Thor, also known as the Thunderer, was considered to be a son of Fjorgyn (Jord) and Odin by some, but among many tribes Thor actually supplanted Odin as the favorite god. He is considered to be the protector of all Midgard, and he wields the mighty hammer Mjollnir. Thor is strength personified. His battle chariot is drawn by two goats, and his hammer Mjollnir causes the lightning that flashes across the sky. Of all the deities, Thor is the most “barbarian” of the lot; rugged, powerful, and lives by his own rules, although he is faithful to the rest of the Aesir. The day Thursday (Thorsdaeg) is sacred to him.
Thor is married to Sif, a fertility goddess, with whom he had a daughter, Thrud. He also had a mistress, the giantess Jarnsaxa with whom he had two sons, Magni and Modi. Thor is helped by Thialfi, his servant and the messenger of the gods.
Thor was the god of war, thunder and strength. Thor destroyed the enemies of the gods with his magic hammer. It was he who chased away the frosts and called gentle winds and warm spring rains to release the earth from its bondage of ice and snow. He was also the god of the household and of the common people. He even married Sif a peasant woman. The lightning’s flash was his mighty hammer, Mjollnir, hurled in battle with the frost giants, and the rolling thunder was the rumble of his fiery chariot.
Thor was a good-natured, careless god, always ready for adventure, and never tired of trying his great strength. He could shoulder giant tasks with the greatest ease and slay bulls with his bare hands. For sport he sometimes rode among the cloud-veiled mountains, hurling his hammer at their peaks and cleaving them in twain.
This adventurous god once visited Jotunheim, the land of the giants. The king of the giants looked at him scornfully and said, “Is this stripling the mighty god, Thor? Perhaps you are mightier than you appear. What feats do you deem yourself skilled in?” I will test my prowess in a drinking bout with anyone,” smiled Thor.
The king thereupon bade the cup bearer bring a drinking horn, and said, “Whosoever is a good drinker is able to drain this horn at a single drought.” Thor placed the horn to his lips and drank long and deep, but when he removed it the liquid had scarcely diminished. Three times he tried to empty the horn and failed, and at last he threw it down in disgust.
Next he was challenged to lift the king’s cat from the ground. After a great effort he only managed to raise one of its paws. “Is this the mighty god we have been taught to fear?” scoffed the king.
Thor held his temper and offered to wrestle with anyone who would stand against him, and a toothless old crone accepted the challenge. Thor placed his arms about the woman and tried to pull her towards him but she refused to budge. Thor scratched his head and tried again. Still he could not move her. Next he pushed her hard then shouldered her, still she stood like a rock. Then with mad rushes Thor attempted to throw the frail woman to the floor, but in spite of his best efforts he could not succeed and was in turn lucky to stay upright himself when she wrestled with him.
In great shame he departed the palace.
Outside the gates he was surprised to see the king ride up to him. “Mighty Thor,” said the king taking him by the shoulder, “when you attempted to empty the drinking horn you preformed a feat so marvelous, that had I not seen it myself, I should never have believed it. At the end of the horn lay the sea itself, and when you come to the shore you will see how much the waters have fallen away.
Then terror overcame everyone when you lifted the cat’s paw from the ground, for that cat is the serpent that encircles the earth, and the whole world shuddered when its hold was loosened.
To stand against the old crone for so long was marvelous, for it was indeed old age with whom you wrestled, and no man may conquer her. It was not the prowess of the frost giants that overcame you Thor, it was their magic.”
Thor, in wrath at being so tricked, reached for his hammer, but when he would have thrown it, the king of the giants had disappeared. Thor returned to his mountain peak and continued to beat his hammer for the world but with ever-increasing sadness. The fifth day of the week is still called ‘Thor’s day’ after this strong god.
Thor is usually portrayed as a large, powerful man with a red beard and eyes of lightning. Despite his ferocious appearance, he surpassed his father Odin in popularity because, contrary to Odin, he did not require human sacrifices. In his temple at Uppsala he was shown standing with Odin at his right side. This temple was replaced by a Christian church in 1080.
The Norse believed that during a thunderstorm, Thor rode through the heavens on his chariot pulled by the goats Tanngrisni (“gap-tooth”) and Tanngnost (“tooth grinder”). Lightning flashed whenever he threw his hammer Mjollnir. Thor wears the belt Megingjard which doubles his already considerable strength. His hall is Bilskirnir, which is located in the region Thrudheim (“place of might”). His greatest enemy is Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent. At the day of Ragnarok, Thor will kill this serpent but will die from its poison. His sons will inherit his hammer after his death.