Thor. The name strikes the ears and reverberates in the mind, just like the echoes of his mighty hammer. The Norse god of thunder, and one of the many sons of Odin, Thor was a gigantic figure in Northern European myth. While Thor's worship was slowly stamped out in the past (though it has come back in many places), the legends of the hammer-wielding warrior are still told around the world.
Let's begin at the beginning. In Norse mythology there were two types of gods; the Aesir and the Vanir. The Vanir were wild, capricious gods who were powerful but uncivilized. The Aesir were the gods of men, and they were led by Odin, the one-eyed patriarch of the Aesir. Odin had many children, some with his wife Frigga and others with a variety of mistresses and giantesses. One such mistress was the giantess Jord, and from their union was born Thor.
Thor is exactly what you'd expect as the son of a one-eyed war god and a primal force of nature. A huge man rippling with muscles, with a tangled mane and thick beard the color of blood, Thor is as wild as the storms he calls down. Good-hearted and attentive to his duties, Thor is always looking for adventure. Whether it's all the time he spent wandering the realm of men, or how he slayed giants with his great hammer to protect the common people, but Thor was (and many would say is) one of the most beloved of the gods.
In addition to his duties as slayer of giants and keeper of all things badass, Thor was also married to the goddess Sif. Like his father, though, Thor had other mistresses. One, the giantess Jarnsaxa, bore him two sons: Modi and Magni. He wielded the great warhammer Mjollnir, and bore a magical belt and set of gauntlets that multiplied his already fearsome strength two-fold.
Sounds Pretty Metal, Right?
Interpretations and Symbolism
Thor seems pretty simple on the surface, right? A big guy looking for a good time who's quick to anger, but who always remembers he has a duty to his family, and to his people. And if that duty happens to come with crushing the skulls of his enemies, so be it!
There is more to Thor than picking fights and throwing lightning, though. As storm made flesh, Thor is a bringer of rain. His hammer represents his masculine power (it's his... well... you can guess), and when he isn't flinging lightning to destroy his foes he's using his hammer to bring fertility to the crops and fields. Lightning bolts in this case represent the sky coming to the earth, displaying a kind of spiritual mating. Thor's wife also had hair the color of wheat which was shorn, and then grew back through magical means (long story, Loki was involved)... so the metaphor of destroyer and creator is pretty firmly set in the myths.
Lastly, let's ask why Thor is always seen as kind of dumb. It isn't because Thor didn't inherit his fathers quick wits and cunning mind (he did riddle with a dwarf till dawn, when that dwarf came to ask for Thor's daughter in marriage); it's because storms rampage where they will. The point being made, you can argue, is that Thor is a lot like his hammer; extremely powerful, but not very subtle.
Lastly, here's some fun things you might not have known about the Norse god of Thunder.
- Thursday is named for Thor both in English and in German (all the days of the week were originally named for pagan gods).
- Mjollnir, roughly translated, means Destroyer.
- Thor's chariot was pulled by two huge goats, Tanngrisni and Tanngnost. In fact, he was so huge that he had to walk across the Bifrost Brige; his chariot and his goats would have broken it.
- Thor cannot lift his hammer without the assistance of his magical belt. His son Magni, however, could.
- Thor's hammer is commonly worn by those who revere him, and many people wore it after Christianity had been established as a way to cling to their old beliefs.
- Thor's daughter, Thrud, is one of the only named valkyries from Norse myth.