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Category Archives: Arthurian Legend

Sigmund

Sigmund

Etymology: Sigr- (Old Norse), Sig- “Victory” (Sieg- Germanic, Zege- Dutch) and -mundr (Old Norse) “Protector”

Pronunciation: Zeek-muwnt (German), Seeg-mund (Swedish), Sig-mənd (English)

Also known as: Siegmund

Alternate Spellings: Sigmundr (Old Norse), Sigimund, Sigismund (Ancient Germanic), Sigmundr (Ancient Scandinavian), Zikmund (Czech), Siegmund, Sigismund (German), Zsigmond, Zsiga (Hungarian), Sigismondo (Italian), Zygmunt (Polish), Žigmund (Slovak), Žiga (Slovene), Segismundo (Spanish), Sigge (Swedish)

The hero Sigmund is best known from his exploits in the Völsunga saga. Sigmund’s fame comes from being the one who could pull the sword, Gram from a tree and being the father of another hero, Sigurd.

Parentage and Family

Parents

Father – Völsung, for whom the Völsunga saga is named.

Mother – Ljod, also spelled Hljod, Sigmund’s mother in the Völsunga.

Consort –

Borghild – His first wife.

Sieglind – His wife in the Nibelungenlied.

Sisibe – His wife in the Thiðrekssaga.

Sibling –

 BrotherIt’s mentioned that Sigmund has nine brothers, though none of them are ever given any names.

Sister – Signý, his twin

Children –

Helgi – Son by way of Borghild.

Sigurd – Son by way of Hljod. A famous dragon-slayer of many Norse, Scandinavian and German sagas.

Sinfjötli – Son by way of incest with his sister Signý.

Hamund and Helgi – Sons by way of Borghild.

Ancient Runes

The oldest source for Sigmund’s legend are found in Sweden on seven runestones. The most notable of these are the Ramsund carving dating from about 1,000 C.E. based on events from the fifth and sixth centuries C.E.

 Völsunga Saga

This is a 13th century Icelandic saga from the Völsung clan that follows several generations of Völsung’s lineage. While this saga is best known for the story of Sigurd and Brunhildr and the destruction of the Burgundians, this is the main source for the story regarding Sigmund.

Backing up a little bit, the saga begins with Völsung, known of his great strength and size, who is the king of Hunland. Völsung marries Hljod with whom he fathers ten sons and a daughter, Signý, the twin to Sigmund.

So great is Signý’s beauty, that King Siggeir of Gautland (Västergötland) sends a missive to King Völsung requesting his daughter Signý’s hand in marriage. Now, Siggeir had a reputation for being fierce in battle and Völsung and his sons knew that they couldn’t hope to fend off Siggeir and his men once they saw them. Add to this, Signý doesn’t want to marry Siggeir.

Against her better judgment, Signý marries Siggeir. A wedding feast, one that would last for several days commenced shortly after. At a time when both Völsung and Sigmund are in attendance, the god Odin came, disguised as a beggar and thrust the sword Gram into the a large oak tree known as Barnstock. Völsung’s hall was built around this large oak. The beggar (Odin) announces that the man who is able to pull the sword free may have it as a gift. Of all the men present, only Sigmund succeeded in pulling the sword free.

Signý’s new husband, Siggeir became very envious and greedy for Sigmund’s sword. When Sigmund refused an offer to buy the sword, Siggeir than invites Völsung, Sigmund and his nine other brothers to come visit him and Signý a few months later in Gautland.

When Völsung and the rest of his clan arrived, they are attacked by Siggeir’s men. In the fight that followed, Völsung is killed and his sons captured. Signý pleaded with Siggeir to spare her brothers, to have them placed in stocks instead of killing them outright. Siggeir agreed to Signý’s pleas only because it went along with his ideas of torturing the brothers before killing them.

It turns out that Siggeir has a mother who can shape-shift into a wolf. He lets dear old mother kill one of the Völsung brothers each night. Signý, much as she tries, is unable to save her brothers. One by one they are killed by this she-wolf until finally only Sigmund remains.

With only last chance to save any of her brothers, Signý gets a servant to smear some honey on Sigmund’s face. When Siggeir’s shape-shifted mother arrives that night, the she-wolf licks the honey off Sigmund’s face, causing her tongue to stick to the roof of her mouth. The opportunity allowed Sigmund to bite off the she-wolf’s tongue. The resulting blood loss killed the wolf. Shortly after, he freed himself and Sigmund took off to hide in the forest.

Hidden safely in the woods, Sigmund has everything he needs and what he doesn’t have, Signý would bring to him. Seeking revenge for the death of their father herself, Signý would send her sons out to the forest to be tested by their uncle. As each one failed the test, Sigmund would kill them until he finally had enough of it and refused to kill any more children. A distraught Signý came to Sigmund disguised as a völva (a type of Scandinavian Witch or Shaman). Disguised, Signý gave birth to Sinfjötli, whom, a child of incest is able to pass Sigmund’s test.

Living the life of outlaws, both Sigmund and Sinfjötli lived in the forest. During their time, the two came across some men sleeping in some wolf skins. The two kill the men and on donning the wolf skins for themselves, discover that the skins are cursed. With their new-found abilities or curse, Sigmund and Sinfjötli are able to avenge Völsung when they kill Siggeir by way of setting his place on fire. The only person to escape the blaze was Signý, whom if Sigmund hadn’t known the truth about his nephew/son Sinfjötli, she now came clean to tell him she had tricked Sigmund into sleeping with her. After revealing the truth, Signý walked back into the raging fire to die with Siggeir.

Returning To Hunland

The story doesn’t end there as both Sigmund and Sinfjötli continue their exploits of banditry when they return to Hunland. Sigmund’s plan is to reclaim his lands from the king who took over after Völsung’s death. After reclaiming his rightful throne, Sigmund marries Borghild and they have two sons, Hamund and Helgi.

It’s known that Helgi, at the age of fifteen would go on to fight many battles and win his own kingdom. He earned the name Helgi Hundingsbani when he killed Hunding and his sons after two battles. Helgi wasn’t done yet and would continue on to defeat Hodbrodd and Grannar in order to win the hand of Sigrun, the daughter of King Hogni in marriage. This is a story for another post.

Borghild became jealous of her stepson Sinfjötli’s abilities and when he killed her brother, she plotted Sinfjötli’s demise. Both Sinfjötli and her brother  had been competing for the hand of the same woman. Killing Sinfjötli wouldn’t be easy for Borghild as he was immune to all poison. That didn’t stop Borghild from trying. She offered Sinfjötli two cups of poisoned wine that he drank without problem. However, with the third cup, that did Sinfjötli in. For her efforts, Borghild was banished from Hunland.

The narrative continues that Sigmund carried Sinfjötli’s body into the forest where he meets a ferryman at a fjord. The ferryman had only enough room on his boat for one passenger at a time and offered to take Sinfjötli’s body across first and come back for Sigmund. When the boat reached the middle of the fjord, it vanished along with the ferryman and Sinfjötli’s body. This ferryman would be none other than Odin in disguise, come to personally take his descendant to Valhalla despite not meeting the prerequisite to die in battle.

Marrying Hjördís & Sigmund’s Doom

Sigmund goes on to marry again, this time to Hjördís, daughter of King Eylimi. Hjördís had another suitor who sought her hand in marriage, King Lyngi along with other suitors. The would be suitors competed for Hjördís’s hand in marriage and Sigmund won, despite being much older than other kings. Lyngi refused to give up and concede to Sigmund.

After enjoying a brief period of peace, Sigmund’s kingdom is attacked by King Lyngi as he was jealous and wanted revenge on Hjördís for marrying Sigmund.

It is during this battle, Sigmund fought alongside his father-in-law, King Eylimi who is killed. It is this day, that the Norns have decreed will be when Sigmund dies. The god Odin returns in this battle, disguised as a beggar and when he comes face to face with Sigmund, the sword Gram is shattered by his spear Gungnir.

The sword shattered, Sigmund easily falls at the hands of others in battle. As he lays dying, Sigmund tells Hjördís that she is pregnant, and their son will one day receive the broken remains of his sword. That their son will be named Sigurd who would go on to avenge his father’s death and slay the dragon Fafnir.

As to Lyngi, he was thwarted in trying to win Hjördís for she had fled and was found by King Alf who married and took her and her unborn son in.

Other Germanic Sagas

In many of the sagas about the hero Sigurd (Siegfried), Sigmund or Siegmund is often cited as being Sigurd’s father. None of these other sagas have the same level of detail regarding Sigmund that is found within the Völsunga.

Nibelungenlied – In this saga, his wife was Sieglind

Thiðrekssaga – In this saga, Sigmund is the son of Sifjan, the king of Tarlungland. He has a son with Sisibe, the daughter of King Nidung of Spain.

Beowulf

This is an Old English poem. In the story Beowulf, the story of Sigemund is told to the title character and involves the slaying of a dragon, not unlike that of Sigurd slaying a dragon. The child conceived by Signý and Sigemund the Wælsing is known as Fitela, not Sinfjötli.

The Sword In The Tree – Arthurian Legend!?!

The Branstock tree was a massive oak tree that Völsung built his hall around.

For those familiar with Arthurian legend, Sigmund’s pulling the sword Gram from the Branstock tree sounds very familiar to the story of Arthur pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone.

In addition, it’s been noted that the characters of Sinfjötli and Mordred are both nephew and son to the respective figures of Sigmund and Arthur.

Gram – A Gift From Odin

In the Völsunga saga, the name of Sigmund’s sword is Gram. Other Norse sagas will give the name of Balmung for Sigmund’s sword. Gram’s name means: “wrath.”

Being an enchanted sword gifted by the god Odin, Gram holds the magical ability of giving its wielder the power to win all their battles.

As for who forged Gram, the myths and legends say that Volund, or Wayland the Smith is who crafted this blade. In the Nibelungenlied, Gram is known by the name of Balmung and Mimung in Germanic myths. In Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” the sword is known as Nothung.

It was said that Volund (or Wayland the Smith) made the sword, and the magic sword was later called Gram (Balmung or Mimung in German myth).

Tolkien Middle Earth Connection – I mentioned in my post for Sigurd that the shattering of Gram served as the inspiration for Aragorn’s shattered sword that he reforges.

Odin’s Role In The Völsunga

It should be noted that Odin is the great grandfather of Völsung who founds the clan of the same name. Effectively making Völsung at least a demigod of sorts and later descendants being more extraordinary in their deeds and destiny.

So, it makes sense at the first, that Odin would appear, favoring the Völsung’s when he impales the sword Gram into the Branstock tree, saying that whoever can pull this sword can have it and it’s Sigmund who succeeds.

However later, Sigmund appears to fall out of favor with Odin when the god shatters Gram and leaves Sigmund to fall at the hands of his enemies.

God of Prophesy

Surely a god of prophesy would know what events would transpire. Which could mean that’s exactly what Odin wanted to have happen. Or he’s trying to change the fates of his kinsmen even though the Norns have told Odin that no, you can’t change fate, no you won’t get your descendant at all. That as punishment, Sigmund won’t die in battle at all.

Even a god can try?

If a person’s fate is truly set and there’s no avoiding destiny or changing one’s stars, even a god of prophesy would know you can’t change the future. Unless predicting the future is nothing more than being able to see what the most likely outcomes and probabilities are. That if you don’t change the variables, X event is the most likely event and course of action to happen.

Battle God

Of course, the other thing to remember, is that Odin is also a god of battle and as such, like many other war gods, he thrives on the conflicts and strife that happen. Even if only for the sake of it.

With the whole impending doom of the gods and Ragnarok among the Norse, Odin is going to try and bolster his forces by recruiting from the various fields of battle, the fallen and slain warriors. Isn’t that what the Valkyries are for? Well sure, so unless there’s a constant steady source of conflicts and battles, the Valkyries aren’t likely to be doing much recruiting. One can see Odin going about instigating some of these conflicts, so he can try to recruit promising warriors for his Einherjar, ya’ know, the slain warriors of Valhalla. And let’s not forget that Freya is going to get half of those warriors for her hall of Folkvangr.

Sigmund! I don’t choose you!

Sigmund also has a date with destiny, for the Norns have decreed that he would die on that day. There is however a hitch to this, so long as Sigmund has the sword Gram, there’s no way he’s going to loose or die. So there’s Odin off to the field of battle to make sure that Sigmund can meet destiny by making sure he doesn’t have the sword.

Now it could be that he has angered Odin when Sigmund tries to interfere with protecting his father-in-law, King Eylimi during the battle against King Lyngi. Odin attacks Sigmund, shattering the sword Gram and leaves him to die.

It might be too how dare a descendant of his defy the mighty Odin and shatter the sword, hoping somehow that Sigmund will die in battle to join his forces in Valhalla. Odin’s efforts to sow contention earlier at a wedding only resulted in nine other of his grandsons getting killed by a wolf while tied up. That’s not exactly the heat of battle there and the loss of nine potential warriors to join him.

So, Odin cuts his losses with Sigmund and gifts a final prophesy to his grandson about the birth of Sigurd and that Gram will be reforged and passed on to another hero.

Medieval Sagas

Lastly, the Völsunga saga was written in the 13th century C.E. several centuries from when the events are to have initially occurred. That’s more than enough time for the skalds to have embellished the stories. To add Odin to the events in an effort to make sense of narrative as well as give a more mythic quality to the tales to explain why events turn out the way they did.

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Headless Horseman

Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman is a popular figure found in American folklore. Often described as well, a headless rider on horseback.

The Headless Horseman is a common figure and staple of American Folklore. It has shown up for usage in various movies, T.V. series and literature outside of the original “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Recent t.v. series are Sleepy Hollow and Tim Burton’s movie of the same name, both drawing on the same inspiration of Irving’s story.

Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Ah yes, the classic American story. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” first appears in a collection of short stories titled: “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.” As far as inspiration goes for Irving’s story, many seem to agree to the idea that the German writer, Karl Musäus is where the idea for a Headless Horseman from. Karl Musäus is known for having collected Germanic folktales much like the Brothers Grimm.

The story is set in Sleepy Hollow, New York during the time of the American Revolutionary War, so about 1775 or shortly after. Tradition holds that the Headless Horseman had been a Hessian Artillery man who had been killed during the Battle of White Plains, circa 1776.  So, at the time the story was told and set, not too long ago. The Hessian had been decapitated by a cannonball, not a fun way to go.

The shattered remains of the Hessian’s head were simply left on the battlefield while fellow soldiers carried off his body to be buried. The Hessian’s body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow. Following this, each Halloween night, the Hessian’s ghost would appear as a Headless Horseman seeking for this lost head. The Headless Horseman wouldn’t or couldn’t cross bridges.

The story ends with the Horseman chasing down Ichabod Crane who simply disappears after. In the short story, there’s a strong implication that the Horseman may have been Brom Bones in disguise. Brom was a rival lover of Ichabod’s, so what better way than to hide any possible foul play?

Texas – El Muerto

Another headless horseman legend arose during the 1800’s in Texas. At this point and time, Texas was known for being a wild and lawless place that attracted all sorts of unsavory characters from thieves to murderers. The local native tribes were known to fiercely fight off these foreign invaders. To the point, that the Texas Rangers began making headway into taming a seemingly lawless frontier.

There was a dispute between the United States and Mexico over a tract of land between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers for where the borders between the two countries lay. In 1850, things came to a header a man by the name of Vidal who was out rustling cattle. Vidal had a bounty on his head, wanted “Dead of Alive.” Two Texas Rangers by the name of Creed Taylor and William Alexander Anderson (a.k.a. “Big Foot” Wallace) had had enough of Vidal and his small gang stealing cattle and horses and sought this group of bandits.

The two Rangers along with a local rancher by the name of Flores tracked and found the bandits camp. They waited until night before striking. In a strong display of Frontier Justice, Wallace decided that killing the bandits wasn’t enough, he beheaded Vidal. Then Wallace took Vidal’s corpse and tied him to the saddle of a mustang so it would stay upright. Vidal’s head and sombrero were then tied to the saddle as well before Wallace let the horse go loose into the hillside terrain.

It didn’t take long for the stories to circulate of people seeing a headless rider to surface. Many local natives and cowboys would riddle the corpse with bullets and arrows on seeing this fearsome specter. Southern Texas became known as a place to avoid as many deeds of evil and misfortune were attributed to El Muerto.

Eventually a posse got together to capture the poor mustang and relief it of its grisly and macabre cargo near a placed called Ben Bolt, south of Alice, Texas. Vidal’s body was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

While that should have been the end of El Muerto’s story, his legend continues to live on. Soon after Vidal’s body was laid to rest, people continued to report seeing a headless horseman wandering the land. One couple in 1917, reported seeing the specter of a grey horse with a headless rider shouting: “It is mine! It is all mine!” and the stories and sittings continue.

Washington State – The White Skoad

Not exactly a headless horseman, if you live in Washington State and ever head out to Whidbey Island, there is a local legend about Colonel Ebey’s whose head was taken by the Haida on a raid who are believed to have come the Queen Charlotte Sound. Since then, the White Skoad, a patch of white fog said to be Colonel Ebey’s ghost can be seen from time to time as he searches for his head. Other versions of Colonel Ebey’s ghost have him replaying his death every night at the house he lived in at the time.

Arthurian Legend

Not quite a headless horseman, in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the title character of Sir Gawain accepts the challenge of a beheading game by the Green Knight. This is a story that dates to the 14th century that has been cited as involving decapitation.

German Folklore

There are two stories that the Brothers Grimm collected about a headless horseman.

Hans Jagenteufel – In this one, near Dresden in Saxony, there was a woman who headed out early one Sunday morning to gather acorns in the forest. Near the place called “Lost Waters,” the woman heard a hunting horn. Hearing it a second time, the woman looked behind her to see a headless man wearing a long grey coat and riding a grey horse. The rider rode past the woman and she gained her resolve and went back to gathering acorns.

Some nine days later, the woman returned to the same spot, once more to collect acorns. This time, she heard behind her asking if anyone had tried to punish her for taking acorns. The woman replied no, saying the foresters took pity on the poor and called to God to forgive her sins.

When the woman turned around, she again saw the same grey cloaked figure from before, only this time he carried his head under an arm. The grey figure told the woman she did well to ask God for forgiveness as he had never done so in life. The figure than went on to explain how he was called Hans Jagenteufel and in life, never heeded the warnings of his father to extend mercy to those below him and would spend his days drinking and carousing. In death, he was condemned to wander the world as an evil spirit.

The Wild Huntsman – This story is set in Brunswick, Lower Saxony. A huntsman by the name of Hackelberg. He was so proficient at his profession, that on his deathbed, Hackelberg begged god to allow him to remain on earth, giving up his spot in heaven. It would seem the request was granted and Hackelberg roamed the hereafter as “the Wild Huntsman,” blowing his horn to warn hunters not to go out riding the next day. If they do, the unfortunate hunter meets with an untimely accident.

Depending on the version of the story told, the headless horseman seeks out those who have done crimes to punish them. Other times, the headless horseman is accompanied by a pack of black hounds with tongues of fire. Much like a figure from the Wild Hunt.

Indian Folklore

Jhinjhār – This is a headless horseman mentioned in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh folklore. Where many of the European headless horsemen are entities to be wary of, the Jhinjhār is often seen as a hero.

The Jhinjhār is created during a rather violent and wrongful death when defending the innocents. Other stories say the Jhinjhār was a Rajput prince who lost his head while defending a village or caravan from some bandits. The prince refused to retreat and was beheaded. Other versions of this story say the Jhinjhār was created when a Mughal cavalryman died defending his prince.

Irish Folklore

Crom Dubh – This one is a bit of a stretch. Crom Dubh was an ancient Celtic fertility god who demanded human sacrifices every year, of which, the preferred method was decapitation. Eventually the god fell out of favor and somehow this god becomes a spirit seekings corpses and eventually becoming the Dullahan.

The Dullahan – also known as Dulachán meaning “dark man” or “without a head.” This being is a headless fairy often seen dressed in black and riding a black headless horse while carrying his head under an arm or inner thigh. The Dullahan is armed with a whip made from a human spine. Death occurs wherever the Dullahan ceases riding and when it calls out a name, the person called dies. Death can also come if the Dullahan tosses a bucket of blood at a person who has been watching it.

In other versions, the Dullahan rides a black carriage. Sometimes they are accompanied by a banshee. Nothing can stop the Dullahan from claiming a victim save the payment of gold.

Gan Cean – Its name means: “without a head.” It is a figure similar to the Dullahan. The Gan Cean can be warded off by wearing a gold object or placing one in its path.

Scandinavian Folklore

In a story similar to the German story of Hackelberg the Wild Huntsman, this story is about “good King Waldemar” whose’ ghost still haunts the forest of Gurre. King Waldemar had prayed to God to be allowed to still hunt in his beloved forest after death. Waldemar’s ghost can be seen riding a white horse and cracking his whip as he runs through the forest. His head though, is sometimes seen being carried under one of King Waldemar’s arms. As any Wild Hunt goes, Waldemar has a pack of black hounds with fiery mouths accompanying him.

Scottish Folklore

There is a story of headless horseman by the name of Ewen who had been decapitated during a clan battle on the Isle of Mull. This battle prevented Ewen from becoming chieftain. Both the ghost of Ewen and his horse are reputed to haunt the area of Glen Cainnir.