Thor welding his hammer while flying across the sky in his goat-pulled chariot

Mythology and History of Thor: The Norse God of Thunder, Lightning, and Fertility

Thor’s Cultural Origins

There are few deities among all mythologies in history that are as popular and well known as Thor, the Norse god of thunder, lightning, and fertility. Thor originated around the 13th century AD as part of the ancient religion of the Norse Scandinavian tribes. The Norsemen, who were also known as the Vikings, were a war-based, seafaring society. They invaded and pillaged villages across the European coast and islands. For several centuries, Norse kingdoms arose from conquered lands and nations, including those now known as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Norsemen prided themselves on their strength. They even believed that the only way to reach the afterlife, the paradise known as Valhalla, was by dying on the field of battle. Also, the Norsemen were master traders. They traded in various metals, foods, and jewelry across Europe and beyond, even including Russia, Constantinople, and other Islamic territories in their established trading routes. In addition, they were expert explorers. They invented new forms of navigation and discovered new lands. For example, they were the first Europeans to reach the Americas. Discoveries of Norse jewelry, armor, weapons, and sculptures have been found across Europe and Scandinavia. Many of these objects depict Norse deities and particularly prevalent among them is the iconography of Thor.

A group of armored vikings meet a large group of un-armored people and are seperated by a line made up of animal fur
Image source: Viktor Vasnetsov

Thor’s Place in the Religion of the Norsemen

There are no surviving written documents by Norsemen describing their belief system or religious practices. The closest sources available are from Christians several hundred years later. The two texts considered to be the best sources on Norse religion are The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda, both of which were written two hundred years after Christianity became the predominant Scandinavian religion and the Norse religion was no longer practiced. Even so, these books provide the best available insight as to the Norsemen’s religious beliefs and customs.

The Norse religion was polytheistic, meaning that multiple gods were worshipped. The most important gods, or Aesir as they were called, lived in a mystical world called Asgard and  frequently visited Midgard, or earth. In addition to the Aesir, the Norsemen believed in many mythological creatures. One of the most prominent of these creatures was the Jötunn, or, as they’re better known today, giants. The Jötunn were symbols of chaos. While some Jötunn were friendly, many Jötunn sought to devour the gods and humans alike. Thor was the ultimate protector against the Jötunn and this made him one of the most important Aesir in Norse religion. The prevalence of Thor iconography on Norse weapons and armor indicates his significance to warriors and that they may have prayed for Thor’s strength before entering a battle. Also, Norse farmers would have most likely prayed to Thor to bring them a bountiful harvest to feed their families during the harsh Scandinavian winters.

Small, bronze sculpture of Thor wearing a cyndrical hat and sitting on a chair while holding his hammer with both hands
Image source: Wolfgang Sauber

Symbols and Iconography

As one of if not the most important Aesirs in Norse mythology, Thor is often described as the god who best embodies the traits that the Norse culture most esteemed, particularly strength, masculinity, ferocity, kindness — and, also, an extreme love of alcohol. Many later artworks depict him as having a thick red beard with long flowing hair and an extremely muscular body. In Norse culture, the beard was particularly seen as a sign of masculinity. In terms of strength, Thor was considered to be the most powerful of all the Aesir. His strength was so prodigious that he nearly accidently destroyed Midgard on multiple occasions because of his brash decisions and short temper. Thor is often shown as having a pair of iron gloves called Járngreipr as well as a belt called Megingjörð, both of which are said to multiply his awesome strength.

Thor welding his hammer while flying across the sky in his goat-pulled chariot
Image source: Johannes Gehrts


The object most associated with Thor in his hammer: Mjolnir. Indeed, few godly weapons of mythology are as well-known today as Thor’s hammer. In Norse mythology, the sound of thunder is said to be Thor striking Jötunn with Mjolnir in some far-off land, ensuring they never reach human civilization. Forged by the dwarf brothers Eitri and Brokker, this weapon has the power to return to Thor’s hand on its own, summon bolts of lightning, and deliver blows so destructive they can eradicate a mountain in a single strike. Mjolnir was so heavy that only those of immense strength such as Thora few other gods, and Jötunn could lift it. Even for Thor, the weight of Mjolnir is so great that he needs his iron gloves and belt to increase his already prodigious strength enough to wield it effectively in combat. One notable characteristic of Mjolnir is its short handle. The story behind the handle’s length is that Eitri and Brokker were distracted while they were making the hammer by Loki, the god of mischief, who shape-shifted into an insect and buzzed around the brothers’ heads.

While viewed by many as a tool of destruction, Mjolnir was also seen as a symbol of fertility. Thor’s hammer has often been presented in stories as a holy object, used by Thor to bless marriages, harvests, and other celebratory events in Norse culture. The image of Mjolnir is one of the most widespread symbols in Norse culture, appearing in engravings, tapestries, and jewelry.

10th century jewelry piece depicting Thor's hammer mjolnir with many intricate swirling details
Image source: Kurt Noer


Thor is regarded as a kind, albeit extremely temperamental, individual. He is depicted as the guardian of humanity, wielding his hammer to keep humans safe from evil forces. Thor is also known to party with humans and take some on adventures or hunting trips. Even though Thor was Jötunn’s greatest adversary, Thor was friends with many Jötunn and, in several stories, even had children with them. Additionally, like most Norse gods, Thor loved to party in Valhalla with those men that had died in battle and in these revels Thor at times would drink literally oceans of alcohol. Thor’s protective nature was matched by his extreme temper. Also, Thor was not a particularly smart god. In fact, many tales about Thor involved someone tricking him. In these stories, Thor usually becomes so angry that the trickster responsible ends up either dead or pleading for mercy. At his core, though, Thor is described as a kind and protective god, defending the people of Asgard as well as the lowly humans of Midgard as their sworn guardian.

A bearded Thor wearing a loincloth and crown on top of mountain with hammer lifted above head
Image source: Encyclopædia Britannica

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr

Despite some modern-day interpretations of Thor that show him having the ability to fly, ancient texts do not give him this ability. Rather, they show Thor riding on a flying chariot pulled by two goats: Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. These two goats were said to have the ability to come back to life completely healthy if their bones remained unharmed. There are several stories where Thor kills his own goats and eats them and warns others not to eat their bones. These goats are among Thor’s oldest and closest companions and are one of his main modes of transportation.

The gods Tyr and Thor look over Thor's two goats, one of which has a broken leg
Image source: Frølich

Divine Family Tree

Norse deities, like those of many other polytheistic religions, have long and complicated, and even disturbingfamily histories, that include inbreeding, adultery, and bestiality. Thor’s father is the All-Father Odin, king of Asgard and the Aesir, and the god of wisdom, war, poetry, and fallen warriors. Thor’s mother was a Jötunn named Jörd, who was one of Odin’s many mistresses. Additionally, while Thor had no direct siblings, he had numerous half-brothers and sisters. Some notable half-siblings on Odin’s side of the family include Baldr, the god of love, light, joy, and purity; the silent god Víðarr; and the blind archer god of winter, Höðr. Thor is also married to Sif, the goddess of the harvest, recognized by her long, golden hair. Sif was considered a symbol of femininity and, unlike her husband, wasn’t a warrior.

A line up of the Norse gods
Image source: Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire


Thor had three children. One was his son Magni, the god of strength. Magni was a minor deity in Norse mythology but was a powerful warrior and in some translations even rivaled his father in strength. Thor’s other son was Módi, the god of bravery. Módi and Magni are often shown to be inseparable – acting as a powerful duo on the battlefield. Magni and Módi have the same mother, Jötunn Járnsaxa, one of Thor’s lovers. Finally, Thor had a daughter with Sif named Thrud, who was depicted as a great warrior. Some historians debate whether she was a Valkyrie, a member of a female warrior army that rode winged horses and was believed to bring dead soldiers to Valhalla. Thor’s children appear very few times in Norse myths. However, Magni and Módi are prophesied to inherit their father’s hammer after his death.


As with many religions, the Norse prophesized an Armageddon, known to them as Ragnarök, a cataclysmic battle that not even the mighty Thor would survive. Ragnarök was prophesized to begin when Thor’s half-brother Baldr would be tragically killed by Höðr, who was tricked into killing him by Loki. Baldr was blessed by his mother, Frigg, to be indestructible to everything except for mistletoe because she viewed it as harmless. Loki would exploit this weakness by tricking Höðr into firing an arrow made of mistletoe at Baldr, thereupon killing him. The story goes on that Loki will be punished for his deeds and will be buried deep underground with a snake dripping venom into his eyes. A series of horrific events would follow Baldr’s death, including a near never-ending winter, a war that wipes out nearly all of mankind, the destruction of the sun and moon, and the release of Loki’s terrifying wolf-son Fenrir. Ragnarök will reach its climax when Loki and his children, the fire Jötunn, Surtr, and the armies of Jötunn and the undead storm Asgard in a dramatic final battle.

Thor was destined in Ragnarok to face off against one of Loki’s children, Jörmungandr, also known as the World serpent. This monstrous snake was so massive that to avoid falling off the world, he had to wrap himself around the planet and eat his own tail. After a grueling battle, Thor slays the mighty beast, but dies from poisoning moments later. Once Ragnarök was over, the earth was supposed to heal. In time, the descendants of the Aesir will return, including Thor’s sons Magni and Módi, who will inherit Mjolnir from their father. Thus, the prophecy of Ragnarök does not really foretell the end of times, but rather the beginning of a new cycle for both the gods and humanity.

A grand battle with gods battling giant wolves and serpents with a rainbow in the background
Image source: Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

Depiction in Marvel Comics

The deity Thor is most well-known today in popular culture because of his depiction as a superhero in Marvel Comics. This version of Thor first appeared on August 1, 1962 in Journey into Mystery #83, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby, and became one of the most famous characters in comic book history. In addition to fighting Jötunn and other Norse mythologic creatures, in Marvel’s version Thor also combats aliens, supervillains, and other Asgardians. Thor’s powers are roughly the same as they’re described in Norse folktales, including immense strength, control over the weather, and near indestructability. Thor’s personality is also much the same in this modern depiction as in Norse mythology. He is still described as a kind, strong, and honorable warrior and, consistent with ancient lore, a hard-headed and brash individual. His purpose remains the same: a protector of both Asgard and Midgard.

Marvel, however, did make some major alterations to Thor’s appearance, family, and hammer. Unlike his ancient depictions and descriptions, Marvel’s Thor has no beard and has long blonde hair instead of red hair. He lacks the iron gloves Járngreipr. Thor’s family changed significantly in the comic as well. Most notably, Loki is now Thor’s adopted brother instead of Odin’s blood brother. In Norse mythology, Loki had fewer deep, personal relationships with the other gods, instead playing tricks on them indiscriminately without specific malice. Like Thor’s adopted brother Loki, he and Thor have a much closer relationship, a complicated history,  and a heightened rivalry that leads to a more complex feud. In addition, Marvel’s Thor is not married to the goddess Sif and he has no children. Another big difference is that he does not have indiscriminate affairs, but is in love with a human named Jane Foster.

The hammer Mjolnir is given a major change in the comics. In Norse mythology, the hammer could only be picked up by very few powerful gods and Jötunn because it was so heavy. In Marvel’s modern version, the hammer remains very heavy, but the ability to wield the hammer is not determined by strength but by “worthiness.” Moreover, those who were “worthy” of the hammer and wielded it obtained all of Thor’s powers, something that was never described in Norse mythology. Adding a moral element of “worthiness” to being able to  pick up the hammer was most likely done to give Thor’s character more depth and conflict. In the Thor comics, Thor loses his ability to wield his hammer when he becomes too arrogant and self-centered. In order to regain his ability to wield his hammer, he must change from an arrogant brute to a humble protector. This new worthiness element attached to Mjolnir also made it a character test for others, giving “worthy” humans the opportunity to prove their character and thus be able to wield Mjolnir and gain Thor’s powers. Another difference in Marvel’s version of Thor is that Mjolnir gives Thor the ability to fly instead of relying on his goat-driven chariot for flight.

A journey into mystery comic book with Thor swinging his hammer at a group of rock monsters with ray guns
Image source: Marvel Comics


Of all the gods in the Norse pantheon, the Norsemen saw Thor as their true savior. As  the god who was the source of their strength and the bringer of bountiful harvests, Thor was one of the most important gods in their entire religion. As seen through the numerous icons of him and his hammer, Thor was a very significant part of the everyday life of the Norsemen. Because of the extent of the Norsemen’s conquests and trading, the tales of Thor and the other Aesir quickly became widespread and influential across many cultures. Thor’s influence can be seen even today, as Thursday is in fact named after the titular lord of thunder. And, thanks in part to Marvel comics’ depiction of him, Thor’s legacy is still remembered as one of unbridled bravery and heroism.

2 thoughts on “Mythology and History of Thor: The Norse God of Thunder, Lightning, and Fertility

  1. Hahahahhahhaha dream along marvel freak how u say valhalla its not walhalla Christian

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