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Norse Creation Myth

In a Nutshell

You can learn a lot about a people from their creation myth. What was important to them? What was forbidden? Who were their friends, their enemies? What was mysterious to them – what needed explaining?

The Vikings lived in a world of rocky crags and vast oceans. Their lives depended on the sun, moon, and stars, which they used to navigate the seas. The origin of all of these elements of the natural world is explained in their creation story. The Norse creation myth not only describes the creation of the world the Vikings would have seen every day, but also ones they didn't: whole other worlds populated by gods, trolls, dwarves, and spirits.

These worlds were separate from their own, but not so distant that what happened in Jotunheim or Asgard – the worlds of the giants and gods – couldn't somehow be sensed on Middle-Earth, the world of humans. Events in these other worlds – like the sound from the wheels of Thor's chariot or the sweat shaken from a supernatural chariot horse's mane – could explain natural events like the roll of thunder or the morning dew.

The Norse creation myth also reflects another fact of Viking life, this one all-too-human: violence. For a people whose prosperity depended upon success in battle, what could be more natural than for creation to begin with destruction? From murder and bloodshed comes beauty and order. Now come on. Tell us you aren't curious about a creation story that begins with the murder and dismemberment of a hideous giant.


Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

  • Ovid's Metamorphoses is all about transformations, just like this story.
  • Walt Whitman mentions Odin as one of the gods who "was alive and did the work of [his] days" in the Song of Myself (53, 55).
  • Many of the races that the Norse gods create appear in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. Tolkien based his books on Germanic mythology.
  • John Milton gives his version of part of the Christian creation story in Paradise Lost.
  • In Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin plays a video game where he destroys a giant. Eventually, the giant's body turns into part of the landscape of "Fairyland."

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