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Guardian of the gods and father of mankind


Oh skalds, what is there to tell of the great god, Heimdall? Called Ríg, Vindlher and Gullintanni, Heimdall is the guardian of the home of the gods. The watcher and keeper. He waits for the first signs of Ragnarök’s approach, ready at a moment’s notice to blow Gjallarhorn to signal its arrival. As Ríg, he has close ties to humanity, seemingly having a core role in the social hierarchy of mortals.

With his home, Himinbjörg, resting at the edge of the Bifrost and the spaces between the home of the gods and everywhere else, Heimdall is often a being of boundaries and the place between them. At the blowing of the Gjallarhorn, it is Heimdall alone that dictates the apparent end of the gods. John Lindow emphasises this point, painting Heimdall as a god that exists between times and places, his action – or indeed inaction – being the harbinger of great change.

Heimdall is often called a shining god, with many golden attributes – from his teeth to his gold-maned horse. His name too means to illuminate, to shine brightly, a guiding light in the dark. But despite his relatively frequent attestations in the lore, Heimdall is enigmatic at his core. Like Odin, he possesses wisdom and foresight – a skill set often attributed to the Vanir. He is said to see in the dark as well as he can see in the day and can hear grass growing as well as any other sound. There’s not much then that escapes Heimdall’s notice.

We have scraps of a story that speak of Heimdall sacrificing an ear at Mimisbrunnr (Mimir’s Well) to gain his remarkable hearing, echoing Odin’s own sacrifice of an eye to gain greater insight. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the debate around Heimdall’s birth, with Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda stating that he has nine mothers. This has led many to tie Heimdall to the nine daughters of Ægir and Rán, the waves.

So here is a god that is potentially born from the sea, interacts with humanity, is guardian of the gods, and awaits the coming of Ragnarök. A crucial figure. How do you see Heimdall? How do you honour and work and worship him?

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