Norse mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic peoples, stemming from Norse paganism and continuing after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and into the Scandinavian folklore of the modern period. The northernmost extension of Germanic mythology, Norse mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes derived from numerous sources from both before and after the pagan period, including medieval manuscripts, archaeological representations, and folk tradition.
Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts such as the hammer-wielding, humanity-protecting thunder-god Thor, who relentlessly fights his foes; the one-eyed, raven-flanked god Odin, who craftily pursues knowledge throughout the worlds and bestowed among humanity the runic alphabet; the beautiful, seiðr-working, feathered cloak-clad goddess Freya who rides to battle to choose among the slain; the vengeful, skiing goddess Skaði, who prefers the wolf howls of the winter mountains to the seashore; the powerful god Njörð, who may calm both sea and fire and grant wealth and land; the god Frey, whose weather and farming associations bring peace and pleasure to humanity; the goddess Iðunn, who keeps apples that grant eternal youthfulness; the mysterious god Heimdall, who is born of nine mothers, can hear grass grow, has gold teeth, and possesses a resounding horn; the jötunn Loki, who brings tragedy to the gods by engineering the death of the goddess Frigg's beautiful son Baldr; and numerous other deities.
Most of the surviving mythology centres on the plights of the gods and their interaction with various other beings, such as humanity and the jötnar, beings who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of the gods. The cosmos in Norse mythology consists of Nine Worlds that flank a central tree, Yggdrasil. Units of time and elements of the cosmology are personified as deities or beings. Various forms of a creation myth are recounted, where the world is created from the flesh of the primordial being Ymir, and the first two humans are Ask and Embla. These worlds are foretold to be reborn after the events of Ragnarök when an immense battle occurs between the gods and their enemies, and the world is enveloped in flames, only to be reborn anew. There the surviving gods will meet, and the land will be fertile and green, and two humans will repopulate the world.
Norse mythology has been the subject of scholarly discourse since the 17th century when key texts were brought to the attention of the intellectual circles of Europe. By way of comparative mythology and historical linguistics, scholars have identified elements of Germanic mythology reaching as far back as Proto-Indo-European mythology. In the modern period, the Romanticist Viking revival re-awoke an interest in the subject matter, and references to Norse mythology may now be found throughout modern popular culture. The myths have further been revived in a religious context among adherents of Germanic Neopaganism.
Norse mythology is primarily attested in dialects of Old Norse, a North Germanic language spoken by the Scandinavian people during the European Middle Ages, and the ancestor of modern Scandinavian languages. The majority of these Old Norse texts were created in Iceland, where the oral tradition stemming from the pre-Christian inhabitants of the island was collected and recorded in manuscripts. This occurred primarily in the 13th century. These texts include the Prose Edda, composed in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems from earlier traditional material anonymously compiled in the 13th century.
The Prose Edda was composed as a prose manual for producing skaldic poetry—traditional Old Norse poetry composed by skalds. Originally composed and transmitted orally, skaldic poetry utilizes alliterative verse, kennings, and various metrical forms. The Prose Edda presents numerous examples of works by various skalds from before and after the Christianization process and also frequently refers back to the poems found in the Poetic Edda. The Poetic Edda consists almost entirely of poems, with some prose narrative added, and this poetry—Eddic poetry—utilizes fewer kennings. In comparison to skaldic poetry, Eddic poetry is relatively unadorned.
The Prose Edda features layers of euhemerization, a process in which deities and supernatural beings are presented as having been either actual, magic-wielding human beings who have been deified in time or beings demonized by way of Christian mythology. Texts such as Heimskringla, composed in the 13th century by Snorri and Gesta Danorum, composed in Latin by Saxo Grammaticus in Denmark in the 12th century, are the results of heavy amounts of euhemerization.
Numerous further texts, such as the sagas, provide further information. The saga corpus consists of thousands of tales recorded in Old Norse ranging from Icelandic family histories (Sagas of Icelanders) to Migration period tales mentioning historic figures such as Attila the Hun (legendary sagas). Objects and monuments such as the Rök Runestone and the Kvinneby amulet feature runic inscriptions—texts written in the runic alphabet, the indigenous alphabet of the Germanic peoples—that mention figures and events from Norse mythology.
Objects from the archaeological record may also be interpreted as depictions of subjects from Norse mythology, such as amulets of the god Thor's hammer Mjölnir found among pagan burials and small silver female figures interpreted as valkyries or dísir, beings associated with war, fate or ancestor cults. By way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, comparisons to other attested branches of Germanic mythology (such as the Old High German Merseburg Incantations) may also lend insight. Wider comparisons to the mythology of other Indo-European peoples by scholars has resulted in the potential reconstruction of far earlier myths.
Of the mythical tales and poems that are presumed to have existed during the Middle Ages, Viking Age, Migration Period, and prior, only a tiny amount of poems and tales survive. Later sources reaching into the modern period, such as a medieval charm recorded as used by the Norwegian woman Ragnhild Tregagås—convicted of witchcraft in Norway in the 14th century—and spells found in the 17th century Icelandic Galdrabók grimoire also sometimes make references to Norse mythology. Other traces, such as place names bearing the names of gods may provide further information about deities, such as a potential association between deities based on the placement of locations bearing their names, their local popularity, and associations with geological features.
Central to accounts of Norse mythology are the plights of the gods and their interaction with various other beings, such as with the jötnar, who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of the gods. Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts. As evidenced by records of personal names and place names, the most popular god among the Scandinavians during the Viking Age was Thor, who is portrayed as unrelentingly pursuing his foes, his mountain-crushing, thunderous hammer Mjölnir in hand. In the mythology, Thor lays waste to numerous jötnar who are foes to the gods or humanity, and is wed to the beautiful, golden-haired goddess Sif.
The god Odin is also frequently mentioned in surviving texts. One-eyed, wolf and raven-flanked, and spear in hand, Odin pursues knowledge throughout the worlds. In an act of self-sacrifice, Odin is described as having hanged himself on the cosmological tree Yggdrasil to gain knowledge of the runic alphabet, which he passed on to humanity, and is associated closely with death, wisdom, and poetry. Odin has a strong association with death; Odin is portrayed as the ruler of Asgard. Odin's wife is the powerful goddess Frigg who can see the future but tells no one, and together they have a beloved son, Baldr. After a series of dreams had by Baldr of his impending death, his death is engineered by Loki, and Baldr thereafter resides in Hel, a realm ruled over by a goddess of the same name.
Odin must share half of his share of the dead with a powerful goddess; Freyja. She is beautiful, sensual, wears a feathered cloak, and practices seiðr. She rides to battle to choose among the slain and brings her chosen to her afterlife field Fólkvangr. Freyja weeps for her missing husband Óðr, and seeks after him in faraway lands. Freyja's brother, the god Freyr, is also frequently mentioned in surviving texts, and in his association with the weather, royalty, human sexuality, and agriculture brings peace and pleasure to humanity. Deeply lovesick after catching sight of the beautiful jötunn Gerðr, Freyr seeks and wins her love, yet at the price of his future doom. Their father is the powerful god Njörðr. Njörðr is strongly associated with ships and seafaring, and so also wealth and prosperity. Freyja and Freyr's mother is Njörðr's sister (her name is unprovided in the source material). However, there is more information about his pairing with the skiing and hunting goddess Skaði. Their relationship is ill-fated, as Skaði cannot stand to be away from her beloved mountains, nor Njörðr from the seashore. Together, Freyja, Freyr, and Njörðr form a portion of gods known as the Vanir. While the Aesir and the Vanir retain distinct identification, they came together as the result of the Aesir–Vanir War.
While they receive less mention, numerous other gods and goddesses appear in the source material. (For a list of these deities, see List of Germanic deities.) Some of the gods heard less of include the apple-bearing goddess Iðunn and her husband, the skaldic god Bragi; the gold-toothed god Heimdallr, born of nine mothers; the ancient god Týr, who lost a hand while binding the great wolf Fenrir; and the goddess Gefjon, who formed modern day Zealand, Denmark.
Various beings outside of the gods are mentioned. Elves and dwarfs are commonly mentioned and appear to be connected, but their attributes are vague and the relation between the two is ambiguous. Elves are described as radiant and beautiful, whereas dwarfs often act as earthen smiths. A group of beings variously described as jötnar, thursar, and trolls (in English these are all often glossed as "giants") frequently appear. These beings may either aid, deter, or take their place among the gods. The norns, dísir, and aforementioned valkyries also receive frequent mention. While their functions and roles may overlap and differ, all are collective female beings associated with fate.
The cosmology of the worlds which all beings inhabit—nine in total—centers on a cosmological tree, Yggdrasil. The gods inhabit the heavenly realm of Asgard whereas humanity inhabits Midgard, a region in the center of the cosmos. Outside of the gods, humanity, and the jötnar, these Nine Worlds are inhabited by beings, such as elves and dwarfs. Travel between the worlds is frequently recounted in the myths, where the gods and other beings may interact directly with humanity. Numerous creatures live on Yggdrasil, such as the insulting messenger squirrel Ratatoskr and the perching hawk Veðrfölnir. The tree itself has three major roots, and at the base of one of these roots live a trio of Norns. Elements of the cosmos are personified, such as the Sun (Sól, a goddess), the Moon (Máni, a god), and Earth (Jörð, a goddess), as well as units of time, such as day (Dagr, a god) and night (Nótt, a jötunn).
The afterlife is a complex matter in Norse mythology. The dead may go to the murky realm of Hel—a realm ruled over by a female being of the same name, may be ferried away by valkyries to Odin's martial hall Valhalla, or may be chosen by the goddess Freyja to dwell in her field Fólkvangr. The goddess Rán may claim those that die at sea, and the goddess Gefjon is said to be attended by virgins upon their death. Texts also make reference to reincarnation. Time itself is presented between cyclic and linear, and some scholars have argued that cyclic time was the original format for the mythology. Various forms of a cosmological creation story are provided in Icelandic sources, and references to a future destruction and rebirth of the world—Ragnarok—are frequently mentioned in some texts.
According to the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá and the Prose Edda, the first human couple consisted of Ask and Embla; driftwood found by a trio of gods and imbued with life in the form of three gifts. After the cataclysm of Ragnarok, this process is mirrored in the survival of two humans from a wood; Líf and Lífþrasir. From this two humankind are foretold to repopulate the new, green earth.
With the widespread publication of Norse myths and legends at this time, references to the Norse gods and heroes spread into European literary culture, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain. In the later 20th century, references to Norse mythology became common in science fiction and fantasy literature, role-playing games, and eventually other cultural products such as comic books and Japanese animation. Traces of the religion can also be found in music and has its own genre, viking metal. Bands such as Amon Amarth, Bathory and Månegarm generally sing about Norse mythology.
Media related to Norse mythology at Wikimedia CommonsDwarf (mythology)
In Germanic mythology, a dwarf is a human-shaped entity that dwells in mountains and in the earth, and is variously associated with wisdom, smithing, mining, and crafting. Dwarfs are sometimes described as short and ugly, although some scholars have questioned whether this is a later development stemming from comical portrayals of the beings. Dwarfs continue to be depicted in modern popular culture in a variety of media.Fimbulwinter
In Norse mythology, Fimbulvetr (or fimbulvinter), commonly rendered in English as Fimbulwinter, is the immediate prelude to the events of Ragnarök. It means "great winter".Gandalf (mythology)
Gandalf (Gandálfr) is a Dvergr (Norse dwarf) in Norse mythology, appearing in the so-called 'Tally of the Dwarves' within the poem Völuspá from the Poetic Edda, as well as in the Prose Edda. The name derives from the Old Norse words gandr (magic staff) and álfr (elf), thus a protective spirit who wields a magical wand.The name was also used for a Norse king in the Heimskringla.In his fictional writings, J. R. R. Tolkien eventually named his wizard Gandalf after the Dvergr, but initially used the name for the head of the dwarf party (ultimately to be called Thorin Oakenshield).Garmr
In Norse mythology, Garmr or Garm (Old Norse "rag") is a wolf or dog associated with both Hel and Ragnarök, and described as a blood-stained guardian of Hel's gate.Glad (Norse mythology)
In Norse mythology, Glad is a horse listed in both Grímnismál and Gylfaginning among the steeds ridden by the gods each day when they go to make judgements at Yggdrasil. However, in neither poem Glad is assigned to any specific deity.Glaðsheimr
In Norse mythology, Glaðsheimr (Old Norse "bright home") is a realm in Asgard where Odin's hall of Valhalla is located according to Grímnismál.
Snorri states in Gylfaginning that Glaðsheimr is a meeting hall containing thirteen high seats where the male Æsir hold council, located in Iðavöllr in Asgard, near the hall of Vingólf where the Ásynjur goddesses gathered.Glenr
In Norse mythology, Glenr (Old Norse "opening in the clouds") is the husband of the goddess Sól, who drives the horses of the sun across the sky.
Glenr is also an alternate name for Glær, one of the horses listed among those ridden by the gods, according to Gylfaginning.Gulltoppr
In Norse mythology, Gulltoppr (Old Norse "golden mane") is one of the horses of the gods. Gulltoppr is mentioned in a list of horses in the Poetic Edda poem Grímnismál and in Nafnaþulur section of the Prose Edda. According to Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, he is the horse of Heimdallr. Rudolf Simek theorizes that Snorri assigned a horse to Heimdallr in an attempt to systematize the mythology.Hræsvelgr
In Norse mythology, Hræsvelgr (Old Norse "Corpse Swallower") is a giant who takes the form of an eagle.Jötunn
In Norse mythology, a jötunn (; plural jötnar) is a type of entity contrasted with gods and other figures, such as dwarfs and elves. The entities are themselves ambiguously defined, variously referred to by several other terms, including risi, thurs, and troll.
Although the term giant is sometimes used to gloss the word jötunn and its apparent synonyms in some translations and academic texts, jötnar are not necessarily notably large and may be described as exceedingly beautiful or as alarmingly grotesque. Some deities, such as Skaði and Gerðr, are themselves described as jötnar, and various well-attested deities, such as Odin, are descendants of the jötnar.
Norse myth traces the origin of the jötnar to the proto-being Ymir, a result of growth of asexual reproduction from the entity's body. Ymir is later killed, his body dismembered to create the world, and the jötnar survive this event by way of sailing through a flood of Ymir's blood. The jötnar dwell in Jötunheimr. In later Scandinavian folklore, the ambiguity surrounding the entities gives way to negative portrayals.List of jötnar in Norse mythology
The Prose and Poetic Eddas, which form the foundation of what we know today concerning Norse mythology, contain many names of Jotnar (giants and giantesses). While many of them are featured in extant myths of their own, many others have come down to us today only as names in various lists provided for the benefit of skalds or poets of the medieval period and are included here for the purpose of completeness.Niðavellir
In Norse mythology, Niðavellir (anglic. as Nidavellir; probable compound of O.N. Nið - "new moon", "the wane of the moon" (perhaps related to niðr - "down") + Vellir (pl. of völlr) - "fields": Dark Fields, Downward Fields), also called Myrkheim (Myrkheimr, O.N. compd. of myrkr - "darkness" + heimr - "home": the world of darkness, Dark Abode), is the home of the Dwarves. Hreidmar is the king of Niðavellir.Norse cosmology
Norse cosmology is the study of the cosmos (cosmology) as perceived by the North Germanic peoples. The topic encompasses concepts from Norse mythology, such as notions of time and space, cosmogony, personifications, anthropogeny, and eschatology. Like other aspects of Norse mythology, these concepts are primarily recorded in the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems compiled in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, authored by Icelander Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, who drew from earlier traditional sources. Together these sources depict an image of nine worlds around a cosmic tree, Yggdrasil.Norse mythology in popular culture
The Norse mythology, preserved in such ancient Icelandic texts as the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and other lays and sagas, was little known outside Scandinavia until the 19th century. With the widespread publication of Norse myths and legends at this time, references to the Norse gods and heroes spread into European literary culture, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain. In the later 20th century, references to Norse mythology became common in science fiction and fantasy literature, role-playing games, and eventually other cultural products such as Japanese animation.Numbers in Norse mythology
The numbers three and nine are significant numbers in Norse mythology and paganism. Both numbers (and multiplications thereof) appear throughout surviving attestations of Norse paganism, in both mythology and cultic practice.While the number three appears significant in many cultures, Norse mythology appears to put special emphasis on the number nine. Along with the number 27, both numbers also figure into the lunar Germanic calendar.Sköll
In Norse mythology, Sköll (Old Norse "Treachery" or "Mockery") is a wolf that chases the Sun (personified as a goddess, Sól). Hati Hróðvitnisson chases the Moon (personified, see Máni).
According to Rudolf Simek, it is possible that Sköll is another name for Fenrir, and, if so, "there could be a nature-mythological interpretation in the case of Sköll and Hati (who pursues the moon). Such an interpretation would see the phenomenon of parhelions reflected in the wolves as these are called 'sun-wolf' in Scandinavian languages (Norwegian solvarg, Swedish solulv)."Troll
A troll is a class of being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In Old Norse sources, beings described as trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.
Later, in Scandinavian folklore, trolls became beings in their own right, where they live far from human habitation, are not Christianized, and are considered dangerous to human beings. Depending on the source, their appearance varies greatly; trolls may be ugly and slow-witted, or look and behave exactly like human beings, with no particularly grotesque characteristic about them.
Trolls are sometimes associated with particular landmarks, which at times may be explained as formed from a troll exposed to sunlight. Trolls are depicted in a variety of media in modern popular culture.Víðbláinn
In Norse mythology, Víðbláinn is the third heaven in the cosmology of Snorri's Gylfaginning, located above Andlang and Asgard. It will serve as a shelter and dwelling place for the souls of the dead during and after the destruction of Ragnarök.Éljúðnir
In Norse mythology, Éljúðnir (sometimes Anglicized to Eljudnir) is Hel's hall located in Niflheim as described in chapter 34 of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda in the book Gylfaginning. The name Éljúðnir is Old Norse and means "sprayed with snowstorms" or "damp with sleet or rain". The hall is only mentioned in this chapter.