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trust to luck

Dís

In Norse mythology, the dísir ("ladies") are fate goddesses who can be both benevolent and antagonistic towards mortal people, and they include the norns. They could also be the protective spirits of Norse clans, and especially in connection with war expeditions, a function for which they were named fylgjas. Moreoever, in later sources, the dísir also appear as Odin's shieldmaidens, called valkyries, and they determine the outcome of battle.

Their original function was possibly that of fertility goddesses who were the object of both private and official worship called dísablót, and their veneration probably derives from the worship of the spirits of the dead. A particular trait of the dísir is the fact that they appear as collective beings.

Name

Many have pointed out that dísir seems to be the original term for the valkyries (lit. "choosers of the slain"), which in turn would be a kenning for dís. As opposed to valkyrja and norn, the term dís never appears in the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. The name dís is the Old Norse cognate of Old High German itis, Old Saxon idis and the Anglo-Saxon ides, all meaning "lady", and idisi appears as the name of the valkyries in the only surviving pagan source from Germany, the Merseburg Incantations (see below). Dís also had the meaning "lady" in Old Norse poetry as in the case of Freya who is called Vanadís ("lady of the vanir"). Adding to the ambiguous meaning of dís is the fact that just like supernatural women were called dísir in the sense "ladies", mortal women were frequently called by names for supernatural women, as noted by Snorri Sturluson in Skáldskaparmál:

Woman is also metaphorically called by the names of the Asynjur or the Valkyrs or Norns or women of supernatural kind.
The name dís appears in several place names in Norway and Sweden. Moreover, it was a common element in girls' names as evidenced on runestones, and it still is in Iceland.

Worship

Main article dísablót.
The dísir were important deities and the dísablót was a sacrificial holiday (blót) in honor of them. This holiday is mentioned in Hervarar saga, Víga-Glúms saga, Egils saga and the Heimskringla. Its purpose was to enhance the coming harvest. In a part of the Heimskringla called the Ynglinga saga, Aðils, the king of Sweden, died when he administered the dísablót and rode around the shrine at the temple at Uppsala. According to another part of Heimskringla called St.Olav's Saga, the dísablót was celebrated at Uppsala during pagan times in late February or early March, and the sacrifices to the Dísir were followed by a popular assembly known as the Thing of all Swedes, or Dísaþing, and a yearly fair. When Christianity arrived, the market was moved to early February and renamed kyndelsting. The name Disting remained in use, however, and the fair is still held every year in Uppsala – the first Tuesday in February. It may be one of the oldest fair traditions in Sweden.

The shrine where the dísir were worshiped was called dísarsalr and this building is mentioned in the Ynglinga saga concerning king Aðils' death. In addition, it also appears Hervarar saga, where a woman becomes so infuriated over the death of her father by the hands of Heiðrekr, her husband, that she hangs herself in the shrine.

Old Norse sources

The generic dísir appears instead of the more specific labels norns, fylgjas and valkyries in a couple of Eddic and skaldic poems, and in various kennings.

The eddic poem Hamðismál deals with how Hamðir and Sörli go to the Gothic king Ermanaric to exact vengeance for the cruel death of their half-sister Svanhild. On the way, they kill their reluctant brother Erpr. Knowing that he is about to die at the hands of the Goths, Sörli talks of the cruelty of the dísir who incited him to kill Erpr, who would have cut off the head of Ermanaric and made their expedition successful. In this poem, dísir appears as a synonym of norn and the translator Henry Adams Bellows simply translates dísir as norns:

Hamðir kvað:
28. "Af væri nú höfuð,
ef Erpr lifði,
bróðir okkarr inn böðfrækni,
er vit á braut vágum,
verr inn vígfrækni,
- hvöttumk at dísir, -
gumi inn gunnhelgi,
- gerðumk at vígi -."
-
Sörli kvað:
29. "Ekki hygg ek okkr
vera ulfa dæmi,
at vit mynim sjalfir of sakask
sem grey norna,
þá er gráðug eru
í auðn of alin.
Hamther spake:
28. "His head were now off
if Erp were living,
The brother so keen
whom we killed on our road,
The warrior noble,--
'twas the Norns [dísir] that drove me
The hero to slay
who in fight should be holy.
-
-
29. "In fashion of wolves
it befits us not
Amongst ourselves to strive,
Like the hounds of the Norns,
that nourished were
In greed mid wastes so grim.

In Grímnismál, the wise Grímnir (Odin) predicts king Geirröðr's death, which he attributes to the wrath of the dísir. Again, dísir is used as a synonym for the norns:

Eggmóðan val
nú mun Yggr hafa,
þitt veit ek líf of liðit;
úfar ro dísir,
nú knáttu Óðin sjá,
nálgastu mik ef þú megir.
The fallen by the sword
Ygg shall now have;
thy life is now run out:
Wroth with thee are the dísir:
Odin thou now shalt see:
draw near to me if thou canst.

In Reginsmál, the unmarried girl Lyngheiðr is called dís ulfhuguð (dís/lady with the soul of a wolf) as an insult. Later in the same poem, there is a stanza, where the dísir appear as female spirits accompanying a warrior in order to see him dead in battle, a role where they are synonymous with valkyries:

Þat er fár mikit
ef þú fœti drepr,
þars þú at vígi veðr,
tálar dísir,
standa þér á tvær hliðar
ok vilja þik sáran sjá.
Foul is the sign
if thy foot shall stumble
As thou goest forth to fight;
Goddesses [dísir] baneful
at both thy sides
Will that wounds thou shalt get.
An additional instance where dís is synonymous with valkyrie is the skaldic poem Krákumál – composed by Ragnarr Loðbrók while awaiting his death in a snake pit. It features the line: Heim bjóða mér dísir (the dísir invite me home), as one of several poetic circumscriptions for what awaits him.

An ambiguous reference to dís as "valkyrie" or "lady" appears in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, where the hero Helgi Hundingsbane meets the valkyrie Sigrún for the first time. In his translation, Bellows simply translates it as "maiden":

16. Frá árliga
ór úlfíði
döglingr at því
dísir suðrænar,
ef þær vildi heim
með hildingum
þá nótt fara;
þrymr var alma.
Early then
in wolf-wood asked
The mighty king
of the southern maid,
If with the hero
home would she
Come that night;
the weapons clashed.
An instance of where dísir is shown to include the protective goddesses called fylgias is found in Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka. The warrior Útsteinn has arrived in Denmark where he is staying with an otherwise unknown Danish king named Eysteinn. One of the king's warriors whose name is Úlfr considers Útsteinn as a thorn in his side and so they begin to quarrel.
Útsteinn kvað, er Úlfr jafnaði sér við hann ok eggjaði hann:
"Upp skulum rísa,
út skulum ganga
ok rammligar
randir knýja.
Hygg við hjálmum
hingat komnar
til Danmerkr
dísir várar."
-
Úlfr kvað:
"Yðr munu dauðar
dísir allar,
heill kveð ek horfna
frá Hálfs rekkum.
Dreymdi mik í morgin,
at megir várir
öfri yrði,
hvars ér mættizt.
When Ulf declared himself a match for Utstein and egged him on, Utstein said:
“Up we'll get
and out we'll go then,
shield on shield,
it shan't take long.
Something tells me
to trust to luck,
helmed here in Denmark
our disir stand near.”
-
Ulf said:
“All your disir
are dead I think,
your luck's run dry,
doughty Heroes.
I dreamt this dawn
our daring boys,
triumphed, topped you,
try as you might.”

Merseburg incantations

A single remnant exists of the belief in the dísir in Germany. It is called the Merseburg Incantations and it uses the Old High German form of dísir, idisi, for the Valkyries, who free from their shackles warriors caught during battle. The last two lines contain the magic words "Leap forth from the fetters, escape from the foes" that are intended to release the warriors.

Eiris sazun idisi
sazun hera duoder.
suma hapt heptidun,
suma heri lezidun,
suma clubodun
umbi cuoniouuidi:
insprinc haptbandun,
inuar uigandun.
      Once the Idisi set forth,
to this place and that.
Some fastened fetters,
Some hindered the horde,
Some loosed the bonds
from the brave:
Leap forth from the fetters,
escape from the foes.
Once sat women,
They sat here, then there.
Some fastened bonds,
Some impeded an army,
Some unraveled fetters:
Escape the bonds,
flee the enemy!

Notes and references

See also

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