TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Loke's Evil Progeny
Ironwood Brood--The Midgard-Serpent, Hel, and the Wolf--Odin's Acts of Vengeance--The Binding of Fenrer--Its Silk-like Chain--The Gulf of Black Grief--Its Island--How Tyr lost his Hand--Wolf-River Von--The Great Watchdog--Loke's Taunts--His Doom foretold--Human Sacrifices--The Runes of Tyr--Warriors' Sword Charm--Commander of the Valkyries.
Now by divination did Odin come to know that in Ironwood the Hag, Angerboda (Gulveig-Hoder) was rearing the dread progeny of Loke with purpose to bring disaster to the gods. Three monster children there were-Fenrer, the wolf; Jormungand, the Midgard serpent; and Hel. From these the Trolls are sprung.
Together the gods took counsel, and a Vala revealed dimly the fate that would be theirs if these monsters were not overcome, for the wolf, it was foretold, would slay Odin, Thor would fall in combat with the serpent, and Hel would come with the hosts of destruction against the gods and men.
So it was deemed of great import that the foul children of Loke and Angerboda should be brought to Asgard, and by Odin was Hermod sent to Ironwood to take them captive. That he did right speedily, bringing them one by one.
When Odin beheld the foul serpent, which was yet young, but of great length and very fierce, he seized it in his wrath and flung it far over the walls of Asgard.
Yet by reason of its terrible weight it did not pass beyond the world's edge, but fell into the depths of Ocean, where in after-days it grew and grew until it encircled the world of men. There on the sea bottom it lies, holding its tail in its mouth. When it shakes itself the waves rise in great fury and surge high upon the world's shores.
Next came Hel, and foul was she of aspect, for one-half of her body was of hue like to raw flesh, while the other was livid and horrible. In wrath did Odin seize her also, and he flung her afar. Beyond the edge of Ocean she went, falling through space, until she reached the black depths of Nifel-hel. There in the realms of torture became she a queen.
High are the walls and strongly barred the gates of her habitation, which is named Hel-heim and also Elvidner, the Place of Storm. The doomed have terror of her fearsome countenance, and of the place where she sits. About her are her servants, who do her will. Delay is her man servant and Slowness her maid servant; Hunger waits at her table, and her knife is Starvation. The threshold of Hel's home is Precipice, her bed is Care, while Burning Anguish forms the hangings of her apartment.
Unto Elvidner, as it hath been told, went the doomed ere they were committed to the realms of torture. By Hel were their punishments ordered according to the judgments passed upon them. And especially to her came trembling, warmen who died without valour and were unworthy, as did also those who were traitors in the hour of trial.
Now when the wolf Fenrer was brought to Odin, he sought not to destroy it. Indeed it was reared by the gods in Asgard; but when it grew large, it became so fierce that none save brave Tyr had courage to feed it. The day fell when Odin perceived that the wolf must needs be overcome, or else it would devour him. So prodigiously did it increase that there was terror in Asgard.
Then the gods caused to be made an iron chain which was named Leding. Tyr bore it to Fenrer, who knew well its purpose. Without resistance was it bound, and when that was done the gods were well pleased. Then rose Fenrer to struggle with the chain, which it snapped right speedily. So the wolf again went free, and grew more ferocious than ever.
Another chain, which was named Dromi, was thereafterwards made by the artisans of the gods. It had double the strength of Leding. Then went Tyr to the fierce wolf, and constrained it to be bound.
"If this chain by thee is burst," Tyr said, "then will thy mighty strength be proved indeed."
Well did the wolf know that the second chain was more powerful than the first, and that it could not easily be snapped. But much had Fenrer grown in bulk and in strength after Leding was broken. So the monster lay down, and, although somewhat afraid, allowed Tyr to fetter its legs. . . . The gods stood nigh and deemed the wolf secure forever. . . . They saw it rise and struggle fiercely without avail. Then it rolled upon the ground in monstrous strife, until at length the chain burst asunder and Fenrer was again free. More fierce than ever, and more terrible did the wolf become.
Thus had origin the proverb that men use in dire straits when they know that wondrous efforts must needs be made: "I must now get loose from Leding, and burst free out of Dromi".
In despair were the gods when they saw Fenrer again at liberty, and they feared he would never be bound.
Then did Odin give to Hermod his horse Sleipner, and him did the wise god send unto the Underworld, so that he might prevail upon the dark artisans of the gods to fashion the cord Gleipner, "the devourer".
Readily indeed did the cunning workers give Odin their service. Soft as silk was the cord they made, and light as air. When it was cast down it made no noise. Of six things was it made:
A mountain's root,
A bear's sinews,
The breath of fish,
A cat's footfall,
A woman's beard,
The spittle of birds.
"Of all these things thou mayest not have heard before," a skald has said, "yet a mountain hath no roots, fish breathe not, and cats make no noise when they run. Women have no beards, as thou hast seen.
Soft and smooth was the cord indeed but yet of exceeding great strength. Hermod bore it to Asgard with great speed, and by Odin was he thanked for his service.
Then did the gods challenge Fenrer to a supreme trial of strength. To the depths of Nifel-hel they went, and to the Gulf Amsvartner, which means "black grief". In the gulf is an island, and on the island a misty grove, with trees shaped from jets of water sent forth by boiling springs.
To the island did the gods take Fenrer, and they showed him there the cord Gleipner. Each of them in turn tried its strength but could not snap it.
"None but thee, O Fenrer, can break cord," Odin said.
The wolf answered: "Methinks no great fame can come to me from breaking such a cord, so light and slender does it seem."
Then with fierce eyes it spake thus: "If the cord is made with magic cunning, although it seems slender, never shall I permit it to bind my feet."
The gods answered, and said: "Surely Fenrer can burst asunder a cord both silken and light, when it hath already severed chains of iron."
The wolf made no answer, watching them sullenly with fiery eyes.
"If thou canst break this cord," Odin said, "then shall the gods know that they have no cause to fear thee, and then may well set thee at liberty."
The wolf answered sullenly, and said: "Much I fear that if I am fettered, and cannot free myself, thou shalt not haste to unloose me. Loath indeed am I to be bound with this cord. But I am not without courage. Know now that I shall give consent to be bound if a god but place his hand in my mouth, as a sure undertaking that ye practise no deceit towards me."
At one another the gods looked in silence. No choice had they between two evils, and they knew that the wolf must needs be bound.
Then stepped forth brave Tyr, the valiant god without fear, and between the fierce jaws of the monster wolf he placed his strong right hand. Thereupon the gods bound Fenrer with the soft silk-like cord of magic power. Securely they tied him; his legs they fettered so that he could not rise.
Holding Tyr's right hand in its jaws, the wolf then began to struggle with purpose to break free from the magic bonds. Great wrath possessed its heart because its efforts were vain. No loop could be displaced, nor knot unloosed. On its back and on its side it struggled in vain, for the more it sought to be free, the tighter became the cords. Blood streamed from Tyr's hand, and in the end Fenrer gnawed it off at the wrist.
When the gods perceived that the wolf was bound indeed, all of them save Tyr shook with great laughter.
A gallow-chain, named Gelgja, was then fixed to the cord, and the gods drew it through a black rock named Gjoll, which was sunk deep in the earth. The other end of the cord they tied to Thviti, a great boulder, which was buried still deeper. The wolf was then so well secured that it could not move. Yet it snapped its jaws, endeavouring to sever chains and cord; and, perceiving this, the gods thrust in its evil mouth a great sword. It pierced the under jaw up to the very hilt, and the point touched the monster's palate.
Then did the wolf's struggles come to an end, and horribly did it howl. Foam streamed from its mouth, and a roaring cascade began to fall, which ever after fed the great and turbulent River Von.
To guard the island of the Gulf of Black Grief the gods bound there, nigh to Loke's monster son, the great watchdog Garm, which is greater than Hate-Managarm, the moon devourer, so that it might bark with loud alarm if Fenrer broke free. There, too, beside the fettered wolf, was Loke bound in after days.
Now when Loke fell to dispute with Tyr he said: "Thy two hands thou canst not use, since thy right one was taken from thee by the wolf."
To him did Tyr make answer: "A hand I lack, but thou, O Loke, dost lack a good reputation. That is indeed a great defect. But the wolf fares not well.
On the island of the Gulf of Black Grief it shall pine, in fetters until the world's end."
Loke was angered and spoke bitterly. "Thy wife", he said, "loves me."
Frey cried: "Silence, thou mischief maker! I see Fenrer, thy offspring, lying fettered at the source of Von, where it shall remain until the gods perish and all things have end. If thy tongue is not silent, then shalt thou be bound also."
It was then that Loke taunted Frey for giving unto the giant Gymer the Sword of Victory as a gift for Gerd.
Wroth was Bygver, who served Frey, when he heard the words that Loke uttered. He it was who ground the barley for those who give honour to his master, the god of harvests.
"Were I the honoured Frey," he said unto Loke, "I would grind thee finer than sand, thou evil crow! I would crush thee limb by limb."
But Loke turned, with wrinkling lips and cold disdain, and said: "What child is this? What parasite starts up before me? Ever in Frey's hearing he clatters from under the millstone."
"My name is Bygver," the servant answered, "and by gods and men am I called nimble."
Loke answered: "Be silent, Bygver! never couldst thou divide fairly food between men. Ugly indeed is thy slave wife Beyla, who is ever filthy with dust and dirt."
Valiant was Tyr, whose sire was Odin and whose mother was a beauteous giantess of the deep. Brave men honoured him, and by Saxons was he called Saxnot. With Odin did heroes name him ere they entered battle, and when they were victorious they offered up to Tyr burnt sacrifices of war prisoners. On earth his temple symbol was the sun-flashing sword which he wielded, and on the swords of warriors were his runes graven. Thus hath a skald sung:
The runes of Tyr give victory
And these we needs must lilt
When on the guard a sword we rist,
Or on the blazing hilt.
When we the magic words engrave,
Twice name we Tyr, the wise, the brave.
Tyr was commander of Odin's wish maidens, the Valkyries, who bore to Valhal the sword-slain battle warriors.
With great Thor did Tyr go forth when he contended against the giant Hymer and the Midgard serpent. Of that great enterprise the story must now be told.