Mimer's Grove Lif And Leifthraser

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?"

Vafthrudner answers:

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

morning dews!

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).[37] 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

historical generations.

Middle Age Sagas With Roots In The Myth Concerning The Lower World Erik Vidforle's Saga Mishemokwa The Origin Of The Small Black Bear facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail