The following are the first 3 chapters from the book “The Vikings – Explore the Exciting History of the Viking Age and Discover Some of the Most Feared Warriors”
Vikings Origins & Norse Mythology
Where did Viking Civilization Begin?
Vikings trace their roots back to the three modern countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway which make up Scandinavia.
The land encompassing the three countries was rustic in the 7th and 8th century. A.D. Winters were brutally cold, and inhabitants made a living through cultivating the land and fishing.
Many individuals living in Scandinavia were farmers in addition to being brave warriors. They would grow crops such as barley, rye, onions, garlic, peas, and beans, as well as a wide array of animals living on the farm. It was not uncommon for Viking farmers to raise pigs, sheep, chickens, and goats. It was essential to grow plentiful amounts of hay in the treacherous winter months so cattle could survive.
There was constant work to be completed on the farm throughout the year and no member of the household was exempt. The men, women, and children had specified tasks to complete to ensure all the daily chores would be completed. Since the children were needed at the house to complete work, there was no schooling for Viking children. The boys had to emulate the tasks that their fathers completed, while the girls observed their mothers.
Before the Vikings gradually converted to Christianity, they practiced a polytheistic religion with multiple gods and goddesses. The unique deities of Norse mythology are a representation of the way the Vikings carried out their daily lives.
Mythical tales of war, love, tragedy, and several other stories of the human spirit were shared from generation to generation. We may never truly understand the full extent of the complexities of Norse mythology since written documents did not appear until during or after the Viking transition to Christianity.
A glimpse into the epic tale of the world’s creation paints a vivid picture of the grander of Norse storytelling. According to the Norse legend, there was a deep, dark abyss called Ginungagap. Surrounding Ginungagap, were the lands of fire and ice.
The land of fire lay to the south and was called “Muspelheim.” The land of ice lay to the north and was referred to as “Niflheim.” These extreme, polar opposite environments were on a crash course to collide with one another inside the great void. The elements of fire, lava, and ash meshed with the elements of ice, snow, and water.
After colliding, the fire began to melt the ice and the remnants would create the first giant known in Norse mythology, Ymir. From the body of Ymir, several other giants formed, and they were known as Jotuns.
When the lands of fire and ice crashed into one another, Ymir was not the only creature created in the aftermath. A humungous cow named Audhumla was formed by the dripping ice inside the abyss of Ginungagap. While Ymir fed on the milk of Audhumla, the first of the Aesir gods was revealed in a salty patch of ice.
The first Aesir god was named Buri and he would have three sons with his wife, Bestla. One of the three children of Buri and Bestla would be one of the most captivating figures in all Norse mythology, Odin.
Buri and Bestla would have two other sons in addition to Odin, Vili and Ve. The giant Ymir could reproduce asexually, and further giants grew from his sweat and legs. This led to the Aesir being surrounded by Giants and the band of brothers were determined to vanquish Ymir. The brothers attempted to kill Ymir while he slept, and a horrendous, bloody affair soon followed.
The onslaught would lead to the eventual death of Ymir and most of the giants were unable to escape the blood that rained from the sky. With Ymir now defeated, Odin and his brothers used his corpse to create the world as the Vikings knew it.
Ymir’s blood became all the bodies of water. His body transformed into the land. The mountains were constructed from his bones. The scattered rocks were made from his teeth. His hair turned into the grass and trees. His skull created the sky, and the clouds were remnants of his brain. His eyelashes were used to form Midgard; the world which would house humans.
The first humans were named Ask and Embla and the gods constructed a fortress around Midgard to protect humans from possible destruction by the giants.
The brothers would go on to create other worlds besides Midgard, which would house the Gods, giants, and dwarves. The first four dwarves encountered the brothers as they were creating the world, and they assigned them the great responsibility of holding Ymir’s skull in the sky to prevent it from crashing down. The dwarves were named North, South, East, and West.
There are nine worlds in Norse mythology all rooted together by a tree, named Yggdrasil. Some of these worlds were already in existence before the formation of the first giants and some were created by the Aesir gods after they successfully destroyed Ymir.
The first two worlds, Niflheim and Muspelheim, met one another in the great abyss to create the first of the giants.
The mythological home of the gods in Norse mythology was named Asgard. The almighty Odin and his wife Frigg were the rulers of the land of the gods.
Vikings who die a glorious death in battle, half of them will spend their eternal years inside Asgard at Valhalla. The other half are said to be sent to Fólkvangr, but it remains unclear what determines the final destination for each Viking.
Before a Viking can live by Odin’s side in Valhalla, they exist in the human world of Midgard. The human world is connected to the land of the gods, but it is physically impossible for humans to travel from Midgard to Asgard.
After the defeat of Ymir, the giants are sentenced to live in Jotunheim. The land of the giants is a chaotic wilderness where a rule of law did not influence its inhabitants. The terrain and environment are as unforgivable as it is wild. Likely seeking revenge for their condemnation to such a world, the giants are constantly at odds with Aesir gods who inhabited Asgard.
Another branch of gods on the tree of Yggdrasil is the Vanir gods. They made their home in Vanaheim; with little evidence indicating the exact location or the type of environment. At one point, there is a war between the Vanir and the Aesir and a few of the Vanir went to live in Asgard.
Elves are another fixture of Norse mythology and they have their own world named Alfheim. The leader of Alfheim is the god Freyr. The elves were radiant creatures who lived in a beautiful realm.
The home of the dwarves, who assisted the band of brothers, would be known as Svartalfheim. The dwarves lived in low-lying places such as caves and beneath rocks. They were excellent at building weapons and jewelry.
The last of the nine worlds in Norse mythology is Helheim and one can likely infer what this world entails. Helheim, ruled by Hel, is the place of eternal suffering and misery for humans in the after-life. This realm is reserved for the most despicable of humans in Midgard such as murderers and thieves. At Ragnarök, the pre-Christian Viking prophesized the end of the world. The inhabitants of Helheim will be used in an attempt to destroy Asgard.
Now that we have outlined the story of creation and the encompassing worlds in Norse mythology, let’s tackle some of the prominent figures whose names have surely been on the thoughts of all pre-Christian Vikings.
Odin, the most powerful and knowledgeable of the Viking gods, is one of the most charismatic of all the gods in Norse mythology. Sometimes called the Allfather, Odin is the most formidable and leader of the Aesir gods.
He is the god of war, wisdom, death, and can observe everything that occurs in all nine realms from the seat of his throne. The mythological Norse god has only one eye since he traded one eye to take a sip from the Well of Wisdom to gain unbelievable amounts of knowledge.
The wise and all-powerful leader of the Aesir gods is the father of Thor, bravest warrior of all the gods that inspired Vikings into every battle they fought.
An immensely popular god in Viking folklore is Thor, God of Thunder, son of the all-mighty Odin and a giantess named Fjörgyn. Thor was the bravest of warriors and defender of Asgard, the realm of the Aesir gods. Thor’s strength, bravery, and courage cannot be equaled by any friend or foe. He is feared by the giants he constantly battles. Thor’s weapon of choice, a hammer named Mjölnir, equally iconic, and symbolizes strength, fury, and elements of thunder and lightning.
When Thor left Asgard to do battle with giants, he rode his chariot hauled by two goats. Whenever lightning and thunder would fill the sky in the human world, the Vikings who worshipped Thor believed he was defending them. Although Thor was at battle with many giants, his biggest enemy was Jormungand, the serpent that surrounded the human world. Thor was a relentless protector of the humans who inhabited the world of Midgard.
The God of War title in Norse Mythology belongs to the most courageous of all the gods, Tyr. Legend has it, Tyr once placed his arm inside the mouth of the feared wolf Fenrir. This act would cost Tyr his hand, but this would not deter him from being the bravest of the gods and a representative of justice and order.
Balder, the son of Odin and a brother of Thor, is regarded as the most beautiful of all the Norse gods. He is considered the God of Light and his mannerisms and intellect were revered as much as his physical beauty. The home of Balder and his wife is regarded as the most extravagant in all Asgard.
Vidar is another son of Odin and, like Thor, had a mother who was a giantess. Vidar, known to be one with nature, would spend a great amount of time meticulously crafting a shoe. He is of legendary strength with only his brother Thor surpassing him.
The last Viking god we will cover is Freyr, the God of Fertility. We briefly touched on Freyr being the leader of Alfheim and the elves that inhabit the world. Freyr was formerly known as a Vanir god, but he was sent to live in Asgard at the conclusion of the Aesir-Vanir War.
Freyr fell in love with a giantess named Gerd. It was love at first sight for Freyr and he would do anything to wed the most radiant creature he had laid his eyes on. Although it was a tremendous challenge to convince Gerd to accept his proposal, the two would eventually be wed.
The catastrophic end of the world and destruction of the gods in Norse mythology is depicted at Ragnarök. This doomsday prediction included humans, and gods and goddesses who lived in Asgard. It was foretold Asgard was to be invaded by powerful giants.
The monster, which would be the biggest threat to the humans, who lived in Midgard was the mighty serpent who would rise from the sea to cause destruction across the land. Asgard would be destroyed by the giant Surtr who lived in the fiery land of Muspelheim. He was prophesied to use his powers to set the homes of all the gods and goddesses ablaze. In addition to the destruction caused by Surtr, the violent wolf Fenrir would spread his terror.
Along with the destruction of their homes, the final days of many of the most prominent legends of Norse mythology were believed to occur at Ragnarök. The powerful leader of the Aesir gods, Odin, was to be killed by Fenrir. The courageous Tyr would perish in his fight with the monstrosity that guarded the underworld of Helheim. Freyr would be slain by Surtr protecting his home in Asgard.
Even the God of Thunder himself would be unable to escape his ultimate demise at the end of the world. Thor would die in a manner only fitting for the strongest of all the Viking warriors in Norse mythology. He would be pitted in a battle to the death against the serpent that threatened to destroy all of Midgard. Thor would fight valiantly and would even kill the beast, but the poison it spewed in battle would prove fatal.
The Vikings and their deities were powerless to prevent this destruction, but there were several telltale signs that the end of days was near. Some of those signs were the slaying of Balder, three consecutive winters highlighted by brutal war, and the disappearance of the sun and moon.
The world would plunge into utter chaos and violence would engulf the land. The brutal battle between the gods and goddesses of Asgard, the giants, and the inhabitants would soon commence.
Although Ragnarök would be the end of the world as the Vikings knew it, a new world was foretold to be born from the ashes. A pair of humans who miraculously survived the horrors caused by the serpent and the population would grow once more.
Numerous gods would live through the destruction of Asgard, including two of Odin’s sons and Thor’s sons. They would, along with the remaining gods and goddesses, start over in another land.
The intricacies of Norse mythology certainly go beyond the stories and characters discussed within this text. Since legendary tales of brave gods who conquered giants were passed down orally for generations, it is a rather difficult process to determine how much we really know about the ancient pagan religion of the Scandinavian people before the introduction of Christianity.
Luckily, many of these traditions were recorded around the 13th century for historians to study throughout history.
Many of the deities of Norse mythology and their adventurous stories were preserved through the writing of the Icelandic Sagas as the religion gave way to Christianity.
Walk in the Shoes of a Viking
Viking Daily Life
During the Viking Age, most of the inhabitants living in Scandinavia were on farmland or a fishing community. There were no major towns or cities, and the population was thinly scattered across the land. Much of work within the household fell onto the women’s shoulders, and the bulk of the labor chores outside was the men’s responsibility. The work was so grueling and physically demanding that men would need assistance to acquire the full harvest.
It was not uncommon to see slaves in a typical Viking household working the field to do most of the grunt work that needed to be completed; the dirtiest and most grueling tasks such as pulling the plow to harvest the soil or dunging the fields.
Farmers and their families would have tremendous challenges not only to reap a bountiful harvest, but just to survive the treacherous conditions of the environment. Disease and malnourishment were rampant in Scandinavia during the Viking Age, and children were the group who suffered the most. Nearly half of children born during this time period would not live to their twentieth birthday.
Farming conditions for Scandinavians were difficult enough on their own, but Viking families had to take precautions against raids or natural disasters. A poor harvest season could mean the difference between life and death.
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