Monday, March 5, 2012

Runes 101 - Runes in Mythology 7

The Lay of Sigdrifa is an interesting myth, as it pertains to Runes, for a few reasons.  For starters, the conversation around Runes was omitted from Snorri's Prose Edda version of this myth.  Couple this with Lee M. Hollander's comment in his translation of the myth that the stanzas pertaining to the Runes may have been derived from another source and inserted into this poem.  Suddenly, these stanzas are even more interesting.  It is, of course, these stanzas that are the reason I write about this myth today.

In the Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson includes the beginning of the story, when Sigurdr rides to the castle/house on the hill and finds someone asleep, wearing armor.  He removes the helmet and sees that the "guard" is a woman, whose byrnie (chain mail) appears to have grown onto her body.  Using his sword, he cuts it away.  She wakes up and tells him her name and that Odin pricked her with a sleeping thorn as punishment, because she slayed a great warrior to whom Odin had promised victory in battle.  After that, Sigurdr rides away for his next adventure.
It is due to this, perhaps, that Hollander alludes to the possibility that the Runes stanzas were inserted later or from another source.  This is a viable conclusion given that the poem would have been known to Snorri, who omitted these stanzas completely.  One other note, in "Brynhild in Legend and Literature" (Gildersleeve, 1909), the author refers to these verses, when Sigdrifa is giving advice to Sigurdr, and states that,  "These 'runes' seem to be generally admitted to be a later interpolation."
The question of their origin aside, at least ten different Runes are mentioned in this poem.  They are not Runes named Uruz or Algiz or after any of the other letters in the Elder Futhark.  Instead, these consist of Joyful Runes, Victory Runes, Ale Runes, Helping Runes, Sea Runes, Limb Runes, Speech Runes, Mind Runes, Book Runes and valuable Runes of Power.
In the poetic version, once Sigdrifa is awake, she sings praises to day, night, the Aesir, and fertile Earth.  After her praises, she begins to tell Sigurdr about the Runes, by giving him ale (or beer) that is mixed with magic, spells and songs, and joyful Runes.  While I am not going to go through each verse, there are a couple I'd like to mention, starting with Victory Runes.  This is one where I have seen examples of Tiwaz carved on the hilt or blade of Viking swords.
Tiwaz, the Rune of
Týr, the Warrior God
In fact, the poem says they are to be carved on the hilt of a sword to ensure victory and Týr should be invoked twice.
The other Runes are less clear.  For example, there are Sea Runes that must be burned into a ship's oars, and scratched on to the rudder and bow.  This will ensure that you and your ship return home safely.  What Runes would constitute Sea Runes?  Laguz?
What about the mind Runes?  Are they linked to Mimir or the mead of poetry?  Which Rune or Runes are mind Runes?  The same question can be asked of all the other types of Runes as well - joyful Runes (Wunjo?) ale Runes, limb Runes, speech Runes, book Runes and Runes of Power.  The poem doesn't say, doesn't name the Runes.  Instead, we are left wondering which Rune or combination of Runes might constitute Sigdrifa's list.  I'll keep researching this to find out if we have any way of knowing the answer.  Until then, here is a last bit of trivia about this myth.
The Lay of Sigrdrifa may pose the beginnings of the fairytale we know today as Sleeping Beauty.  The Valkyrie is put to sleep by a sleeping thorn, put inside a castle with a shield around it, her beauty preserved through time and she will fall in love with the warrior who wakes her.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post--informative an entertaining. Thank you :-)