Known for his bravery, strength, and rarely parting with his mighty hammer, Mjöllnir, we look at the story of Thor and how his appeal has lasted for more than a millennium.
A famous family
Whilst this may come as a surprise to many reading this, Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, was certainly not a Hollywood heartthrob.
Chris Hemsworth jokes aside, Thor is one of the most recognizable and well-known of the Norse gods down through the ages.
He is, of course, one of the sons of Odin, the Chief God of the Norse pantheon (running with the movie theme, Odin is believed to be a Norse spinoff and evolved from an earlier Germanic God, Wodin).
He is also brother to Loki, the so-called "trickster god," although their relationship seems to be more one of sibling rivalry and complexity than brotherly love. Thor has a wife – Sif and, unsurprisingly, as she is the goddess of fertility – two sons, Modi and Magni.
As the god of thunder and storms, Thor oversees the weather in Norse mythology. Aside from his mighty hammer, Mjöllnir, he is often seen riding in a chariot in the sky, pulled by two goats (Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr), and when he strikes his hammer, thunder echoes across the sky.
He is also often associated with fertility and a ripe harvest (literally and metaphorically), and his hammer not only brings pain and thunder but is also a symbol of creation.
After all, how many hammers were needed to build all those Viking longships that terrorized the Western Hemisphere for almost three centuries?
Mjölnir was indestructible, and it was adorned with lightning bolts and a raven, the symbol of his father, Odin.
Not just your average macho god
Despite all the often macho and bravado depictions of Thor, there is more than meets the eye to this famous Norse god.
He is, like all of us, more than the sum of all his parts, more than just muscle, brawn, and sheer strength.
What is interesting about Thor – and no doubt part of his appeal for more than a millennium – is that he is often portrayed as a complex, nuanced, and oh-so-very human god, more one of us than one of them.
Take, for example, one of his key roles littered throughout the myriad of Norse sagas, stories, and myths about him: that of a protector.
He was not only a defender of the whole pantheon of Norse gods but also we mere mortals too. Thor was our safeguard against the forces of evil, death, and destruction. When Norse people needed protection, they would often call upon Thor to protect them.
This was either invoked in a wide variety of rituals or ceremonies or in the form of something more material, like the small Thor's hammer amulet uncovered on the Danish island of Lolland in 2014 or even in Sweden last year.
Many of the most famous stories and sagas about him – not to mention the recent Marvel movie adaptations – see Thor interact with humans, helping them overcome their problems, challenges, and adversities.
He was known for his love of a party and a good drink, another reason for his enduring popularity. No one likes a God being so high and mighty, do they?
In Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder of storms. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Fertility and overcoming the natural environment
Another side of Thor's complex personality was his affinity with the natural world. Whilst he is most famous as the bringer of thunder and lightning, Thor was celebrated as a fertility God due to his close association with the heavens above.
Given that most people in Viking societies were farmers – and not, contrary to popular opinion or Netflix series, bloodthirsty Viking warriors – his power over the seasons and the fertility of the land made him an important god to worship.
Given that a harvest could make or break a whole society, and could bring prosperity or death to many, placating Thor to bring agricultural fertility was influential in many Norse societies.
The association with the natural environment also mirrored a sort of Viking spirit and ethos inherent in most early medieval Norse societies.
Theirs was a tough, brutal, and harsh environment, and what better way to overcome, adapt and improvise than celebrate and worship a God who, like them, had mastered the environment?
Speaking of overcoming nature, perhaps the story that Thor is most associated with involves his fishing expedition for the Midgard Serpent.
For those unaware, the Midgard Serpent – is so large that it literally encircles the world and bites its own tale. Thor being Thor, decides one day, as you do if you are Thor, to fish for it.
It should be noted that this serpent wasn't exactly benign and was wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the world.
Thor enlisted some friends, and they managed to catch it but, due to its extreme size, couldn't pull it out of the ocean.
Thor would eventually slay the serpent by – and there is no nice way to say this – bashing the brains out of it with his trusty hammer, Mjöllnir. A bloody end to a bloody pest!
Later cultural depictions and adaptations
Since these sagas and stories about Thor were first told more than a millennium ago, his story and exploits have been told and retold through the ages.
From Marvel Comic books to Hollywood movies, from a playable character in the hit video game "Fortnite" to his 1872 depiction (a favorite of we at The Viking Herald) fighting giants in a painting of immense historical importance in Sweden, Thor is never far from a cultural depiction or two.
The most interesting depiction, however, arose during the early medieval period when Christian missionaries tried to win over their Viking brethren by often playing up the similarities between Jesus and Thor: both were the sons of a God, and both had a mission to safeguard humanity and trust, worship and belief in them could often lead to both temporal and spiritual power.
Thor, the Norse God of Thunder (but as you know now, oh so much more than that!) remains one of the most popular and well-known Norse gods due to his complex and nuanced nature and his role as protector of humans – albeit from famine or fiends.
The recent rise in public knowledge of his stories has been fueled in part by Hollywood adaptations of some of the famous Viking-era sagas featuring him – seeing a whole new generation of people appreciate this most human of the Norse gods.
National Geographic has also written more on his enduring, yet complicated, legacy.
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