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Serious about Norse mythology and don’t know the place to begin? We’ve received you lined! Right here’s every part it’s essential to know in regards to the fundamentals of Norse mythology (plus slightly extra).
Norse mythology is filled with fascinating tales and sophisticated characters. It’s no marvel that it has seen a resurgence in reputation in recent times, from Marvel’s Thor films to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (the book and the TV series) to Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series.
Nevertheless, regardless of their reputation, the unique myths stay shrouded in thriller, with debates raging on what sure occasions imply, who wrote what, and even whether or not the tales are the identical ones that the Vikings instructed.
Due to this fact, we determined to gather all our articles about Norse mythology into one place to be able to offer you a primary rundown of the characters, occasions and areas, and their historic context.
Think about this information a type of Mead of Poetry (however higher as a result of nobody died whereas scripting this, and also you don’t should drink something that Odin vomited up whereas he was a chook… yes, that is a thing that happened).
Introducing Norse mythology
The story of Gylfaginning begins with King Gylfi of Sweden travelling to Ásgarðr (Asgard) disguised as an previous man named “Gangleri” to ask the Æsir questions in regards to the universe.
He meets Óðinn (Odin), who can be disguised and presents himself as as three kings named “Hárr” (Excessive), “Jafnhárr” (Simply-as-Excessive) and “Þriði” (Third). Gylfi asks permission to ask his questions and Odin replies:
“Stand ahead whilst you inquire;
The one who recounts shall sit.”
Whereas we gained’t insist that you just stand whereas studying this weblog publish, we will hopefully reply any questions that you might have about Norse mythology.
Creation: “Early of ages, when nothing was…”
At first, there have been solely two realms: Niflheimr (Niflheim), the realm of mist and ice, and Múspellsheimr (Muspelheim), the realm of fireside. Between them was Ginnungagap, or the void. The place the warmth and chilly from these two realms met, steam was created, which collected in Ginnungagap and finally created Ymir, the primary jötun, and Audhumla, the primary cow.
Learn extra: Norwegian Mythology & Folktales
Since these have been the primary two beings in existence, life should have been slightly boring for them. Ymir would move the time by ingesting Audhumla’s milk and Audhumla would lick a salt block, which finally took the type of Búri, the primary of the Æsir.
Búri had a son named Bor, who in flip had three sons: Odin, Vili and Vé. These three brothers then killed Ymir and used his physique to create the universe.
The 9 worlds of Norse mythology
The Norse universe consists of 9 worlds. These worlds are solely referenced a couple of occasions all through the myths and aren’t specified, however are regarded as (in no explicit order) Asgard, Vanaheimr (Vanaheim), Jötunheimr (Jotunheim), Niflheim, Muspelheim, Álfheimr (Alfheim), Svartálfaheimr (Svartalfheim), Niðavellir (Nidavellir), and Miðgarðr (Midgard) – which is our world.
These worlds are related by an ideal ash tree named Yggdrasil, which runs by way of the centre of the universe. An eagle lives on the high of Yggdrasil, whereas the dragon Niðhöggr (Nidhogg) lives on the backside and chews on its roots. The squirrel Ratatosk runs up and down Yggdrasil’s trunk, carrying messages between these two creatures – and so they’re not significantly good messages both.
Along with holding every part collectively, Yggdrasil can be a supply of knowledge and is the place the Æsir typically collect for conferences. On the foot of the tree is Urðarbrunnr (Urd’s effectively), which is related to the three Norns or “fates”.
Below one other root is Mímisbrunnr (Mímir’s effectively), which is the place Odin gave up his eye as fee for a drink to be able to achieve the effectively’s information. It’s also thought that Yggdrasil is the tree that Odin hung himself on, once more within the pursuit of data.
The Norse Gods
There are two tribes of gods in Norse mythology: the Æsir and the Vanir.
The Æsir are the principle gods in Norse mythology and stay in Asgard. Notable Æsir embrace Odin, Þórr (Thor), Frigg, Heimdall, Týr, Bragi, Iðunn (Idunn), Baldr, and Loki (although not all the time).
Not a lot is thought in regards to the Vanir aside from that they stay in Vanaheim. Notable Vanir embrace Njörðr (Njord) and his two youngsters, Freyr and Freyja, who got here to stay in Asgard as hostages to make sure peace following the Æsir-Vanir struggle.
Regardless of being hostages, Njord, Freyr and Freyja are shortly accepted by the Æsir. Freyja and Odin even break up the souls of lifeless warriors between them, with half going to Freyja’s meadow, Fólkvangr, and the opposite half going to Odin’s halls, Valhalla.
Who goes the place is set by the Valkyries, who acquire the souls of these “fortunate” sufficient to have died in battle and carry them to their vacation spot.
The Monsters of Norse Mythology
The Æsir and the Vanir could also be gods, however they hardly ever behave effectively or honorably. Equally, whereas this part is entitled “Monsters”, not all of the creatures described right here commit monstrous acts.
Apart from the Æsir, the opposite major group of characters in Norse mythology are the Jötnar, who stay in Jotunheim. Jötnar is commonly translated as “giants”, however that is deceptive as nearly all of them are human sized.
Some Jötnar are exceedingly stunning and a few are terribly ugly, and the Æsir spend most of their time both preventing the jötnar or marrying them. Notable Jötnar embrace Skaði (Skadi), Gerðr (Gerd), Surtr (Surt) and Ymir.
Loki can also be categorised as a Jötunn, as his father was a Jötunn, and Norse mythology is patrilineal, which implies that membership to a household or group is set by way of the daddy. Nevertheless, the subject will not be with out debate.
Along with the Jötnar, are the Ljósálfar (Mild Elves) who stay in Alfheim and the Dökkálfar (Darkish Elves) who stay in Svartalfheim. Little is thought in regards to the Mild Elves, however “Darkish Elves” could also be one other identify for the Dwarfs, who additionally stay in Svartalfheim.
The Dwarfs are stated to have been made out of the maggots that ate Ymir’s lifeless flesh and stay underground within the darkness. This portrayal of the Dwarfs will not be significantly flattering, however what they lack in magnificence, they make up for of their talent in blacksmithing and crafting.
The Dwarfs are liable for creating a few of the Æsir’s most useful possessions, together with Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer), Gleipnir (the chains that bind the Fenris-wolf), and Sif’s golden hair after Loki shaved her bald off as a joke.
Nevertheless, whereas the Dwarfs are very helpful to the Æsir, the Æsir don’t worth them as equals and are in battle with them as typically as they’re in want of their assist.
Learn extra: Creatures in Norse Mythology
Ragnarök: The Twilight of the Gods
It’s a widespread false impression that Ragnarok is the top of the world. Fairly, it’s the finish of the present world order – though this doesn’t make it any extra nice to undergo. In keeping with the völva in Völuspá:
“Brothers will combat,
bringing loss of life to one another.
Sons of sisters
will break up their kin bonds.
Arduous occasions for males,
age of axes, age of swords,
shields break up,
wind age, wolf age,
till the world falls into destroy.”
The Æsir don’t fare significantly better: Odin is killed by Fenrir, who’s in flip killed by Odin’s son, Víðar (Vidar). Thor and Jörmangand, the Midgard Serpent, kill one another. Surt kills Freyr earlier than destroying Midgard with fireplace.
Nevertheless, after all this loss of life and destruction, a brand new world rises up. Some Æsir survive Ragnarok, together with Thor’s sons Magni and Móði (Modi), Odin’s sons Vidar and Vali, and Hoenir. Baldr and Höðr (Hod) additionally return from Hel and reunite with the others at Iðavöllr (Idavoll), a subject in Asgard untouched by the battle. The human race additionally continues by way of two people named Líf (Life) and Lífthrasir (Life Yearner).
On this manner, Ragnarok is not only the top of the previous, however the starting of the brand new.
For an in depth information to the Norse gods, myths and areas, I like to recommend John Lindow’s “Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs”, which was extraordinarily helpful when writing this text.
The sources of our Norse mythology information
So, the place does Norse mythology come from? Are these the tales that the Vikings instructed one another? The quick reply is: we don’t know.
Earlier than the Christianisation of the Nordic international locations, the area was pagan, a time period that right here refers to a “a pre-Christian religion”. In contrast to Christianity, Norse paganism was not an organised faith, and was as an alternative private to the person. This may clarify why we have now little to no information of what Vikings believed or how they practised their beliefs.
We do have artefacts from the Viking period that seem to reference Norse mythology, akin to the Eyrarland Statue, which is believed to depict Thor, or the “Valkyrien fra Hårby” figurine, which is regarded as a valkyrie. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as a accompanying clarification that confirms that these objects are or what they have been used for. Written references to the gods and mythology on runestones are equally ambiguous.
Our major sources for Norse mythology, and the sources we use to interpret any subsequent findings associated to Norse mythology, are the sagas.
Whereas the gods and myths do characteristic in different Icelandic sagas and poetry, the Eddas are thought of to be an important for our understanding of Norse mythology. Nevertheless, regardless of offering solutions, the time period “edda” is a thriller in itself as no one knows what it actually means, with theories starting from “poetry” to “great-grandmother” to a type of “kredda” (which implies “superstition”).
The Poetic Edda is a set of mythological poems by unknown authors that primarily come from a manuscript generally known as the Codex Regius, which is Latin for “the King’s E-book”. The Codex Regius is dated to round 1270 however was solely found in 1643, when it came into the possession of an Icelandic bishop named Brynjólfur Sveinsson. Initially, these poems have been thought to have been written by Sæmundr Sigfússon, however that is now regarded as unlikely. The Poetic Edda additionally accommodates poems from different manuscripts, akin to “Baldrs draumar” (Baldr’s goals), however it’s often as much as the translator or editor to resolve which poems they wish to embrace.
If you wish to learn the Poetic Edda for your self, I like to recommend Carolyne Larrington’s translation.
The Prose Edda is commonly attributed to Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson, and due to this fact additionally sometimes called the “Snorra Edda”. It’s made up of 4 components: the Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál, and Háttatal.
Variations of this Edda may be be present in four manuscripts: the Codex Regius (14th century) – although this isn’t the identical Codex Regius because the one which accommodates the Poetic Edda – the Codex Wormanius (14th century), the Codex Upsaliensis (14th century), and the Codex Trajectinus (17th century).
The Prose Edda is often known as the “Youthful Edda”, because it cites poetry from an older supply. When this poetry was discovered within the Poetic Edda, it was assumed that this was the poetry that Snorri had used, which is why the Poetic Edda is often known as the “Elder Edda”. Nevertheless, this might not be the case, because the Prose Edda got here thirty years after Snorri’s loss of life in 1241. As a substitute, students now consider that each Eddas are primarily based on the identical, earlier poetry, although this has not but been discovered.
Each Eddas have been written round 200 years after the Christianisation of the Nordic area. And talking of the Christians…
What’s Christianity Acquired to Do with It?
The Christianisation of the Nordic international locations was a long process and occurred comparatively late in comparison with the remainder of Europe. It took even longer for pagan practices to die out fully, as many individuals have been blissful to undertake the Christian God along with the Norse ones, however weren’t as eager to undertake the Christian God as an alternative of the Norse ones. Due to this fact, for a very long time, the 2 religions coexisted in the identical area – and sometimes in the identical folks.
The Christian-Pagan dynamic is current in lots of sagas. In Chapter 98 of Njals saga, each Jesus and Thor are referenced as a part of an argument between Thangbrandr, a Christian missionary, and Steinnun, a pagan preacher:
“Hast thou heard,” she stated, “how Thor challenged Christ to single fight, and the way he didn’t dare to combat with Thor?”
“I’ve heard inform,” says Thangbrandr, “that Thor was naught however mud and ashes, if God had not willed that he ought to stay.”
As historical past exhibits, Christianity finally gained because the dominant faith of the Nordic international locations. Nevertheless, with out Christianity we would not learn about Norse mythology in any respect.
Pre-Christianisation, tales have been handed on by listening to somebody inform them somewhat than studying them in a guide. It was the Christians who wrote the myths down, thereby preserving them for future generations.
However, this additionally implies that we can not know for certain how a lot of those myths as we all know them have been impacted by Christian beliefs. Unusual as it could appear, there are many similarities between Christian mythology and Norse mythology.
Learn extra: Viking Religion: From the Norse Gods to Christianity
For instance, the character of Baldr, who’s the son of Odin and cherished by everybody however killed by way of no fault of his personal and despatched to Hel – solely to return after the apocalypse to rule a brand new world… cease me if you happen to’ve heard this one earlier than.
A Christian affect can significantly be seen within the Prologue of the Prose Edda, because the writer explicitly apologises for his ancestors’ pagan beliefs. In keeping with this account, the Norse gods have been nice (however human) warriors who got here from the East, particularly Turkey. They have been so spectacular that once they later travelled north to Scandinavia, folks mistook them for gods and worshipped them.
Even poems within the Prose Edda that may come from the Viking period, akin to Völuspá, could not have escaped a Christian affect, as Christianity was round on the time. Because the myths have been handed from individual to individual, it’s doable that there was by no means “one” appropriate model of the myths anyway however many various variations, as every storyteller added their very own inventive spin.
Due to this fact, it might have been very straightforward for Christian parts to be integrated into the myths. It may even have been encouraged as a conversion approach, to be able to make the transition smoother from paganism to Christianity by presenting the 2 religions as comparable.
Whereas students disagree on precisely the place the totally different myths fall on a scale of “Utterly Pagan” to “Utterly Christian”, the bulk agree that it is vitally unlikely that Christianity had no impression on the myths.
As John Lindow says: “If we’re to just accept that eddic poetry is a pagan fantasy, we should settle for that two and a half centuries of Christianity wrought no modifications within the eddic texts. That is in fact doable, nevertheless it can’t be demonstrated” (2005:30).
Trendy Day Influence of Norse Mythology
Though Norse mythology is an internet of tales and tradition that we could by no means totally untangle, they’re nonetheless actually improbable tales which might be cherished by a large number of various folks.
Nevertheless, this love for the Norse myths can generally end in folks turning into unnecessarily protecting of preserving their “purity” – which is a process doomed from the beginning since, as proven above, we don’t know whether or not the Vikings knew the myths as we do.
It is through adaptation and reinvention that old myths survive, as an entire new era of persons are impressed by and fall in love with the tales.
That is very true for Norse mythology, which owes its whole survival to adaptation – first by the storytellers who initially instructed these tales, then by the Christians who wrote them down, and now by the folks creating TV exhibits, films, books and video video games impressed by the Norse gods and their adventures.
What’s your favorite Norse fantasy? Do you will have any questions on Norse mythology you prefer to us to reply? Tell us within the feedback under!
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