The story

The Contest between Odin & Thor

The Contest between Odin & Thor



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The poem called The Lay of Greybeard (Old Norse: Hárbarðsljóð) is one story from Norse mythology that relates an intriguing verbal fight between two of its essential gods, Thor and Odin. The poem consists of 60 stanzas and is found complete in the 13th-century CE manuscript Codex Regius that contains the Poetic Edda, the most important source of Viking myth. It differs from the other poems because the metric forms are not as rigid, and some parts of the speeches are even simple prose. It deals with Thor coming back from one of his adventures and wanting to cross a fjord. He approaches a ferryman by the name of Harbard, who is actually Odin in disguise, who refuses to carry him across. Then they start asking questions about each other and exchanging information about their great deeds while adding insult to injury. The poem might even have been set as a stage play since the names of the characters are written next to the lines in the manuscript.

A Game of Wits

They verbally duel in a so-called mannjafnaðr, a comparison of men, both trying their superiority. The poem differs in tone from the others in the Poetic Edda; with its colloquial nature, it seems more like a farce than anything to be taken seriously. We might not need to look for deeper meanings in this poem, as its simple amusing vulgarity is sure to have entertained the audience of medieval literature.

In the story, Thor comes back from what might have been an important journey, probably an encounter with a giant, and requests to be ferried over in exchange for food, but the ferryman not only refuses but also tells him that his mother (Jorð, the earth) is dead and goes on to belittle him stating he does not even have storehouses or proper clothes, thus he is no worthy peasant - which was an essential role in the Middle Ages. Odin says he was assigned to only carry over worthy men, which Thor apparently is not. Thor, in an act of courage, since he was still on enemy ground, reveals his identity as "the strong one among the gods" (Hildebrand, 173) while Odin lies and gives him his other name, Harbard (Hárbarþr), boasting that he would seldom hide his name. The greatest lie indeed. He continues with the insult that he would hide and defend himself from people like Thor.

The act of throwing Thjazi’s eyes & Aurvandil’s toe into the heavens is perhaps the only indication of Thor’s contribution to the cosmic order.

As expected, Thor gets really mad and threatens him, with Odin replying that it would be hard since he is his fiercest enemy since the giant Hrungnir. Thor probably found this funny since he is the one who shattered his head and wonders in stanza 15, "what were you doing in the meantime" (Hildebrand, 175), a recurring line in the poem. Odin boasts he was waging war and seducing girls, something Thor is curious about and not only in this story. He appears to have been very charming indeed, sleeping with no fewer than seven sisters.

What could Thor boast about next? Obviously more dead giants, this time Thjazi. He is the one who kidnapped the goddess Idun, keeper of the golden apples of youth. He says he killed him and made stars out of his eyes. This detail parallels a story told in the Prose Edda, the version of Norse mythology comprised by Snorri Sturluson. Here Thor, after battling the stone giant Hrungnir, has a whetstone stuck in his head. A witch named Groa sings some charms to loosen it, and Thor wants to reward her. He tells her on his way back from Jotunheim, the land of the giants, as he carried her husband in a basket across the rivers, one of his toes froze. He then cast the toe into the skies, and it became a star, a sign he would soon be home. This must have been part of a larger, now lost reference. Either way, the name of the husband’s witch is Aurvandil, corresponding to the English earendel, dawn. This act of throwing Thjazi’s eyes and Aurvandil’s toe into the heavens is perhaps the only indication of Thor’s contribution to the cosmic order. He is rather the one keeping it, not setting it into place.

Thor regards the slaying of Idun’s kidnapper as his mightiest deed since every god can see the result: they no longer grow old. Odin replies by saying something about a mysterious adventure with several witches. He received a wand that he then used to steal the owner’s mind, a deed that Thor condemns in stanza 21, saying that "you repay good gifts with evil mind" (Hildebrand, 178). As we can see the popular stereotype of Odin as the old wise man is far away from his original complex image. Moreover, he cynically declares in the next stanza that "the oak must have what space it takes from the other" (Hildebrand, 178). He gives pragmatic egocentric advice much like everywhere else in the poems.

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Once again Thor mentions his killing of giants, without which Midgard would truly be in danger or even destroyed. In Odin’s next reply, again, we have no trace of the wise old man: "I raised wars, angered princes, never have I brought peace" (Hildebrand, 179). He then proceeds to irreverently accuse his son of cowardice, reminding us of another of Thor's journeys, when he found himself in the glove of the giant Fjalar/Skrýmnir, which he thought to be a house.

Just like Odin, Útgarda-Loki manages to outwit Thor, who seems rather slow-minded & cannot grasp the deeper meanings of what is going on around him.

In the Prose Edda, Thor, at some point, travels with Loki and a slave boy to the realm of the giant Útgarda-Loki. On their trip, they spend the night in a hall which proves to be the glove of this huge character Skrýmnir, who then joins them for a while. After they part ways, the group reaches Útgarda-Loki’s hall, where the giant challenges them to a series of contests. Thor cannot drink a whole drinking horn despite three huge gulps, because that is the sea; he cannot lift the giant’s cat from the ground because that is Jörmungandr, the serpent surrounding the earth; and he cannot fight an old woman who is actually a personification of old age. The next morning Útgarda-Loki admits he is in fact Skrýmnir and used spells to deceive him and his companions. As Thor raises his hammer, the giant’s hall disappears. Just like Odin, he manages to outwit Thor who seems rather slow-minded and cannot grasp the deeper meanings of what is going on around him. He does win these contests, which is why he gets enraged in Hárbarðsljóð by his father's comments.

Thor mentions his success in battle and insults Odin by calling him probably the worst possible thing you could have been called in the Viking world: ragr, or 'womanish'. The Allfather, on the contrary, tries to point out his manliness by mentioning an affair with a fair lady, which catches Thor's attention. Odin would have liked him to be there to hold her down but says he does not know if he could have trusted him. No moral dilemma about the deed itself, however.

After Thor mentions his super giant-slaying abilities once more, Harbard/Greybeard slanders him: "shame is what you won, Thor, because women you slew" (Hildebrand, 182). They were not really women though, more like wolf-monsters or brides of berserkers, in the words of Thor. In an odd twist of events, Odin boasts of having come with an army close to Asgard to redden his famous spear, therefore challenging the gods themselves, but it is not known which expedition he is referring to.

In an apparent attempt at bribery, however, he offers Thor an arm ring not to mind him, causing him to angrily reply that never has he ever heard such impudent speech. Odin then alludes to his necromancer skills, admitting he had learnt these skills from the dead. Then he tells Thor to go fight his wife’s lover at home rather than threaten him with the hammer: "never have I thought that Asathor would be stopped from his journey by a ferryman" (Hildebrand, 186). Just like Odin, Thor goes by various names in the poems, Asathor simply meaning Thor of the gods, the godly Thor. Thus Odin refuses him passage to Asgard. However, he does give him some indications on how to get home, and Thor is happy to get rid of all his mockery. As expected, the god in disguise does not bid him farewell but says "go where everything bad will get you!”

Significance of the Story

In this game of wits, Odin clearly emerges as the winner, since Thor is not able to force Greybeard to get him over the fjord. As in other Norse sources such as the Völsunga saga, while he indeed might be considered shrewd, witty, and knowledgeable, Odin is also pragmatic, selfish, arrogant, and even cruel. In this 13th-century CE legendary saga about the clan of the Völsungs to which the hero Sigurd/Siegfried the dragon-slayer belongs, Odin will break Sigmund’s (Sigurd’s father) sword, allowing him to fall to his enemies. He does this despite the fact that he is the one who offered Sigmund the sword. Odin is in no way driven by some moral force or inherent goodness; it would be very strange to think of the Norse gods in such terms.

Unlike the more popular Thor, who protects the world, Odin's characteristics fit more those of kings and noblemen. In the Hárbarðsljóð, Thor is the more good-natured one, and Odin is the versatile tricky one, which can also be seen in the things they tell each other. Odin not only has warrior skills, but he also uses his magic to submit people to his will. Odin’s intellectual superiority over his son is also obvious in other poems, such as the Grímnismál and the Vafþrudnismál from the Poetic Edda.

In the former, Odin calling himself the Masked One (Grimnir) arrives at the court of king Geirröd who puts Grimnir in the fire after hearing about his magical skills. After the king’s son offers him a drink, he starts having a series of visions about the dwellings of the gods, life in Valhalla, and different natural elements. He also lists a series of names he is called, followed by the revelation that he is Odin. King Geirröd rushes to liberate him from the fire but falls on his sword, at which point Odin disappears.

In the latter, Odin visits the wisest of giants, Vafþrúðnir, and they have a long dialogue where they ask each other questions of mythological nature. After the four questions answered correctly by Odin, he asks the giant 18 difficult questions of which he only answers 17. This is because the last one reveals Odin’s true identity: he asks what the god spoke at the funeral of his son Baldr. While the story of Baldr’s funeral does not include Odin's message, the motif is used to indicate his extensive knowledge. He knows all that can be known. The Lay of Greybeard, similarly to these other two poems, dwells on the idea of Odin’s mental and verbal power to win his battles. Thor, on the other hand, represents material, physical strength.


All the Biggest Easter Eggs in 'Thor: Ragnarok'

The apocalypse is upon Asgard, but that doesn’t mean Thor: Ragnarok isn’t fun. The third installment of Marvel’s Thor trilogy and the 17th Marvel Studios film overall is an intergalactic action-comedy romp that has the God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), step up against Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, in a showdown of the ages.

And it’s not just Thor and Hela who are in the spotlight, either. Also along for the ride is fellow Avenger the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who has become a space gladiator for the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) since he went MIA at the end of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Taking place inside the wide-open Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Taika Waititi-directed Thor: Ragnarok is loaded with Easter eggs and comic book references that die-hard fans always eat up. As the movie enters theaters this weekend, here is a brief rundown of all the most obvious callbacks to Marvel lore, as well as other homages to movies, music, and pop culture.

First, there was that time Loki turned Thor into a frog…


Dwarves

A dwarf (Old Norse dvergr, Old English dweorg, Old High German twerg, Proto-Germanic *dwergaz [1] ) is a certain kind of invisible being in the pre-Christian mythology and religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples. No one really knows what the word “dwarf” and its cognates originally meant, but there’s no indication that it had anything to do with a small stature, a characteristic which is never mentioned in ancient descriptions of these beings.

The dwarves are pitch-black in appearance and live underground in Svartalfheim, [2] [3] a place which was probably thought of as a labyrinthine complex of mines and forges.

The dwarves are most often noted for being extremely skilled smiths and craftspeople. Among the many irreplaceable treasures created by them are: Mjollnir, the hammer of Thor Gleipnir, the chain that bound the wolf Fenrir when all other fetters failed Skidbladnir, a ship which belongs to Freyr and always has a favorable wind Gungnir, the spear of Odin Draupnir, a ring owned by Odin the Brisingamen, a magnificent necklace owned by Freya and the long, golden hair of Sif, Thor’s wife. They’re also extremely knowledgeable, wise, and magically powerful. [4] They turn to stone if exposed to the rays of the sun. [5]

Four dwarves, Austri, Vestri, Nordri, and Sudri (“East,” “West,” “North,” and “South”) hold aloft the four corners of the sky, evidencing their colossal strength.

The lines between the dwarves, elves, and dead humans are very blurry. The dwarves are occasionally called “black elves” (Old Norse svartálfar), [6] and in some instances they’re described as being dead or resembling human corpses. [7]

Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. I’ve also written a popular list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books, which you’ll probably find helpful in your pursuit.


Facts About Thor

  • According to Norse mythological sources, Thor had at least fourteen different names
  • Thor had two servants, a brother and sister called Thjálfi and Röskva
  • Thor’s hammer had special powers, including returning to its master like a boomerang
  • Eating and drinking counted among Thor’s biggest pleasures. He is said to have had an insatiable appetite
  • The symbol of the swastika, such as the one used in Nazi Germany, is associated with Thor. It is said to represent his hammer, and was found on the swords and sword-belts of warriors who believed it placed them under Thor’s protection
  • Many places across the globe are named after Thor. Among them are Mount Thors in Canada, Alaska, and Antarctica, and a Thor Fjord in Greenland. Even a volcano on Jupiter’s Io moon bears his name. This could be because he was sometimes equated with the Roman god Jupiter
  • A Christian missionary cut down an oak tree sacred to Thor in the German town of Geismar in 723. This event is said to have been the beginning of the Christianization of the Germanic people
  • Thor remained an important god in Norway long after the arrival of Christianity. This is evident in a stick from the 12th century with a runic message that calls upon both Thor and Odin for help
  • King Olaf II of Norway absorbed elements of Thor by growing a red beard and wielding a hammer
  • Thor is the subject of numerous artworks in modern popular culture and he is referred to many times in modern literature
  • A chemical element called thorium, discovered by a Swedish scientist in the 19th century, was named after the thunder god
  • Thor was the inspiration for the Marvel superhero named after him. His character is played by Chris Hemsworth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Films.

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The Tale of Utgarda-Loki

Well-known though it may be, the story of the journey of Thor to the castle of the giant Utgarda-Loki in Jotunheim is a confused jumble of elements from Norse mythology, fun but flippant fairy tales, and the rather capricious pen of their compiler and synthesizer, the medieval Christian Icelander Snorri Sturluson.

For one thing, as even the most casual and distracted of readers will no doubt notice, Loki features in two different and contradictory roles in the tale. In one of these roles, he is Thor’s companion and is tested by the giants in the same way that Thor is. In the other role, he is the giant Utgarda-Loki. In fact, in a variant of this narrative, Utgarda-Loki appears before Thor bound in chains, just as Loki was. Surely, in the original version of this story, the giant whom Thor met in Jotunheim was none other than Loki himself. [1]

Furthermore, in the form in which it’s been handed down to us by Snorri, there are numerous fairy tale elements that seem wholly out of place in any authentic pagan Norse myth: the gods battle characters who are straightforward allegories for abstract concepts, the beings who are typically called “giants” in English (whose Old Norse name meant “devourers”) are indeed distinguished by being comically large, the tone is one of frivolous amusement, and the story lacks any spiritual significance whatsoever. Its sole purpose is entertainment.

Nevertheless, given the existence of (equally spurious) alternate versions, at least some elements in this tale probably do go back to heathen times and reflect something of substantial religious import. However, in the bastardized form in which we know this story, it’s impossible to disentangle those elements from the doggerel. Their significance, therefore, can only remain unknown.

All of that is to say that this story is hardly a myth in any meaningful sense of the word, and is probably more or less worthless as a source of information about the pre-Christian Norse worldview.

The Tale of Utgarda-Loki

While Thor and Loki were traveling far from Asgard in Thor’s goat-drawn chariot, night overtook them and they were welcomed into the house of a farmer and his family.

To repay his hosts for their hospitality, Thor offered his goats for supper, knowing that he could bring them back to life afterwards and not be at any loss. After the meal, Thor laid the goats’ hides on the floor and instructed his hosts to place the bones on the hides after the meat had been gleaned from them.

The farmer had two children: a boy named Thjalfi and a daughter named Roskva. Despite the thunder god’s instructions, Thjalfi broke open one of the goats’ leg bones to suck out the marrow before placing it on the hide with the others.

When Thor awoke the following morning, he hallowed the goat hides and bones with his hammer, whereupon the goats sprang back to life. One of them, however, had a lame hind leg. Thor immediately intuited the reason for this, and was so furious at the farmer and his family that he would have slain them all on the spot had the farmer not offered him his children, Thjalfi and Roskva, to be his servants. Thor accepted, and he, Loki, and the children pressed onward on foot, leaving the handicapped goats behind.

The party’s goal was to reach Jotunheim, the land of the giants. They crossed an ocean and a thick, tangled forest. Just as night was falling, they came to a huge hall. They found no one inside, and decided to spend the night there.

They were jostled awake by a great earthquake. Running outside, they found a sleeping giant whose snores caused the earth to rumble and shake. Thor, who hated giants, clutched his hammer and resolved to smite this sure foe of his. But the giant awoke at the last second and seemed to be cheered, or at least amused, by the sight of Thor and his companions. The giant introduced himself as Skrymir (Old Norse Skrýmir, “Boaster”), but said that he already knew full well to whom he was introducing himself.

Skrymir picked up his glove, the great hall in which Thor and his company had slept during the night, and proposed that he accompany them on their journey. To this the god agreed, and off they went through forests and over hills.

At night, they took shelter beneath a venerable oak. Skrymir had been carrying all of their provisions in his bag, and when the giant fell asleep and the task of opening the bag fell to Thor, the god found himself unable to untie the giant’s knots. This so angered Thor that he struck the dozing Skrymir in the forehead, hoping to kill him. The giant awoke calmly and asked if a leaf had fallen on his head.

Later in the night, the giant’s snores grew so loud they echoed through the valleys like thunder. Thor, annoyed by his inability to sleep, and wanting to kill the giant, anyway, tried a second time to smite him by striking him in the head. But, much as before, Skrymir awakened and asked if an acorn had fallen on his head.

Just before dawn, Thor decided to try one more time to end Skrymir’s life. But the giant, awakened, asked if some birds had roosted above him and shaken some dirt from the branches onto his face.

Skrymir departed from Thor and his companions, and the company pressed onward toward a castle called Utgard (Old Norse Útgarðr – see Jotunheim and Innangard and Utangard for the significance of this name).

Around midday, the travelers reached their destination. The gate was locked and no one was there to open it, but Thor and the others found that they could fit through the very large spaces between the bars of the gate easily enough. Once inside, they found a hall where men sat eating and drinking. Amongst them was the king of this castle, the giant Utgarda-Loki (Old Norse Útgarða-Loki, “Loki of the Útgarðr“), who immediately recognized his new guests and set about taunting them for their diminutive size.

Wanting to salvage his dignity and that of his companions, Loki proudly asserted that no one else in this castle could eat food faster than he could. Utgarda-Loki challenged him to prove this boast by entering a contest with one of the men there, whose name was Logi (Old Norse Logi, “Fire”). A trough of meat was set before them, with Loki at one end and Logi at the other, and they were to see who could reach the middle first. They met in the middle at the same time, but while Loki had eaten all of the meat between the end and the middle, Logi had eaten the meat, the bones, and even the trough itself! Loki had clearly lost.

Thjalfi, who was an extremely swift runner, then offered to race anyone in the castle. Utgarda-Loki led him out to a race track and appointed one Hugi (Old Norse Hugi, “Thought”) to compete with him. By the time Hugi reached the finish line, he was so far ahead of Thjalfi that he doubled back to meet his contestant. They raced a second time, and once again Hugi beat Thjalfi by a long bow-shot. Still, they raced a third time, but Thjalfi fared even worse he was still at the midpoint of the track by the time Hugi finished.

Thor then challenged anyone in the castle to a drinking contest, something at which he had no little skill. Utgarda-Loki had one of his servants fetch the kind of drinking horn from which Utgarda-Loki’s men were said to drink. When it was placed before Thor, Utgarda-Loki informed him that whoever could finish the horn in one drink was considered a great drinker, whoever could do it in two was considered fair, but no one in his retinue was such a poor drinker as to be unable to finish it in three.

Thor drank mightily, but by the time he had to pause for a breath, the level of liquor in the horn had barely lowered. So he gave it a second try, straining to gulp and gulp until his breath failed him. This time, the level had gone down appreciably, but the better part of the horn still remained. His third drink was even more formidable than the previous two, but in the end, much was still left. By that point, however, Thor could drink could no more, and gave up.

Then Utgarda-Loki suggested that Thor attempt to simply lift his cat from the floor, but Thor proved unable to do even this.

In a rage, Thor challenged anyone in the castle to wrestle with him. Insultingly, Utgarda-Loki appointed an old woman, Elli (Old Norse Elli, “Age”) who was one of his servants. But the great god lost even this contest.

After this, Utgarda-Loki decided that there should be no more contests, and the company spent the night there in the castle.

In the morning, they rose and prepared to leave. After Utgarda-Loki had shown them out of the castle, he confided to them what had actually transpired in their contests, saying to Thor, “Now that you have left my castle, I shall see to it that you never enter it again. The knot on my provision bag that you almost succeeded in untying had been wrought in iron. I deflected the blows you attempted to inflict on me with your hammer instead of my face, you hit the mountainside, and carved three gaping valleys into it. Had you struck me, I would have been killed then and there.

“Loki held his own remarkably well in his eating contest, since his opponent was none other than fire itself. So it was with Thjalfi, too – he raced against thought, which nobody could ever hope to outrun. The far end of the horn from which you drank was connected to the sea, and we were actually greatly afraid that you were going to drink it all. When you cross over the sea again, you will see how much you have lowered its level. My cat was actually the Midgard serpent, whom you succeeded in raising out of the ocean and into the sky. And, finally, you wrestled against old age, and took a long, long time to fall.

“Now, for your sake and for ours, leave, and never come back.”

Thor was so angered by this humiliating trickery that he raised his hammer and prepared to slay Utgarda-Loki and smash his castle to pieces. But when he turned to do so he saw no giant and no castle – just a vast, empty plain. [2]

Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. I’ve also written a popular list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books, which you’ll probably find helpful in your pursuit.


Ragnarok Revealed The Real Reason Odin Stripped Thor Of His Power

Why did Odin judge his son so harshly in the first Thor film? The real reason is revealed in Thor: Ragnarok's smartest retcon.

Thor: Ragnarok explained the real reason why Odin stripped Thor of his powers in the first film. In Thor, the God of Thunder earned the All-Father's ire when he foolishly launched a strike against Laufey and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Thor's reckless, impulsive actions risked triggering a new war between Asgard and Jotunheim, one that could potentially spill over to the rest of the Nine Realms and cost millions of lives.

Odin rescued his son, and then reacted in fury. He stripped Thor of both his honor and his power, declaring him to be unworthy of his title, unworthy of the loved ones he had betrayed. Odin bound Thor's power to Mjolnir, declaring that he could only truly become Thor once again when he had proven himself worthy. It was a strong, albeit extreme reaction - one that even Loki was surprised by. Thor: Ragnarok cast a whole new light upon it, explaining just why Odin's reaction was so harsh.

According to Thor: The Dark World, Odin's father Bor battled against the Dark Elves and won a hard-fought war to render them almost extinct. He then ushered in thousands of years of peace. Thor: Ragnarok revealed that this peace was actually ended by Odin himself, whose imperial ambitions led Asgardian forces to plunder the rest of the Nine Realms. Hela was his Executioner, leading his forces to battle and slaughtering all who dared oppose Asgard. Finally, though, Hela's ambition for conquest and her lust for blood outstripped Odin's. The All-Father was forced to banish Hela, albeit at a terrible cost, and he committed himself to the cause of peace. Asgard became the defender of the Nine Realms, striking uneasy armistices with races like the Frost Giants - armistices that were occasionally broken, with Frost Giants invading Midgard in 1,000AD.

This subtly rewrites Odin's motives in Thor. He saw too much of himself in his son a brash and reckless man whose imperialistic ways would plunge the Nine Realms into chaos and launch Asgard into an age of conquest. No wonder Odin was so angry when he judged Thor as unworthy, he was also casting judgment upon the man he used to be. In order to earn his hammer and become worthy, Thor would have to learn that his responsibility was to act as champion and protector of the Nine Realms - not its conqueror. It was a lesson that Odin himself had to learn in the past, but at a terrible cost.

Given the events of Thor: Ragnarok, it's no surprise that Thor's attack on Jotunheim was viewed by Laufey as an act of war. He, too, would have realized that history was repeating himself and Laufey would have no doubt remembered that Thor was on the verge of being crowned new King of Asgard before the coronation was interrupted by Frost Giant infiltrators. The King of the Frost Giants would have believed that Thor's taking the throne would have been the beginning of a new Asgardian Empire, and that the Frost Giants had to act now to prevent it.

Thor: Ragnarok rewrote the history of Asgard - but in doing so it subtly rewrites the previous Thor films as well. In this case, it adds a whole new depth to Thor's origin story, suggesting the reason Odin viewed Thor as unworthy is because he was about to repeat the All-Father's old mistakes.


Contents

Ragnarok Cycle

The Ragnarok cycle created numerous versions of Thor's origin story, and the fact that Asgard was a place of myth didn't help matters when trying to keep track of all of the different stories and personalized descriptions of events. One such story came from the severed eye of Odin, which grew to great size, achieved sentience, and told Thor of another Thor who had existed before the current Thor's birth. This previous Thor was also the son of Odin, but had red hair, not blond hair like the current Thor. Thor was said in myth to have killed the Midgard Serpent, and to have been killed himself by the dying monster's venom, at Ragnarok, the destruction of a previous version of Asgard. Odin himself was killed, but a new Odin appeared in the place of several gods who survived Ragnarok, and it was this new Odin who fathered the current version of Thor. Whether a true picture of Thor's origin will ever be told, we will never know.

Early Life

The young Thor was raised alongside Loki, who had been adopted by Odin after Loki's father, the Frost Giant Laufey, had been killed in battle. From childhood Loki was jealous of Thor, and his hatred of Thor grew over the years to a wish to destroy him. Thus began Loki's enmity for Thor, which persists to this day.

For example, when Thor was eight, Odin sent him to Nidavellir, the land of the dwarfs, to bid the dwarfs Brokk and Eitri to create three treasures for Asgard's ruler. Among the three treasures that Brokk and Eitri created was the uru hammer Mjolnir (although Loki sabotaged the creation of the hammer so that its handle was made too short). Odin bestowed various enchantments upon the hammer, including one that made it impossible for anyone to lift it except someone who was truly worthy of wielding it. Odin then declared that he was reserving the use of Mjolnir for Thor, who would receive it on the day that great deeds of selfless valor had proved him worthy of it. (Many of the stories contradict each other. This story of the origin of Mjolnir was contradicted by another story that showed Odin wielding Mjolnir before Thor was born). For years, Thor strove to become physically strong enough to wield the hammer, and was responsible for many heroic deeds. Finally, when Thor was sixteen, Odin sent him, and his friends Balder and Sif, on a quest to teach him what was truly required to wield Mjolnir, a pure heart. Slaying a Frost Giant Thor became Asgard's greatest warrior. Before Thor was twenty, he had fallen in love with the goddess Sif. This romance waxed and waned over the centuries. Sometime in the 9th Century AD, Thor traveled to Earth to promote his worship among the Vikings. Both the Norsemen and the Germans, who called him Donner ("Thunder"), came to worship Thor and other Asgardians. Thor actively encouraged the adulation of his Viking worshipers for years, and also encouraged them to find glory in battle.

But finally, Thor discovered that a part of his Viking worshipers had slaughtered the inhabitants of a Christian monastery. Shocked, realizing that some of his more zealous worshipers were committing atrocities like this one in his name, Thor withdrew from Earthly activities altogether, and the active worship of the gods of Asgard ended.

According to the severed eye of Odin, Odin himself later caused Thor to live on Earth in the mortal guises of the Germanic heroes Siegmund and his son, Siegfried. In these two roles, Thor played a major role in Odin's efforts to regain the dangerously powerful Ring of the Nibelung. Siegmund was killed by the warrior Hunding, but Thor was reborn as Siegfried, the son of Siegmund and his lover Sieglinda. Siegfried took possession of the Ring after killing the giant Fafnir, who guarded it in the guise of a dragon (this Fafnir is not to be confused with the former king of Nastrond). Siegfried then fell in love with the Valkyrie Brunnhilde, but was murdered by Hagen, the son of Alberich, the dwarf who had created the Ring and placed a curse upon it. Odin, however, resurrected Siegfried as Thor, who again had his full godly powers, but wiped out Thor's memory of his two mortal identities. (It is unclear how much, if any, of this account by Odin's severed eye is true.)

World War II

At one point, Adolf Hitler succeeded in contacting Thor and deceived him into aiding the cause of the Germans, the descendants of the people who had once worshiped him, in the current war. Thor therefore clashed with the Invaders and nearly killed the second Union Jack with a blast of lightning from his enchanted hammer. Learning that Hitler was evil, Thor vowed to aid him no more, and withdrew most of the electricity in Union Jack's body back into his hammer, somehow restoring him to health in the process. The second Union Jack now possessed the superhuman power to discharge electrical bolts from his body.

Thor led an active, adventurous life in Asgard, doing battle with Frost Giants and other enemies of the realm. Odin watched Thor become more and more arrogant, and sent him to Midgard several times to learn humility. Over the years, Odin grew increasingly dissatisfied with Thor's headstrong behavior and excessive pride. On one occasion Thor violated a truce between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants, thereby nearly starting a war. Finally, while Thor was engaged in a brawl in an Asgardian tavern, Odin summoned him to his presence.

Modern Age

Odin decided that it was time Thor learned humility. Odin had Thor surrender his hammer to him, and then sent him to Earth in the mortal guise of a crippled young medical student named Donald Blake, stripped of his memory (again) of his true identity. As Blake, Thor learned the value of humble perseverance in dealing with his injured leg, and he came to care for the sick and dying, first as a medical student, and later as a successful physician. After leaving medical school, Blake opened a private practice in New York, and quickly gained renown as a great surgeon.

After Thor had spent ten years in the role of Blake, Odin planted within Blake's mind the suggestion to take a vacation in Norway. There Blake encountered a party of alien Kronans, also known as the Stone Men from Saturn. Blake fled from the Kronans into a cavern, the very same one that had served as Thor's birthplace millennia ago, where Odin had left Thor's hammer in the enchanted form of a wooden cane. Trapped in the cavern by a great boulder, Blake struck the boulder with the cane in frustrated anger, and was transformed back into his true godly form of Thor. As Thor he escaped the cavern and drove off the Kronans.

At first Thor still had no memory of his past life as an Asgardian god, although as months passed, more of his memories returned. Finally, a few years later, Odin revealed to him the false nature of the Blake identity and the reason for it.

Thor maintained his Blake identity on Earth and continued his medical practice. Part of his affinity for Earth was his subconscious realization that his maternal heritage was on this world. The other part was simply his love for humanity and his need to experience those things that only mortals could know. Thor came to divide his time between Earth and Asgard, and does so to this day.

For years, Thor was in love with Jane Foster, who worked as a nurse for Blake. Odin disapproved of Thor's love for this mortal, but eventually the romance between Thor and Foster came to an end, and Thor renewed his past relationship with Sif. That relationship suffered strains in recent years, and it is unclear what path it may take in the future. Thor was a founding member of the team of superhuman champions known as the Avengers, and continued to serve with the team from time to time through the present.

Thor gave up his identity as Don Blake. In fact, Odin transferred the enchantment enabling Thor to change into mortal form and back from Mjolnir to that of his ally and alien counterpart, Beta Ray Bill. With the aid of Nick Fury, Public Director of SHIELD, Thor adopted a new "secret identity," that of construction worker, Sigurd Jarlson. In this identity, Thor did not actually become mortal in his Jarlson identity he simply dressed as a normal contemporary Earthman and wore glasses.

Thor had grown a beard to conceal the terrible scars left on his face due to wounds inflicted by the Asgardian death goddess Hela. Hela healed the scars on his face and Thor shaved himself smooth again. After Odin disappeared during his battle with Surtur, the people of Asgard wished to make Thor, Odin's designated heir, their new ruler. Unwilling to give up his guardianship of Earth or his life of adventure, at least not yet, Thor declined the offer and instead nominated his half-brother Balder the Brave to be Asgard's ruler. Balder ruled until Odin returned and reclaimed the throne. For a time, Thor was merged with the human Eric Masterson, an architect who first met Thor as Jarlson. The two men would exchange bodies using Mjolnir, as Thor had done before as Blake. After Loki attempted to kill Susan Austin, the woman who cared for Eric's son, Thor became furious and slew Loki. As punishment, he was exiled from Earth, and Eric Masterson was given the thunder god's power to continue in the role of Thor. Eventually, after Loki reappeared, Eric was able to find Thor, who had been hidden within Eric's own sub consciousness, and rescued him from exile.

Eric had proven himself to be a hero in his own right, and Odin rewarded him with the enchanted mace Thunderstrike. Taking Thunderstrike as his alias, Eric continued to serve as a hero on Earth until he died heroically after battling the Egyptian death god Seth. Thor grieved for Eric, who had been the closest friend he had made among humanity.

Odin and Thor eventually learned that the constant shift of identity and sharing of power Odin had encouraged had driven Thor insane, marked by the appearance of a Valkyrie who was a manifestation of Thor's insanity. With the assistance of Adam Warlock and Doctor Strange, Thor regained his sanity, and Odin came to realize the error he had made.

Once again attempting to thwart Ragnarok, Odin attempted to trick the world-ash tree Yggdrasill into believing that Ragnarok had already happened. To do so, the Asgardians were to be transformed into mortals so that they would not be recognized as gods. Odin intended that Thor would restore the Asgardians to normal, but Seth accidentally prematurely activated the plan. Compounding the situation, Thor disappeared battling Onslaught and wound up on the new Counter-Earth created by Franklin Richards. By the time Thor returned to Earth, the Asgardians had managed to regain their identities, but were then captured by the Dark Gods. Ultimately, Thor rescued his people from the Dark Gods with the aid of Hercules and the Destroyer.

After a paramedic named Jake Olson was slain during a battle between the Avengers and the Destroyer, Marnot, a servant of Odin, gave Thor Olson's form as a new identity. Although Thor could assume Olson's form, he had none of Olson's memories and thus found this identity to be troublesome for him. He also re-encountered Jane Foster while in this identity, and brief sparks were rekindled between them. Odin finally separated Olson from Thor, and Olson was allowed to return to his own life.

After Odin fell in battle against Surtur, Asgard was left without a ruler. Thor eventually reluctantly accepted the throne and assumed his father's Odinpower, becoming much more powerful. Thor determined to restore the gods of Asgard to their former place on Earth as beings to be worshiped, merging Earth with Asgard to accomplish this end. Thor's increased activity on Earth resulted in a resurgence of followers for the Asgardians, and a Church of Thor soon emerged. Thor's willingness to fight for the lives of his followers ultimately set him against his fellow Avengers when he attempted to overthrow the government of Slokovia. Thor OmnipotentAdded by Govven1Earth's citizens became increasingly wary of Thor, and the Consortium of Nations finally launched an assault upon Asgard that reduced it to rubble. From that point on, Thor devoted himself to Earth's conquest to bring order to humanity he ruled Earth for nearly two hundred years. In that time, he married the Enchantress and she bore him a son, Magni. Thor finally came to realize that he had done wrong, and used a device created by Zarrko to travel back in time and prevent Asgard's destruction. He re-emerged as his younger self with Jake Olson, to ensure that Olson's humanity would prevent his future from occurring in that timeline. Returning Asgard to its own realm, Thor was faced with yet another Ragnarok threat when Loki teamed with Surtur using weapons created from the same forge from which Mjolnir was made. Determining that the gods above all gods known as Those Who Sit Above In Shadow had manipulated Asgard into the repeating cycle of Ragnarok, he sought them out and gave his life (and that of the reality of his dimensions) to destroy them. The Odinpower, having manifested itself as a young Asgardian, congratulated Thor on his final victory, the plan his father had always had for him, leaving Thor to rest the slumber of the gods and all that remains of them being memories on Midgard.

Thor's Return

Mjolnir returned to Earth, landing in a deserted field and inadvertently freeing Doctor Doom from his extra-dimensional prison along the way. The hammer was claimed by a young man named D. Blake.

A clone of Thor, codenamed "Project Lightning" was also released during a battle between pro and anti registration heroes. To the shock of both sides, he killed Bill Foster during the fighting.

"D. Blake" was revealed to be Donald Blake, returned from oblivion after Odin's death and the breaking of the spell that undid his existence. Traveling back to "the void" he convinced Thor that he had ended the Ragnarok cycle, and that if he returned to earth, he could rebuild Asgard and restore his Asgardian friends and allies. Informing him that he could only return "with great pain", Thor was attacked by a horde of creatures. Disappearing, Donald Blake advised Thor that if he was to live again, he had to want to live again. Through the horde, Thor saw Mjolnir and reached for it. Grabbing it, a great bolt of lightning struck, throwing the horde clear of him. And Thor stood again, reborn in a new costume, saying that he wanted to live again. Blake returned to earth, Oklahoma specifically, holding a wooden stick and went to the nearest town, renting a motel room. That night, in the room, he struck the stick against the ground, resulting in a massive lightning bolt. Thor the God of ThunderAdded by Govven1Thor used Mjolnir to recreate Asgard's capital on the property of a farmer, which he purchased by allowing the farmer to fill the bed of his pick-up truck with as much gold from the Asgardian treasury as it could hold. Soon afterward, Iron Man met Thor in New Orleans after S.H.I.E.L.D.'s instruments detected his presence and the presence of Asgard. He greeted Thor as a friend but explained that he couldn't just appear and recreate Asgard here on Earth, even though he did now own the land. Thor remained silent for a few moments before angrily telling Stark that he knew of the clone that he used and how violated he felt that he used such an abomination to wage war against other heroes, many of whom Thor considered as close as family. He then viciously attacked Iron Man, landing several blows which damaged his armor. Iron Man asked Thor if he'd "been working out". Coldly, Thor replied that he hadn't but that he simply wasn't holding back anymore. Thor immediately sent a massive bolt of lightning at Iron Man that crippled and de-powered his armor. Seeking a compromise, Stark rationalized that Asgard could be considered a foreign embassy, with diplomatic immunity granted to its inhabitants. Thor deemed this acceptable, and soon after found the first of the lost Asgardians, Heimdall, and restored him to his true form.

Donald Blake was then called to Africa to assist Dr. Ernest Lereaux with injuries there. After being attacked by enemies from another tribe, Thor restored the Warriors Three to their true forms. Before he left with his friends, Thor created a chasm in the ground to separate the warring tribes.

Thor and his fellow Asgardians were invited to a town meeting, while Thor attempted to free several captured Asgardians, who were still trapped in mortal form, from The Destroyer. He unknowingly freed Loki, who was working with Dr. Doom to allow Thor to free him from his mortal form.

Although Thor successfully restored most of the Asgardians, he did not attempt to find his father. During the Odinsleep, Thor had a vision in which he discovered that on a subconscious level he did not so do as he wished to be free of his father, and that Odin fought an eternal cycle of battle with Surtur, dying and being reborn each day, between life and death.

With Veranke having failed to initially consider Asgard as a threat to the Secret Invasion of Midgard, believing them "gone" along with the Scarlet Witch (due to Thor destroying the loom of the Norns and ending the cycle of Ragnarok), the Skrulls did not at first concoct extensive plans for the Norse deities. However, upon their return to the central Marvel Universe some time during the Civil War, the Skrulls were instantly made aware of their presence: they prepared to combat and eliminate the Asgardians, using their resources to somehow find and pull Beta Ray Bill out of the limbo he had been trapped within, capturing and tormenting him while studying his mystic hammer Stormbreaker (the equal of Mjolnir), and through "profound genetic perversions" enabled a Super-Skrull to wield it. Balder and Beta Ray Bill, healed by wielding Mjolnir, commanded the gods against the Skrull troops. Thor arrived in time to reclaim his hammer, and collapsed all of Asgard itself onto the Skrull, aided by Bill to at long last destroy it [3] .

The return of Asgard soon became known to the world, even to the other Earth gods Athena, when asked by the other deities of the gathered Council Elite as to why the Asgardians had not been called forth to attend their Secret Invasion meeting, the Goddess of Wisdom replied that the revived Aesir were too vulnerable to infiltration by the Skrulls to be trusted, as they had just been resurrected from Ragnarok by Thor. Other deities deemed Thor a more suitable leader of the selected God Squad than Hercules, to the latter's great displeasure and distaste. Veranke appeared to number Asgard as a top priority and struck it with an armada of “god-killers” while Otherworld, native realm of the Celtic gods, was assailed by Skrull forces, technologists and most of the available Skrull sorcerers. As the deities of the Norse and the Celtics were assaulted by the Skrulls, it appeared even their empire’s forces were insufficient in strength and number to besiege the worlds of the other dozens of pantheons. Both Avalon and Asgard, however, succeeded in eventually driving away the Skrulls and surviving. Thor the Lord of AsgardAdded by Govven1Thor flew off to New York to save several civilians with Mjolnir's lightning, met with the new Captain America, summoned the battle that had to be fought and joined with the gathered forces of nearly a hundred other superheroes to repel the attack Thor was forced to sacrifice a fellow Avenger, the Wasp, by reflecting the vast amounts of energy she was being forced to emit when the Skrulls detonated a last-resort biological weapon to destroy her from within before it destroyed the planet. After this, Thor flew into outer space along with every superhero capable of flight to eliminate the remains of the armada and free the captives Thor told Tony Stark coldly that he was repulsed by his recent actions and that never again would they join together. Thor also warned him he would not be the only one to find the responsibility for the invasion falling on Stark alone [4] . Loki traveled to the past, and joined her power with Hela's, ensuring Bor, father of Odin and first king of Asgard, perished in battle against the Frost Giants. In the present day Loki revived Bor in New York City, but placed a spell on him to mistake everything around him as an enemy, therefore attacking everything in sight. Further aggrieved by the belief his son's failure to resurrect him could only mean he was killed in battle, when Thor arrived on the scene, Loki's enchantment caused Bor to see Thor as a monster. Sensing a portion of Odin's power inside what he saw as a demon, Bor attacked Thor, attempting to avenge his son. While Thor and Bor fought, Loki made Balder aware of Bor's identity and the two rushed to New York to stop Thor from killing him (Thor never met Bor until then and was unaware of his identity). Thor vs BorAdded by Matthew Stanley FeldmanThey arrived too late, as Thor was forced to kill Bor for fear of the entire planet being destroyed in the wake of their battle. In the aftermath of the battle, Loki reminded Balder the resurrected Bor was technically a king of Asgard when Thor killed him and the punishment for killing a king is banishment from Asgard. Balder was forced to agree, and made monarch in his place. After Thor's banishment, Loki made arrangements to have all Asgardians, but not Asgard itself, moved to Latveria at the invitation of Doctor Doom [5] . With Mjolnir badly damaged from his battle with his revived grandfather, Thor was secluded from all but his own alter ego Loki contacted Thor and informed him of her having Sif's form and the fact Sif would die after Loki finished transfer back to his male shape. After Thor learned from Jane Foster, Sif's mortal vessel's identity, Blake attempted to switch back to Thor, but as Mjolnir was so badly damaged, there was an incredibly powerful magical backlash which rendered him unconscious for twenty minutes. After seeking Doctor Strange's aid in healing Mjolnir by sacrificing the portion of the Odin Force he possessed and binding his own soul with the hammer, Thor managed to save Sif by freeing her spirit, the two planning to directly confront Doom, Loki and their brethren in an all-out war. Donald Blake and Sif were subsequently attacked by Doombots. These Doombots had been programmed to kill Donald Blake before he could turn into Thor, however, he was saved by Sif and The Warriors Three. Together they finished off the rest of the Doombots and Blake received medical attention. Blake phoned Reed Richards to discuss the Doombots and they deduced that Loki and Doom were working together. At Doom's castle several Asgardians had been placed under the control of Doom and fitted with cybernetic enhancements. Balder and the remaining Asgardians reluctantly attempted to engage Doom's army as Thor appeared to confront Doom himself Thor vs DoomAdded by Matthew Stanley FeldmanThor attacked Doom and was knocked off the balcony. Doom then threw Kelda's lifeless body at Thor and told him to leave. Enraged, Thor lashed out with a bolt of lightning at Doom only to find that it was a Doombot and was connected to an object inside the castle via a cable. It seemed Thor's lightning empowered the object,which was revealed to be the Destroyer Armor. When Thor entered the castle, he was attacked by the real Doom who was using his own version of the Destroyer Armor. Doom told Thor that he needed the Asgardian's lightning for the armor to be fully powered. Thor and Doom fought with Doom gaining the upper hand. However, Thor managed to destroy the armor when Balder severed Doom's power source by using the full force of Mjolnir. Doom was then teleported away by Loki. Balder declared that the Asgardians were returning to Asgard and decided to have a word with Thor about the unsettling events that transpired. Meanwhile, Loki was able to join Kelda's heart to her body and she was revived. However she felt despondant over the the loss of Bill. Thor returns to Broxton and is greeted by Sif and the Warriors Three just as Jane Foster arrives to see Donald Blake. During The Siege of Asgard, Thor rushed to the aid of Asgard and attempted to attack Norman Osborn, but was intercepted by Sentry. The two powerhouses battled until a combined attack from the Sentry,Dark Avengers and Initiative agents managed to defeat Thor. Before he could be taken into custody, Thor was saved by Maria Hill and a young man named Jason. After recovering from his injuries, Thor joined the fight for Asgard once again and signaled his return by blasting Daken with a bolt of lightning. He then declared that he will defend Asgard and Broxton with his last breath. Osborn orders Sentry to find and kill Thor. Once Sentry found Thor, the two locked on each other in a rematch, but Thor is once again unable to defeat him even after striking him with a massive bolt of lightning. When Osborn's armor is disabled by Tony Stark, Osborn orders Sentry to destroy Asgard which he does before the horrified eyes of Thor. Thor vs SentryAdded by Matthew Stanley FeldmanOsborn is questioned by Thor about Loki's whereabouts, but is interrupted by the arrival of the Sentry, now fully possessed by the Void. The Void proceeds to pummel the heroes until Loki uses the Norn Stones to empower them. Realizing that the heroes' power is coming from Loki, the Void attacks him while preventing Thor and Iron Man from interfering at the same time. Loki's attempts to defend himself were unsucsessful, and he apologizes to Thor before dying. Spurred on by unabridged rage, Thor attacks the Void with a volley of massive lightning bolts. Iron Man then uses the H.A.M.M.E.R Helicarrier as a bullet, and sends it crashing to the ground right on top of the Void. The resulting explosion turns the Void back to human form. Robert requests that Thor kill him, but Thor refuses,wanting Robert to be punished for thedeath of Loki. Robert then turns into the Void and demands to be killed. To ensure the safety of everyone, Thor struck the Void with another lightning blast, leaving nothing but a charred skeleton. Thor then wrapped his own cape around Robert's corpse and disposed of it, by throwing it into the Sun.


Celebrity feuds are the meat and drink of modern gossip columns. But what do you do when it’s two gods duking it out? The Greeks had plenty of god feuds, as you might expect, including Poseidon vs. Zeus, and Hera vs. Hercules. And the Norse had a god feud of their own, involving their two most important gods: Odin and Thor.

It’s not surprising that there was friction between the two. Thor was the god of the common man, popular with smallholders and artisans. Odin was the aristocrat’s god, as well as patron of poets, magicians and berserkers. Both were warrior-gods, but while Thor used his hammer and his super-strength, Odin used strategy, cunning and magic to win.

Both could legitimately claim to be top god: Odin claimed to be the All-father, and certainly was ruler of the pantheon in Snorri and Saxo’s tellings. However, Thor was the more popular deity, as I showed in my post on the thunder-god, with many more people naming themselves after him, for example.

They run very close for place-names: Stephan Brink, in his study of places named for the Norse gods, found 90 possibles for Odin, and 83 for Thor (he doesn’t count Iceland, which would probably give Thor the edge).

While for the most part they collaborate, with Odin trying to raise an army for Ragnarök while Thor keeps the giants at bay, there were clearly tensions…

Who’s the Daddy?

Even Odin’s claim to be Thor’s father is contested. In the Prologue to the Prose Edda, Snorri writes:

The name of one king there was Munon or Mennon. He was married to the daughter of the high king Priam she was called Troan. They had a son, called Tror we call him Thor… [he meets Sif, his wife, and]… Their son was Loridi, who took after his father… [for 16 more generations, until] … He had a son whose name was Woden, it is him that we call Odin.
(Faulkes: 3)

But in the main text Snorri gives the more common origin for Thor:

His [Odin’s] wife was Frigg Fiorgvin’s daughter, and from them is descended the family line that we call the Aesir race, who have resided in Old Asgard and the realms that belong to it, and the whole line is of divine origin. And that is why he can be called All-father, that he is father of all the gods and of men and of everything that has been brought into being by him and his power. The earth was his daughter and his wife. Out of her he begot the first of his sons, that is Asa-Thor.
(Faulkes: 13)

The second one is the better-known, and Snorri keeps to it for the rest of the Prose Edda, but it’s interesting that there was another tradition out there.

Just as a side note, the Christian writers Saxo Grammaticus and Aelfric objected to Thor being Odin’s son because if the Christian authorities were correct, Jupiter, who was equivalent to Thor, was the father of Mercury, or Odin.

Aelfric seems to think that “Mars” was Jupiter’s son, and the heathens made offerings to him before a battle. Tyr, perhaps, or Saxnot? He also states that “Venus” was Jupiter’s daughter, and both her father and brother had her, an echo of Lokasenna. It’s hard to know if this is part of some alternate tradition, given that Aelfric was a Christian missionary, but it’s possible.

Harbardsljod: Thor and Odin Square Off

The rivalry between the two cults was well-known enough for someone to compose an Eddic poem about it. (Actually, its variable style suggests that many people contributed to it before it was finally written down, perhaps adding an insult or two as they went.)

Like many Eddic poems, it’s in the form of a dialogue, between Thor and a disguised Odin. Many of the poems featuring Odin are wisdom contests, or occasions for him to show his occult knowledge. This one is a flyting, or insult contest, like Lokasenna, but with Odin doing most of the insulting.

The title, Harbard’s Song, hints that Odin wins, and we would expect the god of poets and verbal cleverness to come out on top. Nowhere in the poem are we told that Harbard is Odin, but the name “Grey Beard” sounds Odinic, and in Grimnismal he says that it is a name he uses. (He also appears as Harbard in Vikings.)

In the poem Thor comes to sound, and sees a ferryman, Harbard, on the other side. He calls to him to ferry him across, but Harbard insults him, mocking him for wearing coarse clothes and suggesting that he’s a suspicious character. He demands to know the name of his potential fare:

Thor said:
9. ‘I’d tell you my name, even if I were an outlaw,
And all of my lineage: I’m Odin’s son,
Meili’s brother, Magni’s father,
the gods’ great champion you’re talking to Thor.
Now I want to know what it is that you’re called.’

The ferryman said:
10.’I’m called Grey-Beard: I don’t often hide my name.’
(Orchard’s trans.)

(Which is pretty funny if you know anything about Odin.) The two then begin comparing their great deeds, which underlines their differences:

Thor said:
19. ‘I slew Thjazi, the great-hearted giant,
and cast up the eyes of Allvaldi’s son
into the shining sky
those are the greatest marks of my deeds,
that all men can afterwards see.
What, Harbarth, didst thou the while?”

Grey-beard said:
20. ‘Great love-spells I used against witch-hags,
those that I tricked from their men
I thought that Hlébard was a harsh giant,
but he gave me a wand of power
then I tricked him out of his wits.’

Thor said:
21.’With a wicked heart you repaid good gifts.’

Harbarth spake:
22. ‘One oak-tree thrives, when another’s cut back:
in such matters it’s each for himself.
What did you do meantime, Thor?’

They go on like this for a while, until finally Thor demands passage, and Harbard tells him he’ll have to walk. Thor threatens him with a beating once more, and the poem ends. (While it’s not surprising that the god of poets wins, you could read verse 21 as emphasizing Thor’s trustworthiness against Odin’s slippery nature.)

Harbard mocks Thor. Both images by W.G. Collingwood. Wikimedia.

Aristocrats vs. Commoners

The most famous lines of Harbardsljod emphasize the difference in Thor and Odin’s followers:

Grey-Beard said:
24. ‘…Odin gets the noblemen, who fall in the fight,
but Thor gets the race of slaves.’

Thor said:
25. ‘A bad share would you bring to the Æsir host
if you had as much might as you wish.’

It’s significant that Thor-worship was strongest in Iceland, with no king, and western Norway, where the king’s rule was not popular.

While there was some rise in Odin worship in the years before Christianization, most of the aristocracy converted first, so that the standoffs between Christians and heathens feature Thor-worshippers. (Arnold: 20-1)

The Blessing and Cursing of Starkad

If Odin seemed to get an easy win in Harbardsljod, Thor gets his revenge in the story of Starkad.

Starkad was one of the legendary warriors of Norse myth, and one of the oddest. He was descended from giants, and in some versions of his story he has six arms. His family history might explain why Thor took a dislike to him, but an incident with his father cemented it.

In Hervarar saga Starkad Ala-Warrior lived in Norway, and had eight arms. He fought a battle with a giant who kidnapped his fiancée, and won by using four swords. His would-be bride, however, killed herself and he carried off a king’s daughter to make up for the loss. The king asked Thor for his aid, and Thor killed Starkad Ala-Warrior.

It’s not surprising, then, that Thor viewed the son, Starkad, with ill-favour. In Gautreks saga Odin takes a personal interest, however, disguising himself as Starkad’s foster-father and later revealing himself to him:

Then just about midnight, Grani Horse-hair woke up his foster-son Starkad and asked him to come along with him. They got a small boat and rowed over to another island. They walked through a wood until they came to a clearing where a large number of people were attending a meeting. There were eleven men sitting on chairs but a twelfth chair was empty. Starkad and his foster-father joined the assembly, and Grani Horse-hair seated himself on the twelfth chair. Everyone present greeted him by the name Odin, and he said that the judges would now have to decide on Starkad’s fate.
Then Thor spoke up and said: ‘Starkad’s mother, Alfhild, preferred a brainy giant to Thor himself as the father of her son. So I ordain that Starkad himself shall have neither a son nor a daughter, and his family will end with him.’
Odin: ‘I ordain that he shall live for three life spans.’
Thor: ‘He shall commit a most foul deed in every one of them.’
Odin: ‘I ordain that he shall have the best in weapons and clothing.’
Thor: ‘I ordain that he shall have neither land nor estates.’
Odin: ‘I give him this, that he shall vast sums of money.’
Thor: ‘I lay this curse on him, that he shall never be satisfied with what he has.’
Odin: ‘I give him victory and fame in every battle.’
Thor: ‘I lay this curse on him, that in every battle he shall be sorely wounded.’
Odin: ‘I give him the art of poetry, so that he shall compose verses as fast as he can speak.’
Thor: ‘He shall never remember afterwards what he composes.’
Odin: ‘I ordain that he shall be most highly thought of by all the noblest people and the best.’
Thor: ‘The common people shall hate him every one.’
Then the judges decreed that all that had been said should happen to Starkad. The assembly broke up, and Grani Horse-hair and Starkad went back to their boat.
(Gautreks saga)

Another tradition has it that Thor did once do him a favour, by ripping off his four extra arms. (Saxo Grammaticus)

And in the comics…

I can’t leave this without mentioning the modern Thor, of Marvel comics. His father, Odin, banished him to Earth to learn humility, stripping him of his powers and making him a lame doctor who serves others. After some time has passed, the doctor learns that his cane is superpowered, but his memories of his time as Thor only come back slowly. Even after he realizes who he is, he continues to help humans, because, well, he’s Thor.

While Thor is a powerful hero, whose hammer can only be wielded by those it deems worthy, Odin is by far more powerful, thanks to a special force called the Odinforce, which Thor will inherit along with the throne of Asgard. But for now, Odin can beat Thor.

In the comics and in the movies, conflict between Odin and Thor often drives the plot. These conflicts are often about family or Thor’s eventual role as ruler of Asgard, and Loki is often behind it all. So it’s a bit different from the Norse myths, where the menace tends to come from the outside. (Except when it’s Loki.)

References and Links:

Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman, London, 1987. (pdf here)
The Elder Edda, a Book of Viking Lore, Andy Orchard (trans.), Penguin Classics, 2011.
Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes Books I – IX, Saxo Grammaticus/Peter Fisher, translation, Hilda Ellis Davidson, commentary, Brewer, 1999. (reprint) (Google Books)
Ælfric, 1968: Homilies of Ælfric: A supplementary collection, being twenty- one full homilies of his middle and later career for the most part previously unedited with some shorter pieces mainly passages added to the second and third series 260. 2 vols. ed. John C. Pope, Early English Text Society, Oxford University Press.

Arnold, Martin 2014: “HÁRBARÐSLJÓÐ: Parody, Pragmatics and the Socio-Mythic Controversy,” Saga-Book of the Viking Society, 5-26. (pdf here)
Brink, Stefan 2007: “How Uniform was the Old Norse Religion?” in Learning and Understanding in the Old Norse World, eds. J. Quinn, K. Heslop, T. Wills, Brepols: 105-36. (Brepols paywall)
Clover, Carol J. 1979: “Hárbarðsljóð as generic farce.” Scandinavian Studies (Apr 1): 124-145. (JSTOR: paywall)
Gunnell, Terry 2015: “Pantheon? What Pantheon? Concepts of a Family of Gods in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions,” Scripta Islandica 66: 55-76. (academica.edu)
Schjødt, J.P. 2012: Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr: Functions and Relations. News from Other Worlds: Studies in Nordic Folklore, Mythology and Culture in Honor of John F. Lindow: 61-91. (Google Books)

Aelfric’s sermon on False Gods
Gautreks saga
Hervarar saga (pdf here: the story’s on p. 67)
Gesta Danorum, by Saxo Grammaticus (the stuff about Odin and Thor is in Book 6, Starkad is in Book 7)
How Powerful is Marvel’s Thor compared to Odin? (reddit)


The Heady History of the Eternals, the Deviants, and the Celestials

When Jolly Jack Kirby introduced the Eternals back in 1976 he was doing what he did best, creating a cavortin’ collection of characters that engaged and expanded the Marvel Universe! But he did more than that, Bunky—he also set up a swingin’ saga that continues to this day in February 10's ETERNALS #2, the latest and greatest tale of those larger-than-life heroes and villains.

Wait! Villains we say? We do! For the story of the Eternals extends its elegant energy not just to good guys, but baddies to boot! In fact, it’s a three-tiered triumvirate of threats, and we’re about to give you a sample of stories about each likable level! Away!

The Eternals hid their light under a bushel for a long time!

Once they stood tall and proud as they walked the Earth and were looked upon by humanity as near to gods! But things happen and idols fall and the Eternals submerged themselves to the point of blending in and disappearing into the great sea of Homo sapiens upon the planet…until that one fateful day…

In the original ETERNALS #1, a renowned archaeologist named Dr. Damian and his daughter followed a fellow by the name of Ike Harris into an ancient Inca “god chamber” lost to the ages. Once there, Ike not only activated a beepin’ beacon to supposedly summon higher beings, he then revealed himself as Ikaris, a dashing dude a cut above the usual characters the good doctor usually employed in his efforts!

Eternals (1976) #1

Ikaris told dad and daughter about the three types of bashful beings who the planet’s populace was about to meet after centuries of quiet-time: The Eternals! The Deviants! And the tallest and most terrifying of ‘em all, the Celestials! And then the Damians had their first taste of the tales they’d be able to tell when the devilish Deviants dug their way into the chamber to bash the beacon, and a significant struggle was renewed.

The Deviants eventually got what was coming to ɾm!

As the original ETERNALS series continued, fans found out more fun facts about all the three types, but their stories didn’t end there, nossir! The whole mess of ‘em ended up in the lives of other Marvel Universe denizens—like James Rhodes, for example.

In IRON MAN ANNUAL #6, Rhodey was wearing the Iron Man suit, and his woes with the armor went from bad to worse and he was forced down into the Eternals’ city of Olympia for much-needed nursing…just in time for a determined dish of Deviants to attack and invade the regal realm. See, a bad boy named Brother Tode wanted his cousins’ energies to expand his own eternal existence, and Rhodey saw first-hand what that meant: dastardly disintegrations for all Eternals.

Iron Man Annual (1976) #6

It looked bad for a time, but Olympia’s crazy computer crafted a new suit of armor for the man and together with Eternals top-dog Zuras, the Armored Avenger helped heap a ton of trouble on the Deviants. At story’s end, Zuras transformed the whole losing lot of ‘em into a big piece of stone, which later was lost in space—on purpose!

The Celestials once judged the earth for destruction!

Yep, those dudes are that big and bad! The Mighty Thor, Thunder God supreme, learned about the so-called Fourth Host of Celestials preparing their judgment of our little blue marble of a world in THOR ANNUAL #7, which kicked off a big ol’ storyline in THOR #283—and believe us, True Believers, it was one for the ages!

Thor (1966) #283

It all involved the origins of Odin, Thor’s big daddy and All-Father to the Asgardians, as well as his involvement with the Celestials. Thor tried to slow their roll on his own when he discovered these behemoths messing with humans in THOR #284, but soon saw he needed more energetic efforts from the Eternals themselves! The Thunder God demanded the judgment stop in THOR #288, but the Celestials being a, well, power unto themselves didn’t care much for the idea. Yea, verily!

After a few dastardly and devious diversions for Thor and his buddies, it all came to a head in THOR #300 when Papa Odin joined with other skyfathers like Zeus and Vishnu to stonewall the space gods. That didn’t work so well, so the All-Father mixed up a Mulligan Stew of himself, the lifeforce of all Asgardians, the Destroyer armor, and the Odinsword—zounds!—and belted out a few battles with the big guys. You know how it finally ended? The earthmother herself, Gaea, offered the Celestials a group of advanced humans called the Young Gods to the Celestials in exchange for the planet, and it worked! Whew!

Peruse these eye-poppin' publications with Marvel Unlimited today! And read ETERNALS #2 at your local comic shop on February 10!


Odin’s Treatment of Hela

Odin is pretty much a man of peace when we meet him during the Thor movies. But it wasn’t always that way. In his younger years, Odin was a bloodthirsty warrior, doing battle with beasts and demons, and invading kingdoms and worlds.

Odin’s first child was a daughter named Hela, and she fought by his side, leading his army and becoming known as his ‘Executioner.’ Hela enjoyed killing as much as her father, and together they conquered the Nine Realms.

But Hela quickly became too big for her boots, and when Odin realised that he couldn’t control her ambition and thirst for violence, he turned on his daughter. But with her life being entwined with the prophecy of Ragnarok — aka the destruction of Asgard — Odin realised that he couldn’t kill her, and instead imprisoned his daughter. With one strange loophole. Odin bound his life to her lock, meaning his death would free Hela.

And wouldn’t you know it, at the start of Thor: Ragnarok, Odin dies, thereby freeing the Goddess of Death. And she isn’t happy, her rage increasing when she arrives at Asgard and catches sight of the decorative murals throughout the kingdom.

Because all trace of Hela has been wiped from history, with Odin re-writing the past to show him uniting the Nine Realms via peaceful means. This yet further enrages Hela, and the consequences for the people of Asgard are truly devastating, as death and destruction reign down upon them.

Odin does show remorse for his decisions and actions, and in death he appears before Thor via visions to help him prevent the end of days. But it’s really too little too late, his behaviour triggering all the trouble in the first place, and making Odin the true villain of the Thor flicks.


Watch the video: THOR: RAGNAROK 2017 Movie Clip - God of Thunder. Marvel Studios HD (August 2022).