Norse mythology features a set of religious stories that give meaning to how the Vikings and the Norse people lived their lives, and why they valued highly complex characters. It identifies the different races of beings in Norse mythology, such as gods, giants, and goddesses. Out of all the races, the gods and giants feature the most in Viking myths and legends and other Icelandic literary works. Read on to learn more about them.
Norse gods’ mythology
The Norse gods are highly venerated in Norse culture, and they are one of the most powerful races to inhibit the nine worlds. The Vikings saw them as the protectors of Midgard (the world of humans) and mankind as well. While the gods all came from the same race of beings, they were divided into two tribes. The first was the Aesir and the second tribe was the Vanir.
The Aesir gods are often described as aggressive and warlike, unlike the Vanir gods. They lived in the world of Asgard, and their character depicts the raw power of nature. The Aesir gods strictly believed that the only way they would achieve an honorable death is if they went to war. Victory would give them credit, but falling in battle made all the other races of beings recognize the god as an honorable war god. Every time an Aesir God would refuse to go to war, he would be seen as a coward and shameful being.
The Vanir gods lived in Vanaheim and were a direct representation of the pacifistic aspects of nature. They were masters of magic, and sometimes the Aesir gods would consult their services. The Vanir gods also ensured that there was peace and order in all 9 realms.
While most of the Norse gods come from either the Aesir or the Vanir tribes, some gods were hybrids. They descended from the other races, such as humans and giants.
Also, the Norse gods were considered immortal because they could extend their lifespan and remain young for as long as they wanted to by eating Idunn’s apples of eternal youth. Some of the gods possessed great strength and had the ability to change their physical form.
Norse gods list
Some of the popular Norse gods were;
Odin was associated with vital aspects of Norse culture such as healing, royalty, wisdom, knowledge, wisdom, war, victory, frenzy, battle, and sorcery. He was married to goddess Frigg and was the ruler of Asgard, the world of the Aesir. He is described as a one-eyed and long-bearded creature that carried around a spear known as Gungnir. He was the father of Thor (the god of thunder) and Baldr (god associated with glamor). The Ravens Huginn and Muninn and the wolves Geri and Freki brought him information from the world of the humans. Additionally, he rode a flying, 8-legged steed Sleipnir across Asgard and Alfheim and into the underworld. He gained wisdom and more knowledge by drinking the mead of poetry and gives mankind the ability to be poetic. Also, Odin was involved in the creation of the world. He slew Ymir, the primeval giant, and gave life to the first two beings (Ask and Embla).
Odin’s hall was in Valhalla, which was known as the hall of slain warriors. Icelandic literary sources describe Valhalla as a blissful place that is roofed with shields. The slain warriors would feast on the flesh of a boar slaughtered every day and drink liquor that flowed from the udders of a goat. Under Odin’s leadership, the warriors would fight one another daily.
According to Norse mythology, Frigg was Odin’s wife and the queen of the Aesir gods. She was identified as the sky goddess and was associated with vital factors, such as fertility, marriage, lust, and motherhood. She played a very important role in Norse mythology. Most Icelandic literary sources describe her as a strong-spirited woman who was very beautiful. She paid tribute to her role as Odin’s wife and is further described as a calm, caring, and soft person.
Frigg’s legacy comes from a heartache that came from her son’s loss. Frigg and Odin had a son named Balder, whom she placed all her focus on. She had strong motherly instincts, which became even stronger after her son had a dream that predicted his death. When this happened, she went to every living thing in all the 9 worlds and demanded that none of them should harm her son. However, she couldn’t demand protection from the mistletoe. After the gods made a game that involved throwing objects, Loki joined the game and killed her son. His death crushed her completely. She went to the underworld to ask the queen of the underworld (Hel) to restore her son. Hel said that she would only do so if all living things could weep for Balder, so Frigg went around the 9 realms asking all living things to do so.
Balder/Baldr was the god of light, the summer sun, purity, and joy. He was the son of Odin and Frigg (the rulers of Asgard). Borr and Vali were his brothers, and he was the father of Forseti (with Nanna). He was described as a handsome, generous, and good being that was full of glamor and purity. Because of these characteristics, he was loved by all the beings from the 9 realms, especially by the gods. He owned Hringhorni, which was the greatest ship ever built according to Norse mythology, and his hall, Breidablik, was considered the most glamorous place in the world. His death was a great tragedy to the Aesir gods and foreshadowed the Ragnarok (end of the world).
Following the dream he had about his death, his mother asked all the beings in the world to vow that they wouldn’t hurt Balder. However, she couldn’t get the mistletoe to commit to the vow. With time, the gods made up a game that involved testing Balder’s mortality. They would throw any item at him and were fascinated by the fact that the objects (no matter their size or weight) would bounce off his body without bruising or scratching him. One day, Loki made a dart from the mistletoe and tricked Balder’s blind brother (Hoor) to throw it at him. Unfortunately, the dart pierced through him and killed him instantly. His mother couldn’t get everyone to weep for his son, so he couldn’t be restored, which greatly angered the Aesir.
Thor was the Norse god of thunder and was a great representation of strength in Norse culture. His powers over lightning and thunder had people associate him with agricultural abundance and fertility. Most Icelandic literary sources praise him for his bravery and might but condemn him for his rage. He owned a mighty hammer known as Mjolnir, a sturdy belt known as Megingjard, and powerful iron gloves that doubled his strength. He was the protector of Asgard and was ready to oppose anyone who tried to harm the Aesir gods or their realm. His greatest enemy was Jormungand (Loki’s son), who was thrown into the sea by Loki to prevent him from causing trouble.
Eventually, the serpent grew into a massive creature that surrounded the whole of Midgard with his body. Thor encountered his nemesis, Jormungand, when he was on a fishing trip. Due to his dissatisfaction with the ordinary size of whales, he decided to go further out sea to find more gigantic whales. To prevent a battle between the two, Thor’s companion cut the finish line. However, the two eventually battled during the Ragnarok. Thor’s son Magni inherited his hammer and used it to restore order, and his powers are retained.
Loki was the god of mischief and was half-god and half-giant. He was the son of a frost giant, but Odin adopted him into Asgard. While he had a few evil tendencies, he was more chaotic and always caused trouble wherever he went to or in anything he was involved in. He was a rascal and would often try to present solutions to the problems he caused in an attempt to save his life. Despite his mischievous nature, he played an important role in shaping Norse culture. Norse mythology predicts that Loki, the trickster god, was going to be responsible for the death of several Norse gods at the end of the world (The Ragnarok). He had a giant mistress known as Angroboda, and they gave birth to Fnerir (the giant wolf), Jormungand (the massive Midgard Serpent that was Thor’s nemesis), and Hel (the ruler of the underworld). Additionally, he conceived Sleipnir, Odin’s 8-legged steed, and had so many other children that influenced relations among the Norse people.
Also, he caused the death of Balder (Frigg’s son) by tricking his brother (Hoor) into throwing a mistletoe dart at him. As punishment, he was chained to 3 large boulders in a cave and a poisonous snake over his head. The dripping venom from the snake would make him twist in agony, but his wife held a bowl over his head to save him from the pain.
Initially, Freya was a member of the Vanir gods. However, she was sent to Asgard as a token of peace and eventually became a member of the Aesir. Freyja was considered the goddess of fertility, love, war, and death. She was the twin sister to Freyr and the daughter to Njord. She rode a boar that had golden bristles and scared pigs everywhere. She owned a chariot drawn by cats, and she would use it to visit her people. Her great hall was in the Folkvangar, where she received half of the heroes slain in battle after the other half went to Valhalla (Orin’s hall).
Also, she owned a glamorous necklace known as Brisingamen, made by the dwarves. Additionally, she taught all the Aesir gods the essential tricks and methods needed to perform witchcraft. People knew her as Gefn, Horn, Syr, and Mardoll. Also, she traveled across all the 9 realms weeping tears of gold in search of her husband. Also, she had a marvelous feathered cloak that was zealously sought after by all the gods and giants. Most Icelandic literary sources claim that the cloak played a role in matters affiliated with love and fertility, which is why she guarded it with all her heart and strength.
Freyr was a Vanir god associated with peace, prosperity, sacral kingship, virility, and plentiful harvest. He is considered a member of the Aesir because he started living with them after the Aesir-Vanir war. He was Njord’s (the sea god) son and his sister’s wife. Additionally, he was Freyja’s twin brother. He kept sacred horses at Trondheim, where his sanctuary was, and was greatly invested in the horse cult. The Aesir gods gave him a chance to rule over Alfheim, which was the world of the light elves. He rode Gullinbursti (a shining boar made by the dwarves) and owned Skidbladnir, a ship he could fold and carry in a poach whenever he didn’t need to use it.
Freyr fell in love with Gerdr, a female giant, but he had to make very many sacrifices. He had to give up his sword, which the Norse believe could fight on its own if it lands in the hands of the right person. The sword was the main reason why Freyr would win all his battles, but eventually, he had to choose his wife over it. Later after their marriage, he fought with Beli using an antler and was victorious, but he was killed by Surtr (a fire giant) at the Ragnarok because he was too weak.
Heimdallr, the half-Vanir/half-Aesir god, was a watchman of the Aesir gods. He was described as the whitest skinned of the gods and was revered as a shining god. He lived at the entry point to Asgard, and he guarded the rainbow bridge (Bifrost) that connected the Aesir to Midgard (the world of the humans). He owned the Gjallarhorn (ringing horn), which was loud enough to be heard in all 9 realms. He used the ringing horn to summon all the races of beings in Norse mythology during the Ragnarok. He was an insomniac and barely slept. Also, he could hear the grass growing in the meadows, and he could also hear wool grow on sheep.
Heimdallr had the ability to predict his opponent’s moves right before they occur, which gave him enough room to prepare for way and charge right. He could also sense the approach of harmful forces and had impressive military prowess. Additionally, he had some kind of connection to the World Tree, Yggdrasil. Most sources claim that he is bound to the tree or came from a splinter of the tree. Hel (the queen of the underworld and the daughter to Loki) was deeply attracted to Heimdallr and his extra-vigilant nature.
Hel is considered cruel, greedy, and fierce. Snorri describes her as a half-black, half-white creature that always has a grim on her face. Hel was the goddess-giantess that ruled over the underworld where the dead dwell (Hel). The name Hel meant ‘Hidden’ which was attributed to her dwelling which was buried beneath the ground. She was the daughter of Loki and Angrboda. Her brothers were Fenrir (the wolf) and Jormungand (the world serpent). Out of fear that she causes trouble in the human and god’s world, Odin appointed her as head of Nilfheimir (the underworld).
In some myths, her appearance is said to be half-corpse. She prominently features in the Death of Baldur, a great myth in Scandinavian history. Baldur (associated with glamor) was slain by Loki then the Aesir gods sent Hermod, to the underground world to retrieve his soul. Hermod had to plead with Hel, but she didn’t care. She claimed that she would only release Baldur if everything in the universe wept for him. The gods then commissioned everyone to do so, but only one giantess refused to do so. Because of that single refusal, Baldur was kept in Hel’s cold clutches, and she never changed her mind ever again.
Tyr was a Norse god of war, the formalities of conflict, and heroic glory. There is not much recorded about his origins because he was supplanted by Odin even though he was an important Celtic god. He was revered as the god of justice and oaths because he had a great link with nearly all the formalities of conflict. Most Icelandic literary sources describe him as a brave and selfless bring because he chose to subdue Frenir, the giant wolf. At the time, the Aesir gods wanted to keep Frenir chained up to prevent him from causing trouble in any of the 9 realms, especially Midgard and Asgard. France, however, broke every chain that bound him, so the gods decided to find a special chain that would bind him forever.
The Aesir gods then asked the dwarves to make a sturdy chain that was strong enough to withstand Frenir’s strength but light enough for him to fall into their trap. When the time to chain the giant wolf came, Frenir saw it as a suspicious move and refused to ‘test his strength’. He claimed that he would only accept to do so if one of the gods put their hand in his mouth as a sign of good faith. Although Tyr knew his hand would be bitten off, he put his hand in Frenir’s mouth and took the oath on behalf of the gods. Since then, he did everything with one hand and influenced oath-taking in Norse culture.
Vali was Odin’s son, and his mother was giantess Rindr. He was Thor’s half-brother as well as Baldr’s and Vidar’s half-brother. According to Norse mythology, he was born for the sole purpose of avenging Balder. To do this, he killed Hoor (Balder’s blind brother who threw the dart that killed Balder). Before killing Hoor, he grew to full adulthood within one day. Afterward, he proceeded to bind Loki to the 3 large boulders in the cave with his son’s (Narfi) intestines. One side of Narfi’s entrails stood under Loki’s shoulders, the other right under his loins, and the last one under Loki’s houghs. Immediately he chained the trickster god, the gods changed the bonds into iron so that they can keep Loki chained even longer. Initially, the gods thought that he would die once he avenged Baldr’s death. Instead, he became even stronger and was one of the gods that survived the Ragnarok.
Elli was the goddess of old age, and she possessed a heightened level of strength and power that didn’t necessarily match her elderly appearance. She was able to defeat Thor in a wrestling match called forth by Loki. Thor, Loki, and Bjalfi were in a hall of giants where their skill and strength were challenged. Because Thor was humiliated in a drinking challenge, the three wanted to get even, so they chose to challenge Utagard-Loki (ruler of the hall) to a wrestling match. However, Utagard-Loki asked him to fight the old wizened woman before he got to the giant. Goddess Elli brought Thor to his knees, and he was shocked by her power.
Norse gods and creatures
The gods and other creatures of the Norse world include;
- The Aesir gods and goddesses, who lived in the world of Asgard. Their role was to maintain the law and order of the cosmos.
- The Vanir gods and goddesses, who lived in the world of Vanaheim. They were associated with the natural world and aimed to ensure peace in the world.
- The giants were chaotic creatures and lived in Jotunheim. They were the enemies of the Aesir gods.
- The elves, who lived in Alfheim and are described as beautiful angel-like beings.
- The dwarves, who lived in Svartalfheim and are described as master craftspeople
- Ask and Embla, who were the first human beings to have ever been created
- Spirits of the land and human ancestors, who are a part of the pre-Christian Germanic religion
- Kvasir, who was the wisest one of them all
- Norns who were powerful beings and their whims eventually became the fate of all the other Norse beings
Norse gods of war
Back then, Vikings committed their lives to raid towns and battling their enemies. For this reason, they believed that the gods of war would help them emerge victorious in any battle that they found themselves in. So, who were these gods? They were Odin, Thor, Freya, and Tyr.
Odin was the chief god and the ruler of Asgard. He was associated with essential factors such as knowledge and wisdom, which the Viking rulers banked on wholeheartedly. The Vikings believed that if they were brave enough to go to battle, Odin would accept them into Valhalla (the hall of the slain warriors), where they can continue with their lives.
Thor was the god of thunder and lightning. The Vikings always carried a hammer that resembled Thor’s hammer. They believed that by doing that they would have the strength and courage they need to conquer their enemies.
Freya, the goddess of fertility, love, and marriage was greatly respected by the Viking warriors because she ruled over Folkvangr, where half of those who died in battle were sent. Also, she informed the existence of Viking shieldmaidens.
Tyr, on the other hand, was the god of justice and honor. He guided oath-taking before the Vikings went to the battlefield and was always consulted before legal decisions were made in Viking battles.