Are “fake legends” as bad as “fake news”?

How altering an ancient Norse legend is actually setting the record straight

Last week’s Soldiser Sunday Story was about Alvíss, an all-knowing elf who wishes to marry the Norse battle goddess Thrud. As mentioned, I have made one intentional deviation from the original storyline, i.e. the poem Alvíssmál, cited in the Poetic Edda. In the poem, it is Thor who converses with the elf until sunrise but in my version Thrud speaks for herself. Today I will tell you why I made this alternation and why highlighting Thrud can never be “fake news”.  

As I have written before, I have the greatest respect and admiration for the Norse legends and the stories of my ancestors. In the illustrations of my designs and the stories accompanying them, I put a lot of effort into maintaining a high level of authenticity and faithfulness to what remains of the historical sources. I do not guess or make assumptions, and if I use my imagination or artistic freedom I will always let you know.  

Discovering a Norse goddess

The first time I stumbled across Thrud was almost two years ago. I say stumbled because it happened by pure chance. You see, Thrud is very often disregarded, even in literature dealing specifically with Norse mythology. In fact, I dare you to pick up a book about the Norse gods the next time you are in a books store. I will eat one of my scarfs if you find any mention of her.

Anyhow, until that late summer’s day I had never heard of her either. I was doing some research for one of my other designs and I was reading a Swedish book about rune stones. The chapter I was reading discussed the Karlevi stone, found on Öland, in Sweden. The Karlevi runestone is considered to be one of the most remarkable runestones in Sweden. It contains a poem written in drottkvät – a very special verse form. Drottkvät means 'poem to a chieftain' and the poem on the Karlevi runestone is about a fallen warrior named Sibbe. 

One part of the transliteration of the rune inscription reads taiþir tulka þruþar and this was translated to ”the greatest chieftain”. But, when I was trying to translate the inscription rune by rune the book’s translation made no sense to me. After consulting a few other sources it became apparent that the runes actually meant “the battle goddess Thrud's fighter” (the Swedish translation is “stridernas Truds kämpe”). The expression is an example of a so-called kenning, i.e. a figurative choice of words or figure of speech used instead of a noun. Not only did the people living in Scandinavia and Iceland over one thousand years ago have a great storytelling tradition. They were also very gifted with regards to poetry. Kennings are one example of the tools they used to play around with language. The sea could be called “whale-road”, the wind could be called “the breaker of trees” and as mentioned, a great chieftain could be called “the battle goddess Thrud's fighter”.

Regarding the Karlevi runestone, researchers agree that the meaning of the kenning taiþir tulka þruþar is indeed ”the greatest chieftain”. In fact, in many newer translations, this is all the information you will be given. Consequently, the word þruþar, Thrud, is not deciphered or explained.

Norse Goddess Thrud

Now you may ask, why does this matter? I would argue that it carries a significant amount of weight. The magnificent thing with runestones is that they are the exact words of the people of their time. In contrast to the Icelandic Sagas, the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda or many of the other sources we rely on when deciphering Norse mythology, the words on the runestones are undiluted. Apart from the Karlevi stone, Thrud is also mentioned in a few other sources, but always in bypassing. Her father Thor, the god of thunder, is known to live in Thrudheim. Researchers often interpret this as “place of might”, since “Thrud” means strength in Old Norse. I would argue that it is just as plausible that Thrud’s parents named their realm after their beloved daughter. In the poem Thorsdrapa, Thor is referred to as ‘he who longs fiercely for Thrud’, indicating a fond relationship between the god and his daughter. Yet, all stories about her are lost and in our modern day translations, we continue to erase her.

I have no doubt that legends of Thrud existed in the past. There must have been countless stories of her strength and of her battles against jötnar. The words carved on the Karlevi stone proves as much. A great poem was written to honor the death of a great leader, and as a part in praising him he was called “the battle goddess Thrud's fighter”. So, you see, that is why Thrud gets to speak for herself in my version of the story about the all-knowing elf. Heroines and heroes should be remembered and revived - never erased and forgotten.

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