The Northern Way

Gylfaginning page 13-16


I. King Gylfi ruled the land that men now call Sweden. It is told of him that he gave to a wandering woman, in return for her merry-making, a plow-land in his realm, as much as four oxen might turn up in a day and a night. But this woman was of the kin of the Æsir; she was named Gefjun. She took from the north, out of Jötunheim, four oxen which were the sons of a certain giant and herself, and set them before the plow. And the plow cut so wide and so deep that it loosened up the land; and the oxen drew the land out into the sea and to the westward, and stopped in a certain sound. There Gefjun set the land, and gave it a name, calling it Selund. And from that time on, the spot whence the land had been torn up is water: it is now called the Lögr in Sweden; and bays lie in that lake even as the headlands in Selund. Thus says Bragi, the ancient skald:

Gefjun drew from Gylfi       gladly the wave-trove's freehold,
Till from the running beasts       sweat reeked, to Denmark's increase;
The oxen bore, moreover,       eight eyes, gleaming brow-lights,
O'er the field's wide booty,       and four heads in their plowing.

II. King Gylfi was a wise man and skilled in magic; he was much troubled that the Æsir-people were so cunning that all things went according to their will. He pondered whether this might proceed from their own nature, or whether the divine powers which they worshipped might ordain such things. He set out on his way to Asgard, going secretly, and clad himself in the likeness of an old man, with which he dissembled. But the Æsir were wiser in this matter, having second sight; and they saw his journeying before ever he came, and prepared against him deceptions of the eye. When he came into the town, he saw there a hall so high that he could not easily make out the top of it: its thatching was laid with golden shields after the fashion of a shingled roof. So also says Thjódólfr of Hvin, that Valhall was thatched with shields:

On their backs they let beam,       sore battered with stones,
Odin's hall-shingles,       the shrewd sea-farers.

In the hall-doorway Gylfi saw a man juggling with anlaces, having seven in the air at one time. This man asked of him his name. He called himself Gangleri, and said he had come by the paths of the serpent, and prayed for lodging for the night, asking: "Who owns the hall?" The other replied that it was their king; "and I will attend thee to see him; then shalt thou thyself ask him concerning his name;" and the man wheeled about before him into the hall, and he went after, and straightway the door closed itself on his heels. There he saw a great room and much people, some with games, some drinking; and some had weapons and were fighting. Then he looked about him, and thought unbelievable many things which he saw; and he said:

All the gateways       ere one goes out
Should one scan:
For 't is uncertain       where sit the unfriendly       
On the bench before thee.

He saw three high-seats, each above the other, and three men sat thereon, one on each. And he asked what might be the name of those lords. He who had conducted him in answered that the one who sat on the nethermost high-seat was a king, "and his name is Hárr; (1) but the next is named Jafnhárr; (2) and he who is uppermost is called Thridi." (3) Then Hárr asked the newcomer whether his errand were more than for the meat and drink which were always at his command, as for every one there in the Hall of the High One. He answered that he first desired to learn whether there were any wise man there within. Hárr said, that he should not escape whole from thence unless he were wiser. (1. High. 2. Equally High. 3. Third.)

And stand thou forth       who speirest;
Who answers,       he shall sit.

III. Gangleri began his questioning thus: "Who is foremost, or oldest, of all the gods?" Hárr answered: "He is called in our speech Allfather, but in the Elder Asgard he had twelve names: one is Allfather; the second is Lord, or Lord of Hosts; the third is Nikarr, or Spear-Lord; the fourth is Nikudr, or Striker; the fifth is Knower of Many Things; the sixth, Fulfiller of Wishes; the seventh, Far-Speaking One; the eighth, The Shaker, or He that Putteth the Armies to Flight; the ninth, The Burner; the tenth, The Destroyer; the eleventh, The Protector; the twelfth, Gelding."

Then asked Gangleri: "Where is this god, or what power hath he, or what hath he wrought that is a glorious deed?" Hárr made answer: "He lives throughout all ages and governs all his realm, and directs all things, great and small." Then said Jafnhárr: "He fashioned heaven and earth and air, and all things which are in them." Then spake Thridi: "The greatest of all is this: that he made man, and gave him the spirit, which shall live and never perish, though the flesh-frame rot to mould, or burn to ashes; and all men shall live, such as are just in action, and be with himself in the place called Gimlé. But evil men go to Hel and thence down to the Misty Hel; and that is down in the ninth world." Then said Gangleri: "What did he before heaven and earth were made?" And Hárr answered:
"He was then with the Rime-Giants."

IV. Gangleri said: "What was the beginning, or how began it, or what was before it?" Hárr answered: "As is told in Völuspá:

Erst was the age       when nothing was:
Nor sand nor sea,       nor chilling stream-waves;
Earth was not found,       nor Ether-Heaven, -
A Yawning Gap,       but grass was none."

Then said Jafnhárr: "It was many ages before the earth was shaped that the Mist-World was made; and midmost within it lies the well that is called Hvergelmir, from which spring the rivers called Svöl, Gunnthrá, Fjörm, Fimbulthul, Slídr and Hríd, Sylgr and Ylgr, Víd, Leiptr; Gjöll is hard by Hel-gates." And Thridi said: "Yet first was the world in the southern region, which was named Múspell; it is light and hot; that region is glowing and burning, and impassable to such as are outlanders and have not their holdings there. He who sits there at the land's-end, to defend the land, is called Surtr; he brandishes a flaming

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