SVÁFA AND THÓRGERTH HÖLGABRÚTH - Page 2
That Thórgerth Hölgabrúth should be brought into connection with Earl Hákon, was almost inevitable when the Hölgi or Helgi from whom she got her surname came to be regarded as the eponym of Hálogaland, or the ancestral hero of the Háleygir. For the race of earls to which Hákon belonged had their home in Hálogaland, and were therefore called Háleygja ætt, 'the race of the Ha´leygir,' or, in a verse which is ascribed to Hornklofi, Hölga ætt, 'the race of Holgi.' (26)
Moreover, we have every reason to believe that Earl Hákon was in reality a zealous worshipper of Thor; (27) and since the story represented Thórgerth Hölgabrúth as a goddess closely connected with Thor, it was natural for Earl Hákon also to be represented as one of her zealous worshippers.
Just as Thórgerth Hölgabrúth was attached to a single chieftain, so the Irish believed that the battle goddess Badb was attached to certain families. (28)
In the story of the battle of the Jómsvíkings in Odd the Monk's saga of Óláf Tryggvason, (29) we read: 'Thórgerth Hölgabrúth came with Earl Hákon to the battle, and then fell many of the vikings, while others fled'; and in the saga of the Jómsvíkings it is said that a second sighted man saw Thórgerth Hölgabrúth and Irpa on Hákon's ship in the battle. In like manner the Irish battle goddesses go into battle with their favourites. In the story of the first battle of Mag Tuired we read: 'We will go with you,' said the daughters, viz. Badb, Macha, Morrigan, and Danann (or Anann),' to the chieftains who helped Tuatha de Danann.' (30) According to the Book of Leinster, Cuchulinn, before his last battle, reminds his horse of the time when Badb accompanied them on their warlike expeditions. (31)
When the Irish battle goddesses appear in battle, there is sure to be a great slaughter of the enemy. (32) They are said to bring the army into confusion. (33) Similarly, we read in Icelandic: 'Thórgerth Hölgabrúth came with Hákon to the battle. Then fell many vikings, while some fled.'
Like Thórgerth and Irpa, the Irish battle furies also have power over the elements. Of the battle in the Hjörung Bay we read in the Jómsvíkingasaga: 'A fearful storm began to gather in the north, and there arose a dark, thick cloud. This spread quickly over the whole heaven, and from it there came a rainstorm, with thunder and lightning. People saw Thórgerth Hölgabrúth on Hákon's ship. From every finger of the troll-wife an arrow seemed to them to fly, and every arrow pierced a man, so that he died therefrom. In that shower so great were the hailstones which fell that each one weighed an ounce.'
With this we may compare the Irish account of the first battle of Mag Tuired. Badb, Macha, and Morrigu sent out 'druidically formed showers' (cetha dolfe draigechta) and storm clouds, with fog, and they made torrents of rain, with fire and streams of red blood, to pour down from the heavens about the heads of the warriors. (34)
The hailstorm in the battle of the Jómsvíkings is mentioned in several sagas and in Saxo, also in the Búadrápa of Thorkell Gíslason (of uncertain date, but probably of the twelfth century), and in the Jómsvíkingadrápa of Bjarni Kolbeinsson, who became bishop of the Orkneys in 1188. In the last named poem (ed. Wisén, st. 32) we have the first mention of Thórgerth as one who called forth a hailstorm: 'I have heard that Hölgabrúth then made the evil shower fall.' Of the other references to Thórgerth, the oldest are the following:--- The sentence 'A great woman died, when Hölgatroll died,' in the Icelandic Grammatical Treatise of ca. 1140; (35)  the name Hölgabrúth in the versified list of names attached to Snorri's Edda; and  Saxo's story (from ca. 1200) of Thora and Helgi. The Jómsvíkingasaga, in which she appears, is, according to Gustav Storm, in its oldest form certainly older than ca. 1220. It is clear, therefore, that the story of Thórgerth Hölgabrúth and of her relations to Earl Hákon, was current as early as the first part of the twelfth century.
On the other hand, Thórgerth is not mentioned in Thórth Kolbeinsson's Eiríksdrápa, which was composed, at the earliest, in 1014, and which mentions the battle of the Jómsvíkings. Nor is she mentioned in the extant verses by Earl Hákon's contemporaries, Tind Hallkelsson, Einar Skálaglamm, and Eyvind Skáldaspillir. Her name does not occur either among the mythical names in the drápa which Kormak composed above Sigurth, the father of Earl Hákon. Tind Hallkelsson took part in the battle of the Jómsvíkings (which is put at 986). He composed a poem about it, of which there are seven whole and six half strophes preserved. (36) In these verses the poet describes the battle minutely, though without mentioning many characteristic features, and he states that Hákon sent a mighty host to Odin. We would expect, therefore, to have the skald mention the Earl's sacrifice to Thórgerth Hölgabrúth and Irpa, and refer also to their supposed influence on the battle if he had known anything about the matter. But such knowledge he could not have had.
This investigation has, I hope, made clear that Thórgerth Hölgabrúth was not from the outset a Finnish goddess. (37) It was because she had ascribed to her the same power over the elements as that possessed by the Finnish trolls and mythical beings, that she was represented by Norwegians and Icelanders as a Finnish divinity. And Hölgi, with whom she was associated, was regarded as identical with Hölgi, the tribal hero of Hálogaland, to whom had been transferred a story, earlier told by the Norwegians, of the worship of a divinity among a people related to the Finns. Snorri gives us the following information in Skáldskaparmál: (38) King Hölgi, from whom Hálogaland gets its name, was father of Thórgerth Hölgabrúth. Offerings were made to them both. Hölgi's grave mound was so constructed that a layer of gold and silver, that had been offered to him, alternated regularly with a layer of earth and stone. Snorri quotes a verse by Skúli Thorsteinsson (first half of the eleventh century), showing that Skúli knew the story of Helgi's grave mound. The same information, however, is given elsewhere of the Bjarms and their god Jumala (Jómali). (39)
In the saga of St. Óláf in Heimskringla, we read that there was an enclosed place in the land of the Bjarms, by the side of the river Dwina, containing a mound in which gold and silver and earth were thrown together, and on that spot stood a richly adorned image of Jumala. Similarly, it is said in Örvaroddssaga that there was in the land of the Bjarms, by the Dwina, a mound in which earth and silver were thrown together; to that hill must be borne a handful of earth and a handful of silver in memory of every person who should die; and the same must be done for every new born child.
It was, therefore, under the influence of the conception of Helgi as the divine hero of Hálogaland, who was worshipped with Finnish rites, that Thórgerth, being associated with him, came to be thought of as a goddess, possessing the magic powers attributed to Finnish divinities.
Yet Thórgerth Hölgabrúth was neither a family divinity (40) nor a (real or invented) ancestress of Earl Hákon, whom the latter worshipped in the body. (41) On the contrary, she was fabricated long after the days of Earl Hákon, after the model of Sváfa in the Lay of Helgi Hjör., by a man who knew the Hrímgerth lay. Now, this lay was composed, ca. 1025-1035, in Britain, by a poet born in the west of Norway who had sojourned with Irish poets at the royal court of Dublin, and who had there become familiar with Irish stories. Thórgerth Hölgabrúth and the story about her were not, then, created before ca. 1050. Since the influence of Irish conceptions appears alongside that of the Lay of Helgi Hjör., we see that the Thórgerth myth must have been created by a Norwegian (most likely North Norwegian) poet in Ireland.
Even at the outset this myth seems to have been embodied, not in an ancient mythic heroic lay, but in 'a story of ancient times' (fornaldarsaga). It developed into two essentially different forms: the older, in which Thórgerth (in Saxo, Thora), is the bride of helgi (or Hölgi), and the daughter of Gusi, as in Saxo; the younger, in which she has become Hölgi's daughter, appears in connection with a sister Irpa, and is regarded partly as a goddess, partly as a troll. The younger form developed separately from the older under Irish influence, and, like the older form, seems, therefore, to have arisen in Ireland, or at all events to have been shaped by men who had visited Ireland or Scotland.
Detter has proposed (42) a theory as to the origin and development of the Thórgerth myth, which is essentially different from that just suggested. In his opinion, the myth has its origin in the Danish story of the Danish king Helgi, Hrólf's father (whom he supposes to have been brought by popular etymology into connection with Hálogaland), and of this Helgi's relations with Thora, Yrsa's mother, who corresponds to the Ólöf in the Icelandic sources.
To this theory, however, it may be objected that Thora as the name of Yrsa's mother occurs in Danish sources only, not in Norwegian-Icelandic, which, on the contrary, call her Ólöf; and yet the Icelandic form of the story shows itself to be more original in other respects than the Danish. (43) Detter's theory does not explain the change of the name Thora to Thórgerth in the Icelandic sources. Nor does it explain the repeated suits of the king of Hálogaland to Thora, or the feature in Saxo that, by reason of an impediment in his speech, he would not speak with others. Finally, this theory does not explain why Thórgerth came to be regarded as a troll wife or goddess, possessing power over the elements.
Yet I also suppose that the Danish story of Hrólf's father influenced Saxo's story of the king of Hálogaland in that he calls the latter's bride Thora, not Thórgerth; and I agree with Detter in explaining the association of the bridegroom of Thora or Thórgerth, viz. Helgi or Hölgi, with Hálogaland, as due to popular etymology.
Detter proposes further an ingenious theory, not mentioned in what precedes, as to the origin of Irpa, which he thinks also explains why in the Icelandic story Hölgi is made Thórgerth's father, instead of her bridegroom as he was in the beginning. Detter thinks that the name Irpa, 'the brown one,' designates her as a slave woman, or as a maid of low origin (cf. Erpr in the Jörmunrekk story, Hösvir, Kráka, etc.), and that originally she was identical with Yrsa, who, like Kráka, was set to herd cattle, and whose name was that of a dog. The making of Hölgi into Thórgerth's father rests, according to Detter, on a confusion of the mother Thora, or Olov, and the daughter Yrsa, who are both called Helgi's bride; Helgi was Yrsa's father and lover. This confusion of mother and daughter occurs in the Chron. Erici, or, more correctly, the Ry Annals, (44) where the Danish king Helgi's daughter, who later bears him Hrólf Kraki, is called Thora.
It might be argued in favour of Detter's combination, that it shows the existence of a woman with the name Thora who could be said to be at once Helgi's bride and Helgi's daughter. Yet I cannot think this combination probable; for, since Hrólf Kraki's mother is everywhere called Yrsa (Ursa), both in Danish and in Norwegian-Icelandic sources (with the exception of Chron. Erici, where, by confusion with the mother, she is called Thora), we have no right to suppose that she was also called Irpa, and that Thórgerth's sister Irpa was originally the same personage.
Even if Detter were right, which I do not believe, in the combination of Irpa and Yrsa, we might suppose that Irish accounts had something to do with the making of Irpa into a goddess or troll wife who, like her sister, had power over the elements, and helped her favourite in a sea fight. Only in the later form of the story does Irpa appear; and Thórgerth and her sister were not at first associated with Earl Hákon. There is, then, no foundation whatever for the statements that Earl Hákon sacrificed his son to Thórgerth Hölgabrúth in the battle of the Hjörung Bay, and that he had a temple in which were images of Thórgerth and Irpa. The author of Fagrskinna shows his sound common sense in not saying a word of Thórgerth. Snorri does not mention her name in Heimskringla; but, after telling of the Battle of the Jómsvíkings, he says: 'There is a story current among the people that Earl Hákon sacrificed his son Erling in this battle to obtain victory, whereupon there arose a great storm, and the Jómsvíkings began to fall.' Evidently Snorri did not believe in the story of the sacrifice.
On the contrary, in both Snorri and Fagrskinna, the fearful hail storm which raged during the battle is regarded as an undoubted fact; and all modern historians accept it as such. (45)
Previously it was thought that this hail storm was also mentioned in a poem by Tind Hallkelsson; but Finnur Jónsson has shown (46) that it is a question there of the hail of arrows. The skald'' words seem to mean: 'In Odin's storm it hailed with the hail of the bow.' (47)
It is not going far to suppose that the whole story of the hail storm in the battle arose from a misunderstanding of Tind's verse. In the same way 'the shower of the battle clouds,' i.e. the shields (morðskýja hríð, in Tind, st. 9), may have been misunderstood as real clouds which brought death and defeat. 'The crackling of the flames of Odin (i.e. the swords) increased' (gnýr óx Fjölnis fúra, in st. 5) may have been understood to refer to the fire of lightning. And the words of the skald in the same strophe, that the mail clad warriors cast their birnies from them, may have brought about the account in the Jómsvíkingasaga that earlier in the day it had been so hot that people had taken off their clothes.
This conjecture, that the account of the hail storm in the Battle of the Jómsvíkings arose from a misunderstanding of Tind Hallkelsson's verse, is uncertain. As regards the myth of Thórgerth Hölgabrúth, however, I think I have clearly shown that, before the time when sagas were written down, Icelandic tradition concerning the history of Earl Hákon was overgrown with bright coloured weeds of fancy and fable to a greater extent than has hitherto been imagined.
I have, I think, shown that the story of Thórgerth Hölgabrúth was composed by a Norwegian in imitation of the Lays of Hjörvarth and of Hrímgerth, under the influence of Irish accounts, and that, therefore, it was probably composed in Ireland. If so, Norwegian skalds and saga writers in Ireland knew the stories of Hjörvarth and Helgi, of Sváfa and Hrímgerth at the time when the story of Thórgerth Hölgabrúth took shape (i.e. between ca. 1050 and ca. 1130, most likely ca. 1050).
26. Cf. G. Storm in Arkiv, II, 129 f. Back
27. The skald Kormak composed a poem in honour of Hákon's father, Sigurth, in which he speaks of the sacrificial banquets maintained by Sigurth. The refrains in the poem are taken from the mythical stories known at that time. At this point it runs: sitr þórr í reiðu, 'Thor sits in his carriage.' The weights of the scales which Hákon gave the skald Einar were engraved, according to the oldest form of the saga of the Jómsvíkings, with pictures of Thor and Odin. Cf. Storm, Arkiv, II, 133-135. Back
28. Rev. Celt., I, 34. Back
29. Munch's edition, p. 15. Back
30. Rev. Celt., I, 40. Back
31. Rev. Celt., I, 50. Back
32. Rev. Celt., I, 40. Back
33. id., I, 42. Back
34. id., I, 40. Back
35. Den første og den anden gramm. afh. i Snorres Edda, ed. Dahlerup and F. Jónsson, pp. 15, 48, 80 f: hö dó, þá es hölgatroll dó, en heyr þe til höddo, þá es þórr bar huerenn. The sentence was formed to show the difference between d and double d (D). Back
36. Edited, with commentary, by F. Jónsson in Aarbøger, 1886. Back
37. This was the opinion of Sv. Grundtvig, Heroiske Digtning, p. 93, and Henry Petersen, Nordboernes Gudedyrkelse og Gudetro, p. 95. Back
38. Chap. 45, Sn. Edda, I, 400. Back
39. Fas., II, 176, 513; Boer's ed. (1888), pp. 29-31. Back
40. As Munch thought, Norske Folks Hist., I, 332. Back
41. As was thought by Vigfusson (C. P. B., I, 402) and Storm (Arkiv, II, 133). Back
42. In Ztsch. f. d. Alt., XXXII, 394 ff. Back
43. Cf. Olrik, Sakses Oldhist., II, 144 ff. Back
44. The former in Scr. r. Dan., I, 151; the latter in Pertz, Script., XVI, 393. Back
45. See, e.g., P. A. Munch, Norske Folks Hist., I, 2, p. 118; Storm in (Norsk) Hist. Tidskrift, IV, 426 f. Back
46. Aarbøger f. nord. Oldk., 1886, pp. 327-329, 357, 360. Back
47. F. Jónsson reads:
Dreif at viðres veðre
. . . . . . . . .
He has substituted fjörnes (which is graphically rather remote) for the meaningless tímís of the MS. I conjectured first tvívið-hagli from tvíviðr, 'bow'; cf. hagl tvíviðar, Merl., II, 65. Yet the combined form, instead of the genitive (to which tímís points) seems to me suspicious. Is, therefore, the right form tvívis hagli? and was the Irish túag, 'bow,' made over into *tývir, *tvívir, which form was later changed into tvíviðr (gen. tvíviðar), i.e. a tree composed of two pieces? Or does *tvívir, from *tvíívir, designate the bow as that which consists of two bits of yew tree? Back