Myth Monday: The Saga of Andvari’s Ring pt. 1

*Taken from Skaldskaparmal in Snorri’s Prose Edda, Faulkes translation. Direct quotes in Italics

The rather lengthy saga of Andvari’s ring starts by explaining why gold is called “otter-payment”. The text tells us “It is said that when the Aesir went to explore the whole world- Odin and Loki and Haenir – they came to a certain river and went along the river to a certain waterfall”. Next to this waterfall they saw an otter that had caught a salmon and was eating it. So Loki picked up a stone and threw it at the otter, hitting it in the head, and killing it. Loki was rather proud of himself for getting such a catch bringing in both otter and salmon. So they took the salmon and otter with them on their journey as part of their provisions. They later came across a farm and went inside. The farmer was named Hreidmar. “He was a person of great power and was skilled in magic”. The Aesir asked if they could stay the night there since having provisions of their own, they wouldn’t need anything of him besides a place to rest and showed him their catch. When Hreidmar saw the otter he called his son’s Fafnir and Regin and said their brother otter had been killed and told them it was these three Aesir who killed him. Then the family bound the Aesir as prisoners and Hreidmar revealed to them that the otter had been his son. The Aesir offered to pay Hreidmar whatever amount of wealth he wanted to make up for this. “These terms were agreed between them and confirmed with oaths”. Then Hreidmar skinned the otter and took the skin to Odin and the others and told them their settlement would be that they had to cover the skin entirely with red-gold and not leave any of the skin uncovered. So Odin sent Loki to the land of the black-elves (or dwarfs). Loki goes and while there spots a dwarf named Andvari who, at the moment, was a fish swimming in a lake. So Loki catches the fish holding him at ransom and tells him he will only let him go if he gives him all the gold in his cave. The dwarf agreed and he and Loki went into the cave. Andvari did bring all his gold out as he agreed, and that was quite a lot. But he tried to slip one gold ring under his arm and Loki spotted this. “Loki said the dwarf was not going to keep one penny and took the ring from him and went out”. As he was walking away, Andvari pronounced “this ring should be the deadly destruction of whoever possessed it. Loki said that he was happy for that to be so, and that it would have power to remain valid, this pronouncement, inasmuch as he would bring it to the ears of those who took possession of the ring”. Then he went on his way and gave the gold to Odin. Odin looked at the gold and thought the ring was beautiful. So he took the ring from the treasure and then took the rest to Hreidmar. They covered the otter skin as had been agreed and Odin told Hreidmar to check it to see that it was covered. Hreidmar looked it over and said there was one whisker not covered and it must be covered to meet their agreement. So Odin laid the ring on the whisker and it was covered. Hreidmar accepted this and said their debt was paid. “And when Odin had taken his spear and Loki his shoes and they had no need to have anymore fear, then Loki pronounced that it should remain valid, what Andvari had pronounced, that the ring and the gold should be the death of him who possessed it, and this was subsequently fulfilled”. And this is why gold is called “otter-payment” or “strife-metal”. …  (To be continued)

Discussion thoughts: 1) The farmer, Hreidmar, was described as “a person of great power” who was skilled in magik. What is interesting here is, this is one of those cases where it is a person. In every tale they specify when it is Aesir or God, giant, dwarf, etc that they’re talking about. But this is one is one of the few that says “person”. Not just person, but one skilled in magik. There is a common idea currently that outside of the runes, magik was all female such as Seidr and Volva etc. Yet, here we are with another example of a male using magik. If this is a person and not god or jotun or other being, wouldn’t his “great power” be his use of magik? How many farmers are described as a “person of great power” at that time period? Yet, he is a man so it’s hard to act like feminine magik was all that was at the time isn’t it? Being a farmer, maybe it was a form of folk magik or trolldom. Further, could it be that shape-shifting was one of those skills since his son was an otter when killed?  2) Along with the lines of magik, this is our classic “cursed item” scenario. This is one of those types of spells that used to be very common but that people now want to say was only certain paths or cultures who did it, and that therefore we can’t do it. Very specifically, people claim norse and other european cultures didn’t do curses and cursed items. But tah-dah, here’s a deadly ring activated by speaking it into action. So why do we still fight this matter? (There’s a later blog coming about more of these things). Finally, just for fun sake, we know that Tolkien is said to have gotten a lot of his inspiration for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings from Norse mythology. Since we later find out that this ring kills way more than just Hreidmar, is this THAT ring? As always, feel free to discuss in comments. See you soon.

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