By Masquereads, Bjørn Larssen, Alex & Sue Bavey
Today on the Norsevember schedule I am proud to present a look at our favourite Norse myths, or if you prefer, Norse stories. We have 4 different myths today including my favourite! Learn more about the myths or simply why people love the ones you already know. Enjoy!
Loki’s Wager with the Dwarves/Treasures of the Gods
From Alex (Spells & Spaceships)
This story starts with Loki taking things too far. Because that’s not something that happens too often is it?
This time, he’s done something wildly foolish and cut off the beautiful golden hair of Sif. Not only is Sif fiercely proud of her locks and undeserving of such an act, she also happens to be wife of Thor.
On finding the perpetrator (probably with the help of the other Gods) Thor threatens to break every bone in Loki’s body should he fail to rectify the insult.
Of course, this being Loki, things aren’t completely straightforward.
The Trickster God travelled to Svartelfheim and approached the sons of Ivaldi. He managed to convince the two Dwarves to respin golden hair for Sif, bargaining that the favour of the Gods and a debt to Loki would be a fine trade. With the fires lit and perfect strands of beautiful hair being made, Loki argued that it would be a shame to waste the heat of the furnace on one piece.
The sons of Ivaldi saw the truth of the words and created a ship for Freyr called Skidbladnir, that could be made small enough to fit in one’s pocket or grand enough to sail the stormiest of seas. They made a spear for Odin called Gungnir, that would never miss its target. The three items they handed to Loki with pride and explained their magic.
On his way back to Asgard, Loki had an idea. Instead of returning to Thor and Sif, he would stay in Svartelfheim a while.
Loki approached the Dwarves Brokk and Eitri, showing them the three items and marvelling at their magic and ingenuity. The two were outwardly unimpressed, deeming the work far insuperior to their own. Loki goaded the two into trying to produce 3 items finer than the sons of Ivaldi had created. He even staked his head on Brokk and Eitri being incapable of accomplishing such a feat, to which the brothers had to accept. Not only would they get rid of Loki, they would prove themselves the superior craftsmen and even take the treasures made by the sons of Ivaldi for themselves.
Eitri placed a pig skin on the fire and began his work whilst his brother Brokk worked the bellows.
“Whatever you do Brokk, keep pumping those bellows in that same fashion. Don’t stop until the work is complete,” instructed Eitri.
Brokk was doing just as Eitri had asked, when he heard a loud buzzing sound. He felt a slight tickle, and noticed a large fly on his hand. It promptly bit down on his skin, which was really painful. Despite this, Brokk kept the rhythm and continued pumping the bellows. Moments later, Eitri emerged with the first treasure; Gullinbursti. It was a boar with bristles made of gold.
Next, Eitri brought out a piece of flawless gold, and instructed Brokk to continue in the same fashion as before. Eitri heated the gold and hammered it into shape, reminding Brokk to continue on the bellows. As he did so, the fly returned, this time landing on Brokk’s neck. It bit down hard and almost made the Dwarf flinch, but he continued through gritted teeth, as before.
Eitri soon after emerged with Draupnir, an arm band made out of solid gold, and returned to the forge with a huge piece of iron. After heating it and hammering away, Eitri asked Brokk to work the bellows again. “If you stop, everything will be ruined,” he reminded his brother.
Eitri worked, sweat pouring, his muscles aching. Brokk was straining so hard he worried he’d collapse, but he continued just as strongly working the bellows. It was then he heard the buzzing sound again. The fly was back, and this time it headed towards his eyes.
It settled between his eyes, before biting both his eyelids, causing blood to pour from them into his eyes. Brokk couldn’t see, and he briefly let go of the bellows to wipe the blood away.
There came a shout of frustration from the furnace. Eitri had been so close to finishing. As the fire cooled, he pulled a huge hammer from the smouldering embers, which he called Mjölnir. It was magnificent – except for the handle which was a little short.
They went back to where they had left Loki, who smiled up at them. Of course, he had been the fly, and they knew as much. The three made their way to Asgard to present the treasures to the Gods. It was agreed that Odin, Thor and Freyr would decide the better smiths after examining the treasures. Loki presented each piece from the sons of Ivaldi. The Gods were delighted.
Brokk then stepped forward to present the treasures. He revealed that Freyr’s golden bristled boar Gullinbursti would be faster than any horse and could charge over earth, sea and air. His bristles would shine in the dark and cast a light over any place he ran.
Draupnir, the gold arm ring was for Odin. Brokk explained that it wasn’t just any arm ring; on every ninth night, it would drop from it eight rings of its own weight.
Finally, Mjölnir was presented for Thor. Thor’s eyes lit up at the beauty of the weapon, before looking quizzically at its handle. Brokk quickly interjected, “the handle may be small, but it doesn’t affect its use. This hammer can be used against anything and it will never break. No matter how far you throw it, Mighty Thor, it will come back to your hand. And should you need to hide it for whatever reason, you can shrink it to conceal within your clothing.”
The Gods were thrilled with the Mjölnir’s power, magic and beauty. Thor looked like the cat that got the cream. They soon decided that Eitri and Brokk’s treasures were the best.
To cut a longer story short, Loki tried to make his escape and was caught. The Dwarves were ready to take him up on his wager and remove his head, but of course the trickster managed to wriggle his way out of it. Loki had specified they could take his head, but hadn’t mentioned anything about harming his neck. The Aesir nodded their acknowledgement of a game well played and the Dwarves were unable to enact their punishment. Brokk however did get a small parting blow by sewing Loki’s mouth shut, since the head was his to do as he wished with.
All in all, a pretty successful day for the Gods!
Why I like it:
This is my favourite myth because it has a bit of everything that I love about Norse mythology. Loki is at his mischievous best. There is a lot of magic as we learn the origins of some of the iconic objects from the mythology.
Obviously a big highlight is Mjölnir, but we also learn about the dwarves and their mindset as well as cameos from many of the Gods. Ultimately it comes down to Loki being a little shit, Thor getting his hands on his hammer and the Gods getting their treasures. I just love the way the story plays out and the many elements at play.
I know most of this story from various sources but I used The Norse Myths by Kevin Krossley-Holland as a refresher for this tale.
Hárbarðsljóð, or The Lay of Harbard
From Bjørn Larssen
(We’re going to pretend Marvel Universe is not a thing that exists.)
One-eyed, gloomy Odin is associated with war, his ravens and wolves, and 13-year-olds wearing VALHALLA t-shirts. Few know that amongst his many talents, such as lying, cheating, engaging in queer magic, and drinking lots of wine without ever getting a hangover, lies the gift of poetry. Which, in this myth, is presented in form of a rap battle with an opponent so weak he never stands a chance – his own son, the almighty Thor.
Harbard, i.e. Grey-beard, i.e. Odin in disguise (knowing Thor, a fake moustache should be enough) pretends to be a ferryman; Thor has a channel to cross and needs the ferry. Simple, right? Thor offers the ferryman a breakfast for his services. Harbard’s answer is that Thor’s mother is dead and Thor himself looks like a beggar.
Suddenly the deal is different and only Harbard knows what it is. The battle is over before it started, its winner self-declared – how do you answer that? But Thor is stubborn. He will neither break into tears nor give up, and Harbard knows that.
The fake ferryman himself has little to lose – he’s at safe distance, equipped with his knowledge and wit, ready to lie about anything and everything if it brings him victory. Thor, straightforward and direct, has nothing but his hammer (and some sandwiches, presumably). Thor’s violent, because he has to – Odin’s ruthless, because he can… although maybe it’s not that simple?
The boasts and accusations that follow tell us a lot about the two Gods. Odin sprinkles his with lies, greatly enjoying the exchange, while Thor alternates between fury, confusion, and pleas. He has a channel to cross. This is the entire extent of his needs. Well, that and finding out what happened to his mother. (Spoiler: nothing, which Harbard eventually admits, once he gets bored.)
Harbard, who is arrogant and frankly a bit of a dick in more than one sense, mostly brags about his sexual conquests, consensual or not. “I made them all submit to my will,” he says, “I slept with seven sisters, had all their charms to myself.” Thor, the protector, mostly faithful to his wife except when he isn’t, has nothing on that. He talks about battles he has won either for the good of Midgard, or because he got slighted. “Odin receives the powerful (noble) men who died in battle,” Harbard says with disdain. “Thor receives their servants.” Thor, the God of thralls and farmers, doesn’t even know he is being insulted. Odin, however, has a reason to say that.
As it turns out, the stranger knows more about Thor’s past than anyone would expect. “You have plenty of strength, Thor, but no courage,” he says, referring to Thor hiding inside a giant’s glove, negating his victories by suggesting cowardice. To Thor’s powerless threats, Harbard responds – “How are you going to get across? You have no transportation.” How noble of you, Grey-beard. What else do you have? “I would trust you […],” Harbard says, “if you hadn’t tricked me before.” Accused of lying by a liar, Thor is reduced to threatening Harbard with a good beating, once he gets close enough. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like a great incentive for any ferryman.
Thor’s strengths lie, literally, in his strength; his boasts, while true, get somewhat monotonous. “I killed Hrungnir, that arrogant giant with a stone head.” “I killed Thjazi, the bold giant; I threw [his] eyes into the clear sky.” (Turning them into stars.) “I was in the east fighting giants, evil women who lived in the mountains.” (The Gods’ relationship with the jötunn women remains a mystery to everyone. Particularly to the jötunn women.) “What were you doing meanwhile, Grey-beard?” “Great seductions,” Harbard answers. “In the night I was ridden by women stolen from their husbands.”
Dude. What are you, Kvothe?
Thor, most probably, figures out who his opponent is when he says “you give a good name to burial mounts, if you call them ‘the forests of home.’” “Your wife has a lover,” Harbard answers. “You are just lying at random,” Thor counters, “you cowardly fool.” Caught, Harbard immediately loses interest in further play. “You don’t get to ride the ferry,” he says. “Go to the tree trunk […] turn left, until you find Midgard. There your mother the Earth will meet you, and she’ll show you the Gods’ road to Ásgard. […] If you travel hard, you could be there before sundown.”
How much truth is there in this particular accusation? This time Harbard might actually be telling the truth. During the most epic rap battle of all, Lokasenna, Sif offers Loki a drink, hoping he’ll shut up. (She phrases that somewhat differently.) He repays her with a brief “you were unfaithful to your husband Thor – and I was the one you slept with.”
Is Thor entirely the good guy here? Not completely. “You had a good-looking woman there?” he asks, unable not to be in awe of the endless line of women begging (or not quite) to ride Harbard’s magical D. “I could have used your help, Thor,” Harbard answers, “you could have helped me hold that gorgeous girl down.” “I would have helped you,” Thor answers, “if I had been there.” It doesn’t sound good today, but power imbalance in sexual context was hardly something hotly debated in the 9th century.
The rape-y side of Northmen and their Gods has been dialled down in the TV show Vikings after the first season – my assumption is that the viewers, including me, simply didn’t want to watch that – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The difference is that to Odin coercing (to put it mildly) a woman to sex it’s a victory as great as defeating a giant. Odin is in it to win it, no matter what “it” is. Thor’s just salivating at the words “pretty blonde.”
I must admit this myth was funnier in my head before I re-read it from the 2021 perspective. Twelve centuries earlier, it would have been a hilarious story to roar in laughter at over your fifteenth horn of ale. Today, on superficial level, it sounds like evil, rape-y Odin taunting his not-so-smart son for fun. Which might be why this particular myth receives little attention in various retellings. But, like with most other myths, a superficial read misses something important.
The Northmen did not operate in absolutes, divide things into “good” and “evil.” Even when it seems that Odin’s simply having fun at a weaker opponent’s expense, he’s preparing for Ragnarök – the final battle that he knows he can’t win, but intends to anyway. This particular flyting (“rap battle” is not a completely literal translation) is a duel with an opponent who is the pinnacle of physical strength. Since Odin can’t win in melee combat, he outsmarts Thor, training one of his many abilities – the gift of gab – because it may come useful later. Odin doesn’t care how many, whether random thralls or his children, get hurt. He only has one goal. As strange as it may seem, this lengthy exchange brings him slightly closer to the unreachable.
One of Harbard’s boasts is “I was in the south, making battles; I turned princes against each other, I never made peace.” The warriors for Valhalla, his army for Ragnarök, have to come from somewhere. Peace is a threat to Odin, who must pick the bravest and strongest of the warriors (keyboard warriors don’t count). Thor will hit you on the head with a hammer. Odin will make you thank him for the great advice before you do so yourself.
The final threats are rather half-hearted. “I will pay you back for this delay if we ever meet again,” Thor sighs. “Go now,” Harbard answers, “and have a bad journey!” Is that a line worthy of the God of poetry? Hardly. Is there a need to waste a good pun? Not anymore.
For this article, I used the translation of Hárbarðsljóð as found in Jackson Crawford’s The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes, Hackett Publishing Company, 2015.
Thor as a Bride
From Sue Bavey
Thor’s hammer Mjölnir has been stolen by the frost giants, leaving Asgard in great danger and he and the other gods hatch a plan to retrieve it. The King of the frost giants is determined to marry the goddess Freyja and this is his ultimatum. He tells Loki that will not return the hammer unless he can have Freyja’s hand in marriage. Loki is sure Freyja will not consent to this plan and he is right, so he returns to Asgard. Odin is concerned since the frost giant cannot realise the power of the hammer he has in his possession – it would allow him to storm Asgard and claim Freyja as his own without any bargaining. He calls the gods together and Heimdall comes up with the following plan: Thor will dress up as a bride and pretend to be Freyja and they will return to Utgard, the land of the giants for Thor to marry the frost giant king.
Much to Thor’s protestation at this indignity, they dress him in Freyja’s garb and braid his hair and Loki is dressed as his handmaiden. Despite Thor’s massive appearance, next to a frost giant he will be small enough to trick them.
They arrive at Utgard and the king eagerly invites all his subjects to a sumptuous wedding feast.
He is surprised by his bride’s enormous appetite, eating one ox, eight salmon and drinking three casks of mead. Loki reassures the curious king that the bride has been fasting for eight nights, since she was anxious to be the king’s bride. He was pleased by this news and wanted to kiss his bride, much to Thor’s horror! On lifting her veil he sees a gleam of light shoot from Thor’s eyes and asks why his bride’s eyes are so sharp. Loki the handmaiden replies that Freyja has not slept for eight nights, so eager is she to marry the king.
The king is once again placated and orders for the bridal gift to be brought forth – the hammer! As soon as it is handed to the “bride” Thor throws off his disguise and calls down thunder on the giants.
Why I like this myth
This myth has a large scope for farcical humour. Thor is enormous and he is trying to pass himself off as a dainty bride. Except he doesn’t really try very hard as you will see in the quote below from Truth and Other Lies by Lyra Wolf. I like the idea that they manage to trick the cruel king of the ice giants with such an unlikely scenario.
Quotes from recent versions
Splatters of meat hit my cheeks as a rather ravenous “Freya” tore and pulled at a roasted ox beside me. Awe filled Thrym’s gaze as he watched his new bride in admiration.
Now this was a problem. I forced down another gulp of acrid wine.
Thor growled pulling flesh off massive bones with his teeth, smacking his lips as he chewed like a forest animal. Dropping the leg bones at his feet, he moved on to the seafood platter. Grabbing a salmon, no, eight salmon, he wolfed and gorged on the pink meat beneath his veil.
Scales and fishbones flew everywhere, including landing in my hair. I giggled daintily as I pulled a sharp bone out of my braids.
“You know how fond the Vanir are of their fish,” I said in the rough Jotun tongue.
I grabbed at any excuse.
Thrym didn’t respond, his mouth hanging open in reverence. His bride downed an entire barrel of mead in ten seconds flat. A reverberating belch followed the victory. Adoration melted into bewilderment.
This was Thor’s third barrel. Even Tyr couldn’t keep up.
Several other Jotnar stopped their feasting to applaud. I only hoped their wonder wouldn’t turn into suspicion. They might be provincial, but their torture methods for those who crossed them were anything but.
I kicked Thor beneath the table, reminding him we hadn’t come all this way for the free food.
“When will it be time for the blessing of the union?” I asked Thrym, almost screaming over the clatter of dishes and drunk Jotnar. “We are most eager to see your marriage happily sanctified.”
Thrym leaned in my ear, his gaze refusing to leave Thor who now picked up a string of sausages.
“I’ve never seen a woman eat like this,” Thrym replied, not answering me. “I imagined your mistress Freya to be of a more delicate nature.”
Thor pulled the entire wedding cake towards him, cramming fistfuls into his mouth.
“Yes, well…There is a perfectly reasonable explanation.” I cleared my throat, hoping he didn’t notice the sweat collecting on my brow. “After Loki returned from negotiations with you and told her she would be your bride, she grew heated with love for you. She was so nervous in wanting to protect her figure, she didn’t eat for eight full days.”
Thrym shook his head, and his lips sank into a frown.
“Poor lamb!” he said. Thor belched again. “She won’t have to fast ever again as my wife.”
“She only brought one maid. Except it’s not Freya and it’s not a maid. It’s your fa– Thor in a wedding gown and the maid is Loki.”
The dreamy lustre in Magni’s eyes disappeared. “Thor in a wedding gown?” he repeated slowly.
I nodded. “He’s not pleased. Loki shaved his beard off. He looks terrible. You’ll love it.”
“The beard will be back in a week, mine does the same. Why is he wearing a gown? What is Loki doing there? They know Loki.”
“Not like that. I can shift into a bird, Loki can shift into anything and anybody, an animal, a man, a woman. She’s a maid right now. Even Odin can’t do that. They’re preparing to go to the City.”
“So…Lady Freya isn’t here?” I rolled my eyes. “I’m going to watch,”
The Tale of Utgarda-Loki.
Thor, two human servants offered by a farmer, and Loki meet Skrymir, a friendly giant who offers to carry everything as they travel for while. Settling down for food Thor can’t open Skrymir’s bag and in a rage tries to kill him with a blow from Mjolnir, the first strike the giant compares to a leaf from the tree he is sleeping under, the second an acorn and after a third to no effect Thor stops trying. Arriving at Utgarda-Loki. Skrymir parts with the group warning them not to be cheeky to their host.
Utgarda-Loki, the giant lord, invites them to take part in some challenges:
Loki volunteers for an eating contest, despite the fact Loki and his opponent, Logi, both finished the same time the victory goes to giants as Logi devoured food, bones and trough.
Thjalfi then races Hugi, but no matter how fast Thjalfi runs, he loses the races.
Thor then tries to drink a horn that Utgarda-Loki claims even the weakest drinker of his hall can empty in three gulps, not to be outdone Thor takes a mighty gulp, followed by two more and barely empties it, refusing to be beaten Thor then partakes in another two challenges – to lift Utgarda-Loki’s cat, and to wrestle his nursemaid, Elli – confident in his strength. The cat proves almost impossible for Thor to lift, moving only one paw, and despite a strong start Thor loses to the nursemaid, brought down to his knees at the end of the challenge.
As they leave, Utgarda-Loki, who was also Skrymir travels with them, revealing to Thor and his group the truth and the fact he won’t be letting the gods back under his roof. For their failures were mighty feats themselves – a mountain took the three blows from Mjolnir, and was left with 3 large valleys, Logi was fire (all consuming and impossible to sate), Hugi was Thought, the Horn was connected to the ocean (and Thor’s impressive show is why we have tides), the “cat” was actually the Midgard-Serpent and Elli, the nursemaid, was Old Age herself; an opponent even the Aesir can’t defeat.
Why I like it.
I like this myth because, to me, it shows the gods, for all their strengths and abilities, are still able to be bested. For all Thor’s reputation as a strong god, he couldn’t lift the Midgard Serpent or beat Old Age by strength alone. I think this, as with many of the stories where the Aesir and the Vanir find themselves beaten by something else or brought low by a fear and vulnerability (Baldur and the mistletoe) or any vices and desires (Odin’s pursuit of knowledge that cost him an eye).
It makes the gods relatable, and shows them as having their own almost mortal desires, wishes, wants and weaknesses, this is a common trend for the Norse myths regardless of which God or Goddess is A desire to be the best, a fear of the unknown or death, even a selflessness to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good (Tyr) ultimately ending with death almost entirely across the board at Ragnarök, a very mortal ending.
The Norse Myths – A Guide to Gods and Heroes (Carolyne Larrington), Published by Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0-500-25196-6 – Myth from page 112.