“Granny, can you tell us the myth of the beginning again?” my sister Robyn chirped.
It was a late August evening, and she had spent the entire day reading and studying and playing with me and Arvid. All three of us were tired when we sat down at our grandparents’ place up in Gävle, Sweden. And to no-one’s surprise. We had travelled for most of yesterday to get there. It had been like a dream come true, arriving here at grandma and grandpa’s - we were finally together!
Our grandma Gunvor smiled down at all three of us, sitting in front of the fireplace. The fire was dead - but not our enthusiasm, beaming as bright as a real flame. Robyn sat the closest to her on a stack of cushions she had collected from the sofa. Our brother Arvid was on the floor a few feet from them, with his ukulele. He had been learning to play it after his music lesson in the morning. And then there was me, with paint flecks all over my old t-shirt, a painting brush over my ear and a cheeky smile on my face.
“You mean the one with the gods, darlings, yes?” Grandma made herself a bit more comfortable in her armchair. We jumped on the sofa, looking at her, almost holding our breaths, eager to listen to a story. And a story by granny nonetheless, which made it even more wonderful.
She straightened her back a bit, holding her hands together in her lap.
“In the beginning, there was nothing…”
In the beginning, there was nothing. Nothing but an endless abyss, Ginnugagap, stretched between Muspelheim and Niflheim. An abyss connecting the realms of fire and frost. They later came together. From the melting ice were born Ymir, the first giant, and the cow Audhumla. She fed Ymir with her milk and licked the ice until the first god Buri emerged from beneath. Buri had a son, who later had a wife, and their children were the first gods - Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve.
Odin, Vili and Ve killed Ymir, tore his body apart and created the world from it. The nine realms, brought forth by the first death. A necessary sacrifice, much like many more to follow. Only when you tame chaos can you find order and rule. And even if they are not obvious, you can be sure that they govern everyone and everything’s life in the world.
But the myth does not end here.
After the gods created the first man and woman and their home, Midgard, the humans had children. Then their children had children. And the earth was full of humans, of men and women, tall and short, young and old, clever and silly. They were capable of many things, and the gods noticed that. The humans could dance and sing. They could write poems and sew themselves clothes to stay warm. They could make food to keep themselves alive and they had each other’s help in hard times.
We could give them magic and live with them to watch over them and help them out when they needed a hint, the gods thought.
And they did.
Now humans could paint. They could write and make music. And all the things they could do that were once ordinary, only there to keep them alive, now saved them. The paintings were a window to their souls. The writing - a mirror of ink showing the deepest parts of their minds. The music - a beautiful sound in the nights their souls felt lonely and needed someone to hear. And not only them... their children, and the children of their children, too, were capable of this magic. They, too, could explore the living world and that of ideas and to create things.
And the gods got pleased with what they had created. Not only with humans, but with the entire world. The way everything fit and worked was perfect. Now humans could create such wonderful things with the powers they had. They could create things to praise the gods, things that made them better people. It was perfect, the gods thought. The animals felt it. The plants felt it. And so could the humans. Or, at least, those of them who had magic. It helped them realise they could be happy if they were in harmony with the world. Magic could help them find this harmony.
The gods came down to the earth. We can be here half the time, they said, and half the time in our homes. But it has become wonderful among you, among so many kinds of life. Wonderful. And we are only hoping you can see it, too. The people who had more magic could see it and feel it, and even live in it, in a little piece of heaven of their own. And those who had less magic were unhappy, as they could not enjoy what the others had. Because they were lazy, they could not bother with developing their magic. And they turned jealous. And vengeful.
Those jealous humans became too full of themselves, too arrogant. They forgot who had created them. They forgot who had breathed life into them, and they dismissed the gods as the creators of the world. They saw themselves as its masters. They began destroying their home, nature, wreaking havoc all around themselves. They fought their way through life instead of using their talents to sail ahead in peace.
Some people were so good at their magic and at what they did that people with lesser or no magic believed them. They believed them when they said they could lead them ahead, and they let them do so.
Those were the people with the most talents and the strongest magic.
Some of them realised they wanted magic only for themselves. Back when there were only a few talented humans. They had gotten recognised, and their magic became well-known. News of it travelled far and spread wide through the whole world.
The jealous and powerful people decided they wanted to keep things that way. They wanted to be the only ones who were capable of power like that. Being able to dance in the most beautiful way, or be the best at a game, or play a role in a film in the most fitting way. Those were all things they coveted. They and only they had to be the ones who could do things like those. Not the ordinary people. They were mere sheep; they did not need entertainments as this, they did not need to tinkle with power such as this.
And they forbade ordinary people to use magic and know about it. They brainwashed them into fearing magic and made them think that magic was evil. Every magical person who was not useful to the people in power got taken to court. And their power, their magic, got stripped away from them.
Or so they called the new century’s mass murder. Ordered by court and acted out by law.
And thus, ordinary people began fearing magic. It was no longer something to bring them joy and help them express themselves. No, it was now something you could lose your life over. And with time, they forgot it.
Everyone trusted the government, the more powerful people who held everyone’s fate. And if the government said magic was dangerous, people believed that.
Of course, nor only the government had control over life. Great artists and engineers and designers had power, too.
They had magic.
And magic was talent.
If you had a little, your power was as much - enough to make your life better, but not to fix it whole. You could always make it grow, though. You could make it stronger and more powerful by using it more and more.
And if you had a lot, you could change your entire life, and with it - everyone else’s. And that was exactly how artists and sportspeople and journalists were born.
But soon the most powerful people got even greedier. They kept trying to keep themselves on the top of the pyramid of power. And they killed off ordinary people who had too much magic. Ordinary people’s magic magic could threaten their position. They tried to keep magic away from everyone else in any way possible. They forgot about the gods who had given them this magic in the first place. Those who did not forget laid waste to their souls, to their powers.
The only way the gods remained powerful in the eyes of humans was when humans believed in them. Humans had forgotten them. And the gods decided to punish them for it.
They voted together to take away people’s magic - their talents. There were few gods who had mercy.
But some of them felt sorry for the humans. They’re weak. And there are some humans who don’t use their magic for evil, they said. They create good things. They care for others. They have not yet forgotten the connection they have to us, and to nature, to the things that have made them be. Must we not let them have a little of the magic they used to have?
The gods went out into the world, invisible, or disguised as humans, and met people. They needed to find those still worthy of magic - the people who were going to master magic. They were going to keep the tales about the gods alive so they lived on in the hearts and minds of humanity.
And they did. It was nobody else but the ordinary people who could do this. The ordinary people, and not those on the top of the pyramid.
Of course, some among them still feared magic. Some of them even loathed it. How could it make all those famous people so powerful?, they complained, and how come that isn’t ever me? The gods have forsaken me! I’m all on my own!, they said, and cursed themselves and the gods.
The gods gave those people no powers back.
And thus, in their search of whom to give magic to, the gods found people like you. People who honoured life and the world, who knew the true power of art and of feelings. People who cherished nature and its gifts and thanked the gods for it. And, most importantly, people who knew how to use their magic.
It was people like you who got power - magic. Beautiful paintings, sweet songs. Genius inventions. Delicious food. Fascinating fairytales. Comfortable clothes. Warm homes. They could create all those things. Even taking care of other humans became a talent - some people were that kind and thoughtful of each other. All they had to do to keep their talents was to worship the gods through arts or science or any other craft.
But people rebelled. The weaker wanted to survive, and usually those were the most needing of power. And the stronger wanted more power - you see, power is addictive, the more you have, the more you crave. No-one was truly content with their lives. So they raised their voices.
The only way to stop this was to take talents away from people. Stripped from their power, they had nothing more to fight over and kill each other for. But was it fair?, some gods could not help but wonder. And others were merciful.
And they all thought and talked for many days and nights about it. The gods had an ensemble of favourite humans - none other but the humans who used their magic for good deeds. They decided to leave them their magic, or at least most of it. And with others, they forgot to take their magic away.
Over time, people with magic survived. And not only that. Under their magic’s influence, they thrived, and they made other humans’ lives better. Societies got built, and people made up groups to flock to. They are, you know, not made to exist as solitary souls. And talents, magic, got passed on down through generations.
Talents, once more, fell in people’s eyes. Why would we need them?, some humans wondered. Talents were old. They were a leftover, something from back when men first learned how to survive. Why would we need them if we can be on top anyway?
“On top of whom?”, you might wonder. It was with giants and gods that humans were competing here. Any kind of supernatural creatures that were also capable of thought were a threat.
Giants were big and strong. They could create worlds. Humans could think, speak, have feelings, and create all sorts of things. And gods could breathe life into everything. They could invent creatures, planets, galaxies, universes.
Of course, soon everyone began thinking they were important, and also the best at what they did. Giants got furious and tried to destroy everyone else’s words. Humans tried to manipulate everyone into giving up on their worlds. And the gods were in the middle of a writhing chaos that only they could resolve.
They decided to split worlds with the giants and with humans. Each entity could have its own realm where it would be the almighty ruler. They would not interact with each other, unless they visited each other’s realms. And they would have nothing to fight about if each of them took care of their own things in peace.
And so, talents got forbidden again. They are only leftovers from the old world, humans thought. Would we need them at all? If they used those powers, would they not break the contract to visit other realms? A lot of humans forgot that rule had got broken already, and the gods had been too busy to punish them.
But talents aren’t bad; they are in no way evil, my little doves. No, they are not. They are what keeps this world running, and you three are very, very lucky to have a bit of them. Be very careful. Life can easily lead you astray. And your talents can get tarnished by bad use if you spread evil with them. The gods might take them away from you if they catch you. Or you can get the unpleasant chance to face the music and have to reap what you have sowed.
But who knows… you might also get rewarded for what you do.