Where would the rich tapestry of Norse mythology, one of the world's great literary canons, be without magical elements? 

These elements, so evident in the legends, myths, and sagas developed by people in Viking societies, often serve multiple purposes. 

Not only did they enrich the gripping narrative with symbolism, but they also inserted the cultural values of these societies, adding a sense of wonder and awe to these (mostly) tall tales. 

In this modern era, where our relationship with the natural world is, at best, less than harmonious, we can often look to the sagas to see how these magical elements reflect the deep connection of Viking societies with nature. 

The story of the golden boar, Gullinbursti, embodies a harmonious relationship between the natural and supernatural worlds and demonstrates the reverence that the Norse held for wild animals. 

Additionally, it stands out as one of the more memorable and humorous tales found in Norse literature. 

In Norse mythology, Loki, known for his cunning and wit, challenged the blacksmith dwarves, Brokkr and Eitri, to outdo the Sons of Ivaldi in crafting magical artifacts, offering his head as a wager. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Don't lose your head 

The Norse God Loki is sometimes wrongly overlooked by the wider public. 

Without the sex appeal of, say, Freyja, the brute force of Thor, or the wisdom and intelligence of Odin, poor old Loki often gets relegated to the second tier of Norse gods, portrayed merely as a practical joker and prankster. 

However, though he does enjoy being the bane of many a Norse god, he is much more than a mere supporting bit player. 

Take, for example, the story of his legendary bet with some blacksmith dwarves

The Sons of Ivaldi, who were among the most skilled blacksmiths, metalworkers, and artisans in the Norse cosmos, had just fashioned a series of magical artifacts for some of the Norse gods. 

Loki, in one of his more generous moods, had commissioned them to produce a magical ship for Freyr (which always found a favorable wind and could also shrink in size to fit in a pocket), a deadly spear for Odin (which always found its target), and a new set of brilliant hair for Sif (to replace the locks he had rather nastily cut off). 

Knowing that the Sons of Ivaldi were not the only artisan dwarves in the Norse cosmos, Loki decided to make a bet with the brother blacksmiths, Brokkr and Eitri

He challenged them to fashion new items that surpassed those made by the Sons of Ivaldi. 

However, this was an unusual wager, as he bet his own head. Brokkr and Eitri wanted to please the gods by fashioning something marvelous and perhaps claiming Loki's head to prove him rather foolish, so they set to work. 

Brokkr and Eitri are skilled blacksmith dwarves who created Gullinbursti, the golden boar, in a wager with Loki, showcasing their expertise in metalwork and magic. Illustration: The Viking Herald

A golden hog and a special swine 

Hopping quickly into work, the two brothers decided to fashion a magical boar. 

Eitri threw a pigskin into the furnace while his brother Brokkr began to work furiously on the underbelly. 

After some time, the brothers had produced one of the most miraculous artifacts ever associated with people in Viking societies, even if it was fictional - a golden boar. 

A boar is, of course, a wild pig from which all the cuddly domesticated pigs are descended. 

For the Norse, the boar was a prized animal noted for its taste. It was a common delicacy, and any good Viking feast would be incomplete without munching on some swine. 

Yet the boar that Brokkr and Eitri created was no ordinary boar. Not only was the entire boar made from gold, but it bristled all over its skin, glowing in the dark. 

Regardless of where the boar went – even in the deepest, darkest underground pit or in the middle of the night – these bristles would glow and provide light for all to see. 

They dubbed this creation Gullinbursti, which is Old Norse for "Golden Bristles." 

The boar was then presented by the brotherly blacksmiths to the god Freyr. 

The dwarves had also endowed it with another magical ability; they claimed it could "run through the air or water better than any horse." 

Some historians have interpreted this to mean that it could both fly and swim, which would make this golden hog an incredibly special swine. 

Manufacturing a golden boar that can swim and fly was no mean feat, and needless to say, Loki was on the losing side of this wager. 

However, in any Norse saga, story, or legend, one can always anticipate the unexpected. 

When the brothers came to collect their wager – Loki's head – the god said he would gladly hand over his head so long as Brokkr left his neck alone. 

A heated discussion ensued between the brothers over exactly where Loki's neck ended and where his head began. 

With neither agreeing, Loki was allowed to keep his head until the matter was finalized. 

Brokkr, however, had the last laugh when he decided to sew Loki's mouth shut to stop his tricky wordplay. 

As the companion of Freyr, Gullinbursti, the golden boar, accompanies the god in various adventures, contributing to Freyr's association with abundance, fertility, and prosperity in Norse mythology. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Significance beyond its golden glow 

Gullinbursti's significance in Norse mythology extends beyond its obvious aesthetic appeal. 

It symbolizes the harmonious relationship between the natural and supernatural realms, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these worlds. 

The boar's ability to shine and provide light also aligns with the theme of guidance and enlightenment by the pantheons of Norse gods, adding a mystical dimension to its role. 

Gifted to Freyr, Gullinbursti accompanies him in various adventures and exploits, contributing to the god's association with prosperity, fertility, and abundance. 

The presence of the golden boar enhances the divine imagery surrounding Freyr and underscores the importance of symbolic animals woven throughout the rich tapestry of Norse mythology. 

It also highlights what people in Viking societies considered important themes: craftsmanship, divine connections, and the interplay of light and darkness. 

For more information on Norse characters, like Loki, that are still widely popular today, visit the BBC here

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