The Vikings worshiped many gods and goddesses, each with their own personality and stories. Viking gods looked just like regular people and had their faults. These gods were not immortal, but they did live for a very long time with superhuman powers.
In Norse mythology, the gods belonged to two groups originally: the Aesir and the Vanir. Aesir gods were usually worshiped in connection with victory and war while the Vanir were connected with harvest and prosperity. These two families of gods were at war for a long time but eventually made peace.
The main gods of the Vikings were Odin, Thor, and Frey, but there were many minor gods like Loki. Viking or Norse gods lived in a kingdom in the sky called Asgard in palaces made of gold and silver. The largest of these palaces was Odin’s home called Valhalla.
The Vikings believed that warriors who died bravely in battle were transported to Valhalla by Valkyries, or warrior women, where they feasted every night.Midgard or Middle Earth was another realm occupied by humans as well as elves, giants, dwarves, and goblins.
The Norse believed most monsters in Midgard were invisible to humans, but not the gods. Midgard was connected to Asgard by a rainbow bridge called the Bifrost, which was guarded by the Viking god Heimdall.
The Vikings believed that the world was flat and surrounded by a large sea. At one time, the world was anchored in place by a giant tree called Yggdrasil or the world tree. Its branches reached into the heavens and its roots made their way to the land of the dead.
Most Vikings converted to Christianity by the 11th century, ending worship of the Viking gods.
The Viking Gods
Baldur or Balder was the son of Odin and Frigg who owned the ship Hringhorn, the greatest ship in existence. Baldur the Good was beautiful and loved by everyone. He was known as a very gentle god, but he was tormented by dreams of terrible things that shouldn’t happen.
The only story of Baldur is the story of how he died. He went to Frigg to make a spell to protect him from harm after a terrible dream of his death. Unfortunately, the trickster Loki found out how to get through the spell and tricked another god into killing Baldur.
The Vikings believed in three goddesses called the Three Norns or the Fates. The Goddesses of Fate were named “What has been,” “What is,” and “What must be.” Vikings believed that each person was connected to their fate by a thread that was cut with scissors by the Norns when it was time for them to die.
The Viking Fates are practically the same as the Ancient Greek Fates. More than one thousand years before the Vikings, the Greeks had three goddesses called the Fates who did the same thing.
Freya and Frey
Freya and Frey were sister and brother and members of the Vanir family of gods. Freya was the goddess of love, war, and fertility and she was known for crying golden tears when she was sad, especially when Viking warriors died in battle.
To make her happy, Odin allowed her to help half of the fallen warriors recover from their injuries while the other half were delivered to Odin’s Hall or Valhalla. Freya rode in a chariot pulled by two wild cats.
Frey was the leader of the elves and dwarves. He had a ship he could fold into his pocket and a sword that could battle on its own. He also rode a chariot, although his was pulled by a golden pig.
The English word Friday is named for Freya and mean’s Freya’s day.
Frigg was the wife of Odin and the queen of the goddesses. She was the goddess of marriage and love and closely connected with the earth. Frigg was also known for her temper, once even driving Odin from his home and into exile after a fight. Despite that, Frigg and Odin had a happy marriage. Odin gave Frigg some of his wisdom and confided in her above everyone else.
Heimdall was the guardian of the Bifrost or the rainbow bridge connecting Middle Earth (where humans lived) with Asgard (the home of the gods). Heimdall had such great hearing, he could hear grass growing. He could also see for 100 miles. Heimdall was a son of Odin and he had nine mothers, all of them sisters.
Idunn was a minor goddess but she did something very important for the Viking gods. As the goddess of beauty and youth, she grew magical golden apples that the gods ate to stay healthy and young. Without Idunn’s apples, the gods would age very fast.
Loki was the adopted son of Odin and a trickster. Loki was not technically a god; he was actually the son of a fire giant whom Odin took as his own child. This shapeshifter god was very mischievous and turned himself into an old woman, a fish, a fly, and a horse in different myths.
Loki loved to prank humans and other gods, but not always in a fun way. Sometimes his tricks resulted in someone’s death.
In one story, Loki tricked Odin’s wife Frigga into telling him how to kill Baldur. Frigga had cast a spell on Baldur to block anything that might hurt him from touching him.
When other gods heard of the spell, they thought it was fun to use Baldur as a target for darts, knives, arrows, and axes because everything bounced off without harm. One day, Loki shapeshifted into an old woman and complimented Frigga on the spell.
Happy with the compliment, Frigga revealed that the only thing she left out of the spell was mistletoe, saying mistletoe could do no harm and it wouldn’t be sporting to block everything. Loki cut a sharp point into a mistletoe twig and helped the blind god Hod have fun throwing objects at Baldur. Loki gave Hod the mistletoe stick that pierced Baldur’s heart.
Njord was a Norse god of the Vanir race who was very wealthy and had the power to give money and land to anyone he wanted. While he was the god of fertility, this job passed to his son, the god Frey. Njord was married to the giant Skad, the daughter of Thiasi.
The Viking gods had killed Thiasi but offered to allow his daughter to marry a god as compensation, but she could only choose her husband among the gods by looking at their legs. When she saw a beautiful pair of legs, she was sure they belonged to Baldur and made her choice.
It turned out that she chose Njord and they were married. They were not happy together and wanted to live in their own lands, not together. They eventually separated when Njord moved back to the sea and Skad returned to the giants.
Odin, or Woden, was one of the most important Viking gods. He was the god of knowledge, wisdom, war, and poetry and the ruler of the gods, which also earned him the name All-Father.
Odin had two ravens named Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Mind) who sat on his shoulder. Every day, the ravens would fly around the world to spy on humans and monsters — and the other gods! Every night, they returned to Odin and reported everything they saw.
Odin was known to travel among regular people in disguise and went by many names. His hall, Valhalla, was a great palace with 640 doors.
During Ragnarok or the end of the world, it was said that 960 warriors who had died in battle would come through each door to fight the giants.
Odin was known to meddle in human affairs to stir up fighting. By doing this, he would have more warriors in Valhalla to fight by his side.
Odin loved knowledge and wasn’t satisfied with just his ravens. He made a deal with a wise and ancient giant named Mimir, trading one of his eyes in return for all of the world’s wisdom. This is why Odin is also called the One-Eyed God.
The English word Wednesday is named for Odin or Woden and comes from Old English for “Woden’s day.”
Sif was the wife of Thor and goddess of the harvest. Proud of her beautiful, long hair, Loki one day played a prank on her by cutting off her hair. She cried so much that her tears fell to Middle Earth and stopped the crops from growing. Loki then asked the dwarves to spin her new hair.
Thor was the son of Odin and the god of thunder, storms, and strength. Thor protected Asgard with a magical hammer that caused thunder and lightning. Thor was a major god of protection who protected not only Asgard but other realms from cold, hunger, and giants.
He was also the strongest of the gods with his hammer, Mjölnir, the finest weapon among all gods and humans. His strength was also increased by his belt and iron gloves. Thor had one daughter (Thrudur) and two sons (Mangi and Modi).
Thor was in a constant battle with the giants and his hammer Mjölnir helped him fight. Once, the giants were able to steal Thor’s hammer and the gods became frightened that Thor would not get it back and the giants would break into Asgard. Loki then went to Freya who let him borrow a feather coat that allowed him to fly to the land of the giants. While there, he heard the giant Thrym say the hammer was being kept safe.
Loki asked Thrym why he did such a foolish thing as stealing the hammer and the giant said they were desperate for a break. Thrym said he would accept Freya as payment for the hammer but Freya refused, saying Thor should marry the giant for being so foolish as to lose his weapon.
Heimdall thought it was a great idea and they sent Thor back disguised as a bride. As soon as Thor got close to his hammer and before they married, he killed Thrym.
The English word Thursday is named for Thor and means “Thor’s day” in Old English.
Tyr was a son of Odin and considered the bravest of all the gods. Tyr could decide the outcome of battles and he was often worshiped by warriors. Tyr was so brave that he would take risks even when he knew the odds were not in his favor. Tyr was also the god who upheld justice and law. While Tyr was considered a minor god, evidence shows he was once one of the major gods of the Norse people.
The only story remaining that features Tyr in a major role is the story of Fenrir the wolf. The dreadful wolf was only a puppy but growing very fast. The gods were afraid of the wolf and wanted to tie Fenrir up so he could not escape and hurt them.
When Fenrir saw the chain, he was very suspicious and said he would only allow the chain to go around him if one of the gods agreed to put their arm in his mouth as a show of good faith. Only Tyr volunteered. When Fenrir discovered he could not escape the chain, he bit off Tyr’s arm.
The English word Tuesday is named for Tyr and comes from Old English for “Tyr’s day.”
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Viking Gods" https://englishhistory.net/vikings/viking-gods/, February 10, 2017