A typical day of awesome smiting for resident god Thor.
"Hearing I ask | From the holy races From Heimdallr's sons | both high and low; Thou wilt, Valfather | that well I relate Old tales I remember | of men long ago."
—The Voluspa, Stanza 1
The Norse Mythology is a collection of stories derived from Germanic roots, following the lives of the Norse gods — the Ćsir and the Vanir — and the men whose lives they directly affected. At its height, the mythology covered most of northern Europe, much of modern Germany and Austria, and parts of the British Isles; it lasted longest in Scandinavia and Iceland, however, which produced most of its surviving texts. It is a branch of the Proto-Indo-European mythological tradition, which also spawned the Celtic, Greek, and Vedic pantheons; it's distinguished from those myths, however, by the fact that its gods are not only fallible, but also all mortal. They could, and did, die. Like most traditional polytheistic systems, it has no set canon and in some ways resembles a body of customary beliefs more than a set religion. It has been speculated that only chieftains and other wealthy people held faith in the Ćsir, while the common farmers believed in land-spirits such as trolls and giants.
Many texts describing Norse beliefs have come down to us, but, aside from a few runic inscriptions and similar fragments, all were written hundreds of years after the turn to Christianity. Consequently it's nearly impossible to tell which stories are Hijacked by Jesus
, or how much they are, although academic theories abound. Even ignoring this, another problem arises: since Norse myth has no definitive canon, the myths differ considerably from place to place, according to the time they were written and the purpose they were written for.
For most researchers the main source of canon is the Poetic Edda
, also known as the Elder Edda
or Codex Regius
(as it was originally known). This is a collection of both mythological and heroic poems; the most famous, the Völuspá
, relates the past creation of the world, the future death of the gods and burning of the world
, and the beginning of the world to come. Others give pithy advice (Hávamál
) or contain legends of the Ćsir and the Vanir, while even more tell us about the heroic deeds of human beings. Perhaps the most important hero is Sigurd Fafnesbane, a man cognate to the Siegfried
of German legend. The oldest surviving copy of the Elder Edda
was made in the late 13th century, though many of its poems are much older than that; though how much is often quite unknown.
A secondary source of canon is the Prose Edda
(a.k.a. Younger Edda
, Snorri's Edda
or just plain Edda
), a book that was written by the Icelandic historian and politician Snorri Sturluson
sometime around 1225 CE. It's difficult to accurately summarize his book; it's believed to have begun as a simple collection of skaldic poetry, but as Snorri wrote, he's thought to have realized that most of his audience would miss many important mythological allusions. Drawing upon his vast knowledge of Norse mythology, therefore, he devoted half his book to retelling the myths in an educational manner, sourcing both older sagas and the Poetic Edda
. It's likely that Snorri didn't intend this mythological content to be taken at face value: The prologue and the end of the first section explicitly state that the work covers ancient, mythologized kings and heroes rather than true divinities. In fact, Snorri's not-at-all mythological book Heimskringla
(which retells stories of the Norwegian kings) contains a similar prologue, and it even mentions the events of the Prose Edda
Various other sources exist, including The Icelandic Sagas
and Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum
, a Danish work of history compiled in the late 12th century. All are, for one reason or another, generally considered less authoritative than the Eddas
. The works of the Roman ethnographer Tacitus touch on an earlier form of Norse myth, similar in many ways but dating to the first century CE. The current versions we have, however, are Older Than Print
It's important to note that the Norse gods are usually considered to be derived from the same ancestral Indo-European mythology as Classical
, and Hindu Mythology
. The mythology of Zoroastrianism is also similar, although with a henotheistic structure imposed on it.
Incidentally, we still honor some of the Norse deities on a regular basis (though we use the Anglo-Saxon versions of their names): Sunna's Day; Máni/Moni's Day; Tyr's, or Tiw's, day; Odin's, or Woden's, day; Thor's, or Thurs's, day; and Frigg's day.note
Each occurs once a week in cultures that use the Germanic root names.
Norse Mythology survives to this day as the basis for Heathen, Ásatrú, and Theodish (etc.) mythology. In Scandinavia, the conversion from this faith to Christianity never fully replaced belief in Norse God/desses. Sources from the 17th century suggest that Odin was still believed to be a protector of horses. In the 1950s, studies showed that some people in Sweden still believed in Norse Mythology, though they did not worship the God/desses. Modern day Scandinavians and Icelanders that worship the Norse God/desses are called "new heathens" and refer to their faith as "the Old Creed
" and the deities as "the Old Gods
By the way, note that this page is called Norse Mythology, not Viking
Mythology. Originally, the word "viking" meant the act of faring overseas and the sailor participating, while in English it denotes a profession meaning something like "pirate
." Only a minority of Norsemen were Vikings.
Works that are part of Norse mythology on the wiki:
Sort of — the original word, "Ragnarök", means "fate of the gods", but Richard Wagner relied on an old world play; ragnarökkr which means "Twilight of the Gods", and thus created the title of the finale of his opera tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung.
- Hammer Space
Thor could shrink his hammer to incredibly small sizes, seemingly being able to pull his hammer out of nowhere.
Named after Hel. This word was applied both to the Germanic underworld and to the goddess who ruled over it. The Anglo-Saxons used the name for the Christian underworld.
- Kraken and Leviathan
The Kraken comes from this mythology, while Leviathan comes from Judaism.
Ragnarök is the world-shattering event that ends with most of the Gods dead.
- Ring of Fire
The Valkyrie Brynhildr was imprisoned in one of these after deciding the outcome of a battle against Odin.
- World Tree
All the known realms lie on the World Tree, which is also named Yggdrasil.