Andvari, Loki and Fáfnir curse Nibelung’s Gold
In this tale, Loki’s role is essential but he does not display his famous cheating habits. We may say that his harshness is rather the primary cause of the sequence of curses.
He was once hunting and he noticed an otter eating a salmon. He was hungry and he killed the otter, happy to hit two targets with a single shot. Unfortunately, he did not know that his game was the son of a powerful magician living nearby, under the shape of an otter. He made a bag with the otter skin and, again unfortunately, wanted get acquainted with the magician who, when he saw the bag, recognized the skin of one of his sons. He thus required an atonement wergild to spare Loki’s life. In this civilization, when a person of your family was killed, you had two choices. The first: kill you relative’s killer, which, obviously, involved non-stop vendettas. The second: negotiate a contract between the two families. By this contract, the family of the first casualty agreed to pay a certain sum, the wergild, to the other one and the murder not was forgiven, but really forgotten. This contract, like any contract of this time, was sealed in front of the gods and became a consecrated code of behavior. In our case, Loki has been unable to discuss the contract because the magician’s two others sons helped their father to impose a harsh contract. The wergild amount was enormous, bearing no comparison to the uses of the time, i.e. the magician had not been honest in setting up the contract. It was necessary to fill the bag with gold, including the legs, to put it upright on its legs full of gold, and then to entirely hide it with a gold heap. Once that the contract was sworn, nobody could break it, not even Óðinn.
The first curse
Loki will find all this gold at Andvari’s, a very rich dwarf. We do not known why this dwarf had been fated “by a cruel Norn” to take the shape of a pike. Loki may thus require her fishing net from the sea goddess and he catches Andvari. He will release him provided that he receives. This occurs without problem except for a ring that Andvari wanted to keep and that Loki much liked. He seizes the ring. Was that real greed or foreseeing? This ring will save his life as we shall see a bit later. Anyhow, Andvari is furious and casts a curse as follows:
This gold mine I gathered,
death will twine two brothers for it,
for it, strife will eight noble families split,
my riches will be nobody’s profit.
The second curse
Loki can then proceed to paying the wergild and tries to keep the ring. When the heap gold covers the bag, the magician notices that a hair of the otter can still be seen between two pieces of gold. He refers to the clause “entirely covered,” and he forces Loki to give the invaluable ring to cover the hair. Loki thought that he gave enough and he is furious with the magician’s meanness. He will utter a galdr (a ‘song-howl’) which will curse this gold once more.
(here is the cause of the curse)
At your feet now lies the furious gold,
you harried me to pay more
for my head’s safety.
(here is the way this curse is carried out)
Safe, your son’s life is no more,
hostile hands will shape his fate
and soon you both go to Hel.
Our life is shaped, more or less softly, by our parents, our friends, our passions. When a wizard casts a spell, when a torturer hurts someone, they both carry out a brutal shaping, each one in his kind. When your mother tenderly explains you that you should no longer behave as you did, she performs a soft shaping. How does this shaping takes part in the meaning of fate for the ancient German peoples ?
The best known component of fate is örlög, often called by its Anglo-Saxon name, wyrd. It is what controls our lives in their broad outline. And the myths teach us that örlög or wyrd, our destiny is written in runic letters by the Norns. But örlög does not describe all the details of our existence. For example, the örlög of the magician in our tale undoubtedly said that he, as we will see it soon, would be killed by one of his sons. It did not say that the cause of this murder would be the ownership of a treasure. Loki, in his curse, specifies that the cause the murder, his meanness and his greed: “you harried me to pay more.” To describe his way of proceeding, Loki does not use the word örlög, he speaks of the sköp, which means exactly: ‘shapings’ since he says “hostile hands will shape his fate.”
Sköp are spells that integrate our örlög and precise how it occurs. This means that we have very little influence on our destiny at large, but that we can counter very well some shapings either by magic, or by guessing the best decision to take. In the tale “Sigurd’s Youth” we meet a first example where he will do a good choice to counter shapings prepared by his tutor and a second example where, though he had been warned, he will be unable to change his destiny.
After all these explanations, let us come back to our tale. Loki’s shapings will very soon become active. The magician had two other sons, as we know. One was called Reginn (‘Coward’) and other Fáfnir (‘Catchspoil’). Remember that these two sons helped their father when he required a wergild from Loki. They thus find right to claim their share of the treasure. But our miserly magician refuses, as we could guess… and his children hardly welcome that. Coward does not move much but Catchspoil does not hesitate. As the poem says, he “puts a sword in his sleeping father” and seizes the treasure. As you see, Catchspoil is nothing but less a coward than his brother! Coward tries to have his share of the spoils but Catchspoil refuses, (did you guess so?). He takes the shape of a dragon and flees to a wild moor where he takes care of his gold. Coward then will look for someone courageous enough to fight the dragon Catchspoil. He will join Sigurd, as explained in “Sigurd’s Youth” and become his adoptive father in order to be able to shape their fates.
The third curse
The third curse will be that of Catchspoil. He received his death-wound and, at first, he fails really cursing Sigurd himself.
Angry Norns will push your ship
to ride the sharp reefs
to be swallowed by raving sisters:
no worse fate can strike a stupid ape.
But you know that he will not drown, nor will he become a “stupid ape.” Here, the curse is ineffective because cast at random. Catchspoil, however, knows that this treasure has already been twice cursed, and he adds, now successfully, his own curse to the two first ones:
Between us, here is an agreement…
Catchspoil speaks of an ‘agreement’ to state that he will utter an undeniable truth on which both will agree.
howling gold and wealth embers,
the red rings will toll your death.
To be followed in “Sigurd’s Youth”
Documents: four literally translated stanzas
Þat skal gull, er Gustr átti, This gold shall, it Gustr belonged,
brœðrum tveim at bana verða of two brothers to death become
ok öðlingum átta at rógi; and with princes eight they quarrel;
mun míns féar manngi njóta. must my riches nobody benefit.
Gull er þér nú reitt
en þú gjöld of hefr
mikil míns höfuðs,
verðr-a sæla sköpuð;
þat verðr ykkarr beggja bani.
Gold is yours now furious
but you wergild increase
by much for my head
[you increase much the wergild for my head ],
for son yours
not-becomes happy the shaped one [shapings];
it becomes you both the death.
Norna dóm The Norns doom
þú munt fyr nesjum hafa will reach you close nesses sail
ok örlög ósvinns apa… and the örlög of an idiotic monkey…
in ek þér satt eitt segik: but to you an agreement I say
it gjalla gull ok it glóðrauða fé, the howling gold and the red-embers riches,
þér verða to þeir baugar at bana. they will be to you the rings (richness) death.