From Iceland — Gullveig/Heiður: The Beginning Of The End Of The World

Gullveig/Heiður: The Beginning Of The End Of The World

Gullveig/Heiður: The Beginning Of The End Of The World

Published March 3, 2022

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Frølich

Strength: Can’t die, a talented but evil witch…we think?
Weakness: The first person in the world to be killed, which leads to the war between Vanir and Æsir and eventually the end of the world.
Modern take: Keyser Söze

It’s probably not that shocking for any woman reading this to learn that the first person ever to be killed in Nordic mythology was a woman. And it’s probably less news that the reasons behind that killing were, well, a bit unclear.

Gold-drunken end of the world

Gullveig (gold-drunk, or gold-powerful) was a mysterious woman that visits the Æsir and she follows the three famous witches of destiny, Urður (witch of the past), Verðandi (witch of the present) and Skuld (witch of the future). Those three witches are very famous in Nordic mythology, but Gullveig, not so much. Yet she is the one that matters the most, because she marks the beginning of the end of the world.

Stabbed and burned…

In short, Völvan (the narrator in the Edda Poems) describes the creation of the world and the richness of the gods that had a pretty nice existence in peace. Well, until the three witches of destiny arrive, along with Gullveig. The gods are terrified of Gullveig, since they know that she is the beginning of the end of the world. So, they get the manly idea of solving all their problems by just killing her. She is stabbed by all of them, but that’s not quite enough for the Æsir, so they also burn her like a proper witch, just to make sure.

… and repeat

But Gullveig is no ordinary broad. She is reborn, even more powerful than before and sets her mind on seiðr (sorcery). The gods, being idiots, of course, think that the only logical solution here is to burn her three times and the gods are absolutely shocked that the third time wasn’t the charm. But, there is a huge change though; Gullveig is not only reborn, but she has a new name now, which is Heiður (bright, or clear). And she is no longer a witch, but a full-blown all-knowing badass seeress/Völva. There is a difference. One uses sorcery, the other is a prophet.

But, why?

So, here is where things get tricky. Vanir, (also gods like Æsir, just from an older pagan religion fused into the Nordic mythology) end up in a war with Æsir, partly because of Gullveig/Heiður. Nobody understands exactly why, perhaps because she was Vanir herself, but some scholars have the theory that she was a magical being made by the Jötnar to arouse trouble among the gods. But either way, it was the Æsir that started the war, Óðinn threw the first spear. Vanir attacks Ásgarður. And there is a dramatic battle; cue Valkyries flying in slow-mo in Thor’s Ragnarök.

Keyser Söze of the gods

But, the question stands; what in Hel’s name is Gullveig/Heiður? One theory is that she symbolises greed and corruption, if the name gold-drunk/powerful didn’t already give it away. But there is a plot twist. Perhaps Gullveig is not Gullveig, Nor Heiður, but the goddess, Freyja, who is actually from the tribe of Vanir. Cue meme of a head exploding, because we are exhausted and confused.

Correction:

Now, greater nerds than us have pointed out some serious inconsistencies in this article. They are of course partially right. In the first version, we stated that Gullveig was stabbed three times. That was wrong; she was only stabbed by all the gods once, but burnt three times. We also stated that Vanir attacked the Æsir first, but it was actually Óðinn who threw the first spear. Also, because we are idiots, we stated that Óðinn was the first to stab Gullveig, but confused that with Óðinn throwing the first spear at the Vanir and starting the war between the gods. Not that he wasn’t a part of the stabbing though. We deeply apologise for those mistakes.

Now, it also has been pointed out that Gullveig wasn’t the first to be killed in Völuspá, The Edda Poems, but Brímir/Ýmir. In the poem, it’s stated that Gullveig is the first “fólksvíg” meaning the first killing of people. It’s pretty well acknowledged that Gullveig was the first victim, but it’s also stated that she might have led up to the first killing. Either way, Brímir being the first to be killed is a stretch, but we might have been more clear about that point. She is the first person/god to be killed.

Second, when it comes to Freyja being Gullveig/Heiður, this is a very well known theory and has been written about several times. But then again, we are idiots, and this should be read with humour in mind. If you want to seriously learn more about Nordic Mythology, read Snorri Sturluson’s writings.

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