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Völuspá 21-26 Who is Gullveig-Heid? By William P. Reaves

Völuspá 21-26 Who is Gullveig-Heid? By William P. Reaves

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Article about the Völuspá verses 21-26 about a giantess-witch. Translated to Spanish by Mariela Oscoy.
Article about the Völuspá verses 21-26 about a giantess-witch. Translated to Spanish by Mariela Oscoy.

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Published by: Mariela Sjöfn Gna Oscoy on Oct 06, 2010
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11/11/2012

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Voluspa 21-26: Who is Gullveig-Heid?by William P. Reaves
Before moving on, I want to look back. Now is a good time to reflecton the witch Gullveig-Heid. I believe she has already appeared inVoluspa 8, as the "three giantesses" who bring an end to the GoldenAge and will appear again in verses 40-41 as "the Old One in theIronwood" breeding wolves who speed the onslaught of Ragnarok. LikeOdin, she is a central character in this poem, and may even be theVolva that Odin is consulting here. We know he has consulted herbefore in thepoem Baldur's Dreams. That poem identifies her as "themother of three monsters".Since Voluspa 21-26 seems to dwell on her, let's reflect and ask:Who is Gullveig-Heid?Professor Jónas Kristjánsson, the former Director of the ÁrniMagnússon Institute in Reykjavik, which is responsible for thepreservation and study of most of the Old Icelandic manuscripts heldthere, in his book "Icelandic Manuscripts: Sagas, History, and Art"(translated by Jeffrey Cosser; The Icelandic Literary Society, 1996)writes:"The narrative of Snorri's Edda is based for the most part on old
mythological poems, in particular Völuspá ("The Sibyl's Prophecy"). …
 Völuspá is a collection of vivid poetic visions, and was probablyrather enigmatic originally; in addition, it was in a poor state of preservation in Snorri's time. We have to be content with animperfect and patchy understanding of the old religion. But this doesnot entitle us to assume that the religion itself was correspondingly
 
primitive or incomplete. We must bear in mind that no extensivedirect information about the pagan religion was recorded until fullytwo centuries after the conversion to Christianity, and thegenerations which had come and gone meanwhile were, or were supposedto be, hostile to these pagan heresies.""It seems an inescapable conclusion that stories told in prose mustalways have existed alongside stories told in verse. Many of theheroic lays are shaped in such a way that it is evident the poetsassumed more knowledge of the subject-matter on the audience's partthan the poems themselves encompass: a whole legend is there as abackdrop to the verse."Elizabeth and Paul Barber in "When They Severed Earth from Sky"(2004, Princeton University Press) speak of a phenomenon in mythrelevant to what we are doing here. They write:"The only time such things that `everyone knows' ever get said uswhen we are trying to socialize children. This rule carries over inthe telling of myth. Why waste time saying what everyone knows? Geton with the informational parts of the story. But what a disasterthose omissions can lead to for the study of myth
for we, manycultures and centuries removed, may not know what the people whosemythology it is all knew so well and hence did not say. In short: TheLethe Effect. What is never said may eventually be forgottenentirely."It should be obvious from reading Völuspá, and I have cited scholarswho acknowledge it, that the Voluspa poet assumed the audience knewthe stories he was referring to, and knew them well-enough that afew, short cryptic sentences was all s/he needed to say to invokethem.
 
 Snorri provides no answers. He doesn't mention Gullveig and makes noreference to these verses or their content (CR 21-24).Is the key to understanding this once well-known myth still to befound? Does any other source make reference to it?We find another possible reference to Freyja actually having falleninto giant hands, and there, she is "given" to the Jotuns by atrusted servant.As I have presented in previous posts, in Book Seven of Saxo'shistory we meet the young hero Otharus (Odr) and his beloved Syritha(Syr). In these characters, previous scholars have seen Freyja andher husband Oðr. Snorri informs us that one of Freyja's many by namesis Syr (Sow) and that Freyja's husband is named Odr. The poemHyndluljod speaks of Freyja and Ottar, as lovers. Saxo's Otharus andSyritha are probably a memory of Odr and Freyja.In Saxo's story, Syritha is betrayed to the giants by a trustedhandmaiden. Yet the author is not sure if the handmaiden is a woman,or a man disguised as a woman. This suggests that the handmaidenmight have been of an androgynous nature. In our mythology, weencounter two androgynous beings in particular: one male and onefemale. The female sires children, while the male bears them. Theyare the giants Loki and Angrboda.In Gylfaginning 34, Snorri informs us:

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