Monday, May 04, 2009

The Einheriar's Tournaments

We have explored the idea described in Saxo that the Einherjar visited Hel every day to stage tournaments where they battled and played out the great deeds of their lifetime.

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


Anonymous Clint said...

Of course there is much courage in battle...but is violence and combat the only way to keep the giants at bay? Did the knowledge and expertise of the Folk stop 700 years ago, with nothing left to learn? I cannot and will not believe that proficiency in battle alone saves us all. Certainly the greatest leaders of all time are in Odin's council; are warlords the only leaders, and the doing of war the only skills we all need to survive, and not survive only but flourish happy, free and whole? This I cannot believe, for the experience and wisdom of the ages, which our glorious Allfather wanders the cosmos to gather, does not support such a reading of the Lore.
The "Giants" are as diverse as we are; not all giants may be slain, and not all by the sword; and just as blessed Balder was not ended but changed by death, we must assume that for at least some of the giants, this is the case too.
The Universe (Multiverse?) is simply more complicated than the Lore, at face reading, allows. This much we have learned in a thousand years, and if we have learned it, then so have our gods and our wights and our ancestors...and the giants too.

9:19 PM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

You make many good points. There are far more important things to do than battle that contribute to survival and thriving. That is why the Einherjar fight, so that those far more valuable activities may flourish. The emphasis is not on war and battle, but what success in those areas may preserve. It is precisely those people who have forgotten this who have begun to join Muspel's Sons.

Odin wants poetry, the arts, and science to flourish. He wants the nurturing love of mothers to flourish. He wants the Earth to flourish. He wants the important arts of Mediation, Reconciliation, and Appropriate Clemency to flourish. That is why he must protect these Most Valuable things from evil.

It's not about physical battles. It's about spiritual battles against evil. It's preventing evil from being able to attack and spoil what is good in life. (Sometimes that has to be done physically, but that is not the emphasis.)

Being part of the Einherjar is not for everyone. Note that Saxo discussed youthful nobles walking about in Hel. There's all kinds of wonderful activities going on there that have nothing to do with battle. But the tournaments add a little excitement.

As far as the Giants go, not every single one is evil. They have the opportunity to join the Aesir, ro be allies, if they so choose. They always have the opportunity to evolve. But they're stupid, most of them, and engrained in their ways, and often you can't teach an old jotunn new tricks.

But this is certain : any jotunn who comes onto the battlefield at Ragnarok against the Gods shall be slain down to the last. So those giants who choose another side, and either stay out of the fight, or help the Gods out, stand a chance. Those who don't, those who choose to stand against the World-Tree, will be eradicated completely and utterly.

Of course the Multiverse is more complicated than the Lore. If you built a map that had all the detail of the universe, the map would be the size of the universe! The function of a map is to simplify and distill. The lore distills down basic perspectives on how we got to where we are now and what matters. It is mythopoetic in form. To confuse lore which is mythopoetic with knowledge that is scientific is a mistake. They function on two different levels.

Violence and combat are not the only ways to keep the giants at bay. There are tricks, there is wit, there is skill. For the elves, there is magic.

But remember that the giants do not just represent the frightening immensities of the world, but the brutalities that still live inside us, the atavistic savageries that make us act like we are bigger than everyone else and that the planet exists for our own consumption. The battle against those giants is internal.

In this regard, let me quote from an amazing work on anthropology that I will be citing and discussing in a blog entry soon, because it puts some perspective on what the war against the giants is all about :

"In egalitarian societies, which tend to place an enormous emphasis on creating and maintaining communal consensus, this often appears to spark a kind of equally elaborate reaction formation, a spectral nightworld inhabited by monsters, witches or other creatures of horror. And it’s the most peaceful societies which are also the most haunted, in their imaginative constructions of the cosmos, by constant specters of perennial war. The invisible worlds surrounding them are literally battlegrounds. It’s as if the endless labor of achieving consensus masks a constant inner violence— or, it might perhaps be better to say, is in fact the process by which that inner violence is measured and contained—and it is precisely this, and the resulting tangle of moral contradiction, which is the prime font of social creativity.... Some examples might help here:

Case 1: The Piaroa, a highly egalitarian society living along tributaries of the Orinoco which ethnographer Joanna Overing herself describes as anarchists. They place enormous value on individual freedom and autonomy, and are quite self-conscious about the importance of ensuring that no one is ever at another person’s orders, or the need to ensure no one gains such control over economic resources that they can use it to constrain others’ freedom. Yet they also insist that Piaroa culture itself was the creation of an evil god, a two-headed cannibalistic buffoon. The Piaroa have developed a moral philosophy which defines the human condi-
tion as caught between a “world of the senses,” of wild, pre-social desires, and a “world of thought.” Growing up involves learning to control and channel in the former through thoughtful consideration for others, and the cultivation of a sense of humor; but this is made infinitely more difficult by the fact that all forms of technical knowledge, however necessary for life are, due to their origins, laced with elements of destructive madness. Similarly, while the Piaroa are famous for their peaceableness—murder is unheard of, the assumption being that anyone who killed another human being would be instantly consumed by pollution and die horribly—they inhabit a cosmos of endless invisible war, in which wizards are engaged in fending off the attacks of insane, predatory gods and all deaths are caused by spiritual murder and have to be avenged by the magical massacre of whole (distant, unknown) communities.

...Case 3: Highland Madagascar, where I lived between 1989 and 1991 ...Society was overall remarkably peaceable. Yet once again it was surrounded by invisible warfare... Insofar as rituals of moral solidarity did occur, and the ideal of equality was invoked, it was largely in the course of rituals held to suppress, expel, or destroy ...witches...

Note how in each case there’s a striking contrast between the cosmological content, which is nothing if not tumultuous, and social process, which is all about mediation, arriving at consensus. ... To some degree, I suspect all this turbulence stems from the very nature of the human condition. There would appear to be no society which does not see human life as fundamentally a problem. However much they might differ on what they deem the problem to be, at the very least, the existence of work, sex, and reproduction are seen as fraught with all sorts of quandaries; human desires are always fickle; and then there’s the fact that we’re all going to die. So there’s a lot to be troubled by. None of these dilemmas are going to vanish if we eliminate structural inequalities (much though I think this would radically improve things in just about every other way).

... To sum up the argument so far, then: 1) Counterpower is first and foremost rooted in
the imagination; it emerges from the fact that all social systems are a tangle of contradictions,
always to some degree at war with themselves. Or, more precisely, it is rooted in the relation
between the practical imagination required to maintain a society based on consensus (as any
society not based on violence must, ultimately, be)—the constant work of imaginative identifi-
cation with others that makes understanding possible—and the spectral violence which appears to be its constant, perhaps inevitable corollary. 2) In egalitarian societies, counterpower might be
said to be the predominant form of social power. It stands guard over what are seen as certain frightening possibilities within the society itself: notably against the emergence of systematic forms of political or economic dominance. 2a) Institutionally, counterpower takes the form of what we would call institutions of direct democracy, consensus and mediation; that is, ways of publicly negotiating and controlling that inevitable internal tumult and transforming it into those social states (or if you like, forms of value) that society sees as the most desirable: conviviality,
unanimity, fertility, prosperity, beauty, however it may be framed."

---from David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago, 2004.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Morning Angel said...

There's so much to digest in these last posts of yours, SG. ...if only I had them in book form...

7:39 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Funny you should say that ... I've been considering compiling the best of the blog into a book, as most of my entries are not written as just in-the-moment fluff (although some are, mainly the rants), but as deep ur-thanc to come back to again and again. So ... stay tuned!

4:58 PM  

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