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The famous characters of Norse mythology
Norse mythology refers to the legends, folklore and beliefs held mostly by Scandinavian and North Germanic people during the Viking age (approximately 793-1066). For these people, the myths surrounding their gods and goddesses gave meaning to their lives. The intricate stories and rich characters of some of the most prominent gods were the basis for the values and traditions of the Vikings, most of which are still well-known today.
Let's take a look at who were the key figures in Norse mythology, what impact they had on the lives of the Vikings, and how we know and revere them today.
Aesir and Vanir
Legend has it that initially, there were two tribes of gods. First, there were the Aesir, who were viewed as more celestial and otherworldly with their connections to war, power, courage and the natural elements. Then there were the Vanir, who were linked to the earth and the everyday man with connections to harvest, fertility and the worldly planes. It is thought that the two tribes quarreled and battled for a time but eventually came to respect each other's divinity and lived separately but peacefully. Both tribes were worshiped, some by royalty and others by peasants.
Perhaps the strongest and most revered god, Odin is thought to have helped create the world itself by slaying a giant and using its corpse to make mountains. He is the god of war, death and wisdom. When Vikings died in war, they believed that they would drink with Odin in Valhalla - a great and noble hall that you gain access to when you die. In addition to being all-powerful, Odin was also incredibly wise and the father of the infamous Thor.
Frigg was the wife of Odin and is the god of fertility and marriage. Like many other gods and goddesses, her name was used to name the days of the week because of her connotations surrounding marriage; Friday is still thought of as the best day to get married. Although Odin was thought to be the god of wisdom, it is said that he consulted with his wife about many important matters and that on several occasions, she was able to outsmart him. Although she is revered for marriage and nurturing, she was unfaithful to Odin many times, including with his brothers. Because of this, opinions about her were often divided between those who focused on her positive attributes and those who believed she had loose morals.
The God of Thunder and son of Odin is probably one of the most well-known Norse gods in the modern world thanks largely to his appearance in the Marvel franchise. Not only is he popular, but he is strong. His mighty hammer (which can only be handled by those deemed as worthy) was thought to be capable of bringing down mountains and slaying giants. He was also thought to be the guardian of Asgard, which was the stronghold of all the gods and goddesses.
Loki was not considered a particularly strong or powerful character, but what he lacked in physical strength, he made up for in mental agility. He was known as a trickster and famed for his mischievous nature. However, he was not a god who should be underestimated and was responsible for many deaths of stereotypically stronger gods and goddesses through sheer cleverness and manipulation. He is also said to have had the unique ability to shapeshift. For this reason, he was a very powerful god in his own right.
Balder was one of the gods who fell victim to Loki's tricky ways. He was another son of Odin, half-brother to Thor, and was considered to be the god of light and purity. He was viewed by many as a kind, fair, merciful and handsome god - the epitome of all things wise and good. His one weakness was mistletoe, and it is believed that Loki carved an arrow from this deadly plant and arranged for it to be thrown into Balder's heart by his blind half-brother. The result was that this revered god fell dead.
Hel was Loki's daughter and goddess of the underworld - a place where all those who didn't die in battle were sent after death. She had deathly and decaying features that were befitting of her role, and it is believed that within her realm, she was even more powerful than Odin. This was especially reinforced by her involvement in deciding the fate of Balder (Odin's son) after his untimely and controversial death.