The Norse Creation Myth

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    In Chapter Seven I described a skald telling the sacred stories of the Norse in narrative form, the form in which we tell stories. In actuality, a skald would have told the story in poetic form, in verse. It was in verse that the Eddas, the sacred stories of the Norse, were composed and memorized; indeed, it was the use of verse that aided memorization. In preliterate Scandinavia such tricks were necessary if knowledge was to remain uncorrupted. To give you some of the flavor of the Eddas I have composed my own version of the creation myth that I mentioned in Chapter Six. However, I should point out that Norse poetry was alliterative, rather than rhyming, as ours is. Poetry authentic to the Norse style would not seem like poetry to us, so I have used the more familiar rhyming form.

From the wages of ignorance the Gods conspired to save us;

to protect us from folly, the Sacred Eddas they gave us.

In simple verse they gave us wisdom refined

to reside forever in the Valhall of the mind.


It's the beginnings of things that first you must know,

to understand whence they come and whither they go.

And first of all first things that you need to see

is the story of how the world itself came to be.


Between fiery birth and cold, frozen death,

all that exists is nought but a breath.

From hot Muspelheim, far in the south,

sparks are exhaled from Surtr's flaming mouth.


Northward the sparks, as stars, vainly fly.

To Niflheim's glacier they go, thither to die.

Cold dying stars reek putrid fumes,

from whose congealing a Frost Giant looms.


First the cow Audumla from starfarts congealed.

She licked at the glacier and giant Ymir, in all his ugliness, was revealed.

Came the Grandfathers of the World. Their iron spears they threw.

Stabbing and piercing, evil Ymir they slew.


Now the Grandfathers created, lest the giant live again,

the dwarves and trolls in the corpse to remain.

As maggots and worms, onto Ymir they were hurled,

to render the corpse and make it a world.


A foundation they laid in Ymir's cracking bones.

Pieces that broke off became mountains and stones.

The dome of Ymir's skull the dwarves raised on high

to make of it the icy expanse of the sky.


Digging and delving with diligent toil,

from Ymir's rotting flesh they created the soil.

From Ymir's hair they made the plants and the trees;

with Ymir's cold, clear blood they filled the seas.


They made the animals from Ymir's fleas and before they were done

the dwarves captured a spark and made it the sun.

They made all the fish from Ymir's slimy entrails

and Ymir's vaporous brain is in every cloud that sails.


With Ymir's dandruff they gave birds their wings

and Audumla's teats became freshwater springs.

But who would fill this empty world, the Gods asked of themselves,

with laughter and singing? Certainly not the elves.


So from ash and vine were the first man and woman made.

Ask and Embla they were called as onto the earth they were laid.

And the Gods came to give their new creations life

and to consecrate their union as husband and wife.


Thus the Grandfathers of the World created the fair human race

to keep the world clean and to guard each sacred place.

Here, then, is our duty. This is our fate;

this we must do until Ragnarok's date.


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Forward to Appendix II