Lagertha: Viking Shieldmaiden

Lagertha (also spelt Lathgertha or Ladgerda) is a legendary Viking shieldmaiden known from Saxo Grammaticus’ early 13th-century CE Gesta Danorum. In this work, written in Latin and concerning Danish history, she is the first wife of Ragnar Lothbrok, a legendary Viking king said to have lived during the 9th century CE. Contrasting with the prominent role Lagertha plays in the ongoing Vikings TV series, where she is portrayed by Katheryn Winnick, the Gesta Danorum is the only historical source that even mentions her and ties her in with the more broadly-known Ragnar mythos, making her more of a footnote within his legend rather than a core element. She makes for a bold footnote, though, and an interesting character in her own right; brave and skilled, she is twice responsible for ensuring victory for Ragnar in battle. Although classical concepts of Amazons underlie Saxo’s warrior women, his stories are rooted in the Old Norse traditions known from medieval Icelandic literature. Specifically, Lagertha herself may have been inspired by the Norse goddess Thorgerd, local to Hálogaland, Norway.

Saxo Grammaticus sets the stage for Ragnar and Lagertha’s meeting by describing how the Swedish King Frø has slain Siward, King of the Norwegians, who was Ragnar’s grandfather, and has publically humiliated Siward’s female family members by putting them in a brothel. Ragnar, having just succeeded his father Siward Ring (Sigurd Hring or Ring in other Ragnar stories) to the throne of Jutland in Denmark, hears of this and is obviously not pleased. Coming to Norway with vengeance on his mind, Ragnar is met at his camp by some of the women who had been scorned, dressed up in male attire and ready to join him to hunt down the Swedish king. In the ensuing successful battle, it is one maiden in particular who stands out to Ragnar; he even goes so far as to attribute the victory to her might alone.

Lagertha’s origins aside, it is clear that in Saxo’s work she fulfils a role not immediately expected of historical women of that time but instead of a more legendary proportion: that of the warrior woman. Despite present-day popular imagination running wild with the image of the ‘strong Viking woman’, when critically evaluated the archaeological and historical material is not at all sufficient to support their existence. The Old Norse sagas, however, are a different beast altogether and show strong women taking action, stoking up revenge, standing up to their husbands or even engaging in fights. The popular TV series Vikings, although creatively expanding Lagertha’s role massively from that which it is in the Gesta, does take her reputation as shieldmaiden on board and shows her as a strong fighter who can hold her own, even participating in the raid on Paris (in the show, inspired by the historical siege of Paris of 845 CE).

Within the other legends revolving around Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha does not stand alone as a shieldmaiden. Aslaug (Kráka) is another wife of Ragnar, and she eventually leads her sons into battle against the Swedes.

Source: worldhistory.org

Famous Trolls of Mythology

Legend has it that a Christian can kill a troll if they say its name aloud, so as you can imagine troll names are some of the best-kept secrets in the world. Despite that, the names of some trolls from literature and Norse Mythology are known:

Grendel – the troll from Beowulf and one of the three main antagonists of the epic poem

Dunker – a troll mentioned in an old folktale from Fosen

Ymer – a jötunn and the largest creature from Norse Mythology

Dovregubben – the troll king in Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt

Hrungnir – a jötunn and the largest of its kind in Old Norse texts

Trym – king of the jötnar, reigned in Jötunheimr

Geirröd – another jötunn from Norse mythology, father to Gjálp and Greip

Aegir and Ran

In Norse mythology, Aegir and Ran are a married couple that lives under the sea. Ran is a sea goddess, and her husband Aegir is a jotünn, and together they have nine daughters who all are named after the waves of the sea.

Their names are bloody-hair (Blóðughadda), wave (Bylgja), foaming sea (Dröfn), pitching wave (Dúfa), the lifting one (Hefring), transparent wave (Himinglæva), welling wave (Hronn), cold wave (Kolga) and frothing wave (Uðr). They are sometimes referred to as the spirits of the waves or the nine billow maidens.

Ran whose name means robbery, loves to spend her day catching and dragging drowning sailors with her huge fishing net down into her realm on the bottom of the sea.

This is the same fishing net as the trickster Loki once borrowed because he wanted to capture the dwarf Andvari who had turned himself into a pike.

Aegir means “sea” in Old Norse, is not a sea god, but he is a jötunn. Even Though Aegir is a jötunn (giant) the couple has befriended the Aesir, they are actually very well-liked among them, and they are often invited to the feasts in Asgard.

Aegir and Ran are often the hosts of the feasts themselves, and they send out invitations to the Aesir to visit them in their great hall in their underwater realm. The Norse gods never decline an invitation, they love to come and visit and drink the beer that Aegir brews.

For you see, Aegir is very well-known for his astonishing beer throughout the nine realms. He might be using his magic as his secret ingredient when he is brewing the beer in his huge cauldron.

His immense knowledge in the art of magic is known among the Aesir, probably one of the reasons why Odin wants to be around him. Odin does not come to the feasts for the beer, he only likes wine, but he probably comes to learn some of Aegir’s magic.

Brynhildr

Brynhildr was a princess, a shield-maiden, and was said to be a Valkyrie who disobeyed Odin. Stripped of her Valkyrie powers, she was put into a deep slumber, on a castle on top of a mountain surrounded by a magic fire, and can only awakened by a brave man with a kiss, which she was by Sigurd the Dragonslayer. With Sigurd, she had a daughter; Aslaug.

Although the pair fell in love, Sigurd was deceived by Gjuki, King of Burgundy, whose wife, the sorceress Grimhild, prepared a magic potion that made Sigurd forget about Brynhildr so he could marry their daughter Gudrun. When she found out about Brynhildr, they let their son Gunnar go to her castle. Gunnar was only able to cross the ring of fire when he switched places with the enchanted Sigurd and convinced Brynhildr to marry Gunnar instead of Sigurd.

Sigurd later regained his memories. Heartbroken upon finding out the truth from Gudrun, Brynhildr urged Gunnar to murder Sigurd. Gunnar and his brother Hogni had both sworn oaths of blood brotherhood with Sigurd and could not kill him in fear of angering the gods, so they instead incited their young brother Gutthorm to do the deed. Sigurd killed the young Gutthorm, and was also killed, while Brynhildr killed Sigurd’s and Gudrun’s son.

Distraught over her actions, Brynhildr committed suicide by throwing herself on Sigurd’s funeral pyre. They reunited in Hel, but left Aslaug alone in the world.

Freyr

Freyr is the god of sun and rain, and the patron of bountiful harvests. He is both a god of peace and a brave warrior. He is also the ruler of the elves. Freyr is the most prominent and most beautiful of the male members of the Vanir, and is called ‘God of the World’. After the merging of the Aesir and the Vanir, Freyr was called ‘Lord of the Aesir’. Freyr was also called upon to grant a fertile marriage. He is married to the beautiful giantess Gerd, and is the son of Njord. His sister is Freya.

He rides a chariot pulled by the golden boar Gullinbursti which was made for him by the dwarves Brokk and Eitri. He owns the ship Skidbladnir (“wooden-bladed”), which always sails directly towards its target, and which can become so small that it can fit in Freyr’s pocket. He also possesses a sword that would by itself emerge from its sheath and spread a field with carnage whenever the owner desired it. Freyr’s shield bearer and servant is Skirnir, to whom he gave his sword, which Skirnir demanded as a reward for making Gerd his wife. On the day of Ragnarok he will battle without weapons (for he gave his sword away to Skirnir), and will be the first to be killed by the fire giant Surt.

The center of his cult was the city Uppsala in Sweden. In southern Sweden he was called Fricco.

Norse Mythology and Days of the Week

Although worship of the Scandinavian gods for the most part ended a thousand years ago, and the myths are now exotic and foreign to most people in the English-speaking world, we make implicit reference to the gods and myths almost every day of our lives. That is because the names of the weekdays Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday all contain the names of old Scandinavian gods (Týr, Odin, Thor, and Frigg; the Old English forms were Tiw, Wodæn, Thunor, and Friija), and the choice of the gods for each of these days was based on myths about them.

Furthermore, when we read about or travel in places like Odense, Denmark (probably best known outside Denmark as the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen), we see a place-name that once bore the name of the god Odin. There are hundreds of these in Scandinavia, but they are seldom obvious, except in Iceland, where there are places with names like Þórsmörk (Thor’s forest), a favorite place for hiking and camping. And if you are acquainted with or have heard of anyone called Freyja, Thor, Baldur (a not uncommon name in Iceland), or any Scandinavian name beginning with Tor, you know of the persistence of the names of the gods in personal naming systems.

Sources: Norse Mythology By John Lindow

Alfheim

Alfheim (“elf home”), in Norse mythology, is one of the nine worlds. It is located on the highest level of the Norse universe. Also found on this level are the worlds of Asgard and Vanaheim. Alfheim is the palace of the god Freyr and the homeland of the elves of light. Neither the elves of light nor the elves of darkness, who live in Svartalfheim, participate in any of the events described in the Norse myths. Elves do, however, have active roles in the literature of quite a few of the other branches of Indo-European mythology.

Alfheim is never described in the sources that form the basis of our current knowledge of heathen Germanic religion, but is rather merely mentioned in passing in a few places. However, the elves are described as being luminous and “more beautiful than the sun,” so we may suppose that their homeland was a gracious realm of light and beauty. Although the realms that comprise the Nine Worlds of the Norse cosmology are never listed, it seems highly probable that, given the prominence of the elves in Germanic religion, Alfheim was one of them.

The Vanir god Freyr is said to be the ruler of Alfheim. Scholars have long puzzled over what to make of this, and no wholly satisfactory conclusions have been put forth. The relationship between the elves and the Vanir is highly ambiguous and involves considerable overlap between the two groups. Freyr’s position as lord of Alfheim, therefore, while hard to interpret with much precision, shouldn’t be entirely surprising.

Fenrir

Fenrir (or Fenris) is a gigantic and terrible monster in the shape of a wolf. He is the eldest child of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. The gods learned of a prophecy which stated that the wolf and his family would one day be responsible for the destruction of the world. They caught the wolf and locked him in a cage. Only the god of war, Tyr, dared to feed and take care of the wolf. When he was still a pup they had nothing to fear, but when the gods saw one day how he had grown, they decided to render him harmless. However, none of the gods had enough courage to face the gigantic wolf. Instead, they tried to trick him. They said the wolf was weak and could never break free when he was chained. Fenrir accepted the challenge and let the gods chain him. Unfortunately, he was so immensely strong that he managed to break the strongest fetters as if they were cobwebs.

After that, the gods saw only one alternative left: a magic chain. They ordered the dwarves to make something so strong that it could hold the wolf. The result was a soft, thin ribbon: Gleipnir. It was incredibly strong, despite what its size and appearance might suggest. The ribbon was fashioned of six strange elements: the footstep of a cat; the roots of a mountain; a woman’s beard; the breath of fishes; the sinews of a bear; and a bird’s spittle. The gods tried to trick the wolf again, only this time Fenrir was less eager to show his strength. He saw how thin the chain was, and said there was no pride in breaking such a weak chain. Eventually, though, he agreed, thinking that otherwise his strength and courage would be doubted. Suspecting treachery however, he in turn asked the gods for a token of good will: one of them had to put a hand between his jaws. The gods were not overly eager to do this, knowing what they could expect. Finally, only Tyr agreed, and the gods chained the wolf with Gleipnir. No matter how hard Fenrir struggled, he could not break free from this thin ribbon.

In revenge, he bit off Tyr’s hand.Being very pleased with themselves, the gods carried Fenrir off and chained him to a rock (called Gioll) a mile down into the earth. They put a sword between his jaws to prevent him from biting. On the day of Ragnarok, Fenrir will break his chains and join the giants in their battle against the gods. He will seek out Odin and devour him. Vidar, Odin’s son, will avenge his father by killing the wolf.

Ginnungagap

Ginnungagap (“seeming emptiness”), in the cosmology of Norse mythology, is the primordial void separating Niflheim and Muspell, the land of eternal ice and snow and the land of eternal heat and flame.In the beginning, before the world of men and gods existed, the spring Hvergelmir, deep in the frozen wastes of Niflheim, gave rise to eleven rivers known as the Elivagar. Over a long period of time, water of the Elivagar ran across Niflheim and poured into the northern part of Ginnungagap. The water froze, forming vast sheets of ice in the void. Hot air from Muspell melted some of the ice, creating a zone of meltwater amid the ice and snow. Here life began, and the first living thing was a frost giant.

The Younger Futhark

The runic alphabet that was used during the Viking Age is called Younger Futhark. These runes can be found on hundreds of runestones throughout Scandinavia. This alphabet does not consist of many runes, and that is because the Norse language evolved a lot during the Iron Age, which meant that the runic alphabet was reduced from 24 to 16 runes.

Each rune has its own name and sound. Some of the runes are used to spell the same letter, for instance, the Týr rune is used for the letters “t” and “d”, and kaun is used for “g” and “k”. 

The names on this list of the Younger Futhark runes have been taken from the website of The National Museum in Copenhagen. The names of the runes may vary slightly depending on the language and on which runologist has conducted the research.