Norse Aesir Gods & Goddesses: Facts & Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Norse mythology is complex, and is one of the few systems to embrace multiple tribes of deities. In this lesson we'll look at the Aesir gods and goddesses and examine some popular myths about them.

The Norse Gods

Imagine living in Norway a thousand years ago. You're out fishing when, suddenly, storm clouds roll in and there's a clap of thunder. You know what that means, right? It means it's time to get off the water. It also means that the god of thunder, Thor, is waging war with the giants and kicking butt.

In Norse mythology, the pre-Christian pagan religion of the Scandinavian and Northern Germanic people, the cosmos was filled with gods, goddesses, and various other magical beings. Now, the total set of gods and goddesses in a religion is called the pantheon. Most pagan religions had a single pantheon, a single set of deities, but the Norse actually had two different tribes, called the Aesir and Vanir.

The Aesir Gods and Goddesses

Of the two tribes of deities in Norse mythology, the primary group were the Aesir. These were the most powerful gods, although the Vanir weren't exactly weaklings. The Aesir gods and goddesses lived in Asgard, one of the nine realms of the cosmos. Asgard was something of a divine reflection of Midgard, Earth, and represented order and structure in a chaotic universe. Asgard is located on the sunniest branch of Yggdrasil, the world tree that occupies the exact center of the cosmos in Norse mythology. All of the realms are somewhere on this tree.

Odin

So who lived in Asgard? The leader of the Aesir gods was Odin, called the Allfather. Despite being the chief of Asgard, Odin is almost never home, and frequently wanders about the cosmos on solitary quests for knowledge and wisdom. In fact, he is portrayed with one eye because legend claims he sacrificed the other to gain new wisdoms. Odin even hung him himself from the branches of the world tree and stabbed himself with a spear, barely surviving, so he could learn the secrets of the powerful magical symbols of the runes.

Runes are the written language of the Norse, which according to tradition represented powerful magical forces. Odin had seen the powerful maidens who lived at the base of the world tree use the runes to influence the fate of the universe, and he wanted to gain that wisdom. Through his personal sacrifice, he gained the favor of the runes themselves, which showed Odin how to use their magic.

Odin was often depicted as a wanderer.
Odin

So, Odin has this dual nature. He leads a tribe of divine warriors, but identifies more with outcasts. He is a god of war, but also of poetry and wisdom. All of this makes Odin one of the most complex figures in Norse mythology.

Odin's cosmic banquet hall, called Valhalla, was the Norse people's vision of the ideal afterlife. Distinguished humans were selected by Odin upon their death to come to Valhalla, where they would feast and battle each other for entertainment. This wasn't exactly like the Christianized view of heaven, however. The dead were not selected to come to Valhalla because they were morally worthy, but because Odin found them useful. You see, the warriors of Valhalla were part of a major army Odin was compiling in preparation for Ragnarok, the final cosmic battle between the gods and giants.

Other Aesir Gods and Goddesses

Odin was the chief of the Aesir, but this tribe was full of powerful deities. Most famous, perhaps, is Thor, god of thunder. The Norse people saw Thor as the ideal warrior, the divine reflection of what human warriors should strive to become. He was courageous, unyielding, and defended Asgard from the giants. This is a bit ironic, because Thor's ancestry includes several giants, but he never waivers from his duty. Thor also has a special place in his heart for the humans of Midgard, and often comes to their aid. The Norse people even called upon Thor to bless their weddings and protect the union from malicious spirits.

Thor protecting Mitgard from the serpent giant.
Thor

Right up there with Odin and Thor, the highest-ranking goddess of the Aesir was Frigg, sometimes seen as Frigga. Frigg was the wife of Odin, mother of the god Baldur, and had the power to see the future and change it by re-weaving the web of destiny.

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