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Thanks to Marvel and the Avengers and that hot guy with a hammer, Thor, everyone knows a little bit about Norse mythology now. But did you know how much of Nordic culture and language has been incorporated into our language and culture? For example, the days of the week. Thursday? Named for Thor. Wednesday? Named for Odin (also, occasionally spelled Woden.) Friday? Named for Freyr. So, basically, the week would only be four days long without the Norse gods. I think that's how it works.
-Odin: Also known as the all-father, Odin is the dude in charge of the Norse gods. How did he ascend to that high perch? Well, one day, he decided that he wanted limitless knowledge and he would do anything to get it. He went to the magical well and then RIPPED HIS EYE OUT OF HIS HEAD because in order to gain wisdom he had to sacrifice a part of himself. Personally, I might have cut off some of my hair? But that's why I'm not the all-father. Then Odin had to promise to only drink alcohol forever after (something that I might be able to handle, but who knows, really.) And finally? He had to hang himself from a tree for nine days while getting stabbed repeatedly. And he did all of this. Just to get super-smart. And that is pretty righteous.
-Yggdrasil: Norse mythology says that the universe exists as part of a giant tree which is named Yggrasil. Its branches extend into the heavens and its roots descend into hell and even thought this might not be the MOST scientific formulation of how the universe is put together, it is certainly a beautiful image to dwell on. We're all just part of a giant tree, stretching up and down in equal parts, branches tendriling out, reaching for the stars.
-Wolves: I love wolves. That's just me. In Norse mythology, Fenrir, the wolf, is kind of a bad guy because he kills Odin during Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, but I don't hold it against him. He's a wolf. Plus, Odin was pretty aware that the world needed to end in order to be born again. So, Odin was probably cool with it.
-Mistletoe: Is there anything more weird and awkward than mistletoe? It's a poisonous plant that theoretically induces random kissing, of all things. The whole mistletoe-schtick was actually part of a Norse myth that involved the god Loki. The actual myth is much cooler and not about kissing. It's really about fratricide and about how Loki killed his sort-of brother Balder with a mistletoe arrow. No kissing was involved, so I guess I can't really blame the Norse for this one.
Ragnarok: The Norse apocalypse is kind of a clusterfuck with just everyone dying and fighting and the whole world burning and it just sounds terrible. Looked at purely symbolically, though, it's kind of a testament to how everything must die. Nothing and no one—not even gods—is immortal. There will be rebirth and renewal, but first the old things must burn.
There is a lot I like about Norse mythology. And I didn't even touch on my favorite, the goddess Freyja, who really just constantly gets in trouble and screws around with people, though not necessarily maliciously, but always gets out of trouble due to her brother Freyr. She also has a chariot that is pulled by cats. I love that. I guess, what I like about the Norse gods is that they seem like real people. Well, not Loki, really. That guy gave birth to an eight-legged horse, so that's not really so relatable. But other than that, they are like any great characters in literature in that they seem universal with personality aspects that serve as touchstones for all of humanity. In essence, the Norse gods make you feel like you too could be a member of their crazy community. So, if I had to pick a winner—and I don't, but I will—I'd choose Norse mythology.
Give it a whirl. See what happens. BELIEVE. Believe for once in your cynical life. What could go wrong?
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen