of an old

man, and that in his family there shall not for three hundred years be

born a woman or a fameless man.