TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Fall of Asgard
Vengeance of the Gods--Burning of the Hag--War of the Gods--Skade leaves Njord--Mimer is slain--The Vans before Asgard--The Strategy of Njord--How Sleipner was captured--A Spy in Asgard--Odin's Gate burst Open--Invaders Victorious--Flight of Asa--Gods--The War in Midgard--The Sons of Halfdan--Odin rescues Hadding--Loke's Evil Designs--Giants in Conflict--Defeat of Hadding--How the Dead spoke--A Dread Curse--Forest Peril--The Great Hand--Death of Giant Maid--Heimdal protects Hadding.
THE gods marvelled greatly at the disasters which had befallen them, and they sat in council together to discover how Freyja had been lured from Asgard, and who had plotted to work this evil.
Suspicion fell upon Loke's wife, Aurboda-Gulveig-Hoder, the Hag of Ironwood, who dwelt among the gods in the guise of a maid-attendant to Freyja. Wife she was also to Gymer, who had become possessed of the Sword of Victory, and her son was Beli, "the howler", whom Frey had slain. So well did she act her part, while she schemed to work evil, that among the maids none seemed fairer or more faithful. Many missions did she perform for Freyja. Once, indeed, she was sent to confer divine favour upon mortals. A king and queen had long been married, and they had no children.
Prayers they offered up to Freyja, and sacrifices made they that an heir to the kingdom might be theirs. In compassion were they heard, and Aurboda was sent earthwards by Freyja in the guise of a crow, bearing with her the fruit of fertility from the branches of Ygdrasil. When the queen partook of it, her desire was fulfilled, and in due season an heir was born, whereat there was great rejoicing in the kingdom.
Thus Aurboda 1 had fair repute in Asgard despite her evil character--she who was mother of the wolves that pursue sun and moon; she who was Hag of Eastern Winds which bear the burden of her fearsome song and drive fair vessels into the very jaws of Ęgir, the storm-god of western ocean.
When the gods came to know she was indeed the Mother of Evil, and had lured Freyja from her secure abode, they were moved with great wrath and with horror against her. They found, too, that it was dread Aurboda who had filled the air with witchcraft and wrought evil spells that enchanted both gods and men. Black sorcery did she practise to stir up the evil passions with which Loke had endowed human kind.
Thor sprang up in the High Thingstead of the gods and went forth hastily to find her. By him was she seized and struck down. Then the gods burned her as punishment for her witchcraft. A great pyre they reared in Valhal, and they spitted her body with their spears, holding it over the flames until it was consumed. But she came to life again. Thrice they burned her and thrice was she restored, for evil is hard to destroy. The third time they flung her ashes away, but her heart, which is the seat of life, was but half-burned, and Loke found it and swallowed it. Thereafter he partook in still greater measure of the evil character of the Hag, who, however, came to life the third time in Ironwood, where she must ever dwell despite the vengeance of the gods and their wrathful desire to destroy her. But Asgard she could never again enter.
Now the Hag was the mother of Gerd, the giant maid whom Frey the Vana-god had married. As kinswoman of one of their clan she was under the protection of the Vana-gods, although, like the Asa-gods, they had fear and hatred of her witchcraft. They therefore began to dispute with the Asa-clan because the Hag had been burned. Long and loud the quarrel waged, but suddenly it was brought to an end by Odin, who flung his spear into their midst to signify that the war of words must end and the war of arms ensue.
Thus was the breach between the gods accomplished by the fearsome Hag.
On earth, too, was a conflict begun between the tribes of men. Thus came to be waged, as skalds have sung, "the first great war in the world". Whereat the primeval cold heart of "the old one in the Ironwood" was made glad. With her rejoiced Egther, "the sword-guardian", who is also named Gymer, and is shepherd of her foul herds. On the Day of Vengeance, when Surtur prepares to issue forth, Egther shall be visited by Fjalar-Suttung, in the guise of the red cock of Hela, to obtain from him the Sword of Victory with which to slay the gods.
Now when the Vans became hostile to the Asa-gods, they issued forth from Asgard. With them went Njord. Skade, his wife, refused to dwell any more with him when she found she had no longer need to fear the Asa-gods. She wearied of the western seashore, for she loved Thrym-heim, the domain of Thjasse-Volund, her father, with its serene mountains and wide plains and forests of oak. For nine days and nine nights would Njord go with her to the mountains, and then for a time would she dwell with him beside the loud-voiced sea. Njord hated Thrym-heim as she did Noatun, and with heavy heart he sang:
I am weary of the mountains,
The barren plains and lone,
And dismal chasms of the winds
Where fettered demons groan;
I am weary of the forests
And the wolves that howl by night,
For I love the singing of the swans
Upon the ocean bright,
The flash of oars on boundless seas
And billows plunging white.
In the kingdom of Njord did Skade sing:
O never mine eyes are closed in sleep
On my lonesome couch by the sea,
For the clamour the restless seagulls keep
Is weary and strange to me.
I pine for my mountains free, and the woods,
For the snow-clad plains and the chase;
And I hate the cold-lipped shore that broods
In the shifting sea's embrace.
So Skade parted with Njord and went towards her ancient home, from which she never returned. When the star-eyes of Thjasse-Volund are gleaming bright in heaven, and winds are abroad, she runs on her skees adown steep mountain slopes; and with her arrows and her spear she hunts the bear and the wolf in dim forests and over snow-white plains.
Mighty Njord was leader of the Vans in their war against the Asa-gods. And to the Vans was it given to triumph. In sore plight were Odin and his strong warriors, for the Sword of Victory was no longer theirs, and the hammer of Thor had been broken. Yet with indomitable courage did Thor and brave Tyr and all the gods of Odin's clan defend Asgard. Loke usurped Honer, for he desired to rule over the Vana-gods.
Mimer, in the Underworld, was ever faithful unto Odin. So the Vana-gods slew him, and to Odin they sent his head, and the great Asa-god embalmed it. Then sang he sacred runes, so that in after time Odin spake with Mimer's head, and heard words of wisdom from it, and received guidance as of old. Honer was sent unto Mimer's realm, where he spoke without confidence or clear knowledge, but he had not chosen his part.
Asgard fell, and by cunning strategy was it taken. Unscathed by the vafer-flames did the Vans cross its fearsome river, for Njord burst open the mighty gate with his great battleaxe and caused it to fall. So did the Vans achieve gigantic triumph.
It was thus that the gods were overcome. Before Asgard their foes assembled, and skirmishings there were when Odin's warriors issued forth. On a silent evening the gate was lowered, so that it bridged the river, and a god rode forth upon Sleipner. But in ambush was he taken by Njord, and he leapt from his horse and hastened back to Asgard, crossing the bridge, which was hastily raised again. But Sleipner was captured, whereat there was sorrow and deep foreboding in Asgard.
Next morning the gods found Odin's horse outside the gate, and they rejoiced and took it within. The robes of Njord they saw also in the river, and what they thought to be his dead body, so they deemed themselves secure.
But Njord was already in Asgard. He had gone to the river, horsed on Sleipner, in the darkness of night. There he slew his attendant and wrapped his own kingly robes about him, throwing the body into the dread waters.
Whereupon he crossed over on Sleipner, unscathed by the vafer-flames, scaled the great wall, and concealed himself within the High Thingstead of the gods.
When he came to know of the gods' plans, and perceived that he had naught to fear, he crept forth and struck the gate with his battleaxe. Across the river it fell like a bridge, and over it surged the conquering Vana-gods. Thus did they become possessed of Asgard, the celestial city.
Njord was chief of heroes, and with him fought Frey and Ull, the warlike son of Sith, and Svipdag, Freyja's husband. Frigg espoused the cause of the Vana-gods, her kinsmen, and remained in Asgard. 2
Odin made swift escape on the back of Sleipner, and Thor yoked his goats, and in his thundering car departed with those who remained faithful to his sire. Thus were the Asa-gods bereft of their power, and thus became the Vana-gods the world-rulers in Asgard. Ull was chosen as the chief, and to him did mortals offer up prayers and sacrifices.
Then did wicked men, by reason of great offerings which they made, seek to win Hela's secure abode.
While the war was waged about Asgard there were mighty conflicts in Midgard, for Halfdan's tribe sought to be avenged on the tribe of Svipdag. But ere the tale of the battles be told it must needs be known how the war upon earth came to be.
When Halfdan was wounded unto death, in the great fight in which Svipdag overcame Thor with the Sword of Victory, his forces were driven hither and thither. He had two sons Hadding, whose mother was Signe-Alveig, and Gudhorm, whose mother was Groa. They were in great peril when Halfdan died, and Thor carried them unto Jotun-heim. Gudhorm he gave to the giant Halfe, and Hadding to the giant Vagnhofde, so that they might be cared for until they became great warriors.
When the Vans conquered Asgard, Loke sought to win their favour. He perceived that they were scorned by Hadding's tribe, whom Saxons called "the Heardings", and he laid snares against Hadding. But there came to Hadding one day a tall old man with one eye, who rode a great horse. He lifted Halfdan's son into his saddle, and round the lad he wrapped his cloak. Then he set off with him. So swiftly did the horse travel, and yet so smoothly, that the lad was curious to know whither they were going. There was a small hole in the horseman's mantle, and when Hadding peered through he saw the wide ocean far beneath and the clouds about him. Fear filled his heart and he trembled, and the rider bade him to look not forth again, For it was Odin who had rescued Hadding, and he bore him to the place of refuge which the gods had selected when they were driven out of Asgard.
Odin trained Halfdan's soil to become a great leader of men. Over him he sang magical incantations which had power to free him from fetters and chains. He also gave him to drink of the Splendid Draught, which was called "Leifner's Flames". Its virtue was such that it imparted to Hadding strength beyond that of all men, and bravery that was unequalled. Then did Odin warn him that he would soon have need to use his powers against his enemies.
Hadding returned on Odin's horse, as he had come, to the home of the giant Vagnhofde. But soon he fell into Loke's snare. The evil god seized him and chained him in a forest, as Svipdag had been chained by Halfdan, so that he might become the prey of wild beasts. Guards were set over him to prevent his escape. But when these allies of Loke kept watch, Halfdan sang an incantation which Odin had taught him, and they fell into a magic sleep. A great wolf came towards him to tear his body to pieces, and he sang the incantation which makes free, and his chains and fetters fell from him. Then he attacked the wolf and killed it, and its heart he did eat. With the might and ferocity of the wolf was Hadding then endowed, and the guards he slew, and went upon his way.
He returned to the giants' home, and prepared to depart so that he might raise his tribe to battle against the tribe of Svipdag. Now Hardgrep, the giant's daughter, loved him and besought him not to leave her. She had power to change her shape. Now she had stature which reached to the stars, and anon she was of human size. In vain did she remonstrate with Hadding because he scorned her love and sought to follow arms, thirsting for throats.
But although at length she gained his love as a comely maid, he had still resolve to be gone. So she attired herself as a male warrior and went with him.
Then did Svipdag come from Asgard, and he sought to make peace with the sons of Halfdan. To both he offered kingdoms, and his half-brother Gudhorm, son of Groa, he made ruler over the Danes. But Hadding refused his favours, and with anger and fierce scorn he vowed that he would avenge his father's death and take no favour from the hands of his enemy. Until his life's purpose was fulfilled he vowed to cut neither hair nor beard, and long were both and very fair. It was thus that he was called Hadding, "the hairy"
His eastern tribe of Swedes did the young warrior raise to battle against Svipdag's tribe and their allies, and war he declared against his brother Gudhorm, King of the Danes. Between the two brothers did Loke work much evil. As a blind man he went to Hadding with words his brother uttered, and with Gudhorm he was Bikke, a leader of his army.
So the brothers fought one against another. To Gudhorm's aid went Halfe, the giant who had nourished him, and to Hadding's went Vagnhofde. Svipdag's Scandian tribe fought with the Danes.
On the night before the battle the opposing armies beheld the great hairless giants contending in mid-air, the starlight gleaming on their bald, horrible heads. Monstrous were the efforts of these foul gigantic warriors. When the dread conflict was ended, victory was with Halfe.
On the morrow did Loke set in cunning battle array the forces of Gudhorm, which triumphed on the field as Halfe had in mid-air.
The eastern Swedes were scattered, and Hadding became a fugitive in the woods. With him was Hardgrep, the giant's daughter, who was a constant protection to him. Great hardships did they endure together, and they were ofttimes in peril.
But her aid he was doomed to lose. One night they entered a lonely dwelling to seek hospitality, and there they found that the master of the house was lying dead. His funeral rites were being performed. Now, it was Hardgrep's desire to peer into the future, and she took a piece of wood and on it engraved magic runes, which she caused Hadding to place under the dead man's tongue, so that he might speak.
Angry, indeed, was the spirit thus compelled to make utterance. Nor did it reveal what was sought, but cursed the worker of the spell. Terrible was the voice that spoke and said: "Cursed be the one who dragged me back from the Underworld! Let her perish by the demon who called a spirit out of bale!"
Then fled from the house Hadding and Hardgrep and sought refuge in the deep forest. Over the narrow path of a grove they made a shelter with branches of trees and concealed themselves there. In the middle of the night a rustling was heard in their secret dwelling, and a Great Black Hand was perceived to move about, groping with iron fingers for its prey.
Hadding was stricken with terror, and he awakened Hardgrep and besought her to rescue him. Swiftly rose the giant-maid, and she assumed great stature to defend her lover. With strength of her kind she clutched the Great Hand round the wrist, and bade Hadding strike it with his sword. Many blows did he give, seeking to hew it off, and his blade rang noisily against the hard flesh.
Blood flowed from the wounds he made, but more venom than blood came forth.
Then suddenly was Hardgrep caught by the Hand, which clutched her in terrible embrace. Into her flesh sank the sharp claws, and her bones were crushed, and she sank in death in the sheltered dwelling. Whereat the Great Hand vanished.
Hadding was now alone and in great peril, for demons compassed him about in the dark forest.
But Odin, in his compassion, sent forth Lyfir, "the shining one", who was Heimdal in human guise, to protect the warrior in his loneliness. Him did Hadding meet as a rover, and a bond of friendship they made together by sprinkling one another's feet with their blood.
Soon again did Hadding appear in the east, leading his hosts to battle.
1 Also Angerboda.
2 Hence the Heimskringla story of Odin going a long journey, and the wooing of Frigg by his brothers, who thought he would never return.