RAGNAROK AND REINCARNATION IN NORSE MYTHOLOGY

The world is full of mysteries and unsolved riddles.

European Origins

  1. The End of the World
    1. Before the End: Fimbulwinter
    2. The Great Battle
    3. Rebirth and Reincarnation
  2. Rebirth in Germanic Mythology

Rebirth is a fascinating concept that is usually associated with the religious beliefs of Asia and not with ancient European Mythology. But surprisingly, there are some mentions of reincarnation in Western Myth and Legend. Could this be an indication of an underlying Indo-European connection and a widespread belief among the Proto-Indo-Europeans? To find out, ironically, we will have to start at the end of all things in Norse Mythology.

The End of the World

Ragnarok describes the end of the world as we know it, culminating in the epic clash between Gods and Giants and the subsequent destruction of heaven and earth. Other than in popular belief, Giants in Germanic legends are not just humongous humanoids but vicious monsters like Jormungandr, the enormous snake that wraps around the entire world and…

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A BIRD AND THE MEAD OF POETRY

The red-necked phalarope is an extraordinary bird and a real wanderer between the worlds and above the sea of fog although it is not really big (length of 19 cms). The photo above shows the outlook during breeding, in autumn and winter the plumage will change to a simple white/grey. Quite exceptionally in nature the gender roles of these birds are completely different than normally while the male birds are breeding the eggs and also guiding afterwards the young birds while the female birds perform the courtship displays in order to attract the male birds and will as well protect the breeding site against external enemies.


Red-necked phalarope (Odinshühnchen) in breeding plumage,
photograph by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

The birds are breeding from May until July all over the Northern arctic and subarctic hemisphere including Iceland, Sweden, Finland and Norway. During the rest of the year the birds are staying scattered over the tropical and subtropical oceans but also at the coastal side of Patagonia and the Southern part of Japan. The German name is a bit unusual Odinshühnchen (meaning literally Odin chicken) such making reference to the Northern & Scandinavian mythology – one of its glamorous homelands in the circle of the year.

Odin steals the Mead of Poetry while being chased by Suttungr,
illustration by Ólafur Brynjúlfsson, 18th century

In the old European mythology ‘Edda’ the divinity Odin (German: Wodan) steals the Mead of Poetry in the shape of an eagle out of Suttungr’s cave. The Poetic Mead is a real magic beverage and, whoever drinks it, soon thereafter can recite any information and solve any question. While being chased by Suttungr, Odin spits the Mead of Poetry into several vessels. But the chase was so fierce, that some spits dropped backwards. Hence, anybody could now drink this part, and subsequently poetry was finally gifted to mankind by a single bird.


Birdwatching excursion led by ornithologist Derk Ehlert
on Poel Peninsula/Baltic Sea in August 2016

In Central Europe the red-necked phalarope can only be discovered rarely during their passage to the South in August when making a rest in the German coastal region, sometimes as well in Austria at Lake Neusiedl. So in August 2016 I was really lucky to see an Odinshühnchen during an ornithological trip to Poel Peninsula/Baltic sea in large distance to the shore on an inland-pond which is one of their preferred sites. Then you need of course a very good binoculars / spotting scope for such purpose and without an experienced guide who knows where to look you will never have such a seldom chance. During such trips sometimes you can only hear the multiple birds, so we must also listen to their polyphonic concert starting early in the morning because birds can tell a lot of stories of their global wanderings around our world.

Postcard by artistampex, Canada, 1984

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #49: Favorite Things