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

Chapter 25


(The Lay of Skirner)



Frey, the deity whose embodiment is in the many-mansioned earth, was seated on Lidskjalf whence he espied the giant maiden Gerd in her father's court. He was consumed with love for her and wished to woo her for his bride. The divine being cannot, however, enter the matter worlds directly and therefore Frey sent his henchman Skirner to woo the maiden on his behalf. Skirner introduces himself to Gerd as "not of the elves, nor of Asa-sons, nor yet am I one of the wise Vaner" (18). What, then, is he?

Skirner means Radiance, a ray of divinity, an avatara which descends into a lower world in order to enlighten a race of humanity — a giant maid. Equipped with the steed and sword of the god, Skirner rides to the giant world and gains speech with Gerd, but she repels all his overtures. The apples of immortality do not tempt her, nor does "the ring that was burned with Odin's son" (Balder), which drops eight like itself every ninth night — her father, she says, has gold aplenty. Nor is she moved by threats of continuing evils in the giant world with worse to come. However, when her future is revealed to her — extinction in "powerlessness, witlessness, and lust" — she finally agrees to meet with the god in the inviolable sacred grove Barre "where one travels in peace" (39).

The lay of Skirner might easily be dismissed as fantastic nonsense were it not for a certain suggestive quality that parallels other tales relating to the incarnation of a divinity in our world: an avataric descent. This, like the "hostages" sent by the Vaner to the Aesir, is the penetration of a divine ray from a superior sphere into a lower world and its embodiment there, to bring an ennobling influence to bear on the thought atmosphere of that world. At certain junctures earth has experienced such events, when a divine teacher has taken human form to teach and inspire humanity. Krishna, Lao-tse, Sankaracharya, the one whom tradition has named the Christ, and others, are examples of such avataras. They come at certain cyclic periods; in the words of Krishna, "I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness." Each time such an avatara imbodies among human beings, he strikes anew the keynote of truth which resounds for a longer or shorter epoch, depending on the age; eventually a new cycle begins, bringing a fresh dispensation of the eternal message.

In the light of this, Skirner's mission appears as such a periodic event, one which took place in some dimly remembered prehistoric time — a divine incarnation for the enlightenment of Gerd, daughter race of a grossly materialistic giant race, her father.

Before the descent, however, certain obstacles must be overcome. The radiant messenger must be equipped with the steed that can traverse the "purging fires" that surround the realm of the gods; he must be armed with Frey's sword which wields itself in battling giants "if the bearer is resourceful" (9). In the stories told of Frey, his sword is relatively short: a mere yard long. The one who wields it must be both courageous to approach close to the foe, and resourceful to be able to do so unharmed: the bearer of the weapon of spiritual will is fearless and also wise.

Gerd is evidently an age much like our own, one of material skills and pursuits: she is quite content with the riches of the giant world that are hers and cares not at all for those offered by the god's messenger. Only when the realization of the ceaseless sorrows attendant on a clinging to matter is gradually brought home to her does she choose at last to meet with her divine companion in the sacred grove of peace.

An interesting point raised by this poem revolves around the stepmother, Skade, whose name means "injury." She is the lovely young wife of Njord, the ageless Saturnian god of time. We have seen that she was the one who hung the venomous serpent over Loki's face to aggravate his suffering in the nether worlds; she is also the instigator of Skirner's errand to inquire of Frey what is troubling him. This is not an easy problem to resolve but it is one that bears consideration. Is it possible that Skade could represent the Norse equivalent of the highly mysterious Narada of eastern philosophies — the power which brings much immediate suffering but whose long-range effects are to clear the way for productive future growth? Whether she is intended to represent such an agent of natural calamity to further the evolution of beings must remain a moot question.


Frey, son of Njord, sat on the Shelf of Compassion one day and looked over all the worlds; he gazed into the realm of the giants and there saw a fair maiden walking from her father's hall to the women's quarters. Thence had he much heartache. Skirner was Frey's squire. Njord's wife Skade sent him to engage Frey in conversation.

1. SKADE: Stand forth, Skirner;
Go try to engage our son in speech;
Ask who it is
Who makes the wise one unhappy.

2. SKIRNER: I may expect angry words
If I ask your son
Whom he wishes to espouse.

3. Tell me, Frey, prince among gods:
Why sit you alone
In your infinite hall,
Day after day, my lord?

4. FREY: How can I reveal to you,
Friend of my youth,
My heart's great sorrow?
Though the sun shines
Blessingly each day,
It shines not on my desire.

5. SKIRNER: Surely your wish could not be so lofty
It might not be told to me;
We were young together in ancient days;
We two may trust each other!

6. FREY: In Gymer's courts I saw walking
A maid who pleases me;
Her arms glistened so they reflected
All the heavens and seas;

7. The maid is more dear to me
Than my childhood friend;
But of Aesir and elves
None wish to see us united.

8. SKIRNER: Bring me the horse that can bear me at dusk
Over the protective purging fires;
That sword as well that wields itself
In battle with giants.

9. FREY: I bring you the steed that can bear you at dusk
Over the protective purging fires;
The sword also that wields itself
If the bearer thereof is resourceful.

It is dark outside; our aim is to journey
Over moist mountains, close to the thurses;
We both shall be safe or both shall be taken
By the greedy giant.

Skirner rode into the giant world, to Gymer's courts; there angry hounds were bound by the gate of the yard surrounding Gerd's hall. He rode to a herdsman seated on a mound.

11. SKIRNER: Tell me, herdsman who sit on the mound
Watching all roads;
How shall I gain speech with the maiden
For Gymer's angry hounds?

12. HERDSMAN: Are you condemned to death or dead already,
You so high on your horse?
It will be hard for you to gain speech
With Gymer's maiden, the virtuous one.

13. SKIRNER: There are better things to do than haggle,
When wishing to advance.
One day only is my age waxed now,
And all my destiny laid forth.

14. GERD TO HER SLAVE GIRL: What is the noise,
The roaring din I hear?
The earth trembles
And Gymer's courts quake.

15. SLAVEGIRL: Here is a man, dismounted,
Letting his horse crop grass.

16. GERD: Bid him enter our hall
And drink splendid mead!
Yet I sense a foreboding
That outside stands my brother's bane.

17. Who among elves or of Asa-sons,
Or of wise Vaner are you?
Why came you alone over oak-lighted fires
To see our hall?

18. SKIRNER: I am not of the elves, nor of Asa-sons,
Nor yet am I one of wise Vaner;
Yet came I alone over oak-lighted fires
To see your hall.

19. Eleven golden apples I have
To give, Gerd, to you,
To buy your peace and that you
Be not indifferent to Frey.

20. GERD: Eleven apples I will not take
To have a man;
Frey and I may not build
Our lives together.

21. SKIRNER: Then I offer you the ring
That was burned with Odin's young son;
Eight like itself drop therefrom
Every ninth night.

22. GERD: I care not for the ring
Though it was burned with Odin's young son;
For gold I lack not
In Gymer's courts.

23. SKIRNER: See you this sword,
Supple, adorned with runes,
Which I hold in my hand?
I shall sever your head from your neck
If you refuse.

24. GERD: Force shall never cause me
To take a man;
But I know that if you and Gymer meet in battle,
It will be a lusty fight.

25. SKIRNER: See you the sword,
Supple, adorned with runes?
By it shall fall the ancient giant;
Your father were doomed to die.

26. I smite you with a magic wand,
For I must tame you to my wish;
You shall go where the children of men
Nevermore shall see you.

27. You shall sit on the eagle's mound
With your gaze turned from the world,
Staring toward Hel's house;
Food shall disgust you more
Than the shining serpent does men.

28. You shall be a monster on the road;
Rimner shall stare at you;
Your aspect confusing all;
Better shall you be known
Than the watcher of the gods,
As you greedily gawk at the gate.

29. Emptiness, lamentation, compulsion, impatience,
Your tears shall swell in anguish;
Sit while I conjure over you a flow of bitter curses,
Double lust and disgust.

30. You shall be hagridden from morning till night
In the giants' courts;
To the frost giants' hall shall you daily walk
Defenseless and lame,
Weeping shall be as joy to you,
And sorrow suffered with tears.

31. With a threeheaded thurse shall you walk,
Or be without man and mate;
Lust shall burn you, yearning tear you,
You shall be like the thistle that grows under the eaves.

32. I went to the woods,
To the damp willow thicket,
The wand to take.
The wand I took.

33. Wroth at you is Odin,
Wroth at you is Brage,
Frey shall heartily hate you;
Ill-willing maid,
You have provoked
The wrath of the gods in a matter of import.

34. Hear ye, titans,
Hear ye, frostgiants,
Sons of Suttung (fire),
And even you, Aesir:
Hear how I curse, how I ban the maid
From pleasuring with man.

35. Rimgrimner is the giant that shall hold you
Beneath the gates of death;
There shall slaves by the roots of trees
Give you sour liquid of goats;
No nobler drink shall you ever have, maid,
By your desire, by your own decree.

36. "Giant" I carve you three rune-staves:
Powerlessness, witlessness, and lust.
Then I tear off that on which I scribed it,
If need be.

37. GERD: Hail you, lad, rather now
Receive the festive beaker filled with aged mead!
Never dreamed I that I ever would wish
The Vana-son well.

38. SKIRNER: I would know all
Before I ride homeward:
When shall you at Ting
Plight your troth to the son of Njord?

39. GERD: Barre is the grove where one travels in peace,
As we both know.
Nine nights from now shall Gerd there plight her troth
To the son of Njord.

Skirner rode home. Frey stood outside, greeted him and asked for news.

40. FREY: Tell me, Skirner, before you unsaddle
The steed and take one step:
How went the matter in the giant world?
According to your way or mine?

41. SKIRNER: Barre is the grove where one travels in peace,
As we both know.
Nine nights from now shall Gerd there plight her troth
To the son of Njord.

42. FREY: Long is one night;
Longer two;
How shall I for three be yearning?
Often a month seems less to me.

Chapter 26