The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 19

Chapter 19: Creation

(Page 1)

Now that we have treated of gods, heroes, elves, and giants, we are at length prepared to go into the views of ancient times on cosmogony. And here I am the more entitled to take the Norse ideas for a groundwork, as indications are not wanting of their having equally prevailed among the other Teutonic races.

Before the creation of heaven and earth, there was an immense chasm called gap (hiatus, gaping), or by the way of emphasis gap ginnûnga (chasm of chasms), corresponding in sense to the Greek caoj. (1) For, as caoj means both abyss and darkness, so gin-nûnga-gap seems also to denote the world of mist, out of whose bosom all things rose. How the covering and concealing 'hel' was likewise conceived of as 'nifl-hel' with yawning gaping jaws, has been shown above, pp. 312-314.

Yet this void of space had two extremities opposed to one another, muspell (fire) the southern, and nifl (fog) the northern; from Muspelsheim proceed light and warmth, from Niflheim darkness and deadly cold. In the middle was a fountain Hvergelmir, out of which flowed twelve rivers named elivâgar. When they got so far from their source, that the drop of fire contained in them hardened, like the sparks that fly out of flame, they turned into rigid ice. Touched by the mild air (of the south) the ice began to thaw and trickle: by the power of him who sent the heat, the drops quickened into life, and a man grew out of them, Ymir, called Örgelmir by the Hrîmþurses, a giant and evil of nature.

Ymir went to sleep, and fell into a sweat, then under his left hand grew man and wife, and one of his feet engendered with the other a six-headed son; hence are sprung the families of giants.

But the ice dripped on, and a cow arose, Auðumbla, from whose udder flowed four streams of milk, conveying nourishment to Ymir. Then the cow licked the salty ice-rocks, and on the evening of the first day a man's hand came forth, the second day the man's head, the third day the whole man; he was beautiful, large, strong, his name was Buri, and his son's name Börr (p. 349). (2) Börr took to him Bestla, the giant Bölþorn's daughter, and begat three sons, Oðinn, Vili, Ve (p. 162), and by them was the giant Ymir slain. As he sank to the ground, such a quantity of blood ran out of his wounds, that all the giants were drowned it in, save one, Bergelmir, (3) who with his wife escaped in a lûðr (Sæm. 35b, Sn. 8), and from them is descended the (younger) race of giants (see Suppl.). (4)

The sons of Börr dragged the dead Ymir's body into the middle of ginnûnga-gap, and created out of his blood the sea and water, of his flesh the earth, of his bones the mountains, of his teeth and broken bones the rocks and crags. Then they took his skull and made of it the sky, and the sparks from Muspellsheim that floated about free they fixed in the sky, so as to give light to all. The earth was round, and encircled by deep sea, (5) on whose shore the giants were to dwell; but to guard the inland parts of the earth against them, there was built of Ymir's brows a castle, Miðgarð. The giant's brain was thrown into the air, and formed the clouds, Sn. 8, 9.

Sæmund's account 45b (conf. 33b) differs in some points:

or Ymirs holdi var iörð um scöput,

enn or sveita sær,

biörg or beinom, baðmr or hâri,

enn or hausi himinn,

enn or hans brâm gerðo blîð regin

miðgarð manna sonom,

enn or hans heila voro þau in harðmôðgo

ský öll um scöput.

Here the teeth are not made use of, but we have instead the formation of trees out of the giant's hair.

When all this was done, the sons of Börr went to the seashore, and found two trees, out of which they created two human beings, Askr and Embla. To these Oðinn gave soul and life, Vili wit and feeling (sense of touch), Ve countenance (colour?), speech, hearing and sight, Sn. 10. More exactly in Sæm. 3b:

unz þrîr komo or þvî liði

öflgir ok âstgir æsir at sûsi (uproar).

fundo â landi litt megandi

Ask ok Emblo örlöglausa:

önd (spirit) þau ne âtto, ôð (mind) þau ne höfðo,

lâ (blood) ne læti, ne lito (colours) gôða.

önd gaf Oðinn, ôð gaf Hœnir,

lâ gaf Loðr ok litu gôða.

In this account the three âses are named Oðinn, Hœnir, Loðr (p. 241) instead of Oðinn, Vili, Ve (p. 162); they come to the roaring (of the sea, ad aestum, para qina polufloisboio qalasshj

), and find Askr and Embla powerless and inert. Then Oðinn endowed them with spirit, Hœnir with reason, Loðr with blood and complexion (see Suppl.).

The creation of dwarfs is related in two passages which do not altogether agree. Sn. 15 tells us, when the gods sat in their chairs judging, they remembered that in the dust and the earth dwarfs had come alive, as maggots do in meat (see Suppl.). They were created and received life first of all in Ymir's flesh. By the decree of the gods these maggots now obtained understanding and human shape, but continued to live in the earth and in stones. Sæm. 2 says on the contrary, that the holy gods in their chairs consulted, who should make the nation of dwarfs out of Brîmir's flesh and his black bones; then up sprang Môtsognir, prince of all dwarfs, and after him Durinn, and they two formed a multitude of manlike dwarfs out of the earth.

Taking all these accounts together, it is obvious in the first place, that only the men and dwarfs are regarded as being really created, while the giants and gods come, as it were, of themselves out of chaos. To the production of men and dwarfs their went a formative energy on the part of the gods; giants and gods, without any such agency, made their appearance under the mere action of natural heat and the licking of a cow. Giants and gods spring out of a combination of fire with water, yet so that the element converted into ice must recover its fluidity before it becomes capable of production. The giant and the cow drip out of the frost, Buri slowly extricates himself in three days from the thawing mass of ice. This dripping origin reminds us of some other features in antiquity; thus, Oðinn had a gold ring Draupnir (the dripper), from which every ninth night there dripped eight other rings of equal weight (Sæm. 84ª. Sn. 66.). Sæm. 195b speaks, not very lucidly, of a hausi Heiðdraupnis (cranio stillantis); Styrian legend commemorates a giant's rib from which a drop falls once a year (D.S. no. 140). (6) And Eve may be said to drip out of Adam's rib. With the giant's birth out of ice and rime we may connect the story of the snow-child (in the Modus Liebinc), and the influence, so common in our fairy-tales, of snow and blood on the birth of a long wished for child. All this seems allied to heathen notion of creation, conf. Chap. XXX. Also I must call attention to the terms eitrdropi Sæm. 35ª, eitrqvikja Sn. 5, qvikudropi Sn. 6: it is the vivifying fiery drop, and we do bestow on fire the epithet 'living.' Eitr is out eiter, OHG. eitar, AS. âtor, coming from OHG. eit, AS. âd ignis; and its derivative sense of venenum (poison, farmakon

) seems inapplicable to the above compounds.

It tallies with the views expressed at p. 316 on the gods having a beginning and an end, tht in this system of creation too they are not described as existing from the first: the god appears in ginnûngagap after a giant has preceeded him. It is true, Snorri 6 makes use of a remarkable phrase: 'svâ at qviknaði með krapti þess er til sendi hitann,' the quickening is referred to the might of him that sent the heat, as if that were an older eternal God who already ruled in the chaos. The statement would have more weight, were it forthcoming in the Völuspâ or any of the Eddic songs themselves; as it is, it looks to me a mere shift of Snorri's own, to account for the presence and action of the heat, and so on a par with the formulas quoted in pp. 22-3-4. (7) Buri, who is thawed into existence out of ice, to set limits to the rude evil nature of the giant that was there before him, shows himself altogether an ancestor and prototype of the heroes, whose mission it was to exterminate the brood of giants. From him are descended all the âses, Oðinn himself being only a grandson.
Again, there is no mistaking the distinct methods by which giants, gods and men propagate their kind. Only one giant had sprung out of ice, he has to beget children of himself, an office performed by his hands and feet together, as in other ways also the hand and foot are regarded as akin and allied to one another. (8) Ymir's being asleep during the time is like Adam's sleep while Eve was fashioned out of his rib; Eve therefore takes her rise in Adam himself, after which they continue their race jointly. How Buri begat Börr we are not informed, but Börr united himself to a giant's daughter, who bore him three sons, and from them sprang the rest of the âses. It was otherwise with men, who were not created singly, like the giant of the god, but two at once, man and wife, and then joinly propagate their species.
While the huge mass of the giant's body supplied the gods with materials, so that they could frame the whole world out of his different parts, and the dwarfs swarmed in the same giant's flesh as worms; mankind are descended from two trees on the seashore, which the gods endowed with breath and perfect life. They have therefore no immediate connexion with giants.
In the âses we see a superior and successful second product, in contrast with the first half-bungled giant affair. On the giants an undue proportion of inert matter had been expended; in the âses body and soul attained a perfect equilibrium, and together with infinite strength and beauty was evolved an informing and creative mind. To men belongs a less full, yet a fair, measure of both qualities, while dwarfs, as the end of creation , form the antithesis to giants, for mind in them outweighs the puny body. Our Heldenbuch on the contrary makes the dwarfs come into being first, the giants next, and men last of all.
As the giants originated in the ice of streams that poured out of the fountain Hvergelmir, we may fairly assume some connexion between it and the names Örgelmir, Thruðgelmir, Bergelmir. I derive gelmir from gialla (stridere), and connect it with the OHG. galm (stridor, sonitus). Hvergelmir will therefore mean a roaring cauldron; and the same notion of uproar and din is likely to be present in the giants' names, which would support the derivation of Ymir from ymja, p. 532. The reading Örgelmir would indeed accord with the notion of great age associated with the giant nature (p. 524), but would sever the link between the giants and the cauldron of chaos.

Thus far the Scandinavian theory: now to prove its general diffusion.

Though the word ginnûngagap has no exact parallel in OHG. or AS., it may for all that be the thing described in the following verses of the Wessobrunn Prayer:


1. Caoj, from cainw = OHG. gînan, ON. gîna [[to gape, yawn]] = Lat. hiare; conf. OHG. ginunga, hiatus. But we need not therefore read 'gap ginûnga,' for the ON. ginna [[to fool; to decoy]], which has now only the sense of allicere, must formerly have had that of findere, secare, which is still found in OHG. inginnan, MHG. enginnen (see above, p. 403, Ganna): Otfried iii. 7, 27 says of the barleycorn 'thoh findu ih melo thâr inne, inthiu ih es biginne (if I split it open); inkinnan (aperire), Graff 4, 209; ingunnen (sectus), N. Ar. 95. So in MHG., 'sîn herze wart ime engunnen' (fissum), Fundgr. 2, 268; enginnen (secare), En. 2792. 5722; engunnen (secuerunt), En. 1178. Nearly related is ingeinan (fissiculare), N. Cap. 136. From a literal 'splitting open' must have arisen the more abstract sense of 'beginning,' Goth. duginnan, AS. onginnan, OHG. inkinnan, pikinnan. Then gîna hiare, gin hiatus, further suggest gin (amplus), and ginregin (p. 320). Singularly Festus, in discussing inchoare, comes upon chaos, just as 'begin' has led us to gînan. Cohus, from which some derive incohare = inchoare, is no other than chaos. Fest. sub v. cohum. [Nearly all the above meanings appear in derivatives of the Mongol. root khag, khog to crack, etc., including khoghôson empty, chaos]. 'Beside gînan, the OHG. has a chînan hiscere (Graff 4, 450), Goth. keinan, AS. cîne (rima, chine, chink). The AS. has also a separate word dwolma for hiatus, chaos.---Extr. from Suppl. [Back]

2. In the Zend system, the first man proceeds from the haunch of the primeval bull Kayomer. [Back]

3. Ymir, i.e., Örgelmir, begot Thrûðgelmir, and he Bergelmir. [Back]

4. The meaning of lûðr has not been ascertained; elsewhere it stands for culeus, tuba, here it is supposed to be a mill-chest. The OHG. lûdara f. means a cradle (Graff 2, 201) as well as pannus, involucrum (swaddling-band), and this would fit remarkably well, as some accounts of the Deluge do make the rescued child float in its cradle. True, Snorri speaks not of a child, but of a grown up giant, who sits in the luðr with his wife; this may be a later version. [Slav. lót is shallow basket, trough, tray.] [Back]

5. Snorri at all events conceived the earth to be round, he says p. 9: 'hon er krînglôtt utan, ok þar utan um liggr hinn diupi siâr.' So in the Lucidarius: 'dise welt ist sinwel (spherical), und umbeflozzen mit dem wendelmer, darin swebt die erde als daz tutter in dem wizen des eiies ist,' conf. Berthold p. 287, and Wackern. Basel MSS. p. 20. The creation of heaven and earth out of the parts of an egg is poetically painted in Kalewala, rune 1 (see Suppl.).---'Indian legend has likewise a creation out of the egg, heaven and earth being eggshells, Somadeva 1, 10. Conf. the birth of Helen and the Dioscuri out of an egg.'---Extr. from Suppl. [Back]

6. No doubt the familiar name Ribbentrop is founded on some such tradition. [Back]

7. We might indeed imagine that regin and ginregin ruled before the arrival of the âses, and that this force of heat proceeded from them. But the Edda must first have distinctly said so. [Back]

8. Conf. Haupt's Zeitschr. 3, 156-7. Brahma too makes a man out of his own arm, Polier 1, 168. [Back]

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