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Mythology and Cosmology of the Norse Vikings

Updated on June 4, 2011

Cosmology and Mythology of the Norse Vikings

The mythology and cosmology of the Norse is complex in detail, concept, ideology and comprehension. The beliefs and ideals entail an intensive study on their own and would take thorough investigation to fully grasp the linkages of gods, goddesses and the like.

Norse, Scandinavian and Viking mythology all refer to the pre-Christian religion and belief system of the Norwegian, Germanic, Swedish, Icelandic and Danish peoples. Some scholars group Finnish mythology in with that of the Norse, but the old beliefs of Finland form a separate tradition, although there are some interesting parallels.

The Norse mythological system and the stories they contain come to us mainly from the ‘Eddas’. The Edda/s consist of many different tales which were said to be written by an anonymous person (or people), around 1250 CE. The date of origin of the various original poems has long been under discussion. An opinion has been put forward that the majority of the stories must have been written before the Viking age.

The Poetic Edda is the older of the two Eddas and is therefore sometimes called the ‘Elder Edda’. The Poetic Edda can be divided into two sections; a mythical one and a heroic one.

As with all myths and legends of the world, the first act is that of ‘creation’ – the birth of the primal Creator or Universe. In most myths this often takes place quickly. The rest of creation often happens over a very long period of time. The process itself may involve many generations of gods and goddesses, whose families grow into a large pantheon in the heavens. Such is the case with Norse mythology and cosmology.

It is consistent within most myths of indigenous peoples, including that of the Norse, that the earth would then be made habitable and hospitable, with the creation of rivers, oceans, plants and animals taking place, before the creation of humanity.

Aztec and Native North American Indian myths (particularly that of the ancient Hopi people) tell of a succession of different ages in which the world is created and recreated in an endless cycle, repeated over and over with slight variations. This is akin and likened to the theory of reincarnation from the ancient East.

These acts of creation produce an amazing variety of mythological worlds, too vast and complex to examine in detail and are a study all of their own.

Like many shamanic and indigenous people, the Norse believed there to be a ‘Lower’, ‘Middle’ and ‘Upper’ World.

These different realms were connected by a giant Ash Tree - Yggdrasil - The Tree of Life.

In theory, the Tree’s three roots house and connect the realms of these Worlds or Lands. They are:

‘Neflheim’ - the realm of the dead - below;

‘Jotunheim’ - the home of the Giants,

being the Middle Realm;

and ‘Asgard’, the realm of the gods, home of the Norns or Nornir Sisters - the rulers of human destiny, being above.

The runes represent the forces acting on a situation from each of these realms. The Norse believed that in each of these three realms, there were three separate ‘Worlds’ – each governing or producing a certain force of unconsciousness and power. Each force projects its influence. Therefore, the runes would represent the aspect those forces would take for each of the nine ‘Worlds’ – and what bearing they have on any present situation.

According to Norse mythology, it was Odin, the god associated with war and battle, the creator of the Universe and the ruler of gods, who ‘earned’ the runes by performing a ritual of self-sacrifice. First he slashed his body with the tip of his own spear, then bound himself by the ankles to ‘Yggdrasil’ – ‘The Tree of Life’.

For nine days he refused all food and drink. Finally, he peered down into the depths of his being, where he saw the runic symbols and characters and ‘seized’ them. He knew these symbols had significance and that it was his sacrifice that would bring the runes to the world to teach mankind knowledge and wisdom.

This self-sacrificial myth is very similar to the archetype associated with that of the ‘Hanged Man’ of the Tarot. He strung himself up to a branch of Yggdrasil, The Tree of Life, also by his ankle. The Hanged Man loved mankind dearly enough to endure pain and endanger his own life, to steal the precious fire from the gods, with which he sought to enlighten humanity. Because of his love for the human race, he was prepared to make a painful sacrifice in order to obtain the ‘holy fire’ – wisdom and knowledge for mankind.

Both instances of these self-sacrificial myths represent ‘knowledge of the future and understanding of the past’. They also represent the urge to escape into the spiritual aspect of oneself.

- ‘Collective Consciousness’ is the integral thread between the two myths.

* The name Yggdrasil may also mean ‘Horse of Odin’, as it was also another one of the names Odin was known by.

Norse mythology presents us with a multi-layered, often contradictory, Universal view. Within it is a myriad of parallels and co-relations with other mythological belief systems throughout the world, in all it’s ages and evolutionary stages.

Norse mythology and cosmology is complex and would prove a challenge for any mythology researcher; rich with elements from Indo-European, Shamanistic and many other belief systems.


RUNES – The Elderfuthark


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