Norse mythology is the body of myths of the North Germanic peoples,
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.
The source texts mention numerous gods, 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
Freya 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 Njörð, who may calm both
sea and fire and grant wealth and land; the god Frey, whose weather
and farming associations bring peace and pleasure to humanity; the
goddess Iðunn, who keeps apples that grant eternal youthfulness; the
mysterious god Heimdall, 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 centres 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 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.
During 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
3.1 Gods and other beings
3.4 Influence on the popular culture
6 Further reading
6.1 General secondary works
6.3 Modern retellings
7 External links
The historical religion of the Norse people is commonly referred to as
Norse mythology. In certain literature the terms Scandinavian
mythology or Nordic mythology have
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
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
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 Icelandic
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 the
placement of locations bearing their names, their local popularity,
and associations with geological features.
Gods and other beings
Thor wades through a river, while the
Æsir ride across the
bridge, 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 Asgard. 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 faraway
lands. Freyja's brother, the god Freyr, is also frequently
mentioned in surviving texts, and in his association with the weather,
royalty, human sexuality, and agriculture brings peace and pleasure to
humanity. Deeply lovesick after catching sight of the beautiful
Freyr seeks and wins her love, yet at the price of his
future doom. Their father is the powerful god Njörðr.
Njörðr is strongly associated with ships and seafaring, and so also
wealth and prosperity.
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
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 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, Denmark.
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 (1909)
The cosmology of the worlds which all beings inhabit—nine in
total—centers on 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
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 the goddess
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
Prose Edda and the
Poetic Edda poem, Völuspá, 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 this two humankind
are foretold to repopulate the new, green earth.
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 comic books and 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.
^ Rooth, Anna Birgitta (1961).
Loki in Scandinavian Mythology. C. W.
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^ Lindow, John (1997). Murder and vengeance among the gods:
Scandinavian mythology, Edition 262. Suomalainen tiedeakatemia.
^ Lindow, John (1988). Scandinavian Mythology: An Annotated
Bibliography. Garland Pub. ISBN 0824091736.
^ Colum, Padraic (2012). Nordic Gods and Heroes. Courier Corporation.
^ 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.
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Sacred trees and groves
Old Norse religion
Alemannic grave fields
Gothic and Vandal warfare
Viking Age arms and armour
Migration Period spear
Migration Period sword
From Paganism to Christianity:
Franks and Alamanni
Kievan Rus'/Rus' Khaganate
Ancient Germanic culture portal