Norse Mythology

The Norse Creation Myth and Wars in Heaven

What was the Norse creation myth?

Snorri Sturluson used the tenth-century eddic poem, the Voluspa, as his source for the telling of a Norse creation myth. According to this myth, creation occurred between two entities that were already there—Muspell in the south and Niflheim in the north. In Muspell, Black Surt waited with his sword of flames for a chance to destroy any world that might be created. In Niflheim, a place of ice and snow, was Hvergelmir, a spring from which eleven rivers flowed. Between Muspell and Niflheim was Ginnungagap, the void into which the rivers flowed, leaving desolate iciness in the north and desolate volcanic moltenness in the south. Where the two climates met in the middle of Ginnungagap, there was a temperate area where melting ice became the evil frost giant Ymir. A man and a woman emerged from under the left armpit of the melting giant. From his legs came a family of frost giants. And out of the melting center of Ginnungagap came the cow, Audumla. Ymir drank the four rivers of milk that poured from her.

Audumla licked the ice until Buri came forth. Buri had a son, Bor, who married the frost giant Bestla, and Bestla gave birth to the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve. These gods hated Ymir and the other frost giants, so they killed Ymir. They used his body to form the world. They used his blood to form lakes, rivers, the seas, and a wide ocean surrounding the world. They made the sky from the giant’s skull and established four directions by setting a dwarf in each corner. From the sparks of Muspell’s fires the gods made the sun and moon and the stars. They made the walls of Midgard out of Ymir’s eyebrows and clouds out of his brains. Out of a fallen ash tree and a fallen elm they made Ask and Embla, the first man and woman and gave them Midgard as a home. The gods made dwarves out of the maggots crawling about in Ymir’s flesh. Finally, the gods made Asgard for themselves. This myth must remind us of the Babylonian myth in which Marduk uses the body of Tiamat to form a world. Similar myths exist in India, Native North America, and elsewhere.

In Germanic mythology, the world emerges from the giant Ymir after he suckles from the udder of the cow Audumla, as illustrated in this 1790 artwork by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard.


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