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Freya of Scandinavia Hel of Norway
Thor of Scandinavia - Strange Deities
381    Dibyendu Banerjee    22/07/2020   

According to Germanic and Norse mythology, Thor was the protector of mankind, the god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength and fertility. Developed from the earlier Germanic god Donar, Thor became the most popular deity of the Norse pantheon and was described as the son of the god Odin, known as being the ruler of the gods and Jord, the personification of the earth. He was fierce eyed, red haired, red bearded and rides in a chariot pulled by two goats. He wears a belt in his waist, iron gloves on his hands and wields a mountain-crushing magical hammer, called Mjollnir that only he can lift and it would return to him like a boomerang when he threw it into the sky. The roar of thunder was considered as the rumble of the wheels of his chariot across the vault of the heavens and he is also credited with creating tides. He is hot-tempered and prefers direct action over discussion or planning in solving any problem. Apart from being the defender of Asgard, realm of the gods and Midgard, the human realm, Thor is primarily associated with protection through great feats of arms in slaying giants. His popularity reached its height during the Viking Age and roughly from the 10th century AD, when Christianity was introduced in Scandinavia, Thor was considered the greatest rival to Christ.

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However, Thor was not just the preferred god of the Viking warriors. His strength and direct response to any given problem made him equally appealing to all the social classes during the Viking Age. Even, a housewife could pray and call upon Thor for help with domestic challenges. He would always help a farmer, a weaver or a brewer to solve their problems. As evidenced by his popularity, Thor became the Norse god of everybody.

Thor of Scandinevia
Thor in his chariot pulled by goats

Thor is related to a mythical story featuring Hrungnir, the mightiest of all giants, the spirit of darkness. According to the story, one day when Odin visited Jotunheim, the homeland of the giants, Hrungnir could not recognize him at the first glance, but was wondering aloud about the identity of the stranger whose horse could ride through the air and the water. At this, Odin challenged him by saying that, except the eight-legged horse of Odin, his horse could outrun any horse in Jotunheim. The open insult enraged Hrungnir and provoked by the challenge he immediately mounted his horse, Gullfaxi, to teach him a lesson and galloped to catch him up. In the mad pursuit, they raced through mud and streams, over steep and rocky hills and between the trees in the thick woodlands. Finally, while still lagging behind, the giant unknowingly passed through the gates of Asgard, the home of the gods. However, the gods welcomed him and invited him for a drink with them.

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But the story did not end there. As he became drunk, Hrungnir became aggressive and started to boast that he would kill all the gods, except Freya, the goddess of love, sex, lust and beauty and the golden-haired goddess Sif, the wife of Thor, whom he would carry back to Jotunheim with him. It was too much for the gods and they sent for Thor. On his arrival, Thor immediately sensed the situation and lifted his hammer to smash the giant on the spot. But as Hrungnir mocked and taunted Thor for his cowardice intention to kill someone who is unarmed, a duel was arranged. Hrungnir walked to the field wearing a stone-armour and brandished a stone shield and menacingly waved a whetstone, his chosen weapon. Suddenly, he saw lightning and heard thunder clap above him, as Thor roared onto the battlefield and hurled his hammer at the giant. The giant slung his whetstone at the god, which burst against Thor’s forehead and shattered into pieces, creating all the flints on the earth. Thor’s hammer also struck Hrungnir’s head and that shattered the head of the giant.

Thor of Scandinevia

On another occasion, two gracious giants, Aegir and his wife Ran, invited the gods to a lavish feast and requested them to arrange for a big cauldron to brew alcoholic drinks for all. As only the giant Hymir possessed that type of a large cauldron, Thor was entrusted with the responsibility to get the cauldron from Hymir. Upon arrival of his house Thor requested Hymir to accompany him for fishing and as he agreed, Thor went to Hymir’s pastures, slaughtered three bulls for provisions for the two during his stay and devoured two of the bulls in one sitting to satisfy his legendary hunger. It made Hymir shocked and dismayed and he declared that he would not be able to arrange for the baits for the proposed fishing. Next day, in the morning, Thor slaughtered the biggest of the remaining bulls of Hymir, intending to use the head as bait. Hymir was deeply irritated and enraged at it, but kept his cool, with the hope to use Thor’ strength and courage while fishing.

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Nevertheless, the two got into the boat and Thor rowed them out to Hymir’s usual fishing grounds, where the giant Hymir caught two whales. Although he was delighted at his catch, he told Thor to row back immediately, as the monstrous sea serpent lurks below the wild waves in the area. However, Thor did not pay any heed to it, he just dropped the oars and cast his line into the water. After a few minutes of ominous silence and calm, Thor felt a mighty tug on his line and as he reeled it in, a violent rumbling shook the boat and whipped the waves. Thor planted his feet firmly in the bottom of the boat, but soon the planks gave way and water began pouring in. At last, the serpent’s head, with the hook in his venom-dripping mouth, came up above the water and Thor reached for his hammer. But, at this moment, Hymir grew pale in panic and cut the fishing line. As a result, the howling snake slunk back down into the ocean and Thor, being enraged at having missed this opportunity to end his greatest foe, tossed Hymir overboard. After that, with the two whales slung over his shoulders, Thor waded back to land, picked up Hymir’s cauldron and returned to Asgard, the abode of gods.

Thor of Scandinevia
Thor and the sea serpent, by Emil Doepler (1905)

The cult of Thor was gradually replaced by the new religion by the 12th century AD. His worshippers either died resisting Christian conversion or accepted the new faith and the Temples of Thor were converted to churches. However, even today, Thor is associated with the English word for the fifth day of the week, Thursday, while in the Germanic countries, it is called Donnerstag, meaning thunder day, which comes from the word Donar, the name of Thor in the Germanic countries. Apart from that, many places across the globe like, Mount Thors in Canada, Thor Fjord in Greenland and Thor Desert in India, bears the name of Thor.

Thor of Scandinevia
Freya of Scandinavia Hel of Norway
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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