(This article was originally published in Huginns Heathen Hof on February 15, 2017)
Fjölvinsmál is a very late Eddic poem, dated to around the second half of the 17th century1. According to Hollander, despite the discrepancies in the various manuscripts this poem has been found in (requiring many emendations) all of them seem to go back to a common, lost original. Fjölsvinnsmál is one poem that makes up what has now been called Svipdagsmál, which actually seems, to begin with the poem Grógaldr: the connection between the two poems only being made in 1854. Grógaldr begins with a hero named Svipdagr, who has been given the task of winning the hand of Menglöð by his evil stepmother. He goes to the grave of his mother Gróa to gain nine spells to help him on his journey. In Fjölsvinnsmál, Svipdagr, at last, reaches a castle that is perched on a mountaintop and surrounded by a wall of flames. A jötunn watchman named Fjölsviðr confronts him, and Svipdag introduces himself as Vindkaldr. Through an exchange of questions and answers, Sipdagr learns that Menglöð dwells in the fiery castle, and it is inaccessible except for a chosen hero named Svipdagr. At the end of the poem, Svipdagr reveals his true name, the gates open, and Menglöð greets him.
While Fjölsvinnsmál contains many interesting mythological elements and unsolved questions, for this article I will be focusing on Loki’s role in the poem, who is mentioned once (possibly twice) as being the creator of a magical sword and possibly the architect of Menglöð’s castle as well. While Loki’s role isn’t significant to the story, these stanzas do tells us a few interesting things about him: such as his furthering his ties to Múspelheimr and potentially drawing another point of association between Loki and fire (a theory which is still contested).
During his series of questioning, Svipdagr/Vindkaldr asks Fjölsviðr whether there is any food that could be thrown to the two watchdogs guarding the castle to distract them (so one could sneak past them). Fjölsviðr tells him that the only meat that could distract them are two wing joints in the golden rooster named Víðópnir, who sits in the branches of Mímameiðr (the “tree of Mímir”, which seems to be an alternate name for Yggdrasil):
23. Segðu mér þat, Fjölsviðr,
er ek þik fregna mun
ok ek vilja vita:
Hvat sá hani heitir,
er sitr í inum háva viði,
allr hann við gull glóir?Fjölsviðr kvað:
24. Víðópnir hann heitir
en hann stendr veðrglasir
á meiðs kvistum Míma;
þryngr hann örófsaman
23. Now answer me, Fjolsvith, the question I ask,For now the truth would I know:
What cock is he on the highest bough,
That glitters al with gold?Fjolsvith spake:24. Vithofnir is his name, and now he shines
Like lightning on Mimameith’s limbs;
And great is the trouble with which he grieves
Both Surt and Sinmora.3(Bellows Translation )
|Svipdag said:Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
how that cock is hight, in the high tree sitting,
which gleameth all golden?
Surtr is, of course, the fire giant who guards the border of Múspelheimr according to both Snorri’s Gylfaginning and the author of Völuspá, and Sinmara is possibly Surtr’s consort or female counterpart. According to Simek, her name most likely translates to “pale nightmare”5. Why this rooster should make Surtr and Sinmara fearful is never clearly explained, but According to Hollander´s interpretation, the crowing of this cock will give warning of the approach of the people of Muspell (presumably at Ragnarök, when they are said to attack Ásgarðr).6 I would, therefore, say that there is a possibility that Víðópnir should be considered to be the same as the rooster Gullinkambi, who is said to wake up the warriors in Valhöll on the day that the great battle begins:
|43. Gól of ásum Gullinkambi,
sá vekr hölða at Herjaföðrs;
en annarr gelr fyr jörð neðan
sótrauðr hani at sölum Heljar.7
|43. Over the Æsir there crowed Golden-comb,
who wakes the warriors at Host-father’s home;
another crows beneath the earth,
a soot-red cock in the halls of Hel.8
Svipdagr goes on to ask Fjölsviðr what weapon can kill the rooster Víðópnir so that his wing joints can be given to the guard dogs. Fjölsviðr explains that the weapon that can kill him is Lævateinn, which Loptr (Loki) forged in the underworld:
25. Segðu mér þat, Fjölsviðr, er ek þik fregna mun
ok ek vilja vita:
hvárt sé vápna nökkut, þat er knegi Viðópnir fyrirhníga á Heljar sjöt?Fjölsviðr kvað:26. Lævateinn heitir hann, en hann gerði Loftr rúnum
fyr nágrindr neðan;
í segjárnskeri liggr hann hjá Sinmöru,
ok halda njarðlásar níu.9
25. Now answer me, Fjolsvith, the question I ask,
For now the truth would I know:
What weapon can send Vithofnir to seek
The house of Hel below?Fjolsvith spake:
Lævatein is there, that Lopt with runes
Once made by the doors of death;In Lægjarn’s chest by Sinmora lies it,And nine locks fasten it firm.10(Bellows Translation)
25. Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou I ask:
if weapon there be which Vithofnir may
send to the halls of Hel?Fjolsvith said:
26. ‘Tis Lævatein hight, which Lopt did forge,
in an iron kettle keeps it Sinmara,there hold it hard locks nine.11(Hollander Translation)
Lævateinn translates to “damage twig”, and according to Simek is actually a kenning for a sword, rather than a proper name.12 This stanza alone implies a great deal about Loki and his associations. First of all, Loki creating a sword seems to tie him (as at least one of his major tales does) to the art of forging. In Skáldskaparmál, Snorri describes Loki as being sent to the dwarves to have new hair made for Sif after he had cut off her original hair. In the process, he acquires many gifts for the gods, not least of which is Þórr’s hammer Mjölnir. The Snaptun Stone (which is itself a bellows guard for a forge) is a soapstone bellows-guard found on a beach in Jutland, Denmark. It’s been dated to around 1000 CE, and is thought to depict Loki, as the mouth of this figure seems to be sewn shut just as Loki’s own mouth was sewn shut in the story of Sif’s hair. The fact that Loki seems to forge this sword in the underworld may imply Loki’s connection to chthonic fire in particular (as I also discussed in my earlier article, Sigyn: Lady of Oblation and Victory), perhaps the fire in the core of the earth being connected to the underground forges of the dwarves in the mind of the storytellers. Could this explain, why of all of the gods, Loki seems to have the closest association with the dwarves?
Another significant point these stanzas reveal is that Loki seems to have an unexplained connection to Surtr, Sinmara, and presumably Múspelheimr in general. Loki seems to have forged Lævateinn either for Sinmara specifically, or she is holding the sword on his behalf. Some have speculated that this is the sword Loki will take to him to Ragnarök, but from the context, it’s impossible to know the sword’s purpose. Is it to kill Víðópnir/Gullinkambi to keep him from alerting the Æsir of the approach of the Muspilli? This may be the case, as Fjölsviðr tells Svipdagr that the only way to acquire the sword is to bring a feather from Víðópnir’s tail to Sinmara (perhaps as a token that he intends to kill the rooster?). This isn’t the only instance where a connection between Loki and Múspelheimr is implied, as he is the one who leads them into battle on the ship Naglfar in Völuspá:
|51. Kjóll ferr austan, koma munu Múspells
of lög lýðir, en Loki stýrir;fara fíflmegir með freka allir,þeim er bróðir Býleists í för.13
|51. A vessel journeys from the East, Muspell’s troops will come,
over the waters, while Loki steers.
All the monstrous offspring accompany the ravenous one,
The brother of Býleist is with them on the trip.14
This stanza in Völuspá coupled with the above stanzas in Fjölsvinnsmál have largely informed my opinion that Loki himself should be counted as one of the Muspilli, and most likely stems from Múspelheimr originally. As has already been suggested by myself and others, Loki’s father Fárbauti (“dangerous hitter”)15 may be an embodiment of lightning: perhaps an apt name for the father of a fire giant.
The other significant stanza of Fjölsvinnsmál which may include Loki lends more credence to the idea that Loki is a fire giant (though it is still uncertain whether the word “loki” in the poem is meant to be a proper name or not). Svipdagr goes on to ask Fjölsviðr the name of the hall before him (which is holding Menglöð and is surrounded by a wall of fire), and which one of the gods constructed it:
31. Segðu mér þat, Fjölsviðr,
er ek þik fregna mun
ok ek vilja vita:Hvat sá salr heitir,
er slunginn er
vísum vafrloga?Fjölsviðr kvað:
32.Hyrr hann heitir,
en hann lengi mun
á brodds oddi bifask;
munu um aldr hafa
frétt eina fírar.Vindaldr kvað:
33. Segðu mér þat, Fjölsviðr,
er ek þik fregna mun
ok ek vilja vita:
Hverr þat gerði,er ek fyr garð sák
34. Uni ok Íri,
Varr ok Vegdrasill;
31. Now answer me, Fjolsvith, the question I ask,
For now the truth would I know:
What call they the hall, encompassed here
With flickering magic flames?Fjolsvith spake:
Lyr is it called, and long it shall
On the tip of a spear-point tremble;
Of the noble house mankind has heard,
But more has it never known.Svipdag spake:
33. Now answer me, Fjolsvith, the question I ask,
For now the truth would I know:
What one of the gods has made so great
The hall I behold within?Fjolsvith spake:
34. Uni and Iri, Bari and Jari,Var and Vegdrasil,
Dori and Ori, Delling, and there
31. Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:what the hall is hight which is hedged aboutby wall of flickering flame?Fjolsvith said:
Lýr it is hight, and long will it
hover on sword’s point on high;of this shining hall from hearsay ever
men have learned alone.
within the hall so high?
Darri and Úri, and Delling were there,
The last sentence in the stanza is very unclear, and different versions of the manuscript have been conflated and explained in different ways. On one hand, Bellows has read the last stanza as a list of dwarf names, ending with the god name “Loki” (implying that in answer to Svipdagr’s question, Loki was the god who constructed the hall with the help of the dwarves). Hollander states that his translation is conjectural, as he assumes that the word Líðskjalfr is actually making reference to Óðinn’s high seat Hliðskjálf rather than being a dwarf name. Loki, while being a proper name, also means “to lock” in Old Norse, and may merely be saying that Líðskjalfr/Hliðskjálf was locked when the hall Lýr was constructed (why this should be relevant is uncertain).
According to Simek, the hall’s name Lýr translates to “pike”, but he suggests that the correct name of the hall should actually be Hýr (“the shining one”), as it is called in other manuscripts.19 Hýr does seem to be a more logical name for a hall surrounded by fire, though if Loki is truly the architect, “pike” holds its own logic as well. Loki is frequently associated with fish in the lore: he is the inventor of the fishnet, captures the dwarf Andvari in the form of a pike, is captured by the gods in the shape of a salmon, and the thong that his mouth is sewn shut within Skáldskaparmál is called Vatari (which is a kenning for “fish” in the Þulur).20
I can see a case for either translation of stanza 34, though there are a few reasons I feel that including Loki in the list of dwarf name makes slightly more sense. First of all, Svipdagr specifically asks which Ás (a specific kind of deity) is responsible for building the hall, which seems to be a strange choice of words for the writer of Fjölsvinnsmál if he didn’t intend to share the name of an Ás (which Loki is frequently referred to as in the Eddas) in the next stanza, and instead a list of dwarf names and an obscure reference to Hliðskjálf. Secondly, Loki has already been named once in the poem, so his presence here doesn’t feel out of place. Loki’s past association with the dwarves (as I have already mentioned) makes it also feel more plausible that Loki constructed Lýr/Hýr with their help, and Loki’s name with a list of dwarves doesn’t seem illogical.
If Loki is indeed the god who constructed the hall surrounded by flames, I would see this as further solidifying his relationship with the dwarves and further establishes him as a god connected to fire. I would also argue that this stanza would strengthen the feeling that Loki is a god who is intricately connected to craftsmanship on many levels. He is the crafter of the fishnet, brought about the forging of the god’s gifts, forged a sword himself, and is now (presumably) involved in architecture. This may imply that, as are many other trickster figures, Loki is a creative god who brings important artifacts and culture to the gods and humankind as well.
In conclusion, Fjölvinsmál is a fascinating poem, containing many unsolved questions. It also can tell us a surprising amount of information about Loki and his place in the lore.
1The Poetic Edda. Tr. Hollander, Lee M., University of Texas Press, Austin 1962. 140
2“Fjölsvinnsmál.” Fjölsvinnsmál-heimskringla.no. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017
3 “Fjölsvinnsmál” Völuspá – Norse and Germanic Lore site with Old Norse / English translations of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
4The Poetic Edda. Tr. Hollander, Lee M., University of Texas Press, 1962. 147
5Simek, Rudolf. Tr. Hall, Angela. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, NY, 2007. 285
7 “Völuspá” Völuspá – Norse and Germanic Lore site with Old Norse / English translations of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
8Orchard, Andy. The Elder Edda: a book of viking lore. Penguin Books, NY, 2011. 11
9“Fjölsvinnsmál.” Fjölsvinnsmál-heimskringla.no. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017
10“Fjölsvinnsmál” Völuspá – Norse and Germanic Lore site with Old Norse / English translations of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
11The Poetic Edda. Tr. Hollander, Lee M., University of Texas Press, 1962. 148
12Simek, Rudolf. Tr. Hall, Angela. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, NY, 2007. 185
13“Völuspá” Völuspá – Norse and Germanic Lore site with Old Norse / English translations of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
14Orchard, Andy. The Elder Edda: a book of viking lore. Penguin Books, NY, 2011. 12
15Simek, Rudolpf, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Tr. Angela Hall D.S Brewer, NY 78
16“Fjölsvinnsmál.” Fjölsvinnsmál-heimskringla.no. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017
17 “Fjölsvinnsmál” Völuspá – Norse and Germanic Lore site with Old Norse / English translations of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
18The Poetic Edda. Tr. Hollander, Lee M., University of Texas Press, Austin 1962. 149-150
19Simek, Rudolf. Tr. Hall, Angela. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S Brewer, NY, 2007. 198