8

There was a very interesting segment on Vikings, (S5/ep3 "Homeland") in which a dying Floki has a vision.

One of the figures in the vision is a dark robed woman, who opens her mouth to release a swarm of bees.

The close-up shot of the woman's face gave the distinct impression of necrotic flesh, so my assumption was it was probably Hel. I found this great article on Hel, but no mention of bees, and another great article on bees and the goddess, but no mention of Hel.


Extra points for any thoughts on the second woman in the vision, who transformed into a murder of crows.

7

I don't think Hel is particularly associated with bees, but I am going to guess that the woman who turns into crows is either a valkyrie (a logical association, carrion birds and choosers of the slain) or else a dis, a sort of personal (or familial) protective spirit.

Bees feed from the honeydew that drips from Yggdrasil, according to the Prose Edda (Gylf 16) and the Norns live by the root of the tree, so perhaps the bees are agents of fate, or psychopomps? (Although the latter is proabably a Mycenean idea, not Norse.)

  • 1
    Agents of fate is definitely a good call. These were certainly omens, with hidden meaning. – DukeZhou Dec 14 '17 at 20:15
2

I think it makes most sense to be Beyla. She is said to be goddess of bees and a servant to Freya.

2

Beyla (most often interpreted as "bee", although "cow" is an alternate possibility) is a servant of Freyr, not Freyja. She is mentioned in Locasenna together with her husband, Freyr's manservant Byggvir ("Barley"...whether he is related to the John Barleycorn of British folksongs is anyone's guess, often suspected but impossible to prove).

Solsdottir is quite right in choosing the valkyrja as the first option for the woman who becomes a crow, with the secondary possibility of a dís of some sort...one of the dark foreboding (but not necessarily Óðinn-associated) corvid-women of the battlefield described in, for instance, Sturlunga saga, and probably referred to in Reginsmál and the Old High German Erste Merseburger Zauberspruch; the option of a personal dís (female ancestral guardian-spirit, roughly) is also possible.

Hel is nowhere associated with bees. However...in the Finnish Kalevala, when Lemminkäinen has been killed and chopped up in the river of death (Tuonela), his mother puts his pieces back together...and a bee brings her the drop of honey to restore him to life (there is a very famous painting by Gallen-Kallela showing this scene). Had the vision in the TV series actually come from, say, a saga, one would suspect a possible Finnish influence. Actually I think the main influence for the bees in this case was, "looks cool and spooky".

Whether Frigg's activities surrounding the death of Baldr (as per Snorri and possibly referred to indirectly in Völuspá) are in any way related to the tale of Lemminkäinen's mother is questionable, particularly since the protective-magical mother/warrior son dyad is common, both in positive and antagonistic presentations, all throughout Northern culture and literature.

It may be of interest to know that the Anglo-Saxons, at least - and probably the Norse, since bee husbandry was ancient in both cultures - knew that bees were primarily female; one of the A-S charm spells (for catching a swarm, actually), addresses them as sig-wives, "victorious women" (the "wife" word in A-S just referring to a woman, rather than to a married woman specifically).

Many people have tried to make something out of this reference and a possible link to valkyrjur...very tempting, given that several valkyrja-names are feminizations of Óðinn-names (or vice versa; he is also called Valkjósandi, "Chooser of the Slain", which is a straightforward masculine form of "valkyrja") and several of his names are sig-compounds.

But no one has ever gotten further than, "Gee, this is really interesting, but there's not enough information or other possible connections to do a thing with it"...unless one stretches further afield and goes back to Finland, in which case one might consider the similarity of the life-giving bee in the land of the dead to the occasional role of the valkyrja as resurrector in various forms of the "Everlasting Battle" (which includes the Valhöll-beliefs). But one would be building quite a high castle on extremely shaky ground to do so with current knowledge, I think.

If one were to see the bee in any Hel-related context, in short, it would have to be by very distant inference...though might in this imaginative case be compared to the use of the cockerel in Saxo's account of Hadding's journey to the land of the dead, and perhaps in the funeral ceremony described by ibn Fadlan, as a beast perhaps embodying the awakening from death to another life. This could lead to many speculations, though those are best reserved at this time for followers of the religion re-exploring the spirituality of the North rather than for historical discussion.

  • Thanks for this answer! Very informative re Finnish folklore. I'll note we also find crow women in the Irish cycle, Badb as "battle crow" and so forth. – DukeZhou Sep 23 at 18:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.