The foremost lay of the Elder Edda is called Voluspa (The Sibyl's Prophecy). The volva, or sibyl, represents the indelible imprint of the past, wherein lie the seeds of the future. Odin, the Allfather, consults this record to learn of the beginning, life, and end of the world. In her response, she addresses Odin as a plurality of "holy beings," indicating the omnipresence of the divine principle in all forms of life. This also hints at the growth of awareness gained by all living, learning entities during their evolutionary pilgrimage through spheres of existence.
Hear me, all ye holy beings, greater as lesser sons of Heimdal! You wish me to tell of Allfather's works, tales of the origin, the oldest I know. Giants I remember, born in the foretime, they who long ago nurtured me. Nine worlds I remember, nine trees of life, before this world tree grew from the ground.
Paraphrased, this could be rendered as: "Learn, all ye living entities, imbued with the divine essence of Odin, ye more and less evolved sons of the solar divinity (Heimdal) who stands as guardian between the manifest worlds of the solar system and the realm of divine consciousness. You wish to learn of what has gone before. I am the record of long ages past (giants), that imprinted their experience on me. I remember nine periods of manifestation that preceded the present system of worlds."
Time being inextricably a phenomenon of manifestation, the giant ages refer to the matter-side of creation. Giants represent ages of such vast duration that, although their extent in space and time is limited, it is of a scope that can only be illustrated as gigantic. Smaller cycles within the greater are referred to in the Norse myths as daughters of their father-giant. Heimdal is the solar deity in the sign of Aries — of beginnings for our system — whose "sons" inhabit, in fact compose, his domain.
Before a new manifestation of a world, whether a cosmos or a lesser system, all its matter is frozen in a state of immobility, referred to in the Edda as a frost giant. The gods — consciousnesses — are withdrawn into their supernal, unimaginable abstraction of Nonbeing, called in Sanskrit "paranirvana." Without a divine activating principle, space itself — the great container — is a purely theoretical abstraction where, for lack of any organizing energic impulse of consciousness, matter cannot exist.
This was the origin of ages when Ymer built. No soil was there, no sea, no cool waves. Earth was not, nor heaven above; Gaping Void alone, no growth. Until the sons of Bur raised the tables; they who created beautiful Midgard. The sun shone southerly on the stones of the court; then grew green herbs in fertile soil.
To paraphrase again: "Before time began, the frost giant (Ymer) prevailed. No elements existed for there were 'no waves,' no motion, hence no organized form nor any temporal events, until the creative divine forces emanated from Space (Bur — a principle, not a locality) and organized latent protosubstance into the celestial bodies (tables at which the gods feast on the mead of life-experience). Among these tables is Middle Court (Midgard), our own beautiful planet. The life-giving sun sheds its radiant energies to activate into life all the kingdoms of nature which compose it."
The Gaping Void (Ginnungagap) holds "no cool waves" throughout illimitable depths during the age of the frost giant. Substance has yet to be created. Utter wavelessness negates it, for all matter is the effect of organized, undulating motion. As the cosmic hour strikes for a new manifestation, the ice of Home of Nebulosity (Niflhem) is melted by the heat from Home of Fire (Muspellshem), resulting in vapor in the void. This is Ymer, protosubstance as yet unformed, the nebulae from which will evolve the matter components of a new universe, as the vital heat of the gods melts and vivifies the formless immobile "ice."
When the great age of Ymer has run its course, the cow Audhumla, symbol of fertility, "licking the salt from the ice blocks," uncovers the head of Buri, first divine principle. From this infinite, primal source emanates Bur, whose "sons" are the creative trinity: Divine Allfather, Will, and Sanctity (Odin, Vile, and Vi). This triune power "kills" the frost giant by transforming it into First Sound (Orgalmer), or keynote, whose overtones vibrate through the planes of sleeping space and organize latent protosubstance into the multifarious forms which will be used by all "holy beings" as vehicles for gaining experience in worlds of matter.
Beautiful Midgard, our physical globe earth, is but one of the "tables" raised by the creative trinity, whereat the gods shall feast. The name Middle Court is suggestive, for the ancient traditions place our globe in a central position in the series of spheres that comprise the terrestrial being's totality. All living entities, man included, comprise besides the visible body a number of principles and characteristics not cognized by the gross physical senses. In the Lay of Grimner (Grimnismal), wherein Odin in the guise of a tormented prisoner on earth instructs a human disciple, he enumerates twelve spheres or worlds, all but one of which are unseen by our organs of sight. As to the formation of Midgard, he relates:
Of Ymer's flesh was the earth formed, the billows of his blood, the mountains of his bones, bushes of his hair, and of his brainpan heaven. With his eyebrows beneficent powers enclosed Midgard for man; but of his brain were surely all dark skies created.
The trinity of immanent powers organize Ymer into the forms wherein they dwell, shaping the chaos or frost giant into living globes on many planes of being. The "eyebrows" that gird the earth and protect it suggest the Van Allen belts that shield the planet from inimical radiation. The brain of Ymer — material thinking — is surely all too evident in the thought atmosphere wherein man participates.
The formation of the physical globe is described as the creation of "dwarfs" — elemental forces which shape the body of the earth-being and which include the mineral. vegetable, and animal kingdoms.
The mighty drew to their judgment seats, all holy gods to hold counsel: who should create a host of dwarfs from the blood of Brimer and the limbs of the dead. Modsogne there was, mightiest of all the dwarfs, Durin the next; there were created many humanoid dwarfs from the earth, as Durin said.
Brimer is the slain Ymer, a kenning for the waters of space. Modsogne is the Force-sucker, Durin the Sleeper, and later comes Dvalin the Entranced. They are "dwarf"-consciousnesses, beings that are miðr than human — the Icelandic miðr meaning both "smaller" and "less." By selecting the former meaning, popular concepts have come to regard them as undersized mannikins, rather than as less evolved natural species that have not yet reached the human condition of intelligence and self-consciousness.
During the life period or manifestation of a universe, the governing giant or age is named Sound of Thor (Trudgalmer), the vital force which sustains activity throughout the cycle of existence. At the end of this age the worlds become Sound of Fruition (Bargalmer). This giant is "placed on a boat-keel and saved," or "ground on the mill." Either version suggests the karmic end product as the seed of future manifestation, which remains dormant throughout the ensuing frost giant of universal dissolution, when cosmic matter is ground into a formless condition of wavelessness, dissolved in the waters of space.
There is an inescapable duality of gods-giants in all phases of manifestation: gods seek experience in worlds of substance and feast on the mead at stellar and planetary tables; giants, formed into vehicles inspired with the divine impetus, rise through cycles of this association on the ladder of conscious awareness. All states being relative and bipolar, there is in endless evolution an inescapable link between the subjective and objective progress of beings. Odin as the "Opener" is paired with Orgalmer, the keynote on which a cosmos is constructed; Odin as the "Closer" is equally linked with Bargalmer, the fruitage of a life cycle. During the manifesting universe, Odin-Allfather corresponds to Trudgalmer, the sustainer of life.
A creative trinity plays an analogical part in the appearance of humanity. Odin remains the all-permeant divine essence, while on this level his brother-creators are named Honer and Lodur, divine counterparts of water or liquidity, and fire or vital heat and motion. They "find by the shore, of little power" the Ash and the Elm and infuse into these earth-beings their respective characteristics, making a human image or reflection of themselves. These protohumans, miniatures of the world tree, the cosmic Ash, Yggdrasil, in addition to their earth-born qualities of growth force and substance, receive the divine attributes of the gods. By Odin man is endowed with spirit, from Honer comes his mind, while Lodur gives him will and godlike form. The essentially human qualities are thus potentially divine. Man is capable of blending with the earth, whose substances form his body, yet is able to encompass in his consciousness the vision native to his divine source. He is in fact a minor world tree, part of the universal tree of life, Yggdrasil.
Ygg in conjunction with other words has been variously translated as Eternal, Awesome or Terrible, and Old. Sometimes Odin is named Yggjung, meaning the Ever-Young, or Old-Young. Like the biblical "Ancient of Days" it is a concept that mind can grasp only in the wake of intuition. Yggdrasil is the "steed" or the "gallows" of Ygg, whereon Odin is mounted or crucified during any period of manifested life. The world tree is rooted in Nonbeing and ramifies through the planes of space, its branches adorned with globes wherein the gods imbody. The sibyl spoke of ours as the tenth in a series of such world trees, and Odin confirms this in The Song of the High One (Den Hoges Sang):
I know that I hung in the windtorn tree nine whole nights, spear-pierced, given to Odin, my self to my Self above me in the tree, whose root none knows whence it sprang. None brought me bread, none served me drink; I searched the depths, spied runes of wisdom, raised them with song, and fell once more from the tree. Nine powerful songs I learned from the wise son of Boltorn, Bestla's father; a draught I drank of precious mead ladled from Odrorer.* I began to grow, to grow wise, to grow greater and enjoy; for me words from words led to new words, for me deeds from deeds led to new deeds.
*Boltorn is one of the antecedent Trudgalmer series; Bestla, sister of Bargalmer, is the wife of Bur. Odrorer is Mimer's well, source of divine wisdom gained through life.
Numerous ancient tales relate the divine sacrifice and crucifixion of the Silent Watcher whose realm or protectorate is a world in manifestation. Each tree of life, of whatever scope, constitutes the cross whereon the compassionate deity inherent in that hierarchy remains transfixed for the duration of the cycle of life in matter. The pattern of repeated imbodiments for the purpose of gaining the precious mead is clear, as also the karmic law of cause and effect as words and deeds bring their results in new words and deeds.
Yggdrasil is said to have three roots. One extends into the land of the frost giants, whence flow twelve rivers of lives or twelve classes of beings; another springs from and is watered by the well of Origin (Urd), where the three Norns, or fates, spin the threads of destiny for all lives. "One is named Origin, the second Becoming. These two fashion the third, named Debt." They represent the inescapable law of cause and effect. Though they have usually been roughly translated as Past, Present, and Future, the dynamic concept in the Edda is more complete and philosophically exact. The third root of the world tree reaches to the well of the "wise giant Mimer," owner of the well of wisdom. Mimer represents material existence and supplies the wisdom gained from experience of life. Odin forfeited one eye for the privilege of partaking of these waters of life, hence he is represented in manifestation as one-eyed and named Half-Blind. Mimer, the matter-counterpart, at the same time receives partial access to divine vision.
The lays make it very clear that the purpose of existence is for the consciousness-aspect of all beings to gain wisdom through life, while inspiring the substantial side of itself to growth in inward awareness and spirituality. At the human level, self-consciousness and will are aroused, making it possible for man to progress willingly and purposefully toward his divine potential, aided by the gods who have passed that way before him, rather than to drift by slow degrees and many detours along the road of inevitable evolution. Odin's instructions to a disciple, Loddfafner, the dwarf-nature in man, conclude with:
Now is sung the High One's song in the High One's hall. Useful to sons of men, useless to sons of giants. Hail Him who sang! Hail him who kens! Rejoice they who understand! Happy they who heed!
Verses translated by the author from:
(From Sunrise magazine, November, 1976. Copyright © 1976 by Theosophical University Press)