Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress)

R 27
H 23

Veit hon Heimdallar 
hljóð um fólgit 
undir heiðvönum 
helgum baðmi. 
Á sér hon ausask 
aurgum forsi 
af veði Valföðrs - 
vituð ér enn, eða hvat ?  
Ursula Dronke

She knows Heimdallr's

hearing is couched
beneath the bright-nurtured
holy tree
A stream she sees springing
with loamy flood
from Sire of the Slain's forfeit.
Do you still seek to know? and what?


1923 Henry Bellows on Voluspo 27:


“Here the Volva turns from her memories of the past to a statement of some of Othin's own secrets in his eternal search for knowledge (stanzas 27-29). Bugge puts this stanza after stanza 29. The horn of Heimdall: the Gjallarhorn ("Shrieking Horn"), with which Heimdall, watchman of the gods, will summon them to the last battle. Till that time the horn is buried under Yggdrasil.
Valfather's pledge: Othin's eye (the sun?), which he gave to the water-spirit Mimir (or Mim) in exchange for the latter's wisdom. It appears here and in stanza 29 as a drinking-vessel, from which Mimir drinks the magic mead, and from which he pours water on the ash Yggdrasil. Othin's sacrifice of his eye in order to gain knowledge of his final doom is one of the series of disasters leading up to the destruction of the gods. There were several differing versions of the story of Othin's relations with Mimir; another one, quite incompatible with this, appears in stanza 47. In the manuscripts I know and I see appear as "she knows" and "she sees" (cf. note on 21).]”



“Some Thoughts” on Voluspa by Paul Schach from Edda, A Collection of Essays (1983), p. 99:



Heimdallar hljóð has aroused much speculation. Snorri seems to have confused this word with Gjallarhorn, but there is otherwise no attestation of the use of hljóð in the sense “horn”in Icelandic. Nordal espouses the view set forth by Detter, Heinzel and Höckert that hljóð in this stanza is used in its original meaning of 'hearing' Olafur Breim glosses hljóð with hlust ‘auditory passage’ and heyrn ‘sense of hearing, ear’ Gudni Jonsson lists only heyrn. Turville-Petre (1964, p. 149) suggests that Heimdallr’s hearing ‘may be conceived in concrete form, as one of Heimdallr’s ears.’
According to Fleck (pp. 339ff) Valföðrs veð is not Odinn’s eye but his sperm, and thus is identical with the aurr and the poetic mead. This is contained in Heimdallr’s horn, which is not a trumpet, but a drinking horn.
Ursula Dronke, Poetic Edda, Volume II, 1997:


Völuspá 27/2 hljóð: both 'hearing' (cf. Vsp 1/1) and 'sound' (klukku hljóð, 'sound of a bell'). In OE Riddle 4 (ASPR III. 187) the horn is described as a wind instrument, swallowing wind from some man's breast, summoning a troop to war, and also as a drinking vessel, filled by a courtly girl. I think it likely that in his use of hljóð in the sense 'sound' the poet of Vsp is alluding to Heimdallr's horn both as a sounding horn and as a drinking horn, as in the OE riddle (and, indeed, as Snorri understands it: Mimir is full of knowledge 'because he drinks from the well out of the horn Gjallarhorn', SnE 22). So hljóð, 'sound' i.e. 'horn', becomes associated with the well of mead (from which Odinn takes his drink of wisdom, cf. 27/5-7,28/7-12: a myth of which Sigrdr 13/6-10, including a dripping horn, seems to be a variant), as well as with Ragnarök, when the horn's hljóð must sound (45). As to the acute hearing of the world tree, Heimdallr, huntsmen say that birds in a tree will hear a distant gunshot much sooner than a man standing near them (and fly off), because the ground carries the vibrations more swiftly than the air, and they are communicated via the tree's roots to the birds.”


Eleazar Meletinskij, Scandinavian Mythology as a System, from The Journal of Symbolic Anthropology, Vol. 2, 1974, pp. 57-78 (p. 64):


“The quite mysterious figure of the gods' guardsman Heimdal, is somehow juxtaposed to Odin, firstly, in connection with the cosmic tree and, secondly, as culture-hero and first ancestor. Heimdal is the heavenly guardsman of the gods and of the tree and in part is the latter's anthropomorphic twin, and Odin is the shaman, using the tree as a system linking various worlds. One is struck by the parallelism between Odin's eye hidden under the tree and Heimdal's hearing also hidden there (according to Snorri's interpretation -it is a horn), but to date no satisfactory explanation exists for this parallelism (it is hardly the case here, as O. Olmark thinks, of two moon symbols). Under the name of Rig, Heimdal is the founder and progenitor of social groups in human society. Heimdal is the "father," i.e. the ancestor of human beings, while Odin is the father of the gods and the ancestor of aristocratic generations, and Loki is the ancestor of the Chthonian monsters. In his capacity as the guardsman of the cosmic tree and as the progenitor and protector of the human commune Heimdal is Loki's natural enemy.”



Heimdall and the World-Tree


   Here are some quotes by the renowned Eddaic scholars Ursula Dronke and Margret Clunies-Ross speaking of Heimdall. It is their belief that Heimdall represents the World-tree, the Ash of the World, which in turn represents the body of man (Askur, Ash the first man)., which explains Heimdall's role both as guardian of the gods, who live atop the World-Tree, and the progenitor of the 3 classes of mankind.


I think it is important to note that no sanctuaries or places of worship devoted to Heimdall have been discovered, and yet his role, as illustrated by the following quotes, was central to the religion of our forebears. He acts as a messenger of the gods to mankind, establishing culture and agriculture among mankind, as well as “the runes of eternity and the runes of time” (Rigsthula 43), and symbolically is the stability that unites the ever-branching generations.


In this regard it may be useful to study verses regarding him in Hyndluljod (Voluspa in Skamma) as well as the later verses of Rigsthula, where he educates the young Jarl.


Ursula Dronke, Poetic Edda, Volume II:


 Völuspá 1/3-4:


Heimdallar: the nom. Heimdallr is confirmed by the rhyme with fallinn in Husdrapa 10/4 (Snorra Edda 90). There would be no reason for simplifying -ll- in the gen. Dallr, however, is a rare, probably archaic, word for 'tree', recorded as such ('arbor prolifera') only in Biorn Haldorsen's Lexicon. Both Haldorsen and Blöndal gloss dall/r/dal/ur signifying a bowl of wood (with lid and handle) for liquid food (in northern Iceland). Elsewhere, such a bowl was called askr/askur, presumably because it was made of wood (not necessarily ash-wood). By analogy, a wooden bowl might be called dallr because it was made from the wood of a tree/ dallr (again, not necessarily of a specific tree). The nom. form Heimdalr occurs once (Snorra Edda 99), the gen. form Heimdalar eleven times (Pipping I. 7). Dalr is a poetic term for 'bow' (gen. dals and dalar; LP s.v.), listed in Þulur IV (Skjald B 1.665), Snorra Edda 203, beside almr, 'elm- wood bow', and yr, 'yew-wood bow'; dalr may have become a bow-heiti because dalr also was a tree name, a variant, presumably, of dallr. The ram-heiti Heimdali (gen. -dala) in Þulur IV aa (Skjald B 1.670), Snorra Edda 210, may have arisen from popular interchangeability of -dall- and -dal- in Heimdallr's name. The ram may have been named after the god both because it was the proper sacrifice to the god, sharing his identity (see Tolley (a), 344-6), and because, like the god, he was the father of flocks (kindir). No doubt it was in this shepherding capacity that he listened to the growing of the grass and of his sheep's wool. On the mythologems associated with Heimdallr see Pipping, Eddastudier, esp. I; Tolley (a), 326-61, 'The god Heimdallr as a hypostasis of the world axis'; UD (i), 666-76, 'Arbor parens: god as world tree and world pillar'.


Völuspá 2/6-7:


nio iviðiur, / miötvið mæran: Hyndluljod 35 tells the sacred mystery of einn ...rögna kindar, 'one of the race of the divine powers' to whom nine giant girls-iötna meyiar-gave birth. In the two lines of the (otherwise lost) Heimdallargaldr , 'Incantation of Heimdallr', that Snorri cites (Snorra Edda 33), Heimdallr declares himself to be the son of nine mothers, all sisters. These must be the nine giant girls of Hyndl. 35. As Heimdallr is the world tree, these mothers must be his roots (well expressed as sisters) The nine names attributed to the giant girls Hyndl. 36 contain no elements-relating to trees or roots; it does not seem, therefore, that the tradition behind Hyndl 35-6 was much concerned with their physical image; their names are giantess names, no more. But the physical image of a tree growing out of a giantess's body is preserved in a curse- an area of expression where the grotesque is in its element-in HHv 16: the giantess Hrimgerðr is cursed into the earth, Nio röstom / er þu skyldir neðarr vera, / ok vaxi þér ábaðmi barr!  'Nine miles deeper down you should be, and may a tree (lit. pine needle) grow on your bosom!' The same image, in a sublimer form, is probably to be seen in Egill's description of his son as the kynviðr kvánar minar, 'the tree of the kyn of my wife', where kyn can be both 'family' and 'sex', 'womanhood' (Sonatorrek 21, in a context of alllusion to the world tree, as in Voluspa 17, 19).


Völuspá 17/2:


Ask ok Embla: while in Voluspa the mythologem to which Askr and Embla primarily relate -á landi - is that of the divine driftwood, the fact that here there are two wooden figures links them to a second mythologem, that of the god as kindler of life between male and female, made of wood,. In archaic fire-making rituals fire is sparked by boring with a hard spike of wood into a softer wooden block: a simulation of sexual action, in which the spark of life is given by a god. The ritual symbolizes and celebrates the restoration of life and fertility, after death, after and is associated with sun-cults of the Bronze Age (see AR § 84 on the carving of such a ritual, with elaborate ceremonies, on the Kivik Stone, Skåne). Is Embla, however, a tree-name, like Askr? The evidence seems reasonably good: a fem. diminutive of almr, 'elm', might develop from *Almilon > *Elmla > *Emla (by consonant simplification) > * Embla (by introduction of a glide consonant, as in Auðumbla, MS. variant of Auðumla, Snorra Edda 13; see also Pipping 11. 40-2. Embila is recorded as a woman's name in II c. Germany; Förstemann s.v.). From the Bronze Age also come finds in Denmark and Norway of phallic cult-figures made from fortuitously shaped branches, finished by carving, which may illustrate for us the concept of Askr , god or man, as driftwood (AR § 83).

     There is yet one more tradition that may have contributed to the establishment of Askr and Embla as the primordial pair of humans. The ritual of fire-making is associated with twin-brother cults, whose symbol, two wooden pillars erect, on which a beam rests horizontally, closely resembles, and is no doubt intended to represent the apparatus for creating (the Promethean) fire (AR § 499, Fig. 22). Brother pairs appear as the earliest leaders of some Germanic tribes, e.g. Raptos and Raos (see commentary to 7/1), and Amri and Assi of the Vandals (Origo Gentis Langobardorum 34; Paulus Diaconus l. viii; AR § 369). The names of these brothers relate to timber or trees, Assi and Ambri being, Ash' and 'Elm'. I would not dismiss the likelihood (as de Vries does, AR § 578, n. 5) that the name pairs Assi and Ambri, Askr and Embla are connected by a remote falling together of traditions. Both name pairs stand at the head of a 'genealogical' tradition, the first known names of a tribe, and of human kind. (I have no parallel for the conversion of a Germanic masc. name into a fem. (if that is indeed what happened to Ambri), but the existence of pairs in Germanic(Nerthus/Njörðr,  Fjörgyn/ Fjörgynn) suggests that such a conversion would present no problem.) In OE Æsc is a founder of a royal house, the Æscingas of Kent (improbably made the son of Hengist; ASC s.a. 455ff; Bede II however has the forms Oisc, Oiscingas). For a more ancient tradition that a generation of men were sprung from ash-trees, see Hesiod, Works and Days 43-4. It seems very probable that the names of the first man and woman in Voluspa and in Rig begin by design with the same initials as Adam and Eve; but at what moment this idea occurred I would not venture to suggest.


Völuspá 19/3-4:


 ausinn hvitaauri: the World Ash is laved by mud-rich water (I would suppose from the well at its foot, 27/5-6), an archetypal libation, happening here mysteriously without known agency. 'Guardian trees', representing the great tree, in the farms of Scandinavia and Germany, were given offerings of milk, beer, honey, to honour them and preserve their life (see AR § 249; Palm 60-3). Snorri interprets the moistening of the trees as just such a cult-libation, performed by 'norns' (Snorra Edda 24). Presumably he knew of the practice from his travels in Norway and Sweden and wished to make the myth in the poem more specific.



Lokasenna 48:


"Hold your tongue Heimdallr,

for you in ancient days

the ugly life was ordained;

with muck on your backside

you'll always be

and kept awake as watch for the gods.


 Lokasenna 48/4:


aurgo baki: a derisory reference to the aurogr fors of Voluspa 27 from the well at the tree's foot which laves the tree (i.e. Heimdallr)



From “The Scope of the Corpus Poeticum Boreale” by Ursula Dronke reprinted in “Myth and Fiction in Early Norse Lands”:


Heimdallr is mocked for his inescapable and humiliating life as sleepless sentinel of the gods, whose backside is forever streaming with excrement. On the face of it a puerile mockery. But Loki is guying here the very ancient and sacred image of the world tree, that encompasses, fructifies and guards the world. Heimdallr is a divine hypostasis of it.

      Loki mocks the human figure forced into the life of a tree, a farcially rigid being, unable to wipe his backside. The "excrement" is Loki's view of the fructifying loam -Aurr -with which the world tree is splashed, and which flows in a torrent from its base (cf. Voluspa, sts. 19,27) According to Snorri (see also under note 21) the tree is laved daily with water and Aurr from Urðrbrunnr, the "Well of Fate", by the Norns, who dwell near it, in order to prevent its branches from drying up or rotting. According to Grimnismal st. 35 the side of the tree is already rotting, á hliðo fúnar. These allusions to the constant dampness of the tree --in fertility and in decay --point to the symbolic situation that Loki is travestying.

      The identity of the world tree and Heimdallr is nowhere directly expressed -it seems almost to have been held as a religious mystery, so cryptic are the allusions traceable to it. The mythologem of the world tree is a very archaic one, and in the many cultures in which it occurs, it includes the concept of the tree as begetter of mankind. So, in Norse, the great world Askr is the "parent" of Askr, the first man (cf. Voluspa, st.17), the relationship being indicated by the identical name and the juxtaposition of the stanzas 17 and 18 to 19 and 20 in Voluspa. Egill is able to play familiarly on the same concept in Sonatorrek st. 21, when he speaks of his son as ættar ask Janns 6x af mer, ok kynvið kvanar minnar, "ash-tree of my ancestry, that grew from me, wood of the womanhood [and of the clan) of my wife".

     In Rigsthula we see the god Heimdallr-Rigr giving advice on procreation -- Rigr kunni þeim ráð at segia. The sentence recurs steadily as a refrain in the poem (sts. 3, 5, 17, 30, 33). In Husdrapa (a heathen poem from the end of the tenth century, fragments of which Snorri preserves) Heimdallr's reputation for good rað is given prominence: he is termed rað gegninn, "profitable in his advice".23 In this use of rað, as in Rigsthula, a pun is no doubt intended on other senses of rað, "marriage", "sexual union", in allusion to Heimdallr's helpful adventures among mankind in the royal guise of Rigr. That the play on rað, in connection with Heimdallr, should occur in Husdrapa gives a date as early as the tenth century for traditions of the god as progenitor of men, traditions that we find most fully demonstrated in Rigsthula, but also clearly stated in Voluspa st. 1 (men are mögu Heimdalar, sons of the god) and in Hyndluljod st. 43, where the powerful god - bom of nine giantesses -is said to be "related by marital bond to each and every home".

      Only one other text that I know combines the image of tree and man in an allusion to Heimdallr. Like Husdrapa, it is from the late tenth century. In Hallfreðr's Hakonardrapa, composed for Jarl Håkon, the final image of the poem (as I would place the stanza 24 is of the Jarl, a "mighty tree cultivating the peril of shields (the sword)", standing "in huge support" -stendr ...at miklu trausti -of his warrior people of Norway -"budded with hair". The tree- kenning has become alive as a tree-image, with hair bursting from every twig. Earlier in the drapa Hallfreðr made Jarl Håkon take Oðinn's place as husband of the waiting land of Norway (see (ii) above), now he makes him stand like Heimdallr, a trusty guardian tree. The hair of this powerful "tree" symbolizes progeny. The Jarl will establish -Hallfreðr flatters him -a great dynasty of rulers, as Haraldr harfagri did -just such a hairy dynasty as Haraldr's father had dreamed of when he slept in the pigsty. The allusion to Håkon's future as father of a dynasty completes the parallel with Heimdallr, first father of all dynasties.


Margaret Clunies-Ross, Prolonged Echoes, pg. 182-3:


The prose introduction to Rigthula locates Heimdallr-Rigr's procreative acts within a farmstead, which he reaches by walking along a seashore. Not only does he procreate in a similar place to that in which he himself first came to life according to Voluspa in skamma, but his actions parallel those of the three powerful and loving gods of Voluspa who animate Askr and Embla. This parallel between the two creation stories has often been observed and sometimes attributed to literary borrowing (Neckel 1908, 118; Holtsmark 1942, 19), but I find myself in agreement with Steinsland (1983, 105) when she suggests that what we are dealing here is probably a traditional mythologem which involves the epiphany of an anthropogenic deity on the beach. The notion of a theme, with reference to oral poetry, was first defined by Albert Lord as "a subject-unit, a group of ideas, regularly employed by a singer, not merely in any given poem, but in the poetry as a whole" (1938, 440). Themes may, as Joseph Harris has suggested (1983, 222), express in concentrated form key elements of deep structure in early Germanic poetry. Certainly, they always comprise a set of basic motifs that may often be used quite allusively and in an approximate patterning to provide part of the poem's substructure (Crowne 1960, 368). I suggest that the traditional elements of the theme of the pseudo-procreative deity on the beach consist of (1) a male deity or deities engaged in a pseudo-procreative act (2) upon a sea or lake-shore, (3) the end product of which is an animated anthropomorphic being or beings. Subsidiary elements include the fact that the deities are journeying and that the creative act may involve genesis from the elements of water (or sea foam) and earth, while the act of procreation may take place in a building or in a domain conceptualized metaphorically as comparable with a building. Voluspa’s account of the creation of the dwarves (stanza 9) and of humans (stanza 17) together with Heimdallr-Rigr’s procreative acts in Rigsthula and his own birth við iarðr þröm according to Voluspa in Skamma, would constitute examples of this theme.