There have been untold hours spent by academics and historians arguing over the finer points of whether the Vikings were a product of an insecure world or if this insecure world was partly a product of the Vikings. 

Leaving this historical "chicken and egg" scenario aside, there can be no arguing that people from Viking societies lived in a highly dangerous and insecure world. 

Everyday violence was not uncommon, from physical and sexual assaults to murder and warfare. Personal and societal security were, at best, fleeting and, at worst, non-existent. 

It should be no surprise that a sentinel who warned communities of invaders, attackers, or even Vikings was revered in most early medieval societies. 

Despite being the cause of some of this violence, people in Viking societies also held sentinels in high regard. 

Flick open any of the pages of the Norse sagas, and you will find exactly how important this form of vigilance was. 

On these pages, you will find a god specifically associated with security and protection. His job was to guard, protect, and warn the Æsir – one of the two pantheons in Norse mythology

His name was Heimdall, and he was revered by adherents of the Old Norse religion and lovers of the Norse sagas for his eternal vigilance. 

The University of Gothenburg's auditorium in Sweden is adorned with Nils Asplund's 1907 national romantic mural, "Heimdallr brings forth the gifts of the gods to the humans." Source: Vogler / Wikipedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Protecting Asgard with supernatural abilities 

Occupying this unique position in Norse mythology, Heimdall is often depicted as the eternal watchman, ever vigilant atop Bifröst – the burning rainbow bridge that connects the realm of the Æsir, Asgard, to the realm of we mere mortals, Midgard. 

Somewhat confusingly, Heimdall is also attested to have three other names: Hallinski, Gullintanni, and Vindler. 

However, Heimdall is the most commonly used throughout stories and sagas in the Poetic Edda

Like most of the Norse gods, his ancestry is as old as it is complicated. 

Said to be born from the primordial forces of creation, he is the son of the Norse All-Father, Odin, and was birthed by nine (yes, nine!) mothers. 

These numerous matrons can help explain his role as the originator of social class, at least for people in Viking societies. The gods' ever-present hand was never far from any societal quirk or structure. 

Heimdall was chosen to stand guard due to the extraordinary abilities he had received from his divine lineage. 

His acute senses – including keen eyesight and hearing – enabled him to perceive the most subtle disturbances across the nine realms of Norse cosmology. 

His gaze was also said to pierce through the veil of time itself, granting him untold knowledge and foresight of the future. 

It was these extraordinary abilities that made him the perfect god to fulfill the solemn charge of protecting that ethereal gateway, Bifröst. 

Crafted by the gods, this pathway stands as not only a testament to the divine craftsmanship of the Æsir, but it was only Heimdall who was entrusted to decide who was worthy enough to traverse its radiant arc.

With his ever-watchful presence, he guards Asgard against the encroachment of evil and malevolent forces that sought to disrupt the delicate balance between the realms. 

Asgard, the fortified home of the Æsir in Norse mythology, is under the constant vigilance of Heimdall, who ensures its protection against invaders. Illustration: The Viking Herald

The herald of Ragnarök 

Amongst Heimdall's possessions was a magnificent horn, Gjallarhorn. 

The sound of this horn was said to herald the beginning of Ragnarök, with its sound heard throughout all the magical realms of Norse mythology. 

Ragnarök was, of course, the cataclysmic end times of Norse mythology, steeped in fire, blood, and eventual rebirth, with the best modern English translation of this event being something akin to "The Twilight of the Gods." 

Here, great and evil creatures would fight with the Æsir and come to destroy most of these divine entities and Asgard itself. 

With his brutish force, Heimdall would fight a losing battle against these malign forces. 

Until he heralded these times, however, Heimdall would stand solemn guard. 

Yet, despite his important job, he did have some "creature comforts." 

Not only was he kept company by a golden-maned horse, Gulltoppr, but he also had a steady supply of mead within his reach. 

Given its popularity amongst the Norse people, this was seen as a literal nectar of the gods, and its consumption was highly prized and sought after. 

As a word of caution, however, overindulging in this delightful drink might leave one assuming it was indeed the end of time the morning after! 

Created by Carl Fraenell for the 1897 World Fair, the Heimdall statue on Stockholm's Djurgårdsbron stands with statues of Freya, Frigg, and Thor, depicting him blowing his Gjallarhorn. Photo: Vadim Petrakov / Shutterstock

Archeological record and inspiration down the ages 

Despite his formidable stature, he is portrayed in the Norse sagas as a figure of often stoic humility and unwavering loyalty. 

It is this loyalty that has been an inspiration for people, be they in Viking societies or those in contemporary times. 

One of the best archaeological depictions of Heimdall appears on the Gosforth Cross, a large stone monument from the 9th or 10th century in Gosforth, northern England. 

This area of the country was part of the Viking Kingdom of Northumbria and remained under Norse influence – what contemporaries would have called Danelaw – for much of the early medieval period. 

On this huge stone monument, Heimdall is depicted clasping a sword and blowing on Gjallarhorn. 

There is also a depiction of Heimdall on a stone cross found on the Isle of Man, another area of Britain under Viking influence and control during this period. 

As Asgard's eternal guard and Bifröst's custodian, Heimdall personifies the virtues of vigilance, protection, and unwavering dedication. 

Whether standing atop the rainbow bridge or sounding the clarion call of Ragnarök, Heimdall's steadfast resolve remains unshakeable, a testament to the enduring legacy of one of the most respected figures in Norse mythology. 

His solemn guard is an example of humility, duty, and selflessness that has inspired people since the Viking Age

For more information on Norse mythology that still "resonates today," visit the BBC here

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