Before you go to see Thor: Ragnarok, the next addition to the Disney Marvel Universe…
… read The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson.
Ah-ah… no backtalk…
Just do it.
Semi-seriously, watching some of the trailer material reminded me of The Prose Edda. If you want to know more of the original Norse mythology (including Asgard and Ragnarok), if you want to become more familiar with Thor, Loki, Hel, and other members of the Norse pantheon, it might be helpful to struggle through the abstractions of this older document. It’s actually fairly easy to read, considering its age.
Don’t expect the immediate gratification of a Marvel Studios movie or a Marvel comic, but the book could put you in a more receptive mood to appreciate the liberties which are sure to be taken by the movie. Reinvention can be more fun when compared to the original.
I can’t say whether the above picture is genuine or whether it’s been altered, nor did I find any credits for the image. Probably fake if someone held a gun to my head and made me guess. It does, however, provide an example of a modern trend: the alleged return to pagan worship by various groups of individuals.
Let me offer a few examples. In Greece, The Return of the Hellenes “worships” the twelve main gods of the Greek pantheon and was founded by Tryphon Olympios, a philosophy professor. In Iceland, the Asatru Fellowship similarly uses members of the Norse pantheon. Both groups have revived certain rituals and traditions from these ancient religions, but they see their “gods” more as metaphors and ideals than as deities. Wicca not only features an odd collection of beliefs and practices borrowed from various sources but also shows what I would call considerable internal variety and inconsistency depending on where it is practiced.
Some may see it as a matter of degree, but generally missing from the above examples are the true worship of supernatural deity and the adherence to historical canon and doctrine which are characteristic of major religions. These modern phenomena are more like a customized re-invention of older systems of thought, and they tend to cherry-pick various beliefs and practices. There is a modern tendency to go cafeteria-shopping for a religion that satisfies one’s desires and expectations, but this practice begs the question of how anyone can worship something they made up themselves. The same can be said for the redefinition of older faiths, the “now it means this” phenomenon.
I wonder how many people who refer to themselves as pagans have actually studied the pagan philosophers, learned the tenets of pagan religions, or even familiarized themselves with such works as the Edda, the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, the Aenid by Virgil, or The Metamorphoses by Ovid. I’ve known a few people who have done these very things, but there are posers in any religion.
Then, of course, there is the issue of intellectual sincerity. What do the adherents of these modernized, ancient beliefs actually believe? Are they genuine, or are they participating in pseudo-intellectual forms of cosplay? These are fair questions to ask anyone who professes a belief in the supernatural, myself included.
Perhaps this is what one of my former students meant when she said something like, “I wanted to deal with people who knew what they were talking about,” when explaining to me why she had decided against the Wiccan religion after looking into it. Let me add that I have had a number of students who were Wiccan and that we got along well. I found them to be creative, intelligent, and likeable people. Some were even very studious in learning more about their beliefs, and one of those later converted to Christianity. Please don’t think that I’m trying to be insulting or derogatory when I point out differences between modern religions and those which are more traditional.
Next week, I’ll continue with a more direct discussion of what the title of this series actually means.
In the Greek pantheon he is the king of the gods, the god of the sky, the heavens, and thunder and lightning. When compared to the Norse pantheon, he might be considered a combination of some of the attributes of Odin and Thor. His name in the Roman pantheon is Jupiter.
In the painting below, Jupiter is shown appearing to Semele, one of his many lovers, as per her request. This, of course, kills her since she is a mere mortal. The account is from The Metamorphoses by Ovid.
I am reminded of God’s admonition to Moses in Exodus 33:20: “No one may see me and live.” This biblical account, by the way, is much older.
Hera is the wife of Zeus and is also one of his (gasp) sisters. Not only did he carry on with mortal women, but also with nymphs and other goddesses. Oh, what has become of our pagan idols?
Zeus also appears in (guess what) Marvel Comics…
… and DC Comics.
I’ll skip the more adolescent, “mean world” representations of later issues.
He is also portrayed in more movies than I care to list. Furthermore, so much of the Greco-Roman pantheon has been appropriated by Marvel Comics and DC Comics that I grow tired of this sport.
Next week, I will change topics and begin a series of posts on mythological beasts and spirits.
In Norse mythology, Loki is a shape-shifter (hence, a trickster) who is ascribed various powers in different versions or accounts. He is sometimes described as helping the other members of the Norse Pantheon and sometimes as working against them. This diversity makes him nuanced and interesting. In the original myths, he is completely unrelated to Odin, Freya, and Thor.
This Norse god has been skillfully re-written in Marvel Comics. In their version, he is the adopted son of Odin and Frigga (Freya) and the envious stepbrother of Thor.
This unavoidably sets him at odds with the Avengers (get a load of the old Iron Man).
The imagery for this character has been effectively re-invented in the comics. Below is a later version.
Disney Marvel also got Loki’s imagery right, and Tom Hiddleston excellently portrays him in the movies. In my opinion, he has become one of the best villains in cinematic history.
We’ll look at one more Norse god next week and then move back to the Greek pantheon.
Continuing on in our series, let’s take a look at…
Actually, this goddess has a number of appellations and spellings as can be seen in some of my image captions. Also called Frigga in the Marvel Universe, she is the goddess of love, sex, fertility, beauty, war, death, etc. As you can see, their is some redundancy of function between the members of the Norse pantheon. Freya is the wife of Odin and the mother of Thor. Below is a depiction of her flyting with the god Loki. Flyting would have been called “playing the dozens” in the not too distant past of the American inner city. In the 1970s, my friends and I called it “firing” on each other when we were in high school. As this picture suggests, this is a fairly widespread sport throughout history.
Here is another representation by John Bauer.
Moving on to the comics, a prominent expression of modern mythology…
… we finally arrive at the movies of the Disney Marvel Franchise, where Freya is played by Renee Russo.
Odin, Freya, Thor, Loki, and Heimdall were borrowed from the Norse pantheon and re-imagined by Marvel Comics. These characters were also used effectively in a number of movies by the Disney Marvel franchise. Keeping in mind that this series is all about eye candy through various media, let us begin with…
He was highly regarded as the god of royalty, death, healing, poetry, and battle, etc. He is the husband of the goddess Freya and the father of Thor. He has many representations in art, both ancient and modern.
As I have already mentioned, he has been re-imagined as a character by Marvel Comics.
And, of course, there are his appearances (played by the formidable Sir Anthony Hopkins) in the Thor series of movies by the Disney Marvel franchise.