This essay focuses on Norse Mythology, particularly in relation to English 503. Our main sources of information about Norse Mythology are the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. The term “Edda” refers to sagas in Icelandic, and these stories are commonly called The Sagas. Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic writer from around 1200, wrote the Prose Edda. In the introduction of the book, Snorri explains his understanding of the origins of pagan knowledge. The Prose Edda itself is based on belief systems centered around ancient Nordic gods, also known as heathen gods, and it documents and clarifies people’s beliefs before they embraced Christianity.
The book is structured into three main sections, namely Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmal, and Hattatal. Gylfaginning primarily delves into the gods and their functions in the world, along with the creation and eventual destruction of the world. Skaldskaparmal examines narratives that offer insight into poetry and the utilization of names in everyday speech.
Hattatal is a compilation of ancient poetry that provides insights into both ancient poetry and mythology. The Prose Edda, originally written as a fictional textbook, serves as our primary source of knowledge on ancient mythology and has played a crucial role in this field for several centuries. The Poetic Edda, containing Old Norse poems, was discovered in the Icelandic medieval manuscript Codex Regius. Despite its author remaining anonymous, Norse Mythology encompasses stories of heroes, kings, and various supernatural beings.
The relevance of Norse Mythology persists in the present day due to its heavy influence on JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga. In the era of Vikings, people held belief in the old Nordic gods; however, their importance dwindled with the advent of Christianity in Iceland circa 1000 AD. Nonetheless, heathenry endures in Iceland and coexists harmoniously with other faiths. This essay will explore Norse Mythology and analyze its three most renowned gods.
In Norse mythology, there exist nine realms: Asgard (the abode of the gods), Midgard (where humans reside), Alfheimr (home to elves), Svartalfaheim (dwelling place of black elves), Vanaheimr (realm of the vanir), Muspellheim (domain of fire), Jotunheimr (the realm of jotnar or mesomorphs), Niflheim (inhabited by those who die from illness or old age, under Hel’s control). These interconnected realms are linked through Yggdrasil. In heaven, two kinds of elves can be found: light elves inhabiting Alfheimr known for their vibrant colors and adorableness, and dark elves residing underground as notorious creatures with a malevolent nature.
Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic author of the Prose Edda and the Ynglinga Saga, noted that Norse myths display influence from Greek and Roman mythology. According to Snorri, Asgard, the residence of the Norse gods, can be likened to Troy in Greek mythology. As per Snorri’s account, Asgard is situated in Asia (Asia Minor or modern Anatolian Turkey), specifically in a place known as Asaland or Asaheim. It is evident that there exist numerous parallels between Norse, Greek, and Roman mythologies. These mythologies share common themes such as the origin of the world, succession of power among deities, a catastrophic flood that wipes out humanity, and ultimately the eventual destruction of our planet.
These are overarching themes. The specific narratives within mythologies are shaped by the corresponding culture and beliefs of the people who embraced these myths. The resemblance between Roman and Greek mythologies stems from the fact that Greeks had established themselves in certain regions of Italy. The only way to access Asgard was via the “Rainbow Bridge” known as Bifrost. The red portion of the rainbow represents blazing inferno, rendering the bridge impassable for mountain-giants and frost-giants. The responsibility of guarding the entrance was bestowed upon Heimdall. Heimdall resided in a place called Himinbiorg, which was constructed near Bifrost.
The distinct and serious nature of Norse Mythology sets it apart from other mythologies. Both the characters and the world, including Asgard, possess a somber and grave demeanor. This can be attributed to the ultimate fate of the gods, who are immortal but destined to be destroyed in the final battle between good and evil. Among these deities, Odin is the supreme ruler, wielding immense power as a warrior while governing over Asgard. Odin is known by numerous names that exceed 169 in number. He is actively involved in matters of governance and exclusively indulges in wine, which he also uses to provide sustenance for his wolves. With his ability to shape-shift, Odin can take on various forms and possesses great prowess in both mystical crafts and spellcasting.
He was the son of Bor and Bestla, a Jotun woman. With his two brothers, Vili and Ve, he created the world and mankind. His wife, Frigg, is the most powerful goddess. Together they had the sons Balder and Hod. Balder was renowned as the best and admired by all. He married Nanna and they had a son named Forsete. He also built Hringhorni, one of the most magnificent ships. However, Balder often had dreams about his own death. In order to protect him, his mother Frigg made all the objects in the world swear not to harm him. While everything agreed, mistletoe did not.
When Loki learned about the news, he had a mistletoe arrow made. While the gods were engaged in a game where they attempted to harm Baldur, who remained unharmed, Loki gave the arrow to Hod, who was Baldur’s god brother and blind. Using the arrow, Hod unintentionally killed his own brother. This incident clearly depicts Loki as an evil individual. Next to Odin, there are two ravens called Huginn and Muninn, symbolizing Odin’s intellect and spirit. Odin resides in Valhalla and possesses a horse named Sleipnir, which has eight legs. In addition to being a charismatic figure, Odin had three sons born out of wedlock and was also renowned as a poet.
The text draws attention to the resemblance between a golden ring that can create eight additional rings and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s story “The Lord of the Rings”. In Tolkien’s book, there is one dominant ring among the nine rings. These include three for the elves, nine for humans, and seven for dwarfs. Similar to Odin’s ring with its multiplying ability, the one ring in Tolkien’s tale shares these characteristics. Moreover, all the names of dwarfs in “The Lord of the Rings” originate from Snorri’s Prose Edda seeress prophecy.
Odin, the wisest god in Norse mythology, gave up one of his eyes in exchange for a drink from Mimir’s magic well. This well was said to bestow great wisdom upon anyone who drank from it. Desperate to become more powerful and knowledgeable, Odin sacrificed his eye to gain this wisdom. As a result, he became renowned as the god with one eye. Odin is also connected to other gods in Indo-European religions, such as Zeus in Greek mythology. Together, they are associated with destruction.
Zeus and Thor, both having unfaithful wives resulting in numerous children with other women, are known for their frequent relocations and use of disguises. Despite Zeus having more offspring, both gods possess this trait. Thor, the son of Odin, is famous for his immense strength and plays a significant role in German mythology. His wife Sif is renowned for her golden hair whereas Thor himself has red hair and a beard while being described as irritable. He travels in a chariot pulled by two goats which he consumes every night but magically restores them by throwing the bones back onto their hides each morning.
Thor gained the moniker “thunder god” because of the thunderous noise his chariot’s wheels produced and the sparks it generated in the sky, resembling thunder and lightning. Additionally, he owned a formidable hammer called Mjollnir that he could hurl at any target and it would unfailingly come back to him. In his constant conflicts against the Jotuns, mighty giants, Thor relied on his enchanted belt for assistance. Furthermore, he had a daughter named Trud with Sif, who possessed both sweetness and strength, as well as a son named Modi with Frigg.
Thor had a child named Magni with his mistress, a jotun woman. The name Thursday is derived from Thor. Loki, known as the “trickster,” resides in Asgard. His father, Farbauti, is a mesomorph, and his mother is a giant named Laufey. Loki is considered a god or jotunn, and there is no evidence of him being worshipped. He is described as both handsome and iniquitous. Loki possesses the ability to shape-shift into various forms, such as salmon, seal, fly, horse, and more. Additionally, he fathered three dreadful children with a troll named Angurboda.
The Midgard worm, who resides around Midgard, is the oldest among them. Another creature is Fenriswolf, a wolf who has a daughter named Hel, controlling Niflheim, the underworld. Loki, the evil one, is married to Sigyn and they have two sons. Although Loki constantly plays tricks on the other gods, they always retaliate more severely. Loki is undoubtedly the most scandalous god of all time. When the gods discovered Loki’s involvement in Baldur’s death, he fled to a mountain and often concealed himself in the form of a salmon.
Loki was in the form of a salmon when Thor caught him. Once captured, Loki was bound with the innards of his own son, and the gods positioned a snake above him, allowing venom to trickle onto his head. Loki’s wife, Sigyn, sat nearby, holding a bowl over his head to catch the poison. However, whenever Sigyn needed to empty the bowl, the venom would fall on Loki’s head, causing him to thrash so violently that earthquakes occurred. During Ragnarok, Loki will confront the jotuns instead of the gods, engaging in a battle against Heimdall whom he ultimately slays.
Yggdrasil, the tree of life, is a sacred place where all roots lead to the three main worlds: Asgard, Midgard, and the netherworld. Daily meetings are held here. Yggdrasil is the longest and thickest tree. At the tree’s bottom, there is a hall where three witches named Urdur, Verdandi, and Skuld (which means debt in English) determine when people will pass on. (Silja A?alsteinsdottir 1992: 22) The top of the tree is occupied by an eagle, while at its roots lingers the serpent named Nidhogg.
The eagle and the serpent were foes; a squirrel named Ratatosk would constantly scurry up the tree. Whenever Nidhogg insulted the eagle, Ratatosk would promptly scale the tree and inform the eagle of Nidhogg’s remarks. The eagle would always speak ill of Nidhogg. Ratatosk had an affinity for gossip, which perpetuated the enmity between the eagle and the serpent. Encircling the Yggdrasil tree, four harts graze, symbolizing beauty and harmony. Ragnarok signifies the ultimate clash between the gods and the Jotuns (giants). Ragnarok literally translates to the demise of gods.
The doom of gods and the end of the world will take place on the plains called Vigrid. The first indication of the upcoming Ragnarok is the murder of Balder, son of Odin and Frigg. Another warning that Ragnarok is emerging is three succession hard winters that last three years with no summer between. Wars and evil will rule the world during these three years, causing people to suffer. These three continuous winters are known as the Fimbulwinter. The Midgard worm, Jormungand, will squirm violently, resulting in enormous waves crashing towards land.
In his attempt to ascend the shores of land, Odin will face the disappearance of the stars and witness Yggdrasil, the tree of life, groaning and shaking. He will engage in a battle against the Fenrir Wolf, who is the son of Loki. Unfortunately, Odin will be defeated and ultimately consumed by the wolf, as he was aware that this was his destined fate. However, Vidar, Odin’s son, will seek vengeance upon his father’s killer. Utilizing incredibly powerful boots crafted from all the leftover leather scraps from the human realm, Vidar will deliver a frightful forceful kick to the Fenrir wolf, ultimately slaying it.
Thor will battle Jormungand, the Midgard worm and son of Loki. He will successfully kill the worm, but his triumph will be brief as he will only manage to take nine steps before succumbing to the deadly venom in his veins. Meanwhile, a jotun will start a catastrophic blaze that engulfs the worlds, turning Asgard into a fiery inferno. During Ragnarok, an event in Norse mythology, many beings including gods, humans, dwarfs, and giants will meet their demise. The surviving deities will mainly be Odin and Thor’s offspring. Unquestionably, Norse Mythology is an engrossing subject that I thoroughly enjoy exploring and studying. I have dedicated over a year of my education to diving into this fascinating realm through my Icelandic 203 and 303 courses.
The world of Norse Mythology has always captivated me due to its explanations of the world and people’s beliefs. It offers valuable insights into early Icelandic history and culture. Numerous authors and filmmakers have incorporated this mythology into their creations, each with their own distinctive style. I have noticed common themes in different movies and episodes that draw inspiration from Norse mythology. Therefore, I strongly suggest individuals to delve into and embrace Norse mythology as it presents a unique viewpoint on the world and existence.
1) The website for Norse mythology, found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse_mythology, was accessed on November 2nd, 2010.
2) The Wikipedia page about Loki can be located at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loki and was accessed on November 4th, 2010.
3) The Wikipedia page about Odin is situated at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin and was accessed on November 5th, 2010.
4) The webpage containing information about Thor from mythicalrealm.com can be found at http://www.mythicalrealm.com/legends.thor.html and was accessed on November 5th, 2010.
5) The dedicated website to Norse mythology is available at http://www.norse-mythology.com and was accessed on November 28th, 2010.
6) Silja Aðalsteinsdóttir’s book “Orð af Orði” was published in Reykjavík by Mál og menning in the year of 1992.