Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Teutonic Myth and Legend, by Donald A. Mackenzie, [1912], at

p. 254


Land of the Not-dead and many Marvels

King Gorm and Thorkill--Voyage of Exploration--Isle of Giants--Adventures in Geirrod's Land--City of Dreadful Night--Giants in Torture--The Treasures--Battle with Demons--Thorkill's Second Voyage--Loke bound--Erik in Odainsaker--The Magic Tower--Helge Thoreson--His Demon Bride --Spells, Blessings, and Prayers--Why Helge was made blind--Hadding in the Underworld--The Flowers of Hela.

THERE was a King in Denmark whose name was Gorm, and he had more desire to obtain knowledge than to win great glory in battle. He had royal courage, which he sought to prove in searching out the profound mysteries of the dread Unknown rather than by engaging in bloody conflict with his fellow men.

Now, Gorm came to hear of a lone, undiscovered land in the distant north, where vast treasure was concealed in caves. The giant Geirrod dwelt there, and although the way to his abode was full of peril for mortals, Gorm. was consumed with desire to explore it. Many travellers who had ventured forth to discover the giant's country never again returned; they had to pay the dues of death.

To reach the abode of Geirrod ships must needs cross the vast tempestuous ocean that encircles the earth, and voyage on through horrors undreamt of, until the sunway is passed and the stars vanish from sight. For in that dread land there is no light, nor warmth of summer; winter endures without end, and there is ever eternal darkness unbroken and deep.

p. 255

But Gorm was without fear. No peril daunted him, nor could fear of suffering hold him back. He sought not wealth, although treasure abounded in the land of night; he desired rather the glory of achievement in searching out marvels unbeholden by living men.

So it came that the king made known his purpose to the people, and three hundred of his choicest war-men clamoured to share his renown. There was among them one braver than the rest, and it was he who had brought intelligence to Gorm of the dark undiscovered land. His name was Thorkill; he had coasted the perilous shores and knew well the path of ocean thither, so he was chosen to be leader of the exploring band.

Thorkill counselled that there should be built three strong and commodious ships, covered with thick ox hides to afford shelter from tempest spray, for vast food stores must needs be taken in them. As Thorkill advised, so did Gorm of Denmark do. He had the vessels built, they were covered with skins, and well laden with provisions and arms. In due season the voyage was begun. Northward sailed the billow-cleaving galleys, wind-driven through seething foam, and in each there were a hundred chosen men.

Ere long they came to Halogaland, and they had favoured progress on pleasant waters; but then the waves grew fierce, and the winds opposed them so that the galleys were tossed and stayed on perilous seas, driven hither and thither. and turned divers ways from their proper course. So they suffered delay, and their voyage was prolonged until their food stores were all but consumed, and hunger menaced them with death. In dire straits they made meagre pottage and fed sparingly thus on scanty fare for many days.

But at length their sufferings had end. One night in

p. 256

thick darkness they heard, booming hard on the wind, the breaking surf of shoreland billows. To the masthead at dawn a youth climbed nimbly, and in the distance he saw, hazed by spray, the high beetling cliffs of a rocky isle. Towards it were the galleys steered, and with glad eyes the wasted men gazed upon the welcoming land, rough and desolate as it was. Against wind and tide they made their way, until at length they reached a haven of refuge. Then they went ashore, scrambling over broken rocks, and climbed by slippery paths the stern precipitous heights of the island until they reached the level ground.

On a green place nigh to a deep forest they beheld great herds of browsing cattle. They were easy prey, for they feared not men, whom they had never before beheld; indeed the beasts assembled together to gaze with wonder on the sea-roving band.

Thorkill had knowledge of the island perils, and he counselled the men to slay not more of the cattle than were needful for a single repast, lest the giants who kept watch there might be angered, and should seek to prevent their departure. But the men heeded him not So great was their greed that they slew many cattle and filled the galleys with their flesh. Heavily they feasted and were made glad, but there were those of them who paid dearly for their rashness.

When night fell black, there were threats of dire vengeance. The forest resounded with loud bellowing, and from the rocky beach dread monsters dashed through the surf and beset the galleys. One, greater and fiercer than the others, strode knee-deep in the sea, swinging angrily a tree-like club. He rated the seafarers because they had slaughtered the cattle, and demanded to be given a man from each galley because of the loss which the island had suffered. There was no choice but to

p. 257

accept of the monster's terms; the few must oft be sacrificed so that the many may escape. So Thorkill cast lots. and three men were thus chosen and delivered unto the monsters who guarded the island herds.

Thereafter a favourable wind sprang up; the sails were set, and the ships drave onwards. Swiftly they voyaged and far. The days grew shorter and dimmer, until at length the sun was left behind and the stars vanished. . . . So traversing seas unknown they came nigh to Outer Bjarmaland. It was a dreary land, ice-cold and dark; the snows never melt there, and eternal night prevails.

Blacker than all else, the men saw dimly deep pathless forests through which ever roam strange ferocious beasts, unseen elsewhere. Many rivers were foaming seaward over sharp and treacherous reefs.

Thorkill at length found the haven he sought, and the ships were drawn high on the beach. Then were the tents pitched.

"From here" said Thorkill, "the journey to Geirrod's dwelling is short. . . . Now unto all give I timely warning. Let no man open his mouth unto any monster that comes nigh, lest words should be spoken which would give them power to injure you. None save one who knows the customs of this land can converse safely with its strange people."

Soon there came towards the seafarers a giant who called each seafarer by his name and spoke freely. The men were stricken with terror, and answered him not. Thorkill told them that the giant was Geirrod's brother. and was named Gudmund 1; he was guardian of that weird land, and protected from peril all men who sojourned there.

p. 258

Gudmund spoke unto Thorkill and asked him why the men answered him not, and the wily seafarer answered that they had little knowledge of his language, and were ashamed to speak it.

Then the giant bade them all to a feast, and led the way along the banks of a river. Soon the travellers came to a golden bridge, and they desired to cross it, so fair did it seem, but Gudmund warned them that the river which they gazed upon divided the land of mortals from the land of horrid sights, and that the opposite bank was by sacred decree declared unlawful for mortals to tread. 1 So they went onward by the road they had taken, until they came to the dwelling place of Gudmund.

Privily did Thorkill then speak unto his companions, and warned them to eat not of the food placed before them, or drink of the liquor, or touch any man who was there.

As he commanded them so did they do, and at the feast they partook of their own viands only.

The feasting hall was ablaze with splendour. With Gudmund were his twelve stately sons and twelve beauteous daughters, and they made merry. But when the host perceived that King Gorm partook not of the food or the wine placed before him, and that the others likewise refused the fare, he spake to Thorkill, protesting that his hospitality was despised. But that wily seafarer said that his companions had long been unaccustomed to such rich fare, and feared to eat of the dainties lest they should be sickened.

Gudmund was ill-pleased, because the food was prepared with spells so that the guests might be made forgetful of the past and compelled to remain for ever ill

p. 259

the dismal shade among creatures non--human and weird.

So the giant sought to tempt them further. To the king he offered his daughter for wife, and unto the others he would fain give brides also. But Thorkill prevailed upon them to make refusal. All save four of the men obeyed him, and these were made insane. 1

Then Gudmund invited the king to visit his garden, so that he might partake of its wondrous fruits; but Gorm was warned by Thorkill and refused to be lured thither. So the host perceived that he was baffled; and consented to guide them to the dwelling of Geirrod. He then conducted the travellers over the river, and promised to await their return.

They entered a dismal land which was fraught with peril and full of terrors. Not long did Thorkill and his companions travel when they beheld a strange city which seemed to be composed of vapour. Dismal and gloomy it was, and covered with dust and slime as if it were neglected and deserted. Yet was it thickly peopled by sorrowing folk. The not-dead inhabited it amidst horrors and illusions.

Lofty were the battlements that surrounded the city, and surmounting them on stakes were the heads of fallen war-men. The gates were situated so high that they could not be reached save by ladders, and fierce hel-hounds kept watch before them. Thorkill went first, and climbed towards the entrance, which is ever open. To the hounds he flung a horn smeared with fat, and they licked it greedily and were appeased. Then his companions followed him, and together they entered the gloomy city of the not-dead.

p. 260

Horrible were the shades that hastened past them with faces fixed aghast, and ever screaming woefully. They came and went beholding naught--

                          A great stream
  Of people there was hurrying to and fro,
  Numerous as gnats upon the evening gleam,

All hastening onward, yet none seemed to know
  Whither he went, or whence he came, or why
  He made one of the multitude, and so

Was borne amid the crowd, as through the sky
  One of the million leaves of summer's bier;
  Old age and youth, manhood and infancy

Mixed in one mighty torrent did appear,
  Some flying from the thing they feared, and some
  Seeking the object of another's fear.

The streets were misty and loathsome; putrid scum and miry filth--

Stifled the air till the dead wind stank.

Every sense was offended; every man was repulsed. The reeking foulness and nameless horrors froze Gorm and his followers with agonized loathing.

Then they came to Geirrod's mountain lair. The door opened on the ledge of a black precipice, but they faltered with icy dread before it; they shrank back lest they might be overcome. But Thorkill. spake words of encouragement and bade them fear not, but he warned them not to touch aught which might tempt them--gems, or gold, or any treasure--nor to be terrified by what was horrible and weird. If a hand were laid upon anything within, he told them, it could never be withdrawn;

p. 261

it would be bound; it would be knotted up. Then he bade them all to enter in companies of four. Broder and Buchi, the skilful archers. with Thorkill and the king went first; the others followed in order.

The doorposts were black with soot, which was centuries old and very deep; filth lay everywhere. Gaunt monster sentinels were on guard; they were numerous. noisy, restless, and menacing. Some leapt about with maniac-like frenzy, playing a strange repulsive game.

No man spoke. Half-stunned by belching filth reek from within they entered falteringly. The dwelling was wellnigh a ruin; the walls were dark and loathsome in the faint twilight; horrors loomed through the shadows. A roof of arrowy stings was above them, and the floors were made of venomous snakes steeped in foulness. Thorkill's companions were quaking with. terror, and they could scarcely endure the violent and suffocating fumes. Yet they could not forbear gazing about them, confused with horror and mute with alarm. Vast giants were stretched as if dead upon benches of iron; in silent agony they lay as if carved from stone. Others wallowed in torture.

Thorkill led the strangers through a rocky fissure, and they beheld, sitting on a high ledge, the old giant Geirrod. His body was transfixed to the cliff by a javelin. Three giant maids with broken spines lay squirming beside him. These were the monsters whom Thor had thus punished because that they sought to overcome him with treachery. 1

From the halls of torture the bold seafarers passed to a chamber of treasures, where the air was sweet. Fair indeed was the spectacle they beheld. Tankards of mead stood around them; these were encircled with fine gold

p. 262

and decorated with rings of silver. Among the treasures were a gleaming ivory tusk, circled with gold, a golden armlet, and a great drinking-horn, graven with pictures and set with sparkling gems.

Three men with covetous hearts could resist not their desire to be possessed of these rare treasures, and seized them greedily. Then did they pay life's cost for their boldness. The tusk became a sword which pierced the heart of him who laid hands upon it, the armlet became a venomous snake which stung to death the man who held it, and the great horn was transformed into a fiery dragon which devoured the robbers. 1

The other men were stricken anew with terror in that dread land, and they, all feared they would share the fate of their companions. But they passed in safety to another chamber, which had greater splendour than that which they left. It was filled with shining armour and bright weapons, and rich apparel radiant with silver and gold and ablaze with jewels. Fairest of all were a great king's robe, with his splendid headgear and his graven gem-decked waistbelt.

Thorkill. who had warned others, could not resist his desire to possess some of the rare treasure, so, impulsively he seized the royal mantle. . . . Then did dire disaster threaten them. The chamber tottered as if shaken by earthquake; women's screams were heard, and wailing voices asked if these despoilers were to be endured any longer.... The whole dwelling was stirred with noisy alarm. Monstrous beings who seemed to lie dead sprang suddenly to their feet, menacing and horrible, and with hordes of wail and shadowy furies made fierce

p. 263

attack upon the strangers, who were begirt with awesome peril. It was well for Thorkill and the others that the skilled archers, Broder and Buchi, were with them, for they bent their bows and shot magic arrows against the assailing horde. Spears were also cast and deadly missiles were flung from ready slings. So were the Furies beaten back. although many men fell, to be torn asunder by monsters. Those who survived made speedy escape from Geirrod's dwelling, and from the city of the not-dead, and returned to Gudmund. who waited for them, as he had promised. Then did the giant ferry them over the river and take them unto his own dwelling.

Again they were feasted and again did they resist the temptation to partake of the food and wine, and have for brides the demon maids that were offered to them. But Buchi, the archer, was stricken with love for a daughter of Gudmund, and he was driven insane in her embrace. He who contended against the monsters in Geirrod's dwelling was overcome by a maiden of gentle seeming, and he never again returned to his native land, for when Thorkill and the king took their departure he followed them towards the shore, but he was caught in a river and dashed to death.

The king and Thorkill, mourning for those who had fallen, and especially Buchi, made haste to leave the land of terror. But their voyage homeward was beset with perils; the seas wallowed in tempest, and the galleys were driven hither and thither by contrary winds, so that they suffered great delay. The food stores were at length exhausted and many died of hunger. Prayers were made to divers gods without avail, but at length the king made vows and offerings to Utgard-Loke, whereat the seas were calmed, and a favourable wind drove the vessels towards the haven of home. Of the three hundred

p. 264

men who had set forth to visit the land of the not-dead, but twenty returned to Denmark.

The king sought not further adventures over perilous seas towards distant lands. He lived at peace after sore travail, and he engaged in meditation regarding the mysteries of life and death. Certain teachers convinced him that to men's souls immortal life is given, and Gorm wondered whether the gods would cause him to suffer torture or reward him with bliss, because that he had spent his days in adoration and had given peace offerings.

Now the god whom the king favoured most was Utgard-Loke, and his friends counselled him that he should send Thorkill to appease that deity in the land of night. They also made grave accusations of treachery against the brave seafarer, who waxed wroth and demanded that these evil advisers of the king should accompany him on his fearsome voyage. Gorm forced the men to sail with Thorkill, and unwillingly they went forth to face the perils of the Unknown.

Great were the sufferings of the men who went towards the dwelling of Utgard-Loke. Many died from starvation ere they came to the land of eternal darkness. At length they reached a rocky shore on which there was a black tremendous precipice. Thorkill and his companions went ashore, and they came to the narrow entrance of a vast cavern. Iron benches were seen within by the light of the torches carried, and they perceived that the floor swarmed with venomous snakes. They went inward on a rocky ledge, and passed a warm and foul river, and afterwards entered a chamber which reeked with loathsome vapour and was strewn with slime. Then did they behold Utgard-Loke. 1 He was bound to the

p. 265

rock with great fetters. So long had he lain there that his hair and his beard had grown hard as elk horns. Desiring to return homeward with proof of his achievement, Thorkill snatched out a single hair of Utgard-Loke's beard, whereat a foul stench came forth. Then flying serpents made attack upon the strangers, spouting venom which caused limbs to wither and heads to be struck off, so that but few men escaped to the galleys.

When Thorkill returned to Denmark he was so greatly disfigured by the venom that his friends hardly knew him. He went to the king and related all he had seen and what had happened to him, and he showed the horn-like hair of Loke's beard from which deadly fumes escaped and suffocated several who were nigh. Gorm was terror-stricken when he came to know of the horrors of the foul dwelling of his favoured god, Loke, and he fell back dead ere Thorkill had finished his tale.

Beyond the realms of torture are "the Glittering Plains", where good men and women who have died upon earth live ever in bliss and amidst scenes of beauty. This part of the Other-world is also called Odainsaker, "the acre of the not-dead", and Jord lifanda manna, "the earth of living men".

Erik, a prince of Denmark, made a vow that he would go thither, and another prince from Norway, who was named Erik also, set forth with him and their followers towards the east, and they journeyed a great distance beyond India, until they reached a dark forest, in a land where the sun never shone and the stars were beholden by day. Onward they went through perilous places until there was light again. They came at length to a river, which was spanned by a bridge of stone, and on the other side was a green and level plain. A great dragon stood upon the bridge, keeping constant guard,

p. 266

and its jaws gaped wide, issuing forth flame and smoke. Erik of Denmark feared to go farther, and said they must needs return; but Erik of Norway drew his sword, and seizing the right hand of one of his followers rushed forward with him. In horror and anguish the others beheld the two men vanishing in the dragon's jaws, so they mourned for them greatly and returned home by the way they had come.

Many years passed by, and at length Erik of Norway and his companion appeared in their native land. They told that when they went nigh to the dragon they were blinded by smoke, but they pressed on. Soon the air was cleared, and they found that they had crossed the bridge and were travelling over a glittering plain which was covered with gleaming flowers that gave forth sweet odours. It was ever summer there and ever bright and warm, but there were no shadows cast by flowers or trees or living beings. They journeyed on until they saw a beauteous tower suspended in mid-air. A ladder hung from it, and they climbed towards the door. Fair was the room they entered. The carpet was of hushing velvet, and on a gleaming table, which was laden with rich dainties, stood dishes of silver and wine goblets of graven gold. Sumptuous beds were in the tower also, and the air was filled with faint perfume. Erik and his companion were made glad, because they deemed that they had at length come unto Odainsaker.

Now while Erik lay in soft slumber there appeared before him a shining youth, who was his guardian spirit, 1 and he asked the prince if he desired to remain there forever. But Erik said that it was his desire to return, so that he might relate the wonders he had beheld. Then the spirit told him he had reached not Odainsaker, which

p. 267

lay beyond, and was so very fair that the tower and the land over which it was suspended seemed dreary and unlovely in comparison. But no man who ever went thither could return again. It was the prince's choice, however, to seek his fatherland; and when he returned and told of the wondrous things he had beheld he was called Erik the Far-travelled.

Helge Thoreson also visited the Glittering Plains. In a great forest he met Gudmund and his twelve daughters, who were clad in scarlet robes, and rode upon stately steeds harnessed with gold. Ingeborg, the fairest of the maids, was moved with love towards Helge, who remained with her for three days. A great tent was erected and a feast prepared; rich were the dainties, and the dishes were of silver and gold. When Helge took his departure he received much treasure from Gudmund, and he returned with it to his sire, nor were men ever told whence it was obtained.

There came a great tempest on Yule-night, and in the midst of it two strange men entered the dwelling of Helge's sire, and took the young man away.

When a year had gone past Helge appeared again with the two men, and stood before King Olav Trygveson in his feasting hall. The strangers gave to the monarch .two great drinking horns, which were decorated with gold, and said that they were sent to him by Gudmund. These were then filled with mead, and the bishop blessed them, 1 but when the horns were handed to the strangers they threw them away. Then the fire went out; every light was extinguished; there was clamour and confusion

p. 268

in the feasting hall and the guests were terror-stricken. Afterwards it was found that Helge and the strangers had vanished. Then were prayers offered up for Helge's return.

At next Yuletide the strangers came back with Helge unto the king, and immediately went away, leaving behind them the young man, who was stricken with blindness. He told that he had spent happy days with Gudmund, but he was forced to return because of the prayers which were offered up. Ere he parted from his spirit bride she made him blind, lest his eyes should ever gaze with love upon the daughters of men.

Now after Hadding, son of Halfdan, had slain the sea dragon 1 he had strange adventures. He rescued, from a great giant Ragnhild, the fair daughter of the King of Nitheri, and she became his bride. One evening, in midwinter, while they feasted together, a spirit woman rose up, and she bore with her a bunch of white cowbanes, freshly plucked, and she asked Hadding, who wondered greatly to see summer flowers at such a time, if be had desire to behold the place where they grew. The young king answered her that he would fain see it, whereat she flung her mantle over him and together they disappeared.

'Twas thus it came that Hadding set forth to journey towards Hela. He went through a dark land, and black were the mists about him, while the air was ice-cold. Then he came to a road which was daily trod by many feet, and he walked on until he reached a swiftly flowing river which was filled with sharp and pointed weapons. With his guide Hadding crossed the bridge, and came to a plain where two great armies contended in battle. Thus did many men who were sword-slain upon earth


HUNDINGSBANE'S RETURN TO VALHAL<br> <i>From the painting by E. Wallcousins</i>
Click to enlarge

From the painting by E. Wallcousins


p. 269

choose to live in Hela, where they performed again their deeds of might and fell without fear.

At length the woman took Hadding towards a place which was surrounded by a high wall. He had already gazed from afar off, as he descended the hills, upon the beauties of the enclosure, where grew the flowers which were plucked in midwinter and stately beings in robes of purple had blissful dwelling.

The old woman tried to leap over the wall, but was unable to do so. She, however, showed Hadding that the place within was indeed the land of life. She seized a fowl which she carried with her, and flung its head, which he wrung off, over the wall. The head was speedily restored again, and the bird crowed loudly.

Hadding thereafter returned again unto his own land, and he endured many perils upon the way.

Spenser's Mimer

Guyon finds Mammon in a delve
  Sunning his treasure hoar,
Is by him tempted and led down
  To see his secret store.

At last he came upon a gloomy glade,
Covered with boughs and shrubs from heaven's light,
Whereas he sitting found in secret shade
An uncouth, savage and uncivil wight, 1
Of grisly hue and foul ill-favoured sight;
His face with smoke was tann'd and eyes were bleared,
His head and beard with soot were ill bedight,
His coal-black hands did seem to have been seared
In smith's fire-spitting forge, and nails like claws appeared.


p. 270

His iron coat, all overgrown with rust,
Was underneath envelopèd with gold
Whose glittering gloss, darkened with filthy dust,
Well yet appearèd to have been of old
A work of rich entail and curious mould,
Woven with antiques and wild imag'ry:
And in his lap a mass of coin he told
And turnèd upside down, to feed his eye
And covetous desire with his huge treasury

   .       .       .       .       .       .

And round about him lay on every side
Great heaps of gold that never could be spent;
Of which some were rude ore, not purified
Of Mulciber's devouring element;
Some others were new driven, and distent
Into great ingots and to wedges square;
Some in round plates withouten moniment 1;
But most were stampt, and in their metal bare
The antique shapes of Kings and Kesars strong and rare

   .       .       .       .       .       .

"What secret place," quoth he, 2 "can safely hold
So huge a mass, and hide from heaven's eye?
Or where hast thou thy wonne 3, that so much gold
Thou canst preserve from wrong and robbery?"
"Come thou," quoth he, "and see." So by and by
Through that thick covert he him led, and found
A darksome way, which no man could descry,
That deep descended through the hollow ground,
And was with dread and horror compassèd around.

So soon as Mammon there 4 arrived, the door
To him did open and afforded way:
Him followed eke Sir Guyon evermore,
Ne darkness him ne danger might dismay.
Soon as he entered was, the door straightway p. 271
Did shut, and from behind it forth there leapt
An ugly fiend, more foul than dismal day;
The which with monstrous stalk behind him stept;
And ever as he went due watch upon him kept.

   .       .       .       .       .       .

Both roof, and floor, and walls, were all of gold,
But overgrown with dust and old decay,
And hid in darkness, that none could behold
The hue thereof; for view of cheerful day
Did never in that house itself display,
But a faint shadow of uncertain light,
Such as a lamp, whose life does fade away;
Or as the moon, cloathèd with cloudy night,
Does shew to him that walks in fear and sad affright.

In all that room was nothing to be seen
But huge great iron chests, and coffers strong,
All barr'd with double bends, that none could weene
Them to enforce with violence or wrong;
On every side they placèd were along,
But all the ground with skulls was scatterèd
And dead men's bones, which round about were flung
Whose lives, it seemèd, whilome there were shed,
And their vile carcases now left unburièd

They forward pass; ne Guyon yet spoke word,
Till that they came unto an iron door
Which to them opened of its own accord,
And showed of riches such exceeding store,
As eye of man did never see before,
Ne ever could within one place be found,
Though all the wealth, which is or was of yore,
Could gathered be through all the world around,
And that above were added to that underground.

The charge thereof unto a covetous spright
Commanded was, who thereby did attend,
And warily awaited day and night,
From other covetous fiends it to defend, p. 272
Who it to rob and ransack did intend.
Then Mammon, turning to that warrior, said:
"Lo, here the worldës bless! lo, here the end
To which all men do aim, rich to be made!
Such grace now to be happy is before thee laid."

He brought him, through a darksome narrow strayt 1,
To a broad gate all built of beaten gold:
The gate was open; but therein did wait
A sturdy villain, striding stiff and bold,
As if the Highest God defy he would:
In his right hand an iron club he held
But he himself was all of golden mould,
Yet had both life and sense, and well could weld
That cursed weapon, when his cruel foes he quell'd.

   .       .       .       .       .       .

He brought him in. The room was large and wide,
As it some guild or solemn temple were;
Many great golden pillars did up-bear
The massy roof, and riches huge sustain;
And every pillar decked was full dear
With crowns and diadems, and titles vain,
Which mortal princes wore while they on earth did reign.

A route of people there assembled were,
Of every sort and nation under sky
Which with great uproar pressed to draw near
To th' upper part, where was advanced high
A stately siege 2 of sovran majesty;
And thereon sat a woman gorgeous gay,
And richly clad in robes of royalty,
That never earthly prince in such array
His glory did enhance, and pompous pride display.


'And all that press did round about her swell<br> To catchen hold of that long chain, thereby<br> To climb aloft, and others to excell:<br> That was Ambition, rash desire to sty,<br> And every link thereof a step of dignity.''<br> <i>After the drawing by Walter Crane. By permission of Messrs. George Allen & Co</i>.
Click to enlarge

'And all that press did round about her swell
To catchen hold of that long chain, thereby
To climb aloft, and others to excell:
That was Ambition, rash desire to sty,
And every link thereof a step of dignity.''
After the drawing by Walter Crane. By permission of Messrs. George Allen & Co.


Her face right wondrous fair did seem to be,
That her broad beauties beam great brightness threw
Through the dim shade, that all men might it see;
Yet was not that same her own native hue p. 273
But wrought by art and counterfeited shew,
Thereby more lovers unto her to call;
Natheless most heavenly fair in deed and view
She by creation was, till she did fall;
Thenceforth she sought for helps to cloak her crime withal.

There, as in glist'ring glory she did sit,
She held a great gold chain y-linkèd well,
Whose upper end to highest heaven was knit,
And lower part did reach to lowest hell;
And all that press did round about her swell
To catchen hold of that long chain, thereby
To climb aloft, and others to excell:
That was Ambition, rash desire to sty 1,
And every link thereof a step of dignity.

Which whenas Guyon saw, he gan enquire,
What meant that press about that lady's throne,
And what she was that did so high aspire?
Him Mammon answerèd: "That goodly one
Whom all that folk with such contention
Do flock about, my dear, my daughter is; 2
Honour and dignity from her alone
Derivèd are, and all this worldës bliss,
For which ye men do strive; few get, but many miss.
           From "The Faerie Queene", Book II, Canto VII.

The Garden of Hela

                          Him forth thence led
Through grisly shadows by a beaten path
Into a garden goodly garnishèd
With herbs and fruits, whose kinds mote not be redd 3:
Not such as earth out of her fruitful womb
Throws forth to men, sweet and well savourèd, p. 274
But direful deadly black, both leaf and bloom,
Fit to adorn the dead and deck the dreary tomb.

   .       .       .       .       .       .

The garden of Pròserpina 1 this hight:
And in the midst thereof a silver seat,
With a thick arbour goodly over dight,
In which she often used from open heat
Herself to shroud, and pleasures to entreat:
Next thereunto did grow a goodly tree
With branches broad dispread and body great,
Cloathèd with leaves, that none the wood might see
And laden all with fruit as thick as it might be.

Their fruit were golden apples glist'ring bright
That goodly was their glory to behold;
On earth like never grew, no living wight
Like ever saw, but they from hence were sold. . . .

   .       .       .       .       .       .

The war-like elf much wondered at this tree 2
So fair and great, that shadowed all the ground;
And his broad branches laden with rich fee
Did stretch themselves, without the utmost bound
Of this great garden, compassed with a mound. . . .

The River of Torture

Which to behold he clomb up to the bank;
And, looking down, saw many damnèd wights
In those sad waves, which direful deadly stank,
Plongèd continually of cruel sprites,
That with their piteous cries and yelling shrightes 3,
They made the further shore resounden wide:
Amongst the rest of those same rueful sights
One cursèd creature he by chance espied
That drenchèd lay full deep under the garden side.

p. 275

Deep was he drenchèd to the upmost chin,
Yet gapèd still as coveting to drink
Of the cold liquor which he waded in;
And, stretching forth his hand, did often think
To reach the fruit which grew upon the brink;
But both the fruit from land, and flood from mouth,
Did fly a-back, and made him vainly swink;
The whiles he starved with hunger, and with drouth
He daily died, yet never throughly dyen couth 1.

He looked a little further and espied
Another wretch, whose carcas deep was drent 2
Within the river which the same did hide.
But both his hands most filthy feculent 3
Above the water were on high extent,
And feigned to wash themselves incessantly.
Yet nothing clearer were for such intent,
But rather fouler seemèd to the eye;
So lost his labour vain and idle industry.

The Fruit of Forgetfulness

Infinite more tormented in like pain
He there beheld, too long here to be told;
Ne Mammon would there let him long remain,
For terror of the tortures manifold,
In which the damnèd souls he did behold,
But roughly him bespake, "Thou fearful fool
Why takest not of that same fruit of gold?
Ne sittest down on that same silver stool,
To rest thy weary person in the shadow cool?"

All which he did to do him deadly fall
In frail intemperance through sinful bait
To which if he inclined had at all
That dreadful fiend, which did behind him wait, p. 276
Would him have rent in thousand pieces straight;
But he was wary wise in all his way
And well perceivèd his deceitful sleight,
Ne suffered lust his safety to betray;
So goodly did beguile the guiler of his prey.

And now he was so long remainèd there
That vital powers gan wax both weak and wan
For want of food and sleep, which two up-bear
Like mighty pillars, this frail life of man,
That none without the same enduren can:
For now three days of men were overwrought,
Since be this hardy enterprise began:
Forthy 1 great Mammon fairly he besought
Into the world to guide him back as he him brought.

The god, though loth, yet was constrained t' obey;
For longer time than that no living wight
Below the earth might suffered be to stay:
So back again him brought to living light.
But all so soon as his enfeebled spright
Gan suck this vital air into his breast,
As overcome with too exceeding might,
The life did flit away out of her nest,
And all his senses were with deadly fit oppressed.

Hela in the Border Ballads

The Three Roads

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank;
  A ferlie he spied wi' his ee;
And there he saw a ladye bright,
  Come riding doon by the Eildon Tree.

   .       .       .       .       .       .

p. 277

"Harp and carp, Thomas," she said;
  "Harp and carp along wi' me;
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
  Sure of your bodie I will be."

Betide me weal, betide me woe,
  That weird 1 shall never daunton me."--
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
  All underneath the Eildon Tree.

   .       .       .       .       .       .

She's mounted on her milk-white steed;
  She's taen true Thomas up behind:
And aye, whene'er her bridle rung,
  The steed flew swifter than the wind.

O they rade on, and farther on;
  The steed gaed swifter than the wind;
Until they reach'd a desert wide,
  And living land was left behind.

Light down, light down, now, true Thomas,
  And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide and rest a little space
  And I will shew you ferlies three.

O see ye not yon narrow road
  So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
  Though after it but few enquires.

And see ye not that braid, braid road,
  That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
  Though some call it the road to heaven.

"And see not ye that bonny road,
  That winds aboot the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
  Where thou and I this night maun gae.

p. 278

"But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue,
  Whatever ye may hear or see;
For, if you speak word in Elfyn land,
  Ye 'll ne'er get back to your ain countrie."

O they rade on, and farther on,
  And they waded through rivers aboon the knee,
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
  But they heard the roaring o' the sea.

It was mirk, mirk night, and there was nae starn light,
  And they waded through red blood to the knee;
For a' the blood that 's shed on earth
  Rins through the springs o' that countrie.

Sync they came on to a garden green,
  And she pu'd an apple frae a tree--
"Take this for thy wages, true Thomas;
  It will gie thee the tongue that can never lee."
                                    Thomas The Rhymer.

The Mountains

"O where have you been, my long, long love,
  This long seven years and more?"--
"O I'm come to seek my former vows
  Ye granted me before."--

   .       .       .       .       .       .

She has taken up her two little babes,
  Kissed them baith cheek and chin;
"O fare ye weel, my ain two babes,
  For I'll ne'er see you again."

   .       .       .       .       .       .

She had not sailed a league, a league,
  A league but barely three,
When dismal grew his countenance,
  And drumlie grew his ee.

p. 279

The masts that were like the beaten gold,
  Bent not on the heaving seas;
But the sails, that were o' the taffetie,
  Fill'd not in the east land breeze.

They had not sailed a league, a league,
  A league but barely three,
Until she espied his cloven foot,
  And she wept right bitterlie.

O hold your tongue of your weeping," says he,
  "Of your weeping now let it be;
I will show you how the lilies grow
  On the banks of Italy."--

"O what hills are yon, yon pleasant hills,
  That the sun shines sweetly on?"--
"O yon are the hills of heaven," he said,
  "Where you will never win."--

"O whaten a mountain is yon," she said,
  "All so dreary wi' frost and snow?"--
"O yon is the mountain of hell," he cried,
  "Where you and I will go."
                                    The Demon Lover.

Demon Vengeance

Up then spake the Queen o' Fairies
  Out o' a bush o' broom--
"She that has borrowed young Tamlane
  Has gotten a stately groom."--

Up then spake the Queen o' Fairies
  Out o' a bush o' rye--
"She's taen awa' the bonniest Knight
  In a' my companie.

"But had I kenn'd, Tamlane," she says,
  "A lady wad borrowed thee, p. 280
I wad ta'en out thy twa grey een,
  Put in twa een o' tree.

Had I kenn'd, Tamlane," she says,
  "Before ye came frae hame--
I wad ta'en out your heart o' flesh,
  Put in a heart o' stane."

"Had I but had the wit yestreen
  That I hae coft the day--
I'd paid my kane seven times to hell
  Ere you'd been won away."
                             The Young Tamlane.

The Birk o' Paradise

There lived a wife at Usher's Well,
  And a wealthy wife was she,
She had three stout and stalwart sons,
  And sent them o'er the sea.

They hadna been a week from her,
  A week but barely ane,
When word came to the carline wife
  That her three sons were gane.

They hadna been a week from her,
  A week but barely three,
When word came to the carline wife,
  That her sons she 'd never see.

"I wish the wind may never cease,
  Nor fishes in the flood,
Till my three sons come hame to me,
  In earthly flesh and blood." 1

p. 281

It fell about the Martinmas,
  When nights are lang and mirk,
The carline wife's three sons came hame,
  And their hats were o' the birk.

It neither grew in syke or ditch,
  Nor yet in ony sheugh;
But at the gates of Paradise
  That birk grew fair eneugh.

Gilly Flowers

The fields aboot this city fair
  Were a' wi' roses set,
Gilly flowers and carnations rare
  Which canker could not fret."
                               Clerk Saunders

The Garden Fruit

She led him intil a fair herbere,
  There fruit groand was gret plenté,
Pears and apples, both ripe they were,
  The date and eke the damsyn tree,
  The fig and eke the wineberry.

   .       .       .       .       .       .

He pressed to pull the fruit with his hand,
  As man for food was nyhonde faint,
She said, "Thomas let that stand,
  Or else the fiend will thee attent.

"If thou pull them, sooth to say,
  Thy soul goes to the fire of Hell
It comes not out till Domisday
  And there ever in pain to dwell."
                            Thomas The Rhymer.



257:1 Mimer.

258:1 Saxo's words are: "Cujus transeundi cupidos revocavit, docens, eo alveo humana a monstrosis rerum secrevisse naturam, nec mortalibus ultra fas esse vestigiis."

259:1 In Highland lore these unions are followed by speedy death. The demon brides crush their lovers.

261:1 See chapter "Thor in Peril".

262:1 Thjasse-Volund's Sword of Victory and multiplying ring. Here we have the treasure which was cursed, and the dragon guardian of Beowulf, Volsunga saga, &c. The horn is Gjallar-horn which Heimdal is to blow at Ragnarok.

264:1 This is evidently Loke, not the Utgard-Loki in the chapter "The City of Enchantments ". Loke's place of torture was situated in the utmost part of Nifel hel.

266:1 His Hamingje.

267:1 The blessing counteracts the evil influence of a spell. In the Highlands a child should be blessed ere its name is asked, and strangers should bless a house on entering it. The blessing is not only a proof of friendly intentions, but a preventive, for he who blesses is unable to practise black magic for the time being.

268:1 See Chapter "The Gods Reconciled".

269:1 This is Spenser's Mammon. He resembles very closely Gudmund-Mimer, the chief of elfin smiths who in Norse mythology produce the vast stores of treasure accursed.

270:1 Superscription, image.

270:2 The Knight Guyon.

270:3 Dwelling.

270:4 The gate of hell.

272:1 Street, narrow passage.

272:2 Throne.

273:1 Ascend.

273:2 Urd, goddess of fate, is Mimer's daughter.

273:3 Must not be declared.

274:1 In Saxo she is Urd.

274:2 Like Ygdrasil.

274:3 Shrieks.

275:1 Could.

275:2 Drenched.

275:3 Muddy, foul.

276:1 Therefore.

277:1 Urd--destiny.

280:1 She had evidently power to work a spell and secure her wish. Belief in wishing power is not yet quite extinct in Scotland.

Next: Chapter XXV. The Doom of the Volsungs