Historians disagree on the number of Norse gods, with some people thinking there were more than fifty. Here are ten of the most important, including Odin, Freya, and Thor.
Odin: God of War, Wisdom and Poetry
**Odin was one of the most prominent gods in Norse mythology**, receiving **mentions in almost every poem in the Poetic Edda**, as well as the Prose Edda and a number of sagas. His presentation in these sources is not always consistent, but **he is generally depicted as an old, bearded man with a missing eye**. According to legend, he removed this eye himself, exchanging it for a drink from a well of knowledge.
As a member of the Æsir, **Odin was a god of war**, and his halls at Valhalla were an afterlife for fallen heroes. He was also heavily affiliated with wisdom and learning. One poem in the Poetic Edda, known as Hávamál, or ‘Sayings of the Old One,’ is entirely made up of words of wisdom attributed to Odin: “no worse provision can he carry with him / than too deep a draught of ale.”
**Odin was also the god of poetry**, which means the anonymous poets who wrote the Poetic Edda would probably have idolized him. This is a potential problem for modern historians, because Odin’s prominence in these texts might be a result of this bias. If a farmer or fisherman had been asked their opinion, they might not have said that the god of poetry was quite so central to their lives, but, unlike the poets, they never wrote these opinions down.
Frigg: Goddess of Prophecy and Clairvoyance
**Frigg was the wife of Odin**, and, according to the Prose Edda, most of the other Æsir were her descendants. This gave her a **high position within the hierarchy of the gods**, as mother or wife to all the rest. Despite this, **neither the Poetic Edda nor the Prose Edda talk much about her personality or accomplishments**, and the main thing that modern historians know about her is that **she had the power to see into the future**.
This lack of coverage may be linked to gender. Norse women actually had a lot of freedom and responsibility compared to other cultures of the time, and in families where the men spent time away, raiding and trading, the women were empowered to run the household and engage with the politics of the local community.
However, the vast majority of the gods were men, and **poets of the time did not show much interest in female deities like Frigg**. She may have been valued by certain Norse communities, but not by the writers of the sources which survive today.
Thor: God of Thunder and Strength
**Thor, the hammer-wielding god of thunder**, was the firstborn son of Odin. His hammer, **Mjöllnir, was forged by dwarves**, and had the power to return to his hand after he threw it. The Poetic Edda describes a battle between Thor and a group of jötnar, where “Mjöllnir hurled forth towards the savage crew, / and slew all the mountain-giants.”
**Thor was an Æsir, like his parents, and wildly popular among Viking warriors**. They tried to replicate his strength and bravery when they took to the battlefield, although there is no evidence to suggest that a Viking ever used a hammer as a weapon, with archaeological evidence suggesting that swords and axes were preferred.
**Thor was not only popular amongst Viking warriors**. Adam of Bremen, the German chronicler who spent time in Sweden during the 11th century, wrote a description of the temple of Uppsala: “the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber.” As well as this, hammers have been found in a number of Norse graves, including the graves of women, who may have thought of Thor as a **protective, patriarchal figure**.
Baldur: God of Light and Courage
**Baldur was the brother of Thor**, and **son of Odin and Jörð**. He was **beautiful and princely**, and **invulnerable to physical harm**. According to the Prose Edda, “He is best, and all praise him; he is so fair of feature, and so bright, that light shines from him.”
According to Norse stories, the other gods used to amuse themselves by throwing rocks and shooting arrows at Baldur, enjoying how the projectiles bounced off his invulnerable skin. Unfortunately, **this game had dire consequences, after Loki, the god of chaos, discovered that mistletoe had the power to damage Baldur in a way that nothing else could**. A mistletoe-tipped arrow proved fatal for Baldur, although the Poetic Edda does suggest that he will be resurrected again in the future.
With themes of goodness, suffering and resurrection, **some historians believe that the mythology of Baldur was inspired by stories of Jesus Christ**. Before Christian ideas arrived in Scandinavia, at some point in the 8th century, Baldur might have been a very different god, one whose nature has since been lost.
Freya: Goddess of Love and Fertility
**Freya** was a member of the **Vanir, and the most prominent of all the Norse goddesses**. Like the rest of the Vanir, **she had a close affinity with the natural world**, and was said to travel in a chariot pulled by cats. She could **see into the future**, and had the power to shapeshift into a falcon.
Freya was also presented as a sexual, erotic being. One story describes her having sex with 4 dwarves in return for a beautiful, golden necklace, while she may also have been Odin’s concubine. However, in later years, and probably following Christian influence, Freya’s sexual promiscuity was reframed in terms of love and relationships. The Prose Edda, for example, says: “It is good to pray to her concerning love affairs.”
**Some scholars have argued that Freya and Frigg are actually the same person, or at the very least that they are both derived from a single, older god**. There are certainly similarities between them: both can see into the future, have relations with Odin, and there is also a mention of Frigg being able to turn into a falcon, just like Freya.
Freyr: God of Rain and Sun
Freyr was the brother of Freya. The Prose Edda describes how “he rules over the rain and the shining of the sun, and therewithal the fruit of the earth.” **He was a member of the Vanir, but also an honorary member of Æsir**, after joining them at the end of a war between the two tribes.
Freyr was **one of the most widely worshiped of the Norse gods, especially amongst farming communities**, whose lives were so reliant on favorable weather conditions. Harvest festivals would be held in his name, and an animal, such as a boar, would be sacrificed in his honor. Boars were associated with the wild, natural world, and for this reason they were believed to be sacred to Freyr. He was said to have owned a gold-bristled boar of his own, Gullinbursti, who shone in the dark and could run faster than any horse.
Archaeological evidence has found that Freyr was often depicted with a symbol of fertility amongst the Norse. According to Adam of Bremen, the 11th century chronicler: “His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus.”
Heimdall: Watchman of the Gods
**Heimdall was a bright, white, glittering god, famed for his brilliant senses**, which are described in the Prose Edda: “He sees equally well night and day a hundred leagues from him, and hears how grass grows on the earth or wool on sheep.”
On account of these senses, **he served as a watchman for the rest of the gods**. The only way to enter Asgard, the realm of the Æsir, was across a rainbow bridge called the Bifröst, and Heimdall supposedly lived at the entrance, keeping watch for any enemies who might try to cross, while also drinking ample amounts of mead, a fermented honey drink which the Norse often drank at feasts. This is referenced in Grímnismál, one of the poems in the Poetic Edda: “there the gods’ watchman, in his tranquil home, / drinks joyful the good mead.”
**Heimdall carried a magical horn called the Gjallarhorn**. He would blow this horn when enemies were sighted, and, according to the Prose Edda, “its blast can be heard in all worlds.” When the horn was not being used as a warning, he used it as a vessel for his mead.
Týr: God of War and Justice
**Týr was a god of war, described by the Prose Edda as “the bravest and most valiant,” but he was also heavily associated with law and justice**. War and law were closely intertwined within Norse society, with **battles often used to settle legal disputes between two groups**, after one community was slighted by the actions of another.
**Týr seems to be one of the oldest gods in Norse mythology**, with Roman historians making reference to him as early as the 2nd century. By the time the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda were written, Týr’s importance to the Norse seems to have waned a little, but he still receives a number of mentions in both texts, including a story about his hand being bitten off by a giant wolf.
The Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda give different accounts of Týr’s parentage. The Poetic Edda explains that he is the son of a jötunn, Hymir, and includes a scene where he meets his grandmother, a being with 900 heads. The Prose Edda, on the other hand, describes him as a son of Odin, just like so many of the other gods.
Loki: God of Chaos
**Loki was the son of a jötunn, a member of the Æsir, and the god of cunning and chaos**. He had the power to **shapeshift**, as well as **changing gender**, which allowed him to deceive and confuse the other gods whenever he wished it.
However, **Loki was not always a source of deception**. His relationship with figures like Thor and Odin seem to vary from source to source, but he definitely serves as an ally in a number of stories. His inconsistent allegiances are probably a reflection of his chaotic nature, with the gods never quite sure which side he was going to take.
**Chaos, for the Norse, was something distinctly dangerous**. Their mythology did not concern itself with good and evil, and focused instead on the balance between order and chaos. In general, chaos stemmed from Loki and the jötnar, while the other gods tried to maintain order.
Hel: Queen of the Underworld
**Hel**, daughter of Loki, presided over the Norse underworld, which was also known as Hel. According to the Prose Edda, she was “half black and half flesh-colored.”
Beyond these facts, **not much is known about Hel**, with neither the Poetic Edda nor the Prose Edda examining her role in much detail. This has led to some scholarly debate regarding her role within Norse mythology. **Some historians have argued that Hel was never an actual goddess, but simply a literary device used to personify the underworld**.
Others have argued that Hel was a late addition to Norse mythology, possibly inspired by Christian ideas of Satan, although archaeological evidence suggests that Hel predates Christian influence. A Norse medallion from the 1st century depicts a man walking downhill toward a woman holding a scepter. This image is open to interpretation, but it might be an early depiction of a soul descending to meet with Hel.