The Legend of Sigurth and Brynhild


By Jackson Crawford, University Of Colorado, Boulder

Sigurth, the Volsung hero, had just slayed a dragon. It is then that he hears birds advising him to get married. The birds also suggest two eligible bachelorettes he should try to woo. Having listened to the birds, Sigruth sets out to try his luck with the two girls: Brynhild and Guthrun.

A warrior hero stop a small hill
Sigurth was the only man who knew no fear and could enter the ring of fire atop the mountain. (Image: Dmitrijs Bindemanis/Shutterstock)


The birds tell Sigurth about a Valkyrie named Brynhild. Because of Brynhild’s ironclad oath to marry no man but the man who knows no fear, she is imprisoned on a mountaintop within a burning ring of fire. There, only the man who knows no fear can reach her, and when he does, she will then marry.

Sigurth rides up the mountain the birds told him of, and at the top, he sees a great fire burning. The flames leap all the way to the bowl of the sky, but he is unafraid. He spurs on his great horse Grani to ride down through the burning ring of fire and comes inside to a fine hall topped by splendid flags. He goes in.

Inside, he finds a person asleep wearing chainmail armor and a helmet. He takes the helmet off and sees that it is a woman. Then, using his magic sword Gram, he slices off her armor, and she awakes.

The Valkyrie gives him a horn full of mead to drink, and they introduce themselves. She wonders if her rescuer is one of the Volsungs, and he confirms that he is.

Sigurth’s Engagement with Brynhild

Brynhild tells Sigurth her story and then, oddly, she spends a great deal of time giving Sigurth advice about runes and about good living.

Apparently, by the end of her long speech of advice, Sigurth is impressed. Even though she concludes by predicting that Sigurth is going to be killed young by his brothers-in-law, the two of them effectively get “engaged”. They swear oaths that they will marry one another. It seems that Sigurth gives her his heart. And yet he rides away.

Sigurth’s Meeting with Guthrun

There is another eligible bachelorette that the birds told Sigurth about. So, Sigurth arrives in the land of King Gjuki. It is here that Sigurth will meet the second young woman the birds told him about: a princess named Guthrun, daughter of King Gjuki.

In King Gjuki’s realm, Sigurth is greeted as a kind of celebrity warrior. He quickly becomes an ally, friend, and eventually blood brother to King Gjuki’s two adult sons, Gunnar and Hogni.

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Sigruth’s Contrived Marriage To Guthrun

Sigurth remains in this kingdom for a few years before King Gjuki’s wife, the witch Grimhild, decides that he is such an aid to them and such a credit to their reputations that they have to get him to stay for good.

Grimhild contrives the idea of getting Sigurth to marry Guthrun. But Sigurth, lovestruck that he is, can’t stop talking about Brynhild. So at a feast, Grimhild serves Sigurth a magical potion that he drinks and then forgets about Brynhild.

Once the magic has taken effect, King Gjuki offers to marry his daughter Guthrun to Sigurth, who accepts the extraordinary offer. For some years, this arrangement persists peacefully. Sigurth and Guthrun even have a young son they name after Sigurth’s father, Sigmund.

Gunnar Decides to Marry

In time, Sigurth’s brother-in-law, Gunnar, also feels the need to find a bride and decides somehow that the right fit for him would be Brynhild.

Bottles of magic potions on a table
Grimhild uses her magic potions to get Gunnar and Guthrun married. (Image: Jaze Blaze/Shutterstock)

Inexplicably, Sigurth announces that he knows the way to her place, which seems to contradict the notion that he’s forgotten her. Anyway, in preparation for their journey to her burning ring of fire, they pack another one of Grimhild’s patented magical potions, which will allow Gunnar and Sigurth to exchange faces.

Manipulating Brynhild

At the burning ring of fire, Sigurth drinks Grimhild’s magic potion and takes on Gunnar’s appearance. Then he rides down through the burning ring of fire, within which he again finds Brynhild, who seems genuinely surprised that anyone has ridden through.

Sigurth, looking like Gunnar, tells Brynhild that she must now honor her promise to marry the man who rode down through the burning ring of fire. She agrees to do this, but she says that Gunnar must agree in turn to kill any other man who has ever tried to woo her.

Gunnar’s Bride, Brynhild

And now for unclear reasons, Sigurth, still disguised as Gunnar, remains within the burning ring of fire for the next three nights, and although he sleeps next to Brynhild in her bed, he lays the sword Gram between them. In this way, he prevents rolling over to her and perhaps violating Gunnar’s trust.

When Sigurth rides out of the fire three days later and resumes his own appearance, he tells Gunnar that his marriage to the famous Valkyrie is arranged.

Brynhild arrives to marry the real Gunnar at the prearranged time, and somehow the two couple lived together peaceably for years.

Loopholes in the Narrative

The saga doesn’t explain if both Brynhild and Sigurth’s memory of him riding through the ring of fire has already been erased. Did the potion of forgetfulness that Sigurth drank somehow affect Brynhild as well? Or does this portion of the story simply go back to a variant where Sigurth had never independently encountered Brynhild?

The surviving story simply ignores their prior meeting for this portion before suddenly snapping back to it with a vengeance. The legend only serves to record how both Sigurth and Brynhild are duped into marrying someone outside their engagement.

Common Questions About the Legend of Sigurth and Brynhild

Q: Who was Brynhild and what was her oath?

Brynhild was a Valkyrie who had taken an oath to marry no man but the man who knows no fear, and so she is imprisoned on a mountaintop within a burning ring of fire.

Q: Whom did Sigurth get engaged to?

Sigurth enters the ring of fire and finds Brynhild, who impresses him with her long speech. They get “engaged”, swearing oaths that they will marry one another.

Q: What led Sigurth to marry Guthrun?

Grimhild, Guthrun’s mother, serves Sigurth a magical potion that he drinks and then forgets about Brynhild. Once the magic has taken effect, Sigurth accepts the offer to marry Guthrun.

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