Monday, 11 January 2016

Norse Mythology Week: Who's Who in Norse Mythology

The Greeks had three successive pantheons (Primordial, Titan and God).

The Romans had a Goddess of thresholds and door hinges (Cardea, if you're interested).

The Norse didn't have either of those things, but they made up for it with possibly the first ever family feud story. 

The Norse Pantheon that everyone's familiar with (Odin, Thor, Freya etc.) is actually made up of two families who started out hating each other's guts. On one side, you had the Aesir. On the other side, the Vanir. Eventually, these two families joined together and became the gods of Asgard (though Mimir lost his head first). They weren't always the most peaceful pantheon, but the one thing they never argued about was spoilers. In Norse mythology, there were no spoilers. All of the Gods knew exactly what was coming for them at the end because Ragnarok (basically the Norse apocalypse) was forseen in great detail. They knew who they'd kill. Who'd kill them. Who the traitors were going to be (*cough cough* Loki *cough cough*). Oh, and the worst thing about Norse mythology? You can't fight fate.

The Aesir

Odin/Wotan/Woden - Associated with magic, battle, runes, death...Norse Gods weren't exactly the Gods of specific things. They were more well-rounded and were associated with many things. Odin was the leader of the Aesir, and the spouse of Frigg. According to the Eddas (books of Norse poems), he was the father of Thor and Baldr, Vidar and Vali. Blood brother of Loki. He ruled over Valhalla, where half of these slain in battle went after death.

Thor - Traditionally not a blonde, not clean-shaven, and not Loki's brother. Adopted or otherwise. He does, however, wield the hammer Mjölnir, which he loses in Thrymskvitha.

(You'd think he'd take better care of an all-powerful hammer.)

Associated with thunder, lightning, storms and strength. Husband of Sif.

Tyr - Associated with war. Lost his hand to Loki's son, Fenris.

Idun/Ithun - Associated with youth because she looks after the golden apples which the Gods eat to remain young and strong.

Bragi - Idun's husband. Associated with poetry. Basically a godly bard.

Heimdall/Heimdallr - Generally regarded as the watchman of Asgard. He sounded his horn, Gjallarhorn, to warn of approaching danger. Destined to kill (and be killed by) Loki at Ragnarok. He also had nine mothers.

(How -)

Do not even ask.

Baldr/Balder - Son of Odin and Frigg. What he was associated with is highly disputed, but peace, purity and love are the typical suggestions. Killed accidentally by his blind brother, Hod, and ended up as a guest in Helheim. Husband of Nanna.

Mimir - Lost his head when traded to the Vanir. Associated with wisdom and knowledge.

Frigg/Frigga - Wife of Odin. Possibly the goddess of Friday, though there is an endless argument over whether that's her or Freya. 

Sif - Wife of Thor. Goddess of plenty. Sif is famous for her long, golden hair, which Loki once relieved her of. He's nice like that.

Loki - A member of the Aesir through being blood brother's with Odin. A trickster and a  jötunn (frost giant). Fated to fight against the Gods at Ragnarok. Husband of Sigyn. Father of Hel, Fenris and Jörmungandr by Angrboda, Vali and Narfi by Sigyn, and mother of Odin's steed, Sleipnir. 

(How -)

You do not want to know.

The Vanir 

Frey - A fertility god, associated with the rune fehu

Freya - Frey's twin sister. Associated with love, beauty, fertility and wealth. Also, war. Freya ruled over section of the underworld called Fólkvangr, where half of those slain on the battlefield went.

Njord - God of the sea, father of Frey and Freyja.

Other Notable Norse figures 

Hel/Hella - The original two-face. Hel is always depicted as half beautiful maiden, half rotting corpse. She's the goddess of Helheim, the daughter of Loki, and a major player in Baldr's death, which she refuses to reverse.

Fenris - Loki's son. A wolf who ate Tyr's hand and will kill Odin at Ragnarok.

Jörmungandr - The world serpent who lives in the one sea. Loki's son. Will kill Thor at Ragnarok.

Angrboda - Loki's jötunn mistress. Mother of Hel, Fenris and Jörmungandr.

Ran - Goddess of drowning. A jötunn who owns a giant net in which she collects drowned souls.

Aegir - A jötunn God of the sea. Liked to party.

Guthrun - A Norse heroine who could not catch a break. Her first husband was killed by her brother, she was drugged into marrying her second husband, who then killed her brothers after she sided against him with her family. In revenge, she killed her sons. She then travels to Sweden where she remarries and has two sons and a daughter. Her daughter is killed by her husband and, when she sends her sons to avenge her, they die too.

Brynhild - A valkyrie who swore only to marry a man who could defeat her in battle. 

Vali and Narfi - Loki's twin sons by his wife, Sigyn. In some myths, one of them was turned into a wolf and ripped out the other's guts. Then, both boys' guts were used to tie Loki down whilst a snake dripped venom onto his face. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Norse Gods thought you could stop someone from turning traitor. 

Magni and Modi - Thor's twin sons who will survive Ragnarok. Associated with anger (Modi) and strength (Magni) respectively. Modi is thought to have been a patron God of beserkers. 

Skadi - A jötunn Goddess associated with skiing, hunting with a bow, winter and the mountains. Wanted to marry Baldr, but ended up married to Njord. 

This is by no means EVERY figure in Norse mythology, but it's your major players plus a few that I threw in just because I like them (Guthrun) or because they play a key role in a mythology-based novel that I've read (Magni and Modi).

Do you have a favourite Norse mythological figure?