Page images

slew the giant Ymer, and the blood ran from his wounds in such abundance, that it caused a general inundation, wherein perished all the giants, except only one, who, saving himself in a bark, escaped with all his family. Then a new world was formed. The sons of Bor, or the gods, dragged the body of the giant into the abyss, and of it made the earth: the sea and rivers were composed of his blood; the earth of his flesh; the great mountains of his bones; the rocks of his teeth and of the splinters of his smashed bones. Of his skull they formed the vault of heaven, which is supported by four dwarfs, named south, north, east, and west. They fixed there tapers to enlighten it, and assigned to other fires certain spaces which they were to run through, some of them in heaven, others under the heaven: the days were distinguished and the years were numbered. They made the earth round, and surrounded it with the deep ocean, upon the banks of which they placed the giants. Onei day it chanced, as the sons of Bor, or the. gods, were taking a walk, they found two pieces of wood floating upon the water; these they took, and out of them made a man and a woman. The eldest of the goojs gave them life and souls; the second, motion and knowledge; the third, the gift of speech, hearing, and sight, to which he added beauty and raiment. From this man and this woman, named Askus and Embla, is descended the race of men who are permitted to inhabit the earth." It is easy, as M. Mallet observes, to trace out, in this narration, vestiges of an ancient and general tradition, of which every sect of paganism hath altered, adorned, or suppressed many circumstances, according to its own fancy, and which is now only to be found entire in the books of Moses.

Superstition held great sway over the minds of the pagans, and magicians and sorcerers abounded *.

Upon the subject of the final dissolution of the world, and the notions entertained by

* A long and interesting history of the different kinds of magic among the Icelanders, both during the continuance of paganism, and for a considerable period after, may be seen in the foyage] en Ltande, «, in. p. 78 and seq.

these people of a future state, I shall again have recourse to the Edda and the Voluspa, as translated in the Northern Antiquities.

"There will come a time," it is declared, "a barbarous age, an age of the sword, when iniquity shall infest the earth, when brothers shall stain themselves with brothers' blood, when sons shall be the murderers of their fathers, and fathers of their sons, when incest and adultery shall be common, when no man shall spare his friend. Immediately shall succeed a desolating winter, the snow shall fall from the four corners of the world, the winds shall blow with fury, the whole earth shall be hard bound in ice. Three such winters shall pass away, without being softened by one summer. Then shall succeed astonishing prodigies: then shall the monsters break their chains and escape: the great dragon shall roll himself in the ocean, and with his motions the earth shall be overflowed: the earth shall be shaken, the trees shall be torn up by their roots: the rocks shall be dashed against each other. The wolf Fenris, broke loose from his chains, shall open his enormous mouth, which reaches

from heaven to earth; the fire shall flash out from his eyes and nostrils; he shall devour the sun; and the dragon, who follows him, shall vomit forth, upon the waters and in the air, great torrents of venom. In this confusion, the stars shall fly from their places, the heavens shall be cleft asunder, and the army of evil genii and giants, conducted by Sortur (the black), and followed by Loke, shall break in to attack the gods. But Heimdal, the door-keeper of the gods, rises up; he sounds his clanging trumpet; the gods awake and assemble; the great ash tree shakes its branches; heaven and earth are full of horror and affright. The gods fly to arms; the heroes, place themselves in battle array. Odin appears armed in his golden casque and his resplendent cuirass; his vast scymitar in his hands. He attacks the wolf Fenris, by whom he is devoured, and his antagonist perishes at the same instant. Thor is suffocated in the floods of venom, which the dragon breathes forth as he expires. Loke and Heimdal mutually kill each. other. The fire consumes every thing, and the flame reaches up to heaven, But, presently after, a new earth springs forth

from the bosom of the waves, adorned with green meadows: the fields there bring forth without culture; calamities are there unknown; and a palace is there raised more shining than the sun, all covered with gold. This is the place that the just will inhabit, where they will enjoy delights for evermore. Then the powerful, the valiant, he who governs all things, comes forth from his lofty abodes to render divine justice. He pronounces decrees. He establishes the sacred destinies which shall endure for ever. There is also an abode remote from the sun, the gates of which face the north, and poison rains there through a thousand openings. Through this place, which is all composed of the carcasses of serpents, run certain torrents, in which are plunged perjurers, assassins, and those who seduce married women. A black-winged dragon flies incessantly around, and devours the bodies of the wretched who are there imprisoned,"

From this slight sketch it appears that the northern nations believed in the immortality of the soul, as well as in the existence

« PreviousContinue »