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Creation and Food in Old Norse Mythology

Auðumbla and Búri - a Norse mythology image from the 18th century Icelandic manuscrip
Auðumbla and Búri – a Norse mythology image from the 18th century Icelandic manuscrip

Creation and Food in Old Norse Mythology

By Andrea Maraschi

Published Online (2014)

What we know about nordic mythology comes from the Eddas, two XIIIth-century texts which represent the written versions of very ancient oral traditions plausibly dating back to the era of migrations and invasions. One of them is a collection of anonymous poems (poetic Edda), while the other one is a prose work signed by the christian historian Snorri Sturluson. In the matter in question, the section entitled Gylfaginning (The deluding of Gylfi), featured in the prose Edda, includes a pretty detailed description of the creation of the world and of all living beings. Not surprisingly, as we can ascertain by reading the Bible and many other religious and mythological texts of the past, also in Norse beliefs food and fecundity were central elements in the origin of all things (not to mention the destruction of the universe).

But let’s just go back to Gylfi and his story.

Gylfi was a king of Sweden whose first encounter with a member of the Æsir (the gods of the Norse pantheon) was not exactly memorable. At least, he had the chance to realize how powerful they really were. As Snorri recounts, king Gylfi offered a travelling woman a piece of ploughland in exchange for her company, as large as four oxen could till in one day and one night. Unfortunately, he did not know she was the goddess Gefjun. She’d had four sons from a giant, four mighty oxen, and she took them from Jotunheim (Giant Land) in the north and yoked them to the plough. So strong and potent they were, that they literally cut the land and dragged it westward: Gefjun called her new island Sjaelland.

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