Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 78

“Sacred children,

Great and small,

Sons of Heimdall!”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Heimdall left his place in Asgard one day to wander upon the earth, as the gods were wont to do. He had not gone far ere he came to a poor hut on the seashore, where he found Ai (great grandfather) and Edda (great grandmother), a poor but worthy couple, who hospitably invited him to share their meagre meal of porridge. Heimdall, who gave his name as Riger, gladly accepted this invitation, and remained with the couple three whole days, teaching them many things. At the end of that time he left to resume his journey. Some time after his visit, Edda bore a dark-skinned thick-set boy, whom she called Thrall.

Thrall soon showed uncommon physical strength and a great aptitude for all heavy work; and when he had grown up he took to wife Thyr, a heavily built girl with sunburnt hands and flat feet, who, like her husband, laboured early and late. Many children were born to this couple and from them all the serfs or thralls of the Northland were descended. [152]

“They had children

Lived and were happy;

They laid fences,

Enriched the plow-land,

Tended swine,

Herded goats,

Dug peat.”

Rigsmál (Du Chaillu’s version).

After leaving the poor hut on the barren seacoast Riger had pushed inland, where ere long he came to cultivated fields and a thrifty farmhouse. Entering this comfortable dwelling, he found Afi (grandfather) and Amma (grandmother), who hospitably invited him to sit down with them and share the plain but bountiful fare which was prepared for their meal.



Albert Edelfelt

Riger accepted the invitation and he remained three days with his hosts, imparting the while all manner of useful knowledge to them. After his departure from their house, Amma gave birth to a blue-eyed sturdy boy, whom she called Karl. As he grew up he exhibited great skill in agricultural pursuits, and in due course he married a buxom and thrifty wife named Snor, who bore him many children, from whom the race of husbandmen is descended.

“He did grow

And thrive well;

He broke oxen,

Made plows;

Timbered houses,

Made barns,

Made carts,

And drove the plow.”

Rigsmál (Du Chaillu’s version).

Leaving the house of this second couple, Riger continued his journey until he came to a hill, upon which was perched a stately castle. Here he was received by [153]Fadir (father) and Modir (mother), who, delicately nurtured and luxuriously clad, received him cordially, and set before him dainty meats and rich wines.

Riger tarried three days with this couple, afterwards returning to Himinbiorg to resume his post as guardian of Asa-bridge; and ere long the lady of the castle bore a handsome, slenderly built little son, whom she called Jarl. This child early showed a great taste for the hunt and all manner of martial exercises, learned to understand runes, and lived to do great deeds of valour which made his name distinguished and added glory to his race. Having attained manhood, Jarl married Erna, an aristocratic, slender-waisted maiden, who ruled his household wisely and bore him many children, all destined to rule, the youngest of whom, Konur, became the first king of Denmark. This myth well illustrates the marked sense of class among the Northern races.

“Up grew

The sons of Jarl;

They brake horses,

Bent shields,

Smoothed shafts,

Shook ash spears

But Kon, the young,

Knew runes,

Everlasting runes

And life runes.”

Rigsmál (Du Chaillu’s version). [154]


Chapter XIV: Hermod

The Nimble God

Another of Odin’s sons was Hermod, his special attendant, a bright and beautiful young god, who was gifted with great rapidity of motion and was therefore designated as the swift or nimble god.

“But there was one, the first of all the gods

For speed, and Hermod was his name in Heaven;

Most fleet he was.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

On account of this important attribute Hermod was usually employed by the gods as messenger, and at a mere sign from Odin he was always ready to speed to any part of creation. As a special mark of favour, Allfather gave him a magnificent corselet and helmet, which he often donned when he prepared to take part in war, and sometimes Odin entrusted to his care the precious spear Gungnir, bidding him cast it over the heads of combatants about to engage in battle, that their ardour might be kindled into murderous fury.

“Let us Odin pray

Into our minds to enter;

He gives and grants

Gold to the deserving.

He gave to Hermod

A helm and corselet.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Hermod delighted in battle, and was often called “the valiant in battle,” and confounded with the god of the universe, Irmin. It is said that he sometimes accompanied the Valkyrs on their ride to earth, and [155]frequently escorted the warriors to Valhalla, wherefore he was considered the leader of the heroic dead.

“To him spake Hermoder and Brage:

‘We meet thee and greet thee from all,

To the gods thou art known by thy valour,

And they bid thee a guest to their hall.’”

Owen Meredith.

Hermod’s distinctive attribute, besides his corselet and helm, was a wand or staff called Gambantein, the emblem of his office, which he carried with him wherever he went.

Hermod and the Soothsayer

Once, oppressed by shadowy fears for the future, and unable to obtain from the Norns satisfactory answers to his questions, Odin bade Hermod don his armour and saddle Sleipnir, which he alone, besides Odin, was allowed to ride, and hasten off to the land of the Finns. This people, who lived in the frozen regions of the pole, besides being able to call up the cold storms which swept down from the North, bringing much ice and snow in their train, were supposed to have great occult powers.

The most noted of these Finnish magicians was Rossthiof (the horse thief) who was wont to entice travellers into his realm by magic arts, that he might rob and slay them; and he had power to predict the future, although he was always very reluctant to do so.

Hermod, “the swift,” rode rapidly northward, with directions to seek this Finn, and instead of his own wand, he carried Odin’s runic staff, which Allfather had given him for the purpose of dispelling any obstacles that Rossthiof might conjure up to hinder his advance. In spite, therefore, of phantom-like monsters and of [156]invisible snares and pitfalls, Hermod was enabled safely to reach the magician’s abode, and upon the giant attacking him, he was able to master him with ease, and he bound him hand and foot, declaring that he would not set him free until he promised to reveal all that he wished to know.