William Morris Archive

Morris, William, Manuscript Notes, c. 1876, "The Mythology and Religion of the North," William Morris Gallery J149.

(from William Morris Gallery MSS. J 146, written by Morris about 1876, formerly in possession of Georgiana Burne-Jones, and presented to collections of future William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, by her daughter Margaret, wife of J. M. Mackail, from her husband's collection, in 1946.)

Marginal notes placed in square brackets [ ], also Folio nos.

[f. l] Out of chaos are the giants born, as it were a part of it, uncreative and at war with the Gods who create. Yet of them, these blind forces, is the earth made, and men folk out of a part of the earth; these last are friends of the Gods, helped by them, but serving them also, those of them that are worthy: serving them after their life on the earth is over, for the Gods are almighty indeed but not everlasting because they like men cannot rest; as how should they when the earth that they have made is full of unrest: they have evil [Loki] and good amongst them but the good is watchfully and anxiously triumphant -- for a season -- yet if men do not know what rest is, they do, for it lived amongst them once, and was called Balder, so much a marvel even to them that it was a joy to them to hurl their might against the unmoved serenity and see all fall harmless from him; but amongst them dwelt Evil and Fate. [Hoder, a blind God] Evil would have destruction come and through Fate it must come: so Evil sets in the hand of Fate a rootless, seedless, blossomless, leafless herb [mistletoe] and bids him cast it, and it is enough, for the heart that sped it and the hand that cast it were blind, the first to good, the second to good and evil both. Sorely did the Gods desire to have their image of rest amongst them again, and death will grant it if all the world will weep for him: no part of the world but will weep for rest, but envy only, [Thokt, called a witch; the name means brooding envy; Loki was said to have taken her shape ] which is the human form of that Evil which dwells even amongst the Gods: she is dry-eyed and Balder lies dead till a new heavens and earth are ready for him.

So speeds on the course of the world. Evil is bound and that blind Fate too departs and all rule is left to Odin the father of the Chosen [Valfodur] who watches day by day
[f. 1v.) that he may gather his servants to him against that inevitable end of all that he has given shape to; free of will they are as he is, but fated as he is; like him not to live, but to make, and no deeds they do shall die; and how shall he choose them but from amidst of strife for life and death and glory? the strife in which good men's eyes are cleared and their grossness fall from them; here then one knows the coward from the brave; yet are they not chosen as the world might choose: glorious failure is no whit worse than glorious gain and the conquerors and conquered walk together on the way to the Hall of the Chosen; nor does any man on earth forget this who shall ever see Odin; and when the victorious warrior sets the head turf on the head of his fallen enemy he sings not of his own great deeds but of those of that enemy: yes, and when you get to Valhall, still though you are safe in the dwelling of the glorious does some image of strife go on, so that they whose bodies fainted when their hearts fainted not, may learn all skill in arms for that Great Day.

So ever was the harvest reaped and garnered, till at last the time shall come when the measure is full: it may be that the world shall worsen, that the glory and hope of the Gods shall be forgot, that men shall be afraid to change their life; ['ham bra lif': he changed his life, common especially in poetry ] that they shall forget the end, yet be weary of the present — that the world shall be weary itself and sicken -- that all the great shall be gathered to Odin, and none but faint hearts be left -- who knows? why should the end come till it is so? I think the Fimbul winter prefigures this -- five winters with ne'er a
[f. 2] summer between - earth lying joyless and hopeless. So at any rate comes the end at last, and the Evil bound for a while is loose, and all nameless, merciless horrors that on earth we figure by fire and earthquake and venom and ruin. [Loki; Surt; the Fenris wolf; the Midgard Worm ] So comes the great strife: the strife on earth prefigured it, and all who did deeds in that earthly strife and died there, are here to do deeds again, and die again: and like the Kings and heroes that they have loved, here also shall the Gods die, the Gods who made that strifeful imperfect earth, not blindly indeed but foredoomed: one by one they extinguish for ever some dread and misery that all this while has brooded over life, and one by one their work accomplished they die — till at last the great destruction which we must needs call fire, for want of knowledge, breaks out over all things, and the old Earth and Heavens are gone. And then a new Heavens and Earth, and the serene Balder ruling there and his slayer, the once blind Fate, sitting beside him, they two in all peace -- and what goes on there? who shall say of us who know only of rest and peace by toil and strife? And what shall be our share in it? Well, sometimes we, yet alive in the unregenerate earth, must needs think that we shall live again in the regenerate one and be happy and talk together of the old days of Odin and Thor and the slaying of the great dragon [the Midgard Worm ] that girt the old earth about -- yet if that were not, would it not be enough that we helped to make this unnameable glory, and lived not altogether deedless?

These things being so, let us live joyously while
[f. 2v.] we can, fearlessly at the least; not stepping aside for any pain or sorrow if the way to deeds lie through it, sure that we may win some glory before death or through it -- who shall abase us if we will to exalt ourselves — There is no defeat possible to a brave man. None but a coward complains of pain for no deed is possible without it. Think of the joy we have in praising great men and how we turn their stories over and over and fashion their lives for our joy -- and this also we ourselves may give to the world.

So may the Gods help us that we be not cowards or traitors.

This seems to me pretty much the religion of the Northmen. I think one would be a happy man if one could hold it, in spite of the wild dreams and dreadful imaginings that hung about it here and there.