Norse Mythology

Mythic Figures
The Eddas
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Norse mythology, Scandinavian mythology, Viking mythology; all refer to the pre-Christian religion of the Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and Danish peoples. A few books group Finnish mythology in with the Norse but the old beliefs of Finland form a separate tradition although there are some interesting parallels.

The Norse mythological system as we currently have it comes down to us mainly from the Icelandic Eddas and sagas which were written down a few centuries after the christianization of the north. There has been much research trying to discern the true ancient religion as practiced by the people of the Scandinavian countries as opposed to the representation we are given in the written sources.

Aside from any influence Christianity might have played, Norse mythology presents us with a multilayered, often contradictory, world view with a myriad of parallels in other mythological systems. It is a playground for the comparative mythology researcher, rich with elements from Indo-European, Shamanistic, and other traditions.

Many people are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings or Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, but they are not familiar with Norse mythology to which both of these works are heavily indebted.

Tolkien was very well acquainted with the northern mythos, as can be seen by the use of it in his books. The name of one of his main characters, Gandalf, is found in The Poetic Edda. Gandalf is, in some ways, reminiscent of Odin, the leader of the Norse pantheon. Even the name Middle-earth, the setting for Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, comes from Norse mythology.

Wagner also referred to Norse tales. When he composed The Ring of the Nibelung, he combined the Norse The Saga of the Volsungs with the German epic The Nibelungenlied. Wagner relied less heavily on the The Nibelungenlied than some believe, and instead turned to the more pagan Volsung saga with its tale of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer and the valkyrie Brynhild.

There are many ways to spell the names of the Norse mythological figures. I have chosen the most common. In some places I have supplied alternative spellings and the original Old Norse form. I have also supplied some translations, mainly from Hollander's The Poetic Edda, in brackets.

This site is intended to provide basic information and to inspire people to want to learn more about the ancient northern tradition. For further study please refer to the listed sources.

Skoal! To the Northland! Skoal! Thus the tale ended. --Longfellow

Last modified February 4th, 2001.

© 1996, Nicole Cherry