Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

5 Odd Things in Norse Mythology

A painting by Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo

Norse mythology makes for some great reading but every now and then you can run across something that makes you scratch your head for a minute. This week I’ll be sharing some of the odder things I ran across.

Heimdal’s teeth
According to the Eddas “He also bears the appellation of the Gold-toothed, on account of his teeth being of pure gold…” I can understand his super hearing and extraordinary sight (Heimdal can hear the grass grow and can see for a hundred miles, day or night.) Those senses help Heimdal fulfill his role as the guardian of the rainbow bridge. I’m not as clear on the purpose of the golden teeth.

The Norse sagas are filled with mentions of all kinds of mighty creatures. There is the Fenris Wolf, there is the Midgard Serpent, and there is Ratatoskr, the Squirrel? Yes, a squirrel. Now, granted, he isn’t a creature of might and doesn’t serve the role of a monster. Ratatoskr’s sole purpose is to run up and down Yggdrasil the World Tree. He does this so he can serve as a messenger between the unnamed eagle who lives at the top and Nidhoggr, the wyrm who is chained at the bottom of the tree. If a squirrel carrying messages isn’t odd enough, the messages are said to consist of “slanderous gossip.”

Mimir’s Head
The problem with Mimir’s head is that it isn’t attached to his body. After the war between the Aesir and the Vanir gods was over, hostages were exchanged. Mimir was one of them. The Vanir became angry at the other hostage but instead of hurting him they cut off Mimir’s head and sent it to Odin as a sign of their displeasure. Odin preserved the head using herbs and set it up as the guardian of the Well of Knowledge.

The Four Corners of the World
Greek mythology gives us the myth of Atlas, a Titan who bore the weight of the sky on his mighty shoulders. The only other person who could master that task was Heracles, the mighty son of Zeus. So it required some serious strength to hold up the sky. Who did the Norse myths assign to this serious task? Was it Magni, son of Thor, whose name actually means “strong?” No, in Norse myths the sky is held up by four Dwarves. Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri serve in this important role. Their names mean North, South, East and West. It is a rare instance of the Dwarves getting a mention outside of their role as master craftsmen.

The name of this event has been interpreted to mean either Fate of the Gods or Twilight of the Gods. It is often compared to the Christian vision of the Apocalypse but there is a big difference in that Ragnarok is not the end of everything. It is a time when brothers will fight and it is referred to as “an axe-age, a sword-age.” But after Ragnarok is done and the battles are over, a new golden age dawns upon the face of the earth. So it is about total warfare and the end of the world. But Ragnarok is also about the birth of a new and better time.

I hope you’re enjoying this series on Norse mythology. If there’s any subject you’d like to hear about, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. You can also check out the other entries in this series.


Series Navigation<< Five Magical Weapons from Norse Mythology

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  1. Great post. I think the coolest part of Norse mythology was the way their gods had human failings. Made for some great tales.

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