Right away, the Norse creation begins with conflict. Ice and fire mingle together from the realms of Nifleheim and Muspell. A river forms, and the ice melts to reveal Ymir and a cow. Yes, a cow. The cow (by name of Audhumla) licked at the ice until it uncovered three brothers: Vili, Ve, and Odin. The three of them killed Ymir, and then . . . recycled him. It’s common in ancient cultures not to let anything go to waste, especially in a creation myth. The three needed to create the world, and, well, Ymir’s body was there, so they used it. This is similar to how the Chinese myth used the giant Pangu to create the world (though these cultures had no connection in ancient times to influence one another).
While Pangu died of natural causes in the Chinese myth, Odin and his brothers killed Ymir. This simultaneously ended the rule of the frost giants (similar to Zeus’s war on the titans), and established the warlike conduct of the Norse culture. Theirs is a culture of survival of the fittest. The land demands it. Those who cannot survive the cold, perish. Anything and everything is on the table when it comes to surviving. This is reinforced by the nature of creation itself, the conflict of the elements. So, like the Chinese, they recycle, but they also thrive on conflict. Conflict is the method of creation for the Norse, yet it is not savage and barbaric (we’ll get to one that is, though). It’s a simple reality that life is hard, and you must fight to survive.
When the world is done, they create humanity using trees, specifically ash for the man, elm for the woman. The use of trees in the Norse makes sense as Yggdrasil, the world ash, connected the nine realms together. Moreover, the Norse had a great reverence for trees because of their dependence on wood. Not only did they use it to fuel their fires, but they built their homes and ships out of it. Without wood, the Norse would have died in the cold.
The Norse very deliberately give humanity will and souls, a point that is often implied or skipped in other mythologies. But the Norse state it explicitly, emphasizing that there is something to carry on after the flesh dies. The cosmology of the nine worlds immediately allocates a place for those who die with honor (Valhalla) and those who do not (Hel). The world tree provides a cosmological framework that is not often seen so early in a culture’s mythology.
Like with the trees, we can also examine the reverence for the cow, Audhumla. The cow is sacred, producing rivers of milk to nourish the land. This is similar to the Hindu reverence for cows because of milk. It is a staple of the diet. Whereas the Hindus would not eat beef or kill a cow, the Norse, most likely due to their recycling nature, use every piece of the cow, from the meat to the leather. Again, this is about survival.
The drive to survive is not just in humanity, then, but in the gods themselves. They have power, yes, but they are not all powerful. They are above humans (not only because they created them), but share much with them. These are gods that must struggle and fight against the elements, against time, against their own shortcomings, and against the inevitable end, but that’s another myth.