Study Guide

Norse Creation Myth

  • Introduction

    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.

    • Best of the Web

      Norse Creation Myth Resources

      Websites

      BBC History: Vikings
      Learn more about the culture behind the mythology.

      BBC Primary History: Vikings
      The BBC also provides info on Vikings for kids.

      Summary of the Creation Myth
      Here's a good summary of the creation myth, adapted from Snorri Sturluson's account in the Prose Edda.

      Timeless Myths
      Timeless Myth's account of the Norse creation story provides hyperlinks to further information on many of the characters and places involved.

      Hurstwic Norse Mythology
      The Hurstwic Society, whose mission is to educate people about the Viking Age, provides an illustrated summary of the Norse creation myth.

      Videogames

      Thor: God of Thunder
      The giant Ymir shows up as a villain in Thor, from Sega.

      Videos

      Creation of the World
      A YouTube video about the Norse creation myth that's really well narrated. Pictures accompany the story.

      Day Night, Sun Moon
      A continuation of the above video, this time focusing on the creation of day and sun, the sun and the moon.

      Thor: God of Thunder
      Trailer for the Thor video game, in which Ymir is a villain.

      Historical Documents

      Poetic Edda: Völuspa
      A prophetess gives her account of the creation of the Norse cosmos in this 13th-century poem from the anonymous Poetic Edda.

      Poetic Edda: Vafþrúðnismál
      When Odin journeys to the home of a giant, the question-and-answer game he plays there reveals details about the creation of the Norse cosmos.

      Prose Edda: Gylfaginning
      The first book of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Gylfaginning (Tricking of Gylfi), contains a question-and-answer game in which Gylfi's questions reveal the nature of the Norse cosmos.

      Books

      D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths
      A classic of mythical anthologies, with beautiful artwork.

      Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths
      Renowned young adult literature author Kevin Crossley-Holland tackles Norse mythology.

      Images & Artwork (Copyrighted and Unsure)

      Marvel Comics
      Ymir as he appears in the Marvel Comics universe.