Creating The Past

.. . The Egyptians religion permeated their whole life – socially, politically, and economically (Casson 71). The Egyptian culture, way of life, and surroundings were ultimately responsible for inspiring the root and branches of myths and deities. According to the creation myth in the beginning there was a nothing called Ginnungagap. Then the fiery Muspell and the icy Niflheim came into being, and in between these two realms the cool air from Niflheim met the warm air from Muspell to thaw ice that began creating a sleeping giant named Ymir.

As the giant slept he began to sweat, and from his sweat formed three frost giants. The melting ice then created Audhumla; a cow that fed Ymir with the four rivers of milk that flowed from her utters. She fed herself by licking the salty ice, and as she licked the ice, she uncovered a god named Buri. As the years passed Buri had a son named Bor, and he married Bestla, the daughter of a frost giant. Then the three brothers Odin, Vili, and Ve were born to the couple (Philip 18-19), and the god brothers hated the evil [Ymir] and the ever-growing number of brutal frost giants (Hamilton 70).

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Therefore, they murdered Ymir, and the slaughtered giant bled so much that his blood drowned all but two giants and created the rivers, lakes, and vast ocean. The brothers used the flesh of the giant to make the earth, and his shattered bones and teeth to make the rocks. Then four dwarfs: east, west, north, and south secured the skull of Ymir above the earth to make the sky. Sparks from Muspell were then flung into the sky to make the sun, moon, and stars while Ymir’s brains were used to shape the clouds. Then the three brothers were walking along the shore when they spotted two pieces of wood. Each of the brothers took the pieces of wood and contributed a part of life to make two humans. They created a man named Ask and a woman named Embla, and the gods gave them the land of Midgard to use as their home (Hamilton 70-71).

Since Ask and Embla were the only two humans so it is [said] that all nations and all families and every race of human beings came from [them] (Hamilton 71). The Vikings are known for their mastery of literature and prose (Oeland 65), and that explains why their myths are longer, more detailed, and better overall. Many aspects of the environment reflect information that was vital to the creation of myths and deities. Iceland, along with many other Viking homes, was a country of volcanoes and bubbling geysers; as well as, icy glaciers and snow (Philip 19). The theory that the Vikings wrote myths influenced by the surrounding environment clarifies the beginning of the creation story that is set in the fiery realm of Muspell and the icy realm of Niflheim. The Vikings were relaying their environment as it was known to them.

Richard Cavendish explained the theory well when he wrote, in the stony, sea-beaten lands of the north, men confronted snow, ice and extreme cold, and this inevitably influenced their myths (Cavendish 179). In the creation myth the blood of the giant, Ymir, forms the rivers, lakes, and vast sea that surrounded and drowned the frost giants. This also shows again the fascination with violence and the influence of life and environment (Jones 63, 98). Also, in the Norse creation myth Ymir’s bones and teeth become the rocks and stones reflecting the mountainous and rocky region they lived in (Philip 20). Most Vikings lived by the sea because it was easier to use ships and the land was more fertile there. Therefore, it was only logical for the Norsemen to use the example of the Vikings by the ocean to create the story about Ask and Embla being created by the sea. (Roesdahl 94).

In the Viking region the main trees were the Elm tree and the Ash tree. During the Norse creation myth when Odin, Vili, and Ve create the first man and woman they name them Ask, meaning Ash, and Embla, meaning Elm tree which reflects the influence of nature on mythology (Hamilton 71). The influence of the Vikings society produced evidence that factored into the creation of Norse myths. The Vikings were arranged into three classes: nobles, freemen, and slaves; and in Norse mythology there are also three classes: frost giants, gods, and man (Roesdahl 30). Many Vikings owned and worked their own farms with animals like cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep. The cows on the farm provided the Vikings with milk and food to nourish and strengthen their bodies just as the cow, Audhumla, fed Ymir to strengthen him (Roesdahl 56).

Other Vikings were shipbuilders or traders, and they depended on the sun, moon, and stars for navigation. The use of the sky as a navigational tool explains why the sky was said to be held in place by four dwarfs named: north, south, east, and west (Jones 110). The Vikings were fierce creatures, and ‘their souls were drifting as the sea, and all good towns and lands they only saw with heavy eyes, and broke with heavy hands. Their gods were sadder than the sea, gods of a wandering will, who cried for blood like beasts at night, sadly, from hill to hill’ (Cavendish 179). Many times, the Vikings massacred people as they were terrorizing a country. With a life like that it is no wonder they created a myth in which the creation of the earth came from a slaughtered giant (Jones 92).

The god Odin was the god of battle and death and lived in the home of the gods, Asgard. The Vikings believed that if they died fighting they would go to a hall in Asgard called Valhalla, where they would fight all day and dine all night. The Vikings also had burial customs that involved great ceremony. Many Vikings were buried in a ship with their possessions and in some cases with their live slaves and dogs. Such graves were supposed to ensure a safe journey to the land of the dead (Oeland 67-68).

The ancient Egyptian and Norse myths and deities reflect many different aspects of culture including the environment, society, way of life, and people. The Egyptians based most of their myths on parts of their society and way of life. By looking at life around them, the authors of Egyptian mythology created an explanation for their existence. Norse myths were influenced by the environment and people of the culture, and the Vikings created their existence from surrounding evidence. Cultural influence was extremely important in the creation of both Egyptian and Norse mythology.

Bibliography Sources Cited Budge, E. A. Wallis. Legends of the Egyptian Gods: Hieroglyphic Texts and Translations. New York: Dover, 1994.

Casson, Lionel. Ancient Egypt. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life, 1965. Cavendish, Richard, ed. Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Barnes, 1992.

Hamilton, Virginia. In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World. New York: Harcourt, 1988. Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings.

2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1984. Montet, Pierre. Eternal Egypt. New York: NAL, 1964. Oeland, Glenn.

Norse Myths and Legends. National Geographic May 1997: 65-70. Philip, Neil. The Illustrated Book of Myths; Tales and Legends of the World. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1995. Roesdahl, Else.

The Vikings. New York: Penguin, 1987. Spence, Lewis. Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends. 9 August 1998.

(3 Jan. 2000). Warner, Rex. Encyclopedia of World Mythology. New York: Galahad, 1975.

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