A journal dedicated to the Vanir Issue No. 3
to the Yule issue of The Wain. This issue has turned out to be a little
Frey orientated but, hey, who’s complaining ? The Vanadis Special will be
published in Spring 1998.
I am pleased to publish in this edition the totally speculative ‘Lay of
Beli’ by our own Thorskegga which fleshes out that tantalising glimpse in Snorri
Sturlusson of Frey and that horn.
All uncredited articles and reviews are by the editor.
The opinions expressed in contributors to ‘The Wain’ are not necessarily
those shared by the editor.
All rights reserved. (c) 1997 All articles, poetry and illustrations are
the joint copyright of the author/artist and the editor. No part of this
publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the editor. P. Deegan : Editor Fealcen Stow
Submissions and Subscriptions Subscription is £2 for four issues.
Submissions of articles, poetry, artwork, etc. on the Vanir would be warmly
welcomed (but not any item which promotes hatred or division due to racial,
gender or sexual orientation differences). Subscriptions to the journal and/or
submissions for publication should be sent to:
PO Box 16071
The Lay of Beli
Morning met peace, in the Vanhall.
Ancient tree trunks, were the walls,
vast vault gleamed, leaves shimmering,
dew drops sparkled, on emerald turf.
Njord’s son enthroned in sunlit splendour,
let his mind drift across the worlds.
Noble Van-Freyr Earth’s defender
skilled in magic wise in lore.
He saw war waged in Middle Earth.
Freyja rode above the battlefield,
her fine spear flashed, Brisingamen shone,
the cats’ talons tore raking the sky.
Freyr smiled to see his beloved,
beautiful beside the morning sun.
Today Freyja’s cup would be offered
to the finest of warriors.
A rattling rumble echoed in the Vanhall.
In rode Skirnir on his master’s wain.
Boar’s hooves thudded, shining Gullinborsti
Silver rings rang on the harness.
‘I have grave news’ cried loyal Skirnir
‘In Russ Land fields and homes are burning.
Friends of Wealth-giver flee from Beli
a fearsome foe from eastern lands’.
The battle-skilled god Freyr strode forward
eagerly mounting up beside Skirnir
Nimbly turning the wooden wain
and urged forward his bristled boar.
Into the sky climbed Gullinborsti
The strong sun caused Gold-one to gleam
with snout pointing short legs charging
the brave boar drew Freyr’s wain to Russ Land.
Freyja’s brother to earth descended
and saw the scorched fields and farmsteads.
Freyr’s angry cry rang in Russ Land
‘Come forward Beli and pay for your crime’.
Beli appeared above the tree tops
his lips stained red with cattles’ blood.
The titan towered above the Van-god,
a wild warrior of Etin Land.
Beli bellowed scornful laughter
‘Who are you child to dare defy me ?
Go fetch your sword, make good your challenge,
a fine toothpick your toy will make’.
‘I’m Freyr’ replied Gullinborsti’s master,
‘The son of Njord, Horn’s husband,
father of Hnoss fair treasure child,
friend of Skirnir, Byggvir and Beyla’.
The giant grinned and bared his blade
‘Van or mortal I’ve naught to fear,
such short stature cannot prevail
against the might of bold Beli’.
‘Are you a fool,’ Van Freyr retorted
‘to judge your foe by size alone ?
I have no need of arms to fight
such a rude rouge, eastern etin !’
‘You insult me ?’ The giant shouted.
‘You who dabble in cowards magic ?
Iron against iron that is honour
to settle disputes between etins’.
‘This is honour ?’ cried Freyr enraged
spreading arms wide across ruined lands.
‘These farmers used iron for ploughshares’
these honest folk who called Freyr “friend”.
Clear the fields repay their loss
swear never to leave Etin Land again.
If you refuse then you will die,
Freyr has no mercy for evil etins’.
Freyr stepped forward offering truce.
Beli laughed loud and swung his sword
deep bit the blade into the ground
tearing the turf by Freyr’s feet.
Freyja’s brother pulled from his cloak
a wand of antler. Freyr spoke Van spells
the Harvest-god’s wise words of power.
The wand pointing at Beli’s breast.
Fire leapt from Freyr, scorching lightning.
Loud howled Beli and fell dying
Trees were broken by the giant’s body.
When he fell the earth was shaken.
Skirnir called the folk from hiding,
fearful and burnt, ragged and hungry,
a woman wept for her lost love.
The destroyed farms meant starvation.
Beli’s Bane sang an incantation
green shoots grew from blackened soil.
The people cheered the Glorious Van
as they beheld the golden corn.
Freyr took up the etin sword
a dozen yards of heavy iron.
By his strong hands the blade was broken.
Njord’s son called the people round.
‘Your cattle are slain your stores destroyed.
Melt down this sword for iron ingots.
Use their value to buy more cattle
and food to see your harvest home’.
Freyr and Skirnir mounted the wain.
The folk followed with joyful hearts.
People praised victorious van god.
Long they’d remember Njord’s bounteous son.
Freyr called spirits of the fallen
to join him on his journey home.
Beli’s victims followed the van god
across the heavens to the Folk Field.
An Introduction to Skírnismál
What is Skírnismál?
This is a poem deals with the courtship of Freyr of the giantess Gerð.
Freyr, of course, is the Vanic god of peace and plenty, of joy and easy
sexuality. He sends the sunshine and the rain, dances through the fields to
bring pleasure, peace and a bountiful harvest. He is a bright and shining lord,
prone to cheery smiles and cheeky winks from inside the leafy trees. This poem
provides the one major myth we have about him and, ironically, he is shown as a
miserable bugger. Somehow he has gotten a vision of Gerð, daughter of Gymir,
a maiden so lovely that now nothing holds pleasure for him. Gods nor giants
will allow the marriage and it looks like he’ll just wane away with love
sickness. This is noticed by one of his parents: which one is unclear since the
prose introduction names his father Njordhr, while the speech title names his
step-mother Skadhi. The poem itself just quotes “my son”. She, or
he, summons Skírnir to find out what is wrong.
Skírnir is described as Freyr’s servant and messenger. His name
means “the one who shines”. It is he who, in another myth, is sent to
the dwarfs to acquire the wolf-fetter Gleipnir. As he reveals in the poem, he
and Freyr have been friends since childhood, and it is this that allows Freyr to
trust him with the wooing of his Beloved. So with Freyr’s horse and magic
sword, Skírnir sets off for Etin-Home.
Now a strange thing happens here in the poem: up to now there has been
mention of dangers on the journey – including a great wall of flame, which needs
a magic horse to cross. But there is no verse that deals with the actual
journey – he just seems to arrive. To me, it seems that there must have been
some form of action, of acting out the journey. The scribe who recorded it felt
the same: he added a sentence to say “Skírnir rode to Etin- Home”.
Outside Gymir’s hall, Skírnir approaches a shepherd to ask
advice on getting past Gymir’s fierce hounds. Nothing much seems to come of
this exchange and no explanation is offered by the scribe. It should have some
significance now lost to us.
Skírnir somehow manages to get into the hall and finally meets the
object of his master’s love: Gerð. Gerð is a giantess, believed to be
the daughter of Gymir and Aurbotha. As such she is of the tribe of the vast,
titanic forces that shape the natural world: the tribe of trolls that threatens
destruction to the folk of Middle-Earth and to Asgard itself. Gods, elves and
giants alike seem to be against this marriage, and she does not seem keen
either. She refuses gifts of gold and eternal youth, and faces down threats
Faced with this Skírnir resorts to magic and runelore. He heaps down
on her an avalanche of curses, forbidding her joy or gladness, condemning her to
a lonely life below Niflheim, in the midst of imps, frost-giants and
three-headed thurses. He charges his spells with the power of three thurs
runes, carved to keep her forever bound to misery. Gerð relents, chosing
the more pleasant fate of a god’s beloved in Asgard.
The poem concludes with Skírnir carrying her message to her lord –
that after nine nights she will meet Freyr and grant her love, in a
grove named Barri. Freyr is overjoyed and groans at the thought of having to
wait the nine nights for her.
At this point, to me, again something seems missing – after the epic
journeying and wooing and heartache – there is no marriage. There is no verse
to recount it, nor does the scribe add any words on the subject. Like the
journey to Etin-Home, this suggests to me that some action or show was intended.
What is it’s form and history ? Told in a mixture of prose and verse,
Skírnismál or For Scirnis was composed by an unknown poet
somewhere in Scandinavia, at sometime in the late heathen period (late 10th
century). It was recorded by an unknown Icelandic scribe and scholar who,
although a christian , still placed a value on the traditions of his ancestors
and his heritage. He added pieces of prose to explain and describe the action
of the poem, and also added titles such as ‘Freyr said’ and ‘Gerð said’ to
show who is talking. And so it became part of the collection of poems we call
the Poetic Edda, a treasure trove which tells us so much of what the fore-farers
saw as wise, noble and worthy of praise.
We have two copies of the poem: one in the Codex Regius (late thirteenth
century) and the other incomplete on the Codex Arnamagnænus (fourteenth
century). The poem was used as a source by Snorri Sturlusson when he recorded
his version of the story in the Prose Edda.
This poem is in a verse form unique to the Eddic lays: ljothahattr (Song, or
magic, Metre). It appears that this form was used purely for dialogue or first
person speech. The other major Eddic form: fornyrthislag (Old Lore Metre), is
used for narrative verse. It is the use of the ljothahattr verse form
that allows us to consider whether the poem was intended to be a drama.
Is it a Drama ?
The journey and the wedding (or the lack of) are some of the things that
imply that the poem was not intended to be recited by a single poet. There are
too many instances, when the speaker is not clearly indicated by the verse, for
one person to convey all six of the speaking characters. Likewise,
there is little to convey the changes of location (Asgard, Vanaheim, Etin-Home)
or the passage of time. Terry Gunnell has used these questions to argue that the
poem was intended to be given by several people, each portraying a different
character, with distinct ‘locations’ to mark the different halls and the
What about drama in Scandinavia ?
There is no direct evidence for an organised theatre, anything like we know
today. But if one or more people actively act as or represent a character other
than themselves, then we have the most basic form of drama. We do have hints
and intimations of sacred marriages and mock fights being acted out, also
satires when those who deserved it were made figures of fun. Later evidence
includes folk traditions of dressing up as animals, cross-dressing, etc.
Later medieval drama was not known as drama but was included in accounts of
games, holidays, playing. A similar term exists for Scandinavia: the Old Norse
word leikr. These activities of gaming, sports, festivities, horse-fights, mock
fights, and perhaps drama, were associated with holy days and feast days. They
had religious and ritual connections – the term is sometimes used for rites or
witchcraft. There are these Old Norse terms: leikgothi (the play-priest),
leikvangr and leikvolr (the playfield) and also Freysleikr (Freyr’s play or
game). These all conjure up a festival atmosphere of communities gathering,
playing, sporting and possibly re-enacting sacred dramas to honour the gods.
What does the poem mean ?
The most popular and probable reading is of a sacred marriage of heaven and
earth, to ensure the plentiful harvest. Gerð is seen as the field ( a
possible interpretation of her name), frozen hard with winter’s ice. Her arms
are said to be dazzling white, recalling perhaps the glittering frost. Freyr is
the sender of sunlight and Skírnir, the shining one, is his servant sent
to woo her and melt her to his suit. They come together in the love glade of
Barri, which translates as Barley, the field full of grain.
Another reading is that it represents the coming of a male-orientated
culture, repressing and dominating a female-oriented culture though as regards
this particular poem, I think this is nonsense. But I can understand where
it came from. Perhaps one of the biggest problems for modern audiences is the
apparent bullying of Gerð into marriage, and the denial of her freedom of
choice. If we were talking of human being I might agree. But we are talking of
gods and the working of the worlds. I offer two perspectives on this section of
One is practical, from an agricultural viewpoint: farming is not easy. A
field will not give a good crop just because you say please. To turn a
wilderness into cultivable land requires the clearing of forest, the hauling up
of tree stumps and roots, the removal of boulders and stones which would damage
the plough. A good field might take generations of working and bullying even to
A second perspective is more from a psychological view. Freyr, regardless
of gender, is the provider of all good things, all pleasures and joys. Anyone,
again regardless of gender, who denies his advances or gifts is losing out. To
deny him completely, to me implies a life barren of pleasure or happiness. In
this reading Skírnir is not threatening Gerð, he merely points out
the inevitable consequence of her choice.
There are other problems raised by the text but I hope to do another essay
covering these and a possible staging of this Eddic Lay in a future issue of
‘The Wain’. Should you wish to now study the text, there are a few current
editions of the Poetic Edda which include Skírnismál (Skirnir’s
The Poetic Edda – Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford University
Press £6.99 ISBN 0-19-2823833
Poems of the Elder Edda (Revised Edition) – Patricia Terry
(trans) University of Pennsylvania Press Approximately £17.99
Kevin Crossley-Holland, Norse Myths
Lee Hollander (trans), Poetic Edda
As this Van-god is a very important member of the Vanir (but I have no
formal article to publish) I have inaugurated an occasional section for snippets
on Njörðr so he is a part of this little venture.
Most people know of Njörðr that he is the ‘god of the sea’ and the
father of Freyr and Freyja. Maybe also that he has beautiful feet – well,
Skadhi thought so !
I’d like to quote Snorri Sturluson on Njörðr now:
‘The third Ás is the one called Niord. He lives in heaven in a
place called Noatun. He rules over the motion of wind and moderates sea and
fire. It is to him one must pray for voyages and fishing. He is so rich and
wealthy that he can grant wealth of lands or possessions to those that pray to
him for this.’
Edda, Snorri Sturluson (Antony Faulkes – trans)
This passage shows a more complete picture of Njörðr than the usual
image painted of him. His heavenly hall, Noatun, means ‘the place of ships’ or
‘harbour’ and his marine connection is already well known. That he rules over
voyages and fishing could probably have been guessed. But interestingly he also
“moderates” fire which is the polar opposite of water and this
suggests a hidden depth to this Van-god. This is usually omitted in
descriptions of his ‘functions’.
Njörðr is often paired with his son Freyr in toasts and this
passage shows that, like his son, he controls an element of the weather. Where
Freyr is the ‘ruler of rain and sunshine’ (see ‘The Most Glorious of the Æsir
and Ásyniur’ article in issue 2), Njörðr has rulership of the
other main weather element – wind. This would be most important to sailors
and is a quite understandable attribute for a god of the sea.
Furthermore he has a strong connection with wealth and not merely from good
harvests from the sea. The passage clearly mentions lands and possessions.
Sometimes Njörðr is overlooked by town folk, including myself, as
‘just’ a god of the sea although we are all part of a single planet and the seas
are a very important part of that planet. I hope this small section has helped
to remind us of a most important god.
For Freyr – Lord of Alfheim (Elf-Home)
This Yule we have a little piece on an English elf plant from Ingë
Botanical Folklore: Elf Dock / Elf Wort Ingë Ristil
These are a couple of common names for the herbaceous plant Elecampane
(Inula Helenium). This elf plant can be found in damp pastures and shady
ground. Culpepper described it as being ‘found wild throughout continental
Europe, from Gothland southwards’.
It blooms with large, bright yellow flowers from June to August. It was
mentioned in Anglo-Saxon medicinal treatises and often cultivated in medieval
private herb-gardens. When properly prepared by experts it was (or even can be)
used for chest or skin problems and also as a diuretic or tonic.
Only the healing aspects appear to be noted in traditional folklore but
modern Wiccan writer, Scott Cunningham, has suggested its’ possible magical use
in love and protection charms (which would fit in beautifully with what is known
of the ‘functions’ of the elves lord – Freyr.
The Yule-Tide Boar
One traditional element of the Yule was the boar. As the boar was sacred to
both Freyr and Freyja, this seems a good time to consider how the boar appeared
in the traditional Yule-tide celebrations.
Heiðreks Saga has an account of a boar sacrifice to Freyr. There is an
account, of which I only have secondary sources, of oaths being sworn on the
In England there is a tradition, retained within christmas, involving a
boar’s head. It is ceremonially carried in on a seventeenth century silver
platter to an Oxford College to the strains of the Boars Head Carol:
‘The Boar’s Head in hand bear I
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary
And I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino’
In an 1890 encyclopaedia of cookery it states: ‘The custom of serving a
Boar’s head at Christmastide continues to be observed in many large houses’.
It goes onto give detailed instructions as to preparing the wild Boar’s
head including preparing a forcemeat from ‘the flesh of four rabbits with 2lb of
peeled truffles………………’. Presentation was also very important and the
following suggestion is quoted: ‘Mix some clean soot with 1/4lb of lard, and rub
it all over the head, to produce a shiny black surface. Some cooks use
chocolate for this colouring, but I consider soot preferable’.
Bibliography Gods of the World: The Vanir in Ancient Heathenry – Eric
Wodening (Theod 1996)
Discovering Christmas Customs and Folklore – Margaret Baker (Shire
The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery – T. F. Garrett (L. Upcott Gill
Rûna : ‘Exploring Northern European Myth, Folklore and Magic’
– Issue 1 of this new heathen magazine has recently been issued this autumn by
Eormensyl Hall of the Rune- Gild. It is a smartly produced A4 journal
containing a broad range of well-written articles. Of especial interest to your
editor was a fascinating little article, based on linguistics, called ‘The Vanir
in England’ by Stephen Pollington but there was also the start of a series on
‘The Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm’, an article on Ásatrú and
Reincarnation and an interview with Steve McNallen amongst the other contents.
If the journal continues as it has started it will be of great interest to all
heathens (and especially to Odinists of a strongly magical persuasion).
Rûna can be obtained from BM Sorcery, London WC1N 3XX at £2.50
per issue or £10 for 4 issues (Cheque/money order made payable to Eormensyl
Hall). In Germany an issue is DM7 and the money order should be made payable to
Equinox Organisation, Altendorfer Str. 32, 09113 Cheminitz. In America the
money order should be made payable to Runa-Raven Press, P.O. Box 557,
Smithville, Texas 78957.
A Few Other Existing Heathen Publications –
Folkvang Horg – recently issued no. 3 includes ‘Freya’s Ship of
Love’ and ‘The Boar and the Vanic Sun Cult’ and a plea for ‘The Restoration of
the Vanic Priesthood’
Kvasir – Irregular but worthy and interesting journal on a range of
Northern Tradition subjects
CLOSING DATE : 1st February 1998
ENTRIES : A work done in honour of Freyja – such as a song, a poem, artwork,
design of a modern costume based on Freyja folk tradition, create a recipe, a
modern kenning …………………
SEND TO : PO Box 16071 (as on page 2)
PRIZES: 3 Vanadis prints and 1 T-shirt (for the best) Fealcen Stow reserves
the right to publish any entries submitted in ‘The Wain’.