Hello, dear @adsactly readers and lovers of folklore. Today I want to take you on an epic journey to discover the many myths about giants, as this is a domain I find most fascinating. Basically all people have legends about giants, from the cosmogonic myths to the simple bed-time stories. The Bible, Norse mythology, Greek legends, Native-American stories as well as Hindu myths, all speak of fearsome giants who existed somewhere at the dawn of times and most are actively involved in the creation of the Universe. And it makes you wonder how come people living so far apart and in different eras came up with stories that bear so many similarities? Also, it raises the tantalizing question - were there ever giants roaming the Earth and if there were what happened to them?
The first episode in this series is dedicated to the giants in Norse mythology, as in these stories they are depicted as a race of giants, rather than isolated characters as is the case in other people’s myths. Also, in Northern legends, giants are personally involved in the creation of our world.
According to Norse mythology, in the beginning there was … nothing. Only the ‘yawning emptiness’, Ginnungagap, where deep down lay the Well of Life. Then ice started to pile up mysteriously on this well until it took the form of Ymir, the greatest of all Giants, father of the entire race of giants. The story tells us Ymir was fed by the magic cow Audumla, which obviously is very similar to the Greek legend of Zeus who was nursed by the goat Amalthea.
The magic cow plays an important part in the creation of the world as she licked the ice around the well to reveal the first Aesir, Buri, grandfather to the great god Odin.
Now, Ymir was evil, as indeed are most Giants in all legends everywhere. Ymir is described as the creator of the fearsome Frost Giants, who came into being from the sweat of his armpit.
Most cosmogonic myths involve some sort of fight for power - in Norse lore, Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve, grow tired of all the violence the ever-increasing population of Frost Giants caused and take up arms. They slay Ymir and all the giants drown in his blood. Only Bergelmir and his wife escape by seeking refuge on a boat made from a hollowed tree-trunk, which is, of course, a parallel to the Biblical flood and Noah’s Ark. Some stories have it that Odin allowed Bergelmir to live as he was not like the other giants, but he was wise and clever. While Noah is saved to repopulate the earth with humans, and all the animals sheltered on the Ark, Bergelmir escapes to continue the race of giants who never lost their hatred of the gods.
Odin and his brothers threw the body of Ymir into the void of Ginnungagap and his remains became the world we live in. His ice-blood became the rivers and seas, while from his flesh the dry land was made. His bones turned into mountains, which the gods used as a barrier against Jotunheim, the land of the giants. Actually, the name Jotunheim comes from the term ‘jotunn’, which in Norse mythology is used to refer to the giants. Ymir’s scattered teeth became the rocks and gravel on earth. The sky, according to Norse legends, is made of Ymir’s skull, held above the earth by four dwarfs. Sparks were used to make the stars we see at night.
Part of the newly-created land was Midgard, the Middle Earth, which belonged to mankind and Odin wanted to make it beautiful and fruitful. From Ymir’s curly hair he made trees, and from his eyebrows the grass and flowers were fashioned.
Such a violent creation myth is by no means unique. After all, slayings are common in Greek mythology. There is also a Babylonian myth about the hero Marduk, who kills the chaos-dragon Tiamat, then splits her carcass in two to make heaven and earth.
The story of Ymir is attested for the first time in a collection of 13th century stories, but many scholars have tried to find a much older origin for the primeval giant. Comparative mythology scholars consider Ymir to be an echo of a Proto-Germanic being named Tuisto (or Tuisco), which is described by Tacitus in his 1st century work ’Germania’. While the two characters bear functional similarities, it is hard to say if they refer to the same being as there is no mention of Tuisto being as evil as Ymir is described.
The Giants existence in Norse mythology is very complicated, as for all their evilness, they interact with the Aesir in many instances. One of the most fascinating gods in Norse mythology, Loki, is himself the son of the giant Farabauti, the ‘cruel striker’ associated with wildfires, and Laufey. While he is the god of fire, a trait inherited from his father, Loki usually goes by the name Loki Laufeyjarson, the son of Laufey.
In a previous folklore post about the significance of apples in old legends, we mentioned the story of Idun and the apples of youth, in which Loki plays an essential part. It was after bringing back Idun that Loki, the son of giants, is granted a place in Asgard, among the Aesir. However, as there was always an evil streak in him, after many schemes and tricks, the gods decided to have him bound in a dark cave where he waits Ragnarok the final battle between the gods and the giants. According to lore, the gods placed a venomous snake above Loki’s head to drip poison on him. It is his devoted second wife Sigunn, who holds a cup up high to catch the poison drops. However, when she turns to empty the cup, the poison falls on Loki’s head, causing him to twitch in pain - and the whole world to shake in what we call earthquakes.
Like his father, Loki, the wolf Fenrir was also bound by the Gods
No longer considered one of the Aesir, Loki is to lead the army of evil in the final battle. His children by the giantess Angrboda also play an important part at Ragnarok. His son, the monstrous wolf Fenrir, is set to kill mighty Odin at Ragnarok.
Another interesting fact about the giants of Norse mythology is that they are described as having fathered all sorts of evil creatures, like werewolves and trolls, which appear as frequent characters in many popular stories and legends. While their troll children are often portrayed as dumb, the giants of Norse mythology are not known for being stupid. However, in other cultures, the giants are usually presented as quite dim, as we shall see in future articles.
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