“Of all the Norse gods, he seems to be the most interested in humans,” says Larrington. “He has a few human servants, and he is often called the ‘protector of mankind’ – it has to do with his giant-slaying skills. He patrols the lands east of Asgard, ensuring that they invade neither the divine world – nor the human world.
It was prophesied that Thor would die fighting the “world serpent” Jörmungandr, a huge monster that circled the earth and bit its own tail. The legend, told in the Edda in prose, said that when the serpent loosened its grip, the realm of the gods would be besieged by a cataclysm called Ragnarok. In the stories, Thor killed the monster, but succumbed to its venom moments later.
Although details beyond Thor’s recorded exploits are few, the god appears to have been held in higher esteem than any deity by the Norse who followed him – to a deeper degree than might be granted. to a figure usually described as little more than a divine ram. All of this means that we may be missing something.
“A lot of Scandinavians incorporated his name into their name – things like Thorbjörn, or Thordis, or Thorbecke – so he was obviously more important on a personal level than some stories might have you believe,” says Carolyne Larrington. “The surviving myths make him either seem a little stupid or some sort of macho, violent embodiment of masculinity whose sole function was to kill giants. But it’s clear from this evidence around the names that people had a more personal association with him than that.
A special hammer
One thing that’s consistent from the very first render is Thor’s weapon of choice, which has been referenced in everything from Viking amulets to Led Zeppelin songs: Mjolnirthe original “hammer of the gods”.