Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

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He the bright maid of heaven shall precede.”

Sæmuna’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.). [9]

At times, they said, the wolves overtook and tried to swallow their prey, thus producing an eclipse of the radiant orbs. Then the terrified people raised such a deafening clamour that the wolves, frightened by the noise, hastily dropped them. Thus rescued, Sun and Moon resumed their course, fleeing more rapidly than before, the hungry monsters rushing along in their wake, lusting for the time when their efforts would prevail and the end of the world would come. For the Northern nations believed that as their gods had sprung from an alliance between the divine element (Börr) and the mortal (Bestla), they were finite, and doomed to perish with the world they had made.

“But even in this early morn

Faintly foreshadowed was the dawn

Of that fierce struggle, deadly shock,

Which yet should end in Ragnarok;

When Good and Evil, Death and Life,

Beginning now, end then their strife.”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

Mani was accompanied also by Hiuki, the waxing, and Bil, the waning, moon, two children whom he had snatched from earth, where a cruel father forced them to carry water all night. Our ancestors fancied they saw these children, the original “Jack and Jill,” with their pail, darkly outlined upon the moon.

The gods not only appointed Sun, Moon, Day, and Night to mark the procession of the year, but also called Evening, Midnight, Morning, Forenoon, Noon, and Afternoon to share their duties, making Summer and Winter the rulers of the seasons. Summer, a direct descendant of Svasud (the mild and lovely), inherited his sire’s gentle disposition, and was loved by all except Winter, his deadly enemy, the son of Vindsual, himself [10]a son of the disagreeable god Vasud, the personification of the icy wind.

“Vindsual is the name of him

Who begat the winter’s god;

Summer from Suasuthur sprang:

Both shall walk the way of years,

Till the twilight of the gods.”

Vafthrudni’s-mal (W. Taylor’s tr.).

The cold winds continually swept down from the north, chilling all the earth, and the Northmen imagined that these were set in motion by the great giant Hræ-svelgr (the corpse-swallower), who, clad in eagle plumes, sat at the extreme northern verge of the heavens, and that when he raised his arms or wings the cold blasts darted forth and swept ruthlessly over the face of the earth, blighting all things with their icy breath.

“Hræ-svelger is the name of him

Who sits beyond the end of heaven,

And winnows wide his eagle-wings,

Whence the sweeping blasts have birth.”

Vafthrudni’s-mal (W. Taylor’s tr.).

Dwarfs and Elves

While the gods were occupied in creating the earth and providing for its illumination, a whole host of maggot-like creatures had been breeding in Ymir’s flesh. These uncouth beings now attracted divine attention. Summoning them into their presence, the gods first gave them forms and endowed them with superhuman intelligence, and then divided them into two large classes. Those which were dark, treacherous, and cunning by nature were banished to Svart-alfa-heim, the home of the black dwarfs, situated underground, whence they were never allowed to come forth during the day, under penalty of being turned into stone. They were [11]called Dwarfs, Trolls, Gnomes, or Kobolds, and spent all their time and energy in exploring the secret recesses of the earth. They collected gold, silver, and precious stones, which they stowed away in secret crevices, whence they could withdraw them at will. The remainder of these small creatures, including all that were fair, good, and useful, the gods called Fairies and Elves, and they sent them to dwell in the airy realm of Alf-heim (home of the light-elves), situated between heaven and earth, whence they could flit downward whenever they pleased, to attend to the plants and flowers, sport with the birds and butterflies, or dance in the silvery moonlight on the green.