Riemschneider attempts to define the shape of Loki’s net and where was the King’s land. Another myth, revised by the Faroe Islands’ mystical sense, gives us a different vision.
A Medieval Summoning of Spirits
In the final analysis, it makes no difference at what moment the ancient ritual game loses its original meaning and becomes a pure and simple form of witchcraft; the essential elements remain, however recognizable, although they undergo the most diverse interpretations.
In one of the stories of the people of the Faroe Islands, Thrand and his son Leif are accused of having killed Sigmund, the father of the girl Thrand aspires to for his son Leif. Thrand plans to summon Sigmund and his two companions who died with him to prove his innocence. For this purpose, he prepares a large fire in the calidarium and forms a square with four wooden fences. On each side of the square, he draws nine fields. He then places himself on a chair between the fire and the fences and orders that the word no longer is addressed.
Thrand stood there for a good while. Then a man entered the room. He was completely wet. They recognized him: he was the first of the missing. He went to the fire, stretched his hands towards it, and went out. Some time passed, and another man entered the room: they recognized him as Thorir (the second missing). Still, more time passed, and a third man entered the room.
He was big and very bloody, holding his head in his hand. Everyone recognized him: he was the son of Brestirs, Sigmund. He stood still for some time, so go out. Thrand rose from his chair, let out a loud wail, and said, “Now you could see how those three men died. First, Einar: froze to death or drowned since he was the weakest. Then Thorir died, which Sigmund certainly dragged along with him, growing very weak: when he hit the ground, thoroughly exhausted, he would have been slain by these men. He is indeed bloodied and headless.” Thrand’s companions agreed with him.
But let’s go back to the binding of Loki. The elements are all there. The fire, with which Loki burns the net, which Prometheus allegedly stole from the gods and which in our story becomes the pretext for placing the evocation of spirits in the calidarium, indeed constitutes the last reminder of the decay of the black and white altars, which we have already encountered in the story of Tarchetios. His presence here is ingeniously motivated by the three shivering spirits’ search for warmth. The center of the 4 x 9 field net, drawn by Thrand on the floor, is formed by fences and leaves the eye free in all directions. Whether you give it the name Hlidsjalf or, as the Romans did, Tabernaculum”, it is still the center from which one can look towards every cardinal point.
In the story of the evocation of spirits, we naturally don’t have to look for the presence of stones: they are replaced by the three figures that follow one another silently. Thrand is hardly a volva, basing the future on his procedures, but the poet has borrowed his instrumentarium. We also know to a certain extent, the mechanism of Volve and magicians. In the Göngu-Hrolf saga (ch. 28), the latter are incited to set two men against each other. For this purpose, they build a “hjallr” in the house, a sort of tower-shaped framework placed on four supports. However, they are surprised, and, to be able to perform a counter-spell, one of them slips under the “hjallr” and carves his formula inside it; the wizards then have to interrupt the session on the tower, go mad and kill each other. It is certainly not easy to understand why, to be able to see the future or to cause future damage, a tower is needed in an enclosed environment. But this element, like others we have encountered along the way, will undoubtedly have its roots in tradition.
Odin’s Hanging from a Tree
At this point, it is clear that the intestines of the son of Loki constitute a surrogate for the network. But what is the connection with the fact that Odin, as shown by the drawing of some runes, hangs from a tree like a hanged man as a sacrifice to himself? It was used to hang human victims by the intestines. But we have now seen, through the story of Loki’s binding, that they constitute a substitute for the net, and it is hard to believe that a man, in what would prove to be a mortal sacrifice, would let himself be suffocated in a net. Perhaps initially, Odin hung like a fly in a cobweb. After all, even today, in Danish, the web is called “loka nät”, precisely “Loki’s net”, or “dverga nät”, “dwarf’s net” 0. In this case, however, the legend and the ritual custom would have transformed the net into a hanging and the crooked stick into a sword. Odin not only hangs himself but stabs himself with a sword: which is meaningless, as is the iron rod in the song of the Faröer, but we will meet such a rod a third time.
While hanging from the tree, Odin discovers the runes, which become his signature tool. But – one wonders – are these runes anything other than magical binding? Or is it just an interpretation, an attempt to explain the legend?
The German term “Wort” (“word”) is derived from the same root from which Varuna-Uranus originates. The German word for a trap would also have the exact origin. The rune is therefore contained in the pot. But this pot, the fatal net, is none other than the magical knot in which Odin was hanging from the tree when he saw this net on the ground in the form of runes. If we think back to Loki’s binding, we must conclude that he hardly notices the small sticks: but he sees, like Kwasir in the drawing formed by the ash, the pot traced on the ground, or rather the runes in their symbolic aspect of ritual knots.
It could not have been possible to express the discovery of the runes in a more precise way. In this regard, we have an illuminating illustration in the stone of Läbro in Gotland; the shield of the hanged man that is depicted there leads to the exclusion of the possibility that he is dealing with a person deserving of a penalty: the shield is a name, and it is the first thing takes away from a condemned man since in ancient times it was believed that the name contained a force. The array of armed men raising their swords indicates that it is a crucial ritual. One may have doubts about the lake, the stone placed in the center, or the large bird the first warrior has with him, but certainly not about the magic knot, which appears next to the tree with the hanged man. In this context and at this point, it can mean nothing more than a ritual sacrifice or, as is more probable, the hanging of Odin itself.
Once upon a time, the three figures of destiny, the Norns or Fates or the mighty Hittites, did not spin: they weaved nets, as can still be deduced from Helgi’s first song:
The night was in the court, and the Norns came and created destiny for the king’s son: the fullness of fame to the prince they gave that he was the most beautiful name in the circle of heroes.
Intensely they intertwined the fatal fabric while the storm rushed into Bralund the fortresses, quickly untangling the golden threads knotting them in the center of the lunar hall (of the sky).
They hid the princes in the east and the west; in between was the land of the king. Neri’s daughter threw the snare to the north, which she assigned eternal duration.
When it is said that the king’s land was in the center, it refers to the observation point from which one could look toward all cardinal points. The north is considered good, and the south is lacking: but this depends on the fact that there are three Norns. The Norns here do not simply weave, but rather a ritual knot in which the gold thread is “concealed”, that is, folded back.
We have already had the opportunity to say previously that in Odin’s sacrifice, the curved stick becomes a spear. In the sacred wood of the Enchainment,” Odin lends Dag his sword, with which he pierces Helgi, Hunding’s slayer. Concerning this sacred wood, we have remembered, and rightly so, the affirmation of Tacitus (chap. 39), according to which, among the Senones, it was possible to enter the sacred wood only when bound. In this way, we certainly did not want to express vassalage towards the god: we wanted instead, very probably, to assume his attribute. Here too, the knot is the ritual distinctive of the god of magic, Odin. Sword and ritual knot go hand in hand, like gameboards and standard and curved staff and “tabernaculum”. It should, therefore, not be surprising if in the game of the king, “hnefatafb”, this figure is in constraints”. Thus, deceit is symbolized as the only thing threatening the king. The exact parallel of the enchained Saturn (also a king), an enchainment which was the cause of no small effort for the story’s author.