An Introduction to Popular Norse Folk Tales
POPULAR TALES FROM THE NORSE
The most careless reader can hardly fail to see that many of the Tales in this volume have the same groundwork as those with which he has been familiar from his earliest youth. They are Nursery Tales, in fact, of the days when there were tales in nurseries—old wives’ fables, which have faded away before the light of gas and the power of steam. It is long, indeed, since English nurses told these tales to English children by force of memory and word of mouth. In a written shape, we have long had some of them, at least, in English versions of the Contes de ma Mère l’ Oye of Perrault, and the Contes de Fées of Madame D’Aulnoy; those tight-laced, high- heeled tales of the ‘teacup times’ of Louis XIV and his successors, in which the popular tale appears to as much disadvantage as an artless country girl in the stifling atmosphere of a London theatre. From these foreign sources, after the voice of the English reciter was hushed—and it was hushed in England more than a century ago—our great-grandmothers learnt to tell of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, of Little Red Riding-hood and Blue Beard, mingled together in the Cabinet des Fées with Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin’s wondrous lamp; for that was an uncritical age, and its spirit breathed hot and cold, east and west, from all quarters of the globe at once, confusing the traditions and tales of all times and countries into one incongruous mass of fable, as much tangled and knotted as that famous pound of flax which the lassie in one of these Tales is expected to spin into an even wool within four-and-twenty hours. No poverty of invention or want of power on the part of translators could entirely destroy the innate beauty of those popular traditions; but here, in England at least, they had almost dwindled out, or at any rate had been lost sight of as home-growths. We had learnt to buy our own children back, disguised in foreign garb; and as for their being anything more than the mere pastime of an idle hour—as to their having any history or science of their own—such an absurdity was never once thought of. It had, indeed, been remarked, even in the eighteenth century—that dreary time of indifference and doubt—that some of the popular traditions of the nations north of the Alps contained striking resemblances and parallels to stories in the classical mythology. But those were the days when Greek and Latin lorded it over the other languages of the earth; and when any such resemblance or analogy was observed, it was commonly supposed that that base-born slave, the vulgar tongue, had dared to make a clumsy copy of something peculiarly belonging to the twin tyrants who ruled all the dialects of the world with a pedant’s rod.
At last, just at the close of that great war which Western Europe waged against the genius and fortune of the first Napoleon; just as the eagle—Prometheus and the eagle in one shape—was fast fettered by sheer force and strength to his rock in the Atlantic, there arose a man in Central Germany, on the old Thuringian soil, to whom it was given to assert the dignity of vernacular literature, to throw off the yoke of classical tyranny, and to claim for all the dialects of Teutonic speech a right of ancient inheritance and perfect freedom before unsuspected and unknown. It is almost needless to mention this honoured name. For the furtherance of the good work which he began nearly fifty years ago, he still lives and still labours. There is no spot on which an accent of Teutonic speech is uttered where the name of Jacob Grimm is not a ‘household word’. His General Grammar of all the Teutonic Dialects from Iceland to England has proved the equality of these tongues with their ancient classical oppressors. His Antiquities of Teutonic Law have shown that the codes of the Lombards, Franks, and Goths were not mere savage, brutal customaries, based, as had been supposed, on the absence of all law and right. His numerous treatises on early German authors have shown that the German poets of the Middle Age, Godfrey of Strasburg, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Hartman von der Aue, Walter von der Vogelweide, and the rest, can hold their own against any contemporary writers in other lands. And lastly, what rather concerns us here, his Teutonic Mythology, his Reynard the Fox, and the collection of German Popular Tales, which he and his brother William published, have thrown a flood of light on the early history of all the branches of our race, and have raised what had come to be looked on as mere nursery fictions and old wives’ fables—to a study fit for the energies of grown men, and to all the dignity of a science.
In these pages, where we have to run over a vast tract of space, the reader who wishes to learn and not to cavil—and for such alone this introduction is intended—must be content with results rather than processes and steps. To use a homely likeness, he must be satisfied with the soup that is set before him, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled. When we say, therefore, that in these latter days the philology and mythology of the East and West have met and kissed each other; that they now go hand and hand; that they lend one another mutual support; that one cannot be understood without the other,—we look to be believed. We do not expect to be put to the proof, how the labours of Grimm and his disciples on this side were first rendered possible by the linguistic discoveries of Anquetil du Perron and others in India and France, at the end of the last century; then materially assisted and furthered by the researches of Sir William Jones, Colebrooke, and others, in India and England during the early part of this century, and finally have become identical with those of Wilson, Bopp, Lassen, and Max Müller, at the present day. The affinity which exists in a mythological and philological point of view between the Aryan or Indo-European languages on the one hand, and the Sanscrit on the other, is now the first article of a literary creed, and the man who denies it puts himself as much beyond the pale of argument as he who, in a religious discussion, should meet a grave divine of the Church of England with the strict contradictory of her first article, and loudly declare his conviction, that there was no God. In a general way, then, we may be permitted to dogmatize, and to lay it down as a law which is always in force, that the first authentic history of a nation is the history of its tongue. We can form no notion of the literature of a country apart from its language, and the consideration of its language necessarily involves the consideration of its history. Here is England, for instance, with a language, and therefore a literature, composed of Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norse, and Romance elements. Is not this simple fact suggestive of, nay, does it not challenge us to, an inquiry into the origin and history of the races who have passed over our island, and left their mark not only on the soil, but on our speech? Again, to take a wider view, and to rise from archaeology to science, what problem has interested the world in a greater degree than the origin of man, and what toil has not been spent in tracing all races back to their common stock? The science of comparative philology—the inquiry, not into one isolated language—for nowadays it may fairly be said of a man who knows only one language that he knows none—but into all the languages of one family, and thus to reduce them to one common centre, from which they spread like the rays of the sun—if it has not solved, is in a fair way of solving, this problem. When we have done for the various members of each family what has been done of late years for the Indo- European tongues, its solution will be complete. In such an inquiry the history of a race is, in fact, the history of its language, and can be nothing else; for we have to deal with times antecedent to all history, properly so called, and the stream which in later ages may be divided into many branches, now flows in a single channel.
From the East, then, came our ancestors, in days of immemorial antiquity, in that gray dawn of time of which all early songs and lays can tell, but of which it is as impossible as it is useless to attempt to fix the date. Impossible, because no means exist for ascertaining it; useless, because it is in reality a matter of utter indifference, when, as this tell-tale crust of earth informs us, we have an infinity of ages and periods to fall back on whether this great movement, this mighty lust to change their seats, seized on the Aryan race one hundred or one thousand years sooner or later.  But from the East we came, and from that central plain of Asia, now commonly called Iran. Iran, the habitation of the tillers and earers  of the earth, as opposed to Turan, the abode of restless horse-riding nomads; of Turks, in short, for in their name the root survives, and still distinguishes the great Turanian or Mongolian family, from the Aryan, Iranian, or Indo-European race. It is scarce worth while to inquire—even if inquiry could lead to any result—what cause set them in motion from their ancient seats. Whether impelled by famine or internal strife, starved out like other nationalities in recent times, or led on by adventurous chiefs, whose spirit chafed at the narrowness of home, certain it is that they left that home and began a wandering westwards, which only ceased when it reached the Atlantic and the Northern Ocean. Nor was the fate of those they left behind less strange. At some period almost as remote as, but after, that at which the wanderers for Europe started, the remaining portion of the stock, or a considerable offshoot from it, turned their faces east, and passing the Indian Caucasus, poured through the defiles of Affghanistan, crossed the plain of the Five Rivers, and descended on the fruitful plains of India. The different destiny of these stocks has been wonderful indeed. Of those who went west, we have only to enumerate the names under which they appear in history—Celts, Greeks, Romans, Teutons, Slavonians—to see and to know at once that the stream of this migration has borne on its waves all that has become most precious to man. To use the words of Max Müller: ‘They have been the prominent actors in the great drama of history, and have carried to their fullest growth all the elements of active life with which our nature is endowed. They have perfected society and morals, and we learn from their literature and works of art the elements of science, the laws of art, and the principles of philosophy. In continual struggle with each other and with Semitic and Mongolian races, these Aryan nations have become the rulers of history, and it seems to be their mission to link all parts of the world together by the chains of civilization, commerce, and religion.’ We may add, that though by nature tough and enduring, they have not been obstinate and self-willed; they have been distinguished from all other nations, and particularly from their elder brothers whom they left behind, by their common sense, by their power of adapting themselves to all circumstances, and by making the best of their position; above all, they have been teachable, ready to receive impressions from without, and, when received, to develop them. To show the truth of this, we need only observe, that they adopted Christianity from another race, the most obstinate and stiff-necked the world has ever seen, who, trained under the Old Dispensation to preserve the worship of the one true God, were too proud to accept the further revelation of God under the New, and, rejecting their birth-right, suffered their inheritance to pass into other hands.
Such, then, has been the lot of the Western branch, of the younger brother, who, like the younger brother whom we shall meet so often in these Popular Tales, went out into the world, with nothing but his good heart and God’s blessing to guide him; and now has come to all honour and fortune, and to be a king, ruling over the world. He went out and did. Let us see now what became of the elder brother, who stayed at home some time after his brother went out, and then only made a short journey. Having driven out the few aboriginal inhabitants of India with little effort, and following the course of the great rivers, the Eastern Aryans gradually established themselves all over the peninsula; and then, in calm possession of a world of their own, undisturbed by conquest from without, and accepting with apathy any change of dynasty among their rulers, ignorant of the past and careless of the future, they sat down once for all and thought—thought not of what they had to do here, that stern lesson of every-day life which neither men nor nations can escape if they are to live with their fellows, but how they could abstract themselves entirely from their present existence, and immerse themselves wholly in dreamy speculations on the future. Whatever they may have been during their short migration and subsequent settlement, it is certain that they appear in the Vedas—perhaps the earliest collection which the world possesses—as a nation of philosophers. Well may Professor Müller compare the Indian mind to a plant reared in a hot-house, gorgeous in colour, rich in perfume, precocious and abundant in fruit; it may be all this, ‘but will never be like the oak, growing in wind and weather, striking its roots into real earth, and stretching its branches into real air, beneath the stars and sun of Heaven’; and well does he also remark, that a people of this peculiar stamp was never destined to act a prominent part in the history of the world; nay, the exhausting atmosphere of transcendental ideas could not but exercise a detrimental influence on the active and moral character of the Hindoos. 
In this passive, abstract, unprogressive state, they have remained ever since. Stiffened into castes, and tongue-tied and hand-tied by absurd rites and ceremonies, they were heard of in dim legends by Herodotus; they were seen by Alexander when that bold spirit pushed his phalanx beyond the limits of the known world; they trafficked with imperial Rome, and the later empire; they were again almost lost sight of, and became fabulous in the Middle Age; they were rediscovered by the Portuguese; they have been alternately peaceful subjects and desperate rebels to us English; but they have been still the same immovable and unprogressive philosophers, though akin to Europe all the while; and though the Highlander, who drives his bayonet through the heart of a high-caste Sepoy mutineer, little knows that his pale features and sandy hair, and that dusk face with its raven locks, both come from a common ancestor away in Central Asia, many, many centuries ago.
But here arises the question, what interest can we, the descendants of the practical brother, heirs to so much historical renown, possibly take in the records of a race so historically characterless, and so sunk in reveries and mysticism? The answer is easy. Those records are written in a language closely allied to the primaeval common tongue of those two branches before they parted, and descending from a period anterior to their separation. It may, or it may not, be the very tongue itself, but it certainly is not further removed than a few steps. The speech of the emigrants to the west rapidly changed with the changing circumstances and various fortune of each of its waves, and in their intercourse with the aboriginal population they often adopted foreign elements into their language. One of these waves, it is probable, passing by way of Persia and Asia Minor, crossed the Hellespont, and following the coast, threw off a mighty rill, known in after times as Greeks; while the main stream, striking through Macedonia, either crossed the Adriatic, or, still hugging the coast, came down on Italy, to be known as Latins. Another, passing between the Caspian and the Black Sea, filled the steppes round the Crimea, and; passing on over the Balkan and the Carpathians towards the west, became that great Teutonic nationality which, under various names, but all closely akin, filled, when we first hear of them in historical times, the space between the Black Sea and the Baltic, and was then slowly but surely driving before them the great wave of the Celts which had preceded them in their wandering, and which had probably followed the same line of march as the ancestors of the Greeks and Latins. A movement which lasted until all that was left of Celtic nationality was either absorbed by the intruders, or forced aside and driven to take refuge in mountain fastnesses and outlying islands. Besides all these, there was still another wave, which is supposed to have passed between the Sea of Aral and the Caspian, and, keeping still further to the north and east, to have passed between its kindred Teutons and the Mongolian tribes, and so to have lain in the background until we find them appearing as Slavonians on the scene of history. Into so many great stocks did the Western Aryans pass, each possessing strongly-marked nationalities and languages, and these seemingly so distinct that each often asserted that the other spoke a barbarous tongue. But, for all that, each of those tongues bears about with it still, and in earlier times no doubt bore still more plainly about with it, infallible evidence of common origin, so that each dialect can be traced up to that primaeval form of speech still in the main preserved in the Sanscrit by the Southern Aryan branch, who, careless of practical life, and immersed in speculation, have clung to their ancient traditions and tongue with wonderful tenacity. It is this which has given such value to Sanscrit, a tongue of which it may be said, that if it had perished the sun would never have risen on the science of comparative philology. Before the discoveries in Sanscrit of Sir William Jones, Wilkins, Wilson, and others, the world had striven to find the common ancestor of European languages, sometimes in the classical, and sometimes in the Semitic tongues. In the one case the result was a tyranny of Greek and Latin over the non- classical tongues, and in the other the most uncritical and unphilosophical waste of learning. No doubt some striking analogies exist between the Indo-European family and the Semitic stock, just as there are remarkable analogies between the Mongolian and Indo- European families; but the ravings of Vallancy, in his effort to connect the Erse with Phoenician, are an awful warning of what unscientific inquiry, based upon casual analogy, may bring itself to believe, and even to fancy it has proved.
These general observations, then, and this rapid bird’s eye view, may suffice to show the common affinity which exists between the Eastern and Western Aryans; between the Hindoo on the one hand, and the nations of Western Europe on the other. That is the fact to keep steadily before our eyes. We all came, Greek, Latin, Celt, Teuton, Slavonian, from the East, as kith and kin, leaving kith and kin behind us; and after thousands of years the language and traditions of those who went East, and those who went West, bear such an affinity to each other, as to have established, beyond discussion or dispute, the fact of their descent from a common stock.
This general affinity established, we proceed to narrow our subject to its proper limits, and to confine it to the consideration, first, of Popular Tales in general, and secondly, of those Norse Tales in particular, which form the bulk of this volume.
In the first place, then, the fact which we remarked on setting out, that the groundwork or plot of many of these tales is common to all the nations of Europe, is more important, and of greater scientific interest, than might at first appear. They form, in fact, another link in the chain of evidence of a common origin between the East and West, and even the obstinate adherents of the old classical theory, according to which all resemblances were set down to sheer copying from Greek or Latin patterns, are now forced to confess, not only that there was no such wholesale copying at all, but that, in many cases, the despised vernacular tongues have preserved the common traditions far more faithfully than the writers of Greece and Rome. The sooner, in short, that this theory of copying, which some, even besides the classicists, have maintained, is abandoned, the better, not only for the truth, but for the literary reputation of those who put it forth. No one can, of course, imagine that during that long succession of ages when this mighty wedge of Aryan migration was driving its way through that prehistoric race, that nameless nationality, the traces of which we everywhere find underlying the intruders in their monuments and implements of bone and stone—a race akin, in all probability, to the Mongolian family, and whose miserable remnants we see pushed aside, and huddled up in the holes and corners of Europe, as Lapps, and Finns, and Basques—No one, we say, can suppose for a moment, that in that long process of contact and absorption, some traditions of either race should not have been caught up and adopted by the other. We know it to be a fact with regard to their language, from the evidence of philology, which cannot lie; and the witness borne by such a word as the Gothic Atta for father, where a Mongolian has been adopted in preference to an Aryan word, is irresistible on this point; but that, apart from such natural assimilation, all the thousand shades of resemblance and affinity which gleam and flicker through the whole body of popular tradition in the Aryan race, as the Aurora plays and flashes in countless rays athwart the Northern heaven, should be the result of mere servile copying of one tribe’s traditions by another, is a supposition as absurd as that of those good country-folk, who, when they see an Aurora, fancy it must be a great fire, the work of some incendiary, and send off the parish engine to put it out. No! when we find in such a story as the Master-thief traits, which are to be found in the Sanscrit Hitopadesa , and which reminds us at once of the story of Rhampsinitus in Herodotus; which are also to be found in German, Italian, and Flemish popular tales, but told in all with such variations of character and detail, and such adaptations to time and place, as evidently show the original working of the national consciousness upon a stock of tradition common to all the race, but belonging to no tribe of that race in particular; and when we find this occurring not in one tale but in twenty, we are forced to abandon the theory of such universal copying, for fear lest we should fall into a greater difficulty than that for which we were striving to account.
To set this question in a plainer light, let us take a well-known instance; let us take the story of William Tell and his daring shot, which is said to have been made in the year 1307. It is just possible that the feat might be historical, and, no doubt, thousands believe it for the sake of the Swiss patriot, as firmly as they believe in anything; but, unfortunately, this story of the bold archer who saves his life by shooting an apple from the head of his child at the command of a tyrant, is common to the whole Aryan race. It appears in Saxo Grammaticus, who flourished in the twelfth century, where it is told of Palnatoki, King Harold Gormson’s thane and assassin. In the thirteenth century the Wilkina Saga relates it of Egill, Völundr’s—our Wayland Smith’s—younger brother. So also in the Norse Saga of Saint Olof, king and martyr; the king, who died in 1030, eager for the conversion of one of his heathen chiefs Eindridi, competes with him in various athletic exercises, first in swimming and then in archery. After several famous shots on either side, the king challenges Eindridi to shoot a tablet off his son’s head without hurting the child. Eindridi is ready, but declares he will revenge himself if the child is hurt. The king has the first shot, and his arrow strikes close to the tablet. Then Eindridi is to shoot, but at the prayers of his mother and sister, refuses the shot, and has to yield and be converted [Fornm. Sog., 2, 272]. So, also, King Harold Sigurdarson, who died 1066, backed himself against a famous marksman, Hemingr, and ordered him to shoot a hazel nut off the head of his brother Björn, and Hemingr performed the feat [Müller’s Saga Bibl., 3, 359]. In the middle of the fourteenth century, the Malleus Maleficarum refers it to Puncher, a magician of the Upper Rhine. Here in England, we have it in the old English ballad of Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, and William of Cloudesly, where William performs the feat [see the ballad in Percy’s Reliques]. It is not at all of Tell in Switzerland before the year 1499, and the earlier Swiss chronicles omit it altogether. It is common to the Turks and Mongolians; and a legend of the wild Samoyeds, who never heard of Tell or saw a book in their lives, relates it, chapter and verse, of one of their famous marksmen. What shall we say then, but that the story of this bold master-shot was primaeval amongst many tribes and races, and that it only crystallized itself round the great name of Tell by that process of attraction which invariably leads a grateful people to throw such mythic wreaths, such garlands of bold deeds of precious memory, round the brow of its darling champion .
Nor let any pious Welshman be shocked if we venture to assert that Gellert, that famous hound upon whose last resting-place the traveller comes as he passes down the lovely vale of Gwynant, is a mythical dog, and never snuffed the fresh breeze in the forest of Snowdon, nor saved his master’s child from ravening wolf. This, too, is a primaeval story, told with many variations. Sometimes the foe is a wolf, sometimes a bear, sometimes a snake. Sometimes the faithful guardian of the child is an otter, a weasel, or a dog. It, too, came from the East. It is found in the Pantcha-Tantra, in the Hitopadesa, in Bidpai’s Fables, in the Arabic original of The Seven Wise Masters, that famous collection of stories which illustrate a stepdame’s calumny and hate, and in many mediaeval versions of those originals . Thence it passed into the Latin Gesta Romanorum, where, as well as in the Old English version published by Sir Frederick Madden, it may be read as a service rendered by a faithful hound against a snake. This, too, like Tell’s master-shot, is as the lightning which shineth over the whole heaven at once, and can be claimed by no one tribe of the Aryan race, to the exclusion of the rest. ‘The Dog of Montargis’ is in like manner mythic, though perhaps not so widely spread. It first occurs in France, as told of Sybilla, a fabulous wife of Charlemagne; but it is at any rate as old as the time of Plutarch, who relates it as an anecdote of brute sagacity in the days of Pyrrhus.
There can be no doubt, with regard to the question of the origin of these tales, that they were common in germ at least to the Aryan tribes before their migration. We find those germs developed in the popular traditions of the Eastern Aryans, and we find them developed in a hundred forms and shapes in every one of the nations into which the Western Aryans have shaped themselves in the course of ages. We are led, therefore, irresistibly to the conclusion, that these traditions are as much a portion of the common inheritance of our ancestors, as their language unquestionably is; and that they form, along with that language, a double chain of evidence, which proves their Eastern origin. If we are to seek for a simile, or an analogy, as to the relative positions of these tales and traditions, and to the mutual resemblances which exist between them as the several branches of our race have developed them from the common stock, we may find it in one which will come home to every reader as he looks round the domestic hearth, if he should be so happy as to have one. They are like as sisters of one house are like. They have what would be called a strong family likeness; but besides this likeness, which they owe to father or mother, as the case may be, they have each their peculiarities of form, and eye, and face, and still more, their differences of intellect and mind. This may be dark, that fair; this may have gray eyes, that black; this may be open and graceful, that reserved and close; this you may love, that you can take no interest in. One may be bashful, another winning, a third worth knowing and yet hard to know. They are so like and so unlike. At first it may be, as an old English writer beautifully expresses it, ‘their father hath writ them as his own little story’, but as they grow up they throw off the copy, educate themselves for good or ill, and finally assume new forms of feeling and feature under an original development of their own.
Or shall we take another likeness, and say they are national dreams; that they are like the sleeping thoughts of many men upon one and the same thing. Suppose a hundred men to have been eye-witnesses of some event on the same day, and then to have slept and dreamt of it; we should have as many distinct representations of that event, all turning upon it and bound up with it in some way, but each preserving the personality of the sleeper, and working up the common stuff in a higher or lower degree, just as the fancy and the intellect of the sleeper was at a higher or lower level of perfection. There is, indeed, greater truth in this likeness than may at first sight appear. In the popular tale, properly so called, the national mind dreams all its history over again; in its half conscious state it takes this trait and that trait, this feature and that feature, of times and ages long past. It snatches up bits of its old beliefs, and fears, and griefs, and glory, and pieces them together with something that happened yesterday, and then holds up the distorted reflection in all its inconsequence, just as it has passed before that magic glass, as though it were genuine history, and matter for pure belief. And here it may be as well to say, that besides that old classical foe of vernacular tradition, there is another hardly less dangerous, which returns to the charge of copying, but changes what lawyers call the venue of the trial from classical to Eastern lands. According to this theory, which came up when its classical predecessor was no longer tenable, the traditions and tales of Western Europe came from the East, but they were still all copies. They were supposed to have proceeded entirely from two sources; one the Directorium Humanae Vitae of John of Capua, translated between 1262-78 from a Hebrew version, which again came from an Arabic version of the 8th century, which came from a Pehlvi version made by one Barzouyeh, at the command of Chosrou Noushirvan, King of Persia, in the 6th century, which again came from the Pantcha Tantra, a Sanscrit original of unknown antiquity. This is that famous book of Calila and Dimna, as the Persian version is called, attributed to Bidpai, and which was thus run to earth in India. The second source of Western tradition was held to be that still more famous collection of stories commonly known by the name of the ‘Story of the Seven Sages,’ but which, under many names—Kaiser Octavianus, Diocletianus, Dolopathos, Erastus, etc.—plays a most important part in mediaeval romance. This, too, by a similar process, has been traced to India, appearing first in Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century in the Latin Historia Septem Sapientum Romae, by Dame Jehans, monk in the Abbey of Haute Selve. Here, too, we have a Hebrew, an Arabic, and a Persian version; which last came avowedly from a Sanscrit original, though that original has not yet been discovered. From these two sources of fable and tradition, according to the new copying theory, our Western fables and tales had come by direct translation from the East. Now it will be at once evident that this theory hangs on what may be called a single thread. Let us say, then, that all that can be found in Calila and Dimna, or the later Persian version, made A.D. 1494, of Hossein Vaez, called the Anvari Sohaïli, ‘the Canopic Lights’—from which, when published in Paris by David Sahid of Ispahan, in the year 1644, La Fontaine drew the substance of many of his best fables.—Let us say, too, that all can be found in the Life of the Seven Sages, or the Book of Sendabad as it was called in Persia, after an apocryphal Indian sage—came by translation—that is to say, through the cells of Brahmins, Magians, and monks, and the labours of the learned—into the popular literature of the West. Let us give up all that, and then see where we stand. What are we to say of the many tales and fables which are to be found in neither of those famous collections, and not tales alone, but traits and features of old tradition, broken bits of fable, roots and germs of mighty growths of song and story, nay, even the very words, which exist in Western popular literature, and which modern philology has found obstinately sticking in Sanscrit, and of which fresh proofs and instances are discovered every day? What are we to say of such a remarkable resemblance as this?
The noble King Putraka fled into the Vindhya mountains in order to live apart from his unkind kinsfolk; and as he wandered about there he met two men who wrestled and fought with one another. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘We are the sons of Mayâsara, and here lie our riches; this bowl, this staff, and these shoes; these are what we are fighting for, and whichever is stronger is to have them for his own.’
So when Putraka had heard that, he asked them with a laugh: ‘Why, what’s the good of owning these things?’ Then they answered ‘Whoever puts on these shoes gets the power to fly; whatever is pointed at with this staff rises up at once; and whatever food one wishes for in this bowl, it comes at once.’ So when Putraka had heard that he said ‘Why fight about it? Let this be the prize; whoever beats the other in a race, let him have them all’.
‘So be it’, said the two fools, and set off running, but Putraka put on the shoes at once, and flew away with the staff and bowl up into the clouds’.
Well, this is a story neither in the Pantcha Tantra nor the Hitopadesa, the Sanscrit originals of Calila and Dimna. It is not in the Directorium Humanae Vitae, and has not passed west by that way. Nor is it in the Book of Sendabad, and thence come west in the History of the Seven Sages. Both these paths are stopped. It comes from the Katha Sarit Sagara, the ‘Sea of Streams of Story’ of Somadeva Bhatta of Cashmere, who, in the middle of the twelfth century of our era, worked up the tales found in an earlier collection, called the Vrihat Katha, ‘the lengthened story’, in order to amuse his mistress, the Queen of Cashmere. Somadeva’s collection has only been recently known and translated. But west the story certainly came long before, and in the extreme north-west we still find it in these Norse Tales in ‘The Three Princesses of Whiteland’, No. xxvi.
‘Well!’ said the man, ‘as this is so, I’ll give you a bit of advice. Hereabouts, on a moor, stand three brothers, and there they have stood these hundred years, fighting about a hat, a cloak, and a pair of boots. If any one has these three things, he can make himself invisible, and wish himself anywhere he pleases. You can tell them you wish to try the things, and after that, you’ll pass judgment between them, whose they shall be’.
Yes! the king thanked the man, and went and did as he told him.
‘What’s all this?’ he said to the brothers. ‘Why do you stand here fighting for ever and a day? Just let me try these things, and I’ll give judgment whose they shall be.’
They were very willing to do this; but as soon as he had got the hat; cloak, and boots, he said: ‘When we meet next time I’ll tell you my judgment’; and with these words he wished himself away.
Nor in the Norse tales alone. Other collections shew how thoroughly at home this story was in the East. In the Relations of Ssidi Kur, a Tartar tale, a Chan’s son first gets possession of a cloak which two children stand and fight for, which has the gift of making the wearer invisible, and afterwards of a pair of boots, with which one can wish one’s self to whatever place one chooses. Again, in a Wallachian tale, we read of three devils who fight for their inheritance—a club which turns everything to stone, a hat which makes the wearer invisible, and a cloak by help of which one can wish one’s self whithersoever one pleases. Again, in a Mongolian tale, the Chan’s son comes upon a group of children who fight for a hood which makes the wearer invisible; he is to be judge between them, makes them run a race for it, but meanwhile puts it on and vanishes from their sight. A little further on he meets another group, who are quarrelling for a pair of boots, the wearer of which can wish himself whithersoever he pleases, and gains possession of them in the same way.
Nor in one Norse tale alone, but in many, we find traces of these three wonderful things, or of things like them. They are very like the cloth, the ram, and the stick, which the lad got from the North Wind instead of his meal. Very like, too, the cloth, the scissors, and the tap, which will be found in No. xxxvi, ‘The Best Wish’. If we drop the number three, we find the Boots again in ‘Soria Moria Castle’, No. lvi. [Moe, Introd., xxxii-iii] Leaving the Norse Tales, we see at once that they are the seven-leagued boots of Jack the Giant Killer. In the Nibelungen Lied, when Siegfried finds Schilbung and Niblung, the wierd heirs of the famous ‘Hoard’, striving for the possession of that heap of red gold and gleaming stones; when they beg him to share it for them, promising him, as his meed, Balmung, best of swords; when he shares it, when they are discontent, and when in the struggle which ensues he gets possession of the ‘Tarnhut’, the ‘cloak of darkness’, which gave its wearer the strength of twelve men, and enabled him to go where he would be unseen, and which was the great prize among the treasures of the dwarfs; who is there that does not see the broken fragments of that old Eastern story of the heirs struggling for their inheritance, and calling in the aid of some one of better wit or strength who ends by making the very prize for which they fight his own?
And now to return for a moment to Calila and Dimna and The Seven Sages. Since we have seen that there are other stories, and many of them, for this is by no means the only resemblance to be found in Somadeva’s book  which are common to the Eastern and Western Aryans, but which did not travel to Europe by translation; let us go on to say that it is by no means certain, even when some Western story or fable is found in these Sanscrit originals and their translations, that that was the only way by which they came to Europe. A single question will prove this. How did the fables and apologues which are found in Aesop, and which are also found in the Pantcha Tantya and the Hitopadesa come West? That they came from the East is certain; but by what way, certainly not by translations or copying, for they had travelled west long before translations were thought of. How was it that Themistius, a Greek orator of the fourth century [J. Grimm, Reinhart Fuchs, cclxiii, Intr.] had heard of that fable of the lion, fox, and bull, which is in substance the same as that of the lion, the bull, and the two jackals in the Pantcha Tantya and the Hitopadesa? How, but along the path of that primaeval Aryan migration, and by that deep-ground tone of tradition by which man speaks to man, nation to nation, and age to age; along which comparative philology has, in these last days, travelled back thither, listened to the accents spoken, and so found in the East the cradle of a common language and common belief.
And now, having, as we hope, finally established this Indian affinity, and disposed of mere Indian copying, let us lift our eyes and see if something more is not to be discerned on the wide horizon now open on our view. The most interesting problem for man to solve is the origin of his race. Of late years comparative philology, having accomplished her task in proving the affinity of language between Europe and the East, and so taken a mighty step towards fixing the first seat of the greatest—greatest in wit and wisdom, if not in actual numbers—portion of the human race, has pursued her inquiries into the languages of the Turanian, the Semitic, and the Chamitic or African races, with more or less successful results. In a few more years, when the African languages are better known, and the roots of Egyptian and Chinese words are more accurately detected, Science will be better able to speak as to the common affinity of all the tribes that throng the earth. In the meantime, let the testimony of tradition and popular tales be heard, which in this case have outstripped comparative philology, and lead instead of following her. It is beyond the scope of this essay, which aims at being popular and readable rather than learned and lengthy, to go over a prolonged scientific investigation step by step. We repeat it. The reader must have faith in the writer, and believe the words now written are the results of an inquiry, and not ask for the inquiry itself. In all mythologies and traditions, then, there are what may be called natural resemblances, parallelisms suggested to the senses of each race by natural objects and every-day events, and these might spring up spontaneously all over the earth as home growths, neither derived by imitation from other tribes, nor from seeds of common tradition shed from a common stock. Such resemblances have been well compared by William Grimm, [Kinder and Hausmärchen, vol. 3, 3d edition (Göttingen, 1856) a volume worthy of the utmost attention.] to those words which are found in all languages derived from the imitation of natural sounds, or, we may add, from the first lisping accents of infancy. But the case is very different when this or that object which strikes the senses is accounted for in a way so extraordinary and peculiar, as to stamp the tradition with a character of its own. Then arises a like impression on the mind, if we find the same tradition in two tribes at the opposite ends of the earth, as is produced by meeting twin brothers, one in Africa and the other in Asia; we say at once ‘I know you are so and so’s brother, you are so like him’. Take an instance: In these Norse Tales, No. xxiii, we are told how it was the bear came to have a stumpy tail, and in an African tale,  we find how it was the hyaena became tailless and earless. Now, the tailless condition both of the bear and the hyaena could scarcely fail to attract attention in a race of hunters, and we might expect that popular tradition would attempt to account for both, but how are we to explain the fact, that both Norseman and African account for it in the same way—that both owe their loss to the superior cunning of another animal. In Europe the fox bears away the palm for wit from all other animals, so he it is that persuades the bear in the Norse Tales to sit with his tail in a hole in the ice till it is fast frozen in, and snaps short off when he tries to tug it out. In Bornou, in the heart of Africa, it is the weasel who is the wisest of beasts, and who, having got some meat in common with the hyaena, put it into a hole, and said:
‘Behold two men came out of the forest, took the meat, and put it into a hole: stop, I will go into the hole, and then thou mayst stretch out thy tail to me, and I will tie the meat to thy tail for thee to draw it out’. So the weasel went into the hole, the hyaena stretched its tail out to it, but the weasel took the hyaena’s tail, fastened a stick, and tied the hyaena’s tail to the stick, and then said to the hyaena ‘I have tied the meat to thy tail; draw, and pull it out’. The hyaena was a fool, it did not know the weasel surpassed it in subtlety; it thought the meat was tied; but when it tried to draw out its tail, it was fast. When the weasel said again to it ‘Pull’, it pulled, but could not draw it out; so it became vexed, and on pulling with force, its tail broke. The tail being torn out, the weasel was no more seen by the hyaena: the weasel was hidden in the hole with its meat, and the hyaena saw it not. [Kanuri Proverbs, p. 167.]
Here we have a fact in natural history accounted for, but accounted for in such a peculiar way as shows that the races among which they are current must have derived them from some common tradition. The mode by which the tail is lost is different indeed; but the manner in which the common ground-work is suited in one case to the cold of the North, and the way in which fish are commonly caught at holes in the ice as they rise to breathe; and in the other to Africa and her pitfalls for wild beasts, is only another proof of the oldness of the tradition, and that it is not merely a copy.
Take another instance. Every one knows the story in the Arabian Nights, where the man who knows the speech of beasts laughs at something said by an ox to an ass. His wife wants to know why he laughs, and persists, though he tells her it will cost him his life if he tells her. As he doubts what to do, he hears the cock say to the house-dog ‘Our master is not wise; I have fifty hens who obey me; if he followed my advice, he’d just take a good stick, shut up his wife in a room with him, and give her a good cudgelling.’ The same story is told in Straparola  with so many variations as to show it is no copy; it is also told in a Servian popular tale, with variations of its own; and now here we find it in Bornou, as told by Kölle.
There was a servant of God who had one wife and one horse; but his wife was one-eyed, and they lived in their house. Now this servant of God understood the language of the beasts of the forest when they spoke, and of the birds of the air when they talked as they flew by. This servant of God also understood the cry of the hyaena when it arose at night in the forest, and came to the houses and cried near them; so, likewise, when his horse was hungry and neighed, he understood why it neighed, rose up, brought the horse grass, and then returned and sat down. It happened one day that birds had their talk as they were flying by above and the servant of God understood what they talked. This caused him to laugh, whereupon his wife said to him ‘What dost thou hear that thou laughest?’ He replied to his wife ‘I shall not tell thee what I hear, and why I laugh’. The woman said to her husband ‘I know why thou laughest; thou laughest at me because I am one-eyed’. The man then said to his wife ‘I saw that thou wast one-eyed before I loved thee, and before we married and sat down in our house’. When the woman heard her husband’s word she was quiet.
But once at night, as they were lying on their bed, and it was past midnight, it happened that a rat played with his wife on the top of the house and that both fell to the ground. Then the wife of the rat said to her husband ‘Thy sport is bad; thou saidst to me that thou wouldst play, but when we came together we fell to the ground, so that I broke my back’.
When the servant of God heard the talk of the rat’s wife, as he was lying on his bed, he laughed. Now, as soon as he laughed his wife arose, seized him, and said to him as she held him fast: ‘Now this time I will not let thee go out of this house except thou tell me what thou hearest and why thou laughest’. The man begged the woman, saying ‘Let me go’; but the woman would not listen to her husband’s entreaty.
The husband then tells his wife that he knows the language of beasts and birds, and she is content; but when he wakes in the morning he finds he has lost his wonderful gift; and the moral of the tale is added most ungallantly: ‘If a man shews and tells his thoughts to a woman, God will punish him for it’. Though, perhaps, it is better, for the sake of the gentler sex, that the tale should be pointed with this unfair moral, than that the African story should proceed like all the other variations, and save the husband’s gift at the cost of the wife’s skin.
Take other African instances. How is it that the wandering Bechuanas got their story of ‘The Two Brothers’, the ground-work of which is the same as ‘The Machandelboom’ and the ‘Milk-white Doo’, and where the incidents and even the words are almost the same? How is it that in some of its traits that Bechuana story embodies those of that earliest of all popular tales, recently published from an Egyptian Papyrus, coeval with the abode of the Israelites in Egypt? and how is it that that same Egyptian tale has other traits which reminds us of the Dun Bull in ‘Katie Woodencloak’, as well as incidents which are the germ of stories long since reduced to writing in Norse Sagas of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries?  How is it that we still find among the Negroes in the West Indies  a rich store of popular tales, and the Beast Epic in full bloom, brought with them from Africa to the islands of the West; and among those tales and traditions, how is it that we find a ‘Wishing Tree’, the counter-part of that in a German popular tale, and ‘a little dirty scrub of a child’, whom his sisters despise, but who is own brother to Boots in the Norse Tales, and like him outwits the Troll, spoils his substance, and saves his sisters? How is it that we find the good woman who washes the loathsome head rewarded, while the bad man who refuses to do that dirty work is punished for his pride; the very groundwork, nay the very words, that we meet in Bushy-bride, another Norse Tale? How is it that we find a Mongolian tale, which came confessedly from India, made up of two of our Norse tales, ‘Rich Peter the Pedlar’ and ‘The Giant that had no heart in his body’ [The Deeds of Bogda Gesser Chan, by I. J. Schmidt (Petersburg and Leipzig, 1839).]? How should all these things be, and how could they possibly be, except on that theory which day by day becomes more and more a matter of fact; this, that the whole human race sprung from one stock, planted in the East, which has stretched out its boughs and branches laden with the fruit of language, and bright with the bloom of song and story, by successive offshoots to the utmost parts of the earth.
And now, in the second place, for that particular branch of the Aryan race, in which this peculiar development of the common tradition has arisen, which we are to consider as ‘Norse Popular Tales’.
Whatever disputes may have existed as to the mythology of other branches of the Teutonic subdivision of the Aryan race—whatever discussions may have arisen as to the position of this or that divinity among the Franks, the Anglo-Saxons, or the Goths—about the Norsemen there can be no dispute or doubt. From a variety of circumstances, but two before all the rest—the one their settlement in Iceland, which preserved their language and its literary treasures incorrupt; the other their late conversion to Christianity—their cosmogony and mythology stands before us in full flower, and we have not, as elsewhere, to pick up and piece together the wretched fragments of a faith, the articles of which its own priests had forgotten to commit to writing, and which those of another creed had dashed to pieces and destroyed, wherever their zealous hands could reach. In the two Eddas, therefore, in the early Sagas, in Saxo’s stilted Latin, which barely conceals the popular songs and legends from which the historian drew his materials, we are enabled to form a perfect conception of the creed of the heathen Norsemen. We are enabled to trace, as has been traced by the same hand in another place [Oxford Essays for 1898: ‘The Norsemen in Iceland’.], the natural and rational development of that creed from a simple worship of nature and her powers, first to monotheism, and then to a polytheistic system. The tertiary system of Polytheism is the soil out of which the mythology of the Eddas sprang, though through it each of the older formations crops out in huge masses which admit of no mistake as to its origin. In the Eddas the natural powers have been partly subdued, partly thrust on one side, for a time, by Odin and the Aesir, by the Great Father and his children, by One Supreme and twelve subordinate gods, who rule for an appointed time, and over whom hangs an impending fate, which imparts a charm of melancholy to this creed, which has clung to the race who once believed in it long after the creed itself has vanished before the light of Christianity. According to this creed, the Aesir and Odin had their abode in Asgard, a lofty hill in the centre of the habitable earth, in the midst of Midgard, that middle earth which we hear of in early English poetry, the abode of gods and men. Round that earth, which was fenced in against the attacks of ancient and inveterate foes by a natural fortification of hills, flowed the great sea in a ring, and beyond that sea was Utgard, the outlying world, the abode of Frost Giants, and Monsters, those old-natural powers who had been dispossessed by Odin and the Aesir when the new order of the universe arose, and between whom and the new gods a feud as inveterate as that cherished by the Titans against Jupiter was necessarily kept alive. It is true indeed that this feud was broken by intervals of truce during which the Aesir and the Giants visit each other, and appear on more or less friendly terms, but the true relation between them was war; pretty much as the Norseman was at war with all the rest of the world. Nor was this struggle between two rival races or powers confined to the gods in Asgard alone. Just as their ancient foes were the Giants of Frost and Snow, so between the race of men and the race of Trolls was there a perpetual feud. As the gods were men magnified and exaggerated, so were the Trolls diminished Frost Giants; far superior to man in strength and stature, but inferior to man in wit and invention. Like the Frost Giants, they inhabit the rough and rugged places of the earth, and, historically speaking, in all probability represent the old aboriginal races who retired into the mountainous fastnesses of the land, and whose strength was exaggerated, because the intercourse between the races was small. In almost every respect they stand in the same relations to men as the Frost Giants stand to the Gods.
There is nothing, perhaps, more characteristic of a true, as compared with a false religion, than the restlessness of the one when brought face to face with the quiet dignity and majesty of the other. Under the Christian dispensation, our blessed Lord, his awful sacrifice once performed, ‘ascended up on high’, having ‘led captivity captive’, and expects the hour that shall make his foes ‘his footstool’; but false gods, Jupiter, Vishnu, Odin, Thor, must constantly keep themselves, as it were, before the eyes of men, lest they should lose respect. Such gods being invariably what the philosophers call subjective, that is to say, having no existence except in the minds of those who believe in them; having been created by man in his own image, with his own desires and passions, stand in constant need of being recreated. They change as the habits and temper of the race which adores them alter; they are ever bound to do something fresh, lest man should forget them, and new divinities usurp their place. Hence came endless avatars in Hindoo mythology, reproducing all the dreamy monstrosities of that passive Indian mind. Hence came Jove’s adventures, tinged with all the lust and guile which the wickedness of the natural man planted on a hot-bed of iniquity is capable of conceiving. Hence bloody Moloch, and the foul abominations of Chemosh and Milcom. Hence, too, Odin’s countless adventures, his journeys into all parts of the world, his constant trials of wit and strength, with his ancient foes the Frost Giants, his hair-breadth escapes. Hence Thor’s labours and toils, his passages beyond the sea, girt with his strength-belt, wearing his iron gloves, and grasping his hammer which split the skulls of so many of the Giant’s kith and kin. In the Norse gods, then, we see the Norseman himself, sublimed and elevated beyond man’s nature, but bearing about with him all his bravery and endurance, all his dash and spirit of adventure, all his fortitude and resolution to struggle against a certainty of doom which, sooner or later, must overtake him on that dread day, the ‘twilight of the gods’, when the wolf was to break loose, when the great snake that lay coiled round the world should lash himself into wrath, and the whole race of the Aesirs and their antagonists were to perish in internecine strife.
Such were the gods in whom the Norseman believed—exaggerations of himself, of all his good and all his bad qualities. Their might and their adventures, their domestic quarrels and certain doom, were sung in venerable lays, now collected in what we call the Elder, or Poetic Edda; simple majestic songs, whose mellow accents go straight to the heart through the ear, and whose simple severity never suffers us to mistake their meaning. But, besides these gods, there were heroes of the race whose fame and glory were in every man’s memory, and whose mighty deeds were in every minstrel’s mouth. Helgi, Sigmund, Sinfjötli, Sigurd, Signy, Brynhildr, Gudrun; champions and shield- maidens, henchmen and corse-choosers, now dead and gone, who sat round Odin’s board in Valhalla. Women whose beauty, woes, and sufferings were beyond those of all women; men whose prowess had never found an equal. Between these, love and hate; all that can foster passion or beget revenge. Ill assorted marriages; the right man to the wrong woman, and the wrong man to the right woman; envyings, jealousies, hatred, murders, all the works of the natural man, combine together to form that marvellous story which begins with a curse—the curse of ill-gotten gold—and ends with a curse, a widow’s curse, which drags down all on whom it falls, and even her own flesh and blood, to certain doom. Such was the theme of the wondrous Volsung Tale, the far older, simpler and grander original of that Nibelungen Need of the thirteenth century, a tale which begins with the slaughter of Fafnir by Sigurd, and ends with Hermanaric, ‘that fierce faith-breaker’, as the Anglo-Saxon minstrel calls him, when he is describing, in rapid touches, the mythic glories of the Teutonic race.
This was the story of the Volsungs. They traced themselves back, like all heroes, to Odin, the great father of gods and men. From him sprung Sigi, from him Rerir, from him Volsung, ripped from his mother’s womb after a six years’ bearing, to become the Eponymus of that famous race. In the centre of his hall grew an oak, the tall trunk of which passed through the roof, and its boughs spread far and wide in upper air. Into that hall, on a high feast day, when Signy, Volsung’s daughter, was to be given away to Siggeir, King of Gothland, strode an old one-eyed guest. His feet were bare, his hose were of knitted linen, he wore a great striped cloak, and a broad flapping hat. In his hand he bore a sword, which, at one stroke, he drove up to the hilt in the oak trunk. ‘There’, said he, ‘let him of all this company bear this sword who is man enough to pull it out. I give it him, and none shall say he ever bore a better blade.’ With these words he passed out of the hall, and was seen no more. Many tried, for that sword was plainly a thing of price, but none could stir it, till Sigmund, the best and bravest of Volsung’s sons, tried his hand, and, lo! the weapon yielded itself at once. This was that famous blade Gram, of which we shall hear again. Sigmund bore it in battle against his brother-in-law, who quarrelled with him about this very sword, when Volsung fell, and Sigmund and his ten brothers were taken and bound. All perished but Sigmund, who was saved by his sister Signy, and hidden in a wood till he could revenge his father and brethren. Here with Sinfjötli, who was at once his son and nephew, he ran as a werewolf through the forest, and wrought many wild deeds. When Sinfjötli was of age to help him, they proceed to vengeance, and burn the treacherous brother-in-law alive, with all his followers. Sigmund then regains his father’s kingdom, and in extreme old age dies in battle against the sons of King Hunding. Just as he was about to turn the fight, a warrior of more than mortal might, a one-eyed man in a blue cloak, with a flapping hat, rose up against him spear in hand. At that outstretched spear Sigmund smites with his trusty sword. It snaps in twain. Then he knows that his luck is gone; he sees in his foe Odin the giver of the sword, sinks down on the gory battle-field, and dies in the arms of Hjordis, his young wife, refusing all leechcraft, and bowing his head to Odin’s will. By the fortune of war, Hjordis, bearing a babe under her girdle, came into the hands of King Hialprek of Denmark, there she bore a son to Sigmund, Sigurd, the darling of Teutonic song and story. Regin, the king’s smith, was his foster-father, and as the boy grew up the fairest and stoutest of all the Volsungs, Regin, who was of the dwarf race, urged him day by day to do a doughty deed, and slay Fafnir the Dragon. For Fafnir, Regin, and Otter had been brothers, sons of Reidmar. In one of their many wanderings, Odin, Loki, and Haenir came to a river and a forge. There, on the bank under the forge, they saw an otter with a salmon in its mouth, which it ate greedily with its eyes shut. Loki took a stone, threw it, and killed the beast, and boasted how he had got both fish and flesh at one throw. Then the Aesir passed on and came at night to Reidmar’s house, asked a lodging, got it, and showed their spoil. ‘Seize and bind them lads’, cried Reidmar; ‘for they have slain your brother Otter’. So they were seized and bound by Regin and Fafnir, and offered an atonement to buy off the feud, and Reidmar was to name the sum. Then Otter was flayed, and the Aesir were to fill the skin with red gold, and cover it without, that not a hair could be seen. To fetch the gold Odin sent Loki down to the abodes of the Black Elves; there in a stream he caught Andvari the Dwarf, and made him give up all the gold which he had hoarded up in the stony rock. In vain the Dwarf begged and prayed that he might keep one ring, for it was the source of all his wealth, and ring after ring dropped from it. ‘No; not a penny should he have’ said Loki. Then the dwarf laid a curse on the ring, and said it should be every man’s bane who owned it. ‘So much the better’ said Loki; and when he got back, Odin saw the ring how fair it was, and kept it to himself, but gave the gold to Reidmar. So Reidmar filled the skin with gold as full as he could, and set it up on end, and Odin poured gold over it, and covered it up. But when Reidmar looked at it he saw still one grey hair, and bade them cover that too, else the atonement was at an end. Then Odin drew forth the ring and laid it over the grey hair. So the Aesir was set free, but before they went, Loki repeated the curse which Andvari had laid upon the ring and gold. It soon began to work. First, Regin asked for some of the gold, but not a penny would Reidmar give. So the two brothers laid their heads together and slew their sire. Then Regin begged Fafnir to share the gold with him. But ‘no’, Fafnir was stronger, and said he should keep it all himself, and Regin had best be off, unless he wished to fare the same way as Reidmar. So Regin had to fly, but Fafnir took a dragon’s shape; ‘and there’, said Regin, ‘he lies on the “Glistening Heath”, coiled round his store of gold and precious things, and that’s why I wish you to kill him.’ Sigurd, told Regin who was the best of smiths, to forge him a sword. Two are made, but both snap asunder at the first stroke. ‘Untrue are they like you and all your race’ cries Sigurd. Then he went to his mother and begged the broken bits of Gram, and out of them Regin forged a new blade, that clove the anvil in the smithy, and cut a lock of wool borne down upon it by a running stream. ‘Now, slay me Fafnir’, said Regin; but Sigurd must first find out King Hunding’s sons, and avenge his father Sigmund’s death. King Hialprek lends him force; by Odin’s guidance he finds them out, routs their army, and slays all those brothers. On his return, his foster-father still eggs him on to slay the Dragon, and thus to shew that there was still a Volsung left. So, armed with Gram, and mounted on Gran, his good steed, whom Odin had taught him how to choose, Sigurd rode to the ‘Glistening Heath’, dug a pit in the Dragon’s path, and slew him as he passed over him down to drink at the river. Then Regin came up, and the old feeling of vengeance for a brother’s blood grew strong, and as an atonement, Sigurd was to roast Fafnir’s heart, and carry it to Regin, who swilled his fill of the Dragon’s blood, and lay down to sleep. But as Sigurd roasted the heart, and wondered if it would soon be done, he tried it with his finger to see if it were soft. The hot roast burned his finger, and he put it into his mouth, and tasted the life-blood of the Dragon. Then in a moment he understood the song of birds, and heard how the swallows over his head said one to the other, ‘There thou sittest, Sigurd, roasting Fafnir’s heart. Eat it thyself and become the wisest of men.’ Then another said ‘There lies Regin, and means to cheat him who trusts him.’ Then a third said ‘Let Sigurd cut off his head then, and so own all the gold himself.’ Then Sigurd went to Regin and slew him, and ate the heart, and rode on Gran to Fafnir’s lair, and took the spoil and loaded his good steed with it, and rode away.
And now Sigurd was the most famous of men. All the songs and stories of the North made him the darling of that age. They dwell on his soft hair, which fell in great locks of golden brown, on his bushy beard of auburn hue, his straight features, his ruddy cheeks, his broad brow, his bright and piercing eye, of which few dared to meet the gaze, his taper limbs and well knit joints, his broad shoulders, and towering height. ‘So tall he was, that as he strode through the full- grown rye, girt with Gram, the tip of the scabbard just touched the ears of corn.’ Ready of tongue too, and full of forethought. His great pleasure was to help other men, and to do daring deeds; to spoil his foes, and give largely to his friends. The bravest man alive, and one that never knew fear. On and on he rode, till on a lone fell he saw a flickering flame, and when he reached it, there it flamed and blazed all round a house. No horse but Gran could ride that flame; no man alive but Sigurd sit him while he leaped through it. Inside the house lay a fair maiden, armed from head to foot, in a deep sleep. Brynhildr, Atli’s sister, was her name, a Valkyrie, a corse-chooser; but out of wilfulness she had given the victory to the wrong side, and Odin in his wrath had thrust the horn of sleep into her cloak, and laid her under a curse to slumber there till a man bold enough to ride through that flame came to set her free, and win her for his bride. So then she woke up, and taught him all runes and wisdom, and they swore to love each other with a mighty oath, and then Sigurd left her and rode on.
So on he rode to King Giuki’s hall, Giuki the Niflung, King of Frankland, whose wife was Grimhildr, whose sons were Gunnar and Hogni, whose stepson was Guttorm, and whose daughter was the fair Gudrun. Here at first he was full of Brynhildr, and all for going back to fetch his lovely bride from the lone fell. But Grimhildr was given to dark arts; she longed for the brave Volsung for her own daughter, she brewed him the philtre of forgetfulness, he drained it off, forgot Brynhildr, swore a brother’s friendship with Gunnar and Hogni, and wedded the fair Gudrun. But now Giuki wanted a wife for Gunnar, and so off set the brothers and their bosom friend to woo, but whom should they choose but Brynhildr, Atli’s sister, who sat there still upon the fell, waiting for the man who was bold enough to ride through the flickering flame. She knew but one could do it, and waited for that one to come back. So she had given out whoever could ride that flame should have her to wife. So when Gunnar and Hogni reached it, Gunnar rode at it, but his horse, good though it was, swerved from the fierce flame. Then by Grimhild’s magic arts, Sigurd and Gunnar changed shapes and arms, and Sigurd leapt up on Gran’s back, and the good steed bore him bravely through the flame. So Brynhildr the proud maiden was won and forced to yield. That evening was their wedding; but when they lay down to rest, Sigurd unsheathed his keen sword Gram, and laid it naked between them. Next morning when he arose, he took the ring which Andvari had laid under the curse, and which was among Fafnir’s treasures, and gave it to Brynhildr as a ‘morning gift’, and she gave him another ring as a pledge. Then Sigurd rode back to his companions and took his own shape again, and then Gunnar went and claimed Brynhildr, and carried her home as his bride. But no sooner was Gunnar wedded, than Sigurd’s eyes were opened, and the power of the philtre passed away, he remembered all that had passed, and the oath he had sworn to Brynhildr. All this came back upon him when it was too late, but he was wise and said nothing about it. Well, so things went on, till one day Brynhildr and Gudrun went down to the river to wash their hair. Then Brynhildr waded out into the stream as far as she could, and said she wouldn’t have on her head the water that streamed from Gudrun’s; for hers was the braver husband. So Gudrun waded out after her, and said the water ought to come on her hair first, because her husband bore away the palm from Gunnar, and every other man alive, for he slew Fafnir and Regin and took their inheritance. ‘Aye’, said Brynhildr, ‘but it was a worthier deed when Gunnar rode through the flame, but Sigurd dared not try!’ Then Gudrun laughed, and said ‘Thinkst thou that Gunnar really rode the flame? I trow he went to bed with thee that night, who gave me this gold ring. And as for that ring yonder which you have on your finger, and which you got as your “morning-gift”; its name is Andvari’s-spoil, and that I don’t think Gunnar sought on the “Glistening Heath”‘. Then Brynhildr held her peace and went home, and her love for Sigurd came back, but it was turned to hate, for she felt herself betrayed. Then she egged on Gunnar to revenge her wrong. At last the brothers yielded to her entreaties, but they were sworn brothers to Sigurd, and to break that oath by deed was a thing unheard of. Still they broke it in spirit; by charms and prayers they set on Guttorm their half-brother, and so at dead of night, while Gudrun held the bravest man alive fast locked in her white arms, the murderer stole to the bedside and drove a sword through the hero. Then Sigurd turned and writhed, and as Guttorm fled he hurled Gram after him, and the keen blade took him asunder at the waist, and his head fell out of the room and his heels in, and that was the end of Guttorm. But with revenge Brynhildr’s love returned, and when Sigurd was laid upon the pile her heart broke; she burst forth into a prophetic song of the woes that were still to come, made them lay her by his side with Gram between them, and so went to Valhalla with her old lover. Thus Andvari’s curse was fulfilled.
Gudrun, the weary widow, wandered away. After a while, she accepts atonement from her brothers for her husband’s loss, and marries Atli, the Hun King, Brynhildr’s brother. He cherished a grudge against Giuki’s sons for the guile they had practised against their brother- in-law, which had broken his sister’s heart, and besides he claimed, in right of Gudrun, all the gold which Sigurd won from the Dragon, but which the Niflung Princes had seized when he was slain. It was in vain to attack them in fair fight, so he sent them a friendly message, and invited them to a banquet; they go, and are overpowered. Hogni’s heart is cut out of him alive, but he still smiles; Gunnar is cast into a pit full of snakes, but even then charms them to sleep with his harp, all but one, that flies at his heart and stings him to death. With them perished the secret of the Dragon’s hoard, which they had thrown into the Rhine as they crossed it on the way to Hunland. Now comes horror on horror. Revenge for her brothers now belongs to Gudrun; she slays with her own hand her two sons by Atli, makes him eat their flesh, and drink their blood out of their skulls, and, while the king slept sound, slew him in his bed by the help of her brother Hogni’s son. Then she set the hall a-blaze, and burnt all that were in it. After that she went to the sea-shore, and threw herself in to drown. But the deep will not have her, the billows bear her over to King Jonakr’s land. He marries her, and has three sons by her, Saurli, Hamdir, and Erp, black-haired as ravens, like all the Niflungs. Svanhild, her daughter by Sigurd, who had her father’s bright and terrible eyes, she has still with her, now grown up to be the fairest of women. So when Hermanaric the mighty, the great Gothic king, heard of Svanhild’s beauty, he sent his son Randver to woo her for him, but Bikki the False said to the youth: ‘Better far were this maiden for thee than for thy old father’; and the maiden and the prince thought it good advice. Then Bikki went and told the king, and Hermanaric bade them take and hang Randver at once. So on his way to the gallows, the prince took his hawk and plucked off all its feathers, and sent it to his father. But when his sire saw it, he knew at once that, as the hawk was featherless and unable to fly, so was his realm defenceless under an old and sonless king. Too late he sent to stop the hanging; his son was already dead. So one day as he rode back from hunting, he saw fair Svanhild washing her golden locks, and it came into his heart how there she sat, the cause of all his woe; and he and his men rode at her and over her, and their steeds trampled her to death. But when Gudrun heard this, she set on her three Niflung sons to avenge their sister. Byrnies and helms she gave them so true that no sword would bite on them. They were to steal on Hermanaric as he slept; Saurli was to cut off his hands, Hamdir his feet, and Erp his head. So as the three went along, the two asked Erp what help he would give them when they got to Hermanaric. ‘Such as hand lends to foot’ he said. ‘No help at all’ they cried; and passing from words to blows, and because their mother loved Erp best, they slew him. A little further on Saurli stumbled and fell forward, but saved himself with one hand, and said ‘Here hand helps foot: better were it that Erp lived.’ So they came on Hermanaric as he slept, and Saurli hewed off his hands, and Hamdir his feet, but he awoke and called for his men. Then said Hamdir: ‘Were Erp alive, the head would be off, and he couldn’t call out.’ Then Hermanaric’s men arose and took the twain, and when they found that no steel would touch them, an old one-eyed man gave them advice to stone them to death. Thus fell Saurli and Hamdir, and soon after Gudrun died too, and with her ends the Volsung and the Niflung tale.
And here it is worth while to say, since some minds are so narrowly moulded as to be incapable of containing more than one idea, that because it has seemed a duty to describe in its true light the old faith of our forefathers, it by no means follows that the same eyes are blind to the glorious beauty of Greek Mythology. That had the rare advantage of running its course free and unfettered until it fell rather by natural decay than before the weapon of a new belief. The Greeks were Atheists before they became Christian. Their faith had passed through every stage. We can contemplate it as it springs out of the dim misshapen symbol, during that phase when men’s eyes are fixed more on meaning and reality than on beauty and form, we can mark how it gradually looks more to symmetry and shape, how it is transfigured in the Arts, until, under that pure air and bright sky, the glowing radiant figures of Apollo and Aphrodite, of Zeus and Athene—of perfect man-worship and woman-worship, stand out clear and round in the foreground against the misty distance of ancient times. Out of that misty distance the Norseman’s faith never emerged. What that early phase of faith might have become, had it been once wedded to the Muses, and learnt to cultivate the Arts, it is impossible to say. As it is, its career was cut short in mid-course. It carried about with it that melancholy presentiment of dissolution which has come to be so characteristic of modern life, but of which scarce a trace exists in ancient times, and this feeling would always have made it different from that cheerful carelessness which so attracts us in the Greeks; but even that downcast brooding heart was capable of conceiving great and heroic thoughts, which it might have clothed in noble shapes and forms, had not the axe of Providence cut down the stately sapling in the North before it grew to be a tree, while it spared the pines of Delphi and Dodona’s sacred oaks, until they had attained a green old age. And so this faith remained rude and rough; but even rudeness has a simplicity of its own, and it is better to be rough and true-hearted than polished and false. In all the feelings of natural affection, that faith need fear no comparison with any other upon earth. In these respects it is firm and steadfast as a rock, and pure and bright as a living spring. The highest God is a father, who protects his children; who gives them glory and victory while they live, and when they die, takes them to himself; to those fatherly abodes Death was a happy return, a glorious going home. By the side of this great father stands a venerable goddess, dazzling with beauty, the great mother of gods and men. Hand in hand this divine pair traverse the land; he teaching the men the use of arms and all the arts of war,—for war was then as now a noble calling, and to handle arms an honourable, nay necessary, profession. To the women she teaches domestic duties and the arts of peace; from her they learn to weave, and sew, and spin; from her, too, the husbandman learns to till his fields. From him springs poetry and song; from her legend and tradition. Nor should it ever be forgotten that the footsteps of Providence are always onward, even when they seem taken in the dark, and that their rude faith was the first in which that veneration for woman arose, which the Western nations may well claim as the brightest jewel in their crown of civilization; that while she was a slave in the East, a toy to the Greeks, and a housewife to the Romans, she was a helpmeet to the Teuton, and that those stern warriors recognized something divine in her nature, and bowed before her clearer insight into heavenly mysteries. The worship of the Virgin Mary was gradually developed out of this conception of woman’s character, and would have been a thing absurd and impossible, had Christianity clung for ever to Eastern soil. And now to proceed, after thus turning aside to compare the mythology of the Greek with the faith of the Norseman. The mistake is to favour one or the other exclusively instead of respecting and admiring both; but it is a mistake which those only can fall into, whose souls are narrow and confined, who would say this thing and this person you shall love, and none other; this form and feature you shall worship and adore, and this alone; when in fact the whole promised land of thought and life lies before us at our feet, our nature encourages us to go in and possess it, and every step we make in this new world of knowledge brings us to fresh prospects of beauty, and to new pastures of delight.
Such were the gods, and such the heroes of the Norseman; who, like his own gods, went smiling to death under the weight of an inevitable destiny. But that fate never fell on their gods. Before this subjective mythological dream of the Norsemen could be fulfilled, the religious mist in which they walked was scattered by the sunbeams of Christianity. A new state and condition of society arose, and the creed which had satisfied a race of heathen warriors, who externally were at war with all the world, became in time an object of horror and aversion to the converted Christian. This is not the place to describe the long struggle between the new and the old faith in the North; how kings and queens became the foster-fathers and nursing- mothers of the Church; how the great chiefs, each a little king in himself, scorned and derided the whole scheme as altogether weak and effeminate; how the bulk of the people were sullen and suspicious, and often broke out into heathen mutiny; how kings rose and kings fell, just as they took one or the other side; and how, finally, after a contest which had lasted altogether more than three centuries, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden—we run them over in the order of conversion—became faithful to Christianity, as preached by the missionaries of the Church of Rome. One fact, however, we must insist on, which might be inferred, indeed, both from the nature of the struggle itself, and the character of Rome; and that is, that throughout there was something in the process of conversion of the nature of a compromise—of what we may call the great principle of ‘give and take’. In all Christian churches, indeed, and in none so much as the Church of Rome, nothing is so austere, so elevating, and so grand, as the uncompromising tone in which the great dogmas of the Faith are enunciated and proclaimed. Nothing is more magnificent, in short, than the theory of Christianity; but nothing is more mean and miserable than the time-serving way in which those dogmas are dragged down to the dull level of daily life, and that sublime theory reduced to ordinary practice. At Rome, it was true that the Pope could congratulate the faithful that whole nations in the barbarous and frozen North had been added to the true fold, and that Odin’s grim champions now universally believed in the gospel of peace and love. It is so easy to dispose of a doubtful struggle in a single sentence, and so tempting to believe it when once written. But in the North, the state of things, and the manner of proceeding, were entirely different. There the dogma was proclaimed, indeed; but the manner of preaching it was not in that mild spirit with which the Saviour rebuked the disciple when he said ‘Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’ There the sword was used to bring converts to the font, and the baptism was often one rather of blood than of water. There the new converts perpetually relapsed, chased away the missionaries and the kings who sheltered them, and only yielded at last to the overwhelming weight of Christian opinion in the Western world. St Olof, king and martyr, martyred in pitched battle by his mutinous allodial freemen, because he tried to drive rather than to lead them to the cross; and another Olof, greater than he, Olof Tryggvason, who fell in battle against the heathen Swedes, were men of blood rather than peace; but to them the introduction of the new faith into Norway is mainly owing. So also Charlemagne, at an earlier period, had dealt with the Saxons at the Main Bridge, when his ultimatum was ‘Christianity or death’. So also the first missionary to Iceland—who met, indeed, with a sorry reception—was followed about by a stout champion named Thangbrand, who, whenever there was what we should now call a missionary meeting, challenged any impugner of the new doctrines to mortal combat on the spot. No wonder that, after having killed several opponents in the little tour which he made with his missionary friend through the island, it became too hot to hold him, and he, and the missionary, and the new creed, were forced to take ship and sail back to Norway.
‘Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little’, was the motto of Rome in her dealings with the heathen Norsemen, and if she suited herself at first rather to their habits and temper than to those of more enlightened nations, she had an excuse in St Paul’s maxim of making herself ‘all things to all men.’ Thus, when a second attempt to Christianize Iceland proved more successful—for in the meantime, King Olof Tryggvason, a zealous Christian, had seized as hostages all the Icelanders of family and fame who happened to be in Norway, and thus worked on the feelings of the chiefs of those families at home, who in their turn bribed the lawman who presided over the Great Assembly to pronounce in favour of the new Faith—even then the adherents of the old religion were allowed to perform its rites in secret, and two old heathen practices only were expressly prohibited, the exposure of infants and the eating of horseflesh, for horses were sacred animals, and the heathen ate their flesh after they had been solemnly sacrificed to the gods. As a matter of fact, it is far easier to change a form of religion than to extirpate a faith. The first indeed is no easy matter, as those students of history well know who are acquainted with the tenacity with which a large proportion of the English nation clung to the Church of Rome, long after the State had declared for the Reformation. But to change the faith of a whole nation in block and bulk on the instant, was a thing contrary to the ordinary working of Providence and unknown even in the days of miracles, though the days of miracles had long ceased when Rome advanced against the North. There it was more politic to raise a cross in the grove where the Sacred Tree had once stood, and to point to the sacred emblem which had supplanted the old object of national adoration, when the populace came at certain seasons with songs and dances to perform their heathen rites. Near the cross soon rose a church; and both were girt by a cemetery, the soil of which was doubly sacred as a heathen fane and a Christian sanctuary, and where alone the bodies of the faithful could repose in peace. But the songs and dances, and processions in the church-yard round the cross, continued long after Christianity had become dominant. So also the worship of wells and springs was christianized when it was found impossible to prevent it. Great churches arose over or near them, as at Walsingham, where an abbey, the holiest place in England, after the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury, threw its majestic shade over the heathen wishing-well, and the worshippers of Odin and the Nornir were gradually converted into votaries of the Virgin Mary. Such practices form a subject of constant remonstrance and reproof in the treatises and penitential epistles of medieval divines, and in some few places and churches, even in England, such rites are still yearly celebrated. 
So, too, again with the ancient gods. They were cast down from honour, but not from power. They lost their genial kindly influence as the protectors of men and the origin of all things good; but their existence was tolerated; they became powerful for ill, and degenerated into malignant demons. Thus the worshippers of Odin had supposed that at certain times and rare intervals the good powers shewed themselves in bodily shape to mortal eye, passing through the land in divine progress, bringing blessings in their train, and receiving in return the offerings and homage of their grateful votaries. But these were naturally only exceptional instances; on ordinary occasions the pious heathen recognized his gods sweeping through the air in cloud and storm, riding on the wings of the wind, and speaking in awful accents, as the tempest howled and roared, and the sea shook his white mane and crest. Nor did he fail to see them in the dust and din of battle, when Odin appeared with his terrible helm, succouring his own, striking fear into their foes, and turning the day in many a doubtful fight; or in the hurry and uproar of the chase, where the mighty huntsman on his swift steed, seen in glimpses among the trees, took up the hunt where weary mortals laid it down, outstripped them all, and brought the noble quarry to the ground. Looking up to the stars and heaven, they saw the footsteps of the gods marked out in the bright path of the Milky Way; and in the Bear they hailed the war-chariot of the warrior’s god. The great goddesses, too, Frigga and Freyja, were thoroughly old-fashioned domestic divinities. They help women in their greatest need, they spin themselves, they teach the maids to spin, and punish them if the wool remains upon their spindle. They are kind, and good, and bright, for Holda, Bertha, are the epithets given to them. And so, too, this mythology which, in its aspect to the stranger and the external world, was so ruthless and terrible, when looked at from within and at home, was genial, and kindly, and hearty, and affords another proof that men, in all ages and climes, are not so bad as they seem; that after all, peace and not war is the proper state for man, and that a nation may make war on others and exist; but that unless it has peace within, and industry at home, it must perish from the face of the earth. But when Christianity came, the whole character of this goodly array of divinities was soured and spoilt. Instead of the stately procession of the God, which the intensely sensuous eye of man in that early time connected with all the phenomena of nature, the people were led to believe in a ghastly grisly band of ghosts, who followed an infernal warrior or huntsman in hideous tumult through the midnight air. No doubt, as Grimm rightly remarks [D. M., p. 900: Wütendes Heer], the heathen had fondly fancied that the spirits of those who had gone to Odin followed him in his triumphant progress either visibly or invisibly; that they rode with him in the whirlwind, just as they followed him to battle, and feasted with him in Valhalla; but now the Christian belief, when it had degraded the mighty god into a demon huntsman, who pursued his nightly round in chase of human souls, saw in the train of the infernal master of the hunt only the spectres of suicides, drunkards, and ruffians; and, with all the uncharitableness of a dogmatic faith, the spirits of children who died unbaptized, whose hard fate had thrown them into such evil company. This was the way in which that wide-spread superstition arose, which sees in the phantoms of the clouds the shapes of the Wild Huntsman and his accursed crew, and hears, in spring and autumn nights, when sea-fowl take the wing to fly either south or north, the strange accents and uncouth yells with which the chase is pressed on in upper air. Thus, in Sweden it is still Odin who passes by; in Denmark it is King Waldemar’s Hunt; in Norway it is Aaskereida, that is Asgard’s Car; in Germany, it is Wode, Woden, or Hackelberend, or Dieterich of Bern; in France it is Hellequin, or King Hugo, or Charles the Fifth, or, dropping a name altogether, it is Le Grand Veneur who ranges at night through the Forest of Fontainebleau. Nor was England without her Wild Huntsman and his ghastly following. Gervase of Tilbury, in the twelfth century, could tell it of King Arthur, round whose mighty name the superstition settled itself, for he had heard from the foresters how, ‘on alternate days, about the full of the moon, one day at noon, the next at midnight when the moon shone bright, a mighty train of hunters on horses was seen, with baying hounds and blast of horns; and when those hunters were asked of whose company and household they were, they replied “of Arthur’s”.’ We hear of him again in The Complaynt of Scotland, that curious composition attributed by some to Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount in Fife, and of Gilmerton in East Lothian, pp. 97, 98, where he says:
Arthur knycht, he raid on nycht,
With gyldin spur and candil lycht.
Nor should we forget, when considering this legend, that story of
Herne the Hunter, who
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns;
And there he blasts the trees, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
Merry Wives of Windsor, act. iv, sc. 4.
And even yet, in various parts of England, the story of some great man, generally a member of one of the county families, who drives about the country at night, is common. Thus, in Warwickshire, it is the ‘One-handed Boughton’, who drives about in his coach and six, and makes the benighted traveller hold gates open for him; or it is ‘Lady Skipwith’, who passes through the country at night in the same manner. This subject might be pursued to much greater length, for popular tradition is full of such stories; but enough has been said to show how the awful presence of a glorious God can be converted into a gloomy superstition; and, at the same time, how the majesty of the old belief strives to rescue itself by clinging, in the popular consciousness, to some king or hero, as Arthur or Waldemar, or, failing that, to some squire’s family, as Hackelberend, or the ‘one- handed Boughton’, or even to the Keeper Herne.
Odin and the Aesir then were dispossessed and degraded by our Saviour and his Apostles, just as they had of old thrown out the Frost Giants, and the two are mingled together, in medieval Norse tradition, as Trolls and Giants, hostile alike to Christianity and man. Christianity had taken possession indeed, but it was beyond her power to kill. To this half-result the swift corruption of the Church of Rome lent no small aid. Her doctrines, as taught by Augustine and Boniface, by Anschar and Sigfrid, were comparatively mild and pure; but she had scarce swallowed the heathendom of the North, much in the same way as the Wolf was to swallow Odin at the ‘Twilight of the Gods’, than she fell into a deadly lethargy of faith, which put it out of her power to digest her meal. Gregory the Seventh, elected pope in 1073, tore the clergy from the ties of domestic life with a grasp that wounded every fibre of natural affection, and made it bleed to the very root. With the celibacy of the clergy he established the hierarchy of the church, but her labours as a missionary church were over. Henceforth she worked not by missionaries and apostles, but by crusades and bulls. Now she raised mighty armaments to recover the barren soil of the Holy Sepulchre, or to annihilate heretic Albigenses. Now she established great orders, Templars and Hospitallers, whose pride and luxury, and pomp, brought swift destruction on one at least of those fraternities. Now she became feudal,—she owned land instead of hearts, and forgot that the true patrimony of St Peter was the souls of men. No wonder that, with the barbarism of the times, she soon fulfilled the Apostle’s words, ‘She that liveth in luxury is dead while she liveth’, and became filled with idle superstitions and vain beliefs. No wonder, then, that instead of completing her conquest over the heathen, and carrying out their conversion, she became half heathen herself; that she adopted the tales and traditions of the old mythology, which she had never been able to extirpate, and related them of our Lord and his Apostles. No wonder, then, that having abandoned her mission of being the first power of intelligence on earth, she fell like Lucifer when the mist of medieval feudalism rolled away, and the light of learning and education returned—fell before the indignation of enlightened men, working upon popular opinion. Since which day, though she has changed her plans, and remodelled her superstitions to suit the times, she has never regained the supremacy which, if she had been wise in a true sense, she seemed destined to hold for ever.
NORSE POPULAR TALES
The preceding observations will have given a sufficient account of the mythology of the Norsemen, and of the way in which it fell. They came from the East, and brought that common stock of tradition with them. Settled in the Scandinavian peninsula, they developed themselves through Heathenism, Romanism, and Lutheranism, in a locality little exposed to foreign influence, so that even now the Daleman in Norway or Sweden may be reckoned among the most primitive examples left of peasant life. We should expect, then, that these Popular Tales, which, for the sake of those ignorant in such matters, it may be remarked, had never been collected or reduced to writing till within the last few years, would present a faithful picture of the national consciousness, or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, of that half consciousness out of which the heart of any people speaks in its abundance. Besides those world-old affinities and primaeval parallelisms, besides those dreamy recollections of its old home in the East, which we have already pointed out, we should expect to find its later history, after the great migration, still more distinctly reflected; to discover heathen gods masked in the garb of Christian saints; and thus to see a proof of our assertion above, that a nation more easily changes the form than the essence of its faith, and clings with a toughness which endures for centuries to what it has once learned to believe.
In all mythologies, the trait of all others which most commonly occurs, is that of the descent of the Gods to earth, where, in human form, they mix among mortals, and occupy themselves with their affairs, either out of a spirit of adventure, or to try the hearts of men. Such a conception is shocking to the Christian notion of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God, but we question if there be not times when the most pious and perfect Christian may not find comfort and relief from a fallacy which was a matter of faith in less enlightened creeds, and over which the apostle, writing to the Hebrews, throws the sanction of his authority, so far as angels are concerned. [Heb., xiii, 1: ‘Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’]
Nor could he have forgotten those words of the men of Lystra, ‘The Gods are come down to us in the likeness of men’; and how they called ‘Barnabas Jupiter’, and himself Mercury, ‘because he was the chief speaker.’ Classical mythology is full of such stories. These wanderings of the Gods are mentioned in the Odyssey, and the sanctity of the rites of hospitality, and the dread of turning a stranger from the door, took its origin from a fear lest the wayfaring man should be a Divinity in disguise. According to the Greek story, Orion owed his birth to the fact that the childless Hyrieus, his reputed father, had once received unawares Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes, or, to call them by their Latin names, Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury. In the beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis, Jupiter and Mercury reward the aged couple who had so hospitably received them by warning them of the approaching deluge. The fables of Phaedrus and Aesop represent Mercury and Demeter as wandering and enjoying the hospitality of men. In India it is Brahma and Vishnu who generally wander. In the Edda, Odin, Loki, and Hoenir thus roam about, or Thor, Thialfi, and Loki. Sometimes Odin appears alone as a horseman, who turns in at night to the smith’s house, and gets him to shoe his horse, a legend which reminds us at once of the Master-smith.  Sometimes it is Thor with his great hammer who wanders thus alone.
Now, let us turn from heathen to Christian times, and look at some of these old legends of wandering gods in a new dress. Throughout the Middle Age, it is our blessed Lord and St Peter that thus wander, and here we see that half-digested heathendom to which we have alluded. Those who may be shocked at such tales in this collection as ‘the Master-Smith’ and ‘Gertrude’s Bird’, must just remember that these are almost purely heathen traditions, in which the names alone are Christian; and if it be any consolation to any to know the fact, we may as well state at once that this adaptation of new names to old beliefs is not peculiar to the Norsemen, but is found in all the popular tales of Europe. Germany was full of them, and there St Peter often appears in a snappish ludicrous guise, which reminds the reader versed in Norse mythology of the tricks and pranks of the shifty Loki. In the Norse tales he thoroughly preserves his saintly character.
Nor was it only gods that walked among men. In the Norse mythology, Frigga, Odin’s wife, who knew beforehand all that was to happen, and Freyja, the goddess of love and plenty, were prominent figures, and often trod the earth; the three Norns or Fates, who sway the wierds of men, and spin their destinies at Mimirs’ well of knowledge, were awful venerable powers, to whom the heathen world looked up with love and adoration and awe. To that love and adoration and awe, throughout the middle age, one woman, transfigured into a divine shape, succeeded by a sort of natural right, and round the Virgin Mary’s blessed head a halo of lovely tales of divine help, beams with soft radiance as a crown bequeathed to her by the ancient goddesses. She appears as divine mother, spinner, and helpful virgin (vierge sécourable). Flowers and plants bear her name. In England one of our commonest and prettiest insects is still called after her, but which belonged to Freyja, the heathen ‘Lady’, long before the western nations had learned to adore the name of the mother of Jesus.   Footnote: So also Orion’s Belt was called by the Norsemen, Frigga’s spindle or rock, Friggjar rock. In modern Swedish, Friggerock, where the old goddess holds her own; but in Danish, Mariaerock, Our Lady’s rock or spindle. Thus, too, Karlavagn, the ‘car of men’, or heroes, who rode with Odin, which we call ‘Charles’ Wain’, thus keeping something, at least, of the old name, though none of its meaning, became in Scotland ‘Peter’s-pleugh’, from the Christian saint, just as Orion’s sword became ‘Peter’s-staff’. But what do ‘Lady Landers’ and ‘Lady Ellison’ mean, as applied to the ‘Lady-Bird’ in Scotland?
The reader of these Tales will meet, in that of ‘the Lassie and her Godmother’, No. xxvii, with the Virgin Mary in a truly mythic character, as the majestic guardian of sun, moon and stars, combined with that of a helpful, kindly woman, who, while she knows how to punish a fault, knows also how to reconcile and forgive.
The Norseman’s god was a god of battles, and victory his greatest gift to men; but this was not the only aspect under which the Great Father was revered. Not victory in the fight alone, but every other good gift came down from him and the Aesir. Odin’s supreme will was that treasure-house of bounty towards which, in one shape or the other, all mortal desires turned, and out of its abundance showers of mercy and streams of divine favour constantly poured down to refresh the weary race of men. All these blessings and mercies, nay, their very source itself, the ancient language bound up in a single word, which, however expressive it may still be, has lost much of the fulness of its meaning in its descent to these later times. This word was ‘Wish’, which originally meant the perfect ideal, the actual fruition of all joy and desire, and not, as now, the empty longing for the object of our desires. From this original abstract meaning, it was but a step to pass to the concrete, to personify the idea, to make it an immortal essence, an attribute of the divinity, another name for the greatest of all Gods himself. And so we find a host of passages in early writers, [D. M., p. 126 fol., where they are cited at length.] in every one of which ‘God’ or ‘Odin’ might be substituted for ‘Wish’ with perfect propriety. Here we read how ‘The Wish’ has hands, feet, power, sight, toil, and art. How he works and labours, shapes and masters, inclines his ear, thinks, swears, curses, and rejoices, adopts children, and takes men into his house; behaves, in short, as a being of boundless power and infinite free- will. Still more, he rejoices in his own works as in a child, and thus appears in a thoroughly patriarchal point of view, as the Lord of creation, glorying in his handiwork, as the father of a family in early times was glad at heart when he reckoned his children as arrows in his quiver, and beheld his house full of a long line of retainers and dependants. For this attribute of the Great Father, for Odin as the God of Wish, the Edda uses the word ‘Oski’ which literally expresses the masculine personification of ‘Wish’, and it passed on and added the works wish, as a prefix to a number of others, to signify that they stood in a peculiar relation to the great giver of all good. Thus we have oska-steinn, wishing-stone, i.e. a stone which plays the part of a divining rod, and reveals secrets and hidden treasure; oska-byrr, a fair wind, a wind as fair as man’s heart could wish it; osk-barn and oska-barn, a child after one’s own heart, an adopted child, as when the younger Edda tells us that all those who die in battle are Odin’s choice- bairns, his adopted children, those on whom he has set his heart, an expression which, in their turn, was taken by the Icelandic Christian writers to express the relation existing between God and the baptized; and, though last, not least, oska-maer, wish- maidens, another name for the Valkyries—Odin’s corse-choosers—who picked out the dead for him on the field of battle, and waited on the heroes in Valhalla. Again, the Edda is filled with ‘choice things’, possessing some mysterious power of their own, some ‘virtue’, as our older English would express it, which belong to this or that god, and are occasionally lent or lost. Thus, Odin himself had a spear which gave victory to those on whose side it was hurled; Thor, a hammer which destroyed the Giants, hallowed vows, and returned of itself to his hand. He had a strength-belt, too, which, when he girded it on, his god-strength waxed one-half; Freyr had a sword which wielded itself; Freyja a necklace which, like the cestus of Venus, inspired all hearts with love; Freyr, again, had a ship called Skithblathnir.
She is so great, that all the Aesir, with their weapons and war
gear, may find room on board her; and as soon as the sail is set,
she has a fair wind whither she shall go; and when there is no need
of faring on the sea in her, she is made of so many things, and
with so much craft, that Freyr may fold her together like a cloth,
and keep her in his bag.
[Snorro’s Edda, Stockholm, 1842, translated by the writer.]
Of this kind, too, was the ring ‘Dropper’ which Odin had, and from which twelve other rings dropped every night; the apples which Idun, one of the goddesses, had, and of which, so soon as the Aesir ate, they became young again; the helm which Oegir, the sea giant had, which struck terror into all antagonists like the Aegis of Athene; and that wonderful mill which the mythical Frodi owned, of which we shall shortly speak.
Now, let us see what traces of this great god ‘Wish’ and his choice- bairns and wishing-things we can find in these Tales, faint echoes of a mighty heathen voice, which once proclaimed the goodness of the great Father in the blessings which he bestowed on his chosen sons. We shall not have long to seek. In tale No. xx, when Shortshanks meets those three old crookbacked hags who have only one eye, which he snaps up, and gets first a sword ‘that puts a whole army to flight, be it ever so great’, we have the ‘one-eyed Odin’, degenerated into an old hag, or rather—by no uncommon process—we have an old witch fused by popular tradition into a mixture of Odin and the three Nornir. Again, when he gets that wondrous ship ‘which can sail over fresh water and salt water, and over high hills and deep dales,’ and which is so small that he can put it into his pocket, and yet, when he came to use it, could hold five hundred men, we have plainly the Skith-blathnir of the Edda to the very life. So also in the Best Wish, No. xxxvi, the whole groundwork of this story rests on this old belief; and when we meet that pair of old scissors which cuts all manner of fine clothes out of the air, that tablecloth which covers itself with the best dishes you could think of, as soon as it was spread out, and that tap which, as soon as it was turned, poured out the best of mead and wine, we have plainly another form of Frodi’s wishing-quern—another recollection of those things of choice about which the old mythology has so much to tell. Of the same kind are the tablecloth, the ram, and the stick in ‘the Lad who went to the North Wind’, No. xxxiv, and the rings in ‘the Three Princesses of Whiteland’, No. xxvi, and in ‘Soria Moria Castle’, No. lvi. In the first of those stories, too, we find those ‘three brothers’ who have stood on a moor ‘these hundred years fighting about a hat, a cloak, and a pair of boots’, which had the virtue of making him who wore them invisible; choice things which will again remind the reader of the Nibelungen Lied, of the way in which Siegfried became possessed of the famous hoard of gold, and how he got that ‘cap of darkness’ which was so useful to him in his remaining exploits. So again in ‘the Blue Belt’, No. xxii, what is that belt which, when the boy girded it on, ‘he felt as strong as if he could lift the whole hill’, but Thor’s ‘choice-belt’; and what is the daring boy himself, who overcomes the Troll, but Thor himself, as engaged in one of his adventures with the Giants? So, too, in ‘Little Annie the Goose- girl’, No. lix, the stone which tells the Prince all the secrets of his brides is plainly the old Oskastein, or ‘wishing-stone’. These instances will suffice to show the prolonged faith in ‘Wish’, and his choice things; a belief which, though so deeply rooted in the North, we have already traced to its home in the East, whence it stretches itself from pole to pole, and reappears in every race. We recognize it in the wishing-cap of Fortunatus, which is a Celtic legend; in the cornucopia of the Romans; in the goat Amalthea among the Greeks; in the wishing-cow and wishing-tree of the Hindoos; in the pumpkin-tree of the West Indian Ananzi stories; in the cow of the Servian legends, who spins yarn out of her ear; in the Sampo of the Finns; and in all those stories of cups, and glasses, and horns, and rings, and swords, seized by some bold spirit in the midst of a fairy revel, or earned by some kind deed rendered by mortal hand to one of the ‘good folk’ in her hour of need, and with which the ‘luck‘ [See the well- known story of ‘The Luck of Eden Hall’.] of that mortal’s house was ever afterwards bound up; stories with which the local traditions of all lands are full, but which all pay unconscious homage to the worship of that great God, to whom so many heathen hearts so often turned as the divine realizer of their prayers, and the giver of all good things, until they come at last to make an idol out of their hopes and prayers, and to immortalize the very ‘Wish’ itself.
Again, of all beliefs, that in which man has, at all times of his history, been most prone to set faith, is that of a golden age of peace and plenty, which had passed away, but which might be expected to return. Such a period was looked for when Augustus closed the temple of Janus, and peace, though perhaps not plenty, reigned over what the proud Roman called the habitable world. Such a period the early Christian expected when the Saviour was born, in the reign of that very Augustus; and such a period some, whose thoughts are more set on earth than heaven, have hoped for ever since, with a hope which, though deferred for eighteen centuries, has not made their hearts sick. Such a period of peace and plenty, such a golden time, the Norseman could tell of in his mythic Frodi’s reign, when gold or Frodi’s meal, as it was called, was so plentiful that golden armlets lay untouched from year’s end to year’s end on the king’s highway, and the fields bore crops unsown. Here, in England, the Anglo-Saxon Bede [Hist., ii, 16.] knew how to tell the same story of Edwin, the Northumbrian King, and when Alfred came to be mythic, the same legend was passed on from Edwin to the West Saxon monarch. The remembrance of ‘the bountiful Frodi’ echoed in the songs of German poets long after the story which made him so bountiful had been forgotten; but the Norse Skalds could tell not only the story of Frodi’s wealth and bounty, but also of his downfall and ruin. In Frodi’s house were two maidens of that old giant race, Fenja and Menja. These daughters of the giant he had bought as slaves, and he made them grind his quern or hand-mill, Grotti, out of which he used to grind peace and gold. Even in that golden age one sees there were slaves, and Frodi, however bountiful to his thanes and people, was a hard task-master to his giant hand-maidens. He kept them to the mill, nor gave them longer rest than the cuckoo’s note lasted, or they could sing a song. But that quern was such that it ground anything that the grinder chose, though until then it had ground nothing but gold and peace. So the maidens ground and ground, and one sang their piteous tale in a strain worthy of Aeschylus as the other worked— they prayed for rest and pity, but Frodi was deaf. Then they turned in giant mood, and ground no longer peace and plenty, but fire and war. Then the quern went fast and furious, and that very night came Mysing the Sea-rover, and slew Frodi and all his men, and carried off the quern; and so Frodi’s peace ended. The maidens the sea-rover took with him, and when he got on the high seas he bade them grind salt. So they ground; and at midnight they asked if he had not salt enough, but he bade them still grind on. So they ground till the ship was full and sank, Mysing, maids, and mill, and all, and that’s why the sea is salt [nor. Ed. Skaldsk., ch. 43.]. Perhaps of all the tales in this volume, none could be selected as better proving the toughness of a traditional belief than No. ii, which tells ‘Why the Sea is Salt’.
The notion of the Arch-enemy of God and man, of a fallen angel, to whom power was permitted at certain times for an all-wise purpose by the Great Ruler of the universe, was as foreign to the heathendom of our ancestors as his name was outlandish and strange to their tongue. This notion Christianity brought with it from the East; and though it is a plant which has struck deep roots, grown distorted and awry, and borne a bitter crop of superstition, it required all the authority of the Church to prepare the soil at first for its reception. To the notion of good necessarily follows that of evil. The Eastern mind, with its Ormuzd and Ahriman, is full of such dualism, and from that hour, when a more than mortal eye saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven [St Luke, x, 18.], the kingdom of darkness, the abode of Satan and his bad spirits, was established in direct opposition to the kingdom of the Saviour and his angels. The North had its own notion on this point. Its mythology was not without its own dark powers; but though they too were ejected and dispossessed, they, according to that mythology, had rights of their own. To them belonged all the universe that had not been seized and reclaimed by the younger race of Odin and Aesir; and though this upstart dynasty, as the Frost Giants in Promethean phrase would have called it, well knew that Hel, one of this giant progeny, was fated to do them all mischief, and to outlive them, they took her and made her queen of Niflheim, and mistress over nine worlds. There, in a bitterly cold place, she received the souls of all who died of sickness or old age; care was her bed, hunger her dish, starvation her knife. Her walls were high and strong, and her bolts and bars huge; ‘Half blue was her skin, and half the colour of human flesh. A goddess easy to know, and in all things very stern and grim.’ [Snor. Edda, ch. 34, Engl. Transl.]
But though severe, she was not an evil spirit. She only received those who died as no Norseman wished to die. For those who fell on the gory battle-field, or sank beneath the waves, Valhalla was prepared, and endless mirth and bliss with Odin. Those went to Hel, who were rather unfortunate than wicked, who died before they could be killed. But when Christianity came in and ejected Odin and his crew of false divinities, declaring them to be lying gods and demons, then Hel fell with the rest; but fulfilling her fate, outlived them. From a person she became a place, and all the Northern nations, from the Goth to the Norseman, agreed in believing Hell to be the abode of the devil and his wicked spirits, the place prepared from the beginning for the everlasting torments of the damned. One curious fact connected with this explanation of Hell’s origin will not escape the reader’s attention. The Christian notion of Hell is that of a place of heat, for in the East, whence Christianity came, heat is often an intolerable torment, and cold, on the other hand, everything that is pleasant and delightful. But to the dweller in the North, heat brings with it sensations of joy and comfort, and life without fire has a dreary outlook; so their Hel ruled in a cold region over those who were cowards by implication, while the mead-cup went round, and huge logs blazed and crackled in Valhalla, for the brave and beautiful who had dared to die on the field of battle. But under Christianity the extremes of heat and cold have met, and Hel, the cold uncomfortable goddess, is now our Hell, where flames and fire abound, and where the devils abide in everlasting flame.
Still, popular tradition is tough, and even after centuries of Christian teaching, the Norse peasant, in his popular tales, can still tell of Hell as a place where fire-wood is wanted at Christmas, and over which a certain air of comfort breathes, though, as in the goddess Hel’s halls, meat is scarce. The following passage from ‘Why the Sea is Salt’, No. ii, will sufficiently prove this:
‘Well, here is the flitch’, said the rich brother, ‘and now go straight to Hell.’
‘What I have given my word to do, I must stick to’ said the other; so he took the flitch and set off. He walked the whole day, and at dusk he came to a place where he saw a very bright light.
‘Maybe this is the place’ said the man to himself. So he turned aside, and the first thing he saw was an old, old man, with a long white beard, who stood in an outhouse, hewing wood for the Christmas fire.
‘Good even,’ said the man with the flitch.
‘The same to you; whither are you going so late?’ said the man.
‘Oh! I’m going to Hell, if I only knew the right way,’ answered the poor man.
‘Well, you’re not far wrong, for this is Hell,’ said the old man; ‘When you get inside they will be all for buying your flitch, for meat is scarce in Hell; but mind you don’t sell it unless you get the hand-quern which stands behind the door for it. When you come out, I’ll teach you how to handle the quern, for it’s good to grind almost anything.’
This, too, is the proper place to explain the conclusion of that intensely heathen tale, ‘the Master-Smith’, No. xvi. We have already seen how the Saviour and St Peter supply, in its beginning, the place of Odin and some other heathen god. But when the Smith sets out with the feeling that he has done a silly thing in quarrelling with the Devil, having already lost his hope of heaven, this tale assumes a still more heathen shape. According to the old notion, those who were not Odin’s guests went either to Thor’s house, who had all the thralls, or to Freyja, who even claimed a third part of the slain on every battle-field with Odin, or to Hel, the cold comfortless goddess already mentioned, who was still no tormentor, though she ruled over nine worlds, and though her walls were high, and her bolts and bars huge; traits which come out in ‘the Master-Smith’, No. xvi, when the Devil, who here assumes Hel’s place, orders the watch to go back and lock up all the nine locks on the gates of Hell—a lock for each of the goddesses nine worlds—and to put a padlock on besides. In the twilight between heathendom and Christianity, in that half Christian half heathen consciousness, which this tale reveals, heaven is the preferable abode, as Valhalla was of yore, but rather than be without a house to one’s head after death, Hell was not to be despised; though, having behaved ill to the ruler of one, and actually quarrelled with the master of the other, the Smith was naturally anxious on the matter. This notion of different abodes in another world, not necessarily places of torment, comes out too in ‘Not a Pin to choose between them’, No. xxiv, where Peter, the second husband of the silly Goody, goes about begging from house to house in Paradise.
For the rest, whenever the Devil appears in these tales, it is not at all as the Arch-enemy, as the subtle spirit of the Christian’s faith, but rather as one of the old Giants, supernatural and hostile indeed to man, but simple and easily deceived by a cunning reprobate, whose superior intelligence he learns to dread, for whom he feels himself no match, and whom, finally, he will receive in Hell at no price. We shall have to notice some other characteristics of this race of giants a little further on, but certainly no greater proof can be given of the small hold which the Christian Devil has taken of the Norse mind, than the heathen aspect under which he constantly appears, and the ludicrous way in which he is always outwitted.
We have seen how our Lord and the saints succeeded to Odin and his children in the stories which told of their wanderings on earth, to warn the wicked, or to help the good; we have seen how the kindliness and helpfulness of the ancient goddesses fell like a royal mantle round the form of the Virgin Mary. We have seen, too, on the other hand, how the procession of the Almighty God degenerated into the infernal midnight hunt. We have now to see what became of the rest of the power of the goddesses, of all that might which was not absorbed into the glory of the blessed Virgin. We shall not have far to seek. No reader of early medieval chronicles and sermons, can fail to have been struck with many passages which ascribe majesty and power to beings of woman’s sex. Now it is a heathen goddess as Diana; now some half-historical character as Bertha; now a mythical being as Holda; now Herodias; now Satia; now Domina Abundia, or Dame Habonde .
A very short investigation will serve to identify the two ancient goddesses Frigga and Freyja with all these leaders of a midnight host. Just as Odin was banished from day to darkness, so the two great heathen goddesses, fused into one ‘uncanny’ shape, were supposed to ride the air at night. Medieval chroniclers, writing in bastard Latin, and following the example of classical authors, when they had to find a name for this demon-goddess, chose, of course, Diana the heathen huntress, the moon-goddess, and the ruler of the night. In the same way, when they threw Odin’s name into a Latin shape, he, the god of wit and will, as well as power and victory, became Mercury. As for Herodias—not the mother, but the daughter who danced—she must have made a deep impression on the mind of the early Middle Age, for she was supposed to have been cursed after the beheading of John the Baptist, and to have gone on dancing for ever. When heathendom fell, she became confounded with the ancient Goddesses, and thus we find her, sometimes among the crew of the Wild Huntsman, sometimes, as we see in the passages below, in company with, or in the place of Diana, Holda, Satia, and Abundia, at the head of a bevy of women, who met at certain places to celebrate unholy rites and mysteries. As for Holda, Satia, and Abundia, ‘the kind’, ‘the satisfying’, and ‘the abundant’, they are plainly names of good rather than evil powers; they are ancient epithets drawn from the bounty of the ‘Good Lady’, and attest the feeling of respect which still clung to them in the popular mind. As was the case whenever Christianity was brought in, the country folk, always averse to change, as compared with the more lively and intelligent dwellers in towns, still remained more or less heathen,  and to this day they preserve unconsciously many superstitions which can be traced up in lineal descent to their old belief. In many ways does the old divinity peep out under the new superstition—the long train, the midnight feast, ‘the good lady’ who presides, the bounty and abundance which her votaries fancied would follow in her footsteps, all belong to the ancient Goddess. Most curious of all is the way in which all these traditions from different countries insist on the third part of the earth, the third child born, the third soul as belonging to the ‘good lady’, who leads the revel; for this right of a third, or even of a half, was one which Freyja possessed. ‘But Freyja is most famous of the Asynjor. She has that bower in heaven hight Fólkvángr, and ‘whithersoever she rideth to the battle, there hath she one half of the slain; but Odin the other half.’ Again ‘when she fares abroad, she drives two cats and sits in a car, and she lends an easy ear to the prayers of men.’ [Snorro’s Edda, Dasent’s Translation, pp. 29 (Stockholm 1842).]
We have got then the ancient goddesses identified as evil influences, and as the leader of a midnight band of women, who practised secret and unholy rites. This leads us at once to witchcraft. In all ages and in all races this belief in sorcery has existed. Men and women practised it alike, but in all times female sorcerers have predominated.  This was natural enough. In those days women were priestesses; they collected drugs and simples; women alone knew the virtues of plants. Those soft hands spun linen, made lint, and bound wounds. Women in the earliest times with which we are acquainted with our forefathers, alone knew how to read and write, they only could carve the mystic runes, they only could chant the charms so potent to allay the wounded warrior’s smart and pain. The men were busy out of doors with ploughing, hunting, barter, and war. In such an age the sex which possessed by natural right book-learning, physic, soothsaying, and incantation, even when they used these mysteries for good purposes, were but a step from sin. The same soft white hand that bound the wound and scraped the lint; the same gentle voice that sung the mystic rune, that helped the child-bearing woman, or drew the arrow-head from the dying champion’s breast; the same bright eye that gazed up to heaven in ecstacy through the sacred grove and read the will of the Gods when the mystic tablets and rune-carved lots were cast—all these, if the will were bad, if the soothsayer passed into the false prophetess, the leech into a poisoner, and the priestess into a witch, were as potent and terrible for ill as they had once been powerful for good. In all the Indo-European tribes, therefore, women, and especially old women, have practised witchcraft from the earliest times, and Christianity found them wherever it advanced. But Christianity, as it placed mankind upon a higher platform of civilization, increased the evil which it found, and when it expelled the ancient goddesses, and confounded them as demons with Diana and Herodias, it added them and their votaries to the old class of malevolent sorcerers. There was but one step, but a simple act of the will, between the Norn and the hag, even before Christianity came in. As soon as it came, down went Goddess, Valkyrie, Norn, priestess, and soothsayer, into that unholy deep where the heathen hags and witches had their being; and, as Christianity gathered strength, developed its dogmas, and worked out its faith; fancy, tradition, leechcraft, poverty, and idleness, produced that unhappy class, the medieval witch, the persecution of which is one of the darkest pages in religious history.
It is curious indeed to trace the belief in witches through the Middle Age, and to mark how it increases in intensity and absurdity. At first, as we have seen in the passages quoted, the superstition seemed comparatively harmless, and though the witches themselves may have believed in their unholy power, there were not wanting divines who took a common-sense view of the matter, and put the absurdity of their pretensions to a practical proof. Such was that good parish priest who asked, when an old woman of his flock insisted that she had been in his house with the company of ‘the Good Lady’, and had seen him naked and covered him up, ‘How, then, did you get in when all the doors were locked?’ ‘We can get in,’ she said, ‘even if the doors are locked.’ Then the priest took her into the chancel of the church, locked the door, and gave her a sound thrashing with the pastoral staff, calling out ‘Out with you, lady witch.’ But as she could not, he sent her home, saying ‘See now how foolish you are to believe in such empty dreams’. 
But as the Church increased in strength, as heresies arose, and consequent persecution, then the secret meetings of these sectarians, as we should now call them, were identified by the hierarchy with the rites of sorcery and magic, and with the relics of the worship of the old gods. By the time, too, that the hierarchy was established, that belief in the fallen angel, the Arch-Fiend, the Devil, originally so foreign to the nations of the West, had become thoroughly ingrafted on the popular mind, and a new element of wickedness and superstition was introduced at those unholy festivals. About the middle of the thirteenth century, we find the mania for persecuting heretics invading the tribes of Teutonic race from France and Italy, backed by all the power of the Pope. Like jealousy, persecution too often makes the meat it feeds on, and many silly, if not harmless, superstitions were rapidly put under the ban of the Church. Now the ‘Good Lady’ and her train begin to recede, they only fill up the background while the Prince of Darkness steps, dark and terrible, in front, and soon draws after him the following of the ancient goddess. Now we hear stories of demoniac possession; now the witches adore a demon of the other sex. With the male element, and its harsher, sterner nature, the sinfulness of these unholy assemblies is infinitely increased; folly becomes guilt, and guilt crime. 
From the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century the history of Europe teems with processes against witches and sorcerers. Before the Reformation it reached its height, in the Catholic world, with the famous bull of Innocent the Eighth in 1484, the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, the first of the long list of witch-finding books, and the zeal with which the State lent all the terrors of the law to assist the ecclesiastical inquisitors. Before the tribunals of those inquisitors, in the fifteenth century, innumerable victims were arraigned on the double charge of heresy and sorcery—for the crimes ran in couples, both being children and sworn servants of the Devil. Would that the historian could say that with the era of the Reformation these abominations ceased. The Roman Hierarchy, with her bulls and inquisitors, had sown a bitter crop, which both she and the Protestant Churches were destined to reap; but in no part of the world were the labourers more eager and willing, when the fields were ‘black’ to harvest, than in those very reformed communities which had just shaken off the yoke of Rome, and which had sprung in many cases from the very heretics whom she had persecuted and burnt, accusing them at the same time, of the most malignant sorceries. 
Their excuse is, that no one is before his age. The intense personality given to the Devil in the Middle Age had possessed the whole mind of Europe. We must take them as we find them, with their bright fancy, their earnest faith, their stern fanaticism, their revolting superstition, just as when we look upon a picture we know that those brilliant hues and tones, that spirit which informs the whole, could never be, were it not for the vulgar earths and oil out of which the glorious work of art is mixed and made. Strangely monotonous are all the witch trials of which Europe has so many to show. At first the accused denies, then under torture she confesses, then relapses and denies; tortured again she confesses again, amplifies her story, and accuses others. When given to the stake, she not seldom asserts all her confessions to be false, which is ascribed to the power which the fiend still has over her. Then she is burnt and her ashes given to the winds. Those who wish to read one unexampled, perhaps for barbarity and superstition, and more curious than the rest from the prominence given in it to a man, may find it in the trial of Dr. Fian, the Scotch wizard, “which doctor was register to the Devil, that sundry times preached at North Baricke (North Berwick, in East Lothian) Kirke, to a number of notorious witches.”  But we advise no one to venture on a perusal of this tract who is not prepared to meet with the most unutterable accusations and crimes, the most cruel tortures, and the most absurd confessions, followed as usual by the stoutest denial of all that had been confessed; when torture had done her worst on poor human nature, and the soul re-asserted at the last her supremacy over the body.  One characteristic of all these witch trials, is the fact, that in spite of their unholy connection and intrigues with the Evil One, no witch ever attained to wealth and station by the aid of the Prince of Darkness. The pleasure to do ill, is all the pleasure they feel. This fact alone might have opened the eyes of their persecutors, for if the Devil had the worldly power which they represented him to have, he might at least have raised some of his votaries to temporal rank, and to the pomps and the vanities of this world. An old German proverb expresses this notorious fact, by saying, that ‘every seven years, a witch is three halfpence richer’; and so with all the unholy means of Hell at their command, they dragged out their lives, along with their black cats, in poverty and wretchedness. To this fate at last, came the worshippers of the great goddess Freyja, whom our forefathers adored as the goddess of love and plenty; and whose car was drawn by those animals which popular superstition has ever since assigned to the ‘old witch’ of our English villages.
The North was not free, any more than the rest of the Protestant world, from this direful superstition, which ran over Europe like a pestilence in the sixteenth century. In Sweden especially, the witches and their midnight ridings to Blokulla, the black hill, gave occasion to processes as absurd and abominable as the trial of Dr. Fian and the witch-findings of Hopkins. In Denmark, the sorceresses were supposed to meet at Tromsoe high up in Finmark, or even on Heckla in Iceland. The Norse witches met at a Blokolle of their own, or on the Dovrefell, or at other places in Norway or Finmark. As might be expected, we find many traces of witchcraft in these Tales, but it may be doubted whether these may not be referred rather to the old heathen belief in such arts still lingering in the popular mind than to the processes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which were far more a craze and mania of the educated classes acting under a mistaken religious fanaticism against popular superstitions than a movement arising from the mass of the community. Still, in ‘the Mastermaid’, No. xi, the witch of a sister-in-law, who had rolled the apple over to the Prince, and so charmed him, was torn to pieces between twenty-four horses. The old queen in ‘The Lassie and her Godmother’, No. xxvii, tries to persuade her son to have the young queen burnt alive for a wicked witch, who was dumb, and had eaten her own babes. In ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, No. iv, it is a wicked stepmother who has bewitched the prince. In ‘Bushy Bride’, No. xlv, the ugly bride charms the king to sleep, and is at last thrown, with her wicked mother, into a pit full of snakes. In the ‘Twelve Wild Ducks’, No. viii, the wicked stepmother persuades the king that Snow-white and Rosy-red is a witch, and almost persuades him to burn her alive. In ‘Tatterhood’, No. xlvii, a whole troop of witches come to keep their revels on Christmas eve in the Queen’s Palace, and snap off the young Princess’s head. It is hard, indeed, in tales where Trolls play so great a part, to keep witch and Troll separate; but the above instances will show that the belief in the one, as distinct from the other, exists in the popular superstitions of the North.
The frequent transformation of men into beasts, in these tales, is another striking feature. This power the gods of the Norseman possessed in common with those of all other mythologies. Europa and her Bull, Leda and her Swan, will occur at once to the reader’s mind; and to come to closer resemblances, just as Athene appears in the Odyssey as an eagle or a swallow perched on the roof of the hall [Od., iii, 372; and xxii, 239], so Odin flies off as a falcon, and Loki takes the form of a horse or bird. This was only part of that omnipotence which all gods enjoy. But the belief that men, under certain conditions, could also take the shape of animals, is primaeval, and the traditions of every race can tell of such transformations. Herodotus had heard how the Neurians, a Slavonic race, passed for wizards amongst the Scythians and the Greeks settled round the Black Sea, because each of them, once in the year, became a wolf for a few days, and then returned to his natural shape. Pliny, Pomponius Mela, and St. Augustin, in his great treatise, De Civitate Dei, tell the same story, and Virgil, in his Eclogues, has sung the same belief . The Latins called such a man, a turnskin—versipellis, an expression which exactly agrees with the Icelandic expression for the same thing, and which is probably the true original of our turncoat. In Petronius the superstition appears in its full shape, and is worth repeating. At the banquet of Trimalchion, Nicoros gives the following account of the turn-skins of Nero’s time:
It happened that my master was gone to Capua to dispose of some second-hand goods. I took the opportunity and persuaded our guest to walk with me to the fifth milestone. He was a valiant soldier, and a sort of grim water-drinking Pluto. About cock-crow, when the moon was shining as bright as mid-day, we came among the monuments. My friend began addressing himself to the stars, but I was rather in a mood to sing or to count them; and when I turned to look at him, lo! he had already stripped himself and laid down his clothes near him. My heart was in my nostrils, and I stood like a dead man; but he ‘circumminxit vestimenta‘, and on a sudden became a wolf. Do not think I jest; I would not lie for any man’s estate. But to return to what I was saying. When he became a wolf, he began howling, and fled into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, and afterwards, when I went to take up his clothes, they were turned into stone. Who then died with fear but I? Yet I drew my sword, and went cutting the air right and left, till I reached the villa of my sweetheart. I entered the court-yard. I almost breathed my last, the sweat ran down my neck, my eyes were dim, and I thought I should never recover myself. My Melissa wondered why I was out so late, and said to me: ‘Had you come sooner you might at least have helped us, for a wolf has entered the farm, and worried all our cattle; but he had not the best of the joke, for all he escaped, for our slave ran a lance through his neck.’ When I heard this, I could not doubt how it was, and, as it was clear daylight, ran home as fast as a robbed innkeeper. When I came to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone, I could find nothing except blood. But when I got home, I found my friend the soldier in bed, bleeding at the neck like an ox, and a doctor dressing his wound. I then knew he was a turn-skin, nor would I ever have broke bread with him again; No, not if you had killed me. 
A man who had such a gift or greed was also called lycanthropus, a man-wolf or wolf-man, which term the Anglo-Saxons translated literally in Canute’s Laws verevulf, and the early English werewolf. In old French he was loupgarou, which means the same thing; except that garoumeans man-wolf in itself without the antecedent loup, so that, as Madden observes, the whole word is one of those reduplications of which we have an example in lukewarm. In Brittany he was bleizgarou and denvleiz, formed respectively from bleiz, wolf, and den, man; garou is merely a distorted form of wer or vere, man and loup. In later French the word became waroul, whence the Scotch wrout, wurl, and worlin. 
It was not likely that a belief so widely spread should not have extended itself to the North; and the grave assertions of Olaus Magnus in the sixteenth century, in his Treatise De Gentibus Septentrionalibus, show how common the belief in were-wolves was in Sweden so late as the time of Gustavus Vasa. In mythical times the Volsunga Saga [Fornald Sog, i, 130, 131.] expressly states of Sigmund and Sinfjötli that they became were-wolves—which, we may remark, were Odin’s sacred beasts—just in the same way as Brynhildr and the Valkyries, or corse-choosers, who followed the god of battles to the field, and chose the dead for Valhalla when the fight was done, became swan-maidens, and took the shape of swans. In either case, the wolf’s skin or the swan’s feathery covering was assumed and laid aside at pleasure, though the Völundr Quidr, in the Edda, and the stories of ‘The Fair Melusina’, and other medieval swan-maidens, show that any one who seized that shape while thus laid aside, had power over its wearer. In later times, when this old heroic belief degenerated into the notion of sorcery, it was supposed that a girdle of wolfskin thrown over the body, or even a slap on the face with a wolfskin glove, would transform the person upon whom the sorcerer practised into the shape of a ravening wolf, which fled at once to the woods, where he remained in that shape for a period which varied in popular belief for nine days, three, seven, or nine years. While in this state he was especially ravenous after young children, whom he carried off as the were-wolf carried off William in the old romance, though all were-wolves did not treat their prey with the same tenderness as that were-wolf treated William.
But the favourite beast for Norse transformations in historic times, if we may judge from the evidence afforded by the Sagas, was the bear, the king of all their beasts, whose strength and sagacity made him an object of great respect [See Landnama in many places. Egil’s Sag., Hrolf Krak. Sag.].
This old belief, then, might be expected to be found in these Norse Tales, and accordingly we find men transformed in them into various beasts. Of old these transformations, as we have already stated, were active, if we may use the expression, as well as passive. A man who possessed the gift, frequently assumed the shape of a beast at his own will and pleasure, like the soldier in Petronius. Even now in Norway, it is matter of popular belief that Finns and Lapps, who from time immemorial have passed for the most skilful witches and wizards in the world, can at will assume the shape of bears; and it is a common thing to say of one of those beasts, when he gets unusually savage and daring, ‘that can be no Christian bear’. On such a bear, in the parish of Oföden, after he had worried to death more than sixty horses and six men, it is said that a girdle of bearskin, the infallible mark of a man thus transformed, was found when he was at last tracked and slain. The tale called ‘Farmer Weathersky’, No. xli in this collection, shows that the belief of these spontaneous transformations still exists in popular tradition, where it is easy to see that Farmer Weathersky is only one of the ancient gods degraded into a demon’s shape. His sudden departure through the air, horse, sledge, and lad, and all, and his answer ‘I’m at home, alike north, and south, and east, and west’; his name itself, and his distant abode, surrounded with the corpses of the slain, sufficiently betray the divinity in disguise. His transformation, too, into a hawk answers exactly to that of Odin when he flew away from the Frost Giant in the shape of that bird. But in these tales such transformations are for the most part passive; they occur not at the will of the person transformed, but through sorcery practised on them by some one else. Thus the White Bear in the beautiful story of ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, No. iv, is a Prince transformed by his stepmother, just as it is the stepmother who plays the same part in the romance of William and the Were-wolf. So the horse in ‘the Widow’s Son’, No. xliv, is a Prince over whom a king has cast that shape.  So also in ‘Lord Peter’, No. xlii, which is the full story of what we have only hitherto known in part as ‘Puss in Boots’, the cat is a princess bewitched by the Troll who had robbed her of her lands; so also in ‘The Seven Foals’, No. xliii, and ‘The Twelve Wild Ducks’, No. viii, the Foals and the Ducks are Princes over whom that fate has come by the power of a witch or a Troll, to whom an unwary promise had been given. Thoroughly mythic is the trait in ‘The Twelve Wild Ducks’, where the youngest brother reappears with a wild duck’s wing instead of his left arm, because his sister had no time to finish that portion of the shirt, upon the completion of which his retransformation depended.
But we should ill understand the spirit of the Norsemen, if we supposed that these transformations into beasts were all that the national heart has to tell of beasts and their doings, or that, when they appear, they do so merely as men-beasts, without any power or virtue of their own. From the earliest times, side by side with those productions of the human mind which speak of the dealings of men with men, there has grown up a stock of traditions about animals and their relations with one another, which forms a true Beast Epic, and is full of the liveliest traits of nature. Here, too, it was reserved for Grimm to restore these traditions to their true place in the history of the human mind, and show that the poetry which treats of them is neither satirical nor didactic, though it may contain touches of both these artificial kinds of composition, but, on the contrary, purely and intensely natural. It is Epic, in short, springing out of that deep love of nature and close observation of the habits of animals which is only possible in an early and simple stage of society. It used to be the fashion, when these Beast traditions were noticed, to point to Aesop as their original, but Grimm has sufficiently proved [Reinhart Fuchs, Introduction] that what we see in Aesop is only the remains of a great world-old cycle of such traditions which had already, in Aesop’s day, been subjected by the Greek mind to that critical process which a late state of society brings to bear on popular traditions; that they were then already worn and washed out and moralized. He had also shown how the same process went on till in Phaedrus nothing but the dry bones of the traditions, with a drier moral, are served up to the reader; and he has done justice on La Fontaine, who wrote with all the wanton licentiousness of his day, and frittered away the whole nature of his fables by the frivolity of his allusions to the artificial society of his time. Nor has he spared Lessing, who, though he saw through the poverty of Phaedrus as compared with Aesop, and was alive to the weakness of La Fontaine, still wandered about in the classical mist which hung heavy over the learning of the eighteenth century, and saw in the Greek form the perfection of all fable, when in Aesop it really appears in a state of degeneracy and decay. Here too, as in so many other things, we have a proof that the world is older than we think it. The Beast-Fables in the Pantcha Tantra and the Hitopadesa, the Indian parallels to Aesop, reveal, in the connection in which they occur, and in the moral use to which they are put, a state of society long past that simple early time in which such fictions arise. They must have sprung up in the East in the very dawn of time; and thence travelling in all directions, we find them after many centuries in various shapes, which admit of no mistake as to their first origin, at the very ends of the earth, in countries as opposite as the Poles to each other; in New Zealand and Norway, in Central Africa and Servia, in the West Indies and in Mongolia; all separated by immense tracts of land or sea from their common centre. To the earnest inquirer, to one who believes that many dark things may yet be solved, it is very satisfactory to see that even Grimm, in his Reynard the Fox, is at a loss to understand why the North, properly so called, had none of the traditions which the Middle Age moulded into that famous Beast-Epic. But since then the North, as the Great Master himself confesses in his later works, has amply avenged herself for the slight thus cast upon her by mistake. In the year 1834, when Grimm thus expressed his surprise on this point, the North had no such traditions to show in books indeed, but she kept them stored up in her heart in an abundance with which no other land perhaps can vie. This book at least shows how natural it seems to the Norse mind now, and how much more natural of course it seemed in earlier times, when sense went for as much and reflection for so little, that beasts should talk; and how truly and faithfully it has listened and looked for the accents and character of each. The Bear is still the King of Beasts, in which character he appears in ‘True and Untrue’, No. i, but here, as in Germany, he is no match for the Fox in wit. Thus Reynard plays him a trick which condemns him for ever to a stumpy tail in No. xxiii. He cheats him out of his share of a firkin of butter in No. lvii. He is preferred as Herdsman, in No. x, before either Bear or Wolf, by the old wife who wants some one to tend her flock. Yet all the while he professes immense respect for the Bear, and calls him ‘Lord’, even when in the very act of outwitting him. In the tale called ‘Well Done and Ill Paid’, No. xxxviii, the crafty fox puts a finish to his misbehaviour to his ‘Lord Bruin’, by handing him over, bound hand and foot, to the peasant, and by causing his death outright. Here, too, we have an example, which we shall see repeated in the case of the giants, that strength and stature are not always wise, and that wit and wisdom never fail to carry the day against mere brute force. Another tale, however, restores the bear to his true place as the king of beasts, endowed not only with strength, but with something divine and terrible about him which the Trolls cannot withstand. This is ‘The Cat on the Dovrefell’, No. xii. In connection with which, it should be remembered that the same tradition existed in the thirteenth century in Germany,[Grimm, Irisch. Elfenm., 114-9, and D. M., 447.] that the bear is called familiarly grandfather in the North, and that the Lapps reckon him rather as akin to men than beasts; that they say he has the strength of ten and the wit of twelve men. If they slay him, they formally beg his pardon, as do also the Ostjaks, a tribe akin to the Lapps, and bring him to their huts with great formalities and mystic songs. To the Wolf, whose nickname is ‘Graylegs’,  these tales are more complimentary. He is not the spiteful, stupid, greedy Isengrim of Germany and France. Not that Isengrim, of whom old English fables of the thirteenth century tell us that he became a monk, but when the brethren wished to teach him his letters that he might learn the paternoster, all they could get out of him was lamb, lamb; nor could they ever get him to look to the cross, for his eyes, with his thoughts, ‘were ever to the woodward’. [Douce, Illust. to Shakspeare, ii, 33, 344, quoted in Reinhart Fuchs, ccxxi.] He appears, on the contrary, in ‘The Giant who had no Heart in his body’, No. ix, as a kindly grateful beast, who repays tenfold out of the hidden store of his supernatural sagacity the gift of the old jade, which Boots had made over to him.
The horse was a sacred animal among the Teutonic tribes from the first moment of their appearance in history, and Tacitus [Germania, 9, 10.] has related, how in the shade of those woods and groves which served them for temples, white horses were fed at the public cost, whose backs no mortal man crossed, whose neighings and snortings were carefully watched as auguries and omens, and who were thought to be conscious of divine mysteries. In Persia, too, the classical reader will remember how the neighing of a horse decided the choice for the crown. Here, in England, at any rate, we have only to think of Hengist and Horsa, the twin-heroes of the Anglo-Saxon migration, as the legend ran—heroes whose name meant ‘horse’—and of the vale of the White Horse in Berks., where the sacred form still gleams along the down, to be reminded of the sacredness of the horse to our forefathers. The Eddas are filled with the names of famous horses, and the Sagas contain many stories of good steeds, in whom their owners trusted and believed as sacred to this or that particular god. Such a horse is Dapplegrim in No. xl, of these tales, who saves his master out of all his perils, and brings him to all fortune, and is another example of that mysterious connection with the higher powers which animals in all ages have been supposed to possess.
Such a friend, too, to the helpless lassie is the Dun Bull in ‘Katie Woodencloak’, No. 1, out of whose ear comes the ‘Wishing Cloth’, which serves up the choicest dishes. The story is probably imperfect, as we should expect to see him again in human shape after his head was cut off, and his skin flayed; but, after being the chief character up to that point, he remains from that time forth in the background, and we only see him darkly in the man who comes out of the face of the rock and supplies the lassie’s wants when she knocks on it. Dun, or blue, or mouse-colour, is the favourite colour for fairy kine. Thus the cow which Guy of Warwick killed was dun. The Huldror in Norway have large flocks of blue kine. In Scotland runs the story of the mouse-coloured Elfin Bull. In Iceland the colour of such kine is apalgrár, dapple grey. This animal has been an object of adoration and respect from the earliest times, and we need only remind our readers of the sanctity of cows and bulls among the Indians and Egyptians, of ‘the Golden Calf’ in the Bible; of Io and her wanderings from land to land; and, though last, not least, of Audhumla, the Mythic Cow in the Edda, who had so large a part in the creation of the first Giant in human forms. [Snorro’s Edda, ch. vi, English translation.]
The dog, to which, with all his sagacity and faithfulness something unclean and impure clings, as Grimm well observes, plays no very prominent part in these Tales.  We find him, however, in ‘Not a Pin to choose between them’, No. xxiv, where his sagacity fails to detect his mistress; and, as ‘the foe of his own house’, the half- bred foxy hound, who chases away the cunning Fox in ‘Well Done and Ill Paid’, No. xxxviii. Still he, too, in popular superstition, is gifted with a sense of the supernatural; he howls when death impends, and in ‘Buttercup’, No. xviii, it is Goldtooth, their dog, who warns Buttercup and his mother of the approach of the old hag. In ‘Bushy Bride’, No. xlv, he appears only as the lassie’s lap-dog, is thrown away as one of her sacrifices, and at last goes to the wedding in her coach; yet in that tale he has something weird about him, and he is sent out by his mistress three times to see if the dawn is coming.
In one Tale, No. xxxvii, the Goat appears in full force, and dashes out the brains of the Troll, who lived under the bridge over the burn. In another, ‘Tatterhood’, No. xlviii, he helps the lassie in her onslaught on the witches. He, too, was sacred to Thor in the old mythology, and drew his thundering car. Here something of the divine nature of his former lord, who was the great foe of all Trolls, seems to have been passed on in popular tradition to the animal who had seen so many adventures with the great God who swayed the thunder. This feud between the Goat and the Trolls comes out curiously in ‘The Old Dame and her Hen’, No. iii, where a goat falls down the trapdoor to the Troll’s house, ‘Who sent for you, I should like to know, you long-bearded beast’ said the Man o’ the Hill, who was in an awful rage; and with that he whipped up the Goat, wrung his head off, and threw him down into the cellar. Still he belonged to one of the heathen gods, and so in later Middle-Age superstition he is assigned to the Devil, who even takes his shape when he presides at the Witches’ Sabbath.
Nor in this list must the little birds be forgotten which taught the man’s daughter, in the tale of ‘The Two Stepsisters’, No. xvii, how to act in her trials. So, too, in ‘Katie Woodencloak’, No. l, the little bird tells the Prince, ‘who understood the song of birds very well,’ that blood is gushing out of the golden shoe. The belief that some persons had the gift of understanding what the birds said, is primaeval. We pay homage to it in our proverbial expression, ‘a little bird told me’. Popular traditions and rhymes protect their nests, as in the case of the wren, the robin, and the swallow. Occasionally this gift seems to have been acquired by eating or tasting the flesh of a snake or dragon, as Sigurd, in the Volsung tale, first became aware of Regin’s designs against his life, when he accidentally tasted the heart-blood of Fafnir, whom he had slain in dragon shape, and then all at once the swallow’s song, perched above him, became as intelligible as human speech.
We now come to a class of beings which plays a large part, and always for ill, in these Tales. These are the Giants or Trolls. In modern Norse tradition there is little difference between the names, but originally Troll was a more general expression for a supernatural being than Giant,  which was rather confined to a race more dull than wicked. In the Giants we have the wantonness of boundless bodily strength and size, which, trusting entirely to these qualities, falls at last by its own weight. At first, it is true that proverbial wisdom, all the stores of traditional lore, all that could be learnt by what may be called rule of thumb, was ascribed to them. One sympathises too with them, and almost pities them as the representatives of a simple primitive race, whose day is past and gone, but who still possessed something of the innocence and virtue of ancient times, together with a stock of old experience, which, however useful it might be as an example to others, was quite useless to help themselves. They are the old Tories of mythology, as opposed to the Aesir, the advanced liberals. They can look back and say what has been, but to look forward to say what will be and shall be, and to mould the future, is beyond their ken. True as gold to the traditional and received, and worthless as dross for the new and progressive. Such a nature, when unprovoked, is easy and simple; but rouse it, and its exuberant strength rises in a paroxysm of rage, though its clumsy awkward blows, guided by mere cunning, fail to strike the slight and lissom foe who waits for and eludes the stroke, until his reason gives him the mastery over sheer brute force which has wearied itself out by its own exertions.
This race, and that of the upstart Aesir, though almost always at feud, still had their intervals of common intercourse, and even social enjoyment. Marriages take place between them, visits are paid, feasts are given, ale is breached, and mirth is fast and furious. Thor was the worst foe the giants ever had, and yet he met them sometimes on good terms. They were destined to meet once for all on that awful day, ‘the twilight of the gods’, but till then, they entertained for each other some sense of mutual respect.
The Trolls, on the other hand, with whom mankind had more to do, were supposed to be less easy tempered, and more systematically malignant, than the Giants, and with the term were bound up notions of sorcery and unholy power. But mythology is a woof of many colours, in which the hues are shot and blended, so that the various races of supernatural beings are shaded off, and fade away almost imperceptibly into each other; and thus, even in heathen times, it must have been hard to say exactly where the Giant ended and the Troll began. But when Christianity came in, and heathendom fell; when the godlike race of the Aesir became evil demons instead of good genial powers, then all the objects of the old popular belief, whether Aesir, Giants, or Trolls, were mingled together in one superstition, as ‘no canny’. They were all Trolls, all malignant; and thus it is that, in these tales, the traditions about Odin and his underlings, about the Frost Giants, and about sorcerers and wizards, are confused and garbled; and all supernatural agency that plots man’s ill is the work of Trolls, whether the agent be the arch enemy himself, or giant, or witch, or wizard.
In tales such as ‘The Old Dame and her Hen’, No. iii, ‘The Giant who had no Heart in his Body’, No. ix, ‘Shortshanks’, No. xx, ‘Boots and the Troll’, No. xxxii, ‘Boots who ate a match with the Troll’, No. v, the easy temper of the old Frost Giants predominates, and we almost pity them as we read. In another, ‘The Big Bird Dan’, No. lv, we have a Troll Prince, who appears as a generous benefactor to the young Prince, and lends him a sword by help of which he slays the King of the Trolls, just as we sometimes find in the Edda friendly meetings between the Aesir and this or the Frost Giant. In ‘Tatterhood’, No. xlviii, the Trolls are very near akin to the witches of the Middle Age. In other tales, as ‘The Mastermaid’, No. xi, ‘The Blue Belt’, No. xxii, ‘Farmer Weathersky’, No. xli, a sort of settled malignity against man appears as the direct working and result of a bad and evil spirit. In ‘Buttercup’, No. xviii, and ‘The Cat on the Dovrefell’, we have the Troll proper,—the supernatural dwellers of the woods and hills, who go to church, and eat men, and porridge, and sausages indifferently, not from malignity, but because they know no better, because it is their nature, and because they have always done so. In one point they all agree—in their place of abode. The wild pine forest that clothes the spurs of the fells, but more than all, the interior recesses of the rocky fell itself, is where the Trolls live. Thither they carry off the children of men, and to them belongs all the untold riches of the mineral world. There, in caves and clefts in the steep face of the rock, sits the Troll, as the representative of the old giants, among heaps of gold and silver and precious things. They stride off into the dark forest by day, whither no rays of the sun can pierce; they return home at nightfall, feast themselves full, and snore out the night. One thing was fatal to them—the sight of the sun. If they looked him full in the face, his glory was too great for them, and they burst, as in ‘Lord Peter’, No. xlii, and in ‘The Old Dame and her Hen’, No. iii. This, too, is a deeply mythic trait. The old religion of the North was a bright and lively faith; it lived in the light of joy and gladness; its gods were the ‘blithe powers’; opposed to them were the dark powers of mist and gloom, who could not bear the glorious face of the Sun, of Baldr’s beaming visage, or the bright flash of Thor’s levin bolt.
In one aspect, the whole race of Giants and Trolls stands out in strong historical light. There can be little doubt that, in their continued existence amongst the woods, and rocks, and hills, we have a memory of the gradual suppression and extinction of some hostile race, who gradually retired into the natural fastnesses of the land, and speedily became mythic. Nor, if we bear in mind their natural position, and remember how constantly the infamy of sorcery has clung to the Finns and Lapps, shall we have far to go to seek this ancient race, even at the present day. Between this outcast nomad race, which wandered from forest to forest, and from fell to fell, without a fixed place of abode, and the old natural powers and Frost Giants, the minds of the race which adored Odin and the Aesir soon engendered a monstrous man-eating cross-breed of supernatural beings, who fled from contact with the intruders as soon as the first great struggle was over, abhorred the light of day, and looked upon agriculture and tillage as a dangerous innovation which destroyed their hunting fields, and was destined finally to root them out from off the face of the earth. This fact appears in countless stories all over the globe, for man is true to himself in all climes, and the savage in Africa or across the Rocky Mountains, dreads tillage and detests the plough as much as any Lapp or Samoyed. ‘See what pretty playthings, mother!’ cries the Giants’ daughter as she unties her apron, and shows her a plough, and horses, and peasants. ‘Back with them this instant’, cries the mother in wrath, ‘and put them down as carefully as you can, for these playthings can do our race great harm, and when these come we must budge.’ ‘What sort of an earthworm is this?’ said one Giant to another, when they met a man as they walked. ‘These are the earthworms that will one day eat us up, brother,’ answered the other; and soon both Giants left that part of Germany. Nor does this trait appear less strongly in these Norse Tales. The Giants or Trolls can neither brew nor wash properly, as we see in Shortshanks, No. xx, where the Ogre has to get Shortshanks to brew his ale for him; and in ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, No. iv, where none of the Trolls are able to wash out the spot of tallow. So also in the ‘Two Step-sisters’, No. xvii, the old witch is forced to get human maids to do her household-work; and, lastly, the best example of all, in ‘Lord Peter’, No. xlii, where agriculture is plainly a secret of mankind, which the Giants were eager to learn, but which was a branch of knowledge beyond their power to attain.
‘Stop a bit’, said the Cat, ‘and I’ll tell you how the farmer sets to work to get in his winter rye.’
And so she told him such a long story about the winter rye.
‘First of all, you see, he ploughs the field, and then he dungs it, and then he ploughs it again, and then he harrows it,’ and so she went on till the sun rose.
Before we leave these gigantic natural powers, let us linger a moment to point out how heartily the Winds are sketched in these Tales as four brothers; of whom, of course, the North wind is the oldest, and strongest, and roughest. But though rough in form and tongue, he is a genial, kind-hearted fellow after all. He carries the lassie to the castle, ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, whither none of his brothers had strength to blow. All he asks is that she won’t be afraid, and then he takes a good rest, and puffs himself up with as much breath as ever he can hold, begins to blow a storm, and off they go. So, too, in ‘The Lad who went to the North Wind’, No. xxxiv, though he can’t restore the meal he carried off, he gives the lad three things which make his fortune, and amply repay him. He, too, like the Grecian Boreas, is divine, and lineally descended from Hraesvelgr, that great giant in the Edda, who sits ‘at the end of the world in eagle’s shape, and when he flaps his wings, all the winds come that blow upon men.’
Enough surely has now been said to shew that the old religion and mythology of the Norseman still lives disguised in these popular tales. Besides this internal evidence, we find here and there, in the written literature of earlier days, hints that the same stories were even then current, and current then as now, among the lower classes. Thus, in King Sverri’s Saga we read: ‘And so it was just like what is said to have happened in old stories of what the king’s children suffered from their stepmother’s ill-will.’ And again, in Olof Tryggvason’s Saga by the monk Odd: ‘And better is it to hear such things with mirth than stepmother’s stories which shepherds tell, where no one can tell whether anything is true, and where the king is always made the least in their narrative.’ But, in truth, no such positive evidence is needed. Any one who has read the Volsung tale as we have given it, will be at no loss to see where the ‘little birds’ who speak to the Prince and the lassie, in these tales, come from; nor when they read in the ‘Big Bird Dan’, No. lv, about ‘the naked sword’ which the Princess lays by her side every night, will they fail to recognize Sigurd’s sword Gram, which he laid between himself and Brynhildr when he rode through the flame and won her for Gunnar. These mythical deep-rooted groves, throwing out fresh shoots from age to age in the popular literature of the race, are far more convincing proofs of the early existence of these traditions than any mere external evidence’. 
We have now only to consider the men and women of these Tales, and then our task is done. It will be sooner done, because they may be left to speak for themselves, and must stand or fall by their own words and actions. The tales of all races have a character and manner of their own. Among the Hindoos the straight stem of the story is overhung with a network of imagery which reminds one of the parasitic growth of a tropical forest. Among the Arabs the tale is more elegant, pointed with a moral, and adorned with tropes and episodes. Among the Italians it is bright, light, dazzling, and swift. Among the French we have passed from the woods, and fields, and hills, to my lady’s boudoir—rose-pink is the prevailing colour, and the air is loaded with patchouli and mille fleurs. We miss the song of birds, the modest odour of wild-flowers, and the balmy fragrance of the pine forest. The Swedes are more stiff, and their style is more like that of a chronicle than a tale. The Germans are simple, hearty, and rather comic than humorous; and M. Moe  has well said, that as we read them it is as if we sat and listened to some elderly woman of the middle class, who recites them with a clear, full, deep voice. In Scotland the few that have been collected by Mr Robert Chambers [Popular Rhymes of Scotland (Ed. 1847).] are as good in tone and keeping as anything of the kind in the whole range of such popular collections.  The wonderful likeness which is shown between such tales as the ‘Red Bull of Norway’ in Mr Chambers’ collection, and Katie Woodencloak in these Norse Tales, is to be accounted for by no theory of the importation of this or that particular tale in later times from Norway, but by the fact that the Lowland Scots, among whom these tales were told, were lineal descendants of Norsemen, who had either seized the country in the Viking times, or had been driven into it across the Border after the Norman Conquest.
These Norse Tales we may characterize as bold, out-spoken, and humorous, in the true sense of humour. In the midst of every difficulty and danger arises that old Norse feeling of making the best of everything, and keeping a good face to the foe. The language and tone are perhaps rather lower than in some other collections, but it must be remembered that these are the tales of ‘hempen homespuns’, of Norse yeomen, of Norske Bonder, who call a spade a spade, and who burn tallow, not wax; and yet in no collection of tales is the general tone so chaste, are the great principles of morality better worked out, and right and wrong kept so steadily in sight. The general view of human nature is good and kindly. The happiness of married life was never more prettily told than in ‘Gudbrand on the Hillside’, No. xxi, where the tenderness of the wife for her husband weighs down all other considerations; and we all agree with M. Moe that it would be well if there were many wives like Gudbrand’s. The balance too, is very evenly kept between the sexes; for if any wife should point with indignation at such a tale as ‘Not a Pin to choose between them’, No. xxiv, where wives suffer; she will be amply avenged when she reads ‘The Husband who was to mind the House’, No. xxxix, where the husband has decidedly the worst of the bargain, and is punished as he deserves.
Of particular characters, one occurs repeatedly. This is that which we have ventured, for want of a better word, to call ‘Boots’, from that widely-spread tradition in English families, that the youngest brother is bound to do all the hard work his brothers set him, and which has also dignified him with the term here used. In Norse he is called ‘Askefis‘, or ‘Espen Askefjis‘. By M. Moe he is called ‘Askepot‘, a word which the Danes got from Germany, and which the readers of Grimm’s Tales will see at once is own brother to Aschenpüttel. The meaning of the word is ‘one who pokes about the ashes and blows up the fire’; one who does dirty work in short; and in Norway, according to M. Moe, the term is almost universally applied to the youngest son of the family. He is Cinderella’s brother in fact; and just as she had all the dirty work put upon her by her sisters, he meets with the same fate from his brothers. He is generally the youngest of three, whose names are often Peter and Paul, as in No. xlii, and who despise, cry down, and mock him. But he has in him that deep strength of character and natural power upon which the good powers always smile. He is the man whom Heaven helps, because he can help himself; and so, after his brothers try and fail, he alone can watch in the barn, and tame the steed, and ride up the glass hill, and gain the Princess and half the kingdom. The Norse ‘Boots’ shares these qualities in common with the ‘Pinkel’ of the Swedes, and the Dummling of the Germans, as well as with our ‘Jack the Giant Killer’, but he starts lower than these—he starts from the dust-bin and the coal-hole. There he sits idle whilst all work; there he lies with that deep irony of conscious power, which knows its time must one day come, and meantime can afford to wait. When that time comes, he girds himself to the feat, amidst the scoffs and scorn of his flesh and blood; but even then, after he has done some great deed, he conceals it, returns to his ashes, and again sits idly by the kitchen-fire, dirty, lazy, and despised, until the time for final recognition comes, and then his dirt and rags fall off—he stands out in all the majesty of his royal robes, and is acknowledged once for all, a king. In this way does the consciousness of a nation, and the mirror of its thought, reflect the image and personification of a great moral truth, that modesty, endurance, and ability will sooner or later reap their reward, however much they maybe degraded, scoffed at, and despised by the proud, the worthless, and the overbearing 
As a general rule, the women are less strongly marked than the men; for these tales, as is well said, are uttered ‘with a manly mouth’;[Moe, Introd. Norsk. Event.] and none of the female characters, except perhaps ‘The Mastermaid’, and ‘Tatterhood’, can compare in strength with ‘The Master-Smith’, ‘The Master-Thief,’ ‘Shortshanks’ or ‘Boots’. Still the true womanly type comes out in full play in such tales as ‘The Two Step-Sisters’, No. xvii; ‘East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon’, No. iv; ‘Bushy Bride’, No. xlv, and ‘The Twelve Wild Ducks’, No. viii. In all these the lassie is bright, and good, and helpful; she forgets herself in her eagerness to help others. When she goes down the well after the unequal match against her step-sister in spinning bristles against flax; she steps tenderly over the hedge, milks the cow, shears the sheep, relieves the boughs of the apple-tree—all out of the natural goodness of her heart. When she is sent to fetch water from the well, she washes and brushes, and even kisses, the loathsome head; she believes what her enemies say, even to her own wrong and injury; she sacrifices all that she holds most dear, and at last even herself, because she is made to believe that it is her brother’s wish. And so on her, too, the good powers smile. She can understand and profit by what the little birds say; she knows how to choose the right casket. And at last, after many trials, all at once the scene changes, and she receives a glorious reward, while the wicked stepmother and her ugly daughter meet with a just fate. Nor is another female character less tenderly drawn in Hacon Grizzlebeard, No. vi, where we see the proud, haughty princess subdued and tamed by natural affection into a faithful, loving wife. We sympathise with her more than with the ‘Patient Grizzel’ of the poets, who is in reality too good, for her story has no relief; while in Hacon Grizzlebeard we begin by being angry at the princess’s pride; we are glad at the retribution which overtakes her, but we are gradually melted at her sufferings and hardships when she gives up all for the Beggar and follows him; we burst into tears with her when she exclaims ‘Oh! the Beggar, and the babe, and the cabin!’—and we rejoice with her when the Prince says ‘Here is the Beggar, and there is the babe, and so let the cabin burn away.’
Nor is it unprofitable here to remark how the professions fare when they appear in these tales. The Church cannot be said to be treated with respect, for ‘Father Lawrence’ is ludicrously deceived and scurvily treated by the Master-Thief, No. xxxv; nor does the priest come off any better in Goosey Grizzel, No. xxxiii, where he is thrown by the Farmer into the wet moss. Indeed, it seems as if the popular mind were determined to revenge itself when left to itself, for the superstition of Rome on the one hand, and the severity of strict Lutheranism on the other. It has little to say of either of them, but when it does speak, its accents are not those of reverence and love. The Law, too, as represented by those awful personages the Constable, the Attorney, and the Sheriff in ‘The Mastermaid’, No. xi, is held up to ridicule, and treated with anything but tenderness. But there is one profession for which a good word is said, a single word, but enough to show the feeling of the people. In the ‘Twelve Wild Ducks’ No. viii, the king is ‘as soft and kind’ to Snow-white and Rosy-red ‘as a doctor’—a doctor, alas! not of laws, but of medicine; and thus this profession, so often despised, but in reality the noblest, has homage paid to it in that single sentence, which neither the Church with all its dignity, nor the Law with all its cunning, have been able to extort from the popular mind. Yet even this profession has a hard word uttered against it in ‘Katie Woodencloak’, No. l, where the doctor takes a great fee from the wicked queen to say she will never be well unless she has some of the Dun Bull’s flesh to eat.
And now it is time to bring this introduction to an end, lest it should play the Wolf’s part to Odin, and swallow up the Tales themselves. Enough has been said, at least, to prove that even nursery tales may have a science of their own, and to show how the old Nornir and divine spinners can revenge themselves if their old wives’ tales are insulted and attacked. The inquiry itself might be almost indefinitely prolonged, for this is a journey where each turn of the road brings out a new point of view, and the longer we linger on our path, the longer we find something fresh to see. Popular mythology is a virgin mine, and its ore, so far from being exhausted or worked out, has here, in England at least, been scarcely touched. It may, indeed, be dreaded lest the time for collecting such English traditions is not past and gone; whether the steam-engine and printing-press have not played their great work of enlightenment too well; and whether the popular tales, of which, no doubt, the land was once full, have not faded away before those great inventions, as the race of Giants waned before the might of Odin and the Aesir. Still the example of this very Norway, which at one time was thought, even by her own sons, to have few tales of her own, and now has been found to have them so fresh and full, may serve as a warning not to abandon a search, which, indeed, can scarcely be said to have been ever begun; and to suggest a doubt whether the ill success which may have attended this or that particular attempt, may not have been from the fault rather of the seekers after traditions, than from the want of the traditions themselves. In point of fact, it is a matter of the utmost difficulty to gather such tales in any country, as those who have collected them most successfully will be the first to confess. It is hard to make old and feeble women, who generally are the depositaries of these national treasures, believe that the inquirer can have any real interest in the matter. They fear that the question is only put to turn them into ridicule; for the popular mind is a sensitive plant; it becomes coy, and closes its leaves at the first rude touch; and when once shut, it is hard to make these aged lips reveal the secrets of the memory. There they remain, however, forming part of an under-current of tradition, of which the educated classes, through whose minds flows the bright upper-current of faith, are apt to forget the very existence. Things out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Now and then a wave of chance tosses them to the surface from those hidden depths, and all Her Majesty’s inspectors of schools are shocked at the wild shapes which still haunt the minds of the great mass of the community. It cannot be said that the English are not a superstitious people. Here we have gone on for more than a hundred years proclaiming our opinion that the belief in witches, and wizards, and ghosts, and fetches, was extinct throughout the land. Ministers of all denominations have preached them down, and philosophers convinced all the world of the absurdity of such vain superstitions; and yet it has been reserved for another learned profession, the Law, to produce in one trial at the Staffordshire assizes, a year or two ago, such a host of witnesses, who firmly believed in witchcraft, and swore to their belief in spectre dogs and wizards, as to show that, in the Midland counties at least, such traditions are anything but extinct. If so much of the bad has been spared by steam, by natural philosophy, and by the Church, let us hope that some of the good may still linger along with it, and that an English Grimm may yet arise who may carry out what Mr. Chambers has so well begun in Scotland, and discover in the mouth of an Anglo- Saxon Gammer Grethel, some, at least, of those popular tales which England once had in common with all the Aryan race.
For these Norse Tales one may say that nothing can equal the tenderness and skill with which MM. Asbjörnsen and Moe have collected them. Some of that tenderness and beauty may, it is hoped, be found in this English translation; but to those who have never been in the country where they are current, and who are not familiar with that hearty simple people, no words can tell the freshness and truth of the originals. It is not that the idioms of the two languages are different, for they are more nearly allied, both in vocabulary and construction, than any other two tongues, but it is the face of nature herself, and the character of the race that looks up to her, that fail to the mind’s eye. The West Coast of Scotland is something like that nature in a general way, except that it is infinitely smaller and less grand; but that constant, bright blue sky, those deeply-indented, sinuous, gleaming friths, those headstrong rivers and headlong falls, those steep hillsides, those long ridges of fells, those peaks and needles rising sharp above them, those hanging glaciers and wreaths of everlasting snow, those towering endless pine forests, relieved by slender stems of silver birch, those green spots in the midst of the forest, those winding dales and upland lakes, those various shapes of birds and beasts, the mighty crashing elk, the fleet reindeer, the fearless bear, the nimble lynx, the shy wolf, those eagles and swans, and seabirds, those many tones and notes of Nature’s voice making distant music through the twilight summer night, those brilliant, flashing, northern lights when days grow short, those dazzling, blinding storms of autumn snow, that cheerful winter frost and cold, that joy of sledging over the smooth ice, when the sharp-shod horse careers at full speed with the light sledge, or rushes down the steep pitches over the crackling snow through the green spruce wood—all these form a Nature of their own. These particular features belong in their fulness and combination to no other land. When in the midst of all this natural scenery, we find an honest manly race, not the race of the towns and cities, but of the dales and fells, free and unsubdued, holding its own in a country where there are neither lords nor ladies, but simple men and women. Brave men and fair women, who cling to the traditions of their forefathers, and whose memory reflects as from the faithful mirror of their native steel the whole history and progress of their race—when all these natural features, and such a manly race meet; then we have the stuff out of which these tales are made, the living rocks out of which these sharp-cut national forms are hewn. Then, too, our task of introducing them is over, we may lay aside our pen, and leave the reader and the tales to themselves.
If you are interessted in Norse Folk Tales you should most certainly check out https://norwegianfolktales.blogspot.com/ – The editor Simon Hughes knows a whole lot more on Norse folk tales than me.