Völuspá, or The Wise-Woman’s Prophecy, is an Eddic poem found at the beginning of the Codex Regius. The poem is narrated by a volva (wise-woman) who is consulted by Odin, and ends with her prophecy of Ragnarok.
I ask the holy races, Heimdall’s sons, both high and low, to hear me. You wish, All-father, that I relate the old tales I remember of men long ago. I still remember the giants of ancient times who gave me bread in days gone by. I knew nine worlds in the tree whose mighty roots lie beneath the mould.
Long ago, Ymir lived, when there were neither sea, cool waves, nor sand. The earth did not exist, nor heaven above, only a yawning gap, and no grass anywhere. Then Bur’s sons lifted the level land, and made the mighty realm of Midgard. The sun warmed the stones of the earth from the south, and the ground was green with growing leeks.
The sun, the sister of the moon, cast her right hand over heaven’s rim from the south. She had no knowledge of where her home should be. The moon didn’t know what his strength was. The stars didn’t know their stations.
The gods sought their assembly-seats, and held council. They gave names to noon and twilight, morning and the waning moon, night and evening; they gave numbers to the years. They met at Ithavoll, and built tall shrines and temples from timber. Forges were set, and they smelted ore, wrought tongs, and fashioned tools. At peace in their dwellings, they played at tables of gold. The gods knew no lack until three giant maids, huge and mighty, came to them out of Jotunheim.
The gods once more took their assembly-seats, and held council to determine who should raise the race of dwarfs out of Brimir’s blood and the legs of Blain. There, Motsognir, the mightiest of all the dwarfs, was made, and next, Durin. They made myriad dwarfs in the earth, in the likeness of men. According to Durin, these were Nyi and Nithi, Northri and Suthri, Austri and Vestri, Althjof, Dvalin, Nar and Nain, Niping, Dain, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Nori, An and Onar, Ai, Mjothvitnir, Vigg and Gandalf, Vindalf, Thrain, Thekk and Thorin, Thror, Vit and Lit, Nyr and Nyrath, Regin and Rathsvith, Fili, Kili, Fundin, Nali, Heptifili, Hannar, Sviur, Frar, Hornbori, Fræg and Loni, Aurvang, Jari, Eikinskjaldi, Draupnir and Dolgthrasir, Hor, Haugspori, Hlevang, Gloin, Dori, Ori, Duf, Andvari, Skirfir, Virfir, Skafith, Ai, Alf and Yngvi, Fjalar and Frosti, Fith and Ginnar. These were the forbearers of Lofar. The race of the dwarfs, Dvalin’s throng, left he rocks and passed through wet lands, seeking a home in the fields of sand.
Then, from the conclave, three came forth from the home of the gods, the mighty and gracious. They found two beings without fate on the land, Ask and Embla, who were empty of strength. They were without souls, sense, heat, motion, or healthy color. Odin gave them souls, Hönir gave them sensibility, and Loki gave them warmth and health.
I know an ash named Yggdrasil that is watered with white water from the dew that falls in the green dales near the well of Urd, and it grows forever. From it came three maidens, strong in wisdom, from their dwelling down beneath the tree. One is called Urd, the next Verdandi, and the third Skuld. On the wood they carved laws, and they allotted life to the sons of men and set their fates.
I remember a war, the first in the world, when the gods smote Gollveig with spears and burned her in the hall of Odin. She was burned three times burned, and three times born again, and she lives forever. They named the one who had sought their home Heith, the wide seeing witch, wise in magic. She bewitched minds; they were moved by her magic. To evil women, she was a joy.
Odin hurled his spear over the host his spear, and war first came to the world. The wall that surrounded the home of the gods was broken, and the field trodden by the warlike Vanir. Then the gods sought their assembly-seats, and held council as to whether they should give tribute or whether worship should belong to the Vanir as well.
At this point, Völuspá includes a highly abbreviated version of the story of The Birth of Sleipnir, given in full in the prose Edda. Then the volva continues:
I know that the horn of Heimdall is hidden under the high reaching holy tree. On it, there pours a mighty stream from the All-father’s pledge. Would you know yet more? I sat alone when you sought me, ancient one, terror of gods, and gazed into my eyes. What have you to ask? Why do you come here?
Odin, I know where your eye is hidden. Your eye is hidden deep in the famous well of Mimir. Each morning, Mimir drinks mead your pledge. Do you wish to know more? I had necklaces and rings from Heerfather. My speech was wise, and wisdom was my magic wisdom. I saw far and wide, over all the worlds.
On all sides, I see Valkyries assembling, ready to ride in the ranks of the gods. Skuld bears the shield, and Skogul rides next, with Guth, Hild, Gondul, and Geirskogul. You know the names of your maidens. The Valkyries ready to ride over the earth.
I see that Baldr, the bleeding god, the son of Odin, has his destiny set. Famous and fair, in the lofty fields, full grown and strong, the mistletoe stands. From a branch that seems so slender and fair, a harmful shaft will come that Hod will hurl. But the Vali, the brother of Baldr, will be born before long, and one night fight your son Hod. He will neither wash his hands nor comb his hair before bearing Baldr’s foe to the bale-blaze. But in Fensalir, Frigg will weep sorely for Valhalla’s need. Would you know yet more?
I see Loki, the lover of ill, bound in the wet woods. Sigyn sits by his side, not happy to see her mate. Would you know yet more?
From the east, the river Slith pours through vales poisoned with swords and daggers. Northward, a hall of gold rises in Nithavellir for Sindri’s race. And in Okolnir, another stands, where the giant Brimir has his beer hall.
I see a hall far from the sun, standing on Nastrond, and its doors face north. Venom drips down through the smoke-vent, for serpent wind around its walls. I see treacherous men and murderers wading through wild rivers, and workers of ill with the wives of men. There Nidhogg sucks the blood of the slain, and the wolf rends men. Would you know yet more?
The old giantess sits in Ironwood in the east, and bears the brood of Fenrir. Among these, one in monster’s guise will soon steal the sun from the sky. He will feed until full on the flesh of the dead, and redden the home of the gods with gore. The sun grows dark, and in summer tare were mighty storms. Would you know yet more?
Eggder the joyous, the giants’ warder, sits on a hill there and plays his harp. Above him, Fjalar, the cock in the bird wood, crows, standing fair and red. Then Gollinkambi crows to the gods, waking the heroes in Odin’s hall, and beneath the earth, another crow, the rust red bird at the bars of Hel, does the same.
Garm howls loudly before Gnipahellir. His fetters burst, and the wolf Fenrir runs free. I know much, and can see more, of the fate of the gods, the mighty battle. Brothers fight and kill each other, and sisters’ sons stain their kinship.
It is hard on earth, with mighty whoredom. Axe-time, sword-time, shields are sundered. Wind-time, wolf-time, before the world will fall. No man spares another. The sons of Mim move quickly, and fate is heard in the note of the Gjallarhorn. Heimdall blows it loudly, holding the horn aloft. All who are on the road to Hel quake in fear.
Yggdrasil’s ancient limbs shake and shiver on high. The giant wolf is loose. Odin listens to the head of Mim, but the kinsman of Surt will soon slay him. How do the gods fare? How do the elves? All Jotunheim groans. The gods are at council. The dwarfs roar loudly by the doors of stone, masters of the rocks. Would you know yet more?
From the east, Hrym comes with his shield held high. The serpent Jormungandr writhes in giant wrath, twisting over the waves. The tawny eagle Hræsvelg gnaws corpses, screaming. Over the sea from the north, the ship Naglfar sails with the people of Hel. Loki stands at the helm. Wild men follow after the wolf Fenrir, and Loki, the brother of Byleist, goes with them.
Surt fares from the south with fire, the scourge of branches, the sun of the battle gods shining from his sword. The crags are sundered, the giant women sink, the dead throng the way to Hel-way, and heaven is cloven. Frigg is hurt again as Odin fares out to fight with the wolf Fenrir, and Freyr, Beli’s fair slayer, seeks out Surt. For there Odin, the joy of Frigg, must fall. Then Odin’s mighty son, Vidar, comes to fight with the foaming wolf. He thrusts his sword into the heart of Fenrir, the giant’s son, and his father is avenged.
Thor, the son of Jord, advances, and the bright snake gapes to heaven above. Odin’s son fights against the serpent Jormungandr. In anger, the warder of earth strikes, and forth from their homes, all men must flee. Thor staggers nine paces fares and, slain by the serpent, sinks fearlessly into death.
The sun turns black, the earth sinks in the sea, and the hot stars whirl down from heaven. The steam grows fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame leaps high about heaven itself.
Now I see the earth rise anew from the waves again, all green once more. The cataracts fall, and the eagle flies, and he catches fish beneath the cliffs. The gods meet together in Ithavoll, and talk of Jormungandr, the terrible girdler of earth. They remember the mighty past and the ancient runes of the Ruler of Gods.
In wondrous beauty, once again the golden tables that the gods owned in the days of old, stand amid the grass. Unsown fields bear ripened fruit, all ills grow better, and Baldr returns. Baldr and Hod dwell in Odin’s battle hall, Valhalla, with the mighty gods. Would you know yet more?
Hönir wins the prophetic wand, and the sons of the brothers of Odin abide in Vindheim. Would you know yet more?
I see a hall more fair than the sun, roofed with gold, standing in Gimle. There the righteous rulers will dwell in happiness forever. There a mighty lord will comes on high, all power to hold, all lands to rule.
From below the dragon of darkness, Nidhogg, comes forth, flying from Nithafjoll. The bright serpent bears the bodies of men on his wings. But now must I sink.