Norse Mythology: Odin's One Eye, Thor's Hammer & The Story of Fenrir

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  • 0:03 Norse Mythology
  • 0:36 Odin's Eye
  • 2:08 Thor's Hammer
  • 3:19 Fenrir's Story
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

Norse mythology is full of characters who are very often defined by a certain trait. In this lesson, we'll explore three popular myths and see what they reveal about the Norse cosmology.

Norse Mythology

Often when you meet someone, certain traits will jump out that sort of define that person. It may be bright red hair, a sense of humor, or maybe an eye patch or a magical hammer. You know, things like that. Well, mythological systems are like that, too. The characters have stories or traits that define them and their place within that culture's cosmology. This is certainly true of Norse mythology, the spiritual beliefs of the pre-Christian Scandinavian people. Let's take a look at a few of the myths that define the Norse mythology and how we remember it.

Odin's Eye

In Norse mythology, there are many gods and goddesses. The supreme deity, however, is Odin, sometimes known by the extremely cool title of Allfather. His defining trait? He's only got one eye. He's not a Cyclops. One of his eyes was gouged out and is often covered by an eye patch. Odin is an extraordinarily complex figure. He represents both war and poetry. He's a leader and a hermit and he intervenes in the world of men as both a trickster and protector.

Most myths surrounding Odin have to do with the acquisition of wisdom, including the story of how he lost his eye. According to mythology, Odin ventured to the mystical Well of Urd at the base of the world-tree that holds the cosmos together. The well was guarded by Mimir, a shadowy being who becomes all knowing by drinking the magical waters. Odin asked for a drink and Mimir replied that Odin must sacrifice an eye for a drink. Odin gouged out his own eye, dropped it into the well, and was allowed to drink from the waters of cosmic knowledge.

So what does this myth mean? Well, the eye is a common metaphor for perception and worldly understanding. Odin sacrificed an eye, but gained a more sacred, divine level of wisdom in return. This happens multiple times in Norse mythology, as Odin sacrifices his physical body to gain a cosmic understanding of reality. So the depictions of a one-eyed Odin represent the sacrifice of the earthly in exchange for the divine.

Thor's Hammer

One of Odin's children and one of the most popular figures in Norse mythology, both in ancient times and today, is Thor, the god of storms. Thor was a righteous warrior and unyielding defender of both the realms of humans and gods, and he fought with a magical hammer named Mjöllnir. According to the Norse people, when you heard the crash of thunder, it was the sound of Mjöllnir crashing down upon the giants that Thor battled. Interestingly, the hammer, which was made by the dwarves, represented more than just destruction. The Norse people invoked Thor's hammer to consecrate and bless marriages, births, and likely funerals. Why? Well, Thor was also something of a fertility deity, believed to protect crops and the fertility of the land, and his hammer was an extension of this. However, to the Norse, the dual functions of Mjöllnir weren't opposites. In Norse mythology, the forces of order and chaos are constantly at war. Asgard, home of the gods, was the land of order, so Thor was literally the defender of order. When something was blessed with Thor's hammer, it was incorporated within the realms of order and protected against chaos.

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