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The Most Violent Sagas From Norse Mythology

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Thanks in part to Marvel's Thor movies, we all think we have a bit of a grasp on Norse mythology. The truth is Norse mythology is stranger and more violent than any movie could dream of portraying. Vikings had a reputation for inhumanity, and their gods led the way with fury. Loki, the trickster god, has the worst reputation, but all of the gods get in on the action, whether they're fighting neverending clashes with giants or feuding among themselves.

It's not surprising such violent stories would come from the Vikings. A fierce group of warriors, they raided the seas from the 8th to 11th centuries and became the terror of northern Europe. Their culture was fierce, warlike, and deeply strange to modern eyes (though it was also surprisingly orderly and democratic), and this aggressive nature extended to their myths.

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  • The Gods Tie Loki To A Rock With His Son's Organs 
    Photo: Martin Eskel Winge / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    4,118 VOTES

    The Gods Tie Loki To A Rock With His Son's Organs 

    After Loki caused the demise of Baldur, one of Odin's sons, the gods were out for vengeance. Tracking Loki down, they bound him in a cave. They then found Loki's two sons, Vali and Narfi, and turned Vali into a ravenous wolf. The gods watched as Vali tore Narfi limb from limb. After taking Narfi's organs, they cast a magic spell to make the parts as hard as iron, using them to bind Loki in the cave.

    Their thirst for vengeance wasn't quenched yet, however. Skadi, the goddess of the moon, caught a treacherous snake and tied it above Loki. The creature dripped venom on the god for all eternity. Fortunately for the trickster god, his wife Sigyn decided she would sit with him, holding a dish that caught the drops. She sits with him to this day.

    In fact, this is the Norse explanation for earthquakes. Every time Sigyn has to empty the dish, some venom drips on Loki's face, causing him to shake uncontrollably and set off earthquakes.

    4,118 votes
  • Hadingus Watches His Lover Get Torn Apart By Giants
    Photo: Louis Huard / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2,361 VOTES

    Hadingus Watches His Lover Get Torn Apart By Giants

    Hadingus and Harthgrepa had an unusual relationship: Harthgrepa was a giantess who nursed the human Hadingus when he was a child. As he grew up, Harthgrepa offered herself to him as a lover, explaining she could change her size and shape, and was willing to shrink down for him. He embraced this, and the two traveled together.

    It all went well until Harthgrepa used magic to save Hadingus from an assault by a mysterious giant hand. Magnifying herself, Harthgrepa grappled with the hand so Hadingus could chop it apart. However, in doing so, she went against her own kind, and a group of giants arrived and tore her apart.

    Hadingus recovered remarkably fast and went off on a new adventure.

    2,361 votes
  • To Gain Knowledge, Odin Gouges Out His Eye 
    Photo: Emil Doepler / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2,555 VOTES

    To Gain Knowledge, Odin Gouges Out His Eye 

    In Norse mythology, there is nothing as sacred as Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It binds the nine realms together, and its doom is the final goal of Ragnarok. However, it also promises knowledge to those who seek it. Odin, ever searching for knowledge, went to the roots of the World Tree to seek Mimir, a shadowy figure who understood the flow of time (roughly analogous to the Fates in Greek mythology).

    Mimir guarded the Well of Urd, or the Well of Fate, and Odin realized drinking from it would give him knowledge of events to come. In some tellings, he is specifically seeking knowledge of Ragnarok.

    However, for reasons of his own, Mimir demanded Odin sacrifice his eye in exchange for a drink, to which Odin agreed. Unwilling to wait for any kind of help, Odin tore out his own eye and tossed it in the water.

    2,555 votes
  • The Vanir Behead Mimir After Feeling Betrayed By The Final Negotiations Of The Aesir-Vanir Conflict
    Photo: Carl Ehrenberg / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    1,879 VOTES

    The Vanir Behead Mimir After Feeling Betrayed By The Final Negotiations Of The Aesir-Vanir Conflict

    The clash between the Aesir and Vanir was endless and evenly matched. Sick of fighting, they called a truce and, as was tradition, sent hostages to live with the other side to enforce good behavior. The Vanir received Hoenir and the indispensable oracle Mimir.

    Hoenir was capable of giving great advice, but only when Mimir was around. However, the Vanir were unaware of this stipulation and became angry when Hoenir was useless. They decided to cut Mimir's head off and send it to Odin to show their dissatisfaction. Odin, aware they had mistakenly offed the real seer, kept Mimir's head alive through magic and continued to receive good advice from Mimir long afterward.

    1,879 votes
  • Fenrir Bites Off The Hand Of Tyr 
    Photo: John Bauer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    2,090 VOTES

    Fenrir Bites Off The Hand Of Tyr 

    The wolf Fenrir, one of Loki's children, was destined to devour Odin during Ragnarok. To keep an eye on him, the gods decided they would raise him in Asgard. However, Fenrir grew too quickly, and the gods decided he must be bound.

    They tried a number of different chains. Each time, they tricked Fenrir by saying the chains were only there to test his strength. Inevitably, Fenrir broke all of them, but the gods clapped and cheered, secretly hoping to find a chain the wolf couldn't break.

    Finally, they went to the dwarves of Svartalfheim, who agreed to form a chain out of rare material - things like a cat's footsteps, a woman's beard, and a mountain's roots - and therefore couldn't be broken. They brought this chain to Fenrir, who was immediately suspicious, as it was so light compared to the other ones.

    He agreed to test it if one of the gods put his hand in Fenrir's mouth while he was trying it. The only god brave enough was Tyr, who was Fenrir's keeper when he was a pup. Fenrir put on the chain, couldn't remove it, and tore Tyr's hand clean off.

    2,090 votes
  • Odin And His Brothers Slay The Giant Ymir And Made The World From His Remains
    Photo: Lorenz Frølich / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    1,385 VOTES

    Odin And His Brothers Slay The Giant Ymir And Made The World From His Remains

    In the beginning, there was the icy realm of Niflheim and the fiery land of Muspelheim. When the two met, water was created, and out of that water formed the body of Ymir, the father of giants and first being in the universe. Ymir produced giants from his body and, somewhere nearby, the cow Audhumla licked river rocks into the shape of men. These men would become the first gods, and they would father Odin.

    Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and threw his body out into the void. From his remains, they fashioned the entire world as the Vikings understood it. For example, the gods used Ymir's brains to create clouds. This became the land of Midgard, and this event was the first act of aggression between the gods and giants.

    1,385 votes