Realm 1: Asgard – Overview and writing prompts, The Nine Realms, an ArtiPeeps Writing, Art and Music Collaboration 2014-2015

6 Oct

World Tree Norse

The Nine Realms

9 months, 22 poets and writers, 22 Artists, 3 composers, 1 Viking boat and a magical reworking of Norse Mythology for contemporary audiences

Asgard

(the realm of the warrior gods)

 

Vikings Ahoy!

Here we are at the beginning of October and into the first month of ArtiPeeps’ next EPIC collaboration. This month we are outlining the realm of Asgard and the deadline for all writing and poetry and mp3s for this realm is Thursday 6th November 2014. As soon as the poetry is in we will start posting it out on a weekly basis. 

These monthly posts will draw from a range of primary and secondary source materials and focus on selected gods, themes and stories that circle around the highlighted realm. They will not attempt to cover everything, and writers can embrace any other stories and characters within their writing which is not covered. Month by month we will be building our own magical, contemporary norse world whilst exploring the themes of POWER, NATURE and RELIGION.  The project’s overall intention is to embrace orality, translation, storytelling and rhythm all of which are inspired by the origins of the oral tradition of the Norse Sagas.

I may well put out little mini-posts intermittently focusing on orality and poetic form as necessary.  

What is presented below is designed to inspire, present basic information and offer a starting point for individual creativity within the project inspired by the themes, characters and spirit of the myths and stories.

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Asgard

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A brief  Overview of the Viking Cosmos:

 When Ymir lived long ago
Was no sand, no surging waves.
Nowhere was there earth nor heaven above.
Bur a grinning gap and grass nowhere

Voluspa-The Song of the Sybil

So the story goes,  Odin, King of Asgard set out with his two brothers to kill Ymir (a primeval frost giant made of clay). From Ymir’s body they formed the world. His blood became rivers, his flesh land, his bones mountains and his skull the sea. Four dwarves were sent to the four corners of the firmament, and the sun and moon in chariots were sent out to follow each other across the sky. 

Having made the world Odin seeks to fill it with beings. First came the dwarves, and then came people- formed out of flotsam from the seashore and he gave them a home-in centre Midgard. After human kind was taken care of they created Asgard, a place filled with huge halls and palaces. 

Asgard, reached only by crossing a bridge guarded by Heimdall, the divine watchman, is the realm of the warrior gods, known as the Aesir. The pillar of wisdom, which all norse mythology pivots around, runs through the middle of Asgard. It is the centre of Wisdom.

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Odin_with_Gunnlöd_by_Johannes_Gehrts

Odin

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The Aesir 

The Aesir gods are one of two divine families (alongside the Vanir) who live in Asgard.

Odin is the head of the Aesir- the All-Father (Ellis-Davidson: 29):

‘Then third said, ‘Odin is the highest and oldest of the gods. He rules in all matters, and, although the other gods are powerful, all serve him as children do their father….He is also called Father of the Slain [Val Father] because all who fall in battle are his adopted sons’ (Sturlson: 30, The Prose Edda, 20. Odin the All-Father)

Odin journeyed all over the world with two carrier ravens as companions called Huginn and Munnin (Thought and Reason). He also possessed a magical spear which guaranteed death.

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Odin_hrafnar

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Odin, roaming outside of Asgard, would often wander around Midgard dressed in a disguise as a tall grey-bearded man in a long cloak and hat. Odin was feared and respected, and would go to any length to acquire knowledge and sate his curiosity.  His quest for wisdom knew no bounds and in a story within Hávamál  in the Poetic Eddha he endured not only 9 days hanging from the Yggsdrasil (the tree of wisdom) but the piercing of his own eye with a spear all to gain the knowledge of the runes..

I wot that I hung….‘on the wind-tossed tree
………….all of nights nine,
wounded by spear,……bespoken to Othin
…………..bespoken myself to myself
[upon that tree…..of which none tellet
…………….from what roots it doth rise]

(Hollander: 36, tr. The Poetic Edda, Hávamál , The Sayings of Har/The Sayings of the High One)

The meaning of the story above seems to revolve around the notion of sacrifice: despite many lures being offered to him he nevertheless continued to sacrifice himself. Odin was thought, symbollically to bring success.

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Frigg

Frigg

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Frigg:

 Frigg is queen of Asgard and married to Odin. She is goddess of marriage and motherhood and has great powers of magic; she can foretell the future of gods and man. In many early religions, states Davidson,  mother earth often ‘appears as the wife of the supreme sun god’ (110). However, clear proof of the worship of the Earth Mother in Scandinavia is hard to find. The only truly maternal figure in Asgard, depicted in the Prose Edda, is that of Frigg.

In the Poetic Edda poem, Oddrúnargrátr (Odin’s Lament) she is sited as the goddess to be invoked during childbirth, and similarly  in the Völsunga as connected to motherhood as she asks Odin to grant permission for a couple to have children (Ellis Davidson ((131-132). In North-Western Europe the figure of Frigg has had a huge influence  with certain groups throughout the centuries and ‘their ability to determine the destiny of the{ir} new-born child[ren]’ (132) . 

May hallowed wightsbring help to thee,
Frigg and Freya……and favouring gods,
as oft thou warded…..evil from me
(and hastened hitherhelp to bring me)

(Hollander: 280, The Poetic Edda, Oddrúnargrátr )

Frigg figures consistently in the poetry of the Poetic Edda.  Her role as queen cannot be underestimated but she is often overpowered in the Eddas by the depiction of Freya (from the Vanir gods).

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Thor

Thor

.Thor:

 Thor is the son of  Odin and Jord (Earth), Living in a huge mansion with his wife Sif  Thor, the thunder god, possessed three great treasures: the hammer Mjollnir which could destroy giants and shatter rocks, a belt of power which gave him strength,  and iron gloves to allow him to grip his hammer.

Thor is the enemy of giants. There is the story of how he killed the mighty giant Geirröd by hurling back  a mighty lump of melting iron at the giant. 

You can find the Lay of Thor/Thorsdrapa here: http://www.stavacademy.co.uk/mimir/thorsdrapa.htm

Despite his antagonism towards giants he nevertheless had two children  by the giantess Jarnsaxa. Járnsaxa is also the name of one of the Nine Mothers of Heimdallr. who were nine sisters who gave birth to the god Heimdallr who possesses the resounding horn Gjallarhorn. The poem The Lay of Hyndla within The Poetic Edda contains the story of Heimdallr. Called The Song of Hyndla, in the Caolyne Larrington translation of The Poetic Edda. 

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Freya awakes Hyndla

Freya awakes Hyndla

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Thor was associated with the elements. He champions the Aesir and defends Asgard The cult surrounding him has had a long history in western europe. He kills with direction (unlike Odin and Loki). He kills with bolders and force. He is the god that travellers call to before setting out on journeys. Thor, it is said, can be trusted as:

‘Thor had done many great works, and had split rocks and shattered cliffs, while Odin gave men victory’ (Tryggvason, Olaf’s Saga cited in Ellis Davidson: 74).

Thor was the most popular god with 25% of the population in Iceland having his name as part their name. Iceland’s annual assembly opens on Thursday, his day.  Thor is a god who although reigned omnipotently is associated with equality across all walks of life from craftsperson to aristocrat. (Allan: 51).

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Thor's Hammer

Thor’s Hammer

 

.Loki:

Was the child of giants and lived in Asgard, and is known for his mischievousness and trickery. He gained entry into Asgard by befriending Odin. Odin and Loki were blood brothers. Snori Sturlson (the writer of the Prose Edda) calls Loki ‘the slander bearer of the Aesir, the promoter of deceipt’ (Allan: 54) .  He ‘ was the cause of many things’ (Sturluson: 69). Loki was also known for his ability to change shape and sex.

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Loki 2

 

The stories around Loki usually consist of him getting some sort of punishment. For instance, nearly having his lips sewn up as punishment for a lost bet. It is a fitting comeuppance for a smooth talker (54). However, he has also saved Asgard- when a giant demanded that he should have the sun, the moon and Freya in payment for building a wall around Asgard (54).  He saved the day by confusing the giant by turning himself into a stallion to distract the mare of the ogre. Loki has two sides. 

From the pairing of Loki and the mare came Sleipnir,  an 8-legged horse. Loki’s children all had dark undertones. This showed in his other child with giantess Angrboða with whom he begat Hel, Queen of the Dead.  Loki also played a key role in Ragnorak (the doom of the gods).

An excerpt from the Edda poem  Völuspá (which contains the story of Ragnorak) can be found here. See video of a reading of the poem below. 

 

Themes and Relevance, Questions:

Power and its consequences. The questioning of leadership: Asgard is the seat of power, leadership, craft and justice. The qualites of its primary gods and godesses speak to that. The strength of Odin and Thor through to shapeshifter Loki represent a spectrum of qualities both good and bad, both mutable and fixed. It is interesting to think about the dynamics of force and freedom in relation to this.

The questioning of Knowledge/ Wisdom: Asgard has the root of Wisdom from the Yggsdaril tree running right through its centre, signalling its status as the focus of Wisdom. But often the actual behaviour of the gods does not seem to reflect this. What does this say about knowledge? 

The Force of Creation and Mutability: Frigg, one of the few female godesses in Asgard seems to symbolically be there to juxtapose against the male gods’ acts of power. As a symbol of fertility and growth, she represents the other side of the coin. Different forces of creation and destruction rest side by side in Asgard. Loki also represents this through his shapeshifting.

 

Things of Interest:

On the Poetic Form of Norse Sagas: Alliteration, Kenning

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Norse_poetry

http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/meters.shtml

BBC The Viking Sagas

British Museum:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/cultures/europe/vikings.aspx

BBC Schools Radio, Thor and the Giants

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/subjects/english/viking_sagas/episodes/part_4

Voluspa Part 1/2:

Voluspa Part 2/2:

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Optional Poetry and Writing Prompts:

If you wish you can use the following poetic form for your poem:

The Brisbane Sonnet:  consists of two sestets and a couplet. The original sestet was based on the Hymnal Octave form which has a rhyme scheme of a.b.c.b.a.b.c.b. Two of the b lines are removed and leave a rhyme scheme of a.b.c.a.b.c. by adding another similar sestet d.e.f.d.e.f. and a couplet, g.g., this sonnet form was born.

For more information see: http://goo.gl/9dLg2l

Writing Word Prompts:  Shapeshifter, Twisting, Birth, Flotsom, Smashing, Discipline, Endearment, Quest

To confirm, the deadline for all writing, poetry and mp3s for the Asgard realm is Thursday 6th November.

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 Thanks so much for your interest.

References

 Allan, T (202) Vikings, The Battle at the End of Time, London: Watkins Publishing

Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1990) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, Penguin Books

Hollander, L.M. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Austin: University of Texas Press

Larrington, C. (1996) tr. The Poetic Edda, Oxford University Press

Sturlson, S. (2005) The Prose Edda, Penguin Classics, tr. Jesse L. Byock

 

 

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10 Responses to “Realm 1: Asgard – Overview and writing prompts, The Nine Realms, an ArtiPeeps Writing, Art and Music Collaboration 2014-2015”

  1. Robert Fitzmaurice October 11, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    Great source material Nicky

  2. adrianajgarces October 17, 2014 at 2:48 am #

    This is wonderful Nikki! I’m glad to have followed your blog here and hope to continue the enjoyment of your very special collaborations in Art.
    _Adriana

  3. nannus October 30, 2014 at 10:54 pm #

    By offering an eye
    To wisdoms well
    Near the trunk of the tree
    The inner eye opened.

    But dead and dark now
    The socket stopped seeing:
    Neither nine worlds
    Nor normal life.

    Mimirs memory
    Disappeared, dissipated.
    Lost lore is now
    The old ode of Odin.

    • nannus October 30, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

      Not to be taken too seriously. 😉
      Interesting project, I am curious what will come out.

      • ArtiPeeps October 31, 2014 at 10:26 am #

        Yes, I’m interested to see how the project evolves too. There are many more elements in this one, and the source material is very rich and broad. The poetry from the Viking participants is already trickling in. It’s exciting to see what is being created.

        I really appreciate your interest.

        All good wishes,

        Nicky

    • ArtiPeeps October 31, 2014 at 10:23 am #

      Thank you for sharing this with us! You can never have too much poetry on Norse mythology. 🙂
      All good wishes, Nicky

      • nannus October 31, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

        I don’t take this one really serious. I am not sure if this is kitsch or not. Somewhere at the border. 🙂

      • nannus November 1, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

        During the week I did not have the time or energy to write down my thoughts on this project. I think this might be more challenging then the Metamorphoses project. For Greek and Roman mythology, there is a history of reception in which it is used allegorically and symbolically. It is also a common heritage of Europe or the west in general. E.g. to understand Shakespeare, you need to know the Metamorphoses, Dante is based on Virgil, etc.
        Germanic mythology, on the other hand, was initially ignored and then taken up by and integrated into an ideological context of nationalistic and often racist ideology during the 19th and 20th century. E.g, Wagner, who based many of his operas on Germanic mythology, was nationalistic and Anti-Semitic. This interpretational context of Germanic mythology continues to exist in some circles to this day. Many adaptions of this mythology are therefore melodramatic and kitschy. This is also true for some adaptions of such materials into fantasy novels and films as well as computer games. The ideological nationalistic use that has been made of Norse and Germanic mythology (and is still being made) makes it difficult to avoid associations in this direction. But it is worth an attempt to wrestle this material out of the hands of the ideologists and return it to the mainstream.
        In this sense, Odin’s inner eye might indeed have become blind and the memory of Mimir might have been dissipated beyond recovery. I am not sure it is possible to resurrect this mythology and use it to express basic aspects of human existence in a symbolic manner (or use it in any other interesting way) avoiding the connotations that have been grafted onto it during the 19th century and the first halve of the 20th century. Is it possible to write poetry based on it without creating kitsch? Using some formal elements of old Icelandic poetry, like alliterative verse and kennings, might not be the right direction (the result of doing something like that can be viewed above. I do not consider myself a great poet, but maybe it is unavoidable that such an attempt results in something that is maybe a bit ridiculous). Such forms might be used in poems of different content, but if it would be the right way here, I am not sure. My own attempt above might be seen as somehow self-ironic in this respect. Lost lore.
        One could try to just ignore history and start where the Icelandic masters of a 1000 years ago left off. After all the underlying material of stories is very interesting and some of the old poetry (I am thinking here of the Edda and especially of the Völuspá) is simply great poetry. Just continuing there might be naïve, but maybe, interesting poetry could come out of it. But maybe it would not work that way.
        The other way would be to make the history of reception of this material part of the topic. We would have to distance ourselves a bit from the material (one possibility is satire. Also think of the slightly ironic tone of Ovid who lived in a time where obviously, he could no longer take the mythological material he used completely serious). We would have to reflect the role this material has played in 19th century nationalism and 20th century Nazi ideology and include that reflection in the poetry somehow. I don’t know if that is possible. Or one could try to use some very modern poetic form (of a type that would have been rejected by the Nazis). E.g. think of paintings using topics from this mythology in the style of modern expressionists, i.e. of artists the Nazis would have regarded as “entartet” (degenerate). In poetry, one could use examples from the Dada movement and do something in that style, for example.
        Whatever comes out of here, I am curious how the challenge is taken up by the participants.

      • ArtiPeeps November 11, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

        Apologies for the delay in responding! You are 100% right this is a much more complicated project than Transformations. The material is rich, diverse and the stories sprawl all over the realms. To hold it in place and frame it is hard. Because of this I have been in contact with an Anglo Saxon PhD student in Cambridge, who also happens to have a keen interest in the Norse Sagas, and she is helping me choose the stories for the realms and will help me arc the poetry and writing at the project’s conclusion. She will also be helping out at the exhibition.

        I’m glad you’re curious! 🙂 I’ll be starting to post out the poems and writing on Thursday, which is exciting.

        Thank you for taking such a keen interest in The Nine Realms. I value it!

        All good wishes,

        Nicky

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  1. All the world needs is another blonde princess | the tenth muse - November 7, 2014

    […] Read more about the project’s scope and a brief overview of Asgard here. […]

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