Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs

Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs

Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs

Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs


Norse Mythology explores the magical myths and legends of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Viking-Age Greenland and outlines the way the prehistoric tales and beliefs from these regions that have remained embedded in the imagination of the world.

The book begins with an Introduction that helps put Scandinavian mythology in place in history, followed by a chapter that explains the meaning of mythic time, and a third section that presents in-depth explanations of each mythological term. These fascinating entries identify particular deities and giants, as well as the places where they dwell and the varied and wily means by which they forge their existence and battle one another. We meet Thor, one of the most powerful gods, who specializes in killing giants using a hammer made for him by dwarfs, not to mention myriad trolls, ogres, humans and strange animals. We learn of the ongoing struggle between the gods, who create the cosmos, and the jötnar, or giants, who aim to destroy it. In the enchanted world where this mythology takes place, we encounter turbulent rivers, majestic mountains, dense forests, storms, fierce winters, eagles, ravens, salmon and snakes in a landscape closely resembling Scandinavia. Beings travel on ships and on horseback; they eat slaughtered meat and drink mead.

Spanning from the inception of the universe and the birth of human beings to the universe's destruction and the mythic future, these sparkling tales of creation and destruction, death and rebirth, gods and heroes will entertain readers and offer insight into the relationship between Scandinavian myth, history, and culture.


When most of us use the word “myth” in conversation, we refer to something that is not true. When historians of religion use it, they generally refer to a representation of the sacred in words. When anthropologists use it, they often refer to narratives that tell about the formation of some social institution or behavior. None of the definitions, however, will hold directly for the characters and stories this book treats. That is in part because of the enormous time frame: Materials relevant to the study of Scandinavian mythology, broadly defined, span two millennia or more. But even if we limit the discussion to the relatively small body of texts from the Viking Age and later Middle Ages about the gods Odin, Thor, Frey, and the others and their constant battles with forces of evil and chaos, it is difficult to reconcile these texts with any one of the narrow definitions of myth suggested above. Certainly they had some truth value to the people who composed them and those who wrote them down, but these were not always the same people—usually they were not—and it is obvious that what was true, sacred, and an account of how the world got to be the way it is to a Viking Age pagan poet can have been none of the above to a Christian scribe copying the story in a manuscript hundreds of years after the Viking Age. It is therefore easier and more enlightening to talk of formal criteria and content.

In form, then, myth in general, and the texts that comprise Scandinavian mythology in particular, are narrative, although this narrative is couched in both verse and prose. In general, one expects myth to recount important events that took place at the beginning of time and helped shape the world, and Scandinavian mythology indeed has sequences that tell of the origin of the cosmos and of human beings. The story goes on, however, to the destruction and rebirth of the cosmos, and everything in it is presented in light of an enduring struggle between two groups of beings, the gods on the one hand and giants on the other hand. These terms are to some extent misleading: Although the group that creates and orders the cosmos is often referred to by words that can best be translated “gods,” the principal word, “æsir,” is explicitly presented by the most . . .

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