Heimdall – The “White God” in the Germanic and Norse traditions

written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt, 2014

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In Heathenry there are not just many different paths – Ásatrú as the most popular one, then also Vánatrú, Theodism, Rökkatrú and on the margins of Norse cosmology even Thursatrú, we also have almost too many Gods to count. One of them is Heimdallr or Heimdall. So who is Heimdall? Or rather, what is he? He was born by nine Jotun (giant) sisters, the Undines, Heimdal_and_his_Nine_Mothersnamely Gjálp, Greip, Eistla, Angeyja, Ulfrún, Eyrgjafa, Imðr, Atla, and Járnsaxa; yet who fathered him remains subject of speculation. So which tribe of the Gods he exactly belongs to is unclear, only that he joined or is  now regarded as one of the Aesir, although he is also attributed with Vanic powers. (>Thrymskvidha 15, “Then Heimðallr spoke, whitest of the Aesir,

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Like the other Vanir he knew the future well.“) One of the more popular theories is that his father must have been Wotan/Odin, as Heimdall – who lives in Himinbjörg at the end of the heavens – is the guardian of the burning rainbow bridge Bifröst. This bridge separates Asgard, home of the Aesir Gods  from Midgard, home of humans (and a few other beings of course). Who better to protect the Gods and the “Allfather” Odin than someone of Jotun (giant) blood after all? Especially since Odin himself derives from the giants despite often being at war with them due to their wild and free nature.
All we we know about Heimdall regarding this is from Hyndlujod (Thorpe translation): He was nourished “with the strength of earth [Mother Jördr/Earth], with the ice-cold sea [his Undine-mothers], and with Son’s blood.“ That is a clear indicator of his Jotun origin and powers.

undine2

Other names for him are Gullintanní – the one with the golden teeth, Rígr – king, Vindhler and Hallinskiði, the latter two being the subject of many a scholarly debate about their possible meaning. Sadly, a lot of our culture and language was destroyed, so while some say Vindhler means “Laughing like the Wind” others are convinced it means “Wind-Sea”, which would make a little more sense for obvious reasons.

The name Rígr, King, stems from the story in which Heimdallr visits Midgard and fathers three races of men: Thrall, the father of slaves, Carl, the father of free farmers, farmerand Earl, the father of rulers. Some view this as an act of separation of mankind, yet if we look at the fact that Thrall’s parents are called great-grandparents, Carl’s are called grandparents and Earl’s are called parents it appears to be more of a matter of family hierarchy. Each of these “family members” have their own qualities, talents and wisdom, amount of knowledge and abilities with which they contribute to this world and mankind in general.

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Heimdall is “the white As” (As = singular of Aesir) or white god; the color white was – or still often is – regarded as the color of purity and virtue. White is a color “unstained” or untainted, there are no secrets, no hidden agendas; he is but a truthful god. What you see is what you get so to speak. This title reflects how revered he was amongst his fellow Aesir as much as by our ancestors. On a personal note the title may also refer to his Vanic ability to be clairvoyant/see the future.

Heimdall is the god that will announce the coming of Ragnarök, often falsely described as “the end of the world” although it is basically renewal by destruction as known and acknowledged by so many other cultures and early religions.

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As the guardian of Bifröst Heimdall will see Surtr, the “world destroyer”, coming from afar with his burning sword of destiny and then sound his Gjallarhorn to alert the other gods of the upcoming battle. The end of his trumpet is referred to as “head,” and is referred to as being his sword. His horse is Gullintop and his loyal companion the rooster Gullinkampi. There are several depictions of Heimdallr sounding his horn with Gullinkampi perched on his head or shoulder, chiming right in.
The relationship of Gods with their animals or “pets” is an interesting one, and there are those who claim that they might as well be Fylgjas (similar to what Wiccans and a few other paths know as “familiars”), though there is no clear reference or confirmed academic source for that as far as I found.

Brisingamen

When Loki stole Freya’s necklace on Wodan’s behest, Heimdall retrieved it, and he is also the God who competed with Loke for the Brisingamen. It is not just because of the latter that Loke and Heimdall are mortal enemies. As Laufeysson (=Loki) will be one of those to bring about Ragnarök the enmity is not surprising. The Aesir strive to preserve this world in its pitiful state as much as the Rökkr Gods long to renew it. So those two will slay each other in the very end.
(Here’s a Rökkatrú source on this: http://www.northernpaganism.org/rokkatru/jotunbok/loki-and-heimdall.html)

Gulltop-Heimdall

In conclusion Heimdall – like several other Gods of the Heathen or Norse Pagan religion/s – is amongst those we know rather little about. There are no facts as such regarding him. – Scholars have tried to piece together information on this ominous god, yet the debate on the validity of those attempts keeps going on.
What we know for now is that there is no evidence for a “Heimdall cult” of old per se, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t or can’t be venerated nowadays. (Something Heathens – for once – agree with, although the lack of evidence for a Loki or other Jöten cults frequently prompts them to state that if they weren’t worshipped in the past there’s no need honoring them today. Hypocrisy at its best.) Those who believe Heimdall to be another aspect or guise of Wodan might find the uncovering of the Saltfleetby lead spindle whorl in which Heimdall is named alongside Odin and Thjalfi rather interesting.

Saltfleetby_spindle_whorl

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