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

Chapter 26

Vagtamskvadet

(The Lay of Waywont)

TEXT

TRANSLATOR'S NOTES

This much-told story is well known in many versions. Balder, the sun-god, was beset by ominous dreams, which alarmed the Aesir. When Odin learned that the House of Hel, goddess of death, was being prepared to welcome his son, Odin's consort Frigga, mother of the gods, set out to exact an oath of all creatures that they would not harm Balder. All gladly gave her the assurance she craved, and it seemed the danger was averted. One thing only had been overlooked: the mistletoe, too slight and frail to pose a threat.

Loki learned of this oversight. He plucked the little plant, fashioned a dart from it and went to where the gods were amusing themselves hurling weapons against Balder, who stood laughing and invulnerable as the missiles rebounded and fell harmless to the ground. Only Balder's twin, the blind god Hoder, stood apart. Loki approached him and asked if he would not like to join the sport and he offered to guide Hoder's aim so that he too might enjoy the pastime. But the dart he placed on Hoder's bow was the fateful mistletoe. It pierced the sun-god's heart, and Balder forthwith journeyed to the House of Hel.

Disguised as Hermod (divine courage) Odin rode to entreat the queen of the dead to relinquish the sun-god, which she agreed to do if all beings without exception would weep for him. Frigga resumed her weary round and all creatures wept for the beloved Ase. When all appeared to be well she encountered an aged crone — Loki in disguise — who refused. It was decisive: Balder must remain in the House of Hel.

The sun-god was laid on his pyre ship; his loving wife Nanna (the moon) died of a broken heart and was laid beside him. Before the burning ship was set adrift, Odin is said to have bent and whispered something in his dead son's ear. (1)

There are many keys which fit this story: the sun-god dies each year at the winter solstice and is reborn, as his successor "but one night of age" strides to avenge his death, whereupon a new year dawns with the returning sun. The festival of the "unconquered sun" was celebrated throughout the lands north of the equator at the sacred season which later became Christmas. It is the time of the "virgin birth" when the divine self is born within the successful aspirant initiated into the Mysteries. Christ's birth was given that date to identify him as one of these initiates.

Another interpretation refers the tale to the end of the solar or golden age. In the days of humanity's youth, innocence prevailed in the newly aroused mind of man. It was an age of peace and serenity, of instinctual obedience to nature's laws, when the influence of the gods governed the lives of creatures. As the budding human intelligence began to test its power, freedom of choice and will led to inevitable wrongs and the law of moral responsibility came into play; together with the forces of ignorance and darkness, represented by the blind god Hoder, they were instrumental in bringing to an end this gentle vegetating existence. Similarly, in the biblical tale, Adam and Eve were driven from Eden after tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because they had become as the gods (elohim), responsible for their evolution. The human mind must be free to choose its course; the automatic drifting of childlike innocence no longer became the human soul which must now begin to direct, purposefully and intelligently, its own progress toward perfection and manifest its divinity ever more fully.

The evolutionary urge of intelligence in action — Loki, disguised as the aged crone — refused to mourn the passing of that golden age, for the real work of man's inner growth must take its place. Bound in the underworld, Loki must suffer torment until the end of the cycle. Beautiful Skade, the adverse aspect of Njord, the Saturnian age, suspends a serpent over his face, and its venom drips unceasingly on the bound titan, compounding his agony, while his devoted wife Sigyn remains by his side, catching the poison in a goblet. It is when she must go to empty the cup that Loki writhes in agony and the earth quakes.

It is a sad reflection that in most, if not all, scriptures, the agent that forced man's ejection from the innocence of infancy into adulthood and responsibility, is regarded as evil. Perhaps it has been so regarded because, as a humanity, we have been reluctant to grow up. Even now, there are many who would prefer to lay their shortcomings at the door of some deity, real or fictitious, and who resent having any burden to bear, though a little observation and reflection must convince us that in order to fulfill a greater destiny evolving beings must leave childhood behind and undertake purposeful participation in the functions of the universe. Thus Loki is forced to abide in the depths of matter and to suffer until the cycle's culmination. His pain is enhanced by the venom produced by the serpent of knowledge, just as that of Prometheus is aggravated by the vulture gnawing at his liver. Both torments represent human misuse of the divine gift of mind. The enlightener's sacrifice will end only when the human travail shall have been successfully accomplished; when Fenris, Loki's offspring, shall be free and shall devour the sun at the end of its life, and Vale shall continue the sun-god's work on a grander level of existence. Then, maybe, we too shall know what Odin whispered in Balder's ear.


Vagtamskvadet (2)

1. All the Aesir, gods and goddesses
Sat in session together at Ting;
The mighty powers took council of this:
Why Balder was troubled by terrible dreams.

2. Mighty slight was the sun-god's slumber,
Rest and refreshment seemed gone from his sleep;
The giants requested prophetic response
As to how this might affect his creation.

3. The lots cast thereon showed that doomed to die
Was the dearest of Ull's kin; (3)
Anguish assailed Frigga and Svafner (4)
And the other rulers. They agreed on a plan:

4. Word was dispatched to all of creation,
Seeking assurance that Balder be spared;
All gave an oath that he would be unharmed.
Frigga received all agreements and promises.

5. Yet Allfather feared an uncertain outcome.
He felt that hamingjas were keeping away;
He summoned the Aesir, demanded decision.
Much was discussed at this congregation.

6. Up rose Odin, father of eons,
Saddled Sleipnir, his eightlegged steed;
Thence rode he downward, the road toward Niflhel,
Met here the hound that hails from the hollow.

7. Bloody the beast was on brisket and breast,
Long did he bay at the father of runes.
Odin rode forth; loud thundered the fields
As he halted at Hel's high hall.

8. Eastward rode Odin before the door,
Where he knew the sibyl's barrow to be.
Death-runes he sang to the magic maid
Until, forced to rise, she spoke from the dead.

9. "Who among men, unknown to me,
Compels my heavy journey?
I was covered with snow, lashed by rain,
Drenched with the dew. Long was I dead."

10. ODIN: Waywont my name, I am son of Deathwont,
Speak you from Hel's home as I speak from Life's:
For whom are the benches adorned with rings
And the couch covered over with gold?

11. SIBYL: The mead is made, for Balder brewed,
The precious draught sheltered by a shield;
The kin of the Aesir anxiously wait.
Forced have I said it. Now may I cease.

12. ODIN: Cease not, sibyl. I will inquire
Until I know all. More will I know:
Who shall the bane be unto Balder
And rob Odin's son of his age?

13. SIBYL: Hoder (5) brings hither the lovely scion.
He shall be unto Balder his bane
And rob Odin's son of his age.
Forced have I spoken. Now may I cease.

14. ODIN: Cease not, sibyl. I will inquire
Until I know all. More will I know:
Who shall avenge him harshly on Hoder
And bring Balder's bane to the pyre?

15. SIBYL: Rind (6) bears Vale (7) in western halls.
But one night old shall Odin's son battle;
He laves not his hands, nor combs he his hair
Ere he bears Balder's foe on the pyre.
Forced have I spoken. Now may I cease.

16. ODIN: Cease not, sibyl. I will inquire
Until I know all. More will I know:
Who are the maidens who then shall weep
And their kerchiefs fling to the skies?

17. SIBYL: No pilgrim you, as the sibyl thought.
You are Odin, father of eons.

18. ODIN: Nor sibyl you, nor wise seeress.
Rather are you three thurses' dam.

19. SIBYL: Ride home, Odin, with mind at rest!
So close comes no one again to me
Until Loki from fetters is free, and the forces,
Dissolvers of all, come to Ragnarok. (8)


Chapter 27

Contents


FOOTNOTES:

1. Cf. Vaftrudnismal, 53. (return to text)

2. Vagtam (way wont, accustomed to roads): pilgrim. (return to text)

3. Balder, the sun-god. (return to text)

4. Svafner: the Closer (he who puts to sleep); Odin. (return to text)

5. The blind god of darkness and ignorance. (return to text)

6. Rind: the cold winter earth. (return to text)

7. Vale: son of Odin. (return to text)

8. End of a world. (return to text)