The most beloved and well-known god of the Old Norse pantheon, nowadays Thor has achieved worldwide fame through the Marvel comics and movies. But the god of thunder our pagan ancestors worshipped didn’t have as much in common with the blond superhero the world has come to know as Thor. It’s time to get to know the real Thor.
The origins of Thor
Thor has a fascinating origin story that’s quite different from how the world has come to know him. According to Snorri Sturluson, the 13th-century Icelandic historian who wrote the Prose Edda (which to this day remains our main and most complete source of Old Norse religion and mythology), Thor actually descends from Troy. Yes, the ancient kingdom Greeks laid siege on for ten years before using the Trojan Horse to sneakily win the war. Sturluson says Thor, also known as Tror, was the son of a Trojan prince who survived the war and was raised in Thrace, in northern Greece. He was often compared to Zeus, the Greek god of thunder, and Herakles. He’s supposed to have “fair hair,” and in some depictions, he’s seen as a pagan priest. His descendants followed the Germanic tribes to the north of Europe, and his twelfth descendant, Woden, became celebrated as a god amongst the Germans and Scandinavians. A very interesting tidbit in this story is that “Asgard,” the legendary realm that was home of the gods, according to Sturluson, meant “the city in the east,” a reference to Troy — and “Aesir” meant “the gods from the east.”
This origin story may sound very strange if you’re accustomed to thinking of Thor as Odin’s son. But the archaeological evidence found in Germanic and Scandinavian graves, as well as the many rune stones and sacred groves and oak trees devoted to Thor (or “Donnar”), supports the idea that our pagan ancestors worshipped Thor long before they started worshipping Odin. In his earliest depictions, Thor was worshipped as a god of fertility. He still had legendary strength but was seen as more of a farmstead and smith god, protecting crops and cattle and bringing in the rain and thunder. It was that aspect of yielding thunder that became his main characteristic in the Old Norse pantheon — although his abilities had to be toned down a bit so that he could be portrayed as inferior to Odin. However, his famous hammer still looks like a smith’s blunt hammer, not like a warrior’s sharp-edged one.
Thor in the Old Norse pantheon
In the Old Norse pantheon, Thor became known as the red-haired, bearded, quick-to-anger son of Odin. He’s married to Sif, an Earth goddess that has been compared to Demeter, and has also had an affair with the giantess Járnsaxa. His wrath can summon the thunder, and his chariot is driven by two goats (a nod to the god’s earlier depictions as the god of fertility and cattle). His hammer, Mjölnir, could bring both destruction and bestow blessings and life (like resurrecting his goats). The part about the hammer returning to Thor’s hand like a boomerang, though, is a modern addition. A fierce warrior battling the rivals of the Aesir (mainly the frost giants), Thor slowly acquired an almost messianic aspect: He is supposed to die saving humanity and the world itself from Jörmungandr, the giant serpent (which is also Loki’s child), during Ragnarok.
Another interesting part of Thor’s myth is his relationship with Loki. Contrary to how they’re depicted in comics and movies, Thor and Loki are not siblings — but have a tense friendship that in most cases ends up in fighting. There are several myths of Loki creating problems for Thor, whether trying to accuse his wife of infidelity or being behind the disappearance of his hammer, which he then helps him retrieve. Although many of these myths were created for comedic effect (as the gods of the Old Norse pantheon are famous for their quarrels), underneath it lies the battle of different elements. Thor represents the elements of Earth and Water, while mercurial Loki represents Air and Fire, so the two gods are in constant tension.
Symbols and associations of Thor
Thor (along with Odin and Tyr) remains to this day one of the very few Old Norse gods for whom we have tangible artifacts and remnants of their worship. Beloved during the Viking Age, when Scandinavia became Christianized, people still held onto their worship of Thor (and Freya). Thor’s hammer was worn as a necklace both by men and women the same way that Christians would wear a cross — and to this day, Thor remains a popular name among Norwegians and Icelanders. And like all the main gods of the Old Norse pantheon, Thor has given his name to one of the days of the week: Thursday literally means “Thor’s Day” and is astronomically ruled by Jupiter (a nod to the other thunder-wielding god).
Just as it happened with other pagan deities whose worship lingered on after the Christianization of Europe, the church tried to give Thor’s traits to a Christian Saint. St. Olaf, the sanctified king of Norway, was depicted looking like Thor, with long red hair and an unruly beard. This was done in the hope that our pagan ancestors would stop worshipping Thor and turn to St. Olaf instead — but although St. Olaf is indeed very popular in Scandinavia, Thor is still around to this day, in the hearts and minds of people, especially farmers.
It’s interesting to note that popular culture discovered Thor in the 1960s from the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee comics, which used the Asgardian god as inspiration but gave him an American superhero makeover (blond hair, bodybuilder muscles, etc.). The character of Thor was included in the superhero team, The Avengers, and in the past decade has also appeared in several movies. This has reignited an interest in the Old Norse religion and mythology for many people. Thor would probably be pleased with that.
This offering will help you invoke Thor to “borrow” his strength and courage for a short amount of time. You can do this when you want to bring the equivalent of “rain” or “thunder” in your life, aka a strong burst of Earth and Water energy.
Note: For better results, perform this ritual on a Thursday since it’s the day dedicated to Thor.
What you’ll need:
- a silver, yellow or red candle
- the Thurisaz rune (that’s the ᚹ rune, which symbolizes raw power)
- rainwater (that you’ve gathered during rainfall and preserved in a lidded jar)
- a gemstone (carnelian, red agate, lodestone) or plant (acorn, a piece of pinewood) associated with Thor
Optional: Thor’s hammer, worn as a necklace, can make the god more sympathetic to your invocation. But if you’re not planning to wear Thor’s hammer every day afterward, it’s best not to use it at all. Thor values loyalty.
What you’ll do:
- Gather your ingredients and go to your altar. If your altar is movable, transfer it somewhere in nature. Ideally, you should do this ritual outside the house.
- Ground yourself and draw a circle. Invoke your matron deities to help you with your work (you can also invoke Sif to help you work with her husband, Thor).
- Place your candle in the middle of your altar and light it.
- Place the rune and your gemstone or plant at its foot. If you’re using Thor’s hammer, place this next to the other items.
- Meditate on the rune and the raw power it symbolizes. Imagine yielding that raw power for yourself and how that would feel.
- Dip your fingers in the jar of rainwater. Using your wet fingers, draw the Thurisaz rune on your forehead and your cheeks. As you do so, imagine the raw power seeping into your skin.
- When you’ve finished drawing the runes, begin the invocation to Thor:
Bringer of Thunder, Bringer of Rain, I call on you
Thor of Asgard, Thor of Troy, I call on you
Son of Odin, Father of Odin, I call on you
Slayer of the Serpent, Wielder of Mjolnir, I call on you
Lend me your Power, Lend me your Courage,
I bear your rune, I call on you
- Take a moment to acknowledge the god’s energy. Is the candle flame flickering? Do you feel a tiny jolt of electricity? These can all be signs that Thor has heard your invocation.
- Dip your fingers into the rainwater again and carve a T shape (to represent Thor’s hammer) in the air to draw Thor’s power onto you.
- Take the gemstone, plant, or Thor’s hammer necklace and feel the power vibrating in your hand. This is now your talisman that holds Thor’s power.
- When you’re ready, thank Thor for showing up. Close your circle.
- Carry the talisman with you for as long as you need. Whenever you feel you need to “recharge” it, make the T shape in the air holding it.