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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

Hunger her plate, Starving her knife

For me, one of the most fantastical and fascinating things about Norse myth is the way it all works as allegory. This guy is Fire, and this guy is Wind, and this other guy is Frost, and this woman is Sea, and this woman is a Bloody Wave-Crest, and this guy over here is an Asshole.

...Literally. They're personifications, and they're also people, and both the personification and the personality coexist. It's a mythic, Dreamtimey kind of logic, nonlinear and intuitive and allusive, and that's all shored up by the way the language the stories are related in is constructed in layers and layers of metaphor, double and triple metaphors, heaps of them. Kennings of kennings. The allusion becomes the thing. The figurative becomes the concrete... but it never stops being figurative in the process.

It's indicative of a whole different way of thinking and structuring logic and perception, and its freaking fascinating.

Hel is dead, and her bicolored body is pale on one side and livid on the other, like a corpse that's lain long enough for the blood to settle. Her hall is the grave, her curtains are winding sheets, her bed is a byre.

...and yet, simultaneously, she is the goddess of the underworld, and reigns there, and all those who die of illness or in childbed or any way but on the field of battle come to her. She is Loki's daughter, and there's a metaphor there (death is the daughter of chaos) and yet Hel and Loki are both personages at the same time they are personifications.

This stuff suits the way my brain works. It's all about holding an uncollapsed wave form in your head. The cat is alive and dead; Fenrir is chained and he is howling the end of the world; Loki is Odin's blood-brother and he is his greatest enemy.

And the fact that all this stuff contradicts itself is just part of the magic. Considering how very little of the literature survives, we have no idea at all what we've lost.

This is not a tidy linear little mythosphere. It's a brawling mess of intentional contradictions and hard-drinking heros who may very well be villains the next time you meet them.

And oh, I love it so.

Comments

I didn't know that Hel is the goddess of the Underworld. Suddenly things make more sense :)
And if my comment doesn't make sense: my icon above is of Gina Torres playing Hel (Helen) in Cleopatra 2525, which is post-apocalyptic and has pretty much all the humans living underground. Hel is one of the leaders of the resistance, and actually *is* a kick-ass goddess of the underworld.

I didn't realisze the writer's of the show were that deep. I thought they just named her Hel because it sounded cool.
Remember, what we get is the literary version of oral literature. Odds are that many of the contradictions come from taking various stories which were consistent in themselves and consistent with other local stories -- and putting them all together. In the best-known version, there's also the explanation that the gods were really humans -- refugees from Troy and their descendants.

For another layer of oddity: in Padraic Colum's The Children of Odin, the preface explains that all this happened before Noah's Flood.
I think you are entirely misreading my post.

And yeah, I know about Snurri's gloss of Christianizing.
Ah, why I love specfic.
...because I'm thinking about Hel after midnight?
But the noisy neighbors just stopped honking things!
As written by Sturgeon
that's it, you two just broke (what's left of) my brain.

(was asleep, dammit, until one of the local dealers-of-substances-illegal decided to park under my window for half an hour, with his car stereo volume set on "wake neighbors up and rattle the dishes on their shelves" *grumble*swear* .me hates the first of the month in the inner city) (now it's settling down outside, and my cat wants me back asleep, but I'm too awake. grrrr.)

My favorite of those figurative-and-not things is that the Law is the son of a yammering 900-headed mother.

Ayep.
Oo. I dunno that one. *g* And yeah, ayep. Especially when you start talking about Things.

Or! It's also possible, with a completely straight face, to be the son of nine mothers simultaneously. Which is also a pretty good trick.
I always liked the stories where people made stupid decisions and somebody got to say, "Come the end of the world, you'll regret that." And be right. Frey's wooing of Gudrun, for example.

Also, I have a thing for Utgard, and Utgardaloki, just because, it feels like a whole story told under the influence of some serious hallucinogens. Or else, it's a crazy mashup of influences that no longer exist by themselves, so this bizarro story is all we can guess at of what came before. Story-archaeology, you might say.
Yeah. "You'll be sorry about that when we're all dead." *g*

The thing with the Utgard-Loki story is that you can read it as a narrative--a funky hallucinatory shaministic one, yeah--or you can read it as a straight allegory (Old age is stronger than any man, fire can eat more than even a god), but there's also a mythic narrative of warning about hubris [to jump mythologies for a minute]--there is always *someone* badder than you.

Even if you're motherfucking Thor of the Aesir. Be you the Thunder himself, you cannot drink down an ocean. Also, it's a wonderfully bleak mythology, with its wolves and ravens and ice and mist and bloody death and undead ships cutting undead seas.

Gorgeous stuff.

I love the bleakness as well. In grade school, we were forced to read Bowdlerized versions of various mythologies. I recall thinking "yeah, the Norse gods seem kinda cooler than the Greek ones, but really kind of similar".

Once I got my hands on some real books, it was a lot more interesting. No longer was Odin this cool father figure who sold his eye so he would have the wisdom to lead his pantheon: now Odin is a harsher, sometimes cruel, almost death god.

Ah, the Greeks had it easy. They just had to decide who to give golden apples to, and to remember to stay the hell away from all of the demi-gods if they were evil. The Norse had to remember to placate all of these cruel gods, while subsisting off of ice and rock.
At one point in college we would have long arguments about Pantheon-fights, and I still hold that the Norse gods would take about that | | long to utterly dismantle the Greek gods.
They'd be home in time for tea.

And they wouldn't even need to bring Heimdal.
Hmm.. there wasn't a major trickster in the Greek pantheon, was there? Yeah, that would be an easy match to predict.
Also, the giant glove that Thor & co. sleep inside before arriving, thinking it's a cave. Somebody badder than you, and way bigger, too.

Of course, the best part, for me, was reading Loki's barbs and realizing that, unlike the Greeks, the Norse folks could be unbelieveably undignified and ridiculous. Athena and Aphrodite never accused each other of flatulence!
Greeks don't fart. ;-)
Only in those farcical plays with the masks and the strap-ons. :->
You've never read Aristophanes...
And it occurs to me that was Dionysus. Greek gods not only fart, it's the only way they can get the best of mere frogs.
This stuff suits the way my brain works. It's all about holding an uncollapsed wave form in your head. The cat is alive and dead; Fenrir is chained and he is howling the end of the world; Loki is Odin's blood-brother and he is his greatest enemy.

Like I was taught the best ancient Egyptian art was-- the Pharaoh is successfully depicted as both alive and dead at the same time.
Have you met/read davefreer? He had been reading the Norse eddas and waxing, er, poetic about the kenning and the punning and the layering. You two might have a fun time conversing about Norse mythology.
Best icon evar.

Thanks for the heads-up.
It's the first icon that ever made me laugh out loud. ;-) So I stole it right away.

Dave writes for Baen, so you might have already run across his name. I think his standalone book A Mankind Witch incorporates some of the Norse mythology, and I know his next collaboration with Eric Flint on the sequel to Pyramid Scheme will have a lot of Norse myth in it.