|There was a time when nothing existed. There were neither sea nor land, not the heavens nor the sun or moon nor stars. There was only Ginunngagap, the soundless, endless Nothing. Then primal forces created Being. In the South, there was Muspelheim, the land of Fire; to the North, Niflheim, the land of Fog and Cold and Darkness. From Niflheim, a mighty stream arose and the waters separated into twelve rivers. They flowed into the rift that divided North and South, where they turned to ice.
Burning embers flying from Muspelheim landed on the ice, it began to melt and from it arose the Giant Ymir. He was followed by a giant cow, Audhumbla; her milk provided sustenance for Ymir. One day, after sating himself on the milk, he fell into a deep sleep, and from his armpits grew two giant beings, a man and a woman. They were the ancestors of the Frost- and Hoar Giants.
For Audumbhla, however, there was no grass to eat anywhere. So she started licking on salty blocks of ice and on the third day, her tongue recovered a man from the ice, a strong, handsome man; his name was Buri. From his own power he created a son, Boers, who married Bestla, the daughter of the Giant Boelthorn.
|~ The Beginning ~|
|**See the tale, "Rich Man, Poor Man" for an example of Odin's wanderings among mortals.|
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|Bestla bore three sons for Boers: Odin, Vili and Ve, the first of the Aesir.
Odin, Vili and Ve set out to gain power over creation. They killed the old Giant Ymir. The blood from Ymir's wounds flooded the world, and the Frost Giants drowned. Only one, Begelmir, was able to save himself and his wife; the ancestors of later Giant races.
The brothers threw the body of the dead Giant into the rift between Niflheim and Muspelheim. And his blood became water, the oceans and streams, his flesh the Earth, his bones and teeth rocks and mountains. From his skull the brothers created the arc of heaven, rising above the Earth. When they flung Ymir's brain upward, it stayed in the heavens as clouds. Ymir's hair turned into trees, his eyebrows formed a wall which was to protect Midgard, the land of humans, against the ocean and the Giants. Stars were fashioned from the glowing embers of Muspelheim; the brothers put them in the heaven, named them, and gave each one its direction.
Earth, surrounded by oceans, began to dry. Soon, plant-life sprang from the soil.
One day, as the brothers walked along the coast they came upon two trees, and ash and an elm. They admired their beauty and so Odin gave them human form, a man, Askr, from the ash, a woman, Embla, from the elm tree. With his breath, he embued them with life, gave them spirit. Vili's gifts were intelligence and feelings, and Ve gave them the five senses and the gift of language.
They then created nine realms in the world, three below, three in the middle (on Earth) and three above.
Deep inside the world lies Niflheim, the land of ice and death. Hiflhel is the deepest abyss, where criminals and those who swear falsely are punished. Svartalfheim is home to the Dark Elves (alfs), dwarfs so mis-shapen and ugly, it is better not to describe them. They are artisans, masters of the art of forging weapons and precious jewelry; they are also the ones who frighten humans in the night, in nightmares and with their nightmare appearance. But they also know to be grateful if someone helps them out of trouble.
Upon Earth lies Midgard, the place where humans dwell; Riesenheim, the land of the Frost Giants; and Wanheim, the realm of earth and water spirits.
In the heavens lies Muspelheim, the land of Fire; Alfheim, the home of the Light Elves and their ruler Frey, beautiful little beings of a sunny disposition, friendly towards humans; and Asgard, the Holy Realm of the Aesir. Here dwell the Gods in twelve castles they built for themselves. A mighty bridge, Bifröst, the rainbow, connects heaven and earth, but only the Gods may travel this bridge. It is watched over by Heimdall. He carries a horn, Giallar, which will call the Asgards to battle at the Twilight of the Gods.
Thus from the body of Ymir, the migthy Giant, Odin and his brothers created the Earth, Midgard, the land of the humans. Niflheim is the realm of the dead, and in the middle is Asgard, where the Gods make their home. The following tells about some of these Gods:
Odin, the mightiest of the Gods, also known as Wodan, dwells in Valhalla, the greatest and richest hall in Asgard, from where he rules over all creation. On each of his shoulders sits a raven, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory). At Odin's behest, they fly out daily and whisper to him all they have seen and heard.
During sacred nights, on his white steed, the eight-legged Sleipneir, he goes on wild rides through the air, always accompanied by mighty storms. But every so often, he takes on human form, dons a big old hat, wears a blue cape covered with stars, and wanders among mortals, to empathise, to help, to probe their hospitality toward strangers.**
He is also present during human battles, wearing shiny armor and carrying Gungnir, his mighty spear. But he does not participate; using Gungnir, he marks the men destined to die. Accompanying him are the Valkyries, maidens of unearthly beauty, who carry the dead on their fiery steeds to Valhalla.
Odin's son, Thor, also known as Donar, is the mighty God of Thunder. He is friend to Gods and mortals alike and has power over wind and water, thunder and lightning. His chariot is drawn by rams, in his right hand is Mjoelnir, the Hammer, which after each throw returns to him.
Odin's wife, Frigga, shares his seat and rule in Valhalla. She is an amiable Lady, protectress of all humans, of home, hearth, marriage and childbirth, it is she who hears the pleas of couples desiring children.
The Goddess Freya is often confused with Frigga, perhaps because of the similarity of their names; they have even been portrayed as one and the same. But Freya is very different from Frigga: Where Frigga is the protectress of the sacred love bond between married couples, Freya is the free spirit, free with her sexual favours, the Goddess of passionate love, mistress of Odin and other gods and men, and skilled in the art of magick. Her chariot is pulled by cats who are sacred to her. She is also the Goddess of riches who weeps golden tears, the magickal necklace Brisingamen is the emblem of her power (which she acquired by spending four nights with the four night-alfs who forged it). Her magickal feather cloak allows her to turn herself into a falcon and fly between the worlds. In battle, she rides a wild boar, Hildesvinni, which is the diguise of her human lover, Ottar. To Freya go half of the warriors killed in battle and brought to Valhalla by the Valkyries.
Baldur, son of Frigga, is the beautiful God, protector of all that is Good and Right, freely dispensing his blessings and life-giving light, loved by all. He has a brother, the blind Hoedur (also known as Hoth), who is everything that Baldur is not: Dark and cold, he is the purveyor of winter, the cold and darkness. No-one likes him, and where he reigns, all life ceases.
Loki is a wily, meanspirited God, not to be trusted (his name is usually the first to pop up when the conversation turnes to "trickster gods" but his actions are often more traiterous than tricky). One day he is on the side of the Asgards, the next he keeps with the Giants of the North Lands who are always trying to sow strife and misery among humanity. The Fenris Wolf and the Midgard Snake are Loki's horrible children.
An ancient prophecy told the Aesir that the Fenris Wolf will someday be the harbinger of their doom. So they managed to catch him and bind him to a rock jutting out of the ocean. Through his mouth they ran a sword. Horrible are his cries of pain and rage. But at the Twilight of the Gods, he will free himself and fight against the Aesir, side by side with the Midgard Snake which, for the time being, rests at the bottom of the ocean, the whole Earth girded by her mighty body.
In the middle of Asgard grows Yggdrasil, the Tree of Fate, an ash that is always green. Its crown covers the heavens, and the roots cover Hel, the land of the dead, reaching into Midgard and into the land of the Giants. Below the Tree is the Urd-Well, the Well of Fate. There dwell the Norns (Fates), Urd (past), Verandi (present) and Skuld (future), who know the destiny of every God and every mortal. They alone know the future, even Odins knowledge is spotty on this subject.
But Yggdrasil will not always be green. There will come a day when the Dragon Nidhogg begins to gnaw on the roots and the Tree of Life begins to wilt. Thus begins Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods. The Fenris Wolf will free himself from his bonds, the Midgard Snake will rise from the ocean, the Giants band together; Gods and Heroes ready themselves for the last battle. This signals the end of Asgard and of Midgard. The end of all life.