The Masks of Odin by Elsa-Brita Titchenell
Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.

Chapter 13

Vafrudnismal

(The Lay of Illusion)

TEXT

TRANSLATOR'S NOTES

This is one of several lays and stories that treat of the illusory nature of the worlds of matter wherein consciousness is deceived. Vaftrudnir means "he who enwraps in riddles." It is a theme which recognizes the fallibility of our sense perceptions. Hindu scriptures also emphasize the deceptive nature of matter. In Sanskrit, illusion is called maya, a word derived from ma, which means to measure, hence it refers to anything that is limited, that can be measured, however large or small. This applies to both space and time and to all things existing in space-time. Only infinite space in eternal duration, beginningless, endless, boundless, and unimaginable, can in truth be called Reality. The seeming duality of space-time is itself illusory — inescapable phenomenon pertaining to finite existence however vast in scope and however much we try to reach beyond it in consciousness.

It is important to realize that illusion does not mean nonexistence. Illusion exists; illusory things exist; we are surrounded by illusions and in fact are very much a part of the illusory universe. So accustomed are we to taking certain fallacies for reality that we are hardly aware of them. For instance, science tells us that matter is mostly holes — minute particles moving rapidly in proportionately large volumes of seemingly empty space. Our senses disagree with this knowledge as a stubbed toe will readily confirm, yet we do not doubt the structure of matter built of atoms we have never seen. We see a beautiful sunset and watch the redgold globe of light disappear beneath the horizon, though we are aware it had already disappeared eight minutes earlier because the light we see took eight minutes to reach us across some 93 million miles of space. We see a red flower because it absorbs all but the red rays of light; what we see are the colors the petals have rejected. We also perceive things differently one from another. Since the senses report to the mind and feelings of a personality, their report is largely dependent on the attitudes, moods, understanding, and predisposing experience of the individual. Because of our differences in outlook, someone who knows more than we do — a specialist in any field unfamiliar to us — appears to perform feats of magic.

Nonetheless truth must exist: the universe exists, hence knowledge about it also exists. In the Lay of Illusion, the god-self, Odin, the searching, probing consciousness, enters worlds of matter, descending through cosmic shelves of substantial existence to face the giant Vaftrudnir and "see how his hall is furnished," for it is by traversing spheres of matter that divine consciousness gains the mead of wisdom which nourishes the gods. But Odin refuses to settle on the bench in the hall of Illusion. Consciousness is not at home in this sphere.

During the first half of the tale (11-19) it is Vaftrudnir who questions the god: matter is being informed, inspirited, is growing and learning from the entering consciousness who here calls himself Gagnrad (gainful counsel). In the latter portion it is Odin who learns, questioning the giant until at the final denouement the visitor reveals himself as Allfather. This is essentially the course of events related in many scriptures: first, the spiritual giving its energies and impulses to the material, organizing and building forms for its habitation and imbodying in them. Thereafter it is matter which is drawn inward, as it were, lending substance to the growing, perfecting, and enlarging of spiritual nature. Thus the two sides of existence are forever related and paired, with the tendency being first one way, then the other. The consciousness which has entered the realm of the giant, even though it may temporarily be captivated by the webs of illusion, will, as Vaftrudnir says of Njord, "in the fullness of ages . . . return home with the wisdom of woe" (39). So shall we all.

Vaftrudnir is taught, and we are reminded, that the grounds of the gods and those of the giants are separated only by the everflowing stream called Doubt, whereon no ice-bridge can ever form; also that the eternal battlefield (life), where the destructive and the beneficent forces do battle in man and nature, exists for that very purpose. The god is here indicating the course of evolution of beings whereby the matter-side of existence can earn access to the "ground of the beneficent gods."

Thereafter the giant world cedes its wisdom as Odin elicits the story of the past creation from his host. Verse 23 gives Mundilfore as the parent of sun and moon and indicates their use as a measure of years. Mundilfore is the "lever," or axis, that rotates the galactic sphere, the central power that imparts motion to our Milky Way. The next response, in verse 25, speaks not only of the terrestrial day and night but also of the moon's phases, which are named also in Voluspa. It is a small hint, but we may surmise without undue temerity that the bards possessed some knowledge of astronomy and of seasonal events sufficiently important to be included in the time capsule of the myths. Verse 42 is remarkably revealing when we consider that this is the giant responding: the matter of nine worlds is he, stemming from the "hells below Niflhel" — the rootless root of matter.

In contrast with this, the spiritual human element "Life and Survivor . . . lie concealed in the memory hoard of the sun" during the long Fimbulvetr, the cold winter of inactivity when life is gone with the gods (44) from our ecosystem. They will be fed morning dew and bring to birth the ages to come. Here again we see a new life following the death of the present system of worlds. Those who are now Aesir will be succeeded by their offspring, a new Thor and a new Odin (in his son Vidar), who will "avenge the death" of the Father of Ages.

At last Odin reveals his identity by asking the unanswerable question — unanswerable by anyone but the deity himself: What had Odin whispered in the dead sun-god's ear? Well may we wonder what secret was perpetuated beyond the realm of death by the Allfather of past and future worlds.


Vaftrudnismal

1. ODIN: Advise me, Frigg, as I wish to journey
Vaftrudnir, the riddler, (1) to seek in his hall!
I crave to sound the ancient wisdom
Of him, the all-wise titan.

2. FRIGG: At home would I rather see Hostfather tarry,
In the courts of the gods;
For no other giant I know has the equal
Of Vaftrudnir's power.

3. ODIN: Much have I traveled, much have I tested;
Much from the various powers I learned.
Now I will study in Vaftrudnir's hall
How that one is furnished.

4. FRIGG: Fortune go with you, and then, in returning,
May happiness be on the roads that you take!
Nor fail you your wits, oh, Father of Ages,
When you Vaftrudnir engage in debate.

5. Hence journeyed Odin to probe by a discourse
The wisdom and wit of the all-knowing titan:
Arrived at the hall of the father of Im,
Forthwith the Thinker entered therein.

6. ODIN: Hail thee, Vaftrudnir, here am I come
In your own hall to see you.
First would I know if it's wise you are
Or all-knowing, giant?

7. VAFTRUDNIR: Who is this man, who in my hall
Hurls such words at me?
Never shall you leave this place
If you are not the wiser.

8. ODIN: Gagnrad (2) is my name. I am come on foot
And athirst to your hall;
I have wandered afar and need a welcome
And your hospitality, giant.

9. VAFTRUDNIR: Why stand you, then, Gagnrad, and speak from the floor?
Step forward and sit in the hall.
Then shall we measure whether the stranger
Or this old bard is more knowing.

10. GAGNRAD: A poor man who comes to a rich man's house
Should be silent or wisely speak;
Idle talk serves him ill
Who comes to a cold-ribbed (3) host.

11. VAFTRUDNIR: Tell me then, Gagnrad, as you from the floor
Will try your success:
What name has that steed that draws each day
Over the sons of the ages?

12. GAGNRAD: Brightmane is he; the rose-colored one
Draws the day over the sons of ages;
Held the most excellent steed by the people;
His mane ever radiates sunlight.

13. VAFTRUDNIR: Tell me, then, Gagnrad, as you from the floor
Will try your success:
What name has that steed that draws from the east
The night over useful powers?

14. GAGNRAD: Frostmane is the steed that draws in space
Each night over useful powers;
Each morning the froth falls from his bridle:
Thence drops the dew in the dells.

15. VAFTRUDNIR: Tell me Gagnrad, as you from the floor
Will try your success:
What name has that stream that is shared and divides
The grounds of the gods and the titans?

16. GAGNRAD: Doubt is the stream that is shared and divides
The grounds of the gods and the titans;
He shall run free and open forever;
No ice ever forms on that river.

17. VAFTRUDNIR: Tell me, then, Gagnrad, as you from the floor
Will try your success:
What name has that plain where the battle is fought
Between Surt and the beneficent gods?

18. GAGNRAD: Vigrid is the plain where the battle is fought
Between Surt and the beneficent gods.
One hundred days' journey on every side,
That plain is created for them.

19. VAFTRUDNIR: Wise are you, guest. Go to the bench
And let us speak, seated together.
Our heads we shall wager here in the hall
On our wisdom and wit, Guest.

CAPITULUM

20. GAGNRAD: Tell me first, if your wit suffices,
And, Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
Whence came the earth or the heaven above it,
First, thou knowing giant?

21. VAFTRUDNIR: Of Ymer's flesh was the earth formed,
The mountains were built of his bones;
Of the frost-cold giant's brainpan heaven,
And the billowing seas of his blood.

22. GAGNRAD: Tell me second, if your wit suffices,
And, Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
Whence came the moon that over men wanders,
Or likewise the sun?

23. VAFTRUDNIR: Mundilfore is father of moon
And equally so of the sun;
Both are borne across heaven each day
To measure the years for man.

24. GAGNRAD: Tell me thirdly, as you are called knowing,
Vaftrudnir if you know it:
Whence comes the day that moves over men
And the night with its dark of waning?

25. VAFTRUDNIR: Dawn it is that fathers the Day,
While Night is the daughter of Dusk.
Waxing and Waning the useful powers
Made for man's measure of ages.

26. GAGNRAD: Tell me fourthly, as you are named forewise,
Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
Whence came the winter or the warm summer
First to the forewise powers?

27. VAFTRUDNIR: Windcool is named the father of Winter
But Mild is the summer's sire; (4)

28. GAGNRAD: Tell me fifthly, as you are named pastwise,
Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
Who first of the Aesir's or Ymer's kin
Arose in the times of old?

29. VAFTRUDNIR: Unnumbered winters ere earth was formed
Was Bargalmer born;
His father, it's said, was Trudgalmer;
Orgalmer his father's sire.

30. GAGNRAD: Tell me sixthly, as you are named knowing,
Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
Whence came Orgalmer first among giant-sons
In the dawn of time, wise giant?

31. VAFTRUDNIR: From Elivagor (5) sprang drops of venom,
Until they became a giant; (6)

32. GAGNRAD: Tell me seventhly, as you are named skillful,
Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
How begat offspring the bold giant,
As he had known no giantess?

33. VAFTRUDNIR: By degrees from the word of the frostgiant grew
Man and maid together;
Foot mated with foot and bore to the giant
A many-headed son.

34. GAGNRAD: Tell me eighthly, as you are named pastwise,
Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
What is the first you remember or earliest know,
Thou all-wise giant?

35. VAFTRUDNIR: Unnumbered winters ere earth was formed,
Bargalmer was born;
The first I remember, the forewise giant
Was laid in the flour-bin. (7)

36. GAGNRAD: Tell me ninthly, as you are called clever,
Vaftrudnir, if you know it:
Whence comes the wind that wafts on the wave,
Though himself unseen?

37. VAFTRUDNIR: Rasvalg is perched at the end of the heavens,
A giant in eagle guise;
From his wings are wafted the wandering winds
That howl o'er the human host.

38. GAGNRAD: Tell me tenthly, as the gods' fates thou knowest,
Vaftrudnir, to the full:
Whence came Njord to the Asa-sons? He reigns over courts
And sanctuaries, begotten of Asa-stock.

39. VAFTRUDNIR: In the home of the Vaner wise powers created
And sent him as hostage to the gods;
In the fullness of ages he shall return
Home with the wisdom of woe.

40. GAGNRAD: Tell me eleventhly, where the heroes
Each day slay one another:

VAFTRUDNIR: They select the Chosen, ride from the battle,
Then sit reconciled together.

41. GAGNRAD: Tell me twelfthly, Vaftrudnir, how the endless reach
You know of the gods' destiny.
Of eons' runes and of the gods'
You say what is truest, allwise giant.

42. VAFTRUDNIR: Of giants' runes as well as of gods'
The truth I tell;
For I have come into nine worlds, from hells below
Deepest Niflhel.

43. GAGNRAD: Much have I traveled, much have I tested,
Much from the various powers I learned:
What humans live when for man has expired
The dread Fimbul-winter?

44. VAFTRUDNIR: Life and Survivor, but they lie concealed
In the memory-hoard of the sun.
Morning dew is their food, and from them will be born
Ages to come.

45. GAGNRAD: Much have I traveled, much have I tested,
Much from the various powers I learned:
Whence will come the sun on a trackless sky
When Fenris has overtaken this one?

46. VAFTRUDNIR: One daughter only the Elf-wheel bears
Before Fenris o'ertakes her;
The radiant maid shall ride her mother's roads
When the gods are gone.

47. GAGNRAD: Much have I traveled, much have I tested,
Much from the various powers I learned:
Who are the maids who, o'er watery waste
Unerringly find the way?

48. VAFTRUDNIR: Three mighty rivers flow through the lands
Of the maids of the son-in-law seeker: (8)
They are hamingjor in their own right
Though they were fostered by giants.

49. GAGNRAD: Much have I traveled, much have I tested,
Much from the various powers I learned:
Which of the Aesir remain as gods
When the flames of Surt have subsided?

50. VAFTRUDNIR: Vidar and Vale shall dwell in the shrines of the gods
When the flames of Surt have subsided.
Mode and Magne shall then have Mjolnir
And do Vingner's (9) work.

51. GAGNRAD: Much have I traveled, much have I tested,
Much from the various powers I learned:
What shall become of Odin the aged,
When the rulers' reign is riven?

52. VAFTRUDNIR: The wolf shall devour the Father of Ages,
But Vidar shall come to avenge him;
Vidar shall cleave the icy jaws
With Vingner's sacred weapon. (10)

53. GAGNRAD: Much have I traveled, much have I tested,
Much from the various powers I learned:
What whispered Odin in the ear of his son, (11)
As the latter was borne on the pyre?

54. VAFTRUDNIR: None knows what you in the foretime spoke
At the pyre in the ear of your son.
With the lips of one dead have I told my tale,
Runes of old and of Ragnarok.


Chapter 14

Contents


FOOTNOTES:

1. Vaftrudnir: weaver of the webs of illusion. (return to text)

2. Gainful counsel. (return to text)

3. Cunning. (return to text)

4. The rest of the verse is missing in Codex Regius. (return to text)

5. Icicle waves. (return to text)

6. The rest of the verse is missing in Codex Regius. (return to text)

7. Mill: dissolver and creator of matter. (return to text)

8. Or kin-seeker. (return to text)

9. Thor. (return to text)

10. Mjolnir, Thor's Hammer. (return to text)

11. Balder. (return to text)