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The forgotten gods of Norse

Not many have heard of the Norse gods. They are ‘dead’ for several hundred years, with their lore lost in the sands of time. Today, only traces of their legacy is left, spattered across the world of music, literature, cinema, sports, but hidden from the obvious. Thor from the Marvel comics, the ice giants in World of Warcraft, the mask of Loki in The Mask, the elves in The Lord of the Rings—countless creations have Norse blood in their veins. Not just that. Even the days of the week are named after Norse gods. But how many people know about it? Not many.

The forgotten gods of Norse were once the pride of Germanic people—forefathers of present-day Scandinavians. It was the Viking age, when the Norse gods were ‘alive’ in the bedtime stories, prayers, war cries, poems, and festivals. No man lifted a sword without taking Odin’s or Thor’s name, and no woman sang victory songs without mentioning Frigg or Freya in the verses. Children grew up listening to the stories of these mighty gods, and giants, dwarves, elves, dragons and many fascinating creatures from the Norse mythology. It was this richness that inspired poets and historians to write Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, a collection of poems that narrate the birth of Norse gods at the beginning of time—called Völuspá—and their end following the battle of Ragnarök.

Poetic Edda and Prose Edda are the few remaining manuscripts on Norse that were written around 13th century CE. In their pages lies the magical world of Norse gods. Their mythology is not just a read but a flight of imagination that one takes to ‘see’ their world. After all, nothing is as complex yet as enchanting as the cosmos where the Norse mythology unfolds.

It was then Odin realises the ill fate of the world when the spirit tells him: Ragnarök, would bring the end of the immortals and everything they had created.


The enchanting universe of Norse gods

To begin with, Norse’s universe, was made up of two realms—fire and ice. It was the primordial stage before the Norse gods were born. Due to unknown events, the stream of ice collapsed with the fire that gave birth to Ymir, the first creature of the Norse mythology, and Audhumla, a cow. As Ymir drank Audhumla’s milk, each drop he spilled gave birth to other gods such as Odin, Vili, and Ve. These gods laid the foundation of seven other realms and their inhabitants that completed the Norse universe.

According to the mythology, the nine realms in the Norse universe were located on an enormous tree, called Yggdrasil. At the summit of the tree lay Asgard, the abode of the greatest gods, whose king was Odin. A one-eyed god, Odin was considered the father of the entire Norse pantheon, and the fiercest warrior of all time. Vanaheim, also located in the upper branches, was the other clan of the gods that was at war with the Asgard for ages. Midgard, the realm of mortals or humans inhabited the middle part of the tree. Along with Midgard, other realms—Alfheim, the world of the elves; Svartálfheim, home of the dark elves; Nidavellir, the world of the dwarves; and Jotunheim, the world of the giants—were also located near the middle region. Niflheim, known as the underworld or hell, and Muspell, the world of Surt, a fire-breathing monster took the roots as their dwelling place.

From the 21st century perspective, the world of Norse gods seems like a setup of a visually acclaimed, high-budget fantasy-fiction movie. But it is not just the rendition of the Norse universe that is extraordinary. Even their stories are as captivating as any piece of fiction. For instance, the conversation between Odin and a spirit—as described in the Poetic Edda—where the king commands the spirit to reveal the future of Asgard and the cosmos to him. It was then Odin realises the ill fate of the world when the spirit tells him: “Ragnarök, would bring the end of the immortals and everything they had created.”

Ragnarök or the twilight of the gods is the final story of the Norse gods. According to the mythology, the war begins when the dead from Niflheim attack Asgard, Vanaheim, and other realms from all corners. When this happens, Heimdall, the mute guardian of the Asgard blows his horn to alert the pantheon of the imminent attack. The gods, aware of their destiny, bid farewell to their wives and children before mounting their horses and marching towards the battleground. What ensues is a battle so chaotic and vicious that it ends with the destruction of every living being on the planet and in heaven.

For hundreds of years, Vikings fought their wars with the battle cry of the Norse gods, until they were overrun by the enemies that stripped them from their lands and their faith


The Renaissance

Even though the mythology concludes with the war, for Vikings, Ragnarök wasn’t the end of the Norse gods. According to Prose Edda, the Vikings believed that the fall of Norse gods ushered in a new era from the ashes of the old ones— “In that time the earth shall emerge out of the sea, and shall then be green and fair; then shall the fruits of it be brought forth unsown.” This new world was predicted to be more beautiful and peaceful than the realms of Norse, where humans and gods thrive once again and live together in peace. Perhaps, it was the Vikings’ way to say that death was not the end of life.

Just like Norse gods, Vikings were warriors, and war was their destiny too. Like Ragnarök, they fought many great battles, some they won, some they lost. But every defeat and death reminded them of rebirth, a new beginning which they learned from their gods. For hundreds of years, Vikings fought their wars with the battle cry of the Norse gods, until they were overrun by the enemies that stripped them from their lands and their faith.

Today, people rarely sing their songs or tell their stories to children. But looking at the wheel of time, it seems the forgotten gods of Norse are rising again. First, the Icelanders opened a shrine, for the first time since the Viking age, where people can worship the Norse gods. Secondly, they have become a household name, thanks to the Avengers franchise. Elves and dwarves need no introduction either. Thirdly, many artists are reopening the pages of Edda to find inspiration. Given such a keen revival of interest in Norse mythology, perhaps, in the coming years, Norse gods will regain their lost kingdom and reclaim their place in the hearts of humans.

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