"Writing a book is the art of listening to oneself."-Brad Cameron

Sunday, November 2, 2014

10 things you need to know about Vikings and Norse Mythology

Though it may appear that the early Norse inhabitants were defeatists, viewing life with an eye of gloom and doom, a closer inspection will reveal that the opposite is in fact true. The Vikings did not believe in a timeless afterlife, and indeed that may seem bleak to our modern, Christianized culture, nevertheless, their philosophy embodied a bold perspective toward life, one that must be admired. They expected that men and women would have their share of tragedy and hardship. But the best of them attempted to use it and rise above it, carving out a name for themselves through bravery, loyalty, and generosity. Thus the following list, though it may appear at first to be a depressing view of life, is simply the Viking’s way of considering their inevitable hardships and eventual death. Know that they endured it, or, even better, laughed at it. 
Norscan Berserk
(c) warhammerfb.wikia.com
1. “The guy just went berserk!” I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of description before as someone tries to explain some crazy, out of control, and sometimes violent behavior exhibited by another individual. But have you ever wondered where the word “berserk” comes from and just what exactly it means?
The word berserk(s) literally means Bear Shirts. Berserks were human warriors who went into a frenzy before battle and fought wearing animal skins. It was believed that Odin gave them special powers. Writing about the uncontrollable rage of these fighters, Snorri Sturluson proclaimed:
His men went to battle without armor and acted like mad dogs or wolves.
They bit into their shields and were as strong as bears or bulls.
They killed men, but neither fire nor iron harmed them.
                                           This madness is called berserker-fury. 
2. According to legend, the elaborate and intricately structured Norse Cosmology begins with the coming together of fire and ice. The first man, according to the myths, escapes from a block of ice when the great cow, Audumla, licks him free.
3. Ymir was the first giant. He was formed by the coming together of fire and ice. Unfortunately, Ymir was killed by Odin and his two brothers, Vili and Ve. They used his body parts to create the nine worlds, fashioning the oceans from his blood, the soil from his skin and muscles, vegetation from his hair, clouds from his brains, and the sky from his skull.
Ymir (c) norsemyths.net

4. Contrary to popular belief, Loki is not the son of Odin. According to legend Loki is actually an attractive, often indecisive, mischief-making god who is in fact the son of two giants. His mother Laufey the Giantess and his father Farbauti, also known as Cruel Striker.
5. The Norsemen visualized the universe as a tricentric structure - like three plates set one above the other with space in between. On the top level was Asgard. This was Odin’s home. The second level was Midgard. This is the home of men. On the third level lay Niflheim, the world of the dead. Said to be nine day’s ride northwards and downwards from Midgard.
6. The ruler of Niflheim was the daughter of Loki, Hel. She was a hideous female monster who ruled over a place that was bitter cold with an unending night. It’s citadel, or fortress, went by the same name as its ruler. The dead would approach to find this odious tower looming with towering walls and forbidding gates.
7. Within the tricentric structure of the Norse universe, besides the realms of Asgard, Midgard, and Niflheim, were six other worlds. Vanaheim housed the lesser gods known as the Vanir. Vahalla, next in greatness to Asgard, is the huge hall that housed all the dead warriors who fight each day and feast each evening, awaiting Ragnarok, the battle at the end of time between gods and men, and giants and monsters. Next is Alfheim, the land of the Light Elves. Far below this place of magic is Nidavellir, home of the dwarfs. Moving east, along the roots and branches of Yggdrasill is Svartalfheim, the Land of the Dark Elves. And still farther east, over a towering crest of high mountains, is Jotunheim, the Land of the Giants.

Yggdrasill (c) prasa.deviantart.com
8. Thor, the son of Odin and mighty wielder of the hammer Mjollnir, travels in a chariot drawn by two goats. When Thor is hungry, after a long day of travel, he can slaughter the goats, roast them neatly over an open fire, and enjoy a fine feast. Miraculously, when the morning comes and Thor is ready to move on, the goats are resurrected and stand ready to pull the chariot once again among the many realms of Yggdrasill.
9. A terrible winter called Fimbulvetr, one that lasts three long years, will proceed Ragnarok.
10. Fenrir the Wolf, son of Loki, will engage in a fearsome battle with Odin during Ragnarok. In the end, though, the wolf will seize Odin between his jaws and swallow him. This will be the death of Odin.
-Brad Cameron

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