View Full Version : Ch 7: The Journey To The Land Of The Dead

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:18 PM
For forty days and forty nights
He wade thro red blude to the knee,
And he saw neither sun nor moon
But heard the roaring of the sea.
Thomas Rhymer.

A short survey of Norse literature soon makes it apparent that the idea of the journey to another world is a familiar one. It is not always easy however to decide on the nature of the world to which entrance is gained by the living. There are of course journeys like that of Hermóđr into the kingdom of Hel to visit the dead Balder, where we are told definitely that the goal of the traveller is the realm of the dead that he may converse with those who have passed from this world. There are also journeys of a different nature, which will need to be studied in connection with these, where the traveller has to brave a number of perils and finally has to pass through a barrier of fire to gain what he seeks; such are the experiences of Skírnir and Svipdagr in the Edda poems. This will lead us on to some of the most puzzling journeys made in Old Norse literature—those to the realms of Guđmundr and Geirröđr in Saxo, Snorri and the Fornaldar Sögur. Lastly there are two more types of journey which must be taken into account: the entrance of the living into the grave, and the penetration of the mortal into the realm of the gods.

The field then over which these journeys take us is an extensive one, ranging as they do from the underworld to the kingdom of the gods. Like the way of the adventurers we are studying, our road is beset with manifold perils, for the problem of deciding on the exact relationship between the kingdom of Gymir or of Guđmundr and the land of the dead is anything but a simple one. The most interesting aspect of this subject, that of deciding how far these entries into a supernatural world are based on the mantic vision and are an account of a spiritual adventure rather than a mythological or legendary episode, is precisely the point where the ground becomes most uncertain and the darkness most obscure. Nevertheless it must be faced, however inadequately, since the evidence which has already been studied shows the necessity of some consideration of this kind as a corollary to the investigation of the ideas about the future life and the cult of the dead which has already been made.

The most detailed description of the entrance of the living into the land of the dead, where there is no doubt about the destination, is the account of the ride of Hermóđr to find Balder in Gylfaginning (XLVIII). This has already been discussed in the chapter on The Future Life, and here we need only notice the nature of the journey. Hermóđr takes Sleipnir, the horse of Othin, to make the attempt. He rides over ‘dark and deep valleys’ for nine nights; so dark indeed is it that he sees nothing until he reaches the river ‘Echoing’ (Gjöll) and rides on the Gjallar bridge, which is roofed with shining gold. The idea of a closed bridge, ‘thatched’, as Snorri puts it, with gold, with the mysterious woman Móđguđr stationed there as its guardian, seems rather a surprising one to meet in Norse literature. It may have originated in bridges roofed as a protection against snow, but these are not common in Scandinavia now.

Móđguđr is astonished at the noise made by Hermóđr’s coming, which is so unlike that of the hosts of the shadowy dead; while he, she sees, ‘has not the hue of a dead man’. Here then we have a conception of the noiseless hosts of the dead which is different from the usual idea in Norse literature, and confirms the suggestion that Snorri was influenced here by some foreign source. Finally Hermóđr is told that Balder has indeed passed over Gjallar bridge before him, and that the way to Hel which he must follow lies ‘downward and to the North’. So Hermóđr rides on until he comes to the gate of Hel; and this he has to leap over: Sleipnir however clears the gate with ease, and there is nothing to prevent his rider entering the hall, where he finds Balder.

The chief factors then in the journey to the land of the dead are the borrowed steed, the long ride over dark valleys, the bridge across the river and the woman guarding it, the road leading down to Hel, and the high barrier which has to be leaped by Sleipnir. It is due chiefly to the power of his steed that Hermóđr passes all these obstacles and particularly the last successfully. We shall find that most of these features will recur in other stories to be examined later on.

Another account of the journey to Hel is found in the Edda poem Vegtamskviđa or Baldrs Draumar, which was discussed in the previous chapter. Here it is Othin himself who makes the journey, and again it is Sleipnir who is chosen to carry him. We are told little about the route they follow, except that it was downwards; that a dog with a bloodstained breast met Othin and barked at him as he went by; and that the earth resounded beneath the rider. Othin’s goal is apparently the ‘high hail of Hel’, so that no distinction seems to be made here between Hel and Niflhel, to which Othin in the first verse is said to be riding. The völva’s grave is on the east side of Hel. This adds little to our information; but again the journey is performed on horseback; again the road lies downwards; again there is the idea of the noise and clatter of the rider who is alive travelling the ways of the dead, as in the description of the ride of Hermóđr. )

The third account of the visit of the living to the land of the dead is the mysterious one found in Saxo in the story of Hadingus.1 The adventure takes place while Hadingus is at the court of Haquinus, king of the Nitheri whose daughter Regni1da he has married. A woman bearing hemlocks rises beside the brazier while he is at supper, and invites him to come and see a land where herbs as fresh as those she carries grow in winter. He agrees; whereupon she wraps her mantle round him and draws him down under the earth. ‘I take it’, Saxo interpolates, ‘that the nether gods purposed that he should pay a visit in the flesh to the regions whither he must go when he died.’ The way which they follow is first through mist and darkness; then along a well-worn road over which richly clad people are travelling; then through a sunny land where the fresh plants are growing. The next landmark is a ‘swift and tumbling river of leaden waters’ which contains weapons of all kinds; this they pass by a bridge. Then they meet two armies engaged in a conflict which the woman declares to be unending; these have, she says, been slain by the sword.. Finally they reach a wall which the woman tries to leap over, but it is too high for her. She strangles a cock which she carries, and flings it over the barrier; and the bird comes to life immediately, for they can hear it crowing. In this mysterious country Saxo apparently leaves his hero stranded, since after the incident of the cock he goes on to say that Hadingus set off for home with his wife (that is, from the country of the Nitheri).
Here we obviously encounter much difficulty and confusion; but

1 Saxo, 1, 31, p. 37 f.

we can recognise some of the familiar items reappearing in slightly different guise. This time the hero is conducted not by his horse, but by a guide in the form of an old woman. Here again,, however, the way lies first through darkness; it is downward, beneath the earth; it is necessary to cross a river by a bridge, though here there is no idea of a golden one. Again there is a wall too high for the woman to jump, and when a dead cock is thrown over it is restored to life on the other side. The new factors introduced are the sunny land where fresh herbs grow, the eternal conflict of those who have fallen by the sword, and the idea of renewed life behind the great barrier which Hadingus does not pass.

The identity of the hero forms a series of problems in itself, and their solution may well be important for the better understanding of this strange journey, but it is impossible to discuss these here. They are fully and ably presented in Herrmann’s Commentary on Saxo’s History,1 with a list of the literature on the subject. The relationship between Hadingus and the god Njörđr is particularly interesting, for the verses which are said in Saxo to be spoken by Hadingus and his wife are the same which in the Prose Edda2 are given to Njörđr and the giantess Skáđi, and there is a certain resemblance, too, between the stories of how each was chosen as a husband. The identity of the Nitheri, whom Herrmann suggests may be the people of Niđaróss, near Ţrandheim, is also a problem left unsolved, as is the question of how the visit of Hadingus to the underworld ended. We do know, however, that this is one of three instances where this same Hadingus establishes communication with the supernatural world. The first we have examined in the previous chapter, when Hadingus, by means of Harthgrepa’s skill in magic, hears the dead speak. Whether there is any connection between the giantess Harthgrepa of this story, who claims the power to change her size, and the woman who is huge enough to carry the hero to the underworld in her mantle and yet whose ‘wrinkled and slender body’ (corrugati corporis exilitate) is not capable of leaping over the barrier at the end of the journey, cannot be decided from Saxo’s information alone. The third expedition to a supernatural realm is that which occurs a little earlier in the story (I, 24); this time Hadingus’ conductor is an old man with one eye, who has introduced the hero to the sea-rover Liserus. After the defeat of Hadingus and his new foster-brothers, the old man

1 P. Herrmann, Dänische Geschiichte des Saxo Grammaticus, II (Leipzig, 1922), p. 89 f.
2 Gylfaginning, XXII.

carries him away on horseback, wrapping him in his mantle just as the woman from the underworld does later. The horse of his guide passes over the sea; but after one glimpse of the water beneath them Hadingus is forbidden to examine the road by which they travel. Their goal this time is the house of Othin, for there can be no doubt as to the one-eyed old man's identity, and there Hadingus is refreshed by a `certain pleasant draught', and the future is revealed to him by his guide. Hadingus then, according to Saxo, has special means of communication with the supernatural world, and this tradition is not confined to Saxo, since we find the land of the dead described as Haddingjaland in the Guđrúnarkviđa (II, 23).

We see then that a 'Journey to the land of the dead, directly acknowledged as such, is found in three accounts only. In the first two the goal the hall of Hel, in the underworld; in the third the journey is more complicated, and it is never actually stated that we are in the realm of death; although this is the explanation given by Saxo. However the passage contains a reference to the everlasting battle, and a mysterious wall behind which the dead are restored to life; and we have previously noticed close resemblances between this account and the symbolism employed in the cremation rites on the Volga, where again we have the idea of a realm of the dead behind a high barrier and where a cock is slain, as here, as a symbol not of death but of new life beyond the grave. The passage seems to contain a number of separate ideas about the future life, and much in it remains unexplained, as does also the question of how far there was any connection in Saxo's sources between this journey of Hadingus and his ride over the sea to the house of Othin.

From these three journeys, which leave many problems unsolved, we may pass on to, other accounts of entrance gained into a supernatural realm, from which the adventurer is afterwards able to return to the normal world again.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:21 PM

It will be remembered that in the story of Hervör s visit to the burial mound of her father and his brothers, examined in the last chapter,1 the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead is marked by the cold fire that flickers around the barrows. It is mentioned several times in the verses spoken by Angantýr to his daughter; and

1 Hervarar Saga ; see p. 159 above.

the climax comes when Hervör declares she is ready to put her hand among the flames and grasp the sword at the dead man's side; at the end she declares:

I seemed to be lost
Between the worlds,
While around me
Burned the fires.

‘She waded', says the saga, `through the fire like smoke' (IV). Fire was, of course, the recognised sign of a haunted burial mound, whose inhabitant was still active. In Grettis Saga the light of a great fire can be seen shooting up from a headland, and Grettir asks what it is, saying that in his country it would be a sign of treasure. He is told 'He who looks after the fire is one that it is better not to be curious about' (XVIII), and when he finally breaks into the howe in search of the treasure he encounters a fierce adversary in the shape of the dead man, Karr the Old.

Again in an odd story in Egils Saga ok Ásmundar (XIII), the broadly comic account of the giantess' excursion to the underworld, which seems full of hints and echoes of more dignified matters, includes the leaping of a wall of fire. It is this which forms the last barrier to be passed in the lowest depths (undirdjúp), and Othin himself, here the prince of darkness, directs her to it. When she leaps over the fire she is able to obtain the cloak that cannot be burned, the third of the three treasures for which she has been sent.

In view of the fact that the barrier of fire is thus seen to be connected, first with the visit to the dead in the barrow, and secondly with the Underworld it seems worth while to examine some of the other stories where the passing of this barrier forms an important feature in the journey to a supernatural realm. The two most detailed accounts are to be found in the Edda poems which deal with the stories of Svipdagr and Skírnir.

In the two poems which have to do with the adventures of Svipdagr, Grógaldr and Fjölsvinnsmál, we have first an account of his visit to his mother's grave, and of the spells which she teaches liana, and secondly a description of his arrival outside the hall of Menglöđ, and of the successful end of his wooing. Svipdagr seeks out his mother for one particular purpose; he needs her help because, as he tells her in verse 3, he has been sent to travel the way 'that none may go', to seek out the maiden Menglöđ. In verse 5 he begs her to chant spells for him, since he fears he will otherwise perish on the way, and deems himself all too young for the quest. The nine spells which are chanted by Gróa in reply to this appeal, then, are presumably for one particular purpose—to assist him in making this journey—and so a study of them may be expected to assist us in gaining knowledge of the way by which Svipdagr is to travel.

The first spell is to enable him to cast off anything harmful. The second is to prevent him from wandering, deprived of will, in the ways’. The third is against the power of certain rivers, which might overwhelm him, and is to cause them to sink back into Hel before his advance. The fourth will turn the hearts of enemies who lie in wait for him away from their hostility. The fifth will loosen fetters laid on his limbs. The sixth will calm a raging sea, ‘wilder than men know’. The seventh will preserve him from death from the intense cold on the ‘high fells’. The eighth will help him, if suddenly overtaken by darkness, against the malignant power of ‘dead Christian women’; and the ninth and last spell is to give him eloquence and wisdom when he comes to converse with the wise and terrible giant.

In these spells we are given a fairly vivid picture of the path which Svipdagr is to take. He will encounter hostility on it; enemies will lie in wait for him, some of them actually specified as the dead. He may be deprived of the strength of his will, and wander aimlessly, without the ability to continue on the right path; and he may be bound with fetters. His path will lie over wild rivers, said to flow out from Hel itself, over a stormy sea, and over high mountains where the cold is terrible; and always darkness may overtake him suddenly. At the end of the journey is the giant whom he must outstrip in wisdom if he is to gain his quest. The gap between the two poems, Grógaldr and Fjölsvinnsmál, is not thus complete; since the nature of the ‘spell-songs’ of Gróa affords a clue to the journey which Falk in his detailed study of the problems of Svipdagsmál seems to have neglected to follow. There is a good deal in this article of Falk’s, however, which is of interest for our present subject. Not only does he point out how closely the poems are linked together, as the work of Grundvig on the Danish ballads first indicated, but he also brings out striking parallels with the journey in Skírnismál; with the visit of Sigurđr to the sleeping Valkyrie; with Ung Sveidal and other Danish ballads; and with the Welsh story from the Mabinogion, Kulhwch: and Olwen. He suggests too a certain resemblance to part of one of the Fornaldar Sögur, Hjálmđérs Saga ok Ölvérs, and to a much later saga

1 ‘Om Svipdagsmál’, Ark.f.n.F. VI, 1894, p. 26 f.

in modern Icelandic, the Himinbjargar Saga. Evidently the story was one that had a wide circulation; although details may change, the fundamental elements—the young man seized with passionate love and desire for an unknown maiden of whom he hears, often through magic agency; the obstacles that lie between him and her castle; the final and apparently insurmountable barrier which is passed in the end without difficulty because Fate is on the young hero’s side; and the young girl who rises to welcome him who has passed through all the encircling defenses, and who will henceforth be united to him for ever—these remain the same.

Besides the parallels noted by Falk, we may also add a story from Irish sources, the story of Art, son of Conn,1 and his wooing of Delbchaein. The banishment of Art by his wicked supernatural stepmother, Becuma, and the perils which lie has to overcome before he can enter the bronze stronghold of the maiden, form a close parallel to Svipdagsmál and some of the other stories Falk mentions, and is a better example than the Welsh story of how familiar the tradition must have been in Celtic literature.

The explanation which Falk accepted was the then popular one of the sun-myth; while a more modern explanation is that expressed by Olsen in an article on Skírnismál2 which he takes to be an allegory of the fertilising of the seed in the earth. Whether this be the ultimate meaning or not, there are clearly points in Svipdagsmál which deserve investigation for our present study.

In particular, the connection between the dwelling of Menglöđ and the land of the dead is brought out by Falk’s detailed investigation of the conversation between Svipdagr and Fjölsvinnr. He points out, for instance, the resemblance between the gates Ţrymgjöll and Helgrind and the door to which Brynhildr refers as slamming on the heels of the dead; between the fierce hounds that guard the gate and the dog met by Othin in descending to Hel; and, most interesting of all, between the scene in Fjölsvinnsmál, where we have the giant watchman, the tree, the cock in the boughs, and the hounds, and that in Völuspá, where the giant who sits on the mound playing his harp, the world-tree, the cock and the dog Garmr are brought into close proximity. In the version of the story given in the Danish ballad which is so close to Svipdagsmál, it may be noticed that the giant

1 Cross and Slovcr, Ancient Irish Tales (Chicago, 1935), p. 491 f. (from rendering given in Erin).
2 Fra Gammelnorsk Myte og Cultus’, M.o.M. 1909, p. 17 1.

watchman here is also said to be a shepherd, sitting on a mound. It certainly seems as if it is the Underworld which is indicated, and we may add the evidence for the journey thither, through darkness, deep rivers and a raging sea, and over high mountains, corresponding to the accounts of the journeys to the land of the dead which have already been studied, with the emphasis on rivers of Hel and malignant ghosts to bear out the likeness. How Svipdagr accomplished the journey we are not told, but in the ballad version it is on horseback; Sveidalsvisen tells us that the hero:

rider over det brede hav
og gjennem de grönne skove,

indicating that it was a horse of supernatural powers that he rode, like the horse Sleipnir which carried Othin, Hermóđr and Hadingus into the other world. Finally we notice that the wall of fire is present also, although it is not much emphasised, for Svipdagr addresses the giant as one who ‘stands before the entrance and keeps watch on all sides of the threatening flames’ (V. 2).
The other poem which deals with a journey to win a bride from a supernatural realm guarded by a wall of fire is Skírnismál, and here the plot differs from those of all the other stories, because it is not Freyr, the hero, but his servant Skírnir who accomplishes the journey and wins the consent of the bride. It has been suggested by Olsen that the name Skírnir indicates that the wooer is only a hypostasis of the god himself, since the name is formed from one of his titles; the poem, however, gives no suggestion of this, and there are no references to the story elsewhere to bear it out; Lokasenna (42) indeed refers to the fact that Freyr in giving away his sword to Skírnir left himself unarmed in the last great battle.

Of the journey made by Skírnir we are not told very much; we have only the words he speaks to his horse to indicate the perils encountered on the way:

It is dark without; time for our going, I say,
Over the dank fells,
Out to the giant folk;
We will both conic through, or he will have both of us,
That loathsome giant.

In that brief yet vivid picture there is the idea of a difficult journey through hostility and danger; and again the darkness amid the mountains are mentioned as in Grógaldr. Now the wall of fire is more definitely described, in Skírnir’s words to Freyr:

Give me a steed then to bear me through
The dark and flickering flames,

and from the words of Gerđr we are led to assume that Skírnir leaps either the wall of flame or the great barrier gate that encloses the court, even as Hermóđr on Sleipnir clears the gate of Hel; and like Hermóđr and like Othin he causes the strange realm to shake with the clamour of his coming. Again we have the giant guardian outside, and as in the ballad he is a shepherd sitting on a mound, accompanied by the ‘hounds of Gymir’; these are the same fierce guardians as those possessed by Menglöđ in the other poem, while yet another parallel can be found in time Welsh story,1 where the shepherd sits on the mound outside the dwelling of Yspaddaden Penkawr, with a huge mastiff beside him.

With the penetration of Skírnir within the courts, however, the plot differs from that of Svipdagsmál and the Danish ballads. Gerđr is reluctant to give her love to Freyr, and she only consents to do so when Skírnir has called down a series of curses upon her which form perhaps the most puzzling feature of the poem. Olsen has brought out in his article the picture of sterility which is drawn in the fierce and relentless verses Skírnir speaks: Gerđr is to become like a withered thistle, and love and joy are to be denied her. Now there are two other detailed curses which are given to us in Norse literature: the curse of Busla, in Bósa Saga ok Herrauđs (IV), and that spoken by Hervör at the grave of Angantýr. That of Busla is easy to analyse: Nature shall be against the king, and the seasons ill; his heart and mind shall be tortured, and his senses dazed; he shall meet with every calamity possible out of doors; and a curse shall fall on all his dealings with women. After this series of threats, Busla calls upon the powers—trolls, elves, giants—to bring ill-fortune upon the luckless Hringr; and she finally snaps his resistance by threatening him with certain runes. The curse of Hervör on her dead father and his brothers is briefer and less embracing; 2 if they do not give up the sword which she demands, their bodies are to be tormented

As though ants swarmed over you
In your mounds,

1 Loth, Les Mabinogion (Paris, 1913), t, p. 289.
2 See p. 160 above.

and when they still withhold the treasure, she curses them with the curse of utter annihilation:

I will ordain it
That you dead
Shall all lie
And rot with the corpses
Lifeless in the grave.

Although the form of the curse imposed on Gerđr resembles that of Busla—physical misery, mental anguish, sterility, and appeal to supernatural powers in the shape of Othin and the Ćsir to make it valid, and finally the production of the all-powerful runes—the spirit of it is perhaps nearer to that of Hervör. The maiden Gerđr is already, as we have seen, pictured as residing in a kind of underworld realm of the dead; when the dread curse takes effect, it will bring about a second, more dire annihilation, like that which threatens Angantýr, who is already within the grave. Her joyless existence with Hrímgrimnir is to be beneath Nágrindr, the gate of death; and she is to lie ‘under the roots’ even as do the brothers before they are roused by Hervör. It is interesting to speculate on how far this idea of a second, more dire annihilation could be connected with rebirth; can it be the soul which is unable to pass again into the world of the living which is thought of as sterile, and doomed to pass away completely? The words of the dying man in Svarfdćla Saga (V) begging his brother to pass on his name to a child of his after he dies may be remembered here:’ ‘My name.. .now must pass out of use like withered grass’, he says, in words that echo the phrase about the withered thistle in Skírnismál. If there were some connection between these two conceptions, the reference to a second death out of the grave (hel) into a deeper annihilation (niflhel) in Vafţrúđnismál (V. 43) would be more understandable.

Among the references to the wall of fire we have left to consider is the story of Sigurđr’s ride to the castle of the sleeping Valkyrie, where the chief barrier to be passed is the belt of flames that flicker round her dwelling-place. That fire gleams out, dramatically, in a few of the Edda poems. In Grípisspá (V. 15) the seer, Grípir, describes to Sigurđr the king’s daughter sleeping in armour on a mountain, whom it is his destiny to awake. In Fáfnismál the same picture recurs, and now the wall of fire is added:

1 See p. 141 above.

A hall stands high on Hindarfjall;
All around it is wrapped in flame;
Men of wisdom have fashioned it so
Out of the shining light of rivers [i.e. gold].
On the mount, I know, a war-spirit sleeps,
And around her flickers the lime-tree’s foe. . . [i.e. fire].

In the prose introduction to Sigrdrífumál Sigurđr rides towards the mountain and sees what he imagines to be the light of a great fire, ‘and the radiance of it reached to the heavens’. This time, however, the fire is explained as being nothing more than a wall of shining shields, within which he finds the sleeping maiden. In Helreiđ Brynhildar it is no longer Sigrdrífa, the unknown Valkyrie, but Brynhildr herself who has stepped into the story. The account which she gives is in accordance with the facts in Sigrdrífumál; not only is the Valkyrie shut in with red and white shields by the angry Othin, but the fire, ‘the wood’s destroyer’, is set burning high around the hail.

The part played by Brynhildr in the story of the hero Sigurđr remains one of the many vexed questions in Norse literature. Particularly is the tale of the wooing of Brynhildr and Guđrún by Gunnarr and Sigurđr full of confusion and contradiction; and here the question which stands out most urgently is that of the exact relationship between Brynhildr, daughter of Buđli, bride of Gunnarr, and the Valkyrie asleep on her hill in battle-dress within a wall of flame, whom Snorri calls Hildr, Fáfnismál and Sigrdrífumál present as Sigrdrífa, an unknown Valkyrie, and Helreiđ and Grípisspá identify with the human heroine. The enchanted Valkyrie is absent in the main German version of the story, the Nibelungenlied, although the fiery-spirited woman-warrior who can defeat strong men in battle might well be influenced by an earlier Valkyrie conception. The controversy as to the age and interconnection of the many different versions of the story in Norse, Middle High German and Faroese has been a lengthy and complex one, and it would be impossible to outline even the main arguments here. It may suffice for our present purpose, however, to notice that a scholar as fully versed as Heusler1 in both Norse and German sources reached the conclusion that the story of the awakening of the Valkyrie did not form an original part of the Sigurđar Saga, but was added to it later, when the heroine of

1 ‘Die Lieder der Lücke in dem Codex Regius der Edda’ (Germ. Abhandlungen: f, H.. Paul, Strassburg, 1902); ‘Altnordische Dichtung und Prosa von Jung Sigurd’ (Sitzungsberichte d. preussischen Akad. d. Wissenschaften, 1919), p. 162 f.

the Awakening story was identified with the wife of Gunnarr, who helped to compass the hero’s ruin. He believed that the source of this story was an early one. Schneider later opposed this point of view, but it is supported and strengthened by the most recent de-tailed study of the subject, Lehmgrübner’s Die Erweckung der Valkyrie.1 After a full and painstaking study of all the available evidence relating to Brynhildr and the Valkyrie, he has been led to the conclusion that the story of the awakening of the sleeper, of which the only first-hand source which we possess is the Sigrdrífumál, is a very early one, and formed one of the series of lays recording adventures of the hero Sigurđr-Siegfried in his youth. Afterwards it gradually merged into the Burgundian story of the death of Sigurđr and the slaying of the sons of Gjuki at Atli’s court; and by the time of the Sigurđarkviđa en forna, the earliest lay we possess, the Valkyrie has become Brynhildr the wife of Gunnarr, and a marriage has been arranged for Sigurđr with Gunnarr’s sister, Guđrún. One result of this development of the story is the gradual rationalising of Brynhildr the Valkyrie into a more normal heroine, and the relegating of the wall of fire more and more into the background, until in some passages it is even explained away as a glittering barrier of shields. The earlier heroine awakened from sleep may have been nameless; some suggest she was called Hildr; Lehmgrübner himself believes that the name Brynhildr is found in the earliest version. He is also convinced that the story of her rousing belonged to early Germanic as well as to Norse sources.
Besides the story of the awakening of the sleeper, scholars have recognised also an early story bound up closely with it, of the releasing of a maiden from captivity in a stronghold, guarded in some versions by a wall of fire, in others by a dragon, and like it connected with the youth of Sigurđr. Lehmgrübner traces this in various versions of the tale of Sigurđr’s wooing; he is of the opinion that the young Sigurđr was the original hero of this story too, who rescued the nameless maiden and won her as his bride.

If we accept this interpretation of the lengthy pedigree of Sigrdrífumál, and the belief of Heusler and Lehmgrübner that the story it records was not originally part of the story of Sigurđr and the sons of Gjuki, but was incorporated from a strange tale of the adventure of a young hero, then there is no reason why we should not see it as derived from an account of the seeking of a supernatural woman

1 Hermaea, XXXII, Halle (Saale), 1936. See especially pp. 41 f. and 92 f.

from behind a wall of fire akin to those in the poems Svipdagsmál and Skírnismál. The present form of Sigrdrífumál leads us to believe that the gaining of wisdom was the main object of the quest, and this fits in well with the motif of the arousing of the sleeper, which was discussed in the previous chapter. But the fact that this motif appears to have been closely linked from the beginning with what is clearly an example of the supernatural wooing story is very significant, for the connection with the other accounts of the wall of fire and the penetration within it by the hero also becomes marked. The likeness between the situation in Sigrdrífumál and that in the other two Edda poems had already been commented on by Grundvig and others, and in Falk’s article cited above he points out the resemblance between Menglöđ on her mountain Lyfjaberg and Sigrdrífa on Hindarfjall, and suggests that the use of the word ţruma of Menglöđ might even indicate a languor connected with the deep sleep from which Sigurđr has to awaken the Valkyrie. There is also the odd echo of the svefn-ţorn said to be used by Othin to will the Valkyrie to sleep, found in the name of Menglöđ’s father, Svafrţorenn.1

It is interesting to see how these suggestions of early scholars are thus verified by the work of more recent ones concerned with quite a different problem—the connection of the Nibelungenlied with Norse sources of the Sigurđr story. It means also that the interpretation suggested earlier in this chapter of the scene in Sigrdrífumál is supported by the detailed work of others who had divergent ends in view.

Thus the review of the stories of the supernatural world from which the bride is won reveals tantalising half-resemblances, apparent echoes and imitations, so that the problem of the origin of these traditions is very complicated, and necessitates a study of Celtic legends as well as Norse ones. From the tangle of evidence, however, emerges the idea of a journey to another world which is not entirely outside our concern. Roughly, the way in which it is reached is the same. The steed, above all, must be a special one, with powers which will enable him and his rider to survive the perils of the journey, and it is noticeable that it is often one of Othin’s horses which is chosen, for Grani, the only horse that will carry Sigurđr through the wall of

1 Some have gone even further than this and pointed out that the father of Olwen in the Mabinogion is called Yspaddaden (‘hawthorn’), a plant which has the name schlafapfel in certain parts of Germany (Sijmons & Gering, Die Lieder d. Edda, 3, Kommentar, Halle, 1927, 1, p. 140).

fire, is of Sleipnir’s stock. Sleipnir himself, it will be remembered, carried Othin, Hadingus and Hermóđr. Skírnir also borrows a horse for the journey, and in the ballad version of the Svipdagr story the hero is given a supernatural horse by his mother. We have seen how the dark fells, the water to be crossed, the final mighty barrier that blocks the way, the dog guardians and the wall of leaping flames, occur again and again. The watchman on the mound, too, is a familiar figure; can it be because the figure sitting on the howe symbolises communication between the living and the dead—that it is, in fact, by way of the mantic vision that the underworld realm can be reached? The emphasis on the journey (often by sea) to the Land of Promise, and the fact that this is said at the same time to be within a mound in the Irish stories, are suggestive.

What do we know of the purpose of this journey made in face of such dangers to the mysterious world reached through the darkness and the flames? In Sigrdrífumál it is the obtaining of wisdom, just as in the journey made by Othin himself; in Svipdagsmál and Skírnismál it is the winning of a bride, and by the introduction of this theme into the story of the consultation of the Valkyrie, the same twist is given to this also. But the winning of the bride in stories of the supernatural world need not necessarily be something separate from the pursuit of wisdom. In the stories which have been examined in the previous chapters, we have seen how the bride-protector, the supernatural woman who attends the hero—valkyrja, fylgjukona or dís—is at once regarded as his wife and as the guardian spirit endowed with supernatural wisdom to protect his fortunes. On the one hand, in-spiration, and on the other, the erotic element, are both undoubtedly present in these stories. It is at least a possibility then that some such conception may be behind these journeys to the Underworld. We remember how it was when sitting on a howe that Helgi first encountered the Valkyrie Sváva, who became his guardian for the rest of his life, and who was said to be reborn in Sigrún, the wife and guardian of the later Helgi; and in Grípisspá (V. 15) we meet with the surprising statement that the sleeping woman on the mountain has been there ‘since the slaying of Helgi’—which seems to indicate that here we have the same Valkyrie, reborn or else undying, ready to become the guardian of Sigurđr also. In going further without additional evidence we should be on unsure ground; but at least an examination of the journeys described in these poems shows us that there must be sonic connection between the strange land to which the heroes journey and the land of the dead, and that they must therefore be taken into consideration together with our other accounts of the descent of the living into the land of death.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:23 PM

The journeys which we have already examined have clearly something in common with the mysterious voyages to the North, said to be made to the kingdoms of Guðmundr and Geirröðr, and to the realm of the god Útgarða-Loki. It is not proposed here to make any attempt to deal with the complicated question of the nature of King Guðmundr’s country, and of the geographical and historical significance of the information which is given us about it in the Flateyjarbók and the Fornaldar Sögur.’ His kingdom is never actually represented as the realm of the dead; but in several of the accounts a realm closely connected with the dead seems to lie beside his, and sometimes his own land is given a supernatural character also, when we are told that in it lies Ódainsakr—the ‘land of the not-dead’.

To turn first to the land of darkness, decay and death that seems to lie beyond that of the mysterious northern ruler Guðmundr, the most vivid description of it can be found in Saxo’s account of the voyage of Thorkillus in the Eighth Book of his Historia Danorum2 Thorkillus is said to have been given the task of leading the expedition to seek the realm of Geruthus (Geirröðr), rumoured to possess great store of treasure. He sets out with three hundred men, and they sail north past Halogaland, seeking, in accordance with the directions of former travellers, ‘to leave the sun and stars behind, to journey down into chaos, and at last to pass into a land where no light was and where darkness reigned eternally’. When they come to further Permland (i.e. Bjarmaland), they go ashore; and it is in this region of intense cold, pathless forests, wild beasts and foaming torrents, as Saxo describes it, that Guðmundr encounters them as twilight approaches. From this time on the travellers are harassed continually by mysterious prohibitions from Thorkillus, which neither he nor Saxo ever explains to us. They must refrain from speaking to the people of these parts; they must abstain from any of the food of the country; they must not lay hands on the people or the cups in which the drink is served; and they must have nothing to do with the women of Guðmundr’s household.

1 This is too extensive a subject to be treated here and it is in any case being worked on in detail by Mrs. Chadwick, the person best fitted to elucidate its obscurities.
2 Saxo, VIII, 286, p. 344 f.

Beside Guðmundr’s realm runs a river, crossed by a golden bridge; and this too they are forbidden to pass over, since Guðmundr tells them that it divides the world of men from that of monsters, and no mortal foot may cross it. Yet they are finally ferried by him to the far side of another river, when he finds himself unable to persuade them to taste any of the delights of his realm, and land in what seems to be a region of monsters indeed.

They make their way to a great walled stronghold; fierce dogs guard the entrance to it, and the heads of warriors impaled on stakes grin at them from the battlements. The dogs, whose presence reminds us of the guardians of the underworld, are quietened by a horn smeared with fat which Thorkillus throws to them. The gates are impassable, like those of the Underworld in the Edda poems, but this northern Odysseus finds a way of entry by means of ladders, and so the walls are scaled. The description of the interior of the stronghold is a strange picture of decay, of riches and glittering treasures surrounded by foulness and dark horror, that is closer to the tales of entries into burial mounds by robbers than anything else in Norse literature. They seem to be surrounded by dark phantoms; there is mud and a horrible smell of corruption on every side, and as they enter the innermost chamber where Geirröðr himself is rumoured to lie, the horror becomes greater; there is more filth and squalor, and a stench so frightful that they can hardly go forward. Moreover the roof is made of spearheads and the floor covered with snakes, as in the grim underworld of Völuspá. It is inhabited by monsters, some apparently fighting with clubs and others playing a kind of game with a ball of skin, while doorkeepers stand at watch on the threshold. These creatures do not seem, however, to be alive and in motion; they resemble rather the motionless guardians of some great burial-place, servants laid like those in the royal tombs at Ur, in fitting postures round their master. Finally the adventurers come upon Geirröðr himself, and see an old man with his body pierced through, sitting beside a mighty rent in the rock with three women with broken backs beside him. Then they see the treasure—great ‘butts’, as Elton translates the Latin dolia, with hoops of gold and silver chains hanging from them, magnificent horns ornamented with gold and gems, and a heavy bracelet. Some of the men venture to touch these, but to touch is fatal, for immediately the coveted things turn into snakes or weapons and kill the rash intruder. Finally however Thorkillus himself is so tempted by some rich clothes laid out in a side chamber that he lays hands on a splendid mantle—and at once the whole place springs into life and the apparently dead creatures rise up and attack them. There is a terrible fight, and at the end only twenty of the company escape alive, and are ferried back to Guðmundr. Before they leave his realm altogether, one of the leaders is tempted to woo one of Guðmundr’s daughters; and this causes his death, for he is drowned in the river as they leave the country.

In the second excursion of Thorkillus1 he aims at discovering the dwelling-place of Útgarða-Loki, whom King Gormr worships as a god, and to whom they had prayed successfully for favourable weather to bring them home from Guðmundr’s realms. Here the expedition is to certain rocky caverns in a land of unbroken night. They enter a narrow entrance in the rock, striking lights to assure them of the way, and again iron seats and serpents meet their eyes, and there is a slow stream winding over the floor which they have to cross. Then the floor slopes upward, and they find Útgarða-Loki bound with enormous chains, with hairs as long and stiff as spears. One of these hairs is plucked out by Thorkillus, and he and his companions make their way out, but many are killed by the poison from the snakes as they go, and the poison is said to follow them until they move their ship out of the harbour, killing all those who do not cover themselves with hides. This journey bears some resemblance to the former one, in the tomb-like cavern, the darkness and the foul smells. This time however the central theme is like that found in folktale, that of ‘the boy who plucked three hairs from the Devil’. It does not seem to add anything very new to the conception of the journey into the unknown land, except the name Útgarða-Loki, which has replaced Geirröðr.

The story of the visit to Geirröðr is evidently in the same tradition as one which Adam of Bremen tells of a journey made by certain Frisians.2 They too suffer from terrible cold and darkness before they reach an island, surrounded by high cliffs like the walls of a town. They go ashore to investigate, and find men hidden in underground caverns—presumably these seem to be dead, since no attempt is made to stop the intruders—at the entrance of which there is an amazing array of treasure, including many rare vessels of gold. They

1 Saxo, VIII, 292, p. 352 f.
2 Adam of Bremen, IV, 41, Schol. 159.

seize as much as they can, and try to reach the ship, but they are pursued by gigantic figures, accompanied by huge dogs, which tear one of the crew to pieces. The rest reach the ship in safety, though without their booty, and the giants wade out to sea, shouting threats after them, as they sail away.

Here the cold, the darkness, the high cliffs like a wall, the rocky caverns, the golden treasures consisting in particular of drinking vessels, the giants and the fierce dogs that avenge the robbery, are all in accordance with Saxo’s account, especially the idea that there is no sign of hostility until the adventurers are leaving with the treasure.

It may be noticed that in the Prose Edda1 also we have two accounts of journeys made by Thor; once to the realm of Útgarða-Loki, and once to that of Geirröðr the giant. Here the idea of the land of death is so little emphasised in either case that they hardly concern us. However the mighty stronghold of Útgarða-Loki, so high that Thor and his companions have to set their heads far back before they can see the top, and the gate at which entry is only gained when the great Thor condescends to creep through the bars, remind us of some of the other journeys. The Útgarða-Loki of this story—which clearly owes a great deal to the masterly hand of Snorri himself, so satirically and wittily is it told—is an adept at sjónhverfing, the deceiving of the eyes, and he tricks the strong but simple Thor at trial after trial of strength. Only the mighty horn which Thor tries in vain to empty, because the sea runs into it, and the Miðgarðs serpent, which appears as a grey cat, call to mind momentarily the drinking-horns and the serpents in Saxo.

In the second journey Thor has to ford the river Vimur; here he has his first brief but decisive encounter with one of Geirröðr’s daughters; but the verse which he speaks is one of greater dignity than the crude situation in Snorri warrants, and reminds us of the spell in Grógaldr, where Svipdagr is given magical strength which, like the god-might of Thor, can make the hostile rivers in his path roll back into Hel. Of the scene in the giant’s hall no details are given, except that when Thor sits down he finds that the giant’s two daughters (according to Saxo there should be a third) are under his chair, but he forces them down and breaks their backs. Geirröðr like Útgarða-Loki then calls for sports, and hurls a ball of glowing iron at Thor; but the god returns it with such a will that it cuts through a pillar and through Geirröðr himself, before tearing a piece

1 Gylfaginning, XLV; Skáldskaparmál, XVIII.

out of the wall; and to this story of Thor’s exploits Saxo makes reference in the account of Thorkillus’ voyage.
The idea of a visit to Geirröðr’s realm was evidently a favourite theme, for it is dealt with again in the Þáttr Þorsteins Bæarmagnis in the Fornmanna Sögur. This time it is Guðmundr himself who makes the journey, accompanied by the hero, who is of minute size beside the gigantic king and his men. Geirröðr and his jarl Agði are represented as wicked and troll-like, in contrast with the white-skinned and benevolent Guðmundr, and here Guðmundr is said to be a title adopted by each of the kings of Glasisvellir when they ascend the throne. Again a river lies between the two realms, and is of no ordinary nature; it is called Hemrá; and it is interesting to notice that no horse will ford it save those ridden by Guðmundr and his two sons. The water of the river is fatal to the touch, and Þorsteinn has to cut off his toe after the river has touched it. In the hall of Geirröðr there is again ball-throwing, and this time the ball is ‘a seal’s head glowing with heat, with sparks flying from it and the fat dropping off like glowing pitch’. Again, too, elaborate drinking-horns and a contest in drinking play an important part. Finally Geirröðr is slain by the agency of Þorsteinn, and the black and sinister Agði retires into a howe. The resemblance between the situation here and that inside the howe in the story of Þorsteinn Uxafótr has already been noticed. Apart from this, however, there is no direct and obvious connection with the kingdom of the dead, and the same may be said of other stories in the Fornaldar Sögur in which Guðmundr amid Geirröðr are represented as neighbours. We may notice that nearly all the stories, however, agree in placing Guðmundr’s realm in the far North, and in emphasising the fact that the way to reach it is through mist and darkness and intense cold.

There is also a strange tradition recorded of Guðmundr in the Hervarar Saga:

…..Guðmundr was the name of a king in Jötunheim.. . He and his men lived out many men’s lifetimes, and because of this heathen men believed that in his kingdom was Ódainsakr, and everyone who came there turned his back upon sickness and age, and would not die. After the death of Guðmundr, his men worshipped him and called him a god (I).

The evidence for Ódainsakr in Norse literature is slight and tantalising. Rydberg’ built up a fascinating but wild theory around it,

1 Teutonic Mythology (trans. Anderson, London, 1889).

equating it, among other places, with the land behind the high wall in the story of Hadingus, and the land beyond the golden bridge next to Guðmundr’s realm in Saxo; but we have unfortunately no grounds for accepting these suggestions, pleasant though they might seem, without more weighty evidence. Apart from the reference in Saxo to Fialler, governor of Scania, who is said to have been driven into exile and to have retired ‘to a spot called Undersakre, unknown to our people’ (IV, 105), we are limited to the strange Saga Eiríks Víðförla in the Fornaldar collection, which caused even Rydberg to despair because of the preponderance of Christian influence. The introduction of Ódainsakr into the teaching of the king of Constantinople. is, however, interesting. In chapter II he teaches the hero, Eric, the Christian conception of the cosmos, consisting of Heaven above the air, where God and angels and good men dwell; the earth, a dungeon in comparison; and helviti, the deep pit below the earth where Satan lies bound, and where sinful men are tormented eternally. Besides these three divisions, the king allows a fourth—Paradise—which he places beyond India, the ‘outermost land on the southern half of the earth’. It cannot be reached by men, he says, because a wall of fire forms a barrier between it and the world of mortals (II).

But Eric has made a vow to discover the country ‘which heathen men call Ódainsakr’, but Christian men ‘the land of living men’ (jörð lifanda manna): and accordingly he sets out for India. As he and his companions come closer to the mysterious land, they journey through a region where ‘the stars shine by day as well as by night and where lumps of gold can be found. Then they travel through a dark forest, and gradually it grows brighter as they emerge from the trees, until they see a stone bridge leading to a beautiful land on the other side of a river. The country across the river seems to be full of blossoms and sweet odours, but a great dragon with gaping jaws bars the way,1 and it is only when Eric and one companion have the courage to leap through his mouth that they are able to reach the fair country: ‘...It seemed to them as if they waded through smoke, and when they passed out of the smoke they saw a fair land....’ Here then the dragon head evidently stands for the wall of fire of which the king spoke, and the same expression (‘she waded through

1 This was a familiar medieval conception of the mouth of Hell; it served as a means of depicting it in the Miracle Plays, and may be seen in the Cædmon MS. (Junius XI, facsimile ed. Gollancz, Brit. Acad. 1927), p. 16.

the fire like smoke’) is used of the passing of the flaming barrier by Hervör. Later on in the saga Eric has an interview with his guardian angel, and is told that although this country is near Paradise, it is not the same, ‘for from Paradise all life comes, and there the spirits of righteous men shall dwell; and this place is called the land of living men’ (IV).
This country, which recalls at once the Fortunate Isles of Greek mythology and the land across the sea in Irish traditions, is part of a conception which has evidently lingered on in a few passages when its main significance has been forgotten; and it stands apart from the main stream of conceptions about the future life. The journey to it, however, consisting of travel through darkness, over a river by a bridge, and through a wall of fire, links it up with the journeys which we have already examined, those concerned with the supernatural wooing and with the voyage northward.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:24 PM

The entrance of the living adventurer into the burial mound has already been discussed to some extent in the chapter on The Future Life. Before leaving the subject of the journey into the land of the dead, however, it is instructive to notice the resemblance between the form these stories take and the account of the penetration into the realm of Geirröðr in Saxo.

In Grettis Saga (XVIII) the howe of Kárr the Old stands on a headland, and after dark it is surrounded by a fire. Grettir goes out to the headland, and tries to break into the howe. He finds it a very difficult task, but finally he makes his way through the wall of earth and comes to the inner wall, which is of wood; this too he tears down, and by this time it is growing dark. Grettir then has himself lowered by a rope into the darkness of the burial mound; ‘it was dark there’, says the saga, ‘and the smell was not pleasant.’ He makes his way gingerly forward, and comes upon the bones of a horse, and then he stumbles upon a chair, and finds the occupant. The old man is seated upon the chair, with much treasure in gold and silver around him, and a casket full of silver at his feet. Until Grettir attempts to return to the rope with the treasure, all is still in the mound, and the figure in the chair shows no sign of activity, but as the young man turns away with the gold, he is gripped tightly from behind, and the silent grave becomes a terrible scene of battle. Grettir and his unseen opponent sway here and there in their wrestling, and everything that comes in their way is broken; first one and then the other is beaten to his knees, until at last as they struggle among the horse’s bones Grettir makes a mighty effort and throws the howe-dweller backwards with a resounding crash. He cuts off his head with his sword and sets it between his thighs, and then he makes for the rope with the treasure, and since his companion has fled in terror he climbs up without help.

In the light of what we have already studied, this story now seems a very familiar one. Here we have fire burning around the barrow, and besides the fire the wall of the barrow itself proves an obstinate barrier which it requires great effort to break through. Inside, as in the dwelling of Geirröðr and Útgarða-Loki, there is darkness and a foul smell of corruption,. bones of a dead animal, and a huge figure sitting on a chair, surrounded by a splendid treasure in gold and silver. When the interloper tries to make off with this, the apparently dead figure comes to life, and attacks him with terrible ferocity. Grettir has to overcome him, cut off his head, and climb out by the way by which he has entered. This story does not by any means stand alone, for there are many tales of breaking into howes in the sagas, and all are roughly of the same pattern. In the entrance gained by Hörðr into the mound of Sóti in Harðar Saga (XV), in Gestr’s entrance into Raknár’s mound in Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss (XX) and in Hrómundr’s entrance into the mound of Þráinn in Hrómundar Saga Greipssonar, to name three of the most elaborate accounts, the diffi-culty of opening the mound, the darkness, the foul smell, the seated figure guarding his treasure, and the pandemonium and fight with the inhabitant on the way out, all occur as before.

The entry into the grave-mound by the living is not always for the purpose of robbing the dead. In the story of Egils Saga ok Ásmundar (VI) the foster-brother enters voluntarily into the tomb for three nights to fulfil a vow, and the fight between himself and the howe-dweller occurs when the dead Aran attempts on the last night to devour his companion as he has previously devoured the horse, hawk and hound buried with him. In the Þáttr Þorsteins Uxafóts, it will be remembered, the hero again enters voluntarily into the tomb: in fact he is invited in by one of the inhabitants. Here the close parallel to the help given by Þorsteinn Bæarmagn to the fair, red-clad Guðmundr against the black and troll-like Agði has been noted,1

1 See p. 81 above.

emphasising the relationship between the dwelling of Geirröðr and the burial mound.
The whole question of how far the journey to the land of the dead was based on the entrance into the burial mound is not likely to be an easy one to answer. They are evidently closely related, but there are two ways in which the relationship may have conic about. The practice of robbing burial mounds was undoubtedly well known in Viking times, and is indeed wherever barrow burial on a large scale is used. The darkness, the evil smell, the seated figure surrounded by treasure, would certainly be very real and obvious factors in such a robbery; and traditions about the power of the dead inhabitants and the vengeance taken on robbers would be inevitable, since they even attach themselves to stories of modern archaeologists to-day. The journeys to the land of the dead, then, might be based on such entry as was known to be obtainable into the actual grave. Another possibility however is that these stories, which seem to belong to a definite literary tradition, may be rationalisations of a more complex and perhaps more mystical conception. And it is perhaps most probable that both processes have been at work together.

We are left, at any rate, with what seem to be two separate conceptions, although there is a certain similarity between them, and although it is common for stories to contain elements from both side by side. There is the story of the long journey through many dangers, on a supernatural steed or with a supernatural guide, and finally the passing of a difficult barrier to reach the goal, which is set in a realm closely connected with the realm of the dead. Secondly there is the story of penetration into the world of corruption and physical death—the grave itself—where wonderful treasures are to be found by the brave man, but where the price to be paid is likely to be heavy. Two differences stand out in the two conceptions; in the first case the importance of wisdom and supernatural knowledge is stressed and physical strength alone is useless—indeed physical qualities seem for the most part to be ignored altogether, for it is the spells of Gróa, the curses of Skírnir, the prophecies made to Sigurðr, and above all the help of Fate, that are of avail. In the second case the idea of wisdom hardly enters into the question at all, and it is by physical prowess that the enemy has ultimately to be overcome; even the knowledge of Thorkillus has to be supplemented by hard blows before the company can escape from the realm of Geirröðr. The other difference that may be noticed is that in the second case the gain from the adventure is far more material than in the first. A supernatural bride, the knowledge of supernatural lore, speech with the loved dead—these may be set against the heaps of gold and silver treasures which the realms of Geirröðr and of the howe-dwellers provide. Some doubt as to whether these were originally regarded as strictly material is thrown, however, by the story of Olaf Geirstaðaálfr, where the overcoming of the dead draugr and the seizing of his treasure in the approved fashion are represented as the means by which the first Olaf was able to be reborn into the world.

We can see that in few of the stories which we have studied is there any attention paid to the gods. Only Othin is not forgotten, for Hadingus, as we saw, was carried to his hall by the horse Sleipnir, who so often bore riders to the realm of the dead, and there given a miraculous draught, while the future was revealed to him. There is reference to another king who went to seek Othin in Ynglinga Saga (XI, XII), where King Sveigðir is said to make a vow to visit the house of the gods, and to find Othin the Old. He seems to have made a journey to South Russia on this quest, which took him five years. Apparently it was not successful, although he is said to have married a wife of the Vanir, for on his return he went towards East Sweden, still in search of the home of the gods. Finally he is said to have been invited into a great stone by a dwarf, who told him that here he would meet Othin. Sveigðir, says Snorri contemptuously, was very drunk at the time, and he leapt immediately into the stone, on which it closed behind him.

It is tantalising to think of all the possibilities which might lie behind this brief, crudely told story. It seems likely that the king who disappeared from men and retired into a rock is linked up with the tales of men like Bárðr of Snjófell, who disappeared into the mountains.1 The idea of the voluntary journey of the king eastwards in search of Othin and his subsequent retirement from the world of men, however, is not quite like anything else in Norse literature. We have it is true the somewhat garbled account of the voyage north-eastwards in search of Útgarða-Loki, who is said to have been the god worshipped by Gormr; though in Snorri he is giant rather

1 H. R. Ellis, ‘Fostering by Giants in Saga Literature’, Medium Ævum, June 1941, p.701.

than god, and in opposition to the deities of Ásgarðr. It is for the most part among the giants rather than the gods that the guardianship of the land of the dead seems to be placed. Geirröðr, Gymir, Fjölsvinnr and the huge barrow-dwellers are the main figures that hold sway there, although the figure of Othin is usually kept within reach, even if it is only in the theories of the scholars who are fond of suggesting that Svafrþorenn or Fjölsvinnr are only synonyms for the most mysterious of the rulers of the land of the dead.

The main result gained from such a survey as this is indeed a new realisation of the complexity of the problems involved in such a subject. Very few of the journeys we have studied are presented simply and directly as journeys to the land of the dead, yet it has been shown that they have some connection with the kingdom of death and with one another. They are mingled with the idea of breaking into a burial mound, of sailing north to a supernatural kingdom, and of calling up the dead at the grave, and the idea of a land of perpetual life is found strangely counterbalancing the land of perpetual death. We are not dealing here with anything which can be summed up as the expression of a belief, real or fictitious, in the way that the life lived in the hills, for instance, might be; it is rather a case of confused traditions, whether literary or religious, passing into the literature, and possibly in some cases of symbolism whose significance has been misunderstood or passed out of mind.

Certainly the amount of evidence seems to indicate that at one time there was a considerable amount of interest in the commerce between the world of the living and that of the dead. We may recall the impression of this gained in previous chapters. The evidence for the future life in Norse literature seemed, it will be remembered, to deal rather with journeys towards an underground realm than with any continuous life lived there after death. Life within the grave-mound, however, was of great importance. When we came to examine the evidence for a cult of the dead, the idea of the relationship between the dead and living was strengthened; for the two conceptions of rebirth and of mantic inspiration through the dead necessitated close communication between the two worlds, and again the emphasis was laid on the burial mound. In the chapter on Necromancy we examined one side of this relationship, the possibility of consulting the dead, and of summoning them into the world of the living again. Here we found that together with the idea of the dead being called up there was bound also that of the living proceeding half-way to meet them; and in the case of the awakening sleeper, it was hard to say whether we were indeed dealing with the dead awakened from the sleep of death, or with the living who had been able to gain entrance into the world of the dead and to return with its wisdom. In the present chapter, where we have concentrated on the other side of the picture, it can be seen that the conception of the living proceeding at considerable cost to themselves into some kind of underworld of the dead is very frequent in Norse literature, although it is hard to say exactly what the conception of this underworld may be. Moreover in certain accounts the emphasis on supernatural wisdom, through which the journey may be made, and on the immaterial gifts to be gained through it, is marked.
The impression gained from a first approach to Norse literature, then, namely that the Norse mind was not particularly interested in the clear-cut conception of another world beyond the grave, is to a certain extent confirmed. As far as can be perceived, the emphasis in the literature lies always on the journey thither: the dangers or the glory of the road by which the spirit may travel, and not the permanent joy or anguish that comes with the attainment of the realm of death. The ready flames that bear the dead man to Othin, the steed that can traverse the dark valleys on the way to Hel—it is on these that the attention is riveted, and it is not unfitting that the funeral ship should remain in the mind as symbolic of the heathen grave in Scandinavia. And when we have once realised this change of viewpoint, which is opposed to the Christian attitude to death although it is not difficult to find parallels from the teaching of the mystic and the seer farther East, it becomes possible to understand something of the paradox apparent in Norse literature. There is no concrete and consistent picture of the other world there, and yet certainly no lack of interest in the dead and in death, for in Norse mythology do not the very gods themselves fall fighting at Ragnarrökr, while the deity supreme over war and poetry, twin inspirations of the literature of the heroic age, is the god of the dead also? Further, since our minds are directed continually toward the road rather than the goal, we are faced with a way which is not trod by the dead alone, but which the living also may follow. The land of the dead according to Norse heathen thought is not a wholly undiscovered country, and from it the traveller who has learned the old wisdom aright may return to the world of men.

So far the endeavour has been to survey the evidence relating to the way of the dead in the literature, and it includes, as we have seen, something of the larger question of the relationship between the two worlds of the dead and the living. The resemblance which was noted in the last chapter between the converse which in certain of the poems was held with the dead and the consultation of the living seeress recorded in the prose sagas suggests a new line of approach. The examination of mantic practice and ceremonial in Norse literature, and particularly in the sagas, might throw more light on the obscurities of the poetry of the mythology. To do this here, however, would be to move outside the scope of this book, since it is impossible to discuss such evidence without taking into account the whole subject of Norse witchcraft, which on the surface at least has little connection with the cult of the dead. Whether there may be a deeper relationship than is at present recognised I hope to consider in a further study. For the moment the conception of helveg, the road to Hel, gained from a close examination of the literature, is sufficiently consistent to stand alone. As our knowledge of pre-Christian thought in Old Norse literature increases, we shall the better comprehend its deep significance.