View Full Version : Ch 6: NECROMANCY

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:26 PM
O, that it were possible we might
But hold some two days’ conference with the dead!
From them I should learn somewhat, I am sure
I never shall know here.
Webster, Duchess of Malfi.

In studying the Norse evidence for necromancy, it is significant that the Íslendinga Sögur give us practically no information for any such practice. In only one case is a witch or wizard described raising the dead, and this is outside Iceland, since Þrándr, the master of ceremonies, is a native of the Faroes. Indictments against the raising of the dead, however, are found in the earliest written laws of Iceland, so that it could not have been unknown there. One reason for the gap in the evidence may be that the interest in the dead was, as we have seen, more marked in Norway and Sweden than in Iceland—at least such interest as results in a cult of the dead—and we might therefore expect to find necromancy more studied in that direction too. It is also a little doubtful, in examining the evidence, whether the practice of raising ‘the dead is always described in a straightfor-ward way, and whether it will not be necessary to include some evidence in this survey which does not appear on the surface to be necromancy at all; also conversely whether all the accounts of the consultation of the dead in the poems are to be accepted as records of actual necromantic practice.

The fact that it is necessary to begin with a considerable amount of evidence from the Edda poems means that here we have material of a different category from what has for the most part been dealt with hitherto; and one far more difficult to treat adequately without a wide knowledge of textual history. However it is possible that something may be gained by a collection of the material, and by some examination of the general ideas about the dead to be derived from it. Most of our evidence comes from the Edda, but many passages taken here and there from the prose sagas will need discussion too.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:27 PM

The poems give us several examples of the calling up of the dead, and it is interesting to see whether there is any agreement as to the purpose for which they are summoned. Here the whole matter is taken out of the familiar world, and is represented as taking place within the realm of the gods. The supernatural beings themselves are depicted as eager to establish communication with another realm, the realm of the dead, into which, even for them, there is no immediate and simple entry.

The most experienced practitioner of the art is Othin. In Baldrs Draumar he is represented as riding down the road to Hel, and finally summoning a dead seeress from her grave on the east side of Hel’s hall. He chants what are described as ‘corpse-spells’ (val galdrar) over the grave ‘until perforce she arose, and words came from the corpse’ (V. 4). Her first words are of reproach; in thus summoning her he has, she says, ‘rendered harder my path of suffering’. She goes on to describe in what, to a modern mind, are the most vivid lines of the poem, how long she has lain dead:

Snowed on with snow, beaten with rain,
Drenched with the dew....

But nevertheless she can give to Othin the knowledge he craves, and foretell to him the death of Balder, for whose coming the halls of Hel are decked with gold and stocked with mead. Then at one question which he asks, which to us is practically incomprehensible, as to the identity of a certain weeping maiden or maidens, she realises the true identity of her questioner, and the poem ends on a note of mutual enmity and with a grim prophecy from the völva (seeress) of the ultimate fate of Othin at Ragnarrökr.

The poem as it stands is a series of problems; why, for instance, is the völva’s grave placed inside Hel, the realm of the dead? There is no indication that we are to view this as a second death, and that the seeress has, in the words of Vafþrúðnismál, ‘died out of Hel’. One would hardly expect it to be necessary both for Othin to take the road to the realm of the dead and for the inhabitant of the grave to be roused up to meet him, unless the place where they meet is to be regarded as a kind of half-way station between the realm of the dead and the realm of the living. Presumably here we are to forget Othin’s position as god of the dead, and regard him rather as the representative of the living world of the gods, in contrast to the realm of death to which Balder journeyed, and where Hermóðr followed him for a little while.

Othin’s purpose in consulting the dead is clear; she alone possesses that information about the future which can explain the threatening dreams that have troubled Balder, and tell Othin the nature of the fate that will befall his son, and whether revenge for his death will be permitted. This precious information is wrung reluctantly from the völva’s lips. She declares at intervals:

I have spoken unwilling (lit. nauðig—’of necessity’, ‘by compulsion’),
Now must I be silent,

and only the command of Othin—’be not silent, völva’, followed by renewed questioning, drags more information from her.

Two other poems in the Edda are presented as the prophetic utterances of a völva; these are the Völuspá and Völuspá bin Skamma. In the first of these the speaker declares that she is bidden by Othin (Valfóðr) to tell what she knows of the past. Here we find the two-fold aspect of mantic wisdom—knowledge of the past being as important and as secret as the knowledge of the future, and both being revealed by one with special wisdom beyond the normal reach of gods and men alike; for the vö!va, having traced the history of the worlds, proceeds to outline their ultimate destiny. She too, like the völva of Baldrs Draumar, will not continue without repeated questioning, for again we have a refrain which punctuates the poem, after it has advanced a certain way: Vituð ér enn eða hvat?—which maybe roughly translated: ‘Would you know yet more, and what?’1 The other poem, the Völuspá bin Skamma, contains no reference to the reason why the völva has been summoned. As we have it, it begins at once with the narrative of events, and ends as suddenly with a reference to the fall of Othin before the wolf, reminiscent of the ending of Baldrs Draumar. Here too, however, we have the familiar refrain:

Much have I told you, and much more can tell,
Needs must I learn it so; will you know further?

1 It has been suggested that the last line of the poem should run in the form given in one MS.— Now she must sink’, referring to the disappearance of the völva into the grave, as in the other poem. F. Jónsson however (Edda, p. 20) disagrees, and argues that there are no grounds for supposing that the völva in this case has been summoned from the grave. He advocates the reading ‘Nú mun harm sökkvask’.

There is evidently a close connection between these three poems, and even if there is no reason to suggest that the vö!va in either of the two poems last mentioned has been roused from the dead, the fact that this is the background given in Baldrs Draumar is in itself of great interest, because it establishes a link between the prophetic utterances of the völva and the wisdom of the dead.

The attitude of the dead roused from the grave is not necessarily a hostile one. In Grógaldr we have an episode where Svipdagr, before going out on a perilous quest, consults his dead mother and begs her to teach him certain charms to guard him against danger. The poem opens with his summons to the dead, with no indication whether, as in the case of Othin, a journey was first needed to bring him to the grave:

Awake, Gróa! Awake, good woman!
Awake at the door of the dead!
If you remember bidding your son
Come to your grave cairn.

The reply, like that of the völva, emphasises the actual resting place in the grave, and gives no hint of a realm of the dead elsewhere, from which her spirit is recalled:

What has my only son now at heart?
What misfortune has come to you
That you call on your mother, passed into the earth,
And gone from the world of men?

Here again the reason for calling up the dead is to gain knowledge. Svipdagr protests he has not the necessary wisdom and experience to travel the path ‘where none go’ to Menglöð. For this journey he needs certain magic spells, and these she teaches him. There are spells for the loosening of burdens, for protection against wandering, joyless, far from the path, and against overwhelming rivers of Hel; spells against lurking foes and against fetters on the limbs; spells which will guard against stormy seas, bitter cold, and ghosts of malignant Christian women wandering in the night; and finally a spell to give the necessary wisdom for the contest with a terrible giant. It seems clear that such spells are intended for no ordinary journey, but for entrance into supernatural realms; this is a question which will need to be discussed further in the next chapter.

It would seem as if in the HyndluIjóð we have another consultation of the dead, though this is not as evident as in Grógaldr. It begins with an invocation by Freyja to awaken Hyndla, the giantess who ‘dwells in a cavern’. She begs her to ride with her to Valhöll, and the scene is set in valsinni, the ‘road of the slain’ (VV. 6 and 7). While Freyja sits on her boar, in reality the disguised Ottarr, and Hyndla upon her wolf, the giantess is persuaded to recite the full list of the ancestors of Ottarr, Freyja’s human lover. When the full list is told Hyndla discovers the trick that has been played on her and is furious; she parts from Freyja with bitter words and retires to sleep again. Thus the rousing of the unwilling sleeper, the gaining of the necessary information, the discovery of disguised identity at the end, and the parting with abuse on both sides are very similar to the situation in Baldrs Draumar.

Certain resemblances to the theme of the awakened sleeper can be seen too in Sigrdrífumál.1 The poem opens with an inquiry from the woman, whose identity is only given us in the prose, as to who has broken her slumber. Sigurðr replies by telling who he is, and then after a kind of salutation to day and night and the gods and goddesses, she continues:

Long have I slept,
Long have I slumbered,
Long are the woes of men,

a note very reminiscent of the völva raised from the sleep of death. The rest of the poem deals with the wisdom which she imparts to Sigurðr is again closely connected with spells, this time runic ones, the origin of which she attributes to Othin.

Together with the Edda poems which we have examined, we may also notice a story from Saxo. Harthgrepa, the mysterious foster-mother of Hadingus, is on one occasion anxious to learn their future fortunes. They chanced, says Saxo, to pass the night in a house where a funeral was in progress:

…Here, desiring to pry into the purposes of heaven by the help of a magic espial, she graved on wood some very dreadful spells, and caused Hadingus to put them under the dead man’s tongue; thus forcing him to utter, with the voice so given, a strain terrible to hear
(I. XXIV, p. 27, Elton’s translation).

In this strain, as given by Saxo, the dead rebukes the woman who has caused him to speak: Contrary to my will and purpose, I must

1 For a discussion of the problems connected with the identity of the sleeper in this poem, see p. 181 below.

declare some bitter tidings.’ This has a striking resemblance to the words of the völva roused by Othin. As Saxo expresses it, the deed is a recall of the spirit back from Tartarus. However a closer examination renders it doubtful whether such an idea was ever present in Saxo’s source; the expression, in particular, ‘whoso hath called me, who am lifeless and dead, back from the abode below, and hath brought me into the upper air’ rather appears to resemble the words of the völva, whose emphasis is on the extreme deadness of her condition, and who gives no hint of a returning soul as something separate from the body. It is noticeable that the dead man foretells the death of her who has roused him, just as the völva looks forward with apparent relish to the fate of her tormentor, Othin.

In these poems and the Saxo passage which we have studied, it is clear that there is a certain amount of agreement. The sleeper is aroused from a sleep which may or may not be specified as the sleep of death in order to impart special knowledge to the inquirer. Usually at the end we are told that the sleeper returns to sleep; sometimes, though not always, great indignation is shown because the slumber has been broken, and the concluding words uttered are a prophecy of ill-fortune to come upon the rash intruder. The wisdom which is imparted is of two kinds. Either it consists of a revelation from the future or the past of what is normally hidden—the doom of the world, the fate of the individual or the line of dead ancestors behind a man of noble rank—or else it consists of spells which give power to the possessor, which can guard him against the baleful magic of others, or give him the power to overcome certain perils in his journeyings.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:28 PM

Baldrs Draumar does not offer us the only example of the consultation of the dead by Othin. In the vision of the final catastrophe given in Völuspá Othin is said to take counsel with the head of Mímir (V. 46). This is explained in Ynglinga Saga (IV). Here the Vanir are said to slay Mímir, the wise counsellor who was among the hostages sent to them by the Æsir, because they were angry at being tricked into making the handsome but empty-headed Hoenir, his companion, a chief. The story goes on:

They seized Mímir, and cut off his head, and sent the head to the Æsir; Othin took the head and anointed it with herbs, so that it should not decay, and uttered spells over it, and wrought such magic that it spake with him and told him many hidden things.

This is a consultation of the dead of a different nature from that which we have previously examined. Now part of the dead body is worked upon by magic until it is able to converse with the wizard, and then has power to see into what normally is hidden from man. There is, as it happens, a story in the Flateyjarbók,1 said to be taken from a lost poem, of a less reputable cult which bears a strange resemblance to the consultation of Mímir's head. It is practised by a family who live on a headland, at the instigation of the old woman who manages the house; the object venerated is the generative organ of a horse; and the treatment which this receives at the hands of the old woman is strikingly like that which Othin gives to the head of Mímir:

After this she went out and dried it very carefully, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and put garlic and other herbs with it, so that it would not rot, and laid it in her chest. As the autumn wore on, the old woman took it out every evening and spoke words of worship over it (með einhverium formála honum til dýrkanar), and it came about that she put all her faith in it, and took it for her god.. . . And through the craft of the devil the thing grew in size and strength, until it could stand beside the housewife if she willed it.

The remainder of the story, where the object is carried round the household, and each in turn speaks a different verse to it with the same refrain—' May Maurnir receive this idol'—until Olaf the Holy interferes, is extremely interesting. The choice of the object of worship seems to indicate a fertility cult,2 but the resemblance to the

1 Völsaþáttr: Flateyjarbók, II, 265, p. 331 f.
2 On this question see Heusler (Z.d.V.f.V. XIII, 1903, p. 241.) and Olsen (Norges Indskrifter med de ældre Runer, II, p. 652 f.). Heusler believes that here we have an old autumn ceremony, the passing round of the phallic symbol and the speaking of formal verses over it, which may have continued in Norway until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries with its former significance forgotten. He and Olsen give examples of such ceremonies elsewhere in N.W. Europe. He suggests that it may have been originally a wedding ceremony, and some of Olsen's examples from N. Scotland bear this out.
With regard to the name Maurnir, the most reasonable interpretation grammatically seems to be that it is a feminine plural, with the meaning 'giantesses', although neither Heusler nor Olsen is satisfied with this, because they find no evidence for such a cult elsewhere. I would suggest however that here we have a cult associated in sonic way with the dísir, the gigantic supernatural women whom we have seen reason to connect with the autumn sacrifice, and also with worship

tending of the head of Mímir is so marked that the whole reads like a rather vulgar but delightfully humorous parody on such a theme. The semblance of life in the dead caused through witchcraft is particularly significant; one may compare with this the story of the image of Thor which was so enchanted by much sacrificing that it was able to talk and walk with its priest and foretell future happenings;1 and also the wooden man made by Jarl Hákon in whom a wooden heart was placed, and who through the power of the god-desses was able to talk and walk—albeit a little stiffly—and do the Jarl’s errands for him elsewhere.2 It is a side of witchcraft of which we do not know very much, but which must be taken into consideration in studying the evidence for necromancy.

In Sigrdrífumál the head of Mímir seems to be associated with the runes of wisdom—’ mind-runes’ as they are called. These are said to be

read and cut
And thought out by Hroptr (i.e. Othin)
From the liquid
Which dropped
From the skull of Heiðdraupnir
And the horn of Hoddrofnir (V. 12).

Heiðdraupnir has been suggested as another name for Mímir, but Hoddrofnir is unknown; it seems likely that there is some connection with the magic mead described in Grímnismál which drops from the horns of Heiðrún (V. 25). Mímir is certainly mentioned in the next verse, where we are told:

Then spoke Minim’s head
Its first wise saying
And uttered true words (V. 13).

The whole passage however, and particularly the ‘true words’ that follow, is most involved and mysterious. More light might be thrown upon it by further study of similar conceptions in Irish literature.3

of a somewhat erotic type. Heusler is probably correct in his surmise that the idea of the phallus coming to life is not one originally connected with this cult at all.

1 Flateyjarbók: Óláfs Saga Tryggvasonar, 1, 243, p. 292.
2 Ibid. 173, p. 213 f.
3 The connection between severed heads, magical practices and prophecy in Irish sources has been discussed by N. K. Chadwick in an article on ‘Imbas Forosnai’ (Scottish Gaelic Studies, IV, p. 119 f.). Ct: also an episode in Eyrbyggja Saga, XLIII, where the severed head has the gift of prophecy.

Finally, in connection with Othin and the dead, we have the declaration made in Hàvamàl, where among the powers wrought by means of magic spells we find the following:

I know a twelfth; if I see from a tree
A hanged man swaying,
I can so write and cut runes
That the corpse walks
And talks with me (V. 157)

Here again magic enables him who possesses certain knowledge to summon the semblance of life and wisdom beyond his own reach into a dead body. We have the same connection with runes in Sigrdrífumál, for it was apparently after the runes were created by Hroptr that Mímir’s head first spoke wise sayings.
A picture of the animated dead of a cruder kind is found in the gruesome story of the deaths from the plague in Eiríks Saga Rauða (VI) and Þorfinns Saga Karlsefnis (V). The dead man Þorsteinn Eiríksson sits up suddenly on the bed and asks for his wife Guðríðr. Then he tells the frightened woman her future destiny; how she will marry again, live in Iceland, and finally after the death of her second husband build a church and become a nun. After he has told her all this, he falls back and speaks no more. In Eiríks Saga no reason is given for this sudden disclosure on the part of the dead; but in the other saga the dead Porsteinn declares he is speaking ‘to make amends for my state of life’, though how he does so by his words is not clear, while he also asks to be buried inside a church. In spite of the Christian setting in which these incidents are placed, however, the idea of the animation of the corpses and their power to foretell the future seems at bottom to be the same as that in the story from Saxo and the obtaining of knowledge through the hanged claimed by Othin.

Of a slightly different nature is an example of rousing the dead given in the Hervarar Saga (IV). The story of the resolute girl Hervör, who goes in spite of warnings and entreaties to visit the haunted island where her father and his brothers are buried in order to obtain the famous sword laid in her father’s grave, is among the most vivid and beautiful in the sagas. It is far more romantic in its treatment than the majority of the ghost stories in the Íslendinga Sögur, and the swift, impetuous movement of the verses exchanged between Hervör and the dead king is strangely effective against the eery background of the open grave-mounds and the cold fire that blazes round them. The prose story tells us that the howe-dwellers could be seen standing at their doors as Hervör approached. The verses themselves, however, seem to indicate that these dead men needed rousing as much as the sleeping völva:

Awake, Angantýr!
Hervör rouses you—
Only daughter
Of you and Tófa....
Hervarðr, Hjörvarðr,
Hrani, Angantýr,
I rouse you all
From under the roots.
In helm and byrnie,
With keen-edged sword,
Shield and harness,
And reddened spear-point….

In reply to these indications and to the demand for her father’s sword, which she follows up with threats of bitter curses when there is no response, Angantýr rebukes her for disturbing the dead, though it is a gentler rebuke than some of the others we have encountered:

Hervör, daughter,
Why call you so?
Why such fell curses?
You do yourself ill.
Mad must you be,
All too witless,
And lost to wisdom
To rouse dead men.

Hervör seeks the dead with no desire to obtain knowledge; her aim is the possession of the magic sword Tyrfing. Nevertheless Angantýr reveals a certain amount to her concerning the future when he warns her to leave the sword in the grave, since it can only bring evil to all her house. Finally he yields to her stubborn resolve, for she is resolute enough, if need be, to draw the weapon with her own hand from under the dead warrior—

Wrapped all around
In sheets of flame—

And she gains Tyrfing for her own.
In this story it is noticeable that Hervör, like Othin in Baldrs Draumar, has herself to conic halfway before she can gain any contact with the dead. Not only does she come out alone to the grim burial-place, but she wades through the fire that surrounds the howes and forms a barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead. As she herself says in the last verse she speaks:

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

Thus in the first examples which we considered, the inquirer stood beside the grave to awake the sleeper; in these last examples the living again seeks out the dead body, or part of the dead body, in order to animate it with new life and to draw wisdom from it. It remains to consider one example of necromancy of another kind, found in the Íslendinga Sögur.

Here the wizard who wishes to call up the dead neither stands beside the corpse nor seeks out the grave. It would indeed be difficult to do so, since at least two of those summoned have perished at sea. Þrándr, one of the chief characters in the Færeyinga Saga, and a man with some skill in magic, undertakes to solve a mystery, and show how Sigmundr Brestison met his death. This is his method:

…Then Þrándr had great fires made up in the hail, and had four hurdles (?) set up to form a square. Then he marked out nine enclosures from the hurdles, in all directions, and he sat on a stool between the fire and the hurdles.1 Now he forbade them to talk among themselves, and they obeyed him. Þrándr sat thus for a while, and when some time had elapsed, a man came into the hall, soaking wet. They recognised the man as Einarr the Hebridean. He went up to the fire and stretched out his hands to it for a little while, and after that turned and went out. After a while a second man walked into the hail; he went to the fire, stretched out his hands to it, and then went out; and they knew that this was Pórir. Soon after a third man came into the hail; he was a tall man, much covered in blood, and he held his head in his hand. They all recognised him; it was Sigmundr Brestison; he stood still on the floor for a. little while, and then went out. And after that Þrándr drew a deep breath and said: ‘Now you may see how the man has met his death’..

1 Færeyinga Saga XL, p. 59: ‘Þrándr hafðii þá látit gera elda mikla í eldaskála, ok grindr fjórar lætr hann gera með fjórum hornum, ok níu reita rístr Þrándr alla vega út frá grindunum en hann sez á stól milli elds ok grindanna’ (Jónsson, Kongelige Nordiske Oldskriftselskab, Copenhagen, 1927)

Þrándr goes on to explain that the men have appeared in the order in which they died: ‘Einarr died first, and either froze to death or was drowned’, then Pórir, and finally Sigmundr, who had clearly been killed on land ‘since he appeared to us covered with blood, and headless’. Þrándr later proves that his words are true by finding Sigmundr’s ring in the house of the man who killed him.

Here an important feature of the raising of the dead is the strange figure drawn on the floor. Unfortunately the description of it is too obscure for us to know exactly what the figure could have been like. Þrándr, it is to be noticed, also throws himself into a trance—or so we are led to infer by the drawing of a deep breath at the end, which is a characteristic feature recorded of those recovering from a condition of trance. Does the spirit of Þrándr, then, leave his body in order to seek out the dead and summon them into the presence of the waiting company, or has he the power, having learned by ways of his own how the men have died, to call up the semblance of them before the eyes of the beholders? Neither explanation would be inconsistent with the powers of witches and wizards as they appear in the Íslendinga Sögur, but there are no parallels to this account elsewhere which might serve to explain it.

In this case again, at all events, the dead are apparently summoned from their resting-place in order that information may be obtained from them. Here the knowledge required is of a very simple kind, and consists merely of accurate information as to how they met their deaths. The fact that Þrándr is able to share the sight of the dead and to communicate his discoveries to a large audience is interesting, and it is not unlike the communications of the völva in this respect, as will be seen later.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:29 PM

The stories from Norse literature dealing with the raising up of the slain on the battlefield to fight anew have already been examined in an earlier chapter, because they seemed to be important for the better understanding of the Valhöll conception. It was suggested there that the idea of the unconquerable dead who can only be quelled by powerful intervention from the world of the living belongs essentially to the grave-mound, and that it was within the mound that the eternal battle was originally believed to take place.

Some of the stories of the raising of the dead in battle should possibly be included here as examples of a certain kind of necromancy. In this form of raising the dead, however, the motive is clearly not that of obtaining wisdom, but a desire to profit from the considerable physical strength of the draugr, and to overcome an enemy by the recuperative powers of such an army. As was pointed out in chapter in, there is no idea of the return of the spirit into the body of the slain to be discerned behind this conception.

The idea is clearly different in nature and origin from the far more complex picture of the awakening of the dead to seek wisdom from them. It must be closely connected with the return of the dead unasked from the grave, with which we have already dealt in the section on survival. Usually in the sagas the attempts of the living are concentrated on keeping the dead within the grave, not on rousing them from it. It is true, as Klare points out in a recent article,1 that there are certain resemblances between the powers possessed by the draugar and those of living witches and wizards; the draugar sometimes practise shape-changing, control the weather, see into the future and so on.2 But the idea of special mantic knowledge possessed by the draugr is not, I think, in accordance with the general picture given in the Íslendinga Sögur. The draugar who cause havoc in the countryside by walking after death are powerful, unpleasant and, on the whole, rather stupid people. Even the redoubtable Glamr in Grettis Saga stands and gapes in foolish astonishment when his tug at the hero’s cloak is met with stout resistance: ‘Glamr looked at the piece that he held, and wondered greatly who could tug so hard against him’ (XXXV). The draugar may impart advice, when they appear in dreams to those whom they favour, but never wisdom.

On the other hand there are exceptions to the rule when we turn from Iceland, to which most of the stories about the draugar belong, to some of the evidence from Norway connected with the cult of the dead. This has already been reviewed, and the story of Þorleifr the poet was of the utmost importance, it will be remembered, for suggesting a connection between the dead and mantic inspiration.3 It is true that this story cannot be taken as an example of necromancy

1 ‘Die Toten in der almord. Liter.’ (Aria Phil. Scand. VIII, p. I f.).
2 The examples which he gives for shape-changing as practised by the dead either come from the Fornaldar Sögur, or are rather doubtful incidents from the Íslendinga Sögur, such as that of the seal that appears through the floor in Eyrbyggja Saga, where the inference is by no means clear. If the power of shape-changing is one really characteristic of the dead, then Klare’s main hypothesis, that there is no idea of the disembodied soul in Norse literature dealing with the dead, will have to be revised.
3 See p. 108 above.

pure and simple, but the fact that the shepherd sleeps upon the howe of the dead Þorleifr, and endeavours to compose a verse of poetry in his honour, makes it clear that it must be closely connected with it. The mantic inspiration which is given to the living by the dead—in this case the gift of poetic composition—is very significant. But the dead poet who steps from his howe to address the sleeping shepherd is obviously of a very different family from the draugar who ravage the countryside, delighting in physical violence to man and beast, and different again from such a being as the more amiable Þorgunna, who leaves her coffin on the way to burial to ensure proper treatment for her bearers.1

While communication between the living and the dead in the case of the draugar is on the whole personal, that between the inspired dead and the human inquirer tends to be of a different type. The characters of the draugar, when we have a chance to gain information about them, are much the same as they have been in life, with certain elements intensified. Hrappr, the draugr in Laxdæla Saga, always a spiteful busybody, merely becomes a little more violently unpleasant after death; Þórólfr Bægifótr in Eyrbyggja Saga still behaves like an ugly, ferocious bully, and is still obliged to respect the character of his upright and generous son, Arnkell; Þorgunna, walking on the way to burial, is quiet, efficient and prudent as she has been in life.2 They still have their favourites and their enemies among the living, those whom they avoid and those whom they despise. But the relationship between the dead and the living in the passages which have been examined earlier in this chapter is of a different nature. The help which the dead gives is impersonal; the living is not claiming help of a friend, but rather tapping a source of wisdom. No personal confidences pass even between Svipdagr and his mother; he calls, and she responds by a series of spells. With Othin and the völva, Harthgrepa and the dead man, the relationship is frankly hostile; the dead speak because they are forced to do so by a power stronger than that of their slumbers. The wisdom which they utter is something quite independent of personal characteristics in this life; it is of the same nature as are the revelations of the völva when she recovers from her trance in the accounts of the foretelling of the future in the sagas, and like her they may even be forced to utter the truth against their will.

1 Eyrbyggja Saga, LI.
2 For these see p. 93 above.

Reviewing the evidence for necromancy at our disposal, it becomes evident that we are dealing with more than one conception of this peculiar relationship between the living and the dead. On the one hand, we have the dead conceived as channels through which knowledge flows to those who have the power and the skill to summon them. The dangers of such a practice are evident, for as well as tapping a source of knowledge the inquirer is also likely to tap a source of bitter hostility, and a prophecy of his own fate may well reach him together with the knowledge of hidden events which he craves. This happens in Othin’s consultation of the völva, and in Harthgrepa’s speech with the dead in Saxo’s story, while Freyja’s conversation with Hyndla also ends on a hostile note. This conception of the dead, which is found in the Edda poems and Saxo, is not met with in the Íslendinga Sögur, but we do find something very akin to it in the consultation of the living völva. The sagas contain accounts of a number of occasions when the völva is questioned as to the future of the community or the individual fates of men and women, and in some cases the ceremony where the consultation takes place is described in considerable detail. The most elaborate account of the professional völva is given in Þorfinns Saga Karlsefnis (IV), where her visit to a little community in Greenland is described; here we are given much information about her dress, her behaviour, and the ritual observed throughout, and interesting parallels are found in a number of other passages throughout the sagas.1

From these it can be seen that the living seeress also acts as a channel through which inspiration about what is normally hidden reaches her hearers; she may prophesy concerning the fate of individuals, the whereabouts of lost and hidden things or people, the future of the community, or the coming seasons. The wisdom is again of a quite impersonal nature, and may even reach the inquirer against the will of the völva. A striking example of this is given in Hrólfs Saga Kraka (III), where the völva does not wish to make known the whereabouts of the two young princes whom King Fróði wishes to destroy; she tries to convince the king that her prophecies have

1 Other accounts are found in Vatnsdæla Saga (X), where a Lapp woman attends a feast in the north of Norway and is consulted in the same way; in Orms Þáttr Storólfssonar (Fjórutiú Íslend. Þættir, F. Jónsson, Reykjavik, 1904), x, p. 206; and in two of the Fornaldar Sögur, Hrólfs Saga Kraka (III) and Örvar-Odds Saga (II).

gone astray, and that she has no more to say; but when he ‘presses her hard’, the information about the boys comes from her lips against her will, until in the end she leaps down from the incantation platform—the only means, apparently, to bring the disclosure to an end. With this we may compare the reluctant speech of the völva in Baldrs Draumar, who is only prevented from relapsing into silence by the repeated questionings of Othin. The living völva, moreover, reveals the knowledge she has gained while recovering from a trance-like condition; and this may be compared to the sleep from which the dead are said to waken when aroused by those who summon them. We find too that the knowledge of the living seer or seeress is represented as something gained at the cost of considerable effort and even pain,1 and this is also in agreement with the protest in Baldrs Draumar that Othin, in demanding information of the völva, has ‘rendered harder her path of suffering’.

It will be remembered that in the first group of poems we examined it seemed necessary to take into consideration certain poems in which the knowledge was imparted by a woman in reply to questioning, and where it was not clear whether she had been raised from the dead or not. The two important factors seemed to .be the imparting of knowledge—which had first to be demanded—and the awakening from some kind of slumber, sometimes described as the slumber of death. It seems at least a possibility worth considering that the situation in these poems is not founded on the actual practice of consulting the dead at the graveside, or even at the deathbed, but rather that of gaining information from the living who have been able, by special powers, to penetrate into the realm of the dead and return from it with tidings of the unknown. This would mean that they are to be interpreted symbolically, and that they are perhaps based on actual ceremonies of which the descriptions of the consultations of the völva in the Íslendinga Sögur give us a faint glimpse. To see whether there is any real foundation for any such surmise, however, the accounts of the journeys by the living to the land of the dead will have to be examined in detail to see if they too are capable of bearing any such interpretation.
It is necessary to remember also the evidence for interest in the

1 Two of die most striking examples of this are the protest made by the Lapps in Vatnsdæla Saga (XII) on recovery from a trance in which they have gained information needed by Ingimundr, and that of Þorhildr, a wise woman clearly akin to the valor, after prophesying concerning the future in Ljósvetninga Saga (XXI).

dead in the grave-mound, shown in the passages studied in the chapter on The Cult of the Dead. Undoubtedly there were practices connected with the dead body itself and its last resting-place; the custom of sitting upon a howe, of sacrificing to the grave-mound, of bringing a semblance of life into the dead body by witchcraft, as in some of the evidence we have examined, all point to an attitude towards the dead which seems to be essentially different from that given in the Edda poems and discussed above. Here the dead are revered because they are the dead—with sanctity residing in them, rather than passing through them from some other source, It has been suggested earlier that one element of the greatest importance in this attitude towards the dead is the belief in rebirth. Another factor which might be mentioned is one closely associated with it, that of fertility. This is a factor which may easily be over-emphasised, and on the whole there is not much evidence for fertility cults in Norse literature; for instance the worship of the gods with the exception of Freyr is singularly free from such elements. However the connection between the dead kings in their howes and favourable seasons is significant ;1 sometimes in the accounts of the worship of the howe the same element is stressed; and the gruesome relic worshipped in the Völsa Þáttr in Flateyjarbók must have been connected with the idea of fertility. It will be remembered that Freyr, whose phallic image stood in the temple of Uppsala,2 was closely connected with the cult of the howe, with rebirth, and the elves.

Mantic wisdom and fertility are not, of course, to be thought of as completely separate. In any society where agriculture mattered intensely because a year of bad crops meant suffering and famine, as in Scandinavia, it is obvious that a knowledge of the coming seasons was one of the aspects of the glimpse into the future which could be of the greatest value. The chief question put to the völva in Þorfinns Saga Karlsefnis (IV) is whether the bad harvests and the plague from which the community was then suffering would come to an end. It is necessary to make a distinction here, however, between the acquiring of knowledge from the living völva or from the apparently dead, and the influence which the dead in the graves were believed to have over the fertility of the earth. The living völva might foretell the course of the plague, but in herself she had no powers to make it cease. Similarly the dead who speak have no power to control the future, although they can foretell events to come; they are merely

1 See p. 100 above.
2 Adam of Bremen, IV, 26 (Schol. 539).

instruments through which the knowledge can be obtained. The influence of Hálfdan’s body on the crops, or the power to compose poetry given by the dead Þorleifr, is a more potent influence of a different kind.
The third aspect of necromancy is the raising of the slain on the battlefield; this seems to be connected with the belief in the strength and ferocity of the animated corpse, which we have discussed above. We have seen too that it appears to be associated with the battle inside the grave-mound, and with the belief in Valhöll.

Into three distinct classes, then, the evidence which we have collected seems to fall; and to these may be added the story of the raising of the dead by Þrándr, which it is hard to fit into any category, standing as it seems to do alone. The idea of a necromancer calling back the soul of the dead into the body, or calling up, like the witch of Endor, the spirit of the dead from another world, cannot be said with certainty to be found in Norse literature at all, though this is the interpretation supplied by Saxo. This agrees with conclusions reached in earlier chapters, particularly after examining the evidence on the soul, and on the idea of survival.

The laws dating from early Christian times in Iceland have references to the raising of the dead. In the Ældre Gulaþings Lov1 the practice of those who utisetu at vekia troll upp, at fremia heiðrni með pvi (‘sit out at night to rouse trolls, to do witchcraft thereby’) is mentioned, and again in the Gulaþings Christenret2 there is a condemnation of pæir er fræista draugha upp at væickia æda haugbua (‘those who attempt to rouse draugar or howe-dwellers’). Elaborate directions from later times as to the rites to be observed in arousing a dead man can be found in Jon Árnason’s collection of folklore.3 It is an odd mixture of such anti-Christian practices as the repeating of the Lord’s Prayer backwards with the remembrances of heathen magic in the form of carved runes and so on. In spite of the Christian setting, however, and the late date of the traditions, it is very evident that it is still the draugr which is raised, and that there is no essential difference between this creature and the draugr of the sagas; it is even necessary to overcome him when raised from the grave by superior strength, in case the dead man summoned should drag the inquirer back with him into the grave. It is interesting to note that the reluctance of the dead to be disturbed is remarked upon, and the dead man is said to protest at the beginning ‘Let me lie quiet’, a protest which must be ignored if a successful experiment is to be carried out. Here however the dead body rises through its own strength, and there is no hint of necessity for it to be informed either with the spirit of the dead called from some other realm or with an evil spirit from Hell. In the account of the raising of the draugr, whose physical characteristics are continually emphasised, and who in reply to questions can tell what his former life on earth has been, we seem to be nearer to the stories of draugar in the sagas than to the raising of the dead with their fund of impersonal wisdom in the Edda poems. The evil nature of the dead, who has become practically equivalent to a troll—the word is used in several of the laws—links up with some of the tales of haunting, and with the stories of howe-dwellers gloating over their treasures and devouring living creatures that come their way.

But the evidence for necromancy is incomplete without some examination of the other side—the descent of the living man or woman into the haunts of the dead. It is impossible to separate one conception from the other, indeed, for we have seen that the idea of the visit of the living to the land of the dead is implicit already in some of the stories we have discussed. The evidence for the journey to the land of the dead made by the living must be closely examined before any conclusions. can be drawn as to the relationship between the dead and the living which lies behind the stories of necromantic practices.

1 Norges Gamle Love indtil 1387 (Keyser and Munch, 1846-1895), V. I, p. 19 (XXXII).
2 Ibid. v. II, p. 308 (III).
3 Íslenzkar Þjóðsögur og Æfintýri, I, Section on Uppvaknínga. P. 317 f.