I'm including this essay because there is a theory that the Aesir of Norse mythos are "Asians" or Indo-Europeans invading Old Europe (the Balkans area) during an ancient mass migration and intermingling their "Aesir" gods with the local fertility gods the "Vanir" - In Norse mythology, this religious development is recorded in myth (rewritten by Christian converts in Iceland) as the first war in the history of the universe - between the Aesir and the Vanir - the Aesir became the superior gods.
Paich Elizabeth Paich Prof. Thuerwaechter GER124 February 4, 2011
Gods and Giants: The Struggle Between Order and Chaos
The relationship between the gods and the giants in Nordic mythos is a complex demonstration of a dynamic struggle between the dual forces of order and chaos. This essay will examine how the myths of Nordic gods and the giants, as retold and examined by Kevin Crossley-Holland, portray the fluid forces of good and evil battling back and forth within the universe, especially in the form of the symbolic geography of the Nordic cosmos. The struggles and relationships between the gods and giants, good or bad, embodies the natural fluctuation of order and disorder in the universe as the Norsemen saw it that changes through time and is but part of a period of a universal series of ages, beginning anew after the key character Loki, giant and god, sparks the start of Ragnarok.
The Nordic cosmos is portrayed with the gods, being Aesir and Vanir, dwelling above the lands of mortals, dwarves, and most importantly for this essay, the giants (xx-xxxi). Thus, there is always this sense of superiority of the gods over the giants laid out in the structuring of the universe. The Norse cosmos is shown to be nine worlds rooted to the mystic ash tree Yggdrasill, in which the gods, giants, and other creatures of the worlds dwell (xx-xxxi). This cosmos was formed from fire and ice, and ultimately shaped by Odin and his two brothers Vili and Ve (1: The Creation, 3). Odin and his brothers are said to have despised the evil frost giant Ymir, one of the first living beings in the universe – so they dispose of him. As the godly brothers shape the universe out of body of the cruel frost giant, it is said that the giants are doled out their own homeland of Jotunheim. Crossley-Holland explains: “The giants largely represent the forces of chaos, attempting through physical force, trickery and magic to upset the order of the universe” (xxxii). Thus, Crossley-Holland explains how Odin and his brothers separate Jotunheim from Midgard in an effort to isolate and control the giants:
The earth was round and lay within a ring of deep sea. Along the strand the sons of Bor [Odin, Vili, and Ve] marked out tracts of land and gave them to the frost giants and the rock giants; and there, in Jotunheim, the giants settled and remained. They were so hostile that three brothers built an enclosure further inland around a vast area of earth [Midgard]. (1: The Creation, 4-5) In the myth of Thor’s journey to Utgard, Jutonheim is said to be separated from Midgard by an ocean referred to as a “girdle of water” – which Crossley-Holland notes conflicts with Snorri Sturluson’s creation myth, but nonetheless shows that the giants separation from the rest of the lands is a key feature in Norse myth logic. (16: Thor’s Journey to Utgard, 81, 207-208). The building of Asgard’s wall is another myth that deals with the division between the gods and the giants. Such separation between the two races is key; as such a division represents the divide between stability and disorder - Crossley-Holland explains:
The building of Asgard’s wall is. the first of the myths devoted to the enmity of gods and giants – the theme that dominates the entire cycle [of existence] and only resolves itself at Ragnarok. The gods were far from unblemished and the giants were not totally destructive. but in the end the antagonism of gods and giants can only be seen as the conflict of good and evil. The gods embody aspects of natural and social order; the giants subvert that order and seek to overthrow it. (185, emphasis added) However, it must be stressed that while the many major and popular myths in Norse mythology portray the giants as antagonists to the gods, giants are not a purely evil entity in Norse mythology, just as the gods are not always pure and amicable. This flux between good and evil, order and chaos is a motif throughout the Nordic cosmos. Take for example, Yggdrasill, the great ash that stands half verdant and half dead – thriving with its roots in the springs of Urd, Mimir, and Hvergelmir and yet being chewed to death upon by a myriad of creatures living within it (4: Lord of the Gallows, 15). This fluid duality is portrayed as a natural order in the Norse cosmos, and just as Yggdrasill plays its role, so to do the gods and giants embody the struggle between chaos and disorder - Crossely-Holland explains:
Some gods have bad qualities, some giants have good; and the gods and giants do not only fight one another, but [also] form friendships and embark on love relationships. Perhaps it is legitimate, indeed, to see the gods and giants not as polarized opposites but rather as opposing aspects of one character. (xxxii) This cycle of good and evil, life and death is part of the Nordic mythos that eventually leads into Ragnarok. In the chronology of the myths, Crossley-Holland notes that after the creation of the cosmos and the Golden Age, the myths afterwards focus on the recurring motif of “the antagonism of the gods and giants” along with “[a motif] of love and friendship” between them (xxxvii). Time and time again, the gods and giants battle or bond – when “[in] the last phase of the cycle, the gods’ greatest concern is not with the giants, but with the enemy within” - Loki, being recognized as both giant and god, full of charisma and chicanery (214).
Loki’s part in the death of Balder begins Ragnarok, the end of a universal cycle. He is a fitting to begin the new cycle. This is because Loki is “the son of two giants and yet the foster-brother of Odin, [he] embodies the ambiguous and darkening relationship between the gods and the giants” (xxix). Because Loki can be “dynamic and unpredictable”, he acts as the disorder that must exist in to maintain balance with order. Crossley-Holland notes that “the conflict between gods and giants is all the more tragic because they are. drawn to one another and, in many respects, resemble one another; because, in a sense, they are fighting a civil war in which both sides are inevitably losers” (xxxvii). Loki is key as the ultimate combination of the two races – thus both can races can be blamed for Ragnarok’s destruction.
The gods and the giants and their experiences as told in Nordic myths are a representation of a dynamic binary of order and turmoil. The myths of gods and the giants show the ebb and flow between the forces of good and evil in the universe, even in how the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos are laid out. The gods and giants lead lives that mirror the struggles within existence between order and disorder, and the myths that portrayed their deeds and misfortunes were tales that helped men understand that such struggles were natural forces in the universe.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse myths. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. Print.