Fingerprints of the Norse Gods

I’ve been reading Graham Hancock’s unnecessarily lengthy tome Fingerprints of the Gods (hey Graham, if I wanted to read a travelogue, I’d’ve bought a travelogue: get to the point). It’s been slow going because every couple of sentences, my eyeballs roll into the back of my skull, and I have to wait for them to return to their normal position before continuing.

As I was reading, I began to get an idea for a blog post: I would write a parody in which I traced suspicious parallels between Mesopotamian, Mesoamerican and Old Norse mythology. Perhaps I’d begin with Hancock’s discussion of the Babylonian god Marduk‘s conquest of the chaos monster Tiamat:

…[A] great plan of world creation began to take shape in his mind. His first move was to split Tiamat’s skull and cut her arteries. Then he broke her into two parts “like a dried fish,” using one half to roof the heavens and the other to surface the earth. From her breasts he made mountains, from her spittle, clouds, and he directed the rivers Tigris and Euphrates to flow from her eyes. (Hancock p. 144. Hancock’s source is the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, pp. 60)

He compares Marduk to Quetzalcoatl, who

in his incarnation as the creator deity, took the role of Marduk while the part of Tiamat was played by Cipactli, the “Great Earth Monster.” Quetzalcoatl seized Cipactli’s limbs “as she swam in the primeval waters and wrenched her body in half, one part forming the sky and the other the earth.” From her hair and skin he created grass, flowers and herbs; “from her eyes, wells and springs; from her shoulders, mountains.” (Hancock p. 144. Hancock’s sources are Adela Fernandez, Pre-Hispanic Gods of Mexico, p. 59 and Inga Glendinnen, Aztecs, p. 177)

Well, one can hardly miss the parallels to Ymir, the primordial giant in Old Norse Mythology. Ymir was formed in the thawing ice of Ginnungagap, the great void that lay between the extreme heat of Muspelheim and the extreme cold of Niflheim.  A male and female were formed from the sweat of Ymir’s left armpit, and one of his legs sired a son on the other. These were the first frost giants (Snorri Sturluson, Poetic Edda, Gylfaginning, ch. 5). Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve killed Ymir:

When he fell, so much blood gushed from his wounds that with it they drowned all the race of the frost giants except for one who escaped with his household. The giants call that one Bergelmir. He, together with his wife, climbed up on to his wooden box, and there they kept themselves safe. From them come the races of the frost giants….” (Snorri, Gylfaginning, ch. 7)

ZOMG! A flood that destroyed an entire race, except for just enough individuals to replenish the race! Hancock goes on and on about flood stories. It doesn’t really matter how dissimilar they are. If they involve floods (and sometimes even if they don’t), they have to be related in some way.  But wait, there’s more! After killing Ymir, Odin and his brothers created the world using bits of his body:

They took Ymir and they moved him into the middle of Ginnungagap and made from him the world. From his blood they made the sea and the lakes. The earth was fashioned from the flesh, and mountain cliffs from the bones. They made stones and gravel from the teeth, the molars and those bones that were broken.

…With the blood that gushed freely from the wounds, they made the sea, and by fashioning that sea around, they belted and fastened the earth. Most men would think it impossible to cross over this water.

…They also took his skull and from it made the sky. They raised it over the earth and under each of the four corners they placed a dwarf.

…[The gods built a fortress wall to protect the world from the giants.] As material for the wall, they used the eyelashes of the giant Ymir and called this stronghold Midgard…. They took his brain, threw it up into the air, and from it they made the clouds. (Snorri, Gylfaginning, ch. 8 )

In my parody, I was going to ask a lot of rhetorical questions that began “Is it simply a coincidence that…?” and “Or is it perhaps possible that…?” Then I’d note the big fuss Hancock makes over Mesoamerican gods who are described as white and mention all the works of art that he identifies as “clearly” representing bearded Caucasians. Heck, you can’t get much whiter than Scandinavians and still have melanin, and their gods are generally depicted as bearded. Finally, I was going to mention the Mayan god Votan, whom Hancock describes as “pale-skinned, bearded and wearing a long robe” (p. 103). Hey, Wotan/Woden/Odin/Oðinn was pale-skinned and bearded and often wore a cloak. If only this Votan fella was one-eyed. Could this possibly be a coincidence? (yes, yes it could).

I was saddened–for many reasons–to learn that people have seriously made this argument (see here as well as Votan link above). So, I plowed on with my reading, when, lo, I came across the following in a chapter called “The Many Masks of the Apocalypse:”

There is one ancient culture that perhaps preserves more vivid memories in its myths than any other; that of the so-called Teutonic tribes of Germany and Scandinavia, a culture best remembered through the songs of the Norse scalds and sages. The stories those songs retell have their roots in a past which may be much older than scholars imagine and which combine familiar images with strange symbolic devices and allegorical language to recall a cataclysm of awesome magnitude. (Hancock, p. 204)

Yay! Hancock made the Norse connection! I’m not sure why he thinks that the roots of Old Norse mythology may be much older than scholars imagine, except that he thinks ALL old cultures are somehow much older than we imagine. In a lengthy indented quotation, Hancock describes a Norse apocalypse in which he sees similarities to Mesoamerican, and ancient Iranian stories, among many others. All these stories involve cold and dark. In the Norse version he recounts, a giantess gives birth to a brood of wolves sired by the giant wolf Fenrir, son of Loki. One of the wolves devours the sun. The disappearance of the sun brings about a period of intense cold and brutality (known as fimbulvetr, awful or great winter). Fenrir escapes from his bonds. The world tree Yggdrasil is shaken violently; mountains split. “Abandoned by the gods, men were driven from their hearths and the human race was swept from the surface of the earth. The earth itself was beginning to lose its shape. Already the stars were coming adrift from the sky and falling into the gaping void” (Larousse, p. 279 qtd. in Hancock, p. 205). The fire giant Surt sets the earth alight; then the seas and rivers overflow; however, an undisclosed number of people survive, enclosed within Yggdrasil. They are the progenitors of a new race of men.

Now, in reading Hancock, I’ve found some odd things about the way he uses and cites sources. Of course, many of his sources are of an extremely dubious nature (Velikovsky and Sitchin, to name two). But one thing that concerns me is that when he’s recounting mythology, he often does not cite primary sources (or translations of primary sources). In some cases, I suppose, the primary sources may not be accessible, or they may not have been translated into English. But in some cases, for one indented quote, he will name more than one source, at least one of which is not a primary source. This has led me to suspect that he is picking and choosing information that fits his ideas. His presentation of the Norse material confirmed my suspicions. Both the Poetic and Prose Eddas have been translated into English several times and are easily accessible. Hancock does not quote from a translation. He again quotes from the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. And I found the quotation odd in a number of ways. For one thing, there are some bits I don’t remember–for instance the dwarfs trying to find entrances to their underground dwellings–but perhaps I just missed or forgot those bits.

Larousse is available for free online. In consulting it, I noticed that Hancock has altered wordings here and there (or perhaps there is some variation in versions of Larousse: his page numbers don’t match mine, either). These alterations are trivial. A much bigger problem is that Hancock has omitted large chunks of the story without using ellipses. The story Hancock is recounting is that of Ragnarok, the doom of the gods. What Hancock has omitted from the story is…the doom of the gods. He doesn’t mention Odin, Thor, Frey, Tyr or Heimdall. He doesn’t even mention Loki who is the leader of the “bad guys” and the father or ancestor of some of the monsters (Fenrir and the other wolves and Hel, goddess of the underworld).

That’s a hell of an omission. Now, it could be argued that he left out those bits to save space, and it’s the other elements, the ones that relate to the fate of the sun and the earth, etc., that are most pertinent to the discussion. I don’t buy it. I think it allows him to skew the story. He follows the quotation with the comment, “The new world this Teutonic myth announces is our own” (p. 205). This statement is simply untrue. The events described haven’t happened yet. While Larousse recounts the story in the past tense, Snorri Sturluson uses the present tense in the Prose Edda. Vǫluspá (the Prophecy of the Seeress), from the Poetic Edda, tells the story partly in the present tense, but it is clear that it describes events that have not yet occurred, since the seeress is addressing Odin, who is still alive (his death is foretold in the poem). Hancock adds: “Needless to say, like the Fifth Sun of the Aztecs and the Maya, it was created long ago and is new no longer” (p. 205). Again, this is not true. Ragnarok doesn’t parallel the beginning of the Fifth Sun, the beginning of the present age. From Hancock’s point of view, it would fit with December 23, 2012, the catastrophic end of an age (again, according to Hancock’s view).

This is some impressive cherry-picking. The story of Ragnarok is not obscure. It always refers to a future apocalyptic event. Now, granted, since the stories were told or recorded by Christians, one could argue that the Teutonic gods had died, but not in some world-destroying cataclysm that somehow relates to a real event we don’t seem to know about. They were simply supplanted by a new religion. Most of the myths Hancock discusses do concern disasters that happened in the distant past, but not all myths can be forced to tell the same story.

ES

REFERENCES

Hancock, Graham. Fingerprints of the Gods. New York: Crown, 1995.

New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Tr. Richard Aldington and Delano Ames. New York: Crescent, 1987. http://www.scribd.com/doc/2176365/New-Larousse-Encyclopedia-of-Mythology.

Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Tr. Jesse L. Byock. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2005.

Vǫluspá. Poetic Edda. Text with translation by Henry Adams Bellows available here.

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7 Responses to Fingerprints of the Norse Gods

  1. Ken says:

    There is one ancient culture that perhaps preserves more vivid memories in its myths than any other; that of the so-called Teutonic tribes of Germany and Scandinavia…

    Would mentioning the Thule Society and Ahnenerbe count as invoking Godwin’s Law?

    I do always find the crank sense of chronology fascinating. Here Hancock is citing myths from cultures that lived a good four thousand years apart; others (especially Atlanteans) think the pyramid-building Egyptians and Mayans were contemporaries. It’s like the (mythical?) tribes that count “1, 2, 3, … many”, except it’s “this year, last year, the year I was born, … the past”.

    • Eve says:

      Funny you should mention the Thule Society and Ahnenerbe because I realized that some of the people who have seriously made the argument that I was going to make humorously are a bit neo-Nazi. Can’t a girl study Old English and Old Norse and enjoy runes and Thor’s hammers without neo-Nazis ruining everything?

      Regarding chronology, particularly the Norse stuff: Hancock goes out of his way to point out that there are flood stories in Latin America and crosses used for decoration and that these appeared before there was any contact with Christians. He ignores the fact that the same is not true of the Norse Eddas. Snorri begins the Prose Edda with a very compact summary of a large chunk of the book of Genesis. He also misunderstands and therefore misinterprets certain elements of the stories he’s telling. Some of the poems of the Poetic Edda may be significantly older (pre-conversion), but they may still have picked up Christian influences in transmission. And of course, they are much MUCH younger than, say, the Egyptian pyramids.

      In general, Hancock gives lots of reasons why he distrusts conventional dating, but a lot of it seems to come down to his feelings. In the travelogue sections of his book, he travels to various places and then describes his feelings and impressions while he’s there. He feels that these must be very ancient monuments indeed and that there must be something more that we’re missing. And, of course, we are missing something–lots of somethings. We have rather limited information about the Olmecs, for instance. But we’re probably not missing some mysterious ancient culture that traveled the world passing out advanced knowledge and technology and then buggered off.

      What really bothered me about the Norse stuff is that his presentation of the material seems not only delusional, but also intentionally misleading. He carefully excises all mention of the gods and their fate; he avoids using the term “Ragnarok.” In doing so, he is able to shift a future event (that never happened) into the distant past.

    • Bradley A. Skene says:

      4000 years apart is interesting. I noticed something similar in the revisiting of Chariots of the Gods that was recently on the History Channel (vel sim), It turned out that the aliens stopped visiting any given culture as soon as they invented writing, and so kept up with the Maya much longer than the Egyptians. But none of the scholars interviewed seemed to relaizee this! I better go write it up.

  2. Pacal says:

    More than a decade ago I read FOTG and was amazed at its mendacity and the myriad distortions in it. The fact that it, along with the similarily dubious The Sign and the Seal, launched Mr. Hancock’s career has one of the most dubious purvayeurs of woo. It haas of course made him very rich and allowed him to make at least two worthless TV series.

    I must have missed the error in the book about Ragnarok, but I can see why our “Scholar” didn’t provide much of a reference. But then that is how Hancock works he seems to avoid primary sources like the plague and he relies very heavily on fellow woo sources.

    My chief area of interest these days is Pre-Columbian America and been so for the past 20 years. Hancock’s bilge in his book about the Maya, Tiwanaku etc., infuriated me to no end and still does.

    The story that these was a pre-columbian myth of Queztacoatl has a “white” god is utter nonsense. All the best and most accurate of the Indian sources show the God has an Indian with a black face!! Which is hardly surprising in pre-columbian Mexico priests were often covered from head to toe in black makeup with yellow stripes on the face and limbs. Oh and a “nickname” for the priests was Queztacoatl! Why? Well in the legends it was recorded that at the creation of the fifth sun, the new sun would not move because he hungered. So Queztacoatl sacrificed his fellow Gods to provide their blood and hearts so that the sun could move. So do priests in pre-Columbian America sacrificed humans so that the sun and all creation would continue to exist.

    The analogy was that since the Gods shed their blood, (water / rain was considered like blood), so man would be nourished and live so man must shed his blood so the Gods would live.

    The idea that Queztacoatl was benificent in a christ like manner and “white” seems to be a post conquest invention. Apparently deliberately invented by Spanish friars who thought the God might be St. Thomas!

    Frankly the Spanish Friars had little real understanding of Mesoamerican religion. The fact that the Gods tended to blur into each other, that each god was at one and the sametime benificent and manevolent. The blending of the Gods is indicated for example in Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking Mirror”), who was Quezracoatl’s eternal enemy but also the co-creator of the Cosmos and also called “Black Queztacoatl”. In fact the 4 chief Gods of the Aztecs (Huitzilopochtli – patron war God of the Aztecs, Queztacoatl, Mictlancihuatl – Lord of the dead,Tezcatlipoca), were considerd seperate aspects of a sort of mega Tezcatlipoca. In fact it appears that this sort of merging of deities was so common that the idea that there was really only one deity wasn’t a concept the Mesoamericans had much trouble with.

    However the role the idea that the natives thought that Queztacoatl was “white” plays into the myth that the natives were expecting the imminent return of Queztacoatl and mistoke Cortes and his soldiers for returning Gods. A reading of Bernard Diaz’s, (A participant in the conquest), Conquest of Mexico, reveals that the natives did NOT take the Spanish for Gods, instead they aided or opposed the Spanish for pragmatic reasons, although rather puzzeled by the Spanish. It also reveals that Montezuma, supposidly so befuddled with this notion, back talking to Cortes, intriguing against him etc. (Similar crap was reported for Peru with nonsense about Virachoca – the Peruvian creator deity.) It appears to be a concoction of later Spanish friars and natives trying to make sense of the conquest. An event that was appocalyptic for them. The aftermath was if anything worst with disintigration of the native culture and a catastrophic decline in the population. The nearest comparison I can make is Cambodias year zero and the Khener Rouge. Just how disaterous was the experience is indicated by one telling fact. It appears that in 1900 C.E., Mexico, apparently, had a SMALLER population than it did in 1517 C.E!

    A real annoying aspect of the whole white God returning nonsense is that it is part and parcel of a tradition that denies the peoples of the Americas their own achievements and instead attributes their civilization to outside culture bringers ussually so-called “white gods”.

    Hancock follows this oh so annoying tradition. And of course it indicates his superficial research.

  3. dating for nudists…

    […]Fingerprints of the Norse Gods « Skeptical Humanities[…]…

  4. […] similar to what ancient alien theorist Graham Hancock does in Fingerprints of the Gods, as I have discussed previously. Both Hancock and Hawking speak of an event that is supposed to happen in the future and apply it […]

  5. Richard Sepiroth says:

    Winner write history,so they say

    In christian tradition,Jesus conqure the world n today many assholes are refferin to Jesus as Creator,a title he cunningly but not openly in his god-sple

    But in ancient myths suprressed by xtian
    Younger ones/warrior rebel against their father/priestlike to take over universe

    You’ll see ridiculous description of creation myths by younger one cos it was the older who were self-existing n abiltity to create life but younger can only manipulate

    You see my ppl,real time clonning will never be possible cos only part of brain that carry direct consciousness is 0.0003inches in the brain,rest of cells/genes are carrier but the Elder Gods or Primes had a body full of consciousness:their Solar body is Life

    Mankind will be suprised one day that Zeus never met Chronos cos Chronos died creatin Zeus father Cronus cos Entropy still matter in clonning,if Elder Prime extract frm their Consciousness,they’ll explode

    What do you think explode earth?
    >First experiment by Chronos

    Second Chronos explosion was conceal to planet between Mars&Jupiter n Chronos pass to other side of time

    Guess what Zeus/Nessus/Jessus did to claim universe:he restore Chronos with blood switch for Iguana and our prescious Chronos became a flying drago instd of death as plan as Messiah of our time who believe work of Chronos is done and he shld be the ruler

    He’s smart,you will say

    But in elda,odin was warned:no matter what Chronos/Surtur/Saturn/Satan/Set will rise again and defeat odin n his followers

    St Malachi prophesy of Petrus Romanus

    Watch Stargate SG-1,in season 9,when ORI prior came,he said:

    As Petrus lay diein in the field,
    Petrus spoke to the rock,not with his lips but with his mind and the rock wept tears of fresh water and his thirst was quenched

    Chronos is creature of Light,human are creature of flesh and they have sub consious envy for their creator blockin his return

    Your Goverment follow way of odin-thor but,prophecy is prophecy:Jesus ll loose

    Chronos:Herakles will rise and free himself and world will know True GOD

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