The name Iðavöll appears twice in Völuspá, just after major cosmic events. The first, in stanza 7, follows the meeting of the Æsir where they portion out time, naming the parts of day, and the year. Stanza 6 tells us that the Æsir met at “the thrones of fate”, while 7 starts with them meeting at Iðavöll Plain, and unlike stanza 6, they physically create things, rather than just naming them.
7.The Aesir met on Iðavöll Plain
They built altars and high temples;
They set up their forges, smithed precious things,
shaped tongs and made tools.
60. The Aesir meet on Iðavöll
And they converse about the mighty Earth-girdler, [World-Serpent]
And they remember there the great events
And the ancient runes of the Mighty One. [Odin]
Both verses 7 and 8 show the Æsir busy and happy, first making the sorts of status tools and accoutrements that an aristocratic society would expect, then kicking back and playing chequers and not lacking for gold (were they betting?) until three giant maidens appear and seem to cast a shadow over the Æsir’s peace.
Stanza 59 tells us that the earth rises again from the water, and an eagle soars over it, looking for fish. (The eagle may be intended to remind us of the one that perched on top of Yggdrasil, or it may be a slice of normal life, like an establishing shot in a movie.)
Stanza 60 then shows us the gods meeting at Iðavöll again, and reminiscing about what they have just been through. Interestingly, their memories are balanced between the chthonic might of the World Serpent and the magical wisdom of Odin – perhaps the new world aims to reconcile them as Baldr and Hodr are reconciled in 62. Or perhaps they are no more, as stanza 61 mentions their golden chequers, but no disruptive giant maidens.
As usual, Snorri’s Prose Edda expands on this: High spoke:
‘In the beginning he established rulers and bade them decide with him the destinies of men and be in charge of the government of the city. This was in the place called Iðavöll in the centre of the city. It was their first act to build the temple that their thrones stand in, twelve in addition the throne that belongs to All-father. This building is the best that is built on earth and the biggest. Outside and inside it seems like nothing but gold. This place is called Gladsheim. They built another hall, this was the sanctuary that belonged to the goddesses, and it was very beautiful. This building is called Vingolf. The next thing they did was lay forges and for them they made hammer and tongs and anvil, and with these they made all other tools. After that they worked metal and stone and wood, using so copiously the metal known as gold that they had all their furniture and utensils of gold, and that age is known as the golden age, until it was spoiled by the arrival of the women. They were from Giantland. (Faulkes: 19)
High said: ‘The earth will shoot up out of the sea and then will be green and fair. Crops will grow unsown. Vidar and vali will be alive, the sea and Surt’s fire not having harmed them, and they will dwell on Iðavöll, where Asgard had been previously. Thor’s sons Modi and Magni will arrive bringing Miollnir. After that Baldr and Hod will arrive from Hel. Then they will sit down together and talk and discuss their mysteries and speak of the things that had happened in former times, of the Midgard serpent and Fenriswolf. Then they will find in the grass the golden playing pieces that belonged to the Æsir. (Faulkes: 56)
Snorri is obviously riffing off the passages in Völuspá, although he places Iðavöll in the centre of Asgard, and implies that Glaðsheimr and Vingólf are within it. In keeping with his euhermistic view of the gods, he describes them laying down earthly laws instead of naming the times of day and the year.
He does mention the three women from Giantland and their disruption of the Æsir’s peace, but not what they did to cause this. (There are several different theories about this.) He mixes together stanzas 6 & 7 of Vsp, since in 6 the Æsir went to their holy place to lay down the times, then relaxed at Iðavöll in 7. His account of the post-ragnarok world follows Vsp. closely, however, with the reconciled gods discussing old times. (Snorri adds in the Fenris Wolf, which breaks the symmetry of Odin and the Serpent, perhaps because the wolf killed Odin.) In this new, paradisiacal land, the giants and their monstrous leaders are only a memory.
Hedeager (151) thinks that the events in stanzas 6 – 8 show the gods learning to master the arts of making things. This leads to them having all they could wish for, including copious amounts of gold. Their hall, Glaðsheimr, was made entirely of gold. She connects the arrival of the giant maidens with the creation of the dwarves that follows, as if the women robbed the Aesir of the ability to make their own tools and smelt their own gold, so that they had to create the dwarves to do it for them.
It is significant that unlike many other Indo-European cultures, and indeed the nearby Saami, Norse myth has no smith god. The story of Volundr/Weyland is the nearest equivalent. Thus the Æsir face the end of a literal Golden Age. (At the end of Vsp. the new gods have a new hall at Gimlé, which is thatched with gold.)
Another theory, from Margaret Clunies-Ross, is that the giant women, like Skaði, are seeking marriage with the Æsir. This early attempt at forging a relationship fails, and she sees the creation of the dwarves and later humans as an attempt to ensure that the giants do not fill the cosmos. (Thor’s observation that without him the giants would crowd out everyone else fits in here.)
There are several theories about the name Iðavöll (although Orchard just has “splendour-field”). Simek (170) also mentions this as a possibility, and says that it fits with other names like Glaesisvellir, but doesn’t seem convinced.
He offers two more possibilities: 1) “field of activity” from iðja, activity, which makes sense, or 2) “continually renewing, rejuvenating field” from iðuliga, continual, and iðgnógr “more than enough” since Iðavöll is the new world after ragnarök.Lindow also mentions the “eternal” theory, as well as the possibility “shimmering”. He leans towards the first, as it outlasts Ragnarok, and the new gods meet there.
This raises a question: is Iðavöll connected to that eternal, renewing goddess, Iðunn? The words come from the same root, and both have a renewing function. Because of Snorri we tend to think of Iðunn’s rejuvenating power as coming from her apples, but the 9th-century poem Haustlöng describes her as “the maiden who undestood the eternal life of the aesir”, which is a very different proposition.
As Lindow points out (199): “the etymological meaning of her name – “ever young” – would premit her to carry out her mythic funciton without apples.” Apart from this, Simek mentions a further possibility, that the historical Idisaviso may be connected to the plain of Iðavöll. The name comes from Tacitus’ account of the battle between Arminius and Germanicus, and it means “plains of the Idisi”.
The First Meresburg Charm (Simek: 171) mentions the Idisi:
Once the Idisi sat, sat here and there, Some bound fetters, some hampered the army, some untied fetters: Escape from the fetters, flee from the enemies.
Apart from that, the word idis turns up in the Germanic languages as meaning a woman of status, something like the Roman matron. Because of this, Simek (171) and many others have connected them with the Germanic mother-cult recorded in Roman times.
Simek suggests that Iðavöll is possibly derived from Idisaviso. (170) This would connect it to the Idisi, who overlapped with the Matres. These goddesses, holding baskets of fruit or flowers, and sometimes a child (see Matrona) would connect to Iðunn and her “rejuvenating, renewing” power. Iðavöll symbolizes that same promise of renewal: a Golden Age in the past when the cosmos’ inhabitants were able to provide for all their needs, and gold was abundant, which will come again after a period of tribulation.
No wonder some think that Völuspá was influenced by Christianity. However, I think it this is a universal dream; the idea of a fall from an easier, simpler time is universal, as is its correlate, the desire to regain it.
(Image at top from Imgur)
The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman, London, 1987.
Clunies Ross, Margaret, 1994: Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse myths in medieval Northern society, vol. 1, The Viking Society Vol. 7, Odense UP.
Hedeager, Lotte 2011: Iron Age Myth and Materiality: an Archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400 – 1000, Routledge.
Lindow, John, 2001: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, OUP, New York and Oxford.
Orchard, Andy, 1998/2002: Cassell Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, Cassell, London. Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall), 1996, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.