Giants and the reliability of received mythology (from the Eddas, Snorri and Saxo)


The Gods and Goddesses of Odinism
Copyright © 1996 The Circle of Ostara
Published with the kind permission of the Circle of Ostara.
This article must not be republished or reprinted
in whole or in part without their express written permission.

There appear to be two main classifications of deity grouped together under the term “giant”: great creative spirits, and the powerful guardians of certain localities – mountains and rivers, for instance.

The first category is the most interesting to consider. Various explanations have been given for their presence in the mythology. For instance, that they are gods of the indigenous races who were superseded when our own race penetrated into their territories during the Folk Wanderings. This idea is invalidated, in our opinion, by the known fact of the religious tolerance, the granting of reverence, to the gods of the other people, which was part of our ancient pagan outlook. It is also invalidated by the internal evidence to be found within the Elder and the Younger Eddas and can be seen to be emphasised, if anything, by the distortions to be found in these remnants of our mythology. If we study the Eddas we find an immediate connection between our gods and the “giants”. In fact they are shown to be close kindred.

Odin is the son of the giant and giantess, Bor and Bestla, and it is from his grandfather Bolthor (Buri), another giant, that he obtains the magical lays of power. Tyr names the giant Hymir as his father, Frey courts the giantess Grith (Gerd), and so on. The seeming hostility between the gods and the giants, the tales for instance of Thor going about killing what are revealed to be his close kinfolk, is a distortion we will discuss shortly. For now, we can come to the reasonable conclusion that he giants are the old gods who existed before the advent of our own racial deities and who, in fact, gave birth to them.

The second category of giant, the spirits of locality, the guardians of the landscape, are to be found depicted mainly in the old Icelandic sagas and in Germanic folklore. We will consider them further along in this article.

Here we shall digress because we come to an aspect of our religion which must be thoroughly mulled over before we can continue. In considering the material presented below the reader should not leap to the conclusion that we are disregarding all our old mythology. Much of the poetry within the Elder Edda is both beautiful and powerful and shows genuine pagan feeling. However, even within this collection there are undoubted Christian interpolations and considerable mockery of our gods.

In the mythological remnants available to us, especially in the stories “collected” and written by Snorri Sturluson, we find a strange abnormality. It is a general rule in the mythology of undegenrate pagan peoples that the gods depicted in myth, unless they are evil gods, personify the highest and most heroic qualities valued by that race – courage, honour, self-sacrifice and so on. For an example we can go to the native peoples of North America, who are still to a considerable extent pagan and whose religious thought and ritual are available to us in a reasonably authentic form. In the mythology of the Oglala-Sioux, for instance, we notice an immediate contrast to much of the stuff we are told is our own pagan heritage. Whilst their mythology does not lack humour the deities are treated with reverence. Wakan-Tanka, their personification of the Great Sky Father, is given every respect and homage, their racial spirits (the Grandfathers, White Buffalo Woman, etc) are shown love and reverence. It would be unthinkable for them to ascribe attitudes of immorality to these deities or present them as being in malicious conflict with the elder nature spirits.

Another example is to be found in the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, which dates from about 300 BCE. In this we have a situation of conflict between two groups, as also occurs frequently in the Eddas. The treatment of the protagonists by the authors is, however, very different. In the Mahabharata the heroes, the Pandavas, regarded as incarnations of the gods, are depicted as the embodiment of virtue, courage and honour. Their enemies are clearly seen as the forces of evil.

We can see in this truly great epic a close connection from long ago with our own Aryan forefathers. During the time of the Folk Wanderings our people passed down into India, taking their religion with them. Our people are no longer in India. They neglected the need for racial integrity and have been superseded by the races native to that subcontinent. The mythology remains, however, and is a rich source for us in our search for our own lost folk beliefs. This epic, changed greatly as it must be by the folk soul of another people, can stir us yet. What lays of power, what tales of epic grandeur and soul-uplifting inspiration were once sung in the halls of Germanic paganism, now lost to us for ever?

Anyone reading the Eddas, especially those tales wherein a conflict between our gods and “giants” is depicted, will immediately become aware that something is amiss. In these stories our own gods are presented in a very poor light indeed. They are shown as having gained advantage by the use of chicanery, underhanded dealing and the breaking of oaths. They are shown as entering into contracts they had no intention of fulfilling, of betraying the rules of hospitality and as dishonouring the feminine sex. They are shown as indulging in the often gratuitous murder of their own close kin. They are depicted as beings of a lower cultural and technological level than the giants they overcome by nefarious means and as using crude violence if nothing else availed them or maybe just for the sake of its bullying pleasure.

Since time immemorial our people have had a deep reverence for the family as the basic unit of society. We have valued most highly the virtues of courage, honesty and the fulfilling of oaths. Before the advent of Christianity women were honoured as highly as men and the goddesses were regarded as being holy powerful as the gods. It is certainly very strange to read a myth supposedly written by such a people wherein a high goddess is offered as the wages for a job of work and then, by chicanery and crude brutality, a contract is broken. (See chapter 3 of The Norse Myths, Kevin Crossley-Holland.) In many of these tales our gods are shown as going off blithely to murder their kinfolk for the most trivial of reasons, when Tyr and Thor are shown to have murdered Tyr’s father in order to obtain a brewing cauldron, for example.

Time and again we find in these tales of gods and giants our own deities shown in such a light that an honest and virtuous person would be revolted by the depicted behaviour of these supposedly high and holy spirits. And yet we have accepted all this. These are amongst the few remnants of myth we have and we cling to them. But we must realise that these “myths” as presented by Snorri Sturluson, and the obviously similar poems in the Elder Edda, are poison and a great disservice, a deliberate disservice, to our gods and to our people. We know nothing of those Christians who doctored the Elder Edda but we know Snorri Sturluson.

Who was Snorri Sturluson? We are told that he was nominally a Christian but in reality an educated pagan, a statement we hotly contest. He was certainly a gifted writer and a man of political importance (see the Introduction to Crossley-Holland’s book, the section on “Sources”), but we believe that far from being any sort of pagan, secret or otherwise, he was a dedicated Christian and one of the first adepts in an art which has only been brought to perfection in the past half-century. This is the powerful low-magical art of disinformation.

In writing about our gods Snorri presented them in such a way that anyone seeking an alternative to Christianity would be decidely “put off” if he turned back to Nordic paganism. In these stories our deities seem to personify not fertility but crude lust, not courage but brute force, not intellect but low cunning or skillful trickery, and so on. Truly our beloved and honourable gods and goddesses are here depicted as the demons Christianity said they were. Depicted in a clever and oblique fashion, with more than a dash of genuine humour and a high narrative skill.

We must also mention Saxo Grammaticus, whose Gesta Danorum is a fruitful source for Germanic pagan myth. His work, which depicted the gods as depraved historical characters, is avowedly and viciously anti-pagan and as such is less dangerous than Snorri’s work.

All these stories may be distortions of genuine myths, twisted elaborations made by hostile and fertile imaginations. If so we will never know with certainty the real myth. If these tales are based in however distorted a form on old folk memories and mystical insight into ancient happenings in this and others worlds they are now unreliable as a basis for a presentday religion.

In the Icelandic sagas we have a clearer indication of the true relationship between human beings at least, and “giants”, the ancient deities of the countryside. These spiritual beings were depicted at times as being “evil” or at least inimical to human beings. For instance, there are stories of shipwrecked men being taken by trolls and devoured. However, they are also depicted as being friendly to humans and tales are told of them coming to the assistance of persons in trouble, saving their lives and sometimes as caring for them with great loyalty.

We can conclude that “giants” are ancient gods of the Earth and the life of the Earth and of various localities and landmarks of the Earth’s surface. That they still exist must be self-evident if our belief in the existence of shaping and moving divinity behind the manifestation of form is accepted. That some of these may be hostile towards the human races and the gods of these races is also not difficult to accept when we consider the terrible depredations which have been committed by human beings against natural environments and their inhabitants.

We must now go briefly to consider “giants” as forces of darkness – ogres, trolls, orcs and goblins, the dark elves of folklore. The reader must not delude himself into a belief that all that walks in the Worlds of Spirit is in the service of the forces of Light. Neither must he or she fall into the trap of equating the World of Niflheim with the Christian hell and seeing all its denizens as devils, demons and the suffering damned. (This is dealt with in the article on Yggdrasil).

There are dark forces at large in Midgarth, entities from the misty regions that lie between the Worlds, who have been called into the service of the “materialist” powers who control the peoples of Earth. Not evil in themselves, perhaps, these forces can be used by evil men to further evil ends. They live upon the sordid physical cravings, the greed, the loveless lust, the drug ecstasies, the sado-masochism and perverse sensation-seeking that sweeps epidemic-like through our cities. These essentially mindless but vampire-like entities suck sustenance from the turbulent emotions engendered when nation is set against nation, race and race, woman against man and workers against bosses. For all that they fight against the powers of Light and Life, however, it is difficult to equate these essentially urban forces with the ogre and troll of folk-lore.

There may well be, as mentioned above, spiritual beings hostile to humans. There may be other spirits of nature who have come to be feared by mankind without perhaps deserving their poor reputation. The following is offered for your contemplation.

We have identified the divine forces who shape the life-forms of Earth as the gods of those life-forms. Let your mind dwell for a moment on the idea that the races of dinosaurs were shaped by great beings, spirits who made them in their own image. Expand the concept to realise that the whole population of these great beasts was wiped out by some past cataclysm. Yet the spirits of their gods may exist still. Perhaps they walk the Earth and mourn their lost people. If a human with “sight” chanced to meet such a being, even if it was not hostile him, his reaction is not hard to imagine. We should not forget that in earlier ages the “veil” between the Worlds was not as opaque as it is now. It is certainly worth an hour’s meditation.

The “giants” are said to fight on the side of the destructive forces at the Ragnarok cataclysm. The spirits of locality, of mountains and seas, are sure to be involved in any reshaping of the Earth’s land masses. In fact much folklore and legend depicts what may be buried memories of such a past cataclysm when giants are said to have raised mountains, created rivers, hurled about great boulders and so on.

The old stories speak of the Frost Giants of the realms of Ice and the Fire Giants of Muspellheim. We speculate that these may be anthropomorphic symbols for the runic streams of “|” and “<“. It may be that spiritual beings are actually engendered in these streams of primal force. If so they must be fearful indeed to all the life-forms of Midgarth.

We come now to phenomena of a different nature, existing in the material World as we know it. There are places on the Earth where strange things occur. We do not mean places such as the Bermuda Triangle and its like but look closer to home. In the British Isles, for instance, there are certain localities that appear to either have an anitpathy to human life or to be in the habit of collecting human souls, such places as notorious headlands with their continous streams of “leapers”, or gorges in the Scottish Highlands which “call” apparently stable and happy people to jump into them. There are rivers such as the Ribble in Lancashire, said to claim one life a year, stretches of road (black spots) with far more than their share of accidents. What strange trolls are guardians of these places?

One further idea must be examined regarding conflict between our racial gods “giants”. These spirits of the woods and mountains appear in fact to have been driven from their homes by the advance of mankind. This may be part of the natural cycle of the Ages. While now they live at the edges of Midgarth in apparent exile it only requires a plague or cataclysm which would devastate the vast human population for them to return in full strength, to rebuild their old homes.

Once our folk were an organic part of the Stream of Life, living within nature and part of the natural world. With the deepening of the Great Winter and the ensnaring of our people in the dark doctrines of Judeo-Christianity, however, we set our strength against the spirits of nature and deemed it a virtue to “drive back the wilderness” and “conquer” the Earth. It is this conflict that is reflected in the mythology, the attitude that sees virgin forest as a “wasteland”. The Lay of Hymir, if not a total Christian fabrication, is not just an amusing tale of Tyr and Thor plundering and murdering for the sake of a cooking-pot but the story of human hordes ripping the mountains for the poison of a shiny metal.

It is for us now to learn once more to live at peace with these great spirits of nature. We must learn these hard lessons so that we or our successors can carry them forward into and through the Ragnarok and use them as the basis of a new beginning for our people.