Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 167

Deep-mov’d, her hand all tenderly in Frithiof’s linketh,

His burden soft transferring to that hero’s breast,

Its long-tried faith fit place for Ing’borg’s rest.”

Tegnér, Frithiof Saga (G. Stephens’s tr.). [329]


Chapter XXVIII: The Twilight of the Gods

The Decline of the Gods

One of the distinctive features of Northern mythology is that the people always believed that their gods belonged to a finite race. The Æsir had had a beginning; therefore, it was reasoned, they must have an end; and as they were born from a mixture of the divine and giant elements, being thus imperfect, they bore within them the germ of death, and were, like men, doomed to suffer physical death in order to attain spiritual immortality.

The whole scheme of Northern mythology was therefore a drama, every step leading gradually to the climax or tragic end, when, with true poetic justice, punishment and reward were impartially meted out. In the foregoing chapters, the gradual rise and decline of the gods have been carefully traced. We have recounted how the Æsir tolerated the presence of evil, personated by Loki, in their midst; how they weakly followed his advice, allowed him to involve them in all manner of difficulties from which they could be extricated only at the price of part of their virtue or peace, and finally permitted him to gain such ascendency over them that he did not scruple to rob them of their dearest possession, purity, or innocence, as personified by Balder the good.

Too late the gods realised how evil was this spirit that had found a home among them, and too late they banished Loki to earth, where men, following the gods’ example, listened to his teachings, and were corrupted by his sinister influence.

“Brothers slay brothers;

Sisters’ children [330]

Shed each other’s blood.

Hard is the world;

Sensual sin grows huge.

There are sword-ages, axe-ages;

Shields are cleft in twain;

Storm-ages, murder-ages;

Till the world falls dead,

And men no longer spare

Or pity one another.”

Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

The Fimbul-winter

Seeing that crime was rampant, and all good banished from the earth, the gods realised that the prophecies uttered of old were about to be fulfilled, and that the shadow of Ragnarok, the twilight or dusk of the gods, was already upon them. Sol and Mani grew pale with affright, and drove their chariots tremblingly along their appointed paths, looking back with fear at the pursuing wolves which would shortly overtake and devour them; and as their smiles disappeared the earth grew sad and cold, and the terrible Fimbul-winter began. Then snow fell from the four points of the compass at once, the biting winds swept down from the north, and all the earth was covered with a thick layer of ice.

“Grim Fimbul raged, and o’er the world

Tempestuous winds and snowstorms hurled;

The roaring ocean icebergs ground,

And flung its frozen foam around,

E’en to the top of mountain height;