Norse Legends and the Thirst for Knowledge


Why you should stay curious but avoid hijacking bulldozers

Knowledge. Information. Explanations. I would argue that one of the main reoccurring themes of the Norse legends is the thirst for knowledge. There are legends explaining everything from the creation of time to why the oceans are salty. To me, this is yet another testimony to what connects us as human beings throughout time. We are – and have always been - curious. 

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I am myself a very curious person. My teachers frequently called me “inquisitive” throughout elementary school - and it was mostly said in a manner making it clear that this was not something entirely positive but rather a quite annoying quality. This personality trait of mine even got me into trouble on a number of occasions. The first time my curiosity got me in a pickle was when I was four years old. I snuck into a parked bulldozer and started the engine. I was very petite so I have no idea how I managed to get into the driver’s box. I do remember getting really scared by the terrible engine racket. I ran the fastest I could, heading towards my friend’s basement to hide. Unfortunately, running “as fast as you can” as a four-year-old means running into the adults who have also noticed the terrible noise… As a whole, the incident wasn’t too bad, apart from the fact that I managed to scare myself and that my parents had to sustain it being mentioned in the local newspaper. My curiosity has gotten me into worse pickles but let’s return to the Norse legends.

There are countless Norse legends about curiosity. The god Frey once sat in the high seat Hlidskjalf, from which the goddess Frigg and the god Odin can see into all realms. No one else is allowed to use the seat, but Frey – probably because of his curiosity – does so anyway. His action has instant consequences. From his new position, he spots the maiden Gerðr and immediately falls madly in love. Thereafter follows a few cumbersome incidents for Frey before it all finally ends well. Relatedly, when Odin wanted to gain knowledge of the runes he hung himself from a tree – presumably the world tree Yggdrasil – pierced by his own spear for nine nights. He definitely had to go through an ordeal to gain the information he desired. But, just as in the story about Frey and Gerðr, the price you pay is worth it in the end.

Similarly to the Norse legends, I have always felt that my curious nature has been an asset. I enjoy learning new things, which has resulted in different fields of study and unexpected experiences in different parts of the world. Luckily for me, the price for knowledge was never as high as in the legends. Nevertheless, when I at the age of 25 told my mother I had accepted a job offer in Baghdad I believe she was less appreciative of my curious nature and inquisitive mind. She was right to worry of course, and the time I spent in Iraq was challenging to say the least. But, just as in the stories, the experience and understanding I gained, made it all worth it. 

In light their legends it is hardly surprising that the people of ancient Scandinavia sailed off to explore faraway lands such as Iceland or North America. They were brought up with stories encouraging them to be curious, eager to gain new knowledge and to accept that sometimes there will be a few obstacles along the way. And this is why stories matter.


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