Norse mythology is populated by a fascinating variety of beings. For the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples, humans were far from the only intelligent or conscious life forms in the world. Every animal, plant, rock, river, lake, and other element of what we today would call the “natural world” had its particular animating spirit. The world was also filled with countless beings who were strictly invisible, and most of the beings who are considered in the articles in the “Gods and Creatures” section of this site fall into this category. These invisible beings include:
- The Aesir gods and goddesses, the main tribe of deities. They live in the celestial fortress Asgard and maintain the order of the cosmos. Among them are: Odin, the wisest and most magically powerful of the gods; Thor, the fiery-tempered defender of Asgard; Loki, the cunning trickster; the youthful and universally popular Baldur; the loving sorceress Frigg; Heimdall, the ever-vigilant watchman; Tyr, the upholder of law and justice; Idun, the keeper of the apples of perpetual youth; Bragi, the court poet; and many other lesser-known gods and goddesses such as Vili and Ve, Forseti, Gefjun, Sif, Fjorgynn and Fjorgyn, Jord, Sol and Mani, Ullr, Hoenir, Vidar, Hodr, Vali, Hermod, and Lodurr.
- The Vanir gods and goddesses, the second tribe of deities. They tend to be more associated with the “natural world” than the Aesir. Among them are Freya, the most popular goddess among the heathen Norse, and Freyr, Njord, and Nerthus, the keepers and bringers of peace and wealth. The obscure figures Gullveig and Odr should probably be grouped with the Vanir as well.
- The giants, more properly called the “devourers,” the chaotic spirits of night, darkness, winter, and death, who are often the enemies of the Aesir. Among them are: Hel, the ruler of the underworld; the huntress Skadi; Aegir and Ran, the rulers of the sea; the hermaphroditic Ymir, the first being in the Norse creation narrative; Fenrir, the wolf who consumes Odin during Ragnarok; Jormungand, the sea serpent who encircles the land mass where humanity lives; Nidhogg, the snake who gnaws at the roots of the world-tree Yggdrasil; Skoll and Hati, the wolves who hunt the sun and the moon; Surt, whose flaming sword burns the world during Ragnarok; and Garm, an obscure canine who seems to have been, for all practical purposes, synonymous with Fenrir.
- The elves, light, beautiful, demigod-like beings.
- The dwarves, master craftspeople who live underground.
- The land spirits, the animating spirits of a particular locality.
- Human ancestors, the worship of whom was an integral part of the pre-Christian Germanic religion.
- The valkyries, female helping spirits of Odin who influenced the outcome of battles and bore some of the dead back to Valhalla.
- Ask and Embla, the first two humans to be created and the archetypes of masculinity and femininity.
- The Norns, three extremely wise and powerful women who have more influence over the course of destiny than any other beings.
- Others of Odin’s helping spirits, including the eight-legged horse Sleipnir and the ravens Hugin and Munin.
- The Disir, female spirits whose precise identity is highly ambiguous and varies from source to source.
- Lif and Lifthrasir, the human couple who survive Ragnarok and who are essentially synonymous with Ask and Embla.
- Kvasir, the wisest of all beings, who was murdered and had his blood brewed into the Mead of Poetry.
If you’ve enjoyed this article and want to learn more about Norse mythology, I recommend picking up one of the books listed in this guide: The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books. And if you’re particularly interested in the worldview of the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples, you might want to take a look at my own book, The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism.