The Northern World
The Northern Lights
5. After Death
7. The Myths
9. Loki, Lord of Mischief
11. Dwarves, Elves and Trolls
(more to be added)
The Greek gods were a colourful, if dysfunctional, family. They had human-like personalities and human-like faults. By contrast the Roman gods tended to represent principles and as such their characters were rather bland or non-existent, even though many of the Roman gods were “borrowed” from their Greek counterparts, although they also incorporated the gods of conquered tribes abd nations. As a result, the roman gods became a kaleidoscope of deities which didn’t necessarily relate to eah other.
The Norse gods also have personalities and family relationships like the Greek gods with te addition that their personalities and their relationships develop over time. This development s not always in a positive direction; Loki, for instance, starts as a prankser and practical joker but becomes progressively darker, rivalry turns to jealousy, pranks turn spiteful and evenually murderous.
This follows the world view surrounding the Norse deities. Asgard begins as a land f peace and happiness but for various reasons, including the incursion of the giants, becomes less pleasant. Everything is moving ineorably to the final battle and the dissolution of the world.
So three of the dwarfs, sons of Ivaldi, made the chain Gleipnir, to hold the Fenris wolf; however, they could not hold the wolf in dchains for ever. The chain was unbreakable but it will finally be broken at the day of Ragnirok when all chains will be broken. This probably mirrors the world view of the Norsemen, living as they did in a harse environment which required them to constantly struggle against it, ultimately a losing battle. In cotrast with the Greek obsession with immortality, the Norse world recognises the ultimate impermanence of all things.
Ymir is killed by the sons of Borr
In the beginning was the Yawning Void, Ginnungagap. However, deep in the Void lay the Well of Life, Hvergelmir.
Over time, frost piled up on the well and out of it grew Ymir, father of the terrible Frost Giants.
Ymir was weaned on the milk of a magic cow that licked the ice with her tongue. The ice contained salt from the Well of Life.
As the magic cow licked the ice, she formed Buri, the first of the AEsir (Gods).
Buri’s son was Borr, father of Odin. Odin and his brothers overcame the Frost Giants.
Odin and his brothers thrust Ymir into the Yawning Void and made the world from his body. They set the sea around the world and planted the Ash Yggdrasill, the World Tree, to hold it in place.
The progress of the world from this point to Ragnarok, the last great battle, is told in a series of myths, which are outlined in the rest of this article.
The Yawning Void, present soon after the beginning when strange mists drew apart to reveal it. Within Ginnungagap lay the well of life, Hvergelmir.
The World Tree, an Ash. Odin and his brothers planted the tree to hold the world in place. The tree was tended by the Norns, whose other duties included spinning a web of fate when a hero was born.
The land of fire to the South of the Yawning Void. Surtur, the demon of fire, sat at its southern edge.
Valhalla was the resting-place of those who died in battle and became heroes. Valhalla was built in the Grove of Glesir in Asgard, the home of the Aesir gods. Valhalla means “Hall of the Slain”. In Valhalla they would eat, drink, and fight while waiting to march out and defeat the forces of Evil at Ragnirok. After Ragnirok a new era of peace and light is expected to commence. Odin usually dined with his warriors, but he never ate any meat placed before him. Odin would give his meat to Geri and Freki, the two wolves, that rest at his feet. Odin only drank wine with the dead warriors
Valhalla had overlapping shields for a roof, held up by the spear-shafts as rafters. There were 540 doors. And from each of the door, eight hundred warriors could enter or leave the hall. Instead of torch-fires, the light in the great hall were litted by the glowing blades of swords. Mail shirts were strewn on the benches. In front of the western doors, there hanged a wolf. Hovering above Valhalla was a single eagle. There was also a tree standing in front of the doors of Valhalla; the tree was called Glasir, because of the red-gold foliage
The strand of corpses, where the wicked went after death. They stood waist deep in the icy steams of poison. There they waited to be cast into the cauldron Hvengelmir to become lunch for the terrible Nig Hod, who only paused from gnawing at the roots of the Ash Yggagrasil to feed upon their bones.
Resting place of those who died a “straw death” (at home in bed).
The bridge of Gioll spanned the river Gioll and carried Hela’s road leading to Hela’s hall in Helheim. None but the dead might cross the bridge. Hela’s hall was guarded by the great dog Garm of the Bloody Breast at Hel-gate.
Homes of Gods and Men
Home of the allfather Odin, high in the branches of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The first palace built in this land was Gladsheim, the Place of Joy, Odin’s palace of gold. Odin’s seat was called Lidskialf, or Heaven’s crag. He surveyed the world from here, with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin, perched on his shoulders.
Bifrost, whose name means “the tremulous way”, is the bridge from Midgard, the realm of mortals, to Asgard, the realm of the gods. It appears to men on earth as a rainbow.
The gods cross Bifrost daily on their way to pass judgement and hold councils at Urdarbrunn (the Well of Urd), in the shade of the tree Yggdrasill.
Middle Earth, the home of men created by Odin. Odin took Ymir’s curly hair to fashion the trees, from his eyebrows the grass and flowers and set clouds to sprinkle the earth with showers. He made the first man and woman, Ask and Embla, from an ash tree and an elder tree he took from the seashore. Odin gave them souls, his brother Vili gave them thought and feeling and Ve gave them speech, hearing and sight.
The Land of the Giants. Odin fashioned mountains from the bones of Ymir to form a barrier to protect the land of men from the giants.
Home of Queen Frigga, her Hall of the Clouds.
Breidablik was the palace in the Plain of Ida where no blood could be spilt. .
Home of the Dwarves, presided over by Dwarf-king Durin.
The bearded, red-haired thunderbolt-weilding Thor in (Þórr old Norse) red was known as Thunaer in old Saxon and as Donar in old High German. Thor was revered for at least a thousand years up to the the late Viking Age.
People appealed to Thor for protection with inscriptions on man objects found from various Germanic tribes.
Miniature replicas of Mjolnir, the weapon of Thor, became a defiant symbol of Norse paganism during the Christian conversion of Scandinavia.[
Odin was depicted as somber and grim bearded god, who sacrificed one of his eyes, so he could drink from the well of Mirmir (Well of Wisdom). Odin was also described as the god who wore wide-brimmed hat and wearing an eye-patch to hid his missing eye.
Odin carried a spear Gungnir made by the dwarves (sons of Ivaldi), while his ring called the Draupner (Ring of Power) was created by the twin dwarfs, Brokk and Eiti. His symbol was the valknut, a knotted device. Though, Odin had given Sigmund a powerful sword called Gram, which the drew out of oak tree Branstock, it was Odin who shattered Gram with Gungnir, when the hero battled the sons of Hunding.
Odin rode a horse with eight legs named Sleipnir, an offspring of Loki (mare) and the giant stallion Svadilfari. It was Odin who appeared to the hero Sigurd, counselling the hero to chose the horse Grani, that Sleipnir had sired.
Since he could only drink wine, he gave all his food to two wolves Freki and Geri. Two ravens, Huginn ("Thought") and Muninn ("Memory"), often attended him, carrying tidings of the world.
Odin was also the father of Sigi, who was the grandfather of Völsung (Volsung). (See Völsunga Saga). It was he who put the sword Balmung (made by Wayland the Smith) in the mighty oak tree, Branstock. Only Völsung's youngest son, Sigmund, could draw the sword out of Branstock. The sword was supposed to allow the wielder to win all his wars. It was Odin who broke the sword in two, before Sigmund lost his final battle. The sword was restored by Sigmund's son, Sigurd. Sigurd renamed the reforged sword to Gram.
Odin had other mortal sons, where he had establish several powerful dynasties in north and western Europe. I had already mentioned Sigi, who was said to rule over France. There was also Veggdegg who became king of what is now called East Saxony, and Beldegg (Baldr), who ruled in Westphalia. Then Odin headed north, where he came upon called Reidgotaland, but was later changed to Jutland. Here, his son Skiold began a royal family, known as the Skioldungs, where they ruled in Denmark. In Sweden, he set up another son, named Yngvi, who established the Swedish house, called the Ynglings. In Norway, Odin had yet another son, named Sæming, who was the founder of the Norwegian kingdom. See genealogy of Houses of the Northern Kingdoms.
Odin could very well be the obscure figure Od, the husband of Freyja, since the name of Odin and Od have the same meaning, "Frenzy". Freyja had bore two daughters for Od, but he vanished one day. Freyja shed tears of gold because of his disappearance. Freyja wandered through the world, trying to find her husband.
Trickster, prankster, practical joker and thief, if ever a God was in need of an ASBO it was Loki. Loki’s pranks were initially amusing but as time went on, they grew ever more vengeful and malicious, frequently raising the terrible wrath of Thor the thunderer. His cunning grew more unkind; his impude nce became slyness and he spent more and more time away from Asgard. Odin was worried, because he could see enough of the future to understand that there would be a traitor in their midst, and who more likely than Loki, who was born a Giant, the enemies of the Aesir?
Odin sat upon Lidskiaf, the high throne from which he could see all the worlds, and in the distance he spied Loki playing with three monsters in the courtyard of the Castle of Angurboda the Giantess.
Loki was brought to Asgard to face Odin, where he admitted that he had married the fair Giantess Angurboda. When Odin remonstrated with him for marrying a Giant, the enemies of the Aesir, Loki merely sneered and pointed out that Odin had married Jord, whose mother and father were of the Giant race. Odin recalled that this happened when the world was young and the Giants and the Aesir had not come into conflict, and that the union gave rise to Thor, greatest protector of the Aesir against the giants.
Odin summoned the children of Loki and they were brought to him. One was Hela, Queen of the Dead, with half her body living and the other half with the acrid stench of decay. Then there was Jormungand the serpent. The eldest was the Fenris Wolf. These three terrorised the land.
Odin was able to cast Hela down through the earth to the lowest world where she would reign until the day of Ragnirok. Next Odin took Jormungand and flung him into the sea where he grew and grew, and as the Midgard Serpent, encircled the earth with his tail in his mouth, there to remain until the day of Ragnirok.
This left the problem of the Fenris Wolf. He could not be killed because he was now in Asgard, where any blood-descendants of the Aesir could not be killed. Already he had been bound by two chains, Laeding and Dromi, which he broke. He was growing all the time, and becoming more dangerous.
Three of the dwarfs, sons of Ivaldi, made the chain Gleipnir, which alone could hold the Fenris wolf and would not break until the day of Ragnirok, when all bonds will be broken. Odin managed to trick the Fenris wolf into being bound by the chains, after which they were attached to a rock so that the wolf could not break free until the day of Ragnirok.
Frey and Freya were Vanir. They were the children of Njord and Skani. An untroubled childhood in Asgard saw Frey playing among the Light Elves and Freya among the youths and maidens of Midgard.
Freya had a happy marriage to Odur, where they lived in their home called Folkvanger, which was in Asgard. They entertained the heroes of Midgard, those who the Valkyries brought to Valhalla.
However, Freya’s love of jewels was to cause her to betray her love of Odur. Walking close to the border with Svartalfheim, where the Black Dwarves lived, she spied four Dwarves, Dvalin and his three brothers, forging Brisingamen, the Brising Necklace, the most beautiful necklace ever. She felt she would never be happy again unless she possessed it and tried to barter with the Dwarves for it.
“Will you sell it to me for a treasure of silver?” said Freya.
“No” said Dvalin. “All the treasure in the world would not buy the Brisingamen from us”.
“Will you sell it to me for a treasure of gold?” said Freya.
“No” said Dvalin. “All the gold in the world would not buy it from us”.
“Then what would you sell it for?”
“The price is your love and you must buy it from each of us”.
To cut a convoluted story short, Freya trotted off to Svartalfheim with the dwarves and married each of them for a day and a night – which apparently was the normal duration of commitment among the dwarves.
Returning to Asgard she thought that no one knew her secret. However, the troublesome Loki had got wind of it and he told Odur. Odur refused to believe Loki until Loki stole the necklace while Freya was sleeping and he showed it to Odur. Odur, in grief, left Asgard to wander the earth.
When she awoke, Freya realised that both the necklace and her husband were gone and she knew that her secret had been discovered. For many years she wandered the world wearing the necklace and sobbing for the loss of her beloved Odur, before eventually finding him and getting his forgiveness for falling under the spell of the Dwarves.
In another story, Thor’s hammer, Miolnir, was stolen by Thrym, lord of the Giants of Noise. The hammer was the principle weapon of the defence of Asgard against the Giants. Thrym buried it eight miles under the earth and refused to return it to Thor unless he received Freya’s hand in marriage. Freya refused to betray her husband a second time so it came about that Thor disguised himself as Freya and went to the marriage ceremony in Jotunheim. Loki offered to be bridesmaid.
Thrym honoured the bargain and placed the hammer in the lap of who he took to be Freya but was actually Thor.
“Take this to be a token of wedlock from Freya the bride!” shouted Thor. With that, Thor took up the hammer and killed Thrym with a single blow.
The dwarfs were skilful smiths. In the home of the Black Elves, Svartalfheim, were certain dwarfs “more skilled in the forging of chains than in all the nine worlds”. The dwarfs worked deep in the cavernous underworld, digging the gold, the jewels and the iron from the rocks and working them into beautiful jewels, necklaces and ornaments, armour and other treasure.
In the castle of Angurboda the Giantess were three monsters. One was Hela, Queen of the Dead, with half her body living and the other half with the acrid stench of decay. Jormungand the serpent was the second, and the eldest was the Fenris Wolf. These three terrorised the land.
Odin was able to cast Hela down through the earth to the lowest world where she would reign until the day of Ragnirok.
Next Odin took Jormungand and flung him into the sea where he grew and grew, and as the Midgard Serpent, encircled the earth with his tail in his mouth, there to remain until the day of Ragnirok.
This left the problem of the Fenris Wolf. He could not be killed because he was kept in Asgard, where any blood-descendants of the Aesir could not be killed. Already he had been bound by two chains, Laeding and Dromi, which he broke. He was growing all the time, and becoming more dangerous.
Three of the dwarfs, sons of Ivaldi, made the chain Gleipnir, which alone could hold the Fenris wolf and would not break until the day of Ragnirok, when all bonds will be broken.
Gleipnir was a grey chain made of tiny links which were silky smooth but it was immensely strong; it was, said Skirnir in answer to Odin’s comment that it looked weak, “a magic chain made with the aid of many spells”. It was made with six things: the sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a rock, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish and the spittle of a bird.
Odin managed to trick the Fenris wolf into being bound by the chains, after which they were attached to a rock so that the wolf could not break free until the day of Ragnirok.
The Trolls were great misshapen creatures related to both the Dwarfs and the Giants. However, they did not have the skill of the Dwarfs even though, like the Dwarfs, they were smiths and held great treasure. They led wild, savage lives and delighted in dirt and bad smells.
The Trolls were servants of the Giants and often helped them in their struggle against the Aesir and the men of Midgard. There were stone trolls and fire trolls, and they lived in Jotunheim, across the river Vimur which separated it from Midgard.
The Giant Geirrodur was King of the Trolls and lived in a great Troll castle, a mountain with a great chimney, which belched out filthy black smoke. The smoke descended as great smog on the surrounding area. Geirrodur lived with his two daughters Gialp and Greip. In the great hall they sat on golden chairs surrounded by filth.
Two wicked Trolls, Fialar and Galar, killed Kvasir, a man made by Odin fully grown at birth and with all the knowledge and wisdom of both the Vanir and the Aesir. He was greatly loved both for his wisdom and for bringing peace to Aesgard but especially because he would always help anyone to resolve a problem.
Knowing this, the two Trolls lured him to their home on the pretext that they had an urgent personal problem, killed him, and made a magic mead with his blood mixed with honey. The mead made anyone who drank it a bard, seer and scholar. However they made no use of it but simply kept it and gloated over their secret.
Baldur the beautiful, the fairest and gentlest of the Aesir, lived in the palace of Breidablik on the field of Ida, when Asgard was still a place of beauty and light, in the days before strife with the giants began. Baldur was the best-loved son of Odin and Frigga. Breidablik had a roof of silver and pillars of gold and none of the palaces in the land rang with more joyous laughter. Baldur lived there with his wife Nanna and there was no more perfect match
Baldur had a twin brother, Hodur. They loved each other dearly but Hodur was as different from Baldur as he could be. Hodur had been born blind and was eternally sad, brooding in his darkness. Often they walked together, the one fair and bright, the other like a shadow, brooding and pale
Baldur understood the Runes, could foretell the future and taught the men of Midgard the use of herbs and potions. The Camomile was known as the Brow of Baldur because of its purity and healing powers.
But Baldur could not foretell his own future, and over time he became grave and troubled as if his brother had passed his burden to Baldur.
Odin and Frigga gathered the Aesir and asked Baldur to explain his troubles. He replied that lately his dreams had become dark and threatening and that he felt some mortal danger grew near. “The face of my killer is hidden from me but the menace looms larger every day”, said Baldur.
Odin grew sad. He knew that Baldur must die one day but he did not feel that the time was near. However, Odin mounted Slepnir, his eight-legged Horse, and rode for many days to Hela’s realm where the dead who do not die in battle go, and disguising himself as Vetgam the wanderer, sought the barrow-grave of the prophetess Volva the Wise.
Odin spoke the mighty spells which move the dead, and Volva arose.
Odin asked Baldur’s fate. Volva told him that the walls of Hela’s halls were decked with shields in wait for Baldur. She also revealed that the slayer of Baldur would be Hodur, his beloved brother. Another son would be born to Odin, a son called Vali, who would avenge the death of Baldur.
Odin asked a final question: “When all of Asgard weeps for the passing of Baldur, who is it who will not weep?” The wise woman would not answer and said that she would not be disturbed again in her grave until the coming of Ragnirok, when Loki shall break his chains and the Destroyers of the Aesir come.
Volva sank slowly back into the barrow and the earth closed over her head.
Odin rode sadly back to Asgard but on his arrival found his wife Frigga, Baldur’s mother, in a surprisingly happy mood. Enquiring how she could be so happy in he circumstances, Frigga replied that she had spoken to all that existed, living or inanimate, and all agreed to be bound by an oath not to harm Baldur. “Baldur is safe!” she exclaimed. The Giants, the Trolls, the men of Midgard, the birds and the beasts and all that grew from the earth had agreed, but also the rocks, the weapons and even the poisons had agreed not to harm Baldur.
She only forgot one thing, the mistletoe that clings to an Oak tree in the Far West beyond Valhalla. However, this was so far away, and the plant so weak that it could not stand of its own accord but had to cling to the oak, that Frigga regarded it of no consequence.
Meanwhile a game had developed whereby the Aesir threw weapons and rocks at Baldur, fired arrows at him, but all returned to their owners or fell harmlessly to the ground.
Some time later, Frigga was sitting at a spinning wheel in Fensalir, when she was approached by an old woman, hobbling with the aid of a stick.
The old woman commented that some sort of magic was being practised in the plain of Asgard wherein Baldur was having weapons thrown at him but that they could not harm him. Frigga explained that she had bound everything to an oath not to harm him.
“Everything?” enquired the old woman “all the plants and trees, all the animals?” and so on. She went though a list which eventually established that nothing could harm Baldur except for the mistletoe in the Far West beyond Valhalla.
Unfortunately the old woman was Loki in disguise. While everyone else in Asgard loved Baldur, Loki had become increasingly jealous of Baldur’s charisma and popularity, the jealous eventually turning to hate. Loki excused himself, resumed his old form, and hastened to the oak tree which the mistletoe clung to.
After many days and nights he arrived at the tree. He took a cutting from the mistletoe which he fashioned into a dart and he returned to Asgard.
On returning to Asgard, Loki found the game of throwing weapons at Baldur still going on but Baldur’s brother, Hodur, was on the edge of the field away from the game. Loki enquired why he did not join in. “I am blind” said Hodur, “and besides I do not have a weapon.”
Loki offered him the mistletoe dart as a weapon and offered to guide his aim. Hodur enthusiastically threw the dart at his brother. The dart passed clean through Baldur and killed him instantly.
The Aesir soon knew that Hodur had thorn the dart and that he had not meant to kill Baldur. However they also knew that according to the unbreakable law of the North that Baldur had to die. Nevertheless, none of the Aesir were prepared to carry out the act as they were on the Plain of Ida where no blood could ever be spilt.
Hermodur, the swiftest of the Aesir, mounted Slepnir the eight-legged Horse, and rode to Hela’s castle in Helheim to bargain for the return to life of Baldur. She agreed on condition that all living things wept for him.
Hermodur returned joyously to Asgard bearing the news and the ring Draupnir, a gift from Baldur to Odin. Everything wept for Baldur, even the giants who temporarily forgot their feud with the Aesir but still Baldur did not return.
Hermodur rode far and wide asking all things to weep for Baldur. Eventually he came to a cave where dwelt a giantess called Thokk. She refused to weep. Hermodur cajoled her repeatedly but she only laughed, e peircing, unbearable, mocking laugh. Hermodur eventually returned to Asgard unable to sway her.
When the story was related to Odin he sat sadly in silence. Odin recognised that the giantess was none other than Loki.
Hodur was the blind son of Odin and Frigga and twin brother of Baldur. Baldur and Hodur loved each other dearly but Hodur was as different from Baldur as he could be. Hodur was eternally sad, brooding in his darkness.
It was Loki who tricked Hodur into killing his brother Baldur. For the full story, see Baldur.