The Norse lore and cosmology are incredibly complex. While we don’t have a holy book of any sort, heathenry is called “the religion of research” for a reason. There is much more to it than the few myths Neil Gaiman retold in his Norse Mythology, and Snorri’s Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Those writings, both academic and not quite so, ranging between analysis of each line of Völuspa and summaries of Norse shamanist techniques, need to be read through two filters. The first is that there are no written resources from the actual Viking period – it’s taken centuries before the sagas have been written down by Christians. The second – everyone who took it upon themselves to interpret them had an agenda of their own (disclaimer: so do I, only I’m not pretending that I’ve written an academic book). So I read perhaps 1% of what is available, tried to strip it from modern additions, reminded myself that a lot of the Viking-era resources are items the archeologists labelled “religious artifacts” (which translates to “no clue, really”)… then altered what needed to be altered in order to turn that sliver of knowledge into what is hopefully an entertaining, if dark, novel.
When the first round of beta-readers provided me with feedback, they pointed out that they often got lost among all the Gods and worlds and races. I was surprised to hear that despite Chris Hemsworth’s chest there were still people who didn’t even know who Thor was. I have added an index at the beginning of the book, or rather Loki did, where the Gods and the worlds get brief introductions. Finding the right balance between “I don’t understand a thing” and “here’s 50 pages describing the roofs of Heimdall’s hall” has been difficult and I have no clue whether I’ve managed. Here on the blog I’ve been writing a bit more about the Gods – this time I’m going to try and tackle a whole world…
Jötunheim – the home of the jötnar, one of the heathen Nine Worlds, is where the book begins. The popular mistranslation of the word “jötunn” (singular for “jötnar”) as “ice giant” is something I blame Marvel for. In my book it’s also something of a racist slur when used by other peoples. The most accurate/literal translation of “jötnar” would be “the Eaters”.
In my book Jötunheim consists of two parts, the East and West. The Easterners, traders and sailors, are the ones the elves and humans tend to know. That part of Jötunheim is also the coldest, covered in snow and ice through most of the year. The mocking phrase “ice giants” was coined when the elves and human failed to understand the jötnar’s refusal to leave their home land for warmer pastures. Surely, they mocked, that meant that the ice giants loved the cold just as much as the dwarves of Svartálfheim adored spending their lives in their underground forges?
The most important thing I need to say: Thor is not blonde, doesn’t shave, and does not have six nipples, as the Marvel Comics and movies would make you believe. As nice as Chris Hemsworth is to look at, in the inevitable blockbuster movie based on Children of the Gods Thor will be played by Kristofer Hivju. (Picture above: the premiere of season 6 of Game of Thrones)
Now that we got that out of the way, let me introduce him to you. Thor is mostly known as the God of thunder and lightning, but he’s also the God of blacksmiths (obviously), and the patron of farmers, someone to call upon to hallow a new dwelling and during a marriage ceremony. He is the son of Odin and Earth herself, and disrespecting Earth, particularly forests, is disrespecting Thor himself. His is the Nature that does what it wants, instead of being rearranged by humans to fit their needs. A heathen who leaves plastic bottles or beer cans in a forest should not expect friendly treatment either from the Gods or me if I see that. One does not want to see what Thor is like when he’s furious, or hear what I have to say if I see someone throw a plastic bottle on the ground.
Speaking of humans, Thor is the God most beloved by them, often referred to as “Father”. As a father figure he is a no-nonsense, non-toxic, strong, emotionally available one. He’s not a dumb simpleton, as he is often presented and misunderstood; he’s got the simple man’s wisdom, free from agenda or politics, generally assuming that the simplest solution is the right one. His by-names include “Deep-Thinker” and “Deep-Souled” – which makes me think of the Icelandic farmers spending their evenings writing poetry. He tends to do what he considers to be fair, rather than what the law states.
If I were in charge of casting a movie based on Children, Odin would be played by Sir Ian McKellen just because Sir McKellen did an incredible job playing Gandalf and Tolkien barely bothered to change anything when he decided to simply rename Odin to something else for his little Lord of the Rings books.
Who is Odin?
Odin is the most complex of all the Gods and Goddesses in the Norse pantheon. Not for nothing does he have more than a hundred kennings (by-names), among which you will find ‘The Mad One’, ‘The Furious One’, ‘The Inspired One’, ‘The Desired One’, ‘The Terrible One’, and ‘The Old Bastard’. He is a poet, a healer, a magician, a warrior. When calling upon Odin it is advised to use the name referring to the Odin you would prefer to experience. Prefer, because if he feels otherwise you might be in for a surprise of your life. Possibly your last.
The Marvel movies put the All-Father in the position of the “chief God” to make it easier for people without experience in polytheistic religions – the Father, the Son, and the holy… uh, Loki. The truth is more complicated. In the Norse times, the God considered to be the “leader” differed depending on the region. In Iceland, for example, the favoured Gods were Thor and Freyr, with Odin rarely present in the Sagas (although by no means unknown). Since each of the Gods was associated with certain personality traits, Iceland focussed on the Gods unrelated to wars. In other parts of the world Odin or Týr were the “chieftains”.