Norse mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic people
Norse paganism and continuing after the Christianization
of Scandinavia and into the
Scandinavian folklore of the modern
period. The northernmost extension of Germanic mythology, Norse
mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes
derived from numerous sources from both before and after the pagan
period, including medieval manuscripts, archaeological
representations, and folk tradition.
Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts such as the
hammer-wielding, humanity-protecting thunder-god Thor, who
relentlessly fights his foes; the one-eyed, raven-flanked god Odin,
who craftily pursues knowledge throughout the worlds and bestowed
among humanity the runic alphabet; the beautiful, seiðr-working,
feathered cloak-clad goddess
Freyja who rides to battle to choose
among the slain; the vengeful, skiing goddess Skaði, who prefers the
wolf howls of the winter mountains to the seashore; the powerful god
Njörðr, who may calm both sea and fire and grant wealth and land;
the god Freyr, whose weather and farming associations bring peace and
pleasure to humanity; the goddess Iðunn, who keeps apples that grant
eternal youthfulness; the mysterious god Heimdallr, who is born of
nine mothers, can hear grass grow, has gold teeth, and possesses a
resounding horn; the jötunn Loki, who brings tragedy to the gods by
engineering the death of the goddess Frigg's beautiful son Baldr; and
numerous other deities.
Most of the surviving mythology centers on the plights of the gods and
their interaction with various other beings, such as humanity and the
jötnar, beings who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of
the gods. The cosmos in
Norse mythology consists of
Nine Worlds that
flank a central cosmological tree, Yggdrasil. Units of time and
elements of the cosmology are personified as deities or beings.
Various forms of a creation myth are recounted, where the world is
created from the flesh of the primordial being Ymir, and the first two
humans are Ask and Embla. These worlds are foretold to be reborn after
the events of Ragnarök, when an immense battle occurs between the
gods and their enemies, and the world is enveloped in flames, only to
be reborn anew. There the surviving gods will meet, and the land will
be fertile and green, and two humans will repopulate the world.
Norse mythology has been the subject of scholarly discourse since the
17th century, when key texts were brought to the attention of the
intellectual circles of Europe. By way of comparative mythology and
historical linguistics, scholars have identified elements of Germanic
mythology reaching as far back as Proto-Indo-European mythology. In
the modern period, the Romanticist
Viking revival re-awoke an interest
in the subject matter, and references to
Norse mythology may now be
found throughout modern popular culture. The myths have further been
revived in a religious context among adherents of Germanic
2.1 Gods and other beings
2.4 Influence on the popular culture
3 Further reading
3.1 General secondary works
3.3 Modern retellings
6 External links
Rök Runestone (Ög 136), located in Rök, Sweden, features a
Younger Futhark runic inscription that makes various references to
Norse mythology is primarily attested in dialects of Old Norse, a
North Germanic language spoken by the Scandinavian people during the
European Middle Ages, and the ancestor of modern Scandinavian
languages. The majority of these
Old Norse texts were created in
Iceland, where the oral tradition stemming from the pre-Christian
inhabitants of the island was collected and recorded in manuscripts.
This occurred primarily in the 13th century. These texts include the
Prose Edda, composed in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and the
Poetic Edda, a collection of poems from earlier traditional material
anonymously compiled in the 13th century.
Prose Edda was composed as a prose manual for producing skaldic
Old Norse poetry composed by skalds. Originally
composed and transmitted orally, skaldic poetry utilizes alliterative
verse, kennings, and various metrical forms. The
Prose Edda presents
numerous examples of works by various skalds from before and after the
Christianization process and also frequently refers back to the poems
found in the Poetic Edda. The
Poetic Edda consists almost entirely of
poems, with some prose narrative added, and this poetry—Eddic
poetry—utilizes fewer kennings. In comparison to skaldic poetry,
Eddic poetry is relatively unadorned.
Prose Edda features layers of euhemerization, a process in which
deities and supernatural beings are presented as having been either
actual, magic-wielding human beings who have been deified in time or
beings demonized by way of Christian mythology. Texts such as
Heimskringla, composed in the 13th century by Snorri and Gesta
Danorum, composed in
Saxo Grammaticus in
Denmark in the 12th
century, are the results of heavy amounts of euhemerization.
Numerous further texts, such as the sagas, provide further
information. The saga corpus consists of thousands of tales recorded
Old Norse ranging from Icelandic family histories (
Migration period tales mentioning historic figures such
Attila the Hun
Attila the Hun (legendary sagas). Objects and monuments such as the
Rök Runestone and the
Kvinneby amulet feature runic
inscriptions—texts written in the runic alphabet, the indigenous
alphabet of the Germanic peoples—that mention figures and events
from Norse mythology.
Objects from the archaeological record may also be interpreted as
depictions of subjects from Norse mythology, such as amulets of the
god Thor's hammer
Mjölnir found among pagan burials and small silver
female figures interpreted as valkyries or dísir, beings associated
with war, fate or ancestor cults. By way of historical linguistics
and comparative mythology, comparisons to other attested branches of
Germanic mythology (such as the
Old High German
Old High German Merseburg
Incantations) may also lend insight. Wider comparisons to the
mythology of other Indo-European peoples by scholars has resulted in
the potential reconstruction of far earlier myths.
Of the mythical tales and poems that are presumed to have existed
during the Middle Ages, Viking Age, Migration Period, and prior, only
a tiny amount of poems and tales survive. Later sources reaching
into the modern period, such as a medieval charm recorded as used by
the Norwegian woman Ragnhild Tregagås—convicted of witchcraft in
Norway in the 14th century—and spells found in the 17th century
Galdrabók grimoire also sometimes make references to Norse
mythology. Other traces, such as place names bearing the names of
gods may provide further information about deities, such as a
potential association between deities based on placement of locations
bearing their names, their local popularity, and associations with
Gods and other beings
Thor wades through a river while the
Æsir ride across the
Bifröst in an illustration by
Lorenz Frølich (1895)
Central to accounts of
Norse mythology are the plights of the gods and
their interaction with various other beings, such as with the jötnar,
who may be friends, lovers, foes or family members of the gods.
Numerous gods are mentioned in the source texts. As evidenced by
records of personal names and place names, the most popular god among
the Scandinavians during the
Viking Age was Thor, who is portrayed as
unrelentingly pursuing his foes, his mountain-crushing, thunderous
Mjölnir in hand. In the mythology,
Thor lays waste to numerous
jötnar who are foes to the gods or humanity, and is wed to the
beautiful, golden-haired goddess Sif.
Odin is also frequently mentioned in surviving texts.
One-eyed, wolf and raven-flanked, and spear in hand,
knowledge throughout the worlds. In an act of self-sacrifice,
described as having hanged himself on the cosmological tree Yggdrasil
to gain knowledge of the runic alphabet, which he passed on to
humanity, and is associated closely with death, wisdom, and poetry.
Odin has a strong association with death;
Odin is portrayed as the
ruler of Valhalla, where valkyries carry half of those slain in
battle. Odin's wife is the powerful goddess
Frigg who can see the
future but tells no one, and together they have a beloved son, Baldr.
After a series of dreams had by
Baldr of his impending death, his
death is engineered by Loki, and
Baldr thereafter resides in Hel, a
realm ruled over by a goddess of the same name.
Odin must share half of his share of the dead with a powerful goddess;
Freyja. She is beautiful, sensual, wears a feathered cloak, and
practices seiðr. She rides to battle to choose among the slain, and
brings her chosen to her afterlife field Fólkvangr.
Freyja weeps for
her missing husband Óðr, and seeks after him in far away lands.
Freyja's brother, the god Freyr, is also frequently mentioned in
surviving texts, and in his association with weather, royalty, human
sexuality, and agriculture brings peace and pleasure to humanity.
Deeply lovesick after catching sight of the beautiful jötunn Gerðr,
Freyr seeks and wins her love, yet at the price of his future
doom. Their father is the powerful god Njörðr.
strongly associated with ships and seafaring, and so also wealth and
Freyja and Freyr's mother is Njörðr's sister (her name
is unprovided in the source material). However, there is more
information about his pairing with the skiing and hunting goddess
Skaði. Their relationship is ill-fated, as
Skaði cannot stand to be
away from her beloved mountains, nor
Njörðr from the seashore.
Together, Freyja, Freyr, and
Njörðr form a portion of gods known as
the Vanir. While the Aesir and the
Vanir retain distinct
identification, they came together as the result of the Aesir–Vanir
While they receive less mention, numerous other gods and goddesses
appear in the source material. (For a list of these deities, see List
of Germanic deities.) Some of the gods heard less of include the
Iðunn and her husband, the skaldic god Bragi;
the gold-toothed, white-skinned god Heimdallr, born of nine mothers;
the ancient god Týr, who lost a hand while binding the great wolf
Fenrir; and the goddess Gefjon, who formed modern day Zealand,
Various beings outside of the gods are mentioned.
Elves and dwarfs are
commonly mentioned and appear to be connected, but their attributes
are vague and the relation between the two is ambiguous.
described as radiant and beautiful, whereas dwarfs often act as
earthen smiths. A group of beings variously described as jötnar,
thursar, and trolls (in English these are all often glossed as
"giants") frequently appear. These beings may either aid, deter, or
take their place among the gods. The norns, dísir, and
aforementioned valkyries also receive frequent mention. While their
functions and roles may overlap and differ, all are collective female
beings associated with fate.
The cosmological, central tree
Yggdrasil is depicted in "The Ash
Friedrich Wilhelm Heine
Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1886)
Sól, the Sun, and Máni, the Moon, are chased by the wolves Sköll
and Háti in "The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani" by J. C. Dollman
The cosmology of the worlds in which all beings inhabit—nine in
total—centers around a cosmological tree, Yggdrasil. The gods
inhabit the heavenly realm of
Asgard whereas humanity inhabits
Midgard, a region in the center of the cosmos. Outside of the gods,
humanity, and the jötnar, these
Nine Worlds are inhabited by beings,
such as elves and dwarfs. Travel between the worlds is frequently
recounted in the myths, where the gods and other beings may interact
directly with humanity. Numerous creatures live on Yggdrasil, such as
the insulting messenger squirrel
Ratatoskr and the perching hawk
Veðrfölnir. The tree itself has three major roots, and at the base
of one of these roots live a trio of norns. Elements of the cosmos
are personified, such as the Sun (Sól, a goddess), the Moon (Máni, a
god), and Earth (Jörð, a goddess), as well as units of time, such as
day (Dagr, a god) and night (Nótt, a jötunn).
The afterlife is a complex matter in Norse mythology. The dead may go
to the murky realm of Hel—a realm ruled over by a female being of
the same name, may be ferried away by valkyries to Odin's martial hall
Valhalla, or may be chosen by the goddess
Freyja to dwell in her field
Fólkvangr. The goddess
Rán may claim those that die at sea, and
Gefjon is said to be attended by virgins upon their
death. Texts also make reference to reincarnation. Time itself
is presented between cyclic and linear, and some scholars have argued
that cyclic time was the original format for the mythology.
Various forms of a cosmological creation story are provided in
Icelandic sources, and references to a future destruction and rebirth
of the world—Ragnarok—are frequently mentioned in some texts.
According to the
Poetic Edda poem Völuspá and the Prose Edda, the
first human couple consisted of Ask and Embla; driftwood found by a
trio of gods and imbued with life in the form of three gifts. After
the cataclysm of Ragnarok, this process is mirrored in the survival of
two humans from a wood; Líf and Lífþrasir. From these two humankind
are foretold to repopulate the new, green earth.
Numerous heroes appear in
Norse mythology and are celebrated in a
variety of poems, songs, and narratives. Within the Prose and Poetic
Edda, notable humans include Gylfi, the first King of Sweden, in the
Gylfaginning, King Geirröth in the [Grímnismál], and two peasant
children Þjálfi and Röskva, who are tricked into bondservice to
Loki and appear in
Skáldskaparmál and the Gylfaginning. The
Prose Edda also describes the afterlife for humans, with honourable
warriors feasting and battling endlessly in Valhalla, while those who
died dishonourably or out of battle were sent to Niffelheim.
Influence on the popular culture
Norse mythology in popular culture
Germanic mythology and Germanic neopaganism
With the widespread publication of Norse myths and legends at this
time, references to the Norse gods and heroes spread into European
literary culture, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain. In
the later 20th century, references to
Norse mythology became common in
science fiction and fantasy literature, role-playing games, and
eventually other cultural products such as Japanese animation. Traces
of the religion can also be found in music and has its own genre,
viking metal. Bands such as Amon Amarth, Bathory and Månegarm
generally sing about Norse mythology.
General secondary works
Abram, Christopher (2011). Myths of the Pagan North: the Gods of the
Norsemen. London: Continuum. ISBN 978-1-84725-247-0.
Aðalsteinsson, Jón Hnefill (1998). A Piece of Horse Liver: Myth,
Ritual and Folklore in Old Icelandic Sources (translated by Terry
Gunnell & Joan Turville-Petre). Reykjavík:
Félagsvísindastofnun. ISBN 9979-54-264-0.
Andrén, Anders. Jennbert, Kristina. Raudvere, Catharina. (editors)
Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes
and Interactions. Lund: Nordic Academic Press.
Branston, Brian (1980). Gods of the North. London: Thames and Hudson.
(Revised from an earlier hardback edition of 1955).
Christiansen, Eric (2002). The
Norsemen in the Viking Age. Malden,
Mass.: Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-4964-7.
Clunies Ross, Margaret (1994). Prolonged Echoes:
Old Norse Myths in
Medieval Northern Society, vol. 1: The Myths. Odense: Odense Univ.
Press. ISBN 87-7838-008-1.
Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1964). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.
Baltimore: Penguin. New edition 1990 by Penguin Books.
ISBN 0-14-013627-4. (Several runestones)
Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1969). Scandinavian Mythology. London and New
York: Hamlyn. ISBN 0-87226-041-0. Reissued 1996 as Viking and
Norse Mythology. New York: Barnes and Noble.
Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1988). Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe.
Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8156-2438-7.
Davidson, H. R. Ellis (1993). The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe.
London & New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-04937-7.
de Vries, Jan. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, 2 vols., 2nd. ed.,
Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, 12–13. Berlin: W. de Gruyter.
DuBois, Thomas A. (1999). Nordic Religions in the Viking Age.
Philadelphia: Univ. Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1714-4.
Dumézil, Georges (1973). Gods of the Ancient Northmen. Ed. &
trans. Einar Haugen. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Grimm, Jacob (1888). Teutonic Mythology, 4 vols. Trans. S. Stallybras.
London. Reprinted 2003 by Kessinger. ISBN 0-7661-7742-4,
ISBN 0-7661-7743-2, ISBN 0-7661-7744-0,
ISBN 0-7661-7745-9. Reprinted 2004 Dover Publications.
ISBN 0-486-43615-2 (4 vols.), ISBN 0-486-43546-6,
ISBN 0-486-43547-4, ISBN 0-486-43548-2,
Lindow, John (1988). Scandinavian Mythology: An Annotated
Bibliography, Garland Folklore Bibliographies, 13. New York: Garland.
Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes,
Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ISBN 0-19-515382-0. (A dictionary of Norse mythology.)
Mirachandra (2006). Treasure of Norse
Mythology Volume I
Motz, Lotte (1996). The King, the Champion and the Sorcerer: A Study
in Germanic Myth. Wien: Fassbaender. ISBN 3-900538-57-3.
O'Donoghue, Heather (2007). From
Asgard to Valhalla : the
remarkable history of the Norse myths. London: I. B. Tauris.
Orchard, Andy (1997). Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend.
London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-36385-5.
Page, R. I. (1990). Norse Myths (The Legendary Past). London: British
Museum; and Austin: University of Texas Press.
Price, Neil S (2002). The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron
Age Scandinavia. Uppsala: Dissertation, Dept. Archaeology &
Ancient History. ISBN 91-506-1626-9.
Simek, Rudolf (1993). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Trans. Angela
Hall. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-369-4. New edition
2000, ISBN 0-85991-513-1.
Simrock, Karl Joseph (1853–1855) Handbuch der deutschen Mythologie.
Svanberg, Fredrik (2003). Decolonizing the Viking Age. Stockholm:
Almqvist & Wiksell. ISBN 91-22-02006-3(v. 1); 9122020071(v.
Turville-Petre, E O Gabriel (1964). Myth and Religion of the North:
The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld &
Nicolson. Reprinted 1975, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Anderson, Rasmus (1875). Norse Mythology, or, The Religion of Our
Forefathers. Chicago: S.C. Griggs.
Guerber, H. A. (1909). Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and
Sagas. London: George G. Harrap. Reprinted 1992, Mineola, N.Y.:
Dover. ISBN 0-486-27348-2.
Keary, A & E (1909), The Heroes of Asgard. New York: Macmillan
Company. Reprinted 1982 by Smithmark Pub. ISBN 0-8317-4475-8.
Reprinted 1979 by Pan Macmillan ISBN 0-333-07802-0.
Mable, Hamilton Wright (1901). Norse Stories Retold from the Eddas.
Mead and Company. Reprinted 1999, New York: Hippocrene Books.
Mackenzie, Donald A (1912). Teutonic Myth and Legend. New York: W H
Wise & Co. 1934. Reprinted 2003 by University Press of the
Pacific. ISBN 1-4102-0740-4.
Rydberg, Viktor (1889). Teutonic Mythology, trans. Rasmus B. Anderson.
London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Reprinted 2001, Elibron Classics.
ISBN 1-4021-9391-2. Reprinted 2004, Kessinger Publishing Company.
Bradish, Sarah Powers (1900).
Old Norse stories. New York: American
Book Company / Internet Archive.
Colum, Padraic (1920). The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern
Myths, illustrated by Willy Pogány. New York, Macmillan. Reprinted
2004 by Aladdin, ISBN 0-689-86885-5.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin (1981). The Norse Myths. New York: Pantheon
Books. ISBN 0-394-74846-8. Also released as The Penguin Book of
Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
d'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar (1967). "d'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths".
New York, New York Review of Books.
Munch, Peter Andreas (1927). Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and
Heroes, Scandinavian Classics. Trans.
Sigurd Bernhard Hustvedt (1963).
New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation. ISBN 0-404-04538-3.
Gaiman, Neil (2017). Norse Mythology. W. W. Norton & Company.
^ a b Faulkes (1995), pp. vi–xxi, and Turville-Petre (1964),
^ Faulkes (1995), pp. xvi–xviii.
^ Turville-Petre (1964), pp. 27–34.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 11–12, Turville-Petre (1964),
pp. 17–21, and MacLeod & Mees (2006), pp. 27–28,
^ Regarding the dísir, valkyries, and figurines (with images), see
Lindow (2001), pp. 95–97. For hammers, see Simek (2007),
pp. 218–19, and Lindow (2001), pp. 288–89.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 29–30, 227–28, and Simek (2007),
pp. 84, 278.
^ Puhvel (1989), pp. 189–221, and Mallory (2005),
^ Turville-Petre (1964), p. 13.
^ Regarding Ragnhild Tregagås, see MacLeod & Mees (2006),
p. 37. For Galdrabók, see Flowers (1989), p. 29.
^ Turville-Petre (1964), pp. 2–3, 178.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 287–91.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 128–29, 247–52.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 118, 126–28.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 121–22.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 241–43.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 311–12.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 86–88, 135–37, 168–72, 198–99,
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 99–102, 109–10, and Simek (2007),
pp. 67–69, 73–74.
^ Simek (2007), pp. 108–09, 180, 333, 335.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 95–97, 243–46. Simek (2007),
pp. 62–62, 236–37, 349.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 319–32. Simek (2007), pp. 375–76.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 91–92, 205–06, 222–23, 278–80.
^ For Hel, see Lindow (2001), p. 172, and Orchard (1997),
p. 79. For Valhalla, see Lindow (2001), pp. 308–09, and
Orchard (1997), pp. 171–72. For Fólkvangr, see Lindow (2001),
p. 118, and Orchard (1997), p. 45.
^ For Rán, see Lindow (2001), pp. 258–59, and Orchard (1997),
p. 129. For Gefjon, see Orchard (1997), p. 52.
^ Orchard (1997), p. 131.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 42–43.
^ Lindow (2001), pp. 1–2, 40, 254–58.
^ Simek (2007), p. 189.
Edda. Translated by Faulkes, Anthony. Everyman. 1995.
Flowers, Stephen (1989). The Galdrabók: An Icelandic Grimoire.
Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes,
Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press.
MacLeod, Mindy; Mees, Bernard (2006). Runic Amulets and Magic Objects.
Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-205-4.
Mallory, J. P. (2005). In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language,
Archaeology and Myth. Thames & Hudson.
Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell.
Puhvel, Jaan (1989). Comparative Mythology. Johns Hopkins University
Press. ISBN 0-8018-3938-6.
Turville-Petre, E. O. G. (1964). Myth and Religion of the North: The
Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Simek, Rudolf (2007). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by
Hall, Angela. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1.
Media related to
Norse mythology at Wikimedia Commons
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Mythological Norse people, items and places
Heathenry (new religious movement)
Mythology of Europe
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States with limited
Isle of Man
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Homelands and colonies
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Raids in the Rhineland
Arms and armour
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