Before the Danes became Christian in 966 under the rule of King Harald Bluetooth, the main religion of the north was the Norse mythology. Much like the Roman and Greek mythologies, Norse mythology provided a set of rules and explanations for the world and things like the weather, the origin of man, and death and the afterlife.
According to Norse mythology, the world is built up around Yggdrasil, the tree of life, and consists of nine different sub-worlds. The three most important of these are Asgard, Midgard and Jotunheim. As the name indicates (“mid” means “middle”), Midgard is in the centre of the three worlds and is also the world of the humans. On one side of Midgard is Asgard, the world of the Æsir (gods), and on the other side is Jotunheim, the world of the Jötnar (giants). Connecting Midgard and Asgard is the rainbow Bifrost, which serves as the bridge between the world of man and the world of the gods. When a man is killed in battle, he crosses Bifrost into Asgard, where he joins the other fallen warriors in the castle Valhalla.
The ruler of Valhalla and head of the gods is Odin, the eldest and wisest of the gods. Odin got his wisdom from drinking from Mímir’s Well (Mímisbrunnr), a well at the roots of Yggdrasil guarded by the head of the æs Mímir. In order to be allowed to drink from the well, Odin had to sacrifice his eye, which is now lying in the well, allowing Odin to literally keep an eye on the world through the waters of wisdom.
Some of you have probably heard of Thor – the god of thunder. When Thor drives his goat-drawn cart across the sky, while brandishing his hammer Mjölnir, thunder and lightning appear on the sky. Mjölner is also the most powerful weapon of Asgard: When Thor throws it; it will always hit its target, and always return to Thor’s hand.
Even today, Norse mythology is present every day in the lives of every Dane – in the names of the days of the week. Tuesday is tirsdag – Tyr’s dag (Tyr is the god of war), Wednesday is onsdag – Odin’s day, Thursday is torsdag – Thor´s day, and Friday is fredag – Freya’s day, named after the goddess of love and fertility.
If you would like to learn more about Norse mythology, I highly recommend the Danish comic book series ”Valhalla”. Every album tells a different story, for example about the time Mjölnir was stolen by the Jötn Udgards-Loki and Thor had to dress up like a woman to retrieve his beloved hammer, or about the time Odin left Asgard and his crazy brothers Vile and Ve took over power. In Denmark, Norse mythology is still practiced as a religion, and approximately 600 Danes are part of the neo-pagan community Forn Siðr.