Created Thursday 02 June 2016
Good afternoon! Today, we would like to talk to you about Norse Mythology. Without further ado, let us begin.
I would first like to pose the question: What do you think of when you first think of Norse Mythology?
Do you think of cartoon vikings such as these?
There are many misconceptions about the vikings. While it is true they worshipped the Norse Gods, they were not the only ones, and they almost definitely did not have horns on their helmets.
Norse Mythology was, as per the name, the religion of the Norsemen, generally during the Viking age, from 8th to 11th century, though there is evidence of people worshipping it before then. However, not all Norsemen were vikings.
They had a defined social structure, and though there's some debate, most sources agree that Kings were the highest tier, followed by freemen, and then the slaves.
Viking warriors, with all their carnage and violence, are the ones that historians focus on the most. But while the vikings did pillage and rape, they were much more than that.
They were explorers. This is Lief Eriskon, who found North America before Christopher Columbus
They were builders. They would spend about a month before every voyage building a boat. It would be customized for whatever sea they were sailing on.
They were inventors. Here is a Hnefatafl gameboard, which is a type of Tafl game, which in turn was a type of board game invented by the Norsemen. It is particularly interesting because it mimics a viking raid.
And while they fought, they weren't mindless barbarians. They fought with a formalized system. They had an unarmed combat style called Glima that is still taught today, and they very probably had a formalized system for weaponry as well.
And above all, they were proud of their culture. This was found at the excavation of several viking sites - it is a pendant in the shape of Thor's hammer. And it was not without reason - as you will soon see, Norse mythology and culture is incredibly rich and exemplifies the culture it came from.
First I would like to talk about the Aesir and the Vanir. They are two tribes of Gods worshipped by the Norse, and while not much is known about the differences between the two, there was war between the two tribes that resulted in the unification of the two tribes into a single pantheon. A theory about what each tribe represented was that Aesir represented the more primal and passionate aspects of man, while the Vanir represented nature and it's more tranquil aspects, but even this is contentious at best.
Odin, known as the Master of Ecstasy - or, the Furious, depending on who you ask. Normally depicted in modern media as an upright, honorable God, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Odin was Chief of the Aesir, and the most powerful. The Aesir are the main pantheon of the Norse Gods, the other being the Vanir. The differences between them are highly disputed, but generally most sources agree that Aesir are associated more with the primal aspects of man, whilst the Vanir are more associated with the peaceful and the natural.
And this shows starkly in Odin - He is associated with many things. He is a War-God, as you can see, but he is also a Poetry-God. He is officially the divine patron of kings and rulers, but he is also sometimes the patron of outcasts.
Odin is shown in many of the texts to be devious and cunning - He has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and sacrificed one of his eyes for wisdom. He practices magic, even feminine magic like Seidr, magic that can weave reality to his whims. This causes conflict within the pantheon, as many perceive him to be womanly because of it.
But despite that, he is also a God of War; However, he does not concern himself with the reason behind a conflict, or even the outcome. He places more value on the extreme, heightened battle frenzy that warriors feel, especially when they become “berserk”.
Finally, he is the God of Death, picking half of the potential candidates for eternal glory in Valhalla. His mastery over the dark art of necromancy is fitting, keeping in line with his thirst for power and knowledge.
A wise but cunning old man, who speaks only in poems and who does not care much for honor and morals - His son could not be more different.
Thor is the son of Odin.
Out of the Aesir, he is the 2nd most powerful, the most powerful one being his father.
He is the polar opposite of Odin - Honorable, and a protector of the people.
He is extremely strong, and is never without his two tools - an unnamed belt that doubles his already incredible strength, and his hammer, Mjollnr, which he uses to slay giants and other threats to mankind.
He is sworn enemies with Jormungand, the enormous sea serpent who encircles Midgard, but he mostly protects the lands against Jotunn, giants who threaten the realm. Ironically, he is ¾ giant. His father, Odin, is half giant, and his mother is fully giant.
Moreover, he is the God of Hallowing - to him, destruction and hallowing are the same thing, as he uses his hammer to banish and destroy hostile forces or elements.
Presiding over the air, he ensures that crops are plentiful and the weather is fair.
However, as he is the protector of the people, the warriors and the simple folk, his relationship with Odin is uneasy.
Also well loved by all is Baldur. He was associated with forgiveness, peace, light and purity. He was so beautiful that he actually radiated light. He was seen as passive and peaceful, in direct contrast with the masculine and warrior-centric focus of many of the male gods. Despite that, he was extremely well-loved by not only the Gods, but by many mortals. He is killed by Loki, which sparks off the series of events that leads to Ragnarok, and in the story , every living thing weeped for Baldur - all apart from none other than Loki, disguised as a giantess.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Loki had an extremely tumultuous relationship, even amongst his own Tribe.
Loki is not associated formally with anything in the Prose Edda, other than that of trickery, but many historians believe that he was the God of Fire. Fitting, as fire can warm you one second, and burn down your house the next.
Extremely fickle and scheming, Loki aids the giants or the Gods, depending on whoever he favours at the time.
Loki is hated and isolated by the Gods, and not without good reason. He was the one who killed Baldur, one of the most beloved of the Gods.
His offspring are in keeping with his chaotic nature as well: He is the father to Fenrir, a wolf, and Jormungand, a gigantic sea serpent, but is also the mother to Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse. He is also father of....
...Hel. Part of the Aesir, she was, as said previously, the daughter of Loki. She is the Goddess of Death, presiding over Helheim, which is a realm for people who died dishonorably. Helheim will be described in more depth by Jonathan later. Hel does not appear in many of the texts, even though she is a major Goddess, presiding over one of the 4 underworlds. Being Loki's daughter, the other Gods, especially Odin, where justifiably concerned, and cast her out of Asgard. In the Prose Edda, she is often shown as uncaring for the concerns of the dead or the living, or even the Gods, only about her own personal self-interest. However, her personality is rather underdeveloped and she sometimes attempts to aid the Gods, like in the story of Baldur's death, wherein she agrees to release Baldur on the condition that all living things weep for him. The final goddess we will talk about...
… is Freya.
Associated with Love, Fertility, Beauty and Fine Material Possessions, Freya was one of the most feminine of the Gods.
Her ability to utilize Seidr, the feminine magic that can weave reality to her liking, allows her to control a multitude of things, and thus makes her extremely powerful. She is the foremost practitioner of Seidr - In fact, she brought the practice to the Gods.
Presiding over Folkvang, the field of the people, she is a Goddess of Death as well.
Interestingly, she is extremely promiscuous, but not derided because of that; she is well-loved by most of the Gods, as well as the people. And with that, I will hand it over to Hilal to talk about the heroes and their adventures.
Norse mythology is the body of mythology of the North Germanic people 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.
Gods and Godesses
The Vanir appear to have mainly been connected with cultivation and fertility and the Æsir were connected with power and war.
In Old Norse, ǫ́ss (or áss, ás, plural æsir; feminine ásynja, plural ásynjur) is the term denoting a member of the principal pantheon in the indigenous Germanic religion known as Norse religion. This pantheon includes Odin, Frigg, Thor, Baldr and Týr. The second pantheon comprises the Vanir. In Norse mythology, the two pantheons wage the Æsir-Vanir War, which results in a unified pantheon.
The Vanir (Old Norse Vanir, pronounced “VAN-ear”) are one of the two principal tribes of deities featured in Norse mythology. (The other tribe is the Aesir.) Among their ranks are Freya, Freyr, Njord, and arguably the early Germanic goddess Nerthus as well. Their home is Vanaheim, one of the Nine Worlds held within the branches of the world-tree Yggdrasil.
List of Æsir
Main article: List of Germanic deities and heroes
Gylfaginning (20.ff) gives a list of twelve male aesir, not including Odin their chief, nor including Loki, "whom some call the backbiter of the asas":
(22.) Odin's second son is Baldr
(23.) the third asa is he who is called Njord.
(24.) Njord, in Noatun, afterward begat two children: a son, by name Freyr, and a daughter, by name Freyja. They were fair of face, and mighty. Freyr is arguably the most famous of the asas. He rules over rain and sunshine, and over the fruits of the earth. It is good to call on him for harvests and peace. He also sways the wealth of men. Freyja is the most famous of the goddesses. ...
(25.) There is yet an asa, whose name is Tyr. He is very daring and stout-hearted. He sways victory in war, wherefore warriors should call on him.
(26.) Bragi is the name of another of the asas. He is famous for his wisdom, eloquence and flowing speech.
(27.) Heimdall is the name of one. He is also called the white-asa. He is great and holy; born of nine maidens, all of whom were sisters. He is also called Hallinskide and Gullintanne, for his teeth were of gold.
(28.) Hoder hight one of the asas, who is blind, but exceedingly strong; and the gods would wish that this asa never needed to be named, for the work of his hand will long be kept in memory both by gods and men.
(29.) Vidar is the name of the silent asa. He has a very thick shoe, and he is the strongest next after Thor. From him the gods have much help in all hard tasks.
(30.) Ale, or Vale, is the son of Odin and Rindr. He is daring in combat, and a good shot.
(31.) Ullr is the name of one, who is a son of Sif, and a step-son of Thor. He is so good an archer, and so fast on his skis, that no one can contend with him. He is fair of face, and possesses every quality of a warrior. Men should invoke him in single combat.
(32.) Forseti is a son of Baldr and Nanna, Nep's daughter. He has in heaven the hall which hight Glitner. All who come to him with disputes go away perfectly reconciled. Just to listen to People's Future. No better tribunal is to be found among gods and men. ...
Corresponding to the fourteen Æsir listed above, section 36 lists fourteen asynjur:
The second is Saga, who dwells in Sokvabek, and this is a large dwelling.
The third is Eir, who is the best leech.
The fourth is Gefjun, who is a may, and those who die maids become her hand-maidens.
The fifth is Fulla, who is also a may, she wears her hair flowing and has a golden ribbon about her head; she carries Frigg's chest, takes care of her shoes and knows her secrets.
The sixth is Freyja, who is ranked with Frigg. She is wedded to the man whose name is Oder; their daughter's name is Hnos, and she is so fair that all things fair and precious are called, from her name, Hnos. Oder went far away. Freyja weeps for him, but her tears are red gold. Freyja has many names, and the reason therefor is that she changed her name among the various nations to which she came in search of Oder. She is called Mardol, Horn, Gefn, and Syr. She has the necklace Brising, and she is called Vanadis.
The seventh is Sjöfn, who is fond of turning men's and women's hearts to love, and it is from her name that love is called Sjafne.
The eighth is Lofn, who is kind and good to those who call upon her, and she has permission from Alfather or Frigg to bring together men and women, no matter what difficulties may stand in the way; therefore "love" is so called from her name, and also that which is much loved by men.
The ninth is Var. She hears the oaths and troths that men and women plight to each other. Hence such vows are called vars, and she takes vengeance on those who break their promises.
The tenth is Vör, who is so wise and searching that nothing can be concealed from her. It is a saying that a woman becomes vor (ware) of what she becomes wise.
The eleventh is Syn, who guards the door of the hall, and closes it against those who are not to enter. In trials she guards those suits in which anyone tries to make use of falsehood. Hence is the saying that "syn is set against it," when anyone tries to deny ought.
The twelfth is Hlin, who guards those men whom Frigg wants to protect from any danger. Hence is the saying that he hlins who is forewarned.
The thirteenth is Snotra, who is wise and courtly. After her, men and women who are wise are called Snotras.
The fourteenth is Gna, whom Frigg sends on her errands into various worlds. She rides upon a horse called Hofvarpner, that runs through the air and over the sea. Once, when she was riding, some vanir saw her faring through the air. [...]
The Germanic peoples, like other Indo-European peoples, originally had a three-tiered social/political hierarchy: the first tier consisted of rulers, the second of warriors, and the third of farmers and others occupied with production and fecundity. The gods and goddesses can be profitably mapped onto this schema, and Odin, along with Tyr, corresponds to the first tier, the rulers.
One of the greatest differences between monotheistic theologies and polytheistic theologies is that, in the former, God is generally all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, etc. Polytheistic gods are none of these things; like any human, tree, or hawk, they are limited by their particularity.
- Chief of the Aesirs
- His name, translated, is "Master of Ecstasy"
- Óðinn, is formed from two parts: first, the noun óðr, “ecstasy, fury, inspiration,” and the suffix -inn, the masculine definite article, which, when added to the end of another word like this, means something like “the master of” or “a perfect example of.”
- Óðr can take countless different forms. As one saga describes Odin, “when he sat with his friends, he gladdened the spirits of all of them, but when he was at war, his demeanor was terrifyingly grim.”
- Has transgender qualities, which is against Norse/Germanic warrior culture
- Odin is listed as the divine ancestor of countless families from all over northern Europe. He’s simultaneously an Aesir god, a Vanir god (the Vanir god Óðr is only an extension or transposition of Odin), and a giant (his mother is Bestla, one of the first frost-giants).
- A God of contradictions
- War-God, but also Poetry-God
- Divine patron of rulers, but also of outcasts
- Seeker and giver of wisdom, but has little regard for ocmmunal values (justice, fiarness) or respect for law and convention
- Modern culture paints him as honorable and muscular, but to the ancient Norse, he was far from it.
- He gets people to war with each other with sinister glee.
- In keeping with his associations with sovereignty (see below), Odin doesn’t generally concern himself with average warriors, preferring instead to lavish his blessings only on those whom he deems to be worthy of them. Many of the greatest Germanic heroes have enjoyed Odin’s patronage, such as Starkaðr and the Volsung family.
- As a war-god, Odin is principally concerned not with the reasons behind any given conflict or even its outcome, but rather with the raw, chaotic battle-frenzy (one of the primary manifestations of óðr) that permeates any such agonism.
- The crucial difference between Tyr and Odin even though they both cater to the first tier of the social/political hierarchy (namely, the rulers), is that Tyr has much more to do with rule by law and justice, whereas Odin has much more to do with rule by magic and cunning. Tyr is the sober and virtuous ruler; Odin is the devious, inscrutable, and inspired ruler.
- Paradoxically, Odin is often the favorite god and helper of outlaws, those who had been banished from society for some especially heinous crime, as well. Like Odin, many such men were exceptionally strong-willed warrior-poets who were apathetic to established societal norms – Egill Skallagrímsson (Egil’s Saga) and Grettir Ásmundarson (The Saga of Grettir the Strong) are two examples. The late twelfth/early thirteenth-century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus even relates a tale of Odin being outlawed from Asgard for ten years so that the other gods and goddesses wouldn’t be tarnished by the vile reputation he had acquired amongst many humans.
- Whatever their social stature, the men and women favored by Odin are distinguished by their intelligence, creativity, and competence in the proverbial “war of all against all.” Whether such people become kings or criminals is mostly a matter of luck.
- For Odin, any kind of limitation is something to be overcome by any means necessary, and his actions are carried out within the context of a relentless and ruthless quest for more wisdom, more knowledge, and more power, usually of a magical sort.
- One of the most striking attributes of his appearance is his single, piercing eye. His other eye socket is empty – the eye it once held was sacrificed for wisdom.
- Along with Freya, he’s one of the two greatest practitioners of shamanism amongst the gods.
- One of the two main forms of Germanic shamanism is contained within the magical tradition known as seidr (The other is berserkers' forms of warrior-shamanism), of which Odin and Freya are the foremost divine practitioners. In traditional Germanic society, for a man to engage in seidr was effectively to forsake the male gender role, which brought considerable scorn upon any male who chose to take up this path. As the sagas show, this didn’t stop some men from practicing seidr anyway. However, even Odin wasn’t exempt from such charges of “unmanliness,” and was taunted for adopting the feminine traits and tasks that form part of the backbone of seidr. Saxo, in the passage on Odin’s exile alluded to above, relates that “by his stage-tricks and his assumption of a woman’s work he had brought the foulest scandal on the name of the gods.”
- Odin speaks only in poems, and the ability to compose poetry is a gift he grants at his pleasure. He stole the mead of poetry, the primeval source of the ability to speak and write beautifully and persuasively, from the giants.
- Odin presides over Valhalla, the most prestigious of the dwelling-places of the dead. After every battle, he and his helping-spirits, the valkyries (“choosers of the fallen”), comb the field and take their pick of half of the slain warriors to carry back to Valhalla. (Freya then claims the remaining half.)
- Master of necromancy
- Able to obtain information and wisdom from the dead.
- The most significant reason is his dread-driven desire to have as many of the best warriors as possible on his side when he must face the wolf Fenrir during Ragnarok – even though he knows that he’s doomed to die in the battle.