[DRAFT: 04/25/95]


[AErth-specific notes]


The purpose of this brief commentary is to explain a portion of the changes to the Earth-normal Norse pantheon. Since worship of the Norse gods died out fairly early (being quickly consumed by Christianity) on Earth, and the documentation is sketchy, the evolution of the pantheon is sketchily documented at best, and it never had a chance to significantly interact with other pantheons.
The most remarkable aspect of the Norse pantheon is the general sense of foreboding and darkness, and the fact that gods and men acted as heroes, standing against the inevitable doom without flinching. An attempt has been made to preserve this feel while also updating the deities and their attendant spheres of influence (so to speak).
This will form the basis of my write-ups of the various Norse deities.


Except for the priesthoods (which are generally separate, simply because orders have been founded as instructional institutions devoted to a particular deity have been built and maintained), most people are devoted to the pantheon as a whole. In some cases, a particular individual will devote himself or herself* to a specific deity, and he will do his utmost to live up to the retpuation and legends of that particular deity.
Instead, the average follower will pray to the appropriate deity for a particular purpose. For instance, a young maid seeking marriage would offer prayers to Frigga, or a warrior would offer praise to Thor, Odin, or Tyr before battle. The seafaring raiders might offer thanks to Njord (for swift and safe travel) and Thor (for strength in battle).
Many villages and smaller towns will have a 'patron' deity, and they will often have names derived from the deity's name or nickname (for instance, Grymsgorge, from Grym = Grim (common psuedonym taken by Odin) and Gorge). In such a case, the village will often have a festival honoring the deity in question. Note that virtually all farming communities revere Frey and offer thanks at harvest time regardless of other affiliations.
The Norse are no less religious than any other people, and their religions and priests play active roles in their daily lives. However, many of the gods are fairly grim and unapproachable, and, over the centuries, Norsemen have taken to offering petitions to intermediaries rather than the actual deity in personal prayer (so that a warrior privately praying for strength will address his plea to Magni rather than Thor). A very brief and incomplete list is at the end.

* Sorry, but continual he or she and himself or herself is just obnoxious when writing, so all further generic references will use the traditional masculine pronoun. This is not to convey any particular gender-based bias, but instead to ease the strain and irritation on the author.


[The various divinities are referred to by their Skandian, rather than Teutonic, names]


NAME           ETHOS            PURVIEW
Odin           Balance          'the Allfather', Wisdom, the Sky
Balder         Sunlight         Beauty
Bragi          Balance          Poetry, Eloquence, Skalds
Forseti        Balance          Judgement, Judge of the Slain, Truth
Frey           Moonlight        Farming, Love
Freyja         Shadowy Darkness Love and Beauty
Frigga         ???              Marriage
Heimdall       Balance          Clear Sight, Guarding, Civilization
Hel            Gloomy Darkness  Death
Idunn          Sunlight         Healing, Longevity, Spring
Loki           Shadowy Darkness Fire, Mischief, Trickery, Betrayal
Njord          Moonlight        Sea
Thor           Moonlight        Strength, Thunder, Battle
Tyr            Balance          Oaths, Honor

ODIN: God of Wisdom, God of the Runes, some sky influence. Prayed to for guidance and victory in battle. Priests are uncommon, but are expected to make sacrifices to increase their knowledge, and to share the benefit of this knowledge. Often revered for his continual assistance of mankind and the beleaguered, he is rarely prayed to for specifics.

BALDER: Although the deity has been slain, he is occasionally referenced. Further, the role he plays as being resurrected at or after Ragnarok have continued to grow, and it is generally thought that he will be a god of light and goodness who will head the new pantheon after the battle is concluded. He is rarely prayed to, although his is a name often on the lips of those who need hope and reassurance of better things to come.

BRAGI: His is the gift of eloquence and charisma, and praise (and petitions) are often heaped upon him, particularly when composing a new work, or attempting to find the right words for persuasion. Skalds, poets, and other verbal and musical artists often call upon him and grant him special reverence.

FORSETI: Originally an obscure reference, against whose judgement none can stand, he has become the arbiter of justice, the ultimate judge, and the being who can forbid entrance into Valhalla if the Valkyries select an unworthy soul. His name is almost always invoked before judicial decisions are rendered.

FREY: Perhaps an ancient agricultural deity, thrust aside as the Norse pantheon gained ascendance, Frey has remained popular among the farmers, and his influence is celebrated at planting and harvest-time. Thanks to a number of literary works, he is often invoked by those wishing to keep love strong and wishing to demonstrate their love, for his act of trading his sword to gain his wife, thus leaving himself defenseless at Ragnarok. He is occasionally associated with Phaeree, particularly the Seelie, perhaps because of his association with Alfheim (the home of the Elves).

FREYJA: After significant cultural contact with the various Greco-Roman states, she has become similar in aspect to Venus, hailed as the fairest of the Asynjor and the patroness of beauty in all its forms. However, she maintains a hard edge, as half the souls of those slain in battle are hers and serve her.

FRIGGA: Odin's wife has always been a matronly figure, and she is rarely praised, save by those commenting on matrimony and those attempting to salvage or maintain marriages.

HEIMDALL: He has become a symbol of guardianship, and his name is invoked in most oaths binding guards. He is also revered (and referenced) for his stern devotion to the duty of warding Bifrost, and he is occasionally hailed for the legends stating that it was his early travels that spread the seed of civilization.

HEL: The fearsome goddess of death, the queen of the icy realm, she has taken darker and fiercer aspects than originally granted. Plagues and sicknesses are attributed to her, as are most catastrophes. She is seen as evil.

IDUNN: Originally a fairly minor deity, she has taken on aspects of healing, compassion, and care. Further, because of her association with the golden apples which keep the gods from aging, she is also invoked by those with long and healthy lives. Most of the healers of the Norse lands pray to her for assistance.

LOKI: A mischievous trickster and blood-brother to Odin, he is known for getting the Aesir into and out of trouble. Vestiges of his origin as a god of fire still hang around his legends, but that aspect is dwarfed next to the knowledge that it is his betrayal which will signal Ragnarok, and that it is his mischief that caused the death of Balder. He is associated with monsters (and thus, loosely, the Unseelie Phaeree) His
name is sometimes invoked by thieves, liars, and against those who betray a trust.

NJORD: Originally a somewhat obscure Vanir, perhaps of the sea, and father of Frey and Freyja, he has become a full-fledged symbol of the sea in all its majesty and glory. Ships are pledged to him when they are built, and his name is readily on the lips of all who live by the sea.

THOR: The strongest of the Aesir, he is also associated with thunder and lightning. He is called upon prior to battles, and he is asked to lend strength to the warrior and his weapons.

TYR: He is seen as the god of honor and oaths, and his name is almost universally used in the vows binding lords to their subjects. He is called upon by those fulfilling their duties and those who are following through on an oath made, no matter the cost to themselves. In some sections of the Norse states, he is called upon for strength against adversity.


[In a sense, these are the 'patron saints' of particular traits and actions. None of these have established cults or priesthoods, but they are sometimes addressed under certain circumstances.]

NAME           ETHOS            PURVIEW
Aegir          Moonlight        Seas, Sailors
Fulla          ???              Handmaid, Service
Gefion         Moonlight        Those Who Die Unwedded
Gripi          Balance          The Wisest of Men
Magni          Sunlight         Strength
Modi           Balance          Wrath
Nerthus        Moonlight        Lady of the Rivers
Norns, The     Balance          Fate, Destiny
Sigyn          Sunlight         Protectress of the Wretched
Svipdag        Shadowy Darkness Patron of Magic
Ullr           Sunlight         Glory
Volund         Shadowy Darkness Smithcraft and Artisans

AEGIR: Possibly one of the original gods of the Norse region, he is associated with the Giants. He is often ceded dominion over the seas, sea voyages, and sailors.

FULLA: The handmaiden of Frigga, prayers are addressed to her for intercession with Frigga, and for guidance in service.

GEFION: Perhaps originally the patron goddess of Zeaburg, she has since been relegated to being the patron of those who die unwedded.

GRIPI: While Odin is the wisest of beings, Gripi hears more pleas for wisdom, for he is considerably more approachable. Whether or not he responds, of course, varies.

MAGNI: One of Thor's sons, his name means strength. Although devotion to Thor is much more common, his name is invoked when strength is necessary (such as in wrestling).

MODI: The other son of Thor, he is the personification of Wrath. His name is often upon the lips of those who are seeking vengeance.

NERTHUS: She is the sister of Njord, and whatever her provenance, she has become the patron of the rivers (as an adjunct to Njord's domain over the oceans).

THE NORNS: These are the three Fates, and they determine the future (and doom) of all men.

SIGYN: Loki's wife, her role in holding the cup preventing the painful venom from dropping on him and causing him further torture has granted her association with the wretched and disadvantaged, and her name is invoked when showing compassion to such folk.

SVIPDAG: A not inconsiderable mage when he sought advice from the spirit of his mother in order to gain his wife, he has since gained tremendous arcane knowledge, and he has achieved the distinction of being the patron of Norse Heka-benders.

ULLR: Thor's step-son, Glory, he represents the honors of the battlefield.


Norsemen fully believe that their pantheon serves their needs, and that *all* the gods (no matter the region or pantheon) shall die at Ragnarok, save the three fated to survive: Balder (who will be resurrected), Vali, and Vidar. In this sense, in inter-pantheistic conflict they are assured to be the long-term victors.
However, this does not in any way negate the validity of other pantheons. The average Norseman, if he even considers the theological possibilities, would simply consider the other deities to be other, as yet unknown, distant clans (such as the Vanir, the clan of Frey, Freyja, and Njord).

Mike Phillips, msphil@widomaker.com