Post by Senbecc on Oct 26, 2006 12:37:03 GMT -5
Fehu (Feoh, meaning Cattle)
This is a rune of fertility which is also associated with fire. Since as we just learned a few moments ago, fire was one of the two elements of the creation process, the fact Fehu (Feoh) is the first rune is not mere coincidence. Equally it is linked with cattle which should now make you think of Audhumla and her nourishing and sustaining role. When we consider the meanings of the runes we must be aware that they are supported and influenced by a complex mythology which is foreign to us. To really know them we must be prepared to relate to the runes on their own terms.
The Prose Edda then goes on to describe how the first true man (Ash) and woman (Elm) are made out of trees by Odin. It also introduces the gods and their activities. Here fans of J.R.R. Tolkien may get a shock for on one page we find almost the entire character list of The Hobbit. Tolkien was a scholar of literature and mythology and borrowed heavily from Norse mythology. He took the story of the trolls turning to stone from Alvismal and the riddle contest from Vafthrudismal. Hence while the mythology the runes belongs to, is alien to us, we must also be prepared for the fact that it has influenced our culture in many subtle ways and much more than we may be aware
When the Younger Edda moves on to describing Yggdrasil there are a number of differences. The chief dwelling place of the gods is said to be by the ash and the tree's root now goes to heaven where before in the Poetic Edda it was said to be "over men". The Norns are no longer limited to just three and the subtle mechanism of Wyrd is no longer the key determinant in deciding when people die. It is more luck now depending on whether they meet a good or a bad Norn.
"The good Norns who come from good stock shape good lives, but those who meet with misfortune owe it to the evil Norns
After completing the description of Yggdrasil the Younger Edda lists some of the other important places in heaven such as Alfheim where the light elves live, and Valaskjalf (Valhalla) the hall of the warriors slain in battle
Gangleri continues his questioning and there are clear indications of how the gods are toying with him in their answers.
"A well informed man would not ask this. Everyone knows why. However if you are the only person so ill-informed as never to have heard, I'll admit it is better for you to ask once in your foolishness than for you to go on any longer in ignorance of what you ought to know"
Much of the material on the gods which is given in the Prose Edda has already been considered in Lessons 2 and 3. It also repeats some tales found in its predecessor. One story though concerning Thor's visit to Utgard-Loki is new and worth examining because of the insight into magic, the gods and society which it offers. Arriving at the stronghold the king challenges Thor and his companion gods to prove themselves worthy to stay.
"We don't allow anyone to stay with us who is not a past master of some craft or accomplishment
First Loki tries and fails in an eating contest. Next Thjalfi offers to outrun anyone Utgard-Loki nominates, but the gods do not realize that the king is a devious sorcerer using magic to deceive then, and hence Thjalfi also fails since his opponent, Hugi, is no man but Utgard-Loki's thoughts. It is left to Thor then to save the honor of the gods and he suggests a drinking contest. Utgard-Loki calls for his drinking horn to be brought forth.
"We consider it good drinking if this horn is drained at one drink, some men take two to empty it, but no one is such a wretched drinker that he can't finish it in three"
What Thor doesn't realize is that the tip of the horn is in the ocean so the tide refills it and hence he fails to make any impression upon the contents of the
horn after three attempts. Mocking him then Utgard-Loki suggests an alternative.
"Youngsters here perform the feat - It's not thought much of - of lifting my cat up from the ground"
Once again Thor fails, only barely managing to raise the cat at all. What appears to be a cat is in reality though the infamous Midgard Serpent which is coiled around the world. Finally the shamed Thor attempts a wrestling contest with the woman Elli however she too is not what she appears and no-one can beat old age.
This story is illustrative in a number of ways. Firstly it demonstrates that the gods are not infallible. Even a trickster god like Loki is capable of being duped. Secondly it shows the importance of life in the hall where men joined together in feasting and telling tales of their exploits. A man's status came directly from his deeds and the only way he would be known outside his own region would be by reputation. Hence the considerable shame Thor must have felt when Utgard-Loki teases him suggesting tales of his great strength were an exaggeration. Finally it indicates the areas of prowess a man could have which would bring him admiration such as drinking or physical skills such as running or wrestling.
The last thing Gangleri/Gylfi hears before the gods eject him from heaven is the list of events that will transpire at Ragnarok when the gods are destined to fall. We often refer in these lectures to the force of Wyrd in connection with the runes and the gods are themselves often one of the means by which Wyrd takes effect. However Ragnarok is proof that the gods themselves are not immune to it. They too must face the consequences of their actions such as murder and breaking of contracts.