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Viking - 23: Ye Gods, and Other Big Fish* in the Norse Sea of Myth

Updated on December 14, 2017

"The best lives have they who are brave and open-handed. They are rarely sorry. The unwise fear always, fear having to repay hospitality".

Havamal

At the turn of the year, The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt at Juletid (Yuletide), the turn of the year
The Wild Hunt at Juletid (Yuletide), the turn of the year | Source
Asgard, home of the gods seen from Midgard, the world of men. Linking them is the rainbow bridge Bifroest, presided over by the all-seeing, all-hearing Heimdall - also known in another story as 'Rig' (cf)
Asgard, home of the gods seen from Midgard, the world of men. Linking them is the rainbow bridge Bifroest, presided over by the all-seeing, all-hearing Heimdall - also known in another story as 'Rig' (cf) | Source
Midgard mapped - the world of mankind, one of the nine worlds in Norse mythology from which Odin's ravens, his messengers bring news
Midgard mapped - the world of mankind, one of the nine worlds in Norse mythology from which Odin's ravens, his messengers bring news | Source

To understand the part the Norse (and largely all the Northern European) gods played in the lives of believers,

we need to look at the gods themselves - who reflect the nature of those who created them - in the lives of the Germanic migrants who left their homelands to explore other lands beyond the sea on Midgard (pron. 'Midyarth'), otherwise known as 'Middle Earth'.

Over the fullness of time, having entered and left the world of mankind, they faded into the subconscious as these Germanic tribes were converted - or just plain 'conned' - by Christian missionaries out to earn a niche for themselves in their god's house.

The power of the Christian church was carved out of Europe's polyglot population by the Franks and Goths initially, being closest to Christian Rome's influence. The Goths divided into two regions, the Visigoths in the Iberian peninsula and the Ostrogoths in the south-eastern Alps. These last would have been instrumental in pushing the Christian doctrine southward into the Balkans and eastward to the Magyar plain. There were also the Suevi, east of the Franks, the Vandals who migrated from the southern Jutland peninsula to north Africa (Libya), from where St. Augustine came to Kent. Additionally the Burgundians entered the 'Roman theatre', stemming from southern Scandinavia - Bornholm, from 'Borgundarholm', the Borgundar Isle and southern Sweden. Let's not forget the Normans and the Teutons, both from southern Scandinavia. The Normans turned their invasion of England in 1066 into a 'Crusade', and turned their eyes on the Mediterranean possessions of the Moorish and Byzantine riches in the pretence of furthering Rome's interests. The Teutons migrated eastward along the Baltic shore as far as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Plainly and simply a 'land-grabbing' exercise in the name of Christianity, but no more than what they have been up to in the days before the missionaries filled them with new zeal.

In the Reformation those same Germanic peoples would fight on opposing sides, the Normans, Franks and Goths for Rome, the others for Luther (what goes around, comes around)!

Back to the core of this Hub's business: the Norse/Germanic gods, their world and their neighbours. Firstly I shall take you through the gods themselves, along with their 'dependents' and their environs.

(1) The Gods and their stronghold, ASGARD.

AEGIR, god of the sea. His woman/wife is RAN, their 'hall' is beneath the waves near Hlesey;

AESIR, the gods who dwell in ASGARD, formerly warrior-gods led by ODIN;

ALLGROEN (All Green), the isle HARBARD (one of the aliases taken by ODIN) used as a refuge over five years;

ASGARD, the stronghold of the gods, originally just the AESIR, then also the VANIR;

BALDR/BALDER/BALDUR, youngest son of ODIN and FRIGG. Wondrous, wise and gentle (perhaps Christ presaged?), mistakenly killed by BLIND HOD at the instigation of LOKI in a fit of jealousy;

BEYLA, maidservant of FREYR, wife of BYGGVIR;

BIFROEST, burning three-coloured rainbow bridge between ASGARD and MIDGARD;

BILSKIRNIR, hall of THOR in ASGARD;

BOLVERK (Evil-doer), name ODIN took on his way to JOTUNHEIM/JOTUNHJEM to win the mead of poetry held in the vessel BODN;

BOR, son of BURI, father of ODIN, VILI and VE;

BRAGI, son of ODIN, god of poetry and word-skills, husband of IDUN;

BREIDABLIK, hall of BALDER in ASGARD;

BRISINGAMEN (Brising's Necklace), priceless neck jewellery - or possibly a belt?) bought by FREYJA from four of the dwarves;

BURI, forefather of the gods, licked from the ice below NIFLHEIM/NIFLHJEM by the cow AUDUMLA;

BYGGVIR, manservant of FREYR, husband of BEYLA;

DAG, son of NAGT and DELLING, rides around the world on his steed, SKINFAXI (Shining Mane);

JOERD 1. (Earth), daughter of NAGT and AUMAR;

JOERD 2.(Earth), goddess mother of THOR by ODIN (also known as FORGYN);

EINHERJAR, the dead heroes in VALHALL who fight by day and feast throughout the night, awaiting RAGNAROEK, the end of the world of the gods;

EIR, goddess of healing, perhaps one of the handmaidens of MENGLAD;

ELDIR, man of fire, a servant of AEGIR;

FAFNIR, son of the farmer-sorcerer HREIDMAR, brother of OTTAR;

FATHIR, forbear of the noble-born;

FENSALIR (Water Halls), hall of FRIGG in ASGARD;

FIMAFENG, one of AEGIR'S household retainers;

FJOERGYN, mother of THOR by ODIN, probably an earth-goddess also known as JOERD*;

FOLKVANG (Folk-field), part of ASGARD where hall of FREYJA stands;

FORSETI, god of justice, son of BALDER and NANNA;

FREYJA, daughter of NJORD, foremost of the VANIR fertility goddesses;

FREYR, son of NJORD, foremost of the male VANIR;

FRIGG, wife of ODIN, first among the goddesses;

GAGNRAD, alias taken by disguised ODIN when calling on the giant VAFTHRUDNIR;

GEFION, fertility goddess linked with the plough - tricked GYLFI the King of the Svear out of part of his kingdom modern-day Sjaelland/Zealand, Denmark;

GIMLI, hall to be peopled by the ruling gods of the world after RANGAROEK;

GJALL (Ringing-horn), horn of the god HEIMDALL/HJEMDALL that can be heard throughout the nine worlds;

GLADSHEIM/GLADSHJEM (Home of gladness), resting place of the gods on the plain of IDA, where ODIN and the higher gods had their thrones;

GLITNIR, hall of FORSETI in ASGARD, built from silver and gold;

GRIMNIR, another alias of ODIN, when he calls in disguise on foster-son GEIRROD, king of the Goths;

GULLINBURSTI (Golden-bristle), golden boar made by two of the dwarves for LOKI to give to FREYR;

GULLINKAMBI (Golden-comb), cockerel that wakes the EINHERJAR in VALHALL and warns the gods of the advent of RAGNAROEK;

GULLINFAXI (Gold-mane), giant HRUNGHEIDNIR'S steed on which he lost a race against ODIN mounted on SLEIPNIR;

GULLVEIG, one of the VANIR (also known as HEID) burned thrice by the AESIR - she may also be the goddess FREYJA;

HARBARD, Ferryman (ODIN in disguise) who wrangles with THOR;

HEIDRUN, goat that gives milk unendingly to the EINHERJAR in VALHALL;

HEIMDALL/HJEMDALL, son of nine mothers, this god owned the horn GJALL and was the watchman of the gods - he is also linked with RIG, creator of the three races of mankind;

HERMOD, son of ODIN, who tried to bring his brother BALDER back from HEL;

HIMINBJORG (Rocks of Heaven), Hall of the god HEIMDALL/HJEMDALL in ASGARD;

HLIDSKJALF (Hill or Rock Cleft), high seat of ODIN in VALASKJALF from which he could oversee all that went on in the nine worlds;

HODR/HODER, Blind son of ODIN who unwittingly killed his brother BALDER with a sprig of mistletoe on the instigation of LOKI - he will come back after RAGNAROEK;

HODMIMI'S HOLT (Hodmimi's Wood or Copse), another name for YGGDRASIL;

HONIR, Long-legged god known as a ditherer, sent by the AESIR to seal their truce with the VANIR;

HUGINN (Thought), one of ODIN'S two ravens - the other is MUNINN (Memory);

HVERGELMIR, Spring in NIFLHEIM/NIFLHJEM below one of YGGDRASIL'S roots, from it spring the eleven rivers known as the ELIVAGAR;

IDAVOLL (Field of Deeds), Plain in the middle of ASGARD, site of GLADSHEIM/GLADSHJEM and VINGOLF where the main gods meet in council;

IVING, River that runs between ASGARD and JOTUNHEIM/JOTUNHJEM;

JARL (Noble-born), claimed as son by god HEIMDALL/HJEMDALL and was taught the runes and their meaning;

KON, son of JARL, also learned the runes and could understand the 'tongues' of the wild-fowl;

KVASIR, described as one of the VANIR and as a wise man made from the spittle of the gods - slain by two of the dwarves, and the mead of poetry was brewed from his blood;

LAERAD, another name for YGGDRASIL;

LIF, man who hides in YGGDRASIL who survives RAGNAROEK and re-populates earth with a fellow survivor, the woman LIFTHRASIR;

LODDFAFNIR, one of mankind who found his way to the Well of URD and ODIN'S hall and learned wisdom from the gods;FREYJA

LOFN, Goddess who smiled on undesired unions;

LOKI, one of the VANIR, handsome, easy-come, easy-go sort of mischief-maker (son of two of the giants), often known as the 'sly one', 'the trickster', 'shape-changer', 'sky-traveller' - he turns more evil as time goes by, causes the death of BALDER through Blind HOD, caught and bound trying to flee in the shape of a salmon, he is kept in a cave until RAGNAROEK;

MAGNI (Might), son of THOR by the giantess JERNSEAXE (Iron Seax) - he and his brother MODI will inherit the hammer MJOELLNIR after RAGNAROEK;

MENGLAD ('Necklace Glad'), the woman sought and won by SVIPDAG, the son of the seeress GROA - she is linked closely with FREYJA;

MIMIR, wise god sent by the AESIR to the VANIR to seal their truce and is killed by the VANIR - ODIN kept his head and set it down by the Well of MIMIR;

MIMIR'S WELL, Well of wisdom beneath one of the roots of YGGDRASIL under JOTUNHEIM/JOTUNHJEM - guarded by the head of MIMIR;

MJOELLNIR, hammer of THOR made by the dwarves BROKK and EITRI, a totem of destruction, fertility and resurrection;;

MOTHIR, forbear of the nobly-born;

NAGLFARI, ship built from the nails of the dead that will bear the giants to the last battle at RAGNAROEK;

NANNA, wife of BALDER, daughter of NEP;

NARVI, son of LOKI by SIGYN, killed by his own brother VALI, and LOKI was bound with his innards - also known as NARI;

NJORD, one of the VANIR or fertility gods, father of FREYR and FREYJA - married SKADI - he is linked with the wind and the sea;

NOATUN (Shipyard or haven), hall of NJORD in ASGARD;

NORNS, the three old crones, seers of men's fates - URD is Fate (as in Angles' and Saxons' WYRD), SKULD is Being and VERDANDI is Need;

OD, lost husband of FREYJA - she weeps endlessly for him but he will never come back;

ODIN, father of THOR, first and foremost of the AESIR, god of poetry, slaughter and death - he has many other names, of which are ALLFATHER, the 'Terrible One', 'One-Eyed' and the 'Father of Warring';

ODROERIR (Heart-Stirrer), a cauldron that holds the Mead of Poetry brewed from the blood of Wise KVASIR;

OTTAR, Human lover of FREYJA, disguised as the boar HILDISVINI - one of his forefathers was the folk hero SIGURD;

OTTER, son of farmer-sorcerer HREIDMAR - killed by LOKI and ODIN, HONIR and LOKI had to pay a ransom of red gold to his father in retribution;

RAGNAROEK (End of the gods' powers), last battle between gods and giants, bringing in all creatures and almost all life ends, the nine worlds flooded;

RAN, wife of AEGIR, she dragged down drowning men with her net;

RATATOSK (Swift Tooth or Rat's Tooth), squirrel that runs up and down YGGDRASIL, bearing insults between the eagle that dwells in the uppermost branches, and the serpent NIDHOEGG that dwells at its foot and gnaws away at its roots;

REGIN, son of farmer-sorcerer HREIDMAR, brother of OTTER and FAFNIR;

RIG (Kingdom), name taken by the god HEIMDALL/HJEMDALL when he made the three races of men;

RIND, goddess, mistress of ODIN, who had a son VALI by him;

RINGHORN, BALDER'S ship in which he and NANNA were cremated;

ROSKVA, farmer's daughter and sister to THJALFI who becomes a servant to THOR on his expedition to UTGARD;

SAGA, goddess who drinks daily in company with ODIN in her hall, SOKKVABEKK in ASGARD;

SESSRUMNIR (Seat-Rich), hall of FREYJA in ASGARD;

SIF, wife of THOR, her golden hair was shorn as a prank by LOKI - the dwarves spun a skein of gold to look like her own hair;

SIGYN, faithful wife of LOKI who tried to keep the snake's venom from his forehead when he was bound and left in cave before RAGNAROEK;

SJOFN, goddess who aroused man's passions;

SKIDBLADNIR (Wooden-Bladed), ship that could be gathered in - one of the three valuable gifts made by the sons of the dwarf IVALDI for FREYR;

SKIRNIR, messenger of FREYR who won the giantess GERD for his master;

SLEIPNIR, Eight-legged steed of ODIN, sired by the stallion SVADILFARI on LOKI in his guise as a mare and given to the ALLFATHER as a peace-offering;

SOKKVABEKK (Sinking Floor), hall of SAGA in ASGARD;

SON (Blood), one of the jars that holds the Mead of Poetry brewed from KVASIR'S blood;

SVIPDAG (Swift Day), human son of the seeress GROA who seeks and wins MENGLAD;

SYN GODDESS, invoked by defendants at trials;

TANNGNOST (Tooth-grinder) and TANNGRISNI, the goats that draw the chariot of THOR;

THJALFI, farmer's son who becomes servant of THOR, greatly fleet of foot but outstripped by HUGI (Thought) in a running race at the hall of UTGARD-LOKI;

THOR, son of the ALLFATHER and JORD (or FJORGYN), husband of SIF, second in rank only to ODIN himself amongst the gods, as well as being their guardian - god of the sky and thunder as well as of fertility, evenly linked with upholding of law and order in MIDGARD, the most common of his names being Thunder God and Charioteer;

THRUD, daughter of THOR, promised by the gods to the dwarf ALVIS;

THRUDHEIM (Might's Home), kingdom of THOR within ASGARD, sometimes known as THRUDVANG, site of his hall BILSKIRNIR;

TYR, god of war, son of ODIN (or the giant HYMIR, Snorri was unsure) - bravest of the gods, who gave one hand in order that the gods could bind the wolf FENRIR;

ULL (Bright), god especially linked with bowmanship and skiing;

VALI (1), son of LOKI and SIGYN, turned into a wold by the gods and who killed his own brother NARVI/NARI;

VALI (2), son of ODIN by his giantessmistress RIND, born to take revenge for the death of his half-brother BALDER;

VALASKJALF (Shelf of the Slain), Hall of ODIN in ASGARD;

VALHALL/VALHALLA (Hall of the Slain), Great hall where ODIN sat overseeing the EINHERJAR who fought and feasted and awaited their last battle at RAGNAROEK;

VALKYRIES (Choosers of the Slain), Good-looking, nubile young women who whose the men fated to die in battle, the EINHERJAR, to bring them to VALHALL;

VANAHEIM/VANAHJEM, Kingdom of the gods of fecundity/fertility, the VANIR, who later joined the AESIR in ASGARD;

VAR (Oath), Goddess who hears wedding oaths and punishes those who go back on their oaths;

VIDAR, son of ODIN by the giantess GRID, who will avenge the end of the ALLFATHER and outlive RAGNAROEK;

VIGRID (War-Shaker), Plain of ASGARD said to be 120 leagues in each direction, or as a hundred miles square, on which the last battle will be fought between the gods and men of the EINHERJAR on one side, and the giants and monsters on the other;

VILI and VE, brothers of ODIN, sons of BOR, grandsons of BURI;

VINGOLF, hall in ASGARD in which the goddesses have their high seats;

VOR, Goddess from whom nothingcould be hidden;*

YDALIR (Yew Dales), hall of the god ULL in ASGARD;

YGGDRASILL (The Terrible One's Steed), the World Ash Tree that bound the worlds together by its roots and gave shelter


Next -

24: Giants, Monsters and Dwarves.

25: Fanfare for the Common Man

* The title for this page derives from a phrase you'd hardly hear any more: "Ye gods and little fishes!"


The Gods that made men make their Gods in their own image

Odin, the Allfather with Yggdrasil the World Ash Tree - the Norsemen and Aengle venerated the ash. On Odin's shoulders are his ravens, Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory)
Odin, the Allfather with Yggdrasil the World Ash Tree - the Norsemen and Aengle venerated the ash. On Odin's shoulders are his ravens, Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory) | Source
Odin rides Sleipnir, a peace offering from Loki who gave birth to the eight-legged stallion - a car sticker you'll stand out with in the car park!
Odin rides Sleipnir, a peace offering from Loki who gave birth to the eight-legged stallion - a car sticker you'll stand out with in the car park! | Source
Thor rides his goat chariot - among the names he goes by is 'Charioteer'. In his left hand you can see his hammer, Mjollnir, scattering sparks of lightning
Thor rides his goat chariot - among the names he goes by is 'Charioteer'. In his left hand you can see his hammer, Mjollnir, scattering sparks of lightning | Source
Here's a version of Mjollnir you won't see very often, as in the picture above emanating lightning. If you're a Giant be afraid, be very afraid
Here's a version of Mjollnir you won't see very often, as in the picture above emanating lightning. If you're a Giant be afraid, be very afraid | Source
Stone carving of a bound and chained Loki at Kirkby Stephen in eastern Cumbria - he escapes as a salmon only to be caught and chained again, the jaws of his son Jormungand dripping poisonous saliva on his forehead
Stone carving of a bound and chained Loki at Kirkby Stephen in eastern Cumbria - he escapes as a salmon only to be caught and chained again, the jaws of his son Jormungand dripping poisonous saliva on his forehead | Source

Reading list (pretty short, so it'll be easier to look back on):

EDDA, Snorri Sturlusson, transl. and ed. by Anthony Faulkes, publ. David Campbell Publishers 1987, publ Everyman 1987-2004 (J.M. Dent, Orion Publ. Group), ISBN 0-460-87616-3 - a scholarly overview of Norse mythology set down by the Icelander Snorri Sturlusson, accompanied by notes on author and editor, Chronology of Icelandic literature and the main tellings (Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmal, Hattatal);

NORSE MYTHS - Gods of the Vikings by Kevin Crossley-Holland, publ. originally by Andre Deutsch 1980, publ. by Penguin 1982 as The Norse Myths, reprinted 1993 with present title, ISBN 0-14-025869-8 - similar to the EDDA, re-told broken down into 32 shorter tales with an introduction and extensive notes by the author;

ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF THE VIKING AGE, by John Haywood, publ Thames & Hudson 2000, ISBN 0-500-28228-5 - a copiously illustrated (b&w) A-Z of the Viking World, its myths, its best-known figures and the lands involved in Viking expansion with subject index, maps, chronological table, kings and rulers and sources of illustrations - a must to understand the age.

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF NORSE MYTHS by Kevin Crossley Holland, publ. Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-025869-8, a lively account from the creation of the world to Baldur's death and the subsequent Ragnarok by way of the binding of Fenrir the wolf and the banishment of Jormungand, Loki's Flyting and Thor being duped into drinking the sea dry.

THE GOSPEL OF LOKI, Joanne M Harris, publ Gollancz., ISBN 978-1-473-20236-8, a different take on the Trickster God's antics that leads to the end of the gods - an epic fantasy

Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age - see above for details, if you only buy one book on the subject, this is a good introduction. I've had mine since it was published in 2000. I wouldn't be without it.
Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age - see above for details, if you only buy one book on the subject, this is a good introduction. I've had mine since it was published in 2000. I wouldn't be without it.

Gods and beliefs

Mistletoe - Odin's younger son Baldur could only be harmed by arrows made of mistletoe twigs. Loki tricked Blind Hodr into loosing off a mistletoe arrow at Baldbur
Mistletoe - Odin's younger son Baldur could only be harmed by arrows made of mistletoe twigs. Loki tricked Blind Hodr into loosing off a mistletoe arrow at Baldbur | Source
Blind Hodr aims his bow at Baldr - the mistletoe arrow brings down Odin's favourite son
Blind Hodr aims his bow at Baldr - the mistletoe arrow brings down Odin's favourite son | Source

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