Mythology of the Vikings

I’ve been reading a lot of Norse mythology recently. I’ve always loved myths and the Vikings are one of my favorite people groups. Their history and culture has always fascinated me.

Norse mythology is some crazy stuff. I mean, most myths are pretty crazy but the Norse ones seem to go above and beyond.

First off, the first two creatures in existence were a giant, Ymir, and a cow. The giant survived by drinking milk from the cow and the cow survived by licking ice. The first giants and gods came from Ymir through various ways. Some sprang out of his armpits and others were from his leg (fathered by the other leg!). From these offspring came the giants and the gods.

The giants and the gods hated each other. Except when they were inter-marrying and having babies. Which happened quite frequently.

Odin was one of the original gods and he and his brothers killed Ymir and then used his body to create the earth. Odin was the Allfather and was known for his wisdom. He had one eye and frequently disguised himself to travel through the world of men.

His most well-known son is probably Thor, who would take periodic trips to the realm of the giants and kill as many as possible with his hammer Mjolnir.

Freya was a popular goddess, known for her beauty and rather loose with her, um, favors. Her beautiful necklace Brisingamen was acquired after spending four nights with the four dwarves who made it.

And Loki! Son of a giant, yet Odin’s blood brother. He was a popular companion for the gods due to his cleverness but was always causing trouble. He was always fixing the problems he created though, mainly after some threats from Odin. He ends up turning on the gods at Ragnarok, fully unleashing his bitterness on them for his punishments after some of his more dangerous and unsavory pranks.

Everything ends at Ragnarok. I’m not really sure how that all works. All the gods die except for a handful, who then help create a new era. The gods knew they were going to be destroyed, they just wanted to be as well prepared for it as possible.

A quick note on places: Yggdrasil was the great tree that held all the worlds. There was an eagle at the top and a serpent at the bottom. A squirrel ran between the two relaying their insults to each other. The gods lived in Asgard, the giants in Jotunheim. As humans, we live in Midgard. There are 9 worlds total, each apportioned to a different race.

There’s a lot about Norse mythology I don’t understand. This might be because we don’t really have a complete account of it. Some sources have suggested that Thor was actually a more important god than Odin but somehow what we have now is all about Odin.

If you’re curious to read more about the Vikings and their mythology, I recommend Kevin Crossley-Holland’s adaptations. They are interesting and provide a bit of scholarly background.

If you’re looking for someone a bit younger or if you just want some interesting pictures the D’Aulaire’s version is well worth reading.

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2 thoughts on “Mythology of the Vikings

  1. David says:

    Norse and Celtic myths are probably the craziest ones I’ve come across. What is up with that dude Loki? He turns into a mare, mates with giant-horse, and gives birth to an 8-legged stallion. Because…he’s perverse that way? But they can also be quite powerful and poetic, too, in a way that even some of the good Greek myths don’t quite reach for me, despite being less coherent.

    Also, while I knew about Yggdrasil, I didn’t know about that squirrel! That strikes me as exactly what a squirrel would do if stuck in that situation. I can only imagine the insults…

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    • Mary says:

      Loki seemed to have a thing for cross-dressing/ switching sexes! He became an old woman after the death of Balder and one of the longest stories we have of Norse mythology deals with him acting as Thor’s handmaiden.

      I love the Greek myths too, but I agree, there’s some pull about the Norse and Celtic myths that no other myths have had on me. I think it might be the idea of Ragnorak which seems to be unique. There’s a darkness to these myths because everybody knows they are going to end.

      The squirrel’s name is Ratatosk, in case you were curious. There are also deer eating the leaves of Yggdrasil and a serpent gnawing at the roots. Yggdrasil is continuously in pain while still holding the worlds together. It’s fascinating to me, all of it.

      I highly recommend that book by Kevin Crossley-Holland I mentioned above if you are looking for something good to read. It was suggested to me by a reliable source and it’s not only informative but entertaining.

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