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"I know a fourteenth spell; it allows me to count all the gods for men. I know the names of all the gods and elves, and few who are fools can say that."
Odin, Hávamál, stanza 159

The Norse pantheon, also called the Asgardian pantheon, is a group of deities which appear in several canonical Dungeons & Dragons works.

The Norse gods are revered on hundreds of known worlds across the multiverse.[1]

MembersEdit

Full list: Category:Norse deities

The Norse deities are of two primary families: the Aesir, who are descended from Odin, and the Vanir, nature-related deities. The two groups warred in the ancient past, but have since settled their differences and intermarried.[2]

The chief deity of the Asgardian pantheon is Odin, the All-Father, first of the Aesir. Among the Aesir, Odin's word is final. Odin's wife Frigga is a goddess of fertility. They have three sons: Tyr the brave, Balder, the beautiful, and his twin Hod, the Blind.[2] Balder in turn has a son, Forseti, god of truth and balance, whose mother is Nanna.[2] Odin is also father to Vidar, god of silence.[3]

The strongest of the Asgard is Thor, son of Odin and the giantess Jord, whose name means Earth. His wife is Sif, golden-haired goddess of battle, with whom he has a son, Uller, god of hunting and archery. Thor also has two sons with the giantess Jarnsaxa: Modi, god of courage, and Magni, god of strength.

Njord, the blessed Vanir god of the sea, once married Skadi, the giantess, though she later divorced him and married Uller. Njord has two children: Freya, goddess of love, whose husband is Odur; and her twin brother Frey, god of agriculture.

Njord is opposed by Aegir, violent god of the oceans and storms, and Aegir's wife Ran, who inhabit the oceans of Midgard. Aegir and Ran have nine daughters, and the god Heimdall, watchman of Asgard, is said to somehow be the child of all nine at once.

Loki, the infamous god of mischief and youngest member of the Norse pantheon, is said to be the offspring of the giants Farbauti and Laufey. He has three monstrous children with the giantess Angrboda: Hel, the half-dead goddess who rules the underworld; the world-serpent Jormungandr; and the wolf Fenrir. With his wife Sigyn, Loki has two sons, Vali and Narfi. Loki is the mother of Odin's horse Sleipnir.

Other gods include Hermod, messenger of the Aesir; Bragi, god of poetry; Bragi's wife Idun, whose apples give the gods their eternal youth; Honir the large, and Mimir the wise.

Surtur, lord of the fire giants, and Thrym, lord of the frost giants, oppose the Aesir.

The mysterious Norns, guardians of fate, are sometimes considered part of the Norse pantheon, though they do not receive worship.[4] Some other entities have divine status: the valkyries who recover fallen heroes are said to have the status of demigoddesses or quasi-deities, as do some giants, Odin's einherjar warriors, and some servants such as Frey's shield-man Skirnir.

Numerous other giants, heroes, and mythic beasts serve the Norse pantheon.

OrganizationEdit

Odin is undisputed ruler of the Norse pantheon. The gods of Asgard meet in council to make decisions, but Odin's vote can override the decisions of the council.[2]

The gods of Asgard are historically divided into the Aesir, who are of Odin's bloodline; and the Vanir, who came from the nearby land of Vanaheim, but whose bloodline is not well known in Midgard. The two families were once enemies, but set aside their differences long ago. There are also the Jotuns, giants who have often opposed Odin and Thor. Intermarriage ias occurred between these three groups, and many of the gods are descended from multiple lines; Thor, for example, is son of the Aesir Thor and the Jotun Jord.

New members can gain admittance to the Norse pantheon. Past examples of this include the Vanir gods, who first joined the Aesir long ago to secure a peace treaty, and several Jotuns, or giants, who entered the pantheon by marriage. A worthy mortal could be promoted to the Norse pantheon; Frey's shield-man, the paladin Skirnir, may be one such hero.

WorshipEdit

The Norse gods are worshiped primarily in the world of Midgard, said to have been crafted by Odin himself from the body of the giant Ymir. The gods are active in the human world, able to travel between Asgard and Midgard by means of the rainbow bridge Bifrost, and have no rules against interfering with human affairs. As a result, few in Midgard have reason to doubt the Norse pantheon's existence.

They Norse gods are most commonly worshiped collectively as a pantheon. Temples to the pantheon are often grand stone halls, rectangular in shape, featuring a large central fire pit and dotted with statues of the major gods.

However, cults to individual gods also exist. Many clerics take one of the gods to be their patron, and temples and shrines to individual gods exist. Those who follow one of the gods as their primary patron still revere the pantheon in general.[2]

Unlike the pantheons of many other worlds, the Norse gods are not reliant on the worship of their followers to maintain their power. However, the gods can be slain in battle.[2]

HistoryEdit

OriginEdit

Legend tells that the world began as a great void, called Ginnungagap. To the north lay the frozen land of Niflheim, from which the eleven rivers Elivagar flowed from the spring Hvergelmir. Slowly, layers of ice formed across Ginnungagap until it reached the fiery Muspelheim to the south.

From the melting ice climbed Ymir, the first frost giant, and Audhumla, the great cow from whose udders four rivers of milk flowed. Drops of Ymir's sweat formed the race of frost giants, sustained by Audhumla's milk. Audhumla licked the salty ice for three days until she uncovered the strong and handsome Buri, progenitor of the Aesir.

From the descendants of Buri and frost giants came three brothers: Odin, Vili, and Ve.

Creation of the worldEdit

Odin, Vili and Ve rose up and slew the giant Ymir. A tidal wave of his blood drowned all of the frost giants except Bergelmir, ancestor all frost giants thereafter.

Odin and his brothers carried Ymir's body from Ginnungagap and carved the Earth, Midgard, from his flesh. Ymir's bones became the world's rocks; his teeth became the stones and gravel; his blood the oceans; his skull the dome of the sky; his brains the clouds floating within it; his hair the plants and trees; his eyelashes a fortification around Midgard.

The three brothers crafted the grand realm of Asgard for the gods to live in.[5]

Next, the brothers returned to Midgard and created the first humans: a man, Ask, and a woman, Embla. Odin granted them life, Vili granted them consciousness, and Ve gave them form. The humans lived within the fence of Ymir's eyelashes, and the frost giants outside it.[2]

War with the VanirEdit

Conflict between the Aesir and Vanir began when the Aesir tortured the Vanir goddess Gullveig for witchcraft. When the Vanir demanded to be paid compensation for this offense, the Aesir responded with a declaration of war.[6]

The Aesir and Vanir fought an epic war until both sides tired, and agreed to exchange valuable hostages to secure a peace treaty.

The Vanir sent Njord and his children Frey and Freya. In exchange, the Aesir sent Honir, the big, and Mimir, the wise. At first, Honir's leadership abilities made him appear valuable to the Vanir, but they discovered that he was a fool without Mimir's wisdom.

Enraged, the Vanir cut off Mimir's head and sent it to the Aesir. Odin considered this fair punishment for the Aesir's deception, and placed Mimir's head in the well beneath Yggdrasil's root in Midgard. To this day, the well's waters bestow wisdom. The two families remained at peace ever since.

Prophecy of RagnarokEdit

Main article: Ragnarok

It is foretold by fate that one day, all of the Norse pantheon will fight in one epic climactic battle, Ragnarok, where nearly all of of the gods are destined to be killed. The gods know that fate cannot be avoided, and face their fate bravely. Only six gods will survive to recreate a new world.

Publication historyEdit

Original D&DEdit

Odin of the Norse pantheon was first referenced in Greyhawk (Supplement 1) (1975). Game statistics for the Norse pantheon were later detailed in Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976).

Basic D&DEdit

Odin, Thor and Loki appear as Immortals in the Hollow World Campaign Set (1990).

AD&D 1st editionEdit

The Norse pantheon are primarily detailed in the sourcebooks Legends & Lore (1e) (1985) and Deities & Demigods (1e) (1980).

Dragon #110 (Jun 1986) include two articles expanding on the Norse myth: Joel McGraw's For Better or Norse: I: Equal time for the members of the Vanir, and Carl Sargent's For Better or Norse: II: New descriptions of some old favorites.

AD&D 2nd editionEdit

The Norse pantheon is described in Legends & Lore (2e) (1990), p.170-188 and the Planescape sourcebook On Hallowed Ground (1996), p.138-149. The human world where they are worshiped is detailed in the HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1991).

D&D 3rd editionEdit

The primary source for the Norse pantheon in D&D 3rd edition is Deities and Demigods (3e) (2002), p.167-169. This is the most detailed D&D source on the pantheon, devoting 40 pages to them. Twenty gods are listed: Odin, Aegir, Balder, Forseti, Frey, Freya, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hermod, Loki, Njord, Odur, Sif, Skadi, Surtur, Thor, Thrym, Tyr, and Uller.

D&D 4th editionEdit

The Norse pantheon does not appear in this edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which primarily uses the Dawn War pantheon as its deity system. Only passing references to a few Norse gods are made.[7]

D&D 5th editionEdit

The Norse pantheon is listed in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014). Twenty gods are listed, which are the same as the list in D&D 3rd edition Deities and Demigods.

Creative originsEdit

The Norse pantheon in Dungeons & Dragons comes from the real-world myths of pre-Christian Scandinavia. These tales survive in a handful of manuscripts, most notably an older collection of skaldic poetry known as the Poetic Edda, and a later, more scholarly book known as the Prose Edda.[8]

The Dungeons & Dragons interpretation of the Norse pantheon has some differences with the Norse texts, often due to ambiguities in the source material. For example, Gylfaginning says that Uller is Thor's step-son, rather than his son. Loki's identification as a god of fire is not reflected in the original myth, aside from his eating contest against Logi, "fire".

According to Old Norse specialist Dr Jackson Crawford, it is generally incorrect to describe the Norse deities as gods of something; e.g. "Tyr is a god of war"; the Norse gods are more personalities rather than rulers of portfolios. However, these simplifications are helpful as mnemonics to tell the members of the Norse pantheon apart.[8]

Reception and influenceEdit

A great deal of Norse myth has seen inclusion in various Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks.

Tyr of the Norse pantheon appears as a deity in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting and as the name of a city the Dark Sun setting. Surtur and Thrym appear as the gods of D&D's fire giants and frost giants, respectively.

Balder is the namesake of Baldur's Gate, a city in the Forgotten Realms setting perhaps best known for the Baldur's Gate series of games.

Hel, queen of the dead, was cited as an inspiration for the Raven Queen, of D&D 4th edition's Dawn War pantheon.

Among the other major Norse-inspired creatures in D&D are duergar, dwarves, elves, drow, dragons, giants, linnorms, and trolls.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Planescape Campaign Setting, A DM Guide to the Planes (1994), p.45.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Deities and Demigods (3e) (2002), p.163-202.
  3. Legends & Lore (1e) (1985), p.98-109.
  4. Legends & Lore (2e) (1990), p.184.
  5. Legends & Lore (2e) (1990), p.172.
  6. For better or Norse: I, Dragon #110 (Jun 1986), p.16.
  7. Manual of the Planes (4e) (2008), p.13.
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Norse Gods and Goddesses (Intro.) (2018). Jackson Crawford, Youtube.
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