Valhalla (Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber)

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A Valkyrie, drinking horn in hands, awaits at the gates of Valhalla on the Tjängvide image stone from Gotland, housed at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden.

This palace, called Valhalla (the hall of the chosen slain), had five hundred and forty doors, wide enough to allow the passage of eight hundred warriors abreast, and above the principal gate were a boar’s head and an eagle whose piercing glance penetrated to the far corners of the world.

The walls of this marvellous building were fashioned of glittering spears, so highly polished that they illuminated the hall. The roof was of golden shields, and the benches were decorated with fine armour, the god’s gifts to his guests. Here long tables afforde ample accomodation for the Einheriar, warriors fallen in battle. who were specially favoured by Odin.

“Easily to be know is,
By those who to Odin come,
The mansion by its aspect.
Its roof with spears is laid,
Its hall with shields is decked,
With corselets are its benches strewed.”

The ancient Northern nations, who deemed warfare the most honourable of occupatons, and considered courage the greatest virtue, worshipped Odin principally as god of battle and victory.

They believed that whenever a fight was impending he sent out his special attendants, the shield-, battle-, or wish-maidens, called Valkyrs (choosers of the slain), who selected from the dead warriors one-half of their number, whom they bore on their fleet steeds over the quivering rainbow bridge, Bifröst, into Valhalla.

Welcomed by Odin’s sons, Hermod and Bragi, the heroes were conducted to the foot of Odin’s throne, where they received the praise due to their valour.

When some special favourite of the god was thus brought into Asgard, Valfather (father of the slain), as Odin was called when he presided over the warriors, would sometimes rise from his throen and in person bid him welcome at the great entrance gate.

Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber

Invention of Runes (Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber)

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An inscription using both cipher runes, the Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark, on the 9th century Rök Runestone in Sweden.

Besides being god of wisdom, Odin was god and inventor of runes, the earliest alphabet used by Northern nations, which characters, signifying mystery, were at first used for divination, although in later times they served for inscriptions and records.

Just as wisdom could only be obtained at the cost of sacrifice, Odin himself relates that he hung nine days and nights from the sacred tree Yggdrasil, gazing down into the immeasurable depths of Nifl-heim, plunged in deep thought, and self-wounded with his spear, ere he won the knowledge he sought.

“I know that I hung

On a wind-rocked tree

Nine whole nights,

With a spear wounded,

And to Odin offered

Myself to myself;

On that tree

Of which no one knows

From what root it springs.”

Odin’s Rune-Song (Thorpe’s translation)

When he had fully mastered this knowledge, Odin cut magic runes upon his spear Gungnir, upon the teeth of his horse Sleipnir, upon the claws of the bear, and upon countless other animate and inanimate things. And because he had thus hung over the abyss for such a long space of time, he was ever after considered the patron divinity of all who were condemned to be hanged or who perished by the noose.

After obtaining the gift of wisdom and runes, which gave him power over all things, Odin also coveted the gift of eloquence and poetry, which he acquired in a manner which we shall relate in a subsequent chapter.

Myths of the Norsemen by H. A. Guerber