The Teutonic and Scandinavian Religion
Viking Age Online Library Release #1
4. The Gods of Scandinavia.
We can give no better account of the Norse pantheon than by extracting the passages from the prose Edda, which describe the gods. We take the translation in Mallet's Northern Antiquities:-
"'I must now ask thee,' said Gangler, 'who are the gods that men are bound to believe in?'
"'There are twelve gods, replied Har, 'to whom divine honors ought to be rendered.'
"'Nor are the goddesses,' added Jafnhar, 'less divine and mighty.'
"'The first and eldest of the Æsir,' continued Thridi, 'is Odin. He governs all things, and although the other deities are powerful, they all serve and obey him as children do their father. Frigga is his wife. She foresees the destinies of men, but never reveals what is to come. For thus it is said that Odin himself told Loki, "Senseless Loki, why wilt thou pry into futurity? Frigga alone knoweth the destinies of all, though she telleth them never."
"'Odin is named Alfadir (All-father), because he is the father of all the gods, and also Valfadir (Choosing Father), because he chooses for all his sons all those who fall in combat. For their abode he has prepared Valhalla and Vingólf, where they are called Einherjar (Heroes or Champions). Odin is also called Hangagud, Haptagud, and Farmagud, and, besides these, was named in many ways when he went to King Geirraudr.'....
"'I now ask thee,' said Gangler, 'what are the names of the other gods? What are their functions, and what have they brought to pass?'
"'The mightiest of them,' replied Har, 'is Thor. He is called Asa-Thor and Auku-Thor, and is the strongest of the gods and men. His realm is named Thrúdváng, and his mansion Bilskirnir, in which are five hundred and forty halls. It is the largest house ever built. Thus it is called in the Grímnismál:-
"Five hundred halls
And Forty more,
Of Houses roofed
There's none I know
My son's surpassing."
"'Thor has a car drawn by two goats called Tanngnióst and Tanngrisnir. From his riving about in this car he is called Auku-Thor (Charioteer-Thor). He likewise possesses three very precious things. The first is a mallet called Mjölnir, which both the Frost and Mountain Giants know to their cost when they see it hurled against them in the air; and no wonder, for it has split many a skull of their fathers ad kindred. The second rare thing he possesses is called the belt of strength or prowess (Megingjardir). When he girds it about him his divine might is doubly augmented; the third, also very precious, being his iron gauntlets, which he is obliged to put on whenever he would lay hold of the handle of his mallet. There is no one so wise as to be able to relate all Thor's marvellous exploits, yet I could tell thee so many myself that hours would be whiled away ere all that I know had been recounted.'
"'I would rather,' said Gangler, 'hear something about the other Æsir.'
"'The second son of Odin,' replied Har, 'is Baldur, and it may be truly said of him that he is the best, and that all mankind are loud in his praise. So fair and dazzling is he in form and features, that rays of light seem to issue from him; and thou mayst have some idea of the beauty of his hair when I tell thee that the whitest of all plants is called Baldur's brow. Baldur is the mildest, the wisest, and the most eloquent of al the Æsir, yet such is his nature that the judgment he has pronounced can never be altered. He dwells in the heavenly mansion called Breidablik, in which nothing unclean can enter. As it is said:-
"'T is Breidablik called,
Where Baldur the Fair
Hath built him a bower,
in that land where I know
The least loathliness lieth."'
"'The third god,' continued Har, 'is Njörd, who dwells in the heavenly region called Noátún. He rules over the winds, and checks the fury of the sea and of fire, and is therefore invoked by seafarers and fishermen. He is so wealthy that he can give possessions and treasures to those who call on him for them. Yet Njörd is not of the lineage of the Æsir, for he was born and bred in Vanaheim. But the Vanir gave him as hostage to the Æsir, receiving from them in his stead Hoenir. By this means was peace re-established between the Æsir and Vanir. Njörd took to wife Skadi, the daughter of the giant Thjassi. She preferred dwelling in the abode formerly belonging to her father, which is situated among rocky mountains, in the region called Thrymheim, but Njörd loved to reside near the sea. They at last agreed that they should pass together nine nights in Thrymheim and then three in Noátún. One day, when Njörd came back from the mountains to Noátún, he thus sang:-
"Of mountains I'm weary,
Not long was I there,
Not more than nine nights;
But the howl of the wolf
Methought sounded ill
To the song of the swan-bird."
"'To which Skadi sang in reply:-
"Ne'er can I sleep
in my couch on the strand,
For the screams of the sea-fowl.
The mew as he comes
Every morn from the main
Is sure to awake me."
"'Skadi then returned to the rocky mountains, and abode in Thrymheim. There, fastening on her snow-skates and taking her bow, she passes her time in the chase of savage beasts, and is called the Öndur goddess, or Öndurdís....'
"OF THE GOD FREY, AND THE GODDESS FREYJA.
"'Njörd had afterwards, at his residence at Nóatún, two children, a son named Frey, and a daughter called Freyja, both of them beauteous and mighty. Frey is one of the most celebrated of the gods. He presides over rain and sunshine, and all the fruits of the earth, and should be invoked in order to obtain good harvest, and also for peace. He, moreover, dispenses wealth among men. Freyja is the most propitious of the goddesses; her abode in the heaven is called Fólkváng. To whatever field of battle she rides, she asserts her right to one half of the slain, the other belonging to Odin....'
"'There is Tyr, who is the most daring and intrepid of all the gods. 'T is he who dispenses valor in war, hence warriors do well to invoke him. It has become proverbial to say of a man who surpasses all others in valor that he is Tyr-strong, or valiant as Tyr. A man noted for his wisdom is also said to be "wise as Tyr." Let me give thee a proof of his intrepidity. When the Æsir were trying to persuade the wolf, Fenrir, to let himself be bound up with the chain, Gleipnir, he, fearing that they would never afterwards unloose him, only consented on the condition that while they were chaining him he should keep Tyr's right hand between his jaws. Tyr did not hesitate to put his hand in the monster's mouth, but when Fenrir perceived that the Æsir had no intention to unchain him, he bit the hand off at that point, which has ever since been called the wolf's joint (úlflidr). From that time Tyr was had but one hand. He is not regarded as a peacemaker among men.
"OF THE OTHER GODS.
"'There is another god,' continues Har, 'named Bragi, who is celebrated for his wisdom, and more especially for his eloquence and correct forms of speech. He is not only eminently skilled in poetry, but the art itself is called from his name Bragr, which epithet is also applied to denote a distinguished poet or poetess. His wife is named Iduna. She keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnarök....
"'One of the gods is Heimdall, called also the White God. He is the son of nine virgins, who were sisters, and is a very sacred and powerful deity. He also bears the appellation of the Gold-toothed, on account of his teeth being of pure gold, and also that of Hallinskithi. His horse is called Gulltopp, and he dwells in Himinbjörg at the end of Bifröst. He is the warder of the gods, and is therefore placed on the borders of heaven, to prevent the giants from forcing their way over the bridge. He requires less sleep than a bird, and sees by night, as well as by day, a hundred miles around him. So acute is his ear that no sound escapes him, for he can even hear the grass growing on the earth, and the wool on a sheep's back. He has a horn called the Gjallar-horn, which is heard throughout the universe....
"'Among the Æsir,' continues Har, 'we also reckon Hödur, who is blind, but extremely strong. Both gods and men would be very glad if they never had occasion to pronounce his name, for they will long have cause to remember the deed perpetrated by his hand.
"'Another god is Vidar, surnamed the Silent, who wears very thick shoes. He is almost as strong as Thor himself, and the gods place great reliance on him in all critical conjunctures.
"'Vali, another god, is the son of Odin and Rinda; he is bold in war, and an excellent archer.
"'Another is called Ullur, who is the son of Sif, and stepson of Thor. He is so well skilled in the use of the bow, and can go so fast on his snow-skates, that in these arts no one can contend with him. He is also very handsome in his person, and possesses every quality of a warrior, wherefore it is befitting to invoke him in single combats.
"'The name of another god is Forseti, who is the son of Baldur and Nanna, the daughter of Nef. He possesses the heavenly mansion called Glitnir, and all disputants at law who bring heir cases before him go away perfectly reconciled....'
"OF LOKI AND HIS PROGENY.
"'There is another deity,' continued Har, 'reckoned in the number of the Æsir, whom some call the calumniator of the gods, the contriver of all fraud and mischief, and the disgrace of the gods and men. His name is Loki or Loptur. He is the son of the giant Farbauti.... Loki us handsome and well made, but of a fickle mood, and most evil disposition. He surpasses all beings in those arts called Cunning and Perfidy. Many a time has he exposed the gods to very great perils, and often extricated them again by his artifices....
"'Loki,' continued Har, 'has likewise had three children by Angurbodi, a giantess of Jötunheim. The first is the wolf Fenrir; second Jörmungand, the Midgard serpent; the third Hela (Death). The gods were not long ignorant that these monsters continued to be bred up in Jötunheim, and, having had recourse to divination, became aware of all the evils they would have to suffer from them; their being sprung from such a mother was a bad presage, and from such a sire, one still worse. All-father therefore deemed it advisable to send one of the gods to bring them to him. When they came he threw the serpent into that deep ocean by which the earth is engirdled. But the monster has grown to such an enormous size that, holding his tail in his mouth, he encircles the whole earth. Hela he cast into Niflheim, and gave her power over nine worlds (regions), into which she distributes those who are sent to her, that is to say, all who die through sickness or old age. Here she possesses a habitation protected by exceedingly high walls and strongly barred gates. Her hall is called Elvidnir; Hunger is her table: Starvation, her knife; Delay. her man: Slowness her maid: Precipice, her threshold; Care, her bed; and Burning Anguish forms the hangings of her apartments. The one half of her body is livid, the other half the color of human flesh. She may therefore easily be recognized; the more so, as she has a dreadfully stern and grim countenance.
"'The wolf Fenrir was bred up among the gods; but Tyr alone had the daring to go and feed him. Nevertheless, when the gods perceived that he every day increased prodigiously in size, an that the oracles warned them that he would one day become fatal to them, they determined to make a very strong iron fetter for him, which they called Læding. Taking this fetter to the wolf, they bade him try his strength on it. Fenrir, perceiving that the enterprise would not be very difficult for him, let them do what they pleased, and then, by great muscular exertion, burst the chain, and set himself at liberty. The gods, having seen this, made another fetter, half as strong again as the former, which they called Drómi, and prevailed on the wolf to put it on, assuring him that, by breaking this, he would give an undeniable proof of his vigor.
"'The wolf saw well enough that it would not be so easy to break this fetter, but finding at the same time that his strength had increased since he broke Læding, and thinking that he could never become famous without running some risk, voluntarily submitted to be chained. When the gods told him that they had finished their task, Fenrir shook himself violently, stretched his limbs, rolled on the ground, and at last burst his chains, which flew in pieces all around him. He thus freed himself from Drómi, which gave rise to the proverb "at leysa or læingi ea at drepa or dróma" (to get loose out of Læding, or to dash out of Drómi), when anything is to be accomplished by strong efforts.
"'After this, he gods despaired of ever being able to bind the wolf; wherefore All-father sent Skirnir, the messenger of Frey, into the country of the Dark Elves (Svartálfaheim) to engage certain dwarfs to make the fetter called Gleipnir. It was fashioned out of six things; to wit, the noise made by the footfall of a cat; the beards of women; the roots of stones; the sinews of bear; the breath of fish; and the spittle of birds. Though thou mayest not have heard of these things before, thou mayest easily convince thyself that we have not been telling thee lies. Thou must have seen that women have no beards, that cats make no noise when they run, and that there are no roots under stones. Now I know what has been told thee equally true, although there may be some things thou art not able to furnish proof of.'
"'I believe what thou hast told me to be true,' replied Gangler, 'for what thou hast adduced in corroboration of thy statement is conceivable. But how was the fetter smithied?'
"'This I can tell thee,' replied Har, 'that the fetter was as smooth and soft as a silken string, and yet, as thou wilt presently hear, of very great strength. When it was brought to the gods they were profuse in their thanks to the messenger for the trouble he had given himself; and taking the wolf with them to the island called Lyngvi, in the Lake Amsvartnir, they showed him the cord, and expressed their wish that he would try and break it, assuring him at the same time that it was somewhat stronger than its thinness would warrant a person in supposing it to be. They took it themselves, one after another, in their hands, and after attempting in vain to break it, said, "Thou alone, Fenrir, art able to accomplish such a feat."
"'"Methinks," replied the wolf, "that I shall acquire no fame in breaking such a slender cord: but if any artifice has been employed in making it, slender though it seems, it shall never come on my feet."
"'The gods assured him that he would easily break a limber silken cord, since he had already burst asunder iron fetters of the most solid construction. "But if thou shouldst not succeed in breaking it," they added, "thou art too weak to cause the gods any fear, and we will not hesitate to set thee at liberty without delay."
"'I fear me much," replied the wolf, "that if ye once bind me so fast that I shall be unable to free myself by my own efforts, ye will be in no haste to unloose me. Loath am I, therefore, to have this cord wound round me; but in order that ye may not doubt my courage, I will consent, provided one of you put his hand into my mouth as a pledge that ye intend me no deceit."
"'The gods wistfully looked at each other, and found that they had only the choice of two evils, until Tyr stepped forward and intrepidly put his right hand between the monster's jaws. Hereupom the gods, having tied up the wolf, he forcibly Stretched himself, as he had formerly done, and used all his might to disengage himself, but the more efforts he made, the tighter became the cord, until all the gods, except Tyr, who lost his hand, burst into laughter at the sight.
"'When the gods saw that the wolf was effectually bound, they took the chain called Gelgja, which was fixed to the fetter, and drew it through the middle of a large rock named Gjöll, which they sank very deep into the earth; afterwards, to make it still more secure, they fastened the end of the cord to a massive stone called Thviti, which they sank still deeper. The wolf made in vain the most violent efforts to break loose, and, opening his tremendous jaws, endeavored to bite them. The gods, seeing this, thrust a sword into his mouth, which pierced his under jaw up to the hilt, so that the point touched the palate. He then began to howl horribly, and since that time the foam flows continually from his mouth in such abundance that it forms the river called Von. There will he remain until Ragnarök.'"
There are also goddesses in the Valhalla, of whom the Edda mentions Frigga,
Saga, and many others.
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