In honour of cosmic space cow and the very official and globally recognised heathen holiday of eating chocolate cows over the weekend…let’s talk about Auðumbla (sometimes anglicised as Audumla), the primeval cow.
Then said Gangleri: "Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance?" Hárr answered: "Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Audumla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir." Then asked Gangleri: "Wherewithal was the cow nourished?" And Hárr made answer:
"She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man's hair; the second day, a man's head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri: he was fair of feature, great and mighty. He begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé. And this is my belief, that he, Odin, with his brothers, must be ruler of heaven and earth; we hold that he must be so called; so is that man called whom we know to be mightiest and most worthy of honor, and ye do well to let him be so called."
- Gylfaginning, Prose Edda
Auðumbla is solely attested in Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda, but plays a crucial role in creating, or otherwise unearthing, the first of what would become the Æsir line – Búri. From Búri came Borr, and from Borr and Bestla came Odin, Villi and Vé.
She is called Noblest of cows, and from her comes the nourishment that feeds Ymir, who would come to form the land, seas, and sky in turn. Her name means, quite simply, ‘rich hornless cow’ or ‘hornless cow rich in milk’.
It’s altogether a common theme in global myths to have a cow present in some capacity, or otherwise have cows held in high regard as symbols of fertility, creation and wealth. Think of Hera and Hathor, both strongly tied to cows or being described with cow-like features. Nerthus too, in Germania, is associated with cows through an account of her image being transported in a wagon pulled by cattle. A being of the void Ginnungagap, Auðumbla is certainly ancient in the stories we do have, old even to the gods themselves. To many heathens today, she is seen as a sort of primordial mother, nurturing and creating the first life of the universe.
But, other than that, everything else is up to personal interpretation. So…how do you see Auðumbla?