June 2019 – Sigurd

By | July 11, 2019

The session:

Looked at Sigurd and compared him with Beowulf the ideal Germanic Hero.

1/.  The legend of Sigurd started with the Franks in Eastern Germany and by the Rhine and by the late C5th had moved across Europe and would have been in Britain. By C8th it was in Scandinavia and the Vikings would have brought it in too so it would have been well known.  Like many legends the story is added to over time.

2/.  There are several source materials for the legend –The Elder Edda which are thirty four mythical and heroic poems, the Scaldic poems, the writings of Snorri Sturrluson, the Gesta Danorum, the Icelandic Sagas and the works by known historians such as Tacitus, Ibn Fadlan, Adam of Bremen.  There is a lot of further information available in books and on the internet.  J R R Tolkien has written a book about ‘The Legend Of Sigurd and Gudrun’ and you can see the influences of these legends on his works of fiction.

3/.  Das Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs)

Like many heroes Sigurd had strange parentage and links to the gods.  He was in the warrior elite of society and a favourite of the gods who granted him favours and privileges.  The Song of the Nibelungs covers his parentage, his father was Sigmund a favourite of Odin and his mother was Signy.  Signy and Sigmund were children of Odin.  There is also a splendid sword which was given to Sigmund, he was the only one who could remove the sword from a tree.  After Sigmund died in battle Odin shattered the sword and the pieces were later retrieved and re-forged for Sigurd.  The warrior elite went to Valhalla after death and spent their time eating pork stew, drinking mead and fighting each day, waiting for Ragnarök the final battle.

4/.  The Legend of Otter’s Ransom

In this tale Hoenir, Loki  and Odin crossed a bridge into Midgard the world of men.  There they saw an otter with a sizable salmon it had just caught.  Loki threw a large stone at the otter and killed it.  They were very happy as they had a good meal.

They sought accommodation for the night at the farmhouse of Hreidmar, this was not freely given.  This is a breach of the usual rules of hospitality.  They told the farmer they had provisions for all so they were allowed to stay.  The farmer was horrified when he was shown the otter and the salmon.  The family were sorcerers/magicians who could shape-shift and the otter was the farmer’s now dead son.

The family plotted to take their revenge.  By using magic to stupefy the gods they were able to tie them up.  Odin asked what was happening and having been told they had killed the farmer’s son asked to pay a ransom, blood money for it.  After their explanation of what had happened Hreidmar agreed.  The ransom was set at the amount of gold which would fill and completely cover the skin of the dead otter.

Leaving the other two gods as hostages Loki went to the underground world of the Dark Elves, borrowing a drowning net from Ran a sea goddess.  In a big pool in the centre he caught an enormous pike with the net.  This was actually Andvari the Dwarf who was a skilful smith.  Andvari had a hoard of gold which Loki took from him in return for his life.  Andvari tried to keep a ring but Loki took it from him and put it on his own finger.  The dwarf cursed the ring and the gold, so that it would destroy whoever owned it.  Loki took the gold and the ring back to the farmhouse, where Odin took the ring and wore it.  They covered the skin with the gold but Hreidmar saw a whisker was still showing and insisted the ring was put on it.  The gods then left.

This is where the original tale ended.  In later versions the full effect of the curse took effect, the family quarrelled over the gold, one son Fafnir became a dragon and killed his father.  He drove his other brother Regin away.  Regin became a smith in Jutland.  Fafnir the dragon went to live in the wilds.

5/.  The Legend of Sigurd the Volsung

Following on from the previous story Regin was bent on revenge on his brother the dragon Fafnir.  He looked for a hero to do it for him.  He offered to foster Sigurd and his mother Signy agreed.  Sigurd had been given some pieces of Sigmunds’s sword.  Regin, a skilled smith, re-forged them into a sword for Sigurd.  Regin trained Sigurd and eventually persuaded Sigurd to kill the dragon for him.

Regin told Sigurd to dig a pit and hide in it to attack the dragon from below, not the usual honourable approach for a hero.  Once the dragon was dead Regin told Sigurd the dragon was his brother and that he wanted compensation/blood money and his share of the hoard of gold.  Sigurd roasted the dragon’s heart for Regin but burnt and licked his fingers whilst cooking it.  Instantly he could hear and understand the birds, who were talking about a plan that Regin had to kill Sigurd and the birds advised Sigurd to kill Regin.

Sigurd took the still cursed gold and set off on his horse Grani, a gift from Odin.  He travelled a long way and ended up in the kingdom of King Gjuki, who had two sons (Gunnar and Hogni) and a beautiful daughter Gudrun.  King Gjuki wanted to keep Sigurd and his gold so plied him with drink and persuaded him to marry Gudrun.  Sigurd and the king’s sons became blood brothers.  King Gjuki’s kingdom grew in success.

The story moved on to involve Brynhild who may have been the sister of Atli (Attila) King of the Huns or a Valkyrie daughter of Odin.  This will be continued in July.