Odin, Vili, and Ve, kill the giant Ymir, with assorted scenes from the life of Ymir, illustration by Lorenz Frølich, published in Nordens Guder by Adam Oehlenschläger, 1885.


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 disesof 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 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.


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.

-Excerpt from Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume II

Translated and Annotated by William P. Reaves © 2010 All Rights Reserved

Click to access ugm2overview.pdf