The War In Midgard Between Halfdan's Sons

: Teutonic Mythology

The conflict between the gods has its counterpart in, and is connected

with, a war between all the Teutonic races, and the latter is again a

continuation of the feud between Halfdan and Svipdag. The Teutonic race

comes to the front fighting under three race-representatives--(1)

Yngve-Svipdag, the son of Orvandel and Groa; (2) Gudhorm, the son of

Halfdan and Groa, consequently Svipdag's half-brother; (3) Hadding, the

of Halfdan and Alveig (in Saxo called Signe, daughter of Sumbel),

consequently Gudhorm's half-brother.

The ruling Vans favour Svipdag, who is Freyja's husband and Frey's

brother-in-law. The banished Asas support Hadding from their place of

refuge. The conflict between the gods and the war between Halfdan's

successor and heir are woven together. It is like the Trojan war, where

the gods, divided into parties, assist the Trojans or assist the Danai.

Odin, Thor, and Heimdal interfere, as we shall see, to protect Hadding.

This is their duty as kinsmen; for Heimdal, having assumed human nature,

was the lad with the sheaf of grain who came to the primeval country and

became the father of Borgar, who begat the son Halfdan. Thor was

Halfdan's associate father; hence he too had duties of kinship toward

Hadding and Gudhorm, Halfdan's sons. The gods, on the other hand, that

favour Svipdag are, in Hadding's eyes, foes, and Hadding long refuses to

propitiate Frey by a demanded sacrifice (Saxo, Hist., 49, 50).

This war, simultaneously waged between the clans of the gods on the one

hand, and between the Teutonic tribes on the other, is what the seeress

in Voeluspa calls "the first great war in the world." She not only gives

an account of its outbreak and events among the gods, but also indicates

that it was waged on the earth. Then--

sa hon valkyrior saw she valkyries

vitt um komnar far travelled

gaurvar at rida equipped to ride

til Godthjodar to Goththjod.

Goththjod is the Teutonic people and the Teutonic country.

When Svipdag had slain Halfdan, and when the Asas were expelled, the

sons of the Teutonic patriarch were in danger of falling into the power

of Svipdag. Thor interested himself in their behalf, and brought Gudhorm

and Hadding to Jotunheim, where he concealed them with the giants Hafle

and Vagnhofde--Gudhorm in Hafle's rocky gard and Hadding in Vagnhofde's.

In Saxo, who relates this story, the Asa-god Thor appears partly as

Thor deus and Thoro pugil, Halfdan's protector, whom Saxo himself

identifies as the god Thor (Hist., 324), and partly as Brac and

Brache, which name Saxo formed from Thor's epithet, Asa-Bragr. It is

by the name Brache that Thor appears as the protector of Halfdan's sons.

The giants Hafle and Vagnhofde dwell, according to Saxo, in "Svetia"

probably, since Jotunheim, the northernmost Sweden, and the most

distant east were called Svithiod hinn kalda.[23]

Svipdag waged war against Halfdan, since it was his duty to avenge the

disgrace of his mother Groa, and also that of his mother's father, and,

as shall be shown later, the death of his father Orvandel (see Nos. 108,

109). The revenge for bloodshed was sacred in the Teutonic world, and

this duty he performed when he with his irresistible sword felled his

stepfather. But thereby the duty of revenge for bloodshed was

transferred to Halfdan's sons--less to Gudhorm, who is himself a son of

Groa, but with all its weight to Hadding, the son of Alveig, and it is

his bounden duty to bring about Svipdag's death, since Svipdag had

slain Halfdan. Connecting itself with Halfdan's robbery of Groa, the

goddess of growth, the red thread of revenge for bloodshed extends

throughout the great hero-saga of Teutonic mythology.

Svipdag makes an effort to cut the thread. He offers Gudhorm and Hadding

peace and friendship, and promises them kingship among the tribes

subject to him. Groa's son, Gudhorm, accepts the offer, and Svipdag

makes him ruler of the Danes; but Hadding sends answer that he prefers

to avenge his father's death to accepting favours from an enemy (Saxo,

Hist., 35, 36).

Svipdag's offer of peace and reconciliation is in harmony, if not with

his own nature, at least with that of his kinsmen, the reigning Vans. If

the offer to Hadding had been accepted, we might have looked for peace

in the world. Now the future is threatened with the devastations of war,

and the bloody thread of revenge shall continue to be spun if Svipdag

does not prevent it by overpowering Hadding. The myth may have contained

much information about the efforts of the one camp to capture him and

about contrivances of the other to frustrate these efforts. Saxo has

preserved a partial record thereof. Among those who plot against Hadding

is also Loke (Lokerus--Saxo, Hist., 40, 41),[24] the banished ally

of Aurboda. His purpose is doubtless to get into the favour of the

reigning Vans. Hadding is no longer safe in Vagnhofde's mountain home.

The lad is exposed to Loke's snares. From one of these he is saved by

the Asa-father himself. There came, says Saxo, on this occasion a rider

to Hadding. He resembled a very aged man, one of whose eyes was lost

(grandaevus quidam altero orbus oculo). He placed Hadding in front of

himself on the horse, wrapped his mantle about him, and rode away. The

lad became curious and wanted to see whither they were going. Through a

hole in the mantle he got an opportunity of looking down, and found to

his astonishment and fright that land and sea were far below the hoofs

of the steed. The rider must have noticed his fright, for he forbade him

to look out any more.

The rider, the one-eyed old man, is Odin, and the horse is Sleipner,

rescued from the captured Asgard. The place to which the lad is carried

by Odin is the place of refuge secured by the Asas during their exile i

Manheimum. In perfect harmony with the myths, Saxo refers Odin's exile

to the time preceding Hadding's juvenile adventures, and makes Odin's

return to power simultaneous with Hadding's great victory over his

enemies (Hist., 42-44). Saxo has also found in his sources that

sword-slain men, whom Odin chooses during "the first great war in the

world," cannot come to Valhal. The reason for this is that Odin is not

at that time the ruler there. They have dwelling-places and plains for

their warlike amusements appointed in the lower world (Hist., 51).

The regions which, according to Saxo, are the scenes of Hadding's

juvenile adventures lie on the other side of the Baltic down toward the

Black Sea. He is associated with "Curetians" and "Hellespontians,"

doubtless for the reason that the myth has referred those adventures to

the far east.

The one-eyed old man is endowed with wonderful powers. When he landed

with the lad at his home, he sang over him prophetic incantations to

protect him (Hist., 40), and gave him a drink of the "most splendid

sort," which produced in Hadding enormous physical strength, and

particularly made him able to free himself from bonds and chains.

(Compare Havamal, str. 149, concerning Odin's freeing incantations by

which "fetters spring from the feet and chains from the hands.") A

comparison with other passages, which I shall discuss later, shows that

the potion of which the old man is lord contains something which is

called "Leifner's flames," and that he who has been permitted to drink

it, and over whom freeing incantations have simultaneously been sung, is

able with his warm breath to free himself from every fetter which has

been put on his enchanted limbs (see Nos. 43, 96, 103).

The old man predicts that Hadding will soon have an opportunity of

testing the strength with which the drink and the magic songs have

endowed him. And the prophecy is fulfilled. Hadding falls into the power

of Loke. He chains him and threatens to expose him as food for a wild

beast--in Saxo a lion, in the myth presumably some one of the wolf or

serpent prodigies that are Loke's offspring. But when his guards are put

to sleep by Odin's magic song, though Odin is far away, Hadding bursts

his bonds, slays the beast, and eats, in obedience to Odin's

instructions, its heart. (The saga of Sigurd Fafnersbane has copied this

feature. Sigurd eats the heart of the dragon Fafner and gets wisdom


Thus Hadding has become a powerful hero, and his task to make war on

Svipdag, to revenge on him his father's death, and to recover the share

in the rulership of the Teutons which Halfdan had possessed, now lies

before him as the goal he is to reach.

Hadding leaves Vagnhofde's home. The latter's daughter, Hardgrep, who

had fallen in love with the youth, accompanies him. When we next find

Hadding he is at the head of an army. That this consisted of the tribes

of Eastern Teutondom is confirmed by documents which I shall hereafter

quote; but it also follows from Saxo's narrative, although he has

referred the war to narrower limits than were given to it in the myth,

since he, constructing a Danish history from mythic traditions, has his

eyes fixed chiefly on Denmark. Over the Scandian tribes and the Danes

rule, according to Saxo's own statement, Svipdag, and as his tributary

king in Denmark his half-brother Gudhorm. Saxo also is aware that the

Saxons, the Teutonic tribes of the German lowlands, on one occasion were

the allies of Svipdag (Hist., 34). From these parts of Teutondom did

not come Hadding's friends, but his enemies; and when we add that the

first battle which Saxo mentions in this war was fought among the

Curetians east of the Baltic, then it is clear that Saxo, too, like the

other records to which I am coming later, has conceived the forces under

Hadding's banner as having been gathered in the East. From this it is

evident that the war is one between the tribes of North Teutondom, led

by Svipdag and supported by the Vans on the one side, and the tribes of

East Teutondom, led by Hadding and supported by the Asas on the other.

But the tribes of the western Teutonic continent have also taken part in

the first great war of mankind. Gudhorm, whom Saxo makes a tributary

king in Yngve-Svipdag's most southern domain, Denmark, has in the mythic

traditions had a much greater empire, and has ruled over the tribes of

Western and Southern Teutondom, as shall be shown hereafter.

[Footnote 23: Filii Gram, Guthormus et Hadingus, quorum alterum Gro,

alterum Signe enixa est, Svipdagero Daniam obtinente, per educatorem

suum Brache nave Svetiam deportati, Vagnophto et Haphlio gigantibus non

solum alendi, verum etiam defensandi traduntur (Saxo Hist., 34).]

[Footnote 24: The form Loki is also duplicated by the form Lokr. The

latter is preserved in the sense of "effeminated man," found in myths

concerning Loke. Compare the phrase "veykr Lokr" with "hinn veyki