There's no better meeting of style and substance than Thor's magical iron gloves, Járngreipr, which he wore to wield his mighty hammer.
Not only did these gloves have a practical use in monster slaying, but they also highlighted the importance of craftsmanship so evident in Viking culture.
Hidden in plain sight
What would the Norse gods think of Thor nowadays? He is, without any doubt, the most recognized and celebrated god from the vast Norse pantheon.
Thanks, in part, to a fair sprinkle of Hollywood magic, Thor seems as much an ingrained part of our modern culture as he was to people from Viking society over a millennium ago.
Although we do not know to worship him as a god (some fans of Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth may disagree), the image of him wielding his mighty hammer is seemingly everywhere, from comic books to the silver screen to television advertisements.
Whilst Thor's image may have seeped into the popular consciousness, there are things about him that are hidden in plain sight.
Most people may have heard of Thor, and some may even know that he wields a hammer, but few (apart from Viking enthusiasts, academics, and historians) know that to wield this mighty hammer, he wears a pair of magical gloves called Járngreipr (a literal translation of this Old Norse word would be "Iron Grip").
Magical and defensive properties
To find out anything related to Norse mythology, the best place to start is to scour the Norse sagas.
This collection of fantastic adventures, some even with a smattering of historical accuracy, can offer valuable insight into the rich tapestry of Norse myths and legends.
There are hundreds of mentions of Thor throughout the sagas, either in his capacity as the Norse God of Thunder or in descriptions of his trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
Unfortunately for us, the origin and creation of Járngreipr are not precisely to be found in the canon of Norse sagas that have been passed down to us.
The sagas do, however, go into great length and detail about the creation of Mjöllnir, Thor's magical hammer.
Fashioned by the dwarves, this hammer was imbued with not only a great deal of skilled craftwork (the dwarves were renowned in Norse mythology for their metalworking magic) but possessed many magical properties.
Only Thor could wield this hammer, and to wield such a mighty and magical weapon, a pair of magical gloves was required.
For a pair of magical gloves, Járngreipr was more than just a piece of fancy fashion.
Most importantly, Járngreipr allowed Thor to grip Mjöllnir properly and thus wield it with incredible superhuman strength.
They also symbolize the immense power, and magical properties, that Thor had in his ability to harness the forces of thunder and lightning.
They also possessed a degree of defensive function as they protected his hands during the many battles and scuffles that Thor partook in and acted as a shield from the immense heat generated when striking the hammer.
Fashioning not only a hammer but a pair of magical gloves was all in a day's work for the dwarves who were if we look through the sagas, commissioned frequently by both members of the Aesir and Vanir for weapons.
A slippery tale and symbolism
Scanning through the sagas, one adventure more than any highlights the importance that Járngreipr has to Thor.
In one epic tale, Thor battles with the giant and monstrous serpent, Jörmungandr. This certainly is no barroom brawl and develops into very much a fight between these mythical adversaries.
What Thor lacked in size compared to the slippery serpent (it was said to be so large that it literally engulfed the world) he made up for with brutish force, thanks to his magic gloves.
They allowed Thor to use Mjöllnir to summon thunder and lightning when raining blows upon his mortal enemy.
Jörmungandr appears in Norse myths on several occasions, often as the adversary of Thor. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Thor's eventual vanquishing of this serpent secured him more than just bragging rights, as it was said to symbolize the eternal struggle between order and chaos.
Luckily for us, Thor (and thus order) won the day thanks in no small part to Jörmungandr, which allowed the Norse God of Thunder to deliver such devastating hammer blows.
Aside from their very practical nature that is dotted throughout the sagas, there is an essential symbolism that Járngreipr is shrouded in.
These pair of magical gloves that allow Thor to thwart his many enemies symbolize the high importance that many people in Viking societies placed upon fine works of craftsmanship.
These Viking societies, embedded with a warrior ethos, held all forms of metalworking, from simple axes to elaborate swords, in high regard. Just as important was the craftmanship of armor and other defensive protection.
Whilst Járngreipr may not be as well-known as Mjöllnir, they are an essential part of Thor's arsenal and helped explain why the Norse God of Thunder was seen as such a ferocious warrior.
For more on a recent archaeological discovery relating to Thor’s hammer, visit the Archaeology Magazine website here.
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