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Thor

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Thor's battle against the giants, by Marten Eskil Winge, 1872
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Thor's battle against the giants, by Marten Eskil Winge, 1872

Thor, Þrr (ON), Þunor (OE), Donar or Donner (German) is the red-haired and bearded god of thunder and lightning in Germanic and Norse Mythology, the son of Odin and Jord. While Odin is the god of the powerful and aristocratic, Thor is much more the god of the common man, often siding with mortals against other gods. Thor was an outright hero for mankind, powerfully defeating his enemies, though he lost a wrestling match to an old woman named Elli (old age). During Ragnarok, Thor will kill and be killed by Jormungand. He lived in the hall of Bilskirnir in Thrudheim.

Thor features strongly in the Eddas of Snorri Sturluson, where Thor's many conflicts with the race of giants are a main source of plots. As Snorri portrays him, Thor is a straightforward god, not necessarily the wisest or most intelligent; for instance, he is thoroughly made a fool of by the mysterious Utgardaloki and his magic spells.

Contents

Thor's family

Thor was the son of Odin and Jord (Earth). His wife was called Sif, and little is known of her except that she had golden hair, which was made for her by the dwarfs after the Loki had cut off her haddur (which means hair). With Jarnsaxa, Thor had the son Magni and with Sif he had Thrud and Modi. He also had a stepson called Ullr who was a son of Sif's.

Thor's possessions

Thor travelled in a chariot drawn by goats (Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjstr, Modern Icelandic Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjstur) and with his servant and messenger Thjlfi or Thjelvar. These were not your normal goats or your usual chariot since the Eddas note that the earth was scorched and the mountains cracked as the goats ran across them. Furthermore, when Thor was hungry he would roast the goats for a meal. When he wanted to continue his travels, Thor only needed to touch the remains of the goats and they would be instantly restored to full health to resume their duties.

Thor owned a short-handled war hammer, Mjollnir, which, when thrown at a target, returned magically to the owner. To wield this formidable weapon, even a deity like Thor needed special iron gloves and a belt that doubled the wearer's strength.

The strike of the hammer caused thunderclaps, and indeed, the name of this deity has produced the word for thunder in most Germanic languages. With the hammer, Thor performed his giant killing duties.

Stories and myths

Most of the surviving myths centre on Thor's exploits, and from this and inscriptions on monuments we know that Thor was very much the favourite deity of ancient Scandinavians.

Loki was flying as a hawk one day and was captured by Geirrod. Geirrod, who hated Thor, demanded that Loki bring his enemy (who did not yet have his magic belt and hammer) to Geirrod's castle. Loki agreed to lead Thor to the trap. Grid was a giantess at whose home they stopped on the way to Geirrod's. She waited until Loki left the room then told Thor what was happening and gave him her iron gloves and magical belt and staff. Thor killed Geirrod, and all other frost giants he could find (including Geirrod's daughters, Gjalp and Greip).

Thor's daughter, Thrud, was promised to Alvis, a dwarf, in exchange for which Alvis made weapons for the gods. Thor devised a plan to stop Alvis from marrying his daughter. He told Alvis that, because of his small height, he had to prove his wisdom. Alvis agreed and Thor made the tests last until after the sun had risen--all dwarves turned to stone when exposed to sunlight, so Alvis was petrified and Thrud remained unmarried.

Þunor gave his name to the Old English day Þunresdg, meaning the day of Þunor, known in Modern English as Thursday. Þunor is also the source of the modern word thunder.

Thor in Norse literature

Thor appears as a central figure in the following works of Norse literature:

Thor also appears in:

Named after Thor

  • "Tor's Day" or "Thor's Day" became Thursday in English, Donnerstag in German (meaning "Thunder's Day"), and Torsdag in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.
  • "Thor's Oak" was an ancient tree near Fritzlar in northern Hesse (Germany) and one of the most sacred of sites of the old Germans. In 723, St. Boniface cut down the tree to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian god over Thor and the other Germanic/Nordic deities, an event that commonly marks the beginning of the Christianization of the non-Frankish Germans.

Other names

Homologues

Homologues in related Indo-European religions

Homologues in other religions

  • Tiermes, Tordm or Torum ("the golden light", Finno-Ugric). Several Finno-Ugric peoples have thunder gods with names similar to Thor. Some, like Estonian Taara have even connection with Thursday. One theory is that Germanic god Thor is loan from Finno-Ugrians, although the Hittite Tarhunt and the Sanskrit Indra seem to be cognates pointing to a pan-Indo-European phenomenon.
  • Xolotl

Thor in modern popular culture

  • Marvel Comics publishes a comic book series called The Mighty Thor, in which modernized versions of the Asgardian gods inhabit the Marvel Universe.
  • Thor is the hero, along with Odin and Loki in the Valhalla comic book or graphic novel series published in Denmark by Interpresse. Originally published in Danish, translations were made into Dutch, German, French, Swedish, and Finnish. Several animated movies were also produced from the series.
  • Thor makes an appearance in DC Comics' Sandman comic series, written by Neil Gaiman. Thor is portrayed here as an overly muscular, red-bearded man, who eats his fill and hits on other goddesses. He's also, unlike in the Marvel universe, portrayed in keeping with the myths as a bit dim-witted.
  • Thor is also mentioned briefly in Neil Gaiman's American Gods novel.
  • Thor is a recurring character in the Sci-Fi T.V. series Stargate SG-1. He is the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet, where his species is portrayed as technologically-advanced little gray beings akin to the purported Roswell Greys. The Asgard are said to have inspired the Norse Mythology and the Futhark alphabet, which can be seen occasionally written on Asgard technology.
  • Thor appears in several novels by the late author Douglas Adams; namely, Life, the Universe and Everything, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, and The Salmon of Doubt.
  • Thor has a small but important role in the movie Adventures in Babysitting (inspired by the Marvel Comics version).
  • Toothgnip, the title goat of the web comic Goats, is Thor's third goat.
  • The name "Thor" has been used as the name of a BattleMech in the MechWarrior series of games. Other Norse-inspired 'Mech names include "Loki", "Ymir" and "Ragnarok". In the MechAssault series, the "Valkyrie" VTOL and the map "Jotenheim" are homages to Norse mythology.

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