History for the Rest of Us

Sif – Thor’s Golden-Haired Wife

Sif – Thor’s Golden-Haired Wife

Apr 22, 2014

Sif, Thor’s wife, was very vain of a magnificent head of long golden hair which covered her from head to foot like a brilliant veil; and as she too was a symbol of the earth, her hair was said to represent the long grass, or the golden grain covering the Northern harvest fields. Thor was very proud of his wife’s beautiful hair; imagine his dismay, therefore, upon waking one morning, to find her shorn, and as bald and denuded of ornament as the earth when the grain has been garnered, and nothing but the stubble remains! In his anger, Thor sprang to his feet, vowing he would punish the perpetrator of this outrage, whom he immediately and rightly conjectured to be Loki, the arch-plotter, ever on the look-out for some evil deed to perform. Seizing his hammer, Thor went in search of Loki, who attempted to evade the irate god by changing his form. But it was all to no purpose; Thor soon overtook him, and without more ado caught him by the throat, and almost strangled him ere he yielded to his imploring signs and relaxed his powerful grip. When he could draw his breath, Loki begged forgiveness, but all his entreaties were vain, until he promised to procure for Sif a new head of hair, as beautiful as the first, and as luxuriant in growth. “And thence for Sif new tresses I’ll bring Of gold, ere the daylight’s gone, So that she shall liken a field in spring, With its yellow-flowered garment on.” The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.). Then Thor consented to let the traitor go; so Loki rapidly crept down into the bowels of the earth, where Svart-alfa-heim was situated, to beg the dwarf Dvalin to fashion not only the precious hair, but a present for Odin and Frey, whose anger he wished to disarm. His request was favourably received and the dwarf fashioned the spear Gungnir, which never failed in its aim, and the ship Skidbladnir, which, always wafted by favourable winds, could sail through the air as well as on the water, and which had this further magic property, that although it could contain the gods and all their...

Valhalla

Valhalla

Nov 26, 2012

This palace, called Valhalla (the hall of the chosen slain), had five hundred and forty doors, wide enough to allow the passage of eight hundred warriors abreast, and above the principal gate were a boar’s head and an eagle whose piercing glance penetrated to the far corners of the world. The walls of this marvelous building were fashioned of glittering spears, so highly polished that they illuminated the hall. The roof was of golden shields, and the benches were decorated with fine armor, the god’s gifts to his guests. Here long tables afforded ample accommodation for the Einheriar, warriors fallen in battle, who were specially favoured by Odin. “Easily to be known is, By those who to Odin come, The mansion by its aspect. Its roof with spears is laid, Its hall with shields is decked, With corselets are its benches strewed.” Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe’s tr.). The ancient Northern nations, who deemed warfare the most honourable of occupations, and considered courage the greatest virtue, worshipped Odin principally as god of battle and victory. They believed that whenever a fight was impending he sent out his special attendants, the shield-, battle-, or wish-maidens, called Valkyrs (choosers of the slain), who selected from the dead warriors one-half of their number, whom they bore on their fleet steeds over the quivering rainbow bridge, Bifröst, into Valhalla. Welcomed by Odin’s sons, Hermod and Bragi, the heroes were conducted to the foot of Odin’s throne, where they received the praise due to their valour. When some special favourite of the god was thus brought into Asgard, Valfather (father of the slain), as Odin was called when he presided over the warriors, would sometimes rise from his throne and in person bid him welcome at the great entrance...

Thor

Thor

Nov 6, 2012

The Thunderer According to some mythologists, Thor, or Donar, is the son of Jörd (Erda) and of Odin, but others state that his mother was Frigga, queen of the gods. This child was very remarkable for his great size and strength, and very soon after his birth amazed the assembled gods by playfully lifting and throwing about ten great bales of bear skins. Although generally good-tempered, Thor would occasionally fly into a terrible rage, and as he was very dangerous at these times, his mother, unable to control him, sent him away from home and entrusted him to the care of Vingnir (the winged), and of Hlora (heat). These foster-parents, who are also considered as the personification of sheet-lightning, soon managed to control their troublesome charge, and brought him up so wisely, that the gods entertained a very grateful recollection of their kind offices. Thor himself, recognizing all he owed them, assumed the names of Vingthor and Hlorridi, by which he is also known. “Cry on, Vingi-Thor, With the dancing of the ring-mail and the smitten shields of war.” Sigurd the Volsung (William Morris). Having attained his full growth and the age of reason, Thor was admitted to Asgard among the other gods, where he occupied one of the twelve seats in the great judgment hall. He was also given the realm of Thrud-vang or Thrud-heim, where he built a wonderful palace called Bilskirnir (lightning), the most spacious in all Asgard. It contained five hundred and forty halls for the accommodation of the thralls, who after death were welcomed to his home, where they received equal treatment with their masters in Valhalla, for Thor was the patron god of the peasants and lower classes. “Five hundred halls And forty more, Methinketh, hath Bowed Bilskirnir. Of houses roofed There’s none I know My son’s surpassing.” Sæmund’s Edda (Percy’s tr.). As he was god of thunder, Thor alone was never allowed to pass over the wonderful bridge Bifröst, lest he should set it aflame by the heat of his presence; and when he wished to join his fellow gods by the Urdar fountain, under the shade of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, he was forced to make...

Frigga – Queen of the Gods

Frigga – Queen of the Gods

Nov 2, 2012

The Queen of the Gods Frigga, or Frigg, daughter of Fiorgyn and sister of Jörd, according to some mythologists, is considered by others as a daughter of Jörd and Odin, whom she eventually married. This wedding caused such general rejoicing in Asgard, where the goddess was greatly beloved, that ever after it was customary to celebrate its anniversary with feast and song, and the goddess being declared patroness of marriage, her health was always proposed with that of Odin and Thor at wedding feasts. Frigga was goddess of the atmosphere, or rather of the clouds, and as such was represented as wearing either snow-white or dark garments, according to her somewhat variable moods. She was queen of the gods, and she alone had the privilege of sitting on the throne Hlidskialf, beside her august husband. From thence she too could look over all the world and see what was happening, and, according to the belief of our ancestors, she possessed the knowledge of the future, which, however, no one could ever prevail upon her to reveal, thus proving that Northern women could keep a secret inviolate. “Of me the gods are sprung; And all that is to come I know, but lock In my own breast, and have to none reveal’d.” Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold). She was generally represented as a tall, beautiful, and stately woman, crowned with heron plumes, the symbol of silence or forgetfulness, and clothed in pure white robes, secured at the waist by a golden girdle, from which hung a bunch of keys, the distinctive sign of the Northern housewife, whose special patroness she was said to be. Although she often appeared beside her husband, Frigga preferred to remain in her own palace, called Fensalir, the hall of mists or of the sea, where she diligently plied her wheel or distaff, spinning golden thread or weaving long webs of bright-coloured clouds. In order to perform this work she made use of a marvellous jewelled spinning wheel or distaff, which at night shone brightly in the sky as a constellation, known in the North as Frigga’s Spinning Wheel, while the inhabitants of the South called the same stars Orion’s Girdle. To...

Odin

Odin

Nov 1, 2012

The Father of Gods and Men Odin, Wuotan, or Woden was the highest and holiest god of the Northern races. He was the all-pervading spirit of the universe, the personification of the air, the god of universal wisdom and victory, and the leader and protector of princes and heroes. As all the gods were supposed to be descended from him, he was surnamed Allfather, and as eldest and chief among them he occupied the highest seat in Asgard. Known by the name of Hlidskialf, this chair was not only an exalted throne, but also a mighty watch-tower, from whence he could overlook the whole world and see at a glance all that was happening among gods, giants, elves, dwarfs, and men. “From the hall of Heaven he rode away To Lidskialf, and sate upon his throne, The mount, from whence his eye surveys the world. And far from Heaven he turned his shining orbs To look on Midgard, and the earth, and men.” Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold). Odin’s Personal Appearance None but Odin and his wife and queen Frigga were privileged to use this seat, and when they occupied it they generally gazed towards the south and west, the goal of all the hopes and excursions of the Northern nations. Odin was generally represented as a tall, vigorous man, about fifty years of age, either with dark curling hair or with a long grey beard and bald head. He was clad in a suit of grey, with a blue hood, and his muscular body was enveloped in a wide blue mantle flecked with grey—an emblem of the sky with its fleecy clouds. In his hand Odin generally carried the infallible spear Gungnir, which was so sacred that an oath sworn upon its point could never be broken, and on his finger or arm he wore the marvellous ring, Draupnir, the emblem of fruitfulness, precious beyond compare. When seated upon his throne or armed for the fray, to mingle in which he would often descend to earth, Odin wore his eagle helmet; but when he wandered peacefully about the earth in human guise, to see what men were doing, he generally donned a broad-brimmed hat,...