The Ulitmate Guide To Norse Mythology

by | Aug 31, 2021 | Vikings | 0 comments


Map showing Nordic expansion in the Viking Age. Wherever the Norsemen traveled or settled, they were influenced by and even influenced the local mythologies.

What is Norse Mythology?

Norse mythology is the general term for the myths, legends, and notions of supernatural beings related to the pre-Christian Nordic religion. It has roots far back in time, but it is only known in detail from the Viking Age. The mythology consisted of tales that were about the lives of gods and their work in the world. The myths were not just about those of the god’s life and their conflicts with other groups of divine beings, but they are also testimonies of the experiences the myth-tellers themselves had in their lives. The mythology was created in a specific environment, and it determined the themes the stories were about. Therefore, the Nordic myths tell of man’s eternal struggle for survival with nature, genealogical conflicts with other genealogies, and social tensions in human society, even though these are described as events in a supernatural sphere.

There were no normative texts, and the material preserved for today is a series of more or less randomly compiled sources. It is from them that a research reconstruction has been made. Researcher in the Nordic religion Jens Peter Schjødt describes it as a truly generalized ideal image. In this way, some of the mythological notions and stories came to live on in folklore. A few elements have, in this way, even been able to survive right up to modern times; however, it is mostly about notions of less significant mythological figures, such as elves, ghosts, goblins, and trolls. As part of an international news movement, various groups have emerged in recent years to recreate a religion ( Asetro ) based on Nordic mythology.

Christian writers wrote down the myths that have been handed down to our day in the Middle Ages. In pre-Christian times, they were handed down as oral narratives passed on from generation to generation. The change of religion meant that mythology slowly became extinct as a living tradition as the institutions that supported it disappeared. At the same time, the handed-down mythology was preserved only because of the technique that Christianity brought with it. In the Middle Ages, writing on parchment was closely linked to the ecclesiastical institutions, and the people who wrote down the mythology were almost certainly educated in such a place.

Historical background

For the Viking Age, it isn’t easy to make a clear geographical demarcation of the Nordic countries, thus spreading mythology. The boundaries were fluid, and as one moved away from home, the cultural differences became greater, and one gradually reached a new cultural area. But despite the great local differences, there was separate mythology and culture held together by the common Nordic language. Overall, Norse mythology constitutes a relatively uniform world of meaning, part of a larger Germanic community and further indo-European.

Norse mythology was based mainly on the older Germanic; the names of the pagan gods were closely related throughout northwestern Europe. The sparsely handed down material, which originates from the Germanic territory of Northern and Western Europe, shows a close relationship between the mythologies. Christianity became the dominant religion in Anglo-Saxon England and Germany several hundred years earlier than it did in the Nordic countries. The traditional pagan religion was therefore suppressed at an earlier time and before the pagan tradition managed to be written down, as they remained in the Nordic countries. For this reason, our knowledge of the Germanic myths stems mainly from medieval literary sources from Scandinavia and Iceland.

Bronze Age images may represent early versions of famous gods. For example, the great man who carries an ax, known from several petroglyphs, is Thor. But they can not be interpreted using the written sources, and therefore one can not establish a sure connection between the Bronze Age and Viking Age mythology. The clear parallels between the solar chariot and the Skinfax myth can be interpreted as a millennial “reverberation” in the Viking Age. From the Iron Agefew and fragmentary relics of Germanic notions and myths have been handed down. From them, a clear continuity can be demonstrated between the religion among the South Germans from the 1st century possibly to the North Germans around 1000 possibly Iconographic studies of the archaeological material have shown a clear literary and motive continuity from the 5th century to the 13th century in an area that included Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England. Archaeologist Lotte Hedeager believes that this suggests that the most important myths in Norse mythology were basically handed down in a fairly unchanged form throughout the period. Probably at the beginning of the period, it was only an expression of a widespread tradition within a few aristocracies and only later reached the general population, at least in Norway and Iceland. The German culture was not the only influence on the Nordic countries. Comparative studies have identified elements from Celtic mythology and Sami or Finno-Ugric mythology; until the Middle Ages, Finno-Ugric culture was widespread far down in southern Sweden and Norway. However, there is no indication that the Sami bear cult, salmon cult, and Sami hunting gods were widespread in Nordic culture.

In Viking times, the northerner had no peculiar name for his faith. In the encounter with Christianity came the concept for SID (= formerly custom, old custom) on Norse belief in contrast to NYR Siðr (= new custom) about Christianity.

Dissemination and handover

The European learning tradition flourished in Iceland in the period just after the change of religion. At the same time, an interest in the Scandinavian past arose, so many traditional tales were written down and thus preserved for posterity. John Lindow suggests that this collection and writing down of ancient mythology has been inspired by Christian texts, such as the saga of Clement. There is even an invitation to read the pagan stories to experience the plain character of the gods. On this basis, he believes that the theology expressed in the Younger Edda is based on Romans 1: 18-23. It is said, among other things, that the Gentiles had once known the Christian god but had since turned away from him instead of beginning to worship idols. Lindow believes that this explains the work’s euhemeristic approach. Lindow also believes that even the earliest Icelandic writings, which consisted mainly of saints ‘vitae, can be used as indirect relics, such as Thor and Odin’s meaning when they are described as saints’. Main demonic opponents in the Icelandic translations of Latin texts. In these texts, which are usually older than, for example, Snorri’s actual mythological works, several names of the other gods also appear. Lindow believes that it shows that extensive knowledge of pagan mythology had been handed down in the monasteries, as some of the characteristics known from the rest of the mythological literature are also found in them.

The stories and beliefs associated with religion in the Nordic countries developed over time, and there have been great regional differences. Before the Middle Ages, Norse mythology was hardly part of a coherent historical and cultural unit. Only then did Gentiles, under the strong influence of Christianity, begin to create religious institutions as we know them from, for example, Christian culture. In pre-Christian times, mythology was a dynamic synthesis of new and old notions from a large geographical area and was the subject of constant renewal and re-poetry. Myths were not just narratives; images were in parallel with rituals, another important means of communicating mythological traditions. The Swedish religion researcher Anders Andrén describes Nordic literature as characterized by tableaux or scenes tied together with short verse lines, i.e., there was a distinct use of textual images as opposed to, for example, the Greek epic tradition. Pictorial representations were probably for a long time a completely integral part of the dissemination of mythology, at the same time as images have seemed both guiding and limiting for the choice of a motif in the narratives. However, this did not mean that the epic tradition was unknown in the Nordic countries.

Myths were also used within a specific context, i.e., they were living elements of a particular society and constituents of a particular culture. Therefore, the individual myth must be interpreted about the time and place in which it was used or written down. The social conditions in society have, e.g., always had great significance for the understanding and disseminating mythological narratives. Therefore, the social system in the mythical world was a copy of the real world, and in the Nordic countries, where kinship was crucial for social relations, they were also in the myths. Therefore, we must assume that in Iceland, the myths have been retold differently, and emphasis has been placed on other elements than was done in the rest of the Nordic countries. However, communication between the countries was possible, and Iceland was isolated from the Nordic region. Therefore, throughout the Viking Age and the Middle Ages, there was a lively, albeit regular cultural exchange carried by economic transactions between all the countries throughout the Nordic region. In addition to the geographical differences, there were also social variations. There has been a difference between the upper class and the common people experienced, e.g., the kings traveled quite often and had good international relations. Another significant limitation of our understanding is that the most important written sources were created in Iceland in the 13th to 14th centuries when the pre-Christian religion was no longer alive. Despite these reservations, it is today the most widespread view in research that in the big picture, there has been a high degree of cultural continuity in populations throughout the Nordic area and that the preserved sources are based on older people. pre-Christian accounts, without necessarily being direct depreciations.

Characteristics of research

Before the change of religion, there were no real religious institutions, doctrines, and canonical works, so a coherent religious system was never developed. The Germanic religion was thus not a real religion in the modern sense. The Nordic myths have instead evolved from an ethnic religion that had not had a founder but instead had its origins in local traditions and performances. Mythology was, therefore, a disparate network of myths and legends, which was divided by a larger population group that were linguistically related to each other. It also means that there were many different and parallel versions of the same basic myths. This mythology in its traditional form was reproduced orally in poetic form. The individual rituals, names of supernatural beings, and tales did not exist in a fixedly written form. Therefore, they varied between the various Germanic tribes, both in time and space. The mythology connected with the rituals, but in reality, it had little to do with faith, as is known from, e.g., Christian theology. In pre-Christian society, religion was more a matter of tradition and custom and of a life of interaction with other people and nature and the forces believed to inhabit it. The myths, therefore, helped to put the rituals into an overall cosmological framework.

A prevailing theory in the 19th century evolutionary history of religion was that religion rationally explained natural phenomena and events. Still, in the absence of scientific knowledge, one had to use supernatural explanations. According to this approach, the Nordic myths were tales about the forces behind what they observed in the world around them. However, it ignores the social and psychological aspects of mythology.  The myths not only served as an explanation for a particular religious practice or the origin of a natural phenomenon, but they have also had their own independent lives.

In the 20th century, traditional research placed the greatest emphasis on the relationship of myths to the worship of God. It has been a widespread theory that the mythological narratives function was primarily to advance and retold as part of a cult drama, where the primeval events were recreated in words and action. According to this theory, the cult drama was perceived as a necessity for the world’s continued existence. However, there is nothing to suggest that all myths played a ritual role. In many cases, they could instead have had a cosmological or instructive function, just as they could be used as existential explanatory models. Therefore, the myths that make up Nordic mythology can also be considered expressions of the ideology that characterized pre-Christian culture. Another of the myths’ purposes was to answer how and why the world looked the way it did.

Vikings told the myths based on the world of the gods, but the gods were symbolic representatives of humans. The mythology was thus a reflection of the social order, and the conflicts of the myths were symbolic retellings of the conflicts that the myth-tellers knew from their own lives. The stories told in the myths were thus not just stories about the great cosmological drama but also about the social inequalities, problems, and threats experienced by the people of that time. It could, for example. Be the daily toil as a peasant, the dominance of men over women, and certain genera were of greater importance than others. Against this background, the Australian religion researcher Margaret Clunies-Ross characterizes the myths we know today, which edited versions of countless oral narratives written down for special purposes.

Myths and beliefs were used or expressed in situations that required explanations of a mythological nature. It included everyday relationships, religious celebrations, crises, etc. The mythology was therefore characterized by being used in very diverse situations without an overall regulatory institution. Like other of the world’s mythologies, the northerners were therefore not logically coherent. The northerners of the Viking Age probably lived very well with contradictions in their worldview, just as modern humans do. Jens Peter Schjødt explains this by saying that a god, for example. He was not a real being but a figure who was in a semantic room. This means that contradictory notions can easily exist next to each other as long as they orient towards the semantic center. From this space, the characteristics of the god are generated. As an example, it can be mentioned that Odin is always portrayed as knowledgeable and never as stupid; his wisdom can instead play different roles. Another example is Loki, whose lips are sewn together in one myth, which is not mentioned in the next.


The world was not necessarily a good place; it contained both good and evil qualities. Cosmology was characterized by fear and by the idea of ​​a fragile world order in which balance could easily be shifted. The threat was chaos, represented by the giants. The reason was that it had been created by an outrage, namely through the assassination of the ancestor of the giant family, Ymir, by the Aesir. You can find the most comprehensive description of pre-Christian cosmology in Snorre Sturlason’s Gylfaginning. Snorre, however, was strongly influenced by both classical and Christian literature. The influence of the broad European tradition is clearly seen in his retelling of the myths. An example is the learned medieval theories of the elemental doctrine in his retelling of the oldest times. In addition, he established a topography for Ginnungagap, with cold in the north and heat in the south. However, it is uncertain to what extent one had such a systematized worldview in pre-Christian times. Overall, mythologies are seldom logically coherent, and the Nordic ones do not differ in this respect. The northerners of the Viking Age probably lived very well with contradictions in their worldview, just as modern humans do. A god, for example, was not a real being but a figure who was in a semantic space. This means that contradictory notions can easily exist next to each other as long as they orient towards the semantic center. From this space, the characteristics of the god are disturbed.

The Myths


Hjalmar says goodbye to Orvar-Odd after the match on Samsø. Scene from Hervar’s story and Heiðrek’s . Painting by Mårten Winge (1866)

The great overarching narrative in mythology was the story of the relationship between the gods and the giants. They formed the outer poles of the cosmological framework, and the action in the individual myths stemmed from the tensions between them. The hostile relationship was due to the first killing, and revenge was in many cases the initiator of the conflict in the individual myth. However, the enmity between the two clans would first culminate at Ragnarok, where they would annihilate each other in battle. Therefore, the overarching narrative in mythology was about how the gods try to postpone the inevitable with more and more desperate means. The location of the actors in the cosmological space determined their roles in the narrative of the myth. The world was perceived as a slice, with the home of the gods at the center and the other beings populating their own homeworlds around. The giants and the other enemies of the gods were located in the periphery furthest from the center, while humans lived in the middle. At the bottom was the underworld. The realm of the dead, but it was also home to other forces. Collectively, the gods acted as creative, governing, ruling, and binding powers. Something that in the myths was expressed through words in the neutrum pluralism, e.g., god, rain, rye, ribbons, and hoped. They were representatives of the proper world order, expressed through the regularity of the rhythm of the day and the regular course of the year with germination, harvest and winter, year and peace, the basic social patterns, and the law. However, it did not prevent the gods on an individual basis from circumventing the rules, just as no notions have been preserved that individual deities would respond to violations of the law if it did not affect the god’s own function.

In several myths, the action was initiated by a god’s desire for something located in the periphery, which led to a journey out there to find it. Overall, the myths could unfold in two different planes: there was the horizontal, where the actors traveled between the different worlds on the earthly plane, and there was the vertical, where one traveled to the underworld. Actions that involve traveling the opposite way, from the periphery to the mythological center, are always perceived as negative threats to the world order. They went in the normal direction and therefore undermined the power position of the Aesir. The balance was always restored by the actions of the gods pointing out. In myths involving a horizontal movement between the world of the gods and the giants, the gods’ plans always succeeded. The same thing rarely happened in myths, referred to as vertical journeys to the realm of the dead and the underworld. They were also described as extremely dangerous and posed a risk of never returning.

According to Clunies-Ross, the opposition between gods and giants must be understood as images of three important pairs of opposites in the northerners’ worldview; they were nature versus culture, femininity versus masculinity, and order versus disorder.  On the other hand, good and evil were not necessarily part of this contradiction. The Nordic gods were not exclusively good, and their opponents were not exclusively evil. The two clans instead represented two different parts of the world. The giants descended from ancient times and therefore had enormous strength and possessed the greatest insight into the world’s interior design. At the same time, the gods were guardians of the world order. The gods, especially the Assyrians, were associated with culture, while the giants were associated with nature. Culture and nature were not perceived as separate phenomena. In contrast, culture was an enhanced nature and was a picture of human society. The Assyrians were conquerors and rulers, but they also needed the powers, knowledge, possessions, and fertility of the giants, just as humans were completely and utterly dependent on nature to survive.

The gods had established the cosmic order, and they were thus guarantors of cultural phenomena such as justice, law, wisdom, and order. On the other hand, their opponents were representatives of the uncontrollable forces of nature, which i.a. included chaotic powers, fertility, and death. They thus posed a constant threat, both to what the gods and humans had built up. The stories, therefore, tell of powerful and powerful guides (aces) and warriors in constant battle who were accustomed to unrest, plunder, and misfortune. At the same time, the opponents of the gods constantly sought to change the balance of power in the world to their advantage. Clunies-Ross has suggested a group of other far more dangerous monsters, which did not belong to the genus of the giants, but which constituted their own. These were animal beings who, in the myths, are portrayed without motivation and explanation of their actions. The group included i.a. the dog Garm , Nidhug , Midgårdsormen, gygrerne and maybe even Udgårdsloke , Surtand Muspell . According to her, they constituted their own mythological group, representing only destruction and chaos, instead of the giants, who were also associated with positive qualities, such as fertility and creation. Other mythological figures were i.a., dwarves, and humans, which rarely played a supporting role in the myths the gods appeared in. The Aesir and Vanir arranged for law, order, and fertility gave the knowledge of the past and the future, inspired skaldic, supported kings. Hence, they were victorious in battle and welcomed the dead warriors into their kingdom.

Vikings told the myths from the perspective of the gods. Their main interest was maintaining the social order in the world and thereby their own position of power. To prevent the giants from establishing their own world order, the gods had to use all tricks. The gods’ use of violence, deceit, and deception to achieve their goals and defeat their enemies could be justified by the fact that it was the very existence of the world that was at stake. In reality, the Aesir and the giants were very closely related, as Odin’s own mother was a giant. Despite the very close relationship, the differences between aces and giants are emphasized in all myths. According to Clunies-Ross, although the figures in the myths appeared to be anthropomorphic, then the narratives were largely also about ideology and social imperatives. An important message in many of the myths was, for example, that culture was an improvement of nature and its resources. People were dependent on the riches of nature, but they only gained their true value the moment they became part of the orderly culture, i.e., had taken shape and function.


The myths that have been handed down to modern times have been preserved in various forms. Some as poems, in what looks like an original form, others as prose narratives. Hints in the Nordic literature, however, show that many myths have been lost. In some cases, multiple versions of the same narrative are known, sometimes focusing on different episodes. In recent times, these diverse narratives have been compiled into actual mythology; Among other things, the Danish historian of religion Vilhelm Grønbech.

Grønbech has included several heroic legends containing elements of a mythological character and divine beings appear. Unlike the myths of the gods, the legends did not take place in an ancient time but a historical past. In pre-Christian times, however, the divide between the religious and the non-religious was not sharp, and the two spheres influenced each other. And because the tales of the past heroes took place in a mythological framework, they functioned within the religious sphere.

Below is a list of the myths and stories that Grønbech has included in his retelling of Nordic myths and legends. The list consists of Grønbech’s title, categorization, and source texts on which the narrative has been constructed. To this has been added several stories that are not included in Grønbech’s selection. These are mainly the frame stories for puzzle games with mythological content or myths that are only known fragmentarily. The list also includes a recent categorization of Clunies-Ross; she distinguishes between horizontal myths, which contain a movement between the world of the gods and giants, and vertical myths, dealing with journeys to the realm of the dead and the underworld. She also believes that mythology can be divided into four different eras; the first chaotic creation, the re-creation and golden age of the gods, the third historical epoch, marked by the conflict between Aesir and giants, and the period in which most of the god myths take place. The last is initiated by Balder’s death and ends with doom. It encompasses human history.



Ymir is killed by Odin, Vile and Ve so that the Earth can be created by his body. This killing lays the groundwork for the enmity between the families of the Aesir and the Giants. Illustration by Lorenz Frølich (1908).

The creation myth was told in the Norse writings as an arrangement of a universe in time and space where the world was lifted out of an indescribable Ginnungagap.  It was the event that established and defined the basic rules of both society and religion. The dominant figure in the creation account was Odin, but he never did it alone and never created out of nothing. Although the male creative power was the dominant one in the stories, this does not mean that the female did not exist. The emphasis is on the masculine, outgoing and aggressive creative power, while the feminine and more passive are pushed into the background. Yet, there are several indications that giant women also played an active role in the creation process. Against this background, Clunies-Ross has described the creation myth as the Aesir’s enforcement of a particular social system, where they themselves, and the qualities they represented, took precedence.

In the Nordic countries, the “place” before the creation of the world was called Ginnungagap. It was an enormous throat full of energies and potential but which was also without form and order. The first creatures in this world were Ymir, described as androgynous, fertile but passive, and unconscious (sleeping). The second was the cow Audhumbla, which Gro Steinsland describes as a representative of feminine care because it provides milk for Ymir.  From Ymir sprang the family of giants, thus becoming the first in the world. From the cow descended another lineage, Bures, as it licked him free of the stone. Bure’s lineage was the Aesir, called the sons of Bure. They had both consciousness and free will and were, therefore, able to create the world from the potential of Ginnungagap. Together with his brothers, Odin killed Ymir, and they then transformed his body to become the world as we know it, with land, sea, sky, and mountains. Odin built his own castle in the center, and his enemies were sent out towards the periphery. But the re-creation of Odin and the Aesir was only possible through the murder of their own ancestor on the mothers’ side. It was, as Steinsland describes it, a victim who provided material to the world.

The first time after creation is described as a happy golden age, but it was interrupted by the arrival of three giant women to Asgård. It was a signal that the gods did not possess total control over the world. Clunies-Ross suggests that their presence represented the possibility of exogamous relationships, which the gods, however, forbade as they feared the consequences for their position of power if they allowed marriages across families. And that they introduced sexual reproduction, and thus life and death. The dwarves and humans were created to counter the threat of the giants (see more: Ash and Embla ). Another woman, Gullveig, who also arrives at Asgård in ancient times, ends up being killed. The Gullveig myth is hard to decipher; Steinsland speculates that she might have been an aspect of Freja as a sejd? What can be read from the myth fragment in Vølven’s prophecy is that her death led to war between the two gods, aces and habits. A man’s murder of a woman was a crime in Nordic society. The result of the war was that the habits were also subject to the domination of the Aesir but were nevertheless placed above all other genera. This inferior position was due to their stupidity during the conclusion of the peace, where they rejected the hostages the Aesir exchanged because they did not understand their value and sent their own best men, Njord and Frey, to the Aesir.

No myth or fragment points to the existing notions of a creation ex nihilo, known from the Christian tradition, for example. Creation occurred in a Nordic context based on something that already existed, albeit in an unfinished and raw state. Therefore, the focus was on craftsmanship skills, and concepts such as inspiration and craftsmanship were closely linked. Clunies-Ross sees this as one of the reasons why feminine creativity was toned down, as women only created unfinished things that first gained divinity through male re-creation.

The Doom

The Ragnarok performance runs like a common thread through much of the mythology. It certainly has old roots, but Steinsland believes it has gained stronger significance through influence from the Christian doomsday performances in the Viking Age. Both because Christianity became more widespread in the Nordic countries then and because eschatology became more important within Christianity around the year 1000. Steinsland also believes that the sources where the Ragnarok motif dominates probably originate from the environment around Ladejarlerne. The notion of the world’s doom was particularly marked by three motives: cosmic catastrophe, the collapse of the social order, and the struggle between gods and giants.

In mythology, the Aesir’s significant advantage over the other powers was their superior intelligence. With its help, they could acquire knowledge and powers that could avert the world’s fate so that the powers of chaos did not take over. After the Gullveig episode, however, followed the next catastrophe for the gods, Balder’s death. It was an exhibition of the gods’ ultimate powerlessness over the destructive forces of the world. And that meant that it was no longer possible to stop the negative development that would lead to the downfall of the orderly universe. At the last battle in the world, the gods were to face the army of giants united with the largest and most dangerous monsters. It was the murder of Ymir that gave the giants reason for revenge because, in the Nordic family society, the murder of one member of the family was a blow to the whole family.

Mythological beings

The mythological figures belonged to different genera of supernatural beings, often referred to as ghosts. Some appear as named individuals in many myths, and their affiliation with particular genera is unambiguous. The family connections and character of others are more enigmatic. Both the gods and the giants formed their own social groups that functioned in parallel societies consisting of families and clans. Even the giants lived in family patterns that resembled those of humans and gods. Against this background, Clunies-Ross believes that the giants were not perceived as real chaos creatures, as in reality, they lived in orderly societies. The reason for the conflict between gods and giants, according to her, was rather that the Aesir refused the giants to share in their own power and treat them as equals.

In the mythological world, three main groups had the main role in the myths; aces, habits, and giants. In addition, there were subclasses of the dominant genera; Among other things, dwarves, elves, and humans. The social order that characterized the mythology corresponded to the real world. Here the self-employed peasants were the dominant social class. The rest of the population, who constituted the majority and consisted of servants, freedmen, and slaves, could not act freely in the same way as the farmer’s family. They were totally dependent on the landlord and the mistress. The giants not only acted as representatives of a hostile nature but could also be a picture of the non-prosperous sections of the population or strangers.

Medieval literature was particularly focused on the deeds of the great named gods, and therefore the so-called high mythology has been preserved to this day. This means that the mythology of the other mythological powers can be far richer than what the handed-down source material is characterized by. In several texts, allusions to mythological conditions surrounding these powers that are otherwise completely unknown have been demonstrated.

The Viking Gods


The three kings or kings; Swedish tapestry from the 12th century. The figures have been interpreted as either the Holy Trinity or Odin, Thor and Frey.

The gods ( Norse: goð / guð) were a powerful special group of supernatural beings. Their interrelationships were very different, and they, therefore, played different roles in mythology. The gods who appeared in the myths were often personal and named, while other groups were more diffuse, as were the giants, a few of whom appeared as individual figures, while others were anonymous. Other groups, such as witches, wolves, dishes, and valkyries, usually appeared as collectives, although some also appear by name in various narratives. As mentioned above, the gods belonged to two families; the most powerful and the one we know most names from was the family of the Aesir, the other was the family of the habits. The two groups possessed different abilities and behaved differently, and this division apparently extends far back to prehistoric times.

The idols stand primarily for wealth and fertility, Njord for shipping, trade, and property, while his children Frej and Freja stand for fertility and sexuality. The habits, especially Freya, were also associated with saithe, a form of magic that enabled the practitioner to control others and gain secret knowledge. However, saithe were considered by the Norsemen to be a dangerous and inappropriate practice. Some myths tell of a great war between the two generations that had taken place sometime in ancient times. Since then, however, they have made peace and the three habitual gods Njord, Frej, and Freja, lived in the mythological present with the Aesir in Asgård; it resulted from an agreement on the exchange of hostages to ensure peace. It has been suggested that the customs represented an ancient indigenous religion in the Nordic countries, while the Aesir was introduced from the south. The war symbolized this change of religion. A view that, however, has largely been abandoned again.

The Aesir lineage includes some of the most popular and well-known gods, such as Odin and Thor. These two deities appear as two vastly different figures. Odin is a complex figure with many attributes, some of them secretive or even a bit sinister. He is the most powerful figure in Norse mythology, wise and knowledgeable in magic, but is also treacherous and likes to use deception to achieve his goals. In disguise, he often goes out to acquire wealth, magic, or intervention in human affairs. He, therefore, also acts as a god of war and supports powerful warriors, although, in the end, he likes to betray them so that they die and then can join him after death. In his sources, he appears especially as the god of professional warriors and the god of kings. His most famous weapon is the spear Gungner, his horse is the eight-legged Sleipner, and his home in Valhalla gathers the best warriors who will fight for him in the last war Ragnarok. Thor is portrayed as a far simpler and less intelligent figure, which has led to a description of him as a popular god. He is physically mighty and armed with his most powerful weapon, the hammer Mjølner; he is one of the most powerful creatures in Norse mythology. He protects Asgård from outside attacks and fights against giants and monsters. In some stories, he is accompanied by Loki, an ambiguous person who acts as a witty game maker, and other times as a malicious traitor whose actions will eventually end the reign of the gods and launch Ragnarok.

Several different factors defined mythological beings. The most important was origin and genealogy, i.e., family relationships. The kinship again had significance for their domicile, viz., their position in the mythological landscape. Other factors that characterized the mythological individual were physical attributes, characteristic possessions, social relations, and their actions and journeys. The magical possessions functioned as externalized manifestations of their nature and actions, marked through their manufacture and use. The things of the gods strengthened their powers and made them almost invincible. The Aesir were associated with several concepts related to order, collection, and control, e.g., bands and chains (Norse: bönd og höpt) and council power (Norse: rögn / regin). This did not mean that the Assyrians were not dependent on other powers; they were not omnipotent, as mentioned above. Their power rested on control, something that could potentially be broken. They inhabited the center of the world, which meant that their power became weaker the further one moved towards the periphery. At the far end of the world, the most dangerous, untamed, and the unbound powers remained. The Assyrians were thus not transcendent gods who ruled the world from the outside but were themselves a part of it. In a Christian saint ( Agatha saga), the deeds of Odin are portrayed as very little worthwhile, even for a heathen. John Lindow interprets this as a sign that gods like Odin and Freya were probably perceived as powerful figures, but not as moral role models even in pre-Christian times.

Humans played only a small role in the myths. They were created to be warriors of the gods and fill the world so that the territory of the giants did not become large. In the legends, humans played a significantly larger role. There are many structural similarities between the Nordic heroic legends and god myths, including motive choice. The legends have had a function reminiscent of the myths, i.e., norm-setting and ideological. Heroic tales were tales of ordinary and mortal people, but which took place on a divine level. Although they express themselves taking place in historical time, they are therefore rich in mythical substance.

Myth and ritual

Mythology does not form a holistic picture of religion; actions and social manifestations are just as important. In mythical contexts, rituals became performed to regulate and maintain the prevailing world order, as the gods in the myths used ritual acts to overcome their enemies. When rituals appeared as part of the action in the myths, the goal was to postpone or avert the inevitable death. In the myths, rituals are thus associated with the desire of the gods to acquire greater strength or mental abilities, to gain an advantage over their myth sized model for the real ones, by contributing a mythological rationale tributing a mythological rationale, the myth directly connected to mythical time, establishing a sacred space where the present and ancient times were fused through parallel actions. Sacrifice was an essential element in several of the myths. There were two kinds of sacrifice, either by itself or a body part or the collective sacrifices to avert a crisis. Sacrifices served as a defense against the unknown, uncontrollable and unexpected, such as disease, famine, war, etc. In the myths, the victims were anthropomorphic, but in the sagas, it was exclusively animal. Human sacrifices were apparently reserved for kings and nobility.

The mythology described in Snorri’s medieval literary representations is marked by the author’s desire for order. He has arranged the gods according to a classical Greek pattern, where they are assigned individual functions. At best, they point back to the pre-Christian cult, but that is highly uncertain. Vikings mainly worshiped the great named gods appearing in the myths in official contexts. In everyday life, other deities have probably had greater significance for the individual. Local mythologies for local deities may have existed. One of them, Thorgerd Helgebrud, may have been handed down as a fragment in Håkon Jarl’s saga. The Nordic myths were not necessarily presented as actual plays. However, their composition shows indications in that direction, for example, in medieval relics of lyrical and rhythmic narratives. In addition, there are allusions to the use of songs in connection with rituals by Adam of Bremen.


In the Renaissance, the first academic interest in pre-Christian Norse mythology arose from the classical interest in Europe. In this context, Saxo Grammaticus ‘ Gesta Danorum was first translated into Danish in 1514. In the years that followed, the collection of Icelandic manuscripts from the Middle Ages began, and the first adaptations of the older Icelandic literature were published. In 1555 , Olaus Magnus published his work Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus om Nordens folkeliv . And in the 17th century, the first scientific studies of Norse mythology were published. Ole Worm was a pioneer in that connection, and his work gained great influence long after. During the same period, the Edda poems were translated into Latin. Peder Resen’s Edda Islandorum from 1665 was particularly prominent. This and other translations greatly increased the knowledge of pagan Norse mythology outside the Nordic countries mythology gained a popular breakthrough. In recent times, it has especially played a prominent role in national romantic contexts, e.g., in poetry and history writing to assert a special Nordic identity. This flow can i.a. found in the Danish national anthem. There is a lovely Nerang and Camp Einherjer, and in Afghanistan: Camp Viking.

Another result of the growing popular interest in pagan mythology was the emergence of reconstructionist neopaganism movements in the early 20th century. One of the most prominent of this period was the German-Austrian occultist Guido von List. After World War II, this early movement was partially compromised by relations with Nazism. Since the 1970s, there has been a resurgence of neopaganism in Europe and the United States, mainly manifested in the acetrous community, e.g., Forn Siðr in Denmark. country, where there is a reference to Freya, and in the Danish military, where military bases abroad are named based on mythology; in Iraq: Camp Yggdrasil, Camp D

Modern culture

New apps download manager2-70% .svg Main article: Nordic mythology in modern culture.
Nordic mythology flourished in literature and art in connection with the romantic current in the 19th century. In Denmark, NFS Grundtvig, in particular, has the popular perception of mythology greatly. In contrast, internationally, Richard Wagner’s u literary themes from mythology in his opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen have impacted knowledge.

In the 20th century, fantasy literature was heavily influenced, mainly due to the works of JRR Tolkien; especially the posthumous work Silmarillion was strongly influenced by northern European myths and legends. But it has especially been his novel trilogy The Lord of the Rings’ popularity that laid the foundation for the widespread use of characters based on creatures from Norse mythology, such as dwarves, elves, and giants in the fantasy genre. Since then, it has also been a source of inspiration for works in other literary and popular cultural genres. In Denmark, Peter Madsen’s comic Valhalla has gained great popularity, as has Lars-Henrik Olsennovel series about Erik Menneskesøn. In the USA and internationally, i.a. Marvel Comics ‘ The Mighty Thor and American Gods and The Sandman by Neil Gaiman gained widespread popularity.

Within heavy metal, elements of Norse mythology are recurring themes in bands such as Manowar and Amon Amarth. And in Scandinavia, an entire genre called Viking metal has emerged, where songs and albums are based on myths and edda poems.

There are references to mythology in several titles in the gaming world, including World of Warcraft, Age of Mythology, Final Fantasy, Ragnarok Online, and Tomb Raider Underworld.


In pre-Christian times, very few fragments of text that can be related to mythology were written down; these are mainly concise runic inscriptions, which only make sense compared to younger and more extensive sources. In the High Middle Ages, Christian scholars wrote down the accounts of today’s main sources for Norse mythology, but the authors’ Christian background largely influences them. Therefore they should be treated with caution as sources for pre-Christian mythology. Another source group is the material relics, including in particular images of mythological events. But without the help of the medieval writings, it is also not possible to interpret their motifs.

A significant problem in the study of Nordic mythology is that no contemporary Nordic sources have been handed down to the religion; everything was either written by foreigners or created after the change of religion. This means that, in reality, we have nothing but clues. A sermon, which is found in Hauksbók from approx. 1300 is probably the oldest Nordic text written about Nordic religion. In reality, it is a translation based on an English model. Still, it confirms that the names of the most important Nordic gods were Odin, Thor, and Frigg and that they were considered parallels to the Roman gods Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus. I.e., for the author, there was no difference between Nordic and Greco – Roman gods.

Mythology is largely handed down through poetic poetry, perhaps why Odin is portrayed as the greatest god; Thor is otherwise the most prominent in the myths, while Odin had the greatest significance for the shields. Literature required great resources in the Middle Ages and was therefore reserved for the richest, the sources, therefore, favoring the religion of the upper class. Moreover, medieval literature was particularly focused on the deeds of the gods. Therefore the mythology concerning the other mythological powers may have been far richer than what the handed-down source material bears the mark of. In several texts, allusions to mythological conditions are otherwise completely unknown. John Lindow speculates that Trondheim may have been a pagan center in a period when the Norwegian kings had become Christians. And that this was where many of the mythological texts collected in Iceland had come into being.

Written sources

The culture of the Viking Age was mainly oral, but a written language in the form of the runes was also available. However, it was not suitable for long texts and was not used to transmit, e.g., mythology. This does not necessarily mean that an actual writing culture was unknown, as it existed in several neighboring countries. A scriptural culture that did not develop in the Nordic countries before the change of religion was probably no need for it. The written Nordic literature, therefore, dates mainly from the Middle Ages. The Icelandic literature has been used to reconstruct all Nordic and Germanic religions. Jens Peter Schjødt believes that it can be defended by saying that Iceland was isolated from the rest of the Nordic region. But he emphasizes at the same time that it is important to keep in mind that Icelandic society was very different from the rest of the Nordic countries, which probably must have influenced the religion. Just as these texts really only contain descriptions of the mythologies of Icelanders and Norwegians. Comparisons of especially archaeological material from the rest of the Nordic countries and the Icelandic texts show that the performances that appear in, e.g., The Eddas, have also been well known in both Denmark and Sweden.

Another significant problem with using the Icelandic texts is the authors’ religious background, which was Christian. Snorre Sturlason was the mastermind of the important mythological text Younger Edda. He was a Christian but possessed a very great knowledge of the traditional religion. He was also a poet, writing his work as a textbook for younger poets, who in his day apparently did not necessarily know the mythological background of the kennings they used in their poems. Our knowledge of Norse mythology is largely due to him, as he intended to deepen and explain the older religious poems. However, Snorre Sturlason was strongly influenced by Christianity and the ancientsTraditions. He made a systematized presentation of ancient mythology based on the Greco-Roman literary tradition. Therefore, the structure that characterizes his description of the Nordic world of gods was probably far more systematic than it actually had been in pre-Christian times. In addition, Snorre’s interpretive model for the origin was euhemeristic, i.e., based on the idea of ​​a historical core in the myths. It was a widespread explanatory model for pagan myths in the Christian scholarly milieu of the day.

Both the Older Edda, the Icelandic family sagas, Snorre Sturlason’s Younger Edda and the other of his writings, etc. must be interpreted on the basis that they were written in the Christian Middle Ages and must not contradict the perception of the Christian worldview as the only true; the God of Christianity created the world, and the fall of man in the Garden of Eden was the origin of all pagan faith and cult that Christ would in the fullness of time by the lineage of generations and lands, due to his explanations and descriptions of the mythological material, they are often used as a starting point in interpreting other texts. The central source of Norse mythology is the Old Edda. The dating of the poems is very uncertain, but the content probably dates from pre-Christian times, while the form is maybe younger.

Several Roman sources for the religion of the South Germans date back to the Roman Iron Age. They show glimpses of mythology that had clear parallels to that known from the Nordic medieval sources. The oldest descriptions date from the first centuries before and after our era; the only one of the classical texts where one can trace parallels to the religion of the Viking Age is Tacitus ‘ work Germania from 98 evt. From the Germanic Iron AgeA number of Roman and Greek sources are also known, including biographies of Christian missionaries and stories of the prehistory of the Germanic tribes and royal families (e.g., Procopius, Jordan, Gregory of Tours, Paul Diaconus, and Beda ). Other sources include such text types as collections of laws, decisions from church meetings, baptismal vows, papal letters, sermons, pedigrees for Anglo-Saxon noble families, and person and place names. However, these sources are generally difficult to interpret, and their understanding is often based on inferences from other sources. Anglo-Saxon pedigrees Only quite a few stories with mythological content have been preserved from the South Germanic area. The spells from Merseburg and Nordendorfspændet . They contain names of deities that are both known and unknown in the Nordic material.

The majority of our knowledge of Norse mythology is therefore based on medieval poetic knowledge and stories written down by the monks and chroniclers. These texts have often been created with a Christian or romantic historical construction in mind. One of them was Adam of Bremen, who wrote his work on the history of the archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen at the behest of the bishop there; it included a section on the history and geography of the Nordic countries. Another was the Danish clergyman, Saxo, who in Gesta Danorum recounted the roots of the Danish monarchy back to the legends of the legendary kings. Time gave the then Danish royal power a historical justification and identification. He drew both on older, probably orally handed down legends and legends and Icelandic material.

These sources were written almost exclusively from a male point of view, which according to Clunies-Ross, explains why female actors fill so little in the myths and usually have a passive role. However, runestones and place names indicate that women have actually played a greater role in Nordic societies than the literature shows. However, we do not know if there has been mythology focusing on female deities.

Archaeological sources

In addition to the written material, several non-written sources can supplement the written sources on archaeological finds. The preserved Nordic rune stones, for example, constitute a valuable material, which in writing and depiction can contain remnants of the mythology we are presented in more detail in the Edda. Other Germanic peoples have also preserved legends and myths that complement the Nordic tales. Another category of finds is tombs, as grave goods can often be interpreted as reflections of notions that one can find in mythology.

In finds that date back to the Stone Age, signs of religious beliefs have been found; for example, bowl-shaped depressions on the stones that covered the stone dolmens indicate that at that time, Vikings made sacrifices either to the dead themselves or to deities related to them. However, as nothing has been handed down in writing about people’s religious beliefs in the Nordic countries before the Iron Age because no written material has been handed down, it is impossible to establish any continuity between Viking Age mythology and the Stone Age or Bronze Age. The images found on, for example, petroglyphs Southern Scandinavia, therefore, can not be interpreted based on the more than 2,000 years younger myths from Iceland.

Other relics

We know what names were god names primarily from medieval stories, but the or related names in other contexts can also provide further information about the mythology. In folklore, up to recent times, several notions have been handed down about deceased ancestors and natural phenomena that are also known from pre-Christian mythology. And stories about mythological creatures such as elves, dwarves, Huldre people, and the like. Builds with great clarity on older narratives. With few exceptions, they have been only minor deities who have lived on after the change of religion; a significant exception is Odin, while the wild hunt h in many places, e.g., Germany and Sweden. Folklore performances may show Folklore performances attributed to some of the character traits of gods and other supernatural beings in the past.

The days of the week were originally named after the most important gods, a practice borrowed from the Roman Empire. The name used in the Germanic territories was parallel to the Roman. Therefore, some of the Norse conceptions of their gods in the Iron Age can be demonstrated by comparing the Latin and Nordic names of the day and the characteristics attributed to the Roman gods. For example, dies Mercurii was translated with Wednesday, showing that Mercury was considered a parallel to Odin. Similarly, dies Jovis ( Jupiter to Thursday ( Thor ) and dies Martis ( Mars to Tuesday (Tyr),

One can often use the distribution of place names formed by god names to indicate which Vikings worshiped gods and goddesses in particular areas. Nordic place names include the names of the following gods with certainty: Thor, Njord, Ull , Frø / Frej , Odin, Tyr, Frigg and Freja . Other names that have probably been used include Vidar, Balder, Høder and Skade. The collective terms dises, habits, and elves also occur. Personal names were also often included in personal names, e.g. following Thor, Frø / Frej, Odin, Valkyrie names and possibly Tyr, in addition, there were also names for gods, such as gud, as, ragn / regin (god power), haze and elf.


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