No god or goddess of the Folk is as misunderstood as

Vali -- God of Vengeance and Rebirth

Vali, Son of Odin

In the #5 issue of Fjallabˇk, Rig Kon˙ngr-Agnarsson presented the second part of a series called "Dark Asatru." In this article he described Vali as "a murderer, a very unique one; a God that was bred for slaying." In support of his argument, he quotes Baldr's Dreams. I contend that there's more to Vali than murder; indeed, Ragnar÷k and its final, victorious outcome rest not only on his survival but on his "murderous" deed. What exactly do we know of Vali?

From the Poetic Edda is the passage in Baldr's Dreams, as mentioned by Agnarsson:
 

  Odin said:
  "Witch, I will ask, and you shall answer
until there is nothing more to be known:
by whose hand is Hod to die,
who will bring Baldr's bane to the pyre?"
  The witch said:
  "Vali, born to Rind in the western halls,
will one night old avenge Odin's son.
He won't wash his hands or comb his hair
until Baldr's bane burns on the pyre.
You made me speak, but you'll hear no more." 
  Baldr's Dreams 1

And in The Lay of Vafthrudnir:
 

  Odin said:
  "Far have I traveled, I've tried many things,
against the gods proved my powers -
to which of the gods go the Ăsir's possessions
when Surt's fires are spent?"
  Vafthrudnir said:
  "Vidar and Vali, will live in Valhalla
when Surt's fires are spent,.
Modi and Magni inherit Mjollnir 
when the war is over." 
  The Lay of Vafthrudnir 2

Turning to the Prose, or Younger Edda we first find Vali mentioned in the Gylfaginning: "Ali or Vali is the name of one, the son of Odin and Rind. He is bold in battles and a very good shot." 3 Later in the Gylfaginning we learn that Rind is reckoned among the Asyniur along with Iord, the mother of Thor. 4

In the Skaldskaparmal we learn that Vali is among the twelve Ăsir seated as judges at Ăgir's banquet. 5 The kennings listed for him are "son of Odin and Rind, stepson of Frigg, brother of the Ăsir, Baldr's avenging As, enemy of Hod and his slayer, father's homestead-inhabiter." 6

These original sources show a much broader (and brighter) picture of Vali. He emerges not only as a god of vengeance, but as one of the Ăsir, seated with the others at table and drink. He is referenced for his courage and his accuracy with the bow. We see Vali as one of the inheritors of Asgard.

According to the folklore collected by Guerber in The Norsemen "[Odin's ] third wife was Rinda, a personification of the hard and frozen earth, who reluctantly yields to his warm embrace, but finally gives birth to Vali, emblem of vegetation."7

Rinda is called the daughter of Billing, part of whose wooing is told in Havamal.8 Guerber's sources continue the story,telling how Odin was rebuffed three times, until finally he became so enraged he struck the reticent princess with a rune wand which utterly paralyzed her. He then released her only when she had promised to marry him. 9

But most instructive is Guerber's passage on the worship of Vali: "Vali is god of eternal light, as Vidar is of imperishable matter; and as beams of light were often called arrows, he is always represented and worshipped as an archer. For that reason his month in Norwegian calendars is designated by the sign of the bow, and is called Lios-beri, the light-bringing. As it falls between the middle of January and of February, the early Christians dedicated this month to St. Valentine, who was also a skillful archer, and was said, like Vali, to be the harbinger of brighter days, the awakener of tender sentiments, and the patron of all lovers." 10

Civil law among the Vikings followed divine patterns, and when Vali avenges Baldr, it is his right under that law. 11 Furthermore, vengeance is his duty if the gods are to insure that Baldr travels onward to his rest in Hel. Gundarsson in Teutonic Religion quotes from Njal's Saga to demonstrate that vengeance seems to be necessary to quiet the dead, and allow them to continue their journey. 12

This is the basis for Thorsson's assertion in The Book of Troth that "Vali [is] the god of vengeance, and thus of rebirth."13 Without Vali, Baldr would lie unavenged, and could not be reborn after Ragnar÷k. Hod would not be united with Baldr in Hel, and would not survive the Doom of the Gods, for what chance has a blind god against Surt's fiery breath?

Thus we see that far from being a "god of murder", Vali is in fact the preserver of Asgard's honor and glory, a god of eternal light and patron of lovers. For following winter comes the spring, and following murder most foul comes justice and honor. I offer this toast: To Vali, To Vengeance, To Honor, To Kin!

Notes:

[1] Patricia Terry, Poems of the Elder Edda, 1990, p. 242
[2] ibid., p. 43-44
[3] Snorri Sturluson, trans. by Anthony Faulkes, Edda, 1987 p. 27
[4] ibid., p. 31
[5] ibid., p. 59
[6] ibid., p. 76
[7] H. A. Guerber, The Norsemen, 1985, p. 38
[8] Terry, p. 24
[9] Guerber, p. 162-164
[10] ibid., p. 165
[11] Jesse L. Byock, Medieval Iceland, 1988, p. 26
[12] Kvedulf Gundarsson, Teutonic Religion, 1993, p. 142-143
[13] Edred Thorsson, A Book of Troth, 1989, p. 179

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Artwork Copyright 1995 Keith A. Sauers
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Article Copyright 1994 by Daithi M. Haxton
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