Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indo-European Mythology Part 4

A description and comparison of how the cosmos is created through sacrifice in two different IE Cultures

           Within the Norse culture, creation starts from Fire and Ice. Niflheim, the fog country, was the first realm within the Norse creation. It was a cold frozen place. There was a well named Hvergelmir from which ten Elivagar, venomous streams, flowed. Niflheim lay in the north while a place of fire and light called Muspell lay in the south. Waves of stream from the Elivagar began to freeze into ice causing the venom to form into a frost. When the frost came into contact with the heat from Muspell the giant Ymir was born. From the congealing venomous stream came the divine cow Authumla. As there was no grass for Authumla to feed on she licked the salt frost-covered stones. One day as she licked them a man's hair was formed, the next day his head, the third day his body. He was given the name Buri. He soon had a son named Bor. Bor married Bestla, the daughter of Ymir's son Bolthorn. Their sons in turn were Odin, Vili, and Ve. The sons sacrifice the giant Ymir in an act of creation. From the body of Ymir, Bor's sons created the heavens and the earth in the yawning gulf between Niflheim and Muspell. From his flesh the earth was formed, from his blood the seas, from his bones the mountains, from his hair the trees, and from his skull the dome of the sky. From his eyelashes they made Mithgarth which would be the home of man. One day the sons of Bor was walking along a beach where they took two trees in which to form humans, a man and a woman. Each son gave a gift to the humans: the first soul and life, the second understanding and power of motion, and the third visage, speech, hearing and sight (Mortensen 19-24).

           In the Vedic book, Rig Veda, there is a hymn that is dedicated to Purusha the primordial being. He is described as a giant having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet. He is the only thing that existed in all of creation. When Purusha rose from the nothing, a quarter of him remained to become the land. From him was born Viraj (woman) and from her was born Purusha again (here I assume they are speaking of either man or gods, especially since the hymn then goes on to talk about the gods). The gods spread out a sacrifice which was Purusha. The seasons were created as part of the act of sacrifice; spring was the clarified butter, summer became the fuel, and autumn the oblation. They sprinkled Purusha onto the land and from his melted fat came all the beasts of the air, forest, and sea. During the sacrifice verses and chants were born (I assume this is talking about the creation of the Atharvaveda – the three Vedas). They then dismembered Purusha. From his mouth came the Brahmin (priest and poets), from his arms came the Kshatriyas (warriors and kings), from his highs came the Vaishyas (the merchants), and from his feet the Shudras (the servants). The moon was born from his mind; the sun from his eye, and from his breath came the air and wind. From his head the sky was formed, from his navel the space between, from his feet the earth, and from his ears sea. It was through this sacrifice that the gods set order to the world and cosmos (Ralph).

           In both the Norse and the Vedic cultures, we can see the sacrifice of a primordial being used to create order in the cosmos. I searched through many of the IE cultures to find others where sacrifice was the principle act of creation. Oddly enough these two cultures were the only definitive acts that would be relied upon as authentic based myths using sacrifice. In these two examples we see a being which is sacrificed by his descendants. From the body of the sacrificed all of creation comes about. Neither myth seems to reflect the act as being a violent sudden act of malice. Instead you almost get the impression that it was something that these two primordial beings understood had to occur for creation to take place. And in both tales, humanity is born during the process of the sacrifice. Though it occurs at different points in each tale we see how these two cultures saw man as being fashioned from the divine along with all existence. One other note I find interesting is that in both myths some type of cattle are part of the process which leads to creation. In the Norse it is Authumala but in the Vedic myth it is a much more subtle aspect. Clarified butter, also known as Ghee, is created from the milk of cows.
Post a Comment