How the Norse gods origins began The Norse gods, the religion that surrounded them, and now the mythology that we enjoy in books and on the screen today. All of it can get a bit confusing when trying to gather information. It all began in the Northern Germanic tribes, in the 9th century. At the start, their history and stories were not written down. the Norse people were illiterate for the longest time. Their tales were passed down by word of mouth, through spoken word, songs and poems. Along with carvings and paintings that they put on stones and rocks. Mainly found in Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Norway.
One such carving you can find in a museum in Denmark. It is a forge stone, (A small stone that is easy to carve into, often found in a black smith’s forge). The stone had a carving of the god Loki’s face. It depicts him with his mouth sewn shut. (The sewn mouth is part of a key story in Loki’s fable, I will touch on at another time).
The first written words about these gods, were found in Iceland. They are long poems written by a priest. The poems are called the Edda or The Elder Edda. The stories have been told and retold so many times, all over Scandinavia and Europe, that there are many different accounts of their tales, and different ways their worshipers have held their ceremonies and sacrifices. Not only that, but some scholars in the past tweaked the written stories to flow better together, instead of having a mess of tales that did not fit with each other. It is how we got the mythology that we enjoy and fantasize over today.
What makes Norse gods different from other mythological gods? For one, Norse gods were not invincible. They could be killed with weapons. But, not die of old age. Some say the only reason the gods never grew old, was because of the fruit of youth that they consumed regularly. The gods can also be injured, like King Odin, who lost one eye in exchange for foresight. Or Tyr, who lost his arm to the giant wolf. (Both stories will be explained in another article). Another difference is that every Norse god is a warrior. They all relish battle, even the goddesses (With a few exceptions). All are skilled in the arts of war, and are constantly ready for a fight. For good reason. The end of times, an apocalypse, was predicted for them. It is called Ragnarök, and the gods had to be prepared. There is also a difference amongst the gods themselves. There are Greater gods and lesser gods. The lesser gods have very little known about them, but are mentioned in the poem Edda. The greater gods are the ones we know today, such as Thor, Frigg, Loki and Odin. It is like a royal bloodline, the closer in relation you are to Odin, the more is known about you, the more power you have. The gods are not alone in their dwellings either, they have welcomed mortals to be amongst them in the halls of Valhalla. When a human warrior dies in battle, with a heroic death, whether male or female, they join the gods in Valhalla. To live with them immortal. those who die in shame go to Nifleim, where Lady Hel rules the dead. The heroes train daily with the gods for the final battle; Ragnarök. When not training, they revel in feast after feast, enjoying the pleasures they did not have on earth.
How were the Norse gods created? Here’s a short, simplified telling of how the gods, earth, and humans were created according to Norse mythology.
First, there was nothing at all, except a well, with the eternal tree. Then there was heat and cold. They were on opposites sides of the expanse that slowly, but steadily touched, then pushed against each other. The melding of them compressed two forms into life. It made the first frost giant Ymir, and Auðumbla an enormous cow. Auðumbla fed Ymir with her milk, while she consumed the salt of the plains for nutrients. With her licking, she formed the first god from the salt, Búri. Ymir, being a selfish being, along with his frost giant children, waged war with Búri. In the midst of the fighting, Búri also created his own kin. It is unknown how he conceived a son, as a woman was never mentioned. Perhaps he came from the salt as well. Buri beget Borr. Borr then beget three sons. (Some say that he married one of the frost giants, and she bore him children). His three sons were named, Odin, Vili and Ve. With his son and grandsons help, Búri destroyed the giants, defeating and killing Ymir. Only a few giants survived, to flee to a world of eternal winter. With the giant Ymir’s body, Odin and his brothers created a brand new world. Ymir’s body turned into the land. His bones and teeth turned to mountains and fjords. His blood became the oceans and rivers. His skull became the sky, and his brains the clouds. After they had finished, they named it Midgard. Nowadays, we call it earth. Once the new land healed into a wilderness. With the blood having cleansed into water, and the hair turning into trees and wildlife. The brothers walked amongst their work. It was too quiet, so they agreed they wanted intelligent life to live on it. Out of an Ash tree, they carved out a form like themselves: man. Out of an Elm tree they carved out a partner for him: Woman. Odin breathed life into them, Ve gave them their senses. While Vili gave them power of speech and understanding. They then named the man Ask, (or Ashe) and Embla (Elm). Hand in hand the two were the beginning of the whole human race.
Sources If you wish to read more about the Norse mythology, I recommend: Norse myths and Tales, Epic Tales. By Flame Tree Publishing. (My favourite book on the topic). As well as: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman Other websites I used in my research: https://mythologysource.com/ and https://thenorsegods.com/
Written by Billie-Gean Richard