Wednesday 18 December 2013

Havamal Snippets 111: Learning at Urthr's Well

A couple of terms from the verse might need explaining:
  • 'Urthr's Well' is the memory well where all of our memories are storied.  Urthr (also Wyrd, Urðr and other spellings) is one of the three norns, which are the Norse equivalent of the Greek 'Fates'; you know, the three female beings who each represent/embody a particular period of time: the past, the present, the future.  Urthr is an embodiment of the past.  Hence Urthr's Well is that in which memories are stored.  If it was Verðandi's Well then it would be the place in which the present is stored.  If it was Skulds Well ('Skalla' is the norn of future, related to the English 'shall') then it would be a place in which the future (or possible futures) are stored.
  • 'Har' means 'High' and is one of Odins names.  Odin has different names depending on his state of mind, much like we might use metaphors to describe attributes of people we know, or give them nicknames.
Odin sits next to Urthr's Well in order to learn, to receive knowledge that already exists (instead of knowledge of the future, or knowledge of the present, which he'd gain by sitting at different wells).  This is different to his active approach to acquiring knowledge which he employed to gain the Mead of Poetry during the past several verses.  This time around he sits quietly, and passively and listens to what Urthrs Well can tell him about all the things that man have already learnt.

Mál er at þylja
þular stóli á
Urðar brunni at
sá ek ok þagðak
sá ek ok hugðak
hlýdda ek á manna mál
of rúnar heyrða ek dœma
né um ráðum þögþu
Háva höllu at
Háva höllu í
heyrða ek segja svá           
It is time to recite
from the sage's throne
at Urthr's well;
I saw and stayed silent,
I saw and reflected,
I listened to the speech of men,
I heard and learned about runes,
nor were they silent in counsels
at Har's hall,
in Har's hall,
thus I heard it said --


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