With the Thor movie coming out this year I figured my next Top 11 list might as well cover Teutono-Norse mythology. I’ll stick to my usual emphasis on out- of the-way subject matter by avoiding the well-known figures like Thor, Odin, Loki, Tyr, Sif and Baldur. Let’s take a look at the eleven most underappreciated gods and goddesses from this fascinating pantheon. For other pantheons I’ve addressed see these links:
SHINTO MYTH – https://glitternight.com/shinto-myth/
HAWAIIAN MYTH PART 2 – https://glitternight.com/2011/03/02/eleven-more-deities-from-hawaiian-mythology-2/
NEW!!!! INUIT DEITIES – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/06/the-top-12-deities-from-inuit-mythology-2/
Plus see my pages on Navajo, Vietnamese and Bunyoro myth.
THIS CATEGORY HAS PROVEN SO POPULAR HERE’S A BONUS 12th DEITY – THE GODDESS GEFJUN.
GEFJUN – This fertility deity is one of the most misunderstood goddesses from Norse myths and that’s saying something. Gefjun is sometimes referred to as a virgin, but her four sons might disagree with that notion. (Most likely it’s another misunderstanding about how ancient goddesses were often called “virgins” simply because they weren’t married, not because they were celibate.) Those sons were the product of Gefjun mating with Jotuns (Giants).
In the same way that the Korean goddess Halmang was a localized “Mother Earth” for just Jeju Island, Gefjun filled a similar role for Zealand, the largest island in Denmark. By one account Gefjun convinced (or tricked) the Swedish King Gylfi into granting her as much land as she could plow and cultivate for herself.
The goddess then grew to giant size and transformed her four giant sons into oxen, harnessed them, and first plowed then dragged all of Zealand away from Sweden and to its present Danish location. With her as its patron deity Zealand thrived, becoming the most populated and most prosperous region of Denmark for its time.
By another account Zealand was landlocked and the gigantic goddess Gefjun urinated around the perimeter of Zealand, with her liquid waste permanently separating it from the land surrounding it. This too is similar to Halmang, whose urine severed Jeju Island from mainland Korea (or just from nearby Udo Island in some versions).
When the demigod Skjold, one of the god Odin’s many illegitimate children, was exiled Gefjun invited him to make his home on Zealand, and the two got married. (Thereby eliminating the OTHER reason she might have been referred to as a virgin.) Eventually Skjold’s heroics in war prompted the people of Denmark to make him their king.
He and Gefjun’s children would start the Danish Skjoldung Dynasty.
In the Lokasenna, Loki accuses Gefjun of having slept with “a light-skinned man” in exchange for a piece of jewelry and implies she’s as promiscuous as the love goddess Freya.
11. VIDAR – “Woodland ruler” This son of Odin by the female Jotun (giant) Grid was nearly as strong as Thor. He presided over the Murkvid (Nordic version) or Schwarzwald (Teutonic version) and was as tall as the tallest tree. He was armed with a battle- axe and this culturally ingrained image of a woodland giant with an axe was said to contribute to legends of Paul Bunyan spread by Scandinavian immigrants to the U.S.
On the day of Ragnarok Vidar will slay the Fenrir Wolf to avenge the wolf’s devouring of his father Odin. He will do this by planting one foot on its lower jaw and his hands on the upper jaw and snapping the creature’s jawbone.
To ensure that Vidar’s boot would be thick enough to not be penetrated by the wolf’s lower teeth when that moment arrives bootmakers discarded small bits of leather before starting each pair of boots they made. Those bits were dedicated to Vidar and were said to go toward thickening that god’s boots. Vidar was one of the gods destined to survive the day of Ragnarok, along with Baldur , Vali and Thor’s sons Magni and Modi.
10. FORSETI – The god of the laws for men and gods alike who acted as the judge and moderator for disputes among the deities of the Teutono-Norse pantheon. His powers of arbitration and unquestioned fairness were necessary for settling conflicts involving his hot-blooded and temperamental fellow divinities. It is unknown, but doubtful, if Forseti’s rulings were at all binding on Odin. He was the son of the god Baldur through his wife Nanna and lived in a gleaming home sporting gold pillars and a silver roof. This home was called Glitnir.
Forseti was said to have come down from Asgard to Midgard (Earth) and given humanity the laws they were to live by. He also was said to have struck the ground with a golden axe in order to cause springs to burst forth. Fositesland near Denmark and Forsetlund in Norway were named for this god.
9. HYRROKEN – This entity is one of the most tantalizing in all of Teutono- Norse myth because her full story has not survived, just fragments. When the dead bodies of the god Baldur and his wife the goddess Nanna were laid on Baldur’s ship Ringhorn in preparation for burning in their Viking funeral none of the Aesir or Vanir were able to push the boat out to sea.
For reasons that are not made clear in any surviving myth, the Jotun (giant) Hyrroken is sent for as she is the only one capable of doing this deed. She shows up riding a giant wolf like a horse and uses twisted serpents as a bridle. When she dismounts it takes all four of the Jotun grooms she brought with her to control the wolf. (other versions make it four of Odin’s berserkers) Hyrroken pushes Ringhorn out to sea where it burns away, then returns to her mount and departs. The narrative suggests she is a familiar figure but this is the only surviving story featuring her so her other tales are among the many Teutono-Norse myths that are no longer known.
Some may question my including Jotuns in the list of deities but I side with the school of thought that goes that, like the Titans in Graeco- Roman myths the Jotuns were the previously worshipped deities of the region until they were displaced by the Aesir and the Vanir. After all, Loki and Skadi were Jotuns and nobody questions their divinity.
8. HODUR – The blind god of the wintry months that featured extensive darkness, as his brother Baldur was the god of the light-plenty, warmer- weather months. Hodur, who “learned to kill when he was one night old” is, of course, best remembered for being Loki’s dupe when he engineered the death of Baldur by Hodur’s hand, guiding the blind god’s aim when he hurled the surprisingly fatal projectile of mistletoe. That myth is well-known enough that there is no need to rehash it here.
Less well-known is the myth that states Hodur and Baldur were competitors for the hand of Nanna, Baldur’s eventual wife. Some offshoots of this myth depict a jealous Hodur then slaying Baldur with a magic sword (provided by Loki) that sees on its own. In fact a famous sword in Norse myth is named “Mistletoe” and some speculate that the tree was named for the sword. Intense academic arguments still rage over whether or not all this represents an older version of the myth in which Baldur returned from the land of the dead each spring, as opposed to the Christian-influenced version in which he will return ONLY after the day of Ragnarok. At any rate, Hodur fights on the side of Hel and Loki on that fateful day and is slain by the god Vali.
7. SKADI – The goddess of the mountains, often depicted riding on skis. Her father was the Jotun (giant) Thyazi, who was slain by Thor for having abducted the goddess of youth, Idun, keeper of the Golden Apples of Youth which kept the gods young. As recompense for her father’s slaying, Skadi was permitted to select one of the gods as a husband and, though thinking she was selecting Baldur, wound up selecting Njord, the god of ships, navies and sea-trade.
After they married the two spent nine nights in Skadi’s mountain home, Thrymheim, and nine in Njord’s seaside home Noatun. Neither adapted well to the other’s native environment and the two eventually separated, sadly but permanently. Many myths from around the world emphasize the tension between mountain- dwellers and seasiders (think of the god Lac Long Quan and the goddess Au Co from Vietnamese myths). Skadi was also one of the many goddesses Loki claimed to have an affair with, but Skadi got revenge of sorts by placing the venom-dripping serpent over Loki to further torment him when he was bound for his part in Baldur’s death.
6. HEIMDALL AS RIG- The god Heimdall as the guardian of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that leads from the land of mortals (Midgard) to the heavenly home of the gods (Asgard) is well known. He was an ideal sentinel because it was said that he could hear grass grow and see for miles, and that on the day of Ragnarok he would signal the warning about the approach of the forces of evil (led by Loki and his daughter, the goddess Hel) by blowing a blast on his Gjallarhorn. Heimdall will slay and be slain by Loki himself on that fateful day.
Less well- known are the myths about his early life as the deity Rig, who was the progenitor of the three classes of humans. Odin was his father and he oddly had nine mothers, the nine goddesses of the waves, all daughters of the sea god Aegir. (This influenced a Celtic myth of the nine wave goddesses or vice versa) Rig journeyed the Earth, which was peopled by the descendants of Ask (Ash) and Embla (Elm), the first man and woman in Teutono-Norse myth. At one stop he sleeps with the woman of the house and she gives birth to his son Thrall, ancestor of the slave class.
At the next stop he sleeps with the woman of the house and she gives birth to his son Karl, ancestor of the freemen class. At the third stop after he sleeps with the woman she gives birth to Rig’s son Jarl, ancestor of the noble class. After teaching Jarl’s oldest son Konung (“King”) how to be a monarch he took his place as the guardian of Bifrost and was thenceforth known as Heimdall.
5. FREYA – The goddess of love, sex and beauty. Well-known are the myths about her sleeping with four dwarves to obtain her most treasured possession, the necklace called Brisingamen. Her lovers were countless and included her brother, the god Frey. She rode in a chariot pulled by two cats and in some traditions Freya received half the soldiers slain in combat (some versions say as lovers), with the other half, of course, going to Odin in his hall, Valhalla.
Less well-known are her association with seior, a form of witchcraft, sometimes said to be sex-magic and the myth about her agreeing to start a never-ending war (called the Hjadningavig) between two kings in order to get the Brisingamen back from Odin after it was stolen for him by Loki. She was said to shed tears of gold when her husband, the deity Od left her, and unfortunately virtually no info on Od has survived, except his departure on “wanderings” and that he is the father of Freya’s daughter Hnoss.
Older myths depict Freya as the keeper of the Golden Apples of Youth that kept the gods young. Later expansion of the pantheon instead assigned that duty to Idun, the goddess of youth. She and her brother Frey were Vanir (as opposed to Aesir) and were children of the god Njord.
4. ULL – The god of hunting who was also called Ullin. This deity poses the perfect opportunity to look at the difference between myth and cult, with myth involving tales of the god and cult involving elements of the deity’s worship and societal relevance. There is ample evidence of cult surrounding Ull (quite understandable given the importance of hunting) and oaths were once sworn “on the ring of Ull” plus there are many place-names in honor of the deity.
When it comes to myth, however, very few tales involving Ull survived to the period of written history. He was the son of Sif, the patron goddess of wives and step-son of her husband Thor, the thunder god. His father is unknown. Ull was credited with inventing the bow and arrow, skis, skates and snow- shoes. As part of his role as a hunting god, heroes acting as monster slayers were considered “servants of Ull”.
In some versions he is also prayed to for success in single combat. He was said to have once crossed the sea “on a bone” (a reference to a myth that has not survived) and shields were often called “ships of Ull”, supposedly a reference to using a shield as a sled for rapid descents down snowy hills (but other versions claimed Ull literally used his own shield as a ship). Ull’s most active role in a surviving myth is found in some versions of Loki’s punishment after he engineers the death of the god of light, Baldur. In those versions Ull, as god of the hunt, is the only deity able to track Loki down and catch him in a net.
3. FRIGGA – The queen of the gods and patron deity of mothers who was the wife of Odin and the mother of Baldur. Frigga was also considered the ruler of nature and the patron goddess of midwives. She had some connection with falcons and even the shapeshifter Loki had to get permission from Frigga before he could take the form of a falcon. (though other myths claim it was Freya that Loki needed to get permission from) Her relationship with her husband Odin was often tense and when he supported the Vandals in an 8th Century war Frigga supported their foes the Langobards.
When Odin was gone on his many wanderings Frigga was said to sleep with his brothers Villi and Ve and once, jealous over Odin’s constant infidelities, she took a human slave as a lover to embarrass him. In many myths her role is confused and conflated with the goddess Freya as in the above reference to falcons. There is the similarity of their husbands’ names (Odin for Frigga, Od for Freya), the fact that those husbands are associated with wandering and the fact that both goddesses supposedly shed tears of gold. Both are also said to have engaged in wisdom contests with Jotuns.
When Frigga had a premonition of harm coming to her son Baldur she roamed the Earth extracting promises from all living things not to ever harm Baldur. She supposedly neglected to extract such a vow from mistletoe because it seemed so harmless, but see the entry on Hodur for an alternate explanation of mistletoe. After the slaying of Baldur the goddess Hel, ruler of the realm of the dead, stated she would allow Baldur to return to the land of life only if all living things mourned for him.
Frigga roamed the Earth again, this time encouraging all living things to mourn for Baldur. Only Loki refused (or in some versions a female Jotun whose husband/son was slain by Baldur; in still other versions the female Jotun is Loki in disguise) and so Baldur had to remain in the land of the dead until after the day of Ragnarok, when he would return to rule the new world formed from the ashes of the old.
Many arguments are still raging over whether or not the Baldur myth of the pre-Christian contact era was instead a seasonal myth in which Baldur, the god of the light- abundant months, returned from the land of the dead each spring, like the goddess Persephone in Greek myths. Similar to how Persephone had to spend the winter months in the underworld (which is why her mother Demeter would allow plant life to die in winter, as Frigga did in the Baldur story) because she ate pomegranate seeds while there. Baldur would have had to spend the winter months in the land of Hel because all living things did NOT mourn for him. (See similar seasonal myths on Osiris and Isis, Inanna and Tammuz, Anat and Baal and others)
2. FREY – The god of wealth, prosperity, rain and fertility. Frey was the son of the god Njord and the brother of the goddess Freya, with whom he is said to have had sexual relations. Frey ruled over the elves of Alfheim (elf- home) as part of his role as a god of wealth, since as subterranean dwellers elves were associated with mining and therefore with the precious minerals and metals that lie underground.
Frey is associated with the raising of horses, which were sacred to him, and in one myth a stablehand who abuses a horse learns the horse is really Frey in disguise when Frey resumes his godly form and kills the man by having the other horses kick him to death. In other myths sacred stables are dedicated to Frey and there was a tradition of stable- owners setting aside a special horse dedicated to Frey. Anyone caught riding that horse would be put to death.
This deity is also considered the progenitor of Sweden’s Yngling Dynasty and rode in a chariot pulled by his giant golden boar Gullinborsti. Frey owned a boat called Skidbladnir which was small enough to carry in his hand but when placed in the water it would grow large enough to carry all the gods. (This always reminds me of the Polynesian god Kane/Tane who owned a seashell that grew into a ship when placed in the water) Frey owned an enchanted sword which was indestructible and capable of slaying Jotuns (giants) and trolls on its own.
Once during Odin’s wanderings Frey sat on Odin’s seat Hlidskjalf, from which all the worlds could be observed, and caught sight of a beautiful female Jotun named Gerda and was filled with an unbearable passion for her. He sent his messenger god Skirnir to Jotunheim (giant-home) to negotiate a marriage to her. The only item the Jotuns would accept as Gerda’s dowry was Frey’s enchanted sword, which had slain so many Jotuns including Gerda’s brother Belli. Frey agreed, leaving him without that precious weapon on the day of Ragnarok, when he was destined to fall in battle with the fire-demon Surtur. In some myths he tries to use reindeer antlers as a weapon against Surtur because in addition to giving up his sword he supposedly also had to give Gerda his vow to never take up a sword again.
The most underappreciated item regarding Frey may be the way popular imagery of him influenced depictions of Santa Claus and the Ghost of Christmas Present. He had elves working for him in mines as Santa had elves working for him in a workshop. And like the Ghost of Christmas Present Frey was often depicted surrounded by plenty, wearing rich furs and a swordless scabbard.
1. HEL – The goddess who ruled over the land of the dead which shared her name, the name which by some accounts evolved into the common word Hell. She was the daughter of Loki by the female Jotun Angerboda and her siblings from that union were the Fenrir Wolf and the Midgard Serpent. She ruled the land of her namesake from her castle, called Sleetcold, and was often pictured with a body that was half light and fair and half dark and decomposed.
Hel was assigned her position by Odin himself and, as a reflection of the hard Viking world-view those sent to her were the souls of any who died of sickness or old age. Their miserable existence in her gloomy realm was in stark contrast to the joyous existence of the brave souls who died in combat, who feasted and drank nightly with Odin in his dining hall Valhalla.
The dead in Hel suffered hunger, sickness, and other forms of harm. In an eerie foreshadowing of future real- world events some evil souls were confined in a hall which had countless serpent-heads mounted on the walls and from those serpents’ mouths dripped venom that caused the souls eternal pain. In some accounts the souls who suffered most were in the worst of Hel’s nine worlds, Nifelheim.
The way to Hel’s domain lies over a frozen river called Gjoll and the bridge over it, Gjallarbru, is guarded by a giant goddess named Modgud. The massive wall that surrounded Hel was made of corpses and was called Nagrind. Among the monsters Hel ruled over were the draugars, the living dead who would emerge from burial mounds at night to prey on the living. Hel’s companion was the god Hodur, who played a role in the death of his brother Baldur. On the day of Ragnarok Hel and her father Loki will lead the forces of evil in the battle that causes the destruction of the present world. Baldur will return from Hel’s domain in the aftermath to rule over the new world, with Lif and Lifthrasir propogating the new human race as Ask and Embla did for the current world.
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