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A Poet [Reluctantly] Abandons the Old Gods

Date: ca. 965 – 1007 CE
Text: Icelandic: http://www.sagadb.org/hallfredar_saga_vandraedaskalds, English: The Viking Age: A Reader, Somerville, pages 408-409
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
Creator: Hallfred Vandrædaskald (the Troublesome Poet)

Hallfred Vandrædaskald was a court poet who found it difficult to turn his back on Odin, the god who had blessed him and his ancestors with the gift of poetry. His reluctance to convert earned him his nickname from Olaf Tryggvason.

This poem reveals the difficulty within Scandinavia to accept the change being promoted, and often strictly enforced, by kings such as Olaf II, Harald Bluetooth, and Olaf Tryggvason. Hallfred states here how his ancestors had held these beliefs for so long that it does pain him to be betraying them now. “All my lineage shaped lines praising Odin’s reign”, here he also emphasized the role that the traditional gods had on the arts, such as poetry. A prime example would be the story of Odin and the Mead of Poetry: “Now Odin, the chief of the gods, who is restless and unstoppable in his pursuit of wisdom, was displeased with the precious mead’s being hoarded away beneath a mountain. He bent his will toward acquiring it for himself and those he deemed worthy of its powers.” Odin would bestow this gift upon those worthy, therefore the poets would give Odin their highest respects for their gift. The role of the Skald in Scandinavia was a significant element of society, for poetry could lift kings up to great glory, but also crush them completely with satire.

He states clearly, though, that King Olaf has proclaimed that “sacrifices are banned” and that “[they] must shun most of all the age-old ordinances of the norns”. Mere changes in authority may seem at first to only effect the kings who made use of them, but in this poem, the struggle between the old ways and new ways is evident, leaving a powerful message that can be felt and understood even today.


McDonald, R. Andrew, Angus A. Somerville, and Paul Edward Dutton, eds. The Viking Age: A Reader. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Hallfreðar saga, in Vatnsdæla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzik fornit VIII (Reykjavík, 1939), pp. 157-59.

“The Mead of Poetry - Norse Mythology for Smart People.” Norse Mythology for Smart People. Accessed December 3, 2015. http://norse-mythology.org/tales/the-mead-of-poetry/.