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MYTHOLOGY IN CONNECTED FORM ACCORDING
TO NORWEGIAN-ICELANDIC SOURCES
I. HOW THE WORLD WAS CREATED
1. The Fog-Country and the Fire-World. Long years before the earth existed, Niflheim was created. In the midst of it lay the well Hvergelmir, from which ten ice-cold venomous streams, Elivagar, had their origin. Niflheim lay toward the north, but southward there was a place called Muspell, where it was light and hot, glowing and burning, and therefore impassable for any one who had not his home there. At Muspell's boundary sat Surt as defender of the country, with a flaming sword in his hand; it was he who at the destruction of the world was to lead in the battle against the gods and set the earth on fire. Midway between the fog-country and the fire-world there was a yawning gulf, Ginnungagap.
2. The Primitive Giant Ymir. The waves of the venomous streams soon froze to ice and the poisonous vapor condensed to frost, which was met by the warm air from Muspell. From this contact came into being the primitive giant Ymir, and he became the ancestor of the race of giants, as both heaven and earth also were afterward constructed from his body. Once when he was asleep lie fell into a perspiration and from under his left arm came forth a man and a woman; but it was even more wonderful that one of his feet begot a son with the other. This son again had a son by name Bergelmir.
The Cow Authumla; Bor's Sons. The congealed venomous streams continued to send out frost, and from this the cow Authumla stood forth. From her udders there came four streams of milk, from which Ymir got his nourishment, while the cow herself lived by licking the salt, frost-covered stones. On the first day she licked them there came forth toward evening a man's hair, the next day a man's head, and the third day the whole man stood there. He was named Buri, and was fair, tall, and mighty to look upon. Later he had a son by name Bor, who married the giant Bolthorn's daughter Bestla. Their sons were Odin, Vili, and Ve.
The whole story of the creation is told explicitly in Snorri's "Edda," hut is mentioned also in the beginning of the old poem, Voluspa, the Volva's Prophecy:
'Twas the beginning of time when Ymir lived,
there was no sand nor sea nor billows cool;
earth was found nowhere neither heaven above;
a gulf was Ginnunga but grass was nowhere.
3. Heaven and Earth. Bor's sons now took Ymir and killed him. So much blood flowed from his wound that all his progeny was drowned in it, with the exception of his son's son Bergelmir and his wife, who saved themselves from the streams of blood in a boat or tree-trunk, and later became the ancestors of a new race of giants. But Bor's sons took the giant's body, brought it out into the midst of the yawning gulf, and formed heaven and earth from it.
In one of the Eddic poems we get more exact information as to how this came to pass:
From Ymir's flesh the earth was shaped
and from his blood the sea,
the mountains from his bones trees from his hair,
and from his skull the sky.
And from his eye-lashes the kindly gads made
Mithgarth for the sons of men,
and from his brain were the forbidding
clouds all shaped.
The heaven was made fast over the earth by four corners; under each of these sat a dwarf who bore the same name as the corner of the earth. The sparks that went out front Muspell, the sons of Boy placed everywhere in the sky over the yawning gulf, so that they should illuminate the world. Now it was the sun, moon, and stars which had their places and courses appointed for men's computation of time, while the lightning went freely around. The earth was spherical in form, and out around it flowed the great sea, along whose coast the giants obtained land for settlement Jotunheim, 'Giants' Home.' But midway between, Odin and his brothers constructed Mithgarth, hedged about with the primitive giant's eyelashes; there, men were to have their dwelling-place.
REMARK. Terms like Mithgarth, applied to the world of men, appear among the Goths, Anglo-Saxons, and Germans. In a Danish ballad our dead Lord begs leave to return to Middelhjem.
4. Day and Night In Jotunheim there dwelt meanwhile a man who was named Nor, and who had a daughter by the name of Nat. She was dark and swarthy, like all her family. Nat was married to Delling, of Bor's race, and with him she had a son, Dag, who was light and handsome like his father. Odin now took mother and son and set them up in heaven, over which they were to drive every twenty-four hours.
Nat drives first with the steed Hrimfaxi, from whose bit foam flies down over the earth; this is what we call dew. Following after comes Dag with his steed Skinfaxi, whose mane throws radiance over air and land.
5. Sun and Moon. A man, by name Mandilfari, had two children, who were so fair that he called the son Mani and the daughter Sol. But the gods were offended at his arrogance and placed both the children up in heaven, where they have to drive the ears of the moon and sun. The sun steeds were called Arvak and Alsvith, 'perfectly wise'; under their bellies were two pairs of bellows to cool them. Mani guides the course of the moon and controls its increase and its waning.
The reason that Sol and Mani pass so hurriedly over is that they are pursued by wolves. Their mother is a giantess, who dwells in the forest Jarnvith, east of Mithgarth. The moon-wolf is also called Managarm. He is satisfied with flesh of dead men, and is to redden the seat of the gods with blood when he swallows the moon; but this will not happen before the destruction of the world.
The places and courses of the heavenly bodies determine chronology and the divisions of the year. Of seasons, only two are named. The father of Winter is called Vindsval, but Summer is a son of Svasuth, 'the mild.'
6. Wind and Rainbow. Hraesvelg, 'body-destroyer,' is a giant in eagle's form, who sits toward the north at the end of heaven and with the blustering strokes of his wings sends out gales over land and people without the wind itself ever being seen.
Between heaven and earth goes the tricolored bridge the rainbow which is called Bif-rost or Asebro. Over this ride the gods to their place of assembly in heaven with the exception of Thor, who takes a shorter route by fording the streams beneath it. If he should drive over with his wagon, Asebro would break and take fire; but this shall not happen until Ragnarok, when Surt rides over it at the head of Muspell's sons. At the end of the bridge up in the mountains of heaven dwells Heimdall, who guards the bridge against the mountain giants.
7. Dwarfs and Elves. In addition to giants and gods, there were also created other living beings, among them dwarfs and elves.
Dwarfs were small, ugly creatures, but possessed great sagacity and skill. Some of them dwelt in stones, others in the earth. According to the Eddic Poems, they were created from the blood and bones of two giants whom the gods had slain, while Snorri relates that they had come into existence like maggots in the flesh of the slaughtered Ymir. Nothing distinct is told of the creation of the Elves. They were kindly disposed toward gods and men, and so were called light elves, but in Snorri dark elves are also mentioned, who soon came to be regarded as evil spirits.
8. The World-Tree and the Norns. In the midst of the world stood a great tree, the ash Ygg-drasil (Odin's horse, i.e. Odin's gallows), at the foot of which the gods had their place of assembly. This ash is the largest and best of all trees: the branches spread themselves over the whole world and rise high up over heaven. The tree has three main roots.
In an Eddic Poem it is said of these:
Three roots stretch out in three directions
under the ash of Ygg-drasil:
Hel lives under one, under the second the frost-giants,
under the third the race of men.
Snorri relates that one root stands among the Aesir, the second among the frost-giants, and the third over Niflheim. Under the last root, upon which the dragon Nithhogg gnaws, the well Hvergelmir is found. Under the root among the frost-giants lies Mimir's well, in which all wisdom and understanding are concealed. It is owned by the giant Mimir, who dips his drink from it every morning with the Gjallarhorn. Odin had to pledge one of his eyes to him for a single draught from the well of wisdom. Under the world-tree's third root there is a very sacred spring, which is called Urth's Well. Here is the gods' assembly place, where they deliberate every day and hold their court. By the well there is a splendid hall, in which the Norns or Fates have their dwelling. These deliberate about destinies in the world. In the later Icelandic sources three are named: Urth, Verthandi, and Skuld, but at times many more are mentioned, now of the race of gods and now of the race of elves.
The Norns sprinkle the world-tree every day with water from Urth's well, that it may thrive and continue fresh. In the well two swans are nurtured, and from them the swans of the earth proceed. The water in the well is so pure that everything which is moistened in it becomes completely white.
Of the ash-tree there is still to be told that in its branches lives a very clever eagle, between whose eyes sits a hawk. Up and down among the branches darts a squirrel, Ratatosk, and carries hateful words between the eagle and Nithhogg. Again, four deer run between the branches and eat the leaves of the tree, and in Hvergelmir there are so many serpents that no one can count them.
9. Men are Created. It chanced one time that the sons of Bor were walking along the beach, where they found two trees. They pulled them up by the roots and fashioned two human beings from them, a man and a woman. The first of the sons gave them soul and life; the second, understanding and the power of motion; the third, visage, speech, hearing, and sight. After that they gave them clothing and names. The man they called Ask and the woman Embla, and from them descend all the inhabitants of Mithgarth, and therefore the whole human race. In some verses inserted in the Volva's Prophecy, in which the creation of man is narrated, the three gods are called Odin, Hænir and Lothur, while the sons of Bor are in every other case named Odin, Vili and Ve. The gods now built for themselves in the midst of the world a castle, which they called Asgarth. Odin married Frigg, and from them descend the gods or the race of Aesir. With Jorth, Odin had a son, Thor.
REMARK. The belief in sacred trees at whose root spring-a rise and where wise women have their dwelling is very ancient and is often mentioned among the Gothic-Germanic people. Bugge is of the opinion that the doctrine of the world-tree is influenced by the idea of the Christian Cross; this is represented, e.g. on English stone-crosses from the earliest Christian times in a form which reminds one of Yggdrasil (Fig. 15). It is possible, but far from certain, that Bugge is right, since the opposite view is just as plausible.
Fig. 15 Cross and Ash Tree.