Thor’s Return

Once as I sat in the office of an Ivy League professor of Greek religion, I asked about the myths of the Classical gods. The professor (who knew that I had taught religion as well, but at more like a Noxious Weed League school) appeared genuinely insulted and told me in no uncertain terms that scholars of religion didn’t take that nonsense seriously. The study of “myths” was left to Classicists, not actual scholars of religion. Is it any wonder, then, that we don’t really have a grasp on what the average person believes? Being a blue-collar scholar, I always took seriously what students told me about their beliefs. It wasn’t really a great surprise, then, when my wife pointed me to a story in The Guardian about a temple to the Nordic gods being built in Iceland. According to the story, the modern adherents of Ásatrúarfélagið (thank you unicode) don’t really believe in a literal Odin or Thor or Frigg, but see them as metaphors to help them face the way life is. A millennium after becoming Christian, some Icelanders are apparently getting back to their roots.

There has always been, to me, a fascination with the Nordic gods. These rough-and-tumble deities inhabited the harsh and snowy regions where daily life was often a struggle to survive against the elements. Frost giants were enemies and nobody really emerges as the winner after Ragnarok. In the Bible Yahweh does sometimes come out swinging, but for the most part he seems a deity content to sit on his throne and issue commands. The Scandinavian gods were characters of action. In some sense they seemed to struggle just like the rest of us do. They are, of course, more powerful and as the movie makes clear, Thor has a charisma that more self-righteous deities appear to lack. Lest anyone be ready to run to their priest at this point, please be aware that this too is a metaphor.

On the other side of the equation there are sure to be critics who argue that building a temple to fake gods in this day and age is obviously a waste of human talent and resources. Such are people with no imagination. Religious belief, metaphor or not, has been part of the human psyche from the very beginning. Elsewhere I have suggested that animals show the same behaviors as what we Homo sapiens would declare rudimentary religion. Rationalism has not provided a reasonable alternative to religious expression. Even a Stoic knows to appreciate art, although beauty provides no essential element to simple survival. Simply put, humans enjoy the finer things of life. Perhaps unappreciated since long sublimated, among those finer things are the old Nordic gods. And their return is a kind of resurrection.

The Battle of the Doomed Gods

The Battle of the Doomed Gods

6 responses to “Thor’s Return

  1. One person’s religion is another’s myth, and at that point, a great deal of trouble arises.

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  2. The Scandinavian, and Norwegian countries are a bit more forward thinking and they are also more socially connected in ways that we are not. And we could learn a great deal from them if we only opened our minds up to something other than what we are fed.

    The temple sounds like a beautiful building when it will be finished. Who are we to judge what is pointless or a waste of time, talent and creativity? They find useful metaphors for life, and that plays out for them positively, the world is in such strife and horror right now, I think that if we can find something to assist us, then why not?

    I always suggest to Americans that they should leave their homes and move somewhere else in the world for at least a years time, and see the world from another location. I guarantee them that their lives would change. We are too used to our comfort and ignorance at what and how other humans live their lives and practice their traditions and faiths.

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    • Well said, Jeremiah. That was one of the main reasons we moved to Scotland for three years. Unfortunately, our society (at least in the US) is very distrustful of other outlooks. I haven’t been able to convince colleagues that a European education is even worth half an American one… Keep exploring!

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  3. I for one love mythology, and Thor (from which Thursday is derived) is one of my favorites. However, I cannot possibly put myself in the frame of mind of those remarkable story-tellers who stared up at the night skies in ancient and prehistoric times, enacting their mythologies as a living reality.

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