Heimdal And The Sun-dis Dis-goddess

: Teutonic Mythology

In Saxo's time there was still extant a myth telling how Heimdal, as the

ruler of the earliest generation, got himself a wife. The myth is found

related as history in Historia Danica, pp. 335-337. Changed into a

song of chivalry in middle age style, we find it on German soil in the

poem concerning king Ruther.

Saxo relates that a certain king Alf undertook a perilous journey of

courtship, and was accompan
ed by Borgar. Alf is the more noble of the

two; Borgar attends him. This already points to the fact that the mythic

figure which Saxo has changed into a historical king must be Heimdal,

Borgar's co-father, his ruler and fosterer, otherwise Borgar himself

would be the chief person in his country, and could not be regarded as

subject to anyone else. Alf's identity with Heimdal is corroborated by

"King Ruther," and to a degree also by the description Saxo makes of his

appearance, a description based on a definite mythic prototype. Alf,

says Saxo, had a fine exterior, and over his hair, though he was young,

a so remarkably white splendour was diffused that rays of light seemed

to issue from his silvery locks (cujus etiam insignem candore

caesariem tantus comae decor asperierat, ut argenteo crine nitere

putaretur). The Heimdal of the myth is a god of light, and is described

by the colour applied to pure silver in the old Norse literature to

distinguish it from that which is alloyed; he is hviti ass (Gylfag.,

27) and hvitastr asa (Thrymskvida, 5); his teeth glitter like gold,

and so does his horse. We should expect that the maid whom Alf, if he is

Heimdal, desires to possess belongs like himself to the divinities of

light. Saxo also says that her beauty could make one blind if she was

seen without her veil, and her name Alfhild belongs, like Alfsol, Hild,

Alfhild Solglands, Svanhild Guldfjaeder, to that class of names by which

the sundises, mother and daughter, were transferred from mythology to

history. She is watched by two dragons. Suitors who approach her in vain

get their heads chopped off and set up on poles (thus also in "King

Ruther"). Alf conquers the guarding dragons; but at the advice of her

mother Alfhild takes flight, puts on a man's clothes and armour, and

becomes a female warrior, fighting at the head of other Amazons. Alf and

Borgar search for and find the troop of Amazons amid ice and snow. It is

conquered and flies to "Finnia," Alf and Borgar pursue them thither.

There is a new conflict. Borgar strikes the helmet from Alfhild's head.

She has to confess herself conquered, and becomes Alf's wife.

In interpreting the mythic contents of this story we must remember that

the lad who came with the sheaf of grain to Scandia needed the help of

the sun for the seed which he brought with him to sprout, before it

could give harvests to the inhabitants. But the saga also indicates

that the sun-dis had veiled herself, and made herself as far as possible

unapproachable, and that when Heimdal had forced himself into her

presence she fled to northern ice-enveloped regions, where the god and

his foster-son, sword in hand, had to fetch her, whereupon a happy

marriage between him and the sun-dis secures good weather and rich

harvests to the land over which he rules. At the first glance it might

seem as if this myth had left no trace in our Icelandic records. This

is, however, not the case. Its fundamental idea, that the sun at one

time in the earliest ages went astray from southern regions to the

farthest north and desired to remain there, but that it was brought back

by the might of the gods who created the world, and through them

received, in the same manner as Day and Night, its course defined and

regularly established, we find in the Voeluspa strophe, examined with so

great acumen by Julius Hoffory, which speaks of a bewilderment of this

kind on the part of the sun, occurring before it yet "knew its proper

sphere," and in the following strophe, which tells how the all-holy gods

thereupon held solemn council and so ordained the activity of these

beings, that time can be divided and years be recorded by their course.

Nor is the marriage into which the sun-dis entered forgotten.

Skaldskaparmal quotes a strophe from Skule Thorsteinson where Sol[12] is

called Glenr's wife. That he whom the skald characterises by this

epithet is a god is a matter of course. Glenr signifies "the shining

one," and this epithet was badly chosen if it did not refer to "the

most shining of the Asas," hvitastr asa--that is, Heimdal.

The fundamental traits of "King Ruther" resemble Saxo's story. There,

too, it is a king who undertakes a perilous journey of courtship and

must fight several battles to win the wondrous fair maiden whose

previous suitors had had to pay for their eagerness by having their

heads chopped off and fastened on poles. The king is accompanied by

Berter, identical with Berchtung-Borgar, but here, as always in the

German story, described as the patriarch and adviser. A giant,

Vidolt--Saxo's Vitolphus, Hyndluljod's Vidolfr--accompanies Ruther and

Berter on the journey; and when Vitolphus in Saxo is mentioned under

circumstances which show that he accompanied Borgar on a warlike

expedition, and thereupon saved his son Halfdan's life, there is no room

for doubt that Saxo's saga and "King Ruther" originally flowed from the

same mythic source. It can also be demonstrated that the very name

Ruther is one of those epithets which belong to Heimdal. The Norse

Hrutr is, according to the Younger Edda (i. 588, 589), a synonym of

Heimdali, and Heimdali is another form of Heimdall (Isl., i. 231).

As Hrutr means a ram, and as Heimdali is an epithet of a ram (see

Younger Edda, i. 589), light is thrown upon the bold metaphors,

according to which "head," "Heimdal's head," and "Heimdal's sword" are

synonyms (Younger Edda, i. 100, 264; ii. 499). The ram's head carries

and is the ram's sword. Of the age of this animal symbol we give an

account in No. 82. There is reason for believing that Heimdal's helmet

has been conceived as decorated with ram's horns.[13] A strophe quoted

in the Younger Edda (i. 608) mentions Heimdal's helmet, and calls the

sword the fyllr of Heimdal's helmet, an ambiguous expression, which

may be interpreted as that which fills Heimdal's helmet; that is to say,

Heimdal's head, but also as that which has its place on the helmet.

Compare the expression fyllr hilmis stols as a metaphor for the power

of the ruler.

[Footnote 12: Sol is feminine in the Teutonic tongues.--TR.]

[Footnote 13: That some one of the gods has worn a helmet with such a

crown can be seen on one of the golden horns found near Gallehuus. There

twice occurs a being wearing a helmet furnished with long, curved, sharp

pointed horns. Near him a ram is drawn and in his hand he has something

resembling a staff which ends in a circle, and possibly is intended to

represent Heimdal's horn.]