In early Nordic belief, from the mixture of the glacial waters of Niflheim (the land of ice and mist) and the warm winds of Muspellsheim (the land of fire), came forth the first two creatures—the giant Ymir, who fathered a race of giants, and the cow Audhumla, who created the first god, Buri. Buri's son, Borr, fathered the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve, who together destroyed Ymir and from his body fashioned the heavens and the earth. From two trees the gods created the first man and woman—Ashr (Ask) and Embla. The universe was supported by the great ash tree Yggdrasill, whose roots and branches extended into the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. Near one of the roots of the tree flowed the fountain of Mimir, in whose sacred waters all the wisdom of the universe flowed. Near another root dwelled the Norns, who represented fate. (The concept of fate was one of the most important beliefs of Germanic religion; everything, even the gods, was subject to it.) In the tree's branches perched a sacred bird, who, with the god Heimdall, warned the gods when an attack from the giants was imminent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.