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Myths of the Norsemen

H. A. Guerber

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Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas by Hélène Adeline Guerber was first published in 1909. It was one of several books the author wrote on ancient mythology. This book includes fragments of poetry and stories from the epic legends and sagas from Icelandic literature. Chapters include; Odin; Frigga; Thor; Tyr; Bragi; Idun; Niörd; Frey; Freya; Uller; Forseti; Heimdall; Hermod; Vidar; Vali; The Norns; The Valkyrs; Hel; Ægir; Balder; Loki; The Giants; The Dwarfs; The Elves; The Sigurd Saga; The Frithiof Saga; and, The Twilight of the Gods. Full subject list.

This book has 226 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1909.

Production notes: This ebook of Myths of the Norsemen was published by Global Grey on the 9th August 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Ingeborg' by Peter Nicolai Arbo.

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Excerpt from 'Myths of the Norsemen'

The Spirit of Evil

Besides the hideous giant Utgard-Loki, the personification of mischief and evil, whom Thor and his companions visited in Jötun-heim, the ancient Northern nations had another type of sin, whom they called Loki also, and whom we have already seen under many different aspects.

In the beginning, Loki was merely the personification of the hearth fire and of the spirit of life. At first a god, he gradually becomes “god and devil combined,” and ends in being held in general detestation as an exact counterpart of the mediæval Lucifer, the prince of lies, “the originator of deceit, and the back-biter” of the Æsir.

By some authorities Loki was said to be the brother of Odin, but others assert that the two were not related, but had merely gone through the form of swearing blood brotherhood common in the North.

“Odin! dost thou remember

When we in early days

Blended our blood together?

When to taste beer

Thou did’st constantly refuse

Unless to both ’twas offered?”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).

Loki’s Character

While Thor is the embodiment of Northern activity, Loki represents recreation, and the close companionship early established between these two gods shows very plainly how soon our ancestors realised that both were necessary to the welfare of mankind. Thor is ever busy and ever in earnest, but Loki makes fun of everything, until at last his love of mischief leads him entirely astray, and he loses all love for goodness and becomes utterly selfish and malevolent.

He represents evil in the seductive and seemingly beautiful form in which it parades through the world. Because of this deceptive appearance the gods did not at first avoid him, but treated him as one of themselves in all good-fellowship, taking him with them wherever they went, and admitting him not only to their merry-makings, but also to their council hall, where, unfortunately, they too often listened to his advice.

As we have already seen, Loki played a prominent part in the creation of man, endowing him with the power of motion, and causing the blood to circulate freely through his veins, whereby he was inspired with passions. As personification of fire as well as of mischief, Loki (lightning) is often seen with Thor (thunder), whom he accompanies to Jötun-heim to recover his hammer, to Utgard-Loki’s castle, and to Geirrod’s house. It is he who steals Freya’s necklace and Sif’s hair, and betrays Idun into the power of Thiassi; and although he sometimes gives the gods good advice and affords them real help, it is only to extricate them from some predicament into which he has rashly inveigled them.

Some authorities declare that, instead of making part of the creative trilogy (Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur or Loki), this god originally belonged to a pre-Odinic race of deities, and was the son of the great giant Fornjotnr (Ymir), his brothers being Kari (air) and Hler (water), and his sister Ran, the terrible goddess of the sea. Other mythologists, however, make him the son of the giant Farbauti, who has been identified with Bergelmir, the sole survivor of the deluge, and of Laufeia (leafy isle) or Nal (vessel), his mother, thus stating that his connection with Odin was only that of the Northern oath of good-fellowship.

Loki (fire) first married Glut (glow), who bore him two daughters, Eisa (embers) and Einmyria (ashes); it is therefore very evident that Norsemen considered him emblematic of the hearth-fire, and when the flaming wood crackles on the hearth the goodwives in the North are still wont to say that Loki is beating his children. Besides this wife, Loki is also said to have wedded the giantess Angur-boda (the anguish-boding), who dwelt in Jötun-heim, and who, as we have already seen, bore him the three monsters: Hel, goddess of death, the Midgard snake Iörmungandr, and the grim wolf Fenris.

“Loki begat the wolf

With Angur-boda.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.).


Loki’s third marriage was with Sigyn, who proved a most loving and devoted wife, and bore him two sons, Narve and Vali, the latter a namesake of the god who avenged Balder. Sigyn was always faithful to her husband, and did not forsake him even after he had definitely been cast out of Asgard and confined in the bowels of the earth.

As Loki was the embodiment of evil in the minds of the Northern races, they entertained nothing but fear of him, built no temples to his honour, offered no sacrifices to him, and designated the most noxious weeds by his name. The quivering, overheated atmosphere of summer was supposed to betoken his presence, for the people were then wont to remark that Loki was sowing his wild oats, and when the sun appeared to be drawing water they said Loki was drinking.

The story of Loki is so inextricably woven with that of the other gods that most of the myths relating to him have already been told, and there remain but two episodes of his life to relate, one showing his better side before he had degenerated into the arch deceiver, and the other illustrating how he finally induced the gods to defile their peace-steads by wilful murder.

Skrymsli and the Peasant’s Child

A giant and a peasant were playing a game together one day (probably a game of chess, which was a favourite winter pastime with the Northern vikings). They of course had determined to play for certain stakes, and the giant, being victorious, won the peasant’s only son, whom he said he would come and claim on the morrow unless the parents could hide him so cleverly that he could not be found.

Knowing that such a feat would be impossible for them to perform, the parents fervently prayed to Odin to help them, and in answer to their entreaties the god came down to earth, and changed the boy into a tiny grain of wheat, which he hid in an ear of grain in the midst of a large field, declaring that the giant would not be able to find him. The giant Skrymsli, however, possessed wisdom far beyond what Odin imagined, and, failing to find the child at home, he strode off immediately to the field with his scythe, and mowing the wheat he selected the particular ear where the boy was hidden. Counting over the grains of wheat he was about to lay his hand upon the right one when Odin, hearing the child’s cry of distress, snatched the kernel out of the giant’s hand, and restored the boy to his parents, telling them that he had done all in his power to help them. But as the giant vowed he had been cheated, and would again claim the boy on the morrow unless the parents could outwit him, the unfortunate peasants now turned to Hoenir for aid. The god heard them graciously and changed the boy into a fluff of down, which he hid in the breast of a swan swimming in a pond close by. Now when, a few minutes later, Skrymsli came up, he guessed what had occurred, and seizing the swan, he bit off its neck, and would have swallowed the down had not Hoenir wafted it away from his lips and out of reach, restoring the boy safe and sound to his parents, but telling them that he could not further aid them.

Skrymsli warned the parents that he would make a third attempt to secure the child, whereupon they applied in their despair to Loki, who carried the boy out to sea, and concealed him, as a tiny egg, in the roe of a flounder. Returning from his expedition, Loki encountered the giant near the shore, and seeing that he was bent upon a fishing excursion, he insisted upon accompanying him. He felt somewhat uneasy lest the terrible giant should have seen through his device, and therefore thought it would be well for him to be on the spot in case of need. Skrymsli baited his hook, and was more or less successful in his angling, when suddenly he drew up the identical flounder in which Loki had concealed his little charge. Opening the fish upon his knee, the giant proceeded to minutely examine the roe, until he found the egg which he was seeking.

Full Subject List for 'Myths of the Norsemen'

Chapter 1. The Beginning
Myths of Creation
Ymir and Audhumla
Odin, Vili, and Ve
The Creation of the Earth
Mani and Sol
Dwarfs and Elves
The Creation of Man
The Tree Yggdrasil
The Bridge Bifröst
The Vanas

Chapter 2. Odin
The Father of Gods and Men
Odin’s Personal Appearance
The Feast of the Heroes
The Wild Hunt
The Pied Piper
Bishop Hatto
Mimir’s Well
Odin and Vafthrudnir
Invention of Runes
Geirrod and Agnar
May-Day Festivals
The Historical Odin

Chapter 3. Frigga
The Queen of the Gods
The Stolen Gold
Odin Outwitted
Lofn, Vjofn, and Syn
Eira, Vara, Vör and Snotra
The Discovery of Flax
Eástre, the Goddess of Spring
Bertha, the White Lady

Chapter 4. Thor
The Thunderer
Thor’s Hammer
Thor’s Family
Sif, the Golden-haired
Thor’s Journey to Jötun-heim
Thor and Hrungnir
Groa, the Sorceress
Thor and Thrym
Thor and Geirrod
The Worship of Thor

Chapter 5. Tyr
The God of War
Tyr’s Sword
The Story of Fenris

Chapter 6. Bragi
The Origin of Poetry
The Quest of the Draught
The Rape of the Draught
The God of Music
Worship of Bragi

Chapter 7. Idun
The Apples of Youth
The Story of Thiassi
The Return of Idun
The Goddess of Spring
Idun Falls to the Nether World

Chapter 8. Niörd
A Hostage with the Gods
The God of Summer
Skadi, Goddess of Winter
The Parting of Niörd and Skadi
The Worship of Niörd

Chapter 9. Frey
The God of Fairyland
The Wooing of Gerda
The historical Frey
Worship of Frey
The Yule Feast
How the Sea became salt

Chapter 10. Freya
The Goddess of Love
Queen of the Valkyrs
Freya and Odur
Freya’s Necklace
Story of Ottar and Angantyr
The Husbands of Freya
Worship of Freya

Chapter 11. Uller
The God of Winter
Worship of Uller

Chapter 12. Forseti
The God of Justice and Truth
The Story of Heligoland

Chapter 13. Heimdall
The Watchman of the Gods
The Guardian of the Rainbow
Loki and Freya
Heimdall’s Names

Chapter 14. Hermod
The Nimble God
Hermod and the Soothsayer

Chapter 15. Vidar
The Silent God
Vidar’s Shoe
The Norn’s Prophecy

Chapter 16. Vali
The Wooing of Rinda
The Birth of Vali
Worship of Vali

Chapter 17. The Norns
The Three Fates
The Norns’ Web
Other Guardian Spirits
The Story of Nornagesta
The Vala

Chapter 18. The Valkyrs
The Battle Maidens
The Cloud Steeds
Choosers of the Slain
Their Numbers and Duties
Wayland and the Valkyrs

Chapter 19. Hel
Loki’s Offspring
Hel’s Kingdom in Nifl-heim
Ideas of the Future Life
Pestilence and Famine

Chapter 20. Ægir
The God of the Sea
The Goddess Ran
The Waves
Ægir’s Brewing Kettle
Thor and Hymir
Unloved Divinities
Other Divinities of the Sea
River Nymphs
Legends of the Lorelei

Chapter 21. Balder
The Best Loved
Balder’s Dream
The Vala’s Prophecy
The Gods at Play
The Death of Balder
Hermod’s Errand
The Funeral Pyre
Hermod’s Quest
The Condition of Balder’s Release
The Return of Hermod
Vali the Avenger
The Signification of the Story
The Worship of Balder

Chapter 22. Loki
The Spirit of Evil
Loki’s Character
Skrymsli and the Peasant’s Child
The Giant Architect
Loki’s last Crime
Ægir’s Banquet
The Pursuit of Loki
Loki’s Punishment
Loki’s Day

Chapter 23. The Giants
Origin of the Mountains
The First Gods
The Giant in Love
The Giant and the Church Bells
The Giants’ Ship
Princess Ilse
The Giantess’s Plaything

Chapter 24. The Dwarfs
Little Men
The Tarnkappe
The Legend of Kallundborg
The Magic of the Dwarfs
The Passing of the Dwarfs
The Peaks of the Trolls
A Conjecture

Chapter 25. The Elves
The Realm of Faery
The Elf-dance
The Will-o’-the-wisps
Oberon and Titania
Images on Doorposts

Chapter 26. The Sigurd Saga
The Beginning of the Story
The Volsunga Saga
The Wedding of Signy
The Sword in the Branstock
Siggeir’s Treachery
Signy’s Sons
The Werewolves
Sigmund and Sinfiotli taken by Siggeir
Sigmund’s Vengeance
The Death of Sinfiotli
Elf, the Viking
The Birth of Sigurd
The Treasure of the Dwarf King
Sigurd’s Sword
The Fight with the Dragon
The Sleeping Warrior Maiden
The Fostering of Aslaug
The Niblungs
Gunnar’s Stratagem
The Coming of Brunhild
The Quarrel of the Queens
The Death of Sigurd
The Flight of Gudrun
Atli, King of the Huns
Burial of the Niblung Treasure
The Treachery of Atli
The Last of the Niblungs
Interpretation of the Saga

Chapter 27. The Story of Frithiof
Bishop Tegnér
Birth of Viking
The Game of Ball
The Blood Feud
Thorsten and Belé
Birth of Frithiof and Ingeborg
Frithiof’s Love for Ingeborg
Helgé and Halfdan
Frithiof’s Suit
Sigurd Ring a Suitor
At Balder’s Shrine
Frithiof Banished
Atlé’s Challenge
Frithiof’s Home-coming
Frithiof an Exile
At the Court of Sigurd Ring
Frithiof’s Loyalty
Betrothal of Frithiof and Ingeborg

Chapter 28. The Twilight of the Gods
The Decline of the Gods
The Fimbul-winter
The Wolves Let Loose
Heimdall Gives the Alarm
The Terrors of the Sea
The Terrors of the Underworld
The Great Battle
The Devouring Fire
A New Heaven
One too Mighty to Name

Chapter 29. Greek and Northern Mythologies
Comparative Mythology
The Beginning of Things
The Phenomena of the Sky
Jupiter and Odin
The Creation of Man
Norns and Fates
Myths of the Seasons
Frigga and Juno
Musical Myths
Thor and the Greek Gods
Idun and Eurydice
Skadi and Diana
Frey and Apollo
Freya and Venus
Odur and Adonis
Rinda and Danae
Myths of the Sea
Balder and Apollo
Ragnarok and the Deluge
Giants and Titans
The Volsunga Saga
Sun Myths

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