Norse Mythology Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein The myths of the Norse peoples were far more somber and solemn than any other Western myths. Both the gods and human beings were helpless before evil. “Heroism” meant giving one’s life in the face of certain defeat. A Norse hero could yield or die—the choice was his—but an heroic death was a triumph rather than a defeat. The priests of Christianity attempted to obliterate Norse literature and succeeded almost everywhere. The few bits that remain include the following, that were told centuries before they were ever written down: the Nibelungenlied in Germany the epic of Beowulf in England (see: Selections from Beowulf) the Elder Edda (AD 1300) and the Younger Edda (end of the 12th century) in Iceland Asgard—parallels Olympus. Valhalla—where slain heroes go after death. Val = slain Bifrost—the rainbow bridge leading to Asgard. Gladsheim—Odin’s golden palace. Jotunheim—the city of the Giants, enemies of the gods—they are parallels of the Titans from Greek mythology, or the Fomorians of Irish mythology. Niflheim—the world of the dead. Aesir—the Norse gods. Valkyries—maidens who are “choosers of the slain,” who bring the dead heroes to Valhalla. Odin—(Wednesday) is chief of the gods, so he parallels Zeus, but is far more solemn. Constantly sought more wisdom, so he also parallels Hermes; gave up one of his eyes in payment for a drink from the Well of Wisdom (as Horus had to give up one of his eyes). Also spent nine nights wounded and hanging from a tree in order to get knowledge of runes. Stole the skaldic mead from the Giants, a taste of which would make one a poet. This gift he bestowed on gods and men. So he also parallels Prometheus (who was sometimes more admirable than Zeus). Has two wolves at his feet and two ravens on his shoulders named Thought (Hugin) and Memory (Munin). Hela or Hel—goddess of the dead. Frigga—wife of Odin, and goddess of rain and fertility. Balder—most beloved of the gods. Frigga extracted a promise from everything never to harm him. But Loki, son of a Giant, finds out she missed the mistletoe, so he arranges that Hoder, Balder’s blind brother, to throw mistletoe at him. It pierces his heart, and Balder dies. (Cf. the Golden Bough - which Aeneas has to get before going to the underworld, and which Sir James Frazer says is likely mistletoe.) Thor—(Thursday) thunder god. Heimdall—warder of Bifrost. Tyr—(Tuesday) god of war. Freya—(Friday) goddess of love and beauty, and Venus’s counterpart. Yggdrasil—a wondrous ash tree that supported the universe. Like the gods and men, someday it is doomed to die. A serpent gnaws the root next to Niflheim, and someday it will come crashing down, destroying the universe. The Norns—guardians of Urda’s Well, where the gods passed judgment on men. They were similar to the Greek Fates—Urda (the Past), Verdandi (the Present), and Skuld (the Future). Freyr—god of plenty and fertility. He had a sword that made him unbeatable, and a magic ship, Skidbladnir, which could hold all the gods but which could also be folded up when not in use. His sacred animal was the boar. Loki—part god and part giant, Loki could sometimes be friends with the gods, but was a trickster as well. His name means “fire,” so his nature was as changeable as fire. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily