The Völuspá | The Prophecy of the Seeress

For those who will drink from the source, there is the Poetic Edda. One famous poem is the Havamal, another …

For those who will drink from the source, there is the Poetic Edda. One famous poem is the Havamal, another of the important ones is Völuspá. To really know the truth of Odin the Allfather, the deeds of his son Thor, and their enemies both high and low then you must go to the origins of all the great tales.

What is the Völuspá?

In times long before ours, but eons after the coming together of the realms of fire and ice, an annal was set down from among the poems and stories of the ancient sea-faring Vikings.

At a time when the nations of Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark were realms of a common folk with a common tongue, some 1000 years ago, the Völuspá, a poem of 65 stanzas, was composed. This vision records the creation of all things first from out of the void and then by Odin and his Aesir kinsmen.

The vision includes the story of Ragnarók, the gods’ inevitable downfall in the far future when worlds shall tremble and beings thought immortal, will lose their lives.

Painting showing the violence before end of times
Johannes Gehrts, via Wikimedia Commons

The Völuspá is part of the Poetic Edda, a collection of Norse poems originating from pre-Christian times in Scandinavia. Having been passed down orally through the centuries there are only a very few written records of these stories of old. One such record is the Codex Regius where most, but not all, of the poems thought of as the Poetic Edda is found.

In the Poetic Edda, the Völuspá is the first poem and one of the most important ones at that. It is a story, told by a völva (Seeress) that Odin has brought back from the dead for her prophecy.

Who is the Volva?

Odin, curious as to the fate of his vast creations, summoned forth a seeress known to the ancient Norse as a völva. Although vast in wisdom himself, the Allfather is not gifted to see into the future. Therefore his need for the wise woman of the ancient times to see through the mists of time.  His desire is to catch a glimpse of what will happen to Asgard, his beloved Frigg, to all gods and goddesses of the Aesir tribe and to the many beings he and his brothers created at the beginning of all things. That prophecy is called the Völuspá.

Odin meeting the Volva learning of the Völuspá
Lorenz Frølich, via Wikimedia Commons

This völva described to him the end of all things at the time of Ragnarök, ‘the doom of the gods’ causing Odin to try and thwart the fate she had predicted. Yet all his efforts only lead him closer to the final outcomes seen in her dark visions. 

What is the Meaning of Völuspá?

The Völuspá, or ‘völva’s prophecy’, is named after the ancient words for seeress and prophecy, völva and spákona. It contains all of the dark tidings recounted to the Allfather at the time of his greatest fears.

Who were the Viking Seers?

Mostly women, these wise folk lived among gods and mortals from ancient times, many of them being mortal themselves. The völva women or ‘staff carriers’ of Viking times travelled in groups of up to 13 before the invasion of Christianity. They carried with them their staves for protection and for their practice of magic ‘seidr’ and divination.

An engraving showing two völvas (seeresses).
Carl Larsson, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite all his great power, it is to these wise women that Odin came when seeking knowledge of unseen things. These acts and events are recorded now in the Codex Regius, the ‘Kings book’, in the Hauksbók and by the great recorder and Christian mythmaker, Snorri Sturluson.

Völuspá: The Vala’s Prophecy

1. For silence I pray all sacred children, great and small, sons of Heimdall, they will that I Valfather’s deeds recount, men’s ancient saws, those that I best remember.

2. The Jötuns I remember early born, those who me of old have reared. I nine worlds remember, nine trees, the great central tree, beneath the earth.

3. There was in times of old, where Ymir dwelt, nor sand nor sea, nor gelid waves; earth existed not, nor heaven above, ’twas a chaotic chasm, and grass nowhere.

4. Before Bur’s sons raised up heaven’s vault, they who the noble mid-earth shaped. The sun shone from the south over the structure’s rocks: then was the earth begrown with herbage green.

5. The sun from the south, the moon’s companion, her right hand cast about the heavenly horses. The sun knew not where she a dwelling had, the moon knew not what power he possessed, the stars knew not where they had a station.

6. Then went the powers all to their judgment-seats, the all-holy gods, and thereon held council: to night and to the waning moon gave names; morn they named, and mid-day, afternoon and eve, whereby to reckon years.

7. The Æsir met on Ida’s plain; they altar-steads and temples high constructed; their strength they proved, all things tried, furnaces established, precious things forged, formed tongs, and fabricated tools;

8. At tables played at home; joyous they were; to them was naught the want of gold, until there came Thurs-maidens three, all powerful, from Jötunheim.

9. Then went all the powers to their judgment-seats, the all-holy gods, and thereon held council, who should of the dwarfs the race create, from the sea-giant’s blood and livid bones.

10. Then was Môtsognir created greatest of all the dwarfs, and Durin second; there in man’s likeness they created many dwarfs from earth, as Durin said.

11. Nýi and Nidi, Nordri and Sudri, Austri and Vestri, Althiôf, Dvalin Nâr and Nâin, Niping, Dain, Bivör, Bavör, Bömbur, Nori, An and Anar, Ai, Miodvitnir,

12. Veig and Gandâlf, Vindâlf, Thrain, Thekk and Thorin, Thrôr, Vitr, and Litr, Nûr and Nýrâd, Regin and Râdsvid. Now of the dwarfs I have rightly told.

13. Fili, Kili, Fundin, Nali, Hepti, Vili, Hanar, Svior, Billing, Bruni, Bild, Bûri, Frâr, Hornbori, Fræg and Lôni, Aurvang, Iari, Eikinskialdi.

14. Time ’tis of the dwarfs in Dvalin’s band, to the sons of men, to Lofar up to reckon, those who came forth from the world’s rock, earth’s foundation, to Iora’s plains.

15. There were Draupnir, and Dôlgthrasir, Hâr, Haugspori, Hlævang, Glôi, Skirvir, Virvir, Skafid, Ai, Alf and Yngvi, Eikinskialdi,

16. Fialar and Frosti, Finn and Ginnar, Heri, Höggstari, Hliôdôlf, Moin: that above shall, while mortals live, the progeny of Lofar, accounted be.

17. Until there came three mighty and benevolent Æsir to the world from their assembly. They found on earth, nearly powerless, Ask and Embla, void of destiny.

18. Spirit they possessed not, sense they had not, blood nor motive powers, nor goodly colour. Spirit gave Odin, sense gave Hoenir, blood gave Lodur, and goodly colour.

19. I know an ash standing Yggdrasil hight, a lofty tree, laved with limpid water: thence come the dews into the dales that fall; ever stands it green over Urd’s fountain.

20. Thence come maidens, much knowing, three from the hall, which under that tree stands; Urd hight the one, the second Verdandi,—on a tablet they graved—Skuld the third. Laws they established, life allotted to the sons of men; destinies pronounced.

21. Alone she sat without, when came that ancient dread Æsir’s prince; and in his eye she gazed.

22. “Of what wouldst thou ask me? Why temptest thou me? Odin! I know all, where thou thine eye didst sink in the pure well of Mim.” Mim drinks mead each morn from Valfather’s pledge. Understand ye yet, or what?

23. The chief of hosts gave her rings and necklace, useful discourse, and a divining spirit: wide and far she saw o’er every world.

24. She the Valkyriur saw from afar coming, ready to ride to the god’s people: Skuld held a shield, Skögul was second, then Gunn, Hild Göndul, and Geirskögul. Now are enumerated Herian’s maidens, the Valkyriur, ready over the earth to ride.

25. She that war remembers, the first on earth, when Gullveig they with lances pierced, and in the high one’s hall her burnt, thrice burnt, thrice brought her forth, oft not seldom; yet she still lives.

26. Heidi they called her, whithersoe’r she came, the well-foreseeing Vala: wolves she tamed, magic arts she knew, magic arts practised; ever was she the joy of evil people.

27. Then went the powers all to their judgment-seats, the all-holy gods, and thereon held council, whether the Æsir should avenge the crime, or all the gods receive atonement.

28. Broken was the outer wall of the Æsir’s burgh. The Vanir, foreseeing conflict, tramp o’er the plains. Odin cast [his spear], and mid the people hurled it: that was the first warfare in the world.

29. Then went the powers all to their judgment-seats, the all-holy gods, and thereon held council: who had all the air with evil mingled? or to the Jötun race Od’s maid had given?

30. There alone was Thor with anger swollen. He seldom sits, when of the like he hears. Oaths are not held sacred; nor words, nor swearing, nor binding compacts reciprocally made.

31. She knows that Heimdall’s horn is hidden under the heaven-bright holy tree. A river she sees flow, with foamy fall, from Valfather’s pledge. Understand ye yet, or what?

32. East sat the crone, in Iârnvidir, and there reared up Fenrir’s progeny: of all shall be one especially the sun’s devourer, in a troll’s semblance.

33. He is sated with the last breath of dying men; the god’s seat he with red gore defiles: swart is the sunshine then for summers after; all weather turns to storm. Understand ye yet, or what?

34. There on a height sat, striking a harp, the giantess’s watch, the joyous Egdir; by him crowed, in the bird-wood, the bright red cock, which Fialar hight.

35. Crowed o’er the Æsir Gullinkambi, which wakens heroes with the sire of hosts; but another crows beneath the earth, a soot-red cock, in the halls of Hel.

36. I saw of Baldr, the blood-stained god, Odin’s son, the hidden fate. There stood grown up, high on the plain, slender and passing fair, the mistletoe.

37. From that shrub was made, as to me it seemed, a deadly, noxious dart. Hödr shot it forth; but Frigg bewailed, in Fensalir, Valhall’s calamity. Understand ye yet, or what?

38. Bound she saw lying, under Hveralund, a monstrous form, to Loki like. There sits Sigyn, for her consort’s sake, not right glad. Understand ye yet, or what?

39. Then the Vala knew the fatal bonds were twisting, most rigid, bonds from entrails made.

40. From the east a river falls, through venom dales, with mire and clods, Slîd is its name.

41. On the north there stood, on Nida-fells, a hall of gold, for Sindri’s race; and another stood in Okôlnir, the Jötuns beer-hall which Brîmir hight.

42. She saw a hall standing, far from the sun, in Nâströnd; its doors are northward turned, venom-drops fall in through its apertures: entwined is that hall with serpents’ backs.

43. She there saw wading the sluggish streams bloodthirsty men and perjurers, and him who the ear beguiles of another’s wife. There Nidhögg sucks the corpses of the dead; the wolf tears men. Understand ye yet, or what?

44. Further forward I see, much can I say of Ragnarök and the gods’ conflict.

45. Brothers shall fight, and slay each other; cousins shall kinship violate. The earth resounds, the giantesses flee; no man will another spare.

46. Hard is it in the world, great whoredom, an axe age, a sword age, shields shall be cloven, a wind age, a wolf age, ere the world sinks.

47. Mim’s sons dance, but the central tree takes fire at the resounding Giallar-horn. Loud blows Heimdall, his horn is raised; Odin speaks with Mim’s head.

48. Trembles Yggdrasil’s ash yet standing; groans that aged tree, and the jötun is loosed. Loud bays Garm before the Gnupa-cave, his bonds he rends asunder; and the wolf runs.

49. Hrym steers from the east, the waters rise, the mundane snake is coiled in jötun-rage. The worm beats the water, and the eagle screams: the pale of beak tears carcases; Naglfar is loosed.

50. That ship fares from the east: come will Muspell’s people o’er the sea, and Loki steers. The monster’s kin goes all with the wolf; with them the brother is of Byleist on their course.

51. Surt from the south comes with flickering flame; shines from his sword the Val-gods’ sun. The stony hills are dashed together, the giantesses totter; men tread the path of Hel, and heaven is cloven.

52. How is it with the Æsir? How with the Alfar? All Jötunheim resounds; the Æsir are in council. The dwarfs groan before their stony doors, the sages of the rocky walls. Understand ye yet, or what?

53. Then arises Hlîn’s second grief, when Odin goes with the wolf to fight, and the bright slayer of Beli with Surt. Then will Frigg’s beloved fall.

54. Then comes the great victor-sire’s son, Vidar, to fight with the deadly beast. He with his hands will make his sword pierce to the heart of the giant’s son: then avenges he his father.

55. Then comes the mighty son of Hlôdyn: (Odin’s son goes with the monster to fight); Midgârd’s Veor in his rage will slay the worm. Nine steps will go Fiörgyn’s son, bowed by the serpent, who feared no foe. All men will their homes forsake.

56. The sun darkens, earth in ocean sinks, fall from heaven the bright stars, fire’s breath assails the all-nourishing tree, towering fire plays against heaven itself.

57. She sees arise, a second time, earth from ocean, beauteously green, waterfalls descending; the eagle flying over, which in the fell captures fish.

58. The Æsir meet on Ida’s plain, and of the mighty earth-encircler speak, and there to memory call their mighty deeds, and the supreme god’s ancient lore.

59. There shall again the wondrous golden tables in the grass be found, which in days of old had possessed the ruler of the gods, and Fiölnir’s race.

60. Unsown shall the fields bring forth, all evil be amended; Baldr shall come; Hödr and Baldr, the heavenly gods, Hropt’s glorious dwellings shall inhabit. Understand ye yet, or what?

61. Then can Hoenir choose his lot, and the two brothers’ sons inhabit the spacious Vindheim. Understand ye yet, or what?

62. She a hall standing than the sun brighter, with gold bedecked, in Gimill: there shall be righteous people dwell, and for evermore happiness enjoy.

63. Then comes the mighty one to the great judgment, the powerful from above, who rules o’er all. He shall dooms pronounce, and strifes allay, holy peace establish, which shall ever be.

64. There comes the dark dragon flying from beneath the glistening serpent, from Nida-fels. On his wings bears Nidhögg, flying o’er the plain, a corpse. Now she will descend.

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