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I’ve written a database of Norse myth and this is the introduction
Myth, pre-history and history tend to merge yet the difference between a myth and an actual event is the way a particular hero performs. The action of the Iliad takes about seven weeks but the feats of Achilles in that narrative would have taken months to complete as well as needing the strength of a hundred men. So although the Iliad is based on history – the sacking of Troy – the players in this story take on superhuman roles and we become aware that the tragedy of Troy was real but leading actors have gone over the top in portraying the horror (but not the heroism) of battle and the disaster and emotions surrounding a siege. Similarly Moses, David and Joshua as well as Prometheus, Perseus and Odysseus are mythical characters in legends handed down by word of mouth and then at some time in history written down in a more permanent form. Vlad the Impaler is an historical figure yet the legend of thousands of prisoners being impaled as Vlad and his army marched through a traumatised nation have continued to grow. Impalement consisted of thrusting a long stake into the anus or vagina, through the intestines to the diaphragm muscle. The naked victim was then hoisted upward and the pole fixed in the ground. Subsequent writhing eventually forced the stake upward destroying the heart. What is impossible to believe is that Vlad and his army between battles had the time to find scores of straight branches, cut them, and then torture to death hundreds of people. However, that is the myth but reality was obviously different. Maybe some of his victims suffered this method of execution but they would have numbered dozens rather than hundreds – probably just one or two leaders would have been chosen by Vlad to be despatched in this way.
Fimbulvetr separates myth and history but did these myths shape the historical Vikings or was it the austere post ice age landscape that gave rise to the myths as well as the Northmen themselves? Like the hard glaciation itself these Scandinavian seamen were awesome and unyielding as they covered oceans and took possession of each new land – establishing colonies only after, chillingly invading, terrifying and subjugating indigenous populations. The study of legends and folklore teaches that kings, presidents and other dictators pale to insignificance against the vast backdrop of countless millennia. Religious adherents find belief in a particular god gives them a purpose and even a promise of eternal life. A mythologist also has faith but it is in the unstoppable evolution of Earth and the cosmos, an acceptance of a universe that has existed before “life” began and will still be here when all life has vanished. However, mythologists are human and think that they know what life is – in the Norse myths life exists in rock and metal as well as vegetation and animals. At the death of Balder everything weeps including stones, trees, iron, fire and birds. This is the marked difference between ancient (Pagan) beliefs and capitalist (Christian) materialism. Modern man has lost respect for metal, rock, oceans, sky and soil, poisoning the Earth on which he depends for his own life, and also destroying the habitats of countless other creatures. Sooner than it expects Homo sapiens will find Earth shrugging off this parasite that fills its own belly, and its wallets, without regard for its impoverished brethren and also uses animals, fish and birds as if they were worthless. Profit before people plumbed new and obscene depths in the last two decades of the 20th century. Putting massive individual wealth before the immense riches of Earth has signalled the end for the powerful, privileged and greedy – it will unfortunately also eventually lead to the decimation of ordinary innocent families. Can we hope that after Ragnarok there will be a rebirth of respect; a race of beings in awe of the Earth Goddess and her domain? DG 2004