I suppose I could call this a section on Queer Mythology?
I still haven’t sorted it all out yet, so I’m going to start with a trip through my odd little brain.
Last night I was dreaming I was one of the Aesir and we were worried about one of our own, another Aesir named Buri. Thankfully, this powerful woman who claimed to be part Jotun / part Vanir brought him back, claiming she found him on the far boundaries of Jotunheim.
She was obviously head over heels in love with him and he cared for her too. The Vanir claim, we also easily determined, was a lie but a small one she was offering up so Thor wouldn’t kill her off-handedly (Thor, in case you aren’t familiar with the old lore, is often a stubborn, thick-headed jerk).
I ask to speak with Buri alone and end up determining that he’s dead. She found his ghost at the edges of Niflheim and had no idea. We all mourn his loss, especially since Ragnarok is coming.
I wake up wondering where Buri fits in the Norse pantheon. Turns out he’s the progenitor of all the Aesir, but in my dream Buri was obviously a grandson named after him.
This led me to re-reading the Norse origin story. Several times. Then several times again. You may know it. There’s an ice realm, which Ymir the frost giant comes from, and a fire realm when Surtr the fire giant sits.
A cow pops up and, by licking ice, comes up with the first god (Buri), who marries giants to give birth to the next generation of gods, which ultimately leads to Odin & his bros who kill Ymir and kickstart all of reality.
That’s the simple version.
When I read things I often get into the energy of being a -storyteller- at that time, trying to reach a mixed audience of men, women and children. I look for the subtle and the not so subtle. Having said that… here we go.
There’s Surtr. He’s a ‘he’ and he doesn’t do squat. He won’t until Ragnarok.
Then, there’s Ymir. Usually translated as neither male nor female. Whose icy blocks were licked by a cow who gave infinite milk to feed him, until, by her licking a god appeared.
Did you just say a “cow” with really nice tits licked his “icy blocks” until her actions gave birth to a god?
Now, there’s a piece of misogynistic crap right there.
I re-read it a few more times.
Then something clicked.
Yes, you’ve got the bawdy joke in there. Sure, the adults would be teasing about it. But here’s the odd point. Why isn’t Ymir just a male?
In the beginning, there was a force that was dark, wet, cold, implacable.
There was another force that was light, warm, dry, and active.
Their world was one where there was no balance, a yawning gap between them.
So the female aspect, reached out and mimicked the active across from it. It created Ymir, an intersex (and in this case, true hermaphrodite) to attract the attention of the masculine across the gap.
In this case, Ymir failed. Surtr (the male opposite) is going to be sitting on its ass until the end of creation, which will only happen if the might of the gods fails.
Understanding your opposite can often resolve who you are, so the second creation of female was, in fact, a female. Bountiful, beautifully breasted, and as thoroughly passionate as the one who created it.
How do I know? Look at the worlds from which the two sprang. Surtr is volcanic. A big, world ending bang every once in a blue moon but otherwise, it’s lava and burning and, while devouring, it’s not very passionate.
But ice. Ice on that magnitude. Ice moves and it cracks and it groans. It surges back in and recedes. It is moist and responds to your touch. It will devour you with its needs, yes, but in a way that will preserve you forever.
Ymir, from the standpoint of modern patriarchal structure is a he/she, but they’re wrong. She is a she/he and Her lover is Auðumbla. Her greatest passion is when Auðumbla licks Her icy blocks, which also reveals Ymir’s connection to the sea (a similar tale to the south has a horse goddess of the sea create the world from her foam).
From their passion, Auðumbla gets pregnant and gives birth to what Ymir truly wanted: an active male. Ymir, now understanding the process, gives birth to the jotunn.
The jotunn are interesting because they are not, as most people think, “giants”. Their name means devourers or giant appetites. They can -be- giants, of course, since that form reflects their needs.
They are the pure expression of Ymir getting it on with herself. This leads to Buri (Auðumbla’s son and first Aesir) getting it on with a jotunn’s, borrowing from his mother’s love for Ymir. Buri’s son, Bor, does the same, with his mate giving birth to Odin, Vili, and Ve.
Here’s where the queerness of the first relationship between an intersexed female-identifying being and a lesbian comes back into play. Vili and Ve represent strength and thoughtfulness. While important, alone, they couldn’t create the world.
Only Odin, who represented poetry and divine inspiration and all the weirdness that Ymir did could take on her legacy and start the world.
Which brings us to one of Odin’s most famous sons: the adopted Loki. Of all the gods, Loki is the only one who is known to fully shapeshift. Not cross-dress like Thor, or cast illusions like half a dozen other characters. Instead, Loki is all in, to the extent that when he wanted to protect his relatives, he got pregnant to help them. That’s some dedication right there.
What this points to is a queer thread that runs through the sagas. From the beginning of the world to its end, it’s queerness that empowers all of it. This was missed by the missionaries who came through, seeing only the masculine aspects that they wanted to preserve and minimizing the feminine.
If they’d truly understood what they’d been missing, they would have paid attention to Idunn and Alfar.
Idunn is best known as the keeper of the golden apples of immortality, but she’s also married to Bragi, who is notable in his lack of masculine traits. He enjoys poetry and learning to the extent that Thor teases him about how he’s not quite a man and even Loki only attributes one death to Bragi — that of Idunn’s kin.
There’s a story Thor tells about an elf (he uses the disparaging term “dark elf” or “dwarf” to show how much he despises him) who tried to woe Thor’s daughter. The elf would have succeeded, too, if Thor hadn’t cleverly distracted him until the sun crept up behind and turned the elf to stone.
Now, that could be a myth or it could be a story within a story. Sun being a play on son (Bragi was a son of Odin, like Thor), or the golden dawn being a kenning that drew a parallel to the golden mead of poetry (made from a dead god by evil elves, so it’s a double slap since Bragi is a poet and Thor hates elves).
But it is the only murder of a dwarf featured prominently and Loki does clearly call Bragi a slayer of Idunn’s kin.
Why is Idunn important?
The Celtic tradition, with its emphasis on female power, was ruthlessly eliminated by the Romans. There are rumors that at least some tribes believed in a sea goddess bringing the world out of her foam.
That land was discovered by three goddesses (representing England, Ireland, and Pictish Scotland) who chose from the people they took with them 3 men who were to serve -all- the women. The men couldn’t take it; one died, one fled, and the third got turned into a salmon. The goddesses and their descendants returned to the sea.
A couple of rounds of descendants later, the islands were populated by a sacred healer. This healer and their descendants fought against some archetypal creatures similar to the jotunn of Norse lore (related to the sea, ravenous appetites). When they lost, they split into several directions. The faction most directly connected to the sacred healer fled into the mysterious north.
When that faction returned, they were gods, under the name “The People of the Goddess of the Craft.” Modern people tend to call them elves.
Now, people tend to forget that creating apples with consistent traits was not a matter of simple gardening. It was a craft. Idunn must have had absolute mastery of her skills to keep those apples coming in the far north (even if they weren’t apples, but an herbal formula, she still had all the know-how to produce it on demand).
According to the only source we’ve got, the folks who sailed away into the north were all men.
According to the source we’ve got from the North, the elves were they’re own people. They married within their people AND married jotunn as well, a family line which later went on to be allies of the Aesir in Jotunheim.
The elves were not considered gods but they built crafts worthy of the gods… and their wisest was the progenitor of Idunn, she of the golden apples.
Of course, if you believe these people came from the south, then you know the people had the ability to shapechange.
A ship full of men becoming men and women.
In Celtic lore, when they returned, they were gods.
From the origin of the world of the Aesir to its end, from children with non-gender conforming behaviors married to craftsmen who were known to be shapechangers, there is a clear thread that shines out, in the feminine, in the queer space, in the joy where divinity refuses roles to expand and explore.