Norse mythology is a huge topic. This is only going to be a brief introduction to its structure, deities, and stories.
I’m going to do my best keep things fairly simple today. I’m still learning and clarifying things for myself, so don’t expect perfection!
As I get in to other sources (which I most definitely plan on doing) I may find the need to update/change information in this or add my own personal views when appropriate.
Let’s start out with the beginning of the world…
The creation story is very important in Norse mythology, just like with many other belief systems.
It is told that the world started out as sort of an ambiguous mist. In the north was the watery cold land, Niflheim; and in the south was the fiery Muspell.
Between the two was Ginnungagap, a void where the two opposites eventually met to create Ymir, the first living being.
Ymir was the ancestor to all giants.
From the thawing ice in this middle place a cow also formed. The cow was called Audhumla, her milk was Ymir’s source of nourishment.
Audhumla found sustenance from licking the blocks of ice. In doing so she uncovered Buri, the oldest of the gods.
Ymir, who was neither female nor male, had three children from which all giants are descended from.
Buri’s wife was a descendant of Ymir. They had a son, Bor.
Bor also married a giant, Bestlta. Odin, Vili, and Ve were their sons.
So you have families forming in this void between two uninhabitable lands.
Creating the world
Odin, Vili, and Ve decided it was time to create a home. They killed Ymir.
Ymir’s blood became the seas and rivers, his flesh became soil, his bones became mountains, and his teeth and crushed bones became sand, rocks and pebbles.
The flooding that resulted from this killed all but two of the giants.
The giants lived at the edges of the world. Odin and his brothers built a wall from Ymir’s eyelashes at the center of the world to keep the giants out.
This place being protected was called Midgard, a lush but empty land.
The brothers went in search of people to inhabit Midgard. After a long search they found two logs on the beach, one being ash wood, the other elm.
They worked together to create humans from the logs. Odin breathed life into them, Vili game them intelligence and will, and Ve carved them.
So now we have three brother gods, some far away giants, and two naked humans on the beach. All on an earth made from the first ever giant that exists between two extreme worlds.
The two humans, Ask and Embla, would live in Midgard and are the ancestors of all mankind.
With me so far?
Yggdrasil and the nine worlds
There are nine worlds that exist and the enormous tree Yggdrasil connects them all. It’s roots reach deep and its branches reach tall.
The nine worlds are:
Niflheim – The watery world.
Muspell – The fiery world.
Midgard – Where the humans live.
Asgard – Where one family of gods live.
Vanaheim – Where the other family of gods live.
Jotunheim – Where the giants live.
Alfheim – Where the light elves live.
Nidavellir – Where the dwarves live.
Hel – Where the dead go when they don’t die bravely in battle.
At least, these are our best guesses as to what these realms were called. Much like the names of the runes, we don’t actually have original sources that directly give the names.
Main Gods and Goddesses
Now that we know where everything came from, let’s go over some of the basic Norse Deities.
There are two families of gods, the Aesir who live in Asgard, and the Vanir who live in Vanaheim.
The Aesir are focused on power and war. These are where the most well known gods come from like Odin, Thor, and Loki.
The Vanir deal with fertility and agriculture. The most well known gods of the Vanir are Frey and Freyja.
Odin is father to the gods. He is known by many names and often walks among humans in disguise (though not a very good one).
He sacrificed himself to himself to gain knowledge of the runes and gave his eye to Mimir’s well for ultimate wisdom.
Odin is anxious of Ragnarok, the end of the world and death of the gods including himself.
His search for ways to delay Ragnarok and preserve life consumes him.
He has many animal companions, two of which are ravens named Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory). His ravens bring him knowledge from around the world.
Odin’s son by the giant Jorð. Thor is the defender of Asgard and Midgard. He weilds the hammer, Mjollnir which was forged for him by dwarves.
Mjollnir can shrink down to the size of a small trinket and always returns to Thor when thrown.
Thor’s wife is Sif who has beautiful golden hair.
Often called the trickster god, Loki stirs up a lot of mischief. His parents are the goddess Laufey and the giant Farbauti.
Loki is a shape shifter with the ability to completely transform into just about any living thing.
Sigyn is his wife, they have two children Narfi and Nari (or Vali).
He has three children with the giant Angroboða. Fenris, a massive wolf, Jormungandr, a giant water serpent, and Hel who is half maiden and half corpse and rules Helheim.
Loki is also mother to Odin’s eight legged horse, Sleipnir.
Wife of Odin, mother to Baldr and Hodr.
Essentially the queen of the gods, often associated with beauty, love, motherhood, and fate.
Son of Odin and Frigga. Baldr is the most beautiful of all the gods.
Baldr is especially beloved by his mother. His blind brother, Hoðr is tricked by Loki into killing him.
Son of the giant Hymir. Tyr is honest and honorable. He presides over war, especially victory.
Tyr only has one hand, the other was bitten off by the wolf Fenris.
Idunn is responsible for maintaining the trees that grow the fruit that preserves the gods’ immortality.
She gives the gods this fruit when they begin to age to restore their youth.
The Vanir god that lives in Asgard. Son of Njorðr and twin brother of Freya.
Frey is said to be the god of fertility and agriculture.
Frey’s twin sister and daughter of Njorðr.
Freya is a goddess of love and could possibly be just a different name for the goddess Frigga.
Referred to as both one of the Aesir and Vanir.
Heimdall can foresee the future and will be the one to announce the arrival of Ragnarok.
His origin and background is not entirely clear.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the gods, goddesses (and giants) that exist in Norse mythology.
Eventually I’ll highlight each god individually with some of their stories, let me know who you want to hear about first!