As we have frequently noted, there are some stubborn-to-shift shibboleths within our field that, despite all available evidence to the contrary, persist well beyond reason. One of these concerns the ongoing conflationism between Purusha of the Vedic cosmology & cosmogony – and the Ymir of the Germanic accounting.
Now on the surface of things, there is some sense to the matter – after all, in both cases, we have a very very large entity that effectively supplies the major elements to the cosmos. And I say ‘the cosmos’ acutely aware of the archaic Greek meaning to the term – a ‘regime’, a realm under Order, in the Divine Sense. Which, of course, Ymir can only ‘contribute’ to via virtue of having been slain – as Ymir is chaos (in the sense of anti-Order, not how it was meant in the Greek theogony) and therefore antithetical to such a sphere.
And that, I think, is the quite literally foundational point of distinction to be made between the myths of Ymir and Purusha. For whereas the former is killed by the Gods as an enemy – the latter is a God, and remains living and vital to this day. The former, dismembered as one would a bloodied carcas, something dead – the latter, with organic parts which are nevertheless interlocking and mutually engaging and reinforcing as part of the Cosmic Being (the Universe as God).
A few weeks ago, I ran into a person claiming that I had this all wrong – and that the accounts of Ymir’s forcibly dysjunctive deconstruction had to be the same as the self-sacrifice of Purusha in the Purusha Sukta [i.e. RV X 90]; and that I was entirely aritificially distinguishing the two upon the basis of an allegedly false declaration of Ymir to be a demon, as well as a blatant ignoring of what they suggested to be a suite of direct 1:1 correspondences between these two accounts in terms of ‘what became what’. They also, bizarrely, claimed that mention of Purusha had ceased in Hinduism post the Vedic age.
All of which are, obviously, false. But do bear some closer examination.
Now we shall start with the claim that Ymir’s status as a demon and enemy of the Gods is somehow false.
The Gylfaginning puts the matter directly, in the mouth(s) of Odin: “And Jafnhárr answered: “By no means do we acknowledge him God; he was evil and all his kindred: we call them Rime-Giants.”
And He, after all, should know !
Meanwhile, over here in the Hindusphere, we hold the exact opposite view for Purusha – being very definitely a God , very definitely not Evil , and very definitely still regarded in a hallowed light today. Indeed, strongly coterminous in various accountings with Lord Shiva – that is to say, with Odin, as we know Him.
The notion of the Sky Father deific forming the ‘components’ of the Universe is also not something unique to the Hindusphere, either –
The Orphic Rhapsodic Hymn to Zeus speaks of Zeus in strongly comparatively resonant terms:
The “Foundation of Earth and Starry Heaven”, “One regal body in which everything revolves: Fire and Water and Earth and Aether, and both Night and Day”;”Behold His head and handsome countenance, the radiant sky. Around His golden hair are the gleaming stars twinkling beautifully.”
Further verses go on to extol the pathways of the rising and setting Sun as Golden Horns, the Sun and Moon as the Eyes of the Sky Father, and relate the additional array of cosmological layering (encompassing the Earth, Ocean, and even Tartarus) in bodily terms for the Sky Father deific.
This, I would contend, is part of a familiar series of similar archaic Indo-European notions of the Sky Father in such a role – as attested not only via RV X 90, but the literal litany of further such instances to be found amidst the broader Vedic canon. Including, of interest to us for other reasons, the large suite of the 15th Book of the AtharvaVeda – excellently titled by Griffith as “The hyperbolical glorification of the Vrātya”, and in referency, of course, to Rudra.
To quote a small sample, because I find it stirring:
“In the eastern region Faith is his leman, the hymn his panegyrist, knowledge his vesture, day his turban,
night his hair, Indra’s two Bays his circular ornaments, the
splendour of the stars his jewel. Present and Future are his
running footmen, mind is his war-chariot, Mātarisvan and
Pavamāna are they who draw it, Vita is his charioteer, Storm
his goad, Fame and Glory are his harbingers. Fame and
Glory come to him who hath this knowledge.”
“He, having become moving majesty, went to the ends of the
earth. He became the sea.
Prajāpati and Parameshthin and the Father and the Great Father
and the Waters and Faith, turned into rain, followed him.
The Waters, Faith, and rain approach him who possesses this
Faith, and Sacrifice and the world, having become food and
nourishment, turned toward him.
Faith Sacrifice, the world, food and nourishment approach him
who possesses this knowledge.”
“His first diffused breath is this Earth.
His second diffused breath is that Firmament.
His third diffused breath is that Heaven.
His fourth diffused breath are those Constellations.
His fifth diffused breath are the Seasons.
His sixth diffused breath are the Season-groups.
His seventh diffused breath is the year.
With one and the same object the Gods go round the Year and
the Seasons follow round the Vrātya.
When they surround the Sun on the day of New Moon, and that
time of Full Moon.
That one immortality of theirs is just an oblation.”
“Of that Vrātya.
The right eye is the Sun and the left eye is the Moon.
His right ear is Agni and his left ear is Pavamāna.
Day and Night are his nostrils. Diti and Aditi are his head and
By day the Vrātya is turned westward, by night he is turned
eastward. Worship to the Vrātya!”
Frequently [as in, say, AV X 7 – although also found elsewhere right the way through the Vedas], we find the Sky Father in this Cosmological-composition role to be hailed as the Sacrificial Post, the Sthambha (most prominently, these days, the ShivLing – like an Irminsul) – that is to say, the Axis Mundi. And we can demonstrate the continued salience of this mytheme in the Greek and other such Indo-European mythic perspectives via the incredibly strong association of the Sky Father with these Sacral Posts and the World Tree or World Mount, as we have previously considered in various works upon the subject such as ‘The Nyssian Zeus’ within ‘On The Indo-European ‘Interpretatio’ Of Dionysus – A Roaring Exaltation Of The Sky Father Comparatively Considered’.
But let us bring things back to a direct textual comparison.
First up, the Gylfaginning’s account:
“They took Ymir and bore him into the middle of the Yawning Void, and made of him the earth: of his blood the sea and the waters; the land was made of his flesh, and the crags of his bones; gravel and stones they fashioned from his teeth and his grinders and from those bones that were broken.” And Jafnhárr said: “Of the blood, which ran and welled forth freely out of his wounds, they made the sea, when they had formed and made firm the earth together, and laid the sea in a ring round. about her; and it may well seem a hard thing to most men to cross over it.” Then said Thridi: “They took his skull also, and made of it the heaven, and set it up over the earth with four corners; and under each corner they set a dwarf: the names of these are East, West, North, and South. Then they took the glowing embers and sparks that burst forth and had been cast out of Múspellheim, and set them in the midst of the Yawning Void, in the heaven, both above and below, to illumine heaven and earth.
But on the inner earth they made a citadel round about the world against the hostility of the giants, and for their citadel they raised up the brows of Ymir the giant, and called that place Midgard. They took also his brain and cast it in the air, and made from it the clouds, as is here said:
Of Ymir’s flesh | the earth was fashioned,
And of his sweat the sea;
Crags of his bones, | trees of his hair,
And of his skull the sky.
Then of his brows | the blithe gods made
Midgard for sons of men;
And of his brain | the bitter-mooded
Clouds were all created.”
And then, RV X 90 [the Jamison/Brereton translation]
“1 The Man has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet.
Having covered the earth on all sides, he extended ten fingers’ breadth beyond.
2 The Man alone is this whole (world): what has come into being and what is to be.
Moreover, he is master of immortality when he climbs beyond (this world) through food.
3 So much is his greatness, but the Man is more than this: a quarter of him is all living beings; three quarters are the immortal in heaven.
4 With his three quarters the Man went upward, but a quarter of him came to be here again.
From there he strode out in different directions toward what eats and what does not eat.
5 From him the Virāj was born; from the Virāj the Man.
Upon his birth, he reached beyond the earth from behind and also from in front.
6 When, with the Man as the offering, the gods extended the sacrifice, spring was its melted butter, summer its firewood, autumn its offering.
7 On the ritual grass they consecrated that sacrifice, the Man, born at the beginning.
With him the gods sacrificed, (also) the Sādhyas and those who were seers.
8 From that sacrifice, when it was offered in full, the clotted-butter mixture was collected.
It [=the sacrifice] was made into the animals: those of the air (and both) those that belong to the wilderness and those that belong to the village.
9 From this sacrifice, when it was offered in full, the verses and chants were born.
Meters were born from it. The sacrificial formula—from it that was born.
10 From it horses were born and whatever animals have teeth in both jaws.
Cows were born from it. From it were born goats and sheep.
11 When they apportioned the Man, into how many parts did they arrange him?
What was his mouth? What his two arms? What are said to be his two thighs, his two feet?
12 The brahmin was his mouth. The ruler was made his two arms.
As to his thighs—that is what the freeman was. From his two feet the servant was born.
13 The moon was born from his mind. From his eye the sun was born.
From his mouth Indra and Agni, from his breath Vāyu was born.
14 From his navel was the midspace. From his head the heaven developed.
From his two feet the earth, and the directions from his ear. Thus they arranged the worlds.
15 Its enclosing sticks were seven; the kindling sticks were made three times seven,
when the gods, extending the sacrifice, bound the Man as the (sacrificial) animal.
16 With the sacrifice the gods performed the sacrifice for themselves: these were the first foundations.
These, its greatness, accompanied (it) to heaven’s vault, where the ancient Sādhyas and the gods are.”
Now straightaway we begin to notice that there are some rather glaring dissonancies between what’s going on in the two texts.
One’s a glorification. The other – an over condemnation.
But beyond what I have said before .. look at how the elements in question just simply don’t line up very well.
Prior to the Sacrifice, Purusha is depicted as being the universe in salient scope – and, as explicated in Mahabharat CCCLII, the ‘thousand-x’ lines are in reference to the ‘undifferentiated’ infinity of possibilities and omnipotence that He possesses and represents. The Absolute must become ‘differentiated’ in order to have the universe come into being. [It would also be tempting to suggest that the ‘ten fingers beyond’ conceptry relates to the still-maintained connexion to the Infinite – and the fact that, as we see with the Shaivite understanding of the Lingodbhava occurrence , wherein an infinite pillar is Shiva, well … just exactly that. The Infinite intersecting with our finite universe, and therefore being, becoming limitless at both ends. A World-Tree which, as the Vedas put it, rests upon ‘roots no-one knows’.]
Now perhaps I have missed something, but I do not recall Ymir having a fourfold division with three parts of this being heavenly (although interestingly, the Orphic Rhapsodic Hymnal to Zeus may potentially have three ‘Heavenly’ layers above the Earth at the middle/stomach, contingent upon how it is read and interpreted). I also do not recall a ‘Viraj’ figure being begetted by Ymir [and it must be noted just Who and What it is that Viraj is] – quite the contrary, as aforenoted.
I also do not recall Ymir’s flesh being turned into the various animals of the wild, of the village, and of the skies; particularly not the Horse . Or, for that matter, Ymir giving rise to various sacred liturgy.
I also do not recall (with the possible exception of dwarves) various clades of society coming out of a fourfold division of Ymir’s flesh. Is there some mention of Ymir’s mouth that I am overlooking? Or arms, etc?
Because the much less complicated Ymir conceptry seems to just have flesh into earth, bones into mountains, sweat/blood into sea, brows into Midgard ; a skull sky-dome, brain-clouds, teeth smashed in, one presumes, to make boulders, and trees from hair. Oh, and the Sun, stars etc. are not related to Ymir but are instead sparks from Muspelheim.
This contrasts with, as we have seen, the substance of Purusha’s body going in rather different directions like those animals and other creatures aforementioned and the sacred forms of verse and liturgy. The feet do turn into earth, yes … but while the head and the high heaven are mentioned … that’s also rather different. Remember that bit at the start of the Purusha Sukta about the lowest quarter being what’s down here in the terrestrial sphere? Those next three up are atmospheric layers – as you can see via the reference for His navel/midriff being the ‘mid-point’ – the ‘middle atmosphere’ zone that we find mentioned in the (sensible) Vedic cosmology.
So yes, the Head as Heaven .. it’s just that this is quite different from the Ymir-sourced ‘Skull Dome’ for the sky entire that’s propped up on corners of the world. Because it’s a lot further up, and it’s both doing a lot more and a lot less – it’s not around the entire sky. .
Meanwhile, there’s some other interesting differences around the head likewise. The Brain of Ymir winds up being clouds. Purusha’s mental element becomes the Moon. The Sun that we have met earlier as a spark from Muspelheim … in Vedic terms we have the Eye of Purusha [interestingly, this is also the Eye of Varuna – but that is unsurprising .. ] so again, not alike. Especially if I am correct in my supposition that this ‘brow’ business being used as an enclosure in the Ymir story is in fact ‘eye’. Because then it’d be .. well, Sun and Earth-settlement/enclosure (although as we have considered in our recent piece on the Eyes of the Sky Father – there is a rather intriguing double-up of meaning around the origins for ‘Loka’ in Sanskrit pertaining to ‘Lewk’ in PIE – Light].
We also have other key energies represented in the Purusha conceptry – in addition to the Sun (Surya), we have Indra and Agni and Vayu. I am not sure that I recall mention of an active breath for Ymir going on ? [Possibly because Ymir’s , you know .. dead ] nor Ymir producing lightning, fire, radiant energy in general .. or, potentially if you want to read the verses that way, deities (and it must be remembered that as the words are shared, we are not always entirely sure whether the ‘energy’ or the Deity correlate to said energy is being hailed in a given Vedic occurrency. ).
That whole being dead thing also rather significantly contrasts Ymir with the Purusha description as “Lord of Immortality” – the undying.
I also don’t seem to note some sort of catastrophic flood that wipes out a whole lot of life resulting from Purusha sacrifice … as contrasted with what we see quite prominently with Ymir. Although we DO find mention for, for instance, a sudden massive flood resultant from the slaying of Vritra – a demon who is regarded as being a begetter of just such a further-demonic brood. Perhaps we shall explore this potential comparanda in further depth another time.
I am sure there is quite a bit more that I am missing [including the dysjunction involved with the sea – because of course, in Vedic conceptry .. the Sea already exists as liminal sphere, no massive blood-letting required … ] ; but I think that I have probably gone on long enough for the moment ..
Phrased succinctly: I don’t think that most of the parallels some might insist upon as “common ground” between the two myths (that of Purusha and that of Ymir) are really there. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that they are “minimal”.
One’s a demon being killed, causing the deaths of a great many other demons as he goes down due to drowning in blood etc. – and then chopped up to make some land and some cloud out of and a skull-dome.
The other’s a God that is infinity, becoming ‘differentiated’ , and producing all life and all that sustains life, including radiating holy verse – still continuing to live and be nourished through sacral conduct, and expressing quite a different cosmology and with a suite of elements that just simply aren’t there in the Ymir materials, or come from entirely different sources, etc. [like Muspelheim sourcing the Sun – rather than, you know, the Eye of the God]
I have deliberately omitted to consider in any great depth … quite an array of Vedic materials which may feasibly be brought to bear upon this discussion – these include, obviously, the Sky Father as Axis Mundi references in various Hymnals, as well as the extensive Brahmana commentary layers which go significantly further in a number of these matters. I do not think that they should change the outcome significantly – although at some stage, somebody may wish to seek a greater concordancy with the Greek materials which have come down to us, particularly in the latter sphere.
I also do not expect this above recounting to prove entirely convincing to those absolutely determined to believe in a number of points we should perhaps consider ‘heretical’.
For instance – if you are ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED, as some are, to falsely hold Ymir to be a God rather than a Demon, then the co-identification with Purusa is inestimably useful, because it affords the prospect of a purported Indo-European ‘support’ for those malefic and miasmatically mendacious notions. Never mind that, as I have said – we Hindus often hold Purusha and Shiva to be one and the same ; the Sky Father Deific Who, as we have seen via Odin, should slay such a creature as Ymir (and compare the situation of Zeus contra Typhon, Athena and Dionysus (and/or Zeus – but then I repeat myself) ‘gainst Typhoeus, Brihaspati against certain Fiends – which interestingly, as we have previously mapped, incorporates direct scriptural concordancy with a Ynglinga Saga account of a deed of Odin’s).
And, as is so often the case, there is a ‘comfortable orthodoxy’ all its own out there in academia which holds that all which is required for the co-identification of Ymir with … various of these figures aforementioned is some form of Killing. Never mind just WHO is doing the Killing – and why.
Nobody would seek to sensibly compare Lord Shiva voluntarily imbibing the Halahala Poison, Lord Odin Hanging Himself from Yggdrasil, etc. with Ymir being cast down and hacked to pieces by Odin, surely. Yet each of these is, in its own way, a foundational act of the Cosmos, the Cosmic Order – only, as we have seen … with Lord Shiva, He does not Die [although DOES wind up with a blue mark of asphyxia about His Neck … almost as if He had survived a Hanging ….], and with Odin, He comes back from this Self-Sacrifice [what, in truth, the Purusha Sukta must be regarded as], replete with the Empowered Speech and Wisdom represented resplendent via our Runes. Gosh, just like how the Hindu presentation has the emanation of the Songs which Sustain the Universe from Purusha in the course of His Self-Sacrificial Event.
Some may argue that the Ymir occurrence described by Sturluson may still represent some sort of ‘derivation’ from the archaic Indo-European conceptry for the Sky Father as Mundi … and I suppose that this is not entirely disprovable. For all the considerable strong coterminity Sturluson’s work still nevertheless demonstrates with the proper and more primary source Indo-European scriptural canons (see my previous works for details) – there are nevertheless some portions wherein something downright curious happens, and he mixes up or ‘innovates’ upon elements in manners which introduce incongruities to the referencing. A good example being his post-dating of the Slaying of Jormungandr to the War at the End of the World – rather than having already happened per an array of other Germanic source-material upon the subject, or for that matter what we know to be true from the broader Indo-European comparanda upon the subject of the Striker/Thunderer versus the Encircling Demon Dragon of the Water.
However, in order for this to actually be what has occurred – we should probably expect a grander suite of stronger comparative linkages to be set out between the accounting for Ymir and the slaying of same. I suspect, as I have intimated above, that there is far stronger probative value to be encountered in a cross-comparison of Ymir with Vritra and other such primeval adversaries of immense scale and scope, with something having ‘shifted’ in the myth between its authentic recounting amidst the Germanics and its (re-)collection via Sturluson. But as with so many things in the Nordic mythology – we simply have too little to go upon.
That awareness – that we HAVE too little to go upon – is an important consideration when it comes to the serious exploration of the comparative Indo-European mythology, with a view toward the resurrection, the reconstruction of same … especially in theological terms, and when it comes to Who and How we are worshipping. There are cases, of course, wherein we can be near-certain that some creature referred to ostensibly as a ‘demon’ is in fact one of our Gods – Who has become demonized in a quite literal sense via accident or malefic intonation: the Zoroastrian sphere is leavened through with exemplars for this sad trend in action, as we have previously analyzed. Yet I think it best to err upon the side of caution in such matters – and in situative scenarios such as the one presently under our gaze, wherein we have the presentation of Ymir as a demon slain by the Great God Himself … it makes fairly little sense, comparatively nor otherwise, to endeavour to ‘tip the scales’ (by which I mean – to tip them right over, and take with it the order, the ‘measuring’ [‘Metis’ – ‘rulership’ bound up with this likewise] thusly correlated with same) and set aside this declaration, deify Ymir (whether implicitly as his own destroyer ; or explicitly, as simply a deity, I suppose) , and begin carrying out consecrated offerings to this demon-spawning force of cosmic disorder as the evident result. And to do all of this, upon a set of purported ‘parallels’ which, upon closer examination, are at best highly, heavilly, hugely ‘contestable’ if not outright illusory once subjected to the probing gaze of Truth.
I am a simple man. If we have reasonably straightforward injunctives as to Who is Divine, and How it is that They are to be related to … I see precious little reason to go out upon a limb and start ‘reading in’ figures that are expressly, explicitly condemned as being the exact opposite to Their ranks.
Yet simple though I may be – I also have a habit of preferring the depth and complexity of vision which prioritizes the search for true underlying linkages , upon close cognates of essence and expression, rather than the simplistic singling out of surface-level occurrences in isolation of their proper, broader context in a bid to entirely artificially ‘weld together’ the unlike. A self-sacrifice which is returned from is not the same thing as the striking down of a demon – even though both may, technically, entail an act of lethality. The Immanency to the Cosmos of the Sky Father, of the Divine, is not a dead, dessicated, and decayed one – but an active, vital, and yet-living force. Homage and worship is aptly due to Him as part of the ongoing sustaining of the Cosmos and Cosmic Order, as we see every day via ShivLingPuja (or, for that matter, via the intriguing comparanda of milk(-and-honey) libations poured to nourish the Axis Mundi, the Sky Father, in each of Nordic and Greek myth – as we intend to explore in an upcoming (A)Arti-cle more directly upon this subject itself).
For this reason – I have no compunction in stating it proper to venerate the Cosmic Sky Father … and not some admittedly expansive demon whom He hath Slain.
Hail to the Cosmokrator
The (literally) Universal Sovereign