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Norse Pantheon

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The golden age of the Norse/Normans/Vikings lasted from about 780 to 1070 CE (shortly after the Battle of Hastings), and Norse paganism survived in Iceland to the 11th Century. As such, its mythology is among the most developed, and contains influences of Christianity. As with the Celts, it was largely an oral tradition; some of the myths are "memory" poems, collections of riddles, myths, and names. While many of the myths have been captured (notably by Snorri Sturluson in his Prose (or Younger) Edda, and by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum, much of the mythology, particularly in relation to some of the goddesses, has been lost.

Another literary source is the Volsunga Saga, centring on the hero Sigurd, who as Siegfried, was a key figure in the thirteenth-century German epic Das Nibelungenlied. This, in turn, was the source of Richard Wagner's operatic cycle Der Ring der Nibelungen. Some of its themes (notably the cursed ring) were popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings.

The Norse was a culture of primogeniture; the oldest inherited everything. The other sons went "viking", taking them on raiding parties to the west as far as Newfoundland, east into Russia, and south through the British Isles and as far south as Constantinople, where they made up the Emperor's guard.

Iceland, the last stronghold of Norse paganism, is a land of fire and ice, so it is not surprising that the world begins the same way, in the meeting of Musspellheim and Niflheim.

Nine Worlds: on three levels, supported by the ash tree Yggdrasill

Aesir: Warrior gods who dwell in Valhalla, led by Odin.

Vanir: Gods of fertility, possibly related to the Finnish gods chronicled in The Kalevala.

Giants: Represent the forces of chaos; use physical force, trickery and magic

Dwarves: Ugly, misshapen, and greedy; master smiths and magicians, malicious, lusting after women, power, and gold

Light Elves, Dark Elves: (similar to the Dwarves), and residents of Niflheim are inactive in the myths.

Gods:

Odin: (Wotan, Wodin) "All-Father"; god of battle, patron of poets; god of the dead; husband of Frigg

Balder: son of Odin and Frigg; husband of Nanna

Thor: son of Odin (and Fjorgyn, the Earth Goddess), husband of Sif

Tyr: (Tiw/Tiwaz) son of Odin

Other sons of Odin:

Bragi: god of poetry and eloquence; husband of Idun

Hermod: journeys to Hel on Sleipnir after Balder's death to bargain for his return

Hod: blind and gentle god, throws the mistletoe dart (aimed by Loki) that killed Balder

Vali: son of goddess Rind; conceived to avenge Balder's death; killed Hod (do not confuse with god of same name, son of Loki)

Vidar: son of giantess Grid, will kill Fenrir to avenge Odin's death

Other Gods:

Aegir: god of the sea; his wife is Ran, and they dwell in their hall beneath the sea by the isle of Hlesey

Andvari: dwarf who owned a treasure hoard (including a ring), and cursed it when it was wrested from him by Loki, as ransom for the death of Otter, son of the farmer-magician Hreidmar.

Freyr: Vanir -- most important fertility god; son of Njord; brother of Freyja

Heimdall: Vanir: watchman of the gods, who guards the rainbow bridge Bifrost between Asgard and Midgard

Honir: one of the Aesir traded to the Vanir with Mimir after the war

Kvasir: According to one version, wisest of the Vanir; according to another, a wise man created from the spittle of the gods. Killed by two dwarfs, the mead of poetry was brewed from his blood.

Loki: the trickster of all trickster gods: dynamic, unpredictable, unstable, and flawed

Mimir: god of wisdom, traded to the Vanir after the war. His head was cut off by the Vanir, but Odin preserved it, giving it the power of speech.

Njord: senior god of the Vanir; god of the sea and of winds, ships and sailors, fishing and fertility

Goddesses: Freyja: Vanir: foremost goddess of love and fertility, daughter of Njord and sister to Freyr

Frigg: wife of Odin, daughter of Fjorgyn, goddess of the earth

Idun: wife of Bragi; keeper of the apples of youth. Tricked by Loki to leave Asgard, she was kidnapped by the giant Thiazi (father of Skadi), who lusted after her

Nanna: loyal wife of Balder, threw herself on his pyre and went to Hel with him.

Norns: The three goddesses of destiny: Urd (Fate), Skuld (Being), and Verdandi (Necessity)

Sif: wife of Thor; fertility goddess. After her natural hair was shorn by Loki on a whim, it was replaced with hair of spun gold

Skadi: frost giantess, goddess of skiing, hunting, and snowshoeing

Other Goddesses: Equal in importance to the Aesir, but whose stories have largely been lost:

Eir: goddess of healing

Gefion: Vanir: goddess of agriculture and plowing, possibly related to Freyja and Frigg. Slept with a king, and was rewarded with as much of Sweden as she could plow with four oxen in a single night; used her four giant sons, and plowed out the island of Zeeland.

Lofn: goddess of illicit unions

Saga: goddess who was a drinking-buddy of Odin

Sjofn: goddess of human passion

Snotra: a wise, gentle, and self-disciplined goddess

Syn: goddess invoked by defendants at trials

Var: goddess who heard and enforced the marriage oath

Vor: goddess from whom nothing could be hidden

Copyright © 2001 by Hergest
Revised - March 5, 2001

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