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

Chapter 16


(Grimner's Lay)



This may be the most explicit esoteric instruction concerning the composition of worlds to be found in any extant mythology. It compares well with the descriptions of the inward nature of our universe found in other sources, such as the Qabbalah and the Persian and Hindu scriptures; indeed, if we have The Secret Doctrine as a touchstone, Grimner's teaching is startlingly outspoken.

Odin in disguise (Grimner means hooded, disguised) explains to his pupil Agnar the construction of our universe from the loftiest levels of divinity to the basest matter worlds, rounding out the sketchy picture drawn in Voluspa regarding the creative and destructive processes that go on in a universe. The astrology of the myths is not concerned with birth charts and personal predictions. It deals with the properties of living worlds, with the character and functions of their planetary deities and the interrelationships and vital forces that circulate through and among the heavenly bodies.

In Grimnismal we find the earth's two earliest races growing under direct divine supervision, Agnar, the elder, being trained by Frigga, mother of the Aesir, and Geirrod, the younger, by Odin. Allfather causes Geirrod to usurp Agnar's place — the second humanity to supersede the first. There is an exact parallel in the Old Testament where Rebekah is told: "two nations are in thy womb and two manner of people. . . . one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). Then follows the familiar story of Esau who sold his birthright to his younger twin.

The third humanity is symbolized by the son of Geirrod, also named Agnar, who is instructed by Grimner, now named Varatyr (God of Being or God-that-is). The lad, having earned this privilege by an act of kindness, is taught of the formation and composition of the solar system: its "shelves" of substances, seen and unseen "planes" of theosophic literature — and the courts, halls, or mansions which are the dwellings of their respective gods. The characteristics of these mansions of divine powers are very ingeniously suggested, though no words could give an adequate understanding of their properties: human awareness simply does not include the rates of vibration that fall, whether near or far, outside the range of our sense perceptions. Until we develop the appropriate senses to cognize such substances we must be content to regard the spheres as apt homes for the powers that use them.

The first world named is Trudheim — "a holy land, near to the Aesir and the elves" (4). Its god, Trudgalmer, is that aspect of the triune deity which corresponds to Vishnu, the sustaining power of the Hindu trimurti (1) or divine triad. The other two are Orgalmer which, like the Hindu Brahma, is the outpouring, expansive force, the "creator," while the third, Bargalmer, fruitage of a life, parallels Siva, the destroyer-regenerator. The three are clearly being the three aspects of the motive force, whether in a universe or any other entity, which expresses itself as constant change. The descriptions of the twelve homes of the gods are subject to many interpretations; they can apply to the twelve directions in space which are most commonly designated as zodiacal influences, and also to the planetary powers through whose modifying characters these influences are filtered before we receive them; they may also refer to the unseen traits of our terrestrial deity, which correspond to all of the above and are modified by them. Analogy is a valid guide to understanding myths, provided it's not distorted or carried to extremes. As the twelve deities named in Grimnismal vary greatly in their attributes, it is not surprising to find included such diverse characters as Ull and Trym, respectively the highest, most spiritual sphere of life in our terrestrial system, and the one most deeply sunk in matter, the globe we at present inhabit.

It is well to remind ourselves that we are dealing with qualitative forces having infinitely diverse characteristics, not personages, however magnified. Perhaps if we could study cosmic processes and their dynamic powers on their own levels we might so perceive them, but from our human, microcosmic viewpoint they can be only dimly imagined as principles belonging to the solar universe. The figures in the myths are anthropomorphized — even by merely being named — and can give us only the vaguest approximation of their true characters and functions. Just so does the zodiacal symbology supply only the dimmest suggestions as to the various fields of influence that dominate the different directions in space. We simply are not equipped to distinguish them.

The lays are not always sequentially clear, and we find ourselves suddenly plunged into a sketchy mention of Valhalla where Odin's warriors are fed the three boars — the results of their conquests on the earth which, as we have seen, is symbolized by a boar in the Norse as well as other mythologies. Their names, Andrimner, Sarimner, and Eldrimner, respectively breath (air, spirit), sea (water, mind), and fire (heat, desire and will), constitute a symbol within a symbol as these characteristics apply to the composition both of nature and of man. When verse 18 is paraphrased: "spirit lets mind be steeped in desire and free will; few know what nourishes the One-harriers," the deduction is that the conquerors of self are nourished by a progressive and purposeful sublimation of the desires and will. This is psychology of a high order. It gives substance and purpose to human evolution as progressive change, and affords a powerful incentive for growth to the human soul. Far beyond the notion that evolution pertains merely to bodies, there is here a realization that what evolves is the consciousness of beings, and that in the human kingdom free will plays a significant part in this process. The instruction and training of Agnar has as its practical application the promoting of an understanding of the role he — the human soul — has to play in the cosmic drama.

Odin describes his two hounds, Gere and Freke (19), his constant companions. He feeds them, Greed and Gluttony, though he himself lives on wine alone, wine or mead being used to denote wisdom. Thus the god supports and uses animal nature, though himself sustained by wisdom alone. The New Testament affords a parallel in the familiar story of the wedding in Cana, where Jesus transformed water (ritual observances) into wine (spiritual teaching). Odin's ravens, Hugin and Munin, also describe aspects of consciousness essential for gaining experience. Hugin means mind in all the many connotations in which that word is commonly used: mental proficiency is only one of its meanings; it can also be used for purpose, intent, mood, attitude, disposition — all of which apply to Hugin. Munin too has many meanings, memory being chief of these. Without memory there would be no modification of the mind. It is on such modification caused by cumulative experience that intelligence feeds and proficiency is gained, character is altered, and evolution proceeds. We are always building on the awareness of events gone by. But more than that: Munin also determines motivation, the primary factor in directing the mind and subsequent action. It is Hugin that is in danger of entrapment on its excursions, but the fear for Munin is eternal.

Allfather speaks of Tund, the river of time, which forms the moat surrounding Valhalla. Therein cavorts Tjodvitner's fish — humanity. Tjodvitner is one of the names of Fenris, the wolf sired by Loki, all the brutish spawn of the undisciplined mind. It is the werewolf that is forever fishing for human souls to draw them astray. Those who succeed in crossing the river are faced with the "Gate of Choice" or "Gate of Death," whose latch can be opened by few and which, as we have seen, leads to the Hall of the Elect — Valhalla.

Grimner then explains to his disciple how the Tree of Life is constituted and the perils to which it is subject. There has been no attempt to translate the names of all the rivers of lives. Suffice it that among them are such appellations as Waywise and War (in several forms), which suggest the characteristics of the various kingdoms of beings and their standing on the evolutionary scale. Only a few of the clearer meanings are proposed. Untranslated names, except those explained elsewhere, are rendered in italics. Then follow the names of the steeds of the gods.

The final "blessing of Ull on him who first touches the fire" implies a promise of human perfectibility. It is a reminder that the unmanifest world of Ull — the acme of divinity in the system to which our earth belongs — is accessible. The "fire" of this uncreated "cold" world of pure consciousness can hardly be explained in terms that would be comprehensible in our existence, but the words give us an inkling of the reaches our essential self may attain.

The final verses of Grimnismal need no explanation. In them the father of gods and men reveals his many names, culminating with the telling words: "the Opener and the Closer, all are one in me."


King Rodung had two sons; one was named Agnar, the other Geirrod. Agnar was then ten winters old, Geirrod eight. Both rowed a boat and were fishing when the wind blew them out to sea. In the darkness they ran aground, went ashore, and met a poor farmer, who gave them lodging for the winter. The wife reared Agnar, but the man taught Geirrod. When spring came, the man gave them a vessel, but when he and his wife brought them to the beach, the man spoke privately to Geirrod.

They had favorable wind and soon came to their father's landing. Geirrod was in the prow; he jumped ashore but pushed the boat away and said: "Go where the trolls may take you!" The vessel drifted out to sea.

Geirrod went up to the home and was well received. His father was then dead and Geirrod became king in his stead and a famous man.

Odin and Frigga sat upon Lidskjalf (2) and looked out over all the worlds. Odin said: "Do you see Agnar, your foster son, how he begets children with a giantess in a cave? But Geirrod, my foster child, is a king and rules over lands." Frigga replied: "He is so stingy, he starves his guests, if they are too numerous." Odin said this was a great lie; they made a wager on this dispute. Frigga sent her handmaiden Fulla (3) to Geirrod to warn him that a sorcerer arriving by night would be his undoing, and she added the sign that no hound, however fierce, would attack the man. It was the greatest calumny to say that King Geirrod lacked hospitality, but he caused this man, over whom hounds had no power, to be taken prisoner. The man was clad in a blue fur coat and called himself Grimner. (4) He would tell no more about himself however much they questioned him. The king had him tortured and placed between two fires. There he remained for eight nights.

King Geirrod had a son, ten winters old, whom he had named Agnar after his brother. The lad went to Grimner, gave him a horn filled with drink and said his father was wrong to torture an innocent man. Grimner drained the horn. By then his coat was on fire. He spoke:

1. "Hot are you, Fire, and all too strong!
Farther may we part, Flame!
The pelt-lining chars, though I draw the skirts up,
The coat starts to burn.

2. Eight nights I sat between fires here
With none to bring me food;
Agnar only, who alone shall rule,
Geirrod's son, in the land of the Goths.

3. Hail to thee, Agnar, in all things
Varatyr (5) bids you be fortunate!
For but one drink shall you never
Receive greater recompense.

4. A holy land I see placed
Near to the Aesir, near to the elves;
But in Trudheim Thor shall dwell
Till the rulers' reign be rent.

5. Raindales they name those dells
Where Ull (6) has arranged his hall;
Elfhome the gods gave to Frey
As a teething-gift in the morning of time.

6. There is a third dwelling where gentle powers
Covered the hall with silver;
Shelf of the Chosen was built for himself
In the dawn of time, out of wisdom, by the Ase.

7. Deep River is fourth;
Thence cool waves surge;
There Odin and Saga forever
Quaff out of golden goblets.

8. Gladhome is fifth, where golden glows
The Hall of the Chosen.
There Odin, the Maligned, daily crowns
Those killed in battle.

9. Recognized clearly by those who come
To Odin is this hall;
Its frame is of spears, roofed over with shields,
The benches are strewn with byrnies.

10. Recognized clearly by those who come
To Odin is this hall;
Wolf hangs on western door,
Blood-dripping eagle above.

11. Sixth is Trymheim where Tjasse lived,
The mighty giant of old;
Now Skade builds, the slender god-bride,
On her father's former grounds.

12. Broadview is seventh, where Balder
Disposed his halls;
On that land I know
Are the fewest harmful runes.

13. Heavenmount is the eighth, where Heimdal
Is said to rule the sanctuaries;
The watcher of the gods with joy
Quaffs good mead in this happy house.

14. Folkvang is ninth. Freya rules there,
Assigning the seats in the hall;
Daily she salutes half the chosen.
Odin owns the other.

15. The Shining is tenth, supported on golden pillars
And roofed with silver.
Forsete there lives out his days
And wisely judges causes.

16. Ships' Haven is eleventh,
Where Njord furnished his hall;
The man-ruler, the harmless,
Reigns over high-timbered holiness.

17. Hidden in thickets and tall reeds
Is the wide land of Vidar;
There shall my son dismount
To avenge his father.

18. Andrimner lets Sarimner
Be steeped in Eldrimner (7)
The best of meat!
Few know what the One-harriers eat!

19. Gere and Freke are nurtured
By battlewont father of hosts;
But on wine alone lives ever
Odin, the weapon-adorned.

20. Hugin and Munin fly each day
Over the battlefield Earth.
I am anxious for Hugin that he returns not
But I fear more for Munin.

21. Tund (8) howls and Tjodvitner's fish (9)
Plays in the stream;
The flowing river seems all too big
For the celebrants to ford.

22. The Gate of Choice is in the wall,
Holy, before the holy doors;
Fine is that gate, and but few know
How it is locked.

23. Five hundred floors and forty more
Are there in bulging Bilskirner;
Of all roofed halls it seems to me
The largest is my son's.

24. Five hundred doors and forty more
I know there are to Valhall;
Eight hundred One-harriers emerge at once
From each, when they go to bear witness. (10)

25. Heidrun is the goat in Hostfather's hall,
That nibbles the Shadegiver's boughs;
She fills the cup of creation with fine mead full,
Drink that never runs dry.

26. Eiktyrner is the hart in Hostfather's hall,
That nibbles the Shadegiver's boughs;
Drops from his antlers in Hvergalmer fall,
Whence all waters spring. (11)

27. Sid and Vid, Sakin, Akin, Sval and Gunntro, (12)
Fjorm and Fimbultul;
and Rinnande, Gipul, Gopul, Gammal, and Geirvimmel,
Which wind round the dwellings of the gods;
Tyn and Vin, Toll and Holl, Grat and Gunntorin.

28. Vina is one, another Vagsvinn, a third Tjodnuma.
and Not, Nonn and Ronn, Slid and Rid,
and Ylg, Vid and Vand, and Strand,
and Leiptr, which flow close to mankind
And stream down to Hel below.

29. Kormt and Ormt, and Karlogar twain, where
Thor wades each day on his way to the judgment
'Neath Yggdrasil's ash; else would the Aesir's bridge
Burst into flames and the holy waters boil.

30. Glad and Gyller, Gler and Skidbrimer,
and Siner, Gisl and Falhofner,
and Lattfot; them the high gods ride each day
On their way to the judgment 'neath Yggdrasil's ash. (13)

31. Three are the roots that run three ways
Under Yggdrasil's ash:
One harbors Hel, under one are the frost-giants;
The third, humanity's men.

32. Ratatosk is the squirrel that runs in Yggdrasil's ash:
The words of the eagle above in the crown
He bears to the Gnawer below.

33. Four are the stags with necks gracefully arched,
That gnaw on the limbs.
Dain and Dvalin,
and Duratror.

34. There are more serpents 'neath Yggdrasil's tree
Than an unwise ape can imagine;
Goin and Moin, the sons of Grave-witness, the dragon Grayback, Ghost;
The Opener and Closer, which I believe tear the tree's twigs.

35. Yggdrasil's ash must endure more than humans can know;
The stag gnaws above,
The bole of it rots,
And below gnaws the serpent Nidhogg.

36. Rist and Mist bring me the horn, Skaggjold and Skogul, Hild and Trud,
and Harfjatter, Goll and Geironul,
Randgrid, Radgrid,
and Reginleif,
These bring the One-victors mead.

37. Arvak and Allsvinn shall up and away
Draw the supple sun;
But under their flanks the merciful powers
Have hidden the Ironcold.

38. Svalin (14) is he that stands before,
Shielding the shining god,
Mountain and billow would burn away
Should he fall aside.

39. Skoll is the wolf that pursues the shining god
To the sheltering woods;
The other, Hate, son of Rodvitnir, (15) precedes
The heaven-bride.

40. From Ymer's flesh was the earth formed,
The billowing seas of his blood;
From his bones the mountains, bushes from his hair,
And from his brainpan heaven.

41. With his eyebrows beneficent powers enclosed
Midgard for the sons of men;
But from his brain were surely created
All dark skies.

42. The blessing of Ull and of all the gods
Is his who first touches the fire;
For worlds are opened round sons of the Aesir
When caldrons are heaved from the hearth.

43. Ivalde's sons went in the foretime
To build Skidbladnir,
The best of ships for gentle Frey,
Njord's beneficent son.

44. The ash Yggdrasil is the noblest of trees, Skidbladnir of ships,
Odin of Aesir, and Sleipnir of steeds,
Bilrast (16) of bridges, Brage of bards, Habrok of hawks,
And of hounds, Garm.

45. Now have I shown my face to the victorious gods,
To arouse good will;
All Aesir are called to the cruel one's benches,
The cruel one's feast.

46. I called myself Grim, I called myself Ganglare,
and Hjalmbare, (17)
Tack and Third, Tunn and Unn,
and Har;

47. Sann and Svipal and Sangetal am I,
Harteit and Nikar,
Bilogd, Balogd, Bolverk, Fjolnir,
and Grimne, Glapsvinn, and Fjolsvinn;

48. Broadbrim, and Broadbeard, Father of Victory,
Nikud, Allfather, Father of death;
Atrid and Farmatyr. Never I called myself
Twice the same since I fared among men.

49. Grimne was I at Geirrod's, but at Asmund's Jalk,
And Kjalar when I drew a toboggan, (18)
Tro at the Ting, Oske and Ome,
and Baflinde, Gondle and Harbard among gods.

50. Svidur and Svidrer I was when I baited
The aged giant;
When I became the only bane
Of Midvitner's son.

51. Drunk are you, Geirrod, and out of your senses;
Much have you lost
When you forfeited all One-harriers'
And Odin's favor.

52. Vainly was it spoken, for it avails you naught,
Friends fool and trick you;
I see my friend's sword lying
Dripping with blood.

53. Ygg gains the fallen, your life is elapsed;
The protectors are angered;
Here you see Odin,
Approach if you can!

54. Odin am I now, Ygg was I before,
Tund before that:
Vak and Skilfing, Vafud and Roptatyr,
Opener and Closer: all are one in me."

King Geirrod sat holding his sword athwart his knees but, when he heard that Odin was come, he started up to move him [Grimner: Odin] from between the fires. His sword slipped from his hands and fell on its hilt as the king tripped and fell forward, and his own sword ran him through. He met his bane. Odin vanished then. Agnar was king for a long time thereafter.

Chapter 17



1. Literally "three faces." (return to text)

2. Lida suffer or hlid side, rank, or alignment. By implication this "shelf" may suggest the gods' being aligned by our side or, more likely, "suffering" or "feeling with" — as in the Latin compassion and the Greek sympathy from pathein, to suffer, endure and, by extension of meaning, to bear the burden of. Lidskjalf may have other meanings, but the most probable would seem to be "shelf of compassion." (return to text)

3. Fulla and Bil are names for phases of the moon. (return to text)

4. Literally "hooded"; disguised. (return to text)

5. God of Being. (return to text)

6. Winter, a "cold" or unformed world. (return to text)

7. The "boars" that feed the gods: air, water, and fire. (return to text)

8. "River of fire," the moat around Valhalla. (return to text)

9. Tjodvitner — the werewolf, Fenrer or Fenris, son of Loki, who fishes for men. Hence Tjodvitner's fish is the human race. (return to text)

10. 540 x 800 = 432,000, the cycle named in the Puranas which is used in a pattern like the Pythagorean tetraktys to form greater cycles, multiples of this one. The "golden age" is the longest of the four "yugas" or 1,728,000 years which is 4 x 432,000: "The largest of these is my son's," Balder's, or the golden age. (return to text)

11. From Hvergalmer run all the rivers of lives which inhabit or animate the kingdoms of nature. (return to text)

12. Italicized names are not translated. (return to text)

13. The names are symbolic and descriptive: the steeds of the gods translated are: Glad (Frey's), Gilt (Brage's), Glazed (Njord's), Running River (Ull's), Silvertop (Forsete's), Sensations (Tyr's), Hostage (Balder's), Hollowhoof (Hoder's), Goldtop (Heimdal's), and Lightfoot (Honer's). (return to text)

14. "The cool one," that protects the planets from those wavelengths of solar radiation which would destroy them, is a myth held in common with those of other parts of the world; also the "sundogs" in the following verse (39), an optical phenomenon seen at northern latitudes as a dual reflection on the horizon, when the sun is rising or setting. (return to text)

15. Red-witness — red skies at dawn and sunset which bear witness to a mystery. (return to text)

16. Bifrost, the rainbow bridge. (return to text)

17. Odin's names designating different guises and functions: Hood or Mask, Wandering Learner (cf. the Apotheosis of Gylfe, where the name is that adopted by the postulant), Harrier and Helmet-bearer, etc. (return to text)

18. The myth wherein Odin as Kjalar drew a toboggan has been lost and only indirect references to it remain. (return to text)