The Norse Eddas and Sagas

Man in viking warrior dress hunts by mtn river
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There are many Pagans today who follow a spiritual belief system based upon Norse gods and goddesses, as well as principles such as the Nine Noble Virtues. Whether you identify as Heathen, Asatru, or simply a Norse Pagan, there are plenty of resources available online and in libraries, because the Norse people have a rich tradition of storytelling. If you're interested in the legends and history of the Norse people, then a good place to start learning about their gods and goddesses is in the Eddas and Sagas. These collections of stories–the Sagas–and poems, which are the Eddas, have been handed down from generation to generation, going back hundreds of years. Many of the sagas tell the tales of mythical heroes, most of whom have interactions with the Divine while out on their adventures. You can read nearly all of them online via these links.

Warriors with Torches
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The Poetic Edda, also known as the Elder Edda, is a collection of stories first written down about a thousand years ago. This translation, by Henry Adams Bellows, includes tales of a number of gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, kings and warrior women. In the 13th century, an Icelandic poet named Snorri Sturleson composed the Edda, which was the first time anyone had written down all of the bardic tales, or skaldic poetry, and it tells us a lot of what we know today about Norse culture and history.

This collection is one of the most comprehensive sources of Germanic legends, and its influence can be seen in many contemporary writings. Perhaps the most noteworthy tribute is the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, who was not only an author, but also a scholar of Norse legend. In the 1930s, Tolkien wrote a retelling of the Poetic Edda's Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, which was not published until 2009.

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Written–or at the very least, compiled–by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlson around 1200 c.e., the Prose Edda consists of a number of tales that any traveling bard or entertainer would have known. It includes a collection of stories regarding the backgrounds of the gods, as well as their creation and destruction.

Shield and Sword
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The Volsunga Saga, or the story of the Volsung family, is one of the earliest remaining examples of epic poetry, dating back to at least 1000 c.e. It tells of the adventures of a number of heroes, including Sigurd the Dragon Slayer (who served as inspiration for Aragorn in Lord of the Rings), and his lover, the shieldmaiden Brynnhildr. Odin himself makes regular appearances, typically as a one-eyed old man wrapped in a hooded cloak.

The Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is the home of many myths and legends in Orkney. Iain Sarjeant / Photodisc / Getty Images

The Laxdaela Saga, composed in the thirteenth century, is one of the few Icelandic sagas that scholars think could have been written by a woman. It's the story of Keltill Flatnose and his many descendants, who depart Norway and head to the Orkney Islands. Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir shows up to create a complicated love triangle, and there is plenty of death, vengeance, and religious piety.

Norse Gods on Tapestry
Detail from the Skogchurch Tapestry depicting the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Freyr. Sweden, 12th century. De Agostini Picture Library / Getty Images

This Saga is the history of the Earls of Orkney, and is compiled from a number of different sources. It tells the story of the conquest of the Orkney Islands by King Harald of Norway, and introduces a number of both historical and legendary characters.

Viking women cooking at the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba; Gimli, Manitoba, Canada
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Compiled by Donald A. Mackenzie in the early 1900s, this collection of stories from the Northern world includes a narrative built from sources like the above listed Eddas, the Volsunga Saga, the Niebelunglied, Beowulf, and German heroic tales. MacKenzie's comprehensive and readable work even includes stories that are clear influence on Shakespeare's plays, particularly Hamlet.

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Author Daniel McCoy has a comprehensive website that includes a ton of fantastic references relating to the Norse gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, and myths and legends. One of the best Norse mythology resources on the web, Norse Mythology For Smart People is just that–no fluff, no frills, just valuable information that you need to know. McCoy says, "Ultimately, Norse mythology presents a worldview that is very, very different from the worldview of modern science or that of most modern “world religions.”

Norse Woman
Norse women honored Frigga as a goddess of marriage. Anna Gorin/Moment/Getty Images

Are you interested in the gods and goddesses of the Norse pantheons? Be sure to read up on some of the best known Norse deities: Norse Gods and Goddesses.