Ancient history

Thor's hammer in Norse mythology

Thor's hammer is Thor's war hammer and goes by the name of Mjolnir. Norse mythology is inseparable from him and he is considered the Viking symbol par excellence. To this day, Thor's hammer is a popular symbol of strength and energy. In this article you can read how it came about, what its meaning is and why it is most often found in women's graves.

The making of Mjolnir

You surely know the Edda. Norse mythology finds its literary image there. And maybe you also know that there are two versions of the Edda. A younger one in song form and an older one in prose. There are therefore two stories about Thor's hammer.

Mjolnir in the Snorri Edda

Sif, the beautiful wife of Thor, had beautiful blond hair. Loki, always up for a prank, cut it off in the night. Not a good idea, because Thor caught him and was, to put it mildly, not very happy:he actually wanted to kill him. Instead, Loki was sent to the dwarves to forge Sif's hair out of gold, which would grow like normal hair. But they forged more than that:Odin's spear and the ship Skidbladnir were also born. With that, Loki made his way home and met the dwarf Brokk, who said he and his brother could forge just as wondrous things. Loki bet his head they couldn't.

Brokk went to his brother Sindri and they both got started. Brokk worked the bellows. Because a fly stung Brokk between the eyes so badly that his eyes bled and he briefly took his hand off the bellows to shoo the fly away, the Thor's hammer came out of the fire with a very short handle.

Mjolnir's magical powers were great though:Thor's hammer is indestructible, it always returns to Thor when Thor throws it, and it can grow so small that Thor can hide it under his clothes. In a meeting of the gods, the gods declared Thor's hammer the best work. Loki escaped - but not entirely unscathed with his mouth sewn shut.

Mjolnir in the Older Edda

The second story in Norse mythology tells how the giant Thrym steals Thor's hammer one night. Thrym wants to keep Mjolnir until the goddess Freya is brought to him as a bride. Nothing easier than that, think Loki and Thor, and dress up as bridesmaid and bride.

When Thrym serves them a hospitable meal, he becomes a little suspicious. Thor eats an ox, eight salmon, all the sweets, and drinks copious amounts of mead. Loki saves the day by telling Thrym the bride hasn't eaten in a very long time. As a sign of the marriage blessing, Thrym places Mjolnir in Thor's lap, after which Thor slays the giant.

Symbolic meaning of Thor's hammer

Like all sagas, Norse mythology also combines supernatural stories with reality. Thor's hammer is not only the best weapon of the Norse world of gods, it also has other functions.

The thunder god Thor was the protector of humans from the giants. This is his function as a protective god, which is why the Thor's hammer was and is often worn as an amulet. But Thor is also a weather and fertility god. As a blessing of the marriage, a Thor's hammer is placed in the bride's lap or in the marriage bed. In excavations, the hammer was most often found in the graves of women. The Thor's hammer has a function as a weapon and also as an instrument of consecration, protection and healing.

Mjolnir originally symbolized all the functions of the god Thor. As the defender and protector of the people, Thor kept them away from dangers (mainly natural hazards at the time), ensured balanced weather and sufficient offspring in the communities. Mjölnir is a thoroughly ambivalent symbol. On the one hand, it shows the destructive power of lightning and thunder; but after the storm comes the rain that blesses the land. This is also what the weather god Thor stands for.

Norse mythology sees Thor's hammer as a symbol to ward off chaos and maintain divine order. In all ceremonies, be it birth, marriage, the blessing of a field, and probably even funerals, Mjolnir has the character of holding the world in its limbs. This all-encompassing meaning is why Mjölnir remains a prominent symbol of the Viking Age to this day.

Read more:
Karl Simrock (ed.):The Edda, the older and younger, along with the mythical tales of the Skalda, 6th edition, Stuttgart 1876.
The Creation of Mjolnir in the Song Edda translated by Karl Simrock 1851:
Alfred Becker:Mjölnir:Runes on Thor's Hammer from Købelev (Lolland)

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