TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Triumph of Love
Freyja and Frey in Captivity--Svipdag's Promise--Food of Wisdom--Voyage to Jotun-heim--Beli, "The Howler"--The Brothers Grep--God and Goddess under Enchantments--Svipdag and Ull in Giant's Castle--Freyja Rescued--The Shame of Frey--Freyja deserted--Her Wanderings--How the Spell was broken--Return to Asgard--Idun is lost--Loke and the Eagle--His Promise--The Angered Gods--Idun rescued--Thjasse--Volund slain--Svipdag climbs Bif-rost--The Wolf Dogs on Watch--Odin's Warnings--Glimpse of Asgard's Beauties--Lovers meet--The Sword of Victory--Gods and Elves reconciled.
WHEN Svipdag had triumphed over Halfdan he returned to Sith, remembering the promise he had made to rescue Freyja and Frey from the castle of the giant who held them in captivity. Then he prepared to set out with Ull, his stepbrother, towards the giants' country--cold and darksome Jotun-heim. But ere he went, Sith made for the twain the food of wisdom with the fat of three serpents, so that they might be rendered able to perform their long and perilous journey. Of the magic food did Svipdag secure the better portion for himself.
They had need to cross a great magic sea on which dread tempests roared and whirlpools and treacherous currents were an ever-present danger. When far from shore the storm-giant came against him, but Svipdag overcame him in combat. Protected by the incantations of Groa did Svipdag with Ull make the voyage in safety, until they reached a harbour nigh to the bleak castle of Beli, "the howler", in which Freyja and Frey were imprisoned.
Three sons of the giant met them on the strand. Each of them had Grep for name, and one, who was a skald, desired to have Freyja for his bride. With Svipdag and Ull he entered into angry dispute, and sought to prevail upon them to return from whence they came. But this they scorned to do, and in the end the giants retreated from the strand.
Then went Svipdag and Ull towards the castle to seek for Freyja and Frey. The giants were filled with anger, and sought to affright the young heroes by howling like beasts and bellowing like the storm-god. The clamour they made was indeed fearsome, and none but brave hearts could have ventured to make entry to that place of horror.
Within the court Frey and Freyja came to meet them. and they were surrounded by giant attendants. Svipdag greeted Freyja with a kiss, and she knew that she would become his bride.
But enchantments had been put upon her and upon Frey by the giants. They had been given to drink the potion of forgetfulness, so that they had but vague memory of the past, while deep discontent and haunting misery were their dower. Frey had deep shame upon him, and he sought nor flight nor expected happiness any more. In dark despair he lived within the strong castle of Beli.
Freyja was pale and sorrow stricken. In her heart was keen loathing, which tortured her, against the Grep who would fain be her favoured suitor. Her golden locks were twisted hard above her forehead, for Beli had thus punished her when he took her captive. In vain she had endeavoured to comb them and win back her extreme beauty, but the spell that was put upon her she could not break. Her eyes were vacant and sad. She rejoiced not that Svipdag and Ull had come to rescue her, for her heart was cold and passionless.
Svipdag and Ull entered the wide hall of the castle amidst the bestial howlings of the dread giants. A great fire burned there because of the bitter cold that prevailed.
With the giants they sat at feast, and Frey was on a high seat with pale, unhappy face, while the giants sang loudly and drank deeply about him.
Now deeply were these fierce furies incensed against Svipdag and Ull, whom they sought to overcome and put to death. In sharp dispute they engaged. At length, the Grep who wooed Freyja flung himself upon Svipdag, but Ull cut him down with his sword and slew him. Then many fought against Egil's sons, but they were driven back.
In the end the heroes prevailed upon Freyja to flee with them, but on Frey they could not prevail, for so deeply did he feel his shame that he could not again appear, he said, before the gods in Asgard.
To Svipdag was Freyja cold and indifferent, nor did she ever raise her eyes to look at him or open her lips to speak. When they had crossed the magic sea, they set out to climb the great mountains towards Orvandel's home, where Sith awaited them; but Freyja showed neither joy nor gratitude at her escape from the giants.
Then was the heart of Svipdag filled with anger, and he left Freyja to wander alone. She went towards a desolate land which was the abode of giantesses, and was found by one, who took her for a slave to tend her goats. But Svipdag repented, and when his anger passed away he went again in search of Freyja, for his heart was moved with deep tenderness towards her.
From the giantess he rescued her, and they went together on their way. But that great Hag followed quickly, and swift was the flight of the lovers, running on skees. Nearer and more near came the monster, but suddenly the sun rose over the mountains, and she was turned into a great boulder at the sea's edge.
In Freyja's heart there was yet no gratitude, because of the spells that were upon her. Nor answer would she make when Svipdag spoke, nor would she gaze in his eyes to reward him. One brief look was all he desired, and yet she stared upon the ground disconsolate and silent.
Again did Svipdag wax wroth and leave her to wander alone; and she went down among the rocks. Then took she the guise of a bird and flew over the mountains and over the river that separates that wild country from the land in which Svipdag had his dwelling. She reached the house of Orvandel. To Sith, who recognized her not, she said that she was a poor woman who had no home, and she was received with welcome.
But Svipdag knew her and claimed her for his bride, and a wedding feast was set, and the marriage oath sworn in solemnity and state. Yet was Freyja cold and passionless. To the bridal chamber they went, and in her hand Freyja held a candle. She stood motionless before Svipdag until the candle burned low; and when the flame stung her hand, Svipdag spoke words of warning. But Freyja felt not the pain because of the greater pain within her heart.
Then was the spell broken by fire, and she raised her face and looked with eyes of love upon him who had rescued her. Thus had Svipdag his exceeding great reward.
Click to enlarge
From the painting by N. J. O. Blommér
But Freyja vanished from before him, and in falcon-guise she soared to Asgard, undefiled and pure, and was received with rejoicing by the gods. Then did Svipdag take his Sword of Victory and set forth towards Asgard to win Freyja.
But a sorrow no greater than when Freyja was lured away had fallen upon Asgard because the goddess Idun was lost. For it was she who had in her keeping the golden apples of eternal youth. In her fast-shut casket she kept them, and for each one she drew forth another took its place. From the apples did the gods receive immortality, and when Idun was taken away they began to grow old. Well they knew that both giants and trolls had much desire to rob the golden apples from Asgard. So they were sore troubled, fearing that disaster would fall speedily upon them. On evil Loke did suspicion fall, and when Odin challenged him, for Idun had last been seen in company with him, he confessed that he had delivered her to Thjasse-Volund, her brother, who had forged the Sword of Victory so that the gods might be overcome.
'Twas thus it fell that Idun was taken from Asgard. One day there went forth together on a journey Odin and Honer and Loke. It was their desire to visit the country of Ivalde and his sons, beside Hvergelmer and the rivers Evilagar, so as to cause the conflict to have end. Thjasse-Volund, who had escaped from the bonds of Mimer in the guise of an eagle, had knowledge of their coming and waited for them. In a valley of oaks the gods rested. There they saw grazing a herd of bears, and one they caught on which to feast, for they hungered and were weary. The bear they slew, and when a fire was kindled they roasted it for their feast. Near by lay a magic rod which Thjasse-Volund had forged with intent to wreak his vengeance upon the gods, and especially Loke.
Then a great eagle came towards them, and the gods knew it was Thjasse-Volund who had dominion there.
Hard was the bear to carve, for Ivalde's son had put enchantments upon it, and of this had Odin full knowledge. So he addressed Thjasse and said: "Why hast thou done this, thou maker of ornaments in eagle guise?"
Thjasse said that he desired his share. Odin had not, however, any knowledge of the evil intent of the eagle, and consented that he should divide the meal with them. Whereupon Thjasse flew down and sought to take so large a share that Loke, in his wrath, seized the magic rod to strike at him. When he did that he was in the eagle's power. He could not unclasp his hands from the rod, and the other end was fixed in the claws of the eagle, which flew high, carrying Loke with him. In vain did he seek to be released, and over the oak trees was he dragged and sorely beaten until he was near to being torn to pieces. Loke was heavy and the eagle sank to the ground. Then Loke offered Thjasse any ransom he would demand if he would but let him escape, for he was compelled to plead for his life.
Thjasse demanded his sister Idun, who had been taken away by Loke when the sons of Ivalde were the willing servants of the gods. Loke promised to deliver her to him secretly, and was then released by his dread captor. The gods returned to Asgard together, and evil Loke fulfilled his promise, nor gave Odin knowledge of his doings.
Thus it came that when he made confession of his deed the gods were moved to anger against him, and threatened to put him to death. But Loke made vows to restore Idun to Asgard, and flew forth towards the dominion of Thjasse-Volund in the bird-guise of Freyja.
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IDUN AND THE APPLES
From the painting by J. Doyle Penrose, R.H.A. By permission of the artist
The loss of Idun had dread effect in Midgard as in Asgard. Cold winds blew from the north. The power of the Frost-giants increased, and they swarmed southward in great hosts. Halfdan, they knew, was slain, and that the gods had loss of power because that Idun had been taken away. Icy arrows were shot over the earth, killing man and beast and each thing that grew. The heavens were disturbed. Nearer sun and moon crept the giant wolves. From Urd's fountain was slowly departing the power to give warmth to the World-tree Ygdrasil. Out of Jotun-heim. rose songs of rejoicing and vengeance that were heard in Asgard, and the gods, growing old, feared that the end of all things was drawing very nigh. To Mimer's grove were sent swift messengers, so that from the Norris might be received knowledge of the world's fate and that of the gods.
So did gods and men suffer because Idun, the goddess of regeneration, was taken away. The death-cold storm-spears were turned against gods and men. The murder-frost held Midgard with iron grasp.
Idun was found by Loke in Thjasse's dwelling, and he put enchantments upon her and she became a nut. Then he flew with her in his claws towards Asgard. But ere he set off, Loke, the tempter, made known to Thjasse what he had done, and challenged him to follow. In eagle-guise angry Thjasse pursued the god. So swiftly did he fly that he came very nigh to Loke ere yet he had reached the safety of Asgard. Then he flew midst the vafer-flames in the kindling vapour cloud, and fell scorched within the walls. Thor seized his hammer, which Sindre had again forged, and slew him. Thus did Thjasse-Volund, who had shaped the Sword of Victory, fall in his shame and perish because of Loke's evil doings.
Meanwhile in Asgard did Freyja await the coming of Svipdag, whom she loved; and him the gods awaited also, because he carried the Sword of Victory.
Svipdag's heart was filled with longing for Freyja, nor could he sleep or rest until he found her. The protection of Groa's incantations was still upon him, and it was Urd's will that he should reach Asgard. So he went again on a perilous journey. Unto Hela he went, over bleak tremendous mountains and through storms and blinding mist, until he reached the foundations of Bif-rost. Heimdal, the shining sentinel, beheld him as he stepped upon the Bridge of the Gods with the gleaming Sword of Victory girdled by his side. But no warning did he sound, for it was the will of Odin that Freyja's lover should stand before the gate of Asgard. So Svipdag ascended until he beheld the ramparts of the celestial city. There he perceived Odin nor knew who he was.
Roughly did the god receive his greetings. "This", he said, "is no place for beggars; return by the moist ways whence you came."
But Svipdag remonstrated, and claimed hospitality, being a weary traveller, and Odin made answer again that he could not enter, although less harshly, for the noble bearing of the youth gave pleasure to his eyes.
"From here, cried Svipdag, "I cannot turn my eyes away because of its exceeding great beauty. Here would I find happiness and peace."
"Who art thou?" Odin asked.
"My name," said Svipdag, "is Windcold, and I am the son of Springcold, whose sire was Very-cold."
Now Svipdag had caught a radiant glimpse of Asgard's beauties. He saw its halls of glittering gold, and especially the Hall of Gladness, which is the dwelling of Freyja, and is nigh to the gate. He also beheld Freyja, whom he loved, sitting on the flower-decked Rock of Joy, which gives health to those who seek it with prayer. She was surrounded by her maids--Eil, the healer; Hlif, the protectress; Bjort, the shining; Blid, the blithe; and Frid, the fair--they had power to give healing to men and women who called upon them from Midgard and offered up sacrifices. Freyja was silent and in deep thought. Like a graven statue she sat in virgin beauty, blue-eyed with golden hair--she who has care of lovelorn maidens and mothers and their babes. She wore her gleaming necklace which the elf-smiths had made with sparkling jewels of the sky and bright spring-flowers, for the fair goddess was "The Lover of Ornaments".
Freyja sat beneath the branches of Ygdrasil, and these Svipdag beheld with wonder. He saw its magical fruit, and in the branches sat the cock Goldcomb, with feathers of gleaming gold.
Svipdag turned his eyes upon Asgard's wondrous gate, and saw before it the two great wolf-dogs which kept watch by night and by day, for when one slept the other was awake. They had power to kill giants and put to flight through the air the flying trolls that came against Asgard in the darkness.
"Can a stranger enter?" the young hero asked of Odin.
"No stranger can come within," the god made answer, "unless he brings with him the Sword of Victory."
"How can the dogs be passed?" asked Svipdag.
Odin made reply that no one could pass the dogs unless he could give them to eat of the flesh upon the legs of Goldcomb.
When Svipdag asked how the cock which sat on the World-tree could be killed, Odin said that there was but one sword with which it could be slain, and it had been kept in Hela's cave, nor could it be obtained from the watchman unless he were given the ankle bones of Goldcomb.
"Can no man enter the city and go unto Freyja?" the hero asked.
"No man can enter," was Odin's answer, "save Svipdag."
"Then open the gates," the hero cried, "for I am he. Svipdag has come to seek for Freyja."
Then he crossed the river unscathed by vafer-flame, for the gates of Asgard flew open. The dogs fawned to him and bayed joyous welcome.
From the rock on which she sat hastened Freyja, and when she knew that it was indeed Svipdag who had come, she cried: "Welcome, my lover! Now is my great desire fulfilled. Long have I waited, sitting on the rock, looking for you by day and by night. All my desires are indeed fulfilled because you are once again by my side."
'Twas thus that Svipdag entered Asgard, bearing with him the Sword of Victory which had been forged to bring ruin to the gods. Love had triumphed over hate, and the designs of Loke were thwarted, for Svipdag had Freyja for his wife and the sons of Ivalde were reconciled to the gods.
Then was Ull brought to Asgard, and Sith also. The eyes of Thjasse-Volund were placed in heaven to shine as stars, and Orvandel, who was dead, was also raised among the star-heroes.
Meanwhile Njord had journeyed to Jotun-heim, where he rescued from the giant's castle his son Frey. In his wrath did Frey kill Beli, "the howler", with a stag's horn which he plucked from the wall when the spells that bound him were taken off.
To Frey was given by Svipdag the Sword of Victory, and the joy of peace fell upon Asgard when he returned.
But still the Hag abode among the gods in the guise of a maid who sat at Freyja's feet. It was fated that she would cause yet another and greater war in Asgard and in Midgard ere her power would be overcome.