Thor (Old Norse: Þórr) is the red-haired and bearded god of thunder in Norse Mythology and more generally Germanic mythology (Old English: Þunor, Old Dutch and Old High German: Donar, from Proto-Germanic *Þunraz).
Characteristics[edit | edit source]
Thor features strongly in the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, in which Thor's many conflicts with the race of giants are a main source of plots. Thor is one of the most powerful Norse gods. He uses his superior power to protect Asgard and Midgard. He is also known as the god of Thunder.
Family[edit | edit source]
Thor is the son of Odin (Wotan or Woden) and the giantess Jörd (Jord, the Earth). His wife is called Sif, and little is known of her except that she has golden hair, which was made for her by the dwarfs after Loki had cut off her hair. With his mistress, the giantess Járnsaxa, Thor had his sons Magni and Modi, and with Sif he had his daughter Þrúðr (anglicized as Thrud). The euhemeristic prologue of the Prose Edda also indicates he has a son by Sif named Lóriði, along with an additional 17 generations of descendants but the prologue is apocryphal and was meant to give a plausible explanation on how the Aesir came to be worshipped even though they were more like giants than gods. Thor also has a stepson called Ull who is a son of Sif. Skáldskaparmál mentions a figure named Hlóra who was Thor's foster mother, corresponding to Lora or Glora from Snorre's prologue, although no additional information concerning her is provided in the poem.
Possessions[edit | edit source]
Thor travels in a chariot drawn by the goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr and with his servant and messenger Þjálfi and his sister Röskva. The skaldic poem Haustlöng relates that the earth was scorched and the mountains cracked as Thor travelled in his wagon. According to the Prose Edda, when Thor is hungry he can roast the goats for a meal. When he wants to continue his travels, Thor only needs to touch the remains of the goats and they will be instantly restored to full health to resume their duties, assuming that the bones have not been broken.
Thor owns a short-handled war hammer, Mjolnir, which, when thrown at a target, returns magically to the owner. His Mjolnir also had the power to throw lighting bolts. To wield Mjölnir, Thor wears the belt Megingjord, which boosts the wearer's strength and a pair of special iron gloves to lift the hammer.
The strike of the hammer caused thunderclaps, and Thor was named after the Common Germanic word for thunder. With the hammer, Thor performs his giant-killing duties.
Surviving representations[edit | edit source]
Stories and myths[edit | edit source]
Most of the surviving myths centre on Thor's exploits, and from this and inscriptions on monuments we know that Thor was very much the favorite deity of ancient Scandinavians.
According to one myth in the Prose Edda, Loki was flying as a hawk one day and was captured by Geirrod. Geirrod, who hated Thor, demanded that Loki bring his enemy (who did not yet have his magic belt and hammer) to Geirrod's castle. Loki agreed to lead Thor to the trap. Grid was a giantess at whose home they stopped on the way to Geirrod's. She waited until Loki left the room then told Thor what was happening and gave him her iron gloves and magical belt and staff. Thor killed Geirrod and all other frost giants he could find (including Geirrod's daughters, Gjálp and Greip).
According to Alvíssmál, Thor's daughter was promised to Alvis, a dwarf. Thor devised a plan to stop Alvis from marrying his daughter. He told Alvis that, because of his small height, he had to prove his wisdom. Alvis agreed and Thor made the tests last until after the sun had risen--all dwarves turned to stone when exposed to sunlight, so Alvis was petrified.
Thor was once outwitted by a giant king, Útgarða-Loki. The king, using his magic, tricked Thor. The king raced Thought itself against Thor's fast servant, Þjálfi (nothing being faster than thought, which can leap from land to land, and from time to time, in an instant). Then, Loki (who was with Thor) was challenged by Útgarða-Loki to an eating contest with one of his servants, Logi. Loki lost, eventually. The servant even ate up the trough containing the food. The servant was an illusion of " Wild-Fire", no living thing being able to equal the consumption rate of Fire. He called Thor weak when he only lifted the paw of a cat, the cat being the illusion of the Midgard Serpent. Thor was challenged to a drinking contest, and could not empty a horn which was filled not with mead but was connected to the ocean. This action started tidal changes. And here, Thor wrestled an old woman, who was Old Age, something no one could beat, to one knee. It was only later that Thor was told that he had in fact performed impressively doing as well as he did with those challenges.
Þunor gave his name to the Old English day Þunresdæg, meaning the day of Þunor, known in Modern English as Thursday. Þunor is also the source of the modern word thunder. Many writers (Saxo, Adam of Bremen, Snorre Sturlason, Ælfric of Eynsham) identified Thor with Jupiter. The comparison can be borne: both are gods of the sky that control thunder and lightning, are children of the mother Earth and were at some time considered the most powerful of the gods. The oak tree was sacred to both gods and they had mysterious powers. Thor is to kill the Midgard Serpent and Jupiter, the dragon Typhon. Tacitus identified Thor with the Greco-Roman hero-god Hercules because of his force, aspect, weapon and his role as protector of the world.
Norse literature[edit | edit source]
The two biggest works are the Elder Edda (or Poetic Edda) and the Younger Edda (also Snorre's Edda, Prose Edda). Thor is a very common figure, probably more common than Odin.
Thor appears as the central figure in the following works of Norse literature:
- Þórsdrápa (summarised by Snorre Sturlason in Skáldskaparmál)
- Hárbarðsljóð which details a contest between Thor and Odin in the guise of Harbarth as to who is the most accomplished.
Thor also appears in:
- Njáls saga
- Gautreks saga
- Eyrbyggja saga
- Kjalnesinga saga
- Fóstbrœðra saga
- Fljótsdæla saga
- Hallfreðar saga
- Gesta Danorum
- Nordendorf fibula
- Saxon baptismal vow
- Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum
Thor in Other Traditions[edit | edit source]
In other Indo-European religions, Thor is analogous to