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Who are Ask and Embla in Norse Mythology?

ask and embla sculpture IN SWEEDN

Ask and Embla are the names of the first two human beings created by Odin and his brothers Víli and Vé in Norse Mythology. They, therefore, correspond to the “Adam and Eve” of Norse Mythology.

adam and eve

Adam and Eve the counterpart of Ask and Embla in Norse Mythology

Ask and Embla are mentioned in stanzas 17,18 of the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá,

  1. Then from the throng | did three come forth,
    From the home of the gods, | the mighty and gracious;
    Two without fate | on the land they found,
    Ask and Embla, | empty of might.
  2. Soul they had not, | sense they had not,
    Heat nor motion, | nor goodly hue;
    Soul gave Othin, | sense gave Hönir,
    Heat gave Lothur | and goodly hue.

According to the seeress reciting the poem, Hoenir, Lóurr, and Odin once discovered Ask and Embla on land. The seeress claims that the two were capable of very little and lacked in fate, and that the three gods bestowed three gifts on them.

It is said that these two trees were found by the three deities at the end of creation, as they were on their way home at the end of their long day’s work to create heaven and earth. Odin was the one who gave them life, Vili the one who gave them movement. According to other sources, Odin gave them breath, while Vili, the god of feeling, gave them the soul (for this reason, it is speculated that Víli may be the god of love, Freyr); finally Vé, the god of fire, gave them heat (for this reason, Vé is also identified with Loki, the god of fire).

ask and embla

The three deities then decided to give the newborn humans three more gifts: Odin wisdom and strength, Víli feeling and intelligence, and Vé speech and senses. They put robes on them and led them to that part of the universe which they called Midgard, “the middle ground,” since it lay halfway between the palace of the gods, Asgard, and the realm of the underworld. From Ask and Embla thus originated humanity.

A representation of Ask and Embla by Robert Engels 1919

A representation of Ask and Embla by Robert Engels 1919

Ask and Embla meaning

From the ash tree originated the man, who was called Ask, which means precisely “ash tree” (German for “Esche” and English for “Ash”). From the elm tree originated the woman, who was called Embla, that is precisely “elm” (in German “Ulme” and in English “Elm”).

The creation

According to Scandinavian and Germanic mythology, the planet Earth (and particularly Midgard, the name by which the land of men is called) originated with the king of the gods, Odin, and his two brothers following the slaying of Ymir, the ancestral giant.

Ymir, the first living being to appear in the universe, would represent ancestral chaos from the void, the Ginnungagap (if you want to know more on this topic we have written an article here). Odin, Víli and Vé were the ones who were able to create order from chaos by killing the giant and using his body parts to create the elements of nature.

odin with his broters

Odin with his brothers

Plants, in particular, came from Ymir’s hair. It was from plants-and not from the earth, as is handed down by many other religions, including Christianity and Judaism-that the first man and woman originated.

In Old Norse poetry, trees are frequently used as metaphors (kennings) for humans, implying a strong association between humans and trees in the Norse mind. Perhaps this is an indirect confirmation of the myth found in the Eddas. Henning Kure, an Old Norse scholar, interprets this association as follows: “Man has his feet on the ground, anchored in this world, with roots – ties – to death and chaos in his nature.” His crown, however, is in the mental or spiritual world. Man, like the world tree, possesses the ability to connect the worlds above and below. But it takes the god’s way to make the connection

According to another legend, however, the people of the Vikings were created successively by the god Heimdall and three different mortal women: from the eldest would be born slaves, from the second free men, and from the youngest the nobles.

Conclusion

According to Norse Mythology, Ask and Embla are the first man and woman. Ask and Embla were given Midgard as their realm by Odin and his brothers, and they populated it with their children and grandchildren. Apart from that, little is known about them due to the scarcity of information in the Norse literature.

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