Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 173

“Vithar’s then and Vali’s force

Heirs the empty realm of gods;

Mothi’s thew and Magni’s might

Sways the massy mallet’s weight,

Won from Thor, when Thor must fall.”

Vafthrudni’s-mal (W. Taylor’s tr.).

Here they were joined by Hoenir, no longer an exile among the Vanas, who, as developing forces, had also vanished for ever; and out of the dark underworld where he had languished so long rose the radiant Balder, together with his brother Hodur, with whom he was reconciled, and with whom he was to live in perfect amity and peace. The past had gone for ever, and the surviving deities could recall it without bitterness. The memory of their former companions was, however, [339]dear to them, and full often did they return to their old haunts to linger over the happy associations. It was thus that walking one day in the long grass on Idavold, they found again the golden disks with which the Æsir had been wont to sport.

“We shall tread once more that well-known plain

Of Ida, and among the grass shall find

The golden dice with which we play’d of yore;

And that will bring to mind the former life

And pastime of the Gods, the wise discourse

Of Odin, the delights of other days.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

When the small band of gods turned mournfully towards the place where their lordly dwellings once stood, they became aware, to their joyful surprise, that Gimli, the highest heavenly abode, had not been consumed, for it rose glittering before them, its golden roof outshining the sun. Hastening thither they discovered, to the great increase of their joy, that it had become the place of refuge for all the virtuous.

“In Gimli the lofty

There shall the hosts

Of the virtuous dwell,

And through all ages

Taste of deep gladness.”

Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (Howitt).

One too Mighty to Name

As the Norsemen who settled in Iceland, and through whom the most complete exposition of the Odinic faith has come down to us in the Eddas and Sagas, were not definitely converted until the eleventh century,—although they had come in contact with Christians during their viking raids nearly six centuries before,—it is very probable that the Northern scalds gleaned [340]some idea of the Christian doctrines, and that this knowledge influenced them to a certain extent, and coloured their descriptions of the end of the world and the regeneration of the earth. It was perhaps this vague knowledge, also, which induced them to add to the Edda a verse, which is generally supposed to have been an interpolation, proclaiming that another God, too mighty to name, would arise to bear rule over Gimli. From his heavenly seat he would judge mankind, and separate the bad from the good. The former would be banished to the horrors of Nastrond, while the good would be transported to the blissful halls of Gimli the fair.

“Then comes another,

Yet more mighty.

But Him I dare not

Venture to name.

Few farther may look

Than to where Odin

To meet the wolf goes.”

Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (Howitt).

There were two other heavenly mansions, however, one reserved for the dwarfs and the other for the giants; for as these creatures had no free will, and but blindly executed the decrees of fate, they were not thought to be responsible for any harm done by them, and were therefore held to be undeserving of punishment.

The dwarfs, ruled by Sindri, were said to occupy a hall in the Nida mountains, where they drank the sparkling mead, while the giants took their pleasure in the hall Brimer, situated in the region Okolnur (not cool), for the power of cold was entirely annihilated, and there was no more ice.

Various mythologists have, of course, attempted to [341]explain these myths, and some, as we have already stated, see in the story of Ragnarok the influence of Christian teachings, and esteem it only a barbaric version of the end of the world and the coming judgment day, when a new heaven and earth shall arise, and all the good shall enjoy eternal bliss. [342]


Chapter XXIX: Greek and Northern Mythologies

Comparative Mythology

During the past fifty years learned men of many nations have investigated philology and comparative mythology so thoroughly that they have ascertained beyond the possibility of doubt “that English, together with all the Teutonic dialects of the Continent, belongs to that large family of speech which comprises, besides the Teutonic, Latin, Greek, Slavonic, and Celtic, the Oriental languages of India and Persia.” “It has also been proved that the various tribes who started from the central home to discover Europe in the north, and India in the south, carried away with them, not only a common language, but a common faith and a common mythology. These are facts which may be ignored but cannot be disputed, and the two sciences of comparative grammar and comparative mythology, though but of recent origin, rest on a foundation as sound and safe as that of any of the inductive sciences.” “For more than a thousand years the Scandinavian inhabitants of Norway have been separated in language from their Teutonic brethren on the Continent, and yet both have not only preserved the same stock of popular stories, but they tell them, in several instances, in almost the same words.”

This resemblance, so strong in the early literature of nations inhabiting countries which present much the same physical aspect and have nearly the same climate, is not so marked when we compare the Northern myths with those of the genial South. Still, notwithstanding the contrast between Northern and Southern Europe, where these myths gradually ripened and attained their full growth, there is an analogy between the [343]two mythologies which shows that the seeds from whence both sprang were originally the same.

In the foregoing chapters the Northern system of mythology has been outlined as clearly as possible, and the physical significance of the myths has been explained. Now we shall endeavour to set forth the resemblance of Northern mythology to that of the other Aryan nations, by comparing it with the Greek, which, however, it does not resemble as closely as it does the Oriental.