In dimly lit halls across Norway, Viking poets would recite incredible stories. Epic tales of war, magic, love, betrayal, triumph and defeat spread from person to person, over generations, forming what we know now as Norse mythology.
Click start to play today’s Crossword, where “Norse” is the answer to one of the clues.
The Norse never wrote down their stories – their tales were spun orally, by skalds or bards that travelled the land. Here are some of the myths that hold a special place in Scandinavia, even today:
1. Thor’s hammer
One day, Loki the trickster decided to play a prank on Sif, the wife of his brother Thor, the deity of thunder. Loki cut off Sif’s beautiful golden hair, and when Thor came to find out, he was enraged. He seized Loki and threatened him with physical harm. But Loki pleaded with Thor to let him go down to Svartalfheim, the cavernous home of the dwarves, to see if the master craftsmen could fashion a new head of hair for Sif. Thor allowed this, and Loki eventually met with success in his mission. After a series of misadventures, he triumphantly returned with not just new hair for Sif, but also a hammer called mjollnir (lightning), which he presented to Thor. The hammer became integral to Thor’s legendary powers.
2. One-eyed Odin
Odin is one of the most prominent deities in Norse mythology – a great magician and the patron of poets. His quest for wisdom was never-ending, and his craving for understanding life’s mysteries was seemingly endless. On one occasion, he ventured to the Well of Urd among the roots of the giant tree Yggdrasil. There, he encountered Mimir, a shadowy entity whose infinite knowledge was unparalleled. Legend had it that Mimir gained his knowledge by drinking the special water from the well. When Odin approached him and asked for a sip of water, Mmimir refused it to him until he offered his eye in return. Odin is said to have gouged out one of his eyes and dropped it into the well. True to his word, Mimir gave Odin a drink, sealing his fate as a one-eyed deity, who immediately gained incredible cosmic knowledge. The story is often told to spread the message that not sacrifice is too great for wisdom.
This event is the cataclysmic destruction of the cosmos and everything in it, even the Norse deities. It arrives at the end of all Viking stories, although it is referred to several times in their stories, as a prophecy that has profound ramifications for the entire world. The word Ragnarok is Old Norse for “fate of the deities”. According to the myth, when this time arrives, the warmth of the sun will fail, biting winds and snow will blow from all directions and mankind will starve and struggle for survival, even as others will fight each other with swords and axes. Once the remains of the world sink into the sea, nothing is left but the void, and creation will cease to exist. Some think Ragnarok is the end of all tales, but others hold the view that a few deities will survive the event and herald the dawn of a new world.