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Thor-ly mythed

Thousands of years ago, people in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden (and beyond!) believed that Thor and his adventures were real, and they worshiped him and others as gods. This religion is called ‘paganism’. Norse pagans made blóts (sacrifices) to Thor and carved amulets of Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) to protect themselves from evil. But over time Christians called ‘missionaries’ travelled across Europe to convert the Norse pagans to following the Christian God, and the stories of Norse gods, goddesses and their myths were in danger of being forgotten.

man in armour and helmet under arms stares intently

This Viking warrior is loaded with weapons, including a sword, an axe and a type of dagger called a seax, but he is not a pagan. Can you spot the clue?

But how do we know about Thor and his worshipers?

Most of what we know comes from archaeologists digging up stuff across Scandinavia, but that means we can only guess at what the Norse pagans actually thought about their gods; at least until we can talk to ghosts. What we can say is that despite Christianity taking over, people still had a soft spot for Thor. Some Norse Christian medieval churches had images from Norse pagan myths on their walls. Archaeologists have even found a Christian burial with Mjolnir amulets in the grave, to protect the woman inside whether she went to Heaven (Christian) or Asgard (Norse Pagan).

Fun Fact: Thor was so important to the Norse he even had his own day of the week, Thor’s day; or as you might know it, Thursday.

Image of Thor with Mjolnir from an 18th century manuscript

This is an image of Thor with Mjolnir from an 18th century manuscript, from Iceland. Does he look different to how you imagine Thor?

What about books?

Was there an ancient ‘Holy Book of Thor’ that could tell us about what they believed? That would be so helpful, but there isn’t one. It is something that has annoyed historians for centuries! The Norse didn’t write a lot about their paganism until 200 years after most people had stopped believing in it. These books, called the Eddas, were written by Norse Christians and they probably got a lot wrong about Thor and the other gods.

Fun Fact: Athough the Norse Religion disappeared in the Middle Ages some people have started worshipping Thor again! This modern take on the Norse faith is sometimes called Heathenry, and the people who follow it base their practices on old stories and what archaeologists have found.

So is that it, are there any other stories about Thor?

Many writers around the world have used Norse religion as inspiration, creating classics like ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘How to Train your Dragon’. These writers would often change bits of Norse myth to suit themselves. Marvel Comics changed loads when they made Thor a superhero in 1962. Thor’s hair colour changed from the traditional red to blonde and Mjolnir was given the ability to make Thor fly, instead of the original flying chariot. Marvel also decided that any worthy hero would be able to lift Mjolnir. In the original myth Thor’s special gloves are needed to lift the hammer.

Thor’s popularity is matched only by his mystery. Authors, historians, artists, and believers have all tried to understand the truth of Thor and the other Norse gods and goddesses. There’s still so much we don’t know about them. Maybe if any of us end up in Asgard we’ll know one day, but until then, Thor and his fellow deities continue to baffle and inspire us.

Activity pack

Download the Thor Heroes & Legends Fun Pack (pdf, 2MB) to have even more fun exploring Thor and Vikings. Also see our page with videos on how to sign ‘hammer’ in British Sign Language and Makaton! See our story telling of how Thor got his hammer and an article all about the weapons a Viking would have used.

Alternative communication formats

Please contact us if you require any of our downloadable documents in an alternative format.

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