In the beginning, Muspelheim is in the South. Niflheim is in the North. In between is the great spring Hvergelmir. Hvergelmir is located in Ginungagap, a chasm between Muspelheim and Niflheim. Ginungagap means "gap of gaps." Niflheim is nothing but ice. Muspelheim is nothing but fire. Hvergelmir is a huge boiling spring of water slowly melting the ice of Niflheim. Surtri is a proto-god in Muspelheim. Surtri is the name of fire deified. Niflheim is the largest area (Archetype: Most creation stories begin with a body of chaotic water -- in Scandinavia the water is frozen.). The action of the ice melting creates a giant called Ymir. [Note: Male giants are pretty much inherently evil in Scandinavian myth.] Ymir emerges from the ice and is hungry. A second creature also emerges: Audhumla, a cow, which provides Ymir with milk. Audhumla licks the ice for salt, and as she licks she revelas more beings. From Ymir come more creatures as well. From his legs (loins), a race of giants is created. Man and woman are created from his armpit. Audhumla uncovers the head of a proto-god (basically a god who comes before the ones we want to talk about -- a god who precedes the pantheon of gods in the mythology). He is called Buri which means "He Who Is Born." He comes out of the ice and takes a giantess for a wife. Audhumla then finds Borr (whose name means the same thing as Buri). He, too, takes a giantess for a wife. They give birth to some gods -- the first three.
Borr fathers Odin, Vili, and Ve. Odin goes on to become king of the gods. Odin, Vili, and Ve recognize that Ymir is evil and begin a war against him and the giants. They kill Ymir, and his blood pours out and floods everything. It drowns the humand and all of the giants except one couple: Bergelmir and his wife escape in a boat. Later, the races of giants give the gods much trouble because of this escape. When the blood subsides, Odin, Vili, and Ve roll the body into Ginungagap and cut it up and create the universe. (This adheres to the archetype: Gods create the universe from the dead body of some huge being. The archetype appears in Babylonian myth, Chinese, African, etc.) His skull becomes the sky. His bones become rocks. His flesh becomes the earth. His blood becomes the oceans, lakes, etc. His hair becomes vegetation. Odin, Vili, and Ve find maggots in the corpse. From the maggots they create elves and dwarves. There are light elves and dark elves. Dark elves are sometimes seen as being the same as dwarves. The skull of Ymir has to be held up by the sky. They use four dark elves for this job: Nordri, Sudri, Austri, and Oestri -- the four directions. Odin, Vili, and Ve take a walk along the lakeshore. At some point, they stop, and from two trees, they create man and woman to tend the earth: Ask (the ash tree = male) and Embla (the elm or elder tree = woman).
Odin (Wodin in German) - Wednesday
Thor, the Storm God - Thursday
Tyr, the God of Battle (Tiu in German) - Tuesday
Frey, the Sun God, & Freya, Frey's twin sister - Friday
Saturi, the Great Trickster (Loki) - Saturday
There is a set of races among deified entities. There were once two different races of gods, but they then merged and lived in peace. (For example, Hera and Zeus both are storm gods and sky gods -- marriage of the matriarchy and the patriarchy.) The Aesir (who live in Asgard) are war gods. The Vanir (who live in Vanaheim) are fertility and agricultural gods -- more peaceful. The two races go to war. Eventually, they decide to call a truce. Usually, some strong symbolism of the truce is needed. Each set of gods lined up and spat into a cauldron, creating Kvassir, the potion of poetic inspiration. (Also, when personified Kvassir is the God of Ultimate Wisdom.) The dwarves steal it at one point. They decide to exchange live-in hostages (emissaries) to guarantee a peaceful existence. The Aesir send Honir, who is tall, handsome, and strong, and Mimir, who is short, unattractive, and smart, to Vanaheim. The Vanir are pleased with Honir who is sensible and gives good solutions to problems. The Vanir go to him for advice. Mimir is called away at one point, and Honir is unable to help them. They are outraged when they realize that Mimir is the brain behind the mouth. When Mimir returns, they decapitate him in anger and send his head back to Odin in Asgard. Odin liked Mimir and by magic brings the head back to life. He places the head next to the well of future knowledge and wisdom. Mimir thus becomes the guardian of the well.
Vili and Ve pretty much disappear. But Odin never disappears. He becomes the king of the gods, a just war god. Only in German and Roman myth do war gods actively urge their people into war and delight in it. Odin is too wise to urge people into war. People are terrified of him. He is looked on with superstitious awe. The battle cry is almost always to Odin.
The World Tree, Yggdrasil (an ash tree), is the Universe. It has three roots. Each of the roots reaches into a different land. The three lands are Niflheim (home of the dead -- straw deaths only), Jotunheim (home of the Frost Giants -- Jotuns are the enemies of the gods), and Asgard (home of the gods). The Aesir are the gods.["Heim" = home. "Gard" = place (e.g., garden).]
Beneath each of the tree roots is a well. The well of the root of Jotunheim is Jot, or the Well of the Wyrds. It is home to the three Wyrd Sisters. ["Wyrd" = fate, doom] The sisters are also called the Norns. One spins the string of fate, one weaves it, and one cuts it. One faces the past, one the present, and the other the future. The well of Asgard, is Mimir's Well. Mimir is the god who guards the well of knowledge of the future. He won't let anyone drink from it. The well of Niflheim is the spring of Hvergelmir. The only way into Asgard is to go across a bridge called Bifrost (the rainbow). The Aesir don't want Frost Giants in their city. So there is a gate at the end of the bridge made of Ymir's eyebrows. Somewhere near the middle of the tree is the land where the humans live. This land is called Midgard (Middle Earth). Alfheim is the home of the elves. Svartalfheim is the home of the dark elves ["svart" as in "swarthy"]. They are thought to live underground.
In the branches and eating the leaves are various deer. Perched up on a branch is an eagle which can look out over the universe and see everything going on. On the eagle's forehead sits a hawk who reports news to Odin. Wrapped around the roots is a serpent called Nidhug who gnaws at the roots. If he gnaws through and the tree topples, everything will collapse and be destroyed. Running up and down Yggdrasil is a squirrel called Ratatosk, a mischief maker who talks to the eagle and talks to him through the snake, lying to both and telling each what terrible things the other says about him. His name means "rat tooth." The deer are not malevolent, but they could hurt the tree. In Scandinavia, certain animals are looked on with and without favor. The bear is respected. Snakes are despised. Birds of prey are especially popular. Wolves have a checkered career -- mostly evil. Squirrels are looked on with humor. The characters are almost always male.
Nicors (or Nixies) lived in the sea also. They were mermen. Some people believe "Nicor" is the source of "Old Nick," who is Satan. Mermaids are called Undines. They sit on the rocks and sing when sailors steer closer to rocks, causing them to crash (similar to the Sirens of the Greek), and everyone would drown. They are not really evil. But they are not benevolent. They were just irresistible when they sang. Lorelei is a German derivative, but there is only one and she is only on the Rhine. Sailors were notoriously non-swimmers, so crashes meant doom for them.
Vali - He is sort of a personification of the returning sun, an archer god (representative of the sun's long rays)
Vidar the Silent - the God of Resurrection and Renewal (like spring)
Balder and Hoder are twin brother gods, the sons of Odin and Frigga
Loki had a wife named Angur-Boda ("Anger-Bode," an omen of evil), a giantess. Loki and Angur-Boda decide to have children. The first child is male. They name him Fenrir. He is a wolf pup who grows unbelievably quickly and gets to be very large (Fenris wolf). He is able to speak. The Gods are afraid of him because of his size. Tyr is the only god brave enough to feed him. Thor isn't around. The Gods call a council. They decide to use godly wiles to trick him. They go to Fenrir, oohing and aahing about how strong he is. They say, "I'll bet if we tied you up with this incredibly thick rope you couldn't break it." Fenrir replies, "I could." So the Gods say, "Let's try it." Fenrir is suspicious but he gives in. He breaks the ropes. The Gods bring a chain. The same thing happens. He breaks every link. Odin turns to Loki and says, "You brought him in -- you get him out." Loki knows that Odin is serious. [Often a trickster is the third in a set -- he resolves the problem in a third try.] Loki goes to the dark elves (or dwarves) to make a magic cord for him. He brings it back. This silken fine slim magic cord is made of the roots of a mountain, the teeth of a chicken, the sound of a cat walking, the beard of a woman, the unfulfilled desires of a bear (none of these items exist). Fenrir suspects it is a trick when the Gods bring this next cord to him. He will let them tie him only if one of them will put his right hand in the wolf's mouth. Tyr volunteers. Fenrir is unable to escape. He bites off Tyr's sword hand. Odin throws him, bound, into Niflheim. Tyr does not get his hand back. (The wrist is known as the "wolf's joint.")
Loki and Angur-Boda try again. They give birth to Jormungand. He is a big snake who grows at the same unbelievable rate as Fenrir. He has a foul disposition. He knows about Fenrir's plight. He is horribly venomous and mad all the time. Just in time, Thor comes home to Asgard. He takes one look at Jormungand, loses his temper, grabs him, and throws him out of Asgard. Jormungand lands in the cosmic ocean. He is still growling. He completely surrounds the universe. He is biting his tail. He is called the World Serpent. He never forgave Thor. The two are forever in enmity (as are Loki and Heimdall and Odin and Fenrir).
Loki and Angur-Boda try again. They have a normal daughter called Hel (or Hela). She grows into a beautiful woman. But only half of her. She is split vertically. The one half is a beautiful woman, the other is a dead putrefying corpse. She is not an evil being, but she is not really popular. She resents her unpopularity and chooses to leave Asgard. She goes to Niflheim and becomes Queen of the Land of the Dead (only those who died a straw death), whence comes our term "Hell." She has complete power in the Underworld. This is a standard archetype in all cultures.
Treasures of the Gods
One morning, Sif and Thor wake up. Thor is aghast. Sif's hair has been chopped off and is gone. He is furious and hunts Loki down and drags him into the court of Odin in the presence of all the Gods. Loki promises to replace Sif's hair and make it better than before if he is freed. Odin adds that he must also give something extra for himself and Frey. So Loki makes the promise and goes off to the dwarves. He has a friend there named Dvalin who is a master smith. Dvalin agrees to help. So a few days go by and Loki returns with gifts for the Gods. He has spun gold finer and softer than Sif's hair had been and far more beautiful. For Odin, he brings the Invincible Spear Gungnir. For Frey, he brings Skidbladnir, a boat which will fold up and fit into Frey's pouch but when opened can get large enough to carry all the Gods. It can travel over water, earth, or sky. The boat represents a cloud. Loki becomes very arrogant about how grand the treasures are. A dwarf nearby named Brock hears Loki bragging and is very irritated. So he challenges Loki that his cousin Sindri can make even better treasures. Loki, in his arrogance and stupidity, wagers his head that Sindri cannot. Sindri is furious with Brock. They go to Sindri's forge. Brock, working on the bellows, MUST NOT miss a beat if the magic is to work. Loki is beginning to worry. He turns himself into a gadfly and sneaks into the forge to see what's going on. Loki stings Brock and it really hurts and blood flows but he knows it will ruin the magic if he hesitates. Sindri withdraws a ring called Draupnir which is to be for Odin. (Rings and arm bracelets were very popular with the Scandinavians. The leader in battle was called the "ring giver" because he would distribute the booty.) It was a solid gold ring from which, on every ninth day, eight more rings would drop off it. (Compare to the ring Wagner used in his opera and the one Tolkien used in his stories.) Sindri and Brock go back to work on Frey's gift. Loki stings Brock's cheek but fails to interrupt him. Sindri draws out of the forge Gullin-Bursti, a large living wild boar made of solid gold. (The name means "Golden Bristle." It represents the rays of the sun and sheafs of golden grain. It also represents the sun itself.) And now to make something for Thor. Loki desperately stings Brock above his eye. Blood flows into his eye and he pauses to wipe it away. The product from the forge is flawed. It is Mjollnir the Hammer. It is a large mallet with a small handle because of Brock's pause. The Gods are pleased and Mjollnir is judged to be far superior to Sif's hair, so Loki loses but he disappears. Thor goes after him. Thor finds him and drags him back kicking and screaming. Brock wants that head. This marks the ONLY time Thor ever has a good idea: Thor says he can take the head but he can't damage the neck because that wasn't part of the bargain (as in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice": "A pound of flesh, but not one drop of blood."). So Brock takes a big needle and a thong and sews up Loki's lips. And it takes a long time and much suffering for Loki to get the thong out again. [Note: Mjollnir. The Scandinavians wore an upside down gold hammer around their necks. Christians copied this tradition with the crucifix. The hammer represented strength and protection, etc.]
One day, Odin, Loki, and Honir are out traveling somewhere (Loki usually travels with Thor; Honir is not usually an active god). They didn't bring food, and so they have to forage. They make camp. They find a herd of oxen. They select one and slaughter it and put it on a spit over the fire. They wait till it's done and take it off the fire to find that it's still raw. They put it back on the fire and wait again. Once again, it's still raw. They realize it must be magic. They look around. They are sitting near a large tree. An eagle is sitting in the tree. He has particularly bright eyes (which indicates that he is a shape shifter). The eagle comes down and talks to them. He says, "Yes, I am responsible, and if I wish, it will never cook. It will only cook if I can have as much as I want." The gods are so hungry that they agree. So the eagle allows the ox to cook quite quickly. The eagle begins bolting down the meat. It is most provoking. Loki grabs a big stick and pokes at the eagle's underbelly. The stick sticks to the eagle and Loki's hands won't come off the stick. The eagle, angry, takes off and Loki dangles, terrified, at the end of the stick. He flies so high that Loki can barely see the earth. The eagle threatens to release Loki if he doesn't agree to ANYTHING. Loki agrees. The eagle is really a Frost Giant named Thjassi. He really wants Idun's apples. He makes Loki swear to bring them to him. The eagle returns Loki and leaves knowing that Loki must keep his word. Loki goes home and doesn't tell anyone what has happened. One day, he goes to Idun and says he has found something as great as her apples. He asks her to come and see. Idun is never separated from her apples. She goes with Loki out of Asgard. The eagle takes Idun and her apples away. Loki returns to Asgard. Within a day, all the Gods begin to age rapidly. They search frantically for Idun and her apples but cannot find her. Someone remembers seeing Idun and Loki leaving Asgard. Loki must go and bring Idun and her apples back. Thjassi owns a cloak of eagle feathers which turns him into an eagle. Loki borrows Freya's cloak of falcon feathers and does the same. He flies away. He gets to Thjassi's home. Thjassi is out for the moment but is due back shortly. Loki begins changing Idun's shape. First, he turns Idun into a little grain and puts her out in the fields with all the grain. Thjassi has great power and he knows and goes to find her. Loki turns Idun into a small nut and grasps her in one talon and the apples in the other and flies away. Thjassi sees them leave and grabs his robe of eagle feathers and goes after them. Larger birds are faster, but smaller birds are quicker. The eagle gains on the falcon. Loki sees Thjassi. Heimdall is watching from the gate and alerts the gods. He sees the eagle chasing the falcon. The Gods come up with a plan. Everyone grabs firewood. They throw it in the courtyard. They don't light it until Loki enters Asgard. Thjassi flies straight into the bonfire and is instantly destroyed. The Gods become young again with the help of Idun's apples.
One day in Asgard, a giantess named Skadi came to the gate. She is the daughter of the dead Thjassi. She is allowed in. She says she is furious that the Gods have murdered her father. They feel badly. So they offer her a husband from the Gods -- a kind of potluck husband. She must wear a blindfold and must choose her husband by his feet. So she sees a handsome pair of feet and chooses Njord. She is disappointed, but they get married. She wants to live in her father's home which is far to the north and very cold. Njord refuses. They go to his palace and live there for three months. Skadi hates it. So they go to her palace. Njord lives there for nine months, but they finally break up. This explains the three months of summer and the nine months of winter in Scandinavia. [At one point, Skadi had just wanted vengeance. The Gods say if they can make her laugh, she must forgive them. But no one can make her laugh. Then Loki succeeds. He takes a goat and leashes himself by the testicles to the goat's neck. The goat jumps around. She laughs. Her whole name is Skadi Naja -> Scandinavia. She is the Goddess of Scandinavian Weather.When there was no great wall around Asgard, the city was vulnerable to attack from the outside. Snorri is a giant who is an architect. He has a black stallion named Svadilfari. He offers to build a wall. What he wants in return is Freya. The Gods don't like it, and Freya isn't around to decide one way or another. Loki says, "We'll just set a time limit too short for him to meet." The time limit is one year. Snorri agrees furiously. Freya says she won't marry him anyway. Svadilfari is unbelievably capable of carrying huge quantities of brick and mortar very quickly. The giant and the stallion work together. After a few months, the wall looks to be almost done. When three days are left, the Gods know Snorri is going to make it. Freya still refuses. Loki is responsible to set things aright. When there is one day left, Loki changes himself into a beautiful mare with red hair. Svadilfari falls in love and chases after her. Snorri is panic-stricken. He knows he cannot finish without his horse. The sun sets and he fails. The Gods say, Sorry, no marriage. Snorri reveals that he is a giant and Thor kills him. [Or they knew all along and Thor kills him anyway.] Loki doesn't come back for a long time. He then returns leading a young colt and gives it (his son) to Odin. The colt runs very quickly because it has eight legs. It is named Sleipnir. It becomes Odin's mount. There is a famous riddle: "What is it that goes like the wind, has ten legs, and three eyes?" The answer: "Odin riding Sleipnir." Sleipnir is VERY fast. [A scholar once theorized that Odin is a kind of God of Death. When one dies, the corpse is carried on a bier with four men bearing it. Odin represents the corpse riding the bier with eight legs.]
The Theft of Kvassir
The Vanir and the Aesir decide to call a truce, thus they make kvassir. The kvassir was stolen by two dwarves. They add honey to it and divide it into three smaller cauldrons. They want to hide it. They put the cauldrons in a cave guarded by Gunnlod, a daughter of the giant Suttung. She is in the cave and they seal the cave entrance. Odin is angry. He decides it's time for him to do something himself. He comes to Earth disguised as a human being: a stranger named Bollverk ("doer of evil," "worker of evil"). Suttung's cousin lives near the cave. The cousin has many men (nine of them) working for him because it is harvest time. Bollverk wanders along the road and stops and watches them at work. They are all complaining because their scythes are so dull (scythes were made of iron and became dull very quickly). Bollverk starts talking to them. He says he has a stone which will sharpen their scythes and make them razor sharp. He sharpens them. Now they all want the stone. Bollverk says okay and throws the stone up in the air, catch as catch can. Grasping for the stone, they all lop off each other's heads. Suttung is now left with no workers. They have been done in by their own greed. Bollverk says, "All your men are dead -- let me do the work." He harvests everything very quickly. He gets Suttung to show him where the kvassir cave is. So they go to the cave, and Suttung owes Bollverk a great debt. Bollverk makes Suttung begin boring into the rock until he gets through. Odin plans to slither through as a snake. Odin doesn't trust Suttung. He tells him to blow in the hole to see if it's all the way through. Odin knows the hole is incomplete. He drills all the way through. Odin is too fast. He gets in as a snake and then turns himself into a very charming handsome young fellow and meets Gunnlod, who is fairly attractive. For three days, they become "quite close." Having seduced her for three days straight, he says he is thirsty and needs a drink. With the honey, the kvassir has become a fermented drink, like mead. Gunnlod tells Odin he can drink whatever he can hold. He drains all three vats and slips back out. He turns into an eagle and carries the kvassir back to Asgard in his mouth. Suttung sees him go. He grabs his cloak of eagle feathers. It's bonfire time again. Suttung falls for it and is destroyed. Odin spits the kvassir back out. As he flew, a few drops fell. Those who drank of it became hack poets -- poetasters. Those who drank of the real poetic inspiration became great poets. Nine months later, Gunnlod gives birth to Bragi, the poet and musician of the Gods (in Asgard). He has one disadvantage: that he grows old. He is portrayed as an old man with white hair and a white beard and a gold harp. He marries Idun. Bragi has a fascinating ritual at yuletide. Whole families would gather together and the men would begin the ritual. The eldest man would start with a schooner of mead and make the sign of the hammer (like the cross) with his hand. He would then tell of what great deeds if valor he had planned for the coming year. He would then drink the entire schooner of mead (called a Bragaful after Bragi). This would go all the way around the table, each man trying to top the others. This is the origin of the term "to brag." They kept going around the table until everyone passed out.
One day, Aegir invites the Gods to a feast. They are pleased. But he says he doesn't have a big enough cauldron to brew beer for their feast. There is a giant called Hymir who owns an extremely famous fabulous kettle (The Kettle of Hymir) which is one mile deep. Thor and Tyr set out to get it. They go to Hymir's house. He's not at home. But his wife is there. She worries for them when they tell her their intent. She has them hide under some overturned kettles off to one side. Hymir comes in saying, "I smell Gods." She calms him down (as in Jack and the Beanstalk) and introduces Thor and Tyr. Hymir is a little drunk by this time, so he is able to play host. He has a prize herd of oxen -- big ones. He kills three for a feast. Thor eats two of them. Hymir is dismayed. He says they can borrow his vat but he wants Thor to accompany him fishing the next day. Hymir gives Thor no bait. He says, "Get your own." Thor picks the biggest prize ox in the herd and lops off its head for bait. Hymir is both irritated and frightened. Hymir makes Thor carry the boat down to the water and makes him row. Hymir catches a few whales. Thor keeps rowing. Hymir becomes really frightened. He doesn't know where he is. Thor finally stops and throws his line out and gets a bite. It is something really strong because it pulls back. Thor tightens his belt and keeps pulling. He breaks his feet through the bottom of the boat, but he just makes himself bigger and stands upright in the water. Out of the water, Thor pulls Jormungand, the World Snake. They are both REALLY mad. Thor grabs his hammer. But Hymir is afraid and cuts the line. Thor picks up the boat and dumps Hymir into the water. Thor wades back to shore. Hymir has to swim hundreds of miles back. He says they can take the kettle but first he picks up a stone goblet and says, "You have to throw this down and break it." Thor throws the goblet down and breaks a hole in the floor and breaks a stone pillar, but the goblet will not break. Hymir's wife tells Thor that the only thing harder than the goblet is Hymir's forehead. So Thor succeeds in shattering the goblet. Thor picks up the kettle, turns it over and wears it as a hat to carry it home. Thor and Tyr turn to see Hymir coming at them with all his giant friends. Thor is pleased. He takes out Mjollnir and kills them all. So Aegir can now keep the kettle.
The Theft (and Recovery) of Mjollnir
One morning, Thor wakes up to find that Mjollnir has been stolen and Loki is not responsible. Thrym, the Frost Giant, has the hammer. A message is brought to Asgard from Thrym saying he wants Freya in exchange for the hammer. Freya refuses, even though the Gods think it's a good idea. The Gods turn to Loki who comes up with an idea (some stories say Heimdall created the idea). They send a message back in acceptance. A few weeks go by and finally the wedding caravan arrives at Thrym's home. Loki is in charge. Freya is there, and she is beautiful. Thrym's whole family is there. Thrym's sisters are grotesquely ugly. [Note: Only ugly giantesses are evil.] His friends are all evil as well. The feast is ready. Wonderful food is brought out. Thrym is disconcerted because Freya eats eight salmon and three oxen all by herself. Thrym worries. Loki says she's been so excited she hasn't eaten in a while. Thrym wants to sneak a peak under the veil and he notices that her eyes are very red. Loki says she hasn't slept from all the excitement. Thrym puts the hammer in front of "Freya" who reaches out with his big brawny fist and destroys everyone because of course it is really Thor. And Thor and Loki went home and had a lot of fun that day.
Thor Faces Geirrod
One day, Loki is bored in Asgard. He wants to have fun going to see the giants. He asks Freya if he may borrow her robe of falcon feathers. He flies to the home of a giant named Geirrod, who has two ugly daughters Gjalp and Greip. Loki comes to rest on a branch outside the window where Geirrod can see him. Geirrod sends out one of his men to nab the hawk. Loki teases the giant, causing him to chase him up a wall to make him fall but his foot gets caught and he can't get away. The giant catches him and takes him inside. Geirrod sees that his eyes are bright red and full of many colors. He knows that he is a god. He squeezes him to force him to tell who he is. Loki refuses. Geirrod puts him in a cage and starves him for three months. He then chokes him until he tells him who he is. Geirrod says he won't free Loki unless he brings back Thor without Mjollnir, the glove, or his belt of strength. Loki goes back (and eats for several days). He lures Thor out for a short walk, telling him he doesn't need the hammer, glove, or belt. He says, "Geirrod's daughters aren't so bad. Let's meet them -- Geirrod is a friendly host." So Thor agrees. It is some distance. So they stop at the house of Grid the giantess. She is the former wife of Odin. She welcomes them. After Loki goes to sleep, Grid stirs Thor and tells him he can't visit Geirrod unarmed. He takes Grid's own belt, iron gloves, and an unbreakable staff. Loki is concerned about Thor's new weapons. They come to a torrential river of water and menstrual blood. They must cross. They are wading across, Loki's arms around Thor's neck. Because of the current, they are swept away several times. Thor finally angrily grabs hold of a tree. He wades up stream. He sees Gjalp damming part of the river up with her body to increase the current and bleeding into it. Thor heaves a boulder at her. He breaks several bones. So she goes off maimed. They finally get to Geirrod's home. He isn't there. A servant greets them. He takes them outside to an odd shed-like house with dirty straw for beds. These are their quarters. Thor is angry but silent. Thor sits down on a bench. Loki leaves to relieve himself. Thor feels like he is still in the river. He realizes he and the bench are rising toward the ceiling at a rapid rate. He grabs the staff, pushing it against the ceiling, sending him down to the floor, and crushing Gjalp and Greip who were hiding under the bench. Thor and Loki enter the house to complain. Geirrod is furious and ready to kill. He has a pair of tongs in his hand. He grabs a white hot bolt and throws it at Thor, thinking he doesn't have his gauntlet. But with Grid's iron gloves, he catches it and throws it back with all his strength. Geirrod steps behind a solid iron pillar. The bolt goes all the way through the pillar, through Geirrod, through the wall behind him, and is embedded in the mountain out back. Some stories say they go home but first send for Thor's weapons and go wandering through Jotunheim, et cetera. Thus the famous story:
The City of Utgard-Loki
In Thor's chariot drawn by two rams/goats (Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher), they come to a farm owned by humans, and they decide to stop and rest. The farmer, a widower, has a son Thjalfi and a daughter Roskva. The farmer is flattered that they wish to stay with him, but he is poor. He only has a little gruel. Thor refuses it in sympathy. He takes one of his goats and blasts it on the head with his hammer, skins it, and roasts it on a spit. But he says they mustn't break any bones. Thor and Loki are both voracious eaters. The humans are hungry. Thjalfi unwittingly breaks a bone to suck the marrow out. They retire for the night. The next morning, Thor takes the goat skin, puts all the bones back in, and touches it with the end of his hammer. The goat comes back to life but with a bad limp because of the broken bone. Thor is furious. The farmer is terrified. He begs forgiveness and promises Thjalfi and Roskva into servitude. Thjalfi becomes a valet and Roskva becomes the maidservant of Sif, Thor's wife. Roskva is sent back to Asgard in the chariot. So now, Loki, Thor, and Thjalfi (who is a very fast runner) continue together on foot. Night begins to fall and there is no place to stay. They come to a clearing in the woods. There is an odd building. It is huge but there is no wall on the front face. They enter. They travel down endlessly long halls. They turn back four times. Finally, they find a short hallway with nothing at the end. So they stop there to rest for the night. They begin to hear a muffled roar outside, so loud that it hurts their heads. Thor sits up and waits, poised with the hammer. Dawn breaks. They realize they have been sleeping in a giant glove. And the giant is lying right there snoring, thus explaining the roar. Thor hits him with the hammer. The giant wakes up. He begins to talk. His name is Skrymir. He asks who they are. When he finds out, his face falls in disappointment at Thor's size. But he says, "My king would like to meet you, and my people would love to see you." So they decide to go and see his king. Skrymir is out of sight immediately because of the size of his strides. They catch up with him hours later. He offers them food from his pouch which is tied. Loki and Thjalfi can't untie or break the cord. Neither can Thor. Skrymir leaves again. They must follow. Skrymir is asleep by the time they catch up. Thor climbs a hill and blasts him on the head. Skrymir stirs and says, "Did a leaf just fall on my head?" Thor smashes him again in his sleep. Skrymir thinks it was a bird. Thor tightens his belt and blasts Skrymir as hard as he can. This time Skrymir thinks it was an acorn. They get to the city Utgard-Loki (which is also the name of the king). ["Utgard" means "outland"] The king comes to the gate. He is disappointed by Thor but welcomes them in for a feast. They go to the feasting hall and are just about to eat when the king stops them and says that they play games first to whet the appetite. He asks if they would like to run a race. Thjalfi will race against Hugi. They will run 25 yards to a post and come back. In a flash, Thjalfi gets there first, goes around the post, and finds that Hugi is already back. It is a humiliating defeat. Thor DOES NOT like to lose. The king says he has heard Loki is a voracious eater. He challenges him to an eating contest with Logi. They set up a trough filled with roast meat. They start at opposite ends and eat their way inward. They meet at the exact center. It is a tie. Thor doesn't like it. Utgard-Loki says that Logi also ate the bones and the trough itself so he wins. Thor is angry. Utgard-Loki challenges Thor to a drinking contest. He must drain a horn in one draught to prove his manhood. Thor takes an incredibly long drink, but he has just barely lowered the level of the liquid. Utgard-Loki challenges his strength. Thor says he will wrestle anyone. Utgard-Loki brings in a little old lady so that Thor won't be crushed. Her name is Ulli. They lock. Thor is straining with all his might, and Ulli is just standing there. Thor goes down on one knee. He has lost. Utgard-Loki says, "Look, here's an old cat. Can you lift it off the ground?" Thor can only manage to lift one paw off the ground. Thor is a furious frustrated loser. Utgard-Loki says he is worried about them and sends them away. The king closes the gate part way and then tells them that he is Utgard-Loki the master magician, master of illusion. He had said he was Skrymir to protect himself. The cords on the food pouch were steel bands. He did not sleep at all. He put mountains beside his head to protect himself from the blows of Mjollnir. The mountains are now valleys. "I was hoping to lose you but you followed." So he rigged the contests. Hugi was thought personified. No one is faster. But even so, Thjalfi got to the post first. Logi was fire personified, and yet Loki kept up. It is amazing. The drinking horn was attached at the other end to the sea. Thor's drinking created neap tide. Ulli was old age itself personified. No one can hold out against it, but Thor held out for a long time. The cat was Jormungand. Thor almost picked him up, which is terrifying because the Universe would have been torn apart. The city disappears before Thor can smash it with his hammer. This demonstrates that nothing can defeat Thor but magic. [Logi is an alterego of Loki, God of Fire. Utgard-Loki is another persona of Loki, who would play such tricks.]
Those Who Died a Straw Death
Niflheim. The entrance to Niflheim is far away. One god, riding the eight-legged horse, took nine days and nights at top speed, through rocky and icy terrain, to get there. The corpse must be left with hell shoes to make the journey. After a long trek, the spirit comes to the Gjoll River, which is spanned by the Gjollar Bridge. It is the same name as Heinmdall's horn. The bridge is huge and high and made of crystal, hung by a single hair. The spirit must cross the bridge carefully to reach a toll gate attended by Modgud, a very ugly skeleton woman. The spirit must pay a toll, thus the corpse must be left with hell money. The spirit must then go through the Ironwood Forest. The trees are made of iron and have no leaves. They are very thick, and they scratch the passers badly. Then comes the Hellgate, beside which is the Gnipa Cave, hiding in which is Garm, a giant ferocious wild dog who hates Odin (and Odin hates him back). The only way to pass is to throw him hell cakes (which must also be left with the corpse) and slip past. Then the spirit can hear the spring Hvergelmir bubbling. Then the spirit can enter Hela's hall, which is named Misery. Your eternal fate is decided by what kind of life you have led. The innocents go into a state of negative bliss or oblivion. Those not innocent are banished to walk along Nastrond, a strand of rotting corpses, out into the water. At the end, they must keep going. They must wade through streams of ice cold snake venom. [Snakes were hated culturally . The imagery of the cold venom is similar to a very hot jalapeno from the freezer -- ice cold but fiery hot.] They they make their way through a long cave crawling with poisonous snakes. They reach the end of the cave and water gushes through and washes the corpse/spirit down to Hvergelmir (a spring of boiling water). All the flesh is boiled off the bones. Nidhug stops gnawing the roots of the World Tree to gnaw the bones. Various people are accused at the annual Thing or Althing, They are placed before the Althing. The tribunal would declare them an outlaw or not. An outlaw became fair game. You can take back what he owes, but you have to do it yourself, similar to the Old West.
Those Who Died Valiantly
Those who meet their death on the battlefield are taken by Freya and her Valkyries up to Asgard. Some are taken to Valhalla, a huge hall. Those dead who stay in Valhalla are the Einheriar. There are more there each year. They are waiting. And while they are waiting, they get up each morning and go boar hunting carrying long spears. [Like the Greeks, the Scandinavians had a strong passion for boar hunting. The boar is good for food. But the full size male is a very dangerous animal.] Someone beats the bushes till the boar comes out, and he is MAD. The Einheriar stand in a circle around the boar. Each man hopes he will be chosen by the boar to be attacked. As the boar charges, the chosen one drops down on his left knee and holds his spear out. The boar runs into the spear. The boar, impaled, runs along the spear until it is able to gouge the thigh of its attacker. Then the chosen man kills the boar with his sword. The Greeks loved it. The Scandinavians put a cross bar on the end of the spear to simplify matters. They take the boar back to Valhalla for a grand feast with much mead. Every morning, the boar is alive again -- the same one -- and they hunt it again. Valhalla's door is large enough for 800 abreast to march through.
A day is going to come for the Fimbul winter (winter of winters) when brothers will be fighting brothers, parents will abandon their children, children will turn on their parents. There will be three winters with no summer. At the end of the winter it will be Ragnarok (German name Gotterdämmerung -- "the Twilight of the Gods," see Wagnerian opera). On Ragnarok, many things will happen. Nidhug will gnaw through the roots of Yggdrasil at which time Jormungand will arise from out of the ocean and Fenrir will burst his bonds. Then Loki will be broken free and will lead the Frost Giants and all their dead souls into open combat against the Gods (like Satan in Christian mythology). They will have to cross a river on a raft Nagilfari which must be completed before Ragnarok. The raft is made from the fingernails of corpses (Scandinavians always cut the nails of the dead). Hela has to release everyone. Garm breaks out of the Gnipa cave. All of this is accompanied by a great noise and commotion. Heimdall sees what is happening, blows a long blast on the Gjallar horn. All the Gods know what is happening and arm themselves. There is a tremendous number of horrid beings to face but the Gods are in high spirits. They are joined by the Einheriar who awaited this day for all time. Loki leads the baddies across the river, headed toward a plan called Vigrid. There they meet in the battle of Ragnarok, a meeting of all the foes. Garm comes charging out of nowhere. Tyr faces Garm and the battle is long. They kill each other (because Tyr has no right hand). Loki comes charging up to face Heimdall. A long battle ensues, ending in the death of both. Even Surtri from Muspelheim appears and fights agains the Gods. Only Frey can equal him in brilliance. They meet in battle. Frey doesn't have his sword; he is killed. Surtri lives. Odin spies Fenrir coming. Odin has Gungnir, but Fenrir attacks him from his blind side and kills him. But Vidar, Odin's son, jumps forward (the silent one with his thick shoe) and steps on Fenrir's lower jaw, grabs the upper jaw and rips the wolf in half. Thor can't wait to get at Jormungand, who is likewise full of fury. Thor blasts him with a blow that completely crushes his head, killing him instantly. But his mouth is full of poison which pours over Thor. Thor staggers back nine steps and falls down dead. Then Surtri gathers his fire demons and they pour fire forth and destroy most of the universe. It is the end of the world. Nobody wins. There is a ray of hope: Mimir the Wise takes two human beings and hides them in the folds of the trunk of Yggdrasil asleep. Lif (male) and Lifthrasir (female). They live through the battle. In English, their names are translated "Life" and "Lifethirster." They sleep for years. The earth begins to turn green again. They wake. They come forth to begin repopulation. And they see that some gods are now reappearing. Honir, Thor's sons Magni and Modi (strength and courage), Odin's sons Vidar and Vali (second generation -- more peaceable), and Hoder and Balder (Balder is the symbol of peace now ushered in -- the natural leader). They find some chess pieces in the grass and they sit and play chess. And life will be peaceful forever.