HALFDAN'S CONFLICTS INTERPRETED AS MYTHS OF NATURE.
THE WAR WITH THE HEROES FROM SVARIN'S MOUND. HALFDAN'S MARRIAGE WITH DISES OF VEGETATION.
In regard to the significance of the conflicts awaiting Halfdan, and occupying his whole life, when interpreted as myths of nature, we must remember that he inherits from his father the duty of stopping the progress southward of the giant-world's wintry agents, the kinsmen of Thjazi, and of the Skilfing (Yngling) tribes dwelling in the north.
The migration sagas have, as we have seen, shown that Borgar and his people had to leave the original country and move south to Denmark, Saxland, and to those regions on the other side of the Baltic in which the Goths settled. For a time, the original country is possessed by the conquerors, who, according to Völuspá:, "from Svarin's Mound attacked and took (sótti) the clayey plains as far as Jaravall." But Halfdan represses them. That the words quoted from Völuspá really refer to the same mythic persons with whom Halfdan afterwards fights is proved by the fact that Svarin and Svarin'sMound are never named in our documents except in connection with Halfdan's saga. In Saxo, it is Halfdan-Gram who slays Svarin and his numerous brothers; in the saga of "Helgi Hundingsbane" it is again Halfdan, under the name Helgi, who attacks tribes dwelling around Svarin's Mound, and conquers them. To this may be added, that the compiler of the first song about Helgi Hundingsbane borrowed from the saga-original, on which the song is based, names which point to the Völuspá strophe concerning the attack on the south Scandinavian plains.
In the category of names, or the genealogy of the aggressors, occur, as has been shown already, the Skilfing names Alf and Yngvi. Thus also in the Helgisong's list of persons with whom the conflict is waged in the vicinity of Svarin's Mound. In the Völuspá's list Moinnis mentioned among the aggressors (in the variation in the Prose Edda); in the first Helgi-song (str. 46), it is said that Helgi-Halfdan fought á Móinsheimum against his brave foes, whom he afterwards slew in the battle around Svarin's Mound. In the Völuspá's list is named among the aggressors one Haugspori, "the one spying from the mound"; in the Helgi-song is mentioned Sporvitnir, who from Svarin's Mound watches the forces of Helgi-Halfdan advancing.
I have already (No. 28B) pointed out several other names which occur in the Völuspá list, and whose connection with the myth concerning the artists, frost-giants, and Skilfings of antiquity, and their attack on the original country, can be shown. The physical significance of Halfdan's conflicts and adventures is apparent also from the names of the women, whom the saga makes him marry. Groa (growth), whom he robs and keeps for some time, is, as her very name indicates, a goddess of vegetation. Signi-Alveig, whom he afterwards marries, is the same. Her name signifies "the nourishing drink." According to Saxo, she is the daughter of Sumblus, Latin for Sumbl, which means feast, ale, mead, and is a synonym for Ölvaldi, Ölmóðr, names which belonged to the father of the Ivaldi sons (see No. 123). According to a well-supported statement in Forspjallsljóð(see No. 123), Ivaldi was the father of two groups of children. The mother of one of these groups is a giantess (see Nos. 113, 114, 115). With her he has three sons, viz., the three famous artists of antiquity - Iði, Gangr-Aurnir, and Þjazi. The mother of the other group is a goddess of light (see No. 123). With her he has daughters, who are goddesses of growth, among them Idunn and Signi-Alveig. That Idunn is the daughter of Ivaldi is clear from Forspjallsljóð (6), álfaættar Iðunni hétu Ívalds eldri yngsta barna. 6 Of the names of their father Sumbli, Ölvaldi, Ölmóðr, it may be said that, as nature-symbols, öl (ale) and mjöðr (mead), are in the Germanic mythology identical with soma and soma madhu in Rigveda and haoma in Avesta, that is, they are the strengthdeveloping, nourishing saps in nature. Mimir's subterranean well, from which the worldtree draws its nourishment, is a mead-fountain. In the poem Haustlöng, Idunn is called Ölgefn; in the same poem Groa is called Ölgefjun. Both appellations refer to goddesses who give the drink of growth and regeneration to nature and to the gods.
Thus we here have a family, the names and epithets of whose members characterize them as forces, active in the service of nature and of the god of harvests. Their names and epithets also point to the family bond which unites them. We have the group of names, Iðvaldi, Iði, Iðunn, and the group, Ölvaldi (Ölmóðr), Ölgefn, and Ölgefjun, both indicating members of the same family. Further on (see Nos. 113, 114, 115) proof shall be presented that Groa's first husband, Orvandil the brave, is one of Thjazi's brothers, and thus that Groa, too, was closely connected with this family. As we know, it is the enmity caused by Loki between the Aesir and the lower serving, yet powerful, divinities of nature belonging to the Ivaldi group, which produces the terrible winter with its awful consequences for man, and particularly for the Germanic tribes.
These previously beneficent agents of growth have ceased to serve the gods, and have allied themselves with the frost-giants. The war waged by Halfdan must be regarded from this standpoint. Midgard's chief hero, the real Germanic patriarch, tries to reconquer for the Teutons the country of which winter has robbed them. To be able to do this, he is the son of Thor, the divine foe of the frost-giants, and performs on the border of Midgard a work corresponding to that which Thor has to do in space and in Jotunheim. And in the same manner as Heimdall before secured favorable conditions of nature to the original country, by uniting the sun-goddess with himself through bonds of love, his grandson Halfdan now seeks to do the same for the Germanic country, by robbing a hostile son of Ivaldi, Orvandil, of his wife Groa, the growth-giver, and thereupon also of Alveig, the giver of the nourishing sap. A symbol of nature may also be found in Saxo's statement, that the king of Svithiod, Sigtrygg, Groa's father, could not be conquered unless Halfdan fastened a golden ball to his club (Hist., Book 1).
The purpose of Halfdan's conflicts, the object which the norns particularly gave to his life, that of reconquering from the powers of frost the northernmost regions of the Germanic territory and of permanently securing them for culture, and the difficulty of this task is indicated, it seems to me, in the strophes above quoted, which tell us that the norns fastened the woof of his power in the east and west, and that he from the beginning, and undisputed, extended the scepter of his rule over these latitudes, while in regard to the northern latitudes, it is said that "Neri's kinswoman," the chief of the norns (see Nos. 57-64, 85), cast a single thread in this direction and prayed that it might hold for ever:
The norns' prayer was heard. That the myth made Halfdan proceed victoriously to the north, even to the very starting-point of the emigration to the south caused by the fimbul-winter, that is to say, to Svarin's Mound, is proved by the statements that he slays Svarin and his brothers, and wins in the vicinity of Svarin's Mound the victory over his opponents, which was for a time decisive. His penetration into the north, when regarded as a nature-myth, means the restoration of the proper change of seasons, and the rendering of the original country and of Svithiod inhabitable. As far as the hero, who secured the "giver of growth" and the "giver of nourishing sap," succeeds with the aid of his father Thor to carry his weapons into the Germanic lands destroyed by frost, so far spring and summer again extend the scepter of their reign.
The songs about Helgi Hundingsbane have also preserved from the myth the idea that Halfdan and his forces penetrating northward by land and by sea are accompanied in the air by valkyries, "goddesses from the south," armed with helmets, coats of mail, and shining spears, who fight the forces of nature that are hostile to Halfdan, and these valkyries are in their very nature goddesses of growth, from the manes of whose horses falls the dew which gives the power of growth back to the earth and harvests to men. (Cp. HeIg. Hund. I. 15, 30; II., the prose to v. 5, 12, 13, with Helg. Hjörv. 28.)
On this account the Swedes, too, have celebrated Halfdan in their songs as their patriarch and benefactor, and according to Saxo they have worshipped him as a divinity, although it was his task to check the advance of the Skilfings to the south. Doubtless it is after this successful war that Halfdan performs the great sacrifice mentioned in Skáldskaparmál80, in order that he may retain his royal power for three hundred years. The statement should be compared with what the German poems of the Middle Ages tell about the longevity of Berchtung-Borgar and other heroes of antiquity. They live for several centuries. But the response Halfdan gets from the powers to whom he sacrificed is that he shall live simply to the age of an old man, and that in his family there shall not for three hundred years be born a woman or a fameless man.
Excerpt from “Investigations into Germanic Mythology”, Volume 1 by Viktor Rydberg