11 May 2007

Velkommen til Asgard: Welcome to Asgard

The home of the Norse gods. According to legend, there were nine worlds. Two sets of gods, the Aeisir and the Vanir had their own worlds, Asgard and Vanaheim. Humans lived in Midgard, the world of the dead was an icy place called Niflheim, and elves, dwarves, giants, and fire had their own worlds.

Odin was the All-Father, but not so much a jolly kind of guy. He lost one eye when he traded it for a drink from Mirmir, or the Well of Wisdom. A strange sort of wisdome, for he was also a god of war and warriors. He was often accompanied by two wolves and two ravens, Hugin and Mugin, or Memory and Thought.

For nine days, Odin was hung from Yggdrasil – the Tree of Life – and a common motif in Viking art. Odin, who was also the god of the hanged, sacrificed himself to learn nine powerful spells and the secrets of the runes.

His wife, Frigg, was also the goddess of fertility and motherhood. It’s said that in order to keep her beautiful son Balder safe from everything, she asked everything on the earth for a promise not to harm him. The only thing she didn’t ask was the mistletoe because she thought it too insignificant. Later, Loki, the fire god of chaos and mischief, convinced blind Höd, Balder’s brother, to toss a mistletoe sprig at Balder. It struck him in the eye and killed him.

The pantheon of the Norse is extremely complex – necessarily so, with two sets of gods. In addition, there is a lot of crossover between the Norse gods and the Teutonic, or Germanic, gods. The Ring of the Niebelungen, Wagner’s famous opera, is based more on the Teutonic gods, but the similarities between the two pantheons is inescapable.

For a brief overview of the Norse pantheon, stop at the Norse mythology page of Timeless Myths.

From there, proceed to Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Mythica, and godchecker.com.

For books, I suggest The Prose Edda, The Poetic Edda, and The Volsung Saga.

Snorri Sturluson was a 12th century Icelandic poet and historian who wrote many, many books on the myths and sagas of his people. There are several modern translations of his work available.

In a moment of serendipitous timing, I happened to pick up and read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods this week. It brings together gods from all over the world in a beautiful and haunting tale about the ultimate mortality of immortal beings. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in mythology.
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