Think you know Thor? Loki? The Valkyries? Think again. Packed with gods, anti-gods, magical figures, human heroes, religious practices, and literary devices, the 24 lectures of Norse Mythology lay bare the reasons for our enduring fascination with Norse myths. Jackson Crawford also connects the dots between the Icelandic sagas of human heroes and the culture and worldview of the pre-modern Scandinavian peoples.
Think you know Norse myth from comic books, operas, film, and television? Uncover startling truths about Old Norse myths, sagas, gods, heroes, and monsters.
Jackson Crawford is a Resident Scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center of the American West. After more than a decade as an instructor in Norse mythology and Old Norse language and literature at such institutions as the University of Colorado Boulder; the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of California, Los Angeles, he became a full-time public educator and translator for all things Old Norse in 2020. He received his MA in Linguistics from the University of Georgia and his PhD in Scandinavian Studies, focusing on Old Norse language and literature, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Among other accomplishments, Jackson has built up a large YouTube following and has served as an Old Norse language and runes consultant on major multimedia projects, including some of today’s most popular films and video games. His translations of the primary sources of Norse mythology include The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes; “The Saga of the Volsungs” with “The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok”; The Wanderer’s “Hávamál”; and Two Sagas of Mythical Heroes: “Hervor and Heidrek” & “Hrólf Kraki and His Champions.”
01: Meeting the Norse Gods of the Viking Age
Where did a hammer-wielding guardian of the gods, a murderer and comic sidekick, a mysterious one-eyed leader, a world-encircling serpent, a doomed final battle, and other Norse myths come from? Learn what we owe to the Poetic Edda and its adaptation in the Prose Edda for the fascinating stories you’ll encounter throughout this course.
02: Fate and the Norse Worldview
Our understanding of Viking cultural values comes to us from those upheld (and broken) in the Norse myths. Focus on the profound Norse sense of fatalism and the importance of reckless courage—both of which add up to make the especially crucial concept of being a drengr: A person who, whether they live or die, is often celebrated in a saga.
03: The Norse Art of Mythic Storytelling
One way to better understand the stories of Norse mythology, and the way those stories are told, is to think about dreams. Using a key story from Norse mythology (the tale of how Odin got the mead of poetry from the gods’ enemies), compare two versions that highlight the “dream logic” inherent to much of Norse mythology.
04: The Norse Gods Are Characters with Flaws
A popular story of the Norse gods mocking one another is the perfect introduction to a pantheon that includes Thor, Odin, Loki, and Freyja. But the roles of these gods, as you’ll learn, are often not as clear-cut and one-dimensional as popular treatments and assumptions would have us believe.
05: The Norse Creation: Dawn of Strife
In the beginning, “many ages before the earth was shaped,” there were two realms: watery Niflheim to the north and fiery Muspell to the south. So begins the Norse creation myth, which is narrated together with the myth of how the gods die at Ragnarok. Learn how it all began.
06: First Humans, the Nine Realms, and Yggdrasil
Explore how Norse mythology describes the creation of humankind from two pieces of driftwood. Then step back for a broader look at the Norse mythos and our human place within it. Take a trip through distinct realms (for gods, humans, the dead, and others), then climb Yggdrasil, the enormous ash tree whose roots bind them.
07: Loki and His Children
Meet the complicated, ambivalent figure who lives alongside the gods but compulsively troubles them. Among the stories recounted here include the worst of Loki’s affairs (with an anti-goddess named “sorrow-offerer”) and his three ill-prophesied children: the huge wolf Fenrir, the goddess Hel, and the world-sized serpent Jormungand.
08: Balder’s Death: Tragic Murder of a God
Odin’s son, Balder, was a god so beloved (in fact, his Old Norse name is likely related to ancient words for brightness and light) that his shocking death is one of the principal stories of the “Eddas.” Consider two different angles on this story—one of which offers more logical coherence by omitting the presence of the trickster Loki.
09: Ragnarok: The Final Battle and Fall
The world is destroyed by evil, repopulated by good, then threatened anew by surviving evil. Ragnarok isn’t the final triumph of good envisioned by mainstream Christianity—but is it a cycle of ages akin to that envisioned by the ancient Maya? Explore a Norse apocalypse that seems amoral and simply inevitable.
10: Thor among the Gods’ Enemies
Take a closer look at some of the most important stories of Thor’s exploits as fighter and defender against the gods’ enemies. Some of these tales emphasize his dangerousness; others are imbued with humor. Above all, Thor is a god of the common people, willing to embark on hard work, while shrugging off occasional humor at his expense.
11: Thor among the Gods
How does Thor comport himself in situations that put him at a terrible disadvantage? What is this most popular of all the Norse gods without his hammer (which in “Thrym’s Poem” is stolen right from under his nose)? What does modern archaeological evidence tell us about Thor’s overwhelming popularity?
12: Odin, Lord of War and the Dead
There’s little Odin does that’s readily understandable to humankind. Still, peel back some of the layers of intrigue surrounding the lord of war and the dead, including the important myth of his hanging, his hall of men killed in battle (Valhalla), his spear, his ability to communicate with the dead, and more.
13: Odin and Wisdom
Continue your look at the Norse god Odin with this consideration of his prominent connection with death and the dead. The key to this connection: Odin’s overriding quest for wisdom—a harrowing, fascinating journey that results in the loss of an eye and his hanging from a tree for nine nights.
14: A Second Family of Gods? The Vanir
The “Eddas” usually refer to the gods collectively as “the Aesir.” But there’s another term for a more specific family of gods that occurs now and then: “the Vanir.” Meet the three Vanir whose names we know (the obscure Njorth and his twin children, Frey and Freyja) and consider some of the many social differences between families of the gods.
15: Valkyries and the Goddess Freyja
Turn now to the single-most often-named goddess and the prize the gods’ enemies constantly seek to seize. Any encounter with Freyja includes an encounter with the most prominent female figures in Norse mythology at her command—the Valkyries, positioned somewhere between mere mortals and the divine.
16: Dwarves, Elves, Trolls, and Zombies
Not all the supernatural characters of the Norse myths are high and mighty gods or their cosmically powerful enemies. Spend some time with the lesser supernatural beings that translators call dwarves, elves, trolls, and zombies. How do Norse depictions of these creatures differ from those of 21st-century pop culture?
17: Odin and the Rise of the Volsungs
Great human heroes account for most of the mythical saga material that comes down to us outside of the “Eddas.” The most important of these mythical heroes is the Volsungs. Get to know this family of celebrated warriors, whose fortunes are shaped by strange magic and the meddling of the Odin.
18: The Fall of the Greatest Volsung Hero
Sigurth, regarded as the single greatest hero of all, was groomed like his father, Sigmund, by Odin. Follow the epic story of Sigurth, including his training under the dwarven smith Regin and his unfortunate death in bed, not battle, which denies him entrance into Odin’s hall of dead heroes, Valhalla.
19: Viking History Becomes Volsung Myth
Conclude the saga of the Volsungs (the most famous and celebrated sequence of legends from medieval Scandinavia) with Guthrun, her surviving brothers Gunnar and Hogni, and her children. Also compare accounts of the Volsungs as depicted in the Poetic Edda, the Saga of the Volsungs, and early historical accounts.
20: Shieldmaidens, Berserkers, and Bear Men
Go beyond the Volsungs and encounter particular (and quite peculiar) heroes and villains, including shieldmaidens, berserkers, and bear men. You’ll come face to face with skilled warriors who were outside the social norms—and perhaps even the social realities—of medieval Norse society.
21: Norse Religion, Sacrifice, and Festivals
Consider the relations between the Norse gods and normal, everyday human beings. What does it look like to compare pre-Christian Norse paganism with the Judeo-Christian communities of today (including their holy days)? What can we learn from relics unearthed from archaeological sites, such as Lunda?
22: Norse Magic: Spells, Curses, and Runes
The worldview of the medieval Norse didn’t deny human beings access to some of the power of the gods. Rather, it embraced the belief that mortals could have a limited command of them. The secret was: spells, runes, blessings, oaths, and curses. Learn about Norse magic channeled through the spoken and written word.
23: After Life: Hel and Valhalla
What happens when we die? Discover how the Norse myths address this question with a journey into two postmortem destinations: Valhalla (for the men who die in battle) and Hel (for everyone else). Also, consider an outsider’s eye-witness account of the Viking conception of death, as illustrated by a cremation in a ship.
24: The Enduring Appeal of Norse Mythology
Consider why stories and characters from Norse myth remain so popular today (albeit in a distorted form), and how they’ve shaped iconic works of modern literature and film. Also, get tips on the best way to explore the terrain of these myths, both in their earliest sources and in the landscape that still exists.