Category Archives: norse

Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor: The Mythology Series




Mjolnir 2
A 4.6 cm gold-plated silver Mjölnir
pendant from Bredsättra parish, Runsten
hundred, Borgholm municipality, Öland,
Kalmar county, Sweden.
This post is late because I was busy busting my arse to get Stalking the Demon to my editor, which I managed around lunch-time yesterday.

So. Thor’s hammer. Every wonder why the handle is so short? Me neither – until I had to write this post.

Now it’s been brought to my attention, of course I realise that the typical warhammer is a long-hafted, two-handed weapon. Mjölnir, by comparison, has a haft so short it can only be wielded one-handed – more like a mallet.

It turns out there’s a reason. Loki bet his head with the two dwarf brothers, Sindri and Brokkr, that they could not make items more beautiful than the dwarves who made Odin’s spear. The brothers accepted the challenge.

Sindri placed a pig skin in the forge and instructed Brokkr to pump the bellows and not stop until he returns and removes the skin. As Brokkr pumped the bellows, Loki assumeed the shape of a fly and bit Brokkr’s arm. Nonetheless, Brokkr resolutely kept pumping the bellows. When Sindri took the pig skin from the forge it had become Freyr’s boar.

This scenario is repeated with some gold in the forge, and that time Loki bit Brokkr on the neck, but he persisted and the gold becomes Odin’s ring, Draupnir.

The third time iron is placed in the forge. As Brokkr worked the bellows, Loki bit him on the eyelid, so hard it drew blood. When the blood ran into Brokkr’s eye, he was forced to stop the bellows long enough to wipe his eye clear. When Sindri pulled the iron from the forge, it had become Mjölnir, but the handle was shorter than he planned.

So basically it was Loki’s fault.

Interestingly, when the brothers presented the hammer to Thor they put a bit of PR spin on this defect by telling him the hammer was so small he could “keep it in his sark” (shirt).

Mjölnir was a mighty weapon capable of levelling mountains and no matter how hard or far Thor threw it, it would always return to his hand.

I find the etymology of the name interesting myself. Mjölnir is usually interpreted to mean ‘that which smashes’ from the verb molva (to smash) which is similar to the Slavic molot and Latin malleus (which is where the English word mallet comes from).

 
An oversized replica of Mjölnir to promote the movie Thor
An alternate theory compares Mjölnir to the Russian molniya and Welsh melt, which mean lightning. This also fits, since the name Mjölnir then makes it the weapon of the storm god associated with lightning – which indeed Thor is!
In Old Norse texts, Mjölnir is also referred to as hamarr, which in Old Norse could mean stone, rock, cliff or hammer, and which comes from an Indo-European word that has the same derivation as the Sanskrit word, asman. Asman means stone, rock, stone tool, hammer and thunderbolt! 

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Valkyries – Special Edition of the Mythological Creatures Series


Welcome to this special edition revival of my mythical creatures series.

The valkyrie comes to us from Norse mythology and were believed to be female virginal warriors. They were usually depicted as blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned. The word ‘valkyrie’ literally meant ‘chooser of the slain’ and so it was believed the valkyries decided which warriors on the battlefield would live and which would die. Six, nine, or thirteen valkyries would await above the battlefield as the battle was fought, and afterwards the valkyries would choose half of the slain to bring with them to Valhalla, ruled over by Odin, while the rest went to Freya’s Folkvangr. Anyone not taken by Freya and judged unworthy of Valhalla went to the goddess Hel and her underground realm.

In fact, it was Freya who led the valkyries, and Freya had first choice of the fallen, so the better way to express it is to say the chosen went to Folkvangr while the balance were escorted to Valhalla by the valkyries, provided they were judged worthy. Freya was the goddess of love, fertility and beauty, and was sometimes also attributed as the goddess of death and battle as well. She possessed a cloak of falcon feathers which allowed her to take the form of a falcon.

Arthur Rackham‘s illustration to The Ride of the Valkyries
Some valkyries could assume the form of white swans, but if such a valkyrie were ever seen by a mortal in her womanly form, she was doomed by Odin to mortality and could never again walk the halls of Valhalla.  At this point the legend of the valkyrie seems to have fused with that of the swan maiden. Swan maidens were believed to possess a cloak of feathers, and if a mortal found and kept the cloak, he could possess the maiden – similar to the legends of the silkies.

The origins of valkyries are uncertain, and a multitude of storytellers and poets has contributed to the lore, muddying the original core substance of the valkyrie. In the very dim past, the valkyrie in its first form may have been similar to the Celtic warrior-goddess, the Morrigan. They were also possibly influenced by Germanic paganism, and may have in the early days been viewed as demons of the dead (a theory posited by Rudolf Simek).

“The Ride of the Valkyries” by the German painter William T. Maud.    
In this guise, the souls of the dead would have ‘belonged’ to the valkyries, as contrasted with their later role of conductors of dead where they merely escorted the dead to Odin. As the view of valkyries changed, they became more human and less demonic, and it was then that tales of valkyries falling in love with mortals began to emerge.

Hilda Ellis Davidson theorises that the valkyries may have originally evolved from the concept of priestesses to a god of war. Such priestesses may have overseen the putting to death of captives after a battle. Who would die was usually chosen by lot (to send a message to the enemy and demoralise his forces) and may have involved the concept that those who were to die were chosen by the god, and the priestesses would preside over the sacrifice. I rather like this notion… now which book can I use this in!

References

Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis (1990). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-013627-4 

Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer ISBN 0-85991-513-1 

This is an A to Z Challenge post. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting!