15 things you probably didn’t know about Norse mythology

We here at the NCQ are fascinated with Norse mythology – for myself, I’ve studied courses on Norse history and myths through Oxford and UNE – and while I’m thinking of starting a myths and legends segment on the website (what do you think about that?), I thought we could start with some interesting facts about Norse mythology.

  1. Norse mythology as we know it was almost exclusively written by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet in the 13th century – though what’s called the Prose Edda was only compiled by Snorri from earlier “traditional materials”
  2. Odin has an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir, who was mothered by the god Loki. Basically the story goes that a master builder came to Asgard once, offering to build a giant-proof wall around Asgard, on the condition that he could marry the goddess Freya. The gods agreed on the condition that the man could complete the wall within one year, and with only the help of his horse. As it turned out, the man was a giant and was making excellent progress on the wall… so Loki shape-shifted into a mare to distract the giant’s horse and then disappeared.. eventually the giant failed his task, Thor killed him, and a few months later, Loki returned with Sleipnir.
  3. The all-father Odin only has one eye because he sacrificed one to the giant Mimir in order to drink from the well of wisdom.
  4. Sweden is named for one of the names of Odin – Svidur.
  5. On that note, most of the days of the week are named after Norse gods… Tuesday is Tyr’s Day, Wednesday is Odin’s Day, Thursday is Thor’s Day; and Friday is either Frigg’s Day or Freya’s Day (depending on the school of thought you subscribe to).
  6. While Marvel’s Thor has blonde hair; the real Thor was actually a redhead and had a belt that doubled his strength and a pair of special gloves to help him wield his hammer Mjolnir.
  7. While it’s well-known that many of those slain in battle went to Valhalla; the goddess Freya actually had first pickings of the slain warriors and took the half she selected, to go to her meadow of Folkvangr (field of the army).
  8. While Christians have “Armageddon”, the Norse believed in “Ragnarok”, the end of the world and the death of the gods – however unlike in Armageddon, after Ragnarok, there’s a new start as Lif and Lifthrasir emerge from the world tree Yggdrasil, thrive and re-populate the world.
  9. Norse mythology influenced Richard Wagner’s use of literary themes in his composition of the four operas that make up The Ring of the Nibelung.
  10. Odin and his two brothers created the world from the body of a giant called Ymir.. The earth was made from his skin, the sky from his skull, the sea from his blood, the clouds from his brain; and rocks and stones from his bones and teeth.
  11. While we’ve already discussed how Loki mothered a horse called Sleipnir, he was also father to a giant serpent (Jormungand – the world serpent that grew to encircle the entire world); Fenrir (the wolf who ate the god Tyr’s hand and devoured Odin in Ragnarok); and Hel (a daughter with the upper body of a beautiful woman and the lower body of a rotting dead body)
  12. Where in Christian legend, the first couple were crafted from clay and a rib respectively; in Norse mythology, the first man (Ask) was crafted from an Ash tree and his wife Embla was crafted from an Elm tree. All the people of the world are descended from these two.
  13. Construction is currently underway in Iceland for the first temple dedicated to the Norse gods in 1000 years – and it should be completed later this year.
  14. There are 9 worlds in Norse mythology, all tied together by the world tree Yggdrasil (which is said to be a giant ash tree)
  15. While the viking-age Norse had many gods, they also believed in dwarves, elves, giants, wraiths, dragons, trolls (I’m pretty sure we still believe in trolls….), shapeshifters and all manner of talking and creatures (like Ratatosk, who is a squirrel that runs up and down the trunk of Yggdrasil to deliver insults between the eagle in Yggdrasil’s branches and the dragon Nidhoggr that gnaws on Yggdrasil’s roots).

 

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