You are probably familiar—especially if you are into comics or happen to be a movie buff—with Thor, the god of lightning and his intimidating hammer, Mjolnir, but in reality Norse mythology is so rich that one could dedicate a significant amount of time just studying it and getting to know everything about it. Well before the Northern European people converted to Christianity, they had their own highly developed indigenous folklore and culture. What we know today as Norse mythology is a complex set of religious stories Norsemen told one another that have survived through oral tradition and later print over the centuries.
Most of these tales revolve around deities with intriguing and complicated personalities, such as Odin, Loki, and Thor, of course. The fascinating thing, however, about the religion of the Norse and many other Germanic peoples is that it didn’t have its own name like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, and those who practiced it just called it “tradition” in most of the records that have come down to us. Hopefully the 25 Fascinating Facts About Norse Mythology that follow will enlighten you and help you learn a thing or two about the vastly rich mythological and religious tradition of the Norse.
Norse mythology is primarily mentioned in dialects of Old Norse, a North Germanic language spoken by the Scandinavians in the Middle Ages, and the ancestor of modern Scandinavian languages. The majority of these Old Norse texts were produced in Iceland.
These texts include the Prose Edda, composed in the thirteenth century by Snorri Sturluson, and the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems from earlier traditional material anonymously compiled in the same century.
Units of time and elements of the Norse cosmology are personified as gods or beings.
The Vikings believed there are two types of gods, the Æsir and the Vanir, but they also believed in other beings such as giants, dwarfs, and other creatures.
In the Marvel Universe, as most comic fans already probably know, the gods of the Norse pantheon play a significant role, especially Thor, who has been one of the longest-running superheroes for the company.
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The Norse universe is described as having a tricentric structure. According to the mythology, the Norsemen spoke of a world that resembled three plates set atop one another with space between each. These plates were held together at the top by a giant tree (Yggdrasil) with three roots going into each realm.
There are nine worlds within the three realms of the Norse universe that flank a central cosmological tree, Yggdrasil. They are Asgard (the land of the warriors/gods), Vanaheim (the land of the fertility gods), Alfheim (the land of the Light Elves), Midgard (the middle world), Jotunheim (land of the giants), Nidavellir (land of the Dwarfs), Svartalfheim (land of the Dark Elves), Hel (the realm of the dead), and Niflheim (another world of the dead).
In Norse myth, Odin is the equivalent of Zeus in Greek mythology; he is the father of all the gods. Odin has only one eye because he traded his other eye for a drink from the well of wisdom and gained immense knowledge.
However, the most popular god among the Scandinavians and across the globe (thanks to Marvel) is everyone’s favorite blond god, Thor.
Arguably one of the most successful TV shows of our time, Game of Thrones, has clear references to Norse mythology, and its producers have openly admitted that North European folklore has been a central source of their inspiration behind the show.
The Vikings is another popular historical drama television series whose plot is heavily based on Norse myth and folklore. The characters often have visions of Odin and pray to several Norse gods, such as Thor and Freyr, among others.
In Norse myth, a Valkyrie is a female figure who goes to battlefields and takes the bravest warriors who fall there and brings them to Valhalla. During World War II, a team of Germans plotting to overthrow Hitler named their secret plan Operation Valkyrie.
Contrary to popular belief, most of Norse mythology has been a real religion to many people—especially in Scandinavian countries and Central Europe—even today. In Iceland they tend to call it Ásatrú, while you might hear it called Odinism in America.
Enjoy all things mythology? Check out 25 Craziest Mythical Creatures Ever Conceived.
A popular video game titled Too Human has a story line based on Norse myth that interprets the gods as cybernetically enhanced humans.
Frigg is by far the most famous Norse goddess and is also Odin’s wife. She represents marriage and motherhood. It is also believed that she supposedly knows every person’s destiny but has never revealed it to anyone.
Odin’s grandfather sprang from salt stones constantly licked by a cow. Hmm, not exactly the way one would picture the birth of a god, right?
As some of you might have noticed in the Thor comics or films, there’s a bridge separating Midgard (the realm of humans) from Asgard (the realm of the gods). Its name is Bifrost; it is made of three colors and is the only way to enter Asgard.
Have you ever heard of Vidar, the god of vengeance? Even though he is pretty unknown outside Scandinavia, Vidar is famous in Norse myth for avenging his father Odin’s death at Ragnarok by killing the wolf Fenrir.
The afterlife is quite a complicated matter in Norse mythology. According to the religion, the dead could go to the murky realm of Hel—a realm ruled by a female being of the same name, may be ferried away by Valkyries to Odin’s martial hall Valhalla, or could be chosen by the goddess Freyja to dwell in her field Fólkvangr. The criterion of where the dead go where they do, however, remains a mystery.
Additionally, according to some Norse texts, the goddess Rán could also claim those who die at sea, while the goddess Gefjon is said to be attended by virgins at an individual’s death. References to reincarnation have also been made.
In Norse myth, there’s a battle at the end of time called Ragnarok. In this apocalyptic battle between the gods and giants, all creation is involved. Almost all life is destroyed and the nine worlds are submerged.
Norse mythology influenced Richard Wagner’s use of literary themes in his composition of the four operas that make up The Ring of the Nibelung.
J. R. R. Tolkien has admitted that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were heavily influenced by Norse myth. To name just one example, Gandalf the wizard takes his name and appearance from Norse figures such as Odin.
Tuesday is named after the Norse god of war and justice, Tyr. In French, Spanish, and Italian, Tuesday is named after Mars, the Greco-Roman god of war.
According to Norse mythology, the first human couple was Ask and Embla, not Adam and Eve.
If you enjoyed this list, check out 25 Facts About Norse Gods Hollywood Won’t Teach You.