Friday, October 01, 2010

The (Norse) Genesis Story, Part I: The Gods

Most of you, I'm sure, are familiar with the Creation story of the Book of Genesis. I always found it kind of odd, this dual creation of man (and odder still the way Christianity places so much more emphasis on that second creation story which "makes" woman subservient to man). Lately as I perused my Norse texts, I began thinking about the Norse creation story, and its Adam and Eve: Ask(r) and Embla**. And like the Christian mythos, there are two stories of creation (albeit not exactly parallel but much more sensible if you ask me). First we are told of how the gods themselves came into being, and then, secondly, the ancestors of man. Since this post kind of exploded in length, I'm splitting it in half, and today we're going to cover the creation of the gods!

Now Norse creation is not quite so tidy as the Christian, if only because there are a heck of a lot more intelligences being created: Giants, Gods, Dwarfs, Elves, humans, etc. In my last post we talked a little bit about Ymir and Buri's descendents leading to Odin and the creation of Midgard from Ymir's body. (Gives new meaning to the expression "over my dead body" doesn't it?) Ymir himself is sprung from the great melt when Múspellheim and Niflheim met after the big bang, and like Audumla the Cow, his creation is somewhat spontaneous, without credit to any other intelligence.

The Prose Edda (Gylfaginning, Chapter V) says:

when the breath of heat met the rime, so that it melted and dripped, life was quickened from the yeast-drops, by the power of that which sent the heat, and became a man's form. And that man is named Ymir
 Then in answer to how Ymir is nourished it goes on to say (Chapter VI):

"Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Audumla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir." Then asked Gangleri: "Wherewithal was the cow nourished?" And Hárr made answer: "She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man's hair; the second day, a man's head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty.
I suppose you could say that the gods themselves (Buri being the father of Bor who is the father of Odin) were unearthed after the big bang, as we might dig up fossils. Spontaneously made by the force of the explosion. It's also kind of interesting to note that all life so far has come from/risen out of the water, something that science today has determined to be absolutely essential to life and goes in search of on other planets today in the hope of finding other spontaneous life forms. It isn't really all that surprising that an ancient culture would find it essential as well, early man knew what it needed, and the Norse people made a very good living through mastery of the seas, but nowhere in the Christian Genesis does life seem quite so connected to water as we see in these myths.

All of this creation, and we haven't even gotten to MAN yet. You see what I mean about not being quite so tidy? But don't worry, we're almost there. You'll get to see Askr and Embla in Part II!

**image of Askr and Embla on the Faroe Islands Stamp from Wiki Commons. I'd post an Adam and Eve image, but frankly I think a lot of them are ugly. Maybe I'll dig one up I actually like for the next post :)


  1. Okay, I'm lame because I knew none of that. However, I've always found creation stories interesting- Christian, Egyptian, Greek, etc.

    I'm looking forward to the next installment!

  2. haha! I think that a good majority of people are not familiar with the Norse stories-- and these least of all! so no worries you are not lame! :) and NOW you know!

  3. Hey Amalia, thanks for this—the creation myths were not part of my researches, so this was all new to me! Very cool stuff!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it! I'll confess that I mostly just wanted an excuse to show off the imagery of that stamp. The Norse Creation myth is really amazing-- I definitely suggest giving it a read!

  5. That is one gorgeous stamp - worthy of framing.

    I am awed by the sheer number of creation myths, this one is particularly interesting because of the ties to the sea. That and the fact it's totally new to me. :) Looking forward to hearing what the Norse have to say about M-A-N.

  6. When I saw it, VR, I really really really wished I hadn't given up stamp collecting and could get my hands on one. Or that someone would turn it into a poster for me. I absolutely adore it!

  7. That's so interesting, I love the way they come from the water too!


  8. I'm fond of the Greek creation story, myself. Your posts always remind me that I mean to study more myths from other cultures more often, Amalia!

  9. I kind of skipped the very very beginning of the Norse myth. I need to reread the Greek!

  10. Mia: I wonder if it's purposeful. I can't decide if it is or not from the sources.

  11. How interesting, especially because I'm reading Joseph Campbell's "The Masks of God" and all the resemblances between different mythologies come to mind. I hope he'll cover Northern mythology on Vol. 3. I'm on Vol. 2 - Oriental Mythology. Fantastic!

  12. You're the second person to mention that series to me in the last two days! I am going to have to check them out for sure! :)


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