Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 92

Further horrors, however, awaited those whose lives had been criminal or impure, these spirits being banished to Nastrond, the strand of corpses, where they waded in ice-cold streams of venom, through a cave made of wattled serpents, whose poisonous fangs were turned towards them. After suffering untold agonies there, they were washed down into the cauldron Hvergelmir, where the serpent Nidhug ceased for a moment gnawing the root of the tree Yggdrasil to feed upon their bones.

“A hall standing

Far from the sun

In Nâströnd;

Its doors are northward turned,

Venom-drops fall

In through its apertures;

Entwined is that hall

With serpents’ backs.

She there saw wading

The sluggish streams [184]

Bloodthirsty men

And perjurers,

And him who the ear beguiles

Of another’s wife.

There Nidhog sucks

The corpses of the dead.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Pestilence and Famine

Hel herself was supposed occasionally to leave her dismal abode to range the earth upon her three-legged white horse, and in times of pestilence or famine, if a part of the inhabitants of a district escaped, she was said to use a rake, and when whole villages and provinces were depopulated, as in the case of the historical epidemic of the Black Death, it was said that she had ridden with a broom.

The Northern races further fancied that the spirits of the dead were sometimes allowed to revisit the earth and appear to their relatives, whose sorrow or joy affected them even after death, as is related in the Danish ballad of Aager and Else, where a dead lover bids his sweetheart smile, so that his coffin may be filled with roses instead of the clotted blood drops produced by her tears.

“‘Listen now, my good Sir Aager!

Dearest bridegroom, all I crave

Is to know how it goes with thee

In that lonely place, the grave.’

“‘Every time that thou rejoicest,

And art happy in thy mind,

Are my lonely grave’s recesses

All with leaves of roses lined.

“‘Every time that, love, thou grievest,

And dost shed the briny flood,

Are my lonely grave’s recesses

Filled with black and loathsome blood.’”

Ballad of Aager and Else (Longfellow’s tr.). [185]


Chapter XX: Ægir

The God of the Sea

Besides Niörd and Mimir, who were both ocean divinities, the one representing the sea near the coast and the other the primæval ocean whence all things were supposed to have sprung, the Northern races recognised another sea-ruler, called Ægir or Hler, who dwelt either in the cool depths of his liquid realm or had his abode on the Island of Lessoe, in the Cattegat, or Hlesey.

“Beneath the watery dome,

With crystalline splendour,

In radiant grandeur,

Upreared the sea-god’s home.

More dazzling than foam of the waves

E’er glimmered and gleamed thro’ deep caves

The glistening sands of its floor,

Like some placid lake rippled o’er.”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Ægir (the sea), like his brothers Kari (the air) and Loki (fire), is supposed to have belonged to an older dynasty of the gods, for he ranked neither with the Æsir, the Vanas, the giants, dwarfs, or elves, but was considered omnipotent within his realm.