Heimdallr is the watchman of the Gods who guards the rainbow bridge Bifröst, which connects Midgard and Ásgard. He is fated to announce the coming of Ragnarök, at which point he and Loki will die fighting one another. He is a consummate warrior, possesses the ability to see and hear events all across the Nine Worlds, and is credited with creating the human social classes.
He is attested in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Snorri’s Heimskringla, the poem fragment Heimdalargaldr, in skaldic poetry, and on an Old Norse runic inscription found in England. He was known to the Saxons as Hama.
Heimdallr is described as the “whitest of the gods” (not “the most Caucasian” – see below) and also as having gold teeth. His hall is Himinbjörg or “Heaven Mountain” in Ásgard, and he famously touts the Gjallarhorn, a resounding horn which can be heard throughout all the worlds. Though he seems to have no partner in the pantheon, he fathers many children among humankind under the name Rigr.
The references to Heimdallr throughout the lore are often obscure, and translations vary widely in interpretation, resulting in many different theories about the god. Some of the most interesting concern his role at Ragnarök, his input in the creation of mankind, and the possibility that he may be a personification of the world tree Yggdrasil.
Though it is usually agreed that Heimdallr carries the great Gjallarhorn, and will blow it to announce the onset of the end of the world, an alternate interpretation of a key stanza in Grímnismál changes “horn of Heimdallr” into “Heimdallr’s hearing.” Supported by clues in other areas of the Edda, this would mean that rather than a giant horn, the author is describing how Heimdallr left his ear at the Well of Wisdom, similar to how Óðin left his eye. In this way, Heimdallr announces the coming of Ragnarök as a prophecy, rather than as a reaction to its onset.
Other similarities to Óðin (such as references to humankind as “Heimdallr’s sons” and possessing foreknowledge of crucial events) may suggest that Heimdallr was imported from an adjacent culture and absorbed in the same way that Týr, Thor, and Ullr may have been. Although Óðin comes to us as “All-Father” of the entire pantheon, in earlier times each region and tribe had their own “All-Father,” hence the overlap in myths and roles among the patriarchs of the Æsir.
In a rather interesting passage in Rígsþula, not only does the Watchman sleep with various human couples to produce different classes in human society, eventually he fathers a son of especially high regard, and Heimdallr takes him under his wing as his official son. The god gives him a name and educates the boy in the ways of the world, also teaching him the runes.
“Then Heimdall spake, whitest [most honest] of the gods, Like the Wanes [Vanir] he knew the future well:
Bind we on Thor the bridal veil, Let him bear the mighty Brisings’ necklace;
Keys around him let there rattle, And down to his knees hang woman’s dress;
With gems full broad upon his breast, And a pretty cap to crown his head.”
Heimdallr is the son of nine mothers. As he is shared by different mothers, so too is he shared by more than one tribe of gods. The Poetic Edda tells us he is both Æsir and Vanir.
Thoughts on Heimdallr
Heimdallr is one of the more popular deities for modern Heathens. He has many positive associations that inspire lively speculation and debate, and he is thought to be a very ancient god, preceding the Æsir pantheon itself.
Heimdallr is described as “the whitest of the gods.” This is a kenning, and at first glance it seems that he is especially fair and handsome, leading to modern depictions of him as a platinum blonde-bearded, blue-eyed hunk. On a deeper level, in keeping with the cultural use of the Norse word “white” this means “truthful” and “without stain.” This makes sense, when looking at his nemesis in the mythology – Loki. Loki, Heimdallr’s opposite, is associated with lies and betrayal. Heimdallr is seen by modern Norse Pagans as a god of honesty, steadfastness, and seeking the proverbial high road; a god of spiritual development.
It also then makes sense that he guards the holy realm of Ásgard. Heimdallr dwells in Himimbjorg, “Heaven Cliffs” the most elevated position in Ásgard, where he can see and hear all that goes on in the Nine Realms – similar to Óðin‘s High Seat. He may have sacrificed an ear at Mímir’s well to gain wisdom and knowledge. He is a wonderful guide to help with the development of mindful awareness. He is both a god of physical perception, practical vigilance and personal insight.
Heimdallr’s mothers are nine giantesses (primordial goddesses). Ægir, jötunn god of the sea had nine daughters and so did Njörðr, the Vanir god of the sea. Many think Heimdallr’s mothers were these nine wave goddess’ – similar to Zeus being raised by the Nereids in Greek myth. It could be a metaphor, or it could literally be that he had nine mothers.
Scholars get caught up in nitpicking the plausibility of this story, but this is myth and this sort of thing happens all the time! Born of nine mothers is hardly more incredulous than birth by virgins, giants, or driftwood.
In one myth Heimdallr battles with Loki in the form of a seal, a sea animal who was credited by medieval folklore as having great powers of hearing, much like Heimdallr himself. In addition to seals, he is associated with rams, and one of his names Hallinskidhi means “Ram.” In the folklore, waves were called sheep, and the last in any sequence of waves was called “the ram.” His name Vindhler means variously “the wind that laughs at itself,” “the laughing wind,” and “the wind on the sea.” Lots of sea and wave imagery here!
Aside from sea animals and kennings, Heimdallr is strongly associated with roosters, the animal that famously signals awakening, leading to modern interpretations as a god of awakening consciousness, spiritual awareness and moral conduct.
“Heimdallr” means The Great World. “Heim” or “realm/world” as in Vanaheim, Niflheim etc. “Dall” or “dallr” meaning literally “tree.” The argument can be made that Heimdallr is the god of the world tree, Yggdrasil, in the same way that Ægir is god of the ocean, Frigg the wetlands, and Freyr the fields. From this point of view, his nine mothers may be the nine realms of reality that make up the World Tree.
Another modern interpretation is that Heimdallr is the living universe (World Tree) that perceives itself, literally a god of awareness itself – aware that he is both in, and is the world. This idea, called pantheism, was present in various forms in all Proto-Indo-European pagan religions. In Greece and Rome, it was through the Mystery Religions. This may tie Heimdall, albeit distantly, to fellow Indo-European-descended god Vishnu, a god of awakening and consciousness who dreams up the world while he is in the very dream himself.
Many trivialize polytheistic traditions as having only “lesser,” “petty,” and “small g” gods, who preside over local phenomena, in contrast to the “big three” Abrahamic traditions’ “big G” single deity of everything. Heimdall seems to indicate this is not so. He appears to be a deity of a cosmic-level order of reality.
Under his name Rig he fathered the human race, or at least various branches of it. Humans are called “Heimdall’s children” and “Heimdall’s kin.” Heimdall is thus understood to be the god of the human experience. We are, after all, the only known animal to experience awareness of itself on a moral level, and to have to decide between pure and honest, or dishonest and traitorous actions. He is appealed to in modern practice as a great protector of humans, both of our physical safety and spiritual integrity.
It is interesting that although Loki slays him in the Eddas, the tree which is Heimdall, does survive. His surviving human children hide in him. Like a protective father, the tree shelters them – and the father tree and his children survive, awakening to a new day in the coming new age.
Some scholars have noted interesting similarities between Heimdall and the Celtic deity Manannán mac Lir.
Suggested Signs and Symbols
Gjallerhorn, loud horns, sirens, and alarms. The wind and the waves. Wind blowing over fields. Sound and sound waves. Roosters, rams, sheep, and seals. Wool. Bridges, gates and sentries. The Rainbow. Sight and hearing. The colours gold and white. Yggrassil, family trees. Cliffs, perches and high altitudes. Humanity and “the human condition.” The rune Maðr.
Heimdall, Heimdalr and Heimdali. Rig/Rigr, Hallinskiði, Hama, Gullintanni, Vindlér, and Vindhlér.