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Sources of Norse Mythology Norse myths existed only in oral form while they were central to religious belief. They were only written down after Northern Europe had become Christian. So we have new problems with our primary sources: no coherent body of literature showing the myths and legends possible alteration due to the influence of Christianity
Sources: The Eddas Prose Edda: A narrative of many different adventures of the Norse gods, but presented as a fictional account, sometimes almost humorous. The closest we have to an overview/ collection of Norse myth, but often untraditional, and very engaged with intellectual & Christian traditions (e.g., he connects Thor with Troy).
Poetic Eddas: Traditional songs, which often refer to mythic incidents, usually just individual adventures. Skaaldic songs: poems in honor of human accomplishments, with occasional references to myth, sometimes very cryptic. Sources
Creation: Fusion of hot and cold In the south was a land of fire; in the north was a land of ice. They met in the great emptiness of Ginnungagap, and the ice began to melt. From the melting ice came a huge giant, Ymir. The first man and woman grew from his armpits. The frost-giants (Jogar) grew from his feet. Ymir fed on the milk of a cow (Audhumla), which licked another creature, a man named Bur, from the ice.
Creation The world was divided into several worlds. The world tree, Yggdrasill, extended between all of these lands. At its foot in Asgard was the well of Urd, where the Norns lived, three women who oversee fate. Bur’s grandsons, Odin and 2 brothers (Ve and Villi), killed Ymir and made the world from his parts: his skull became the sky his eyebrows formed a barrier between the world of men and the world of giants his blood became sea and lakes his bones became the mountains
The Three Levels of Existence Realm of Asgard Realm of Midgard Realm of Niflheim (world of the dead)
Realm of Asgard Asgardian (gods): Asgard. Light Elves: Alfheim Primordial element of Fire and Fire Demons: Muspelheim
Realm of Midgard *** Asgard and Midgard were connected with the flaming bridge, Bifrost, that appears to the human eye as a rainbow. Upper Region Vanir (gods): Vanaheim Humans: Midgard Lower Region Giants: Jotunheim Dwarves: Nidavellir Dark Elves: Svartalfheim
Realm of Niflheim Dead: Hel – where those who died of old age, sickness, or accident were judge
World in the Balance Creation was all tied together by Yggdrasil Yggdrasill, the world tree, spans the different realms of Norse myth. These realms are joined by the three roots of the great tree Yggdrasill.
The Gods The Norse gods are divided into two races: Aesir and Vanir. Aesir are dominant; they are the gods most associated with heroic tales, conflict with giants, warfare, and the beginning and end of the world. Vanir tend to be fertility deities; there are fewer of them.
Njord, a god of the sea and seafaring Freyr, a god of crop fertility Freyja, “Goddess of love and sexuality, also associated with crop fertility; goddess of a realm of death; associated with shamanic experience. Frigg goddess of love and fertility. She receives credit for seeing the fate of all mankind. Nanna is the mood goddess. She died of grief when her husband Balder died. Skadi goddess of skis or snow shoes Hermod messenger to the gods. Tried to convince Hel to release Balder. The Vanir Gods
Bor father of Odin Odin is the chief of the gods; more later. His wife is Frigg, whose name means fate. Ve and Villi brothers of Odin who killed Ymir and made the world out of his dead body Ulle god of chase, archery, and hunting. He was called upon to help in duels. Sif the goddess of crops and fertility. Wife of Thor. Bragi god of poetry and eloquence. Married to Iduna who lived in the underworld Iduna goddess of youth, keeper of the apples which keep the gods eternally young Hod blind god of winter who kills his brother with mistletoe as a result of a trick The Aesir Gods
Tyr is a war god, who bound the wolf Fenrir Fenrir is the giant wolf who is the son of Loki Thor is a god of thunder, with the muscle, violence, and brute strength laced with intelligence, that we see in Heracles. Loki is a trickster figure, often on the side of mischief or even evil; his father was a giant. Hemdall watches the rainbow bridge for the coming of Ragnarok and never sleeps Balder (the beautiful) is the beloved god of light, justice, and spring who dies from an act of betrayal. He had nightmares that couldn’t be deciphered. Forseti a god of justice who was pure and fair Hel goddess of the underworld The Aesir Gods: The Most Popular!
End of the world Similar to Christian concepts Good vs. Evil But…...
Ragnarok Norse myth, unlike Greek and near Eastern, does not portray a world in which the gods have conquered discord and established order, but a world in which the gods are constantly battling their adversaries. This battle comes to a head at Ragnarok. The death of Balder is one element in the final episode of Norse myth, Ragnarok, “The Twilight of the Gods.”
Ragnarok Loki remains suffering under the poison of the serpent, and Balder remains in Hel (rather than in Valhalla!) until the conflicts of Ragnarok. The end of the world is preceded by an increase of wars and conflicts among men; then there is a three-year winter. Monsters break loose, jormungand (the world’s serpent) emerges from the sea and floods the earth. A wolf swallows the sun and her brother the moon; stars fall from the sky.
“An age of axes, an age of swords, shattered shields, an Age of tempests, an age of wolves, before the age of men crashes down.” Led by the giant Surt, with Loki as the helmsman, the giants arrive in their ship, Naglfar, made from the uncut fingernails of the dead (It was considered a disgrace to die with uncut fingernails. Everyone who died contributed to the building of this ship, and the gods wanted to prolong its completion as long as possible.) A huge battle between gods and giants takes place at the gates of Asgard.
Ragnarok Odin is swallowed by Fenrir; Odin’s son Vidar kills the wolf in revenge. Thor once again fights jormungand (serpent); he kills it, but he also dies from the venom. Tyr fights the hound Garm, and they kill each other.
Ragnarok Loki and Heimdall (watchmen of the gods) kill each other. Freyr is killed by the giant Surt, who scatters fire over the earth. But from this destruction comes a new world and those who remained hidden in Yggdrasill will repopulate the world. Thus the end will contain the germ of a new beginning, and the cycle will start again. Balder (god of light and spring) returns from Hel to rule over this new world, in peace and plenty. A golden age arises; fields flourish without work. Two humans survived to begin the race again...
Modern Day Influence: Sunday: Sun's Day. The Sun gave people light and warmth every day. They decided to name the first (or last) day of the week after the Sun. Monday: Moon's Day. The Moon was thought to be very important in the lives of people and their crops. Tuesday: Tiw's Day. Tiw, or Tyr, was a Norse god known for his sense of justice. Wednesday: Woden's Day. Woden, or Odin, was a Norse god who was one of the most powerful of them all. Thursday: Thor's Day. Thor was a Norse god who wielded a giant hammer. Friday: Frigg's Day. Frigg was a Norse god equal in power to Odin. Saturday: Seater's Day or Saturn's Day. Saturn was a Roman god.