Norse mythology

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Changing your beard into a hammer is a pretty nifty trick, Thor.
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Norse mythology is the belief system of pre-Christian Scandinavian people. Historical texts exist only after Christianization, as previous knowledge was spread solely by oral tradition before its commitment to paper in the 12th and 13th centuries.

It is a subset of Germanic mythology, with which it shares, for the most part, a common pantheon.

Contents

[edit] Mythical beings

The deities (gods and goddesses) were divided into three clans: the Æsir, the Vanir, and the Jötnar. The Æsir were primarily the major figures of Norse mythology, such as Odin and Thor, frequently to be found riding around in his chariot pulled by Tanngrisni and Tanngnost, two delightful goats, who could be killed and eaten every night and who would somehow be reconstituted the next morning, providing that the bones were not broken and — but, we digress. After an epic war after the fashion of the Titanomachy, the Æsir became non-hostile towards the Vanir, lesser-known gods through hostage-exchange and marriage. The Jötnar (including the notable god Loki) were classified as giants with extraordinary strength and were enemies to both Vanir and Æsir clans, even though marriages have been known between them.

There was widespread belief in creatures such as elves, dwarves, and artifacts. Animals in Norse mythology all had names, and were of such significance that their owners would resurrect them after death through various means. Of these, undoubtedly the greatest and most important was a lil' ol' squirrel named Ratatosk.

These mythic creatures are now staples of fantasy literature, thanks largely to their use by J.R.R. Tolkien, who made extensive studies of Norse mythology (even producing his own rewrite of a large part of the mythic material) and was heavily influenced by it when writing his Middle Earth legendarium. Of particular note are the names of the dwarf characters in The Hobbit, which were taken verbatim from the "Catalog of Dwarves" in the Eddaic poem Völuspá.

[edit] Loki

Loki, doing something sketchy with a fishing net

In Norse mythology, Loki is the son of a giant slain by Odin. He is considered to be a trickster-god, but some interpretations make him out to be the closest thing to the devil that Norse mythology can get.

Loki's favorite holiday is April Fools' Day, during which a veritable orgy of Loki-worship takes place.

In the Skáldskaparmál, the following is written about Loki:

How should one periphrase Loki? Thus: call him, Son of Fárbauti and Laufey, or of Nál, Brother of Býleistr and of Helblindi, Father of the Monster of Ván, and of the Vast Monster, and of Hel, and of Nari, and Áli; Kinsman and Uncle, Evil Companion of Odin and the Æsir, Visitor and Chest-Trapping of Geirrödr, Thief of the Giants, of the Goat, of Brísinga-men, and of Idunn's Apples, Kinsman of Sleipnir, Husband of Sigyn, Foe of the Gods, Hammer of Sif's Hair, Forger of Evil, the Sly God, Slanderer and Cheat, Contriver of Baldr's Death, Wrangling Foe of Heimdallr and of Skadi

Of all the iniquities of which Loki is accused, being the thief of the Goat is clearly the worst.

Again, from the Skáldskaparmál, we see an example of Loki being cruel to goats for the amusement of others and his own sick sexual pleasure. Skadi has girded herself for war, and has come to the home of the Æsir seeking recompense for the killing of her hill giant father, Thjazi. The Æsir offer her a husband from amongst their ranks and she chooses Njord, but she has an additional demand before reconciliation can be achieved, that the gods make her laugh. The only one who can achieve this feat is Loki:

Then Loki did this: he tied a cord to the beard of a goat, the other end being around his own genitals, and each gave way in turn and each of the two screeched loudly; Then Loki let himself fall onto Skadi's knee, and she laughed.

That is to say, Loki played a game of tug-of-war between a goat and his own manhood.

[edit] Freyja

Freyja riding her kitty-chariot.

Like her brother, Freyr, Freyja was originally of the Vanir before joining the Æsir. Freyja is a goddess of sex and magic — mostly sex (though that can be pretty magical). According to one legend, she was the one who taught Odin the art of magic called seiðr[wp] said to originate with the Vanir.

She wears the Brísingamen, the most beautiful necklace in the world, which, according to a couple of late-14th-century Christian priests, she acquired by having sex with a bunch of dwarves.[note 1] The reliability of this source is disputed, since the priests also said that the Norse pantheon were people who once lived in Asia.[1]

The dwarf business would have been very out-of-character for her. In an older story, Freyja gets so angry that Brísingamen is shattered and Asgard shakes when Loki brings the frost-giant Thrym's (Þrymr[wp]) demands that Freyja be given to him as a wife to ransom for Thor's hammer back to him.[2]

She is the goddess after whom everyone lusts, though often fruitlessly. She also gets half of all the battle-dead warriors the Valkyries bring to Asgard (and we can only speculate as to what she does with them then).

Unfortunately, for such an interesting goddess, there are not very many direct stories.

[edit] Freyr

Are those folds in your loincloth or are you just happy to see me?

Freyr is a god who is usually depicted with a large, erect penis. He is one of the Vanir, the old line of gods who were opposed to the Æsir, and became one of the hostages given to the Æsir at the conclusion of the war. He is considered the most important of the Norse fertility gods. He is also considered one of the dumber gods, in that he gave away his magical sword, which could "slay by itself" in a battle, as payment to his servant Skírnir in exchange for wooing the giantess Gerd. The lack of this sword will be the cause of his death during Ragnarok.

He is the brother of the beautiful goddess Freyja, and son of the god Njord.

In Sweden, he is one of the most ancient mythical kings, sometimes known as Yngvi-Frey. There were many old ceremonies devoted to him there, involving beautiful maidens and youths.

[edit] Frigg

Frigg also makes clouds. TGIF.

Frigg is the wife of Odin, but their marriage is likely not a happy one, as she seems to spend a lot of time either telling Odin off or getting it on with his brothers.

In Wagner's "Ring Cycle" operas, her name is translated as Fricka, while English translations sometimes name her Frigga.

We have Frigg to thank for the miracle of Friday, at least etymologically. The name is a derivation of the Old English Frigedag.

[edit] Heiðrún

A sexy depiction of Heiðrún

Heiðrún is Odin's female goat who dwells in Valhalla. She produces mead instead of the normal goat's milk, because she is very special.

Heiðrún grazes the foliage of the Lerad (Læraðr) tree, which also grows on the roof of Valhalla. Her udder produces enough mead to fill a giant cauldron every day. The drink is served by the valkyrie to quench the thirsts of all of Valhalla's warrior spirit inhabitants or einherjar.

Odin, fearing food poisoning from the enemy, abstains from eating, taking in any and all nourishment from Heiðrún's mead instead. One can be certain that the faith bestowed on this blessed goat by Odin gives her an aura of being "trustworthy".

Heidrun appears to have a reputation for being sexually promiscuous. In an acerbic exchange between the goddess Freyja and giantess Hyndla (lit. She dog, Bitch) in the Edda Hyndlujód, Hyndla compares Freyja to the goat:

Turn away from here! I desire to sleep,
You'll get little of fair opportunities from me,
You run about, noble friend, out at nights,
As if with the he-goats Heidrun were travelling.

You ran up to Ód ever howling,
You jumped quickly into the sheets,
You run about, noble friend, out at nights,

As if with the he-goats Heidrun were travelling.

One author goes so far as to describe her as "lascivious,"[3] which, it must be admitted, is a rather unusual adjective for a goat — but a great one for the unofficial mascot of a den of sin and iniquity such as this.

[edit] Odin

Odin looking really old

Odin, otherwise known as (among other names) Rögnir, is the chief god in Norse mythology. He did not invent mead; however, he did share it with the poets of the world. (He had to swallow it and then regurgitate it, when in the form of an eagle, to get away. Some of it, however, went through his system. It is said that bad poets did not receive the Mead of Poetry, but instead the urine that Odin had to expel.)

Odin's primary goal is preventing Ragnarok, when the gods themselves will die. To that end, he has done many crazy things to increase his wisdom, including gouging out his own eye and hanging himself from a tree for nine days. He also seduced and stole his way to the mead of inspiration, commanded a prophetess, and even learned the Vanirs' seiðr magic. It will all be for nothing, in the end, but at least he'll have tried.

Odin is also the father of Thor, and the blood-brother of Loki. Heidrun is his goat.

[edit] Ratatosk

Ratatosk (drilling tooth) is the red squirrel who scurries up, down, and all around Yggdrasil, the "world tree", and carries news, gossip, and other related information. In particular he ferried insults between the eagle at the top of Yggdrasil, and the dragon Níðhöggr beneath its roots, to distract them from destroying the tree. Inquiries regarding Ratatosk may be directed to Loki, who probably knows him as well as anyone.[4]

[edit] Thor

Im in ur goatse uzin mai hamer!
Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy shall possess the power of Thor.
— Mjolnir's text

Thor (full name: Thor Odinsson), otherwise known as (among other names) Donar, is the god of strength and protection in Norse mythology. He is the most beloved of the Norse gods, at least in part because he was the protector of humanity. Thor is commonly associated with storms and thunder.

For fans of this site, his chariot was drawn by two goats that he would kill and resurrect every day. Apparently, they were extremely tasty. According to Norse mythology, strokes from his mighty hammer caused thunder.

Be silent and grovel, or my great hammer
Mjöllnir shall shut your mouth:
Your shoulder's stone I will strike from its neck,
Lifeless you shall lie.[5]
—Thor to Loki
"I'm Thor." — "Well, you thould put thome ointment on it, then."
My god carries a hammer. Your god died nailed to a crucifix. Any questions?

[edit] Afterlife

[edit] Valhalla

Valhalla, it's a bit like Hooters.

Warriors on earth who fought and died in the midst of battle on earth were resurrected as warrior-spirits. The Valkyrie descend on every battle, pick out the most valiant, and mark them for death. After they die, they are taken by the Valkyrie to Asgard, where half join with Odin in Valhalla, and the other half join Freyja. From there, they are known as einherjar, and would train for battle on the upcoming day of Ragnarok. (This training involves fighting all day, probably dying, being resurrected, and then feasting on pork and drinking mead from the goat Heidrun..) Odin himself often goes to earth to stir up trouble and create battles, because he is thought to need more warriors than he'll ever get.

Valhalla is also a key plot element in Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. It all burns down in the end, quite epicly.

[edit] Niflheim

Niflheim is a sad, gray, cold place, where the non-valorous dead go. It is ruled by the goddess/giantess Hel. The god Baldr went/will go there after he died/dies (triggering the beginning of Ragnarok). It is the mingling of the cold of Niflheim and the heat of Muspelheim that creates the first beings, a giant named Ymir and a giant cow named Auðumbla.

If you don't die in battle like a good Viking, you had better have led an honorable life, because if you haven't, Niflheim is where you'll end up. So, grab a weapon, find a war, and die for Odin!

[edit] Ragnarok

We're all gonna die!

Norse mythology is distinctly bleak. While many mythologies, including Christianity, have a spot for eschatology, the Norse apocalypse is almost unique in its darkness.

Ragnarok, meaning "Twilight of the Gods," is an event representing the end of the world. During Ragnarok, all of the gods will die, along with all of the people, the sun, moon, World Tree, everything. The whole world will be destroyed by fire and ice. (In most versions, two of the gods come back with the children of the other gods; however, some consider this a later Christian addition. Either way, there's no heaven for the currently living good to go to after this destruction--they're just dead.)

It is different from similar concepts in many other religions in that the gods already know their fates (although it is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the Devil has read the end of the Book of Revelation and hence already knows his fate as well). It is notable that the Norse gods were not truly immortal, having to eat golden apples in order to retain their youthfulness.

[edit] The End Is Here!

One interpretation of the Ragnorok myth set it to occur on February 22nd, 2014.[6][7] As of the time of this writing, the sun and moon have not yet been consumed.[citation needed] The sun has risen, and the world has once again not ended, meaning that we can now wait for the next "apocalypse".

[edit] Likelihood of existence

The Norse gods rank somewhere between the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Cloacina[wp], the Goddess of Rome's sewage, in probability of being real. At the very least, the Vikings believed their gods could die, as opposed to many other gods.

[edit] Norse mythology today

Among neopagans, the Norse pantheon has become one of the more popular. However, there is some tension between reconstructionist groups (who are usually referred to as "Asatru") and "eclectics," who do not try to adhere to any notion of "the old ways." Even the terminology is often contested; many Asatru prefer to be called that, or "heathen," instead of "pagan," and "neopagan" is often a snarl word used to refer to the eclectics.

[edit] Conservatism

Norse heathens are typically far more conservative than other pagans, believing strongly in tradition, military spending and some form of "family values," often more sincerely than their Christian counterparts, who seem to have an alternate definition of that term, viz., "something that will vanish if we give women or gays any rights."

[edit] Days of the week

The English language still retains the Saxon names of Norse gods in several days of the week:

  • Tuesday is named for Tyr, or Tiw, a god of war.
  • Wednesday is named for Odin, or Woden, a god of wisdom.
  • Thursday is named for Thor, or Þunor, a god of thunder.
  • Friday is named for Frigg, a goddess of love, sex, beauty, and witchcraft (also Odin's wife).

In the Romance languages, these days' names are usually derived from the parallel Roman gods, which were all named after celestial objects (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn).

But in Iceland, an archaic attempt at anti-pagan political correctness caused the weekdays to be given numbers instead. Boring!

[edit] Racism

God of thunder, god of war!
Hail Europe! Hail Thor!
—Skrewdriver

Unfortunately for more rational worshipers of the Norse pantheon, there is a long-standing connection between Norse/Germanic neopagans and neo-Nazism and/or racism in the United States and Scandinavia.[8] Many anti-Semitic Germanic groups have seen the Germanic pantheon as a good substitute for the Jewish-derived Christianity. Norse mythology is seen as an indigenous, and therefore nationalist-friendly, alternative. Some notable Nazis were Germanic neopagans (although mostly adhering to a mystical variant called Armanism that was largely dreamed up by the crank Guido von List). Even many non-racist Germanic neopagans believe that non-Germanic people should not worship Germanic deities, or are unable to do it properly.

In the U.S., many Germanic neopagan cults have been formed with explicitly racist beliefs. These cults used to be referred to as "Odinist," until the white supremacist David Lane realized that Wotan, the German name for Odin, could be turned into a nice backronym for "Will Of The Aryan Nation," and advocated the use of Mormonism "Wotanism" instead.

This ignores that fact that Odin created all of Midgard (Earth) and humanity, including the "lesser" races. These people love the idea of a Thor who keeps foreign giants out of heaven with mighty strokes from his magical hammer. They love it so much, actually, that they completely ignore the historical status of Thor as a god beloved of the common people and farmers, and portray him as a god of war and warriors, more like his father or Týr.[note 2]

In recent years, mainstream Asatru groups have explicitly rebuked these kinds of racist beliefs.[9][10] However, many hate groups continue to use Norse symbolism and invoke Norse deities, particularly in American prisons.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. Just like that deleted scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  2. Týr[wp] is probably not so popular, despite being a war god, because: A) He's handicapped (one-handed), and B) According to some versions Týr is actually the son of the giant Hymir[wp] (highlighting the rather tolerant attitudes among the Æsir towards other "races" of (demi)gods). Alternatively, it's because C) white supremacists can't distinguish Thor from Týr due to general cultural illiteracy.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Æsir" assumed to mean "Asia-men"
  2. Wikisource: Poetic Edda/Þrymskviða Þrymskviða. Instead, Thor disguises himself as Freyja and pays the hammernapper a visit. Thrym is rather credulous, accepting Loki's various bullshit for why, for instance, "Freyja" eats an entire ox, 8 salmons, other unnamed goodies, and drinks copious amounts of mead. After he gets his hammer back, Thor, in his usual style, kills Thrym and his entire extended family, gathered for the wedding feast.
  3. lascivious Heidrun
  4. Yggdrasil - Kraka.net
  5. Lokasenna, Auden-Taylor translation, verse 57
  6. http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20789160,00.html
  7. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2507778/Will-world-end-100-days-Sounding-ancient-trumpet-York-warns-Viking-apocalypse-22-February-2014.html#ixzz2u5W7mQ7P
  8. Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon
  9. "Asatru is not an excuse to look down on, much less to hate, members of any other race. On the contrary, we recognize the uniqueness and the value of all the different pieces that make up the human mosaic."A Declaration of Purpose. Asatru Folk Assembly. 2008 July 1.
  10. "[W]e do not practice, preach, or promote hatred, bigotry, or racism."Asatru Alliance By-Laws. Asatru Alliance. 2009 October 1.
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