The Veritable Hokum is a web comic by Korwinn Briggs that I hesitate to call cute because it might turn you off (but it is – really, really cute, but also funny and historically accurate). Briggs is an artist whose hobby is collecting odd historical stories and facts, and we are the lucky beneficiaries of the two coming together on Veritable Hokum.
The latest viral post on Brigg’s comic site is the Norse God Family Tree, which does a masterful job of highlighting the oddness that tends to inhabit mythological stories.
Briggs admits that the layout is somewhat odd, which makes sense given how odd the Norse god family is. He also explains how difficult and inconsistent the source material sometimes is – the preeminent primary source is a very old book written by Snorri Sturluson, which mixes badly cited truth with completely made up lies.
Much like other mythologies, most of the early family members are primordial devourers who live in total chaos. Ymir was the first of them, formed within primeval chaos before anything ever existed. He had a cow named Auðumbla. He drank her milk, she licked some salt.
He had a bunch of offspring who were also giants, and eventually, Odin and his brothers overthrew all of them. Loki was the son of Laufey and Fárbauti, two of the Ymir’s chaotic giant children. Before making all the other gods so angry they sentenced him to a dark cave with venom dripping on his face forever, Loki became intimately involved with a horse, spawning an eight footed horse-son who became Odin’s steed.
If you take a look at the comic on Brigg’s site, he has a pretty hilarious retelling of what he knows about all of the figures on the infographic. Here are a few key points:
- “When you’re translating things across a thousand years of languages and cultures, meanings get kind of screwy.”
- Odin gave one of his eyes in exchange for inner wisdom. His predecessor Tyr gave his hand in order to trap the evil wolf Fenrir.
- The world is encircled by a giant snake named Jormungand.
- People sometimes believe that Freya and Frigg are really the same person, and were in the middle of being separated into two different people when the process was interrupted by Christianity.
- Frigg had a dream that her son Baldr would die, and went around asking everything in existence not to kill him. She forgot to ask mistletoe. Knowing this, Loki helps Baldr’s blind brother Hodr shoot him with mistletoe, which Hodr didn’t know would kill him (because they all thought he couldn’t be killed).
- Bragi, the god of poetry, has runes on his tongue.
- There is a goddess of skiing named Skadi, because people skied in medieval Scandinavia.
- Priests and priestesses of Freyr used to ride around in chariots from town to town throwing parties, because he was the god of fertility, harvests, wealth, and peace. Apparently Freyr is often portrayed in all his hard manly glory.