The Illustrated Hávamál
The Illustrated Hávamál
Fateful Signs presents "The Illustrated Hávamál," a collection of art by Sam Flegal. This 104-page book explores the meaning behind the ancient collection of Norse wisdom through a series of meditative ink drawings.
The Illustrated Hávamál is a cloth-bound hardback book, measuring 9"x12", with a gold foil embossed cover. It has 104 pages with over 40 illustrations and the complete text from "The Hávamál" as translated by Henry Adams Bellows, including his notes. In addition the book contains the original text in Old Norse.
Tell me more about The Hávamál
"The Hávamál" is a collection of ancient Norse wisdom, thought to have been written down in about 1270 CE. The title, Hávamál, translates as “Sayings of Har.” Har is the High One, another name for Odin, hence the ancient text means “Sayings of the High One.” These sayings are a collection of poetry, offering insights and wisdom to help one lead an honorable life.
One theory about "The Hávamál" is that before it was written down, it represented a way to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. These wise sayings were done in verse in order to work as a mnemonic devise. As a youth transitioned to adulthood, part of his rite of passage would be to memorize the lore of his people. The same way that songs and rhymes make things easier to remember today, much of the lore and wisdom of the tribe was passed down in verse.
With the Christianization of the North, scholars took it upon themselves to preserve their ancient culture by writing down these verses. The greatest collection of preserved poetry is "The Poetic Edda," one section of which is "The Hávamál."
How did this project start?
Starting in December 2015, Sam Flegal dedicated a month to illustrate "The Hávamál." Each dayhe did a different ink drawing based on a verse from the ancient Norse text. In order to harness inspiration, he started with random ink blobs, and then meditated on the text. Once things felt right, he approached the ink blobs, and with the text in mind began to find shapes and forms within the randomness. Each drawing was made using brush and ink. Even though it took Sam a little longer than a month, he managed to complete 31 ink drawings. In preparation for this book, Sam did 12 more ink drawings!
Why the Bellows Translation?
The astute scholar of ancient Norse wisdom will note that there are many different translations of "The Hávamál." This is not surprising, as a text this important draws many a scholarly pursuit. I chose the Bellows translation for two reasons. Firstly, the text is in the public domain. Many of the more modern and arguably more accurate translations are the creative property of their translators. Secondly, because Bellows translated with a mind towards poetry and rhythm of verse. After all, this is a collection of Old Norse poetry—the English language version should sound like poetry to give the reader the full experience of the text.
This is an art book, so I wanted the text to have an artistic poetic quality that some of the more academic translations lack.