Norse Mythology History

the norse snake ring
the norse snake ring

Legends of the Nordic and Pre-Nordic people offers an interesting insight into the creation of the world and its history.  Reading the poetic Eddas that were recorded centuries ago are fascinating to say the least, in particular their similarities to other myths and legends, especially Greek myths.

Norse mythology originated out of the Proto North Germanic and Old Scandinavian and Icelandic area during the early centuries AD.  Much of it was passed from generation to generation by the Vikings, however by the time of the 11th century, the mythology was recorded in writings known as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, as well as the saga of the old Norse kings called Heimskringla.  The Prose Edda and the Heimskringla were written by a historian from Iceland named Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century.  The author of the oldest collection of writings, the Poetic Edda, is unknown.

What should be noted is that many of these writings were documented after the Christianization of the Nordic peoples, and much of the creation story as well as the end result are strikingly similar to Biblical accounts.  However, there are also writings before the Bible that are extremely close with what is said there.  Many similarities show comparing Greek myths with Norse legends, showing once again that the same story has been told in different cultures.

In the Poetic Edda, the stories of the world’s creation and the predictions of how it would end are told, along with the accounts of the various Norse gods and goddesses.  The Creation story is called “Voluspa” and it speaks of Niflheim, which references  the beginning of the world being covered in ice…one of the ice ages, perhaps?  There is also Muspelheim, or the land of fire.  Muspelheim was said to have been guarded by Surt, who was the leader of the fire-born demons.  In between these two worlds, there was a vast space known as Ginnungagap.

norse myth god
norse myth god

According to Norse legends, the first creatures that existed were the Jotun, or giant trolls, the first of these being named Ymir.  After this creation, there was the mythical Audhumla, a giant cow who produced rivers of milk to sustain life.  Ymir drank heavily of this milk, and would reproduce new Jotuns in his sleep every night.  Soon the area was covered in Jotuns, some with grotesque numbers of arms and legs.  It is said that Audhumla found a rock of salt that she desired, and as she licked the salt, hair began to grow from it.  This formed into the first of the Aesir, or gods, and was given the name of Buri.

Buri would go on to be the grandfather of the great Odin, however he did not have the gift of immortality.  It was said in these days, the fruit of the gods to keep them from succumbing to the power of death had not been created yet, so Buri simply died from old age. Before that, he sired a son Bor, who fell in love with Bestla, a Jotun.  They produced three sons named Odin, Vili, and Ve.  In the end, the three brothers kill Ymir as to stop the overruning of the Jotun.

It was said that when Ymir was murdered, the blood gushed out with projectile force, thus drowning many of the Jotun.  The only two that survived this were Bergelmir and his bride, who were safe in an area covered by mist.  The dead body of Ymir was dragged to the center of the vast space of Ginnungagap, where the world was then created by Odin and his brothers.  As the sky and earth were designed with parts of Ymir’s body and sparks from the land of fire, worms continued to pour out of the corpse.  These worms were then transformed into dwarfs.  According to this mythology, the caves and geological wonders of the earth are attributed to these dwarves, who went to live underground developing their craftsmanship.

As the moon, the sun, night (which came first in Norse mythology) and day were concepted by the three brothers, so were the first humans.  As Odin, Vili, and Ve were walking along the sands of the ocean, they came across two logs, one from an ash tree and one from an elm.  Odin breathed life into them, while Vili and Ve gave them the abilities they would need such as the five senses, intelligence, and speech.  The woman was called Embla, and the man was called Ask.

Loki norse myth god
Loki norse myth god

The Aesir (gods) deigned that the humans would live in a place they named Midgard.  The gods themselves would reside in an area they called Asgard.  A bridge of many bright and luminous colors connected the two worlds which the Vikings believed originated the rainbow.  There were gods and goddesses for all aspects of life, including the darker side.  Loki was the god of mischief and in the beginning, was a relatively benign prankster.  As time progressed however, he became more and more evil, spawning the gods and goddesses of the underworld (Hel).

Norse mythology speaks of nine worlds that the universe is comprised of.  These are Midgard, (where humans live) Álfheimr,(elves) Svartálfaheim, (where black elves reside) Vanaheimr, (the gods of fertility and predictions) Muspellheim, (world of fire) Jötunheimr, (the Jotun) Niflheim, (the Ice age) Asgard, (the higher gods), and Hel (the underworld).  Inside Asgard was the coveted Valhalla, Odin’s home.  This is where the bravest warriors went upon death to await the end of world battle known as Ragnarok.

The Vikings held the Norse legends as truth, and were famous for their raids throughout Europe and islands in the North Atlantic, particularly what we now know as the United Kingdom.  They believed that to die in battle was honorable, and peaceful solutions were not part of their agenda.  The more honorable the death, the greater chance there was of staying with Odin in Valhalla.  They wanted control over as much as possible, all for the honor of their gods.  The Vikings were known for their ruthlessness in battle and piracy, as well as highly advanced craftsmanship.  This is evidenced in the remains of Viking ships and vessels that have been recovered, including the Gokstad ship on display in Norway.

As in most religions and beliefs, there is an end battle.  The Norse mythology calls this last war Ragnarok.  This battle will end the immortality of all the gods and goddesses, and destroy all that the world has become.  In its place will be a new world that has all the bad influences of the old one removed.  It will be a perfect place…paradise.

Out of the many legends of how the world began and how destinies were created, the greatest similarities show up in both Norse and Greek mythology.  In the Norse beliefs, there are the three Norns that determine the fates of all, both god and human.  It is the same with the Three Fates of Greek lore.  There are also many common threads in the creation stories of both.  In Greek mythology, Zeus fought his father and the Norse Odin had to fight Ymir.  In both cases, they were immortal gods fighting something that was bigger than they were and coming out as the ruler of all.  The similarities between the two go on and while they have some differences, it is plain that the same story has been told many times.

norse myth tree of life
norse myth tree of life

Today, Norse mythology continues to be an inspiration for many things, from games to literature.  Some of it has been romanticized, but the Poetic and Prose Eddas contain some amazing imagery as well as the accounts of yet another polytheistic religion lost to the ages.

Written By Angela Sangster

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