Freyja: the soul-owner of the half of the fallen warriors

In the Gylfaginning, Snorri describes Freyja as “the most famous of the goddesses. She lives in Heaven at a place called Folkvangr, and when she moves into battle, she gets half of the fallen warriors while Odin receives the other half”. 

Freyja is the most important goddess of Old Scandinavian mythology, symbolising beauty, fertility, female strength and foremost the protector of lovers.

She belongs to the divine family of the Vanir, is the daugther of Njordr and his sister, and sister (and probably originally also wife) of Freyr. 

Her prised items are her carriage which is drawn by gigantic cats (as Snorri says in Grímnismál: “Whenever Freyja travels, she sits in her carriage which is drawn by cats. She is fond of love songs and it is worthwhile calling upon her in matters of love”). Other possessions is a falcon garment , the boar Hildisvíni, and most important of all, the necklace Brísingamen. 

Old Norse literature speaks frequently of Freyja. In Thrymskvida, the giant Prymr only wants to return Mjölnir if he gets Freyja as his wife. In Lokasena 30 she is accused of whoring, whilst in Hyndluljod she competes with a giantess in a contest of knowledge and in Oddrúnargrátr she is invoked together with the goddess Frigg. 

Snorri emphasises her position as the most beautiful and most important of the goddesses and in the adventures of the giants she is the representative of the goddesses who is time and again desired by the giants. 

But Freyja is more than a beautiful face. 

She is descended of the Vanir and therefore is a goddess of fertility. She also teaches the Aesir magic, a knowledge which she brings with her form the Vanir. With regard to this, Snorri mentions that incestuous marriage was usual among the Vanir. In skaldic poetry, Freyja is known by a whole series of names, which Snorri lists. Names like Mardoll, Horn, Gefn or Vanadís characterize Freyja as a domestic guardian goddess. 

Brísingamen: the symbol of Freyja

In Norse mythology, Brísingamen (or Brísinga men) is the torc or necklace of the goddess Freyja. The name is an Old Norse/Icelandic compound brísinga-men whose second element is men "(ornamental) neck-ring (of precious metal), torc".

The etymology of the first element is uncertain. It has been derived from Old Norse brísingr, a poetic term for "fire" or "amber" mentioned in the anonymous versified word-lists (þulur) appended to many manuscripts of the Prose Edda, making Brísingamen "gleaming torc", "sunny torc", or the like. However, Brísingr can also be an ethnonym, in which case Brísinga men is "torque of the Brísings"; the Old English parallel in Beowulf supports this derivation, though who the Brísings (Old Norse Brísingar) may have been remains unknown. 

Brísingamen is referred to in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf as Brosinga mene. The brief mention in Beowulf is as follows (trans. by Howell Chickering, 1977):

...since Hama bore off
to the shining city the Brosings' necklace,
Gem-figured filigree. He gained the hatred
Of Eormanric the Goth, chose eternal reward.

This seems to confuse two different stories as the Beowulf poet is clearly referring to the Dietrich Cycle. The Þiðrekssaga tells that the warrior Heime (Hama in Old English) takes sides against Eormanric, king of the Goths, and has to flee his kingdom after robbing him; later in life, Hama enters a monastery and gives them all his stolen treasure. However, this saga makes no mention of the great necklace. Possibly the Beowulf poet was confused, or invented the addition of the necklace to give him an excuse to drag in a mention of Eormanric. In any case, the necklace given to Beowulf in the story is not the Brísingamen itself; it is only being compared to it.

In the poem Þrymskviða of the Poetic Edda, Thrymr, the King of the jötuns, steals Thor's hammer, Mjölnir. Freyja lends Loki her falcon cloak to search for it; but upon returning, Loki tells Freyja that Thrymr has hidden the hammer and demanded to marry her in return. Freyja is so wrathful that all the Æsir’s halls beneath her are shaken and the necklace Brísingamen breaks off from her neck. Later Thor borrows Brísingamen when he dresses up as Freyja to go to the wedding at Jötunheim.

This myth is also recorded in an 18th-century Swedish folksong called Hammar-Hemtningen (the taking of the hammer), where Freyja is called Miss Frojenborg, "den väna solen" (the fair sun).

Húsdrápa, a skaldic poem partially preserved in the Prose Edda, relates the story of the theft of Brísingamen by Loki. One day when Freyja wakes up and finds Brísingamen missing, she enlists the help of Heimdall to help her search for it. Eventually they find the thief, who turns out to be Loki who has transformed himself into a seal. Heimdall turns himself into a seal as well and fights Loki. After a lengthy battle at Singasteinn, Heimdall wins and returns Brísingamen to Freyja.

Snorri Sturluson quoted this old poem in Skáldskaparmál, saying that because of this legend Heimdall is called "Seeker of Freyja's Necklace" (Skáldskaparmál, section 8) and Loki is called "Thief of Brísingamen" (Skáldskaparmál, section 16). A similar story appears in the later Sörla þáttr, where Heimdall does not appear.

Finally, an archaelogycal point: A pagan völva was buried c. 1000 with considerable splendour in Hagebyhöga in Östergötland. In addition to being buried with her wand, she had received great riches which included horses, a wagon and an Arabian bronze pitcher. There was also a silver pendant, which represents a woman with a broad necklace around her neck. This kind of necklace was only worn by the most prominent women during the Iron Age and some have interpreted it as Freyja's necklace Brísingamen. The pendant may represent Freyja herself. 

(based on Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology)

Thor: the Defender of gods and men

If we ask you: which of the Norse gods are most popular? The answer most likely will be “Thor”. 

The defender of gods and men, the true owner of Mjölnir – his infamous hammer. Thor, has been represented throughout history in many ways. Today, we do our best to show you the real Thor , according to the historical texts and Sagas. 

The god of thunder, the strongest of the Aesir and the slayer of giants, is he often called. this son of Odin. 

Other prised possessions of Thor are his chariot which is drawn by two he-goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, giving him the nick name “the Lord of the goats”.  Other of his possessions are the strength-giving belt Megingjardir and an iron gauntlet called Brynglofar, that he uses as wields the hammer. In addition to these the giantess, Gridr, gave him a staff. All these items are infused with magic and add to the strength of this mighty god.

How do you imagine Thor? Tall? Strong? Handsome, blonde-haired and slim? Well, that's not how the sagas describe Thor's appearance. 

Thor was imagined as being big in stature, strong, with a red beard and a fierce look. He was imagined as a man with a voracious appetite for both food and drink. Although he is said to be strong and to have a fiery nature, as the names of his sons suggest, he is also depicted as being gullible to the point of simple-mindedness. 

But above all the things, Thor is the defender of gods and men alike against the forces threatening, especially against the giants and the Midgard serpent. In this role, he is the hero of a number of adventures, which are related by Snorri in a series of short mythological tales in the Snorra Edda and in the younger Eddic lays. The great age of some of these tales can be seen from their being mentioned by the skalds in the 9th and 10th centuries. These mythical adventure stories were obviously extremely popular as they are frequently retold. 

Thor's enemies and Mjölnir: the amazing weapon

The giants are Thor's greatest enemies and his fights are told in a lot of tales and other texts compiled in the sagas. The numerous myths about Thor's giant-killing feats have the effect that he appears as a giant-killer, even in places where he perhaps originally did not have this role. 

Apart from the giants, Midgard serpent is Thor's greatest enemy, this is not only the case in the myth of the catching of the beast. Thor has to struggle with the serpent in one of the confrontations with Skýrmir, and at final battle of Ragnarök he will confront it again. Then, however, he will succeed in killing it, although he will only be able to take nine steps before fatally succumbing to the serpent's poisonous vapours. 

But, let's talk about Mjölnir. 

Thor's hammer ir his most characteristic attribute. It was made by the dwarfs Sindri and Brokkr – just as the other divine weapons of Freyr and Odin. The hammer and the other weapons were brought to the Aesir by Loki. 

Mjölnir produces thunder and lightning when it is thrown, and then it returns like a boomerang to Thor's hand. In order to hold and wield the hammer, Thor needs his iron gauntlets. 

The theft of the hammer is one of the most popular tales told of Thor´s adventures. After Thor's death at the Ragnarök, his sons inherit the hammer. 

But Mjölnir does not only serve as a mythical divine weapon. As the Bronze Age rock carvings of axe or hammer-bearing god-like figures show, it played a role as a consecratory instrument early on, probably in the fertility cult, which is connected with the shift of Thor's function from strength to the fertility cult. Mjölnir plays a consecration role in the blessing of marriages on Bronze Age rock carvings as well as in the consecration of marriage in the Eddic Thrymskvida. Its wondrous properties are also mentioned in the Snorra Edda when Thor brings his goat back to life with it. 

In the Viking Age, Thor's hammer Mjölnir became the most important symbol for Scandinavian heathendom. This is confirmed by the previously mentioned pictures of hammers on runic grave stones of the Viking Age, as well as the numerous little silver amulet-hammers. 

Thor for germans and norse, Jupiter for romanic culture, Taranis in Celtic mythology or Indra in the Indian religion, his function is always to protect gods and men. The gods call upon Thor time and again whenever danger threatens them. As soon as we need his aid, he is there at once, ready, willing and successful. 

(Based on Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology) 

Vikar: a link to the Gods

Vikar is the name of the main character in the opening of our story. Battle scarred and tattooed he has found his peace and settled to start a new life.  Even though Odinn is the main protagonist we start our tale by following the retired viking Vikar and how fate pulls him into close contact with the gods. Vikar is a fictional character but his name has a deeper connection to the old sagas and myths.

Vikar takes his name from Víkarr, a legendary Norwegian king who died according to the legend as a sacrifice to Odin which originally was only supposed to have been a mock sacrifice, says Rudolf Simek on his Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 

The tale of this sacrifice is given both in the Old Norse Gautreks saga and the poem recordered in it, Víkarsbálkr. 

According to the Gautreks saga, Víkarr and his blood-brother Starkadr were on a Viking expedition and were becalmed. As a last chance, they drew lots to decide which of them was going to be sacrificed, and the lot fell to Víkarr. The sacrifice was only supposed to be an imitation one and Starkadr knotted the rope, fastened it to a thin branch and the put it round Víkarr's neck. Starkadr then struck the king with a reed whip he had recieved from Odin. Suddenly the twig became a thick branch, the gut cord became a strong rope, and the reed a spear, so that Víkarr was both hanged and pierced. 

The form of this sacrificial death by hanging and being pierced is closely connected with Odin's self sacrifice and was already characterized through this as a sacrifice to Odin. Víkarr had already fallen to Odin through a prophesy, and in this sacrifice his fate was simply realized, and the return in death to Odin is verbalized in the Gautreks saga as follows: “Now I give you to Odin”. 

The name Víkarr even indicates the dedication of Víkarr to a god. 

Finally, Gautreks saga is a Scandinavian legendary saga put to text towards the end of the 13th century which survives only in much later manuscripts. It seems to have been intended as a compilation of traditional stories, often humorous, about a legendary King Gautrek of West Götaland, to serve as a kind of prequel to the already existing Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar (Saga of Hrólf son of Gautrek).

The younger and much better known version of the saga inserts between these two lighthearted tales an account of the ancestry, birth, and earliest exploits of Starkad who is perhaps the grimmest and strangest of Scandinavian legendary heroes. This account, sometimes known as Vikars þáttr ("The Tale of Vikar") was probably extracted or retold from a lost saga about Starkad; it contains extensive poetry, ostensibly from Starkad himself, and it ends tragically. A high point of this section is the evocative episode where Starkad's foster-father Grani Horsehair awakens his foster-son Starkad at about midnight, takes him to an island where eleven men were at council, and sitting in a twelfth chair reveals himself as the god Odin. In a long dialogue between the gods Thor and Odin, the gods alternately bestow curses and blessings upon Starkad. When this is done, Odin requires Starkad to sacrifice King Vikar, his sworn lord, friend, and benefactor. Starkad persuades the king to put his neck in a noose of stretchy calf intestines and be stabbed with a fragile reed, thus undergoing a mock sacrifice. Unfortunately, the sacrifice turns real when the noose becomes rope and the reed turns into a spear, leaving Vikar stabbed and hanged, and bringing down grief and disgrace on Starkad for killing his lord.

Snorri Sturluson: the Writer of the story of the Old Gods

Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 23 September 1241) was an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician who later became famous for his titanic work of writing the Prose Edda and many others of the Icelandic Sagas. 

He was a prolific writer and also the author of the Heimskringla, a history of the Norwegian kings that begins with legendary material in Ynglinga saga and moves through to early medieval Scandinavian history. For stylistic and methodological reasons, Snorri is often taken to be the author of Egil's saga.

Snorri belonged to the Sturlung family, the most influencial family in Iceland at the beginning of the 13th century. 

The Prose Edda, also called as Snorra Edda, is a didactic work about the art of skaldic poetry, written around 1220. The work is divided into three sections: Gylfaginning ("the fooling of Gylfi"), a narrative of Norse mythology, the Skáldskaparmál, a book of poetic language, and the Háttatal, a list of verse forms. 

The whole book is introduced by a short prologue. 

The Gylfaginning presents a systematic presentation of Old Scandinavian mythology and therefore makes the Snorra Edda the most important source for Germanic mythology. Nonetheless, Snorri's presentation is not unadulterated, not only because of the possible Christian influences, but also because of Snorri's own creativity in the handling and combination of myths known to him. 

The Skáldskaparmál contains comments on mythology, since a knowledge of this was essential of skaldic verse because of the numerous mythological kennings.

And, finally, the Háttatal consist in a list of 102 stanzas in 100 different forms with metrical commentary. 

But what was Snorri's role in writing the Snorra Edda? 

It has been appraised in different ways in the course of the history: at the beginning of the 19th century, it was considered a pure source of Old Norse religion. Other saw Snorri as a creative literary artist and as an author of mythical stories which could hardly be used as sources for Old Germanic religion. 

Despite many questions, the Snorra Edda retains its intrinsic value as a source of Germanic mythology. 

(based on Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology)

Valkyries: from choosen the slain to fulfil Odin's wishes

Stronger, prettier and more lethal. 

Valkyries are one of the most popular norse mythology characters and to them we dedicate today´s post. 

The name valkyrie (valkirjar) derives from ON valr “the corpses lying on the battlefield” and kjósa, “to choose”. 

Originally they were most likely thought to be demons of the death, to whom the warriors slain on the battle field belonged,  Valkyries were closely associated with Odin, just as they surely were earlier in their role as demons of death. When the concept of Valhalla changed from a battlefield to a warrior's paradise, there was a shift in the interpretation the valkyries. 

Now their function is interfering in battle, and thus determining the fate of the combatants, as supernatural female warriors who fulfil Odin's wishes and lead the heroes slain in battle to Odin. 

As a result of this shift in the concept, they became a popular element in heroic poetry where they lost to a great extent their demonic characteristics and became more human, and therefore capable of falling in love with mortals, as in the case of the valkyrie Sigrdrífa in the Sigrdrífumál. 

Valkyrias are also called as Odins meyar – Odin's girls, and óskmeyjar - “wish-girls”. 

But, how many Valkyries were there, according to the Norse Mythology? 

The number of valkyries is given as either as nine or twelve, but it seems to have been limitless. In Grímnismál 36 appear the names of 13 valkyies who serve in the einherjar in Valhalla. In addition, Darradarljód gives the names of other five. The Pulur adds 14 more and some other valkyries are encountered in heroic poetry. 

Real or myth, valkyries have inspired people around the years and have starred in paintingsmusic compositions, legends and books. 

The most famous of all the Valkyries was Brynhild, the daugther of Budli. According to the manuscripts, Brynhild was the sister of Atli and Bekkhild, and possibly of Oddrun. Brynhild was also the foster-daughter of Heimir. In a Eddaic poem, Helreid Brynhildar (Brynhild's Ride to Hell), it says that she was one among eight sisters; whether this refered only to Valkyries that served Odin or that she really had seven sisters, is not made clear.

Brynhild (Brünhild or Brunhild) was the beautiful Valkyrie who punished by Odin for disobedience. Brynhild had struck down Hjalmgunnar, the king Odin had promised victory. As punishment Odin told the Valkyrie that she had to marry, but she made a vow to marry only a man without fear. In the high mountain of Hindarfell, sleeping within a circle of fire, Brynhild was to sleep until a hero with no fear would ride through the flame.

(Based on Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology)