Who has been called ‘djuphugadr’ or the ‘deep-souled-one’ of the Northern
A god who not only has a fertility aspect but also, historically, was
invoked in law and order, controlled the weather and was THE god who was called
to called hallow runestones of the dead? The defender of both Heaven and Earth?
This of course is Thor – the colossus of the North whose very name meant the
deafening thunder – one of the most loved deities of the North in our heathen
It may not have seemed obvious immediately, especially as some writers have
implied that he played the role of a kind of divine lager lout in the myths or
prefer to fit him into their narrow classification system (such as the popular
tri-partite view of the early Indo- European society). However I hope to put
forward a case that there is a much fuller picture of this most straightforward
and earthy god to be found, although I do not propose to cover the aspect of
warder in great detail. This is the one attribute that nobody would argue about
and various myths clearly illustrate this aspect.
At this point I would like to clarify that, although Thor was noted for his
fighting qualities and fierceness, these qualities do not arise from his active
defence of the gods and mankind. His battles with giants and trolls also show
his care to combat the forces that would undermine the existing order or
threaten those in his care. There is never any suggestion that it is all giants
he is battling or attempting to kill as he actually has a giantess (Jarnsaxa) as
a concubine – the mother of his sons Magni and Modi. He stayed over with the
giantess Grid on a journey and relations were good enough for her to give him
items for his aid. There is no indication that Thor ever had problems with the
giant goddesses Skadi and Gerd, who lived amongst the gods and goddesses or even
with Loki (when he was behaving himself) who was actually a giant and not part
of the Aesir, he was only amongst them as Odin’s blood-brother and the companion
of Odin and Thor.
Thor is depicted as responsive to human distress which is not a quality
widely associated with warfare. This is most clearly shown in the myth of his
journey to Utgard with Loki when he stopped at a peasant’s farm on the way. He
killed his goats to provide a meal for them all but instructed them to be sure
to save the bones and skin. The next morning before dawn he passed Mjollnir,
his magical hammer, over the bones on the skin and brought his goats back to
life but noticed that one was lame (where the farmer’s son had ignored
instructions and broken a bone to get at the marrow). This kindled his wrath
and his eyes took on his truly awesome stare. The terrified farmer and his
family offered all they had to atone but when Thor saw their terror he calmed
down and accepted the children as bondservants. Thor’s temper can be regained
as fast as it is lost – the cold implacability that sweeps all before it in war
is not there.
In historical terms, Thor derives from a very early deity: the Indo-European
weather god. This being was described as male with red hair and a beard, a
tremendous appetite and as possessing thunderbolts. This weather god was also
described as being the protector of mankind and slayer of serpent(s). Even the
Hindu god Indra, whose roots are in the Indo- European tradition, shows these
characteristics. This may be why Snorri Sturluson, in the early part of the
Prose Edda where he talks of the gods and goddesses as historical humans, says
Odin was a descendant of Thor and not the other way round as might be expected.
There is an etymological link to the Celtic deity Jupiter Tanarus as the
Germanic forms of the thunder god’s name are believed to have derived from this
‘thundering’ Jupiter. In Anglo-Saxon England he was Thunar, in continental
Germany he was Donar (or Donner) and in Scandinavia and their Viking Settlements
he was Thor.
The tales of rough roistering and heroic deeds ascribed to Thor have led
scholars to identify him with the early Germanic god written of by the Roman
historian Tacitus as the Latin demi-god Hercules. Tacitus wrote of three main
gods in the German tribes in terms of their classical counterparts. Later
analogies were made to the Sky Father, Jupiter. The fifth day of the week in
Anglo-Saxon England was named after him- Thursday or ‘Thunresdaeg’. Thursday
was also known as ‘Jovis Dies’ in Latin or the Day of Jove (Jupiter). There is
a tenth century verse which includes the lines ‘This Jove is the most worshipped
of all the gods…. his name is Thor’.
The influences of Thor left a permanent mark on England as, apart from the
fifth day’ there are a number of places which bear his name in a compound form –
such as Thundersley in Essex. The last part of the name, derived from ‘leah’,
means a wood or grove.
Thor was the most popular god in Norway and Iceland while in Sweden his
worship was replaced by that of Ullr (his mythological Stepson) who in turn was
replaced by Freyr. However, in the eleventh century account by Adam of Bremen
of the great temple at Uppsala, the Statue of Thor is described as being in the
centre between Odin and Fricco (Freyr) and when plague or famine threatened a
sacrifice would be offered to Thor by his priests.
In Scandinavia, in Viking times, his was the name used to form numerous
personal names of both men and women (e.g. Thorolf, Thorgerdr) and was also the
only god invoked in their memorial inscriptions.
In the literary work of the Icelandic Eddas and middle high German
Nibelunglied, Thor/Donar is one of the prominent Male deities with Odin/Wodan
When Christianity came to the north, for a time it was ‘Red Thor’ against
the ‘White Christ’.
Adam of Bremen wrote that ‘they say he rules the air which controls the
thunder and the lightning, the winds and showers, the fair weather and the
fruits of the earth’. Thor has the power to bestow fertility as he is the son
of Mother Earth (his belt of strength is called Meginjard or ‘Earth Power’ ),
the controller of the weather and the wielder of Mjollnir. The hammer is
especially important to this power. In the myth where he cross-dresses as
Freyja to pretend to marry the giant Thrym, to fool the giant into bringing out
Mjollnir which has been stolen, the hammer is brought out to hallow the ‘bride’.
This probably reflected ancient historical practise that was believed to bestow
fertility (as a symbolic phallus) on the woman. Also, as described above, the
myths tell of him bringing his goats back to life. The etymology of Mjollnir is
believed to be linked to the Slavic/Baltic words for lightning. It is now known
that lightning itself (or the production of the lightning) produces natural
nitrates which are essential for the fertilisation of the ground. The fires
that lightning can cause in forests can actually also help to fertilise certain
hard tree seeds.
A consideration of the modern knowledge about the production of lightning
will also show a modern attribute of Thor: electricity. Lightning is believed
to be caused by the release of the electrical tension that built up as positive
ions rose and negative ions stayed at the bottom of a heavy wet cloud.
Fire, as well as being a major effect of lightning, was also used
historically in the worship of Thor. This is shown in the combination commonly
found on top of Viking age cremation urns of a hammer and miniature firesteel.
The Eyrbyggia Saga talks of Thorolf Mostrarskegg going round the borders of his
new land in Iceland with fire to claim it and his temple for Thor had
‘god-nails’ in its pillars. The historian Hilda Ellis-Davidson has identified
these god-nails as a possible source of ritual fire: by striking flint against
the steel nail. It is known that the Lapps struck fire from a metal nail in the
head of their thunder god image. This temple artefact also has echoes in the
myth of Thor’s battle with the giant Hrungnir which has left a piece of the
giant’s shattered whetstone in Thor’s head.
The Kjalnesinga Saga talk of a sacred fire in one of Thor’s temples and
earlier records tell of a perpetual fire in the temple of the old Prussian
thunder god in an oak tree sanctuary. In modern times, this would be to create
a sacred fire from basic materials (such as a flintstone and steel/iron
firestriker) and then use the flame in invocation of Thor or as the catalyst in
a rite to win difficult fertility (new life) or for deconstructive empowerment.
It should be said from bitter personal experience that the creation of this type
of fire is extremely difficult and you may find that you end up integrating into
your rite a blood sacrifice (from cut fingers) that was not planned when you
started. It is a good idea to have a container for the sacred fire, such as a
lantern, and then do the fire creation in a separate rite immediately before the
rite for whatever purpose to prevent the main rite being disrupted.
It has been suggested, with the support of am inscription on the Korpbron
runestone that translates as ‘Thor perform seidr’, that there is a shamatic
element to Thor that has not been considered before – his journeying, the
possession of a staff (gained as a gift from Grid), the cross-dressing (however
reluctantly) and he even has a guide – Loki. The boiling anger that Thor
displays in some of the myths may somehow be tied into the etymology of seidr
being linked to the English term ‘Seething’. Certainly his might is more than
simply physical and asking for empowerment of your magical formula or calling on
Thor as a trusty guide when journeying (whether you are doing seidr or any more
purely based shamanic journey) are soundly based practises.
Due, no doubt his power to bring storms and to the tales of his journeying,
Thor was invoked historically when going on a journey especially when going to
sea. The Flateyjarbok records that one of Thor’s worshippers encouraged him to
blow out the bristles of his beard, which he did and blew up a gale. Helgi the
Lean, an early Kristian convert, continued to call on Thor even after conversion
when making any sea journey. Njals Saga tells of Thor raising storms to break
up the ship of Kristian missionary and Eiriks’s Saga tells of Thor stranding a
whale on the shores of Vineland in response to a prayer to him.
Historically Thor was invoked in the name of law and stability though modern
occultists have found that this tends to relate to the stability of the earth
when people are in harmony with Her and with other inhabitants on it as much as
in any legalistic sense. The son of earth, worshipped in oak groves, who
perpetually fought the agents of chaos and destruction to Midgard was also the
god who maintained order within Midgard.
As the son of earth and friend of man, Thor is great to work with for an
urbanised townie who has little feel for the earth but is intellectually aware
that (s)he should have more.
Thor is also the Hallower. As already discussed Mjollnir was brought in to
hallow the bride. It is also Thor in the myths who hallows Balder’s funeral
pyre. On Viking age burial stones it is Thor who is called to hallow the runes
on them: Thor uiki (pasi) runaR. A sixth century South German fibula has been
found which calls on ‘Wigithonar’ or Hallow- Thonar (along with Wodan and
‘logathore’), Such hallowing fills the objects with might so that they are set
apart from the mundane world.
His straightforward trustingness has often been displayed as a simplicity
that also means stupidity but this is misleading. A closer look at the myths in
their totality shows that Thor could be cunning, when it was appropriate, and
most definitely had his own wisdom.
In the Alvissmal Thor took on and tricked the dwarf Alvis, who knew all
things and wanted Thrud (Thor’s daughter) as his bride. There is some
suggestion that the dwarf may have been promised her in Thor’s absence. However
Thor is not to be held by the promises of others and did not approve of him as a
suitor so made the clever promise that as long as the dwarf could answer
whatever Thor asked him, he could marry Thrud. Then he simply asked him
questions until the sun rose and turned Alvis into stone. The simplicity of
approach does not suggest stupidity as a result.
Also, in the myths, when he went to Hymir (for the famous fishing trip where
he ‘caught’ Jormungand) he assumed the appearance of a young boy to be got into
the household. When Loki was fleeing the angry gods after Balder’s death, and
had changed into a salmon to elude them, it was Thor who was quick enough to
catch the slippery shapeshifter.
There is also the tale of the hero Starkadhr, where Odin and Thor take turns
to change Skarkadhr’s wyrd with one god working for him and one against. Odin
decrees the Starkadhr will always be victorious in battle but Thor decrees that
he will always be victorious in battle but Thor decrees that he will always be
wounded grievously; Odin gives Starkadhr the gift of poetry and Thor stops him
remembering what he composes, etc.
Also there were occasions when it is the might and courage of Thor, not the
magic or subtlety of the other gods, that was the only answer to the problem.
When Odin tricked the giant Hrungnir into Asgard then invited him into
Valhalla to get a fine horse he desired, and then there was trouble from his
drunken threats, it was Thor whose might sorted the problem out. In the myth
where the frost giant has been magically tricked out of his (excessive) reward
for building the walls of Asgard, it is Thor’s might that quells his threat. In
the Lokasenna, where Loki trades insults with all the gods and goddesses even
Odin, it is only Thor and his might that finally intimidates Loki into shutting
up and going away.
The very physicality of the god’s nature should not be taken as the sign of
a lesser power. This sort of attitude I feel has been partially influenced by
the Kristian attitude (of denigration of the flesh or this world) that has
permeated western thought historically.
The more southerly Indo-European peoples in Greece and Rome were certainly
known to appreciate that mind and body should be in balance: ‘mens sana in
corpore sano’ or healthy mind in a healthy body. The effects of altering your
body chemistry and thus drastically affecting your perception and personality,
by drink or drugs, are well known and there is currently a school of thought
(behaviour therapists) who believe that the behaviour produces the attitude.
Unless we understand how our mental, emotional and physical bodies interact
on this earth in this plan of existence then we never understand how to attempt
to travel beyond the limitations such realities impose. If we do not apply
skills we actually possess (using our motor skills with knowledge and applying
persistent will) then it is somewhat vain to imagine that we can skip to the
subtler ‘bodies’ on more esoteric planes where heartfelt wishes and clouded
sight could utterly mislead you.
For a woman working with Thor, it can be helpful to align yourself with one
of the female figures in his mythological family: Jorth – his mother – the
primal source, ancient, earth mother / Sif – his wife – fertile, motherly, in
her prime / Thrud – his daughter – the young one of power but no male ties. To
act as a ‘Sif-sister’ in a rite is to align with the power of Thor but also
strongly reaffirm your essential femininity.
The Prose Edda lists a number of his Heiti or by-names: Atli, Asabrag,
Ennilang, Eindridi, Biorn, Hlorridi, Hardveur, Veurr, Rym, Sonnung. He is ‘Thor
Karl’ or Old Man Thor and various kennings have been used about him: Thunderer,
Hrungnir’s bane, Old Redbeard, Midgard’s Warder, Whetstone-skulled, Wyrm Bane,
Goat God, Son of Jorth, Sif’s Beloved, Son of Odin, Friend of Mankind, the
He is Asathor (Thor of the Aesir) – the defender and god of Might. He is
Okuthor (Driving Thor or the ‘Charioteer’ from his chariot drawn by two goats) –
the dispenser of thunder, lightning, fertility and who controls the stormy seas.
He is also Vingthor or Wigithonar (Hallowing Thor) – the hallower of land or of
any enterprise, magical or religious. The one thing that he should not be
called is ‘just a simple giant thwacker’.
This article was first published in Frostfire