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.

 High, Just-As-High, & Third ( Hár, Jafnhár, & Þriði ) and Gangleri, deep in conversation (Icelandic comic strip, XVIIIth c.)

High, Just-As-High, & Third (Hár, Jafnhár, & Þriði) and Gangleri, deep in conversation (Icelandic comic strip, XVIIIth c.)

 

After hearing about the universe, cosmos 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.

 'The Wind! Sometimes it's there, sometimes not. Where does it come from?' Gangleri scratches beard ponderously

'The Wind! Sometimes it's there, sometimes not. Where does it come from?' Gangleri scratches beard ponderously

 

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)

 Rare stillness. A gift from the Giant in Eagle's shape

Rare stillness. A gift from the Giant in Eagle's shape

 

However, 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...

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 (Æsir, 'where Ginnungagap used to be', and Niflheim). And underneath the lowest root, there where serpents abide, the monster Nidhogg gnaws at Yggdrasil.

Between this lowest plane and heaven's end, a squirrelRatatosk is up to all kinds of mischief. He carries 'gossip and insults' between our winged giant and the evil monster. Yes, really. A 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.' 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...

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Although, actually, the Gods are frustratingly unclear about one point: whether Hraesvelg is that same eagle, or, if a separate eagle, non-wind-related, sits there with a hawk between his eyes.

The second one there is much more likely... But how else was I supposed 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 echoes many concepts of Euro-Asian mythology (see the eagle Garuda who triumphs over serpents, and the serpent-like kundalini at the base of the spine in the Hindu faith). The disrupting serpent Nidhogg resonates quite well also with the one who tempted Adam and Eve to fall out of Heaven. Food for thought no doubt!

Noble creatures and restless beasts, grace, threaten and defend the great tree of life Yggdrasil. However, it's really hard 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.

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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.

The drawings in this post are from the manuscripts here (XVIIIth c.) and here (XVIIth c.). Feel free to click ahead and practice your olde Icelandic.

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!

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