Digital painting of the Norse gods on a foggy shoreline with Yggdrasil in the background, as they give life to the first humans.

Norse Myth: Creation of Man and Woman

In the Norse myth of the creation of man and woman, Odin and his two brothers walk along the shore after killing Ymir, and using his body to create Midgard. They see two pieces of driftwood. Odin’s brothers are identified as either Vili and Ve, according to Snorri Sturluson, or Lothurr and Honir, with sources varying on their names. The brothers are mysterious and rarely mentioned in other myths.

Ash and Elm

These pieces of wood are “Askr,” the Norse word for “ash tree” and “Embla,” which may mean “elm tree” but is not the usual word used for that tree. “Embla” might also mean “water pot” or “vine,” with the latter meaning having more sexual overtones as the vine could be drilled by the hardwood ash to create fire. Significantly, humans are created from ash wood, the same material that forms Yggdrasil.

Odin, Vili, and Ve

The gods recognize what hides in the driftwood and sculpt man from the ash and woman from the elm. Odin breathes life into their forms, but they are still trapped within the wood. Ve bestows the gifts of sight and speech, shaping their eyes, mouths, and faces. Vili gives them intelligence and movement, so they can shake off the wood that surrounds them, physically and metaphorically. Ash and Elm use their gifts to name the things of the world. Humans will descend from these two people, and later, Heimdall, in the form of Rig, will create the human class system as the Vikings knew it.

Adam and Eve

Drawing parallels between Ash and Elm, the first man and woman in Norse myth, with Adam and Eve from the Bible is fascinating. After all, their names start with the same first letters. A lonely God or gods sculpt them from raw materials. Odin and his brothers create Ash and Elm from wood; God uses clay for Adam and Eve. A god breathes life into them, the God of the Bible on one side and Odin on the other. In both belief systems, the humans are responsible for giving names to things of the world.

Biblical Similarities

These similarities may be coincidences, or they could’ve been inserted into the story by Snorri Sturluson, an astute politician and collector of Norse myths. Sturluson lived in a time when appeasing the Christian church was crucial to avoid excommunication and secure political power. Anyone who wanted to attain any sort of power had to remain in good standing with church as well.

Snorri was someone who wanted to attain power, and he did. By creating stories that aligned with Christian beliefs, Snorri could be seen as someone who was helping those who still believed in the Norse religions come to terms with the “new” religion in much the same way that the Christian adoption of the pagan mid-winter holidays eased the transition from paganism to Christianity.

Sources: Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price, 2022.

How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island by Egill Bjarnason, 2021.

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