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those who had done actual wickedness there was a separate place, called Nastrond, of positive torture by poisonous serpents and other agents of affliction.
There is nothing of the ideal or the spiritual in the Scandinavian mythology. All its creatures are essentially corporeallarge-limbed, strong, and jovial, ravenous eaters, and unassailable either in brain or stomach by the largest conceivable potations. They are supernaturally endowed with all the elements of physical enjoyment. Asceticism is unknown to them. Yet there is nothing in their personal histories of the pruriency that stains the classical mythology, or of the more loathsome sensuality that saturates the Oriental supernatural. Asgard is the model of north-country domestic life. There is no questionable bachelor like Apollo, no exceptionally chaste Diana there; fidelity between husband and wife is so much a matter of course that it is not spoken of as a special virtue. The abode of Balder and his beautiful wife Nana was so hallowed that nothing impure could enter it. Even in the punishment of Loki the mischief-maker, after he had accomplished the inexpiable offence of Balder's death, there occurs a touching picture of a wife's devotion. He was bound to three fragments of rock, and a venomous snake was hung over his head, so that its poison might drop upon his face and torture him. Sigyu, his wife, watched by him during the long ages, until the Ragnaroek, or twilight of the gods, should come. She held a cup over her husband's head to catch the dripping venom. When it was full, and she had to empty it, the drops falling in the interval tortured him so that his writhings shook all nature and made earthquakes.
Among beings endowed with supernatural strength, and with no profession to be above the influence of human passions, but, on the contrary, partaking of them in a measure proportioned to their strength, it was natural that many harsh and bloody deeds were done. But all were in fair fight, and from their superiority of strength—there were no treachery or subtlety. Evil deeds of this class were left to the order of beings whose province they were. Loki was the mischief-maker among the gods themselves. He answers more to the Mephistophiles of Goethe then to the common Devil of Christendom. He is a cynical, practical joker, who carries his jokes a great deal too far. The beautiful life of Balder, the son of Oden and Friggia and the brother of Thor, seems to
have roused a special malignity in him. There was a sort of presentiment that the great ornament of Asgard was too good to be let live, and his mother set about getting everything in nature separately exorcised and pledged not to be the instrument of Balder's death. This was supposed to have been so completely effected, that it was one of the amusements of Asgard to make a target of Balder, and pitch all sorts of deadly weapons against him, to see how they would recoil. Loki, by a diligent search, found a twig that had not been exorcised, owing to its insignificance. To aggravate his offence, he handed it to the brother of Balder, who threw it at him, and so slew him.
Loki confined his tricks to the gods. There were other powers to work evil upon mankind. Chief of these was the Neck, whence comes our Old Nick, and perhaps the Nick Niven, who is a chief among the Scots witches, holding something like the place that Shakespeare gives to Hecate. Among the most seafaring people in the world, the great bulk of calamities come of shipwreck and other disasters by water; and Neck's operations came to be almost entirely limited to that element. In later times he was in the northern nations a mischievous imp of the stream, like the water-kelpie in Scotland.
The Nornir-or Fates, as they are called, to make their nature intelligible-are not properly malignant beings. They are so associated, however, with scenes of slaughter, that naturally enough, they are spoken of with a shudder. They are choosers of the slain, and it is the function of the youngest, Skuld, who deals with the future (the eldest, Urd, having charge of the past, as the second, Verdandi, has of the present), to watch over battle-fields and send off the illustrious dead to Valhalla. This is a holy function, yet, as a right of choice or promotion, has not been exercised without the suspicion of partiality that acccompanies such powers; and somehow the function of choosing the slain becomes mixed up with the power of arranging who are to be slain and who to be spared.
* "Of all the Gods," Balder, "the fair, the just, the good, is the most attractive, and the most likely to pass over into the counterpart of Christ." "In fact, in the early middle age things called after this son of Woden were re-named usually after Christ or St. John. And this silent melting of the mythical Balder into the historical Christ took place all over the north. The oldest Scandinavian poems offer many instances."-Stephens, The Old Northern Runic Monuments, 431.
As Gray has it in that ode of the Fatal Sisters, which has so thorough a Norse spirit
"We the reins to slaughter give,
The nature of these beings is full of material for poetry; but perhaps for that very reason it is thoroughly illogical. They are inferior to the gods; yet they dispose of the gods as absolutely as of human beings. The term Wyrd or Weird comes up along with the Nornir. Norse scholars have found difficulty in fixing its meaning, for though they hold it to be derived from Urd, the eldest Norn, yet it is used to express generally that Fate of which they are the mere ministers. In Scotland the word has been long used with almost the same equivocal or double meaning. It has been employed to express the announcement of a prophecy, destiny, or fate, and also to describe the person who can prophesy or pronounce a destiny. Thus, when Wyntoun, the monkish chronicler, of whom we shall have a good deal to say, tells the story of the fatal stone, now in the coronation-chair in Westminister Abbey, and of the prediction that wherever it is, the race of Fergus shall reign, he calls this prediction a "weird." For the other sense, when Bishop Douglas, in his translation of Virgil, comes on the Parcæ or Fates, he calls them "the Weird Sisters."*
It seems an inconsistency that the gods themselves should be at the disposal of these questionable beings; but this is part of the magnanimity and simple grandeur of the character of the mighty Æsir. They were not only free from all treachery and cunning, but the use of policy was beneath them; they confided entirely on their absolute strength, or on what is now called brute force. The greatest of them was not ashamed of being befooled by some cleverer power. Indeed he needed not to disturb himself about such an incident, for his own innate strength was sufficient to protect him from the consequences without recourse to the wisdom of the serpent. There is a memorable instance of this in the sojourn of Thor and his party among the Giants in Utgard.
* A word coming from a source so solemnly significant, and still in use in Scotland, has naturally had an eventful history, so far as a word can be spoken of. A great deal might be written about it, as one will see at once by reading the quotations from Scots literature in prose and verse, ranked under the word "weird" in Jamieson's Scots Dictionary and its supplement.
They went in high heart, confident in their strength; but they were doomed to mortification one after another, until their return, when the spell set on them had ceased, and their entertainers were bound to explain the tricks played on them. The first competition was in eating, when the two champions met half-way in the huge trencher set between them; but to the annoyance of the Æsir, theirs had not picked the bones clean as his opponent had. That opponent, who seemed one of the giants, was in reality a devouring flame. Running was another trial; after three races, Thialfi, on whom the Esir's reputation for swiftness was at stake, was obliged to acknowledge himself beaten; and no wonder - he was matched against "Thought." Thor's own first great trial was in drinking- an accomplishment in which he believed himself to be entirely unmatched. A drinking-horn was brought: Thor thought he could empty it at one hearty pull; but no-and indeed, after repeated efforts, he was obliged to leave the horn more than half full. The fact was, that the horn communicated with the ocean: and when Thor returned over the earth, he could see that he had drunk the waters over the whole globe, so as to sink their level, raising headlands and numerous sunken islands. In wrestling he barely stood his own in a contest with an old woman - but that old woman was Old Age. And so, although there was mortification for the moment, their achievements in Giantland went far to enhance the mighty reputation of the Æsir.
There was one celebrated occasion when Thor resorted to policy, even to deception; but he did so with excessive reluctance, and the affair was a crisis. One day his mighty hammer Moelner was missing. It was not only his badge of distinction, but the physical force by which he asserted his dominion. If it were finally lost, heaven and earth would all go wrong-in fact, the possessor of the hammer would supersede the gods. Loki, who had a guess where it was, paid a visit to Giantland, where Thrym, one of its principal inmates, who was sitting on a hill making golden collars for his dogs, coolly told him that he had the hammer buried eight miles deep in Giantland, and would not give it up except as an equivalent for the hand of Freya, of the golden tears. The emergency was so terrible that the sir wished to persuade Freya to consent, or appear to consent; but her matronly modesty and queenly dignity were so shocked that she gave a great snort, celebrated for having shaken Asgard to its foundations.
solemn conclave the Æsir recommended, even besought, Thor to personate Freya and go to Utgard. He long resisted the humiliating alternative, but the public interests prevailed, and, arrayed in the head-dress and other magnificent robes of the queen, and veiled as a bride of Heaven, he set off for Giantland, accompanied by the Machiavelian Loki, who had not yet lost himself by his great offence. The giants were rather astonished by a glimpse they got of the bride's fierce eyes, and still more at her fine appetite, when she ate an ox, eight salmon, and no end of sweetmeats, the disappearance of which was a mortification to the bridesmaids. At length the mighty hammer was brought in on a truss borne by four giants. Thor seized it, and laid about him, crashing skulls to the right and the left. He was now himself again, and restored to his authority. It is observable that even in this instance the moral of the Eddas, that sheer strength is everything, and policy unworthy of the gods, is not entirely abandoned. It is when deprived of his proper element of physical force, and consequently enervated, and in a manner demoralised, that the great Thor has recourse to policy.
Even from these small glimpses one may see how thoroughly the Eddas are filled and animated by the spirit of the northern people. Throughout there is ever-striving energy, determination of purpose, the physical power seconding the unbending will, a courage that is manifest not only in contempt of death, but in patient endurance of suffering, a distaste of all politic devices and diplomatic intrigues, and a reliance on honest strength to carry out the mighty designs of a never-resting ambition. There are no applications of gentleness and mercy, but there is a strong sense of justice and an aversion to wanton cruelty. There is no pretence of abjuring the good gifts of nature, and shrivelling into impotent asceticism; on the contrary, there is mighty feasting and revelling when the bow is unbent and the sword sheathed, but there is honest domestic faith and fidelity withal. Such are the qualities set to struggle with the ice, the storms, and the arid soil of the northern land; and all these difficulties are conquered so effectually that their conquerors abide in affluence and splendour.
Yet the propensity to hunt forth analogies, and make a display of learning and ingenuity, has not overlooked this stormy region; and we are taught to connect its thoroughly northern legends with the voluptuous aspirations of the Oriental nations and the polished