SIGURD’S YOUTH

 

or

 

The Story of Predestined, Coward, Catchspoil, and Snowstorm

 

Where is Sigurd in this tale? This is the name, in modern language, of a famous hero whose ripe age became a well-known story, already told thousand times. In the old language his name was Sigurðr and in this language, the word sigr means ‘victory’ and the word urðr means ‘fate’. Sigurðr is thus the ‘victory fated one’ and this name has been always so understood. In this tale, we will see how much, in his youth, he had been fascinated much more by Destiny that by Victory - could he not be named, in fact, by a kind of pun, Victory of Destiny? This is why we will call him ‘Predestined’ rather than the Victorious one.

We know very few things about his childhood, except that he was a legendary king’s son and a prince. His father was killed at war and he lived with his mother, now the wife of a Danish king. The accounts say that his father and his brothers were among the most famous warriors of their time and that Predestined bettered them. However, his first reported actions feature a courageous and thoughtful child rather than a young belligerent one. The first poem devoted to him describes a very young man, hardly a teenager, courageous enough to face his own destiny rather than human foes.

In this poem, he consults his maternal uncle about his destiny. In Germanic mythology in general, we know that the maternal uncle very often has major bonds with his sister’s son. In most cases, he becomes his nephew’s foster father. Here, he is in charge to teach his fate (his örlög) to his foster son, that is where upper forces will drive him into during his life. The uncle is not at all eager to fulfill this role, and he tries to get away from it by some hollow words. But, given Predestined’s insistence, he starts yielding on a topic he believes to be the less sensitive one.

His uncle foresees his meeting with Sigrdrífa (here, called Snowstorm). This name is unpronounceable because of its middle ‘grdr’. We can pronounce it by cutting these four letters in two groups, and say Sigr-drífa where ‘gr’ evokes a bear growling. In this name, sigr means victory as before, and drífa means ‘snowstorm’. We will meet her again at the end of the tale: Predestined’s adult life will show how much this name is well-deserved.

The uncle specifies that the two will fall madly in love with each other but, a little unwisely, he adds: “You two together, you will want to bind yourself with the firmest oaths, though you will be able to hold few of them.” Predestined is indignant at his own future fickleness, and his uncle is thus forced explain the whys and the how, and to reveal the whole of Predestined’s fate or örlög. This örlög describes the main lines of Predestined’s adult life, from his meeting with Snowstorm until their death. We will not go into all this: As we will see, Predestined’s youth, until this meeting is less well-known, but lush in teachings for us all.

 

Predestined will now meet Reginn the Coward. All the specialists say that ‘Reginn’ means “powerful as a god” but they forget that the word regi means ‘cowardness’ and that all his life shows that he acted like a coward, as we will observe.

Coward joined the kingdom where Predestined lives, undoubtedly because he will need a very courageous ally. He is intelligent, rough and a magician. He proposes to become Predestined’s foster father and they build a relation of father-son love. As soon as Predestined fully achieves his training as a warrior, Coward will try to involve him in a joint adventure related to himself, more than to Predestined. To understand the meaning of this adventure, we have to remember the tale of “the cursed gold” that you can open in another window.

In a few words:

this tale explainss how Coward’ brother, Catchspoil, seizes the cursed hoard and changes himself into a dragon and flees to a desert moor where he sits on his gold.

 

Coward wishes to bring Predestined towards Catchspoil’s cave in order to recover the hoard that bought back Loki’s life. However, Predestined haughtily refuses: It would be ridiculous if the prince

wishes more seeking rings of red gold

than avenging his father’s death!

 

They thus depart to avenge the death of Predestined’s father. On their way, they meet an old magician, who will inform Predestined about his future as a warrior, as did his uncle for his love life and death. He requests of the magician the signs, the omens or predictions by which a warrior can predict the issue of a fight.

Tell me, I request, what you know

of both, what ahead of time you see,

of the gods and humankind.

 

Predestined undoubtedly takes the advice of the magician because he fights against his father’s killers and overcomes them. To his father’s killer, he applies the old punishment, the one to be applied to uphold his honor, i.e. death by the “bloody eagles.”

Now, the bloody eagle,

by the bite of the sword,

for the death of my father

in the flesh of the killer is carved.

 

This ritual execution can now be felt as shocking, but it has been of primary importance in the way a hero shapes his life, his sköp. This is hinted at because, to some extent, Coward was about to shape for Predestined a life the first aim of which was to kill Catchspoil and get back the hoard of gold. To some extent, Predestined rebels against the sköp that Coward is shaping for him, and shapes his own fate. As we shall see soon, he will react again similarly, in much more dramatic way.

 

Coward can thus finally bring Predestined to Catchspoil’s cave to recover the hoard that so much obsesses him. They find Catchspoil’s dwelling and observe the trail joining the cave and a river where he waters himself. Coward goes in hiding in the nearby moor and Predestined digs a trench crossing this trail. When Catchspoil, spitting his poison, appears, Predestined is hardly touched by it and, when Catchspoil crosses the trench, he pushes his sword through his prey’s heart. Catchspoil does not die immediately and discusses with him. At first, Catchspoil curses him, as we have seen in the tale of “Three curses of the Nibelung’s gold.” Finally, Catchspoil announces to Predestined that Coward will betray and kill him.

When Catchspoil dies, Coward reappears and recalls that his brother has been killed by Predestined “though he is partially guilty himself.” Predestined answers with two sound arguments. He recalls that he never wanted to kill Catchspoil, but Coward prompted him to do so by questioning his courage. He also recalls that Coward behaved, indeed, as a coward:

I was exerting my strength

against the dragon’s power

whereas you were lying in the moor.

 

Then, Coward goes to Catchspoil’s corpse, takes his heart and drinks the blood around the wound. He feels tired after having ingested all this gore and he asks Predestined to cook Catchspoil’s heart while he sleeps

While he cooks the heart, Predestined touches the heart to see whether it is cooked, burn himself and put a finger in his mouth.

But the blood of Fáfnir’s heart (Catchspoil’s)

met Sigurðr’s tongue (Predestined’s)

and he could understand the language of the bird.

He heard nuthatches whispering in the bushes.

 

A nuthatch is a small bird, titmouse sized, that eats worms from the bark of the trees. Its bill has the same shape, though smaller, as a woodpecker. And it is very hard to spot (to ‘hear’, as the above poem says in an apparently awkward way), as opposed to prattling titmice. I see in them what we now call thespirits of the forest,” they being also very discrete. Their language contains as much magic as the celebrated bird language.

 

The first nuthatch said:

Here Reginn (Coward) is lying

assessing what can serve him,

he will betray the boy

who trusts him…

this evildoer will want

to avenge his brother.

 

As we know, a dying Catchspoil warned Predestined against Coward, then Coward himself hinted at a possible revenge, and now the spirits of the forest themselves advise him again of the same danger. He is aware, however, that Coward is a powerful wizard who certainly shaped the fates towards his (Predestined’s) death. We could also say they that Coward had cast spells to be able to kill Predestined after Catchspoil’s death. An obvious way out for Predestined to ward off these spells and shapings is killing Coward.

The shapings will not be powerful enough

so that Reginn (Coward) carries my death warrant;

the two brothers soon will leave the place

together to travel towards Hel.

 

The story told by the old skalds goes on as follows:

Predestined cut Reginn’s head (Coward’s), and ate Fáfnir’s heart (Catchspoil’s) and drunk the blood from both, Reginn’s and Fáfnir’s. Then Predestined heard what said the nuthatches:

 

Gather and take, Sigurðr (Predestined),

the red gold rings hoard,

it is not worthy of a king

to so much fear and dither;

I know of an outstanding maiden

with beauty endowed and gold provided:

achieve to meet her and you will get her.

 

After all these events, it is quite possible that Predestined would feel slightly diffident on what he should do next. The ‘spirit-nuthatches’ call him to order and say that he has now to join Snowstorm, the woman he must meet. His uncle already foreseen this episode of his life, and told him he had to meet Snowstorm. The nuthatches besides will warn him on the danger to awake her, as follows:

Boy, you will be able to recognize

the girl under the helmet

that she carried in combat;

child of noble lineage,

you are not able to end

Sigrdrífa’s sleep (Snowstorm’s)

worked out by the Norns.

 

Snowstorm is a Valkyrie who disobeyed Óðinn’s orders: she refused to bring to him the warrior he had chosen, and she brought another one instead. To punish her, he pricked her with “the thorn of sleep.” We know nothing of the exact Norn’s role, we can however guess that Óðinn’s curse was vouched by the Norns. In this case again, we could say that Óðinn’s cast a spell on her or that he shaped her fate, he did her ‘shapings.

The nuthatches very clearly say to Predestined that he is unable to awake her. Since we soon shall see how he does awake her, either the ‘spirits’ are misled or they wanted to imply that awaking her was highly dangerous, that is, he will entangle himself into Snowstorm’s destiny (and Óðinn’s shapings) as his uncle had foreseen.

Now, he chooses to follow his örlög, and tries to meet this “outstanding maiden.”

 

Here again, I am unable to tell a better story than the one given by our ancient poetry:

 

Sigurðr entered the stronghold and he saw a human person, ‘quiet’ [sleeping] and fully armed. He removed first the helmet off the head. Then, he saw that she was a woman. The coat of arms was tight as if it had grown in the flesh. Then he gashed the coat of arms with Gram [his sword] from the neck to down and the two arms. Then he took the coat of arms out of her and she woke up, and sat down and saw Sigurðr and said:…

 

Sigrdrífa sleeps in a fort. When he arrives, Sigurðr sees a fully-armed warrior so that he calls him or her a human person (maðr). As foreseen by the spirit-nuthatches, he “can see the girl under her helmet.” It is the first action he does when meeting her.

Up to that point, he followed the nuthatches advice and he was able to shape the fates in order to keep some control on his destiny. Did he know he will awake her by slicing her coat of arms? At any rate, this coat of arms seems to be grown in the flesh and he can suspect that it will awake the sleeping beauty. Thus, voluntarily or by negligence, and in spite of the nuthatches advice, he will slice her coat and wake up Snowstorm and, with her, their common örlög.

 

She says:

What sliced my coat of mail?

Why I stopped my sleep?

Who made fall the chains

of the pale necessities?

 

The “pale necessities” are certainly the shapings by which she was put to sleep, as I will explain in the “Tale of Sigrdrífa, Snowstorm.” (still to do)

Thus, Predestined awoke Snowstorm and they will passionately love each other as Predestined’s uncle said:

You will not pay attention to anyone else,

you will not see anything except the girl.

 

but he also added:

You two together will

all strongest oaths work out,

fully-firm,

few, will be able you to hold!

 

Thus, Sigurðr awoke Sigrdrífa and their destinies will go as far as becoming the Germanic representatives of the pressure destiny can put upon us.

This is another story, that of a fully adult Predestined Sigurd or Siegfried. It has been already told thousand times and mine ends here!