Norse Creation Story
A mythology of a people is not just the stories they tell about their gods and goddesses. They also have stories about how the world was created, how humans were created, and why certain things came to be. Additionally, in Norse mythology they had a story about how the world was going to end.
Creation of the World
In the beginning there was a chasm called Ginnungagap. In one direction, mist and in another direction, fire. When the two came together it created a frost-giant named Ymir and a cow named Audhumla (ood-hoom-la). The cow survived by licking salt off of the ice. She licked the ice and then a man, Bur, appeared. Bur had a son, Buri and then Buri had three sons—Odin, Vili and Ve. They were not giants, but gods. One day Ymir, the frost-giant slept and he sweated out a male and a female under his left arm. From them came a race of giants.
Odin and his brothers battled with the frost-giant Ymir and killed him. When Ymir’s blood poured out it killed all of the other frost giants, except two. They swam until they came to a rock. The race of frost giants then continued.
Odin and his brothers divided up Ymir’s body to make the world:
- Blood=Oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water.
They called this world Midgard (which means “middle earth”) and it became the world of humans.
Yggdrasil is the World Tree. Some stories say that Yggdrasil grew out of Ymir’s body. It is an ash tree and it supports all nine of the worlds of the Norse cosmos.
At the upper level are three worlds:
- Asgard, the home of the Aesir.
- Vanaheim, home of the Vanir.
- Alfheim, home of the light elves.
The middle four worlds:
- Midgard, home of humans.
- Jotunheim, home of the giants.
- Svartalfheim, home of the dark elves.
- Nidavellir, home of the dwarfs.
The bottom two worlds:
- Hel, realm of the dead.
- Muspellheim, land of fire where no one dwells.
The roots of Yggdrasil are nourished by water from three wells and the three Norns live by the well Urd that waters the tree. The root in Niflheim is in a dark and nasty place, and the Niddhog eats away at the root trying to destroy it. The branches above hold an eagle and a squirrel. The eagle surveys the world while the squirrel goes up and down the tree between the eagle and the Niddhog delivering their insults to one another.
Creation of Humans
Odin and his brothers were walking along the edge of the sea admiring their handiwork in creating the world when they came across two fallen trees, an elm and an ash. Odin breathed the spark of life into them. The other brothers gave each tree the five senses. These two trees became the first man and woman; the woman, Embla, came from the elm and the man, Ask, from the ash. Odin and his brothers gave the two new humans the world of Midgard.
The Story of Balder and Loki
The story of Balder and Loki is important because it signals the beginning of Ragnarok, the Norse end-of-the-world scenario. What happens to Balder is the catalyst that sets the circumstances of Ragnarok in motion. It is also a story of traveling to the underworld, disguises, and treachery. All familiar components for a mythological story!
Balder was the god of light and truth. He lived in his palace, Breidablik (bray-tha-bleek), where no untruth could pass through its doors. His wife was Nanna, a goddess of vegetation. Balder had a twin brother, Hodur who was his exact opposite. Where Balder represented life, Hodur represented dark. Where Baldor represented innocence and truth, Hodur represented sin. Balder could see with clarity while Hodur was totally blind.
Balder started having visions in his sleep of dark and terrible things. They were so bad that they bothered him during the day, and since he couldn’t sleep, he became depressed and gloomy and moped around Asgard. This concerned the other gods and goddesses. Since no untruths could pass through his palace walls they knew the visions he was having were true, and since they bothered him so much they knew the visions were awful. No one wanted to see Balder, their beautiful god of light, upset by such dreams. Balder was the god of light and his body even emitted radiant light. His light must have been dim while suffering from these visions.
The gods gathered to discuss the problem. What should they do about Balder? They decided that his mother Frigga would travel to every corner of all the nine worlds and get assurances from everything that they would not harm Balder. Frigga received her assurances. After that, all the gods met in Gladsheim again to celebrate Balder’s health. They got drunk and decided to check and see if Frigga really had protected Balder. One of the gods threw a pebble at Balder’s forehead. He felt nothing. So the gods decided to try other weapons. They threw stones and daggers and swords until finally Thor threw axes at him. The items all bounced off of Balder. All the gods enjoyed themselves with this sport.
However, Loki, the trickster god, wanted to cause trouble. He was determined to see if Balder really was impervious to harm. He slunk off to come up with a plan. He went to Frigga’s palace where she had gone, because she was tired of the festivities. Loki disguised himself as a disgusting old hag and he asked Frigga what was causing all that commotion and why the gods all threw things at Balder if they were supposed to be celebrating him. Frigga told him. He asked if she really got the assurances from everything. She admitted that she hadn’t gotten one from mistletoe. Frigga was so disgusted by Loki’s disguise that she was in a hurry to get him out of her palace, and so she was not as careful as she should have been.
Loki went to the forest where mistletoe grows and formed some into a fine point. He then went back to the celebrations where he located Hodur not participating in the festivities because of his blindness. Loki sympathized with Hodur that he couldn’t participate and offered to give him a good weapon and to guide his aim. Hodur allowed Loki to guide him. Hodur went over to where Balder and the others were celebrating and with Loki guiding his aim the mistletoe spear pierced Balder through the chest. Balder died immediately.
At first the gods were stunned, but then they recognized Loki behind Hodur. As soon as he realized he was found out, he ran away. The gods then began to mourn their loss. Odin knew, though, that the death of light and truth meant the beginning of the end of the world.
Frigga asked for one of the gods to travel to Hel in the underworld to return Balder to the land of the living. Hermod, son of Odin, and the messenger to the gods, offered. Odin lent him his eight legged horse Sleipnir.
In Niflheim Hermod found Balder and Nanna, but their spirits seemed dead. He tried to get Balder to leave but Balder said that it was impossible. So, Hermod spoke to Hel of Frigga’s pleas to return Balder to life. Hel agreed that she would release Balder only if everything in the world, both animate and inanimate, shed a tear for Balder.
Odin sent out four messengers to announce Balder’s death and ask for everything to grieve. Everything grieved and shed a tear except one giantess. She refused to shed a tear. Turned out that the giantess was Loki in disguise!
After the mourning, Odin fathered a child named Vali. Vali was born solely to revenge Balder’s death. He carried a quiver full of arrows, and when he came across Hodur he killed him.
Loki was banished from Asgard for his actions. But one day he returned while the gods were feasting, and he started shouting at them. Thor was not there but he walked in as Loki shouted at his wife Sif. Thor tried to hit him with his hammer, but the nimble Loki got away again. He hid in a hut on top of a hill. He devised ways of finding out if one of the gods was coming for him. He even stayed next to a stream that led downhill and if he needed to escape, he’d turn into a salmon and swim away. Unfortunately for Loki, Thor found out about this and when the gods returned for him they were able to throw a net and catch him as a fish. They then imprisoned Loki and tortured him. They tied him up with the entrails of his own son below a serpent whose venom would drip into his eyes. Loki’s wife caught the venom in a bowl, but when she poured the contents of the bowl out, Loki would get it in his eyes again.
With Balder dead and Loki imprisoned the end of the world will happen. All of the forces of evil and those of good will face off. At the end almost everything will be destroyed. Balder, however, will survive and return from the dead after the battles and destruction of Ragnarok.