Norse Mythology

Introduction

The stories of the deities Northern Europe vary greatly. Fortunately, there are also enough similarities among them that reconstruction and reconciliation are possible. Please bear mind while reading this that differences from what you may have read are at least partially different authors opinions based on what holds "closer" to the truth they perceive, and with the forces they work with.

Northern Mythology

Primarily, we are delving into the realm the Scandinavians (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and northern Germany). There are differences of some the names of the gods and goddesses within the sagas, and some minor differences in their respective timelines. Nevertheless, they all correspond with regard the major figures, their tales, and roles in society.

The Telling of World Creation

The event of the world forming is one that was based within the Ginnungagap (Great Void). The Ginnungagap was a play of eternal twilight, the fragile boundary neither night nor day. To the North of the Ginnungagap was the region known as the Niflheim, a great place of cold where the ice crept slowly along. This was home to darkness and mists, in the center of which was a spring that never dried, Hvergelmir. From this mighty spring flowed the twelve streams known the Elivagar. From these streams flowed the waters which froze into great masses crushing ice. To the South was the Muspellsheim, from which the flames and sparks danced. Home to the elemental fire, where all was warm and bright, here dwelt the Fire-Giant, Surtur. Brandishing his flaming brand, Surtur caused showers sparks. The ice which flowed from the north and the pervading sparks showering from the south met, and melted and combined.

The two combined, steam rose and met the cold the void. This changed into rime which, layer by layer, filled the great space. Thus by the meeting of cold and heat, there formed the might giant Ymir. He was also named the Hrimthurs (Rime-giant). This primal being, born of the frozen waters come alive, searched within the misty realms and perceived Audhumla, the primal bovine. Ymir fed upon her milk and, still weak from his wanderings, fell fast asleep. In his sleep and exhaustion, the perspiration that formed from his body gathered, and both son and daughter were born, one from each arm pit. From his foot there was born giant of six-heads, who was named Thurdgelmir. Shortly after his own birth Thurdgelmir gave life to the giant Bergelmir, from which all evil frost giants are descended.

While Ymir slept, Audhumla too grew hungry, and began to lick the great salty blocks of ice. She, in licking the ice, began uncover the head of the god Buri (The Producer), who was freed from the by Audhumla's continued feeding. When Buri was freed he brought forth his son, the god Borr (Born). When the giants discovered the gods there was a fierce fighting. This struggle continued for ages, with neither side gaining until Borr married the giantess Bestla, daughter of Bolthorn (Thorn evil). This couple gave birth to the three god brothers, Odhinn (spirit), Vili (will), and Vi (holy). It was Odhinn that led the three to act as one.

The three sons immediately joined their father the struggle against the cruelty of the frost giants, and succeeded defeating Ymir and his children. It is told that in the slaying of Ymir there gushed forth great tides of blood in which nearly all his race perished. Only Bergelmir escaped, and in a boat he fled, accompanied his wife. He took a region to the East and named it Jotunheim (Home Giants) and there beget a new race of Frost-Giants, who were like Bergelmir in their dislike the gods and sought to cause all the harm they could.

The Gods, after the destruction their foes, took to the making the world a place better than that in which they were born. Out the flesh of Ymir they created the realm Midgard (Middle Garden), or earth. Midgard was also known as Manaheim (Home of Men). This they fashioned as the centre of all, and hedged around it were Ymirs eyebrows. From Ymirs blood were formed the great waters that surrounded Midgard. Of his bones they made hills and mountains, of his teeth the cliffs. From his hair came the trees and vegetation, from his skull they positioned the vaulting skies. His brains they scattered, and created the clouds that lie strewn across the skies.

By this time, what remained of Ymir began to be eaten away, and it was from the flesh, from these maggots that the three brothers created the Elves and Dwarves (dark elves). These beings were created by the brother gods and separated into two groups. Those proving dark and dangerous were banished to the underground Svartalfaheim (black elves home). Here, the Dwarfs, Trolls, Gnomes (Kobolds) spent their lives exploring the passages beneath the earth. Of the Dwarfs there were three main types, Rock, Earth, and Mountain. These beings collected gold, silver and other precious metals and jewels. They became, in their time, master craftsmen and sought greedily after the others for fine works and valuables.

The smaller and fairer group were the elves, who dwelt in Aefilhiem (home of the elves). These were the Fairies and Elves and lived between earth and the heavens. Here they could soar amongst the clouds and tend the flowers, trees, and dance upon the cool green earth and bathe in the silver rays of moonlight.

From the Dwarves, the gods chose four of the strongest. They named them Nordi, Sudri, Austri, and Westri. These were charged with holding the heavens above four corners. The fires and sparks of Muspellsheim, the three gods tossed into the darkened skies, placing there glittering points of light. Odhinn then set these sparks in swirling motion about Veraldar Nagli (the world spike, the north star).

The most brilliant of these fires and sparks, however, were gathered and formed into the Sun and Moon, and were placed into fashioned chariots. To the sun chariot were harnessed the steeds Arvakr (early waker) and Alsvin (rapid goer). The gods fashioned for them a shield, which they named Svalin (the cooler), placed it to the front the chariot that they should not burned the heat from the sun. Similarly, the moon chariot was harnessed with a steed named Alsvider (all-swift), but a shield was not crafted as the steed needed no protection from the gentle rays of the moon.

Looking around them, the three gods sought those that could drive the chariots across the heavens. They discovered two beautiful children, born from the giant Myndilfair. Proud was he of their beauty and thus named them after the beautiful glowing orbs. The daughter was named Sol, the sun-maiden, and his son Muri. Their positions were placed and each day they fulfilled their duties, driving their respective chariots. Next the gods summoned Nott (night), one the giant-daughters, and gave her a dark chariot to which was harnessed the steed Hrim-Faxi (frost mane). It was from this steed's mane that the dew and frost dropped down upon the earth in its enveloping darkness.

Nott was married three times, each time having a child. One was the daughter Jord (earth), a son Dellinger (dawn), and another son of great beauty named Dag (day). To this last child was given a great gift by the gods, a chariot to be drawn by the white steed Skin-faxi (shining mane), from whom the glow light could seen.

The frost giants watched from the north, and with evil in their hearts sought to destroy the works of the gods. Upon the heels of Sol and Mani were set the wolves Skoll (Repulsion) and Hati (Hatred), whose charge was to catch and devour the children and the brilliant objects which they kept. It is said that the on the day of the end, Ragnarok, the wolves would complete their tasks.

Odhinn then gathered together his brothers and fellows to follow him across the plains, named the Ufing. In this space above all, where the gods had reserved it during the creation, was a place for themselves. It was here that they shaped their realm of Asgard (Aesir's Garden). In Asgard their homes were built, each to their own hall, where council could be heard without blood-shed, and efforts made in concert.

Midgard was formed, and there were set the earth and waters and heavens, yet it was without man to live upon it. Odhinn, Vili, and Ve continued their work by walking upon its fields, where they saw two trees, an Elm and an Ash. From these two trees they carved the figures of man and woman in the semblance of the gods. Odhinn was gave each of these figures breath and soul, from Vili they received motion and reason, and from Ve their senses, expression, and speech. Thus the man Askr (ash) and woman Embla (elm) came to dwell and live within Midgard.

Among the gods were two major races, the Aesir and the Vanir. In the earliest of times, before their fortresses were built and lines drawn between them, they had fought constantly with each other. Over time and struggle, both sides attempted to put aside their differences, and exchanged hostages to seal the accord. In this way Njord and his two children Freyr and Freyja, came to live among the Aesir, and Hoenir, Odhinns brother, took residence in Vanaheim.

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil is the great Cosmic Tree upon whose mighty length all rotates. There is some debate as to whether the Yggdrasil is Ash or Yew. It is commonly described in the sagas as being "evergreen" in quality and possessing needles. In truth, the Yew is a conifer. Another name for the Yggdrasil is the "needle-ash". The ash also has connections with concepts of death, the end cycle. The Yew is associated with the ever-life healthy and prosperous cycle. Thus the Yew more strongly lends itself to the concept of a Cosmic support.

Some sources say the great yew sprang from Ymirs body. Other sources say that Odhinn himself formed the great tree, which filled the world. In either case, the stories agree that three of its roots each extend down to a separate well. In Asgard, a root extends near the Urdar fountain. In Midgard a root extends itself near Mimir's well, and in Neiflheim a root extends to the spring Hvergelmir.

The tree was ever green, its leaves never withering. The Yggdrasil grew to such heights that the highest branch, called Lerad, overshadowed Odhinn's hall. Other far reaching branches towered over the worlds. Upon Lerad was perched a giant eagle, and between his eyes was perched a falcon, Vedfolnir, who peered to all the realms and reported all that he saw.

Odhinn's goat Heidrun fed gently upon the leaves, which supplied a mead to the gods and the four stags which stood about the tree (Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, and Durathor). In the seething spring Hvergelmir there dwelt the dragon Nidhug, who continually gnawed at the root of the Yggdrasil. Running along its trunk and branches was the squirrel Ratatosk (branch-borer) who incessantly bore the tales and comments of the dragon and the eagle to each other, inciting them both.

Closing

This is a start of the examination of Norse Mythology. In future articles we will identify each of the major God/ddess figures, and what each represents, how the Norse concept of Creation links to the paths of mind, the figure of Odhinn as the Shamanic traveler in progress, and the structure of Nine Worlds in Astral Traveling.

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