by William Reaves, edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiðson
Copyright © William Reaves
Snorri Sturrlesson tells us that Freyja was married to "the man named Odr," yet tells us almost nothing of this person. The husband of Freyja is well attested to in the ancient poems of the Elder Edda and two poems Fjolsvinsmal and Groagaldr are solely devoted to him, although they know him by the name, Svipdag (Bright-day).
The Eddic poem Fjolsvinsmal (The Lay of Fjolsvith) is commonly believed to be the tale of a hero winning a giant bride. I have found evidence to the contrary. In fact, I believe it is part of Freya and Odr's epic and warrants further attention.
The poem is framed in the form of a debate in which the hero Svipdag, arriving at a castle gate, questions the watch, named Fjolsvin, about what he sees inside. Through a series of questions and answers we learn it is impossible for anyone but the choosen one carrying a certain sword to enter. Amazingly at the end of the poem, the gates swing open for Svipdag and the beautiful female figure Menglad comes forward declaring "My wish is fulfilled" (str. 48) "Now it is certain we will pass our lives together" (str. 50), after verifying that indeed this is the man for whom she was fated.
The poem makes it clear that this woman is no giantess, but rather a goddess, and one of the highest ones. After traveling "up" to the gate, Svipdag, peering inside, asks about the "splendid maiden" named Menglad who "sits like an image" before him. He asks the name of the pedestal upon which she sits. The guardian replies that it is named "Hlyfjaberg," the joyous rock, adding that "any woman who climbs it will find herself healed, though she had a year's sickness upon her" (str. 37). Next Fjolsvin enumerates the maidens who "sit at her feet." He names nine. Among these are Eir, the goddess of healing and an attendant of Frigg (Snorri's Edda). Four of the names connote beauty, they are Blithe, Gentle, Fair, and Shining. Three of the names are appropriate to valkyries, Hlif (Protectress), Hlifthrasa (Strong-protectress), and Thjodvarta (Mighty ward). The last is truly the name of a giantess Orboda, known elsewhere as Aurboda, whom we know as Hrimnir's daughter (Skirnirsmal) and who can be shown to have been a servant of both Frigg and Freya. Svipdag asks outright "Do they deliver those that WORSHIP them when necessary? (str. 40) To which Fjolsvin replies "If they are given OFFERINGS at their ALTAR every summer, no evil so severe can happen to the sons of men that these maids cannot deliver them from." If indeed Menglad is a giantess, this would be the sole reference in the whole of Germanic literature (that I am aware of) where men worship and give offerings to Etins (jotuns, giants), and which an Asynje (the goddess Eir, named by Snorri) sits at an Etin's feet. So if Menglad is indeed a goddess, who is she?
The name Menglad itself means the Ornament Lover or literally "Necklace-glad." And remember it is Freyja who wears the most beautiful of ornaments the Brisingsa-MEN, the fire-necklace. It is she too who has the daughters Gersemi and Hnossa, both meaning "jewel" and the ancient sources well attest to her love of beautiful things. Kevin Crossley-Holland has observed this connection as well. See the footnotes to this myth found in his book The Norse Myths (pg 219). With this thought in mind, that Menglad could be Freyja herself, let's reexamine this oft-overlooked poem.
If you wonder why the skald doesn't just say that Menglad is Freyja, remember that the gods have many names. Freya has several (Snorri's Edda), Odin has 49 (Grimnirsmal) and in the poems about Thor, he often is never called by that name. He is Hlorridi, Veor, or Jord's son. We know who they are by what is said about them. The skalds love of epithets and word-play is well-known. Few things in this poem are called by their true names, but the skald lets us in on the true meaning, by scattering familar names and descriptions throughout the poem. The watchman begins the wordplay by calling himself Fjolsvin ("Very wise') an epithet of Odin found in Grimnirsmal. Svipdag replies by calling himself "Windcold". The poem continues in this manner.
Could this watchman, Fjolsvin, indeed be Odin? When Svipdag asks the names of the wolf-hounds who watch the gate, Fjolsvin names them "Gifr and Geri." Odin's wolfs are Geri and Freki. He says that he made the walls from Leir-Brimir's limbs. Leir means mud and Brimir is an epithet of Mimir found in Voluspa. The name Leir-Brimir is not found elsewhere and means Mud-Mimir. It is not Mimir himself, but one who can be compared with him. The giant Ymir is also known by the name named Aurgelmir, "Roaring Clay" (Gylfaginning 5) and the soil of the earth is created from his flesh (Vafthrudnirsmal). Mimir is one of Ymir's sons. When Vafthrudnirsmal 33 says a "man and a maid were created together" under his left arm, this refers to Mimir and Bestla, Odin's mother. Mimir is Odin's maternal uncle, a sacred relationship among the Teutons (Tacitus' Germania). These benevolant giants are to be distinquished from those generated by Ymir's feet, led by the three-headed thurs Thrudgelmir. Aurgelmir, Thrudgelmir, and his son Bergelmir are all parallel forms. Ymir is distinquished by the fact that his flesh became the soil, the mud, the clay. Thus Leir-Brimir is Ymir. The walls of Menglad's home city are made of his flesh.
In str. 11, Fjolsvin informs us that the gate of this city binds all intruders who lift it from its place. This reminds us of the words about Asgard's gate in Grimnirsmal 22. There it is said that "it is an ancient gate. Few know how to work the lock."
So is this Asgard? The poet confuses us by having Svipdag compare the castle before him
to that which he has seen "among the gods." Here the common word for gods
"tivar" is not used, but rather "godum" which Gudbrand Vigfusson (An
Icelandic-English Dictionary, p. 207) says "points to an earlier and purer
faith" as it is not used of the Aesir and Vanir, but of the creating powers at the
beginning of time, otherwise referred to as "regin," (as in Voluspa). Other
poems too make reference to these "gods," but rather than being divinities of an
"earlier faith," they are the divinities of the
lower world, namely Mimir and Urd and their kin who live below the roots of Yggdrassil which are ALL found in the lower world, as are the roots of any tree. Only Snorri says otherwise, but then he also says that the Aesir are mortal magicians from the city of Troy (Intro to Snorri's Edda).
These beings sprang directly from Ymir and in turn bore the present gods. Bestla, Mimir's sister, is Odin's mother. They are the earliest divinities. This poem makes it clear. In strophe 34, Svipdag tells us that he has been to the lower world. He says he has seen the "castle of the Asmegir."
From Vegtamskvida 8, we learn that the Asmegir impatiently await the arrival of Balder in Hel. (As that verse is often mistranslated, I encourage you to seek out the original text. The poet uses the word Asmegir. It is not a reference to the Asas as is often translated, but rather a reference to Lif & Lifthrasir in HoddMimir's Grove (Vafthrudnirsmal) whom Grimnirsmal 33 calls mennskir menn, "living men" beneath one of Yggdrassil's roots.) Svipdag has been to the lower world and has seen firsthand the wonders wrought by the "godum" there. These "gods" include Mimir and his daughter Nat, Urd and her sisters, as well as Mimir's sons, the elves and the dwarves which he (as "Modsognir" in Voluspa) created. They are the primal forces of Nature.
From Groagaldr, the companion poem of Fjolsvinsmal, Svipdag's mother sings protecting charms over her son. There we learn that Svipdag is fated to meet "the weapon-honored giant" (str. 14). Mimir is well known as the keeper of treasures, including weapons. Saxo Grammaticus (Hist. chap 3) tells us that Hotharus (a confounding of the tales of Hodr, Balder's brother and Odr, Svipdag's epithet) goes to the underworld to the satyr "Mimingus" to retrieve an undefeatable sword. This is the same sword spoken of in Fjolsvinsmal, the sword which Svipdag-Odr must possess to enter the gate and claim Menglad as his wife.
Fjolsvin informs us that the wolf-hounds will not part unless fed the meat of Vidofnir, the cock "all glittering with gold" (str. 24) who sits high in the branches of "Mimir's tree" (str. 25) which Svipdag sees before him, a tree "whose branches shade every land" (str. 20). This tree is obviously Yggdrassil, whose branches extend to Asgard and whose roots extend to Mimir's well on Idavoll. The cock Vidofnir is the same as Voluspa's Gullinkambi, Gold-Comb, Asgard's cock. The only weapon that can fell this cock is a sword held by Sinmara, the Sinew-Maimer, but she will only part with it if given a "luminous scythe" found in Vidofnir's "staffs," presumably a legbone, but here too is found word-play best explained elsewhere. In other words, no one can enter Asgard unless he carries the sword, which is impossible to get, except by the choosen one.
In Volundarkvida (The Lay of Volund), Nidhad steals a sword from Volund, a sword into which he had put "all (his) skill and cunning" (str. 17). There Nidhad's queen orders Volund's sinews cut, an event which reminds us of the name Sinmara (Sinew-maimer). In Volundarkvida, Nidhad comes from "Holt," Mimir's grove to capture Volund. In Vafthrudnirsmal, this place is called "HoddMimis Holt." Voluspa speaks of mountains at the end of time called Nidjafoll. Nidi's mountains, Nidhad's mountains. Nidi means the "lower one" and is a reference to Mimir as King of the Lower world, ruler of Idavoll. The gods first meet on Idavoll in Voluspa 8, and after Ragnarok, Idavoll remains (str. 58). Nidi's mountains are found on these plains. As are Brimir's mead-hall (Mimir's hall and fountain) and Sindri's golden castle. (All from Voluspa) Sindri is the dwarf who forged Thor's hammer (Snorri's Edda).
Three fountains feed Yggdrassil: Urd's Fountain, Mimir's Well, and Hvergelmir. Idavoll, which means "Active-plains," refers to the plains in the lower world, the plains of active water. Idja means the activity of water, like our modern word eddy. The fountains of the lower world are seen as being in constant motion. Hvergelmir means "Roaring kettle." The world-mill, called Ludr in the Eddic lays (see my earlier posts) sits atop Hvergelmir on a mountain range called Nidjafoll, Nidi's mountains. Nidi's sons live nearby (Solarljod 56-58). They are the dwarves. The sword which Sinmara holds is kept near Ludr (Fjolsvinsmal str. 31). Hvergelmir is the source of all water in heaven, Midgard, and Hel (Grimnirsmal). It is the ocean, the mother of all waters. Svipdag's mother sang a charm over him in which "calm and storm in Ludr will go together" providing him safe travels at sea (Groagaldr, str. 11). He must travel across the great ocean to find the entrance to the lower world, as does Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey. Sinmara keeps the sword in a "sea-requiring vessel," in other words, in something which requires the water of the seas. Yggdrassil requires the water of the 3 wells, one of which is the sea. Fjolvinsmal confirms this view by telling us the sword is kept "invidi," in wood, in the tree. Thus Sinmara keeps the sword within the tree, within Yggdrassil. Only the fated one can remove it. (Gee, this sounds so familar....***shades of King Arthur**) Svipdag is the one.
In Saxo, Svipdag retrieves a sword and a ring from Mimingus. In Volundarkvida, Nidhad takes a sword and a ring from Volund. He gives the ring to his daughter. In Fjolsvinsmal 29, Sinmara is called "the dis of the shining arm-ring." These references cannot be mere coincidence. The sword and the ring are those forged by Volund, taken by Nidhad-Mimir, retrieved by Svipdag-Odr and brought to Asgard as the price of the "ornament-loving" bride. Freyja is that bride.
Volund-Wayland is the best smith in all the North. His fame is well attested to. In Volundarkvida, he is portrayed as being most revengeful. He slays 2 of Nidhad's sons and leaves his daughter pregnant before escaping. Since all his skill and cunning went into forging this blade, we can assume it too is most dangerous. This is confirmed by Fjolsvinsmal which says it can fell the cock in the world-tree. Strophe 33 says that Menglad's hall, and certainly all of Asgard, has "long trembled on the point of the sword." The gods have feared this weapon since its creation and rightfully so since this is the same sword that Frey's servant Skirnir will pass to the giantess Aurboda, Gerd's mother, in order to marry that giantess (As told in For Skirnis). On the way hither, Skirnir encounters a goatherd playing a harp, whom Voluspa knows as Eggthir, the sword guardian of Aurboda, (Aurboda is Voluspa's "Old one in the Ironwood" ) who in turn will pass it on to Fjalar, who will give it to his father Surt. With this sword, Surt will destroy the heavens and the earth, which indeed was Volund's purpose (He became the enemy of the gods after they judged his work inferior to that of Sindri. Volund is one of the Ivaldi sons who forged Odin's spear Gungnir and Frey's ship Skidbladnir).
When we learn that Vidofnir, the name of the gold-glittering cock in the world-tree, means the "wide-open" and is an epithet of the star-glittering sky, then we see that this weapon can indeed bring Vidofnir down to Hel (str. 26). After Ragnarok, it is only Idavoll that remains (Voluspa 58). There we find Balder and the Asmegir, Lif and Lifthrasir, and the "wonderful golden gamepieces" of the gods "their's in the earliest days". The heavens and the earth are destroyed, but the lower world, Idavoll, remains. Vidofnir is truly brought down to Hel. Certainly, the possession of a weapon with this potential is worth the hand of the most beautiful of goddesses, the Vanadis, Freyja.
This poem is the final link in the chain of events in which the mortal hero Svipdag wins the hand of fair Freyja, through his magnificent deeds. The rest of the tale can be reconstructed from the tales of Eric and Gunvara in Saxo, portions of Beowulf, and scattered mythic fragments. It is a rich & strange story in which Svipdag-Odr is first foe (the meaning of Odin's words in Fjolsvinsmal 1) and then friend of the gods, and then foe again. In the end he is banished from Asgard and Freyja alone seeks him through all the 9 worlds. After his death he is again welcomed into Asgard as Hermodr (Herm-Odr) and once again travels to Mimir's Holt and again sees the Castle of the Asmegir, speaking to Balder & Nanna).
Let no man, including Snorri Sturrlesson, tell you these tales are lost. They are simply waiting to be recognized. We are a literate people and for that reason our historical religion has been preserved in many forms. Viktor Rydberg, the famous Swedish poet from the last century, recognized our gods in their many guises. To him, my understanding is owed. Ours is a beautiful and ornate religion. Let us see it in all its glory, rather than its dim reflection which we call "Norse mythology" today.
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