Although Odin may have been the most powerful Norse god to have ever existed, Thor was the most popular one. Even in today’s pop culture, he is the one who dominates most of the stories shared about Norse deities, especially in Marvel’s Avengers. A lot is known about him including the fact that he is the God of Thunder, Odin’s son, and the main defender of the Norse pantheon against the giants. The only thing that perhaps equals or even surpasses his fame is his hammer, Mjolnir. Everyone is familiar with Thor’s famous hammer.
Mjolnir is the biggest symbol used to identify Thor. It has been mentioned many times in the Eddas, stories, and poems of how powerful it is. Although many people are aware of what Mjolnir is, still people wonder what is the meaning behind it besides being Thor’s hammer? That is what this post will be exploring. We will look into what Mjolnir is, where it came from and the meaning it carries as a symbol.
What Is Mjölnir?
Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, is by far the most iconic symbol in Norse mythology even today. It is probably the only one to have survived the Christianization period and remain a symbol of faith for those who still follow the old religion. Mjolnir is pronounced as ‘me-yol-neer’ but is written differently depending on the language. In Icelandic it is written as Mjölnir, in Norwegian, it is Mjølne, Mjølner in Danish, Mjølnir in Faroese, and Mjölner in Swedish.
The name Mjolnir is said to translate to the grinder or the crusher since it was derived from a Proto-Germanic word, meldunjaz which means ‘to grind’. It is an appropriate name for the god of thunder’s battle hammer. It is what gives Thor the immense power he holds, hence it is also considered the thunder weapon and often identifies with thunder and lighting. So, it comes as no surprise that the terms for lightning and thunder in Proto-Indo-European languages are connected to Mjolnir.
Given its fame, the hammer has been attested numerous times in Norse mythology including in both the Eddas. In the Poetic Edda, the hammer is mentioned in four poems. These include, Lokasenna, Þrymskviða, Hymiskviða, and Vafþrúðnismál. In the Prose Edda, it is mentioned twice, in the Skáldskaparmál saga that explains the origin of the hammer and Gylfaginning saga where three of Thor’s prized possessions are described, one of them being Mjolnir. The Kvinneby amulet dating back to the 11th century and found in Oland, Sweden, also contains inscriptions that attest to the existence of Thor’s hammer. It is described as a hammer with a large and heavy rectangular head with inscriptions on it and a short handle that only Thor can wield. The hammer works like a boomerang, in that when thrown it returns to where it was thrown from.
The Mjölnir Origin
The story of how Mjolnir was created and came to be in Thor’s possession is written in Prose Edda in the Skáldskaparmál saga. This story begins with Loki the god of mischief deciding it would be amusing to cut of goddess Sif’s long golden hair. Sif highly valued her hair and so she was disheartened when she woke up and found her lustrous golden locks were gone. Thor, Sif’s husband, was angered by this. He knew that Loki was the only one capable of such an act, and in his anger threatened to kill Loki for revenge. To save himself, Loki pleaded for a chance to set things right. He promised to find Sif a head of golden hair as beautiful if not more beautiful than her original hair.
Thor agreed to Loki’s request, which led Loki to travel to the realm of the dwarves. In Norse mythology, the dwarves were considered master craftsmen who created some of the most powerful items in Norse mythology as you will later see. While in Svartalfheim, Loki came across the two sons of Ivaldi and challenged them with the task of making Sif’s hair. Not only did the dwarves agree but also fashioned two other treasures, the famed spear Gungnir, and Skidbladnir the fastest ship. Being the god of mischief, Loki did not leave the realm of dwarves immediately. Instead, he approached two brothers Brokrr and Sindri, and tricked them into making three more items. He challenged them saying that they wouldn’t be able to create masterpieces like Ivaldi’s sons. The two dwarves agree on the condition that they would have Loki’s head if they completed the task.
Having agreed to their condition the two got to work. They created Gullinbursti, a golden boar that ran faster than any horse, and shone brightly in the dark. They also fashioned the Draupnir, a golden ring that multiplied by eight every nine nights. Lastly, when they were in the middle of creating Mjolnir, Loki disguised himself as an insect and bit the dwarves’ eyes to prevent them from completing the challenge. As a result, the dwarves made the handle of the harmer short instead of the standard length required for two hands to wield it. That was how Loki managed to escape with his life and the six items from the realm before the dwarves realized that they had been tricked.
He gave Sif the wig of golden hair. He gave Thor the Mjolnir to appease him and luckily Thor was strong enough to wield it with one hand. He then gave the Gungnir and Draupnir to Odin, the golden boar to Freyr, and kept the ship, Skidbladnir, for himself.
The Mjölnir Symbol meaning
Now that you know what Mjolnir is and where it came from, it is important to also understand the meaning behind it or rather what it represented. Although it is known as the battle weapon of the god of thunder, the Mjolnir symbol is said to have existed long before the Norse culture and religion.
Aside from being a fearsome weapon, praised for the ability to level mountains, is also considered a symbol of protection and security from evil. It was believed to have the power to secure the well-being of a community and was therefore used to bless important ceremonies like births, marriages, and even funerals. It was a ceremonial object used for hallowing or consecration rituals.
So, Thor’s hammer was not just a symbol of destructive power but also one of security and protection. People also wore it as an amulet in the past as a symbol of healing. Even today, believers of the modern Germanic Neopagan faiths still wear the Mjolnir amulet as a symbol of their faith. It is the surviving symbol that withstood the conversion to Christianity and many such amulets were discovered especially in regions where the conversion was rampant.
As you have seen, Mjolnir was an iconic symbol in the past, and even to date, it maintains its reputation. Believers of the Norse religion like the Asatru, even today wear the Mjolnir amulet as a symbol of protection and a sign of their faith. The symbol has even been adopted in places like the US as emblems for headstones and markers by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Even rock bands use the hammer as a preferred design for their album covers.