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    Chapter 31

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    Chapter 31
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    Chapter XXXI
    Northern Mythology Valhalla The Valkyrior

    The stories which have engaged our attention thus far relate to
    the mythology of southern regions. But there is another branch
    of ancient superstitions which ought not to be entirely
    overlooked, especially as it belongs to the nations from which
    we, through our English ancestors, derive our origin. It is that
    of the northern nations called Scandinavians, who inhabited the
    countries now known as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland.
    These mythological records are contained in two collections
    called the Eddas, of which the oldest is in poetry and dates back
    to the year 1056, the more modern, or prose Edda, being of the
    date of 1640.

    According to the Eddas there was once no heaven above nor earth
    beneath, but only a bottomless deep, and a world of mist in which
    flowed a fountain. Twelve rivers issued from this fountain, and
    when they had flowed far from their source, they froze into ice,
    and one layer accumulating above another, the great deep was
    filled up.

    Southward from the world of mist was the world of light. From
    this flowed a warm wind upon the ice and melted it. The vapors
    rose in the air and formed clouds, from which sprang Ymir, the
    Frost giant and his progeny, and the cow Audhumbla, whose milk
    afforded nourishment and food to the giant. The cow got
    nourishment by licking the hoar frost and salt from the ice.
    While she was one day licking the salt stones there appeared at
    first the hair of a man, on the second day the whole head, and on
    the third the entire form endowed with beauty, agility, and
    power. This new being was a god, from whom and his wife, a
    daughter of the giant race, sprang the three brothers Odin, Vili,
    and Ve. They slew the giant Ymir, and out of his body formed the
    earth, of his blood the seas, of his bones the mountains, of his
    hair the trees, of his skull the heavens, and of his brain
    clouds, charged with hail and snow. Of Ymir's eyebrows the gods
    formed Midgard (mid earth), destined to become the abode of man.

    Odin then regulated the periods of day and night and the seasons
    by placing in the heavens the sun and moon, and appointing to
    them their respective courses. As soon as the sun began to shed
    its rays upon the earth, it caused the vegetable world to bud and
    sprout. Shortly after the gods had created the world they walked
    by the side of the sea, pleased with their new work, but found
    that it was still incomplete, for it was without human beings.
    They therefore took an ash-tree and made a man out of it, and
    they made a woman out of an alder, and called the man Aske and
    the woman Embla. Odin then gave them life and soul, Vili reason
    and motion, and Ve bestowed upon them the senses, expressive
    features, and speech. Midgard was then given them as their
    residence, and they became the progenitors of the human race.

    The mighty ash-tree Ygdrasil was supposed to support the whole
    universe. It sprang from the body of Ymir, and had three immense
    roots, extending one into Asgard (the dwelling of the gods), the
    other into Jotunheim (the abode of the giants), and the third to
    Niffleheim (the regions of darkness and cold). By the side of
    each of these roots is a spring, from which it is watered. The
    root that extends into Asgard is carefully tended by the three
    Norns, goddesses who are regarded as the dispensers of fate.
    They are Urdur (the past), Verdandi (the present), Skuld (the
    future). The spring at the Jotunheim side is Ymir's well, in
    which wisdom and wit lie hidden, but that of Niffleheim feeds the
    adder, Nidhogge (darkness), which perpetually gnaws at the root.
    Four harts run across the branches of the tree and bite the buds;
    they represent the four winds. Under the tree lies Ymir, and
    when he tries to shake off its weight the earth quakes.

    Asgard is the name of the abode of the gods, access to which is
    only gained by crossing the bridge, Bifrost (the rainbow).
    Asgard consists of golden and silver palaces, the dwellings of
    the gods, but the most beautiful of these is Valhalla, the
    residence of Odin. When seated on his throne he overlooks all
    heaven and earth. Upon his shoulders are the ravens Hugin and
    Munin, who fly every day over the whole world, and on their
    return report to him all they have seen and heard. At his feet
    lie his two wolves, Geri, and Freki, to whom Odin gives all the
    meat that is set before him, for he himself stands in no need of
    food. Mead is for him both food and drink. He invented the
    Runic characters, and it is the business of the Norns to engrave
    the runes of fate upon a metal shield. From Odin's name, spelt
    Wodin, as it sometimes is, came Wednesday, the name of the fourth
    day of the week.

    Odin is frequently called Alfadur (All-father), but this name is
    sometimes used in a way that shows that the Scandinavians had an
    idea of a deity superior to Odin, uncreated and eternal.


    Valhalla is the great hall of Odin, wherein he feasts with his
    chosen heroes, all those who have fallen bravely in battle, for
    all who die a peaceful death are excluded. The flesh of the boar
    Schrimnir is served up to them, and is abundant for all. For
    although this boar is cooked every morning, he becomes whole
    again every night. For drink the heroes are supplied abundantly
    with mead from the she-goat Heidrun. When the heroes are not
    feasting they amuse themselves with fighting. Every day they
    ride out into the court or field and fight until they cut each
    other in pieces. This is their pastime; but when meal-time
    comes, they recover from their wounds and return to feast in


    The Valkyrior are warlike virgins, mounted upon horses and armed
    with helmets, shields, and spears. Odin, who is desirous to
    collect a great many heroes in Valhalla, to be able to meet the
    giants in a day when the final contest must come, sends down to
    every battle-field to make choice of those who shall be slain.
    The Valkyrior are his messengers, and their name means "Choosers
    of the slain." When they ride forth on their errand their armor
    shed a strange flickering light, which flashes up over the
    northern skies, making what men call the "Aurora Borealis," or
    "Northern Lights." (Gray's ode, The Fatal Sisters, is founded on
    this superstition.)

    The following is by Matthew Arnold:

    "-----He crew at dawn a cheerful note,
    To wake the gods and heroes to their tasks
    And all the gods and all the heroes woke.
    And from their beds the heroes rose and donned
    Their arms, and led their horses from the stall,
    And mounted them, and in Valhalla's court
    Were ranged; and then the daily fray began,
    And all day long they there are hacked and hewn
    'Mid dust and groans, and limbs lopped off, and blood;
    But all at night return to Odin's hall
    Woundless and fresh; such lot is theirs in heaven.
    And the Valkyries on their steeds went forth
    Toward earth and fights of men; and at their side
    Skulda, the youngest of the Nornies, rode;
    And over Bifrost, where is Heimdall's watch,
    Past Midgard Fortress, down to Earth they came;
    There through some battle-field, where men fall fast,
    Their horses fetlock-deep in blood, they ride,
    And pick the bravest warriors out for death,
    Whom they bring back with them at night to heaven,
    To glad the gods, and feast in Odin's hall."

    This description of The Funeral of Balder is by William Morris:

    Gazed through the cool dusk, till his eyes did rest
    Upon the noble stories, painted fair
    On the high panelling and roof-boards there;
    For over the high sea, in his ship, there lay
    The gold-haired Balder, god of the dead day,
    The spring-flowers round his high pile, waiting there
    Until the gods there to the torch should bear;
    And they were wrought on this side and on that,
    Drawing on towards him. There was Frey, and sat
    On the gold-bristled boar, who first they say
    Ploughed the brown earth, and made it green for Frey;
    Then came dark-bearded Niod; and after him
    Freyia, thin-robed, about her ankles slim
    The grey cats playing. In another place
    Thor's hammer gleamed o'er Thor's red-bearded face;
    And Heimdal, with the old horn slung behind,
    That in the god's dusk he shall surely wind,
    Sickening all hearts with fear; and last of all,
    Was Odin's sorrow wrought upon the wall.
    As slow-paced, weary faced, he went along,
    Anxious with all the tales of woe and wrong
    His ravens, Thought and Memory, bring to him."


    Thor, the thunderer, Odin's eldest son, is the strongest of gods
    and men, and possesses three very precious things. The first is
    his hammer, Miolnir, which both the Frost and the Mountain giants
    know to their cost, when they see it hurled against them in the
    air, for it has split many a skull of their fathers and kindred.
    When thrown, it returns to his hand of its own accord. The
    second rare thing he possesses is called the belt of strength.
    When he girds it about him his divine might is doubled. The
    third, also very precious, is his iron gloves, which he puts on
    whenever he would use his mallet efficiently. From Thor's name
    is derived our word Thursday.

    This description of Thor is by Longfellow:

    "I am the God Thor,
    I am the War God,
    I am the Thunderer!
    Here in my Northland,
    My fastness and fortress,
    Reign I forever!

    "Here amid icebergs
    Rule I the nations;
    This is my hammer,
    Miolner the mighty;
    Giants and sorcerers
    Cannot withstand it!

    "These are the gauntlets
    Wherewith I wield it,
    And hurl it afar off;
    This is my girdle;
    Whenever I brace it
    Strength is redoubled!

    "The light thou beholdest
    Stream through the heavens,
    In flashes of crimson,
    Is but my red beard
    Blown by the night wind,
    Affrighting the nations!

    "Jove is my brother;
    Mine eyes are the lightning;
    The wheels of my chariot
    Roll in the thunder,
    The blows of my hammer
    ring in the thunder."

    Frey is one of the most celebrated of the gods. He presides over
    rain and sunshine and all the fruits of the earth. His sister
    Freya is the most propitious of the goddesses. She loves music,
    spring, and flowers, and is particularly fond of the Elves
    (fairies). She is very fond of love-ditties, and all lovers
    would do well to invoke her.

    Bragi is the god of poetry, and his song records the deeds of
    warriors. His wife, Iduna, keeps in a box the apples which the
    gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of
    to become young again.

    Heimdall is the watchman of the gods, and is therefore placed on
    the borders of heaven to prevent the giants from forcing their
    way over the bridge Bifrost (the rainbow.) He requires less
    sleep than a bird, and sees by night as well as by day a hundred
    miles all around him. So acute is his ear that no sound escapes
    him, for he can even hear the grass grow and the wool on a
    sheep's back.


    There is another deity who is described as the calumniator of the
    gods and the contriver of all fraud and mischief. His name is
    Loki. He is handsome and well made, but of a very fickle mood
    and most evil disposition. He is of the giant race, but forced
    himself into the company of the gods, and seems to take pleasure
    in bringing them into difficulties, and in extricating them out
    of the danger by his cunning, wit, and skill. Loki has three
    children. The first is the wolf Fenris, the second the Midgard
    serpent, the third Hela (Death). The gods were not ignorant that
    these monsters were growing up, and that they would one day bring
    much evil upon gods and men. So Odin deemed it advisable to send
    one to bring them to him. When they came he threw the serpent
    into that deep ocean by which the earth is surrounded. But the
    monster has grown to such an enormous size that holding his tail
    in his mouth he encircles the whole earth. Hela he cast into
    Niffleheim, and gave her power over nine worlds or regions, into
    which she distributes those who are sent to her; that is, all who
    die of sickness or old age. Her hall is called Elvidnia. Hunger
    is her table, Starvation her knife, Delay her man, Slowness her
    maid, Precipice her threshold, Care her bed, and Burning-anguish
    forms the hangings of her apartments. She may easily be
    recognized for her body is half flesh-color and half blue, and
    she has a dreadfully stern and forbidding countenance.

    The wolf Fenris gave the gods a great deal of trouble before they
    succeeded in chaining him. He broke the strongest fetters as if
    they were made of cobwebs. Finally the gods sent a messenger to
    the mountain spirits, who made for them the chain called
    Gleipnir. It is fashioned of six things, viz., th noise made by
    the footfall of a cat, the beards of women, the roots of stones,
    the breath of fishes, the nerves (sensibilities) of bears, and
    the spittle of birds. When finished it was as smooth and soft as
    a silken string. But when the gods asked the wolf to suffer
    himself to be bound with this apparently slight ribbon, he
    suspected their design, fearing that it was made by enchantment.
    But Tyr (the sword god), to quiet his suspicions, placed his hand
    in Fenris' mouth. Then the other gods bound the wolf with
    Gleipnir. But when the wolf found that he could not break his
    fetters, and that the gods would not release him, he bit off
    Tyr's hand, and he has ever since remained one-handed.


    Once on a time, when the gods were constructing their abodes and
    had already finished Midgard and Valhalla, a certain artificer
    came and offered to build them a residence so well fortified that
    they should be perfectly safe from the incursions of the Frost
    giants and the giants of the mountains. But he demanded for his
    reward the goddess Freya, together with the sun and moon. The
    gods yielded to his terms provided he would finish the whole work
    himself without any one's assistance, and all within the space of
    one winter. But if anything remained unfinished on the first day
    of summer he should forfeit the recompense agreed on. On being
    told these terms the artificer stipulated that he should be
    allowed the use of his horse Svadilfari, and this by the advice
    of Loki was granted to him. He accordingly set to work on the
    first day of winter, and during the night let his horse draw
    stone for the building. The enormous size of the stones struck
    the gods with astonishment, and they saw clearly that the horse
    did one half more of the toilsome work than his mater. Their
    bargain, however, had been concluded, and confirmed by solemn
    oaths, for without these precautions a giant would not have
    thought himself safe among the gods, especially when Thor should
    return from an expedition he had then undertaken against the evil

    As the winter drew to a close, the building was far advanced, and
    the bulwarks were sufficiently high and massive to render the
    place impregnable. In short, when it wanted but three days to
    summer the only part that remained to be finished was the
    gateway. Then sat the gods on their seats of justice and entered
    into consultation, inquiring of one another who among them could
    have advised to give Freya away, or to plunge the heavens in
    darkness by permitting the giant to carry away the sun and the

    They all agreed that no one but Loki, the author of so many evil
    deeds, could have given such bad counsel, and that he should be
    put to a cruel death if he did not contrive some way to prevent
    the artificer from completing his task and obtaining the
    stipulated recompense. They proceeded to lay hands on Loki, who
    in his fright promised upon oath that, let it cost what it would,
    he would so manage matters that the man should lose his reward.
    That very night when the man went with Svadilfari for building-
    stone, a mare suddenly ran out of a forest and began to neigh.
    The horse thereat broke loose and ran after the mare into the
    forest, which obliged the man also to run after his horse, and
    thus between one and another the whole night was lost, so that at
    dawn the work had not made the usual progress. The man, seeing
    that he must fail of completing his task, resumed his own
    gigantic stature, and the gods now clearly perceived that it was
    in reality a mountain giant who had come amongst them. Feeling
    no longer bound by their oaths, they called on Thor, who
    immediately ran to their assistance, and lifting up his mallet,
    paid the workman his wages, not with the sun and moon, and not
    even by sending him back to Jotunheim, for with the first blow he
    shattered the giant's skull to pieces and hurled him headlong
    into Niffleheim.


    Once upon a time it happened that Thor's hammer fell into the
    possession of the giant Thrym, who buried it eight fathoms deep
    under the rocks of Jotunheim. Thor sent Loki to negotiate with
    Thrym, but he could only prevail so far as to get the giant's
    promise to restore the weapon if Freya would consent to be his
    bride. Loki returned and reported the result of his mission, but
    the goddess of love was quite horrified at the idea of bestowing
    her charms on the king of the Frost giants. In this emergency
    Loki persuaded Thor to dress himself in Freya's clothes and
    accompany him to Jotunheim. Thrym received his veiled bride with
    due courtesy, but was greatly surprised at seeing her eat for her
    supper eight salmon and a full-grown ox, besides other
    delicacies, washing the whole down with three tuns of mead.
    Loki, however, assured him that she had not tasted anything for
    eight long nights, so great was her desire to see her lover, the
    renowned ruler or Jotunheim. Thrym had at length the curiosity
    to peep under his bride's veil, but started back in affright, and
    demanded why Freya's eyeballs glistened with fire. Loki repeated
    the same excuse and the giant was satisfied. He ordered the
    hammer to be brought in and laid on the maiden's lap. Thereupon
    Thor threw off his disguise, grasped his redoubted weapon and
    slaughtered Thrum and all his followers.

    Frey also possessed a wonderful weapon, a sword which would of
    itself spread a field with carnage whenever the owner desired it.
    Frey parted with this sword, but was less fortunate than Thor and
    never recovered it. It happened in this way: Frey once mounted
    Odin's throne, from whence one can see over the whole universe,
    and looking round saw far off in the giant's kingdom a beautiful
    maid, at the sight of whom he was struck with sudden sadness,
    insomuch that from that moment he could neither sleep, nor drink,
    nor speak. At last Skirnir, his messenger, drew his secret from
    him, and undertook to get him the maiden for his bride, if he
    would give him his sword as a reward. Frey consented and gave
    him the sword, and Skirnir set off on his journey and obtained
    the maiden's promise that within nine nights she would come to a
    certain place and there wed Frey. Skirnir having reported the
    success of his errand, Frey exclaimed,

    "Long is one night,
    Long are two nights,
    But how shall I hold out three?
    Shorter hath seemed
    A month to me oft
    Than of this longing time the half."

    So Frey obtained Gerda, the most beautiful of all women, for his
    wife, but he lost his sword.

    This story, entitled Skirnir For, and the one immediately
    preceding it, Thrym's Quida, will be found poetically told in
    Longfellow's Poets and Poetry of Europe.

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