Norse Gods and Goddesses
By Josiah Lebowitz
((FYI: I originally write this in MS Word and the conversion to html messed up the posistions of a couple of the pictures and they seem to mysteriously resist all attempts to realign them. Sorry about that.))
The Norse gods are most often associated with the Vikings and the people groups living in the area that is now Sweden. While they are not unknown, the worship of them never became very widespread like the Greek gods. Since there are fewer stories of the Norse gods and they had less influence, I will be talking about the primary gods instead of focusing on one in particular.
Before delving into the characters, there are a few interesting points I would like to bring up. First, unlike the gods of the Greeks, The Norse gods rarely interacted with humans and hardly ever intervened in their affairs (with the exception of Valkyries, whose job it was to give victory or defeat to certain warriors). There are some exceptions, such as in the story of Sigurd, but for the most part the gods had their adventures and the humans had their adventures and the two rarely intertwined. Also, the Norse fates (Norns) are considerably more powerful than their Greek counterparts. Even the gods are subject to their will and while in Greek stories it can be possible to change your fate to some degree, that cannot happen in Norse mythology. Even for those who know their eventual fate (such as Odin), there is no way to avoid or change it. In some ways however, this makes them stronger. Instead of running around trying to avoid the future, they embrace what must eventually come and march towards their destiny ready to accept what hand fate has dealt them.
Now, of course, I must introduce the primary characters. Note: while there are many gods and goddess in Norse mythology, I will only introduce the ones that are most important in the upcoming myths.
Odin: Also know as Woden or Wotan, Odin is called the all-father and was the head god. He is often pictured wearing either a winged helm or a floppy hat as well as a blue-gray cloak. Another distinctive feature is his eye patch as he lost an eye when he went to the well of Mimir to gain great wisdom. He is the god of both wisdom and war and has the power to travel to any realm in the nine Nordic worlds. He has two ravens, Huginn (thought) and Munin (memory), which fly out over the world and tell Odin all that has happened in Midgard.
It is interesting to note that in all the stories I have seen, Odin is the only chief god in any polytheistic religion that specializes in wisdom and logic. Also, although Odin is the god of war, he was not associated with violence and bloodshed until the time of the Vikings.
Lastly, the day Wednesday (Wodensdaeg) is named after him.
Thor: Also known as Donnar and Thunderer, Thor wielded the mighty hammer Mjollnir. Although a son of Odin, in many villages he actually supplanted his father as the favorite god. This immense popularity was most likely due to his role as the protector of Midgard (the human realm). Although faithful to Odin and the other gods, Thor is one to live by his own rules. He is the most warrior like of the gods. Strong and powerful, he rides in a battle chariot pulled by two goats while sending bolts of lighting from Mjollnir. Despite his gruff exterior, he occasionally ends up in rather lighthearted and humorous situations such as when he was forced to dress as a woman in the tale The Theft of Thor’s Hammer.
Like Odin, he too has a day of the week named after him, Thursday (Thorsdaeg).
Balder: Another son of Odin, Balder is the god of love and light. He is the most beloved of the gods and his eventual death with be the sign of the coming of Ragnarok. When that time comes, his mother Frigg will have troubling dreams of his death and set out to make every object in the world swear a double oath never to hurt Balder. However, she purposely neglects taking the oath from one small mistletoe plant, thinking it is too small to ever cause her son harm. Loki tricks her into revealing this secret and carves the mistletoe into a sharp needle like object which was thrown at Balder, killing him. While his own blind brother Hodur was the killer, it was Loki who tricked him into the throwing the one object that could kill Balder. Despite a failed attempt to free him from the underworld, Balder does return to life after Ragnarok to help the surviving gods and humans rebuild the devastated world.
Frigg: Also know as Frigga or Fricka, she is the wife of Odin. She was considered to be the mother of all and the protector of children. She spins the distaff of life and knows the future, although she refuses to speak of it.
She and Freya are often confused and it possible that Friday may be named after Frigg instead of Freya.
Njord: The sea god. He controls wind and water. He is very rich and makes his worshippers rich as well. One of the Vanir, he is the father of Freya and Frey.
Freya: Although she is the goddess of love and beauty, she was also a fierce warrior and well learned in magick. She and her twin brother Frey are different from Odin and the other gods as they are from a race called the Vanir while the other gods are Aesir.
Freya is queen of the Valkyries (which is odd in the fact that the other Valkyries are daughters of Odin) and wears a scared necklace called Brisingamen. The cat is her sacred animal and Friday was either named after her (Frejyasdaeg) or Frigg.
Frey: Freya’s twin brother. He is the horned god of fertility and king of the Alfs (elves). His symbol, the boar, represents both war and fertility. He has a golden boar named Gullenbursti that represents the daybreak. Although he once wielded a mighty sword, he was forced to give it up so he could marry Gerda.
Tyr: He was the first leader of the Norse gods but later gave the position to Odin. The lawgiver of the gods, justice and fair play are very important to him. Before Odin took control, he was also the god of war and lost his hand while binding the evil wolf Fenrir.
Heimdall: Handsome and gold-toothed, he is the guardian of the Bifrost (the rainbow bridge connecting the world of the gods, Asgard, with the world of the humans, Midgard). He and Loki are long time enemies and it is he who will sound the signal horn which alerts the gods to the coming of Ragnarok.
Skadi: Skadi is the goddess of both winter and hunting. She is also the goddess of anger, justice, and righteous judgment. Although she loved Baldur, she ended up marrying the sea god Njord because of his beautiful bare feet (which some say was an ancient Norse sign of fertility).
Loki: A trickster and fire god. Oddly enough he is technically not a god but a frost giant (although some say he is actually from the Ettins, a separate race entirely). Loki’s character is oddly inconsistent in Norse mythology. In some stories such as The Death of Baldur, and Ragnarok he is an evil monster bent on destroying the gods. Yet in the stories about Sigurd and the Theft of Thor’s Hammer, he is on friendly relations with the other gods, traveling with them and helping them out of tight spots.
He is the father of many monstrous children, the most notable of which being the underworld goddess Hel. However, the wolf Fenrir and the Midgard Wyrm Jormurgandr are also his children.
Hel: Also known as Holle or Hulda, the daughter of Loki was the ruler of the underworld. Due to her relationship with Loki, she didn’t get on very well with the other gods and helped Loki prevent them from reviving Balder after his death. A fitting god of the dead, she is half dead herself and a terror to look upon.
However, some people groups viewed Hel in a very different light, describing her as a more gracious and friendly goddess who only grew angry when people went against the will of nature.
The Norns: The sisters Urd, Verdande, and Skuld, are the Norse equivalent of the Greek Fates but much more powerful. The maintain Yggdrasil (the world tree) and even the gods are subject to the fates they dole out.
In addition to the three main Norns there are many minor ones as well. They are the daughters of the elves and dwarves. Some are good and give humans long, wealthy, and famous lives. Others are evil and confer short, poor, and unfortunate lives.
There are many other gods and goddesses by they aren’t nearly as important as the ones listed above so I’m not going to list them. Now for the myths. Of course, with so many gods, I can’t possibly cover all the stories they have appeared in so I’ll focus the main myth and provide brief summaries of some other important ones.
The Creation, Death, and Rebirth of the Universe
In the days when King Gylfi ruled the land that is now Sweden, he transformed himself into an old man called Gangleri and visited the great gods in their hall in Asgard, in order to learn about the nature of the universe. Because Gylfi came in disguise, the gods did not reveal their true selves to him. They called themselves High One, Just-as-High, and Third.
“I am searching for the wisdom of the gods.” Gangleri announced. “Is any one among you knowledgeable?”
“Ask of use whatever you will,” High One replied, “and you will leave here wiser than when you arrived.”
Gangleri asked, “Tell me, if you can, how did all things begin?”
High One explained, “In the beginning, nothing existed but Ginnungagap, which was an open void. In that ancient time, neither the heaven or the earth below, neither sand, nor grass, nor the cool, tossing waves of the sea had been fashioned.”
Just-As-High added, “The first world to come into existence was Muspelheim (destroyer’s home). It is a hot, bright, flaming world in the southern part of Ginnungagap and it sends forth sparks and glowing embers. It is guarded by the giant Surt, who possess a flaming sword.”
Third said, “The second world to come into existence was Niflheim (fog home), in the northern part of Ginnungagap. In the middle of Ginnungagap is a spring called Hvergelmir (bubbling cauldron), from which eleven fast and furious rivers arose and flowed far from their source. The foamy venom from their waves hardened and turned into ice. As it cooled, a drizzling mist arose from the venom and fell upon the firm ice, forming a second layer of heavy ice over the first. All this ice makes Niflheim cold, foggy, and harsh.”
Gangleri asked, “Did anyone exist before human beings? Tell me about the giants and the gods?”
High One replied, “The Frost Giants lived during the time of endless winters before the earth was formed. Where the soft, warm air from Muspelheim met the ice from Niflheim, the ice thawed. Life first grew from the drops of melted foam venom which developed into the first being, a Frost Giant named Ymir. The venom from which he was created made him wild, fierce, and evil. Then from the thawed ice a cow, Audhumla (nourisher), arose, and Ymir fed upon the four rivers of milk she produced.”
Just-As-High added “While Ymir slept, he sweated. From the moisture in the armpit under his left arm, a man and woman emerged. Ymir became the father of all the families of Frost Giants. Like their father, they were evil creatures.”
Gangleri said, “This is certainly a strange tale! How then did the gods first come to exist?”
High One explained, “Audhumla constantly licked a salty block of ice. By the evening of the first day, a head of hair had appeared. By the second day, the male’s entire head had become visible. By the end of the third day, the whole male, called Buri, has emerged from the block of ice. Buri was tall, handsome, and strong, and he became the grandfather of the gods. He had a son called Bor, who married Bestla, the daughter of one of the giants. Bor and Bestla had three sons who became the first Norse gods: Odin, who was the oldest, then Vili, and finally Ve.”
“Were the gods and giants friends or enemies?” asked Gangleri.
High One replied, “Odin, Vili, and Ve killed Ymir. So much blood poured from his wounds that, except for Bergelmir and his wife, all of the other Frost Giants drowned in the flow of Ymir’s blood. Bergelmir escaped with his wife by quickly climbing into a boat he had made from a hollowed-out tree trunk. Thus, they became the parents of the next race of giants, who were also Frost Giants and evil creatures.”
Gangleri asked, “How was the earth fashioned?”
High One replied, “The three gods took the corpse of Ymir, carried it into the middle of Ginnungagap, and made the world from it. From his flesh, they molded the earth. From the blood that poured from his wounds, they made the salt sea and laid it around the earth. From his mighty bones they fashioned the mountains, and from his smaller bones, jaws, and teeth they formed rocks and pebbles. From his hair they created the forests.”
Just-As-High added, “They gave the lands along the shores of the salt sea, Jotunheim (giants’ home), to the giants and their families. However, the wanted to protect the folk who would live in the inland part of the earth, called Midgard (middle earth), from the evil giants. So they used Ymir’s eyebrows to build a barrier that separated the two groups of beings.”
Third said, “From Ymir’s skull, they made the sky and set it in the form of an arch over the earth, with a dwarf holding up each of its four corners. Then they tossed Ymir’s brains into the air to create storm clouds.”
Gangleri said, “I did not know that dwarfs existed before human beings. How did they come to be?”
High One replied, “Originally, the dwarfs came to life as maggots in Ymir’s flesh. The gods gave them the appearance of people and also gave them human understanding. The dwarfs still live in dark places in the earth and in rocky caves in the land called Nidavellir.”
Just-As-High added, “The gods fashioned the burning embers and the sparks the blew out of Muspelheim into the stars and placed them in fixed locations in the midst of Ginnungagap to give light to the heaven above and the earth below.”
Third said, “They arranged for the sun and moon to travel through the sky every day in order to create day and night and the seasons. The sun travels quickly because a wolf is chasing her. When this world comes to an end, at the time of Ragnarok (doom of the gods), he will catch her. Another wolf runs in front of the sun, chasing the moon. In the end, at Ragnarok, the moon to will be caught.”
Gangleri asked, “How did human beings come to inhabit Midgard?”
High One replied, “When the three gods were walking along the shore of the salt sea, they found two trees, an ash and an elm. They created the first man, Ask, from the ash tree and the first woman, Embla, from the elm tree, and clothed them to give them dignity. Odin gave them blood and the breath of life. Vili gave them understanding and power of movement. Ve gave them shape and the ability to see, hear, and speak. Ask and Embla became the parents of the race of human beings, like yourself, who live in Midgard.”
“What can you tell me about Yggdrasil? Is it not some kind of tree?” Gangleri asked.
High One replied, “The branches of this great ash three spread throughout the whole world and extend over heaven. Three great roots support the World Ash Tree: one among the Aesir (the gods) in Asgard, a second among the frost giants, and the third over icy Niflheim.”
Just-As-High added, “The root in Asgard is nourished by the sacred spring of Urd. Their live the three Fate Maidens, called Norns. Their names are Urd (Past), Verandi (Present), and Skuld (Future). They establish the laws that determine the lives of all human beings and seal their fate.”
Third said, “There are other Norns as well. Some are the daughters of the elves; others are the daughters of the dwarfs. Those who come from good beings shape good lives-long, wealthy, and famous. Evil Norns confer short, poor, unfortunate lives.”
“High one added, “The root among the frost giants is nourished by the spring of Mimir, which is the source of wisdom and understanding. Like Mimir, who owns the spring, anyone who drinks that water will become wise. However, it is not a simple task. Odin, the All-Father, wished to have just a single drink; he had to sacrifice one of his two eyes before he could take it.”
Just-as-High said, “The root over Niflheim is nourished by the spring of Hvergelmir, the source of the world’s greatest rivers.”
Gangleri then asked, “What did the gods do after they created human beings?”
High One replied, “Odin, Vili, and Ve built a stronghold for themselves in the middle of the world, called Asgard, where they and their families would live. There Odin sits on his high seat and surveys the entire world, seeing what everyone is doing and understanding everything. Two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), sit upon his shoulders. Each day, Odin sends them out at dawn to fly over the world. When they return, they tell him all that they have seen and heard.”
“What is the most interesting place in Asgard?” Gangleri asked.
High One replied, “That is surely Odin’s gold-bright Vahalla (hall of the slain). It is roofed with spear shafts and golden shields. Valkyries (choosers of the slain), the valiant daughters of Odin, ride down to Midgard to award victory to certain warriors and to choose those who are destined to die. They bring the dead warriors up to Vahalla to fight on the side of the gods against the giants when Ragnarok arrives.”
Just-as-High added, “Every day the dead warriors entertain themselves by fighting one another, eating an endless supply of boar meat, and drinking endless cups of mead.”
Third said, “There are 640 doors built into Vahalla, and when Ragnarok arrives 960 warriors will leave to fight the fearsome wolf Fenrir.”
Gangleri asked, “How can one travel between Asgard and the earth?”
High One replied, “The gods built the Bifrost (quivering roadway) Bridge, which human beings see as the rainbow.”
“In your opinion, what gods should human beings believe in?” asked Gangleri.
High One replied, “There are twelve gods and twelve powerful goddesses. Odin is the oldest and greatest of the gods. He is called the All-Father because he is the father of both gods and humans. He is also called many other names, such as High One and Father of the Slain, since he is worshiped by many different clans in Midgard and had many adventures.”
Just-as-High added, “Thor is the son of Odin and his wife, the earth goddess Frigg. Thor is the strongest god. He drives a chariot drawn by two goats. He owns three precious possessions: his hammer, Mjollnir; his mighty belt, which doubles his strength; and his iron gloves, which he wears when he wields Mjollnir.”
Third added, “Another son of Odin’s is Balder. He is as beautiful as he is good, and he is best loved of the gods. He is the most wise and the most kind. Whatever he says can never be changed.”
Gangleri asked, “Which other gods are most important?”
High One replied, “Njord is also very important. He was originally from Vanaheim, the home of the Vanir gods, who make the land and sea fertile. He is very important to sailors and fishermen because he controls the wind and the sea. He is wealthy and makes those who worship him prosperous also.”
Just-as-High added, “Njord has two important children, Frey (lord) and Freya (lady). Frey is third in importance after, after Thor and Odin. Frey decides when the sun will shine and when the rain will pour. Therefore, he is responsible for the fertility of the earth. Human beings pray to him for peace and prosperity, and for their own fertility as well as that of their fields.”
Third said, “Freya is as important a goddess as Frigg. People ask her for help in matters of love.”
High One added, “Of course, there are many other important gods and goddesses. Idun keeps the golden apples that the gods eat in order to remain young. Bragi, her husband, is known for his wisdom and skill in poetry.”
Third said, “Heimdall is the
watchman of the gods. He can hear the wool growing on the backs of sheep and
the grass growing in Midgard. He can see farther than three hundred miles,
even at night.”
Gangleri asked, “Is Loki a god?”
High One replied, “Loki is the son of a giant, so evil flows in his blood. He is considered a god, but he is a mischief-maker. He is very clever, but he also lies and cheats. Some call him the Father of Lies and the Disgrace of Gods and Men. He often gets the gods into trouble-or out of it. He is the father of three monstrous children: the wolf Fenrir, Hel (goddess of the dead), and the World Serpent. He will be the enemy of thee gods when Ragnarok comes upon us.”
Just-as-High added, “Hel is a grim creature. Hunger and Famine are her companions. People who die from old age of disease live with her behind the high walls in the land of Niflheim.”
Gangleri asked, “What can you tell me about Ragnarok? Is there any way to escape it?”
High One replied, “The death of Balder will be the first indication that Ragnarok is approaching. Loki will be instrumental in causing both Balder’s death and his confinement with Hel. As punishment, the gods will imprison Loki in a cave until Ragnarok arrives.”
Just-as-High added, “Next, for three winters bloody wars will be waged throughout the world. Brother will strike brother with sword and axe, and both will die. Incest and adultery will become common. No mortal will show another mercy. Evil will run wild upon the earth, destroying relationships among family, friends, and clans. Finally the world will lie in ruins.”
Third added, “Then three terrible winter, each lasting for an entire year with no summer between them, will bring biting winds, severe frost, and endless snow.”
High One continued, “The wolf Hati will finally catch and swallow the sun, and the wolf Skoll will finally catch and swallow the moon. The giant Surt will tear apart the heavens with his scorching flames, causing the blazing stars, bursting with fire, to fall upon the earth. The earth will shake so forcefully that the trees of the forests will become uprooted and the mountains will collapse. This tremendous tumult will release Loki, Fenrir, and the monstrous dragon called the World Serpent, which lies deep in the salt sea that surround Midgard. The serpent will thrash about, poisoning the sea and the sky with its spurting venom and causing tidal waves to wash upon Midgard.”
Just-as-High added, “Flames will flare forth from Fenrir’s eyes and nostrils as he moves towards the plain of Vigrid with his mouth gaping in readiness. There he will meet the gathering of Frost Giants, the World Serpent, and all other creatures of evil. Heimdall will alert the gods to Ragnarok.”
Third said, “Odin will fight against Fenrir; Thor will pit himself against the World Serpent; and Frey will battle Surt. The wolf will swallow Odin whole, but Odin’s son Vidar, the fiercest of warriors, will tear Fenrir’s jaws apart and kill him. Thor will slay the serpent, but its poison will kill him. Heimdall and Loki will kill each other, and Surt will slay Frey. Thus the high ones will be destroyed.”
High One concluded, “With the fire from his flaming sword, Surt will set the entire earth ablaze. People will flee their homesteads in fear. With death as their destiny, the doomed and trembling human race will walk the road to join Hel. Finally, the charred and devastated earth will sink into the sea.”
Gangleri exclaimed, “How horrible! What will happen after the whole world has been burned, and the gods and human beings are dead?”
High One replied, “The earth will rise out of the sea once again, fresh and green. The eagle will again fly down from mountain crags to capture fish. The daughter of the sun will travel the old paths of her mother and will brighten heaven and earth with her light. Fields will produce gain where seeds were never sown.”
Just-as-High added, “After Surt’s flames have destroyed the homes of the gods, Odin’s sons Vidar and Vali will live where Asgard once was. Odin’s grandson Modi and Magni will join them and will claim Mjollnir, their father’s hammer. Finally Balder will return from the land of Hel and join the group. Together the gods will remember the knowledge of the high ones, the World Serpent, Fenrir, and Ragnarok. But evil will have left the word.”
Third said, “Meanwhile when the endless winter kills most human beings, one man, Lif (life), and one woman, Lifthrasir (desiring life), will seek safety by hiding among the branches of the great ash tree Yggdrasill. They will survive by eating and drinking the morning dew. They will escape Surt’s flames, and when the earth has revived they will become the parents of the next race of human beings.”
High One then announced, “This ends our tale. We have answered all of your questions. Do what you will with all that we have told you.”
Suddenly, Gangleri found himself in the midst of a tremendous uproar. When he came to his senses he found that he was alone upon a plain, and Asgard and the hall he had been visiting were nowhere in sight. He assumed his customary shape as King Gylfi and returned to his kingdom. There he told his people what he had learned. And from that day until this, these tales have been passed from one human being to another.
I have found several minor variations to this tale. Instead of retelling the entire story I’ll just go over each variation.
1: While the original myth states that the first frost giants came from the sweat beneath Ymir’s armpit, a variation agrees with this but adds that a third frost giant was born from the sweat of his legs.
2: Another variation says that Ymir was not evil, just there, and gives no reason for Odin, Vili, and Ve to murder him.
3: Some say that during Ragnarok the stars will merely vanish instead of being destroyed by the giant Surt.
4: Some versions of the tale switch the two wolves around, having Skoll catch the sun and Hati the moon. The exact opposite of the original myth.
5: Another variation on Ragnarok mentions three cocks. Fjalar will crow to the giants. The golden rooster Gullinkambi will crow to the gods. And a third unnamed cock will raise the dead.
Once again, these changes are nothing major but are interesting nevertheless.
I will now make brief mention of a few other Norse myths.
The Death of Balder: This is a very important story as it goes into detail about how Balder died and the part Loki plays in his murder. It also tells how the other gods attempted to bring Balder back from Hel’s kingdom but were once again thwarted by Loki. Lastly, it tells of Loki’s imprisonment and punishment.
The Theft of Thor’s Hammer: A humorous myth. The highlight of this story is when Thor is forced to disguise himself as a bride in order to recover his hammer Mjollnir. Loki plays an interesting role here as well. In fact it is he who discovers who stole the hammer and devises the plan to recover it, giving him a very different image than the stories of Ragnarok and Baldur’s death do.
Sigurd: Sigurd was one of the greatest Norse human heroes. And this myth one of the very few times in which the gods directly aid a human. Odin is the one who gives Sigurd’s father his mighty sword although he is also the one who later destroys the weapon. His also appears at other times to give Sigurd advice and guidance. Loki also appears in this one, once more as a good guy, and helps Odin and another god out of a tricky situation.
Now that we have covered the gods and some of the myths surrounding them I will trace their influence in art throughout history. However, once you step out of the realms of Greek and Christian religions, you’ll find that other mythological figures received much less artistic representation. However, the Norse gods are not completely lacking in art and have become more well known today due to their representations in various video games, which I will discuss later.
Norse Gods in Art
Since the influence of Norse culture was miniscule when compared to that of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, the Norse gods are not nearly as well represented in art. They are, however, well represented in pieces from their native land. Since Odin is the primary god, I will focus on his representation in art.
The earliest work I could find is a copper plate from the seventh century which can be seen on the right.
Some of the earlier Odin artwork comes from ninth century Gotland (a Swedish/Baltic island). At this time large limestone ‘flags’ were placed at roadsides and by burial sites. These stones reached up to four meters high and used simple geometric designs created against a cut-away background. They often focused on narrative scenes from Norse mythology and poetry with the pictures arranged in vertical strips. The Larbro stone (see the picture on the left) is a good example of this form of art. While Odin is not directly shone in this particular work, he is referenced to twice. First by the man hanging in the third scene since any person who hung was dedicated to Odin. Secondly the final scene hints at the hero’s entrance to Vahalla to serve Odin. There are other similar stones that actually depict Odin and in most of the ones that have been found he is the only god referenced. In the small picture on the right (another stone from Gotland) Odin can be seen riding his horse Sleipnir while either his wife Frigg or one his Valkyries welcomes him.
Moving forward in history to the tenth century another form of artwork emerged, the stone cross. These massive carvings can be found on the Isle of Man and are carved in low relief with high stylization, somewhat like the stone flags mentioned above. There are stone crosses depicting many subjects including Odin, Sigurd, and Jesus.
The picture on the left shows a piece of one of these stone crosses with Odin and one of his ravens clearly visible. This particular scene depicts Odin getting eaten by the wolf Fenrir at Ragnarok. The scene is carved on a cross to emphasize the parallels drawn between Ragnarok and the Christian end of the world. Similar parallels are shown on other stone crosses as well, showing the growing influence of Christianity on the local people groups at that point in history.
While I’m sure there was plenty of Norse artwork between the tenth and nineteenth centuries, I was unable to find any that were definitely from that period. There was lots of art however with no known date or artist, some of which probably came from this time.
So we’ll move a lot bit further forward in time to the 1800s and early 1900s. In this time period we see not only some beautiful paintings but statues as well. We also get to several different interpretations of Odin’s appearance.
The statue shown on the left was carved in the 1830s and can be found at the Swedish National Museum. Carved by Bengt Erland Fogelberg. This statue is a nicely detailed work of art and shows Odin ready for battle with his helmet and spear.
The painting on the left was done by Von Stassen in 1914. Called Gods Descending, it shows several of the principle Norse gods including Odin and his wife Frigg at the forefront. The lack of clothing and build of their bodies reminds me of many paintings of Greek gods that I’ve seen. Odin himself looks look like depictions I’ve seen of God and Zeus with the long beard and wise expression.
My favorite painting of Odin in the one on the right. Titled Grimner (an alternate name of Odin), it was drawn by Georg v. Rosen in 1886 for the Swedish translation of the Elder Edda. The cloak, white beard, staff, and hat reminds me of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Especially the way he is shown in the recent movies.
There are lots of other paintings of Odin from this time period. Many show him as the wizard like figure in the Grimner painting. Others choose to depict him in a variety of ways. One painting by an unknown artist has Odin as a young and handsome kingly figure wearing royal robes and a crown. Others, also by unknown artists, instead have Odin in warriors garb with a winged Valkyrie helmet. Some paintings like Odin with His Ravens by Tudor Humphries give Odin the clothes and appearance of what most people would call a traditional Viking hunter and/or warrior.
Moving on further to the present time the likes of Odin, Thor, and Freya aren’t very well known outside of Scandinavia. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Final Fantasy, I most likely would have never heard of them before taking the mythology class for which I am writing this paper.
It was thanks to RPGs like Final Fantasy that I learned of Odin, Freya, Sleipnir, Midgard, the world serpent, and Yggdrasil. These and other names are used quite often. Some seem to be thrown in rather arbitrarily but many link the names to people and places that reference their namesake in one or many ways. They have also produced some excellent artwork of Odin and other Norse figures. Since this concept art can still be considered a form of modern artwork, I will show some of my favorites.
The first selections will come from my favorite series, Final Fantasy, a collection of masterful RPGs that are as much works of art as they are games. Odin in a mainstay in this series as a summon beast (a mythological figure summoned by the main characters to help them in battle).
The picture on the left is Odin as shone in the game Final Fantasy Tactics. The one on the right is Odin from Final Fantasy IX. Both show a rather intimidating version of him decked out in full battle armor, carrying a large sword, and riding his horse Sleipnir.
There was even an entire game created about Norse mythology called Valkyrie Profile in which you took control of a Valkyrie sent to Midgard to take the souls of slain warriors and make them stronger before sending them to help the gods in Ragnarok. As you can see in the picture on the left, Odin (in the center) and the other Norse gods have a much younger and more heroic anime (Japanese animation) style look to them.
To sum things up, the Norse mythology is full of interesting characters and stories. Although not as wide spread as some, the myths are enjoyable and depict gods ready to meet their fate head on even if they know that they will not survive the encounter. I learned a lot writing this paper and it has even inspired me to add some Norse mythology to one of my future fantasy novels. While not as widespread as Greek myths, the stories of Odin, Thor, and the other Norse deities are just as good and definitely worth reading.
World Mythology Third Edition, Donna Rosenberg
The Viking Answer Lady, http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/scotland.htm
Barbarian’s Norse Religion Page, http://www.wizardrealm.com/norse
Cherry’s Norse Mythology Page,
Classic Norse Mythology Pictures, http://www.asatru.ru/Freya.html
The Persistence of the Viking Stylistic Traditions in Odin-Related Art Throughout the Christianization Process, Nina (last name unknown), http://foulfiend.com/odin.htm
The History Net, http://ancienthistory.about.com
Encyclopedia Mythica, http://www.pantheon.org
A Dictionary of the Norse Gods, http://www.wildwoodforeststudios.com/rob/dict.htm
Swishweb.com Norse Gods of Mythology,