The Norse deities are divided into two major groups, the Aesir and the Vanir. The Vanir, the “Earth Gods”, symbolize riches, fertility, and fecundity. They are associated with the earth and the sea. The most important Gods of the Vanir are Njord, Freyr, Aegir and Freya.

 

The Aesir, the “Sky Gods”, symbolize power, wisdom, and war. They are long lived, but not immortal. Odin is the leader of the Gods, with magical skills. Thor, with his magic hammer, is the God of Thunder who presides over working men. Loki is a Giant who is an Aesir by adoption. He and Odin made a vow of friendship and became blood-brothers. Loki is a trickster, a shapeshifter, and a troublemaker.

 

In the distant past a fierce war was fought between the Aesir and the Vanir. The conflict between the Gods began when Odin and Thor refused to recognize the full status of Godhood to the Vanir. The Vanir sent a beautiful woman, Gullveig (gold-drink), to the Aesir, who tried to destroy her. She came back to life three times, and led to their corruption. War then broke out. After both sides were exhausted, each side exchanged members of its group with the other; the Vanir sent Njord and his son and daughter Freyr and Freya, the Aesir sent Mimir and Hoenir. The truce was celebrated by a meeting at which all the Gods spit into a bowl, creating a Giant called Kvasir, who is the sign of peace and harmony among the deities. Kvasir was later sacrificed and from his blood became a potent drink which inebriates deities and gives inspiration to poets.

 

Balder, one of the sons of Odin, appeared as the essence of intelligence, piety, and wisdom. Both Gods and men came to him to settle legal disputes, and his judgments were reconciling and fair. Balder had a dream in which his life was threatened. Upon reporting this dream to his mother, Frigga, she exacted an oath from fire, water, metals, earth, stones, and all birds and animals. They swore they would not harm Balder. Because of his immunity, the Aesir used Balder as a target in games, throwing darts and stones at him. When Loki saw this, he disguised himself as a woman and asked Frigga why Balder suffered no harm. Frigga told him of the oath. Loki tricked her into telling him that mistletoe was the only being that did not agree to the oath. Loki immediately took mistletoe and created arrows. He took the arrows to the Blind God Hoder, brother of Balder, and volunteered to direct his aim so that he would participate in the game. When the mistletoe struck Balder, Balder fell dead.

 

Because Balder was not a warrior and did not die in battle, he did not go to Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes, but into the domain of Hel, Keeper of the Dead. When Odin begged his release, Hel (Loki’s daughter) responded that if everything in the world both dead and alive wept for Balder, then he could return to the Aesir. If not, he would remain with Hel. The Aesir sent messengers throughout the world asking all to weep for Balder. All responded except a Giantess, Thokk (Loki in disguise), whose refusal to weep forced Balder to remain in Hel’s domain. The Aesir succeeded in capturing Loki. To punish him for his many crimes, they chained him beneath a serpent, which dripped venom onto him, causing terrible pain.

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