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Oðinn and the Creation of the Worlds

“Synir Bors drápu Ymi jötun, en er hann féll, þá hljóp svá mikit blóð ór sárum hans, at með því drekkðu þeir allri ætt hrímþursa…” (Gylfaginning, 7) (1)

Yesterday in the Hudson valley we had such a great storm that it seemed as though the end of the world were here. Trees came crashing down, property was destroyed, live electrical wires lay crackling in the streets. There are tremendous power outages and coming home, it took me five hours to go less than eight miles. One news report said it was a tornado, but I’m not sure I believe that (I think the damage would be worse). That leaves us today being the only house in the neighborhood with power (thanks to my mother and her foresight in gifting me with a generator as a housewarming present) and since it really isn’t all that safe to go out and about, it also gives me plenty of time to catch up on some of my writing. Thanks to something my husband was watching when I came downstairs this morning, I was inspired, with almost a creative frenzy, to write about our creation story. I’ve written about this before, so now I’m just going to dive in.

Oðinn with his two brothers Vili and Vé slew the first being, the proto-giant Ymir and from his corpse fashioned not only the world of man, Midgard, but the scaffolding of the cosmos. From the very beginning, the Aesir defined the boundaries of their worlds by violence. It’s a compelling moment in our mythology. These three Gods (Oðinn, Vili (Hoenir), and Vé (Loður/Loki) (2) slaughtered, violently hacking to bits, their eldest ancestor. The narrative in the Gylfaginning tells us this in only one or two lines and then moves on to the structure of the cosmos, why we have seasons, the movements of the Sun and Moon, and other cosmological structures. I think, however, that this one moment defines our cosmology and repeats itself again and again throughout the corpus of our cosmological stories. It is the defining moment, the defining act within our cosmology, itself re-enacting the dynamic of Muspelheim and Niflheim coming together in the moment of creation. It’s a synergy that is repeated again and again and again throughout our mythology, one in which we too participate as we work to restore our traditions. Likewise, given that the entire scaffolding of our world and in fact all the worlds was created from Ymir, their very being-ness partakes of the primordial potentiality.

A bit of comparison might be useful here. In Genesis, Yahweh moves over the waters, creates and sees that it is ‘good.’ Our Gods, however, look out across the primordial landscape of meta-creation and see potentiality and then They bring that potentiality into concrete being by violently smashing the old paradigm. (3) It is Ragnarok in microcosm: destruction of old structures in order to bring about renewal and restoration, to restart, reorient, re-create. (4) In Genesis, creation stops once Yahweh pronounces everything to be ‘good.’ In our creation story, it is forever ongoing and we are constantly participating in it.

At that moment when the three Brothers destroy Ymir, we have a moment of chaotic potential (a world filled with Ymir and hrímþursar and not much else) reshaped, brought into order by means of tri-partite divine will, that will made manifest through violent action. Oðinn with His brothers becomes an ‘agent of choice confronting an infinite landscape of potential’ and by this act of conscious will, They elevate Themselves, separate Themselves from the other þursar and become Aesir.(5) They become divinity, lifting Themselves out of the primordial chaos of undifferentiated being. They make Themselves something more through the conscious enacting of their will yoked to mindful forethought, yoked to an awareness of the inherent potential in chaos (and a ruthlessness to bring it into being).(6) This means, by extension, that chaos is important. Order cannot exist save in relationship with something. It must, by its very nature, be defined by its purpose: transforming chaos into something else. Quite often in contemporary Heathenry, we find chaos being viewed as something inherently negative, and moreover, ranked in opposition to divine order. In reality, divine order is formed from chaos and cannot exist without it. That chaos is a necessary building block for all the work that the Gods then do. It is Their primary tool that allows itself to be transformed into anything that can be imagined and willed. It is the chaos that gives order meaning.(7)

Likewise, we see frenzy, will, and holiness (the etymological meanings of Oðinn, Vili, and Vé respectively) working together. The capacity to transform chaos into meaning is a sacred act, but will or frenzy unyoked to holiness (which for humans includes devotion, humility before the Gods, piety) is dangerous and damaging. The three must work together for something ‘Good’ to result. It’s a type of divine homeostasis and where that balance is lacking, ultimately destructive chaos ensues.(8)

Oðinn is the driving force behind this creation through destruction. Immediately before the slaughter of Ymir is discussed, the Gylfaginning notes that “ok þat er mín trúa, at sá Óðinn ok hans bræðr munu vera stýrandi himins ok jarðar.”(9) [And this is my belief, that he Oðinn and his brothers must be ruler/controller of heaven and earth]. Oðinn mentioned first and specifically is given sovereignty over everything that is created. His will to order holds the parsed bits of chaos together in a complex, functioning whole. This is why He cannot afford entropy and is constantly, throughout the mythic cycle, pursuing greater knowledge, greater power, greater ability to transform and transmute reality.

Our creation story contains within itself the underlying telos of our entire mythology. It is a complex and coherent system, re-enacted again and again by our Gods and heroes. I’ll be revisiting this again over the next few months, because not only does this provide insight into our creation story, but also into Oðinn’s nature as well. We can learn a lot about our Gods, Their natures, and the cohesive nature of our cosmology through ongoing examination of these stories.

Notes

1. “The sons of Bor slew Ymir the jotun; and where he fell there spurted forth so much blood from out of his wounds, that by means of it they drowned all the tribe of the Rim-thurs…”(translations mine unless otherwise noted).
2. While the identification of Loki as Loður is not universally accepted, there is skaldic evidence for this attribution both in Völuspá 18 and Þrymlur I-III 21. See this site and his article on “Loki’s Roads” for more information.
3. I’m quoting a phrase from Jordan Peterson’s interview (my husband was watching this interview  when I came downstairs this morning and agree or disagree with him, Peterson is brilliant and I rather admire the way he can think through an idea or argument, even when I seriously disagree with some of his conclusions).
4. Perhaps this is one of the real cosmological meanings behind Ragnarok before Christians got their hands on it. This conception of Ragnarok also allows for the Gods to recreate and restore Themselves.
5. Again, I am taking a phrase from Peterson here, for my own purposes. His video actually annoyed me a bit. In it, Peterson talks about working toward the Good, and ascribes this to Christianity when in reality what he was saying was very basic Platonism. Let’s give credit where credit is due. This idea of the Gods as Good and reaching/returning to the Good was not something invented by Christians. Polytheistic philosophers developed it long before Jesus was a blip on the historical map.
6. Of course, the question of the difference between a Jotun and a God is a curious one. The Jötnar were the primal divine race. Until the moment Odin and His brothers decided to create the worlds, the beings that sprang from Ymir’s body were Jötnar. At no point in the surviving creation story is there a single moment where suddenly some of them are transformed from Jotun to Ás,’ unless it be the moment that Odin and His brothers decided to slaughter Their ancient kinsman Ymir to create the worlds. That is the only defining period in the creation epic where differentiation occurs. Suddenly these three Gods Odin (frenzy), Vili (conscious will or desire) and Vé (the numinous, the holy) decide to act in a way that transforms everything that comes after. If ‘Aesir’ refers specifically to a clan of Powers focused in some way on creating and maintaining cosmic order, and there is enough in the surviving myths that scholars like Dumézil certainly thought so, then membership into this clan might be somewhat mutable, all Aesir having begun as Jötnar perhaps? We likewise know that there are other clans of Gods like the Vanir, whose cosmological focus is different. Perhaps it is such cosmological foci, however enduring or transitory, that ultimately determine membership in these divine clans.(quoted from my forthcoming paper “The Demonization of Loki in Modern Norse Paganism” which will be appearing in the Summer 2018 issue of Walking the Worlds).
7. This of course makes the Jötnar in general and Loki (whom scholar Dumézil, in his work Loki, describes as the ‘unquiet thought,’) in particular absolutely essential to the proper functioning of divine order. And if we accept, as the skalds did, that Loki and Loður are the same being, then it is Loki who forms the bridge between these two states of being: undifferentiated potentiality/chaos and divinely crafted order. Perhaps this is why it is Loður who gives good hue…which implies a healthy circulatory system, the pumping of the heart, the flow of blood, warmth, and what the Greeks would call βίος. It is from the God who is able to move between both states that we are invested with potentiality (i.e. chaos), carefully contained in ordered flesh. Unordered bodily chaos for us, brings death. Like Ymir, we bleed out, but contained within the order the Gods have decreed, it brings health and ongoing life and the potential to affect our world and to remake it at times according to our will.
8. Just as excluding Loki may lead to entropy and rigidity.
9. Gylfaginning, 6.

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More submissions for April’s Agon

Praises to Brigid
by Hugh E.

Hail Brigid, thrice great, thrice powerful, thrice blessed!

I arise today in praise of You,
O Brigid.
For the blessing of water I praise You,
O Brigid.
For the blessing of fire I praise You,
O Brigid.
For words on my tongue I praise You,
O Brigid.
For skill in my hands I praise You,
O Brigid.
For cradle and hearth I praise You,
O Brigid.
For the protection of the fian I praise You,
O Brigid.
For justice for the weak I praise You,
O Brigid.
For healing for the sick, I praise You,
O Brigid.
For keening for the dead I praise You,
O Brigid.
For Your mantle around the Earth I praise You,
O Brigid.

Bíodh sé amhlaidh!

 

Vassal (For Loki)
by Fiona Y.

Dancing around your flame
Senses abandoned to
desire for You
And all the while burning
On the tip of your tongue
Whilst from my tongue,
Your words roll and flow.
I am Your vassal evermore

The Identity of Lóðurr

In the beginning, when materiality had been ground into existence by the conflicting forces of Niflheim and Helheim, when the great cow, born from that primal ooze had nourished the proto-giant Ymir and the first race of what would eventually evolve into our holy Beings was crawling from out of His mass, there arose three Brothers: Odin, Hoenir, and Lóðurr (or to use Their other heiti, Odin, Vili, and Vé). These three Brothers slaughtered Ymir, Their eldest ancestor and set the worlds and the cosmological order that binds us all into being. It was a defining moment in our theogony, the moment when those proto-beings, from Whom our Gods evolve, stepped up, looked far ahead, made choices that shaped and defined Their existence and everything that would come after it, and took necessary, decisive action. It was at that moment that existence truly began.

Of course, we know Who Odin and Hoenir are from the surviving lore, but the identity of that third brother, the one that gave us our rushing blood, and goodness of hue (healthy, living color i.e. vitality and life force), has been a bone of contention for years. Yet it shouldn’t be. It’s quite clear from [albeit later] sources that Lóðurr is in fact Loki.

Dagulf Loptson discusses the relevant passages in his article here and I encourage everyone to read this marvelous piece. He notes that the Eddic reference to Lóðurr helping to forge the worlds occurs in Völuspá 18. There is, however, a later c. 14th century ballad, Þrymlur, most likely drawn from earlier oral sources, that have Loki clearly addressed as Lóðurr (the relevant sections are Þrymlur I-III 21). We know that our Gods have many heiti. Odin, for instance, has hundreds. He may be called Yggr, Hangagod, Runatyr, Sigtyr, Oski, Gangleri, and so on and so forth (pun probably intended lol). Freya may be called Syr, Mardoll, Vanadis, etc. Likewise Loki has His bynames too.  With regard to the name Lóðurr, one thing that we do know is that He is a figure strongly associated, as Hoenir is, with Odin. That in itself is telling, given that of all the Gods with Whom He dallies (take that word as you will), it is Loki that is recognized as Odin’s blood brother. Perhaps there is more to that tale than has come down to us.(1) What we take as ‘lore’ after all, is hardly a complete record of what our ancestors believed and the stories they told about our Gods. It’s reflection of their worldview is partial at best and while a good starting point, it is not a complete map.

As Loptson suggests in his article, Loki as Lóðurr is Loki as a creator God, but as with His brothers, that moment of creation is born of blood and violence a theme which recurs throughout our cosmology. It is through these Gods, Loki included that such conflict is transformed into something fruitful.

Our Gods have so many different facets. It is easy to say, when one has only known a playful or gentle aspect of Loki, that the hungry, violent, driven nature that shows forth in Lóðurr could not possibly be Loki, just as one might opine that the kindly gift giving Oski could not possibly be Odin, but we should be cautious in doing so. The Gods have histories of which we cannot conceive and are far, far greater than anything we can imagine. My mother used to say a prayer to Loki almost daily, one that sums up how to approach the Gods without attempting to bind them to the limitations of either our experience or awareness. I’ll end with that prayer now:

“For the life that brought me to You, I thank You.
For the rapture of knowing You, I thank You.
For the heartbreaks that open me to You, I thank You.
For the hunger that goads me to You, I thank You.
For Your kindness and Your harshness,
For all You give and all You take away from me,
I thank You.
For the death that will legitimate my life, I thank You.
For all You were, are, and shall be, I thank you.
My beloved God.”
(–F.A. Plaza)

Notes:

  1. See here for an article by Þorgeirsson that discusses the debate around this name and Loki, as well as the reasons for giving credence to the attribution.

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Submission to the Loki Agon

Wisdom of the Fool Prayer
by Sparrow

Hail Loki!
Flame haired Trickster
Silver tongued God
Clever Jotun
Please hear my prayer.

Please teach me the wisdom of the Fool,
Teach me to laugh at myself when I …

Fall on my ass both literally and figuratively
Smile at my current infatuation while I have spinach stuck between my teeth
Get drunk and disorderly at the company Christmas party (hey! Someone had to do it!)

For only Fools know true wisdom
Because they have lived life to the fullest.
Since they have been laughed at and mocked,
Fools are more compassionate and tolerant towards others.
And only Fools may speak the truth to Kings (oh, how well You know this!)

Please teach me to love life like You do
To laugh out loud without wondering what others think
To love passionately without fearing a broken heart
To embrace others and life with a furiousness that matches Your own fire.

Hail to you Loki! You who are the patron God of Fools!

 

******************************************************

(remember, folks, the agon ends 9pm EST tonight).

Submission to Loki Agon

To Loki
by Amanda Forrester

My head is on fire.
I can see it all –
The threads of destiny, of wyrd, coming together,
I see the ghastly fate of my sons,
I feel the bindings tying me to the boulder
I see the red, weeping eyes of my loyal wife
Holding the bowl above me.
And I see all the worlds consumed in fire and ice
When I (at last!) make my escape.

My head is on fire.
I can feel the venom even now.
Still, I do not try to avoid that future, but do what must be done.
And so a dart of mistletoe seals my fate
As surely as it did Balder’s.

My head is on fire.
I saw it all, knew it’s coming,
But also that it must be done.
I told my blood-brother so.

My lips were sewn shut not because I lie,
But because I tell the truth,
(at least, when it matters)
And even the Gods cannot bear to hear it.

People Forget…

People forget,
When they paint their nails
And gush about how sweet He is
And how He looks like that movie star
(you know the one)
how He soothes their egos
telling them
what pretty little snowflakes they are

that He stood with His brothers in that gasping gap
and slaughtered his own ancestor,
a sleeping giant who never did harm to anyone
(never did any good either, or so I’m told).

People forget
(tumblr makes forgetting easy)
that this is a God who rolled up His sleeves
whet the point of His spear,
took an ax
with forty whacks,
helped hack old Ymir up.

He split that oafish bastard’s skull
And sucked the marrow from His bones

and went about the bloody work
of making the worlds run.

When He was done,
He licked that ancestral blood from his lips
With a hearty smack.

People forget that.

They forget to Whom He is bound–
One –Eye bloods Himself for no one…
Save One as ruthless as He.

But Loki is pretty
And can be tender
And seduction is …
an entertaining pastime.
People forget

Gods wear masks.
It’s only when They remove them
That true devotion starts.

In terror and blood
In awe and trembling

Ecstasy is a crawling spider
Pouring wyrd from its ass
With glittering emerald eyes.

Tattered mask held in its claws.

People forget
Glamour is a game
Especially for this God
This Poison Eater

And one day
He might just show you
All those things You forgot
While buying tickets
To the next Marvel show
Or Spielberg wonder,
And gushing over
How beautiful He is.

Beauty is as beauty does
And Loki’s beauty
Is like a poisoned ax.
It glitters and cuts
And sears and burns
And through it all
He laughs.

Such laughter.
I’d murder my own ancestor
To hear its cadence.

(but you won’t see me posting about it
on tumblr).

 

 

(by G. Krasskova)

New Submission to Loki’s Agon

Most Cruel of Fetters
by E. Blakely

I know that I lay upon rough-hewn rocks
Held fast by the most cruel of fetters
In a place where Time is measured by the drop.

The sound – a jarring ‘plink’
Deepening to a ‘plank’
Then a deep-throated ‘plonk’.
Full once more…and She is gone.

The terror returns…
Is She safe?
Will She return?
Will I hear Her shriek and call My Name before Her Step-Daughter comes to claim Her?…To restore Her to Our Youngest?
Does He run into Her arms, tearfully joyous, crying ‘Mommy, Mommy’?

Wolf-Son, if You lurk outside, waiting to greet Your Mother, please greet me as well.
Without the Love-of-My-Life, this torment holds no power over me.
Let it end.

 

 

New Submission to the Loki Agon

For Loki
By S. Hintz

Loki, I love your daughter Hela
And it was her association with me
That first piqued your interest
In my humble doings

Flame hair, you watched witness to struggle
I underwent with the shadows
Of Christianity cutting bindings
Long rotted away

Sorting meaning from unmeaning
Seeking truth from lie finally burning
To ashes those things withholding me
From the inner fires

Sated I sought in seeking found
My family of Gods Woden in the wood
Compassion in the heart of the Death Goddess
Wondering I wander

Idea to idea never quite still
Mental restlessness sympathetic to your own
Until Gifu in kindness you gave
Me to meet Sigyn

Sigyn told me of the dance of light
On the waters the dance of shadow
Within the wood until I remembered
To hold my balance

Between extremes light and dark the polarity
Things you learned in the wandering days
With Gangleri in the wood of the world
Brothers galdr kin glad met

Tonight I sit in struggle forming
This poem no poet I yet expression seeking
Gratitude for the Trickster tricking me
Into right relationship

With self in the world I have come to love
Sigyn’s Beloved first loved by Angrboda
In the Ironwood Laufey’s son
Dancer of forms

Wise in experience Nimble of thought
Bringer of troubles remover of obstacles
Once the lesson learned has made person
The wiser.

Loki, I pray to remain ever humbled
By the great truth of the ordeal suffered
You and Sigyn endured worm venom
Stronger together than apart.

Third Submission to the Loki Agon

Words from my heart
by Potia P.

Loki, you came unlooked for, unasked for into my life.
Bound one, your challenge forced me to face my bindings.
Shifter of forms, you lead me to change.
I honor You!

Burning one, you scare me still!
I don’t know what you see in me,
Why I interest you,
But I know you come calling.

Calling in the darkness
Shining in the silence
Mystery and Mischief

I honor You! I praise you!
I’ve even come to love you.
You, the disreputable friend!

The one that speaks truths no-one else will face
The one bringing joy in the madness
The one whose pain we turn away from
The one who forces us to see
The one who scares us in the night
The one who holds us when we cry
The one who gives us the blade with which to cut our bindings
If…

If we have the courage to turn and take it
If we choose to try.

Uninvited, unexpected, uncomfortable,
Yet welcomed, honored, praised and loved!

First two submissions to the Loki Agon :)

For Loki
by C. Greene

Hail to the terrifying light of truth shining from blood stained teeth,
Hail to the fire that burns away falsity and leaves all clothed in ashes,
Hail to the god who blackens hearts and consumes minds to cinders,
Hail to the feral one whose rage eats civilizations,
Hail to the father of the doomed whose children are lost to carnage and madness,
Hail to the mother who brings forth a better wyrd and breaks in the birthing,
Hail to the son of Laufey, Hail Loki!

 

For Loki
by Raven Amber

Loki,
Shining One,
Most radiant and beautiful flame,
Please hear my prayer and help your devoted moth.

I love You, but not enough.
I give to You, but not enough.
You swim through my veins in my blood –
How is it that I can feel so distant from You?

Skillful thief, help me to pick the locks on the doors that keep me from You.
Cunning One, help me to think of a way through this darkness.
Hearth fire, help me to re-kindle the fire in my devotion and love for You.
Shapeshifter, help me to transform into a better, more loving devotee.
Most strong and courageous God, help me to find the strength and courage to tackle those things that keep me from You.
Patient teacher, Who waited so long for me to figure things out, please remain patient as I try to find my way back to You.

Please do not leave me.
Do not give upon me.
I do not want life if I must live it without You.

Loki Appear flickering fire Encircle the rock with thy flame Loge Appear Arthur Rackham painting illustration 1910 The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie Richard Wagner cycle ring of the nibelun