A Few Favorite Examples of Norse Mythology and Culture in Media

The Almighty Johnsons

This is a show that takes place in modern-day New Zealand. The main premise is that there are families descended from Scandinavian immigrants, who carry on a tradition of serving as vessels for Norse gods.

The focus is on the Johnson family and their Norse god hijinks, but there are also major Māori characters whose portrayals are about on par with the Johnsons and other “Norse” characters. Every major character is well-developed and charming, even if most of them are jerks. (Except the guy who carries Loki. He’s pretty much just a jerk.) Even minor characters get to experience significant development as the series goes on.

And without giving too much away, there’s an important plot involving the gods-as-humans dynamic with Māori deities, and a main character’s mixed (and hidden) family origins.

There are moments where this show can be insensitive at best. More eye-rolling casual misogyny than I’m usually comfortable with, for one. And there are instances of casual racism in the show coming from the Scandinavian-New Zealander characters regarding Māori characters. But that plot is an important exploration in who has the right to approach–or be, in this case–a Norse god. As it turns out, “purity” isn’t an issue and the gods pick the person after all. It’s a show that will ultimately piss folkists off, and there’s a lot to love about that.

I’m not sure where else to get it outside of New Zealand, but it’s available on Netflix here in the US.

Norsemen (Vikingane)

This one is probably best suited for people who like Vikings, but prefer slightly more historical accuracy, and humor over drama. This is a Norwegian show which takes place in the Viking age, and was simultaneously recorded in spoken Norwegian, and English. The first season of the English-language version is available on Netflix.

A lot of the humor in this show is graphic and rather edgy, with jokes that rely on death, injury or casual treatment of rape. (Which, luckily for this show, fit the setting well enough to fly–the 790s were rough.) But there are also moments with extended jokes that obviously required research, like an almost-lawyerly insistence from a character that he was totally the active partner, and therefore bottoming wasn’t ergi.

I don’t normally go for edgy humor unless it’s equal-opportunity, self-directed or expertly done in the correct context. Norsemen has managed to meet those standards, though I do still have some issues with language that uses disability as insults. No media is perfect.

Peter Madsen’s Valhalla

Given some news articles from the past few months, I feel the need to specify that this is not the Peter Madsen who did that horrible thing involving a submarine.

Valhalla is a 1986 animated film based on Peter Madsen’s comic series of the same name. The movie focuses on the Gylfaginning, specifically the passage which describes Thor gaining Thjalfi and Röskva as servants, and their contests with Útgarða-Loki.

With the exception of Quark–an original character from the series–this is one of my favorite animated movies, and especially one of my favorite movies that involves Norse mythology. It’s definitely geared towards children, but cuteness and humor don’t actually have an age limit. And while it takes a few liberties regarding characterization and plot, it does a really great job of being loyal to the source material.

Also, the soundtrack is great.

It’s hard to get hold of a copy of this film. I have yet to find a DVD available, though you can still buy Madsen’s comics. Your best bet is probably finding a stream online. Not ideal, but short of petitioning for DVDs in multiple region formats, there’s not a whole lot else to be done.

“A Kick in the Asgard,” from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy

Once upon a time, this show was a double-feature called Grim & Evil. I actually liked the Evil con Carne half better, but I was clearly in the minority seeing as they dropped it.

In this episode, Billy is swapped with a very high-strung Einherji who decapitates topiary, and angrily mumbles in what I can only describe as the “Sesame Street” dialect of Old Norse.

Having taken his place in Asgard, Billy gets a quick tour of Valhalla. Odin introduces him to Thor (who is, I think unfortunately, really obviously based off of Marvel), and Loki, who has bright red hair and shoots rubber bands at people.

Everyone is wildly out of character, except maybe Loki, but the entire thing is absurdist anyway. Asgard doesn’t have a rootbeer fountain.

Would be cool if they did, though.

On DVD, you’d be able to get this episode with anything that has season 3 on it. But the whole thing is on YouTube, too.

Not Quite There, but an Honorable Mention: Overwatch

So…there are no actual figures from Norse mythology, or portrayals of Old Norse culture in Overwatch. But the game has a few references to Norse mythology!

For example, Torbjörn is a person of very short stature with a knack for tinkering, in an obvious reference to the duergar of Norse mythology. And his name even means “Thor-bear!”

I strongly suspect Junkrat is also inspired by Norse mythology–or at least, later interpretations of it. His character design is very similar to the way Arthur Rackham drew Loki in his illustrations for “The Ring of the Nibelung.” These images came after the misconception of Loki being a fire deity took hold and spread, so a character designer looking at fire-related imagery for a pyrotechnic (and pyromaniacal) character would be forgiven for picking up that influence.

And I’m willing to tolerate it, because it’s a pretty niche artistic shout-out, and Junkrat has some very endearing trickster traits.

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The Rumbling Cart and My Dog’s Anxiety

My dog had a storm phobia.

He is kind of afraid of some things, like children–because one fell on him. Or horses–which are objectively spooky anyway. He’ll behave defensively, but it never gets beyond a growl and making room. He’s made amazing progress on the child fear, and he even lets kids pet him now. Not happily, but he’ll do it.

By and large, he is laid back to a fault. Masks don’t bother him, emergency vehicles merely annoy him, and he has almost no reaction to fireworks or the vacuum cleaner. He has absolutely no fear of other dogs, and he loves postal workers.

But if he were to hear thunder or heavy rain, he would shake like a leaf and hide under the nearest piece of furniture. We tried deep pressure, Benadryl to make him nap through the storm, improvised doggy panic rooms to muffle the sound and hide the lightning, and politely ignoring his behavior in the hopes that he would stop reacting and learn to cope by chance. (I hated this approach, but we had to rule out unwittingly teaching him to be fearful.) Nothing quite helped, except for maybe music to cover the noise.

My dog’s favorite song is “Never Gonna Give You Up.” I wish that was an elaborate joke, but we all get rickrolled when Thor comes a-calling.

Obviously, because doggy-Xanax is an extreme treatment, and the pre-doggy-Xanax methods were exhausted, I decided to take my chances with less scientific approaches. Specifically, spiritual.

I don’t even know what religion my dog is. He could be Bhuddist for all I know.

Actually, definitely not Bhuddist, with the way he guards bones. Definitely not Jain, either, because he’s way too enthusiastic about carrots. I don’t think he knows what Hellenismos or Religio Romana even are, and he wasn’t thrilled when I tried to include Epona in my practice early on–so Celtic Paganism is right out.

Either way, I usually don’t deliberately include him in my practice. He’s a clever little dude, so I figure he’s smart enough to be spiritually autonomous. Or whatever. Maybe he’s agnostic and stays up late wondering if there really is a dog.

But because of the lack of mundane options, and because dog is man’s best friend and man is Thor’s best friend, I figured I could try and mediate between the noisy joyrides and my very stressed out dog.

I think, partly because our dynamic with the gods is a lot like the one between us and our pets, it is easy for them to empathize with the love and concern we feel for our companion animals. Indeed, Thor himself is fiercely defensive of his goats. It also wasn’t the first time the gods came to my aid in helping my dog.

So I took the Stein I’d bought for Thor years ago and set up a little space on the first clear surface I had. When another loud storm came through, I would pick up my dog, take him over to it, and drop a coin in. I would then point at my dog and say “please drive carefully, you’re scaring my fuzzy child.”

I’m, uh, not eloquent with prayer.

There was no miraculous breakthrough. My dog was not cured overnight. But I did find, little by little, that if we bribed Thor and went back to playing Rick Astley, he did slightly better. The storms seemed quieter. He would even nap through less intense storms, without having to take Benadryl first.

There’s millions of explanations, like desensitization and…yeah, Rick Astley. But my dog eventually calmed down enough that heavy rain didn’t cause him distress. If he hears thunder, he’ll still seek me out to make sure he has protection and 80s pop. But he doesn’t cry and run for cover until the thunder shakes the house.

And by that point, I figure it doesn’t count as anxiety and is just a normal level of fear. Even the humans are bugging out, and this is part of the idea behind praying to Thor in the first place. So I consider that as good as cured.

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On Fascism and Faith

Something must be made abundantly clear:

The gods are not interested in the color of your skin. They are not interested in your heritage. They don’t play favorites over your wealth, your ability, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, or any other divisions.

But humans do. Humans care enough to kill over it.

Humans are petty. Not just in their self-centeredness, but in their literal smallness.

Gods are bigger than us. Gods know better than us. They’re not interested in the arbitrary lines that folkists and fascists draw, and that they enforce through violence.

They’re interested in your devotion and service. Faith in Heathenry is a gifting cycle. When you have something to offer, they have much to offer you.

Thor is the defender of humanity and civilization from the wild forces of nature. Of course, this means the division between creeping weeds and cultivated vegetable gardens, wild wolves and tame goats. But this also means the division, within ourselves, between base instinct and self-control. Thor is a man of justice.

Odin is a collector of wisdom. And of course this means study and knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But it also means critical thinking, skillful debate,  good judgement and getting through the world on your own merits. If all you have going for you is some bullshit notion of purity (which Odin himself doesn’t even possess–none of the gods do!), you have nothing to offer him.

Loki is attributed with chaos, but we forget that his real forte is balance, and that the changes he brings consistently lead to improvement. When oaths are broken, he will be the one who takes you to task. When people try to weasel their way out of the consequences of their actions, he will bring them. Loki stands by the marginalized.

Sigyn epitomizes not only loyalty but the strong sense of justice we all must have. Her suffering has been vast. She is magnificent in her grace. She stands by those of us labeled as degenerate, unworthy of life, and disposable, as her children and husband were. So too, should we stand by her, and the rest of those who are at risk.

I do not worship every god in the Norse pantheon, and the ones I do I may not worship consistently. But they all have something to offer. Hopefully I do, too.

And I have, from day one, been furious at how my faith, which has brought so many good things to my life, has been bastardized, exploited and damaged so badly that I cannot exercise it openly. I am furious that I have to choose between having spaces where I can practice my faith with others and isolating myself and the people I care about from Literal Fucking Nazis. The only kindred that will take me in my area is run by a tribalist who, at the time, had a swastika as his cover photo. This is personal. It is as much our responsibility to take them to task as anyone else. Similarly, it is just as much our responsibility to protect other vulnerable people as it is for anyone else.

Protest is prayer.