The Lay of Grotti: Grottasǫngr

In Denmark back in Augustus Cæsar’s time, there was a great king named Fróthi. He was the most powerful king in all the Northern lands – so much so that peace was named after him wherever people spoke in the Scandinavian tongue (the languages only had slight dialectal variations at the time). In the time it lasted, no man would harm another and there were no thieves or robbers. A gold ring even sat untouched for a full three years by the high road over the Jalangr-Heath (now called Jællinge, located in Jutland).

King Fróthi  bought two bondmaids whilst in Sweden where he was attending a feast given by King Fjolnir (King Fjolnir is another one of Óthin’s names, and this may have been the god himself). The bondmaids were named Fenja and Menja (which may mean “Water-Maiden” and “Jewel-Maiden”), and they were both tall and strong on account of the fact that these were no ordinary human women. They were of the giants, born to brothers of etins and having prophetic gifts. Fróthi had gotten these bondmaids in the hope that they would be able to turn a certain pair of millstones in Denmark which were so large that no man could turn them.

It is interesting that these particular maids should end up turning these stones since these two were the ones who rolled them out of etins’ realm and hurled the rocks from the heights so that men could seize them. That was back when they were younger, before they went to Sweden and fought among men as valkyries. They became quite famous doing this and earned their way up through the ranks of men. After some time passed they had become bondmaids, were bought by Fróthi, and were forced to grind gold from the stones they had given to mankind.

(It brings to mind an old Swedish fairy tale about a young tomte who was told by one of his elders never to steal gold from the trolls because the trolls’ gold, jewels, etc. made whoever possessed them lazy, greedy, mean, and acquire other such traits reminiscent of people who give too much of their hearts and minds to etins. Perhaps the stones, having belonged to the etins before and having been stolen, had a similar effect to the gold and jewels stolen from trolls and made whoever possessed them become greedy and mean.)

These stones were special, not just in their immense size, but in that they had the power to grind out whatever anyone turning them bade them to grind. The quern/hand mill was named Grotti (= “Grinder”), and the man who had given the king the mill was called Hengikjopt (= “Hang-Chaps”, another one of Óthin’s names – he had disguised himself, given Fróthi this mill, and prepared the latter’s ruin by doing so). Since the stones could grind out anything, Fróthi had the maids led to the mill and told them to grind gold for him.

The maids ground him gold, peace, and happiness. Then he only allowed them to rest for as long as the cuckoo was silent ( in a long summer day these sing almost constantly in the high north) or for as long as it took to sing a lay. It is said that before they could finish chanting “The Lay of Grotti”, they had ground the fate for him that on that same night the sea king, Mýsing (= “Mouse-Gray”, in another tradition the sea king’s place is taken by a monster rising out of the sea), killed Fróthi and ended his peaceful reign, taking with him treasures, the mill, and Fenja and Menja.

Mýsing had the two bondmaids grind salt for him. At midnight they asked him if he had enough salt. He had them continue grinding and the ship sank shortly after. A whirlpool now exists in that spot. The waters still are turned through the eye of the millstone there and the sea remains salty to this day.

(There is another version (the lay, not the prose version) in which the mill falls to pieces when Fróthi’s good fortune comes to an end instead of having the more “fairy tale” sea salt ending. The lay is said to be the more authentic version, and the first stanza of it was used in Snorri’s Edda “after briefly explaining the skaldic kenning for gold, as “Fróthi’s Flour,” by a short summary of the legend”.)

Summary of the Lay of Grímnir: Grímnismál

King Hrauthung had two sons. The older one, Agnar, was ten years old. The younger, Geirrœth, was eight. The two brothers were rowing a boat one day trying to catch small fry when the wind blew them out to sea. During the night, they suddenly “dashed against” the land. They went ashore and found a cottage wherein they stayed during that winter. The goodwife fostered the elder brother and the goodman fostered the younger. Apart from this, the goodman also counseled Geirrœth in shrewdness. In spring he got a boat for them, led them down to the shore with his wife, and spoke secretly with Geirrœth. The wind was fair and Geirrœth was forward in the boat. When the two brothers arrived back at their father’s landing place, the younger brother jumped out, shoved the boat back to sea with Agnar still inside and said, “Now go where all trolls may take thee!” Agnar drifted out to sea. Geirrœth was warmly welcomed home. Since his father had died (and with his older brother now drifting out in the open sea…), Geirrœth was made king and he became a famous leader. One day, Óthin and Frigg were sitting in Hilthskjalf, looking out upon the world (Hilthskjalf: “Hall of Gates” or “Gate Tower” = Óthin’s seat in Valholl. Quote from “Gylfaginning” on chapter eight: “When he seats himself in the high-seat he can see all the world and the doings of every man”. In this instance, Óthin can be compared to the sun which, when high in the sky, “can see all the world and the doings of every man”.)  As they were looking at the worlds Óthin said to Frigg, “Dost thou see Agnar, thy foster son, how he begets children with an ogress in a cave? But Geirrœth, my foster son, is king in the land.” Frigg responded, “He is so grudging about his food that he lets his guests die of hunger when he thinks too many have come.” (According to Old Norse conceptions, this was a “cardinal sin” in a king.) Óthin said this was a gross lie, so they made a wager. Frigg sent her chambermaid Fulla to Geirrœth to beware lest he be bewitched by a warlock who was supposedly around the area at the time. She said the warlock could be recognized by the fact that dogs would not rush at him, so Geirrœth found the man his dogs wouldn’t set on and captured him. The “warlock” was wearing a blue cloak and said his name was Grímnir (Grímnir: “The Masked One” = Óthin. He is frequently pictured as concealing his face with a wide cowl/hood). He didn’t say anything else about himself even though he was asked. In an attempt to make Grímnir reveal more about himself, Geirrœth tortured him by setting him between two fires. Grímnir sat there for eight nights. Geirrœth’s son, a ten-year-old named Agnar after Geirrœth’s brother, went up to Grímnir, gave him a full horn to drink from and said that the king did ill to torture someone who had done no wrong. Grímnir emptied the horn, and by that time the fire had come so close to him that his cloak started to burn. Óthin thanked Agnar and said he would be king after his father. He then gave Agnar very much information about the gods, Yggdrasil, the universe et cetera. Óthin reveals his identity using many of the names people called him saying, “by one name was I not welcomed ever, since among folk I fared”. He goes on to further introduce himself and says some uncomplimentary things about his own foster son Geirrœth (Geirrœth is muddled, he’s drunk too much, his faithless friends betray him, he sent his own brother out to sea and took the crown in his place) and says the norns wish Geirrœth ill and he doesn’t have much longer left to live. Óthin then says, “come thou near if thou canst”, after which he probably vanishes. Then Geirrœth accidentally drops his sword, piercing his stomach and accidentally killing himself. His son Agnar became king and ruled in that land for a long time.

Finding

We can take pride in things that are lost or dead, but never in those that are forgotten. This is one of the reasons why it’s important for us to remember our history. In fact, it is so important that knowledge and historical documents should be written down or duplicated many times and stored in many different places. This helps prevent cases like the burning of the Library of Alexandria – a tragedy which caused the loss of a great deal of knowledge and a horrendous crime that should never have taken place. The internet is a nice way to prevent this from repeating itself. Naturally it is full of false information as well and we all know this. That, in and of itself, is a piece of information easier to predict than the funny cat pictures spreading across the “net”. To some extent, having to deal with this false information is worth the preservation of knowledge. My concern is that when the false information is much more prevalent than the truth, the entire process would defeat itself because the truth would become virtually impossible to find and would then eventually be forgotten. So it’s nice that we have other methods of preserving history and knowledge like books, paintings, poetry, music et cetera. But there is still disinformation in these things as well. People write false “non-fiction” and legit, actual fiction all the time. There’s a trend going on in which people are buying books in electronic form, so if the internet monopolizes the book industry and physical books became less popular then the information in these books would be harder to find because people would have to wade through a bunch of nonsense online to find anything good. The arts aren’t safe either. They are plagued by the same distractions, false information and blatant degeneracy one may easily find on the internet. These things function the same way in the arts as they do online. It all boils down to making it harder to find something good, useful, or really just anything specific that you may be looking for. It becomes similar to trying to find something in an unorganized closet: you have to dig through a bunch of trash to find what you’re looking for. If we allow this false information and degenerate art to spread unhindered, the truth will become impossible to find. The then that knowledge will be lost forever.