Edited and expanded by William
Reaves, further edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiđson
Copyright © William Reaves
Gerd's mother is, in Hyndlaljod 30, called Aurboda and is the wife of the giant Gymir:
(Ben Thorpe translation) "Frey had to wife Gerd, she was Gymir's daughter, from Jotuns sprung and Aurboda."
It can in fact be demonstrated that Aurboda is identical with Gullveig-Heid. The evidence is given below in two divisions; evidence that Gullveig-Heid is identical with Angrboda, "the old one in the Ironwood"; and evidence that Gullveig-Heid-Angrboda is identical with Aurboda, Gerd's mother.
Hyndlaljod 40, 41 says:
(Thorpe) "Loki begat the wolf with Aurboda, but Sleipnir he begat with Svadilfari. One monster seemed of all most deadly which up from Byleist's brother sprang."
(Lee Hollander, Translation) "A half-burnt heart which he had found--It was a woman's--- ate wanton Loki; with child he grew from the guileful woman (literally; "evil bride"), Thence are on earth all ogres (flagd) sprung."
From the account we see that an evil female being (ill kona) had been burnt, but that the flames were not able to destroy the seed of life in her nature. Her heart had not been burned through or changed to ashes. It was only half-burnt (hŕlfsvidinn hugsteinn) and in this condition it had been thrown away with the other remains of the cremated woman, for Loki finds and swallows the heart.
Our ancient ancestors looked upon the heart as the seat of the life principle, of the
soul of living beings. A number of linguistic phrases are founded on the idea that
goodness and evil, kindness and severity, courage and cowardice, joy and sorrow, are
connected with the character of the heart; sometimes we find hjarta used entirely in the
sense of the soul, as in the expression hold ok hjarta, body and soul. So long as the
heart in a dead body had not gone into decay, it was believed that the principle of
life dwelling therein still was able, under peculiar circumstances, to operate on the
limbs and exercise an influence on its environment, particularly if the dead person in
life had been endowed with a will at once evil and powerful. In such cases it was regarded
as important to pierce the heart of the dead with a pointed spear (cp. Saxo,
The half-burnt heart, accordingly contains the evil woman's soul and its influence upon Loki, after he swallowed it, is most remarkable. Once before when he bore Sleipnir with the giant horse Svadilfari, Loki had revealed an androgynous nature. So does he now. The swallowed heart redevelops the feminine in him (Loki lindi af brendu hjarta); Loki became the possessor of the evil woman (kvidugr af konu illri) and became the father of children from which the trolls (flagd) are come.
First among the children is mentioned Fenrir, and which in Ragnarok shall cause the death of the Asafather. ...The woman possessing the half-burnt heart, who is the mother, or rather the father of the wolf, is called Angrboda (ól ulf Loki vid Angrbodu). N.M. Peterson and other mythologists have rightly seen that she is the same one as "the Old One," who in historical times and until Ragnarok dwells in the Ironwood and there "fosters Fenrir's kinsman" (Völuspa 39), her own offspring, which, at the close of this period are to issue from the Ironwood and break into Midgard and dye its citadels with blood (Völuspa 30).
The fact that Angrboda now dwells in the Ironwood, although on a former occassion nothing more remained of her than a half-burnt heart, proves that the attempt to destroy her with fire was unsuccessful, and that she arose again in bodily form after this cremation and became the mother and nourisher of werewolves. Thus the myth about Angrboda is identical to the myth about Gullveig-Heid in two characteristic points:
The points apply equally to Gullveig-Heid and to Angrboda, "the Old One in the Ironwood." The myth about Gullveig-Heid-Angrboda, as it was remembered in the first period after the introduction of Christianity, we find in part recapitulated in Helgakvida Hundingsbane, I. 37-40, where Sinfjotli compares his opponent Gudmund witht the female evil principle in the heathen mythology, the vala in question, and where Gudmund in return compares Sinfjotli with its masculine evil principle, Loki.
Sinfjotli says: (I omit the ON text here found in Rydberg's TM)
(Hollander) "A witch thou wast on Varin's isle, didst fashion falshoods and fawn on me, hag; to no wight would'st thou be wed but to me, to no sword-weilding swain but to Sinfjotli.
Thou wast, witch-hag a valkyrie fierce in Alfather's hall, hateful and grim; All Valhall's warriors had well-nigh battled, wilful woman, to win thy hand. On Saga Ness full nine wolves we had together-- I gat them all."
("win thy hand" is an embellishment by Hollander and does not appear in the ON text)
(Thorpe offers this translation: "Thou wast a valacrone in Varinsey, cunning as a fox, a spreader of lies. Thou saidst thou no man wouldst marry, no corseleted warrior, save Sinfjotli.
"A mischievous crone thou wast, a giantess, a Valkyria, insolent, mostrous, in Alfather's hall. All the Einherjar fought with each other, decietful woman, for thy sake. Nine wolves we begat in Sagunes; I alone was father of them all." )
Gudmund's answer begins:
(Hollander) "The father wast not to Fenris-wolves, though older than all of them."
(Thorpe) "Father wast thou not of Fenris-wolves, older than all, as far as
The evil woman with whom one of the two heroes compares the other is said to be a vala, who has practiced her art partly on Varin's Isle, partly in Asgard at Alfather's, and there was a cause of a war in which all the warriors of Asgard took part, This refers to the war of the Asas and the Vans (see Völuspa 21-27). The vala must therefore be Gullveig-Heid of the myth on whose account the war between the Asas and the Vans broke out, according to Völuspa. Now it is said of her, in the lines above quoted, that she gave birth to wolves, and that these wolves were "fenrisulfar." Of Angrboda, we know already that she is the mother of the real Fenris wolf, and that she, in the Ironwood, produces other wolves which are called by Fenrir's name (fenris kindir-- Völuspa). Thus the identity of Gullveig-Heid and Angrboda is still further established by the fact that both the one and the other is called the mother of the Fenris family. (This explains her epithet, Hyndla "Bitch," in Hyndlaljod~Hodd).
The passage quoted is not the only one which has preserved the memory of Gullveig-Heid as the mother of werewolves. Volsungasaga (c. ii, 8) relates that a giantess, Hrimnir's daughter, first dwelt in Asgard as the maid-servant of Frigg, then on earth, and that she, during her sojourn on earth, became the wife of a king, and with him the mother and grandmother of werewolves, who infested the woods and murdered men. ...The circumstance that the giantess in question first dwelt in Asgard and thereupon in Midgard, indicates that she is identical with Gullveig-Heid, and this identity is confirmed by the statement that she is a daughter of the giant Hrimnir.
The myth, as it has come down to our days, knows only one daughter of this giant and she is the same as Gullveig-Heid. Hyndlaljod states that Heid is Hrimnir's daughter and mentions no sister of hers, but, on the other hand, a brother Hrossthjolfr (Heidr ok Hrossthjolfr Hrimnis kindar---Hyndla. 33). In allusion to the cremation of Gullveig-Heid, fire is called in Thorsdrapa 16 hrimnis drňsar lyptisylgr, "the lifting drink of Hrimnir's daughter," the drink which Heid lifted up on spears had to drink. Nowhere is any other daughter of Hrimnir mentioned. And while it is stated in the above-cited stophe that the giantess who caused the war in Asgard and became the mother of Fenris wolves was a vala on Varin's Isle (vaulva i Varinseyjo), a comparison of Helgakvida Hundingsbane II, 26 with Volsungasaga, c. 2, shows that Varin's Isle and Varin's Fjord were located in that country, where Hrimnir's daughter was supposed to have been the wife of a king and to have given birth to werewolves.
Thus we have found that the three characteristic points--
are common to Gullveig-Heid and Angerboda.
Their identity is apparent from various other circumstances, but may be regarded as completely demonstrated by the proofs given.
The activity of the evil principle has in the great epic of the myth, formed a continuity spanning all ages, and this continuous thread of evil is twisted from the treacherous deeds of Gullveig and Loki, the feminine and the masculine representations of the evil principle. Both appear at the dawn of mankind: Loki has already at the beginning of time secured access to Alfather (Lokasenna 9) and Gullveig decieves the sons of men already in the time of Borgar's (Jarl in Rigsthula) sons. ...Loki plans enmity between the gods and the forces of nature, which have hitherto been friendly and which have their personal representatives in the Ivaldi sons; Gullveig causes the war between the Asas and the Vans.
The interference of both is interrupted at the close of the mythic age, when Loki is chained, and Gullveig, in the guise of Angrboda, is an exile in the Ironwood. Before this they have been blended, so to speak, into a single being, in which the feminine assuming masculinity and the masculine effeminated, bear to the world an offspring of foes to the gods and to creation. Both finally act their parts in the destruction of the world. Before the crisis comes Angrboda has fostered that host of "sons of world-ruin" which Loki is to lead to battle, and a magic sword which she has kept in the Ironwood is given to Surt, in whose hand is to be the death of Frey, the lord of harvests.
That the woman who in antiquity, in various guises visited Asgard and Midgard was believed to have had her home in the Ironwood of the east during the historical age down to Ragnarok is explained by what Saxo says-- viz. that Odin, after his return and reconciliation with the Vans, banished the agents of the black art both from heaven and from earth. Here too, the connection between Gullveig-Heid and Angerboda is manifest. The war between the Asas and the Vans was caused by the burning of Gullveig by the Asas."
(Rydberg TM, Vol. I, Chap. 34)
"The myth concerning the deliberation between the Asa and the Vans was well known to Saxo, and what he has to say about it, turning myth as usual into History, should be compared to Voluspa's account (str. 21-27), for both these sources complement one another.
"The first thing that strikes us in Saxo's narrative is that sorcery, the black
art, plays, as in Voluspa, the chief part in the events. His account is taken from a
mythic circumstance, mentioned by the heathen skald Kormak (seid Yggr til
Rindar--Skaldskaparsmal, "Odin wrought Seidh on Rind"), according to which Odin,
forced by extreme need, sought the favor of Rind, and gained his point by sorcery and
witchcraft, as he could not gain it otherwise.
According to Saxo, Odin touched Rind with a piece of bark on which he had inscribed magic songs, and the result was that she became insane. ("Rinda... quam Othinus cortice carminibus adnotata contingens lymphanti similem reddidit"). In immediate connection herewith it is related that the gods held a council in which it was claimed that Odin had stained his divine honor and ought to be deposed from his royal dignity;
"dii ...Othinum variis majestatis dettrimentis divinitatis gloriam maculasse cernentes, collegio suo submovendom duxerunt" --Hist. 129
"But the gods, seeing that Odin had tarnished the fair name of the godhead by diverse injuries to its majesty, thought that he ought to be removed from their society" (Oliver Elton translation).
Among the deeds of which his opponents in this council accused him was, as it appears from Saxo, at least one of which he ought to take the consequences, but for which all the gods ought not be held responsible. <<Here I omit the Latin>>. The result of the deliberation of the gods is in Saxo as in Voluspa, that Odin is banished, and that another clan of gods than his holds the power for some time. Thereupon he is, with the consent of the reigning gods, recalled to the throne which he henceforth occupies in a most brilliant manner. But one of his first acts after his return is to banish the black art and its agents from heaven and earth (Hist, 44, in the first book, the same events are described under different auspices as is typical of Saxo).
Thus the chain of events in Saxo both begins and ends with sorcery. It is the background on which these events occur, both in Saxo and Voluspa, which are connected with the dispute between the Asas and the Vans. In both the documents, the gods meet in council before the beginning of the enmity. In both, the question turns on a deed done by Odin for which certain gods do not wish to take responsibility. Saxo indicates this with the words:
"fearing that they might themselves be involved in the sin of another, and though guiltless be punished for the crime of the guilty." (Oliver Elton, translation)
Voluspa indicates it by letting the Vans present, against the proposition that "godin öll skyldu gildi eiga," (All the gods should pay gild), the claim that Odin's own clan and it alone should "afrŕd gjalda," pay compensation. And while Voluspa makes Odin suddenly interrupt the deliberations and hurl his spear among the deliberators, Saxo gives us the explanation of his sudden wrath. He and his clan had slain and burnt Gullveig-Heid because she practiced sorcery and other evil arts of witchcraft. And he refuses to make compensation for the murder and demands that all the gods take the consequences and share the blame, the Vans have replied in council that he too once practiced sorcery on the occassion when he visited Rind (Saxo ties these two tales closely together in Book 3), and that if Gullveig was justly burnt for this crime, then he ought justly to be deposed from his dignity stained by the same crime as ruler of the gods. Thus Voluspa's and Saxo's account supplement and illustrate each other.
One dark point remains however; Why have the Vans objected to the killing of Gullveig-Heid? Should this clan of gods, celebrated in song as benevolent, useful, and pure, be kindly disposed toward the evil and corruption of the arts of witchcraft? This cannot have been the meaning of the myth.
...The explanation of the fact is, as shall be shown below, that Frey, on account of a passion of which he is victim (probably through sorcery) was driven to marry the giant maid Gerd, whose kin in that way became the friends of the Vans. Frey is obliged to demand satisfation for a murder perpetrated on a kinswoman of his wife. The kinship of blood demands its sacred right, and according to Teutonic ideas of law, the Vans must act as they do regardless of the moral character of Gullveig." (Rydberg TM, Volume 1, Chap. 35 )
"The duty of the Vana-dieties becomes ...plain, if we can show that Gullveig-Heid is Gerd's mother.
(b) Gullveig-Heid-Angrboda identical with Aurboda.
In the Ironwood dwells Angrboda ("the Old One") together with a giant, who is "gygjar hirdir" the guardian and watcher of the giantess. He has charge of her remarkable herds <<quite possibly the Fenris kindar, Saxo makes reference to this>>, and also guards a sword brought to the Ironwood. This vocation has given him the name Egtherr, (Voluspa), which means sword-guardian. ...Vilkinasaga knows him by the name Etgeir, who watches over precious implements in Isung's wood. Etgeir is a corruption of Eggtherr and Isung's wood is a reminiscense of Isarnvidr, Isarnho, the Ironwood. In the saga, he is the brother of Vidolf. According to Hyndlaljod, all the valas of the myth come from Vidolf. As Gullveig-Heid is the chief of all valas, and the spreader of the arts practiced by the valas, this statement in Hyndlaljod makes us think of her particularily. ... The statement in Vilkinasaga compared with that in Hyndlaljod seems therefore to point to a near kinship between Angrboda and her sword-guard. She appears to be the daughter of his brother.
In Voluspa's description of the approach of Ragnarok, Angrboda's (the Old One in the Ironwood) shepard is represented as sitting on a mound-- like Aurboda's shepard in For Skirnis-- and playing a harp, happy over that which is to come. ... He is visited by a being in the guise of a red cock; the cock, says Voluspa, is Fjalarr (str. 44).
What the heathen records tell us about Fjalarr is the following:
(a) He is the same giant as the Younger Edda calls Utgard-Loki. The latter is a fire-giant; Logi's, the fire's, ruler, the cause of earthquakes, and skilled in producing optical delusions. Fjalarr's identity with Utgard-Loki is proved by Harbardsljod 26 where Thor, on his way to Fjalar, meets the same adventures as he met on his way to Utgard-Loki's, according to the Younger Edda.
(b) He is the same giant as the one called Suttung. The giant whom Odin robs the skaldic mead, and whose devoted daughter Gunlad he causes bitter sorrow, is called in Havamal sometimes Fjalar and sometimes Suttung (cp. strophes 13, 14, 104, 105).
(c) Fjalar is the son of the chief of the fire-giants, Surt, and dwells in the subterranean dales of the latter. ... Here it will suffice to point out that when Odin flies out of Suttung's dwelling with the skaldic mead it is from "Surt's deep dales," that he "flying bears" the precious drink ("hinn er Surts or sökkdölum farmagnudr fljugandi bar, a strophe by Eyvind preserved in Skaldskaparsmal), and that while this drink remained with Fjalar it was "the drink of Surt's race" (Sylgr Surts aettar, Fornms., iii,3)
... When, therefore, Voluspa makes Fjalar appear in the guise of a red-cock, on his visit to the sword-guardian in the Ironwood, this is in harmony with Fjalar's nature as a fire-giant and as a son of Surt. The red-cock has been from time immemorial the symbol of fire as a destructive power.
That what Odin does against Fjalar --when he robbed him of the mead, which in the myths is the most precious of all drinks, and when he deceived his daughter-- is calculated to awaken Fjalar's thirst for revenge and to bring about satisfaction sooner or later, lies in the very spirit of Teutonic poetry and ethics, especially since, Odin's act, though done with a good motive, was morally reprehensible.
What Fjalar's errand to Angrboda's sword-guard was appears from the fact that when the last war between the gods and their enemies is fought a short time afterwards, Fjalar's father, Surt, the chief of the fire-giants, is armed with the best of the mythical weapons, the sword which once belonged to a valtivi, one of the gods of Asgard (Voluspa 50), and which casts the splendor of the sun upon the world. The famous sword of the myth, that which Volund furnished with a purpose hostile to the gods, the sword concealed by Mimir, the sword found by Svipdag, the sword secured through him by Frey, the one given by Frey (through Skirnir) to Gymir and Aurboda in exchange for Gerd-- this sword is found again in the Ragnarok conflict weilded by Surt, and causes Frey's death, it having been secured by Surt's son, Fjalar in the Ironwood from Angrboda's sword-guard.
(Ben Thorpe) "With gold though boughtest Gymir's daughter and so gavest away thy sword; but when Muspell's sons through the dark forst ride ride, thou unhappy, will not have therewith to fight." (This translation is not entirely accurate, but gets the point across.)
This passage not only tells us that Frey gave his sword in exchange for Gerd to the parents of the giantess, but that this bargain will cause his death in Ragnarok. <<Voluspa 53 indicates that Frey falls before Surt, Strophe 50 tells us that Surt carries the sword once owned by "Val-tivi," a god of the slain, i.e. an Asgardian. Thus he dies by a sword that was once in the hands of the Asgardians. Fjolsvinsmal and For Skirnis describe such a sword. >>.
... In other words, the sword which Aurboda enticed Frey (by means of her bewitchingly beautiful daughter) to give her is now found in possession of Angrboda. This circumstance alone is a very strong reason for their identity.
... When we now add the important fact in the disposition of this matter, that Aurboda's son-in-law, Frey, demands in behalf of a near kinsman, satisfaction from the Asas when they had killed Gullvieg-Heid-Angrboda, then it seems to me that there can be no doubt in regard to the identity of Aurboda and Angrboda, the less so since what the mythic fragments have to tell us about Gymir's wife confirms the theory that she is the same person.
Aurboda has like Gullveig-Heid-Angrboda practiced the arts of sorcery: she is one of the valas of the evil giant world. We are told this in a stophe by the skald Refr, who calls her "Gymir's primeval cold vala" (Skaldskaparsmal). She might be called "primeval cold," (ursvöl) from the fact that the fire was not able to pierce her heart and change it to ashes, in spite of a threefold burning. Under any circumstance, the passage quoted informs us that she is a vala.
<<From Fjolvinsmal 35, we see that she too once dwelt in Asgard, and there is found at the feet of the goddess Menglad-Freya. Above them hang "the fruits of Mimir's tree", which are the "kindling of men," the embryos of mankind. In Volsungasaga chap. 2, Hrimnir's daughter delivers this very fruit to a barren queen on Frigg's behalf. Hrimnir's daughter as we have seen is Heid. Thus, like Heid and Gullveig, Aurboda too is said to have once dwelt in Asgard and in particualr association with the Vans.>>
A strophe by Thorbjorn Disarskald preserved in the Younger Edda states that Hyrrokin
was a giantess slain by Thor (cp. Voluspa 26, where Thor slays Gullveig) But the very
appellation Hyrrokin, which must be an epithet of a giantess known by some other more
common name, indicates that some effort worthy of being remembered in the myth had been
made to burn her, but that the effort resulted in her being smoked rather than burnt; for
the epither Hyrrokin means "fire-smoked." For those familar with the contents of
the myth, this epithet was regarded as plain enough to indicate who was meant. If it is
not, therefore, to be looked upon as an unhappy and misleading epithet, it must refer to
the thrice in vain burnt Gullveig.
All we learn of Hyrrokin confirms her identity with Aurboda.
In the symbolic-allegorical work of art, which toward the end of the 10th century decorated a hall at Hjardarholt (see Laxadealasaga), of which I shall give a full account of elsewhere <<namely in Vol. II of Undersokingar i Germanisk Mythologi, in which Rydberg investigates the Balder Myth>>, the storm which from the land side carries Balder's ship out to sea is represented by the giantess Hyrrokin. In the same capacity as storm-giantess carrying sailors out upon the ocean appears Gymir's wife Aurboda, in a poem by Refr;
"Gymir's ancient-cold vala often carries the ship amid breaking billows into the jaws of Aegir." (Anderson's translation after Rydberg's. I omit the ON.)
Gymir, Aurboda's husband, represents in the physical interpretation of the myth, the east wind coming from the Ironwood. From the otherside of the Baltic, Gymir sings his song (Ynglingasaga 36), and the same gale belongs to Aurboda, for Aegir, into whose jaws she drives the ships, is the great western ocean. That Aurboda represents the gale from the east finds its natural explanation in her identity with Angrboda, the "Old One" who dwells "in the Ironwood," in the uttermost east, "Austr byr hin alldna i jarnvithi" (Voluspa)
The result of the investigation is that Gullveig-Heid, Aurboda and Angrboda are different names for the different hypostatses of the thrice-born and thrice-burnt one, and that Hyrrokin, "the fire-smoked" is an epithet common to all these hypostates.
Thus we have revealed the female counterpart of Loki, his co-conspirator in the downfall of the gods.
Return to the religion page