The underlying premise of the Germanic-Dane (or Norse) beliefs is understanding that the different roles that “Gods”, “Semi-Gods”, and “Demi-Gods” would have fulfilled within the average life of a Dane warrior. The idea that the men and women mentioned throughout the Norse traditions and legends were considered “Gods” was a church embellishment in an attempt to crush out the old traditions, therefore I will attempt to remove those descriptors as they are an after-product of the actual beliefs of my ancestors. As my ancestors and their cultural effects on these earlier Danes, the understanding that most would have believed “in the self”, using the figures depicted throughout Norse legends as “role models” of the sort. With each of the figures displaying desired attributes that the warriors would have been inspired or motivated to emulate in their own lives. The evolution of these individuals from that of a role model to the status of being “Gods” was a manipulation of the idea that they had figured out how to cross the BiFrost and crossed over between being gods to being our ancestors.
Every part of human life is created for a specific purpose, with a specific God who inspired the necessary attributes to become successful. This is the evolutionary step from the early humans who found the spirits scattered throughout the world of the time and worked to understand the influence of these supernatural forces on their everyday lives. So too did my Germanic-Dane ancestors. While much of what they did involve waging war against others, their need to communicate and receive blessings from their ancestors (the Legends from Old Norse texts) was very powerful.
The Center of Life
The center of my world, like my ancestors is the ash tree Yggdrasil, which grows out of the Well of Urd. Yggdrasil holds the nine (9) worlds, home of all Gods, man, and all spiritual beings. The gods live in Ásgarðr and Vanaheim, humans inhabit Miðgarðr. Giants live in Jotunheimr, elves in Ālfhiemr, and dwarves in Svartálfheimr. Another is the primordial world of ice, Niflheimr, while Múspelheimr is the world of fire. The last world comprises Hel, the land of the dead, rules by the Goddess Hel.
The Nine Realms of Existence
Ásgarðr – Half of our ancestors who have died honorably in battle reside here. Included in Ásgarðr are many different halls including Valhöll where our ancestors reside with great feasts and parties with Óðinn.
Vanaheimr – Half of our ancestors who have died honorably in battle reside here. Included in Vanaheimr are many different halls including Fólkvangr where our ancestors reside with great feasts and parties with Freyja.
Jǫtunheimr – This is the home to the Giants of old. Now, before you think that we’re tipping the scales of sanity here, the idea of “Giants” was originally defined as evil and wicked. So, they brought a collection of problems throughout the known worlds. This could be defined as a metaphor for the issues within modern society today.
Ālfheimr – This is the home of the Elves of old. Again, before we get our dander up, Elves were defined as either helpful or confrontational, therefore they could represent anything in our lives today that is unknown.
Svartálfaheimr – This is the home of the Dwarves of old. Again, before we get our dander up, Dwarves were defined as either helpful or confrontational, therefore they could represent anything in our lives today that is unknown.
Miðgarðr – this is the lovely world that we (humans) call home. It is here on Miðgarðr that we exercise our Physical Lifetimes to experience different scenarios while learning how to navigate through the many obstacles in our life.
Múspellsheimr – this is the realm of fire.
Niflheimr – this is the realm of ice.
Hel – this is where most average people go to. The two realms above (Múspellsheimr, Niflheimr) are contained within the realm called Hel. Hel is overseen by the goddess Hel, and essentially there are two parts most people will see. The first side called the Lundar area (peaceful wilderness) where it is always summer, and where there’s a permanent all-you-can-eat buffet. You will also only see Hel’s beautiful half. The other portion, Niflhel, is reserved for criminals, níðingar, traitors, oathbreakers, and liars (yes, not keeping your word is a big no-no for us Víkingar).
The center of all life is Yggdrasil, and the Well of Urd which is the Well of Wisdom, at which our ancestor Óðinn voluntarily lost an eye for a drink.
While the age-old adage of “to the victors goes the spoils”, with the conquest of the Scandanavian peoples by the monotheistic beliefs of the middle east moving north, so too did the legends that surrounded the guiding beacons that were told by the many ancient Norse texts. These legends have even become so mainstay in modern society, that they have ventured on the movie screen and literature by the hundreds. However, like everything being translated, so too were the oral tales of greatness exhibited by the persons listed within the Norse stories. For many who read the modern-day translations, it is assumed that the people of this era looked to them like the church looks at a god today.
The individuals who are identified above were, more-or-less “attributes” that our people aspired to. Skill in combat against incredible odds, having the endurance to survive for many successive battles, were skills that were aspired to. While many may assume that the peoples worshiped Óðinn as a God that controlled human existence, many people would have aspired to be as wise as Óðinn. This is completely backward to modern thinking.
The Gods listed in the above section speaks to the church scribes transcribing the Old Norse texts to utilize as a tool to help “convert” those who followed that thinking. With the growth of a negative stigma associated with paganism, these scribes were able to “sell” the people on the idea of managing one God. Theirs. A huge loss to the world for sure.
Intersection with Theology
Hence we have the arrival of what I believe is “the Gods”. It was these early humans who discovered the Gods during one particular hunting expedition.
Two of the prominent hunters of the tribe (Ask and Embla) were traveling through a new hunting area following the trail of a large mammoth through a wooded area when they caught sight of another human moving through the treeline. He was dressed in a long cloak that shrouded most of his features, revealing a long patch of fur beneath his chin. As tall as some of the nearby trees, he leaned on a large staff, one dark blackbird perched upon each shoulder. Afraid, they hid behind a large rock, whereas the large man smiled peacefully and leaned upon a nearby tree.
“Do not be afraid children” the larger man spoke in a language the two could understand. “I am Ódinn, the all-father. I was there when you were created.” He chuckled. “I have come to be with you and tell you the stories of how you came to be.” The two hunters stepped clear of the rock they were hiding behind and cast their gaze upon the large man. “You may not remember the days before my brothers and I breathed life into you, however, you must know how this all came to be.” As he spoke he gestured towards the forest around them. Finally, he reached up and lowered his cloak’s hood, revealing his long blonde hair and shiny, oddly shaped eye. The two took a step back. “Do not fear my children, for I have surrendered one of my eyes at Mímisbrunnr in exchange for a drink from the well of wisdom. There are many things I want to share with you, there are many things that you will need to know.”
Ódinn explained the “Creation Story” of the time before time, long before their ancestors lived.
At the beginning of the Norse cosmos, there are no stars, oceans, giants, or dragons. There are just two worlds.
In the north, a dark mist world called Niflheim. This mist world has 11 rivers that run through it. They all come from the same source, a spring called Hvergelmir. The mists of Niflheim cover everything and the place is lifeless. In the south, there is a fiery world called Muspell. This world is made up of volcanic molten rock and flaming embers. On the edge of this fiery world lives a sort of fire giant called Surtr. This giant was around at the beginning and it is said will play a role at the end of the world. He carries a flaming sword.
Between the two worlds, there is a space called Ginnungagap which translates as the yawning gap. This is a sort of void, where the 11 rivers eventually flow into. In this region, the rivers form into huge towering glaciers. In this place where the fire of Muspell and the ice of Niflheim meet a great giant called Ymir is born. This giant is both male or female and is bigger than any creature to have come before or after.
Around the same time, a cow called Audhumla is also formed from the melting ice of the glaciers. The cow feeds on the ice and produces milk for Ymir. Over time the giant grows.
The cow Audhumla continues to lick the ice and from the ice is born the firm god, Buri. Ymir being both male and female gives birth to a number of giants from his armpit. Buri married one of the giants and had a son called Bor. Bor then married a giant himself and gave birth to the gods Ódinn, Vili, and Ve.
Ódinn and his brothers Vili and Ve lived in a void between fire and mist, a place with no rock, trees, or stars. They killed Ymir because they could use his vast body to form the world and make a place to live. They used different parts of his body to build the world. His blood was the ocean, his flesh the sand and his teeth were the rocks. The brothers had no choice but to kill Ymir in order to bring into existence all of life. From his death would come life.
The earth was said to be round and encircled by a ring of deep seas. The giants were allowed to live on the edge of this world in a large that would come to become known as Jotunheim.
But they were an aggressive bunch and would always try to invade other lands. The gods Ódinn, Vili, and Ve used the eyebrows and eyelashes of Ymir to therefore build a great wall to keep the giants out. The land was now safe and could be lived upon in comfort. But something was missing.
The gods were wandering along the coast one day when they came across two trees that had been ripped from the ground. One of the trees was an ash tree, the other was an elm. Ash is thought of as strong and resilient, while elm is beautiful and graceful.
Ódinn positions the logs carefully and then began to breathe life in each of them. Vili gave them the gifts of intelligence and emotion. Finally, Ve carved the logs into the shape of humans giving them ears, eyes, and lips with which to hear, see and speak.
The gods gave the couple clothes and left them in Midgard behind the strong walls safe from the giants and other creatures. The two humans were called Ask and Embla.
“Those two are you two”. He laughed. “This is how it all began”.