Friday, 3 January 2014

The Riddles of Heithrek

Three days into the New Year and I've made up my mind what my resolution is to be. This year I am going to read more of the Norse Sagas. When I was Xmas shopping, I came across a volume of Old Norse poems (rather sexily subtitled - "The most important non-Skaldic verse not included in the poetic Edda"). As I'm sure you can imagine, I was immediately hooked and spent most of the festive period engrossed in these beautiful ancient lays, songs, oaths and curses.

The poems describe another world, a world wreathed in bloody war and mystical incantation, where Gods disguise themselves as men to trick confident kings and grandmothers curse cruel tormentors. But they are tales my ancestors would have been familiar with and I have a sense that these stories are my birthright and that I have been denied them until this chance discovery at a second-hand bookstall.

Don't worry, I don't think I'm a reincarnation of Eric Bloody-axe or anything. It's just that these poems were shaped by the geography and mythic pre-history of Northern Europe lots of them reference events and people from Britain - my homeland. And I find myself a little angry that the stories I was taught in school reflected the geography and mythic pre-history of the near Middle East.   

The Bible stories are great, but they belong to another land, another people. The Riddles of Heithrek and the Curse of Busla resonate in another, more personal way.

Here are two riddles, one set by Othin (disguised as Gestumblindi) for king Heithrek to solve. And one set by Finnginn (disguised as Gestumblindi) for you to solve.

Have again would I    that which I had yesterday;
         Hear now what I had:
Hamperer of men,    hinderer of words,
         Yet speech it speeds
Aright read now    this riddle Heithrek!

Saw I a scroll    the scrivener scribed;
         Where read I this roll?
The earliest ink    at the end was eyed,
         And at the top, today's
Aright read now    this riddle Heithrek!

All guesses in the comments below please! (correct answers should be formatted in the liothahattr or "chant meter" and begin "Good is thy riddle, Finnginn, and guessed it is...")

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