Vatnsdæla Saga

The Ynglinga Saga (c. 7) says of Odin, that “he changed form; the bodies lay as though sleeping or dead, but he was a bird or a beast, a fish, or a woman, and went in a twinkling to far distant lands, doing his own or other people’s business.” In like manner the Danish king Harold sent a warlock to Iceland in the form of a whale, whilst his body lay stiff and stark at home. The already quoted Saga of Hrolf Krake gives us another example, where Bödvar Bjarki, in the shape of a huge bear, fights desperately with the enemy, which has surrounded the hall of his king, whilst his human body lies drunkenly beside the embers within.

In the Vatnsdæla Saga, there is a curious account of three Finns, who were shut up in a hut for three nights, and ordered by Ingimund, a Norwegian chief, to visit Iceland and inform him of the lie of the country, where he was to settle. Their bodies became rigid, and they sent their souls the errand, and, on their awaking at the end of three days, gave an accurate description of the Vatnsdal, in which Ingimund was eventually to establish himself. But the Saga does not relate whether these Finns projected their souls into the bodies of birds or beasts.

The third manner of transformation mentioned, was that in which the individual was not changed himself, but the eyes of others were bewitched, so that they could not detect him, but saw him only under a certain form. Of this there are several examples in the Sagas; as, for instance, in the Hromundar Saga Greypsonar, and in the Fostbræðra Saga. But I will translate the most curious, which is that of Odd, Katla’s son, in the Eyrbyggja Saga.–(c. 20.)

“Geirrid, housewife in Mafvahlið, sent word into Bolstad, that she was ware of the fact that Odd, Katla’s son, had hewn off Aud’s hand.

“Now when Thorarinn and Arnkell heard that, they rode from home with twelve men. They spent the night in Mafvahlið, and rode on next morning to Holt: and Odd was the only man in the house.

“Katla sat on the high seat spinning yarn, and she bade Odd sit beside her; also, she bade her women sit each in her place, and hold their tongues. ‘For,’ said she, ‘I shall do all the talking.’ Now when Arnkell and his company arrived, they walked straight in, and when they came into the chamber, Katla greeted Arnkell, and asked the news. He replied that there was none, and he inquired after Odd. Katla said that he had gone to Breidavik. ‘We shall ransack the house though,’ quoth Arnkell. ‘Be it so,’ replied Katla, and she ordered a girl to carry a light before them, and unlock the different parts of the house. All they saw was Katla spinning yarn off her distaff. Now they search the house, but find no Odd, so they depart. But when they had gone a little way from the garth, Arnkell stood still and said: ‘How know we but that Katla has hoodwinked us, and that the distaff in her hand was nothing more than Odd.’ ‘Not impossible!’ said Thorarinn; ‘let us turn back.’ They did so; and when those at Holt raw that they were returning, Katla said to her maids, ‘Sit still in your places, Odd and I shall go out.’

“Now as they approached the door, she went into the porch, and began to comb and clip the hair of her son Odd. Arnkell came to the door and saw where Katla was, and she seemed to be stroking her goat, and disentangling its mane and beard and smoothing its wool. So he and his men went into the house, but found not Odd. Katla’s distaff lay against the bench, so they thought that it could not have been Odd, and they went away. However, when they had come near the spot where they had turned before, Arnkell said, ‘Think you not that Odd may have been in the goat’s form?’ ‘There is no saying,’ replied Thorarinn; ‘but if we turn back we will lay hands on Katla.’ ‘We can try our luck again,’ quoth Arnkell; ‘and see what comes of it.’ So they returned.

“Now when they were seen on their way back, Katla bade Odd follow her; and she lea him to the ash-heap, and told him to lie there and not to stir on any account. But when Arnkell, and his men came to the farm, they rushed into the chamber, and saw Katla seated in her place, spinning. She greeted them and said that their visits followed with rapidity. Arnkell replied that what she said was true. His comrades took the distaff and cut it in twain. ‘Come now!’ said Katla, ‘you cannot say, when you get home, that you have done nothing, for you have chopped up my distaff.’ Then Arnkell and the rest hunted high and low for Odd, but could not find him; indeed they saw nothing living about the place, beside a boar-pig which lay under the ash-heap, so they went away once more.

“Well, when they got half-way to Mafvahlið, came Geirrid to meet them, with her workmen. ‘They had not gone the right way to work in seeking Odd,’ she said, ‘but she would help them.’ So they turned back again. Geirrid had a blue cloak on her. Now when the party was seen and reported to Katla, and it was said that they were thirteen in number, and one had on a coloured dress, Katla exclaimed, ‘That troll Geirrid is come! I shall not be able to throw a glamour over their eyes any more.’ She started up from her place and lifted the cushion of the seat, and there was a hole and a cavity beneath: into this she thrust Odd, clapped the cushion over him, and sat down, saying she felt sick at heart.

“Now when they came into the room, there were small greetings. Geirrid cast of her the cloak and went up to Katla, and took the seal-skin bag which she had in her hand, and drew it over the head of Katla. %note%1 Then Geirrid bade them break up the seat. They did so, and found Odd. Him they took and carried to Buland’s head, where they hanged him. . . . But Katla they stoned to death under the headland.”

[1. A precaution against the “evil eye.” Compare Gisla Saga Surssonnar, p. 34. Laxdæla Saga, cc. 37, 38.]