"ÅSGÅRDSREIEN" BY PETER NICOLAI ARBO (1872)
Mjölnir is the sacred hammer of Thor, the Norse God of thunder. Mjölnir comes from the Old Norse word Mjǫlnir, which means "the painter and the crusher of dust", and according to Norse Mythology, it is one of the most fearsome and powerful weapons in existence.
Mjölnir was given to Thor by the Norse God Loki as compensation after Loki tricked the dwarf Eitri (or Sindri) and his brother Brokkr to forge the most beautiful objects in the 9 Worlds. Because of Loki's interference in the forging process, the handle to Mjölnir became shorter than planned so that it can only be weilded with one hand, but Mjölnir is so awesome that when Thor weilds it, he can protect the gods.
Mjölnir is often interpreted as a weapon, as it is described as something so powerful it could level mountains. Thor could decide what power the hammer would hit with, and when he aimed and threw Mjölnir, it always hit the target. No matter how far Thor threw Mjölnir, the hammer always always returned to its owner.
Then he gave the hammer to Thor, and said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand; and if be desired, he might keep it in his sark, it was so small; but indeed it was a flaw in the hammer that the fore-haft was somewhat short. — The Prose Edda, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (1916).
The Norse people entrusted Mjölnir with their protection, and 50 different Viking Age Mjölnir amulets have been found, mostly around Norway, Sweden and Denmark. There are two main types of Mjölnir amulet, one is a hammer attached to a ring (mostly from the 8th and 9th century) the other is used as a pendant (mostly from the 10th and 11th century) made of steel or silver, and some of which are decorated.
Very often there are sacred spiritual symbols on these amulets. The 3 main symbols on the Mjölnir amulets mean infinity / eternity. The first is a 3 sided intertwined infinty / eternity symbol. The second is the simple 2 sided figure eight eternity / infinity symbol . The third is the figure eight infinity symbol intertwined in a circle, which also means infinity / completeness. The circle also symbolizes promises (oaths) such as marriage.
Thor's hammer is not only a symbol of strength, it is also a phallic fertility symbol and most Mjölnir amulets have been found in the graves of women from the Viking age. In Norwegian mythology, the myth of Trym is a poem about Mjölnir being stolen from Thor. The God of thunder had to disguise himself as the bride and place himself in great danger in order to get Mjölnir back. Mjölnir was so important to the gods they had to save the hammer no matter what it would cost. This myth tells us that Mjølner was extremely important to Norse wedding ceremonies, and that Mjölnir is more than simply a weapon. At Norse wedding ceremonies, Thor's hammer was placed on the lap of the bride, making Mjölnir a sacred symbol used in the sacred act of marriage and the blessed sexuality between woman and man.
There are many image stones and runestones with depictions of Mjölnir including the Stenkvista runestine in Södermanland, Sweden. (right)
There are also several runestones with similiar inscriptions asking Thor to "hallow" or protect the memorial or artefact.
In one of the most impacting parts of Norse Mythology, Mjölnir is important for the sacred ceremony when Thor uses Mjölnir at the funeral of Balder. This time, Thor uses the hammer to honor, protect, and bless his half-brother on his journey into the next life. Using Mjölnir in this ceremony was about death and rebirth as change and transformation.
When Ragnarok (the end of the gods) is over, Mode and Magne, the sons of Thor, survive and inherit Mjölnir. Thus the sacred Mjölnir continues into the new era.
Norse Mythology is a representation of Viking Age Scandinavian people's collective understanding of the universe, nature, history, customs, culture and spirituality. It is their collection of sacred stories, passed down from generation to generation, for over a thousand years.
The mythology of the Vikings is full of powerful gods and goddesses, sacred dieties that are heightened versions of the individuals who worshipped them. Most of the Norse gods and godesses are fertility beings, who are strong, passionate, brutal, committed, vengeful, lusty, courageous, crafty, and imbued with a dark sense of humor. Virile qualities that were valued by the Vikings, and woven into their daily lives as part of everything they were.
The most powerful Norse god is Odin, the Allfather of the Universe and ruler of the Æsir, the main gods in Norse mythology. Odin reigns in Asgard, from Old Norse Ásgarðr, meaning "Enclosure of the Æsir". Odin’s grandfather Buri was created by the primeval cow Audhumbla, who is the origin of the Æsir gods. Odin’s parents are Bestlaand Bor, and he has two brothers, Vili and Ve. These three brothers are the first Æsir gods. Together they killed the giant Ymir and created the visible world from his body. The brothers also created the first human couple, Askand Embla out of two logs that drifted by. The Allfather then gave both Ask and Embla a heart and soul.
The Norse God Odin has had many relationships with different women. With the goddess Fjörgyn, Odin has a son, Thor. With a Jotun woman called Grid, Odin has a son, Víðarr. With the goddess Rid, Odin has a son Váli, and it is possible that he also had sons Hermód and Höd with unknown mothers. Odin is married to the goddess Frigg, and together they have a son Baldr.
Odin is the Viking god of war, death and wisdom. His hall is the largest and most majestic of all the gods halls, and is called Valhalla, from Old Norse Valhöll, meaning "Hall of the slain". Odin's home is Valaskjálf, meaning "Shelf of the slain". Here, Odin has a throne called Hliðskjálf, which means "Mountain shelf". From this throne, Odin can looks over all the realms of the universe, and this world to see what people do.
As the most important Norse god of war, and the one who brings victory, Odin uses trickery and deception to defeat opponents and reach his goal. The Allfather has a spear called Gungnir, meaning "swaying one" in Old Norse ". Gungnir can hit any target, and was thrown over the heads of an opposing army to start the battle. Odin receives half of those who have fallen in battle. These Viking warriors become Einherjar and will fight beside Odin against evil at Ragnarok. In Old Norse Ragnarök means "Fate of the Gods" or "Twilight of the Gods".
Odin has many animals around him. His horse Sleipnir, mean "Slippy" in Old Norse, and is untamable and the fastest of all horses. Sleipner has eight legs, can run over land, water, mountains and in the air, and can navigate through the worlds. The Allfather has two wolves, Geri and Freki, meaning "the ravenous" and "greedy one" in Old Norse. These wolves sit in front of his throne in Valhalla. The Prose Edda refers to Odin as "raven-god" due to his association with his two ravens, Huginn, meaning "thought" or "conciousness", and Muninn, meaning "memory" or "mind". These two ravens fly all over Midgard, the realm of humans, and bring information to Odin, according to the 13th century Poetic Edda.
Odin has a voracious for wisdom, and in his insatiable search for knowledge, Odin sacrificed one of his eyes to drink from Mímisbrunnr, meaning "Mímir's well" in Old Norse. Odin also hanged himself for nine nights from the world tree Yggdrasil to recieve understanding, rune secrets and knowledge. Odin has great magic and is the Norse god of spells.
Odin often travels to Midgard, and walks among the people. Here he gave the gift of the runes to humans, and through Hávamál, Odin gave good advice on how people should live their lives, both physically and metaphysically. The Allfather has been worshiped by people since the migration period, and the ruling class were probably those who worshiped Odin most. The Allfather was both generous and cruel, and however people sacrificed to Odin and got his blessing, they never knew how the outcome would be, because in the middle of a situation, Odin could change his mind. In the Younger Edda, Snorri Sturluson describes Odin as the ancestor of the Royal lineage in Scandinavia.
The Scandinavian people of the Viking Age, who were surrounded by and lived in raw nature, believed that everything in nature had a spirit. It was incredibly important for Vikings to communicate with nature spirits, the spirits of their ancestors, and to cultivate their own strong spirit.
No diety personified nature to the Vikings more than the Norse goddess Fjorgyn. The Old Norse name Fjörgyn means Mother Earth, planet Earth, or land that is earth. Fjorgyn is the Norse people's oldest living Æsir goddess, their main fertility goddess, and the personification of the fertile earth. According to the Prose Edda, everything that happens on the planet Earth is because of the goddess Fjorgyn.
According to Snorri's Prose Edda, Odin created the Earth and fell in love with her. Fjorgyn became Odin's first wife, or mistress, and bore him a son, Thor, the God of thunder. This union between the sky god and the Earth created the strongest of all the Norse gods, a product of the earth's power.
Fjorgyn nurtures the divine children and protects mortal children, and thus humanity. Everything we humans surround ourselves with is created by Mother Earth, and everything that lives and then dies becomes the Earth. Fjorgyn nurtures all living things and takes everything that dies. The Norse people knew that our planet was alive and had a life. They showed Fjorgyn respect and knew that they had to take care of her fertility, because without her, there is no life.
Vikings knew that the Earth was incredibly old and had powerful forces. They also knew that when they cultivated the earth she became more fertile, and because of this they had a much better life. Vikings used earth in sacred rituals involving life events. In Sigrdrífumál, the Valkyrie Sigrdrifa (Brynhild) teaches her magic spells to Sigurd, in appreciation for his rescuing of her. The verse she uses mentions Fjorgyn, and is one of the oldest recorded greeting we know from the Norse culture:
heil sia in fiolnyta fold
mal oc manvit
gefit ocr męrom tveim
oc lęcnishendr meþan lifom
heil sjá in fjölnýta fold,
mál ok mannvit
gefið okkr mærum tveim
ok læknishendr, meðan lifum.
Hail bounteous earth!
Words and wisdom
give to us noble twain,
and healing hands in life!
Hail to the gods !
Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom
and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.
In Norse mythology, Odin sends his Valkyries to select the bravest warriors on Midgard. These brave warriors are then chosen by the valkyrie to die in battle and accompany them to Asgard. Once they are in Asgard, the fallen brave are divided between Odin and Freya. Those chosen by Odin are called Einherjar, which means One-army in Old Norse.
The sole purpose of the einherjar is to fight as Odin's warriors. Every day they train and prepare for the biggest battle in Norse Mythology; Ragnarök, meaning "Fate of the Gods".
The einherjar stay at Odin’s hall called Valhalla, the 'Hall of the fallen'. In Vallhalla, the einherjar will be taken care of by the valkyrie, who will give the warriors mead and ensure that they thrive.
In the morning when the einherjer wake, they ready themselves with their armor, helmet, shield and weapons, and then go to iðavöllr for combat training. The einherjar continue their brutal combat training until sundown, when the fallen arise unscathed, and all ride back to Valhalla as good friends, where the valkyrie serve mead and meat from the boar Sæhrímnir, to the einherjar warriors.
The einherjar symbol is the Valknut, a symbol consisting of three interlocked triangles. Valknut is from the Old Norse ‘valras’ meaning 'killed warriors’ and ‘knut’ meaning 'knot '. This symbol found on various Norse and Germanic places, like runestones and the Osberg ship.
One of the Norwegian kings who became an Einherjar is Håkon the Good. It is the valkyrie Skogul who chooses that the jarl will die in battle and be with her to Valhalla. When Håkon arrives at Valhalla, he dreads meeting Odin, as he chose a different faith. But Håkon is welcomed by the gods, and the god Bragi tells Håkon that he has eight brothers in Valhalla, that he should drink of the Æsir’s mead, and that would possess the peace from all einherjar.
Eirik Bloodaxe is another Norwegian king chosen to be einherjer. In Valhalla, the god Bragi wondered who was making the sound of thunder. Odin replied that Bragi know it was Eirik Bloodaxe who would shortly be arriving in Valhalla. There was a reason for celebration new einherjer came to Valhalla, especially einherjer who were kings.
In Norse mythology, Einherjar are a confirmation that to live a bold life, a person can be reborn at a higher level, meaning to live with the gods. With the gods, the einherjar have one task, which is to fight at Ragnarok, and sacrifice themselves for the new world.
Valkyrie are female spirits who are Odin's warriors. The Old Norse word valr, means those who fall in battle, and kyrja means to choose. In Old Norse, Valkyrie means the 'choosers of the slain', which describes their mission.
Valkyries choose the bravest and most courageous warriors to fall on a battlefield, and determine the outcome of the battle. The valkyries then take the fallen warriors with them to Asgard.
In Asgard the Norse goddess Freya gets half the fallen warriors and takes them to her home Folkvangen, "the field of the warriors". The remainder of the fallen warriors become Odin's einherjar and stay at Valhalla.
In Valhalla, the tasks of the valkyrie are to serve Odin and the einherjar. Here the valkyries ensure that the einherjar have enough mead to drink, which is an important ritual in Valhalla. The valkyries are important to sacred Norse ceremonies, and in such rituals, the valkyries fill the drinking horn with mead that brings out memories.
Valkyrie were concerned that the dead were buried in kindness, and the valkyries accompanied Odin and Frigg to one of the largest ceremonies in Norse Mythology, that of Balder's funeral.
There are two kinds of valkyrie in Norse mythology. The original valkyrie are those that come from Valhalla. The other valkyrie are half human and half divine, who lived on earth as mortal women, then traveled to Valhalla after their death.
They are also portrayed as everything from beautiful sheild-maiden/hostess to fearsome spirits. The Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, between 1220 and 1241, described valkyries as semi-goddesses with shield and sword or spear. Poems and sagas written before, and after, Snorri, have described the valkyries as monsters who tread bloody battlefields in search of brave warriors.
It is written that valkyries are armed and dressed in full armor, with shields and helmets. Valkyries are skilled riders and ride their horses in herds, through the air, water and overland. When valkyries come galloping through the air can than see a glimpse of the bright light that may seem like a lightning flash across the sky. When they are on the ground, it may look like they are on fire.
Valkyries are lovers of heroes and other mortals, and some valkyrie were the daughters of kings. Sometimes valkyries can change into swans, and sometimes they have with them ravens, who they can communicate with. In the poem Oddrúnargrátr, the valkyries are also called óskmey, "wish maid", and in the Nafnaþulur they are also called Óðins meyjar, "Odin's maids".
Valkyries also have knowledge of magical abilities of the runes. They also have the power of healing and are able to give good advice on how people should live their lives. Valkyries advise on how people should behave at a Thing, Viking parliament, that a man should not argue with someone who is drunk, that he should not let a beautiful women seduce him, that he should not force young girls or married women to sex, to not be vengeful on people who have flaunted themselves, and to be brave in battle.
Some valkyries went against Odin's will, which meant that he punished them harshly. The most famous of these is the valkyrie Brynhild, whose name means 'armor battle' or 'shining battle'. Brynhild has seven sisters, all of whom are valkyries, and she is known as the strongest of the valkyries.
In the Poetic Edda is a short Old Norse verse called Helreið Brynhild, "Brynhild's journey to Hel". The poem describes Brynhild as a Valkyrie and shieldmaiden. During an important assignment for Odin, Brynhild disappointed the All-father during an important assignment. As punishment, Odin sentenced her to live life as a mortal woman.
Brynhild was imprisoned in a remote castle, where she had to sleep inside a circle of flames until a brave man came to rescue and marry her. The brave hero who rescued her was 'Sigurd the dragon slayer', and the story has a tragic ending.
Valkyries are mentioned or appear in the Poetic Edda poems Völuspá, Grímnismál, Völundarkviða, Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II and Sigrdrífumál. Many valkyrie names are mentioned in the Eddas, and many of the names emphasize associations with battle, especially the spear, which is associated with Odin.
Archaeological excavations throughout Scandinavia have uncovered amulets theorized as depicting valkyries. Specific valkyrie are mentioned on two runestones; a valkyrie riding a wolf as her steed on the early 9th century Rök Runestone in Östergötland, Sweden, and the valkyrie Þrúðr on the 10th-century Karlevi Runestone on the island of Öland, Sweden.
In 1905, the 9th century Oseberg Viking ship was discovered in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm near Tønsberg, Norway. Amongst the grave goods found on the wreckage of this amazing ship, were some fabrics, including a stunning fragmentary tapestry depicting a Viking Age ceremony.
This fabric, called the Oseberg Tapestry, which was probably a part of the funeral offering in the Oseberg ship, was created in about the year 834. Over 1100 years old, the tapestry is in bad condition and its decay meant it took several years to extract.
The fragments of this beautiful national treasure feature a scene of what looks like a procession. Amongst the many images in this scene are two black birds, very probably Odin's ravens Huginn and Munnin, hovering over a horse with a rider who could be Odin. Also featured in the scene are images of valkyries carrying drinking horns, as they would at a sacred Norse ceremony.
Spirituality was an integral part of the Norse people. It was a part of everything they were, in a way that is difficult for us born in this modern world to understand. For the Scandinavian people of the Viking Age, everything in nature had a spirit. For these people, it was important to communicate with spirits and cultivate their own strong spirit.
Much of our understanding of Viking spirituality comes from Norse Mythology. Mythology is a collection of sacred stories of a religious or cultural tradition. A culture's collective mythology helps convey explain nature, history, customs, and a culture’s spirituality.
In Norse mythology, there are stories about interpreting dreams and the sacrifices. According to these sacred stories, everything in the universe is physically connected, and everything is spiritually connected.
There were and are many spiritual paths in Viking spirituality. Seiðr, galdr, utesitting and runes are forms of coming in contact with spirituality. There are Norse ceremonies that follow year cycles and phases of the moon. In Old Norse, seiðr was a type of sacred ritual which was practiced in Norse society during the Viking Age.
Our ancestor’s wisdom can be found in the Norse myths, in the Edda poems and sagas. Wisdom and understanding can be found in Norse myth stories about the world's creation, destruction and renewal. Urkraft, a name for ancient power, is a strong and free power, which can't be suppressed or manipulated.
Viking spirituality has many similarities with Sami shamanism and other shaman traditions around the world. The Norse vǫlva (a female shaman or seer) and Seiðmenn (seið-men) had a thorough understanding of healing herbs found in nature, energies, spirits and wisdom. Vǫlva in Old Norse means "wand carrier" or "carrier of a magic staff". Practitioners of seiðr were predominantly women, vǫlva or seiðkona, seiðr-woman or seiðr-wife". There were male practitioners, seiðmaðr, seiðr-man, as well, but this was deemed unmanly.
There is not a lot written about Norse spirituality, and a lot of the Viking's spirituality is very misunderstood, but spirituality was a major part of a Viking's life.Spirituality is very important regarding the way the Norse people and especially Viking warriors lived. A major part of this spirituality was connected to fate and destiny and the understanding of life after death.
To live not just without fear of death, but to live and fight knowing that you would live again and serve a greater purpose, gives a freedom to live and fight without reservation that is hard to imagine for most people today. This wasn't a question of belief, these people knew that this was the way of things, which made it possible to live and fight to the fullest.
HÁVAMÁL - VIKING WARRIOR SPIRITUAL WISDOM
For the Viking warrior, his or her spirit and spirituality was of paramount importance, according to the Edda’s. This is very clear in a specific part of the Poetic Edda called the Hávamál.
Often described as the wisdom of the North, Hávamál is one of the most important documents from Viking Age Scandinavia. Attributed to the Norse God Odin, the Hávamál’s wisdom gave spiritual nourishment to the Vikings in their daily lives, their long journeys to discover new lands, and their personal journeys to discover the meaning of life and death.
Þagalt og hugalt People should be
skyldi þjóðans barn Quiet and thoughtful
og vígdjarft vera. And brave in conflict
Glaður og reifur They should live
skyli gumna hver Happy and friendly
uns sinn bíður bana. Until their last day.
Hávamál - verse 15
The first 80 verses called "Hávamál proper" deals with basic everyday wisdom. Verses 80 to 164 deal with magic. Vikings garnered wisdom and inspiration from Hávamál, inherited from their ancestors. Hávamál’s content provides a clear picture of the Viking's philosophy and beliefs about how life should be lived both as a physical being and a spiritual entity. On a spiritual level Hávamál explains how to deal with a world of spirituality where unknown dangers and sacred knowledge are hidden.
Seid, or seiðr, is a collective term for the knowledge and techniques that are at the interface between religion and magic. Seid was considered secret/sacred knowledge in the Iron Age and Viking Nordic region.
In Norse society, seid was mainly practiced by women who were called Volve, vǫlur, Seiðkonur and vísendakona. A man could also engage in seid, but he did not receive the same respect as the Crone or Volve. There are accounts of male practitioners, known as seiðmenn, but in practising this sacred knowledge, they brought a social taboo known as ‘ergi’ on to themselves, and were sometimes persecuted as a result.
Odin is the Norse god who is simultaneously responsible for war, poetry and sorcery. It is said that Odin learned seid from the goddess Freya. This shows that Odin was a god who had no boundaries or adherence to social norms.
Accounts of Seid/seiðr are found in sagas and other literary sources, and evidence of Seid has been unearthed by archaeologists. Various scholars have debated the nature of seiðr over the centuries, with some arguing that it was shamanic in context, involving visionary journeys by its practitioners..