Fathers of Magic
Updated: Dec 31, 2021
Speculation on the identities of Viðólf, Vilmeiðr and Svarthöfði
There is a very interesting stanza in Völuspá hin skamma.
Eru völur allar frá Viðolfi, vitkar allir frá Vilmeiði, en seiðberendr frá Svarthöfða, jötnar allir frá Ymi komnir.
All the Valas are from Vidolf, all the soothsayers from Vilmeidr, all the sorcerers from Svarthöfdi, all the Jötuns come from Ymir.
There are three names there that do not appear anywhere else. Viðólf, Vilmeiðr and Svarthöfði. Who are these fathers of sorcerers, soothsayers and Völur? To be honest, I don’t know. However, I have a theory it may be our mischievous trio; Óðinn, Loki/Lóðurr and Hænir.
Let’s start with Vilmeiðr. I find this to be the most obvious one, his name means “Wish-Tree”. For me, this connects him instantly to Óðinn and Yggdrasil. One of Óðinn’s names is Óski, “wisher” or “god of wishes”. Another of his names is Sigrunnur said to mean “Victory-Tree” or “Battle-Tree”, a kenning used for men. Runnur is an old word for “bush” but was commonly used in kennings for men, f.x. in the word hjálmrunnur meaning “soldier”. Alternatively, the name Vilmeidr could mean “Of the same kind as Vili” or “related to Vili”, Vili being Óðinn’s brother. However, I think that would probably rather be written as Vilameiðr, so I find that less likely.
Next let’s look at Viðólf. Wood-Wolf. Father of Völvas. At first there are no obvious connections, but we know of another progenitor of witches: Loki.
In Völuspá hin skamma it is said that from him are all witches or flagð born. Völvas and witches are, in most cases, not entirely the same thing. It is an interesting connection though.
Furthermore, Wood-Wolf might be a really appropriate kenning for Loki. The Völuspá talks about an old woman in Iron-wood or Járnviðr nurturing the offspring of Fenrir. Snorri Sturluson also talks about an old witch in Járnviðr bearing trolls in the form of wolves and says they are the progenitors of all wolves. If it is Fenrir that is the progenitor of all wolves, then Loki must be so as well, being the father of Fenrir. I have previously in written my article Child of the Witch and the Wind about Loki’s mother Laufey being connected to the Finnish underworld goddess Loviatar. She is also called the mother of wolves, as in the mother/creator spirit or emuu of wolves. Loki may not explicitly be a Wood-Wolf, but he certainly seems to have the same flavor as those that are.
But how do I connect Hænir to Svarthöfði, Black-headed? Hænir is a mysterious figure in Norse mythology, not much written about him but two of his kennings in Skáldskaparmál are intriguing. Long-Leg, Mud-King. There is a theory that Hænir is connected to storks and that his name originates from the Proto-Germanic word *hehōniaz, meaning “stork”. This seems likely, storks used to be seen as carriers of unborn souls in Slavic belief which fits nicely with the myth of Hænir giving the lifeless Askr and Embla óðr or spirit/passion. However, there is another large, long-legged wading bird in Europe, the Eurasian crane.
There is evidence that the Eurasian crane was highly significant to ancient European people. The crane features strongly in Celtic myth and seems to be associated with a powerful form of magic known as corrghuineacht (Crane or Heron killing). The caster would close one eye, stand on one leg and incant the spell while pointing at the intended victim. According to Paul A. Johnsgard, “crane dances” are not an uncommon ritual and can be found in various cultures around the world. One example is amongst the Oskits of Siberia who would perform funeral dances dressed in crane skins. Could this black-headed bird be the symbol of Hænir, earning him the epithet Svarthöfði? If so, it would connect him to cursing magic and shamanic practices, quite befitting for a father of sorcerers. This is all very rambling and has lots of holes in it, but I can’t help seeing a pattern. I will be looking a lot more into this when I have the funds to buy more books, but until then I thought others might find this clumsy theory to be interesting food for thought.
Sources not mentioned in article, further reading:
Corrguinecht and cranes:
Paul A. Johnsgard (1983). Cranes of the World: 8. Cranes in Myth and Legend. University of Nebraska-Lincoln https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=bioscicranes