The Creation of the World - The Giants, Æsir, Men and Women, Dwarfs, Vanir and Elves
Our forefathers imagined the infinities of space to be a profound
abyss, to which they gave the name Ginnunga-gap; on one of its confines
there were icy frosts and mists; on the other, flame and heat. The frozen
reaches were known as the Home of Fogs, or Niflheim; the torrid region as
Muspellsheim, which may perhaps be rendered, the Home of Desolation.
As the ice of Niflheim gradually melted away before the heat of
Muspellsheim, there flowed forth from Niflheim into Ginnunga-gap chill
streams of venom (the Élivágar), and yet the animating beams from
Muspellsheim called the first living beings into life: a prodigious Giant
(jotunn), called Ymir or Aurgelmir, and the cow Audhumla, from whose milk
he drew sustenance. From Ymir in turn sprang other Giants, and thus he
became the progenitor of all that evil race. The cow Audhumla likewise
brought about life anew by licking the icebound boulders of salt. In this
manner Buri came into being; his son Borr, with Bestla, daughter of the
Giant Bolthorn, had three sons, named Odin, Vili, and Ve. These sons of
Borr were good and fair to see; they became the forebears of the race of
When the descendants of Ymir had multiplied beyond number, the
sons of Borr put Ymir to death; in his blood all of the Giants were drowned
except Bergelmir, who with his wife saved himself by means of a boat.
The Æsir thus failed in their attempt to exterminate the race of Giants, and
Bergelmir’s kindred grew to a mighty host. The Giants, or Jotuns, were also
known by the names Thursar (pursar), Rime-Thursar (hrímpursar), Ettins (risar),
Cliff-Ettins (bergrisar), and Trolls (troll); they persisted in the most evil
courses. From the body of Ymir the sons of Borr made earth, sky, and sea.
The body itself became the earth, the bones became mountains and stones,
the hair became trees and grass, the skull became the vault of heaven, the
brain became clouds, and the maggots in Ymir’s body became small Dwarfs,
who dwelt beneath the earth’s surface and in rocks, and who lived on a better
footing with the Giants than with the Æsir.
Odin, Vili, and Ve, the sons of Borr, were at first the only Æsir. Not
content with shaping inanimate nature, they brought to life sentient beings
as well, both men and animals. The first human pair, Ask and Embla, they
created from two trees. Odin gave them breath, Vili gave them soul or
understanding, and Ve (Lodur) gave them bodily warmth and color. From
these two sprang the entire race of men.
The sons of Borr likewise created the celestial bodies. To this end
they employed the sparks that flew into space out of Muspellsheim. The
sun and the moon were placed each on its wain, and each wain was drawn
by two horses; the horses of the sun were named Arvak
and Alsvin.1 Before the sun stands the shield Svalin. As drivers of the
wains were appointed the two beautiful children of Mundilfari, called Sun
and Moon. Mundilfari was so proud of the two that he had named his
daughter after the sun and his son after the moon; as a punishment the
Æsir gave the children the task of guiding the wains of the sun and the
moon. Moon once carried away from the earth two small children just as
they left the well Byrgir carrying the cruse Sœg slung from their shoulders
on a pole called Simul. The two children were named Bil and Hjuki, and
their father’s name was Vidfinn. Since that time they have followed the
moon in his course.
The Giants or the Rime-Thursar continued without ceasing to disquiet
the Æsir and disturb their labors. A hideous Giantess, mother of a great
brood of Giant werewolves, bore among the others two called Skoll and
Hati, who took up the pursuit of Sun and Moon, to devour them. Sun and
Moon therefore must needs make haste in their journey across the
heavens; yet in the end their pursuers will overtake them. Hati was the
more forbidding of the two; he was known also as Manigarm, or the Moon-
Hound. Toward the race of men the Giants were so ill-disposed that the
Æsir found themselves compelled to build from the eyebrows of Ymir a
great defensive fortress encompassing the midmost region of the earth.
The fortress and all that it contained bore the name Midgard; beyond its
confines lay Jotunheim. In the centre of the universe the Æsir established
their own dwelling, Asgard; there Odin had his own seat, Lidskjalf, from
which he might survey the whole universe, both the heavens and the earth,
and see all that happened there. The race of the Æsir here grew to a
goodly number; Odin particularly had many children.
Aside from the Æsir, the Dwarfs, and the Giants, our forefathers
peopled the universe with other supernatural beings, such as the Vanir and
the Elves. To the Vanir, dwelling in Vanaheim, the direction of the forces of
nature seems particularly to have been attributed. Once upon a time, so the
story runs, hostilities arose between the Æsir and the Vanir; the dispute
ended with a treaty of peace, the terms of which prescribed an exchange of
hostages. The Æsir delegated Hœnir; the Vanir delegated Njord, who in
this way came to be numbered among the Æsir. The other deities who
came from the Vanir were Frey and Freyja. Of the Elves, beings who
associated preferably with men, some were good and some were evil. The
good Elves, called Bright-Elves (ljós-alfar), who were brighter than the sun,
had their abode in Alfheim; the evil Elves, called Dark-Elves (svart-alfar,
døkk-alfar), were blacker than pitch, had their homes beneath the surface
of the earth, and so are often confused with the Dwarfs.
Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 1-4.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.
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