Norse Pantheon: 10 Fascinating Gods and Goddesses

Read on to learn about 10 famous Norse gods and goddesses and what makes them so interesting across time.

Oct 31, 2023By Lara Colrain, BA Archaeology, BA Art History
norse gods goddesses mythology

 

Looking at how Norse gods embody archetypal figures, representing fundamental aspects of human existence, such as love, power, wisdom, and justice, to what they symbolize regarding our own aspirations, desires, and struggles, these mythological gods offer a lens through which we can explore and understand the human condition. Furthermore, the tales surrounding these deities involve epic battles, heroic quests, and larger-than-life narratives, appealing to our innate sense of adventure and imagination.

 

10. Hel

hel painting 1889 Johannes Gehrts
Hel with her hound Garmr, by Johannes Gehrts, 1889, via Wikipedia

 

The history of nefarious Norse goddess Hel appears in several surviving documents, such as the 13th-century Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, the 9th- and 10th-century poems within the Heimskringla and Egils saga, and the 12th-century Latin work Gesta Danorum. Archaeological evidence of Hel is also depicted on several Migration Period bracteates and imitation medallions. Hel was known to reign over the afterlife with her hound Garmr. She is often depicted as half-dead and half-alive, with blue skin and a sad appearance. Her father was the famous Norse god Loki, and her mother was the giant Angrboda. Hel’s siblings by the same parents were Jörmungand, the serpent wrapped around the world, and Fenrir, the wolf.

 

As the ruler of the underworld, Hel governed the fates of the souls who never made it to Valhalla. Her domain was a place of contrasts, where ice-cold landscapes met plains bathed in fire. She was a complex figure, embodying both darkness and mercy. In her kingdom, she embraced her portion of the dead: The dishonorable, the wicked, and those who passed of old age and illness, offering them compassion, fair judgment, solace, and understanding.

 

9. Heimdall  

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Heimdall returns Brisingamen to Freyja, by Nils Blommér, 1846, via Malmö Konstmuseum

 

The Norse god Heimdall was the “Watchman of the Gods” and the son of King Odin and nine mothers. He had extraordinary eyesight and hearing and thus was appointed the guardian of the Bifröst, the rainbow bridge that connected Asgard (the realm of the gods) to Midgard (the world of humans). Stories about Heimdall are detailed on a Saltfleetby spindle whorl inscription in England, in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, and within the 9th- and 10th-century poems within the Heimskringla. Heimdall is also believed to be a figure holding a large horn with a sword on a stone cross from the Isle of Man and a 9th- or 10th-century Gosford Cross in Cumbria, England.

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Heimdall’s most important possessions were his gold-maned horse Gulltoppr and a “ringing” horn called Gjallarhorn that alerted the gods to the approach of their enemy (the giants) during Ragnarök, the prophesized end of the world battle in Norse mythology. Interestingly, Heimdall’s greatest foe was Loki. According to some versions of Norse mythology, the pair kill each other during the great battle.

 

8. Baldr

balder norse swedish history museum
Balder via the Swedish History Museum

 

Accounts of the gentle, fair, and radiant Norse god Baldr are provided by Saxo Grammaticus and other Danish Latin chroniclers, including the Poetic and Prose Eddas. Bladr was adored by gods and mortals alike; however, because this son of Odin and Frigg was so good and pure, his mother made all beings promise never to harm him. All agreed to the pledge except for mistletoe, as it was too young to make such a vow. Therefore, upon discovering this single weakness, Loki stole some mistletoe, crafted it into a spear, and tricked Baldr’s blind brother, Hodr, into throwing it at him. Unfortunately, the mistletoe pierced Baldr’s heart, killing him instantly.

 

Despite the Æsir’s (gods) attempt to resurrect Baldr, the goddess Hel would only return Baldr if the world wept for him. The giantess Thokk — perhaps Loki in disguise — refused to shed a tear, and thus, Baldr remained dead. His death purportedly marked the beginning of Ragnarök, after which he was meant to be reborn to usher in a new era of light and peace.

 

According to Gylfaginning — a section with the Prose Edda — Baldr’s wife was Nanna and his son Forseti. Baldr also had a vessel called Hringhorni and a shining fortress called Breidablik, renowned for its remarkable and unmatched beauty.

 

7. Týr

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Týr depicted as Mars from ÍB 299 4 via Wikimedia Commons

 

Týr was a Norse deity associated with courage, heroic glory, justice, selflessness, upholding oaths and agreements, and war. According to the 18th-century Icelandic manuscript ÍB 299 4, Týr was identified as the ancient Roman god Mars. He was also depicted as the son of the jötunn Hymir in the Poetic Edda’s Hymiskviða or the son of Odin in the Prose Edda’s Skáldskaparmál. The Poetic Edda’s Lokasenna further potentially hints at his existence as an unnamed and enigmatic consort. One fascinating myth recounts Týr’s involvement in binding the monstrous wolf Fenrir. In an act of cunning, Týr placed his hand inside Fenrir’s mouth as a gesture of trust, luring the wolf into the trap and enabling his binding. However, when Fenrir discovered the deceit, he bit off Týr’s hand. This act demonstrated the god’s unwavering commitment to upholding order and fulfilling his duties, even at great personal sacrifice.

 

Over time, Týr’s prominence waned with the ascendancy of Odin as the central figure in Norse mythology. Týr’s character serves as a reminder of the complex moral values and ethical standards that governed Viking Age society. Later, he was said to have been devoured by Garmr — the fearsome hound of the goddess Hel — during Ragnarök.

 

6. Frigg

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Frigga in Sarah Powers Bradish’s Old Norse Stories, 1900, via Internet Archive

 

The protective Norse goddess Frigg was Odin’s wife and Baldr’s mother. As an advocate for matrimonial bonds, fertility, and wisdom, Frigg is portrayed in Icelandic narratives as attempting to preserve her son’s life but failing. Varying mythological accounts present her as a figure of maternal devotion and sorrow associated with spinning and weaving, while others emphasize her lack of morals.

 

Historical documents that mention this Norse goddess are the 7th-century Origo Gentis Langobardorum; Paul the Deacon’s 8th-century Historia Langobardorum; the 10th-century Second Merseburg Incantation found in Merseburg, Germany; the Poetic and Prose Eddas; and the Heimskringla and Völsunga sagas. A 12th-century wall in the Schleswig Cathedral in Schleswig-Holstein, Northern Germanyalso depicts the goddess wearing a cloak and riding a big catAdjacent to her is another veiled woman, likewise wearing a cloak but riding a distaff. Given notable iconographic resemblances to the textual accounts, scholars believe both figures represent the Norse goddesses Frigg and Freyja.

 

5. Freyja

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Freyja, via the Swedish History Museum

 

Although the goddesses Frigg and Freyja share some similarities, they are distinct deities in Norse Mythology with different feminine characteristics, domains, and roles. Freyja is found in various sources, from ancient texts to modern folklore. She is attested in the Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Heimskringla, and several Sagas of Icelanders, including the notable short story Sörla þáttr. Freyja’s influence further extends to the poetry of skalds and, in the modern age, within Scandinavian folklore, ensuring her enduring presence in the region’s cultural heritage.

 

Unlike Frigg, sensual and passionate Freyja is associated with love, beauty, desire, fertility, war, and material wealth. She was a member of the Vanir gods with the gift of magic and divination, including the practice of seiðr, a form of Norse sorcery. The goddess’s most treasured possessions were her necklace Brísingamen, a cloak of falcon feathers, a chariot pulled by two cats, and the boar Hildisvíni. Freyja was also connected to the heavenly realm of Fólkvangr, where she welcomed warriors who had fallen in battle. According to the historical sources, she was married to Óðr — who shares a cultural personification with Odin — has two daughters (Hnoss and Gersemi), and was the twin sister of the god Freyr.

 

4. Freyr 

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The Lovesickness of Frey (1908) by W. G. Collingwood via Wikipedia Commons

 

Scholars recognize Freyr as an important figure in Norse mythology associated with abundance, fertility, kingship, prosperity, rain, and the Sun. As a Vanir god, he was closely linked to the natural world, particularly agriculture, and embodied qualities of peace, diplomacy, and benevolence. Mythological accounts highlight his role in fostering harmony and resolving conflicts, including his notable involvement in the peace negotiations between the Æsir and the Vanir. Historical sources, such as the Ynglinga Saga and the Poetic and Prose Eddas, provide insights into Freyr’s divine attributes, relationships with other gods, and his place within the Norse pantheon. Furthermore, archaeological evidence, such as votive offerings and depictions on artifacts like the Gallehus horns, provides tangible proof of Freyr’s existence.

 

Born to the god Njörðr and his unnamed sister-wife, Freyr was gifted Álfheimr, the realm of the Elves, as a teething present. Notable possessions attributed to him include the shining dwarf-made boar Gullinbursti and the foldable ship Skíðblaðnir, which always has the wind behind its sails. In addition to his association with the horse cult, Freyr is observed as an ancestor of the Swedish royal house.

 

3. Odin

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Old Viking statue of the god Odin, the Allfather at Gothenburg City Museum via Kristijan Arsov, Unsplash

 

This chief deity in Norse mythology was revered for his wisdom, knowledge, and poetic prowess. With a cunning and inquisitive nature, Odin pursued hidden truths and the mysteries of the cosmos while holding the title of the god of war and death, leading fallen warriors to Valhalla. Records of Odin are found in the works of the Roman era to Migration Period; the Viking Age to post-Viking age Poetic and Prose Eddas, Heimskringla and sagas; and modern folklore. In the Norse texts, he is depicted as the son of Bestla and Borr and shares a kinship with his two brothers, Vili and Vé.

 

As the historical sources attest, Odin the “Allfather” demanded admiration and devotion from his fellow Æsir. Yet, as he mastered ancient arts such as shamanism and seidr, his character symbolized light and shadow. Odin’s thirst for wisdom and power led him to make great sacrifices, including one of his eyes, and he was pivotal in shaping Norse culture and religion. The archaeological record is likewise rich with representations of Odin, such as on gold bracteates, helmet plates, picture stones, brooches, tapestries, casting molds, runestones, silver figurines, and symbols.

 

Odin is often recognized by his one-eyed visage, long beard, and spear named Gungnir. His animal companions — the wolves Geri and Freki and the ravens Huginn and Muninn — kept him company on his journeys and gathered knowledge from all across Midgard. With his eight-legged steed Sleipnir — a gift from Loki — Odin crossed the sky and dove into the underworld. As previously mentioned, Odin’s wife was Frigg, and together they had several children: Baldr, the radiant symbol of purity; Hodr, the blind god whose tragic actions led to sorrow; Vidar, the silent and vengeful deity; Vali, born to avenge his brother’s death; Bragi, the eloquent god of poetry; and Thor, the mighty god of thunder.

 

2. Thor

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Thor with Mjolnir battling the giants, by Mårtin Eskil Winge, 1872, via Joy of Museums

 

Thor is an iconic Nose deity with the position of the god of thunder, strength, and protection. In the Poetic and Prose Eddas, he is described as an athletic figure with a red beard, wielding the mighty hammer Mjölnir, capable of leveling mountains and conjuring thunderstorms. The depiction of Thor carrying a hammer is particularly significant. Hammers, known as “Thor’s Hammers” or “Mjölnir,” have been found as amulets or pendants in various archaeological contexts. These symbols were likely associated with protection, strength, and invoking Thor’s powers.

 

Thor is known for his adventures, battling fearsome giants and monstrous creatures and protecting gods and humans from their malevolent influence. The Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes), a medieval Latin work written in the 12th century by Saxo Grammaticus, contains accounts of Thor as part of Danish history and mythology, and the Ynglinga Saga, part of the Heimskringla, includes information about the lineage of Norse kings, tracing it back to the god Odin and Thor. Several runic inscriptions found in archaeological sites further reference Thor, providing valuable historical evidence of the worship and reverence for the god among the Norse people. Such cultural influence regarding elements of Thor can be found in works of art, literature, and even place names throughout historical Norse territories.

 

1. Loki

loke punished 1912 james doyle penrose archivist
Loke Punished, by James Doyle Penrose, 1912, via Archivist

 

Coming in at #1 is the multifaceted and fascinating Norse god of chaos, Loki. In the Poetic and Prose Eddas, he is portrayed as a mischievous and cunning deity known for his shape-shifting abilities, quick wit, and actions that bring mischief and necessary change within the Norse pantheon, making him a character that is both positive and negative. While works of literature rather than historical narratives, the Sagas of the Volsungs and Ynglings often incorporate Norse mythology elements, including stories about Loki and his exploits. According to such historical records, Loki is the son of the giants Fárbauti and Laufey and married a goddess named Sigyn. They had two sons together: Narfi and Vali. However, Loki’s family relationships are complex and vary depending on the source and interpretation. Some accounts refer to him as a blood brother of Odin through a ritual they performed, resulting in Loki being classed as a god.

 

Another myth details his relationship with Angrboda and their offspring: The monstrous wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and the half-dead, half-living Hel. Then there is the tale of him being bound to a rock for eternity while a snake drips venom on him — a punishment issued by the gods to compensate for Loki’s many wicked deeds, especially the murder of Baldr. Overall, the chaos god is documented as contributing to the sequence of events leading up to Ragnarök, causing widespread destruction and the subsequent rebirth of the world.

 

In recent years, Norse gods have gained attention and popularity, notably in popular culture, such as books, movies, and video games. While Odin and Thor are well-known, Loki, particularly through Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal, has become highly celebrated.

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By Lara ColrainBA Archaeology, BA Art HistoryLara is a published author, editor, poet, and archaeologist based in Hobart, Tasmania. She holds two BAs (Arts and Archaeology) and is deeply passionate about ancient history, antiquities, and mythology, with a special interest in indigenous cultures, notably the ancient Maya. She was fortunate to have known the late Mayanist, George. E. Stuart, who was a mentor during her archaeological studies. In her free time, Lara enjoys Painting by Numbers.