Siegfried - the Germanic Hero

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

A 'Germanic hero' is originally the protagonist of certain works of early medieval literature mostly in Germanic languages.
Later, however, he appears in art, literature and music, particularly in the nineteenth century, and most powerfully in Wagner's massive, operatic epic, 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'.
This hero is always a warrior, concerned both with his reputation and fame, and with his political responsibilities.
The way in which he "copes with the blows of fate" is extremely important.
He may be distinguished from the classical hero, in that his adventures are less individualistic, and from the tragic hero because his death is heroic rather than tragic.
His death usually brings destruction, not restoration, as in tragedy.
His goal is frequently revenge.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

Siegfried is the archetypal Germanic hero.
Siegfried, although now almost always associated with Wagner, originally appeared in the Völsunga saga.
The Völsunga saga (often referred to in English as the Volsunga Saga or Saga of the Völsungs) is a legendary saga, a late 13th century Icelandic prose rendition of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan (including the story of Sigurd and Brynhild and destruction of the Burgundians).
The saga covers themes including the power struggles among Sigurd's ancestors; Sigurd's killing of the dragon Fafnir; and the influence of the ring. The subtitle of the book, "The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer", implies that the entire book is about Sigurd (Siegfried) even though he is seen only through about half of the tale. However, the slaying of Fafnir, is a critical point in this epic. This is the decision that Sigurd makes in his reach for a glorious life full of fame
Here, Sigurd was supposedly the posthumous son of Sigmund and his second wife, Hiordis, (Sieglinde in the 'RIng'). Sigmund dies in battle when he attacks Odin (Wotan in the Ring), (who is in disguise), and Odin shatters Sigmund's sword (Nothung).
Dying, Sigmund tells Hiordis, (Sieglinde in the 'RIng') of her pregnancy and bequeaths the fragments of his sword to his unborn son.

Wagner, as well as working from the Völsunga Saga, also made use of themes and characters from the much later 'Nibelungenlied', translated as 'The Song of the Nibelung's, - an epic poem in Middle High German.
Like the Völsunga Saga, from which it is partly derived, the story tells of dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered, and of his wife Kriemhild's revenge.

The Nibelungenlied is based on pre-Christian Germanic heroic motifs (the "Nibelungensaga"), which include oral traditions, and reports based on historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries.
Old Norse parallels of the legend, as we have seen, survive in the 'Völsunga saga', the 'Prose Edda', the 'Poetic Edda', the 'Legend of Norna-Gest', and the 'Þiðrekssaga'.

When Richard Wagner decided to adapt certain parts of the Völsunga Saga, in order to create his colossal epic, 'Der Ring des NIgelungen', he wrote the following piece, regarding the hero of the work.
"In the struggle to give the wishes of my heart artistic shape, and in the ardor to discover what thing it was that drew me to the primal source of old Sagas, I drove step by step into the deeper regions of antiquity, where at last to my delight, and truly in the utmost reaches of old time, I was to light upon the fair young form of Man, in all the freshness of his force.
My studies thus bore me, through the legends of the Middle Ages, right down to their foundation in the old-Germanic Mythos; one swathing after another, which the later legendary lore had bound around it, I was able to unloose, and thus at last to gaze upon it in its chastest beauty.
What here I saw, was no longer the figure of conventional history, whose garment claims our interest more than does the actual shape inside; but the real naked man, in whom I might spy each throbbing of his pulses, each stir within his mighty muscles, in un-cramped, freest motion: the type of the true human being.
Although the splendid type of Siegfried had long attracted me, it first enthralled my every thought when I had come to see it in its purest human shape, set free from every later wrapping.
Now for the first time, also, did I recognize the possibility of making him the hero of a drama; a possibility that had not occurred to me while I only knew him from the medieval Nibelungenlied."

                                             Richard Wagner 
Georg Herwegh
Arthur Schopenhauer
In September or October 1854 the German poet and political activist Georg Herwegh introduced Wagner to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer's pessimistic and renunciatory philosophy had a profound effect on Wagner, and it was only to be expected that it should influence the composition of the Ring.
In 1856 the libretto of Siegfried was revised and a new ending was devised for Götterdämmerung – the so-called 'Schopenhauer Ending'.
Hitle, of course, carried Shopenhauer's greatest work, 'Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung', in his back-pack throughout his time in the trenches, on the Western Front, in the Great War.
'Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung' is the central work of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
The first edition was published in December 1818, and the second expanded edition in 1844. In 1948, an abridged version was edited by Thomas Mann.
Nietzsche, Jung, D. H. Lawrence,  Mahler and Wagner were all strongly influenced by his work. For Nietzsche, the reading of 'Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung' aroused his interest in philosophy. The book was central to the themes of all Wagner's later works.
Comic-book 'Hero'

Here, in the Ring cycle, we find the tradition of Germanic epics married to the 19th century philosophy of Schopenhauer - which created a cultural and political milieu which was to have a profound influence on the future history of Germany, Europe and the world.
Even today, in the twenty-first century, the concept of the 'hero', whether it is to be found in novels, films, comics and graphic novels, or computer games, is essentially modeled on the figure of Siegfried to be found in 'The Ring'.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
There are, however, at least two other significant 'heroes' in the Wagnerian oeuvre - Lohengrin and Parsifal - and both had a profound influence on the thought and history of the 19th and 20th centuries.
These other two 'heroes' were less 'macho' (to use a current term) - less aggressive and decidedly less muscular and athletic than the young Siegfried.
Not surprisingly, neither Lohengrin or Parsifal came to the kind of violent end that finally awaited Siegfried.

Lohengrin was a chivalrous knight, of 'courtly', medieval tradition.
In Wagner's opera, of the same name, he is prepared to fight for what he believes is right, using his sword to defeat his enemy.

Young Parsifal
Fidus (Hugo Höppener)
 Parsifal - Ritter des Heiligen Grals
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

Parsifal as a boy, on the other hand, only kills a swan, with his bow and arrow.
But later, like Lohengrin, he becomes a knight, but in his case a Ritter des Heiligen Grals - a Knight of the Holy Grail.

While Adolf Hitler had little to say about the chivalrous Lohengrin and his swan, he did suggest that Parsifal had been a powerful influence on him, along with Siegfried.
As Hitler once said:

"I have built up my religion out of Parsifal. 
Divine worship in solemn form ... without pretenses of humility ...
One can serve God only in the garb of the hero"

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

Richard Wagner
Discounting the earlier sketches he had made for 'Der junge Siegfried' (summer 1851), the composition of 'Siegfried' was begun in Zürich in September 1856.
The developed draft was begun on 22 September, almost immediately after the (undated) preliminary draft. The full score was begun on 11 October, so Wagner was working on all three stages at the same time.
On 19 December, however, he began to sketch some themes for 'Tristan und Isolde'; from this point on there were to be many interruptions in the composition of 'Siegfried'.
Nevertheless, by 31 March 1857 the full score of Act I was finished.
Sometime thereafter Wagner began to make a fair copy, but he abandoned this task after just one scene.

Fafners Ruhe - Siegfried
Almost two months elapsed before he began work on Act II; the prelude, 'Fafners Ruhe' ("Fafner's Rest") was sketched on 20 May 1857, while the preliminary draft was begun on 22 May, the composer's forty-fourth birthday.

Tristan und Isolde
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
On 18 June, he began the developed draft while still working on the preliminary draft; but later that same month he dropped the work (at the point where Siegfried rests himself beneath the linden tree) to concentrate on 'Tristan und Isolde'.
The preliminary draft reached this point on the 26th, and the developed draft on the 27th.
It seems that Wagner was tiring of the 'Ring' and he considered putting it aside for a while:
"I have determined finally to give up my headstrong design of completing the 'Nibelungen'.I have led my young Siegfried to a beautiful forest solitude, and there have left him under a linden tree, and taken leave of him with heartfelt tears."
(Wagner, in a letter to Franz Liszt, dated 8 May 1857)

This hiatus, however, did not last as long as Wagner had anticipated. On 13 July 1857 he took up the work again and finished Act II within four weeks, the preliminary draft being completed on 30 July and the developed draft on 9 August.
The full score of the first act was now complete, and a fair copy had been made of the opening scene; the developed draft of the second act was finished, but the full score had not yet been begun. At this point Wagner once again put the opera aside to concentrate on 'Tristan und Isolde'.

'Die Meistersinger'
Tristan und Isolde - Liebesnacht
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Seven years would pass before he took it up again, during which time he completed 'Tristan' and started 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg'.
With Wagner's exile from Bavaria in December 1865, a third hiatus ensued in the composition of 'Siegfried', during which Wagner completed 'Die Meistersinger'.
Work on 'Siegfried' was resumed at the start of 1869 and on 23 February the fair copies of Acts I and II were finally completed.
A week later, on 1 March, Wagner began the composition of Act III.
Working from sketches dating from around 1864 and thereafter, he proceeded to make a preliminary draft of the entire act, as was his usual practice.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
This was completed fifteen weeks later on 14 June.
The second complete draft – the orchestral draft – was finished on 5 August.
The full score was begun on 25 August and completed on 5 February 1871.
It is often said that twelve years elapsed between the second and third acts of 'Siegfried', but this is an exaggeration.
While it is true that eleven years and twenty-nine weeks passed between the completion of the developed draft of Act II and the beginning of the preliminary draft of Act III, Wagner devoted more than a year of this so-called hiatus to the composition of 'Siegfried,' completing the fair copy of Act I, drawing up both the full score and fair copy of Act II, and making sketches for Act III.

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Wagner envisioned Siegfried as a "free human being" who can change the world order.
He will accomplish this feat with the sword 'Northung', which he reforges himself, breaking Wotan's spear.

Wotan's Spear - Gungnir
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
In Norse mythology, Gungnir is the spear of the god Odin.
The spear is described as being so well balanced that it could strike any target, no matter the skill or strength of the wielder.
After the wars between the older rulers of the earth and the lords of the sky, the victorious young king of the gods, Wotan, wanders the middle earth looking to gain all the knowledge and power he can find. He comes to a spring at the foot of the World Ash Tree and asks the norns at the fountain of Mimr for all knowledge of the past, present, and future. The Norns agree to give Wotan most of their knowledge, but only after he hangs on the world ash tree for a long space of time, and to give the Norns one of his eyes.
Wotan does all this and the Norns give him sacred knowledge. He breaks off one of the branches of the World Ash tree and fashions for himself a spear 'Gungnir', on which he carves the runes and sacred knowledge he has learned, and also the treaties and laws which rule the nine worlds. He decrees that henceforth all contracts and sacred pacts (Vertragen) must be protected by his spear. But by breaking off this branch, Wotan himself starts the slow decay of the World Ash Tree which will contribute to the ultimate downfall of the gods.When Wotan tries to bar the eponymous hero of the opera 'Siegfried' from awakening Brünnhilde from her magic sleep, Siegfried breaks the spear in two, and Wotan flees. It is implied that this is also the end of Wotan's power, and he never appears onstage again.

Siegmund and Sieglinde

In this way Wagner links Siegfried's story to Wotan's ultimate plan to regain the ring.
Siegfried is the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde - (see 'Die Walküre') - whom we meet as a young man several years later.

Siegfried is a German language male given name, composed from the Germanic elements sig "victory" and frithu "protection, peace".

Both Wotan and Alberich see in Siegfried, the innocent and fearless hero, the means by which they might regain the ring.

Sieglinde und Mime
So too does Alberich's brother Mime, who raised Siegfried in the forest after his mother died in childbirth. 
Using the magical tarnhelm, Fafner the giant has transformed himself into a dragon to protect his gold.
Mime encourages Siegfried to challenge the dragon in order to learn the meaning of fear, which Siegfried has never experienced.
Mime attempts to repair the broken sword which he got from Sieglinde, but each time Siegfried easily smashes it against the anvil.

Siegfried schmiedet das Schwert Nothung
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Finally Siegfried begins the task himself, melts the pieces of his father's sword to create a stronger weapon, and this time splits the anvil with one stroke.
With his new version of the sword Nothung, Siegfried kills Fafner and takes the ring and the tarnhelm.
He then kills Mime who was trying to poison him.
Having tasted the dragon's blood, Siegfried now understands the language of the birds in the forest, who tell him of a beautiful maiden asleep on a fiery mountaintop.
When Siegfried seeks her out, Wotan is standing guard, but this time Northung shatters Wotan's spear, symbol of his authority.
The rule of the gods nears its end as Wotan admits his defeat at the hands of a free human being.
Finally Siegfried strides through the fire to find the sleeping Brunnhilde, and they fall deeply in love.

Junge Siegfried mit Mime
Mime Forging Northung
But to begin, as Wagner's story begins ... in a cave in the forest, the Nibelung dwarf Mime, Alberich's brother, is forging a sword.
Mime is plotting to obtain the Ring for himself.
He has raised the human boy Siegfried as a foster child, to kill the dragon, Fafner, who guards the Ring and other treasures.
He needs a sword for Siegfried to use, but the youth has broken every sword he has made.
Siegfried returns from his wanderings in the forest with a wild bear that he caught and demands his new sword, which he immediately breaks.
After Siegfried's tantrum and a carefully studied speech by Mime about Siegfried's ingratitude toward him, Siegfried comes to understand why he keeps coming back to Mime although he despises him: he wants to know his parentage.
Mime is forced to explain how he took in Siegfried's mother, Sieglinde, who died giving birth.
He shows Siegfried the broken pieces of Nothung, which he obtained from her.

Wotan und Mime
Siegfried orders him to reforge the sword, which he cannot do because the metal will not yield to his best techniques.
Siegfried departs, leaving Mime in despair.
An old man (Wotan in disguise) arrives at the door and introduces himself as the Wanderer.
In return for the hospitality due a guest, he wagers his head on answering any three questions or riddles from Mime.
The dwarf agrees in order to get rid of his unwelcome guest.
He asks the Wanderer to name the races that live beneath the ground, on the earth, and in the skies.
These are the Nibelung, the Giants, and the Gods, as the Wanderer answers correctly.
Mime tells the Wanderer to be on his way but is forced to wager his own head on three more riddles for breaking the law of hospitality.

Mime mit dem Wanderer
Siegfried und Nothung
Arthur Rackham
The Wanderer asks him to name the race most beloved of Wotan, but most harshly treated; the name of the sword that can destroy Fafner; and the person who can make the blade.
Mime answers the first two questions: the Wälsungs and Nothung, however, he cannot answer the last. Wotan spares Mime, telling him that only "he who does not know fear" can reforge Nothung, and leaves Mime's head forfeit to that person.
Siegfried returns and is annoyed by Mime's lack of progress.
Mime realizes that Siegfried is "the one who does not know fear" and that unless he can instill fear in him, Siegfried will kill him in accordance with the Wanderer's prediction.

Siegfried mit Nothung
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
He tells Siegfried that fear is an essential craft; Siegfried is eager to learn it, and Mime promises to teach him by bringing him to Fafner.
Since Mime was unable to forge Nothung, Siegfried decides to do it himself.
He succeeds by shredding the metal, melting it, and casting it anew.
In the meantime, Mime brews a poisoned drink to offer Siegfried after the youth has defeated the dragon. After he finishes forging the sword, Siegfried demonstrates its strength by chopping the anvil in half with it.

Siegfried in the Forest
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
The Wanderer arrives at the entrance to Fafner's cave, where Alberich is keeping vigil.
The old enemies quickly recognize each other.
Alberich blusters, boasting of his plans for regaining the ring and ruling the World.
Wotan calmly states that he does not intend to interfere, only to observe.
He even offers to awaken Fafner so that Alberich can bargain with him.
Alberich warns the dragon that a hero is coming to fight him, and offers to prevent the fight in return for the Ring.
Fafner dismisses the threat, declines Alberich's offer, and returns to sleep.
Wotan leaves and Alberich withdraws.

Siegfried wird von Mime zu fafnir geführt
At daybreak, Siegfried and Mime arrive.

Siegfried und der Drache Fafner
Mime decides to draw back while Siegfried confronts the dragon.
As Siegfried waits for the dragon to appear, he notices a woodbird in a tree.
Befriending it, he attempts to mimic the bird's song using a reed pipe, but is unsuccessful.
He then plays a tune on his horn, which brings Fafner out of his cave.
After a short exchange, they fight, and Siegfried stabs Fafner in the heart with Nothung.

Siegfried badet in Fafner Blut
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Siegfried mit dem Waldvogel
In his last moments, Fafner learns Siegfried's name, and tells him to beware of treachery.
When Siegfried draws his sword from the corpse, his hands are burned by the dragon's blood, and he instinctively puts them to his mouth.
On tasting the blood, he finds that he can understand the woodbird's song.
Following its instructions, he takes the Ring and the Tarnhelm from Fafner's hoard.
Outside the cave, Alberich and Mime quarrel loudly over the treasure.
Alberich hides as Siegfried comes out of the cave.
Mime greets Siegfried; Siegfried complains that he has still not learned the meaning of fear.
Mime offers him the poisoned drink, however, the lingering effect of the dragon's blood allows Siegfried to read Mime's treacherous thoughts, and he stabs him to death.
Alberich, observing from offstage, shouts sadistic laughter.
Siegfried then throws Mime's body into the treasure cave and places Fafner's body in the cave entrance to block it as well.
The woodbird now sings of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire.
Siegfried, wondering if he can learn fear from this woman, heads toward the mountain.

Siegfried und Brünnhilde
Siegfried und Brünnhilde
The Wanderer appears on the path to Brünnhilde's rock and summons Erda, the earth goddess.
Erda, appearing confused, is unable to offer any advice.
Wotan informs her that he no longer fears the end of the gods; indeed, it is his desire.
His heritage will be left to Siegfried the Wälsung, and their (Erda's and Wotan's) child, Brünnhilde, will "work the deed that redeems the World."
Dismissed, Erda sinks back into the earth.
Siegfried arrives, and the Wanderer questions the youth. Siegfried, who does not recognize his grandfather, answers insolently and starts down the path toward Brünnhilde's rock.
The Wanderer blocks his path, but Siegfried breaks Wotan's spear with a blow from Nothung.
Wotan calmly gathers up the pieces and vanishes.
Siegfried enters the ring of fire, emerging on Brünnhilde's rock.
At first, he thinks the armored figure is a man, however, when he removes the armor, he finds a woman beneath.
At the sight of the first woman he has ever seen, Siegfried at last experiences fear.
In desperation, he kisses Brünnhilde, waking her from her magic sleep.
Hesitant at first, Brünnhilde is won over by Siegfried's love, and renounces the world of the gods.
Together, they hail "light-bringing love, and laughing death."

'Lachend erwachst du Wonnige mir:
Brünnhilde lebt, Brünnhilde lacht!
Heil dem Tage, der uns umleuchtet!
Heil der Sonne, die uns bescheint!
Heil der Welt, der Brünnhilde lebt!
Sie wacht, sie lebt,
sie lacht mir entgegen.
Prangend strahlt mir Brünnhildes Stern!
Sie ist mir ewig, ist mir immer,
Erb' und Eigen, ein und all:
leuchtende Liebe, lachender Tod!'

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

While Siegfried is an enjoyable adventure story, involving the killing of a dragon, cahts with the birds, the chopping of a a nasty little dwarf's head, a trip down the Rhine, and at the end - a beautiful girl, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) is rather different.
While  Götterdämmerung is still the hero of the story, the tale now takes on a tragic twist, - so tragic as to encompass the end of Siegfried, Brünnhilde, Hagen and even the gods themselves.
 It is the last in Richard Wagner's cycle of four operas titled 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' (The Ring of the Nibelung).
The title is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war among various beings and gods that ultimately results in the burning, immersion in water, and renewal of the world, however, as with the rest of the Ring, Wagner's account diverges significantly from his Old Norse sources.

Norse mythology is unique in that it includes a narration of future events, the end of the gods in a great battle. Ragnarok means "fate or doom of the gods" which in German becomes 'Gotterdammerung', (Twilight of the Gods).
The great battle is preceded by three year-long winters and general moral decay.
Ominous signs appear: wolves that eat the sun and moon, and the stars fall.

The Wolf Fenrir
Bifrost - Rainbow Bridge
At Ragnarok, Loki escapes his chains (his punishment for plotting Balder's death), captains the ship Naglfar (made of dead men's nails) to attack Asgard along with the frost giants, riding on tidal waves created by the loosing of Jormungandr, the world serpent, from the ocean bottom.
Fenrir the giant wolf breaks his bonds, and Surt and the fire-demons attack from the south.
Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost), who never sleeps and sees and hears everything, sounds his trumpet as warning, but it's too late to avoid the final battle.
In the battle all the gods meet their end: Wotan is swallowed by Fenrir, who in turn is torn asunder by Wotan's son Vidar.
Thor kills Jormungandr but dies of its venom.
Loki and Heimdall kill each other.
Surt kills Freyr, then destroys the world by fire.
Some things manage to survive Ragnarok: Valhalla itself, Thor's hammer and his two sons, Odin's favorite son Balder returns to life, and two humans, protected under the World Ash Tree Yggdrasil, who repopulate the world.
Wagner's innovation was to link the story of the gods' end with the death of Siegfried and Brunnhilde.

Siegfried and Brunhilde
The opening scene of Wagner's version of  Götterdämmerung depicts the Norns, daughters of Erda, weaving the threads of fate at the base of the World Ash Tree.

The Norns in Nordic mythology are female beings who rule the destiny of gods and men, and comparable to the 'Fates' in Greek mythology.
The three most important norns, Wyrd, Verðandi and Skuld, come out from a hall standing at the Wwell of Fate, and they draw water from the well and take sand that lies around it, which they pour over Yggdrasill so that its branches will not rot.
Ther is a theory that the three main norns should each be associated exclusively with the past, the present, and the future.

The Norns see glimpses of things to come involving Siegfried before the thread mysteriously breaks.
The scene shifts to the mountain where the two lovers are saying their farewells before Siegfried leaves in search of adventure.
Siegfried gives the ring to Brunnhilde for safe-keeping as a symbol of their love.

Hall of the Gibichungs
Siegfried and Gutrune
Traveling down the Rhine river, Siegfried arrives at the hall of the Gibichungs.
In a dream Alberich incites his son Hagen to help him regain the ring, which Hagen does with the unwitting aid of his half-brother and sister, Gunther and Gutrune.
Hagen gives Siegfried a drugged drink, causing him to forget his relationship with Brunnhilde, and he falls in love with Gutrune instead.
Meanwhile, one of Brunnhilde's sisters arrives at the mountain to tell her that Wotan has cut branches off Yggdrasil (the World Ash Tree) and has surrounded Valhalla with them, intending to set himself and the gods on fire.

Yggdrasil - World Ash Tree
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil  is an immense tree that is central in Norse cosmology, in connection to which the nine worlds exist.
Yggdrasil is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In both sources, Yggdrasil is an immense ash tree that is central and considered very holy. The gods go to Yggdrasil daily to assemble at their things. The branches of Yggdrasil extend far into the heavens, and the tree is supported by three roots that extend far away into other locations; one to the well Urðarbrunnr in the heavens, one to the spring Hvergelmir, and another to the well Mímisbrunnr. Creatures live within Yggdrasil, including the wyrm (dragon) Níðhöggr, an unnamed eagle, and the stags Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór.
Conflicting scholarly theories have been proposed about the etymology of the name Yggdrasill, the possibility that the tree is of another species than ash, the relation to tree lore and to Eurasian shamanic lore, the possible relation to the trees Mímameiðr and Læraðr, Hoddmímis holt, the sacred tree at Uppsala, and the fate of Yggdrasil during the events of Ragnarök.

She asks Brunnhilde to return the ring to Wotan but she refuses.
Siegfried then appears but has transformed himself into the guise of Gunther with the help of the tarnhelm.
He forcibly takes back the ring and kidnaps Brunnhilde for the real Gunther to marry.
On discovering Siegfried's treachery, Brunnhilde betrays him to Hagen, revealing how Siegfried may be killed by striking him in the back, the only place that she has not covered with a protective spell.
Hagen promptly slays him during a hunt.
Learning too late that Hagen has tricked them both in order to regain the ring, Brunnhilde orders Siegfried's funeral pyre to be lit and she rides her horse into it, forgiving Siegfried and uniting them in death.
Wotan and the other gods are consumed by the flames that destroy Valhalla.
Hagen is drowned in the rising waters of the Rhine, as the Rhine-daughters repossess the ring; its curse is lifted when it is returned to nature.
This scene mirrors the opening of 'Rhinegold' (the first of the four operas that comprise the Ring cycle), with the three Rhinedaughters and the crime against nature with the theft of the gold, which Wagner reminds us of with the Rhine motif.
Three Norns, Erda's daughters, weave the threads of fate (their weaving becomes an inversion of the Rhine motif).
They sing of long ago when they wove at the base of the World Ash Tree.
There Wotan gave up an eye to drink from the stream of wisdom, but also he tore a limb from the tree to make his spear.
Because of this violence, the tree is now dead, the result of Wotan's abuse of power, perverting his wisdom, symbolized by the stream of wisdom drying up.
The Norns tell of the final collapse of the old world order which has become rotten at its 'roots.'
The tree now provides the funeral pyre for the waiting gods, resigned to their doom.
As the Norns weave their rope around the rocks, it breaks, signifying the end of Erda's foreknowledge, but does this mean fate no longer rules, that humanity is now completely free?
Fate (or 'lot') is mentioned infrequently in the text of the Ring, mostly in Valkyrie - but the Fate motif is heard frequently (ex: when Brunnhilde enters to prepare Siegmund for death, before the Wanderer/Erda confrontation, at Siegfried's discovery of Brunnhilde, her confusion at his later betrayal, at Siegfried's last breath, at the immolation scene).

Mythological background to the World Ash Tree:
Yggdrasil (old Norse name) lies at the center of the world, its three roots separating Asgard (land of the gods), the land of the Frost Giants, and Hel (name for both the place of the dead and its queen). The World Tree represents and sustains life, and its fate determines life's end (Ragnarok). A serpent gnaws at its roots; three Norns (Fate, Being, Necessity) sit at its base at the well of Urd and carve runes in its trunk telling the future of each person. Also at its base lies Mimir's well of wisdom (Mimisbrunn) where Odin came for a drink and left one eye as payment. One cryptic reference in the Poetic Edda implies that Odin hung himself on the tree for nine days, pierced with his spear, in order to gain control of the magic runes (one of his names is "God of the hanged"). Some critics think this might be a late Christian influence on the older myth. Wagner invented the ideas of Wotan's tearing a branch from the tree, causing it to wither and die, and using its wood for kindling at the fiery end of Valhalla.

When the rope breaks, the themes of the Ring's Curse and Siegfried's horn and sword predict a future that the Norns can no longer see.
Later, Siegfried boasts to the Rhinedaughters that his sword can sever the Norn's thread into which the curse is woven.
Fate is closely associated with the ring and its curse throughout, so breaking the rope may not mean the end of fate itself but the end of the curse, and the gods' foreknowledge and influence in the world.
Siegfried doesn't escape the curse, but his actions, along with Brunnhilde's devotion unto death, eventually break it.
When we next see Siegfried and Brunnhilde, both receive new motifs (Siegfried's is a majestic version of his horn call), signifying their new relationship and new beginning.
Brunnhilde is no longer the warrior maid but a mortal woman.
Unfortunately, the hope heard in these new themes won't last long.
Both of them are unknowingly caught up and manipulated by the old order.
They too must perish before humanity can be truly free of the gods' influence.
As day breaks, Siegfried and Brünnhilde emerge from their cave, high on a mountaintop surrounded by magic fire.
Brünnhilde sends Siegfried off to new adventures, urging him to keep their love in mind.
As a pledge of fidelity, Siegfried gives her the Ring of Power that he took from Fafner's hoard.
Bearing Brünnhilde's shield, and mounting her horse Grane, Siegfried rides away.
Siegfried arrives eventually at the Gibichung hall.
The Gibichungs are a Germanic trib dwelling by the Rhine.
Gunther, lord of the Gibichungs, sits enthroned.
His half-brother and chief minister, Hagen, advises him to find a wife for himself and a husband for their sister Gutrune.
He suggests Brünnhilde for Gunther's wife, and Siegfried for Gutrune's husband.
He reminds Gutrune that he has given her a potion that she can use to make Siegfried forget Brünnhilde and fall in love with Gutrune; under its influence, Siegfried will win Brünnhilde for Gunther.
Gunther and Gutrune agree enthusiastically with this plan.
Siegfried appears at Gibichung Hall, seeking to meet Gunther. Gunther extends his hospitality to the hero, and Gutrune offers him the love potion.
Unaware of the deception, Siegfried toasts Brünnhilde and their love.
Drinking the potion, he loses his memory of Brünnhilde and falls in love with Gutrune instead.
In his drugged state, Siegfried offers to win a wife for Gunther, who tells him about Brünnhilde and the magic fire which only a fearless person can cross.
They swear blood-brotherhood and leave for Brünnhilde's rock.
(Hagen holds the drinking horn in which they mix their blood, but he does not join in the oath.)
Hagen, left on guard duty, gloats that his so-called masters are unwittingly bringing the Ring to him (Monologue: Hagen's watch).
Meanwhile, Brünnhilde is visited by her Valkyrie sister Waltraute, who tells her that Wotan returned from his wanderings with his spear Gungnir shattered.
Wotan is dismayed at losing his spear, as it has all the treaties and laws he has made - everything that gives him power - carved into its shaft in runes.
Wotan ordered branches of Yggdrasil, the World tree, to be piled around Valhalla; sent his magic ravens to spy on the world and bring him news; and currently waits in Valhalla for the end.

Waltraute begs Brünnhilde to return the Ring to the Rhinemaidens, since the Ring's curse is now affecting their father, Wotan, however, Brünnhilde refuses to relinquish Siegfried's token of love, and Waltraute rides away in despair.
Siegfried arrives, disguised as Gunther by using the Tarnhelm, and claims Brünnhilde as his wife.
Though Brünnhilde resists violently, Siegfried overpowers her, snatching the Ring from her hand and placing it on his own.
Hagen, waiting by the bank of the Rhine, is visited in his semi-waking sleep (sitting up, eyes open, but motionless) by his father, Alberich.
On Alberich's urging, he swears to kill Siegfried and acquire the Ring.
Alberich exits as dawn breaks.
Siegfried arrives via Tarnhelm-magic, having resumed his natural form, and left Brünnhilde on the boat with Gunther.
Hagen summons the Gibichung vassals to welcome Gunther and his bride by sounding the war-alarm.
The vassals are surprised to learn that the occasion is not battle, but their master's wedding and party.
Gunther leads in a downcast Brünnhilde, who is astonished to see Siegfried.
Noticing the Ring on Siegfried's hand, she realizes she has been betrayed - that the man who conquered her was not Gunther, but Siegfried in disguise.
She denounces Siegfried in front of Gunther's vassals, and accuses Siegfried of having seduced her himself.
Siegfried swears on Hagen's spear that her accusations are false.
Brünnhilde seizes the tip of the spear and swears that they are true.
Once again Hagen supervises silently as others take oaths to his advantage, but this time, since the oath is sworn on a weapon, the understanding is that if the oath is proven false, the weapon's owner should avenge it by killing the perjurer with that weapon.
Siegfried then leads Gutrune and the bystanders off to the wedding feast, leaving Brünnhilde, Hagen, and Gunther alone by the shore.
Deeply shamed by Brünnhilde's outburst, Gunther agrees to Hagen's suggestion that Siegfried must be slain for Gunther's standing to be regained. Brünnhilde, seeking revenge for Siegfried's manifest treachery, joins the plot and tells Hagen that Siegfried would be vulnerable to a stab in the back.
Hagen and Gunther decide to lure Siegfried on a hunting-trip and murder him.
Brünnhilde and Gunther then vow, in the name of Wotan, "guardian of oaths", to kill Siegfried, while Hagen repeats his pledge to Alberich: to acquire the Ring and rule the world through its power.

Siegfried and the Rhinemaidens
In the woods by the bank of the Rhine, the Rhinemaidens mourn the lost Rhine gold.
Siegfried happens by, separated from the hunting party.
They urge him to return the Ring and avoid its curse, but he laughs at them and says he prefers to die rather than bargain for his life.
They swim away, predicting that Siegfried will die, and that his heir, a lady, will treat them more fairly.
Siegfried rejoins the hunters, who include Gunther and Hagen.
While resting, he tells them about the adventures of his youth.
Hagen gives him another potion, which restores his memory, and he tells of discovering the sleeping Brünnhilde and awakening her with a kiss.

Der Tod von Siegfried
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Wotan's ravens fly up distracting Siegfried, and Hagen stabs him in the back with his spear.
The others look on in horror, and Hagen explains in three words ("Meineid rächt sich!" – "Perjury avenges itself") that since Siegfried admitted loving Brünnhilde, the oath he swore on Hagen's spear was obviously false, therefore it was Hagen's duty to kill him with it.
Hagen calmly walks away into the wood.
The Dolchstoßlegende, was the notion, widely believed in right-wing circles in Germany after 1918, that the German Army did not lose World War I but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front, especially the republicans who overthrew the monarchy. To many Germans, the expression "stab in the back" was evocative of Richard Wagner's opera Götterdämmerung, in which Hagen murders his enemy Siegfried with a spear in his back.
Siegfried recollects his awakening of Brünnhilde and dies.
His body is carried away in a solemn funeral procession.
Back in the Gibichung Hall, Gutrune awaits Siegfried's return.
Hagen arrives ahead of the funeral party.
Gutrune is devastated when Siegfried's corpse is brought in.
Gunther blames Siegfried's death on Hagen, who replies that Siegfried had incurred the penalty of his false oath, and further, claims the Ring on Siegfried's finger by right of conquest.
When Gunther objects, Hagen appeals to the vassals to support his claim.
Gunther draws his sword, but Hagen attacks and easily kills him, however, as Hagen moves to take the Ring, Siegfried's hand rises threateningly.
Hagen recoils in fear.
Gutrune meanwhile dies of grief.
Brünnhilde then makes her entrance, and takes charge of events.
Brünnhilde issues orders for a huge funeral pyre to be assembled by the river.
She takes the Ring, and tells the Rhinemaidens to claim it from her ashes, once fire has cleansed it of its curse.
Lighting the pyre with a firebrand, she sends Wotan's ravens home with "anxiously longed-for tidings".
After an apostrophe to the dead hero, Brünnhilde mounts her horse Grane, and rides into the flames.
The fire flares up, and the hall of the Gibichungs catches fire and collapses.

The Rhine overflows its banks, quenching the fire, and the Rhinemaidens swim in to claim the Ring.
Hagen tries to stop them, but they drag him into the depths and drown him.
As they celebrate the return of the Ring and its gold to the river, a red glow is seen in the sky.
As the people watch, deeply moved, the interior of Valhalla is finally seen, with gods and heroes visible.

Flames flare up in the Hall of the Gods, hiding it and them from sight completely as the gods are consumed in the flames.
With the emphasis now on freedom from the will rather than freedom of the will, the heroic center of the cycle shifted from Siegfried to Wotan and Brunnhilde, who both learn that redemption comes through self-renunciation.
The will of the god that once ruled the world now wills to renounce its claims.
The deaths of Siegfried and Brunnhilde are now seen as an earthly image of Wotan's own renunciation, their funeral pyre a reflection of the burning of Valhalla.
Wagner's unique 'Romanticism' was both idealistic (infinite longing) and fatalistic (inevitable disappointment).
Attempting through abuse of power to hold onto what we cannot keep causes us to hurt and destroy others and is ultimately futile.
Wagner finally chose not to rely on words to express the poem's final meaning but on his music.
The final bars of Götterdämmerung speak of  the beauty and harmonyof 'new world order', despite the death of heroes and gods.


In both the Kaiserreich and the Drittes Reich Siegfried was, for many, the archetypal German male, just as Brunhilde was seen as the archetypal wife and lover (more so, even than Isolde).
This, of course, introduced into German culture (if it were not already present), the concepts of closeness and an afinity with and to nature - which was taken up by the apostles of Regenerierung (regeneration), and the followers of Lebensreform, along with an exaltation of masculinity, physical health and beauty, and martial prowess.
In addition, the spirit of self-overcoming (Nietzsche), selflessness (Schopenhauer), and the willingness to face death - and even die - all became attributes of the truly German male.
Interestingly, the name 'Siegfried' was used to indicate the German army's defensive line in the Great War.
The 'Siegfriedstellung' was a line of defensive forts and tank defenses in northern France, built during 1916–1917, as a section of the Hindenburg Line.
In English, however, the term "Siegfried Line" commonly referred to the "Westwall", the German term for a similar World War II-era defensive line built further east during the 1930s opposite the French Maginot Line.
Significantly, however, the wall was named after Siegfried in the hope that it would inspire a 'death or glory' defense of the 'Fatherland'.
Siegfried was not only extolled in performances of Wagner's operas.
The young hero also got dusted off and given what was, at the time, a very modern treatment.

Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang, and eminent Austrian director, working in Germany, for UFA, created a cinematic version of the Siegfried myth with his epic film, 'Nibelungen - Siegfried'.
The film premiered in Berlin on February 24, 1924 in what was nearly a “fiasco.”
A few days before the premiere, Lang decided to re-edit the film !
He was still working on it when show time rolled around and taxis were taking each reel as Lang finished the edit from the studio to the theater — a 45-minute drive — to be rushed to the projection booth.

Originally released in two halves as 'Die Nibelungen: Siegfried' and 'Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilde’s Rache', the film spend five hours exploring the tension between the passions that drive society onwards, and the rules developed to govern that society’s violent impulses, and channel them into more productive pursuits such as the construction of a modern state governed by enlightened individuals.

Adolf Hitler and  Leni Riefenstahl
Siegfried Kracauer
In his remarkable book 'From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film', author Siegfried Kracauer’s thesis is that the German films of the 1920s were filled with premonitions of Adolf Hitler, and that Fritz Lang’s “Die Nibelungen” helped pave the way for the National Socialists to take power.
Kracauer’s book covers numerous films (and several other Lang films) although he draws a direct link between “Die Nibelungen” and Leni Riefenstahl’s superb documentary “Triumph des Willens

'Triumph des Willens'
'Triumph des Willens' is a 1935 documentary film directed, produced, edited and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nürnberg Reichsparteitag, which was attended by more than 700,000 NSDAP supporters. The film contains excerpts from speeches given by party leaders at the Congress, interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung and Schutzstaffel troops and public reaction. Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. The film's overriding theme is the return of Germany as a great power, with Adolf Hitler as the leader 
In 1936, Hitler invited Riefenstahl to film the Olympic Games in Berlin.She also went to Greece to take footage of the games' original site at Olympia, where she was aided by Greek photographer Nelly, along with route of the inaugural torch relay.This material became 'Olympia', an incredibly successful film, which has since been widely noted for its technical and aesthetic achievements.She was one of the first filmmakers to use tracking shots in a documentary, placing a camera on rails to follow the athletes' movement, and she is noted for the slow motion shots included in the film.
“These patterns of authority in “Die Nibelungen” collaborate in deepening Fate’s irresistible power,” Kracauer wrote. “Certain specific human ornaments in the film also denote as well the omnipotence of dictatorship. It is the complete triumph of the ornamental over the human. Absolute authority asserts itself by arranging people under its domination in pleasing designs. This can also be seen in the Nazi regime, which manifested strong ornamental inclinations in organizing masses. Whenever Hitler made public speeches, he surveyed not so much hundreds of thousands of listeners as an enormous ornament consisting of hundreds of thousands of particles. ‘Triumph of the Will,’ the official Nazi film of the Nuremberg Party Convention in 1934, proves that in shaping their mass-ornaments the Nazi decorators drew inspiration from ‘Die Nibelungen’.”

Adolf Hitler and Dr. Josef Goebbels

Adolf Hitler and Dr. Josef Goebbels were known fans of the film, although their appreciation was limited to “Siegfried”, as they felt that “Kriemhild’s Revenge” was too nihilistic.

It is easy to see why both Adolf Hitler and Dr. Joseph Goebels claimed 'Die Nibelungen' as one of their favorite films.
Aside from the Germanic origins of the Nibelungen stories, Lang also draws heavily upon the idea that a group of blond-haired heroes might emerge from the common muck of humanity and, through sheer force of character, build a shining civilization on a hill.

In line with this, 'Die Weltbühne' wrote: 
“The evil dwarf Alberich, who represents obscure powers, is, and it can’t be mistaken, depicted as a Jew. Not a handsome Jew, naturally, but as a vile Jew.”
And it is seemingly obvious that Lang’s film presents the Dwarves as a treacherous Jews, and the emotional energies unleashed by Kriemhild at the end of the film as a tide of dark-skinned savages from the East.
This is not just a film that is of its time, this is a film that perfectly captures a time when a society’s capacity to regulate its own behavior can no longer cope with the violent forces at work in the culture at large.
Interestingly, parts of the orchestral score Wagner’s 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' were used as accompaniment 1924 US release, as well as the German version released by the National Socialists.


For more information about Richard Wagner
his life, loves, music, and his influence on German culture
(including sections on Ludwig II von Bayern and Adolf Hitler
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

see also:

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014