Thus a historical religion was created, which is referred to as Norse mythology. Another term used is Scandinavian mythology. This complex realm was created first through the tradition of oral poetry, which was later collected in a written form.
The famous sagas are another great source of information, together with the archaeological findings. Numerous tales and stories present these interactions of gods with other creatures, as well as the way Norse people viewed them and what they meant to them.
Key players in Norse mythology
First of all, it needs to be mentioned that the gods were divided into two main groups, the Æsir and the Vanir. Odin was the king of the Æsir, and considered the father of all gods. He was also mentioned as the creator of the earth.
His power lies in the fact that he was the god of wisdom, healing, communication, and knowledge, but also the god of death and war. He wore a beard and a cloak, rode an eight-legged horse, and was accompanied by ravens and a wolf.
In constant pursuit of knowledge, he hung himself for nine days from the mythical tree Yggdrasil and thus gained knowledge of the runic alphabet. His wife was Frigg, the goddess of wisdom, marriage, and fertility, who could foresee the future, yet would never share her knowledge.
Freya, the beautiful and powerful goddess of beauty, love, and harmony, but also war, was Odin's counterpart in a way, because she was a member of the Vanir division. She ruled over the meadow where half of the warriors who died in battles would go, those chosen by her. In contrast, the other half would go to Valhalla, the magnificent mythical hall ruled by Odin. The Valkyrie, "choosers of the slain," depicted as female horse riders, were the ones to take the chosen ones to Valhalla.
Freya was also the goddess of fate and destiny, who practiced Seidr, a kind of magic that gave her the power to control and govern the prosperity and fortune of others. She was depicted as the goddess wearing a cloak made of feathers and riding a chariot drawn by two cats, often accompanied by the boar at her side.
An aged Nordic runestone. Runestones were usually decorated with drawings depicting gods. Illustration: Erik Mclean / Pexels
Norse gods in popular culture
One of the most popular gods during the Viking Age, but also in modern popular culture, is Thor, the god of thunder, who is depicted as unstoppable and courageous, in constant battle with his enemies.
Thor, the son of Odin, carrying his hammer Myölnir, could crush mountains, kill giants, and other creatures who were foes to gods or humanity, riding in his chariot drawn by two massive goats. Another god who gained popularity in modern times is Loki, who was the shapeshifter god, changing into different forms and often showing the duality of his nature – sometimes he would be helpful and kind, sometimes he would play tricks on other gods.
He is also believed to be one of the key figures in the coming of the Ragnarök, a sort of the end of the world, shown as the great flood, after which the new era begins.
Norse gods also left their trace in the modern everyday life – some days of the week are named after some of the key gods: Wednesday is Odin's day, Thursday Thor's day, and Friday Freya's day.
The complex universe of Norse mythology consists of nine worlds, where all beings live, and all these worlds are gathered around the mythical tree Yggdrasil.
Gods inhabited the heavenly part, Asgard, while humans inhabited the earthly part, Midgard, which was also the center of the cosmos. There were also other creatures inhabiting these worlds, such as elves and dwarves. Elves were depicted as beings of supernatural beauty and magical powers. Dwarfs were creatures usually related to the mountains and areas below the earth's surface, with a particular kind of wisdom, often depicted as short and (sometimes) ugly blacksmiths, also active in mining and crafting.
The interaction between the worlds is a rather common notion shown in many episodes where gods interacted with other creatures and humans, be it as friends or foes.
Ragnarök marks the end of the world, where everything old is destroyed through the great flood, and the only two human beings who survived the cataclysm were Líf and Lífþrasir, a woman and a man, who were then the first inhabitants of the new world.
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