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Bragi: history and worship of the Norse god of music

norse_god_of_music_bragi
Mario Friscia

Mario Friscia

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Musical skills

Bragi was the god of music for the Vikings and, at the same time, the god of poetry.

He was described as a wise being, particularly creative with words regardless of whether they were sung or recited.

This association between music and poetry seems to derive from the idea that a true artist, skilful in the art of sounds, had to master the secrets of eloquence as well.

We know from Norse mythology that he had a beautiful singing voice and his musical talent was second to none, especially when it comes to playing the harp.

This is why Bragi received the divine task of welcoming and entertaining the fallen warriors into Valhalla with his poetry and music.

Bragi’s vocals were so charming and delightful that the beings around him were often ignited by the desire to trap his voice so as to keep it for themselves only.

There are some iconographic references to Bragi in the history of Scandinavian art.

One of the most representative is the picture below, created by Nils Blommer in 1846.

Here you can see Bragi playing a harp, flanked by the mute presence of his young and beautiful wife, Idunn:

 

picture of bragi playing harp and Idunna
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Appearance and etymology

Bragi, one of the sons of Odin, has been commonly depicted in Norse mythology as a middle-aged man with a very long beard.

The beautiful Goddess of youth, Idunn, was his wife and Asgard was the realm where both the deities had their dwelling.

Literally, Bragi means “Poet” and this confirms how music and poetry were intimately linked one with the other among the Vikings.

It is no surprise that these people addressed their poets using the word bragamen, so closely related to the name of their God of music and poetry.

 

Was Bragi a god or just a 9th century bard?

Some scholars hold the view that Bragi before becoming a divine entity, worshiped in the ancient Norse religion, was actually a human being: the bard Bragi Boddason (9th century AD).

His talent was so magnificent and unprecedented that Odin decided to transform him into a deity with a very special task:

composing verses and singing for all the beings that inhabited Valhalla.

During the Middle Ages, the human origins of Bragi apparently were forgotten and his divine nature got reinforced in the Norse literature.

The birth of the cult of Bragi remains a mystery to this day since we have no strong evidence that he was worshiped as an actual god of the pre-Christian Norse pantheon.

 

The musical worship of Bragi in contemporary Norse paganism

The worship of Bragi as the god of music and poetry is currently practiced by those people that have decided to embrace the old Norse religion, also known as Norse paganism.

As you can see from this video by The Wisdom of Odin (a Youtube channel created by Jacob and entirely devoted to the ritual world of Norse paganism) the cult of Bragi is not dead at all and keeps on inspiring and nurturing the creative energies of his followers:

 

 

The video starts out with Jacob sharing his personal prayer to Bragi, a powerful and vibrating invocation of the god of music and poetry, which gets evoked through a series of epithets.

As the recitation of the poem goes on, Jacob offers a libation to Bragi, that is, a ritual pouring of a liquid, beer in this specific case.

Some of the beer gets poured into a Viking drinking horn, placed at the centre of the house-shrine dedicated to Bragi.

To the left of the drinking horn there is a lyre, the musical instrument commonly associated with Bragi.

Jacob invites the deity to come drink with him and spread his creative forces throughout the house.

The ritual ends with a final offering: the piece of paper where Jacob had written his poem gets burnt down.

According to Jacob, the act of creating poetry for Bragi is a way to establish an intimate connection with him.

Another effective way to access Bragi, Jacob says, is through music.

This is why he loves playing his ukulele and drum as a means of worshiping the god of music.

 

Bragi’s harp as inspiration for classical music composers

The myth and worship of Bragi as a lyre player lingers on in the visions and dreams of contemporary Norwegian musicians and artists.

Let me end this blog post by sharing with you “Bragi’s Harp”, a delightful concerto piece for harp and symphony orchestra, written by Uno Alexander Vesje.

As the title clearly suggests, this composition is inspired by Uno’s Norwegian heritage and seems to evoke the musical skills of Bragi as a harp player.

The allusion to Bragi that appears in the title surrounds the whole composition, which can be described as a delicate musical painting of the suggestive and unique landscapes of Norway.

 

 

Suggested readings

Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press

Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell

DuBois, Thomas A. Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999

Lindow, John. 2004. Narrative Worlds, Human Environments, and Poets: The Case of Bragi. In Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes, and Interactions. Edited by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert, and Catharina Raudvere. p. 21

 

 

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Mario Friscia

Anthropologist of sound
music teacher

“Open your doorway to music cultures and listen to the world with gentler ears”

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