The Influence of Thor
Toward the end of Viking influence in Europe, Thor rose in popularity and eclipsed his father, Odin. This rising influence was due in no small part to Mjollnir, Thor's thunderbolt hammer--a relic said to possess powers of destruction, creation, and resurrection.
As Viking raiders terrorized Europe, the brutality favored Thor's penchant for smashing giant skulls and hurling bolts of lightning across heavenly battlefields. Thor was not invulnerable and this mortality, coupled with reckless aggression and fearlessness, won many adherents.
The Origins of Mjollnir
The origins of Mjollnir lie in a prank: Loki, the mischievous god of fire, had crept into the bedchamber of Sif, Thor's bride, and chopped off her golden hair.
Enraged, Thor demanded Loki to make restitution. Despite protestations from Loki, he had no choice but to acquiesce to the thunder god.
Loki agreed to repair the damage from his prank and petitioned dwarf craftsmen to spin a wig of gold. The dwarves presented Loki with the wig and a marvelous weapon, Gungnir, as a gift to Thor's father, Odin.
During the return journey, Loki encountered another group of dwarf artisans and presented the wig and spear for their inspection. Loki challenged the artisans to make something more impressive than the two relics
It was a challenge the dwarves readily accepted, thinking to impress the gods by presenting priceless artifacts of unrivaled workmanship. One of the relics they created, and presented to Thor, was Mjollnir.
The Importance of Mjollnir
When Thor wielded the weapon, its power became apparent: it would never break, regardless of the force applied, and it would never miss a mark when thrown, always returning to Thor's hand.
Mjollnir is described in mythology as having a "red-hot" handle, requiring Thor to don iron gauntlets when wielding it.
The Thunder God's purpose in the Norse pantheon was to subdue enemies of the gods, wielding Mjollnir to "smash their legs, break their skulls, and crush their backs". Giants feared the thunderbolt of Thor, and its power was credited with maintaining the gods' rule.
Mjollnir's importance to the Norse gods cannot be understated.
During an adventure with Loki, Thor's hammer fell into the hands of a vengeful frost giant named Thrym. As ransom, the frost giant demanded the hand of Freyja, goddess of fertility. The gods were ready to agree with Thrym's demands, a clear indicator of their concern about Mjollnir being in the hands of enemies.
Loki convinced Thor to dress as Freyja, hoping to trick Thrym into revealing the hammer. Loki arrived at the giant's hall and presented a disguised bride to Thrym.
As was customary, a gift was offered: the frost giant laid Mjollnir on Thor's knees. The retaliation was a massacre and cemented the thunder god's ferocious reputation.
Magical Properties of Mjollnir
In addition to destructive power, Mjollnir was said to possess powers of fertility and death. The presentation of a weapon to a bride-to-be, as illustrated by Thrym's offering of Mjollnir to the disguised Thor, hints at the relic's connection to fertility and creation.
During the funeral for fellow god Balder, Thor raises the hammer and recites mystical phrases intended to consecrate the pyre and seal the ceremony.
Mjollnir was often described as lightning, a source of awe and wonder for ancient and modern men alike, and the hammer's important role in a divine funerary ritual illustrates the importance placed on the artifact--among gods and mortals alike.
Another episode illustrates potent life-giving properties of Thor's hammer: While adventuring with Loki, Thor consumed copious amounts of food, unwittingly devouring a pair of prized goats in the process.
To rectify the mistake, Thor used Mjollnir to resurrect and reconstitute the two animals. The goats returned to life with no indication they had recently been eaten by a god.
The Legacy of Mjollnir
At the time of Ragnarok, the Viking version of Armageddon, Thor does battle with Jormungand, a cosmic serpent poised to devour all worlds and peoples.
Although Thor dies in the contest, he slays the devourer by smashing Mjollnir into the serpent's head. The Thunder God's weapon, however, cannot be destroyed and passes to Thor's son, Magni, following the fulfillment of Ragnarok.
Influences of Thor's weapon continued as Christianity swept through Viking culture. The cross appeared on hammer-shaped pendants, and depictions of Thor included stylized figurines with Mjollnir bearing distinct horizontal and vertical protrusions much like the Christian cross.