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“Sayings of the High One” Havamal A collection of sayings rather than a single poem. Attributed to Odin, the wisest of the Norse gods, but many of the sayings represent folk wisdom rather than divine lore. Written in ljodahattr, the customary verse form for wisdom poetry. Verses describe the interests, hopes and fears of Norse culture, as well as a useful catalogue of mythological figures and motifs.
Havamal Mnemonic poems, often no more than lists of names and spells. Usually given a short narrative frame to aid in story telling or in memory. Central figure here is Odin. Often the frame does not add a great deal to the information or imagery itself. Wisdom poetry is common in oral cultures. With Voluspa, the central poem of modern Asatru.
Ljodahattr Hiardir that vito,nær thær heim scolo oc ganga tha af grasi; enn osvidr madrkann ævagi sins um mal maga. Cattle know when they ought to go home and then they leave the pasture, but he foolish man never knows the measure of his own stomach. (verse 21)
Folk Wisdom in Havamal I. Advice to Guests and Travelers (1-5) Value of Hospitality: “Fire is required by one who’s entered And is chilled to the knee; Food and clothes, are required by anyone Who’s journeyed over the fells.” (3) Intelligence and Reputation (6-10) Dangers of Drunkenness (11-19) Advantages of Bold Action Overeating (20-21)
Folk Wisdom in Havamal II. The Foolish man: “The foolish man lies awake all night And worries about things; He’s tired out when the morning comes And everything’s just as bad as before.” (23) How to Behave at a Feast: (don’t talk too much!). Contentment and Modesty. “A farm of your own is better, even if small, Everyone’s someone at home; Though he has two goats and a coarsely roofed house, That is better than begging.” (36)
Folk Wisdom in Havamal III. Friends and Enemies: “From his weapons in open country a man must move less than a pace; no man knows for sure, when he’s out on a trip, When he might have need of his spear. (38) “To his fried a man must be a friend And repay gift for gift; Laughter for laughter folk should receive, And also falseness for lies. (42)
Folk Wisdom in Havamal IV. Value of Generosity. (39) “Middling-Wise”: 53-56. “Averagely wise a man ought to be, Never too wise; For a wise man’s heart is seldom cheerful, If he who owns it’s too wise.” (55) Value of Industry and Thrift: “He should get up early, the man who means to take Another’s life or property; The slumbering wolf does not get the ham, Nor a sleeping man victory.” (58)
Folk Wisdom in Havamal V. General Advice: On Overcoming Adversity: “The lame man rides a horse, the handless man drives herds, The deaf man fights and succeeds; To be blind is better than to be burnt: A corpse is of no use to anyone.” (71) Value of a Good Reputation: “Cattle die; kinsmen die, oneself dies just the same. But words of glory never die, For the one who gets a good name.” (76)
Folk Wisdom in Havamal VI. Transitory Nature of Wealth and Luck. “At evening should the day be praised, the woman when she is cremated, The blade when it is tested, the girl when she is married, The ice when it is crossed, the ale when it is drunk.” (81) Strike when the iron is hot: 82-83.
Folk Wisdom in Havamal VII. Things Not to Trust: 84-90. Women and Their Deceptions: “Such is the love of women, of those with false minds; It’s like driving a horse without spiked shoes over slippery ice, A frisky two year old, badly broken in, Or like steering, in a stiff wind, a rudderless boat, Or trying to catch when you’re lame a reindeer on a thawing hillside.” (90)
Who is Odin? (Ó đ inn) Odin is the god of Poetry and Wisdom, especially venerated as the wisest of the gods. Odin is also the god of death and the gallows; he is very interested in occult knowledge that comes from death. Odin hanged himself on a tree, sacrificed himself to himself in order to learn the runes and magic spells.
Who is Odin? (Ó đ inn) *Wō đ anaz, or *Wō đ inaz, is his reconstructed Proto-Germanic name. Early Germanic spellings Wodan, Wotan, Woden. The root of his name means “furious, mad, violent, insane.” Apparently, Odin was originally a god with shamanistic and magical powers associated with altered states of mind – his realm included battlefield fury, death and poetry. Woden is thought to be the precursor of the English Father Christmas, or Father Winter, and the American Santa Claus!
Odin, the Hanged God I. Leader of the Æsir, also known as Allfather, Ygg, Bolverk (evil-doer), Grimnir, among other names. God of poetry, wisdom, war and death. Has three Halls in Asgard, Gladsheim, Valaskjalf and Valhalla, where the Einherjar dwell. Odin bears a spear named Gungnir, which always hits its mark, and a magic arm ring Draupnir. Has two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), and two wolves, Geri and Freki (ravenous and hungry). Odin also has a horse with 8 legs, Sleipnir.
Odin II. Judging by place names, Odin-worship was much less widespread than that of Thor. Odense = Odin’s island. Odin typically a god of the elite, of kings and chieftains rather than common freemen. Many Scandinavian dynasties and Anglo-Saxon kings traced their lineage back to Odin. Odin a treacherous god, assisting then striking down warriors at whim during a battle. One-eyed, old, often bearded, usually disguised with a wide hat pulled down over his missing eye.
Havamal: Billing’s Daughter This myth is unknown outside of Havamal, 96-102. Billing unknown, probably a giant. Proof that the gods are not omnipotent. Example of humorous myth, at Odin’s expense! First, she puts him off until later (afraid of magic?) He returns, but the hall is full of warriors. “And near morning, when I came again, Then the hall company were asleep; A bitch I found then tied on the bed Of that good woman.” (101)
Havamal: The Mead of Poetry Myth of the Mead of Poetry, verses 104-110. Described in more detail in other sources (Snorri). We will discuss this myth when reading the Skaldskaparmal by Snorri Sturluson (in the Prose Edda). Briefly, Odin disguised as Bolverk seduces the Giantess Gunnlod into letting him sample (and steal) the mead of poetry and thus win a great benefit for gods and men.
Havamal: “Lay of Loddfafnir” One unidentified Loddfafnir reports the words of wisdom he heard from the High One (Odin) in his own hall (verses 111-164). Most of the verses are quoted as if Odin were speaking them. The context is otherwise unclear. Much of the advice given repeats earlier verses: How to deal with friends, women, witches, enemies, various situations and conflicts. Use of formulaic invocations and repetitions.
Havamal: “Lay of Loddfafnir” “I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take this advice, It will be useful if you learn it, Do you good if you have it: Don’t get up at night, except to look around Or if you need to visit the privy outside.” (112) “I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take this advice, It will be useful if you learn it, Do you good if you have it: I tell you to be cautious but not over-cautious; Be most wary of ale, and of another’s wife, And, thirdly, watch out that thieves don’t beguile you.” (131)
Havamal: “Lay of Loddfafnir” Image of the Hanged-God, a self-sacrifice to learn runes and magic spells: 138-164. “I know that I hung on a windy tree Nine long nights Wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin, Myself to myself, On that tree which no man knows From where its roots run.” (138)
Havamal: “Lay of Loddfafnir” The final two dozen verses describe spells learned by Odin from Bolthor, Bestla’s father. Compare this spell with the first Merseburg charm: “I know a fourth one if men put Chains upon my limbs; I can chant so that I can walk away, Fetters spring from my feet, And bonds from my hands.” (149)
Havamal: “Lay of Loddfafnir” Other spells for medical and psychological aid, military aid and protection, for controlling weather and witches, for reviving corpses, and for seducing women. The Final Verse: “Now is the song of the High One recited, in the High One’s hall, Very useful to the sons of men, Quite useless to the sons of giants, Luck to him who recites, luck to him who knows! May he benefit, he who learnt it, Luck to those who listened!” (164)
What does Havamal tell us about Norse culture in general? What does the poem tell us about the priorities of Norse culture? What sort of advice does the poem give? What image of Odin do you get from this poem? What did you learn from this poem? Havamal
Reading for next class period: Vafthrudnir’s Sayings 39-49. Grimnir’s Sayings 50-60. Both sections are found in the Poetic Edda.