Kathleen N. Daly - Norse Mythology A to Z (2009)

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Norse Mythology A to Z Third Edition

MYTHOLOGY A TO Z African Mythology A to Z Celtic Mythology A to Z Chinese Mythology A to Z Egyptian Mythology A to Z Greek and Roman Mythology A to Z Japanese Mythology A to Z Native American Mythology A to Z Norse Mythology A to Z South and Meso-American Mythology A to Z


Norse Mythology A to Z Third Edition

8 Kathleen N. Daly Revised by Marian Rengel

[ Norse Mythology A to Z, Third Edition Copyright © 2010, 2004, 1991 by Kathleen N. Daly All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information contact: Chelsea House An imprint of Infobase Publishing 132 West 31st Street New York NY 10001 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Daly, Kathleen N. Norse mythology A to Z / Kathleen N. Daly ; revised by Marian Rengel. — 3rd ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60413-411-7 (hc : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4381-2801-6 (e-book) 1. Mythology, Norse—Dictionaries, Juvenile. I. Rengel, Marian. II. Title. BL850.D34 2009 293’.1303—dc22    2009013338 Chelsea House books are available at special discounts when purchased in bulk quantities for businesses, associations, institutions, or sales promotions. Please call our Special Sales Department in New York at (212) 967-8800 or (800) 322-8755. You can find Chelsea House on the World Wide Web at http://www.chelseahouse.com Text design by Lina Farinella Composition by Mary Susan Ryan-Flynn Map by Patricia Meschino Cover printed by Bang Printing, Brainerd, MN Book printed and bound by Bang Printing, Brainerd, MN Date printed: November, 2009 Printed in the United States of America 10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1 This book is printed on acid-free paper and contains 30 percent postconsumer recycled content.





Map of Scandinavia  A-to-Z Entries 


Selected Bibliography  Index 






WHAT IS A MYTH? 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: thunder and lightning; floods and fire; rain and drought; earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; night and day; the Sun, Moon, and stars; the seasons; the existence of plants and animals, man and woman; and birth and death. Myths fulfill a need in people to believe in some higher being or beings who have power over the daily lives and fate of humankind. Many of the world’s myth systems include a sky god or father of all and an Earth Mother. In many cases, including that of the Norse, people believed in a set of attendant gods and goddesses, as well as villains such as demons, dragons, and other monsters; giants and dwarfs; and supernatural forces. Myths help people structure their lives. Myths reflect their codes of behavior, their cultural customs and rites, and their ways of worship. Myths are basically stories of the struggle between good and evil, between order and chaos. They predict the eventual breakdown of order, but also regeneration. Ancient myths about the creation of the universe and the living creatures on Earth were passed orally from one generation to another, from family to family, and from one community to another. As people moved from one part of a continent to another, they adapted their stories to the changing landscape or climate. Stories that may have originated in India, the Middle East, or the south of Europe changed dramatically when people told them in the harsh, icy lands of the north, where summers were short and winters long and harsh. Finally, myths are part of a moral and ethical, often spiritual, belief system. Many historians of myths and scholars of human social development see myths as part of a religious belief system and an attempt to explain human existence.

WHO WERE THE NORSE? The Norse (people of the north) are known today as the Scandinavians— the people of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. Mistakenly, Norsemen are often thought of only as the fierce warriors of the Viking Age (a.d. 750–1070); however, Norse culture originated long before the dramatic explorations of the Vikings. It probably started to take root during the Bronze Age (1600–450 b.c.). No written sources describe early Norse culture, but surviving works in metal and stone depict gods and goddesses and provide glimpses of ancient myths and rituals. The Norse were superb shipbuilders and navigators, intrepid explorers, and people with a strong sense of family and clan loyalty. They also loved a good story, a quick wit, and fine craftsmanship, which we


viii  Norse Mythology A to Z can see in the ancient carvings, weaponry, and utensils that have been discovered in a variety of archaeological sites across Scandinavia. The mythology of these strong, lively people was rich, vigorous, and clever. Norse mythology originated in Asia, according to experts. It was modified in the European Mediterranean lands, and eventually was carried north and west by migrating Germanic tribes, in the third to sixth centuries a.d. during the breakup of the Roman Empire—a time known as the Migration Period. The roaming tribes included Angles and Saxons, Goths, Visigoths and Ostrogoths, Alemanni, Vandals, Franks, and others. As the migrating tribes settled, the 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, North America, the Near East, Byzantium, and Russia, settling in the lands they conquered and taking with them, too, their myths and their culture. The Norse myths were not written down, however, until the 13th century, by which time Christianity was established in northern Europe and had displaced paganism, that is, the worship and the myths of the ancient gods. Thus much of the ancient lore is lost to modern audiences. What remains is fragmented, incomplete, and often distorted by the pious Christian monks who edited the pagan tales as they transcribed them onto vellum and parchment for the first time. Although the Norse myths as we know them today are often confusing and contradictory, they still present us with wonderful tales about these northern people. The more you learn of them, the less confusing they become.

The flat rock of Vitlycke in Sweden depicts a large ship, some smaller boats, and a man with long arms. (Photo by Fred J./Used under a Creative Commons license)

Introduction  ix

THE SOURCES OF THE NORSE MYTHS The main sources of the Norse myths are • poetry of the early skalds (poets) transmitted orally until the 13th century • Poetic Edda, a collection of poems written by different poets at different times between the eighth and 13th centuries • Prose Edda, a handbook written by the Icelandic poet, scholar, historian, and clan leader Snorri Sturluson, around 1220 • Gesta Danorum, written by Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in about 1215 • historical observations by Roman author Tacitus, notably in Germania (end of the first century a.d.), the Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan (10th century a.d.), and the German historian Adam of Bremen (11th century a.d.) • Landnamabok (Book of Settlements), a history of the settlement of Iceland from the 13th century a.d. • the 13th-century Icelandic sagas (about 700 of them), many written by unknown authors, which are a valuable source of information about preChristian beliefs and practices, kings and bishops, Norse exploration and settlement, and legendary heroes such as Sigurd the Volsung

HOW TO USE THIS BOOK The entries in this book are in alphabetical order and may be looked up as in a dictionary. Alternate spellings are given in parentheses after the entry headword, including spellings using Icelandic letters, which are found in the manuscripts but not found in English. Those include:



Pronunciation in English


ð þ æ ö

the “th” in “the” the “th” in “thing” “eye” rounded form of “ea” in “earth”

Spellings given in small capital letters are variations of the names found in different original sources. Those appearing with standard capitalization are English translations. Within the main text, cross-references to other entries are also printed in small capital letters. In case you are not familiar with the Norse myths, here is a list of the chief characters and the stories in which they are most important. First, the gods:

Odin  The one-eyed god, the All-Father, the god of wisdom, poetry, and

magic, of war and death. Odin plays a principal role in many of the myths, including those of the creation, the Aesir/Vanir war, “The Death of Balder” (see Balder), and Ragnarok, the end of the world.

Thor  God of thunder, son of Odin and Frigg. He was the strongest of the

gods, of fiery temper but well loved. He had a hammer (Mjollnir), a magic belt (Megingjardir), and iron gauntlets and was forever at war with the giants.

Loki  A mischievous god, Loki is involved in many of the myths. Loki often

deceives the gods and creates dangerous situations and then comes to the rescue of the gods. He is admired yet distrusted by them.

  Norse Mythology A to Z

The Karlevi runestone on the island of Öland, Sweden, is commonly dated to the late 10th century. The carving contains a full stanza of skaldic poetry that translators say describes Odin.  (Photo by Peter Rydén/ Used under a Creative Commons license)

Introduction  xi

Balder  Son of Odin and Frigg. He was the most beautiful and beloved of the gods. There is only one myth about him, but it is one of the best known.

Njord  A Vanir god of the seas and seafarers. Njord has two major roles in

the myths: as a peace token sent to Asgard, the home of the...

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