The Northern Way

The Voluspá, The Sibyl’s Lay in the Edda of Sæmund

Page 2

44. Further forward I see
       Much can I say
       Of Ragnarök,
       And the Gods’ conflict.

45. Brothers shall fight,
       And slay each other,
       Cousins shall
       Kinship violate,
       The earth resounds.
       No man will
       Another spare.

46. Hard is it in the world,
       Great whoredom,
       An axe age, a sword age,
       Shields shall be cloven,
       A wind age, A wolf age,
       Ere the world sinks.

Mimir’s sons dance, and Heimdall blows his horn loudly, when the Ash Yggdrasil totters and bursts into flames, and Odin consults the head of Mimir. Then all bonds are broken, and the monsters rise up in their fury on all sides; Loki, Garm, and the giant Hrym, in his warship of dead men’s nails, the Midgard Serpent, who lies round the world in the sea with his tail in his mouth, and the army of Muspelheim, led by Surtur, waving a sword brighter than the sun in his hand.

52. How is it with the Æsir?
       How with the Alfar?
       All Jötunheim resounds;
       The Æsir are in council,
       The dwarfs groan
       Before their stony doors,
       The sages of the rocky walls.
       Understand ye yet, or what?

        Then Odin goes froth to fight the Wolf Fenrir, and perishes, to the great grief of Frigga. As William Herbert paraphrases the passages —

She must taste a second sorrow,
She who wept when Balder bled;
Fate demands a nobler quarry,
Death must light on Odin’s head.

The Wolf is then slain by Vidar. Frey, the bright slayer of Beli, fights with Surtur, and is slain, because he gave his own sword to his messenger, Skirnir, when he sent him to woo the giantess Gerda on his behalf. In the Prose Edda we are told that the combat with Beli was a slight affair, and Frey could have slain him with a blow of his fist; but he slew him with a stag’s antlers. Who Beli was, I do not know, but the name occurs in old Irish tales, and I think it possible that the story, lost in Iceland, may ultimately be traced in this quarter. Keary says, in the “Heroes of Asgard” : “Beli was the name of a large stag which Frey slew”; but I doubt the correctness of this interpretation. In the Glossary to the second edition, Keary writes: “Beli” — the stag killed by Frey. Beli signifies “to bellow.” There was also a King Bele or Beli, a Norseman who settled in Orkney (see a pamphlet by Lady Paget, published at Cambridge in 1894), who was the father Ingebiörg, the beloved of the famous hero Frithiof; but we do not know that Bele or Frithiof had any special connection with Frey.

Thor fights the Midgard Serpent, whom he had already encountered in indecisive conflict and they slay each other; as do also Loki and Heimdall, and Tyr and Garm, as we learn from the Prose Edda.

Then the sun grows dark, the stars fall, the earth sinks in the sea, and the burning ash-tree flames up to heaven. At length the Vala beholds the fire sink, and a new and beautiful world rise from the waters. The Gods shall meet again on the plain of Ida, speak of the mighty deeds of the past, and recover the ancient tablets of Wisdom, while Balder and Höder return from Helheim, and like-wise Hœnir, who had been given to the Vanir, as a hostage. The fields shall bring forth unsown and all evil vanish from the new world. Two brothers’ sons shall inhabit the spacious Hall of the Winds, and in the golden palace of Gimli all the righteous shall dwell for ever.

64. Then comes the mighty one
       To the great judgement,
       The powerful from above
       Who rules o’er all.
       He shall dooms pronounce,
       And strifes allay.
       Holy peace establish
       Which shall ever be.

It is possible and indeed probable that Christian ideas may have influenced these passages; but they are much mixed with non-Christian matters and may well be largely derived form Persian or other old Oriental sources, directly or indirectly. Another poem in the Edda, the Hyndluliöd, contains a very similar passage.

42. Then shall another come
       Yet mightier,
       Although I dare not
       His name declare.
       Few may see
       Further forth
       Than when Odin
       Meets the Wolf.

This passage occurs in the portion of the poem which Vigfusson and York Powell separate as forming fragments of a lost poem, under the title of “Skamma,” or the “Short Völuspá.” It is quite distinct in matter and manner from the genealogical poem called Hyndluliöd, in which it is incorporated.

The last strophe of the Völuspá is obscure, and probably out of place. It seems to have no immediate connection with what has gone before.

65. There comes the dark
       Dragon flying from beneath,
       The glistening serpent
       From Nida-fells.
       On his wings bears Nidhögg.
       Flying o’er the plain,
       A corpse.
       Now she will descend.

Vigfusson and York Powell close the poem with this stanza, but bring it into association with the other reference to Naströnd and Nidhögg, which they place before it.

Notwithstanding the mass of commentary which has already appeared on the Scandinavian Mythology, there are still many important questions unsettled in relation to it. We only possess it in a fragmentary form, but much light may still be thrown upon it; from quarters perhaps quite unexpected. I have already alluded to Old Irish literature, and other important side-lights may be looked for in Northern and North-Eastern Europe. Thus we find, in Scheffer’s “History of Lapland” (1674) that Thor was still worshiped in some parts of the country at that time. I presume he may be identified in some of his attributes at least, with Tara of the Esthonians, who are also a Finnish-ugrian people.

The symbolism of the Völuspá in an extensive and profoundly interesting part of the subject which I have not attempted to discuss, for I must not further trespass on your patience, or I might wander from one question to another all night.

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page