Published : 16/10/2016 10:15:47
Norse mythology has an abundance of colorful and fantastic stories in which gods and forces play the leading role.
Here are the myths about some of them and that are also depicted in VINGTOR garments.
Norse mythology contains a beautiful myth about the creation of the first man and woman, Askr and Embla. Three gods who were strolling along the seashore found two tree trunks to which they gave life: Odin gave them breath, Hoenir gave them understanding, and Lodur gave them likeness to the gods. Thus the first humans were created from matter and spirit: the work of three gods.
The Norse creation myth has parallels in other cultures. The use of trees by different mythologies to symbolize human beings is not uncommon. The names of the first couple, Askr and Embla, link them to the ash tree Yggdrasil, the tree of life in Norse mythology. The male name Askr means ‛ash tree’; the meaning of the female name Embla is more difficult to determine, though it may mean ‘the good wet nurse’.
Female forces were also involved in the creation of man: three Norns (virgin female powers) who lived by the spring beneath Yggdrasil determined the fate of the first humans. Fatalism was strong in Viking times. The Norns were said to have spun, weaved or carved symbols of fate into their prime staff, thus determining the lifetime of each individual.
Odin was the principal god in Viking Scandinavia. He was the god of kings and chieftains, the master of runes, the god of wisdom, of poets and of death. No-one could match him in knowledge and understanding. How on earth did he acquire all this knowledge?
Part of the answer lies in Odin’s two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who sat perched on his shoulders when he sat in Valhalla on his throne, Lidskjalf, from where he could enjoy a cosmic view of the entire world. Here he could dispatch his birds at the speed of light in any direction to track down everything that happened, be it in the world of the elves, the Jotuns or humans.
Every morning, Hugin (meaning ‘thought’) and Munin (meaning ‘memory’) would fly out into the world. As well as serving as Odin’s personal reporters, these birds stood as symbols of Odin’s intellectual powers. Each evening they would return to their master, perch on his shoulders and whisper into his ear all that they had seen and heard:
a pre-internet version of a news agency! Viking armies would decorate their banners with a raven as a way of demonstrating that they were under Odin’s protection. Odin was known as “the God of Ravens”.
Odin surrounded himself with unusual animals; in addition to the ravens, he kept two wolves as companions. His horse, Sleipner, had eight legs and was faster than any other horse. Sleipner carried dead warriors to meet Odin in Valhalla, where a good life awaited them after death.
Ull, the god of hunters, bows, and skiing, is one of the oldest gods in Norse mythology. The bow is his signature mark. Hunting was a time-honoured and important source of income in Scandinavia, so it was only natural that it had its own god to serve as its protector. The bow is made of yew, the coniferous evergreen that was known for its suitability for making bows. Ull is mentioned in an ancient poem describing the abodes of the Norse gods. His dwelling is known as Ydalir, derived from the Norse word ‘yr’ meaning 'yew'. In the poem Grimnesmål it is said of Ull:
“Ydalir is the place where, many years ago, Ull built his halls ...”
Ull was also known as the god of skiing and is closely associated with winter sports. The scholar Snorri Sturluson wrote that Ull was such a good archer and skier that no-one could compete with him.
Although we know little about this ancient god from Norse mythology, many places in Norway and Sweden serve as living proof of the cult and rituals which Ull was once afforded. Examples of such name places are Ullevål, Ullern, Ulvin and Ullensaker. The name Ullin is also a derivative of his name. There are stories of how oaths and promises were sworn “by Ull's ring”, which suggests that Ull may have been associated with the law. Law and order were systems that bound communities together. At the thingstead lay a gold ring on which an oath of allegiance was sworn; this ring was known as “Ull's ring”, which suggests that Ull may have been a god of justice in ancient Scandinavia.
The ship is the predominant symbol of the Viking Age. Because the Norsemen were such skilled shipbuilders, they managed to venture out into the world. They learned from foreign cultures and gained perspectives on their own through their encounters with strangers.
The Vikings were often mentioned in association with raids and conquests, but the Norsemen often sailed on peaceful missions to trade in foreign ports. The Norsemen acquired valuable knowledge on their voyages north, south, east, and west. The Viking era was characterized by encounters with cultures at all levels.
This scene depicts two men on a peaceful voyage. The younger man stands at the bow, showing signs of impatience, while the older man stands behind, offering sound advice. All cultures are dependent on knowledge and experience being passed down from one generation to the next.
The men and women of high social status were buried along with a ship. The Oseberg burial mound in the county of Vestfold was found to hold a beautifully carved ship. The woman who was buried in the mound sometime during the 9th century was accompanied by a slave girl and an extravagant collection of everything required in a life after death: a carriage, sleighs, kitchen utensils, horses and dogs, beds, jewelry and items of food. The boat is the central item in the find. The belief was that the dead should depart on a journey to a land beyond the land of the living.
The sun is the great giver of life; man has always known this. The symbol of the sun is ancient in Scandinavian cultural history. In rock carvings and paintings dating back to the Bronze Age, a thousand years before our era, sun symbols were depicted on stone.
The sun was also of vital importance to the people of the Viking Age. In the Eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva), the prophetess tells of all the strange events that took place at the beginning of time, when the world and humans were created. It was a time when the sun and the moon had not yet found their orbits in the heavens.
Norse mythology tells of how the fast-running horses called Arvak and Allsvinn drew the sun upwards into the heavens. A shield was placed in front of the sun to protect the Earth from being set on fire due to the heat from the light in the skies.
But there were many dangers that threatened life and light: a wolf incessantly chases the sun to devour it. The sun-wolf is a portent of Ragnarök (Doom of the Gods), the end of the world, and the Scandinavian peoples’ greatest fear. The fragile world order would one day fall apart, and the worst disaster would be that the sun would disappear. The völva warns that “Black become the sun's beams in the summers that follow”.
Nevertheless, there was hope for a better future. The völva sees a new world rise up from the ruins of the old one that was destroyed in Ragnarök. The sun symbol is used to depict the blissful world of the future. The place where the good peoples shall live in the future shines like the sun.
Egil Skallagrim the skald was an enemy of King Erik Bloodaxe and his wife Gunnhild. The saga of Egil tells of how he cursed the royal couple by erecting a nidstang (nithing pole). He fixed a horse’s head onto a hazel pole, inscribed it with runes and recited curses over it. Finally, he turned the gaping horse’s head landwards; an ominous, magical ritual intended to incite the spirits in the district to drive Egil’s enemies from the country.
There is something sinister about the sight of a gaping horse’s head. The horse was the ornamental animal of the Viking Age, the mount of the notabilities. As with the nithing pole, the horse was used in magical ways.
Honour and shame are words that describe the moral code by which Viking society was governed. A free man had to live by a code of honour. Should shame befall a man, be it by way of mockery, scorn or physical assault, it had to be avenged. Erecting a nithing pole was a dreadful manner in which to cause someone offense, for by doing so, unknown forces were released.
A special thanks to Gro Steinsland, Professor in History of Religion at the University of Oslo, for interpreting the illustrations.
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