URD’S MAID-SERVANTS: (1) MAID-SERVANTS OF LIFE—NORNS, DISES OF BIRTH,
HAMINGJES, GIPTES, FYLGIES; (2) MAID-SERVANTS OF DEATH—VALKYRIES
As those beings for whom Urd determines birth, position in life, and death, are countless, so her servants, who perform the tasks commanded by her as queen, must also be innumerable. They belong to two large classes: the one class is active in her service in regard to life, the other in regard to death.
Most intimately associated with her are her two sisters. With her they have the authority of judges. Compare Völuspa, 19, 20, and theexpressions norna dómr, norna kvidr. And they dwell with her under the world-tree, which stands for ever green over her gold-clad fountain.
As maid-servants under Urd there are countless hamingjes (fylgjes) and
giptes (also called gafes, audnes, heilles). The hamingjes are fostered among beings of giant-race (who hardly can be others than the norns and Mimer). Three mighty rivers fall down into the world, in which they have their origin, and they come wise in their hearts, soaring over the waters to our upper world (Vafthr., 48, 49). There every child of man is to have a hamingje as a companion and guardian spirit. The testimony of the Icelandic sagas of the middle ages in this regard are confirmed by phrases and forms of speech which have their root in heathendom. The hamingjes belong to that large circle of feminine beings which are called dises, and they seem to have been especially so styled. What Urd is on a grand scale as the guardian of the mighty Ygdrasil, this the hamingje is on a smaller scale when she protects the separate fruit produced on the world-tree and placed in her care. She does not appear to her favourite excepting perhaps in dreams or shortly before his death (the latter according to Helgakv.Hjörv. the prose; Njal, 62; Hallf, ch. 11; proofs from purely heathen records are wanting). In strophes which occur in Gisle Surson's saga, and which are attributed (though on doubtful grounds) to this heathen skald, the[Pg 459] hero of the saga, but the origin of which (from a time when the details of the myth were still remembered) is fully confirmed by a careful criticism, it is mentioned how he stood between good and evil inspirations, and how the draumkona (dream-woman) of the good inspirations said to him in sleep: "Be not the first cause of a murder! excite not peaceful men against yourself!—promise me this, thou charitable man! Aid the blind, scorn not the lame, and insult not a Tyr robbed of his hand!" These are noble counsels, and that the hamingjes were noble beings was a belief preserved through the Christian centuries in Iceland, where, according to Vigfusson, the word hamingja is still used in the sense of Providence. They did not usually leave their favourite before death. But there are certain phrases preserved in the spoken language which show that they could leave him before death. He who was abandoned by his hamingje and gipte was a lost man. If the favourite became a hideous and bad man, then his hamingja and gipta might even turn her benevolence into wrath, and cause his well-deserved ruin. Uvar 'ro disir, angry at you are the dises! cries Odin to the royal nithing Geirrod, and immediately thereupon the latter stumbles and falls pierced by his own sword. That the invisible hamingje could cause one to stumble and fall is shown in Fornm., iii.
The giptes seem to have carried out such of Urd's resolves, on account of which the favourite received an unexpected, as it were accidental, good fortune.
Not only for separate individuals, but also for families and clans, there were guardian spirits (kynfylgjur, ættar-fylgjur).
Another division of this class of maid-servants under Urd are those who attend the entrance of the child into the world, and who have to weave the threads of the newborn babe into the web of the families and events. Like Urd and her sisters, they too are called norns. If it is a child who is to be a great and famous man, Urd herself and her sisters may be present for the above purpose (see No. 30 in regard to Halfdan's birth).
A few strophes incorporated in Fafnersmal from a heathen didactic
poem, now lost (Fafn., 12-15), speak of norns whose task it is to determine and assist the arrival of the child into this world. Nornir, er naudgaunglar 'ro oc kjósa mædr frá maugum. The expression kjósa mædr frá maugum, "to choose mothers from descendants," seems obscure, and can under all circumstances not mean simply "to deliver mothers of children." The word kjósa is never used in any other sense than to choose, elect, select. Here it must then mean to choose, elect as mothers; and the expression "from descendants" is incomprehensible, if we do not on the one hand conceive a crowd of eventual descendants, who at the threshold of life are waiting for mothers in order to become born into this world, and on the other hand women who are to be mothers, but in reference to whom it has not yet been determined which descendant each one is to call hers among the great waiting crowd, until those norns which we are here discussing resolve on that point, and from the indefinite crowd of waiting megir choose mothers for those children which are especially destined for them.
These norns are, according to Fafn., 13, of different[Pg 461] birth.
Some are Asa-kinswomen, others of elf-race, and again others are daughters of Dvalin. In regard to the last-named it should be remembered that Dvalin, their father, through artists of his circle,
decorated the citadel, within which a future generation of men await
the regeneration of the world, and that the mythology has associated him intimately with the elf of the morning dawn, Delling, who guards the citadel of the race of regeneration against all that is evil and all that ought not to enter (see No. 53). There are reasons (see No.
95) for assuming that these dises of birth were Honer's maid-servants at the same time as they were Urd's, just as the valkyries are Urd's and Odin's maid-servants at the same time (see below).
To the other class of Urd's maid-servants belong those lower-world beings which execute her resolves of death, and conduct the souls of the dead to the lower world.
Foremost among the psycho-messengers (psycho-pomps), the attendants of the dead, we note that group of shield-maids called valkyries. As Odin and Freyja got the right of choosing on the battlefield, the valkyries have received Asgard as their abode. There they bring the mead-horns to the Asas and einherjes, when they do not ride on Valfather's errands (Völuspa, 31; Grimnersmal, 36; Eiriksm., 1; Ulf Ugges. Skaldsk., 238). But the third of the norns, Skuld, is the chief one in this group (Völuspa, 31), and, as shall be shown below, they for ever remain in the most intimate association with Urd and the lower world.
Excerpt from “Teutonic Mythology
Gods and Goddesses of the Northland”
By VIKTOR RYDBERG, Ph.D.,
MEMBER OF THE SWEDISH ACADEMY; AUTHOR OF "THE LAST ATHENIAN" AND OTHER WORKS.
AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE SWEDISH
RASMUS B. ANDERSON, LL.D.,
EX-UNITED STATES MINISTER TO DENMARK; AUTHOR OF "NORSE
MYTHOLOGY," "VIKING TALES," ETC.
HON. RASMUS B. ANDERSON, LL.D., Ph.D.,
EDITOR IN CHIEF.
J. W. BUEL, Ph.D.,
PUBLISHED BY THE
LONDON COPENHAGEN STOCKHOLM BERLIN NEW YORK