The Beginning--Ginnunga-gap--All-father--Nifel-heim and Muspel-heim--How Life began--Ymer, the Clay Giant--Audhumla, the Cow--Vana-gods, Giants, and Asa-gods--War in Space--Ymer--deluge.--The Great World-mill--How the Earth was made--Moon-god and Sun-goddess--Hyuki and Bil--The Pail of Song Mead--Wolf Giants pursue Sun and Moon--Mimer and Nat, "Mother of Gods"--The Day-god--The Eagle of Winds--First Man and Woman.
IN the Ages, when naught else was, there yawned in space a vast and empty gulf called Ginnunga-gap. Length it had, and breadth immeasurable, and there was depth beyond comprehension. No shore was there, nor cooling wave; for there was yet no sea, and the earth was not made nor the heavens above.
There in the gulf was the beginning of things. There time first dawned. And in the perpetual twilight was All-father, who governs every realm and sways all things both great and small.
First of all there was formed, northward of the gulf, Nifel-heim, the immense home of misty darkness and
freezing cold, and to the south, Muspel-heim, the luminous home of warmth and of light.
In the midst of Nifel-heim burst forth the great fountain from whence all waters flow, and to which all waters return. It is named Hvergelmer, "the roaring cauldron", and from it surged, at the beginning, twelve tremendous rivers called Elivagar, that washed southward towards the gulf. A vast distance they traversed from their source, and then the venom that was swept with them began to harden, as does dross pouring from a surface, until they congealed and became ice. Whereupon the rivers grew silent and ceased to move, and gigantic blocks of ice stood still. Vapour arose from the ice-venom and was frozen to rime; layer upon layer heaped up in fantastic forms one above another.
That part of the gulf which lay northward was a region of horror and of strife. Heavy masses of black vapour enveloped the ice, and within were screaming whirlwinds that never ceased, and dismal banks of fleeting mist. But southward, Muspel-heim glowed with intense radiance, and sprayed forth beauteous flakes and sparks of shining fire. The intervening space between the region of tempest and gloom and the region of warmth and light was a peaceful twilight, serene and still as is windless air.
Now when the sparks from Muspel-heim fell through the frozen vapour, and the heat was sent thither by the might of the All-father, drops of moisture began to fall from the ice. It was then and there that life began to be. The drops were quickened and a formless mass took human shape. Thus came into being the great lumbering clay-giant who was named Ymer.
Rough and ungainly was Ymer, and as he stretched himself and began to move about he was tortured by the
pangs of immense hunger. So he went forth ravenously to search for food; but there was yet no substance of which he could partake. The whirlwinds went past him and over, and the dark mists enveloped him like a shroud.
More drops fell through the gloomy vapours, and next there was formed a gigantic cow, which was named Audhumla, "void darkness". Ymer beheld it standing in the gloom beside blocks of ice, and groped weakly towards it. Wondering, he found that milk ran from its teats in four white streams, and greedily he drank and drank until he was filled with the seeds of life and was satisfied.
Then a great heaviness came over Ymer, and he lay down and fell into deep and dreamless slumber. Warmth and strength possessed him, and sweat gathered in the pit of his left arm, from which, by the might of All-father, were formed a son named Mimer and a daughter named Bestla. From Mimer were descended the Vana-gods. Under the feet of Ymer arose a monstrous six-headed son, who was the ancestor of the evil frost giants, the dreaded Hrimthursar. Then Ymer awoke.
For Audhumla, the great cow, there was no verdure upon which to feed. She stood on the verge of gloom, and found sustenance by licking constantly the huge boulders that were encrusted by salt and rime. For the space of a day she fed in this manner, until the hair of a great head appeared. On the second day the cow returned to the boulder, and ere she had ceased to lick, a head of human semblance was laid bare. On the third day a noble form leapt forth. He was endowed with great beauty, and was nimble and powerful. The name he received was Bure, and he was the first of the Asa-gods.
There followed in time more beings--noble giants and wicked giants, and gods. Mimer, who is Mind and Memory, had daughters, the chief of whom was Urd, Goddess of Fate and Queen of Life and Death. Bure had a son named Bor, who took for his wife Bestla, the sister of wise Mimer. Three sons were born to them, and the first was called Odin (spirit), the second Ve whose other name is Honer, and the third Vile, whose other names are Lodur and Loke. Odin became the chief ruler of the Asa-gods, and Honer was chief of the Vans until Loke, the usurper, became their ruler.
Now Ymer and his evil sons were moved with wrath and enmity against the family of gods, and soon warfare broke out between them. To neither side was there early victory, and the fierce conflicts were waged through the long ages ere yet the earth was formed. But, at length, the sons of Bor prevailed over their enemies and drove them back. In time there followed great slaughter, which diminished the army of evil giants until one alone remained.
It was thus that the gods achieved their triumph. Ymer was stricken down, and the victors leapt upon him and then slit open the bulging veins of his neck. A great deluge of blood gushed forth, and the whole race of giants was drowned save Bergelmer, "The Mountain-old", who with his wife took refuge on the timbers of the great World-mill, and remained there. From these are descended the Jotuns, who for ever harboured enmity against the gods.
The great World-mill of the gods was under care of Mundilfore (Lodur-Loke). Nine giant maids turned it with much violence, and the grinding of the stones made such fearsome clamour that the loudest tempests could not be heard. The great mill is larger than is
the whole world, for out of it the mould of earth was ground.
When Ymer was dead, the gods took counsel among themselves, and set forth to frame the world. They laid the body of the clay-giant on the mill, and the maids ground it. The stones were smeared with blood, and the dark flesh came out as mould. Thus was earth produced, and the gods shaped it to their desire. From Ymer's bones were made the rocks and the mountains; his teeth and jaws were broken asunder, and as they went round at their labour the giant maids flung the fragments hither and thither, and these are the pebbles and boulders. The ice-cold blood of the giant became the waters of the vast engulfing sea.
Nor did the giant maids cease their labours when the body of Ymer was completely ground, and the earth was framed and set in order by the gods. The body of giant after giant was laid upon the mill, which stands beneath the floor of Ocean, and the flesh-grist is the sand which is ever washed up round the shores of the world. Where the waters are sucked through the whirling eye of the millstone is a fearsome maelstrom, and the sea ebbs and flows as it is drawn down to Hvergelmer, "the roaring cauldron", in Nifel-heim and thrown forth again. The very heavens are made to swing by the great World-mill, round Veraldar Nagli, "the world spike", which is the Polar Star.
Now when the gods had shaped the earth they set Ymer's skull over it to be the heavens. At each of the four corners they put as sentinels the strong dwarfs East and West and North and South. The skull of Ymer rests upon their broad shoulders.
As yet the sun knew not her home, nor the moon her power, and the stars had no fixed dwelling place.
Now the stars are bright fire-sparks sprayed from Muspel-heim over the great gulf, and these the gods fixed in the heavens to give light to the world and to shine over the sea. To these and to every wandering fire-flake they assigned due order and motion, so that each has its set place and time and season.
The sun and the moon were also regulated in their courses, for these are the greater fire-disks that were sprayed from Muspel-heim, and to bear them over the paths of the heavens the gods caused the elf-smiths, the sons of Ivalde and the kinsmen of Sindre, to fashion chariots of fine gold.
Mundilfore, who has care of the World-mill, aspired to rival Odin. He had two beautiful children, and one he called Mani (moon), and the other Sol (sun). The gods were filled with anger because of Mundilfore's presumption, and to punish him they took from him his two children, of whom he was exceedingly boastful, to drive the heavenly chariots and count the Years for men. Fair Sol they set to drive the sun-chariot. Her steeds are Arvak, which is "Early Dawn", and Alsvid, which signifies "scorching heat". Under their withers were placed skins of ice-chilled air for coolness and refreshment. They enter the eastern heaven at Hela-gate, through which the souls of dead men pass to the world beneath.
Then the gods set Mani, the handsome youth, to drive the chariot of the moon. With him are two fair children whom he carried away from earth--a boy who was called Hyuki, and a girl whose name is Bil. 1 They had been sent out in the darkness of night by Vidfinner, their father, to draw song-mead from the mountain spring Byrger, "the hidden", which broke forth from
the source of Mimer's fount; and they filled their pail Saegr to the brink, so that the precious mead spilled over as they raised it on the pole Simul. When they began to descend the mountain, Mani seized them and took them away. The spots that are ever seen by night on the fair-faced moon are Hyuki and Bil, and beauteous Bil do skalds invoke, so that hearing them she may sprinkle from the moon the magic song-mead upon their lips.
In Mani's keeping is a bundle of thorns from which evildoers among met, must needs suffer the punishment of piercing pains.
The sun is ever in flight, and so also is the moon. They are pursued by bloodthirsty enemies, who seek to compass their destruction ere they reach the sheltering forest of the Varns, behind the western horizon. These are two fierce and gigantic wolves. The one whose name is Skoll, "the adherer", chases the sun, whom one day it will devour; the other is Hati, "the hater", who races in front of "the bright maiden of heaven", in ceaseless pursuit of the moon.
Skoll and Hati are giants in wolf-guise. They were sent forth by the Mother of Evil, the dark and fearsome Hag, Gulveig-Hoder, whose children they are. She dwells in the Iarnvid, the black forest of iron trees, on the world's edge, which is the habitation of a witch family dreaded both by gods and by men. Of the Hag's wolf-sons the most terrible is Hati, who is also called Managarm, "the moon devourer". He feeds on the blood of dying men. The seers have foretold that when he comes to swallow the moon, the heavens and the earth shall turn red with blood. Then, too, must the seats of the mighty gods be reddened with gore, and the sunshine of summer made dim, while great storms burst in fury to rage across the world.
Again and again, at dreaded eclipse, would these giant wolves have swallowed now the sun and now the moon, had not their evil designs been thwarted by spells which were wrought against them, and the clamour of affrighted men.
Now Nat, which is Night, is the swarthy daughter of the Vana-giant Narve, "the Binder", whose other name is Mimer. Dark is her hair like all her race, and her eyes are soft and benevolent. She brings rest to the toiler, and refreshment to the weary, and sleep and dreams unto all. To the warrior she gives strength so that he may win victory, and care and sorrow she loves to take away. Nat is the beneficent mother of gods. Three times was she wed. Her first husband was Nagelfare of the stars, and their son was Aud of bounteous riches. Her second husband was Annar, "Water", and their daughter, Jörd, the earth-goddess, was Odin's wife and the mother of Thor. Her third husband was Delling, the red elf of dawn, and their son was Dagr, which is Day.
To mother Nat and her son Dagr were given jewelled chariots to drive across the world, one after the other, in the space of twelve hours. Nat is first to set forth. Her steed is called Hrim Faxi, "frosted mane". Swiftly it gallops over the heavens, and every morn the sweet foam from its bit falls as dewdrops upon the earth beneath. Dagr's fair steed is called Skin Faxi, "shining mane". From its golden neck is shed radiance and beauty upon the heavens and over all the world. Of all coursers that are, he is praised most by faring men.
There are two seasons, and these are Winter and Summer. Vindsval, son of gloomy Vasud, "the ice wind", was father of grim Winter, and the mild and beneficent Svasud was the sire of fair Summer, beloved by all.
Click to enlarge
From the design by Sir E. Burne-Jones.
Photograph by Frederich Hollyer
The wonder of men is whence comes the wind that shakes the ocean with fear, that fans the low spark into bright flame, and that no eye can behold. At the northern summit of heaven there sits in eagle-guise a great giant called Hraesvelgur, "the swallower of dead men's flesh". When his wide pinions are spread for flight the winds are stirred beneath them and rush down upon the earth. When coming or going, or travelling hither and thither across the heavens, the winds are driven from his wings.
As yet there were no men who had their dwelling upon the earth, although the sun and moon were set in their courses, and the days and seasons were marked out in due order. There came a time, however, when the sons of Bor were walking on the world's shores, and they beheld two logs of wood. They were grown from Ymer's hair, which sprang up as thick forests and verdure abundant from the mould of his -body, which is the earth. One log was of an ash tree, and from it the gods shaped a man; and the other, which was an alder tree, they made into a fair woman. They had but life like a tree which grows until the gods gave them mind and will and desire. Then was the man named Ask and the woman Embla, and from them are descended the entire human race, whose habitation is called Midgard, "middle ward", and Mana-heim, "home of men".
Round Midgard is the embracing sea, and beyond, on the outward shores, is Jotun-heim, the home of giants. Against these the gods raised an ice bulwark shaped from the eyebrows of turbulent Ymer, whose brains they cast high in heaven, where they became heavy masses of scattered cloud, tossing hither and thither.
In the beginning, ere the gods were born,
Before the Heavens were builded, thou didst slay
The giant Ymir, whom the abyss brought forth,
Thou and thy brethren fierce, the sons of Bor,
And cast his trunk to choke the abysmal void.
But of his flesh and members thou didst build
The earth and Ocean, and above them Heaven.
And from the flaming world, where Muspel reigns,
Thou sent'st and fetched'st fire, and madest lights,
Sun, moon, and stars, which thou hast hung in Heaven,
Dividing clear the paths of night and day.
And Asgard thou didst build, and Midgard fort;
Then me thou mad'st; of us the Gods were born.
Last, walking by the sea, thou foundest spars
Of wood, and framed'st men, who till the earth,
Or on the sea, the field of pirates, sail.
And all the race of Ymir thou didst drown,
Save one, Bergelmer;--he on shipboard fled
Thy deluge, and from him the giants sprang.
But all that brood thou hast removed far off,
And set by Ocean's utmost marge to dwell;
But Hela into Nifelheim thou threw'st,
And gav'st her nine unlighted worlds to rule,
A queen, and empire over all the dead.
--From "Balder Dead", by Matthew Arnold.
6:1 The Jack and Jill of the nursery rhyme.