by William Reaves, edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiðson
Copyright © William Reaves
Hyndlaljod 35 speaks of Heimdall's birth "There was one born in the early days, endowed with wonderous might, of divine origin; Nine giant maids gave him birth, that gracious god, on the edges of the earth." This should be compared to Gylfaginning 27, which quotes the lost work Heimdalsgaldr saying, "I am the son of nine mothers and nine sisters too." Hyndlaljod 37 names these maidens. Through a comparison of heathen sources, we discover they are identical with the 9 waves. They are the giantess who turn the great world-mill, which causes the tides and currents as it churns away beneath the sea in Hvergelmir, the mother of waters. This mill is called Ludr in the Norse poems. Please see my postings on Ludr to get a full picture of it. Next several Old English sources speak of a king who came across the waves, from the west, in a rudderless boat, with neither oar nor sail, full of tools and treasures. Beowulf speaks of this baby king. He is called Scef, as his head rests on a Sheaf of grain. His arrival establishs the advent of farming, the smithy, and other institutions of culture. The Beowulf poet, Ethelwerdus, William of Malmsbury, Simon of Durham, and Mattaeus Monasterienus all tell identical versions of this tale. This tale of an unknown king arriving on shore with the tools and treasures of civilation is the historicized account of the arrival of an infant god from the west. The Vans live in the west across the great ocean (thence Njord is to return after Ragnarok according to Lokasenna). Heimdall is that God. Later we see him as Righ the Walker.
As Righ, Heimdall walks the "green-paths" of Midgard to see firsthand how
culture has spread throughout the land. He officially sanctions each of the 3 ancient
European classes, Jarls, Karls, and Thralls, by spending 3 nights in each of three houses
and sireing a child in each. Yet he does not create a semi-divine class. His children are
mortal and as such all men can be addressed as "the Children of Heimdall, high and
low," as Voluspa 1 does. In the later verses of Rigsthula, we find that Heimdall
teaches runes to mankind, especially among the nobility. It is he who teaches mankind how
to worship and sacrifice. He establishs the monarchy, and his grandson is the first King
(Kon). Kon is rediscovered in Saxo under several names Halfdan, Berggram, and Gram. He is
a great leader and warrior. After this, Heimdall dies and is placed back in the ship he
came in, laden with treasure, and sent back across the waves. When next we see him he is
among the Asas as the
guardian of Bifrost.
In Thrymskvida 15, Heimdall is called the Whitest Asa, but also said to foresee well
"as all Vans do." Although loyal to the Asas, he is a Van by birth. His father
seems to be Mundilfori, the Conductor of the Mill-handle. There is no solid evidence of
this, but it can be established with some certainty that Mundilfori, the producer of
friction, is a byname of Odin's brother Lodur, fire. Heimdall is the god of the
sacrificial fire. He is the messenger of the gods. Through him, we gain entrance to the
gods. Heimdall is the gateway. He has retained this characteritic since ancient
times. Agni, the Hindu fire god as represented in the oldest Hindu text, the Rigveda, is a parallel to Heimdall, down to exact details.
When Odin went to Suttung's to retrieve the stolen mead, "Rati's mouth" created a tunnel through which Odin in eagle guise could escape (Havamal 106). Verses 104-110 detail the story (Separte it from Snorri's version). In the Rigveda, it is "Agni's tongue" that splits the mountain allowing Vata to escape unharmed with the Soma mead. As a Nature myth, it seems to say that volcanic fire pierces the rocks creating channels for water. One of Heimdall's names is Rati "the Traveller." The name Ratatosk means "Rati's tooth" and seems to be a direct reference to Havamal's "Rati's mouth." Also, the image found in Grimnirsmal of a squirrel carrying messages between the serpents below the world-tree and the eagle (Odin) at the top is appropo to Heimdall who watches the doings of those in Niflhel and reports their activity to Odin.
In a beautful "lost" poem thought to be a forgery, Heimdall makes a trip at Odin's command to "Gjoll's Sunna." The Sun of the Lower World. The difficulty of this poem, which alone proves its authenticity, has baffled translaters for centuries. The poem is called Forspallsljod or Hrafngaldr and has been largely out of print for almost 2 centuries now. The poem details the story of the events following the contest of the artists in which Loki causes the Sons of Ivaldi and the brothers Sindri and Brokk to compete. The Sons of Ivaldi create beautiful works for the gods without knowledge of the contest. When the gods judge the Lightning Hammer, Mjollnir, created by Brokk superior to the gifts of the Ivaldi sons, the Sons of Ivaldi turn into bitter enemies of the gods. They are the 3 brothers Volund, Egil, and Slagfin in Volundarkvida. They go to the outer edges of the earth and send out a terrible winter. Their cousins Fenja and Menja also upset the world-mill, tilting the starry heavens and creating a terrible earthquake as described in the Grotto-song. The Sons of Ivaldi "mix the air with evil" (Voluspa 25 and Forspallsljod 6) using sorcery to conjure powerful winter storms. I believe this all to a rembrance of the ice-age.
With the stage thus set, Odin sends Heimdall, Loki and Bragi down to Hel to visit Urd, called Gjoll's Sunna here. (Yes, Urd and Mimir both are in the underworld. Their wells are below the roots of Yggdrassil and below ground like the roots of any tree). Odin wishes to know if this is the great winter that will precede Ragnarok (we however know that it is not).
9. Vidrir (Odin) caused Bifrost's Ward to go to Gjoll's Sunna (Urd, the Sun of the Lower World) to ask what she knew of the world; Bragi and Loptr (Loki) bore witness.
11. The Wise One (Heimdall) would know the origin of the gods from the Provider of Strength (Urd), his travelling companions (Bragi and Loki) of the creation of heaven, Hel, and earth; of life and death.
12. Naught would she say. Naught did she say. She spoke no ringing words; Tears lingered in her eyes (literally "brain's shields"). Her spirit fell forlorn.
The poem is 26 verses long and goes on to describe Heimdall's return to the gods where
he is welcomed to a feast at Odin's. Heimdall informs the gods of the meeting, Loki
informs the goddesses. Heimdall is quite distressed by Urd's response and so too are the
gods. The poem ends abruptly. It is full of epithets and bynames for the gods not found
elsewhere, but also properly uses better known epithets such as The White As for Heimdall
and Vidrir, Hnikar, and Herjan, among others for Odin. It also properly uses Rognir as an
epithet of Volund, which today is thought to be an epithet of Odin. Heimdall is called
Fornsotz (the Fore-seer), Jorunn (strophe 15, the Horse-provider), and Argjoll (strophe
26, the Early-Warner). None of these names of Heimdall is found in any other source. As
this poem was found only in a paper copy dating to the 16th century, as well as its
complexity and seemingly baffling content, it is believed a forgery. It's use of mythic
ideas to show the passing of time at the end of the poem, the proper use of epithets, and
it's thorough understanding that Urd is located in Hel, not in heaven as Snorri believes,
proves it authenticity. As an interesting side note, Forpalsljod calls Gjoll's Sunna,
"the provider of strength." Strength (Veig, perhaps our modern word Vigor) is a
common kenning for mead. It is the strength of Urd's well, as well as Mimir's. In fact all
the wells in the lower world contain special fluids which in turn are drawn up into and
become the sap of the world-tree. Hyndlaljod 38 reveals that the young god sent across the
waves, the one endowed with wonderous might, has drunk of these three wells. It says
he has drunken of Earth's Strength (this is in reality Udrar Veig, Urd's strength as in Gundrunakvida ii), he has drunk of Son's Blood (the liquid of Mimir's well, called Son or Odhraerir, around which the reeds of poetry grow, Skaldskaparsmal; this is the same fountain from which Odin dipped out the runes), and of Cold Cool Sea. The Cold Cool sea is Hvergelmir which is the mother of all waters and out of which the river Sval (Cool) flows. It originates in Niflheim, the orginal land of cold and ice. Before being sent to mankind, Heimdall was nourished with the water of the 3 fountains. In many ways, Heimdall compares to the modern image of Christ, the savior of mankind sometimes referred to as the White Christ. I am not attempting to draw a parallel, but do feel that Heimdall deserves a higher place in the pantheon than he currently holds in the eyes of many Asatruar.
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