The Hogback Stone

The Hogback Stone located in  St. Peter’s Church, Heysham (just a short walk from where I live) dates from the 10th Century. It is thought to be the best preserved example in this country of this type of Viking gravestone. It is believed that the west side portrays the story of Sigmund, and the east side the story of Sigurd. Amalgamated from various internet sources, I reproduce here a vesion of those legends.

hogback stone west side
hogback stone west side
hogback stone west side with artificial colour
hogback stone west side with artificial colour

sigmundAt the wedding of Sigmund’s sister Signy to Siggeir of Gautland, Odin appeared, disguised as an old man, and plunged a magic sword into a tree, promising that the one who could remove it could keep it. Only Sigmund was able to remove it.

Sigmund’s brother-in-law was envious, and later lured Sigmund, his brothers, and his father Volsung, to Gautland, where Volsung was killed and the rest captured. Signy pleaded for them to be spared. One by one, the brothers were staked out in the forest to be eaten by Siggeir’s mother, a sorceress who could shape-shift into a wolf. However, when it came Sigmund’s turn to be killed, Signy secretly smeared his face with honey. When the she-wolf arrived it began to lick the honey, and stuck its tongue into Sigmund’s mouth. Sigmund bit off its tongue and killed it. With Signy’s help, Sigmund hid in the forest, and survived.

Signy bore sons to Siggeir, but when they were old enough, sent each of them to the forest to be trained by Sigmund to be able to kill Siggeir. None survived the trials. In desperation, Signy came to her brother disguised as a sorceress, and they incestuously conceived a child called Sinjfotli. When Sinfjotli was old enough, he went to the forest to be tested, and was successful. He subsequently lived with his father/uncle as an outlaw, and they grew wealthy wandering the forests. Only Signy knew of their true relationship.

One day, Sigmund and Sinfjotli came upon some men wearing cursed wolf skins. They killed them and wore the skins, and so were cursed, and turned into a type of werewolf.

Sinfjotli and Sigmund tried to sneak into Siggeir’s home, but were captured and entombed alive – but Signy had managed to get Sigmund’s magic sword to him, and they used it to dig their way out of the barrow. They set fire to Siggeir’s home, while his men slept. Signy confessed the truth to Sigmund and, consumed by guilt, returned to the burning building to die with her husband.

Sigmund returned to his home, Hunland, and married a woman named Borghild. They had two sons, Hamund and Helgi. Borghild was jealous of her step-son Sinfjotli, and plotted to poison him. Sigmund, who was immune to poison, drank two of the mugs of wine that Borghild had offered, but Sinfjotli drank the third mug, and was killed. Borghild was banished from Hunland.

Some time later, Sigmund married a woman named Hjordis, even though he had to compete for her hand with many powerful and younger kings. Lyngi, the son of King Hunding, refused to give up his claim to Hjordis, and war broke out. According to the Norns, Sigmund could never be defeated while he wielded his magic sword, but during the battle, Odin again appeared disguised as an old man, and shattered Sigmund’s magic sword. Sigmund was attacked by others, and mortally wounded. Before he died, he told Hjordis that she was pregnant, and that one day their son would forge a great sword out of the shards of his old sword.

That son was called Sigurd.

hogback stone east side
hogback stone east side
hogback stone east side with artificial colour
hogback stone east side with artificial colour

sigurdSigurd was the son of Sigmund’s second wife Hjordis. After Sigmund’s death Hjordis married King Alf, and sent Sigurd to Regin the blacksmith to be fostered. Regin taunted Sigurd and tempted him to violence. Sigurd looked for a horse, and was guided in this by an old man, who was actually Odin in disguise. In this way, Sigurd acquired Grani, a horse derived from Odin’s own horse, Sleipnir.

Regin continued to tempt Sigurd, and told him the tale of the Otter’s gold:

Regin’s father was Hreidmar, and his brothers were Fafnir and Otr. Otr used to swim near Andvari’s waterfall. Andvari was a dwarf, who would often assume the form of a pike in order to swim in the lake. One day Odin, Loki and Hoenir saw Otr with a fish on the bank, and Loki, thinking him an otter, killed him, and they took him to Hreidmar’s home. Hreidmar, Fafnir and Regin siezed the three Aesir and demanded compensation for the death of Otr. Loki went out with a net and caught Andvari (in the form of a pike), and demanded the dwarf’s gold, including a magic gold ring. Andvari gave up the gold, but not before he had cursed the ring, so that any mortal who wore it would encounter tragedy. The Aesir stuffed Otr’s body with the gold, and covered its skin in gold. Fafnir then killed his father, drove Regin away, and took all the gold. Fafnir turned himself into a dragon, the better to guard the gold.

Sigurd agreed to kill Fafnir, and had Regin make him a sword, which he tested by striking the anvil. The first sword broke, and so did the second. Finally, Sigurd asked Regin to re-forge the shards of his fathers old sword. The resulting sword, called Gram, cut through the anvil.

Regin suggested that Sigurd dig a pit, so that he could attack the dragon from underneath where it was vulnerable. An old man (Odin) advised Sigurd to dig several trenches to capture the dragon’s blood, and that he should bathe in the blood afterwards, thereby becoming invincible.

Sigurd killed Fafnir, and bathed in its blood – all over, except for one part where a leaf had stuck to his flesh. Regin asked Sigurd to give him Fafnir’s heart, but having tasted Fafnir’s blood, Sigmund now had the power to understand birds. The birds told him that Regin was plotting against him. Sigurd killed Regin, took the ring, and consumed part of Fafnir’s heart, and so gained the gift of prophecy. The birds also told Sigurd about Brynhild, who was asleep within a ring of fire.

Sigurd rode Grani through the flames, and woke Brynhild, a “shieldmaiden”. They made love, but later she told him his doom, and that he would marry another. Sigurd gave her Andvari’s ring, not knowing that it was cursed.

Sigurd traveled to the court of Gjuki, who had a wife Grimhild, three sons, and a beautiful daughter, Gudrun. Gudrun had a dream in which she saw Sigurd in the form of a stag, and fell in love with him.

Gjuki’s wife Grimhild used a magic “Ale of Forgetfulness” in order to make Sigmund forget Brynhild and marry her their own daughter, Gudrun. Gudrun’s brother Gunnar wanted to court Brynhild, but she was “asleep” in her bower surrounded by flames, and had promised herself to the man who could get through them. Only Grani (Sigurd’s horse) could get through the flames, and only Sigurd could ride him, so using Grimhild’s magic, Sigurd exchanged shapes with Gunnar, and won Brynhild for him. He exchanged Gunnar’s ring with the magic ring, and so regained it.

After the wedding of Gunnar and Brynhild, the magic potion wore off, and Sigurd realised what had happened – but there was nothing he could do. He told his own wife the full story, and gave her the cursed ring.

When Brynhild taunted Gunnar for having a better husband, Gudrun told her the truth about the deception, and proved it by showing her the ring. Brynhild withdrew and refused to speak with anyone. Eventually, Sigurd went to speak with her, but Brynhild accused him of molesting her. Gunnar and his brother Hogni put an enchantment on their other brother Guttorm, who attacked Sigurd in bed, and both of them were killed.

At the funeral pyre, Brynhild explained to Gunnar that Sigurd never betrayed him, and had never taken advantage of her. She asked to be laid next to Sigurd, whom she had never ceased to love, and killed herself.