Voluspa Study: Opening stanzas

This is the first entry of the Voluspa study I’ve been toying with the idea of doing. I see a lot of blogs and sites do a Voluspa or Havamal study and it’s usually a stanza posted and showing what it says but not actually studying or discussing much. So, the way I’m hoping to do this is breaking down a few stanzas per post based on their collective theme. For example in Voluspa it starts with the opening and the Seeress saying a little about herself, then on to the creation of the world, then the dwarfs, then the humans, etc, etc, until Ragnarok and the ultimate restart. So, I’d like to break those sections down as much as possible and look at them individually, and have discussion via the comments section to make it more of a study. I’ll be starting with stanzas 1 & 2, which is essentially the introduction. I’ll be taking from Bellows translation because I just prefer the wording and flow in that one. But I will cite other translations in some places in the discussion parts as needed. So, let’s get started. 

1) Hearing I ask from the holy races,

From Heimdall’s sons, both high and low;

Thou wilt, Valfather, that well I relate

Old tales I remember of men long ago

2) I remember yet the giants of yore,

Who gave me bread in days goneby;

Nine worlds I knew, the nine in the tree

With mighty roots beneath the mold.

These first stanzas are relatively straight forward as a whole. We see this volva has been asked by Odin to tell her knowledge of the tales of men and gods both past and future. This is what a Volva or Seeress was known to do. They would travel around and give prophecies and work magik for the people; and sometimes they would be summoned or requested by people to come do this. In this particular case, it seems she is addressing all people by saying “Heimdall’s sons, both high and low”. In Thorpe’s translation it is worded “all sacred children, great and small, sons of Heimdall”. And in Crawford’s translation, it is “all classes of men, you greater and lesser children of Heimdall”. In all three of these, it is addressing both gods and  “children of Heimdall” no matter their rank. One point of interest here is that this is one of the citations some say suggests that Heimdall was at one point considered the father of man-kind. That is still a bit speculative, but worth noting. But regardless of that portion, and going back to the Volva herself, we see that whoever she is, she too has known (or seen) all nine worlds. With the Volvas being known to travel, that does make sense. However, we know that in the lore, traveling all nine worlds is associated with gaining wisdom. We see that with Odin in his search for wisdom. We see the wise giant Vafthrudnir (that Odin contended in wisdom with) say that he is wise because he too traveled all the worlds. And now we see this Volva say that she has also known all the worlds. So what can we get from this idea from a spiritual standpoint? For me, I think it could relate to the way we say that to gain wisdom you have to have experience, and “expand your horizons”. Exploring new places and things has long been considered a way of becoming learned and cultured. This was especially the case in days when we didn’t have access to other people and places around the world via television and internet (or even old newspapers). And there is archeological evidence and writings that indicate the norse and viking era travellers did mingle, adopt, and borrow things they saw and learned from those they met in their travels. So from this, we can see the importance put on going out and seeing and experiencing other places.  On a spiritual note, (and this is completely upg here) I wonder if we could also view this as travelling spiritually and energetically via meditation and what some call astral travel. I have known many people to describe things they learned and saw in some such journeys that were similar accounts though they hadn’t talked to the others about it. And that is also including communion with their chosen deities. So, although a modern spiritual spin on it, I believe that too would count as part of traveling for wisdom sake. Especially for us humans who can’t otherwise get to those realms while we’re alive to do anything about it. 

On a final note, if we go back a verse, we see a slight glimpse of the witch’s personal history. This is where she mentions the giants “who gave me bread in days goneby”. This could be referring to one of her travels as a young volva, or some passing experience she had, as it was common to give food and hospitality to a volva when she came through a village and lent her abilities. However, it also says long ago, and in both Thorpe’s and Crawford’s translations, it is translated in a way that indicates the giants raised her. Thorpe’s version says “The Jotuns I remember early born, those who me of old have reared”. Crawford’s translation simplifies it to “in those ancient days they raised me”. So though we don’t know for sure who she is, it does indicate that she is very likely a Jotun. There are those who think she could be Angrboda. Some say she is Gullvieg and that she is telling of her own death when she mentions that story later in the poem. Some say that she is simply an unknown witch called on to perform this prophecy-telling. If the latter is the case, could she be one of the witches (or trollwives) from the Ironwood that are mentioned? Whoever she happens to be, it would appear by her own words, that either she herself is Jotun, or that she at least lived with them and/or was raised by them. This would show that, despite the claim that Jotun witches were only a particular dark (or even evil) type of witch, Jotun and Jotun-kin were also Volvas which were called on for various needs, and especially prophecies. That would make sense too, as other myths tell us the Aesir often asked the Jotun for help in areas of strong magik. Regardless of who she is, it is clear within these first two stanzas of this poem that she is well experienced, wise, and ancient. 

Those are just some of the points I thought about while reading. I would like to know what your thoughts are on this portion whether literary, or spiritually or otherwise. Is there anything that stands out to you in these stanzas that wasn’t mentioned? What have you learned or taken from these two stanzas? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions on this section. I will respond as able. Thanks for joining me. See you soon.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: