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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Odin and the Volsung Clan



The Icelandic Volsunga Saga is an interesting blend of both myth and legend, the first part relating to mythical events, whilst the latter part is concerned with legend and semi-historical events. The theme that runs through the whole saga is the relationship between Odin and the Volsung clan which He sired.

"Here we begin by telling of a man who was named Sigi, and it was said that he was the son of Odin." (The Saga of the Volsungs, translated by Jesse L. Byock)

"HERE begins the tale, and tells of a man who was named Sigi, and called of men the son of Odin;" (The Volsunga Saga, translated by Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris)

The opening of the saga makes it abundantly clear the nature of the relationship between Odin and Sigi, and the clan which he in turn sired. As Professor Byock states in his notes, "The element Sig (victory), which appears in proper names in the Volsung family, may emphasize the special relationship that existed between the Volsungs and Odin, who was also called Sigtyr, victory god."

Sigi was declared an outlaw due to his unlawful killing of a thrall. Consequently Odin "guided Sigi out of the land on a journey so long that it was remarkable." Sigi became a pirate, a viking and eventually the king over Hunland. One needs to bear in mind that the Huns were considered in Germanic legend to be a Germanic people. According to the Younger or Prose Edda Sigi was the king of Frakkland (France), a land formed by the Germanic Franks.

Rerir, the son of Odin also was assisted by Odin. Rerir and his wife were unable to conceive a child. According to Byock's translation they prayed to Frigg who conveyed their wish to Odin who instructed one of his wish maidens to present a magical apple to Rerir which fell into his lap. The wish maiden took the form of a crow. In the Morris translation they prayed to BOTH Frigg and Odin. The apple helped Rerir's wife to conceive.

Rerir died of some kind of sickness. The saga does not elaborate on this. However it does say that "He intended to go to Odin." If a man could not die in battle he was marked with the point of a spear. The spear was a sacred weapon to Odin and this marked the dying as belonging to Him, so that he may enter Walhalla.

Subsequently Rerir's wife conceived Volsung, from which the clan takes its name. Interestingly this name appears in Beowulf as Waels:

"O Wael's great son, Sigemund," (Beowulf, translation by Michael Alexander)

Volsung spent 6 long years in his mother's womb. This in itself is an indication of the supernatural semi-divine nature of the Odin-born hero.

Volsung had 10 sons and 1 daughter with his wife Hljod. Their eldest son was called Sigmund and his twin sister, Signy. Volsung's palace featured a very large tree called the Barnstock, Branstock or Bairnstock, the child tree. This may of course be symbolic of Yggdrasil, the world tree. Odin appeared one evening in the hall and placed the sword into the tree, uttering these words:

"He who draws this sword out of the trunk shall receive it from me as a gift, and he himself shall prove that he has never carried a better sword than this one." (Byock)

Odin is described wearing a mottled cape that was hooded, the hood lying low over His head. He was very tall, gray and one-eyed. The people in the hall did not know at the time that this was Odin or where He came from or where He was going to. This is how Odin the Wanderer tends to appear in Midgard when He walks amongst us. The Gods are real personalities that can appear as flesh and blood beings.

Naturally only Volsung could draw the sword out of the tree and this reminds us of the later Arthurian tales which clearly were in part based upon Germanic myth.

Sigmund inherits the crown of Hunland. None of his 9 brothers survive, having been eaten by a she-wolf. This was the work of their enemy King Siggeir who was married to Signy. Sigmund fathers a child with Signy, his twin and called him Sinfjotli. He fathers Helgi through his wife Borghild and Sigurd through his wife Hjordis.

When Sinfjotli is wounded Odin assists Sigurd in healing the boy by sending His raven with a leaf with special healing propreties to place upon the wound and thus brought healing. However Sinfjotli eventually died from poisoning. Odin as the ferryman transported the body away.

During a battle between King Lyngvi and Sigmund Odin appeared in His usual guise:

"But now whenas the battle had dured a while, there came a man into the fight clad in a blue cloak, and with a slouched hat on his head, one-eyed he was, and bare a bill in his hand;" (Morris)

Odin broke Sigmund's sword on His spear. With the sword broken in two Sigmund's luck departed from him. He lost the battle and was killed. His son Sigurd eventually inherited the sword fragments and Regin the smith forged them anew and according to Sigmund's wishes the sword was called Gram.

Odin appears to Sigurd no less than 3 times. The first time He helps Sigurd choose a horse, Grani who is descended from Odin's steed, Sleipnir.

Odin appears to Sigurd in a storm as Fjolnir and sought passage on Sigurd's ship. Immediately the storm abated and Sigurd and his men landed and defeated King Lyngvi and the sons of King Hunding in battle.

After that Sigurd returned to his kingdom and set about the defeat of a dragon. At this point Odin again appears to him to give him sage-like advice in how to defeat the dragon and survive. After the death of Sigurd the saga takes on a more legendary and less of a mythical character.

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