Archives for posts with tag: Ragnarök

In Norse Myth there is a minor tale about the marriage of Njörd and Skaði. Njörd was from the sea and Skaði was from the mountains. They met in Asgard – the hall of the Aesir. After they married, they had difficulty agreeing on where they should live together. Skaði wanted to live on her family homestead in the mountains whereas Njörd wanted to live by the sea. After some discussion, they planned to spend nine nights in the mountains and then nine nights by the sea.

So, to the mountains they went for nine days. When they returned to Asgard, Njörd said this:

Mountains I loathed,
no longer than nine
nights did I stay there,
the howling of the wolves seemed ugly to me
compared to the hooping of swans.[1]

image: Daniel Heuclin / www.photoshot.com Original URL

image: Daniel Heuclin / www.photoshot.com Original URL

Next, they spent nine nights by the sea. When they returned to Asgard, Skaði had this to say about the sea:

I could not sleep
by the shore of the sea
for the noise of the mew
that awakened me,
the bird that flew
each dawn from the deep.[2]

swans by a baltic shore at käsmu

Swans by a Baltic shore at Käsmu, Estonia. image: Jon Weaver

 After this, they parted ways. Skaði went up to live in the mountains and Njörd stayed by the sea.

While there’s more to tell about these characters than this episode, this story has always bothered me. I don’t really tell it often. I mean, you can start the story with how Njörd is the god of the sea like Neptune and that sailors and fishermen are constantly concerned with staying on his good side and that they must give him all of the credit for safe voyages and good catches and everything, and that Skaði was the goddess of what it takes to survive hard winters in the mountains. While everyone huddles around a weak fire with their teeth a-chattering, she’s out bow hunting in a snowstorm.

Of course, that wasn’t all Skaði was known for. When the Aesir bound Loki to await Ragnarök, they called in Skaði to help design his eternal punishment. Now, in an old Greek story, the trickster Prometheus was chained to a rock at the top of a mountain where an eagle lived. This eagle loved liver, and he loved it most while his prey struggled to escape his bonds. A terrible and painful punishment for Prometheus indeed, but Skaði wanted Loki to have something that lasted a little longer. If you’ve ever heard of Loki’s binding, you’ll recall that someone “fastened a viper above Loki’s head to drip burning venom on his face.”[3] That was Skaði’s idea.

Loki's Punishment (artist unknown) Original URL

“The Punishment of Loki” James Doyle Penrose (1912) Original URL

How Njörd and Skaði met is interesting too. Skaði came to Asgard prepared to burn it down and kill everyone there as recompense for the death of her father Thjazi – Thjazi is the giant who stole Iðun and her apples – which kept the Aesir young and fit – from Asgard. Though Loki was technically responsible for it – that’s another story – some said the trickster got what was coming to him.

But the Aesir were never ones to leave a blood price unpaid so they gave Skaði an audience and took her demand seriously when she rattled the walls of Asgard with a crude spear. They were moved by her bravery and were so impressed with her skills as an archer that they didn’t dare arrange a competition – simply out of knowing that they would never recover from talk of their defeat. The Aesir decided on a blood price for Thjazi’s death: Skaði could choose any one of the Aesir to be her husband. The only condition was that she must choose her suitor entirely by his feet. She agreed to the deal.

Knowing that Baldr was the most handsome of all of the Aesir, she chose the pair of what she thought were the most handsome feet in Asgard. Because of this, she mistook Njörd for Baldr – I guess good old sand and surf were the best exfoliants then. But even though she meant to select someone else, she quickly grew deeply in love with Njörd as she got to know him.

So it’s this that bothered me: these two gods ended their marriage simply because they couldn’t compromise on a suitable living arrangement. We see it even today. People have different career ambitions or maybe they can’t handle living in certain conditions or sharing money and power in a mutually agreeable way. Perhaps they aren’t willing to live without certain amenities or use resources in a certain way – even if it means staying with the person they married. We can all easily think of many examples of marriages ending due to irreconcilable differences these days. Each of us knows at least several people who have been divorced and often multiple times. In 2009, the numbers showed that roughly 46 percent of American couples’ marriages end in divorce before they reach their 25th wedding anniversary.[4]

I have no idea what the divorce statics were in Asgard, but women could divorce their husbands in Viking Age Iceland.[5] It’s interesting to see an example of divorce in Norse Myth – not necessarily to confirm that it occurred, but to see that it was not a subject considered taboo enough to be left out of a story.

Anyway, as storytellers – should we accept the responsibility of carrying on the skaldic tradition – it is always our choice what to embellish and what to leave out… and what to flat out fabricate for our own purposes. In a version of the tale told by Padraic Colum, Njörd and Skaði stay together. Here’s how he does it:

These two, Niörd and Skadi, went first to live in Niörd’s palace by the sea; but the coming of the sea mew would waken Skadi too early in the morning, and she drew her husband to the mountain top where she was more at home. He would not live long away from the sound of the sea. Back and forward between the mountain and the sea, Skadi and Niörd went.[6]

This version keeps Njörd and Skaði together by taking the steadfast tone typical of Norse Myth and using the nine nights spent at each location to create a situation that is made eternal with perpetual give and take.


[1] Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, trans. Jean I. Young (Berkeley, 1954), 52.

[2] The Prose Edda, 52.

[3] Douglas “Dag” Rossman, The Northern Path, (Chapel Hill, 2005), 153.

[4] Hope Yen, “Census: Divorces Decline In United States,” Huffinton Post, (18 May 2011). Accessed 07/13/2013. Available online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/18/census-divorces-decline-i_n_863639.html

[5] William R. Short, Icelanders in the Viking Age, (Jefferson, 2010), 36.

[6] Padraic Colum, Nordic Gods and Heroes (Dover: Mineloa, 1996), 63.

Every blockbuster needs some sort of a restaurant tie-in to tempt us to buy something heavily sugared and loaded with enough artificial ingredients to turn our insides neon green. It’s the American way.

dennys hobbit menu

However you feel about Denny’s special Hobbit-inspired menu, I find it amusing to think that people might be saying, “Radagast” at Denny’s – and not just Radagast, but – Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies®.

Radagast's Red Velvet Pancake Puppies®

As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, I’m not planning on heading to Denny’s to try Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies® – but I ended up crossing paths with a “Radagast” the other day in a place where I wasn’t expecting to find him – in the very first paragraph of Alfred the Great’s Anglo-Saxon translation of the The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius:

At the time when the Goths of the country of Scythia made war against the empire of the Romans, and, with their kings, who were called Rhadagast and Alaric, sacked the Roman city, and reduced to subjection all the kingdom of Italy, which is between the mountains and the island of Sicily…[1]

Alfred the Great's Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiæ

Detail from King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon Version of Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiæ, ed. J.S. Cardale (London, 1829) image: Google books

I think the first time I ever saw a name from a Tolkien story in a northern medieval text was in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda in a section called “The Deludings of Gylfi.”

Gylfi was a wise king who governed what we now call Sweden. After hearing many wondrous things about the Aesir and, wishing to learn more about them, he went out on a secret journey to find Asgard – the home of the Aesir. He even went disguised as an old man – just like Odin would do when he went wandering in the land of mortals.

So, Gylfi arrived at this hall whose roof was shingled with golden shields just like Valhalla – Odin’s hall in Asgard. The first person he saw in this curious hall was a man juggling seven knives. Is this a dream vision?

Further inside, “[Gylfi] saw three high-seats one above the other, and a man seated in each of them… the one sitting on the lowest seat was a king called High One, the next was Just-as-high, and the topmost one was called Third.”[2]

Fortunately for us, Gylfi asked these three kings many good questions like, “Who is the foremost or oldest of all the gods”, “What is there to relate about Ragnarök?”, and all sorts of follow-up questions about the many other things in between.

Anyway, within Snorri Sturluson’s transcript of the oral history Gylfi obtained from his interview with the three kings in that mysterious hall are a few names you’ll find familiar from The Hobbit:

Dvalin
Nori
Bifur
Báfur
Bömbör
Nori
Ori
Óin
Thorin
Fili
Kili
Glóin
Dóri

and, of course, Ganodálf.

a warm welcome

“I hope I never smell the smell of apples again!” said Fili. “My tub was full of it.” An illustration from a 1947 Swedish edition of The Hobbit. image: The Annotated Hobbit, ann. Douglas A Anderson (Houghton Mifflin/Boston, 1988).

Coming across a name or a word from a Tolkien story in a northern medieval text always brings me a little joy. It’s fun to find them for the first time – and better yet – to forget about them and then find them again – which is what I normally do…

Though his inclusion of these words – or at least the general sound of them – was probably primarily to evoke the atmosphere and worldview of these old poems that inspired him to write, I like to think that it was Tolkien’s way of saying, “I was here” – or “This is one of my favorite books.”

 

 


[1] King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon Version of Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiæ, trans. J.S. Cardale (London, 1829), 3. Available online: http://books.google.com/books?id=WBwGAAAAQAAJ

[2] Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, trans. Jean I. Young (Berkeley, 1954), 30,31.

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we get a glimpse of Smaug the dragon. Dragons love gold above anything else and Smaug is no exception – he coils himself around the treasure horde of the dwarf king under the mountain.

Smaug7

Don’t worry Tolkien Estate, it was only a bit of fun for a batch of homebrew!

In a tale from Norse Mythology, a dragon plays the role of a man corrupted by the greed of gold. This corruption manifests itself physically. It changes the person, sort of like how symptoms of a physical or mental illness can change a person’s appearance and personality.

Though dragons are creatures in Norse Mythology – we shouldn’t confine ourselves to always thinking of them in that literal sense. They do not always hatch from eggs as do chickens or snakes. Men can become dragons.

In the tale of Otter’s ransom, we have Fafnir the dragon. He, like Smaug, hordes a trove of treasures mined and crafted by dwarves. But unlike Smaug, Fafnir was not born a dragon. He becomes a dragon from the greed of gold – greed of a particularly cursèd horde of gold: Otter’s ransom.

One day Odin, Loki and Hoenir were traveling in Midgard, the land of men. They followed a river which brought them to some falls. There, they noticed an otter eating a salmon. Only it wasn’t actually an otter – it was Hreidmar’s son Otr in the form of an otter:

There hunted hungry

Hreidmar’s offspring:

the silver salmon

sweet he thought them.

Otr in otter’s form

there ate blinking,

on the bank brooding

of black waters.[1]

Fischotter (Lutra lutra) image: copyright 2012 hellboy2503/Jörg David (original URL)

Loki, never one to miss an opportunity for mischief and games, picked up a stone by the riverbank and threw it at the unwitting creature who sat there feasting on its catch:

Then Loki boasted of his catch – with one throw he had bagged an otter and a salmon. They took the salmon and the otter away with them and came to a farm which they entered.[2]

They called at the gate of the farm. When the owner, Hreidmar, asked who it was at the gate, Odin called out to him, “We are three travelers looking for a night’s lodging. We bring a salmon and an otter fur, both of which you are welcome to it in exchange for your kind hospitality!”

Hreidmar quickly called his two sons, Fafnir and Reginn, to his side and told them that their brother Otter had been killed and that his murderers were waiting at the gate wanting supper and a bed for the night.[3]

Fafnir and Reginn came at Odin, Loki, and Hoenir with fore-hammers of the smithies to kill them, accusing them of killing their brother Otr, who often shape-shifts as an otter when he fishes by the falls. As there was a blood price in those days for killing kin, Odin asked Hreidmar what Otr’s blood price would be:

“Peace,” said Odin. “We have slain thy son, it would seem, but it was unwittingly that we did the deed. We will give a recompense for the death of thy son.”[4]

Hreidmar named a blood price for Otr. They would bring a piece of treasure for every hair on the otter skin as Otr’s ransom:

Redgolden rings.

Ransom costly,

This fell must fill,

This fur cover![5]

Since Loki got them into this mess, Odin and Hoenir made Loki go to Svartalfheim, the world of dwarves, and bring back the dwarf Andvari’s horde.[6]

There he searched until he found a silent black lake, and in that lake he wriggled his fingers… until they closed upon the gills of a large pike, which Loki jerked up onto the shore.[7]

“What fish have I found

in the flood leaping,

rashly roaming?

Ransom pay me!”[8]

It was Andvari in fish form. Loki told him that he would let him go only if he paid Otter’s ransom. Andvari reluctantly agreed and turned back into his dwarf form. Andvari gave Loki all of his gold, but kept from him one single ring. Loki noticed this, and demanded that Andvari give up the ring:

“What hides thy hand

Thus hollow bending?”[9]

To which Andvari replied:

 “The ring is little –

Let it rest with me!”[10]

But Loki would not let Andvari short Otter’s ransom:

“All, Andvari,

All shalt render,

Light rings and heavy,

Or life itself!”[11]

If Andvari gave up this perfect ring to Loki, he would lose his ability to make treasures. This ring, like the Philosopher’s stone, was free of any impurity. He who has this ring, possesses the secret power of making gold. Andvari cursed Loki for taking the ring from him:

“The ring with the rune

Of power upon it:

May it weigh down your fortune,

And load you with evil,

You, Loki, and all

Who lust to possess

The ring I have cherished.”[12]

This wasn’t the first time anyone had cursed Loki. So why should he put any stock in this angry old dwarf’s threats? After all, Loki won the gold fair and square – it’s not like Andvari saw him coming.

So Loki brought Andvari’s horde, and the ring, back to Odin. Since Odin quite liked the ring, he kept it for himself. Hreidmar flayed the otter, filled the inside of the skin with gold and then covered every little hair. After the very last piece of gold was placed on the otter’s skin, a single whisker remained. Realizing the ransom was one treasure short, Odin surrendered the ring to Hreidmar. It covered the whisker and Otter’s ransom was paid. With their debt paid, Hreidmar let Odin, Loki, and Hreidmar go.

After their guests from Asgard left, Reginn and Fafnir asked Hreidmar for shares of the gold. Hreidmar refused their request – he would not even part with the smallest bit of copper. Reginn and Fafnir turned against their father and murdered him for his horde. After this was done, Reginn realized that Fafnir had no intention of sharing the gold either. Fafnir told his brother Reginn that if he ever tried to take some of the gold for himself, he would kill him. Reginn left the farm and:

…Fafnir went up on to Gnita Heath and, making a lair there, turned himself into a dragon and lay down on the gold.[13]

The cursèd ring from Otter’s ransom – the piece of treasure that covered the very last whisker on the otter’s dead body, which had the power to pit father against sons and brother against brother, turned Fafnir into a dragon. It also played a part in causing the tragic deaths of Sigurd and the Valkyrie Brynhild – and, depending on your interpretation, even played an important role in bringing about Ragnarök – The Twilight of the Gods – “THE END OF THE WORLD!!!!…or the beginning,” as Aughra from The Dark Crystal would say…

aughra

Aughra tells Jen about the Great Conjunction in The Dark Crystal. image copyright: 1982 Universal Pictures/Sony Pictures/The Jim Henson Company

 

 


[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, “The New Lay of the Völsungs” The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún Ed. Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: New York, 2009), 67.

[2] Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, trans. Jean I. Young (Berkeley, 1954), 110. (Italicized emphasis: mine)

[3] Douglas “Dag” Rossman, The Northern Path (Seven Paws: Chapel Hill, 2005), 72.

[4] Padraic Colum, Nordic Gods and Heroes (Dover: Mineola, 1996), 144.

[5] Tolkien, 68.

[6] Some say Loki went to Queen Aegir who gave him a magic net with which to catch Andvari and that Loki returned to the same falls – Andvari Falls. As deeds are always returned in Norse Mythology, a magic net was also used to catch Loki when he tried to hide in fish form from the Gods when they brought him to justice for killing Baldur.

[7] Rossman, 73.

[8] Tolkien, 68.

[9] Tolkien, 69.

[10] Tolkien, 69.

[11] Tolkien, 69.

[12] Colum, 149.

[13] Snorri Sturluson, 112.

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