THE NORNIR AND VALKYRIAS.
"The Viking Age," by Paul B. Du Chaillu, vol. 1, p. 385-393
The shapino, of man's future at his birth -- The three Nornir -- Their dwellingplace -- Their kin -- Good and Evil Nornir -- They water the ash Yggdrasil - The maids of Odin -- They determine the issue of battle -- Choose the warriors for Yallialla -- Figurative names -- The ride through the air -Their appearance -- The help warriors in battle -- Their sojourn among men -- The first and second songs of Helgi.
IT was believed by the Northmen that the future life of all men was shaped at their birth by genii called Nornir, who preordained the fates of men and all that happened in the world. The gods themselves seem to have been under their control.
There were three Nornir, called Urd, the past; Verdandi, the present; and Skuld, the future, they dwelt by Urd's well, situated at the foot of the ash Yggdrasil, whose roots they watered with their wisdom and the experience of the past: 1 they spun the threads of fate at the birth of every child, and measured the boundaries of his doings, and the days of his life. 2
The names of these three Nornir were to those men of old the embodiment and philosophy of life. They could not have existed without their fathers before them, hence Urd was the symbol of the great past.
Verdandi, the present, symbolised the present life itself, consequently was closely connected with Urd. Skuld, the future, represented the growth, the shooting forward, and was an inseparable part of the triad.
"There stands a fine hall under the ash, near the well, and from that hall come three maidens, who are named Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. These forecast the lives of men, and are called Nornir.
In Vafthúdnismal, Odin asks Vafthrúdnir --
Much have I travelled,
Who are the maidens
In Voluspa, Heid the sybil, in her vision --
Thence come three maidens,
The Asar met,
They played chess on the
"But there are other Nornir who come to every one that is born, to shape his life. Some are of the kindred of the gods, others of Alfar kin, and some of Dvergar kin" (Gylfaginning, c. 15).
Three great rivers
Of the maidens of Mögthrasir.
In time the number of Nornir seems to have increased.
In Fafnismál, Sigurd asks the following question of Fafnir: --
Tell me, Fafnir,
Very different born
Atli says to his wife, Gudrún: --
The Nornir have just
It forebodes fire
" Gangleri said: 'If the Nornir rule the fates of men, they deal them out very unevenly, for some have a happy and rich life, while others have little property or praise -- some a long life, some a short one.' Hár replied: 'Good Nornir, and of good kindred, forecast a happy life; but when men have evil fates, the evil Nornir cause it' " (Gylfaginning, c. 15).
The water with which the Nornir watered the ash Yggdrasil was considered holy.
"Further it is told that the Nornir who live at Urd's well take water out of it every day, and also the clay which lies round it, and pour it over the ash-tree that the branches may not dry up or grow rotten. This water is so holy that everything which comes into the well grows white like the film called skjall which lies next to the eggshell. The dew which falls thence on the earth is called honey-dew, and the bees feed on it. Two birds live in Urd's well, called swans, and from them has sprung the kin of birds with this name" (Gylfaginning, c. 16).
Valkyrias were the maids of Odin, and were sent
by him to determine the issue of battle, and choose those who were to fall
and dwell with him in
Heid in Voluspa gives the names of the Valkyrias and in her version we learn that
She saw Valkyrias
Gunn, Hild, Göndul,
So we see that originally the number of Valkyrias belonging to Odin was only six, afterwards their number increased. Sometimes they appear nine together, at others treble that number.
Others are mentioned in Grimnismal. Odin, speaking to Geirrod, says --
I want Hrist and Mist
Göll and Geirahöd,
" Hjörvard and Sigrlin had a large and handsome son. He was silent, and no name had been fastened to him. 10 He sat on a mound, and saw nine Valkyrjas riding, and one of them seemed the foremost -- she sang: --
Late wilt thou, Helgi,
On the Rodulsvellir, 12
"The daughter of King Eylimi was Svava; she was a Valkyrja and rode over air and sea; she gave this name to Helgi, and often afterwards sheltered him in battles" (Helga Kvida Hjörvardssonar).
The following among other poetical and figurative names are given to the Valkyrias: -- The maidens of victory, the goddesses of the fight, the graspers of spears, the witches of the shield, the maidens of the slain, the exultant ones, the strong one, the entangling one, the silent one, the stormraisers. They are mentioned as riding through the air, over the sea, and amid the lightning, helmet-clad, with bloody brynjas, and glittering spears; the spear which carried death and victory being the emblem of Odin. When their horses shake their manes, the froth which comes from their bitted months drops as dew into the valleys, and hail falls from their nostrils into the woods.
slain were called Val (chosen), and belonged to Odin. From the word
Val are derived the names of Valkyrias,
Valfödr (the father of the slain),
Skuld, the youngest of the three Nornir, who personified the future, followed the Valkyrias, probably in order to witness the decrees of fate given to men at their birth.
"There are others that have to serve in Valhöll, carry drink and take care of the table-dressing and the beer cups. These are called Valkyrias; Odin sends them to every battle; they choose death for men and rule victory. Gunn and Róta and the youngest Norn, Skuld, always ride to choose the slain and rule man-slayings" (Gylfaginning, ch. 36).
It was believed that during a battle warriors sometimes saw Yalkyrias coming to their help: how grand and beautiful must have been the vision created in their mind by their faith in them, as they thought they saw them riding on their fiery steeds, and sweeping over the battle-field, by land or by sea. It is hard to realise a grander picture for a warrior to behold.
Helgi saw: --
Three times nine maidens, But one rode foremost A white maiden under helmet; Their horses trembled, From their manes fell
Dew into the deep dales, Hail on the lofty woods; Thence come good seasons among men, All that I saw was loathsome to me.
[Helga Kvida Hjörvardssonar.]
Sometimes the Valkyrias came to earth and remained among men.
" Nidud was a king in
Helga Kvida gives an account of how Sigrun, a Valkyria, betrothed herself to Helgi, and of how she comes with other Valkyrias to protect him. Their appearance is thus described: --
Then gleams flashed From
Early (in the day)
But from the horse
In the second song of this poem we learn the mode of thought, the religious ideas and customs of the people of the North, and glean some new facts; that men and women were sometimes thought to be born again; that Helgi derived his name from Helgi Hjörvardson, and that he was brought up by Hagal. His foes, and not the sons of Hunding, search for him, but he escapes by dressing himself in the garb of a bondwoman. This episode of his life and the following fights must have taken place after those of the first song. The connection between the two poems is somewhat obscure.
" Granmar was a powerful king who
lived, at Svarinshaug; he had many sons, among
them Hödbrod, Gudmund,
and Starkad. Hödbrod
was at an appointed meeting 17 of kings; he
She kissed and greeted
She said she loved
I was to Höjdbrod
Yet I fear, chief,
The maiden of Högni
Do not care for
" Helgi then gathered a large fleet,
and sailed to Frekastein
" Gudmund rode home with news of war;
then the sons of
Sigrun of Sevafjöll 22
Gone is the life
She met Helgi, who answered: --
All is not given to thee,
This morning fell
" Helgi married Sigrun, and they had sons; but Helgi did not live long. Högni's son Dag sacrificed to Odin for revenge on his father, and Odin lent him his spear. Dag met his brotherin-law Helgi at Fjoturlund; he thrust the spear through him, Helgi fell, and Dag rode to Sevafjoll an told Sigrun the tidings: --
Loth am I, sister,
And stood on
Thee shall all
The sword shall not
And hadst not food
Mad art thou, sister,
" Sigrun was short-lived from grief and sorrow. It was the belief in olden times that men were reborn, but now it is called an old woman's story. It is said that Helgi and Sigrun were born again; he was then named Helgi Haddingjaskati, and she. Kara, 32 Hálfdán's daughter, 'as is sung in the lay of Kara, 33 and she was a Valkyria.' " [ Helgi Hundingsbani II.]