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Thor (Thunderer) The god of thunder and storms.
His father was Odin, his mother Jord (Earth). Thor had two wives: Jarnsaxa (Ironstone), who bore him two sons, Modi and Magni; and golden-haired Sif, who gave him two daughters, Lora and Thrud. His realm was Thrudheim. His hall was Bilskirnir (Lightning), which had 540 rooms, fittingly large for this giant of a god who loved to feast and entertain. Thor was strong and fiery of temper, but he was well loved by the gods, respected by the giants, and worshipped by the ordinary people.
Thor did not ride a horse; instead he had a chariot pulled by two enormous billy goats, Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir. The wheels of the chariot made a noise like thunder when Thor raced across the heavens.
Thorís greatest possession was his hammer, Mjollnir. When he hurled it, the hammer always hit its mark and then returned to Thor like a boomerang. Mjollnir was not only a weapon but a symbol of fertility, used at weddings, and of resurrection, used at burials. Thor also had iron gloves with which he could crush rocks, and a belt, Megingjardir, which doubled his mighty strength.
At Ragnarok, the end of the world, Thor killed Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, his ancient enemy, but himself was killed by the poisonous venom of the dying serpent.
Worship of Thor continued for centuries after the coming of Christianity to Scandinavia in the late 900s a.d. The great oak trees of central and western Europe were sacred to the god. Worshippers of Thor made wooden oak chairs with high backs, called ďhigh seats,Ē to ensure Thorís blessing on the house (protecting it from lightning) and the well-being and fruitfulness of the family and its lands. As well as bringing thunder and lightning and storms, Thor sent the rain that made the fields fertile.
Evidence of Thorís popularity is found in the name Thursday (the fifth day of the week) and in numerous English place names, such as Thundersley, in Essex; Thunderfield, Surrey; and many others in England and elsewhere.
There are many myths about Thor taken from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. In Richard Wagnerís opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, Thor appears as Donner. Thor is also found in Henry Wadsworth Longfellowís ďSaga of King Olaf,Ē part of Tales of a Wayside Inn.
The only source of the myth of the theft of Thorís hammer is the poem Thrymskvitha (Lay of Thrym) from the Poetic Edda. It is considered a masterpiece of burlesque.
The Theft of Thorís Hammer
Thor, the god of thunder, was the personification of strength and manliness. His hammer, Mjollnir, was a potent weapon, the godsí only real defense against the giants. Thor was seldom separated from his hammer, so it is not surprising that he went into a fury when the hammer disappeared.
Loki, the trickster god, heard Thorís shouts and knew that for once he must be helpful rather than mischievous. He rushed to Freya, the beautiful goddess, and borrowed her suit of falcon feathers. Then Loki flew to Jotunheim, the home of the giants.
Thrym, the huge and ugly king of the Hrimmturssar, was in a good mood, plaiting gold thread to make leashes for his colossal hounds. He greeted Loki cheerfully. Loki asked him if he had stolen Thorís hammer, and the giant admitted that he had. With a chilling laugh, he said that he had hidden it eight miles under the earth where no one would find it. The only way to get it back would be to send him Freya as his bride.
Even Loki was shocked at the thought of sending the fair goddess to this monster. Loki flew quickly back to Asgard on his falcon wings and told Thor the news. Together they went to Freya and told her of the giantís request.
Freya was so furious and agitated that she broke the clasp of her golden necklace Brisinga men. Never, never would she be the bride of Thrym, she vowed.
Then all the gods got together for a meeting. They knew that it was only a matter of time until all the giants found out that Thor no longer had his hammer and then would come marching on Asgard. The gods were worried.
Only Heimdall, the watchman who stood at Bilrost, the Rainbow Bridge, and could see far into the future, remained calm. He said that Thor must be dressed as a bride and go to meet Thrym.
The gods roared with laughter at the thought of the mighty, red-bearded Thor dressed as a woman, and Thor let out a shout of rage. But gradually he saw the wisdom of the plan and allowed the goddesses to fit his large frame into a long dress and drape a veil over his shaggy head. Freyaís necklace was repaired and placed around his thick neck, a girdle hung with jingling keys encircled his waist, and his manly chest was covered with glittering jewels.
Loki was dressed as a bridesmaid. Together the peculiar pair climbed into Thorís chariot, and the two billy goats took off at great speed, making the wheels rumble like thunder.
Thrym was overjoyed when he heard that Freya was on her way. He ordered the halls to be swept, new straw laid down, and a gargantuan feast prepared.
Thor was well known for his great appetite, but Thrym was astonished to see what he thought was a maiden eating such huge helpings of fish and meat and downing large goblets of mead. Quick-witted Loki explained that the bride had not eaten or drunk for eight days, so anxious was she to meet her groom.
Delighted, Thrym reached over to lift the brideís veil and kiss her, but when he saw Thorís flashing, red-rimmed eyes glaring at him through the veil, he fell back in dismay. Once again sly Loki whispered an explanation. The bride had not had a wink of sleep for eight nights, so anxious was she for her wedding night.
At that, Thrym ordered that the hammer be brought to his bride and the wedding ceremony commence at once, as it was the custom of the Norse to invoke the blessing of Thorís hammer at their weddings. No sooner was Mjollnir placed upon his lap than Thor leapt up, tore off his veil, and started to kill every giant in sight.
Thor and the Giant Geirrod
The tale of how the god Thor destroyed the formidable giant Geirrod and his two fearsome daughters is a popular myth, told several times in Norse literature, including in the Skaldskaparmal in the Prose Edda and in Snorri Sturlusonís retelling of Thorsdrapa.
One day Loki put on a suit of falcon feathers and flew to the hall of the giant Geirrod, one of the meanest of the Jotuns. Geirrod caught sight of the handsome falcon and ordered the bird to be brought to him.
It took several of the trolls to capture Loki, for he hopped about the wall, always just out of reach. When at last he tried to take flight, he found himself stuck fast to the wall by some evil spell.
He was set before Geirrod, who knew at once that this was not a real falcon. He locked Loki in a cage and kept him without food and water until at last Loki confessed who he was. The giant set Loki free on the condition that he would bring him the thunder god, Thor, without any of his weapons. Faint with hunger, Loki agreed to bring Thor to Geirrod. Off he flew, his tricksterís mind already devising a plan.
Once safe in Asgard, Loki prattled on to anyone who would listen about the wonders of Geirrodís castle and how the giant was eager to meet the mighty Thor, to introduce him to his two beautiful daughters, Gialp and Greip, and to entertain him royally. Of course, Thor heard the gossip and, being a simple soul, could not long resist the temptation to visit Geirrod, his new admirer.
At Lokiís urging, Thor left his weapons behind, even the magic hammer, Mjollnir, and set forth, with Loki at his side to show the way. As the distance was long, they stayed overnight with the kindly giantess Grid. She was friendly to the Aesir gods and liked Thor. When Loki had gone to sleep, she warned Thor about Geirrod and loaned him her belt of power, iron gloves, and magic staff.
The next day when Thor and Loki were crossing the rushing torrent of the Vimur, the river began to rise higher and higher. Thor hung onto the magic staff, and Loki hung onto Thor, almost drowning in the blood-red river. Up ahead Thor saw the giantess Gialp. It was she who was making the waters rise. Thor threw a rock at her, and she ran off, howling. Then Thor pulled himself to shore with the help of the small rowan tree, or mountain ash.
When they arrived at Geirrodís hall, Thor was shown into a small room. He sat down wearily in the only chair and closed his eyes. Suddenly he felt himself rising toward the roof. Quickly he rammed Gridís staff against the roof beam and pushed. Then down he came, right on top of Gialp and Greip, who had been trying to raise the chair and crush Thor against the roof. The two ugly, evil creatures were themselves crushed to death by Thorís weight. Thor went straight to Geirrod, who raised his hand in mock greeting and threw a red-hot lump of iron at Thor.
Thor caught it in Gridís iron gloves and threw it back at Geirrod, who leaped behind a pillar. The hot ball went right through the pillar, through Geirrodís head, and through the wall into the yard, where it bored deep into the earth.
Thorís Journey to Utgard
This story is one of the best known of the Norse myths. It is also one of the longest and most richly told myths written by Snorri in the Prose Edda, its only source.
One day Thor decided to go to Utgard, stronghold of the largest giants in Jotunheim. Because its chief, Utgard-Loki, was known to be a master of trickery, Thor brought along Asgardís own trickster god, Loki.
As it grew dark Thorís chariot, drawn by two billy goats, stopped at a small farmhouse. The farmer and his wife were very poor and had little to eat. With a wave of his magic hammer, Mjollnir, Thor killed Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir, his goats, and put them on the fire to cook.
Thor told the peasants to eat their fill when the meat was ready but to be sure not to break any of the bones. They should be placed carefully onto the goatskins that Thor had stretched on the floor. Thjalfi, the farmerís son, disobeyed Thor and cracked a leg bone to suck out the delicious marrow.
Next morning, when Thor was ready to leave, he waved Mjollnir over the piles of bone and skin and up sprang the goats, as lively as ever, but one of them had a limp. Thor yelled in fury, for he knew that someone had disobeyed him. However, he accepted the terrified farmerís offer and took Thjalfi and his sister, Roskva, to be his servants. He left the goats for the farmer to take care of until his return.
Thor and Loki and the two youngsters journeyed all day. That night they came to a forest in Jotunheim where the trees were so tall that their tops were lost in the clouds. They saw a strangely shaped cabin that seemed to have no door. They crept inside to shelter from the cold and were soon asleep.
In the middle of the night they sprang awake as the Earth shook, and there was a frightful crashing sound, followed by a steady rumble and a whistling wind. Even Thor was frightened. He, Loki, and the youngsters crept into a narrow side room in the cavernous hall, Thor clutching his hammer to his chest.
At first light, Thor went outside and saw the cause of all the noise. At the foot of a tree lay the biggest giant Thor had ever seen. He was fast asleep and snoring mightily.
Thor put on the magic belt given to him by the giantess Grid to double his strength. He held his hammer even more firmly, though the giant was so big that Thor decided not to throw it hastily.
Soon the giant woke up. He picked up what the travelers had mistaken for a large cabin or cave. It was a giant glove. The side room was the thumb. When the giant stood up, Thor and his companions had to crane their heads back to look at him. The giant introduced himself as Skrymir, sometimes called Big Fellow or Vasty.
After they had eaten breakfastóa poor one for Thor and his friends, a huge one for Skrymiróthey set off again, this time with the giant crashing through the trees ahead to show them the way to Utgard. By nightfall they were exhausted and hungry. The giant flung down his huge food bag, telling the other travelers to help themselves.
Try as they might, Thor, Loki and the farmerís son and daughter could not untie the knots that secured the bag, so they lay down, hungry, and tried to shut out the sound of Skrymirís thunderous snores.
At last Thor could not stand it any longer. He hit Skrymir on the head with his hammer. Skrymir opened one eye and complained that a leaf had fallen on his head, then fell back to sleep. Furious, Thor hit him again. Skrymir mumbled something about an acorn.
Beside himself, Thor took a running jump and hurled the hammer with all his might onto the giantís head. Skrymir finally sat up and rubbed his head. He decided that there must be some birds above his head. Skrymir got up and picked up his bag. He told the travelers to watch their step in Utgard, for the giants there were really big.
The four travelers breathed a sigh of relief as Skrymir lumbered off through the trees.
When they reached Utgard, the hall of the giant Utgard-Loki, who was their host, they found that the giants had assembled to meet them. Utgard-Loki told the visitors they must prove themselves worthy to stay by demonstrating a great skill.
Loki immediately announced that no one could beat him at eating. One of the giants placed a huge platter in front of Loki and sat down on the other side of it. The two began gobbling and in no time bumped heads as they met in the middle of the platteróor what was left of it. The giant had eaten his half of the wooden dish, along with all the bones, so he won the contest.
Next, young Thjalfi claimed that he was the fastest runner in the world. Utgard-Loki called forth a young giant named Hugi, and marked out a racecourse. Thjalfi was indeed as swift as the wind, but he was no match for Hugi. Thjalfi lost the race and retired to Lokiís side, humiliated.
Thor strode forward, claiming that he was well known as a mighty drinker. The giants placed before him a long, curved horn. Confidently Thor took a huge drink, but when he looked at the horn, it was still brimming over with liquid. Once again he raised the horn to his lips. He opened his throat and let the liquid pour down until he was red in the face, but the horn was still almost full. After the third try, Thor put down the horn, mortified and angry.
Utgard-Loki shook his head sadly, remarking that the mighty Thor was not so mighty after all. Every one of his men could empty the horn at one draft. He suggested that Thor try his hand at something easier, like lifting a cat from the floor.
Grimly Thor put his hand under the catís belly to lift it. It felt as heavy as lead. By using both his hands and all the strength of his mighty arms, he was able to raise the cat so that one paw was an inch off the floor. Then he fell back, exhausted.
Angry at the laughter of the giants, Thor shouted that he was the finest wrestler in all Asgard and would take on anyone.
The giant shook his head doubtfully. He could not think of a Jotun who would be bothered to fight such a weakling until he remembered his old nurse, Elli, and he summoned her to the hall.
Embarrassed, Thor put his hand out to grasp the arm of the skinny old crone, not meaning to hurt her. Suddenly he was flying through the air. He landed flat on his back. The wizened old woman cackled and the giants shouted with laughter. Then Thor wrestled Elli in earnest, but no matter what he did the hag outplayed him, until at last he gave up and slunk away.
The next morning Utgard-Loki led the crestfallen travelers to the gates of Utgard. There the giant admitted that he had practiced magic on them. First, he had disguised himself as Skrymir. He had used troll magic to tie the food bag with strands of iron. Then, when Thor thought he was hitting the giantís head with his hammer, he had been in fact hitting a hard rock. He told Thor that on his way home he would see the rock, a hillside with three very deep dents in it.
In the contests, too, he had used spells and trickery. Logi, the giant who had beaten Loki in gluttony, was in fact Fire, which consumes everything in its path. The runner, Hugi, was Thought, and no one can move as fast as thought. The drinking horn was anchored in the seas of the world. No one can drain the oceans, but from then on, said the giant, the tides would ebb and flow, just as they had when Thor drank so mightily. The cat was Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, who is so big that he encircles the world. When Thor had made the ďcatĒ lift its paw, the serpentís back had almost touched the sky. Finally, Elli was Old Age and no one had wrestled with her better than Thor.
Thor was so angry at the trickery that he raised his hammer to strike the giant, but Utgard-Loki vanished into the air. So did the castle and its walls and all the other giants.
Although in this myth Thor is upstaged by Utgard-Loki, he is not totally humiliated, for he did create dents in the hillside and the ebbing and flowing of the tides.
Thor and Hymir Go Fishing
The myth of the fishing expedition of Thor and the giant Hymir and Thorís battle with Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, was a favorite and was retold many times, not only in Scandinavia but in other areas settled by the Vikings. In Gosforth, England, carvings on two stone slabs clearly show Thor fishing with an oxís head and fighting with the serpent. The Lay of Hymir is in Hymiskvitha, a poem of the Poetic Edda, and part of Snorriís Prose Edda.
The Aesir gods loved to eat and drink. No sooner was one feast over than they were making plans for the next. One evening they cast runes that told them that their next gathering should be at the abode of Aegir, the Jotun lord of the sea. Aegir lived under the waves with his wife, Ran.
Aegir complained that he did not have a cauldron big enough to brew ale for all the gods. tyr, the one-handed god, declared that he knew where he could find a cauldron a mile deep. With Thor as his companion, Tyr set off to find Hymir, who lived east of Elivagar in Jotunheim, the land of giants.
When they came to Hymirís dwelling, an ogress with 900 heads blocked their path, but there was another Jotun, beautiful and kind, and she welcomed Tyr as her son, and she welcomed Thor. She said she would try to help them and advised them to hide underneath the biggest cauldron in the hall.
Hymir lumbered into the hall, icicles dangling from his bushy beard and his eyes sparkling dangerously. He sensed the presence of strangers.
The Jotun woman explained that Tyr had come to visit and had brought a friend and that they were hiding under the big cauldron, being a little nervous of Hymir. Hymirís eyes swept the hall. At his ferocious glance, pillars fell down and cauldrons shattered. But the biggest cauldron stayed whole, and Thor and Tyr crawled out unharmed.
Thor was an awesome sight, with his bristling red hair and beard. Hymir quickly ordered three oxen killed for their supper. Thor, who was famous for his huge appetite, ate two of the oxen. Hymir said that they would have to go hunting for the next meal. Thor suggested that they should fish for it instead.
For bait Thor took the head of a mighty black ox, Himinbrjoter (Skybellower). While Hymir rowed and caught a whale or two, Thor readied his tackle and cast his line into the water. Almost at once the terrible head of Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, appeared above the waves, the oxís head in its mouth. Hymirís eyes bulged out in terror, but Thor coolly held the line and flung his hammer, Mjollnir, at the ghastly head. Again and again the hammer struck its mark and flew back to its master. Terrified, Hymir cut the line and the bloodied serpent sank beneath the waves.
Shaken, Hymir rowed back to the shore as fast as he could. Once safely on land, he decided to test Thorís strength. He asked him to either haul in the boat and tackle or carry the two whales up the cliff to the house. Without wasting a word, Thor took hold of the boat, dragged it out of the water and carried it, whales and all, to the house.
Tyr and the Jotun woman congratulated Thor on his feat of strength, but Hymir had yet another test for Thor. He handed him his goblet and asked Thor to try to break it. Thor hurled the goblet at the wall. Stone and rubble tumbled from the hole made in the wall, but the goblet remained intact.
Thor threw the goblet over and over again until the hall was in ruins. Then the giantís lovely wife whispered to him to throw the goblet at Hymirís head, which was the hardest object for miles around. Sure enough, when the goblet hit Hymirís stony head, it shattered into pieces, though the giantís head remained without a dent.
Then Hymir said that Thor could have the cauldron if he could carry it. Tyr tried to lift the cauldron but could not move it. Mighty Thor picked up the huge cauldron easily and wore it like a helmet. Then he and Tyr set off for home. On the way they were attacked by Hymir and many-headed giants, but Thor wielded his magic hammer and put an end to Hymir and his ugly followers.
The Aesir gods drank deeply from Hymirís cauldron in Aegirís halls for many a night to come.
Thorís Duel with Hrungnir
This story is from Snorriís Prose Edda; Snorri based his telling of this legend partly on the poem Haustlong. The story of the god Thorís duel with the mighty giant Hrungnir begins with a horse race between Odin and the giant. On one of his journeys, Odin, mounted on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, had met Hrungnir, the strongest of the giants. Hrungnir challenged Odin to a race on his splendid horse, Gullfaxi.
Odin agreed and was off in a flash, with Hrungnir close behind. Sleipnir knew the way home well and streaked through Valgrind, the gate of Valhalla, Odinís hall.
Gullfaxi was going too fast to stop until he and his master were well within Asgard, the realm of the gods. The laws of hospitality dictated that the gods could not hurt their guest, Hrungnir.
The goddess Freya gave Hrungnir Thorís great drinking horn and filled it to the brim. (Thor was away that day, fighting trolls in Jarnvid.) Freya had to keep refilling the horn, for Hrungnir emptied it in huge gulps and soon became noisy and quarrelsome. He boasted that he would take all of Valhalla under his arm and carry it back to Jotunheim for a plaything. He would take Freya and golden-haired sif, Thorís wife, to be his own wives and servants.
At this the gods grew angry, and Odin had a hard time keeping them from attacking their unpleasant guest. Just then Thor burst into the hall, brandishing Mjollnir, his hammer. He, too, wanted to attack the giant. Instead, he agreed to meet the giant at Giotunagard, the Place of Stones, to fight a duel.
Hrungnir clambered onto Gullfaxi and rode back to Jotunheim with the news. The giants were uneasy, even though Hrungnir was the strongest of them all. They put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would frighten Thor by making a huge clay giant, nine leagues high. They named the clay giant Mokkurkalfi and put inside it the heart of a mare, which was the biggest heart they could find.
Hrungnirís heart was made of stone, sharp-edged and three-cornered. His head, too, was made of stone, and so were his shield and club. Together, Mokkurkalfi and Hrungnir made a fearful sight as Thor and his servant, Thjalfi, drew near.
Thjalfi was quick-witted as well as fast. He ran up to the giant and advised him to hold his shield low rather than high, in case Thor attacked him from below. The stone-headed giant flung his shield to the ground and stood on it with his big feet. Then he threw his club at Thor.
Thor threw his thunderbolt hammer at the giantís head at the same time. Club and hammer met in midair with an awesome crack and a sizzling bolt of lightning.
The giantís stone club shattered into a thousand pieces and fell to the Earth, where to this day, it is said, the splinters may be found in quarries. But Thorís hammer zoomed on and struck the giant, who immediately fell dead. His outflung leg pinned Thorís head to the ground.
Thjalfi, who had already hacked Mokkurkalfi to pieces, tried to release Thor, but the giantís leg was so huge and heavy that even when Odin and the other gods came to help, they could not move it. Thor lay groaning, for a piece of Hrungnirís club (made of whetstone) was stuck in his head.
Along came Magni, Thorís son, who was only three years old but already enormous. He lifted Hrungnirís leg easily, and Thor was at last able to roll free. Thor gave Magni Hrungnirís horse, Gullfaxi, as a reward.
Thorís head still hurt, so he sent for the clever witch, Groa. She cast some runestones, and whispered some magic words, and the pain went away. Thor was so relieved that he wanted to make Groa happy. He told her that he had rescued her lost husband, Aurvandil. He had carried him across the poisonous stream Elivagar. Now Aurvandil was safe and waiting for Groa.
Groa was so happy at the news that she ran from the hall. In her excitement she forgot to cast a magic spell that would remove the stone from Thorís head.
Hrungnir was the strongest of Thorís adversaries, so the giants were uneasy about the outcome of the battle. With the defeat of Hrungnir, the war between the gods and the giants came to a turning point. Some mythologists believe that the giants now gave up hope of killing Thor and of storming Asgard.