There has been a lot of debate about the origin of Norse mythology. It is sometimes referred to as a Norwegian belief system, although some people are convinced that Iceland is the birthplace of the stories and characters. Others say the stories come from a variety of countries and cultures.
Norse mythology is partly Norwegian. It flourished in Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) and comprised tales of gods, people, heroes, villains, giants, elves, and other-worldly places. Norse mythology includes references to many beings that are part human but have superhuman powers, such as Thor.
Norse mythology is a fascinating subject to many people. Knowing more about where Norse mythology comes from helps people interpret the stories, understand the characters in them, and learn the meaning of the belief system. Keep reading to learn more about the origins of Norse mythology.
Also see Do People Still Believe in Valhalla? to learn more.
Where Does Norse Mythology Come From?
Norse mythology is a set of stories that originated in Scandinavia, an area formerly occupied by Germanic tribes.
Historically, Scandinavia was known as Scandia, which comprised of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in northern Europe.
Norse mythology includes creation myths about gods like Odin and Thor, as well as tales of goddesses like Freyja.
Scholars think that the belief system, in its present form, encompasses both the Nordic countries’ folk religion and ancient Scandinavian paganism in some way.
Historians believe that many of the Norse myths were passed down through oral tradition, stemming from storytelling over centuries.
The Anglo-Saxons eventually adopted the stories into the literature of their own culture, where they became known as “Anglo Saxon Translations” of ancient Scandinavian beliefs.
19th-century English scholar, Benjamin Thorpe (1782-1870), translated Norse myths into prose from the 1850s to the 1860s. He sought out the various Norse runic inscriptions and then translated them into Old English prose form.
Scholars believe that in some cases, the translator altered some events, depending on his understanding.
Also see What is the Valkyrie Symbol in Norse Mythology? to learn more.
Do Norwegians Still Believe in Norse Gods?
Most Norwegians no longer believe in Norse gods. Norwegian people mostly believe in Christianity, which came from missionaries that the Christian church sent into Northern Europe near the end of the Viking era. In fact, Norway was one of the first countries that adopted Christianity as its official religion around 1000 A.D.
- According to recent data from Statistics Norway, 53.1% of Norwegians are Christians
- Islam is the second-largest religion in the country at 26.2%
- Other belief systems in the country include Buddhism at 3.1%, Hinduism at 1.7%, Sikhism at 0.6%, Bahai at 0.2%, and Judaism at 0.1%
- Only 0.4% of the population follows other religions and philosophies, which include the Norse religion
However, some remnants of Norse mythology are still prevalent, like some places’ names, myths, and legends related to Norse gods.
Nonetheless, they’re less popular than before the Christianization process began.
Still, though, a lot can be gleaned about what Norwegians used to believe by looking at their old stories. Their beliefs center around three significant deities: Thor, Odin, and Freya, each with godly powers relating specifically to the realms of sky, earth, and sea, respectively.
Besides, Thor was the god of thunder.
Odin was a principal Viking deity who led souls to Valhalla, where they would feast for eternity with him (he also had powers over storms).
Freya was the goddess of love but is best known for being an unbeatable warrior.
The Norse pantheon also consisted of interesting figures like Loki, Fenrir, and Jormungand (the Midgard Serpent). Some lesser deities were mentioned too, like Freyja (goddess of fertility) and Frey (god of crops and peace).
Norwegians had many stories about their gods that contained important lessons for humans to learn.
For example, they once believed in a three-level cosmology consisting of:
- Asgard: The world where Norse deities live.
- Midgard: The mortal land at earth’s surface.
- Jötunheimr: The underworld.
The god Odin would sometimes travel among them wearing an enchanted cloak with two ravens accompanying him — one on each shoulder called Hugin and Munin.
One day he noticed one of his faithful subjects named Hadding sitting outside during a terrible storm, so he transformed into a hawk — Hami ́njaskati — and went down to see if he was alright.
He found the man in bad condition due to exposure and decided to give him a better cloak instead of changing back into himself. This story then teaches that Odin is always watching over his people even when disguised from time to time — just as long as they are faithful followers.
The Norse pantheon also consists of dragons, giants, and gods who exist at Asgard. These were all descendants of giant Ymir’s body.
This is the origin of Norse mythology, which has roots in animism–believing that plants, animals, and objects all possess souls.
Also see Do the Irish Believe in Norse Mythology? to learn more.
Were the Vikings Norwegian?
Some Vikings came from present-day Norway. Viking-era settlements have been found in Norway. However, it may be more accurate to say that the Vikings were Scandinavian and were not from one specific modern-day country.
Annually, there are celebrations all over Scandinavia for the end-of-summer harvest festivals. This is possibly a commemoration of when the Germanic people would travel back home from Finland across Russia’s Ural Mountains and into Sweden and Denmark.
This route eventually led them to southern Germany and up north until they reached Norway, where they finally found peace after months of traveling. This explains how unified Scandinavia was during this era.
That said, understanding the origin of Norse Mythology is a challenging task.
One can believe that Scandinavian gods were Norwegian, but this cannot be proven for sure. It seems more likely to say that they are unified and did not originate from one particular country in Scandinavia during their Viking era.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that ancient Scandinavians believed in Norse deities.
Norse mythology provides insights into how Nordic countries are historically interconnected.
Norse mythology remains an intriguing subject to many people, although not many in the world today, including modern-day Norwegians, still believe in the old gods and goddesses.