Gylfaginning The Apotheosis Of Gylfe

The title of this tale, Gylfaginning, is usually given as "The Mocking of Gylfe" for the verb ginna means to mock or to fool in Icelandic. This may, however, be another instance of semantic misunderstanding, like that which makes dwarfs into little people instead of unevolved souls. In Icelandic there is a noun ginn which has a very lofty meaning indeed. It is the word for the inexpressible divine principle, or essence, beyond the Aesir, beyond the Vaner, beyond all possible manifestation, however exalted. It corresponds most nearly to the Sanskrit tat which means simply "THAT" — an abstraction too sacred to be belittled by being named. It is the ONE — All-being — the self-existent void which is all-fullness, not to be comprehended by finite mind, and it is the concept expressed by the word Ginnungagap — "chasm of ginn."

The story then becomes self-consistent and may be interpreted. The Asgard of the tale has evidently been depicted as an earthly locality harboring advanced, though human, beings, yet it retains an air of remoteness and is situated in a hall so large that the roof can barely be seen. The juggler at the entrance to the hall may be supposed to represent a stage of proficiency in magic — an element which never falls to make an impression but which is given small importance here: the performer exhibits his marvels outside the precincts. He shows the visiting king into the sanctuary where three hierophants are enthroned. Their names, or lack of names, in themselves pose an interesting enigma, suggesting that while there are differences in standing, there is no differentiation made in rank.

No sooner has the neophyte entered than the door closes behind him — a revealing detail and true to life. Thereupon he is treated to the long poem Havamal which, as we shall see, is directed to three stages of spiritual growth.

Having obtained from the triad of divine kings all the wisdom he could receive from them, King Gylfe "returned to his country and told these tidings he had heard and seen," thus fulfilling the destiny of a true spiritual student-teacher.


King Gylfe was a wise and knowledgeable man. He wondered how the Asa-people were so knowing that all went according to their wishes. He considered that this was caused either by the people's own nature or was brought about by the gods to whom they sacrificed. He determined to find this out and prepared to travel to Asgard in all secrecy, disguised as an old man. But the Asa-people were wiser. They saw his journey before he came and caused him to be beset by illusions. When he arrived at the court he saw a hall so high that he could barely see the top of it. Its roof was covered with golden shields as other roofs might be with shingles.

At the entrance to the hall he saw a man seven small swords at once. Gylfe was asked his name and gave it as Ganglare (wandering learner), said he had come by watery ways (by sea) and wished to find lodging here. He then asked whose hall it was. The juggler replied it belonged to the king, "and I shall take you to see him," he said, "so that you yourself can ask his name."

The man walked into the hall; Gylfe followed. At once the door closed behind him. He saw many rooms and many people, some at games, some at drink, others with weapons at swordplay.

He saw three high seats, one above the other, with three figures seated, one on each. He asked what names these chieftains had and his conductor replied that he who sat in the lowest high seat was a king named The High One; the one above him was named As High, and the uppermost was named Third.

The High One asked the stranger his errand; and at his disposal were food and drink as for all in the High One's hall.

Gylfe said he first wanted to know if there was any wise man to be found. The High One replied that he would not leave the place whole were he not the wiser, and initiated the interrogation:

Step forward as you question.
Seated shall be the respondent.

[Here follows the poem Havamal, whereby the postulant is taught the ancient wisdom. The conclusion of Gylfaginning follows Havamal. See next chapter.]