Elementary Themes
The Viking
Creation Myth


     Introduction

  1. The Vikings were the early medieval descendants of stone-aged people who migrated northward from the desert regions of the middle east into northern Europe, sometime around the end of the last ice age. Like most stone-age cultures at that time, these people created a religion of sorts, to help them explain the world and their place in it.

  2. The ancient Scandinavians found themselves in a rugged land of great seasonal contrasts. Summers, marked by a mid-night sun, were short but warm. Winters were long and cold and frequented by storms off the frigid North Atlantic. During the endless winter nights, the skies were illuminated by the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis. Viking myths clearly reflected this world and their struggles to survive in it.

  3. To make sense of their surroundings, the ancient ancestors of the Vikings created a series of deities. They imagined that their world was fashioned by powerful gods whose presence was evident in every natural force they experienced and in the fortunes and misfortunes of their daily lives.



    The Great Gap

  4. The Vikings believed that in the beginning, a great abyss (gap) the size of which no one could fathom existed in the centre of space. On one side of the abyss was Niflheim (ne ful ham). It was filled with cold, ice, mist and darkness and from its huge spring flowed twelve large rivers. As the waters flowed into the cold abyss, ice blocks formed and filled one side of the gap.

  5. On the opposite side of the abyss was Muspelheim (mus pel ham). It was filled with the fire, warmth and brightness and was guarded by a flame giant whose sword sent great showers of sparks into the gap.



    The Birth and Death of Ymir, The First Frost Giant

  6. Eventually, the fire of Muspelheim and the ice of Niflheim regions mixed in the abyss. A mist rose from the gap and froze to create an ice giant named Ymir. An enormous cow was also created to nourish him.

  7. From a salty ice block licked by the cow, the first god, Buri emerged. Soon more giants appeared-two from drops of sweat under Ymir's arms two giants and two more from his Ymir's feet. As time passed, even more giants were born. Eventually, there was a struggle between the giants and the gods. The struggle continued until the birth of Odin and his two brothers Vili and Ve. Their father was Borr, the son of Buri, and their mother Bestla, the daughter of a frost giant. Together with their father, the three brothers killed Ymir. His blood gushed into the abyss, drowning all but two of the frost giants who escaped the deluge in a boat. The Vikings imagined that all frost giants descended from these two. They also imagined that from Ymir's corpse, Odin and his brothers created the universe.



    Odin Creates the Universe

  8. Odin and his brothers first fashioned the earth (Midgard) from Ymir's flesh and, using his eyebrows, encircled it with a protective wall. Using Ymir's unbroken bones, they created mountains and from his teeth the rocks, boulders and stones. Using Ymir's blood, they created the sea and lakes. Using the dead giant's skull, they created the endless expanse of the sky and supported its corners with four dwarfs (Nordi, Surdi, Austri, Westri) from whose names we get the four main points of the compass; North, South, East and West. From Ymir's brains they created the clouds and from the sparks of Muspell, they created the sun, moon and stars to give light to the world. While the stars were fixed, the sun and moon were placed in golden chariots. Two riders named Day and Night were charged with guiding the sun and moon on their daily journey across the sky. They were pursued by a wolf intent on devouring them and from time to time, it did catch them in his mouth. Because of the cries of the terrified people of Midgard, the wolf released them, only to pursue them once again.

  9. The Vikings also imagined that by using the rotting remains of Ymir, Odin and his brothers created trolls, dwarfs, gnomes, fairies and elves. The brothers confined the dwarfs to the darkness of the underworld during the day. He made them the collectors of gold and silver which they stowed in secret crevices in the rocks. The fairies and elves were given the air between heaven and earth and attended to the needs of the flowers, plants, butterflies and birds.



    The Creation of Humans

  10. After the creation of Midgard, the Vikings imagined that Odin and his brothers created the first humans. From a branch of an ash tree they created a man named Askr and from the branch of an elm tree, they created a woman named Embla . They were both placed in Midgard and from the human race grew. Because Odin cared for his human creations, future generations of their offspring were watched and protected by the gods. It is in this part of the creation myth that Loki, an offspring of frost giants and blood brother of Odin, is introduced. Loki gave the humans blood. To influence the destinies of humans, a rainbow bridge called Bifrost connected Asgard and Midgard.



    Yggdrasil, The World Tree

  11. The nine worlds of the universe the Vikings imagined existed within a world tree named Yggdrasil (egg-draw-sill). Asgard, the realm of the gods was at the top, Midgard in the middle and Hel at its roots. The realms of the dwarfs and the frost giants also existed within the tree.

    The Yggdrasil tree had three large roots, each one of which dipped into three different wells. The first root dipped into the waters of Mimir's spring. These waters were filled with wisdom. The second root lay in the Well of Urd, where mythical creatures weaved the fates of mankind and tended to the needs of the tree. The third root fell into the dark waters where a dragon tore gnawed unceasingly at the tree. Four stags nibbled hungrily at the tree's green buds, while goats tore at the bark. High in the branches an eagle sat with a hawk perched upon his brow. a squirrel scurried up and down the Ash all day carrying insults between the eagle above to the dragon below.



    The Myths and the Viking's Natural Surroundings

  12. Because the ancient Norse were trying to explain the natural world in their myths, it is important to connect the life and times of their mythical characters with the world they experienced. It is easy to image that Niflheim and the frost giants represented the cold and icy parts of their northern latitude home, especially in the winter. It is equally easy to imagine that Muspelheim represented the warmer lands and climates they first visited as traders and later returned to as raiders. In astronomy, in its easy to image that eclipses of the sun and moon occurred when the hungry wolf caught the chariots carrying Day and Night. Even the cow created from the ice to nourish Ymir is connected to Viking life. They were successful farmers, and saw the cow as a source of life (milk and meat for food and leather for clothing) for its people.

  13. The Vikings and their ancestors did not record their religious beliefs. They relied on storytelling to pass their beliefs on from one generation to the next. In the mid-thirteenth century, nearly two hundred years after the end of the Viking Age, and Icelandic historian and poet decided to write down the tales he had heard. Collectively, his works is called the Prose Eddas. With a few exceptions, they are the only written record of the Viking's pagan beliefs.

  14. How close are these records to the true beliefs held by these early Scandinavians? Expert opinions are mixed. Some scholars suggest that when they were first recorded, the Vikings had been converts to Christianity for two centuries and that the skalds that recorded these myths were undoubtedly influenced by their Christian beliefs and their own views on the ancient myths. This, experts argue, is why there are so many similarities between Viking paganism and Christianity.



For Questions and Comments, contact
Jim Cornish,
Grade Five Teacher,
Gander, Newfoundland, Canada.

You have made the
[COUNTER IMAGE]
visit to my theme page!