Sunday, 23 September 2012

Bifrost

Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods (New York, 1999) is a biographical novel in that it recounts a man's life from infancy to death. The framing sequence in its opening and closing Chapters, I and XXXV, summarises much of Norse mythology and reveals to Anderson's readers that the man Hadding whose life and death are recounted in Chapters II-XXXIV is an incarnation of the god, Njord. By sacrificing himself to Odin in Chapter XXXIV, Hadding has resolved a renewed conflict between two divine races, Odin's Aesir and Njord's Vanir. Now, they will face the end of all things together.

At the very end of the novel, Odin and Njord are about to walk up the rainbow to Asgard. Odin relates what a spaewife told him:

" 'When the new world arises from the sea and Baldr returns from the dead, you will be there to help build its peace.' " (p. 298)

A myth of universal peace following a cosmic dissolution - although Odin and Thor will not return. Myths recognise death and renewal but this myth also recognises that some deaths at least are permanent. When Fenris Wolf swallows Odin and a son of Odin avenges his father by placing a foot on the Wolf's lower jaw, seizing the upper jaw and tearing the Wolf apart, it is plausible that, in an earlier version of the myth, Odin re-emerged from the sundered Wolf but that is not in the myth that we inherit. Norse mythology also uniquely includes a failed Resurrection. The gods' attempt to rescue Baldr from Hel was unsuccessful.

Sheila and I visited a surprisingly accurate spaewife in Northern Ireland. She smiled knowingly and clearly "saw" what she said because she insisted on it even when we contradicted her. In each such case, events proved her right. One of her sisterhood told Odin about the Ragnarok.

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