Stemming from the northern Germanic tradition, the mythology of the Norse is by design both grim and grand. It is the mythology not just of a people with a strong warrior culture, but of a people who found great joy in art and in crafts. It is a mythology of people who explored, who survived on the edges of the world and ultimately of those who believed that everything in the world was predestined to end and begin again.
The gods of the Norse were not a single people. Instead, they were Aesir and Vanir, giants and dwarves and more. There were monsters to be sure, but there were also gods who were remarkably human. Some of these gods behaved as humans did, having adventures and getting into petty quarrels. Other gods sat high about the fray, responsible for vast domains that were outside of mortal reckoning.
One of the most unusual things about the Norse gods was that they could die. Though they could be granted youth and health through the consumption of special foods, the gods can and would die. They could fall in battle or fall prey to horrifying tricks, but they could be brought to a permanent end. These gods were remarkably like people if perhaps those who were possessed by great abilities.
Like the gods of many other pantheons, the Norse gods had domains. Their domains were roughly divided by gender – the male deities like Odin or Thor would be responsible for battle or death or thunder, while the female deities might have responsibilities for fertility or crops. They corresponded in many ways with other Germanic gods, but still managed to fit within the unique bounds of Norse society.
There is also a certain sense of destiny that surrounds all of the Norse gods. Unlike the gods of other pantheons, there is no sense that they are eternal. Even the greatest of the gods would play a role in the final battle, the Ragnarok, and they would fall. The actions of each would play a role in ushering at that end of days, one in which the gods would finally fall as they fought their various enemies and only a pair of humans would be left on an empty Earth.
Though the Norse sagas could seem grim to some, there is also an element of hope in all of them. While the death of the gods might be pre-ordained, there was always the caveat that the world would begin anew. It made sense for the Norse, who dealt with seasonal shifts in weather and crop availability, to see the world as one that existed in cycles. It would only follow, then, that their gods would be beholden to those same cycles.
Names & List
Baldur was the most handsome of the gods in Asgard. In Norse mythology, he was the champion of goodness, innocence and forgiveness.
Freya may have been the same goddess as Frigg, as there were numerous similarities in Norse mythology between them. She was known as the goddess as femininity, beauty and fertility.
Heimdall was the watchman of the Norse gods. Like Baldur, he was also known to be handsome. He had extraordinarily acute senses that aided his duties as a watchman.
As her name somewhat suggests, Hel was the Norse goddess of the dead. It actually translates to “one who hides”. Her father was Loki, and her siblings were the Fenrir wolf and the serpent Jörmungandr.
Loki was a very well-known deity and is also well known in modern times. He was known as the trickster and mischievous god in Norse mythology, and engaged in battles with several of the gods of Asgard, such as Thor and Baldur.
Njord was the Norse god of the sea, and also of wind and fertility. He was a major god among the Vanir deities.
Odin was the father of the Norse gods. It was believed that he created the universe after he killed the primal frost giant Ymir. Odin sat in a throne called Hlidskjalf in Valhalla, where he watched over the 9 worlds.
Skadi was a giant goddess, and was enemies to the gods of Asgard. She was the goddess of winter, and with it, cold, darkness and death. Skadi also ruled over mountains and wilderness.
Sif was an earth goddess who was associated with fertility, family and harvest. She was married to Thor, and lost some standing in Norse literature around the Medieval time period.
Thor is probably the most well known Norse deity. He was the god of lightning and thunder, and his magical hammer was thought to be able to crush mountains.
Tyr was the Norse deity of battle and courage. He was once known as the chief deity, but his role shifted over time. Tyr engaged in battle with the evil wolf-creature Fenrir, and lost his hand in the process.
Vidar is a god of vengeance and is referenced as one of the strongest Norse gods. He is important to the story of Ragnarok, as he kills the giant wolf Fenrir to avenge his father Odin. He is also referenced as the silent god.
Ymir is the original Norse being in Norse creation mythology. He was the grandfather of Odin. Odin and his brothers, Vili and Vé eventually killed Ymir and when Ymir’s blood spilled it killed all the frost giants except Bergelmir.