Poetic Edda - Lay of Sigrdrifa [full text]
Type of Spiritual Experience
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A description of the experience
Sigurth rode up on Hindarfjoll and turned southward toward the land of the Franks. On the mountain he saw a great light, as if fire were burning, and the glow reached up to heaven. And when he came thither, there stood a tower of shields, and above it was a banner. Sigurth went into the shield-tower, and saw that a man lay there sleeping with all his war-weapons. First he took the helm from his head, and then he saw that it was a woman. The mail-coat was as fast as if it had grown to the flesh. Then he cut the mail-coat from the head-opening downward, and out to both the arm-holes. Then he took the mail-coat from her, and she awoke, and sat up and saw Sigurth, and said:
1. "What bit through the byrnie? | how was broken my sleep?
Who made me free | of the fetters pale?"
"Sigmund's son, | with Sigurth's sword,
That late with flesh | hath fed the ravens."
Sigurth sat beside her and asked her name. She took a horn full of mead and gave him a memory-draught.
2. "Hail, day! | Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here | with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.
3. "Hail to the gods! | Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom | and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.
4. "Long did I sleep, | my slumber was long,
And long are the griefs of life;
Othin decreed | that I could not break
The heavy spells of sleep."
Her name was Sigrdrifa, and she was a Valkyrie. She said that two kings fought in battle; one was called Hjalmgunnar, an old man but a mighty warrior, and Othin had promised him the victory, and
The other was Agnar, | brother of Autha,
None he found | who fain would shield him.
Sigrdrifa, slew Hjalmgunnar in the battle, and Othin pricked her with the sleep-thorn in punishment for this, and said that she should never thereafter win victory in battle, but that she should be wedded. "And I said to him that I had made a vow in my turn, that I would never marry a man who knew the meaning of fear." Sigurth answered and asked her to teach him wisdom, if she knew of what took place in all the worlds. Sigrdrifa said:
5. "Beer I bring thee, | tree of battle,
Mingled of strength | and mighty fame;
Charms it holds | and healing signs,
Spells full good, | and gladness-runes."
* * * * * *
6. Winning-runes learn, | if thou longest to win,
And the runes on thy sword-hilt write;
Some on the furrow, | and some on the flat,
And twice shalt thou call on Tyr.
7. Ale-runes learn, | that with lies the wife
Of another betray not thy trust;
On the horn thou shalt write, | and the backs of thy hands,
And Need shalt mark on thy nails.
Thou shalt bless the draught, | and danger escape,
And cast a leek in the cup;
(For so I know | thou never shalt see
Thy mead with evil mixed.)
8. Birth-runes learn, | if help thou wilt lend,
The babe from the mother to bring;
On thy palms shalt write them, | and round thy joints,
And ask the fates to aid.
9. Wave-runes learn, | if well thou wouldst shelter
The sail-steeds out on the sea;
On the stem shalt thou write, | and the steering blade,
And burn them into the oars;
Though high be the breakers, | and black the waves,
Thou shalt safe the harbor seek.
10. Branch-runes learn, | if a healer wouldst be,
And cure for wounds wouldst work;
On the bark shalt thou write, | and on trees that be
With boughs to the eastward bent.
11. Speech-runes learn, | that none may seek
To answer harm with hate;
Well he winds | and weaves them all,
And sets them side by side,
At the judgment-place, | when justice there
The folk shall fairly win.
12. Thought-runes learn, | if all shall think
Thou art keenest minded of men.
* * * * * *
13. Them Hropt arranged, | and them he wrote,
And them in thought he made,
Out of the draught | that down had dropped
From the head of Heithdraupnir,
And the horn of Hoddrofnir.
14. On the mountain he stood | with Brimir's sword,
On his head the helm he bore;
Then first the head | of Mim spoke forth,
And words of truth it told.
* * * * * *
15. He bade write on the shield | before the shining goddess,
On Arvak's ear, | and on Alsvith's hoof,
On the wheel of the car | of Hrungnir's killer,
On Sleipnir's teeth, | and the straps of the sledge.
16. On the paws of the bear, | and on Bragi's tongue,
On the wolf's claws bared, | and the eagle's beak,
On bloody wings, | and bridge's end,
On freeing hands | and helping foot-prints.
17. On glass and on gold, | and on goodly charms,
In wine and in beer, | and on well-loved seats,
On Gungnir's point, | and on Grani's breast,
On the nails of Norns, | and the night-owl's beak.
* * * * * *
18. Shaved off were the runes | that of old were written,
And mixed with the holy mead,
And sent on ways so wide;
So the gods had them, | so the elves got them,
And some for the Wanes so wise,
And some for mortal men.
19. Beech-runes are there, | birth-runes are there,
And all the runes of ale,
And the magic runes of might;
Who knows them rightly | and reads them true,
Has them himself to help;
Ever they aid,
Till the gods are gone.
* * * * * *
20. "Now shalt thou choose, | for the choice is given,
Thou tree of the biting blade;
Speech or silence, | 'tis thine to say,
Our evil is destined all."
21. "I shall not flee, | though my fate be near,
I was born not a coward to be;
Thy loving word | for mine will I win,
As long as I shall live."
22. Then first I rede thee, | that free of guilt
Toward kinsmen ever thou art;
No vengeance have, | though they work thee harm,
Reward after death thou shalt win.
23. Then second I rede thee, | to swear no oath
If true thou knowest it not;
Bitter the fate | of the breaker of troth,
And poor is the wolf of his word.
24. Then third I rede thee, | that thou at the Thing
Shalt fight not in words with fools;
For the man unwise | a worser word
Than he thinks doth utter oft.
25. Ill it is | if silent thou art,
A coward born men call thee,
And truth mayhap they tell;
Seldom safe is fame,
Unless wide renown be won;
On the day thereafter | send him to death,
Let him pay the price of his lies.
26. Then fourth I rede thee, | if thou shalt find
A wily witch on thy road,
It is better to go | than her guest to be,
Though night enfold thee fast.
27. Eyes that see | need the sons of men
Who fight in battle fierce;
Oft witches evil | sit by the way,
Who blade and courage blunt.
28. Then fifth I rede thee, | though maidens fair
Thou seest on benches sitting,
Let the silver of kinship | not rob thee of sleep,
And the kissing of women beware.
29. Then sixth I rede thee, | if men shall wrangle,
And ale-talk rise to wrath,
No words with a drunken | warrior have,
For wine steals many men's wits.
30. Brawls and ale | full oft have been
An ill to many a man,
Death for some, | and sorrow for some;
Full many the woes of men.
31. Then seventh I rede thee, | if battle thou seekest
With a foe that is full of might;
It is better to fight | than to burn alive
In the hall of the hero rich.
32. Then eighth I rede thee, | that evil thou shun,
And beware of lying words;
Take not a maid, | nor the wife of a man,
Nor lure them on to lust.
33. Then ninth I rede thee: | burial render
If thou findest a fallen corpse,
Of sickness dead, | or dead in the sea,
Or dead of weapons' wounds.
34. A bath shalt thou give them | who corpses be,
And hands and head shalt wash;
Wipe them and comb, | ere they go in the coffin,
And pray that they sleep in peace.
35. Then tenth I rede thee, | that never thou trust
The word of the race of wolves,
(If his brother thou broughtest to death,
Or his father thou didst fell;)
Often a wolf | in a son there is,
Though gold he gladly takes.
36. Battle and hate | and harm, methinks,
Full seldom fall asleep;
Wits and weapons | the warrior needs
If boldest of men he would be.
37. Then eleventh I rede thee, | that wrath thou shun,
And treachery false with thy friends;
Not long the leader's | life shall be,
For great are the foes he faces.