Beowulf - Norse Mythology


The Norse World
In Beowulf, many beliefs had to do with Norse mythology, from the way they buried their dead to their thoughts on war and violence. In Norse mythology, a person?s honor depends on the way they die; a hero proves himself by dying while fighting the forces of evil, not by conquering it. (Hamilton, 444). Beowulf becomes a hero by dying while fighting the dragon. In most religions, Mythology is used to explain the world in which a person lives. For the Anglo-Saxons, the world was filled with war and violence. Norse mythology explains the world, and justifies the kind of people that they are. The gods and goddesses live in a hostile environment filled with war and violence. As Yves Cohat said, "Viking gods (Norse Gods), like the individuals who created them, were violent, ardent, and passionate. They displayed the qualities the Vikings valued in themselves-brutality, anger, lust, humor, strength and guile." (Cohat, 105). Inevitably the whole religion as well as the people who practiced it are doomed to destruction.
The gods were created by their worshipers, and were therefore very much like the Norsemen. The gods and humans had very close relations and were even thought of as companions (Cohat 10). No one had complete control over the other. If a god did not perform to a worshipers expectation, then the human would not hold back, but turn away from the god, abuse him, or even kill the priest involved! This made the gods even more like the humans; they had to worry about pleasing the people who worshiped them, and what might happen if they did not perform to expectation.
In the Norse pantheon, Odin is the god of war and knowledge. He is the head god, and leader of everyone. He is the wisest of all the gods (http://www.anglo-saxon). On each shoulder sat a raven, one named Thought (Hugin) and the other Memory (Munin). All day they would fly around gaining knowledge, and then came back to Odin reciting everything they had come across. He did anything to obtain knowledge; once in exchange for knowledge, he gave one of his eyes to the giant Mimir. Human sacrifices were also part of his worshiping. "It was believed that the god once hung on a gallows, wounded with the thrust of a spear, and thus gained wisdom." (http:/www.angol-saxon). This was after the crucifixion of Christ, and much of this belief probably came from the Christian religion. So instead of Odin hanging, some of his worshipers were hung, and he or one of his ravens would go and seek the man's knowledge.
Thor was the favorite god of the people, and was most like them. He was also extremely strong (Davidson, 59). His prize possession was his hammer, Mojollnir, which he would use against enemies. His other possessions consisted of a belt which made him stronger when it was worn; his gloves, which allowed him to crush rocks, and his chariot lead by goats. He was so important to the people because he would protect them form evil. He would ride across the sky with his hammer in his chariot, protecting everyone from giants, monsters and other enemies.
Thor?s hammer was the most important treasure: it was used to protect the people and gods against their enemies. The hammer was made of gold, and the only flaw was in the handle; it was slightly unfinished, and a bit too short. In the myth, the hammer was given to Thor by his enemy Loki. In a mischievous act, Loki had cut off the hair of Sif, Thor?s wife (Davidson 67). So to spare his own life, Loki repaid Thor by finding two dwarfs to make Sif new hair from gold. He also had them make three treasures, one for Odin, one for Freyn, and the hammer for Thor. The hammer was made to be thrown at a particular item, hit it, and return the owner?s hand. Still despising Thor, Loki tried to ruin the dwarf's work by stinging him in the eye. The dwarf was not able to finish the handle of the hammer, and it was left short. "In spite of this, (the shortened handle) it was declared by the gods to be the finest of all the treasures." (Davidson 67).
Gods were always battling other gods and enemies; even from the creation story, gods were portrayed as