Monday, September 27, 2010

The Norse Gods and Goddess!

One thing I have been remiss about posting on this blog is the Norse/Germanic Pantheon of Gods and Goddess. I just Googled Odin and came up with 79,100,000 results. Loki-surprisingly less at 56,100,000 results.

Who were the Gods and Goddess of the Vikings/Norse?

What we know of the Norse pantheon of Gods and Goddess come from the Sagas and the Eddas. Many of these stories and poems were written centuries later by Christian monks who put a bit of a Christian bent to the stories.

Snorri Sturluson(1179 –1241) was an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician. He was the author of the Prose Edda or Younger Edda, which consists of Gylfaginning ("the fooling of Gylfi"), a narrative of Norse mythology, the Skaldskaparmal, a book of poetic language, and the Hattatal, a list of verse forms. He was also the author of the Heimskringla, a history of the Norwegian kings that begins with legendary material in Ynglingg Sagas and moves through to early medieval Scandinavian history.

Other grand Sagas also give us insights on the Gods and Goddess. Like the Greek Pantheon, there are many Gods and Goddess in the Norse Pantheon. The main players found in Snorri's Eddas and Sagas are:

Odin ( Woden or Wotan) was the Father of all the Gods and men. His two ravens, Huginn and Munin (Thought and Memory) fly over the world daily and return to tell him everything that has happened in Midgard. He is a God of magick, wisdom, wit, and learning. He is also the chooser of those slain in battle. It is these slain heroes that dine with him in Valhalla. It's interesting to note that the Norse peoples also set such a great importance upon brainwork and logic. In was common practice to write poems with riddles and trickts for the listeners to figure out. To this day education is important in the Scandinavian countries. The day Wednesday (Wodensdaeg) is named for him.

Thor, (Donnar or Thunderer) was considered to be a son of Odin by some and others feel he was a much older God that was adopted by Odin. On many of the Saami (Lapland) drums there is a symbol for a “Thunder God.” Saami historians believe this is the original Thor which was adopted by the Germanic tribes when they moved into the Scandinavian countries . He is considered to be the protector of all Midgard, and he wields the mighty hammer Mjollnir. Thor is strength personified. His battle chariot is drawn by two goats, and his hammer Mjollnir causes the lightning that flashes across the sky. Of all the deities, Thor is the most independent of the Gods, even though he is loyal to the Aesirs, he enjoys living among man/woman. Thursday (Thorsdaeg) is sacred to him.

Freya (Freja) is considered to be the goddess of Love and Beauty, but is also a warrior goddess and one of great wisdom. She and her twin brother Freyr are of a different "race" of gods known as the Vanir. She is known as Queen of the Valkyries, choosers of those slain in battle to bear them to Valhalla (the Norse heaven). She wears the sacred necklace Brisingamen, which she paid for by spending the night with the dwarves who wrought it from the bowels of the earth. The cat is her sacred symbol. The day Friday (Frejyasdaeg) was named for her.

Freyr (Fro Ingwe) is Freya's twin brother. He is the horned God of fertility, and has some similarities to the Celtic Cernunnos or Herne, although he is NOT the same being. He is known as King of the Alfs (elves). Both the Swedish and the English are said to be descendents of his. The Boar is his sacred symbol, which is both associated with war and with fertility. His golden boar, "Gullenbursti", is supposed to represent the daybreak. He is also considered to be the God of Success. At Ragnarok, he is said to fight with the horn of an elk (much more suited to his nature rather than a sword.)

Heimdall is the handsome gold-toothed guardian of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge leading to Asgard, the home of the Gods. It is Heimdall who is to sound the signal horn to the Aesir that Ragnarok, the great destruction or transformation is beginning.

Frigga (Frigg, Fricka), Odin's wife, was considered to be the Mother of all; and protector of children. She spins the sacred Distaff of life, and is said to know the future, although she will not speak of it. She is a loyal and faithful wife to Odin and represents what an honorable and dutiful wife should be to the Norse.

The Norns (Urd, Verdande, and Skuld), are the Norse equivalent of the Greek Fates. It is they who determine the orlogs (destinies) of the Gods and of Man, and who maintain the World Tree, Yggdrasil. It is said that man can not change his destiny once it is woven. It is how one will be remembered in the sagas?

The goddess of the dead and the afterlife was Hel (Holle, Hulda), and was portrayed by the Vikings as being half-dead, half alive herself. The Vikings viewed her with considerable trepidation. The Dutch, Gallic, and German barbarians viewed her with some beneficence, more of a gentler form of death and transformation. She is seen by them as Mother Holle; a being of pure Nature, being helpful in times of need, but vengeful upon those who cross her or transgress natural law.

Odin's son, Baldur, the god of Love and Light, is sacrificed at Midsummer by the dart of the mistletoe, and is reborn at Jul (Yule). Supposedly his return will not occur until after the onslaught of the Ragnarok. He is married to the goddess of Joy, Nanna.

Ásatrú Religion

The religion of the Norse! Ásatrú is not Wiccan but many who are Wiccan do follow and respect the Norse Pantheon. It is a unique belief system with a strong code of ethics. People who chose to follow this path need to understand that the Gods and Goddess of the Ásatrú Religion are not roll playing characters or fantasy creatures. It is about family and life.

For more information on Asatru check out:

The Noble Virtues:

  • Boldness/Courage/Bravery
  • Truth
  • Honor
  • Troth/Fidelity
  • Discipline/Self-Rule
  • Hospitality
  • Industriousness
  • Free-Standing/Self-Reliance
  • Perseverance

Viking Health Care

The last three months have been rather rough in our House Drekka-lundr. Over the Fourth of July weekend I fell and fractured both bones in my left leg. It eventually required three hours of surgery, two plates and nine screws to put everything back into place. So, what would a Viking Mom do during the times of the Vikings if she had broken her leg? Did they have same or similar medical care as we do now? As a living historian those questions came up with our modern doctors and fellow historians.
Short answer is, yes, the knowledge for setting bones has been found archeological finds. Very little is known about exact Viking medical practices except for hints in the Eddas and Sagas. Women are portrayed prominently in the sagas before the Christian influences. One Saga in particular- Olaf’s saga Helga, a part of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, gives a rare insight to wound and trauma care. Check out for the complete Saga.

Herbal Medicine

Much has been written and documented about Arabic, Renaissance and Anglo Saxon herbal remedies. The books on herbal remedies were collected and complied by monks and nuns in the various monasteries and convents. Many of these monasteries and convents were the collectors and keepers of sacred and ancient medicinal knowledge. Surprisingly, very little is mentioned about Viking use of herbal medicine. What fragments remain on herbal medicines in Scandinavia comes from the Urtebogen or Liber Herbarum “The Book of Herbs” by Master Henrik Harpestreng (c. 1244).

One herb used extensively in the Scandinavian both in cooking and medicinal qualities was hvönn also known as Angelica (Angelica officinalis). The Saami used Angelica to preserve their reindeer milk. It gave it a lovely green tint but left a strong dose of Vitamin C.
Healing Deities

In the pantheon of Norse Gods and Goddess the Goddess Eir was in charge of healing. Eir is only mentioned in the Prose Edda compiled by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson.
Eir also had direct contact with the Valkyries. Not a bad idea to have someone powerful by Ones side to put a good word in for a Warrior. It is also said in the Eddas that Eir helped select those would live and aid the healer or those who would die. The original “Angel of Mercy.”

Runic Inscriptions with Healing Charms

The Sagas and Eddas mention in many places the use of runes as tools in healing. “Runa” means “secret.” According to legend, Odin hung upside from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, and prayed to the Universe for the gift of the runes. His price for the gift of runes was his eye. The word rađa implies a special knowledge, which means that the runes have to be understood or read by a magician or healer. Magic!

Interestingly enough not much was written down in the traditional manner, in Latin or Greek of the time, regarding medicine or wound care. There have been many artifacts found throughout the Viking World that have runic inscriptions. Check out Viking Answer Lady’s site where she displays a piece of skull inscribed with runes praying to Odin to make the pain go away.

Now, there have been a lot of discussions with historians regarding what is “writing.” I am of the opinion that runes are a form of writing and communication. Now, just need to find that runic inscription that reads “Vikings did drink coffee.”

After talking to my own modern doctor, he believes that my leg would have healed but not straight. It would have caused a serious limp leading to eventually arthritis and other health issues. The Vikings were and are practical people and I am sure I would still have found a way to make sure the children were taken care of, the sails were woven, clothing made, the farm managed, food preserved, reindeer accounted for, bronze smelted and life would have continued.