Myth Monday: The Lay of Vegtam (or Baldr’s Dreams)

This poem opens with the Gods and Goddesses holding council about the troubling dreams Baldr has been having. In Thorpe’s translation it says that then “They the Jotun questioned, wise seers of the future”, what the dreams meant, and that they were told the dreams meant Baldr was destined to die. So the Aesir went out to all the species to have them oath not to harm Baldr. This portion isn’t in many other versions and transitions of the poem. But from this point on they all remain pretty consistent. After this council session, Odin feels uneasy about it and saddles up on Sleipnir and rides out towards Niflhel to consult with a dead wise-woman or prophetess. As he rode, he met a dog from Hel who was blood-stained on its chest, throat and jaw. And the dog howled so loudly it was still heard into the distance as Odin rode on. Odin came to the house of Hel and then rode toward “the eastern gate, where he knew there was a Vala’s grave(Thorpe). Once there, Odin used magik to raise the volva from death in order to speak with her. In Bellows’ translation it says “Magic he spoke, and mighty charms, till spell-bound she rose, and in death she spoke”. Thorpe’s translation gives a bit more description of  how he did this saying “he began a magic son to chant, towards the north looked, potent runes applied, a spell pronounced, an answer demanded, until compelled she rose”. From this description, it can be seen that this particular session of necromancy was done through galdr instead of the herbs and almost potion-like approach that he had used with Mimir’s head. When the old one rises, she asks who has risen her because she has been dead a long time. Odin, as usual, gives an alternate name to conceal his identity by saying his name is Vegtam and then begins to question the old witch. The first question he asks is Who is the hall there in Hel decorated in gold for? She says it is for Baldr, mead is brewed, a shield lays over it, and the Aesir are in despair over his death. So, realizing Hel is already making preparations for his death, his next question is who will be the one to kill Baldr. She tells him that Hodr would be the one to kill Baldr with (depending on translation) either a branch or spear. Odin then ask who will take vengeance for Baldr’s death or bring his killer to the pyre. The Volva replies that Rind will bear a child by Odin, named Vali, and that when he is one night old he will not wash his hands or comb his hair “Till the slayer of Baldr he brings to the flames(Bellows). The next question Odin asks her is what maidens or women will weep at Baldr’s death. And this, she suddenly realizes that, as she thought, this was in fact Odin in disguise and she calls him out on it. “You are not Vegtam, as I thought before; You are Odin”. And he in turn calls back at her “You’re no wise-woman, you’re the mother of three Thurs”. Other translations used various terms there. But all equate to Thursar, giants, or monsters. Either way, there are three “monsters” that she is the mother of. Though it doesn’t tell us for certain by name, this is one of the reasons some people speculate that this Volva may be Angrboda. Here she ends her speech with him saying “Go home Odin” and tells him that no man will wake her again until “Loki wanders loose from his bonds, and to the last strife the destroyers come”(Bellows). Thorpe’s translation says “until Loki free from his bonds escapes”. And that is where the poem ends. 

Thoughts and Discussion: The extra lines in Thorpe’s translation and the one version of the poem that includes the Aesir asking the Jotun what the dreams mean before Odin went to the dead prophetess, it mentions in someway being “seers of the future” or otherwise having some form of wisdom in this area of wisdom. And saying they went to as many as they could seems to indicate it was more than just one or two who were well known for being wise seers. So it gives a little more credit to the idea that Jotun weren’t all bad, hated, primal beastly things as many people seem to think. But what really stirs in my mind here is the way she mentions Loki at the end. She says she wouldn’t be disturbed again until Loki was free from his bonds for Ragnarok. So if Loki is already bound until Ragnarok and Baldr hasn’t been killed yet, that would fall in line with the idea that he was not bound for killing Baldr but for the insults at the feast like it says it happened in Lokasenna. So it is possible that, whether it was for the flyting or something else entirely, he was still already bound before Baldr was killed and therefore not responsible. Presumably, one could also guess that its possible she saw Loki being bound for it and just threw it in as part of that last statement. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason she would want to give them that idea to use on him either. And, it was Skadi in Lokasenna that stated what was going to be done to him. So, that’s all I have on this one for now. What are your thoughts? As always, feel free to comment and discuss. See you soon.

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