Svipdagsmál I – Grógaldr – Groa's Spell

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aka Gróa’s Spell, The Spell of Gróa

Grógaldr or The Spell of Gróa is the first of two poems, now commonly published under the title Svipdagsmál found in several 17th-century paper manuscripts with Fjölsvinnsmál. In at least three of these manuscripts, the poems are in reverse order and separated by a third eddic poem titled, Hyndluljóð.For a long time, the connection between the two poems was not realized, until in 1854 Svend Grundtvig pointed out a connection between the story told in Gróagaldr and the first part of the medieval Scandinavian ballad of Ungen Sveidal/Herr Svedendal/Hertig Silfverdal . Then in 1856, Sophus Bugge noticed that the last part of the ballad corresponded to Fjölsvinnsmál. Bugge wrote about this connection in Forhandlinger i Videnskabs-Selskabet i Christiania 1860, calling the two poems together Svipdagsmál. Subsequent scholars have accepted this title.

Gróagaldr is one of six eddic poems involving necromantic practice. It details Svipdag’s raising of his mother Groa, a völva, from the dead. Before her death, she requested him to do so if he ever required her help; the prescience of the völva is illustrated in this respect. The purpose of this necromancy was that she could assist her son in a task set him by his cunning stepmother. Svipdag’s mother, Gróa, has been identified as the same völva who chanted a piece of Hrungnir’s hone from Thor’s head after their duel, as detailed in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. There, Gróa is the wife of Aurvandil, a man Thor rescues from certain death on his way home from Jötunheim. The news of her husband’s fate makes Gróa so happy, she forgets the charm, leaving the hone firmly lodged in Thor’s forehead.

In the first stanza of this poem Svipdag speaks and bids his mother to arise from beyond the grave, at her burial mound, as she had bidden him do in life. The second stanza contains her response, in which she asks Svipdag why he has awakened her from death.

He responds by telling her of the task he has been set by his stepmother, i.e. to win the hand of Menglöð. He is all too aware of the difficulty of this: he presages this difficulty by stating that: “she bade me travel to a place where travel one cannot to meet with fair Menglöð”

His dead mother agrees with him that he faces a long and difficult journey but does not attempt to dissuade him from it.

Svipdag then requests his mother to cast spells for his protection.

Groa then casts nine spells, or incantations.

Bellows’s notes on the poem

Introductory Note:

The two poems, Grougaldr (Groa’s Spell) and Fjolsvinnsmol (the Ballad of Fjolsvith), which many editors have, very wisely, united under the single title of Svipdagsmol, are found only in paper manuscripts, none of them antedating the seventeenth century. Everything points to a relatively late origin for the poems: their extensive use of “kennings” or poetical circumlocutions, their romantic spirit, quite foreign to the character of the unquestionably older poems, the absence of any reference to them in the earlier documents, the frequent errors in mythology, and, finally, the fact that the poems appear to have been preserved in unusually good condition. Whether or not a connecting link of narrative verse joining the two parts has been lost is an open question; on the whole it seems likely that the story was sufficiently well known so that the reciter of the poem (or poems) merely filled in the gap with a brief prose summary in pretty much his own words. The general relationship between dialogue and narrative in the Eddic poems is discussed in the introductory note to the Grimnismol, in connection with the use of prose links.

The love story of Svipdag and Mengloth is not referred to elsewhere in the Poetic Edda, nor does Snorri mention it; however, Groa, who here appears as Svipdag’s mother, is spoken of by Snorri as a wise woman, the wife of Orvandil, who helps Thor with her magic charms. On the other hand, the essence of the story, the hero’s winning of a bride ringed about by flames, is strongly suggestive of parts of the Sigurth-Brynhild traditions. Whether or not it is to be regarded as a nature or solar myth depends entirely on one’s view of the whole “solar myth” school of criticism, not so highly esteemed today as formerly; such an interpretation is certainly not necessary to explain what is, under any circumstances, a very charming romance told, in the main, with dramatic effectiveness.

In later years the story of Svipdag and Mengloth became popular throughout the North, and was made the subject of many Danish and Swedish as well as Norwegian ballads. These have greatly assisted in the reconstruction of the outlines of the narrative surrounding the dialogue poems here given.

For the purpose of studying the poem fragment without distraction it has been separated from the Fjölsvinnsmál; the numbering of the stanzas will be different than Bellows’ original numbering.