Voluspa Stanzas 3 – 8: Creation and the gods’ home

*As with before, the Bold text of the poem is quoted from Bellows translation, and any other direct citations are noted with which translation used either in text or parenthesis.

3) Of old was the age when Ymir lived;

Sea nor cool waves no sand there were;

Earth had not been, nor heaven above,

But a yawning gap, and grass nowhere.

4) Then Bur’s sons lifted the level land, 

Mithgarth the mighty there they made;

The sun from the south warmed the stones of earth,

And green was the ground with growing leeks.

5) The sun, the sister of the moon, from the south

Her right hand cast over heaven’s rim;

No knowledge she had where her home should be,

The moon knew not what might was his,

The stars knew not where their stations were.

6) Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,

The holy ones, and council held;

Names then gave they to noon and twilight,

Morning they named, and the waning moon,

Night and evening, the years to number.

7) At Ithavoll met the mighty gods,

Shrines and temples they timbered high;

Forges they set, and they smithied ore,

Tongs they wrought, and tools they fashioned.

8) In their dwellings at peace they played at tables,

Of gold no lack did the gods then know

Till thither came up giant-maids three,

Huge of might out of Jotunheim. 

This section deals with the creation and beginnings of the world and the gods’ homes. Stanza three opens with reference to when Ymir was alive but had not yet been killed. One thing we aren’t told is how long he lived before Odin and his brothers killed him and made the world. We know he & Buri existed at the same time and they both had children all bred together for a while before the death and the flood. But it doesn’t tell us how long that went on. It also leaves out any real description of where they existed. In the Prose Edda, we’re told that the vapor/venom from the rivers of Niflheim, once they got so far out, froze and became ice or rime across Ginnungagap. Ginnungagap “cleared up in the face of the sparks and molten particles that came flying out of the world of Muspell(Prose Edda, Faulkes translation) and remained mild. Then, in short, the heat of Muspelheim and coldness of Niflheim met in Ginnungagap and this led to Ymir being formed. But aside from that, we simply know that there was nothing there “but a yawning gap”, (or in Thorpe’s translation “Chaotic chasm”) which would be Ginnungagap. 

Moving from here into stanza 4, it says “Then Bur’s sons lifted the level land. Mithgard the mighty, there made…” These lines seem to indicate that this took place there in Ginnungagap. Also, in the Prose Edda, it tells us that the three gods carried the body of Ymir into the middle of Ginnungagap to start building the world. With that being the case, does Ginnungagap still exist? Or is this telling us Midgard was built inside it and filled it in, much like in the Christian creation story when it says “the void was then filled“? As an extra note, the accounts of this creation myth tell us that there was a flood from Ymir’s blood being spilled which created the oceans and that Ymir’s grandson escaped by use of a tree or wood, like a boat, to continue the race of the Jotun. However, we’re also told that in the creation of the world, trees were made from Ymir’s hair after his death. Because of this and a few other citations, many people believe that the creation through Ymir’s body pertains only to Midgard and the physical human world itself. This would explain why there were multiple generations of Gods and Jotun (and trees) that could even be affected by the flood. Whatever the case, we also see the rise of the sun and moon here in stanzas 5 and 6. We see the sun is the sister of the moon and that they did not yet have a set place or station. But then the gods held council and gave them their places, and gave names to noon, twilight, evening, night, morning, and the waning moon so that we could count the passing of days and years. The counting of time throughout the day based on the amount of light in the sky and position of the sun and moon is very common for ancient times. But the fact that they list the waning moon here shows a monthly count as well. This also supports the idea, as we now know, that the Norse (like many other ancient cultures) actually used the moon as a marker for sacred days and passage of time as opposed to the way some once thought all ancients counted by the sun. Whereas some modern pagans celebrate holidays based on the sun such as equinoxes and solstices, and during the day specifically, many older cultures celebrated sundown to sundown. So is it possible this association is why they specifically mention moons in this part of the myths? Or was it just discussing all passages of sun and moon in general?  When it comes to the moon and sun themselves, as mentioned in an early post, I find it interesting that the Sun is female and the Moon is male. Many modern traditions hold that the Moon is feminine while the Sun is Masculine. However, that is not always the case across all pantheons, as we see here with the Norse. And I believe it is important to point out these cases; giving evidence to those differences proving that not all ancient pagans held the same ideas and that there was not a universal rule on these matters. 

Finally, we have the last two stanzas of this set; Stanzas 7 and 8. Here we see the gods building their world in Asgard. They built temples and shrines. They built forges and made tools and other nice things. They lived peacefully with each other “playing at tables”. Here it says “Of gold no lack did the gods then know” until three giantesses came from Jotunheim. Thorpe’s translation says they had not “the want of gold”. This is a topic that causes some disagreement in theories or upg. Where it says that they did not have “the want of gold” until the Jotun women appeared, some believe this to mean that they were fine without gold and the Giant women introduced it to them to cause them to become greedy. However, anyone who studied classic literature or old english and the like can tell you that having “no want” most often means having no need. This matches with the Bellows translation saying they knew “no lack” of gold. Because of this (and sharing upg) there is often dispute over what caused the greed to kick in that comes into play later in the poem when Gullvieg is killed. It also tells us the Joutn women were “all powerful” (Thorpe) or “huge of might” (Bellows), which is often a way to describe someone who has very strong magik. So the debate that comes up here is, were the Aesir happy without gold and then started wanting it after seeing the giant women; or did they already have their own gold and for one reason or another wanted even more or better after the giants came? Did the Jotun women cause them to want more by using cunning or magik? Whatever the case, it does show that the gods did not “want” gold until after the three giantesses came up from Jotunheim. 

Here is where I’ll leave off until next week’s Voluspa entry about the creation and naming of dwarfs and men. So, what are your thoughts on the stanzas discussed in this entry? What aspects or ideas would you like to look further into? What are your personal theories or UPG about these lines? As always, feel free to comment your thoughts and I’ll respond as I get them. That’s all for now. See you soon.

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