Preface

It was in the early 1950s when the writer picked up a book at random in the Theosophical University Library in Altadena — a beautifully bound volume of the Edda in Swedish. Though familiar since childhood with at least some portions of the Norse "god-stories" this was the first time I had read the poetic lays of the Elder Edda. Browsing through the verses and delighting in their picturesque "kennings," I was enjoying the quaint turns of phrase when suddenly, as by a lightning bolt, I was struck by a dazzling flash of meaning, a hint of basic truth. Skeptical at first, I began to read with greater attention and soon became convinced that the Edda ranks among the world's sacred traditions as a genuine scripture, a goldmine of natural history and spiritual treasure. This is connoted also by its Swedish name: gudasaga — a divine story or god-spell — the archaic form of the word "gospel."

Many years later, after much scrutiny and comparison with other myths, enough evidence of the Edda's scriptural content has accumulated to warrant collating at least a few fragments that seem to have secreted in them a discernible esoteric meaning, a hint at truths heretofore unspoken. Among the great wealth of material in the Norse myths it has been necessary to be selective, partly because there are several versions of many of the tales, partly because the purpose of this book is to bring out and suggest interpretations of those myths which are of particular novel relevance in our time, and in times to come.

Most of the lays and stories herein are translated from the Codex Regius — the "royal codex" — which was written down by Saemund the Wise a thousand years ago, though their content has doubtless been known much longer than that. Today they are luminous with meaning due to two seemingly independent circumstances: first, the disclosure of a generous portion of the universal theosophic philosophy in the late nineteenth century and the broadening influence this has exerted; and second, following closely thereafter, the development of a more enlightened science in the West.

The story of Codex Regius is itself a fascinating one. King Frederik III of Denmark sent Thormod Torfaeus to Iceland with an open letter dated 27 May 1662 which empowered him to purchase ancient manuscripts and other material containing information on Icelandic history. He delivered it to Bishop Brynjolv Sveinsson, an ardent collector of memorabilia since his accession to the bishopric of Skalholt in 1639. Soon afterward the bishop sent the king a gift of several manuscripts; Torfaeus made a catalogue of these which Gudbrand Vigfusson lists in his Prolegomena to the Sturlunga Saga. In this collection the manuscript cited as No. 6 is titled "Edda Saemundi; quarto." It was a treasure of the Royal Library at Copenhagen until a few years ago when it was returned to Iceland, where it is now housed in the Arna Magnussonar collection. No one knows how Bishop Brynjolv came in possession of it, but he must have acquired it some twenty years before Torfaeus' arrival as he had inscribed the first page with his own name in Latin, Lupus Loricatus (contracted to [[symbol]] — cf. plate 1 of the photographic reproduction of Voluspa from the Codex Regius manuscript), with the date 1643; he also had a copy made on white parchment.

Several versions of the Edda are extant in part. One collection of handwritten texts is that of Arne Magnusson, believed to emanate from the same source as Saemund's; another is the Codex Wormianus (from which are taken the Songs of Rig and Waywont), and Flatoboken. The Spells of Groa, Verywise's Exchange, and the Lay of Odin's Corpse are from Swedish translations of paper copies; these do not occur in Codex Regius. The Song of the Mill is from Snorri's Edda.

The lays, rendered here were first translated into English from the two Swedish versions of Godecke and Sander, with frequent reference to the commentaries of the Swedish scholar Viktor Rydberg; thereafter the result was compared with the Wimmer and Jonsson Saemundar Eddu, a photographic facsimile of the old Icelandic Codex Regius manuscript with a printed transliteration facing each page. It is a continuous text with no divisions and only an inserted title to mark the beginning of each lay. Most translations break it into verses of six or eight lines as indicated by the rhythm, but we have chosen in many cases to write the verses as quatrains. There is no rhyming, but an alliterative pattern which with the distinctive tetrameter used in many very early epics gives the lays a peculiar charm.

The Edda consists of two main divisions, as do most scriptures that deal with the creation of cosmos and the evolution of mankind. The first applies to the surrounding world, the second to the "heroes": races of humanity and their development through stages of immaturity into the thinking, self-conscious men and women we have become. The latter tales sometimes make use of geographic features and of actual historic events to illustrate the much larger picture they disguise. This work concentrates mainly on the earlier portion, which deals with grand principles and universal events, searching out the basic philosophy of divine nature which is valid throughout the vicissitudes of the human venture.

In translating, both alliteration and meter have unfortunately very often had to be sacrificed, as our purpose is to convey the philosophic and scientific import rather than merely reproduce the poetic style. There already exist several English renditions in verse and prose, many of them accompanied by detailed analyses of the verse forms used in the original. In brief, our aim is not to produce merely another translation but to attempt to penetrate to the core of inspired meaning often concealed within myths. Interpreting and clarifying that inner sense in the Edda is made possible by resorting to the foremost elucidating work of our time, The Secret Doctrine, whose author, H. P. Blavatsky juxtaposed a prodigious array of myths relating to cosmogony as well as human history and the destiny of living beings. In that work are keys showing that the same majestic pattern underlies the varied expressions of different mythic scriptures; we are given an overview of the universe, its periodicity of function and repose, and we discern how divine consciousness reflects itself periodically as a kosmos in space and time.

To find the information the Edda contains we must examine the etymology of names and their connotations, which in some cases are numerous. For this Cleasby's Icelandic Dictionary, completed by Gudbrand Vigfusson in 1869, has proved of inestimable value for it contains copious quotations from the original manuscripts and sometimes presents a strikingly intuitive perception. Undersokningar i Germansk Mitologi (Teutonic Mythology) by Viktor Rydberg also contains scrupulous examination of terms and much information.

One great problem with a book such as this is to arrange the material in a practical manner without necessitating undue repetition. The lays are reproduced in English with the flavor as nearly unchanged as may be and each one is preceded by explanatory notes. In addition certain themes are given special attention; inevitably some of these will occur more than once though each approach is somewhat different. In the notes, verse numbers are given to indicate whence an interpretation has been derived. Needless to say, many meanings are often contained in a single passage, and frequently they are mere hints requiring some personal insight on the part of the reader, for it is not always possible to elucidate each symbol adequately, nor is it necessary. The spelling of names is intentionally inconsistent, some being given in Icelandic (e.g., Aesir), others in Swedish (e.g., Ager), both to make them easier to distinguish visually by the English-speaking reader and because in many cases the root of a name has a suggestive meaning in one language but does not occur, or has a slightly different connotation, in the other. There are also many instances where the Icelandic grammatical variants, or a Swedish plural or definite form, would make an otherwise familiar word all but unrecognizable, necessitating inevitable compromises in an English rendition. When possible, names have been translated into English to enable a reader to find his own interpretation. A glossary and index have been provided.