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  • Ymir : History and Legends in Norse Mythology

    August 01, 2019 3 min read

    Ymir : History and Legends in Norse Mythology

    Ymir is the first creature in Norse mythology. He is a hermaphroditic giant who is the ancestor of all the giants and since several gods are also descended from the giants, Ymir is therefore also their ancestor. In Old Norse Ymir means Howler and in some Norse poems he is sometimes called Aurgelmir.

    According to the Icelandic Snorri Sturluson, the birth of Ymir goes back to the meeting between Muspelheim, the fire and Niflheim, the ice in the abyss of Ginnungagap. And Ymir is subsequently suckled by the cow Audhumia.

    The other giants were conceived on their own by Ymir in his sleep since he is a hermaphrodite. A woman and a man emerged from the sweat of his armpits and a son was born from his legs.

    Giant Ymir

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    Audhumla feeds on salt. And one day, from the salt, a being named Buri was released who is the first god Aesir. Then, he gave birth to Borr, his son, who mated with a descendant of Ymir named Bestla . And from their union is born Odin, the leader of the Aesir, and his two brothers Vili and Ve.

    The divine brothers subsequently killed Ymir, and they drowned all the other giants in her blood. Berlgemir and his wife managed to escape and hid in the hollow of a tree. The couple of survivors then gave birth to the second race of giants.


    The brothers built the cosmos from Ymir's corpse. With his flesh they created the earth and with his blood the oceans. Then with his bones the mountains and with his hair the trees. Finally, they create the celestial vault from his skull and it is supported by four dwarfs including Nordri for the north, Austri for the east, Sudri for the south and Vestri for the west.

    The larvae that fed on Ymir's body turned into dwarfs. Thus, the gods gave them a human form.


    Ymir is the embodiment of chaos before creation. For the Vikings, it also evokes the void of Ginnungagap. Like many peoples who consider "darkness on the face of the abyss" of the first chapter of Genesis, he is portrayed as a nothingness. Nevertheless, Ymir is the key element on which the gods were able to design the world. He was the basis of all existing things.

    Ymir's role in Norse mythology befits him, as he is destined to sow chaos. Indeed, giants are the forces of chaos, forever threatening conformity and tranquility. They even succeeded in overthrowing the order created by the gods during Ragnarök.

    Not only is Ymir described by this concrete scheme, but his death is also significant in mythology.

    Ymir creation of the world


    This also explains why Ymir is presented as a self-reproducing hermaphrodite. The gender distinction is still non-existent. The gods later created the difference in sex in order to assign forms to all that was previously misshapen and indistinct.

    There are many creation myths surrounding the hermaphroditic conception. As it happens, the Scandinavian creation story is similar with that of the Greek.

    In the Nordic poem Vôluspà, the act of creation is expressed by “Yppa” which means “to be born”, but also “to proclaim”. Thus with the poetic side of the name of Ymir, the Nords affirm that the gods proclaim the world by carving it into the corpse of the Howler.

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