Odin is the principal god in the Norse pantheon. Called the All-father, it was Odin who created Midgard with the help of his brothers Vili and Ve, and created mankind to inhabit the realm. He then went on to be the ruler of all the Aesir gods and the most important deity worshipped by the Vikings.
But, as we often ask in relation to creation myths, if Odin created the world of men, where did Odin come from?
Part of the Norse creation story and cosmology is preserved in the Gylfaginning section of the Prose Edda. It does provide an answer to where Odin came from, though it also raises many more questions.
Odin is the descendant of Buri, a primordial being who is the progenitor of all the Aesir gods.
Let’s take a closer look at what we know about Buri, and what questions still remain to be answered.
In Old Norse, the name Buri means “progenitor” or “father”, and he is described in the extant sources as the father of Borr, who is the father of Odin, described as the most famous man or god to ever exist, and his brothers Vili and Ve.
Buri seems to have given birth to Borr alone, without the need for a mate to complete the task.
Through this lineage, Buri is the progenitor of all the Aesir gods, just like Ymir is the progenitor of all the giants. Though this distinction seems like it became meaningless pretty quickly as Buri’s son Borr became the father of Odin and his brothers through a union with the giantess Bestla. So, the reality is that Odin himself is half-giant. And considering that Odin is the father of Thor with the giantess Jord, Thor could be considered more giant than god.
But where did Buri come from?
The Norse Creation Myth
According to the Norse creation story, in the beginning, there was not nothing. Two places already existed. A bright and flaming place called Muspelheim, and a cold and foggy land called Niflheim. Between the two was a giant void called Ginunngagap.
Within Niflheim is the source of a spring called Hvergelmir, from which flows numerous rivers. Over time this collection of rivers, known as the Elivagar, flowed further and further up into the void. But the rivers carried within them a poisonous substance that hardened and turned into ice in the void. And from this ice rose a poisonous vapor that solidified into a solid salty rime on top of the ice, constantly growing and filling up the void.
At the same time, hot winds from Muspelheim were also reaching out into the void. Eventually, as the heat and the ice grew closer and closer, the heat melted some of the solid salty rime, creating a primordial ooze. Ymir, also sometimes called Aurgelmir, emerged from this ooze. Ymir went on to become the progenitor of all the giants, with both male and female jotunn emerging from various parts of his body independently.
In order to sustain this constant birthing, Ymir nourished himself by drinking the milk of the primordial cow Audumbla, whose origins are unclear. But as Ymir fed from Audumbla, the cow was feeding on the hardened salt rime that still remained, licking away at the hard substance.
Over the course of three days, she licked Buri out of the salt rime, with his hair emerging on the first day, his head on the second, and the rest of his body on the third. He emerged beautiful and strong, and like Ymir, started to create life, becoming the father of Borr, who would marry the giant Bestla and have three sons, the gods Odin, Vili, and Ve.
The End of Primordial Times
What happened to these primordial beings? According to the story, Odin, Vili, and Ve killed Ymir. His blood created a giant flood that killed almost all of his giant offspring.
They made the ground from Ymir’s flesh, the rocks and stones from his bones and teeth, the sea, lakes, and oceans from his blood, and the sky from his skull. The three gods then took sparks of light from Muspelheim to create the lights in the night sky.
The surviving giants were banished to their own land that was separated from the other lands by a sea. They also used the eyelashes of Ymir to create fortifications around a place that they called Midgard, later creating man to populate the area.
But What About Buri?
But while this explains what happened to Ymir and most of his giant children, it does not tell us what happened to Buri?
Was he killed in the great flood caused by Ymir’s blood? Did he pass naturally, perhaps as an inevitable consequence of giving birth to Borr? Or did the giants have something to do with his death, and is this what motivated Odin and his brothers to slay Ymir and his offspring. Were they seeking some kind of vengeance?
What do you think was the fate of Buri?