As the second part in this series, I wanted to explore the idea of Gods, and by extension giants, as the eldest among our ancestors. A fair place to begin is with a recap of the creation story. However, this is told in a little different way, and is actually an excerpt from my current project. Just bare with me for a moment. This may be considered a plug, but I think the point is valid too.
“Take your ‘creation story’ as an example. I’ve heard it a hundred different ways, and most of them miss the most important point. Ymir, that great bonehead, arises when some ice melts because there is some fire nearby. Then a cow shows up in that icey-firey spot, and Ymir loves her milky tits. This makes him tired, and three kids just pop out of his pits and his feet. The cow likes some salt because lactating makes it hungry, and poof! Buri shows up out of the salt lick.
I ask what the hell kind of story is that?
Ymir was not the first giant, nor even the first life form. No one has any clue whatsoever if there was even a first ‘life’ if you get my meaning. Let me tell you this story a different way.
Once there was Fire, and Fire was a lonely sort of fellow. He was the son of Fire, who was the grandson of Fire. One day he is out wandering, and he comes across Ice, the daughter of Ice, who was the granddaughter of Ice. She is beautiful to him, but kind of uptight and cold. He says to her;
‘Hey beautiful, how about a dance?’ So he takes her hand, and the two of them dance. It is a very sensual dance, and Ice starts to melt. Fire starts to steam, and she starts to sweat. Then, nine months later out comes Ymir. You see what I am getting at here? Of course you too. I saw the dreamy wide-eyed way you look at each other. Humans, I tell ya.
The point is Ymir had parents, and they had parents before him. Same for Audhumla, and the same for Buri. Born from a salt-block my oversized ass. That is the thing you humans miss. Ymir didn’t just spring out of the void, neither did Audhumla or Buri. Nor did any of their kids, or dwarves or man or any of them. Creation is procreation you thick headed idiots!
Every family of gods and giants has descended, provided of course the descendents of others didn’t kill off said family. I’ll use some names you are familiar with. Mimer got it on with some frisky maid, and they had kids. Somewhere along the line those kids had kids. And so on, until those runts became known as dwarves. Mimer is not the dwarves creator, he is their daddy!”
I hope you all had a good laugh. I know I did while writing it. Yet, I think it only helps to bring the point home. I am not a literalist, especially where creation myths are concerned. Origin stories are important, but as a storyteller I realize that they change with every telling. Each narrator will emphasis different parts, add in certain details, leave others out. The process of storytelling is a very fluid, dynamic and organic thing.
So with that in mind, I want to examine the story of ‘creation’ a little more closely. First a few definitions. I come from an animistic background, meaning that I believe nature and the universe is just crawling with life, seen and unseen. There is a vast assortment of spirits, great and small, that keep everything going. Forces, mountains, energy, lakes, winds, forests, spirits all in some form or another. Giants are those spirits that I would consider natural forces. The powers of air, fire, water, earth, mountains and seas. Giants are those spirits that cause earthquakes and floods, wild fires and tornadoes. Big spirits. Powerful spirits. Follow so far? Now gods are those giants whose skills, abilities and influence intersect with the human world. To put this another way, gods are giants that actually take an interest in human affairs. Most giants just don’t give a damn one way or the other. It’s kind of like stepping on an ant hill. A god will say “sorry ants, let me help you.” Whereas a giant will go; “what a pity, but you were in my way.” As a boy, I stepped on a lot of ants.
All gods and giants are spirits.
All gods are giants.
Some giants are gods.
Got it? Good. Now this sets up an interesting concept when we consider gods and giants as ancestors. Everyone likes origins stories, likes to have a sense of where we came from. This is a good thing, but they should not be taken literally. Much of what follows is my intepretation, so please keep that in mind. As such, Fire and Ice are our most distant known ancestors, because all things we know of started here. Non-human ancestors to be specific. I like to use the categories of non-human, near-human and human ancestors. Just makes thing easier. All gods and giants are non-human ancestors. They may live, die and breed, but they are not human. So from Fire and Ice comes Ymir, and by extension Audhumla and Buri. From these three come every being and creature known in the literature.
Ymir’s three kids with Audhumla (because he loved her tits) are Mimer, Bestla and Thrudgelmir. Of course, depending on interpretation. Some scholars theorize Mimer and Bestla are siblings. In the Poetic Edda Bestla is the daughter , or even granddaughter of a giant named Bolthorn, not Ymir. Either way, take it or leave it. God and giant genealogy is complicated enough. I’m going with the three of them as Ymir’s kids, for simplicity’s sake.
As was mentioned above, I think of Mimer as the God-Father of dwarven kind. At first came the family of dwarf-gods, which includes Ivuldi and Sindri. (known as Durin and Dwalin to the dwarves. Their language is difference than ours, so are their names for things.) From Thrudgelmir comes Bergelmir, and from him all giants after the death of Ymir, which floods the world and kills most everything.
From Bestla and Bor come Odin and his two brothers, Vile and Ve, or Honer and Loki. This is one of those cases I think the two are one and the same. Most gods I will treat as individuals, but I think Honer and Loki are Vili and Ve. Odin had 99 names, why can’t his brothers?
As the general course of the myth, from these three comes all the peoples of the Norse men. I would say that Ash and Embla are their children, their human children, in some way. The men worship their “divine ancestors” as gods, and rightly so. The older of the non-human spirits are the gods, and later their mortal descendants which are the humans. In this way, the gods can be considered as a another type of ancestor.
That is another reason why ancestor worship is so central to what I do. Genealogy and ancestor work, lead me step by step, back through time to my mortal ancestors, and then to their gods. The gods of the North.