Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress)

1965 Jacqueline Simpson

The Prophecy of the Wise-Woman




(Extracts from Völuspá, Poetic Edda)


The poem is uttered by a prophetess whom Odin has summoned, apparently from the world of the dead. First she proves her knowledge by telling of events in primeval times, then reveals certain secrets of the gods, and finally foretells the destruction and renewal of the world. The opening and close of the poem are here translated: a few mythological allusions have occasionally been simplified or omitted, for the sake of clarity.


  •            I. The Making of the World


Hear me in silence, O holy races!

O sons of Heimdall,[1] great and small!

You bid me, Odin tell old takes,

The earliest I recall.


I remember the giant born of old

Who reared me long ago;

I remember the nine wide-stretching worlds,

And the Tree of the Worlds below.[2]


The earliest age was when Ymir lived;[3]

No sand, no sea was there,

No heaven nor earth, but the Gaping Void,

And no grass anywhere.


The gods raised the land and made Middle Earth,

The southern sun was glowing

On rocky halls, and on all the ground

Green leeks were a-growing.


From the south the sun stretched out his hand,

Laid it on heaven's rim:

The sun knew not where he would find

The hall assigned to him:

The stars knew not, the moon knew not

The homes assigned to them.


The holy gods went to their judgment seats;

They gave a name to night,

To morning and midday, mid-morn and eve,

To reckon the years aright.


The great gods met upon Idavoll,

Temples they built and shrines,

Forges and tools and tongs they made,

And smithied the wealth that shines.




In the east in Ironwood sat the old hag,

Fenrir's wolf-brood rearing,[4] 

Of whom would come one to destroy the sun,

In troll-like shape appearing.


He gorges on lives of death-doomed men,

Reddens the skies with gore;

The summer sun darkens, wild storms arise-

Do you seek to know yet more?


Gay on the burial-mound Eggthir harped,

Guarding the old hag's herds;

Above him crowed the bright red cock

In the forest of the birds.


And Goldencomb crowed for the gods, to wake

Heroes in Odin's hall:

But another cock crowed down under the earth,

The rusty-black cock of Hell.


Garm[5] barks loud at the gates of Hell;

Bonds all break; the wolf runs free;[6] 

Much knowledge have I, and I see far off

The doom of the gods of victory.


Kinsmen dishonour their kinship's bonds,

Brother fights to slay brother;

All grows cruel and harsh on earth,

No man will spare another.


The age of halberds, the age of swords;

Every shield now smashes;

The age of storm-winds, the age of wolves,

Before the whole world crashes.


Destined death is proclaimed aloud

By the ancient Gjallarhorn,[7] 

Heimdall blows loud, and high aloft

Is raised that warning horn.


Yggdrasil trembles, that towering ash,

Loud groans that ancient tree;

All those who tread the paths of the dead

Feel fear; the giant breaks free.


Garrn barks loud at the gates of Hell;

Bonds all break; the wolf runs free;

Much knowledge have I, and I see far off

The doom of the gods of victory.


Hryrm[8] drives from the east, his shield held high;

The Great Snake lashes the sea,

Writhing and raging in monster's rage;

The Ship of the Dead rides free;

The eagle will shriek, and with yellow beak

Will slash each dead body.


The Ship comes from the east, and Muspel’s men[9]

Are coming across the sea;

Monsters are coming, and all the wolves:

The steersman is Loki.[10]


How fare the gods now? How fare the elves'?

All Giant-Land shall roar;

Cliff-dwarfs groan by their doors of stone-

Do you seek to know yet more?

Surt comes from the south,[11] and fire he brings.

Branches and twigs to ravage;

From his sword light blazes to be a sun

To all the gods of carnage.


Heroes now tread the paths of the dead;

Trolls to ruin tumble;

The skies are split and are tom apart,

Rock-towers crash and crumble.


Then comes the second sorrow of Hlin,[12]

When Odin goes forth to fight

Against the wolf (bright Frey[13] fights Surt),

For there dies Frigg's delight.


Then Odin's son shall face the wolf,

His son, the mighty Vidar;

He drives his sword to the monster's heart,

Takes vengeance for his father.


Then comes Thor to meet the Snake,

Strikes it dead in his wrath-

All men shall flee from their homesteads then-

Nine paces Thor steps forth

With ebbing strength away from the Snake,

Dauntless in face of death.


The sun grows black, earth sinks in the sea,

The bright stars fade from the sky;

Fires and fumes are raging; to heaven itself

The flickering heat leaps high.


Garrn barks loud at the gates of Hell;

Bonds all break; the wolf runs free;

Much knowledge have I, and I see far off

The doom of the gods of victory.


Yet I see earth rise from the waves again,

Green now for evermore:

The waterfalls flow, and the eagle flies

Hunting fish along the shore.


The great gods meet on Idavoll;

They recall the high deeds done,

Speak of the huge world-circling Snake,

Of the old runes Odin won.


And once again in the grass are found

Draughtsmen all of gold,

The wondrous draughtsmen the gods had owned

In the earliest days of old.


Fields will spring up though no seed is sown,

There is cure for each sorrow sore;

Baldr will come, and with Hodd shall he dwell[14]

Do you seek to know yet more?


I see a hall all thatched with gold

Stand fairer than the sun;

There just men shall live and rejoice in bliss

While endless ages run.


Then there will come the Powerful One,[15]

The Mighty from above,

To sit on the judgment-seats of the gods;

All power shall he have.


The dragon of darkness comes riving there.

Bright snake from the world below,

Flies over fields with a corpse on his wings[16]

Now must she sink low.[17]


[1] Heimdall was a god, but his ‘sons’ are probably mankind.

[2] Yggdrasil, the cosmic ash tree whose branches and trunk support all the worlds.

[3] A giant; according to some legends. the gods killed him and formed earth, sea, and sky from the fragments of his body.

[4] Fenrir was a monstrous wolf, son of the evil god Loki: nothing more is known of his mate the hag of Ironwood. but several sources rnention their offspring, the wolves who will swallow the sun and the moon.

[5] A hound guarding the entrance of Hell.  

[6] Fenrir; the gods had chained him, fearing his evil powers.

[7] The horn whose note summons the gods of war.

[8] A destructive giant.

[9] A race of fire-ogres.

[10] The most evil of the gods. who here allies himself with the monsters and destructive ogres.

[11] A fire-ogre.

[12] Another name for Frigg, Odin's wife; her first sorrow was the death of her son Baldr.

[13] The god of fertility, agriculture, and the sun.

[14] The death of Baldr had been the greatest misfortune. of the gods; his return and reconciliation with his brother Hodd (who had killed him accidentally. as a result of an evil trick of Loki's) symbolize the peace of the renewed world.

[15] The allusion may possibly be to Christ; some critics think this stanza an interpolation.

[16] This stanza might be misplaced. or an interpolation. If not, it is presumably a warning that evil is indestructible and will threaten even the renewed world.

[17] The wise-woman. having completed her prophecy sinks back into the underworld from which Odin had called her to question her.