The universe of culture has endless spaces with the most diverse beliefs and manifestations that have no beginning or end. And like many other mythologies, Nordic myths have their own value where one can find fascinating sources of knowledge to broaden their field of observation. And among the many stories of love, deceit, and war, the creation of man is one of the most interesting legends in Norse mythology.
Ask, also called Askr, and Embla are the Adam and Eves of Norse mythology, created by Odin and his two brothers, Vili and Vé, after assembling the world. They were the Norse mythology first humans who settled on Midgard (the world of men in Norse mythology.)
Here is an explanation of the interesting legend of Ask and Embla!
Origin of Ask and Embla
Between Nifelheim and Muspelheim
It is written that long before the creation of the Earth, two worlds existed:
- Nifleheim was a lonely land of cold and darkness to the south. It is said that in its center is the origin of all the rivers of the Universe.
- Muspellheim was a land of the fiercest flames ever seen to the north.
These two worlds would be separated by a great void called Ginnungagap. As it moved away from its source in the heart of Nifelheim, the Elivagar River began to freeze and form a growing block of ice in the heart of Ginnungagap. While the southern region of the Great Void was cold and dark, the northern region bordering Muspelheim was warm and bright. The flames reflected their light on the ice, which began to melt.
The Appearance of Life
The world is a flat disk surrounded by sea, in the depths of which live the world giants, according to Norse Mythology.
Ymir is the name of the first life form to appear in the heart of Ginnungagap, the ancestor of the giants. It is said that it was born from the melting of the ice near Muspelheim, taking advantage of the power of heat. Ymir gave birth to an entire civilization, the Ice Giants, placing him as a God creating life. However, according to Snorri, Ymir was by no means considered a god. He was the demon and all these descendants (the ice giants.)
Following the same process of creation, it is written that from the melting ice appeared Audhumla, a nourishing cow whose four rivers of milk flowing from her magpie nourished Ymir.
Snorri relates that Audhumla fed on the blocks of ice she found here and there. Their erosion brought forth a new man named Buri, who later had a son, Bor, who gave birth to three sons, Odin, Villi, and Ve.
Villi and Ve are very little described in Norse mythology as compared to Odin. However, according to Norse mythology, the three brothers were equals and the grand masters of the Universe, ruling the planet and the heavens.
The Creation of the Earth and the First Human, Ask and Embla
It is written that the sons of Bor (Villi, Ve and Odin) killed the giant Ymir. Transported to the heart of Ginnungagap, Ymir’s body served to create the world as we know it.
They created the earth from Ymir’s flesh and skin, sea and oceans from his sweat and blood, plants and trees from his hair, clouds from his brain, and stones from his teeth, and the celestial vault from his skull.
Odin placed a dwarf on the four corners of the skull to hold it in place. These respond to the name of North, South, West, and East. The earth was lit by the sparks emanating from Muspelheim. Placed here and there, they formed the sun and stars illuminating the sky and earth.
Across the oceans, the sons of Bor gave refuge to the giants. However, to protect the planet and maintain peace, they built a fortress between the Land of Giants (also known as Jötunheim ) and Earth. This fortress between two worlds was baptized Midgard, or Middle Earth (a name often attributed wrongly to the Land of Men).
Once the three brothers assembled the planet with Ymir’s corpse, they created the first humans, Ask and Embla.
Ask and Embla—How and When was Ask Created?
The legend of the creation of man is quite fascinating in Norse mythology. The Midgard made with Ymir’s body parts, became the settlement of the known world. There was everything on the planet except the human race as the settlers.
According to it, Odin and his two brothers, Vili and Ve, were walking along the shore one day when they found two uprooted humanoid-shaped logs. One was an ash tree, and the other the elm. The lifeless wood became their utter amazement, and they gazed at the trees silently when the idea of giving them souls arose. They decided to endow them with souls and turn them into living beings as the first of the human race on Midgard.
The first son gave breath and life to the stumps, while the second gave them intelligence and movement. As for the third, they gave them the gift of sight, hearing, and speech. From this man (called Ask) and this woman (called Embla) was born the race of Men living on Earth and protected from the giants by the walls of Midgard.
The theme of man’s creation from trees or plants seems to derive from a very ancient mythologem that we find widespread in myths from all over the world, even if often in different contexts. Let us briefly recall the Inuit myth of the birth of the first human couple from the pods of a pea plant or the Mayan myth of the creation of men from corn.
If in the Norse myth, Ask and Embla were born respectively from an ash tree and an elm tree, in Greek mythology, the men of the early Bronze Age were born falling like ripe fruit from the ash trees. Similarly, in the Iranian myth, the seed of Gāyōmarṯ generated a plant (Rheum Ribes) from which the first human couple was born, formed by Mašī and Mašanī, and they were so united that it was impossible to distinguish one from the other.
Difference Between the Creation of Ask and Embla and Adam and Eve
Although the concept of the first man and woman in Norse mythology is related to the first couple in the Christian religion, the way they were born and their source of creation is significantly different.
First of all, the characteristic of the Norse myth is that the first human couple does not derive from the earth, as in the biblical myth: here, it is the dwarfs, rather, who are born from the earth and mud. The first man and woman are created from two trees. Indeed, in Old Norse, the Askr is the ash, and the Embla is the elm.
While Ask and Embla were created from two independent trees, Ask from an ash tree and Embla from an elm tree, Eve was born from Adam’s rib.
Another significant difference is the stories of the two couples. Ask and Embla lived in the place from where they originated, while Adam and Eve lived in Paradise, from where they were expelled later for their sin.
The Creators of Ask and Embla-A Comparison of Triads
The creation myth of Ask and Embla is handed down in two sources: in the Eddic poem Vǫluspá and by Snorri in their Prose Edda. The most significant difference between the two sources regards the three divinities who intervene in the anthropogenic operation.
We know that a triad of gods is responsible for the creative acts that started the universe. The Vǫluspá initially speaks of the sons of Borr without providing any indication of their names and their identity. Later, when dealing with the creation of men, a divine triad is talked about formed by Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur. In this regard, the poem recounts that three gods, on their way home, found an ash trunk and an elm trunk on the ground; their names appear only during the act in which they transform the logs into humans, and are: Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur. The Vǫluspá in no way associates the sons of Borr with this triad. Within the context of the poem, two different groups appear to be acting in different contexts.
On the contrary, Snorri immediately informs us that Borr’s sons had the name Odin, Vili, and Vé and attributes to them the extermination of the primordial giants, the world’s creation, and the organization of the cosmos.
But when Snorri comes to narrate the myth of the creation of men, it does not mention names and speaks generically of the “sons of Borr.” However, Snorri himself had previously stated that the sons of Bórr were Odin, Vili, and Vé and attributed the slaying of Ymir and the creation of the world, then Ask and Embla.
Thus, rivers of ink have been shed to establish whether or not the triad of Vǫluspá can be identified with the one provided by Snorri.