The Stories of Signy & Sigurd in Norse Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Norse mythology contains some fascinating stories. In this lesson, we'll check out a few legends surrounding the characters Signy and Sigurd and see what they reveal about Norse society.

The Völsunga Saga

Imagine it's the 13th century. You're in Northern Europe, somewhere around Iceland or Norway, and it's as cold as a snowman's shoulder outside. You, and all of your Norse-speaking friends are huddled around the fire, probably wishing you were in the 13th-century Caribbean instead. Now, to pass the time in this era before the Internet, you tell stories from Norse mythology.

Storytelling was an important Norse tradition and one of the primary ways that Norse societies passed on histories and legends. One such legend that you may hear around your fire is the Völsunga saga, the history of the Völsung clan, an important family in Norse mythology. This saga is one of the Norse classics, and as you huddle up to your Viking friends and listen, you may catch the tales of two characters in particular; Signy and Sigurd.

Norse carving of the Volsunga saga
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Themes

Before we jump into the Völsunga saga, let's talk about a few major themes that appear throughout this work. First we've got the supernatural. Like Roman or Greek myths, Norse mythology is full of divine intervention, generally in the person of Odin, king of the Norse gods. Odin often intervenes with his magic to help important heroes. Although, it should be noted that Norse mythology tends to be a bit pessimistic, and Odin interventions only delay the inevitable doom. Norse myths often center around the theme of revenge, likely a product of the violent world of the Vikings, and everyone has a role. Male heroes accept an obligation to punish those who have wronged or shamed the family, as well as rewarding friends and followers who helped accomplish this. Female characters in Norse mythology prod the hero along, making sure that the revenge is completed.

Signy

Back to the Völsunga saga, and we, of course, start with the medieval Norse ruler King Völsung. Völsung and a giantess named Hljod have twins, a girl and boy named Signy and Sigmund, respectively. The king and giantess will have a total of 11 children, but eventually, they grow up, and Signy is married to an evil king named Siggeir. Three months after their wedding, Siggeir betrays and murders King Völsung and all of Signy's brothers. Only Sigmund survives, thanks to his sister's help. Signy swears revenge and has a sorceress change her appearance. In disguise, she meets with Sigmund and sleeps with him for three nights, resulting in a child named Sinfjötli. When Sinfjötli grows up, he and Sigmund trap Siggeir's entire family in their house and set it on fire. Signy is relieved at seeing the family avenged. She tells Sigmund that Sinfjötl is his son, and then, because of her duty as the wife, she enters the burning house to die alongside her husband, even though she despised him.

Sigurd

Let's move on to the next generation. I'm sure it will have a happier ending, right? Sigmund later has a son named Sigurd, who is one of the great heroes of Norse mythology and the main protagonist of the saga. After Sigmund dies, he leaves Sigurd the pieces of his mystical sword, and Sigurd's mother remarries another king. Sigurd is raised by a foster father, Regin, who is a smith to the king. As Sigurd grows, he hears stories of how Regin was wronged by his brothers and vows revenge. By this point, Regin's brother Fafnir has been turned into a dragon by the cursed treasure he hoards, and Sigurd must re-forge his true father's sword to defeat the dragon. Sigurd kills the dragon and gains its treasure and some of its magic as well.

Sigurd kills the dragon
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