Old Norse Ægir The meaning of his



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Aegir

Old Norse Ægir

The meaning of his name is associated with water. He was also called Hler and Gymir [the Blinder] (the name of Gerd's father -- it is not known if they are one and the same). Aegir was the god of the seashore or ocean, and called the ruler of the sea by Snorri. He was a personification of the ocean, be it good or evil.

He caused storms with his anger and the skalds said a ship went into "Aegir's wide jaws" when it wrecked. Sailors feared Aegir, and thought he would sometimes surface to destroy ships. According to Sidonius, early Saxons made human sacrifices to a god of the sea, possibly connected with Aegir.

Aegir was one of the Vanir and a giant. His father was Mistarblindi [Mist-Blind], and his brothers, Logi [Fire] (identified by Guerber as Loki), and Kari [Air]. Aegir's wife (and sister) was Ran and they lived under the sea by the island Hlesey. Ran and Aegir had nine daughters who were the waves: Himinglaeva, Dufa, Blodughadda, Hefring, Unn, Hronn, Bylgia, Bara, and Kolga -- all of their names are poetic names for waves.

Aegir brewed ale for the gods after Thor brought him a big enough kettle. Every winter the gods would drink beer at Aegir's home. He was, therefore, famed for his hospitality. Instead of having a fire, gold was put onto the floor of the hall to provide light. Gold is therefore called Aegir's fire. The cups in Aegir's hall were always full, magically refilling themselves. Aegir had two servants in his hall, Fimafeng [Handy] and Eldir [Fire-Kindler]. According to Lee Hollander, Aegir's function as the gods' ale brewer was suggested by the ocean's foam.

After the death of Balder, the gods gathered for a feast in Aegir's hall. Loki showed up and insulted everyone (this is told in Lokasenna in the Poetic Edda). The gods couldn't do Loki harm in the hall since it was a sanctuary where no violence could be committed.

It is interesting to note that in Snorri's Gylfaginning [see Edda] Aegir is not mentioned as one of the gods, and in part of his Skaldskaparmal Aegir, also referred to as Hler, was a man "very skilled in magic" living on the island Hlesey who went to visit the gods in Asgard. During his visit he listened as Bragi told him of the gods' adventures.

In Egil's Saga, after the death by drowning of Egil's second son Bothvar, Egil composed the poem Sonatorrek which mentions Aegir:

Sure, if sword could venge

Such cruel wrong,

Evil times would wait

Aegir, ocean-god.

That wind-giant's brother

Were I strong to slay,

'Gainst him and his sea-brood

Battling would I go.


But I in no wise

Boast, as I ween

Strength that may strive

With the stout ships' bane.

(Leach, A Pageant of Old Scandinavia, p. 321.)
Aurvandil

Old Norse Aurvandill

Aurvandil is briefly mentioned in the Prose Edda, but not at all in the Poetic. The little information we have regarding him is quite intriguing. Referred to as Aurvandil the Bold, he was the husband of the sorceress Groa (named ale-Gefion in the Haustlong)- the woman who attempted to magically remove a whetstone from Thor's forehead. Thor mentioned to her that he had carried her husband in a basket on his back out of Jotunheim and across the Elivigar. What they had been doing is anyone's guess - was Aurvandil one of Thor's frequent companions on the god's adventures against the giants? While crossing the freezing poisonous rivers Aurvandil's toe had frozen so Thor broke it off and threw it into the sky creating the star Aurvandil's Toe. According to Star Names Their Lore and Meaning, Aurvandil's [Orwandil] Toe was Alcor in the big dipper while Rigel, in Orion, was his other toe.

In the Old English Christ I we have another reference to Aurvandil:

Eala earendel,

engla beorhtast,

ofer middangeard

"O Aurvandil, brightest of angels, over Midgaard." Even though the passage is from a Christian poem, it is apparant that a pre-christian mythological figure is being referrenced and that Earendel / Aurvandill was the name of a star or planet. For any Tolkien fans, this was his inspiration for Earendil.

Aurvandil makes another appearance in Saxo's History of the Danes as Horwendil. In this context he appears as a hero. Son of Gerwendil and brother of Feng, Horwendil makes a name for himself as a king of Jutland and then as a Viking. He meets the king of Norway on an island and kills him by hacking off the king's foot. He then married Gerutha daughter of Rorik the Danish king. Together they had a child named Amleth (yes this is the original Hamlet). Of course Horwendil's brother Feng became jealous, killed Horwendil, wed Gerutha, and we all know the rest of the story thanks to Shakespeare.

Balder

Old Norse Baldr, variant Baldur

One of the Aesir, his name means "The Glorious". He was also called the "god of tears" and the "white as". Balder, the son of Odin and Frigg, was described as a very handsome and wise god. Some consider him to be a god of light since he was so bright, light shined from him.

Balder's wife was Nanna and they had a son named Forseti. Balder and Nanna lived in Breidablik [The Broad-Gleaming], where nothing unclean could be and there were "fewest baneful runes". Breidablik had a silver roof on golden pillars.

At one point Balder had a foreboding dream. Odin rode to Hel's realm to wake a volva from the dead to find out the meaning of Balder's dream. She foretold Balder's death by Hod (Hodur), his fraternal twin.

Frigg asked all things to swear not to hurt Balder but didn't ask the mistletoe because it was so young. Loki, diguised as an old woman, visited Frigg and found out Balder was invunerable to everything but mistletoe. Loki then made a dart out of mistletoe and tricked the blind god Hod into throwing it at Balder -- all the other gods were playing games by throwing various items at Balder --, thus killing him.

Nanna died of heartache after Balder's death and was burned with him on his funeral boat -- along with his chopped up horse and an unfortunate dwarf who Thor kicked in at the last minute.

Hermod rode to Hel's realm and got her to agree to let Balder return to the living if all things would weep for him. One giantess named Thokk, Loki in disguise, refused to weep, so he remained dead and was cremated on his funeral boat, hringhorni. He is supposed to come back to life after the Ragnarok. A more complete retelling of Snorri's account of Balder's death is available online.

Snorri and Saxo Grammaticus give very different views of Balder and his death. In Saxo's version of this story, Hod (Hother) is alone responsible for Balder's death.

Balder's name rarely occurs in place names, therefore, it is thought that not many people worshipped him. It has been suggested that Balder was an ancient hero who was elevated to divinity. The poets used his name to mean warrior.

Balder is also mentioned in the Merseburg charm.
Bil

Listed by Snorri as one of the goddesses. Snorri tells the story of Vidfinn's two children, Bil and Hjuki, who, as they were leaving a well named Byrgir carrying a pail named Saeg on a pole called Simul, were taken from the earth by Moon to accompany him on his journeys.

Snorri mentions that from Earth Bil and Hjuki can be seen with Moon and Grimm relates in his Teutonic Mythology "to this day the Swedish people see in the spots of the moon two persons carrying a big bucket on a pole."

Some people claim this is the original Jack and Jill tale but that nursery rhyme actually had its origin in English politics from the time of King Charles.

Bil is also called the goddess of weaving by Gisli in Gisla saga Surssonar. After Gisli has a prophetic dream regarding his death, he speaks the verse containing the reference to Bil. The tone makes it seem that weaving refers to weaving destiny.

Bragi

God of poetry, (adopted?) son of Odin and the giantess Gunlod. He was the chief poet of Odin and said to be very wise. He was married to Idun and he had runes cut on his tounge.

In The Lay of Hakon, Bragi is in Valhalla with Odin who tells Bragi to go out and greet Hakon as he arrives. Bragi is also in Valhalla alongside Odin in The Lay of Eirik, and Odin refers to Bragi as one who "knowest everything well". During the feast in Asgard attended by Aegir, it is Bragi who relates to Aegir the tales of the gods.

There was a 9th century skald named Bragi Boddason and some believe he may have been raised to a god by later writers. Others believe Bragi was an aspect of Odin.



Frey

Old Norse Freyr

God of weather and fertility. He ruled over the land of the light elves, Alfheim. He was the son of Njord and Njord's sister (mayhaps Ingun), and the brother of Freya. His step-mother was Skadi.

To make peace, the Aesir and Vanir exchanged hostages. He, along with Njord and Freya, were sent by the Vanir to dwell with the Aesir.

He owned the ship Skidbladnir which was made for him by dwarves. It could sail on the land, sea, or through the air. It was large enough to hold all the gods, yet could be folded up and fit into a pocket.

He also owned a chariot drawn by two boars, Gullinbursti and Slidrugtanni. He could ride Gullinbursti [golden-bristled] through the sky. It was made by dwarves for Loki to give to Frey.

His name means "Lord" and it is thought that he was at one time the consort of his sister Freya [Lady].

His wife was Gerd, a beautiful giantess who he fell in love with when he espied her from Odin's throne. He sent his servant, Skirnir, to win her for him. For this task, Frey lent Skirnir his sword which "swings itself if wise he who wields it" and his horse. After Skirnir's threatening of her, Gerd agreed to give herself to Frey in nine nights at the forest Barri.

At the Ragnarok, Frey will be killed by the fire giant Surt.

Also known as Yng, Frey is named as the progenitor of the swedish royal family. There was a statue of Frey in the temple at Uppsala in Sweden, the center of his worship.



Freya

Old Norse Freyja

Goddess of fertility and war. Originally one of the Vanir. She was the daughter of Njord, and the sister of Frey. Her daughters, by Od, are named Hnoss, who is so beautiful that whatever is valuable and lovely is named "treasure" after her, and Gersemi.

She lived in Folkvang [battlefield] and each day chose half of the slain warriors to split with Odin. She had a husband named Od, whom she somehow lost and cried golden tears for. Many believe Od is Odin.

Her chariot was drawn by male cats (their names are never stated) and she owned the precious Brisings' necklace, which she slept with four dwarves to acquire. She also owned a feather coat which she could use to fly between the worlds.

After she went to live with the Aesir as a hostage, she taught them -- including Odin -- seidr. Some sources say Friday is named after her.



Frigg

Goddess of marriage. She is the wife of Odin, and Friday is named for her (according to some). Her abode was called Fensalir [The Ocean Halls] and she weaved the clouds.

Another name for Frigg was probably Saga [ON Sága]. In the Prose Edda it states that Saga was an Aesir goddess who dwelt in a "big place" called Sokkvabekk. That is the only mention of her. In the Poetic Edda she is also only mentioned once:

Sokkvabekk called is the fourth, which cool waters

ripple round about;

there Odin and Saga all their days drink,

glad from golden cups.

- Grimnismal, Lee Hollander tr.

That is all that is said about her in the Norse mythological sources. As Hollander points out she is probably identical with Frigg since she is said to drink with Odin (Frigg's husband) "all their days" and Fensalir, Frigg's hall, means "Ocean Halls" which is comparable to Sokkvabekk, "Suken Hall".

Some people call Saga a goddess of history or a goddess of poetry, possibly because the word Saga is connected to the word for history, and also refer to her as a daughter of Odin but there is no discernable basis for any of this.



Fulla (Volla)

Listed by Snorri as one of the twelve divine goddesses, she appears mainly to function as Frigg's maid, taking care of the goddess's shoes. She also, sometimes, functions as Frigg's messenger. Some believe she is Frigg's sister. Snorri stated she was a virgin with long golden hair who wore a gold band around her head. It has been suggested that this band represents the binding around a sheaf of grain, making her a fertility goddess.

When Hermod rode to Hell to ask Hel if Baldr could return to Asgard, Nanna gave him a gold ring to give to Fulla, among other gifts. Fulla is called a maid of Frigg in The Lay of Gimnir in the Poetic Edda, and is sent on an errand by Frigg. We also have mention of Fulla in Gisla saga Surssonar:

My Fulla, fair faced, the goddess of stones

Who gladdens me much, shall hear of her friend

Standing straight, unafraid in the rain of the spears...



Gefjon

Old Norse Gefjun

A prophetic virgin goddess and a member of the Aesir and Vanir. All women who die virgins go to her hall. She was also a fertility goddess. In one myth, Gylfi, king of Sweden, tells Gefjon, who was disguised as a beggar, that she could have as much of Sweden as she could plough with four oxen in one day. She traveled to Jotunheim and found her four oxen sons whom she had by a giant (she isn't a virgin in this myth!). She returned to Sweden in Midgard with her sons and ploughed all of the land now known as Zealand so it became part of Denmark, thereby tricking Gylfi. Her name means "Giver".

Heimdall

Old Norse Heimdallr

Watches the rainbow bridge, Bifrost , for the coming of the frost giants at the Ragnarok, at which time he will sound his horn Gjallar. In the Ragnarok, he and Loki will kill each other. He never sleeps, can see in the dark, and can hear sheep wool growing. His dwelling place is Himinbjorg [heavenly mountains]. Nine sisters, signifying the waves, gave birth to him. As Rig, he begets Thrall, Carl, and Earl, representing the three classes of man; slave
Hel

Daughter of Loki and the giant Angurboda. She is the sister of Fenrir (Fenris-wolf) and Jormungand (Midgard serpent). She is the goddess of the underworld. Her realm was Niflheim and her hall, Elvidnir [misery]. She was described as half white and half black., freeman, and noble.


Idun

Old Norse Iðunn

Goddess of youth, her name means "The Rejuvenating One". She is married to Bragi and is the keeper of the apples which keep the gods eternally young. The only myth we have concerning Idun is the story of her kidnapping by the giant Thiazi.

Odin, Loki, and Hoenir, were on one of their travels when they happened upon an ox and, since they were so very hungry, decided to cook it. For some reason however, the meat would not cook.

As they were trying to discern the reason for this travesty a huge eagle perched above them in an oak tree told them he knew why the ox wasn't cooking and would show them how to roast it if they would first let him eat his fill.

No sooner had they agreed than the eagle ate such a great portion of the ox that Loki got angry, took a pole and struck at the eagle. The eagle flew upwards with the pole and Loki stuck to the other end. He told Loki he would only let him down if Loki agreed to kidnap Idun and her age-defying apples.

When the gods arrived in Asgard Loki did as he had promised and lured Idun outside of Asgard to where the eagle was waiting. The eagle, who was none other than the giant Thiazi in his eagle skin cloak, took Idun to his home called Thrymheim in the mountains of Jotunheim.

The gods began to quickly age once the source of their immortality had been stolen so they decided Loki should have to go and fetch her back. After all, he was the one who had caused all the trouble.

Loki borrowed Freya's falcon cloak and flew to Thrymheim where he found Idun alone. He turned her into a nut and flew back to Asgard as fast as he could, holding Idun in his claws.

As soon as Thiazi returned and found Idun gone, he put on his eagle cloak and flew towards Asgard. His wings beat so quickly and with such force that he caused strong storm winds to hamper Loki's escape. The gods could see the eagle coming in pursuit of Loki so as soon as Loki was safe inside the bounds of Asgard they built a bonfire which set fire to Thiazi's wings. Once the giant fell to the gound the Aesir killed him. Afterwards, his daughter Skadi came to avenge his death.

There is debate as to whether or not Idun's apples were a late addition to the mythology, something inspired by Greek or Irish legends. In an early form of the tale in the Haustlong which was composed by Thjodolf of Hvin the court poet of Harold Fairhair who lived ca 860 Idun's absence causes the Aesir to age but there is no mention of apples.

Loki

A giant. He became a member of the Aesir when Odin made Loki his blood brother. He is the god of mischief, a trickster, and very cunning. After causing the death of Balder, he was bound by the gods until the Ragnarok, at which time, he will be freed.

Some books list Sataere as a Germanic god of agriculture and suggest that the name is another name for Loki. Guerbers' Myths of the Norsemen is one of these books, stating:

Loki was confounded with Saturn, who had also been shorn of his divine attributes, and both were considered the prototypes of Satan. The last day of the week, which was held sacred to Loki, was known in the Norse as Laugardag, or wash-day, but in English it was changed to Saturday, and was said to owe its name not to Saturn but to Sataere, the thief in ambush, and the Teutonic god of agriculture, who is supposed to be merely another personification of Loki.

Of course, Guerber does not provide us with a source. If we look at the Norse sources there are no references to Sataere or Saturn. Jan De Vries lists the Old English word Sataere as being derived from the word Saturn, thus not a separate deity, and it seems that Njord not Loki is the Norse god that more closely resembles Saturn. Could an association between Njord and Saturn be the cause of Scandinavians using Laugurdag -- bath or wash day -- in place of Saturday?

Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology reasons that Saturn was originally a Germanic deity and this is probably Guerber's source. Prof. E.G. Stanley in The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism states that Saturn is erroneously included among the gods of the Anglo-Saxons by some scholars (Grimm included) because of his appearence in an early Old English poem Solomon and Saturn. Moreover, Stanley relates the opinion of other scholars that the Saturn appearing in the poem represents the Chaldean god Saturn and not some Germanic deity.

There are quite a few sites dealing with Loki including a wonderful site by Johannes Persson, and an article by Eric A. Anderson regarding Loki's offspring.

Njord

Old Norse Njörð variant Niord.

God of the wind and sea, also called god of chariots and the giving god. It was to him that those wishing for protection on travels or desiring a good catch while fishing were supposed to pray. He was said to be so rich that he could bestow wealth on any who prayed to him for it.

A member of the Vanir, he was sent with his son to the Aesir as a hostage after the war between the two races of deities and was to return to the Vanir at Ragnarok. After becoming a member of the Aesir, Odin made Njord a priest of sacrifices according to the Ynglinga Saga. It further states that the Swedish people believed Njord ruled over the growth of seasons and prosperity.

His home was called Noatun [harbour] and his wife was the giantess Skadi who married him because he had beautiful feet. She later left him because they couldn't decide in whose dwelling they should live.

Njord was the father of Frey and Freya, we are never directly given their mother's name, however, Leach states Ingun was their mother - maybe he does so because Frey is referred to as Ingunar-Frey. In Lokasenna Loki taunts Njord by saying that he fathered Frey on his own sister. We again hear that Frey and Freya were the children of Njord and his sister in the Ynglinga Saga and that sibling marriage was allowed amongst the Vanir but prohibited by the Aesir.

Snorri tells us that Frey and Freya were born after Skadi left Noatun for Thrymheim. However, in the Poetic Edda Skadi is frequently called Njord's wife even when Frey and Freya are grown. Snorri's Edda has Njord as the one who sends for Skirnir to ask Frey why he is angry yet in the Skírnismál, Skadi is the one who calls Skirnir. She also refers to Frey as her son.

We hear about an older aspect of Njord (as the opposite sex) in Tacitus' Germania where he describes the worship of Nerthus by the Danish. Nerthus is the latin equivalent of the Old Norse word Njord.

Tacitus calls her Mother Earth and relates the ritual surrounding her. Nerthus' sanctuary was in a sacred grove on an island and within the grove was a cart under a covering. When the goddess came to her sanctuary the priest was aware of it and would walk alongside her cart pulled by cows as Nerthus visited places.

While the goddess was among people no war was allowed and all weapons were put away. Once the goddess was brought back to her shrine, she, her cart, and its covering, were all washed in a lake by slaves (maybe this is the origin of the Norwegians using wash day in place of Saturn's day - see the section on Loki regarding Sataere). The slaves were supposedly "swallowed" by the lake afterwards.

Since Skadi is a gender neutral name and even given in the Volsunga Saga as a masculine name, one wonders if Njord was originally the wife and Skadi the husband; note the similarities between she and Ull.

Even into Viking times the worship of Njord was widely spread in Norway as evident by the number of place names which incorporated his name - over twice as many as those for Odin.



Odin

Old Norse Óðinn

Leader of the Aesir. Odin had a myriad of names including Allfather, Ygg, Bolverk [evil doer], and Grimnir. He also had many functions including being a god of war, poetry, wisdom, and death. His halls were called Gladsheim Valaskjalf and Valhalla. Odin's high seat, Hlidskialf, was in Valaskjalf. It was from this throne that he could see over all the world. Valhalla is where he gathered his portion of the slain warriors, Einheriar (Einherjar), whom the valkyries had chosen.

The valkyries would serve mead which forever flowed from the udder of Odin's goat, Heidrun. They also served the warriors meat that came from the boar Saehrimnir, which the cook Andhrimnir would prepare for eating by boiling it in the cauldron Eldhrimnir. The boar magically came back to life before the next meal. After eating, the warriors would go outside the hall and fight each other to the death. They were, of course, brought back to life before the next feast. All of this fighting was practice for when Odin would lead the Einheriar in the final battle, Ragnarok.

Odin had a spear named Grungir which never missed its mark and a bow which unleashed ten arrows with every pull. He also owned a magic ring called Draupnir which created nine of itself every night. It was this ring that Odin laid on his son Balder's funeral pyre and which Balder returned to Odin from the underworld. Another one of Odin's prized possesions was his wonderful steed named Sleipnir which had eight legs.

The horse was the offspring of Loki, who in mare form seduced a giant's horse named Svadilfari. Sleipnir could travel to the underworld and through the air. Odin also had two wolves, Geri and Freki, and two ravens, Hugin [thought] and Munin [memory]. He sent his ravens out every day to gather knowledge for him.

Odin sacrificed himself for knowledge by hanging on the world tree, Yggdrasil, which means Ygg's horse. Ygg is a name for Odin and horse is a metaphor for the gallows. He thereby learns the runes. Another sacrifice he made for wisdom was his eye. He gave it up in order to drink from the Well of Mimir which bestowed great knowledge. Because of this, he is typically depicted as having one eye. He is also depicted as wearing a cloak, being old, having a long grey beard, and wearing a wide brimmed hat down low over his face to conceal his one-eyed visage.

Odin was destined to die at Ragnarok; Fenris-Wolf swallowed him. Knowing his fate, he still chose to embrace it and do battle. Showing the true warrior ethic. He was the god of warriors and kings, not the common man. Many heroes genealogies start with Odin, including Sigurd. His name is not found in many place names and therefore it is believed that not many people worshipped him. He was thought to be a traitorous god, as shown in the sagas, who would strike down a warrior at his whim.



Ran

The wife of Aegir, she was the sea goddess of storms. She collects drowned people in her net.



Skadi

Old Norse Skaði, variant Skade

Frequently referred to as the goddess of skis or snow shoes, she travelled on skis, carried a bow, and hunted. She was the daughter of the giant Thiazi [Old Norse Þjázi, variant Thiassi].

Thiazi was the son of a very rich giant named Alvaldi [Olvaldi]. When Alvaldi died Thiazi and his brothers Idi and Gang divided their inheritance by each taking a large mouthful of gold.

After Thiazi was killed by the Aesir as related in the section on Idun, Skadi took up arms and went to Asgard for vengence. The Aesir offered her compensation for the death of her father - she was allowed to choose a husband from among the gods.

There was only one small catch, she had to pick her new husband based only on the appearance of his feet. She picked Njord by mistake, assuming the best looking feet must have belonged to the god Balder.

As further compensation Skadi demanded that one of the Aesir make her laugh. Hence, Loki tied one end of a rope around the beard of a goat and the other end of the rope around his testicles, he then pulled on the rope making both the goat and himself bellow.

As a final form of appeasement Snorri tells us that Odin threw Thiazi's eyes into the sky turning them into stars. This contradicts a passage in the Poetic Edda in Hárbarzljóð which has Thor claiming to have been the one to kill Thiazi and fling his eyes into the sky.

After their marriage, Njord and Skadi could not agree on where to live so they took turns going to Thrymheim (Skadi's abode after Thiazi's death) in the mountains for nine nights and then Noatun on the shore for nine nights. Skadi didn't like Njord's home, and he didn't like her's, so they split up.

From the Ynglinga Saga we learn that after Skadi left Njord she became involved with Odin and had numerous sons by him, one being Saeming who is also listed in the Prose Edda as a son of Odin. However, in the preface to Heimskringla Snorri writes "Eyvind Skaldaspiller also reckoned up the ancestors of Earl Hakon the Great in a poem called 'Haleygjatal', composed about Hakon; and therein he mentions Saeming, a son of Yngvefrey."

The last thing we know about Skadi is that she was the one who positioned the venomous snake over Loki's head after the Aesir bound him.

Thor

Old Norse Þórr

The son of Odin and a member of the Aesir, he was the god of thunder and the main enemy of the giants. He would smash their heads with his mighty hammer Mjollnir. To wield this awesome weapon he needed iron gloves and a belt of strength. Mjollnir would return to Thor's hand after being thrown and was symbolic of lightning. Thor would ride around middle-earth in his wagon drawn by two goats, His abode was Thruthheim [Land of Strength] and his hall, Bilskinir. His wife was Sif.

He was foremost of the gods to the common man, who would call on him to ensure fertility, and widely worshiped. Hammer shaped amulets, a symbol of Thor because it was his weapon, were worn about the neck well into the christianization of Scandinavia. There are molds from that time which contain both cross and hammer shapes, side by side. His name occurs in numerous place names, and it was his statue which was central in the great temple at Uppsala.

Thursday is named for him and he was associated by the Romans with Jupiter, therefore also parallel to Zeus. They were all the wielder of ligtning bolts. Some claim that Odin is the Norse equivalent to Jupiter / Zeus, however, one needs look not much further than the name given to the fourth day of the week by the Romans and then to its English equivalent to see that the ancients equated Odin with Mercury / Hermes.

Donar was an early version of Thor among the Germans and the anglo-saxons worshiped a thunder god named Thunor.



Tyr

God of war. He was the only god brave enough to put his hand in the Fenris- wolf's mouth so the gods could bind it. The wolf bit off his right hand. There is much debate about his lefthandedness. In the norse culture the right hand was given for a pledge, which could be why the right hand was placed in the wolf's mouth. It has also been noted, however, that the offering of the right hand is to show that it is free of weapons. A left handed person was sometimes considered evil because he could use a weapon with his left hand even though he shook with his right hand.

Tuesday is named for Tyr who was known as Tiw, or Tiu, by the Anglo-Saxons. He must have been an important god in the pantheon prior to the mythology we were handed down in the eddas to have one of the days of the week named after him.

Since Tuesday is the English name given in place of the name of the day of the week sacred to Mars for the romans, we know that the old englishmen thought of Tyr as being smiliar to Mars.



Ull

Old Norse Ullr, variant Uller

God of archery, the hunt, skiers and snowshoes; basically a male Skadi. His weapon was a longbow made out of Yew and he lived in Ydal [Yew Dales]. He was called upon for help in duels and the skalds frequently used "Ull's ship" to mean sheild.

Ull was the son of Sif and called the stepson of Thor. Rydberg, in his Teutonic Mythology, argued that Ull's father was Aurvandil based on evidence in Saxo. However Ull's father's name is never stated.

Ull, which means glorious, was a part of many place names during the viking age (the only deities with more in Norway were Frey/Freya), therefore, he is considered to be an ancient god who was widely worshipped.

In Saxo's Danish History we learn that Oller (Ull) was put in the place of Odin who had been exiled. Oller was the head of the Aesir for ten years until the other gods decided to end Odin's exile.

The only other information Saxo gives is "he [Oller/Ull] was such a cunning wizard that he used a certain bone, which he had marked with awful spells, wherewith to cross the seas, instead of a vessel; and that by this bone he passed over the waters that barred his way as quickly as by rowing."

The Norse Cosmology

Muddled as the depiction which we are given in the Prose Edda is, we are able to discern a number of powerful cosmological ideas in the Norse vision of the universe.
Yggdrasil

Variant Yggdrasill

The Norse world tree, omnipresent, its branches extending over all the known worlds, its roots extending into three of them. The name means Odin's Horse referring to the time he "rode" upon the tree and learned the runes. It is also at times referred to as Hoddmimir, Tree of Mimir, and Lærád or Lerad. It is usually called an Ash tree.

One of Yggdrasil's roots extends into Asgard, a second root extends into the world of the frost giants while the third is in Niflheim. This is Snorri's description which, of course, differs from that in the Poetic Edda. Grimnismál has the roots extending into the giants realm, Hel's realm, and one into Midgard.

An eagle sits in the branches of the tree and between its eyes perches a hawk. There is a squirrel called Ratatosk which scurries between the eagle and Nidhogg carrying messages. Nidhogg is the serpent which gnaws at Yggdrasil's Niflheim root.

Along with this menagerie are four stags running in the branches eating the leaves, Heidrun the goat and Eikthyrmir the hart also eating leaves. With all the munching going on the tree needs tending - that is the task of the Norns at Urd's well under one of the roots.

The Norns pour water over the tree every day keeping its bark white. The tree produces honeydew and also berries which help women with pregancy. It appears to be the giver / nourisher of life so it is not surprising when we read that the first humans Ask and Embla were created from trees (one being an Ash) or that two humans Lif and Leifthrasir will hide in the tree during Ragnarok with the tree's honeydew sustaining them until they can go on to restart humanity.

The world tree was a symbol common to many societies. The tree specifically connecting the three regions of man, heaven, and the underworld appears in eastern mythology. Also Odin's nine night suspension in the tree's branches is similar to Finnish shamanistic practices with a nine night stay in a birch tree (Puhvel, 194).


Bifrost

Old Norse Bifröst

Every day the Aesir, except for Thor who must wade through rivers instead, are said to travel over Bifrost - also called Asbru, the bridge of the gods - to Urd's well to hold counsel. The bridge is supposed to be covered with flame to keep those who are unworthy from gaining entry into Asgard.

Snorri explains that Bifrost is the rainbow and the red we see in it, the burning flames. He also relates that Heimdall stands watch at the point the bridge reaches heaven.

Regarded as the best of bridges, Bifrost will finally break during Ragnarok when the sons of Muspell led by Surt ride through Mirkwood and cross it.

Grimm recorded a medieval German Christian belief that the rainbow will no longer appear prior to Armageddon which seems to stem from heathen thought. However, there is also some evidence that Bifrost originally referred to the Milky Way.

According to Star Names their Lore and Meaning, the Norse knew the Milky Way as the pathway of ghosts going to Valhalla. The book also discusses the belief of various cultures that the Milky Way was the path burnt in the sky by the sun.

Whether Bifrost was thought of as the rainbow or the Milky Way, it was the path traversed by those going to and from the other world.



Asgard

ON Asgarðr

Comparable to the Greek Mount Olympus, Asgard was the dwelling place of the ruling gods, the Aesir.

Following the creation of Midgard, the gods built their temples on Iðavelli, the shining plain. Here is Thor's Thrudheim or Thrudvangar where his hall Bilskirnir stands with its 540 rooms; Ull's Ydal's plains; Frey's Alfheim where the light elves dwell; Odin's hall Valaskjalf that houses the throne from which he looks over all the worlds, Odin and Saga's Sokkvabekk, Odin's Valhalla with its 540 doors in Gladheim; Skadi's Thrymheim; Baldr's Breidablik; Heimdall's Himinbjorg which stands at the edge of Asgard by Bifrost; Freya's Folkvang and her hall Sessruminir; Forseti's Glitnir; Njord's Noatun by the sea; Frigg's Fensalir and Vidar's land called Vidi.

Surrounding Asgard was a defensive wall and a forest outside the wall. In some descriptions one of Yggdrasil's roots extended into Asgard and under it, Urd's well. The Norns Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld lived in a hall by the well and the gods were said to have court at the well every day riding there "up over Bifrost".

One of the problems with certain descriptions of the cosmology is why would the gods ride up over Bifrost if Urd's well was in Asgard? It seems more logical that Urd's well was in the netherworld, that Asgard was in the branches of the world tree, and that the gods rode down Bifrost instead of up. By later redactors trying to make the norse world picture coincide with that of their present day view, such as Asgard being Troy and just a city of Earth, much of the material we have has been muddled.

Gladsheim was listed as a specific hall by Snorri instead of the area where Valhalla was built. He described it as made of gold inside and out, with 13 thrones for the gods. There was also a separate hall called Vingolf specifically for the goddesses.

In the north of Asgard the Giant Hraesvelg sat in eagle form. All wind was supposed to come from his beating wings. Gimle, which in the Volsupa is the place on the shining plain where the remaining gods will return to reign after Ragnarok, is described by Snorri as standing at the southern end of Asgard in the third heaven called Vidblain.

Snorri lists nine heavens altogether: Vindblain, Heidthornir, Hregg-Mimir, Andland, Vidblain, Vidfedmir, Hriod, Hlyrnir, Gimir, Vet-Mimir, and Skatyrnir which is said to be the highest. However, he also cautions their use saying "the following names for the heavens are written down, but we have not found all these terms in poems. But these poetical terms like others seeem to me not proper to include in poetry unless one finds similar terms already in the work of major poets."

One wonders where the practitioners of the old Scandinavian religion actually thought their gods lived.



Midgard

The abode of humans. It means middle earth or middle garden.



Vanaheim

The home of the Vanir. We are never given a description of Vanaheim or told when or how it was created. It seems to almost lie outside the mythos that has come down to us.

We know that it was considered as one of the nine worlds because of its mention in the Alivssmal and also because it is referred to as Njord's birthplace and where he will return at Ragnarok. This seems to imply that Vanaheim will not be affected by Ragnarok.

Alfheim

The abode of the light elfs and their ruler, Frey.



Niflheim

A region of cold. Hel's realm is here (in some sources).



Muspelheim

A region of fire. The fire giants -- sons of muspel -- live here, ruled by Surt.



Jotunheim

The abode of the Jotuns -- giants.



Svartalfheim

The abode of the dark elves -- dwarves. It is underground.



Nidavellir

The abode of the dwarves which are also called dark elves.



Hel

The land of the dead. The way to this realm was through the land of the mountain giants. The connection between this and Niflheim is often confusing. Hel is also the goddess of the underworld.



Ragnarok

Three little ice ages will fall upon the world, known as the Fimbulvetr (translated as terrible winter by Young, also referred to as Fimbulwinter), and many other signs will come to pass. Then the time will arrive and the cocks will crow. The fire giants led by Surt will come out of Muspelheim. Naglfar, the ship made out of dead men's nails, will carry the frost giants to the battlefield, Vigrid....



Valkyries

Description

Maidens who chose which warriors on a battlefield would be slain. They also served mead in Valhalla.

Names


 Brynhild

 Geironul

 Geirskogul

 Goll


 Gondul

 Gunn


 Guth

 Herfjotur

 Hervor [Warder of the Host]

 Hild [Battle]

 Hlathguth [Necklace-Adorned Warrior-Maiden

 Hlokk


 Hrist

 Mist


 Olrun [One Knowing Ale Rune]

 Randgrith

 Rathgrith

 Reginleif

 Sigrdrifa

 Sigrun

 Skeggjold

 Skogul

 Skuld [Necessity]

 Svava


 Thruth

Runes

The Futhark



A germanic alphabet used since about 3CE. It is referred to as FUTHARK, after the first 6 letters. Each rune was a letter in the alphabet and also stood for a word (its name). The earliest use of runes was for magical purposes (this is debatable -- see R.I. Page's book listed in the sources below). There were many different Futharks. The one used here is the elder Germanic Futhark.


Fehu, F
The rune of Freya and her brother Frey. It stands for fee and gold.


Uruz, U
This rune stands for strength and health. It is associated with a horned animal called the auroch.


Thurisaz, TH
The third rune is associated with giants (thurs).


Ansuz, A
Ansuz is associated with the Aesir, Odin, and the wind.


Raido, R
This is the rune of jouneying, or rides.


Kenaz, K
Kenaz represents the torch.


Gebo, G
Gebo stands for gift.


Wunjo, W
Wunjo is the rune of joy and peace.


Hagalaz, H
This rune stands for hail.


Nauthiz, N
Nauthiz stands for the strength of need.


Isa, I
Isa is the rune associated with ice.


Jera, Y
The rune jera stands for year.


Eihwaz, EI
This rune is associated with the yew.


Perth, P
Perth means fruit to some, but scholars feel its meaning is unclear.


Algiz, Z
Algiz is a rune of protection or defence.


Sowilo, S
Sowilo is the rune associated with the sun.


Tiwaz, T
Tiwaz stands for the war god Tyr. This rune was carved on weapons to bring victory.


Berkano, B
Berkano stands for the birch goddess and is used for fertility and birthing.


Ehwaz, E
This rune means horse.


Mannaz, M
Mannaz stands for man.


Laguz, L
Laguz is the rune associated with water.


Ingwaz, NG
Ingwaz is the rune of the god Ing.


Dagaz, D
Dagaz means day.


Othila, O
Othila is the rune associated with inheritance.

Sources


A couple of very good reference books about runes are Runes, an Introduction, by R.W.V.Elliot, and Reading the Past: Runes by R.I. Page, University of California Press, 1987.

For online reading, Jennifer Smith's Runic Journey has general information on runes along with their use in divination. She also has a large collection of links to sites dealing with runes. You can also search through a database of runic inscriptions.









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