Norse Mythology

Introduction

Norse mythology refers to the legends, stories and scripted sources that comprise the myths of the Scandinavian Norse society. The mythology is mainly derived from two key sources, Prose Edda and Poetic Edda. The sources mention a large body of gods and goddesses as well as various stories and incidents involving them.

According to Nose mythology, nine worlds exist around the tree Yggdrasil and that world is born and reborn in multiple cycles. The Norse mythology mentions many heroes, wars, conflicts and interesting stories. The mythology played an important role in the Viking society and gods like Thor and Odin were regularly called upon for help.

Norse Origins

According to the source of Norse mythology, the realms of ice and fire existed before anything else was created. An empty void existed between these realms to prevent them from colliding. But then both realms expanded and ultimately met.

The realm of fire melted the realm of ice and from the melted ice came two beings – Ymir, the giant and Audhumla, the cow. The cow licked the ice and uncovered Buri who became the ancestor of all the gods.

Buri’s son Borr and Bestla the giantess then gave birth to the earliest Norse gods including Ve, Vili and Odin. The three gods slew Ymir the giant and fashioned the earth from his flesh, skull, blood and bones.

Yggdrasil or The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life or Yggdrasil has a central significance in Norse mythology. According to Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, Yggdrasil is a huge ash tree. The tree was considered holy and the Vikings believed that all the realms or the worlds existed around this tree.

The tree was thought to be located at the center of the cosmos. The tree itself stands in Asgard, home of the Norse gods while its roots and branches extend to all the other realms. The tree itself is home to only a handful of creatures – an eagle, a dragon and three stags.

Norse Gods

Vikings believed in a large pantheon of gods which played a vital role in the Norse mythology. Notable gods and goddesses of the pantheon include Odin, Thor, Loki, Frigg, Baldr, Freyr and Freyja among others. The gods in Norse mythology live in Asgard, heavenly realm removed from the world of humans.

Odin is the most powerful god. He is the ruler of the Asgard. Two separate families of gods exist in Norse mythology, namely Aesir and Vanir. Of these, the Aesir are the more powerful side headed by Odin and supplanted by his Loki. The Vanir are a smaller and less powerful family including the powerful goddess Freyja.

Odin

Odin is the ruler of Asgard, the realm of the Norse gods. He is also the most powerful god in the Viking pantheon. Odin is depicted as both wise and powerful. He hung upside down on Yggdrasil for nine days to gain wisdom.

His attempts at wisdom also cost him an eye so that he is depicted one-eyed in the Norse mythology. Odin is credited with inventing runic alphabets and is associated with poetry and wisdom. He is the father of Thor, the powerful Norse god, and Loki, the mischief maker.

Thor

Thor was the most popular Scandinavian god during the period of the Vikings. The mythology legends had it that Thor’s hammer could crush mountains and carried immense power. Thor figures as Odin’s sin on the Norse mythology.

The Vikings associated Thor with lightning and thunder, power and strength. Thor was called upon before battles and when performing feats of strength. In the Norse myths, Thor is also the father of a number of gods and goddesses including Pruor and Magni.

Prose Edda

Prose Edda is one of the key sources of Norse mythology. It is written in Old Norse language and dates back to the 13th century. The origins of the cosmos as well as the creation and destruction of the worlds is detailed in Prose Edda.

Prose Edda is divided into three parts. Although the exact identity of the author is not known, many believe that it was the Iceland historian, poet and politician Snorri Sturluson.

Poetic Edda

Poetic Edda is the single most important source of Norse mythology. It’s authorship is not known but many historians believe that the text dates back to the 13th century. As the name suggests, Poetic Edda comprises of several long poems which details many key events of the Norse mythology.

Much of what we know today about the Norse mythology is largely due to the Poetic Edda. As with Prose Edda, Poetic Edda was written in Old Norse and later translated into other languages.

The Ragnarok

Ragnarok in Norse mythology is a series of events that will ultimately result in the deaths of leading Norse gods and the end of the world. It is the equivalent of Armageddon in other religions.

According to Norse mythology, Ragnarok begins with a harsh winter. Fenrir the Wolf breaks loose and wrecks havoc in the cosmos. It devours the sun and together with the forces of the Underworld, attacks Asgard the realm of the gods.

In the ensuing battle, Odin dies fighting Fenrir. Thor dies while killing the Midgard Serpent. Then the whole world is put ablaze by the giant Surtr. When a new world rises from the sea, it is inhabited by a very few gods and a new generation of humans.

Afterlife in Norse Mythology

Norse mythology has a complex view of the afterlife. Some mythology sources state that the dead go to a realm called Hel. When Odin’s Baldr dies, he goes to Hel according to the mythology. For those who die fighting valiantly in combat, the fate is different.

Half of those who die fighting are taken by the valkyries to the majestic hall of Odin, Valhalla. The other half are claimed by the goddess Freyja and go to her beautiful meadows and fields in Folkvangr.

It is interesting that the afterlife fate in Norse mythology for those who die in combat is held to be different from those who die a non-combat death.

Summary

  • Norse mythology is known from two main sources: Poetic Edda and Prose Edda.
  • Prose Edda was written in Old Norse in 13th century. It is believed that Snorri Sturluson composed it.
  • Poetic Edda was written in 13th century. It comprises of many poems and is the main source of Norse myths.
  • Notable Norse gods include Thor, Odin, Tyr, Baldr and others.
  • Yggdrasil is a holy tree in the center of the Norse cosmology. All the realms of the world are located around it.
  • The gods live in a heavenly realm called Asgard.
  • Ragnarok is the end of the worlds in Norse mythology. This is when many gods die and the world perishes only to be reborn anew.
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