Fire, a concept that is very present in Northern mythology and also a concept that I have broken my head over for some time now. The symbology is multi-layered and however I still haven’t fully worked out the subject, I want to present some thoughts and come to an interpretation of some elements of Northern mythology.
There are two primal forces in Nordic myths, two forces that are known under the names, “fire” and “ice”. Before there was anything, there was Ginungagap, a “yawning gap”. In the south of it, fire ‘resided’ and in the north, ice. When these two came together, everything started. So, fire is the primal force, one side of the Divine. Some symbology!
It is not strange that fire keeps coming back in the symbology of Nordic mythology. What may be strange is that fire is much better represented than ice, but this is not the subject of this article.
Later in the creation myth, the triple divinity Odin, Hænir (sometimes Hoenir, or Hnir) and Lodur give capacities and make man. “Spirit gave Odin, “óður” gave Hoenir, “lá” gave Lodur and the form of gods”. This is how Rydberg translates Völuspa 18. More often you will read something like “Soul gave Othin, sense gave Hnir, Heat gave Lothur and goodly hue”. (Ari Odhinnsen) In the Prose Edda it is Odin, Vili and Vé who are the givers of these things.
Lodur is often said to be Loki. In the preface to the Reginsmal Odin, Hænir and Loki are named together, so this is not strange. Loki is the most famous of ‘fire Gods’ from the Northern pantheon. The name Loki has been explained in different ways of which two are most interesting in our story. “Logi” supposedly means “flame” and the terms “liuhan” (Gothic) and “lecht” (Anglo-Saxon) are linked to the English word “light”, but also to the term “flame”. The same goes for the term “Lód”.
When you think of it, there are three Gods connected to the concept of fire and also connected to eachother: Heimdallr, Balder and Loki. Heimdallr is the “white As”, the watchman on the Bifrost bridge and is therefor the middleman between the world of men and the world of the Gods. Heimdallr is not only the connecting smoke-pillar representing the Irminsul in the fire ritual, but also unchanging fire. He is the metaphysic flame, beyond time and space. In this regard Heimdallr can be equated with Brahman of the Hindus.
The second name that I mentioned is that of Balder. Balder is Heimdallr, but on another plane. We can place Heimdallr on the godly level, Balder on the human level and Loki on the underwordly level (or Asgard, Midgard and Utgard). Balder is the incarnated fire, the fire in ‘our world’ so to say. He is the warmth of our heart, the sun, the ancestral hearth-fire. To use another Hindu term, Balder may be seen as Atman.
I have already said a few things about Loki, but you can imagine that in regard of the previous, Loki is the destructive, incinerating, consuming fire. Loki is longing and desire.
When I draw this line further, I can say that Balder and Loki are dual aspects of Heimdallr, but on other levels.
Lightning is often connected to fire and when I say lightning, I say Thor. Lightning is sparks of fire when Thor’s hammer hits something. The hammer makes an interesting connection, since with his Mjölnir, Thor kills giants (ice-giants!), but the Mjölnir is also connected with right (the judge’s hammer), consecration (for example of marriages) and initiations (a ‘higher’ form of consecration).
To bring the above together, we get the following picture. Loki, the lower self, turns against the higher self (Balder), causing Ragnarök. During this Ragnarök, Thor kills the Midgard-snake (‘manifestation’), Heimdallr (our divine spark) fights Loki and all this in order to have our higher self ‘become divine’ (in other words: to develop and realise our Balder to become Heimdallr).
An interesting point that does not fit completely in the above is that Surtr, the leader of the fire-giants who raise up to fight the Aesir, also seems to be the cause of the sparks coming from Muspelheimr and thus creation. During Ragnarök Surtr destroys the Bifrost-bridge (Heimdallr’s ‘domain’), kills Freyr and sets the world to flames. Whereas Heimdallr seems to be some ‘overhuman’ fire-aspect, Surtr is more of an ‘underhuman’ aspect. Both larger than our petty selves, but completely opposital. In this regard Surtr maybe represents the outside forces that try to disconnect us from our divine origin. Whatever we may call “evil” maybe. Surtr seems to have always been there and whereas Loki, Balder and Heimdallr are ‘part of us’, Surtr is not.
Of course there are more figures that can be connected to fire, but here I present a certain aspect that may shed light on some of the symbolism in Northern mythology.