A Bard's Tale: Part IV - Heimdallr

Heimdallr is one of the most enigmatic of all the Scandinavian deities. He is so mysterious the so-called experts at the different universities still know close to nothing about him. They cannot even figure out what his name means, and I cannot blame them; his secrets have for a long time eluded me too.

The common perception is that the name Heimdallr translates as "home-valley" or "world-valley" (Norwegian Heimdal), but this makes no sense in any context. In 1998 I came up with a different translation; Heimdallr from Germanic Haimaþellar, meaning "home-counter" or "world-counter". The logic was that at least this is what he does, when he watches over his children from his throne on the North Pole. However, this too is a rather poor theory.

Unlike the so-called experts at the universities I have realized that Heimdallr is the same as Hermöðr ("Óðinn impersonator"), and in the Edda we can read that Heimdallr once "sunk down to the guardian of the Hel-bridge to rescue Iðunn" when she was kidnapped by a giant and held prisoner in the underworld. In order to rescue Iðunn (a.k.a. Nanna) and her husband, Bragi (a.k.a. Baldr), he needs to visit Hel, the realm of the dead, and like we know from the Greek myths Hermes1 (=Óðinn) is the only one who can freely enter and leave Hades (=Hel). So Heimdallr dresses up and impersonates Óðinn, to convince the guardians of Hel to let him enter and leave unscathed, even though Heimdallr really has no right to do this, from their point of view.

So Heimdallr sank down to Earth, from Heaven, and created mankind, and every year he sinks down to Hel to collect the gifts from the elves, the eternal spirits of the dead, and from Baldr and Nanna (who spend every winter in Hel). He then sinks down from Heaven, or rather from his throne between Heaven and Earth, to hand over these gifts to those of his children who have been good, on the Yule-Eve. He visits us all, still in the shape of Óðinn, to settle the score, as the leader of the Oskorei ("army of thunder").

With this in mind it becomes rather obvious that his name translates as "home-sinker" or "world-sinker" meaning "he who sinks down to visit the different homes/worlds" (Norwegian Heimdalar).

In ancient Greece they called him Cronos ("time"), possibly because they used his yearly visits to count the years and measure time. In the Western Slavonic areas they called him Belobog ("white-god"), because he is a shining god of light and mercy, and because after his visits to Hel he still has the colour of the pale dead. In Eastern Slavonic areas they called him Kolada ("wheel" or perhaps "wheel's rotation") because at the Winter Solstice, the Yule-Eve, the Sun-wheel has completed a full rotation: spring (birth), summer (life), autumn (death) and winter (reincarnation).

It took me some time and effort to figure this out, but finally we now know who Heimdallr was and what his name really means. Others have failed where I succeeded probably because they have a life. I don't. :-)

  1. And his female counterpart Iris (="the rainbow").

Varg "the hermit" Vikernes
10.09.2006 (Tromsø, Norway)

"Urðar orð kveðr engi maðr"
(No man can resist the words of destiny)

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