The Norse Creation Story

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The Story of creation according to the Norse.

In the beginning of everything, there was a realm called Niflheim (also known as Neflheimr). Niflheim was located on the northern side of the Great Void the Norse called the Ginunngagap. The Ginunngagap was the Mighty Gap of nothingness between realms.

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The Void (Oil on Canvas) by Kane © 2009

Niflheim was a dark and cold place that consisted mostly of ice and frost. Everywhere in Niflheim there was a mist from which it gets its literal translation of its name, ‘Mist Home’ or ‘Mist World.’

mist-panorama

In the frozen mist realm of Niflheim, there’s a water spring called “Hvergelmir” from which all the cold rivers originate from. The rivers flow down into the Gininngagap where the cold water would then solidify into dense layers of ice. This explained to the Old Norse as to why the North was so cold. It also explained why the rivers and streams that ran down from the mountains was so cold all year long, regardless of season.

The Hvergelmir Spring was believed to be the place from where all living things originated and where they’d eventually return back to after death.

Within the spring, it is believed that many snakes live there and that it’s the home of the dragon Nidhogg (Old Norse: Níðhöggr).

Nidhogg
Níðhöggr gnaws the roots of Yggdrasill in this illustration from a 17th-century Icelandic manuscript.

On the southern side of the Mighty Gap of Gininngagap was the realm of fire called, Muspelheim. From the realm of Muspelheim flowed lava and fire that went into the south side of the Gininngagap.

Evening Splendor, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Image: Evening Splendor, Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

In the center of the Gininngagap, where the ice from Niflheim and the fire from Muspelheim met, formed the great giant Ymir.

From Ymir more giants formed.

As he slept, he’d sweat a giant from each of his armpits, a male and a female. And from his legs, a third giant formed. These giants were the first frost giants (Jötnar plural, Jötunn singular).

The giants were breastfed by Auðumbla, a giant cow (aurochs possibly) which had also been created in the middle of the great void of the Gininngagap where the Niflheim ice met the fire flowing from Muspelheim.

While Ymir suckles at the udder of Auðumbla, Búri is licked out of the ice in this 18th-century painting by Nicolai Abildgaard (1790)
While Ymir suckles at the udder of Auðumbla, Búri is licked out of the ice in this 18th-century painting by Nicolai Abildgaard (1790)

Daily the great cow Auðumbla would lick the salt from the ice that formed in the Gininngagap for nourishment. One day when she was licking the salt ice, a human hair formed from out of the ice. She continued licking the salt from the ice and on the next day a human head formed from where the human hair had previously formed.

Búri is licked out of a salty ice-block by the cow Auðumbla in this illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.
Búri is licked out of a salty ice-block by the cow Auðumbla in this illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.

She continued licking the salt ice and then on the third day, a whole human body emerged. This was the first man to have emerged from Auðumbla licking salt from the ice.

This first man was known as Buri and he was also the first of the Aesir Gods.

Buri had a son called Borr that married a frost giant (jötunn) named Bestla and together they had three sons named, Odin, Vili, and Ve.

These brothers were to become the creator gods.

The brothers Odin, Vili, and Ve were greatly disturbed by the fact that the Frost Giants (Jötnar) outnumbered the Aesir Gods. The giant Ymir was constantly conceiving new Jötnar and killing Ymir to stop this from happening was the only solution that the three Aesir gods could come up with to solve the problem.

So they came up with a plan to slay Ymir;
While he was sleeping they would attack him.

Ymir being slain by Odin and his brothers (Lorenz Frølich)
Ymir being slain by Odin and his brothers (Lorenz Frølich)

As soon as they were sure the great giant was asleep, they ambushed him. The slumbering Ymir was instantly rose from his sleep by the attack and there was a huge battle that ensued. The great giant fought with all of his might, but the Aesir gods emerged victorious.

So much blood flowed from the slain great giant Ymir that it drowned most of the Jötnar. All the frost giants died, except Bergelmir and his wife and they escaped to Niflheim. All Jötnar afterward were descended from this frost giant couple.

The Aesir gods dragged the slain body of Ymir to the center of the great void Gininngagap and then Odin, Vili, and Ve, created the World from the slain corpse.

  • From Ymir’s blood, they created the oceans and seas.
  • Then they made the mountains from the giant’s bones and used his flesh to make the lands.
  • They formed rocks from his teeth and used his hair to make the grass and trees.
  • From Ymir’s eyelashes, the gods made barriers around the World, “Midgard (Miðgarð),” where humans would live, to keep it safe from the Jötnar.
  • The clouds formed when they threw his brain into the air and
  • they formed the sky from the great giant’s skull.
  • In the sky, they threw some of the sparks that emitted from Muspelheim and those became the stars.
  • On the splendid plain of Iðavöllr, they then built their home Asgard, which was far from the reach of where both the Jötnar and the humans lived.

While Odin, Vili, and Ve were creating everything in the World, worms began crawling out of the dead body of Ymir.

These worms turned into and became the dwarfs (dvergr).

Odin, Vili, and Ve told four of the dwarfs to hold up the sky, as they didn’t want to risk the sky falling down.

The names of the four dwarves holding the sky were: ‘Nordi’ (North), ‘Vestri’ (West), ‘Sundri’ (South), and ‘Austri’ (East). The rest of the dwarves made their homes in Nidavellir, which was underground in the rocks and caves where the dwarves became expert craftsman and builders.

Two dwarfs as depicted in the 19th century by Lorenz Frølich
Two dwarfs as depicted in the 19th century by Lorenz Frølich

A Jötunn (frost giant) had two children that were so beautiful that they actually shined.

So the frost giant called his bright son ‘Mani’ (Moon) and his radiant daughter ‘Sol’ (Sun). The children were admired by the whole world and this was a source of great pride to the Jötnar.

The Aesir gods became furious by this arrogance and took both of them from him and placed them in the sky. Sol (Sun) and Mani (Moon) were then pulled across the sky by horse driven chariots.

The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani” by J.C. Dollman 1909.
The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani” by J.C. Dollman 1909.

To keep the Sun and Moon’s motion constant and swift, the Aesir gods placed two other Jötunn children named, Sköll and Hati (Hati Hróðvitnisson) in pursuit behind them. These two Jötunn children in pursuit were both great wolves and they chased Sol (Sun) and Mani (Moon) in a never ending quest to gobble them whole.

Each month wolf Hati was able to take a bite out of the Moon, trying to gobble it up as it caught up to it. But the Moon always got away and grew whole again after a few days. At Ragnarok, the wolves Sköll and Hati would eventually catch the sun and the moon and consume them whole.

Until that time happens in Ragnarok, the Norse end of times, the chase after the Sun and the Moon goes on relentlessly.

The three Aesir gods created the first humans.

The three Aesir gods, Odin, Vili and Ve, were walking on a beach one day when they came upon two logs. One log was from an Ash tree and the other from an Elm tree. From these two logs, the Aesir gods created the first humans.

From the Ash log became the first man, named Ask and from the Elm log became the first woman named Embla.

The Aesir gods gave them life by each giving them separate gifts. Spirit and life were given from Odin. Ve gave both logs movement, mind and intelligence. And from Vili they were given shape, speech, feelings, and the five senses.

The Aesir gods decided that the humans should live in the place they created named Midgard.

Midgard would be the garden of mankind of which the gods had created, both humankind and their world around them.

The first living people, Ask and Embla. Sölvesborg, Sweden
The first living people, Ask and Embla. Sölvesborg, Sweden

Sources:

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by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing


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Njord Kane is an infantry and cavalry veteran who also served in law enforcement just prior to entering into the world of academia where he pursued the disciplines of military science, social psychology, and anthropology. Having left his profession, he now takes care of his adult autistic sons at home while passionately writing about early Norse and Mesoamerican culture and history at spangenhelm.com and readicon.com. Kane is also the author of numerous books including, The Vikings, The Maya, and The Viking Hero Series.

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