Monday, February 22, 2010

History of Nordic Mythology VII: The Source for Poetic Inspiration

Dear “Hyperborea Exists” followers, we’re here again to keep up with our lessons about the history of Nordic mythology and, finally, we go into expanding some of the legends of Nordic mythology, specifically in this extended update we’ll speak about the origin of poetic inspiration and the myth of Odin and the honey mead.

The myth of the poetic honey mead appears in the part of “Edda in prose” made by Snorri Sturluson called the “Skalds-kaparmal”, formed by some episodes that form a cycle and that it is very complex. The myth speaks about the poetry as the fruit of the divine inspiration, which gives us an idea of the importance that was given to it and the prestige the poets in the Scandinavian world had.

In the dawn of time, after a war between the Aces and the Vanes, both declare a truce by spitting on an ink that, using the accumulated saliva, an already-adult man, named Kvasir, is born. He knows everything and has the knowledge of both the Aces and the Vanes.

In Midgard, where humanity lived, Kvasir became famous thanks to his ability to answer any question without mattering how wise was the one that asked. Those that needed advice knew that he would come just by calling him. In one of those trips he meets two dwarves, Fialar and Galar, who invite him to eat deep in their caves. There they murder him and empty his blood in two pots made of mud and a boiler, where they mix it with honey until they obtain a honey mead that turns everyone that drinks it into a poet or erudite.

The giant Baugi, convinced by Odin, drills the chamber of his brother Suttung. This picture represents the giant Baugi making a hole in the cave where the honey mead is hidden. The drill has magic powers: it gets larger every time it is used; there is no place it cannot reach. The dwarves tell the gods that Kvasir has died, after choking with his own knowledge after being unable to find anyone that can compete against him in wisdom.
Afterwards, they invite Gilling, a giant, and his wife, to their lair. They carry Gilling in a rowboat, but it crashes against a rock and knocks over. As he can’t swim, Gilling drowns, but the dwarves manage to turn the boat again and getting back home to tell the giant about her husband’s death. The dwarf Fialar asks her if looking back at the place where he drowned would ease her pain, but it’s all a fallacy. As soon as he crosses the door, Galar throws a stone at her and kills her. When the son of the giants, Suttung, finds out what has happened, he locks the dwarves up and abandons them in an island that ends up covered by the flood tide. Dwarves beg for forgiveness and they offer him the honey mead as compensation for his parents’ deaths. Suttung accepts, takes the valuable honey mead, hides it inside a mountain called Hnitbiorg and puts his sister Gunnlod as guardian.

Odin in search of the honey mead

Next, history revolves around Odin’s efforts to obtain the honey mead from Suttung. Dressed as a peasant, Odin starts his mission. One day, he walks into nine serfs that are harvesting hay and with his sharpening stone he sharpens their sickles. The serfs are so impressed with the result that they decide to buy it from him. Odin accepts under the condition that the price is fair. After that, Odin throws the stone into the air and, anxious, the serfs fight for it. In the melee, they end up cutting each other’s throats with their sickles.

Odin stays in with a giant called Baugi, Suttung’s brother, to whom he hides his true identity telling him that his name is Bolverk. The nine serfs were working for Baugi, who needs to search for new workers for the harvesting. Odin offers himself to make the work of the nine men in exchange for a swig of Suttung’s honey mead. Baugi doubts that his brother accepts to share a single drop of the honey mead, but he promises to help Odin to get it after finishing the job. Odin completes the harvest and he goes to see Suttung with Baugi, but he refuses to share the honey mead. Odin draws a drill called Rati and tells Baugi to dig a hole and gets through Hnitbiorg until reaching the honey mead. Baugi drills the mountain where the honey mead is kept, but Odin makes him to get into the cave.

Necklace or amulet, IX century, Sweden. The figure, maybe a priest of the Odin’s cult, holds a sword and two spears and has an ornamented helmet. Odin is a very complex god; although he is a god of war he is also the god of wine and inspiration, although many see in his multiple faces a common perk: the evasion of oneself, by means of death or drunkenness.
After transforming into a snake, Odin glides through the hole. Baugi, on his last attempt to change his opinion he tries to drill the snake’s tail when he is about to disappear, but fails. Once inside the mountain, Odin seduces Gunnlod, who guards the honey mead, and spends three nights with her. He persuades her to allow him take three swigs of the honey mead, one for each night with her; that is everything Odin needs to empty the three recipients. After that, he turns into an eagle and flies through Asgard. Suttung watches him escape and follows him, also as an eagle. When they see Odin, the Aces bring recipients to Asgard’s yard as they were told. Odin vomits the honey mead, but Suttung follows him closely and excretes unnoticing some of the liquid. That part isn’t picked up, it is left for whoever wants it.

Odin offers the gods the picked up honey mead, and whoever tastes it becomes a consummated poet; but whoever tastes the excreted honey mead only composes bad verses. And with Suttung, some versions say that, after reaching Asgard’s walls, the sun rays touched him and took his eagle disguise away, making him fall to the floor. In others, the gods light a fire that burns his wings, he falls to the ground and dies.
That’s all for today, Hyperborea Exists followers, for the next update I have prepared an introduction to many tales about the descendents of the gods like Freyr or Thor.

Note. You can find some of the info included in this series of chapters in the book Mythology/: Myths, Legends and Fantasies/ by Global Book Publishing, a great work to introduce yourselves into the general
mythology of every culture in the world.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

History of Nordic Mythology VI: Odin, Overlord of all gods

Dear “Hyperborea Exists” followers, another week I’m with you with my lesson about the history of Nordic Mythology. Today, at last, we begin my favorite part of this series of updates, speaking of the most important Nordic gods and, of course, Odin, the Great Father, is the chosen one to start this series of updates which will trigger the end of this cycle in “Hyperborea Exists”.

Odin, Overlord of all gods

The god Odin was the most popular of the Germanic gods during the first millennia of the Christian era. Known as Woden by the Anglo-Saxons,  Wodan by the German and Saxon tribes and by the Long bards (?) as Godan, he was considered as the mythical ancestor of most Germanic tribes, as well as of some early Middle Age royal Anglo-Saxon  families. In fact, if we take a look at the present day, the word “Wednesday” comes from Odin (Woden).

Thor fights against the Jotun, by Martes Winge (1825-1896). Thor leads the fight against the giants (the Jotun). Echoes of thunder accompany the cart, driven by magic goats. He uses his Belt of Strength and often he wears iron gauntlets on his wrists which allow him to use his hammer.
In spite of this, he was long before considered as a god of healing, magic, runes and knowledge, and also as the god of death, war and destiny, but on top he was known as the great father of the Nordic gods. Anyways, his followers also knew of the ambiguities of this god, because they knew that in the battle he could lead those who worshipped him to victory or death.

Odin and the Runes

The poem Hávamál, from Iceland, which as was written wasn’t picked up until the XII century, along with the “Edda in prose” from the XIII century, bring us a poetic although powerful version of how the god Odin became the first to acquire the knowledge of the runes, that is to say, with the power and use of writing. In both works, Odin himself speaks and declares that he got the runes hanging from <>. As a result of these nine days of fasting, he learned the nature of the runes better.

Rune, Uppsala, s. XI, by Gamlta Torget. Germanic mythology gave great valor to the writing, which was runic. This knowledge was acquired with suffering. Odin, father of the gods, suffered nine days of fasting and pain to reach is knowledge. 
This episode, known as the self-sacrifice of Odin, is similar, although only on the surface, to Christ’s sacrifice, by having remained hung and also by the wound of the spear. According to some, this could suggest an early adoption of the main Christian myth by the ancient Nordics, maybe through the British islands. Despite this, numerous similar forms of sacrifice in the initiation in numerous archaic cultures can be found. Its origin might be linked with more clarity to the shamanistic initiation rites in the learning of poetry and magic.

Viking stone engraving found in Gotland, Sweden, s. VIII. This stone represents the god Odin (Wodan) assisted by the Valkyries, on his eight-legged hose Sleipnir, the most magnificent of all horses. He is the one who takes the brave fallen to Valhalla.

A little more about the Runes

Germanic tribes had an alphabet made up by 24 “letters” called runes. The most antique findings of runic inscriptions come theoretically from the II century, I mean theoretically because it’s possible that they were being used from long before that (and more with special attention to investigations which will be published this year). Since the Germanic people didn’t know the scroll, the runes were carved in wood, stone and bone, which could explain its angular form. They can also be found in ornaments, swords, armors and coins.

Runic stone found in Rok, Sweden, IX century. This stone was carved by Varin as a memorial of his dead son Vemod and contains an ode to Theodoric, King of the Goths. The runs have a meaning by themselves, combined and following a certain order. In the myths, eighteen runes were revealed to Odin. 
It’s been suggested that the Runes could have evolved from the Latin tongue after contact with the Romans, but there is no proof of that. The word “rune” means “mystery” or “secret” in old Nordic, and that’s why it has been associated often with magic, along with profane and religious purposes.

With this explanation finishes today’s update, which I hope has been useful to you in knowing Odin and the Nordic runes. In the next “Hyperborea Exists” update, I will focus myself in telling you one of the most fascinating tales about Odin and the Nordic gods: The myth of the honey mead.

See you soon, “Hyperborea Exists” followers!

Note. You can find some of the info included in this series of chapters in the book Mythology/: Myths, Legends and Fantasies/ by Global Book Publishing, a great work to introduce yourselves into the general
mythology of every culture in the world.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

History of Nordic Mythology V: From gods and giants

Dear “Hyperborea Exists” followers: one more week I come to you with yet another chapter of the Nordic Mythology. Concretely, this will be the first chapter of what I consider to be the most important part in this
lesson: history of the most important deities of Nordic mythology. To begin with, there’s nothing more important than going inside the relationship between gods and Nordic giants.

Gods and giants are ancestral enemies and most of the myths tell the story of the skirmishes between them. Thor, with his mighty hammer, is a warrior god, the most feared foe by the giants. Myths assure that one
day that enmity will end up in a final battle known as “Ragnarök”, on which the entire universe, along with most of its inhabitants, will be destroyed. Nonetheless, sources announce a new beginning: some gods and
men will survive, and they will altogether begin the rebuilding and repopulation of a better and more pacific world.

Miollnir (Mjöllnir), Thor’s hammer, amulet, 10th Century, Sweden. Thor used his hammer, associated to thunder, to defend the gods and their world. It always went back to his hand after throwing him away. This amulet, decorated with Thor’s penetrating eyes, would act as a protector fetish.

A huge Builder

The next tale is related in a section in “Edda in prose” by Snorri Sturluson called the “Gylfaginning”, and makes reference to the tales King Gylki heard during her visit to the city of Asgard, mentioned in a
previous update. This history speaks of the dishonesty of gods on their treats with giants, which some consider a moral defect of divine society which will lead them to destruction in Ragnarok.

This myth goes through the principles of mythological past, after the gods created Midgard and raised the big Valhalla hall. A Builder introduces himself and offers to build up a fortification effective against the mountain giants’ attacks and the frost, even if they break through Midgard itself. As pay he requests goddess Freya in marriage, and the Sun and the Moon also.

The gods accept under the condition that he finishes his job in just one winter without the help of any other man, or he’ll not receive pay. The Builder accepts, but he asks for permission to use his stud horse
“Svadilfoeri”, something that is granted to him, taking the advice of the mischievous god Loki. The treaty is made with solemn promises made by both parts. The Builder begins working. “Svadilfoeri”, who works
during the night dragging stones, has twice the strength of the Builder, and at the beginning of the Summer everything indicates that work will be made on time, moment on which gods realize of the terrifying panorama
that opens on them: not only they can lose Freya, but also the sources of light from the world. They blame Loki by his bad advice and force him to think up the way of impeding the Builder to finish his work on time.

Loki’s solution to the problem is simple: he transforms into a mare. That night, when the stud horse begins working, he takes him to a place far away. The two horses frolic in the foresta ll night, which delays the working of the fortification. The Builder, on the perspective of losing his pay, enrages so terrifyingly that the gods notice that he’s no man, but a mountain giant. They forget the treaty and summon Thor, who raises his hammer Miollnir (Mjöllnir) and destroys the giant’s skull.

This is the end of the story, but an epilogue exists: Loki, in his mare form, has mated the stud horse and breeds a magnificent eight-legged colt that will end up becoming “Sleipnir”, the best of all horses and
Odin’s mount.

That’s all for today, in the next Hyperborea Exists update we’ll give way to a deeper approach on Odin and the main tales that revolve around one of the most influential figures in the Germanic tribes and who nowadays has a big presence in traditions, languages and people in Europe.

Till next time, dear Hyperborea Exists followers!

Note. You can find some of the info included in this series of chapters in the book Mythology/: Myths, Legends and Fantasies/ by Global Book Publishing, a great work to introduce yourselves into the general
mythology of every culture in the world.