Friday, February 24, 2012

Affairs of the Gods: Heimdall as Rig

Freya and Heimdall by Blommer
Heimdall chatting up Freyja
Falling loosely under the category of AFFAIRS OF THE GODS, in the Rigsthula, Heimdall masquerades in the guise of Rig, visiting three different families on his journey along the shore, and fathers three sons, one by each family: Thræll, the first of all the thralls; Karl, the ancestor of all the peasants or yeomen; and finally Jarl, who is the ancestor of all kings, as you can imagine, but also the only son Heimdall claims as his own, and the only son Heimdall teaches about the runes.*

Reading the myth put me in mind of the Old Testament and the book of Genesis, where it says:
Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe (4:19-21).**

Of course the Rigsthula is a much less dry accounting of this kind of ancestry-assignment (say what you will about the myths, but the Norsemen know how to tell a story of who begat whom with a lot more zest). Heimdall essentially sweet talks his way into bed with his hosts (married couples in each instance, of better and better means as the story unfolds) and then, not just into bed, but into the middle of the bed, so he has the husband on one side of him and the wife on the other. Heimdall sure didn't lack gumption to impregnate these ladies while they were in bed with their husbands. Of course, he's a god -- and gods have a reputation for letting nothing stand in the way of a little bit of boot-knocking -- but after accepting their hospitality, it does seem a little bit... questionable, on Heimdall's part.

Then again, hospitality wasn't nearly the binding contract among the Norse that it was for the Greeks. We see in the Sagas how often the guise of offering hospitality is used to betray someone utterly. The Volsung family, for example, suffers this kind of deception and betrayal, resulting in the deaths of everyone but Sigmund and Sigyn, who are then left to take revenge upon Sigyn's husband (who invited the entire family to visit and then slaughtered them). However, we also see, by the behavior of the Volsungs, that betraying one's guests is absolutely dishonorable and deviant behavior.*** I'm not certain if that holds true the other way around -- if the guests themselves are bound by some rule in their treatment of the host, I haven't yet come across an example of it (and there is plenty of stuff out there I haven't read, for the record).

All that said, each son finds a wife, and they all are said to have lived happily ever after, making plenty of babies with specialized skill-sets for their particular roles as Thralls, Peasants, or Kings. How much Heimdall had to do with that, I don't know, but I'd LIKE to believe that he at least went so far as ensuring a semi-prosperous future for the other two sons he fathered and abandoned. I find myself wondering if the cuckolded husbands realized who fathered their strapping boys, but how do you miss someone having sex in the bed right next to you?

I think these affairs of Heimdall's give Zeus a run for the money in the BRASH department, personally.

*To me, this looks like Jarl is the only child who is given the TOOLS to rule (it is not possible to overvalue literacy.. or um, magic). He comes from the most well off of the families Heimdall stays with (judging by the food offered to their guest and what the husband is busying himself with in the evening hours), and is described as the most beautiful of the three boys born, too. Basically, Jarl is given every advantage. The American in me is saying "but! BUT! Wouldn't the line of kings be even more impressive if they had come from a situation of adversity from birth, rather than getting the silver-spoon treatment?!" I suppose this is proof positive that not all sons of gods are created equal. Or something.

**I always found this passage interesting, because it comes before the flood, wherein everyone but Noah's family is wiped out, which makes it kind of impossible for Jabal and Jubal to be the ancestors of anyone TODAY, as Noah was a descendant of one of Adam's other sons, and Jubal and Jabal are descended from Cain.

***Sigyn's father refuses to believe her husband would do such a thing, but even if he didn't refuse to believe it, he wouldn't dishonor of his family name himself by turning tail and running, anyway. Such was the importance of honor and reputation, it was better to die fighting -- as we all remember from that post about Hel.


  1. Definitely brash. Maybe he gave the hubbies some wicked cocktails and knocked them out for a while.

    1. One would hope he would at least have THAT much courtesy. Some kind of rune spell to put them to sleep, maybe!


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