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4 Seriously Strange Norse Myths

Image (painting) of Hel, daughter of Loki, from Norse Mythology, like described in Edda
Mkasahara [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Thanks to Thor and Loki’s roles in the Marvel universe, you’re probably already familiar with some of the more popular Norse myths. But unless you’re a born-and-bred Viking, you’d probably be surprised to hear what else the Norse gods were up to.

Blood Rivers and Cloud Brains

Let’s go back to the beginning – all the way back to the creation of the universe. Before the Vikings had mead or ships or hats with horns, there were only three things in existence: Muspelheim (the land of elemental fire), Niflheim (the land of elemental ice), and Ginnungagap (the great wide expanse of nothingness in between).

Odin looks on as Ymir is destroyed
Sokol_92 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Over time, the ice and the fire crept toward each other, until finally one day they met in Ginnungagap. When the flames melted the frost, it created a droplet of Godly-goo which turned into the first God-like giant of Norse mythology: Ymir. His name translates to “Screamer,” so you can guess he probably wasn’t the chilliest of giants.

As the frost continued to melt, more Gods appeared, while Ymir also continued to populate the earth by means of mysteriously popping new giants out of his legs and armpits while he slept. After Odin (Thor and Loki’s dad… aka the guy with the eyepatch) and his brothers were born, they decided enough was enough, and they were going to kill Ymir and create a new world.

At the very least, Odin and his brothers were eco-conscious, and used every bit of Ymir to create this new plane of existence. Ymir’s blood became the oceans, his brains became the clouds, his hair is the plants and his muscles are the soil. His bones are rock and his teeth are pebbles. And you will probably never look up at the nature the same way again.

Loki is a Mommy

After the world was constructed from mangled body parts, the giant descendants of Ymir were, understandably, a little upset. The Gods began to fear retribution from the giants, enormous beasts known for fighting just for the hell of it, and put the pedal to the metal on building a wall around Asgard (their home).

An illustration of Loki with a fishnet, from an Icelandic 18th century manuscript.
Ólafur Brynjúlfsson[2] [Public domain]
A master builder showed up and offered to build the wall in exchange for an exorbitant payment, consisting of the sun, the moon, and a wife. The Gods, thinking themselves clever, challenged the builder to construct the wall within a year – knowing that he could never do it. But what the Gods didn’t count on was that the master builder would bring his magical workhorse along, and together they could build the wall at a breakneck pace.

When it started to seem like the Gods would lose this bet, Loki decided to intervene. Sure, he could have destroyed the wall or attacked the builder – but instead, he decided to shapeshift into a pretty lady horse and seduce the builder’s workhorse away from his task.

With his trusty steed eloping in the woods, the master builder continued tapping away at the wall, until Thor smashed his head in with a hammer (spoiler alert: that’s how most Norse myths tend to end). A couple of months later, Loki returned with an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, who he had birthed while he was a mare. Despite having Loki for a mother, Sleipnir ended up fairly well-adjusted, and became the beloved horse of Odin.

Go to Hel

Loki loved to get around. One of his go-to hookups was a giant named Angrboda, and the unlikely pair had multiple kids together, including Fenrir (the absolutely enormous wolf doomed to spend its life in chains), and Jormungand (the giant serpent that held the world together by biting on its own tail). But to round out this family that would give the Kardashians a run for their money, the pair gave birth to Hel, goddess of the underworld by the same name.

Despite a significant lack of surviving info about Hel, what remains of her story is… not flattering. She’s greedy, unforgiving, cruel, and has a major case of Resting Bitch Face. In one myth, she’s begged to release the beloved god Baldur from the underworld, but refuses to send him back to the land of the living unless every last thing in the universe weeps for him. To be fair, the other gods actually got pretty close to succeeding – people really, really loved Baldur. But one grumpy giantess (who was possibly Loki in disguise) refused to weep, keeping Baldur bound to the underworld. And as the universe wept for the loss of their most handsome, kind, and beloved God, Hel basically just kept filing her nails.

Odin is Thirsty (For Knowledge)

Let’s get one thing straight about Odin: He’s a big ole nerd. He believed that knowledge was the most important thing in the universe and would go to any length to acquire more of it. When faced with the nonsensical Norse runes, Odin decided to hang himself over the Well of Urd, stab himself with a spear, and not eat or drink for nine days and nine nights. But hey, now he can read the runes.

The Norse god Odin enthroned, flanked by his two wolfs, Geri and Freki, and his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, and holding his spear Gungnir
Ludwig Pietsch [Public domain]
The story of Odin’s famously pirate-chic eyepatch takes us back to the same well, which is the home of a Yoda-like figure named Mimir. Mimir was well known as the most knowledgeable creature in the universe, and it was thought that this enlightenment came from slurping up all of the knowledge in the well water. Obviously, Odin became obsessed with getting a taste of some of Mimir’s genius juice, so he asked him for a sip.

Mimir knew how valuable the knowledge of the universe was, and wasn’t just going to pass out Dixie cups of it to anybody who asked. So, he asked Odin to sacrifice an eye. It’s not clear whether Odin hemmed and hawed over the decision or just plucked it out right then and there, but eventually, Odin took out his own eye and dropped it in the well. Upon receiving his sacrifice, Odin received the power of the well, along with a cool new look.

[Stories adapted from https://norse-mythology.org]

Margaret Kaminski Margaret Kaminski
Margaret Kaminski is a writer and editor with experience crafting copy for ad agencies, magazines, TV, and events. She specializes in writing for teens and young adults Read Full Bio »