One day Odin, Vili, and Ve, according to some authorities, or Odin, Hoenir the bright one , and Lodur, or Loki fire , started out together and walked along the seashore, where they found either two trees, the ash, Ask, and the elm, Embla, or two blocks of wood, hewn into rude semblances of the human form. The gods gazed at first upon the inanimate wood in silent wonder; then, perceiving the use it could be put to, Odin gave these logs souls, Hoenir bestowed motion and senses, and Lodur contributed blood and blooming complexions. Thus endowed with speech and thought, and with power to love and to hope and to work, and with life and death, the newly created man and woman were left to rule Midgard at will.
They gradually peopled it with their descendants, while the gods, remembering they had called them into life, took a special interest in all they did, watched over them, and often vouchsafed their aid and protection. An eagle was perched on the bough Lerad, and between his eyes sat the falcon Vedfolnir, sending his piercing glances down into heaven, earth, and Nifl-heim, and reporting all that he saw. In the seething cauldron Hvergelmir, close by the great tree, a horrible dragon, called Nidhug, continually gnawed the roots, and was helped in his work of destruction by countless worms, whose aim it was to kill the tree, knowing that its death would be the signal for the downfall of the gods.
Scampering continually up and down the branches and trunk of the tree, the squirrel Ratatosk branch-borer , the typical busybody and tale-bearer, passed its time repeating to the dragon below the remarks of the eagle above, and vice versa , in the hope of stirring up strife between them. It was, of course, essential that the tree Yggdrasil should be maintained in a perfectly healthy condition, and this duty was performed by the Norns, or Fates, who daily sprinkled it with the holy waters from the Urdar fountain.
This water, as it trickled down to earth through branches and leaves, supplied the bees with honey.
Of all the gods Thor only, the god of thunder, never passed over the bridge, for fear lest his heavy tread or the heat of his lightnings would destroy it. The god Heimdall kept watch and ward there night and day. He was armed with a trenchant sword, and carried a trumpet called Giallar-horn, upon which he generally blew a soft note to announce the coming or going of the gods, but upon which a terrible blast would be sounded when Ragnarok should come, and the frost-giants and Surtr combined to destroy the world.
But discovering ere long that in unity alone lay strength, they composed their differences and made peace, and to ratify the treaty they exchanged hostages. Odin, Wuotan, or Woden was the highest and holiest god of the Northern races. He was the all-pervading spirit of the universe, the personification of the air, the god of universal wisdom and victory, and the leader and protector of princes and heroes.
As all the gods were supposed to be descended from him, he was surnamed Allfather, and as eldest and chief among them he occupied the highest seat in Asgard. Known by the name of Hlidskialf, this chair was not only an exalted throne, but also a mighty watch-tower, from whence he could overlook the whole world and see at a glance all that was happening among gods, giants, elves, dwarfs, and men.
None but Odin and his wife and queen Frigga were privileged to use this seat, and when they occupied it they generally gazed towards the south and west, the goal of all the hopes and excursions of the Northern nations. Odin was generally represented as a tall, vigorous man, about fifty years of age, either with dark curling hair or with a long grey beard and bald head.
He was clad in a suit of grey, with a blue hood, and his muscular body was enveloped in a wide blue mantle flecked with grey—an emblem of the sky with its fleecy clouds. In his hand Odin generally carried the infallible [ 17 ] spear Gungnir, which was so sacred that an oath sworn upon its point could never be broken, and on his finger or arm he wore the marvellous ring, Draupnir, the emblem of fruitfulness, precious beyond compare.
When seated upon his throne or armed for the fray, to mingle in which he would often descend to earth, Odin wore his eagle helmet; but when he wandered peacefully about the earth in human guise, to see what men were doing, he generally donned a broad-brimmed hat, drawn low over his forehead to conceal the fact that he possessed but one eye.
Two ravens, Hugin thought and Munin memory , perched upon his shoulders as he sat upon his throne, and these he sent out into the wide world every morning, anxiously watching for their return at nightfall, when they whispered into his ears news of all they had seen and heard. Thus he was kept well informed about everything that was happening on earth. At his feet crouched two wolves or hunting hounds, Geri and Freki, animals which were therefore considered sacred to him, and of good omen if met by the way. Odin always fed these wolves with his own hands from meat set before him.
He required no food at all for himself, and seldom tasted anything except the sacred mead. The triumphant sire of hosts; [ 18 ]. When seated in state upon his throne, Odin rested his feet upon a footstool of gold, the work of the gods, all of whose furniture and utensils were fashioned either of that precious metal or of silver.
Besides the magnificent hall Glads-heim, where stood the twelve seats occupied by the gods when they met in council, and Valaskialf, where his throne, Hlidskialf, was placed, Odin had a third palace in Asgard, situated in the midst of the marvellous grove Glasir, whose shimmering leaves were of red gold.
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The walls of this marvellous building were fashioned of glittering spears, so highly polished that they illuminated the hall. Here long tables afforded ample accommodation for the Einheriar, warriors fallen in battle, who were specially favoured by Odin.
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The ancient Northern nations, who deemed warfare the most honourable of occupations, and considered courage the greatest virtue, worshipped Odin principally as god of battle and victory. When some special favourite of the god was thus brought into Asgard, Valfather father of the slain , as Odin was called when he presided over the warriors, would sometimes rise from his throne and in person bid him welcome at the great entrance gate. Generous entertainment was provided for them at the long tables, where the beautiful white-armed virgins, the Valkyrs, having laid aside their armour and clad themselves in pure white robes, waited upon them with assiduous attention.
The usual Northern drink was beer or ale, but our ancestors fancied this beverage too coarse for the heavenly sphere. Moreover, the supply was exhaustless, for the boar always came to life again before the time of the next meal. This miraculous renewal of supplies in the larder was not the only wonderful occurrence in Valhalla, for it is related that the warriors, after having eaten and drunk to satiety, always called for their weapons, armed themselves, and rode out into the great courtyard, where they fought against one another, repeating the feats of arms for which they were famed on earth, and recklessly dealing terrible wounds, which, however, [ 21 ] were miraculously and completely healed as soon as the dinner horn sounded.
Fighting and feasting thus, the heroes were said to spend their days in perfect bliss, while Odin delighted in their strength and number, which, however, he foresaw would not avail to prevent his downfall when the day of the last battle should dawn.
In reward for this devotion Odin watched with special care over his favourites, giving them gifts, a magic sword, a spear, or a horse, and making them invincible until their last hour had come, when he himself appeared to claim or destroy the gift he had bestowed, and the Valkyrs bore the heroes to Valhalla. When Odin took an active part in war, he generally rode his eight-footed grey steed, Sleipnir, and bore a white shield.
At times he used his magic bow, from which he would shoot ten arrows at once, every one invariably bringing down a foe. He was considered the ancient god of seamen and of the wind. Three eyes have they together, ten feet, and one tail: and thus they travel through the lands. In this character he was most generally known as the Wild Huntsman, and when people heard the rush and roar of the wind they cried aloud in superstitious fear, fancying they heard and saw him ride past with his train, all mounted on snorting steeds, and accompanied by baying hounds.
Even after the introduction of Christianity the ignorant Northern folk still dreaded the on-coming storm, declaring that it was the Wild Hunt sweeping across the sky.
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Sometimes it left behind a small black dog, which, cowering and whining upon a neighbouring hearth, had to be kept for a whole year and carefully tended unless it could be exorcised or frightened away. The usual recipe, the same as for the riddance of changelings, was to brew beer in egg-shells, and this performance was supposed so to startle the spectral dog that he would fly with his tail between his legs, exclaiming that, although as old as the Behmer, or Bohemian forest, he had never before beheld such an uncanny sight.
The object of this phantom hunt varied greatly, and was either a visonary boar or wild horse, white-breasted maidens who were caught and borne away bound only once in seven years, or the wood nymphs, called Moss Maidens, who were thought to represent the autumn leaves torn from the trees and whirled away by the wintry gale.
In the middle ages, when the belief in the old heathen deities was partly forgotten, the leader of the Wild Hunt was no longer Odin, but Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, King Arthur, or some Sabbath-breaker, like the Squire of Rodenstein or Hans von Hackelberg, who, in punishment for his sins, was condemned to hunt for ever through the realms of air. As the winds blew fiercest in autumn and winter, Odin was supposed to prefer hunting during that season, especially during the time between Christmas and Twelfth-night, and the peasants were always careful to leave the last sheaf or measure of grain out in the fields to serve as food for his horse.
This hunt was of course known by various names in the different countries of Northern Europe; but as the tales told about it are all alike, they evidently originated in the same old heathen belief, and to this day ignorant people of the North fancy that the baying of a hound on a stormy night is an infallible presage of death.
While the soul was absent, no effort or remedy could recall the patient to life; but as soon as it had come back animation returned.
As Odin was the leader of all disembodied spirits, he was identified in the middle ages with the Pied Piper of Hamelin. A piper, in parti-coloured garments, offered to undertake the commission, and the terms being accepted, he commenced to play through the streets in such wise that, one and all, the rats were beguiled out of their holes until they formed a vast procession. There was that in the strains which compelled them to follow, until at last the river Weser was reached, and all were drowned in its tide. As the rats were all dead, and there was no chance of their returning to plague them, the people of Hamelin refused to pay the reward, and they bade the piper do his worst.
He took them at their word, and a few [ 28 ] moments later the weird strains of the magic flute again arose, and this time it was the children who swarmed out of the houses and merrily followed the piper.
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The burghers were powerless to prevent the tragedy, and as they stood spellbound the piper led the children out of the town to the Koppelberg, a hill on the confines of the town, which miraculously opened to receive the procession, and only closed again when the last child had passed out of sight.
Robert Browning. In this myth Odin is the piper, the shrill tones of the flute are emblematic of the whistling wind, the rats represent the souls of the dead, which cheerfully follow him, and the hollow mountain into which he leads the children is typical of the grave. Another German legend which owes its existence to this belief is the story of Bishop Hatto, the miserly prelate, who, annoyed by the clamours of the poor during a time of famine, had them burned alive in a deserted barn, like the rats whom he declared they resembled, rather than give them some of the precious grain which he had laid up for himself.
These, it appears, were the souls of the murdered peasants, which had assumed the forms of the rats to which the bishop had likened them. His efforts to escape were vain, and the rats pursued him even into the middle of the Rhine, to a stone tower in which he took refuge from their fangs.
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They swam to the tower, gnawed their way through the stone walls, and, pouring in on all sides at once, they found the bishop and devoured him alive. From the right and the left, from behind and before, [ 30 ]. The red glow of the sunset above the Rat Tower near Bingen on the Rhine is supposed to be the reflection of the hell fire in which the wicked bishop is slowly roasting in punishment for his heinous crime.
In some parts of Germany Odin was considered to be identical with the Saxon god Irmin, whose statue, the Irminsul, near Paderborn, was destroyed by Charlemagne in But Mimir, who well knew the value of such a favour for his spring was considered the source or headwater of memory , refused the boon unless Odin would consent to give one of his eyes in exchange.
The god did not hesitate, so highly did he prize the draught, but immediately plucked out one of his eyes, which Mimir kept in pledge, sinking it deep down into his fountain, where it shone with mild lustre, leaving Odin with but one eye, which is considered emblematic of the sun. But although Odin was now all-wise, he was sad and oppressed, for he had gained an insight into futurity, [ 32 ] and had become aware of the transitory nature of all things, and even of the fate of the gods, who were doomed to pass away. This knowledge so affected his spirits that he ever after wore a melancholy and contemplative expression.
But when, in conclusion, Odin bent near the giant and softly inquired what words Allfather whispered to his dead son Balder as he lay upon his funeral pyre, Vafthrudnir [ 33 ] suddenly recognised his divine visitor. Starting back in dismay, he declared that no one but Odin himself could answer that question, and that it was now quite plain to him that he had madly striven in a contest of wisdom and wit with the king of the gods, and fully deserved the penalty of failure, the loss of his head. Besides being god of wisdom, Odin was god and inventor of runes, the earliest alphabet used by Northern nations, which characters, signifying mystery, were at first used for divination, although in later times they served for inscriptions and records.
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