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Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes
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Thor — Odin — Balder — Njord — Frey — Tyr — Heimdal — Bragi — Forseti — Hod — Vali — Vidar — Ull — Hænir — Lodur — Loki and his children — Hermod — Skirnir

Norse Gods

Thor was the strongest and most popular of the gods. [Vik 88], and maybe the most venerated of them all, Odin included. [Ng 39n]. Snorre tells in the Ynglingesaga, ch 2 ff, that Odin was an immigrant from somewhere near the Black Sea, and that he in time was thought to be a god, and his relatives too. Odin became a main god for the warriors, including Norse kings and nobility, if that is a proper word for murderers and the like in high places.

Interestingly to some, the Irish "Kildare" is from "Coill Tomair", "Thor's grove". [Ng 40]

The material about Thor is rich. Munch and others present Thor as the son of Odin. I think Thor is more pristine, and fairer - associated with thunder and lightning - and fertility. Odin, from Germanic Wutan, is a bit more humanoid and sleek, more of an upstart, as Munch explains in lengthy notes to both gods. Associations between Norse Thor and Roman Jupiter, the Greek Zeus - chief god, and the Vedic god Indra, the king of gods in another pantheon, call for giving Thor a place second to none.

I find ample enough reasons to place Thor as the first among the gods in this survey.


Next after Odin, the principal deity was Thor. He it was who guarded men and their labors from the wild forces of nature, personified as Giants. Thus he held sway — in certain Northern regions — over air and climate, over rain and harvest. [1] As the god of fertility, however, he had to divide his rule with the gods of the Vanir; but thunder and lightning always were [11} the special province of Thor, who according to the Norse myths was constantly engaged in battle against the Giants. He rode in a chariot which, as it rolled along, produced thunder. [2] The chariot was drawn by two goats, Tanngnjost [3] and Tanngrisni; [4] these goats Thor could kill and eat and bring to life once more provided all the bones are gathered up in the hides. Because Thor usually drove these goats, he was called Riding-Thor; [5] he had other names as well, such as Ving-Thor, Lorridi, Einridi.

Thor's realm was known as Thrudvang; there stood his imposing hall, Bilskirnir, the largest in the world, comprising 540 rooms. To Thor belonged three objects of price: the most valuable of these was the hammer Mjollnir, which he carried whenever he gave battle to the Giants; he could make it as great or as small as he pleased, he could hurl it, through the air, and it always found its mark and returned of itself to his hand. Again, he had remarkable iron gauntlets with which to grasp the hammer; and he had a belt of strength which, when he girdled it about him, added to his Æsir power. Without Thor the Æsir would have found no help against the Giants; but no sooner did they mention him by name than he gave proof of his prowess. He was wedded to beautiful Sif, of the golden hair; [6] their children were Modi and a daughter [12} named Thrud. With the Giantess Jarnsaxa he had besides a son called Magni.

Thor was hot and hasty of temper; when he rode out to meet the Giants, the mountains trembled and the earth burst into flame. When the gods repaired to Yggdrasil to hold assembly there, Thor did not trouble himself to cross by way of Bifrost but took a shorter road on which he waded the deepest streams. Now and then he might chance to leap before he looked; and so once or twice he came out of some enterprise or other with harm and confusion. [7]

The worship of Thor was very widespread throughout the North. Numerous place names bear witness to his cult, [8] and the sagas contain not infrequent accounts of sanctuaries dedicated to Thor or of invocations directed to him. [9] To our ancestors Thor was tall and strong, handsome and dignified; he had a red beard, and gripped Mjollnir in his hand.

  1. See note to p 65; cf. p 118.
  2. Norw. torden, ie, Tor-dønn.
  3. "One who grinds teeth."
  4. "One who is 'pig-toothed,' having distinct interstices between the teeth."
  5. Oku-pórr, from aka, "to ride," "to drive."
  6. See p 30.
  7. See p 56 ff.
  8. See § 86 of the Norwegian original.
  9. Dale-Gudbrand's image of Thor; Thorolf Mostrarskegg's removal of his own shrine of Thor from Hordaland to Iceland.

On Thor

Page 12, line 18 — The name Thor is not, as the verbal similarity might seem to indicate, derived from þora, "to dare," but is a contracted form of the Germanic word for "thunder," Old German [291} donar (now Donner), and Anglo-Saxon þunor. In both of these languages the word is known both as the name for a god and as a designation for thunder. On the form of the word itself (early *þunra-, rather than *þunara-) see Hj. Lindroth, Namn och Bygd IV (1916), p. 161 ff. As the god of strength, Thor is the father of þrúðr, originally a word meaning "strength" (cf. the son's name, Magni, as compared with megin, "might"), and so rules over Thrudvang or Thrudheim. — Ake-Tor is the correct form in Modern Norwegian; "Auka-Tor," as some would have it, gives no sense. — References to literature dealing with Thor will be cited in the notes to the several myths dealing with Thor (pp. 56-78).

Just as Odin corresponds to the Mercurius of the Romans, so Thor corresponds to Jupiter. Thence þórsdagr, Thursday (Old German, Donarestac, Modern German Donnerstag, Anglo-Saxon þunresdœg, English Thursday), = "Jupiter's day" (French jeudi).

As the enemy of the Trolls, legendary folklore first substituted for Thor Olaf Tryggvason and later his successor, Saint Olaf. Cf. K. Liestøl, Norske trollvisor og norrøne sogor (Christiania 1915), p. 45 ff.


Odin, the supreme deity, had, besides the title of All-Father, many other names. He was called Ygg (The Awful), Gagnrad (He Who Determines Victories), Herjan (God of Battles), Har (The High One), Jafnhar (Even as High), Thridi (Third), [1] Nikar, Nikud, Bileyg (One With Evasive Eyes), Baleyg (One With Flaming Eyes), Bolverk (The Worker of Misfortune), Sigfather (The Father of Battle or of Victory), Gaut (The Creator or, the "Geat"), Roptatyr, Valfather (Father of the Slain), [2] etc. Odin was the wisest of all the gods; from him the others always sought counsel when need arose. He drew wisdom from the well of the Giant Mimir. Having placed one of his eyes in pawn with Mimir, Odin invariably appeared as a one-eyed, rather oldish man; [3] otherwise he 'was represented as strong and well-favored, and as armed with spear and shield. In Valhalla and Vingolf, where Odin gave banquets to gods and heroes, he himself partook of nothing but wine, which to him was both meat and drink; the meat that was placed before him he gave to his two wolves, Geri and Freki. [4] Odin also had two ravens, Hugin [8} and Munin (Thought and Memory), which perched one on each of his shoulders. To them he owed a great part of his wisdom; every day they flew forth through the expanses of the universe, returning at supper to tell him all that they had seen; therefore Odin was called also the God of Ravens. From his high seat, Lidskjalf in Valaskjalf, Odin saw all that came to pass. On his horse, Sleipnir, which was eight-footed and the fleetest horse in the world, he rode wherever he wished. His spear Gungnir would strike whatsoever he aimed at. On his arm he wore the precious ring Draupnir; from it dropped every ninth night eight other rings as splendid as itself.

The worship of Odin appears to have consisted in part in a peculiar kind of human sacrifice, and this circumstance had much to do with our forefathers' regarding him as a stern and cruel deity. Just as Odin himself hung upon a gallows, wounded with the thrust of a spear, and devoted to himself, [5] so, according to certain legendary narratives [6] it was a custom to dedicate men to Odin by hanging them on a gallows and piercing them with spears. The skalds thus referred to Odin as the "God of Hanged Men" or the "Lord of the Gallows." He bade his raven fly to such as had been hanged, or he went in person to the gallows tree and by means of incantations compelled the hanged man to hold discourse with him. An historian of the eleventh century, Adam of Bremen, recounts that in the sacrificial grove near the temple at Uppsala many [9} human bodies hung from the branches of the sacred trees. [7] This record no doubt has to do with sacrifices to Odin. With these very sacrifices to Odin what Snorri relates in the Ynglinga Saga must be closely connected; as the story reads there, Odin immediately before his death caused his body to be marked with the point of a spear, and "dedicated to himself all men who died by force of arms"; "Njord died of disease, but he let himself be marked for dedication to Odin before he died." Thus it was possible for Odin to accept human sacrifice not only by means of hanging but through a ceremonial procedure by which one who wished to avoid dying a natural death made an incision on his body with a spear. And one who advanced to meet an opposing army might, before joining battle, devote the enemy to Odin by hurling a spear over the heads of the hostile force, with the words, "Odin possesses you all." Odin took pleasure in such a sacrifice; to him it was a matter of great moment to surround himself with as many Heroes as possible in preparation for the ultimate warfare against the enemies of gods and men.

Among the Æsir there were several gods of war, but Odin was foremost. From him battle took the name of "Odin's Tempest" and "Ygg's Game"; and the spear, "Odin's Fire." The worship of Odin as the supreme deity was not, however, universally prevalent; [10} the cult bound up with his name seems to have come from the South into the North at a comparatively late date. Place names in which the name of Odin forms a compounding element provide valuable aid in determining the limits of Odin worship in various regions. [8]

Jord and Frigg were the wives of Odin; his concubines, the Giantess Grid, and Rind; his sons were Thor (with Jord), Balder (with Frigg), Vidar (with Grid), Vali (with Rind), and besides, Heimdal, Hod, and Bragi; all these were numbered among the chief deities. Other sons are Tyr, Meili, and Hermod, the messenger sent by the gods to Hell upon the death of Balder. Ancient kings and princes were proud to count their descent from Odin; for this reason other sons were later attributed to him, such as Skjold, ancestor of the kings of Denmark, Sæming, ancestor of the Haloigja family (the earls of Lade), Sigi, ancestor of the Volsungs, and still others.

  1. These three names, known from Gylfaginning, constitute a trinity which at a relatively late period was developed under the influence of the Christian trinity.
  2. Cf. p 5.
  3. Cf. Harbard, "the greybeard," p 105.
  4. Both names signify "the greedy one."
  5. See note to p 7.
  6. As, for instance, the story of Starkad and Vikar, p 221 ff.
  7. With Adam of Bremen's narrative as a foundation, Hans Dedekam has demonstrated the presence of a sacrificial grove with numerous human figures depending from the trees in the design of a tapestry discovered at Oseberg; see his article, Odins træ, in Kunst og haandverk. Nordiske studier (Christiania 1918), p 56 ff.
  8. On this point, see § 86 of the original Norwegian text. —Translator's note.

On Odin

Page 10, line 18 — Snorri says (Ynglinga Saga, chapter 6) of Odin that his aspect was as terrifying to his enemies as it was blessed to his friends. Therefore according to the testimonies of Christian writers he appears as a crafty, malicious, old one-eyed man who was always busy with some mischief or other; they actually believed that Odin existed, and that after the introduction of Christianity he was the head and front of all devilry. Even those who worshipped the Æsir did not always think of Odin as magnanimous and gracious; occasionally they represented him as moody, cruel, unjust.

Both the deity and his name were known among other peoples than the Northern; in Anglo-Saxon he is Wōden, and in Old German, Wuotan, Wōtan. The name doubtless is connected with Old Norse óðr, "raging," and German wüten, "to rage." This designation presents him as a god of death riding through storm at the head of the "raging army" (German, wütendes Heer) of the dead. Cf., among others, A. Olrik, Dania VIII, p. 139 (Odinsjœgeren i Jylland). — On the comparatively late introduction of the cult of Odin into the North, see particularly, Henry Petersen's fundamental work cited above, note to p. 4. On the worship of Odin itself, see, among others, Chadwick, The Cult of Othin (London 1899).

Among the ancient Germans, Odin is mentioned also under the Latin appellation Mercurius, with whom he had in common the function of being captain of the dead. Corresponding to the day of Mercury (French mercredi) we thus find Old German Wõdenestag, Anglo-Saxon Wōdnesdœg (English Wednesday), Old Norse Óðinsdagr (Modern Norw. onsdag). This day, however, in Norway was formerly sometimes called miðvikudagr ("midweek-day"), whence in Norwegian dialects mekedag, møkedag.

On Odin as the god of poetry, see p. 99 (on the skaldic mead). Odin was also the god of sorcery and runic magic, as we know especially from the magic formulas of the Hávamál; on these in particular Snorri drew for his account of Odin in the Ynglinga Saga, chapter 6 f.


The son of Odin and Frigg is Balder, the god of innocence and piety. He is so bright and fair that light shines from his features; he is also wise, eloquent, gentle, and lenient, and righteous to such a degree that his judgments stand always unshaken. His home and stronghold is called Breidablik; [1] there nothing impure may find lodgment. His wife is the [13} faithful Nanna, daughter of Nep His son is the righteous Forseti. Balder was killed by his brother Hod, but after the destruction of the universe he will return again. [2]

The cult of Balder is mentioned only in the late, unhistorical Fridthjof's Saga; from this source we learn that he had a great sanctuary, Baldershagi, somewhere in Sogn. [3]

  1. "Which gleams far and wide."
  2. The detailed narrative of these events will follow, p. 80 ff.
  3. See p 258.
On Balder

Page 13, line 8 — Balder is no doubt the same word as Anglo-Saxon bealdor, "lord," "prince." The name of the god has entered into the composition of the name of a plant: balder(s)brå (ie, "Balder's eyelash"), pyrethrum inodorum. On this point Snorri's Edda contains the statement: "A plant, the whitest of all, has been likened to Balder's eyelashes."


Njord (Njorðr, originally Nerpuz) guides the course of the winds and governs sea and fire; he grants to those who call upon him good fortune at sea and in the chase, and he dispenses wealth, whether of lands or of chattels. Of old he came from Vanaheim. [1] It so befell that when the Æsir and the Vanir were engaged in concluding a treaty of peace, each race gave hostages to the other, the Æsir designating Hænir and the Vanir, Njord; they all spat in a crock, and from the spittle they made a man, the sapient Kvasir. From that time forth Njord was reckoned among the Æsir and took rank with the foremost of them. His dwelling, called Noatun, is near the sea; outside the walls swim swans and water fowl of all sorts. Njord's children are the god Frey and the goddess Freyja; his wife, their stepmother, is Skadi, a Giantess. The Æsir having brought about the death of her father Thjazi, [2] Skadi went in arms to Asgard to demand recompense. In order to pacify her, the Æsir permitted [14} her to choose a husband from their number, but she was to see only their feet and to make her choice in this way. She fixed her eyes on a pair of shapely feet and, supposing them to be Balder's, chose accordingly. But her choice fell on Njord, with whom she did not live on the very best of terms; Skadi wished to make her abode in Thrymheim, her old home, but Njord wished to remain in Noatun. So they agreed to live by turns nine nights in Thrymheim and three nights in Noatun. When they had stayed the first nine nights in Thrymheim, Njord said that he was utterly weary of the mountains; the howling of the wolves seemed to him most lugubrious as compared with the singing of the swans. Skadi found herself disappointed likewise; when she had remained three nights in Noatun, she was no less weary of the screaming of the birds and the roaring of the sea, which broke her repose. Thus perforce they went their own ways; Skadi returned to Thrymheim, where she disported herself in skiing and hunting and so earned the sobriquet of the Ski-Deity or the Ski-Goddess (ondurdís).

Njord was called the Scion of the Vanir, the Vanir-God, the God Without Blemish. According to the testimony of place names, [3] his cult was widespread throughout the North. At the ancient sacrificial feasts, men drank to Njord and Frey next after Odin; [4] and from an early formulary for taking oaths it is manifest that oaths were sworn by Njord and Frey and by the "almighty god" (presumably Thor).

  1. See p 4.
  2. See p 53.
  3. See § 86 of the Norwegian original.
  4. Snorri, Saga of Hakon the Good, chapter 14. [15}

On Njord

Page 14, line 29 — Noatun means "ship-yard," and Thrymheim means "storm-home." — For further information on the cult of Njord, see note to p 16.


Njord's son is Frey, who is fair to look upon, mightier and more valorous than even his own father. He governs weather and tillage; in his hand lie prosperity, joy, and peace. Like Njord, Frey is called Scion of the Vanir, the Vanir-God; also, God of the Seasons and Giver of Riches. He holds sway over Alfheim and the Bright-Elves.

Frey has certain priceless talismans that cunning Dwarfs have made for him. First of these is the ship Skidbladnir, which sails over land and sea alike; when its sails are hoisted the winds always favor its course, and it is so devised that it can be folded together and kept in a pocket till the time for its use has come. He has also a marvelous boar, named Gullinbusti or Slidrugtanni, that races through the air and over the sea, throwing beams of light from his golden bristles; Frey often hitches the boar to his chariot when he wishes to drive abroad. Frey is wedded to Gerd, fair daughter of the Giant Gymir. Her he caught sight of one day as he had taken his seat in Lidskjalf to gaze out upon all the worlds; far to the north he saw her walking across her father's farmyard; air and sea shone with brightness as she raised her white arm to close the door. Frey fell in love with her, and for sorrow could neither sleep nor drink. His father Njord sent Skirnir, Frey's servant, to learn what was amiss with him; then Frey confessed his longing and commanded Skirnir to run his errand and pay court on his behalf. Skirnir promised to go if Frey would only [16} lend him his magic sword, whose blade, if need be, could strike of its own power. Thus armed he went forth on his quest; and through sorcery he constrained Gerd to promise a meeting with Frey; the appointed tryst was to take place after the lapse of nine nights, and in the interval Frey was beside himself with longing. Frey afterward missed his trusty sword; in a duel with the Giant Beli he was compelled to use the antlers of a stag to kill his opponent. When the end of the world comes, he will feel still more keenly the want of his sword. Snorri relates that his violent love for Gerd was a penalty laid upon him by Odin because Frey had ventured to sit in Odin's seat.

The worship of Frey was general throughout the North, and place names demonstrate that many sanctuaries were dedicated to him. [1] The Swedes showed particular zeal in the cult of Frey; and from Yngvi-Frey (Yngvi, Yngvifreyr, also Ing or Ingunar-freyr) in Uppsala, the family of the Ynglings, Norway's royal house, is said to have descended. There are accounts of horses dedicated to Frey, the so-called Manes of Frey. In Sweden a priestess of his cult was given to Frey for a wife, with whom he is supposed to have lived in actual marriage.

  1. See § 86 of the Norwegian original.
On Frey

Page 16, line 24 — Frey means literally "he who is foremost," "the lord" (cf. Gothic, frauja, "lord"), and thus at first was not really the name of a god. His cult shows great similarity to the worship of Njord (Nerþuz), concerning which antiquity has brought evidence from the hand of the historian Tacitus. In the [292} Germania (chapter 40), he gives the following account of seven small confederated tribes on the peninsula of Jutland:

"These people join together in the common worship of Nerthus, that is, mother earth (Terram matrem), who they believe takes part in the migrations of men. On an island in the sea there is an uncontaminated grove, within which stands a consecrated wagon, covered with a pall. The priest alone is permitted to touch it. He perceives on which occasions the goddess is present in her sacred concealment (that is, the wagon); and when she sets in motion the vehicle, which is drawn by cattle, he escorts her with the most profound veneration. These are seasons of gladness, during which festivals are held at such places as she honors with her sojourn; men do not go to war or even so much as take a weapon in their hands; all things made of iron lie hidden under lock and key; quiet and peace are then the only aims of desire, until such a time as the goddess no longer wishes to visit the children of men, and the priest accordingly brings her back to the hallowed spot. Thereupon the wagon and the palls and — if such a thing be susceptible of belief — the goddess herself, are bathed in a secret lake. This service is performed by thralls, whom the water immediately swallows up. Hence come the mysterious fears and the devout uncertainties regarding that something which no man is permitted to see until he knows his death to be at hand."

Reminiscences of a similar worship of Frey are to be found in the romantic story of Gunnar Helming in the Flatey Book (I, 338) Men believed that the image of Frey was alive; and a young and fair woman was dedicated to the god as his priestess and given the title of his "wife." With her the god actually led a wedded life. She ruled, together with Frey, over the temple and all that appertained to it. During the winter Frey, dressed in the habiliments of men, rode in his wagon through the several parishes; the priestess accompanied him, and he was everywhere received as a welcome guest. Frey and his priestess — like Nerthus and her priest — represented the fertility of nature; wherever they appeared, good weather and bountiful harvests followed in their train. (In still a third source the wagon is to be met with; see just below).

Even in more recent popular customs the pagan pair, deities of fruitfulness, have maintained their ancient prerogatives: the fructifying power of Spring is personified in various ways, as a [293} young birch decked with wreaths and with feminine apparel, as a young girl crowned with a chaplet of leaves, as a young boy (cf. the "May-Count" in Denmark), or finally as a "May bride and groom" (cf. the "St. John's Bride" of certain localities in Norway).

As before mentioned, Frey is also called Yngvi, Yngvifreyr (more correctly Ingv-), and Ingunarfreyr. With these names may be compared Ing in a verse from the Anglo-Saxon: "Ing was first seen of men among the East-Danes, until later when he shaped his course eastward over the waters, and the wagon rolled in his wake." Just as many given names have been formed from Frey (Frøidis, Frøistein, etc.), so the element Ing (v)- is discoverable in numerous names, such as Ingeborg (Ingibjorg), Yngvild, Inge, Inga, and the like.

In the saga of Rafnkel, Priest of Frey, occurs the story of the horse consecrated to Frey, named Frey's-Mane. Rafnkel had forbidden others to ride the horse; a manservant who defied the prohibition paid for his disobedience with his life.

A kind of worship of horses, of which evidence presents itself in the Volsa þáttr (in the saga of Olaf the Saint, Flatey Book II, 331 ff.) no doubt has a close connection with the god of fruitfulness, Frey. Volsi, who here appears as the symbol of fecundity, is strongly reminiscent of the ancient Graeco-Roman cult of Priapus.

On the worship of the wedded divinities of fertility, see, among others, K. Krohn, Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen IV, p. 231 ff. Cf. A. Olrik, Danske studier 1907, p. 62 ff.; M. Olsen, Maal og Minne 1909, p. 17 ff., Det gamle norske ønavn Njarðarlog (Kristiania Videnskabsselskabs forhandlinger 1905), Hœrnavi (ibid. 1908); Lundberg and Sperber, Hœrnavi (Uppsala 1912); A. Olrik, Danmarks heltedigtning II (Copenhagen 1910), p. 249 ff.

The basic work on the lower divinities of fertility is Wilh. Mannhardt's Wald- und Feldkulte I-II, 2nd ed., Berlin, 1904-05). A number of such lower beings have been incorporated in, or have been collected about, the gods of fruitfulness; an example is Frey's servant, Byggvir (p. 87), originally a supernatural being whose special function was watching over the growth of barley (cf. M. Olsen, Hedenske kultminder i norske stedsnavne I, 1915, p. 106 f.). Another instance is that of Roskva, the girl who served as hand maid to Thor (note to p. 65). It should also be remembered that the Elves have a close connection with Frey; on p. 43 the [294} Elves are reckoned among the great troop of lower divinities who bear the common title of Sprites.

In other cases the servant of a god may be endowed with a name which really seems to have been a sobriquet of the god himself. So Skírnir (from the adjective skírr, "shining") was no doubt thought of as originally a name for Frey, "who directed the beams of the sun" (Snorri).

Ty (Tyr)

Ty (Týr), Odin's son with the daughter (?) [1] of the Giant Hymir, is bold and courageous; men call upon him in [17} battle, and he gives them courage and heroism. Therefore Tyr is the true god of war; he takes pleasure in bringing about strife, and he does nothing whatever for the promotion of concord. Captains and princes are designated after him, Kinsmen of Tyr. No small number of places in the North (mostly in Denmark) commemorate his name; and yet, few traditions connected with him have survived. He has but one hand; the other was bitten off by the Fenris Wolf. [2]

  1. Cf. p 66.
  2. On this myth see p 23.

On Ty (Tyr)

Page 17, line 9 — Toward the close of the pagan era, the worship of Tyr had fallen off very much, particularly because Odin had become the god of War. In earlier times Tyr doubtless held, among several of the Germanic peoples, the eminence as supreme deity; his name also is known from Old German, Zio, and from Anglo-Saxon, Tīw, Tīg. This name at first appears to have expressed the very idea of divinity. There exists, as a matter of fact, a plural of Týr, — namely tívar — which in the ancient poetic phraseology is used as a common noun meaning "gods" (for instance, valtívar, gods of battle; and in the singular, Hangatýr, "The God of Hanged Men," and Sigtýr (p. 8), which has come to be a name for Odin. A parallel case is Latin divus, "divine"; and both the Germanic and the Latin words have entered into the formation of a common Indo-European word for "heaven" and for "heavenly god," — Sanskrit Dyāus, Greek Zeus (from *Djeus), Latin Jupiter, genitive Jovis (from *Djov-, with the addition pater, "father").

Tyr has given his name to one of the days of the week: (r)sdagr, "Tuesday," Old German Ziestac, Anglo-Saxon Tīwesdœg (English Tuesday). This word is formed after the model of the Latin Martis dies (the day of Mars, God of War), French mardi. On the occurrence of Tyr in place names, see § 86 of the Norwegian original.


Heimdal(l) is another of the chief gods; according to report he was considered great and holy, and bore the appellation of the White God. He was born in a miraculous manner of nine Giant maidens, on the confines of the earth, in the morning of time; and he drew his sustenance from the earth. By some he was called Odin's son. His teeth are of gold; by night or day his vision spans a hundred miles of space; he is able to hear the growing of grass upon the ground and of wool on the backs of sheep; therefore he is a fit watchman for the gods. He dwells near Bifrost, which he guards against the Giants. He has an immense horn, the Gjallar-Horn; when he blows it, the sound is heard in all the worlds. His dwelling at the brink of heaven is known as the Mount of Heaven (Himinbjorg). For the rest, report has little to say of Heimdal. He is also called Gullintanni, by reason of his golden teeth; another of his names is Hallinskidi. [18} The skalds make frequent mention of him; gold they refer to as "Heimdal's Teeth," and to his sword they give the designation "hofuð (manns)," ie, "(man's) head," in allusion to an obscure myth. His horse bears the name of Goldtop.

On Heimdal(l)

Page 18, line 5 — Heimdal is also called Heimdollr (gen. dallar). On the origin of the name, see E. Hellquist, Arkiv för nordisk filologi VII, p. 171 f. The Prose Edda contains references to various legends about him; but many of these are to us nothing but dark sayings. The skalds sometimes call him [295} "Loki's enemy" or him "who seeks the jewel of Freyja" (cf. p. 79). Heimdal's head is called "sword"; the story runs that he was pierced through with the head of a man; with this subject is concerned the lay of Heimdallsgalder, according to which the head is designated as "Heimdal's death." Heimdal is the master of Goldtop; he is also the one who "shapes his course for Vågaskjaer and Singastein," where he fought with Loki for the Necklace of the Brisings; another name for him is Vindle. Ulf Uggason in the Húsdrápa made many verses on the subject of this story, according to which the two contestants were transformed into seals. Heimdal's nine mothers are mentioned by name in the Eddic poem, Hyndluljóð, as follows: Gjalp, Greip, Eistla, Eyrgjafa, Ulfrun, Angeyja, Imd, Atla, and Jarnsaxa. In the so-called "Saga-Fragment" which deals with Ivar Vidfadmir and Harold Hilditonn, king Gudrœd, Ivar's paternal uncle and Ingjald Illradi's son-in-law, is compared to Heimdal, who is here designated as the most stupid of the Æsir (Fornaldar Sogur I, 373). Curiously enough, a ram is sometimes called "Hallinskidi," for what reason has not been explained.


Bragi, son of Odin, is the god of eloquence and the art of poetry. Our forefathers thought of him as a venerable man with a long beard. After him, according to Snorri, all manner of minstrelsy is given the title bragr. Idun is his wife; to her belong the marvelous apples which restore youth to the sods when old age comes upon them.

On Bragi

Page 18, line 12 — The statement in Snorri's Edda according to which poesy has received the title bragr after the name of the god, is based on a misapprehension. The truth of the matter is just the reverse; the ancient language has a word bragr which means not only "minstrelsy," "poetry," but also "the foremost" (for instance, bragr ása, "the foremost of the Æsir," bragr kvenna, "supreme among women"). How the relationship between the god Bragi and the earliest named skald, Bragi Boddason, is to be understood, is a moot question. Sufficient grounds have not been advanced for the opinion that the god in reality is nothing more than the human poet elevated to rank among the gods. There are various statements in literature to the effect that at banquets it was a custom to drain a beaker, bragarfull (also, but less correctly, bragafull), and in so doing to make a solemn promise to perform some deed of note. This word is not derived from the god name Bragi but from the common noun bragr; accordingly, this was the beaker of him who was foremost (a hero-beaker). [296}


Forseti, the son of Balder and Nanna, is the god of justice and conciliation. Those who refer their disputes to him never go away unreconciled. The hall where he sits in judgment is known as Glitnir; its pillars are of gold and its roof is of silver. Forseti must have had no small number of worshippers; a reminiscence of the cult is to be found in a Norwegian place name, Forsetelund in Onsøy, Østfold.

On Forseti

Page 18, line 20 — Forseti literally means "he who has the first seat" (in a tribunal). The name is much like the name of a Frisian divinity, Fosite, which occurs, for example, in the combination Fositesland (Helgoland), and various scholars have supposed that Forseti is a relatively late adaptation of this foreign name.

Hod — Vali — Vidar — Ull

Concerning the four major gods Hod, Vali, Vidar, and Ull, few references are found in Norse sources. Hod, the son of Odin, is blind but vigorous; he it is who [19} unwittingly brings about the death of Balder; he is subsequently killed by Vali and he will not return until after the universe has come to destruction. Vali (also called by Snorri, less correctly, Ali) is the son of Odin and Rind. He has his own house in Valaskjalf, [1] and is a bold warrior and a good archer. He will neither wash himself nor clip his hair until he has taken vengeance upon Hod for the death of Balder, and he will survive the destruction of the universe. Vidar too shall return after Ragnarok. He is the son of Odin and the Giantess Grid, and next to Thor he is the strongest of the gods. He is called The God of Few Words. When Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, is come, he will avenge Odin by cleaving with his thick boot the throat of the Fenris Wolf. His dwelling is in Vidi. Ull is fair to look upon, a mighty bowman and ski-runner; men do well to summon him to their aid in single combat. He is the son of Sif and the stepson of Thor. His dwelling bears the name of Ydalir.

  1. This seems to be the meaning of Grímnismál, strophe 6. It is not clear whether the name is to be read Válaskjalf or Valaskjálf; if it is to indicate the dwelling of Vali, it must be Válaskjalf. In Snorri's Edda it is Odin who possesses Valaskjálf (cf. Valhalla); see above, p 5.

On Hod — Vali — Vidar — Ull

Page 19, line 20 — Hod is originally an ancient term for war or battle; it is found in masculine names among the various Germanic peoples (Old Norse Hoðbroddr; Old German Hadubrand, Haduberht; Anglo-Saxon Heaðubrond, Heaðubeorht, etc.).

On Vali's mother Rind, see p. 95. There also appears the story of how Odin got his son Vali.

Ullr is the same word as Gothic wulþus, "glory." The name no doubt designates him as an ancient god of the heavens; perhaps he was at first identical with Tyr. Place names indicate that the worship of him was general. [1] The name of his dwelling, Ydalir (i.e., "yew-dales"), harmonizes well with the attribution to him of skill as a bowman; bows were frequently made of yew, and the term for yew (ýr, from *iwa-, Anglo-Saxon īw, ēow, English yew; of. German Eibe) is often found in our ancient literature as a designation for the bow.

  1. See § 86 of the Norwegian original.

Hænir — Lodur

Hænir and Lodur are also reckoned, though very infrequently, among the gods. Hænir's name is found in the Prose Edda among the major divinities, and he appears besides as the companion of Odin. According to the Voluspá, Lodur takes part with Odin and Hænir [20} in the creation of man. These three "mighty and benevolent Æsir" once came down to the seashore, where they found Ask and Embla lying lifeless, without breath, without soul, and without blood; Odin gave them breath, Hænir gave them soul, and Lodur gave them blood and bodily color. According to the Prose Edda, however, it was the sons of Borr, namely Odin, Vili, and Ve, who created Ask and Embla. Odin, Hænir, and Lodur, or Odin, Vili, and Ve thus function as a sort of trinity of the Æsir. In the Gylfaginning something of the kind is to be found in Snorri's formulation of the ancient mythology, namely, the trinity Hár (The High), Jafnhár (The Equally High), and Þriði (The Third). At the end of the war between the Æsir and the Vanir, Hænir was delivered over to the Vanir as a hostage. [1] As the more complete account runs in Snorri's Ynglinga Saga: Hænir was a tall and handsome man, whom the Æsir declared to be well fitted to be made a chieftain; but for fuller security they sent the wise Mimir with him. Hænir was at once given leadership in Vanaheim, and all went well so long as Mimir remained at his side; but when Hænir, in the absence of Mimir, had to make difficult decisions, he invariably declared that "others must determine that." Whereupon the Vanir at length lost patience, killed Mimir, and sent his head back to the Æsir. On the evidence of Snorri's Edda, Hænir was also called The Fleet God or The Long-Footed God or The King of Eld (aurkonungr, Snorri's Edda I, 168). In the "Saga Fragment" mentioned below, [2] Rærek [21} Slængvandbaugi — brother of king Helgi and son-in-law of Ivar Vidfadmir — is compared with Hænir, who here is called the most timorous of the Æsir. Possibly other myths having to do with him have failed to survive.

  1. See p 4.
  2. See note to p 18, line 5.

On Hænir — Lodur

Page 21, line 5 — In a Faroese lay (Lokka Táttur), published by V. U. Hammershaimb in his Fœrøiske Kvœder I, 1851, p. 140 ff., Hœnir is mentioned together with Odin and Loki; he is here called the master of the swans. Likewise he appears with Odin and Loki in the story of Thjazi (p. 53) and in the story of Oter, brother of Regin the Smith (p. 169). All this may mean that Lodur, who is referred to in connection with Odin and Hœnir, is only another name for Loki.

Loki and his children

The twelve major deities in the mythology of the Eddas were, as already, enumerated, — in addition to Odin — Thor, Njord, Frey, Balder, Tyr, Heimdal, Bragi, Forseti, Hod, Vidar, Vali, and Ull. Next after these is mentioned, among the foremost Æsir, Loki or Lopt, although he is more properly to be counted their enemy. By race he was a Giant, his father being the Giant Farbauti and his mother the Giantess Laufey or Nal; yet he became the foster brother of Odin and was numbered among the Æsir. His brothers were Byleist (also called Byleipt) and Helblindi. Loki was well-favored, but crafty and malicious. To be sure, he was sometimes compelled to make good the evil he had done, and occasionally he even placed his cunning at the service of the Æsir in seasons of great need; yet in all that really mattered he remained their enemy and the secret friend of the Giants. Loki was the actual instigator of the death of Balder. At the last day he will reappear as one of the captains of the Giants, and his terrible progeny will cause much more harm than even he himself. With the Giantess Angerboda in Jotunheim he had three children: Fenrir, Jormungand, and Hel. Fenrir [22} was a ravening wolf, known also as the Fenris Wolf; Jormungand was a hideous, venom-spewing serpent; and Hel was a horrible hag. These three were fostered as children in Jotunheim, and the gods foreknew that Loki's offspring would work them great evil. Therefore the All-Father, Odin, commanded them to be brought before him. The gods forebore to put them to death, for the course of fate was not to be broken, neither was the sacred refuge of Valhalla to be contaminated; so the gods sought other means of being rid of the three. Hel they thrust into the depths of Niflheim to hold sway there and to receive in her abode all who should die of illness or old age, whether men or other beings of earth. Jormungand they hurled into the deep sea of the universe, where he grew and waxed so great as to be able to encompass the earth and to bite his own tail. Therefore he is commonly called the Midgard Serpent, since he holds all of Midgard encircled. The Wolf, on the other hand, was nurtured in Asgard and was so ferocious that none but Tyr dared to bring him food. When the gods saw that he was growing altogether too rapidly, they became much alarmed and undertook to bind him fast. They declared that they desired, just in sport, to try his strength by testing his ability to break a chain which they had provided for the purpose. The Wolf, falling in with their wishes, consented to be bound but at once burst his fetters. He did likewise with a second chain, twice as strong as the first. Then the All-Father sent Skirnir on an errand to certain Dwarfs living in the home of the Dark [23} Elves, to have them forge a chain that the Wolf should not be able to break asunder. The Dwarfs accordingly made a chain from the sound of a cat's footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of fishes, and the spittle of birds; this is the reason why the footfall of the cat no longer has any sound, why women have no beards, why mountains have no roots, and so on. The chain, called Gleipnir, was fine and soft as silk. The Æsir led the Wolf out upon the island of Lyngvi in the lake named Amsvartnir and there asked him if he would submit to being bound with Gleipnir. The Wolf, suspecting some trick, gave his consent only on the condition that one of them would place a hand in his mouth as an earnest of his release if the chain should remain unbroken. The Æsir, unwilling to take such a risk, looked doubtfully at one another; finally Tyr stepped forward and laid his hand in the Wolf's muzzle. The Wolf was then bound. The more he struggled to free himself, the tighter held the chain; by no means was he able to break it and, since the Æsir had no thought of letting him go, he bit off Tyr's hand. The Æsir drew the end of the chain through a great slab of rock, thrust it deep into the ground, and laid a huge boulder over it. The Wolf, mad with rage, snapped and bit at everything round about; but they thrust a sword into his mouth so that his jaws gaped wide. He howls dismally, and slaver runs from him like a river. Thus he shall lie bound till the world comes to an end; but then he will gain his freedom, will prove to be the worst enemy of the gods, and will [24} even swallow up Odin himself. But the Wolf will be killed by Vidar.

In regard to all the malicious tricks Loki played on the Æsir and the punishments he suffered in consequence, further accounts will follow. His wife was Sigyn, with whom he had several sons. Besides, he became in a peculiar manner the father, or rather the mother, of Odin's horse Sleipnir. It happened in this way. When Midgard had been created and the gods were meditating the building of a massive stronghold as a bulwark against the Giants, a Giant smith came forward and offered to build the stronghold in a year's time if he might have Freyja, the sun, and the moon by way of payment; but if on the first day of summer any part of the work remained undone, he was to receive no wages. The Æsir felt secure in making such a promise, and crafty Loki urged them on. But the building proceeded more rapidly than they had thought possible; for the Giant's powerful horse, Svadilfari, during the night pulled into place stones as huge as mountains. When only three days remained before summertide, the Giant was already busied with the castle gate, and the Æsir were growing uneasy; at no price whatever were they prepared to surrender Freyja, the sun, and the moon. They commanded into their presence Loki, whose bad counsel was the cause of their trouble, threatened him with death, and thus frightened him into promising to find a way out of their difficulties. Transforming himself into a mare, he ran whinnying out from the forest at evening just as Svadilfari was at his task of hauling stone. Svadilfari [25} broke loose and followed the mare into the woods, pursued in turn by the builder; that whole night not a stone was hauled, and thus the work was interrupted. The mason was enraged; but Thor crushed his head with Mjollnir. The mare — or Loki — later foaled Sleipnir, the world's fleetest horse, a grey with eight feet.

On Loki and his children

Page 25, line 7 — Loki was a sort of counterpart of the devil of Christendom. Sophus Bugge therefore has supposed that this figure shows the influence of Christian ideas (Loki, from the devil's [297} name, Lucifer). Axel Olrik (in the Festskrift til Feilberg [=Meal og Minne 1911] p. 548 ff.) has examined the problem of Loki from other angles, among them that of folklore, since later popular beliefs have preserved reminiscences of a nature divinity named Loki (in sputtering flames, in atmospheric heat waves, and the like; cf. note to p. 37). With reference to higher mythmaking, he distinguishes between Loki as the associate of Odin ("Odins-Loke"), Loki as the companion of Thor ("Tors-Loke") and Loki as the devil of the Æsir faith ("den onde Loke"); but traces survive which point back to a mythical paternal character, a benefactor of men who spreads the benefits of culture, a sort of Prometheus (the inventor of the fish-net, cf. p. 92, and the fire-bringer, Olrik's explanation of the myth of the Necklace of the Brisings, p. 79).

Most of the names of Loki's relations are difficult to explain. E. N. Setälä (Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen XII, 1912, p. 210 ff.) has contributed toward a solution by references to Finnish legendary materials which he ascribes to loans from Northern myths; cf. also A. Olrik, Danske studier 1912, p. 95 ff. Certainly the name Angerboda may be interpreted as "she who 'bodes,' warns of, misfortune or sorrow." Jormungand is "the mighty staff"; more common is the term Midgard Serpent, which no doubt is to be considered the original name of the monster.

The designations for material objects connected with the myth of the Fenris Wolf are no easier to explain; moreover, these names are not identical in the various manuscripts of Snorri's Edda. In, the Gylfaginning (Snorri's Edda I, 106 ff.) mention is made not only of Gleipnir, but of the two links that were broken, here called Lœðingr and Drómi. Here occur also the designations Lyngvi (an island) and Ámsvartnir (a lake). Furthermore, there is a reference to Gelgja, a rope attached to the chain; this rope is thrust through a slab of rock, Gjoll, while over the slab lies the stone þviti. Finally, the name of the river formed from the slaver of the Wolf is recorded by name, Ván (after it Fenrir is sometimes called Vánargandr). — In one of the manuscripts (Snorri's Edda II, 431) occurs a somewhat different terminology and also several other names than those listed above: Síglitnir, a barrow or hillock on Lyngvi; Gnjoll, the hole in the stone þviti, to which the Wolf is bound; through this hole is drawn the rope Hrœða, while Gelgja is the bar or stake that is placed before the hole. Here are mentioned also two rivers that run from the [298} mouth of the Wolf, namely Ván ("hope") and Víl ("despair").

The legendary motive used in the story of the Æsir's stronghold and its builder is well known. It is localized, among other places, in a large number of churches (the cathedrals of Lund and Throndhjem, etc.); and the reward may be, for instance, the sun or the moon or a person's soul, and the builder may be the devil or a Giant. See C. W. von Sydow, Studier i Finnsägnen och besläktade byggmästarsägner (Fataburen 1907, p. 65 ff., 199 ff., 1908 p. 19 ff.).

Hermod — Skirnir

Among various subordinate Æsir, who in their own right are powerful enough, but who virtually serve as retainers to the others, appear Hermod and Skirnir. Skirnir, Frey's servant, has already been discussed. [1] Hermod is the son of Odin, and bears the sobriquet, "the resolute"; he is employed in all sorts of errands and embassies. Odin himself presented his son with helmet and byrnie. Hermod is celebrated for his mission to Hel for the purpose of bringing Balder back again. It is Hermod and Bragi who go forth to meet Hakon the Good and to bid him welcome to Valhalla on Odin's behalf.

  1. p 15.
On Hermod — Skirnir

Page 25, line 19 — The name Skirnir is formed from the adjective skírr, "sheer," "shining." The term was originally probably a cognomen for Frey himself (cf. note top 16). Hermod (Hermóðr) means "he who is brave in battle."


Norse Mythology, Gods, Heroes, P. A. Munch, Literature  

Ng: Munch, Peter Andreas Norrøne gude- og heltesagn. Rev. ed. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1981.

Vik: Graham-Campbell, James, and Dafydd Kidd. The Vikings. London: British Museum Publications, 1980.

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