Shed a Tyr for Loki

When I think of the Norse god Tyr, I can’t help but also think of Benedict, the brother of Corwin of Amber.*

When Benedict first appears in The Guns of Avalon, Corwin describes him thusly:

I fear Benedict…He is the Master of Arms for Amber. Can you conceive of a millennium? A thousand years? Several of them? Can you understand a man who, for almost every day of a lifetime like that, has spent some time dwelling with weapons, tactics, strategy?

In the Prose Edda, Snorri describes Tyr as the “bravest and most valiant and he has great power over victory in battles. There is a saying that a man is ty-valiant who surpasses other men and does not hesitate.” (This is from the Gylfaginning.)

Snorri goes on to write that…

when the Aesir were luring Fenrir so as to get the fetter Gleipnir on him, he [Fenrir] did not trust them that they would let him go until they placed Tyr’s hand in the wolf’s mouth as a pledge. When the Aesir refused to let him (Fenrir) go then he bit off the hand at the places that is now called the wolf-joint (wrist) and he [Tyr] is one-handed….

Benedict also lacks a hand.

I’m not suggesting that Benedict is Tyr. I’m just pointing out the similarities and, perhaps, the underlying influence.**

In Lokasenna 38-40 (Poetic Edda) which Snorri likely drew from, Loki mocks Tyr thusly (in Dr Jackson Crawford’s translation):

Loki: You don’t know how to settle disputes between men. I’m thinking of your right hand which Fenrir, my son, bit off.”

Tyr: I lost that hand, you lost that son. We both suffered loss. Your son isn’t doing well, either; he remains forever in chains waiting for Ragnarok.

This same passage reads thusly in the Bellows translation:

Loki spake:
38. “Be silent, Tyr! | for between two men
Friendship thou ne’er couldst fashion;
Fain would I tell | how Fenrir once
Thy right hand rent from thee.”

Tyr spake:
39. “My hand do I lack, | but Hrothvitnir thou,
And the loss brings longing to both;
Ill fares the wolf | who shall ever await
In fetters the fall of the gods.”

(Hrothvitnir = the Mighty Wolf = Fenrir)

Loki sounds kinda pissed off to me — as he does in all of the Lokasenna. After stanza 39 he goes on to further insult Tyr.

Tyr’s response in both translations, however, sounds even-handed (hah!).

All of the above is backstory and motivation for my characters — moreso for Loki because he has a POV. Tyr does not.

In the myths, Fenrir was chained because he’d grown gigantic and threatened the gods and the world — and it was prophesied that he would kill Odin when Ragnarok came. So they chained Fenrir up.

But why not just kill him?

I had to invent an answer for that in my book. Something believable.

And how did Loki feel about his kids getting cast out from Asgard by his blood-brother? (Odin also kicked Jormungand and Hel to the wayside.)

All of that’s some pretty key motivation right there. How did Angboda feel? What did she do?

Why did Loki end up getting hitched to Sigyn (his second wife)?

And since the myths can be read as Loki sticking around AFTER all this bad stuff happened to his family, then why did he stick around? And, maybe most importantly, what did he do about it?

I handled all those questions by looking deep inside a wolf’s belly.

 

 

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Note that the above picture is from this Pinterest gallery (I don’t use Pinterest). But, props to the artist found via this search. In the Chronicles of Amber the main characters — the royals of Amber — use decks of Tarot cards to communicate and/or travel through “Shadow.”

* Wait, you haven’t read the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny? Hie thee to an online bookstore now & buy the Great Book of Amber. It’s classic fantasy.

**Overall, there’s quite a lot about Amber that is reminiscent of the Norse gods and their ongoing battle with the Jotunn. I haven’t thoroughly researched the connections, but Zelazny has reportedly said that Amber was influenced by Norse myth, Celtic myth and Arthurian legend — along with a host of other allusions to philosophy (Plato) and literature.

Etymology note (b/c it’s cool): In his dictionary, Simek writes that Tyr is the Old Scandinavian name for the Germanic god of the sky, war and council. “Tyr” simply means “god” and is cognate with Tiwaz (Proto-Germanic; also means god) and also with Dyaus (Indian), Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Latin).

 

 

Rule Number Three

I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT!

– The Genie, Disney’s Aladdin, voiced by the incomparable Robin Williams

 

One of my big worldbuilding challenges was reconciling the multiple “realms of the dead” in Norse myth:

  • Odin, Valhol and the Einherjar: These are the humans who die in battle (often b/c Odin betrays them), are chosen by his valkyrie and are then taken to Valhol to “train” every day in preparation for Ragnarok.
  • Freyja: Half of those who fall in battle go to her, half to Odin. No explanation in the myths as to why. Her chosen dead reside in Folkvangr and comprise her own army. The Vanir fight with the Aesir in Ragnarok.
  • Thor: Accepts the dead “peasants” into his “realm of the dead” (the name of which escapes me, atm)
  • Beneath the Waves: Those who die at sea can sink into Rán’s cold embrace. She’s a goddess of the sea and is married to Aegir, also a god of the sea. I’ve transformed these two (Rán and Aegir) in my fictional mythology and made them fundamental deities.
    • As an aside, and according to the History of English podcast, the words soul and sea derive from a common Germanic root word “siwas” meaning lake or inland sea.
    • In later Germanic (southern & eastern Germanic) the word became “siwelo” meaning something belonging to lake; deriving from a lake. And that word eventually became our word “soul.”
    • I don’t know why, but this etymology makes me think of mist swirling above a lake.
  • Helheim (Home/Realm of Hel): Hel is Loki’s daughter by Angrboda. Odin kicks her out of Asgard along with her two brothers (Jormungandr and Fenrir). Snorri says that she rules over the place where the “dishonored” dead go. Snorri describes her as half flesh color; half blue (blor) but according to Dr. Jackson Crawford, it’s not clear that Snorri means she’s split down the middle half & half blue-/flesh-colored.
    • As another aside, Dr. Crawford and the History of English of podcast, both (separately) discuss the origin of the word “hel.” It comes from the Indo-European root “kel” meaning to hide or cover. Our words cellar, conceal, helmet, holster, hole, hollow all trace back to “kel.” But since I’m not a linguist (yet?) I’ll stop there.
    • “Hel,” then, started out as a covered place — graves, barrows, under mountains, etc. Over time, this concept became “Helheim” which Snorri describes in the Prose Edda.
    • Crawford says that the Old English Bible used “hell(e)” to translate “infernus” in Latin; while the the Gothic Bible used “halja” to translate Hades.

So with all these different types of “realms of the dead” I had to figure out how I’d use them. And, as always, my goal was to remain as faithful to the myths as possible.

My first step was to give myself some elbow room. My entire fictional world is an alternate version of our Earth and its history.

Next, I made my world “pre-human” meaning that my Aesir, Vanir, Jotunn, Alvar and Svartalvar have yet to encounter us — regular humans. This opened up some really cool (imo) possibilities.

We also meet my major characters (Odin, Hel, etc.) at different places in their mythological lives (ie, our myths). So, my Hel is not yet Queen of Helheim. But, my Odin has sacrificed “himself to himself” upon Yggdrasil. At the start of BK1 he’s maybe half of the Odin we know. He develops fully into “our” Odin by the end of BK3.

With respect to reconciling the realms of the dead, the major stopping point for me was that Odin and Hel are enemies. I had to figure out why and how Odin would cede power over the dead to her. I think I’ve figured out a pretty good rationale there which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t go into here.

In BK1 it was sufficient to hand-wave at the relationship between Odin and Hel because it doesn’t really matter and she doesn’t appear on stage. But in BK2 she does. And the antipathy between her and the Aesir (and Odin in particular) becomes a big deal.

Another aspect to the whole consistent realms of the dead dealio involved integrating that afterlife into the magic system. I needed reasons for why Hel and Odin could do things. And I needed a system for what happens when people die.

Some of the questions I had to answer include:

  • Do the inhabitants of my world believe in souls/spirits?
  • What happens to the spirits of dead people? What happens to the physical body?
    • The Norse believed in the hugr (spirit) and the hamr (body/flesh). This belief is integral to my magic system.
  • Are there differences in what happens to the spirits of the dead Aesir, Jotunn and Vanir? What about humans?
  • Why is Odin able to summon and interrogate the dead?
  • Why does Hel gather to her the spirits of those who have not died in battle? How is she able to do that?
  • Why does Odin send the valkyrie to gather (human) souls? How do the valkyrie do that?
  • Why do Odin and Freyja divide those human souls between them?
  • We know all this from the myths — or some of it, at least — but I needed solid narrative reasons. I also don’t have all the answers yet.

And speaking of bringing the dead back to life, I’m having some fun with the Einherjar. In BK1 they are all living men and women. So, that’s one thing I’m hoping is going to set off alarm bells for all readers who Norse myth — i.e., wtf, these Einherjar are supposed to be dead zomg!? And for those who don’t know who/what the Einherjar are, I’m hoping that what develops is a big, inevitable surprise.

But hang on tight, ’cause I don’t deliver on any of that till BK3.

Oh, the places you’ll go

Worldbuilding’s a necessity in any novel. Sometimes it’s relatively easy — e.g., urban fantasy (The Dresden Files). Other times it’s complex — the Stormlight Archives.

I put my world into the complex category for several reasons: I’m new at it, I’m trying to do something really cool “behind the scenes” and b/c applying consistent cardinal directions to Norse myth was basically impossible.

A few examples:

  • Yggdrasil’s roots go to different places depending on which poem you read. In one it’s Hvergelmir, Urdarbrunnr and Mimisbrunnr. In another, the roots go to where the frost “giants,” humans and Hel(heim) are.
  • Hel(heim) is often referred to as being in (or below) the earth — but those who go there never go underground.
  • Asgard was in the same horizontal plane as Midgard and what I call Utgard (while all sources call it Jotunheim). But Snorri placed Asgard in the heights of Yggdrasil, possibly to make it like the Christian Heaven.
  • The Jotunn are described as living in the east, past Jarnvidr (the Iron Wood), but some Jotunn are said to live in the north while others come from the south.

In my initial efforts to be true to where the myths said places were, I had everybody moving between different realms where realms equaled “planes of existence.” That caused lots of problems.

Then I thought that maybe everybody could live on Yggdrasil itself — that Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, etc., were the branches of the tree itself. I still kinda like that idea, but since I’m a giant nerd I would’ve had to figure out how the physics worked — I’d have spent way too much time doing that instead of writing.

Then I tried making the different realms equate to different planets. That didn’t work either. (But my magic system will, eventually, enable interplanetary travel.)

When I finally decided that each “realm” would be a continent or region on a single planet, everything snapped into place — events, plot devices, locations, the magic system, etc. Some of those things even got better.

I do still incorporate all of the many places in Norse myth, but where I put them may not precisely correspond to where the myths say those places are. I’ve also kept the fantastical elements — Yggdrasil being the main one. It’s a real, gigantic tree and my characters do ride down it to reach the Norns.

Other landmarks include the following:

  • When Odin and Hermod ride to Helheim, they head north…but magic is used, thanks to Sleipnir, and they end up on a landmass that’s actually south of Gladsheim (they’re on a planet, so they’re basically going up, over and down again…but not really, b/c magic).
  • In myth, the river Ifing separates the gods from the Jotunn. So, I slapped it down between Asgard and Utgard. Then, when I needed a town between those two realms, I created Ifington.
  • The river Thund is said to flow before Valhol. But, I’d read a translator’s note (Bellows, I think) that said Thund is better translated as “bay.” Thus, the Bay of Thund was born (the characters just call it the Thund).  As an aside, the body of water pictured on my cover is the Thund. The land across the bay is southwestern Utgard. Oh and Valhol doesn’t exist yet in BK1.
  • I put Vithi — Vidar’s land — to the west of Gladsheim. The town of Háls (Hill) is in Vithi and that’s where we first encounter Vidar. The forest of Arnheim (Eagle Home), along with a shrine to Aegir, lie just outside Gladsheim’s western gates.
  • Gladsheim is supposed to be one of Odin’s residence, but I made it into the Aesir’s main city. The river Silfr (Silver) flows outside Gladsheim’s eastern gates. That river’s my invention — I needed a quick, practical way for the residents of Gladsheim to get to the coast.
  • The Plains of Vigrid lie to Gladsheim’s east, across the river Silfr.
  • Other important places — Alvheim and Vanaheim — are far from Gladsheim, but close enough for it to make sense that the Vanir would’ve perceived the Aesir’s arrival as encroaching on their land (hence the Vanir-Aesir War). They’re also close enough for Freyr and Freyja to fly to Gladsheim on their boar and cat-pulled cart, respectively. Note that the Alvar primarily live in both Alvheim and Vanaheim.

 

A few other things: There are lands to the far west of Gladsheim that have been settled by other Aesir (Odin’s brothers). What we would call Midgard, and its people, haven’t been discovered by the Aesir yet, nor have I discussed the other major players (the Svartalvar and the Sons of Muspell).

 

Having slogged through all this (assuming you did) it may seem like I assembled my world all at the beginning and then started writing. That’s absolutely not what I do; I just make it up as I go and I only stop to worldbuild when the writing stalls — because I can’t figure out what’s where, or I need ABC in a certain place, or X is too far from Y, etc.

Then, I pull out the notebooks and work it out. Almost always that involves changing things I’ve already established — which means rewriting. And, quite often, it also means that the idea I had — the one that I stalled on — gets replaced by a better one.

 

Myth & fantasy fiction

This morning (when I should’ve been writing) I was instead reading this article. The author (Dr. Karl Seigfried) runs this site. And on his site, he has this transcript of a radio interview–which is also a good read (I only read his section).

One of the many points that Seigfried makes is that myth should not be interpreted literally.

Which is exactly what I’m doing. Mostly.

In my books, all of the following has happened (backstory), is happening (current events) or will happen (future). Which, coincidentally, is what each of the Norns represents: Urd, Verdandi and Skuld–but not in our linear conception of time. Much like many “early” peoples, the Norse had a cyclical view of time. Which reminds me of something the Cylons kept saying in the new Battlestar Galactica. And yes, that is how my mind works. Sad & scary.

Anyway.

Picking up the thought from above, “all of the following” includes (but isn’t limited to ;)):

  • Tyr sticking his hand in Fenrir’s mouth: deception or sacrifice? Humans/Aesir see it as sacrifice, but Loki and his family? Trickery. Deception. Who’s “evil” here? Who’s sympathetic? Tyr, the wolf or those threatened by the wolf (us)?
  • Odin sacrificing his eye at the Well of Mimir: Literally, that’s a gigantic ouch. Symbolically? Isn’t that what a “god” should be doing?
  • Odin, Vili and Ve murdering Ymir and creating the world from the bits & pieces. So, yeah, that’s not possible. But think about what it symbolizes. This is an example of where I did not literally interpret the myths, because my Aesir are not the gods we know (and my “earth” is not ours”).

As an author who’s taken on the (fun) burden of faithfully abiding by what happens in Norse myth, I’ve regularly backed myself into multiple different corners which all have a common theme: How do I inject motivation into the actions of the major players?

For some, it’s easy. Tyr sticking his hand in Fenrir’s mouth is a good example since that action can be interpreted in different ways by multiple POV characters. For Loki, it’s deception. For the Aesir, what Tyr did is heroic.

What’s tougher is Odin sacrificing his own eye. I basically have two “meta” choices–hand-wave it away as backstory or include it as current events. If the latter, then I have to get Odin into a mindset where he would believe that cutting out his own eye makes sense. And, while doing that, I gotta sell it to the reader — along with the whole shebang.

 

 

WoW, Norse Myth

Shockingly, I’m a World of Warcraft nerd. In past expansions of the game, I’ve enjoyed Blizzard’s integration of Norse myth into its universe — particularly with the Ulduar raid.

The most recent expac (Legion) dives back into Norse myth. So, I thought it’d be fun to note the few things I’ve seen so far.

  • Aegira: I play a monk. Aegira is integral to one of my quest lines & ends up being one of my followers. She’s a “brewmaster.” In Norse myth, Aegir had a cauldron (fetched by Thor from a giant named Hymir) in which he brewed mead for the Aesir.
  • Egyl the Enduring: Possibly a reference to the Icelandic poet/skald Egil (“Egil’s Saga”).
  • Fathnyr: Refers to Fafnir, brother of Andvari and Regin who, in Reginsmol, murders his father Hreithmar. Fafnir somehow became a dragon, as you do, and was subsequently killed by Sigurd in the Fafnismol.
  • Havi: One of the names associated with Odin in the Havamal. It means “High One.”
  • Helya: This is Hel, of course. In WoW, she’s the body-double for Ursula (yes, from The Little Mermaid) which is both weird, funny and not at all true to the myths.
  • Naglfar: The “Nail Ship” is made from the fingernails and toenails of dead men and women — cutting the nails of the deceased before they are interred means that fewer nails get to Helheim. Therefore, it’ll take Hel longer to build the ship. Once finished, Naglfar is the ship on which the dead, along with Loki and several others sail to Asgard at Ragnarok.
  • Huginn: “Thought,” one of Odin’s ravens.
  • Muninn: “Memory,” Odin’s other raven. He sends both ravens out at dawn to scour the realms for information; they come back at night.
  • Nithogg (and his brood): “The One Full of Striking Hatred,” is a dragon of death in the Voluspa. Due to drinking blood and eating corpses, Nithogg has serious halitosis issues. This dragon lives thru Ragnarok.
  • Odyn: Odin, the Alfather. In Legion, Odyn has a full, glowing beard of fiery hot magma.
  • Runelord Ragnar, Floki, Lagertha (fallen Val’kyra): All three are references to Vikings the TV show (History channel), as well as to Norse myth and sagas.
  • Val’kyr: The valkyrie are the “choosers of the slain.” Contrary to the image of beautiful spear maidens riding winged steeds, an older interpretation/conception suggests that valkyr were vicious, demonic creatures related to the disir (female spirits).
  • Vydhar: Found in a land “Filled with growing trees | and high-standing grass” (Grimnismol, 17), Vidar is a son of Odin — and one of my book’s main characters. In a jaw-dropping moment (mine, not someone else’s) I came across Vydhar in Stormheim. He’s a tree. My jaw dropped b/c in my BK3 I had Vidar turn into a tree. Once I saw that same idea in WoW: Legion, I ditched my idea and found another, better one. It’s better b/c it ties more directly to him as a character and what he gets up to. Saying anything more would be teh spoilerz!
  • Yotnar: Or Jotnar, which is the plural form of Jotunn. As a name for a dude, it’s a little silly, but so are gnomes dancing. In a good way.
  • Ymiron (the fallen king): Obviously a riff on Ymir, the Jotunn progenitor.

Many of those listed above inhabit Stormheim (Home of Storms) which also features a really cool, humongous statue of Thorim, I think (have to double check). One of the new dungeons is the Halls of Valor; it has a whole Valhol thing going on, including a glowing golden bridge up to where Odyn’s waiting for you to comb his magma beard.

Hymdall (Heimdall) is the first boss in the “Halls of Valor” dungeon which is fitting because he guards the main gate to the halls. He’s also a huge PITA. Fenryr (Fenrir, one of Loki’s sons) is another boss in that dungeon.

Anybody playing the game catch names/places that I haven’t included?

Progress?

So, I pretty much lost a week of writing — business travel, kid stuff, etc. It happens.

The little I did do involved further tweaks to Frigg’s story. Here’s the basics:

  • Kept making her more active & made that activity directly related to earlier plot events
  • Turned the new activity into a diversion for Frigg — i.e., things that happen to her cause her to look one way while the real threat is from the other direction.

Here’s how I have it the plots interleaved before the run up to the final event (Midwinter celebration):

  • Odin is in Helheim figuring out what’s going to happen b/c he’s summoning, finally, a dead seeress. You know, as ya do.
  • Vidar is in Utgard getting his butt kicked.
  • Hyrrokin is on the team that’s doing the kicking.
  • Hodir is on his way to Gladsheim to reconcile with his family.
  • Vafthrudnir is with his buddy, the High Chief of the Jotunn, getting the troops ready.
  • Frigg is figuring out that there’s a plot against her son Baldr’s life. ZOMG. However, Odin’s learning the same thing — from the dead seeress.

Which character has the real scoop? The reader knows. Frigg thinks she knows, but she’s wrong. Hopefully that creates some tension. Also, the reader doesn’t really know why this “major event” is happening or how it ties into the overarching plot. I hope.

Looking ahead, I’m 23 days from sending the manuscript to my editor. Tick, tock. Next week I hope to publish something more involved on the nature of the struggle between the Aesir and Jotunn, but we shall see!

 

Somebody’s watching me…

The guardian of the gods, Heimdall was born of nine sisters.

Can you imagine the guilt trips from his mothers? Ugh. Or his Dad saying, “ask your mother” and young Heimdall thinking “sh!t, which one?”

Exactly who his mothers were is unclear — they could have been Aegir’s nine daughters, but that doesn’t agree with other accounts that say the nine were Jotunn women. I prefer the Aegir’s daughter’s explanation; it’s simpler.

In the Voluspa and Rigsthula, Heimdall is called Rigr and was said to be the father of all mankind. Which is inconsistent with other accounts that have Odin, Lodur and Hoenir performing a similar function.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Heimdall guarded the Bifrost and that his senses (sight and hearing) are exceptional and that his abilities had a big impact on how my Jotunn society developed. Here are some of his other attributes:

  • His home is Himinbjor, which is near the bridge.
  • According to Simek, Heimdall may mean “the one who illuminates the world.”
  • His teeth are made of gold, so he’s sometimes called Gullintanni (Goldtooth).
  • Snorri calls him the “white As” (“As” meaning god or Aesir; I can’t help but think of the donkey…b/c I’m 12.)
  • His horse is Gulltopr (Goldmane) and his sword is called Hofud (man’s head).
  • It is likely that Heimdall was associated with the ram (the animal). The ram was a common sacrificial animal among the Germanic peoples.
  • Heimdall winds the Gjallarhorn, which can be heard throughout the world, to warn the gods that Ragnarok had begun. He uses his horn at the end of my first book ( but it’s not Ragnarok).

This myths also have Heimdall and Loki battling each other and — spoiler! — killing each other during Ragnarok. I leave the original reasons for this antipathy obscure (it runs through at least one other myth), but I do refer to a conflict in which Loki stole Freyja’s Brisingamen (a bejeweled gold necklace). 

In my book, Heimdall had a bit of a crush on Freyja, which she always thought was rather sweet. So, he used his amazing senses, found her necklace and its thief, beating the snot out of Loki in the process (they were both shapechanged into seals at the time).* Later, Loki had himself a double serving of cold revenge.

In my books, Heimdall is a non-POV character. He is present in multiple scenes, but is not quite the “god” described in the myths. Not yet. The antipathy between him and Loki also plays out “on stage” during Book 2 (which is not Ragnarok).

I ignore his portrayal as Rigr, the father of thralls, karls and jarls. But, I’m thinking there’ll be a fun opportunity in a future book to introduce that idea.

 

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And, yes, the title is a reference to Rockwell — classic 80s music.

*Much of the Heimdall vs. Loki story is pulled from a reference in the Skaldskaparmal portion of the Prose Edda.

Cult of Springs

No, not mattresses — the watery type. Ancient peoples worshipped springs by making offerings in, to or near them. The sea, lakes, rivers and bogs were also venerated — or at least places of sacrifice. For example, the bent/broken weapons of defeated enemies were often cast into bodies of water.

But, springs, lakes, etc., were also more than that.

According to the History of English podcast (Ep 24), our word “soul” comes from a much older word “siwelo.”

The words soul and sea derive from a common Germanic root word: siwas, meaning lake or inland sea. Eventually, this became sea in modern English. A later Germanic word (from southern & eastern Germany) was related: siwelo, meaning something belonging to a lake or deriving from a lake. This became our word “soul.”

The northern Germanic tribes had access to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. They believed that the dead lived at the bottom of sea. But, the southern & eastern tribes were landlocked; they believed that the kingdom of the dead was in or beneath certain lakes.

And consider that the original Germanic concept of “hell” was of an underwater kingdom of dead souls. Imagining this, I can’t help but think of the mist/fog that forms over a lake in the early mornings. Maybe ancient peoples saw this — most likely saw it — and wondered what it was  — i.e., obviously the place that housed the souls of the dead and newborns.*

Also note the prevalence of ship burials — either lighting the thing on fire & setting it adrift, burying the ship or arranging stones in the general shape of a ship. A ship was required to get to the land of the dead.**

In Norse mythology, the veneration of “springs” reflected (at least in part) the significance of the primary mythical wellspring: Hvergelmir. If you recall, it is the source for the Élivágar and, probably, Urdarbrunnr (Urd’s Well) and Mímir’s well.

The giant (Jotunn) of the sea is Aegir (literally: sea) is portrayed as a friend of the gods and he entertains them in his hall and, in the Hymiskvida, Thor fetches a cauldron/barrel for Aegir so that he can brew ale/beer.

In the Skaldskaparmal, Aegir’s wife is Rán by whom he had nine daughters who were usually identified as the waves of the sea. Ran owns a net*** with which she fishes drowned people out of the water; the drowned then go to her underwater realm (not to Hel or Valhol). So, she embodied its sinister side.

And, almost finally, the Voluspa mentions the Aesir having temples for worship. When I read that, I was confused. If the Aesir are gods, then who are they worshiping?

After a while, I had a light bulb moment. A little while after that, that idea grew into an entire religion practiced by the Aesir as well as some rituals I could use to inform that religion while lending some depth to my fictitious world (and giving a reason for certain characters to be where I needed them to be). And then, still later and spun a bit, that idea morphed into a religion for the Jotunn.****

Suffice it to say, then, that my Aesir venerate water and springs in a way that’s not so dissimilar from what I imagine what ancient Germanic peoples may have done.

As I researched my books, I also found myself more and more intrigued by what happened before — in Stone Age times and how those people, who likely spoke a language much closer to Proto-Indo-European than Old Norse, may have thought, imagined and behaved. Pushing back even further, I also began to wonder about possible, ancient Homo Sapiens interactions  with Homo Neanderthalensis.

And all that came from just diving a bit deeper into the myths and beliefs surrounding springs and water. And, like the Cylons, I have a plan for it all. But with fewer spaceships.

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* According to the History of English podcast, some scholars think that the “stork bringing babies” idea goes all the way back to the belief in lakes as soul repositories.

**Also, ancient Germanic/Norse/Icelandic folk believed that the dead lived on in their barrows. This is an interesting tangent worthy of another blog post.

***In the Reginsmol, Loki stole Rán’s nets to fish up gold from the sea. Didn’t quite work out like he’d intended.

***My Alvar and Svartalvar kinda do their own things.

The trouble with elves & dwarves…

I’m as tired of pointy-eared, nimble elves leaping from rock to rock above a raging river or walking atop drifted snow, as I am of gruff, Scottish-sounding, hammer-toting, gold-loving dwarves, as nimble with dishes and song as they are with axes.

But, much of our modern conception of elves (alfar) and dwarves (svartalfar) began with Norse myth. Actually, a lot of it goes back to JRR, but he pulled directly from the Voluspa’s list of dwarves for the names of his — including “Gandalf” which means something like “Staff Elf.”

Anyway.

My goal was (and is) to be as faithful to Norse myth as possible. So, knowing the tropes and knowing the (over-used) interpretations of elves and dwarves, how could I spin it? As usual, I’m not going to say directly.

However, here are some of my notes from Simek’s Dictionary on how elves & dwarves were portrayed/viewed in the various source materials:

  • Snorri equates dwarves with a sub-group of the elves, the svartalfar. Svart- means “black.”
    • There’s also the ljosalfar (light elves) which Guy Gavriel Kay uses in his Fionavar Tapestry.
    • And if you’ve ever played (A)D&D or read R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden series going the “dark elf” route is every bit as dangerous as Menzoberranzan.
  • Elves seemed to correspond to roles in religious cults while  dwarves were just other types of beings (usually helpful) with whom humans and gods could interact; the dwarves were not originally thought of as small.
  • Dwarves were typically portrayed as wise and skillful (e.g., smiths), as well as miners and custodians of treasure who live under mountains and in rocks.
    • Their magical powers resulted from them having technical ability
    • The weapons and devices used by the Aesir — Mjolnir, Gungnir, Skidbladnir, etc., were all made by the dwarves (thanks to Loki).
  • Alvissmal recounts how the wise dwarf Alviss turned to stone when the first ray of sunlight touched him outside his home’s protection (he got duped by Thor)
  • In Voluspa, dwarves were created from blood of the giant Brimir and the bones of the giant Blainn. But, Snorri describes dwarves as maggot-like beings living in the flesh of Ymir; they were subsequently imbued with reason by the gods.
  • The etymology of the word “dwarf” is obscure.
    • Some scholars say it’s from the Norwegian “dvergskot” for animal disease and/or the Old Indian for “drva-” meaning sickness or weakness which then leads back to an Indo-Germanic root “dhuer-” or damage.
    • But, other scholars have centered on the Old Indian “dhvaras” or “demonic being.” This leads to the Indo-Germanic root dhreugh — which then leads to dream (traum) or trug (deception) in German. In this case, “deceptive picture” would be closer to the original meaning of the original word.

My challenge was to incorporate much of the above while also putting an original spin on it. I think I’ve done that, particularly with what my Svartalvar can do & how they do it (and yes, I changed the “f” to a “v.” Crazy, right?).

Like Snorri, I treat the Svartalvar as a subgroup of the Alvar. Long story short, two groups within the Alvar went through a disagreement which resulted in one group (the Alvar) allying themselves the Vanir. The other group, the Svartalvar, did not.

I frequently allude to the Svartalvar in my first book, but they don’t appear till my second. In my third book (and beyond), they take center stage with several POV characters. Large portions of those future books have been written, but I keep having ideas on how I can further differentiate my Svartalvar and Alvar cultures. Which is fun.

I’m actually chompin’ on the bit to get to those future books, but it’ll be a while — years, most likely — before I do.

11 Rivers…

Eleven rivers — the Élivágar — spring from Hvergelmir and flow through all the Nine Realms. They are the:

  • Svol: the “cool one”
  • Gunnthra: “battle groove”
  • Fjorm: “the one in a hurry”
  • Fimbulthul: “might speaker”
  • Slídr: “dangerously sharp”; according to Snorri, this river flows thru Helheim
  • Hríd: “stormy weather, tempest”
  • Sylgr: “devourer”
  • Ylgr: “she wolf”
  • Vid: “the broad one”
  • Leiptr: “lightening”
  • Gjoll: “loud noise”; Snorri also puts this river in the underworld; the Gjallerbrú bridges it. That bridge is guarded by Módgudr (furious battle). According to Simek, she may be one of Snorri’s additions to the myths.

These rivers have been integral to my story since the very beginning. And just a couple days ago, I thought of a whole new twist on them that should solve a few worldbuildy issues. Note that Simek says a more accurate view/definition of Élivágar is that it is the name for the “proto-sea”that surrounds the world. They’re not necessarily incompatible definitions.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve used some of the rivers:

  • Vidar rests for a time beside the Svol; this happens in Book Two
  • In Book One, Odin harvests magic from the Slídr
  • In Book Two, Hermod speaks with Módgudr before crossing the Gjoll — that was a neat scene to write, particularly since I have the Ships of the Dead dock at the mouth of the Gjoll. A group of the dead cross into Helheim at the same time Hermod does. I’m using that as a way to make Hermod’s journey cool, reinforce some worldbuildy stuff and show the difference between her and her father (Odin).

In Book Three, the rivers take on a more central role. But by then, a great deal of time in the narrative will have passed and my POV characters are mostly new.

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*I mostly use Simek’s definitions/translations of the rivers