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12 most important Norse gods and goddesses in Viking mythology

Thanks to surviving ancient texts, sagas and archaeological discoveries we know a great deal about these deities and how they were viewed by the Vikings.

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Who are the main Norse gods?

The Vikings of the Scandinavian north worshipped the many gods and goddesses of Norse mythology. Thanks to surviving ancient texts, sagas and archaeological discoveries we know a great deal about these deities and how they were viewed by the Vikings.

Here are seven of the most important in Norse mythology.

1. Odin

The Norse gods were separated into two main groups, the Æsir and the Vanir, who at one point in their histories engaged in a fierce and bitter war. Odin was the King of the Æsir clan and known as 'the father of all gods'. He was often depicted as a one-eyed, bearded old man wearing a hat and a cloak, who rode a flying eight-legged horse called Sleipnir.

Odin was said to have slain the first being known as Ymir, before carving up his dead body to help create the Earth.

Odin was one of the most powerful and revered of all the Norse gods and subsequently associated with several themes including wisdom, knowledge, healing, death and war. He also ruled over the ‘hall of the slain’ known as Valhalla.

We owe a number of the days of the week to the Vikings, with Odin directly to thank for ‘Wednesday’ as the word comes from ‘Woden’ a variation of Odin’s name.

2. Frigg

As the wife of Odin, Frigg was regarded as the Queen of the Æsir gods and therefore possibly the most important of all the Norse goddesses. She was the only one allowed to sit next to her husband and although he conducted many extra-marital affairs, she always stuck by her partner.

Worshipped as the goddess of the sky, Frigg was associated with wisdom, marriage, family and fertility. She was also blessed with the power of divination, although she never revealed her visions to anyone. Her fiercely protective motherly instincts would play a pivotal role in the tragic death of her son Balder.

The name of our final working day of the week ‘Friday’ stems from her name.

3. Thor

Thanks to the Marvel Universe, Thor is one of the most famous and recognisable Norse gods in today’s world. He was the god of thunder and lightning who wielded the Mjölnir, a devastatingly powerful hammer that could slay giants and smash mountains. He rode a chariot drawn by two massive goats called Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir.

Although he was the son of Odin, he was often regarded as the strongest of all the Norse deities since he was tasked with safeguarding Asgard, the stronghold of the Æsir. He was perhaps the most popular of all the gods and was worshipped by most Vikings.

We also have Thor to thank for ‘Thursday’, as the word stems from Old Norse meaning ‘Thor’s Day’.

4. Loki

Another god made famous in modern times thanks to his inclusion in the Marvel movies, although in Norse mythology he wasn’t the son of Odin and brother of Thor as the films have made out. Instead, he was considered a ‘blood brother’ of Odin who lived amongst the Æsir.

Loki was known as the trickster god, equipped with the ability to shapeshift into a multitude of different forms. His relationship with the other gods was complex; on some occasions he helped them, on others he hindered them.

Whilst he was depicted as more mischievous than pure evil, he was still capable of causing great harm. He was the chief engineer behind the death of the god Balder, carving an arrow out of his only weakness, mistletoe.

5. Freya

Freya was the goddess of fate, love, beauty, gold, war and fertility. She was a member of the Vanir and ruled over the heavenly meadow of Fólkvangr, where half of all those who died in combat would go, whilst the other half were guided by the Valkyries to Valhalla which was ruled over by Odin.

She owned a torc or necklace known as the Brísingamen, as well as a cloak made of falcon feathers. She rode a chariot drawn by two cats and was often accompanied by a boar called Hildisvíni.

She practised Seidr, a form of magic that gifted her with the ability to control and manipulate the desires and prosperity of others. Her association with fate and destiny made her one of the most powerful Norse goddesses.

A painting of the Norse goddess Freya
Freyja by John Bauer

6. Balder

Another son of Odin and half-brother to Thor, Balder was the god of light and purity. He was described as a fair, kind and handsome god, whose beauty was unparalleled. Often praised by others for his mercifulness, Balder was the epitome of all things wise and good.

However, he is most famous for his demise. Although it was believed he was immortal, he had been prophesied to die. To prevent this from happening his mother Frigg visited every entity in the cosmos to secure an oath from them that they wouldn't harm her son. She neglected to consult the mistletoe believing it too small and harmless to threaten the life of her son.

The mischievous god Loki got wind of this oversight and carved an arrow out of the mistletoe, which would eventually be thrown at Balder by his blind half-brother Höðr out of jest. The arrow pierced Balder’s heart and the 'best of the gods' fell dead.

7. Hel

The daughter of Loki, Hel presided over the Norse underworld, a place where all those Vikings who didn’t die in battle went.

Half of her body was flesh and blood, the other half was just bones. Her decaying features befitted a goddess who ruled over the land of the dead, judging and deciding the fate of the souls who entered her realm. It was said that within the underworld she was more powerful than Odin himself, a belief that was reinforced when she held the final say on what happened to Balder’s soul after he was slain.

8. Týr

One of the oldest deities in Norse mythology, Týr was the god of war and bloodshed. Represented as a heroic and brave fighter, Týr was the patron of warriors and mythical heroes. Rather contradictory, he was also the god of justice and order.

Týr belonged to the Æsir clan of gods who resided in Ásgard. It’s believed Týr was the son of either Odin or a giant named Hymir. Our knowledge about him is somewhat limited and he’s most remembered for having one of his hands bitten off by the fearsome giant wolf called Fenrir.

As the story goes, the gods wished to contain Fenrir (who was a child of the trickster god Loki) and often played a game whereby they chained him to a rock. The wolf always broke free and so the gods enlisted the help of the dwarves from Svartalfheim to forge an unbreakable chain.

As the gods approached Fenrir with the new chain, he became suspicious of its different appearance. As an insurance policy, he requested one of the gods place their hand in his mouth. Týr was the only one brave enough to volunteer. When Fenrir realised he couldn’t break free of the new chain, he bit down on Týr’s hand.

During Ragnarök, the famous battle at the end of the world in Norse mythology, Týr killed the wolf Garmr, but the beast also claimed Týr’s life.

We have Týr to thank for the word ‘Tuesday’ (‘Týr’s day’).

9. Njörðr

Njörðr belonged to the Vanir pantheon of gods, who at one time were mortal enemies of the Æsir. They resided in Vanaheim and were less associated with war and bloodshed than their Ásgard dwelling counterparts. It’s unclear whether Njörðr was the ruler of the Vanir, however, he’s often presented in a leadership role.

Njörðr was the god of the seas and everything associated with it – fishing, wind, coasts, seafaring, as well as wealth. This made him one of the more revered gods for the sea-loving Vikings.

Njörðr lived with his two children, Freya and Freyr, both born from a relationship he had with his sister, Nerthus.

It was Njörðr who brokered the peace that ended the animosity between the Æsir and the Vanir. Njörðr went to Ásgard to secure a truce. It was agreed he and his children would live with the Æsir as a symbol of the two tribes merging into one.

10. Freyr

Son of Njörðr and brother to Freya, Freyr was closely linked with peace and good harvests. These two associations made Freyr a popular god amongst the Norse since prosperity was often linked with bountiful harvests and years of peace.

Freyr was also the god of fertility and growth and symbolically tied to the image of the phallus. He too died in battle during the events of Ragnarök.

11. Heimdall

A child of Odin, Heimdall kept watch over the Nine Realms of Norse mythology. With a keen sense of sight and hearing, Heimdall resided in a castle in the sky that sat on the Bifrost, the magical rainbow bridge that connected Ásgard with Midgard, the world of humans.

Wielding a horn known as the Gjallarhorn, Heimdall blew it before the events of Ragnarök, calling all the gods together for the final epic battle.

12. Hermóðr

Another son of Odin, Hermóðr was known as a messenger of the gods, gifted with speed and often equated to the Greek god Hermes.

Upon the surprise death of his brother Balder, brought about by Loki’s mischievous antics, Hermóðr was the chosen god to ride Odin’s eight-legged horse down to the underworld and plead with the goddess Hel for Balder’s return.

Although Hel agreed, she did so on one condition. Every creature, dead or alive, should weep for Balder. Hermóðr returned to the Æsir with the message. Everyone wept, except one giant (possibly Loki in disguise) thereby forever sealing Balder’s fate to the underworld.

Æsir and Vanir Gods

The gods in Norse mythology were split into two groups, the Æsir and the Vanir. The Æsir were considered the main pantheon, therefore it’s no wonder their ranks were filled with instantly recognisable names, such as Odin and Thor.

The Æsir and Vanir began as mortal enemies; their feuding eventually led to the Æsir-Vanir War, a conflict that raged for some time. In the end, the two sides decided to call it quits, since no one was able to gain the upper hand and peace became the preferred option.

The Æsir

Odin was the king of the Æsir. Known as the ‘Allfather’ (father of all the gods), the one-eyed Odin was the god of many things, from wisdom and magic to war and victory. He’d sit on Hlidskjalf, his magical throne that offered him a wonderous vantage over the Nine Realms.

The Norse believed Odin decided the fate of every battle, making him perhaps the most important god of all. Vikings would worship Odin on the eve of battle, praying for victory to come their way.

The Æsir resided in Ásgard, a celestial fortified realm surrounded by a great wall. A rainbow bridge called the Bifrost connected Ásgard with Midgard, the world of humans. Within Ásgard was the great palace of Valhalla, known as the 'hall of the slain’, which was ruled over by Odin.

Valhalla was one of two heavenly places that welcomed humans who had died bravely in battle. Half went there, whilst the other half joined the Vanir goddess Freya, in the meadow of Fólkvangr.

Odin’s son Thor, the hammer-wielding god of thunder and lightning, was tasked with safeguarding Ásgard. Since Thor was given the responsibility of keeping the stronghold of the Æsir safe, he was often regarded as the strongest of all the Norse deities. His incredibly powerful hammer, known as the Mjölnir, was believed to have the strength to crush mountains and slay enormous giants.

Odin’s wife Frigg, the goddess of the sky, was regarded as the Queen of the Æsir gods, making her the most important of all the Norse goddesses. Given her association with marriage and fertility, Frigg was often worshipped by Norse women.

Other children of Odin included Baldr, the god of light and purity, and the blind Höðr. Týr was another major deity of the Æsir. He was a heroic figure and the patron of warriors and mythological heroes.

Æsir gathered around the body of Baldr.
Æsir gathered around the body of Baldr | Painting by by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg 1817

The Vanir

The Vanir called Vanaheim their home. In contrast to the more war-mongering Æsir, the Vanir were closely associated with fertility, prosperity, wealth and commerce.

They consisted of three major gods. Njörðr, the god of the seas, lived in Vanaheim with his two children, Freya and Freyr. Although never explicitly declared as ruler, it seems that Njörðr assumed the main leadership role within the Vanir.

However, his daughter Freya was arguably the most powerful in the group. Not only did she reside over the heavenly meadow of Fólkvangr, but she practised Seidr, a form of magic that gifted her with the ability to control and manipulate the desires and prosperity of others. Coupled with her association with fate, destiny, war, love, sex and fertility, Freya was a popular deity within Norse worship.

Meanwhile, Freyr was associated with peace and good harvest. This led him to be worshipped more than other gods in some Nordic regions since people’s lives were richer and better when the harvests were good and war was not being waged.

As for the tricker god Loki, although he was often associated with the Æsir, he was not officially affiliated with either clan.

For more articles about the history and culture of the Vikings, check out our Viking history hub.