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2011 06 07

[veneration of goddess][wise women][Edda name][Voluspa][short Voluspa]

Wise Woman Speaks


            "As I see it," wrote Guthmundson, "the main feature of their religion was of the same nature. At least, the worship of fertility and the veneration of a goddess was a characteristic . . . at the time of Tacitus." Guthmundson noted the Skalds reckoned their descent through a female line and named children after the mother. He found in Iceland female chiefs and independent female settlers, as well as farmsteads bearing the name of women although they were married. Skaldic culture, he wrote, "came to Iceland with the fertility worshipers who venerated female divinities." Chantepie de la Saussaye also noted the "two characteristic features" that "receive special emphasis in the account that Tacitus gives of Teutonic religion: the air of mystery and the intimate connection with the life of the tribe. Reverence for the mysterious stillness of the forest, for the divine in woman and for her powers of divination." Women had an important place and special role among the Teutons of old. Tacitus wrote that women were regarded "even as goddesses," and Nederlander P.J. Blok asked: "Who, otherwise than upon the wings of fancy, can picture Teutonic society in that remote age, when woman, as the real propagator of the race, stood higher in the family than the man? Unquestionably this right of the mother prevailed in the youth of the peoples and shaped their customs, state, and family life." Runic initiates believe their kind was taught by the ancestral mother when she instructed her children in the lore and learning of the past. They are songsmiths in a line of wise women ~ the deep-minded, who kept poetry and magic together since times of yore. The ErilaR see a chain of women linking the future with the past. They know it is woman who experiences the connection between certain elevated moods and her menses. As if at once the entire blood circulation has become changed; a quite different life-feeling within. This change causes a mysterious cross-action between woman's body and soul. That very curious and dreamy and yet also so clarifying mood that comes forth from the womb. The ErilaR became what their mothers were from original instructions that began when the newborn was passed around the circle of women ~ a circle only rarely entered by a man.
            Dark Age witch hunts and a Roman church Inquisition (carried on nearly exclusively by men) spent centuries to ruthlessly wipe out practitioners of witchcraft (primarily women). These witches were the venerated seeresses and soothsayers of old. It was written that "women witches lay great stress on necklaces," and the necklace is a persistent and significant part of the imagery of the fertility goddess. The association of cats with witches is also a widespread tradition. Freija, the oldest Teutonic fertility goddess, has as her most valued possession the fabled necklace Brisingamen, and travels in a carriage drawn by cats. Freija is considered to have originated a specific form of magical practice known as seidr. It holds as a fundamental law that there is no cessation of motion in Nature, and it is knowledge of this that permits and helps to perform seidrs, various phenomena, such as disintegration of matter, the transport of objects from one place to another (noted Blavatsky). This "art from which the greatest power follows and by which he [Woden] furthered himself," . . . "is followed by so mighty a lust that it was thought noble-men could not fare without shame, therefor were female chiefs taught this art."
            Among the tribes traveled groups of wise women who were followers of Freija and practitioners of seidr (perhaps as in the Sanskrit siddhi: psychic attainment or power). The Flateyjarbok indicated of an earlier era: "At that time wise women used to go about the land. They were called spae-wives and they foretold people's futures. For this reason folk used to invite them to their houses and give them hospitality, and bestow gifts on them at parting." Such a woman was known as Volva (literally, wand-bearer) ~ someone with special mantic gifts, a seeress. In a Greenland Saga is given a detailed description of a late (likely one of the last) appearance of such a seidr-practicing Volva, the remaining member of a group of nine women. A small dais was set up for the seeress who carried a staff with a stud as a sign of her calling, and the women formed a circle around this seat. The essentials of the seidr ceremony concerned the erection of a platform or lofty seat on which the leading practitioner sat, the singing of spells, and the falling into a state of ecstacy by this leader. Sometimes the Volva was supported by a large company, who acted as a choir and provided music and ritual.
            Hilda Davidson wrote:
            "We are told in the accounts of Eirik's Saga, that the volva wore a costume of animal skins, including boots of calfskin, and also that a sacrificial meal was prepared for her from the hearts of all living creatures obtainable. She sat on a kind of platform high above the audience, upon a cushion stuffed with hen's feathers. She asked that someone should be found to sing the spell necessary for the ceremony, and after some search a young Christian woman admitted that she learned it when a child, and was persuaded to sing it. The volva told her afterwards that her singing was so successful that many spirits thronged to hear, and thus she learned from them the hidden things which men wished to know. After the main ceremony was over, she replied to the most important question, which was whether a famine afflicting the community would soon end. She also predicted the destiny of the girl who sang the spell, and told her what her fortunes in marriage would be. Finally men and women went up to put individual queries to her, and received wise answers; in fact ‘little that she said went unfulfilled'."

            There has been much speculation and disagreement as to why the Edda is so named. Some hold the theory that it's because it was penned in the old Icelandic seat of scholarship Oddi, another belief is that the word is related to odr: inspiration or poetry, but most scholars recognize it as the name of the great-grandmother of ‘Rigsthula' ~ one of the lays in the manuscript. In Icelandic, the collection is known as Eddukvaedi, or Great-grandmother-quoted. The first lay of the Edda is ‘Voluspa', meaning the Volva's soothsaying, foretelling, or truth. In language full with the ornaments of ancient diction and allusion and often obscure in visionary symbolism, it is commonly regarded as the oldest, most profound mythological poem in Teutonic literature.
            Cleasby noted that:
            "The ancient Sagas contain many remarkable records of the heathen wise-women or sibyls, who were held in honour and reverence; at the great feasts and sacrifices in the mountain, the volva (often a woman of rank) went with her troop of maidens through the country, where she, so to say, crowned the feast; she was seated on a high seat (seidhjallr) in the hall, where she wrought her spells and sang her ‘weird-songs' (vardlokur), after which the guests went past her one by one, and she told each his fate, or whatever else one wanted to know, e.g. the course of the coming winter and the like. The former part of Voluspa is evidently conceived as the inspired song of a volva, seated on her high seat, and addressing Odin [Woden], while the gods listen to her words; and the latter part of the poem appears to be a kind of necromancy, or the raising of a dead volva . . .":

            "Harken bid i all hallowed kindred, greater and lesser youths of Heimdal. You will, that i, Valfadur, well tell first ancient spells of people, though you are foremost among bonded.
            "I am bonded to giants since the birth of seasons, they who in aforetime headed my feeding. Nine bonded i house, nine in the tree that meted blessings before earth was beneath.
            "Of yore were ages, when nothing was, neither shores nor seas nor cool waves; earth was never found nor high-heaven, the gap spawned sanctity, but grass was nowhere, ~
            "before Bor's sons the soil raised, them who Midgard's blessings shaped; the sun shone in the south to stain the chambers, then did the ground grow greening leeks.
            "Sun cast from the south, and the companion moon, were caught within the grasp of heavenly bounds; sun that did not know, where the chambers of her family, stars that did not know, where the steads of their family, moon that did not know, whence his mighty family.
            "Then went all rulers to judgement-seats, gap-hallowed gods, and about there tended; night and nether names were given, morning called and midday, afternoon and evening, seasons to tell.
            "Hit aesir on Idafelli, where is the high cairn and court of timbers and hides; caused laws, smithed fortune, shaped tongs and made tools.
            "Tables they played in the garden, with cheerful lips, was there no-one wanting flakes of gold, until three giant maidens much unmighty came out of Jotunheim."


            "Then went all rulers to judgement-seats," continues the wise woman, where they consider how the race of dwarfs was created by the blood and bones of the giants of Earth and Sky. The Volva recites full eight verses of dwarf names, and resumes.

            "Then three members of the strong and beloved aesir came to the houses, chanced upon compatriots of little might Ask and Embla lacking yore-law.
            "Breath they had not of their family, soul they had not of their master, life's heat nor manner nor the likeness of chiefs; breath gave Odin, soul gave Hoenir, life's heat gave Lodur and the likeness of chiefs.
            "An ash i know it stands, it's named Ygdrasil, high bosom, sprinkled white loam; thence come dewtracks, that fall in the dales, stands ever green over Urdarbrun.
            "Thence came three maidens of high consciousness out of that sea, that lies under the thole; Urd one is called, another Verdandi, ~ it's scored on sticks, ~ Skuld is the third. Theirs the laws laid, theirs the life chosen for ages-old children, and yore-law said.
            "Bonded she is to the folkfight first in the homes, who Gullveigu's spear steadied and in the hall of Har her burned, thrice burned, thrice born, often, not seldom; yet does she live.
            "Brightly they hight, who to the houses came, seeresses well-foretelling, charms she spirits; seidr she does, where she's known, seidr she does mindbending, ever was she fragrant but foul the brothers.
            "Then went all rulers to judgement-seats, gap-hallowed gods, and about there tended, whether aesir must withhold yield or must all gods yielding own.
            "Flew Odin and shot among the folk, that was still the folkfight first in the homes; broken were bulwark shelters of aesir, able fight-foretelling vanir spurned the fields.
            "Then went all rulers to judgement-seats, gap-hallowed gods, and about there tended, wherefrom was the air with treason blended or Od's maiden given to the giant family.
            "Thor only with woe suppressed his mood, ~ he seldom sits, when he is thus informed. So became oaths, words to swear, speech of great might, that fared between them.
            "She knows Heimdal's hail is hidden under the shady hallowed bosom; where she sprinkled water on the loam from Valfadur's pledge. Know you further ~ or what?.
            "Alone sat she outside, when of ages came the terrible young aesir and in eyes searched: Who questions me? Why test me? All i know, Odin, where your eye is hidden, within blessed Mimisbrun. Mead drinks Mimir every morning from Valfadur's pledge. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Kept they Herfadur's rings and necklaces, fetched a peaceable spell and foretelling spirits, she saw far and wide about the world everywhere.
            "Saw she valkyries come widely about, garbed to ride to Godthjodar; Skuld held shields, but Skogul sword-blades, Gunnar, Hildur, Gondul and Geirskogul. Now are told Herjan's nuns, garbed to ride the ground as choosers-of-the-fallen.
             "I saw Balder's man-blood shining, Odin's child, yore-law hidden; while profusely grew in hoary fields the fair and lowly mistletoe.
            "Ward off that which maims, this slim looking, harmful-shaft so dangerous, that Hodur took to shoot. Balder's brother was but barely born, Odin's son just one night old.
            "Though he neither washed hands nor combed his head, first to the fiery bier was Balder's attacker; but Frig wept in Fensolum and woe filled Valhalla. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Then knew Vali a fightbound turn, heroic was thehardship, hobbled by entrails.
            "Hobbled saw she lying under Hveralund, the lowered body of disagreeable Loki. There sat Sigyn over him yet not with gladness. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Then fell from the east over poisoned-dales sabers and swords, Slidur this was named.
            "Stood far to the north at Nidavollum the gold-showered chamber of Sindra's family; but another that stood at Okolni was the giants' beer-chamber, and its name was Brimir.
            "A chamber saw she stand far from the sun on Nastrand, with north facing doors. Poison drops fell in through the louvers, because the chamber was plaited of rueful worms.
            "Saw she wade in burdened streams people perjured and murder-soiled and there are other confounding silent-mysteries. There suckles Nidhogr near forthgoing, loosed wolves were. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Easterly sat the old one in Jarnvidi and fed there Fenris' kindred. Worthiest of them all one certain moon drawer in troll's skin.
            "Full of vitality were deathbound people, a ruddy curse settled in reddening blood. Black became sunshine during summers after, weather all woeful. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Sat there on a mound with a bone harp the ogress herder, glad Eggther; crowed for them in gallows-wood the fair-red cock, that Fjalar hight.
            "Crowed about aesir Gullinkambi, who woke the holds of Herjafadur's; but another soot-red rooster crowed in front of the underground chambers of Heljar.
            "Garmr barked mightily in front of Gnipahel, fetters shall shatter, and freaks run. Much lore she knows, far distant i see about ragnarok ~ the cursed-judgement of a bitter victory-shine.
            "Brothers shall batter and with bane become, shall cousins spoil sib; hard is it in the homes, whoredom great, axe-age, sword-age, shields are cloven, wind-age, wolf-age, ere the world is overthrown, is reverence for others in no human mind.
            "Mimir's sons play, but the meter kindles issuing yells of Gjallarhorn. High blows Heimdal, horn is aloft, as Odin speaks with Mim's head.
            "Trembling, the ash Ygdrasil stands fast, groan does the age-old tree, as giants are loosed. Dreadful all on helways, ere Surtr then his sib engulfs.
            "What is with aesir? What is with elves? Clashes all Jotunheim, aesir are in meeting, leaders of the rock-cliffs, dwarves groan before their stone-doors. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Barks now Garmr mightily before Gnipahel, fetters shall shatter, and freaks run, much lore she knows, far distant i see about ragnarok ~ the cursed-judgement of a bitter victory-shine.
            "Hrymr drives easterly, raised shield before him, Jormungandr thrashes in giant-fury. The worm presses the waves, and the eagle screams, nearly cut loose is Nidafolr, Naglfar is launched.
            "Keels fare easterly, Muspel shall come among the law members, and Loki steers. Fare mighty-monsters with all freaks, they who with Byleist's brother fare.
            "Surtr fares southerly with treason of switches, from the swords shines the sun's transcendent-weal. Stone crags crash, and fiends travel, heroes tread helway, and the heavens cleave.
            "Then comes Hlinar with other harms forward, when Odin fares toward the wolf's way, but Belja's bane is brighter than Surtr; then shall Frigjar fall sweetly.
            "Barks now Garmr mightily before Gnipahel, fetters shall shatter, and freaks run.
            "Then comes Sigfadr's great youth, Vidar, on the way of the carrion-beast. His manner with Hvedrung's offspring is with his hands to stand the sword to the heart, and then the father is avenged.
            "Yawning aloft over the girdles of the earth, gape terrible jaws of the worm in mockery. Odin's son shall meet the wolf's poison that's death to Vidar's descendant.
            "Then comes the blessed youth of Hlodynjar, goes Odin's son against worm's way, in wrath he strikes Midgard's shrines, ~ shall heroes all homesteads disperse; ~ nine paces goes Fjorgynjar's child in pain from the adder's spite.
            "Sun tokens a blackening, fields sink into the sea, thrown from heaven the bright stars. Vapors rage over ember-feeder, high heat plays against heaven itself.
            "Barks now Garmr mightily before Gnipahel, fetters shall shatter, and freaks run.
            "Sees she come up another companion earth out of the sea made-green. The waterfall, flies the eagle over, who on the fells hunts fish.
            "Find aesir at Idafelli and around the mould-thole mightily deem and remember that which is deemed the highest of Fimbultyr's ancient mysteries.
            "There shall after the altogether-wondrous golden tables in the grass be found, there where in days-of-yore that family headed.
            "Shall unsowed acres grow, bale shall all better, Balder shall come. Build there Hodur and Balder on Hroft's victory-turf, well is the shining-weal. Know you further ~ or what?
            "Then can Hoenir lot-woods choose and children settle the twin brothers' vast wind-home. Know you further ~ or what?
            "A chamber sees she stand sun fair, gold thatched at Gimle. There must virtuous households settle and an age-of-days their fond-abode enjoy.
            "Then does come to rule that reign of great power from above, that is all reason.
            "There the dark dragon does come flying, adder gleaming, beneath from Nidafjollum; bears in its feathers, ~ as it flies the plain over, ~ Nidhoggur near. Now shall she be sunk."


            ‘Voluspa' is plagiarized in another Eddic lay (set down in a different hand and the work, according to Gordon, of an inferior poet), the ‘Voluspa in skamma', the Short Voluspa. It's last two verses read:
            "Became one borne of all greatness, thus to augment earth's might; then pronounced a profound and potent beatitude, that bound by affinity settled in the very fields.
            "Then came another even mightier; though that i dare not name. Fewer see now forward longer about when Odin shall meet the wolf."


[About Ragnarok] [In the Beginning] [Futhark] [Name Scroll] [Nine in the Tree] [Runes of Magic and Mystery] [Weird] [Wise Woman Speaks] [Words of Woden] [Works Cited]