User:Salleman/Norse mythology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Workplace for a future edit of Norse mythology

Iðunn and her apples, as imagined by J. Penrose, 1890.

Norse mythology, Scandinavian mythology or (deceptively) Viking mythology refer to the pre-Christian religion, beliefs and legends of the Viking Age Scandinavians, in particular those who settled on Iceland, where the written sources for Norse mythology were assembled. It is the best-known version of the older common Germanic mythology (formerly known as Teutonic mythology), which also includes the closely related Anglo-Saxon mythology. Germanic mythology, in its turn, had evolved from an earlier proto-Indo-European mythology, which can only be studied through speculation, based upon the archeological material and comparison of its descendant mythologies. In such efforts, Norse mythology is an integral source component.

It is a polytheistic religion with prominent elements of animism and animatism. The principal gods are Óðinn (Odin), Þórr (Thor) and Freyr. It is evidently the mythology of a patriarchal clan society, where violent feuds and strifes were customary; nevertheless, it is also notable for its many strong and influential female characters.

Norse mythology was a collection of beliefs and stories shared by the northern Germanic tribes, not a revealed religion, in the sense that there was no claim to a divinely inspired scripture. The mythology was transmitted orally during most of the Viking Age, and our knowledge about it is mainly based on the two Eddas and other medieval Icelandic texts written down after Christianization.

In Scandinavian folklore, these beliefs held on the longest, and in rural areas some traditions have been maintained until today, recently being revived or reinvented as Ásatrú or Odinism. Ever since the interest in Norse mythology surged during the Romantic era, it has also remained as an inspiration in literature as well as on stage productions and movies.

In popular works, Old Norse names often appear Anglicized according to various systems. See Old Norse orthography for a treatise.


Our knowledge of Norse mythology and legendarium, as well as the history of the people who believed in them, would indeed be meager if it was not for the unique literature that was recorded in medieval Iceland by the ancestors to the Scandinavian settlers who arrived there as late as in the 10th century. It was written in the Old West Norse language, using an extended version of the Latin alphabet, by Christians who considered it as fiction with a literary value.

The main sources are the two Eddas, the Poetic or Elder Edda containing mythical and heroic lays and songs, and the Prose or Younger Edda by the Icelandic chieftain and scholar Snorri Sturluson. In addition to Snorri and the Eddic poems, there are numerous legends and chronicles, collectively known as the Norse sagas, which include more or less elaborate sections related to mythical events or everyday cults and religious practices.

Apart from the Icelandic sources, we can rely only on the archeolgical material, extrapolations from Scandinavian place names and the chronicle Gesta Danorum by the Danish bishop Saxo Grammaticus, where, however, the gods Norse gods are strongly euhemerized, as they are in the Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson's other magnum opus.

Petroglyphs, Tacitus and rune stones[edit]

Petroglyphs from Häljesta, Västmanland in Sweden.

The oldest sources for Scandinavian religious faith are petroglyphs dating to around the 5th millennium BC, depicting scenes of hunting. New motives outdate these with the advent of the Nordic Bronze Age era. This shift of culture has often been attributed to the arrival of Indo-European tribes in Northern Europe (see Corded Ware culture), and the symbolism from this time has been interpreted as the artifacts of a fertility cult, including carvings of plowing people, the sunwheel symbol, and men with erected phalli.

The Trundholm Sun Chariot pulled by a horse is believed to be a sculpture illustrating an important part of Nordic Bronze Age mythology.

In the 1st century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus relates in his Germania how a mother goddess by the name of Nerthus was worshipped "on an island in the Ocean sea." Nerthus's name is etymologically identical to that of Njörðr, a male god of the sea in the Icelandic sources, and father of Freyr and Freyja. As these are all three Vanir (fertility gods, see below) – in fact, the only Vanir extensively treated – Tacitus's account has often been suggested as proof that the cult of the Vanir is of Nordic Bronze Age origin.

The first rune stones appear in the Scandinavian Roman Iron Age – probably originating in the old (Pre-Roman Iron Age) tradition of raising menhirs in honour of a deceased. In total, over 5,000 runic inscriptions have been found in Scandinavia; most of them are from late Viking Age, and contrary to popular belief, the majority were raised by Christians converts. Gradually, we can discern the arrival of imagery on the rune stones familliar from the later Icelandic sources, such as the portrayal on the Ramsund carving of the pan-Germanic legend regarding Sigurðr's strife with the dragon Fafnir.

The Eddas[edit]

Elder Edda[edit]

The Elder Edda (also known as the Poetic Edda) was written about 50 years later. It contains 29 long poems, of which 11 deal with the Germanic deities, the rest with legendary heroes like Sigurd the Volsung (the Siegfried of the German version Nibelungenlied). Although scholars think it was written down later than the other Edda, we know it as the Elder Edda because of the antiquity of the contents.

The origin and eventual fate of the world are described in Völuspá ("The völva's prophecy" or "The sybil's prophecy"), one of the most striking poems in the Poetic Edda. These haunting verses contain one of the most vivid creation accounts in all of religious history and a representation of the eventual destruction of the world that is unique in its attention to detail.

In the Völuspá, Odin, the chief god of the Norse pantheon, has conjured up the spirit of a dead Völva (Shaman or sybil) and commanded this spirit to reveal the past and the future. She is reluctant: "What do you ask of me? Why tempt me?"; but since she is already dead, she shows no fear of Odin, and continually taunts him: "Well, would you know more?" But Odin insists: if he is to fulfil his function as king of the gods, he must possess all knowledge. Once the sybil has revealed the secrets of past and future, she falls back into oblivion: "I sink now".

Younger Edda[edit]

The Prose or Younger Edda was written in the early 13th century. It may be thought of primarily as a handbook for aspiring poets, which lists and describes traditional tales which formed the basis of standardised poetic expressions, such as "kennings". We know the author of the Prose Edda to be Snorri Sturluson, the renowned Icelandic chieftain, poet and diplomat.

Snorri was exceedingly conversant in the poems of the Elder Edda, liberally blending the prose with quotations from among their stanzas. Moreover, he makes eighteen citations from poems of which no manuscript has survived to our day, including one named Heimdallargaldr. They evidently formed portions of the original Eddic collections, or belonged to the same traditional stock.

The Snorra Edda is divided into three narratives. First is Gylfaginning or The Beguiling of Gylfi, is an epitome of Norse cosmology, pantheon and mythical history, cast in the form of a dialogue between Gylfi, a legendary Swedish king, and the triune Óðinn. Skáldskaparmál or The Language of Poetry, is the second part. The framework this time is Ægir's inquiry of Bragi, the god of poetry, which relates several adventures of the æsir of the same character as those recounted in Gylfaginning, and concludes with a myth concerning the origin of the poetic art. The final section of the Edda is Háttatal or The Enumeration of Meters, and combines three separate songs of praise: one on King Hákon, a second on Skúli Bárdsson, the King's father-in-law and most powerful vassal, and a third celebrating both. Each of the hundred and two stanzas of the work belongs to a distinct metric type or subtype, and between stanzas Snorri has inserted definitions, occasionally longer notes, or comments.

There is little dispute that Snorri's intention with the Edda is that of a poetic instructor: to provide material and exemplars for the young skalds of Iceland to follow in the footsteps of the old masters of the craft. He is an antiquarian – assigning literary qualities to the myths and legends of the forefathers, despite their contradiction to Christian creed.

The Sagas[edit]

Besides these sources, there are surviving legends in Scandinavian folklore, and there are hundreds of place names in Scandinavia named after the gods. A few runic inscriptions, such as the Rök Runestone and the Kvinneby amulette, make references to the mythology. There are also several image stones that depict scenes from Norse mythology, such as Thor's fishing trip, scenes from the Völsunga saga, Odin and Sleipnir, Odin being devoured by Fenrir, and Hyrrokkin riding to Baldr's funeral. In Denmark, a stone has been found which depicts Loki with curled dandy-like mustaches and lips that are sewn together. There are also smaller images, such as figurines depicting the gods Odin (with one eye), Thor (with his hammer) and Freyr.

Some of the fornaldarsögur, such as the Völsunga saga or Hervarar saga portray the deeds of great Germanic warriors and kings during the migrations period; in others, such as Ragnars saga loðbrókar or the Ynglinga saga, the setting is Scandinavia and concerns the legendary or semi-legendary lines of rulers.

The íslendingasögur are highly realist and only rarely includes magical elements other than omens and precognitions. They are frequently held to have a high value as historical source material, and in the context of Norse mythology, to describe the actual rites and faiths of the ancient Norse religion.

Mythological overview[edit]


The creation of the cosmos is mainly related by Snorri in Gylfaginning and in poetic form by the Völuspá and Grímnismál. [………]

In the beginning there was the world of ice Niflheim and the world of fire Muspelheim, and between them was the Ginnungagap, a "grinning (or yawning) gap" in which nothing lived. In Ginnungagap, the fire and the ice met and the fire of Muspelheim licked the ice shaping a primordial giant Ymir and a giant cow, Auðumbla whose milk fed Ymir. The cow licked the ice created the first god Búri, who was the father of Borr, the father of the first Æsir Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve. Ymir was a hermaphrodite and procreated alone the race of giants. Then, Borr's sons Odin, Vili and Ve slaughtered Ymir and from his body they created the world.

Ginnungagap (the seeping emptiness) [………] as Muspellheimr and Niflheimr approached each other, the ice of Niflheimr melted and formed the venomous substance eitr which quickened to life in the form of the giant Ymir (the Howler). Ymir is considered cognate to the Hindu demon Yama, and thus of proto-Indo-European origin.

With the words of the Völuspá:

Ár var alda
þar er Ymir byggði,
vara sandr né sær
né svalar unnir.
Jörð fannsk æva
né upphiminn,
gap var ginnunga,
en gras hvergi.
Of old was the age
when Ymir lived;
Sea nor cool waves
nor sand there were;
Earth had not been,
nor heaven above,
But a yawning gap,
and grass nowhere.
There was in times of old,
where Ymir dwelt,
nor sand nor sea,
nor gelid waves;
earth existed not,
nor heaven above,
’twas a chaotic chasm,
and grass nowhere.

The gods regulated the passage of the days and nights, as well as the seasons. The first human beings were Askr and Embla (Ash tree and Elm), who were carved from wood and brought to life by the gods Odin, Hoenir/Vili and Lóðurr/.

The Eddic poem Rígsþula explains the origin of the social classes as the descendants from Jarl, Karl and Þræl (Earl, Churl and Thrall) – the three sons the god Rígr (identical to Heimdallr according to the poems introductory notice) had with a human woman Edda (Great-grandmother).


The Norns spin the threads of fate at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of the world.

In Norse mythology, the earth was believed to be a flat disc. Asgard, where the gods lived, was located at the centre of the disc, and could only be reached by walking across the rainbow (the Bifröst bridge). The Giants lived in an equivalent abode called Jotunheim (giant-home). A cold, dark underground abode called Niflheim was ruled by the goddess Hel. This was the eventual dwelling-place of most of the dead. Located somewhere in the south was the fiery realm of Muspell, home of the fire giants. Further otherworldly realms include Álfheim, home of the light-elves (ljósalfar), Svartalfheim, home of the dark-elves, and Nidavellir, the mines of the dwarves. In between Asgard and Niflheim was Midgard, the world of men (see also Middle Earth).

Snorri's cosmology is mainly vertical. He comences in the "heavens" of the æsir, vanir and álfar and makes his way through the earthly realms of men and giants down to the underworlds of Svartálfheimr, Nilfheimr, Muspellheimr and Hel. The influence on Snorri of medieval Christian cosmology (as we recall it from Dante's Comedia) might be the main source for this topology. Orignally, the Germanic cosmology was more likely radial, with Ásgarðr in the center of Miðgarðr, surrounded by Útgarðr (orginially perhaps called Mannheimr, Goðheimr and Jötunheimr, respectively). This can be perceived as a macrocosmic analogue to the Germanic demography of individual farms (garðar), surrounded by forested wilderness, with an altar or shrine to the gods in its center (or alternatively, in the perspective of sacral kingship, the residence of the family head in the central building of the farm). Yggdrasill would then represent the warden tree of the macrocosmic farm. The warden tree was the oldest tree of the farm, and the reverence of it continued in Scandinavia and some places in Germany up until recent centuries.


There are three "clans" of deities, the Æsir, the Vanir, and the Iotnar (referred to as giants in this article). Æsir and vanir warred in what the Völuspá calls "the first folk-strife in the world." The war was ignated by a dispute over the goddess or giantess Gullveig, and it resulted in Freyr, Freyja and Njörðr becoming æsir hostages in Ásgarðr, Hœnir and Mímir becoming vanir hostages in Vanaheimr. Some gods belong in both camps. Some scholars have speculated that this tale symbolized the way the gods of invading Indo-European tribes supplanted older nature-deities of the aboriginal peoples, although it should be firmly noted that this is conjecture. Other authorities (compare Mircea Eliade and J.P. Mallory) consider the Æsir/Vanir division to be simply the Norse expression of a general Indo-European division of divinities, parallel to that of Olympians and Titans in Greek mythology, and in parts of the Mahabharata.





The vanir: Njörðr, Freyr and Freyja[edit]

Other æsir and ásynjur[edit]

Sol is the goddess of the sun, a daughter of Mundilfari, and wife of Glen. Every day, she rides through the sky on her chariot, pulled by two horses named Alsvid and Arvak. This passage is known as Álfrödull, meaning "glory of elves", which in turn was a common kenning for the sun. Sol is chased during the day by Skoll, a wolf that wants to devour her. Solar eclipses signify that Skoll has almost caught up to her. It is fated that Skoll will eventually catch Sol and eat her; however, she will be replaced by her daughter. Sol's brother, the moon, Mani, is chased by Hati, another wolf. The earth is protected from the full heat of the sun by Svalin, who stands between the earth and Sol. In Norse belief, the sun did not give light, which instead emanated from the manes of Alsvid and Arvak.


The Old Norse vision of the future is remarkably bleak. In the end, it was believed, the forces of evil and chaos will outnumber and overcome the divine and human guardians of good and order. Loki and his monstrous children will burst their bonds; the dead will sail from Niflheim to attack the living. Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, will summon the heavenly host with a blast on his horn. Then will ensue a final battle between good and evil (Ragnarök), which the gods will lose, as is their fate. The gods, aware of this, will gather the finest warriors, the Einherjar, to fight on their side when the day comes, but in the end they will be powerless to prevent the world from descending into the chaos out of which it has once emerged; the gods and their world will be destroyed. Odin himself will be swallowed by Fenrir the wolf. Still, there will be a few survivors, both human and divine, who will populate a new world, to start the cycle anew. Or so the sybil tells us; scholars are divided on the question whether this is a later addition to the myth that betrays Christian influence. If pre-Christian, the eschatology of the Völuspá may reflect an Indo-European tradition deriving from the eschatology of Persian Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism also inspired Christian and Jewish eschatology.


Runestone that may depict the Fenris wolf

The Old Norse word for a supernatural being is vættr, cognate with English wight. In Artus-kappa Sögur, Frigg and Freyja are called hollar vættir (humble wights), and many kennings for valkyrie includes a vættr part, such as hjálmvættr (helm-wight). In Egils saga is related how the carved dragons at the bow a longship had to be taken off before approaching land, so as not to frighten the landvættir (land-wights) and incur bad luck from them.

Jötnar, þursar, risar and gýgjar[edit]

The Æsir and the Vanir are generally enemies with the Iotnar (singular Iotunn or Jotuns; Old English Eotenas or Entas). They are comparable to the Titans and Gigantes of Greek mythology and generally translated as "giants", although "trolls" and "demons" have been suggested as suitable alternatives. However, the Æsir are descendants of Iotnar and both Æsir and Vanir intermarry with them. Some of the giants are mentioned by name in the Eddas, and they seem to be representations of natural forces. There are two general types of giant: frost-giants and fire-giants. There were also elves and dwarfs, whose role is shadowy but who are generally thought to side with the gods.

In addition, there are many other supernatural beings: Fenris (or Fenrir) the gigantic wolf, and Jörmungandr the sea-serpent (or "worm") that is coiled around the world. These two monsters are described as the progeny of Loki, the trickster-god, and a giant. More benevolent creatures are Hugin and Munin (thought and memory), the two ravens who keep Odin, the chief god, apprised of what is happening on earth, and Ratatosk, the squirrel which scampers in the branches of the world ash, Yggdrasil, which is central to the conception of this world.

Along with many other polytheistic religions, this mythology lacks the good-evil dualism of the Middle Eastern tradition. Thus, Loki is not primarily an adversary of the gods, though he is often portrayed in the stories as the nemesis to the protagonist Thor, and the giants are not so much fundamentally evil, as rude, boisterous, and uncivilized. The dualism that exists is not evil vs good, but order vs chaos. The gods represent order and structure whereas the giants and the monsters represent chaos and disorder.




The álfar (cognate with English elves) are an enigmatic collective of divine or semi-divine wights. Unlike dvergar, they are never described extensively, and no individual character clearly identified as an álfr appear in the literature.

Álfar are often connected to or perhaps interchangable with vanir, as in the formula ása ok álfa (of æsir and elves), which appearently means "all of the gods." It should also be noted that the hall of Freyr is called Álfheimr. The canonical interpretation is that álfar are minor gods or spirits of fertility, and vanir the major deities. A blót to álfar is mentioned in the poem Austrfaravísur, but we are informed of little more than that it took place and that Christians were not allowed to observe it.

Snorri divides álfar into etheral, angelic ljósalfar (light-elves) who live in the heavens, and pitch-black døkkálfar (dark-elves) who live underground in a realm known as svartálfaheimr (world or home of the black-elves). Many scholars hold døkkálfar to be synonymous with dvergar. The terms never appear elsewhere in Norse literature. Later Icelandic folklore holds that álfar (also known as huldufólk, the hidden people) live in mounds and are inclined to thieving and treasure-hoarding, thus more alike dvergar in nature. It is possible that Snorri's division between ljósálfar and døkkálfar is an attempt to clear out the confusion between an older and a later use of the term álfr.

The soul and spiritual beings[edit]

Hugr, andi, hamr, vörðr, fylgjur, hamingja,

In Ynglinga Saga, king Vanlandi of Uppsala is tormented to his death by the nightly visit of a mara, the Germanic personification of sleep paralysis, and root for the word nightmare.


The Ramsund carving depicting passages from the Völsunga saga

The mythology does not only deal with gods and supernatural creatures, but also with heroes and kings. Many of them probably actually existed, and generations of Scandinavian scholars have tried to extract history from myth in the sagas.

Sometimes the same hero resurfaces in several forms depending on which part of the Germanic world the epics survived such as Völund/Weyland and Siegfried/Sigurd, and probably Beowulf/Bödvar Bjarki. Other notable heroes are Hagbard, Starkad, Ragnar Lodbrok, Sigurd Ring, Ivar Vidfamne and Harald Hildetand. Notable are also the shieldmaidens who were "ordinary" women who had chosen the path of the warrior.

Germanic worship[edit]

Gamla Uppsala, the centre of worship in Sweden until the temple was destroyed the late 11th century.

Centres of faith[edit]

The Germanic tribes rarely or never had temples in a modern sense. The Blót, the form of worship practiced by the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian people resembled that of the Celts and Balts : it could occur in Sacred groves. It could also take place at home and/or at a simple altar of piled stones known as a "horgr". However, there seems to have been a few more important centres, such as Skiringsal, Lejre and Uppsala. Adam of Bremen claims that there was a temple in Uppsala (see Temple at Uppsala) with three wooden statues of Thor, Odin and Freyr.


While a kind of priesthood seems to have existed, it never took on the professional and semi-hereditary character of the Celtic druidical class. This was because the shamanistic tradition was maintained by women, the Völvas. It is often said that the Germanic kingship evolved out of a priestly office. This priestly role of the king was in line with the general role of godi, who was the head of a kindred group of families (for this social structure, see norse clans), and who administered the sacrifices.

Human sacrifice[edit]

A unique eye-witness account of Germanic human sacrifice survives in Ibn Fadlan's account of a Rus ship burial, where a slave-girl had volunteered to accompany her lord to the next world. More indirect accounts are given by Tacitus, Saxo Grammaticus and Adam von Bremen. The Heimskringla tells of Swedish King Aun who sacrificed nine of his sons in an effort to prolong his life until his subjects stopped him from killing his last son Egil. According to Adam of Bremen the Swedish kings sacrificed male slaves every ninth year during the Yule sacrifices at the Temple at Uppsala. The Swedes had the right not only to elect kings but also to depose them, and both king Domalde and king Olof Trätälja are said to have been sacrificed after years of famine. Odin was associated with death by hanging, and a possible practice of Odinic sacrifice by strangling has some archeological support in the existence of bodies perfectly preserved by the acid of the Jutland (later taken over by Danish people) peatbogs, into which they were cast after having been strangled. An example is Tollund Man. However, we possess no written accounts that explicitly interpret the cause of these stranglings, which could obviously have other explanations.

Interactions with Christianity[edit]

An 1830 portrayal of Ansgar, a Christian missionary invited to Sweden by its king Björn at Hauge in 829.

An important problem in interpreting this mythology is that often the closest accounts that we have to "pre-contact" times were written by Christians. As a case in point, the Younger Edda and the Heimskringla were written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, over two hundred years after Iceland became Christianized around 1000 AD, at a time of a rather intense anti-pagan political climate in Scandinavia.

Virtually all of the saga literature came out of Iceland, a relatively small and remote island, and even in the climate of religious tolerance there, Sturluson was guided by an essentially Christian viewpoint. The Heimskringla, copies of which are as widespread in today's Norway as the Bible, provides some interesting insights into this issue. Snorri Sturluson introduces Odin as a mortal warlord in Asia who acquires magical powers, settles in Sweden, and becomes a demi-god following his death. Having undercut Odin's divinity, Sturluson then provides the story of a pact of Swedish King Aun with Odin to prolong his life by sacrificing his sons. Later in the Heimskringla, Sturluson records in detail how converts to Christianity such as Saint Olaf Haroldsson brutally convert Scandinavians to Christianity.

During the christianisation of Norway, king Olaf Trygvasson had male völvas (sejdmen) tied and left on a skerry at ebb. A terrible and long wait for death.

In Iceland, trying to avert civil war, the Icelandic parliament voted in Christianity, but tolerated heathenry in the privacy of one's home. Hence the more tolerant atmosphere that allowed the development of saga literature, which has been a vital window to help us better understand the heathen era. See also Germanic Christianity.

Sweden, on the other hand, had a series of civil wars in the 11th century, which ended with the burning of the Temple at Uppsala.

The conversion did not happen overnight as the new faith was imposed more or less by force. The clergy did their utmost to teach the populace that the Norse gods were demons, but their success was limited and the gods never became evil in the popular mind.

Two centrally located and far from isolated settlements can illustrate how long the christianization took. Archaeological studies of graves at the Swedish island of Lovön have shown that the Christianisation took 150-200 years, and this was a location close to the kings and bishops.

Likewise in the bustling trading town of Bergen, two runic inscriptions have been found from the 13th century, among the Bryggen inscriptions. One of them says may Thor receive you, may Odin own you, and a second one is a galdra which says I carve curing runes, I carve salvaging runes, once against the elves, twice against the trolls, thrice against the thurs. The second one also mentions the dangerous Valkyrie Skögul.

Otherwise there are few accounts from the 14th to the 18th century, but the clergy, such as Olaus Magnus (1555) wrote about the difficulties of extinguishing the old beliefs. Þrymskviða appears to have been an unusually resilient song, like the romantic Hagbard and Signy, and versions of both were recorded in the 17th century and as late as the 19th century. In the 19th and early 20th century Swedish folklorists documented what commoners believed, and what surfaced were many surviving traditions of the gods of Norse mythology. However, the traditions were by then far from the cohesive system of Snorri's accounts. Most gods had been forgotten and only the hunting Odin and the giant-slaying Thor figure in numerous legends. Freya is mentioned a few times and Baldr only survives in legends about place names.

Day Origin
Monday Moon's day
Tuesday Tyr's (Tiw's) day
Wednesday Odin's (Woden's) day
Thursday Thor's day
Friday Frigg's or Freya's day
Sunday Sun's day

The Germanic gods have left traces in modern vocabulary. An example of this is some of the names of the days of the week: modeled after the names of the days of the week in Latin (named after Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn), the names for Tuesday through to Friday were replaced with Germanic equivalents of the Roman gods. In English, Saturn was not replaced, while Saturday is named after Sabbath in German, and is called "bathing day" in Scandinavia.

Other elements of Norse mythology survived without being perceived as such, especially concerning supernatural beings in Scandinavian folklore. Moreover, the Norse belief in destiny has been very firm until modern times. Since the Christian hell resembled the abode of the dead in Norse mythology one of the names was borrowed from the old faith, Helvite i.e. Hel's punishement. Some elements of the Yule traditions were preserved, such as the Swedish tradition of slaughtering the pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham), which originally was part of the sacrifice to Freyr.

Remains, influences and revival[edit]

Remains of Norse mythology in Scandinavian folklore[edit]

Much of the animistic traits of Norse mythology (the "low mythology") has been passed down in a largely unbroken tradition to Scandinavian folklore. Among the pesantry of Scandinavia, the belif in fortune telling and faith, in various wights and warden spirits remained strong up untill recent times. The practice of dedicating food to the tomte for good fortune or to the elves to cure diseases has direct parallells described in the Norse sagas, as do the fear for the revenant spirits of the dead and of the nightmare creature mara.

The "high mythology" regarding the deeds of the gods and their cosmogonic labors were, on the contrary, by and large forgotten. Many of the gods make euhemerized appearances in folk songs and tales, but few show any tranceable origin in the Old Norse accounts. [Particulary Odin and Thor appear in folklore.] The names for thunder in the Scandinavian languages are references to the latter. Åska or tordön in Swedish translates as "the Áss man" and "Thor's rumble," respectively. When the thunder hit a mountain peak, it was Thor slaying the giants or trolls living there. Odin often appears as a wizened wanderer, often associated with the Wild Hunt. One tradition has him standing in opposition to skogsrået, a forest spirit, whom he for vague reasons hunts as game.

Influences on romanticism and popular culture[edit]

Regarded as fiction, Norse mythology is likely the most famed and influential product of Nordic literature. Interest in Norse lore surged during the romantic era in European literature, when in particular authors and readers of Germanic nationality connected to it as a description of the gods and heroes of a glorious past. In Scandinavia, movements such as Göticism regarded the old Norsemen (often falsely generalized as "Vikings") as a commendable ancestors. British and German romantics more or less liberally extrapolated the Norse narratives to fit into their indigenous Anglo-Saxon and continental Germanic mythologies. The most renowned example is Richard Wagner's use of literary themes from Norse mythology and the German Nibelungenlied to compose the four operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

The tales of great warriors and deadly mages that were revered by the romantics later gave rise to the fantasy genre in the 20th century. Early fantasy writers as William Morris and Lord Dunsany were highly familiar with Norse mythology, and borrowed from it extensively. This practice was continued by Robert E. Howard in his many outstanding works in the Sword and Sorcery genre – his best known creation being Conan the Barbarian, a fictional Cimmerian mercenary and the hero of numerous short stories and one novel. J. R. R. Tolkien, the undisputed master of the High Fantasy genre, was likewise exceedingly influenced by Norse lore when he created the setting for is works The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. After the Howard and Tolkien works were published, other authors were bound to follow. Many of the most famous authors like Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, David Eddings, Tad Williams and others fantasy authors borrow heavily from the Norse mythology.

This helped the fantasy develop as a separate genre. And on the other hand, the birth of fantasy gave depth to role playing and computer games. Some RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons or Dragonlance are based on authors' work (including Howard and Tolkien) and many mythologies (including the Norse mythology).

In the Marvel Universe, the Norse Pantheon and related elements play a prominent part, especially Thor who has been one of the longest running superheroes for the company. The Norse Pantheon heroes are also the main characters of Japanese anime Matantei Loki Ragnarok.

Odin, Thor and Loki, and several other beings and places in Norse mythology have recurring roles in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series, most notably in the Season of Mists and The Kindly Ones story-lines.

Neopagan revival[edit]

The branch of neopaganism focusing on the reconstruction of the heathen Norse faith is known variously as ásatrú (faith in the æsir), forn siðr (old custom), heathenry (from heiðinn: of the heath, pagan) or odinism. The groups associated with this movement typically draw their influences from the entire spectrum of old Germanic paganism.

In Iceland Ásatrú was recognized by the state as an official religion in 1973, which legalized its marriage, child-naming and other ceremonies. It is also an official and legal religion in Denmark and Norway, though it is still fairly new.

While a mjöllnir pendant is a popular accessory among Germanic neopagans, it should be noted that it is more often, particularly in Scandinavia, worn non-confessionlly – signifying anything from a disbelief in Christianity to an interest in Norse mythology or heavy metal aesthetics.


External links[edit]

Dedicated to Norse mythology. Detailed re-tellings of the old Norse sagas.

Bibliography (including some external links)[edit]

  • General secondary works
    • Branston, Brian (1980). Gods of the North. London: Thames and Hudson. (Revised from an earlier hardback edition of 1955). ISBN 0500271771.
    • Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1964). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Baltimore: Penguin. New edition 1990 by Penguin Books. ISBN 0140136274. (Several rune stones)
    • —————— (1969). Scandinavian Mythology. London and New York: Hamlyn. ISBN 0872260410. Reissued 1996 as Viking and Norse Mythology. New York: Barnes and Noble.
    • Dumézil, Georges (1973). Gods of the Ancient Northmen. Ed. & trans. Einar Haugen. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520035070.
    • Grimm, Jacob (1888). Teutonic Mythology, 4 vols. Trans. S. Stallybras. London. Reprinted 2003 by Kessinger. ISBN 0766177424, ISBN 0766177432, ISBN 0766177440, ISBN 0766177459. Reprinted 2004 Dover Publications. ISBN 0486436152 (4 vols.), ISBN 0486435466, ISBN 0486435474, ISBN 0486435482, ISBN 0486435490.
    • Lindow, John (1988). Scandinavian Mythology: An Annotated Bibliography, Garland Folklore Bibliographies, 13. New York: Garland. ISBN 0824091736.
    • —————— (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195153820. (A dictionary of Norse mythology.)
    • Orchard, Andy (1997). Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. London: Cassell. ISBN 0304363855.
    • Page, R. I. (1990). Norse Myths (The Legendary Past). London: British Museum; and Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292755465.
    • Rydberg, Viktor (1889). Teutonic Mythology, trans. Rasmus B. Anderson. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Reprinted 2001, Elibron Classics. ISBN 1402193912. Reprinted 2004, Kessinger Publishing Company. ISBN 0766188914. (Rydberg's theories are generally not accepted.)
    • Simek, Rudolf (1993). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Trans. Angela Hall. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0859913694. New edition 2000, ISBN 0859915131.
    • Simrock, Karl Joseph (1853–1855) Handbuch der deutschen Mythologie.
    • Turville-Petre, E. O. Gabriel. (1964). Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Reprinted 1975, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0837174201.
    • Vries, Jan de. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, 2 vols., 2nd. ed., Grundriss der germanischen Philogie, 12–13. Berlin: W. de Gruyter. (Generally considered the most authoritative current standard reference.)