Myth of Ymir

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The Myth of Ymir tells of the Creation of the World according to the Old Norse religion. This text is from the Beguiling of Gylfi, part of the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson (circa 1200 CE) to explain the poetic metaphors that are found in Old Norse. It was his plan to tell the old myths so that people would continue to understand the references in skaldic poetry.

The information is presented in the form of a dialogue between King Gylfi, using the name Gangleri, and three figures who appear on a throne. The three figures are Hárr “High,” Jafnhárr “Equally High” and Thridi “Third.” All three are thought to be forms of the God Odin, the repository of knowledge in Old Norse religion.

Gangleri asked: “How were things wrought, ere the races were and the tribes of men increased?” Then said Hárr: “The streams called Ice-waves, those which were so long come from the fountain-heads that the yeasty venom upon them had hardened like the slag that runs out of the fire,--these then became ice; and when the ice halted and ceased to run, then it froze over above. But the drizzling rain that rose from the venom congealed to rime, and the rime increased, frost over frost, each over the other, even into Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void.”

Then spake Jafnhárr: “Ginnungagap, which faced toward the northern quarter, became filled with heaviness, and masses of ice and rime, and from within, drizzling rain and gusts; but the southern part of the Yawning Void was lighted by those sparks and glowing masses which flew out of Múspellheim.” And Thridi said: “Just as cold arose out of Niflheim, and all terrible things, so also all that looked toward Múspellheim became hot and glowing; but Ginnungagap was as mild as windless air, and when the breath of heat met the rime, so that it melted and dripped, life was quickened from the yeast-drops, by the power of that which sent the heat, and became a man’s form. And that man is named Ymir, but the Rime-Giants call him Aurgelmir; and thence are come the races of the Rime-Giants, as it says in Völuspá the Less:

All the witches | spring from Witolf,
All the warlocks | are of Willharm,
And the spell-singers | spring from Swarthead;
All the ogres | of Ymir come.
But concerning this says Vafthrúdnir the giant:
Out of the Ice-waves | issued venom-drops,
Waxing until | a giant was;
Thence are our kindred | come all together,--
So it is | they are savage forever.”
Then said Gangleri: “How did the races grow thence, or after what fashion was it brought to pass that more men came into being? Or do ye hold him God, of whom ye but now spake?” And Jafnhárr answered: “By no means do we acknowledge him God; he was evil and all his kindred: we call them Rime-Giants. Now it is said that when he slept, a sweat came upon him, and there grew under his left hand a man and a woman, and one of his feet begat a son with the other; and thus the races are come; these are the Rime-Giants. The old Rime-Giant, him we call Ymir.”

Then said Gangleri: “Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance?” Hárr answered: “Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Audumla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir.” Then asked Gangleri: “Wherewithal was the cow nourished?” And Hárr made answer:

Audhumla, from the title page of an 18th century Icelandic manuscript of the Prose Edda

“She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man’s hair; the second day, a man’s head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty. He begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé. And this is my belief, that he, Odin, with his brothers, must be ruler of heaven and earth; we hold that he must be so called; so is that man called whom we know to be mightiest and most worthy of honor, and ye do well to let him be so called.”

Then said Gangleri: “What covenant was between them, or which was the stronger?” And Hárr answered: “The sons of Borr slew Ymir the giant; lo, where he fell there gushed forth so much blood out of his wounds that with it they drowned all the race of the Rime-Giants, save that one, whom giants call Bergelmir, escaped with his household; he went upon his ship, [literally, mill-bench or mortar] and his wife with him, and they were safe there. And from them are come the races of the Rime-Giants, as is said here:

Untold ages | ere earth was shapen,
Then was Bergelmir born;
That first I recall, | how the famous wise giant
On the deck of the ship was laid down.”
Then said Gangleri: “What was done then by Borr’s sons, if thou believe that they be Gods?” Hárr replied: “In this matter there is no little to be said. They took Ymir and bore him into the middle of the Yawning Void, and made of him the earth: of his blood the sea and the waters; the land was made of his flesh, and the crags of his bones; gravel and stones they fashioned from his teeth and his grinders and from those bones that were broken.” And Jafnhárr said: “Of the blood, which ran and welled forth freely out of his wounds, they made the sea, when they had formed and made firm the earth together, and laid the sea in a ring round about her; and it may well seem a hard thing to most men to cross over it.” [fuggle26]

Then said Thridi: “They took his skull also, and made of it the heaven, and set it up over the earth with four corners; and under each corner they set a dwarf: the names of these are East, West, North, and South. Then they took the glowing embers and sparks that burst forth and had been cast out of Múspellheim, and set them in the midst of the Yawning Void, in the heaven, both above and below, to illumine heaven and earth. They assigned places to all fires: to some in heaven; some wandered free under the heavens; nevertheless, to these also they gave a place, and shaped their courses. It is said in old songs, that from these the days were reckoned, and the tale of years told, as is said in Völuspá:

The sun knew not | where she had housing;
The moon knew not | what might he had;
The stars knew not | where stood their places.
Thus was it ere | the earth was fashioned.”
Then said Gangleri: “These are great tidings which I now hear; that is a wondrous great piece of craftsmanship, and cunningly made. How was the earth contrived?” And Hárr answered: “She is ring-shaped without, and round about her without lieth the deep sea; and along the strand of that sea they gave lands to the races of giants for habitation. But on the inner earth they made a citadel round about the world against the hostility of the giants, and for their citadel they raised up the brows of Ymir the giant, and called that place Midgard. They took also his brain and cast it in the air, and made from it the clouds, as is here said:
Of Ymir’s flesh | the earth was fashioned,
And of his sweat the sea;
Crags of his bones, | trees of his hair,
And of his skull the sky.

Then of his brows | the blithe Gods made
Midgard for sons of men;
And of his brain | the bitter-mooded
Clouds were all created.”

This then is the Myth of Ymir, the Old Norse version of the Creation Myth of the Indo-Europeans. The text is given from the Beguiling of Gylfi, at Sacred-Texts in order to provide a convenient and readable copy.

The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, translated by Arthur Gilchrest Brodeur, The American-Scandinavian Foundation, NY, 1916; pages 17-21, sections V through VIII.

This page is part of the Proto-Indo-European Religion website. Related pages are *Yama, the Indo-European Creation Myth, and Halloween Songs.

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