Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology.

1. The religion which was cherished by the Norsemen of Norway and Iceland, before the introduction of Christianity in these countries, was the so-called Asa-faith. It took its name from the asas, as the gods were called, which it presented as objects to whom man owed reverence and worship.

In its most original form this asa-faith was common to all the Teutonic nations, and it spread itself geographically over England, the most of France and Germany, as well as over Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. It must have sprung into existence in the ancient eastern homesteads of the Teutonic family of nations before they divided into two groups-the southern, or Germanic, and the northern, or Gothic. Hence we might in one sense speak of a Teutonic mythology. This would be the mythology of the Teutonic people, as it was known to them, say four or five hundred years before Christ, while they all lived together in the East, without any of the peculiar features that have been added later by any of the several branches of that race. But from that time we have no Teutonic literature or history. In another and more limited sense we must recognize a distinct German, a distinct English, and a distinct Northern mythology, and we must even draw a distinction between the mythological systems of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. How this Teutonic mythology developed, and what characteristic forms it assumed in Germany, England, Denmark, etc., we cannot know accurately, for time has left us but scattered fragments of the system of cosmogony and theogony which these' nations reared. The different branches of Teutonic mythology died and disappeared as Christianity gradually made its way, first in France, about five hundred years after the birth of Christ, then in England, one or two hundred years later; still later in Germany, where the Saxons, Christianized by Charlemagne about the year 800 after Christ, were the last heathen people. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland-the asa-faith flourished longer and more independently than elsewhere, and had more favorable opportunities for completing its development. The pagan religion flourished in the north of Europe until about the middle of the 11th century; or, to speak more accurately, Christianity was not completely introduced into Iceland before the year 1000; in Denmark and Norway some twenty or thirty years later, while in Sweden, paganism was not completely rooted out before the year 1150. In all of these countries, excepting Iceland, the overthrow of heathenism was more or less abrupt and violent. The eradication of the heathen religion was so complete that it was either wholly or to a great extent obliterated from the minds of the people. But the asa-faith in its Norse form is well known. We call it Norse, because it is preserved for us by the Norsemen, who emigrated from Norway and settled Iceland. In the Icelandic literature we have a complete record of it. The introduction of Christianity in Iceland was attended by no violence. While in the other countries mentioned above the monarchical form of government prevailed, and the people were compelled by their rulers to accept the gospel of Christ, the Icelanders enjoyed civil liberty, had a democratic form of government, and accepted the new religion by the vote of their representatives in the Althing, or Parliament, which convened at Thingvolls in the summer of 1000; and in this way we are able to account for all the heathen and vernacular literature that was put into writing and preserved for us by that remarkable people, who inhabited the island of the icy sea. In studying the mythology of the Norsemen, we have for our guidance not only a large collection of rhapsodies, or religious lays, composed in heathen times (before the year 1000), but also a complete system of theogony and cosmogony, written down, it is true, after the introduction of Christianity, but still abounding in internal evidence of having been written without any intermixture of Christian ideas.

2. The religious lays or rhapsodies are found chiefly in a collection well known by the name of the "Elder," or "Soemund's Edda." This work was evidently collected from the mouths of the people in the same manner as Homer's Iliad, and there exists a similar uncertainty as to the person who reduced it to writing. It has generally been supposed that the songs of this Elder Edda were collected by Saemund Frode (the Wise), who was born in Iceland in the year 1056, and died in 1133; but all the most eminent Icelandic scholars now agree that the book cannot have been written earlier than the year 1240. In the Elder Edda there are thirty-nine poems; these are in no special connection one with the other, but may be divided into three classes: 1, purely mythological poems; 2, mythological didactic poems; 3, mythological historical poems. The Elder Edda presents the Norse cosmogony, the doctrines of the Odinic mythology, and the lives and deeds of the gods; but it also contains a cycle of poems on the demigods, and mystical heroes and heroines of prehistoric times. It gives us as complete a view of the Norsemen's mythological world as Homer and Hesiod give us of the Greek mythology, but it gives it to us, not as Homer does, worked up into one great poem, but rather as the rhapsodists of Greece presented to Homer's hands the materials for that great poem in the various hymns and ballads of the fall of Troy, which they sung all over Greece. Norseland never had a Homer to mold all these poems into one lordly epic; but the poems of the Elder Edda show us what the myths of Greece would have been without a Homer.

The system of theogony and cosmogony is found in the so-called Younger Edda, or as it is also called, Snorre's Edda, a work that was written by Iceland's great historian, Snorre Sturleson, who was born in the year 1178, and died in the year 1241. The Younger Edda is mostly prose, and may be regarded as a sort of commentary upon the Elder Edda. Both the Eddas complement each other, and a careful study of both is necessary for the scholar who desires to understand fully the religion of our Northern ancestors in the heathen period. The Younger Edda consists of two parts: Gylfaginning (the deluding of Gylfe) and Bragaraedur, or Skaldskaparmal (the conversations of Brage, the god of poetry, or the treatise on poetry). Gylfaginning tells how the Swedish king Gylfe makes a journey to Asgard, the abode of the gods, where Odin instructs him in the old faith, and gradually unfolds to him the myths of the Norsemen. The Younger Edda is a prose synopsis of the whole asa-faith, with here and there a quotation from the Elder Edda, by way of proof and elucidation. It shows a great deal of ingenuity and talent on the part of its author, and is the most perspicuous and intelligible presentation of Norse mythology that has come down to us from those dark days of the Middle Ages.

3. The following is a brief synopsis of the Norse heathen faith: In the beginning there were two worlds. Far to the north was Niflheim (the nebulous world), which was cold and dark, and in the midst of it was the well Hvergelmer, where the dragon Nidhogg dwells. Far to the south was Muspelheim (the fire world), which was bright and flaming, and in the midst of its intense light and burning heat sat Surt, guarding its borders with a flaming sword in his hand. Between these two worlds was Ginnunga-gap (the yawning abyss), which was as calm as wind-still air. From the well Hoergelmer flowed twelve ice-cold streams, the rivers Elivogs. When these rivers had flowed far into Ginnunga-gap, the venom which flowed with them hardened and became ice; and when the ice stood still, the vapor arising from the venom gathered over it and froze to rime; and in this manner were formed in the yawning gap many layers of congealed vapor. That part of Ginnunga-gap that lay towards the north was thus filled with thick and heavy ice and rime, and everywhere within were fogs and gusts. But the south side of Ginnunga-gap was lighted by sparks that flew out of Muspelheim. Thus while freezing cold and gathering gloom proceeded from Niflheim, that part of Ginnunga-gap which looked towards Muspelheim was hot and bright; and when the heated blasts met the frozen vapor, it melted into drops, and by the might of him (the supreme God) who sent the heat, these drops quickened into life, and were shaped into the likeness of a man. His name was Ymer; he was a giant, and he became the father of a race of frost giants and mountain giants. Together with the giant Ymer, there also sprang into being a cow named Audhumbla, by whose milk Ymer was nourished. This cow licked rime-stones, which were salt; and the first day that she licked the stones there came at evening out of the stones a man's hair, the second day a man's head, and the third day the whole man was there. His name was Bure., he was fair of face, great and mighty. He begat a son, by name Bor. Bor took for his wife a woman whose name was Bestla, a daughter of the giant Bolthorn, and they had three sons: Odin, Vile, and Ve. Odin became the father of the bright and fair, asas, the rulers of heaven and earth, and he is, says the Younger Edda, the greatest and lordliest of all the gods. Odin, Vile, and Ve slew the giant Ymer; and when he fell, so much blood flowed out of his wounds that in it was drowned all the race of giants save one, who with his wife escaped in a skiff, and from him descended new races of giants. The sons of Bor dragged the body of Ymer into the middle of Ginnunga-gap, and of it they formed the earth. Of his blood they made the ocean; of his flesh, the land; of his bones, the mountains; of his hair, the forests; and of his teeth and jaws, together with some bits of broken bones, they made the stones and pebbles. Of his skull they formed the vaulted heavens, which they placed far above the earth, and decorated with red-hot flakes from Muspelheim to light up the world; but his brains they scattered in the air, and made of them the melancholy clouds. Round about the disk of the earth they let the deep ocean flow, the outward shores of which were assigned as dwellings of the giants, and were called Jotunheim and Utgard. As a protection against the giants, the creative powers made of Ymer's eyebrows a bulwark, called Midgard (the middle yard), round about the earth; but from heaven to earth the sons of Bor made the bridge called Bifrost, which we now recognize as the rainbow.

The dark and gloomy Night who was the offspring of giants, married the asa-son Delling (day-break), and they became the parents of Day, who was light and fair like his father. Odin gave Night and Day two horses and two cars, and set them up in the heavens, that they might drive successively one after the other, each in twenty-four hours' time, round the world. Night rides first with her steed Rimfaxe (rime-mane), that every morning, as he ends his course, bedews the earth with the foam of his bit. Day follows after with his steed Skinfaxe (shining-mane), and all the sky and earth glisten from the light of his mane.

The asas formed the sun and moon of sparks from Muspelheim, and made the children of Mundilfare drive the chariots of these two grand luminaries athwart the sky. The daughter, whose name is Sol (sun), drives the chariot of the sun; and the son, whose name is Mane (moon), drives the chariot of the moon. Hence it is that sun is feminine and moon masculine in the North European languages. Sol and Mane speed away very rapidly, for two giants, the one named Skol and the other Hate, both disguised as wolves, pursue them for the purpose of devouring them; and these giants will at length overtake the sun and moon, and accomplish their greedy purpose.

Dwarfs were bred in the, mold of the earth, just as worms in a dead body, or, in the language of the Edda, they were quickened as maggots in the flesh of Ymer. By the command of the gods. they got the form and understanding of men; but their abode was in the earth and in the rocks. Four dwarfs — Austre (East), Vestre (West), Nordre (North), and Sudre (South) — were appointed by the gods to bear up the sky. Of the race of dwarfs, Modsogner and Durin are the chief ones.

In the northern extremity of the heavens sits the giant Hraesvelger (corpse- swallower), in the guise of an eagle. The strokes of his wings produce the winds and storms.

There were not yet any human beings upon the earth: when the sons of Bor-Odin, Hoener (Vile), and Loder (Ve) — were walking along the sea- beach, they found two trees, and made of them the first human pair, man and woman. Odin gave them life and spirit; Hoener endowed them with reason and the power of motion; and Loder gave them blood, hearing, vision, and a fair complexion. The man they called Ask (ash), and the woman Embla (elm). The newly created pair received from the gods Midgard as their abode, and from Ask and Embla are descended the whole human family.

The gods dwell in Asgard. In its midst are the plains of Ida (Idavolls), the assembling-place of the gods, and Odin's high-seat, Hidskjalf, whence he looks out upon all the worlds. But above the heaven of the asas are still higher heavens, and in the highest of these stands the imperishable gold- roofed hall Gimle, which is brighter than the sun.

The gods to whom divine honors must be rendered are twelve in number, and their names are Odin, Thor, Balder, Ty, Brage, Heimdal, Hod, Vidar, Vale, Ull, Forsete, Loke. In this list Njord and Frey are not mentioned, for they originally belonged to another class of gods called vans, or sea-gods, and were received among the asas by virtue of a treaty in which Njord was given as a hostage, and Frey is his son.

Of goddesses, we find the number twenty-six, and Vingolf is their hall. Some of the more prominent ones are Frigg, Freyja (a vana goddess, a daughter of Njord), Sif, Nanna, Idun, Saga and Sigyn.

Odin's hall is the great Walhalla; spears support its ceiling; it is roofed with shields, and coats of mail adorn its benches. Thither and to Vingolf Odin invites all men wounded by arms or fallen in battle. For this reason he is called Valfather (father of the slain), and his invited guests are called einherjes. The latter are waited upon by valkyries (maids of slaughter).

The dwelling of Thor is Thrud-vang, or Thrudheim. His hall is the immense Bilskirner. Ull, Thor's son, lives in Ydal. Baldur lives in Breidablik, where nothing impure is found. Njord dwells in Noatun, by the sea. Heimdal inhabits Himinbjorg, which stands where the bridge Bifrost approaches heaven. Forsete has Glitner for his dwelling, whose roof of silver rests on columns of gold. The chief goddess, Frigg, wife of Odin, has her dwelling- place in Fensal; and Freya, the goddess of love, dwells in Folkvang, and her hall is Sesrymner. Saga dwells in the great Sokvabek, under the cool waves; there she drinks with Odin every day from golden vessels.

The Norse mythology presents nine worlds: Muspelheim, Asaheim, Ljosalfaheim, Vanaheiri, Mannheim, Jottnheim, Svartalfaheim, Helheim, and Niflheim. The highest is Muspelheim (the fire world), the realm of Surt, and in its highest regions Gimle is situated. The lowest is Niflheim (the mist world), the realm of cold and darkness, and in its midst is the fountain Hvergelmrer, where the dragon Nidhogg dwells. Between the two is Mannheim (the home of man) or Midgard, the round disk of the earth, surrounded by the great ocean. Ask and Embla got this for a dwelling- place. Far above Mannheim is Asaheim (the world of the gods), forming a vault above the earth. Here we find Idavolls and Hlidskjalf. Beyond the ocean is Jotunx helm (the world of giants). This world is separated from Asaheim by the river Ifing, which never freezes over. Nearest above the earth is Ljosalfaheim (the world of the light elves), and between it and Asaheim is Vanaheim (the home of the vans, or sea-deities). Proceeding downward from the earth, we come first to Svartalfaheim (world of the dark elves); next to Helhelm (the world of the dead. hell): and finally, as before stated, to Niflheim. From Mannheim to Ielhlleim the road leads down by the north through Jotullllein over the scream Gjoll, the bridge- over which river (the Gjoll bridge) is roofed with shining gold.

The ash Ygdrasill is the holiest of all trees; its evergreen boughs embrace the whole world. Ygdrasill springs from three roots. One root is in Hvergelmer, in Niflheim, and the bark of this root is gnawed by the dragon Nidhogg, and all his reptile brood. The second root is in Jotunheim, over the well of the wise giant, Mimer. In this well lies concealed Odin's eve, which he gave in pawn for a drink from the fountain, and every morning Mimer drinks from his glittering horn the mead that flows over Odin's pawn. The third root of Ygdrasill is among the asas in heaven; and beneath this root is the sacred fountain of Urd. Here dwell the three norns, or fates: Urd (the Past), Verdande (the Present), and Skuld (the Future). They nurse the tree Ygdrasill by sprinkling it every morning with the pure water of Urd's fountain. These norns preside over the births and determine the destinies of men. Their messengers (both good ones and bad ones), accompany man from the cradle to the grave, and are the authors of men's fortunes and misfortunes. Nothing can change the fat of the norns. Urd and Verdande weave the web of man's life, and stretch it from east to west, and Skuld tears it to pieces.

In the topmost bough of the ash Ygdrasill sits an eagle that is very knowing, and between the eagle's eyes sits a hawk, by name Vedfolner. A squirrel, whose name is Ratatosk, runs up and down the tree, seeking to cause strife between the eagle and the serpent Nidhogg. Four stags leap about beneath the branches of the tree, and feed on its buds. Their names are Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, and Durathror. But there are so many serpents with Nidhogg in the fountain Hvergelmer that and tongue can count them. The dew that falls from Yggdrasil upon the earth men call honey-dew, and it is the food of bees. Finally, two swans swim in Urd's fountain, and are the parents of the race of swans. Thus all tribes of nature partake of this universal tree.

Odin (or Allfather) is the highest and oldest of the gods, or asas, and from him the race of asas is descended. His hall is the famous Walhalla, to which he invites all men bitten by weapons or fallen in battle. The daily amusement of his invited guests is to ride out every morning to fight and slay each other, but in the evening they quicken again into life and ride home to Walhalla, where they are nourished by the flesh of the boar Saehrimner, and where valkyries (maids who pick up those fallen in the battle-field) wait upon them with bowls flowing with mead. By the side of Odin stand two wolves, Gere and Freke; on his shoulders are perched two ravens, Huginn (reflection) and Muninn (memory), who every day fly out and bring back to their master messages from all parts of the world; and he rides a gray eight-footed horse, by name Sleipner. Odin has a famous ring called Draupner, which was made for, him by skillful dwarfs, and as he speeds forth to the field of battle he wears a golden helmet and resplendent armor. His names are about two hundred in number, for the various peoples among whom he came never called him by the same name. Odin is the god of poetry, the associate of Saga (history), and the inventor of runes (the Norse alphabet). His name comes down to us in the name of the fourth day of the week, Wednesday (Odin's-day).

Next to Odin is Thor. He is a son of Odin and Odin's wife Jord (Earth). He is the strongest of the gods; his dwelling is Thrudvang, as before stated, and his hall the magnificent Bilskirner. All thralls come to him after death. Thor rides in a chariot, which is drawn by two goats, named Tanngujost and Tanngrisner; hence he is called Oku-Thor (chariot-Thor). He .is also called Hloride, or the bellowing thunderer. The mountains thunder and are rent in twain, and the earth is wrapped in flames beneath his thundering chariot. When he girds himself with Megingjarder, his belt of strength, and. puts on his steel gloves, his strength is redoubled. He is frequently in conflict with the giants, who tremble at his huge hammer, Mjolner, which was forged for him by skillful dwarfs. His wife is Sif, whose locks are golden. The boy Thjalfe, and girl Roskva, are his servants, and accompany him on all his wonderful exploits. Thor is the father of Magne (strength) and of Mode (courage), and he is the stepfather of Ull. He is frequently called the protector of Asgard and Midgard, and is generally interpreted as a spring god. The fifth day of the week, Thursday (Thor's-day), is named after him. His most celebrated adventures are his duel with Heungner, his visit to Geirrod, his visit to Skrymer, his fishing for the Midgard-serpent, and his slaying of Thrym.

Baldur is a son of Odin and Frigg. He is so fair that rays of light seem to issue from him. He is the favorite of both gods and men, and the comforter of those who are in trouble. His wife is Nanna, and his dwelling is Breidablik, where nothing impure can come. Baldur is the mildest, the wisest, and the most eloquent of all the gods, and his nature is such that the judgment he has pronounced can never be altered.

Njord was born in Vanaheim, among the wise vans, but was received by the asas when the vans made a treaty with the asas, and gave the vans Haener. Njord is the ruler of the winds; he subdues the sea and fire, and distributes wealth among men; he should be invoked by sailors and fishermen. His wife is Skade, a daughter of the giant Thjasse. But Njord and Skade do not agree. Njord dwells in Noatun, near the sea. Skade stays in her father's dwelling, Thrymheim, where she rides on her skees (snow- shoes) down the mountains, and hunts the wild boar with bow and arrow.

Frey is the son of Njord, and rules over rain and sunshine and the fruitfulness of the earth, hence he should be invoked to obtain good harvests, peace, and wealth. He is good-natured and kind-hearted; he causes sorrow to no one, but releases the prisoners from their chains. His dwelling is Alfheim. He rides with the boar Goldenbristle, or sails in his splendid ship Skidbladner, which was made for him by the same skillful dwarfs who made Odin's ring and Thor's hammer. To obtain the giant's daughter Gerd, he gave away his trusty sword, and hence he has no weapon in the last conflict of the gods in Ragnarok. In the Elder Edda there is a beautiful poem describing how Frey fell in love with Gerd, the daughter of Gymer and Aurboda, and sent his servant Skirner with his sword to get her.

Ty, after whom Tuesday (Ty's-day) has its name, is the one-handed god, and the most valiant of the asas. All brave men should invoke him. Ty gave a splendid proof of his intrepidity when the gods tried to persuade the Fenris-wolf to let himself be bound up with the chain Glitner. The wolf, fearing that the gods would not unloose him again, consented to be bound only on the condition that while they were chaining him he should keep the right hand of one of the gods between his jaws. Ty did not hesitate to put his hand in the monster's mouth; but when the Fenris-wolf perceived that the gods had no intention to unchain him, he bit Ty's hand off at that point which has ever since been called the wolfs joint-that is, the wrist.

Brage, the long-bearded, is the god of the art of poetry. He is celebrated for his wisdom, but especially for his correct forms of speech. Runes are engraved on his tongue, and he wears a long, flowing beard. Brage's wife is Idun, who keeps in. a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. In this manner they will preserve their youth until Ragnarok. The giant Thjasse once, by the cooperation of Loke, succeeded in capturing Idun, but the gods compelled Loke to fetch her back.

Heimdal, the white god with golden teeth, is the protector of the gods, and dwells in Himinbjorg, where the rainbow (Bifrost) reaches the heavens; he stands there-at the borders of heaven to prevent the giants from crossing the bridge. He requires less sleep than a bird, and sees, by night as well as by day, a hundred miles around him. So acute is his ear that no sound escapes him, for he can even hear the grass growing on the earth, and the wool on the backs of the sheep. When he blows his horn (the Gjoll-horn) all the worlds resound.

Hod is a son of Odin, and becomes accidentally the slayer of the good Balder.

Vidar is a son of Odin and the giantess Grid. He is surnamed the Silent. He is almost as strong as Thor, and the gods place great reliance on him in all critical conjunctures. He has a shoe for which material has been gathered through all ages. It is made of the scraps of leather that have been cut off from the toes and heels in cutting patterns for shoes. These pieces must be thrown away by shoemakers who desire to render assistance to the gods in the final conflict, where Vidar avenges Odin by tearing the Fenris-wolf to pieces. Vidar dwells in the uninhabited Landvide.

Vale, the skillful archer, is the son of Odin and Rind. He was born in the western halls; he slays Hod immediately after the death of Balder, and rules with Vidar after Ragnarok.

Ull is the stepson of Thor; is the god of the chase and of running on skees (snow-shoes); is invoked for success in duels, and dwells in Ydal. His father is not named.

Forsete is the son of Balder and Nanna. He settles all disputes among gods and men. He dwells in Glitner, the silver roof of which is supported by columns of gold.

Frigg is the daughter of Fjorgyn, and the first among the goddesses, the queen of the asas and asynjes. Odin is her husband. She sits with him in Hlidskjalf, and looks out upon all the worlds. She exacted an oath from all things that they should not harm Balder. Her dwelling is Fensal.

Freyja is next to Frigg in importance. She is Njord's daughter and Frey's sister. She is the goddess of love, and Friday is named after her. (Comp. Dies Veneris.) She rides in a carriage drawn by two cats, and dwells in Folkvang, where she has a hall called Sessrymner. When she rides to the field of battle, she shares the fallen equally with Odin. Her husband, Od, went far away and wandered through many lands, but she weeps golden tears of longing for him. She is also called Vanadis — that is, goddess of the vans; and the many names which were given to her are accounted for by the fact that she visited many different peoples in search of her husband.

Saga is the goddess, of history; she dwells beneath the cool billows of Sokvabek, where she and Odin every day quaff mead from beakers of gold.

Sif is the wife of Thor, Nanna the wife of Balder, and Sigyn the wife of Loke; but besides these there are several goddesses of less importance, who serve as handmaids either of Frigg or of Freyja.

Valkyries, maids of the slain, are sent out by Odin to every battle to choose guests for Valhall and to determine the victory. Surrounded by a halo of flashing light, they ride in bloody armor with shining spears through the air and over the sea. When their horses shake their manes, dew-drops settle in the deep valleys, and hail falls upon the lofty forests.

The ruler of the sea is AEger, also called Hymer and Hler. He is a giant, but is still the friend of the asas. When the gods visit him, as they do every harvest, his halls are illuminated with shining gold. His wife is Ran; she has a net with which she captures seafarers. The daughters of AEger and Ran are the billows. They are hostile to sailors, and try to upset their ships.

4. The following is an outline of the Norse mythological legends. In the beginning of the world there was a glorious time of peace and happiness among gods and men. but giantesses camel to Asgard, and the asas united themselves with them. Then their happiness was ruined, the atmosphere was infested with guile, and strife began in heaven and on earth-a strife which was to last until the destruction of both. The giants attack the asas both by force and by stratagem, and the latter are saved only by the power of Thor and the cunning of Loke.

Loke, or, as he is sometimes called, Lopt, is indeed the instigator of the greatest misfortunes that happen to the gods. He is of giant race, but was' adopted by the asas. and was already in the dawn of time the foster brother of Odin. His countenance is fair, but his disposition is evil. He is frequently called the slanderer of the asas, the grand contriver of deceit and fraud, and the reproach of gods and men. He often accompanies the asas, and they make use of his strength and cunning; but he usually plots together with the giants for the purpose of bringing ruin upon the asas.

With the giantess Angerboda, Loke begat three children in Jotunheim. These are the Fenris-wolf, the Midgard-serpent, and Hel, the goddess of death. The asas knew that these children of Loke would cause them great mischief. Therefore they bound the wolf on a barren holm (rocky island), and put a sword in his open-stretched mouth. The Midgard-serpent they cast into the deep ocean, where he encircles the whole earth and bites his own tail. Thor once caught the Midgard-serpent on his hook, and would have slain him with his hammer had not the giant Hymer, who was with him, cut off the fishing-line. Hel was thrust down into Nifiheim, and Odin commanded that all who died of sickness or old age should go to her. Her dwelling is called Helheim; it is large and terrible. It is in the most infernal pit of Hel's region, where her palace is called Anguish, the table Famine, the waiters Slowness and Delay, the threshhold Precipice, and the bed Care. Hel herself is half blue and half white, and of a grim and ghastly appearance. The English word "hell" is derived from or connected with her name.

The greatest sorrow was caused to gods and men by Loke, when he by his cunning brought about the death of Baldur. Baldur was tormented by terrible dreams, indicating that his life was in peril; and this he communicated to the gods, who resolved to conjure all animate and inanimate things not to harm him. Frigg exacted an oath from all things that they should not harm Baldur. But still Odin felt anxious, and, saddling his horse Sleipler, he descended to Niflheim, where he awaked the vala, and compelled her to give him information about the fate of Baldur. When it had been made known that nothing in the world would harm Baldur, it became a favorite pastime of the gods at their meetings to put him up as a mark and shoot at him. But it vexed Loke to see that Baldur was not hurt; so he assumed the guise of a woman, and went to Frigg, and asked if all things had sworn to spare Baldur. From Frigg he learned that she had neglected to exact an oath from a slender twig called the mistletoe. Loke immediately went and pulled this up, proceeded to the place where the gods were assembled, and induced the blind god Hod to throw the mistletoe at his brother, and do him honor as the rest of the gods did. Loke himself guided Hod's hand; the twig hit Baldur, and he fell down lifeless.

The asas were struck dumb and speechless by terror. Finally Frigg sent Hermod, who got Odin's horse, to Hel, to persuade the goddess of death to permit Baldur to return to Asgard. Hel promised to release him on the condition that all nature would weep for him. The gods then dispatched messengers throughout all the world to beseech all things to weep, in order that Baldur might be delivered from the power of Hel. All things very willingly complied with une request — men, animals, the earth, stones, trees, and all metals — just as we see things weep when they come out of the frost into the warm air. When the messengers were returning with the conviction that their mission had been quite successful, they found on their way home a giantess who called herself Thokk. Thokk would not weep, and Hel kept her prey. But this Thokk was none else than Loke in disguise.

Baldur's wife, Nanna, died of grief, and was burned on her husband's funeral pile; but Odin's son, Vale, though at that time but one night old, avenged Baldur by slaying Hod, who had been the immediate cause of his death.

Pursued by the gods, Loke now fled upon a mountain, whence he could look out upon the world in all directions, and when he saw the gods approaching in search of him, he changed himself into the form of a salmon, and sprang into a waterfall near by, called the Vrananger Force. But Odin had seen him from Hlidskjalf, and by means of a fishnet they captured him. Having Loke in their power, they dragged him without pity into a cavern, wherein they placed three sharp-pointed rocks, boring a hole through each of them. Having also seized Loke's children, Vale and Narfe, they changed the former into a wolf, and in this likeness he tore his brother to pieces and devoured him. The gods then made cords of his intestines, with which they bound Loke on the points of the rocks, one cord passing under his shoulders, another under his loins, and a third under his hams; and when this was done they transformed these cords into fetters of iron. Then the giantess Skade took a serpent, and suspended it over him in such a manner that the venom should fall into his face, drop by drop. But Sigyn, Loke's wife, stands by him, and receives the drops as they fall in a cup, which she empties as often as it is filled. But while she is emptying it venom falls upon Loke's face, which makes him shriek with horror, and twist his body about so violently that the whole earth quakes and quivers. Such, says the Norseman, is the catfse ofearthquakes. There will Loke lie until Ragnarok, which is not far off.

5. Intimately connected with these traditionary narratives are the Norse views as to the future. The time will come when the whole world shall be destroyed, when gods and men shall perish in Ragnarok, or the twilight of the gods. Increasing corruption and strife in the world are the signs that this great and awful event is approaching. Continuous winters rage without any intervening summers, and the air is filled with violent storms, snow and darkness, and these are signs that Ragnarok is near at hand. The sun and moon are devoured by the giants heretofore mentioned, who pursue them in the guise of wolves, and the heavens are stained with blood. The bright stars vanish, the earth trembles, and the mountains topple down with a tremendous crash. Then all chains and fetters are severed, and the terrible Fenris-wolf gets loose. The Midgard-serpent writhes in his giant rage, and seeks land upon the tumultuous waves. The ship Naglfar, which has been constructed of the nail-parings of dead men, floats upon the waters, carrying the army of frost-giants over the sea, and the giant Hrym is its helmsman. Loke, freed also from his chains, comes at the head of the hosts of Hel. The Fenris-wolf advances and opens his enormous mouth. His lower jaw reaches the earth, and the upper one touches the skies; he would open it still wider had he the room to do so. Fire flashes from his eyes and nostrils. The Midgard-serpent, placing himself by the side of the Fenris- wolf, vomits forth floods of poison, which fill the air and the waters. In the midst of this confusion, crashing, and devastation, the heavens are rent in twain, and the sons of Muspel come riding through the opening in brilliant array. Surt rides first, wrapped in flames of fire; his flaming sword outshines the sun itself. Bifrost (the rainbow) breaks as they ride over it, and all direct their course to the great battle-field called Vigrid.

Meanwhile Heimdal arises, and with all his might he blows the horn of Gjoll to awake the gods, who assemble without delay. In his embarrassment Odin rides to Mimer's fountain, to consult Mimer as to how he and his warriors are to enter into action. The great ash Yggdrasil begins to quiver; nor is there anything in heaven or on earth that does not fear and tremble in that awful hour. The gods and all the einherjes of Valhall arm themselves, and speedily sally forth to the field of battle, led on by Odin, with his golden helmet, resplendent cuirass, and flashing spear, Gungner. Odin places himself against the Fenris-wolf. Thor stands by Odin's side, but can render him no assistance, as he must himself fight with the Midgard-serpent. Frey encounters Surt, and fearful blows are exchanged ere Frey falls, and he owes his defeat to his not having that trusty sword which he gave to his servant, Skirner, when he sent him to ask the hand of the giantess Gerd. On this last day of the world, the dog Garm, which had been chained in the Gnipa-cave, also breaks loose. He is the most fearful monster of all, and attacks Ty. and they kill each other. Thor gains great renown for killing the Midgard-serpent, but he retreats only nine paces before he falls dead, having been suffocated by the floods of venom. which the dying serpent vomits forth upon him. The FenriS-wolf swallows Odin, but Vidar immediately advances, and, setting his foot upon the monster's lower jaw, he seizes the other with his hand, and thus tears and rends him till he dies. Vidar is able to do this, for he wears the shoe previously described in this sketch. Loke and Heimdal fight a duel, and kill each other. The conflict is still raging with unabated fury, when Surt flings fire and flame over the world. Smoke wreathes up around the all- nourishing world-ash Yggdrasil, the high flames play against the heavens, and earth, consumed, sinks down beneath the sea.

But after all the world has thus been consumed in flames, the earth, completely green, rises a second time from the sea. Cascades fall, and the eagle soars on lofty pinions in pursuit of his prey. The gods come together on the plains of Ida, and talk about the powerful Midgard-serpent, about the Fenris-wolf, and about the ancient; runes of the mighty Odin. The fields, unsown, yield their harvests, all ills cease, and the heavenly gods live in peace. Vidar and Vale survive Ragnarok. Neither the flood nor Surt's flame did them any harm, and they dwell on the plains of Ida, where Asgard formerly stood. Thither came also the two sons of Thor (Mode and Magne), bringing with them their father's celebrated hammer, Mjolner. Hcener is there also, and comprehends the future. Balder and Hod converse together; they call to mind their former deeds, and the perils they have passed through; they talk about the fight with the Fenris-wolf and with the Midgard-serpent. The sons of Hod and Balder inhabit the wild Wind-home.

The sun brings forth a daughter more lovely than herself (the sun is feminine in the Norse language) before she is swallowed by the wolf Skol, and when the gods have perished, the daughter rides in her mother's heavenly course.

During the conflagration of Ragnarok, a woman by name Lif and a man by name Lifthrasir lie concealed in the so-called forest of Hodmimer. The dew of the dawn serves them as food, and so great a. race shall spring from them that their descendants shall soon spread over the whole earth.

The gold-roofed Gimle does not perish in the conflagration of the world. This hall outshines the sun; it is in the uppermost heaven, and in it

"The virtuous Shall always dwell, And evermore Delights enjoy" (Elder Edda).

Towards the north, on the Nida Mountains, stands a hall of shining gold, and this the dwarfs occupy after Ragnarok.

But there is also a place of punishment for the wicked. It is a place far from the sun, a large and terrible cave, and the doors of it open to the north. This cave is built of serpents wattled together, and the heads of all the serpents turn into the cave, filling it with streams of poison, in which perjurers, murderers, and adulterers have to wade. The suffering is terrible; gory hearts hang outside of their breasts; their faces are dyed in blood; strong venom-dragons fiercely run through their hearts; their hands are riveted together with, ever burning stones; their clothes are wrapped in flames, and remorseless ravens keep tearing their eyes from their heads.

"Then comes the mighty one To the great judgment; From heaven he comes, He who guides all things.

Judgments he utters, Strifes he appeases, Laws he ordains To flourish forever" (Elder Edda).

Or, as it is stated in the lay of Hyndla of the Elder Edda, after she (Hyndla) has described Hejindal, the sublime protector of the perishable world:

"Then comes another Yet more mighty; But Him dare I not

Venture to name. Few look farther Than to where Odin Goes to meet the [Fenris-] wolf" (Elder Edda).

In various passages of the Old Norse literature, like-the one just quoted, there are allusions to the unknown God, who was before the beginning of time, and at the end of time he enters upon his eternal reign, and it seems that when he comes to the great judgment the punishment of the wicked in that terrible cave (Nastraud) will cease.

6. The above are the main points in the religion of the Norsemen. A complete interpretation is difficult, but the leading features are easily discernible, and are as follows:

The chaotic world-mass is produced by the blending of heat and cold, and this chaos quickens into the form of the giant Ymer. The asas are the beneficent forces and elements in nature. They separate from the evil and destructive elements (the giants), conquer them by their divine power, and create from them the world, thus producing the earth and its inhabitants.

The government of the world is in the power of the asas, while they themselves are in some respects subject to the decrees of the mighty norns, the goddesses of time and fate. Everything in nature that is good, beautiful, and true is the work of the asas; but the power of the giants manifests itself in all the evil, disturbing, and destructive elements of nature. The asas limit but do not destroy the power of the giants. The life of the world is a constant struggle between these contending forces. The asas try to defend what advantage they have, but the giants are constantly seeking to defeat them, and to bring ruin upon them. The asas frequently employ the giants for the purpose of elevating and fortifying themselves, but thereby they only weaken their own power. The cunning giantgod, Loke, whom the asas have adopted, deceives and betrays them. The power of the giants keeps increasing, and grows more and more threatening to the asas and to the world. The contest is finally decided in the last great struggle in Ragnarok, where both parties summon all their strength, and where asas and giants mutually slay each other. In this internecine contest the world is consumed by flames from the same primaeval source whence the first sparks of life originally came.

But the world is destroyed only to rise again in a more glorious condition. In the reconstruction and regeneration of the world the victory of good over evil is complete. After Ragnarok the divine powers are gathered in that Supreme Being, that unknown God, who was faintly seen from the beginning, but whom no one ventured to name; and the evil being, who so long has cursed the earth, sinks, together with death, into the unfathomable abyss, never to rise again.

7. For a complete presentation of the religion of the ancient Norsemen, see Anderson, — Norse Mythology, or the Religion of our Forefathers (Chicago, 1875); Keyser, Religion of the Northmen; Thorpe, Northern Mythology (Lond. 1852, 3 vols. 8vo); Miller, Chips from a German Workshop (see Index in vol. ii); Amer. Ch. Rev. April, 1872, art. 8. See also articles SEE MYTHOLOGY; SEE TEUTONIC MYTHOLOGY. (R.B.A.)

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.