Sorry for not posting  yesterday's mythology tale. School is getting insanely busy as we move into the first round of exams and I didn't manage to finish the article on Loki.

I thought that I'd be able to get the article up today, but I remembered that my leaf identifying exam is tomorrow so I'll be immersing myself into the wonderful world of Latin words. I don't understand how I'm managing to pass this class so far. I can barely spell in English, how am I spelling Latin words right?
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A huge Anglo-Saxon horde of treasure was recently found in a farmer's field. The man who discovered it, Terry Herbert, found it while exploring the field with a metal detector. The horde, with it's 1500 gold and silver pieces, has officially been declared treasure (apparently so it can't leave England) and after the pieces have been appraised Mr. Herbert and the farmer who owns the field will receive a percentage of the treasure's worth as a finder's fee.

I really wish that the US had more civilizations that had gold hordes and that I had a metal detector now...

(Image blatantly stolen from the BBC News website)
(Today's primary sources are The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson translated by Jean Young, Myths of the Norsemen by H.A. Guerber, and The Norse Myths retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Today's image is 'Odin the Wanderer' by Georg von Rosen.)

Who: Odin (or Wodin), King of the Gods, Leader of the Æsir, the Allfather.

What: Personification of the atmosphere. God of rushing wind, war, wisdom, those who die a noble death in battle, poetry, and those who die from hanging. Creator of all life and runes.

Rules: All of Asgard. His halls are Valhalla where the dead go, Gladsheim where the gods meet, and Valaskialf where he watches all of creation.

In Sturluson's Prose Edda, the King of Sweden, Gylfi, traveled to Asgard in order to find out about these gods he'd heard so much about. Upon arrival he was directed to Valhalla where he saw three thrones stacked one upon the other with a man seated in each. These men introduced themselves as High One, Just-as-high, and Third and proceeded to tell Gylfi everything about the gods in question and answer format. High One, Just-as-high, and Third are supposed to represent Vili, Ve, and Odin. At the same time they only represent Odin. You see, it is very likely that Odin was a triple god with his brothers being aspects of him. For proof of this, most people point to the Lokasenna where Loki attempts to pick a fight with all of the gods at once by airing all of their dirty laundry. When Frigg attempts to hush him he accuses her of having an affair with Vili and Ve. Normally, this sort of rumor would have been devastating for the Queen of the Gods, but no one seems to take any real notice of it. Due to this, people more scholarly then I have said that as Vili and Ve are aspects of Odin, they are also technically the husbands of Frigg.

Odin was described as being an elderly but vigorous man of around fifty years (think of the life expecancy of ages past before you yell at me to say that 50 isn't old) with gray curly hair and a long beard. He dressed in blue and gray, the colors of the sky he represented, and carried with him the spear Gungnir which never missed it's mark. Odin's most striking feature was that he only had one eye, although I don't think it's mentioned which eye was actually the missing one. He lost his eye by trading it for a drought from Mimir's (memory) well. After plucking out his eye and casting it into the well's depths, Odin obtained all of the world's knowledge and wisdom. Odin also created runes, the early Germanic alphabet, by hanging himself over Mimir's well for nine days and night while peering into the well's depths. To do this, Odin was not hung as if he were being executed, but instead was positioned like the Hanged Man tarot card.

The most interesting thing about Odin, to me, was how fond he was of traveling amongst humans. To do so he usually dressed himself all in gray, donned a wide brimmed gray hat so no one would notice his missing eye, and introduced himself as Gangrad to all that met with him. (This is a Tolkien alert to any and all who are interested in how the Grand Master of fantasy came up with his ideas.) Once disguised, he would wander among humans helping those that needed it and punishing those that deserved it. In fact, Odin enjoyed wandering around Midgard so much that at one point all of the gods thought that they would never see him again. Taking advantage of his absence was Vili and Ve who quickly took over and even made Frigg their wife. (Hence Loki's accusation above and the reason why it didn't matter that much.)

Despite being the leader of the gods, there is some evidence that he was not the most important of them. As far as stories go, there are fewer stories about Odin then there are about other deities such as Thor and Loki. In fact, out of all the gods, Thor probably has the most stories about him. Additionally, in the Lokasenna when Loki is insulting everyone in sight it's only when Thor arrives that Loki is put in his place and leaves. Odin had been there the entire time trying, and failing, to quiet him.

Odin was worshipped in many temples, but the most imporant ceremonies were supposed to be held in Uppsala (today known as Gamla Uppsala) where the kings of Sweden ruled. According to Adam of Bremen, an eyewitness from the 11th century, this location was where the trinity of Odin, Thor, and Freyr were worshipped, with Thor sitting on the highest throne. While you can't really trust Adam entirely as he was a Christian missionary in a time when Christianity is trying hard to push it's way north, he is a rare eyewitness in a time when very few written records survive. To Odin, horses were supposed to be the sacrifice of choice, although human sacrifices could be made during times of great need. I've read that once a king had himself sacrificed in order to placate the gods and save his people, but I've never been able to find source that says who this king was or when it happened. The cloest I've ever found to his story was the tale of King Aun of Sweden who sacrificed his nine sons to Odin in order to obtain a longer life. Our friend Snorri reports on this in his Heimskringla and there may be some truth to this tale as, according to Adam of Bremen, nine male animals were sacrificed to the gods at a time. Although in this case, the sons were sacrified one at a time instead of all at once.

Notes: Here's a fun fact for ya! Odin is one of the major sources behind Santa Claus! While the start of the Santa Claus myth comes from Saint Nicholas of Myra, you've got to admit that his being from Turkey doesn't really match up with tales of the North Pole. However, Odin is the origin of the stories of the Wild Hunt, a frightening hunting party that roared through the air on dark nights around the season of Yule. Plus, Odin's horse was the eight legged Sleipnir while Santa has his eight flying reindeer (before Rudolph who is a late addition). Lastly, while in Valaskialf, Odin could see all of creation and what he couldn't see his crows Hugin and Munin went out at saw for him. So, Odin Claus could definately spy on all of the little children to see if they'd been naughty or nice. Okay, at Christmas I'm going to write an entire article to prove this to you!

I also have it on good authority that Gary Corby is a direct descendent of Odin. And by good authority I mean Gary said so. You know that it has to be true, because you saw it on the internet!
Hoist th' mizzen-mast an' swab th' poop deck!

Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, ye landlubbers, the greatest day of th' year. Today, th' good lasses an' boys o' th' world embrace the'r swashbuckler nature by goin' onto th' interwebs an' doin' th' greatest o' all things; Talkin' like a pirate. So go ou', bury some booty, an' reckon t' talk like a pirate!

Since I'm a big fan of world mythology I've decided to do a series of posts on the gods of old. First up shall be the Norse, since I love them most, followed by the Greeks. Then, if I don't loose interest first, I shall do a tour of the Mediterranean with the Babylonians and Egyptians before finishing up with the Celts. While this doesn't even begin to cover the 'world' part of world mythology I'm a little uncomfortable with talking about current belief systems as if they were myths. So while I may talk about the Aztecs I won't be writing about any Asian, African, or Native people's beliefs.

Now on to the Norse!

(A word of warning! I am not an expert on any mythology. This is a fascination and a hobby of mine, but I don't know enough to even begin to claim I'm an expert. There will be times where I'm wrong, and if you notice that I am, please tell me!)

A few years ago, if someone had asked me about Norse mythology I would have probably said "it's interesting, but we don't know much about it." This is untrue. Scholars actually know a lot about the Norse gods and goddess, but unfortunately there aren't many direct sources. Most of the written records for Norse myths were written only after Christianity had become the dominant religion of the area. The two major works that collected the Norse myths are the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and the Poetic (or Elder) Edda, which was also written in the 13th century by an unknown author.

While the Elder Edda seems to be a collection of minstrel songs that deal with Norse myths, the Prose Edda is very obviously biased in Christianity's favor. In order to explain how the Scandinavians came to worship their gods, Snorri wrote a foreword describing how Odin and his kin were actually super-powered humans from Troy who traveled north and tricked people there into thinking they were gods. (I'm not kidding.) There are also several gods that I would suspect were edited to make them follow Christian beliefs closer. Whether this was done by early missionaries to try and convert people, or by the pagan believers to try and make their native religion seem less threatening to the early church (or even if it was done at all!) I wouldn't know. I'll have to get that time machine working to figure it out.

The thing, to me, that is really interesting about the Norse myths is that it's inhabitants are in a constant battle against fate itself. Ragnarok, the end of the gods, is always looming and nearly every story is about how the gods are trying to keep the end at bay. Unfortunately for them, many of the actions they take only hasten it's approach. But I'll get to that when I write about Tyr and Balder. For worshipers, every year that passed meant that the gods had held off the inevitable for a little longer. However, before we dwell too much on the end, we should start at then beginning.

(Today's primary source is The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jean Young. It's currently out of print, but the Penguin Classic version is great if you're desperate to read it.)

In the beginning, there was nothing but Ginnungagap, the void. Then, the first land Muspell appeared. It was a land of heat and fire where the well Hvergelmir was. In this land dwells Surt, a giant with a flaming sword, who will come at Ragnarok to burn the world. From the well Hvergelmir flowed eleven rivers which went north into the void and turned it into a sea of ice. The ice grew thick, cold, and treacherous and became Niflheim which would become the location of the underworld. In between the fire and ice was a pleasant place where life began. From the melting ice at Niflheim's border came the giant Ymir who is the ancestor of the gods and giants.

This is where things start getting a little weird. You see, Ymir fathered the Jotunn (Frost Giants) while he was asleep. From under his left arm grew a man and woman while one leg got the other leg pregnant and gave birth to a six-headed son. These were the first frost giants and the beings that the gods shall soon be in eternal battle with.

The frost of Niflheim continued to thaw and from the ice came the cow Audhumla. Now Audhumla was the best dairy cow ever as her milk was so plentiful that four rivers of milk flowed from her which fed Ymir and his giants. Audhumla herself survived by licking the ice and she quickly licked the man Buri from it's depths. Buri sired a son named Bor who in turn sired Odin.

While I'll talk about Odin a great deal next time, all you need to know about him now is that he had two brothers, Vili and Ve. Now, I'm not sure why, but Odin and his brothers decided that killing Ymir was a great idea. They did so, and Ymir bleed so much that it drowned all the giants except Bergelmir and his wife who escaped. We'll have to assume that the blood flood also killed Audhumla since I have never seen another mention of her. The brothers then took Ymir's body to the middle of Ginnungagap and made the world from his flesh. The seas were made from his blood, the mountains from his bones, plants from his hair, the sky from his skull, and clouds from his brains. Taking fire from Muspell they made the sun and the stars and put them in the skies. They also took Ymir's eyebrows and built a wall around their world which would hold in the seas and block out the jotunn who were pretty ticked about the whole 'murdering their esteemed Grandfather and the flood of blood' thing.

Their world complete, they named it Midgard or, for all you Tolkien lovers, Middle Earth.

While walking their world, Odin and his brothers found two trees washed up on shore. Having nothing better to do, they brought the trees to life making the first man and woman. The man was named Ask (ash-tree) and the woman Embla (elm-tree). The brothers then built themselves a fortress in the middle of the world which they named Asgard. There, they settled down, got married, and started making many little god-lings. Or at least Odin did, because Vili and Ve are about to vanish from mythology. And never mind the fact that there were no goddess to make god-lings with. The jotunn must have bred quickly while the world was being made or something.

It's interesting that the Norse quite happily put themselves in the center of the world between what sounds suspiciously like the Arctic (Niflheim) and the Sahara (Muspell). While everyone knows that the Vikings did a lot of traveling around in northern Europe, they must have also been pretty aware of what things were like south of them as well. That said, descriptions of Midgard have a flat-world feel to them despite the Vikings knowing that the world was round. They were, after all, the first (non-successful) European people to try and colonize the Americas. I suspect that the mythology came before anyone tried to sail to Canada and wasn't updated to reflect what the sailors knew.

Also, just like Christianity and many other religions, we have mankind's beginnings starting with massive amounts of incest. Seriously gods, if you want worshipers you need to create a couple hundred people, not two. I'm surprised that more people didn't end up with webbed feet.
The benefit of being back at school is that I’m surrounded by very intelligent people. People who get my weird jokes. People who understand that stupidness is due to being in close proximity to cats. A different type of people. A muti-talented people. A people… who need people. People who understand that this is a reference to Spamalot and think that this musical is the cultural pinnacle of human achievement. Which it is.

It also means that I can talk about trying to invent a time machine with 60% fewer weird looks.

For example, in Earth History. After our first lecture, on the fascinating topic of the syllabus, the professor made the terrible mistake of asking if there were any questions. Now, I’ve had this professor before in Geochemistry and know that he’s a fun guy so I knew that the answer for my question was going to be good. So I raised my hand and asked;

“When are we going to be allowed to use the top secret time machine in the basement?”

“When you get your level five clearance. Any other questions?”

Needless to say I was delighted. There had been barely any pause between my question and the answer. One of the guys on the other side of the room, who had been dozing on and off through the syllabus talk, stirred and woke up.

“Wha? Time machine?”

The professor rolled his eyes. “How else do you think we found out about plate tectonics and evolution? Through science? Think with your brain! Anyone else have any questions?”

I love this school.