Völuspá (Old Norse Vǫluspá, Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress); Modern Icelandic [ˈvœːlʏˌspauː], reconstructed Old Norse [ˈwɔluˌspɑː]) is the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda. It tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming end related by a völva addressing Odin. It is one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse mythology. Henry Adam Bellows proposed a 10th-century dating and authorship by a pagan Icelander. He also assumes the early hearers would have been very familiar with the "story" of the poem and not in need of an explanation.
Völuspá is found in the Codex Regius manuscript (ca. 1270) and in Haukr Erlendsson's Hauksbók Codex (ca. 1334), and many of its stanzas are quoted or paraphrased in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda (composed ca. 1220, oldest extant manuscript dates from ca. 1300). The order and number of the stanzas varies in these sources. Some editors and translators have further rearranged the material. The Codex Regius version is usually taken as a base for editions.
The poem consists of some 60 fornyrðislag stanzas. In Sophus Bugge's edition the Hauksbók version has 59 stanzas while the Codex Regius version has 62 stanzas. Each manuscript contains some stanzas not in the other. Bugge's normalized version has 66 stanzas. The poem makes sporadic use of refrains.
The poem starts with the völva requesting silence from "the sons of Heimdallr" (human beings) and asking Odin whether he wants her to recite ancient lore. She says she remembers giants born in antiquity who reared her.
She then goes on to relate a creation myth and mentions Ymir; the world was empty until the sons of Burr lifted the earth out of the sea. The Æsir then established order in the cosmos by finding places for the sun, the moon and the stars, thereby starting the cycle of day and night. A golden age ensued where the Æsir had plenty of gold and happily constructed temples and made tools. But then three mighty giant maidens came from Jötunheimr and the golden age came to an end. The Æsir then created the dwarves, of whom Mótsognir and Durinn are the mightiest.
At this point ten of the poem's stanzas are over and six stanzas ensue which contain names of dwarves. This section, sometimes called "Dvergatal" ("Catalogue of Dwarves"), is usually considered an interpolation and sometimes omitted by editors and translators.
After the "Dvergatal", the creation of the first man and woman are recounted and Yggdrasill, the world-tree, is described. The seer recalls the burning of Gullveig that led to the first "folk" war, and what occurred in the struggle between the Æsir and Vanir. She then recalls the time Freyja was given to the giants, which is commonly interpreted as a reference to the myth of the giant builder, as told in Gylfaginning 42.
The seeress then reveals to Odin that she knows some of his own secrets, and that he sacrificed an eye in pursuit of knowledge. She tells him she knows where his eye is hidden and how he gave it up in exchange for knowledge. She asks him in several refrains if he understands, or if he would like to hear more.
In the Codex Regius version, the seeress goes on to describe the slaying of Baldr, best and fairest of the gods and the enmity of Loki, and of others. Then she prophesies the destruction of the gods where fire and flood overwhelm heaven and earth as the gods fight their final battles with their enemies. This is the "fate of the gods" - Ragnarök. She describes the summons to battle, the deaths of many of the gods and how Odin, himself, is slain by Fenrir, the great wolf. Thor, the god of thunder and sworn protector of the earth, faces Jörmungandr, the world serpent, and wins but Thor is only able to take nine steps afterward before collapsing. Víðarr faces Fenrir and kicks his jaw open before stabbing the wolf in the heart with his spear. The god Freyr fights the giant Surtr, who wields a fiery sword that shines brighter than the sun, and Freyr falls.
Finally a beautiful reborn world will rise from the ashes of death and destruction where Baldr and Höðr will live again in a new world where the earth sprouts abundance without sowing seed. The surviving Æsir reunite with Hœnir and meet together at the field of Iðavöllr, discussing Jörmungandr, great events of the past, and the runic alphabet. A final stanza describes the sudden appearance of Nidhogg the dragon, bearing corpses in his wings, before the seeress emerges from her trance.
In popular culture
- J. R. R. Tolkien, a philologist familiar with the Völuspá, utilized names from the Dvergatal for the Dwarves in his 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit.
- Stanzas from Völuspa are paraphrased in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the film, the character Aragorn makes a speech before battle, saying "A day may come, when the courage of men fails, and we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship — but that is not this day! A hour of wolves, and shattered shields, as the age of Men comes crashing down — but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear, on this good earth, I bid you STAND! MEN! OF THE WEST!" - some [who?] feel these lines echo to an extent of Verse 45 of Voluspa (a poem with which Tolkien was familiar): "Axe-time, sword-time, | shields are sundered, | Wind-time, wolf-time, | ere the world falls; | Nor ever shall men | each other spare."
- The Norwegian band Burzum released a Skaldic metal album titled Umskiptar in 2012, where an old Norse translation of Völuspa provided the lyrics for the entire album.
- on Christian influences, see the following articles: "The Background and Scope of Vǫluspá" by Kees Samplonius, "Vǫluspá and the Sibylline Oracles with a Focus on the ‘Myth of the Future’" by Gro Steinsland, "Vǫluspá, the Tiburtine Sibyl, and the Apocalypse in the North" by Karl G. Johansson, and "Manifest and Latent Biblical Themes in Vǫluspá" by Pétur Pétursson, all articles in The Nordic Apocalypse: Approaches to Völuspa and Nordic Days of Judgement. Edited by Terry Gunnell and Annette Lassen, eds. 2013. Brepols Publishers.
- Online review touching on the Christian elements in Vǫluspá
- John D. Rateliff (2007), The History of The Hobbit, volume 2 Return to Bag-End, HarperCollins, Appendix III; ISBN 0-00-725066-5.
- Vikernes, Varg (2012). "Burzum Discography - Umskiptar". Burzum.org. Retrieved 2013-10-19.
- Bugge, Sophus (1867). Norræn fornkvæði. Christiania: Malling. Available online
- Dronke, Ursula (1997). The Poetic Edda Volume II Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). Völuspá. Available online
- Gunnell, Terry and Annette Lassen, eds. 2013. The Nordic Apocalypse: Approaches to Völuspa and Nordic Days of Judgement. Brepols Publishers. 240 pages. ISBN 978-2-503-54182-2
- McKinnell, John (2008). "Völuspá and the Feast of Easter," Alvíssmál 12:3–28. (pdf)
- Sigurður Nordal (1952). Völuspá. Reykjavík: Helgafell.
- Thorpe, Benjamin (tr.) (1866). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned. (2 vols.) London: Trübner & Co. Norroena Society edition available online at Google Books
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Old Norse editions
- Völuspá Sophus Bugge's edition and commentary with manuscript texts
- Völuspá Eysteinn Björnsson's edition with manuscript texts
- Völuspá Guðni Jónsson's edition