Fire and Ice
Never trust a ruminant.
All of us came from fire and ice. Chaos and Order. Light and dark. In the beginning — or back in the day — there was fire coming out of a hole in the ice, bringing disruption, turmoil, and change. Change isn’t always comfortable, but it is a fact of life. And that’s where life as we know it began, as the fires of World Below pierced the ice of World Above.
Before that, there were no Middle Worlds. No gods, no Folk, no wildlife. There was only Order and Chaos then, pure and uncorrupted.
But neither Order nor Chaos is very hospitable. Perfect Order is immovable — frozen, unchanging, and sterile. Total Chaos is uncontrolled — volatile and destructive. The middle ground — basically, lukewarm water — created the perfect environment for another kind of life to emerge among the frozen Wilderlands and volcanoes erupting under the ice.
The Authorized Version goes like this, supported by the Oracle. From the meeting of Order and Chaos there came a giant being called Ymir, the father of the Ice Folk, and a cow, Audhumla, which licked at the salt that was in the ice and brought out the first man, Buri. From this I think we can all conclude that the cow was the primary instigator of everything that followed — War, Tribulation, the End of the Worlds. Lesson One: Never trust a ruminant.
Now the sons of Buri and those of Ymir hated each other from the start, and it didn’t take long for them to go to war. Buri’s three grandsons, the sons of Bór — their names were Odin, Vili, and Ve — finally killed old Ymir and made the Middle Worlds from what was left of him: the rocks from his bones, the earth from his flesh, the rivers from his steaming blood. His skull became the Firmament; his brains, the clouds; his eyebrows, the division between Inland and the Outlands.
Of course, there’s no way of proving this — let’s face it — rather unlikely hypothesis. All of the possible witnesses have disappeared, except for Odin, the Old Man, the only survivor of that war, architect and chronicler of what we now call the Elder Age and, as it happens, the only one (except for me) to have heard the fateful prophecy, delivered to him by Mimir’s Head when the Worlds were fresh and new.
Call me cynical if you like. But it all sounds a bit too convenient. The Authorized Version of events leaves out a number of details, which Creationists seem content to ignore. I personally have my doubts — not least about the giant cow — although even now you have to beware of how you express these sentiments. At one time, even to suggest that Odin’s account of things might have been metaphorical instead of literal would have resulted in cries of heresy and a good deal of personal discomfort for Yours Truly, which is why, even then, I was always careful to keep my scepticism to myself.
But that’s how religions and histories make their way into the world, not through battles and conquests, but through poems and kennings and songs, passed through generations and written down by scholars and scribes. And that’s how, five hundred years later or so, a new religion with its new god came to supplant us — not through war, but through books and stories and words.
After all, words are what remain when all the deeds have been done. Words can shatter faith, start a war, change the course of history. A story can make your heart beat faster, topple walls, scale mountains — Hey, a story can even raise the dead. And that’s why the King of Stories ended up being King of the gods, because writing history and making history are only the breadth of a page apart.
Not that there was much of that when Odin was fighting the Ice Folk. There were no runes to write with then, and nothing but rock to write upon. But metaphor or otherwise, this is as much as I believe: that the world came into being through Change, which is the servant of Chaos, and only through Change has it endured. Much like Your Humble Narrator, in fact, adapting to suit the circumstance.
The snow hare changes its coat to white to go unseen in winter. The ash tree drops its leaves in the fall, better to survive the cold. All of life does the same — even gods — turning their coats to suit the turning seasons of the world. There should be a name for that kind of thing — in fact, it should be one of my names. Let’s call it Revolution.