Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

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Huldra’s Nymphs

Huldra’s Nymphs

B. E. Ward

In Scandinavia, this goddess was also known as Huldra, and boasted of a train of attendant wood-nymphs, who sometimes sought the society of mortals, to enjoy a dance upon the village green. They could always be detected, however, by the tip of a cow’s tail which trailed from beneath their long snow-white garments. These Huldra folk were the special protectors of the cattle on the mountain-sides, and were said to surprise the lonely traveller, at times, by the marvellous beauty of the melodies they sang to beguile the hours at their tasks. [59]


Chapter IV: Thor

The Thunderer

According to some mythologists, Thor, or Donar, is the son of Jörd (Erda) and of Odin, but others state that his mother was Frigga, queen of the gods. This child was very remarkable for his great size and strength, and very soon after his birth amazed the assembled gods by playfully lifting and throwing about ten great bales of bear skins. Although generally good-tempered, Thor would occasionally fly into a terrible rage, and as he was very dangerous at these times, his mother, unable to control him, sent him away from home and entrusted him to the care of Vingnir (the winged), and of Hlora (heat). These foster-parents, who are also considered as the personification of sheet-lightning, soon managed to control their troublesome charge, and brought him up so wisely, that the gods entertained a very grateful recollection of their kind offices. Thor himself, recognising all he owed them, assumed the names of Vingthor and Hlorridi, by which he is also known.

“Cry on, Vingi-Thor,

With the dancing of the ring-mail and the smitten shields of war.”

Sigurd the Volsung (William Morris).

Having attained his full growth and the age of reason, Thor was admitted to Asgard among the other gods, where he occupied one of the twelve seats in the great judgment hall. He was also given the realm of Thrud-vang or Thrud-heim, where he built a wonderful palace called Bilskirnir (lightning), the most spacious in all Asgard. It contained five hundred and forty halls for the accommodation of the thralls, who after death were welcomed to his home, where they received equal [60]treatment with their masters in Valhalla, for Thor was the patron god of the peasants and lower classes.

“Five hundred halls

And forty more,

Methinketh, hath

Bowed Bilskirnir.

Of houses roofed

There’s none I know

My son’s surpassing.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Percy’s tr.).

As he was god of thunder, Thor alone was never allowed to pass over the wonderful bridge Bifröst, lest he should set it aflame by the heat of his presence; and when he wished to join his fellow gods by the Urdar fountain, under the shade of the sacred tree Yggdrasil, he was forced to make his way thither on foot, wading through the rivers Kormt and Ormt, and the two streams Kerlaug, to the trysting place.



B. E. Fogelberg

Thor, who was honoured as the highest god in Norway, came second in the trilogy of all the other countries, and was called “old Thor,” because he is supposed by some mythologists to have belonged to an older dynasty of gods, and not on account of his actual age, for he was represented and described as a man in his prime, tall and well formed, with muscular limbs and bristling red hair and beard, from which, in moments of anger, the sparks flew in showers.

“First, Thor with the bent brow,

In red beard muttering low,

Darting fierce lightnings from eyeballs that glow,

Comes, while each chariot wheel

Echoes in thunder peal,

As his dread hammer shock

Makes Earth and Heaven rock,

Clouds rifting above, while Earth quakes below.”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones). [61]

The Northern races further adorned him with a crown, on each point of which was either a glittering star, or a steadily burning flame, so that his head was ever surrounded by a kind of halo of fire, his own element.

Thor’s Hammer

Thor was the proud possessor of a magic hammer called Miölnir (the crusher) which he hurled at his enemies, the frost-giants, with destructive power, and which possessed the wonderful property of always returning to his hand, however far away he might hurl it.

“I am the Thunderer!

Here in my Northland,

My fastness and fortress,

Reign I forever!

“Here amid icebergs

Rule I the nations;

This is my hammer,

Miölnir the mighty;

Giants and sorcerers

Cannot withstand it!”

Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

As this huge hammer, the emblem of the thunderbolts, was generally red-hot, the god had an iron gauntlet called Iarn-greiper, which enabled him to grasp it firmly. He could hurl Miölnir a great distance, and his strength, which was always remarkable, was doubled when he wore his magic belt called Megin-giörd.

“This is my girdle:

Whenever I brace it,

Strength is redoubled!”

Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Thor’s hammer was considered so very sacred by the [62]ancient Northern people, that they were wont to make the sign of the hammer, as the Christians later taught them to make the sign of the cross, to ward off all evil influences, and to secure blessings. The same sign was also made over the newly born infant when water was poured over its head and a name given. The hammer was used to drive in boundary stakes, which it was considered sacrilegious to remove, to hallow the threshold of a new house, to solemnise a marriage, and, lastly, it played a part in the consecration of the funeral pyre upon which the bodies of heroes, together with their weapons and steeds, and, in some cases, with their wives and dependents, were burned.

In Sweden, Thor, like Odin, was supposed to wear a broad-brimmed hat, and hence the storm-clouds in that country are known as Thor’s hat, a name also given to one of the principal mountains in Norway. The rumble and roar of the thunder were said to be the roll of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback, but walked, or drove in a brazen chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngniostr (tooth-cracker), and Tanngrisnr (tooth-gnasher), from whose teeth and hoofs the sparks constantly flew.

“Thou camest near the next, O warrior Thor!

Shouldering thy hammer, in thy chariot drawn,

Swaying the long-hair’d goats with silver’d rein.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

When the god thus drove from place to place, he was called Aku-thor, or Thor the charioteer, and in Southern Germany the people, fancying a brazen chariot alone inadequate to furnish all the noise they heard, declared it was loaded with copper kettles, which rattled and clashed, and therefore often called him, with disrespectful familiarity, the kettle-vendor. [63]

Thor’s Family

Thor was twice married; first to the giantess Iarnsaxa (iron stone), who bore him two sons, Magni (strength) and Modi (courage), both destined to survive their father and the twilight of the gods, and rule over the new world which was to rise like a phœnix from the ashes of the first. His second wife was Sif, the golden-haired, who also bore him two children, Lorride, and a daughter named Thrud, a young giantess renowned for her size and strength. True to the well-known affinity of contrast, Thrud was wooed by the dwarf Alvis, whom she rather favoured; and one evening, when this suitor, who, being a dwarf, could not face the light of day, presented himself in Asgard to sue for her hand, the assembled gods did not refuse their consent. They had scarcely signified their approbation, however, when Thor, who had been absent, suddenly appeared, and casting a glance of contempt upon the puny lover, declared he would have to prove that his knowledge atoned for his small stature, before he could win his bride.

To test Alvis’s mental powers, Thor then questioned him in the language of the gods, Vanas, elves, and dwarfs, artfully prolonging his examination until sunrise, when the first beam of light, falling upon the unhappy dwarf, petrified him. There he stood, an enduring example of the gods’ power, to serve as a warning to all other dwarfs who might dare to test it.

“Ne’er in human bosom

Have I found so many

Words of the old time.

Thee with subtlest cunning

Have I yet befooled.

Above ground standeth thou, dwarf

By day art overtaken,

Bright sunshine fills the hall.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Howitt’s version). [64]

Sif, the Golden-haired

Sif, Thor’s wife, was very vain of a magnificent head of long golden hair which covered her from head to foot like a brilliant veil; and as she too was a symbol of the earth, her hair was said to represent the long grass, or the golden grain covering the Northern harvest fields. Thor was very proud of his wife’s beautiful hair; imagine his dismay, therefore, upon waking one morning, to find her shorn, and as bald and denuded of ornament as the earth when the grain has been garnered, and nothing but the stubble remains! In his anger, Thor sprang to his feet, vowing he would punish the perpetrator of this outrage, whom he immediately and rightly conjectured to be Loki, the arch-plotter, ever on the look-out for some evil deed to perform. Seizing his hammer, Thor went in search of Loki, who attempted to evade the irate god by changing his form. But it was all to no purpose; Thor soon overtook him, and without more ado caught him by the throat, and almost strangled him ere he yielded to his imploring signs and relaxed his powerful grip. When he could draw his breath, Loki begged forgiveness, but all his entreaties were vain, until he promised to procure for Sif a new head of hair, as beautiful as the first, and as luxuriant in growth.

“And thence for Sif new tresses I’ll bring

Of gold, ere the daylight’s gone,

So that she shall liken a field in spring,

With its yellow-flowered garment on.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Sif and Thor

Sif and Thor

J. C. Dollman

Then Thor consented to let the traitor go; so Loki rapidly crept down into the bowels of the earth, where Svart-alfa-heim was situated, to beg the dwarf Dvalin to [65]fashion not only the precious hair, but a present for Odin and Frey, whose anger he wished to disarm.

His request was favourably received and the dwarf fashioned the spear Gungnir, which never failed in its aim, and the ship Skidbladnir, which, always wafted by favourable winds, could sail through the air as well as on the water, and which had this further magic property, that although it could contain the gods and all their steeds, it could be folded up into the very smallest compass and thrust in one’s pocket. Lastly, he spun the finest golden thread, from which he fashioned the hair required for Sif, declaring that as soon as it touched her head it would grow fast there and become as her own.

“Though they now seem dead, let them touch but her head,

Each hair shall the life-moisture fill;

Nor shall malice nor spell henceforward prevail

Sif’s tresses to work aught of ill.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Loki was so pleased with these proofs of the dwarfs’ skill that he declared the son of Ivald to be the most clever of smiths—words which were overheard by Brock, another dwarf, who exclaimed that he was sure his brother Sindri could produce three objects which would surpass those which Loki held, not only in intrinsic value, but also in magical properties. Loki immediately challenged the dwarf to show his skill, wagering his head against Brock’s on the result of the undertaking.

Sindri, apprised of the wager, accepted Brock’s offer to blow the bellows, warning him, however, that he must work persistently and not for a moment relax his efforts if he wished him to succeed; then he threw some gold in the fire, and went out to bespeak the favour of [66]the hidden powers. During his absence Brock diligently plied the bellows, while Loki, hoping to make him pause, changed himself into a gadfly and cruelly stung his hand. In spite of the pain, the dwarf kept on blowing, and when Sindri returned, he drew out of the fire an enormous wild boar, called Gullin-bursti, because of its golden bristles, which had the power of radiating light as it flitted across the sky, for it could travel through the air with marvellous velocity.

“And now, strange to tell, from the roaring fire

Came the golden-haired Gullinbörst,

To serve as a charger the sun-god Frey,

Sure, of all wild boars this the first.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

This first piece of work successfully completed, Sindri flung some more gold on the fire and bade his brother resume blowing, while he again went out to secure magic assistance. This time Loki, still disguised as a gadfly, stung the dwarf on his cheek; but in spite of the pain Brock worked on, and when Sindri returned, he triumphantly drew out of the flames the magic ring Draupnir, the emblem of fertility, from which eight similar rings dropped every ninth night.

“They worked it and turned it with wondrous skill,

Till they gave it the virtue rare,

That each thrice third night from its rim there fell

Eight rings, as their parent fair.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Now a lump of iron was cast in the flames, and with renewed caution not to forfeit their success by inattention, Sindri passed out, leaving Brock to ply the bellows as before. Loki was now in desperation and he prepared for a final effort. This time, still in the guise of the gadfly, he stung the dwarf above the eye [67]until the blood began to flow in such a stream, that it prevented his seeing what he was doing. Hastily raising his hand for a second, Brock dashed aside the stream of blood; but short as was the interruption it had worked irreparable harm, and when Sindri drew his work out of the fire he uttered an exclamation of disappointment for the hammer he had fashioned was short in the handle.

“Then the dwarf raised his hand to his brow for the smart,

Ere the iron well out was beat,

And they found that the haft by an inch was too short,

But to alter it then ’twas too late.”

The Dwarfs, Oehlenschläger (Pigott’s tr.).

Notwithstanding this mishap, Brock was sure of winning the wager and he did not hesitate to present himself before the gods in Asgard, where he gave Odin the ring Draupnir, Frey the boar Gullin-bursti, and Thor the hammer Miölnir, whose power none could resist.

Loki in turn gave the spear Gungnir to Odin, the ship Skidbladnir to Frey, and the golden hair to Thor; but although the latter immediately grew upon Sif’s head and was unanimously declared more beautiful than her own locks had ever been, the gods decreed that Brock had won the wager, on the ground that the hammer Miölnir, in Thor’s hands, would prove invaluable against the frost giants on the last day.

“And at their head came Thor,

Shouldering his hammer, which the giants know.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

In order to save his head, Loki fled precipitately, but was overtaken by Thor, who brought him back and handed him over to Brock, telling him, however, that [68]although Loki’s head was rightfully his, he must not touch his neck. Hindered from obtaining full vengeance, the dwarf determined to punish Loki by sewing his lips together, and as his sword would not pierce them, he borrowed his brother’s awl for the purpose. However, Loki, after enduring the gods’ gibes in silence for a little while, managed to cut the string and soon after was as loquacious as ever.

In spite of his redoubtable hammer, Thor was not held in dread as the injurious god of the storm, who destroyed peaceful homesteads and ruined the harvest by sudden hail-storms and cloud-bursts. The Northmen fancied he hurled it only against ice giants and rocky walls, reducing the latter to powder to fertilise the earth and make it yield plentiful fruit to the tillers of the soil.

In Germany, where the eastern storms are always cold and blighting, while the western bring warm rains and mild weather, Thor was supposed to journey always from west to east, to wage war against the evil spirits which would fain have enveloped the country in impenetrable veils of mist and have bound it in icy fetters.

Thor’s Journey to Jötun-heim

As the giants from Jötun-heim were continually sending out cold blasts of wind to nip the tender buds and hinder the growth of the flowers, Thor once made up his mind to go and force them to behave better. Accompanied by Loki he set out in his chariot, and after riding for a whole day the gods came at nightfall to the confines of the giant-world, where, seeing a peasant’s hut, they resolved to stay for rest and refreshment.

Their host was hospitable but very poor, and Thor, seeing that he would scarcely be able to supply the [69]necessary food to satisfy his by no means small appetite, slew both his goats, which he cooked and made ready to eat, inviting his host and family to partake freely of the food thus provided, but cautioning them to throw all the bones, without breaking them, into the skins of the goats which he had spread out on the floor.

The peasant and his family ate heartily, but his son Thialfi, encouraged by mischievous Loki, ventured to break one of the bones and suck out the marrow, thinking his disobedience would not be detected. On the morrow, however, Thor, ready to depart, struck the goat skins with his hammer Miölnir, and immediately the goats sprang up as lively as before, except that one seemed somewhat lame. Perceiving that his commands had been disregarded, Thor would have slain the whole family in his wrath. The culprit acknowledged his fault, however, and the peasant offered to compensate for the loss by giving the irate god not only his son Thialfi, but also his daughter Roskva, to serve him for ever.

Charging the man to take good care of the goats, which he left there until he should return, and bidding the young peasants accompany him, Thor now set out on foot with Loki, and after walking all day found himself at nightfall in a bleak and barren country, which was enveloped in an almost impenetrable grey mist. After seeking for some time, Thor saw through the fog the uncertain outline of what looked like a strangely-shaped house. Its open portal was so wide and high that it seemed to take up all one side of the house. Entering and finding neither fire nor light, Thor and his companions flung themselves wearily down on the floor to sleep, but were soon disturbed by a peculiar noise, and a prolonged trembling of the ground beneath them. Fearing lest the main roof [70]should fall during this earthquake, Thor and his companions took refuge in a wing of the building, where they soon fell sound asleep. At dawn, the god and his companions passed out, but they had not gone very far ere they saw the recumbent form of a sleeping giant, and perceived that the peculiar sounds which had disturbed their rest were produced by his snores. At that moment the giant awoke, arose, stretched himself, looked about him for his missing property, and a second later picked up the object which Thor and his companions had mistaken in the darkness for a house. They then perceived with amazement that this was nothing more than a huge mitten, and that the wing in which they had all slept was the separate place for the giant’s great thumb! Learning that Thor and his companions were on their way to Utgard, as the giants’ realm was also called, Skrymir, the giant, proposed to be their guide; and after walking with them all day, he brought them at nightfall to a spot where he proposed to rest. Ere he composed himself for sleep, however, he offered them the provisions in his wallet. But, in spite of strenuous efforts, neither Thor nor his companions could unfasten the knots which Skrymir had tied.

“Skrymir’s thongs

Seemed to thee hard,

When at the food thou couldst not get,

When, in full health, of hunger dying.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).


Angry because of his snoring, which kept them awake, Thor thrice dealt him fearful blows with his hammer. These strokes, instead of annihilating the monster, merely evoked sleepy comments to the effect that a leaf, [71]a bit of bark, or a twig from a bird’s nest overhead had fallen upon his face. Early on the morrow, Skrymir left Thor and his companions, pointing out the shortest road to Utgard-loki’s castle, which was built of great ice blocks, with huge glittering icicles as pillars. The gods, slipping between the bars of the great gate, presented themselves boldly before the king of the giants, Utgard-loki, who, recognising them, immediately pretended to be greatly surprised at their small size, and expressed a wish to see for himself what they could do, as he had often heard their prowess vaunted.

Loki, who had fasted longer than he wished, immediately declared he was ready to eat for a wager with any one. So the king ordered a great wooden trough full of meat to be brought into the hall, and placing Loki at one end and his cook Logi at the other, he bade them see which would win. Although Loki did wonders, and soon reached the middle of the trough, he found that, whereas he had picked the bones clean, his opponent had devoured both them and the trough.

Smiling contemptuously, Utgard-loki said that it was evident they could not do much in the eating line, and this so nettled Thor that he declared if Loki could not eat like the voracious cook, he felt confident he could drain the biggest vessel in the house, such was his unquenchable thirst. Immediately a horn was brought in, and, Utgard-loki declaring that good drinkers emptied it at one draught, moderately thirsty persons at two, and small drinkers at three, Thor applied his lips to the rim. But, although he drank so deep that he thought he would burst, the liquid still came almost up to the rim when he raised his head. A second and third attempt to empty this horn proved equally unsuccessful. Thialfi then offered to run a race, but a young fellow named Hugi, who was matched [72]against him, soon outstripped him, although Thialfi ran remarkably fast.

Thor and the Mountain

Thor and the Mountain

J. C. Dollman

Thor proposed next to show his strength by lifting weights, and was challenged to pick up the giant’s cat. Seizing an opportunity to tighten his belt Megin-giörd, which greatly enhanced his strength, he tugged and strained but was able only to raise one of its paws from the floor.

“Strong is great Thor, no doubt, when Megingarder

He braces tightly o’er his rock-firm loins.”

Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

A last attempt on his part to wrestle with Utgard-loki’s old nurse Elli, the only opponent deemed worthy of such a puny fellow, ended just as disastrously, and the gods, acknowledging they were beaten, were hospitably entertained. On the morrow they were escorted to the confines of Utgard, where the giant politely informed them that he hoped they would never call upon him again, as he had been forced to employ magic against them. He then went on to explain that he was the giant Skrymir, and that had he not taken the precaution to interpose a mountain between his head and Thor’s blows, while he seemingly lay asleep, he would have been slain, as deep clefts in the mountain side, to which he pointed, testified to the god’s strength. Next he informed them that Loki’s opponent was Logi (wild fire); that Thialfi had run a race with Hugi (thought), than which no swifter runner exists; that Thor’s drinking horn was connected with the ocean, where his deep draughts had produced a perceptible ebb; that the cat was in reality the terrible Midgard snake encircling the world, which Thor had nearly pulled out of the sea; and that Elli, his nurse, was old age, whom none can resist. Having finished these [73]explanations and cautioned them never to return or he would defend himself by similar delusions, Utgard-loki vanished, and although Thor angrily brandished his hammer, and would have destroyed his castle, such a mist enveloped it that it could not be seen, and the thunder god was obliged to return to Thrud-vang without having administered his purposed salutary lesson to the race of giants.

“The strong-armed Thor

Full oft against Jotunheim did wend,

But spite his belt celestial, spite his gauntlets,

Utgard-Loki still his throne retains;

Evil, itself a force, to force yields never.”

Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).

Thor and Hrungnir

Odin himself was once dashing through the air on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, when he attracted the attention of the giant Hrungnir, who proposed a race, declaring that Gullfaxi, his steed, could rival Sleipnir in speed. In the heat of the race, Hrungnir did not notice the direction in which they were going, until, in the vain hope of overtaking Odin, he urged his steed to the very gates of Valhalla. Discovering then where he was, the giant grew pale with fear, for he knew he had jeopardised his life by venturing into the stronghold of the gods, his hereditary foes.

The Æsir, however, were too honourable to take even an enemy at a disadvantage, and, instead of doing him harm, they asked him into their banqueting-halls, where he proceeded to indulge in liberal potations of the heavenly mead set before him. He soon grew so excited that he began to boast of his power, declaring he would come some day and take possession of Asgard, which he would destroy, together with the gods, save [74]only Freya and Sif, upon whom he gazed with an admiring leer.

The gods, knowing he was not responsible, let him talk unmolested; but Thor, coming home just then from one of his journeys, and hearing his threat to carry away the beloved Sif, flew into a terrible rage. He furiously brandished his hammer, with intent to annihilate the boaster. This the gods would not permit, however, and they quickly threw themselves between the irate Thunderer and their guest, imploring Thor to respect the sacred rights of hospitality, and not to desecrate their peace-stead by shedding blood.

Thor was at last induced to bridle his wrath, but he demanded that Hrungnir should appoint a time and place for a holmgang, as a Northern duel was generally called. Thus challenged, Hrungnir promised to meet Thor at Griottunagard, the confines of his realm, three days later, and departed somewhat sobered by the fright he had experienced. When his fellow giants heard how rash he had been, they chided him sorely; but they took counsel together in order to make the best of a bad situation. Hrungnir told them that he was to have the privilege of being accompanied by a squire, whom Thialfi would engage in fight, wherefore they proceeded to construct a creature of clay, nine miles long, and proportionately wide, whom they called Mokerkialfi (mist wader). As they could find no human heart big enough to put in this monster’s breast, they secured that of a mare, which, however, kept fluttering and quivering with apprehension. The day of the duel arrived. Hrungnir and his squire were on the ground awaiting the arrival of their respective opponents. The giant had not only a flint heart and skull, but also a shield and club of the same substance, and therefore deemed himself well-nigh invincible. Thialfi came before his [75]master and soon after there was a terrible rumbling and shaking which made the giant apprehensive that his enemy would come up through the ground and attack him from underneath. He therefore followed a hint from Thialfi and stood upon his shield.

A moment later, however, he saw his mistake, for, while Thialfi attacked Mokerkialfi with a spade, Thor came with a rush upon the scene and flung his hammer full at his opponent’s head. Hrungnir, to ward off the blow, interposed his stone club, which was shivered into pieces that flew all over the earth, supplying all the flint stones thereafter to be found, and one fragment sank deep into Thor’s forehead. As the god dropped fainting to the ground, his hammer crashed against the head of Hrungnir, who fell dead beside him, in such a position that one of his ponderous legs was thrown over the recumbent god.

“Thou now remindest me

How I with Hrungnir fought,

That stout-hearted Jotun,

Whose head was all of stone;

Yet I made him fall

And sink before me.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Thialfi, who, in the meanwhile, had disposed of the great clay giant with its cowardly mare’s heart, now rushed to his master’s assistance, but his efforts were unavailing, nor could the other gods, whom he quickly summoned, raise the pinioning leg. While they were standing there, helplessly wondering what they should do next, Thor’s little son Magni came up. According to varying accounts, he was then only three days or three years old, but he quickly seized the giant’s foot, and, unaided, set his father free, declaring that had he only been summoned sooner he would easily have [76]disposed of both giant and squire. This exhibition of strength made the gods marvel greatly, and helped them to recognise the truth of the various predictions, which one and all declared that their descendants would be mightier than they, would survive them, and would rule in their turn over the new heaven and earth.

To reward his son for his timely aid, Thor gave him the steed Gullfaxi (golden-maned), to which he had fallen heir by right of conquest, and Magni ever after rode this marvellous horse, which almost equalled the renowned Sleipnir in speed and endurance.

Groa, the Sorceress

After vainly trying to remove the stone splinter from his forehead, Thor sadly returned home to Thrud-vang, where Sif’s loving efforts were equally unsuccessful. She therefore resolved to send for Groa (green-making), a sorceress, noted for her skill in medicine and for the efficacy of her spells and incantations. Groa immediately signified her readiness to render every service in her power to the god who had so often benefited her, and solemnly began to recite powerful runes, under whose influence Thor felt the stone grow looser and looser. His delight at the prospect of a speedy deliverance made Thor wish to reward the enchantress forthwith, and knowing that nothing could give greater pleasure to a mother than the prospect of seeing a long-lost child, he proceeded to tell her that he had recently crossed the Elivagar, or ice streams, to rescue her little son Orvandil (germ) from the frost giants’ cruel power, and had succeeded in carrying him off in a basket. But, as the little rogue would persist in sticking one of his bare toes through a hole in the basket, it had been frost-bitten, and Thor, accidentally breaking it off, had [77]flung it up into the sky, to shine as a star, known in the North as “Orvandil’s Toe.”

Delighted with these tidings, the prophetess paused in her incantations to express her joy, but, having forgotten just where she left off, she was unable to continue her spell, and the flint stone remained embedded in Thor’s forehead, whence it could never be dislodged.

Of course, as Thor’s hammer always did him such good service, it was the most prized of all his possessions, and his dismay was very great when he awoke one morning and found it gone. His cry of anger and disappointment soon brought Loki to his side, and to him Thor confided the secret of his loss, declaring that were the giants to hear of it, they would soon attempt to storm Asgard and destroy the gods.

“Wroth waxed Thor, when his sleep was flown,

And he found his trusty hammer gone;

He smote his brow, his beard he shook,

The son of earth ’gan round him look;

And this the first word that he spoke:

’Now listen what I tell thee, Loke;

Which neither on earth below is known,

Nor in heaven above: my hammer’s gone.”

Thrym’s Quida (Herbert’s tr.).

Thor and Thrym

Loki declared he would try to discover the thief and recover the hammer, if Freya would lend him her falcon plumes, and he immediately hastened off to Folkvang to borrow them. His errand was successful and in the form of a bird he then winged his flight across the river Ifing, and over the barren stretches of Jötun-heim, where he suspected that the thief would be found. There he saw Thrym, prince of the frost giants and god of the destructive thunder-storm, sitting [78]alone on a hill-side. Artfully questioning him, he soon learned that Thrym had stolen the hammer and had buried it deep underground. Moreover, he found that there was little hope of its being restored unless Freya were brought to him arrayed as a bride.

“I have the Thunderer’s hammer bound

Fathoms eight beneath the ground;

With it shall no one homeward tread

Till he bring me Freya to share my bed.”

Thrym’s Quida (Herbert’s tr.).

Indignant at the giant’s presumption, Loki returned to Thrud-vang, but Thor declared it would be well to visit Freya and try to prevail upon her to sacrifice herself for the general good. But when the Æsir told the goddess of beauty what they wished her to do, she flew into such a passion that even her necklace burst. She told them that she would never leave her beloved husband for any god, much less to marry a detested giant and dwell in Jötun-heim, where all was dreary in the extreme, and where she would soon die of longing for the green fields and flowery meadows, in which she loved to roam. Seeing that further persuasions would be useless, Loki and Thor returned home and there deliberated upon another plan for recovering the hammer. By Heimdall’s advice, which, however, was only accepted with extreme reluctance, Thor borrowed and put on Freya’s clothes together with her necklace, and enveloped himself in a thick veil. Loki, having attired himself as handmaiden, then mounted with him in the goat-drawn chariot, and the strangely attired pair set out for Jötun-heim, where they intended to play the respective parts of the goddess of beauty and her attendant. [79]

“Home were driven

Then the goats,

And hitched to the car;

Hasten they must—

The mountains crashed,

The earth stood in flames:

Odin’s son

Rode to Jötun-heim.”

Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Thrym welcomed his guests at the palace door, overjoyed at the thought that he was about to secure undisputed possession of the goddess of beauty, for whom he had long sighed in vain. He quickly led them to the banqueting-hall, where Thor, the bride elect, distinguished himself by eating an ox, eight huge salmon, and all the cakes and sweets provided for the women, washing down these miscellaneous viands with the contents of two barrels of mead.

The giant bridegroom watched these gastronomic feats with amazement, whereupon Loki, in order to reassure him, confidentially whispered that the bride was so deeply in love with him that she had not been able to taste a morsel of food for more than eight days. Thrym then sought to kiss the bride, but drew back appalled at the fire of her glance, which Loki explained as a burning glance of love. The giant’s sister, claiming the usual gifts, was not even noticed; wherefore Loki again whispered to the wondering Thrym that love makes people absent-minded. Intoxicated with passion and mead, which he, too, had drunk in liberal quantities, the bridegroom now bade his servants produce the sacred hammer to consecrate the marriage, and as soon as it was brought he himself laid it in the pretended Freya’s lap. The next moment a powerful hand closed over the short handle, and soon the giant, his sister, [80]and all the invited guests, were slain by the terrible Thor.

“‘Bear in the hammer to plight the maid;

Upon her lap the bruiser lay,

And firmly plight our hands and fay.’

The Thunderer’s soul smiled in his breast;

When the hammer hard on his lap was placed,

Thrym first, the king of the Thursi, he slew,

And slaughtered all the giant crew.”

Thrym’s Quida (Herbert’s tr.).

Leaving a smoking heap of ruins behind them, the gods then drove rapidly back to Asgard, where the borrowed garments were given back to Freya, much to the relief of Thor, and the Æsir rejoiced at the recovery of the precious hammer. When next Odin gazed upon that part of Jötun-heim from his throne Hlidskialf, he saw the ruins covered with tender green shoots, for Thor, having conquered his enemy, had taken possession of his land, which henceforth would no longer remain barren and desolate, but would bring forth fruit in abundance.

Thor and Geirrod

Loki once borrowed Freya’s falcon-garb and flew off in search of adventures to another part of Jötun-heim, where he perched on top of the gables of Geirrod’s house. He soon attracted the attention of this giant, who bade one of his servants catch the bird. Amused at the fellow’s clumsy attempts to secure him, Loki flitted about from place to place, only moving just as the giant was about to lay hands upon him, when, miscalculating his distance, he suddenly found himself a captive.

Attracted by the bird’s bright eyes, Geirrod looked closely at it and concluded that it was a god in disguise, [81]and finding that he could not force him to speak, he locked him in a cage, where he kept him for three whole months without food or drink. Conquered at last by hunger and thirst, Loki revealed his identity, and obtained his release by promising that he would induce Thor to visit Geirrod without his hammer, belt, or magic gauntlet. Loki then flew back to Asgard, and told Thor that he had been royally entertained, and that his host had expressed a strong desire to see the powerful thunder-god, of whom he had heard such wonderful tales. Flattered by this artful speech, Thor was induced to consent to a friendly journey to Jötun-heim, and the two gods set out, leaving the three marvellous weapons at home. They had not gone far, however, ere they came to the house of the giantess Grid, one of Odin’s many wives. Seeing Thor unarmed, she warned him to beware of treachery and lent him her own girdle, staff, and glove. Some time after leaving her, Thor and Loki came to the river Veimer, which the Thunderer, accustomed to wading, prepared to ford, bidding Loki and Thialfi cling fast to his belt.

In the middle of the stream, however, a sudden cloud-burst and freshet overtook them; the waters began to rise and roar, and although Thor leaned heavily upon his staff, he was almost swept away by the force of the raging current.

“Wax not, Veimer,

Since to wade I desire

To the realm of the giants!

Know, if thou waxest,

Then waxes my asa-might

As high as the heavens.”

Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Thor now became aware of the presence, up stream, of Geirrod’s daughter Gialp, and rightly suspecting that [82]she was the cause of the storm, he picked up a huge boulder and flung it at her, muttering that the best place to dam a river was at its source. The missile had the desired effect, for the giantess fled, the waters abated, and Thor, exhausted but safe, pulled himself up on the opposite bank by a little shrub, the mountain-ash or sorb. This has since been known as “Thor’s salvation,” and occult powers have been attributed to it. After resting awhile Thor and his companions resumed their journey; but upon arriving at Geirrod’s house the god was so exhausted that he sank wearily upon the only chair in sight. To his surprise, however, he felt it rising beneath him, and fearful lest he should be crushed against the rafters, he pushed the borrowed staff against the ceiling and forced the chair downward with all his might. Then followed a terrible cracking, sudden cries, and moans of pain; and when Thor came to investigate, it appeared that the giant’s daughters, Gialp and Greip, had slipped under his chair with intent treacherously to slay him, and they had reaped a righteous retribution and both lay crushed to death.

“Once I employed

My asa-might

In the realm of giants,

When Gialp and Greip,

Geirrod’s daughters,

Wanted to lift me to heaven.”

Norse Mythology (R. B. Anderson).

Geirrod now appeared and challenged Thor to a test of strength and skill, but without waiting for a preconcerted signal, he flung a red-hot wedge at him. Thor, quick of eye and a practised catcher, caught the missile with the giantess’s iron glove, and hurled it back at his opponent. Such was the force of the god, that the missile passed, not only through the pillar behind which the giant had taken refuge, but through him and [83]the wall of the house, and buried itself deep in the earth without.

Thor then strode up to the giant’s corpse, which at the blow from his weapon had been petrified into stone, and set it up in a conspicuous place, as a monument of his strength and of the victory he had won over his redoubtable foes, the mountain giants.

The Worship of Thor

Thor’s name has been given to many of the places he was wont to frequent, such as the principal harbour of the Faroe Islands, and to families which claim to be descended from him. It is still extant in such names as Thunderhill in Surrey, and in the family names of Thorburn and Thorwaldsen, but is most conspicuous in the name of one of the days of the week, Thor’s day or Thursday.

“Over the whole earth

Still is it Thor’s day!”

Saga of King Olaf (Longfellow).

Thor was considered a pre-eminently benevolent deity, and it was for that reason that he was so widely worshipped and that temples to his worship arose at Moeri, Hlader, Godey, Gothland, Upsala, and other places, where the people never failed to invoke him for a favourable year at Yule-tide, his principal festival. It was customary on this occasion to burn a great log of oak, his sacred tree, as an emblem of the warmth and light of summer, which would drive away the darkness and cold of winter.

Brides invariably wore red, Thor’s favourite colour, which was considered emblematical of love, and for the same reason betrothal rings in the North were almost always set with a red stone. [84]

Thor’s temples and statues, like Odin’s, were fashioned of wood, and the greater number of them were destroyed during the reign of King Olaf the Saint. According to ancient chronicles, this monarch forcibly converted his subjects. He was specially incensed against the inhabitants of a certain province, because they worshipped a rude image of Thor, which they decked with golden ornaments, and before which they set food every evening, declaring the god ate it, as no trace of it was left in the morning.

The people, being called upon in 1030 to renounce this idol in favour of the true God, promised to consent if the morrow were cloudy; but when after a whole night spent by Olaf in ardent prayer, there followed a cloudy day, the obstinate people declared they were not yet convinced of his God’s power, and would only believe if the sun shone on the next day.

Once more Olaf spent