The Two Thingsteads of the Asa



The Two Thingsteads of the Asa

The Asas have two thingsteads: the one in Asgard, the other in the lower world.

In the former a council is held and resolutions passed in such matters as pertain more particularly to the clan of the Asas and to their relation to other divine clans and other powers. When Balder is visited by ugly dreams, Valfather assembles the gods to hold counsel, and all the Asas assemble á thingi, and all the asynjes á máli (Vegtamskv., 1; Balder's Dr., 4). In assemblies here the gods resolved to exact an oath from all things for Balder's safety, and to send a messenger to the lower world to get knowledge partly about Balder, partly about future events. On this thingstead efforts are made of [Pg 486] reconciliation between the Asas and the Vans, after Gulveig had been slain in Odin's hall (Völuspa, 23, 24). Hither (á thing goda) comes Thor with the kettle captured from Hymer, andintended for the feasts of the gods (Hymerskv., 39); and here the Asas hold their last deliberations, when Ragnarok is at hand (Völuspa, 49: Æsir 'ro a thingi). No matters are mentioned as discussed in this thingstead in which any person is interested who does not dwell in Asgard, or which are not of such a nature that they have reference to how the gods themselves are to act under particular circumstances. That the thingstead where such questions are discussed must be situated in Asgard itself is a matter of convenience, and is suggested by the very nature of the case.

It follows that the gods assemble in the Asgard thingstead more for the purpose of discussing their own interests than for that of judging in the affairs of others. They also gather there to amuse themselves and to exercise themselves in arms (Gylfaginning, 50).

Of the other thingstead of the Asas, of the one in the lower world, it is on the other hand expressly stated that they go thither to sit in judgment, to act as judges; and there is no reason for taking this word dæma, when as here it means activity at a thingstead, in any other than its judicial and common sense.

What matters are settled there? We might take this to be the proper place for exercising Odin's privilege of choosing heroes to be slain by the sword, since this right is co-ordinate with that of the norns to determine life and dispense fate, whence it might seem that the domain of the[Pg 487] authority of the gods and that of the nornshere approached each other sufficiently to require deliberations and decisions in common. Still it is not on the thingstead at Urd's fountain that Odin elects persons for death by the sword. It is expressly stated that it is in his own home in Valhal that Odin exercises his right of electing (Grimnersmal, 8), and this right he holds so independently and so absolutely that he does not need to ask for the opinion of the norns. On the other hand, the gods have no authority to determine the life and death of the other mortals. This belongs exclusively to the norns. The norns elect for every other death but that by weapons, and their decision in this domain is never called a decision by the gods, but norna domr, norna kvidr, freigdarord, Dauda ord.

If Asas and norns did have a common voice in deciding certain questions which could be settled in Asgard, then it would not be in accordance with the high rank given to the Asas in mythology to have them go to the norns for the decision of such questions. On the contrary, the norns would have to come to them. Urd and her sisters are beings of high rank, but nevertheless they are of giant descent, like Mimer. The power they have is immense; and on a closer investigation we find how the mythology in more than one way has sought to maintain in the fancy of its believers the independence (at least apparent and well defined, within certain limits) of the gods—an independence united with the high rank which they have. It may have been for this very reason that the youngest of the dises of fate, Skuld, was selected as [Pg 488] a valkyrie, and as a maid-servant both of Odin and of her sister Urd.

The questions in which the Asas are judges near Urd's fountain must be such as cannot be settled in Asgard, as the lower world is their proper forum, where both the parties concerned and the witnesses are to be found. The questions are of great importance. This is evident already from the fact that the journey to the thingstead is a troublesome one for the gods, at least for Thor, who, to get thither, must wade across four rivers. Moreover, the questions are of such a character that they occur every day (Grimnersmal, 29, 31).

At this point of the investigation the results hitherto gained from the various premises unite themselves in the following manner:

The Asas daily go to the thingstead near Urd's fountain. At the thingstead near Urd's fountain there daily arrive hosts of the dead.

The task of the Asas near Urd's fountain is to judge in questions of which the lower world is the proper forum. When the dead arrive at Urd's fountain their final doom is not yet sealed. They have not yet been separated into the groups which are to be divided between Asgard, Hel, and Nifelhel.

The question now is, Can we conceive that the daily journey of the Asas to Urd's fountain and the daily arrival there of the dead have no connection with each other?—That the judgments daily pronounced by the Asas at this thingstead, and that the daily event in accordance with which the dead at this thingstead are divided[Pg 489] between the realms of bliss and those of torture have nothing in common?

That these mythological facts should have no connection with each other is hard to conceive for anyone who, in doubtful questions, clings to that which is probable rather than to the opposite. The probability becomes a certainty by the following circumstances:

Of the kings Vanlande and Halfdan, Ynglingatal says that after death they met Odin. According to the common view presented in our mythological text-books, this should not have happened to either of them, since both of them died from disease. One of them was visited and fetched by that choking spirit of disease called vitta vættr, and in this way he was permitted "to meet Odin" (kom a vit Vilja brodur). The other was visited by Hvedrungs mær, the daughter of Loke, who "called him from this world to Odin's Thing."

Ok til things
thridja jöfri
Hvedrungs mær
or heimi baud.

Thing-bod means a legal summons to appear at a Thing, at the seat of judgment. Bjoda til things is to perform this legal summons. Here it is Hvedrung's kinswoman who comes with sickness and death and thing-bod to King Halfdan, and summons him to appear before the judgment-seat of Odin. As, according to mythology, all the dead, and as, according to the mythological text-books, at least all those who have died from disease must go to Hel, then certainly King Halfdan, who died from disease,[Pg 490] must descend to the lower world; and as there is a Thing at which Odin and the Asas daily sit in judgment, it must have been this to which Halfdan was summoned. Otherwise we would be obliged to assume that Hvedrung'skinswoman, Loke's daughter, is a messenger, not from the lower world and Urd, but from Asgard, although the strophe further on expressly states that she comes to Halfdan on account of "the doom of the norns;" and furthermore we would be obliged to assume that the king, who had died from sickness, after arriving in the lower world, did not present himself at Odin's court there, but continued his journey to Asgard, to appear at some of the accidental deliberations which are held at the thingstead there. The passage proves that at least those who have died from sickness have to appear at the court which is held by Odin in the lower world.

Teutonic Mythology

Gods and Goddesses of the Northland








J. W. BUEL, Ph.D.,