The Poetic Edda: Voluspo

19. An ash I know, | Yggdrasil its name,
With water white | is the great tree wet;
Thence come the dews | that fall in the dales,
Green by Urth’s well | does it ever grow.

20. Thence come the maidens | mighty in wisdom,
Three from the dwelling | down ‘neath the tree;
Urth is one named, | Verthandi the next,—
On the wood they scored,— | and Skuld the third.
Laws they made there, and life allotted
To the sons of men, and set their fates.

[19. Yggdrasil: cf. stanza 2 and note, and Grimnismol, 29-35 and notes. Urth (“The Past”): one of the three great Norns. The world-ash is kept green by being sprinkled with the marvelous healing water from her well.

20. The maidens: the three Norns; possibly this stanza should follow stanza 8. Dwelling: Regius has “sæ” (sea) instead of “sal” (hall, home), and many editors have followed this reading, although Snorri’s prose paraphrase indicates “sal.” Urth, Verthandi and Skuld: “Past,” “Present” and “Future.” Wood, etc.: the magic signs (runes) controlling the destinies of men were cut on pieces of wood. Lines 3-4 are probably interpolations from some other account of the Norns.]

p. 10

21. 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.

22. 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.

[21. This follows stanza 20 in Regius; in the Hauksbok version stanzas 25, 26, 27, 40, and 41 come between stanzas 20 and 21. Editors have attempted all sorts of rearrangements. The war: the first war was that between the gods and the Wanes. The cult of the Wanes (Vanir) seems to have originated among the seafaring folk of the Baltic and the southern shores of the North Sea, and to have spread thence into Norway in opposition to the worship of the older gods; hence the “war.” Finally the two types of divinities were worshipped in common; hence the treaty which ended the war with the exchange of hostages. Chief among the Wanes were Njorth and his children, Freyr and Freyja, all of whom became conspicuous among the gods. Beyond this we know little of the Wanes, who seem originally to have been water-deities. I remember: the manuscripts have “she remembers,” but the Volva is apparently still speaking of her own memories, as in stanza 2. Gollveig (“Gold-Might”): apparently the first of the Wanes to come among the gods, her ill treatment being the immediate cause of the war. Müllenhoff maintains that Gollveig is another name for Freyja. Lines 5-6, one or both of them probably interpolated, seem to symbolize the refining of gold by fire. Hor (“The High One”): Othin.

22. Heith (“Shining One”?): a name often applied to wise women and prophetesses. The application of this stanza to Gollveig is far from clear, though the reference may be to the [fp. 11] magic and destructive power of gold. It is also possible that the stanza is an interpolation. Bugge maintains that it applies to the Volva who is reciting the poem, and makes it the opening stanza, following it with stanzas 28 and 30, and then going on with stanzas I ff. The text of line 2 is obscure, and has been variously emended.]