on Jan 23, 2017
The timeline of Norse lore can be confusing to some. Many people ask general questions such as "When was the world created? When is Ragnarok?" to try and determine where we fall currently in the present. Related to that:As a Lokean, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is a variation of: "How can Loki can interact with humans if he is bound under a snake until the end of the world?", "How can Loki be freed from his entrapment?". As consisely answered by Gumpy Lokean Elder, "Lokis already free.Hes also never been trapped.Hes also trapped right now". Both of these sets of questions can be answered by explaining the concept of mythic time , which many heathens believe in.
Many different religions of the world experience time in various ways: as a linear progression, as a never-ending set of cycles, as a process of degeneration, and so forth (Lindow). We are more often used to seeing time proposed as a linear system. In some views, such as what some heathens hold, time is more cyclic.In this concept, linear progression repeats itself endlessly; each end is followed by a new beginning.
Mythic time is a concept sometimes humorously referred to as that "wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.Mythic time refers to the ideathat myths exist in a special, generalized time. This is different from the uniquely modern and predominantlyJudeo-Christian way we in the west usually conceptualize time and story (Long)
Time in the Lore
"Determining the time system of Scandinavian mythology presents special challenges because many of the sources were recorded by Christians, whose notion of time was linear and whose notion of history called for an essentially clear chronology" (Lindow). AsSnorri Sturluson's version of the Edda is often pointed to for new readers, it is important to note that aside from being Christian, Snorriwas also a historian, the author or compiler of a history of the Norwegian kings.
"A comparison of several Eddic poems undertakes a temporal review of major mythic events, and gives us an outline of mythic chronology [...] These poems are Voluspa, Vafprudnismal, and sections of Fafnismal and Hyndluljod [...] Voluspa offers the fullest and more explicit synthesis of major events from a diachronic perspective, which is why this poem commended itself to Snorri as the foundation for Gylfaginning" (Ross).Vafprudnismal then confirms and collaborates some of the sequencing of events proposed in Voluspa, though it offers variants to them. The timeline proposed in those main eddic poems divides time into several distanct periods, whose transitions are marked by significant events.
Mythic Past, Present, and Future
The events that occur in written lore can be divided as those which occur in the past, present, and future. This is further backed by the idea of the Norns: Urd ("Became" or "Happened"), Verdandi ("Becoming" or "Happening"), and Skuld, ("Is-to-be" or "Will-happen") (Lindow).
The Past :the mythic past refers to the things that had to happen to set up the world of the mythic present, which serves as the backdrop for the majority of the stories in a given mythology (Long).In the distant past, we have the creation of the cosmos from the void ofGinnunga gap.This was the time when Ymir was present, and Bur (the first of the Gods) shortly after. The movement from the distant past to the near past encompasses a move from a stasis between the two major groups of gods to a state of enmity (Lindow) or to be put more simply, was transitional when the Gods killed Ymir and created the world from his flesh. This also served as the time that dwarves and humans were supposedly entering exsistence, and when Loki was brought into the Aesir. TheGods need to be born, grow up, and assume their roles in the pantheon. The conflict between the Jotnar and the Gods begins to grow and take seed.
The Present : The present is the time when most of the actual myths occur and take place. While some myths do not need to be put into a chronological order in the mythic present, there are others which do follow after specific events. An example given would be how in Skaldskaparmal the gods wish to appease Skadi for the killing of her father Thjazi. She chooses her husband based on their feet and tries to choose Baldr, but ends up with Njord. This must mean at the time of that event, Baldr had not yet been slain. In another myth,Skirnir (Freyr's messenger) offers the giantess Gerd "the ring which was burned with the young son of Odin" (Lindow). This must mean that Freyr's marriage to Gerd occurs after Baldr's death. These give the mythic present some chronological structure.
Events that are considered to be in the "early" present include: the creation of the mead of poetry, the building of the wall around Asgard, Odin's oath of blood- brotherhood with Loki, and Loki's children (Hel, Jormungandr, Fenrir) being dealt with in various ways by the Aesir. Nearly all of Thor's myths take place in undifferentiated mythic present. Events considered to be in the "late" present include: the death of Baldr, and the subseqent binding of Loki.
The Future : The mythic future is often thought to be divided into two main "stages". The first would be Ragnarok - considered to occur in the "near future". During this,Surt will lead the forces of chaos against the gods, who will fall. The Sun and Moon will be swallowed whole. Chaos will ensue. Most, if not all, of the major Gods seem to meet their end and second-generation deities (such as Vidar, Vali, Magni, Modi, etc) inhabit the new world following Ragnarok. The second stage begins after that in the new world, under the ruling of the new Gods. The myth describes the new world as a fertile paradise.
The Cycling of Time
Though the events previously were laid out and explained in a more chronological order, as they are presented in the myth, the actual matter is more complicated. "Voluspa, st. 4, states that the creating gods lifted up the earth, and the poem is silent on the killing of Ymir. These facts could imply that when the earth arose from the sea after Ragnarok later in the poem, there was a cyclical notion at work. In other words, the cosmos might be formed and reformed on multiple occasions by rising from the sea" (Lindow).
Evidence of the presence of a cyclic element in the lore is "not as clearly articulated as the linear concept" (Ross) but is still present in few instances. Voluspa, for instance, presents descriptions of time in both a linear and cyclic order. Various myths also present direct contradictions of relative chronology.Eleazar Melitinskij and Kirsten Hastrup are two authors whomsought to distinguish the vertical and horizontal axes: the first manifesting itself in the world tree linking heaven and the under- world, and the second, in the disk of the earth on which Asgard, Midgard, and the worlds of the giants are located. Meletinskij argued that cosmogony and eschatology were distinguished by the axes and that this distinction had a chronological aspect. Hastrop described the difference as one of reversibility: Events on the vertical axis were irreversible, for they were fated; those on the horizontal axis were reversible in that the balance between gods and giants was so close (Lindow). Current debate still rages on about this, as another authorSchjedt takes on the notion of the eschatological or irreversible nature of the vertical axis and argues that it has cyclical aspects.
The simple: Time can cycle in upon itself, or things can be placed out of order, or things can be simultaneously true and untrue (Grumpy Lokean Elder). To me, I view mythic time in the same visualization I use to imagine wyrd: A spiderweb, with interconnecting nodes and variations. Some events are more chronological, where one node directly connects to another. Others cycle back, connecting to previous nodes or stretching forward to future nodes. So going back to the example of Loki: In mythic time, Loki is bound right now, but has also escaped his binding and ordeal, but has also not been bound yet, but also is never going to be bound. Several different states and variations exsist all at once under the concept of mythic time. Welcome towibbly wobbly timey wimey myth time.