Popular Tales from the Norse
Sir George Webbe Dasent

Part 1 out of 10

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Notice to the Second Edition

The first edition of these Tales being exhausted, and a demand having
arisen for a second, the Translator has thought it right to add
thirteen tales, which complete the translation of Asbjoernsen and
Moe's collection, and to strengthen the Introduction by working in
some new matter, and by working out some points which were only
slightly sketched in the first edition.

The favour with which the book was welcomed makes it almost a duty to
say a word here on the many kind and able notices which have been
written upon it. Duties are not always pleasant, but the fulfilment
of this at least gives no pain; because, without one exception, every
criticism which the Translator has seen has shown him that his prayer
for 'gentle' readers has been fully heard. It will be forgiven him,
he hopes, when he says that he has not seen good ground to change or
even to modify any of the opinions as to the origin and diffusion of
popular tales put forth in the first edition. Much indeed has been
said by others _for_ those views; what has been urged _against_
them, with all kindness and good humour, in one or two cases, has
not availed at all to weigh down mature convictions deliberately
expressed after the studies of years, backed as they are by the
researches and support of those who have given their lives to this
branch of knowledge.

And now, before the Translator takes leave of his readers for the
second time, he will follow the lead of the good godmother in one of
these Tales, and forbid all good children to read the two which stand
last in the book. There is this difference between him and the
godmother. She found her foster-daughter out as soon as she came
back. He will never know it, if any bad child has broken his behest.
Still he hopes that all good children who read this book will bear in
mind that there is just as much sin in breaking a commandment even
though it be not found out, and so he bids them good-bye, and feels
sure that no good child will dare to look into those two rooms. If,
after this warning, they peep in, they may perhaps see something
which will shock them.

'Why then print them at all?' some grown reader asks. Because this
volume is meant for you as well as for children, and if you have gone
ever so little into the world with open eyes, you must have seen,
yes, every day, things much more shocking. Because there is nothing
immoral in their spirit. Because they are intrinsically valuable, as
illustrating manners and traditions, and so could not well be left
out. Because they complete the number of the Norse originals, and
leave none untranslated. And last, though not least, because the
Translator hates family versions of anything, 'Family Bibles',
'Family Shakespeares'. Those who, with so large a choice of beauty
before them, would pick out and gloat over this or that coarseness or
freedom of expression, are like those who, in reading the Bible,
should always turn to Leviticus, or those whose Shakespeare would
open of itself at Pericles Prince of Tyre. Such readers the
Translator does not wish to have.

Notice to the First Edition

These translations from the _Norske Folkeeventyr_, collected
with such freshness and faithfulness by MM. Asbjoernsen and Moe, have
been made at various times and at long intervals during the last
fifteen years; a fact which is mentioned only to account for any
variations in style or tone--of which, however, the Translator is
unconscious--that a critical eye may detect in this volume. One of
them, _The Master Thief_, has already appeared in Blackwood's
Magazine for November 1851; from the columns of which periodical it
is now reprinted, by the kind permission of the Proprietors.

The Translator is sorry that he has not been able to comply with the
suggestion of some friends upon whose good-will he sets all store,
who wished him to change and soften some features in these tales,
which they thought likely to shock English feeling. He has, however,
felt it to be out of his power to meet their wishes, for the merit of
an undertaking of this kind rests entirely on its faithfulness and
truth; and the man who, in such a work, wilfully changes or softens,
is as guilty as he 'who puts bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter'.

Of this guilt, at least, the Translator feels himself free; and,
perhaps, if any, who may be inclined to be offended at first, will
take the trouble to read the Introduction which precedes and explains
the Tales, they may find, not only that the softening process would
have spoilt these popular traditions for all except the most childish
readers, but that the things which shocked them at the first blush,
are, after all, not so very shocking.

For the rest, it ill becomes him to speak of the way in which his
work has been done: but if the reader will only bear in mind that
this, too, is an enchanted garden, in which whoever dares to pluck a
flower, does it at the peril of his head; and if he will then read
the book in a merciful and tender spirit, he will prove himself what
the Translator most longs to find, 'a gentle reader', and both will
part on the best terms.












The most careless reader can hardly fail to see that many of the
Tales in this volume have the same groundwork as those with which he
has been familiar from his earliest youth. They are Nursery Tales, in
fact, of the days when there were tales in nurseries--old wives'
fables, which have faded away before the light of gas and the power
of steam. It is long, indeed, since English nurses told these tales
to English children by force of memory and word of mouth. In a
written shape, we have long had some of them, at least, in English
versions of the _Contes de ma Mere l' Oye_ of Perrault, and the
_Contes de Fees_ of Madame D'Aulnoy; those tight-laced, high-
heeled tales of the 'teacup times' of Louis XIV and his successors,
in which the popular tale appears to as much disadvantage as an
artless country girl in the stifling atmosphere of a London theatre.
From these foreign sources, after the voice of the English reciter
was hushed--and it was hushed in England more than a century ago--our
great-grandmothers learnt to tell of Cinderella and Beauty and the
Beast, of Little Red Riding-hood and Blue Beard, mingled together in
the _Cabinet des Fees_ with Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin's
wondrous lamp; for that was an uncritical age, and its spirit
breathed hot and cold, east and west, from all quarters of the globe
at once, confusing the traditions and tales of all times and
countries into one incongruous mass of fable, as much tangled and
knotted as that famous pound of flax which the lassie in one of these
Tales is expected to spin into an even wool within four-and-twenty
hours. No poverty of invention or want of power on the part of
translators could entirely destroy the innate beauty of those popular
traditions; but here, in England at least, they had almost dwindled
out, or at any rate had been lost sight of as home-growths. We had
learnt to buy our own children back, disguised in foreign garb; and
as for their being anything more than the mere pastime of an idle
hour--as to their having any history or science of their own--such an
absurdity was never once thought of. It had, indeed, been remarked,
even in the eighteenth century--that dreary time of indifference and
doubt--that some of the popular traditions of the nations north of
the Alps contained striking resemblances and parallels to stories in
the classical mythology. But those were the days when Greek and Latin
lorded it over the other languages of the earth; and when any such
resemblance or analogy was observed, it was commonly supposed that
that base-born slave, the vulgar tongue, had dared to make a clumsy
copy of something peculiarly belonging to the twin tyrants who ruled
all the dialects of the world with a pedant's rod.

At last, just at the close of that great war which Western Europe
waged against the genius and fortune of the first Napoleon; just as
the eagle--Prometheus and the eagle in one shape--was fast fettered
by sheer force and strength to his rock in the Atlantic, there arose
a man in Central Germany, on the old Thuringian soil, to whom it was
given to assert the dignity of vernacular literature, to throw off
the yoke of classical tyranny, and to claim for all the dialects of
Teutonic speech a right of ancient inheritance and perfect freedom
before unsuspected and unknown. It is almost needless to mention this
honoured name. For the furtherance of the good work which he began
nearly fifty years ago, he still lives and still labours. There is no
spot on which an accent of Teutonic speech is uttered where the name
of Jacob Grimm is not a 'household word'. His General Grammar of all
the Teutonic Dialects from Iceland to England has proved the equality
of these tongues with their ancient classical oppressors. His
Antiquities of Teutonic Law have shown that the codes of the
Lombards, Franks, and Goths were not mere savage, brutal customaries,
based, as had been supposed, on the absence of all law and right. His
numerous treatises on early German authors have shown that the German
poets of the Middle Age, Godfrey of Strasburg, Wolfram von
Eschenbach, Hartman von der Aue, Walter von der Vogelweide, and the
rest, can hold their own against any contemporary writers in other
lands. And lastly, what rather concerns us here, his Teutonic
Mythology, his Reynard the Fox, and the collection of German Popular
Tales, which he and his brother William published, have thrown a
flood of light on the early history of all the branches of our race,
and have raised what had come to be looked on as mere nursery
fictions and old wives' fables--to a study fit for the energies of
grown men, and to all the dignity of a science.

In these pages, where we have to run over a vast tract of space, the
reader who wishes to learn and not to cavil--and for such alone this
introduction is intended--must be content with results rather than
processes and steps. To use a homely likeness, he must be satisfied
with the soup that is set before him, and not desire to see the bones
of the ox out of which it has been boiled. When we say, therefore,
that in these latter days the philology and mythology of the East and
West have met and kissed each other; that they now go hand and hand;
that they lend one another mutual support; that one cannot be
understood without the other,--we look to be believed. We do not
expect to be put to the proof, how the labours of Grimm and his
disciples on this side were first rendered possible by the linguistic
discoveries of Anquetil du Perron and others in India and France, at
the end of the last century; then materially assisted and furthered
by the researches of Sir William Jones, Colebrooke, and others, in
India and England during the early part of this century, and finally
have become identical with those of Wilson, Bopp, Lassen, and Max
Mueller, at the present day. The affinity which exists in a
mythological and philological point of view between the Aryan or
Indo-European languages on the one hand, and the Sanscrit on the
other, is now the first article of a literary creed, and the man who
denies it puts himself as much beyond the pale of argument as he who,
in a religious discussion, should meet a grave divine of the Church
of England with the strict contradictory of her first article, and
loudly declare his conviction, that there was no God. In a general
way, then, we may be permitted to dogmatize, and to lay it down as a
law which is always in force, that the first authentic history of a
nation is the history of its tongue. We can form no notion of the
literature of a country apart from its language, and the
consideration of its language necessarily involves the consideration
of its history. Here is England, for instance, with a language, and
therefore a literature, composed of Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norse, and
Romance elements. Is not this simple fact suggestive of, nay, does it
not challenge us to, an inquiry into the origin and history of the
races who have passed over our island, and left their mark not only
on the soil, but on our speech? Again, to take a wider view, and to
rise from archaeology to science, what problem has interested the
world in a greater degree than the origin of man, and what toil has
not been spent in tracing all races back to their common stock? The
science of comparative philology--the inquiry, not into one isolated
language--for nowadays it may fairly be said of a man who knows only
one language that he knows none--but into all the languages of one
family, and thus to reduce them to one common centre, from which they
spread like the rays of the sun--if it has not solved, is in a fair
way of solving, this problem. When we have done for the various
members of each family what has been done of late years for the Indo-
European tongues, its solution will be complete. In such an inquiry
the history of a race is, in fact, the history of its language, and
can be nothing else; for we have to deal with times antecedent to all
history, properly so called, and the stream which in later ages may
be divided into many branches, now flows in a single channel.

From the East, then, came our ancestors, in days of immemorial
antiquity, in that gray dawn of time of which all early songs and
lays can tell, but of which it is as impossible as it is useless to
attempt to fix the date. Impossible, because no means exist for
ascertaining it; useless, because it is in reality a matter of utter
indifference, when, as this tell-tale crust of earth informs us, we
have an infinity of ages and periods to fall back on whether this
great movement, this mighty lust to change their seats, seized on the
Aryan race one hundred or one thousand years sooner or later. [1] But
from the East we came, and from that central plain of Asia, now
commonly called Iran. Iran, the habitation of the tillers and
_earers_ [2] of the earth, as opposed to Turan, the abode of
restless horse-riding nomads; of Turks, in short, for in their name
the root survives, and still distinguishes the great Turanian or
Mongolian family, from the Aryan, Iranian, or Indo-European race. It
is scarce worth while to inquire--even if inquiry could lead to any
result--what cause set them in motion from their ancient seats.
Whether impelled by famine or internal strife, starved out like other
nationalities in recent times, or led on by adventurous chiefs, whose
spirit chafed at the narrowness of home, certain it is that they left
that home and began a wandering westwards, which only ceased when it
reached the Atlantic and the Northern Ocean. Nor was the fate of
those they left behind less strange. At some period almost as remote
as, but after, that at which the wanderers for Europe started, the
remaining portion of the stock, or a considerable offshoot from it,
turned their faces east, and passing the Indian Caucasus, poured
through the defiles of Affghanistan, crossed the plain of the Five
Rivers, and descended on the fruitful plains of India. The different
destiny of these stocks has been wonderful indeed. Of those who went
west, we have only to enumerate the names under which they appear in
history--Celts, Greeks, Romans, Teutons, Slavonians--to see and to
know at once that the stream of this migration has borne on its waves
all that has become most precious to man. To use the words of Max
Mueller: 'They have been the prominent actors in the great drama of
history, and have carried to their fullest growth all the elements of
active life with which our nature is endowed. They have perfected
society and morals, and we learn from their literature and works of
art the elements of science, the laws of art, and the principles of
philosophy. In continual struggle with each other and with Semitic
and Mongolian races, these Aryan nations have become the rulers of
history, and it seems to be their mission to link all parts of the
world together by the chains of civilization, commerce, and
religion.' We may add, that though by nature tough and enduring, they
have not been obstinate and self-willed; they have been distinguished
from all other nations, and particularly from their elder brothers
whom they left behind, by their common sense, by their power of
adapting themselves to all circumstances, and by making the best of
their position; above all, they have been teachable, ready to receive
impressions from without, and, when received, to develop them. To
show the truth of this, we need only observe, that they adopted
Christianity from another race, the most obstinate and stiff-necked
the world has ever seen, who, trained under the Old Dispensation to
preserve the worship of the one true God, were too proud to accept
the further revelation of God under the New, and, rejecting their
birth-right, suffered their inheritance to pass into other hands.

Such, then, has been the lot of the Western branch, of the younger
brother, who, like the younger brother whom we shall meet so often in
these Popular Tales, went out into the world, with nothing but his
good heart and God's blessing to guide him; and now has come to all
honour and fortune, and to be a king, ruling over the world. He went
out and _did_. Let us see now what became of the elder brother,
who stayed at home some time after his brother went out, and then
only made a short journey. Having driven out the few aboriginal
inhabitants of India with little effort, and following the course of
the great rivers, the Eastern Aryans gradually established themselves
all over the peninsula; and then, in calm possession of a world of
their own, undisturbed by conquest from without, and accepting with
apathy any change of dynasty among their rulers, ignorant of the past
and careless of the future, they sat down once for all and
_thought_--thought not of what they had to do here, that stern
lesson of every-day life which neither men nor nations can escape if
they are to live with their fellows, but how they could abstract
themselves entirely from their present existence, and immerse
themselves wholly in dreamy speculations on the future. Whatever they
may have been during their short migration and subsequent settlement,
it is certain that they appear in the Vedas--perhaps the earliest
collection which the world possesses--as a nation of philosophers.
Well may Professor Mueller compare the Indian mind to a plant reared
in a hot-house, gorgeous in colour, rich in perfume, precocious and
abundant in fruit; it may be all this, 'but will never be like the
oak, growing in wind and weather, striking its roots into real earth,
and stretching its branches into real air, beneath the stars and sun
of Heaven'; and well does he also remark, that a people of this
peculiar stamp was never destined to act a prominent part in the
history of the world; nay, the exhausting atmosphere of
transcendental ideas could not but exercise a detrimental influence
on the active and moral character of the Hindoos. [3]

In this passive, abstract, unprogressive state, they have remained
ever since. Stiffened into castes, and tongue-tied and hand-tied by
absurd rites and ceremonies, they were heard of in dim legends by
Herodotus; they were seen by Alexander when that bold spirit pushed
his phalanx beyond the limits of the known world; they trafficked
with imperial Rome, and the later empire; they were again almost lost
sight of, and became fabulous in the Middle Age; they were
rediscovered by the Portuguese; they have been alternately peaceful
subjects and desperate rebels to us English; but they have been still
the same immovable and unprogressive philosophers, though akin to
Europe all the while; and though the Highlander, who drives his
bayonet through the heart of a high-caste Sepoy mutineer, little
knows that his pale features and sandy hair, and that dusk face with
its raven locks, both come from a common ancestor away in Central
Asia, many, many centuries ago.

But here arises the question, what interest can we, the descendants
of the practical brother, heirs to so much historical renown,
possibly take in the records of a race so historically characterless,
and so sunk in reveries and mysticism? The answer is easy. Those
records are written in a language closely allied to the primaeval
common tongue of those two branches before they parted, and
descending from a period anterior to their separation. It may, or it
may not, be the very tongue itself, but it certainly is not further
removed than a few steps. The speech of the emigrants to the west
rapidly changed with the changing circumstances and various fortune
of each of its waves, and in their intercourse with the aboriginal
population they often adopted foreign elements into their language.
One of these waves, it is probable, passing by way of Persia and Asia
Minor, crossed the Hellespont, and following the coast, threw off a
mighty rill, known in after times as Greeks; while the main stream,
striking through Macedonia, either crossed the Adriatic, or, still
hugging the coast, came down on Italy, to be known as Latins.
Another, passing between the Caspian and the Black Sea, filled the
steppes round the Crimea, and; passing on over the Balkan and the
Carpathians towards the west, became that great Teutonic nationality
which, under various names, but all closely akin, filled, when we
first hear of them in historical times, the space between the Black
Sea and the Baltic, and was then slowly but surely driving before
them the great wave of the Celts which had preceded them in their
wandering, and which had probably followed the same line of march as
the ancestors of the Greeks and Latins. A movement which lasted until
all that was left of Celtic nationality was either absorbed by the
intruders, or forced aside and driven to take refuge in mountain
fastnesses and outlying islands. Besides all these, there was still
another wave, which is supposed to have passed between the Sea of
Aral and the Caspian, and, keeping still further to the north and
east, to have passed between its kindred Teutons and the Mongolian
tribes, and so to have lain in the background until we find them
appearing as Slavonians on the scene of history. Into so many great
stocks did the Western Aryans pass, each possessing strongly-marked
nationalities and languages, and these seemingly so distinct that
each often asserted that the other spoke a barbarous tongue. But, for
all that, each of those tongues bears about with it still, and in
earlier times no doubt bore still more plainly about with it,
infallible evidence of common origin, so that each dialect can be
traced up to that primaeval form of speech still in the main
preserved in the Sanscrit by the Southern Aryan branch, who, careless
of practical life, and immersed in speculation, have clung to their
ancient traditions and tongue with wonderful tenacity. It is this
which has given such value to Sanscrit, a tongue of which it may be
said, that if it had perished the sun would never have risen on the
science of comparative philology. Before the discoveries in Sanscrit
of Sir William Jones, Wilkins, Wilson, and others, the world had
striven to find the common ancestor of European languages, sometimes
in the classical, and sometimes in the Semitic tongues. In the one
case the result was a tyranny of Greek and Latin over the non-
classical tongues, and in the other the most uncritical and
unphilosophical waste of learning. No doubt some striking analogies
exist between the Indo-European family and the Semitic stock, just as
there are remarkable analogies between the Mongolian and Indo-
European families; but the ravings of Vallancy, in his effort to
connect the Erse with Phoenician, are an awful warning of what
unscientific inquiry, based upon casual analogy, may bring itself to
believe, and even to fancy it has proved.

These general observations, then, and this rapid bird's eye view, may
suffice to show the common affinity which exists between the Eastern
and Western Aryans; between the Hindoo on the one hand, and the
nations of Western Europe on the other. That is the fact to keep
steadily before our eyes. We all came, Greek, Latin, Celt, Teuton,
Slavonian, from the East, as kith and kin, leaving kith and kin
behind us; and after thousands of years the language and traditions
of those who went East, and those who went West, bear such an
affinity to each other, as to have established, beyond discussion or
dispute, the fact of their descent from a common stock.


This general affinity established, we proceed to narrow our subject
to its proper limits, and to confine it to the consideration,
_first_, of Popular Tales in general, and _secondly_, of
those Norse Tales in particular, which form the bulk of this volume.

In the first place, then, the fact which we remarked on setting out,
that the groundwork or plot of many of these tales is common to all
the nations of Europe, is more important, and of greater scientific
interest, than might at first appear. They form, in fact, another
link in the chain of evidence of a common origin between the East and
West, and even the obstinate adherents of the old classical theory,
according to which all resemblances were set down to sheer copying
from Greek or Latin patterns, are now forced to confess, not only
that there was no such wholesale copying at all, but that, in many
cases, the despised vernacular tongues have preserved the common
traditions far more faithfully than the writers of Greece and Rome.
The sooner, in short, that this theory of copying, which some, even
besides the classicists, have maintained, is abandoned, the better,
not only for the truth, but for the literary reputation of those who
put it forth. No one can, of course, imagine that during that long
succession of ages when this mighty wedge of Aryan migration was
driving its way through that prehistoric race, that nameless
nationality, the traces of which we everywhere find underlying the
intruders in their monuments and implements of bone and stone--a race
akin, in all probability, to the Mongolian family, and whose
miserable remnants we see pushed aside, and huddled up in the holes
and corners of Europe, as Lapps, and Finns, and Basques--No one, we
say, can suppose for a moment, that in that long process of contact
and absorption, some traditions of either race should not have been
caught up and adopted by the other. We know it to be a fact with
regard to their language, from the evidence of philology, which
cannot lie; and the witness borne by such a word as the Gothic Atta
for _father_, where a Mongolian has been adopted in preference
to an Aryan word, is irresistible on this point; but that, apart from
such natural assimilation, all the thousand shades of resemblance and
affinity which gleam and flicker through the whole body of popular
tradition in the Aryan race, as the Aurora plays and flashes in
countless rays athwart the Northern heaven, should be the result of
mere servile copying of one tribe's traditions by another, is a
supposition as absurd as that of those good country-folk, who, when
they see an Aurora, fancy it must be a great fire, the work of some
incendiary, and send off the parish engine to put it out. No! when we
find in such a story as the Master-thief traits, which are to be
found in the Sanscrit _Hitopadesa_ [4], and which reminds us at
once of the story of Rhampsinitus in Herodotus; which are also to be
found in German, Italian, and Flemish popular tales, but told in all
with such variations of character and detail, and such adaptations to
time and place, as evidently show the original working of the
national consciousness upon a stock of tradition common to all the
race, but belonging to no tribe of that race in particular; and when
we find this occurring not in one tale but in twenty, we are forced
to abandon the theory of such universal copying, for fear lest we
should fall into a greater difficulty than that for which we were
striving to account.

To set this question in a plainer light, let us take a well-known
instance; let us take the story of William Tell and his daring shot,
which is said to have been made in the year 1307. It is just possible
that the feat might be historical, and, no doubt, thousands believe
it for the sake of the Swiss patriot, as firmly as they believe in
anything; but, unfortunately, this story of the bold archer who saves
his life by shooting an apple from the head of his child at the
command of a tyrant, is common to the whole Aryan race. It appears in
Saxo Grammaticus, who flourished in the twelfth century, where it is
told of Palnatoki, King Harold Gormson's thane and assassin. In the
thirteenth century the _Wilkina Saga_ relates it of Egill,
Voelundr's--our Wayland Smith's--younger brother. So also in the Norse
Saga of _Saint Olof_, king and martyr; the king, who died in
1030, eager for the conversion of one of his heathen chiefs Eindridi,
competes with him in various athletic exercises, first in swimming
and then in archery. After several famous shots on either side, the
king challenges Eindridi to shoot a tablet off his son's head without
hurting the child. Eindridi is ready, but declares he will revenge
himself if the child is hurt. The king has the first shot, and his
arrow strikes close to the tablet. Then Eindridi is to shoot, but at
the prayers of his mother and sister, refuses the shot, and has to
yield and be converted [_Fornm. Sog._, 2, 272]. So, also, King
Harold Sigurdarson, who died 1066, backed himself against a famous
marksman, Hemingr, and ordered him to shoot a hazel nut off the head
of his brother Bjoern, and Hemingr performed the feat [Mueller's _Saga
Bibl._, 3, 359]. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the
_Malleus Maleficarum_ refers it to Puncher, a magician of the
Upper Rhine. Here in England, we have it in the old English
ballad of _Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough_, and _William of
Cloudesly_, where William performs the feat [see the ballad in
Percy's _Reliques_]. It is not at all of Tell in Switzerland
before the year 1499, and the earlier Swiss chronicles omit it
altogether. It is common to the Turks and Mongolians; and a legend of
the wild Samoyeds, who never heard of Tell or saw a book in their
lives, relates it, chapter and verse, of one of their famous
marksmen. What shall we say then, but that the story of this bold
master-shot was primaeval amongst many tribes and races, and that it
only crystallized itself round the great name of Tell by that process
of attraction which invariably leads a grateful people to throw such
mythic wreaths, such garlands of bold deeds of precious memory, round
the brow of its darling champion [5].

Nor let any pious Welshman be shocked if we venture to assert that
Gellert, that famous hound upon whose last resting-place the
traveller comes as he passes down the lovely vale of Gwynant, is a
mythical dog, and never snuffed the fresh breeze in the forest of
Snowdon, nor saved his master's child from ravening wolf. This, too,
is a primaeval story, told with many variations. Sometimes the foe is
a wolf, sometimes a bear, sometimes a snake. Sometimes the faithful
guardian of the child is an otter, a weasel, or a dog. It, too, came
from the East. It is found in the _Pantcha-Tantra_, in the
_Hitopadesa_, in Bidpai's _Fables_, in the Arabic original of
_The Seven Wise Masters_, that famous collection of stories
which illustrate a stepdame's calumny and hate, and in many mediaeval
versions of those originals [6]. Thence it passed into the Latin
_Gesta Romanorum_, where, as well as in the Old English version
published by Sir Frederick Madden, it may be read as a service
rendered by a faithful hound against a snake. This, too, like Tell's
master-shot, is as the lightning which shineth over the whole heaven
at once, and can be claimed by no one tribe of the Aryan race, to the
exclusion of the rest. 'The Dog of Montargis' is in like manner
mythic, though perhaps not so widely spread. It first occurs in
France, as told of Sybilla, a fabulous wife of Charlemagne; but it is
at any rate as old as the time of Plutarch, who relates it as an
anecdote of brute sagacity in the days of Pyrrhus.

There can be no doubt, with regard to the question of the origin of
these tales, that they were common in germ at least to the Aryan
tribes before their migration. We find those germs developed in the
popular traditions of the Eastern Aryans, and we find them developed
in a hundred forms and shapes in every one of the nations into which
the Western Aryans have shaped themselves in the course of ages. We
are led, therefore, irresistibly to the conclusion, that these
traditions are as much a portion of the common inheritance of our
ancestors, as their language unquestionably is; and that they form,
along with that language, a double chain of evidence, which proves
their Eastern origin. If we are to seek for a simile, or an analogy,
as to the relative positions of these tales and traditions, and to
the mutual resemblances which exist between them as the several
branches of our race have developed them from the common stock, we
may find it in one which will come home to every reader as he looks
round the domestic hearth, if he should be so happy as to have one.
They are like as sisters of one house are like. They have what would
be called a strong family likeness; but besides this likeness, which
they owe to father or mother, as the case may be, they have each
their peculiarities of form, and eye, and face, and still more, their
differences of intellect and mind. This may be dark, that fair; this
may have gray eyes, that black; this may be open and graceful, that
reserved and close; this you may love, that you can take no interest
in. One may be bashful, another winning, a third worth knowing and
yet hard to know. They are so like and so unlike. At first it may be,
as an old English writer beautifully expresses it, 'their father hath
writ them as his own little story', but as they grow up they throw
off the copy, educate themselves for good or ill, and finally assume
new forms of feeling and feature under an original development of
their own.

Or shall we take another likeness, and say they are national dreams;
that they are like the sleeping thoughts of many men upon one and the
same thing. Suppose a hundred men to have been eye-witnesses of some
event on the same day, and then to have slept and dreamt of it; we
should have as many distinct representations of that event, all
turning upon it and bound up with it in some way, but each preserving
the personality of the sleeper, and working up the common stuff in a
higher or lower degree, just as the fancy and the intellect of the
sleeper was at a higher or lower level of perfection. There is,
indeed, greater truth in this likeness than may at first sight
appear. In the popular tale, properly so called, the national mind
dreams all its history over again; in its half conscious state it
takes this trait and that trait, this feature and that feature, of
times and ages long past. It snatches up bits of its old beliefs, and
fears, and griefs, and glory, and pieces them together with something
that happened yesterday, and then holds up the distorted reflection
in all its inconsequence, just as it has passed before that magic
glass, as though it were genuine history, and matter for pure belief.
And here it may be as well to say, that besides that old classical
foe of vernacular tradition, there is another hardly less dangerous,
which returns to the charge of copying, but changes what lawyers call
the _venue_ of the trial from classical to Eastern lands.
According to this theory, which came up when its classical
predecessor was no longer tenable, the traditions and tales of
Western Europe came from the East, but they were still all copies.
They were supposed to have proceeded entirely from two sources; one
the _Directorium Humanae Vitae_ of John of Capua, translated
between 1262-78 from a Hebrew version, which again came from an
Arabic version of the 8th century, which came from a Pehlvi version
made by one Barzouyeh, at the command of Chosrou Noushirvan, King of
Persia, in the 6th century, which again came from the _Pantcha
Tantra_, a Sanscrit original of unknown antiquity. This is that
famous book of _Calila and Dimna_, as the Persian version is
called, attributed to Bidpai, and which was thus run to earth in
India. The second source of Western tradition was held to be that
still more famous collection of stories commonly known by the name of
the 'Story of the Seven Sages,' but which, under many names--Kaiser
Octavianus, Diocletianus, Dolopathos, Erastus, etc.--plays a most
important part in mediaeval romance. This, too, by a similar process,
has been traced to India, appearing first in Europe at the beginning
of the thirteenth century in the Latin _Historia Septem Sapientum
Romae_, by Dame Jehans, monk in the Abbey of Haute Selve. Here,
too, we have a Hebrew, an Arabic, and a Persian version; which last
came avowedly from a Sanscrit original, though that original has not
yet been discovered. From these two sources of fable and tradition,
according to the new copying theory, our Western fables and tales had
come by direct translation from the East. Now it will be at once
evident that this theory hangs on what may be called a single thread.
Let us say, then, that all that can be found in _Calila and
Dimna_, or the later Persian version, made A.D. 1494, of Hossein
Vaez, called the _Anvari Sohaili_, 'the Canopic Lights'--from
which, when published in Paris by David Sahid of Ispahan, in the year
1644, La Fontaine drew the substance of many of his best fables.--Let
us say, too, that all can be found in the _Life of the Seven
Sages_, or the Book of Sendabad as it was called in Persia, after
an apocryphal Indian sage--came by translation--that is to say,
through the cells of Brahmins, Magians, and monks, and the labours of
the learned--into the popular literature of the West. Let us give up
all that, and then see where we stand. What are we to say of the many
tales and fables which are to be found in neither of those famous
collections, and not tales alone, but traits and features of old
tradition, broken bits of fable, roots and germs of mighty growths of
song and story, nay, even the very words, which exist in Western
popular literature, and which modern philology has found obstinately
sticking in Sanscrit, and of which fresh proofs and instances are
discovered every day? What are we to say of such a remarkable
resemblance as this?

The noble King Putraka fled into the Vindhya mountains in order to
live apart from his unkind kinsfolk; and as he wandered about there
he met two men who wrestled and fought with one another. 'Who are
you?' he asked. 'We are the sons of Mayasara, and here lie our
riches; this bowl, this staff, and these shoes; these are what we
are fighting for, and whichever is stronger is to have them for his

So when Putraka had heard that, he asked them with a laugh: 'Why,
what's the good of owning these things?' Then they answered
'Whoever puts on these shoes gets the power to fly; whatever is
pointed at with this staff rises up at once; and whatever food one
wishes for in this bowl, it comes at once.' So when Putraka had
heard that he said 'Why fight about it? Let this be the prize;
whoever beats the other in a race, let him have them all'.

'So be it', said the two fools, and set off running, but Putraka
put on the shoes at once, and flew away with the staff and bowl up
into the clouds'.

Well, this is a story neither in the _Pantcha Tantra_ nor the
_Hitopadesa_, the Sanscrit originals of _Calila and Dimna_.
It is not in the _Directorium Humanae Vitae_, and has not passed
west by that way. Nor is it in the _Book of Sendabad_, and
thence come west in the _History of the Seven Sages_. Both these
paths are stopped. It comes from the _Katha Sarit Sagara_, the
'Sea of Streams of Story' of Somadeva Bhatta of Cashmere, who, in the
middle of the twelfth century of our era, worked up the tales found
in an earlier collection, called the _Vrihat Katha_, 'the
lengthened story', in order to amuse his mistress, the Queen of
Cashmere. Somadeva's collection has only been recently known and
translated. But west the story certainly came long before, and in the
extreme north-west we still find it in these Norse Tales in 'The
Three Princesses of Whiteland', No. xxvi.

'Well!' said the man, 'as this is so, I'll give you a bit of
advice. Hereabouts, on a moor, stand three brothers, and there they
have stood these hundred years, fighting about a hat, a cloak, and
a pair of boots. If any one has these three things, he can make
himself invisible, and wish himself anywhere he pleases. You can
tell them you wish to try the things, and after that, you'll pass
judgment between them, whose they shall be'.

Yes! the king thanked the man, and went and did as he told him.

'What's all this?' he said to the brothers. 'Why do you stand here
fighting for ever and a day? Just let me try these things, and I'll
give judgment whose they shall be.'

They were very willing to do this; but as soon as he had got the
hat; cloak, and boots, he said: 'When we meet next time I'll tell
you my judgment'; and with these words he wished himself away.

Nor in the Norse tales alone. Other collections shew how thoroughly
at home this story was in the East. In the Relations of _Ssidi
Kur_, a Tartar tale, a Chan's son first gets possession of a cloak
which two children stand and fight for, which has the gift of making
the wearer invisible, and afterwards of a pair of boots, with which
one can wish one's self to whatever place one chooses. Again, in a
Wallachian tale, we read of three devils who fight for their
inheritance--a club which turns everything to stone, a hat which
makes the wearer invisible, and a cloak by help of which one can wish
one's self whithersoever one pleases. Again, in a Mongolian tale, the
Chan's son comes upon a group of children who fight for a hood which
makes the wearer invisible; he is to be judge between them, makes
them run a race for it, but meanwhile puts it on and vanishes from
their sight. A little further on he meets another group, who are
quarrelling for a pair of boots, the wearer of which can wish himself
whithersoever he pleases, and gains possession of them in the same

Nor in one Norse tale alone, but in many, we find traces of these
three wonderful things, or of things like them. They are very like
the cloth, the ram, and the stick, which the lad got from the North
Wind instead of his meal. Very like, too, the cloth, the scissors,
and the tap, which will be found in No. xxxvi, 'The Best Wish'. If we
drop the number three, we find the Boots again in 'Soria Moria
Castle', No. lvi. [Moe, Introd., xxxii-iii] Leaving the Norse Tales,
we see at once that they are the seven-leagued boots of Jack the
Giant Killer. In the _Nibelungen Lied_, when Siegfried finds
Schilbung and Niblung, the wierd heirs of the famous 'Hoard',
striving for the possession of that heap of red gold and gleaming
stones; when they beg him to share it for them, promising him, as his
meed, Balmung, best of swords; when he shares it, when they are
discontent, and when in the struggle which ensues he gets possession
of the 'Tarnhut', the 'cloak of darkness', which gave its wearer the
strength of twelve men, and enabled him to go where he would be
unseen, and which was the great prize among the treasures of the
dwarfs[7]; who is there that does not see the broken fragments of
that old Eastern story of the heirs struggling for their inheritance,
and calling in the aid of some one of better wit or strength who ends
by making the very prize for which they fight his own?

And now to return for a moment to _Calila and Dimna_ and _The
Seven Sages_. Since we have seen that there are other stories, and
many of them, for this is by no means the only resemblance to be
found in Somadeva's book [8] which are common to the Eastern and
Western Aryans, but which did not travel to Europe by translation;
let us go on to say that it is by no means certain, even when some
Western story or fable is found in these Sanscrit originals and their
translations, that that was the only way by which they came to
Europe. A single question will prove this. How did the fables and
apologues which are found in _Aesop_, and which are also
found in the _Pantcha Tantya_ and the _Hitopadesa_ come West?
That they came from the East is certain; but by what way, certainly
not by translations or copying, for they had travelled west long
before translations were thought of. How was it that Themistius, a
Greek orator of the fourth century [J. Grimm, _Reinhart Fuchs_,
cclxiii, Intr.] had heard of that fable of the lion, fox, and bull,
which is in substance the same as that of the lion, the bull, and
the two jackals in the _Pantcha Tantya_ and the _Hitopadesa_?
How, but along the path of that primaeval Aryan migration, and by
that deep-ground tone of tradition by which man speaks to man, nation
to nation, and age to age; along which comparative philology has, in
these last days, travelled back thither, listened to the accents
spoken, and so found in the East the cradle of a common language and
common belief.

And now, having, as we hope, finally established this Indian
affinity, and disposed of mere Indian copying, let us lift our eyes
and see if something more is not to be discerned on the wide horizon
now open on our view. The most interesting problem for man to solve
is the origin of his race. Of late years comparative philology,
having accomplished her task in proving the affinity of language
between Europe and the East, and so taken a mighty step towards
fixing the first seat of the greatest--greatest in wit and wisdom, if
not in actual numbers--portion of the human race, has pursued her
inquiries into the languages of the Turanian, the Semitic, and the
Chamitic or African races, with more or less successful results. In a
few more years, when the African languages are better known, and the
roots of Egyptian and Chinese words are more accurately detected,
Science will be better able to speak as to the common affinity of all
the tribes that throng the earth. In the meantime, let the testimony
of tradition and popular tales be heard, which in this case have
outstripped comparative philology, and lead instead of following her.
It is beyond the scope of this essay, which aims at being popular and
readable rather than learned and lengthy, to go over a prolonged
scientific investigation step by step. We repeat it. The reader must
have faith in the writer, and believe the words now written are the
results of an inquiry, and not ask for the inquiry itself. In all
mythologies and traditions, then, there are what may be called
natural resemblances, parallelisms suggested to the senses of each
race by natural objects and every-day events, and these might spring
up spontaneously all over the earth as home growths, neither derived
by imitation from other tribes, nor from seeds of common tradition
shed from a common stock. Such resemblances have been well
compared by William Grimm, [_Kinder and Hausmaerchen_, vol. 3, _3d_
edition (Goettingen, 1856) a volume worthy of the utmost attention.]
to those words which are found in all languages derived from the
imitation of natural sounds, or, we may add, from the first lisping
accents of infancy. But the case is very different when this or that
object which strikes the senses is accounted for in a way so
extraordinary and peculiar, as to stamp the tradition with a
character of its own. Then arises a like impression on the mind, if
we find the same tradition in two tribes at the opposite ends of the
earth, as is produced by meeting twin brothers, one in Africa and the
other in Asia; we say at once 'I know you are so and so's brother,
you are so like him'. Take an instance: In these Norse Tales, No.
xxiii, we are told how it was the bear came to have a stumpy tail,
and in an African tale, [9] we find how it was the hyaena became
tailless and earless. Now, the tailless condition both of the bear
and the hyaena could scarcely fail to attract attention in a race of
hunters, and we might expect that popular tradition would attempt to
account for both, but how are we to explain the fact, that both
Norseman and African account for it in the same way--that both owe
their loss to the superior cunning of another animal. In Europe the
fox bears away the palm for wit from all other animals, so he it is
that persuades the bear in the Norse Tales to sit with his tail in a
hole in the ice till it is fast frozen in, and snaps short off when
he tries to tug it out. In Bornou, in the heart of Africa, it is the
weasel who is the wisest of beasts, and who, having got some meat in
common with the hyaena, put it into a hole, and said:

'Behold two men came out of the forest, took the meat, and put it
into a hole: stop, I will go into the hole, and then thou mayst
stretch out thy tail to me, and I will tie the meat to thy tail for
thee to draw it out'. So the weasel went into the hole, the hyaena
stretched its tail out to it, but the weasel took the hyaena's
tail, fastened a stick, and tied the hyaena's tail to the stick,
and then said to the hyaena 'I have tied the meat to thy tail;
draw, and pull it out'. The hyaena was a fool, it did not know the
weasel surpassed it in subtlety; it thought the meat was tied; but
when it tried to draw out its tail, it was fast. When the weasel
said again to it 'Pull', it pulled, but could not draw it out; so
it became vexed, and on pulling with force, its tail broke. The
tail being torn out, the weasel was no more seen by the hyaena: the
weasel was hidden in the hole with its meat, and the hyaena saw it
not. [_Kanuri Proverbs_, p. 167.]

Here we have a fact in natural history accounted for, but accounted
for in such a peculiar way as shows that the races among which they
are current must have derived them from some common tradition. The
mode by which the tail is lost is different indeed; but the manner in
which the common ground-work is suited in one case to the cold of the
North, and the way in which fish are commonly caught at holes in the
ice as they rise to breathe; and in the other to Africa and her
pitfalls for wild beasts, is only another proof of the oldness of the
tradition, and that it is not merely a copy.

Take another instance. Every one knows the story in the Arabian
Nights, where the man who knows the speech of beasts laughs at
something said by an ox to an ass. His wife wants to know why he
laughs, and persists, though he tells her it will cost him his life
if he tells her. As he doubts what to do, he hears the cock say to
the house-dog 'Our master is not wise; I have fifty hens who obey me;
if he followed my advice, he'd just take a good stick, shut up his
wife in a room with him, and give her a good cudgelling.' The same
story is told in Straparola [10] with so many variations as to show
it is no copy; it is also told in a Servian popular tale, with
variations of its own; and now here we find it in Bornou, as told by

There was a servant of God who had one wife and one horse; but his
wife was one-eyed, and they lived in their house. Now this servant
of God understood the language of the beasts of the forest when
they spoke, and of the birds of the air when they talked as they
flew by. This servant of God also understood the cry of the hyaena
when it arose at night in the forest, and came to the houses and
cried near them; so, likewise, when his horse was hungry and
neighed, he understood why it neighed, rose up, brought the horse
grass, and then returned and sat down. It happened one day that
birds had their talk as they were flying by above and the servant
of God understood what they talked. This caused him to laugh,
whereupon his wife said to him 'What dost thou hear that thou
laughest?' He replied to his wife 'I shall not tell thee what I
hear, and why I laugh'. The woman said to her husband 'I know why
thou laughest; thou laughest at me because I am one-eyed'. The man
then said to his wife 'I saw that thou wast one-eyed before I loved
thee, and before we married and sat down in our house'. When the
woman heard her husband's word she was quiet.

But once at night, as they were lying on their bed, and it was past
midnight, it happened that a rat played with his wife on the top of
the house and that both fell to the ground. Then the wife of the
rat said to her husband 'Thy sport is bad; thou saidst to me that
thou wouldst play, but when we came together we fell to the ground,
so that I broke my back'.

When the servant of God heard the talk of the rat's wife, as he was
lying on his bed, he laughed. Now, as soon as he laughed his wife
arose, seized him, and said to him as she held him fast: 'Now this
time I will not let thee go out of this house except thou tell me
what thou hearest and why thou laughest'. The man begged the woman,
saying 'Let me go'; but the woman would not listen to her husband's

The husband then tells his wife that he knows the language of beasts
and birds, and she is content; but when he wakes in the morning he
finds he has lost his wonderful gift; and the moral of the tale is
added most ungallantly: 'If a man shews and tells his thoughts to a
woman, God will punish him for it'. Though, perhaps, it is better,
for the sake of the gentler sex, that the tale should be pointed with
this unfair moral, than that the African story should proceed like
all the other variations, and save the husband's gift at the cost of
the wife's skin.

Take other African instances. How is it that the wandering Bechuanas
got their story of 'The Two Brothers', the ground-work of which is
the same as 'The Machandelboom' and the 'Milk-white Doo', and where
the incidents and even the words are almost the same? How is it that
in some of its traits that Bechuana story embodies those of that
earliest of all popular tales, recently published from an Egyptian
Papyrus, coeval with the abode of the Israelites in Egypt? and how is
it that that same Egyptian tale has other traits which reminds us of
the Dun Bull in 'Katie Woodencloak', as well as incidents which are
the germ of stories long since reduced to writing in Norse Sagas of
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? [11] How is it that we still
find among the Negroes in the West Indies [12] a rich store of
popular tales, and the Beast Epic in full bloom, brought with them
from Africa to the islands of the West; and among those tales and
traditions, how is it that we find a 'Wishing Tree', the counter-part
of that in a German popular tale, and 'a little dirty scrub of a
child', whom his sisters despise, but who is own brother to Boots in
the Norse Tales, and like him outwits the Troll, spoils his
substance, and saves his sisters? How is it that we find the good
woman who washes the loathsome head rewarded, while the bad man who
refuses to do that dirty work is punished for his pride; the very
groundwork, nay the very words, that we meet in Bushy-bride, another
Norse Tale? How is it that we find a Mongolian tale, which came
confessedly from India, made up of two of our Norse tales, 'Rich
Peter the Pedlar' and 'The Giant that had no heart in his
body' [_The Deeds of Bogda Gesser Chan_, by I. J. Schmidt
(Petersburg and Leipzig, 1839).]? How should all these things be, and
how could they possibly be, except on that theory which day by day
becomes more and more a matter of fact; this, that the whole human
race sprung from one stock, planted in the East, which has stretched
out its boughs and branches laden with the fruit of language, and
bright with the bloom of song and story, by successive offshoots to
the utmost parts of the earth.


And now, in the second place, for that particular branch of the Aryan
race, in which this peculiar development of the common tradition has
arisen, which we are to consider as 'Norse Popular Tales'.

Whatever disputes may have existed as to the mythology of other
branches of the Teutonic subdivision of the Aryan race--whatever
discussions may have arisen as to the position of this or that
divinity among the Franks, the Anglo-Saxons, or the Goths--about the
Norsemen there can be no dispute or doubt. From a variety of
circumstances, but two before all the rest--the one their settlement
in Iceland, which preserved their language and its literary treasures
incorrupt; the other their late conversion to Christianity--their
cosmogony and mythology stands before us in full flower, and we have
not, as elsewhere, to pick up and piece together the wretched
fragments of a faith, the articles of which its own priests had
forgotten to commit to writing, and which those of another creed had
dashed to pieces and destroyed, wherever their zealous hands could
reach. In the two Eddas, therefore, in the early Sagas, in Saxo's
stilted Latin, which barely conceals the popular songs and legends
from which the historian drew his materials, we are enabled to form a
perfect conception of the creed of the heathen Norsemen. We are
enabled to trace, as has been traced by the same hand in another
place [_Oxford Essays for_ 1898: 'The Norsemen in Iceland'.],
the natural and rational development of that creed from a simple
worship of nature and her powers, first to monotheism, and then to a
polytheistic system. The tertiary system of Polytheism is the soil
out of which the mythology of the Eddas sprang, though through it
each of the older formations crops out in huge masses which admit of
no mistake as to its origin. In the Eddas the natural powers have
been partly subdued, partly thrust on one side, for a time, by Odin
and the Aesir, by the Great Father and his children, by One Supreme
and twelve subordinate gods, who rule for an appointed time, and over
whom hangs an impending fate, which imparts a charm of melancholy to
this creed, which has clung to the race who once believed in it long
after the creed itself has vanished before the light of Christianity.
According to this creed, the Aesir and Odin had their abode in
Asgard, a lofty hill in the centre of the habitable earth, in the
midst of Midgard, that _middle earth_ which we hear of in early
English poetry, the abode of gods and men. Round that earth, which
was fenced in against the attacks of ancient and inveterate foes by a
natural fortification of hills, flowed the great sea in a ring, and
beyond that sea was Utgard, the outlying world, the abode of Frost
Giants, and Monsters, those old-natural powers who had been
dispossessed by Odin and the Aesir when the new order of the universe
arose, and between whom and the new gods a feud as inveterate as that
cherished by the Titans against Jupiter was necessarily kept alive.
It is true indeed that this feud was broken by intervals of truce
during which the Aesir and the Giants visit each other, and appear on
more or less friendly terms, but the true relation between them was
war; pretty much as the Norseman was at war with all the rest of the
world. Nor was this struggle between two rival races or powers
confined to the gods in Asgard alone. Just as their ancient foes were
the Giants of Frost and Snow, so between the race of men and the race
of Trolls was there a perpetual feud. As the gods were men magnified
and exaggerated, so were the Trolls diminished Frost Giants; far
superior to man in strength and stature, but inferior to man in wit
and invention. Like the Frost Giants, they inhabit the rough and
rugged places of the earth, and, historically speaking, in all
probability represent the old aboriginal races who retired into the
mountainous fastnesses of the land, and whose strength was
exaggerated, because the intercourse between the races was small. In
almost every respect they stand in the same relations to men as the
Frost Giants stand to the Gods.

There is nothing, perhaps, more characteristic of a true, as compared
with a false religion, than the restlessness of the one when brought
face to face with the quiet dignity and majesty of the other. Under
the Christian dispensation, our blessed Lord, his awful sacrifice
once performed, 'ascended up on high', having 'led captivity
captive', and expects the hour that shall make his foes 'his
footstool'; but false gods, Jupiter, Vishnu, Odin, Thor, must
constantly keep themselves, as it were, before the eyes of men, lest
they should lose respect. Such gods being invariably what the
philosophers call _subjective_, that is to say, having no
existence except in the minds of those who believe in them; having
been created by man in his own image, with his own desires and
passions, stand in constant need of being recreated. They change as
the habits and temper of the race which adores them alter; they are
ever bound to do something fresh, lest man should forget them, and
new divinities usurp their place. Hence came endless avatars in
Hindoo mythology, reproducing all the dreamy monstrosities of that
passive Indian mind. Hence came Jove's adventures, tinged with all
the lust and guile which the wickedness of the natural man planted on
a hot-bed of iniquity is capable of conceiving. Hence bloody Moloch,
and the foul abominations of Chemosh and Milcom. Hence, too, Odin's
countless adventures, his journeys into all parts of the world, his
constant trials of wit and strength, with his ancient foes the Frost
Giants, his hair-breadth escapes. Hence Thor's labours and toils, his
passages beyond the sea, girt with his strength-belt, wearing his
iron gloves, and grasping his hammer which split the skulls of so
many of the Giant's kith and kin. In the Norse gods, then, we see the
Norseman himself, sublimed and elevated beyond man's nature, but
bearing about with him all his bravery and endurance, all his dash
and spirit of adventure, all his fortitude and resolution to struggle
against a certainty of doom which, sooner or later, must overtake him
on that dread day, the 'twilight of the gods', when the wolf was to
break loose, when the great snake that lay coiled round the world
should lash himself into wrath, and the whole race of the Aesirs and
their antagonists were to perish in internecine strife.

Such were the gods in whom the Norseman believed--exaggerations of
himself, of all his good and all his bad qualities. Their might and
their adventures, their domestic quarrels and certain doom, were sung
in venerable lays, now collected in what we call the Elder, or Poetic
Edda; simple majestic songs, whose mellow accents go straight to the
heart through the ear, and whose simple severity never suffers us to
mistake their meaning. But, besides these gods, there were heroes of
the race whose fame and glory were in every man's memory, and whose
mighty deeds were in every minstrel's mouth. Helgi, Sigmund,
Sinfjoetli, Sigurd, Signy, Brynhildr, Gudrun; champions and shield-
maidens, henchmen and corse-choosers, now dead and gone, who sat
round Odin's board in Valhalla. Women whose beauty, woes, and
sufferings were beyond those of all women; men whose prowess had
never found an equal. Between these, love and hate; all that can
foster passion or beget revenge. Ill assorted marriages; the right
man to the wrong woman, and the wrong man to the right woman;
envyings, jealousies, hatred, murders, all the works of the natural
man, combine together to form that marvellous story which begins with
a curse--the curse of ill-gotten gold--and ends with a curse, a
widow's curse, which drags down all on whom it falls, and even her
own flesh and blood, to certain doom. Such was the theme of the
wondrous Volsung Tale, the far older, simpler and grander original of
that Nibelungen Need of the thirteenth century, a tale which begins
with the slaughter of Fafnir by Sigurd, and ends with Hermanaric,
'that fierce faith-breaker', as the Anglo-Saxon minstrel calls him,
when he is describing, in rapid touches, the mythic glories of the
Teutonic race.

This was the story of the Volsungs. They traced themselves back, like
all heroes, to Odin, the great father of gods and men. From him
sprung Sigi, from him Rerir, from him Volsung, ripped from his
mother's womb after a six years' bearing, to become the Eponymus of
that famous race. In the centre of his hall grew an oak, the tall
trunk of which passed through the roof, and its boughs spread far and
wide in upper air. Into that hall, on a high feast day, when Signy,
Volsung's daughter, was to be given away to Siggeir, King of
Gothland, strode an old one-eyed guest. His feet were bare, his hose
were of knitted linen, he wore a great striped cloak, and a broad
flapping hat. In his hand he bore a sword, which, at one stroke, he
drove up to the hilt in the oak trunk. 'There', said he, 'let him of
all this company bear this sword who is man enough to pull it out. I
give it him, and none shall say he ever bore a better blade.' With
these words he passed out of the hall, and was seen no more. Many
tried, for that sword was plainly a thing of price, but none could
stir it, till Sigmund, the best and bravest of Volsung's sons, tried
his hand, and, lo! the weapon yielded itself at once. This was that
famous blade _Gram_, of which we shall hear again. Sigmund bore
it in battle against his brother-in-law, who quarrelled with him
about this very sword, when Volsung fell, and Sigmund and his ten
brothers were taken and bound. All perished but Sigmund, who was
saved by his sister Signy, and hidden in a wood till he could revenge
his father and brethren. Here with Sinfjoetli, who was at once his son
and nephew, he ran as a werewolf through the forest, and wrought many
wild deeds. When Sinfjoetli was of age to help him, they proceed to
vengeance, and burn the treacherous brother-in-law alive, with all
his followers. Sigmund then regains his father's kingdom, and in
extreme old age dies in battle against the sons of King Hunding. Just
as he was about to turn the fight, a warrior of more than mortal
might, a one-eyed man in a blue cloak, with a flapping hat, rose up
against him spear in hand. At that outstretched spear Sigmund smites
with his trusty sword. It snaps in twain. Then he knows that his luck
is gone; he sees in his foe Odin the giver of the sword, sinks down
on the gory battle-field, and dies in the arms of Hjordis, his young
wife, refusing all leechcraft, and bowing his head to Odin's will. By
the fortune of war, Hjordis, bearing a babe under her girdle, came
into the hands of King Hialprek of Denmark, there she bore a son to
Sigmund, Sigurd, the darling of Teutonic song and story. Regin, the
king's smith, was his foster-father, and as the boy grew up the
fairest and stoutest of all the Volsungs, Regin, who was of the dwarf
race, urged him day by day to do a doughty deed, and slay Fafnir the
Dragon. For Fafnir, Regin, and Otter had been brothers, sons of
Reidmar. In one of their many wanderings, Odin, Loki, and Haenir came
to a river and a forge. There, on the bank under the forge, they saw
an otter with a salmon in its mouth, which it ate greedily with its
eyes shut. Loki took a stone, threw it, and killed the beast, and
boasted how he had got both fish and flesh at one throw. Then the
Aesir passed on and came at night to Reidmar's house, asked a
lodging, got it, and showed their spoil. 'Seize and bind them lads',
cried Reidmar; 'for they have slain your brother Otter'. So they were
seized and bound by Regin and Fafnir, and offered an atonement to buy
off the feud, and Reidmar was to name the sum. Then Otter was flayed,
and the Aesir were to fill the skin with red gold, and cover it
without, that not a hair could be seen. To fetch the gold Odin sent
Loki down to the abodes of the Black Elves; there in a stream he
caught Andvari the Dwarf, and made him give up all the gold which he
had hoarded up in the stony rock. In vain the Dwarf begged and prayed
that he might keep one ring, for it was the source of all his wealth,
and ring after ring dropped from it. 'No; not a penny should he have'
said Loki. Then the dwarf laid a curse on the ring, and said it
should be every man's bane who owned it. 'So much the better' said
Loki; and when he got back, Odin saw the ring how fair it was, and
kept it to himself, but gave the gold to Reidmar. So Reidmar filled
the skin with gold as full as he could, and set it up on end, and
Odin poured gold over it, and covered it up. But when Reidmar looked
at it he saw still one grey hair, and bade them cover that too, else
the atonement was at an end. Then Odin drew forth the ring and laid
it over the grey hair. So the Aesir was set free, but before they
went, Loki repeated the curse which Andvari had laid upon the ring
and gold. It soon began to work. First, Regin asked for some of the
gold, but not a penny would Reidmar give. So the two brothers laid
their heads together and slew their sire. Then Regin begged Fafnir to
share the gold with him. But 'no', Fafnir was stronger, and said he
should keep it all himself, and Regin had best be off, unless he
wished to fare the same way as Reidmar. So Regin had to fly, but
Fafnir took a dragon's shape; 'and there', said Regin, 'he lies on
the "Glistening Heath", coiled round his store of gold and precious
things, and that's why I wish you to kill him.' Sigurd, told Regin
who was the best of smiths, to forge him a sword. Two are made, but
both snap asunder at the first stroke. 'Untrue are they like you and
all your race' cries Sigurd. Then he went to his mother and begged
the broken bits of _Gram_, and out of them Regin forged a new
blade, that clove the anvil in the smithy, and cut a lock of wool
borne down upon it by a running stream. 'Now, slay me Fafnir', said
Regin; but Sigurd must first find out King Hunding's sons, and avenge
his father Sigmund's death. King Hialprek lends him force; by Odin's
guidance he finds them out, routs their army, and slays all those
brothers. On his return, his foster-father still eggs him on to slay
the Dragon, and thus to shew that there was still a Volsung left. So,
armed with Gram, and mounted on Gran, his good steed, whom Odin had
taught him how to choose, Sigurd rode to the 'Glistening Heath', dug
a pit in the Dragon's path, and slew him as he passed over him down
to drink at the river. Then Regin came up, and the old feeling of
vengeance for a brother's blood grew strong, and as an atonement,
Sigurd was to roast Fafnir's heart, and carry it to Regin, who
swilled his fill of the Dragon's blood, and lay down to sleep. But as
Sigurd roasted the heart, and wondered if it would soon be done, he
tried it with his finger to see if it were soft. The hot roast burned
his finger, and he put it into his mouth, and tasted the life-blood
of the Dragon. Then in a moment he understood the song of birds, and
heard how the swallows over his head said one to the other, 'There
thou sittest, Sigurd, roasting Fafnir's heart. Eat it thyself and
become the wisest of men.' Then another said 'There lies Regin, and
means to cheat him who trusts him.' Then a third said 'Let Sigurd cut
off his head then, and so own all the gold himself.' Then Sigurd went
to Regin and slew him, and ate the heart, and rode on Gran to
Fafnir's lair, and took the spoil and loaded his good steed with it,
and rode away.

And now Sigurd was the most famous of men. All the songs and stories
of the North made him the darling of that age. They dwell on his soft
hair, which fell in great locks of golden brown, on his bushy beard
of auburn hue, his straight features, his ruddy cheeks, his broad
brow, his bright and piercing eye, of which few dared to meet the
gaze, his taper limbs and well knit joints, his broad shoulders, and
towering height. 'So tall he was, that as he strode through the full-
grown rye, girt with Gram, the tip of the scabbard just touched the
ears of corn.' Ready of tongue too, and full of forethought. His
great pleasure was to help other men, and to do daring deeds; to
spoil his foes, and give largely to his friends. The bravest man
alive, and one that never knew fear. On and on he rode, till on a
lone fell he saw a flickering flame, and when he reached it, there it
flamed and blazed all round a house. No horse but Gran could ride
that flame; no man alive but Sigurd sit him while he leaped through
it. Inside the house lay a fair maiden, armed from head to foot, in a
deep sleep. Brynhildr, Atli's sister, was her name, a Valkyrie, a
corse-chooser; but out of wilfulness she had given the victory to the
wrong side, and Odin in his wrath had thrust the horn of sleep into
her cloak, and laid her under a curse to slumber there till a man
bold enough to ride through that flame came to set her free, and win
her for his bride. So then she woke up, and taught him all runes and
wisdom, and they swore to love each other with a mighty oath, and
then Sigurd left her and rode on.

So on he rode to King Giuki's hall, Giuki the Niflung, King of
Frankland, whose wife was Grimhildr, whose sons were Gunnar and
Hogni, whose stepson was Guttorm, and whose daughter was the fair
Gudrun. Here at first he was full of Brynhildr, and all for going
back to fetch his lovely bride from the lone fell. But Grimhildr was
given to dark arts; she longed for the brave Volsung for her own
daughter, she brewed him the philtre of forgetfulness, he drained it
off, forgot Brynhildr, swore a brother's friendship with Gunnar and
Hogni, and wedded the fair Gudrun. But now Giuki wanted a wife for
Gunnar, and so off set the brothers and their bosom friend to woo,
but whom should they choose but Brynhildr, Atli's sister, who sat
there still upon the fell, waiting for the man who was bold enough to
ride through the flickering flame. She knew but one could do it, and
waited for that one to come back. So she had given out whoever could
ride that flame should have her to wife. So when Gunnar and Hogni
reached it, Gunnar rode at it, but his horse, good though it was,
swerved from the fierce flame. Then by Grimhild's magic arts, Sigurd
and Gunnar changed shapes and arms, and Sigurd leapt up on Gran's
back, and the good steed bore him bravely through the flame. So
Brynhildr the proud maiden was won and forced to yield. That evening
was their wedding; but when they lay down to rest, Sigurd unsheathed
his keen sword _Gram_, and laid it naked between them. Next
morning when he arose, he took the ring which Andvari had laid under
the curse, and which was among Fafnir's treasures, and gave it to
Brynhildr as a 'morning gift', and she gave him another ring as a
pledge. Then Sigurd rode back to his companions and took his own
shape again, and then Gunnar went and claimed Brynhildr, and carried
her home as his bride. But no sooner was Gunnar wedded, than Sigurd's
eyes were opened, and the power of the philtre passed away, he
remembered all that had passed, and the oath he had sworn to
Brynhildr. All this came back upon him when it was too late, but he
was wise and said nothing about it. Well, so things went on, till one
day Brynhildr and Gudrun went down to the river to wash their hair.
Then Brynhildr waded out into the stream as far as she could, and
said she wouldn't have on her head the water that streamed from
Gudrun's; for hers was the braver husband. So Gudrun waded out after
her, and said the water ought to come on her hair first, because her
husband bore away the palm from Gunnar, and every other man alive,
for he slew Fafnir and Regin and took their inheritance. 'Aye', said
Brynhildr, 'but it was a worthier deed when Gunnar rode through the
flame, but Sigurd dared not try!' Then Gudrun laughed, and said
'Thinkst thou that Gunnar really rode the flame? I trow _he_
went to bed with thee that night, who gave me this gold ring. And as
for that ring yonder which you have on your finger, and which you got
as your "morning-gift"; its name is Andvari's-spoil, and _that_
I don't think Gunnar sought on the "Glistening Heath"'. Then
Brynhildr held her peace and went home, and her love for Sigurd came
back, but it was turned to hate, for she felt herself betrayed. Then
she egged on Gunnar to revenge her wrong. At last the brothers
yielded to her entreaties, but they were sworn brothers to Sigurd,
and to break that oath by deed was a thing unheard of. Still they
broke it in spirit; by charms and prayers they set on Guttorm their
half-brother, and so at dead of night, while Gudrun held the bravest
man alive fast locked in her white arms, the murderer stole to the
bedside and drove a sword through the hero. Then Sigurd turned and
writhed, and as Guttorm fled he hurled Gram after him, and the keen
blade took him asunder at the waist, and his head fell out of the
room and his heels in, and that was the end of Guttorm. But with
revenge Brynhildr's love returned, and when Sigurd was laid upon the
pile her heart broke; she burst forth into a prophetic song of the
woes that were still to come, made them lay her by his side with Gram
between them, and so went to Valhalla with her old lover. Thus
Andvari's curse was fulfilled.

Gudrun, the weary widow, wandered away. After a while, she accepts
atonement from her brothers for her husband's loss, and marries Atli,
the Hun King, Brynhildr's brother. He cherished a grudge against
Giuki's sons for the guile they had practised against their brother-
in-law, which had broken his sister's heart, and besides he claimed,
in right of Gudrun, all the gold which Sigurd won from the Dragon,
but which the Niflung Princes had seized when he was slain. It was in
vain to attack them in fair fight, so he sent them a friendly
message, and invited them to a banquet; they go, and are overpowered.
Hogni's heart is cut out of him alive, but he still smiles; Gunnar is
cast into a pit full of snakes, but even then charms them to sleep
with his harp, all but one, that flies at his heart and stings him to
death. With them perished the secret of the Dragon's hoard, which
they had thrown into the Rhine as they crossed it on the way to
Hunland. Now comes horror on horror. Revenge for her brothers now
belongs to Gudrun; she slays with her own hand her two sons by Atli,
makes him eat their flesh, and drink their blood out of their skulls,
and, while the king slept sound, slew him in his bed by the help of
her brother Hogni's son. Then she set the hall a-blaze, and burnt all
that were in it. After that she went to the sea-shore, and threw
herself in to drown. But the deep will not have her, the billows bear
her over to King Jonakr's land. He marries her, and has three sons by
her, Saurli, Hamdir, and Erp, black-haired as ravens, like all the
Niflungs. Svanhild, her daughter by Sigurd, who had her father's
bright and terrible eyes, she has still with her, now grown up to be
the fairest of women. So when Hermanaric the mighty, the great Gothic
king, heard of Svanhild's beauty, he sent his son Randver to woo her
for him, but Bikki the False said to the youth: 'Better far were this
maiden for thee than for thy old father'; and the maiden and the
prince thought it good advice. Then Bikki went and told the king, and
Hermanaric bade them take and hang Randver at once. So on his way to
the gallows, the prince took his hawk and plucked off all its
feathers, and sent it to his father. But when his sire saw it, he
knew at once that, as the hawk was featherless and unable to fly, so
was his realm defenceless under an old and sonless king. Too late he
sent to stop the hanging; his son was already dead. So one day
as he rode back from hunting, he saw fair Svanhild washing her golden
locks, and it came into his heart how there she sat, the cause of all
his woe; and he and his men rode at her and over her, and their
steeds trampled her to death. But when Gudrun heard this, she set on
her three Niflung sons to avenge their sister. Byrnies and helms she
gave them so true that no sword would bite on them. They were to
steal on Hermanaric as he slept; Saurli was to cut off his hands,
Hamdir his feet, and Erp his head. So as the three went along, the
two asked Erp what help he would give them when they got to
Hermanaric. 'Such as hand lends to foot' he said. 'No help at all'
they cried; and passing from words to blows, and because their mother
loved Erp best, they slew him. A little further on Saurli stumbled
and fell forward, but saved himself with one hand, and said 'Here
hand helps foot: better were it that Erp lived.' So they came on
Hermanaric as he slept, and Saurli hewed off his hands, and Hamdir
his feet, but he awoke and called for his men. Then said Hamdir:
'Were Erp alive, the head would be off, and he couldn't call out.'
Then Hermanaric's men arose and took the twain, and when they found
that no steel would touch them, an old one-eyed man gave them advice
to stone them to death. Thus fell Saurli and Hamdir, and soon after
Gudrun died too, and with her ends the Volsung and the Niflung tale.

And here it is worth while to say, since some minds are so narrowly
moulded as to be incapable of containing more than one idea, that
because it has seemed a duty to describe in its true light the old
faith of our forefathers, it by no means follows that the same eyes
are blind to the glorious beauty of Greek Mythology. That had the
rare advantage of running its course free and unfettered until it
fell rather by natural decay than before the weapon of a new belief.
The Greeks were Atheists before they became Christian. Their faith
had passed through every stage. We can contemplate it as it springs
out of the dim misshapen symbol, during that phase when men's eyes
are fixed more on meaning and reality than on beauty and form, we can
mark how it gradually looks more to symmetry and shape, how it is
transfigured in the Arts, until, under that pure air and bright sky,
the glowing radiant figures of Apollo and Aphrodite, of Zeus and
Athene--of perfect man-worship and woman-worship, stand out clear and
round in the foreground against the misty distance of ancient times.
Out of that misty distance the Norseman's faith never emerged. What
that early phase of faith might have become, had it been once wedded
to the Muses, and learnt to cultivate the Arts, it is impossible to
say. As it is, its career was cut short in mid-course. It carried
about with it that melancholy presentiment of dissolution which has
come to be so characteristic of modern life, but of which scarce a
trace exists in ancient times, and this feeling would always have
made it different from that cheerful carelessness which so attracts
us in the Greeks; but even that downcast brooding heart was capable
of conceiving great and heroic thoughts, which it might have clothed
in noble shapes and forms, had not the axe of Providence cut down the
stately sapling in the North before it grew to be a tree, while it
spared the pines of Delphi and Dodona's sacred oaks, until they had
attained a green old age. And so this faith remained rude and rough;
but even rudeness has a simplicity of its own, and it is better to be
rough and true-hearted than polished and false. In all the feelings
of natural affection, that faith need fear no comparison with any
other upon earth. In these respects it is firm and steadfast as a
rock, and pure and bright as a living spring. The highest God is a
father, who protects his children; who gives them glory and victory
while they live, and when they die, takes them to himself; to those
fatherly abodes Death was a happy return, a glorious going home. By
the side of this great father stands a venerable goddess, dazzling
with beauty, the great mother of gods and men. Hand in hand this
divine pair traverse the land; he teaching the men the use of arms
and all the arts of war,--for war was then as now a noble calling,
and to handle arms an honourable, nay necessary, profession. To the
women she teaches domestic duties and the arts of peace; from her
they learn to weave, and sew, and spin; from her, too, the husbandman
learns to till his fields. From him springs poetry and song; from her
legend and tradition. Nor should it ever be forgotten that the
footsteps of Providence are always onward, even when they seem taken
in the dark, and that their rude faith was the first in which that
veneration for woman arose, which the Western nations may well claim
as the brightest jewel in their crown of civilization; that while she
was a slave in the East, a toy to the Greeks, and a housewife to the
Romans, she was a helpmeet to the Teuton, and that those stern
warriors recognized something divine in her nature, and bowed before
her clearer insight into heavenly mysteries. The worship of the
Virgin Mary was gradually developed out of this conception of woman's
character, and would have been a thing absurd and impossible, had
Christianity clung for ever to Eastern soil. And now to proceed,
after thus turning aside to compare the mythology of the Greek with
the faith of the Norseman. The mistake is to favour one or the other
exclusively instead of respecting and admiring both; but it is a
mistake which those only can fall into, whose souls are narrow and
confined, who would say this thing and this person you shall love,
and none other; this form and feature you shall worship and adore,
and this alone; when in fact the whole promised land of thought and
life lies before us at our feet, our nature encourages us to go in
and possess it, and every step we make in this new world of knowledge
brings us to fresh prospects of beauty, and to new pastures of

Such were the gods, and such the heroes of the Norseman; who, like
his own gods, went smiling to death under the weight of an inevitable
destiny. But that fate never fell on their gods. Before this
subjective mythological dream of the Norsemen could be fulfilled, the
religious mist in which they walked was scattered by the sunbeams of
Christianity. A new state and condition of society arose, and the
creed which had satisfied a race of heathen warriors, who externally
were at war with all the world, became in time an object of horror
and aversion to the converted Christian. This is not the place to
describe the long struggle between the new and the old faith in the
North; how kings and queens became the foster-fathers and nursing-
mothers of the Church; how the great chiefs, each a little king in
himself, scorned and derided the whole scheme as altogether weak and
effeminate; how the bulk of the people were sullen and suspicious,
and often broke out into heathen mutiny; how kings rose and kings
fell, just as they took one or the other side; and how, finally,
after a contest which had lasted altogether more than three
centuries, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden--we run them over in
the order of conversion--became faithful to Christianity, as preached
by the missionaries of the Church of Rome. One fact, however, we must
insist on, which might be inferred, indeed, both from the nature of
the struggle itself, and the character of Rome; and that is, that
throughout there was something in the process of conversion of the
nature of a compromise--of what we may call the great principle of
'give and take'. In all Christian churches, indeed, and in none so
much as the Church of Rome, nothing is so austere, so elevating, and
so grand, as the uncompromising tone in which the great dogmas of the
Faith are enunciated and proclaimed. Nothing is more magnificent, in
short, than the theory of Christianity; but nothing is more mean and
miserable than the time-serving way in which those dogmas are dragged
down to the dull level of daily life, and that sublime theory reduced
to ordinary practice. At Rome, it was true that the Pope could
congratulate the faithful that whole nations in the barbarous and
frozen North had been added to the true fold, and that Odin's grim
champions now universally believed in the gospel of peace and love.
It is so easy to dispose of a doubtful struggle in a single sentence,
and so tempting to believe it when once written. But in the North,
the state of things, and the manner of proceeding, were entirely
different. There the dogma was proclaimed, indeed; but the manner of
preaching it was not in that mild spirit with which the Saviour
rebuked the disciple when he said 'Put up again thy sword into his
place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.'
There the sword was used to bring converts to the font, and the
baptism was often one rather of blood than of water. There the new
converts perpetually relapsed, chased away the missionaries and the
kings who sheltered them, and only yielded at last to the
overwhelming weight of Christian opinion in the Western world. St
Olof, king and martyr, martyred in pitched battle by his mutinous
allodial freemen, because he tried to drive rather than to lead them
to the cross; and another Olof, greater than he, Olof Tryggvason, who
fell in battle against the heathen Swedes, were men of blood rather
than peace; but to them the introduction of the new faith into Norway
is mainly owing. So also Charlemagne, at an earlier period, had dealt
with the Saxons at the Main Bridge, when his ultimatum was
'Christianity or death'. So also the first missionary to Iceland--who
met, indeed, with a sorry reception--was followed about by a stout
champion named Thangbrand, who, whenever there was what we should now
call a missionary meeting, challenged any impugner of the new
doctrines to mortal combat on the spot. No wonder that, after having
killed several opponents in the little tour which he made with his
missionary friend through the island, it became too hot to hold him,
and he, and the missionary, and the new creed, were forced to take
ship and sail back to Norway.

'Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a
little', was the motto of Rome in her dealings with the heathen
Norsemen, and if she suited herself at first rather to their habits
and temper than to those of more enlightened nations, she had an
excuse in St Paul's maxim of making herself 'all things to all men.'
Thus, when a second attempt to Christianize Iceland proved more
successful--for in the meantime, King Olof Tryggvason, a zealous
Christian, had seized as hostages all the Icelanders of family and
fame who happened to be in Norway, and thus worked on the feelings of
the chiefs of those families at home, who in their turn bribed the
lawman who presided over the Great Assembly to pronounce in favour of
the new Faith--even then the adherents of the old religion were
allowed to perform its rites in secret, and two old heathen practices
only were expressly prohibited, the exposure of infants and the
eating of horseflesh, for horses were sacred animals, and the heathen
ate their flesh after they had been solemnly sacrificed to the gods.
As a matter of fact, it is far easier to change a form of religion
than to extirpate a faith. The first indeed is no easy matter, as
those students of history well know who are acquainted with the
tenacity with which a large proportion of the English nation clung to
the Church of Rome, long after the State had declared for the
Reformation. But to change the faith of a whole nation in block and
bulk on the instant, was a thing contrary to the ordinary working of
Providence and unknown even in the days of miracles, though the days
of miracles had long ceased when Rome advanced against the North.
There it was more politic to raise a cross in the grove where the
Sacred Tree had once stood, and to point to the sacred emblem which
had supplanted the old object of national adoration, when the
populace came at certain seasons with songs and dances to perform
their heathen rites. Near the cross soon rose a church; and both were
girt by a cemetery, the soil of which was doubly sacred as a heathen
fane and a Christian sanctuary, and where alone the bodies of the
faithful could repose in peace. But the songs and dances, and
processions in the church-yard round the cross, continued long after
Christianity had become dominant. So also the worship of wells and
springs was christianized when it was found impossible to prevent it.
Great churches arose over or near them, as at Walsingham, where an
abbey, the holiest place in England, after the shrine of St Thomas at
Canterbury, threw its majestic shade over the heathen wishing-well,
and the worshippers of Odin and the Nornir were gradually converted
into votaries of the Virgin Mary. Such practices form a subject of
constant remonstrance and reproof in the treatises and penitential
epistles of medieval divines, and in some few places and churches,
even in England, such rites are still yearly celebrated. [13]

So, too, again with the ancient gods. They were cast down from
honour, but not from power. They lost their genial kindly influence
as the protectors of men and the origin of all things good; but their
existence was tolerated; they became powerful for ill, and
degenerated into malignant demons. Thus the worshippers of Odin had
supposed that at certain times and rare intervals the good powers
shewed themselves in bodily shape to mortal eye, passing through the
land in divine progress, bringing blessings in their train, and
receiving in return the offerings and homage of their grateful
votaries. But these were naturally only exceptional instances; on
ordinary occasions the pious heathen recognized his gods sweeping
through the air in cloud and storm, riding on the wings of the wind,
and speaking in awful accents, as the tempest howled and roared, and
the sea shook his white mane and crest. Nor did he fail to see them
in the dust and din of battle, when Odin appeared with his terrible
helm, succouring his own, striking fear into their foes, and turning
the day in many a doubtful fight; or in the hurry and uproar of the
chase, where the mighty huntsman on his swift steed, seen in glimpses
among the trees, took up the hunt where weary mortals laid it down,
outstripped them all, and brought the noble quarry to the ground.
Looking up to the stars and heaven, they saw the footsteps of the
gods marked out in the bright path of the Milky Way; and in the Bear
they hailed the war-chariot of the warrior's god. The great
goddesses, too, Frigga and Freyja, were thoroughly old-fashioned
domestic divinities. They help women in their greatest need, they
spin themselves, they teach the maids to spin, and punish them if the
wool remains upon their spindle. They are kind, and good, and
bright, for _Holda_, _Bertha_, are the epithets given to them. And
so, too, this mythology which, in its aspect to the stranger and the
external world, was so ruthless and terrible, when looked at from
within and at home, was genial, and kindly, and hearty, and affords
another proof that men, in all ages and climes, are not so bad as
they seem; that after all, peace and not war is the proper state for
man, and that a nation may make war on others and exist; but that
unless it has peace within, and industry at home, it must perish from
the face of the earth. But when Christianity came, the whole
character of this goodly array of divinities was soured and spoilt.
Instead of the stately procession of the God, which the intensely
sensuous eye of man in that early time connected with all the
phenomena of nature, the people were led to believe in a ghastly
grisly band of ghosts, who followed an infernal warrior or huntsman
in hideous tumult through the midnight air. No doubt, as Grimm
rightly remarks [D. M., p. 900: _Wuetendes Heer_], the heathen
had fondly fancied that the spirits of those who had gone to Odin
followed him in his triumphant progress either visibly or invisibly;
that they rode with him in the whirlwind, just as they followed him
to battle, and feasted with him in Valhalla; but now the Christian
belief, when it had degraded the mighty god into a demon huntsman,
who pursued his nightly round in chase of human souls, saw in the
train of the infernal master of the hunt only the spectres of
suicides, drunkards, and ruffians; and, with all the uncharitableness
of a dogmatic faith, the spirits of children who died unbaptized,
whose hard fate had thrown them into such evil company. This was the
way in which that wide-spread superstition arose, which sees in the
phantoms of the clouds the shapes of the Wild Huntsman and his
accursed crew, and hears, in spring and autumn nights, when sea-fowl
take the wing to fly either south or north, the strange accents and
uncouth yells with which the chase is pressed on in upper air.
Thus, in Sweden it is still Odin who passes by; in Denmark it is
King Waldemar's Hunt; in Norway it is _Aaskereida_, that is
_Asgard's Car_; in Germany, it is Wode, Woden, or Hackelberend,
or Dieterich of Bern; in France it is Hellequin, or King Hugo, or
Charles the Fifth, or, dropping a name altogether, it is _Le Grand
Veneur_ who ranges at night through the Forest of Fontainebleau.
Nor was England without her Wild Huntsman and his ghastly following.
Gervase of Tilbury, in the twelfth century, could tell it of King
Arthur, round whose mighty name the superstition settled itself, for
he had heard from the foresters how, 'on alternate days, about the
full of the moon, one day at noon, the next at midnight when the moon
shone bright, a mighty train of hunters on horses was seen, with
baying hounds and blast of horns; and when those hunters were asked
of whose company and household they were, they replied "of
Arthur's".' We hear of him again in _The Complaynt of Scotland_,
that curious composition attributed by some to Sir David Lyndsay of
the Mount in Fife, and of Gilmerton in East Lothian, pp. 97, 98,
where he says:

Arthur knycht, he raid on nycht,
With gyldin spur and candil lycht.

Nor should we forget, when considering this legend, that story of
Herne the Hunter, who

Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the trees, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
_Merry Wives of Windsor_, act. iv, sc. 4.

And even yet, in various parts of England, the story of some great
man, generally a member of one of the county families, who drives
about the country at night, is common. Thus, in Warwickshire, it is
the 'One-handed Boughton', who drives about in his coach and six, and
makes the benighted traveller hold gates open for him; or it is 'Lady
Skipwith', who passes through the country at night in the same
manner. This subject might be pursued to much greater length, for
popular tradition is full of such stories; but enough has been said
to show how the awful presence of a glorious God can be converted
into a gloomy superstition; and, at the same time, how the majesty of
the old belief strives to rescue itself by clinging, in the popular
consciousness, to some king or hero, as Arthur or Waldemar, or,
failing that, to some squire's family, as Hackelberend, or the 'one-
handed Boughton', or even to the Keeper Herne.

Odin and the Aesir then were dispossessed and degraded by our Saviour
and his Apostles, just as they had of old thrown out the Frost
Giants, and the two are mingled together, in medieval Norse
tradition, as Trolls and Giants, hostile alike to Christianity and
man. Christianity had taken possession indeed, but it was beyond her
power to kill. To this half-result the swift corruption of the Church
of Rome lent no small aid. Her doctrines, as taught by Augustine and
Boniface, by Anschar and Sigfrid, were comparatively mild and pure;
but she had scarce swallowed the heathendom of the North, much in the
same way as the Wolf was to swallow Odin at the 'Twilight of the
Gods', than she fell into a deadly lethargy of faith, which put it
out of her power to digest her meal. Gregory the Seventh, elected
pope in 1073, tore the clergy from the ties of domestic life with a
grasp that wounded every fibre of natural affection, and made it
bleed to the very root. With the celibacy of the clergy he
established the hierarchy of the church, but her labours as a
missionary church were over. Henceforth she worked not by
missionaries and apostles, but by crusades and bulls. Now she raised
mighty armaments to recover the barren soil of the Holy Sepulchre, or
to annihilate heretic Albigenses. Now she established great orders,
Templars and Hospitallers, whose pride and luxury, and pomp, brought
swift destruction on one at least of those fraternities. Now she
became feudal,--she owned land instead of hearts, and forgot that the
true patrimony of St Peter was the souls of men. No wonder that, with
the barbarism of the times, she soon fulfilled the Apostle's words,
'She that liveth in luxury is dead while she liveth', and became
filled with idle superstitions and vain beliefs. No wonder, then,
that instead of completing her conquest over the heathen, and
carrying out their conversion, she became half heathen herself; that
she adopted the tales and traditions of the old mythology, which she
had never been able to extirpate, and related them of our Lord and
his Apostles. No wonder, then, that having abandoned her mission of
being the first power of intelligence on earth, she fell like Lucifer
when the mist of medieval feudalism rolled away, and the light of
learning and education returned--fell before the indignation of
enlightened men, working upon popular opinion. Since which day,
though she has changed her plans, and remodelled her superstitions to
suit the times, she has never regained the supremacy which, if she
had been wise in a true sense, she seemed destined to hold for ever.


The preceding observations will have given a sufficient account of
the mythology of the Norsemen, and of the way in which it fell. They
came from the East, and brought that common stock of tradition with
them. Settled in the Scandinavian peninsula, they developed
themselves through Heathenism, Romanism, and Lutheranism, in a
locality little exposed to foreign influence, so that even now the
Daleman in Norway or Sweden may be reckoned among the most primitive
examples left of peasant life. We should expect, then, that these
Popular Tales, which, for the sake of those ignorant in such matters,
it may be remarked, had never been collected or reduced to writing
till within the last few years, would present a faithful picture of
the national consciousness, or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, of
that half consciousness out of which the heart of any people speaks
in its abundance. Besides those world-old affinities and primaeval
parallelisms, besides those dreamy recollections of its old home in
the East, which we have already pointed out, we should expect to find
its later history, after the great migration, still more distinctly
reflected; to discover heathen gods masked in the garb of Christian
saints; and thus to see a proof of our assertion above, that a nation
more easily changes the form than the essence of its faith, and
clings with a toughness which endures for centuries to what it has
once learned to believe.

In all mythologies, the trait of all others which most commonly
occurs, is that of the descent of the Gods to earth, where, in human
form, they mix among mortals, and occupy themselves with their
affairs, either out of a spirit of adventure, or to try the hearts of
men. Such a conception is shocking to the Christian notion of the
omnipotence and omnipresence of God, but we question if there be not
times when the most pious and perfect Christian may not find comfort
and relief from a fallacy which was a matter of faith in less
enlightened creeds, and over which the apostle, writing to the
Hebrews, throws the sanction of his authority, so far as angels are
concerned. [Heb., xiii, 1: 'Let brotherly love continue. Be not
forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained
angels unawares.']

Nor could he have forgotten those words of the men of Lystra, 'The
Gods are come down to us in the likeness of men'; and how they called
'Barnabas Jupiter', and himself Mercury, 'because he was the chief
speaker.' Classical mythology is full of such stories. These
wanderings of the Gods are mentioned in the Odyssey, and the sanctity
of the rites of hospitality, and the dread of turning a stranger from
the door, took its origin from a fear lest the wayfaring man should
be a Divinity in disguise. According to the Greek story, Orion owed
his birth to the fact that the childless Hyrieus, his reputed father,
had once received unawares Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes, or, to call
them by their Latin names, Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury. In the
beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis, Jupiter and Mercury reward
the aged couple who had so hospitably received them by warning them
of the approaching deluge. The fables of Phaedrus and Aesop represent
Mercury and Demeter as wandering and enjoying the hospitality of men.
In India it is Brahma and Vishnu who generally wander. In the Edda,
Odin, Loki, and Hoenir thus roam about, or Thor, Thialfi, and Loki.
Sometimes Odin appears alone as a horseman, who turns in at night to
the smith's house, and gets him to shoe his horse, a legend which
reminds us at once of the Master-smith. [14] Sometimes it is Thor
with his great hammer who wanders thus alone.

Now, let us turn from heathen to Christian times, and look at some of
these old legends of wandering gods in a new dress. Throughout the
Middle Age, it is our blessed Lord and St Peter that thus wander, and
here we see that half-digested heathendom to which we have alluded.
Those who may be shocked at such tales in this collection as 'the
Master-Smith' and 'Gertrude's Bird', must just remember that these
are almost purely heathen traditions, in which the names alone are
Christian; and if it be any consolation to any to know the fact, we
may as well state at once that this adaptation of new names to old
beliefs is not peculiar to the Norsemen, but is found in all the
popular tales of Europe. Germany was full of them, and there St Peter
often appears in a snappish ludicrous guise, which reminds the reader
versed in Norse mythology of the tricks and pranks of the shifty
Loki. In the Norse tales he thoroughly preserves his saintly

Nor was it only gods that walked among men. In the Norse mythology,
Frigga, Odin's wife, who knew beforehand all that was to happen, and
Freyja, the goddess of love and plenty, were prominent figures, and
often trod the earth; the three Norns or Fates, who sway the wierds
of men, and spin their destinies at Mimirs' well of knowledge, were
awful venerable powers, to whom the heathen world looked up with love
and adoration and awe. To that love and adoration and awe, throughout
the middle age, one woman, transfigured into a divine shape,
succeeded by a sort of natural right, and round the Virgin Mary's
blessed head a halo of lovely tales of divine help, beams with soft
radiance as a crown bequeathed to her by the ancient goddesses. She
appears as divine mother, spinner, and helpful virgin (vierge
secourable). Flowers and plants bear her name. In England one of our
commonest and prettiest insects is still called after her, but which
belonged to Freyja, the heathen 'Lady', long before the western
nations had learned to adore the name of the mother of Jesus. [15]
[15] Footnote: So also Orion's Belt was called by the Norsemen,
Frigga's spindle or _rock, Friggjar rock_. In modern Swedish,
_Friggerock_, where the old goddess holds her own; but in
Danish, _Mariaerock_, Our Lady's rock or spindle. Thus, too,
_Karlavagn_, the 'car of men', or heroes, who rode with Odin,
which we call 'Charles' Wain', thus keeping something, at least, of
the old name, though none of its meaning, became in Scotland
'Peter's-pleugh', from the Christian saint, just as Orion's sword
became 'Peter's-staff'. But what do 'Lady Landers' and 'Lady Ellison'
mean, as applied to the 'Lady-Bird' in Scotland?

The reader of these Tales will meet, in that of 'the Lassie and her
Godmother', No. xxvii, with the Virgin Mary in a truly mythic
character, as the majestic guardian of sun, moon and stars, combined
with that of a helpful, kindly woman, who, while she knows how to
punish a fault, knows also how to reconcile and forgive.

The Norseman's god was a god of battles, and victory his greatest
gift to men; but this was not the only aspect under which the Great
Father was revered. Not victory in the fight alone, but every other
good gift came down from him and the Aesir. Odin's supreme will was
that treasure-house of bounty towards which, in one shape or the
other, all mortal desires turned, and out of its abundance showers of
mercy and streams of divine favour constantly poured down to refresh
the weary race of men. All these blessings and mercies, nay, their
very source itself, the ancient language bound up in a single word,
which, however expressive it may still be, has lost much of the
fulness of its meaning in its descent to these later times. This word
was 'Wish', which originally meant the perfect ideal, the actual
fruition of all joy and desire, and not, as now, the empty longing
for the object of our desires. From this original abstract meaning,
it was but a step to pass to the concrete, to personify the idea, to
make it an immortal essence, an attribute of the divinity, another
name for the greatest of all Gods himself. And so we find a host of
passages in early writers, [_D. M._, p. 126 fol., where they are
cited at length.] in every one of which 'God' or 'Odin' might be
substituted for 'Wish' with perfect propriety. Here we read how 'The
Wish' has hands, feet, power, sight, toil, and art. How he works and
labours, shapes and masters, inclines his ear, thinks, swears,
curses, and rejoices, adopts children, and takes men into his house;
behaves, in short, as a being of boundless power and infinite free-
will. Still more, he rejoices in his own works as in a child, and
thus appears in a thoroughly patriarchal point of view, as the Lord
of creation, glorying in his handiwork, as the father of a family in
early times was glad at heart when he reckoned his children as arrows
in his quiver, and beheld his house full of a long line of retainers
and dependants. For this attribute of the Great Father, for Odin as
the God of Wish, the Edda uses the word 'Oski' which literally
expresses the masculine personification of 'Wish', and it passed on
and added the _works_ wish, as a prefix to a number of others,
to signify that they stood in a peculiar relation to the great giver
of all good. Thus we have _oska-steinn_, wishing-stone, i.e. a
stone which plays the part of a divining rod, and reveals secrets and
hidden treasure; _oska-byrr_, a fair wind, a wind as fair as
man's heart could wish it; _osk-barn_ and _oska-barn_, a child
after one's own heart, an adopted child, as when the younger
Edda tells us that all those who die in battle are Odin's _choice-
bairns_, his adopted children, those on whom he has set his heart,
an expression which, in their turn, was taken by the Icelandic
Christian writers to express the relation existing between God and
the baptized; and, though last, not least, _oska-maer_, wish-
maidens, another name for the Valkyries--Odin's corse-choosers--who
picked out the dead for him on the field of battle, and waited on the
heroes in Valhalla. Again, the Edda is filled with 'choice things',
possessing some mysterious power of their own, some 'virtue', as our
older English would express it, which belong to this or that god, and
are occasionally lent or lost. Thus, Odin himself had a spear which
gave victory to those on whose side it was hurled; Thor, a hammer
which destroyed the Giants, hallowed vows, and returned of itself to
his hand. He had a strength-belt, too, which, when he girded it on,
his god-strength waxed one-half; Freyr had a sword which wielded
itself; Freyja a necklace which, like the cestus of Venus, inspired
all hearts with love; Freyr, again, had a ship called _Skithblathnir_.

She is so great, that all the Aesir, with their weapons and war
gear, may find room on board her; and as soon as the sail is set,
she has a fair wind whither she shall go; and when there is no need
of faring on the sea in her, she is made of so many things, and
with so much craft, that Freyr may fold her together like a cloth,
and keep her in his bag.
[Snorro's _Edda_, Stockholm, 1842, translated by the writer.]

Of this kind, too, was the ring 'Dropper' which Odin had, and from
which twelve other rings dropped every night; the apples which Idun,
one of the goddesses, had, and of which, so soon as the Aesir ate,
they became young again; the helm which Oegir, the sea giant had,
which struck terror into all antagonists like the Aegis of Athene;
and that wonderful mill which the mythical Frodi owned, of which we
shall shortly speak.

Now, let us see what traces of this great god 'Wish' and his choice-
bairns and wishing-things we can find in these Tales, faint echoes of
a mighty heathen voice, which once proclaimed the goodness of the
great Father in the blessings which he bestowed on his chosen sons.
We shall not have long to seek. In tale No. xx, when Shortshanks
meets those three old crookbacked hags who have only one eye, which
he snaps up, and gets first a sword 'that puts a whole army to
flight, be it ever so great', we have the 'one-eyed Odin',
degenerated into an old hag, or rather--by no uncommon process--we
have an old witch fused by popular tradition into a mixture of Odin
and the three Nornir. Again, when he gets that wondrous ship 'which
can sail over fresh water and salt water, and over high hills and
deep dales,' and which is so small that he can put it into his
pocket, and yet, when he came to use it, could hold five hundred men,
we have plainly the Skith-blathnir of the Edda to the very life. So
also in the Best Wish, No. xxxvi, the whole groundwork of this story
rests on this old belief; and when we meet that pair of old scissors
which cuts all manner of fine clothes out of the air, that tablecloth
which covers itself with the best dishes you could think of, as soon
as it was spread out, and that tap which, as soon as it was turned,
poured out the best of mead and wine, we have plainly another form of
Frodi's wishing-quern--another recollection of those things of choice
about which the old mythology has so much to tell. Of the same kind
are the tablecloth, the ram, and the stick in 'the Lad who went to
the North Wind', No. xxxiv, and the rings in 'the Three Princesses of
Whiteland', No. xxvi, and in 'Soria Moria Castle', No. lvi. In the
first of those stories, too, we find those 'three brothers' who have
stood on a moor 'these hundred years fighting about a hat, a cloak,
and a pair of boots', which had the virtue of making him who wore
them invisible; choice things which will again remind the reader of
the _Nibelungen Lied_, of the way in which Siegfried became
possessed of the famous hoard of gold, and how he got that 'cap of
darkness' which was so useful to him in his remaining exploits. So
again in 'the Blue Belt', No. xxii, what is that belt which, when the
boy girded it on, 'he felt as strong as if he could lift the whole
hill', but Thor's 'choice-belt'; and what is the daring boy himself,
who overcomes the Troll, but Thor himself, as engaged in one of his
adventures with the Giants? So, too, in 'Little Annie the Goose-
girl', No. lix, the stone which tells the Prince all the secrets of
his brides is plainly the old Oskastein, or 'wishing-stone'. These
instances will suffice to show the prolonged faith in 'Wish', and his
choice things; a belief which, though so deeply rooted in the North,
we have already traced to its home in the East, whence it stretches
itself from pole to pole, and reappears in every race. We recognize
it in the wishing-cap of Fortunatus, which is a Celtic legend; in the
cornucopia of the Romans; in the goat Amalthea among the Greeks; in
the wishing-cow and wishing-tree of the Hindoos; in the pumpkin-tree
of the West Indian Ananzi stories; in the cow of the Servian legends,
who spins yarn out of her ear; in the Sampo of the Finns; and in all
those stories of cups, and glasses, and horns, and rings, and swords,
seized by some bold spirit in the midst of a fairy revel, or earned
by some kind deed rendered by mortal hand to one of the 'good folk'
in her hour of need, and with which the '_luck_' [See the well-
known story of 'The Luck of Eden Hall'.] of that mortal's house was
ever afterwards bound up; stories with which the local traditions of
all lands are full, but which all pay unconscious homage to the
worship of that great God, to whom so many heathen hearts so often
turned as the divine realizer of their prayers, and the giver of all


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