The Beginning of the World
In the beginning was the Yawning Void in which was neither heat nor cold, light nor darkness, until a spark arose and kindled, feeding on itself, into a vast world of flame.
At the far end of the universe from the bright flames of what became the southern world of Muspelheim, cold and darkness gathered, growing of themselves even as heat and light had done. So was born the dark cold northern world of Niflheim.
From Muspelheim rivers of fire poured into the emptiness, and from Niflheim came a bitter wind and a grinding procession of glaciers. But where ice and fire met there was a place of mild airs in which the ice dripped and melted.
(Image credit: 'Stream of Fire and Ice' by BoldFrontiers, https://www.deviantart.com/boldfrontiers/journal/Stock-Rules-Creative-Commons-3-0-241297198)
From the melting ice and the vital spark of the fire was born the first living creature, Ymir, the father of all frost-giants. Ymir slept, and he sweated in his sleep, and from that sweat his first children arose.
The cow Audhumbla also took shape and life from the ice. Ymir and his children, waking, drank of Audhumbla’s milk, and Ymir’s offspring lay with one another and begat more giants.
Audhumbla took her sustenance from licking the salty ice. And as she licked she uncovered hair, and then the head it grew on, and then the whole shape of a man: Búri the beautiful.
Búri begot a son (on whom, we are not told) who was named Borr, and Borr married a giantess named Bestla. These were the parents of Odin who later became the father of the gods.
As the children of the gods and the giants multiplied they began to fight, and the children of Borr proved the stronger. They killed Ymir, and his blood flowed out in a great tide which drowned most of his children: only the giant Bergelmir and his wife escaped on a ship to become parents of a mighty race.
Then the gods took Ymir’s body into the midst of the Void, and from it they wrought the earth. His bones became rock and his flesh earth, while his blood—for he was formed of ice—became the water that flowed in all the springs and rivers of the earth, and also in the encircling sea. For the middle-earth was one great sea-girt island.
The gods reared Ymir’s skull above the earth, and it became the firmament of heaven. They captured sparks escaped from the burning of Muspelheim and set them in the sky to be sun and stars and moon. Ymir’s brains, cast into the sky, floated there as clouds.
On the shores of the encircling sea the frost-giants dwelt, but in the midst of the land the gods raised Midgard, the land of men, in the shelter of what had been Ymir’s brows. Then Odin and his brethren walked by the seashore, where they found two trees. These they shaped into the forms of human bodies, and they gave to them spirit and life, sensory awareness and intelligence, and, finally, clothing and names. The man they called Ask, and the woman Embla. From these came all humankind.
At some later time the gods also gave life, sense and intelligence to the maggots that had crawled in Hymir’s body. These were the forefathers of the Dwarves, who became smiths of great skill and givers of rich (and sometimes perilous) gifts.
After the making of Men, and before the making of Dwarves, the gods raised for themselves the bright city of Asgard. The tale of the building and fortification of that city has been told elsewhere.
So all the middle-earth was set in order. But outside the giants still lurked, brooding over their injuries. The tales of their feuding with the gods are many, but the most terrible is that which tells of the world’s end, the coming day of Ragnarök.