The Havamàl is part of the Elder or “Poetic” Edda, which is one of the primary written sources for Norse mythology. This excerpt from the W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor translation of the Havamàl contains Odin’s telling of how he obtained the runes and runic power.
Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows
For nine long nights,
Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odin,
Offered, myself to myself
The wisest know not from whence spring
The roots of that ancient rood.
They gave me no bread,
They gave me no mead,
I looked down;
With a loud cry
I took up runes;
From that tree I fell.
Nine lays of power
I learned from the famous Bolthor, Bestla’ s father:
He poured me a draught of precious mead,
Mixed with magic Odrerir.
Waxed and throve well;
Word from word gave words to me,
Deed from deed gave deeds to me.
Runes you will find, and readable staves,
Very strong staves,
Very stout staves,
Staves that Bolthor stained,
Made by mighty powers,
Graven by the prophetic God.
For the Gods by Odin, for the Elves by Dain,
By Dvalin, too, for the Dwarves,
By Asvid for the hateful Giants,
And some I carved myself:
Thund, before man was made, scratched them,
Who rose first, fell thereafter.
Know how to cut them,
know how to read them,
Know how to stain them,
know how to prove them,
Know how to evoke them,
know how to score them,
Know how to send them,
know how to send them.
Better not to ask than to over-pledge
As a gift that demands a gift.
Better not to send
Than to slay too many.
In the beginning was Muspell, the realm of fire. It is a place of dreadful light and heat. Only its natives, the Fire Giants, can tolerate its flames. Surt, a Fire Giant, guards Muspell’s border, armed with a flaming sword. At the end of the era, at Ragnarok, Surt and his companions will destroy all the Gods and and their world with fire.
Outside of Muspell lies the void called Ginnungagap, and north of Ginnungagap is Niflheim, the world of awesome dark and cold. In this world are eleven rivers flowing from a great well. The rivers are frozen and occupy Ginnungagap. When the wind, rain, ice, and cold meet the heat and fire of Muspell in the center of Ginnungagap, a place of light, air, and warmth is born.
Where fire and ice first met, thawing drops appeared. Beneath the melting ice lay a Frost Giant named Ymir. Ymir slept, falling into a sweat. Under his left arm there grew a couple, male and female Giants. One of his legs begot a son with the other.
The melting frost became a cow called Audhumla from whose udders ran four rivers of milk that fed Ymir.
After one day of licking salty ice blocks, she freed a man’s hair from the ice. After two days, his head appeared. On the third day the whole man was released from the ice. The man’s name was Buri. Buri had a son named Bor. Bor married Bestla, the daughter of a Giant, with whom he had three sons. Odin was the first, Vili the second, and Vé the third. Odin, in association with his brothers, is the ruler of heaven and earth. He is the greatest and most famous of all Gods.
Odin and his brothers killed the Giant Ymir. They carried Ymir to the middle of Ginnungagap and created the world, called Midgard, from his body. Ymir’s blood became the sea and and lakes. His skull became the cover of the sky which was set over the earth. Ymir’s brains were tossed into the air, and became clouds. Then sparks and burning embers from Muspell were placed in the middle of Ginnungagap to give light to Midgard. They named the stars and set their paths. Ymir’s skeleton became the mountains of Midgard. His teeth and jaws became rocks and pebbles. His flesh was ground into dirt in the great mill Grottekvarnen. Ymir’s hair became trees. Maggots appeared in Ymir’s flesh became Dwarves, who had human understanding and the appearance of men, but lived in the earth. Under each corner of the sky the suns of Buri put a Dwarf. The four Dwarves are called Austri (East), Vestri (West), Nordri (North), and Sudri (South).
Midgard was surrounded by an enormous ocean. Odin, Vili and Vé gave lands along the coasts to the friendlier Giants, the Etin, for their settlements. From two trees they created a human man and woman. Odin gave the man and the woman spirit and life. Vili gave them understanding and the power of movement. Vé gave them clothing and names. The man was named Ask [Ash] and the woman Embla [Elm]. Ask and Embla are the ancestors of all humans in Midgard.
Next they built Åsgard, the home of the Gods. In a hall named Hlidskjálf, Odin sits on a high seat from which he can look out over the whole world. Odin married Frigga, the daughter of the Giant Fjörgvin.
Yggdrasil, the World-Tree, the tree of fate, arises in the center of the Midgard. Its branches reach up over Asgard. The entire universe is dependent on the World-Tree. The tree has three three roots. One reaches into the underworld Hel, another to the world of the Frost-Giants, and the last one to the world of human beings. Beneath the tree is the Urda well, guarded by the Norns, the three Goddesses of Fate. Two other wells also feed Yggdrasil. One is called Hvergelmer, and the other is Mimer’s well. The dragon Nidhog lies in Hvergelmer and gnaws on the roots of the tree. Mimer’s well is the well of wisdom, guarded by the wisest of all beings, Mimer. Odin once gave his right eye for a drink of the water from this well.
The Gods built a bridge called Bifröst from Asgard (heaven) to Midgard (earth). They ride daily over the great rainbow bridge. Bifröst is guarded by the God Heimdall. Heimdall sleeps lighter than a bird, sees one hundred travel-days in each direction, and has such sharp ears that he can hear the grass and the wool grow. But as strong as Bifröst is, it will collapse when the when the Frost Giants ride out over it at Ragnarok. There is nothing that can be relied on when the sons of Muspell are on the warpath.
Gods & Goddeses
The Norse deities are divided into two major groups, the Aesir and the Vanir. The Vanir, the “Earth Gods”, symbolize riches, fertility, and fecundity. They are associated with the earth and the sea. The most important Gods of the Vanir are Njord, Freyr, Aegir and Freya.
The Aesir, the “Sky Gods”, symbolize power, wisdom, and war. They are long lived, but not immortal. Odin is the leader of the Gods, with magical skills. Thor, with his magic hammer, is the God of Thunder who presides over working men. Loki is a Giant who is an Aesir by adoption. He and Odin made a vow of friendship and became blood-brothers. Loki is a trickster, a shapeshifter, and a troublemaker.
In the distant past a fierce war was fought between the Aesir and the Vanir. The conflict between the Gods began when Odin and Thor refused to recognize the full status of Godhood to the Vanir. The Vanir sent a beautiful woman, Gullveig (gold-drink), to the Aesir, who tried to destroy her. She came back to life three times, and led to their corruption. War then broke out. After both sides were exhausted, each side exchanged members of its group with the other; the Vanir sent Njord and his son and daughter Freyr and Freya, the Aesir sent Mimir and Hoenir. The truce was celebrated by a meeting at which all the Gods spit into a bowl, creating a Giant called Kvasir, who is the sign of peace and harmony among the deities. Kvasir was later sacrificed and from his blood became a potent drink which inebriates deities and gives inspiration to poets.
Balder, one of the sons of Odin, appeared as the essence of intelligence, piety, and wisdom. Both Gods and men came to him to settle legal disputes, and his judgments were reconciling and fair. Balder had a dream in which his life was threatened. Upon reporting this dream to his mother, Frigga, she exacted an oath from fire, water, metals, earth, stones, and all birds and animals. They swore they would not harm Balder. Because of his immunity, the Aesir used Balder as a target in games, throwing darts and stones at him. When Loki saw this, he disguised himself as a woman and asked Frigga why Balder suffered no harm. Frigga told him of the oath. Loki tricked her into telling him that mistletoe was the only being that did not agree to the oath. Loki immediately took mistletoe and created arrows. He took the arrows to the Blind God Hoder, brother of Balder, and volunteered to direct his aim so that he would participate in the game. When the mistletoe struck Balder, Balder fell dead.
Because Balder was not a warrior and did not die in battle, he did not go to Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes, but into the domain of Hel, Keeper of the Dead. When Odin begged his release, Hel (Loki’s daughter) responded that if everything in the world both dead and alive wept for Balder, then he could return to the Aesir. If not, he would remain with Hel. The Aesir sent messengers throughout the world asking all to weep for Balder. All responded except a Giantess, Thokk (Loki in disguise), whose refusal to weep forced Balder to remain in Hel’s domain. The Aesir succeeded in capturing Loki. To punish him for his many crimes, they chained him beneath a serpent, which dripped venom onto him, causing terrible pain.
The Ragnarok, or end of the world, has been prophesied. When Mirmir no longer guards his well, Yggdrasil’s root will begin to rot. The Nidhog dragon will finally succeed in knawing through the root that ends at Hvergelmer well. The Norns will be alarmed at the pollution of the Urdh well and the yellowing of the leaves of the world tree. Odin’s sacrificed eye lies in Mirmir’s well and sees what is to come. He knows that nothing can stop Fibulwinter, three years with endless winter, which will be followed by Ragnarok.
The days will grow colder until even Urda well freezes solid. Storm and sleet will pound the World-Tree. One of Yggdrasil’s branches will break and fall, striking Jormungand, the world serpent, which immediately will let go of its tail. The Hel ship Naglfar will become visible in the mist. The wolves Skoll and Manegarm will get closer and closer to Sun and Moon, which they have chased for eons. Fenrir wolf and and the Hel-wolf Garm will break their chains. Giants will release Loki from his fetters on the mountain. Nidhoggr will leave the roots of Yggdrasil and head toward Asgard. Behind him will march all the Giants. Heimdall will see all this, and will take up the Gjallarhorn to blow the warning.
Loki will lead monsters and Giants to attack the Gods in the great battle of Ragnarok on Vigrid plain. The leader of the Fire Giants, Surt, will attack Freyr, who will be armed only with a deer’s antler. Freyr will stick his deer horn through Surt’s eye, but then Surt will kill him with his flaming sword. Thor’s son Magni will send a killing arrow toward Nidhoggr’s head. Side by side, Odin and Thor will fight Fenrir and Jormungand. Odin will put his spear, Gungnir, in Fenrir’s chest, but the wolf will crush Odin to the ground. Thor will kill Jormungand with his hammer, Mjollnir, but then will take nine steps backwards and fall down, poisoned by the serpent’s venom. Tyr will kill the wolf dog Garm. Vidar will take revenge for Odin. The enemies Loki and Heimdall will their spears at each other at the same time and both will die. Modi will be surrounded by Giants, but Magni and Vidar will rescue him.
The winds will increase and blow Yggdrasil from every direction until the great World-Tree falls. The Dark Elves forge will tip and the World-Tree will burn. The Bifrost Rainbow Bridge will collapse and one by one each of the Worlds will fall. The remaining Aesir will escape in Freyr’s ship, Skidbladnir. It will be almost taken by the Hel-ship Naglfar. Midgard will then be destroyed by fire, and will sink back into the sea.
This final destruction will be followed by a rebirth, the Earth reemerging from the sea. Seven sons of the dead Aesir will return to Asgard and rule the universe.
On the evening of the third day, I kneel down on the rug and carefully open the egg. Something resembling smoke rises up from it and suddenly Izdubar is standing before me, enormous, transformed, and complete. His limbs are whole and I find no trace of damage on them. It’s as if he had awoken from a deep sleep. He says:
Where am I? How narrow it is here,
how dark, how cool ~ am I in the grave? Where was I?
It seemed to me as if I had been outside in the universe ~
over and under me was an endlessly dark star-glittering sky ~
and I was in a passion of unspeakable yearning.
Streams of fire broke from my radiating body ~
I surged through blazing flames ~
I swam in a sea that wrapped me in living fires ~
Full of light, full of longing, full of eternity ~
I was ancient and perpetually renewing myself ~
Falling from the heights to the depths,
and whirled glowing from the depths to the heights ~
hovering around myself amidst glowing clouds ~
as raining embers beating down like the foam of the surf,
engulfing myself in stifling heat ~
Embracing and rejecting myself in a boundless game ~
Where was I? I was completely sun.
My God, I love you as a mother loves the unborn whom she carries in her heart. Grow in the egg of the East, nourish yourself from my love, drink the juice of my life so that you will become a radiant God. We need your light. Oh child. Since we go into darkness, light up our paths. May your light shine before us, may your fire warm the coldness of our life. We do not need your power but life.
Take your God with you. Bear him down to your dark land where people live who rub their eyes each morning and yet always see only the same thing and never anything else. Bring your God down to the haze pregnant with poison, but not like those blinded ones who try to illuminate the darkness with lanterns which it does not comprehend.
Instead, secretly carry your God to a hospitable roof. The huts of men are small and they cannot welcome the God despite their hospitality and willingness. Hence do not wait until rawly bungling hands of men hack your God to pieces, but embrace him again, lovingly, until he has taken on the form of his first beginning.
Let no human eye see the much loved, terribly splendid one in the state of his illness and lack of power. Consider that your fellow men are animals without knowing it. So long as they go to pasture, or lie in the sun, or suckle their young, or mate with each other, they are beautiful and harmless creatures of dark Mother Earth. But if the God appears, they begin to rave, since the nearness of God makes people rave. They tremble with fear and fury and suddenly attack one another in fratricidal struggles, since one senses the approaching God in the other.
So conceal the God that you have taken with you. Let them rave and maul each other. Your voice is too weak for those raging to be able to hear. Thus do not speak and do not show the God, but sit in a solitary place and sing incantations in the ancient manner:
Set the egg before you, the God in his beginning.
And behold it.
And incubate it with the magical warmth of your gaze.
HERE THE INCANTATIONS BEGIN.
Christmas has come. The God is in the egg.
I have prepared a rug for my God, an expensive red the land of morning.
He shall be surrounded by the shimmer of magnificence of his Eastern land.
I am the mother, the simple maiden, who gave birth and did not know how.
I am the careful father, who protected the maiden.
I am the shepherd, who received the message as he guarded his herd at night on the dark fields.
I am the holy animal that stood astonished and cannot grasp the becoming of the God.
I am the wise man who came from the East, suspecting the miracle from afar.
And I am the egg that surrounds and nurtures the seed of the God in me.
The solemn hours lengthen.
And my humanity is wretched and suffers torment.
Since I am a giver of birth.
Whence do you delight me, Oh God!
‘He is the eternal emptiness and the eternal fullness.
Nothing resembles him and he resembles everything.
Eternal darkness and eternal brightness.
Eternal below and eternal above.
Double nature in one.
Simple in the manifold.
Meaning in absurdity.
Freedom in bondage.
Subjugated when victorious.old in youth.
Yes in no.
light of the middle way,
enclosed in the egg,
full of ardor, oppressed.
dreamlike, awaiting lost memories.
As heavy as stone, hardened.
Streaming bright, coiled on itself.
Amen, you are the lord of the beginning.
Amen, you are the star of the East.
Amen, you are the flower that blooms over everything.
Amen, you are the deer that breaks out of the forest.
Amen, you are the song that sounds far over the water.
Amen, you are the beginning and the end.
One word that was never spoken.
One light that was never lit up.
An unparalleled confusion.
And a road without end.
I forgive myself these words, as you also forgive me for wanting your blazing light.
Rise up, you gracious fire of old night.
I kiss the threshold of your beginning.
My hand prepares the rug and spreads abundant red flowers before you.
Rise up my friend, you who lay sick, break through the shell.
We have prepared a meal for you.
Gifts have been prepared for you.
Dancers await you.
We have built a house for you.
Your servants stand ready.
We drove herds together for you on green fields.
We filled your cup with red wine.
We set out fragrant fruit on golden dishes.
We knock at your prison and lay our ears against it.
The hours lengthen, tarry no longer.
We are wretched without you and our song is worn out.
We are miserable without you and wear out our songs.
We spoke all the words that our heart gave us.
What else do you want?
What else shall we fulfill for you?
We open every door for you.
We bend our knees where you want us to.
We go to all points of the compass according to your wish.
We carry up what is below, and we turn what is above into what is below,as you command.
We give and take according to your wish.
We wanted to turn right, but go left, obedient to your sign.
We rise and we fall,
we sway and we remain still,
we see and we are blind,
we hear and we are deaf,
we say yes and no,
always hearing your word.
We do not comprehend and we live the incomprehensible.
We do not love and we live the unloved.
And we evolve around ourselves again and comprehend and live the understandable.
We love and live the loved, true to your law.
Come to us, we who are willing from our own will.
Come to us, we who understand you from our own spirit.
Come to us, we who will warm you at our own fire.
Come to us, we who will heal you with our own art.
Come to us, we who will produce you out of our own body.
Come, child, to father and mother.
We asked earth.
We asked Heaven.
We asked the sea.
We asked the wind.
We asked the fire.
We looked for you with all the peoples.
We looked for you with all the kings.
We looked for you with all the wise.
We looked for you in our own heads and hearts.
And we found you in the egg.
I have slain a precious human sacrifice for you,a youth and old man.
I have cut my skin with a knife.
I have sprinkled your altar with my own blood.
I have banished my father and mother so that you can live with me.
I have turned my night into day and went about at midday like a sleepwalker.
I have overthrown all the Gods, broken the laws, eaten the impure.
I have thrown down my sword and dressed in women’s clothing.
I shattered my firm castle and played like a child in the sand.
I saw warriors form into line of battle and I destroyed my suit of armor with a hammer.
I planted my field and let the fruit decay.
I made small everything that was great and made everything great that was small.
I exchanged my furthest goal for the nearest, and so I am ready.
However, I am not ready, since I have still not accepted that which chokes my heart. That fearful thing is the enclosing of the God in the egg. I am happy that the great endeavor has been successful, but my fear made me forget the hazards involved. I love and admire the powerful. No one is greater than he with the bull’s horns, and yet I lamed, carried, and made him smaller with ease. I almost slumped to the ground with fear when I saw him, and now I rescue him with a cupped hand. These are the powers that make you afraid and conquer you; these have been your Gods and your rulers since time immemorial: yet you can put them in your pocket.
What is blasphemy compared to this? I would like to be able to blaspheme against the God: That way I would at least have a God whom I could insult, but it is not worth blaspheming against an egg that one carries in one’s pocket. That is a God against whom one cannot even blaspheme.
I hated this pitifulness of the God. My own unworthiness is already enough. It cannot bear my encumbering it with the pitifulness of the God. Nothing stands firm: you touch yourself and you turn to dust. You touch the God and he hides terrified in the egg. You force the gates of Hell: the sound of cackling masks and the music of fools approaches you. You storm Heaven: stage scenery totters and the prompter in the box falls into a swoon. You notice: you are not true, it is not true above, it is not true below, left and right are deceptions. Wherever you grasp is air, air, air.
But I have caught him, he who has been feared since time immemorial; I have made him small and my hand surrounds him. That is the demise of the Gods: man puts them in his pocket. That is the end of the story of the Gods. Nothing remains of the Gods other than an egg. And I possess this egg. Perhaps I can eradicate this last one and with this finally exterminate the race of Gods. Now that I know that the Gods have yielded to my power – what are the Gods to me now? Old and overripe, they have fallen and been buried in an egg.
~Carl Jung, Liber Novus
I am the Holly King,
the dying Sun and King of the Old Year
Like the Phoenix who rises anew from its ashes
I too shall return, born anew
As the Child, the New Sun and King
I hold in my arms
He is my son and my heir
He is my Self
Having learned the wisdoms of the South
I now return to the North
To bring you warmth and light
And the promise of Spring
I am the Holly King.
Today we do bid Hail to our beloved Holly King
With these ancient carols, we do again sing
He who is called Father Christmas is returning yet again
As the Solstice’s longest night has finally begun
We await you, Santa Claus, Lord of Winter
To honor you on this day that you always were
Saint Nicholas, patron of children on Gaia’s sphere
This invocation, we pray you do hear
Come bless us, upon this season of the Yuletide
Great Holly King as you fly upon your sleigh ride
Whether your gifts to us be physical or spiritual
We know that they will always be most magical
Grateful, because we know your blessings’ great worth
We offer a blessing of our own — Peace on Earth!
by Ginger Strivelli
I consult You as You are all Knowing,
and I seek ability from Your power and I ask you for Your great favor,
for You have power,
but I do not,
and You have knowledge,
but I do not,
and You know all hidden matters.
If You know that this matter is good for me in my religion,
my livelihood and my life in the Hereafter,
then make it easy and bless it;
and if You know that this matter is evil for me in my religion,
my livelihood and my life in the Hereafter,
then keep it away from me and keep me away from it,
and choose what is good for me wherever it is,
and make me pleased with it.
Strange gods arrive in fast enemy poses.
Their shirts are soft marrying
cloth and hair together.
All along their arms ornaments
conceal veins bluer than blood
Soft lizard eyes connect.
Their soft drained insect cries erect
new fear, where fears reign.
The rustling of sex against their skin.
The wind withdraws all sound.
Stamp your witness on the punished ground.
~Jim Morrison, “The New Creatures”
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