In Norse mythology, Thor (/θɔːr/; from Old Norse: Þórr [ˈθoːrː]) is a hammer-wielding god associated with lightning, thunder, storms, sacred groves and trees, strength, the protection of mankind, hallowing, and fertility. Besides Old Norse Þórr, the deity occurs in Old English as Þunor, in Old Frisian as Thuner, in Old Saxon as Thunar, and in Old High German as Donar, all ultimately stemming from the Proto-Germanic theonym *Þun(a)raz, meaning ‘Thunder’.
Thor is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania, to the Germanic expansions of the Migration Period, to his high popularity during the Viking Age, when, in the face of the process of the Christianization of Scandinavia, emblems of his hammer, Mjölnir, were worn and Norse pagan personal names containing the name of the god bear witness to his popularity.
Due to the nature of the Germanic corpus, narratives featuring Thor are only attested in Old Norse, where Thor appears throughout Norse mythology. Norse mythology, largely recorded in Iceland from traditional material stemming from Scandinavia, provides numerous tales featuring the god. In these sources, Thor bears at least fifteen names, is the husband of the golden-haired goddess Sif, is the lover of the jötunn Járnsaxa, and is generally described as fierce eyed, with red hair and red beard.
With Sif, Thor fathered the goddess (and possible valkyrie) Þrúðr; with Járnsaxa, he fathered Magni; with a mother whose name is not recorded, he fathered Móði, and he is the stepfather of the god Ullr. By way of Odin, Thor has numerous brothers, including Baldr. Thor has two servants, Þjálfi and Röskva, rides in a cart or chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (that he eats and resurrects), and is ascribed three dwellings (Bilskirnir, Þrúðheimr, and Þrúðvangr). Thor wields the hammer Mjölnir, wears the belt Megingjörð and the iron gloves Járngreipr, and owns the staff Gríðarvölr. Thor’s exploits, including his relentless slaughter of his foes and fierce battles with the monstrous serpent Jörmungandr—and their foretold mutual deaths during the events of Ragnarök—are recorded throughout sources for Norse mythology.
Into the modern period, Thor continued to be acknowledged in rural folklore throughout Germanic-speaking Europe. Thor is frequently referred to in place names, the day of the week Thursday bears his name (modern English Thursday derives from Old English þunresdæġ, ‘Þunor’s day’), and names stemming from the pagan period containing his own continue to be used today, particularly in Scandinavia. Thor has inspired numerous works of art and references to Thor appear in modern popular culture. Like other Germanic deities, veneration of Thor is revived in the modern period in Heathenry.
Thor was the defender of Asgard, realm of the gods, and Midgard, the human realm, and is primarily associated with protection through great feats of arms in slaying giants. The majority of the tales featuring Thor, in fact, put him in conflict with a giant or with his nemesis the Midgard Serpent (Jörmungandr, the “huge monster”), a monstrous snake who coils and twists itself around the world. Like almost all of the Norse gods, Thor is doomed to die at Ragnarök, the end of the world and twilight of the gods, but falls only after killing the great serpent with his powerful hammer Mjollnir, dying to its poison; his sons Magni and Modi survive Ragnarök along with a small number of other gods and inherit his hammer which they use to restore order.
He developed from the earlier Germanic god Donar and became the most popular deity of the Norse pantheon. Thor continues as a popular god in the present day, too, and the modern English and German words for the fifth day of the week – Thursday and Donnerstag – both allude to Thor/Donar (“Thor’s Day”/“Donar’s Day”). He was thought to have ruled the sky from his land of Þrúðvangr (“Power-Field” or “Plains of Strength”) where he built his great hall of Bilskírnir, a palace of 540 rooms.
Thor functioned primarily as a protector-god, although stories concerning him also explained natural phenomena, thus linking him with the etiological type of myth (one which explains how some aspect of life came to be). He was said to burst forth from his great hall in his chariot, drawn by two male goats – Tanngnjóstr (Tooth Gnasher) and Tanngrísnir (Snarl Tooth) – who could be killed and eaten by the god and then brought back to life the next day as long as their bones remained unbroken. The roar of thunder was the rumble of Thor’s chariot’s wheels across the vault of the heavens and, in another story, he is credited with creating tides.
For the most part, however, he was invoked for protection and problem-solving. Scholar Preben Meulengracht Sørensen comments that Thor “was master of thunder and lightning, storm and rain, fair weather and crops, and the pagans sacrificed to him when threatened by hunger or disease” (Sawyer, 203). He had three magical items which helped him defend Asgard and Midgard: his hammer Mjollnir, his belt of strength Megingjörð (which doubled his strength when he wore it), and his great iron gloves which he needed to wield his hammer.
Contrary to the popular image of Thor in the present day from Marvel comic books and films, he was not the brother of Loki and is never depicted as clean-shaven or blonde-haired except in chapter 3 of the Prose Edda (composed c. 1220), a mythography of earlier Norse myths reworked by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson into one structured account, written from a Christian context. Elsewhere, and in almost every image, Thor is always shown with long red hair and a great beard, often as not leaping into battle against giants or killing dwarves without pausing to consider alternatives to violence. He is closely associated with water in many of the myths and is depicted rowing out further into the sea than others have gone and also crossing dangerous rivers – both aspects of his role as a protector god who removes boundaries or goes before a believer as a guide.
The Vikings were very superstitious people. They believed that they shared their world with a whole range of gods and mystical creatures. The best known of the Viking gods are Odin, Thor, and Freya. We remember them because, in English, the days of the week are named after them.
Thor was the most popular of all the gods. He was a god of war and fertility. He created thunder and lightning as he rode over the clouds in a chariot drawn by goats, swinging his hammer Mjöllnir.