Lore for a Character Build: The Vala or Spaekona

  • The Vala, Spaekona, or Völva (pl. Völur) is the Norse seeress or prophetess, priestess or witch, who narrates the magnum opus of the Poetic Edda, the famous Völuspá, or Prophecy of the Völva. The figure of the Vala, "the woman with the staff," turns up in a number of the works of the Poetic and Prose Edda. She not only holds the memory of the past and foretells the future, but she has the power to reweave fate. She is oracle, ghost, shapeshifter, healer, enchanter of protective wardings, consumer of mind-bending substances, and the embodiment of the Nornir on earth.

    [PS There is tons of amazing Norn art out thereyou guys - do yourself a favor and Google it!]

    I'm collecting below for easy reference snippets from the Edda featuring notable Völur, and the types of magic that the Vala commanded. The goddess Freyja was said to be the original Vala, and Odin was said to have learned all of his seidhr (magic) from her. Odin was several times said to have summoned the Völur for consultation, to obtain wisdom that he himself did not possess.  These are, of course, Internet freebie translations, and may not be the most literary or aesthetically pleasing versions, but they're still quite enjoyable in my opinion.

    From Vegtamskviða, or The Song of Vegtam
    aka Baldur's Dream

    8. Forth rode Odin - 
    the ground rattled - 
    till to Hel's lofty
    house he came.

    Then rode Ygg
    to the eastern gate,
    where he knew there was
    a Vala's grave.

    9. To the prophetess he began 
    a magic song to chant,
    towards the north looked,
    potent runes applied,
    a spell pronounced,
    an answer demanded,
    until compelled she rose,
    and with deathlike voice she said:

    10. "What man is this,
    to me unknown
    who has for me increased
    an irksome course?
    I have with snow been decked
    by rain beaten,
    and with dew moistened:
    long have I been dead."

    From Völuspá, The Prophecy of the Seeress

    19. An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name,
    With water white is the great tree wet;
    Thence come the dews that fall in the dales,
    Green by Urðr's well does it ever grow.

    20. Thence come the maidens mighty in wisdom,

    Three from the dwelling down 'neath the tree;
    Urðr is one named, Verðandi the next,--
    On the wood they scored,-- and Skuld the third.
    Laws they made there, and life allotted
    To the sons of men, and set their fates.

    21. The war I remember, the first in the world,
    When the gods with spears had smitten Gullveig,
    And in the hall of Hor had burned her, 
    Three times burned, and three times born,

    Oft and again, yet ever she lives. 

    22. Heiðr they named her who sought their home,
    The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise;
    Minds she bewitched that were moved by her magic,
    To evil women a joy she was...

    28. Alone I sat when the Old One sought me,
    The terror of gods, and gazed in mine eyes:
    "What hast thou to ask? why comest thou hither?
    Othin, I know where thine eye is hidden."

    29. I know where Othin's eye is hidden,
    Deep in the wide-famed well of Mimir;
    Mead from the pledge of Othin each mom
    Does Mimir drink: would you know yet more?

    30. Necklaces had I and rings from Heerfather,
    Wise was my speech and my magic wisdom;
    . . . . . . . . . .
    Widely I saw over all the worlds.

    Hyndluljóð - The Lay of Hyndla

    [Hyndla is the Vala giantess who answers Freyja's questioning in the poem.]

    11. "Tell to me now the ancient names,
    And the races of all that were born of old:
    Who are of the Skjoldungs, who of the Skilfings,
    Who of the Othlings, who of the Ylfings,
    Who are the free-born, who are the high-born,
    The noblest of men that in Mithgarth dwell?"...

    33. Much have I told thee, and further will tell;
    There is much that I know;-- wilt thou hear yet more?

    44. The sea, storm-driven, seeks heaven itself,
    O'er the earth it flows, the air grows sterile;
    Then follow the snows and the furious winds,
    For the gods are doomed, and the end is death.

    45. Then comes another, a greater than all,
    Though never I dare his name to speak;
    Few are they now that farther can see
    Than the moment when Othin shall meet the wolf.

    Skaldskáparmál - The Language of Poetry

    “Then came the völva Gróa there, wife of Aurvandil the Bold. She sang her galðr [spell-songs] over Thor until the piece of stone loosened [from his flesh]. When Thor noticed this, and understood that there was a good hope that she would be able to completely remove the byrnie-piece, he wished to reward Gróa for her healing by doing her an honor…”

    Gróa is also the central figure of another Eddic work, the Grógaldr, in which she sings to her son all of the magical protections she shall provide him in his dangerous quest.

    Grógaldr - Gróa's Magical Chant

    6. I sing to thee the first,
    that song is useful,
    which Rind sang to Rani,
    that from thy shoulders cast
    what to thee seems irksome:
    let thyself thyself direct.

    7. I sing to thee the second,

    as thou hast to wander
    joyless on thy ways.
    May Urðr's words
    hold thee protected,
    where thou seest turpitude.

    8. I sing to thee the third. 
    If the mighty rivers
    to thy life's peril fall,
    Horn and Rud
    flow down to Hel,
    crossings you see there.

    9. I sing to thee the fourth.
    If foes assail thee ready
    on the dangerous road,
    their hearts shall fail them,
    and to thee be power,
    and their minds to peace be turned.

    10. I sing to thee the fifth.
    If bonds be cast on thy limbs,
    friendly spells I will let
    on thy joints be sung,
    and the lock
    from thy arms shall start,
    and from thy feet the fetter.

    11. I sing to thee the sixth.
    If on the sea thou comest,
    more stormy than men have known it,
    air and water shall
    in a bag attend thee,
    and a tranquil course afford thee.

    12. I sing to thee the seventh.
    If on a mountain high
    frost should assail thee,
    deadly cold shall not
    thy carcase injure,
    nor draw thy body to thy limbs.

    In Heimskringla and Hávamál, we learn all of the magical feats and skills that Odin learned from Freyja and the Völur.

    Heimskringla - The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway

    Odin was the cleverest of all, and from him all the others learned their arts and accomplishments; and he knew them first, and knew many more than other people. But now, to tell why he is held in such high respect, we must mention various causes that contributed to it.

    When sitting among his friends his countenance was so beautiful and dignified, that the spirits of all were exhilarated by it, but when he was in war he appeared dreadful to his foes. This arose from his being able to change his skin and form in any way he liked. Another cause was, that he conversed so cleverly and smoothly, that all who heard believed him. He spoke everything in rhyme, such as now composed, which we call scald-craft. He and his temple priests were called song-smiths, for from them came that art of song into the northern countries. Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, or terror-struck, and their weapons so blunt that they could no more but than a willow wand; on the other hand, his men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild bulls, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon themselves. These were called Berserker...


    Odin could transform his shape: his body would lie as if dead, or asleep; but then he would be in shape of a fish, or worm, or bird, or beast, and be off in a twinkling to distant lands upon his own or other people's business. With words alone he could quench fire, still the ocean in tempest, and turn the wind to any quarter he pleased... Sometimes even he called the dead out of the earth, or set himself beside the burial-mounds; whence he was called the ghost-sovereign, and lord of the mounds. He had two ravens, to whom he had taught the speech of man; and they flew far and wide through the land, and brought him the news. In all such things he was pre-eminently wise. He taught all these arts in Runes, and songs which are called incantations, and therefore the Asaland people are called incantation-smiths. Odin understood also the art in which the greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practised; namely, what is called magic. By means of this he could know beforehand the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot; and also bring on the death, ill-luck, or bad health of people, and take the strength or wit from one person and give it to another. But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety, that it was not thought respectable for men to practise it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art. Odin knew finely where all missing cattle were concealed under the earth, and understood the songs by which the earth, the hills, the stones, and mounds were opened to him; and he bound those who dwell in them by the power of his word, and went in and took what he pleased. From these arts he became very celebrated. His enemies dreaded him; his friends put their trust in him, and relied on his power and on himself.

    Hávamál - Sayings of the High One

    Cattle die,
    kinsmen die
    you yourself die;
    I know one thing
    which never dies:
    the judgment of a dead mans life...

    147. The songs I know that king's wives know not,
    Nor men that are sons of men;
    The first is called help, and help it can bring thee
    In sorrow and pain and sickness.

    148. A second I know, that men shall need
    Who leechcraft long to use;
    "In sickness and pain and every sorrow."

    149. A third I know, if great is my need
    Of fetters to hold my foe;
    Blunt do I make mine enemy's blade,
    Nor bites his sword or staff.

    150. A fourth I know, if men shall fasten
    Bonds on my bended legs;
    So great is the charm that forth I may go,
    The fetters spring from my feet,
    Broken the bonds from my hands.

    152. A fifth I know, if I see from afar
    An arrow fly 'gainst the folk;
    It flies not so swift that I stop it not,
    If ever my eyes behold it.

    152. A sixth I know, if harm one seeks
    With a sapling's roots to send me;
    The hero himself who wreaks his hate
    Shall taste the ill ere I.

    [The sending of a root with runes written thereon was an excellent way of causing death. So died the Icelandic hero Grettir the Strong.]

    153. A seventh I know, if I see in flames
    The hall o'er my comrades' heads;
    It burns not so wide that I will not quench it,
    I know that song to sing.

    154. An eighth I know, that is to all
    Of greatest good to learn;
    When hatred grows among heroes' sons,
    I soon can set it right.

    155. A ninth I know, if need there comes
    To shelter my ship on the flood;
    The wind I calm upon the waves,
    And the sea I put to sleep.

    156. A tenth I know, what time I see
    House-riders flying on high;
    So can I work that wildly they go,
    Showing their true shapes,
    Hence to their own homes.

    157. An eleventh I know, if needs I must lead
    To the fight my long-loved friends;
    I sing in the shields, and in strength they go
    Whole to the field of fight,
    Whole from the field of fight,
    And whole they come thence home.

    158. A twelfth I know, if high on a tree
    I see a hanged man swing;
    So do I write and color the runes
    That forth he fares,
    And to me talks.

    159. A thirteenth I know, if a thane full young
    With water I sprinkle well;
    He shall not fall, though he fares mid the host,
    Nor sink beneath the swords.


  • Drifa Skir
    Drifa Skir   ·  January 7, 2014
    Glad you enjoyed it - should have a build out as soon as I can get some decent artwork for it.
  • RuneRed
    RuneRed   ·  January 6, 2014
    Wonderful, I enjoyed it much.
    13 of course - it is a 'magical' number to the ancient Norse - 13 months in a year - yes I know we say 12 now, but in reality there are 13, i.e. 13 moons per year, ('moon' + 'th' = 'moonth (i.e. month)).