Heimdall, pronounced as HAME-doll, is one of the names you might have heard mentioned more than a couple of times if you watched the History Channel TV show Vikings – one of the few very enthralling TV shows that actually give you a glimpse of the Viking way of living while exposing you to a nice, though-provoking semblance of what life was like then. This name was used to make reference to a powerful god in Norse Mythology, and the name was, therefore, passed around too often, and you really wouldn’t miss it! But I digress – I realize that this isn’t exactly what you had in mind when you clicked the link to this article. So, how about a deep dive into one of the notable names in Norse Mythology and the world of Vikings as we know it!
What is Heimdall the god of?
Heimdall, as mentioned above, is pronounced as HAME-doll and is spelled as Heimdallr going by Norse etymology. Heimdall is one of the more popular gods in Norse Mythology – this god is one of the Aesir gods and also the ever-vigilant guardian of Asgard, the gods’ stronghold.
Heimdall’s dwelling place is known as the Himinbjörg, which translates to Sky Cliffs, connoting the idea of a high place akin to a fortress. This fortress is said to sit at the top of Bifrost, which is the rainbow bridge leading to Asgard. Naturally, this is the most befitting spot for a highly vigilant god and a guardian of Asgard.
To fulfil his job, Heimdall has the lowest sleep requirement, and the god sleeps less than a bird does, but just like the most powerful and perceptive eagle, Heimdall is known for the most powerful eyesight that allows him to see for miles and miles on the horizon and through hills, plains, mountains, rivers, lakes, and sea – a role expected of him during the day and at night. But it’s not just his eyesight that makes Heimdall one of the most revered gods in Norse Mythology; he also has a highly reliable and acute sense of hearing, that he can hear wool growing on the back of sheep or grass growing on sheep. So, on this bridge that leads to Asgard, Heimdall watches and listens while holding the horn known as the Gjallarhorn or the Resounding Horn at the ready. He blows the horn instantly the moment he sees and/or hears intruders approaching, which means that while danger would be imperceptible to the gods, Heimdall would take note and warn them in good time.
Heimdallr Norse Mythology
As mentioned above, Heimdall or Heimdallr, in Old Norse, is the guardian or the watchman of the gods. He’s also been referred to as the Shining god and also the whitest-skinned of the Norse gods. Heimdall dwells at the gates that lead to Asgard and warns of attacks by the giants by resounding the Gjallarhorn horn. By resounding the horn which could be heard throughout the heavens and earth, and even the lower world, Heimdall summons the gods when the giants- enemies drew near at Ragnarok.
During Ragnarok, which is defined as the cataclysmic destruction of the entire cosmos along with everything in it, including the gods, the gods would be aware of their looming doom when they heard the dire call signaled by the Gjallarhorn, a sign of the imminent arrival of the enemies of the world, the giants.
In Norse Mythology and most of the pre-Christian mythologies that guided the Norse and the Germanic People, it was believed that there existed spiritual beings with powers equalling the two tribes of the gods – Aesir and Vanir – two equal and opposing spiritual beings and powers; think, good and bad, but with existing intertwining cosmological principles. The giants were on one side of this, and there were very much dreaded given their size and power, not to mention the fact that they would put up a fight against the Aesir (good?) gods. The giants were also known as devourers. The Aesir is said to be the protectors and the benefactors of human civilization, while the giants (devourers) were always at war, constantly working on dragging back the Aesir civilizations back to chaos. The giants are, therefore, the forces associated with decay, destruction, and entropy.
With the anticipated arrival of the giants following the sounding of the horn by Heimdall, Heimdall would also be taking the warning sign upon himself since the arrival of the giants would also mean him facing off with the disloyal Loki. Loki and Heimdall would eventually slay each other and sink to the sea as the world burned.
A dive into Old Norse poetry shows that some of the verses from the poems are interpreted in a way that indicates how Heimdall was at a time considered the father of all mankind and how he might have been the one who established the Norse’s society’s hierarchical structures.
In addition to the possibility of Heimdallr being the father of all mankind as we know it, the other thing worth noting about this god is that Heimdall, like the rest of the Norse deities, is Odin’s son. And in an interesting twist of events, a feat only possible among the gods and not humankind or biological creatures in general, Heimdall was born from not one but at least 9 mothers. Today, some of the scholars who’ve taken a keen interest in Heimdall note that Heimdall’s 9 mothers is synonymous with sea giant Aegir’s 9 daughters. This has been refuted by other scholars, though.
Heimdallr – Powers and Abilities
Heimdall’s power and primary role in Norse mythology is that he is the Watchmen of all the other Norse gods, the guardian of Asgard, and the god that faces off against Loki during Ragnarok.
- Given his role, Heimdall is better known as the all-seeing guardian of Asgard, responsible for guarding Bisfrost, the Rainbow Bridge.
- Heimdall’s other powers and abilities include: Heightened Senses, Slowed Aging, Superhuman Durability, Superhuman Strength, Odinpower, and Sword-fighting.
- An interesting story about the life of Heimdall is one belief that says Heimdall would, on occasion, abandon his post and go out on adventures under the disguise of the name Rig, meaning King. So, on one of these adventures, he came across and returned Freya’s Treasure, an amber necklace or the Brisingamen, after a battle with Loki (disguised as a seal – Loki had stolen the necklace).
Sentry of Asgard
Norse Legend holds that Heimdall, along with his sister, Sif, is born of 9 mothers that personified the sea. Heimdall is, therefore, renowned for his very heightened perceptions, and after besting Agnar the Fierce and Gotron the Agile on one fiery contest, Heimdall was appointed as Bifrost’s guardian, and he was appointed the Sentry of Asgard by Odin.
Heimdall has, therefore, been portrayed as one of the most powerful Aesir gods and protectors of Asgard. He has superhuman strength and that enthralling Asgardian durability, not to mention the extraordinarily acute senses (extrasensory) capabilities that allow him to see and feel leaves falling or to sense the essence of life throughout the Nine Words of Asgard. He also has the power to focus on specific sensory pieces of information while also being able to block it all out if he chooses. And since he doesn’t really need sleep while aging at a super-slow rate (not immortal) thanks to his habit of regularly consuming the mystical Apples of Idunn, which are believed to be what keep Heimdall’s Vitality at its highest, at all times.
In addition to resounding the horn, Gjallarhorn, Heimdall also wields shields, swords, and in few cases, actual Odin Power.
This Sentry of Asgard sports a golden-maned steed known as the Gulltopper (Gold Top).
Heimdall is a male god born of Odin (father) and 9 mothers (wield the sea, also said to be sisters). He has one sister, Sif.
Heimdall’s 9 mothers were sisters, and in theory, Heimdall is the son of 9 daughters of Aegir, the sea god.
In Norse mythology, therefore, Heimdall is referred to as the Father of all humankind, which has to do with the fact that Heimdall is said to have established the Hierarchical structures in which the Norse Society lived. To prove this, an Old Norse poem titled Rigsthula mentions that Heimdall actually slept with three totally different human couples, all belonging to different social classes, for 3 nights. These social classes were the nobles, serfs, and peasants. The couples were named – Great Grandparents, Grandparents, & Parents.
It is said that Heimdall’s firstborn was a strong but ugly son who was called Thrall and is the ancestor of all the serfs. Thrall was followed by Carl, a skilled farm worker and the ancestor to all the peasants, and then came Jarl, the strong and fair one and also the ancestor to all nobles and warriors. Jarl also had a strong intellect and impressive hunting skills. He was also great at combat. The names of these three sons of Heimdall have since been used in Old Norse to denote the three social classes recognized in the Norse Language.
Heimdall was also known as Hallinskidi, which means Ram or Gullintanni that means Golden Teeth – his ‘golden teeth’ is why he was associated with rams and sheep sometimes. His Sword is the Head, and he’s been equated with Dyaus, a Vedic Deity or Archangel Michael by Christians.