Creation By Signy
The creation of the universe
“Earth had not been, nor heaven above. But a yawning gap, and grass nowhere.” 4
In the beginning, only the most primal of forces existed. Ice and frost flowed from the frozen wastes of Niflheim. Sparks and embers billowed out of Muspelheim's raging inferno. Between the two was the vast emptiness known as Ginnungagap. Here the flames melted the ices and from those first waters life arose in the form of a giant called Ymir. He and the frost giants he begot - the Jotuns - were brutal and aggressive forces of chaos.
“when the breath of heat met the rime, so that it melted and dripped, life was quickened from the yeast-drops, by the power of that which sent the heat, and became a man's form. And that man is named Ymir, but the Rime-Giants call him Aurgelimir” 3
The primal waters also spawned Audhumla, a great cow. While Ymir fed on her milk, she licked the salty ice blocks that keep drifting out of Niflheim. As she licked, she uncovered the first of the Aesir - the race of the Gods. His name was Buri, and he had a son named Bor. Bor married Bestla, the daughter of a frost giant, and they had three sons, Odin, Vili and Ve.
“Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Audumla... She licked the ice-blocks...” 3
It is important to note that even before the universe began primal forces were at work. One way to interpret it is as a metaphor of the Big Bang. Energy met emptiness and an entire universe was born. This simple fact of the existence of primal forces before creation shows us that creation was not a singular fluke event, but part of a natural process. Even the Gods themselves were created (and in the story of Ragnarok we see many of Them die). We can also see this at a smaller scale in Nature and in our own lives. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth went on before us and will keep going on after us.
The creation of the world
“Then Bur's sons lifted the level land. Mithgarth the mighty there they made” 4
Odin and His brothers could not abide Ymir and his disorderly, destructive ways so they killed him. From his flesh They made the earth, and from his bones the mountains. His teeth and bone dust became the stones and sand. His blood became the lakes and seas. The brothers set his skull around the earth, held up by one dwarf for each of the cardinal compass directions, and it became the sky. The brains turned into the clouds. The dwarves themselves were created from the maggots that infested Ymir’s dead body. Then the brothers took sparks from Muspelheim and threw them into the void surrounding the new world and they became the stars. The Jotuns still posed a danger to the world, so Odin used Ymir's eyebrows to partition creation into an area for the Jotuns and an area safe (at least mostly) from them. These lands became Jotunheim and Midgard.
“of his blood the sea and the waters; the land was made of his flesh, and the crags of his bones... They took his skull also, and made of it the heaven” 3
This is perhaps the greatest story of life from death. We see described in the lore something we already understand from our physical lives -- that building something requires raw materials. We know that those materials come from somewhere, whether they are metal ores ripped from the earth or dead organisms broken down by bugs, worms and microbes to form new soil and then new plants. The fuel we burn in our cars also comes from just such a process. Within all of these processes are a continuous cycle between not just life and death, but also order and chaos. The initial void and swirling energies was a highly entropic environment which was ordered (to a degree at least) when life arose from it. This life did some rearranging, and built another level of order. The forces of entropy (the Jotuns) are ever-present though, requiring constant energy to maintain the order. The lore contains many Jotun-fighting tales, and everyone knows how their place doesn’t stay clean without effort. Sometimes the Jotuns win and wreak destruction, but life always manages to return again.
There is another important detail here too. Creation doesn't happen at the snap of a finger. It takes careful thought and great effort. Anyone who has ever painted a painting, built a software system, or birthed and/or raised a child knows this. Creation is also not a singular act. It takes cooperation and teamwork. Although it is often said that Vili and Ve are aspects of Odin 2, we see Ymir, Audhumla, Buri, Bor and Bestla all having a hand (or tongue in Audhumla's case) in creation. Furthermore, I believe that even though the lore doesn't mention Her here, Frigg must have had as much involvement in creating the world as Odin. Other stories tell of Idun keeping the Gods young with Her apples and Frey making the crops grow each spring. Creation is continuous and collaborative.
“Then Allfather took Night, and Day her son, and gave to them two horses and two chariots, and sent them up into the heavens” 3
Odin set night and day in the sky, along with the sun and moon. Night is a daughter of the Jotuns, and Day is her son. She rides around the world each day on her horse Hrimfaxi (frostmaned) and Day rides Skinfaxi (gleaming-maned). Sunna (the sun) races across the sky each day pursued by a wolf that will eventually catch her. Likewise Moon is pursued by another wolf and will one day be consumed himself. Both wolves are children of a Jotun.
It is interesting that the sun and moon and even the days and nights are not Gods, but children of the same giants of chaos that will one day destroy the world. They are forces of Nature that we depend on, but can also bring us grief. Note also that unlike some other traditions, in Germanic lore the burning sun is female and the gentler moon is male.
“An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name. With water white is the great tree wet. Thence come the dews that fall in the dales. Green by Urth's well does it ever grow.” 4
No discussion of the Norse creation story would be complete without mentioning the great tree Yggdrasil, but Yggdrasil doesn’t seem to fit nicely into the story. It is just kind of there -- never being created or destroyed, despite getting gnawed in a few places. In a sense, Yggdrasil is spacetime itself. It is the medium in which passage between worlds is possible. It both contains them and exists within them. The “water” is the time half of that, continually flowing between the present moment, which then becomes the past. Past circumstances then substantially affect what happens in the next present moment. Thus time is seen as cyclical instead of linear.
The creation of humanity
“Mithgarth the gods from his eyebrows made, And set for the sons of men” 5
One day while walking along the beach in Midgard, Odin and His brothers found two fallen trees. One was an elm and the other an ash. From the ash they created a human male named Ask and from the elm a human female named Embla. Odin gave them each a soul, Villi gave them intellect and emotion, and Ve gave them physical senses. The humans were given Midgard to live in and care for.
“When the sons of Borr were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them: the first gave them spirit and life; the second, wit and feeling; the third, form, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla” 3
This account too contains multiple points that we see reflected in Nature. In addition to the cycle of life from death mentioned earlier (note that they were fallen trees), this story shows the Gods creating new lifeforms out of other, less complex lifeforms. Of course we know that humans evolved from apes not trees, but the basic principle is there. It is also important to note that both the male and female human were created together, at the same time, and given the same gifts. Even the word “men” is used to mean male and female together in the old text, without the specifically male connotation that the word typically has in the present day.
Another subtle but important point is the order in which humanity was given its divine gifts. We were given souls first, the spiritual breath of life from Odin. Second were intellect and emotion -- our minds and hearts. Lastly we were given physical senses, and by extension the rest of our physical abilities. The order we were given these gifts conveys their relative importance. Our connection to the Gods and spirits, our compassion for each other and the other species we share the planet with, and the spiritual inheritance we get from our ancestors should be our top priorities. Following that are a person's mind and heart, and last is the physical body we each live in. This is not to say that pursuits and occupations that are mostly physical are less important. The point is to focus on who a person is, not whatever physical attributes they happen to be born with. This will lead to the best kind of society for all involved, something the Gods surely knew.
The creation of tomorrow
“Now do I see the earth anew. Rise all green from the waves again.” 4
The most important thing to take from this is that creation is ongoing and eternal. Each of us inherits a little bit of that divine creative power, and it is up to all of us to help create the world that we want ourselves and our descendants to live in. It's a long, hard, and sometimes painful process, but it's well worth the effort. Just look at what you get from it.
1) Crossley-Holland, Kevin. Axe-age, wolf-age, a selection of Norse myths. London: Andre Deutsch, 1985. ISBN: 0-233-97688-4
2) "The Creation of the Cosmos | Norse Mythology." Norse Mythology | The Ultimate Online Resource for Norse Mythology and Religion. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. <http://norsemythology.org/tales/norse-creation-myth/>.
3) "Gylfaginning." Internet Sacred Text Archive Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2013. neu/pre/pre04.htm>.
4) "The Poetic Edda: Voluspo." Internet Sacred Text Archive Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2013. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe03.htm>.
5) "The Poetic Edda: Grimnismol." Internet Sacred Text Archive Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2013. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe06.htm>.
6) “"Yggdrasil and the Well of Urd | Norse Mythology." Norse Mythology | The Ultimate Online Resource for Norse Mythology and Religion. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2013. <http://norsemythology.org/cosmology/yggdrasil-and-the-well-of-urd/>.”