1839 Grenville Pigot
A Manual of Scandinavian Mythology
 A Summary of "Odin’s Raven Song"
understood as a Preface to "Vegtam’s Kvida"


      Baldur had once a mysterious dream, wherein it was revealed to him that his life was in danger, and this weighed so heavily upon his spirits that he shunned the society of the Gods. His mother, Frigga, having at length drawn from him the cause of his melancholy, the Aser assembled in council upon it, and were filled with sad forebodings, for they knew that the death of Baldur was to be the forerunner of their own downfall, the first victory of the Giants.

       Odin cut Runes, but could not succeed in his endeavours to obtain an insight into the future. Odrerir, the vessel of wisdom which might have served the Aser in their need, was in the keeping of the norn Urda, and the Aser were obliged to apply to two dwarfs, Thrain and Dain, who exceeded all others in Runic wisdom. Thrain said: "That the dream was heavy," Dain "that it was dark," and both agreed that it foreboded the destruction of the universe, but could give no information respecting the quarter from whence the evil was to proceed.

     The goddess Iduna, by some misfortune, had fallen into the power of the giants, and, accustomed to the joys of Asgard, she pined away in the realms of night. The gods unable to rescue her had sent her in pity the skin of a wolf, by clothing herself in which her form and nature were entirely changed, and the past was thus forgotten. Odin, in the present emergency, instructed Heimdall, Loke, and Bragi to seek her out in her captivity, and to endeavour to learn from her the designs of the giants. The three Aser rode on monsters to the gloomy pit, singing magic songs as they went, and Odin, in the mean time, ascended to Hlidskialf, to observe their progress.

       Heimdall endeavoured in vain to obtain from Iduna any information respecting the events which were about to happen. The goddess remained in mournful silence, answering only with tears. Heimdall and Loke returned on the wings of the winds to Vingolf, where the gods and goddesses were assembled together in anxious expectation. Bragi remained in Jotunheim to watch over his unfortunate spouse.

      Many questions were put to Heimdall and Loke respecting their journey, and the Aser remained conversing upon its result until night was far advanced.


Odin then spake,
And all listened:

"Night should be chosen
For deep thought.
Till morning cometh
Let each one reflect
What best can be done
To aid the Aser."


On this the assembly broke up, and the Aser separated.

In the ancient poem from which the foregoing extract is taken, there follows a description of daybreak, of which we give a literal translation, as a characteristic specimen of the metaphorical poetry of the Scalds.


The son of Delling1
Drove out his horse,
Gloriously deck'd
With glittering stones:
Wide o'er Mann-heim
2 shone
The mane of the steed :
The Bewitcher
3 of the Dwarfs
Ascended his car.

Towards the earth's
Northern-most gate,
Under Ygg-drasill's
Outermost root,
Witches and giants
Went to rest,
Spectres, dwarfs,
And the black-Elves.

Warriors roused themselves
As the sun stood up:
Northwards, towards Niffl-heim,
Night fled away;
The bridge, which shines early,
Ulvrune's son ascended;

1. The son of Delling is the dawn.
2 Mann-heim, the earth.
3 The Bewitcher of the Dwarfs, the sun; a single ray of which transformed the dwarfs to stone.
4 All the evil-spirits are represented as retiring to rest on the appearance of the sun. Yggdrasill's outermost root, says the Edda, was amongst the giants.


  Whose horn's loud sound
                          Echoes from Himmelbierg.


The Aser were now again assembled, the oracles being consulted, left no doubt that Baldur's life was in peril, and it was determined, therefore, at Frigga's prayer, that all the elements and every thing in nature should be bound by an oath not to harm the gentle God. Nothing was omitted, except one insignificant plant which grew westwards of Asgard, and which, on account of its youth, Frigga thought was innocuous.

Odin's mind misgave him that still all was not right, and, to use the words of the original, that the norns of good-fortune had flown away. To clear up his doubts, he resolved to visit the tomb of a celebrated Vala, or prophetess, and to learn from her the secrets of the dead. Grey's beautiful version of his journey is well known, but as it was taken from Bartholin's Latin translation, and as no literal one has ever been published in English, the following may not be deemed superfluous.


Up rose Odin,
The watcher of time,
And upon Sleipner


5 Ulvrune's son, Heimdall, who lived on the celestial mount (Himmelbjerg), and every morning early ascended the bridge Bifrost (the rainbow).
6 Odin's celebrated horse.

 Laid the saddle:
Downwards he rode
To death's spectre-realm;
He met a hound
Coming from Hela.

Clotted blood
Was on its breast,
Round its savage fangs,
And its jowl beneath.
Against the father of song
It bayed fearfully,
Opened wide its jaws,
And howled aloud.

On rode Odin,
The earth shook,
He came to Hela's
Drear abode:
Then he rode
Eastwards before the gate,
Where a Vala
Lay interred.

He sang for the wise-one
Dead-men's songs ;
Then, towards north
Laid the magic letters,
Muttered incantations,
Summoned wizard words,
Till he forced the dead
To rise and speak.

 7 Runes.


Who is the man
Unknown to me,
Who disturbs
My spirit's rest?
Enwrapp'd in snow,
Drench'd with rain,
Moisten'd by dew,
Long have I lain in death.



 Wanderer is my name,
Valtam's son am I;
Tell me of Hela's realm,
I will tell thee of earth :
For whom are prepared
The decorated seats,
The lordly couch
Radiant with gold?



Here standeth mead,
For Baldur brewed;
A shield covers
The clear liquor;
The race of Aser yield to despair—
Force hath made me speak,
Now will I be silent.

 These unusual preparations in the regions of death denoted the expectation of some distinguished guest.



Be not silent, Vala!
I will question thee
Until 1 have learn'd all.
More I must know—
Who shall compass
Baldur's death?
Who Odin's son
Deprive of life?


Hodur beareth
The fated plant,
He shall be cause
Of Baldur's death,
And Odin's son
Deprive of life—
Force hath made me speak,
Now will I be silent.


The plant here alluded to, is declared in the Voluspa to be the Misletoe. The reverence in which it was held by the Druids is well known, but it does not appear that the Scandinavians attributed to it any particular virtue, nor is it mentioned in any of their remains but as an instrument in the hands of the evil principle to destroy their favourite god.
It is not easy to understand, therefore, how the ingenious author of the Northern Antiquities should consider the mention of this plant in this place as nearly decisive of the identity of the Celts and Scandinavians, an opinion most satisfactorily refuted by his English translator, Dr. Percy.



 Be not silent, Vala!
I will question thee
Until I learn all.
More I must know—
Who shall on Hodur
Pour out vengeance ?
And Baldur's bane
Lay on the bier?



Rinda bears a son
In the western halls.
On the day of his birth
He shall lay low the son of Odin:
His hand he shall not laveNor comb his hair,
Ere that he placeth on the bier
The adversary of Baldur—
Force hath made me speak,
Now will I be silent.



Be not silent, Vala,
I will question thee.
Who are the maids
Who will not weep?
But suffer their veils
To float towards heaven?
Tell me this only,
Thou sleepest not before.

10 This stanza will be explained by the sequel.


Thou art no wanderer
As I believed;
Surely art thou Odin,
The watcher of time.



Thou art not a Vala,
Nor a wise woman;
But rather the mother
Of three giants.


Ride home, Odin,
And boast of thy journey:
For never again
Shall another disturb me,
Until Loke shall break
Loose from his chains,
And the last twilight
Fall on the gods.


Having said this the prophetess sank again into her tomb, and Odin was obliged to return to Asgard with his doubts confirmed as to the inefficiency of the precautions taken by the Aser, to avert the misfortune they apprehended; and with the consciousness of having lost, through his imprudent questions, the only opportunity of ascertaining by what means if by any the impending evil might yet be averted.