The Norse Gods and Mythology
The Norse Religion centered around Scandinavia, which is the modern day countries Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.
Even though we don't know as much about the Norse gods as we do about the Greek and Roman gods, they are very influential in our stories, movies, even our day-to-day lives. Marvel based a comic book series off of Thor, the god of thunder, where he was really an alien and not a god, and, of course, he joined the Avengers. Neil Gaiman's book, American Gods, taking place in twentieth-century America where the gods are washed-up has-beens fighting with the new gods of technology. The gods also make appearances in Eoin Colfer's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, K.A. Applegate's Everworld, and, rumor has it, will soon be featured in Rick Riordan's work as well. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also heavily influenced by Nordic mythology. Even though we don't really notice it, the stories of these gods live on, even in the days of the week.
The Vikings believed that the world an ash tree called Yggsdrasil. In the top of the tree was Asgard, the land of the gods. Then there was Alfeim below it, which is the home of the light elves. Below that was Midgard, or Middle Earth, which is where the humans live. The tree is supported by three roots. The first root is Urd's well, a well where the three Norns, Past, Present, and Future control fate. The second root is Mirmir's well, the place where Odin lost his eye to gain wisdom. At the third root is a serpent who constantly gnaws at the roots. A squirrel named Ratatosk travels through the branches as a messenger for all the worlds.
Odin, also known as Wotan (and the namesake for the day Wednesday), is considered the Allfather of gods, and the king of Asgard. All of the other gods serve him. He is the god of the war and poetry. and he often travels to Midgard to visit the humans, live among them, and teach them, however Odin has a general disregard for justice and respect for laws. Even though he was worshiped for his honor and nobility, he can often be a trickster. He is usually in disguise, but his hat pulled over his empty eye socket is a tell-tale sign for who he is.
Being a war god, Odin is known for happily provoking otherwise peaceful nations to fight. He also only blesses the warriors he deems worthy, like Starkaðr and the Volsung family. He does not care about the outcome of the war so much as the chaos and bloodshed the war brings, which he thrives off of. However, he also seeks wisdom as well as chaos, and he will go to great lengths to achieve his goal.
In one myth, Odin goes to Mirmir's well to find wisdom. Mirmir is supposed to have unmatched knowledge, so Odin thinks drinking from his well will give him what he needs. But when he asked Mirmir for a drink, Mirmir said he could only drink if he sacrificed one of his eyes. So Odin gouged out one of his eyes, and dropped it in the well, and in return, he was able to drink the waters of wisdom. From these waters, he realized he needed to sacrifice himself on the Yggdrasil to obtain more knowledge, so he hung himself and stabbed himself in the stomach with his sword on the Yggdrasil, and stayed there for nine days and nine nights. Vikings often sacrificed their victims in the same fashion in honor of Odin.
Thor is the god of thunder and the namesake for Thursday. He's one of the mightiest gods, and the son of Odin and Jord, the earth goddess. He has his home in the region Thrudheim, or the place of might. He is married to Sif, a fertility goddess, and keeps a mistress named Jarnsaxa. He has three children, Magni, Modi, and Thrud. He was one of the most popular gods to look to for protection against evil, even more than Odin because he did not need human sacrifices, but he has a quick temper and can be impulsive and reckless when angry.
Thor is a big man with bright red hair, fierce eyes, and a particular fondness for food and drink. During a thunderstorm, Thor rides through the skies on his chariot pulled by two goats and lightning flashes every time he smashes his hammer, Mjullnir. Mjullnir was forged by two dwarves who make many things for the gods.
His greatest enemy is the serpent Jormungand, who surrounds the world and eats his own tail. It was said that during Ragnarak, Thor would kill the serpent with his hammer, but then he would die from its poison.
As the god of light, innocence, reconciliation and purity, Balder is the most liked of the gods by deities and humans alike. He is known for his friendly nature and intelligence more than his power. He is married to Nanna, daughter of Nep, and is father of Forseti, god of justice.
The most famous story about Balder is his death. When he is haunted by dreams revolving around his death, the goddess Frigg goes to every living thing in all of the realms and swears them to an oath saying that they would not harm Balder. All of them agreed. It wasn't long before the gods began using Balder as target practice for entertainment, fascinated with the way their weapons bounced harmlessly off of him. He became known throughout Asgard and Midgard as being invincible.
But Loki grew jealous of Balder's fame. So he paid a visit to Frigg in disguise, asking her if there truly was nothing that could harm Balder. Frigg confessed that everything took an oath but a plant called mistletoe, which she thought was too small to take the oath. So when Balder was being used for target practice, Loki approached Balder's blind brother Hod with a piece of mistletoe, and told him to throw it at Balder. Not knowing it would hurt Balder, Hod throws the mistletoe with his throw guided by Loki. The mistletoe hits Balder in the heart and kills him.
Grieved by Balder's death, Odin sent his son Hermod to Hella, the goddess of the dead to ask for Balder to be released from the Underworld. Hella said that Balder would be released when everything both living and dead wept for him. Everything did weep for Balder. Except for Loki, who refused to. So Balder stayed in the underworld. Nanna died of a broken heart and her body was placed next to her husband's on a funeral pyre which was placed on Balder's ship, Ringworld. The pyre was set on fire and the ship was sent out to sea. Hod died for the murder of his brother. He and Balder will rise again when the new world is born from Ragnarok.
Freya is the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and material possessions. She has the reputation for being one of the more loose and pleasure-seeking deities, but she is also known for seidr, the most organized form of Norse magic which she introduced to gods and humans alike. Practitioners in seidr were called volvas, and Freya was one of the greatest. She is an expert in manipulating desires, health, and prosperity and because of that, her power and knowledge is practically unequaled. She rules Folkvang in the afterlife, and chooses only certain warriors killed in battle to inhabit it.
Freya can be just as nonchalant about adultery as many of the gods, which is unfortunate for her husband Odr. Not only has she slept with slaves on at least one occasion, but she is also accused by Loki to have slept with all of the gods and elves. Playing the field is also a trait of the goddess Frigg, queen of the gods and wife of Odin. Frigg sleeps with Odin's brothers Vili and Ve. In addition to that, she's a volva like Freya and the names of their husbands sound so similar that there is debate on if they are two separate goddesses at all even though the sources that provide what little we know of Norse mythology present them as two separate goddesses.
Hella is the daughter of Loki and the giantess Angurboda. She is half human, half corpse and rules the nine realms of Helheim where she decides the fate of those who die from sickness or old age in her hall, Elivdnir, which means "Cold Sleet". She does not have any children and her loneliness can make her bitter and vengeful at times. However, the gods respect her as the ruler of the Underworld, and she can be powerful and fierce.
She's often associated with dogs because of her watchdog Garnr who guards the gates of Helheim, and she's also associated with several plants, including holly, yew, and elder.
Hella lived with her parents and her two brothers, Fenri and Jormungand. Fenri was a wolf that served Odin after Odin banished his brother Jormungand, who rapidly grew until he surrounded the world and came back to eat its own tail, and after he banished Hella to Helheim, repulsed by her appearance and fearful of her becoming evil.
Loki is the trickster god. He is full of cunning and has no problem tricking someone, as demonstrated with the death of Balder. Even though he is considered a god of Asgard, he is different than most of the other spirits of the Norse religion. His father is a giant named Faubauti which means "Cruel Striker". The species of his mother, Laufey, however, is unknown.
Loki is a shape-shifter, which is how he became the father of Fenrir, a wolf, Jormungand, a serpent, and Hella, who is half-human, half-corpse. Not only that, but he is the mother of Sleipnir, Odin's horse, which he gave birth to after successfully shape-shifting into a mare and seducing the stallion Svaðilfari.
He's often portrayed as a schemer and a selfish coward, who lives only for himself. But he can be helpful, playful, and malicious in turn. For instance, when he infuriates the giant Thiazi, Loki must kidnap the goddess Idun or Thiazi would kill him. Loki obeys and takes the goddess to Thiazi, but then the gods of Asgard threaten to kill him if he doesn't bring Idun back. So he turns into a falcon and retrieves Idun, carrying her to Asgard in his talons. He's chased by Thiazi who transformed into the form of an eagle. Thiazi almost catches them, but Loki and Idun make it to Asgard just in time. The gods light a fire that burns Thiazi to death while Loki and Idun arrive at the hall of the gods. So for both kidnapping and rescuing Idun, Loki was only self-serving and too much of a coward to refuse.
Even though he aids the gods in the end in the Kidnapping of Idun, he joins the giants during Ragnarok and fights the gods with them. He and the god Heimdall kill each other in the end.
Norse Mythology: Yggdrasil http://www.viking-mythology.com/yggdrasil.php
Odin. Norse Mythology for Smart People. http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/odin/
Balder. Encyclopedia Mythica. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/b/balder.html
Freya. Norse Mythology for Smart People. http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-vanir-gods-and-goddesses/freya/
Scandinavia. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scandinavia
Hella the Norse Goddess. Goddess Guide. http://www.goddess-guide.com/hella.html
Hel. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hel_%28being%29
Loki. Norse Mythology for Smart People. http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/loki/