Mimer's Grove Lif And Leifthraser
Category: THE MYTH IN REGARD TO THE LOWER WORLD.
Source: Teutonic Mythology
The grove is called after its ruler and guardian, Mimer's or
Treasure-Mimer's grove (Mimis holt--Younger Edda, Upsala Codex;
Gylfag., 58; Hoddmimis holt--Vafthrudnism, 45; Gylfag., 58).
Gylfaginning describes the destruction of the world and its
regeneration, and then relates how the earth, rising out of the sea, is
furnished with human inhabitants. "During the conflagration (i
Surtarloga) two persons are concealed in Treasure-Mimer's grove. Their
names are Lif (Lif) and Leifthraser (Leifthrasir), and they feed on
the morning dews. From them come so great an offspring that all the
world is peopled."
In support of its statement Gylfaginning quotes Vafthrudnersmal. This
poem makes Odin and the giant Vafthrudner (Vafthrudnir) put questions
to each other, and among others Odin asks this question:
Fiolth ec for,
fiolth ec freistathac,
fiolth ec um reynda regin:
hvat lifir manna,
tha er inn maera lithr
fimbulvetr meth firom?
"Much I have travelled, much I have tried, much I have tested the
powers. What human persons shall still live when the famous
fimbul-winter has been in the world?"
Lif oc Leifthrasir,
enn thau leynaz muno
i holti Hoddmimis;
thau ser at mat hafa
enn thadan af aldir alaz.
"Lif and Leifthraser (are still living); they are concealed in
Hodd-Mimer's grove. They have morning dews for nourishment. Thence (from
Hodd-Mimer's grove and this human pair) are born (new) races."
Gylfaginning says that the two human beings, Lif and Leifthraser, who
become the progenitors of the races that are to people the earth after
Ragnarok, are concealed during the conflagration of the world in
Hodd-Mimer's grove. This is, beyond doubt, in accordance with mythic
views. But mythologists, who have not paid sufficient attention to what
Gylfaginning's source (Vafthrudnersmal) has to say on the subject, have
from the above expression drawn a conclusion which implies a complete
misunderstanding of the traditions in regard to Hodd-Mimer's grove and
the human pair therein concealed. They have assumed that Lif and
Leifthraser are, like all other people living at that time, inhabitants
of the surface of the earth at the time when the conflagration of the
world begins. They have explained Mimer's grove to mean the world-tree,
and argued that when Surt's flames destroy all other mortals this one
human pair have succeeded in climbing upon some particular branch of the
world-tree, where they were protected from the destructive element.
There they were supposed to live on morning dews until the end of
Ragnarok, and until they could come down from their hiding-place in
Ygdrasil upon the earth which has risen from the sea, and there become
the progenitors of a more happy human race.
According to this interpretation, Ygdrasil was a tree whose trunk and
branches could be grasped by human hands, and one or more mornings, with
attendant morning dews, are assumed to have come and gone, while fire
and flames enveloped all creation, and after the sun had been swallowed
by the wolf and the stars had fallen from the heavens (Gylfag., 55;
Voelusp., 54)! And with this terrible catastrophe before their eyes, Lif
and Leifthraser are supposed to sit in perfect unconcern, eating the
For the scientific reputation of mythical inquiry it were well if that
sort of investigations were avoided when they are not made necessary by
the sources themselves.
If sufficient attention had been paid to the above-cited evidence
furnished by Vafthrudnersmal in this question, the misunderstanding
might have been avoided, and the statement of Gylfaginning would not
have been interpreted to mean that Lif and Leifthraser inhabited Mimer's
grove only during Ragnarok. For Vafthrudnersmal plainly states that
this human pair are in perfect security in Mimer's grove, while a long
and terrible winter, a fimbul-winter, visits the earth and destroys its
inhabitants. Not until after the end of this winter do giants and gods
collect their forces for a decisive conflict on Vigrid's plains; and
when this conflict is ended, then comes the conflagration of the world,
and after it the regeneration. Anent the length of the fimbul-winter,
Gylfaginning (ch. 55) claims that it continued for three years "without
any intervening summer."
Consequently Lif and Leifthraser must have had their secure place of
refuge in Mimer's grove during the fimbul-winter, which precedes
Ragnarok. And, accordingly, the idea that they were there only during
Ragnarok, and all the strange conjectures based thereon, are unfounded.
They continue to remain there while the winter rages, and during all the
episodes which characterise the progress of the world towards ruin, and,
finally, also, as Gylfaginning reports, during the conflagration and
regeneration of the world.
Thus it is explained why the myth finds it of importance to inform us
how Lif and Leifthraser support themselves during their stay in Mimer's
grove. It would not have occurred to the myth to present and answer this
question had not the sojourn of the human pair in the grove continued
for some length of time. Their food is the morning dew. The morning dew
from Ygdrasil was, according to the mythology, a sweet and wonderful
nourishment, and in the popular traditions of the Teutonic middle age
the dew of the morning retained its reputation for having strange,
nourishing qualities. According to the myth, it evaporates from the
world-tree, which stands, ever green and blooming, over Urd's and
Mimer's sacred fountains, and drops thence "in dales" (Voeluspa, 18, 28;
Gylfag., 16). And as the world-tree is sprinkled and gets its
life-giving sap from these fountains, then it follows that the liquid of
its morning dew is substantially the same as that of the subterranean
fountains, which contain the elixir of life, wisdom, and poesy (cp. Nos.
72, 82, and elsewhere).
At what time Mimer's grove was opened as an asylum for Lif and
Leifthraser, whether this happened during or shortly before the
fimbul-winter, or perchance long before it, on this point there is not a
word in the passages quoted from Vafthrudnersmal. But by the following
investigation the problem shall be solved.
The Teutonic mythology has not looked upon the regeneration of the world
as a new creation. The life which in time's morning developed out of
chaos is not destroyed by Surt's flames, but rescues itself, purified,
for the coming age of the world. The world-tree survives the
conflagration, for it defies both edge and fire (Fjolsvinnsm, 20, 21).
The Ida-plains are not annihilated. After Ragnarok, as in the beginning
of time, they are the scene of the assemblings of the gods (Voeluspa, 57;
cp. 7). Vanaheim is not affected by the destruction, for Njord shall in
aldar rauc (Vafthrudnersmal, 39) return thither "to wise Vans." Odin's
dwellings of victory remain, and are inhabited after regeneration by
Balder and Hoedr (Voeluspa, 59). The new sun is the daughter of the old
one, and was born before Ragnarok (Vafthr., 47), which she passes
through unscathed. The ocean does not disappear in Ragnarok, for the
present earth sinks beneath its surface (Voeluspa, 54), and the new earth
after regeneration rises from its deep (Voeluspa, 55). Gods survive
(Voeluspa, 53, 56; Vafthr. 51; Gylfag., 58). Human beings survive, for
Lif and Leifthraser are destined to become the connecting link between
the present human race and the better race which is to spring therefrom.
Animals and plants survive--though the animals and plants on the surface
of the earth perish; but the earth risen from the sea was decorated with
green, and there is not the slightest reference to a new act of creation
to produce the green vegetation. Its cascades contain living beings, and
over them flies the eagle in search of his prey (Voeluspa, 56; see
further, No. 55). A work of art from antiquity is also preserved in the
new world. The game of dice, with which the gods played in their youth
while they were yet free from care, is found again among the flowers on
the new earth (Voeluspa, 8, 58; see further, No. 55).
If the regeneration had been conceived as a new creation, a wholly new
beginning of life, then the human race of the new era would also have
started from a new creation of a human pair. The myth about Lif and
Leifthraser would then have been unnecessary and superfluous. But the
fundamental idea is that the life of the new era is to be a continuation
of the present life purified and developed to perfection, and from the
standpoint of this fundamental idea Lif and Leifthraser are necessary.
The idea of improvement and perfection are most clearly held forth in
regard to both the physical and spiritual condition of the future world.
All that is weak and evil shall be redeemed (bauls mun allz
batna--Voeluspa, 59). In that perfection of nature the fields unsown by
men shall yield their harvests. To secure the restored world against
relapse into the faults of the former, the myth applies radical
measures--so radical, that the Asa majesty himself, Valfather, must
retire from the scene, in order that his son, the perfectly blameless
Balder, may be the centre in the assembly of the chosen gods. But the
mythology would fail in its purpose if it did not apply equally radical
measures in the choice and care of the human beings who are to
perpetuate our race after Ragnarok; for if the progenitors have within
them the seed of corruption, it will be developed in their descendants.
Has the mythology forgotten to meet this logical claim? The demand is no
greater than that which is made in reference to every product of the
fancy of whatever age. I do not mean to say that a logical claim made
on the mythology, or that a conclusion which may logically be drawn from
the premises of the mythology, is to be considered as evidence that the
claim has actually been met by the mythology, and that the mythology
itself has been developed into its logical conclusion. I simply want to
point out what the claim is, and in the next place I desire to
investigate whether there is evidence that the claim has been honoured.
From the standpoint that there must be a logical harmony in the
mythological system, it is necessary:
1. That Lif and Leifthraser when they enter their asylum, Mimer's grove,
are physically and spiritually uncorrupted persons.
2. That during their stay in Mimer's grove they are protected against:
(a) Spiritual degradation.
(b) Physical degradation.
(c) Against everything threatening their very existence.
So far as the last point (2c) is concerned, we know already from
Vafthrudnersmal that the place of refuge they received in the vicinity
of those fountains, which, with never-failing veins, nourish the life of
the world-tree, is approached neither by the frost of the fimbul-winter
nor by the flames of Ragnarok. This claim is, therefore, met completely.
In regard to the second point (2b), the above-cited mythic traditions
have preserved from the days of heathendom the memory of a grove in the
subterranean domain of Gudmund-Mimer, set aside for living men, not for
the dead, and protected against sickness, aging, and death. Thus this
claim is met also.
As to the third point (2a), all we know at present is that there, in
the lower world, is found an enclosed place, the very one which death
cannot enter, and from which even those mortals are banished by divine
command who are admitted to the holy fountains and treasure chambers of
the lower world, and who have been permitted to see the regions of bliss
and places of punishment there. It would therefore appear that all
contact between those who dwell there and those who take part in the
events of our world is cut off. The realms of Mimer and the lower world
have, according to the sagas--and, as we shall see later, according to
the myths themselves--now and then been opened to bold adventurers, who
have seen their wonders, looked at their remarkable fountains, their
plains for the amusement of the shades of heroes, and their places of
punishment of the wicked. But there is one place which has been
inaccessible to them, a field proclaimed inviolable by divine command
(Gorm's saga), a place surrounded by a wall, which can be entered only
by such beings as can pass through the smallest crevices (Hadding's
saga). But that this difficulty of entrance also was meant to
exclude the moral evil, by which the mankind of our age is stained, is
not expressly stated.
Thus we have yet to look and see whether the original documents from the
heathen times contain any statements which can shed light on this
subject. In regard to the point (1), the question it contains as to
whether the mythology conceived Lif and Leifthraser as physically and
morally undefiled at the time when they entered Mimer's grove, can only
be solved if we, in the old records, can find evidence that a wise,
foreseeing power opened Mimer's grove as asylum for them, at a time when
mankind as a whole had not yet become the prey of physical and moral
misery. But in that very primeval age in which the most of the events of
mythology are supposed to have happened, creation had already become the
victim of corruption. There was a time when the life of the gods was
happiness and the joy of youthful activity; the condition of the world
did not cause them anxiety, and, free from care, they amused themselves
with the wonderful dice (Voeluspa, 7, 8). But the golden age ended in
physical and moral catastrophies. The air was mixed with treacherous
evil; Freyja, the goddess of fertility and modesty, was treacherously
delivered into the hands of the frost giants; on the earth the sorceress
Heid (Heid) strutted about teaching the secrets of black magic, which
was hostile to the gods and hurtful to man. The first great war broke
out in the world (Voeluspa, 21, 22, 26). The effects of this are felt
down through the historical ages even to Ragnarok. The corruption of
nature culminates in the fimbul-winter of the last days; the corruption
of mankind has its climax in "the axe- and knife-ages." The separation
of Lif and Leifthraser from their race and confinement in Mimer's grove
must have occurred before the above catastrophies in time's beginning,
if there is to be a guarantee that the human race of the new world is
not to inherit and develop the defects and weaknesses of the present
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