Thor’s identity across different mythologies

Modern-day comic book lovers and pop culture enthusiasts are not the only or first group of people to be fascinated by the god Thor and his adventures. Centuries upon centuries in the past, this Norse mythological character was highly revered and worshiped by many civilizations and empires across the world. Aside from Thor notably being a hammer-wielding god, what other magnificent things and identities did the different mythologies of those times ascribe to him?

Thor’s Identity in Germanic Mythology

According to Germanic mythology, Thor wields a hammer and is believed to be the god of thunder, oak tree, lightning, strength, and storms. Some Germanic mythologists and historians even add that Thor’s status includes the protector of man and the god of fertility.

Throughout the history of the Germanic people, Thor has been consistently recognized as a popular god. This dates back to the time the Romans occupied some regions in Romania and the expansions of tribes during the Period of Migration. Thor was even popular during the age of the Vikings; and when Scandinavia was becoming Christianized, symbols of Thor’s hammer were very ubiquitous. Some pagans from Nordic tribes bore names of Thor.

Thor’s Identity in Norse Mythology

Thor

Norse mythology considers Thor as one who deals ruthlessly with his enemies.

Thor’s powerful name features a lot in the mythology of the Norse people. A greater portion of Norse mythology was in Iceland- recorded from traditions in Scandinavia. They also had significant number of tales about Thor. He was given close to fifteen identities; some of which are stated below:

–         Thor is the husband of the goddess which had golden hair (Sif)

–         He is the partner of Jotun Jarsaxa

–         He is widely described as having fierce eyes, red hair, and beard

–         Thor begot the goddess Bruor with Jarnsaxa

–         He is the father of Magni (the mum is unrecorded)

–         He brought forth Mooi

–         The god Ullr points to Thor as the stepfather

–         Thor has many siblings including Baldr

–         The servants Moskva and Pjalfi belonged to Thor

–         Thor rides a wagon driven by goats numbering two

–         He has a powerful hammer which crushes mountains

–         Thor also wears gloves made of iron (Jarngreipr) and he has a belt (Megingjoro)

–         He is the owner of the staff Grioarvolr

–         He slaughters his enemies mercilessly; he fought a great serpent (Jormungandr)

–         His death was predicted in the Ragnarok. The Ragnarok is the final battle against evil which marks the destruction of all gods. It is equivalent to the Armageddon or Judgement day.

Thor’s Identity in the Era of the Romans

It was the Romans who initially recorded history for the Germanic people. In many of those works, Thor is commonly represented as either Jupiter (the Roman god) or Hercules (the Roman hero and son of Jupiter). This translation was achieved using a technique called Interpretatio romana. With this, a non-Roman god which possess similar features with a Roman god is identified as Roman god. This was further exemplified in the works of Tacitus – a Roman historian. In Tacitus’ work “Germania”, he associated Thor with Hercules. Odin (Thor’s father) was associated with Mercury while Tyr was referred to as Mars.  Hercules is tied with Thor because of the similarities between their war tools. Hercules club looks like Thor’s deadly hammer.

Read More: 14 Ancient Roman Gods and Goddesses

Thor during the Viking Age

A famous chronicler in the 11th century (Adam of Bremen) described Thor as the mightiest. He imagined a statue of Thor sitting on a throne in a temple at Uppsala and flanked by Odin and Fricc. Adam personified Thor as the ruler of the sky, governor of thunder and lightning, winds, storms, fertility, and fine weather.

According to Adam, the people of Uppsala (in Sweden) assigned priests to offer sacrifices to the gods. At one time, a preacher was killed for misrepresenting Thor in a profane manner. To them, Thor must never be joked with.

After the Viking Age

Thor

Thor was still worshiped and called upon even after the introduction of Christianity in Norway.

When Norway was introduced to Christian beliefs, the population still worshiped Thor; they called upon him in times of need. An example was when a stick was discovered in Bergen (Norway) that contained messages written in rune (an old Germanic alphabet character). The messages were invoking Thor to assist the reader. Odin was also asked to possess the reader. By the 12th century AD, a king of Norway known as Olaf II had taken inspiration from Thor and branded himself with a red beard and a hammer.

Poem Collections (Poetic Edda) about Thor

Compilations of traditional poems in the 13th-century CE spanned through the period of paganism. Thor has been cited in poems such as Voluspa, Harbarosljoo, Skirnismal, and Lokassena. In Voluspa, a lifeless being narrated an account of the universe and predicted to Odin about Thor’s death. The prediction was that Thor was destined to fight a serpent in the event of the Ragnarok. He would successfully slaughter the snake but would only take a maximum of 9 footsteps before the venom of the serpent overpowers him. After that, the sky would darken and fire would set the world ablaze; the night stars would vanish; the sky would be lit with dancing flames; vapors would rise; the earth would be flooded with water; and then it would rise again and be made green and fertile.

In Harbarosljoo, Thor is the protagonist who travels from the east and comes to meet an inlet. He chances upon a ferryman by name Harbaror (a disguised Odin) and tries to enjoy a ride with him. Harbaror rudely shouts at Thor from the inlet and refuses to offer him a ride. Thor tries to hold his temper but the ferryman proves stubborn and aggressive. The verbal exchange of insults ensues between Thor and Harbaror. Thor later walks away.

Modern-day and Pop Culture’s Portrayal of Thor

In European countries where German is spoken, rural folks acknowledge Thor. It is not uncommon to hear of places named after Thor. The fourth day of the week (Thursday) is named after him. In Old English, Thursday means, the day of thunder. Thor continues to influence our present-day culture. Thor has featured extensively as the main character in a number of box office and popularly acclaimed movies of the 21st century.

EXTRA INFORMATION

  • The Swastika symbol of the Nazis has been interpreted to be a representation of Thor’s hammer. The swastika symbol consists of a cross with  its four ends bent clockwise
  • Thor has influenced modern art and fictions.  American comic writer Stan Lee (1922-2018) created a superhero named “Thor Odinson”. The character was based on Thor.
  • Several movies have been produced with Thor being portrayed as a powerful character.

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1 Response

  1. April 29, 2020

    […] and epithets than any other deity in Norse mythology. He fathered numerous children including Thor (god of thunder), Höðr, Baldr (god of light), Víðarr (god of strength), and […]

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