Old Norse Mythology, Myths, and Gods

3 Jul
2009

I am a sucker for random facts; just love them!  I rarely remember them but hey, I am silly.  As part of my random factoid collection, Norse history is pretty awesome.   These Vikings came up with insane gods and goddesses and earthly events that make up the backbone of Scandinavian history.   When I was learning Icelandic and Icelandic history, there was little online information about this fascinating pagan religion.  So why not put together a short guide to Nordic gods and the sagas?  Swedes learned Scandinavian history back in grade school but most don’t have a clue about the origination of the Runes and the Gods anymore.  Here’s the refresher for your summer soaked brains.

You may be wondering why on earth you should care for Nordic history.  As we all know, our Swedish vikings friends inherit their personalities and culture and heritage from somewhere.  One somewhere is the world of the gods and goddesses.  It is here that women were written into the books as possessing deep powers and respect in society.  We must not forgot though, these societies were still very much patriarchal and male oriented.

When your little Swedish boyfriend is quietly sitting by the table drinking coffee without uttering a word, think about where that cultural habit came from.

The Eddur (Eddas)
Most of Norse mythology is based on the Icelandic Eddas, specifically the Prose and Poetic Eddur. Edda is Icelandic for saga and these stories are often to as The Sagas. Snorri Sturluson wrote The Prose Edda in the early 1200s while the Poetic Edda is part of the Codex Regius. The writing time is heavily debated; ranging from 1000s-1180s and has no true authorship. Snorri referred to the Poetic Eddas but it was not until the 1700s did researchers find the Poetic Saga.
Prose Edda is part of the very popular folklore history of Scandinavia. Snorri’s Edda is comprised of three parts: Gylfaginning (The delusion of King Gylfi), Skáldskaparmál (Language of Poetry), and Háttatal (List of verses). It is here that we hear the stories of Odin, Loki, Thor, Freyr and the creation and destruction of Earth. Hopefully you can a little taste, a short summary of the Eddas here.

The Main Norse Gods and Goddesses of Snorra Edda
Gangleri – King Gylfi’s alias while traveling
Odin
Loki
Thor (Þorr) - The god of thunder and is known in Germanic mythology as well. He is the son of Odin and Jord (mother Earth) and has a wife, Sif.

Baldur - The son of Odin and Frigg. He marries Nanna and they have a son Forsete. He builds one of the most beautiful ships called Hringhorni. However, Baldr often dreams of his own death so his mother Frigg asked all the world’s objects to swear on a vow to never hurt him. Everything agreed except mistletoe. When Loki heard of the news he had an arrow made of mistletoe. While the gods were playing a game of throwing objects at Baldur and him standing infallible, Loki gave the arrow to Höðr, Balder’s blind god brother. With a tip of the arrow, Höðr killed his own brother.

In retaliation, Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to the giant Vali and killed Hodr. Baldur was burned upon a pyre on his ship. Nanna also throws herself on the pyre and burns with him. Hyrrokin, a giantess, drove Hringhorni out to the vast sea on her wolf. After Baldur’s death, Hel agreed to release Baldr from the underworld only if all of the world, dead and alive, would weep for him. All did, except Þökk, another giant. As it turns out, Loki was Thokk and for this trick he was punished for eternity.

Freyr – The son of Njord and sister to Freyja.  He marries the beautiful giantess Gerg.  He dies at the beginning of Ragnarök as he gave his sword, his only weapon to his servant Skrinir.

Freyja – One of the beautiful Norse goddess, Freyja is the daughter of Njord and sister of Freyr.  She is the goddess of love, fertility, battle, and death.

Njord- the second mythlogical King of Sweden as told in Heimskringla.

Tyr – Son of Odin and is known as Leavings of the Wolf.  He lost his right arm to Fenrir.  Tyr lends his names to Tuesday (Tisdag in Swedish) and to the runic letter T.
Æsir – one of the two types of gods, the other being the Vanir. The Aesir comprised of the
major gods and goddesses of Nordic mythology.
Vanir – Part of the two groups of gods (Aesir and Vanir). The Vanir are mainly fertility gods who lived in Vanaheim.

Places, things and Events of the Prose Edda

Svithjod - OldThe Icelandic name for Sweden (thanks to LaughingPuffin for fixing that).

Ragnarök – the series of events where the world is destroyed. It is the end of the world and all the gods.

Asgård – The capital city of the Aesir gods

Vallhalla -The great hall in Asgard; Gangleri appears here to hear the stories of the gods but is ultimately tricked when all the gods and the hall vanishes.

Mjölnir – Thor’s hammer

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr – The goats that drive Thor’s chariot. Thor can eat the goats, as long as the bones are not damaged, and uses Mjölnir to bring the goats back to life again.

Yggdrasil – The Tree that lays out the Nordic gods’ worlds
1) Asgård – The world of the Æsir; land of the Gods.
2) Vanaheim – The world of the Vanir.
3) Midgardh – The world of men.
4) Jotunheim – The world of the Giants.
5) Svartalfaheim – The world of the Dwarves.
6) Alfheim or Lysalfheim – The world of the Light-Elves.
7) Muspellheim – The world of fire; located in the south and home to the Fire-Giants.
8 ) Niflheim – World of ice and terrible cold; located in the far north and home of the Frost-Giants.
9) Helheim or Niflhel – The world of the dead.

Resources:
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8 Responses to Old Norse Mythology, Myths, and Gods

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Mattias

July 6th, 2009 at 14:06

Yeah. And then some other men came up with another insane religion with only one god and where the women were lesser beings, and punished the people believing in the norse gods. :)

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Laura

July 6th, 2009 at 15:50

Hi Sapphire,

I stumbled across your blog and have enjoyed reading back through your archives.

I’m curious how much you think Norse mythology influences Swedish culture today. Does it have any relevance to modern Swedes beyond the historical, do you think? Say, in the way the Robin Hood myth, which developed around the same time I think, still has relevance in English-speaking culture. When I read through your summary, the themes and ideas seemed quite strange to my American sensibilities.

On a related note, I’m curious how much the pop culture idea of “The Viking” still resonates with the Swedish psyche today. How interested are they in their Viking heritage? Is it politically correct? How does this square with Sweden’s peaceloving, open-minded, feminist contemporary image.

Good luck in your ongoing adventure living in Sweden and attempting to understand the Swedish male! (Who knew he could be so elusive and complicated?!)

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Calle

July 6th, 2009 at 20:16

Well I’m right here baby! Ready too get caugth ;)

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Lauren

July 8th, 2009 at 23:00

Hey Sapphire!

Hope you got my comments on FB about the text. I’d like to respond to Mattias and Laura.

Mattias: it was complicated for medieval Scandinavian women. I think it would be wrong to give pre-conversion culture more feminism points than it deserves. Women were Other, and in a big way. They fit into the ‘half human, half supernatural’ category. The implementation of Christianity altered some realities, but it would be wrong to think that pre-Christian women were somehow equal to men in any sense of the word.

Laura: It’s really interesting to see the ways in which early Scandinavia has been romanticized by different people. In my mind, a viking heritage squares nicely with contemporary Swedish culture and values — after all, the ancient Swedes were the first to calm down. In many ways, the Viking era was progressive in comparison with other European regions — Scandinavians happened to be the cleanliest medieval Europeans, at least until Christianity taught them bathing was vain and horrid. They were remarkably well traveled and skilled in seafaring and animal husbandry (they particularly had connections with the Baltic and Slavic lands). People ‘remember’ Viking Scandinavia as a proud and brave era when men acted according to honor and community. Medieval (and later) Swedes also, however, had particularly patronizing views of the Finns. How we think of the past and how the past might have affected cultural legacy are both salient questions.

I, too, am interested in how Swedes consider their regional history and the ‘viking’ image. Do continue to post, Sapphire!

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Sapphire

July 9th, 2009 at 14:59

@Mattias, Laura, Calle – Thanks for the questions and comments!

@Lauren – Thank you so much for the help, I’m editing and making all those tweaks. Do post comments here more often!!!

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Laughing Puffin

July 13th, 2009 at 12:40

Svithjod is just the international spelling for the modern Icelandic word Svíþjóð, which means Sweden. It is not an old name in any way, except it has been used for a long time!

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