Gods and Goddesses


Father of the Gods

Odin, Wotan, or Woden is the highest and holiest God of the Northern races. Ruler of the Æsir, God of the runes, inspiration, shamanism, magic and war. Odin is also known as God of the hanged and the Wild Hunt and the God of storm, rain and harvest. He is the all-pervading spirit of the universe, the personification of the air, the God of universal wisdom and victory, and the leader and protector of princes and heroes. As all the Gods are descended from him, he is surnamed Allfather, and as eldest and chief among them he occupies Asgard, the highest seat. Known by the name of Hlidskialf, this chair is not only an exalted throne, but also a mighty watch tower, from whence he could overlook the whole world and see at a glance all that is happening among Gods, giants, elves, dwarfs, and men.

“From the hall of Heaven he rode away
To Lidskialf, and sate upon his throne,
The mount, from whence his eye surveys the world.
And far from Heaven he turn’d his shining orbs
To look on Midgard, and the earth and men.”
-BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

None but Odin and his wife and queen Frigga have the privilege of using this seat, and when they occupy it they generally gaze towards the south and west, the goal of all the hopes and excursions of the Northern nations. Odin is generally represented as a tall, vigorous man, about fifty years of age, either with dark curling hair or with a long gray beard and bald head. He is sometimes clad in a suit of gray, with a blue hood, and his muscular body is enveloped in a wide blue mantle all flecked with gray – an emblem of the sky with its fleecy clouds. In his hand Odin generally carries the infallible spear Gungnir, which is so sacred that an oath sworn upon its point can never be broken, and on his finger or arm he wears the marvelous ring Draupnir, the emblem of fruitfulness, precious beyond compare. When seated upon his throne or armed for the fray, in which he often takes an active part, Odin wears his eagle helmet; but when he wanders about the earth in human guise, to see what men are doing, he generally dons a broad-brimmed hat, drawn down low over his forehead to conceal the fact of his having but one eye.

“Then into the Volsungs’ dwelling a mighty man there strode,
One-eyed and seeming ancient, yet bright his visage glowed;
Cloud-blue was the hood upon him, and his kirtle gleaming-gray
As the latter morning sun dog when the storm is on the way
A bill he bore on his shoulder, whose mighty ashen beam
Burnt bright with the flame of the sea and the blended silver’s gleam.”
-SIGURD THE VOLSUNG (William Morris)

Two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), are perched upon his shoulders as he sits upon his throne, and these he sends out into the wide world every morning, anxiously watching for their return at nightfall, when they whisper into his ears news of all they had seen and heard, keeping him well informed about everything that is happening on earth.

“Hugin and Munin
Fly each day
Over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin
That he come not back,
Yet more anxious am I for Munin.”
(R. B. Anderson)

At his feet crouch two wolves or hunting hounds, Geri and Freki, which animals are therefore considered sacred to him, and of good omen if met by the way. Odin always feeds these wolves with his own hands from the meat set before him, for he requires no food at all, and seldom tastes anything except the sacred mead.

“Geri and Freki
The war-wont sates,
The triumphant sire of hosts;
But on wine only
The famed in arms
Odin, ever lives.”
-LAY OF GRIMNIR (Thorpe’s tr.)

When seated in state upon his throne, Odin rests his feet upon a footstool of gold, the work of the Gods, whose furniture and utensils are all fashioned either of that precious metal or of silver.

Besides the magnificent hall Glads-heim, where stands the twelve seats occupied by the Gods when they meet in council, and Valaskialf, where his throne, Hlidskialf, is placed, Odin has a third palace in Asgard, situated in the midst of the marvelous grove Glasir, whose leaves were all of shimmering red gold.


This palace, called Valhalla (the hall of the chosen slain), has five hundred and forty doors, wide enough to allow the passage of eight hundred warriors abreast, and above the principal gate is a boar’s head and an eagle whose piercing glance look all over the world. The walls of this marvelous building are fashioned of glittering spears, so highly polished that they illuminate all the hall. The roof is made of golden shields, and the benches are decorated with fine armor, the God’s gifts to his guests. Here long tables afford ample accommodations for the warriors fallen in battle, who are called Einheriar, and are considered Odin’s favorite guests.

“Easily to be known is,
By those who to Odin come,
The mansion by its aspect.
Its roof with spears is laid,
Its hall with shields is decked,
With corselets are its benches strewed.”
(Thorpe’s tr.)

The ancient Northern nations, who deemed warfare the most honorable of occupations, and considered courage the greatest virtue, worshiped Odin principally as God of battle and victory, and believed that whenever a fight was about to occur he sent out his special attendants, the shield, battle, or wish maidens, called Valkyries (choosers of the slain). They select one half the dead warriors, and bore them on their fleet steeds over the quivering rainbow bridge Bifröst, into his hall, where many honors await them. Welcomed by Odin’s sons, Hermod and Bragi, the heroes are then conducted to the foot of Odin’s throne, where they receive the praises due their valor. When some special favorite of the God is thus brought into Asgard, Valfather (father of the slain), as Odin is called when he presides over the warriors, sometimes rises from his throne to meet him at the door and himself bid him welcome.

The Feast of the Heroes

Besides the hope of the glory of such a distinction, and the promise of dwelling in Odin’s beloved presence day after day, other more material pleasures await the warriors in Valhalla. They are seated around the board, where the beautiful white-armed virgins, the Valkyries, having laid aside their armor and clad themselves in pure white robes, constantly wait upon them. These maidens bring the heroes great horns full of delicious mead, and set before them huge portions of boars’ flesh, upon which they feast most heartily. The usual Northern drink was beer or ale, but our ancestors fancied this beverage too coarse for the heavenly sphere. They therefore imagined that Valfather kept his table liberally supplied with mead or hydromel, which was daily furnished in great abundance by his she-goat Heidrun, continually browsing on the tender leaves and twigs on Yggdrasil’s topmost branch, Lerad.

“Rash war and perilous battle, their delight;
And immature, and red with glorious wounds,
Unpeaceful death their choice: deriving thence
A right to feast and drain immortal bowls,
In Odin’s hall; whose blazing roof resounds
The genial uproar of those shades who fall
In desperate fight, or by some brave attempt.”
-LIBERTY (James Thomson)  

The meat upon which the Einheriar feast is the flesh of the divine boar Sæhrimnir, a marvelous beast, daily slain by the cook Andhrimnir, and boiled in the great caldron Eldhrimnir; but although Odin’s guests have true Northern appetites and fairly gorge themselves, there is always plenty of meat for all.

“Andhrimnir cooks
In Eldhrimnir
‘Tis the best of flesh;
But few know
What the einherjes eat.”
(Anderson’s version)

Moreover the supply is exhaustless, for the boar always comes to life again before the time for the next meal, when he iss again slain and devoured. This miraculous renewal of supplies in the larder is not the only wonderful occurrence in Valhalla, for it is also related that the warriors, after having eaten and drunk to satiety, always call for their weapons, arm themselves, and ride out into the great courtyard, where they fight against one another, repeating the feats of arms achieved while on earth, and recklessly dealing terrible wounds, which are miraculously and completely healed as soon as the dinner horn is sounded.

“All the chosen guests of Odin
Daily ply the trade of war;
From the fields of festal fight
Swift they ride in gleaming arms,
And gaily, at the board of gods,
Quaff the cup of sparkling ale
And eat Sæhrimni’s vaunted flesh.”
(W. Taylor’s tr.)

Whole and happy once more, – for they bore one another no grudge for the cruel thrusts given and received, and live in perfect amity together, – the Einheriar then ride gaily back to Valhalla to renew their feasts in Odin’s beloved presence, while the white-armed Valkyries, with flying hair, glide gracefully about, constantly filling their horns or their favorite drinking vessels while the scalds sing of war and stirring Viking expeditions.

“And all day long they there are hack’d and hewn
‘Mid dust, and groans, and limbs lopp’d off, and blood;
But all at night return to Odin’s hall
Woundless and fresh; such lot is theirs in Heaven.”
-BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Thus fighting and feasting, the heroes are said to spend day after day in perfect bliss, while Odin delights in their strength and number, which, however, he foresees will not long avail to ward off his downfall when the day of the last battle dawns.

As such pleasures were the highest a Northern warrior’s fancy could paint, it was very natural that all fighting men should love Odin, and early in life should dedicate themselves to his service. They vowed to die arms in hand, if possible, and even wounded themselves with their own spears when death drew near, if they had been unfortunate enough to escape death on the battlefield and were threatened with ” straw death,” as they called decease from old age or sickness.

“To Odin then true-fast
Carves he fair runics, –
Death-runes cut deep on his arm and his breast.”
(R. B. Anderson)

In reward for this devotion Odin watches with special care over his favorites, giving them a magic sword, spear, or horse, and making them invincible until their last hour has come, when he himself appears to claim or destroy the gift he has bestowed, and the Valkyries carries them off to Valhalla.

“He gave to Hermod
A helm and corselet,
And from him Sigmund
A sword received.”
(Thorpe’s tr.)


Whenever Odin took an active part in war, he generally rode his eight-footed gray steed, Sleipnir, brandished his white shield, and flung his glittering spear over the heads of the combatants, who only awaited this signal to fall upon one another, while the God dashed into their midst shouting his warcry: “Odin has you all!”

         “And Odin donn’d
His dazzling corslet and his helm of gold,
And led the way on Sleipnir.”
(Matthew Arnold)

At times he also used his magic bow, from which he shot ten arrows at once, everyone invariably bringing down a foe. Odin is also supposed to inspire his favorite warriors with the renowned “Berserker rage” (bare sark or shirt), which enables them to perform unheard-of feats of valor and strength.

As Odin’s characteristics, like the all-pervading elements, are multitudinous, so also are his names, of which he has no less than two hundred, almost all of which are descriptive of some phase of his being. He is also considered the ancient God of seamen and of the wind:

         “Mighty Odin,
Norsemen hearts we bend to thee!
Steer our barks, all-potent Woden,
O’er the surging Baltic Sea.”

The Wild Hunt

Odin, as wind God, generally rode about on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, a habit which gave rise to the oldest Northern riddle, which runs as follows: “Who are the two who ride to the Thing? Three eyes have they together, ten feet, and one tail; and thus they travel through the lands.” And as the souls of the dead were supposed to be wafted away on the wings of the storm, Odin was worshiped as the leader of all disembodied spirits. In this character he was most generally known as the Wild Hunts man, and when people heard the rush and roar of the wind they cried aloud in superstitious fear, fancying they heard and saw him ride past with his train, all mounted on snorting steeds, and accompanied by baying hounds. And the passing of the Wild Hunt, known as Woden’s Hunt, the Raging Host, Gabriel’s Hounds, or Asgardreia, was also considered a presage of misfortune of some kind, such as pestilence or war.

“The Rhine flows bright; but its waves ere long
    Must hear a voice of war,
And a clash of spears our hills among,
    And a trumpet from afar;
And the brave on a bloody turf must lie,
For the Huntsman bath gone by!”
(Mrs. Hemans)

Mimir’s Well

To obtain the great wisdom for which he is so famous, Odin, in the morn of time, wandered off to Mimir’s (Memor, memory) spring, “the fountain of all wit and wisdom,” in whose liquid depths even the future was clearly mirrored, and besought the old man who guarded it to let him have a draught. But Mimir, who well knew the value of such a favor (for his spring was considered the source or headwater of memory), refused to grant it unless Odin would consent to give one of his eyes in exchange.

The God did not hesitate, but immediately plucked out one of his eyes, which Mimir kept in pledge, sinking it deep down into his fountain, where it shone with mild luster, leaving Odin with but one eye, which is considered emblematic of the sun.

“Through our whole lives we strive towards the sun;
That burning forehead is the eye of Odin.
His second eye, the moon, shines not so bright;
It has he placed in pledge in Mimer’s fountain,
That he may fetch the healing waters thence,
Each morning, for the strengthening of this eye.”
-OEHLENSCHLÄGER (Howitt’s tr.)

Drinking deeply of Mimir’s fount, Odin gained the knowledge he coveted; and such was the benefit received that he never regretted the sacrifice he had made, but as further memorial of that day broke off a branch of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, which overshadowed the spring, and fashioned from it his beloved spear Gungnir.

“A dauntless god
Drew for drink to its gleam,
Where he left in endless
Payment the light of an eye.
From the world-ash
Ere Wotan went he broke a bough;
For a spear the staff
He split with strength from the stem.”
-DUSK OF THE GODS, WAGNER (Forman’s tr.)

But although Odin had won all knowledge, he was sad and oppressed, for he had also won an insight into futurity, and had become aware of the transitory nature of all things, and even of the fate of the Gods, who were doomed to pass away. This knowledge so affected his spirits that he ever after wore a melancholy and contemplative expression.

To test the value of the wisdom he had thus obtained, Odin soon went to visit the most learned of all the giants, Vafthrudnir, and entered with him into a contest of wit, in which the stake was nothing less than the loser’s head.

“Odin rose with speed, and went
To contend in runic lore
With the wise and crafty jute.
To Vafthrudni’s royal hall
Came the mighty king of spells.”
(W. Taylor’s tr.)

Father of the Gods

As personification of heaven, Odin, of course, was the lover and spouse of the earth, and as it appeared under a threefold aspect, the Northerners, although a chaste race, allotted to him several wives. The first among these was Jörd (Erda), the primitive earth, daughter of Night or of the giantess Fiorgyn. She bore him his famous son Thor, the God of thunder. The second and principal wife was Frigga, a personification of the civilized world. She gave him Balder, the gentle God of spring, Hermod, and, according to some authorities, Tyr. The third wife was Rinda, a personification of the hard and frozen earth, who reluctantly yields to his warm embrace, but finally gives birth to Vali, the emblem of vegetation. Odin is also said to have married Saga or Laga, the Goddess of history (hence our verb “to say”), and to have daily visited her in the crystal hall of Sokvabek, beneath a cool, ever-flowing river, to drink its waters and listen to her songs about olden times and vanished races.

“Sokvabek hight the fourth dwelling;
Over it flow the cool billows;
Glad drink there Odin and Saga
Every day from golden cups.”
(R. E. Anderson)

His other wives were Grid, the mother of Vidar; Gunlod, the mother of Bragi; Skadi; and the nine giantesses who simultaneously bore Heimdall – all of whom play more or less important parts in the various myths of the North.

Historical Odin

Besides this ancient Odin, there was a more modem, semi-historical personage of the same name, to whom all the virtues, powers, and adventures of his predecessor have been attributed. He was the chief of the Æsir inhabitants of Asia Minor, who, sore pressed by the Romans, and threatened with destruction or slavery, left their native land about 70 B.C., and migrated into Europe. This Odin is said to have conquered Russia, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, leaving a son on the throne of each conquered country. He also built the town of Odensö. He was welcomed in Sweden by Gylfi, the king, who made him associate ruler, and allowed him to found the city of Sigtuna, where he built a temple and introduced a new system of worship. Tradition further relates that as his end drew near, this mythical Odin assembled his followers, publicly cut himself nine times in the breast with his spear, – a ceremony called “carving Geir odds,” – and told them he was about to return to his native land Asgard, his old home, where lie would await their coming, to share with him a life of feasting, drinking, and fighting.

According to another account, Gylfi, having heard of the power of the Æsir, the inhabitants of Asgard, and wishing to ascertain whether these reports were true, journeyed off to the south. He soon came to Odin’s palace, where he was expected, and where lie was deluded by the vision of three divinities, enthroned one above the other, and called Har, Iafn-har, and Thridi. The gatekeeper, Gangler, answered all his questions, gave him a long explanation of Northern mythology, which is recorded in the Younger Edda, and having finished his instructions, suddenly vanished with the palace amid a deafening noise.

According to other very ancient poems, Odin’s sons, Weldegg, Beldegg, Sigi, Skiold, Sæming, and Yngvi, became kings of East Saxony, West Saxony, Franconia, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and from them are descended the Saxons, Hengist and Horsa, and the royal families of the Northern lands. Still another version relates that Odin and Frigga had seven sons, who founded the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy. In the course of time this mysterious king was confounded with the Odin whose worship he introduced, and all his deeds were attributed to the God.

Odin was worshiped in numerous temples, but especially in the great fane at Upsala, where the most solemn festivals were held, and where sacrifices were offered. The victim was generally a horse, but in times of pressing need human offerings were made, even the king being once offered up to avert a famine.

“Upsal’s temple, where the North
Saw Valhal’s halls fair imag’d here on earth.”
(R. B. Anderson)

The first toast at every festival here was drunk in his honor, and, besides the first of May, one day in every week was held sacred to him, and, from his Saxon name, Woden, was called Woden’s day, whence the English word “Wednesday” has been derived. It was customary for the people to assemble at his shrine on festive occasions, to hear the songs of the scalds, who were rewarded for their minstrelsy by the gift of golden bracelets or armlets, which curled up at the ends and were called “Odin’s serpents.”

There are but few remains of ancient Northern art now extant, and although rude statues of Odin were once quite common they have all disappeared, as they were made of wood – a perishable substance, which in the hands of the missionaries and especially of Olaf the Saint, the Northern iconoclast, was soon reduced to ashes.

“There in the Temple, carved in wood,
The image of great Odin stood.”
-SAGA OF KING OLAF (Longfellow)

Odin himself is supposed to have given his people a code of laws whereby to govern their conduct, in a poem called Hávamal, or the High Song, which forms part of the Edda. In this lay he taught the fallibility of man, the necessity for courage, temperance, independence, and truthfulness, respect for old age, hospitality, charity, and contentment, and gave instructions for the burial of the dead.

“At home let a man be cheerful,
And toward a guest liberal;
Of wise conduct he should be,
Of good memory and ready speech;
If much knowledge he desires,
He must often talk on what is good.”
-HÁVAMÁL (Thorpe’s tr.)

Queen of the Gods

Frigga or Frigg is Mother of the Gods and Humanity, the patroness of the household and of married women. Frigga, the daughter of Fiorgyn and sister of Jörd, was eventually married to Odin. This wedding caused such general rejoicing in Asgard, where the goddess was greatly beloved, that ever after it was customary to celebrate its anniversary with feast and song, and the goddess being declared patroness of marriage, her health was always proposed with that of Odin and Thor at wedding feasts.

Frigga is the goddess of the atmosphere, or rather of the clouds, and as such is sometimes represented as wearing either snow-white or dark garments, according to her somewhat variable moods. She is queen of the gods, and she alone has the privilege of sitting on the throne Hlidskialf, beside her husband Odin. From thence she too, can look over all the world and see what is happening, and according to our ancestors’ declarations, she possessed the knowledge of the future, which, however, no one could ever prevail upon her to reveal, thus proving that Northern women could keep a secret inviolate.

“Of me the gods are sprung;
And all that is to come I know, but lock
In my own breast, and have to none reveal’d.”
             -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

She is generally represented as a tall, beautiful, and stately woman, crowned with heron plumes, the symbol of silence or forgetfulness, and clothed in pure-white robes, secured at the waist by a golden girdle, from which hangs a bunch of keys, the distinctive sign of the Northern housewife, whose special patroness she is said to be. Although she often appears beside her husband, Frigga sometimes prefers to remain in her own palace, called Fensalir, the hall of mists or of the sea, where she diligently twirls her wheel or distaff, spinning golden thread or weaving long webs of bright-colored clouds.

In order to perform this work she owns a marvelous jeweled spinning wheel or distaff, which at night shines brightly in the sky in the shape of a constellation, known in the North as Frigga’s Spinning Wheel, while the inhabitants of the South called the same stars Orion’s Girdle.

To her hall Fensalir the gracious goddess invites all husbands and wives who had led virtuous lives on earth, so that they might enjoy each other’s companionship even after death, and never be called upon to part again.

“There in the glen, Fensalir stands, the house
Of Frea, honor’d mother of the gods,
And shows its lighted windows and the open doors.”
             -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

The Stolen Gold

Frigga is considered the goddess of conjugal and motherly love, and is specially worshiped by married lovers and tender parents. This exalted office does not so entirely absorb all her thoughts, however, that she has no time for other matters; for we are told that she is very fond of dress, and whenever she appears before the assembled gods her attire is rich and becoming, and her jewels always chosen with much taste. This love of adornment once led her sadly astray, for, in her longing to possess some new jewel, she secretly purloined a piece of gold from a statue representing her husband, which had just been placed in his temple. The stolen metal was intrusted to the dwarfs, with instructions to fashion a marvelous necklace for her use. This jewel, once finished, was so resplendent that it greatly enhanced her charms and even increased Odin’s love for her. But when he discovered the theft of the gold he angrily summoned the dwarfs and bade them reveal who had dared to touch his statue. Unwilling to betray the queen of the gods, the dwarfs remained obstinately silent, and, seeing that no information could be elicited from them, Odin commanded that the statue should be placed above the temple gate, and set to work to devise runes which should endow it with the power of speech and enable it to denounce the thief. When Frigga heard these tidings she trembled with fear, and implored her favorite attendant, Fulla, to invent some means of protecting her from Allfather’s wrath. Fulla, who was always ready to serve her mistress, immediately departed, and soon returned, accompanied by a hideous dwarf, who promised to prevent the statue from speaking if Frigga would only deign to smile graciously upon him. This boon having been granted, the dwarf hastened off to the temple, caused a deep sleep to fall upon the guards, and while they were thus unconscious, pulled the statue down from its perch and broke it to pieces, so that it could never betray Frigga’s theft in spite of all Odin’s efforts to give it the power of speech.

Odin, discovering this sacrilege on the morrow, was very angry indeed; so angry that he left Asgard and utterly disappeared, carrying away with him all the blessings which he had been wont to shower upon gods and men. According to some authorities, his brothers Vili and Ve, took advantage of his absence to assume his form and secure possession of his throne and wife; but although they looked exactly like him they could not restore the lost blessings, and allowed the ice giants, or Jotuns, to invade the earth and bind it fast in their cold fetters. These wicked giants also pinched the leaves and buds till they all shriveled up, stripped the trees bare, shrouded the earth in a great white coverlet, and veiled it in impenetrable mists.
But at the end of seven weary months the true Odin relented and returned, and when he saw all the evil that had been done he drove the usurpers away, forced the frost giants to beat a hasty retreat, released the earth from her icy bonds, and again showered all his blessings down upon her, cheering her with the light of his smile.

Odin Outwitted

As has already been seen, Odin, although god of wit and wisdom, was sometimes outwitted by his wife Frigga, who, womanlike, was sure to obtain her will by some means. On one occasion the divine pair were seated upon Hlidskialf, gazing with interest upon the Winilers and Vandals, who were preparing for a battle which was to decide which people should henceforth have the supremacy. Odin gazed with satisfaction upon the Vandals, who were loudly praying to him for victory; but Frigga watched the movements of the Winilers with more attention, because they had entreated her aid. She therefore turned to Odin and coaxingly inquired whom he meant to favor on the morrow; he, wishing to evade her question, declared he would not yet decide, as it was time for bed, but would give the victory to those upon whom his eyes first rested in the morning.
This answer was shrewdly calculated, for Odin knew that his bed was so turned that upon waking he would face the Vandals, and he intended looking out from thence, instead of waiting until he had mounted his throne. But, although so cunningly contrived, this plan was entirely frustrated by Frigga, who, divining his purpose, waited until he was sound asleep and then noiselessly turned his bed around so that he should face her favorites instead of his. Then she sent word to the Winilers to dress their women in armor and send them out in battle array at dawn, with their long hair carefully combed down over their cheeks and breasts.

“Take thou thy women-folk,
Maidens and wives:
Over your ankles
Lace on the white war-hose;
Over your bosoms
Link up the hard mail-nets;
Over your lips
Plait long tresses with cunning; —
So war beasts full-bearded
King Odin shall deem you,
When off the gray sea-beach
At sunrise ye greet him.”
              -THE LONGBEARDS’ SAGA (Charles Kingsley)

These instructions were carried out with scrupulous exactness by the Winiler women, and when Odin awoke and sat up in bed early the next morning, his first conscious glance fell upon their armed host, and he exclaimed in surprise, “What Longbeards are those?” (In German the ancient word for long beards was Langobarden, which was the name used to designate the Lombards.) Frigga, upon hearing this exclamation, which she had foreseen, immediately cried out in triumph that Allfather had given them a new name, and was in honor bound to follow the usual Northern custom and give them also a baptismal gift.

“‘A name thou hast given them,
Shames neither thee nor them,
Well can they wear it.
Give them the victory,
First have they greeted thee;
Give them the victory,
Yoke-fellow mine!’”
              -THE LONGBEARDS’ SAGA (Charles Kingsley)

Odin, seeing he had been so cleverly outwitted, gave them the victory, and in memory of this auspicious day the Winilers retained the name given by the king of the Gods, who ever after watched over them with special care, and vouchsafed them many blessings, among others a home in the sunny South, on the fruitful plains of Lombardy.

Fulla and Hlin

Frigga has, as her own special attendants, a number of beautiful maidens, one among them being Fulla (Volla), her sister according to some, to whom she intrusted her jewel casket. Fulla always presides over her mistress’s dressing room, is privileged to put on her golden shoes, attends with her everywhere, is her confidante and adviser, and often suggests to her how best to help the mortals who implore her aid. Fulla is very beautiful indeed, and has long golden hair, which she wears flowing loose over her shoulders, restrained only by a golden circlet or snood. As her hair is emblematic of the golden grain, this circlet represents the binding of the sheaf. Fulla was also known as Abundia, or Abundantia, in some parts of Germany, where she was considered the symbol of the fullness of the earth.

Hlin, Frigga’s second attendant, is the goddess of consolation, sent out to kiss away the tears of mourners and pour balm into hearts wrung by grief. She also listens with ever-open ears to the prayers of mortals, repeats them to her mistress, and advises her at times how best to answer them and give the desired relief.


Gna is Frigga’s swift messenger, who, mounted upon her fleet steed Hofvarpnir (hoof thrower), travels with marvelous rapidity through fire and air, over land and sea, and is therefore considered the personification of the refreshing breeze. Darting thus to and from, Gna sees all that is happening upon earth, and tells her mistress all she knows. On one occasion, as she was passing over Hunaland, she saw King Rerir, a lineal descendant of Odin, sitting mournfully by the shore, bewailing his childlessness. The queen of the Gods, who is also goddess of childbirth, upon hearing this took an apple (the emblem of fruitfulness) from her private store, gave it to Gna, and bade her carry it to the king. With the rapidity of the element she personified, Gna darted away, passed over Rerir’s head, and dropped her apple into his lap with a radiant smile.

“‘What flies up there, so quickly driving past?’
Her answer from the cloud, as rushing by:
‘I fly not, nor do drive, but hurry fast,
Hoof flinger swift through cloud and mist and sky.’”
              -ASGARD AND THE GODS (Wagner-Macdowall)

The king, after pondering for a moment upon the meaning of this sudden apparition and gift, returned home, his heart beating high with hope, gave the apple to his wife to eat, and to his intense joy was soon no longer childless, for his wife bore him a son, Volsung, the great Northern hero, who became so famous that he gave his name to all his race.


Besides the three above-mentioned attendants, Frigga also has in her train the mild and gracious maiden Lofn (praise or love), whose duty it is to remove all obstacles from the path of lovers.

“My lily tall, from her saddle bearing,
I led then forth through the temple, faring
To th’ altar-circle where, priests among,
Lofn’s vows she took with unfalt’ring tongue.”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

Lofn’s duty is to incline obdurate hearts to love, to maintain peace and concord among mankind, and to reconcile quarreling husbands and wives. Syn (truth) guards the door of Frigga’s palace, refusing to open it to those who are not allowed to come in. When she had once shut the door upon a would-be intruder there was no appeal which would avail to change her decision. She therefore presided over all tribunals and trials, and whenever a thing was to be vetoed the usual formula was to declare that Syn was against it.


Gefjon is also one of the maidens in Frigga’s palace, and to her are intrusted all those who died virgins, whom she receives and makes happy forever. According to some mythologists, Gefjon did not always remain a virgin herself, but married one of the giants, by whom she had four sons. This same tradition goes on to declare that Odin sent her ahead of him to visit Gylfi, King of Sweden, and beg for some land which she might call her own. The king, amused at her request, promised her as much land as she could plow around in one day and night. Gefjon, nothing daunted, changed her four sons into oxen, harnessed them to a plow, and began to cut a furrow so wide and deep that the king and his courtiers were amazed. But Gefjon continued her work without giving any signs of fatigue, and when she had plowed all around a large piece of land forcibly wrenched it away, and made her oxen drag it down into the sea, where she made it fast and called it Seeland.

“Gefjun drew from Gylfi,
Rich in stored up treasure,
The land she joined to Denmark.
Four heads and eight eyes bearing,
While hot sweat trickled down them,
The oxen dragged the reft mass
That formed this winsome island.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

As for the hollow she left behind her, it was quickly filled with water and formed a lake, at first called Logrum (the sea), but now known as Mälar, whose every indentation corresponds with the headlands of Seeland. Gefjon then married Skiold, one of Odin’s sons, and became the ancestress of the royal Danish race of Skioldungs, dwelling in the city of Hleidra or Lethra, which she founded, and which became the principal place of sacrifice for the heathen Danes.

Eira, Vara, Vör and Snotra

Eira, also Frigga’s attendant, is considered a most skillful physician. She gathers simples all over the earth to cure both wounds and diseases, and it is her province to teach her science to women, who were the only ones to practice medicine among the ancient nations of the North.

“Gaping wounds are bound by Eyra.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

Vara hears all oaths and punishes perjurers, while she rewards those who faithfully keep their word. Then there is also Vör (faith), who knows all that is to occur throughout the world, and Snotra, goddess of virtue, who has mastered every kind of study.

With such a band of followers it is no wonder that Frigga is considered an influential goddess; but in spite of the prominent place she occupied in Northern religion, she had no special temple or shrine, and was but little worshiped except in company with Odin.


While Frigga was not known by this name in southern Germany, there were other goddesses worshiped there, whose attributes were so exactly like hers, that they were evidently the same, although they bore very different names in the various provinces. Among them was the fair goddess Holda (Hulda or Frau Holle) who graciously dispensed many rich gifts, and as she presided over the weather, the people were wont to declare when the snowflakes fell that Frau Holle was shaking her bed, and when it rained, that she was washing her clothes, often pointing to the white clouds as her linen which she had put out to bleach. When long gray strips of clouds drifted across the sky they said she was weaving, for she too was supposed to be a very diligent weaver, spinner, and housekeeper.

This same Holda was also considered the owner of a magic fountain called Quickbom, which rivaled the famed fountain of youth, and of a chariot in which she rode from place to place, inspecting her domain. This wagon having once suffered damage, the goddess bade a wheelwright repair it, and when he had finished told him to keep the chips as his pay. The man, indignant at such a meager reward, kept only a very few; but to his surprise found them on the morrow changed to solid gold.

“Fricka, thy wife —
This way she reins her harness of rams.
Hey! how she whirls
The golden whip;
The luckless beasts
Unboundedly bleat;
Her wheels wildly she rattles;
Wrath is lit in her look.”
              -WAGNER (Forman’s tr.)

It is said she gave flax to mankind and taught them how to use it, and in Tyrol the following story is told about the way in which she bestowed this invaluable gift:

The Discovery of Flax

There was once a peasant who daily left his wife and children down in the valley to take his sheep up the mountain to pasture; and as he watched his flock graze on the mountain side, he often had the opportunity to use his crossbow and bring down a chamois, whose flesh furnished his larder with food for many a day.

While pursuing some fine game one day he saw it disappear behind a boulder, and when he came to the spot, he was amazed to see a doorway in the neighboring glacier, for in the excitement of the pursuit he had climbed higher and higher until he was now on top of the mountain, where glittered the everlasting snow.
The shepherd boldly passed through the open door, and soon found himself in a wonderful jeweled and stalactite-hung cave, in the center of which stood a beautiful woman, clad in silvery robes, and attended by a host of lovely maidens crowned with Alpine roses.

In his surprise, the shepherd sank to his knees, and as in a dream heard the queenly central figure bid him choose anything he saw to carry away with him. Although dazzled by the glow of the precious stones around him, the shepherd’s eyes constantly reverted to a little nosegay of blue flowers which the gracious apparition held in her hand, and he now timidly proffered a request that it might become his. Smiling with pleasure, Holda, for it was she, gave it to him, telling him he had chosen wisely and would live as long as the flowers did not droop and fade. Then giving the shepherd a measure of seed which she told him to sow in his field, the goddess bade him begone; and as the, thunder pealed and the earth shook, the poor man found himself out upon the mountain side once more, and slowly wended his way home to tell his adventure to his wife and show her the lovely blue flowers and the measure of seed.

The woman reproached her husband bitterly for not having brought some of the precious stones which he so glowingly described, instead of the blossoms and seed; nevertheless the man sowed the latter, and often lingered near the field at nightfall to see his new crop grow, for to his surprise the measure had supplied seed enough for several acres.

Soon the little green shoots began to appear, and one moonlight night, while the peasant was gazing upon them, wondering what kind of grain they would produce, he saw a mistlike form hover above the field, with hands outstretched as if in blessing. At last the field blossomed, and countless little blue flowers opened their calyxes to the golden sun. When the flowers had withered and the seed was ripe, Holda came once more to teach the peasant and his wife how to harvest the flax stalks and spin, weave, and bleach the linen they produced. Of course all the people of the neighborhood were anxious to purchase both linen and flaxseed, and the peasant and his wife soon grew very rich indeed, for while he plowed, sowed, and harvested, she spun, wove, and bleached her linen.

When the man had lived to a good old age and seen his grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up around him, he noticed that his carefully treasured bouquet, whose flowers had remained fresh for many a year, had wilted and died.

Knowing that his time had come and that he too must soon die, the peasant climbed the mountain once more, came to the glacier, and found the doorway which he had long vainly sought. He vanished within, and was never seen or heard of again, for the legend states that the goddess took him under her care, and bade him live in her cave, where his every wish was gratified.

Ostara, the Goddess of Spring

The Saxon goddess Eástre, or Ostara, goddess of spring, whose name has survived in the English word Easter, is also identical with Frigga, for she too is considered goddess of the earth, or rather of Nature’s resurrection after the long death of winter.

This gracious goddess was so dearly loved by the old Teutons, that even after Christianity had been viciously forced upon the people of the North, they stilt retained a pleasant recollection of her, utterly refused to have her degraded to the rank of a demon, like many of their other divinities, and transferred her name to their great Christian feast. It had long been customary to celebrate this day by the exchange of presents of colored eggs, for the egg is the type of the beginning of life; so the early Christians continued to observe this rule, declaring, however, that the egg is also symbolical of the resurrection. In various parts of Germany, stone altars can still be seen, which are known as Easter-stones, because they were dedicated to the fair goddess Ostara. They were crowned with flowers by the young people, who danced gaily around them by the light of great bonfires, — a species of popular games kept up until the middle of the 19th century, in spite of the priests’ denunciations and of the repeatedly published edicts against them.

Bertha, the White Lady

In other parts of Germany, Frigga, Holda, or Ostara is known by the name of Brechta, Bertha, or the White Lady. She is best known under this title in Thuringia, where she was supposed to dwell in a hollow mountain, keeping watch over the Heimchen, the souls of unborn children, and of those who died unbaptized. Here Bertha watched over agriculture, caring for the plants, which her infant troop watered carefully, for each babe was supposed to carry a little jar for that express purpose. As long as the goddess was duly respected and her retreat unmolested, she remained where she was; but tradition relates that she once left the country with her infant train dragging her plow, and settled elsewhere to continue her kind ministrations. Bertha is the legendary ancestress of several noble families, and she is supposed to be the same as the industrious queen of the same name, the mythical mother of Charlemagne, whose era has become proverbial, for in speaking of the golden age in France and Germany it is customary to say, “in the days when Bertha spun.”

As this Bertha is supposed to have developed a very large and flat foot, from continually pressing the treadle of her wheel, she is often represented in mediaeval art as a woman with a splay foot, and hence known as la reine pédauque.

As ancestress of the imperial house of Germany, the White Lady is supposed to appear in the palace before a death or misfortune in the family, and this thought was still so rife in 19th century Germany, that the newspapers in 1884 contained the official report of a sentinel, who declared that he had seen her flit past him in one of the palace corridors.

As Bertha was so renowned for her spinning, she naturally was regarded as the special patroness of that branch of female industry, and was said to flit through the streets of every village, at nightfall, during the twelve nights between Christmas and January 6th, peering into every window to ascertain whether the work were all done.

The maidens whose work had all been carefully performed were rewarded by a present of one of her own golden threads or a distaff full of extra-fine flax; but wherever a careless spinner was found, her wheel was broken, her flax soiled, and if she had failed to honor the goddess by eating plenty of the cakes baked at that epoch of the year, she was cruelly punished.

In Mecklenburg, this same goddess is known as Frau Gode, or Wode, the female form of Wotan or Odin, and her appearance is always considered the harbinger of great prosperity. She is also supposed to be a great huntress, and to lead the Wild Hunt, mounted upon a white horse, her attendants being changed into hounds and all manner of wild beasts.

In Holland she was called Vrou-elde, and from her the Milky Way is known by the Dutch as Vrou-elden-straat; while in parts of northern Germany she was called Nerthus (Mother Earth). Her sacred chariot was kept on an island, presumably Rugen, where the priests guarded it carefully until she appeared to take a yearly journey throughout her realm and bless the land. The goddess then sat in this chariot, which was drawn by two cows, her face completely hidden by a thick veil, respectfully escorted by her priests. The people seeing her pass did her homage by ceasing all warfare, laid aside their weapons, donned festive attire, and began no quarrel until the goddess had again retired to her sanctuary. Then both chariot and goddess were bathed in a secret lake (the Schwartze See in Rügen), which swallowed up the slaves who had assisted at the bathing, and once more the priests resumed their watch over the sanctuary and grove of Nerthus or Hlodyn, to await her next apparition.

In Scandinavia, this goddess was also known as Huldra; and boasted of a train of attendant wood nymphs, who sometimes sought the society of mortals, to enjoy a dance upon the village green. They could always be detected, however, by the tip of a cow’s tail which trailed from beneath their long snow-white garments. These Huldra folk were the special protectors of the herds of cattle on the mountain sides, and were said to surprise the lonely traveler, at times, by the marvelous beauty of the melodies they sang to beguile their labors.


God of Thunder

Thor, or Donar, is the son of Odin and by some accounts Jörd (Erda or Earth), while others state that his mother was Frigga, Queen of the Gods. Thor is is known as “The Thunderer”, Hammer-God of thunder and lightening, agriculture and craftsmanship. He is the archetype hero/warrior and friend of the common folk. His divine hammer is known as Mjöllnir (the crusher), forged by the Dwarves as remuneration for a crime committed by Loki. He is champion of the Gods and enemy of the Giants and Trolls; protector of Midgard and the common man from the forces of chaos. He dons a magic belt called Megingjardar, which when worn doubles his already miraculous strenght, and drives a chariot pulled by two Giant male goats.

As a child Thor was very remarkable for his great size and strength, and very soon after his birth amazed the assembled gods by playfully lifting and throwing about ten loads of bear skins. Although generally good tempered, Thor occasionally flew into a terrible rage, and as he was very dangerous under these circumstances. His mother, unable to control him, sent him away from home and intrusted him to the care of Vingnir (the winged), and of Hlora (heat). These foster parents, who are also considered as the personification of sheet lightning, soon managed to control their troublesome charge, and brought him up so wisely, that all the gods were duly grateful for their kind offices. Thor himself, recognizing all he owed them, assumed the names of Vingthor and Hlorridi, by which he is also known.

“Cry on, Vingi-Thor,
With the dancing of the ring-mail and the smitten shields of war.”
              -SIGURD THE VOLSUNG (William Morris)

Having attained his full growth and the age of reason, Thor was admitted in Asgard among the other gods, where he occupied one of the twelve seats in the great judgment hall. He was also given the realm of Thrud-vang or Thrud-heim, where he built a wonderful palace called Bilskirnir (lightning), the most spacious in all Asgard. It contains five hundred and forty halls for the accommodation of the thralls, who after death are welcomed to his home, where they are treated as well as their masters in Valhalla, for Thor is the patron god of the peasants and lower classes.

“Five hundred halls
And forty more,
Methinketh, hath
Bowed Bilskirnir.
Of houses roofed
There’s none I know
My son’s surpassing.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Percy’s tr.)

As he is the God of Thunder, Thor alone is never allowed to pass over the wonderful bridge Bifröst, lest he should set it aflame by the heat of his presence; and when he daily wishes to join his fellow gods by the Urdar fountain, under the shade of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, he is forced to make his way thither on foot, wading through the rivers Kormt and Ormt, and the two streams Kerlaug, to the trysting place.

Thor, who was honored as the highest god in Norway, came second in the trilogy of all the other countries, and was called “old Thor,” because he is supposed by some mythologists to have belonged to an older dynasty of gods, and not on account of his actual age, for he was represented and described as a man in his prime, tall and well formed, with muscular limbs and bristling red hair and beard, from which, in moments of anger, the sparks fairly flew.

“First, Thor with the bent brow,
In red beard muttering low,
Darting fierce lightnings from eyeballs that glow,
Comes, while each chariot wheel
Echoes in thunder peal,
As his dread hammer shock
Makes Earth and Heaven rock,
Clouds rifting above, while Earth quakes below.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

The Northern races further adorned him with a crown, on each point of which was either a, glittering star, or a steadily burning flame, so that his head was ever surrounded by a kind of halo of fire, his own element.

Thor’s Hammer

Thor is the proud possessor of a magic hammer called Mjöllnir (the crusher) which he hurls at his enemies, the frost giants, with destructive power, and which possesses the wonderful property of always returning to his hand, however far away he might hurl it.

“I am the Thunderer!
Here in my Northland,
My fastness and fortress,
Reign I forever!

“Here amid icebergs
Rule I the nations;
This is my hammer,
Mjöllnir the mighty;
Giants and sorcerers
Cannot withstand it!”
              -SAGA OF KING OLAF (Longfellow

As this huge hammer, the emblem of the thunderbolts, is generally red hot, Thor has an iron gauntlet called Iarn-greiper, which enables him to grasp it firmly and hurl it very far, his strength, which was already remarkable, being always doubled when he wears his magic belt called Megingjardar.

“This is my girdle:
Whenever I brace it,
Strength is redoubled!”
              -SAGA OF KING OLAF (Longfellow)

Thor’s hammer was considered so very sacred by the ancient Northern people, that they were wont to make the sign of the hammer, as the Christians later taught them to make the sign of the cross, to ward off all evil influences, and to secure many blessings. The same sign was also made over the newly born infant when water was poured over its head and a name given it. The hammer was used to drive in boundary stakes, which it was considered sacrilegious to remove, to hallow the threshold of a new house, to solemnize a marriage, and, lastly, to consecrate the funeral pyre upon which the bodies of heroes were burned, together with their weapons and steeds, and, in some cases, with their wives and dependents.

In Sweden, Thor, like Odin, was supposed to wear a broad-brimmed hat, and hence the storm clouds in that country are known as Thor’s hat, a name also given to one of the principal mountains in Norway. The rumble and roar of the thunder were called the roll of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback, but walked, or drove in a brazen chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngniostr (tooth cracker), and Tanngrisnr (tooth gnasher), from whose teeth and hoofs the sparks constantly flew

“Thou tamest near the next, O warrior Thor!
Shouldering thy hammer, in thy chariot drawn,
Swaying the long-hair’d goats with silver’d rein.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

When the God thus drove about from place to place, he was called Aku-thor, or Thor the charioteer, and in southern Germany the people, fancying a brazen chariot alone inadequate to furnish all the noise they heard, declared it was loaded with copper kettles, which rattled and clashed, and therefore often called him, with disrespectful familiarity, the kettle vender.

Thor’s Family

Thor is twice married; first to the giantess Iarnsaxa (iron stone), who bore him two sons, Magni (strength) and Modi (courage), both destined to survive their father and the twilight of the gods, and rule over the new world which is to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the first. His second wife is Sif, the golden-haired, who also bore him two children, Lorride, and a daughter named Thrud, a young giantess renowned for her size and strength. By the well-known affinity of contrast, Thrud was wooed by the dwarf Alvis, whom she rather favored; and one evening, when this suitor, who, being a dwarf, could not face the light of day, presented himself in Asgard to sue for her hand, the assembled Gods did not refuse their consent. They had scarcely signified their approbation, however, when Thor, who had been absent, suddenly appeared, and casting a glance of contempt upon the puny lover, declared he would have to prove that his knowledge atoned for his small stature, before he could win his bride.

To test Alvis’s mental powers, Thor then questioned him in the language of the Gods, Vanas, elves, and dwarfs, artfully prolonging his examination until sunrise, when. the first beam of light, falling upon the unhappy dwarf, petrified him. There he stood, an enduring example of the Gods’ power, and served as a warning to all other dwarfs who would fain have tested it.

“Ne’er in human bosom
Have I found so many
Words of the old time.
Thee with subtlest cunning
Have I yet befooled.
Above ground standeth thou, dwarf,
By day art overtaken,
Bright sunshine fills the hall.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Howitt’s version)

Sif, the Golden-haired

Sif, Thor’s wife, was very vain of a magnificent head of long golden hair which covered her from head to foot like a brilliant veil; and as she too is a symbol of the earth, her hair is said to represent the long grass, or the golden grain covering the Northern harvest fields. Thor was very proud of his wife’s beautiful hair; imagine his dismay, therefore, upon waking one morning, to find her all shorn, and as bald and denuded of ornament as the earth when the grain has all been garnered, and nothing but the stubble remains! In his anger, Thor sprang to his feet, vowing he would punish the perpetrator of this outrage, whom he immediately and rightly conjectured to be Loki, the arch plotter, ever on the lookout for some evil deed to perform. Seizing his hammer, Thor soon overtook Loki in spite of his attempting to evade him by changing form, caught him by the throat, and almost strangled him ere he yielded to his imploring signs, and slightly loosed his powerful grasp. As soon as Loki could catch his breath, he implored forgiveness, but all his entreaties were vain, until he promised to procure for Sif a new head of hair, as beautiful as the first, and as luxuriant in growth.

“And thence for Sif new tresses I’ll bring Of gold, ere the daylight’s gone,
So that she shall liken a field in spring,
With its yellow-flowered garment on.”
              -THE DWARFS, OEHLENSCHLÄGER (Pigott’s tr.)

Thor, hearing this, consented to let the traitor go; so Loki rapidly crept down into the bowels of the earth, where Svartalfheim was situated, to beg the dwarf Dvalin to fashion not only the precious hair, but a present for Odin and Frey, whose anger he wished to disarm.

The dwarf soon made the spear Gungnir, which never failed in its aim, and the ship Skidbladnir, which, always wafted by favorable winds, could sail through the air as well as on the water, and was so elastic, that although it could contain the Gods and all their steeds, it could be folded up into the very smallest compass and thrust in one’s pocket. Lastly, he spun the very finest golden thread, from which he fashioned the required hair for Sif, declaring that as soon as it touched her head it would grow fast there and become alive.

“Though they now seem dead, let them touch but her head,
Each hair shall the life-moisture fill;
Nor shall malice nor spell henceforward prevail
Sif’s tresses to work aught of ill.”
              -THE DWARFS, OEHLENSCHLÄGER (Pigott’s tr.)

Loki was so pleased with these proofs of the dwarfs’ skill that he declared the son of Ivald was the most clever of smiths — words which were overheard by Brock, another dwarf, who exclaimed that he was sure his brother Sindri could produce three objects which would surpass those which Loki held, not only in intrinsic value, but also in magical properties. Loki immediately challenged the dwarf to show his skill, wagering his head against Brock’s on the result of the undertaking.

Sindri, apprised of the wager, accepted Brock’s offer to blow the bellows, warning him, however, that he must work persistently if he wished to succeed; then he threw some gold in the fire, and went out to bespeak the favor of the hidden powers. During his absence Brock diligently plied the bellows, while Loki, hoping to make him fail, changed himself into a gadfly and cruelly stung his hand. In spite of the pain, the dwarf did not let go, and when Sindri returned, he drew out of the fire an enormous wild boar, called Gullin-bursti, on account of its golden bristles, which had the power of radiating light as he flitted across the sky, for he could travel through the air with marvelous velocity.

“And now, strange to tell, from the roaring fire
Came the golden-haired Gullinbörst,
To serve as a charger the sun-god Frey,
Sure, of all wild boars this the first.”
              -THE DWARFS, OEHLENSCHLÄGER (Pigott’s tr.)

This first piece of work successfully completed, Sindri flung some more gold on the fire and bade his brother blow, ere he again went out to secure magic assistance. This time Loki, still disguised as a gadfly, stung the dwarf on his cheek; but in spite of the pain Brock worked on, and when Sindri returned, he triumphantly drew out of the flames the magic ring Draupnir, the emblem of fertility, from which eight similar rings dropped every ninth night.

“They worked it and turned it with wondrous skill,
Till they gave it the virtue rare,
That each thrice third night from its rim there fell
Eight rings, as their parent fair.”
              -THE DWARFS, OEHLENSCHLÄGER (Pigott’s tr.)

Now a lump of iron was cast in the flames, and with a new caution not to forfeit their success by inattention, Sindri passed out, leaving Brock to ply the bellows and wrestle with the gadfly, which this time stung him above the eye until the blood began to flow in such a stream, that it prevented his seeing what he was doing. Hastily raising his hand for a second, Brock dashed aside the stream of blood; but short as was the interruption, Sindri uttered an exclamation of disappointment when he drew his work out of the fire, for the hammer he had fashioned had too short a handle.

“Then the dwarf raised his hand to his brow for the smart,
Ere the iron well out was beat,
And they found that the haft by an inch was too short,
But to alter it then ‘twas too late.”
              -THE DWARFS, OEHLENSCHLÄGER (Pigott’s tr.)

Notwithstanding this mishap, Brock was so sure of winning the wager that he did not hesitate to present himself before the Gods in Asgard, gave Odin the ring Draupnir, Frey the boar Gullin-bursti, and Thor the hammer Mjöllnir, whose power none could resist.

Loki immediately gave the spear Gungnir to Odin, the ship Skidbladnir to Frey, and the golden hair to Thor; but although the latter immediately grew upon Sif’s head and was unanimously declared more beautiful than her own locks had ever been, the gods decreed that Brock had won the wager, for the hammer Mjöllnir, in Thor’s hands, would prove invaluable against the frost giants on the last day.

“And at their head came Thor, Shouldering his hammer, which the giants know.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Wishing to save his head, Loki fled, but was soon overtaken by Thor, who brought him back and handed him over to Brock, telling him, however, that although Loki’s head was rightfully his, he must not touch his neck. Thus hindered from obtaining full vengeance, the dwarf tried to sew Loki’s lips together, but, as his sword would not pierce them, he was obliged to borrow his brother’s awl. However, Loki, after enduring the Gods’ gibes in silence for a little while, managed to cut the string and was soon as loquacious as ever.

In spite of his redoubtable hammer, Thor was never considered as the injurious God of the storm, who destroyed peaceful homesteads and ruined the harvest by sudden hail storms and cloud bursts, for the Northerners fancied he hurled it only against ice giants and rocky walls, reducing the latter to powder to fertilize the earth and make it yield plentiful fruit to the tillers of the soil.

In Germany, where the eastern storms are always cold and blighting, while the western bring warm rains and mild weather, Thor was supposed to journey always from west to east, to wage war against the evil spirits which would fain have enveloped the country in impenetrable veils of mist and have bound it in icy fetters.

Journey to Jötunheim

As the giants from Jötunheim were continually sending out cold blasts of wind to nip the tender buds and hinder the growth of the flowers, Thor once made up his mind to go and force them to better behavior. Accompanied by Loki he therefore set out in his chariot. After riding for a whole day the gods came at nightfall to the confines of the giant-world, where, seeing a peasant’s hut, they resolved to spend the night and refresh themselves.

Their host was hospitable but very poor, and Thor seeing that he would scarcely be able to supply the necessary food to satisfy his by no means small appetite, slew both his goats, which he cooked and began to eat, inviting his host and family to partake freely of the food thus provided, but cautioning them to throw all the bones, without breaking them, into the skins spread out on the floor.
The peasant and his family ate heartily, but a youth called Thialfi, encouraged by Loki, ventured to break one of the bones and suck out the marrow, thinking his disobedience would never be detected. On the morrow, however, Thor, ready to depart, struck the goat skins with his hammer Miölnir, and immediately the goats sprang up as lively as before, except that one seemed somewhat lame. Perceiving in a second that his commands had been disregarded, Thor would have slain the whole family in his wrath. The culprit acknowledged his fault, however, and the peasant offered to compensate for the loss by giving the irate god not only his son Thialfi, but also his daughter Roskva, to serve him forever.

Charging the man to take good care of the goats, which he left there until he should return, and bidding the young peasants accompany him, Thor now set out on foot with Loki, and after walking all day found himself at nightfall in a bleak and barren country, which was enveloped in an almost impenetrable gray mist. After seeking for some time, Thor saw through the fog the uncertain outline of what looked like a peculiar-shaped house. Its open portal was so wide and high that it seemed to take up all one side of the house. Entering and finding neither fire nor light, Thor and his companions flung themselves wearily down on the floor to sleep, but were soon disturbed by a peculiar noise, and a prolonged trembling of the ground beneath them. Fearing lest the main roof should fall during this earthquake, Thor and his companions took refuge in a wing of the building, where they soon fell sound asleep. At dawn, the God and his companions passed out, but they had not gone very far ere they saw the recumbent form of a sleeping giant, and perceived that the peculiar sounds which had disturbed their rest were produced by his snores. At that moment the giant awoke, arose, stretched himself, looked about him for his missing property, and a second later he picked up the object which Thor and his companions had mistaken in the darkness for a house. They then perceived with amazement that the wing in which they had all slept was the separate place in a mitten for the giant’s great thumb! Learning that Thor and his companions were on their way to Utgard, as the giants’ realm was also called, Skrymir, the giant, proposed to be their guide; and after walking with them all day, he offered them the provisions in his wallet ere he dropped asleep. But, in spite of strenuous efforts, neither Thor nor his companions could unfasten the knots which Skrymir had tied.

“Skrymir’s thongs
Seemed to thee hard,
When at the food thou couldst not get,
When, in full health, of hunger dying.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)


Angry because of his snoring, which kept them awake, Thor thrice dealt him fearful blows with his hammer. These strokes, instead of annihilating the monster, merely evoked sleepy comments to the effect that a leaf, a bit of bark, or a twig from a bird’s nest overhead had fallen upon his face. Early on the morrow, Skrymir left Thor and his companions, pointing out the shortest road to Utgard-loki’s castle, which was built of great ice blocks, with huge glittering icicles as pillars. The gods, slipping between the bars of the great gate, presented themselves boldly before the king of the giants, Utgard-loki, who, recognizing them, immediately pretended to be greatly surprised at their small size, and expressed a wish to see for himself what they could do, as he had often heard their prowess vaunted.

Loki, who had fasted longer than he wished, immediately declared he was ready to eat for a wager with any one. So the king ordered a great wooden trough full of meat to be brought into the hall, and placing Loki at one end and his cook Logi at the other, he bade them see which would win. Although Loki did wonders, and soon reached the middle of the trough, he still found himself beaten, for whereas he had picked the bones clean, his opponent had devoured both them and the trough.

Smiling contemptuously, Utgard-loki said that it was evident they could not do much in the eating line, and so nettled Thor thereby, that he declared if Loki could not eat more than the voracious cook, he felt confident he could drain the biggest vessel in the house, such was his unquenchable thirst. Immediately a horn was brought in, and, Utgard-loki declaring that good drinkers emptied it at one draught, moderately thirsty persons at two, and small drinkers at three, Thor applied his lips to the rim. But, although he drank so deep that he thought he would burst, the liquid still came almost up to the rim when he raised his head. A second and third attempt to empty this horn proved equally unsuccessful. Thialfi then offered to run a race, and a young fellow named Hugi soon outstripped him, although he made remarkably good time.

Thor next proposed to show his strength by lifting great weights, but when challenged to pick up the giant’s cat, he tugged and strained, only to succeed in raising one paw from the floor, although he had taken the precaution to enhance his strength as much as possible by tightening his belt Megingjardar.

“Strong is great Thor, no doubt, when Meginjardar
He braces tightly o’er his rock-firm loins.”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

An attempt on his part to wrestle with Utgard-loki’s old nurse Elli, the only opponent deemed worthy of such a puny fellow, ended equally disastrously, and the Gods, acknowledging they were beaten, were hospitably entertained. On the morrow they were escorted to the confines of Utgard, where the giant politely informed them that he hoped they would never call upon him again, as he had been forced to employ magic against them. He then went on to explain that he was the giant Skrymir, and that had he not taken the precaution to interpose a mountain between his head and Thor’s blows, he would have been slain, as deep clefts in the mountain side testified to the god’s strength. Next he informed them that Loki’s opponent was Logi (wild fire); that Thialfi had run a race with Hugi (thought), than which no swifter runner exists; that Thor’s drinking horn was connected with the ocean, where his deep draughts had produced a perceptible ebb ; that the cat was in reality the terrible Midgard serpent encircling the world, which Thor had nearly pulled out of the sea ; and that Elli, his nurse, was old age, whom none can resist. Having finished these explanations and cautioned them never to return or he would defend himself by similar delusions, Utgard-loki vanished, and although Thor angrily brandished his hammer to destroy his castle, such a mist enveloped it that it could not be seen, and the Thunder God was obliged to return to Thrudvang without having accomplished his purpose, the extermination of the race of giants.

“The strong-armed Thor
Full oft against giant Jotunheim did wend,
But spite his belt celestial, spite his gauntlets,
Utgard-Loki still his throne retains;
Evil, itself a force, to force yields never.”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

Thor and Hrungnir

As Odin was once dashing through the air on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, he attracted the attention of the giant Hrungnir, who proposed a race, declaring he was sure his own steed Gullfaxi could rival Sleipnir in speed. In the heat of the race, Hrungnir did not even notice in what direction they were going, and, in the vain hope of overtaking Odin, urged his steed on to the very gates of Valhalla. Discovering where he was, the giant then grew pale with fear, for he knew he had jeopardized his life by venturing into the stronghold of the Gods, his hereditary foes.

The Æsir, however, were too honorable to take even an enemy at such a disadvantage, and, instead of doing him any harm, asked him into their banqueting halls, where he proceeded to indulge in liberal potations of the heavenly mead set before him. He soon grew so excited that he began to boast of his power, declaring he would come some day and take possession of Asgard, which he would destroy, as well as all the Gods, excepting only Freya and Sif, upon whom he gazed with an admiring, drunken leer.

The Gods, knowing he was not responsible, let him talk unmolested; but Thor, coming home just then from one of his journeys, and hearing him propose to carry away his beloved Sif, flew into a terrible rage. He furiously brandished his hammer, intending to annihilate the boaster. This the Gods would not permit, however, and they quickly threw themselves between the irate Thunderer and their guest, imploring the former to respect the sacred rights of hospitality, and not desecrate their peace-stead by shedding blood.

Thor at last consented to bridle his wrath, providing the giant Hrungnir would appoint a time and place for a holmgang, as a Northern duel was generally called. Thus challenged, Hrungnir promised to meet Thor at Griottunagard, the confines of his realm, three days later, and departed somewhat sobered by the fright he had experienced. When his fellow giants heard how rash he had been, they chided him sorely; but hearing he was to have the privilege of being accompanied by a squire, whom Thialfi would engage in fight, they proceeded to construct a creature of clay, nine miles long, and proportionately wide, whom they called Mokerkialfi (mist wader). As they could find no human heart big enough to put in this monster’s breast, they secured that of a mare, which, however, kept fluttering and quivering with apprehension. The day of the duel arrived. Hrungnir and his squire were on the ground awaiting the arrival of their respective opponents. The giant had not only a flint heart and skull, but also a shield and club of the same substance, and therefore deemed himself well-nigh invincible. But when he heard a terrible noise, and Thialfi came running up to announce his master’s coming, he gladly followed the herald’s advice and stood upon his shield, lest the thunder god should come up from the ground and attack him unprotected.

A moment later, however, he saw his mistake, for, while Thialfi attacked Mokerkialfi with a spade, Thor came rushing up and flung his hammer full at his opponent’s head. Hrungnir, to ward off the blow, interposed his stone club, which was shivered into pieces, that flew all over the earth, supplying all the flint stones to be found, and one fragment sank deep in Thor’s forehead. As the God dropped fainting to the ground, his hammer crashed against the head of Hrungnir, who fell down dead beside him, in such a position that one of his ponderous legs was thrown over the recumbent god.

“Thou now remindest me
How I with Hrungnir fought,
That stout-hearted Jotun,
Whose head was all of stone;
Yet I made him fall And sink before me.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

Thialfi, who, in the mean while, had disposed of the great clay giant with its cowardly mare’s heart, now rushed to his master’s rescue; but all his efforts and those of the assembled Gods, whom he quickly summoned, could not raise the pinioning leg. While they were standing there, helplessly wondering what they should do next, Thor’s little son Magni came up. According to varying accounts, he was then only three days or three years old, but he quickly seized the giant’s foot, and, unaided, set his father free, declaring that had he only been summoned sooner he would easily have disposed of both giant and squire. This exhibition of strength upon his part made the gods wonder greatly, and helped them to recognize the truth of the various predictions, which one and all declared that their descendants would be mightier than they, would survive them, and would rule in their turn over the new heaven and earth.

To reward his son for his timely aid, Thor gave him the steed Gullfaxi (golden-maned), to which he had fallen heir by right of conquest, and Magni ever after rode this marvelous horse, which almost equaled the renowned Sleipnir in speed and endurance.

Groa, the Sorceress

After vainly trying to remove the stone splinter from his forehead, Thor sadly returned home to Thrudvang, where Sif’s loving efforts were equally unsuccessful. She therefore resolved to send for Groa (green-making), a sorceress, noted for her skill in medicine and for the efficacy of her spells and incantations. Groa immediately signified her readiness to render every service in her power to the god who had so often benefited her, and solemnly began to recite powerful runes, under whose influence Thor felt the stone grow looser and looser. In his delight at the prospect of a speedy deliverance, Thor wished to reward the enchantress. Knowing that nothing could give greater pleasure to a mother than the prospect of seeing a long-lost child, he therefore told her he had recently crossed the Elivagar, or ice streams, to rescue her little son Orvandil (germ) from the frost giants’ cruel power, and had succeeded in carrying him off in a basket. But, as the little rogue would persist in sticking one of his bare toes through a hole in the basket, it had been frost bitten, and Thor, accidentally breaking it off, had flung it up into the sky, where it shone as a star, known in the North as “Orvandil’s Toe.”

Delighted with these tidings, the prophetess paused in her incantations to express her joy, but, having forgotten just where she left off, she was never able to continue her spell, and the flint stone remained imbedded in Thor’s forehead, whence it could never be dislodged.

Thor and Thrym

Of course, as Thor’s hammer always did him such good service, it was the most prized of all his possessions, and his dismay was very great when he awoke one morning and found it gone. His cry of anger and disappointment soon brought Loki to his side, and to him Thor confided the secret of his loss, declaring that were the giants to hear of it, they would soon attempt to storm Asgard and destroy the Gods.

“Wroth waxed Thor, when his sleep was flown,
And he found his trusty hammer gone;
He smote his brow, his beard he shook,
The son of earth ‘gan round him look;
And this the first word that he spoke
‘Now listen what I tell thee, Loke;
Which neither on earth below is known,
Nor in heaven above: my hammer’s gone.’”
              -THRYM’S QUIDA (Herbert’s tr.)

Loki declared he would try to discover the thief and recover the hammer, if Freya would only lend him her falcon plumes, and immediately hastened off to Folkvang to borrow them. In the form of a bird he then winged his flight across the river Ifing, and over the barren stretches of Jotunheim, where he shrewdly suspected the thief was to be found. There he saw Thrym, prince of the frost giants and God of the destructive thunder storm, sitting alone on a hillside, and, artfully questioning him, soon learned that he had stolen the hammer, had buried it deep underground, and would never give it up unless Freya were brought to him, in bridal array, ready to become his wife.

“I have the Thunderer’s hammer bound
Fathoms eight beneath the ground;
With it shall no one homeward tread
Till he bring me Freya to share my bed.”
              -THRYM’S QUIDA (Herbert’s tr.)

Indignant at the giant’s presumption, Loki returned to Thrudvang, where Thor, hearing what he had learned, declared it would be well to visit Freya and try to prevail upon her to sacrifice herself for the general good. But when the Æsir told the Goddess of beauty what they wished her to do, she flew into such a passion that even her necklace burst. She told them that she would never leave her beloved husband for any God, and much less to marry an ugly old giant and dwell in Jotunheim, where all was dreary in the extreme, and where she would soon die of longing for the green fields and flowery meadows, in which she loved to roam. Seeing that further persuasions would be useless, Loki and Thor returned home and there devised another plan for recovering the hammer. By Heimdall’s advice, Thor borrowed and reluctantly put on all Freya’s clothes and her necklace, and enveloped himself in a thick veil. Loki, having attired himself as a handmaiden, then mounted with him in the goat-drawn chariot, to ride to Jötunheim, where they intended to play the respective parts of the Goddess of beauty and of her attendant.

“Home were driven
Then the goats,
And hitched to the car;
Hasten they must —
The mountains crashed,
The earth stood in flames:
Odin’s son
Rode to Jötunheim.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Thrym welcomed his guests at the palace door, overjoyed at the thought that he was about to secure undisputed possession of the Goddess of beauty, for whom he had long sighed in vain. He quickly led them to the banquet hall, where Thor, the bride elect, almost disgraced himself by eating an ox, eight huge salmon, and all the cakes and sweets provided for the women, washing down these miscellaneous viands with two whole barrels of mead.

The giant bridegroom watched these gastronomic feats with amazement, and was not even reassured when Loki confidentially whispered to him that the bride was so deeply in love with him that she had not been able to taste a morsel of food for more than eight days. Thrym then sought to kiss the bride, but drew back appalled at the fire of her glance, which Loki explained as a burning glance of love. The giant’s sister, claiming the usual gifts, was not even noticed; so Loki again whispered to the wondering Thrym that love made people absent-minded. Intoxicated with passion and mead, which he, too, had drunk in liberal quantities, the bridegroom now bade his servants produce the sacred hammer to consecrate the marriage, and as soon as it was brought he himself laid it in the pretended Freya’s lap. The next moment a powerful hand closed over the short handle, and the weapon, rapidly hurled by Thor, soon slew the giant, his sister, and all the invited guests.

“‘Bear in the hammer to plight the maid;
Upon her lap the bruiser lay,
And firmly plight our hands and fay.’
The Thunderer’s soul smiled in his breast;
When the hammer hard on his lap was placed,
Thrym first, the king of the Thursi, he slew,
And slaughtered all the giant crew.”
              -THRYM’S QUIDA (Herbert’s tr.)

Leaving a smoking heap of ruins behind them, the Gods then drove rapidly back to Asgard, where the borrowed garments were given back to Freya, and the Æsir all rejoiced at the recovery of the precious hammer. When next Odin glanced towards that part of Jötunheim from the top of his throne Hlidskialf, he saw the ruins covered with tender green shoots, for Thor, having conquered his enemy, had taken possession of his land, which no longer remained barren and desolate as before, but brought forth fruit in abundance.

Thor and Geirrod

Loki, in search of adventures, once borrowed Freya’s falcon garb and flew off to another part of Jötunheim, where he perched on top of the gables of Geirrod’s house, and, gazing about him, soon attracted the attention of this giant, who bade one of his servants catch the bird. Amused at the fellow’s clumsy attempts to secure him, Loki flitted about from place to place, only moving just as the giant was about to lay hands upon him, until, miscalculating his distance, he suddenly found himself a captive.

Geirrod, gazing upon the bird’s bright eyes, shrewdly suspected that it was a god in disguise, and to force him to speak, locked him up in a cage, where he kept him for three whole months without food or drink. Conquered at last by hunger and thirst, Loki revealed his identity, and obtained his release by promising that he would induce Thor to visit Geirrod without his hammer, pelt, or magic gauntlet. Loki then flew back to Asgard, and told Thor that he had been royally entertained, and that his host had expressed a strong desire to see the powerful Thunder God, of whom Loki had told him such wonderful tales. Flattered by this artful speech, Thor was soon brought to consent to a journey to Jötunheim, and immediately set out, leaving his three marvelous weapons at home. He and Loki had not gone very far, however, ere they came to the house of the giantess Grid, one of Odin’s many wives, who, seeing Thor disarmed, lent him her own girdle, staff, and glove, warning him to beware of treachery. Some time after leaving her, Thor and Loki came to the river Veimer, which the Thunder God, accustomed to wading, coolly prepared to ford, bidding Loki and Thialfi cling fast to his belt if they would come safe across.

In the middle of the stream, however, a sudden cloudburst and freshet overtook them; the waters began to rise and roar, and although Thor leaned heavily upon his staff, he was almost swept away by the force of the raging current.

“Wax not, Veimer,
Since to wade I desire
To the realm of the giants!
Know, if thou waxest,
Then waxes my asamight
As high as the heavens.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Looking up the stream, Thor now became aware of the presence of Geirrod’s daughter Gialp, and rightly suspected that she was the cause of the storm. He picked up a huge bowlder, which he flung at her, muttering that the best place to dam a river was at its source. The rock had the desired effect, for the giantess fled, the waters abated, and Thor, exhausted but safe, pulled himself up on the opposite bank by a little shrub, the mountain-ash or sorb, which has since been known as “Thor’s salvation,” and considered gifted with occult powers. After resting awhile the God resumed his journey; but upon arriving at Geirrod’s house he was so exhausted that he sank wearily down upon the only chair in sight. To his surprise, however, he felt it rise beneath him, and fearing lest he should be crushed against the rafters, he braced the borrowed staff against the ceiling and forced the chair downward with all his might. A terrible cracking, sudden cries, and moans of pain proved that he had broken the backs of the giant’s daughters, Gialp and Greip, who had slipped under his chair and had treacherously tried to slay him.

“Once I employed
My asamight
In the realm of giants,
When Gialp and Greip,
Geirrod’s daughters,
Wanted to lift me to heaven.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Geirrod now challenged Thor to show his strength and skill, and without waiting for the preconcerted signal, flung a red-hot wedge at him. Thor, quick of eye and a practiced catcher, caught the missile with the giantess’s iron glove, and hurled it back at his opponent. Such was the force of the god, that the missile passed, not only through the pillar behind which the giant had taken refuge, but through him and the wall of the house, and buried itself deep in the earth without.
Thor then marched up to the giant’s corpse, which at the blow from his weapon had been changed into stone, and set it up in a conspicuous place, as a monument of his strength and of the victory he had won over his redoubtable foes, the mountain giants.

Worship of Thor

Thor’s name has been given to many of the places he was wont to frequent, such as the principal harbor of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, and to families which claim to be descended from him. It is still extant in such names as Thunderhill in Surrey, and in the family names of Thorburn and Thorwaldsen, but is most conspicuous in the name of one of the days of the week, Thor’s day or Thursday.

“Over the whole earth
Still is it Thor’s day!”
              -SAGA OF KING OLAF (Longfellow)

Thor was considered a preeminently benevolent deity, and it was for that reason that he was so widely worshiped and that his temples arose at Moeri, Hlader, Godey, Gothland, Upsala, and other places, where the people never failed to invoke him for a favorable year at Yule-tide, his principal festival. It was customary on this occasion to burn a great log of oak, his sacred tree, as an emblem of the warmth and light of summer, which would soon come to drive away the darkness and cold of winter.

Brides invariably wore red, Thor’s favorite color, which was considered emblematical of love, and for the same reason betrothal rings in the North were almost always set with a red stone.

Thor’s temples and statues, like Odin’s, were fashioned of wood, and the greater number of them were destroyed during the reign of King Olaf the Saint. According to ancient chronicles, this monarch forcibly converted his subjects. He was specially incensed against the inhabitants of a certain province, because they worshiped a rude image of Thor, which they decked with golden ornaments, and before which they set food every evening, declaring the God ate it, as no trace of it was left in the morning.

The people, being called upon in 1030 to renounce this idol in favor of a “true” foreign god, promised to consent if the morrow were cloudy; but when after a whole night spent in ardent prayer, Olaf rapturously beheld a cloudy day, the obstinate people declared they were not yet convinced of his god’s power, and would only believe if the sun shone on the following day.

Once more Olaf spent the night in prayer, but at dawn his chagrin was great to see the sky overcast. Nevertheless, determined to gain his end he assembled the people near Thor’s statue, and after secretly bidding his principal attendant smash the idol with his battle ax if the people turned their eyes away but for a moment, he began to address them. Suddenly, while all were listening to him, Olaf pointed to the horizon, where the sun was slowly breaking its way through the clouds, and exclaimed, “Behold our God!” While the people one and all turned to see what he meant, the attendant broke the idol, and began the process of a forced conversion to the alien middle-eastern based Christianity.


Best Loved of the Gods

Odin and Frigga were parents of twin sons as dissimilar in character and physical appearance as it was possible to be; for while Hodur, god of darkness, was somber, taciturn, and blind; Balder, the beautiful, was the pure and radiant god of innocence and light. The snowy brow and golden locks of this Asa seemed to send out beams of sunshine to gladden the hearts of Gods and men, by whom he was equally beloved.

“Of all the twelve round Odin’s throne,
Balder, the Beautiful, alone,
The Sun-god, good, and pure, and bright,
Was loved by all, as all love light.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)


Balder, attaining his full growth with marvelous rapidity, was admitted to the council of the Gods, and married Nanna (blossom), the daughter of Nip (bud), a beautiful and charming young goddess, with whom he lived in perfect unity and peace. He took up his abode in the palace of Breidablik, whose silver roof rested upon golden pillars, and whose purity was such that nothing common or unclean was ever allowed within its precincts.

The God of light was well versed in the science of runes which were carved on his tongue; he knew the various virtues of the simples, one of which, the camomile, was always called “Balder’s brow,” because its flower was just as immaculately pure as his forehead. The only thing hidden from Balder’s radiant eyes, at first, was the perception of his own ultimate fate.

“His own house
Breidablik, on whose columns Balder graved
The enchantments that recall the dead to life.
For wise he was, and many curious arts,
Postures of runes, and healing herbs he knew;
Unhappy! but that art he did not know,
To keep his own life safe, and see the sun.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

As Balder the beautiful was always smiling and happy, the Gods were greatly troubled when they finally saw the light die out of his blue eyes, a careworn look come into his face, and his step grow heavy and slow. Odin and Frigga, seeing their beloved son’s evident depression, tenderly implored him to reveal the cause of his silent grief. Balder, yielding at last to their anxious entreaties, confessed that his slumbers, instead of being peaceful and restful as of yore, had been strangely troubled of late by dark and oppressive dreams, which, although he could not clearly remember them when he awoke, constantly haunted him with a vague feeling of fear.

“To that god his slumber
Was most afflicting;
His auspicious dreams
Seemed departed.”
             -LAY OF VEGTAM (Thorpe’s tr.)

When Odin and Frigga heard this, they were troubled indeed, but declared they were quite sure nothing would harm their son, who was so universally beloved. Yet, when the anxious Father and Mother had returned home, they talked the matter over, acknowledged that they also were oppressed by strange forebodings, and having learned from the giants that Balder really was in danger, they proceeded to take measures to avert it.

Frigga, therefore, sent out her servants in every direction, bidding them make all living creatures, all plants, metals, stones — in fact, every animate and inanimate thing — register a solemn vow not to do any harm to Balder. All creation readily took the oath, for all things loved the radiant god, and basked in the light of his smile. So the servants soon returned to Frigga, telling her that all had been duly sworn except the mistletoe, growing upon the oak stem at the gate of Valhalla, which, they added, was such a puny, inoffensive thing that no harm could be feared from it.

“On a course they resolved:
That they would send
To every being,
Assurance to solicit,
Balder not to harm.
All species swore
Oaths to spare him;
Frigg received all
Their vows and compacts.”
             -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

The Vala’s Prophecy

Frigga now resumed her spinning with her usual content, for she knew no harm could come to the child she loved best of all. Odin, in the mean while, also sorely troubled, and wishing to ascertain whether there was any cause for his unwonted depression, resolved to consult one of the dead Valas or prophetesses. He therefore mounted his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, rode over the tremulous bridges Bifröst and Giallar, came to the entrance of Nifiheim, and passing the Helgate and the dog Garm, penetrated into Hel’s dark abode.

“Uprose the king of men with speed,
And saddled straight his coal-black steed;
Down the yawning steep he rode,
That leads to Hela’s drear abode.”
              -DESCENT OF ODIN (Gray)

To his surprise, he noticed that a feast was being spread in this dark realm, and that the couches had all been covered with tapestry and rings of gold, as if some highly honored guest were expected before long. Hastening on, Odin finally reached the grave where the Vala had rested undisturbed for many a year, and solemnly began to chant the magic spell and trace the runes which had the power of raising the dead.

“Thrice pronounc’d, in accents dread,
The thrilling verse that wakes the dead:
Till from out the hollow ground
Slowly breath’d a sullen sound.”
              -DESCENT OF ODIN (Gray)

Suddenly the grave opened, and the prophetess slowly rose, inquiring who he was and why he thus came to trouble her long rest. Odin, not wishing her to know that he was King of the Gods, replied that he was Vegtam, Valtam’s son, and that he had awakened her to inquire for whom Hel was spreading her couches and preparing a festive meal. In hollow tones, the prophetess now confirmed all his fears by telling him that the expected guest was Balder, who would shortly be slain by Hodur, his brother, the blind God of darkness.

“Hodur will hither
His glorious brother send;
He of Balder will
The slayer be,
And Odin’s son
Of life bereave.
By compulsion I have spoken;
Now I will be silent.”
             -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

But in spite of these sad tidings, and of the Vala’s evident reluctance to answer any other questions, Odin was not yet satisfied, and forced her to tell him who would avenge the murdered man by calling his assassin to account — a spirit of revenge and retaliation being considered a sacred duty among the races of the North.

Then the prophetess told him, as Rossthiof had predicted before, that Rinda, the earth-goddess, would bear a son to Odin, and that this divine emissary, Vali, would neither wash his face nor comb his hair until he had avenged Balder and slain Hodur.

“In the caverns of the west,
By Odin’s fierce embrace comprest,
A wondrous boy shall Rinda bear,
Who ne’er shall comb his raven hair,
Nor wash his visage in the stream,
Nor see the sun’s departing beam,
Till he on Hoder’s corse shall smile
Flaming on the fun’ral pile.”
              -DESCENT OF ODIN (Gray)

Having discovered this from the reluctant Vala, Odin, who, thanks to his visit to the Urdar fountain, already knew much of the future, now incautiously revealed some of his knowledge by inquiring who would refuse to weep at Balder’s death. When the prophetess heard this question, she immediately knew that it was Odin who had called her out of her grave, and, refusing to speak another word, she sank back into the silence of the tomb, declaring that none would ever be able to lure her out again until the end of the world had come.

“Hie thee hence, and boast at home,
That never shall inquirer come
To break my iron sleep again,
Till Lok has burst his tenfold chain;
Never, till substantial Night
Has reassum’d her ancient right
Till wrapt in flames, in ruin hurl’d,
Sinks the fabric of the world.”
             -DESCENT OF ODIN (Gray)

Odin had questioned the greatest prophetess the world had ever known, and had learned Orlog’s (fate’s) decrees, which he knew could not be set aside. He therefore remounted his steed, and sadly wended his way back to Asgard, thinking of the time, no longer far distant, when his beloved son would no more be seen in the heavenly abodes, and when the light of his presence would have vanished forever.

On entering Glads-heim, however, Odin was somewhat cheered when he heard of the precautions taken by Frigga to insure their darling’s safety, and soon, feeling convinced that if nothing would slay Balder he would surely continue to gladden the world with his presence, he cast aside all care and ordered games and a festive meal.

The Gods at Play

The Gods resumed their wonted occupations, and were soon casting their golden disks on the green plain of Ida, which was called Idavold, the playground of the Gods. At last, wearying of this pastime, and knowing that no harm could come to their beloved Balder, they invented a new game and began to use him as a target, throwing all manner of weapons and missiles at him, certain that no matter how cleverly they tried, and how accurately they aimed, the objects, having sworn not to injure him, would either glance aside or fall short. This new amusement was so fascinating that soon all the Gods were assembled around Balder, at whom they threw every available thing, greeting each new failure with prolonged shouts of laughter. These bursts of merriment soon excited the curiosity of Frigga, who sat spinning in Fensalir; and seeing an old woman pass by her dwelling, she bade her pause and tell what the Gods were doing to provoke such great hilarity. The old woman, who was Loki in disguise, immediately stopped at this appeal, and told Frigga that all the gods were throwing stones and blunt and sharp instruments at Balder, who stood smiling and unharmed in their midst, daring them to touch him.

The Goddess smiled, and resumed her work, saying that it was quite natural that nothing should harm Balder, as all things loved the light, of which he was the emblem, and had solemnly sworn not to injure him. Loki, the personification of fire, was greatly disappointed upon hearing this, for he was jealous of Balder, the sun, who so entirely eclipsed him and was generally beloved, while he was feared and avoided as much as possible; but he cleverly concealed his chagrin, and inquired of Frigga whether she were quite sure that all objects had joined the league.

Frigga proudly answered that she had received the solemn oath of all things, except of a harmless little parasite, the mistletoe, which grew on the oak near Valhalla’s gate, and was too small and weak to be feared. Having obtained the desired information, Loki toddled off; but as soon as he was safely out of sight, he resumed his wonted form, hastened to Valhalla, found the oak and mistletoe indicated by Frigga, and by magic arts compelled the parasite to assume a growth and hardness hitherto unknown.

The Death of Balder

From the wooden stem thus produced he deftly fashioned a shaft ere he hastened back to Idavold, where the Gods were still hurling missiles at Balder, Hodur alone leaning mournfully against a tree, and taking no part in the new game. Carelessly Loki approached him, inquired the cause of his melancholy, and twitted him with pride and indifference, since he would not condescend to take part in the new game. In answer to these remarks, Hodur pleaded his blindness; but when Loki put the mistletoe in his hand, led him into the midst of the circle, and indicated in what direction the novel target stood, Hodur threw his shaft boldly. Instead of the loud shout of laughter which he expected to hear, a shuddering cry of terror fell upon his ear, for Balder the beautiful had fallen to the ground, slain by the fatal blow.

“So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts, and spears,
Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clove;
But in his breast stood fixed the fatal bough
Of mistletoe, which Lok, the Accuser, gave
To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw —
’Gainst that alone had Balder’s life no charm.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Anxiously the Gods all crowded around him, but alas! life was quite extinct, and all their efforts to revive the fallen Sun-God were vain. Inconsolable at their loss, they turned angrily upon Hodur, whom they would have slain had they not been restrained by the feeling that no willful deed of violence should ever desecrate their peace steads. At the loud sound of lamentation the Goddesses came in hot haste, and when Frigga saw that her darling was dead, she passionately implored the Gods to go to Niflheim and entreat Hel to release her victim, for the earth could not live happy without him.

Hermod’s Errand

As the road was rough and painful in the extreme, none of the Gods at first volunteered to go; but when Frigga added that she and Odin would reward the messenger by loving him most of all the Æsir, Hermod signified his readiness to execute the commission. To help him on his way, Odin lent him Sleipnir, and bade him good speed, while he motioned to the other Gods to carry the corpse to Breidablik, and directed them to go to the forest and cut down huge pines to make a worthy pyre for his son.

“But when the Gods were to the forest gone,
Hermod led Sleipnir from Valhalla forth
And saddled him; before that, Sleipnir brook’d
No meaner hand than Odin’s on his mane,
On his broad back no lesser rider bore;
Yet docile now he stood at Hermod’s side,
Arching his neck, and glad to be bestrode,
Knowing the God they went to seek, how dear.
But Hermod mounted him, and sadly fared
In silence up the dark untravel’d road
Which branches from the north of Heaven, and went
All day; and daylight waned, and night came on.
And all that night he rode, and journey’d so,
Nine days, nine nights, toward the northern ice,
Through valleys deep-engulph’d by roaring streams.
And on the tenth morn he beheld the bridge
Which spans with golden arches Giall’s stream,
And on the bridge a damsel watching, arm’d,
In the straight passage, at the further end,
Where the road issues between walling rocks.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

While Hermod was traveling along the cheerless road to Niflheim, the Gods hewed and carried down to the shore a vast amount of fuel, which they placed upon the deck of Balder’s favorite vessel, Ringhorn, constructing an elaborate funeral pyre, which, according to custom, was decorated with tapestry hangings, garlands of flowers, vessels and weapons of all kinds, golden rings, and countless objects of value, ere the immaculate corpse was brought and laid upon it in full attire.

One by one, the Gods now drew near to take a last farewell of their beloved companion, and as Nanna bent over him, her loving heart broke, and she fell lifeless by his side. Seeing this, the Gods reverently laid her beside her husband, that she might accompany him even in death; and after they had slain his horse and hounds and twined the pyre with thorns, the emblems of sleep, Odin, the last of the Gods, drew near.

The Funeral Pyre

In token of affection for the dead and of sorrow for his loss, all laid their most precious possessions upon his pyre, and Odin, bending down, now added to the offerings his magic ring Draupnir. The assembled gods then perceived that he was whispering in his dead son’s ear, but none were near enough to hear what word he said.

These preliminaries ended, the Gods now prepared to launch the ship, but found it so heavily laden with fuel and treasures that their combined efforts could not make it stir an inch. The mountain giants, witnessing the sad scene from afar, and noticing their quandary, said that they knew of a giantess called Hyrrokin, who dwelt in Jötunheim, and was strong enough to launch the vessel without any other aid. The Gods therefore bade one of the storm giants hasten off to summon Hyrrokin, who soon appeared, riding a gigantic wolf, which she guided by a bridle made of writhing live snakes. Riding down to the shore, the giantess dismounted and haughtily signified her readiness to give them the required aid, if in the mean while they would but hold her steed. Odin immediately dispatched four of his maddest Berserkers to fulfill this task; but, in spite of their phenomenal strength, they could not hold the monstrous wolf until the giantess had thrown and bound it fast.

Hyrrokin, seeing them now able to manage her refractory steed, marched down the beach, set her shoulder against the stern of Balder’s ship Ringhorn, and with one mighty shove sent it out into the water. Such was the weight of the burden she moved, however, and the rapidity with which it shot down into the sea, that all the earth shook as if from an earthquake, and the rollers on which it glided caught fire from the friction. The unexpected shock almost made the Gods lose their balance, and so angered Thor that he raised his hammer and would have slain the giantess had he not been restrained by his fellow Gods. Easily appeased, as usual — for Thor’s violence, although quick, was evanescent — he now stepped up on the vessel once more to consecrate the funeral pyre with his sacred hammer. But, as he was performing this ceremony, the dwarf Lit managed to get into his way so provokingly that Thor, still slightly angry, kicked him into the fire, which he had just kindled with a thorn, where the dwarf was burned to ashes with the corpses of the faithful pair.

As the vessel drifted out to sea, the flames rose higher and higher, and when it neared the western horizon it seemed as if sea and sky were all on fire. Sadly the Gods watched the glowing ship and its precious freight, until it suddenly plunged into the waves and disappeared; nor did they turn aside and go back to their own homes until the last spark of light had vanished, and all the world was enveloped in darkness, in token of mourning for Balder the good.

“Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,
And the pile crackled; and between the logs
Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt
Curling and darting, higher, until they lick’d
The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,
And ate the shriveling sails; but still the ship
Drove on, ablaze above her hull with fire.
And the gods stood upon the beach, and gazed;
And while they gazed, the sun went lurid down
Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and night came on.
Then the wind fell with night, and there was calm;
But through the dark they watch’d the burning ship
Still carried o’er the distant waters, on
Farther and farther, like an eye of fire.
So show’d in the far darkness, Balder’s pile;
But fainter, as the stars rose high, it flared;
The bodies were consumed, ash choked the pile.
And as, in a decaying winter fire,
A charr’d log, falling, makes a shower of sparks —
So, with a shower of sparks, the pile fell in,
Reddening the sea around; and all was dark.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Sadly the Gods entered Asgard, where no sounds of merriment or feasting were heard, but all hearts were filled with despair, for they knew the end was near, and shuddered at the thought of the terrible Fimbul-winter, which was to herald their death.

Frigga alone cherished some hope, and anxiously watched for the return of her messenger, Hermod the swift, who in the mean while had ridden over the tremulous bridge, along the dark Helway, and on the tenth night had crossed the rushing tide of the river Gioll. Here he was challenged by Mödgud, who inquired why the Giallar-bridge trembled more beneath his horse’s tread than when a whole army passed, and asked why he, a live man, was attempting to penetrate into the dreaded realm of Hel.

“Who art thou on thy black and fiery horse
Under whose hoofs the bridge o’er Giall’s stream
Rumbles and shakes? Tell me thy race and home.
But yestermorn five troops of dead pass’d by,
Bound on their way below to Hela’s realm,
Nor shook the bridge so much as thou alone.
And thou hast flesh and color on thy cheeks,
Like men who live, and draw the vital air;
Nor look’st thou pale and wan, like man deceased,
Souls bound below, my daily passers here.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Hermod explained to Mödgud the reason of his coming, and, having ascertained that Balder and Nanna had ridden over the bridge before him, he hastened on, until he came to the gate of hell, which rose forbiddingly before him.
Nothing daunted by this barrier, Hermod dismounted on the smooth ice, tightened the girths of his saddle, remounted, and burying his spurs deep into Sleipnir’s sleek sides, he made him take a prodigious leap, which landed him safely on the other side of Hel-gate.

“Thence on he journey’d o’er the fields of ice
Still north, until he met a stretching wall
Barring his way, and in the wall a gate.
Then he dismounted, and drew tight the girths,
On the smooth ice, of Sleipnir, Odin’s horse,
And made him leap the gate, and came within.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Riding onward, Hermod came at last to Hel’s banquet hall, where he found Balder, pale and dejected, lying upon a couch, his wife Nanna beside him, gazing fixedly at the mead before him, which he had no heart to drink.

Hermod’s Quest

In vain Hermod informed his brother that he had come to redeem him; Balder sadly shook his head, saying that he knew he must remain in this cheerless abode until the last day should come, but imploring him to take Nanna back with him, as the home of the shades was no place for such a bright and beautiful young creature. But when Nanna heard this request she clung more closely still to her husband’s side, vowing that nothing would ever induce her to part from him, and that she would stay with him, even in Niflheim, forever.

The whole night was spent in close conversation, ere Hermod sought Hel and implored Balder’s release. The churlish Goddess listened silently to his request, and finally declared that she would let her victim go providing all things animate and inanimate should prove their sorrow for his loss by shedding a tear.

“Come then I if Balder was so dear beloved,
And this is true, and such a loss is Heaven’s —
Hear, how to Heaven may Balder be restored.
Show me through all the world the signs of grief!
Fails but one thing to grieve, here Balder stops!
Let all that lives and moves upon the earth
Weep him, and all that is without life weep;
Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones!
So shall I know the lost was dear indeed,
And bend my heart, and give him back to Heaven.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Having received this answer, the ring Draupnir, which Balder sent back to Odin, an embroidered carpet from Nanna for Frigga, and a ring for Fulla, Hermod cheerfully made his way out of Hel’s dark realm, whence he hoped soon to rescue Balder the good, for well he knew all Nature sincerely mourned his departure and would shed unlimited tears to win him back.

The assembled Gods crowded anxiously around him as soon as he returned, and when he had delivered his messages and gifts, the Æsir sent out heralds to every part of the world to bid all things animate and inanimate weep for Balder.

“Go quickly forth through all the world, and pray
All living and unliving things to weep
Balder, if haply he may thus be won!”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

These orders were rapidly carried out, and soon tears hung from every plant and tree, the ground was saturated with moisture, and metals and stones, in spite of their hard hearts, wept too.

On their way home the messengers passed a dark cave, in which they saw the crouching form of a giantess named Thok, whom some suppose to have been Loki in disguise; when they asked her also to shed a tear, she mocked them and fled into the dark recesses of her cave, declaring that she would never weep and that Hel might retain her prey forever.

“Thok she weepeth
With dry tears
For Balder’s death —
Neither in life, nor yet in death,
Gave he me gladness.
Let Hel keep her prey.”
              -ELDER EDDA (Howitt’s version)

As soon as the returning messengers arrived in Asgard, all the Gods crowded around them to know the result of their mission; but their faces, all alight with the joy of anticipation, soon grew dark with despair when they heard that, as one creature refused the tribute of tears, they should behold Balder on earth no more.

“Balder, the Beautiful, shall ne’er
From Hel return to upper air!
Betrayed by Loki, twice betrayed,
The prisoner of Death is made;
Ne’r shall he ’scape the place of doom
Till fatal Ragnarok be come!”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

The sole consolation left Odin was to fulfill the decree of fate. He therefore departed and achieved the difficult courtship of Rinda, which we have already described. She bore Vali, the Avenger, who, coming into Asgard on the very day of his birth, slew Hodur with his sharp arrow. Thus he punished the murderer of Balder according to the true Northern creed.

The physical explanation of this tale is either the daily setting of the sun (Balder), which sinks beneath the western waves, driven away by darkness (Hodur), or the end of the short Northern summer and reign of the long winter season. “Balder represents the bright and clear summer, when twilight and daylight kiss each other and go hand in hand in these Northern latitudes.”

“Balder’s pyre, of the sun a mark,
Holy hearth red staineth;
Yet, soon dies its last faint spark,
Darkly then Hoder reigneth.”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

“His death by Hodur is the victory of darkness over light, the darkness of winter over the light of summer; and the revenge by Vali is the breaking forth of new light after the wintry darkness.”

Loki, the fire, is jealous of the pure light of heaven, Balder, who alone among the Northern Gods never fought, but was always ready with words of conciliation and peace.

“But from thy lips, O Balder, night or day,
Heard no one ever an injurious word
To God or Hero, but thou keptest back
The others, laboring to compose their brawls.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

The tears shed by all things for the beloved God are symbolical of the spring thaw, setting in after the hardness and cold of winter, when every tree and twig, and even the stones drip with moisture; Thok (coal) alone shows no sign of tenderness, as she is buried deep within the dark earth and needs not the light of the sun.

“And as in winter, when the frost breaks up,
At winter’s end, before the spring begins,
And a warm west wind blows, and thaw sets in —
After an hour a dripping sound is heard
In all the forests, and the soft-strewn snow
Under the trees is dibbled thick with holes,
And from the boughs the snow loads shuffle down;
And, in fields sloping to the south, dark plots
Of grass peep out amid surrounding snow,
And widen, and the peasant’s heart is glad —
So through the world was heard a dripping noise
Of all things weeping to bring Balder back;
And there fell joy upon the Gods to hear.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

From the depths of their underground prison, the sun (Balder) and vegetation (Nanna) try to cheer heaven (Odin) and earth (Frigga) by sending them the ring Draupnir, the emblem of fertility, and the flowery tapestry, symbolical of the carpet of verdure which will again deck the earth and enhance her charms with its beauty.

The ethical signification of the tale is no less beautiful, for Balder and Hodur are symbols of the conflicting forces of good and evil, while Loki impersonates the tempter.

“But in each human soul we find
That night’s dark Hoder, Balder’s brother blind,
Is born and waxeth strong as he;
For blind is ev’ry evil born, as bear cubs be,
Night is the cloak of evil; but all good
Hath ever clad in shining garments stood.
The busy Loke, tempter from of old,
Still forward treads incessant, and doth hold
The blind one’s murder hand, whose quick-launch’d spear
Pierceth young Balder’s breast, that sun of Valhal’s sphere!”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

The Worship of Balder

One of the most important festivals was held at the summer solstice, or midsummer’s eve, in honor of Balder the good, for it was considered the anniversary of his death and of his descent into the lower world. On that day, the longest in the year, all the people congregated out of doors, made great bonfires, and watched the sun, which in extreme Northern latitudes merely touches the horizon ere it rises upon a new day. From midsummer, the days gradually grow shorter, and the sun’s rays less warm, until the winter solstice, which was called the “Mother night,” as it was the longest in the year. Midsummer’s eve, once celebrated in honor of Balder, was usurped by the alien Christian subjugators and was from then on called St. John’s day, that saint used to entirely supplant Balder the Good.


God of Fertility

Frey, or Fro as he was called in Germany, is the God of Frith; peace, fertility, nature and plenty. He is the son of Njörd and Nerthus, or of NJörd and Skadi, and was born in Vanaheim. He therefore belongs to the race of the Vanas, the divinities of water and air, but was warmly welcomed in Asgard when he came thither as hostage with his father. As it was customary among the Northern nations to bestow some valuable gift upon a child when he cut his first tooth, the sir gave the infant Frey the beautiful realm of Alfheim, the home of all the Light Elves.

“Alf-heim the gods to Frey
Gave in days of yore
For a tooth gift.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

Here Frey, the God of the golden sunshine and the warm summer showers, took up his abode, charmed with the company of the elves and fairies, who implicitly obeyed his every order, and at a sign from him flitted to and fro, doing all the good in their power, for they were preeminently beneficent spirits.

Frey received from the Gods a marvelous sword (an emblem of the sunbeams), which had the power of fighting successfully, and of its own accord, as soon as it was drawn from its sheath. Because he carried this glittering weapon, Frey has sometimes been confounded with the sword-god Tyr or Saxnot, although he wielded it principally against the frost giants, whom he hated almost as much as did Thor.

“With a short-shafted hammer fights conquering Thor;
Frey’s own sword but an ell long is made.”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

The dwarfs from Svartalfheim gave Frey the golden-bristled boar Gullin-bursti (the golden-bristled), a personification of the sun. The radiant bristles of this animal are considered symbolical either of the solar rays, of the golden grain, which at his bidding waved over the harvest fields of Midgard, or of agriculture, for the boar (by tearing up the ground with his sharp tusk) is supposed to have first taught mankind how to plow.

“There was Frey, and sat
On the gold-bristled boar, who first, they say,
Plowed the brown earth, and made it green for Frey.”
              -LOVERS OF GUDRUN (William Morris)

Frey sometimes rides astride of this marvelous boar, whose celerity is very great, and at other times harnesses him to his golden chariot, which is said to contain the fruits and flowers which he lavishly scatters abroad over the face of the earth.

Frey is, moreover, the proud possessor, not only of the dauntless steed Blodug-hofi, which dashes through fire and water at his command, but also of the magic ship Skidbladnir, a personification of the clouds. This vessel, navigating over land and sea, is always wafted along by favorable winds, and is so elastic that, while it can assume large enough proportions to carry the gods, their steeds, and all their equipments, it can also be folded up like a napkin and thrust out of sight.

“Ivaldi’s sons
Went in days of old
Skidbladnir to form,
Of ships the best,
For the bright Frey,
Niörd’s benign son.”
              -LAY OF GRIMNIR (Thorpe’s tr.)

The Wooing of Gerda

It is related in one of the lays of the Edda that Frey once ventured to ascend Odin’s throne Hlidskialf, and from this exalted seat cast a glance over all the wide earth. Gazing towards the frozen North, he saw a beautiful young maiden enter the house of the frost giant Gymir, and as she raised her hand to lift the latch her radiant beauty illuminated sea and sky.

A moment later, this lovely creature, whose name was Gerda, and who is considered as a personification of the flashing Northern lights, vanished within her father’s house, and Frey pensively wended his way back to Alfheim, his heart oppressed with longing to make this fair maiden his wife. Being deeply in love, he was melancholy and absentminded in the extreme, and began to behave so strangely that his father, Njörd, became greatly alarmed about his health, and bade his favorite servant, Skirnir, discover the cause of this sudden change. After much persuasion, Skirnir finally won from Frey an account of his ascent of Hlidskialf, and of the fair vision he had seen. He confessed his love and especially his utter despair, for as Gerda was the daughter of Gymir and Angur-boda, and a relative of the murdered giant Thiassi, he feared she would never view his suit with favor.

“In Gymer’s court I saw her move,
The maid who fires my breast with love;
Her snow-white arms and bosom fair
Shone lovely, kindling sea and air.
Dear is she to my wishes, more
Than e’er was maid to youth before;
But gods and elves, I wot it well,
Forbid that we together dwell.”
              -SKIRNER’S LAY (Herbert’s tr.)

Skirnir, however, consolingly replied that he could see no reason why his master should take such a despondent view of the matter, and proposed to go and woo the maiden in his name, providing Frey would lend him his steed for the journey, and give him his glittering sword in reward.

Overjoyed at the mere prospect of winning the beautiful Gerda, Frey handed Skirnir the flashing sword, and bade him use his horse, ere he resumed his interrupted day-dream; for ever since he had fallen in love he had frequently indulged in revery. in his absorption he did not even notice that Skirnir was still hovering near him, and did not perceive him cunningly steal the reflection of his face from the surface of the brook near which he was seated, and imprison it in his drinking horn, intending “to pour it out in Gerda’s cup, and by its beauty win the heart of the giantess for the lord” for whom he was about to go a-wooing. Provided with this portrait, with eleven golden apples, and with the magic ring Draupnir, Skirnir now rode off to Jötunheim, to fulfill his embassy. As soon as he came near Gymir’s dwelling he heard the loud and persistent howling of his watch dogs, which were personifications of the wintry winds. A shepherd, guarding his flock in the vicinity, told him, in answer to his inquiry, that it would be impossible for him to approach the house, on account of the flaming barrier which surrounded it; but Skirnir, knowing that Blodug-hofi would dash through any fire, merely set spurs to his steed, and, riding up to the giant’s door, soon found himself ushered into the presence of the lovely Gerda.

To induce this fair maiden to lend a favorable ear to his master’s proposals, Skirnir showed her the purloined portrait, and proffered the golden apples and magic ring, which she haughtily refused to accept, declaring that her father had gold enough and to spare.

“I take not, I, that wondrous ring,
Though it from Balder’s pile you bring.
Gold lack not I, in Gymer’s bower;
Enough for me my father’s dower.”
              -SKIRNER’S LAY (Herbert’s tr.)

Indignant at her scorn, Skirnir now threatened to use his magic sword to cut off her head; but as this threat did not in the least frighten the maiden, and she calmly defied him, he had recourse to magic arts. Cutting runes in his stick, he told her that unless she yielded ere the spell was ended, she would be condemned either to eternal celibacy, or to marry some hideous old frost giant whom she could never love.

Terrified into submission by the frightful description he gave of her cheerless future in case she persisted in her refusal, Gerda finally consented to become Frey’s wife, and dismissed Skirnir, promising to meet her future spouse on the ninth night, in the land of Buri, the green grove, where she would dispel his sadness and make him happy.

“Burri is hight the seat of love;
Nine nights elapsed, in that known grove
Shall brave Niorder’s gallant boy
From Gerda take the kiss of joy.”
              -SKIRNER’S LAY (Herbert’s tr.)

Delighted with his success, Skirnir hurried back to Alfheim, where Frey eagerly came to meet him, and insisted upon knowing the result of his journey. When he learned that Gerda had consented to become his wife, his face grew radiant with joy; but when Skirnir further informed him that he would have to wait nine nights ere he could behold his promised bride, he turned sadly away, declaring the time would appear interminable.

“Long is one night, and longer twain;
But how for three endure my pain?
A month of rapture sooner flies
Than half one night of wishful sighs.”
              -SKIRNER’S LAY (Herbert’s tr.)

In spite of this loverlike despondency, however, the time of waiting came to an end, and Frey joyfully hastened to the green grove, where he met Gerda, who became his happy wife, and proudly sat upon his throne beside him.

“Frey to wife had Gerd;
She was Gymir’s daughter,
From Jotuns sprung.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

According to some mythologists, Gerda is not a personification of the aurora borealis, but of the earth, which, hard, cold, and unyielding, resists the Spring-God’s proffers of adornment and fruitfulness (the apples and ring), defies the flashing sunbeams (Frey’s sword), and only consents to receive his kiss when it learns that it will else be doomed to perpetual barrenness, or given over entirely into the power of the giants (ice and snow). The nine nights of waiting are typical of the nine winter months, at the end of which the earth becomes the bride of the sun, in the groves where the trees are budding forth into leaf and blossom.
Frey and Gerda, we are told, became the parents of a son called Fiolnir, whose birth consoled Gerda for the loss of her brother Beli. The latter had attacked Frey and had been slain by him, although the Sun-God, deprived of his matchless sword, had been obliged to defend himself with a stag horn which he hastily snatched from the wall of his dwelling.

The Historical Frey

Snorro-Sturleson, in his “Heimskringla,” or chronicle of the ancient kings of Norway, states that Frey was an historical personage who bore the name of Ingvi-Frey, and ruled in Upsala after the death of the semi-historical Odin and Njörd. Under his reign the people enjoyed such prosperity and peace that they declared their king must be a god. They therefore began to invoke him as such, carrying their enthusiastic admiration for him to such lengths that when he died the priests, not daring to reveal the fact, laid him in a great mound instead of burning his body, as had been customary until then. They then informed the people that Frey — whose name was the Northern synonym for “master” — had “gone into the mound,” an expression which eventually became the Northern phrase for death.

Only three years later the people, who had continued paying their taxes to the king by pouring the gold, silver, and copper coin into the mound by three different openings, discovered that Frey was dead. As their peace and prosperity had remained undisturbed, they decreed that his corpse should never be burned, and thus inaugurated the custom of mound burial, which in due time supplanted the funeral pyre in many places. One of the three mounds near Gamla Upsala still bears this god’s name. His statues were placed in the great temple there, and his name was duly mentioned in all solemn oaths, of which the usual formula was, “So help me Frey, Njörd, and the Almighty Asa” (Odin).

Worship of Frey

No weapons were ever admitted in Frey’s temples, the most celebrated of which were at Throndhjeim, and at Thvera in Iceland, where oxen or horses were offered up in sacrifice to him, and where a heavy gold ring was dipped in the victim’s blood ere the above-mentioned oath was solemnly taken upon it.

Frey’s statues, like those of all the other Northern divinities, were roughly hewn blocks of wood, and the last of these sacred images seems to have been destroyed by Olaf the Saint, who forcibly converted many of his subjects. Besides being God of Sunshine, fruitfulness, peace, and prosperity, Frey was considered the patron of horses and horsemen, and the deliverer of all captives.

“Frey is the best
Of all the chiefs
Among the gods.
He causes not tears
To maids or mothers:
His desire is to loosen the fetters
Of those enchained.”
              -NORSE MVTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

The Yule Feast

One month of every year, the Yule month, or Thor’s month, was considered sacred to Frey as well as to Thor, and began on the longest night of the year, which bore the name of Mother Night. This month was a time of feasting and rejoicing, for it heralded the return of the sun. The festival was called Yule (wheel) because the sun was supposed to resemble a wheel rapidly revolving across the sky. This resemblance gave rise to a singular custom in England, Germany, and along the banks of the Moselle. Until within late years, the people were wont to assemble yearly upon a mountain, to set fire to a huge wooden wheel, twined with straw, which, all ablaze, was then sent rolling down the hill and plunged with a hiss into the water.

“Some others get a rotten Wheele, all worn and cast aside,
Which, covered round about with strawe and tow, they closely hide;
And caryed to some mountaines top, being all with fire light,
They hurle it down with violence, when darke appears the night;
Resembling much the sunne, that from the Heavens down should fal,
A strange and monstrous sight it seemes, and fearful to them all;
But they suppose their mischiefs are all likewise throwne to hell,
And that, from harmes and dangers now, in safetie here they dwell.”

All the Northern races considered the Yule feast the greatest of the year, and were wont to celebrate it with dance, feasting, and drinking, each God being pledged by name. The missionaries, perceiving the extreme popularity of this feast, thought best to encourage drinking to the health of the Lord and his twelve apostles when they first began to convert the Northern heathens. In honor of Frey, boar’s flesh was eaten on this occasion. Crowned with laurel and rosemary, the animal’s head was brought into the banquet hall with much ceremony — a custom long after observed at Oxford, where the following lines were sung:

“Caput apri defero
Reddens laude Domino.
The boar’s head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary.
I pray you all sing merrily
Qui estis in convivio.”

The father of the family then laid his hand on this dish, which was called “the boar of atonement,” swearing lie would be faithful to his family, and would fulfill all his obligations — an example which was followed by all present, from the highest to the lowest. This dish could be carved only by a man of unblemished reputation and tried courage, for the boar’s head was a sacred emblem which was supposed to inspire every one with fear. For that reason a boar’s head was frequently used as ornament for the helmets of Northern kings and heroes whose bravery was unquestioned.

God of Conjugal Happiness

As Frey’s name of Fro is phonetically the same as the word used in German for gladness, he was considered the patron of every joy, and was invariably invoked by married couples who wished to live in harmony. Those who succeeded in doing so for a certain length of time were publicly rewarded by the gift of a piece of boar’s flesh, for which, in later times, the English and Viennese substituted a flitch of bacon or a ham.

“You shall swear, by custom of confession,
If ever you made nuptial transgression,
Be you either married man or wife
If you have brawls or contentious strife;
Or otherwise, at bed or at board,
Offended each other in deed or word;
Or, since the parish clerk said Amen,
You wish’d yourselves unmarried again;
Or, in a twelvemonth and a day
Repented not in thought any way,
But continued true in thought and desire
As when you join’d hands in the quire.
If to these conditions, with all feare,
Of your own accord you will freely sweare,
A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave
For this our custom at Dunmow well known —
Though the pleasure be ours, the bacon’s your own.”

At Dunmow, England, and in Vienna, Austria, this custom was kept up very long indeed, the ham or flitch of bacon being hung over the city gate, whence the successful candidate was expected to bring it down, after he had satisfied the judges that he lived in peace with his wife, but was not under petticoat rule. It is said that in Vienna this ham once remained for a long time unclaimed until at last a worthy burgher presented himself before the judges, bearing his wife’s written affidavit that they had been married twelve years and had never disagreed — a statement which was confirmed by all their neighbors. The judges, satisfied with the proofs laid before them, told the candidate that the prize was his, and that he only need climb the ladder placed beneath it and bring it down. Rejoicing at having secured such a fine ham, the man obeyed; but as he was about to reach upwards, he noticed that the ham, exposed to the noonday sun, was beginning to melt, and that a drop of fat threatened to fall upon and stain his Sunday coat. Hastily beating a retreat, he pulled off his coat, jocosely remarking that his wife would scold him roundly were he to stain it, a confession which made the bystanders roar with laughter, and which cost him his ham.

Another Yule-tide custom was the burning of a huge log, which had to last all night or it was considered of very bad omen indeed. The charred remains of this log were carefully collected, and treasured up to set fire to the log of the following year.

“With the last yeeres brand
Light the new block, and
For good successe in his spending,
On your psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-tending.”
               -HESPERIDES (Herrick)

This festival was so popular in Scandinavia, where it was celebrated in January, that King Olaf, seeing how dear it was to the Northern heart, transferred most of its observances to Christmas day, thereby doing much to reconcile the people to their change of religion.

As God of peace and prosperity, Frey is supposed to have reappeared upon earth many times, and to have ruled the Swedes under the name of Ingvi-Frey, whence his descendants were called Inglings. He also governed the Danes under the name of Fridleef. In Denmark he is said to have married the beautiful maiden Freygerda, whom he had rescued from a dragon. By her he had a son named Frodi, who, in due time, succeeded him as king.

This Frodi ruled Denmark in the days when there was “peace throughout all the world,” and because all his subjects lived in amity, he was generally known as Peace Frodi.

How the Sea Became Salt

This king once received from Hengi-kiaptr a pair of magic millstones, called Grotti, which were so ponderous that none of his servants nor even his strongest warriors could turn them. As Peace Frodi knew that the mill was enchanted and would grind anything he wished, he was very anxious indeed to set it to work, and, during a visit to Sweden, saw and purchased as slaves the two giantesses Menia and Fenia, whose powerful muscles and frames had attracted his attention.
On his return home, Peace Frodi led these women to the mill, and bade them turn the grindstones and grind out gold, peace, and prosperity — a wish which was immediately fulfilled. Cheerfully the women worked on, hour after hour, until the king’s coffers were overflowing with gold and his land with prosperity and peace.

“Let us grind riches to Frothi!
Let us grind him, happy
In plenty of substance,
On our gladdening Quern.”
              -GROTTA-SAVNGR (Longfellow’s tr.)

But when Menia and Fenia would fain have rested awhile, the king, whose greed had been excited, bade them work on. In spite of their cries and entreaties he forced them to labor hour after hour, allowing them only as much time to rest as was required for the singing of a verse in a song, until, exasperated by his cruelty, the giantesses resolved to have their revenge. Once while Frodi slept they changed their song, and grimly began to grind an armed host, instead of prosperity and peace. By their spells they induced the Viking Mysinger to land with his troops, surprise the Danes, who were wrapped in slumber, and slay them all.

“An army must come
Hither forthwith,
And burn the town
For the prince.”
              -GROTTA-SAVNGR (Longfellow’s tr.)

This Viking then placed the magic millstones Grotti and the two slaves on board his vessel, and bade the women grind for him, saying that he wanted salt, as it was a very valuable staple of commerce at that time. The women obeyed; the millstones went round, grinding salt in abundance; but the Viking, as cruel as Frodi, kept the women persistently at work, until they ground such an immense quantity of salt that its weight sunk the ship and all on board.

The ponderous millstones sank straight down into the sea in the Pentland Firth, or off the northwestern coast of Norway, making a deep round hole. The waters, rushing into the vortex and gurgling in the holes in the center of the stones, produced the great whirlpool, which is known as the Maelstrom. As for the salt, it soon melted; but such was the quantity ground by the giantesses that it tainted all the waters of the sea, which have ever since been very salt indeed.


Goddess of Love

Freya, the fair Northern goddess of beauty and love, is the sister of Frey and the daughter of Njörd and Nerthus, or Skadi. She is the most beautiful and best beloved of all the Goddesses, and while in Germany she was identified with Frigga, in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland she was considered a separate divinity. Freya, having been born in Vanaheim, was also known as Vanadis, the Goddess of the Vanas, or as Vanabride.

As soon as she reached Asgard, the gods were so charmed by her beauty and grace that they bestowed upon her the realm of Folkvang and the great hall Sessrymnir (the roomy-seated), where they assured her she could easily accommodate all her guests.

“Folkvang ’tis called,
Where Freyja has right
To dispose of the hall-seats.
Every day of the slain
She chooses the half,
And leaves half to Odin.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY
               (R. B. Anderson)

Queen of the Valkyries

Although Goddess of love, Freya is not soft and pleasure-loving only, for the ancient Northern races said that she has very martial tastes, and that as Valfreya she often leads the Valkyries down to the battlefields, choosing and claiming one half the heroes slain. She is therefore often represented with corselet and helmet, shield and spear, only the lower part of her body being clad in the usual flowing feminine garb.

Freya transports the chosen slain to Folkvang, where they are duly entertained, and where she also welcoms all pure maidens and faithful wives, that they might enjoy the company of their lovers and husbands even after death. The joys of her abode were so enticing to the heroic Northern women that they often rushed into battle when their loved ones were slain, hoping to meet with the same fate; or they fell upon their swords, or were voluntarily burned on the same funeral pyre as the beloved remains.

As Freya is inclined to lend a favorable ear to lovers’ prayers, she is often invoked by them, and it is customary to indite love songs in her honor, which are sung on all festive occasions, her very name in Germany being used as the verb “to woo.”

Freya and Odur

Freya, the golden-haired and blue-eyed goddess, was also, at times, considered a personification of the earth. She therefore married Odur, a symbol of the summer sun, whom she dearly loved, and by whom she had two daughters, Hnoss and Gersemi, so beautiful that all things lovely and precious were called by their names.

So long as Odur lingered contentedly at her side, Freya was smiling and perfectly happy; but, alas! this God was a rover, and, wearying of his wife’s company, he suddenly left home and wandered far out into the wide world. Freya, sad and forsaken, wept abundantly, and her tears fell down upon the hard rocks, which softened at their contact. We are even told that they trickled down to the very center of the stones, where they were transformed to drops of gold. The tears which fell into the sea, however, were changed into translucent amber.

Weary of her widowed condition, and longing to clasp her beloved in her arms once more, Freya finally started out in search of him, passing through many lands, where she was called by different names, such as Mardel, Horn, Gefn, Syr, Skialf, and Thrung, inquiring of all she met whether her husband had passed that way, and shedding so many tears that gold can be found in all parts of the earth.

“And Freya next came nigh, with golden tears;
The loveliest Goddess she in Heaven, by all
Most honor’d after Frea, Odin’s wife.
Her long ago the wandering Oder took
To mate, but left her to roam distant lands;
Since then she seeks him, and weeps tears of gold.
Names hath she many; Vanadis on earth
They call her, Freya is her name in Heaven.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

Far away in the sunny South, under the flowering myrtle trees, Freya found Odur at last, and her love being restored to her, she grew happy and smiling once more, and as radiant as a bride. It is perhaps because Freya found her husband beneath the flowering myrtle, that Northern brides, to this day, wear myrtle in preference to the conventional orange wreath.

Hand in hand, Odur and Freya now gently wended their way home once more, and in the light of their happiness the grass grew green, the flowers bloomed, and the birds sang, for all Nature sympathized as heartily with Freya’s joy as it had mourned with her when she was in sorrow.

“Out of the morning land,
Over the snowdrifts,
Beautiful Freya came
Tripping to Scoring.
White were the moorlands,
And frozen before her;
Green were the moorlands,
And blooming behind her.
Out of her gold locks
Shaking the spring flowers,
Out of her garments
Shaking the south wind,
Around in the birches
Awaking the throstles,
And making chaste housewives all
Long for their heroes home,
Loving and love-giving,
Came she to Scoring.”
              -THE LONGBEARDS’ SAGA (Charles Kingsley)

The prettiest plants and flowers in the North were called Freya’s hair or Freya’s eye dew, while the butterfly was called Freya’s hen. This Goddess is also supposed to have a special affection for the fairies, whom she loves to watch dancing in the moonbeams, and for whom she reserves her daintiest flowers and sweetest honey. Odur, Freya’s husband, besides being considered a personification of the sun, is also regarded as an emblem of passion, or of the intoxicating pleasures of love; so the ancients declared that it was no wonder his wife could not be happy without him.

As Goddess of beauty, Freya is very fond of glittering adornments and of precious jewels. One day, while she was in Svartalfheim, the underground kingdom, she saw four dwarfs carefully fashioning the most wonderful necklace she had ever seen. Almost beside herself with longing to possess this treasure, which was called Brisinga-men, and was an emblem of the stars, or of the fruitfulness of the earth, Freya implored the dwarfs to give it to her; but they obstinately refused to do so unless she would promise to grant them her favor. Having secured the necklace at this price, Freya hastened to put it on, and its beauty so enhanced her charms that the Goddess wore it night and day, and only occasionally could be persuaded to loan it to the other divinities. Thor, however, wore this necklace when he personated Freya in Jötunheim, and Loki coveted and would have stolen it, had it not been for the watchfulness of Heimdall.

Freya is also the proud possessor of a falcon garb, or falcon plumes, which enables the wearer to flit through the air like a bird; and this garment is so invaluable that it was twice borrowed by Loki, and was used by Freya herself when in search of the missing Odur.

“Freya one day
Falcon wings took, and through space hied away;
Northward and southward she sought her
Dearly-loved Odur.”
              -FRIDTHIOF’S SAGA, TEGNÉR (Stephens’s tr.)

As Freya is also considered Goddess of fecundity, she is sometimes represented as riding about with her brother Frey in the chariot drawn by the golden-bristled boar, scattering, with lavish hands, fruits and flowers to gladden the hearts of all mankind. She also has a chariot of her own, however, in which she generally travels, which is drawn by cats, her favorite animals, the emblems of caressing fondness and sensuality, or the personifications of fecundity.

“Then came dark-bearded Niörd, and after him
Freyia, thin robed, about her ankles slim
The gray cats playing.”
              -LOVERS OF GUDRUN (William Morris)

Frey and Freya were held in such high honor throughout the North that their names, in modified forms, are still used for “master” and “mistress,” and one day of the week is called Freya’s day, or Friday, even by the English-speaking race. Freya’s temples were very numerous indeed, and were long maintained by her votaries, the last in Magdeburg, Germany, being destroyed by order of Charlemagne.

Story of Ottar and Angantyr

The Northern people were wont to invoke her not only for success in love, prosperity, and increase, but also at times for aid and protection. This she vouchsafed to all who served her truly, as is proved by the story of Ottar and Angantyr, two men who, after disputing for some time concerning their rights to a certain piece of property, laid their quarrel before the Thing. In that popular assembly it was soon decreed that the man who could prove that he had the longest line of noble ancestors would be the one to win, and a special day was appointed to hear the genealogy of each claimant.

Ottar, unable to remember the names of more than a few of his progenitors, offered up sacrifices to Freya, entreating her aid. The Goddess graciously heard his prayer, appeared before him, changed him into a boar, and rode off upon his back to the dwelling of the sorceress Hyndla, the most renowned witch of the day. By threats and entreaties, Freya compelled this old woman to trace Ottar’s genealogy back to Odin, naming every individual in turn, and giving a synopsis of his achievements. Then, fearing lest her votary’s memory should prove treacherous, Freya further compelled Hyndla to brew a potion of remembrance, which she gave him to drink.

“He shall drink
Delicious draughts.
All the Gods I pray
To favor Ottar.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

Thus prepared, Ottar presented himself before the Thing on the appointed day, glibly recited his pedigree, and by naming many more ancestors than Angantyr could recollect, obtained possession of the property he coveted.

“A duty ’tis to act
So that the young prince
His paternal heritage may have
After his kindred.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

Freya was so beautiful that all the gods, giants, and dwarfs longed for her love and in turn tried to secure her as wife. But Freya scorned the ugly old giants and refused to belong even to Thrym, when urged to accept him by Loki and Thor. She was not so obdurate where the Gods themselves were concerned, if the various mythologists are to be believed, for as the personification of the earth she is said to have married Odin, the sky, Frey, the fruitful rain, Odur, the sunshine, etc., until it seems as if she deserved the accusation hurled against her by the archfiend Loki, of having loved and married all the Gods in turn.

Worship of Freya

It was customary on solemn occasions to drink Freya’s health with that of the other Gods, and when Christianity was imposed by force in the North this toast was transferred to the Virgin or to St. Gertrude; Freya herself, like all the heathen divinities, was declared a demon or witch by the invading christians, and banished to the mountain peaks of Norway, Sweden, or Germany, where the Brocken is pointed out as her special abode, and the general trysting place of her demon train on Valpurgisnacht.


“On to the Brocken the witches are flocking —
Merry meet — merry part — how they gallop and drive,
Yellow stubble and stalk are rocking,
And young green corn is merry alive,
With the shapes and shadows swimming by.
To the highest heights they fly,
Where Sir Urian sits on high —
Throughout and about,
With clamor and shout,
Drives the maddening rout,
Over stock, over stone;
Shriek, laughter, and moan,
Before them are blown.”
             -GOETHE’S FAUST (Anster’s tr.)

As the swallow, cuckoo, and cat were held sacred to Freya in heathen times, these creatures were turned into ones having demoniacal properties by the alien forces of christianity, and to this day witches are always depicted with coal-black cats close beside them.


God of War

Tyr, Tiu, or Ziu is the son of Odin, and according to some accounts, his mother is Frigga, Queen of the Gods. He is the god of martial honor, God of defense and victory, bravest of the Gods and one of the twelve principal deities of Asgard. Although he appears to have no special dwelling there, he is always welcome to Vingolf or Valhalla, and occupies one of the twelve thrones in the great council hall of Glads-heim.

“The hall Glads-heim, which is built of gold;
Where are in circle ranged twelve golden chairs,
And in the midst one higher, Odin’s throne.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Amold

Tyr is regarded also as the God of courage and of war, and therefore frequently invoked by the various nations of the North, who cried to him as well as to Odin to obtain victory. That he ranked next to Odin and Thor is proved by his name, Tiu, having been given to one of the days of the week, Tiu’s day, which in modern English has become Tuesday. Under the name of Ziu, Tyr was the principal divinity of the Suabians, who originally called their capital, the modern Augsburg, Ziusburg. This people, venerating the God as they did, were wont to worship him under the emblem of a sword, his distinctive attribute, and in his honor held great sword dances, where various figures were carried out.

Sometimes the participants forming two long lines, crossed their swords, point upwards, and challenged the boldest among their number to take a flying leap over them. At other times the warriors joined their sword points closely together in the shape of a rose or wheel, and when this figure was complete invited their chief to stand on the navel thus formed of flat, shining steel blades, and then they bore him upon it through the camp in triumph. The sword point was further considered so sacred that it became customary to register oaths upon it.

“. . . Come hither, gentlemen,
And lay your hands again upon my sword;
Never to speak of this that you have heard,
Swear by my sword.”
              -HAMLET (Shakespeare)

A distinctive feature of the worship of this God among the Franks and some other Northern nations was that the priests called Druids or Godi offered up human sacrifices upon his altars. These sacrifices were made upon rude stone altars called dolmens, which can still be seen in Northern Europe. As Tyr was considered the patron god of the sword, it was deemed indispensable to engrave the sign or rune representing him upon the blade of every sword — an observance which the Edda enjoined upon all those who were desirous of obtaining victory.

“Sig-runes thou must know,
If victory (sigr) thou wilt have,
And on thy sword’s hilt rist them;
Some on the chapes,
Some on the guard,
And twice name the name of Tyr.”
             -LAY OF SIGDRIFA (Thorpe’s tr.)

Tyr, whose name was synonymous with bravery and wisdom, was also considered by the ancient Northern people to have the white-armed Valkyries, Odin’s attendants, at his beck and call, and to designate the warriors whom they had best transfer to Valhalla to aid the gods on the last day.

“The god Tyr sent
Gondul and Skogul
To choose a king
Of the race of Ingve,
To dwell with Odin
In roomy Valhal.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

The Story of Fenris

Loki, the arch deceiver, went to Jötunheim and secretly married the hideous giantess Angur-boda (anguish boding), who bore him three monstrous children — the wolf Fenris, Hel, the party-colored goddess of death, and Jörmungandr, a terrible serpent. He kept the existence of these monsters secret as long as he could; but they speedily grew so large that they could no longer remain confined in the cave where they had come to light. Odin, from the top of his throne Hlidskialf, soon became aware of their existence, and also of the frightful rapidity with which they increased in size. Fearing lest the monsters, when they had gained a little more strength, should invade Asgard and destroy the Gods, Allfather determined to get rid of them, and, striding off to Jötunheim, flung Hel down into the depths of Niflheim, where he told her she could reign over the dismal worlds of the dead. He threw Jörmungandr into the sea, where he stretched himself and grew until he encircled all the earth and could bite his own tail.

“Into mid-ocean’s dark depths hurled,
Grown with each day to giant size,
The serpent soon inclosed the world,
With tail in mouth, in circle-wise;
Held harmless still
By Odin’s will.”
             -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

None too well pleased that the serpent should have attained such fearful dimensions in his new element, Odin resolved to lead Fenris to Asgard, where he hoped, by kindly treatment, to make him gentle and tractable. But the Gods one and all shrank back in dismay when they saw the wolf, and none dared approach to give him food except Tyr, whom nothing ever daunted. Seeing that Fenris daily increased in size, strength, voracity, and fierceness, the Gods assembled in council to deliberate how they might best dispose of him. They unanimously decided that it would desecrate their peace-steads to slay him, and resolved to bind him fast so that he could work them no harm.

With that purpose in view, they ordered a strong chain named Læding, and, going out into the yard with it, playfully proposed to Fenris to bind it about him, to see whether his vaunted strength could burst it asunder. Confident in his ability to release himself, Fenris patiently allowed them to bind him fast, but when all stood aside, he shook and stretched himself and easily broke the chain to pieces.

Concealing their chagrin, the Gods praised his strength, but soon left him to order a much stronger fetter, Droma, which, after some persuasion, the wolf allowed them to fasten around him also. A short, sharp struggle sufficed, however, to burst this bond too; so it has become proverbial in the North to use the figurative expressions, “to get loose out of Lading,” and “to dash out of Drama,” whenever great difficulties have to be surmounted.

“Twice did the Æsir strive to bind,
Twice did they fetters powerless find;
Iron or brass of no avail,
Naught, save through magic, could prevail.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

The Gods, perceiving now that ordinary bonds, however strong, would never prevail against the Fenris wolf’s great strength, bade Skirnir, Frey’s servant, go down to Svartalfheim and bid the dwarfs fashion a bond which nothing could sever.

By magic arts the dark elves manufactured a slender silken rope out of such impalpable materials as the sound of a cat’s footsteps, a woman’s beard, the roots of a mountain, the longings of the bear, the voice of fishes, and the spittle of birds, and when it was finished they gave it to Skirnir, assuring him that no strength would avail to break it, and that the more it was strained the stronger it would become.

“Gleipnir, at last,
By Dark Elves cast,
In Svart-alf-heim, with strong spells wrought,
To Odin was by Skirnir brought:
As soft as silk, as light as air,
Yet still of magic power most rare.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

Armed with this bond, called Gleipnir, the Gods went with Fenris to the Island of Lyngvi, in the middle of Lake Amsvartnir, and again proposed to test his strength. But although Fenris had grown still stronger, he mistrusted the bond which looked so slight. He therefore refused to allow himself to be bound, unless one of the Æsir would consent to put his hand in his mouth, and leave it there, as a pledge of good faith, and that no magic arts were to be used against him.

The Gods heard this condition with dismay, and all drew back except Tyr, who, seeing that the others would not venture to comply with this request, boldly stepped forward and thrust his hand between the monster’s jaws. The Gods now fastened Gleipnir around Fenris’s neck and paws, shouting and laughing with glee when they saw that his utmost efforts to free himself were fruitless. Tyr, however, could not share their joy, for the wolf, finding himself captive, snapped his teeth together for rage, biting off the god’s hand at the wrist, which since then has been known as the wolf’s joint.


“Be silent, Tyr!
Thou couldst never settle
A strife ‘twixt two;
Of thy right hand also
I must mention make,
Which Fenris from thee took.


I of a hand am wanting
But thou of honest fame;
Sad is the lack of either.
Nor is the wolf at ease
He in bonds must bide
Until the gods’ destruction.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

Deprived of his right hand, Tyr was now forced to use the maimed arm for his shield, and to wield his sword with his left hand; but such was his dexterity that he slew just as many enemies as before.

The Gods, in spite of all the wolf’s struggles, now drew the end of the fetter Gelgia through the rock Gioll, and fastened it to the boulder Thviti, which was sunk deep in the ground. Opening wide his fearful jaws, Fenris uttered such terrible howls that the Gods, to silence him, thrust a sword into his mouth, the hilt resting upon his lower jaw and the point against his palate. The blood then began to pour out in such streams that it formed a great river, called Von. The wolf was condemned to remain thus chained fast until the last day, when his bonds would burst and he would find himself free to avenge his wrongs.

“The wolf Fenrir,
Freed from the chain,
Shall range the earth.”
              -DEATH-SONG OF HÂKON (W. Taylor’s tr.)

While some mythologists see in this myth an emblem of crime restrained and made innocuous by the power of the law, others see the underground fire, which kept within bounds can injure no one, but which unfettered fills the world with destruction and woe. Just as Odin’s second eye is said to rest in Mimir’s well, so Tyr’s second hand (sword) is found in Fenris’s jaws, as he has no more use for two weapons than the sky for two suns.

Historical Tyr

Tyr was identical with the Saxon god Saxnot (from sax, a sword), and with Er, Heru, or Cheru, the chief divinity of the Cheruski, who also considered him God of the sun, and deemed his shining sword blade an emblem of its rays.

“This very sword a ray of light
Snatched from the Sun!”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

According to an ancient legend, Cheru’s sword, which had been fashioned by the dwarfs, sons of Ivald — the same who had also made Odin’s spear — was held very sacred by his people, to whose care he had intrusted it, declaring that those who possessed it were sure to have the victory over their foes. But although carefully guarded in the temple, where it was hung so that it reflected the first beams of the morning sun, it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared one night. A Vala, druidess, or prophetess, consulted by the priests, revealed that the Norns had decreed that whoever wielded it would conquer the world and come to his death by it; but in spite of all entreaties she refused to tell who had taken it or where it might be found. Some time after this occurrence a tall and dignified stranger came to Cologne, where Vitellius, the Roman prefect, was feasting, called him away from his beloved dainties, gave him the sword, telling him it would bring him glory and renown, and hailed him as emperor. This cry was taken up by the assembled legions, and Vitellius, without making any personal effort to secure the honor, found himself elected Emperor of Rome.

The new ruler, however, was so absorbed in indulging his taste for food and drink that he paid but little heed to the divine weapon. One day while leisurely making his way towards Rome he carelessly left it hanging in the antechamber to his apartments. A German soldier seized this opportunity to substitute in its stead his own rusty blade. The besotted emperor went on, and was so busily engaged in feasting that he did not notice the exchange. When he arrived at Rome, he learned that the Eastern legions had named Vespasian emperor, and that he was even then on his way home to claim the throne.

Searching for the sacred weapon to defend his rights, Vitellius now discovered the theft, and, overcome by superstitious fears, did not even attempt to fight. He crawled away into a dark corner of his palace, whence he was ignominiously dragged by the enraged populace to the foot of the Capitoline Hill. There the prophecy was duly fulfilled, for the German soldier, who had joined the opposite faction, coming along at that moment, cut off Vitellius’ head with the sacred sword.

The German soldier now changed from one legion to another, and traveled over many lands; but wherever he and his sword were found, victory was assured. After winning great honor and distinction, this man, having grown old, retired from active service to the banks of the Danube, where he secretly buried his treasured weapon, building his hut over its resting place to guard it as long as he lived. But although implored, when he lay on his deathbed, to reveal where he had hidden it, he persistently refused to do so, saying that it would be found by the man who was destined to conquer the world, but that he would not be able to escape the curse. Years passed by. Wave after wave the tide of barbarian invasion swept over that part of the country, and last of all came the terrible Huns under the leadership of Attila, the “Scourge of God.” As he passed along the river, he saw a peasant mournfully examining his cow’s foot, which had been wounded by some sharp instrument hidden in the long grass, and when search was made the point of a buried sword was found sticking out of the soil.

Attila, seeing the beautiful workmanship and the fine state of preservation of this weapon, immediately exclaimed that it was Cheru’s sword, and brandishing it above his head announced that he was about to conquer the world. Battle after battle was fought by the Huns, who, according to the Saga, were everywhere victorious, until Attila, weary of warfare, settled down in Hungary, taking to wife the beautiful Burgundian princess Ildico, whose father he had slain. This princess, resenting the murder of her kin and wishing to avenge it, took advantage of the king’s state of intoxication upon his wedding night to secure possession of the divine sword, with which she slew him in his bed, once more fulfilling the prophecy uttered so many years before.

The magic sword again disappeared for a long time, only to be unearthed once more and wielded by the Duke of Alva, Charles V’s general, who shortly after won the victory of Mühlberg (1547). Since then nothing more has been heard of the sword of the god Cheru, in whose honor the Franks were wont to celebrate yearly martial games; but it is said that when the heathen Gods were, through vicious persecution, renounced in favor of Christianity, the priests transferred many of their attributes to the saints, and that this sword became the property of the Archangel St. Michael.

Tyr’s worship is commemorated in sundry places (such as Tübingen, in Germany), which bear more or less modified forms of his name. It has also been given to the aconite, a plant known in Northern countries as “Tyr’s helm.”


Goddess of Youth

Idun, “She Who Renews” is the Goddess of spring, immortal youth and eternal life. According to some, Idun, who had no birth and is never to taste death, was also warmly welcomed by the Gods when she made her appearance in Asgard with Bragi. To win their affections she promised them a daily taste of the marvelous apples which she bore in her casket, which had the power of conferring immortal youth and loveliness upon all who partook of them.

“The golden apples
Out of her garden
Have yielded you dower of youth,
Ate you them every day.”
              -WAGNER (Forman’s tr.)

Thanks to this magic fruit, the Gods, who are not all immortal, ward off the approach of old age and disease, and remain vigorous, beautiful, and young throughout the countless ages. These apples are therefore considered very precious indeed, and Idun carefully treasures them in her magic casket. But no matter how many she draws out, the same number always remain for distribution at the Feast of the Gods, to whom alone she offers a taste, although dwarfs and giants are eager to obtain possession of this fruit.

“Bright Iduna, Maid immortal!
Standing at Valhalla’s portal,
In her casket has rich store
Of rare apples, gilded o’er;
Those rare apples, not of Earth,
Ageing Æsir give fresh birth.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

Thiassi, the Storm Giant

One day, Odin, Hoenir, and Loki started out upon one of their usual excursions to earth, and, after wandering for a long while, found themselves in a deserted region, where they could discover no hospitable dwelling. Weary and very hungry, the Gods perceiving a herd of oxen, slew one, kindled a fire, and sat down beside it to rest while waiting for their meat to cook.

To their surprise, however, in spite of the roaring flames the meat remained quite raw. Realizing that some magic must be at work, they looked about them to discover what could hinder their cookery. They finally perceived an eagle perched upon a tree above them. The bird addressed them and declared that the spell would be removed and the meat done to a turn in a very short time if they would only give him as much food as he could eat. The Gods agreed to do this, and the eagle, swooping downwards, fanned the flames with his huge wings, and soon the meat was cooked. But as he was about to carry off three quarters of the ox as his share, Loki seized a great stake lying near at hand, and began to belabor the voracious bird, forgetting that it was versed in magic arts. To his great dismay one end of the stake stuck fast to the eagle’s back, the other to his hands, and he found himself dragged over stones and through briers, flying through the air, his arms almost torn out of their sockets. In vain he cried for mercy and implored the eagle to let him go; the bird flew on, until he promised any ransom his ravisher could ask in exchange for his release.

The bird, who was the storm giant Thiassi in eagle guise, let him go only upon one condition. He made him promise upon the most solemn of oaths that he would lure Idun out of Asgard, so that the giant might obtain possession of her and of her magic fruit.

Released at last, Loki returned to join Odin and Hoenir, to whom, however, he was very careful not to confide the condition upon which he had obtained his freedom; and when they had returned to Asgard he began to plan how he might entice Idun outside of the Gods’ abode. A few days later, Bragi being absent on one of his minstrel tours, Loki sought Idun in the groves of Brunnaker, where she had taken up her abode, and by artfully describing some apples which grew at a short distance from there, and which he mendaciously declared were exactly like hers, he lured her away from home with a crystal dish full of fruit, which she intended to compare with that which he extolled. No sooner had Idun left Asgard, however, than the deceiver Loki forsook her, and ere she could return home the storm giant Thiassi swept down from the north on his eagle wings, caught her up in his cruel talons, and bore her swiftly away to his barren and desolate home of Thrymheim.

“Thrymheirn the sixth is named,
Where Thiassi dwelt,
That all-powerful Jötun.”
              -LAY OF GRIMNIR (Thorpe’s tr.)

There she pined, grew pale and sad, but persistently refused to give him the smallest bite of her magic fruit, which, as he well knew, would make him beautiful and renew his strength and youth.

“All woes that fall
On Odin’s hall
Can be traced to Loki base.
From out Valhalla’s portal
’Twas he who pure Iduna lured, —
Whose casket fair
Held apples rare
That render gods immortal, —
And in Thiassi’s tower immured.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

Time passed. The Gods, thinking that Idun had accompanied her husband and would soon return, at first paid no heed to her departure, but little by little the beneficial effect of their last apple feast passed away. They gradually felt themselves grow old and stiff, and saw their youth and beauty disappear; so they became alarmed and began to search for the missing Goddess of perpetual youth.
Close investigation very soon revealed the fact that she had last been seen in Loki’s company, and when Odin sternly called him to account, this God was forced to reveal that he had betrayed her into the storm giant’s power.

“By his mocking, scornful mien,
Soon in Valhal it was seen
’Twas the traitor Loki’s art
Which had led Idun apart
To gloomy tower
And Jotun power.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

The Gods now indignantly bade Loki undo the harm he had done and immediately bring the goddess back, warning him that unless he complied with this command he would forfeit his life.

Thus adjured, Loki promised to do all he could, and, borrowing Freya’s falcon plumage, flew off to Thrymheim, where he found Idun alone, sadly mourning her exile from Asgard and her beloved Bragi. Changing the fair Goddess into a nut according to some accounts, or according to others, into a swallow, Loki held her tightly between his claws, and rapidly winged his way back to Asgard, hoping he would reach the shelter of its high walls ere Thiassi returned from his fishing excursion in the Northern seas.

The Gods, assembled on the ramparts of the heavenly city, were watching for his return with far more anxiety than they had for Odin when he went in search of Odhroerir, and, remembering the success of their ruse on that occasion, they had gathered great piles of fuel, which they were ready to set on fire at any moment.

The Return of Idun

Suddenly they saw Loki coming, but descried in his wake the giant Thiassi, who, in eagle plumes, was striving to overtake him and claim his prey. Loki, knowing his life depended upon the success of his venture, made such great efforts to reach the goal ere Thiassi overtook him that he cleared the wall and sank exhausted in the midst of the gods, who, setting fire to the accumulated fuel, singed Thiassi’s wings, blinded him with smoke, and, when he dropped stunned in their midst, ruthlessly fell upon and slew him.

The Æsir were overjoyed at the recovery of Idun, — who hastened to deal out her apples to them all. Feeling their wonted strength and good looks return with every mouthful they ate, they good-naturedly declared that it was no wonder even the giants longed to taste the apples of perpetual youth. They therefore vowed they would place Thiassi’s eyes as constellations in the heavens, in order to soften any feeling of anger which his relatives might experience upon learning how he had been slain.

“Up I cast the eyes
Of Allvaldi’s son
Into the heaven serene
They are signs the greatest
Of my deeds.”
              -LAY OF HARBARD (Thorpe’s tr.)

The Goddess of Spring

The physical explanation of this tale is obvious. Idun, the emblem of vegetation, is forcibly carried away in autumn, when Bragi is absent and the singing of the birds has ceased. The cold wintry wind, Thiassi, detains her in the frozen, barren north, where she cannot thrive, until Loki, the south wind, brings back the seed or the swallow, which are both precursors of the returning spring. The youth, beauty, and strength conferred by Idun are symbolical of Nature’s resurrection in spring after winter’s sleep, when color and vigor return to the earth, which has grown wrinkled and gray.

As the disappearance of Idun (vegetation) was a yearly occurrence, the old scalds were not content with this one tale, but also invented another, which, unfortunately, has come down to us only in a fragmentary and very incomplete form. According to this account, Idun was once sitting upon the branches of the sacred ash Yggdrasil, when, growing suddenly faint, she loosed her hold and dropped down on the ground beneath, to the lowest depths of Niflheim. There she lay, pale and motionless, gazing with fixed and horror-struck eyes upon the grewsome sights of Hels realm, trembling violently all the while, as if overcome by the penetrating cold.

“In the dales dwells
The prescient Dîs,
From Yggdrasil’s
Ash sunk down,
Of alfen race,
Idun by name,
The youngest of Ivaldi’s
Elder children.
She ill brooked
Her descent
Under the hoar tree’s
Trunk confined.
She would not happy be
With Norvi’s daughter,
Accustomed to a pleasanter
Abode at home.”
              -ODIN’S RAVENS’ SONG (Thorpe’s tr.)

Seeing that she did not rouse herself and return, Odin finally bade Bragi, Heimdall, and another of the Gods go in search of her, giving them a white wolfskin to envelop her in, so that she should not suffer from the cold, and bidding them make every effort to rouse her from her stupor.

“A wolf’s skin they gave her,
In which herself she clad.”
              -ODIN’S RAVENS’ SONG (Thorpe’s tr.)

But although Idun passively allowed them to wrap her up in the warm wolfskin, she persistently refused to speak or move, and the Gods sadly suspected she foresaw great ills, for the tears continually rolled down her pallid cheeks. Bragi, seeing her unhappiness, bade the other Gods return to Asgard without him, vowing that he would remain beside her until she was ready to leave Hel’s dismal realm. But the sight of her woe oppressed him so sorely that he had no heart for his usual merry songs, and the strings of his harp remained entirely mute.

“That voice-like zephyr o’er flow’r meads creeping,
Like Bragi’s music his harp strings sweeping.”
              -VIKING TALES OF THE NORTH (R. B. Anderson)

In this tale Idun’s fall from Yggdrasil is symbolical of the autumnal falling of the leaves, which lie limp and helpless on the cold bare ground until they are hidden from sight under the snow, represented by the wolfskin, which Odin, the sky, sends down to keep them warm; and the cessation of the birds’ songs is further typified by Bragi’s silent harp.



Stiller of Storms

Njörd, or Niord, is the Vana-God of seafaring. He is known as the “Stiller-of-Storms” and controls wind, stills sea and fire. He is the son of Nott (Night) and his first wife was Nerthus, with whom he had his most famous children, Freyr and Freyja. After the terrible war between the Æsir and Vanas, hostages were exchanged, and that while Hoenir, Odin’s brother, went to live in Vanaheim, Njörd, with his two children, Frey and Freya, definitely took up his abode in Asgard.

“In Vana-heim
Wise powers him created,
And to the gods a hostage gave.”
              -LAY OF VAFTHRDDNIR (Thorpe’s tr.)

As ruler of the winds, and of the sea near the shore, Njörd was given the palace of Nôatûn, near the seashore, where we are told he stilled the terrible tempests stirred up by Ægir, god of the deep sea.

“Njörd, the god of storms, whom fishers know;
Not born in Heaven — he was in Van-heim rear’d,
With men, but lives a hostage with the gods;
He knows each frith, and every rocky creek
Fringed with dark pines, and sands where sea fowl scream.”
              -BALDER DEAD (Matthew Arnold)

He also extended his special protection over commerce and fishing, which two occupations could be pursued with advantage only during the short summer months, of which he was in a measure considered the personification.

The God of Summer

Njörd is represented in art as a very handsome god, in the prime of life, clad in a short green tunic, with a crown of shells and seaweed upon his head, or a broad-brimmed hat adorned with eagle or heron plumes. As personification of the summer, he was invoked to still the raging storms which desolated the coasts during the winter months. He was also implored to hasten the vernal warmth and thereby extinguish the winter fires.

As agriculture was practiced only during the summer months, and principally along the fiords or sea inlets, Njörd was also invoked for favorable harvests, for he was said to delight in prospering those who placed their trust in him.

Njörd’s first wife, according to some authorities, was Nerthus, Mother Earth, who in Germany was identified with Frigga, as we have seen, but in Scandinavia was considered a separate divinity. He was, however, obliged to part with her when summoned to Asgard, where he occupied one of the twelve seats in the great council hall, and was present at all the assemblies of the gods, withdrawing to Nôatûn only when his services were not required by the Æsir.

“Nôatûn is the eleventh;
There Njörd has
Himself a dwelling made,
Prince of men;
Guiltless of sin,
He rules o’er the high-built fane.”
              -LAY OF GRIMNIR (Thorpe’s tr.)

In his own home by the seashore, Njörd delighted in watching the gulls fly to and fro, and in observing the graceful movements of the swans, his favorite birds, which were held sacred to him. He spent many an hour, too, considering the gambols of the gentle seals, which came to bask in the sunshine at his feet.

Skadi, Goddess of Winter

Shortly after Idun’s recovery from Thrymheim, and Thiassi’s death within the bounds of Asgard, the assembled Gods were greatly surprised and dismayed to see Skadi, the giant’s daughter, appear one day in their midst, demanding satisfaction for her father’s death. Although the daughter of an ugly old Hrim-thurs, Skadi, the Goddess of Winter, was very beautiful indeed, in her silvery armor, with her glittering spear, sharp-pointed arrows, short white hunting dress, white fur leggings, and broad snowshoes, and as she confronted the Gods they could not but recognize the justice of her claim, and offered the usual fine in atonement. Skadi, however, was so very angry that she at first refused this compromise, and sternly demanded a life for a life, until Loki, wishing to appease her wrath, and thinking that if he could only make those proud lips unbend enough to smile the rest would be easy, began to play all manner of pranks. Fastening a goat to himself by an invisible cord, he went through a series of antics, grotesquely reproduced by the goat; and this sight was so very comical that all the Gods fairly shouted with merriment, and even Skadi was seen to smile.

Taking advantage of this softened mood, the Gods pointed to the firmament where her father’s eyes glowed like radiant stars in the northern hemisphere. They told her they had placed them there to show him all honor, and finally added that she might select as husband any of the Gods present at the assembly, providing she were content to judge of their attractions by their naked feet.
Blindfolded, so that she could see only the feet of the gods standing in a circle around her, Skadi looked about her until she saw a pair of beautifully formed feet. She felt sure they must belong to Balder, the god of light, whose bright face had charmed her, and she designated their owner as her choice.

But when the bandage was removed, she discovered to her secret chagrin that she had chosen Njörd, to whom her troth was plighted, and with whom she nevertheless spent a very happy honeymoon in Asgard, where all seemed to delight in doing her honor. This time passed, however; Njörd took his bride home to Nôatûn, where the monotonous sound of the waves, the shrieking of the gulls, and the cries of the seals so disturbed Skadi’s slumbers that she finally declared it was quite impossible for her to remain there any longer, and implored her husband to take her back to her native Thrym-heim.

“Sleep could I not
On my sea-strand couch,
For screams of the sea fowl.
There wakes me,
When from the wave he comes,
Every morning the mew (gull).”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Njörd, anxious to please his new wife, consented to take her to Thrymheim and dwell there with her nine nights out of every twelve, providing she would spend the remaining three with him at Nôatûn; but when he reached the mountain region, the soughing of the wind in the pines, the thunder of the avalanches, the cracking of the ice, the roar of the waterfalls, and the howling of the wolves appeared to him as unbearable as the sound of the sea had seemed to his wife, and he could not but rejoice when his time of exile was ended, and he once more found himself domiciled at Nôatûn.

“Am weary of the mountains;
Not long was I there,
Only nine nights;
The howl of the wolves
Methought sounded ill
To the song of the swans.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Parting of Njörd and Skadi

For some time, Njörd and Skadi, who are the personifications of summer and winter, alternated thus, the wife spending the three short summer months by the sea, and he reluctantly remaining with her in Thrymheim during the nine long winter months. But, finding at last that their tastes would never agree, they decided to part forever, and returned to their respective homes, where each could follow the occupations which custom had endeared.

“Thrymheim it’s called,
Where Thjasse dwelled,
That stream-mighty giant;
But Skade now dwells,
Pure bride of the gods,
In her father’s old mansion.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Skadi now resumed her wonted pastime of hunting, leaving tier realm again only to marry the semi-historical Odin, to whom she bore a son called Saeming, the first king of Norway, and the supposed founder of the royal race which long ruled that country.

According to other accounts, however, Skadi eventually married Uller, the winter-god. As Skadi was a skillful markswoman, she is represented with bow and arrow, and, as Goddess of the chase, she is generally accompanied by one of the wolf-like dogs so common in the North. Skadi was invoked by hunters and by winter travelers, whose sleighs she guided over the snow and ice, thus helping them to reach their destination in safety.

Skadi’s anger against the Gods, who had slain her father, the storm giant, is an emblem of the unbending rigidity of the ice-enveloped earth, which, softened at last by the frolicsome play of Loki (the heat lightning), smiles, and permits the embrace of Njörd (summer). His love, however, cannot hold her for more than three months of the year (typified in the myth by nights), as she is always secretly longing for the wintry storms and her wonted mountain amusements.

The Worship of Njörd

As Njörd was supposed to bless the vessels passing in and out of port, his temples were situated by the seashore; it was there that the oaths in his name were commonly sworn, and his health was drunk at every banquet, where he was invariably named with his son Frey.

As all aquatic plants were supposed to belong to him, the marine sponge was known in the North as “Njörd’s glove,” a name which was retained until lately, when the same plant has been popularly called the “Virgin’s hand.”


God of Vengeance and Rebirth

Vali, as told in the Skaldskaparmal, is the “son of Odin and Rind, stepson of Frigg, brother of the Æsir, Baldr’s avenging As, enemy of Hod and his slayer, father’s homestead-inhabiter.” We also learn that Vali is among the twelve Æsir seated as judges at Ægir’s banquet. He is not only seen as a God of vengeance, but truly one of the Æsir, seated with the others at table and drink. He is referenced for his courage and his accuracy with the bow, and is one of the inheritors of Asgard after Ragnarok.

The Wooing of Rinda

Billing, the king of the Ruthenes, was greatly dismayed when he heard that a great force was about to invade his kingdom, for he was too old to fight as of yore, and his only child, a daughter named Rinda, although she was of marriageable age, obstinately refused to choose a husband among her many suitors, and thus give her father the assistant he so sorely needed.

While Billing was musing disconsolately in his hall, a stranger suddenly entered his palace. Looking up, the king beheld a middle-aged man wrapped in a wide cloak, with a broad-brimmed hat drawn down over his forehead to conceal the fact that he had but one eye. The stranger courteously inquired the cause of his evident depression, and as soon as he had learned it, volunteered to command the army of the Ruthenes.

His services being joyfully accepted, Odin — for it was he — soon won a signal victory for the aged king, and, returning in triumph, asked permission to woo his daughter Rinda to be his wife. Billing, hoping that his daughter would lend a favorable ear to this suitor, who appeared very distinguished in spite of his years, immediately signified his consent. So Odin, still unknown, presented himself before the princess, who scornfully rejected his proposal, and rudely boxed his ears when he attempted to kiss her.

Forced to withdraw, Odin nevertheless clung to his purpose to make Rinda his wife, for he knew, thanks to Rossthiof’s prophecy, that none but she could bear the destined avenger of his murdered son. Assuming the form of a smith, Odin therefore soon came back to Billing’s hall, fashioned costly ornaments of silver and gold, and so artfully multiplied these precious metals that the king joyfully acquiesced when he inquired whether he might pay his addresses to the princess. The smith Rosterus was, however, as summarily dismissed by Rinda as the successful old general had been; but although his ear tingled with the force of her blow, he was more determined than ever to make her his wife.

A third time Odin now presented himself before the capricious fair one, disguised this time as a dashing warrior, thinking a young soldier might perchance touch the maiden’s heart; but when he again attempted to kiss her, she pushed him back so suddenly that he stumbled and fell upon one knee.

“Many a fair maiden,
When rightly known,
Towards men is fickle
That I experienced,
When that discreet maiden I
Strove to win
Contumely of every kind
That wily girl
Heaped upon me;
Nor of that damsel gained I aught.”
              -SÆMUND’S EDDA (Thorpe’s tr.)

This third insult so enraged Odin that he drew his magic rune stick out of his breast, pointed it at Rinda, and uttered such a terrible spell that she fell back into the arms of her attendants rigid and apparently lifeless.

When Rinda came to life again, the suitor had disappeared, but the king discovered with great dismay that she had entirely lost her senses and was melancholy mad. In vain all the physicians were summoned and all their simples tried; the maiden remained as passive and sad as before, and her distracted father was only too glad when an old woman called Vecha, or Vak, appeared, offering to undertake the cure of the princess. The old woman, who was Odin in disguise, first prescribed a footbath for the patient; but as this did not appear to have any very marked effect, she declared she would be forced to try a severe treatment. This could only be administered if the patient were intrusted to her exclusive care, securely bound so that she could not offer the least resistance. Billing, anxious to save his child, consented to all the strange attendant proposed; and when Odin had thus gained full power over Rinda, he compelled her to marry him, releasing her from bonds and spell only when she had faithfully promised to be his wife.

The Birth of Vali

The prophecy made by Rossthiof was duly fulfilled, for Rinda bore a son named Vali (Ali, Bous, or Beav), a personification of the lengthening days, who grew with such marvelous rapidity, that in the course of a single day he attained his full stature. Without even taking time to wash his face or comb his hair, this young God hastened off to Asgard with bow and arrow to avenge the death of Balder, God of light, by slaying his murderer, Hodur, the blind God of darkness.

“But, see! th’ avenger, Vali, come,
Sprung from the west, in Rindas’ womb,
True son of Odin! one day’s birth!
He shall not stop nor stay on earth
His locks to comb, his hands to lave,
His frame to rest, should rest it crave,
Until his mission be complete,
And Baldur’s death find vengeance meet.”
              -VALHALLA (J. C. Jones)

In this tale, Rinda, a personification of the hard-frozen rind of the earth, resists the warm wooing of the sun, Odin, who vainly points out that spring is the time for warlike exploits, and offers the adornments of golden summer. She only yields when, after a shower (the footbath), a thaw set in. Conquered then by the sun’s irresistible might, the earth yields to his embrace, is freed from the spell (ice) which made her hard and cold, and brings forth Vali the nourisher, or Bous the peasant, who emerges from his dark hut when the pleasant days have come. The slaying of Hodur by Vali is therefore emblematical of “the breaking forth of new light after wintry darkness.”

Vali, who ranked as one of the twelve deities occupying seats in the great hall of Gladsheim, shared with his father the dwelling called Valaskialf, and was destined, even before birth, to survive the last battle and twilight of the Gods, and to reign with Vidar over the regenerated earth.

Worhip of Vali

Vali is God of eternal light, just as Vidar of imperishable matter; and as beams of light were often called arrows, he is always represented and worshiped as an archer. For that reason his month in Norwegian calendars is designated by the sign of the bow, and is called Lios-beri, the light-bringing. As it falls between the middle of January and of February, the early Christians dedicated this month to St. Valentine, who was also a skillful archer, and was said, like Vali, to be the harbinger of brighter days, the awakener of tender sentiments, and the patron of all lovers.


The Silent God

Vidar is the brother of Vali, and the son of Odin and Grid. Vidar is known as the Silent God and will avenge Odin’s death by slaying the Fenris wolf at Ragnarok.

Odin once saw and fell in love with the beautiful Grid, who dwelt in a cave in the desert, and, wooing her, prevailed upon her to become his wife. The offspring of this union between Odin (mind) and Grid (matter) was a son as strong as taciturn, named Vidar, whom the ancients considered a personification of the primeval forest or of the imperishable forces of Nature.
As the Gods, through Heimdall, were intimately connected with the sea, they were also bound by close ties to the forests and Nature in general by Vidar, surnamed “The Silent,” who was destined to survive their destruction and rule over the regenerated earth. This God has his home in Landvidi (the wide land), a palace decorated with green boughs and fresh flowers, situated in the midst of an impenetrable primeval forest where reigns the deep silence and solitude which he loves.

“Grown over with shrubs
And with high grass
Is Vidar’s wide land.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

This old Scandinavian conception of the silent Vidar is very grand and poetical indeed, and was inspired by the rugged Northern scenery. “Who has ever wandered through such forests, in a length of many miles, in a boundless expanse, without a path, without a goal, amid their monstrous shadows, their sacred gloom, without being filled with deep reverence for the sublime greatness of Nature above all human agency, without feeling the grandeur of the idea which forms the basis of Vidar’s essence?”

Vidar’s Shoe

Vidar is tall, strong, and handsome, has a broad-bladed sword, and besides his armor wears a great leather shoe. Vidar’s “thick shoe” consists of all the leather waste pieces that Northern cobblers have cut from their own shoes at the toe and heel, collected by the God throughout all time. As it was very important that the shoe should be large and strong enough to resist the Fenris wolf’s sharp teeth at the last day, it became a matter of religious observance among Northern shoe-makers to give away as many odds and ends of leather as possible.

The Norns’ Prophecy

One day, when Vidar had joined his peers in Valhalla, they welcomed him gaily, for they all loved him and placed their reliance upon him, for they knew he would use his great strength in their favor in time of need. But after he had quaffed the golden mead, Allfather bade him accompany him to the Urdar fountain, where the Norns were busy weaving their web. When questioned by Odin concerning his future and Vidar’s destiny, the three sisters answered oracularly each by the following short sentences:

“Early begun.”
“Further spun.”
“One day done.”

To which their mother, Wyrd, the primitive goddess of fate, added:
“With joy once more won.”

These mysterious answers would have remained totally unintelligible to the Gods, had she not gone on to explain that time progresses, that all must change, but that even if the father fell in the last battle, his son Vidar would be his avenger, and would live to rule over a regenerated world, after having conquered all his enemies.

“There sits Odin’s
Son on the horse’s back;
He will avenge his father.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

At Wyrd’s words the leaves of the world tree began to flutter as if agitated by a breeze, the eagle on its topmost bough flapped its wings, and the serpent Nidhug for a moment suspended its work of destruction at the roots of the tree. Grid, joining the father and son, rejoiced with Odin when she heard that their son was destined to survive the older Gods and to rule over the new heaven and earth.

“There dwell Vidar and Vale
In the gods’ holy seats,
When the fire of Surt is slaked.”
              -NORSE MYTHOLOGY (R. B. Anderson)

Vidar, however, said not a word, but slowly wended his way back to his palace Landvidi, in the heart of the primeval forest, where, sitting down upon his throne, he pondered long about eternity, futurity, and infinity. If he fathomed their secrets he never revealed them, for the ancients averred that he was “as silent as the grave” — a silence which indicated that no man knows what awaits him in the life to come.

Vidar is not only a personification of the imperishability of Nature, but he is also a symbol of resurrection and renewal, proving that new shoots and blossoms are always ready to spring forth to replace those which have fallen into decay.
The shoe he wears is to be his defense against the wolf Fenris, who, having destroyed Odin, would turn his entire wrath upon him, and open wide his terrible jaws to devour him. But the old Northerners declared that Vidar would brace the foot thus protected against the monster’s lower jaw, and, seizing the upper, would struggle with him until he had rent him to pieces.