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In Norse mythology, Mjolnir or Mjollnir is the hammer of the Thunder god Thor.
Distinctively shaped, Mjolnir (pronounced [ˈmyɔlnɪr] or MUOLL-neer) was depicted as one of the most fearsome weapons in Norse mythology in late Icelandic sources. There, it is used to slay any challengers to Æsir supremacy. Though generally recognized and depicted as a hammer, Mjolnir is sometimes referred to as an axe or club. Legends surrounding Mjolnir’s origins vary: some relate that the Svartálfar Sindri and Brokkr made it at the command of Loki.
“He [Thor] would be able to strike as firmly as he wanted, whatever his aim, and the hammer would never fail, and if he threw it at something, it would never miss and never fly so far from his hand that it would not find its way back, and when he wanted, it would be so small that it could be carried inside his tunic.“
“Mjolnir” simply means “crusher” referring to its pulverizing effect. It is related to words such as the Icelandic verbs mölva (to crush) and mala (to grind), but similar words, all stemming from the Proto-Indo-European root melə can be found in almost all European languages, e.g. the Slavic melvo (grain to be ground) and molotu (hammer), the Dutch meel (meal), the Russian Молоток (molotok – hammer), the Greek μύλος (mylos – mill) and the Latin malleus (hammer) as well as the Latin mola (mill). The English meal, mill and maul are direct relatives, while mallet and molar arrived via Latin. It has been suggested that although the name reflects Mjolnir’s awesome powers it might also allude to Thor’s agricultural nature, as he was primarily worshiped by farmers.
An alternative theory suggests that Mjolnir might be related to the Russian word молния (molniya) and the Welsh word mellt (both words being translated as “lightning”). This second theory parallels with the idea that Thor, being a god of thunder, therefore might have used lightning as his weapon.
The most popular version of the creation of Mjolnir myth, found in the poem Skáldskaparmál from Snorri’s Edda, is as follows. In one story Loki sends up to the dwarves called the sons of Ivaldi (or Ovaldi’s sons) that create precious items for the gods: Odin’s spear Gungnir, and Frey‘s foldable boat Skidbladnir. Then Loki bets his head that Sindri (or Eitri) and his brother Brokk would never succeed in making items more beautiful that those of Ivaldi’s sons. The bet is accepted and the two brothers begin working. Thus Eitri puts a pig’s skin in the forge and tells his brother (Brokk) never to stop blowing until he comes and takes out what he put in.
A fly, actually Loki in disguise, comes and bites Brokk on the arm but he continued to blow. Then Eitri takes out Gullinbursti which is Frey‘s boar with shining bristles. Then Eitri puts some gold in the furnace and gives Brokk the same order. Loki in the fly guise comes again and bites Brokk’s neck twice as hard. But as before nothing happened and Eitri took out Draupnir, Odin’s ring, having duplicates falling from itself every ninth night.
Eitri then puts Iron in the forge and tells Brokk to never stop blowing. Loki comes again and bites Brokk on the eyelid much harder than before and the blood made him stop blowing for a short while. When Eitri came and took out Mjolnir, the handle was a bit short (making it one handed) and also the handle was not perpendicular to the head-piece. Yet Eitri and Brokk won the bet which was Loki’s head, but the bet could not be honoured since they needed to cut the neck as well which was not part of the deal. So Brokk sewed Loki’s mouth to teach him a lesson.
Thor possessed a formidable chariot, which is drawn by two goats. A belt and iron gloves were used to lift Mjolnir. Mjolnir is the focal point of many of Thor’s adventures.
This is clearly illustrated in a poem found in the Poetic Edda titled Þrymskviða. The myth relates that the giant, Þrymr, steals Mjolnir from Thor and then demands fair goddess Freyja in exchange. Loki, the god notorious for his duplicity, conspires with the other Æsir to recover Mjolnir by disguising Thor as Freyja and presenting him as the “goddess” to Þrymr.
At a banquet Þrymr holds in honor of the impending union, the dim-witted Þrymr takes the bait. Unable to contain his passion for his new maiden with long, blond locks (and broad shoulders), as Þrymr approaches the bride by placing Mjolnir on “her” lap, Thor rips off his disguise and destroys Þrymr and his giant cohorts.
Myths, artifacts, and institutions revolving around Thor indicate his prominent place in the mind of medieval Scandinavians. His following ranged in influence, but the Viking warrior aristocracy were particularly inspired by Thor’s ferocity in battle. In the medieval legal arena, according to Joseph Campbell, “(a)t the Icelandic Things (court assemblies) the god invoked in the testimony of oaths, as ‘the Almighty God,’ was Thor.”
Emblematic of their devotion were the appearance of miniature replicas of Mjolnir. Widely popular in Scandinavia, they were used in Blóts and other sacral ceremonies, such as weddings. Many of these replicas were also found in graves and tended to be furnished with a loop, allowing them to be worn. They were most widely discovered in areas with a strong Christian influence including southern Norway, south-eastern Sweden, and Denmark.
By the late 10th century, increased uniformity in Mjolnir’s design over previous centuries suggest it functioned as a popular accessory worn in defiance or imitation of the Christian cross.
The shape taken by these pendants varied by region. The Icelandic variant was cross-shaped, while Swedish and Norwegian variants tended to be arrow or T-shaped. About 50 specimens of such hammers were found widely dispersed throughout Scandinavia, dating from the 9th to 11th centuries. A few such examples were also found in England. An iron Thor’s hammer pendant excavated in Yorkshire, dating to ca. AD 1000 bears an unical inscription preceded and followed by a cross, interpreted as indicating a Christian owner syncretizing pagan and Christian symbolism. A 10th century soapstone mold found at Trendgården, Jutland, Denmark is notable for allowing the casting of both crucifix and Thor’s hammer pendants. A silver specimen found near Fossi (now in the National Museum of Iceland), Iceland can be interpreted as either a Christian cross or a Thor’s hammer. Unusually, the elongated limb of the cross ends in a beast’s (perhaps a wolf’s) head.
According to some scholars, the swastika shape may have been a variant popular in Anglo-Saxon England prior to Christianization, especially in East Anglia and Kent. Wilson (1894) points out that while the swastika had been “vulgarly called in Scandinavia the hammer of Thor”, the symbol properly so called had a Y or T shape.
Stones found in Denmark and southern Sweden bear an inscription of a hammer. Sometimes accompanying the carved hammer was an inscription calling for Thor to safeguard the stone. For example, the stone of Virring in Denmark had the inscription, “þur uiki þisi kuml” which translates into English as “May Thor Hallow this memorial.” There are several examples of a similar inscription, each one asking for Thor to “Hallow” or protect the specific artifact. Such inscriptions may have been in response to the Christians, who would ask for God’s protection over their dead.
A precedent of these Viking Age Thor’s hammer amulets are recorded for the migration period Alemanni, who took to wearing Roman “Hercules’ Clubs” as symbols of Donar. A possible remnant of these Donar amulets Alpine paganism was recorded in 1897, as a custom of Unterinn (South Tyrolian Alps) of incising a T-shape above front doors for protection against evils of all kinds, especially storms. 
Many practitioners of Germanic neopagan faiths wear Mjolnir pendants as a symbol of that faith worldwide. Renditions of Mjolnir are designed, crafted and sold by some Germanic Neopagan groups and individuals. Some controversy has occurred concerning the potential recognition of the symbol as a religious symbol by the United States government.
Outside Germanic neopaganism, Mjolnir pendants are also widely popular in the heavy metal (especially Black Metal, Viking Metal, Death Metal) and “Dark” subcultures, besides, to a lesser extent, among Rockers or biker gangs. In Ireland and Britain, Mjolnir pendants identify those involved in Dark Age reenactment, particularly those with a Viking persona or interest in Scandinavian history. They are likewise popular as a “Germanic” symbol in Neo-Nazi and “neo-völkisch” subcultures.
- ^ a b Orchard, Andy. Norse Myth and Legend. London: Cassell, 2002. p.255
- ^ Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964. p81
- ^ Snorri’s Edda, Skaldskaparmal. 41.
- ^ Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964. p83
- ^ Schoyen Collection, MS 1708
- ^ interpreted as the property of a craftsman “hedging his bets” by catering to both a Christian and a pagan clientele
- ^ Henry Mayr-Harting, The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England (1991), p. 3: “Many cremation pots of the early Anglo-Saxons have the swastika sign marked on them, and in some the swastikas seems to be confronted with serpents or dragons in a decorative design. This is a clear reference to the greatest of all Thor’s struggles, that with the World Serpent which lay coiled round the earth.” Christopher R. Fee , David Adams Leeming, Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain (2001), p. 31: “The image of Thor’s weapon spinning end-over-end through the heavens is captured in art as a swastika symbol (common in Indo-European art, and indeed beyond); this symbol is—as one might expect—widespread in Scandinavia, but it also is common on Anglo-Saxon grave goods of the pagan period, notably in East Anglia and Kent.”
- ^ Thomas Wilson (1894), citing Waring, “Ceramic Art in Remote Ages,”, p. 12.
- ^ Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964. p82-83
- ^ Werner: Herkuleskeule und Donar-Amulett. in: Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz Nr. 11, Mainz 1966
- ^ Joh. Adolf Heyl, Volkssagen, Bräuche und Meinungen aus Tirol (Brixen: Verlag der Buchhandlung des Kath.-polit. Pressvereins, 1897), p. 804.
- ^ Examples include “Wodanesdag” in Canada and “Hammers By Weylandsdöttir” in the United States.
- ^ Hudson Jr., David L.Va. inmate can challenge denial of Thor’s Hammer June 6, 2007 at the firstamendmentcenter.org website.
- Baker, Alan. The Viking. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
- Bulfinch’s Mythology. New York: Avenel, 1978.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1964.
- Davis, Kenneth. Don’t Know Much About Mythology. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.
- DuBois, Thomas A. Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
- Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little Brown & Company, 1942.
- Munch, Peter Andreus. Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. trans. Sigurd Bernhard Hustvedt. New York: AMS Press, 1970.
- Orchard, Andy. Norse Myth and Legend. London: Cassell, 2002.
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964.
- Loote Motz, The Germanic Thunderweapon, Viking Society Saga Book Vol 24 part 5 (1997).
- Loote Motz, “The Hammer and the Rod: A Discussion of þorr’s Weapons”, Germanic Studies in Honour of Anatoly Liberman, Odese (1997), 243-252.
- Tora Wall, Torshammarhängen – en uppsats om tolkningen av vikingtida hammarhängen (Thor’s hammer pendants – a paper about interpretations of Viking Age hammer pendants) Department of Archaeology, University of Gothenburg (1999).
- Thorsten Capelle, ‘Thorshammer’ in: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, vol. 30 (2005), 487-490.
- H. Beck, H. Jahnkuhn, ‘Axtkult’ in: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, vol. 1 (1973), 562-568.
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