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Thread: Slain Giants (from 'Gods and Myths of the Viking Age')

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    Slain Giants (from 'Gods and Myths of the Viking Age')

    Slain Giants

    excerpted from:
    Davidson, H.R. Ellis, Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. New York:

    In the story of Ymir we have the slaying of the primeval being, in order that the earth may be formed, and there is good reason to believe that such a myth formed part of early Germanic tradition. Ymir's name has been related to Sanskrit yama, mean- ing 'hybrid' or 'hermaphrodite'. (Note from Shaun - there is quite a lot more that could be said about this as aside from Yama the name could also be related to Gemini and others....) According to Tacitus, the Germans had a primeval ancestor Tuisto, whose son Mannus was the father of mankind. Attempts have been made to connect Tuisto with Tiwaz, but it seems more likely that his name is connected with Old Swedish tvistra, 'separate', and that, like Ymir, it means a two-fold being.' An explanation of such a name is given in Vafprudnismal, where we are told that a man and woman were born from under the arm of Ymir, and a giant en- gendered from his two feet. Another example of a primeval being from which the first male and female spring is found in Indian mythology. Ymir indeed is a two-fold being in another sense, since from him both giants and men are born. Attempts have been made to account for the Ymir legend by borrowings from the Talmud and other sources which trace the creation of the world from the body of Adam. But expressions such as 'Ymir's skull' for heaven in the skaldic poets show that the idea of the slaughtered giant was widespread, and can hardly be due to a late borrowing from Christian or Jewish sources.

    Moreover, the wide distribution of the creation myth in this form provides us with plenty of parallels from non-Christian thought. The idea of part of the giant's body being Hung up into heaven to become a star seems to have been remembered in various myths. Thiazi's eyes were said to be thrown up to heaven by Odin, making two stars (see p. 40), and again the frozen toe of Aurvandil was said to have been thrown up by Thor (p. 41). These myths are evidently connected with names of constellations, but the strange reference to a frozen toe suggests that there is some connexion with the creation legend of the giant who emerged from the ice. There are parallels also for the other primeval figure, that of the cow. She was the symbol of the fruitful earth in Egypt and the Near East from the time of the earliest religious records. However audhumla is a native word for a rich, hornless cow. The streams of milk from her udders which became rivers echo the idea of the World Tree as a source of nourishment, although there is some confusion as to whether it is the cow, the goat, or the hart from which the life-giving streams come. The cow, like Ymir, emerged from the melting ice, and licked the salty ice- blocks. It has been suggested that there is some link between the creation legend and the holy place of the Germans, mentioned by Tacitus (p. 55), by the salt springs of the River Saale near Strassfurt, for which a great battle was fought. At this spot it was believed that 'men's prayers received ready access',' and it was thought to be dose to heaven. The Germans obtained salt there... by pouring river water on heaps of burning wood, and there uniting the two opposed elements, fire and water.

    Thus we have the same conjunction of water, salt, and fire as in the creation myth, associated with a definite holy place in Germany. Another possible origin for the impressive picture of life forming from the union of intense heat and intense cold might however be sought in the volcanic conditions in Iceland. Eruptions of boiling lava, flames, and steam have recurred there at fairly frequent intervals throughout historic times, and must have been known in the Viking age. Iceland is unique among volcanic regions in the meeting of cold and heat which takes place when the ice-covered volcanoes erupt, and the snow and ice melt in the burning Rood of lava to send down disastrous Hoods to the plains below. This is a point to be discussed again in the section on the destruction of the world described in Voluspa. There seems to be no trace in Scandinavian sources of the other widespread form of the creation legend, deriving the world.


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    A few months ago I wrote this for my myspace profile, but I figured that this forum would be a better place to display it.
    It is probably too dumbed-down for this forum, but oh well.

    Giants and Jotnar

    Nothing makes a person think of things they think they already know, only to realise that, by thinking of said thing, they didnt know as much as they did to begin with.

    And bored is what I was today!

    So I was at work, being bored, when something interesting dawned on me.
    When Anything about giants is mentioned, Everyone instantly imagines a man something like twenty metres high and so on, the stereotype.

    But when reading Norse stories I was confused by the fact that in the sagas, the giants dont seem like the normal fairy tale type.
    Giants in the sagas are an organised bunch, fighting for what the Vikings called "the forces of chaos", eventually with the trickster god Loki amongst their ranks.

    But the average "fairytale" type giant is not organised at all, they dont form tribes or any groups whatsoever. Anyone who has ever read any Celtic tales would have heard of countless stories of giants meeting their ends due to their stupidity.

    So while pulling foward boxes of breakfast cereal at work, I came up with a reason for the difference.

    And that reason is, the giants in popular culture, fairytales and so on are Based on the Celtic cultural vision of giants, whereas the giants in nordic fokelore were known as "Jotnar" or something similar, The fact that Norse giants are even called giants is very bad translation.

    The Jotnar are like powerfull (And malevolent) elemental gods. Seperated from our world, they dwell in what the Norse called "Utgard" (If anyone knows what Utgard actually means, please tell me!)
    They are like a "Demonic" version of the Alfen race.

    Anyone agree with me?

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