Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Siegfried, Brunhilde and the Witch

Love Potion and a Dirty Trick
Never trust a woman whose mother is a witch.

Sigurd and Brynhildr's Funeral Pyre, by C. Butler, 1909 (PD*)

Siegfried and Brunhilde

In Icelandic and German mythology, Brunhilde was a strong, beautiful warrior princess and Valkyrie who was cruelly deceived by her lover, Siegfried.  She appears in the Icelandic Edda poems and in the Nibelungenlied epic of Germany.  Her name variations are Brunhild, Brunhilda, or Brynhildr.

Condemned to live the life of a mortal woman by Odin, and banished for displeasing him in a judgment call, Brunhilde sleeps under his curse.  Imprisoned in a castle, behind shielded walls, within a ring of fire, her body rests until the spell is broken.  Her only release is to be kissed by a hero who will cross the flames to reach her.  Cue Siegfried.  Love is born, promises exchanged, then Siegfried leaves, with that age-old promise to return.  The trouble begins when Siegfried meets Gudrun, the daughter of Grimhild, the witch/sorceress.

Grimhild prepared the potion that entrances Siegfried, making him forget Brunhilde and his vows.  He then compounds the problem by deceiving her. When she learns of the treachery from Gudrun, Brunhilde seeks revenge.  Siegfried is killed through her planning, after which Brunhilde joins him on the pyre that takes them to the other side.  There are variations on the events and the ending depending on the country of origin.  This legend bears witness to the following quote by William Congreve from The Morning Bride, a play from 1697. 

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."  This line is often misquoted as, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." 

Legends can be based on events in history or local beliefs. Some legends have a moral lesson at the core. A legend can grow from a real event and others' retelling of what occurred, with embellishments added to suit their purpose. Were these early legends verbal teaching tools?


Are you familiar with the story of Siegfried and Brunhilde?  If not, how about another legend popular at Halloween, The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow, written in 1820? 

Please share what you think about legends in the comments.  Do you think they were used for teaching purposes?


References: Warrior maiden Brynhildr William Congreve


Credit Art Work: Sigurd and Brynhildr, by Charles Butler, painted in 1909, Wikipedia Commons, PD.  For details, see Creative Commons (art tags).  This photographic reproduction is therefore also considered to be in the public domain.  *PD = Public Domain