Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress)

1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson and F. York Powell in
Corpus Poeticum Boreale
: The Poetry of the Northern Tongue


The author supplies a copy of the old Icelandic text, with footnotes showing emendations and manuscript variations, which is not included here.  A copy of the text can be found HERE.
Notice this translation pre-dates the acceptance of modern standardized editions of the poem.
As a result, the verses are arranged significantly diffierently than in most modern editions.

This Lay, the highest spiritual effort of the heathen poetry of the North, is found in three texts. The first two leaves of R contain one; a stray leaf of Hauks-bók, c. 1310 (H), a second. This latter copy would almost appear to be the work of one who had learnt the poem from a sister-text to R, and written it down when it had a little faded from his memory, as he omits important passages such as that relating to Balder, 11. 87-93, 98-107, 211-212, inserts a few lines which are clearly mere stopgaps, being totally out of keeping with the rest, and adopts a confused arrangement. But we have a third text (incomplete it is true, but presenting both a better wording and a better order than either of the other two) in Snorri's Edda, which gives quotations as well as paraphrase for 11. 9-12, 19-21, 35-40, 49-52, 70-77, 85-89, 110-117, 130134, 137—140, 143-158, 161—178, 199-202, 207-210, 213-217, some 90 lines out of 220, and paraphrases of II. 24-34, 4'~48, l8l~I95i 199-206, some 30 lines more.


The transpositions here made in the text are the following :—


11. 20-21,144-155, placed as in Snorri's text.

11. 203-217 removed from after 1. 109, according to the context and Snorri's paraphrase. Further—

11. 83-86, 87-93, 94-97 have been interchanged.

11. 143-146 from their former position after 1. 154.

The Mnemonic Verses (p. 79), relating to the names of the Dwarves, Fates and Walkyries, have been removed as most certainly extraneous, though they had crept even into Snorri's text.

Four lines after 1. 103, taken from the Doom of Balder (11. 41-44), of which they give a duplicate text, have been restored to their proper place in that poem, (see p. 183, 1. 41 sqq.)

1. 187 in H is genuine, as proved by Snorri's text.


In the Notes the central part of both texts, R and H, is given for the sake of reference.

The readings of the Wormianus MS. of Edda (W) have proved of the greatest weight in the determination of the words of the text.

The title of the poem comes from Edda. Neither R nor H has any legible superscription.

The earliest quotation of the poem is 1.175, cited by Arnor the Earl's poet, c. 1064, in his dirge on Earl Thorfinn. Gunnlaug the monk (i 1401319) in his prophecy of Merlin (a paraphrase of Geoffrey's famous prediction) imitates and uses phrases and words of Volospa; see, for instance, 11.131, 134, 176, 177. Ari, in Yngl. S., ch. 4, treats of or even paraphrases 11. 64-69 of our poem; 1. 65 may be hence restored.

Volospa falls into two great divisions, the first part relating to the past (unfortunately fragmentary in many places), giving the Genesis, and the second which deals with the future, setting forth the Eschatology of the author. The scene in each case is different; in the first the Wola or Sibyl is giving answers from her Sibyl's seat in the midst of the assembly of the Gods; in the second she is 'sitting out' performing her enchantments and answering the anxious consultation of Woden.

The structure of the latter part is strophical, with recurring burdens of couplets put in at regular intervals in a way which greatly heightens the effect of the words.




I. For a hearing I pray all Holy Beings [Gods], and the sons of Heimdall high and low [all men]. Thou O Wal-Father [Woden] wouldst have me set forth in order the histories of men as far back as I remember. I remember the Giants born of yore, who bred me up long ago. I remember nine Worlds, nine Sibyls, a glorious Judge beneath the earth. In the beginning, when naught was, there was neither sand nor sea nor the cold waves, nor was earth to be seen nor heaven above. There was a Yawning Chasm [chaos], but grass nowhere, ere that the sons of Bor, who made the blessed earth, raised the flat ground. Then the Sun shone forth from the south on the dwelling-stones, and the fields were mantled with green herbs. The Sun from the south, with the moon her fellow, cast her right hand on the edge of Heaven [entered the gates of the horizon]. The Sun knew not her inn, nor the Moon his dominion, nor the Stars their place.

Then all the Powers, the most high Gods, assembled to their judgment-seats and took counsel together, giving names to Night and the New Moons [phases of Moons]: they called Morningtide and Midday, Afternoon and Eventide by their names, for the counting of seasons.

The Anses met on Ida-plain, and raised high places and temples, setting forges, and fashioning treasures, shaping tongs and making tools. They played at tables in the court and were happy, they lacked not gold till there came three most loathsome Titan maids from Giant-land.



Then all the Powers, the most high Gods, assembled to their judgment-seats and took counsel together, who should create Dwarf-kind from the bloody surf and the Giants' black bones; they fashioned out of earth, in the image of man, many Dwarves as Durinn commanded.



Till out of this host there came to the house three Anses, mighty and blessed. They found Ask and Embla helpless and futureless on the ground. The breath of life was not in them, they had neither feeling nor motion, nor utterance, nor comely hues. Woden gave the breath of life, Hoenir feeling, Lodur utterance and comely hues.

I know an Ash, a high-towering Holy Tree, called Ygg-drasil [Woden's steed, gallows], besprinkled with white loam; whence come the dews that fall in the dales. It spreads ever green over the Weird's burn; whence come the Three Virgins of manifold wisdom, from the Well beneath the tree. They have laid down the fate, and chosen the life and spoken the destinies of the children of men.

The first war in the world that I [the Sibyl] remember was when they speared Gold-weig [Gold-draught], and burnt her in the High One's Hall; thrice was she burnt, and thrice reborn, though still she lives.

Then all the Powers, the most high Gods, assembled to their judgment-seats and took counsel together, whether the Anses should pay tribute, or were they to exchange hostages and make a league. Woden hurled spears and shot into the host. This was the first war in the world. The paled-wall of the Burgh of the Anses was broken, the Wanes [Gods] marched over the plains that rung with war.

Then all the Powers, the most high Gods, assembled to their judgment-seats and took counsel together to know who had charged the air with noisome venom and given the Maid of Od [Freya] to Giantkind. Thor alone was swelling with wrath, he seldom sits still when he hears such news. Then were utterly broken all oaths and plighted faith and mighty leagues sworn between them.



II. Wheresoever she came to a house they called her Haid, the soothsaying Sibyl; she charmed divining rods, she knew witchcraft, she was aye the delight of the evil Bride [Hell].

The Father of Hosts endowed her with rings and necklaces, with cunning treasure-spells and rods of divination. She could see far and wide through all the worlds. She could see the Wal-choosers travelling afar, ready to ride to God-folk.

She was sitting alone without when the aged Patriarch of the Anses [Woden] came and looked into her eyes. What ask ye me? Why tempt ye me? I know it all, O Woden, where thou hiddest thine eye in the holy Well of Mimi, who quaffs mead every morning from WaiFather's pledge.—Know ye yet or what?

I [the Sibyl] know the trumpet-blast of Heimdal, hid beneath the wide-shadowing Holy Tree. I see a stream rush in rapids over the pledge of Wal-Father.—Know ye yet or what?

I behold Fate looming for Balder, Woden's son, the bloody victim. There stands the Mistletoe slender and delicate, blooming high above the ground. Out of this shoot, so slender to look on, there shall grow a harmful fateful shaft. Hod shall shoot it, but Frigga in Fen-hall shall weep over the woe of Wai-hall.—Know ye yet or what?

I behold a captive lying under Cauldron-holt, the bodily semblance of Loki the guileful. There Sigyn sits, sad of heart, over her husband.— Know ye yet or what?

Eastward in Ironwood the aged witch is sitting, breeding the brood of Fenri [the Wolf-ogre], from whom there shall spring one amongst them all in ogre shape that shall pitch the Moon out of Heaven. He shall feed on the lives of death-doomed mortals, spattering the heavens with red blood. The sunshine shall wax dark, nor shall any summer follow, and all the winds shall turn to blight.—Know ye yet or what?

On a mound there sat striking a harp the giantesses' shepherd, Eggtheow the Gladsome; in Gaggle-brake, a bright-red chanticleer whose name is Fialar was crowing to her. The cock Gold-comb is crowing to the Anses, waking the warriors of the Father of Hosts. Another cock, Sooty-red, crows under the earth in the halls of Hell.—Fiercely Garm [the hell-hound] bays before the cave of the Rock, the chain shall snap and the Wolf range free!

Tales-a-many the Sibyl can tell. I see farther in the future, the mighty Doom of the blessed Gods. Brothers shall fight and slay one another, kinsfolk shall break the bonds of kindred. It shall go hard with the world: much of whoredom, an age of axes, an age of swords, shields shall be cloven, an age of storm, an age of wolves, ere the world falls in ruin. The sons of Mimi are astir, the Judge is moving at the blast of the Horn of Roaring. Loud blows Heimdal, the Horn is on high, Woden talks with Mimi's head, the towering Ash Ygg-drasil quivers, the aged tree groans, the Giants have broken loose.—Fiercely bays Garm, etc.

How do the Anses fare? How do the Elves fare? All Giant-land is rumbling from end to end. The Anses are assembled. The Dwarves are moaning before their doors of stone, the inmates of the rocks.— Know ye yet or what?

The Giant Hrym comes driving from the east; high he holds his linden shield; the Monster Dragon writhes in giant-fury; the Serpent lashes the waves; the Eagle screams; Pale-neb [the vulture] tears the corpses; Nail-board [the Ship of Doom] is launched. A bark is speeding from the west; the sons of Muspell [the World-Destroyers] are crossing the sea, with Loki for steersman. All the Demons are marching with the Wolf; Byleist's brother [Loki] is in their ranks.

From the south comes Giant Swart, fire in hand; the sword of the Demon of Death shines like the sun. The granite-rocks are rending, the ravines fall in, the Dead are marching up the road of Hell, the Heavens are riven.—Fiercely bays Garm, etc.

Hlin's second woe shall now come to pass when Woden goes forth to fight with the Wolf, and Beli's bright slayer [Krey] encounters Swart. Frigga's darling must die there. Then shall Widar, mighty son of the Father of Hosts, go forth to fight the Beast. He shall thrust his sword down the Monster's jaws right to the heart. Then is his father avenged.

Then shall Hlodyn's glorious child, Woden's son [Thor], go forth to fight with the Dragon. Earth's Holy Warder shall slay him in his might. Nine paces back from the accursed serpent reels the Son of Earth [Thor].

The inmates of Hell [the evil dead] shall all sweep over the earth....

The sun turns to darkness, Earth sinks into the deep, the bright stars vanish from out the heavens, fume and flame rage together, the lofty blaze plays against the very heavens.—Fiercely bays Garm, etc.



III. I behold Earth rise again with its evergreen forests out of the deep; the waters fall in rapids; above hovers the eagle, that fisher of the falls. The Anses meet on Ida-plain, they talk of the mighty Earthserpent, and remember the great decrees, and the ancient mysteries of Fimbul-ty [the unknown God]. There shall be found in the grass wonderful golden tables, their own in days of yore. The fields unsown shall yield their increase. All sorrows shall be healed. Balder shall come back. Balder and Hod shall dwell in Woden's mansions of Bliss, in the holy places of the blessed Gods.—Know ye yet or what?

Then shall Hoeni choose the rods of divination aright, and the sons of the Twin-brethren shall inhabit the wide world of the winds.—Know ye yet or what?

I see a hall, brighter than the sun, shingled with gold, standing on Gem-lea. The righteous shall dwell therein and live in bliss for ever.

Northward in the mounts of Darkness [No-Moon] stands a hall of gold, hostel of Dwarves. But on Okoln [Uncold] stands another, called Surf [Brimi], the Giant's drinking-hall.

Far from the sun on Corse-strand I behold a hall, whose doors stand northwards. In through its luffer drops of venom are falling, its roof is thatched with adders. A river, called Slide, whose waters are knives and swords, flows through Venom Dales. There shall the murderers and the mansworn wade through heavy streams, while Nidhogg [Backbiter] the serpent is sucking the corses of the dead, and a Wolf is ravening on men.—Know ye yet or what?

Hither comes Nidhogg, the dark Dragon, the fiery serpent winging his way up from the hills of Darkness, flying over the earth with corses on his wings.

Now must the Sibyl sink.