1) Odin, All-father and Father of Ages. After the world enters an age of war, he is also known as Val-father ("the father of those fallen on the battlefield"), Father of Hosts, Father of Victory, and, by many other names in addition to these. He is a majestic figure; his forehead is high, his eyebrows strongly drawn, his facial features noble, and his gaze thoughtful and brooding. Driven by his thirst for knowledge, he sank one of his own eyes into Mimir's well of wisdom, and thus is one-eyed. He appears with this handicap to human beings, when he wants them to know who he is, usually wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and wrapped in a loose blue cloak. In his own hall, however, among the gods and the Einherjar (heroes who have died and been received by Odin), he seems handsome and without defect and, although heavy in thought, he seems so gentle that all gladly look upon his awe-inspiring countenance. His beard extends down over his chest.
He owns the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, the best of all steeds. Mounted on Sleipnir and followed by his wolfhounds, Geri (Greedy) and Freki (Fierce), Odin sometimes hunts by night, riding through the air to cleanse it of harmful creatures called gífur and túnriður, spirits of disease belonging to the rime-thurs race. Odin is the world's protector, and the highest ruler of tribes and communities. Although he is the most knowledgeable of the gods, it was a long time before his thoughts penetrated the beginning of things and their purpose. For this reason, he was ever the deep contemplator. Fate has divided the power of the world with him, but has reserved the greater share for itself. This unfathomable power is represented by the three exalted dises of fate, Urd and her sisters. It is they, not Odin, who choose life, give laws, and determine the length and course of life for those that they have selected to live. Nevertheless, Odin retains great privileges, without which he would not be the ruler he is. He, not the Norns, determines the outcome on the battlefield, granting victory and selecting those who should fall in battle. Without this authority, he could not be the ruler of states and peoples, when the world enters the age of war.
He is also the chief justice of the court that convenes daily near Urd's well and passes judgement on the dead, for bliss or for unhappiness, based on their disposition and their actions. He judges human foibles mildly and is inclined to excuse the mistakes of men and women, who have not violated the bonds of holy matrimony, and although he warns against excessive drinking, he is patient with those who frequently gaze into the drinking-horn, when that is their only fault. But malignant liars, traitors, nithings, adulterers, and desecrators of holy sites, he punishes justly. He loves kindness and hates cruelty, and in his wanderings among people, he has tested them and, already in their lifetime, is disposed toward either a hard-hearted rebuke or a merciful reward. He has given the children of men a good code of ethics. "Blessed are the giving!" he admonishes those, outside of whose door a traveller stands hungry and frost-bitten. He himself is a seeker of wisdom who searches worlds and visits hostile giants in order to find truth, urging every one to cultivate his intellect. It pleases him when mortals establish friendships and faithfully maintain them. He warns against arrogance, and he would rather a man be poor and self-sufficient, than prosperous and dependant. He hates cowardice, and he loves bravery.
A man should be merry and cheerful until he goes to meet his death.
Odin bears many concerns for the sake of the world and mankind. But surely his heaviest burden is that he himself is not entirely blameless. His greatest comfort is that he fathered the sinless Baldur. As long as this innocent god flourished in youthful strength, Odin had no fear for the future of the world or his own power. But, when Baldur began to fade, Odin was beset by dark misgivings, and, when Baldur died, Odin became certain of impending ruin, yet also received some solace. No one knows what he whispered into his dead son's ear. Perhaps it was comforting words that Baldur would return and establish a just kingdom. With good intentions, Odin has resorted to means that even he regrets. Therefore, he is not at ease with himself.
Despite his gentleness, the Father of the Aesir seems fearsome to many. But, wounded with a spear, Odin sacrificed himself for the knowledge that enabled him to become Midgard's creator and the father of the race of man, thereby setting an example for mortals; he has demanded that individuals shall give their life for the people, when danger threatens. Thus human beings have been sacrificed to him for the good of the community and there were those who did not want to give up this practice altogether, even though Odin himself said it is better not to pray at all than to sacrifice excessively, and that he pays attention to the intent of the offering, not the nature of the sacrificial gift.
Odin has always been aloof and mysterious to his followers. He can make merry over mead, and even poke fun at himself in front of human beings, but these are mere ripples on the surface of a spirit, whose depth we grasp with ominous reverence.
2) Thor, son of Odin and Frigg. No dark mysteries lurk in his character; it is as transparent as pure spring water.
Thor has broad shoulders and an impressive physique. His stature and limbs clearly show his enormous strength, unequalled among the gods. His powerful body sports a youthful head with blond hair and a light downy beard, outlining a face, which expresses sincerity, honesty, loyalty, and, notwithstanding a piercing gaze, much good humor, when he is not angry and riled, which frequently occurs when something base or evil irritates him. Thor is the god of thunder, which purifies and refreshes the air. When the atmosphere is stifling and the arid earth longs for rain, he drives his car, drawn by the goats Tanngnjostur and Tanngrisnir, through water laden clouds charged with vafur-mists, which flow from Eikthyrnir. Then, the vafur-mists ignite, becoming bolts of lightning, and the water pours down in fertilizing showers.
He defends Midgard against the forces of Jotunheim and is the patron of the industrious plowman. Thor looks fondly on the thrall, who works in the fields and in the forest. Even though the subjugated one may be disdained or oppressed by others, Thor is always kindly disposed toward him and, during the judgement on the dead, speaks well of him, recommending that his labors be rewarded with the lot of the blessed. Therefore, it is said that "Thor has the thralls, but Odin the jarls." Odin loves Thor dearly, and Thor was ever his father's faithful son. As big and as strong as he is, he requires a lot to eat and drink, and his drinking horn is the largest in Asgard. He is married to Sif, who is of elven descent. He has two sons, Modi and Magni, who take after their father. Before marrying Sif, he fathered Magni with the giantess Jarnsaxa, who is also one of Heimdall's nine mothers.
The unsuspecting Thor long believed that Loki was honest and reliable, since he was Odin's friend from an early age and had been accepted into Asgard by him. Like the other gods, Thor was amused by Loki's pranks and whims, and from time to time took him along with him on his journeys. But once, after Loki had thoroughly deceived him, Thor lost all faith in him and thus has little patience with him.
3) Baldur, a light god, "the powerful promoter of the sun-disk." Whether on his horse or in his air-ship Hringhorni, his duty in the order of things was to safeguard Sol and Mani. Baldur is the son of Odin and Frigg. He was the tallest of the Aesir and by far the most beautiful. Baldur did not care for war; its very existence grieved him. Even so, he was never known to have raised a weapon against even the most hopelessly evil. His goodness and his nobility were matched only by his beauty. Therefore he was loved and praised by all beings, capable of devotion to what is kind-hearted and pure. Conciliatory toward his enemies and inclined toward forgiveness, he was the world's peacemaker and its lenient judge. And when his verdict was severe, there was no hope for the judged, since his ruling could not be altered or mitigated in any way. Human beings have named the whitest flower after him, because in its whiteness, they believe they have found something that resembles the lustre of Baldur's brow. He is married to the moon-dis Nanna, daughter of the moon-god Nokkvi ("the ship-captain"), and had with her, the son Forseti.
4) Hodur, a beautiful but thoughtless youth with passionate emotions, who was violent, easily moved, and easily led. His behaviour depended on whose influence he was inclined to follow. For a time, he allowed Baldur to lead him and his actions were praiseworthy, but when he fell under the influence of Gullveig and Loki, he committed deeds he deeply regretted. Hodur was abundantly talented and a gifted athlete. As a singer and a harp-player, he could move any heart, awakening various emotions in his audience: happiness, hate, sorrow, and compassion. A particular mode of song was named after him. As a swimmer and a hand-to-hand combatant, he was unequalled, wielding every weapon expertly, especially the bow. As an archer he was surpassed only by Volund's brother, Egil, who guarded Hvergelmir and Jotunheim's waters, and by Egil's son, Ull.
5) Forseti, Baldur's son and his living image, the god of justice, a shrewd judge of delicate legal questions and the ablest reconciler of disputes.
6) Bragi, the long-bearded, Valhall's skald and musician, son of Odin and husband to Idunn, who keeps the apples of rejuvenation. He looks splendid sitting at the drinking table in Valhall nearest Odin's throne, and prefers to stay close to the mead-horn, which is why Loki once derisively called him a "bench-ornament," more suitable for decoration, than for war. Bragi is wise and eloquent. At sacrificial feasts in Midgard, it is customary to dedicate the fourth drink to him, after one has already drunk in honor of Odin, Njord, and Frey. Bragi's cup is called the Boasting Cup, because many vows are taken on it to accomplish some great feat or other, worthy of being sung about by skalds.
7) Vidar, son of Odin and the giantess Grid. He is silent, modestly accepting the lowest seat at the table of the gods in Valhall. He rises on Odin's command to serve mead, even to the contemptible Loki, without seeming insulted by such service. He has a powerful presence, but few suspect just how strong he is: Next to Thor, he is the strongest of the gods. Fewer still suspect that this courageous silent god will avenge his slain father in the battle of Ragnarok.
8) Tyr, the son of Odin and a beautiful giantess, who became the giant Hymir's wife. He has been Thor's companion on more than one of his adventurous journeys into Jotunheim, and Thor certainly could not have wished for a braver or more reliable companion. Although not the god of war, he is the god of warriors, who comprise the battle columns of armies, as well as a model of sacrifice for the common good. He demonstrated his boldness and his willingness to sacrifice of himself, as shall be related below, when he laid his right hand in the mouth of the Fenris-wolf as a pledge and had it bitten off at the wrist. Since then, he has fought using his left hand. It can be said that an army without a field-commander lacks its right hand and therefore fights left-handed. The model for commanders is Odin, who invented the wedge-shaped battle array. The soldier's model is Tyr. Odin and Tyr are as two hands that secure victory by working together.
9) Vali, son of Odin and the "sun-white" Rind, daughter of Billing, the elf of the twilight glow. He was born to take vengeance on Hodur for Baldur's death, which would otherwise have remained unavenged. One night old, he fulfilled his duty.
These gods are the Aesir proper. In addition to them, there are three Vanir admitted into Valhall, Njord, Frey, and Heimdall, as well as one of elven descent, Ull.
10) Njord, the brother of Odin's wife, Frigg. He is the god of seaways, navigation, fishing, commerce, and riches, and therefore is actively worshipped. With his sister, he fathered the god Frey and nine daughters, one of which is the wondrously beautiful Freyja. The other eight are Freyja's handmaidens. Among them are Eir, the goddess of healing, Bjort ("the shining"), Blid ("the gentle"), and Frid ("the fair"), whose names indicate their charm. Like all the Vanir, Njord is friendly and beneficent. He was sent as a hostage from the Vanir to Odin during the age of innocence, and, when this world comes to an end, he shall return "to wise Vanir," where he still has a home in Noatun ("the shipyard"). Later he married Skadi, goddess of skiers and daughter of the giant Thjazi. Thjazi is identical to the primeval artist Volund, the son of Ivaldi, who was transformed into a giant-being, as a result of his own cruel and irreconcilable hatred of the gods.
11) Frey, Lord of the Harvest and friend of men. His birth was joyfully hailed by all races, except the giants. The gods presented Frey with Alfheim as a tooth-gift. Thus, he became sovereign over the Elves, among whom Ivaldi's three sons were the most noteworthy. Since it was customary for a king's son to be sent as a foster child to his father's tributary princes and sworn men, Frey was sent to be fostered by Ivaldi's sons. The budding harvest god was to be raised by the artisans of Nature, who had forged the universally beneficial treasures of the gods and the vegetation that adorns creation. Volund failed in his obligation to his foster son. Regarding Frey's character, it is enough to repeat Tyr's testament regarding him, as recorded in one of the old poems: "Frey is the best of Asgard's brave riders; he causes no maid and no man's wife to weep for his love, and will free anyone from bonds and fetters."
12) Heimdall, the god of the sacred fire. His birth and life among mankind have already been mentioned. After he had completed his important duty in Midgard and was accepted into Asgard, Odin entrusted the safety of the Bifrost bridge to him. Since the northern bridgehead, which lies outside of Niflhel in the vicinity of the Frost-giants, is the one most threatened by the enemies of the gods, a sturdy fortress was built there, named Himinbjorg ("heaven's defense"). It also serves as Heimdall's home. Eternal night broods over this region, and here the wild winter storms have their home and their sanctuary. On one occasion, Loki ridiculed Heimdall because he lives in a land where he is exposed to such unfavorable weather. But Heimdall's castle is well built for its keeper's comfort; and "in this pleasant hall, Heimdall happily drinks the good mead."
The gods take delight in their faithful watchman whenever they see him, radiantly white, riding on his horse Gulltop in the pitch black darkness of the remote North. Heimdall requires less sleep than a bird. He sees equally well by night as by day, one hundred leagues about in every direction, and his hearing is so acute that he can hear the grass growing on the earth. He harbors constant animosity towards Loki, and through his sharp senses and unending vigilance, Heimdall has frustrated Loki's cunning plans more than once.
13) Ull. Before Sif, the golden-haired dis, became Thor's wife, she had been married to the Ivaldi's son Egil, the great archer and skier. With him, she bore the son Ull, who became a master of his father's sports and therefore was called god of the bow, god of the hunt, and god of skis. When Sif married Thor, Ull was admitted to Asgard along with her and received divine rank. Ull's skis are a work of art from the forge of Ivaldi's sons. Like his father's skis, they can be used on water, as well as on land, and they can also be used as a shield. Ull is handsome, slender, and lithe, and above all a distinguished warrior. Besides this, he has the characteristics of a leader and a ruler. For that reason, the Vanir placed Ull on Odin's throne, granting him Odin's name and rights as governor, when a war arose between the Aesir and the Vanir during the age of discord, and the latter ruled Asgard alone.
Among the goddesses who dwell in Asgard there is, Frigg, Sif, Nanna, Idunn, Skadi, Freyja, and Eir (Goddess of healing). Concerning Frigg, it may be said that, although she is a good wife and a loving mother, she often exercises her own will, bestowing favor on different human beings than her husband. She willingly intervenes in Odin's dealings with the fate of peoples and nations, and it sometimes happens that when a people, whose opponents are favored by Odin, turn their prayers to Frigg, she arranges it so that Odin himself is compelled to grant victory to her favorites. Odin has praised her for her foresight and her silent wisdom. Frigg has a sister named Fulla, who is her confidant and keeps her jewelry. Fulla is a close friend of Nanna, Baldur's wife. Since Fulla is sister to the queen of heaven, she bears a diadem as a sign of her dignity.
In Asgard, there are many splendid mansions of the gods. Foremost among them is Odin's castle Valhall. It was not always called by this name, which means "the hall of those slain on the battlefield," but received this designation during the age of discord, after war arose in Midgard. It is also called Bilskirnir. The area around Valhall is called Gladsheim, and there grows the grove Glasir, "which stands with golden leaves outside Odin's doors." Massive and resplendent with gold, Valhall stands firm on the plain of Gladsheim. This hall, where the Aesir gather around their father and where the slain are seated around the drinking table, has spear shafts for rafters. It is roofed with silver shields and decorated with golden coats of mail and weapons. Valhall has 540 rooms and 540 doors. These are so great that when the Ragnarok battle is imminent, 800 einherjar (chosen heroes) will issue from each door at the same time. Still only half the einherjar dwell in Valhall; the other half are chosen by Freyja and dwell with her. The einherjar partly spend their days engaging in war-games on Asgard's fields, and partly at feasts, where beautiful battle-dises, Valkyries, fill their drinking horns. The liquor that they drink is pressed out of the juicy leaves of the world-tree's crown, which contain the mead from Mimir's well, blended with liquids from Urd's well and Hvergelmir. At meals, meat is served to Odin as well as to all of his table-companions, but he gives his portion to Geri and Freki, who lie at his feet. He lives by mead alone when he remains in Valhall and does not venture forth, subjecting himself to different living conditions.
Freyja's estate in Asgard is named Folkvang and the splendid hall, where her chosen warriors reside, is named Sessrumnir. The name of the castle, in which Baldur dwelt in Asgard, is Glitnir. It has golden rafters and a silver roof. Since Baldur's descent to the underworld, his son Forseti is lord of Glitnir, and now Baldur lives in Breidablik on the glittering plains in the underworld. Of all the world's regions, no place is as free of evil as this. Thor's estate in Asgard is called Thrudheim and Thrudvang.
Many of the gods' and goddesses' homes and native lands lie somewhere
outside of Asgard. Heimdall's castle Himinbjorg is built in the farthest
north near Bifrost's bridgehead, and that Njord's native home Noatun is
located in the west, across the ocean in Vanaheim. Skadi prefers to live
in her father's land Thrymheim, where she skis and hunts on its mountain
slopes and plains. Frey remains in Asgard for the most part, but the kingdom
he rules is Alfheim. Ull's native home Ydalir surrounds his father's castle
Ysetur near the waters called Elivogar, Hronn, and Gandvik, that divide
the greater Svithjod from Jotunheim. The land is called Ydalir ("the dales
of the bow"), since Egil and Ull are the foremost of archers. Vidar the
Silent also has a land, Vidi, overgrown with brush and high grass, which
constitutes a portion of the great Vigrid plain on which the battle of
Ragnarok shall be fought.
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