Gungnir is the name for Odin's spear in Norse Mythology. The term "Gungnir" means "to tremble" or "to sway." Other names for this powerful artifact are "The Swaying One" and "Eternal Spear."
The name refers to the fact that Odin's ability with the spear causes enemies to tremble with fear. Alternatively, some suggest that the name comes from the spear's movement in battle, swaying and twisting while an ordinary spear would fly straight.
Gungnir's significance runs deeper, though. This article will explain Gungnir's role in Norse Mythology, uncovering its origins, uses, and meanings.
Let's take a closer look.
Origins of The Holy Weapon
There are a few different stories about how Gungnir was created. These accounts have important, differing implications. It's impossible to know which one of the following origins is accurate in the original mythology, but each one throws an interesting twist into the rise of Odin and his significance as a god.
The grand scheme of Norse Mythology doesn't change depending on how Gungnir was created or where Odin acquired it. That said, those who are interested in the specifics of this mighty spear might benefit from further research into the subject.
1. Loki's Gift from Svartalfheim
The Poetic Edda states that Loki acquired Gungnir in Svartalfheim, home of the dwarves.
Before his journey there, Loki cut Sif's hair. Sif was Thor's wife, and she had beautiful golden hair. This offense against the gods had to be reconciled, so Loki consulted the Dwarves, the greatest craftsmen in the cosmos. These were the same Dwarves that crafted Thor's hammer, Fenrir's magical bindings, and many other sacred objects owned by the gods.
It was there that Loki saw Gungnir. A group of Dwarves called the Ivaldi brothers forged the spear with expert craftsmanship.
It was adorned with a covenant of magical runes and built from a branch of the world tree. He took it back to Asgard, offering it to Odin as a gift. He brought gifts to Thor and his brothers as well, making amends with the gods and causing them to forget about the crime of snipping Sif's hair.
2. One of Four Mythic Items
An alternative theory is that Gungnir was one of four sacred items created at the birth of the world in order to protect gods and humans from the Jötnar (giants). Among these were a demon bow, a flaming sword, Gungnir, and the jade of a dragon.
Giants are depicted in various ways, and there's a lot of variety among them.
It's easy to see any giants as evil villains, although many of the gods had children with giants and interacted with them in peaceful ways. In fact, all gods descend from Ymir, the first giant. That said, there are certainly adversarial giants that pose a threat to the gods.
Loki, for example, is the aforementioned trickster god who descends from giants. He fathers Fenrir, Jörmungandr, and Hel, and all of them have essential roles in Ragnarok. It's interesting to note that Fenrir defeats thor while he wields Gungnir, however. While Fenrir was born from giants, he was an enormous wolf.
If these four mythic items were designed to fight giants, it would make sense that it didn't work in a battle against Fenrir.
3. An Essential Sacrifice from The World Tree
A prominent story in Norse mythology comes from the poem, Havamal. In this story, Odin hangs himself on the world tree, Yggdrasil.
The story is told only once, but it's one that gets a lot of attention from scholars and appreciators of Norse culture and mythology.
In the story, Odin is pinned (or hung) upon the tree for nine long nights. He's also pierced by a spear (Gungnir). It's around this time that he seeks wisdom from Mimir's well, which runs deep and feeds Yggdrasil's roots. In order to gain this wisdom, he sacrifices his eye.
Gungnir Symbol: Ruling Power
Some accounts state that this is where Odin gained possession of Gungnir. Written upon the magical weapon were runes stating, "whoever wields this weapon will rule the world." If Odin hung himself upon Yggdrasil in an effort to solidify the well's wisdom, an aspect of that sacrifice might have been the need to pierce himself upon the sword.
He might have needed to pierce himself in order to obtain the sword as well. If this is true, then Gungnir could be an essential aspect of Odin's position among the gods. The Gungnir symbol could then be one of ultimate power and complete authority.
The Havamal also tells that Odin made his sacrifice "in order to gather runes." These runes could very well have been the ones inscribed upon the end of Gungnir.
The Viking Age Lord God Odin
It's important to understand Odin's role in this mythology. Odin served as the principal god in the Norse Pantheon. He was worshiped throughout the Viking Age, but his significance lasted in ancient cultures throughout most of the pre-Christian era.
In fact, another name for Odin was "Woden." Roman historians cite that the Teutons (Northern Europeans) worshiped the god Mercury on what was called "Wodensday." This transitioned into the name "Wednesday," and there's little doubt that Woden and Mercury were the same, if not very similar gods.
So, the next time Wednesday rolls around, you can pay a little tribute to Odin!
Contradictory & Powerful Roles
Odin was one of the first gods descended from the Jötunn Ymir, and the designated ruler of the Aesir deities who reside in Asgard. His complex and important role is one of the central components of Norse Mythology. He served as Norse God of War, God of Wisdom, Spear God, God of The Poets, and protector of the fallen heroes who entered Valhalla in the afterlife.
His role is an enigmatic one as well. For example, he's the patron of rulers and outlaws alike. He symbolizes a wide range of things, most of which are contracting or playing upon one another. Most of the time, though, he would be found strolling through the cosmos on a personal mission, carrying the Eternal Spear.
Odin's Significance in Ragnarok
Ragnarok (the "twilight of the gods" or "fate of the gods"), is the name for the end times in the Norse sagas. It marks the time when Jörmungandr (the world serpent) releases his tail from his mouth and beckons the end of the current age.
The following chaos includes a great battle between the Gods, giants, and beasts of Norse Mythology. Odin's spear plays a part in this battle. Wielding Gungnir, wearing a cloak of mail, and adorned with a golden helmet, Odin leads the gods and warriors of Valhalla into battle against Loki and his monstrous children.
Unfortunately, Odin is no match for Fenrir, the giant wolf who swallows Odin and kills him. Before Ragnarok, though, Gungnir emerges and plays an important role.
Use of Gungnir in Battle
It's believed that Odin would throw Gungnir as the first weapon flung during battles. In some accounts, it looked like an ordinary spear, while other accounts say that it shot across the sky like lightening.
Odin is the father of Thunder God, Thor, which supports the idea that his spear, Gungnir, would boldt like lightening. The poet Bragi Boddason referenced this in the 800s. He called Odin Gungnir's Shaker, which might reference the rattling and crashing of lightening and thunder.
In this sense, the spear could also be used as a symbol for lightening.
Want to Learn More About Norse Mythology?
Gungnir has a lot of meaning in Norse mythology. Just like all other gods and artifacts, though, those meanings are complicated and hidden by history. This is part of what makes Norse Mythology so interesting to learn about.
If you're interested in learning more, you're in the right place. Explore our site for more insight into Odin, Loki, Dwarves, and all of the other people and places referenced above. We can also help you find the highest quality Norse axes, hammers, clothes, and more.