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Super-brief Overview of the Norse Gods

In the beginning, there was a bottomless pit known as Ginnungagap. The abyss separated the fiery realm of Muspelheim from the icy realm of Niflheim. Each realm grew in power and eventually clashed. The result was frost thawing into liquid water drops, which ultimately spawned life. According to Nordic creationism, the first living being was Ymir, a hermaphroditic frost giant who is regarded as the ancestor of not only all of the giants, but the gods as well, as they are partially descended from giants. Another name for Ymir in some Old Norse poems is Aurgelmir which translates to English as Sand/Gravel Screamer.

Ymir

Ymir being slain by the gods (Franz Stassen, 1920)

Ymir suckled off the primeval cosmic cow Audhumla for his nourishment. Audhumla too came into existence through the melting of the melted Ginnungagap ice. She survived by licking the Niflheim ice, and Ymir survived off her milk. As Audhumla licked the ice, a new being called Buri, the first Aesir god, was liberated from the salt. One night as Ymir slept, several new giants were spontaneously and asexually conceived in Ymir’s hermaphroditic body and sprang from his legs and the sweat from his armpits. Buri mated with one of Ymir’s offspring, Bestla, and from this union Odin was born, the chief of the Aesir, and his two brothers: Vili and Ve. The three divine brothers then murdered Ymir and created the cosmos from their father’s corpse.

 

The Norse Gods & Goddesses

The Norse gods are divided among two main clans: Aesir and Vanir. The most notable Aesir include Odin, Frigg, Thor, Balder, Hod, Heimdall and Tyr. The Vanir includes the fertility gods Njord, Freyr and Freyja. There was antagonism between the two clans, but for all to prosper, it was required that the two families combine their powers and work together.

 

Odin

Portrayed quite fantastically in modern times by the illustrious Anthony Hopkins, Odin was the supreme deity of Norse mythology, Allfather of the Aesir and ruler of Asgard. Odin possessed an insatiable hunger for knowledge and wisdom and embarked on a relentless quest to achieve just that with his two wolves, two ravens and the Valkyries. He was both the god of war and almost ironically the god of poetry and magic. To hammer home his commitment to learning as much as he could, he sacrificed one of his own eyes, to enable him to see the universe more clearly, albeit without… depth-perception. If this wasn’t enough to prove his mettle, he hung from the world tree Yggdrasil for nine straight days and nights, until he was blessed with the knowledge of the runic alphabet. It was this unwavering commitment to his goals that enabled him to unlock many mysteries of the universe.

Frigg

Odin’s wife Frigg was the epitome of beauty, love and fertility. The queen of Asgard, a revered Norse goddess, who possessed the power of divination and the only goddess permitted to take position next to her husband. Frigg was an extremely protective mother, taking an oath from the elements, beasts and weapons alike that they would cause no harm to her loving son Balder, this trust was betrayed however, by Loki, the god of mischief.

Balder

The son of Odin and Frigg, the husband of the obscure goddess Nanna, and the father of the god Forseti. Balder was regarded as the pinnacle of radiance, fairness and kindness. He was thought to be immortal, until he was slain by mistletoe at the behest of Loki.

Loki

The notorious god of mischief who possessed the ability to shape-shift into any humanoid or animal form he so chose. His father was the giant Farbauti and his mother was Laufey, it is not known for sure whether she was a giantess or a goddess. After learning from Frigg that mistletoe was the only means of hurting Balder, he constructed a mistletoe spear, placed it in the hand of the blind god Hod and tricked him into throwing it at Balder, impaling him and killing him instantly.

Thor

Odin’s most widely known son made even more famous thanks to Chris Hemsworth’s representation in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers films. He was the god of thunder and the protector of Midgard, wielding the mighty hammer Mjolnir. Thor was known for his bravery, raw strength, healing powers and righteousness. He also regarded himself as the strongest avenger, which is a topic of debate for some.

Freya

Freya was the sister of Freyr and was regarded as the most sensual and passionate among the goddesses, as well as one of the most respected goddesses of the Vanir clan, she was a symbol of prosperity and good weather conditions. Her husband, named Odr in late Old Norse literature, is certainly none other than Odin, and, accordingly, Freya is ultimately identical with Odin’s wife Frigg.

Freyr

The god of fertility, brother of Freya and one of the most respected gods of the Vanir clan. Like his sister, he was a symbol of prosperity and fine weather conditions. He is frequently portrayed in literature with a large phallus.

Heimdall

Like many of the Norse deities, Heimdall was a son of Odin, and was born from nine mothers, as you would expect. He is known as the shiniest of all the gods, due to the sheer whiteness of his skin, in contrast to his adaptation in the MCU by the amazing Idris Elba. Heimdall’s purpose was to oversee and operate the bifrost, (the rainbow bridge connecting Asgard with all of the other realms) and guards Asgard against any approaching dangers, in which case he would blow the horn of Gjallarhorn. He was especially well-equipped for this role, having sight so sharp that he could see for hundreds of miles by day or night, and hearing so sensitive, he could hear the very grass grow on the ground.

Hel

Hel was both the ruler of the Norse underworld and the goddess of death. She was the daughter of Loki, but was portrayed by Cate Blanchett as the daughter of Odin and brother of Thor and Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She had pale skin and appeared as death personified.

Vidar

A son of Odin by the giantess Gríðr. Vidar was one of the younger gods who survived Ragnarok, the apocalyptic destruction of the cosmos in Norse mythology. Known as the silent god, he was said to be the strongest god after Thor.

Vale

Vale was the son of Odin who avenged Balder’s death by killing Hod, the god who pierced Balder with mistletoe.