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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Some Thoughts on Rig of the Rigsthula




The Rigsthula is one of the most important sacred documents that has survived the onslaught of xtianity in the Germanic realms and I make no apology therefore in returning to it time and time again for there is still much to be gleaned and learned from this poem found in the Elder or Poetic Edda.

The God Rig is credited with the formation of the Germanic caste system but this should not be confused with the creation of man which is dealt with as a separate event in both the Elder Edda and the Younger or Prose Edda. Rig's intention is to create an order of caste within Germanic society by the mixing of divine blood with that of mortal man. Of course we know that the caste system is to be found throughout the Aryan world. The Rigsthula is simply an account based on how the Germanic peoples thought of how the caste system came into being.


One question that we are faced with straight away is the identity of Rig and this is something which I have long pondered for several years now. The Rigsthula is prefaced with the following statement:

"People say in the old stories that one of the Aesir, who was called Heimdall, went on a journey, and as he went along the sea-shore somewhere he came to a household and he called himself Rig." (Carolyne Larrington translation)

It would seem from this that the Lay of Rig was already well known but it is possible that the writer of the lay may have repeated a mistake regarding the identification of Rig with Heimdall. Even  Miss Larrington states in her notes that "The identification of Heimdall with Rig is not absolutely secure, since it is based only on the prose introduction, but the beginning of the Seeress's Prophecy, asking for attention from all 'the offspring of Heimdall', seems to suggest that the god did have some connection with the creation of mankind."


Rig is said to be "derived from the Irish ri (rig in other cases) meaning 'king'." Why this term should be derived from an Irish source we can only speculate but I will leave discussion of that issue for another day. The important point to grasp is that the term is said to mean 'king' and this position was not Heimdall's but Odin's. Let us visit the line in question from the Voluspa in the Elder Edda:

"Attention I ask from all the sacred people, greater and lesser, the offspring of Heimdall;" (verse 1, Larrington translation)

Miss Larrington in her notes states that the 'sacred people' are the Gods but this is not how I read the line in its English translation. It appears to be referring to the 'offspring of Heimdall' as the 'sacred people' rather than the Gods and this makes sense when we consider that these people are divine offspring. In fact the translation of this verse by Benjamin Thorpe supports my contention:

"For silence I pray all sacred children, great and small, sons of Heimdall,"

So it is clear then that it is the men and women who are descended from Rig are 'sacred' but without studying the original Old Norse (something which I intend to do) I cannot be categoric in this. It is simply my initial theory.


From my understanding the introduction to the Rigsthula may have been written 100 years or so later than the poem itself by way of providing some insight into who Rig may be and if this is the case it makes the contention that Rig is Heimdall stand on a much faultier basis. Rudolf Simek seems to share the view that I hold:

"It is extremely doubtful whether Rigr can be identified with the god Heimdall, as occurs in the prose introduction added later to the lay. The picture of a god wandering about and spreading the knowledge of the runes would appear to fit Odin more than Heimdall." (Dictionary of Northern Mythology

My readers will note that Professor Simek states that the prose introduction was added later to the lay thus making it seem somewhat unreliable in my opinion. The whole picture of a wandering God who teaches runes to His son Jarl fits better with the qualities of Odin Himself who is known as The Wanderer and is the High Lord of the runes. Unlike Heimdall He is also the rig, the king of the Gods. Most ancient Germanic royal houses included Odin or Woden in their ancestry. Heimdall never appears in this way. Finally the main function of Heimdall is to guard Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge. For Heimdall to leave His post for extended periods of time thus leaving Asgard vulnerable to attack does not make an iota of sense to me.

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