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Thorhadd's Fourteen Dreams

Dreamed c.1018 by Thorhadd of Berufjord, Iceland

Introduction

This is an excerpt from Thorstein Sidu Hallson's Saga from the eastern fjords of Iceland, telling how Thorstein and Thorhadd pull a whole community into their petty feud. Chapter 4 turns strange: Thorhadd and a Thorstein-sympathizer duel--slashing each other not with swords, but with... dream-interpretations! This has to be the oddest dreamwork I've run across. Dreamwork as hostile spectator sport. And yet... they're playing. The Viking way.

[end of Chapter 3]

One evening, a man called Grimkel came to stay. He was a wandering beggar and had a very foul mouth. Thorhadd talked to him a lot, and he stayed there for a while. Thorhadd made a bargain with him, that he should go into the west country and slander Thorstein Hallsson, saying that he was a woman every ninth night, and had sex with men then.

Grimkel swallowed this bait, and went to the west country and slandered Thorstein, and thus this rumor spread over the whole country from the west. In the end, the story had got to almost everyone's house, and Thorstein's enemies heaped dishonour on him because of it, while his friends grieved. His brother Kol was the first to confront him about this matter. He was staying with Thorstein at the time, having come back to Iceland that summer. One day, Kol said to Thorstein: "Brother, can't you see how much ill-feeling there is towards you, as well as outrageous gossip? Your friends are also more distanced from you than they have been, and some people are grinning about it. Now this business was set in train with great malice, and has been made to look as though it comes from the west country. But it seems to me that the wave must have risen up from somewhere nearer to you, and that this sort of thing must not go unavenged."

"This is certainly a bad business," Thorstein replied. "lt is also likely that it will end in a bad war. I expected all kinds of trouble from Thorhadd, but not this."

Chapter 4

[Manuscript damaged here, but the saga introduces a man named Stein who's a good dream interpreter "and was also extremely good at board games". He's not deaf either; he's heard the gossip.]

Thorhadd was in a very good mood just then, and said that they should play board games together - "since I hear that you are the best player around, and I also enjoy playing." Stein agreed that Thorhadd should have his own way. They played board games, and Thorhadd didn't win.

Then he said, "Your prowess is not over praised, but we will stop playing now because I have other business with you." Stein asked what that might be.

"I hear that you are a magnificent interpreter of dreams," Thorhadd said, "and I want to try you out, because I have dreamt a lot of remarkable things and I am curious to know what you make of them."

"I hardly know anything about interpreting dreams," Stein said, "but it's not unlikely that you should dream a lot, since you talk a lot."

"In my dream," Thorhadd said, "I seemed to be pole-vaulting up from Straeti to the mountains, and over various potholes and pathways, and I thought I came down at the place called Hvarf."
Stein said, "I think that I'm interpreting your dream right in saylng that your behaviour will sometimes cause you to leap over the right paths, that is when you turn from the right path and begin to follow the wrong one, and it may happen that you are minded to turn back, and I am afraid of that."

"Your interpretation does not do me many favours," Thorhadd said.

"Then you should only tell me the dreams you want me to interpret as I think right," Stein replied.

"My second dream," Thorhadd said, "was like this: I saw two moons, and one was an ordinary moon, and the other was in the drying-shed behind my house. I seemed to take that one and eat it, but I appeared to leave a small piece of the moon, and I kept that in my purse."
"Your dream is remarkable," Stein said, "but I think I see what it is. You ate an earthly marvel, and that represents your stupid words, which come out of your mouth. But not all of the words you keep in your heart have been said yet, and so you kept some of the moon."
Thorhadd said, "What will happen to me is not pleasant, and maybe there is no good in it. My third dream was like this: I seemed to be in a smithy, making a spear, and my sons were working the bellows. I thought that the metal never became molten, and the spear was always sparking."
"That was the spear of your mouth," Stein said, "and the words which you speak and send sparking over the entire country. Yet they never seem complete to you. You are the instigator, and your sons follow you."
"My fourth dream was like this," Thorhadd continued. "I seemed to go into another smithy, and a strange thing happened straight away: I seemed to find myself there in front of me."
Stein answered, "It's like this: your conduct is in a different smithy from before, when you were respected by men and loved by the gods. But now you have the enmity of many men. It is not unlikely that you will find yourself before you've finished."
"My fifth dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "I seemed to be walking towards the sea where there was a great salt-burning, and my sons were with me. Then I appeared to eat the glowing salt and drink the sea, too."
"That represents your disgraceful words," Stein said.

"You don't spare me very much in your interpretations," Thorhadd complained.

Stein said that he interpreted the dreams as they seemed to him to be.

"My sixth dream was like this," Thorhadd continued. "I seemed to have walked away from my farm, taking my sons with me and to be walking between the cliff and the sea. It seemed that a large wave came and swept us into a cleft in the rock, and we were very squashed in there. Then I thought that I had such long arms that I seemed to stretch them out onto the cliff top, and got up that way. Then I reached down for my sons and brought them up to me, and we all stood together on the cliff top."
"When your arms were longer than was natural or proper," Stein said, "that indicated that, in your folly, you will become over-reaching and drag your sons after you into such foolish behaviour. And just as you stood together on the cliff top, so you will all tread everyone who tries to help you under foot."

"I think that is a good dream," Thorhadd said.

Stein said that things would turn out as he said.

"The seventh dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "I seemed to be following a path, and then I took another path, leading off the main path, and arrived at the slopes behind the farm at Straeti. But Thorstein Hallsson appeared to be walking on the main path down below."
Stein said that it was obvious that Thorstein was walking on the right path - "and you on the wrong one in your dealings with him, and he will creep up on you in the end."
"My eighth dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "My tongue seemed to be so long that I appeared to hook it round my neck and back into my mouth from the other side."
Stein answered, "It is clear that your tongue will soon wrap itself round your head."
"My ninth dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "I seemed to be up on the mountain called Gerpir," [in the East Fjords] "and from there I could see many countries. But I could not make out any near me, because everything was covered in fog."
"When you were on the mountain called Gerpir," Stein explained, "that indicates that things were looking good for you when you controlled Thorstein's godord [district representative, a high office; Thorhadd filled the post three years while Thorstein was away], and helped many people out, both in financial and legal matters. But now, since you are following a bad plan and do not see the truth of what is near to you, you are deluded - though you can see what is far away from you clearly."
"My tenth dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "It seemed as if I came across a large group of people, and as if iron pieces called rivets were thrown into my shirtfront, but other, more powerful men threw in heavy lumps of iron, and the rivets fell to the floor."
Stein said, "I think that a peace meeting will be held between Thorstein and you, and I expect that the lesser and ordinary people will want to ally themselves with you, and thus let you benefit from when you were their spokesman. But the more powerful men will cast down everything that is to your advantage, and will weigh your malicious words more heavily."
"My eleventh dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "I seemed to be going up through Breiddal, and I could stretch my arms out so wide that I thought I could embrace the entire district."
"You will have all the men of the district opposing you," Stein explained, "and they will all take action against you."
"My twelfth dream was like this," Thorhadd said. "It was as if I was following Hjardarskard out of Breiddal and I came to the farm called Throt. It seemed as if a widow was living there, and I appeared to catch my foot on a frost-bump, and fall down. But Thorstein appeared to be riding towards me on the path crossing mine."
"It will not come as a surprise to me," said Stein, "when you walk along Hjardarskard and catch your foot on a death-bump and meet your end there."

Thorhadd said that it was not unlikely that he would not live long, and the conversation drew to a close. Then Thorhadd went home.

Chapter 5

Sometime later, the men of the district arranged a meeting to see if there was any hope of a reconciliation, and they asked Thorstein to come. He said that he didn't think much would come out of their talking about the business between Thorhadd and him - "but if the government of the district is going to be discussed, I shall come, even though Thorhadd and his sons be there."

This meeting took place at Berunes. Thorstein and a large group of farmers came. First, they dealt with the government of the district and how it should proceed, and that matter was settled. Then Oraekja, the son of Holmstein, the son of Bersi, the son of Ozur, the son of Brynjolf the Old spoke. He was a relative of Thorhadd's. "I want to ask you, Thorstein,' he said, "if there will be any discussion about the settlement of the business between you and Thorhadd. We all want to contribute, and will not hold back our money or anything else. You should look to the fact that Thorhadd and his sons could become useful to you, and there will be no disgrace to you, and no reduction in your influence because of their disgraceful words."

Other people joined in, and pleaded Thorhadd's cause, and told Thorstein that he would gain renown from this. They said that Thorhadd had looked after Thorstein's interests very well when Thorstein was not there.

Then Kol, Thorstein's brother, replied, "It is quite remarkable, this concern for Thorhadd, the man who has behaved so badly, and for his sons, too." And then many people, Thorstein's friends and relatives, confirmed this with similar words.

Then Thorstein said, "There is no need to say much about this here. Thorhadd and I will not make peace." And so the peace-meeting went as Stein had said it would.

Thorhadd said, "We will not have to add many words to this, but you should know, Thorstein, that I am a great dreamer and it is not unlikely that some dreams will soon come true, but there is some truth in all of them.

I dreamt that a huge polar bear came out of the sea and leapt over me and my sons here at Berunes and then ran away along the ridges, but later on I saw a fox dart out of a pile of stones and kill the bear. Now you interpret that, Thorstein!"
Thorstein said that he would not interpret his dream, or talk with him any further.

"Then I'll interpret it," Thorhadd said. "To judge from what I hear from other people, I understand that you have heavy thoughts about me, and it might be that you are fated to be my killer, and my sons' too. Now it is good to receive one's death from such a man as you, rather than from a miscreant like the one who will be your killer. [According to the short tale Thorstein Sidu-Hallsson's Dream, his slave Gilli killed Thorstein because he had castrated Gilli.]

And my second dream was like this, Thorstein: I dreamt that you and I and my sons were eating together, and each of us was given half a loaf of bread and we shared the same spread. And it seemed as if my sons and I had eaten all of our bread, but Thorstein had eaten all of the spread, and half his loaf. Now, Thorstein, interpret this dream."
Thorstein stood up, and said that he would not interpret his dream for him.

Thorhadd said that he would be able to interpret this one - "and so be it. Now I interpret it as follows, that we, my sons and I, will soon see the end of the days of our lives, and you, Thorstein, will take our sustenance from us. However, it might soon be that you, too, are lifeless."

Source: Thorstein Sidu-Hallsson's Saga in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders (1997), v.4, pp. 453-57
Date: the saga as a whole is marked 900-950, but these scenes are at least four years after the Battle of Clontarf in Ireland (firm date, 1014)
Translation: Katrina Attwood

AFTERMATH...

The next page has another dream I'll skip, for it's a typical saga-dream--some practical advice from Thorstein's dead mother on when & how to best murder Thorhadd's sons (When? Now. How? With a specific heavy axe. Thanks, Mom!) I'll also omit Thorstein's dreams warning that his slave Gilli plans to kill him--like Gory Practical Advice dreams, in the sagas Unavoidable Doom dreams are a dime a dozen. I'll omit their bloody deaths, too--first Thorhadd's sons, then Thorhadd, then Thorstein and Gilli. Just another Icelandic grudge-fest!

But the playful sarcastic bickering above? Weird. It's partly Stein's mocking interpretations--ranging from perverse (#6 & #11; I have to agree with Thoradd here that they seem relatively hopeful) to plausible (#10) to insightful (#9). But what are we to make of Thorhadd, endlessly coming back for more? Nor are all his own jabs aimed at Stein or Thorstein; note Dream 8! "My tongue seemed to be so long that I appeared to hook it round my neck and back into my mouth from the other side." If that's not self-mockery, what is? Stein doesn't need to dig at him; the image says it all. Thorhadd knows his loose tongue's a noose round his neck. Yet he kept on...

Thorhadd seems to have touches of foresight about others, too--his prediction Thorstein won't long outlive him is quite right. The little fox--Gilli the slave--soon brings down the big polar bear. Ironic that foresighted Thorhadd still lacks the commonsense not to spread gossip likely to get him killed.

But then, his own Dream Nine says it--he sees what's far off, but is blind to what's under his nose. Unlike you or me.

--Chris Wayan--



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