Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
The reader who has persisted thus far will have noticed a lack of the illustrations of gods and giants which usually adorn books on mythology: Norse myths generally sport a one-eyed Odin in a slouch hat and a brawny Thor wielding a primitive stone hammer. All embellishments of that kind have been omitted because such images have done more to discredit the myths than almost anything else. Instead a deliberate effort has been made to de-personify the natural powers and substances of the universe, in an attempt to reverse the accustomed tendency to see mythic deities in human form and endow matter with qualities it does not possess. The first is an indignity to which no planetary or stellar power should be subjected; the second attaches to inert substance properties out of keeping with its nature.
Having roamed through a small part of the Saemundar Edda, with brief excursions into other sources, we should by now have a reasonable familiarity with the method used by the bards to record the science of the gods. Through the peculiar magic of myths we find ourselves learning of the origin, age, and the end of things, for we are, each one of us, the questing Odin. The problems that confront us, when reduced to their most basic form, are the very same demands made by the spirit of existence as it hangs, suspended from higher worlds, in the Tree of Life: Odin below consecrated to Odin above in the tree, while he searches the depths for runes of wisdom, raising them with song — sound, motion, activity.
In the Voluspa and Grimnismal we are given an overview of cosmogony, a panorama of living worlds returning to action after a cosmic rest; we see the gods draw to their judgment seats, assemble to take council and determine the disposition of heavenly beings in the shelves and mansions of the Tree of Life. We learn as well of our human origins and parentage: that we are descended from the creative cosmic powers, composed of the universal elements which endow us with the properties that belong to our species.
Others of the lays have reference more particularly to our own globe and to the humanities that have succeeded one another thereon. We find a succession of giants and giantesses, races of mankind which display different characteristics and encounter fresh experiences to nourish the enduring consciousness. The human spirit traverses the shelves and mansions of our universal Tree of Life in search of experience, just as we play host to myriads of atomic worlds on the various levels of our own nature, while our elf, our ego, either acts on the behest of its divine hamingja or permits itself to be swayed by the importunities of the dwarf nature in us. At the same time our bodily organisms, along with the minerals and other kingdoms, help constitute the globes of our universe, just as the atomic lives in us provide the bodies that belong to us in the world we are currently inhabiting.
The myths are eminently reasonable. There are no extraordinary demands on credulity: the systems interlock, the twigs on their branches of the Tree of Life are themselves trees of life which ramify within the greater system. All the while the gods, the beneficent powers, are in command of their own domains; not interfering in human concerns, nor subject to human cajolery and whims, they are intelligent worlds, austerely unapproachable by us yet always there, a realistic prospect of our own future. For we, like toddlers in a world of grownups, stand knee-high to their majesty and see only the least, most basic of their attributes.
The worlds are shown to live and die, and again live, and once again depart. After each planetary life the gods seek to learn from the "fruitful spirit" what has been gained on its sphere of duty. Within the human realm, we too enter our globe of action, gain some mead to regale the inner god, and exit into other worlds: worlds having different composition, different substantiality, other ranges of experience for the evolving consciousness to partake of. The squirrel of awareness has free access to all the many levels of its Tree of Life, and what pertains to one world does not have identic application in some other, though we have affinities with all. We live and learn in them, while each part of our nature has its own home base.
Ever since the mind and will of early humanity were quickened to think and choose, and since their — our — first steps as human beings were guided by the "beneficent powers" anthropomorphized as Rig, our paths have ranged through many a swamp and quicksand where the inner light has been dimmed, and also over peaks of grand inspiration. The human mind being part and parcel of the mind of an intelligent universe cannot be divorced from, or contain something that is lacking in, the whole of which it forms a part but must constitute an integral portion of it. We have the assurance of the myths that when our weary journey through the self-discovering vales of matter will be completed, we shall regain our divinity and rightfully assume a conscious and responsible role in the governance of the world. For within us is a potent and undeniable link with the bright intelligences that govern planetary and solar systems; they are the hierarchs whose essence pervades their domain just as a human being permeates with consciousness all the teeming lives within its soul and body. And lest we lose touch with the source of our inspiration, the thought world we inhabit is impregnated with the signals whereby we may find truth.
Never in all our ventures has the light of inspiration been wholly lacking; always there have existed the mythic ideals, so that those who seek truth earnestly can find response in every age. For this the world's legends and allegories endure. When inward necessity and altruistic love impel, they can become more fully known; at other times they remain concealed within their disguises of epic and fairy tale. When studied, they reaffirm eternal values and virtues, and they teach us how to live: for, as they clearly show, our task as a human kingdom is to transmute the grosser substance of our giant world into the more enduring treasures of consciousness — the sustenance that feeds the gods — in us and in the systems of worlds.
Withal myths teach us to know truth and to value it: not data such as may be stored in a computer memory, but the growing sphere of truth that affords us ever freer vision and opens the inner worlds of a living kosmos to our comprehension. This assurance of our divine origins and universal destiny gives us a basis for discrimination that is always valid: no mere codified set of virtues (which, as everyone knows, can become vices when misapplied), but a solid foundation of character, an inner direction finder that points to the true in any situation.
The interpretations offered here are far from exhaustive, presenting merely an outline of a few of the main themes of theosophic philosophy recognized in some of the lays and stories of the Edda. Not every symbol has been noted, nor every kenning explained; many will strike the reader without having to be pointed out. Other passages are too obscure to be readily understood and, rather than confuse or, possibly, mislead the reader, they are left to the intuitive to discern for themselves. It is believed that with the general keys to symbolism that are proposed, a thoughtful and perceptive mind may find successive layers of understanding of not only the Norse but also other world myths. What has been scrutinized is also incomplete, being only a small proportion of the material available in the Edda. If this fragment of runic wisdom can encourage others to undertake a more complete study of the ancient records, it will have served a purpose. There is a real need in our present world to restore spiritual reverence and reason to human endeavor, before we immerse ourselves further in a universe without meaning. The ancient gods are not dead; far from it. They go about their tasks of keeping worlds in continuing, harmonious functioning, they ensure the balance of nature's elements and maintain on all levels the delicate efficiency that so astounds the naturalist in our physical environment. The maverick of nature is man. The kingdoms that trail behind us are largely dependent on us and suffer unduly from our mistakes, while those that precede us on the ladder of existence, though not bound by our foolishness, are nevertheless deprived of our cooperation when we act with less than the best of our humanness.
It is needful that we acquire awareness of the next step in our Od, the human soul, must successfully gain his heavenly bride at the end of his travail through windcold vales of matter, aided by the talents and qualities bestowed on him by his mother, the past. Only when prepared and willing can we fulfill our human destiny and, as Svipdag united with Menglad, our hamingja, share in the tasks of the years and the ages.