You probably know the names of at least a few Norse gods if you’ve ever watched Vikings or any of Marvel’s Avengers movies. The people of old school Scandinavia had a whole pantheon of fascinating gods and goddesses, each with their own tale. If you’re looking for a crash course in Norse gods, then you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll find a collection of some of the most popular gods in Norse mythology, as well as their backstories and roles.
Fire and ice collide
In the beginning, there was Ginnungagap, a huge abyss that lay in between two realms. One the one side you had the ice-covered land of Niflheim and on the other this fiery place called Muspelheim. Well, one day the two realms managed to collide in a battle for power and in the course of their clash produced these life-giving water droplets. From the droplets in question, the first being was born.
Ymir was not necessarily revered as a god, but more the first living being who was the granddaddy of mythological characters everywhere. After being formed from the whole fire and ice fiasco, Ymir used the handy fact that he was a hermaphrodite to give birth to lots of other mythical beings. Things went sideways for him/her upon the rise of three young brother gods named Ve, Vili, and Odin. When Ymir confronted the brothers, he ended up meeting his end at their hands. The brothers then used different parts of Ymir’s body to fashion the earth we live on today.
Æsir and Vanir
The Norse gods are broken up into two distinct clans called Æsir and Vanir. Though they had their differences, ultimately the two clans were forced to come together in an effort to preserve the cosmos. First, let’s take a look at some of the head honchos from clan Æsir.
Æsir in the house
As king of the Æsir tribe, Odin was one of the most famous and revered gods in the Norse pantheon. If Odin could be described as anything, it was enigmatic. He would sometimes roam around dressed as a wanderer on an obsessive quest for wisdom on one hand but was also a fierce warrior and the king of Asgard (the home of the Æsir clan) on the other. Odin was so into knowledge, that legend says he once gouged out one of his eyes for the chance to drink from the wisdom giving Well of Urd. That’s why he’s often depicted with only one eye to this day.
Both the wife of Odin and Queen of Æsir, Frigg was the “it goddesss” of the Norse pantheon. She was also the goddess of the sky and was a sort of motherly sorceress who practiced magic called seidr. Seidr gave her a sort of preview of fate, as well as the ability to bring about change by weaving it in her desired direction. She was also associated with family life and often petitioned for help with things like motherhood, fertility, and marriage.
Yep, many of the rumors you’ve heard about Thor are backed up by Norse mythology. Thor was one strong dude and went around slaying giants with his magic hammer, which the Norse believed was what caused the sound of thunder. The defender of Asgard, Thor was hugely popular among the Viking warriors but was also associated with agriculture. This is probably due to the fact that as the god of thunder, he was also responsible for rain. To this day he’s still celebrated each week on Thursday, which is derived from an Old English form of “Thor’s day.”
Ah, the trickster of the gods. Loki was the son of a giant named Farbauti and Laufey, who was either a giantess or goddess. Regardless, Loki had the power to shapeshift and was a notorious practical joker. Though he wasn’t entirely evil, his antics weren’t always kind either. He was responsible for a variety of tragedies that ultimately led to the deaths of several of the gods.
The son of Frigg and Odin, Balder was quite possibly one of the best of the gods. He was known as wise, fair, and gentle but unfortunately, met with a tragic end. See, his mom, Frigg, had gone around obtaining promises from everything in nature to never harm her son. Unfortunately, however, she forgot to have a chat with mistletoe. Well, apparently Loki found out about the mistletoe misstep and gave Hodr, Balder’s blind twin brother, a mistletoe dart. After Loki convinced Hodr to toss the dart at his brother as a joke, things escalated really quickly, as the prank ended up killing Balder on the spot.
Heimdall was the most vigilant watch guard ever and was consequently set up as the guardian of the rainbow bridge that led to Asgard. Legend has it that he could see for hundreds of miles, had such good hearing that he could hear grass growing, and needed less sleep than a bird.
Tyr was equated by the Romans to their war-god, Mars. One of the fiercest warriors of the Norse pantheon, Tyr was also known as the god of justice and law. It’s from his name that we get the name Tuesday, which means “Day of Tiw (Tyr)”.
Though we tend to think of Hell as a place, to the Norse she was also the ruler of her own realm, the Hel. With the face and upper body of a living woman and the legs and thighs of a corpse, Hel was a fearsome figure who judged the fates of all the dead souls who entered her realm.
Give it up for team Vanir
Though one of the principal gods of the Vanir clan, Njord also scored honorary membership in the Æsir tribe during the course of the Æsir-Vanir war. The father of Freyr and Freya, Njord was the god of the sea and wealth, both of which were particularly popular in the Viking lifestyle.
As the patron of sexual and financial bounty, awesome harvests, peace, and wealth, Freyr’s popularity isn’t surprising. He was notoriously um… “well endowed”, and was often petitioned for the blessings he bestowed at harvest or weddings.
Due to their vast similarities, some think that Freyr’s sister Freya was one and the same goddess as Frigg. She too was closely associated with Norse magic, as well as love, fertility, and all the pleasures of life. In one story Loki accuses her of having slept with pretty much every mythological creature ever and he may or may not have been far off.