The Wisdom of Byrnhild
I’m currently reading Dr. Jackson Crawford’s translation of the Saga of the Volsungs. This version of the book contains only the various poems dealing with the Volsung family and their history throughout the viking world. As the stories are similar between Jackson Crawford’s Poetic Edda translation I will be extracting lines mainly from the Saga of the Volsungs.
In the poem Sigrdrífumál we follow the up and coming warrior Sigurð and his early adventures. Sigurð on a quest to find his future wife arrives at an abandoned fortress inside Frankish lands. Inside he frees a sleeping Valkyrie named Sigerdrifa (victory-driver), or also referred to as Brynhild.
Brynhild informs Sigurð that she was a Valkyrie for Odin but was sent to kill one of two kings who were battling each other. Brynhild made a mistake and killed the wrong king. For this Odin “stung” her with a sleep spell. There within the fortress would she remain sleeping until a cunning warrior freed her. Cue Sigurðr.
Sigurð asks Brynhild for any wisdom that she could give him. Brynhild was more than happy to do so. Thus here is a condensed list of the wisdom she provided the young Volsung. The information is split into two parts. First Brynhild tells Sigurðr about certain runes to learn to help aid him in life. Then Brynhild gives additional advice to the warrior.
Runes As Told By Byrnhild the Valkyrie
- Victory-Runes – You should carve victory-runes if you want to have victory. Carve some on the hilt of your sword, carve some on the middle of the blade also, some elsewhere on the sword, and name Týr twice. The saga of the Volsungs p.36
- Wave-Runes – if you want to save ships out on the wild water you should care them on the ships bow and on the steering-rudder, and burn them into the oars. Then there won’t be any steep waves, that you won’t escape from safely. The saga of the Volsungs p.36-37
- Speech-Runes – To prevent those who hate you from taking vengeance on you. Wind them around, weave them around, set them all around, at the court where people go for judgments. The saga of the Volsungs p.37
- Beer-Runes – You should learn beer-runes if you don’t want another man’s wife to abuse your trust if you have a tryst. Care them on the drinking-horn and on the back of your hand, and care the rune for ‘N’ on your fingernail. You should bless the drinking-horn; then watch out for trouble and throw garlic in the drink. If you do this, I know you’ll never drink mead that’s blended with a curse. The saga of the Volsungs p.37
- Life-saving Runes – You should learn life-saving runes if you want to save a woman’s life when she is in the throes of childbirth. Carve them on your palm, and clasp them around your limbs, and pray to your family spirits for help. The saga of the Volsungs p.37
- Limb-Runes – You should learn limb-runes if you want to be a healer and learn how to heal wounds. Carve them on bark, carve them on the needles of pine that bends eastward. The saga of the Volsungs p.38
- Mind-Runes – If you want to be wiser than any other man. Odin read them, Odin carved them, Odin thought them up. The saga of the Volsungs p.38-39.
Byrnhild then lists several items, animals, and trolls that these runes were carved into. Once carved the runes are to be shaved off, stirred into holy mead and sent far away. Some of the runes are with the Aesir, elves, Vanir, and mortal men.
Life Wisdom of Byrnhild
- Behave faultlessly with your kin. Don’t avenge yourself on them, and bear their evils patiently, and you’ll live a long life in reward. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Beware of evil things, either the love of a girl or another man’s wife. Band things often come from them. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Don’t be seen with fools when you’re in public. They often say worse things than they realize, and then you’ll be called a coward and other will think that their slander is true. Wait for another day to kill the fool, and then repay them for his lie. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- If you go where evil spirits live, be careful. Don’t sleep near the road, even if darkness is setting on you outside, because there are often evil spirits who dull men’s minds living there. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Don’t let pretty women tempt you, even if you’re at a party, because they’ll keep you from sleeping, or else they’ll make you miserable. And don’t try to seduce them with kisses or with pretty words. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- If you hear drunk men saying something stupid, don’t talk to them. They’re drunk and their wits are gone. Such conversations will often cause sorrow or death. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Fight your enemies right away. Never wait for them to burn you inside your own home. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Never sear a false oath. Grim vengeance comes to oath-breakers. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Respect a dead body, whether the death was from sickness, or drowning at sea, or from violence. Prepare the body carefully. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- You should never believe someone if you have killed his father, or his brother, or any other close relative of his, even if the is a young man. There’s often a wolf that lurks in a dead man’s young son. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
- Beware of being deceived by hour own friends. The saga of the Volsungs p.40
Sigurð leaves the Valkyrie soon afterwards and continues on his adventure. Brynhild shows up later in the poem and the rest is history. You now have the wisdom of Brynhild. What will you do with it?
Crawford, J. (2015). The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes. Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
Crawford, J. (2017). The Saga of the Volsungs, with The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok. Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.