Thurs Thursday: Vafthrudnir

Vafthrudnir is an ancient and wise Jotun that Odin went to have a competition of knowledge with. We aren’t told much about him save for what is mentioned in the poem “The Lay of Vafthrudnir” found in the Poetic Edda. In this poem, Odin asks Frigg for advice before going and (though he still chose to go anyway) her warning was to be careful because no giant was as wise as Vafthrudnir. But who is Vafthrudnir? To start, his name is one that there is some disagreement on. He is called “Riddle-weaver” by many people and translations. That’s likely to do with his wisdom and the competition he had with Odin. But the name itself consists of the words for “weave” and “mighty” or “mighty in strength”. So the more literal translation would be “mighty weaver”. This leads me to wonder what “weaving” he does. While he is commonly called Riddle-weaver, he’s not shown asking any actual riddles. The questions he and Odin ask each other are straight forward questions. With all the questions relating to the lore and history, could it be that he is a weaver of tales like a bard or historian or storyteller? It does say he, like Odin, had traveled all the nine worlds. He even mentioned going to “Niflhel beneath” and “all who die in hel go here”.  Even under different wording in other translations of the poetic edda, it says something to the affect of those already in hel dying and then going here. If it is death after death, is he talking about after Ragnarok? Or is he saying that he traveled all the way to Nostrand and where Nidhoggr lies? Another question is how old Vafthrudnir actually is. In stanzas 34 & 35, of the poem, Odin asks him What is the first thing he remembers or of the earliest thing he knows. Vafthrudnir answers by speaking of Bergelmir and continues to say “That I first remember, when that wise Jotun in an ark was laid”. Some say this is in reference to the way that Bergelmir and his wife used the wood or boat to float to safety during the flood from Ymir’s death. But, we were told they were the only surviving giants when that happened so it is questionable. Another translation calls it a coffin instead of ark or boat. That would make sense with the way Vafthrudnir says that Bergelmir was laid in it (instead of got himself in it). So this would likely be Bergelmir’s funeral. Either way, it is clear that Vafthrudnir is telling Odin that he was alive when Bergelmir was, even if it was just before he died. Finally, we see that Vfthrudnir is not only wise as in well learned and knowing the lore, but he is also clever. The final question Odin (in disguise) asked him was what Odin whispered in Baldur’s ear on the pyre. At this point, Vafthrudnir replies “No one knows what you said in your son’s ear”. Then he acknowledges the wager they had made on their heads in this contest and finishes by saying he knows he has been talking to Odin and that Odin is the wisest. Did he know the whole time? Or did he realize it when Odin asked a question that only he could know? In any case, he was smart enough that he knew who he was talking to. Either way, would it really count as Odin being more wise when the one extra thing he knew, that Vfthrudnir didn’t, was something he himself did in secret? It would seem that despite the loss, Vafthrudnir is still the most wise of giants. And technically (my personal view) the contest could be seen as a draw by modern standards. A school academic contest wouldn’t count against you for not knowing what the opponent said to his mom on the way to the school bus. Whatever the case, it is clear that Vafthrudnir was indeed very ancient and very wise. So what are your thoughts on this giant? What kind of “weaving” do you feel his name meant? For those who don’t have a working relationship with Odin, or who are more inclined to the Jotun and Rokkr, would Vfthrudnir be one to call on for wisdom in the way that many others do with Odin? With his many travels, wisdom, and ancient history, could Vafthrudnir be seen as something of a Jotun parallel to Odin? What do you think of this giant? Feel free to share your thoughts. 

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