In the Lay of Rig, or Rígsþula, Heimdall wandered the Earth in disguise. Calling himself “Rig,” Heimdall visited three couples to establish the three social classes of Viking society.
The Slave Class
The first couple Heimdall, as Rig, visited lived in a poor hut. The couple was ugly. The man was called “Ai.” His wife was called “Edda.” Rig slept between the man and wife and left in the morning. Nine months after Rig’s visit, Edda had a child. They called him “Thrall,” a name which meant “slave.” A woman called “Thir,” another name meaning “slave,” walked to the poor hut and married Thrall. They lived a hard life of physical labor. Their 21 children, 12 boys and nine girls, had ugly names and became the class of serfs.
The Freeman Class
The second couple Rig visited dressed nicely and lived in a well-kept hall. Rig slept between man and wife, and nine month’s after Rig’s visit, the wife gave birth to a boy they named “Karl,” meaning “freeman.” He raised oxen and plowed fields. A woman called “Snör,” meaning “daughter in law,” drove to Karl’s farm. She was wearing a goatskin gown. Their 22 children, 12 boys and 10 girls, had good names and formed the basis for those living free in society, including smiths and farmers.
The Ruling Class
The third couple lived in a mansion and received Rig with hospitality and great food. Nine months after the god left, the woman gave birth to a boy. They named him “Jarl,” meaning “earl.” He was healthy and fierce. He learned to use weapons and hunted skillfully. Rig returned and claimed Jarl as his heir. Rig taught Jarl runes and urged him to become a ruler.
Jarl engaged in warfare and won much land. He married Erna, who bore twelve sons and no daughters. The youngest son was the most skilled of his siblings. His name was “Konr Ungr,’ or “King.” Konr earns the respect of Rig and is granted Rig’s name.
Thus, Heimdall created the three classes of Viking society and gave legitimacy to royalty. However, because Konr was the youngest son, Heimdall’s blessing was different from the royalty established in other parts of Europe. It was less patrilineal because Konr was the youngest boy and not the first born. Heimdall’s involvement may also have had the effect of keeping people in the three social classes of Viking society as established by the god.
The Vikings by Else Roesdahl. Penguin Books, Revised Edition (1998).