Norse mythology. Home to countless Gods, creatures, and artifacts of immense power. Gungnir, Draupnir, Gjallarhorn, Gleipnir, and Skidbladnir are just some incredibly powerful items in Norse culture.
However, when I think about all of them, there is one that stands out from the crowd. Let me give you a hint:
You might think of it as "a crown jewel of Viking heritage." It was believed that this item was capable of leveling mountains. It belonged to the God of Thunder. Nowadays, it is one of the most famous Norse mythology artifacts due to Marvel's movies (Avengers and Thor) and Marvel's comic books.
Of course, it is Mjolnir, and today I am going to tell you everything you would like to know about this great hammer.
As I have already mentioned, this hammer belonged to Thor. Thor was the son of Odin, the protector of Midgard, the God of Thunder and storm, etc. I am sure that all of you know who Thor was. If, by some chance, you are not familiar with this iconic figure of Norse mythology or would like to learn more about him, be sure to check out our article explicitly dedicated to the God of thunder.
Now, back to our main topic. The greatest hammer in the universe that belonged to Thor.
How Mjölnir Got its Name?
Let me start by telling you that the etymology of the word Mjölnir is uncertain. Some scholars believe that the phrase Mjolnir (Old Norse Mjǫllnir) originates from a Proto-Germanic meldunjaz, meaning "crusher" or "the grinder."
Throughout Old Norse texts, Thor's hammer is called hamarr. It is a word with several meanings in Old Norse, such as "hammer," "stone," "rock," or even a "cliff." However, when you scratch beneath the surface, you will discover that the word hamarr originates from an Indo-European word meaning "stone tool," "hammer," and even "thunderbolt” or “lightning."
There are several variations in the way the word Mjolnir is written:
-Mjǫllnir - Old Norse,
-Miollnir - Old Icelandic,
-Mjölnir - Modern Icelandic,
-Mjølner - Danish and Norwegian,
-Mjölner - Swedish.
Skáldskaparmál - A Story of How Mjölnir Was Created
Sindri and Brokkr Crafting Mjolnir
The first written evidence of how the hammer of Thor was crafted can be found within the second half of Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson. This part of the Prose Edda is called Skáldskaparmál, and it tells about the creation of several powerful objects in the Norse mythology universe.
It all started with Loki cutting off some of the golden hair of Thor's wife, Sif. To avoid the wrath of his brother, Loki went to the realm of dwarves, Svartalfheim, to find master craftsmen who could create a new lock of golden hair for Sif.
Loki quickly managed to find craftsmen capable of helping him. The Sons of Ivaldi crafted not only a lock of hair for Thor's wife but also two other artifacts of immense power. The spear that would never miss its mark, Gungnir, and the ship that could be folded to fit into its owner's pocket and have a favorable wind at all times, Skidbladnir.
However, Loki would not be the God of trickery and mischief if he didn't try to cause chaos. Even though Loki completed his task, he wasn't ready to go to Asgard just yet.
He taunted dwarf brothers Sindri and Brokkr that they lacked skills to craft three creations as marvelous as the Sons of Ivaldi forged. The stake was nothing less than Loki's head, and the brothers accepted the wager and began working. To disrupt them, Loki shapeshifted into a fly and kept biting Brokkr, who was working the forge.
They started by forging a living boar out of a pig's skin. The boar was faster than any horse and gave off light in the darkness. Its name was Gullinbursti.
Next came the magical ring that was able to create eight new golden rings every ninth night. The ring was named Draupnir.
Lastly, the dwarves crafted Mjölnir. Sindri placed iron in the forge and left his brother to tend to it. Loki (a fly) bit Brokkr on the eyelid so deep that blood started to run into the dwarf's eyes. Brokkr stopped his work for a moment to wipe his eyes - a moment that led to a flaw in Mjölnir's design.
When Sindri pulled the hammer from the forge, he noticed that its handle was shorter than he had planned it to be, thus making Mjölnir a one-handed weapon. This is considered the only flaw this hammer had.
After completing their final masterpiece, the brothers took off to Asgard to claim what they were owed.
Loki managed to arrive before the dwarves and present the treasures he brought. He gave Gungnir and Draupnir to Odin, Gullinbursti, and Skidbladnir to Freyr, and finally gave Thor Sif's new hair and the Mjolnir.
Sindri and Brokkr came to claim Loki's head, and the Gods agreed that Loki had to pay his debt. However, the God of trickery managed to keep his head by stating that he offered his head and not his neck, and as the dwarves cannot take his head without cutting his neck, the deal was slightly changed.
Sindri and Brokkr agreed that it would be enough to sew Loki's mouth shut, and once they did it, they went back to their forge.
Þrymskviða - A Poem from the Poetic Edda about Mjölnir
Thor possessed few other valuable things alongside his hammer. His storm's hovering chariots were pulled by two goats, Tanngnjóstr and Tanngrisnir. He also wears a magical belt, Megingjörð, and gloves, Járngreipr. However, many of Thor's adventures focus on his hammer.
One of these adventures is described in Þrymskviða, a poem of the Poetic Edda. The verse tells about how the giant called Þrymr steals Thor's hammer and requests Freya's hand in marriage in exchange.
This is one of the rare myths where Loki used his trickery to do good. He disguised Thor as Freya and sent him to Þrymr.
To celebrate his union with Freya, the giant threw a banquet. Unable to resist his beautiful soon-to-be-bride (with broad shoulders), Þrymr got close to "her" and placed Mjölnir on "her" lap. You can imagine how this ended, right?!
Thor took off his disguise and sent Þrymr and his followers to their doom with a few mighty blows.
Ceremonial Significance of Mjölnir
Mjolnir was undoubtedly among the most powerful weapons Norse Gods had in their possession. But, it was not only a weapon. Thor's hammer was much more. It held the central role in various rituals and ceremonies.
Some of these ceremonies were births, marriages, and even funerals, and Mjölnir was used to bless newlywed couples, babies, and people on their way to the afterlife. Imagine how cool it would be to have your marriage blessed by a priest holding Mjölnir?!
Evidence shows that Mjölnir's blessing was very often used in marriage ceremonies. Discovery of stone carvings in Scandinavia that portray the blessing of a couple by a huge character holding a hammer speaks to the ancient past of this ceremony.
Furthermore, according to historian E.O.G. Turville-Petre, the blessing of marriage was used to ensure the fertility of newlywed couples. The connection between Mjölnir and fertility makes sense due to Thor's association with the fertilization of the fields.
Snorri's Prose Edda tells a story about how Thor revived his goats by using Mjölnir (after he killed and ate them!).
Here is another interesting fact about Thor's hammer’s role in ceremonies: Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish historian, states that large hammers were a part of Thor's temples in Sweden. The people from the nearby settlements would use the hammers to beat large drums to create a thunder-like noise. The purpose of this ceremony was to bless their communities and protect them against evil spirits.
Now, let's continue and see how all the abovementioned impacted people during the Viking age.
Mjölnir's Influence Back in the Viking Age
During the Viking age, cross amulets were becoming common in Scandinavia, and so Vikings started wearing various necklaces with Norse symbols to show their faith in Norse Gods. One of the most common Viking amulets was in the shape of a hammer.
Even though there is no written evidence, it is believed that Mjölnir's usage as a piece of Viking jewelry was somewhat an imitation of cross amulets used by Christians.
Vikings believed that wearing a Thor's hammer amulet would grant them blessings and protection. An interesting fact is that archeologists discovered molds for casting both hammer and cross pendants in Sweden and Denmark. These findings are a clear sign that both hammer and cross jewelry were used during the Viking age.
Vikings chose Mjolnir to symbolize their faith in the Norse Gods. They picked Thor's hammer, before Odin's Spear or Freyr's ship. This is how important Thor and his hammer were to the ordinary people in the Viking era.
Archaeological Discoveries of Thor's Hammer
Up to today, more than seventy-five hammer-shaped pendants from the Viking era have been discovered. For a long time, archeologists believed that these pendants were created upon the image of Mjolnir. However, there was no real evidence to support their theories. Until 2014.
In 2014, archeologists discovered the first pendant with an inscription on the island of Lolland in Denmark. The inscription says "hamr x is," where "x" is a sign used to separate words. Thus the meaning of the inscription is, in fact, "this is a hammer." After this finding, there was no doubt that all hammer-shaped pendants discovered before were indeed a symbol of Thor's hammer.
Mjölnir and the Swastika Symbol
The connection between these two symbols originated from the Icelandic books of magic, where the image of the symbol known as a swastika is labeled Þórshamar, meaning Thor's hammer.
However, it is far from certain that this was a real connection in the Viking age. There are a lot of discovered images of swastikas throughout Scandinavia. The earliest findings date back to the Bronze Age.
The use of this symbol continued during the Viking era. Some historians believe that the swastika was related to Viking hammer illustrations. To back up this theory, Hilda Ellis Davidson said that it was likely that both the swastika and hammer symbols were associated with Thor.
Moreover, David Adams Leeming and Christopher R. Fee had a theory that the swastika symbol was nothing less than the hammer of Thor spinning through the heavens.
As a result of this connection, the hammer symbol has been frequently used by Neo-Nazis. For example, the Neo-Nazi band Absurd has a swastika and Mjölnir on their logo.
Thor's Hammer in Modern Day Use
Let's start with Marvel movies and comic books. The former (Avengers) has made Mjölnir the most popular hammer in the world nowadays, and thanks to it, it is tough to come across someone not familiar with Thor's hammer.
In addition, certain Neo-Nazi groups adopted the symbol of Mjölnir. As a result, the Anti-Defamation League considered it to be a hate symbol. But, a light can be seen at the end of a tunnel, as groups of people who value Viking heritage plan to remove Mjölnir from the Anti-Defamation League's listing.
Thor's hammer is a part of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs emblems listing for markers and headstones since 2013.
Let's Wrap it Up
Now, when we analyze all the things I have described today, we can say that Mjolnir was an epic and over-powerful Nordic artifact. As it was not enough that Thor's hammer could kill giants and level mountains, it even held powers to recreate food you have just eaten (i.e. Thor's goats), to boost the birth rate of baby Vikings (marriage blessing), and much more.
Yes, I know there are no giants left today, but you will agree that the other perks of Mjolnir would definitely come in handy for any Viking nowadays. Skål!