Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

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Thou art Fiörgyn’s daughter

And ever hast been fond of men, [38]

Since Ve and Vili, it is said,

Thou, Vidrir’s wife, didst

Both to thy bosom take.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

May-Day Festivals

But upon Odin’s return the usurpers vanished for ever; and in commemoration of the disappearance of the false Odin, who had ruled seven months and had brought nothing but unhappiness to the world, and of the return of the benevolent deity, the heathen Northmen formerly celebrated yearly festivals, which were long continued as May Day rejoicings. Until very lately there was always, on that day, a grand procession in Sweden, known as the May Ride, in which a flower-decked May king (Odin) pelted with blossoms the fur-enveloped Winter (his supplanter), until he put him to ignominious flight. In England also the first of May was celebrated as a festive occasion, in which May-pole dances, May queens, Maid Marian, and Jack in the Green played prominent parts.

As personification of heaven, Odin, of course, was the lover and spouse of the earth, and as to them the earth bore a threefold aspect, the Northmen depicted him as a polygamist, and allotted to him several wives. The first among these was Jörd (Erda), the primitive earth, daughter of Night or of the giantess Fiorgyn. She bore him his famous son Thor, the god of thunder. The second and principal wife was Frigga, a personification of the civilised world. She gave him Balder, the gentle god of spring, Hermod, and, according to some authorities, Tyr. The third wife was Rinda, a personification of the hard and frozen earth, who reluctantly yields to his warm embrace, but finally gives birth to Vali, the emblem of vegetation.

Odin is also said to have married Saga or Laga, the [39]goddess of history (hence our verb “to say”), and to have daily visited her in the crystal hall of Sokvabek, beneath a cool, ever-flowing river, to drink its waters and listen to her songs about olden times and vanished races.

“Sokvabek hight the fourth dwelling;

Over it flow the cool billows;

Glad drink there Odin and Saga

Every day from golden cups.”

Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

His other wives were Grid, the mother of Vidar; Gunlod, the mother of Bragi; Skadi; and the nine giantesses who simultaneously bore Heimdall—all of whom play more or less important parts in the various myths of the North.

The Historical Odin

Besides this ancient Odin, there was a more modern, semi-historical personage of the same name, to whom all the virtues, powers, and adventures of his predecessor have been attributed. He was the chief of the Æsir, inhabitants of Asia Minor, who, sore pressed by the Romans, and threatened with destruction or slavery, left their native land about 70 B.C., and migrated into Europe. This Odin is said to have conquered Russia, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, leaving a son on the throne of each conquered country. He also built the town of Odensö. He was welcomed in Sweden by Gylfi, the king, who gave him a share of the realm, and allowed him to found the city of Sigtuna, where he built a temple and introduced a new system of worship. Tradition further relates that as his end drew near, this mythical Odin assembled his followers, publicly cut himself nine times in the breast with his spear,—a ceremony called “carving Geir odds,”—and [40]told them he was about to return to his native land Asgard, his old home, where he would await their coming, to share with him a life of feasting, drinking, and fighting.