The legend of the creation of the Universe
Part 2: The Gods’s high deeds
As I told you, the very first Giants and Divine Beings came in existence when life and light were created out of the quick melting frost. Bestla, daughter of the first Giant, became the wife of Burr, son of the first Divine Being.
Burr and Bestla had three sons, the first beings we properly call Gods. They are named Óðinn (I will spell his name ‘Ódhinn’ in the following), Vili and Vé who are thus Ymir and Buri’s grand-sons. Their names tell us of their powers. The word óðinn means ‘the raving poet’ where ‘raving’ should be understood as meaning ‘unbearably and passionately inspired’. The word vili means ‘fighter’ and the word vé means ‘temple’ and ‘home’. By their name, we know that Ódhinn is the God of inventive mind, Vili the God of boldness needed for survival and Vé, of craft needed to build temples and homes.
The three Gods looked up and down and they observed what was happening in the universe. Audhumla, the divine Light, went on ‘licking’ the frost, which slowly disappeared to be replaced by the stars, and among them, our sun. All these lights would move around with no law to drive them.
“The sun did not know where her hall was [our Sun is a woman who brings us her motherly warmth], and aimless were the stars.”
There is yet another law, in our Universe, that governs all creations and creatures, including the Gods: Nothing can last for ever, given time enough, everything will change, evolve for the best or the worse. You remember that I told you why I believe that Burr and Bestla changed to become the tree of the Universe, Yggdrasill ? The same kind of change occurred to the old Giant, Ymir. He became the material with which our world is built. This change was necessary to the balance of the Universe, and three Gods, Ódhinn, Vili and Vé have been the ones in charge of performing this necessary duty. You could say that they ‘killed’ and ‘dismembered’ Ymir as if they were his/her slayers, I see them more as skillful surgeons who helped Ymir to become what he was fated to become. Hence, when you feel the soft ground under your feet, you step upon Ymir’s flesh, when you hurt yourself on a rock, the wound is done with Ymir’s bones, when you sail through the vast ocean, you drift over his/her sweat or blood, when you look at threatening clouds, that’s Ymir’s brain you see. As the poet puts it:
“Out of Ymir’s flesh was Earth shaped, then out of his sweat, the ocean, rocky cliffs out of the bones, blooming trees out of his hair, out of the skull, heaven ; then out of his eyebrows made the graceful powers Middle-yard (Miðgarð) for the sons of men; then out of his brain were shaped all “hard-offending” clouds.”
Middle-yard is the name of our ‘garden’, shaped for the humans to live, made out of Ymir’s bony and hairy eyebrows. This is why our world was at first covered with mountains and forests.
The whole world is organized as nine huge estates. We, however, know well four of them. The estate of the Gods is called Ásgarð, the garden of our Gods, the Æsir, it stands somewhere at the base of Yggdrasill. Three more estates stand under each of Yggdrasill’s huge roots. As a wise Giant once said:
“Three roots stand towards three ways under the ash Yggdrasill ; Hel estate under one, the second one, the Frost-giants, the third one, men of humanity.”
The Frost-giants’ estate is also called Giant-home. The estate of Hel is the one the dead ones, except these who join Freyja in her home, Folkvangr, and these who join Ódhinn in his home, Valhöll, as I will tell you quite later. Wait a bit, I’ll soon tell you how our Gods created humankind and you will then understand what was meant by this Giant when he spoke of “men of humanity.”
As I said already, the stars and the sun were roaming around in the vast
universe, as so many fireflies. The Gods could not stand it, so they decided of
the laws that order their move. Well … I could tell you that they had
gravity at their disposal (remember Bestla and the tree of the universe?) and
At first, there was a giantess named Nótt (Night). She was dark. Her second husband was named Dellingr (Shining one) and he was of the Gods’ family. Their son, Dagr (Day), was bright and beautiful as his father. Then Ódhinn took Nótt and her son Dagr and gave them two horses and two chariots and put them up in the sky, so that they should ride around the earth every twenty-four hours. Night rides first on a horse called Frosty-mane and, every morning, the foam from his bit falls on the plants. This foam, we call it dew. Day's horse is called Sheen-mane and the whole earth and sky are lighted up by his mane. As you know, the course of the sun and moon fit nicely into the move of Day and Night. How this can happen? This is because they are also driven by two heavenly beings called Sun and Moon. As the story goes, two incredibly beautiful children were born on earth. Their proud parents named them after the sun and the moon. The girl was thus named Sun, and the boy, Moon. The Gods were offended by the arrogance of parents who dared call their children by heavenly names (Ah! take care of how you name your children or yourself: you should avoid offending the Gods!). Thus, they took the brother and sister and put them up in the sky. Sun is the lady who drives the horses that draw sun’s chariot and she controls sun’s course and heat. Moon drives moon’s chariot and he controls moon’s journey, and its waxing and waning.
Then, the sun started to rise in the East while Night goes away, leaving on the ground the dew falling from the bits of her horse. Day is thus able to come at the same time and he brings his light upon Earth, while Sun brings her warmth. Plants started to grow and the very first plant is the lively and sharp high grass that grows in the vales and cuts your skin if you grasp it without caution. All kinds of other very lively wild herbs started to grow as well, such as weeds in the sea. Among the first things to grow have also been the wild leeks, with their high, thin and strong stems that seem to overlook the other herbs, exactly as our hero Sigurdhr would already overlook the other children when he was still one of them (Oops … tales about Sigurdhr will come later). The Gods built their dwelling, Ásgarð, above the three roots of Yggdrasill and had some quiet time together.
“They raised their sacred place and farm, set up a smithy to forge jewels. They fashioned tongs and wrought tools. They played tafl in the hedge, of cheerfulness full, was to them no lack of gold.”
Tafl is an old board game still played as late as one thousand years ago. Some stubborn people like me still like playing at it. It is quite a bit more complex than checkers, similar to Chinese Go, with a smaller board. However, the wheel of time compels our Universe to movement and change. The change that fell upon our Gods is that, out of the seed of their quiet happiness, grew the bud of their future unrest and downfall. Three very knowledgeable giant maiden, we call Norns, came out of Giants’ dwelling and they took in charge the destiny of the world. They make known their decisions by carving runes and nobody can discuss their carvings, even those who believe they decided wrongly. You can look upon them as the image of the primary demands of the Universe, inescapable ones, unconcerned as they are with our hopes and miseries.
Quite probably under the Norns’ influence – otherwise stated, the Universe demands - , the Gods felt they had to create humankind. They asked the Dwarves to make human-like shapes, but these shapes were not really able to carry out tasks and above all, they were without destiny. Thus three of the powerful and loving Gods went down on earth to create humankind. They are named Ódhinn, Hænir and Lothur. Do you remember the names of the Gods who built our Universe out of Ymir’s body? You already know Ódhinn. We do not know exactly what means the name Hænir, who has been called Vili before. All we know of him is that he is said to be “of the swift foot” by the poets. Vé is now called Lothur, and the word lóð means crop. You see that Vé is the God of the home builders and Lothur the one of the crop bringers, that is, he is a godly image of the people upon which relies everyday life. The three Gods went down to Midhgardh and found two shapes on the ground. One shape was the one of a man, thereafter called Ask, and the other of a woman, thereafter called Embla. Ódhinn gave them the breath needed by the inventive mind to express itself. Hænir gave them the good sense and clear mind needed so that boldness does not turn into recklessness. Lothur gave them blood and life hue in order to sustain their stamina while practicing their craft. By this, they also received the way to become active and the way to fulfill a destiny.
Here, this tale ends: The three gifts of the Gods, breath, life hue and good sense, together with the two demands of the Universe, deed and fate, are enough to achieve a ‘human of humanity’. Just do your best to be or become one!