Sunday, July 31, 2022

Love advice from Icelandic sagas: Don't date someone who doesn't dream


“If you don’t dream, don’t bother to call on me again.” 

   Thyri Haraldsdóttir, a noblewoman, to a medieval king of Denmark who wanted to marry her.


Iceland has always been a country of dreamers. Dreaming is important in the Icelandic sagas and in the Völuspa even the gods go to wise women for help with their dreams. A Gallup survey of 1,200 Icelanders in 2003 found that 72 percent found meaning in their dreams, and many reported dreaming the future and sharing dreams regularly within their families. The Icelandic language distinguishes vital categories of significant dreams, such as dreams of the future (berdreymi) and dream visions (draumspa).

The story of Thyri Haraldsdóttir, from the Icelandic sagas, is a beautiful example of how dreaming can make us wiser, and opens the way of the heart. Thyri [written in Icelandic as Þyri] was the daughter of an earl in Holstein, although some say she was the daughter of an English king. She was a dreamer who saw far and deep into the nature of things, and her father consulted her on all important affairs.

Gormur, king of Denmark, wanted to marry Thyri and asked her father for her hand. The earl said that he would leave his daughter to decide for herself, “since she is much wiser than I am.” Thyri told her royal suitor to go home and build himself a new house, just big enough to sleep in, where no house had stood before. In this place he must sleep alone for three nights, and pay close attention to his dreams. Then he must send a messenger to her to report on his dreams.

“If you don’t dream, don’t bother to call on me again,” Thyri told him firmly.

Gormur remembered his dreams, and the content satisfied Thyri, because she consented to marry him. The dreams were recounted at the wedding feast.

 In the first dream, three white boars came out of the sea, fed on the grass, and went back to the sea. In the second, three red boars came out of the sea, and did the same. In the third dream, three black boars with great tusks did the same, but when they returned to the sea, there was such a loud rush of the waves returning to the land that the noise could be heard throughout Denmark.

Thyri's interpretation was that the three white boars represented three very cold, snowy winters which would kill "all the fruits of the ground." The red boars meant there would next be three mild winters, while the black boars with tusks indicated there would be wars in the land. The fact that they all went back into the sea showed that their effect would not be long-lasting. The loud noise as the waves of the sea rolled back on the Danish shores meant that "mighty men would come on the land with great wars, and many of his relations would take part." 

She said that had he dreamed of the black boars and the rushing waves the first night, she would not have married him, but now, since she would be available to provide advice, there would be little injury from the wars. We might wonder whether the writer who recorded this narrative was familiar with the tale in Genesis of Pharaoh's dream and how Joseph's interpretation saved Egypt from  famine. 

In a region of strong women, Thyri became the wisest of queens, remembered as "The Pride of Denmark". Through dreaming, she helped the king to scout the future and read the true factors at work behind the surface of events. Decisions of state were based on these dreams.



Source: The story of Thyri Haraldsdóttir is in the version of Ólafs Saga Tryggvasónar in the 14th century Icelandic Flateyjarbók. While Thyri is not actually Icelandic, her story comes to us through Icelandic tradition. I am indebted to Valgerður Hjördis Bjarnadóttir, a gifted Icelandic dreamer and scholar who is helping to revive the ancient dreamways, for bringing this wonderful story to my attention, and for the translation on which this summary is based. You can read more about Icelandic dreaming, both medieval and modern. in The Secret History of Dreaming.

Image: Viking queen from "The World of the Vikings" exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark