Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 75

“Born was I of mothers nine,

Son I am of sisters nine.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

The Rainbow Bridge

The Rainbow Bridge

H. Hendrich

By Permission of the “Illustrirte Zeitung” (J. J. Weber, Leipzig)

The nine mothers proceeded to nourish their babe on the strength of the earth, the moisture of the sea, and the heat of the sun, which singular diet proved so strengthening that the new god acquired his full growth in a remarkably short space of time, and hastened to join his father in Asgard. He found the gods proudly contemplating the rainbow bridge Bifröst, which they had just constructed out of fire, air, and water, the three materials which can still plainly be seen in its long arch, where glow the three primary colours: the red representing the fire, the blue the air, and the green the cool depths of the sea.

The Guardian of the Rainbow

This bridge connected heaven and earth, and ended under the shade of the mighty world-tree Yggdrasil, close beside the fountain where Mimir kept guard, and the only drawback to prevent the complete enjoyment of the glorious spectacle, was the fear lest the frost-giants [147]should make their way over it and so gain entrance into Asgard.

The gods had been debating the advisability of appointing a trustworthy guardian, and they hailed the new recruit as one well-fitted to fulfil the onerous duties of the office.

Heimdall gladly undertook the responsibility and henceforth, night and day, he kept vigilant watch over the rainbow highway into Asgard.

“Bifröst i’ th’ east shone forth in brightest green;

On its top, in snow-white sheen,

Heimdal at his post was seen.”

Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

To enable their watchman to detect the approach of any enemy from afar, the assembled gods bestowed upon him senses so keen that he is said to have been able to hear the grass grow on the hillside, and the wool on the sheep’s back; to see one hundred miles off as plainly by night as by day; and with all this he required less sleep than a bird.

“’Mongst shivering giants wider known

Than him who sits unmoved on high,

The guard of heaven, with sleepless eye.”

Lay of Skirner (Herbert’s tr.).

Heimdall was provided further with a flashing sword and a marvellous trumpet, called Giallar-horn, which the gods bade him blow whenever he saw their enemies approach, declaring that its sound would rouse all creatures in heaven, earth, and Nifl-heim. Its last dread blast would announce the arrival of that day when the final battle would be fought. [148]

“To battle the gods are called

By the ancient


Loud blows Heimdall,

His sound is in the air.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

To keep this instrument, which was a symbol of the crescent moon, ever at hand, Heimdall either hung it on a branch of Yggdrasil above his head or sank it in the waters of Mimir’s well. In the latter it lay side by side with Odin’s eye, which was an emblem of the moon at its full.



Dorothy Hardy

Heimdall’s palace, called Himinbiorg, was situated on the highest point of the bridge, and here the gods often visited him to quaff the delicious mead which he set before them.

“’Tis Himminbjorg called

Where Heimdal, they say,

Hath dwelling and rule.

There the gods’ warder drinks,

In peaceful old halls,

Gladsome the good mead.”

Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Heimdall was always depicted in resplendent white armour, and he was therefore called the bright god. He was also known as the light, innocent, and graceful god, all of which names he fully deserved, for he was as good as he was beautiful, and all the gods loved him. Connected on his mothers’ side with the sea, he was sometimes included with the Vanas; and as the ancient Northmen, especially the Icelanders, to whom the surrounding sea appeared the most important element, fancied that all things had risen out of it, they attributed to him an all-embracing knowledge and imagined him particularly wise. [149]

“Of Æsir the brightest—

He well foresaw

Like other Vanir.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Heimdall was further distinguished by his golden teeth, which flashed when he smiled, and won for him the surname of Gullintani (golden-toothed). He was also the proud possessor of a swift, golden-maned steed called Gull-top, which bore him to and fro over the quivering rainbow bridge. This he crossed many times a day, but particularly in the early morn, at which time, as herald of the day, he bore the name of Heimdellinger.

“Early up Bifröst