From Academic Kids

In Norse mythology, Gullveig (seemingly "gold drink" or "gold might") is a mysterious goddess or giantess who became the igniting source for the War of the gods. She is said have been burned three times in Odin's hall, to have been three times born, and to live yet as a seeress performing dark magic.

She is only mentioned, at least by that name, in the V÷luspß, stanzas 21–22. The seeress, after her account of the coming of the Norns, continues:

The war I remember,       the first in the world,
When the gods with spears       had smitten Gullveig,
And in the hall       of Hßr had burned her,
Three times burned,       and three times born,
Oft and again,       yet ever she lives.

Heid they named her       when she came to the house,
The wide-seeing witch,       in magic wise;
She performed sei­ where she could       worked sei­ in a trance,
To evil women       she was always a joy.

Hßr 'High' is a common name for Odin. Heid means 'gleaming' and as a noun 'honor'. It is a common given name for seeresses or witches in the sagas notably in the Landnßmabˇk, in the Hrˇlfs Saga Kraka and in Írvar-Odds Saga. Sei­ is a particular type of magic, often looked on pejoratively. Instead phrase translated here "worked sei­ in a trance" is sometimes interpreted instead as something like "drove mad the gods with sei­.

Then follows a council apparently about who should pay "wergild" for Gullveig and that leads into a war with the Vanir.

Commentators speculate variously on this passage, but with general agreement that in part it speaks about the corrupting power of gold and generally understanding that mistreatment of this Gullveig was the reason for the resultant war between the Aesir and Vanir. Gullveig is usually taken to be one of the Vanir.

There may be a connection to two stanzas in the Lesser V÷luspß (found in some editions of eddic poems as the last section of the Hyndluj÷d):

The wolf did Loki       sire on Angrboda,
And Sleipnir he bore       to Svadilfari;
The worst piece of witchcraft       seemed the one
Sprung from the brother       of Byleist then.
A heart ate Loki—       in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he       the woman's heart—
With child from the woman       Lopt soon was,
And thence among men       came every troll-woman.

(Loki is often called "brother of Blyeist" and "Lopt" in other texts.)

If the burned heart of a worman that was eaten by Loki is Gullveig's heart, then Gullveig may live still through a race of troll-women whom Loki then bore. "Troll-women" might refer to evil seeresses and witches in general. The word flag­ is well established as meaning 'troll-woman, female monster, ogress, giantess, witch'. But it is sometimes here taken metaphorically to mean she-wolves, or all wolves, even monsters in general.

The Lesser V÷luspß also refers to Heid and Hrossthjˇf (a name otherwise unknown) as the children of HrÝmnir in a context that suggests HrÝmnir is a giant. The Thˇrsdrapa by Eilif Godr˙narson (10th century) calls fire HrÝmnis drˇsar lyftisylgr 'the lifting drink of HrÝmnir's daughter', perhaps referring to Heid daughter of HrÝmnir who would then quite likely be identical to Gullveig/Heid who was burned.

(In the Volsunga saga a certain Hlj÷d daughter of the giant HrimnÝr is maidservant to Frigg and later becomes wife of the mortal hero Volsung.)

A different hyposthesis supported by Turville-Petre and others is that Gullveig is a name for the goddess Freyja who in other accounts sheds tears of gold mourning for her husband Ëd and who is mother of Gersemi and Hnoss, whose names both mean "Treasure". Gullveig is a practiser of sei­. In Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, in the Ynglinga Saga, chapter 4, Snorri relates that it was Freyja who introduced sei­ among the Aesir as it was in use and fashion among the Vanir. In chapter 7 Snorri relates that Odin knew sei­:

... but it was not thought respectable for men to practise it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art.

Other references to sei­ also usually make it a woman's art.

Neither of Snorri Sturluson's two accounts of the Aesir-Vanir war make any mention of the Gullveig episode, which suggests by his time the story behind the verses had been forgotten.

Georges DumÚzil (1966 and 1973) believed that the first war was based on a mythical Indo-European pattern that also emerges in the Roman legend of the war between the warlike Romans (comparable to the Aesir) and wealthy Sabines (comparable to the Vanir) and that the Gullveig element corresponded to the role of Tarpeia in Roman tradition. In one common version Tarpeia betrayed the citadel to the Sabines in exchange for what they had on their left arm, meaning their gold braclets. However the Sabines, while taking advantage of Tarpeia's treachery, fulfilled their part of the bargain by striking her with their shields, which were also on their left arms, until she died.

DumÚzil also thinks that a related tradition occurs in Saxo Grammaticus' account (Gesta Danorum, Book 1) of Frigg's theft of the gold from Odin' statue and her adultery. Odin (either from disgust or shame) goes into exile and a certain Mit-othin to some extent gains Odin's position, until Odin returns and drives Mit-othin away.

Viktor Rydberg in his Teutonic Mythology took the account of Loki eating the heart as a recaptulation of the previous stanza and so identified Gullveig with Angrboda, the mother of Fenris. To make this work Rydberg glosses flag­ 'troll-woman' as referring to trolls of either gender and includes Fenris among them. (However Snorri Sturluson in his Edda knew Angrboda only as "a giantess of J÷tunheim" and mother by Loki of Fenris, J÷rmungand, and Hel and provides no indication that Loki gave birth to any of these himself.)

Rydberg also also identifies his Gullveig/Angerboda with the old woman of Ironwood mentioned in V÷luspß stanza 49 as raising the kindred of Fenris, a normal interpretation. More daring is his identification of Gullveig/Angrboda/Woman-of-Ironwood with Aurboda the wife of Gymir and mother of Gerd and also with the giantess Hyrrokin 'Fire-smoked', who is said to be slain by Thor in a list in the thular. Accordingly Rydberg believes Gullveig was finally slain by Thor's hammer. Rydberg then notes that in the Svipdagsmßl Aurboda is also the name of one of Mengl÷d's nine serving women (Mengl÷d often thought to be a variant of Freyja), that Heid was the name of HrÝmnir's daughter, and that in the Volungsa Saga Hlj÷d is both daughter of the giant HrÝmnir and a maidservant of Frigg. (This Hlj÷d marries the hero Volsung and becomes father of the hero Sigmund). Rydberg takes all these as further variants of Gullveig. Rydberg further identifies his extended Gullveig with Grendel's dam in Beowulf.

Rydberg's multiple identifications are generally not accepted by later scholars.

External references

For general references see Norse Mythology.

  • DumÚzil, Georges (1966). La Religion romaine archaique suirvi d'un appendice sur la religion des Etrusques Paris. Editions Payot. Trans. Krapp, Philip (1996). Archaic Roman Religion. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Republished 1970, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0801854822 ISBN 0801854830 (hdbk); ISBN 0801854806 ISBN 0801854814 (pbk).
  • DumÚzil, Georges (1973). "The Gods: Ăsir and Vanir", Gods of the Ancient Northmen, trans. Einar Haugen. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520035070.

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