Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
The two lays that follow belong together and it would be misleading to separate them. The first enumerates the necessary qualities that must have been acquired by a candidate for initiation, while the second relates the culminating test itself. Together they tell the story of Svipdag, and his "Appearing as Day."
Od (1) (man) is sent forth by his stepmother Skade on the supposedly impossible errand of finding and gaining admission to the hall of Menglad ("she who enjoys a jewel," a name for Freya, owner of the Brisingamen, humanity). Skade is the sister, wife, and also a daughter of Njord (time). It was she who suspended the venomous serpent over Loki's face when he was confined in the underworld.
To meet the all but insurmountable difficulties of his quest, Od invokes the aid of his dead mother, who is named Groa (growth). She rises from the dead to sing him nine protective charms. Represented as a sibyl, she symbolizes the hero's past, his former selves which have shaped his character and given him birth as he now is. If the lives of preparation have brought him the qualities he needs for success, he will be equipped for the great trial before him.
The "protective charms" are of course the strengths and virtues he has earned. First of these is freedom from all external pressures; the second is self-control; third, immunity from the powerful currents that flow towards the realms of death (of the soul); fourth is the power to turn enemies into friends, to transmute negative traits into positive, useful attributes; fifth is the magic sword which will loosen all bonds, all limiting weaknesses which by now the hero must have overcome. They are the personal ties that attract the soul away from its high purpose. Sixth, she endows him with the aid of the natural elements, even those of that "sea, more dread than men may know" (11) — the astral light with its baleful illusions; seventh, he gains immunity from the "frost of the high mountain" (12) — the chilling fear that grips the soul when faced with the unfamiliar heights of purer worlds. Eighth is the power to pass unharmed among the shades of the dead.
From all this a theosophic interpretation shows clearly that the adventure on which Od has embarked is an initiation into a high estate of spiritual awareness. Such initiation demands first a descent into the regions beneath our physical world. Each great Teacher of mankind has to "descend into hell" to render aid to lower grades of beings and to feel and understand their condition, while proving his integrity and remaining unaffected by the noxious miasmas of these worlds.
Ninth, the sibyl enjoins: "If you exchange words with the spear-renowned giant, of words and man-sense of tongue as of heart, may you have enough!" (14)
The nine charms also denote qualities that have been, or should have been, developed by each human being who has traversed the nine worlds we have experienced in this cycle. Certain it is that they are necessary equipment for any soul to become truly enlightened.
We find Od in this lay seeking admittance to the hall of Menglad, whose name we know as a kenning for Freya. The guardian at the gate to Menglad's hall calls himself Fjolsvinn (Verywise) and is none other than Odin, here standing for the man's inner god and hierophants. He rebuffs the traveler, calling him "giant" and "wolf," but Od insists on gaining access to the gilded hall. Asked his name he responds:
"Windcold is my name, Springcold was my father. His sire was Verycold" (6).
Od then asks whose hall this is and learns that it is indeed that of Menglad, "born of her mother and the son of the Sleep-enchanter" (7).
Here is the origin of the tale of the Sleeping Beauty. In Sweden she is Tornrosa (thornrose), the rose pricked with the thorn of sleep: she is man's spiritual soul, the unawakened beauty who is the aim of life for man. The sleep-enchanter is in certain respects identified with Njord, as Time, and also with Springcold, a far-past age of innocence. The seeker and the sought are thus descended from the same divine source, as are the human soul and its inner god. It is the aim of the individual to gain reunion with the universal after fulfilling its self-awareness through evolution in all the realms of matter: with Menglad-Freya — the higher self of man, his spiritual intelligence — to become one with the divinity that is awaiting its human champion.
In the guise of Windcold, Od poses questions of the keeper at the gate, and Odin-Verywise responds: he gives the name and function of the gate that binds like a fetter any pilgrim who lifts the latch; and of the court made from the limbs of the mud giant — the substance from which were made the first forms of men which were rejected as unfit vehicles by the gods and which were superseded by a later creation. Its task is to repel all comers. The two fierce watchdogs, according to Verywise, have eleven watches yet to keep before this life term ends.
When Windcold asks the name of the tree whose branches spread over all the land he is told it is Mimameid, the Tree of Knowledge, "which falls not for fire or iron" (20), and whose fruit helps what is hidden within to be revealed. Not to be confused with the Tree of Life its name links it with the "wise giant" Mimer, owner of the well of the wisdom to be gained through existence in matter. In the biblical Genesis, too, the trees of life and knowledge are quite distinct. It is clear that the "fall" from innocence was an inevitable part of the evolutionary process. Man must leave the childlike condition and enter what the Edda terms the "victory worlds" in order to earn, consciously and self-consciously, his ultimate access to the Tree of Life. Here the human soul or elf, Od, must by its own self-determined efforts attain the godlike state that enables it to unite with its hamingja (immortal essence). We shall see how thorough a familiarity with the 'Tree of Knowledge is needed for the human initiant to gain this union.
Windcold asks about the golden bird in the topmost branches of Mimameid and is told it is Wideopener. The hero must conquer him, but in order to do this he must enter the underworld and there obtain the magic potion brewed by Lopt (lofty: aspiration), the inspired aspect of Loki, mind guided by its hamingja. The brew was made from remorse in the lower hells and is kept in a tub of tough iron, secured by nine strong locks. He must wrest it from its keeper, the dreaded hag Sinmara who, like Ceridwen of the Welsh, guards the caldron. The brew, like the mystic soma-drink supposedly given to initiants in the East, aids in opening the consciousness to the fearsome hells of the soul. These the candidate must successfully traverse — "endless woes" concentrated by the Wideopener "in one great sorrow" (23).
But there is a paradox here: in order to obtain from Sinmara the magic potion which will make accessible the Wideopener in the topmost branches of the Tree of Knowledge, the hero must bring her a shining feather from that golden bird!
The candidate who seeks the wisdom of the gods must thus gain access to the spiritual heights in order to descend to the nethermost regions and return unscathed; only after his successful rise from the descent into hell may he claim his bride — attain union with the immortal essence of himself, the universal heart of his being, and achieve the vistas of unlimited consciousness — for this world or branch of the Tree of Life.
There is here a story within a story, as so often happens in myths. Od, who stands at the gateway leading to the final revelation, in his exchange with the guardian of the gate who is his initiator, guide, and examiner, receives information which is clearly intended for the listener, or reader: a description of the types of experience and enlightenment of mind and soul which must be undergone by one who aspires to enter the hall named Calm, "long poised on the point of a spear, whereof only hearsay reached the people of old" (31) — (when there were as yet none who could receive it?)
At length Windcold stands revealed as Svipdag, the radiant — "Appearing as Day." Now he names himself son of Sunbright, "tossed forth on windcold ways" (46). The Egyptian Mysteries refer to the risen initiate as a "son of the sun," for a radiance is visible about him. This is the long forgotten origin of the ushnisha or halo above or about the heads of Bodhisattvas, Christs, and saints in ancient and mediaeval art. Svipdag, the successful initiate, represents one of such rare perfected humans in the history of mankind. "Tossed on windcold ways" are we all, every monad, each spark of divine fire which emerged from IT at the beginning of time and descended into spheres of life; destined at the end of the cycle to become reunited with its divine parent, every monad of consciousness brings with it the increment of experience earned throughout its existence.
The end of this lay reveals the Edda as a transmission of the one universal theosophy which is expressed through the Buddhist, Christian, and other sacred traditions throughout history. The story of Svipdag points to the true goal of life — hastened in initiation — something which has been consistently overlooked by modern mythologers. It is the very crux of the hero's venture, his selfless progress, success, and the crowning reunion with his hamingja. When Menglad welcomes him as her beloved, saying she has long awaited him on the sacred mountain, he responds, "Both have we yearned; I have longed for you, and you to meet me. Atonement is now as we two together share the tasks of the years and the ages" (48).
These few words are among the most important in all mythologies extant: the hero united with his spiritual self — not triumphant in his glory or content to rest eternally in heavenly peace — undertakes to aid his higher self in performing henceforth "the tasks of the years and the ages." This final verse places the Norse myths among the noblest scriptures of the world, those which enjoin the divine sacrifice whereby the aspirant aims to serve mankind and gains universal peace only in order to renounce it for the benefit of all beings. This is the ideal of the schools of genuine occultism down through the ages and the motivation of all the world's saviors.
1. SON [OD]: Waken, Groa, good woman. I call you at the doors of death.
Mind you not that you enjoined your son to come to the barrow-tomb?
2. MOTHER [GROA]: What fate has stricken my only son, to what ill is my child born,
That you call your mother from the dead, where she is gone from the world of men?
3. SON: An ill trick played me the sly woman who embraced my father;
She has sent me where none may go — to seek Menglad.
4. MOTHER: Long is the journey, far are the roads: far-reaching human passions;
If you succeed in your desire, Skuld (2) will also be content.
5. SON: Sing me spells that are good, help your son, Mother! On wide ways
Shall I helpless stray. I feel too young for the marriage.
6. MOTHER: First, I sing you the song of fortune that Rane sang to Rind:
Shake all ills from your shoulders and steer your own steps.
7. I sing you a second: As you wander on unwilling ways: Urd's (3) bolts
Hold you fast if you find abuse.
8. I sing you a third: If towering torrents threaten to engulf you,
They shall hasten to Hel and for you they shall lower their level.
9. I sing you a fourth: If enemies lurk, armed, on the roads of men,
That their minds may be turned toward you, their anger soothed to friendship.
10. I sing you a fifth: If fetters be laid on your limbs, a sword I sound over you
That shall spring the locks from your limbs and the fetters shall fall from your feet.
11. I sing you a sixth: If you be on a sea more dread than men may know,
The race of the wind and the roar of the waves shall aid you on your journey.
12. I sing you a seventh: If you freeze from frost on the lofty mountain,
The chill of death shall spare your flesh and your limbs keep their life.
13. I sing you an eighth: If on cloudy paths overtaken by night,
No harm may befall you from the shade of a Christian woman.
14. I sing you a ninth: If you exchange words with the spear-renowned giant,
Of words and man-sense of tongue as of heart, may you have enough!
15. Travel no roads where evil you sense. No obstacle hinders you then.
On the earth-fast rock I stood within the door chanting these spells for you.
16. Take your mother's words, son; take them hence. Let them ever live in your heart.
All that is good shall you ever reap, as long as you heed my words.
1. Outside the court he saw rising upward a giant toward the fort:
"Who is that wretch standing before the court and turning himself about at the purifying flames?
"Whom do you seek, whose trail do you follow? What seek you to know, friendless one?
"Wander away once more on wet ways. You have no champion here, defenseless one."
2. WANDERER: Who is the wretch who stands at the gate and bids not the wanderer welcome?
Discourteous discourse you dispense. Hie you hence homeward!
3. THE WATCHMAN: Verywise is my name. I am knowing enough but waste not much food.
Into this house you shall never come. Wend your ways, wolf!
4. WANDERER: None turns away from his eyes' delight, when he sees some sweet sight.
The courts seem to gleam round the gilded hall. Here may I happy dwell.
5. VERYWISE: Tell me of what past you are born, of what forebears you are the scion.
6. WANDERER: Windcold is my name, Springcold was my father. His sire was Verycold.
Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Who rules here and wields the power over lands and sumptuous halls?
7. VERYWISE: Menglad is her name, born of her mother and the son of the Sleep-enchanter.
She rules here and wields the power over lands and sumptuous halls.
8. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What is that gate than which even the gods have not one more deceptive?
9. VERYWISE: Noisy her name and she was created by the three sons of Sunblind.
Like a fetter she fastens each wayfarer fast who unlocks her and opens her up.
10. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What is that court than which even the gods have not one more perilous?
11. VERYWISE: Repeller of strangers is his name. I made him of the mud giant's limbs;
So have I made him that he shall stand as long as men live.
12. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What are these hounds than which I never saw any more vicious?
13. VERYWISE: One is named Gifr, the other Gere, if you must know.
Eleven watches they have to stand ere the Rulers' reign be rent.
14. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
May any man enter while such beasts slumber?
15. VERYWISE: They have been charged with alternately sleeping since they were trained to watch.
One sleeps by night, the other by day. No one enters here.
16. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Is there any food one could give them and enter while they eat?
17. VERYWISE: Two steaks there lie in Wideopener's members, if you must know.
That is the only food a man might give them and enter while they eat.
18: WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What family tree spreads here its branches over the land?
19. VERYWISE: Mimameid is the tree and no man knows of what roots it is grown;
What evil may fell it but few may guess. It falls not for fire or iron.
20. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What will cause to languish the glorious tree that falls not for fire or iron?
21. VERYWISE: When its fruit shall be burned on the fire by doting crones, then will go out
What should be within. Then is the tree rotten among men.
22. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What is that rooster high in the tree, all of him shining of gold?
23. VERYWISE: Wideopener is his name who, shining, perches high in Mimameid's crown.
He amasses in one great sorrow the endless woe from Sinmara's fire.
24. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Is there a weapon whereby Wideopener may be brought to the house of Hel?
25. VERYWISE: Lavaten is its name. It was made with remorse by Lopt 'neath the chasm's gate.
In the iron vat in Sinmara's keeping, it is guarded by nine firm locks.
26. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Comes he again who seeks to take that magic lever?
27. VERYWISE: He may come again who seeks to take that magic lever,
If he bear that which few may own to the fruitful earth's healing-woman.
28. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Is there anything costly a man might own to delight the hag?
29. VERYWISE: The shining pinion on its quill from Wide-opener's wings shall you bear
As a gift to Sinmara ere she deigns give you the weapon.
30. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What is that hall which is girt about, wisely, by purging fires?
31. VERYWISE: Calm is his name, and long may he poise on the point of a spear.
About that glorious house only hearsay has reached to the people of old.
32. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Who of the sons of the gods built the hall I saw through the gates?
33. VERYWISE: Une and Ire, Bare and Ore, Varr and Vagdrasil, Dore, Ure, and Delling; also the sly elf Loki.
34. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
What is that mountain where the bride is to be found ensconced in dreams?
35. VERYWISE: Sacred Mountain its name, a haven since of old for the sick and wounded;
Though sick unto death, each woman who ascends here shall be healed.
36. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Who are the maids who sit at Menglad's knees, in harmony together?
37. VERYWISE: Haven is one, Survivor another, a third Custodian; Bright and Gentle,
Tender and Peace, Compassion, and Commander of Clemency. (4)
38. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Do they save those who sacrifice to them, if they deem it needful?
39. VERYWISE: They wisely save those who sacrifice in a holy place.
So harsh an evil comes not to man that he be not delivered therefrom.
40. WINDCOLD: Tell me, Verywise; I must ask and wish to know:
Is there a man who may sleep on the lovable Menglad's arm?
41. VERYWISE: No man is there who may sleep on the lovable Menglad's arm,
Only Svipdag; to him the sunbright maid is trothplight for spouse.
42. WINDCOLD: Open wide the gates! Here you see Svipdag!
It is still unknown whether Menglad will deign to take me for her joy.
43. VERYWISE TO MENGLAD: Hear, Menglad. A man is come. Go see the guest yourself
The hounds are content; the house has opened of itself. Meseems it is Svipdag.
44. MENGLAD: If you are lying when you say the man has come from afar to my halls,
Vicious ravens shall tear out your eyes on the high gallows.
45. MENGLAD TO SVIPDAG: Whence have you come? Why did you undertake the journey?
By what name are you known in your own house?
By your kin and your name I shall know by portent if I were meant for your wife.
46. SVIPDAG: Misty Morn is my name. Sunbright is my father. Thence I was tossed forth
On windcold ways. None may lament Urd's decree though the cause be weak.
47. MENGLAD: Be you welcome! What I have wished for I now have; a kiss greet the dear arrival.
Long have I awaited you on the mountain of sleep. Now my hope is fulfilled.
You have once more returned, man, to my halls.
48: SVIPDAG: Both have we yearned; I have longed for you, and you to meet me.
Atonement is now, as we two together share the tasks of the years and the ages.
1. Od is derived from Odr, spiritual mind, and stands for the evolved man. Similarly, the English word man is derived from the Sanskrit manas, which also means the higher intelligence, from man, to reflect upon, to think. (return to text)
2. Future. (return to text)
3. Past. (return to text)
4. Lif, Lifthrasir, Tjodvarta, Bjart, Blid, Blod, Frid, Eir, and Orboda. (return to text)