Heimdall, Watchman of the Gods, Will Sound the Horn as Ragnarok Approaches
Heimdall is a god in the Norse pantheon, most well-known for his task to announce the coming of Ragnarok by sounding his horn, which will be heard across all worlds. He is one of the better-known Norse gods, who is mentioned in a number of literary sources, including the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda . Heimdall is referred to as the ‘watchman of the gods’, and he is believed to dwell at the entry of Asgard, the home of the Aesir, where he stands guard over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge.
Heimdall’s horn, known as Gjallarhorn (‘yelling horn’, or ‘loud sounding horn’), will be sounded before the events of the Ragnarok begin.
The God with Nine Mothers
According to Norse mythology, Heimdall (the Anglicised version of the Old Norse ‘Heimdallr’) was the son of Odin, the leader of the Norse gods. The birth of Heimdall is a little odd though, as he is said to have been born of nine jotnar who were sisters. Heimdall’s nine mothers are said to be Gjolp, Greip, Eistla, Eyrgjafa, Ulfrun, Angeyja, Imth, Atla, and Jarnsaxa. The reference to Heimdall’s birth may be found in Hyndluljoth, one of the books in the Poetic Edda . According to one interpretation, Heimdall’s nine mothers are the nine waves.
The birth of Heimdall by nine mothers is also mentioned in the Prose Edda , specifically in the book known as Gylfaginning. This book goes on to state that Heimdall was also referred to as Gullintanni, which, translated literally, means ‘the one with the gold teeth’, and Hallinskidi, the meaning of which is obscure. In addition, this god is sometimes called Rig, or Vindler. It has been claimed that Heimdall came to be known by numerous names as he is known to have wandered frequently amongst mortals.
Heimdal and his Nine Mothers (1908) by W. G. Collingwood, in which Heimdallr's Nine Mothers are depicted as waves ( public domain )
Guardian of the Gods
The Gylfaginning refers to Heimdall as the ‘White God’, and says he has a golden-maned horse called Gulltoppr, and a sword called ‘Hofund’. He dwells in a place called Himinbjörg (meaning ‘Heaven’s Castle’ or ‘Heaven’s Mountain’), which is located where the rainbow bridge, Bifrost, meets Asgard.
It is from his stronghold that Heimdall keeps watch, and protects the realm of the gods from hostile forces. Additionally, it is said that Heimdall “needs less sleep than a bird; he sees equally well night and day a hundred leagues from him, and hears how grass grows on the earth or wool on sheep, and everything that has a louder sound”, qualities that made this god such an effective watchman. Heimdall, however, will not be keeping watch forever, as it will end with the arrival of Ragnarok.
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Heimdallr brings forth gifts of the gods to the humans by Nils Asplund ( CC by SA 3.0 )
The Horn That Blasts Through All the Worlds
Heimdall possesses a horn known as Gjallarhorn, which is the object this god is most commonly associated with. This horn is said to be so powerful that a blast from it can be heard in all the worlds. When Heimdall spots the enemies of the Norse gods gathering on the plains of Vigrid, he will blow Gjallarhorn to assemble the gods to prepare for the final battle. During the events of Ragnarok, Heindall is destined to face Loki in battle, during which the two gods will slay each other.
A part of the Gosforth Cross, possibly 10 th century, showing a double-monster and a figure with a spear and a horn, believed to be Heimdallr ( public domain )
The watchman of the gods also has several smaller appearances in the Norse myths. As an example, the Skaldskaparmal, another book in the Prose Edda , begins with the visit of Aegir, a jotunn, to Asgard. Odin prepares a banquet for his guest, and a number of the Norse gods attend it. Heimdall is said to be one of them. In the same book, Heimdall is also mentioned to have been one of the gods who attended the funeral procession of Baldur, during which he rides his steed Gulltoppr.
Top image: Heimdall blowing Gjallarhorn ( public domain )
By Wu Mingren
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