baleanoptera: (Norge Stavechurch)
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A carved dragons head found in the Oseberg burial

I'm currently reading a very interesting book called The Idea of North, which deals with all manner of folklore and legends in the Polar region. One passage reminded me why I LOVE the old Norse Sagas:

"The verse narrative of The Waking of Angatyr, interprolated in the Saga of King Heindrik the Wise, takes place on a burning offshore island which is simultaneously the place where the noble dead are buried and an otherworld to which the living can travel at their peril. Hervor travels there to demand of her father Angantyr the supernatural sword that has been buried with him. As with almost all ghost narratives of the north, the early waning of the winter daylight is crucial. In the zone between the living and the dead in which the poem opens, there is a terse dialogue between the heroine and a herdsman, on the dangers of being benighted in such a place:

To have come hither, all alone
To this land of shadows was sheer folly,
Over fen and fold fires are soaring,
Graves are opening: let us go quickly.

But she is fearless: she curses and threatens the waking dead until they yield to her the sword that has been buried as part of Angantyr’s grave goods, but not without the prophecy from its dead owner that it will "Destroy your kindred, kill them all" To which she replies:


Churlish cowards! May my curse fall
On all of you: may you ever lie
Wretched shades, in the rot of the pit.
Give back the wonderous work of smiths:
Son of Vikings, it is vain to hide it.


No mortal maiden to me you seem,
Who walk in the dark where the dead lie,
Uncowed by flames, with a carved spear
And mailed corselet on Munarvag.


[...]I will touch the weapon, take hold of
The sharp edge. In order to get it
I will walk through fire with unflinching step:
The flames are sinking before my eyes.

But once she has the sword she seems to care little for past or future: the interactions of the living and the dead are conducted through a brutal show of force on both sides, in a way that barely makes a distinction between the two conditions. Hervor departs in triumph:

With glad heart I will go now
To ride the horses of the roaring sea:
Little care I what may come after...

And throws only a half-blessing behind her as she goes, that her father and his big berserkers may be at peace in their graves."

- From The Idea of North by Peter Davidson

The poem is the translation by W.H. Auden and A.R. Taylor. It is online here complete with cheesy imagery.

The Monument Swords in Stone that commemorates the Battle of Hafrsfjord in 872 AD that the legend says united Norway. (Historically? Um, not so much)


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