Völsa Ţáttur or the Story of Völsi is a short story which has only been preserved in Flateyjarbók, where it occurs as a chapter in Ólafs saga Helga. Many stories tell of St. Olaf's missionary activities in various parts of Norway. This one is hardly older that the 14th century, but may have preserved a genuine tradition of a phallic cult, existing in pre-Christian times. The author seems to be more interested in the comic aspects of the idea than in either the historical reality of such cults or their threat to orthodox Christianity:

As is related in an ancient poem, a farmer and his wife, advanced in age, lived on a promontory in the north of Norway, where there was a good harbour for warships, far from the main inhabited areas and the high road. They had two children, son and daughter, according to the beginning of the poem:

There lived an old man
with his aged woman
on an unnamed
promontory.
He had a son
with the Bil of gold
and a daughter
who was quite intelligent.

(Bil (goddess) of gold is a circumlocution for woman.)


They also had a slave and a slave-woman. The farmer was sensible and passive, but his wife was bossy, and ruled over the household. The son was merry and good-humoured, prankish and rowdy. The daughter was older, possessing quick wits and common sense, in spite of having been raised far from other people. The farmer owned a big hunting bitch, called Lćrir. The true faith was unknown to these people.

In late autumn the farmer's horse died. Heathen men ate horse-meat, and since the horse was fat, it was utilized as meat. While skinning it, the slave cut off that member, which nature has given to all animals that multiply by intercourse, and which is named "dangler" on horses, according to the ancient poets. As the slave cut off this member, and was about to throw it away, the farmer's son ran by laughing, caught it, and took it into the parlour. There, his mother was sitting, accompanied by her daugther and the slave-woman. He shook the phallus at them, shouting mocking remarks, and uttered this stanza:

Here you may see
a vigourous phallus
severed from
a father of horses.
For you, slave-woman,
this Völsi
is not at all dull
between your thighs.

(Vingull, the name for the horse's phallus, means "the dangling one". A father of horses is a stallion, stud.)

The slave-woman roared out and laughed, but the farmer's daughter begged her brother to take away the disgusting thing. The old woman stood up, approached her son, and took the thing from him, saying there was no need to waste a thing which might be of use. She then went into the kitchen, dried the member carefully, and wrapped it in a linen cloth along with leeks and other herbs, to prevent it from rotting, and then laid it into her coffer.

All that autumn she would retrieve it every evening and address it with a prayer of worship, believing it to be her god, and making the rest of the housuhold accept this heresy. By the power of the devil the thing grew and became so strong, that it could stand upright by the old woman, when she wanted it to. She made it her custom to carry it into the parlour every evening, where she, first of the household, recited a verse over it. She would then hand it to her husband, who then handed it to the next person, and so on, until the slave-woman received it. All were expected to recite a verse. Each person's attitude was apparent from their statements.

It so happened, before King Olaf was forced to leave the country by King Knut, that he directed his ships along the northern coast. He had learned of this promontory and the pagandom practiced there. Since he ever strove to convert his people to the true faith, he told his pilot to change course, and make for the harbour, which lay below the promontory, since the wind was favourable. They arrived there late in the day. The king ordered awnings to be spread over the ships, and told his men that they should spend the night there, while he wished to visit the farmstead. He was accompanied by Finn Arnason, and Thorburnmod Kolbrunarskald.

(The historical event referred to occured in 1029. Finn Arnason was Norwegian, a loyal follower of the king, and a close friend. Thorburnmod was Icelandic, one of the king's chief poets. His nick-name refers to his entanglement with a girl named Kolbrún ("coal-brow").)

Wearing grey cloaks over their garments, they walked towards the farm, when evening fell. They entered the parlour and seated themselves on a bench. Finn sat in the innermost place, Thorburnmod in the middle, but the king closest to the door. They waited until it was dark, but no one entered the parlour. Finally the daughter came, carrying a light. She greeted them, and asked them their names, but they all said they were called Grímur. She kindled lights, and looked frequently toward the guests, especially the one who occupied the place closest to the door. As she was about to leave for the kitchen, she uttered the following verse:

(Although a common personal name, Grímur ("masked one, disguised one") was traditionally adopted as a pseudonym for a diguised person in the sagas. In Grímnismál, Odin masquerades as Grímnir.)


I see gold on the visitors
and velvet robes.
I fancy those rings.
I'd rather be crippled than tell a lie.
I recognize you, my king,
you have come, Olaf.

Then replied the visitor, who was closest: "You are a wise woman, so you will keep quiet about this."

They exchanged no other words. The farmer's daughter left them, and soon the farmer entered, with his son and his slave. He seated himself, and his son next to him, and the slave farther away. They teased the visitors about their courteous manners.

(The translation of the last sentence is dubious. The meaning of kyrt is uncertain. The translation offered here is only a likely possibility.)

Then things were readied for a meal, a table pulled forth, and food served. The farmer's daughter sat beside her brother, the slave-woman beside the slave. The three men named Grímur all sat together. The old woman was the last to arrive, carrying Völsi in her arms, and approached her husband's seat. She is not said to have greeted the visitors. She unwrapped Völsi, placed him on her husband's knees, and recited this verse:

Enlarged art thou, Völsi,
and raised aloft,
enriched with linen,
supported by leeks.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but now, my husband,
you must accept Völsi.

(The meaning of mörnir is not absolutely certain, although most agree that it means "giantesses, female trolls". In the poem Haustlaung it is used in a kenning for "giant", fađir mörna, which strongly supports this.)

The farmer responded coldly, but accepted it anyway, and recited a verse:

Were I in charge,
this object of worship
would not be presented
on this evening.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but now, my son,
take care of Völsi.

The farmer's son grasped Völsi, cocked it up, handed it to his sister, and recited:

May your bridesmaids
bring you a cock.
They will make the prick
wet tonight.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but now, farmer's daughter,
pull Völsi into your embrace.

She was far from enthusiastic, but was bound to follow the custom of the house. She handled the object hesitantly, but spoke a verse all the same:

I swear by Gefjun
and the other gods
that against my will
do I touch this red proboscis.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but now, slave of my parents,
grab hold of Völsi.

(In Snorri's Edda Gefjun is characterized as a goddess of virgins. This may be seen as conflicting with what is said about her in Lokasenna, but there seems to be some basis for Snorri's statement. In Breta sögur she is identified with Diana/Artemis, and in Trójumanna saga with Minerva/Pallas Athene.)

The slave received it, and recited:

I'd much rather
have a loaf of bread,
thick and lumpy
and very broad,
than this Völsi
on a working day.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but you, slave-woman,
press Völsi against your bosom.

The slave-woman took it tenderly into her hands, embraced it and stroked it, and uttered this verse:

Surely I would not be able
to overcome the temptation
of thrusting you into myself,
if we were lying alone,
pleasuring one another.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but you, Grímur, our guest,
get a hold on Völsi.

Finn held it in his hands. He spoke a verse:

Long have I been moored
off many coasts,
hoisting sails
with agile hands.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but you, Grímur, my comrade,
catch hold of Völsi.

He gave it to Thorburnmod, who inspected the shape of Völsi very closely. Grinning, he spoke forth the following verse:

I have travelled wide,
but never before did I see
an erect phallus
being passed along the bench.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but you, chief Grímur,
now receive Völsi.

The king took it, and recited a verse:

I have been a helmsman
and a forecastle-man
and a leader
of all the troops.
May giantesses
accept this holy object,
but you, dog of the household,
take charge of this monstrosity!

He then threw the thing onto the floor, where the bitch instantly caught it. When the old woman saw this, she flew up in extreme agitation, and spoke:

Who is this man,
this stranger,
who gives to dogs
this holy object?
Lift me over the hinge
and the door-beam,
to see if I can save
the holy sacrifice.

Put it down, Lćrir,
let me not see such a thing,
and do not swallow it,
you evil, murderous bitch!

The king then threw off his disguise, and all knew him. He then preached the true faith, but the old woman was reluctant to accept it, while her husband was rather more willing. With god's help and Olaf's zeal they all finally accepted the faith, and were baptized by the king's court-chaplain. They observed the faith ever since, as they became aware of the object of the faith, learned to know their maker, and realized the evil and perversity of their former ways, which are despicable to all good men.

This shows how king Olaf was deeply concerned with getting rid of all evil practices, paganism and sorcery, both in the remotest parts of Norway and in the central inhabited areas of the mainland. It was of great importance to him to introduce the true faith to as many as he possibly could. It has since become apparent, that in these things as well as all others, he was performing god's will.



Read Icelandic text with translation of Völsa Ţáttur here