Friday, November 25, 2011

The Lay of Helgi Hjövard's Son

Helgakvida Hjorvardssonar is a poem in Old Norse from the Codex Regius. There are a number of good English versions out there. Helgi is a king's son and a hero. He married a Valkyrie named Svava. One day, his brother met a troll-woman in the woods who offered him companionship for the night. Hedin declined and she said he would regret it at the bragarful. He did, too.
It was Yule, a time when the old year ended and the new one began. It is also a time when supernatural beings were likely to appear; rather like Samhain (Hallowe'en). The bragarful is a toast drunk between the one to the Aesir and the one to the dead. One is expected at this occasion to utter a boast or make a vow. Hedin vowed that he would have his brother's wife in the New Year. Of course, such a vow would have to be fulfilled but Hedin was so ashamed he left town immediately to look for his brother and tell him what happened.
Astonishingly, Helgi was not angry. He told his brother that the troll woman must have been his fylgjur (??!!) and that he was about to die. He told Hedin that he had his blessing to marry Svava. Then he went to a battle and died. Svava and Helgi were reincarnated as Sigrun and Helgi.
I have several thoughts. First is that the old troll woman might have been an early version of the 'loathly lady'. Hedin should have let her have her way with him. Second, if she is Helgi's fylgjur, why is she appearing to Hedin and causing trouble? Third, this bragarful sounds a little like a New Year's Resolution. The Vikings don't get credit for this little nuisance. They probably should. Fourth, if Svava is a Valkyrie, then she is Odin's handmaiden and has duties. How does she get to marry a human and have children with him? I am working on that last question - what exactly was a valkyrie anyway?


Tracy said...

A very strange vow for Hedin to make. Even stranger that he felt compelled to tell his brother.

Anachronist said...

Helgi and Svava are secondary characterd of Fenrir but she is not his wife but beloved little daughter.

Perhaps this story is just a compilation of different bits which used to make sense but now don't?

The Red Witch said...

Does Fenrir have a wife? It is definitely in bits and pieces.

Hedin was under the influence of the troll wife. It is a sign of a good relationship between brothers in spite of having different mothers and being rivals for the throne that Hedin told his brother what he did. Hedin clearly regretted the vow but was bound by it and was looking for help from Helgi. He did not want to kill Helgi, if he could.