Mythology 101: Episode 9

Last time we ran through an overview of the previous episodes of Mythology 101, and after a couple week break, I am back. So this time we better bring in the big boys and focus on one of the cultures that is very deep with Mythology. The Northern lands of Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Norway are known as Scandinavia, home to Norse Mythology. Norse Mythology is full of gods, giants and dwarves… truly though, there is one god that stands above them all, Thor.

No, not the Marvel Comics based Thor… the Norse God Thor, son of Odin. Let’s take a deeper look into the myths behind Thor and Loki, and I must warn you, unintentionally, I may be disclosing SPOILERS for future Thor movies without ever knowing.

The Beginning

Odin (Wodan) was the main god in Norse mythology, a god of war and death, with a softer side too, a god of poetry and wisdom. Odin has only one eye, because he traded the other eye for a drink from the well of wisdom to gain great knowledge. He was worshipped throughout Scandinavia and parts of Germany, there were temples throughout the lands for prayer, but the prayer did require human sacrifices.  Odin and the goddess Jord bore a son whom they named Thor.

DID YOU KNOW: When the English calendar was created, Wednesday was named after Odin (Wodan).


As Thor grew up, he became one of the most powerful gods, the god of thunder. The Norse mythology is that a Thunderstorm is caused by Thor riding through the heavens on a chariot pulled by goats. A hammer named Mjollnir was created for him by the god’s magic craftsmen, two dwarfs named Brok and Eitri. Lightning would flash whenever he threw his hammer, and it would always return to his hand. The weight of the hammer was such that only the strongest man could lift it, and it grew in legend as Thor destroyed many an enemy of the gods with it. The craftsmen also created a magical belt for Thor named Megingjard, which doubled his strength when worn.

Usually Thor is shown with a red beard and fierce eyes made of lightning. Although he appeared quite scary, he was known as a protector of humans and gods from the forces of evil. As stories spread of his great exploits in strength and protection, he became even more popular than his father Odin, in no small part due to the fact that he didn’t require the worshippers to make human sacrifices.

DID YOU KNOW: When the English calendar was created, they named Thursday after Thor.

 

Thor’s Family

Thor would go on to marry the golden haired goddess Sif. She was apparently a fertility goddess, but maybe not a good one, as he ended up having only three children with a mistress named Jarnsaxa, who was a giantess. They had two sons named Magni and Modi, and a daughter named Thrud.

Unlike Thor, his sons did not go on to become greatly worshipped gods, but they did have some strengths (intentional pun);

Magni became even stronger than his father, and was worshipped as the god of strength. Magni and Thor were thought to be the only two gods strong enough to wield the hammer Mjollnir. Lucky then, that he would inherit the hammer after his fathers death.

Modi was worshipped as the god of battle wrath. His followers were known to take an assortment of mind altering substances to create a more maniacal presence in battle and remove any fears they might have had.

Thrud’s hand was promised in marriage to Alvis, a dwarf who made some magical weapons for the gods. Thor was very unhappy about this, and told Alvis he would have to pass a test of knowledge, or the marriage would be stopped. Since Alvis translates directly to all-wise, the dwarf agreed. Thor devised a test that lasted until past sunrise, and when the sun-rays hit the dwarf he turned to stone, because everyone knows dwarves turn to stone in the sun… apparently not everyone knew this.

 

Loki

Unlike in the Marvel Universe, Loki is not a half-brother or adopted brother to Thor, he is the son of two giants, he is a a deity and a shape-shifter, and is most often referred to as a trickster. Sometimes he is a direct enemy of the gods, sometimes he is heroic, but as time passed he became much more dangerous.

From the early days of lore, Loki was a trouble maker, one night he snuck into Thor’s bedroom and cut the golden hair off of his wife Sif. When Thor threatened Loki with his hammer, his only escape was to find a way to replace the hair. Loki found some dwarfs and convinced them to create a magical wig made of spun gold that would grow on Sif’s head, and thus he avoided Thor’s wrath.

Loki’s ability to be a shape-shifter did come in handy though, when the walls of Asgard were destroyed, a stonemason offered to rebuild it for the gods. His price was to marry a goddess named Freya, and also he wanted the sun and the moon. The gods thought this was way to much to ask, but Loki had a plan… they agreed to the price, but only if it could be completed in 6 months. It turned out that the stonemason was actually a rock giant, and he used his stallion to do most of the work, making it go much faster than they expected.

Loki’s plan was simple, he transformed himself into a mare, and lured the stallion into the woods where they stayed together until the deadline had passed. The Rock Giant was angry that he had been tricked and revealed his true form to Thor, who destroyed him with his hammer. Many months later Loki returned with a gift for Odin, a gray eight-legged pony that could travel on air and water. It’s name was Sleipner, the foal of the Giant’s Stallion and Loki’s form as a Mare. The gods must be crazy.

One of Odin’s sons was Balder, he was the god of light, joy, purity, beauty, innocence, and reconciliation. He was a very popular god amongst both the gods and men, apparently that didn’t sit well with Loki. When Balder started having many dreams about his own death, his goddess mother convinced every creature, object and force that they shall never harm Balder, making him invincible. The gods had great fun with this, using Balder as a target for archery and knife-throwing.

Loki’s jealousy was too much, he changed shapes and talked Balder’s mother into telling him that the only thing she didn’t get an agreement from was mistletoe, because mistletoe couldn’t harm anybody. Loki found some mistletoe, and tricked Balder’s brother Hod into throwing a mistletoe dart during one of their target practices. Straight through the heart, the mistletoe killed Balder. I have no idea if this story has ties to future mistletoe mythology.

The gods were very angry with Loki for killing Balder, they captured him, and left him chained to three boulders with a poisonous snake suspended above his head. He would stay there until the battle of Ragnarok.

 

Loki’s Family

Loki and a giantess named Angrboda had three “children”, a giant wolf named Fenrir, a huge serpent named Jormungand, and a daughter named Hel, who was the goddess of death.

Odin was crushed when Balder was killed, and sent one of his other sons to see Hel, the goddess of death, and ask for him to be brought back to life. Hel agreed, but only if everyone in the world would cry for Balder. Everyone in the world cried, except for Loki, so Balder remained dead.

The wolf Fenrir grew every day, and the gods became very concerned when they heard a prophecy that he would be responsible for the end of the world. They abducted Fenrir, but no matter what they did, he would break free of their chains. The gods approached their dwarf craftsmen again to create something strong enough to hold this giant wolf. Using a crazy mix of materials (the roots of a mountain, a woman’s beard, the breath of a fish, the sinews of a bear, the footstep of a cat, and a bird’s spittle) they created a thin ribbon which they named Gleipnir. Now, afraid to approach the ever growing wolf, the gods tricked him into proving his strength with this tiny ribbon, and try as he might he could not break free. The gods picked up Fenrir and chained him to a rock deep in the earth.

The snake Jormungand was also growing fast, and the gods knew he would be extremely dangerous to both men and the gods. Odin grabbed the snake and threw it into the ocean, where it layed in wait until it was time to rise and destroy mankind.

 

The End

In Norse mythology a great hero that is slain on the battlefield is gathered by beautiful young women on winged horses and taken to the grand hall of Valhalla. These heroes are then prepared for the battle known as Ragnarok. When the battle begins, all of the great heroes will march forward from Valhalla to fight side by side with the gods.

Ragnarok translates to Doom of the Gods,  and means the end of the cosmos in Norse mythology. Just like in Game of Thrones, it all begins with the coming of Winter, in fact three winters with no summers in between. Conflicts between families begin, morality is lost, and the end begins. (it sounds a lot like Game of Thrones, doesn’t it?)

Earth will be shrouded in darkness, when two brother wolves eat the sun and the moon. Three roosters will crow, one calling the giants, one calling the gods, and one calling the undead. This will begin the earthquakes, which will free both Loki and his wolf son Fenrir. Jormungand the serpent will rise from the sea in a fury, spraying poison in all directions. Loki will lead the giants and the inhabitants of hell into battle against the gods.

Gods, giants, dwarves, demons and elves will come together for a massive battle…

  • Odin goes directly against Fenrir, but after a long and brutal battle, the giant wolf devours him. Odin’s son, Vidar, witnesses this, and kills the wolf with his bare hands, pulling his jaws apart like a T-Rex in the movie King Kong.
  • Thor will attack Jormungand to stop his poisonous attack, and destroys him with his hammer. Eventually the God of Thunder will also die, having been poisoned in the battle with the serpent.
  • Loki and Heimdall, who are long time enemies, go head to head, and neither of them survives.
  • Finally, a fire giant named Surt, brandishing a giant sword which burns brighter than the sun, begins swinging fire in all directions. The whole world burns, taking friends and foes with it, and the earth sinks into the sea.

With the earth destroyed, a fertile paradise rises from the ocean, evil and misery are gone, and the new men of the world and the new gods live happily ever after.

 

Thor and Loki are just a couple examples from Norse mythology, it truly shows how, through various forms of media, a single character can become much more than just a mythology. The right character can become a game, a comic, or even the star of a series of top grossing movies. By digging deeper into mythology, is there other characters and stories that could become part of your game concepts?

 

Stay tuned for future episodes of Mythology 101, and if you have ideas for an area I haven’t covered yet, drop me a line.


Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS

Mythology 101: Episode 1 (Roman)
Mythology 101: Episode 2 (Greek)
Mythology 101: Episode 3 (Australian Aboriginal)
Mythology 101: Episode 4 (Chinese)
Mythology 101: Episode 5 (Dragons) 
Mythology 101: Episode 6 (Egyptian) 
Mythology 101: Episode 7 (Celtic) 
- Mythology 101: Episode 8 (Native American & First Nations)