Copyright © 1985 by Theosophical University Press. All rights reserved.
Before the appearance of any system of worlds, naught exists but darkness and silence — Ginnungagap (yawning void). The gods are withdrawn in their supernal spheres; space and time are mere abstractions, for matter is nonexistent in the absence of any organizing vitality. It is the chaos of Greek cosmogony before order, kosmos, comes into being. In the Stanzas of Dzyan (1) it is said: "Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration." The Edda calls this the Fimbulvetr (mighty winter) — the long cold night of Nonbeing.
As the hour approaches for the birth of a cosmos, the heat from Muspellsheim (home of fire) melts the ice massed in Niflheim (cloud-home), creating fertile vapor in the Void. This is Ymer, the frost giant, from which the gods will create worlds: unmanifest worlds and "victory worlds" wherein the rivers of lives will imbody. Ymer is sustained by the four streams of milk flowing in the four directions from the cow Audhumla, symbol of fertility, the still unmanifest seed of life. "Slain" by the gods, Ymer becomes Orgalmer (primal loud noise), the keynote whose overtones vibrate throughout the sleeping shelves of space. Like the Tibetan Fohat which sets the atoms spinning, this graphically describes a first vibration organizing motion in inert protosubstance, creating vortices whose amplitudes and velocities determine the wavelengths and frequencies that make the various ranges of matter. As the Edda has it: "This was the first of aeons when Ymer built. There was no soil, no sea, no waves; earth was not, nor heaven. Gaping abyss alone: no growth. Until Bur's sons raised the tables; they who had power to create Midgard. The sun shone from the south on the stones of the court; then grew green grass in fertile soil." (2)
To paraphrase: Before time began, no elements existed for there were "no waves" — no motion, hence no forms and no time. This graphic description could hardly be improved on. Matter and the whole phenomenal universe are, as we now know, effects of the methodical motion of electrical charges. Organized as atoms with their multitudes of particles they unite to form the many grades of matter that compose suns and planets. In the absence of the organizing forces, the gods, none of these things exist. Space is itself an abstraction, unimaginable, nonexistent, yet the sole existence. It is Ginnungagap, the "chasm of Ginn," inexpressible, unspeakable Nonbeing, beyond contemplation and not to be imagined, wherein Ymer, the frost giant, permits of "no growth" until the creative forces "slay" him and from his body fashion the worlds: "raise the tables" whereat they will feast on the mead of life.
The cow Audhumla licks salt from the ice blocks massed in Ginnungagap and uncovers the head of Buri (Space as abstraction, not space having dimensions). Buri corresponds to the "parentless" — the "self-born" of Hindu cosmogony. Audhumla, the primordial seed of life, may be compared with the Hindu vac, the first vibration or sound, also represented as a cow. We find the same idea in the biblical myth, John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The Word (Greek logos) means reason and also contains the concept of sound, vibration. In each case the first thrill of activity has this expression as a first ideation in divine mind, or as a fundamental or keynote whereon is built up a series of overtones, each of which becomes the keynote of a new overtone series. If you have ever listened to a gong's reverberations slowly fading out of hearing, you will have heard the major chord built up on the one deep note. It is conceivably an accurate symbol to describe a big bang whose energic impulses multiply as harmonics to the limits of its progression. By such a proliferation of vibrations the consciousnesses called gods might organize forms to serve them as vehicles, and imbody and dwell in them, be they suns, humans, or subatomic lives.
From the abstract Buri emanates Bur (space as extension) and from this evolves a third, triune logos, composed of Odin, Vile (will), and Ve (sacredness — awe in its original sense). These are the noumena or prototypes of the elements which in our sphere we call air, fire, and water: the essence of spirit (breath), vitality (heat), and fluid (mind) — subtle originants of familiar states of matter. There is a suggestive connection between what myths call the "waters of space" — basis of all existence and the common ground of universes — and hydrogen (from the Greek hydor: water), when we remember that hydrogen is the simplest, lightest, and most abundant of the elements, and the one which enters into the composition of all known matter. The second arm of the trinity may be sought in the second element, helium, named for helios, the sun, where it was first discovered. A connection may also be found between fire and the element oxygen which chemically combines with other elements in combustion. One aspect of the divine fire is Mundilfore, the "lever" or "axis" which turns the "wheels" of galaxies, suns, planets, or atoms. It is the power which initiates rotatory and translatory motion, creating vortices, dynamic entities in the waters of space.
It is striking how the more or less obscure hints found in myths are recognizable in modern science, even in such sophisticated fields as theories on star formation and cosmology. The latter show how physical processes take place, the former indicate the causes that bring them about. In chemistry we speak of three conditions of matter — solid, liquid, and gaseous; the myths call these earth, water, and air, adding two more: fire and aether, which were included in ancient science as attributes of the gods.
In the far mythic morning of time, our earth with all its component denizens must still have been in a condition we can only describe as ethereal. The globe had yet to condense from its primordial nebula (nifl), born in Niflheim (the primordial cloudhome). We may picture how the divine will-to-be spiraled downward through transcendent, unimaginable realms of spirit, then through levels of ideation and intelligent plan, through ethereal and ever coarser though still intangible substances, forming atoms, organizing molecules, arranging organisms, until all principles and aspects of a world with its appropriate life forms had been breathed forth. From this impulsion the dust of long dead antecedent stars, spread dormant through the fields of sleeping space, received anew the kiss of life and, obeying that creative urge, formed vortices of energy which became the matter of which our worlds were fashioned.
Before our planet became physical, the less solid conditions of matter — fire and aether — were doubtless more in evidence; fire is still found as the vital heat of all living bodies. Even space itself, as much as we know of it, gives such a sign of life: a temperature of 2.7 [[degrees]] K, while hardly a heatwave, is still evidence of motion however slight, of vitality however faint. Aether is not recognized by that name today, nevertheless euphemisms such as the "interstellar medium" and "intergalactic medium" are used in astrophysics to suggest it. Since that distant past when our globe began to solidify, the ethereal element apparently receded from the range of our perception. In the future, when earth slowly etherealizes, as the theosophic records predict, we shall doubtless rediscover it along with the acceleration of radioactivity.
We have seen how Ymer, the frost giant, is transformed by the divine powers into the substances which make up a world, the primordial protosubstance becoming Orgalmer (the primal noise), keynote of a cosmos, an outpouring of energies so potent that it brings inevitably to mind the phenomenon which scientists call the big bang. The creation of earth in Grimnismal (40-41) is more poetic: "Of Ymer's flesh was the earth formed, the billowing seas of his blood, from his bones the mountains, bushes from his hair, and from his brainpan heaven. With his eyebrows the beneficent powers enclosed Midgard for the sons of men; but of his brain were surely created all dark skies." The protective eyebrows enclosing the human domain are strikingly suggestive of the arc-shaped, or toroidal, Van Allen belts which trap excessive cosmic radiation.
The creative process of progressive manifestation (called in theosophy the "descending arc" — the Edda's Mjotvidr), marks the fueling or feeding of the Tree of Life, while the subsequent evolution of spirit and decline of matter (theosophy's "ascending arc" and the Edda's Mjotudr), brings the exhaustion of the food that nourishes Yggdrasil. Odin is called Ofner (opener) at the beginning of a phase of life, when he is inseparable from Orgalmer, the keynote whose reverberations multiply into a cosmos. This systolic beat of the cosmic heart should be followed in due time by a diastole when, the expansion consummated, the gods withdraw once more into the heart of Being, and indeed this is confirmed: at the end of life Odin is Svafner (closer), linked with Bargalmer (the noise of fruition). This matter-giant is "ground on the mill" — homogenized to formlessness, annihilated as matter with remarkable similarity to what science now calls a black hole. He is also said to be "placed on a boatkeel and saved" — an allegory reminiscent of the Noachian flood, which also ensures the renewal of life forms after a dissolution. This may quite possibly be how the funeral custom originated of placing a dead chieftain on his pyre ship and letting the burning vessel drift out to sea.
The rivers of Hvergalmer or diverse classes or kingdoms of lives pursue their courses of imbodiment through the shelves and mansions of the world systems. They represent the great variety of organisms used by the many kinds of elf-souls, the human of course included. There are the dwarfs and the light elves, and also the dark elves who have not yet "struggled from the hall's stone foundation up to the ramparts" (Voluspa 14).
During the lifetime of a cosmic being Allfather Odin is closely parallel with Trudgalmer (noise of Thor), sustainer of all life. We have seen how Trud (on the cosmic scale), Thor (in the solar system), Lorride (on earth), represent energy in all ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum and how all their appurtenances have the connotation of power in various applications. Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, both creates matter and mills it to extinction; being the agent both of creation and destruction it consecrates marriages and also slays giants, thus officiating at the rites of procreation as well as bringing death by withdrawing consciousness from the spheres of life.
1. The Secret Doctrine, I, 27. (return to text)
2. Voluspa, 3, 4. (return to text)