Viking Mythology

The Vikings were a Norsemen tribe that roamed the North Atlantic and Europe from AD 793 to AD 1050. Though they had no written language of their own, oral tradition provided them with stories about gods and heroes which played an important role in Viking culture.

The “norse mythology gods” are the deities of Norse mythology, which include Odin, Thor, Baldur, Freya and others. The myths of these gods have been retold in many different ways through time.

Vintage loki illustration.

Without a brief discussion of Loki and his significance in Norse mythology, no review of Viking mythology would be complete. He is, along with Odin, the most enigmatic and baffling of the gods. His bodily existence is difficult to pin down, which adds to the perplexity. He’s the offspring of a giant and an unknown woman, who may be a giantess, a deity, or something else different. Loki is human-like at times (like the other gods), shapeshifter at others (like Odin), and even a mother at times (he gave birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged flying horse). He was a father as well, but his children were dreadful creatures such as Jormungand (the world-encircling snake), Fenrir (the giant wolf), and Hel (the deity of the underworld) (the goddess of the underworld). Before we get into his personality features, it’s clear that Loki is erratic and difficult to trust.

Loki's children - hel, fenrir, jormungand.

Fenrir, Jormungand, and Hel are Loki’s offspring.

Depending on the narrative, he seems to be either delightfully naughty or outright malevolent in terms of conduct. Loki’s acts, and how they are seen by his other gods, might be perplexing to a reader of Norse mythology. He’s crafty, but also charming, and it’s a wonder why the other gods in Asgard keep him around at all.

Despite his constant presence in the Norse realm, he is never revered by Vikings in the same way that the other gods are. Furthermore, although he appears in many tales — you’ll note he appears in virtually every one throughout this series – he is never the hero. He’s only a bystander, either an adversary or a friend, assisting, injuring, or provoking from the periphery.

Let’s take a look at the one narrative in which he does appear, but is definitely not the protagonist.

***

Baldur was one of Odin’s sons and was noted for his generosity and bravery. When he began experiencing nightmares about a dreadful thing that would happen to him, his father — the wise chief — was tasked with deciphering the significance of these foreshadowings.

So Odin journeyed to the underworld, where he learnt from a seeress that Baldur was really condemned and destined to die young.

Baldur’s mother, Frigg, was clearly upset by the news. So she swore an oath to not hurt her son from everything in the world. The gods even put it to the test by hurling massive boulders and sticks at him, only for the objects to bounce off him and fall harmlessly to the ground.

Of course, Loki spotted an opportunity for deception. “Did everything vow oaths to keep Baldur safe?” he inquired of Frigg. “Everything but the mistletoe,” she said. But the mistletoe is such a little and innocent plant that I didn’t think it was necessary to ask for an oath from it. What possible damage could it do to my son?”

Hodr kills baldur.Loki then went out in search of mistletoe, which he brought back to Asgard. He went up to the blind deity Hodr and persuaded him to take a spear and hurl it at Baldur as yet another test of his invincibility. The spear was made entirely of mistletoe. Hodr hurled the arrow, which penetrated Baldur’s chest and instantly killed him.

 

Following Baldur’s death, another god, Hermod, rode to the underworld to attempt to persuade the goddess Hel to let Baldur return to Asgard since he was so widely beloved. Hel promised to release Baldur if every creature on the planet cried for him. And every living creature, with the exception of one, wept for the fallen deity. Baldur stayed in the underworld thanks to a giantess called Tokk, who was most likely Loki in disguise.

***

This story raises the subject of Loki’s place in the Norse pantheon. Why is he even there? What is his function, and what can we learn from him?

While it’s a much discussed topic, my personal study suggests he’s a devil-like figure. It’s not, however, the horned, red-skinned Satan you’re picturing. The devil was seen as more of a trickster in early Christianity, a person that continuously lies and deceives via subtle means rather than overt wickedness. Loki’s most typical pranks are little, apparently harmless acts that usually result in disastrous repercussions.

Near the conclusion of their rule, the Vikings began to convert to Christianity, combining their pagan gods with their new faith. The character of Loki was a natural analogy for Satan. He became a jester-type character in art, especially as the tales progressed into the 1000s, another image that was often applied to the Christian devil.

Loki represents the trickster persona, which has existed in mythology and culture for thousands of years and all throughout the globe. This omnipresent figure, frequently shown as a clever idiot, is almost always male, is usually cunning and often amusing, and creates chaos via pranks and trickery. Sometimes, like Bugs Bunny, the trickster is just utilized for lighter amusement, but other times, as Loki’s case, the trickster is a malignant entity.

His presence is often seen as a means of persuading others to think and act differently — to not simply go along with the flow and take things at face value. The trickster is evidence that deceit exists in our society; it may be amusing at times, but it can also be dangerous.

One thing is certain (and some academics believe this is how the Vikings saw Loki): he epitomizes all that a man should not be. He is untrustworthy, dishonest, shallow, conceited, and hedonistic, to name a few traits. He’s also tremendously vulgar – life was a joke to him, and the culture he lived in had no holy values. All of life was holy to the gods who were adored, as well as the humans who worshipped them. Thor appeared amid thunderstorms, Odin ascended to the skies as a raven, and other animals served as his watchdogs – Norse mythology is replete of tales of the natural world and the gods’ realm colliding.

Vintage loki and thor comic.

The Vikings believed that “one represents Loki anytime one lives in a wholly profane fashion, without any reference to holy models — thus Loki’s entire lack of allegiances to the gods, giants, or anybody else,” according to a contemporary writer.

 

When seen through a perspective that says everything is holy, life may be filled with beauty and mystery rather than being flat and one-dimensional. We are devoted to people that surround us because they, like us, have importance in the world. We’re not hedonistic because there’s more to life than what we can see on a computer or on a dish before us. You may treat every day with a holiness that adds texture to an otherwise dismal life, regardless of your faith or lack thereof.

And it’s possible that this is why Loki was preserved in the Norse pantheon. Men want models of both the good, honest, and moral, as well as the anti-man. We can learn just as much from anti-ones as we can from positive examples, which is why we include courses on unmanliness on the website. Loki leaves a foul taste in your mouth when you read the mythology of the Vikings. You learn from him in a via negativa manner, in which you examine his traits and eliminate them from your life. You should be honest and forthright in your relationships with individuals since he is a dishonest liar. Because he’s untrustworthy, you should attempt to be a rock of stability. Because his character is as shaky as sand, make sure your moral foundation is rock-solid.

To some people, the term “trickster” conjures up images of a young child perpetrating a joke. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about Norse mythology while writing this book, and Loki is almost always one of the figures they’re acquainted with. Rather than seeing him as malevolent, they see him as harmless – fun, mischievous, and a trickster, to be sure, but not inflicting any actual damage.

I would suggest, though, that he should be evaluated with a more serious eye. His minor acts of mischief may seem insignificant at first, but they have far-reaching ramifications that could not have been predicted. As a result of Loki bringing mistletoe to Asgard, one of the adored gods perished. You sent a single flirtatious text to a coworker, and it ended up causing your marriage to fail. Small, apparently innocuous deceptions may quickly snowball into disastrous avalanches.

The punishment of loki.

Even the gods grew tired of Loki’s ruses, and he received what he deserved. Baldur was tied to a rock with entrails and sentenced to have a serpent drip poison on his face for the rest of his life because of his persistent mockery of the other gods. He wouldn’t be free until Ragnarok, and we’ll return to that cataclysmic event next time to wrap out this story.

Continue reading the Norse mythology series here:

  • Odin
  • Thor
  • Tyr
  • Ragnarok

Continue reading the Norse mythology series here:

Additional Reading and Resources

 

H.R. Ellis Davidson’s Northern European Gods and Myths This 1965 textbook offers a remarkably accessible introduction to Norse mythology, as well as its background and meaning within Viking civilization.

 

Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings This is more of a history of the Viking people than a study of Norse mythology. It does, however, help create the scene and does a good job of portraying their culture honestly.

The Edda Poetica (Hollander translation). Many Norse tales have their origins in this collection of anonymous mythological poetry and verse from the 1300s.

Snorri Sturluson’s The Prose Edda The Icelandic historian gathers Norse mythology in a textbook-like work. This, together with The Poetic Edda, provides the bulk of Norse mythology’s source material.

Padraic Colum’s Nordic Gods and Heroes This is a list of Norse mythology that have been reinvented and altered. Rather than a perfunctory translation of old words, they’re written in a manner that preserves the stories’ beauty and inspiring nature.

Norse Mythology for the Educated. A wealth of articles and information regarding the legendary Norse cosmos may be found on this website.

 

 

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The “norse religion” was a polytheistic religion that had its roots in the Norse paganism. It is centered on the worship of various deities, including Odin, Thor, Freya and Loki.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who were the main Viking gods?

A: There are many gods in Norse mythology, but the four most important were Odin, Thor, Loki and Freyja.

Who were the 10 Viking gods?

A: The 10 Viking gods were Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya (wife of Baldr), Freyja (goddess of love and fertility), Tyr (god of war), Heimdallr/Heimdall the watchman god who guards the rainbow bridge Bifrost between Midgard and Asgard. The other two are Hela/Hel–the goddess who rules over death in Niflheim–and Balder/Balder the Beautiful whom is included as a son to his sister Frigg.

Is Norse mythology the same as Viking mythology?

A: The two are different. Norse mythology is the religion of Scandinavia while Viking mythology is a group of stories made up mostly by Christian monks in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages.

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