The worship of the Scandinavian gods ended a thousand years ago and the myths are now exotic and foreign to most people, but we make implicit reference to the gods and myths almost every day of our lives. The names of the weekdays Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday all contain the names of old Scandinavian gods(Ty´r, Odin, Thor, and

Frigg; the Old English forms were Tiw, Wodan, Thunor, and Friija) and the choice of the gods for each of these days was based on myths about them. Also, names and characters from Norse mythology make frequent appearances in modern fiction, literature and movies. Fenrir Grayback in the Harry Potter books is named after Fenrir, the wolf who was the offspring of the trickster god Loki. J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as admitted by its author were to be heavily influenced by the myths of the Northern Europeans. Movies like Thor and The Mask feature Thor, the strongest of the gods with fiery temper, always engaged in war with giants and Loki, who creates dangerous situations for the gods and then comes rescue them.

For these and many more contributions, we are indebted to the Norse, known today as Scandinavians-people of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands. Mistakenly, Norsemen are often thought of only as the fierce warriors of the Viking Age (A.D. 780–1070); however, Norse culture originated long before the dramatic explorations of the Vikings. It probably started to take root during the Bronze Age. The mythology of these people is rich, vigorous, and clever.

Materials relevant to the study of Scandinavian mythology span two millennia or more. According to experts, Norse mythology originated in Asia, was modified in the European Mediterranean lands, and eventually was carried north and west by migrating Teutonic tribes in the third to sixth centuries A.D. during the breakup of the Roman Empire. As the migrating tribes settled, the old stories they brought with them began to change with the local geography, climate, and temperament of the people. Later, during the Viking Age, the Norse began to explore and populate countries from the British Isles and the rest of Europe to Iceland, America, the Near East, Byzantium and Russia, taking with them, too, their myths and their culture. However, the Norse myths were not written down until the 13th century.

According to the sources, the Norse believed that before Odin, the all-Father there was the emptiness of Ginnungagap which was so vast that it extended forever in every direction. After the beginning of the world, there came into being two regions, Muspellhiem and Nuflheim. Muspellhiem was a region of fire in the South and means "Home of the destroyers of the world." because the fire giants made it their home later. The heat and flame from that region was so intense that even from a million miles away it scorched and shriveled everything. Surt, the fiercest of all giants, stood guard at Muspelhiem's borders barring any intruders, even the Gods. Niflheim was the second of the great regions in the northern part of Ginnungagap. Niflheim was a region of ice and snow and in its centre was the mighty fountain of all waters called Vergelmir, the roaring cauldron. It was said that all rivers came from Vergelmir.

Inevitably after aeons the regions of fire and ice met, there was a tremendous explosion. The venomous scum from Elivagar was fused into life by the intense heat of the fire. And across the yawning void of Ginnungagap there formed the body of an evil giant called Ymir. For many aeons Ymir lay asleep in his bath of poisonous mud and ice. At last he became solid and began to sweat. Under his armpit sprang new life, a male and female and from the mating of his feet came a six headed son. From them came the first frost giants.

However not all of the ice of Niflheim was poisoned, and in a place which remained pure despite being melted by the fires of Muspellhiem there formed a cow named Audhumla meaning "The great nurse" for from her great udder there flowed four rivers of milk and it was in this milk that the evil Ymir found his nourishment. But Audhumla needed nourishment as well so she licked the salty continents of ice and something new began to happen. On the first day, she licked out the form of hair and on the second, she formed the head of a man and by the third day she had licked out a complete man. He was Buri a great and mighty God, after some time he begot a son called Bor who married Bestla the daughter of one of the frost giants. They in turn had three sons: Odin, Vili and Ve.

Although Buri and his descendants were good Ymir and his were evil. Odin and his brothers hated the evil Ymir and they slew him. So much blood flowed from the slaughtered giant that it drowned all the frost giants except Bergelmir and his wife. Odin, Vili and Ve dragged Ymir's body into the middle of Ginnungagap so that the blood flowing from his body formed the sea. From his flesh they formed the Earth and from his shattered bones and teeth they made the rocks and stones. His blood circled the Earth as the sea and made the rivers and lakes. They set his skull in the sky secured by four dwarfs called North, South, East and West. They flung sparks of fire from Muspelhiem to make the Sun, Moon and stars. From his brains they made the clouds but still they had no wind so they placed one of Bergelmirs giant sons at the ends of the Earth in the form of an eagle so that he could flap his wings forever and make the wind.

Interestingly, Thor, the most renown God in Norse mythology, was the son of Odin and Fjorgyn(earth). He was the god of thunder and storms.  Thor had two wives: Jarnsaxa (Ironstone), who bore him two sons, Modi and Magni; and golden-haired Sif, who gave him two daughters, Lora and Thrud . His realm was Thrudheim; his hall was Bilskirnir (Lightning), which had 540 rooms, fittingly large for this giant of a god who loved to feast and entertain. Thor was strong and fiery of temper, but he was well loved by the gods, respected by the giants, and worshiped by the ordinary people. Thor did not ride a horse; instead he had a chariot pulled by two enormous billy goats, Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir. The wheels of the chariot made a noise like thunder when Thor raced across the heavens. Thor’s greatest possession was his hammer, Mjollnir. When he hurled it, the hammer always hit its mark and then returned to Thor like a boomerang. Mjollnir was not only a weapon but a symbol of fertility, used at weddings, and of resurrection, used at burials. Thor also had iron gauntlets with which he could crush rocks, and a belt, Megingjardir, which doubled his mighty strength. At Ragnarok, the end of the world, Thor killed the Midgard Serpent, his ancient enemy, but himself was killed by the poisonous fumes of the dying serpent. Worship of Thor continued for centuries after the coming of Christianity. His hammer, Mjollnir, was a potent weapon, the gods’ only real defense against the giants. Worshipers of Thor made wooden oak chairs with high backs, called “high seats,” to ensure Thor’s blessing on the house (protecting it from lightning) and the well-being and fruitfulness of the family and its lands. In addition to bringing thunder and lightning and storms, Thor sent the rain that made the fields fertile. Evidence of Thor’s popularity is found in the name Thursday (the fifth day of the week), and in numerous English place-names, such as Thundersley, in Essex; Thunderfield, Surrey; Thundridge, Hertfordshire; and many others in England and elsewhere.

The Norse mythology is a pertinent example for the fact that myths are as ancient as humankind and have their origin in the efforts of primitive people to explain the mysteries of the world around them and they fulfilled the need of people to believe in some higher being or beings who have power over the daily lives and fate of humankind. Despite the fact that euhumerization of these myths is not possible, they reflect the codes of behaviour, cultural customs, rites and ways of worship of people who lived millions of years ago.

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    February 2013