* See Saxo Grammaticus, Hist. Dan. lib. v.
It was not only with the spirits of the dead that the warlike people of the North made war without timidity, and successfully entered into suits of ejectment. These daring champions often braved the indignation even of the superior deities of their mythology, rather than allow that there existed any being before whom their boldness could quail. Such is the singular story, how a young man of high courage, in crossing a desolate ridge of mountains, met with a huge waggon, in which the goddess Freya, (i. e. a gigantic idol formed to represent her,) together with her shrine, and the wealthy offerings attached to it, was travelling from one district of the country to another. The shrine, or sanctuary of the idol, was, like a modern caravan travelling with a show, screened by boards and curtains from the public gaze, and the equipage was under the immediate guidance of the priestess of Freya, a young, good-looking, and attractive woman. The traveller naturally associated himself with the priestess, who, as she walked on foot, apparently was in no degree displeased with the company of a powerful and handsome young man as a guide and companion on the journey. It chanced, however, that the presence of the champion, and his discourse with the priestess, was less satisfactory to the goddess than to the parties principally concerned. By a certain signal the divinity summoned the priestess to the sanctuary, who presently returned with tears in her eyes, and terror in her countenance, to inform her companion that it was the will of Freya that he should depart, and no longer travel in their company. " You must have mistaken the meaning of the goddess," said the champion; " Freya cannot have formed a wish so unreasonable as to desire I should abandon the straight and good road, which leads me directly on my journey, to choose precipitous paths and byroads, where I may break my neck."—" Nevertheless," said the priestess, " the goddess will be highly offended if you disobey her commands, nor can I conceal from you that she may personally assault you."—" It will be at her own peril if she should be so audacious," said the champion, " for I will try the power of this axe against the strength of beams and boards." The priestess chid him for his impiety ; but being unable to compel him to obey the goddess's mandate, they again relapsed into familiarity, which advanced to such a point that a clattering noise within the tabernacle, as of machinery put in motion, intimated to the travellers that Freya, who, perhaps, had some qualities in common with the classical Vesta, thought a personal interruption of this tete-a-tete ought to be deferred no longer. The curtains flew open, and the massive and awkward idol, who, we may suppose, resembled in form the giant created by Frankenstein, leapt lumbering from the carriage, and, rushing on the intrusive traveller, dealt him, with its wooden hands and arms, such tremendous blows as were equally difficult to parry or to endure. But the champion was armed with a double-edged Danish axe, with which he bestirred himself with so much strength and activity, that at length he split the head of the image, and with a severe blow hewed off its left leg. The image of Freya then fell motionless to the ground, and the demon which had animated it fled yelling from the battered tenement. The champion was now victorand, according to the law of arms, took possession of the female and the baggage. The priestess, the divinity of whose patroness had been, by the event of the combat, sorely lessened in her eyes, was now easily induced to become the associate and concubine of the conqueror. She accompanied him to the district whither he was travelling, and there displayed the shrine of Freya, taking care to hide the injuries which the goddess had received in the brawl. The champion came in for a share of a gainful trade driven by the priestess, besides appropriating to himself most of the treasures which the sanctuary had formerly contained. Neither does it appear that Freya, having, perhaps, a sensible recollection of the power of the axe, ever again ventured to appear in person for the purpose of calling her false stewards to account.
* Eyrbiggia Saga, Sec Northern Antiquities.
The national estimation of deities, concerning whom such stories could be told and believed, was, of course, of no deep or respectful character. The Icelanders abandoned Odin, Freya, Thor, and their whole pagan mythology, in consideration of a single disputation between the heathen priests and the Christian missionaries. The priests threatened the island with a desolating eruption of the volcano called Hecla, as the necessary consequence of the vengeance of their deities. Snorro, the same who advised the inquest against the ghosts, had become a convert to the Christian religion, and was present on the occasion, and as the conference was held on the surface of what had been a stream of lava, now covered with vegetable substances, he answered the priests with much readiness, " To what was the indignation of the gods owing, when the substance on which we stand was fluid and scorching ? Believe me, men of Iceland, the eruption of the volcano depends on natural circumstances now, as it did then, and is not the engine of vengeance intrusted to Thor and Odin." It is evident, that men who reasoned with so much accuracy concerning the imbecility of Odin and Thor, were well prepared, on abandoning their worship, to consider their former deities, of whom they believed so much that was impious, in the light of evil demons.
But there were some particulars of the northern creed, in which it corresponded so exactly with that of the classics, as leaves room to doubt whether the original Asae, or Asiatics, the founders of the Scandinavian system, had, before their migration from Asia, derived them from some common source with those of the Greeks and Romans ; or whether, on the other hand, the same proneness of the human mind to superstition, has caused that similar ideas are adopted in different regions, as the same plants are found in distant countries, without the one, as far as can be discovered, having obtained the seed from the others.