The Transition from Peace to War, Our Epic reconstructed – Part 2
15 Runes of Witchcraft. Gullveig’s First Burning. 8*
The forces of the giant-world, the descendants of Ymir's feet, who dwell in Niflhel and Jotunheim, hated the race of men that the gods had created and protected. They hated the holy songs Odin received from Mimir, and all the good learning that our race received from Heimdall. Their purpose is to destroy the world's order and bring back Chaos, from which they trace their origin. Gullveig and Loki were their secret allies in Asgard. Gullveig devised the evil sorcery and the runes of witchcraft, an antithesis to Heimdall's teachings.9 She wanted to entice Freyja, whose handmaiden she was, to practice this art, but it was discovered and the gods sentenced Gullveig to burn. Then for the first time, flames learned to become blended with smoke and thus could only half-burn her heart.
16. The Birth of the Midgard Serpent. Loki found and swallowed the half-burnt heart. Thereby, he became pregnant and bore the Midgard serpent, which he threw into the sea. The Midgard serpent grows in direct proportion to the evil in the world.
17. Thor’s First Giant-slaying.
The giants Vingnir and Hlora treacherously wanted to take their foster son Thor's life when they noticed that he had grown enormously strong. But Thor, while still young, killed them both and traveled to Asgard with Vingnir's vafur-laden10 stone hammer. By that time, the giants had become numerous in Jotunheim and comprised many mighty clans.
18. The Gods’ Chalet at Elivogar.
When sworn oaths had thus been broken (a hostage from the giant-world burnt in Asgard, and the foster-parents' holy obligations betrayed in Jotunheim), the peace covenant consequently was no longer valid. The gods feared an attack on Midgard by the giants. Therefore, they established a citadel on the southern coast of Elivogar,11 from which the activities of the giants could be watched. The citadel became Thor's property and he entrusted it to a company of elves, over which Ivaldi and his son Egil acted as rulers. Ivaldi, the ruler of Svithjod and Finland, was the best of all spear-champions. Egil was the finest of all archers and skiers. Völund, Egil's brother, a smith who had learned his art at Mimir's forge, was considered to be as good or better than Mimir's finest smiths. Ivaldi, his sons and warriors pledged an oath of allegiance to the gods.
19. Gullveig’s Second Appearance and Burning.
Gullveig was born anew in Jotunheim and proceeded from there to Midgard, where she wandered about under the name Heid, bearing her unholy runes of witchcraft from house to house, working against Heimdall's holy runic teachings and corrupting mankind. Soon she was discovered, but too late. She was brought before the gods, who burned her a second time. As before, her half-burnt heart remained and was swallowed by Loki, who again became pregnant and gave birth to the Fenris-Wolf, which he convinced the Aesir to take in as a plaything and raise in Asgard.12
20. The Giants Want to Test Thor’s Strength.
The giants devised a plan with Loki by which they could ascertain whether Thor would become a dangerous opponent for them. Loki urged Thor to make a journey to the fire giant Fjalar, who was competent in magic, and even accompanied him there. Optical illusions surrounded them on the way to and inside of Fjalar's citadel. Athletic competitions were held in which Thor imagined himself defeated, when in truth he had displayed incredible strength.13
21. Thjalfi and Svipdag.
Egil and his wife Groa adopted an orphan, Thjalfi, who grew up in Egil's citadel, showing a brave and clever disposition early on. Later Egil and Groa had a handsome son of their own named Svipdag (Od).
22. Thor’s Journey to Hymir.
The giant Hymir owned the bull, Himinhrjotur; he also owned an enormous brewing-kettle, which the gods required in order to make use of what the sea-giant Aegir had obligated himself to brew for them. Thor, followed by Tyr, who had been fostered in Hymir's gard, proceeded there. He left his goatspan and wagon with Egil and crossed over the Elivogar with Tyr. Hymir had lightning-eyes and could kill with a glance. But his wife, Tyr's mother, knew how to divert the power in his eyes against a pillar in his mountain-hall. Hymir suggested a fishing trip on the Elivogar, where he had caught many whales. Thor tore off Himinhrjotur's head for bait. During the fishing, the Midgard serpent bit Thor's hook, but Hymir cut the fishing-line and the Midgard serpent sank into the deep, after Thor had struck it in the head with his hammer. When they had returned home, Hymir wanted new proof of Thor's strength.14 Thor then snatched the enormous kettle and hurried on his way with it, followed by Tyr. They were pursued by Hymir's kinsmen, butdefeated their foes and returned to the gods with the kettle.
23. Loki and Thjalfi.
While Thor was on this adventure, Loki came to Egil's citadel, where one of Thor's goats had been slaughtered for the evening meal. Loki persuaded Thjalfi to break one of the goat's leg bones. As compensation for the damage, Thor took Thjalfi and made him his foster-son.
8) The exact placement of Gullveig-Heid's three burnings is problematic. Völuspá informs us that she was "thrice burnt and thrice reborn, ...yet she still lives.” Based on a passage in Hyndluljóð40-41, Rydberg connects her to Angrboda, the mother of three monsters: the Midgard Serpent, the Fenris Wolf, and the half-livid giantess Leikn, who becomes queen of Niflhel (See Vol. 1, no. 63-67). Each time the witch is burned, Loki finds her heart, consumes it, and is impregnated by it. Rydberg makes the original suggestion that one monster was born after each of the three burnings. Völuspáappears to indicate that she was burnt once for spreading witchcraft across Midgard , once for betraying her mistress, Freyja, to the giants during the first fimbul-winter , and once in Odin's hall just before the war between the Aesir and the Vanir . At the time of Gullveig-Heid's final burning, her daughter Gerd has become the wife of the Vanir god Frey, thus she is now a protected member of the Vanir clan. Here, Rydberg seems to add an additional burning (no. 15, where Heid is punished for teaching Freyja witchcraft). In my opinion, no. 15 and no. 19 are best combined. This would constitute the first burning, followed by the birth of the Midgard serpent. The second burning (rather than the third) would then occur at no. 46, signaling the birth of Fenrir, and the third at no. 110, after which Leikn, the queen of disease is born (the same being whom Snorri Sturluson identifies as 'Hel').
9 ) The Eddaic poems refer to this type of magic as "seiðr." From its known uses in the mythology, it seems to involve influencing the minds of others (see 87). In Völuspá 22, Heid "seið hón leikinn," deluded with seiðr; she is ever the delight of evil women. From the statement in Heimskringla that Freyja was the first in Asgard to practice seiðr comes the mistaken conclusion that Freyja is Gullveig. The thrice-born and thrice-burnt Gullveig is called Heid when she comes among men, and in Hyndluljod, Heid is a daughter of the giant Hrimnir. In Volusungasaga, we find Hrimnir's daughter as a maidservant in Asgard under Frigg. She plays as important a role as Loki does in the corruption of order. 10 In Þórsdrápa 14 Thor's chariot is called hreggs váfreiðar, the "storm's hovering chariot" which Rydberg interprets as the "storm's vafur-chariot,” leading him to conclude that the vafrloga mentioned in the Elder Edda was lightning. Thus he depicts Thor's hammer as "vafur-laden.” Vafrlogaor vafræyði literally means "wavering fire.” Vafra means "to hover about,” "to wander to and fro" and is applied to the motion of flames and ghosts, which has led some to conclude that these fires in their natural state represent the Aurora Borealis. In Fjölsvinnsmál 31, Menglad-Freyja's hall is surrounded by "vafur-fire," as is Gerd's hall in Skírnismál 8, 9. The fire is said to be "wise" and can distinguish friend from foe. As seen in Fjölsvinnsmál, these fires surround and protect Asgard from intrusion. Thus in Haustlöng 13 when the Aesir raise the "skjót-brinni," the quick-fire, against Thjazi as he approaches Asgard in eagle-guise in pursuit of Loki, they kindle the vafur-fire moat surrounding Asgard. To make this point clear, Hárbarðsljóð 19 tells us that Thor killed Thjazi with a blow from his hammer, which represents the thunderbolt (see 86). 11 The Elivogaris usually referred to as a river, but it is actually a stretch of ocean separating Midgard (in the vicinity of Finland) from Jötunheim (i.e.the Arctic Circle) in the north. This parallels the underworld geography: Niflhel is separated from Hel by a mountain range called Nidafjöll, the Nida Mountains, atop which sits the fountain Hvergelmir, the source of all waters. Jotunheim contains the giants that survived the flood of Ymir's blood; Niflhel contains the souls of the giants that drowned in Ymir's blood. Thus we also find the designation Jotunheimar (plural), meaning Jotunheim (above) and Niflhel (below).
- Excerpt from Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume II
Translated and Annotated by William P. Reaves © 2010 All Rights