In the beginning was Muspell, the realm of fire. It is a place of dreadful
light and heat. Only its natives, the Fire Giants, can tolerate its flames.
Surt, a Fire Giant, guards Muspell's border, armed with a flaming
sword. At the end of the era, at Ragnarok, Surt and his companions
will destroy all the Gods and and their world with fire.
Outside of Muspell lies the void called Ginnungagap, and north of
Ginnungagap is Niflheim, the world of awesome dark and cold. In this
world are eleven rivers flowing from a great well. The rivers are frozen
and occupy Ginnungagap. When the wind, rain, ice, and cold meet the
heat and fire of Muspell in the center of Ginnungagap, a place of light,
air, and warmth is born.
Where fire and ice first met, thawing drops appeared. Beneath the
melting ice lay a Frost Giant named Ymir. Ymir slept, falling into a
sweat. Under his left arm there grew a couple, male and female
Giants. One of his legs begot a son with the other.
The melting frost became a cow called Audhumla from whose udders
ran four rivers of milk that fed Ymir.
After one day of licking salty ice blocks, she freed a man's hair from
the ice. After two days, his head appeared. On the third day the whole
man was released from the ice. The man's name was Buri. Buri had a
son named Bor. Bor married Bestla, the daughter of a Giant, with
whom he had three sons. Odin was the first, Vili the second, and Vé
the third. Odin, in association with his brothers, is the ruler of heaven
and earth. He is the greatest and most famous of all Gods.
Odin and his brothers killed the Giant Ymir. They carried Ymir to the
middle of Ginnungagap and created the world, called Midgard, from his
body. Ymir's blood became the sea and and lakes. His skull became
the cover of the sky which was set over the earth. Ymir's brains were
tossed into the air, and became clouds. Then sparks and burning
embers from Muspell were placed in the middle of Ginnungagap to give
light to Midgard. They named the stars and set their paths. Ymir's
skeleton became the mountains of Midgard. His teeth and jaws
became rocks and pebbles. His flesh was ground into dirt in the great
mill Grottekvarnen. Ymir's hair became trees. Maggots appeared in
Ymir's flesh became Dwarves, who had human understanding and the
appearance of men, but lived in the earth. Under each corner of the
sky the suns of Buri put a Dwarf. The four Dwarves are called Austri
(East), Vestri (West), Nordri (North), and Sudri (South).
Midgard was surrounded by an enormous ocean. Odin, Vili and Vé
gave lands along the coasts to the friendlier Giants, the Etin, for their
settlements. From two trees they created a human man and woman.
Odin gave the man and the woman spirit and life. Vili gave them
understanding and the power of movement. Vé gave them clothing
and names. The man was named Ask [Ash] and the woman Embla
[Elm]. Ask and Embla are the ancestors of all humans in Midgard.
Next they built Åsgard, the home of the Gods. In a hall named
Hlidskjálf, Odin sits on a high seat from which he can look out over the
whole world. Odin married Frigga, the daughter of the Giant Fjörgvin.
Yggdrasil, the World-Tree, the tree of fate, arises in the center of the
Midgard. Its branches reach up over Asgard. The entire universe is
dependent on the World-Tree. The tree has three three roots. One
reaches into the underworld Hel, another to the world of the Frost-
Giants, and the last one to the world of human beings. Beneath the
tree is the Urda well, guarded by the Norns, the three Goddesses of
Fate. Two other wells also feed Yggdrasil. One is called Hvergelmer,
and the other is Mimer's well. The dragon Nidhog lies in Hvergelmer
and gnaws on the roots of the tree. Mimer's well is the well of wisdom,
guarded by the wisest of all beings, Mimer. Odin once gave his right
eye for a drink of the water from this well.
The Gods built a bridge called Bifröst from Asgard (heaven) to Midgard
(earth). They ride daily over the great rainbow bridge. Bifröst is
guarded by the God Heimdall. Heimdall sleeps lighter than a bird, sees
one hundred travel-days in each direction, and has such sharp ears
that he can hear the grass and the wool grow. But as strong as Bifröst
is, it will collapse when the when the Frost Giants ride out over it at
Ragnarok. There is nothing that can be relied on when the sons of
Muspell are on the warpath.
The Norse deities are divided into two major groups, the Aesir and the
Vanir. The Vanir, the "Earth Gods", symbolize riches, fertility, and
fecundity. They are associated with the earth and the sea. The most
important Gods of the Vanir are Njord, Freyr, Aegir and Freya.
The Aesir, the "Sky Gods", symbolize power, wisdom, and war. They
are long lived, but not immortal. Odin is the leader of the Gods, with
magical skills. Thor, with his magic hammer, is the God of Thunder
who presides over working men. Loki is a Giant who is an Aesir by
adoption. He and Odin made a vow of friendship and became blood-
brothers. Loki is a trickster, a shapeshifter, and a troublemaker.
In the distant past a fierce war was fought between the Aesir and the
Vanir. The conflict between the Gods began when Odin and Thor
refused to recognize the full status of Godhood to the Vanir. The Vanir
sent a beautiful woman, Gullveig (gold-drink), to the Aesir, who tried
to destroy her. She came back to life three times, and led to their
corruption. War then broke out. After both sides were exhausted, each
side exchanged members of its group with the other; the Vanir sent
Njord and his son and daughter Freyr and Freya, the Aesir sent Mimir
and Hoenir. The truce was celebrated by a meeting at which all the
Gods spit into a bowl, creating a Giant called Kvasir, who is the sign of
peace and harmony among the deities. Kvasir was later sacrificed and
from his blood became a potent drink which inebriates deities and
gives inspiration to poets.
Balder, one of the sons of Odin, appeared as the essence of
intelligence, piety, and wisdom. Both Gods and men came to him to
settle legal disputes, and his judgments were reconciling and fair.
Balder had a dream in which his life was threatened. Upon reporting
this dream to his mother, Frigga, she exacted an oath from fire, water,
metals, earth, stones, and all birds and animals. They swore they
would not harm Balder. Because of his immunity, the Aesir used
Balder as a target in games, throwing darts and stones at him. When
Loki saw this, he disguised himself as a woman and asked Frigga why
Balder suffered no harm. Frigga told him of the oath. Loki tricked her
into telling him that mistletoe was the only being that did not agree to
the oath. Loki immediately took mistletoe and created arrows. He took
the arrows to the Blind God Hoder, brother of Balder, and volunteered
to direct his aim so that he would participate in the game. When the
mistletoe struck Balder, Balder fell dead.
Because Balder was not a warrior and did not die in battle, he did not
go to Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes, but into the domain of Hel,
Keeper of the Dead. When Odin begged his release, Hel (Loki's
daughter) responded that if everything in the world both dead and
alive wept for Balder, then he could return to the Aesir. If not, he
would remain with Hel. The Aesir sent messengers throughout the
world asking all to weep for Balder. All responded except a Giantess,
Thokk (Loki in disguise), whose refusal to weep forced Balder to
remain in Hel's domain. The Aesir succeeded in capturing Loki. To
punish him for his many crimes, they chained him beneath a serpent,
which dripped venom onto him, causing terrible pain.
The Ragnarok, or end of the world, has been prophesied. When Mirmir
no longer guards his well, Yggdrasil's root will begin to rot. The Nidhog
dragon will finally succeed in knawing through the root that ends at
Hvergelmer well. The Norns will be alarmed at the pollution of the
Urdh well and the yellowing of the leaves of the world tree. Odin's
sacrificed eye lies in Mirmir's well and sees what is to come. He knows
that nothing can stop Fibulwinter, three years with endless winter,
which will be followed by Ragnarok.
The days will grow colder until even Urda well freezes solid. Storm and
sleet will pound the World-Tree. One of Yggdrasil's branches will break
and fall, striking Jormungand, the world serpent, which immediately
will let go of its tail. The Hel ship Naglfar will become visible in the
mist. The wolves Skoll and Manegarm will get closer and closer to Sun
and Moon, which they have chased for eons. Fenrir wolf and and the
Hel-wolf Garm will break their chains. Giants will release Loki from his
fetters on the mountain. Nidhoggr will leave the roots of Yggdrasil and
head toward Asgard. Behind him will march all the Giants. Heimdall
will see all this, and will take up the Gjallarhorn to blow the warning.
Loki will lead monsters and Giants to attack the Gods in the great
battle of Ragnarok on Vigrid plain. The leader of the Fire Giants, Surt,
will attack Freyr, who will be armed only with a deer's antler. Freyr will
stick his deer horn through Surt's eye, but then Surt will kill him with
his flaming sword. Thor's son Magni will send a killing arrow toward
Nidhoggr's head. Side by side, Odin and Thor will fight Fenrir and
Jormungand. Odin will put his spear, Gungnir, in Fenrir's chest, but the
wolf will crush Odin to the ground. Thor will kill Jormungand with his
hammer, Mjollnir, but then will take nine steps backwards and fall
down, poisoned by the serpent's venom. Tyr will kill the wolf dog
Garm. Vidar will take revenge for Odin. The enemies Loki and Heimdall
will their spears at each other at the same time and both will die. Modi
will be surrounded by Giants, but Magni and Vidar will rescue him.
The winds will increase and blow Yggdrasil from every direction until
the great World-Tree falls. The Dark Elves forge will tip and the World-
Tree will burn. The Bifrost Rainbow Bridge will collapse and one by one
each of the Worlds will fall. The remaining Aesir will escape in Freyr's
ship, Skidbladnir. It will be almost taken by the Hel-ship Naglfar.
Midgard will then be destroyed by fire, and will sink back into the sea.
This final destruction will be followed by a rebirth, the Earth
reemerging from the sea. Seven sons of the dead Aesir will return to
Asgard and rule the universe.