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

Chapter 15


(Hymer's Lay)



Our solar system has its home in a portion of space from which we see certain configurations of stars. Our earth rotates on its axis so that each side is irradiated with sunlight half the time and is in shadow the other half of the time as we travel along the almost circular path of its orbit. The stars we see are those on the shadow-side of our planet, that is to say those outside the solar system in the direction we face at night. This direction changes, of course, with the seasons, so that in the course of a year, one revolution round the sun, we have faced by night all the stars that surround us in our solar neighborhood. Those stars that are close to being on a level with our orbit, called the plane of the ecliptic, have been grouped into 30 degree arcs and these groups are called the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Together they make a complete circle (360 degrees). Our sun, which is situated in one arm of a spiral galaxy we call the Milky Way, is thus surrounded by the twelve "animals" (i.e., animate beings) of the celestial "zoo."

We need to have a clear picture of this scenario in order to see how the tale of the giant Hymer suggests the prelude to a new imbodiment, possibly of our sun, perhaps of a planet such as the earth. According to the theosophic teachings a planet lives a number of lives with intervals of rest, comparable to death, during the lifetime of the sun. It also undergoes shorter periods of repose comparable to sleep, within its own lifetime. The pattern is analogous to that of human and other types of life which include sleeping and waking as well as death and birth.

Hymer is evidently a preliminary stage in the formation of a celestial body. His nine daughters, or aeons, are the nine mothers of the god Heimdal, god of beginnings, who, as we have seen, is a solar, deity. He has a particular affinity with the constellation Aries, the ram, marker of beginnings: of the year at the vernal equinox, of the zodiacal year (25,920 terrestrial years), and of each lifetime of our planet. He is personified as the wind which, like the ram, butts, or blows, or pushes, with its head. As parent of Heimdal's nine mothers, Hymer apparently represents the beginning of the present imbodiment of our solar system within the encompassing pattern of stars where our sun has its habitat. At the end of life he is named Rymer. Both names are suggestive of Ymer, a universal concept here applied to a particular case.

An interesting sidelight may be mentioned here: in the biblical story in Genesis 17 occurs a transformation with the addition of the letter H, the aspirate, which symbolizes breath, spirit, the principle of life: Abram becomes Abraham, and his wife Sarai becomes Sarah. It is possible that the Norse used the same convention to indicate the inspiration, in-breathing, of life into matter when Ymer becomes Hymer with the inbreathing of the divine power which endows our world with life.

In the tale of Hymer, the gods had learned by divination that the titan Ager — space — could supply the mead of experience whereby they are nourished, for he "possessed this mead in plenty." But when Thor commanded Ager to make feast for the gods, the giant replied: "Bring me first a caldron to contain it. Then shall I make feast for the gods."

As there was no vessel large enough to hold the mead, the gods were at a loss until Tyr (1) recalled that his kinsman Hymer owned such a caldron. Thor and Tyr set out to find Hymer and acquire the caldron "by cunning if need be." On their way through Midgard they met Egil, the "mountain farmer, son of the dim-eyed one" — of Tjasse, the previous period of evolution. Egil was entrusted with the care of the two goats which draw the Thunderer's chariot, and the gods proceeded on foot.

At the giant's home they were greeted by the wife who advised them to hide before Hymer should arrive in fierce ill-humor. It was late in the evening when "misshapen, harsh Hymer" came home from the hunt; we are treated to a delightful kenning which describes how "icicles rattled as he stepped in, for his face forest was frozen" (10). The wife tried to soften his mood before breaking the news that their young kinsman Tyr had come to the hall bringing with him "a noble foe named Vior." (2) This emphasizes the reluctance of the matter-giant to entertain the god-energy in a way which brings to mind Newton's first law of motion: "A body remains at rest or continues to move with the same speed in the same direction, unless it is acted on by a net force."

At the giant's glare the ridgepole broke in two and eight kettles fell down, only one remaining unbroken. With customary (mandatory) hospitality Hymer ordered three bullocks slaughtered for the evening meal. Thor devoured two of them so that the following morning the giant and the Thunderer needs must set out to catch fish for food. Vior offered to row if the giant would provide bait, so Hymer, with tongue in cheek, invited Thor to take one of his herd of oxen, knowing this to be an all but impossible task. Thor, however, accomplished the feat without difficulty. At sea, "Hymer drew aboard two whales together" (21). Thor hooked the Midgard serpent Iormungandr with the result that icebergs shook, volcanoes erupted, and the whole world trembled, until Thor restored the monster to the deep.

In this story several interpretations overlap, and the descriptions may apply to terrestrial, solar-systemic, or cosmic events. The Midgard serpent we know represents the equator, displaced again and again throughout our earth's history; it may also refer to the plane of the ecliptic which is the sun's apparent path across the sky; or it may be the Milky Way which seems to writhe round the sky with the seasons like an immense ribbon of stars immersed in the "waters" of space. The serpent is one of Loki's three dread offspring; the other two are Fenris, the wolf who will devour the sun at the end of its lifetime, and Hel, the cold, half blue queen of the realms of death.

Hymer was displeased with the god's success; for a long time he spoke no word but he "turned the helm in the wrong direction" (25). This may indicate a change in the configurations of observed stars, caused either by the introduction of a new body or the destruction of a former planet; it may also mean simply a change in inclination of the earth's polar axis — something that is known to have taken place many times, leaving traces in the magnetic alignment of rocks. There is no mention of a further change of direction, yet the boat shortly reached its landing. Hymer requested the god to either bear home the whales to the village or bind the water goat fast at the shore" (26).

Thus far we have had our attention drawn to a very curious set of objects: we see a "water goat," a man rowing, fish, the ram, the ox or bull, and the "two whales together." Translated into the ancient customary descriptions of the zodiacal constellations we recognize in them respectively Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, and Gemini, all conjoined with the disturbing of the Midgard serpent. The implication is unmistakable as we realize that these six consecutive constellations cover 180 degrees of sky, that is, a half circle, or as much as may be seen at one time. Can this be mere coincidence?

Back at the giant's home, Thor was challenged to break a drinking vessel, but though he hurled it against a pillar with all his might, the chalice remained whole, whereas the pillar broke in two. When the giant's woman whispered to Thor that he should break the goblet against his host's skull, than which there exists no harder substance, the Ase did so with the result that "whole was the giant's helmet-holder; the wine cup's rim split into two" (31). Thereafter the gods were free to bear off the caldron, though not without having first to overcome the gigantic horde which pursued them. This was of course accomplished by Mjolnir, Thor's hammer.

When they reached the place where Egil, the innocent, was tending Thor's goats, one of the animals was lame, just as the previous tale. Loki had persuaded the farmer to break a marrow-bone. Here too the Thunderer's rage was appeased only when Egil offered his two children to be Thor's servants. Thenceforth, whenever Lorride, the terrestrial aspect of Thor, is found on earth, he is accompanied by Tjalfe (speed) and Roskva (work), the children of Egil, the "innocent mountain farmer," who serve him as elemental agents of vital electricity.

The search for the caldron of Hymer, with all its details and seeming trivia, is one lay that can be read many and many a time without "ringing a bell" of understanding. Not until we apply the key of the ageless cosmogonies do we discern what may have been a method of conveying the idea that the gods are seeking the appropriate place for a star or planet to reimbody. The caldron seems to represent a specific volume of space which satisfies certain requirements. A solar or planetary consciousness about to come into life must find its proper home, and this is defined as the place from which the surrounding stars present a certain appearance. There is, when you think about it, only one way to define a particular location in space, and that is to describe its surroundings. The caldron of Hymer is here pinpointed by naming six consecutive constellations of the zodiac, spanning one hemisphere or half the sky, as it appears from our solar system.

So Hymer's lay apparently tells of a celestial being preparing to enter a new manifestation: it seeks by desire for life (Tyr) and electromagnetic life force (Thor) its own ancient habitat (caldron). This most ingenious device demonstrates again and well the technique used by the sages to perpetuate their knowledge by means of tradition. People who themselves were quite incapable of grasping any but the simplest anecdotes could thus be used as unwitting transmitters of scientific fact. The breaking of the ridgepole at the giant's fierce glare and the destruction of all but one kettle hanging from that pole no doubt struck many of them as hilarious, but within the joke may be secured the record of an astronomical event of awe-inspiring proportions, when the polar axis of rotation of a global or universal system was overturned, leaving only one "kettle" or container unbroken: the location where a globe is reborn in the space it had formerly occupied. Thor's capture and release of the Midgard serpent confirms the same pattern of events.

In Asgard the gods were awaiting the capacious vessel when to the Ting of the gods came victorious Thor bearing with him the caldron of Hymer." Now the gods drink grandly with Ager each fall "when the golden grain is garnered," as translated in some versions. It goes without saying that the harvest is the culmination of any period of activity, whether it is a day, a year, a life, or an aeon. It is then that the gods absorb the mystic mead which has been brewed in the space where a world has lived and died.


1. The Gods of Choice (3) had good hunting,
But thirsted much ere they were filled;
They shook the divining-rods, studied the signs,
And found that Ager had ample fare.

2. The mountain farmer sat outside, child-happy,
Seeming the son of the dim-eyed one;
The son of Ygg (Thor) looked him in the eye:
"You shall often make feast for the Aesir."

3. Anxiety assailed the giant at the harsh-worded warrior;
He plotted revenge against the gods;
He asked Sif's husband (4) to bring him the caldron,
"Then shall I brew your ale."

4. But nowhere did the noble gods
Or wise Vaner know of any;
At length, faithful Tyr gave Lorride (Thor)
This friendly advice:

5. "There lives to the east of the Eli-waves,
Many-wise Hymer at the end of the sky:
My battle-loving father owns such a kettle,
A capacious brewing vessel miles deep."

6. "Think you we might that sap cooker get?"
"If we use guile."

7. That day they traveled a long day's journey
Forth from Asgard to reach Egil;
He was to guard the horned goats,
As they hied onward to Hymer's hall.

8. The son (5) found his mother's mother,
The hideous one with 900 heads;
But forth came another, gold-adorned woman
With fair brow to bring her son mead.

9. The wife: "Offspring of Titans,
I will cover you with a caldron, ye noble twain;
Often my husband is grouchy toward guests
And of ill humor."

10. Late that evening came
Misshapen, harsh Hymer home from the hunt;
Icicles rattled as he stepped in,
For the man's face forest was frozen.

11. "Hail, Hymer, be mild of mind!
The scion is come to your halls;
Him whom we awaited from far away;
With him comes a noble foe, friend of warriors, Vior (6) by name.

12. "See them under the gable,
Sheltering, fearful, behind the post."
At the giant's mere glance, the pillar collapsed
And above it the roof-ridge broke in two.

13. Eight kettles fell from the ridgepole down;
Only one, hard-tempered, remained unbroken.
The guests stepped forth as the grim old giant
With glowering glare followed his foe.

14. No good he boded
As forth on the floor
He saw standing the terror of giants.
He ordered three bullocks taken and cooked.

15. Each of the three was made a head shorter
And borne to be broiled; Sif's husband alone
Ate, before going to sleep,
Two of Hymer's oxen withal.

16. Rungner's ancient kinsman (7) thought
Lorride's meal abundantly meted.
"Tomorrow we three must, I believe,
Find fish food to eat."

17. Vior was willing to row on the wave
If the bold giant provided the bait.
"Go to my herd, if you have a mind,
You mountain-giant-crusher, to take bait!
I expect though you will not find it easy
To take bait of my oxen."

18. The god gaily hastened forth to the forest,
Where all-black oxen stood;
The thurses' bane (8) broke from the bull
The highfort above, both of its horns.

19. Spake Hymer: "You, chariot-master, (8) are terrible
When you are still;
Your works are far worse."

20. The flashing goats' master (8) bade the ape's kinsman
To row farther out,
But the giant had no desire
Farther to row.

21. Mighty Hymer drew on board ship
A pair of whales together;
But in the stern Sif's Vior
Cunningly readied a line.

22. The savior of peoples, the serpent's bane,
Now heaved the ox's head on the hook;
There gaped at the bait the one whom gods hate,
That is curled in the depths round all lands. (9)

23. Then doughty Thor courageously drew
The venomous snake aboard ship;
He hit with his hammer disdainfully down
On the crown of the head of the wolf's (10) fell brother.

24. Mountains roared,
The fields shrieked aloud;
So collapsed the former world;
The slimy serpent sank in the sea.

25. Unhappy was Hymer
As they rowed homeward;
Long time the giant spoke no word;
He turned the helm in the wrong direction.

26. Spake Hymer: "Do you share the work
Equally with me:
Bear you home the whales to the village,
Or bind the water goat fast at the shore."

27. Lorride (11) gripped the prow and drew the sea-horse (12) up on the shore
With sprit, oars, and bailer;
The giant's billow-boar (12) he bore to the village
Through dark forest paths.

28. But still the giant of obstinate habit
Vied with the god;
Said the man was not strong, though a mighty oarsman,
If he could not break a drinking vessel.

29. Lorride hurled the chalice at once,
The stone pillar cracked, but the goblet was whole;
Seated, he broke the hall's pillars through,
Yet whole was the cup he handed his host.

30. At length the giant's concubine, friendly woman,
Gave this advice, all that she knew:
"Hit Hymer's skull with it;
It is harder than any chalice."

31. Thor sprang up, braced himself,
Gathered his Asa-strength:
Whole was the giant's helmet-holder;
The wine cup's rim split into two.

32. Quoth Hymer: "I have lost the precious treasure,
Seeing the chalice, crushed, fall from my lap;
This word I can never unsay.
This draught was too bitter.

33. "You are free to take the caldron
Away from our court, if you can."
Twice Tyr tried to move it,
But it stood firm and steady.

34. Mode's father (13) grasped the rim
With such force that his foot broke the floor.
Sif's husband heaved it over his head;
The handles rattled against his heels.

35. They had not gone far
When Odin's son looked back;
He saw Hymer's hordes approaching
From eastern hollows, hundreds of heads.

36. He lowered the kettle, put it down,
And turned on the murderous mass with Mjolnir,
Slaying the terrible whales of stone
That hastened behind him with Hymer.

37. Not long did they travel ere Lorride's goat
Staggered and fell half dead before them;
The loping beast was lame of leg;
This had been caused by Loki.

38. But ye have heard, whoever is learned
In god-spells may readily see,
The wage he earned from the tiller of soil,
Who forfeited both his children.

39. To the Ting of the gods came defiant Thor,
And brought with him the caldron of Hymer;
Now the gods drink grandly with Ager each fall,
When the golden grain is garnered.

Chapter 16



1. Tyr, "animate being" hence "god," means specifically Mars who is closely linked with Aries of the zodiac, and with Heimdal, as well as with the energic impulse of Thor. As such, he symbolizes will and desire. Here we again see the progression from giants to gods, as Hymer, a giant, represents a parent or a past condition of Tyr, a god. (return to text)

2. Vior is, as we have seen, Thor in his capacity as the life force, the vitality of any organism. (return to text)

3. Aesir. (return to text)

4. Thor. (return to text)

5. Tyr. (return to text)

6. Thor, as vitality. (return to text)

7. Hymer. (return to text)

8. Thor. (return to text)

9. Iormungandr, the Midgard serpent. (return to text)

10. Fenris. (return to text)

11. Thor. (return to text)

12. Boat. (return to text)

13. Thor. (return to text)