VI. — THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG. — PART II. THE VALKYRIE.
My Nibelungen-pocm . . . shows Nature in her naked truth, with all her innate opposites, whose infinitely varied meetings include the shock of mutual repulsion. . . . The whole course of the poem shows the necessity of recognizing the change, the diversity, the multiplicity, the eternal newness of reality and life, and yielding place to it. Wotan soars to the tragic height of willing his own undoing. This is the whole lesson we have to learn from the history of mankind: to will the inevitable, and ourselves fulfil it. The creative work of this highest, self-annihilating Will is the final winning of the fearless, forever loving man: Siegfried. — Letter to August Roeckel, 1854.
Since the building of Valhalla Wotan has created, in conjunction with Erda, nine daughters, called Valkyries (lit. Choosers of the Slain) virgin war-maidens, whose duty it is to bring the souls of slain heroes to Valhalla and see to their rest and refreshment until they are again ready to enter into flesh and fight another battle in the earthworld. They represent the higher and more spiritual part of the soul which periodically withdraws the lower part from its struggles in material life. And, in connection with what was said about Devachanic rest in the last article, it is worth noting here that the Valkyries also have the power immediately to rejuvenate the slain hero so that he can reincarnate at once without any intervening rest in Valhalla.
Wotan now takes earthly form as Walse, and, working towards the creation of the New Power, he produces in the earthworld the twin Volsungs, Siegmund and Sieglinde. (1) Sad is their lot, for the Curse of Alberich's Ring lies heavily upon them. Strong are they in their love, and heroic in adversity. Soon they suffer at the hands of those enemies who do Alberich's will. While Siegmund is away with his father their home is sacked, mother slain, and Sieglinde carried off and married by force to the rough warrior Hunding. For the Will in its earliest efforts to embody an unselfish principle finds itself hampered by the consequences of its own previous deeds. The forest dwelling in which the gentler and more spiritual aspect of the soul now lies captive in these coarse material bonds is built round the trunk of a tree, the type of the World's Ash, Yggdrasil, which, springing from the depths of the Underworld, stretches forth its branches into the Heavenworld. Buried in the trunk is the Sword which Wotan has left for the need of his son.
In the opening scene of this drama Siegmund, after many wanderings and fights with his enemies, seeks shelter in Hunding's dwelling exhausted and weaponless, and Sieglinde tends him. Both are unconscious of their kinship, for each believes the other dead; yet they feel a powerful attraction expressed by music of a beauty and purity quite indescribable in mere words. Hunding, presently returning, notes the likeness between them, and especially the "glittering serpent" in the eyes of each. For from these twins will spring the Hero who shall slay the serpent or dragon; and there is an ancient legend that the parents of the great Dragon-Slayers (Initiates) have the likeness of a dragon in or around their eyes.
Discovering from Siegmund's story that he is an enemy, Hunding tells him that for one night the Guest-Rite protects him but on the morrow they will fight. Before retiring Sieglinde tries in vain by signs to show Siegmund the sword in the tree, while in the orchestra the sword-motif is heard for the first time since the conclusion of the Rhinegold. The Intuition is trying to bring, to the warrior-soul a knowledge of his hidden power, and at the same time is subduing the lower force. For presently she returns, saying:
"In deepest sleep lies Hunding:
I mingled a drug with his drink.
To a goodly weapon I'll guide thee.
Ah! if thou couldst but win it!
As greatest of heroes I then might hail thee.'
Then she tells him how at the wedding feast a one-eyed stranger (2) entered and smote it into the tree from which none could draw it. Now she knows that Siegmund is her brother and the one for whom the sword was left. With the exultant cry:
"Nothung! Nothung! name I this sword,"
he wrenches it from the tree and they fly together.
But now Wotan has to deal with his wife Fricka, who represents that adhesion to form and the "established order" which hinders all progress. She it is who seeks to retain Wotan within the selfish walls of Valhalla, and now she demands reparation for the violation of the marriage vow by the Volsungs. Hunding is in pursuit and must be allowed to slay Siegmund in spite of the magic sword. Wotan's position is here terribly dramatic. Despite his endeavors to serve alike the Gods and the new race he is creating he is thwarted at every turn by the Curse laid upon the Ring by Alberich when Wotan-Loki wrenched it from him.
"From the Curse I fled,
But even now the Curse is with me.
What I love I must forsake,
Murder what is dear to me,
Betray him who trusts me."
It seems as if karma will blot out all hope of redemption. He recalls the warning of Erda: "When Love's dark enemy in anger begetteth a son the end of the gods draws nigh!" This enemy is Alberich, who forswore Love to gain Power, and his evil son is Hagen who executes the final act of the Curse when, in the Dusk of the Gods, he stabs Siegfried treacherously in the back.
In a scene of tragic sorrow he tells his favorite Valkyrie, Brynhild, that she must withdraw her protection from Siegmund and allow him to be slain. But behind the expressed will which past deeds have shaped she sees with her mother Erda's divine insight the inner wish of her father, that from the love and sorrow of the Volsungs may arise the fearless hero who shall unite with her in working out the Curse. So her reply is:
"Thy words can never turn me against the hero
Whom thou hast ever taught me to love."
Exhausted with flight the twins stop to rest in the forest and Sieglinde sinks to sleep tenderly guarded by Siegmund. To him appears Brynhild, her heart heavy with the news she brings him; for only to those destined for Valhalla does she appear. But Siegmund declares he cares nought for the bliss of Valhalla if Sieglinde goes not with him. If he must fall then Nothung shall take both their lives rather than they shall be parted any more. Then Brynhild promises to give him the victory, and he goes forth to meet Hunding.
The combat is the first dreadful conflict between the powers of growth and stagnation; and Brynhild, who, as the Spirit of Love, is on the side of the progressive forces, hovers protectingly over the Volsung. But Wotan, compelled by his oath to Ericka, interferes; on his spear the magic sword is shattered and Siegmund falls. When Wotan drank at the spring of knowledge he broke a branch from Yggdrasil for his all-ruling spear on whose shaft are carved the Runes of Bargain which represent the limits of his power. That the sword is broken thereon shows that Siegmund is not the free hero whom Wotan yearns to create. "The only one who might dare do what I dare not would be some hero whom I have never stooped to help." But Siegmund, in his death, is victorious over the power which fettered the life of the twins; for, at Wotan's contemptuous words "Go slave! kneel before Ericka!" Hunding falls dead.
Brynhild flies from the scene with the bereaved Sieglinde, and with the help of her sister Valkyries directs her to the wood where the dragon Fafnir guards the Ring and Hoard. There she will be safe, for Wotan has bound himself to hold Fafnir's territory sacred. Giving her the pieces of the sword she tells her the joyful news:
"The highest hero of worlds guard'st thou,
O woman, in sheltering shrine.
His name I give to him now: —
'Siegfried' of gladdening sword!"
Then she turns to face alone the wrath of Wotan, who has pursued her and now pronounces her fate: "Thy punishment hast thou shaped thyself: Valkyrie art thou no more but only a woman of women!" In unprotected sleep he will leave her to be the slave of the first man who finds and wakens her. Brynhild pleads that she only carried out his secret wish. Wotan, while admitting this, replies that he is bound, but that she is free, for by her own act she is severed from him. "Let thy happy mind hereafter guide thee." Although he loves his daughter he is powerless to stay the cycle of the Curse; but her last prayer he is able to grant:
"Fiery flames shall girdle the fell,
With terrible scorchings searing the timid.
He who fears may win not Brynhild;
For one alone freeth the bride,
One freer than I, the God!"
Kissing Brynhild on both eyes he lays her in sleep upon the rock, covering her with helm and shield. Then at his command the flames of Loki surround her, and his last words are:
"He shall never pass through the fire
Who fears my avenging spear."
Thus the Spirit of Love breaks from the thraldom of the Gods, and, acting in defiance of written law and manmade morals, chooses its own heroic destiny, paving the way for its future entry into the hearts of men. But the penalty of freedom has to be paid. Allying herself to the secret law of renunciation, Brynhild loses the laughter-loving bliss of Valhalla and awaits on the threshold of the earth the coming of the hero Siegfried.
1. These twins are represented in the saga as one being in two aspects, and of course are here to be regarded in the same light. Most of the Northern deities have this two-fold aspect representing Nature's "innate opposites."
In this and the two succeeding- articles I have received valuable help from Brother Gordon Rowe, of the Bow Lodge, T.S.E (E). (return to text)
2. This, of course, is Wotan, who "gave an eye as his eternal toll" when he drank of the spring of knowledge which welled up under the shadow of Yggdrasil. This eye is regained by Siegfried in the next drama when he slays Fafnir. (return to text)
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