She remembers the first war in the world
When Gullveig was hoisted on the spears
And in the High One´s hall they burned her
Three times they burned the three times born
Often, not seldom, but she still lives!
She was called “Bright One” when she came to the settlements
The greatly talented Carrier of the Wand
She performed magic, ecstatically she performed it
She knew how to cast spells
She was always loved by wicked women.
Voluspá, st.21-22 (“The Vision of the Witch”), Poetic Edda
Let’s leave out that I adore this film, and have written a heavy (spoiler laden to the brim) post on my other blog.
Let’s leave out that my sister seems to hate it for some reason, thinking it will ruin little girls forever.
No, I want to talk about how Maleficent and Gullveig might tie together, because Disney obviously did not, and yet they crafted a (halfway) reasonable tie between them without ever realizing it.
Before we start, I want to post a disclaimer: while I have recently found Gullveig a more fascinating figure, I am hardly an expert on the lore (don’t use this to solve a homework assignment, kiddos!), and most of the lore I have encountered has played Gullveig-Heidr straight up as an absolutely evil woman with nothing but contempt for both man and the gods, possibly all of creation, AND teacup pigs. And that would just be really freaking evil, because nobody can have contempt for teacup pigs.
I don’t think Gullveig hated teacup pigs. Nobody is that heartless.
So first, let’s get the obvious out of the way: “Maleficent” portrays the classic Disney villain-ess a little… differently than most might be familiar with. She has clear motives this time, and the movie enjoys a healthy follow-up to her actions. If you don’t mind spoilers, you can find a complete breakdown and summary of the plot at the link at the top of this article. But, suffice it to say, it’s a fantastic alternate character interpretation that I personally prefer.
Likewise, we have Gullveig, a brilliant sorceress and prophetess whose power and ability are known far and wide. Her name breaks down as “gold drink” or “gold strength”. But in this case, it has nothing to do with Maleficent. Gullveig (either a Jotun or a Vanir depending on your source) becomes a source of great frustration to… somebody. As you can tell from the stanzas above, it’s not really clear who. We know her execution takes place in Odin’s Hall, and so can reasonably infer that Odin is present, but outside of that, we have no idea who is actually doing the killing. But anyway, this mysterious “they” thrust her up on spears and burn her. But that does not destroy her. So they do it again. And again. Three times she is destroyed, three times reborn, and her final resurrection takes the name “Heidr” (as an adjective, meaning “bright”, as a noun, meaning “honor”; it can also be taken to mean “beautiful” in certain contexts) as her true name (she had previously used it in disguise on Earth while making war upon the Aesir). She is no less powerful, no less perceptive.
Maleficent too is three times torn down and three times reborn.
The first burning is obvious: the rape and removal of her wings, giving birth to a Maleficent that for the first time ever truly distrusted all humans. Consumed by hate and rage, she lashed out, as Gullveig did, against the prevailing authority over the human world, her former friend and love, King Stefan. She wove a curse upon that which Stefan treasured, and reveled in the negativity and suffering she had wrought.
But this is not the end of our story.
Maleficent is burned again, and once again reborn (this is where the analogy grows shaky for me, as I have never seen described in any source what Gullveig was like between incarnations). This new Maleficent is gentler, but still born of anger and loathing, and it truly shows. We first see her repairing damage to a tree, the first connection with her old, non curse-making and malevolent self we have seen in years. She reacts coldly to Aurora, professing over and over her hatred of the girl who is so strongly associated with her Great Enemy. She is still content to see Stefan suffer, and we also see her take delight in tormenting the three pixies (albeit with faery pranks as opposed to triggering an ice age, a la Thiazzi and Gullveig during the war), who have made little move of threat or opposition against her in the story, save simply attempting to defend Aurora from Maleficent’s “gift” at the christening.
But over time, that gentleness that comes with this rebirth helps pave the way for true healing, and old scars (and burns) finally begin to mend. Maleficent still is no fan of Stefan (she never will be), but admits she acted rashly, which to tell the truth, I don’t see Gullveig doing. But then again, we have seen Jotuns soften their stances before: Skadi, being the most notable to me, arrived at Asgard with the intent of avenging her father, Thiazzi (who in lore had been party to the war on the Aesir, and through great magic was able to freeze great swaths of the world in an ice age). She comes in full battle dress, ready for combat, calling for the heads of those responsible, yet settles for compensation via marriage, and a well timed and crassly executed joke from Loki, who is always a good friend to have in a pinch (and a terrible enemy to make, but that’s another entry entirely) helps shake her loose just enough to ensure that ill-will begins softening immediately. There are other examples, but clearly, Jotuns are not completely set in their ways, even when they become set in their ways– all it takes is the right kind of nudge for them to divert course and begin to change. It is not without precedent in assuming that the one once called Gullveig could metamorphose into something less steeped in anger and resentment.
And Maleficent here changes. She discovers that deep down, under that horrid darkness she has shielded herself in, she retained the capability to love (assisted by, perhaps, a certain case of exact wording when crafting the curse itself).
Eventually, Maleficent becomes “The Shining One”, when she is “burned” one final time, and this time, she no-kidding shines, as she is reuinited with her wings, and it is just as they were in the old times. She regains her fullest powers, decimates Stefan’s forces with ease (when even her fauithful servant, Diaval-cum-Dragon had failed) yet shows mercy when she is one squeeze of her fingertips from a completely justified revenge (pity Stefan percieved it as a moment of weakness… bet he’ll be regretting tha— ohhhh wait. No he won’t.).
And here we have a thin version of the Aesir-Vanir war, with Maleficent standing in for the Vanir, the “first war in the world”.
The Vanir demanded reperations for Gullveig’s treatment in Odin’s High Hall, the Aesir did not give them, and Odin even attacks them. The Vanir retaliate, smash down the walls of Asgard, yet show mercy at the end of it all. Hostages in this case are exchanged between tribes, and Freyja, one of the hostages, even proceeds to teach Odin the seidhr, which becomes the root of his tribe’s success (which informs a connection between Gullveig-Heidr and Freyja, either they are the same, or one taught the other seidhr, probably with Freyja as the mentor). We then find the foundations for many later events, with the Vanir and Aesir joined together and creating Kvasir, a man who will travel the world and introduce poetry and knowledge (though it won’t end well for him thanks to a few unscrupulous dwarves).
And Maleficent too, lends her skills to creating a unification between two warring sides which will end by being beneficial to all: she crowns Aurora Queen of the Moors, not just of the Human Realm.
This is a definite overgeneralization; I have no compunctions about saying that I am not an expert on the subject, and I won’t pretend that half of it will make sense to a lot of readers. I’ve rambled for long enough though, and if you’re interested in further research on Gullveig, I would recommend this article, as it has been an interesting viewpoint to explore. Maybe I don’t agree with everything on the page, but it was amazingly interesting regardless.
Just don’t use this blog post for homework or serious study– this is mostly just some tongue-firmly-in-cheek rambling and musing on my part.
See you next time!