How Thor Lost His Thunder
The Changing Faces of an Old Norse God
How Thor Lost his Thunder is the first major English-language study of early medieval evidence for the Old Norse god, Thor. In this book, the most common modern representations of Thor are examined, such as images of him wreathed in lightning, and battling against monsters and giants. The origins of these images within Iron Age and early medieval evidence are then uncovered and investigated. In doing so, the common cultural history of Thor’s cult and mythology is explored and some of his lesser known traits are revealed, including a possible connection to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Iceland.
This geographically and chronologically far-reaching study considers the earliest sources in which Thor appears, including in evidence from the Viking colonies of the British Isles and in Scandinavian folklore. Through tracing the changes and variety that has occurred in Old Norse mythology over time, this book provokes a questioning of the fundamental popular and scholarly beliefs about Thor for the first time since the Victorian era, including whether he really was a thunder god and whether worshippers truly believed they would encounter him in the afterlife.
Considering evidence from across northern Europe, How Thor Lost his Thunder challenges modern scholarship’s understanding of the god and of the northern pantheon as a whole and is ideal for scholars and students of mythology, and the history and religion of medieval Scandinavia.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction; 1.1 Justifications and the Limits of the Study; 1.2 Vikings, Religion and Other Controversies; 1.3 Orthography; 2. Sources; 2.1 Categories of Sources; 2.1.1 Eddic and Skaldic Poetry; 2.1.2 Eddic Prose; 2.1.3 Iconography and Runic Inscriptions; 2.1.4 Contemporary Historiography and Ethnography; 2.1.5 Conclusions; 2.2 Variety and Change; 2.2.1 Why Is It Important?; 2.2.2 Why Did It Happen?; 3. Naming Thunder; 3.1 Ancient *Þunraz; 3.2 Vagna verz: The Wagon Man; 3.3 A Roaring Rider; 3.4 Onomastics; 3.5 In Summary; 4. Eddic Thunder; 4.1 Snorri Sturluson’s Edda; 4.2 ‘All the mountains shake’: Lokasenna; 4.3 Volcanic Imagery: Þrymskviða and Hallmundarkviða; 4.4 Making an Impression; 4.5 The Strongman of Old Norse Myth; 4.5.1 Guardian of the Gods; 4.5.2 Enduring Strength; 4.5.3 Inversions; 5 Non-Eddic Voices; 5.1 An Icelandic Jove; 5.2 Adam of Bremen; 5.3 Saxo Grammaticus; 5.4 An Isolated Parallel in a Lausavísa by Þjóðólfr Arnórsson; 6. Mythological Objects; 6.1 Closer Attention to Þórsdrápa; 6.2 Assorted Other Poets; 6.3 The Intriguing Case of Þorsteinn bæjarmagn; 6.4 Snorri: Its Fullest Expression; 6.5 Mythological Fingerprints; 6.6 The Motif of Throwing; 7. Mundane Objects; 7.1 Thunderstones; 7.1.1 A Geographical Split; 7.1.2 Thunderstones and Mjǫllnir; 7.1.3 Beyond Literature; 7.2 The Hammer; 7.2.1 The Roots of Mjǫllnir; 7.2.2 Blessing with a Word or a Weapon; 126.96.36.199 The Word; 188.8.131.52 The Weapon; 7.3 Summing Up; 8. Conclusions; 8.1 A Thunder God?; 8.1.1 Climate; 8.1.2 Genre; 8.2 Changing Faces
Declan Taggart is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of English at University College Cork. His research interests include Old Norse mythology, religion and literature, together with the role of human cognition in shaping religious concepts.