Page images
PDF
EPUB

A LEAF FROM NORTHERN MYTHOLOGY,

BY EDWARD H. ANDERSON, FORMERLY PRESIDENT OF THE SCANDI

NAVIAN MISSION.

The present inhabitants of Sweden, Norway and Den. mark have descended from that mighty race-the Goths. The Goths came from the east. Their origin and history are shrouded in half mystery, with only the poor sunlight of the half-educated Gothic monk, Jordanis, to clear its secret darkness.

Prior to the invasion of the Goths, these lands were inhabited by a prehistoric race who knew nothing of the use of metals, but who made their rude weapons of stone or bone. They were without culture, and besides knew nothing of agriculture or stock-raising, but lived by fishing and hunting. On the coasts of Denmark may be seen to this day remnants of their meals—large heaps containing shells and bones of fish and animals. Many of these heaps have been examined and parts of their formations have been taken to museums for exhibition. Besides these piles of offal, they built great heaps of earth and rock in which they placed the ashes of their cremated dead. In these graves where the rude urns containing the ashes of their dead were placed have been found implements of stone, knives and axes. Instruments of this class are even now frequently turned to light by the plow of the modern farmer. The museums are full of curious tools of these prehistoric inhabitants. But these people of the stone age were easily conquered by the stronger invaders, and were intermixed with them, or were driven as we have driven the Indians, or were made the slaves of the invading

Goths. In this way the Goths made their home in Scandinavia, where their descendants remain to this day.

The Goths were greatly the intellectual superiors of the first race, and understood the art of making weapons of bronze, then of iron, thus being able to till the earth, build habitable houses, and ships of wood. They likewise had an original written language, called runes, which they used to make inscriptions on great rocks or on trees and wood. Many of these rocks are still in existence, from which may be read the brief history of some chief or warrior of the early day.

The Goths brought to the north a wonderful mythology. Their greatest gods they called asers, and among these Odin was the chief, the father of all the gods as well as of men. Thor, the god of thunder, and Balder, were his sons, and their descendants were the various gods of war, peace, poetry, sunshine and rain, and the sea. The evil god they called Loke; he was of a giant family, but had early in time become related Odin. He was the father of the Fenriswolf, the Midgaards serpent which encircled the great seas, and Hel, the goddess of death. Each of the gods had a goddess who had each her duty to perform, from Freja, the wife of Odin, down to Ydun, who had the golden apples in her keeping by the which the gods renewed their youth; to Ran whose daughters were the billows of the ocean; to Nornerne, the goddesses of fate, who sat by the springs of life and controlled the fate of mankind, to Walkyrierna, the virgins of Odin, who passed through space marking with their spears the heroes whom death should claim in the battle fields, on land and on

sea.

The old inhabitants believed further that after death, the brave would be taken to Odin, in the grand palace, Valhal, surrounded by gardens whose trees bore golden leaves. In the palace, light was made by shining swords, and the roof was covered with shields. West of the entrance hung a wolf, above which soared an eagle. The great palace had 540 doors, each so wide that 800 warriors could enter or depart at one time.

On the throne sat Odin. The benches were occupied by the brave who each day went out to battle with

each other-killing each other in the fray-but in the evening they arose by their own power and returned to Valhal where they drank mead and ate pork. In this way the brave spent their time after death-their idea of a life of glory and joy;but cowards were cast down to Helhejm, where they suffered cold and hunger, and were disconsolate.

But all this was only to be a temporary heaven and hell —for in a time to come the earth's destruction should take place—Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, should appear. Terrible warnings should go before this period or era. A fearful winter is to come, snow is to drift from all quarters, and sharp winds are to overcome the warmth of the sun. War and unrest are to prevail over the whole earth, so that even relatives and friends are not to spare each other. The sun and the moon are to be darkened, and the stars to vanish from the heavens, the earth is to quake, and the trees are to be torn up by the roots. The mountains will disappear and all bonds and chains shall be broken. The Fenriswolf is to be loosened, the ocean is to pass beyond its bounds, the Midgaard serpent will seek the land, the heavens will be rent and the sons of Muspel will ride forth in the earth surrounded by flames of devouring fire. These powers seek the Valley of Vigred, and in the meantime Hejmdal will blow his great trumpet, and all the gods gather to battle—the evil with the good. There is great anguish in heaven and in the earth!

Then the belief goes on to tell how the battle is to rage on this great last day, and how both the good and the evil are overcome in the struggle with each other. At length fire is cast over the earth, which is burned to destruction with its gods, its brave, and its whole population of people. But when this shall have taken place, out of the deep shall appear a new earth, beautiful and green. Crystal streamlets sing down the mountain sides, great waterfalls tumble over the crags over which the great eagle soars in grandeur. The Asers return in glory and meet in the valley of Idas, rejoicing in each others' presence, and tell tales of their recent battles with the wolf and the serpent. The fields will bring forth without labor, and all evil shall be banished forever; Balder, the god of peace and good, shall return, and all the true,

good and righteous shall be gathered into a glorious dwelling place in Gimle, the city of pure gold. But in a mean residence in Naastrand, whose doors turn to the north and whose roof is covered with serpents which turn their heads toward the inner house, the wicked and they who swear falsely shall live, wading in streams of poison.

So have these early Goths who inhabited Scandinavia pictured the prison house after death, the destruction of the earth, heaven and hell.

How theirs correspond with the Christian belief, introduced to this people hundreds of years after, I leave for you to decide. Long after Christianity was introduced into southern and western Europe this Asa faith prevailed in Scandinavia, and it was not until 827-30 A. D., contemporaneous with the raid of the Vikings, that Christianity began to take foothold among the people. At this time it was introduced into Denmark and Sweden by the Catholic monk Ansgar, called the apostle of the north. The Catholic religion prevailed from that time for seven hundred years, until the "Reformation" overthrew its power and established instead the doctrines of Luther. In nearly every hamlet stands to this day the rude and bulky churches of the Ansgar monks. Whether on the lonely heaths of Jylland or by the silent lakes of Sweden, these old churches stand whitetowered sentinels, like old ruins of history, surrounded by the graves of the dead upon whose headstones are inscribed brief histories of lives that were.

In this connection it is well to remember that the constitution of Denmark was modified in 1848-9, under Frederick the VII, so that the Lutheran religion, which had been the only authorized and permitted religion, came into competition with any others that might be introduced. The people were granted full liberty of worship-true, it was under certain state restrictions, but a species of liberty it was at any rate.

In the fall of 1849, at the October conference, in Salt Lake City, Apostle Erastus Snow was called upon to open the gospel doors in Denmark, which he did on the 14th of June following. The Mormon elders were among the first to show the people the errors of the prevailing faith which had

held unbounded sway in the land since its introduction under Christian the III, in 1536. From Denmark the gospel spread to Norway and Sweden, and there is scarcely a hamlet in either country, whether it be among the lakes of Sweden, from Lapland to the shores of the Baltic; or among the meadows and beech groves of Denmark; or among the fjelds and fjords of Norway, from Finmarken, the home of the midnight sun, to Christiania, the beautiful; where a Mormon elder has not trudged from house to house proclaiming the new dispensation of the gospel. The result has been that many thousand converts have been made to the gospel. The descendants of the old Goths which conquered Europe have come by the thousands to the new world in the west, which they have materially helped to redeem, and in which they have planted a hardy race to do the redemption work of the eras to come.

PEACE, BE STILL.

Jesus spake unto the throng

Teaching them the right from wrong,
Of the duties that belong

To mankind.

He the words of life did tell,

As the shades of evening fell
O'er that land where Jewry dwell

By the sea
“Let us to the other side,

There awhile we will abide," -
Said the Lord. Then o'er the tide

The Chosen sailed.
Christ awearied, fell asleep,

In the boat upon the deep;
He was in his Father's keep-

Naught he feared.
Soon the waves were lashed to spray,

Like the clouds ere break of day,
Driven on in fiercest play

By the wind.

« PreviousContinue »