(Ed. Comment) This dissertation on the Voluspa illustrates some of the confusion about
the Gods of the Wanr and the Aesr. By the time the Edda, of which the Voluspa
is part, was compiled by Snorri -- the Aesir claimed they were THE Norse people
and their Gods were THE Norse Gods. Typical of the Aesir. The Vanir
seem never to have been interested enough to correct that attitude. Typical
of the Vanr!
on the Voluspa"
1. The Voluspa is a long poem contained within the collection of Old
Icelandic poetry known as the Poetic Edda. Written somewhere about 1000
BCE it marks the end of the heathen era and the start of the the Christian
age. That being so, it is the single best source for understanding the
views of the Pagan Norse speaking peoples concerning the beginning of the
world and of the doom of the gods. In fact, it was to discover the secrets
of the beginning and end, that Odin rode down into Hel's realm and called
up from her sleep an Etin seeress. The poem, itself, is the text of her
speech. (ed. note: The Feri folk
lived underground so there was some confusion among the Aesr about the
Feris being dead souls. Feris, being Feris, were amused by the confusion.)
2. Apparently Odin does not have foresight of future events and often
has to go down into Helheim to call up the dead, to question them. From
his high seat he has a view of all the worlds in the present, but is limited
in knowledge about times where he was not present. He has two ravens who
go to and fro into the worlds to bring back news. So he is limited in foreknowledge
which makes Odin different from the Jewish/Christian/Islamic view of God.
3. The dead one that are rose was an Etin seeress. This means when
an Etin dies they "go to Hel." Meaning they go like the human
dead, those who are not chosen by Odin or Freyja during battle, to Hel's
realm. The bodies of the Etins no doubt still lie in Jotenheim, but their
"souls" go to rest in Niflheim. What Odin raises is not the Etin's
body but their "soul."1
One's memory is contained within the "soul." If this was
not the case, then Odin would have gone to where the Etin's body lay to
raise it. Another example is that of Balder. He died in Asgard and was
given a "Viking funeral". Though his body lay in the ocean his
"soul" lives in a hall which Hel had prepared for him in Niflheim.
[note: the dead who rise at ragnarok and invade on the ship of nails I
feel are the Etin dead and not the human dead most suppose; why should
our dead ancestors who did not fall in battle want to rise up and fight
the gods and their relatives who were chosen by Odin and Freyja?]
4. The Voluspa was address to everyone. Though it was a special knowledge
which Odin had to seek out, the seeress spoke it for all. This is the meaning
of the verse:
Hear my words, you holy gods,
great men and humble sons of Heimdall;
Heimdall, the god who was born of nine mothers (the waves of the sea),
is said to have been the father of all the castes of humankind. There is
a Rig lay is which he fathers the three castes. He does not create human
beings, rather he fathers sons from the three primal couples. It is through
Heimdall that all human beings can claim to have the genes of the gods
running through them. Until this occurred human beings were just like the
other animals of this planet. We are equal now because the lower caste
and the highest caste have been abolished; we are all children of Heimdall,
our family the Aesir.
5. Verse two tells us the family of the risen seeress was of Etin kind.
We don't know when she lived though it does say long ago. From her statement,
"Nine worlds I know," we can assume that she lived after Odin
and his brothers killed Ymir as the nine worlds did not exist before then.
The first Etin population was destroyed when Ymir's blood flooded over
them so she had to come after the surviving Etins recovered. We don't know
how she died but it may have been violently. Etins can be compared to the
Indian Asuras, the anti- gods, who battled the gods because they desired
immortality. Immortality apparently does not mean that one in indestructable;
it only means one might live forever if one does not meet a violent or
accidental end. The Etins/Asuras lived a long time and had the power of
the gods, but were not immortal. And they were very aware and envious of
the gods because of it. The stealing of the Indun's apples would not have
made the Etins immortal, as they apparently only governed the youth and
strength of the gods, but it would have made the Etins equal to the Aesir
(through the leveling down of the Aesir).
6. The seeress recalls the nine roots of the World Tree as the nine
worlds. From other sources we know that three roots lead to wells which
water the great Tree. Some see the worlds as being supported by the Tree
but this poem has the nine world supporting it instead. It may well be
that the Tree and the nine worlds are One; that they mutually support one
7. Ymir was there in the beginning as the first being. First to life
and first to die. His body become the worlds. Thus he is very similar to
the Iranian Yima and the Hindu/Buddhist Yama. The first being is sacrificed
and from its body the world is made. In essence, everything is made up
of Ymir, except the gods and the Etins. For the gods predated Ymir's killing
and the Etins are it's children.
8. The gods gathered together in council to decide the courses of the
sun, moon and stars. These are seen as living beings. One of the things
one notices within the heathen world view is that everything is alive and
has sentience. Not one god lords over all in this process. Actually none
are named; only as a group do the gods act.
9. The gods after creating Midgard by lifting the land up than created
their own home. They built shrines [note: to whom do the gods give worship
that shrines were required?] and halls. They engaged in metal work and
gathered wealth. In fact, they did the very same things that their human
followers did. As below, so above.
10. Things apparently went pretty well until three Etin maidens came
"awful in might from Etin-home." These are the three Norns who
govern Time in three parts: past, Present, and Future. All things are under
their rule including the Gods/Goddesses. How did the norns get so much
power? Did any being have control over their functions before the Norns
came to the Tree and Well. Who are the Norns parents and what powers do
they represent? Do the Norns die at Ragnorak? Why did the Norns not take
husbands nor have children? The norns are called wise in verse 20 because
between them three they hold all knowledge, but apparently do not give
it out. Which explains Odin's frequent journeys to the land of the dead
11. The creation of human beings was not out of nothing. A basic principle
of Nordic cosmology is that all things are made out of previous things.
One day three of the Aesir, Odin, Hoenir and Lodur (Loki) (the
Aesr Loki, ed.) were walking along the seashore until they came
across two feeble trees. Odin gave them the spiritual force soul, Hoenir
gave them mind and senses, and Lodur gave them the external features to
differentiate them from other creatures. Thus human beings descended from
the trees through the intervention of the Gods. Later, as mentioned earlier,
Heimdall's blood entered into the human race making all of us, the direct
children of the gods, instead of just created creatures.
12. The first war was the war of Buri's children against Ymir and his
children, but that was before the formation of the nine worlds. Thus there
is no contradiction when the seeress states she had seen the first war
"in the world," and goes on to describe the Aesir war with the
13. The war appears to go badly for the Aesir whose
fortifications were destroyed. A truce was arraigned and hostages exchanged.
However, considering how the Vanir killed Mimir, a hostage and good friend
of Odin, and the lack of retaliation by the Aesir upon the hostages they
held, I feel the Vanir must have been in a position of strength.
14. Odin cast spear over the opposing army of the Vanir signifying
that the other army would be sacrificed to himself. However, as had to
have happen to one side or another he lost. Asgard's walls were breached
and "fighting Vanir trod the field of battle." The question can
be raised why did not the Vanir, then go on and sacrifice the Aesir? (Not
the Vanir way of doing things, ed.)
15. Verses 25-6 are very difficult to interpret. Freyja2
was offered to the Etins which some has taken to be trace
of the myth of rebuilding Asgard's walls. I take the gods in verse 25 to
be the Vanir. After exchanging hostages, Freyja, Frey and Njord3
, the Aesir then were willing to trade Freyja to the Etins
for new walls. This would violate the peace treaty which would make sense
of the verse: "were sworn oaths broken and solemn vows, gods' plighted
troth, the pledges given." However, Thor killed the Etin preventing
the exchange thus preserving the Vanir-Aesir peace.
16. At the final battle, the Gods (ed. the Aesir
Gods that is) and Etins fall. Strangely enough the Vanir (exception
Frey) and the goddesses are not present. The waters rise and covers the
world battlefield. I take this to mean a Vanic function; from flood comes
fertility once the waters recede. I would say this mythically as the coming
of Freyja's warrior's; as Surt threw fire over the world, Freyja cast Frigga's
tears over it. Surt and the sons of Muspell were defeated. The stage for
a new world created. I see Frigga and Freyja's warrior's storming the gates
of hell freeing the human and god dead, given Hel takes her place in the
world to come.
(c) 1996 by Jim Davis
1. I believe the Freja
is being confused with Frigga here. It doesn't make sense for Odin to offer
Freja to the Etins as Frej and Freja are Vanir and the Vanir have just
finished kicking Aesir butt. IMHO is more likely that a.) Odin loaned the
Etins his wife Frigga, or b.) that Freja bargained with the Etin on behalf
of Odin and the Aesir losers, Freja being in good favor with the Feri folk.
In any case Thor messes everything up anyway.
2. Excuuuse me! In the Aesir dreams!!!
Njordur is Frej and Freja's daddy, the Lord of the Vanir pantheon and they
and the rest of the Vanr have just finished tearing down the walls of Odin's fortress
around his ears. IMHO it sounds like more Aesir spin doctoring.
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