- God´s Free Nature.
- The Sentient Earth.
- The Gods in Nature.
- Sacred Groves.
- Animals, gods and people.
- The Fylgja – an Animal Follower
- Learning from Animals.
- Utiseta – “To Sit Outside” – Outdoor Meditation and Vision Quests.
- Natural Dwellings.
- Grotti´s Song.
“Frigg demanded of fire and water, of iron and all sorts of minerals, of the rocks, of the Earth, of the trees, of the illnesses, of the animals, of the birds, of the poisons and of the snakes, that they would not harm Balder…
Frigg said: “Neither metal nor wood will harm Balder, for I have made all things swear an oath on it”
The woman asked; “Have all things really sworn not to harm Balder?”
Frigg said: “There is a stickling growing to the west of Valhalla, he is called the Mistletoe. I thought he was too young to demand oaths from.”
(Skaldskaparmál, the Prose Edda)
In the myth about Balder´s death, his mother, the goddess Frigg, demands of all nature that they swear an oath not to harm her son, Balder. The very notion that fire, water, iron, minerals, rocks, the Earth, the trees, the illnesses, the animals, the birds, the poisons and the snakes may actually swear oaths, and that one of them, such as the Mistletoe, was regarded as “too young” to demand oaths from, speaks volumes about how our pagan ancestors regarded nature. This is a nature where all things are sentient, where all things have life, where all things can make agreements and understand otherwise very human concerns, where they may be too young or too old for making contracts. This notion stands in stark contrast to how civilized humanity has been regarding and treating nature for the last couple of hundred years.
Modern society carries with it a certain history of disregard for nature and our fellow living creatures here on Earth. We may not pinpoint one single reason for this, but I can certainly think of a few significant influences. According to the Bible, God created heaven and Earth and all the animals, finally creating human beings in His image and setting them to rule over all other beings. Today, at least here in Scandinavia, there are many Christians who interpret this as a responsibility to nature and to the animals; that we are set here to safe-keep and honor “God´s nature”. However, the idea that nature and animals only exist to serve our human needs has evidently been much stronger, and human beings are perceived as not only above, but even as totally different from the rest of nature; after all, we are the only ones who got to be created in His image. The idea that God exists outside of nature and that creation is imperfect, dirty and sinful, has had a very strong impact on our relationship to nature.
Adding to this tradition, the first scientists of Europe tended to adhere to a mechanical philosophy in which nature was seen as a huge mechanism, a sort of machine. Nature, animals, even our very bodies – were mere mechanisms totally set apart from the soul and from the divine. This attitude has also played its part, for why connect with nature on a deeper level when it is only regarded as a sort of impersonal, mindless, soulless machinery?
The insane, but sadly very common idea that animals do not feel any pain and have no emotions, that they simply react out of mechanical instincts, has been fundamental to the way we treat our fellow beings here on earth. The idea that nature is a mechanism, a sort of machinery, and that it is only here to serve as economic resources for our civilizations, has helped to further cement our human society´s relationship to nature on a global level. Adding to this, there is capitalism, the ruling paradigm of our world, in which the profits of the few and a belief in the necessity of constant economic growth, is fundamental to how absolutely everything is ruled.
In this article, I have decided to explore our pagan ancestor´s relationship to Earth as a living, breathing, sentient being, full of creatures and beings with meaningful lives of their own.
By our pagan ancestors, I am generally referring to people who lived outside of the great civilizations, but since my specialty is the Old Norse and Germanic cultures that existed up here in the northern parts of Europe, these are the ones I am going to write about in this article.
I once read a book that was written some time in the 1930s about Norwegian forest management and its history. I found that book in my family´s mountain cottage and I do not remember the title or the name of the author, but I do remember some of its contents. The author was referring to a letter found in Bergen which dated back to the 16th century. It was written by a Dutch merchant, one of the Hansa company people who came to Norway in order to make business, and who became a very dominant class, the earliest of capitalists in this country, establishing themselves especially in Bergen.
The merchant wrote in a language that was steeped with greed, declaring that the entire country of Norway was full of dense, ancient oak forest which covered the country from the south and all the way up to Bergen. Oak was so common that even the poorest of commoners could make their entire houses and all their furniture with top quality oak wood. The merchant suggested that his company make use of that resource, and so they did.
Is this true? Well, back in the 13th century, another author, Snorri (Ynglinga saga), wrote that the entire region of Vingulmark, which roughly represents Oslo and Akershus counties, was so dense with oak forest that nobody could venture through on foot without getting lost, and that only light elves lived there. Whether there were light elves or not, we know today that it was true; Norway really did have an amazing oak forest stretching all across the land even up to Bergen and beyond. Then it was discovered by capitalist merchants. And within a couple of centuries, it was gone.
The author of the book I mentioned then proceeded to an article written 300 years later, during the 19th century, in which it was declared that oak was foreign to Norway and hardly even existed, and that the few oaks that could be found at all had probably been imported and planted here. There was hardly an oak left, and people did not remember the great forests; they believed that the oak was a foreign tree that hardly ever grew in this land. It was only when excavating Viking ships and archaeological sites in modern times that the ancient oak forests of Norway were rediscovered.
In the same book, the author offered up an anecdote about two brothers who owned a forest, and they were also working as forest keepers, which was actually a proper job back then. This was during the 1920s, and the two brothers were very old and lived inside that forest, unmarried. They were constantly harassed by a timber company who wanted them to sell the forest or at least the timber of that forest, but the brothers refused. When asked why they did not want to earn some money and preferred living in poverty, they replied; “Where are all those little birds going to live, then?”
The author, writing back in the 1930s, used this example as one of several to show that common people´s attitude towards the forests and the natural world and their care for animals was actually traditional and typical of the lower classes, and that it was only recently, gradually, being changed by the so-called forces of progress.
And it is true that such a respectful attitude towards nature was a lot more common in the old days, nature was often referred to as “God´s free nature”, and many believed that venturing into nature was as important as going to church. I even remember it from my own grandparents, an extreme love for nature and a sense of obligation to protect it. When my grandparents built a cottage in the mountain, some of the point was to experience annual vacations where you had fetch water from the well or even from natural streams, and to boil your water on a kettle over the fire, fetching wood and doing things that you did not have to do anymore in your daily, busy life in the cities – there was a sense of longing, yearning back to a more natural and simple existence – a yearning that was so common, it became the typical holiday goal for ordinary people in Norway. I grew up with summer and autumn and spring holidays where we all packed up and went to the cottage and happily carried water to boil and chopped wood for our fires. Only over the last few generations has this changed, now, the cottages of people have electricity and running water and the whole point of returning to a simpler existence no longer seems to have any thrill to it.
To our pagan ancestors, nature was sacred, and nature was personal. The gods dwelled within nature and within particular natural powers, and according to medieval sources, people would think deeply about nature, and considered the Earth to be a living being, a goddess, and our first mother:
According to Snorri Sturluson, who wrote down many of the Norse myths, our ancestors had deep thoughts about nature and its holiness. In 1225 he wrote:
“The people before us considered and wondered how it could be that the earth, the animals and the birds had the same qualities in certain things, even if they were of different kind. One quality is this, that if you dig in the Earth high up on the mountaintops, water can burst out there, so that you do not need to dig further down for water up there than you have to dig in deep valleys. It is the same with animals and birds also, that there is equally short way to the blood in the head as in the feet.
Another quality that the Earth has, is that every year, grass and flowers grown upon her, and the same year they fall down and decay. So it is also with animals and birds, that hair and feathers grow and fall off every year.
A third quality of Earth is this, that when she is opened, and dug into, grass will grow on the dirt that is highest up. They believed that rocks and stones corresponded to the bones of living beings.
From all this they understood that the Earth was alive, and that she had a sort of lifespan. And they also knew that she was incredibly old of years, and powerful of nature. She raised all life and took back into herself all that which dies. From this reason, they gave her a name, and counted their lineages from her.”
The Earth was, indeed, a goddess to our pagan ancestors. She was alive, and she was sentient, and she was the ancestral mother of all human beings. The myths speak of shrines and sanctuaries in her honor, it was in Iarðar Vé – the Earth´s Shrine – that you could get access to inspiration and the mead of poetry, for example. If you drank beer or any other strong drink, you should always pour a little as a sacrifice to the goddess. Her name was Iórðr, which means Earth, and she had many nicknames that described her, such as Fjǫrgyn, which means Life Struggle.
The Earth goddess was also the mother of Thor, the thundergod, who existed in a place called Thruðvangr, which literally translates as the Power Field. From this realm, the god of thunder and lightning protected his mother and all life from the hurling rocks of the frost giants from Utgarðr, which means the Outer World. Today, we do know that there is indeed an electromagnetic field of power around the entire globe, protecting the planet and all life from the hurling, frosty rocks that constantly bombard us from outer space, causing most of them to burn up before they reach the ground. Thor, the thundergod, was a god of protection before anything else, the champion of his mother and of all his siblings, namely all living beings.
Other nature deities were the Sun goddess and the Moon god, and they played an important part in the creation story. According to the Edda poem Vǫluspá, both siblings came hurling from the southern realms of cosmos and had no idea where they were going until the first three Aesir gods showed them to their proper places. Then, the Sun goddess, taking the lead, hurled her right hand around the “door of the steeds of heaven” while the Moon claimed Earth as his “hall”. The Earth was the Sun´s “hall” too, and the Sun goddess sent her nourishing rays to the young, barren, rocky Earth goddess, who then began to grow the green growth.
There was a god called Njǫrðr or a giant called Aegir, who ruled the winds and the waves of the ocean, a goddess, Rán who ruled the ocean depths and who received the drowned. Their nine daughters dwelled within the waves and had passions of their own, waves coming at a ship was really these nine wave giantesses wanting to claim the men aboard for their lovers. There was a god, Freyr, who ruled the power of growth and fertility, a goddess, Freyia, who resided in wild nature and took the shape of wild animals, and numerous other powers, spirits and giants and trolls and dwarves and elves, residing in mountains and hills, forests and rivers and lakes. These bodies of water were also personified, a river could be a goddess and the ancestral mother of tribes.
Many of the Norse goddesses and giantesses appear to be aspects of the Earth goddess, such as Frigg, who has power over plants and beast and birds and metals and rocks and water. In the myth were we learn about Frigg´s power over nature, we also learn that she can make agreements and demand oaths from each of these things; she obtains oaths from all of them, except one who was too young to make oaths. The very idea that animals, birds, water, and even rocks and metals may make agreements and oaths suggests, very strongly, that we have to do with a sentient, natural world, in which even metals and rocks have lives, and consciousness, and wills of their own.
From place names, we know that many natural formations were associated with particular gods and goddesses. From archaeology, we know that water was considered the recipient of sacrifices to the gods, lakes and rivers and bogs were shrines in which the gifts to the gods could be deposited and sent on their way.
What may be grasped from this is that nature was steaming with sentient life to our pagan ancestors, and for this reason, much of their spiritual life was deeply connected to their natural surroundings. When Christianity came to Scandinavia, the pagans were referred to as Heiðningar, “Heathens”, and this was a direct reference to the fact that they worshipped in heaths or other natural bright open spaces, groves and fields, surrounded by wilderness. When someone died, mounds were often built for their remains, mounds that became a part of the surrounding nature.
The first written source we have that describes Scandinavian pagan religion dates back to about 98 Ad, almost two thousand years ago. A Roman called Tacitus described a type of people that the Romans referred to as Germans. This is not a reference to Germany as we know it, but to many tribes who spoke a Germanic language, and who originated in Scandinavia. During this era in history, many Scandinavian tribes began to migrate into the European continent, where they encountered the Romans. Tacitus wrote about these people:
“The Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence, which is seen only by the eye of reverence.”
“The grove is the center of their whole religion. It is regarded as the cradle of the people, and the dwelling-place of the supreme god, to whom all things are subject and obedient.”
Tacitus has more to say about the subject, he also describes some of the rituals that take place in such natural temples:
“Although the familiar method of seeking information from the cries and the flight of birds is known to the Germans, they have also a special method of their own – to try to obtain omens and warnings from horses.
These horses are kept at the public expense in the sacred woods and groves that I have mentioned; they are pure white and undefiled by any toil in the service of man. The priest and the king, or the chief of the state, yoke them to a sacred chariot and walk beside them, taking note of their neighs and snorts. No kind of omen inspires greater trust, not only among the common people, but even among the nobles and priests, who think that they themselves are but servants of the gods, whereas the horses are privy to the gods’ counsels.”
Yes, horses are privy to the god´s counsels. Horses, not men. In the pagan religion, humans are not above the animals when it comes to relationship to the divine; animals are often the ones who transmit divine messages and knowledge to human beings.
In the Edda heroic poems about Gudrun, Sigurd´s widow, it is said that she understood that her husband Sigurd had been killed when she saw his horse, Grani, weeping.
The first sentient being in the entire universe was a great cow, Auðhumbla, who nourished herself on dead matter and was subsequently able to nourish living matter. The entire, living, breathing, sentient universe that she brought up with her streams of milk was imagined either as a giant, or as a huge tree. At its roots there was a serpent, at its top there was an eagle, in between the eyes of the eagle there was a hawk, and between the two was a messenger in the shape of a squirrel.
If any of you know a bit about Tantrism, you may recognize some of the same images as a metaphor for the human spiritual body, and this was also true of Norse myths; the first human beings were created from wood in Norse mythology, in poetry, men could be described as ashes and yews and apple trees, women as oaks and linden and spruce. Each human being could poetically be described as trees, as Snorri said it (Skaldskaparmál):
“…poets have called men Ash or Maple or other masculine tree-names… It is proper to refer to her by calling her Willow or Log… hence woman is called in kennings by all feminine tree-names… woman is also referred to in terms of stone and all words for stone.”
Almost every god or goddess or other supernatural being is associated with animals.
- The Sun goddess, Sól, drives a chariot pulled by two named horses, Árvakr (Early Awake) and Allsviðr (Very Quick), while her brother, the Moon god Máni, also has horses.
- Freyr rides a magical horse, Bloðughofi (Bloody Hoof) or else a golden boar, Sliðrugtanni/Gullinbursti (Golden Bristles).
- Odin rides a magical horse, Sleipnir, birthed by Loki in the shape of a mare, and this eight-legged horse has the power to move between cosmic dimensions or worlds. A similar horse is granted to the hero Sigurdr, Grani. Odin also owns two wolves and two ravens, and sometimes take the shape of a serpent or an eagle.
- Thor has two goats, also named, who come back to life after being butchered, if only the bones are kept.
- Freyia has cats, falcons, hawks and boars.
- The many-named giantess who rules the underworld owns serpents and wolves.
- The goddesses of fate could have swans and also assume the shape of swans,
- The valkyriur could ride horses or turn into ravens or swans or other birds…
- and many of these animals have names and identities of their own, and magical abilities too.
Even people are associated with animals; each person had at least two so called Fylgjur – followers; One (or more) in the shape of a woman (a norn, fate goddess), another (only one) in the shape of an animal follower. Where the woman Fylgja holds power over your fate, the animal Fylgja represented your life and your personality. A big strong, brave man could have a bear fylgja. A king had, perhaps, a polar bear or even a lion. A warrior could have a wolf fylgja, a beautiful woman could have a swan, there could be foxes and weasels and even diverse kinds of birds – each person had one such animal.
Is this the same as a spirit animal or a totem? It is hard to say, but in the saga sources, people often dream of animals doing something, and always interpret these dreams as the animals representing someone they know, and that the dream is a prophecy about what these people are going to do. If you dreamt about your own animal fylgja, it was usually a warning of danger, and if you happened to actually see your own animal fylgja walking before you, then stopping, turning to look at you, it was an omen of your own imminent death.
It was believed that the animal fylgja walks before you, staking up your path of destiny, so if it stopped and looked back, it was because it had reached the end.
What about learning from animals?
In one Edda poem, we hear of a young man called Atli. He had been given an impossible task from his king, to find a magical woman who resided in another world. One day, Atli was out in a sacred grove, and there was a bird sitting in the branches up above him, and she told him exactly how to fulfil the king´s wishes, and in return, she demanded shrines and sanctuaries and gold-horned cattle in her honor, suggesting that she was a goddess in disguise.
Later, Atli follows the bird´s directions; in order to reach the other world, he had to go up on a mountaintop to seek visions, and later he had to sleep by a river so that he could cross it while dreaming. In the other realm, there is a guardian in the shape of an eagle.
In the Volsunga saga, a young boy and his father live in exile in what they call jarðhúss -an earth-dwelling, and underground house. They learn how to assume the hides of wolves and run around in the forest while howling and hunting. One day, the boy is wounded, and his father takes him back to their dwelling and wonders what to do next.
Then the saga reads:
“One day, Sigmund saw two weasels. One bit the other in the windpipe, and then ran into the woods, returning with a leaf and laid the leaf on the wound. The other weasel sprang up healed. Sigmund went out and saw a raven flying with a leaf. The raven brought the leaf to Sigmund, who drew it over Sinfiötli´s wound. At once, Sinfjötli sprang up healed, as if he had never been injured.”
The story is not very credible in itself, but does speak volumes about how people perceived nature; as something to observe and learn from, and animals as helpers and advisers that could have something to teach us, and that animals were sentient beings with societies of their own, who could care for each other and attempt to heal each other.
This perception of animals as persons with feelings and intentions of their own was much more common back in the days. I do not know how this was in Pagan times, but only a couple of hundred years ago, it was common for hunters to have vacation days for animals, namely days and time periods were nobody hunted, simply for the reason that they wanted to let the animals have some peace and some time off. These non-hunting days often coincided with human holidays.
It was also common to believe that animals could gossip about humans and that they could complain to the gods about being badly treated by humans, especially during the Yule period, and then the gods would punish the humans for treating the animals badly. During Yule, it was common to decorate the stables and the barns for a party and offer up the best of food to them, and to leave out grains for the wild birds to help them through winter.
I have already mentioned Atli, who was out in a grove when a bird began to talk to him. Norse myths and sagas have many examples of how people would sit outside in groves, on mountaintops, by rivers, and perhaps most importantly, on burial mounds, in order to communicate with the spirits of nature, with the dead, or other supernatural beings who might help. They even had a name for it, Utiseta. Utiseta means “to sit outside”, and it was a way of outdoors meditation which usually happened at night-
During the pagan era, laws had been memorized by specialized lawmen, and many of these laws concerned rules about how and when to conduct the larger, public, pagan rituals. When Christianity came to Scandinavia and became the chosen religion of the ruling classes, new laws were imposed, of course. These laws were, for the first time in Scandinavian history, also written down.
One of the earliest written laws in Norway was the one we know as the Law of Frostating. It was written down sometime during the 1100ds, give or take, when Christianity was still quite fresh and many people, who probably even thought that they were good Christians, still practiced ancient, ancestral rituals. The lawmen of the period needed to set a few things straight, and in chapter 5 of the Frostating religious laws, we can read about who will get the hardest of all punishments:
“Those men who forfeit their life because of theft or robbery, whether they rob from ships or on land, and likewise they who forfeit their lives due to murder or witchcraft, divination trips or utiseta in the nights in order to wake up trolls and thus promote paganism, all such men are ubotamenn and have lost their properties and their protection from the law.”
An ubotamaðr was a man who had no protection from the law; anyone could take his possessions, claim his property, or kill him without punishment. His family would also lose their home and the protection of the law. This was the harshest law known in all of Norway at the time; an ubotamann (and his family) was basically exiled from society and fair game to anyone who might want to hurt them. This terrible punishment was given to thieves, robbers, rapists, murderers, and people who practiced witchcraft, divination or so-called utiseta – to sit outside. Basically, meditation was outlawed, especially if it happened outside in a natural temple, and it was obviously considered the core and root of paganism, which was criminalized.
This early law against meditation outdoors was not enough. The custom was so deeply ingrained in Scandinavian culture that a new law was made in 1267 to clarify what was illegal. 1267 is actually quite late – more than 200 years had passed since the conversion to Christianity, yet the law reveals that the old, pagan practice was still very much up and running. The new Gulating-law declares:
“And these things belong to misunderstandings and pagan beliefs: Galdrar (spellsongs), witchcraft, to call a man troll-rider, prophecies or divination, the belief that landvetter (land-spirits) live in the groves and the mounds and the waterfalls, so also utiseta in order to ask about fate, and those who oppose God and the holy church in order to find in the burial mounds or in any other way become mighty and wise, so also those who try to wake up the dead or a haugbu (mound-dweller).”
Not only did they not like to contain their gods indoors, they also preferred to live in natural surroundings. Even when they saw the constructions works of Roman civilization, they remained unimpressed and saw absolutely no need to copy it. According to one Roman source, some tribes who came to live within the borders of the empire became depressed when they had to live within civilized, modern Roman stone houses, feeling suffocated and imprisoned. About their native dwellings, Tacitus wrote:
“It is a well-known fact that the peoples of Germany never live in cities and will not even have their houses adjoin one another. They dwell apart, dotted about here and there, wherever a spring, plain, or grove takes their fancy.
Their villages are not laid out in the Roman style, with buildings adjacent and connected. Every man leaves an open space round his house, perhaps as a precaution against the risk of fire, perhaps because they are inexpert builders. They do not even make use of stones or wall-tiles; for all purposes they employ rough-hewn timber, ugly and unattractive-looking. Some parts, however, they carefully smear over with a clay of such purity and brilliance that it looks like painting or colored design.
They also have the habit of hollowing out underground caves, which they cover with masses of manure and use both as refuges from the winter and as storehouses for produce. Such shelters temper the keenness of the frosts; and if an invader comes, he ravages the open country, while these hidden excavations are either not known to exist, or else escape detection simply because they cannot be found without a search.”
I am going to conclude this article with an example from Edda poetry which seems eerily relevant today, the Edda poem Grǫttasǫngr.
“Odin´s son was called Shield, and from him are the Skioldunga lineage descended; he had his seat and ruled the lands that are now known as Denmark, but which was then called Gotland. Shield had that son who was called Peace Heritage, and he ruled the lands after him. The son of Peace Heritage was called Wisdom, he took the kingdom after his father, in that time when Augustus Caesar ruled and there was peace in all lands, then was Christ born. And because of Wisdom being the mightiest King in the Northern lands, so the peace was known by him in all Danish tongues, and the North-men called that age the Peace of Wisdom.
No man would hurt another, even if he saw the bane of his father or the bane of his brothers free or even bound; there were no thiefs and no robbers, to the point where a golden ring lay a long time on the Ialangr-Heath. King Wisdom sought a visit to Sweden to that king who is named Many-One/Very Much [Odin ], and from him he bought two she-slaves whose names were Heath-Dweller and Necklace Wearer (or Achiever and Rememberer); they were large and strong.
In that time there was in Denmark a mill-stone so very big, that no man was so strong that he could pull it, and in the nature of this mill-stone it was so that it would grind what the millner spoke.
This mill-stone´s name was Grotti; Hanging Open Mouth he is called, who gave the mill-stone to King Wisdom. King Wisdom led the slave-girls to the mill-stone and asked them to grind gold and peace in the service of Wisdom.
Then he gave the women no more rest and no more sleep than the time it takes for a cuckoo to keep silent, or the time needed to speak forth a verse.
It is said that the women then sang a song that is called the Grotti-song:”
Now, to sum up what the poem is about. The two giantesses who pull the millstone reveal that they were present when the very Earth was shaped and made to spin, and that they functioned as norns (fate goddesses) and as valkyriur. It is also clear that the millstone represents destiny, and that they are the ones who run the show. Their connection to nature is one of identification with nature, they represent nature herself. When Wisdom (Froði), representing humanity or at least what rules humanity (its king), enslaves them, they are happy to bring fortune to him at first. But when he never lets them rest, and when his greed only increases, and he abuses them, they make their revenge by reminding him of their ancestral power while grinding a harsh fate for all men.
Towards the end, they issue a warning; Wake up, Wisdom, Wake up, Wisdom, if you want to know our ancient songs…
1.Now there have come
to the house of the king
two prescient women:
and Necklace-Owner/Rememberer (Menia):
They were with Wisdom,
Son of Peace-Heritage:
The Mighty Maidens
he owned as his slave-girls.
2(The slave-girls) were led to the mill
where they ordered
the grey stones
to grind into motion
He (Froði) promised them neither
rest nor pleasure
until he had heard
the slave-girls´ song.
They kept up the sound
of the never-silent mill
“Let us set down the grinder
let us stop the millstones!”
But he bid the Maidens
to keep grinding as they owed.
4.They sang and they turned
the fast-revolving stone
so that the Household of Wisdom
mostly fell asleep
Then sang the Necklace-Owner/Rememberer
who had come to the milling:
“Let us grind prosperity for Wisdom
let us grind joyfully
abundance of everything
on the mill of fortune
Let him sit on gold
Let him sleep on feathers
Let him wake to happiness
That is well ground out.
Here shall no one
bring harm to another
not plot damage
or strive to take lives
Nor shall he strike
with a sharp sword
even if he finds bound
the bane of his brother.”
He did not speak at all
except these few words:
“You shall not sleep
any longer than the hall´s cuckoo
or longer than I take
to recite a verse.”
8 (The Maidens sing:)
you are not fully wise
you friend of human eloquence
when you bought the slave girls
and chose them for their strength
and for their appearance
But of their lineage
you asked not…
Hard was the Roaring One
and his father
although the Slave-Binder*
was mightier still
The Moving One and Earth-Dweller
our close kinsmen
brothers of mountain giants:
– From them are we two born!
*Skaði´s eagle-giant father
The Mill of Fate
would not have fallen
from the grey mountains,
nor would the hard stone block
have come out of the Earth,
nor would we have ground so
– we rock giant maidens
if we had not known
how she* was made.
*“She” (“hennar”) refers to Grotti
– the Mill of Fate from within the Earth
We grew nine winters
we were playful*
great maidens growing
nourished beneath the Earth:
We Maidens where the directors
of great deeds:
All by ourselves we moved
the flat mountain from its place.
*Leikur can mean “plays” and “sports” but also means “lovers”, “playmates”, and “girlfriends” – but it is not said who they are “playmates” with…
We rolled the boulder (the Mill/ Earth)
from the world of the giants
so that the Earth
began to shake
we turned then
the fast-revolving stone (the Mill/ Earth)
to the high hall
so that men took it.
But later we
in the land of the Swedes
– we two who know fate:
moved among people
We broke armors
and we broke shields:
We marched against
the grey-clad armies.
We overthrew some
we gave good help
to the people of Divine Serpent
There was no peace
until Knuckles fell
We kept going
for some seasons
so that we became famous
for our battle deeds;
there we sliced
with sharp spears
blood from wounds
made swords red.
Now we have come
to the house of the king
mud eats at our feet
and we are otherwise chilled
we pull the Calmer of Strife
but there is no joy at Wisdom´s house
Hands should rest
Let the stone stand still
I have ground
my full share;
We may not to our hands
until fully ground
as Wisdom sees it.
Hands shall clasp
the hard shafts
Wake up, Wisdom!
Wake up, Wisdom!
If you wish to hear
and ancient tales.
I see a fire burn
east of the city
a war-spell has woken
that must be a beacon;
an army will come
here very soon
and burn the settlement
despite the Abundance-Descendant (Wisdom).
You shall not keep
the throne of Lejre (Denmark)
nor the red-gold rings
nor this Ruling Rock (=the millstone of fate)
Let us seize the handle:
Maiden! Turn (the Mill) more swiftly!
We are not yet warmed
by the death-stir (=blood)
My father´s maiden
so that she foresaw the death
the great shafts snapped
away from the Mill´s frame
enclosed in iron,
Let us grind even more!
Let us grind more!
The son of the She-Bear
on the Half-Lords
will avenge Wisdom
so that he is famed
both as her son
and as her brother
as we two know well.”
The Maidens ground,
empowered by rage,
the young girls
had the giant´s strength
the shaped wood shook
the frame collapsed
the heavy grindstone
broke in two.
And the Bride of the Mountain Giant
these words spoke:
we have ground, Wisdom,
to the point where we must stop
for the ladies have had a full stint