Norse mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic peoples, stemming from Norse paganism and continuing after the Christianization of Scandinavia, and into the Scandinavian folklore of the modern period. The northernmost extension of Germanic mythology, Norse mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes derived from numerous sources from both before and after the pagan period, including medieval manuscripts, archaeological representations, and folk tradition.
The source texts mention numerous gods, such as the hammer-wielding, humanity-protecting thunder-god Thor, who relentlessly fights his foes; the one-eyed, raven-flanked god Odin, who craftily pursues knowledge throughout the worlds and bestowed among humanity the runic alphabet; the beautiful, seiðr-working, feathered cloak-clad goddess Freyja who rides to battle to choose among the slain; the vengeful, skiing goddess Skaði, who prefers the wolf howls of the winter mountains to the seashore; the powerful god Njörðr, who may calm both sea and fire and grant wealth and land; the god Freyr, whose weather and farming associations bring peace and pleasure to humanity; the goddess Iðunn, who keeps apples that grant eternal youthfulness; the mysterious god Heimdallr, who is born of nine mothers, can hear grass grow, has gold teeth, and possesses a resounding horn; the jötunn Loki, who brings tragedy to the gods by engineering the death of the goddess Frigg's beautiful son Baldr; and numerous other deities.
Most of the surviving mythology centres on the plights of the gods and their interaction with various other beings, such as humanity and the jötnar, beings who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of the gods. The cosmos in Norse mythology consists of Nine Worlds that flank a central tree, Yggdrasil. Units of time and elements of the cosmology are personified as deities or beings. Various forms of a creation myth are recounted, where the world is created from the flesh of the primordial being Ymir, and the first two humans are Ask and Embla. These worlds are foretold to be reborn after the events of Ragnarök when an immense battle occurs between the gods and their enemies, and the world is enveloped in flames, only to be reborn anew. There the surviving gods will meet, and the land will be fertile and green, and two humans will repopulate the world.
Norse mythology has been the subject of scholarly discourse since the 17th century, when key texts were brought to the attention of the intellectual circles of Europe. By way of comparative mythology and historical linguistics, scholars have identified elements of Germanic mythology reaching as far back as Proto-Indo-European mythology. During the modern period, the Romanticist Viking revival re-awoke an interest in the subject matter, and references to Norse mythology may now be found throughout modern popular culture. The myths have further been revived in a religious context among adherents of Germanic Neopaganism.
The historical religion of the Norse people is commonly referred to as Norse mythology. In certain literature the terms Scandinavian mythology,North Germanic mythology or Nordic mythology have been used.
Norse mythology is primarily attested in dialects of Old Norse, a North Germanic language spoken by the Scandinavian people during the European Middle Ages and the ancestor of modern Scandinavian languages. The majority of these Old Norse texts were created in Iceland, where the oral tradition stemming from the pre-Christian inhabitants of the island was collected and recorded in manuscripts. This occurred primarily in the 13th century. These texts include the Prose Edda , composed in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and the Poetic Edda , a collection of poems from earlier traditional material anonymously compiled in the 13th century.
The Prose Edda was composed as a prose manual for producing skaldic poetry—traditional Old Norse poetry composed by skalds. Originally composed and transmitted orally, skaldic poetry utilizes alliterative verse, kennings, and various metrical forms. The Prose Edda presents numerous examples of works by various skalds from before and after the Christianization process and also frequently refers back to the poems found in the Poetic Edda. The Poetic Edda consists almost entirely of poems, with some prose narrative added, and this poetry—Eddic poetry—utilizes fewer kennings. In comparison to skaldic poetry, Eddic poetry is relatively unadorned.
The Prose Edda features layers of euhemerization, a process in which deities and supernatural beings are presented as having been either actual, magic-wielding human beings who have been deified in time or beings demonized by way of Christian mythology.Texts such as Heimskringla , composed in the 13th century by Snorri and Gesta Danorum , composed in Latin by Saxo Grammaticus in Denmark in the 12th century, are the results of heavy amounts of euhemerization.
Numerous further texts, such as the sagas, provide further information. The saga corpus consists of thousands of tales recorded in Old Norse ranging from Icelandic family histories (Sagas of Icelanders) to Migration period tales mentioning historic figures such as Attila the Hun (legendary sagas). Objects and monuments such as the Rök Runestone and the Kvinneby amulet feature runic inscriptions—texts written in the runic alphabet, the indigenous alphabet of the Germanic peoples—that mention figures and events from Norse mythology.
Objects from the archaeological record may also be interpreted as depictions of subjects from Norse mythology, such as amulets of the god Thor's hammer Mjölnir found among pagan burials and small silver female figures interpreted as valkyries or dísir, beings associated with war, fate or ancestor cults.By way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, comparisons to other attested branches of Germanic mythology (such as the Old High German Merseburg Incantations) may also lend insight. Wider comparisons to the mythology of other Indo-European peoples by scholars has resulted in the potential reconstruction of far earlier myths.
Of the mythical tales and poems that are presumed to have existed during the Middle Ages, Viking Age, Migration Period, and prior, only a tiny amount of poems and tales survive.Later sources reaching into the modern period, such as a medieval charm recorded as used by the Norwegian woman Ragnhild Tregagås—convicted of witchcraft in Norway in the 14th century—and spells found in the 17th century Icelandic Galdrabók grimoire also sometimes make references to Norse mythology. Other traces, such as place names bearing the names of gods may provide further information about deities, such as a potential association between deities based on the placement of locations bearing their names, their local popularity, and associations with geological features.
Central to accounts of Norse mythology are the plights of the gods and their interaction with various other beings, such as with the jötnar, who may be friends, lovers, foes, or family members of the gods. Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts. As evidenced by records of personal names and place names, the most popular god among the Scandinavians during the Viking Age was Thor, who is portrayed as unrelentingly pursuing his foes, his mountain-crushing, thunderous hammer Mjölnir in hand. In the mythology, Thor lays waste to numerous jötnar who are foes to the gods or humanity, and is wed to the beautiful, golden-haired goddess Sif.
The god Odin is also frequently mentioned in surviving texts. One-eyed, wolf and raven-flanked, with spear in hand, Odin pursues knowledge throughout the worlds. In an act of self-sacrifice, Odin is described as having hanged himself upside-down for nine days and nights on the cosmological tree Yggdrasil to gain knowledge of the runic alphabet, which he passed on to humanity, and is associated closely with death, wisdom, and poetry. Odin is portrayed as the ruler of Asgard, and leader of the Aesir. Odin's wife is the powerful goddess Frigg who can see the future but tells no one, and together they have a beloved son, Baldr. After a series of dreams had by Frigg of his impending death, his death is engineered by Loki, and Baldr thereafter resides in Hel, a realm ruled over by an entity of the same name.
Odin must share half of his share of the dead with a powerful goddess; Freyja. She is beautiful, sensual, wears a feathered cloak, and practices seiðr. She rides to battle to choose among the slain and brings her chosen to her afterlife field Fólkvangr. Freyja weeps for her missing husband Óðr, and seeks after him in faraway lands.Freyja's brother, the god Freyr, is also frequently mentioned in surviving texts, and in his association with the weather, royalty, human sexuality, and agriculture brings peace and pleasure to humanity. Deeply lovesick after catching sight of the beautiful jötunn Gerðr, Freyr seeks and wins her love, yet at the price of his future doom. Their father is the powerful god Njörðr. Njörðr is strongly associated with ships and seafaring, and so also wealth and prosperity. Freyja and Freyr's mother is Njörðr's sister (her name is unprovided in the source material). However, there is more information about his pairing with the skiing and hunting goddess Skaði. Their relationship is ill-fated, as Skaði cannot stand to be away from her beloved mountains, nor Njörðr from the seashore. Together, Freyja, Freyr, and Njörðr form a portion of gods known as the Vanir. While the Aesir and the Vanir retain distinct identification, they came together as the result of the Aesir–Vanir War.
While they receive less mention, numerous other gods and goddesses appear in the source material. (For a list of these deities, see List of Germanic deities.) Some of the gods heard less of include the apple-bearing goddess Iðunn and her husband, the skaldic god Bragi; the gold-toothed god Heimdallr, born of nine mothers; the ancient god Týr, who lost a hand while binding the great wolf Fenrir; and the goddess Gefjon, who formed modern day Zealand, Denmark.
Various beings outside of the gods are mentioned. Elves and dwarfs are commonly mentioned and appear to be connected, but their attributes are vague and the relation between the two is ambiguous. Elves are described as radiant and beautiful, whereas dwarfs often act as earthen smiths.A group of beings variously described as jötnar, thursar, and trolls (in English these are all often glossed as "giants") frequently appear. These beings may either aid, deter, or take their place among the gods. The norns, dísir, and aforementioned valkyries also receive frequent mention. While their functions and roles may overlap and differ, all are collective female beings associated with fate.
In Norse cosmology, all beings live in Nine Worlds that center around the cosmological tree Yggdrasil. The gods inhabit the heavenly realm of Asgard whereas humanity inhabits Midgard, a region in the center of the cosmos. Outside of the gods, humanity, and the jötnar, these Nine Worlds are inhabited by beings, such as elves and dwarfs. Travel between the worlds is frequently recounted in the myths, where the gods and other beings may interact directly with humanity. Numerous creatures live on Yggdrasil, such as the insulting messenger squirrel Ratatoskr and the perching hawk Veðrfölnir. The tree itself has three major roots, and at the base of one of these roots live a trio of norns, female entities associated with fate.Elements of the cosmos are personified, such as the Sun (Sól, a goddess), the Moon (Máni, a god), and Earth (Jörð, a goddess), as well as units of time, such as day (Dagr, a god) and night (Nótt, a jötunn).
The afterlife is a complex matter in Norse mythology. The dead may go to the murky realm of Hel—a realm ruled over by a female being of the same name, may be ferried away by valkyries to Odin's martial hall Valhalla, or may be chosen by the goddess Freyja to dwell in her field Fólkvangr.The goddess Rán may claim those that die at sea, and the goddess Gefjon is said to be attended by virgins upon their death. Texts also make reference to reincarnation. Time itself is presented between cyclic and linear, and some scholars have argued that cyclic time was the original format for the mythology. Various forms of a cosmological creation story are provided in Icelandic sources, and references to a future destruction and rebirth of the world—Ragnarok—are frequently mentioned in some texts.
According to the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda poem, Völuspá, the first human couple consisted of Ask and Embla; driftwood found by a trio of gods and imbued with life in the form of three gifts. After the cataclysm of Ragnarok, this process is mirrored in the survival of two humans from a wood; Líf and Lífþrasir. From this two humankind are foretold to repopulate the new, green earth.
With the widespread publication of translations of Old Norse texts that recount the mythology of the North Germanic peoples, references to the Norse gods and heroes spread into European literary culture, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain. During the later 20th century, references to Norse mythology became common in science fiction and fantasy literature, role-playing games, and eventually other cultural products such as comic books and Japanese animation. Traces of the religion can also be found in music and has its own genre, viking metal. Bands such as Amon Amarth, Bathory, and Månegarm have written songs about Norse mythology.
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Of even more importance is Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic scholar and politician, who did our knowledge of heathen religion such good service... he offers a scholarly portrayal of Old Norse mythology, which is admittedly heavily influenced by his Christian education and classical education, but remains nonetheless our most important medieval source for North Germanic mythology.
In Norse mythology, Freyja is a goddess associated with war, death, love, sex, beauty, fertility, gold, and seiðr. Freyja is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot pulled by two cats, is accompanied by the boar Hildisvíni, and possesses a cloak of falcon feathers. By her husband Óðr, she is the mother of two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi. Along with her brother Freyr, her father Njörðr, and her mother, she is a member of the Vanir. Stemming from Old Norse Freyja, modern forms of the name include Freya, Freyia, and Freja.
Loki is a god in Norse mythology. Loki is in some sources the son of Fárbauti and Laufey, and the brother of Helblindi and Býleistr. By the jötunn Angrboða, Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. By his wife Sigyn, Loki is the father of Narfi and/or Nari. By the stallion Svaðilfari, Loki is the mother—giving birth in the form of a mare—to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. In addition, Loki is referred to as the father of Váli in Prose Edda, though this source also refers to Odin as the father of Váli twice, and Váli is found mentioned as a Son of Loki only once.
In Norse mythology, Njörðr is a god among the Vanir. Njörðr, father of the deities Freyr and Freyja by his unnamed sister, was in an ill-fated marriage with the goddess Skaði, lives in Nóatún and is associated with the sea, seafaring, wind, fishing, wealth, and crop fertility.
In Old Norse, ǫ́ss is a member of the principal pantheon in Norse religion. This pantheon includes Odin, Frigg, Thor, Baldr and Týr. The second pantheon is known as the Vanir. In Norse mythology, the two pantheons wage war against each other, which results in a unified pantheon.
In Norse mythology, the Vanir are a group of gods associated with nature, fertility, wisdom, and the ability to see the future. The Vanir are one of two groups of gods and are the namesake of the location Vanaheimr. After the Æsir–Vanir War, the Vanir became a subgroup of the Æsir. Subsequently, members of the Vanir are sometimes also referred to as members of the Æsir.
In Norse mythology, Sif is a goddess associated with earth. Sif is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. In both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, Sif is the wife of the thunder god Thor and is known for her golden hair.
In Norse mythology, Fólkvangr is a meadow or field ruled over by the goddess Freyja where half of those that die in combat go upon death, whilst the other half go to the god Odin in Valhalla. Others were also brought to Fólkvangr after their death; Egils Saga, for example, has a world-weary female character declare that she’ll never taste food again until she dines with Freya. Fólkvangr is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. According to the Prose Edda, within Fólkvangr is Freyja's hall Sessrúmnir. Scholarly theories have been proposed about the implications of the location.
In Norse mythology, Gullveig is a being who was speared by the Æsir, burnt three times, and yet thrice reborn. Upon her third rebirth, Gullveig's name becomes Heiðr and she is described as a knowledgeable and skillful völva. Gullveig/Heiðr is solely attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional material. Scholars have variously proposed that Gullveig/Heiðr is the same figure as the goddess Freyja, that Gullveig's death may have been connected to corruption by way of gold among the Æsir, and/or that Gullveig's treatment by the Æsir may have led to the Æsir–Vanir War.
In Norse mythology, Óðr or Óð, sometimes anglicized as Odr or Od, is a figure associated with the major goddess Freyja. The Prose Edda and Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, both describe Óðr as Freyja's husband and father of her daughter Hnoss. Heimskringla adds that the couple produced another daughter, Gersemi. A number of theories have been proposed about Óðr, generally that he is somehow a hypostasis of the deity Odin due to their similarities.
In Germanic mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind and also hallowing and fertility. Besides Old Norse Þórr, extensions of the god occur in Old English as Þunor and in Old High German as Donar. All forms of the deity stem from a Common Germanic *Þunraz.
Máni is the personification of the moon in Norse mythology. Máni, personified, is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Both sources state that he is the brother of the personified sun, Sól, and the son of Mundilfari, while the Prose Edda adds that he is followed by the children Hjúki and Bil through the heavens. As a proper noun, Máni appears throughout Old Norse literature. Scholars have proposed theories about Máni's potential connection to the Northern European notion of the Man in the Moon, and a potentially otherwise unattested story regarding Máni through skaldic kennings.
In Germanic paganism, Nerthus is a goddess associated with fertility. Nerthus is attested by first century AD Roman historian Tacitus in his ethnographic work Germania.
Old Norse religion, also known as Norse paganism, is the most common name for a branch of Germanic religion which developed during the Proto-Norse period, when the North Germanic peoples separated into a distinct branch of the Germanic peoples. It was replaced by Christianity during the Christianization of Scandinavia. Scholars reconstruct aspects of North Germanic religion by historical linguistics, archaeology, toponymy, and records left by North Germanic peoples, such as runic inscriptions in the Younger Futhark, a distinctly North Germanic extension of the runic alphabet. Numerous Old Norse works dated to the 13th century record Norse mythology, a component of North Germanic religion.
Norse cosmology is the study of the cosmos (cosmology) as perceived by the North Germanic peoples. The topic encompasses concepts from Norse mythology, such as notions of time and space, cosmogony, personifications, anthropogeny, and eschatology. Like other aspects of Norse mythology, these concepts are primarily recorded in the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems compiled in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, authored by Icelander Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, who drew from earlier traditional sources. Together these sources depict an image of Nine Worlds around a cosmic tree, Yggdrasil.
Sól or Sunna is the Sun personified in Norse mythology. One of the two Old High German Merseburg Incantations, written in the 9th or 10th century CE, attests that Sunna is the sister of Sinthgunt. In Norse mythology, Sól is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson.
In Norse mythology, Sága is a goddess associated with the location Sökkvabekkr. At Sökkvabekkr, Sága and the god Odin merrily drink as cool waves flow. Both Sága and Sökkvabekkr are attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. Scholars have proposed theories about the implications of the goddess and her associated location, including that the location may be connected to the goddess Frigg's fen residence Fensalir and that Sága may be another name for Frigg.
In Norse mythology, the feminine Fjörgyn or Jörð is described as the mother of the thunder god Thor, son of Odin, and the masculine Fjörgynn is described as the father of the goddess Frigg, wife of Odin. Both names appear in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. A number of theories surround the names, and they have been the subject of scholarly discourse.
In Norse mythology, the sister-wife of Njörðr is the unnamed wife and sister of the god Njörðr, with whom he is described as having had the twin children Freyr and Freyja. This shadowy goddess is attested in the Poetic Edda poem Lokasenna, recorded in the 13th century by an unknown source, and the Heimskringla book Ynglinga saga, a euhemerized account of the Norse gods composed by Snorri Sturluson also in the 13th century but based on earlier traditional material. The figure receives no further mention in Old Norse texts.