The Einheriar's Tournaments
This matches what we learn from other heathen sources, filling in their gaps and giving context. Vafþrúðnismál 41 tells us that "Allir einherjar Óðins túnum í höggvask hverjan dag; val þeir kjósa ok ríða vígi frá, sitja meirr um sáttir saman." "All the einherjar of Odin's homestead fight every day ; they choose the fallen and ride from the fight, sitting afterwards together at peace."
Gylfaginning 41 quotes Odin himself on the topic : Hárr segir: "Hvern dag þá er þeir hafa klæðzt, þá hervæða þeir sik ok ganga út í garðinn ok berjask, ok fellir hverr annan. Þat er leikr þeira. Ok er líðr at dögurðarmáli, þá ríða þeir heim til Valhallar ok setjast til drykkju... "The High One says : "Every day when they have clothed themselves, then they put on their war-clothes (armor) and go out into the meadows (literally, the 'hay-yards') and fight, and fell each other. That is their sport. And when the time comes for the day-meal (at the end of the undern, which is from 9 AM to Noon, so this would be lunch), then they ride home to Valhall and sit down to drink..."
Ganga út í garðinn, "They go out into the meadows" from which ríða þeir heim til Valhallar, "they ride home to Valholl". The "going out" suggests a journey which requires a ride back home.
As soon as they have clothed themselves in the morning, they put on their armor and march out from Valholl into the meadows, where they fight, and they finish fighting a little after noon, whence they carry those fallen in the fight with them and ride home back to Valhall, drinking great draughts of mead that evidently have a rejuvenating power. Odin speaks of their fighting as a leikr, a sport, a ceremonial game, a performance, a play, just as Saxo calls it a speciem, a show, and a spectaculo, a spectacle. While Gylfaginning 38 says that allir þeir menn, er í orrustu hafa fallit frá upphafi heims eru nú komnir til Óðins í Valhöll, "all those men who in battle have fallen from the beginning of the world have now come to Odin in Valhall", Hading's female guide tells him that qui ferro in necem, "those who have died by the sword" come to enact their tournament, and thus Gylfaginning 41 must refer to the same events.
The meadows, therefore, that the Einherjar march towards, are underworld meadows, set beside the loca aprica, the Sunny Fields. Apparently once they are up at dawn and clothed, they march from Valholl to the underworld, arriving there some time after 9 AM and before noon, where they stage a great spectacle of battle, and having finished sometime shortly after noon, they saddle their horses and ride back to Valhall to eat, drink, and be at peace with each other. This constitutes both their sport and their training. For their relatives on the Ancestral Plains, it must be quite delightful to see their loved ones every day demonstrate their great feats of strength and courage, and fill them with hope about Ragnarok. In Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 50, the einherjar are referred to as the sigrþjóð, "the victorious nation", the "tribe of victory", and so at least the ancestors must believe that ultimately they will prove victorious in their struggle. In Gylfaginning 39, Odin says that Alföðr ... bjóða til sín konungum eða jörlum eða öðrum ríkismönnum, "All-Father invites kings, earls, and other nobles to him". Ríkismönnum, "rich men", "mighty men", "king's men", ie. those in positions of responsibility, supervision, and governance. It makes sense that men with supervisory responsibilities would be invited by Odin to come to Valholl, because "supervision" literally means to "look over", and there in the skies the Einherjar look over and protect the world. Since they consist literally of the greatest heroes to ever have walked the face of the earth, the ancestors must have felt quite safe indeed.
In Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, in the prose before 41, a servant-maid of Sigrún gekk um aftan hjá haugi Helga ok sá at Helgi reið til haugsins með marga menn, "went around evening near Helgi's mound and saw Helgi ride to the mound with many men". In 41, she asks about ríða menn dauðir, er jóa yðra oddum keyrið, "the dead men riding who your horses with spurs urge on", and fears that either her eyes are playing tricks on her, or that Ragnarok has come. Helgi reassures her in 39 that "Er-a þat svik ein, er þú sjá þykkisk, né aldar rof þóttú oss lítir, þótt vér jóa óra oddum keyrim," "This is no delusion, which you think you see, nor is this the fall of men, although you see our appearance (lítir, Goth. wlits, Greek prosopon, "countenance", "appearance", likeness), although our horses we urge on with spurs". She wonders whether hildingum heimför gefin, "the warriors have been allowed to come home", meaning to be resurrected amongst mortals again, and he tells her this is not the case. She sees only their lítir, their spectres. She goes and tells Sigrún, who comes to the mound to see Helgi.
Helgi spends the evening with her, but finally says, "Mál er mér at ríða roðnar brautir, láta fölvan jó flugstíg troða; skal ek fyr vestan vindhjalms brúar áðr Salgófnir sigrþjóð veki." (Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 50), "It's time for me to ride the reddened road, let the pale horse trod the flying path ; I must fare west o'er Wind-helm's Bridge before the Hall's Bird awakens the victorious tribe". This is a poetic way of saying he must ride off into the sunset and ascend the Bridge to Heaven (here poetically called "wind-helmet") before it is morning-time, because then he must be ready to go out into the meadows to fight once again. He certainly must be there, because he is the general who rules all the einherjar. En er hann kom til Valhallar þá bauð Óðinn honum öllu at ráða með sér (Helgakviða Hundingsbana II prose before 40), "When he came to Valhall then Odin bade him to rule over all with him."
He must have stopped by on the way back from that tournament, since he and the other riders are seen by the mound at evening-time, but once he has spent some time with her in the evening, he must follow the path of the sun ("reddened road") westward and then upwards upon the bridge itself. He has not been heimför gefin, "allowed to come home", which means he is merely in the midst of his daily journey. That it is the daily journey, and not the Yule time of the Wild Hunt we can be assured by the fact that Sigrún's servant-maid is surprised to see them, and wonders whether Ragnarok has come. Since the dead would be expected to return home (heimför) at Yule-time, when the Einherjar have their famous wild ride through the skies chasing off demons, this cannot be that time.
It would seem there is a brief time in the evening every day when the Einherjar visit their graves for a very short time before they head west to ascend Bifrost back to Valhall. This is different than the Yuletime heimför "homecoming", where they get to visit with their relatives for the extended time of Yule's twelve days.
A cyclical path is traced by this journey, the Einherjar awakened by the crowing of the cock at dawn, riding down to Hel's plains, staging a great battle, then riding back up, briefly visiting their graves at evening-time, and then heading back up to the stars for an evening-meal full of meat and wine, whence the next morning they begin the cycle again.
Another cyclical path is implied by this. In Gylfaginning 38, Odin says, "En aldri er svá mikill mannfjöldi í Valhöll, at eigi má þeim endast flesk galtar þess, er Sæhrímnir heitir. Hann er soðinn hvern dag, ok heill at aftni." "But never is there such a mighty manifold in Valhall that the flesh of that boar who is called Sæhrímnir may come to an end. He is boiled each day, and whole at evening." Just as those who fall in the tournament each day are resurrected, so is this great boar, whose flesh they eat. Just as Thor's goats are eaten and resurrected, so is the boar upon whom the Einherjar feed. He's cooked and eaten, and by night-time he has risen again. One wonders whether Sæhrímnir might be a heiti for Gullinbursti, Freyr's boar who has the power to fly through the air and over the seas, and whose shining bristles allow it to penetrate through murky areas, which we have seen separate the world of the living from the ancestral homes. Gullinbursti was made by Sindri and his brothers, who are dwarves who reside in Hel. Voluspa 35 - 39 briefly surveys the geography of the Underworld, beginning with the location where Loki is bound, and then describing various places of torture for those who have broken the most sacred laws, but in Voluspa 37, we hear of two places that are not part of the places of punishment. Stóð fyr norðan á Niðavöllum salr ór gulli Sindra ættar; en annarr stóðá Ókólni, bjórsalr jötuns, en sá Brímir heitir, "On the Nether-meadows standing over the north is a Hall of Gold of Sindri's Kin ; in another stands "Uncold", the Beer-hall of that Giant who is called Brimir."We know from Voluspa 9 that the dwarves were made ór brimi blóðgu ok ór Bláins leggjum, "out of Brimir's blood and out of Blain's limbs", so he must have been a giant sacrificed in the beginning of time, one renowned for his mead and his mead-hall, which resided in a place where cold never entered. Since in Sigrdrifumal 14 Odin stood with Brimir's sword (called in Grimnisal the best of swords) at the same time that Mim's head spoke, and since a "sword" may at times be used as a paraphrase for "head", it is likely that Brimir is a heiti for Mimir. In any case, the golden halls of Sindri's kin, and the Never-Cold halls of Brimir, where his famous beer is brewed, are mentioned as being part of the Underworld, and since Niflhel is notoriously cold, these again attest to parts of the Underworld, of Hel, that lie outside Niflhel. From here Gullinbursti originated. If Gullinbursti is Sæhrímnir, does he return to Sindri's halls each day to be reinvigorated? The imagination may play with this pure speculation.
What remains and stands out with importance is the idea that daily Odin's lone warriors drawn from the best of heroes circle around the world, visiting their loved ones in Hel, visiting their graves in Midgard, and then at evening time heading back to feast and drink before they get up the next morning and begin the cycle all over again.
From this perspective, we may say that literally the heroes surround us and keep us. May you be hael, blessed, healed by this knowledge.
all translations copyright 2009 by Siegfried Goodfellow