Hávamál analysis and study

Foreword :

The Hávamál.

A familiar word to many of us who study the ancient scriptures, you usually find it just among the rest of the Edda texts after the Völuspá. But actually the Hávamál is THE text for people who follow the Norse or Germanic faith. Hávamál actually houses all the “rules” and beliefs for us who follow and study the Nordic or Germanic pantheon. They are the words of Odin, our Allfather. So I would like to make a comparative study of the Hávamál herself, her own book, as it were. Because that is what the Hávamál really deserves ! For anyone who has already started to read the Hávamál it is usually a question of finding out what all the Stanzas mean. Often things are described cryptically and leave a lot of room for interpretation.The many translations of the Hávamál are proof of this.Each translator has their own interpretation of how the old text sounds and that vision sometimes results in a completely different translation.The easiest way to study and understand the Hávamál is to read and analyze the poem and its meaning stanza by stanza.To assist you in this task, I have given each stanza of the Hávamál a separate chapter,with multiple translations of the same stanza together by the most famous translators.I will also share my thoughts and analysis on that particular stanza.

Please understand that this is just my opinion and vision.What I recommend is, please look up multiple sources, think for yourself and come to your own conclusions.This analysis is just a tool to help you.As you read the different translations of the same stanza, look for similarities and differences in meaning.Keep in mind that there can also be different levels of meaning,and different ways you could interpret each stanza.But before we start with this, we must first consider what the Hávamál finally is.What sometimes causes confusion is the caption of the Hávamál, you can find it below

Hávamál – the song of the High One,

Hávamál – the sayings of Hár ,

Hávamál – the song of the high,

Hávamál – Hár’s song.


There are many captions and titles but it always remains the Hávamál, what the many captions sometimes make it seem is that there are several versions or volumes, but in the end there is only 1 Hávamál which consists of 164 stanzas or quatrains.What may differ is the translation of Hávamál himself,or rather, how the translator interpreted the source text.It is my opinion that the time period in which the translator lived or created his translation also had a great influence on how he wrote it.That is why I have added Hávamál’s translation of 9 translators from history to this script.My initial idea was to translate these into Dutch as well, but after further consideration I decided not to do this anyway, because when I translate these into Dutch, they actually all become translations of mine and might lose some of their value .

In explaining the Stanzas, I will translate some notable lines individually to give explanations.The way these are drawn up often reflect the feeling of the translator that would be lost when converting into Dutch.You will see that there can be great differences in the word choice of the translators, where one chooses more poetic words like Bellows, another chooses the pure short word.You can also see that the translators move or change stanzas according to their vision.Now I have chosen here to return the translators’ translation to their correct Codex Regius source text for easier comparison of the Stanzas.So for the people who have already read the translations of the involved translators, you will notice that I did not follow their order but chose the order of the original manuscript,the Codex Regius, also known as GKS 2365 4º.The Codex Regius is a manuscript written around AD 1271. , it is assumed that the texts in the codex are much older and that the codex is a copy of another much older manuscript as the texts and songs herein suggest by their form and construction that they were written around 800 to 1000 AD. .When the codex was discovered in 1642 by the Bishop of Skálholt, Brynjólfur Sveinsson,this was assumed to be the source text of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose edda also known as Snorri’s edda,but the codex was written 50 years later than Snorri’s manuscript.

Before the discovery of the codex, several stories were also known from Snorri’s edda, but it was believed that there must have been an even older manuscript, the one Snorri referred to in his stories, when the codex was found and it was shown that the codex 50 years younger than Snorri’s edda, that presumption was therefore somewhat confirmed on that existence, there must have been a manuscript from which both the codex and Snorri’s edda got and shared their information but which must have been lost over time.When it turned out that the codex was not the source text of Snorri’s edda, Brynjólfur attributed it to Sæmundur Sigfússon, an Icelandic priest and scholar, better known as Sæmundur the scholar or Sæmund the sage who lived between 1056 and 1133.This was later debunked and is still food for discussion.

The most famous translator still using this thesis is Benjamin Thorpe in his work, The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson published in 1906 but written in 1866 for Trübner, it was also his last work before he died in 1870.Snorri’s edda is a collection of old stories and testimonies of how the old customs and songs were experienced by the ancestors, by recording them Snorri wanted to prevent these from being lost while the Christian faith gradually gained the upper hand in the Scandinavian countries and there were almost no written texts about all these centuries old orally transmitted customs and stories, especially about the prose form of it all.

The first writings describing certain customs and providing evidence that they concern ancient customs and practices can be found in the writings of Caesar and Tacitus, but in these writings you will find nothing more clearly than in the codex or Prose edda.

Together, the Codex Regius and the prose edda therefore form the most important and clearest sources of Norse and Germanic mythology.

Perhaps this as a little knowing that, how and why the writings are called the poetic and prose ‘edda’ is actually not known. The name edda only occurs in 1 script in the old texts and that is in Rígsþula or the Rígsmál found in the Codex Wormianus or AM 242 fol, where the word gets the meaning “grandmother”The aim now is not to explain the history of the eddas, but to create a small picture of where the ancient texts come from. The complete account and explaining history has little use or value for this script, but it is and remains a fascinating story that I can recommend if you ever have the time to research it.The Elder or Poetic Edda has been translated numerous times, the earliest printed edition being that of Amos Simon Cottle from 1797 Icelandic poetry or The Edda of Saemund, although some short portions were translated as early as the 1670s. Some early translators relied on a Latin translation of the Edda, including Cottle.

Opinions differ on the best way to translate the text, on the use or rejection of archaic language, and on the representation of terms that do not have a clear English analogy. However, Cottle’s 1797 translation is considered very imprecise. For those who want to read this, it is on the internet as public domain.

So back to Hávamál.

Hávamál is the second song from the poetic edda.

Of course, every translator also has his or her own style of translation, whether or not influenced by the time in which he or she lived or lives.To form a complete picture, I will give you a small profile of all translators above, hoping that this will give us an insight into their vision or conception of Hávamál.I will keep the translators’ biography short and limit myself to only the necessary data, which can create an image from which to explain their vision and style.


Snorri Sturluson

Born in 1179 in Hvammur, Iceland to the Sturlungar family, was murdered on September 23, 1241 in Reykholt for his loyalty in a failed rebellion against King Hákon IV of Norway.

Snorri was raised from the age of 3 by Jón Loftsson, the grandson of Sæmundur Sigfússon who founded an important knowledge center in Oddi, and Snorri studied at this school for 16 years. Through his arranged marriage to Herdís, the eldest daughter of Bersi Vermundarson, Snorri quickly acquired status and prestige, as well as capital and property through inheritance.Snorri also acquired a reputation as a poet who in turn brought him into contact with various people who further feed his knowledge of Norwegian / Germanic history.In the summer of 1218 Snorri sailed to Norway. Hákon Hákonarson had recently been succeeded to the throne, only 14 years old, and Earl Skúli Bárđarson ruled with him.

When Snorri returned to Iceland two years later, the Earl gave him the ship on which he sailed and fifteen more generous gifts. Snorri had composed two poems about the count that are now largely lost; and on his return to Iceland he wrote a poem of over a hundred stanzas about both count and king.The poem has been preserved as the last part of Snorri’s Edda and is known as Háttatal.Due to his fame as a poet, Snorri also came to the position of law speaker at the Alding in Iceland for a period of 10 years in 1222.Snorri wrote many important manuscripts such as the Heimskringla, Egils saga and of course the prose edda.He wrote or compiled the prose edda in 1220 AD.Between the Prose Edda, with its priceless detail on the art of Old Norse verses, the Heimskringla, with its daring tales of adventurer kings, and Egils Saga, widely regarded as one of the greatest of all Icelandic sagas, is Sturluson an author of many virtues, providing insight and excitement to readers of all backgrounds and disciplines.


Olive (r) Bray;

Was born on April 2, 1776 in Guilford, New Haven County, Connecticut, USA and died on December 26, 1823 at the age of 47, Bray’s translation was first published in 1908 under the name;The Elder or Poetic Edda; commonly known as Saemund’s Edda. Edited and translated with int. and notes by Olive Bray. Illustrated by W.G. Collingwood. Bray is sometimes referred to as Olive or Oliver, which is why I put the r in parentheses, on the Oxford page he is also listed as Oliver among his siblings, but in his book published in 1908 he is listed as Olive stated, however, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there about who Bray was or what he did in his life.The little I could find was the following.He was the son of Reverend Thomas Wells Bray who served as a chaplain in the revolutionary army and Sarah Bray Robinson.

As far as I can tell he had 10 brothers and sisters. Bray was thus born in the early years of the American Revolutionary War. He was a librarian for the Portland Library Society from 1812 to 1817.So what we can conclude about Bray is that he was involved in a lot of literature and had a Christian background or influence.Whether his early life during the American Revolutionary War influenced his view of Hávamál and the other ancient writings is not clear and is fodder for speculation. How and why Bray was so interested in Norse / Germanic mythology is also unknown, but his position as library caries is probably related to this. Bray’s translation is considered public domain and therefore not subject to copyright.


Benjamin Thorpe

Was born in 1782 and died on July 19, 1870 in Chiswick London in the UK at the age of 88.He studied for 4 years at the university in Copenhagen in a few years he acquired the reputation of Anglo-Saxon scholar in Anglo-Saxon literature following Chisholm in 1911.Thorpe was a member of different societies as there are;Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.Royal Academy of Sciences in Munich. Society of Netherlandish Literature in Leyden.Many of Thorpe’s writings have to do with ancient manuscripts and studies related to Germanic history.As a result of which he is regarded as one of the most influential writers in this genre.Thorpe wrote the Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda of Sæmund the Learned from the Old Norse or Icelandic, parts I and II in 1866. This script is now also in the public domain and not subject to copyright.This version of Hávamál can often be found on various websites, but all too faintly the texts are adapted so that they are no longer complete as Thorpe had written them. So my advice for this text is, search the scanned text through websites like Project Gutenberg or sacred texts, these pages catalog the original texts without changing them. You can still buy Thorpe’s version in book form, but then you have to hope that the author of that version has not changed the original text and structure.


James Chisholm ;

James Allan Chisholm’s Stanzas are sometimes attributed to James Chisholm from 1838, but this is a false statement. Although James Chisholm from 1838 has also written some works related to the Germanic faith, he is not the author of the Hávamál Stanzas circulating on the net and which I have also included in this work.This is a short 1838 bio by James Chisholm;

James Chisholm was born on February 18, 1838, Turriff, Aberdeen, Scotland. and died in 1903.He wrote some well-known works on the Germanic faith including;

Grove and Gallows: Greek and Latin Sources for Germanic Heathenism

A Source-Book of Seid

He became best known for his work South Pass, 1868: James Chisholm’s Journal of the Wyoming Gold Rush when he wrote for the Chicago Tribune. Why some books or web pages refer to the Hávamál as his work, we only guess.

The James Allen Chisholm who wrote these stanzas did this in his 2005 work, The Eddas: The Keys to the Mysteries of the North.

This is not a complete translation of the edda and sometimes leaves a few stitches and has not translated the full edda, his translation of Hávamál is present in this book and is sometimes interesting, at times he leaves behind stanzas in his translation to add or dare to move parts. The Eddas: The Keys to the Mysteries of the North can be found completely legitimate for free online, Chisholm himself released it on the same day of his book release, why are we guessing again.

James A. Chisholm was a member of the AFA (Ásatrú Free Assembly) until on December 20, 1987 he co-founded The Ring of Troth, now known as The Troth, with Edred Thorsson. The AFA was split into the Troth and the new AFA (Asatru Folk Assembly) which now follows an extreme right-wing ideology and course. The Troth describes itself as a religious organization of Germanic Paganism open to all forms of religion (Asatru, Urglaawe, Forn Sed, Theodism and others) with an international scope, educating clergy, promoting cooperation and community, and the provision of information and educational publications as objectives.

The leadership of both Thorsson and Chisholm became controversial because of their association with the Satanist Temple of Set. Thorsson and Chisholm therefore looked for a new leader (Steersman) of the group, because it had become clear that they were too controversial to fill this position. Chisholm will remain associated with the organization as Elder Emeritus. Chisholm is also the author of True Hearth: A Guide to True HouseholdingEdred Thorson is better known nowadays under his pen name Stephen E. Flowers and has also published many works on the Norwegian path.


Auden en Taylor

Wystan Hugh Auden, born February 21, 1907 in York and died September 29, 1973 in Vienna, was an English-American poet. Auden’s poetry was known for its stylistic and technical achievement, its involvement in politics, morals, love and religion, and its diversity in tone, form and content. Some of his most famous poems are about love.

Born December 31, 1930 in London, Paul Beekman Taylor is a professor who has taught and studied at various universities worldwide, including Brown, Yale, Berkeley, Reykjavik and Geneva. Professor Taylor is highly respected in academic circles and specializes in Old Norse, and his 1963 dissertation is entitled ‘Old Norse Heroic Poetry’.In addition to Old Norse, he is a specialist in both Old English and Middle English. Among his many scholarly articles and book lengths are three volumes of translations from Old Norse that he undertook with Wystan Hugh Auden.

Voluspa: The Song of the Sybil – 1967

The Elder Edda: A Selection – 1969

Norse Poems, Athlone Press – 1981


Patricia Terry ;

Patricia Ann Terry was born on September 30, 1929 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. Poems of the Elder Edda was first released in 1990 and has so far been released in 17 editions worldwide. Patricia Terry was a professor of literature at Barnard College and the University of California, San Diego. Terry has written many works and translations. Terry’s version is praised for its easy and smooth readability.


Lee M. Hollander ;

Lee Milton Hollander was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 8, 1880, to a family of Jewish background. He died on October 19, 1972. Hollander was an American philologist who specialized in Old Norse studies. For many years, Hollander was head of the Department of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas at Austin. He is best known for his research on Old Norse literature and has published many translations of Old Norse texts.

The first version of The Poetic Edda van Hollander was released in 1928. A review of his 1929 work tells us,“Hollander knows how to capture the taste and taste of the original, but that is often at the expense of the accessibility of the work, and his diction is certainly not easy. “Whatever my opinion, Hollanders version is not the “lightest” version to read, but it remains close to the feel of the original.


Henry A . Bellows ;

Born September 22, 1885 and died of lung cancer on December 29, 1939, Henry Adams Bellows was an American editor for the newspaper and a radio director who was an early member of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

He received his Ph.D. in 1910 for a dissertation in comparative literature entitled “The Relations between Prose and Metrical Composition in Old Norse Literature” and subsequently became assistant professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota.

Bellows had a wide range of interests, but to those studying the Norse faith he is best known for translating the poetic edda for the American-Scandinavian Foundation in 1923.

Personally, I think Bellows’ translations are the most complete of all translators, which is not to say that they are the easiest. In Bellows’ translations I still feel the poetic form beating. Nor does he seem to change or omit passages or stanzas. The lyrics of Bellows were with the first versions I read so this may also shape my opinion.

But where I love Bellow’s work now, someone else might find this complete bend, so we have many translations, so that each one can relate to a particular style of translation.


Elsa – Brita Titchenell ;

Elsa-Brita Titchenell (maiden name Bergqvist) born May 30, 1915 in Uppsala Sweden and died February 10, 2002 in Altadena, California.

After school and studies in Stockholm, Shanghai and England, she worked for a while at the Swedish Embassy in Shanghai from 1937.

Titchenell’s second book was The Masks of Odin: Wisdom of the Ancient Norse (1985) or available in Dutch as De masks van Odin – Old Norse wisdom based on a series of articles published in Sunrise in 1954-55, it is one of the few cases where a scientific approach is applied to the Old Norse myths as a living religion. More than half of the book consists of Titchenell’s new translations of The Elder Edda’s most important poems.

Personally, I think this is a good version apart from a few things that sometimes disturb me, but I don’t think this is due to the writer but more to the translator. Almost all names and acquaintances have also been translated into Dutch, so you have to fall back more than you like on finding out who it is actually sometimes about. Which also makes it more difficult for people who are just starting to research or study the Norse faith as people usually start reading in their own language first before switching to other languages. This may not be disturbing for the casual reader, but if you subsequently read a version in another language that does use the original names, it may give the feeling that you are reading something completely different.

But as I said before, if you already know what it’s about, this is kind of not so bad but as a novice reader it can make readability difficult.


Marcel Otten ;

Born in 1951 and studied Dutch, English, Old Icelandic and theater sciences. He achieved fame and fame with his many translations from Norwegian and Icelandic, such as that from

Edda – 1994

The Saga of the Völsungen – 1996

and many others, 22 in total, too many or unnecessary to put all here.

I find Otten’s version a really pleasant translation where unfortunately names are translated regularly, but not constantly. I can recommend it for people who prefer to read Edda in their own language. And apparently I am not alone, because Otten received the filter translation prize 2012 in Utrecht for this translation.

From the jury text:

Courage to translate texts that are more difficult to access, to consistently stick to your own translation choices, to make decisions, always with a view to the reader who is not an expert, and creativity that manifests itself in virtuoso variation and beautiful discoveries, all based on decades of knowledge and translation experience. A translation that aims to teach through a thorough introduction, explanatory notes, a bibliography and an index, but at the same time, apart from that, is also a voyage of discovery through old poetry and poetry theory: the jury has awarded the 2012 Filter Translation Prize to Marcel Otten. “


I know there are some good versions of Edda’s translations, old and new alike, and I would have liked to have used all the versions I know in the equations but using them all would not only make the script that much bigger but to get permission it would get even crazier than it already is. But as an advice I do not want to withhold these, although they are not included in this notebook.

I can certainly recommend Jan de Vries in Dutch.

In English Carolyne Larrington, Jackson Crawford, and if you can afford a decent amount of money, Ursula Dronke, this is probably the only version in the world that I have not been lucky enough to read or study. This version is often referred to as the Rolls Royce of the English language translations, as I have not read it I cannot confirm or deny it. Dronke’s Edda is split into 3 parts, each costing around 350 €, the death of Dronke has ensured that parts 4 and 5 have not been released and that the value of the books is corresponding. So if you ever get a chance to read this I would say do.

There are probably still a few versions that I have not mentioned, but you will be sweet with this one for quite some time.

Then all that’s left to do is give a profile of the latest translator, namely myself;

Born in 1979, not a professor or scholar at all in any way . If the child still needs a name, let it be a little modest expert by experience and follower of the old faith.

My best achievement in life so far is my 2 children. Aside from a modest career in the military, I actually have a normal life like everyone else. I cannot present a long list of letters of honor like all these translators before me. Just someone who has ever stumbled on the Norse path since the year 1999 without elaborating and kept following it and always kept studying the old texts, gradually building up some modest knowledge without trying to explain that I already know a lot.

For a number of years now I have been helping people who also follow the Norse path to understand the sometimes cryptic texts or to set them up to do so, of course the meaning can be different for each, but sometimes a little nudge can be enough. To accomplish this, I have a modest web page where I once typed out all the important texts and posted them on the website, so that people looking for them don’t have to search hundreds of pages to find the right text.

This script was also originally intended to be put on the page, but when it started to take on the proportions it has today, some of the proofreaders recommend that you have it published.This script was created with the help of some acquaintances worldwide who wanted to share their knowledge about Old Norse and Old Icelandic and advise me. A Dutch version with explanations and references to other translations on how to interpret the Hávamál in modern times and use it in everyday life. Who would have thought this, Dave as a writer, maybe you are reading this now and it actually got that far.

In any case, I hope that this script can help you further in your quest and that it sheds some light on our Hávamál.Remember, of course, that these opinions are my own. It shouldn’t be yours.

As a counsel again, read the Stanzas, read all the various translations and let them come to you, for a moment to sink in what they mean or could mean for you and your life.This is the very purpose of this scripture, my advice is only to get you started, my advice and opinion is not the total or sole truth.



The first Gestaþáttr section, the ‘Guest Section’, stanzas 1 – 79, contains a set of maxims on how to conduct yourself when you are a guest and when traveling, paying particular attention to the etiquette and behavioral relationships between hosts and guests and the sacred knowledge of reciprocity and hospitality endemic to seafaring peoples. The first stanza is an example of the practical behavioral advice it offers: What I would like to point out is, although the Stanzas in Hávamál look like rules, these are just advice and not obligations as such . Although it may sometimes seem like a duty, you should consider everything in Hávamál as good advice for an honorable life.

Whether or not you follow it is your own free choice.

You can find the study Here

© The Honest Heathen 2020