by William Reaves, edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiðson
Copyright © William Reaves
In this article, I would like to discuss Egil's brother, Wayland (Volund), the most famous smith across all of Northern Europe. Seemingly little is known about him outside of the Volundarkvida, but in fact the Germanic documents preserve a wealth of information in regard to this character. Again this argument is best explained by Viktor Rydberg, in the first Volume of his work, Undersökingar i Germanisk Mythologi (1886), "Investigations in Germanic Mythology," which one may find in English as "Teutonic Mythology, the Gods and Goddesses of the Northland" (1906) by Rasmus Anderson. This post is a pale reflection of the many examples and proofs contained in his work, so I urge you to not judge his work, based on my understanding of it. To keep things simple, I will limit myself to the best known sources, as they are better accessed by those not in close proximity to large libraries or without the time to collect the more obscure works. Each of you, must be the judge, whether my arguments are conclusive or not.
To begin the investigation, let me point out that a group of three names, sometimes referred to as brothers, reoccurs, with variants, in the mythic sources.
In Skaldskaparsmal 1 in the Younger Edda, we find the names Idi, Gang, and Thjazi named together. When speaking of Skadi's father, Thjazi, Snorri says:
(Brodeur translation) "Thjazi was a mighty man: now of what family was he?" Bragi answered, "His father was called Ölvaldi, and if I tell thee of him, thou wilt think these things wonders. He was very rich in gold."
And further on: "One of them was Thjazi, the second Idi, the third Gangr"
The variant triad of names Idi, Aurnir, and Thjazi occur in Grotto-song, str. 9;
(Patricia Terry translation) "Hrungnir was strong, so was his father, Thjazi was even mightier than either; Idi and Aurnir, those were our kinsman"
And in Thorsdrapa we find Idi, Gang, and Rognir, all named in close proximity and in association with a group of men in Thor's retinue. These names occur in strophes 2, 3, and 4. The mere similarity to the above grouping of names should indicate their connection, in an art form in which the use of epithets is commonplace.
Thus, for the sake of argument we find these parallels:
Idi Aurnir-Gang, Thjazi-Rognir
As the sons of Aud-valdi or Öl-valdi
In my experience, the names Thjazi, Volund, and Rognir all refer to one and the same person. He is called both giant and elf, and while this might seem highly improbable, keep in mind that Loki is called both Jotun and As. Rydberg himself expressed doubt about their relationship at the beginning of his investigation, but time and again, the evidence pointed him in this direction. The quickest way to show that the elf-smith Volund and the giant Thjazi-Rognir are identical is to show a connection between Rognir and Volund and then show a connection between Volund and Thjazi. If this is not clear, let me state it plainly: I believe that the names Thjazi, Volund, and Rognir all indicate one and the same mythic character in the works of the skalds. They are spoken of in identical terms and the story fragments related regarding Thjazi and Volund dovetail themselves into a longer epic which completes and explains the full ring-cycle regarding Wayland Smith.
The evidence which best identifies the epithet Rognir with the name Volund is found in Atlakvida 33. There Gudrun slays her two young sons, makes a goblet from their skulls, and presents it to their father Atli upon his arrival home. Carrying the goblet in her hand, she is said to "present the revenge which Rognir gave" (reifa giöld rögnis, see Kuhn/Neckel pg. 245) The only other occurrence of this unique type of revenge occurs in Volundarkvida. The revenge which Volund gave Nidhad is identical to that said to be given by Rognir. In Volundarkvida strophe 23, Volund kills Nidhad's two young sons and makes goblets of their skulls, he then presents them to the boys' father. In Volundarkvida 33, Volund says "I set their skulls with silver and gave them to thee."
Gudbrand Vigfusson and others have identified Rognir with Odin, but the evidence contradicts this:
Forspallsljod 10: "Galdr gólo gaundom riþo Rögnir ok Regin at ranni heimis; hlustar Óþinn Hliþskiàfo í let braut vera lànga vego"
"They chanted galdr, rode on wolves, Rognir and Regin against the world's house; Odin listened in Hildskjalf. He watched the men's road from a distance."
The skald of Forspallsljod knows Odin and Rognir as separate personalities. In strophe 10, he clearly states that Rognir and Regin "chanted galdr against the world's house" while Odin "listened in Hlidskjalf." Here, it should also be pointed out that the subject of the Forspallsljod itself refers to a time when Idunn "Ivaldi's youngest elder child" sinks below Yggdrassil (str. 6), clad in wolfskin (str. 8). Thus we have a ready connection between the smith Rognir, and the children of Ivaldi. As we have seen, Rognir is said to have prepared a revenge on his enemy, identical to that prepared by Volund on Nidhad. Like the Sons of Ivaldi, Volund is a famous smith.
An immediate connection between the giant Thjazi and the name Rognir can be found in Haustlaung 4 which designates the giant Thjazi as "Ving-Rögnir let vagna," Rognir of the Winged Cars, a reference that can be related to Sigrdrifumal 15 which tells us that runes are risted "on the wheel which whirls beneath Rognir's car." What is said of the giant Thjazi is consistant with what is said of both Rognir and Volund. Logically we may conclude that these names all belong to a single mythic entity.
Let us now turn to the connection between the smith Volund and the giant Thjazi. The bulk of the evidence occurs in the poems Haustlaung and Volundarkvida, which speak respectively of Thjazi's encounter with Odin, Hoenir, and Loki, and of Volund's capture and enslavement by Nidhad. I will touch on several points of similarity here, which by strength of numbers illustrate that the ancient skalds knew of the identity between Volund and Thjazi, although Snorri Sturlesson, writing 200 years after the Christian conversion of Iceland, and those who followed him did not.
These are some of the many examples of similarities in the two poems. There are others I omit for lack of space (see Volume 3 of the English translation of Rydberg's first Swedish volume). From this it is clear that the old skalds knew and understood that Thjazi and Volund, whom they also designated as Rognir, were one and the same individual.
In Haustlaung 8, this giant, Thjazi, is strangely called Thors "ofrúni," Thor's friend. This kenning is usually taken to mean Loki, rather than Thjazi, when the verse is rendered into English, since no giant could be a friend of Thor (but then Loki, who is a giant was no friend of Thor's either). The epithet can be explained by the fact that Rognir (whom is identical with Thjazi) was once Thor's friend. Thorsdrapa 3 tells us that the journey to Geirrod's gard took place before Rognir had made a pact with "svipti sagna," the leader of the warriors back", which is a parallel to Loki's designation in Haustlaung strophe 9 which is "sagna hræri," the leader of the warriors forward." Thus, before he made a pact with Loki, Rognir was "Thor's friend." These paraphrases for Loki as a leader of warriors forward and back, find their explanation in Saxo, where Loki appears as an evil counselor to the human king, Jormunrekr, under the name Bikki. What this tells us is that, Rognir-Thjazi was at one time a friend of the gods and then later their foe.
Like Rognir and Volund, we also find passages which refer to Thjazi as a smith. In Haustlaung 3, Odin addresses Thjazi as "hapta snyrtir hjalm-faldinn," the Ornamenter of the gods concealed in a guise. This passage is commonly reworked, first by Gudbrand Vigfusson and then others, changing "kvóðo" to "kvað," and inserting a "mun" not found there and omitting a "thvi" found in the original manuscript, so that the phrases "hapta snyrtir" and "hjalm-faldinn" may be applied to Odin, the "helm-hooded one." (Emendations of this kind are not uncommon, and have distorted the old poetry in key places to make them appear to agree with Snorri's versions of the mythology. Rydberg examines this emendation fully in Teutonic Mythology, pg. 906). But as far as we know, Odin is not a "snyrtir," of the gods, nor is he said here to be concealed in any guise, Thjazi however is. He is a smith and here appears as an eagle. Yet Haustlaung 6 calls him "the mightiest foe of the earth." Taken together these statements show that Thjazi once was a friend and ornamenter ("snyrtir") of the gods, but now he is their mightiest foe. Again what is said regarding Thjazi agrees with what is said regarding Rognir. Nor is this a chance meeting between Odin and the ancient smith. Since Odin immediately addresses Thjazi in terms that show that he recognizes him, even though he is wearing a disguise, and as Odin stands in Thjazi's homeland, Brunn-acre, after a long journey, it is apparent that Odin and his companions have come looking for him, soon we shall see why.
In Volundarkvida 26, Volund escaping from Nidhad's captivity in bird-form, says that he now has avenged all wrongs done to him except one. This must have been a great wrong, worse than his enslavement and the theft of his sword and ring by Nidhad, as recounted in the poem. We know that Volund took revenge for those great wrongs, by slaying Nidhad's sons and impregnating his daughter. But this other wrong is said to be worse and remains unavenged. Do the skalds speak of any such wrong done to Thjazi by the gods? Indeed they do.
In various passages in the Eddas, Thjazi is said to be the son of Aud-valdi, Id-valdi, and Öl-valdi. In the mythology, we find a group of artists called the Sons of I-valdi. When we discover that the ancient skalds recognized the giant Thjazi as a smith (more evidence will be presented below), and one of the greatest in the mythology, the similarities between the various names of Thjazi's father (where Aud-, Id, and Öl-, form a prefix to the root Valdi) and the name "Ivaldi," whose sons are smiths to the gods, the remarkable similarity between these name variants is at once apparent. Of these smiths, the Sons of Ivaldi, the skalds tell us:
Grimnirsmal 43 (Thorpe translation): Ivaldi's sons went, in days of old, Skidbladnir to form, of ships the best, for the bright Frey, Njord's benign son.
Snorri provides us with the details of this myth. In Skaldskaparsmal 35, he relates a story in which Loki arranges a contest between the Sons of Ivaldi and the artists Brokk and Sindri. The sons of Ivaldi are not aware that they are involved in competition and are not said to be present when the works are judged. Their works, Sif's golden hair, the spear Gungnir, and the ship Skidbladnir, are judged by the gods to be inferior to Mjollnir, the work of the dwarves Brokk and Sindri. Thus, gifts they gave the gods in goodwill are judged as wanting, a most grave insult, designed by Loki to cause enmity between the Aesir and their loyal servants the Elves. The Elves are insulted and become the enemies of the gods whom they once freely aided.
Elsewhere, we find other references to this contest. In Skaldskaparsmal 1, we find these curious kennings for gold: Idjamal, Idi's speech, and Thjaza thingskil, Thjazi's evidence. Keep in mind the trio of brothers mentioned at the top of this post: Thjazi, Gang, and Idi. Snorri tells a tale in the Younger Edda regarding the Sons of Ölvaldi, where he relates that when dividing their father's inheritance, each one of these "dwarves" took up equal portions of gold in their mouth, thus gold can be called the speech of these dwarves. This would seem like a reasonable explanation for Idjamal, but in regard to "thjaza thingskil," it is highly improbable. Thingskil specifically refers to evidence presented before a Thing and is never applied to common speech. Therefore, this kenning refers to golden objects made by Thjazi presented as evidence before a Thing; the gold itself is his thingskil, his "evidence." We know only one myth where golden objects are presented as evidence before a Thing, they are Sif's hair, Gungnir, and Skidbladnir, made by the Sons of Ivaldi, Thjazi, Egil, and Idi. These works are placed before a tribunal of the gods for judgement. Snorri tells us that Loki and the rival smith Brokk were present before the thing, but Ivaldi's sons were not. The golden works are called "Thjazi's thingskil," because they had to speak for him, or rather for themselves, since Thjazi was not present when his works were judged. Thus gold may be called Idi's speech or Thjazi's thingskil.
This judgement is a pivitol event in the epic cycle of the mythological saga. Because Snorri mentions no consequences of this judgement, it does not mean there were none. The Haustlaung and the Forspallsljod skald know different.
As we know, Thjazi, in Haustlaung, uses Loki to kidnap Idunn, and in doing so treats him most harshly, dragging him over rocks until he is forced to beg for mercy. Surely, this must be because Loki is responsible for the judgement on his work. Thjazi uses Loki to abduct Idunn, removing her and her youth-preserving apples from the company of the Gods. In Volundarkvida, Volund, whom we have identified with Thjazi, retreats to the Wolf-dales, a "winter-cold" land (Doer's Lament). Forspallsljod 5 speaks of a terrible winter connected with a dire event also mentioned in Voluspa 25 in which "Od's maid" (Freyja, who represents fertility) was given to the giants. The connection between these two events is apparent by the Forspallsljod's skald's choice of words "lopti með lævi," the air was mixed with evil, and Voluspa's "lopt allt lævi blandit," blended the air with evil. This event was too important not to be mentioned in Voluspa. Forspallsljod 10 tells us that the smith Rognir, whom we have identified with Volund-Thjazi, (the very names of Thjazi in Haustlaung) "chanted galdr against the world's house." From the context, we know these spells must have generated a powerful winter dangerous to mankind. Volundarkvida calls Volund "veðreygr" the storm-watcher.
In Forspallsljod, Rognir is said to "gaundom riðo," ride wolves. Forspallsljod 6 tells us that Idunn "Ivaldi's youngest elder child," "advanced away from Yggdrassil" and went to "dwell in dales." Strophe 8 tells us that she was wrapped in Wolf-skin. At once these statements remind us of the winter-cold Wolfdales, to which Volund and the swanmaids retreat. In regard to this, Thjazi is called "Fjallgyldir," a synonym for "mountain-wolf," and "Snot-ulfr, "wise-wolf," in Haustlaung, a parallel to Idunn's epithet 'Snot," the wise one, and a paraphrase of the name of Volund's Swan-maid Alvit, the all-wise. If you recall, Thorsdrapa 8 calls the elves "eið-svara Gauta setrs vikinga snotrir," the wise men of the viking chalet, sworn to Gaut (Odin)." Again we find a confluance of ideas and words related to the elves, the sons of Ivaldi, Idunn, and Thjazi. They are "wise" workers of the magic arts, once devoted to the gods, but in times of trouble to each other.
Undoubtedly, Volund is an elf, a son of Ivaldi, and half-brother of Idunn. Yet Grimnismal, Hyndlujod, and Harbardsljod all call Thjazi a "jotun," and a kin of giants. One explanation of this, may be his status as an enemy of the gods and a bringer of winter. But this alone can not explain his explicit kinship with jotuns. Giant-blood must run through his veins.The key to understanding Thjazi-Volund and the Sons of Ivaldi's relationship to both the Elves and the giants occurs in Grotto-song 9. There they are called "half-brothers" to the giants that begat Fenja and Menja. In a difficult kenning occuring in Thorsdrapa, the giantess Greip is called "The embrace of the arms of the perjurous hapt." Hapt is a designation for a divine being. Which one is meant here was made sufficently clear to the ancient Heathens by his designation as "perjurous." There are reasons which indicate that Ivaldi, as head of the elf-tribe is meant , as he also broke his oath to the Gods. (The story involves Odin's theft of the mead and is too complex to delve into here.) This is confirmed in Haustlaung 13, where Thjazi is called "sonr biðils Greipar," the son of Greip's suitor. This also helps explains the phrase "Ivaldi's youngest elder child," found in Forspallsljod. Ivaldi had two sets of children, a younger set and an elder set, presumably by two different mothers. The skalds knew the giantess Greip as the mother of the Sons of Ivaldi, Ivaldi's "younger" set of children. Thus the Sons of Ivaldi are sons of Greip and Ivaldi.
The late source Vilkinasaga also speaks of the brothers Volund and Egil as giants, sons of a giant and a mermaid. Their father is named Vadi, which has the ring of Valdi, Ivaldi. Volundarkvida knows these same brothers as "alfr." From a comparison of sources the Sons of Ivaldi, appear to be sons of the elf Ivaldi and the giantess Greip, Geirrod's daughter. Thus Volund may be properly designated either as a jotun or an alfr, without there being a contradiction in terms, in the same way that Loki can be designated as both jotun and As, and Heimdall as Van and As (Thyrmskvida 15). In fact, the skalds seem to delight in the use of these seeming "contradictions."
Finally to show a consistancy of ideas throughout the mythic poems of the Elder Edda, let us conclude with Lokasenna. There, it is specifically said that both the Aesir and Elves are gathered in the hall. Yet seemingly no Elves are present or named. By what is said above, it appears that Skadi and Idunn are the only Elves named as present in the hall. Lokasenna 17 offers more proof of Thjazi's identity as an Elf; There Loki admonishs Idunn for embracing her brother's slayer. We know that Loki once had Idunn solely in his power, when he stole her from Thjazi's hall, and that he is directly responsible for the death of the "giant" Thjazi. He admits to being responsible for only two murders in the Lokasenna that of Balder, and that of Thjazi. We have no evidence that Idunn is Balder's sister, but on the contrary, we are provided ample evidence throughout the poems that Idunn is sister of Thjazi, one of the Sons of Ivaldi. Thus when Loki says to Idunn that he is responsible for the death of her brother, he means Thjazi-Volund-Rognir, the great smith and son of Ivaldi.
No one example is the lynch-pin of this identification. It is a confluance of the evidence that proves the point conclusively, both to Rydberg and to myself. These are merely a few of the many, many proofs of the identity between the Sons of Ivaldi and Volund-Rognir-Thjazi, Aurnir-Gang-Egil, and Slagfinn-Idi-Hjuki, half-brothers of Idunn and the swanmaids. Rydberg outlines the body of the evidence in the first volume of his work "Undersökingar i Germanisk Mythologi" (1886).
As seen above, the old skalds had a clear vision of the characters and their relationships to one another that they were dealing with in these compositions. It is their use of complex kennings and word-play that make it difficult for us, and the scholars who examined these poems before us, (of which I include the honorable Snorri Sturleson,) to understand. The source documents show a remarkable consistency of ideas through time and place. They are indeed more homogeneous than is popularly recognized. It is up to us to recognize the proper relationships, rather than to approach the poems with preconceived ideas.
A timeline might be helpful to clear up the order of events, and establish the epic nature of these poems, popularly thought to be independent of one another:
Thus ends the saga of the greatest smith in all of Northern Europe, Wayland Smith.
Please check out the references for yourselves-- I have limited myself mainly to the poems of the Elder and the Younger Edda, so you may do this. Let me know what you find, and Happy Hunting!
Return to the religion page