The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

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Ques. Where was the Sun worshipped under the name of Baal or Bel (the Lord)?

Ans. In Babylon. The famous tower of Babel or Belus, was there devoted to his worship, although the highest apartment of the edifice served also as an observatory, and was the repository of the most ancient astronomical observations. Some writers have imagined that the Chaldeans and Babylonians worshipped Nimrod under the name of Belus, but it is generally believed that with these nations, and the ancient Canaanites, this was one of the many appellations of the Sun.

[214] Ques. What proof have we of the popularity of this god among the Phœnicians and Carthaginians?

Ans. In their proper names; as among the former, Ethbaal, Jerubbaal; among the latter, Hannibal, Asdrubal.

Ques. By whom was the worship of Baal introduced among the Israelites?

Ans. By King Achab or Ahab. They offered human sacrifices to Baal in groves, or high places, and on the terraces of their houses. Jeremias reproaches the Jews with building “the high places of Baalim, to burn their children with fire for a holocaust to Baalim.” This text shows the extent to which the apostate Hebrews carried this abominable worship.


Ques. Who was Moloch?

Ans. He was a divinity of the Ammonites. The Phœnicians were also particularly devoted to his worship. Young children and infants were offered as holocausts to this cruel god. These horrid sacrifices were most frequent in Carthage. When the Sicilian Agathocles threatened that city, we are told that five hundred infants, many the first-born of noble parents, were consumed in one day on the altar of Moloch.

Ques. How was this god represented?

Ans. By a brazen image, which was so [215] contrived that when a child was laid upon its extended arms, they were lowered, and the little victim immediately fell into the fiery furnace placed at the foot of the idol.

Ques. Was Moloch worshipped by the Jews?

Ans. Yes; it would seem that they were addicted to this idolatry before their departure from Egypt, since Moses in many places forbids the Israelites, under pain of death, to dedicate their children to Moloch, by passing them through fire. Solomon built a temple for his worship on the Mount of Olives. Later human sacrifices were offered to him in the valley of Hinnom, called also Tophet, which lay to the east of Jerusalem.

Ques. Where does Milton refer to this god?

Ans. Assuming that the demons or fallen angels received the worship of men, under the names of different heathen divinities, he thus describes Moloch amid the host of Satan:

“First, Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears;
Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,
Their children’s cries unheard, that passed through fire,
To his grim idol. Him the Ammonite
Worshipp’d in Rabba and her watery plain,
In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon; nor content with such
Audacious neighborhood, the wisest heart
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
His temple right against the temple of God,
On that opprobrious hill: and made his grove
The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna call’d, the type of Hell.”

[216] Ques. Who was Astaroth?

Ans. This goddess, called by the Greeks Astarte, represented the moon, in the same manner as Baal was held to be identical with the sun. The Hebrews always connected the worship of these two divinities. According to Cicero, Astarte was the Syrian Venus, and it is certain that in her worship, and the festivals celebrated in her honor, there is some foundation for this idea. Where human sacrifices were offered to Baal, wheaten cakes, wine and perfumes were laid upon the altar of Astaroth.

Notwithstanding these more innocent offerings, her worship was rendered infamous by the license which prevailed during these festivals, and the open immorality practised by her votaries.


Ques. Who was Thammuz?

Ans. This was another name for Adonis, whose story is of Eastern origin. His death, which we have already referred to in connection with the goddess Venus, is said to have taken place in the mountains of Libanus, from which the river Adonis flows to the sea. The Assyrian women mourned for him in the autumn-time. It was believed that at this season the river changed its color, and ran red, as if tinged with blood. To this Milton alludes:

[217] “Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all a summer’s day;
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded.”

The prophet Ezekiel, in relating the iniquities committed in Jerusalem, says that he saw women sitting by the north gate of the temple, who mourned for Adonis. (In the Hebrew, Thammuz.)


Ques. Who was Oannes?

Ans. He was a god of the Assyrians, half man, half fish, who was said to dwell in the sea, from which he came at stated times, to instruct the Babylonians in wisdom and science. Oannes is the Dagon of the Philistines.




Ques. What was the religion of the ancient Persians?

Ans. We derive our knowledge of their religion principally from their Zend-avesta, or Sacred Book.

Ques. What does the Zend-avesta contain?

Ans. The doctrines of Zoroaster, an Eastern sage, who is thought to have lived in Bactria about twelve hundred years before our era.

Ques. Was the Zend-avesta written by Zoroaster?

Ans. But a small portion, if any, of the Sacred Books were written by him, but the most ancient passages, which are in verse, were probably written soon after his time, when the knowledge of his doctrines was still preserved. The Parsees, or modern followers of Zoroaster, now scattered through India, say that the Zend-avesta formerly consisted of twenty-one books, but that the greater part were lost in the troubled times that followed the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great.

[219] Ques. What is the form of the Zend-avesta?

Ans. It is in the form of a dialogue, in which Ormuzd, the supreme deity, replies to the inquiries of Zoroaster, and teaches him his will with regard to his creatures.

Ques. What were the doctrines of Zoroaster?

Ans. This philosopher was more enlightened than his contemporaries, and was probably acquainted with primitive tradition. He taught the existence of one supreme Being called “the Eternal,” who created two other mighty beings, and imparted to them a portion of his own eternal divinity.

Ques. Who were these deities?

Ans. Ormuzd, or Oromasdes, who remained faithful and pure, governs the world with all the attributes which are given to the true God. Ahriman, on the contrary, uses all his energies for evil; and is, in all respects, considered as a sort of independent demon, endowed with infinite and untiring malice.

Ques. What part did each of these divinities take in the creation?

Ans. Ormuzd created men and angels, the sun, moon and stars, and everything which can contribute to the welfare or pleasure of his creatures. Ahriman created the wild beasts, poisonous serpents, etc., and sent diseases, earthquakes and storms. The Persians thus believed in two independent principles, one of good, and one of evil, but they worshipped only the first.

[220] Ques. Did they not worship the sun?

Ans. They probably did in later times, but the early followers of Zoroaster reverenced the sun and fire as emblems of Ormuzd. Perpetual fire was kept burning on their altars. The Parsees of Hindostan say that they have sacred fire which has never been extinguished since the time of Zoroaster. All the sacred fires were originally lit from that which Zoroaster brought from heaven. The Guebres, as these people are sometimes called, often built their temples over subterranean fires.

Ques. Is there any such fire now reverenced by them?

Ans. Yes, near the town of Bakoo in Georgia, on the Caspian Sea, there is a perpetual flame issuing from a limestone rock. It is watched by priests, and is much venerated by the surrounding tribes. Pilgrimages are made to this sacred fire from all parts of Asia.

Ques. What is the cause of this phenomenon?

Ans. Bakoo and the surrounding country abound in naphtha and petroleum. The sacred fire is simply a jet of inflammable gas escaping from the rocks, which, once lit, burns perpetually, as the supply is inexhaustible.

Ques. Were the Persians attached to magical arts?

Ans. Yes, their priests mingled the fables of astrology with their astronomical learning; hence, [221] from the word magi, is derived our word magician.

Ques. Where did the Persians offer their sacrifices?

Ans. Generally on the tops of lofty mountains.

Ques. When was the religion of Zoroaster suppressed in Persia?

Ans. After the conquest of Persia, by the Arabs, which took place in the seventh century, those who refused to embrace the Koran fled to Hindostan, where they still exist under the name of Parsees. At Bombay they are an active, intelligent and wealthy class.



Hindoo Mythology.


Ques. What are the Vedas?

Ans. The Vedas are the Sacred Books of the Hindoos, and are much reverenced by them. They maintain that they were composed by Brahma, the Supreme Deity, at the creation.

Ques. When do the Hindoos think that the world was created?

Ans. At an incredibly remote period; they say the present arrangement of the Vedas was made by a sage named Vyasa, some five thousand years ago.

Ques. What is the more correct opinion?

Ans. That they were written in the second thousand years before our era, a little later, probably, than the Books of Moses.

Ques. Had the Hindoos then conquered the country which now bears their name?

Ans. No; they were only crossing the borders of India.

[223] Ques. In what form are the Vedas written?

Ans. In poetry. The principal Veda contains ten thousand double verses. These works are heavy and uninteresting, but very important to historians.

Ques. Why so?

Ans. Because they throw light on the early history of the Indian and European races.

Ques. What do the Vedas teach of God?

Ans. They teach one supreme deity, called Brahma, and like the Persians seem to have some idea of the Trinity, speaking of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, as one God. The modern Hindoos, however, worship them as distinct divinities.

Ques. What are the offices of these gods?

Ans. Brahma created all things, Vishnu preserves them, and when the end of the world is come, which the Vedas say will occur in about twelve million years, Siva will destroy them.

Ques. What is there peculiar in the history of Vishnu?

Ans. His Avatars, or incarnations, which are numerous, but ten are more especially celebrated.

Ques. What was the first Avatar?

Ans. The first Avatar was when Vishnu assumed the form of a fish, and saved Manu, the father of the human race, from a universal deluge.

Ques. What is the ninth Avatar?

Ans. In the ninth Avatar, Vishnu appeared in the form of Krishna, a sort of Indian Apollo; the [224] last of the Sacred Books is that which contains the life of Krishna.

Ques. What is there remarkable about this life?

Ans. So many circumstances closely resemble corresponding events in the life of our Saviour, that it is impossible the coincidence should be accidental. It is supposed this book was written after our era by some one who had heard imperfect accounts of the life of our Lord.

Ques. What is to be the tenth Avatar?

Ans. The tenth Avatar is called Kalki, in which Vishnu will come to judge the world, destroying the wicked and rewarding the good.

Ques. What do you say of Siva?

Ans. Siva, or Mahadeva, as he is more generally called, has a vast number of followers. His worshippers and those of Vishnu form two distinct sects. Brahma, having finished his work, has but one temple in India. It is doubtful whether the worshippers of Juggernaut belong to the sect of Vishnu, or of Siva.

Ques. What do the Hindoos believe of the soul?

Ans. They think that every soul is a part of Brahma, as a spark is a part of the fire, and that finally all souls will be absorbed into Brahma, as drops of water are lost in the ocean. They also believe in metempsychosis.

Ques. What is metempsychosis?

Ans. The transmigration of souls. The Hindoos believe that if a man lead a pure life, his [225] soul will pass, after death, into another human body, but that if he has been wicked, it will enter into the body of some unclean animal. They think the soul will transmigrate many times before being finally united to Brahma. This belief makes many of the Hindoos afraid to kill animals for food, lest they may possess human souls, and be perhaps their own friends or relations.

Ques. What are Castes?

Ans. They are different classes into which the Hindoos have been divided from the earliest times.

Ques. How many castes are there?

Ans. Four; the Brahmins or priests, who sprung from the head of Brahma; the Warrior caste, which issued from his arms; the Agriculturists and Traders, who came from his thighs, and lastly, the Sudras, or laborers, who sprung from his feet.

Ques. Is there much distinction between the castes?

Ans. Yes; they cannot under any circumstances intermarry; nor can a member of a lower caste ever pass to a higher. Only, if he lead a good life, he may console himself with the hope of being born in a higher caste the next time.

Ques. Is there any caste lower than the Sudras?

Ans. No regular caste, but there exists a most unhappy race called Pariahs, who are treated [226] with the utmost contempt, and employed only in the vilest offices. They cannot enter the house of any one belonging to a pure caste, and they are not only unclean themselves, but are supposed to contaminate everything they touch. Different accounts are given as to the origin of these Pariahs.

Ques. Are the Hindoos allowed to eat flesh?

Ans. The three higher castes are forbidden it altogether. The Sudras may eat every kind but beef, but the Pariahs are under no restriction whatever. The idea seems to be that they are so vile that no kind of food could pollute them.

Ques. Are the castes ancient?

Ans. So much so, that it is impossible to say when they were first established. The Pariahs are being gradually raised from their degradation by the efforts of Christian missionaries.


Ques. Who was Buddha?

Ans. Buddha is said by the Vedas to have been a delusive incarnation of Vishnu, but his followers give a different account.

Ques. What do they say?

Ans. They say that he was a mortal sage, called Guatama, and also Buddha, or the Wise.

Ques. When did Buddha live?

Ans. We cannot ascertain exactly, but it is [227] probable he was a contemporary of Solomon—that is, he lived about one thousand years before our era. He was the son of a king, and was distinguished by wisdom, virtue and every personal gift. He was so disgusted with the wickedness of men, that he retired into a desert place, where he spent six years in prayer and meditation. At the end of this time, he began his career as a religious teacher. He preached first in Benares, but his doctrines were received with so much favor that he lived to see them spread over all India. Buddha died at the age of eighty.

Ques. Was Buddhism tolerated by the Brahmins?

Ans. It appears that for several centuries it was, and that it extended to Ceylon, and the Eastern peninsula.

Ques. What are the doctrines of the Buddhists?

Ans. They reject the Vedas altogether, and the religious observances prescribed in them. They allow animal food, and acknowledge no distinction of castes. Bloody sacrifices are prohibited. One of the duties of a priest of Buddha is to study the medicinal properties of plants in order to benefit his fellow men. We may see, therefore, that Buddha had more reasonable and humane ideas than those who composed the Vedas, and that he was probably a true sage among his people.

Ques. Is Buddhism common in India?

[228] Ans. No; after being tolerated for a long time, a fierce and continued persecution was raised against it. This had the effect of suppressing the sect almost entirely in India, and of spreading it in the adjacent countries.

Ques. When was the worship of Buddha first introduced into China?

Ans. About the year 65 of our era. From China it spread to Corea, Japan and Java.

In Japan, Buddhism has, to a great extent, supplanted the Sinto religion, the ancient faith of Japan. The word Sinto signifies spirit worship; the priests of this sect teach that the world is governed by an infinite number of spirits. The chief of these animates the sun; others rule the moon, stars, and different elements.

The worship of the sun is the most important exterior part of their religion, and the Japanese were so much attached to this form of idolatry, that the Buddhists have incorporated it with their own rites.




Ques. Is Buddhism universally followed in China?

Ans. There is, strictly speaking, no state or national religion in China, but all forms of worship are tolerated, unless they are considered politically dangerous. Among the pagan Chinese three principal religions are admitted, which are now considered equally good, although there were formerly bitter wars between their followers.

Ques. What are these?

Ans. The first, of which Confucius is in some sort the founder, is called the “Doctrine of the Lettered;” the second is regarded by its professors as the primitive religion of the ancient inhabitants of China. The priests are called Tao-sse, or Doctors of Reason, from the principal doctrine of their great teacher, Lao-tze, who considered primordial reason as the creator of all things. The third religion is Buddhism, which, as we have seen, was introduced into China in the first century of our era.

[230] Ques. Who was Confucius?

Ans. Confucius is the Latinized name of a philosopher whom the Chinese call Kung-fu-tse, (Reverend Master Kung). He was born in the year 551 B. C., and died in 479; eleven years before Socrates was born. Confucius was carefully educated in virtue and learning by his widowed mother. At her death he retired, according to Chinese custom, for the appointed three years of mourning. During this time, he devoted himself to the study of ancient writers, and noticing how completely the morality of the old sages was forgotten in China, he determined to restore their usages and doctrines. After careful preparation, he set himself up as a teacher, and his disciples were soon numbered by tens of thousands. Confucius travelled through the neighboring countries, preaching wherever he went; he was at one time prime minister of the empire, but his last years were spent in retirement with some chosen disciples. We read that he paid a visit to Lao-tze, and was so confounded by the sublime wisdom of that philosopher, that on his return home he remained three days buried in profound thought, refusing to speak, or answer any of the questions put to him by his disciples. Confucius enjoyed unbounded popularity during life, but the honors paid to him after death, have no parallel in history. His tablet is in every school in China and both master and pupils are required to prostrate themselves before it at the beginning and end of [231] each class. Every town has a temple erected in his honor, and his statue is to be found in every literary institution. Confucius left one grandson, Tse-tse, whose descendants constitute the only hereditary nobility in China. In the seventeenth century, they numbered eleven thousand males.

Ques. What were the doctrines of Confucius?

Ans. This philosopher did not originate any religious creed: he was simply a teacher of morality. It is thought, from many passages in his writings, that he believed in one Omnipotent God. He does not, however, inculcate any such doctrine, nor does he ever speak of any future reward as a motive for virtuous actions. Filial piety and other social and domestic virtues are strongly inculcated. It would be well for the Chinese of the present day, if their conduct corresponded to the maxims of their great teacher, whose morality, though often defective, contains much that is to be admired. It is a proof, if any were needed, that human motives are too weak to have any lasting influence on the passions of men; and the Chinese, particularly the followers of Confucius, seem to have lost even the last traces of natural religion.

Ques. Why then do they persevere in his worship?

Ans. The honors paid to Confucius, as well as to the souls of their ancestors, constitute an external religion for official persons and literary men. [232] There seems to be no sort of belief connected with these observances.

Ques. What difficulties did this cause among the Christian missionaries?

Ans. Some of these missionaries believed that the honors paid to Confucius were purely civil observances; and that the worship of the souls of deceased relations, the oblations made at their tombs, etc., were simply national customs to which no superstitious idea was attached. As they were assured of this by the most learned men of the Empire, they permitted the newly converted Chinese to continue these observances. Others, however, considered that, among the ignorant, these rites always degenerated into superstition, and often into idolatry. The dispute was referred to Rome, and after a careful inquiry, the latter opinion prevailed; the rites in honor of Confucius, together with the worship of ancestors, were forbidden to the Chinese Christians.

Ques. Who was Lao-tze?

Ans. He was a Chinese philosopher, contemporary with Confucius. With regard to his life and actions, many absurd and impossible things are related. His name, Lao-tze, means ‘Old Child;’ and the Chinese say this appellation was given him because he was born already old, and with gray hair. The followers of Lao-tze believe in a spiritual world, in spiritual manifestations, and in the transmigration of souls. This doctrine is [233] called the religion of Tao, or Reason. The priests are now only cheats and jugglers, living on the superstition of the people, to whom they sell charms and spells.

Notwithstanding the degraded character of his followers, the writings of Lao-tze prove that he was a true sage, a man of noble and elevated ideas. He has been compared favorably with Plato, and some have claimed that the Chinese philosopher travelled as far west as Athens. Be this as it may, it is certain Lao-tze spent some time in Persia and Syria. The Ten Tribes had just been dispersed over Asia by the conquests of Salmanasar; and it is not possible that a sage so eager in the pursuit of religious knowledge, should have failed to learn something of the ancient prophecies and the Mosaic law.

Ques. What did Lao-tze teach with regard to God?

Ans. In his writings he declares plainly that the world was erected by a threefold divinity. His followers, however, like the rest of the Chinese, have no definite idea of God.

Ques. What class of Chinese follow the doctrines of Buddha, or Fo?

Ans. At present the Chinese Buddhists belong principally to the lower classes. Formerly this religion was in higher repute, but the magnificent temples of Buddha are now going gradually to decay, and there seems no prospect that any attempt will be made to restore them. The Bonzes, [234] or Buddhist priests, are ignorant and degraded, and are allowed to live in the greatest poverty. They are not permitted to marry; to keep up their numbers they buy young children, who may be had in China for a few sapecks, and these are trained for the service of Buddha. These Bonzes have sunk so low in public estimation, that they are often hired to perform inferior parts on the stage.

Ques. Where is the most celebrated temple of Buddha?

Ans. In Pou-tou, an island in the Archipelago of Chusan. This temple retains many traces of its former magnificence, and is particularly remarkable for a triple statue of Buddha. There are three gigantic figures, richly gilt, which represent the divinity in the past, the present and the future. In this temple is a hall dedicated to the Goddess of Porcelain, and every part of the edifice is crowded with hideous idols of the lesser divinities.

Ques. What is the general feeling of the Chinese on religious subjects?

Ans. They are entirely indifferent, and have but a vague idea of the existence of anything beyond the present life. This indifference is the greatest obstacle with which the Christian missionaries have to contend in China.

Ques. Do the Chinese ever argue among themselves on points of belief?

Ans. Never. When Chinese, who are strangers [235] to each other, meet, a polite formula is to ask “To what sublime religion do you belong?” Then one will call himself a Buddhist, another a follower of Confucius, etc., upon which politeness requires that each one should speak slightingly of his own religion, and praise the sect to which he does not belong. These compliments end by all repeating in chorus a proverbial phrase to the effect that all men are brothers, and religions are of no consequence.

Ques. If such total indifference prevails in China, on the subject of religion, how does it happen that Christianity should be so severely persecuted?

Ans. This arises partly from the political fears of the Chinese government, and its jealousy of strangers. The missionaries are, of course, foreigners, and it is natural that the emperors should imagine them to be working in the interest of the great western nations whose power they so much fear. There are other reasons; the purity of Christian morals has been always a reproach to pagan society, and the spirit of darkness never fails to rouse the prejudices and passions of men against the progress of the faith. In ancient Rome, where the idols and superstitions of every conquered nation found a ready welcome, Christianity obtained a foothold only after three centuries of persecution.





Ques. What is the prevailing religion of Thibet?

Ans. Buddhism prevails in Thibet and Tartary. The people of these countries are more thoughtful than the Chinese, and more earnest with regard to religious matters. Their priests, called Lamas, live together in large communities. They are given to study, and their dwellings, or Lamaseries, often contain large and valuable libraries. Many of the Lamas are addicted to demon worship and sorcery, but these are generally looked upon with aversion by the more virtuous among their brethren.

Ques. Who is the Grand Lama?

Ans. He is a sort of High Priest of Buddhism residing in Lassa, the capital of Thibet; he is invested with an entirely supernatural character.

Ques. How is this?

[237] Ans. The Buddhists believe that the confinement of the soul in a human body is a state of misery, and the punishment of sins committed in a former state of existence. They maintain, however, that pure spirits, from time to time, assume our human nature voluntarily, in order to promote the welfare of mankind. Such are the Lamas, and since the victories of Genghis Kan in the East, the Lama residing in Thibet has been considered the Chief Pontiff of his sect, and a perpetual incarnation of Buddha. He is also a temporal sovereign, although he is controlled by the Chinese government.

Ques. How is the line perpetuated?

Ans. When the Lama dies, his soul enters immediately into the body of some child, so that he is simply said to transmigrate.

Ques. How is the child discovered?

Ans. This is an affair of some difficulty, but the inferior Lamas always succeed in finding the hidden divinity. The child into whom they supposed the Lama’s soul has entered, is required to remember the most private acts of the Lama’s life, to recognize, as familiar objects, the articles which he was accustomed to use, etc. The children thus examined have sometimes answered in so extraordinary a manner that many have supposed Satan was permitted to aid in the imposture.



Ques. What does this mythology include?

Ans. The ancient superstitions of that portion of Northern Europe now known as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Ques. What is the general character of Scandinavian mythology?

Ans. It has none of the grace and poetic beauty which characterize the fables of Greece and Rome; and it differs equally from the more mystical superstitions of the Persians and Hindoos. In warm and fertile regions, the temper, even of the barbarian, is softened into harmony with the scenes around him, and his superstitions, though still sensual, are more gentle and refined. On the other hand, the wild and rugged North made its own impress on the Scandinavian tribes, and their superstitions were gloomy and extravagant, with sometimes an element of savage grandeur and sublimity.

Ques. Was this mythology transmitted by oral tradition only?

[239] Ans. This must have been the case for a long time; as the oldest of the Eddas was compiled only in the eleventh century, and the stories which it contains of the Northern gods and heroes, had been long familiar to the people in the recitations of their bards. The Scandinavian Skalds or bards were, like the Celtic, historians as well as minstrels.

Ques. Who composed the Eddas?

Ans. It is impossible to say. The oldest, or poetic Edda, was compiled by Sâmund Sigfûsson, an Icelandic priest, about the middle of the eleventh century. He was educated in France and Germany, and spent some time in Rome before his return to Iceland. He was induced to compile the Edda, principally, it would seem, from a patriotic desire of preserving the ancient legends of his race. The word Edda means ancestress, and it is so called because it is considered the mother of Icelandic poetry. The Sagas were written in Denmark and the Scandinavian peninsula.

Ques. What account do the Eddas give of the creation?

Ans. They say that in the beginning, there was neither heaven nor earth, but a world of mist, in which flowed a mysterious fountain. Twelve rivers issued from this fountain, and when they had flowed far from their source, froze into ice, which, gradually accumulating, the great deep was filled up. Southward from the world of mist, was the world of light. From this a warm wind [240] flowed upon the ice, and melted it. The vapors rose in the air and formed clouds, from which sprung the Frost Giant and his progeny; also the cow Audhumbla, by whose milk the giant was nourished. The Frost Giants were the enemies of gods and men. From the ice of the lower deep a god arose, who married a daughter of the giants, and became the father of three sons, Odin, Vili and Ve. These slew the giant Ymir, and out of his body formed the earth on which we live. His bones were changed into mountains, his hair into trees; of his skull they made the heavens, and of his brain, clouds charged with hail and snow. Odin next regulated the days and seasons by placing the sun and moon in the heavens, and appointing them their respective courses. As soon as the sun shed its rays upon the earth, the plants and trees began to bud and sprout. The three gods walked by the side of the sea, admiring their new creation, but seeing that it was uninhabited, they resolved to create man. Aske and Embla, the first man and woman, were therefore formed, the man out of an ash, and the woman out of an alder. They were the parents of the whole human race.

Ques. What idea had the ancient Scandinavians of the form of the earth?

Ans. Their notions on the subject were childish in the extreme. They thought that the ash tree Ygdrasill, supported the entire universe. This tree had three roots, one of which extended into [241] Asgard, the dwelling-place of the gods; another into Jotunheim, the abode of the giants; and a third into Niffleheim, the region of darkness and cold. Under the tree lies Ymir, and his efforts to throw off the weight cause earthquakes. The root that extends into Asgard is carefully tended by three Norns, who correspond to the Fates of Greek mythology. Asgard could only be entered by crossing the bridge Bifrost, (the rainbow).

Ques. Describe Asgard.

Ans. It contained gold and silver palaces, the dwellings of the gods, but the most famous and beautiful of these was Valhalla, the residence of Odin. This god is represented as seated on a throne which overlooks all heaven and earth. On his shoulders sit the ravens, Hugin and Munin, who fly every day over the whole world, and on their return report to him all that they have seen. At Odin’s feet lie two wolves, to whom he gives all the meat that is set before him, as he himself stands in no need of food. Mead is for him both food and drink.

Ques. How is Odin’s name sometimes written?

Ans. Woden; and from this comes the name of the fourth day of the week, Woden’s day, changed to Wednesday.

Ques. Has Odin any other name?

Ans. He was sometimes called Alfâdur, (All father,) but this name is occasionally used in a way that seems to prove that the Scandinavians [242] had an idea of a divinity superior to Odin, Uncreated and Eternal.

Ques. What were the delights of Valhalla, and who were permitted to enjoy them?

Ans. None were admitted to Valhalla but heroes who had fallen in battle. Women, children, and all who had died a peaceful death, were excluded as unworthy. The joys of Valhalla consisted in eating, drinking and fighting. They feasted on the flesh of the boar Schrimnir, which was cooked every day, and became whole again every night. The goat Heidrun supplied them with never-failing draughts of mead, which they drank from the skulls of their slaughtered enemies. For pastime, they fought, and cut one another to pieces. When the hour of feasting came, they recovered from their wounds, and were whole as before.


Ques. Who was Thor?

Ans. He was Odin’s eldest son, and was god of thunder. His mighty strength depended upon three things—his hammer, his belt of strength, and his iron gloves. The giants at one time obtained his hammer, and he was obliged to use a very singular stratagem to recover it.

Ques. What was this?

Ans. Thor was most anxious to recover his hammer, but the giant Thrym had buried it eight [243] fathoms deep under the rocks of Jotunheim. Loki undertook to negotiate with Thrym; but the giant demanded the hand of the goddess Freya, and refused to restore the hammer on any other terms. Thor was much troubled, as he knew how vain it was to expect that the bright goddess of love and song would consent to dwell in the dismal regions of Jotunheim. The artful Loki proposed that Thor should array himself in the garments of Freya, and accompany him to the abode of the Frost Giants. Thor consented, and Thrym welcomed his veiled bride with great joy, attributing her silence to a modest reserve. He was much surprised, however, to see her eat for supper eight salmons, besides a full grown ox and other delicacies, washing down the repast with proportionate draughts of mead. Loki bade him not to wonder at this, as her thoughts had been so much occupied by her approaching nuptials that she had not eaten for many days. When Thrym was startled by the fiery eyes he saw gleaming from beneath the bridal veil, Loki again made an excuse which satisfied him, so he brought the hammer, and laid it on the lap of the supposed bride. Thor seized the weapon, and finding his wonted strength restored, he threw off his disguise, and rushed upon Thrym, whom he slew with all his followers.

Loki had served Thor in this adventure; on another occasion he incurred his wrath by an injury offered to Sif or Sifa, his wife. The hair of this [244] goddess flowed around her in sunny waves that shone like gold. She was proud of this adornment; and Loki, willing to punish her vanity, and always ready for mischief, found means to cut off her hair while she slept.

The goddess was inconsolable, and Thor sought the insolent offender, intending to crush him with his redoubtable hammer.

Loki was terrified, and sought the dwelling of the Gnomes. These skillful workmen gave him a head of hair which they had spun from the purest gold, and which was so wonderfully wrought that it would attach itself to the head of the wearer, and increase in length like ordinary hair. Sifa was enchanted with the golden locks, and the cunning Loki escaped the threatened punishment.

From Thor’s name is derived the word Thursday.


Ques. Who was Frey?

Ans. He was one of the greatest of the gods. He presided over rain, sunshine, and the fruits of the earth. From his name comes our word Friday.

Ques. Who was Freya?

Ans. She was the sister of Frey or Freyr. She loved music, Spring and flowers, and was a friend of the elves, or good fairies. Freya was [245] invoked by lovers, and seems to have been a sort of Scandinavian Venus.


Ques. Who was Bragi?

Ans. He was god of poetry, but he scorned all lighter strains, and was the patron of those only who sung the praises of the gods and the deeds of warriors.

Iduna, his wife, kept in a casket certain apples which the gods, when they felt age approaching, had only to taste to renew the vigor and bloom of youth. On the approach of the Great Twilight, and the end of time, this fruit was to lose its magic power.


Ques. Who was Heimdall?

Ans. He was the watchman of the gods, and was stationed at the extreme verge of heaven to guard the bridge Bifrost. The gods continually feared that the giants might force their way over the shining arch, and invade Valhalla.

Heimdall required less sleep than a bird, and his sight was so keen that he could distinguish the smallest object, for a thousand leagues around, even in the darkest night. His quickness of hearing was equally wonderful; he could hear the [246] wool growing on the sheep’s backs, and the grain sprouting in the fields. He possessed a horn of such construction that when he blew upon it, the sound spread in widening circles until it reached the uttermost confines of the world. Heimdall was not permitted to marry, lest any care for wife or children might interrupt his unceasing watchfulness.