Out of all the intriguing examples of Norwegian culture to research, perhaps none are more fascinating than learning about the famous Norse gods that are forever embedded in Norwegian mythology. Throughout the Viking age and up until Christianity started gaining a wider audience in the early 11th century, the Norse gods were the dominant theology, and there were dozens of deities who each had his or her role in Norse mythology. Before you embark on your Norway cruise, here are the essential Norse gods you should get to know:
As with every mythology or religion, there's always one head honcho who presides above the rest. For the Norse gods, this spiritual being is Odin, the overall ruler of all Norwegian gods and also referred to as All-Father. Odin is certainly the leader in charge, as his duties included creating heaven and earth, being the god of war and death, and keeping in touch with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who informed Odin of everything that was going on in the world. If you were ever to find yourself on the wrong side of Odin, you'd probably have to face the wrath of him and his spear, called Gunge, which according to folklore, never missed a target. The rules were pretty straightforward when it came to worshipping Odin: Either follow his faith and live a long and eternal life, or spend an eternity in hell.
Odin also had quite an extensive family of fellow Norse gods. He had two wives, Frigg and Jord, who each had their own essential areas of life to rule over. Frigg was the goddess of marriage, motherhood and everything that was referred to as the "domestic arts." She was also known to possess psychic abilities, and her foreknowledge helped Odin stay updated on other gods and goddesses. Aside from being Odin's second wife, Jord was essentially a personified version of earth, and in some ancient texts is considered a rival in the eyes of Frigg.
Most people have at least heard of Thor, the god of thunder and war. Whether it's through several famous portraits in art history or from the latest Marvel Comics movies, Thor has continued to remain a presence in modern pop culture long after Norse mythology seemingly died out. Thor, son of Odin and Jord, ruled over others with his trusty hammer, Mjolne, which was an unstoppable weapon that when thrown, would never miss and always return back to his hand. The primary reason behind Thor's enduring popularity has to do with the fact that he was the strongest of all gods and men, and while his brawn was unparalleled, his legacy certainly has more to do with his power than his intellect. Such is evident in scribes that portray Thor's relationship with Loki (or Loke in some translations), who was one of the more controversial figures in Norse mythology. Depending on what text you read, Loki was either an occasional assistant to the gods or a giant nuisance, especially to Thor. There are various passages that involve several run-ins between Thor and Loki, including one in which Thor accuses Loki of stealing his beloved hammer.
Sons of Odin
The marriage of Odin and Frigg also led to the creation of many other famous Norse gods. One of the wisest and most respected of the bunch was Balder, who was known as the god of light and purity. Many texts describe Balder as being so handsome that he would literally glow, and he lived in the holy home of Breidablikk along with his wife Nanna. Another one of the sons of Odin and Frigg was Brage, who was considered to be a very wise god and especially noted for his poetry. Brage was also known to be quite the musician amongst the Norse gods, as he's portrayed in several classic Norwegian paintings playing a harp and singing along with his wife, Idun.
Influence on society
While we might not realize it, there are so many ways Norse mythology still remains a big part of contemporary culture and society. For starters, all the names for the days of our week are derived from Norse gods, which go as followed:
- Sunday is the "day of the sun."
- Monday is the "day of the moon."
- Tuesday comes from the Norse god Tyr, who is the god of law.
- Wednesday comes from Woden, the Anglo-Saxon version of Odin.
- Thursday is "Thor's Day."
- Friday comes from Freya, Norse god of love, fertility and beauty.
- Saturday comes from Saturn, which is the only one of the week days not directly associated with a Norse god.
Learning more about these leaders of Norse mythology will not only open your eyes to its overall influence in other aspects of society, but can also add some perspective when exploring the wonderful beauty and history Norway has to offer.