“ Investigations into Germanic Mythology ” - Volume II , by VIKTOR RYDBERG -Translated and Annotated by William P. Reaves © 2010 - All Rights Reserved- “AN OVERVIEW of the GERMANIC MYTHOLOGY'S EPIC ORDER”
I have presented for my readers, in their details and overall, provide evidence that the Germanic myths formed an epic, whose core, already organized into an epic, originated in Proto-Indo-European times.
For this reason, it is useless to ask when the individual Germanic myths were first brought into epic connection with one another.
When the protoGermanic language began to diverge from its western Indo-European stem as a branch flourishing in its own right, the epic state of the extant myths was already an age-old fact, which extended to the very roots of Proto-Indo-European life.
I have already shown that the Germanic myths are of much different ages, and a separate treatise is devoted to those that demonstrably originate from the Proto-Indo-European era. . 2
Others belong, as we have seen, to later ages: some to the so-called European Indo-European era,3 some to the European Bronze Age, and still others to the Iron Age, and it may be taken for granted that all of these inherited sagas, so different in age, were influenced by the times that they passed through right up to the end of heathendom.
But whatever their origin and whatever their transformations may have been since they arose and became universally accepted, they have been joined as new links to an already existing epic chain of myths, created by degrees.
I. THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.
1. Chaos. The World-Tree. Ginnungagap.
This world had a beginning. There was a time when none of its elements existed. However in the empty abyss, three forces were at work: Cold, Heat, and Creative Power. These rose up out of three springs of unknown origin which, after Creation, took their place in the world and are called: Hvergelmir, Urd's well, and Mimir's well. To the north of Ginnungagap, Hvergelmir enveloped the rime in an icy mist; to the south of the void, warmth rose up from its well. Where cold and warmth met in Ginnungagap, the primal elements were formed by their clashing and blending. In the middle of Ginnungagap was the well of Creative Power, and beneath it, the seed of Yggdrasil, the world-tree.
2. Primal Beings.
The Primal Cow Audhumla. The first living creature that quickened out of chaos was the primal cow. From the congealed elements, she licked the progenitor of the gods, Buri. With four streams of milk, she nourished the primal giant Ymir, who was formed from the precipitation of the icy waves. Different giant clans grew from Ymir's different limbs: from under his left arm came the clan that is friendly to the gods, to which Mimir, his sister Bestla, and the dises of Fate belong. Together, Ymir's feet begot with one another the Hrimthursar (frost-giants), a monstrous and misshapen clan.
3. The Underworld. The Sons of Bor.
The underworld or Jörmungrund was the first world that the growing Yggdrasil bore. There, the original smith, Mimir, guards the well of Creative Power. The dises of fate guard the well of Heat. Buri's son, Bor, took Bestla, Mimir's sister, as his wife. Their sons, Odin, Hoenir and Lodur are the progenitors of all the gods.
4. The First Condition of the World.
Yggdrasil grew very high, watered and watched over by Mimir and the dises of Fate. From it grew the branches upon which the Earth plane rests. These were occupied for a long time by Ymir and the offspring of his feet, the frost-giants.
5. Odin’s Self-Sacrifice.
Determined to rule the earth but still young and inexperienced, Odin realized that alone he did not have enough power to get rid of the offspring of chaos. Therefore, he climbed up into Yggdrasil, remained there for nine nights without food or drink, pierced with a spear, sacrificed to himself, and prayed for the power he needed. He received it from Mimir, who gave him a drink from the well of Creation and taught him powerful songs.
6. The Frost-Giants Defeated.
Odin and his brothers slew Ymir. Most of the frost-giants drowned in his blood, and their souls migrated down into the northernmost, fog-enshrouded part of the underworld, Niflhel. However, a few of the youngest frost-giants saved themselves on the coasts of the northernmost part of the Earth, which is called Jotunheim.
7. The World-Mill.
Mimir's craftsmen built an enormous mill in the underworld over the well, Hvergelmir. It regulates the ebb and flow of the seas, turns the vault of heaven, and grinds the flesh of Ymir and his kinsmen into fertile soil.
8. Creation Continues.
The meal into which Ymir's flesh was ground covers Midgard, whose foundation Bor's sons raised out of the ocean of blood. Mimir and Durin created the smiths who built the mill in accordance with a decree of the council of gods. They created the heavens out of Ymir's skull, mountains from his bones, etc. and forged the artwork and ornamentation that beautify all Creation. Mimir's daughter, Night, and all her kinsmen were taken up into the circle of gods. The roads traveled by Day and Night, Sun and Moon were laid out. The Aesir and the Vanir defined their separate roles: the Vanir preside over the regulation of the world's fixed processes and the Aesir watch over and guard all of creation. Thus, the Aesir built the marvelous Asgard high in Yggdrasil for themselves. The bridge Bifröst extends between Asgard and the underworld.
II. THE PRIMEVAL AGE OF PEACE.
9. The Peace Covenant.
All creatures formed a covenant, and to seal it gave one another hostages. The Vanir's hostages to the Aesir were Njörd and his son Frey. Odin married Frigg, Njörd's sister. Odin and Mimir gave one another pledges. The giant children Gullveig and Loki were admitted into Asgard. The goddesses favored Gullveig; Odin and Loki entered into sworn brotherhood. Odin sent his son Tyr to be fostered by the giant Hymir, and his son Thor, he sent to the giant Vingnir and his wife Hlora.
10. The Treasures of the Gods.
In Mimir's smithy, his own sons and Ivaldi's sons worked forging many precious treasures for the gods. Mimir's sons made Brisingamen for Freyja, and, for all the gods, a wonderful golden board game. Ivaldi's sons forged the spear Gungnir for Odin, the ship Skidbladnir for Frey, and, for Njörd, an ax that can break every lock. For all the gods, Ivaldi's sons prepared a "remedy against old-age," which is preserved by their sister Idun, who was accepted into Asgard. Njörd sent his young son Frey to be fostered by Ivaldi's sons.
11. The Creation of Man.
The world was now in good order, but the beautifully decorated Midgard remained humanless. From two trees, Ask and Embla, which grew by the sea in Aurvangaland, Odin, Hoenir and Lodur created the first human beings.
12. Heimdall, the Culture-Bearer.
The descendants of Ask and Embla lived in a cultureless condition. But one day, on their shores, a boat landed in which lay a boy sleeping on a sheaf of corn, surrounded by all manner of tools and forged items. The boy was Heimdall, sent by the gods. The people accepted him tenderly. He grew up among them and taught them to kindle the holy fire using the fire-auger. He taught them the runes of time and the runes of eternity. He introduced agriculture, handicrafts and smithwork. He ordered their society, and established the three castes.
13. Heimdall, the first patriarch.
He lived a long time as a man among men, and his reign was the race's golden age. When he died, his boat returned to collect him. The sorrowing people surrounded him with treasures and weapons. The boat returned to Vanaheim, where Heimdall was stripped of his aged human shape, became a divine youth and was accepted into Asgard. 14. Skjöld-Borgar, the second patriarch, succeeded him as ruler and judge in Aurvangaland. During the Golden Age, Midgard was populated as far north as Svarin's Mound in Svithjod (Sweden) and beyond. Ivaldi (Svigdir) became the ruler in this northern region.
III. THE TRANSITION FROM PEACE TO WAR
15. Runes of Witchcraft.
Gullveig’s First Burning. 8 The forces of the giant-world, the descendants of Ymir's feet, who dwell in Niflhel and Jotunheim, hated the race of men that the gods had created and protected. They hated the holy songs Odin received from Mimir, and all the good learning that our race received from Heimdall. Their purpose is to destroy the world's order and bring back Chaos, from which they trace their origin. Gullveig and Loki were their secret allies in Asgard. Gullveig devised the evil sorcery and the runes of witchcraft, an antithesis to Heimdall's teachings.9 She wanted to entice Freyja, whose handmaiden she was, to practice this art, but it was discovered and the gods sentenced Gullveig to burn. Then for the first time, flames learned to become blended with smoke and thus could only half-burn her heart.
16. The Birth of the Midgard Serpent.
Loki found and swallowed the half-burnt heart. Thereby, he became pregnant and bore the Midgard serpent, which he threw into the sea. The Midgard serpent grows in direct proportion to the evil in the world.
17. Thor’s First Giant-slaying.
The giants Vingnir and Hlora treacherously wanted to take their foster son Thor's life when they noticed that he had grown enormously strong. But Thor, while still young, killed them both and traveled to Asgard with Vingnir's vafur-laden10 stone hammer. By that time, the giants had become numerous in Jotunheim and comprised many mighty clans.
18. The Gods’ Chalet at Elivogar.
When sworn oaths had thus been broken (a hostage from the giant-world burnt in Asgard, and the foster-parents' holy obligations betrayed in Jotunheim), the peace covenant consequently was no longer valid. The gods feared an attack on Midgard by the giants. Therefore, they established a citadel on the southern coast of Elivogar,11 from which the activities of the giants could be watched. The citadel became Thor's property and he entrusted it to a company of elves, over which Ivaldi and his son Egil acted as rulers. Ivaldi, the ruler of Svithjod and Finland, was the best of all spear-champions. Egil was the finest of all archers and skiers. Völund, Egil's brother, a smith who had learned his art at Mimir's forge, was considered to be as good or better than Mimir's finest smiths. Ivaldi, his sons and warriors pledged an oath of allegiance to the gods.
19. Gullveig’s Second Appearance and Burning.
Gullveig was born anew in Jotunheim and proceeded from there to Midgard, where she wandered about under the name Heid, bearing her unholy runes of witchcraft from house to house, working against He before the gods, who burned her a second time. As before, her half-burnt heart remained and was swallowed by Loki, who again became pregnant and gave birth to the Fenris-Wolf, which he convinced the Aesir to take in as a plaything and raise in Asgard.12
20. The Giants Want to Test Thor’s Strength.
The giants devised a plan with Loki by which they could ascertain whether Thor would become a dangerous opponent for them. Loki urged Thor to make a journey to the fire giant Fjalar, who was competent in magic, and even accompanied him there. Optical illusions surrounded them on the way to and inside of Fjalar's citadel. Athletic competitions were held in which Thor imagined himself defeated, when in truth he had displayed incredible strength.13
21. Thjalfi and Svipdag.
Egil and his wife Groa adopted an orphan, Thjalfi, who grew up in Egil's citadel, showing a brave and clever disposition early on. Later Egil and Groa had a handsome son of their own named Svipdag(Od).
22. Thor’s Journey to Hymir.
The giant Hymir owned the bull, Himinhrjotur; he also owned an enormous brewing-kettle, which the gods required in order to make use of what the sea-giant Aegir had obligated himself to brew for them. Thor, followed by Tyr, who had been fostered in Hymir's gard, proceeded there. He left his goatspan and wagon with Egil and crossed over the Elivogar with Tyr. Hymir had lightning-eyes and could kill with a glance. But his wife, Tyr's mother, knew how to divert the power in his eyes against a pillar in his mountain-hall. Hymir suggested a fishing trip on the Elivogar, where he had caught many whales. Thor tore off Himinhrjotur's head for bait. During the fishing, the Midgard serpent bit Thor's hook, but Hymir cut the fishing-line and the Midgard serpent sank into the deep, after Thor had struck it in the head with his hammer. When they had returned home, Hymir wanted new proof of Thor's strength.14 Thor then snatched the enormous kettle and hurried on his way with it, followed by Tyr. They were pursued by Hymir's kinsmen, butdefeated their foes and returned to the gods with the kettle.
23. Loki and Thjalfi.
While Thor was on this adventure, Loki came to Egil's citadel, where one of Thor's goats had been slaughtered for the evening meal. Loki persuaded Thjalfi to break one of the goat's leg bones. As compensation for the damage, Thor took Thjalfi and made him his foster-son.
- Translated and annotated by William P Reeves