Völuspá by Henry A. Bellows

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

22. Heith they named her | who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, | in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched | that were moved by her magic,
To evil women | a joy she was.

23. On the host his spear | did Othin hurl,
Then in the world | did war first come;
The wall that girdled | the gods was broken,
And the field by the warlike | Wanes was trodden.

24. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held,
Whether the gods | should tribute give,
Or to all alike | should worship belong.

25. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held,
To find who with venom | the air had filled,
Or had given Oth’s bride | to the giants’ brood.

26. In swelling rage | then rose up Thor,–
Seldom he sits | when he such things hears,–
And the oaths were broken, | the words and bonds,
The mighty pledges | between them made.

27. I know of the horn | of Heimdall, hidden
Under the high-reaching | holy tree;
On it there pours | from Valfather’s pledge
A mighty stream: | would you know yet more?

28. Alone I sat | when the Old One sought me,
The terror of gods, | and gazed in mine eyes:
“What hast thou to ask? | why comest thou hither?
Othin, I know | where thine eye is hidden.”
I know where Othin’s | eye is hidden,
Deep in the wide-famed | well of Mimir;
Mead from the pledge | of Othin each mom
Does Mimir drink: | would you know yet more?

29. Necklaces had I | and rings from Heerfather,
Wise was my speech | and my magic wisdom;
. . . . . . . . . .
Widely I saw | over all the worlds.

30. On all sides saw I | Valkyries assemble,
Ready to ride | to the ranks of the gods;
Skuld bore the shield, | and Skogul rode next,
Guth, Hild, Gondul, | and Geirskogul.
Of Herjan’s maidens | the list have ye heard,
Valkyries ready | to ride o’er the earth.

21. This follows stanza 20 in Regius; in the Hauksbok version stanzas 25, 26, 27, 40, and 41 come between stanzas 20 and 21. Editors have attempted all sorts of rearrangements. The war: the first war was that between the gods and the Wanes. The cult of the Wanes (Vanir) seems to have originated among the seafaring folk of the Baltic and the southern shores of the North Sea, and to have spread thence into Norway in opposition to the worship of the older gods; hence the “war.” Finally the two types of divinities were worshipped in common; hence the treaty which ended the war with the exchange of hostages. Chief among the Wanes were Njorth and his children, Freyr and Freyja, all of whom became conspicuous among the gods. Beyond this we know little of the Wanes, who seem originally to have been water-deities. I remember: the manuscripts have “she remembers,” but the Volva is apparently still speaking of her own memories, as in stanza 2. Gollveig (“Gold-Might”): apparently the first of the Wanes to come among the gods, her ill treatment being the immediate cause of the war. Müllenhoff maintains that Gollveig is another name for Freyja. Lines 5-6, one or both of them probably interpolated, seem to symbolize the refining of gold by fire. Hor (“The High One”): Othin.

22. Heith (“Shining One”?): a name often applied to wise women and prophetesses. The application of this stanza to Gollveig is far from clear, though the reference may be to the {footnote p. 11} magic and destructive power of gold. It is also possible that the stanza is an interpolation. Bugge maintains that it applies to the Volva who is reciting the poem, and makes it the opening stanza, following it with stanzas 28 and 30, and then going on with stanzas I ff. The text of line 2 is obscure, and has been variously emended.

23. This stanza and stanza 24 have been transposed from the order in the manuscripts, for the former describes the battle and the victory of the Wanes, after which the gods took council, debating whether to pay tribute to the victors, or to admit them, as was finally done, to equal rights of worship.

25. Possibly, as Finn Magnusen long ago suggested, there is something lost after stanza 24, but it was not the custom of the Eddic poets to supply transitions which their hearers could generally be counted on to understand. The story referred to in stanzas 25-26 (both quoted by Snorri) is that of the rebuilding of Asgarth after its destruction by the Wanes. The gods employed a giant as builder, who demanded as his reward the sun and moon, and the goddess Freyja for his wife. The gods, terrified by the rapid progress of the work, forced Loki, who had advised the bargain, to delay the giant by a trick, so that the {footnote p. 12} work was not finished in the stipulated time (cf. Grimnismol, 44, note). The enraged giant then threatened the gods, whereupon Thor slew him. Oth’s bride: Freyja; of Oth little is known beyond the fact that Snorri refers to him as a man who “went away on long journeys.”

26. Thor: the thunder-god, son of Othin and Jorth (Earth) cf. particularly Harbarthsljoth and Thrymskvitha, passim. Oaths, etc.: the gods, by violating their oaths to the giant who rebuilt Asgarth, aroused the undying hatred of the giants’ race, and thus the giants were among their enemies in the final battle.

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).

28. The Hauksbok version omits all of stanzas 28-34, stanza 27 being there followed by stanzas 40 and 41. Regius indicates stanzas 28 and 29 as a single stanza. Bugge puts stanza 28 after stanza 22, as the second stanza of his reconstructed poem. The Volva here addresses Othin directly, intimating that, although he has not told her, she knows why he has come to her, and what he has already suffered in his search for knowledge regarding his doom. Her reiterated “would you know yet more?” seems to mean: “I have proved my wisdom by telling of the past and of your own secrets; is it your will that I tell likewise of the fate in store for you?” The Old One: Othin. The line “I know where Othin’s | eye is hidden”, not in either manuscript, is a conjectural emendation based on Snorri’s paraphrase. Bugge puts this stanza after stanza 20.

29. This is apparently the transitional stanza, in which the Volva, rewarded by Othin for her knowledge of the past (stanzas 1-29), is induced to proceed with her real prophecy (stanzas 31-66). Some editors turn the stanza into the third person, making it a narrative link. Bugge, on the other hand, puts it {footnote p. 14} after stanza 28 as the third stanza of the poem. No lacuna is indicated in the manuscripts, and editors have attempted various emendations. Heerfather (“Father of the Host”): Othin.

30. Valkyries: these “Choosers of the Slain” (cf. stanza I, note) bring the bravest warriors killed in battle to Valhall, in order to re-enforce the gods for their final struggle. They are also called “Wish-Maidens,” as the fulfillers of Othin’s wishes. The conception of the supernatural warrior-maiden was presumably brought to Scandinavia in very early times from the South-Germanic races, and later it was interwoven with the likewise South-Germanic tradition of the swan-maiden. A third complication developed when the originally quite human women of the hero-legends were endowed with the qualities of both Valkyries and swan-maidens, as in the cases of Brynhild (cf. Gripisspo, introductory note), Svava (cf. Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar, prose after stanza 5 and note) and Sigrun (cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 17 and note). The list of names here given may be an interpolation; a quite different list is given in Grimnismol, 36. Ranks of the gods: some editors regard the word thus translated as a specific place name. Herjan (“Leader of Hosts”): Othin. It is worth noting that the name Hild (“Warrior”) is the basis of Bryn-hild (“Warrior in Mail Coat”).