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Re: [PIEreligion] Einherjar

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  • William Reaves
    I have read that the Indo-Iranian mythology contains figures comparable to the Germanic Einherjar, the heroes of Valhalla. Does anyone know their name and
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2008
      I have read that the Indo-Iranian mythology contains figures comparable to the Germanic Einherjar, the heroes of Valhalla. Does anyone know their name and details regaridng them?

      Here's something I've been working on involving Fholsvinnsmal in the Poetic Edda:

      The continuing conversation between Fjölsviðr and Svipdag reveals that this is no ordinary fortress. Svipdag asks the watchman a series of questions, by which it is possible to catch a glimpse of this magnificent place. After his long ordeal, no doubt Menglöð's glittering palace is a welcome sight for Svipdag's sore eyes. When Fjölsviðr refuses him respite and him go back on "humid paths," "wet ways" (úrgar brautir), a phrase which also appears in Rígsþula 39, he says:

      Augna gamans
      fýsir-a aftur fán,
      hvars hann getur svást að sjá
      garðar glóa
      mér þykja of gullna sali;

      hér munda eg eðli una.

      "Once the eye has beheld

      a delightful spectacle,

      it ever yearns to return;

      These gleaming walls

      surround golden halls, I think;

      here would I gladly dwell."

      Fire reflecting off the golden halls are no doubt making the walls gleam, enhancing the enchantment. It is nearly impossible to translate Svipdag's words literally, primarily because of the presence of the singular fár (few), which is plural in English. A close approximation would be: "Few do not wish for the eye's delight again, where they have once beheld beauty." Svipdag's words are echoed by Menglöð in verse 48: forkunnar sýn mun flestan glaða hvar er hefir við annan ást, "such a beautiful sight is a source of delight to one in love with another." An Icelandic proverb expresses a similar sentiment.: Aftur fýsir elskhuga síns augnagamans "the lover desires to again behold that which delights his eyes." The phrase eðli una, rendered above as "here would I gladly dwell," properly means: "to be content with one's lot."[1]

      Through the gate, Svipdag can see her, the object of his desire, sitting on a hill inside surrounded by her handmaidens. In verse 20, we learn that a tree overshadows their gathering place. The same idea is reflected in the ballad Ungen Sveipdal. There the maiden sits beneath the shade of a linden tree. In Fjölsvinnsmál 20, this tree is called Mimameidur, "Mimir's Tree," which is universally recognized as a name of Yggdrassil. This is the only place it is called that. Ursula Dronke, citing a 1991 D.Phil thesis on the poem by P.M.W. Robinson, states "In the late thirteenth century romantic adventure of Svipdagsmál, the world-tree appears as Mimameiðr, 'Mimi's Tree,' imported into the poem to stand by the heroine's palace and enhance the poems grandeur."[2] Thus, the goddess Menglöð's "costly halls" are set amid the braches of Yggdrassil. It can be called Mimameiðr after Mímir, the guardian of the well, Mímisbrunnur, which nourishes its central root. Gylfaginning 14 says: "Its branches spread out over all the world and extend across the sky." Its canopy forms a vault over Menglöd's palace. Svipdag sees its branches laden with fruit and asks:

      hvað af móði verður
      þess ins mæra viðar,
      er hann fellir ei eldur né járn?

      "what becomes of the fruit

      of this renowned tree,

      felled by neither fire nor iron?"

      Although the fruit of this tree is the subject of Fjölsviðr's response in the following verse, the word móði (moði) is meaningless in this context, being the dative form of either móður "mother," or moð, "refuse of hay," The translation "fruit," suggested by Guðbrandur Vigfússon based on an etymological connection with the Latin maturus a word used of ripe fruit, is highly dubious. Bugge suggested that móður might mean "power, force." Deepening the mystery, Fjölsviðr's response is difficult and ambiguous.

      Út af hans aldni
      skal á eld bera
      fyr kelisjúkar konur;
      utar hverfa
      þess þær innar skýli;

      sá er hann með mönnum mjötuður.

      Its fruit is taken

      and laid upon a fire

      for women in labor;

      out then will come
      that which they carry inside;
      thus it metes out fate among men.

      The first part of the stanza is typically interpreted as a reference to a medicinal cure for a women's ailment involving a cooked fruit. This reading is doubtful, in light of the second part of the stanza. The syntax is uncertain, but the intended meaning is relatively clear: something within is expelled. This, of course, may be an illness, but the final line suggests something else entirely. This tree "metes out fate among men." The word mjötuður, "one who metes out, force of destiny, fate," is identical to Mjötviður, the name for Yggdrassil in Völuspá 2, and closely related to Old English Metod, meaning God. Ursula Dronke observes:

      "Associations with mankind, its health and fortunes, cling to Mimameiðr like an inheritance from the paternal Heimdall a power to heal certain ailments of women (and perhaps aid in childbirth: the text is difficult) and be með mönnum mjötuðr, 'destiny among men' (Fjölsvinnsmál 22)"[3]

      Bugge read the word kelisjúkar as killisjúkar, "womb-sick," based on the Gothic word kilþei, meaning "womb." If correct, the word may be a synonym of jóðsjúkar, meaning "in labour" (literally "child-sick"). It could also be a term for pregnancy. The concept of apples becoming embryos has been preserved in Völsungasaga, ch 2. When King Rerir and his wife realized they could not have a child, they implored the gods for help. Frigg hears their prayers and sends her handmaiden- a giantess named Hljöð, Hrimnir's daughter- to deliver an apple to the infertile couple. In the guise of a crow, Hljöð drops the apple into the king's lap as he sits on a grave-mound. After eating of the apple, the queen becomes pregnant.

      The same concept seems to be at work in Fjölsvinnsmál 22. The fruits of "Mimir's Tree" are the seeds of life. They were transported to wombs of women, and transformed into human embryos by the creative "fire" burning inside the womb. At birth, "out then will come that which they carry inside." This naturally explains why the tree "metes out fate among men"; human embryos are grown as fruit on its branches. These forces are under the control of the goddesses. In Volsungasaga, the prayers of an infertile couple are answered by Frigg. In the eddic poem Oddrunargratr 9, both Frigg and Freyja are invoked to aid in childbirth:

      "Svá hjalpi þér
      hollar véttir,
      Frigg ok Freyja
      ok fleiri goð,
      sem þú feldir mér
      fár af höndum."

      "May the kind powers Frigg and Freyja and the other gods help you as you have saved me from dangerous distress." [4]

      Regarding this wondrous tree, Fjölsvinnsmál 23 and 24 further inform us that a golden cock roosts in its canopy. Its name is Vidofnir. Vidofnir is listed among the names of cocks in the Nafnaþulur. Thus, it cannot be written off as a poetic invention of the Fjölsvinnsmál poet.

      Svipdagur kvað:

      hvað sá hani heitir
      er situr í inum háva viði,
      allur hann við gull glóir?

      "What is the name of the cock

      who sits in the lofty tree,

      all aglow with gold?"

      Fjölsviður kvað:

      Víðófnir hann heitir,
      en hann stendur Veðurglasi á,

      meiðs kvistum Míma;

      "His name is Vidofnir,

      and he stands upon Vedurglasir,

      the boughs of Mími's tree."

      In Völuspá 42, a golden cock crows "over the Aesir." His name is Gullinkambi, which means "Gold-comb."

      Gól of ásum
      sá vekr hölða
      at Herjaföðrs;

      Over the Æesir crows


      He wakes the warriors

      at Herja-father's (The Father of Armies)

      Herjaföðr means the "Father of Armies," and refers to Odin.[5] Sigurd Nordal observes that Herjaföðr has the same meaning as Valföðr (Völuspá 1 and 27) and Sigföðr (Völuspá 55). Thus, Gullinkambi wakes the einherjar, the warriors of Valhall.[6] The same cock is called Salgófnir in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, 49.[7] His golden color is consistent with that of his surroundings. Of Valhall, Grímnismál 8 says:

      Glaðsheimr heitir inn fimmti,
      þars in gullbjarta
      Valhöll víð of þrumir;

      Gladsheim, the fifth (hall) is called

      And there, gold-bright,

      Valhall spreads wide.

      In Fjölvinnsmál 24, we are told that this golden cock perches on the branches of Vedurglasir, the boughs of Mimir's Tree (Mimameiðr). Vedurglasir is thus another name for Mimameiðr. All mythic things have more than one name. Elsewhere the world-tree is called Yggdrassil, Yggdrassils askur (Völuspa 19 and 47), Askr Yggdrassils (Grímnismál 34, 35) and aski Yggdrassils (Grímnismál 29-31). In Grímnismál 25 and 26, the tree is also called Lærad. The goat Heiðrún and the hart Eikþyrnir, standing on the roof of a hall, bite from its limbs, Læraðs limum. In Gylfaginning 39, regarding Heidrun, Snorri elaborates:

      Geit sú er Heiðrún heitir stendr uppi á Valhöll ok bítr barr af limum trés þess er mjök er nafnfrægt, er Léraðr heitir, en ór spenum hennar rennr mjöðr sá er hon fyllir skapker hvern dag. Þat er svá mikit at allir einherjar verða fulldruknir af."

      "There is a goat called Heidrun standing on top of Valhall feeding on the foliage from the braches of that tree, whose name is well known, it is Lerad, and from the goat's udder flows mead with which it fills a vat each day. This is so big that all the einherjar can drink from it."[8]

      Vedurglasir means Weather-glasir, "Glasir of the winds." The name is only recorded here. In Skáldskaparmál 39, Snorri lists Glasir's foliage, barr Glasis, as a kenning for gold and, in Skáldskaparmál 42, poses the question:

      Hví er gull kallat barr eða lauf Glasis? Í Ásgarði fyrir durum Valhallar stendr lundr, sá er Glasir er kallaðr, en lauf hans allt er gull rautt, svá sem hér er kveðit, at

      Glasir stendr
      með gullnu laufi
      fyrir Sigtýs sölum.

      Sá er viðr fegrstr með goðum ok mönnum.

      "Why is gold called Glasir's foliage or leaves? In Asgard, in front of the doors of Valhall, there stands a tree called Glasir, and all its foliage is red gold, as in this verse where it says that:

      Glasir stands with golden leaf before Sigtyr's [Odin's] door.

      "That is the most beautiful tree among gods and men."

      The imagery remains consistent across as number of sources. The world-tree, its branches, leaves and fruits, as well as the cock perched in its boughs, are all aglow with golden light.

      Gylfaginning 14 says: "Its branches spread out over all the worlds and extend across the sky. Three of the tree's roots support it and extend very, very far." Also according to Gylfaginning, one root reaches Hvergelmir in the most northern part of the underworld, one extends to Mimir's realm, "where Ginnungagap once was,"[9] another reaches Urd's realm in the south. Thus the tree expands in all directions above and below ground.

      The hall may have been conceived of as built around the great tree in a fashion similar to the hall described in Volsungasaga, ch. 2. There:

      "It is said that King Volsung had an excellent palace built in this fashion: a huge tree stood with its trunk in the hall and its branches with fair blossoms, stretched out through the roof. They called the tree Barnstokkr .It is said that large fires were kindled in the long hearths running the length of the hall, but in the middle of the hall stood the great tree that was mentioned earlier."[10]

      The name Barnstokkr literally means "child-trunk" (Bairnstock). Jesse Byock notes: "A few passages farther on it is called apaldr (apple tree)" which "may have symbolic meaning, possibly being associated with the apple tree of the goddess Idunn. Barnstokkr may also be identified with the world tree Yggdrasil."

      Regarding the tree's alternate name Vedurglasir, Björn M. Ólsen concludes: "This name (Veðurglasir) seems to be a name of that part of Mímameiður, which rises above the earth, and is afflicted by the weather and the winds." With this understanding of the term, compare the term Aurglasir found in Fjólsvinnsmál 28. We appear to have two reflexive names of the Tree. The top of the tree is called Vedur-glasir, the "Glasir of the winds," while the bottom of the Tree is called Aurglasir, the "Glasir of the Mud."[11] The lower half of the Tree is apparently a mirror image of the upper half of the Tree.

      In Fjölsvinnsmal 28, the watchman informs Svipdag that he who wishes to obtain the weapon capable of felling the golden cock perched on the world-tree must repair to the underworld with a gift for the ash-colored giantess, Sinmara (v. 24), designated in this verse as Eiri Aurglasis, the Eir of Aurglasir.

      Aftur mun koma,
      sá er eftir fer

      og vill þann tein taka,
      ef það færir

      sem fáir eigu
      Eiri Aurglasis..

      He who seeks the sword

      and desires to possess it,

      shall return,

      only if he brings
      a rare object

      to the goddess of Aurglasir

      Eir is the goddess of healing, already mentioned as sitting at Menglöd's feet. Here her name is used as the base-word in skaldic kennings for woman. Aurglasir is obviously another name for the World-Tree. In stanza 24 Veðurglasir was used as a name of the part of the Tree which is exposed to the winds, the part located above-ground. As opposed to veður, aur means "mud, soil, clay." Thus Aurglasir is that part of the tree which exposed to the mud, the part below ground. Therefore Sinmara is an underworld divinity, a "goddess of Mud-Glasir." She may further be seen as its Eir, i.e. physician, ensuring its well being. Aur- signifies the richness of moist soil as a source of growth and fertility. In Völuspá 19, the Norns lave the tree, drenching it with white mud, ausinn hvíta auri. This is supported by Snorri's account in Gylfaginning 16, which states:

      Enn er þat sagt, at nornir þær, er byggja við Urðarbrunn, taka hvern dag vatn í brunninum ok með aurinn þann, er liggr um brunninn, ok ausa upp yfir askinn, til þess at eigi skuli limar hans tréna eða fúna. En þat vatn er svá heilagt, at allir hlutir, þeir er þar koma í brunninn, verða svá hvítir sem hinna sú, er skjall heitir, er innan liggr við eggskurn, svá sem hér segir:

      "It is said that the Norns, who dwell by Urd's well, take water from the well each day, and with it the mud that lies around the well, and pour it over the tree, so that its branches may not rot or decay. This water is so holy that all things, which come into contact with it, turn as white as the membrane called skjall that covers the inside of an eggshell." (Björnsson tr.)

      This would also explain why the Tree cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is transparent. The imagery is thus consistent with the mythological environment attributed to Yggdrassil. It would seem that Svipdag is standing at Asgard's gate.

      That supposition is borne out in other verses as well. In verse 9, Svipdag asks about the gate he sees in the wall before him, and in verse 11 he asks about the wall itself. According to his question, both the gate and the wall are með goðum, "with the gods." It would seem obvious from the context that the gate in question is the only way through the wall and that the wall in question is the very same as the garðar, forgarðar said to surround the place in verses 1 and 5. But under the assumption that this is the home of giants, several commentators have emended the line. In the English translations, the meaning, however, still comes across reasonably clearly. Bray interprets the line as "Ne'er among gods was a more fearful barrier found." Bellows translates it as "for no man beheld 'mongst the gods so grim a sight," and Hollander renders it as "which 'mong the gods none is more fraught with fear." A more literal reading would be:

      hvað sú grind heitir,
      er með goðum sjá-at
      menn ið meira forað?

      "what is the name of this gate,
      the greatest obstacle seen
      by mortals in the land of the gods?"

      hvað sá garður heitir,

      er með goðum sjá-at

      menn ið meira forað?

      "what is the name of this wall,
      the greatest obstacle seen
      by mortals in the land of the gods?"

      In regard to the gate, Fjölsviðr responds:

      Þrymgjöll hún heitir,

      en hana þrír gjörðu

      Sólblinda synir;

      fjötur fastur

      verður við faranda hvern,
      er hana hefur frá hliði.

      Thrymgjoll it is called,

      and was made by the three

      sons of Solblindi;

      a fetter will hold fast

      any traveller

      who attempts to open it.

      Þrymgjöll means "the one making a resounding noise." Various commentators, intent upon proving that Svipdag is visiting the underworld or a hall in Jötunheim have linked the name to the river Gjöll and the bridge that crosses it (Gjallarbrú), drawing the conclusion that Þrymgjöll is identical with Helgrind, the entrance to Niflhel.[12] Using this kind of logic, it would be beside the point to observe that the name is also closely related to the name of Heimdall's Gjallarhorn. Þrymgjöll is an obstacle (forað), intended to keep unwanted visitors away. The Helgrind, "Hell-gate" had no such function.

      On the other hand, of Asgard's gate, called Valgrind ('gate of the slain') in Grímnismál 22, we learn that "few know how to open its lock." The entrance through the walls surrounding Asgard is restricted to a chosen few and any unwelcome visitor would surely be repelled or captured. The identity of the gate's artisans, Sólblindi's three sons, cannot be established. The name is usually translated as "blinded by the sun" and interpreted as the name of a dwarf. As told in Alvíssmál, they were supposed to shy away from sunlight or else be turned to stone.

      An analysis of the scene described by the watchman in his conversation with Svipdag suggests that Svipdag is standing at the gates of Asgard. Whether this is a castle of giants or the watchman sees Svipdag as a giant is a matter of how the third line of the first verse is read. The point has been debated relatively little among English scholars, and English translations tend to follow Sophus Bugge's interpretation here, and see it as a citadel of giants. The context, however, should make it clear that this isn't the case. Svipdag must travel upwards (koma upp, verse 1) to get to Menglöð's hall. Like Asgard, the place is surrounded by an impenetrable wall in which is set a well-guarded and intricate gate. The entire citadel is shadowed by "Mimir's Tree," which is widely recognized as another name for Yggdrasil.


      [1] Inexplicably, Lotte Motz renders the word eðli as øðli (óðal) and interprets the enclosure as Svipdag's "native home" or "ancestral place" after identifying Menglöð with Svipdag's mother Groa, and Svipdag as her "son" based on her narrow translation of the word mögur in verse 45, which can also mean 'youth' and 'lover,'; "The King and the Goddess," Arkiv för nordisk filologi 90: 147.

      [2] Poetic Edda, Vol. II, p. 137.

      [3] Dronke, Poetic Edda, Vol. II, p. 137.

      [4] Britt-Mari Näsström, ibid, p. 80.

      [5] Dronke, ibid, p. 143.

      [6] Allegorically, the cock may represent Heimdall, who sounds the Gjallarhorn, awakening the einherjar to war. Hrafnagaldur Óðins 26 clearly equates Heimdall with a rooster at dawn. In Gylfaginning 27, he is called Gullintanni, the one with golden teeth.

      [7] Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, Bd. 4, p. 799.

      [8] Faulkes tr.

      [9] Gylfaginning ##

      [10] Volsungasaga, ch. 2, Byock tr.

      [11] This definition of Aurglasir is an original insight of Eysteinn Björnsson, found in the commentary that once accompanied his online text..

      [12] For example, Henry Bellow, The Poetic Edda, fn to this verse, p. 241.

      (c) 2008 William P. Reaves

      Author of:

      Our Fathers' Godsaga by Viktor Rydberg, Illustrated by John Bauer
      Translated by William P. Reaves (iUniverse, 2003)

      Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Vol. II,
      Part 1: Indo-European Mythology (iUniverse, 2007) and Part 2: Germanic Mythology (2004).
      Translated and Annotated by William P. Reaves

      Available at bn.com and wherever books are sold.

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