Norse Mythology: Exploring Thor’s Power and Popularity

From the Lecture Series: Norse Mythology

By Jackson CrawfordUniversity of Colorado, Boulder

Let’s take a look at some of the most important of Thor’s stories and exploits as a fighter and defender against the gods’ enemies. To start with, according to one story told by Snorri in the Prose Edda, Loki had flown into Jotunheimar—the realm of the anti-gods—using the falcon skin he often borrows from Frigg or Freyja.

Illustration depicting Loki with falcon skin
Thor’s story begins when he flies with Loki into the realm of the anti-gods using falcon skin. (Image: W.G. Collingwood/Public domain)

In the Realm of the Anti-gods

In a hall in Jotunheimar, Loki, the falcon, lands on a windowsill and peeks inside, where a jotunn named Geirroth sees him and casts a spell on him to make his feet stick to the ledge so he cannot fly away.

Geirroth sends a hireling to fetch this god in the form of a bird, and from the eyes of Loki-as-falcon, Geirroth can deduce that this is, in fact, a god and not a bird. But Loki will answer none of his questions, so Geirroth has him thrown into a closed chest and starved for three months.

At the end of those three months, Geirroth brings Loki out, and now Loki is ready to answer some questions. Loki swears to Geirroth, in return for being set free, that he will convince Thor to come to visit Geirroth without his hammer or the belt or gloves that Thor must wear in order to summon up the strength to even lift the hammer.

Thor’s hammer
Loki successfully manages to convince Thor not to bring his magical hammer and other equipment along with him. (Image: Sergio Foto/Shutterstock)

Thor Travels

We are not told how Loki managed to make his case to Thor. But soon enough, we are told that Thor is on his way, and he stays the night along the trail with an anti-goddess named Grith (otherwise known as the mother of Odin’s avenging son Vithar). 

Grith warns Thor of Geirroth’s evil intentions, and in place of what Thor has left behind in Asgarth, she loans him her own belt of supernatural strength, as well as some iron gloves and a staff to use.

Thor travels along his way the next day and comes to a river that begins to rise dangerously high as he wades across it. But Thor looks upstream at this point and sees that one of Geirroth’s daughters, an anti-goddess named Gjalp, is standing there and urinating this flood at him. Well, says Thor, “A river must be dammed at its source.”

And so Thor picks up a large rock from the riverbed and throws it, damming this unusual river at its source. He then pulls himself to shore by the use of a rowan tree, earning for this type of tree the designation of “Thor’s helper”.

This article comes directly from content in the video series Norse MythologyWatch it now, on Wondrium.

Thor’s Bad Hosts

Once at Geirroth’s, Thor is shown inside a shed and given a chair to sit on. But once seated, the chair begins to rise from under him, and Thor is pushed up dangerously hard toward the ceiling. So Thor uses the staff given to him by his hostess Grith to push back against the ceiling and crash the chair back onto the floor. There it turns out that Geirroth’s daughters, Gjalp and Greip, had been pushing from below, and now Thor has broken both their backs.

Now Thor comes into the hall, where Geirroth invites him to entertain himself. But once Thor comes inside, Geirroth himself picks up a lump of molten iron and forcefully throws it at Thor with some tongs. Thor catches it with the iron gloves Grith had loaned him and throws it back at his bad host, and kills him.

A Funny Side to Thor’s Stories

Viking standing with farm animals in the background
Thor’s stories show that he’s a god of the common people, adding to his popularity. (Image: DanieleGay/Shutterstock)

We’re starting to see that there’s sometimes a humorous side to Thor’s adventures in Jotunheimar, the homes of the anti-gods—a tone that tells us that Thor was also an approachable god. He was a consummate fighter, someone you might respect but also feel comfortable enough with to gently rib from time to time.

It’s a little hard to imagine the desperate, often severe, and self-mutilated Odin trying to struggle through a river of urine. But Thor is a god of the common people, and there’s something to be said for the man of the common people who’s able and willing to do the hard work to maintain a good reputation while shrugging off some occasional humor at his expense.

Such a man, in human society or among the gods, almost enhances his reputation by staying so cool amid the jibes and jests. From the story of his visit to Geirroth, we can see that Thor is dangerous to the gods’ enemies, even without his hammer.

Common Questions about Exploring Thor’s Power and Popularity

Q: Why did Geirroth free Loki?

After Loki has been their prisoner for three months, he finally agrees to lure Thor into the realm of the anti-gods without his magical hammer or his gloves. Loki swears that he will do this if he is set free.

Q: How does Thor compensate for not bringing his hammer and magical gloves with him on his journey?

When Thor sleeps at the home of the anti-goddess, Grith, she tells him about Geirroth’s evil intentions and gives him a staff, a belt of supernatural strength, and some iron gloves which Thor later uses to defeat both Geirroth and his two daughters.

Q: How does Thor break the backs of Geirroth’s two daughters?

When Thor arrives at Geirroth’s doorstep, he is shown into a cabin where he can sit and wait. When Thor sits on the chair, the chair suddenly rises and Thor is pushed into the ceiling. With the help of the staff that was given to him earlier, he pushes back from the ceiling and crashes the chair onto the floor. Since the chair was being forced toward the ceiling by Geirroth’s two daughters, they both break their backs as a result.

Keep Reading
Loki: The Humanizer of Norse Gods
Loki and the Gods
The Duality of Loki