The Religion of the Northmen
OF THE THEORY OF CREATION
The Asa doctrine supposes two primitive worlds; the Fire World---Muspell or Muspelheim (1)---in the south, which in the Eddas signifies above, and the dark, Mist-World---Niflheim (2)---in the north, or below. In the former sits enthroned the Fire-Being Surtur; (3) in the deepest abyss of the latter, in Hvergelmir (4)---the Ancient Cauldron, dwells the Dragon Niðhögg (5)---the Gloomy Hewer or Gnawer---two primitive beings, each in his nature corresponding to the world in which he rules; the former light and life-giving, the latter dark and deadly. From the Mist-World's dripping coolness (Elivágar, (6) Venom streams, Hail streams), rise up frost-vapors. In the vast empty space lying between the two worlds, in Ginunga-gap, (7) the Yawning Abyss, these vapors meet the sparks of the Fire-World. The dead, cold matter is quickened by the power of Fire, and the huge, shapeless Jötun (8) Ýmir (9)---the Roaring, Foaming---comes forth, the first, chaotic World-mass. This living mass produces of himself many similar, frost-cold, stone-like, shapeless beings, the Hrímthursar (10) and Bergrisar (11)---Frost giants and Mountain giants. In all these forms Evil is still predominant. All are more nearly allied to the world of Cold and Darkness. It is only the lower, the physical world-life which moves in them.
But a better being, although of animal nature---the Cow Auðhumla (12)---came into existence with the first Frost-Jötun, as his nurse. This power, which nourishes the chaotic World-mass, calls forth at the same time by its refining agency---by licking the Rime-clumps---a higher spiritual World-life, which unfolds itself through several links---through Buri the Bearing, and Burr (13) the Born---until it has gained power sufficient to overcome chaotic matter---to kill Ýmir and his offspring.
This high conquering World-life is Divinity itself, which now goes forth as creative power in a threefold form---as Spirit, Will or Power, and Holiness---in the brothers Oðinn, Vili, and Ve. The Spirit quickens, the Will arranges, and Holiness banishes the Impure and Evil. (14) It is, however, only in the creation of the world that these three beings are represented as cooperating. Vili and Ve are not mentioned again; they are blended together again in the all-embracing World-spirit---in Odin. He is the Essence of the World, the Almighty Ás; he alone is Al-father, from whom all the other superior, world-directing beings, the Æsir, are descended. (15)
By the creation the Elements are separated---Ýmir's body is parceled out---and organic life begins. But the chaotic powers, though conquered, are not destroyed,---a Jötun escapes, and from him come forth new Jötun races. Disturbing and deadly influences are perceptible everywhere in Nature. They are the manifestations of the hostile disposition of the Jötuns toward the Æsir, and of their struggles to destroy the work of the latter. The Jötuns have been forced to fly to the outermost deserts around the surface of the earth---to Útgarð, the Outer Ward or inclosure---and here they have their proper home---Jötunheim; but they manage also to sneak in within the barrier which the Æsir made as a defense for the earth, and they get into Miðgarð. (16) They dwell here in the rugged mountains, in the ice-clad Jökulls, and in the barren deserts, everywhere where any unfruitfulness prevails. Their agency is perceptible in the devastating storms, caused by the wing-strokes of the Jötun-eagle in the North, (17) it is felt in winter's cold, in snow and ice, in all the powers of Nature which are unfriendly to fruitfulness and life.
The living world was also the work of the Æsir. The Earth, lying as a round disc in the middle point, was under their special protection. They sometimes descend thither from their celestial abodes, and then the rainbow---Bifröst, (18) the Tremulous Way---forms their bridge.
The representation of Night as the mother of Day corresponds with the rest of the theory of the origin of the world. Darkness is the primeval state in which Ýmir and his progeny moved. Night belonged therefore to the Jötuns. Day first comes forth with the light Æsir, as a son of the Jötun-born Night and the Æsir-son Delling, the Dawn. (19)
The bright heavenly bodies were sparks of Muspell, set by the Æsir in the vault of heaven to measure time. These also are hated by the chaotic powers. The Sun and Moon never have rest in their course by reason of the pursuing Jötun-wolves, who try to swallow them.
Within the Earth there were powers moving which were fragments of the chaotic life---Dwarves (20) swarmed forth as maggots in Ýmir's flesh.
The Æsir improved them---gave them the form and understanding of men---but bound them to the caverns of the dark Earth, where they are busied with metals and work them. They were imagined to be dark as their home, and were therefore called Svartálfar---Dark Elves---and their dwellings in the earth, Svartálfaheimr.
The Eddas make no mention of the creation of animals, which, however, the Asa doctrine connected immediately with that of plants. Man is the last and most perfect work of the creative power. In the creation of man, as well as of the world, the Divine power appears in a threefold form. The three Æsir, Odin, Hænir, and Lóðurr, create the first human pair out of two Ash trees, whence the names Ask and Embla, (21) and each one imparts to them a gift corresponding to his own nature. Odin gives them spirit (önd), the spiritual life: he is himself the Spirit of the World, of which man's is a reflection. Hænir, Light, gives understanding (óðr), the light of the soul. Lóðurr, Fire, (22) gives them the warm blood and the blushing color, together with the burning keeness of the senses. The Æsir gave man, their favorite creation, a dwelling place in Mid-Earth (in Miðgarð), which was secured against the Jötuns. Hence it was also called Mannheim, man's home or world.
Herewith is the Creation ended. The living world stands perfect, protected by the bland Æsir, with whom it came into life; threatened and attacked by the cold, dark Jötuns, who endeavor to regain their ancient dominion. The conflict between Good and Evil has grown up with the Worldlife itself, and ends only in its destruction.
1. Probably derived from múgr, a crowd; and spell, cognate with spilla, to destroy; whence it may signify the Destruction of the Multitude; in reference to the agency in destroying the human world. Grimm points out the name in the Old-German under the forms muspilli, mudspelli, denoting a general conflagration, which shows that the Germanic race had in the main points the same views as the Norræna. [Back]
2. Nifl, cogn. with the Germ. Nebel, Lat. nebula; hence, the Nebulous Home. [Back]
3. For Svertir, from sverta, to blacken, from his fire-like, scorching nature. According to Grimm, Surtr is cogn. with svartr; Swed. svart; Dan. sort; Goth. svarts: Germ. schwarz; Engl. swart, swarthy. [Back]
4. Hver, a cauldron; also, a hot spring. Grimm derives gelmir from gjalla, to resound; cogn. with AS. giellan; Engl. yell. [Back]
5. From höggva, to hew; and nið, obscurity, or nið, malignity. [Back]
6. Él, a shower, hail shower; vágr, a stream. [Back]
7. Gin, a yawning, an abyss; gina, to gape. [Back]
8. Jötunn, iotunn, a giant, cogn. with eta; AS. etan, to eat; corresponding Old-Germanic terms: AS. éoten; L. Germ. etan; H. Germ. ezan; Goth. itans; Old Engl. etin, ettin; Scotch, ettyn, eyttyn. [Back]
9. Ým, ýmia, to roar; ýmr, a confused sound, as the clang of metals or the rustling of trees. [Back]
10. Þurs, perhaps cogn. with þurr, dry, barren (Germ. dürr); the corresponding Anglo-Saxon name was Þyrs; H. Germ. durs, or turs; Goth. þaurs. [Back]
11. Risi, a giant; from rís, rísa, to rise, tower up. [Back]
12. Or Auðhumbla. Some derive it from auðr, rich; and hum, moisture; other from auðr, void, vacant (Dan. öde); and húm, darkness. [Back]
13. Buri, burr, bör, derived from bera, to bear, bring forth; cogn. with AS. beran: whence also the Danish Barn and Scottish bairn, a child. [Back]
14. Óðinn; AS. Vóden; L. Germ. Wódan; H. Germ. Wuotan; Goth. Vódans; Fris. Wéda. The word is cogn. with veð, óð, vaða, to wade, go through, and with Óðr, mind, understanding; hence denotes Spirit, the All-pervading (Deut. Mythol.). Vili signifies Will; Ve, holiness. [Back]
15. Ás, plur. Æsir; fem. Ásynja, pl. Ásynjur. The corresponding Germanic names are: AS. ós. pl. és; Goth. ans. pl. anseis; cogn. with the Celtic Es, Esus; Old Etruscan, Æs, Ais, Æsar; Pers. Ized. Grimm remarks that a cognate expression was in all the Old-Germanic Languages (Deut. Myth. p. 22). It is probably cogn. with vesa, an older form of vera, to be, and originally signified Being, as a distinctive appellation of the Gods. [Back]
16. Miðgarðr, the Middle-Ward; corresponds with Goth. midjungards; Old Germ. mittilgart; AS. middangeard, middeweard. The Norse miðr is cogn. with the Goth. midums, midia; Germ. mitte, mittel; AS. midd, midlen; Engl. middle, middling, mean; Sansk. madhyam, medhi; Zend. meias; Pers. mijan; Gr. meroj, &c. Gar, gard, garðr, and cognate words in the Indo-European languages, signified an inclosure, fence; hence the English words: girth, to gird, garden, guard, ward, yard, court, &c. [Back]
17. This Storm-eagle's name Hræsvelgr, signifies: the Swallower of the Dead; from hræ; AS. hræow; a corpse; and svelgja; Dan. svælge; AS. swelgan; to swallow, gorge. [Back]
18. Formed from bifa (Dan. bæve), to tremble; and röst, anciently a rest, a measure of distance on a road, and then a road itself. [Back]
19. Dellingr, for deglingr, diminutive of dagr, day. [Back]
20. Dvergr, pl. dvergar; AS. dveorg; Old Germ. tuerc; Goth. dvairgs (Deut. Mythol.). [Back]
21. Askr; Dan. Ask; Germ. Esche; AS. Æsc; an ash tree Embla may have denoted another species of Ash, which the peasants still regard as a female tree. Grimm says embla, emla, signifies a busy woman, from amr, ambr, aml, ambl, assiduous labor. The words possibly bear the same relation to each other as Meshia and Meshiane, the ancient Persian names for the first man and woman, who were also formed from trees. [Back]
22. Lóðurr is cogn. with the Germ. lodern, and denotes the blazing fire. This is without doubt the same being who is elsewhere called Loki or Loptr. [Back]