Voluspa – A Symbolic Cross Section of an Ancient Norse Religious Poem – Part 2

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With the arrival of war, Asgard’s wall is broken. The inevitable result of this, of course is the eternal war with the Jotuns, but before we get to that, we need to take a look at what the wall represents and what it means to have it broken. The wall of Asgard separates the gods’ heights from the rest of the tree. It is both a fortification and a boundary separating one thing from another. It might even be argued that the only thing that makes Asgard Asgard is the wall, as the term itself can be translated as “enclosure of the Aesir” or “the yard of the Aesir”. An enclosure or a yard are defined by the wall around them, and so without the wall there is no As-‘gard’ per se. Without reading too deep into the symbolism, it is safe to say that the Aesir needed the wall in order to maintain the order of their kingdom, for without a boundary any force could easily pollute the purity of their essence.

Without a wall they would be easily subjected to the whims of forces more chaotic than themselves. The building of the wall is in itself another story, however it is significant to note that its building is vital to the Aesir in their battle against the Vanir, but also in the creation of the subsequent hostilities with the Jotuns that characterize the rest of history. Not only through the trickery involved in getting the wall built is this hostility begun, but also through the very fact that at this point the Aesir define themselves as a separate species from the Jotuns despite their common heritage. They have created a world of order where the Jotuns begat chaos, and formulated the adult persona where the Jotuns would remain selfish and stupid children forever. More significant to the Aesir-Vanir war is the idea that through defining themselves as separate, they also place the ideas of a well ordered egalitarian society above the more visceral and animal values of the fertility gods.

Through this process we also see the arrival of the Valkyries. They are the attending spirits of the future Einherjar. They are the shield maidens who act as intermediaries between the human and the Aesiric realms. They are referred to as the “Daughters of Odin”, however my own sources claim that they are of several types, some being former humans who have attained to a state of grace through virtuous action in life who are raised to a state of immortality in death by the will of Odin. They are said to be passed in families, though the truth may also be closer to them attending to certain individuals through many incarnations and re-incarnations over the centuries. They can be likened to the ‘holy guardian angel’ of hermetic tradition, though with an entirely different flavor.

Baldur’s arrival is next in the poem. He is the solar deity it is impossible to contemplate without thinking of the Christ. This is most likely to have been a result of Christian influence in Iceland during the recording of the Eddas. It was an influence which tainted the myths with the values and judgments of their Christian recorders. He is labeled ‘the bleeding god’ which may merely be a reference to the story of his death at the hands of Loki. From the perspective of the story’s scribes, however, there may have been a more direct attempt to draw parallels between Balder and Jesus. The mysteries of Balder are very similar to symbolism associated with Tiphareth, and it will be noted that Crowley placed him in that sphere in the table of correspondences with elephantitis known commonly as liber 777. With this inflated tome, Crowley attempted to show the essential unity of all religious iconography. Whether he succeeded in this or merely overlooked those essential idioms that define the individual, cultural, and geographical differences between those philosophies is anyone’s guess. At any rate, the heart centre is pierced by the one substance in the universe that Frigga overlooked as insignificant in her attempt to ensnare the wills of all beings in the universe towards sparing her son. The jealous Loki does everything in his power to bring about his demise in an underhanded way through guile. This may seem shocking to us if we consider the bile Loki must have been swallowing to bring him to a state of jealousy great enough to move him to murdering his fellow and pinning it on the victim’s unwilling and blind brother, Hodur. It was likely to have seemed even viler a course of action to a Viking warrior brought up in a culture which valued assertive directness as the highest virtue. To one so raised, acting with such venom through subtle suggestion rather than candor must have embodied the principle of all that was wrong in the world. That it would be a member of the victim’s intimates so acting would compound that shock.

The weapon used to kill Balder is mistletoe. This is curious, as the weapon fashioned from the mistletoe was a sharp and slender dart which would have been very difficult if not impossible to have made from the weak and slender boughs of the European mistletoe plant, but Loki is a god and we have to assume that he has the magical power to make whatever he wants out of pretty much whatever he wants. Mistletoe was also thought of as being a panacea by the druids, which would mean that its healing powers would have been perverted by Loki into murderous instruments. At this point Loki’s creative power is entirely perverted into a cruel aspect by his jealousy of the other gods’ love of Balder. This is consistent with the mysteries of Tiphareth, which relates both to healing and to self-sacrifice. Raphael’s Spear of Destiny is both the bringer of great pain and the balm of quick release to the dying Christ. In a third aspect it is the caduceus of the gods of medicine.

Vali is born of Odin’s vengeance at this moment. Well, a short while after, anyways. One version is that he uses seidcraft to beget Vali on Rind. Whatever his origins, Vali is born to vengeance. Vali’s life story can be read a warning against acting rashly in a spirit of vengefulness. Instead of killing the actual perpetrator of the crime, Loki (radbandi), he instead slays the handbandi, Hodur the blind. The term ‘handbandi’ refers to the actual perpetrator in terms of whose hand strikes the blow. Hodur of course is innocent of everything aside from having been duped, and as another son of Odin’s would have had value within the society that would make his loss felt deeply. Actually, he was one of the Aesir who seemed to have not been granted a station or a realm of power in any written record, but I haven’t asked him. This story may also be read in light of Odin being trapped by the very nature of his station. His honour compels him to follow through on his word to avenge his son, even at the cost of another son whose innocence was well known. This in itself lends further weight to the impression of Loki’s guile, as his genius has hatched a plot he was sure to get away with, even while gloating openly about his involvement. Nordic ideas concerning the honour of one’s word are reflected in the Saga of Hrafnkel Frey’s Godi, where Hrafnkel slays a beloved servant for riding a horse he has anointed to the service of Frey. He does this directly after the same servant finds and brings home many of Hrafnkel’s lost sheep on the back of this horse, and in full foresight of the difficulties with the family of the deceased that would arise as a result of this action. Hrafnkel’s word is as important to him as Odin’s is to him at the time, though later he swears off belief in the gods perhaps by his own rash actions which he thought were in their service.

Loki’s gloating, though is not long lived, for in the next stanza we come across his punishment. He is tied to a rock with the entrails of his son Narvi with Sigyn holding a cup over his face to prevent the venom dripping from teeth of the venomous serpent that hangs above him. Sigyn is another reflection of the selflessness of Tiphareth in this act, as she bears Loki’s scorn while acting to ease his suffering. This is both a note about how even the cruelest of monsters is loved by someone, and a depiction of the role of the martyr in the Norse tradition. Sigyn’s duty is tedious and unappreciated. One almost wants her to throw the cup in his face and walk off on her own way. Instead, she stays, in the same way that victims of spousal abuse remain in unpleasant relationships out of fear of reprisal, and compassion for their oppressor.

Loki is of Jotun birth himself, but imbued with Aesiric power by becoming blood brothers with Odin. Once he took aspect as a god, he was imbued with their creative magical force. He was also never really accepted as ‘one of them’ due to his Jotun heritage and turned treacherous as a result of social isolation and the nagging thought that nobody was taking him seriously enough. Loki is seen in several aspects as a result of the process of his life. He goes from friend and companion, through to entertaining trickster into conniver, adulterer, zoophile, murderer, and finally herald of the forces of complete destruction that come to destroy the Aesir and end of all life in the universe. His darker aspects are bound by the Aesir who can’t allow him to go unpunished for his crimes against them, or to have free reign due to the inimical and destructive character of Loki’s use of his powers.

From Loki’s prison beneath the earth, we then travel deeper into the shadow to a series of halls. Through the Venom Valley along the jagged rocks banking the river Gruesome we come to the first hall, that of Sindri’s kin in Darkdale (Nidavellir). All of this imagery is of shadow material; of opposition with an overt tone reflecting horror. That being said, it is unclear from the material who Sindri is. Whether he is a giant, or a dwarf, or even the hall of gold itself is unstated. The imagery of darkness, venom and horror would be consistent with what we know of the Jotuns, however there is no source which will tell us definitively, and his name does not appear in any of the stories in my knowledge aside from Voluspa. The name “Sindri” means “slag”, which tells us little that we could not glean from the other hints we have already discussed, except that the reference to smelting ore would point at the dark elves. His hall stands in Nidavellir which may be a reference to the fields of the dwarf “Nidi” which supports the theory of Sindri as a dwarf. Even if Nidavellir is not Nidi’s field but merely a dark field, then it may still support this theory as the dwarves were lovers of darkness. The fact that the hall is adorned with gold is also a signifier of dwarven presence, but we can not be completely sure without traveling there ourselves. There is certainly a consistency between the images of Sindri’s hall and descriptions of Svartalfheim.

The second hall on this leg of our journey is that of Brimir, the giant in Okolnir (‘Everfrost’ or ‘Uncold’ seem strangely contradictory translations). Brimir may be an alternative name for Ymir. This is suggested by the term ‘brim’ in his name which can be translated as ‘surf’ or ‘seaway’, reflecting the creation of the sea from Ymir’s blood. He may also be another Jotun altogether. His hall is a beer hall and one can surmise a place of celebration, or the Jotun equivalent thereof. I imagine it is the sort of celebration where a lot of dishes get smashed, food and refuse spilled on the floor, and weaklings tormented, perhaps to death….

The third hall is described in much more detail than the other two, and from here we end up in the very depths of the Qlipphothic world. In fact, from the point where we experience the death of the most beloved of the Aesir, Balder, we have been traveling into territory that from the point of view of the QBLH would be categorized as Qlipphothic, or underworld territory. It shows the perversion of the Sephirothic worlds on the tree of life by the addition of too much judgment. In the Nordic mythology it appears as though the source of evil in the world is not an overabundance of judgment, but of either coldness or heat. Both were forces inimical to life, though also an integral part of it, as we have seen earlier in the story. Coldness through concretion to the point where the spirit can not exist due to a lack of the power to move, like stone, ego, or…well…ice. Fire went from animating and warming to burning and incinerating. There also seem to be emotional parallels in envy, anti-social behaviors, murderous intent and psychosis. The realms below the surface of the earth… the root realms, became a place where these forces called home. They were simultaneously around and inside us, as all the other realms on the tree find their place of action in Midgard.

The third hall exists in a sunless realm on Nastrond (‘Corpse-strand”) where no sun ever reaches. This is where Nidhogg chews on the social rejects and generally nasty people inside a toxic palace who’s every surface is lined with serpentine armour. Among the vices punished in this place are vile murder, treachery, and working ill with married women. The same serpent who minces the roots of the tree with his molars uses the same force to punish those parts of the soul that are attached to regret through moments of weakness of character. The second tormentor is the deer hunting hoodie tearing the hated apart.

East of there lies a Jotun woman in Ironwood bearing the brood of Fenrir. These are Loki’s children committing the most atrocious acts by inbreeding with giant evil deer hunting hoodie gods in the hopes of destroying the sun and terminating life everywhere forever. This is the darkest aspect of human nature exemplified. This is the world of omnicide, complete corruption and total malevolence. It is Hel and her realm is Hel. Here the giant’s watchmen Eggther plays the harp and keeps watch over all of the Underworld. He is called in one translation “the giant’s warder” and seems almost a shadow version of Heimdal who guards the Aesir. Perhaps it is also a boon to the other side that the giants’ watchman is always slacking off from work to play music. This places many gaps in Eggther’s watchfulness I’m sure Thor would take advantage of on his fearless and frequent excursions into the heart of Ironwood to hunt the enemy. The Giants also have a soot red hen to warn them of the coming of Ragnarok.

Hel herself is an enigmatic figure. She is the daughter of Loki and Angrboda. Angrboda (“offerer-of-sorrows”) is a giantess from Jotunheim who has become the mother of monsters by becoming Loki’s consort. We don’t hear very much about Angrboda’s actions, although there are several times in the stories where giantesses are consulted or confronted, and although they are not named, it is easy to see that they could be Angrboda acting in disguise. Perhaps it is also indicative of her shadowy aspect which avoids direct scrutiny by fogging awareness in order to work in secret against the defenders of the Troth. She is condemned by this act to work in secret, and Loki’s shadow self is bound to a rock in punishment, leaving all the direct work to Hel. She is also granted station in Helheim by Odin’s grace, and so in her own right may also be considered a goddess. She rules the land of the dead, which may not be that bad a place to live, if you don’t mind never eating enough and endless toil baking undesirables to feed the deer hunting hoodie children, or acting as a will-less womb for a surrogate fiend, but its not as bad as being eaten yourself. The wages suck, the hours are long, the product is pointless and is made by slave labour out of the rape of nature, your boss takes his shit out on you while taking credit for your work, but at least you’re not being torn apart and tortured by wolves and serpents.

After working our way through the underworld of the present, we move into Skuld’s realm in the distant future of the tree. There we begin to see the glimmering fires of Ragnarokkr. Ragnarokkr (‘twilight of the gods’) is sometimes referred to as ‘Ragnarok (‘judgment of the powers’) though I judge that translation (in full knowledge of the irony) to put too much emphasis on the powers of judgment, and therefore to miss the point somewhat. The first term is a very succinct means of referring to the end of the gods’ time as rulers in a way that avoids the judgment which may be the focus of catholic dogma. From my experience, judgment is not that much of a concern to those who are self determining, as the ideals of Nordic culture would have one be. So it is not judgment that the gods submit to in the end, it is the inevitable actions of their own Nornic force: their Wyrd and the Orlog demand that all things must end, and so despite their station as divine beings, they too must submit to the inevitable. As soon as the tree has been polarized into the world above and the world below, it becomes clear that those forces that seem to be in opposition are in fact mirrors of each other. The underworld forces listed above are strangely similar to their counterparts in Asgard. When Gullinkambi, the rooster of the Aesir, crows, so does Eggther’s soot red hen. The Gjallerhorn resounds warning the Aesir of the oncoming fray, and likewise, Garm’s howls fill the subterranean caverns with the siren’s retort. As otherworldly tensions rise, things in Midgard become aggravated. Everyone seems to choose sides, depending on what their natural proclivities attract in terms of harmonic resonance with otherworldly forces. We see the fiends bound by the Aesir freeing themselves from the fetters they were placed in, allowing the suppressed material to rise to the surface and burst into manifestation. As this occurs, the bonds of civilization also seem to release their hold on people’s actions leading to a state of anarchy and violence in the world as things begin to heat up in anticipation of the coming deluge of fire. What then follows is a list of cataclysmic imagery similar to many other dystopian views and prophecies of the ‘end times’ in many cultures. Violence, rage, environmental cataclysm and merciless selfishness ravage the surface of Midgard, making life difficult, and perhaps reflecting the nature of the dying on a macroscopic scale. The whole tree shakes as it readies itself for the oncoming state shift.

The gods meet their negative counterparts and both are destroyed in the meeting. With the destruction of the gods who represent different aspects of the cosmos, those aspects also come to an end. Odin “speaks with the head of Mimir before he is swallowed by Surt’s kin”. Mimir is an old companion of Odin, so beloved and respected by the Allfather that he had his head pickled in death to keep him company and act as oracle through the rest of time. We wonder what Odin is whispering in this instance with the same sense of mystery that we wonder what he told Baldur on his pyre. Surt’s kin here is most often taken as a kenning for Fenrir. Later, it is mentioned that Odin “fares to fight with the wolf” which supports the idea that it is Fenrir that he meets at his demise but there are some shadows of doubt in my mind on this matter. It would seem to me that due to their previous conflict that Fenrir and Tyr would make more suitable enemies, and perhaps this is the case in older versions of the tale from times when Tyr was worshipped as the chieftain of the gods before his cult was supplanted by the Odinic one. Who then is suitable to act as Odin’s counterpart in lieu of that is open to suggestion. At a stretch, the term ‘the wolf’ can be thought of in light of the fact that one of Odin’s emblems is the wolf, which might indicate that Odin is his own undoer.

Hrym arrives, lifting up his shield. This heralds the meeting of the eagle and the serpent who live in the upper branches and among the roots of Yggdrasil respectively. They have been building ire at each other throughout time due to Ratatosk’s gossip and meet in a final confrontation that shakes the seas. Naglfar, the ship of the dead, arrives, bringing Surt’s armies to the battlefield to fight the Einherjar. Loki is at its helm, signifying both his release from his fetters, and his having shifted into his final and deadliest aspect, that of the trickster of the battlefield.

Surt is killed by “the killer of Beli” who we know to be Frey. He is without his sword, having sacrificed it in order to win his giant bride in Skirnisparmal. By one account Surt is killed with ‘the antlers of a hart’ which seem perfect for a fertility god. The antlers may be one of the most emblematically masculine aspects of the deer, especially relevant in spring when the bucks are head-butting for dominance of the pack hierarchy. Another aspect of the antler is its tendency in some species to go through a yearly molting process similar to menstruation. Whatever its gender, a quick glance at the rack of the reindeer and you get an idea of the brutality which might result from fashioning a mace from their antlers.

In all processes of change, a distinguishable pattern is determinable. This can be characterized by the changes brought about in colloidal suspensions by submitting them to increasing sound frequencies. Starting at the bottom of the octave, and gradually increasing the sound frequency being projected at a colloidal suspension produces an interesting result. At first a single hole will appear somewhere in the suspension. As the frequency is increased semi-tone by semi-tone, more holes appear, as well as some peaks in the suspension as the mixture reacts to the sonic vibrations in the air around it. The frequency increases, and the patterns in the suspension become more complex. They begin with a duality (hole and peak) and gradually, through increasing complexity become a seemingly ordered pattern similar to fractal maps emerges. At a certain stage, at the top of the octave, near the change of state into the next octave, the pattern becomes so complex that there is no pattern discernable. Old structures in the suspension are destroyed by seemingly random fluctuations, then as the frequency moves into the second octave, it demolishes itself completely, then begins again in the second octave, with a similar dynamic, but with new patterns to replace the old ones. This is very similar to what has occurred through the entire poem of Voluspa, beginning with the blank slate of Gunningagap moving into the primary duality of fire and ice (peak and trough), intensifying complexity into a state of pattern and order through the Aesir-Vanir war and the events that follow, falling into chaos, disorder and cataclysm at the oncoming of Ragrarokkr, and finally reorganizing themselves in a new order as the children of the gods and the humans who hid within Yggdrasil’s trunk make a new world for themselves.

Also, throughout the poem it seems as though there were a description emerging of a mythical psychocosm. The nine worlds are described corresponding to archetypal moods or modes of perception in a descending order from the primal spark of the basic underlying void, through the duality of fire and ice, and through the histories of the Aesir. This process changes to the underworld descriptions of shadow spaces once Frigga’s Lament for her fallen son is described, and through the various hell realms of the repressed matter in the Nordic psyche. Finally, the end of time is described as the beginning of a new cycle. This process is congruent with many other maps of change, like the I ching, or the Tibetan book of the dead. It also bears an eerie similarity to the shamanic and folk traditions still prevalent in Katmandu, where Indra rides eight legged horses through the air while hurling his thunder axe (phurba) at his enemies.

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write by Erasmus