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THERE is in the legends of the Scandinavians a marvelous record of the coming of the Comet. It has been repeated generation after generation, translated into all languages, commented on, criticised, but never understood. It has been regarded as a wild, unmeaning rhapsody of words, or as a premonition of some future earth catastrophe.

But look at it!

The very name is significant. According to Professor Anderson's etymology of the word, it means "the darkness of the gods"; from regin, gods, and rökr, darkness; but it may, more properly, be derived from the Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish regn, a rain, and rök, smoke, or dust; and it may mean the rain of dust, for the clay came first as dust; it is described in some Indian legends as ashes.

First, there is, as in the tradition of the Druids, page 135, ante, the story of an age of crime.

The Vala looks upon the world, and, as the "Elder Edda" tells us--

There saw she wade
In the heavy streams,
Men--foul murderers
And perjurers,
And them who others' wives
Seduce to sin.
Brothers slay brothers
Sisters' children
Shed each other's blood. {p. 142}
Hard is the world!
Sensual sin grows huge.
There are sword-ages, axe-ages;
Shields are cleft in twain;
Storm-ages, murder ages;
Till the world falls dead,
And men no longer spare
Or pity one another."[1]

The world has ripened for destruction; and "Ragnarok," the darkness of the gods, or the rain of dust and ashes, comes to complete the work.

The whole story is told with the utmost detail, and we shall see that it agrees, in almost every particular, with what reason assures us must have happened.

"There are three winters," or years, "during which great wars rage over the world." Mankind has reached a climax of wickedness. Doubtless it is, as now, highly civilized in some regions, while still barbarian in others.

"Then happens that which will seem a great miracle: that the wolf devours the sun, and this will seem a great loss."

That is, the Comet strikes the sun, or approaches so close to it that it seems to do so.

"The other wolf devours the moon, and this, too, will cause great mischief."

We have seen that the comets often come in couples or triplets.

"The stars shall be hurled from heaven."

This refers to the blazing débris of the Comet falling to the earth.

"Then it shall come to pass that the earth will shake so violently that trees will be torn up by the roots, the

[1. Anderson, "Norse Mythology," p. 416.]

{p. 143}

mountains will topple down, and all bonds and fetters will be broken and snapped."

Chaos has come again. How closely does all this agree with Hesiod's description of the shaking earth and the universal conflict of nature?

"The Fenris-wolf gets loose."

This, we shall see, is the name of one of the comets.

"The sea rushes over the earth, for the Midgard-serpent writhes in giant rage, and seeks to gain the land."

The Midgard-serpent is the name of another comet; it strives to reach the earth; its proximity disturbs the oceans. And then follows an inexplicable piece of mythology:

"The ship that is called Naglfar also becomes loose. It is made of the nails of dead men; wherefore it is worth warning that, when a man dies with unpared nails, he supplies a large amount of materials for the building of this ship, which both gods and men wish may be finished as late as possible. But in this flood Naglfar gets afloat. The giant Hrym is its steersman.

"The Fenris-wolf advances with wide-open mouth; the upper jaw reaches to heaven and the lower jaw is on the earth."

That is to say, the comet extends from the earth to the sun.

"He would open it still wider had he room."

That is to say, the space between the sun and earth is not great enough; the tail of the comet reaches even beyond the earth.

"Fire flashes from his eyes and nostrils."

A recent writer says:

"When bright comets happen to come very near to the sun, and are subjected to close observation under the

{p. 144}

advantages which the fine telescopes of the present day afford, a series of remarkable changes is found to take place in their luminous configuration. First, jets of bright light start out from the nucleus, and move through the fainter haze of the coma toward the sun; and then these jets are turned backward round the edge of the coma, and stream from it, behind the comet, until they are fashioned into a tail."[1]

"The Midgard-serpent vomits forth venom, defiling all the air and the sea; he is very terrible, and places himself side by side with the wolf."

The two comets move together, like Biela's two fragments; and they give out poison--the carbureted-hydrogen gas revealed by the spectroscope.

"In the midst of this clash and din the heavens are rent in twain, and the sons of Muspelheim come riding through the opening."

Muspelheim, according to Professor Anderson,[2] means the day of judgment." Muspel signifies an abode of fire, peopled by fiends. So that this passage means, that the heavens are split open, or appear to be, by the great shining comet, or comets, striking the earth; it is a world of fire; it is the Day of Judgment.

"Surt rides first, and before him and after him flames burning fire."

Surt is a demon associated with the comet;[3] he is the same as the destructive god of the Egyptian mythology, Set, who destroys the sun. It may mean the blazing nucleus of the comet.

"He has a very good sword that shines brighter than the sun. As they ride over Bifrost it breaks to pieces, as has before been stated."

[1. "Edinburgh Review," October, 1874, p. 207.

2. "Norse Mythology," p. 454.

3. Ibid., p. 458.]

{p. 145}

Bifrost, we shall have reason to see hereafter, was a prolongation of land westward from Europe, which connected the British Islands with the island-home of the gods, or the godlike race of men.

There are geological proofs that such a land once existed. A writer, Thomas Butler Gunn, in a recent number of an English publication,[1] says:

"Tennyson's 'Voyage of Maeldune' is a magnificent allegorical expansion of this idea; and the laureate has also finely commemorated the old belief in the country of Lyonnesse, extending beyond the bounds of Cornwall:

'A land of old upheaven from the abyss
By fire, to sink into the abyss again;
Where fragments of forgotten peoples dwelt,
And the long mountains ended in a coast
Of ever-shifting sands, and far away
The phantom circle of a moaning sea.'

"Cornishmen of the last generation used to tell stories of strange household relics picked up at the very low tides, nay, even of the quaint habitations seen fathoms deep in the water."

There are those who believe that these Scandinavian Eddas came, in the first instance, from Druidical Briton sources.

The Edda may be interpreted to mean that the Comet strikes the planet west of Europe, and crushes down some land in that quarter, called "the bridge of Bifrost."

Then follows a mighty battle between the gods and the Comet. It can have, of course, but one termination; but it will recur again and again in the legends of different nations. It was necessary that the gods, the protectors of mankind, should struggle to defend them against these strange and terrible enemies. But their very helplessness

[1. "All the Year Round."]

{p. 146}

and their deaths show how immense was the calamity which had befallen the world.

The Edda continues:

"The sons of Muspel direct their course to the plain which is called Vigrid. Thither repair also the Fenris-wolf and the Midgard-serpent."

Both the comets have fallen on the earth.

"To this place have also come Loke" (the evil genius of the Norse mythology) "and Hrym, and with him all the Frost giants. In Loke's company are all the friends of Hel" (the goddess of death). "The sons of Muspel have then their efficient bands alone by themselves. The plain Vigrid is one hundred miles (rasts) on each side."

That is to say, all these evil forces, the comets, the fire, the devil, and death, have taken possession of the great plain, the heart of the civilized land. The scene is located in this spot, because probably it was from this spot the legends were afterward dispersed to all the world.

It is necessary for the defenders of mankind to rouse themselves. There is no time to be lost, and, accordingly, we learn--

"While these things are happening, Heimdal" (he was the guardian of the Bifrost-bridge) "stands up, blows with all his might in the Gjallar-horn and awakens all the gods, who thereupon hold counsel. Odin rides to Mimer's well to ask advice of Mimer for himself and his folk.

"Then quivers the ash Ygdrasil, and all things in heaven and earth tremble."

The ash Ygdrasil is the tree-of-life; the tree of the ancient tree-worship; the tree which stands on the top of the pyramid in the island-birth place of the Aztec race; the tree referred to in the Hindoo legends.

"The asas" (the godlike men) "and the einherjes" (the heroes) "arm themselves and speed forth to the battlefield. Odin rides first; with his golden helmet, resplendent

{p. 147}

byrnie, and his spear Gungner, he advances against the Fenris-wolf" (the first comet). "Thor stands by his side, but can give him no assistance, for he has his hands full in his struggle with the Midgard-serpent" (the second comet). "Frey encounters Surt, and heavy blows are exchanged ere Frey falls. The cause of his death is that he has not that good sword which he gave to Skirner. Even the dog Garm," (another comet), "that was bound before the Gnipa-cave, gets loose. He is the greatest plague. He contends with Tyr, and they kill each other. Thor gets great renown by slaying the Midgard-serpent, but retreats only nine paces when he falls to the earth dead, poisoned by the venom that the serpent blows upon him."

He has breathed the carbureted-hydrogen gas!

"The wolf swallows Odin, and thus causes his death; but Vidar immediately turns and rushes at the wolf, placing one foot on his nether jaw.

["On this foot he has the shoe, for which materials have been gathering through all ages, namely, the strips of leather which men cut off from the toes and heels of shoes; wherefore he who wishes to render assistance to the asas must cast these strips away."]

This last paragraph, like that concerning the ship Naglfar, is probably the interpolation of some later age. The narrative continues:

"With one hand Vidar seizes the upper jaw of the wolf, and thus rends asunder his mouth. Thus the wolf perishes. Loke fights with Heimdal, and they kill each other. Thereupon Surt flings fire over the earth, and burns up all the world."

This narrative is from the Younger Edda. The Elder Edda is to the same purpose, but there are more allusions to the effect of the catastrophe on the earth

The eagle screams,
And with pale beak tears corpses. . . .
Mountains dash together, {p. 148}
Heroes go the way to Hel,
And heaven is rent in twain. . . .
All men abandon their homesteads
When the warder of Midgard
In wrath slays the serpent.
The sun grows dark,
The earth sinks into the sea
The bright stars
From heaven vanish;
Fire rages,
Heat blazes,
And high flames play
'Gainst heaven itself

And what follow then? Ice and cold and winter. For although these things come first in the narrative of the Edda, yet we are told that "before these" things, to wit, the cold winters, there occurred the wickedness of the world, and the wolves and the serpent made their appearance. So that the events transpired in the order in which I have given them.

"First there is a winter called the Fimbul winter,"

"The mighty, the great, the iron winter,"[1]

"'When snow drives from. all quarters, the frosts are so severe, the winds so keen, there is no joy in the sun. There are three such winters in succession, without any intervening summer."

Here we have the Glacial period which followed the Drift. Three years of incessant wind, and snow, and intense cold.

The Elder Edda says, speaking of the Fenris-wolf:

"It feeds on the bodies
Of men, when they die
The seats of the gods
It stains with red blood."

[1. "Norse Mythology," p. 444.]

{p. 149}

This probably refers to the iron-stained red clay cast down by the Comet over a large part of the earth; the "seats of the gods" means the home of the god-like race, which was doubtless covered, like Europe and America, with red clay; the waters which ran from it must have been the color of blood.

"The Sunshine blackens
In the summers thereafter,
And the weather grows bad."

In the Younger Edda (p. 57) we are given a still more precise description of the Ice age:

"Replied Har, explaining, that as soon as the streams, that are called Elivogs" (the rivers from under ice), "had came so far that the venomous yeast" (the clay?) "which flowed with them hardened, as does dross that runs from the fire, then it turned" (as) "into ice. And when this ice stopped and flowed no more, then gathered over it the drizzling rain that arose from the venom" (the clay), "and froze into rime" (ice), "and one layer of ice was laid upon another clear into the Ginungagap."

Ginungagap, we are told,[1] was the name applied in the eleventh century by the Northmen to the ocean between Greenland and Vinland, or America. It doubtless meant originally the whole of the Atlantic Ocean. The clay, when it first fell, was probably full of chemical elements, which rendered it, and the waters which filtered through it, unfit for human use; clay waters are, to this day, the worst in the world.

"Then said Jafnhar: 'All that part of Ginungagap that turns to the north' (the north Atlantic) 'was filled with thick and heavy ice and rime, and everywhere within were drizzling rains and gusts. But the south part of Ginungagap was lighted up by the glowing sparks that flew out of Muspelheim.'"

[1. "Norse Mythology," p. 447.]

{p. 150}

The ice and rime to the north represent the age of ice and snow. Muspelheim was the torrid country of the south, over which the clouds could not yet form in consequence of the heat--Africa.

But it can not last forever. The clouds disappear; the floods find their way back to the ocean; nature begins to decorate once more the scarred and crushed face of the world. But where is the human race? The "Younger Edda" tells us:

"During the conflagration caused by Surt's fire, a woman by the name of Lif and a man named Lifthraser lie concealed in Hodmimer's hold, or forest. The dew of the dawn serves them for food, and so great a race shall spring from them, that their descendants shall soon spread over the whole earth."[1]

The "Elder Edda" says:

"Lif and Lifthraser
Will lie hid
In Hodmimer's-holt;
The morning dew
They have for food.
From them are the races descended."

Holt is a grove, or forest, or hold; it was probably a cave. We shall see that nearly all the legends refer to the caves in which mankind escaped from destruction.

This statement,

"From them are the races descended,"

shows that this is not prophecy, but history; it refers to the past, not to the future; it describes not a Day of Judgment to come, but one that has already fallen on the human family.

Two others, of the godlike race, also escaped in some

[1. "Norse Mythology" p. 429.]

{p. 151}

way not indicated; Vidar and Vale are their names. They, too, had probably taken refuge in some cavern.

"Neither the sea nor Surt's fire had harmed them, and they dwell on the plains of Ida, where Asgard was before. Thither come also the sons of Thor, Mode, and Magne, and they have Mjolner. Then come Balder and Hoder from Hel.

Mode and Magne are children of Thor; they belong to the godlike race. They, too, have escaped. Mjolner is Thor's hammer. Balder is the Sun; he has returned from the abode of death, to which the comet consigned him. Hoder is the Night.

All this means that the fragments and remnants of humanity reassemble on the plain of Ida--the plain of Vigrid--where the battle was fought. They possess the works of the old civilization, represented by Thor's hammer; and the day and night once more return after the long midnight blackness.

And the Vala looks again upon a renewed and rejuvenated world:

"She sees arise
The second time.
From the sea, the earth,
Completely green.
The cascades fall,
The eagle soars,
From lofty mounts
Pursues its prey."

It is once more the glorious, the sun-lighted world the world of flashing seas, dancing streams, and green leaves; with the eagle, high above it all,

"Batting the sunny ceiling of the globe
With his dark wings;"


"The wild cataracts leap in glory."

{p. 152}

What history, what poetry, what beauty, what inestimable pictures of an infinite past have lain hidden away in these Sagas--the despised heritage of all the blue-eyed, light-haired races of the world!

Rome and Greece can not parallel this marvelous story:

The gods convene
On Ida's plains,
And talk of the powerful
They call to mind
The Fenris-wolf
And the ancient runes
Of the mighty Odin."

What else can mankind think of, or dream of, or talk of for the next thousand years but this awful, this unparalleled calamity through which the race has passed?

A long-subsequent but most ancient and cultivated people, whose memory has, for us, almost faded from the earth, will thereafter embalm the great drama in legends, myths, prayers, poems, and sagas; fragments of which are found to-day dispersed through all literatures in all lands; some of them, as we shall see, having found their way even into the very Bible revered alike of Jew and Christian:

The Edda continues,

"Then again
The wonderful Golden tablets
Are found in the grass
In time's morning,
The leader of the gods
And Odin's race
Possessed them."

And what a find was that! This poor remnant of humanity discovers "the golden tablets" of the former

{p. 153}

civilization. Doubtless, the inscribed tablets, by which the art of writing survived to the race; for what would tablets be without inscriptions? For they talk of "the ancient runes of mighty Odin," that is, of the runic letters, the alphabetical writing. And we shall see hereafter that this view is confirmed from other sources.

There follows a happy age:

"The fields unsown
Yield their growth;
All ills cease.
Balder comes.
Hoder and Balder,
Those heavenly gods,
Dwell together in Odin's halls."

The great catastrophe is past. Man is saved, The world is once more fair. The sun shines again in heaven. Night and day follow each other in endless revolution around the happy globe. Ragnarok is past.

{p. 154}

Next: Chapter V. The Conflagration Of Phaëton