The Norse Gods and Goddess

Background of The Norse Gods and Goddess

The Norse mythology is seen to rise from northern part of Europe, Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. The myth was primarily developed and practiced by the people who spoke Germanic languages in northern parts. When these groups traveled to England and Scandinavia, they took their beliefs with them, thus increasing the total number of followers. The mythology was widely practiced during Viking era from around 790-1100 CE, and slowly began to suppress with the rise of Christianity. The religion was polytheistic and animistic, and believed in cyclic nature of the universe.

Much of the knowledge of this mythology comes from archeological evidences and from the manuscripts written in Iceland during middle ages. The sagas and the poems written in these manuscripts best describe this mythology. The most notable of these manuscripts are the elder Edda and the younger Edda, which provide us with the information about the creation and destruction of cosmos as well as the role of human beings in it. The poetic Edda, also known as Elder Edda, gathers information from the time period of 800-1100 CE and contains poems, including nineteen about heroes and ten about gods, giving a detailed outline of how the universe including earth and sky was created through the different body parts of the giant, named Ymir and how it is going to end through the  great destructive war called Ragnarok. The Prose Edda, commonly known as Younger Edda, written in 1222 CE by Snorri Sterluson, gives an overview of how a Swedish king named Gylfi visited gods and asked the account of their previous adventures. Another book Gesta Danorum written by Saxo Grammaticus plays its role in completing a part of Norse mythology. Lastly, some of the Scandinavian manuscripts and the work of Roman historians dating back to 1200 added to the beliefs and customs of this mythology, assisting us with our studies and researches.

Mythological outline of The Norse Gods and Goddess

The Norse mythology describes total of four phases. These include the creation of the cosmos, the creation of time in it, the end of the world through destructive war, called Ragnarok and then the rise of the new universe from the sea.

According to the information collected by Snorri, there was a large empty void called ginnungagap before the beginning of the universe which separated the icy land of Niflheim and the fiery land of Muspelheim, also called Muspell. Although safely separated, the ice and fire eventually expanded to meet each other, resulting in Muspell’s fire melting the ice. From the droplets of melting ice formed two creatures: the giant Ymir in human form and the cow Audhumla. By licking the cliffs of ice that contained salt, she revealed Bur, the first being as well as the father of gods. He had a son Buri who had three sons, Odin, vili and ve. These three brothers took the advantage of the size of the giant Ymir and killed it. The brothers then used the remains of the giant to create the world. They created the earth from his flesh, the rivers and seas from his blood, mountains from his bones and the sky from his skull. Once universe was created, they created another different race of dwarves from the maggots in Ymir’s blood. Having done so, they, along with other gods created an Asgard and made it their own home.

 Having established their authority, the three brothers then formed first man and woman and the first couple, Ask and Embla out of an ash tree or from the pieces of wood. On the contrary, one of the sources explain that they came to life from the armpits of Ymir before he was killed. This first couple was given soul, beauty, warmth and energy.

With the creation of humans began a new phase of life began, that we call time. After which all creatures, including humans, giants and dwarves retreated to their respective realms assigned by gods. The whole universe is said to be supported by a massive ash tree Yggdrasil which stands in the gods realm, Asgard. The roots of this tree reaches all other realms, including Midgard, the home of humans, Jotunheim, the reside of giants, Savartalfaheim, the abode of dark elves and Nidavellir, the land of dwarves. However, these realms don not lie on the same levels. Gods have divided them into three main levels, although the journeys between these levels were possible, it was too risky even for gods themselves to make it. The upper level contained Asgard, savartalfaheim as well as Valhalla, where the souls of great warriors died during war resided. The middle level contained Midgard, Nidavellir and Jotunheim. The bottom world contained netherworld called Neiflheim.

The universe will continue to survive until one day, when great Yggdrasil would shake the Bifrost, the bridge between Asgard and Midgard. This would mark the beginning of the great destructive war Ragnarok. The giants and demons would rise against the gods. During the war, odin would be swallowed by the Fenrir, the wolf. His son would later take revenge of his death. Thor, most popular of the deities and Midgard serpent would kill each other. In similar way Loki and Heimdall would destroy each other. All the gods and other creatures will die and at the end, the giant surtr would burn the whole universe.  In this way, the whole universe would end up in flood and fire.

However, this would not be the end. Keeping in mind the cyclic nature of the universe, the world would born anew from the sea, which would have gods and other creatures of its own, who will live on end in harmony with one another, and no calamity would befall them.

Major Clans

There were two major clans of Gods; the major clan Aesir and comparatively minor clan Vanir. Aesir lived in Asgard and held power over cosmos and were concerned with war and authority specifically. The most prominent gods among them were Odin, Balder, Thor, Loki, Frigg and Tiwaz, known for their own distinct characteristics, unique powers and supremacy. Vanir was considered as the god of fertility and earth. The most significant figures among them include Njord, Freyr, Freyja. Owing to the vast differences among the both clans, as the Aesir were connected with ordering and commanding matters of war and governance whereas the Vanir were concerned more with harvest, farming and agriculture and climate, the clans broke into war with each other. And when no conclusion was reached after long periods of war and both clans realized that neither side could defeat the other, the two decided to make the agreements of peace. In order to strengthen the agreements, they exchanged hostages which means that now some of the gods from Vanir went to live in Asgard. Besides, intermarriages between the two clans also took place and they united themselves to raise a strong and unbeatable enemy against giants.  

Major deities

1.Thor (The Norse Gods and Goddess)

Thor is considered as the most powerful of all the gods and goddess. He was regarded as the god of agriculture and fertility. He was also known as the protector of human beings who used to defend them through his hammer, Mjolnir. People also believed that thunder was the result of Thor striking away the giants during the fighting. He had his style of riding through two giant goats: Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir.

2. Odin (The Norse Gods and Goddess)

Odin was the most revered of all deities as he was the father of all Aesir gods. He was known as the Allfather and was the master of war, magic, wisdom and poetry. In order to quench his thirst of knowledge and wisdom, he hanged from the great Yggdrasil tree for nine days and nine nights until he was finally granted the knowledge of runic alphabet, which he later passed to human beings. Through his unparalleled knowledge and wisdom, he solved many mysteries of the world. He sacrificed his one eye in order to see the world more clearly. He used to ride through eight-legged horse named Sleipnir and always kept two ravens on his shoulders, Hugin and Munin, who used to fly over the whole world and reported him about each and every thing every night.

3. Frigg (The Norse Gods and Goddess)

Frigg was the wife of Odin and therefore was known as the goddess of Aesir. She was the goddess of love, fertility and was best known for her motherhood as well as in domestic affairs. Since she was a very pampering parent, she took an oath from all creatures including gods and giants to inflict no harm on her beloved son Balmer. Loki, the treacherous god, later broke this oath.

4. Balder (The Norse Gods and Goddess)

The son of Odin and Frigg, Balder was the god of light and purity. He was the wisest of all gods. He was so soft spoken and merciful that almost all the beings loved him and held him in high regard. He was known as the epitome of love and beauty. Even after the oath taken by his mother, he became the first god to die through his half brother Hod upon treachery of mischievous Loki.  

5. Loki

Loki lived in Asgard, although he was the son of a giant. He was known for his cunning and chaotic nature, who kept on creating troubles for all the gods in Asgard. One of his greatest example of treachery was the murder of the god Odin, by tricking the blind god Hod to throw the branch of only tree on Odin that could harm him. He had the power to shapeshift himself in any form including humans and animals, which further aided him with his evil schemes. He continued to trick gods until finally he was captured in the large cave with poisonous serpent to torture him till end.

6. Freya

Freya had similar characteristics as that of Frigg. She was the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. She used to ride through carts driven by cats and had the additional ability to change people’s fate.

7. Freyr

Freyr was the twin brother of Freya and was counted among the most respected gods of Vanir. He was the god of fertility and harvest. He was the symbol of wealth, peace and prosperity. Because he was the god of such powers, the believers of this mythology held  him in high regard, especially when it came to harvests and marriages.

8. Heimdall

The Norse Gods and Goddess

Heimdall was known as the shiniest of all gods because of his white skin. He was all-time-vigilant god who had the keen eyesight that could reach hundreds of miles and had extraordinary hearing skills. He used to sit on the bridge Bifrost that connected Asgard and Midgard and guarded Asgard from any possible attack.

9. Hel

The Norse Gods and Goddess

Hel was the goddess of nethworld called Helheim. She was the daughter of Loki and the giant Angrboda. In her realm, she is considered as the strongest of the gods even more than Odin. She decides the fate of the souls and nurtures anyone who enters her realm. She has the pale skin akin to dead person. Half of her face has human features while other half is decomposed and her lower body is no less than a corpse.

10. Vidar

The Norse Gods and Goddess

Vidar was the son of one of the great gods and the giant. He had powers similar to that of Thor’s.

11. vale

The Norse Gods and Goddess

Vale was the son of Odin. He was the one who took revenge of Frigg’s death by killing Hod who had thrown mistletoe over Frigg, killing him.

12. Bragi

The Norse Gods and Goddess

Bragi is known as the god of poetry and music. He is also the poet of Valhalla where all the warriors died fighting, are gathered to show up again in great war of Ragnarok. He also sings for these heroes and warriors to please them.

The vastness of Norse mythology and the multiplicity of the deities continue to amaze people of all ages. As one continues to read more epics and sagas, he come across new revelations about the mythology, which enable him to make newer interpretations about this old mythology and immerse deeper into it.