Norse Mythology in 10 Minutes or Less

During the Middle Ages, when Vikings ruled vast expanses of Europe, there was a large disconnect through the Viking Age between the Pagan God’s of the Norse, and the new God of Christianity. This conflict between religions was a defining factor during the reign of the Vikings, and ultimately lead to war, civil unrest, and conflict between groups of Vikings as well as the outside world, until Vikings ultimately accepted Christianity and converted.

Norse Mythology was largely connected to nature, and Viking people were intimately devoted to their Gods and the traditions, sacred rites and beliefs that came with them. The Norse Theology was full of brutality and human like Gods with flaws in morality, character and conflicts. And although the stories behind these beliefs may seem bizarre and violent, it can be approached with a perspective to the time, and help the reader understand the cultural values and devotion of the Viking people to their traditional way of life. As fierce fighters in war, what is to fear in death? To prove yourself worthy to enter Valhalla with the Gods? In love and fertility, how does Freya, the Goddess of fertility, view you and your desires? These stories carry with them the eternal human quest to find meaning, majesty and reason within our lives. Although it has been a thousand years since the Vikings ruled, readers today interested in what drove and inspired them, will find reasons based in their faith and culture. This religion, violent, and often dark and twisted, did not offer salvation from the terrors of the world, but instead reaffirmed their existence, and acknowledged the struggles of life through mankind as the struggles of the Gods above them.

Here you can read about the creation story based in Norse Mythology, and the beliefs of a group of people who were strong, proud and fierce. And who, ultimately, play a pivotal role in history. Get ready for quite a great adventure...

We begin with The Great Void: Ginnungagap. A massive and empty space in which two realms existed. The first realm: a world of fire and light called Muspellheim. The second: a world of ice and darkness: Niflheim.

In the center of Niflheim was a great spring, and from this spring, the rivers of Niflheim flowed away from their source towards the void, and froze in the cold darkness. As they froze, warm air from the fire world of Muspellheim blew across the void and onto the rivers of ice.  When the fire and ice met, a collision exploded into the void between the two worlds, creating chaos. Droplets of steam from the ice and fire dripped down, and within these droplets, the primordial Giant Ymir was born with the Cow Auombla. Ymir, sweating in his sleep, dripped beads of sweat from his left armpit, creating the Jotnar- The Frost Giants, and they survived from the milk of Auombla. Auombla also needed sustenance, so she licked the ice to quench her thirst. Beneath her tongue, in the ice, a being appeared over the course of three days: Buri. Beautiful and strong, he created his own son Borr, who fell in love with a Jotunn Giantess Bestla.

The God Borr and the Giantess Bestla created three sons together: Odin, Vil and Ve. As they grew, these sons rose up and warred against Ymir and his sons and daughters, The Frost Giants, eventually succeeding in killing the primordial being Ymir. As Ymir died, the three brothers placed his body into the void between the worlds of ice and fire, and his blood poured out, creating a huge flood- which drowned the giants Ymir had created except for two: Bergelmir and his unnamed wife. These two Giants built a ship and rode the waves of blood to another land, far away from the wars of Odin, Vil and Ve. But waited in this far away land, to seek their revenge upon the brothers.

Odin, Vil and Ve took Ymir’s body and shaped it into a world: a flat ring placed in the void between the worlds of ice and fire. Out of a universe of warring opposites: Heat and Cold, Fire and Ice, Gods and Giants: a new world was born, made by the gods from the body of their enemy. The sons of a Giantess pursuing and killing all of her own kind. Ymir’s blood became the worlds lakes and seas, his flesh and bones the land and mountains, his teeth made the rocks, and his skull became the arch of the sky above the world. From the maggots that ate at Ymir’s body, the gods created a race similar to man, and filled them with wisdom, naming them Dwarves (Dark Elves)- who held up the sky at the 4 points of Ymir’s skull: North, South, East and West. The brothers took fire from the sparks of Muspellheim, and threw them into the sky to create the stars and give light to the world, and time began.

The blood of Ymir created an infinite circular sea that marked the outer boundary of this new world, encircled with a great serpent Jormungand, the son of Loki and Angrboda, destined to be Thor’s eternal enemy. Beyond lay a wasteland inhabited by the two surviving giants and their children, as they waited for their chance to avenge Ymir’s death. This land was called Jotunheim (Home of the Giants). To protect themselves, the Gods created a defensive wall from Ymir’s eyebrows in the middle of this new world, to keep the Giants at bay from revolt. This land was called Mittgard-the middle world- soon to be the world of Men. Finally, they took Ymir’s brain, and threw it into the sky- creating the clouds.

Rest, peace and order resided in Mittgard, with warmth, green plants and life. Craving more life, Odin and his brothers took two trees, and shaped them into the image of the gods. Odin gave the beings breath and life, Vil giving them intelligence and feeling, and Ve giving them speech, hearing and sight. With these gifts of inspiration into their souls, the Gods created Man: Ask (Ash) and Embla (Elm). The first two people were given a home in the visible world of Mittgard, to live out their lives in a world of men, and worship the Gods.

Odin, needing a home for the Gods, created Asgard, a beautiful city where Odin ruled. He took Frigg as his wife, and she bore all the children that would come to inhabit Asgard- thus Odin became known as the All Father. Father of both Gods and Mankind. In order to connect the worlds, the Gods built a rainbow bridge, Bifrost, between each of the worlds. To protect this bridge, a God named Heimdall, keeps watch on the bridge, prepared to blow his horn Gjallarhon, in warning, should the bridges be crossed unannounced.  

In Jotunheim, a giant had the daughter of Night who had a daughter named Day. Odin took Night and Day and had them ride a chariot around the worlds in the heavens. On Earth, a boy Mani (Moon) and a girl named Sol (Sun), were taken to pilot the chariots. The siblings made across the heavens in haste each day, as they are pursued by the wolves Skoll and Hati, who were eternally in pursuit to devour them.

All in all, 9 worlds were created to hold all the beings of the universe:

Asgard- Home of the Gods. Mittgard- Home of Men. Alfheim- Home of Light Elves. Nidhavilla- Home of Dwarves (Dark Elves). Jotunheim- Home of Giants. Vanaheim- Home of Wise Fertility Gods. Niflheim- The Dark and Cold original Realm. Muspellheim- The Realm of Fire and Light. Hell- The Afterlife for those who die dishonorably.

All of these worlds are held up and connected by the great ash tree Yggdrasil, with three great roots:

  1. The Well of Fate: where the Gods meet everyday with the Norns, three maiden guardians, who decide the course of life and death for each being.
  2. The Well of Wisdom: where knowledge and power reside.
  3. Hevegelmir-the primordial rivers from Niflheim.

Odin was a wanderer, a seeker of knowledge, justice, war and fairness. He traveled far and wide, away from Asgard, to seek wisdom and honor. On his quest, Odin went to the Well of Wisdom, and to prove himself, sacrificed his own eye and dropped it into the well, and thus was given wisdom. The Norns, who carved runes into the tree of Yggdrasil to seal destiny, were skeptical of Odin. To dedicate himself, Odin hung himself from a tree and impaled himself on his own spear, going without food or water for 9 days and nights. He suffered until the Runes appeared to him. And with his ability to read the runes, he could heal and shield his allies, and destroy his enemies.

It was prophesized that one day the Norns would decree Ragnarok- the cataclysmic destruction of the cosmos that will drown the world and destroy many of the great Gods. It will start with a Great Winter, with darkness and unprecedented cold that will last three years. Mankind will be desperate for food and life, and the morals of man will fall away, leaving nothing but war, death and chaos. The wolves Skoll and Hati will succeed in hunting down the Sun and the Moon, taking all the light from the world. Yggdrasil will tremble and fall, and the great wolf Fenrir, son of the trickster Loki and Giantess Angrboda, will run free. He will open his jaws and run across the world with his lower jaw on the ground and his upper jaw in the sky, devouring everything in his path.  His brother, the Great Serpent Jormungand, will leave the waters surrounding Mittgard and is fated to destroy Thor and himself in the process.

From this battle, the world will resurface anew to be repopulated from two humans and the surviving Gods. Odin was determined to live through Ragnarok, and used all his power and might to prepare himself for the imminent war. Odin sent his Valkyries, divine maiden warriors, to every human battle to decide who will be victorious, and who will die. They then select the most heroic of the slain, and take them to Valhalla- the Great Hall in Ausgard. Odin sits in the hall with his Ravens-Thought and Memory, who fly off into the world every day at sunrise to gather information, and return for the feast each day with the heroes of the dead, whispering their secrets into Odin’s ear. The heroes in Valhalla will spend their eternal days in friendly fighting matches, staying strong, drinking and eating together in order to prepare for the final days of Ragnarok.

When reflecting on this creation story of Norse Mythology, its easier to understand where the Vikings got their fierce reputation. Why fear death if you can enter the halls of Valhalla and spend eternity with your family and friends? The Vikings raided for riches, but came from a poor and harsh life in Scandinavia. Many of their treasures were buried in the ground with the death of significant figures. People sacrificed their own lives in order to be buried with the dead, to protect and serve them in the afterlife. Life, treasures and riches were valuable, of course, in society, but even more so for the land beyond the living. The lack of fear in death, assurance of prosperity in the afterlife should you prove worthy, and knowledge of the Gods shaped the Viking culture into its historic and infamous reputation we still acknowledge today.

Hopefully you have made it to the end of this long and complex saga, and if this story interests you, there are plenty of places to learn more while visiting Norway. Here are a few suggestions along the way:

The Viking Ship Museum

The Norsk Folkemuseum