Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 58

“In the dales dwells

The prescient Dis,

From Yggdrasil’s

Ash sunk down,

Of alfen race,

Idun by name,

The youngest of Ivaldi’s

Elder children.

She ill brooked

Her descent

Under the hoar tree’s

Trunk confined.

She would not happy be

With Norvi’s daughter,

Accustomed to a pleasanter

Abode at home.”

Odin’s Ravens’ Song (Thorpe’s tr.).

Seeing that she did not return, Odin bade Bragi, Heimdall, and another of the gods go in search of her, giving them a white wolfskin to envelop her in, so that she should not suffer from the cold, and bidding them make every effort to rouse her from the stupor which his prescience told him had taken possession of her.

“A wolf’s skin they gave her,

In which herself she clad.”

Odin’s Ravens’ Song (Thorpe’s tr.).

Idun passively allowed the gods to wrap her in the warm wolfskin, but she persistently refused to speak or move, and from her strange manner her husband sadly [110]suspected that she had had a vision of great ills. The tears ran continuously down her pallid cheeks, and Bragi, overcome by her unhappiness, at length bade the other gods return to Asgard without him, vowing that he would remain beside his wife until she was ready to leave Hel’s dismal realm. The sight of her woe oppressed him so sorely that he had no heart for his usual merry songs, and the strings of his harp were mute while he remained in the underworld.

That voice-like zephyr o’er flow’r meads creeping,

Like Bragi’s music his harp strings sweeping.”

Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

In this myth Idun’s fall from Yggdrasil is symbolical of the autumnal falling of the leaves, which lie limp and helpless on the cold bare ground until they are hidden from sight under the snow, represented by the wolfskin, which Odin, the sky, sends down to keep them warm; and the cessation of the birds’ songs is further typified by Bragi’s silent harp. [111]


Chapter VIII: Niörd

A Hostage with the Gods

We have already seen how the Æsir and Vanas exchanged hostages after the terrible war they had waged against each other, and that while Hoenir, Odin’s brother, went to live in Vana-heim, Niörd, with his two children, Frey and Freya, definitely took up his abode in Asgard.

“In Vana-heim

Wise powers him created,

And to the gods a hostage gave.”

Lay of Vafthrudnir (Thorpe’s tr.).

As ruler of the winds, and of the sea near the shore, Niörd was given the palace of Nôatûn, near the seashore, where, we are told, he stilled the terrible tempests stirred up by Ægir, god of the deep sea.

“Niörd, the god of storms, whom fishers know;

Not born in Heaven—he was in Van-heim rear’d,

With men, but lives a hostage with the gods;

He knows each frith, and every rocky creek

Fringed with dark pines, and sands where sea-fowl scream.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

He also extended his special protection over commerce and fishing, which two occupations could be pursued with advantage only during the short summer months, of which he was in a measure considered the personification.

The God of Summer

Niörd is represented in art as a very handsome god, in the prime of life, clad in a short green tunic, with a crown of shells and seaweed upon his head, or a brown-brimmed hat adorned with eagle or heron plumes. As [112]personification of the summer, he was invoked to still the raging storms which desolated the coasts during the winter months. He was also implored to hasten the vernal warmth and thereby extinguish the winter fires.

As agriculture was practised only during the summer months, and principally along the fiords or sea inlets, Niörd was also invoked for favourable harvests, for he was said to delight in prospering those who placed their trust in him.

Niörd’s first wife, according to some authorities, was his sister Nerthus, Mother Earth, who in Germany was identified with Frigga, as we have seen, but in Scandinavia was considered a separate divinity. Niörd was, however, obliged to part with her when summoned to Asgard, where he occupied one of the twelve seats in the great council hall, and was present at all the assemblies of the gods, withdrawing to Nôatûn only when his services were not required by the Æsir.

“Nôatûn is the eleventh;

There Niörd has

Himself a dwelling made,

Prince of men;

Guiltless of sin,

He rules o’er the high-built fane.”

Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe’s tr.).

In his home by the seashore, Niörd delighted in watching the gulls fly to and fro, and in observing the graceful movements of the swans, his favourite birds, which were held sacred to him. He spent many an hour, too, gazing at the gambols of the gentle seals, which came to bask in the sunshine at his feet.

Skadi, Goddess of Winter

Shortly after Idun’s return from Thrym-heim, and Thiassi’s death within the bounds of Asgard, the assembled [113]gods were greatly surprised and dismayed to see Skadi, the giant’s daughter, appear one day in their midst, to demand satisfaction for her father’s death. Although the daughter of an ugly old Hrim-thurs, Skadi, the goddess of winter, was very beautiful indeed, in her silvery armour, with her glittering spear, sharp-pointed arrows, short white hunting dress, white fur leggings, and broad snowshoes; and the gods could not but recognise the justice of her claim, wherefore they offered the usual fine in atonement. Skadi, however, was so angry that she at first refused this compromise, and sternly demanded a life for a life, until Loki, wishing to appease her wrath, and thinking that if he could only make her cold lips relax in a smile the rest would be easy, began to play all manner of pranks. Fastening a goat to himself by an invisible cord, he went through a series of antics, which were reproduced by the goat; and the sight was so grotesque that all the gods fairly shouted with merriment, and even Skadi was forced to smile.