In Norse mythology, Mjölnir (//; Old Norse: Mjǫllnir, IPA: [ˈmjɔlːnir]) is the hammer of Thor, the Norse god associated with thunder. Mjölnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome and powerful weapons in existence, capable of leveling mountains. In its account of Norse mythology, the Prose Edda relates how the hammer's characteristically short handle was due to a mistake during its manufacture. Similar hammers (Ukonvasara) were a common symbol of the god of thunder in other North European mythologies.
- 1 Name
- 2 Norse mythology
- 3 Archaeological record
- 4 Modern usage and controversy
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The name is derived from a Proto-Germanic form *meldunjaz, from the Germanic root of *malanan "to grind" (*melwan, Old Icelandic meldr, mjǫll, mjǫl "meal, flour"), yielding an interpretation of "the grinder; crusher".
Additionally, there is a suggestion that the mythological "thunder weapon" being named after the word for "grindstone" is of considerable, Proto-Indo-European (if not Indo-Hittite) age; according to this suggestion, the divine thunder weapon (identified with lightning) of the storm god was imagined as a grindstone (Russian molot and possibly Hittite malatt- "sledgehammer, bludgeon"), reflected in Russian молния (molniya) and Welsh mellt "lightning" (possibly cognate with Old Norse mjuln "fire").
In the Old Norse texts, Mjölnir is identified as hamarr "a hammer", a word that in Old Norse and some modern Norwegian dialects can mean "hammer" as well as "stone, rock, cliff", ultimately derived from an Indo-European word for "stone, stone tool", h₂éḱmō; as such it is cognate with Sanskrit aśman, meaning "stone, rock, stone tool; hammer" as well as "thunderbolt".
Origins in the Prose Edda
One account regarding the origins of Mjölnir, and arguably the most well known, is found in the Skáldskaparmál which is the second half of medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. The story depicts the creation of several iconic creature(s) and objects central to Norse mythology.
In this story, Loki the trickster finds himself in an especially mischievous mood and cuts off the gorgeous golden hair of Sif, the wife of Thor. Upon learning of Loki's trickery, Thor is enraged and threatens to break every bone in his body. Loki pleads with Thor and asks for permission to go down to Svartalfheim, the cavernous home of the dwarves, to see if these master craftspeople could fashion a new head of hair for Sif. Thor is convinced and sends Loki to Svartalfheim.
Upon his arrival, Loki is able to complete his promise to Thor as The Sons Ivaldi forge not only a new head of hair for Sif, but also two other marvels: Skidbladnir, the best of all ships, and Gungnir, the deadliest of all spears. Having accomplished his task, Loki remains in the caves with the intention of causing mayhem. He approaches the brothers Brokkr and Sindri and taunts them, saying that he is sure the brothers could never forge three creations equal in caliber to those of the sons of Ivaldi, even betting his head against their lack of ability. Brokkr and Sindri, being prideful dwarves, accept the wager and begin their creation of three marvels.
The first begins with Sindri putting a pig's skin in the forge and telling Brokkr to work the bellows nonstop until his return. Loki, in disguise as a fly, comes and bites Brokkr on the arm to ensure the brothers lose their bet. Nevertheless, Brokkr continues to pump the bellows as ordered. When Sindri returns and pulls their creation from the fire, it is revealed to be a living boar with golden hair which they name Gullinbursti. This legendary creature gives off light in the dark and runs better than any horse, even through water or air.
Next, Sindri puts gold in the forge and gives Brokkr the same order. Loki comes again, still in the guise of a fly, and bites Brokkr's neck, this time twice as hard to ensure the brothers lose the bet. Brokkr, however, continues to work the bellows despite the pain. When Sindri returns they draw out a magnificent ring which they name Draupnir. From this ring, every ninth night, eight new golden rings of equal weight emerge.
Finally, Sindri puts iron in the forge and repeats his previous order once more. Loki comes a third time and bites Brokkr on the eyelid even harder, the bite being so deep that it draws blood. The blood runs into Brokkr's eyes and forces him to stop working the bellows just long enough to wipe his eyes.This time, when Sindri returns, he takes Mjölnir out of the forge. The handle is shorter than Sindri had originally planned which is the reason for the hammer's iconic imagery as a one handed weapon throughout Thor's religious iconography. Nevertheless, the pair are sure of the great worth of their three treasures and they make their way to Asgard to claim the wages due to them.
Loki makes it to the halls of the gods just before the dwarves and presents the marvels he has acquired. To Thor he gave Sif's new hair and the hammer Mjollnir. To Odin, the ring Draupnir and the spear Gungnir. Finally to Freyr he gives Skidbladnir and Gullinbursti.
As grateful as the gods were to receive these gifts they all agreed that Loki still owed his head to the brothers. When the dwarves approach Loki with knives, the cunning god points out that he had promised them his head but not his neck, ultimately voiding their agreement. Brokkr and Sindri content themselves with sewing Loki's mouth shut and returning to their forge.
Ceremonial and ritual significance
Though most famous for its use as a weapon, Mjolnir played a vital role in Norse religious practices and rituals. Its use in formal ceremonies to bless marriages, births, and funerals is described in several episodes within the Prose Edda.
Historian and pagan studies scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson summarizes and explains the significance of Mjolnir in these rites, particularly marriage, stating:
The existence of this rite is assumed in the tale of Thor as a Transvestite, where the giants stole Thor’s hammer and he went to retrieve it by dressing as a bride to be married to one of the giants, knowing that the hammer would be presented during the ceremony. When it was presented, he seized it and promptly smashed the skulls of all of the giants in attendance. A Bronze Age rock carving from Scandinavia apparently depicts a couple being blessed by a larger figure holding a hammer, which indicates the considerable antiquity of this notion.— Hilda Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
While the role of Mjolnir in mythology versus Norse religion seem to contradict one another, they stem from the same cultural belief system. When Thor defeated giants with Mjolnir, he was banishing the forces of chaos through physical action. By blessing a marriage, birth, field, or the deceased with Mjolnir, the forces of chaos were banished from that ceremony.
Historian Gabriel Turville-Petre also suggests that Mjolnir's blessing was a possible means of imparting fertility to a couple. This is based on Thor's association with both agriculture and the fertilization of fields.
Modern Pagans have emphasized the role of Mjolnir in their religious rituals and doctrine, though its primary function is to publicly signify faith (similarly to how Christians wear or hang Crucifixes). While Norse in origin, Mjolnir modern usage is not limited to Nordic pagans and has been utilized in Dutch pagan marriages, American pagan rituals, as well as the symbolic representation for all of Germanic heathenry.
Continuation in the Poetic Edda
Thor possessed a formidable chariot, which is drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. A belt, Megingjörð, and iron gloves, Járngreipr, were used to lift Mjölnir. Mjölnir is the focal point of some of Thor's adventures.
This is clearly illustrated in a poem found in the Poetic Edda titled Þrymskviða. The myth relates that the giant, Þrymr, steals Mjölnir from Thor and then demands the goddess Freyja in exchange. Loki, the god notorious for his duplicity, conspires with the other Æsir to recover Mjölnir by disguising Thor as Freyja and presenting him as the "goddess" to Þrymr.
At a banquet Þrymr holds in honor of the impending union, Þrymr takes the bait. Unable to contain his passion for his new maiden with long, blond locks (and broad shoulders), as Þrymr approaches the bride by placing Mjölnir on "her" lap, Thor rips off his disguise and destroys Þrymr and his giant cohorts.
Precedents and comparanda
A precedent for Viking Age Mjolnir amulets have been documented in the migration period Alemanni, who took to wearing Roman "Hercules' Clubs" as symbols of Donar. A possible remnant of these Donar amulets was recorded in 1897, as it was a custom of the Unterinn (South Tyrolian Alps) to incise a T-shape above front doors for protection against evil (especially storms).
Viking Age conversion and pendants
Roughly 50 specimens of Mjölnir amulets have been found widely dispersed throughout Scandinavia, dating from the 9th to 11th centuries, most commonly discovered in areas with a strong Christian influence (including southern Norway, south-eastern Sweden, and Denmark). Square cross-like pendants, featuring images of Christ on them, have also been found and dated to the same time period as the Mjolnir amulets. The presence of both religious symbols in the same regions is a result of several Viking raids in predominantly Christian nations which led to mass religious conversion from Nordic Paganism to Christianity during the Viking Age. The dominant hypothesis concerning the popularity of these Mjolnir and Crucifix pendants is one of defiance, primarily on the part of the pagan Vikings towards the newly converted Christian Vikings. Mass conversion to Christianity was often a political strategy of Viking Chieftains that allowed for their continued occupation of Christian nations. The Viking people, however, were then forced to convert and cultural tensions sprang up accordingly.
An iron Mjolnir pendant, excavated in Yorkshire and dated to 1000 AD, bears an uncial inscription preceded and followed by a cross, indicating a converted Christian owner repurposing their religious iconography to emulate their new beliefs .
One interesting archeological find is a soapstone mold which was discovered in Trendgården, Denmark and dates back to the 10th century, the end of the Viking Age. The mold garnered interest as it has three distinct chambers and is believed to have cast both Crucifix and Mjolnnir pendants. This particular mold is significant as it dates back to the height of Viking religious conversion but proves that there was an equal demand for both pagan and Christian iconography, supporting the narrative of Viking resistance towards Christians.
Another archeological discovery with dual religious meaning is located in the National Museum of Iceland. The context of the object was initially disputed as it emulated both Christian and pagan symbolism (due to the unusual wolf-like head located at the bottom of the pendant). While the object is fashioned in a cross-like shape, it was categorized as a "Thor's Hammer with Wolf Head" through extensive historical research and archeological origins (such as initial location, craftsmanship, and the wolf-head). Its designation as a pagan symbol is a crucial piece of evidence supporting the continuation of pagan religion in Iceland's despite the entire country's conversion to Christianity. Modern reproductions of the pendant are popular amongst certain neopagan groups and Viking enthusiasts for both religious and personal purposes.
The Købelev Runic-Thor's Hammer, found at the Danish island of Lolland in 2014, is so far the only one bearing an inscription, proving that this kind of pendant is meant to be a hammer. The inscription reads "Hmar x is," which translates to "This is a hammer." However, the proper spelling is "hamar," indicating the creator was not a fully literate individual.
Viking Age depictions
Some image stones and runestones found in Denmark and southern Sweden bear an inscription of a hammer. Runestones depicting Thor's hammer include runestones U 1161 in Altuna, Sö 86 in Åby, Sö 111 in Stenkvista, Sö 140 in Jursta, Vg 113 in Lärkegapet, Öl 1 in Karlevi, DR 26 in Laeborg, DR 48 in Hanning, DR 120 in Spentrup, and DR 331 in Gårdstånga. Other runestones included an inscription calling for Thor to safeguard the stone. For example, the stone of Virring in Denmark had the inscription þur uiki þisi kuml, which translates into English as "May Thor hallow this memorial." There are several examples of a similar inscription, each one asking for Thor to "hallow" or protect the specific artifact. Such inscriptions may have been in response to the Christians, who would ask for God's protection over their dead.
Relation to the swastika
The most famous depiction of swastika imagery in Viking history is a runic inscription found on the hilt Sæbø sword. Individual swastika carvings of Germanic origin, however, can be traced back as early as the Bronze Age and are commonly found alongside sunwheels and sky gods. Though the swastika's exact meaning has eluded definition, its association with luck, prosperity, power, protection, as well as the sun and sky are factual. Mjolnir is also linked to luck, prosperity, power, and protection in Nordic rituals. Also, Thor was the dominant sky god of Norse religion and runestone depictions of the swastika are commonly found beside, or in connection with, his image. One example, found in a book of Icelandic spells, shows a drawn swastika, clearly identified by its iconic shape, then precedes to references it as “Thor's hammer”. Indeed, the crossover of these symbols was prevalent in Norse spell-work, especially runic inscriptions, as their presence was believed to heighten the potency of a spell.
Some scholars credit the origins of the swastika shape as a direct variant of the Mjolnir symbol. This version of the swastika was popular in Anglo-Saxon England, especially amongst groups in East Anglia and Kent, prior to the Christianization of the country.
Modern usage and controversy
Most practitioners of Germanic Neopaganism have adopted the symbol of Mjölnir as a symbol of faith, most commonly represented as pendants or other small jewelry. Renditions of Mjölnir are designed, crafted and sold by Germanic Neopagan groups and individuals for public consumption as well as religious practice.
In recent years, Mjölnir has also been used by Neo-Nazis (and other white supremacist groups) as a means of reclaiming their tribal heritage. This use of the symbol is most commonly found in tattoos and protest imagery. Certain Neopagan groups, mainly the American branch of Asataru, have recently experienced political and social controversy due to the racial nature of their religious beliefs. The heavy emphasis placed on European preservation corresponds with core values held by self-identified white supremacist organizations. These commonalities served as the basis for the creation of the term "Odinist" which has become a descriptor of the racial variants of the religion among practitioners of the non-racial variants of the faith.
Some additional controversy has occurred concerning the potential religious recognition of the symbol by the United States government. In May 2013 the "Hammer of Thor" was added to the list of United States Department of Veterans Affairs emblems for headstones and markers.
In the adventures of the Marvel Comics character Thor, based on the Norse god, a magical hammer similarly based on the original Mjölnir plays a major role. The Marvel adaptation endowed the hammer with additional powers not attested in the original myth - especially, that when holding it Thor can fly through air at great speed.
The coat of arms of the Torsås Municipality, Sweden, features a depiction of Mjölnir
The insignia of Tórshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands, features Thor's hammer
Faroese stamp depicting the Viking Tróndur í Gøtu raising Mjölnir against Christianity
- "Mjolnir". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
- mjǫllnir in GKS 2367 4º (Codex regius, early 14th century), 298, 9420; ed. Ólafur Halldórsson 1982, Finnur Jónsson 1931. Dictionary of Old Norse Prose Archived 2015-03-07 at the Wayback Machine (University of Copenhagen).
- Højbjerg, Martin (2011–2014). "Norse Mythology: Items of the Gods and Goddesses". Norse Mythology. Archived from the original on May 21, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
Mjölnir is one of the most fearsome weapons, capable of leveling mountains. Thor's hammer can hit any target. After the target is hit, the hammer will return to Thor's right hand all by itself. The hammer can send out lightning bolts.
- Campbell, Hank (February 19, 2013). "Is Thor Mighty Or Just Magic?". Science 2.0. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
Science 2.0 fave Dr. Neil Tyson recently tried to bring back the 'Thor is really strong' concept by stating 'If Thor's hammer is made of neutron-star matter, implied by legend, then it weighs as much as a herd of 300-billion elephants' which means only someone really strong could lift it. Of course, it also means it would be changing Earth's gravitational field...
- Barnett, Laura (22 May 2011). "Another View on Thor: Hammer supplier Amanda Coffman sizes up the mystical properties of Mjölnir in Kenneth Branagh's Thor". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
Mjölnir is so powerful it can level entire mountains. I can't imagine any of our hammers doing that, but some models are pretty strong: they're used for breaking up concrete, knocking paving slabs into place, and in the manufacture of cars and aeroplanes. There's a little leather strap on Thor's hammer, too, for attaching it to his wrist. I'm not sure why that's there, really. None of our hammers have that. Thor doesn't even use his.
- Samuel, Sigal (2017-11-02). "What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
- "Thor's Hammer". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
- Old Norse mala, Gothic, Old High German and Old Saxon malan, compared to Lithuanian malŭ, malti, Latvian maíu, Old Church Slavonic meljǫ, mlěti, Old Irish melim, Greek μύλλω (μυλjω), Latin molō "to grind"; Sanskrit mr̥ṇā́ti "to crush, smash, slay". Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch; Derksen (2008), Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon, p. 307.
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidfeld and Nicoson, 1998. p. 84.
- Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (1959).
- McCoy, Daniel (2016). The Viking Spirit. CreateSpace Publishing. pp. 33–103. ISBN 9781533393036.
- Sturluson, Snorri (2016). The Illuminated Prose Edda. Pendelhaven. pp. Gylfaginning, 44. ISBN 9780994024060.
- Ellis Davidson, H.R. (1965). Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe, p. 83, ISBN 0-14-013627-4
- Strutynski, Udo (March 1984). "The Survival of Indo-European Mythology in Germanic Legendry: Toward an Interdisciplinary Nexus". The Journal of American Folklore. 97: 43–56 – via JSTOR.
- Minkjan, Hanneke (December 2012). "Meeting Freya and the Cailleich, Celebrating Life and Death: Rites of Passage beyond Dutch Contemporary Pagan Community". The International Journal of Pagan Studies – via JSTOR.
- Werner: "Herkuleskeule und Donar-Amulett". in: Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz, Nr. 11, Mainz, 1966.
- Joh. Adolf Heyl, Volkssagen, Bräuche und Meinungen aus Tirol (Brixen: Verlag der Buchhandlung des Kath.-polit. Pressvereins, 1897), p. 804.
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964. p. 83. A recent discovery of a specimen took place in 2012 in Denmark (part of the Strandby Hoard); a pendant necklace in silver of Thor's Hammer discovered during an archaeological dig last year Danish museum officials said Thursday May 16, 2013 that an archaeological dig last year has revealed 365 items from the Viking era, including 60 rare coins. Associated Press Archived 2014-08-08 at the Wayback Machine, May 2013; strandbyskatten.dk/thors-hammer-fra-skatten Archived 2013-12-02 at the Wayback Machine.
- Dubois, Thomas (1999). Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. pp. 100–150. ISBN 9780812217148.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-07-17. Retrieved 2007-12-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)Schoyen Collection, MS 1708 Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
- This has been interpreted as the property of a craftsman "hedging his bets" by catering to both a Christian and a pagan clientele."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2007-12-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-29. Retrieved 2007-12-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Simek, Rudolf (1993). A Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Cambridge, England: D.S. Brewer.
- Heath, Ian (1985). The Vikings (Elite). Osprey Publishing: Reprint Edition. ISBN 978-0850455656.
- Popular Nordic jewelry sites offer exact replicas and various Viking enthusiast blogs reference the pendant.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-23. Retrieved 2015-02-22.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-02. Retrieved 2014-06-29.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Holtgård, Anders (1998). "Runeninschriften und Runendenkmäler als Quellen der Religionsgeschichte". In Düwel, Klaus; Nowak, Sean. Runeninschriften als Quellen Interdisziplinärer Forschung: Abhandlungen des Vierten Internationalen Symposiums über Runen und Runeninschriften in Göttingen vom 4–9 August 1995. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p. 727. ISBN 3-11-015455-2. Archived from the original on 10 November 2015.
- McKinnell, John; Simek, Rudolf; Düwel, Klaus (2004). "Gods and Mythological Beings in the Younger Futhark". Runes, Magic and Religion: A Sourcebook (PDF). Vienna: Fassbaender. pp. 116–133. ISBN 3-900538-81-6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-07-18.
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964. p. 82–83.
- Green, Miranda (1989). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. pp. 4, 154.
- referenced in the Ceremonial and Ritual Significance section
- Flowers, Stephen (1989). The Galdrabók: An Icelandic Grimoire. p. 39.
- MacLeod, Mindy, and Bernard Mees (2006). Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. p. 21.
- Mayr-Harting, Henry, The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England Archived 2016-05-27 at the Wayback Machine (1991), p. 3: "Many cremation pots of the early Anglo-Saxons have the swastika sign marked on them, and in some the swastikas seems to be confronted with serpents or dragons in a decorative design. This is a clear reference to the greatest of all Thor's struggles, that with the World Serpent which lay coiled round the earth." Christopher R. Fee, David Adams Leeming, Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain (2001), p. 31: "The image of Thor's weapon spinning end-over-end through the heavens is captured in art as a swastika symbol (common in Indo-European art, and indeed beyond); this symbol is—as one might expect—widespread in Scandinavia, but it also is common on Anglo-Saxon grave goods of the pagan period, notably in East Anglia and Kent."
- General Hate Symbols: Thor's Hammer, Anti-Defamation League
- Hudson Jr., David L.Va. inmate can challenge denial of Thor's Hammer June 6, 2007 at the firstamendmentcenter.org Archived 2004-10-16 at the Library of Congress Web Archives website.
- "National Cemetery Administration: Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers". U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
55 – Hammer of Thor
- Elysia. "Hammer of Thor now VA accepted symbol of faith". Llewellyn. Archived from the original on 12 June 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Brownlee, John (July 9, 2013). "How Thor's Hammer Made Its Way Onto Soldiers' Headstones: Thor's hammer, Mjölnir, is a weapon of honor and virtue, making it an appealing icon for American soldiers. But its path to becoming an acceptable headstone symbol was anything but easy". www.fastcodesign.com. Archived from the original on June 14, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
In Norse mythology, Mjölnir (which means "crusher" or "grinder") is a fearsome weapon that can destroy entire mountains with a single blow.... On May 10, 2013, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs quietly made an update to its official list of approved emblems, adding Thor's hammer, Mjölnir.
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964.
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- A gallery of images of Mjölnir pendants from archaeological finds
- National Museum of Denmark – The Hammer of Thor — Past Horizons, June 29, 2014 (includes Danish language video presentation).