Undersökningar i Germanisk Mythologi, chapters 79-81
by Viktor Rydberg
edited and abridged by William P. Reaves
79. THE GREAT WORLD-MILL.
We have yet to mention a place in
the lower world which is of importance to the naive but, at the same
time, perspicuous and imaginative cosmology of Germanic heathendom. The
myth in regard to the place in question is lost, but it has left
scattered traces and marks, with the aid of which it is possible to
restore its chief outlines.
Poems, from the heathen time,
speak of two wonderful mills, a larger and a smaller "Grotti"-mill.
The larger one is simply immense.
The storms and showers which lash the sides of the mountains and cause
their disintegration; the breakers of the sea which attack the rocks on
the strands, make them hollow, and cast the substance thus scooped out
along the coast in the form of sand-banks; the whirlpools and currents
of the ocean, and the still more powerful forces that were fancied by
antiquity, and which smouldered the more brittle layers of the earth's
solid crust, and scattered them as sand and mould over "the stones of
the hall," in order that the ground might "be overgrown with green
herbs" - all this was symbolized by the larger Grotti-mill. And as all
symbols, in the same manner as the lightning which becomes Thor's
hammer, in the mythology become epic-pragmatic realities, so this symbol
becomes to the imagination a real mill, which operates deep down in the
sea and causes the phenomena which it symbolizes.
This greater mill was also called
Græðir, since its grist is the
mould in which vegetation grows. This name was gradually transferred by
the poets of the Christian age from the mill, which was grinding beneath
the sea, to the sea itself.
The lesser Grotti-mill [i.e.
‘Froði’s Mill’, turned by the giantesses Fenja and Menja, as told in the
Grottosöngr] like the greater one, is of heathen origin -- Egil
Skalla-Grímsson mentions it-- but it plays a more accidental part, and
really belongs to the heroic poems connected with the mythology. …After
the introduction of Christianity, the details of the myth concerning the
greater, the cosmological mill, were forgotten, and there remained only
the memory of the existence of such a mill on the bottom of the sea. The
recollection of the lesser Grotti-mill was, on the other hand, at least
in part preserved as to its details in a song which continued to
flourish, and which was recorded in
…Contrary to the statements of
the Grottosöngr, the tradition narrated there narrates that the mill did
not break into pieces, but stood whole and perfect, when the curse of
the giant-maids on Frodi was fulfilled. The night following the day when
they had begun to grind misfortune on Frodi, there came a sea-king,
Mysing, and slew Frodi, and took, among other booty, also the
Grotti-mill and both the female slaves, and carried them on board his
ship. Mysing commanded them to grind salt, and this they continued to do
until the following midnight. Then they asked if he had not got enough,
but he commanded them to continue grinding, and so they did until the
ship shortly afterwards sank. In this manner the tradition explained how
the mill came to stand on the bottom of the sea, and there the mill that
had belonged to Frodi acquired the qualities which originally had
belonged to the vast Grotti-mill of the mythology.
Skáldskaparmál, which relates
this tradition as well as the song, without taking any notice of the
discrepancies between them, adds that after Frodi's mill had sunk,
"there was produced a whirlpool in the sea, caused by the waters running
through the hole in the mill-stone, and from that time the sea is salt."
80. With distinct consciousness
of its symbolic signification, the greater mill is mentioned in a
strophe by the skald Snæbjörn (Skáldskaparmál
33). The strophe appears to have belonged to a poem describing a voyage.
"It is said," we read in this strophe, "that
Eylúður's nine women violently turn the Grotti of the skerry
dangerous to man out near the edge of the earth, and that these women
long ground Amlodi's lið-grist."
Hvatt kveða hræra Grótta
út fyrir jarðar skauti
Eylúður's níu brúðir,
þær er . . . . fyrir löngu
liðmeldr . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . Amlóða mólu.
To the epithet
Eylúður, and to the meaning of
lið- in lið-grist, I shall
return below. The strophe says that the mill is in motion out on the
edge of the earth, that nine giant-maids turn it (for the lesser
Grotti-mill two were more than sufficient), that they had long ground
with it, that it belongs to a skerry very dangerous to seafaring men,
and that it produces a peculiar grist.
mill is suggested by an episode in Saxo, where he relates the saga about
the Danish prince, Amlethus,
who on account of circumstances in his home was compelled to pretend to
be insane. Young courtiers, who accompanied him on a walk along the
sea-strand, showed him a sandbank and said that it was meal. The prince
said he knew this to be true: he said it was "meal from the mill of the
storms" (Hist. Dan., Book 3,
The myth concerning the cosmic
Grotti-mill was intimately connected with the myth concerning the fate
of Ymir and the other primeval giants, and partly with that of
Hvergelmir. Vafþrúðnismál 21 and
Grímnismál 40 tell us that the earth was made out of Ymir's flesh,
the rocks out of his bones, and the sea from his blood. With earth, as
distinguished from rocks, is meant the soil, the sand, which cover the
solid ground. Vafþrúðnismál calls Ymir
Aurgelmir, Mud-gelmir or
Fjölsvinnsmál gives him the epithet Leirbrimir, Clay-brimir, which
suggests that his "flesh" was changed into the loose earth, while his
bones became rocks. Ymir's descendants, the primeval giants,
Bergelmir perished with him,
and the "flesh" of their bodies cast into the primeval sea also became
mould. Of this we are assured, so far as Bergelmir is concerned, by in
Vafþrúðnismál 35, which also
informs us that Bergelmir was “laid on the mill-box.” The mill which
ground his "flesh" into soil is none other than the one grinding under
the sea, that is, the cosmic Grotti-mill.
When Odin asks the wise giant
Vafþrúðnir how far back he can
remember, and which is the oldest event of which he has any knowledge
from personal experience, the giant answers: "Countless ages before the
earth was created Bergelmir was born. The first thing I remember is when
he var á lúður um lagður."
This expression was misunderstood
by the author of Gylfaginning
himself, and the misunderstanding has continued to develop into the
theory that Bergelmir was changed into a sort of Noah, who with his
household saved himself in an ark when Bur's sons drowned the primeval
giants in the blood of their progenitor. Of such a counterpart to the
Biblical account of Noah and his ark our Germanic mythical fragments
have no knowledge whatever.
lúður (with radical r) has two meanings: (1) a wind-instrument, a
loor, a war-trumpet; (2) the
tier of beams, the underlying timbers of a mill, and, in a wider sense,
the mill itself .
The first meaning, that of
war-trumpet, is not found in the songs of the
Poetic Edda, and upon the
whole does not occur in the Old Norse poetry. Heimdall's war-trumpet is
not called lúður, but
hljóð. Lúður in this sense
makes its first appearance in the sagas of Christian times, but is never
used by the skalds. In spite of this fact, the signification may date
back to heathen times. But however this may be,
Vafþrúðnismál does not mean a
war-trumpet. The poem can never have meant that Bergelmir was laid on a
The other meaning of Lúðr, partially in its more limited sense of the timbers or beams
under the mill, partially in the sense of the subterranean mill as a
whole, occurs several times in the poems: in the
Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, 2,
and in the above-quoted strophe by Snæbjörn, and also in
Gróugaldur and in
Fjölsvinnsmál. If this signification is applied to the passage in
Vafþrúðnismál: var á lúður um
lagður, we get the meaning that Bergelmir was "laid on a mill," and
in fact no other meaning of the passage is possible, unless an entirely
new signification is to be arbitrarily invented.
however conspicuous this signification is, and however clear it is that
it is the only one applicable in this poem, still it has been overlooked
or thrust aside by the mythologists, and for this
Gylfaginning is to blame.
So far as I know, Vigfusson is the only one who (in his
Dictionary, p. 399) makes the passage
á lúður lagður mean what it actually means, and he remarks that the
words must "refer to some ancient lost myth."
The confusion begins, as stated,
in Gylfaginning. Its author
has had no other authority for his statement than the
Vafþrúðnismál strophe in
question. …When Gylfaginning 7
has stated that the frost-giants were drowned in Ymir's blood, then
comes its interpretation of
Vafþrúðnismál 35 as:
"One escaped with his household:
the giants call him Bergelmir. With his wife, he took himself upon his
lúður and remained there, and
from them the races of giants are descended" (nema
einn komst undan með sínu hyski: þann kalla jötnar Bergelmi; hann fór
upp á lúður sinn og kona hans, og hélzt þar, og eru af þeim komnar),
Gylfaginning's author meant by
lúður is difficult to say. In
the meantime, that he did not have a boat in mind is evident from the
expression: hann fór upp á lúður
sinn. From this, it is reasonable to suppose that his idea was, that
Bergelmir himself owned an immense mill, upon whose high timbers he and
his household climbed to save themselves from the flood. That the verse,
which is the source of this information actually says that Bergelmir was
“laid on the lúðr” the author of
Gylfaginning ignores. To go upon something and to be laid on
something are, however, very different notions.
An argument in favor of an
incorrect interpretation was first furnished by the
Resenian edition of the Prose Edda
1665). There we find the expression
fór upp á lúður sinn "amended"
to fór á bát sinn. Thereby,
Bergelmir secured a boat to sail in; and although more reliable editions
of the Prose Edda have been
published since from which the boat disappeared, still the mythologists
have not had the heart to take the boat away from Bergelmir. On the
contrary, they have allowed the boat to grow into a ship, an ark.
As already pointed out,
Vafþrúðnismál 35 tells us
expressly that Bergelmir, Aurgelmir's grandson, was "laid on a mill-box"
or "on the supporting timbers of a mill." We may be sure that the myth
would not have laid Bergelmir on "a mill" if the intention was not that
he was to be ground. The kind of meal thus produced is the soil and sand
which the sea since time's earliest dawn has cast upon the shores of
Midgard, and with which the bays and beaches have been filled, to sooner
or later become green fields. From Ymir's flesh the gods created the
oldest layer of soil, that which covered the earth the first time the
sun shone thereon, and in which the first herbs grew. Ever since then,
the same activity continues. After the great mill of the gods
transformed the oldest frost-giant into the dust of earth, it continued
to grind the bodies of his descendants between the same stones into the
same kind of meal. This is the meaning of
Vafþrúðnir's words when he
says that his memory reaches back to the time when Bergelmir was ‘laid
on the mill’ to be ground. He does not remember Ymir, nor
Þrúðgelmir, nor the days when these were changed to earth. Of them
he knows only by hearsay. But he remembers when the turn came for
Bergelmir's limbs to be subjected to the same fate.
…When the fields were raised out
of Ymir's blood they were covered with mould, so that, when they got
light and warmth from the sun, then the
gróin grænum lauki. The very
word mold (mould, earth) comes
from the Germanic word mala,
to grind (cp. Eng.
molere). …That the "flesh" of the primeval giants could be ground
into fertile mould refers us to the primeval cow
Auðhumbla by whose milk Ymir was nourished and his flesh formed (Gylfaginning).
Thus the cow in the Germanic mythology is the same as that in the
Avestan, the primeval source of fertility. The soil, out of which the
harvests grow, has by transformations developed out of her nourishing
Here, then, we have the
explanation of the lið-meldur
which the great mill grinds, according to Snæbjörn.
Lið-meldur means limb-grist.
It is the limbs and joints of the primeval giants, which are transformed
into meal on Amlodi's mill.
In its character as an
institution for the promotion of fertility, and for rendering the fields
fit for habitation, the mill is under the care and protection of the
Vanir. After Njörd's son, Frey, had been fostered in Asgard and had
acquired the dignity of lord of the harvests, he was the one who became
the master of the great mill. It is attended on his behalf by one of his
servants, who in the mythology is called
Byggvir, a name related both
to byggja, settle, cultivate,
and to bygg, barley, a kind of
grain, and by his kinswoman and helpmate Beyla. So important are the
duties of Byggvir and Beyla that they are permitted to attend the feasts
of the gods with their master (Frey). Consequently they are present at
the banquet to which Ægir, according to
Lokasenna, invited the gods.
When Loki made his appearance there, uninvited, to mix harm in the mead
of the gods, and to embitter their pleasure. When he taunts Frey,
Byggvir becomes angry on his master's behalf and says:
43. Byggvir kvað:
Veiztu, ef eg eðli ættag
og svo sællegt setur,
mylda eg þá meinkráku
og lemda alla í liðu.
Had I the ancestry
and so honored a seat,
know I would grind you
finer than marrow, you evil crow,
and crush you limb by limb.
44. Loki kvað:
Hvað er það ið litla
er eg það löggra sék
og snapvíst snapir?
Að eyrum Freys
muntu æ vera
og und kvernum klaka.
What little boy is that
whom I see wagging his tail
and eatting like a parasite?
Near Frey's ears
you will ever be
clattering beneath the quern.
45. Byggvir kvað:
Byggvir eg heiti,
en mig bráðan kveða
goð öll og gumar;
því em eg hér hróðugur,
að drekka Hropts megir
allir öl saman.
Byggvir is my name,
all gods and men
call me nimble;
and here it is my pride
that Odin's sons drink
ale all together.
46. Loki kvað:
Þegi þú, Byggvir!
þú kunnir aldregi
deila með mönnum mat.
Be silent, Byggvir!
never were you able
to divide food among men.
Beyla, too, gets her share of
Loki's abuse. The least disgraceful thing he says of her is that she is
a deigja (a slave, who has to
work at the mill and in the kitchen), and that she is covered with
traces of her occupation, dust and dirt.
As we see, Loki characterizes
Byggvir as a servant taking charge of the mill (kvern) under Frey, and
Byggvir characterizes himself as one who grinds, and is able to crush an
"evil crow" limb by limb with his mill-stones. As the one who makes
vegetation possible with his mill, and so also bread and malt, he boasts
of it as his honor that the gods are able to drink ale at a banquet.
Loki blames him because he is not able to divide food among men. The
reproach implies that the distribution of food is in his hands. The soil
which comes from the great mill gives different degrees of fertility to
different fields, and rewards the toil of the farmer, either abundantly
or niggardly. Loki doubtless alludes to this unequal distribution, else
it would be impossible to find any sense in his words.
In the Poetic Edda we find yet
another reminiscence of the great mill located under the sea, and at the
same time in the lower world (see below), which grinds soil into food.
It is in a poem, whose skald says that he has seen it on his journey in
the lower world. In his description of the "home of torture" in Hel, the
Christian author of Sólarljóð
has taken all his material from the heathen mythological conceptions of
the world of punishment, though the author treats this material in
accordance with the Christian purpose of his song. When the skald dies,
he enters the gates of Hel, crosses bloody streams, sits for nine days
á norna stóli (‘on norns’
seats), is then seated on a horse, and is permitted to make a journey
through Mimir's realm, first to the regions of the happy and then to
those of the damned. In Mimir's realm he sees the "stag of the sun" and
Nidi's (Mimir's) sons, who "drink the pure mead from Baug-regin's well."
As he approaches the borders of the world of the damned, he hears a
terrible din, which silences the winds and stops the flow of the waters.
The mighty din comes from a mill. Its stones are wet with blood, but the
grist produced is mould, which was to be food. Fickle-wise (svipvísar,
heathen) women of dark complexion turn the mill. Their bloody and
tortured hearts hang outside of their breasts. The mould which they
grind is to feed their husbands (Sólarljóð
57. Vindr þagði,
þá heyrða ek grimmligan gný;
mólu mold til matar.
57. "The wind was silent,
the waters stopped their course;
then I heard a doleful sound:
for their husbands
fickle-wise (‘heathen’) women
ground earth for food"
58. Dreyrga steina
þær hinar dökku konur
héngu þeim fyr brjósti utan,
mædd með miklum trega.
58. "Gory stones
those dark women
bleeding hearts hung
out of their breasts,
faint with much affliction."
This mill, situated at the
entrance of Hel, is here represented as one of the agents of torture in
the lower world. To a certain extent this is correct even from a heathen
standpoint. It was the lot of slave-women to turn the hand-mill. In the
heroic poem the giant-maids Fenja and Menja, taken prisoners and made
slaves, have to turn Frodi's Grotti. In the mythology "Eyluður's
nine women," thurs-maidens, were compelled to keep this vast mechanism
in motion, and that this was regarded as a heavy and compulsory task may
be assumed without the risk of being mistaken.
Sólarljóð, the mill-stones are stained with blood. In the mythology,
they crush the bodies of the first giants and revolve in Ymir's blood.
It is also in perfect harmony with the mythology that the meal becomes
mould, and that the mould serves as food. But the cosmic signification
is obliterated in Sólarljóð,
and it seems to be the author's idea that men who have died in their
heathen belief are to eat the mould which women who have died in
heathendom industriously grind as food for them.
The myth about the greater
Grotti, has also been connected with the Hvergelmir myth.
Sólarljóð has correctly stated
the location of the mill on the border of the realm of torture. The
mythology has located Hvergelmir's fountain there (cp. Gylfaginning 4);
and as this vast fountain is the source of the ocean and of all waters,
and the ever open connection between the waters of heaven, of the earth,
and of the lower world, then this furnishes the explanation of the
apparently conflicting statements, that the mill is situated both in the
lower world and at the same time on the bottom of the sea. Of the mill
it is said that it is dangerous to men, dangerous to fleets and to
crews, and that it causes the maelstrom (svelgr)
when the water of the ocean rushes down through the eye of the
mill-stone. The same was said of Hvergelmir, that causes ebb and flood
and maelstrom, when the water of the world alternately flows into and
out of this great source. To judge from all this, the mill has been
conceived as so made that its supporting timbers stood on solid ground
in the lower world, and thence rose up into the sea, in which the stones
resting on this substructure were located. The revolving "eye" of the
mill-stone was directly above Hvergelmir, and served as the channel
through which the water flowed to and from the great fountain of the
THE WORLD-MILL MAKES THE
But the colossal mill in the
ocean has also served another purpose than that of grinding the
nourishing mould from the limbs of the primeval giants.
The Teutons, like all people of
antiquity, regarded the earth as stationary. And so, too, the lower
world (called jörmungrund
Óðins 25, and in Grímnismál 20) on which the foundations of the earth rested. Stationary
too was that heaven in which the Aesir had their citadels, surrounded
by a common wall, for the Asgard-bridge, Bifröst, had a solid
bridge-head on the southern and another on the northern edge of the
lower world, and could not change position in its relation to them. All
this part of creation was held together by the immovable roots of the
world-tree, or rested on its invisible branches. Sol and Mani had their
fixed paths, the points of departure and arrival of which were the
"horse-doors" (jódyr —Völuspá
5, Hauksbók), which were hung on the eastern and western mountain-walls
of the lower world. The god Mani (moon) and the goddess Sol (sun) were
thought to traverse these paths in shining chariots, and their daily
journeys across the heavens did not imply to our ancestors that any part
of the world-structure itself was in motion. Mani's course lay below
Asgard. When Thor in his thunder-chariot descends to Jötunheim the path
of Mani thunders under him (en
dundi Mána vegur und Meila bróður - "The path of the moon clattered
beneath Meili's brother" (i.e. Thor),
Haustlöng 14). No definite
statement in our mythical records informs us whether the way of the sun
was over or under Asgard.
above Asgard is the starry vault of heaven, and to the Teutons as well
as to other people that sky was not only an optical but a real vault,
which daily revolved around a stationary point. Sol and Mani might be
conceived as traversing their appointed courses independently, and not
as coming in contact with vaults, which by their motions from east to
west produced the progress of sun and moon. The very circumstance that
they continually changed position in their relation to each other and to
the stars seemed to prove that they proceeded independently in their own
courses. With the countless stars the case was different. They always
keep at the same distance and always present the same figures on the
canopy of the nocturnal heavens. They looked like glistening heads of
nails driven into a movable ceiling. Hence the starlit sky was thought
to be in motion. The sailors and shepherds of the Teutons knew very well
that this revolving was round a fixed point, the polar star, and it is
probable that veraldar nagli, the world-nail, the world-spike, an expression
preserved in Eddu-brot II,
designates the northstar.
Thus the starry sky was the
movable part of the universe. And this motion is not of the same kind as
that of the winds, whose coming and direction no man can predict or
calculate. The motion of the starry firmament is defined, always the
same, always in the same direction, and keeps equal step with the march
of time itself. It does not, therefore, depend on the accidental
pleasure of gods or other powers. On the other hand, it seems to be
caused by a mechanism operating evenly and regularly.
For a long time, the mill was the
only kind of large scale mechanism known to the Teutons. Its motion was
a rotating one. The movable mill-stone was turned by a handle or sweep
which was called möndull. The
mill-stones and the möndull
might be conceived as large as you please. Fancy knew no other limits
than those of the universe.
There was another natural
phenomenon, which was also regular, and which was well known to the
seamen of the North and to those Teutons who lived on the shores of the
North Sea, namely, the rising and falling of the tide. Did
one and the same force produce both these great phenomena? Did the same
cause produce the motion of the starry vault and the ebb and flood of
the sea? In regard to the latter phenomenon, we already know the naive
explanation given in the myth concerning Hvergelmir and the Grotti-mill.
And the same explanation sufficed for the former. There was no need of
another mechanism to make the heavens revolve, as there was already one
at hand, the influence of which could be traced throughout that ocean in
which Midgard was simply an isle, and which around this island extends
its surface even to the brink of heaven (Gylfaginning
The mythology knew a person by
name Mundilfæri (Vafþrúðnismál
23, Gylfaginning 11). The word
mundill is related to möndull,
and is presumably only another form of the same word. The name or
epithet Mundilfæri refers to a being that has had something to do with a
great mythical möndull and
with the movements of the mechanism which this
möndull kept in motion. Now
the word möndull is never used
in the Old Norse literature about any other object than the sweep or
handle with which the movable mill-stone is turned. (In this sense the
word occurs in the Grotti-song
and in Helgakviða Hundingsbana
II, 3, 4). Thus Mundilfæri has had some part to play in regard to the
great giant-mill of the ocean and of the lower world.
Of Mundilfæri we learn, on the
other hand, that he is the father of the personal Sol and the personal
Mani (Vafþrúðnismál 23). This,
again, shows that the mythology conceived him as intimately associated
with the heavens and with the heavenly bodies. Vigfusson (Dict.,
437) has, therefore, with good reason remarked that
mundill in Mundilfæri refers to "the veering round or revolution of
the heavens." As the father of Sol and Mani, Mundilfæri was a being of
divine rank, and as such belonged to the powers of the lower world,
where Sol and Mani have their abodes and resting-places. The latter part
of the name, -færi, refers to
the verb færa, to conduct, to
move. Thus he is that power who has to take charge of the revolutions of
the starry vault of heaven, and these must be produced by the great
möndull, the mill-handle or mill-sweep, since he is called
regular motion of the starry firmament and of the sea is, accordingly,
produced by the same vast mechanism, the Grotti-mill, the
meginverk of the heathen fancy
(Grotti-song 11; cp. Egil
Skallagrimson's way of using the word,
The handle extends to the edge of the world, and the nine giantesses,
who are compelled to turn the mill, pushing the sweep before them, march
along the outer edge of the universe. Thus we get an intelligible idea
of what Snæbjörn means when he says that Eyluður's nine women turn the
Grotti "along the edge of the earth" (hræra
Grótta út fyrir jarðar skauti).
Mundilfæri and Byggvir thus each
has his task to perform in connection with the same vast machinery. The
one attends to the regular motion of the
möndull, the other looks after
the mill-stones and the grist.
In the name
Eylúður the first part is ey,
and the second part is lúður.
The name means the "island-mill." Eyludur's nine women are the "nine
women of the island-mill." In the same verse, the mill is called
skerja Grótti, the Grotti of the skerries. These expressions refer
to each other and designate with different words the same idea - the
mill that grinds islands and skerries.
which, according to the Grotti-song, happened to King Frodi's mill has
its origin in the myth concerning the greater mill. The stooping
position of the starry heavens and the sloping path of the stars in
relation to the horizontal line was a problem which in its way the
mythology wanted to solve. The phenomenon was put in connection with the
mythic traditions in regard to the terrible winter which visited the
earth after the gods and the sons of Ivaldi had become enemies. Fenja
and Menja were kinswomen of Ivaldi's sons. For they were brothers
(half-brothers) of those mountain giants who were Fenja's and Menja's
fathers (Grotti-song 9).
Before the feud broke out between their kin and the gods, both the
giant-maids had worked in the service of the latter and for the good of
the world, grinding the blessings of the golden age on the world-mill.
Their activity in connection with the great mechanism,
möndull, which they pushed,
amid the singing of bliss-bringing songs of sorcery, was a counterpart
of the activity of the sons of Ilvaldi, who made the treasures of
vegetation for the gods. When the conflict broke out, the giant-maids
joined the cause of their kinsmen. They gave the world-mill so rapid a
motion that the foundations of the earth trembled, pieces of the
mill-stones were broken loose and thrown up into space, and the
sub-structure of the mill was damaged. This could not happen without
harm to the starry canopy of heaven which rested thereon. The memory of
this mythic event comes to the surface in
which states that toward the close of King Frodi's reign there arose a
terrible disorder in nature -- a storm with mighty thundering passed
over the country, the earth quaked and cast up large stones. In the
Grotti-song the same event is mentioned as a "game" played by Fenja
and Menja, in which they cast up from the deep upon the earth those
stones which afterwards became the mill-stones in the Grotti-mill. After
that "game" the giant-maids proceeded to the earth and took part in the
first world-war on the side hostile to Odin. It is worthy of notice that
the mythology has connected the
fimbul-winter and the great emigrations from the North with an
earthquake and a damage to the world-mill which makes the starry heavens
82. THE ORIGIN OF THE SACRED FIRE
THROUGH MUNDILFÆRI. HEIMDALL THE PERSONIFICATION OF THE SACRED FIRE.
Among the tasks to be performed
by the world-mill there is yet another of the greatest importance.
According to a belief which originated in ancient Indo-European times, a
fire is to be judged as to purity and holiness by its origin. There are
different kinds of fire more or less pure and holy, and a fire which is
holy in origin may become corrupted by contact with improper elements.
The purest fire, that which was originally kindled by the gods and was
afterwards given to man as an invaluable blessing, as a bond of union
between the higher world and mankind, was a fire which was produced by
rubbing two objects together (friction). In hundreds of passages this is
corroborated in Rigveda, and
the belief still exists among the common people of various Germanic
peoples. The great mill which revolves the starry heavens was also the
mighty rubbing machine (friction machine) from which the sacred fire
naturally ought to proceed, and really was regarded as having proceeded,
as shall be shown below.
möndull, with which the handle of the mill is designated, is found
among our ancient Indo-European ancestors. It can be traced back to the
ancient Germanic manthula, a
swing-tree (August Fick,
232), related to Sanskrit Manthati,
to swing, twist, bore,
from the root manth, which
occurs in numerous passages in
Rigveda, and in its direct application always refers to the
production of fire by friction (Bergaigne,
Religion vedique, III. 7).
the ‘whitest of the Æsir” was likely born out of this mill. His very
place of nativity indicates this. His mothers have their abodes
við jarðar þröm (Völuspá
in skamma 7) near the edge of the earth, on the outer rim of the
earth, and that is where they gave him life (báru
þann mann). His mothers are giantesses (jötna
meyjar), and nine in number. We find giantesses, nine in number,
mentioned as having their activity on the outer edge of the earth -
namely, those who with the möndull,
the handle, turn the vast friction-mechanism, the world-mill of
Mundilfæri. They are the níu
brúðir of Eylúður, "the Isle-grinder," mentioned by Snæbjörn. These
nine giant-maids, who along the outer zone of the earth (fyrir
jarðar skauti) push the mill's sweep before themselves and grind the
coasts of the islands, are the same nine giant-maids who on the outer
zone of the earth gave birth to Heimdall, the god of the friction-fire.
Hence one of Heimdall's mothers is called
Angeyja, "she who makes the
and another one is called Eyrgjafa,
"she who gives sandbanks."
Mundilfæri, who is the father of Sol and Mani, and has the care of the
motions of the starry heavens is accordingly also, though in another
sense, the father of Heimdall the pure, holy fire to whom the glittering
objects in the skies must naturally be regarded as akin.
Hyndluljóð (Völuspá in skamma 9), Heimdall's nine giant-mothers are named:
Gjálp, Greip, Eistla, Eyrgjafa,
Úlfrún, Angeyja, Imdur, Atla, Járnsaxa. The first two are daughters
of the fire-giant Geirrod (Skáldskaparmál
26). Imdur, from
ím, embers, also refers to fire. Two of the names, Angeyja and
Eyrgjafa, as already shown, indicate the occupation of these giantesses
in connection with the world-mill. This is presumably also the case with
Járnsaxa, "she who crushes the
The iron which our heathen fathers worked was produced from the sea- and
swamp-iron mixed with sand and clay, and could therefore properly be
regarded as a grist of the world-mill.
antithesis in all respects, and therefore also his constant opponent in
the mythological epic, is Loki, he too a fire-being, but representing
another side of this element. Natural agents such as fire, water, wind,
cold, heat, and thunder have a double aspect in the Germanic mythology.
When they work in harmony, each within the limits which are fixed by the
welfare of the world and the happiness of man, then they are sacred
forces and are represented by the gods. But when these limits are
transgressed, giants are at work, and the turbulent elements are
represented by beings of giant-race. This is also true of thunder,
although it is the common view among mythologists that it was regarded
exclusively as a product of Thor's activity. The genuine mythical
conception was, however, that the thunder which purifies the atmosphere
and fertilizes the thirsty earth with showers of rain, or strikes down
the foes of Midgard, came from Thor; while that which splinters the
sacred trees, sets fire to the woods and houses, and kills men that have
not offended the gods, came from the foes of the world. The thunderbolt
was not only in the possession of the gods, but also in that of the
giants (Skírnismál), and the
lightning did not proceed alone from Mjöllnir, but was also found in
Hrungnir's hein (hone) and in
Geirrod's glowing missile. The conflicts between Thor and the giants
were not only on solid ground, as when Thor made an expedition on foot
to Jötunheim, but also in the air. There were giant-horses that were
able to wade with force and speed through the atmosphere, as, for
instance, Hrungnir's Gullfaxi (Skáldskaparmál
24), and these giant-horses with their shining manes, doubtless, were
expected to carry their riders to the lightning-conflict in space
against the lightning-hurler, Thor. The thunderstorm was frequently a
a conflict between thundering beings, in which the lightning-bolts
hurled by the protector of Midgard, the son of Hlódyn, crossed the
lightning hurled by the foes of Midgard.
his brothers Helblindi and Byleistr are
the children of a giant of this kind, of a giant representing the
hurricane and thunder. The rain-torrents and waterspouts of the
hurricane, which directly or indirectly became wedded to the sea through
the swollen streams, gave birth to Helblindi, who, accordingly, received
Rán as his "maid"
(Ynglingasaga 51)*. The whirlwind in the hurricane received as his ward
Byleistr, whose name is composed of
bylr, "whirlwind," and eistr, "the one dwelling in the east" (the north), a paraphrase for
thunderbolt from the hurricane gave birth to Loki. His father is
called Fárbauti, "the one
and his mother is Laufey, "the leaf-isle," a paraphrase for the
tree-crown (Gylfaginning 33,
Skáldskaparmál 23). Thus Loki
is the son of the burning and destructive lightning, the son of him who
particularly inflicts damaging blows on the sacred oaks (see No. 36) and
sets fire to the groves. But the violence of the father does not appear
externally in the son's character. He long prepares the conflagration of
the world in secret, and not until he is put in chains does he exhibit,
by the earthquakes he produces, the wild passion of his giant nature. As
a fire-being, he was conceived as handsome and youthful. From an ethical
point of view, the impurity of the flame which he represents is
manifested by his unrestrained sensuousness.
83. MUNDILFÆRI'S IDENTITY WITH
The position which we have found
Mundilfæri to occupy indicates that, although not belonging to the
powers dwelling in Asgard, he is one of the chief gods of the Germanic
mythology. All natural phenomena, which appear to depend on a fixed
mechanical law and not on the initiative of any mighty will momentarily
influencing the events of the world, seem to have been referred to his
care. Germanic mythology has gods of both kinds -- gods who particularly
represent that order in the physical and moral world which became fixed
in creation, and which, under normal conditions, remain entirely
uniform, and gods who particularly represent the powerful temporary
interference for the purpose of restoring this order when it has been
disturbed, and for the purpose of giving protection and defense to their
worshippers in times of trouble and danger. The latter are in their very
nature war-gods always ready for battle, such as Odin and Thor; and they
have their proper abode in Asgard, a group of fortified celestial
citadels, whence they have their outlook upon the world they have to
protect -- the atmosphere and Midgard.
The former, on the other hand,
have their natural abode in Jörmungrund's outer zone and in the lower
world, whence the world-tree grew, and where the fountains are found
whose liquids penetrate creation, and where that wisdom had its source
of which Odin only, by self-sacrifice, secured a part. Down there dwell,
accordingly, Urd and Mimir, Night and Day, Mundilfæri with the sun and
the moon, Delling, the genius of the rosy dawn, and Billing, the genius
of the blushing sunset. There dwell the smiths of antiquity who made the
chariots of the sun and moon and smithied the treasures of vegetation.
Mundilfæri is the lord of the regular revolutions of the starry
firmament, and of the regular rising and sinking of the sea in its ebb
and flood. He is the father of the dises of the sun and moon, who make
their celestial journeys according to established laws; and, finally, he
is the origin of the holy fire; he is father of Heimdall, who introduced
among men a systematic life in homes fixed and governed by laws.
Þrymskviða 22 informs us that Heimdall can see the future, like all wise
Vanir can, indicating that Heimdall himself, although the “whitest of
the Æsir, is of the Vanir clan by birth As the father of Heimdall, the
god, Mundilfæri is himself a Vana-god, belonging to the oldest branch of
this race, and in all probability one of those "wise rulers" (vís
regin) who, according to
Vafþrúðnismál 39, "created Njörd in Vanaheim and sent him as a
hostage to the gods (the Aesir)."
From where did the clans of the
Vanir and the Elves come? It should not have escaped the notice of the
mythologists that the Germanic theogony, as far as it is known, mentions
only two progenitors of the mythological races -- Ymir and Buri. From
Ymir develop the two very different races of giants, the offspring of
his arms and that of his feet (see Vafþrúðnismál 33) - in other words,
the noble race to which the norns, Mimir and Bestla belong, and the
ignoble, which begins with Thrudgelmir.
Buri gives birth to Burr (Bor),
and the latter has three sons -
Óðinn, Véi (Vé), and
Vili (Vilir). Unless Buri had more sons, the Vanir and Elf-clans have no
other theogonic source than the same as the Aesir, namely,
Burr. That the hierologists of the Germanic mythology did not leave
the origin of these clans unexplained we are assured by the very
existence of a Germanic theogony, together with the circumstance that
the more thoroughly our mythology is studied the more clearly we see
that this mythology has desired to answer every question which could
reasonably be asked of it, and in the course of ages it developed into a
systematic and epic whole with clear outlines sharply drawn in all
To this must be added the
important observation that Vei and Vili, though brothers of Odin, are
never counted among the Aesir proper, and had no abode in Asgard. It is
manifest that Odin himself with his sons founds the Aesir-race, that, in
other words, he is a clan-founder in which this race has its chieftain,
and that his brothers, for this very reason, could not be included in
his clan. There is every reason to assume that they, like him, were
clan-founders; and as we find besides the Aesir two other races of gods,
this of itself makes it probable that Odin's two brothers were their
progenitors and clan-chieftains.
It can bee demonstrated that the
anthropomorphous Vana-god Heimdall was sent by Vanir as a child to the
primeval Germanic country, to give to the descendants of Ask and Embla
the holy fire, tools, and implements, the runes, the laws of society,
and the rules for religious worship (cp. Rigþula, and the Anglo-Saxon
stories of the boy-king Scef). As an anthropomorphous god and first
patriarch, he is identical with Scef-Rig, the Scyld of the Beowulf poem,
that he becomes the father of the other original patriarch Skjold, and
the grandfather of Kon ungr,the first king.
has been demonstrated that Heimdall, the personified sacred fire, is
most likely the son of the fire-producer (by friction) Mundilfari. The
name Lóðurr has no other rational explanation than that which Jakob
Grimm, without knowing his position in the epic of mythology, has given,
comparing the name with the verb
lodern, "to blaze."
Lóðurr is active
in its signification, "he who causes or produces the blaze," and thus
refers to the origin of fire, particularly of the friction-fire and of
the bore-fire. From this it follows that that mythic person who is
Heimdall's father, that is to say, to Mundilfari, the fire-producer is
the one the fire-producer, that is Odin’s brother,
The term veraldar nagli is found on the very last
page of the paper
mss referred to as AM 748 I 4to, published in vol. II of the
Snorri's Edda. (Facsimile edition:
of the Elder and Younger Edda", Copenhagen,
Codicum Islandicorum Medii Aevi, XVII).
There, an Old-Icelandic poet wrote out lists of poetic synonyms;
among them we find a list of synonyms for nails: ".....
farnagli, stagnagli, varnagli, veraldarnagli."
defines ON meginverk as "great works, labour." In
Grotti-Song it refers to the labor of the
giantesses, and in
Saga ch. 80) to that of the poet and the
poem itself. In the latter,
megin-verkom appears with the variant
morgin-verkom, morning labors (Codex
AM, 748), this being the preferred reading.
Thus the female
Sun and the male Moon are children of
Odin's brother Lodur, who gave mankind
lítur goða. As these are Vanir,
they marry among their kin. Based on a comparison of
Hyndluljod 11-12 with a passage in
Hversu Noregur byggðist
which reads "Finnálfur the Old married Svanhildur, known as Gullfjöðr. She was
the daughter of Dag, son of Delling and Sól, daughter of
Mundilfæri. Their son was Svan the Red, father of Sæfari, who
was the father of Úlfr, who was the father of Álfr, who was the
father of Ingimundr and Eysteinn,"
Eysteinn Björnsson suggests the Sun and the Moon produce the
beautiful daughters Sunna and Nanna who will survive Ragnarok
and drive these cars in their parents stead, and that Heimdall
married his sister, the sun, and producing the elf clan.
Here Dag is
taken for Heimdall, and Delling for Mundilfæri.
Rydberg made only the rudest outlines of the geneology
of the Vanir and the Elves, and rightly so, as the evidence in
this area is scant.