When it comes to Norse gods represented in our modern world, few are as recognisable and famous as Thor, in large part due to the Marvel Universe. The same was also the case back in the age of the Vikings, as the hammer-wielding god of thunder and lightning was equally as popular with the ancient Norse as he is today. We even have him to thank for one of our days of the week, Thursday, as the word stems from Old Norse meaning ‘Thor’s Day’.
The son of Odin was often regarded as the strongest of all the gods since he was tasked with safeguarding Ásgard, the stronghold of the Æsir (one of the two main clans of Norse deities). His prominence is reflected in the many ancient poems and sagas that tell tales of his feats and deeds.
We take a look at four of his most famous adventures in Norse mythology.
Thor vs Loki
Although Marvel might have you believing otherwise, Thor and Loki were not brothers. However, it’s easy to see how the pair could have been as the sagas often tell stories of adventures and shenanigans involving the two together. More often than not though the pair were on opposing sides of an argument, with Loki stirring the pot on most occasions.
The Old Norse textbook Prose Edda recounts the tale of a bored and mischievous Loki who decided to wind Thor up by cutting his wife's hair off. Thor was married to Sif, the golden-haired goddess of Earth and harvest. One day whilst she slept, Loki crept up and lopped off her famous golden locks. When Thor found out what had happened he was less than amused. With a rampaging god of thunder looming down upon him, Loki decided it best he made amends. Thor agreed and Loki descended beneath the earth to find dwarves famous for their craftsmanship abilities. As well as returning with a headdress of golden hair for Sif, Loki also returned with the Mjöllnir, gifting Thor with his famous weapon.
In the Norse poem Lokasenna, Aegir, the ocean giant, was hosting a magnificent feast for all the gods of the Æsir. Loki quickly ruined the affair by killing a couple of servants and throwing insults at all the gods present. It wasn't until the arrival of an angry Thor, who was late to the feast, that Loki changed his tune. Thor threatened to knock Loki’s head off with his hammer if he didn’t stop with the verbal abuse. Loki took his leave from the feast, admitting that Thor’s threats were the only ones he feared.
Thor in disguise
There was one occasion when Thor and Loki joined forces and that tale is told in the poem Þrymskviða. Thor awoke to find his hammer had gone missing. After informing Loki of the theft, the pair decided to visit the goddess Freyja and ask if they could borrow her feather cloak to help track down the missing weapon. Freyja agreed and Loki flew off with the cloak.
He eventually discovered the hammer in the possession of Þrymr, the king of the jötnar who ruled over the kingdom of Jötunheimr. The hammer had been stolen in the hope that it could be traded back for Freyja’s hand in marriage. Loki relayed the message back to Thor who then insisted Freyja got ready to wed. After the goddess flatly refused, all the gods met to come up with a plan.
In the end, it was decided to go with the idea put forward by the god Heimdallr. He suggested Thor dressed up as a bride and pretended to be Freyja, whilst Loki should go in disguise as his maid. After initially refusing, Thor was eventually persuaded by Loki that the plan was the best hope they had. And so the pair descended on Jötunheimr in full-blown costume.
Þrymr hosted a feast to mark their arrival and with Thor’s face hidden behind a bridal veil, the king of the jötnar was none the wise. Thor’s insatiable appetite nearly gave the game away if it were not for Loki’s quick thinking, explaining to Þrymr that Freyja’s hunger was due to her not eating for eight days, so eager was she to get to his hall.
Þrymr’s sister then appeared and requested the wedding ceremony commence and asked for the bridal gift to be brought out. The Mjöllnir was then placed in the lap of Thor who had a quiet chuckle to himself before wielding the hammer to devastating effect, slaying all those in attendance.
Thor the creature slayer
One of Thor’s favourite past times was heading east and slaying giants and trolls, creatures often clumped together under the banner of the jötnar. Two of his most famous clashes with them are recounted in the Prose Edda books of Skáldskaparmál and Gylfaginning as well as the poem Hymiskviða.
The first clash involved a giant called Hrungnir who had just taken part in a race with Odin, the king of the Æsir gods, and was now enjoying a drink in Ásgard. After a few too many, Hrungnir began making threats to destroy Ásgard. Thor was called upon to remove the unwanted guest who had now outstayed his welcome. The pair embarked in a duel that saw the Mjöllnir sent hurtling towards Hrungnir, whilst Hrungnir threw a giant whetstone rock towards Thor.
The Mjöllnir split the whetstone in two in mid-air and continued its journey towards Hrungnir, slaying the giant where he stood. Thor didn’t escape the duel unscathed as a piece of the whetstone managed to lodge in his head.
The second clash saw Thor not only fight a giant but also a humungous sea serpent. It began when the gods wanted to find a cauldron big enough to brew ale for them all. Such a cauldron existed in the home of a jötunn named Hymir and so Thor departed to meet with him. After arriving, Thor and Hymir went fishing together. Thor ripped the head off of Hymir’s prized oxen to use it as fishing bait, an insult that understandably didn’t sit well with Hymir. During the trip, Hymir caught a few whales whilst Thor managed to snare the serpent of Midgard known as Jörmungandr. The monstrous creature was hurled onto the boat before Thor smashed it with his hammer. Eventually, however, the serpent managed to slither away back into the depths. Back on dry land, Hymir decided to try his luck at defeating Thor. Thor and his Mjöllnir had other ideas and needless to say Hymir met his end.
Thor and Ragnarök
The Jörmungandr would be a worthy adversary to Thor and the pair would clash again during the catastrophic events of Ragnarök (the famous battle at the end of the world in Norse mythology, which saw the Æsir gods pitted against a multitude of beasts and creatures led by none other than Loki).
During the final fight, Thor and the Jörmungandr engaged in battle. Although Thor would be triumphant and kill the terrible beast, the victory would be his last. Poisoned by the serpent’s deadly venom, Thor managed just nine steps after slaying the creature before collapsing dead.
For more articles about the history and culture of the Vikings, check out our Viking history hub.