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Viking Symbols & Meanings: Mjǫllnir Thor's Hammer

January 05, 2021 5 min read

Introduction

The Vikings thrived in their symbolism. They would often attach spiritual meanings to many of their symbols and would carry these with them in whatever forms they possibly could as a means of invoking their Gods for safety, guidance and strength amongst others. Viking symbols are not exactly the same as Viking Runes and each viking symbol alone has much that can be talked about. 

These viking symbols can surely have entire books written upon them to include their emergence or creation, their significance and use during the Viking Age and amongst the Nordic Gods as well as how they continue to live on in their symbolism even today in so many different ways. However, for the purpose of this blog post we will focus on the symbol that Mjǫllnir is.

Story of Creation

The creation of the Mjǫllnir is an absolutely fascinating one. While the hammer belongs to Thor, the story actually begins with the trickster known as Loki. As one of his pranks, Loki made the grievous mistake of cutting the hair of the wife of Thor; Sif. When the Nordic God of thunder learned of this situation, he called upon Loki and threatened to break every single bone in his body. Desperate to save himself, Loki looks for a solution and according to the Prose Edda, compiled by Snorri Sturlson, he finds it with the dwarves.

Loki went to those dwarves who are called Ivaldi's Sons; and they made the hair, and Skidbladnir also, and the spear which became Odin's possession, and was called GVingnir. Then Loki wagered his head with the dwarf called Brokkr that Brokkr's brother Sindri could not make three other precious things equal in virtue to these. 
So, as mentioned in the extract above, the dwarves made hair for Sif, the wife of Thor, that was made out of gold and unlike anything anyone had seen before. In addition, two other gifts were made as well including Skidbladnir which was the best of all ships to ever have been made since it could be folded up to fit into one's pocket when not needed. The other gift was Gvingnir, a spear gifted to Odin which he is often depicted with in many Nordic drawings. 
However the hammer actually was the product made not by the dwarves known as Ivaldi's sons, rather it was made by the two other brothers mentioned as Brokkr and Sindri. The two weren't so sure of competing with the sons of Ivaldi in the beginning but when Loki bet his head, they figured it would be worth it. 
The items being made by Brokkr and Sindri were to be made with much care at an exact temperature and so it was Brokkr who was tasked with working the bellows continuously without any break in order to maintain the heat perfectly. When Loki saw that they might just win against Ivaldi's sons in creating better items for the Nordic Gods, he plotted against them so as not to lose his head. 
Loki turned himself into a mosquito and stung Brokkr as he worked the bellows in attempts to distract him. Brokkr, after the first stung, continued on and so Loki bit harder on his second try. However, Brokkr, despite the pain, still carried on with the bellows knowing the importance of maintaining the right temperature. Loki could not let this go on and so he bit Brokkr in his eyes, causing him to bleed and blink, letting go of his work just long enough to wipe his eyes of the blood. The damage was done. The third item came out with a malfunction that Brokkr and Snidri worried would cause them to lose not only the competition with the sons of Ivaldi but also Loki's head. 
What was this third item with the malfunction? Lo and behold, it was called Mjǫllnir, the hammer with a handle that was just a little too short one would think. Still, the dwarves presented their gifts to the Nordic Gods, letting them decide which gift was best. 
Ultimately it was decided that the best gift was the one with the perceived "short"coming, the hammer called Mjǫllnir. And so the brothers Brokkr and Snidri won the competition against the sons of Ivaldi and Loki's head was to be sought as their prize. 
But alas, Loki was not one who was easily outsmarted and just as Brokkr came to take his head he argued that it was alright if he could take his head only if he did so without hurting his neck. After all, the bet only said the head was his but it said nothing about his neck. Since this was not possible, Loki the trickster was able to get himself out of yet another difficult situation. 

Its use and significance for the Viking Age

Mjǫllnir was gifted to the protector of Asgard, Thor, who often fought off many evils with his weapon of choice being the famed Mjǫllnir hammer. According to the manuscripts of the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, which details much of what we know of Nordic mythology, amongst the names attributed to Thor are "Wielder and Possessor of Mjǫllnir and of the Girdle of Strength, and of Bilskirnir; Defender of Asgard and of Midgard". In fact from the poems recorded in the manuscripts of Sturluson is the following, praising Thor in his battle against the sea fish:

Thus sang Gamli:
While the Lord of high Bilskirnir,
Whose heart no falsehood fashioned,
Swiftly strove to shatter
The sea-fish with his hammer. '

Thus sang Thorbjorn Lady's-Skald:
Bravely Thor fought for Asgard
And the followers of Odin.

The followers of Nordic religion, as well as many who continue even today to seek inspiration from the stories of Norse mythology, value Thor's role as the defender of Asgard and Midgard and attach that protection to the symbol of the Mjǫllnir. For this reason, many a times Rune stones that have been found from the Viking Age have inscriptions on them invoking Thor to sanctify and protect the inscriptions (Sawyer, 2000).

The Mjǫllnir of Thor is primarily noted to be a weapon of incredible abilities as detailed in the Prose Edda:

Then he gave the hammer to Thor, and said that Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail; and if he threw it at anything, it would never miss, and never fly so far as not to return to his hand; and if he desired, he might keep it in his sark, it was so small; but indeed it was a flaw in the hammer that the fore-haft was somewhat short. 

 

The Nordic thunder God fought many battles in which his hammer was essential to his victory, we will dedicate a separate blog post to those battles as they are worthy tales of greatness which deserve exclusive attention.

How we make the symbol live on 

While the hammer Mjǫllnir is not amongst us, it continues to live on through its symbolism. Perhaps the most common way the Mjǫllnir is represented is through amulets worn with the shape of the hammer around one's neck. 

However, plenty of those who are inspired by the Nordic symbols continue to find new and creative ways to show their appreciation for Mjǫllnir and its greatness. At Heimdall's workshop for example, one of our devoted and extremely talented woodworkers came up with this design of a stunning chopping charcuterie board to honor the famed hammer. 

Many who have values that are embodied in the Mjǫllnir constantly seek to find new ways to show those sentiments through these symbols. The quest to represent and live by courage and to fight for safety against evil will continue until the end of times and there will always be those who strive for such, openly bearing the true symbols of strength. 

  

References:

Sawyer, Birgit (2000). The Viking-Age Rune-Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia. Oxford University Press. p. 128. ISBN 0-19-820643-7.

Snorri, S., & Brodeur, A. G. (1916). The Prose Edda. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation.

 



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