Chapter 1: FIRE AND ICE.

      Snorri's Prose Edda and the Voluspa provide the basis for my account of the creation of the world. Snorri's most important source was the Voluspa a tenth century poem in which a seeress describes how the world was created and the events that lead from an age of peace to strife and cosmic destruction (Ragnarok). Snorri's other main source was the lay of Vafthrudnir another one of the oldest poems in the Elder (Poetic) Edda but he may have had other sources now lost because his account differs from the Voluspa.

      The first part of the creation myth explains how the giant Ymir and the cow Audhumla evolve from the dialectic of the fire and ice in the primal world, and how two giant clans drip from his limbs, noble giants Mimer and Bezla from his upper limbs and the chaotic frost giants from his legs.

      Creation from fire and water is one the many parallels northern mythology has with the wider Indo-European tradition. Mimer, Odin's mothers brother is the ruler of the northern underworld which encompasses his grove as well as Dark Elf Home (Svartalfheim), Hel, the land of the dead is situated to the north of Mimer's domain. Mimer's kinswomen are the Norns, the well of fate also resides in the underworld. The importance of the northern underworld and indeed the importance of Mimer has tended to be overlooked by later scholars, in parallel Iranian myths Yima The Splendid (Mimer's Indo-Iranian counterpart) is the ruler of a wonderful underground kingdom.

      Surt the king of Muspell only appears again in the mythology at Ragnarok.

      Throughout the Northern myth cycle Odin is on a quest for wisdom, the central principle of the Odinic faith is the transformation of human conciousness and society the self sacrifice that led to the winning of the mead of inspiration and knowledge of the runes is one of the stranger parts of the Havamal (see appendix). Odin, or Ygg as he was then, gains the creative power and the wisdom embodied by the mead from Mimer's well in the underworld by making the ultimate sacrifice, he then slays Ymir to create the world.

      The concept of the world tree as the supporting column of the universe occurs in many mythologies, Ygg means ‘the terrible one’ and drasil means ‘horse’. The self sacrifice and the gaining of the runes in the underworld represent a shamanic journey that leads the emancipation from ignorance.


      Lo! Before times morning and the dawning of the green world, before giants, gods, elves and men walked beneath blue skies and white clouds, and felt the fresh rain from above or waves breaking beneath their feet on the worlds shores, before everything that we see now a void existed - a vast expanse called the Ginnungagap - a void empty but charged with the possibility of being because it lay bound between two regions of extreme polarity which have always existed and always will continue to do so forever eternally.

      To the north lies Niflheim, the dark mist bound world of cold vapors. From Niflheim the source of all the worlds waters, the roaring well spring Hvergelmir flows southwards into the void of the Ginnungagap where it breaks into nine stormy rivers collectively known as the Elivager. All rivers flow from the Hvergelmir and all the worlds waters return there to issue back.

      Muspell lies in the south. The bright region of fire and destructive motion is impassable to anyone who is not a native of that world. At the border of Muspell the king of the region Surt stands, he will only leave the flames of Muspell when the world falls, bearing a burning sword and leading the host of fire giants to war.

      From ages past without a beginning the nine stormy rivers of the Elivager flowed into the Ginnungagap. When they had traveled so far from their source into the void they halted, frozen.

      Over this vast period of time before creation layer upon layer of ice built up in the chasm while sparks and fireballs from Muspell burnt and pitted its surface making the ice exude a venom which rose over the void, then it fell like drizzle; when it hit the surface the venom became harder than the ice; like the clinker from a furnace. Due to the heat from Muspell the middle of the Ginnungagap eventually became as mild and temperate as a spring day and drops thawed from the poison clinker into the ice. In the dripping flow there was a quickening which took the form of a giant: Ymir.

      The progeny of fire and ice; the son of the poison frost opened his eyes in the Ginnungagap and saw nothing, then he roared into the void. From the same process of thawing ice that gave rise to Ymir a cow was created. Four streams of milk flowed from the udders of Audhumla the cosmic nourisher and fed Ymir. Audhumla gained her sustenance by licking the salt from the frozen ice blocks As she licked the ice a mans head appeared, then she licked a head into shape and soon a complete man stood free from the ice. His name was Bor or Buri and he was as big and powerful as a giant.[1]

      As Ymir slept fed by the streams of milk from Audhumla's teats he sweated, then frost dripped from his armpits and became moving thought; a son and a daughter: Mimer and Bezla, fell from Ymir's arms. Later his legs twitched and rubbed together and a hard frost dropped into the Ginnungagap from his feet: another frost giant was born from Ymirs lower limbs and from this second giant more offspring would soon follow.

      Bezla married Bor and they had three sons Ygg , Loder and Hoenir[2]. The giants that fell from Ymirs upper limbs constituted the race of wise giants, they formed a separate clan to Ymirs progeny the frost giants although everyone derives from the same ice as Ymir. These wise giants disappeared from the primal world soon after Ygg , Loder and Hoenir were born, descending into a realm of their own; an underworld below the frost giants where they were joined by the three giant sisters the Norns Urd, Skuld and Verdhandi.

      In the underworld the roots of a great tree the Yggdrasil are watered by three wells. Those roots spring from places so deep no one will ever fathom where they lie and neither fire nor iron will ever fell it. One root extends right out to Niflheim where it is watered by the Hvergelmer; the screaming cauldron from where all the worlds rivers and seas have flowed since time immemorial, another root is situated by Urd's well of fate.[3]

      The waters from the middle well in the underworld flow from Mimer's grove; this is the wellspring of inspired thought and it runs run clear with the mead of inspiration. Whoever drinks from Mimer's well will gain knowledge and be able to perform great tasks. Ygg knew of the underworld but before he could drink from the well he had to make the first sacrifice - himself to himself.

      For nine nights Ygg hung from a branch of the ever- spreading Yggdrasil, pierced with his own spear as mists blew in from Niflheim wreathing the Terrible One as he hung in a dead trance. Ygg looked down just as the tree started to break out from the underworld.

I trow that I hung

for nine long nights on that windswept tree,

pierced by my own spear

sacrificed to myself

Odin to Odin

on that tree which no man knows where its roots lie.

No one gave me bread

or a drink from a horn

until downwards I looked

I took up the runes, screaming I took them

then I fell back from there.

      Ygg saw the spring below him shining clear and deep, gushing from beneath the first trees knotted roots. Beneath him he saw the runes, shapes of knowledge, then he cut himself down. He fell from the tree as Ygg; the terrible one and rose up again as Odin, thus emancipating himself from the giants.

      Mimer filled the horn with the hydromel from the spring. The water gave sustenance to the tree and Mimer offered Odin a drink from it but he asked him for a pledge in return; one of his eyes. Two ravens flew down and sat on Odin's shoulders, one of them plucked an eye out.

      Odin drank from the well and the mead of inspiration gave him knowledge and the strength to fulfil the first and greatest of his tasks after his self sacrifice. He left one eye in Mimer's fountain so that he would be able to see everything with the other one:

‘Nine mighty lays of power I learnt from the famous son

of the poison frost, Besla's father

and I got a drink of the precious mead

poured from Odrerir.

Then I began to quicken and become wise

and to grow and prosper

one word led to another word for me

one deed found another deed for me.’ *

      Odin returned to the primal world of the frost giants and when he returned he slew Ymir. Odin, Loki and Hoenir then dragged Ymir's body into the centre of the chaotic primal world in the Ginnungagap between Niflheim and Muspell and Odin hacked the cold giant into the constituents of middle-earth -the new world. They made Middle-earth's mountains from his bones and the land from his flesh, his blood became the salty sea, trees were made from his hair and rocks and stones were his teeth. Then the gods set up Ymir's skull over the world to make the wide blue sky and at each cardinal point they set four dwarfs to watch over creation: their names are Austri, Nordri, Vestri and Sudri. and to celebrate their great work Odin threw Ymir's brains up into the sky to make the clouds; the billowing unformed thoughts of the old giant float above the world to turn mist into rain.

      The blood flowing from Ymir's wounds drowned all the frost giants save for Bergelmir and his wife who escaped in their ark. The gods set aside a region of the new world for them and their descendents called Jotunheim which they turned into a land of frost and ice, iron forests and impenetrable mountain ranges, the gods bade the giants never to transgress over the borders of their land but soon they would start to assault the ordered world in increasing numbers.

      In the underworld there is a giant called Mundilfori the master of the World Mill, the turner of time and the seasons and the forefather of the Vanir gods of fertility. The roof of his mill is the night sky and its grinding stones lie in the oceans deepest trench.

      Odin set the uncontrolled fireballs from Muspell fast into the roof of Mundilfori's vast construction to create the starry heavens that cover all of creation. Beneath the furthest stars right out on the rim of the cosmos nine giantesses sing songs of sorcery as they push the handle of the mill to throw waves and tides, time and the seasons into motion. In the deepest trench of the ocean the grinding stones of the World Mill break the bodies of Ymirs drowned race, grinding them into the mould that the wind and waves cast onto the shores of Middle-earth to fill the bays and cover the strands to form the soil of middle-earth.

      The gods looked down into the underworld, among the rocks and soil shapes were moving and growing, the dark elves were being born from the earth and the stones. The gods went to the thrones of fate and decided that Mimer should make them into manlike beings and endow them with consciousness. Living eternally and possessed of enormous powers they set up their workshops in the underworld under the apprenticeship of Mimer whom they call Modsogner: the mead drinker, Dvalin who was sometimes called Durin was made his deputy. They work in smithies deep forging and re-forging nature. The dark elves are the shapers of what comes into being in the world above them and the crafters of nature.[4]

      Mundilfori had two children who were so fair that he called the girl Sol and the boy Mane. The gods made a globe from the fires of Muspell that was hot enough to give light and heat to the new world and called it the sun, then they created a companion for the sun: a cool orb the moon and the gods decided that Sol and Mane should steer them across the sky. At the gods behest the dark elves created a chariot so that Sol could steer the orb of the sun daily from the underworld across the heavens and they made two horses to pull the chariot.The dark elves then built a silver ship called Alsvider for Mane Mundilfori's son to guide the moons course.

      To finally consummate the creation Odin married FriggaIord the Earth Goddess, then the gods built their own enclosure of Asgard above Middle-earth, the Yggdrasil grew and spread its branches to hold everything above below and beside it in place; so the ancient tree will hold the world of Odin forever and stop the Ginnungagap from ever opening again.

      On the highest part of Asgard Odin raised up a mound called Hlidsjalf. On the top of the mound is a wide flat circle, Odin placed his all seeing seat there so that he would be able to observe all that occurred in the world he had created. On that first morning Odin looked out from the mound and watched the first dawn of the world. The gold- combed cock Gollinkambi crowed from his perch on a branch of the Yggdrasil as the sun broke the darkness and the elf of the dawn Delling opened the gates of the first day and sang:

‘Hail Day, hail the sons of Day,

hail Night and all her kin,

hail to the mighty Earth.’

      On the first day Sol's blazing chariot crossed the span of Odin's world at great speed - and has done so ever since - because on that dawn two wolves ran out from the Ironforest in Jotun and leaped up into the sky. The wolf Skoll chases the sun and his brother Hati Moongarm chases the moon; they are the offspring of Angrboda one of the giantwives called the Iarnvidiur who live in the Ironforest and give birth to giants in wolf form. One day from Angrboda will come a wolf who will fill himself with the lifeblood of all who have been killed and splatter the heavens with gore.

      Odin sat on his all -seeing seat above Asgard and saw these wolves tear out of the Ironforest and jump into the sky; he wondered if one day they would eventually catch the sun and moon.

      Odin walked with Loki and Hoenir along the shore of Middle-Earth . The Aesir came across two trees, an ash and an elm growing on the strand, as yet unfated. The gods favoured these trees because of their seeming helplessness in the face of the unstoppable force of the waves. Odin gave the ash and the elm breath and inspiration, Loki gave them vital spark and Hoenir gave the trees spirit then the ash and the elm became man and woman.

      All the poets now sing about the long season during the worlds morning; the time that it was forever summer; fields lay ripe before the first harvest with golden grain and eagles soared from crag to crag. High waters roared down into rivers where fish flickered silver in the green depths.

      The wolves Hati Hrodvitnisson and Moongarm fell back from the heavenly tracks of their intended prey: the sun and the moon, and Sol the sun goddess rushed forward from the south to rim of heaven where she met her brother Mane the captain of the silver moonship. So the days were spent in peace and the Aesir timbered staves from the forest and raised temples at Idavol in the enclosure of Asgard.

      Then the three giant sisters the Norns Urd, Skuld and Verdhandhi started to spin the threads by their well in the underworld to govern the fates of all who live under the sun. Skuld shapes the layers of past actions that create the present which is presided over by Verdandhi., Urd pulls the threads of fate together to create the future from the self willed actions of gods and men.

      Skuld scored runes on the roots

      Verdandhi followed her and cut runes too

      Urd was third and carved her runes of fate on the wood

      To draw destiny together for ill or good.

      Urd presides over the judgement of the dead and decides whether they will sleep in the mists of Niflhel or be sent to its bleakest region where the dragon Nidhogg will punish them.

      The Aesir stand witness to the Norns judgement, the water from Urd's well cleanses the thoughts of all of Middle-earths folk because the dead no longer have any need of their memories, the water from the well of destiny contributes to the sustenance of the world above; heaven and earth draw strength and meaning from past lives and the water from Urd's well rises up to the highest branches of the Yggdrasil and falls back to Middle - earth as dew, so renewing the world.

      The sons and daughters of Mundilfori, the Vanir, rule the natural forces that the gods freed from the frost when they slew Ymir. They work with the elves to give the harvest and rule the sea and seasons, the seasons and time are turned by the nine giantesses pushing the handle of the world mill, the Yggdrasil holds all. The names of the Vanir are as follows: Frey is the summer god of sunshine and warm rains, his sister Freya is the goddess of life, death and rebirth. Uller is the winter god who sends the snow that protects the roots from the frost. Njord, Frey and Freya's father is the god of the oceans harvest of fish. Frigga Iord is the earth goddess, she is Odin's wife and from them come the Aesir. Sif the golden haired is the goddess of the corn fields. Nanna is the daughter of Mane the moon god. Idun is the goddess of the orchards and autumn fruit, she keeps the apples that stop the gods from ageing. Aegir and his wife Ran are the god and goddess of the sea, Heimdall was born of their nine daughters.

      The names of the Aesir are as follows: Thor is the son of Odin and FriggaIord the earth goddess, his realm is Thrudvang the world of might, and his hall is Bilskirner. He protects the worlds of gods and men from the frost giants. He has two sons Modi and Magni and a daughter Thrud. Balder is the most holy of the Aesir and the most merciful and just; but none of his decisions made at the gods councils can be fulfilled in the present world. His wife is Nanna the daughter of the moon god and their son is Forseti. Tyr is the bravest of the Aesir. Both his parents are frost giants. Tyr is the lawmaker and has great power to bring victory in struggle. Bragi is renowned for his poetry and eloquence, he is the son of Odin and Gunlodd, daughter of the giant Suttung. Hod was a great archer and immensely strong, but he became blind. The unknowing work of his hands will one day bring grief to gods and men. Vidar is the silent Aesir; the son destined to avenge Odin, his mother is the giantess Grid. He is the god of the imperishability of nature and its incorruptible power, he does not move amongst men and is rarely mentioned even amongst the Aesir and Vanir. Vali is the son of Odin and Rind; he will be born one day before the last battle of Ragnarok.Loki is the gods calumanater and Hoenir will take up Odin's seat after Ragnarok.


[1] Snorri's Edda states that Bor was the son of Buri but it is more likely that they are the same person.

[2] Snorri says that Vili and Ve were Odin's brothers but the Voluspa states that they were Hoenir and Loder, Loder is more than likely to be Loki. Grimm compares the name Loder with the Geman verb lodern ‘to blaze’ Loder means ‘he who causes the fire’ particularly friction fire. Loki is a fire god.Lodern is related to the Old Norse logi meaning destructive fire.

[3] Some scholars have mistakenly assumed that the third root of the Yggdrasil is in Asgard, Snorri says it extends to heaven but the well that waters it is in the underworld because the gods have to travel on the Bifrost to reach it to judge the dead.

[4] In the Gylfagining and in the Voluspa Modsogner is referred to as the leader of the dwarves with Durinn his deputy. In the Lex Poetica Borealis by Vigfusson and Powell Modsogner is defined as an epithet; ‘the mead drinker’. It refers to Mimer as the custodian of the mead. Durinn is not mentioned anywhere else in the Mythology other than the Glfaginning but Dvalin is referred to as a sage and a poet as well as a craftsman, Mimer's mead is referred to as Dvalin's drink by Orm Steinthorsson in the Skaldskaparmal so Dvalin must have been on very good terms with Mimer to have access to it. Also he is mentioned as a runemaster in the Havamal, Durinn and Dvalin must have been the same person because Dvalin was the foremost of the Dark elves.


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