King Gylfi, still disguised as Gangleri, persists in his efforts. He aims to obtain as much information from the great Trinity of Gods as his trickery can muster. It's not everyday you get to chat with the masters of the cosmos (High, Just-as-High, and Third in case you forgot).
After hearing about the universe and creation, Gangleri finally asks a question on the lips of all travellers having braved the harsh Icelandic elements.
Whence comes the wind? It is so strong that it whips the great oceans and stirs up fire. But as strong as it is, no one can see it. It is so wondrously made.
Then High answered : 'That I can tell you well. At the far Northern end of Heaven, sits a Giant named Hraesvelg. He is clad in eagle's feathers. And when he beats his wings to take flight, the winds arise from under them. (The Prose Edda 18.)
And so, from the northernmost part of the cosmos, Hraesvelg, 'who knows many things', sends gusts of wind rushing onto the bare Icelandic mountains. Carving the landscape even as did the sons of Bor.
"Hraesvelg, he is called,
who sits at Heaven's End
a Giant in Eagle's shape.
From his wings it is said, the Winds
blow over all men"
(The Sybil's Prophecy. 37)
However, the Scandinavian scriptures tell us, Hraesvelg is not alone on the edge of the universe (which, as everyone knows, is a big tree). Between his eyes rests a hawk, Veðrfölnir, 'wind-bleached' clear and bright. Not to be confused with Odin's ravens discussed in the podcast...
And one shouldn't imagine that the feathered friends are undisturbed...
The cosmos-tree Yggdrasil leads with its roots down to three planes: the divine one, the one where matter was formed, and the evil one (respectively Æsir, 'where Ginnungagap used to be', and Niflheim). And underneath the lowest root, there where serpents abide, the monster Nidhogg gnaws at Yggdrasil. Meaning, he's biting the roots of it. Which is most probably very unpleasant for the Tree.
Between this lowest plane where the munching goes on, and heaven's end, a squirrel, Ratatosk is up to all kinds of mischief. He carries 'gossip and insults' between our winged giant and the evil monster. Yes, really. A gossiping squirrel. But to be fair to him, older sources than the very recent Prose Edda (XIIIth c.) state simply that:
'Ratatosk is the squirrel who there shall run, On the ash-tree Yggdrasil; From above the words of the eagle he bears, And tells them to Nidhogg beneath.' (Grímnismál - Poetic Edda)
Which is more straightforward and less controversial for our little friend.
In the midst of the branches, four stags rummage around 'devouring the tree's foliage'. But hey. Stags do what stags do. It's a stag's dues. There's no stag don'ts. Just ... yes you got it. And the lads are: Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór.
See if you can identify this merry band of beasts...
Although, actually, the god 'High' is frustratingly unclear about one point: whether Hraesvelg is that same eagle, or, if a separate eagle, non-wind-related, sits up there with a hawk between his eyes. Which would mean there would be two. So a total of four eagle wings. And lots more feathers.
This is up for debate amongst animal-scholars, and I'm just glad I got to bring up the squirrel.
Surely wider concepts hide here in the branches of Yggdrasil. Do you see in it the cosmos, a metaphor for the body, or an Scandinavian's very creative prose?
Interestingly, this representation may have been on a Road Trip of its own. These concepts seem to echo Euro-Asian mythology (see the eagle Garuda who triumphs over serpents, or also the serpent-like kundalini, both from the Hindu faith) and may have been influenced by it, as well as by Christian imagery, say the above-mentioned scholars. The disrupting serpent-beast Nidhogg resonates quite well also with the one who tempted Adam and Eve to fall out of Heaven. Food for thought no doubt.
All in all, noble creatures and restless beasts, grace, threaten and defend the great tree of life Yggdrasil. But, it is near impossible to picture any of it being the truth behind our reality, when faced with the calm beauty of an early evening by the fjords of Eyjafjörður.
Thanks for reading/viewing! If you've made this far, do drop a comment! It's fantastic to know when (if?) someone actually makes it through the whole thing. May Hraesvelg's mighty winds arrive to you as light guiding breezes.
This musical adventure through Iceland is made possible with the participation of the lovely and crazy people at awesome Kuku Campers, and with the participation of CloudMusic Ukuleles, which are the ukes you see me wandering and musing with here on the island!