Before the creation of Midgard and Asgard, before the existence of gods and giants, before even the beginning of time itself, there was the abyss. To either side of this emptiness lay Niflheim, to the north, realm of ice, and Muspelheim, to the south, realm of fire. The chasm between them was named Ginnungagap, ‘the gaping abyss‘.
A river named Hvergelmer ran through Niflheim, dividing itself into twelve icy streams. The twelve streams joined to form the rivers of Gjol, near to Hel-gate and of Elivagar.
Throughout eons the rivers of Niflheim poured into the abyss, slowly filling Ginnungagap, forming an endless plain of ice, and bringing the cold of the north ever closer to the fire of the south.
In the midst of this great space grew the Tree of Life, Yggdrasill, stretching its branches high up into the cosmos.
This is our four part series on Norse Cosmology
- Part one: The Norse Creation Myth
- Part two: Yggdrasil, The Bifrost and Well of Urd
- Part three: The Nine Realms
- Part four: Ragnarok
The Birth of Ymir
Molten sparks from Muspelheim landed upon the ice sheet, and in their dying caused the ice to melt. Out of these droplets Ymir, the first Jötunn, ‘Frost-Giant’, ‘devourer’, and original being of creation was formed. As the great being slumbered, the first sleep of our universe, the sweat from his armpits, and the flesh of his legs gave birth to three more giants, and thus was the first family of the nine worlds created.
Wicked of heart, cruel of intent, the Frost-Giants were a prolific and evil race of beings.
Audhumbla and Buri
A further creature then came forth from the ice, a cow named Audhumbla, who nourished the giants with her milk. This cow, tiring of consuming ice and snow, began to lick an icy rock she found. Finding the salty taste of the rock good, she continued to lick until a strange outline began to form.
The more Audhumbla licked, the clearer the outline became until by evening of the second day, it was clear that a man’s head was buried within the ice and rock.
By the third day, the ice had given way to reveal a man, fully formed, handsome, powerful, and awake. Unlike the cold giants, this first of all gods, first of the Aesir, named Buri, ‘the progenitor’, was warm-hearted, kindly, and good. Looking about him, he saw the race of giants, and recognizing their evil, vowed to throw them down and forever thwart their bad intentions.
The Birth of Odin
In time, from Buri came forth Bor, ‘the son’, who married with Bestla, a giantess, daughter of Bolthorn, forever mixing the races of god and devourer. From their marriage came forth three sons, named Odin, Vili, and Ve. All three brothers were sworn enemies of the wicked Frost-Giants.
After great swathes of time, beyond the reckoning of mortals, Odin and his brother saw that the giants were a prolific and evil race and saw that they must act to bring their reign to an end.
Ymir was the first to die at the hands of the three Aesir brothers. His body was so vast that they used it to build worlds. Creating the Nine Realms inhabited by all beings today. The blood of Ymir, spewed forth from his wounds. Forming rivers so wild that the Frost-Giants, men, women, and children, were all destroyed. The sole survivors were one man and wife from which all giants, derive today.
The Building of the Worlds
The brothers now set to work, dragging Ymir’s vast remains from the pit of Ginnungagap. From his bones they created mountains, from his blood the oceans, the seas, lakes, rivers, and springs. The shards of his broken teeth and bones became stones and sand. From the dome of his massive skull, was the arch of the heavens constructed. His brains became the clouds, his hair, the flowers, trees, and all the plants of the sea and land. His flesh formed the earth from which all plant life grows. Finally, his mighty eyebrows were set around the world as a “gard”, a barrier to keep out any giants. Who otherwise might disturb the paradise the gods planned as a home for the mortals they planned to create.
This earth was named Midgard. Once complete, the gods took sparks of fire from Muspelheim to set stars into the firmament. To each light was given a name and a duty. Throughout the passage of time, gods and mortals might keep track of time without losing themselves in the endless flow of events.
Sunna and Mani
A brother and sister, Sunna and Mani, were set in the sky to draw chariots across the heavens. Sunna lights the day, Mani, the night. Odin gifted each with fleet horses so that their journey might be lightened and true.
The brothers surveyed their work and the green world of Midgard, intended for mortals, was good. Yet, was it surrounded by Jotunheim, home of giants. Therefore they decided it would be best to build their own abode Asgard above these places. Allowing them to look down upon their creation. Protecting it and its future inhabitants from the malign intentions of the Frost-Giants. To connect their world to that of men and women they used the Bifrost. The rainbow bridge, in place as means of transport for the gods.
The Dwarfs of Midgard
In their first attempt to people this world, the Aesir used the scattered leftovers of Ymir’s gigantic corpse to fashion a race of beings. From the rotting of his putrid remains came worms, and from the worms came dwarfs.
Four of these sturdy creatures were set to hold up the heavens, forming the four cardinal directions.
Small, wise, stout, and skilled in stone and metalwork, their nature was closer to that of giants than of the gods. This race loved to live below the earth in the cold and dark, searching endlessly for gold, silver, and other precious metals and stones. Although sometimes as wicked as the giants, the race of dwarfs could also be as noble as the Aesir themselves. For the race of men and women to come, however, the dwarfs never lost a moment of love, disliking them from the moment of their creation.
Not content with these cave dwellers, the gods preferred to create a new race of mortals deserving of their blessings. They would for all time receive their protection from all the evils of the Nine Realms. Odin and two of his kin, Hoenir, and Loder descended the Bifrost to search for means to accomplish this task.
Ask and Embla
Walking along the seashore the three brothers found two fine trees, an elm, and an ash. Odin caused them to come alive with his breath. These trees are the ancestors of all men and women. Hoenir placed his hand upon their brows to make them wise. Lastly Loder caressed their faces to give them sight, sound, and speech. Their names were Ask, from the ash, first of all men, and Embla, from the elm, first of all women.
The work completed Odin, the all-knowing, all-powerful Allfather, began his reign over the nine realms. All of which were supported by the great cosmic tree Yggdrasil.
Thus begins the story of the Norse gods, Jötuns, the light elves, dwarfs, and the mortals who lived among them. Until it all comes crashing down at the time of Ragnarok.