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

Chapter 20


(The Song of the Mill)



Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small. — LONGFELLOW

Included here are two myths which seem to allude to the fourth (Atlantean) humanity on our globe. Both are the subject of numerous sagas. One is the lay of Grotte, the magic mill, as it applies to a terrestrial cycle, though, as we have seen, it also has a more universal application. The other tale is that of Volund, the smith. This relates how in the fourth great age humanity's soul — Volund — was enslaved by evil — King Nidud — the most material age of earth's and mankind's evolution.

These events in humanity's history took place some millions of years ago according to the chronology of theosophy, at a time when the human race had made the greatest material advances, surpassing in physical skills, technology, even our present age. But it was a one-sided prodigy, for man had already forgotten the spiritual values that had been given the race in earlier periods when divine influences imbodied among the first humanities and taught and guided our human infancy.

Among the myths that can claim descent from the wisdom-tradition of antiquity the tales of the magic mill are perhaps the most universally known, the most consistent and, in certain particulars, the most mysterious. It has never been satisfactorily explained why people on every continent in ancient times made a particular point of the magical properties of this implement: they endowed it not only with its accepted capacity to grind flour but credited it with grinding every possible substance for the gods. For this was no ordinary tool of man. It was an instrument of divine forces which supplied not only food but health, wealth, salt, happiness, peace prosperity — of mind as well as of body; it ground up continents on earth and dying worlds on the cosmic scale, and it spewed out homogeneous protosubstance from which new worlds could be formed. In the Finnish Kalevala, the celestial smith after several failures in the beginning of time successfully formed the mill Sampo, and its work of destruction and creation goes on for as long as worlds die and are born. The Maya people of Middle America to this day perform rites of the sacred mill, echoing some long lost lore. In the Edda its name, Grotte, means growth and is semantically connected with evolution.

The mysterious mill of all sacred traditions is featured in fairy tales as a remarkable instrument which was the producer of everything, faculties and properties of beings as well as matter. It was formed by divine agency for the manifestation of life and its sustenance. It was also its destroyer.

In one Edda story, two giant maidens are forced to take turns grinding riches and comforts for King Frode (his name means prosperity) during the early aeons of peace and joy known as the golden age. They work without ceasing to produce endless delights for the king's pleasure. As time goes on the monarch grows greedy for more gold and greater pleasures until he gives the maids only so much time to rest as it takes for a cock to crow or a cuckoo's call. Thus he prepares his own undoing. Inexorably, the tireless giantesses grind their ponderous revenge. Their ceaseless singing, accompanied by the creak of the millstones, grinds forth an army which, under the sea king Mysing, overruns and conquers Frode's lands.

King Mysing takes with him the mill of growth and in time he too falls victim to greed as the magic mill supplies his wants: his continent sinks beneath the waters — the classic tale of the flood which is told world wide.

As in the biblical account and other mythic tales, the king or principal personage represents a nation or race of people over an undetermined period of time, giving us in capsule form the history of ages. The flood, at once so common and so controversial, is featured in every comprehensive tradition, for it is an experience common to all mankind. Myths relate in story form the periodic rising and sinking of continental land massifs — both as rapid cataclysmic events and as the prolonged erosion and slow emergence with which we are familiar. Whether the sudden deluge they depict represents a singular happening or one that is periodically repeated, it undoubtedly made a sufficiently deep impression on human consciousness to have justified being part of the scriptural heritage of every people on the globe.

In the light of present-day science the divine mill suggests something even more universally significant than a device to describe seismology on earth. In its versatility, in its being used to produce all kinds of things — not only physical matter but also other substances — we see a clue to its character as an implement of creation. In this respect it closely parallels the hammer of Thor, Mjolnir (which means "miller"). Mjolnir is the pulverizer of giant worlds, which reduces matter to homogeneity. It is also the agent of creation: we have seen that Thor and his hammer officiate at weddings to insure continued generation and reproduction.

The possibility of an astronomical black hole being depicted as the mill of the gods is a tempting one, for with each gain in astrophysical science regarding these intriguing phenomena we seem to come closer to a description of the mythic mill. As the whirlpool sucked King Mysing's world into the eye of the millstone, so does the vortex surrounding a rotating black hole draw all matter within reach of its insatiable gravitational field into its event horizon, where it disappears from the perceivable universe. In addition, the mysterious quasars, which emit seemingly impossible quantities of radiation at all detectable wavelengths, from infrared to X-rays, are thought to coexist with black holes in the centers of galaxies. It is an interesting sidelight worth noting that in The Mahatma Letters (p. 47), which was published half a century before black holes were conjectured — the substances of dead worlds were said to be "ground over in the workshop of nature."

Such divine mills apply on the cosmic scale. As for the terrestrial Grotte, the mill of growth or evolution whose massive wheels are turned by the giantesses of earthly ages, it produces the result of whatever grist is supplied by the current "king" or race of humanity. It can do nothing else. Thus each civilization or wave of characteristic properties must bring its own consequences. During King Frode's early days of peace and plenty, a gold ring lay unclaimed at a busy crossroads for ages, it is said. When it disappeared the golden age was ended. A new age succeeded it — King Mysing — who in his turn was overcome by the deluge as his lands sank beneath the waves, an event which may have reference to the sinking of the so-called Atlantean continent and its cultures. In the theosophic records, these marked the midpoint of our planet's lifetime, the most material age of all — humanity's midnight.

Significantly it was midnight when the giant maids asked of King Mysing if he had enough of salt. It was a moment of decision: to continue the creation of matter, the downward trend of the past age, or turn the evolutionary current toward spiritual growth. The king's choice brought its inevitable result: the deluge sank his ships and drew the cycle of his reign to a close. The fourth age had brought on itself its own destruction by inundation — an event which offered humanity the opportunity to rise once more toward the divine source from which it had originally descended.

Proem to Grottasongr

Skold (shield) was the son of Odin. He had one son named Fridleif (lover of peace), whose son was named Frode (prosperity).

During the age when Frode was king, the world was filled with peace and harmony. No man would harm any other; there were no thieves or robbers. For ages a golden ring was left lying openly at a crossroads, untouched. King Frode bought two thralls, two giantesses named Fenja and Menja. They were big and strong, able to set in motion the cumbrous mill which none other could move. This mill possessed the property of being capable of producing whatever was demanded of it. Its name was Grotte.

King Frode had the giant maids brought to the mill and he bade them grind gold and peace and fortune for him. He gave them no rest lasting longer than the cuckoo took to sing its song. It is said that the two mighty maidens sang the Song of the Mill and that, before they stopped singing, taking turns at the quernstone, they had ground out an army against Frode, so that there came a sea king by night who slew Frode and took much booty. This ended the Peace of Frode.

The conqueror, King Mysing, took with him the quern and the miller maidens. He bade them grind salt. At midnight they asked him if he yet had enough salt, but he bade them continue. They milled further, until, after a time his ships sank. There came to be a whirlpool in the sea where the waters pour into the eye of the millstone. The ocean foams as the mill turns, and this makes the sea salty.


1. Now are come to the palace the foreknowing pair,
Fenja and Menja;
They are at Frode's, the son of Fridleif, mighty maidens
Held as helots.

2. Forth to the mill bench were they brought
To set the grey stone in motion;
He gave them no rest nor peace,
Attentive to the creak of the mill.

3. Their song was a howl,
Shattering silence;
"Lower the bin and lighten the stones!"
Yet he would have them grind more.

4. They sang as they swung and spun the stone
While most of the men were sleeping;
Then sang Menja, her turn at the mill,
The hardminded maid with thunderous voice:

5. "Goods we grind Frode, milling out fortune,
Full fare of riches on the mill of delights;
He shall sit upon gold; he shall sleep upon down,
And wake with a will, then is it well ground.

6. "Here shall none harm another, nor harbor malice,
Nor bring to bane,
Nor cut with sharp sword, even should he find
His brother's bane bound!"

7. The hands stopped, resting; the quern was quiet;
Then called the king his ancient plaint:
"Sleep no more than the cock is silent, rest no more
Than the words I speak!"

8. "Frode, you were not wholly wise, oh, friend of man,
When you bought these thralls;
You chose us for strength and bearing,
Not heeding of what race we are born.

9. "Hard was Rungner, hard his father;
Tjasse was greater than both;
Ide and Orner, sires of our race, brothers of mountain giants,
These are our forebears.

10. "Grotte had never risen from the grey mountain
Earth's hard bedrock,
Nor would be grinding the mountain-maid,
Did anyone know her kind.

11. "Nine winters lasted our playing-time,
Beneath the earth matured our power;
Great works performed we constantly;
We moved the very mountains.

12. "From giants' fields we tore out boulders;
So the earth trembled, subsided, and quaked;
We rolled from thence the singing stone,
The heavy slab, for men to take.

13. "In the land of Svitjod, foresighted,
We two joined the people;
Hunted bears, broke shields,
Marched through the ranks of grey.

14. "We destroyed one prince, supported another,
The good Gothorm we helped with his horde;
No peace there was till we conquered Knue
There we were stopped and captured.

15. "Such was our progress in former times,
Well known were we among warriors;
Then we cut heroes with sharpened spears,
Wounded and reddened with fire.

16. "Now we are come to the house of the king,
In thralldom, with mercy from none;
Grit tears our feet, frost freezes our forms as we turn the peace mill.
It is dreary at Frode's.

17. "Hands shall rest; the stone shall stop;
I have milled my whole life's aim.
Yet the hand may not stay until Frode feels
All has been fully milled.

18. "The hands shall hold handles hard, bloodstained weapons.
Wake up, Frode!
Wake up, Frode, if you would hear our songs and
Our sayings of long ago.

19. "Fire I see burning east of the fort;
Call up the couriers, call for the beacons!
A warrior horde shall o'errun this place
And burn the Budlung's [King's] dwelling.

20. "You shall not retain the throne of Leidre,
Your redgold rings, or your quern of riches;
Grasp the shaft more firmly, sister!
We are not warmed by the blood of the whale!

21. "Surely my father's maid mightily milled,
For she saw many men go to their death;
The mill's great props, though cased in iron,
Burst asunder — yet more we milled.

22. "Yet still more we milled! May Yrsa's son, scion of Halfdan,
Avenge him on Frode;
He may be held her son, and also her brother.
We both know this."

23. The maids they milled with might and main,
Young they were, in giant-wrath;
The rafters quivered, the boom was lowered,
With deafening din the boulder burst.

24. So collapsed the former world.
Chanted the mountain-giant's bride:
"We have ground for you, Frode, as we were forced.
At the quern the women remained till the end!"

Chapter 21