In our world today, there are thousands of religions, all with different stories trying to answer those questions we can’t answer on our own: Where did we come from? Where do we go after we die? When will we die? How can we be here? There are many more questions that people truly believe are answered by their religion. People have been striving to understand the world and universe since the very beginning. The Norse, often referred to as Vikings, had their own idea of how the world worked. The basis of Norse religion is related to both the ways of life for the Norse and the questions asked by them.
Vikings were large clans of violent, sea fairing, rough people who loved to drink, party and especially, to fight. Viking clans started to form at the end of the 8th century. Most of the Vikings came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden.The Viking culture started to dwindle away in the 11th century after being put under strict watch by Herald Finehair, the king of Norway.
The Vikings, although crude and rough, were very effective at conquering when they banded together. They founded several famous cities in Europe including Dublin and Limerick. One of the Vikings unusual beliefs that they acted upon in life was their belief that you automatically went to hell if one did not die in battle. Fortunately for the non-violent, the Norse hell was not an awful place, just boring and dreary.
Vikings are most famous for their violent raids. They would barge into towns, rape and pillage until everyone had fled, then claim it for their own. If one did die in battle then there was glory ahead. They would either be chosen to go to a heaven ruled over by the great goddess Freya or Odin, the king of the gods.
The Norse believed in many different gods and goddesses, one for each category of life. The gods were a huge part of the religion and each had their own specific qualities. Odin was the most worshiped. As well as being king of the gods, he was also the wisest, most powerful and strongest. He was married to Frigga, the queen goddess. He was most famous for his one eye, which he sacrificed for the ability to drink from the well of ultimate knowledge. He also hung himself from the branches of Iggdrasil for nine days to learn all the secrets of the world. Odin also ruled over Heaven with Freyja.
Freyja was the goddess of love, beauty, sorcery and death. She was the most beautiful of all the goddesses. The German title “Frau”, meaning lady, comes from her name. She was known her love of jewelry. She was also the twin sister of Freyr.
Freyr was a very kind and charming younger god. He was said to be very good-looking and always associated with light. Freyr was the god of Fertility and the Sun. The most famous myth about him was the story of how he fell in love. He fell in love with a Juton (a giant), named Gerd. He thought Gerd was the most beautiful woman ever and pined over her. Finally his father, Njord, went and retrieved Gerd and they were married.
As sweet as Freyr was, Thor was tough. Thor was the god of Thunder and the son of Odin. He was amazingly strong and had a frightful temper. Thor was married to Sif; Sif had the most beautiful golden hair made from real gold. He defended the Aesir (the gods), against any troubling Juton or monster with his mighty hammer and belt. The Mjolnir, his hammer, had a perfect hit and would return to Thor’s hand when it’s job was done. His belt gave him twice as much strength as he usually had, which was quite impressive to begin with. Thor’s largest annoyance was Loki, the trickster god.
Loki was devilishly handsome, and extremely tricky. He was the son of giants and not a real Aesir and didn’t become a real Aesir until a younger, more foolish, Odin befriended Loki and made him his blood brother. Even though Loki got more and more sinister but no one would dare harm him because he had Odin’s blood running with his.
Although there were dark gods like Loki, there were good gods too. The sweetest and kindest of all was Balder. Balder was the god of light and basically a Norse angel. Flowers sprang up where he walked. No one could dislike Balder, not even the crude Jutons. He was married to Nanna, a goddess, and they had a boy called Forsete.
Along with these main gods their were many, many more including Tyr, the god of war, Njord, the god of the sea, Skadi, the goddess of the mountains, Hel, the goddess of the underworld and Heimdall, the guard of Bifrost (the magical rainbow bridge that connected the human world to that of the gods. But before all of the gods, there were only two worlds, the world of fire and the world of ice.
Niflheim was made of fog and mist and frost, Muspelheim was as hot and fiery as Niflheim was cold. There was giant in charge of the land of fire called Surt. Niflheim would later turn into the land of the cursed dead, or the Norse hell. Muspelhiem stayed the world of fire and many a sinner were pushed into the fiery void. There is a very long creation myth including evil creatures climbing from toes while the giant, Surt, slept, a giant cow who loved salt and humans growing from a rock. Eventually after the gods were created and the humans lived in peace, everything was all sorted out.
The one thing that all worlds, peaceful or not, fiery or frozen, had in common was Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil was the tree of life. All nine worlds were held in Yggdrasil’s branches. The tree had three main roots that led to three different magical springs.
The first well was in Asgard, it was called Urd’s well and that is where the gods held council meetings. The Norns, the three goddesses of fate) lived at Urd’s well and wove the yarn of time. The Norns watered Yggdrasil and took care of the old tree.
The second root of Iggdrasil led to Mimir’s well. Mimir was the wisest of all creatures, he was a Juton who sat by the well and guarded the waters of wisdom that flowed from the well. Odin once stumbled upon the Juton by his well and was fascinated. Even though Odin was extremely wise to begin with, drinking from the well would give him the infinite wisdom he should have to govern the gods. Odin struck a bargain with Mimir and gave him his eye. Odin got infinite wisdom and Mimir, with the help of Odin’s eye, could see to all the worlds and Yggdrasil. After that Mimir was Odin’s trusted confidant.
The third root of Yggdrasil went to Niflheim where Hel ruled over all the deceased who did not deserve to go to Valhalla or Fólkvangr. This well had no special powers except to let Hel look at the light world above.
In Norse mythology there were four places you could go once you die. The Norse had two versions of heaven, a hell and a water heaven.
Vahalla was Odin’s heaven. There was endless food, alcohol and fighting. If someone died in battle in Vahalla, they would come back to life right before the nightly feast and walk off to eat dinner. A viking could only go to Vahalla or Fólkvangr if they died in battle and were not fearful or cowardly. Fólkvangr was Freyja’s heaven. If one did not want to battle all day they could go to Fólkvangr, which was, described more like Christen or Jewish heaven, with relaxing music and heavenly pastimes.
There was also a special heaven incase there was death at sea. This was ruled over by Njord, the god of the sea. It was a pleasant place but not nearly as nice as Vahalla.
The hell that the Norse believed in was not a terrible place but just dull. This place was called either Helheim or Nifleheim and was ruled over by the dark and beautiful Hel, daughter of Loki. This hell was not an awefull place, just boring. For the Norse though, boredom was the worst of all punishments; the Norse hated to be idle.
The Norse, like any large culture, have influenced our modern reality in many ways. One of the things that came from the Norse that we use every day is their days of the week. Each day has a very real source where it originated. Monday was Moonday, Tuesday-Tyrsday, Wednesday-Odinsday, Thursday-Thorsday, Friday-Freyjaday, Saterday-Saternday, and Sunday-Sunday. There are other things that the Norse did, including founding multiple cities and influencing other religions as well as many fictional plots and characters.
The Norses’ religion was a complicated and intricate religion. As you can see there are many places in the religion and where the Norse’s’ culture really influenced the stories and holy rules. The Norse had a unique way at looking at the big questions and the world, that, although it has flaws, is very mirrored of the way that the Norse lived.
Branston, Brian, and Giovanni Caselli. Gods & Heroes from Viking Mythology. Eurobook, 1978. Print.
H., Johanne. “Gods and Goddesses in Norse Mythology.” Norse Mythology. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2012.
Parin d’Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar. D’aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths. New York: New York Reveiw, 1967. Print.
“Norse Mythology.” Norse Mythology. Web. Jan.-Feb. 2012.