The Theft of Thor's Hammer/ The lay of Thrym by Larisa Hunter
This is another of my favorite myths. I am not sure why it makes me giggle, but it does. The thought of Thor, that big ‘manly’ man’s god appearing in a dress is frankly one of the most hilarious yet disturbing images. In my experience this iconic image which has remained popular among artists and comic book enthusiasts.
The idea of dressing like a woman is not unique to Thor. In the Lokasenna story involving a woman named Rindr, Odin is said to ‘dress’ as a woman or witch, depending on the version.: “Eight winters you were under the earth, a milk cow and a woman, and didst there bear children.Unmanly thy soul must seem,They say that with spells, in Samsey once, Like witches with charms didst thou work; And in witch’s guise, among men didst thou go; Unmanly thy soul must seem.” Lokasenna (Loki’s Quarrel) in the Poetic Edda It’s unclear if he was just disguised or completely transformed. But, either way…Loki was not the first to come up with the idea . I find it facinating that they have to dress like ‘women’ in order to use magick, although this is likely because of the association of women with these arts, so perhaps men have to appear ‘feminine’ to use this level of magic. Just a theory, but I think it’s valid. Donning the ‘robes’ of a gender is in effect ‘becoming’ that gender and this is perhaps ‘essential’ at times. Why? Because if this was a male god doing crazy magic stuff, they would lose face as it is considered a woman’s art. Based on societal norms they cannot go outside typical gender roles or their perceived rules. Donning a woman’s clothing allows them to ‘become’ female and perform in that role without breaching cultural norms.It might make a lot of sense when you consider the story of Loki being Slepnir’s mother; he had to be a horse, to create a horse…makes sense…otherwise Slepnir would have been more of a Centaur (human/horse hybrid) rather than a regular horse (with eight legs). Either way, this story features some almost comedic moments throughout, as this whole journey is fraught with peril after peril, with Thor, the whole time, in a dress. Below is the full story with personal reflections by yours truly.
From: Folklore and Mythology Electronic texts edited and translated by D.L. Ashliman, University of Pittsburgh
“Thor awoke with a start. His hammer, the mighty Mjöllnir, was missing. He shook his shaggy head, and his beard bristled with anger as he groped around him, He shouted to Loki, "My hammer has been stolen! No one in heaven or on earth can know what a loss this is for me!" From the first part of this story we see that the hammer has been ‘stolen’. It’s unclear how a giant got into Thor’s house without him seeing it…but based on the fact that this has happened to a number of gods, it stands to reason they must use some form of trickery to get into the dwelling or perhaps put some kind of ‘sleeping’ agent into the food or drink, I don’t really know how else to explain a break and enter without waking someone in the house, but there you have it.
Forthwith they rushed to Freyja's shining halls."Freyja," said Thor, "will you lend me your feathered coat to help me seek my hammer?" Interestingly, the thought to get a cloak was the first idea, I am not certain why Thor needed a cloak. It might indicate that the giant’s dwelling was so far it would have taken him a long time to get there; there are only a few occasions when we know he is traveling in his chariot. Instead he seems to either walk or swim depending on the myth. It could also have something to do with the cloak itself. The cloak seems to change the wearer into a falcon, so the idea of the art of ‘disguise’ recurs. Although in the Lokasenna or The Flyiting of Loki, Thor is described as travelling with Loki to Jotunheim, he seems to walk in this story, but one would imagine on this occasion, he had to get there ‘fast’ and be ‘disguised’. Freyja said, "I would lend it to you even if it were made of gold or silver." Then Loki put on the feathered coat and, leaving Asgard, winged his way to Jotunheim, the world of giants. With the magical cloak in hand, for some reason instead of Thor wearing it, the story shifts and it’s Loki off in fligh; I am assuming Thor stays with Freyja while Loki flies off to see what’s up. I think the reason for Loki going instead of Thor, is that there is more reason for giants to talk to Loki than Thor for the obvious fear of the hammer…and since Loki is a friend or related to them, it makes sense for him to be the ‘ambassador’ here.
Thrym, the lord of giants, sat upon a mound, smoothing his horses' manes and twisting golden halters for his hounds. He said, "How are the Æsir? How are the elves? Why have you come to Jotunheim?" Loki said, "It is ill with the Æsir; it is ill with the elves. Tell me, have you hidden the Thunderer's hammer?" Thrym said, "Yes, I have hidden Thor's hammer eight leagues deep in the earth. No one can win it back from me, unless he brings to me fair Freyja as a bride." Loki flew away, the feathered coat rustling. He left behind the world of giants and winged his way back to the world of the gods. Now, I don’t know what to make of these three lines other than, this is another one of those stories where the giants get portrayed as just plain stupid. It’s like those super villains who give elaborate speeches admitting their greatest flaw to the hero…making it VERY OBVIOUS the hero is going to win. Interestingly, Thrym’s entire plot was to get Freyja, by stealing the hammer but I am not sure why he chose this route. You would think if you wanted to get her, a kidnapping of her brother would be a far better option than Thor’s hammer. Don’t get me wrong here, the hammer is awesome, but Freyja does not necessarily hold it as anything of value to her, it’s only valuable to Thor, so I don’t understand why holding that as ransom was a good plan…it’s only going to tick off the most powerful enemy you have, foreshadowing the inevitable. We know that this is NOT going to happen…really you can already picture Freyja’s face as a god tries to tell her what to do.
Thor met him there in the middle court. He said, "Were your labors successful? Tell me the tidings before you land. Sitting causes one to forget, and lying causes one to lie." Loki said, "Yes, my labors met with success. Thrym, the lord of giants, has your hammer; but no one can win Mjöllnir from him, unless he brings to him fair Freyja as a bride." Forthwith they rushed to find fair Freyja. "Dress yourself in bridal linen," said Thor. "You and I are on our way to the world of giants." At this Freyja foamed with rage. The halls of Asgard shook with her anger. The necklace of the Brisings broke apart. "You may call me man-crazy, if I go with you to Jotunheim," she said. Yep, just as expected, there is a no deal from Freyja. I do wonder though why she could not have just ‘played’ along, I think it is interesting that according to The Lady of the Labyrinth, Thor, who was popular in Iceland and in Snorri’s Edda, is the butt of many jokes in the Poetic Edda. It seems that this humiliation of Thor is in effect not to insult him, but to question the existing power of the male dominated force. I see this as more a theme showing that women were a force to be reckoned with and that Thor in this case must acquire feminine wisdom. Thus, donning these garments would be a symbolic way of being able to act womanly,employing the art of deception to get his hammer back. In a way this could be a powerful insight. If a man could get inside a womans mind, to know its inner workings, to be able to use her magical powers (even if that was the ability to ‘attract’ the opposite sex) one could outmanoeuvre the enemy with a range of tactics.
Straight away all the gods and goddesses gathered to discuss how they could recover Thor's hammer. Heimdall, the fairest of the gods, like all the Vanir could see into the future. "Let us dress Thor in bridal linen," he said, "and let him wear the necklace of the Brisings. Tie housewife's keys about his waist, and pin bridal jewels upon his breast. Let him wear women's clothes, with a dainty hood on his head.” Interestingly, Heimdall is the one who suggests the costume, not Loki. Heimdall seems to favor the idea of dressing him up as this would be the best way to recover the hammer…thus the best conversation between Thor and Loki comes into the story: The Thunderer, mightiest of gods, replied, "The gods will call me womanish if I put on bridal linen." Then Loki, son of Laufey, said, "Thor, be still! With such foolish words the giants will soon be living here in Asgard if you do not get your hammer from them." So they dressed Thor in bridal linen, tied the necklace of Brisings around his neck and housewife's keys about his waist. They pinned bridal jewels upon his breast, and dressed him in women's clothes, with a dainty hood on his head. Then Loki, son of Laufey, said, "I will accompany you as your maid-servant. Together we shall go to Jotunheim." Forthwith the goats were driven home to be harnessed. The mountains trembled, and the earth burned with fire as Odin's son rode to Jotunheim.
Note the mention of ‘housekeys’ here. Although attributed to Frigga, here we see their mention as associated with ‘brides’, which is very interesting to me. Reading many arguments that Freyja would have never had keys, this passage would beg to differ and if the stories about her marriage to Odr are considered ‘true’ then one would expect she would have been adorned with keys..which is why it’s still a custom practiced today. The next parts of the story are to me the funniest. Here you see every excuse imaginable as to why Thor disguised as Freyja behaves more like a man than a woman. I have to give a little credit to Loki here for this ingenious wit because without it, I doubt you could pass off the thunder god as dainty little Freyja.
Thrym, the lord of giants, said to his kin, "Stand up, you Jotuns, and put straw on the benches. They are bringing fair Freyja, daughter of Njord from Noatun, to be my bride. I have golden-horned cattle grazing in my yard. They are pure-black oxen, a joy to giants. I have treasures aplenty and rule over great riches. Freyja is the only thing that I lack." Day soon became evening, and ale was brought to the giants' table. There Thor ate an ox and eight whole salmons, in addition to all the dainties that were served to the women. Furthermore, he drank three measures of mead. Thrym, the lord of giants, said, "Have you ever seen a bride eat and drink so heartily?"The maid-servant wisely answered thus: "Freyja was so eager to come to Jotunheim that she has eaten nothing for eight nights." Thrym stooped beneath his bride's veil, wanting to kiss her, then jumped back the whole length of the hall. "Why are Freyja's eyes so fearful?" he said. "I think that fire is flaming from her eyes." The maid-servant wisely answered the giant thus: "Freyja was so eager to come to Jotunheim that she has not slept for eight nights." Then a poor sister of one of the giants came in and dared to beg a gift from the bride. "If you want my love and friendship then give me the gold rings from your fingers," she said. Then Thrym, the lord of giants, said, "Bring me the hammer to bless the bride. Lay Mjöllnir on the maiden's lap, let the two of us thus be hallowed in the name of Vor, goddess of vows!" When Thor saw the hammer his heart laughed within him, and he took courage. He first slew Thrym, the lord of giants, then he crushed all the giant's kin. Finally he slew the old giantess who had begged for a bridal gift. Instead of coins she got the crack of the hammer. Instead of rings she received the mark of Mjöllnir. Thus Thor won back his hammer.”
Within this story there are some interesting themes. As this amazing article that goes on in detail about this myth and the symbolic nature of these myths states: “Thor is the epitome of masculinity. We'd even go so far as to say that in Norse mythology, Thor's character represents ultimate masculinity. And Freyja is so associated with femininity that her name actually became the German word for woman: frau. So it's not just that Thor is transforming into Freyja. Man is transforming into woman. He can't really pull it off, which might signal this story's belief that maleness and femaleness are something natural to the person, something that you can't really take on and off like a costume.” ( www.shmoop.com) The article goes on to indicate that perhaps losing the hammer is symbolic for losing his manliness and in a way it is. This story almost strips him of his man’s man image and makes him something else…as the article went on to say: “The forced cross-dressing is just the icing on the cake. Thor loses his manliness when he loses his ability to dominate others with his strength, signaling the story's connection of masculinity with physical power. Since he can't use his hammer, Thor has to use his brains” (www.shmoop.com) and that is true. Instead of being able to merely crush the giants, he has to outthink them, and with the help of Loki, he does. And thus, he victoriously rises from the ashes to regain his ‘manhood’. I am not certain if everyone will agree with my interpretation, but there it is. It seems such a strange tale, with many themes of humili.ation, male virility vs feminine beauty There is so much going on here…with that I leave you with a poem that I wrote inspired by this story:
To Freyja’s Wedding (Loki Inspired)
Shall I wear green or blue,
Will I bring something borrowed or new,
I wonder what Thor will look like that night,
as we prepare him for a wonderful flight,
For you see it was promised to the giants one day,
That Freyja would be brought to their home to stay,
But instead of giving up the beautiful Van,
I concocted an ingenious plan,
I would use Thor as a pawn in my master plan,
To win back the hammer, placed in giant hand,
I would dress him in white, fine linens and lace,
Place jewels on his fingers, and disguise his face,
I would lay veil upon his thunderous brow,
and make him a lady, fitting to be wed,
Perhaps even an amber jewel hung round his neck,
To give the illusion that he was not a risk,
but the lady Freyja with magical gifts,
I was surprised to find that no one saw clear,
This man had not bosoms so fair, nor did he have,
The Vans red and luscious lips, nor fine hair tied in clips,
No instead, it was hard to disguise what he was,
That armour is not easy to mask,
But still no one saw that it was Thor in her stead,
Too bad this means that the giants will be dead
But, gee it was fun to watch him that night,
And string them along with stories of why,
She drank all the liquid and ate all the food,
Man I am good, I convinced them enough,
and then they brought the hammer all right,
and man then the wedding became a fight
To the left and the right,
giants flung over head, I am glad it was not me,
and that he hit them instead,
he tore his dress, his hair was a mess,
and boy if you had only seen my face,
a grin slightly smirky, would have been there,
as all the giants cleared the air
but the greatest thing about this day,
was the picture of good old Thor,
dressed like Freyja, which I hung on my door,
To remind me that the man, who is great indeed,
Managed to bend to the will of someone like me,
I will never forget the wonderful night,
When I took old Thor and dressed him up like a girl,
And I don't think he will forgive me for this,
But I kind of thought, man he looks hot in that dress!
- Jotunheim(r) (norsemythologytboh.wordpress.com)
- Meet The Real Loki (thinkprogress.org)