Gullveig

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The Æsir lift Gullveig on spears over fire as illustrated by Lorenz Frølich (1895)

Gullveig is a female figure in Norse mythology associated with the legendary conflict between the Æsir and Vanir. In the poem Völuspá, she came to the hall of Odin (Hár) where she is speared by the Æsir, burnt three times, and yet thrice reborn. Upon her third rebirth, she began practicing seiðr and took the name Heiðr.[1]

Gullveig/Heiðr is solely attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional material. Scholars have variously proposed that Gullveig/Heiðr is the same figure as the goddess Freyja, that Gullveig's death may have been connected to corruption by way of gold among the Æsir, and/or that Gullveig's treatment by the Æsir may have led to the Æsir–Vanir War.

Etymology[edit]

The etymology of the Old Norse name Gullveig remains uncertain. It has been variously translated as 'Gold-drink', 'Gold-drunk',[2] or 'Gold-draught', and she is sometimes held to be a personification of gold itself, purified through repeated smelting.[3]

Gull-veig is indeed a compound formed with the Old Norse word for 'gold' (gull), yet the second element–found in other personal names like Rannveig, Sölveig, or Thórveig–remains obscure. It could have meant 'power, strength' (compared with Icelandic veig, Faroese veiggj), 'intoxicating drink' (Norwegian veigja), possibly 'lady' (Norw. veiga) or even 'gold, gold thread' (Old English wāg, Old Saxon wēg).[4]

The name Heiðr, which in adjectival form means 'bright, clear',[5] is semantically related. Scholar Rudolf Simek comments that although Gullveig's name changes to Heiðr, the meaning still remains basically the same.[6]

Attestations[edit]

Gullveig is solely attested in a stanza of Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva) immediately preceding the story of the Æsir–Vanir War.[3] A völva (seeress) recalls that Gullveig was pierced by spears before being burnt three times in the hall of Hárr (one of Odin's names), and yet was three times reborn. Presumably after her burning, Gullveig became known as Heiðr, a knowledgeable völva who could perform great feats:

H. A. Bellows translation (1923):

The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall of Hor had burned her,
Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.
Heith they named her who sought their home
The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched that were moved by her magic,
To evil women a joy she was.[7]
A. Orchard translation (1997):

Then [the sibyl] remembered the first great war in the world,

when they stabbed at Gullveig with spears,

and they burned her in Odin ’s hall;

thrice they burned the thrice-bom girl,

often, not once, but still she lived.

They called her heid, when she came to the house,

a sibylline witch, who knew the skill of wands,

she practised seid where she could, practised seid in a trance;

she was always a delight to wicked women.[3]

J. Lindow translation (2001):

She remembers the war of peoples first in the world,

When Gullveig with spears they studded

And in Hár’s hall burned her;

Thrice burned, thrice born,

Often, unseldom, though she yet lives.

Heid they called her, wherever she came to houses,

A seeress skilled in prophecy, she observed magic staffs;

She performed seid, wherever she could, she performed seid in a trance,

She was ever the joy of an evil woman.[8]

Theories[edit]

Starting with scholar Gabriel Turville-Petre, many scholars such as Rudolf Simek and John Lindow have theorized that Gullveig/Heiðr is the same figure as Freyja.[6][2] Lindow notes that "since Ynglinga saga says that Freyja first brought seid to the æsir, it is not impossible that Gullveig is Freyja, and that she brought seid to the æsir in the first instance either as a strategy in the war, or that her bringing of seid started the war."[1] Orchard further mentions that Freyja, like Gullveig, is associated with gold and with the form of magic known as seid.[3]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lindow 2001, pp. 154–155.
  2. ^ a b Lindow 2001, p. 52.
  3. ^ a b c d Orchard 1997, p. 67.
  4. ^ de Vries 1962, p. 651.
  5. ^ de Vries 1962, p. 217.
  6. ^ a b Simek 1996, pp. 123–124.
  7. ^ Bellows (1923:10).
  8. ^ Lindow 2001, p. 154.

References[edit]

  • Bellows, Henry Adams (1923). The Poetic Edda. American-Scandinavian Foundation.
  • de Vries, Jan (1962). Altnordisches Etymologisches Worterbuch (1977 ed.). Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-05436-3.
  • Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-983969-8.
  • Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell. ISBN 978-0-304-34520-5.
  • Thorpe, Benjamin (Trans) (1907). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða The Edda of Sæmund the Learned. Part I. London Trübner & Co.
  • Simek, Rudolf (1996). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 978-0-85991-513-7.