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

Chapter 18

Kvadet om Rig

(The Lay of Rig)



Long, long ago, the human race had not yet acquired the abilities which distinguish us from the beasts today: the powers of speech, of abstract thought, of artistry, creativity, and empathy. This is the tale of our awakening into rudimentary humanhood, initiating the process of training, honing, and perfecting the human instrument — something which is still continuing today.

Rig (1) is a ray of Heimdal, "the whitest Ase," a solar influence. Symbolically he is allied with Tyr, the god of beginnings, and with the zodiacal constellation Aries. The lay relates how the descent of this godlike influence into the humanity of that early time took place in three stages. Humanity was still dumb, lacking mental power, and vegetated aimlessly, drifting with infinite slowness along the evolutionary way without incentive or desire for growth, when the compassionate gods looked back and saw their plight. And so "fared along green paths the mighty, mature, wise Ase, powerful, manly, wandering Rig" (1). He descended among mankind to aid in awakening man to his potential as an asmegir, a godmaker.

The first attempt was unsuccessful: the door of the human abode, a miserable hovel, was closed (2). At the second descent, the god found man in a comfortable homestead, whose door was ajar (13) — partially receptive; the third venture found man dwelling in a mansion whose "door stood open" (23): these human forms were fit to receive the divine influx of self-conscious mind.

From that time forward the human race became self-aware, able to determine its destiny. With thought came freedom of will and with choice came responsibility. The human being was now accountable for his thoughts and actions on moral and intellectual levels as well as on merely physical grounds, as before.

It is noteworthy that the progeny of the god in the third dwelling was taught by his divine father, given runes of wisdom, and successfully gained for himself the title "Rig." This race gave rise to succeeding humanities, whereof the youngest, King, was proficient in healing and "learned birdsong," meaning he could understand the languages of nature, possessed insight and understanding.

In the lay's abrupt and unexpected conclusion, King is warned by a crow to pursue more manly objectives than hunting birds: he should "ride a horse, hew with sword, and fell the foe" — symbols for learning to control the animal nature, to grasp the sword of will or knowledge, and to slay the enemy of human progress — egoism. The warning could be a premonition of the ensuing race's perversion of its divine endowments. The tale of Rig is often taken to lend support to the caste system that exists in most societies, whether openly or unrecognized. Be that as it may, it holds far greater import as well. We must bear in mind the structure of myths, which may repeatedly disclose deeper layers of meaning to the limit of our individual understanding. If we regard evolution primarily as the unfolding of consciousness, with forms and personalities following suit, we see the divine compassion in the descent of Rig, our divine parent, who came to endow us with the specifically human qualities which, after many a winding of the course of our lives, will bring the perfection of our species.

Kvadet om Rig

In former times men say that a certain one of the Aesir named Heimdal arose and rode along a seashore, came to a homestead, and named himself Rig. From that story comes this lay.

1. Began to stride along green lanes
The strong, mature, wise Ase,
Powerful, manly, wandering Rig.

2. Continued along the middle of the road,
He came to a cabin whose door was closed
And entered. There was fire on the floor,
Seated by the hearth a grayhaired couple,
Ae and Edda (2) in an ancient kerchief.

3. Rig knew how to advise them,
Seated himself in the middle seat
With the hall's folk on either side.

4. Edda served him simple fare,
A loaf, heavy and thick, of coarse grain;
Then brought more food to the table,
Soup in the bowl was placed on the board,
Simmered veal, the best of fare.

5. Rig knew how to advise them,
Then rose and prepared for rest;
He lay in the middle of the bed
The hall's folk on either side.

6. Three nights he dwelt with them together,
Then strode away down the straight road.
Nine months went by.

7. A son bore Edda, he was water-sluiced,
Had swarthy skin and was named Thrall.

8. His skin was wrinkled, his hands were rough,
With knobby knuckles and broken nails;
The fingers were thick, the face unsightly,
His back was bent, his heels were long.

9. He grew and flourished, exerted his strength
To bind osiers, prepare burdens, and hauled wood all day.

10. There came to the homestead a wandering wench
With scarred soles, sunburnt arms and downbent nose.
Her name was Tir.

11. She sat in the middle of the bench;
With her sat the son of the house.
They whispered and giggled, prepared a bed,
Thrall and Tir in burdensome days.

12. Contented they dwelt and bore children. . . .

[Here follow the names of their twelve sons and ten daughters.]

They laid out farms, fertilized fields, bred swine,
Herded goats, dug peat.
From them are descended the race of thralls.

13. Rig strode along the middle of the road,
Came to a hall where the door was ajar;
He entered in, there was fire on the floor,
At their tasks were seated the dwellers.

14. Afve and Amma (3) owned the house.
The man was whittling a tree bole for a loom,
Wore a trim beard and his hair combed down,
A fitted shirt. A chest stood in the corner.

15. The wife spun yarn at a whirring wheel,
Spread her arms and built a weft,
Wore a kerchief round her hair,
A scarf at her bosom,
And brooches on her shoulders.

16. Rig knew how to advise them,
Sat between them on the bench
With the folk on either side. . . .

[Here a part of the lay is missing.]

17. Rig knew how to advise them,
Rose from the table, prepared for sleep;
Lay in the center of the bed with the local folk on either side.

18. Three nights he remained,
Then strode on down the middle of the road;
Nine months went by.

19. A child bore Amma, it was water-sluiced and named Karl; (4)
The lad was diapered, pink and pretty, with sparkling eyes.

20. He grew and flourished;
Tamed oxen, made plows,
Timbered houses and tall barns,
Crafted carts and drove a plow.

21. To the home was brought a bride with dangling keys,
In a kidskin skirt, and was wed to Karl.
Alert was her name, she was adorned with a veil.
They built together, united their possessions,
Erected a home and made their bed.

22. Content they lived. . . .

[Their children are named: twelve boys, ten girls.]

From these all free men's races had their source.

23. Thence went Rig along the middle of the road,
Came to a hall with the door to the south,
And the door was open, a ring at the post.

24. He entered. The floor was strewn;
There were seated, exchanging friendly glances,
Fader and Moder, (5) their fingers entwined.

25. The man twined string, bent an elmwood bow
And fletched arrows, while the wife
Eagerly pressed linen and starched sleeves
To cover her arms.

26. She wore a tall headdress, a gem on her breast,
Blue-adorned blouse and trailing skirt;
Her brow was brighter, her breast lighter,
Her throat whiter than sparkling snow.

27. Rig knew how to advise them,
Seated himself on the middle of the bench,
With the hall's folk on either hand.

28. Moder set the table with the broidered cloth,
Brought thin white slices of wheaten bread.
She placed platters of wrought silver
Full of garnish on the table:
Fish and pork, and fried wild fowl,
Wine in a decanter, costly cups.
They drank and pleasured till the day was done.

29. Rig knew how to advise them,
Rose and prepared for sleep.
He lay in the middle of the bed
With the hall's folk on either side.

30. He there abode with them three nights;
Strode down the middle of the road.
Nine months went by.

31. A son bore Moder. He was swathed in silk,
Was wetted with water and named Jarl. (6)
His hair was fair, his cheeks were rosy.
His eyes sparkled like a young snake's.

32. Jarl grew up on the floor of that hall.
He soon swung shield, twined string, bent bow,
Shafted arrows, hurled spear, swung lance,
Harried hounds, rode horses, wielded sword, and swam the wave.

33. From the concealing woods came wandering Rig, came striding Rig.
He taught him runes, gave him his name and called him son,
Gave him inheritance, possessions, farmlands,
Farmlands and ancient cities.

34. Mighty Jarl rode through dense woods,
Over snowcapped mountains to a distant hall;
Hurled his spear, shook his shield,
Spurred his steed, hewed with sword,
Roused to battle, to bloody field,
To choose to fall, won himself land.

35. Alone he ruled over eighteen farms,
Shifted goods and gave to all
Gems, precious stones, agile horses,
Shared his rings, cut the red gold. (7)

36. Messengers went forth over damp roads,
Arrived at the hall where Harse lived.
A maid had he, soft-fingered, white-skinned,
Nobleminded. Her name was Arna. (8)

37. They won her and sent her home.
She wore bridal linen and was wed to Jarl.
Together they built and were content,
Increased their race and gained old age.

38. [Here follow the names of their children.]
Kon (9) was the youngest.
There grew Jarl's sons, tamed horses, arched shields,
Cut arrows and shook lances.

39. But Kon, the young, knew runes,
Eternal runes and ageless runes.
Mighty was he to rescue men,
Soothing swords and swelling seas.

40. He learned birdsong, to quench flames,
To still pain and heal sorrows,
Had eight men's strength and clear vision.

41. Jarl contested with Rig over runes,
Performed feats and did the better.
He gained that which was his lot:
To be named Rig and to know runes.

42. Rode Kon, the young, through marsh and woods,
Let flying dart crown him a bird.
So sang a crow on a twig one day:

43. "Why, Kon the young, do you slay birds"
Better you should ride a horse,
Hew with sword and fell the foe.

44. "Other kings have costly mansions and better farms
Than you possess;
Well do they ride a keel, bloody a sword's edge
And draw wounds."

Chapter 19



1. Rig means a "descent" or an "involvement." (return to text)

2. Great-grandfather and great-grandmother. (return to text)

3. Grandfather and Grandmother. (return to text)

4. Man. (return to text)

5. Father and Mother. (return to text)

6. Earl. (return to text)

7. In Viking times spiral gold rings worn round the upper arm served as money, a piece of an arm-ring being cut off as payment when needed. (return to text)

8. Aspire. (return to text)

9. King. (return to text)