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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.