Who is Thor in Norse Mythology?
Thor was the Germanic thunder god. He was the son of Odin, the chief god, and Fjörgyn, the goddess of the earth. When the Anglo-Saxons eventually adopted the Roman calendar, they name the fifth day Thursday after Thor, for this was the day belonging to Jupiter, the Roman sky god and peer of the hot-tempered, red-handed Thor, along with the Greek Zeus and the Hindu Indra.
Thor’s name means “thunder”, and his magic hammer, Mjölnir, may once have meant “lightning”. Among Icelanders and Norwegians, family names like Thorsten recall the name of the god, for these farmers had little sympathy with the footloose Vikings who worshipped Odin, the father of the slain.
Thor, god of thunder—Aside from perhaps Odin, the all-father, there is no deity within Norse mythology more well-known than Thor. Although in recent years, much of his popularity could be attributed to pop culture, such as the Thor character created by Marvel Comics.
Thor was a principal deity within Germanic religions as far back as we have records. While the Marvel version certainly copies some of the aspects of Thor’s character, such as being the son of Odin, his legendary hammer Mjölnir, and his great reputation as a mighty warrior.
The version from Norse mythology stands apart in its way. This article will provide an overview of the god of thunder, his various deeds, and his eventual death during Ragnarök.
Origin of Thor
Thor, whose name derives from a word meaning “thunder”, is the son of Odin. And his mother is a female Jötunn who is generally believed to be a personification of the earth. This makes Thor three-quarter of a Jötunn himself, which is interesting as he is by far the greatest enemy of the Jötnar, and continually defends Asgard from them.
With Thor being the strongest of the gods, his might makes him quite capable as a warrior. However, his lack of his father’s wisdom and his ill-temper leads to him being often tricked.
Items Associated with Thor—Thor’s Symbols
Thor possesses several items that aid him in his hunts.
First, Thor owns two goats that pull his chariot. And he is known to slaughter and eat these goats only to resurrect them the next day.
On one occasion, Thor and Loki were travelling, stopped at the home of a farmer. Thor butchered his goats and shared the meat with the farmer’s family. But the son broke one of the bones open to suck at the marrow.
The next day, when Thor used his hammer to bring the goats back to life, he noticed one of their legs was lame. Realizing what had happened, Thor quickly grew immensely angry, gripping his hammer so hard his knuckles grew white.
The farmer’s family wailed for mercy, and Thor decided to take their children as his bond-servants.
Thor also possesses a magical belt that doubles his incredible strength and special iron gauntlets that allow Thor to grip his hammer.
Thor’s hammer Mjölnir is by far his most important possession, however. Mjölnir, a name likely meaning “lightning”, is easily among the most powerful artifacts within Norse mythology and is generally seen as Thor’s symbol.
Mjölnir was created when Loki went to two dwarven brothers and bet his own head that the brothers could not craft more beautiful items than the other dwarves that had crafted some things for the gods, including Odin’s spear.
The brothers agreed to the bet and began working, with one of the dwarves being told to continually work the bellows without stopping.
Loki, seeking to sabotage their work, changed into the form of a fly and bit the dwarf on the arm. But he continued working through the pain. The first item they produced was a gift to the god Freyr, a boar with glowing bristles. Then, Loki again went as a fly and bit the dwarf in the neck twice as hard, but he continued working. They produced a golden ring for Odin that would multiply itself eight times every ninth night.
Finally, Loki again went as a fly and bit the dwarf on the eyelid hard enough to draw blood. The blood dripped into the dwarfs’ eye, and he had to stop working the bellows just long enough to wipe his eye. They produced the legendary hammer Mjölnir, but due to Loki’s sabotage, the handle was too short of wielding with two hands.
Despite this, they won the bet and went to claim Loki’s head. But he said to take his head, they would have to cut his neck and his neck was not part of the deal. The dwarves relented but sewed his mouth shut to teach him a lesson.
Thor’s Tale: The Day Thor’s Hammer, Mjölnir, Went Missing—Thor Being a Bride
It is said that no matter what, Thor would strike with Mjölnir, and no matter how hard, the hammer would not break, and if he threw it, it would never miss and would always return to his hand.
On one occasion, Thor woke up to find his hammer missing. He went to Loki, distressed, and told him that it had been stolen. Loki went to Freya to borrow her falcon cloak so that he could search for it, and he flew straight to Jötunheimr. Here, he went to Thrym (Þrymr), king of the Jötnar, and asked him if he had hidden Thor’s hammer.
Thrym responded that he had hidden it eight miles beneath the earth and that no one would ever see it again unless they brought Freya here to become his wife.
Upon informing Thor of the situation, Thor went to Freya and told her to put on a bridal dress and come with him to Jötunheimr. Freya grew so angry at the notion that the halls of Asgard shook around her, and the two left her presence.
The gods convened to discuss the situation, as Thor needed to get his hammer back to protect Asgard.
Heimdall, the watcher, spoke up, saying that they should dress up Thor in a bridal dress and pass him off as Freya. Thor scoffed at the suggestion saying that it would be quite unmanly of him to do so. But Loki yelled that the Giants would invade Asgard if he doesn’t get his hammer back. And so, they began dressing Thor. Loki, in turn, dressed as Thor’s maidservant and the two headed to Jötunheimr.
Thrym heard that Freya was on her way and prepared a great ceremony to receive her. The disguise seemed to work as Thrym welcomed the two into his Hall and led them to the feasting table. Thor, feeling hungry, ate an entire ox, ate salmon, all the delicacies reserved for the women, as well as three horns of mead.
Thrym was quite surprised by this, but Loki explained that she had not eaten for eight days in anticipation of coming to Jötunheimr. Thrym then leaned forward to peer under his bride’s veil to kiss her but then leapt back in shock, asking why Freya’s eyes are so fierce and grim.
Loki again explained that she had not slept for eight days, again out of excitement. Thrym called to bring in Mjölnir so that they could bless the bride. Thor’s heart laughed with him when he saw his hammer, and when it was placed on his lap, he grabbed it, proceeding to kill the entire host of the Giants at the ceremony. And this is how Thor retrieved his hammer.
This is, of course, only one of many tales revolving around Thor’s battles with the Jotnar. On another occasion, Odin was out wandering and encountered the Jötunn named Hrungnir, said to be the strongest of the Jötnar. Odin challenged Hrungnir to a horse race back to Asgard, which Odin won.
After the race was over, the Jötunn was invited by Odin to stay for a feast. During the feast, Hrungnir grew quite drunk and began boasting, saying that he would destroy Asgard and all the gods, save for Freya and Sif, Thor’s wife, whom he wished to take to his home.
The gods were tired of his drunken boasting and called on Thor, who quickly appeared, hammer in hand. Hrungnir proceeded to challenge Thor to a duel on the border of Jötunheimr, where Hrungnir had all of his weapons.
As Thor had never been challenged to a duel before, he was intrigued and accepted. However, the other Jötnar were concerned because if Hrungnir was killed in the duel, the remaining Jötnar would have little chance against Thor.
They constructed a massive clay giant over 30 miles tall and placed the heart of a horse to animate it. When Thor arrived for the duel, the clay giant quaked in fear at the sight of him and wet itself.
Beginning the duel, Hrungnir threw his whetstone at Thor as hard as possible, while Thor threw Mjölnir at him. Mjölnir smashed through the whetstone and crushed Hrungnir’s skull. Part of the broken whetstone lodged in Thor’s head, where it remained until his death.
Hrungnir fell to the ground with one of his massive legs pinning Thor’s neck. None of the gods could lift the leg until Thor’s three-year-old son arrived and freed his father.
Enemies of Thor
However, the Jötnar are not Thor’s only foes; arguably, his greatest enemy is the world serpent, also known as Jörmungandr, meaning huge monster.
The world serpent is one of the children of Loki and lives in the great ocean surrounding Midgard, wrapped around the earth. When Thor is asked to perform several deeds by the Jötunn named Utgard-Loki, one of these deeds is to lift a giant cat. Thor is unable to lift it above his head but does lift it enough to make it let go of the ground with one of its paws.
When Utgard-Loki reveals that the cat was actually the Midgard serpent in disguise, he claims that Thor pulled off quite an impressive feat.
Some other time, the gods wish to have a great feast but needed a massive cauldron to brew enough mead for all the guests. Only the Jötunn Hymir possessed such a cauldron, and so Thor went to him to retrieve it.
Hymir was not pleased to see Thor, killer of Jötnar, in his home but slaughtered three bulls for him to eat during his stay. Thor ate two that night, and Hymir saw that he would quickly run out of food and so declared that they would need to go fishing in the morning to procure more food.
The next day, Hymir told Thor to fetch some bait for their hooks, and so Thor went into the Jötunn’s pastures and ripped the head off of one of his bulls to use as bait, angering Hymir even more.
The two rode out into the sea, and Hymir caught two whales, much to his delight. Thor insisted they row out even further, but Hymir grew fearful as he knew the Midgard serpent lurked beneath these waters.
Thor baited his hook with the head of the bull and cast his line into the water. The Midgard serpent took the bait, and Thor began fighting against the serpent. Hymir became terrified of the situation, and Thor planted his feet so hard against the bottom of the boat that the planks broke, and water began pouring in.
Finally, the Serpent’s head came above water, dripping poison. What happens next depends on the account, but either Thor smashes Mjölnir into the Serpent’s head, snapping the line and sending it back into the water. Or Hymir, out of fear for his life, cuts the line himself. Either way, the serpent manages to survive the encounter, and Thor pulls the sinking boat back to shore.
Although Thor eventually took the cauldron from Hymir’s home, Hymir and a host of giants followed him, and so Thor proceeded to use Mjölnir to slaughter them all.
The Death of Thor
Unfortunately, in the time of Ragnarok, Thor would once again encounter the Midgard serpent. Although Thor would slay the serpent, he’s poisoned by its venom. After taking nine steps, Thor drops dead.
People had revered Thor for centuries as the archetypical warrior. Mighty, loyal, and always willing to defend his home and his people. Although Thor would often substitute brawn for wisdom, the gods often depended on him to protect them.
Norse warriors would often call upon Thor to aid them in battle, as it was believed that the appearance of thunder and lightning was Thor battling the Jötnar. Although popular culture has certainly warped the image of the Thundergod, he’ll always be one of the most legendary warriors to ever exist in myth.
Image Sources: Thor as a bride.