Early Volsung History
The most popular saga in the Norse myths was the Volsung Saga, so popular in fact that it still inspires stories today. Many people have read J.R.R. Tolkien or heard Richard Wagners Ring Cycle, and know that this saga inspired these stories. One person in fact stated that this saga is as important to Scandinavia as the legend of King Arthur is to the English. If you look into this saga, you start to see some similarities to that famous legend. Where to start? Where else but the beginning. I used a book written by Jesse L. Byock for the major source of what I am writing from his excellent book titled, what else, The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer.
There once was a man by the of Sigi, who was the son of the Æsir god Odin. He became outlawed from his homeland when he killed a man by the name of Bredi, the Thrall of a powerful man named Skadi. The reason for this murder was that Sigi and Bredi went out for a days hunting and Bredi came back with more kills than Sigi. Sigi then killed Bredi and hid his body in a snowdrift.
After Sigi was outlawed, Odin came to him and guided him on a long journey where he left him with warriors and long ships for raiding. From this small army, Sigi was able to take control of a country named Hunland and married a woman of noble birth. After a time she gave birth to a son which they named Rerir.
Sigi's most trusted men where his wife's brothers, who secretly envied him, and plotted to overthrow him. One day Sigi went out with some men and where ambushed and killed by his wife's brothers, and they took control of Hunland.
Rerir, who grew to be just as mighty as his father, was away and heard of this action against his father. He then raised a large army from trusted family, friends and local chieftains. They invaded and took control of Hunland where Rerir took claim over his fathers rule, killed his uncles and expanded the country borders so that he was even more known and powerful than his father.
Rerir, like his father, married a noble woman, but where never able to conceive a child. Rerir's wife pleaded with the gods that she might have a child, and was overheard by the Æsir goddess Frigg. Frigg then informed her husband Odin about the request, and sent the giant Hrimnir's daughter Hljod to present Rerir with a golden apple, and she did just that in the form of a crow. When Rerir received that apple, he went to his wife to share it, and they conceived a child.
The pregnancy lasted for a long time, six years in fact, in which time Rerir died from an illness while trying to pacify his land from rebellious uprisings. Rerir then joined his grandfather Odin in Valhall. When in her sixth year of pregnancy, Rerir's wife ordered that her child be cut from her womb, least she die. It was done, and a full grown boy came out. He then kissed his mother before she died and was given the name Volsung.
Volsung, just like his father and grandfather, grew up to be a mighty and powerful man and took over his fathers kingship over Hunland. He marveled many with his daring and prowess and soon became one of the greatest warriors ever known. This did not go unseen in all the nine worlds, and soon the giant Hrimnir sent his daughter Hljod to be Volsung's wife.
King Volsung and the giantess Hljod married and between them they had ten sons and one daughter, the youngest son and daughter being twins and named Sigmund and Signy (not to be confused with Loki's goddess wife of the same name). Volsung then built a mighty long house for his family around the trunk of a huge tree called Barnstock.
Volsungs sons all grew up mighty and strong like him, and soon many sagas and eddas where told of their exploits while Signy became known for being a fine looking woman. When Signy grew to an age to be married, King Siggeir of Gautland came to King Volsung and asked for her hand in marriage. Siggeir was known to be a mighty and powerful king in his own right, and Volsung agreed to the proposal as did his sons. Signy however did not wish to be married to Siggeir, but her fathers wish was her own, and it was done.
King Volsung then held a giant feast at his long hall for his daughter and son-in-law when a strange cloaked, gray haired one eyed man entered the hall. He took a sword out from under his cloak and drove it into the trunk of Barnstock informing the crowd that whoever should pull the sword from the trunk will receive it as a gift from him. He also informed them that it would be the finest sword they ever had. The strange man then turned and exited the hall, never to be seen by the crowd again, but many knew that it was the Æsir god Odin in disguise. Volsung was the first to try to pull the sword out of Barnstock, but was not successful. Siggeir was second to try, but was also unsuccessful. After many others tried, it came upon Sigmund turn, Where he pulled the sword out successfully. Siggeir then offered his brother in-law three times the swords weight in gold, but Sigmund informed him that he would not give up the sword for all of Siggeir's gold. Insulted by this, Siggeir made an oath to himself to avenge this insult on his wife's family. The next morning, Siggeir took his new wife, and returned home, but not before he invited his father in-law and his family to his kingdom in three months time.
After the three months time, King Volsung and his sons traveled to Gautland in three long ships to take up Siggeir's invitation. When they arrived, they where greeted by Signy who informed her father and brothers that Siggeir had raised a large, unbeatable army to attack Volsung and his party. She begged Volsung to return to Hunland and raise an army of his own. Volsung refuses to do so as not to ruin his image as a mighty warrior, then sent her back to Siggeir against her wish.
The next morning, King Volsung met his son in-law on a field where a mighty battle took place. In that battle, King Volsung fell bravely and died. The only survivors of the battle where Sigmund and his nine brothers, who where all taken prisoner by King Siggeir.
Since that time, all decedents of King Volsung where known as Volsungs. His grandson was Sigurd, the great dragon slayer, and hero to many a Viking. The Saga of the Volsungs is also one of the oldest of the Norse epics, and found not only in Scandinavia, but Germany as well.
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This artical appeared in two parts in Valhalla's Svar March and October 1995 issues
© 2004 Eric Anderson