Kathy Metzger, Donar’s Hearth OR
“It is told by men in olden tales that one of the Gods whose name was Heimdal, fared forth along the seashore until he came to a farm. There he called himself Rig.”
~Rigsthula, Hollander translation
Often it is noticed that scholars look at our ancient texts as dry pieces of literature that relates historical information without any feeling or spiritual introspection. This is true of the Rigsthula. The Rigsthula is commonly referred to as the social order of ancient Scandinavia. When translated, the scholars relate it is about Heimdal visiting three families that created the social classes, or caste system of Scandinavia. This is a widely held notion even in our Heathen communities. The purpose of this article is to give the readers an alternate idea of the hidden meaning within the Rigsthula and its spirituality.
There is a common scheme used in the creation of this poem. Rig visits all three houses of our Folk and at each stop he must enter, eat, sleep “between them” and then leaves. After each visit the woman of the house becomes pregnant, gives birth, and the child goes on to marry and in turn gives birth to each respective generation. The first two houses he comes to be related as “dwellings” the last is referred to as a “hall”. I believe through out the Poetic Edda these are not actual halls or dwellings, but states of consciousness. For instance when one dreams or meditates and the visit Har’s Hall, it is not that you are going some place, but entering another state of awareness. Of course this is my personal opinion, there is no scholarly background, just my own meditation, introspection, and critical thought regarding this wonderfully deep and fundamental poem. With that said, it is my hope that the reader like I, can find a deeper meaning to an important poem.
When Rig fares forth to visit the first of the three families, it is said:
Walked unwearied (in middle ways),
To a dwelling he came, was the door bolted.
I believe this is the first key to the true meaning behind this poem. In middle ways, means that he was visiting Midgard and walked unwearied meant when our folk were still young perhaps something akin to Neanderthals. To a dwelling he came, was the door bolted, this is an interesting phrase and immediately reminded me of a story that CG Jung related in Man and His Symbols. Jung told of a recurring dream where he could not enter a room, the door was locked, he continually had this dream until one day he made a psychological stride in self-actualization. When he dreamed the dream again the door was unlocked and he entered the room, symbolizing his growth. This is what I believe is the symbolism of the doors in this poem. The first door is that of a bolted door to a folk that were un-evolved. These were a folk that boiled meat and made coarse bread. Their minds were locked out of spiritual awareness and were unable “grasp” our Gods and Goddesses. Yet, Rig still visited them. He unbolted the door and gave them a touch of divinity, even in the smallest measure the touch of the Gods and Goddesses of our Folk. They became aware of Heimdal and offered him meat and bread to honor him. I believe this is tied to a fertility ritual, hence the relation of the 3 days (the typical length of time a woman is most fertile) and then 9 months of gestation. Edda (great-grandmother) gives birth to Thrall, and then ascends the race of Thralls.
The second clue is the second half of this verse:
In gan he go, on the ground was fire,
At the hearth, hoary, sat husband and wife—
Ai and Edda, in old headgear.
In old headgear, relates another clue to the ancientness of this Folk. It isn’t that they are incapable of making “modern” headgear, it is that they are displaying the headgear of old. Also, the obvious use of Ai and Edda, which is either Great-Grandmother and Grandfather or just Grandmother and Grandfather depending on the translation one reads. This is showing the beginning of the unbroken chain of our Folk.
Finally, from Thrall comes the race of thralls. Thrall is described as:
Gave Edda birth to a boy child then,
(in clouts she swathed) the swarthy-skinned one.
Thrall they called him and cast on him water,
(dark was his hair and dull was his eyes)
It goes on to say:
On his hand the skin was scraggy and wrinkled,
(nasty his nails), his knuckles gnarled,
his fingernails thick, his face ugly,
his back hulky, his heels were long.
These are not characteristics of Folk living in the time of the Sagas, but an ancient folk in prehistory, just becoming aware of more than themselves. These are a folk, child-like, becoming aware of the God-force within them and around them, hence they “cast on him water”. A practice that only would happen, if there were only hint of spirituality found in childbearing. Yet they were still very crude in their understanding and awareness as evidenced in the names given to their children.
The names of thrall’s children give us a clue as to the functions of these folk in their time. Their awareness of the Gods and Goddesses, their society and the Natural world is still minimal, which can be seen by their names:
In their hut, happy, they had a brood;
I ween they were hight: Hay Giver, Howler,
Bastard, Sluggard, Bent-Back and Paunch,
Stumpy, Stinker, Stableboy, Swarthy,
Longshanks and Lout; they laid fences,
put dung on fields, fattened the swine,
herded the goats, and grubbed up peat.
Particularly interesting is “Bastard, Paunch, Howler, Stinker”. These are not designations for work, but as relations of characteristics of a folk that are un-evolved. A bastard is someone born out of wedlock or in the case of our ancients someone born with someone other than a mate. This is interesting because it could mean that is considered un-evolved to do such things. The remaining (Paunch, Howler, Stinker) names are characteristics of lacking self-control, which could follow along with the bastard or lustful (as related in the online Ashliman translation). Finally, the names associated with Thrall’s children are an understanding of how children were then viewed. Not as a gift or something wonderful, but more as house/farm help.
Thrall is the first rung of spiritual awareness. Rig enters the psyche of our ancient folk through a locked mind. This awareness manifests in a simple ritual of offering the best food they could make and ending in a fertility ritual that brings forth a more advanced Folk than those that Rig visited. Although only the first step, it is an important leap in the sense of the soul.
The next dwelling that Rig visits is the compilation of generations of refinement from Thrall. This dwelling is still rudimentary, but the door is cracked open. As related:
At his staff Rig strode, and straight forth fared;
to a dwelling he came, was the door ajar.
In gan he go, on the ground was a fire,
sat husband and wife there with their work busy.
Following the ideas presented, the door being cracked means that this generation is ready for the next level of awareness. Their minds are opened after a period (unknown duration) of natural growth. This level is defined by their minds being at work. They show a level of understanding that denotes creativity in dress, ornamentation, and construction with materials they nurture. This is shown in the stanzas:
A weaver’s beam out of wood he shaped–
his beard was brushed, and banged, his hair–
in kirtle tight-fitting, were pland on the floor.
The good wife sat and swayed her distaff,
braided the yarn to use for weaving,
with a hood on her head and a smock on her breast,
on her neck, a kerchief, and ornaments on her shoulders,
Afi and Amma owned that house.
Also it is shown as ownership of their house or mind; in a sense it is self-reliance.
Again, it is related that they do a ritual of leaving food and drink to honor Rig in a fertility ritual. This is begets Karl. As related in:
Gave Amma birth to a boy child then.
Karl they called him, clothed him in linen;
ruddy his hue, and rapid his eyes.
It is related in this stanza that his hue is ruddy and his eyes rapid. It is interesting to note that often in the Sagas, a person who has sparkle in their eyes denotes intelligence. Intelligence that is the ability to think at higher levels and more complex thought as well as the ability to have original thought. The eyes are the windows to the soul and this could be eluded to here.
From Karl came the Yeoman Folk. They could do more than the Thralls, their ancestors, but were still only another step to total awareness. Though the poem follows the same recipe from Thrall to Karl, there are interesting things regarding their children and the Folk that sprung during the time of our Karl Folk. The names of the sons:
In their homestead, happy, they had a brood,
hight Man and Yeoman, Master, Goodman,
Husbandman, Farmer, Franklin, Crofter,
Bound-Beard, Steep-Beard, Broad, Swain and Smith.
This is where our folk are called “man”. Then follows names that show higher thought not only in creation, but also of them. They are no longer Louts, but now Master, Goodman, and Farmer. These men are really becoming, in the sense of past (that which was) to the future (that which will be). They have the awareness of something more than just live, work, and die…it is creativity that is defining this level. Creativity lies in a better awareness of the Gods and Goddesses that reside within themselves and the Gods and Goddesses in the world around them.
As in the naming of the male children, the female children’s names are quite striking:
By other names were known their daughters;
Woman, Gentlewoman, Wife, Bride, Lady,
Haught, Maiden, Hussif and Dame;
thence are come the kin of the Karls.
The daughters are no longer Cinder-Wenches, but now are Lady, Maiden, and Dame. They have the spark of womanliness that is apparent in the name of Gentlewoman. Also, this level of awareness is where one sees the use of Husband and Wife as names of the children. They are aware of the solemn idea of oath taking between a man and woman. This is also where a handfasting ritual is related with keys, veil, rings and the sharing of a home. I believe that this level of awareness is still prevalent today. If one thinks seriously about our society and our Folk particularly, it will become apparent that many are stuck in this level, which is fine, but we could be better! I firmly believe that the next level is only attained by a few, and it is also split into two different types of awareness: Jarl and Kon.
Jarl and Kon
After an unknown period Rig next visits a home straightway. This is showing there is nothing barring His way. Here he is visiting a Hall with several different characteristics that show distinct creativity and original thought. These were far advanced Folk that had grown beyond their Karl ancestors.
At his staff Rig strode steadfastly on;
a hall he saw then, was southward the door,
raised on high, with a ring in the doorpost.
He stode in straightway, was straw on the floor.
Sat there the good folk, gazed at each other,
Father and Mother, with their fingers playing.
It is interesting that here Father and Mother gaze at each other. Do they have the understanding of intimate love simply for love’s sake? It definitely is a sign of higher development to appreciate the spouse for more than procreation!
Jarls parents are refined Folk wearing silk, having well-cooked and tasty food. They were called Father and Mother. Father did more than worked the fields, he made bows, created silver, and hunted fowl. Mother wore silk clothing, made light-baked loaves and dressed the table in linen. These are symbols of advanced development. Also, Father and Mother had a more advanced ritual; this shows the better understanding of the reason for ritual. Only the best was laid out for Rig, and he in turn blessed them with Jarl. Notice they chatted til the day was ended, their communion with Rig was more than the ability to lie out gifts. We see the gift for a gift take place with spiritual conversation with the God:
A full trencher on the table she put,
silver-plated, and set forth then
flitches of bacon and steaked fowl also;
there was wine in a crock, were the cups gold-plated;
they drank and chatted til the day was ended.
Jarl was born and he was fair, had quick eyes and flaxen hair. The distinction made with Jarl is his wide range of abilities that like in prior stanzas, out does his Father. Also, Jarl grows within the Hall of his Father: the ways of his Father:
Up grew Jarl within the Hall,
gan bucklers wield and the bowstring fasten,
gan the elmwood bend and arrows shaft;
gan hurl the spear and speed the lance,
gan hund with hounds, and horses ride,
gan brandish swords and swim in the sea.
Now Rig returns to Jarl and gave him, his name: Rig. Here Rig teaches Jarl the Runes. This I believe is where our Folk gain so much in understanding that we began a complex practices for honoring our Elder Kin and more so the understanding of blood and soil or Odal lands. Here Rig counsels him on “make[ing] his own, the Odal lands, the Odal lands and old manors.” This is the idea of conquest, growth, and the good of the Folk. He also demonstrates the ability to wage war and use strategy. This is related in:
Out of woodlands came Rig walking,
came Rig walking, and taught him runes;
his own name gave him as heir and son,
bade him make his own, the udal lands,
the udal lands and olden manors.
He dauntless rode through darking woods,
over frostey fells, to a faraway hall.
Shields he shattered and shafts he hurled,
brandished his sword and swiftly rode;
he wakened war and warriours slew,
with wound-red weapons he won his land.
The next stanza relates the mastering the “18 manors”. I believe this is the mastery of the 18 runes of the Havamal. This could also be another relation of a shamanic initiation just as Oðin hangs on Yggdrasil to become master of the Runes. I believe that he is mastering the runes and the ability to use them to change events, actions, etc…as well as mastering his soul. He has mastered total awareness. With his mastery he shares his wealth with all his Folk.
He made himself master of manors eighteen,
gan share his wealth and shower it on all;
silver and gold and slender steeds;
squanderdd arm rings and scattered gold.
After this he sends a herald to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage. This is yet another example of the progressively advancing relationship between men and women. The woman’s name is Erna and is described as fair, wise and dainty. Their relationship is described as:
For her hand he asked, and home drove her,
gave her to Jarl, gowned in linen;
they lived together and loved each other,
had many children, and lived cheerfully.
Far different than the prior generations, here they are distinctly in love. Their children are also named for their position. It is also related in the sense that now children are not workers at all, but Heirs to a longstanding line of our Folk. Interestingly the female children are not named in this generation. I think this could mean two things. Either they did not advance past Jarl’s generation or it was simply to get to the story of Kon. The children’s naming is as follows:
Boy was the oldest, Bairn the second,
then Issue and Child, Heir, Youth, and Squire,
Offspring and Lad–they sports did learn–
Son and Scion– swimming and “tables,”
Kund one was called, was Kon the youngest.
Jarl is what is becoming and what will be. I believe that only few of us can fill this role. In the Saga era, there were perhaps many of the Jarl Folk, but unfortunately, the best and brightest of our Folk are led astray and often killed. Leaving only Karls, regular folk, to shape the future generations. Still there are those that fill the Jarl role. Still further, Kon is born.
Kon is described as only knowing runes. This seems to be an indication that from Jarl, a master of runes, comes one whose specialty are the runes. Another talent associated to the Kon Folk is only given to a special few, which is the understanding of bird’s speech. Kon’s Folk are a healing Folk that seems to hold the powers of a shaman. As most know the shaman is a special breed and not every person can be a shaman…they are “touched”. It is related this way:
But Kon only could carve runes,
runes lasting ay, life-keeping runes;
to bring forth babes, birth runes he knew,
to dull sword edges, and to calm the sea.
Fowls’ speech he knew, and quenched fires,
could sooth (sorrows) and the sick mind heal;
in his arms the strength of eight men had.
Although he is shaman, he has the strength of “eight men”, which could elude to the four pall bearers (eight legs) in a funeral march (Davidson, 1974), or similarly as Oðin’s eight legged steed. I believe that Kon is the symbolism of the total awareness of a shaman. This is perhaps that which will become of our Folk if they can focus, quiet, and direct their minds to total awareness. Kon is said to “rival Rig the Jarl” in runic lore, this is interesting because now we see God and man as one and alignment of the Soul:
In runes he rivaled Rig the Jarl;
with wiles he warred, outwitting him;
thus got for himself, and gained to have,
the name of Rig and runic lore.
This is another interesting allusion to shamanic initiation by outwitting the master to become the master. After this stanza, the poem ends abruptly, an unfortunate casualty of time. But it is believed that Kon goes on to further win for himself land and wealth. I think it is an interesting ending, because it reminds me of the idea of our Folk never really ending, but continuing. Someone once said to me “The great thing about your endeavors is that there is no end, just a continuance of the Folkways”. I hope we will be more than we were, and what we are becoming will mold that which will be, hopefully something more beautiful than ever.
Hail the Light of Awareness,
Hail Heimdal, bringer of Divine Awareness,
Hail the Children of the Light!
For Faith, Folk, and Family
Kathy Metzger, Donar’s Hearth AOR