The Creation Of Man The Primeval Country Scef The Bringer Of Culture

The human race, or at least the Teutonic race, springs, according to the

myth, from a single pair, and has accordingly had a centre from which

their descendants have spread over that world which was embraced by the

Teutonic horizon. The story of the creation of this pair has its root

in a myth of ancient Aryan origin, according to which the first parents

were plants before they became human beings. The Iranian version of the

story is preserved in Bundehesh, chap. 15. There it is stated that the

first human pair grew at the time of the autumnal equinox in the form of

a rheum ribes with a single stalk. After the lapse of fifteen years

the bush had put forth fifteen leaves. The man and woman who developed

in and with it were closely united, forming one body, so that it could

not be seen which one was the man and which one was the woman, and they

held their hands close to their ears. Nothing revealed whether the

splendour of Ahuramazda--that is to say, the soul--was yet in them or

not. Then said Ahuramazda to Mashia (the man) and to Mashiana (the

woman): "Be human beings; become the parents of the world!" And from

being plants they got the form of human beings, and Ahuramazda urged

them to think good thoughts, speak good words and do good deeds. Still,

they soon thought an evil thought and became sinners. The rheum ribes

from which they sprang had its own origin in seed from a primeval being

in human form, Gaya Maretan (Gayo-mert), which was created from

perspiration (cp. Vafthrudnersmal, xxxiii. 1-4), but was slain by the

evil Angra Mainyu. Bundehesh then gives an account of the first

generations following Mashia and Mashiana, and explains how they spread

over the earth and became the first parents of the human race.

The Hellenic Aryans have known the myth concerning the origin of man

from plants. According to Hesiodus, the men of the third age of the

world grew from the ash tree (ek meleon); compare the Odyssey, xix,


From this same tree came the first man according to the Teutonic myth.

Three asas, mighty and worthy of worship, came to Midgard (at husi,

Voelusp., 16; compare Voelusp., 4, where Midgard is referred to by the

word salr) and found a landi Ask and Embla. These beings were then

"of little might" (litt megandi) and "without destiny"

(oerloegslausir); they lacked oend, they lacked odr, they had no la

or laeti or litr goda, but Odin gave them oend, Honor gave them odr,

Loder gave them la and litr goda. In reference to the meaning of

these words I refer my readers to No. 95, simply noting here that litr

goda, hitherto defined as "good colour" (godr litr), signifies "the

appearance (image) of gods." From looking like trees Ask and Embla got

the appearance which before them none but the gods had assumed. The

Teutons, like the Greeks and Romans, conceived the gods in the image of


Odin's words in Havamal, 43, refer to the same myth.

The passage explains that when the Asa-god saw the modesty of the

new-made human pair he gave them his own divine garments to cover them.

When they found themselves so beautifully adorned it seems to indicate

the awakening sense of pride in the first human pair. The words are: "In

the field (velli at) I gave my clothes to the two wooden men (tveim

tremoennum). Heroes they seemed to themselves when they got clothes. The

naked man is embarrassed."

But the expressions a landi and velli at should be observed. That

the trees grew on the ground, and that the acts of creating and clothing

took place there is so self-evident that these words would be

meaningless if they were not called for by the fact that the authors of

these passages in Havamal and Voeluspa had in their minds the ground

along the sea, that is, a sea-beach. This is also clear from a

tradition given in Gylfaginning, chapter 9, according to which the three

asas were walking along the sea-beach (med saevarstroendu) when they

found Ask and Embla, and created of them the first human pair.

Thus the first human pair were created on the beach of an ocean. To

which sea can the myth refer? The question does not concern the ancient

Aryan time, but the Teutonic antiquity, not Asia, but Europe; and if we

furthermore limit it to the Christian era there can be but one answer.

Germany was bounded in the days of Tacitus, and long before his time, by

Gaul, Rhoetia, and Pannonia on the west and south, by the extensive

territories of the Sarmatians and Dacians on the east, and by the ocean

on the north. The so-called German Ocean, the North Sea and the Baltic,

was then the only body of water within the horizon of the Teutons, the

only one which in the days of Jordanes, after the Goths long had ruled

north of the Black Sea, was thought to wash the primeval Teutonic

strands. The myth must therefore refer to the German Ocean. It is

certain that the borders of this ocean where the myth has located the

creation of the first human pair, or the first Teutonic pair, was

regarded as the centre from which their descendants spread over more and

more territory. Where near the North Sea or the Baltic was this centre


Even this question can be answered, thanks to the mythic fragments

preserved. A feature common to all well-developed mythological systems

is the view that the human race in its infancy was under the special

protection of friendly divinities, and received from them the doctrines,

arts, and trades without which all culture is impossible. The same view

is strongly developed among the Teutons. Anglo-Saxon documents have

rescued the story telling how Ask's and Embla's descendants received the

first blessings of culture from the benign gods. The story has come to

us through Christian hands, which, however, have allowed enough of the

original to remain to show that its main purpose was to tell us how the

great gifts of culture came to the human race. The saga names the land

where this took place. The country was the most southern part of the

Scandinavian peninsula, and especially the part of it bordering on the

western sea. Had these statements come to us only from northern sources,

there would be good reason for doubting their originality and general

application to the Teutonic tribes. The Icelandic-Norwegian middle-age

literature abounds in evidence of a disposition to locate the events of

a myth and the exploits of mythic persons in the author's own land and

town. But in this instance there is no room for the suspicion that

patriotism has given to the southern-most part of the Scandinavian

peninsula a so conspicuous prominence in the earliest history of the

myth. The chief evidence is found in the traditions of the Saxons in

England, and this gives us the best clue to the unanimity with which the

sagas of the Teutonic continent, from a time prior to the birth of

Christ far down in the middle ages, point out the great peninsula in the

northern sea as the land of the oldest ancestors, in conflict with the

scholastic opinion in regard to an emigration from Troy. The region

where the myth located the first dawn of human culture was certainly

also the place which was regarded as the cradle and centre of the race.

The non-Scandinavian sources in question are: Beowulf's poem,

Ethelwerdus, Willielmus Malmesburiensis, Simeon Dunelmensis, and

Matthaeus Monasteriensis. A closer examination of them reveals the fact

that they have their information from three different sources, which

again have a common origin in a heathen myth. If we bring together what

they have preserved of the story we get the following result:[8]

One day it came to pass that a ship was seen sailing near the coast of

Scedeland or Scani,[9] and it approached the land without being

propelled either by oars or sails. The ship came to the sea-beach, and

there was seen lying in it a little boy, who was sleeping with his head

on a sheaf of grain, surrounded by treasures and tools, by glaives and

coats of mail. The boat itself was steady and beautifully decorated. Who

he was and whence he came nobody had any idea, but the little boy was

received as if he had been a kinsman, and he received the most constant

and tender care. As he came with a sheaf of grain to their country the

people called him Scef, Sceaf.[10] (The Beowulf poem calls him Scyld,

son of Sceaf, and gives Scyld the son Beowulf, which originally was

another name of Scyld.) Scef grew up among this people, became their

benefactor and king, and ruled most honourably for many years. He died

far advanced in age. In accordance with his own directions, his body was

borne down to the strand where he had landed as a child. There in a

little harbour lay the same boat in which he had come. Glittering from

hoar-frost and ice, and eager to return to the sea, the boat was waiting

to receive the dead king, and around him the grateful and sorrowing

people laid no fewer treasures than those with which Scef had come. And

when all was finished the boat went out upon the sea, and no one knows

where it landed. He left a son Scyld (according to the Beowulf poem,

Beowulf son of Scyld), who ruled after him. Grandson of the boy who came

with the sheaf was Healfdene--Halfdan, king of the Danes (that is,

according to the Beowulf poem).

The myth gives the oldest Teutonic patriarchs a very long life, in the

same manner as the Bible in the case of Adam and his descendants. They

lived for centuries (see below). The story could therefore make the

culture introduced by Scef spread far and wide during his own reign, and

it could make his realm increase with the culture. According to

scattered statements traceable to the Scef-saga, Denmark, Angeln, and at

least the northern part of Saxland, have been populated by people who

obeyed his sceptre. In the North Goetaland and Svealand were subject to


The proof of this, so far as Denmark is concerned, is that, according to

the Beowulf poem, its first royal family was descended from Scef through

his son Scyld (Skjold). In accordance herewith, Danish and Icelandic

genealogies make Skjold the progenitor of the first dynasty in Denmark,

and also make him the ruler of the land to which his father came, that

is, Skane. His origin as a divinely-born patriarch, as a hero receiving

divine worship, and as the ruler of the original Teutonic country,

appears also in Fornmannasoegur, v. 239, where he is styled Skaninga

god, the god of the Scanians.

Matthaeus Westmonast. informs us that Scef ruled in Angeln.

According to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, the dynasty of Wessex came from

Saxland, and its progenitor was Scef.

If we examine the northern sources we discover that the Scef myth still

may be found in passages which have been unnoticed, and that the tribes

of the far North saw in the boy who came with the sheaf and the tools

the divine progenitor of their celebrated dynasty in Upsala. This can be

found in spite of the younger saga-geological layer which the hypothesis

of Odin's and his Trojan Asas' immigration has spread over it since the

introduction of Christianity. Scef's personality comes to the surface,

we shall see, as Skefill and Skelfir.

In the Fornalder-sagas, ii. 9, and in Flateyarbok, i. 24, Skelfir is

mentioned as family patriarch and as Skjold's father, the progenitor of

the Skjoldungs. There can, therefore, be no doubt that Scef, Scyld's

father, and through him the progenitor of the Skjoldungs, originally is

the same as Skelfir, Skjold's father, and progenitor of the Skjoldungs

in these Icelandic works.

But he is not only the progenitor of the Skjoldungs, but also of the

Ynglings. The genealogy beginning with him is called in the

Flateryarbok, Skilfinga aett edr skjoldunga aett. The Younger Edda also

(i. 522) knows Skelfir, and says he was a famous king whose genealogy

er koellut skilvinga aett. Now the Skilfing race in the oldest sources

is precisely the same as the Yngling race both from an Anglo-Saxon and

from a heathen Norse standpoint. The Beowulf poem calls the Swedish

kings scilfingas, and according to Thjodulf, a kinsman of the Ynglings

and a kinsman of the Skilfing, Skilfinga nidr, are identical

(Ynglingatal, 30). Even the Younger Edda seems to be aware of this. It

says in the passage quoted above that the Skilfing race er i

Austrvegum. In the Thjodulf strophes Austrvegar means simply

Svealand, and Austrkonungur means Swedish king.

Thus it follows that the Scef who is identical with Skelfir was in the

heathen saga of the North the common progenitor of the Ynglinga and of

the Skjoldunga race. From his dignity as original patriarch of the royal

families of Sweden, Denmark, Angeln, Saxland, and England, he was

displaced by the scholastic fiction of the middle ages concerning the

immigration of Trojan Asiatics under the leadership of Odin, who as the

leader of the immigration also had to be the progenitor of the most

distinguished families of the immigrants. This view seems first to have

been established in England after this country had been converted to

Christianity and conquered by the Trojan immigration hypothesis. Wodan

is there placed at the head of the royal genealogies of the chronicles,

excepting in Wessex, where Scef is allowed to retain his old position,

and where Odin must content himself with a secondary place in the

genealogy. But in the Beowulf poem Scef still retains his dignity as

ancient patriarch of the kings of Denmark.

From England this same distortion of the myth comes to the North in

connection with the hypothesis concerning the immigration of the

"Asiamen," and is there finally accepted in the most unconcerned manner,

without the least regard to the mythic records which were still well

known. Skjold, Scef's son, is without any hesitation changed into a son

of Odin (Ynglingasaga, 5; Foreword to Gylfag., 11). Yngve, who as the

progenitor of the Ynglings is identical with Scef, and whose very name,

perhaps, is or has been conceived as an epithet indicating Scef's tender

age when he came to the coast of Scandia--Yngve-Scef is confounded with

Frey, is styled Yngve-Frey after the appellation of the Vana-god Ingunar

Frey, and he, too, is called a son of Odin (Foreword to Gylfag., c. 13),

although Frey in the myth is a son of Njord and belongs to another race

of gods than Odin. The epithet with which Are Frode in his Schedae

characterises Yngve, viz., Tyrkiakonungr, Trojan king, proves that the

lad who came with the sheaf of grain to Skane is already in Are changed

into a Trojan.

[Footnote 8: Geijer has partly indicated its significance in Svea Rikes

Haefder, where he says: "The tradition anent Sceaf is remarkable, as it

evidently has reference to the introduction of agriculture, and shows

that it was first introduced in the most southern part of Scandinavia."]

[Footnote 9: The Beowulf poem has the name Scedeland (Scandia): compare

the name Skadan in De origine Longobardorum. Ethelwerd writes: "Ipse

Skef cum uno dromone advectus est in insulam Oceani, quae dicitur Scani,

armis circumdatus," &c.]

[Footnote 10: Matthaeus Westmonast. translates this name with frumenti

manipulus, a sheaf.]

The Creation Of Heaven And Earth The Creation Of Man-kind And The Flood facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail