But there is one tale in the lore which sets the stage for a magnificent change in the life of every adherent to Asatru. The Tale of King Gyfli himself. The great tale which relates a plethora of ancient knowledge for us to decipher. For a long time, I probably didn’t think much of it either. But then I read something written by Julian the Apostate. The Roman Emperor who was adamant concerning the return of Paganism to the Empire.
Julian was decidedly against what he called the Galileans. He felt that they pulled the people away from the gods and subsequently themselves. Here is what he wrote which prompted my entire train of thought concerning this book.
Further, that to make oneself like God as far as possible is nothing else than to acquire such knowledge of the essential nature of things as is attainable by mankind, is evident from the following. It is not on the score of abundance of possessions that we count the divine nature happy, nor on the score of any other of those things that are commonly believed to be advantages, but it is because, as Homer says, “The gods know all things”; and indeed he says also of Zeus, “But Zeus was older and wiser.” For it is in knowledge that the gods surpass ourselves. And it may well be that with them also what ranks as noblest is self-knowledge. In proportion then as they are nobler than we in their essential nature, that self-knowledge of theirs is a knowledge of higher things.
Much like I have mentioned in past writings, this is the sentiment written over the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The phrase “Know Thyself” is steeped in tradition and esoteric meaning. This legendary phrase was carved into the entrance to the temple and everyone who entered must have read it and wondered what it might mean. When I discovered the meanings of the Runes, I found a deeper sentiment of Julian’s philosophy. One which suggested that this knowledge of all things resides within our very being.
If one were to truly know thyself, what need would he have for an oracle. If anyone had control of his thoughts and thinking process, had tapped into the ability to create the world he wished to live in, what need would he have for someone to tell him what his future holds. To varying degrees, he would be comfortable in his own skin and capable of not only accepting the world as it is, but he might also have the strength of will to make it better. That careful play on words, has, to those who were not initiated, resulted in a thinking process that must be a cornerstone for monotheism. A type of behavior which pulled people away from their Gods, the beings who have been so instrumental in our development, beings who are by many accounts (including this one) our distant ancestors and coerced literally billions of people to begin looking outside of themselves for the knowledge of life. When it has been contained within us for all these long centuries.
The runes are a pattern for every man and woman’s life. When we get to Mannaz, the man become god followed by Laguz the interconnectedness of all things through the energy transferring power of water, Inguz, which means the god seed, Dagaz, the dawning of a new day and Othala or ancestral homeland. The emergence of Lif and Lifthrasir is the awakening of that understanding. The greatest expressions of the divine emanate from those who know themselves. The tale of King Gyfli is the grand tale of a man learning all things from those whose knowledge and thought process allow them to truly shape the world they wish to live in. It shows us very clearly what happens when the thought processes which are not conducive to this effort poison the well.
- King Gylfi ruled the land that men now call Sweden. It is told of him that he gave to a wandering woman, in return for her merry-making, a plow-land in his realm, as much as four oxen might turn up in a day and a night. But this woman was of the kin of the Æsir; she was named Gefjun. She took from the north, out of Jötunheim, four oxen which were the soils of a certain giant and, herself, and set them before the plow. And the plow cut so wide and so deep that it loosened up the land; and the oxen drew the land out into the sea and to the westward, and stopped in a certain sound. There Gefjun set the land, and gave it a name, calling it Selund. And from that time on, the spot whence the land had been torn up is water: it is now called the Lögr in Sweden; and bays lie in that lake even as the headlands in Selund. Thus says Bragi, the ancient skald:
Gefjun drew from Gylfi | gladly the wave-trove’s free-hold,
Till from the running beasts | sweat reeked, to Denmark’s increase;
The oxen bore, moreover, | eight eyes, gleaming brow-lights,
O’er the field’s wide: booty, | and four heads in their plowing.
- King Gylfi was a wise man and skilled in magic; he was much troubled that the Æsir-people were so cunning that all things went according to their will. He pondered whether this might proceed from their own nature, or whether the divine powers which they worshipped might ordain such things. He set out on his way to Ásgard, going secretly, and- clad himself in the likeness of an old man, with which he dissembled. But the Æsir were wiser in this matter, having second sight; and they saw his journeying before ever he came, and prepared against him deceptions of the eye. When he came into the town, he saw there a hall so high that he could not easily make out the top of it: its thatching was laid with golden shields after the fashion of a shingled roof. So also says Thjódólfr of Hvin, that Valhall was thatched with shields:
On their backs they let beam, | sore battered with stones,
Odin’s hall-shingles, | the shrewd sea-farers.
In the hall-doorway Gylfi saw a man juggling with anlaces, having seven in the air at one time. This man asked of him his name. He called himself Gangleri, and said he had come by the paths of the serpent, and prayed for lodging for the night, asking: “Who owns the hall?” The other replied that it was their king; “and I will attend thee to see him; then shalt thou thyself ask him concerning his; name;” and the man wheeled about before him into the hall, and he went after, and straightway the door closed itself on his heels. There he saw a great room and much people, some with games, some drinking; and some had weapons and were fighting. Then he looked about him, and thought unbelievable many things which he saw; and he said:
All the gateways | ere one goes out
Should one scan:
For ‘t is uncertain | where sit the unfriendly
On the bench before thee.
He saw three high-seats, each above the other, and three men sat thereon,-one on each. And he asked what might be the name of those lords. He who had conducted him in answered that the one who, sat on the nethermost high-seat was a king, “and his name is Hárr; but the next is named Janhárr; and he who is uppermost is called Thridi.” Then Hárr asked the newcomer whether his errand were more than for the meat and drink which were always at his command, as for every one there in the Hall of the High One. He answered that he first desired to learn whether there were any wise man there within. Hárr said, that he should not escape whole from thence unless he were wiser.
And stand thou forth | who speirest;
Who answers, | he shall sit.
III. Gangleri began his questioning thus: “Who is foremost, or oldest, of all the gods?” Hárr answered: “He is called in our speech Allfather, but in the Elder Ásgard he had twelve names: one is Allfather; the second is Lord, or Lord of Hosts; the third is Nikarr, or Spear-Lord; the fourth is Nikudr, or Striker; the fifth is Knower of Many Things; the sixth, Fulfiller of Wishes; the seventh, Far-Speaking One; the eighth, The Shaker, or He that Putteth the Armies to Flight; the ninth, The Burner; the tenth, The Destroyer; the eleventh, The Protector; the twelfth, Gelding.”
Then asked Gangleri: “Where is this god, or what power hath he, or what hath he wrought that is a glorious deed?” Hárr made answer: “He lives throughout all ages and governs all his realm, and directs all things, great
and small.” Then said Jafnhárr: “He fashioned heaven and earth and air, and all things which are in them.” Then. spake Thridi: “The greatest of all is this: that he made man, and gave him the spirit, which shall live and never perish, though the flesh-frame rot to mould, or burn to ashes; and all men shall live, such as are just in action, and be with himself in the place called Gimlé. But evil men go to Hel and thence down to the Misty Hel; and that is down in the ninth world.” Then said Gangleri: “What did he before heaven and earth were made?” And Hárr answered: “He was then with the Rime-Giants.”
- Gangleri said: “What was the beginning, or how began it, or what was before it?” Hárr answered: “As is told in Völuspá:
Erst was the age | when nothing was:
Nor sand nor sea, | nor chilling stream-waves;
Earth was not found, | nor Ether-Heaven,–
A Yawning Gap, | but grass was none.”
Then said Jafnhárr: “It was many ages before the earth was shaped that the Mist-World was made; and midmost within it lies the well that is called Hvergelmir, from which spring the rivers called Svöl, Gunnthrá, Fjörm, Fimbulthul, Slídr and Hríd, Sylgr and Ylgr, Víd, Leiptr; Gjöll is hard by Hel-gates.” And Thridi said: “Yet first was the world in the southern region, which was named Múspell; it is light and hot; that region is glowing and burning, and impassable to such as are outlanders and have not their holdings there. He who sits there at the land’s-end, to defend the land, is called Surtr; he brandishes a flaming sword, and at the end of the world he shall go forth and harry, and overcome all the gods, and burn all the world with fire; thus is said in Völuspá:
Surtr fares from the south | with switch-eating flame,–
On his sword shimmers | the sun of the War-Gods;
The rock-crags crash; | the fiends are reeling;
Heroes tread Hel-way; | Heaven is cloven.”
- Gangleri asked: “How were things wrought, ere the races were and the tribes of men increased?” Then said Hárr: “The streams called Ice-waves, those which were so long come from the fountain-heads that the yeasty venom upon them had hardened like the slag that runs out of the fire these then became ice; and when the ice halted and ceased to run, then it froze over above. But the drizzling rain that rose from the venom congealed to rime, and the rime increased, frost over frost, each over the other, even into Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void.” Then spake Jafnhárr: “Ginnungagap, which faced toward the northern quarter, became filled with heaviness, and masses of ice and rime, and from within, drizzling rain and gusts; but the southern part of the Yawning Void was lighted by those sparks and glowing masses which flew out of Múspellheim.” And Thridi said: “Just as cold arose out of Niflheim, and all terrible things, so also all that looked toward Múspellheim became hot and glowing; but Ginnungagap was as mild as windless air, and when the breath of heat met the rime, so that it melted and dripped, life was quickened from the yeast-drops, by the power of that which sent the heat, and became a man’s form. And that man is named Ymir, but the Rime-Giants call him Aurgelimir;
and thence are come the races of the Rime-Giants, as it says in Völuspá the Less:
All the witches | spring from Witolf,
All the warlocks | are of Willharm,
And the spell-singers | spring from Swarthead;
All the ogres | of Ymir come.
But concerning this says Vafthrúdnir the giant:
Out of the Ice-waves | issued venom-drops,
Waxing until | a giant was;
Thence are our kindred | come all together,–
So it is | they are savage forever.”
Then said Gangleri: “How did the races grow thence, or after what fashion was it brought to pass that more men came into being? Or do ye hold him God, of whom ye but now spake?” And Jafnhárr answered: “By no means do we acknowledge him God; he was evil and all his kindred: we call them Rime-Giants. Now it is said that when he slept, a sweat came upon him, and there grew under his left hand a man and a woman, and one of his feet begat a son with the other; and thus the races are come; these are the Rime-Giants. The old Rime-Giant, him we call Ymir.”
- Then said Gangleri: “Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance?” Hárr answered: “Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Audumla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir.” Then asked Gangleri: “Wherewithal was the cow nourished?” And Hárr made answer:
“She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man’s hair; the second day, a man’s head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty. He begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé. And this is my belief, that he, Odin, with his brothers, must be ruler of heaven and earth; we hold that he must be so called; so is that man called whom we know to be mightiest and most worthy of honor, and ye do well to let him be so called.”