The Aesir Legends from Norse Mythology
by John R. Salverda
The ancient religion of the Northern Europeans was originally divided into two groups of gods called the Aesir and the Vanir. After a bit of confrontation, these two groups seem to have realized their relationship to one another and joined forces to oppose their common enemy, the giants. The Vanir gods, such as Freyr, were fertility gods who were associated with ships and pigs. I suppose that the Vanir stories represent those who arrived in Europe via the sea in ships (those of Danish descent, the Swedes, the Frisians, and the Jutes or Anglos for example). The Aesir on the other hand were wanderers, they arrived over land (the Saxons and the Scythians or Goths). The Aesir group is the division of Norse mythology that this article mainly concerns itself (The Vanir group, which also has many correspondences with the ancient Israelites, although much more Canaanite in nature, can be dealt with separately.).
Although the Norse had the notion of an over all god of everything, whom they referred to as "Alfadur" (Odin is sometimes referred to as Alfadur meaning "All-father," but this name is also used in a way that shows that the Norse had an idea of a deity superior to Odin, uncreated and eternal.), he was a mystery and they had virtually no mythology about him (after the end of time he is destined to step up and provide a new, perfected, Heaven and Earth). For all intents and purposes they called their supreme god "Odin." The name "Odin" is to be compared to the name "Adon," the very name that the Israelites used for God at the time of their Assyrian exile. To the Israelites "Adon" means "Lord" and the they used it because the Almighty's actual name was considered by them to be ineffable.
Oddly enough, the Greek and Roman historians who looked into the matter did not usually identify Odin with Zeus (Jupiter), but with Hermes (Mercury) as the god of wandering. This is not so strange as it may seem because the ultimate origin of the Greek mythological character Hermes was the Hebrew patriarch Moses (the serpent stick carrying messenger of god who freed the earthly wife of god (Io) from her captivity and lead her on her famous wanderings, see http://www.britam.org/salverda/io.html).
That is why the day of Hermes "Wednesday," as it is called in the Northern European languages, is named for Odin. The Norse myths about Odin, and indeed much of Norse mythology in general, is based upon the God of Moses and the writings of Moses.
Take for instance Norse mythology's debt to Genesis, the first book of Moses. At the foundation of the world of Norse Mythology is a very significant tree (called Ygdrasill). It grew at the center of a place called Midgard (Gen. 2:9), where Odin had formed and placed the first human pair Askr and Embla. He imbued them with life and gave them spirit with his breath (Gen. 2:7). Here also could be found the Norse archetype of evil, a serpent called the Midgard serpent (Gen. 3:1). Odin, foreseeing the trouble that the serpent posed, made it an outcast by throwing the serpent out of Midgard into the sea, where it grew and grew until it encompassed the entire world (Rev. 12:9). The first born son of Odin, Thor (Torah?) is destined, at the end of time, to destroy the Midgard serpent and sacrifice his own life in the act (Gen. 3:15). This is the outline of a very familiar story indeed, one that could easily be derived from the works of Moses.
At the base of the tree in the middle of Midgard is a spring that is divided into three heads (Gen. 2:9,10) one of which is called "the well of Ymir" it is the source of all knowledge (of good and evil?). Odin sacrificed one of his eyes in order to drink from it. Although the source of knowledge among the Norse was not the tree but a well, this Idea is not foreign to Israelite culture, consider the concept of "Miriam's well" as is outlined in Ginzberg were it is said that God made it on the second day of creation, and other Jewish Legends were it is said that the drinking of it inspired prophecies.
Furthermore, they had the motif of the fruits of the tree of eternal life. In the Prose Edda we read about a character named "Idun" (Eden?). Idun is described as a woman with a certain box within which she keeps the apples of eternal youth. The apples are eaten by the gods when they age to make them young again. The downfall of all creation is caused when access to the miraculous fruits are denied. The great flood is also a feature of Norse mythology. Odin killed the Giant Ymir. The blood from Ymir's wounds flooded the world (the blood of Ymir is explained in the myth as the seas.), and the Giants drowned. Only one, (a hero named "Begelmir"), was able to save himself and his wife, these were the ancestors of all later races. Also included is the symbolism of the rainbow. According to Norse mythology the rainbow (therein called "Bifrost") is the bridge between Heaven and Earth, as such it is the pathway between god and man, much like the Scriptural rainbow symbolizes the covenant between God and man (Gen. 9:11-17).
Just as it is in the Hebrew Scriptures, The Norse giants were not completely wiped out in the great flood of Norse myths. Nephilim, a Scriptural term, often translated as "giants" actually means something like "shades" or "ghosts," is very plausibly the origin of the Nordic term "Niffleheim " which is their name for the land of the dead. The usual term for the land of the human dead was "Hela" this was the Nordic equivalent to the Hebrew "Sheol," this was the repository for the bulk of mankind, the heroic dead went to Valhalla. However whenever a giant was dispatched it would go to Niffleheim (the world of the Nephilim?).
The racial features of the Amorites was depicted on the monuments of the Egyptians at Karnak. They were a tall people of blondes and brunettes with blue eyes. The Amorites were identified in the Scriptures as the descendants of the giants (the fallen angels). They had a sacred mountain that was the cultural focus of their nation, Mount Herman. It was the "Zion" (they called it "Sion" or "Senir") of the Amorites. According to Ginzberg's "Legends of the Jews" Mount Herman was the location where the Fallen angels had climbed down from Heaven to cohabitate with the daughters of men, ostensively the Amorite daughters. It was very probably the religion of the giants that is referred to in the Scriptures at Genesis 15:16 as "the iniquity of the Amorites," The religion of Moses stood in opposition to and superseded it (see http://www.britam.org/salverda/olympus.html).
In the Judeo-Christian continuum the giants began as the fallen angels who were bred into the Amorite nation. Later, when the Amorites were transplanted from the immediate vicinity, the giants devolved back into the fallen angels again, who would eventually reappear for a war against the good angels at the end of times. The Greeks, colonists from the Levant living far from the Amorites, portrayed the giants as leaders of a previous religious system that was defeated an exiled to the west by Zeus and the Olympians. When Olympianism took over the giants were pretty much out of the picture, a mere afterthought. However, for the Norse the "giants," as a national historical reality, continued to be an ongoing concern. The Norse had to live as neighbors with the remnants of the Amorites, the Germans (named for their original homeland in the shadow of mount "Herman"). Thus Norse mythology displays an enduring preoccupation with the giants unlike any other tradition. To them it was not the "spiritual" bad angels who had to be defeated, but the gods and the giants were at constant war, right up until the end of time, and there was no certainty of divine victory either.
Finally, as previously indicated, there is the notion of end times eschatology, not many religious systems include the idea that there will be an "end of times," an Armageddon as it were. This is a primarily Israelite notion, Christianity, an offshoot of the Judean religion, has it. Zoroastrianism (I would argue that it also is an offshoot of the Israelite religion, [see http://britam.org/zarathustra.html] has it. Muslims, another people of "the book" also have their version of it. That's about it, however, in keeping with the topic of this article, Norse Mythology has a very detailed end times eschatology, therein it is called "Ragnarok," the "twilight of the gods." At Ragnarok will occur the final battle of all creation, it is the culmination of the war between the gods and those giants from the days of old. At this time the rainbow bridge between Heaven and Earth, (the Norse symbol of the Covenant), will be broken to pieces. Also this is when the firstborn son of Odin is destined to finally destroy the Midgard serpent. This cannot help but remind one of the Judeo-Christian end times concept of war breaking out between the great leader of the host of Heaven and the fallen angels lead by the ancient serpent and its' destruction (Rev.12:7). From where did they get this notion? Well, I submit that they got it from the same source that all the others got it from, the Israelites, in this case it is a legacy of their Israelite heritage.
-John R. Salverda
New Series Also by John R. Salverda:
"Helleno-Yishurin. The Hebrew Origin of Greek Legends"
A list of Articles on similar themes:
Israelite Tribes Amongst Germanic Linguistic Groups.