In 13th century Norway and Iceland old legends and tales dating probably over millennia back were written down in book form, the Eddas.
The Poetic Edda is sometimes called the elder Edda and contains the stories of the old Norse written in alliterative verse.
The Prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson and is meant to be a textbook for learning the art of the skaldic poetry and for learning about Norse mythology.
Snorri himself was a Christian trying to make sense of the pagan ways of his ancestors by interpreting the poems of the elder Edda.
Every single descendant of the old Norsemen today is forced to read about the Eddas at school, at a time and in a way that makes us resent it and view it as another one of those things others think we ought to know. This is a bit sad. These texts are vastly interesting but few have developed a huge interest in history at the time they are in school.
Luckily, some of us develop an interest later in life to understand our roots, but sadly, the majority of Nordic people remain indifferent to the adventures of Odin.
The basis of Norse mythology, that is, what most Nordic people today know, is that first there was nothing, Ginnungagap, and at both ends of this nothing were these weird places. Muspelheim on one side, a place of fire and future home of the fire giants, Niflheim on the other side, a frozen realm where frost giants would reside. A spark from Muspelheim hit Nifelheim and life emerged in the form of the giant Ymir and a cow. Ymir’s body gave birth to some giants and the cow licked the salty ice and uncovered a man, Buri. Buri had a son, Bur. Bur had 3 sons, Odin, Vili and Vé, who cut up Ymir and created the world out of his body and created the first humans and then became the Aesir gods together with their descendants, like Thor, and were worshiped by the Vikings. Basically.
But if you look at the old texts you can make out another story, one that isn’t really sitting well with those-who-know-everything-and-will-die-before-they-let-anything-mess-with-the-Status-Quo.
Thor Heyerdahl, the explorer, among other things, had the idea that the old texts actually tell a story of how the Aesir came out of a place east of the Black Sea and eventually ended up in the Northern countries. Mr. Heyerdahl was fiercely criticized for this theory, so bad in fact that a thinking person can’t help but to wonder why exactly. It’s a theory, a hypothesis, how can that possibly be so offensive to someone? What could they possibly stand to lose if this theory was to be investigated properly? It might be true; would that hurt someone in any way?
I urge you to read about Thor Heyerdahl if you haven’t. He was an immensely interesting and intelligent person and way ahead of his time.
I’m sure we could know so much more about the past by now if the scientific community in general had been just the tiniest bit more curious, intrigued and driven and not as terrified of change as they seem. It’s an absurd world, the scientific community, ruled by fear and prestige.
But I digress.
Where the river Don flows into the Sea of Azov there was once a place called Tanais. Tanais is also the old name for the river Don and the Greek geographer Strabo regarded it as the boundary between Asia and Europe.
The ancient city of Tanais is located about 18 miles (30 km) west of the modern day Russian city of Rostov on Don.
Thor Heyerdahl was intrigued by a certain text in the Prose Edda, the so-called Ynglinga Saga, which claims that the Aesir “gods” were a people that came from a place east of Tanais, the place where the real Asaheim with the castle Asgard is supposed to have been located. The area north of the Black Sea was called The Great Svithjod (as opposed to just Svithjod which is one of the old names for Sweden).
The Great Svithjod was supposedly inhabited by many tribes, speaking many languages:
“There are giants, and there are dwarves, and there are also blue men, and there are any kinds of stranger creatures. There are huge wild beasts, and dreadful dragons.”
The Great Svithjod would seem to fit with the area inhabited by Sarmatian peoples at that time, which is supposed to be the first century CE.
The Sarmatians were a Scythian people, in fact, in Herodotus’ book 4.110-117, the Sarmatians were the result of a group of young Scythian men having a good time with some Amazon warrior women.
Based on the claims in the Ynglinga Saga, Asaheim would be located in the Southern part of The Great Svithjod; however it doesn’t specify how far east of Tanais it was. It does however say that the Caucasus mountain range was The Great Svithjod’s southern border.
An interesting thing to note is that genetic studies claim that both Scythians and Sarmatians were tall, blue (or green)-eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people.
In Asgard, the castle, the profoundly successful warlord Odin, who went by the name Wotan, or something similar in those days, lived and ruled. He conquered land after land and at one point he waged war on the people around Tanais, the original place of Vanaheimr, where the Vanir, the other race of “gods” in Norse mythology, supposedly lived.
The war with the Vanir seemed never-ending. The two armies seemed equally strong and at some point a truce was entered into. Hostages were given as a sign of friendship (?). The Aesir gave the tall and handsome Hoenir and the wise Mimir to the Vanir and in return acquired Njordr the rich and his son Freyr, and also their wisest man Kvasir.
Hoenir was immediately made chief and as long as Mimir was counseling him he was popular, but when he was at Thing or meetings without Mimir, he would always leave the decision making to others. This made the Vanir feel cheated by the Aesir and they took Mimir and beheaded him. The head was sent to the Aesir.
Odin then took the head, smeared it with herbs to preserve it and sang incantations over it. Thereby it stayed alive and spoke of many secrets to Odin. OK…
Njordr’s daughter Freyja was a priestess. She is the one that taught the Aesir the kind of magic that was common amongst the Vanir.
This “Old Magic” seems to be fairly potent. Together with the magick Odin learned from the Vanir he was apparently able to do incredible things. He is said to have mastered the art of shape shifting. It is said that he could take on the form of anything, bird, fish, four-legged beast and that he in an instant could appear in distant countries, though his own body remained in a state of sleep and almost dead. This convenient trait is demonstrated in several ways in the Ynglinga Saga:
“When sitting among his friends his countenance was so beautiful and dignified, that the spirits of all were exhilarated by it, but when he was in war he appeared dreadful to his foes. This arose from his being able to change his skin and form in any way he liked. Another cause was, that he conversed so cleverly and smoothly, that all who heard believed him. He spoke everything in rhyme, such as now composed, which we call scald-craft. He and his temple priests were called song-smiths, for from them came that art of song into the northern countries. Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, or terror-struck, and their weapons so blunt that they could no more but than a willow wand; on the other hand, his men rushed forwards without armor, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild bulls, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon themselves. These were called Berserkers.”
Odin also possessed the gift of foresight and he had seen that his descendants were going to live in the Nordic countries, so he left his brothers in charge of the Black Sea area, and left Tanais together with his priests and some followers. He is said to have traveled first west to Gardariki, the Russia of those days, and later south to the land of the Saxons, where he conquered large areas. He left some of his sons in charge of the Saxon lands and went north, to modern day Denmark.
Odin sent a woman called Grevjon/ Gefion, a Vanir warrior maid, out northeast across the water to search for new lands.
She encountered a King Gylfi in modern day Sweden who promised her all the land she could plow in a day. Gefion continued to Jotunheim in modern day Norway and had 4 sons with a giant who lived there. She then transformed her sons into a yoke of oxen (ah, a mother’s love…) and used them to plow a huge piece of land that she pulled into the sea and placed next to Odin’s island. This land is said to have become the Danish island of Zealand and the hole left behind filled up with water and became known as either Lake Mälaren or Lake Vänern in Sweden.
Odin realized that there was good land to be had in Sweden so he made a deal with King Gylfi and tricked him into abandoning his ways and assume the ways of the Aesir. Odin took up his residence at Lake Mälaren, at the place now called Old Sigtuna and the Aesir and Vanir spread throughout the North.
If we disregard the more fantastic claims to this story for now, we are still left with an account of the Nordic race having their roots in Scythian/ Sarmatian/ Alani (Aryan) cultures over millennia ago. Genetic test provides further proof of this.
Thor Heyerdahl was also intrigued by rock carvings that date back to about 10,000 B.C. at Gobustan (about 30 miles west of Baku). He was convinced that their artistic style closely resembles the carvings found in his native Norway. The ship designs, in particular, were regarded by Heyerdahl as similar and drawn with simple sickle–shaped lines, representing the base of the boat, with vertical lines on deck, illustrating crew or, perhaps, raised oars.
In any case, we have quite a bit of evidence supporting the hypothesis that the Old Norse originated on the steppes of Russia/ Azerbaijan.
I find it titillating that I might be both Viking AND Amazon! 😛
Something that has nothing to do with the origins of the Nordic people but is still interesting is the magic of Odin and the Vanir. It makes me think of the Navajo Skinwalkers and I find it very intriguing.
Vikings travelled the world. They went to North America (unlike Columbus) and they did encounter Native American Tribes. There are records of this, even though they may not be officially accepted yet.
Some Native American Tribes have old tales of white giants coming to their lands.
In any case, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t been fascinated by this passage from the Ynglinga Saga:
“Odin could transform his shape: his body would lie as if dead, or asleep; but then he would be in shape of a fish, or worm, or bird, or beast, and be off in a twinkling to distant lands upon his own or other people’s business. With words alone he could quench fire, still the ocean in tempest, and turn the wind to any quarter he pleased. Odin had a ship which was called Skidbladnir, in which he sailed over wide seas, and which he could roll up like a cloth. Odin carried with him Mime’s head, which told him all the news of other countries. Sometimes even he called the dead out of the earth, or set himself beside the burial-mounds; whence he was called the ghost-sovereign, and lord of the mounds. He had two ravens, to which he had taught the speech of man; and they flew far and wide through the land, and brought him the news. In all such things he was pre-eminently wise. He taught all these arts in Runes, and songs which are called incantations, and therefore the Asaland people are called incantation-smiths. Odin understood also the art in which the greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practiced; namely, what is called magic. By means of this he could know beforehand the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot; and also bring on the death, ill-luck, or bad health of people, and take the strength or wit from one person and give it to another. But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety, that it was not thought respectable for men to practice it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art. Odin knew finely where all missing cattle were concealed under the earth, and understood the songs by which the earth, the hills, the stones, and mounds were opened to him; and he bound those who dwell in them by the power of his word, and went in and took what he pleased. From these arts he became very celebrated. His enemies dreaded him; his friends put their trust in him, and relied on his power and on himself. He taught the most of his arts to his priests of the sacrifices, and they came nearest to him in all wisdom and witch-knowledge. Many others, however, occupied themselves much with it; and from that time witchcraft spread far and wide, and continued long.”