“Tell us a story!”
The old man smiled, squinting down at the little boy who squatted before him eagerly with the rest of the village children.
“There are many stories. Which of them do you want to hear?”
Excited babbling followed. “Where do the birds come from in spring?” — “Why is the sky blue?” — “How did it begin?”
“Did what begin?”
“Everything,” the little boy said. “Tell us where everything comes from!”
“Now that would be a very long story indeed. But all stories have a beginning, and in the beginning of the beginning, there was neither land, or sky, or fields, and no rivers or sea as you know them. There was no sun above, or grass under your feet. And even had there been grass, there were no feet to walk over it, either. There was just nothing.”
“Nothing?” echoed the children, somewhat surprised.
“Well, almost nothing. From one side there was a vast stretch of ice, an expanse of frozen sleet and snow, white as milk and so wide you could not see whether it ended anywhere. On the other side was a great realm of fire, all full of flickering flames, burning and glowing and sizzling like iron in the forge. And where both sides met in the middle, the ice melted to drizzle, and a bit of ground came free which was neither too hot nor too cold. And in the drizzle formed the first living being ever. It was a giant, a huge and rough giant, and since there was none to give him a name, he named himself Ymir. And the next thing that happened is that from somewhere, a cow came along. ”
From the stables behind them came a lowing, as if in corroboration.
“Ymir drank the cow’s milk, and that was his food and drink. The cow (whom Ymir named Audhumla) found no grass to eat, but the ice was salty. Cows just love to lick salt, so Audhumla licked and licked at the ice for quite some time. And at the end of the first day, you could see something emerge from the ice which looked like hair. At the end of the second day, the cow had licked free the head of someone.”
The children murmured expectantly.
“And at the end of the third day, a whole man came out of the ice.”
“How did he come into the ice?” — “He must have been terribly cold!” — “And hungry, too,” said a girl, thinking of last year´s winter.
“Indeed he was hungry, so with Audhumla standing nearby, he was glad he too could drink her milk. Unlike Ymir, Buri was not a giant, but he was not a human man either. At first the two were alone. There were no giant women around, but Ymir did have children, though he did not know how it happened. One morning he awoke to find a giant son between his two feet, and under his armpit cuddled two smaller beings that were the first real human man and woman.”
“Eew. I hope he was cleanly,” piped a girl.
“I don’t believe it,” said an older boy precociously. “You cannot have children like that. You need a father and a mother. I mean, everybody knows that!”
“You are clever,” said the old man amiably. “But still I am telling you the truth. Not the truth that you learn in school, and that you know with your mind. My story tells you the truth of the heart. So listen, and you will feel in your hearts it is true.”
He paused to drink from the glass of milk he´d been offered earlier. He did not touch the bread.
“A little time later, Buri got his own children in the same manner. Soon afterwards, the small bit of ground that existed was filled with Ymir and his giant children, it was filled with Buri and his sons and grandsons, and it was also filled with human men and women, and their children. All were crowded together in the little space between the big ice on the one side, and the fields of fire on the other.
“Ymir himself grew still bigger and bigger and was very irritable, as he did not like to share the small space with the others, and he drank all the cow’s milk for himself, so the others had to go hungry. He became meaner and more dangerous each day, and soon the others saw that they would not be able to survive much longer if Ymir continued in his ways. He had come from raging fire and cold ice; his heart was hard as ice, and his thoughts were as cruel as winter.
“So one day when all were desperate, Buri’s three grandsons took all their courage and hit him with a block of ice, and so they killed Ymir.”
The children gasped.
“It would have been a terrible thing to do, to kill another, but they had to save themselves and all the others, too. There was no choice,” the man said, his eye looking into the distance. “And all became well. For the three brothers — Odin, Vili and Ve — took dead Ymir, and created so much good from him as he had never done when he lived. I guess you all have seen when a pig or goat is slaughtered, how everything is put to good use?”
The children nodded.
“They created ground from his body, rich soil for meadows and fields, where food could grow. They made rivers and sea from his blood, trees from his hair, and mountains and stones from his bones and teeth. From the cup of his skull they made the dome of the sky, with his brains for clouds.”
Some children looked up at the sky a little uncomfortably.
“So in what had been the middle of nowhere, there was now space enough for everyone to live in. They called it Midgard, the garden in the middle. All the giant offspring, who had much of Ymir in them, moved to the outer edges of Midgard, to be near the big ice, or the land of fire. The humans stayed in the middle, and called the place where the giants lived Utgard, the outer garden. But Odin, Vili and Ve, who had slain Ymir and saved them all, took Ymir’s eyebrows and placed them as barrier between Midgard and Utgard. They continued to protect mankind against the rough giants, and so became the first Gods of men. Odin and his brothers like to journey, and they often have been seen, alone or together, wandering through Midgard or Utgard. They are wandering even today, and if you are lucky you might meet one of them on your way.”
The children were sitting in a hushed spell, which their teacher would have given half his week’s wages to see.
Then the silence broke like a bursting peapod, and questions poured. “How big is a giant?” — “What do the Gods look like?” — “Is that the end of the story?”
“The end of the story? Of course not. The story does not end for a long time. And even when this story finally ends, there will be a new story to be told. There always will be.”
“Boo, I’m an ice giant!” A small girl shrieked as her brother put a cold hand on her neck.
The children laughed, and started to chase the boy.
“That’s Ymir! Let’s catch him!” — “Yes, and make him into a tree!”
The old man smiled to himself. They would not forget the story. Drawing his hat a little deeper into his face, he got silently up and walked away, his blue cloak blowing in the evening wind.
[Michaela Macha is Asatru and runs Odin´s Gift, a collection of over 1.300 Norse mythology poems, songs, and MP3s. Her first album “Skaldenmet – Der Ruf der Götter” (The Call of the Gods) with German heathen folk rock is available from the Asatru Ring Frankfurt & Midgard, an international spiritual community of which she is co-founder.]