Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas - H. W. Mabie

Gods and Men

A great many hundreds of years after the creation of the world, there ruled in Sweden a wise king whose name was Gylfe; and the wisdom of this king, like all wisdom, was in part knowledge and in larger part goodness. He knew how to give as well as how to receive. A wayfaring woman once found shelter at his hands, and, in return told him many wonderful stories; which so pleased the king that he gave her, as a reward, as much land as four oxen could plough in a day and a night. Now this woman was of the race of the gods and her name was Gefjun. She took four great oxen from Jotunheim, who were the offspring of a giant, and set them before the plough and drove them forth into the Land which the king had set apart for her. And the plough, being drawn by giants, cut so deep into the soil, that it tore away a great piece of land, and carried it into the sea to the west, and there left it. Gefjun called this new country which she had taken from the mainland, Seeland; and the place from which the land was taken was filled by the sea and formed a lake which is now called Logrinn.

This was but the beginning of King Gylfe's acquaintance with the gods; for he was a seeker after wisdom and he who searches for wisdom must go to the gods to find it. He saw the wonderful things which the gods did and the marvellous ways in which their will was done in Asgard, and upon the earth, and he thought much upon their power and wondered whence it came. He could not make up his mind whether these gods, of whom he had heard and whose mighty works he saw, were powerful by reason of the force in themselves, or whether they were made strong by other and greater gods. After thinking much about these things and finding that no man could answer the questions which he was continually asking himself, Gylfe assumed the form of a very old man and made the long journey to Asgard, thinking to learn the secrets of the gods without letting them know who he was.

The gods know all things, and they not only knew that the old man who one day came to Asgard was Gylfe, but they knew that he was to make the journey long before he had so much as thought of it. They received him, however, as if they thought he was what he appeared to be, and he learned as much as he could understand; which is as much as a man ever learns.

The gods have often visited men, but men have rarely visited the gods, and the King's coming to Asgard was the beginning of a new wisdom among men.

No sooner did he enter the home of the gods than he found himself in a great hall, so high that he could hardly see over it. And the roof of this hall was thatched with shields of gold in place of shingles:

Thinking thatchers

Thatched the roof;

The beams of the burg

Beamed with gold.

When Gylfe came to the door of this great hall he saw a man playing with swords with such wonderful quickness and skill that he kept seven flashing in the air at one time. When this player with swords asked his name, the king speaking as an old man, answered that he was Ganglere, or the Walker, that he had come a long distance and that he begged a lodging for the night; and he asked, as if it were a very unimportant matter, who owned the hall. The man, who was a god in disguise, replied that it belonged to their king and that he would take Ganglere to him.

"You may ask him his name yourself when you see him," he added.

Then the man led the way into the hall and no sooner were they within its walls than the doors were shut. There were many rooms under the shining roof and every room seemed to be full of people, some of whom were playing games, and some were drinking out of great horns or cups, and some were fighting with different kinds of weapons; and Gylfe did not understand half of the things he saw. He was not at all frightened by his ignorance, however, and he said to himself:

Gates all,

Before in you go,

You must examine well;

For you cannot know

Where enemies sit

In the house before you.

When Gylfe had looked about him he saw three seats or thrones and upon each of these a man sat high above the throng which played and drank and fought.

"What are the names of these kings?" he asked. And the man who led him into the hall answered that he who sat on the lowest of the three thrones was the king and was called Har, and that he who sat on the throne next above him was called Jafnhar, and he who sat on the highest throne was called Thride. Now these three gods were as many different forms of Odin, and Gylfe was really seeing one god when he seemed to be seeing three.

Then Har, or Odin, spoke in a deep and wonderful tone and asked Gylfe who he was, and why he had come there, and bade him welcome by inviting him to eat and drink as much and often as he chose. But Gylfe was so bent upon learning the secrets of the gods that he did not think of food or drink, nor did he stop to answer Har's questions. He replied boldly that he wanted to find a wise man if there were one. Then Har answered him, as the gods often answer men, in words which were so full of meaning that he did not understand them until long afterwards:

"You shall not go from this place unharmed unless you go wiser than you came."

It is dangerous to seek the gods, unless we profit by what they tell us; for it is better to be ignorant than to possess knowledge and not live by it.

Gylfe and Odin

Gylfe stood boldly before Odin

Then Gylfe stood boldly before Odin,—a man standing in the presence of God and seeking for knowledge,—and asked many and deep questions about the gods and their ways and power; and about the giants, and their homes; and about the making of the world and the creation of man; and about the sun and moon and stars; and about the seasons and the wind and fire. And Odin answered his questions and told him the things which men are eager to know, but cannot learn unless the gods teach them.

When Odin had told Gylfe all that a man could understand of these deep mysteries he refused to answer any more questions and bade the questioner make the best use of what had been told him, and when Odin had spoken these words Gylfe heard a great noise and found himself standing alone in a great plain, and the hall and Asgard had vanished utterly. Then, filled with wonder by all he had heard and seen, he went home to his own kingdom, and told of the marvellous things which had befallen him on his journey to the home of the gods; and what he said was remembered by those who heard the wonderful stories and told again to their children and their children's children to the latest generations.

Now Gylfe was not the only man who talked with the gods; for Æger, who lived on the island called Hler's Isle and was also a man of great wisdom, made the journey to Asgard and the gods knew of his coming before he came and prepared a great feast for him. When the feast began Odin had swords brought into the hall and these swords were of such brightness that they lighted the hall without the aid of fire or lamps; and the hall was hung with glittering shields. The gods sat on their thrones and ate and drank with Æger, and Brage told him strange and wonderful tales of the things which had befallen the gods.

And this is the way in which men came to know the stories which are told in this book.