Weekly Deity: Bragi


19-century version of Bragi and Idunn

Bragi was the Nordic god of skaldic poetry.

Attributes

This god was usually shown with a harp, to mark his association with poetry.  Sometimes he was pictured with his wife.  Often he was shown as a bearded middle-aged or older man with a harp.

Mythology

In Snorri Sturluson’s Edda, Bragi is listed as a son of Odin and the first maker of poetry.  However, this is listed only here, so this relationship is debatable.  His wife is Iðunn, the keeper of apples and a goddess and bestower of eternal youthfulness.

In Nordic culture, poets were very important.  They kept the histories and genealogies of the people, and spread news between areas.  They also provided entertainment in the form of poems and songs in the halls.  Those poems were usually about heroes and/or the deities.

Bragi, and the skaldic poets who followed him, was known to be very eloquent, fluent, and wise. For those interested in this, the word “skald” is related in meaning to the West Germanic counterpart “scop” (pronounced “shop”), which meant a poet.  Skaldic poetry was more courtly in nature, and was not necessarily sung but spoken.  Its content also dealt more with earthly kings than with mythological heroes or the gods.  This is the poetry Bragi was master and originator of.

In the poem “Lokasenna” from Snorri’s Poetic Edda, Bragi is considered something of a coward.  At first he attempts to bar Loki from the hall, but Odin overrides him.  Loki takes offense at Bragi’s attempts and refuses to give a greeting to Bragi, but greets all the others present.  Bragi, in an attempt to make peace, offers Loki his horse, an arm ring, and his sword.  Loki refuses all these gifts and instead accuses Bragi of cowardice and being afraid to fight.  In return, Bragi claims that if they were outside of the hall, he would fight Loki and have his head.  Idunn interferes and holds Bragi back from the fight, and Loki then insults her, calling her sexually loose.  Bragi plays no further part in the story.

In a part of Snorri’s Prose Edda, the story Skáldskaparmál, Bragi and Aegir (god of the sea) have a discussion about the nature of skaldic poetry and what comprises this poetic form.  He also discusses the origin and form of a type of poetic metaphor, called kennings, of which Bragi gives an extensive description and list.

In Snorri’s Edda, there is a record of mortal poets also named Bragi.

Light and Dark Sides

On the one hand, Bragi is eloquent and wise.  He is only hot-tempered when his honor and courage are challenged.  He is the creator of skaldic poetry, and knows his art.  Bragi appears to mostly stand on the sidelines of Nordic mythology and record events, but he is no coward.  In some of the stories, there is a pattern of Bragi being the first to greet gods and heroes when they enter the hall (though it is questionable whether this greeter is actually the deity or a very honored man).  Still, this function of being a greeter at the open door implies welcome and, in conjunction with the open doors, perhaps also a facilitator of new opportunities.  However, that function would be open to interpretation for anyone who works with Bragi.

On his negative side, he can be at times a little irrational.  Considering his response to Loki, he was rather hot-tempered, but he was also pushed beyond what was considered reasonable boundaries in a culture so defined by courage and honor.

Bragi can be seen as a wise older figure who knows the value of speech and poetry, and who knows when the limits have been exceeded.  He can also be seen as the opener of doors or the guardian of the gateways, but remember that this particular interpretation of Bragi’s function is completely subjective to the practitioner.

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