Norse Creation Myth EXPLAINED
|War of Aesir and Vanir|
Fact and Figures: The Norse Way
|The Creation as seen in the Norse mythology was strange and different from those of classical Greek mythology. Yet it nevertheless fascinating, because of the roles played by giants and the gods.
There was nothing in the beginning but seemingly almost endless chasm called the Ginnungagap. Ginnungagap was a void like the Greek Chaos. Ginnungagap was bordered by Niflheim, which is the place of darkness and ice, far to the north; and Muspelheim, a place of fire, far to the south. Out of this chaos the first being came into existence from the drop of water when ice from Niflheim and fire from Muspelheim met.
Ymir was the father of six-headed son that was nourished by a cosmic cow called Audumla. Audumla fed herself by licking the salty rime-stone, until that stone was licked into a shape of man. This stone-man was named Buri and he was the first primeval god. Buri was the father of Bor.
Ymir grew so large and so evil that the three gods killed Ymir. The blood that flowed from Ymir’s wound was so great that almost all the frost giants drowned in the torrent. Only the frost giants Bergelmer and his wife escape the flood in a chest, arriving on the mountain of Jötunheim (Jotunheim), which became the home of the giants.
Odin and his brothers then used Ymir’s body to create the universe. This universe comprises of nine worlds. They placed the body over the void called Ginnungagap.
They used his flesh for creating the earth and his blood for the sea. His skull, held up by four dwarves (Nordri, Sudri, Austri, and Vestri), was used to create the heaven. Then using sparks from Muspelheim, the gods created the sun, moon and stars. While Ymir’s eyebrows were used to create a place where the human race could live in; a place called Midgard (Middle Earth).
A great ash tree called Yggdrasill (“World Tree”) supported the universe, with roots that connects the nine worlds together. One root of Yggdrasill extends to Muspelheim (“world of fire”), while another root to Niflheim (the “world of cold” or “of ice”). Niflheim was sometimes confused with Niflhel; Niflhel being known by another name – Hel, was the world of the dead. Hel was sometimes used interchangeably with Niflhel by many writers, as the world of the dead.
The name, Yggdrasill, means “Steed of Ygg”. Ygg is another for Odin, which means, “Terrible One”. Therefore, the great tree means in English, “Steed of the Terrible One”. Odin’s horse is named Sleipnir, but I found no connection between the tree and Sleipnir.
While one root was connected to Asgard (home of the Aesir), another root to Vanaheim (home of the Vanir). The frost giants lived Jötunheim (Jotunheim). Midgard was the world for human. Alfheim was home of the light elves (ljósálfar). There was also the underground world for the black elves (svartálfar), called Svartalfheim. The dwarves inhabited the world of Nidavellir.
Besides the three roots of Yggdrasill, there were three wells.
The Norns guarded the Urdarbrunnr, which is often known as “Weird’s Well”, “Wyrd’s Well” or “Urda’s Well”. The Weird’s Well was considered to be very holy. The Norns were Urda or Weird or Wyrd (“Past”), Verdandi (“Present”) and Skuld (“Future”). Two swans drink from this well.
The Norns cared for the root near the Weird’s Well. Every day, they take water from the holy well, pouring on the root and soil, so that at least this root doesn’t rot or decay likes the other roots. The mud was white in colour. This white mud caused honeydew to fall to the earth, keeping the valley around the well to be forever green.
Each day, the Aesir sit at the court at Weird’s Well. Horses take the Aesir to this court. Odin rides Sleipnir. Ten other horses were given names: Glad, Gyllir, Glær, Skeidbrimir, Silfrtopp, Sinir, Gils, Falhofnir, Gulltopp (belonging to Heimdall) and Lettfet. Balder’s horse was burned with him. Apart from Sleipnir and Gulltopp, no specific horses were assigned to a particular god. The Aesir must ride across Bifrost (Rainbow Bridge) to reach Weird’s Well.
Thor doesn’t bother to ride to attend the court. Thor walked and waded through the rivers, Kormat and Ormt and two Kerlaugs.
The second well was Mímisbrunnr (Mimisbrunnr) or the “Well of Mimir”, which was also known as the “Well of Knowledge”. The well was said to be guarded by the Aesir god named Mimir, a Norse god of wisdom. See the Well of Knowledge in the Search for Wisdom on how Odin pay Mimir to drink from this well.
The third well was called Hvergelmir or the “Roaring Kettle”, where a giant serpent called Nidhogg, continuously gnaws at the root of Niflheim. Eventually, Nidhogg will eat its way through the root that will cause Yggdrasill to collapse. But this won’t happen until Ragnarok finally arrived. Nidhogg also liked sucking on the bodies of the dead.
There are many other animals that dwelled around Yggdrasill. Apart from Nidhogg, there were countless snakes living with the great serpent. From above, four harts or stags feed on the foliage. The harts were given the names of Dain, Duneyr, Durathror and Dvalin. So with Nidhogg feed on one root from above, the stags feed from above, while the side of the tree rotted, Yggdrasill suffered greatly.
Perched on one of the branches was a great eagle, wise beyond its years. A hawk, called Vedrfolnir sit between the eyes of the eagle. Not only that. There was a squirrel called Ratatosk who seemed to enjoy running up and down the great ash tree, delivering malicious messages between the eagle from above and Nidhogg below.
See the article on Asgard for more description of Asgard, the home of the Aesir.
|A war broke out between the Aesir and Vanir, when the Aesir had tortured the Vanir goddess, Gullveig.
Gullveig loved gold. It was all she talked about. Gold, gold, GOLD! The Aesir were tiring of hearing her incessant chatter about gold. They bound Gullveig in Odin’s hall and pierced her with spears. Three times they burned Gullveig in a magical fire, but each time she was reborn.
The Vanir demanded reparation from the Aesir for torturing their kind – they wanted equal status to their rival – instead of meet the Vanir’s demand, the Aesir waged war against the more peaceful Vanir.
The Vanir, however, were gaining the upper hand in the war. The warlike Aesir were suffering one defeat after another, before they agreed to end hostility and grant the Vanir, equal status.
The peace was followed by strange ritual where the two sides spat in a vessel. From the combined saliva in the vessel created a new being – Kvasir was born.
This was followed by hostage exchange, to ensure that peace was kept on both sides. The Vanir Njörd (Njord) and his son Freyr were the Aesir’s hostages accompanied by Kvasir, the wisest Van. The Vanir received Hoenir (or Vili) and Mimir (the wisest of the Aesir) as hostages.
At first the Vanir were happy with exchange and thought that Hoenir was as wise as Mimir, until they realised that Hoenir was not very smart at all. Mimir had been secretly giving Hoenir advice. The Vanir felt cheated. They had Mimir decapitated before returning the head to the Aesir. The Aesir did not retaliate in kind. Odin had the head preserved and used it to gain knowledge. (See Head of Mimir and the Mead of Poetry, in the Search for Wisdom page.)
The Vanir, Njörd and his son and daughter, Freyr and Freyja, were greatly honoured by the Aesir, by giving them places among them as Aesir. However, the mother of Freyr and Freyja was Njörd’s own sister (who was unnamed). Incest and marriage between siblings were allowed in Vanheim, but not so in Asgard. So when Njörd went to Asgard with his children, he had to give up his sister-wife.
Njörd would return home to Vanaheim when the Aesir gods fight the frost-giants at Ragnarok, according to the short passage in Vafthrudnismal (Lay of Vafthrudnir).
Asgard was the home of the tribe of Norse gods and goddesses known as the Aesir. Twelve palaces or halls were built for each of the more prominent Aesir.
Here the Greek and Roman mythology had exerted some influences in the Norse myths. Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic author who wrote the Prose Edda and the Ynglinga Saga, compared Asgard with that of Troy, from the Greek myths. Snorri said that Asgard was a city in Asaland or Asaheim, in Asia (Asia Minor, or modern Anatolian Turkey).
In the Ynglinga Saga, Snorri also portrayed them as human, not gods. They were seen as humans with special powers or magic. The gods were rulers, heroes and heroines, priests and priestesses. Odin was said to be the first king of Norway. The Ynglinga Saga also had a slightly different version of the war between the Aesir and the Vanir.
Asgard was only of Nine Worlds in the Norse universe. Between Asgard and the Giantland, there was a large dense forest, called Mirkwood or Myrkwood.
The only entrance to Asgard was through the “Rainbow Bridge” called Bifrost (Bilrost). Another name for Bifrost was Ásabrú or As-bridge. The red arc in the rainbow is actually burning fire, so to make the bridge impassable for mountain-giants and frost-giants. The responsibility of guarding the entrance was entrusted to Heimdall. Heimdall’s home was called Himinbiorg, and it was built near Bifrost.
Thor dwelled in the domain, known as Thrudvangar. Thrudvangar has 540 apartments and his main hall was called Bilskirnir. While Balder lived in Breidablik and Forseti has a hall called Glitnir, where he acted as judge for the world of gods and men.
Freyja lived in a grand palace, called Fólkvangar (Folkvangar). She has several halls within her home, but she mainly lived in her hall Sessrumnir, though she was often seen in Folkvang (“Field of Folk”). Her father was the sea god Njord, who preferred to live at the coastal residence, Nóatún, while Freyja’s brother, Freyr, was the Lord of the Elves, so his home was called Alfheim, the world of the elves.
Odin dwelled in the great hall was called Valaskjalf, where he has a great throne called Hlidskjalf. It seemed that the roof of Valaskjalf was made out of silver.
However, the best-known hall was that of Odin’s known as Valhalla or Valhall. Valhalla was the hall where the slain warriors reside after falling in battles. While he was seated in the hall of Valhalla, he was known as by the name Val-father, meaning the “Father of the Slain”. You will find more detail about Valhalla is given in the new, separate article below, titled Valhalla.
The centre of the city was called Idavoll. Here, the halls Gladsheim and Vingolf were constructed. Gladsheim was the biggest and best building. It was a temple with twelve thrones, and everything seemed to be made of gold. Vingolf was a very beautiful sanctuary for the goddesses.
Below is the description of how the fortified walls were built around Asgard.
The giant named Hrimthurs built the walls around Asgard. Hrimthurs had disguised himself as a man. The giant claimed he could build walls around Asgard within a single winter; if the gods give him the sun (Sol) and moon (Mani) as payment if he complete the walls in time, as well as Freyja as his wife. Loki believing that the giant could never finish fortifying Asgard in one winter, so he persuaded the gods to accept the wager.
The reason why Hrimthurs could build the walls so quickly was that he has a gigantic, magical horse called, Svadilfari. This mighty horse helped Hrimthurs move large block of rock.
Few days before winter was over, Hrimthurs had almost completed the entire wall. The gods realised that they would likely lose the wager, threatened to punish Loki for making them accept the wagers in the first place. So they forced to Loki to ruin Hrimthurs’ bet.
Loki disguised himself, by transforming into a beautiful mare, so he could distract Svadilfari. Hrimthurs lost control over Svadilfari, when the giant stallion began to pursue the mare (Loki). Without Svadilfari, Hrimthurs could not complete the walls in time.
Hrimthurs was raging over losing the wager, threatened to destroy the Asgard and the gods. During his rage, Hrimthurs lost his disguise, revealing to the Aesir that he was truly a giant, not a human. Thor killed Hrimthurs with his mighty hammer.
Some months later, Loki brought back to Asgard, an eight-legged colt, named Sleipnir, offspring of Svadilfari and Loki (mare). Sleipnir was the magical steed of Odin. Sleipnir had sired many famous horses; among them was Grani, the horse of the hero Sigurd.
|Of Valhalla, the Icelandic Snorri Sturluson gives us the most vivid detail in his Prose Edda.
Valhalla, or “Hall of the Heroes”, was the best-known hall in Asgard, which was another residency belonging to Odin, or Val-father (“Father of the Slain”) as he was known in this hall. It was where the dead warriors, known as Einherjar (Einheriar), resided in a hall, and wait for the arrival of Ragnarök. The Einherjar would fight alongside the Aesir at Ragnarok.
When the bravest warriors were killed in battle or combat, they were brought to Valhalla by group of women warriors known as the Valkyries, which was translated as “Chooser of the Slain”, and they were known as “Battle-maidens” and “Shield-maidens”. The Valkyries were sometimes were known as “Swan-Maidens“, because their garments were made of swan feathers, which allowed them to fly. The Valkyries served Odin, by going through battlefield, choosing slain warriors who would be suited to fight in Ragnarök (Ragnarok) and therefore they have a place in Valhalla.
While the Valkyries are in Valhalla, they were known as Mead-Maidens, because they responsible for serving mead to Odin and the Einherjar along the long tables at Valhalla. The mead come from the goat Heidrun that feed from the foliage of branches of tree, called Lerad. Each day, the goat’s udder would fill the vat with mead.
Andhrimnir, the cook of Valhalla, prepared the meal for the Einherjar. Andhrimnir cooked the wild boar, called Sæhrimnir, in a great cooking pot, Eldhrimnir. The meat of Sæhrimnir always rejuvenated the warriors at night. Each day Sæhrimnir was cooked before it was served, but by morning of the next day, the wild boar was whole, to be cooked again.
Odin usually dined with his warriors, but he never eats any meat placed before him. Odin would give his meat to the two wolves, Geri and Freki, that rest at his feet. Odin only drank wine with the dead warriors.
Snorri explained that while the Einherjar wait for Ragnarok, they fought each other in a sort of mock battle during the day, but at night they enjoy a great feast, before resting in their bed. In the morning, the Einherjar woke to the crowing of a cock called Salgofnir, which was perched on the rooftop of Valhalla.
Snorri wrote that Valhalla had overlapping shields for a roof, held up by the spear-shafts as rafters. There were 540 doors. And from each of the door, eight hundred warriors could enter or leave the hall. Instead of torch-fires, the light in the great hall were litted by the glowing blades of swords. Mail shirts were strewn on the benches. In front of the western doors, there hanged a wolf. Hovering above Valhalla was a single eagle. There was also a tree standing in front of the doors of Valhalla; the tree was called Glasir, because of the red-gold foliage.
Another hall that the fallen warriors resided in was called Vingolf, which means either “wine-hall” or “friend-hall”, but this may be the hall for righteous men to live, and not just for the Einherjar. Another name for Vingolf is Gimle, and it was a Norse version of the Elysian Fields or the Blessed Isle. Snorri said Vingolf or Gimle was the fairest of place, located on the southernmost end of heaven.
Snorri also mentioned other heavens. Also to the south, but above Vingolf was Andlang. The third heaven, called Vidblain, was above the two previous heavens.
Only half of the slain warriors (Einherjar) in battle were given to Odin. Freyja had the honour of receiving the other half, where the Einherjar resided with her in Folkvang (“Field of Folk”), her hall within her palace Fólkvangar (Folkvangar). The other hall she resided in was called Sessrumnir. The handmaiden named Fulla attended Freyja (most writers say that Fulla was Frigg’s attendant).
|Midgard was the home of the human race. It was also called Manheim, Mannheim or Manna-heim (the home of mankind).
After the three gods, Odin, Hœnir (Vili) and Lodur (Ve), created Midgard, they started to create the human race, from the tree trunks that they came upon at the beach. From these timbers, they made the first man and first woman: Askr and Embla.
Each god gave them a gift: Odin gave them breath; Hœnir gave them understanding and spirit; and Lodur senses and outward appearance.
According to the Rigsthula (the List of Rig), in the Poetic Edda, Heimdall or Rig was the creator of the human society. Heimdall divided mankind into three social classes.
Heimdall enjoy the hospitality of three old couples in three different houses. Each couple were old and were already great-grandparents. Heimdall secretly slept with the wife of each house. Each wife gave birth to a son.
Rig spends three nights with the first couple. Rig slept with the great grandmother, who had a child who was called Thrall, the labourer, who formed the lowest social class. When Thrall had grown into a strong young man, he met and later married a woman named Slavegirl, and they became ancestor of all the thralls or slaves.
The next couple Rig met, he slept with great grandmother, who had bore him another son, named Farmer. Farmer had also grown into a strong, young man, who would later married a woman and have many children. Farmer had many descendants who became farmers like him.
The last couple Rig had visited, he again slept with this great grandmother, who also bore him a son who was named Lord. Lord married Erna, daughter of Chieftain, and they became ancestors of the noble class, the highest of the Norse social class.