In Norse mythology, Mjolnir is the hammer of Thor, the Norse god associated with thunder.
Mjolnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome and powerful weapons in existence, capable of leveling mountains.
In its account of Norse mythology, the Prose Edda relates how the hammer’s characteristically short handle was due to a mistake during its manufacture.
Similar hammers (Ukonvasara) were a common symbol of the god of thunder in other North European mythologies.
Origins in the Prose Edda
One account regarding the origins of Mjolnir, and arguably the most well known, is found in the Skáldskaparmál which is the second half of medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. The story depicts the creation of several iconic creatures and objects central to Norse mythology.
In this story, Loki the trickster finds himself in an especially mischievous mood and cuts off the gorgeous golden hair of Sif, the wife of Thor.
Upon learning of Loki’s trickery, Thor is enraged and threatens to break every bone in his body. Loki pleads with Thor and asks for permission to go down to Svartalfheim, the cavernous home of the dwarves, to see if these master craftspeople could fashion a new head of hair for Sif. Thor is convinced and sends Loki to Svartalfheim.
Upon his arrival, Loki is able to complete his promise to Thor as The Sons Ivaldi forge not only a new head of hair for Sif, but also two other marvels: Skidbladnir, the best of all ships, and Gungnir, the deadliest of all spears.
Having accomplished his task, Loki remains in the caves with the intention of causing mayhem. He approaches the brothers Brokkr and Sindri and taunts them, saying that he is sure the brothers could never forge three creations equal in caliber to those of the sons of Ivaldi, even betting his head against their lack of ability. Brokkr and Sindri, being prideful dwarves, accept the wager and begin their creation of three marvels.
The first begins with Sindri putting a pig’s skin in the forge and telling Brokkr to work the bellows nonstop until his return. Loki, in disguise as a fly, comes and bites Brokkr on the arm to ensure the brothers lose their bet.
Nevertheless, Brokkr continues to pump the bellows as ordered. When Sindri returns and pulls their creation from the fire, it is revealed to be a living boar with golden hair which they name Gullinbursti. This legendary creature gives off light in the dark and runs better than any horse, even through water or air.
Next, Sindri puts gold in the forge and gives Brokkr the same order. Loki comes again, still in the guise of a fly, and bites Brokkr’s neck, this time twice as hard to ensure the brothers lose the bet.
Brokkr, however, continues to work the bellows despite the pain. When Sindri returns they draw out a magnificent ring which they name Draupnir. From this ring, every ninth night, eight new golden rings of equal weight emerge.
Finally, Sindri puts iron in the forge and repeats his previous order once more. Loki comes a third time and bites Brokkr on the eyelid even harder, the bite being so deep that it draws blood.
The blood runs into Brokkr’s eyes and forces him to stop working the bellows just long enough to wipe his eyes. This time, when Sindri returns, he takes Mjölnir out of the forge.
The handle is shorter than Sindri had originally planned which is the reason for the hammer’s iconic imagery as a one-handed weapon throughout Thor’s religious iconography. Nevertheless, the pair are sure of the great worth of their three treasures and they make their way to Asgard to claim the wages due to them.
Loki makes it to the halls of the gods just before the dwarves and presents the marvels he has acquired. To Thor he gave Sif’s new hair and the hammer Mjollnir. To Odin, the ring Draupnir and the spear Gungnir. Finally to Freyr he gives Skidbladnir and Gullinbursti.
As grateful as the gods were to receive these gifts they all agreed that Loki still owed his head to the brothers. When the dwarves approach Loki with knives, the cunning god points out that he had promised them his head but not his neck, ultimately voiding their agreement.
Brokkr and Sindri content themselves with sewing Loki’s mouth shut and returning to their forge.
The ceremonial and ritual significance
Though most famous for its use as a weapon, Mjolnir played a vital role in Norse religious practices and rituals.
Its use in formal ceremonies to bless marriages, births, and funerals is described in several episodes within the Prose Edda.
Historian and pagan studies scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson summarizes and explains the significance of Mjolnir in these rites, particularly marriage, stating:
The existence of this rite is assumed in the tale of Thor as a Transvestite, where the giants stole Thor’s hammer and he went to retrieve it by dressing as a bride to be married to one of the giants, knowing that the hammer would be presented during the ceremony. When it was presented, he seized it and promptly smashed the skulls of all of the giants in attendance. A Bronze Age rock carving from Scandinavia apparently depicts a couple being blessed by a larger figure holding a hammer, which indicates the considerable antiquity of this notion. — Hilda Ellis Davidson
While the role of Mjolnir in mythology versus Norse religion seem to contradict one another, they stem from the same cultural belief system.
When Thor defeated giants with Mjolnir, he was banishing the forces of chaos through physical action. By blessing a marriage, birth, field, or the deceased with Mjolnir, the forces of chaos were banished from that ceremony.
Historian Gabriel Turville-Petre also suggests that Mjolnir’s blessing was a possible means of imparting fertility to a couple. This is based on Thor’s association with both agriculture and the fertilization of fields.
Modern Pagans have emphasized the role of Mjolnir in their religious rituals and doctrine, though its primary function is to publicly signify faith (similarly to how Christians wear or hang Crucifixes).
While Norse in origin, Mjolnir modern usage is not limited to Nordic pagans and has been utilized in Dutch pagan marriages, American pagan rituals, as well as the symbolic representation for all of the Germanic Heathenry.
Viking Age conversion and pendants
Roughly 50 specimens of Mjölnir amulets have been found widely dispersed throughout Scandinavia, dating from the 9th to 11th centuries, most commonly discovered in areas with a strong Christian influence (including southern Norway, south-eastern Sweden, and Denmark).
Square cross-like pendants, featuring images of Christ on them, have also been found and dated to the same time period as the Mjolnir amulets.
The presence of both religious symbols in the same regions is a result of several Viking raids in predominantly Christian nations which led to mass religious conversion from Nordic Paganism to Christianity during the Viking Age.
The dominant hypothesis concerning the popularity of these Mjolnir and Crucifix pendants is one of defiance, primarily on the part of the pagan Vikings towards the newly converted Christian Vikings.
Mass conversion to Christianity was often a political strategy of Viking Chieftains that allowed for their continued occupation of Christian nations. The Viking people, however, were then forced to convert and cultural tensions sprang up accordingly.
An iron Mjolnir pendant, excavated in Yorkshire and dated to 1000 AD, bears an uncial inscription preceded and followed by a cross, indicating a converted Christian owner repurposing their religious iconography to emulate their new beliefs.
One interesting archeological find is a soapstone mold which was discovered in Trendgården, Denmark and dates back to the 10th century, the end of the Viking Age.
The mold garnered interest as it has three distinct chambers and is believed to have cast both Crucifix and Mjolnnir pendants.
This particular mold is significant as it dates back to the height of Viking religious conversion but proves that there was an equal demand for both pagan and Christian iconography, supporting the narrative of Viking resistance towards Christians.
Another archeological discovery with dual religious meaning is located in the National Museum of Iceland. The context of the object was initially disputed as it emulated both Christian and pagan symbolism (due to the unusual wolf-like head located at the bottom of the pendant).
While the object is fashioned in a cross-like shape, it was categorized as a “Thor’s Hammer with Wolf Head” through extensive historical research and archeological origins (such as initial location, craftsmanship, and the wolf-head).
Its designation as a pagan symbol is a crucial piece of evidence supporting the continuation of pagan religion in Iceland’s despite the entire country’s conversion to Christianity.
Modern reproductions of the pendant are popular amongst certain neopagan groups and Viking enthusiasts for both religious and personal purposes.
The Købelev Runic-Thor’s Hammer, found at the Danish island of Lolland in 2014, is so far the only one bearing an inscription, proving that this kind of pendant is meant to be a hammer.
The inscription reads “Hmar x is,” which translates to “This is a hammer.” However, the proper spelling is “hamar,” indicating the creator was not a fully literate individual.
Relation to the swastika
The most famous depiction of swastika imagery in Viking history is a runic inscription found on the Sæbø sword.
Individual swastika carvings of Pre-Germanic origin, however, can be traced back as early as the Bronze Age and are commonly found alongside sunwheels and sky gods.
Though the swastika’s exact meaning has eluded definition, its association with luck, prosperity, power, protection, as well as the sun and sky are factual.
Mjolnir is also linked to luck, prosperity, power, and protection in Nordic rituals. Also, Thor was the dominant sky god of Norse religion and runestone depictions of the swastika are commonly found beside, or in connection with, his image.
One example, found in a book of Icelandic spells, shows a drawn swastika, clearly identified by its iconic shape, then proceeds to references it as “Thor’s hammer”.
Indeed, the crossover of these symbols was prevalent in Norse spell-work, especially runic inscriptions, as their presence was believed to heighten the potency of a spell.
Some scholars credit the origins of the swastika shape as a direct variant of the Mjolnir symbol. This version of the swastika was popular in Anglo-Saxon England, especially amongst groups in East Anglia and Kent, prior to the Christianization of the country.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.