Heidrun is not quite like any other goat; it stands as a symbol of sustenance and never-ending abundance. Perched atop the roof of Valhalla, it is eating on leaves from Yggdrasil, in the realm of the gods.
Heidrun is a fascinating figure, but not as well known as some of the other mythical animals in Norse myths. However, she provides the Einherjar with all the mead they can drink. In so doing, providing for the feast at the end of every day of their eternal preparation for Ragnarök.
Heidrun Key Facts
|Old Norse name||Heiðrún|
|Associated with||Yggdrasil, Mead|
Name and Etymology
The name Heidrun, or Heiðrún in Old Norse, is derived from two elements. Firstly: ‘heið’, meaning bright or clear, and secondly, ‘rún’, which can be interpreted as secret or mystery. This seems to be closely related to the mead that mysteriously runs from her udders. Mead is a fairly clear, lightly alcoholic (thus the popularity) drink.
I have seen discussions on possible deeper meanings behind the name. However, I feel that is us, modern people, trying to assign mysticism to something that might have been quite straightforward.
Heidrun Role and Significance
In Norse cosmology, Heidrun’s role extends beyond that of a mere goat. It stands atop Valhalla, chewing on the leaves of the world tree, Yggdrasil. Flowing from its udders is an endless supply of mead. This is serving as the drink for the Einherjar, the warriors who have fallen in battle and are brought to Valhalla by the Valkyries.
The existence of Heidrun is symbolic of the Norse culture’s appreciation for the mead, which was not just a beverage but also a poetic metaphor for inspiration and the divine gift of wisdom. Who hasn’t felt blessed by both wisdom and inspiration after a few glasses of whatever is your drink of choice?
The story of the mead of poetry, created by poor Kvasir’s blood is an example of this, assigning mythical qualities to the enchanted mead.
Heidrun and the boar Sæhrímnir
Just like Heidrun, the great boar Sæhrímnir meets its end daily, as the Einherjar slaughter, cook, and consume it. Miraculously, it comes back to life each night, ensuring a bountiful feast for the following day. This cycle of consumption and renewal is a cornerstone of the afterlife in Norse mythology, representing the endless bounty promised to the warriors. Similarly, the stag Eikthyrnir, which also feeds upon Yggdrasil, provides a different kind of sustenance: from its antlers flows dew that nourishes the well Hvergelmir, a source from which all waters of the world originate.
The Parallels Between Heidrun and Audhumla
In Norse mythology, Heidrun is not the only creature that provides an endless stream of nourishment. Audhumla, the primeval cow, mirrors Heidrun’s role as a sustainer of life. Just as Heidrun feeds the fallen warriors in Valhalla with its endless mead, Audhumla provided sustenance to Ymir, the first of the frost giants, with her endless milk. This milk not only fed Ymir but also contributed to the creation of Buri, the progenitor of the gods, when Audhumla licked the salty ice blocks of Ginnungagap.
The connection between Heidrun and Audhumla is profound. Both are female figures of nourishment that sustain different forms of life—the Einherjar and a giant, respectively. The milk of Audhumla and the mead of Heidrun represent life and inspiration, feeding the body and soul, and sustaining the cycle of life and death that is central to Norse cosmology.
Myths Surrounding Heidrun
Heidrun stands at the center of a singular, yet pivotal myth in Norse mythology, actively providing mead for the Einherjar. Interestingly, while Thor’s chariot is drawn by goats, there appears to be no connection between them and Heidrun, as far as current knowledge reveals.
Mentions in Ancient Texts
Heidrun grazes (pardon the pun) the pages of several ancient texts. The primary sources are the two Poetic Edda poems Grimnismál and Hyndluljod. While they were first written down in the 13th century, the poems are believed to be several hundred years older.
Grimnismál, stanza 25
“The goat Heidrun | stands by Odin’s hall,
Feeding on the branches of Læradr;
Filling large pitchers | with the best mead,
A never ending flow.”
Then in the poem Hyndluljod, Heidrun is mentioned in passing, written as ‘Heithrun’. The völva is insulting Freyja, saying she runs around like a goat.
Hyndluljod, stanza 48
- “To Oth didst thou run, | who loved thee ever,
And many under | thy apron have crawled;
My noble one, out | in the night thou leapest,
As Heithrun goes | the goats among.”
Prose Edda, Gylfaginning
Written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, the Prose Edda is made up of four parts, the Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmal and the Háttatal. The Gylfaginning is written as a story told by Odin (in disguise) to a Swedish king. In it, many of the gods and myths are presented, as well as the goat Heidrun.
Gylfaginning stanza 40
“40. Then asked Ganglere: What do the einherjes have to drink that is furnished them as bountifully as the food? Or do they drink water? Har answered: That is a wonderful question. Do you suppose that Alfather invites kings, jarls, or other great men, and gives them water to drink?
This I know, forsooth, that many a one comes to Valhalla who would think he was paying a big price for his water-drink, if there were no better reception to be found there,—persons, namely, who have died from wounds and pain. But I can tell you other tidings.
A she-goat, by name Heidrun, stands up in Valhalla and bites the leaves off the branches of that famous tree called Lerad. From her teats runs so much mead that she fills every day a vessel in the hall from which the horns are filled, and which is so large that all the einherjes get all the drink they want out of it. Then said Ganglere: That is a most useful goat, and a right excellent tree that must be that she feeds upon.”
The mention of Heidrun in these texts is not just a passing reference but a testament to its enduring legacy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Heidrun provides an endless supply of mead, the drink of the gods and fallen warriors in Valhalla.
This celestial goat resides atop Valhalla, chewing on the leaves of the world tree, Yggdrasil.
Yes, the endless mead symbolizes the Norse belief in the eternal reward for bravery and the cyclical nature of life and death.
The name Heidrun, meaning “clear secret,” reflects the mystical nature of the goat and clear mead running from its udders.
Featured Image Credit: Lorenz Frølich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons