Heimdall

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Heimdall

Character Overview

Nationality/Culture

Norse

Pronunciation

HIGHM-dahl

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

The Eddas

Lineage

Son of Odin

In Norse mythology , the god Heimdall stood guard over Asgard (pronounced AHS-gahrd), the home of the gods. He lived near Bifrost (pronounced BlV-rost), the rainbow bridge that connected Asgard to the world of humans and from there kept watch for the approach of the giants , who were the enemies of the gods. Heimdall had incredibly sharp senses that allowed him to see great distances even at night and to hear sounds as soft as wool growing on sheep or grass growing in the field. Furthermore, he needed little sleep. He was said to be the son of Odin (pronounced OH-din) in some accounts, and born to nine different mothers in other accounts.

Major Myths

According to legend, Heimdall would one day call the other gods to Ragnarok (pronounced RAHG-nuh-rok), the final batde that would result in the destruction of gods and humans. When the giants drew near to Asgard, Heimdall would summon the gods by blowing his horn, Gjallarhorn (pronounced YAHL-lahr-horn), which could be heard all over creation. During the battle, Heimdall would kill the evil trickster god Loki (pronounced LOH-kee) and then meet his own death.

Sometimes called Rig (meaning king), Heimdall was considered the father of all people on earth. According to legend, he traveled around the earth and stayed three nights with married couples from different social classes. First, he visited some serfs, or forced laborers, then some peasants, and finally a noble couple. Nine months after each visit, a child was born to each couple. The first was an ugly but strong boy named Thrall (pronounced THRAHL), who became the ancestor of all serfs. The second, Karl, was skilled at farmwork and became the ancestor of all peasants. Jarl (pronounced YARL), the last of the children, was intelligent and quick to learn the skills of hunting and combat. He became the ancestor of all warriors and nobles. The words thrall, karl, and jarl mean serf, farmer, and nobleman in the Norse language.

Heimdall in Context

For the Norse people, hunting horns were an essential part of their way of life. These horns, literally hollowed out and carved from the horns of an animal such as a reindeer, provided communication between members of a hunting party so they could work together to capture prey. Like Heimdall, the Norse people often named their most important pieces of equipment, including weapons and other tools of the hunt.

The story of HeimdalPs visit to the three couples reflects the social classes of the Norse people at the time. According to the story, the establishment of the social classes by a god indicates that those who are born into a particular class belong in that class, and it is appropriate for warriors and nobles to be superior to and live off the labor of the lower classes. In Norse society, there was little movement between social classes, with riches often handed down from one family member to the next. However, not all slaves were born as such: many were taken as war prisoners, and others fell into slavery because they owed debts. It was not uncommon for serfs to earn or buy their freedom after a period of servitude.

Key Themes and Symbols

Heimdall is a symbol of vigilance, always watching over the entrance to Asgard and ready to warn of attacking giants. His vigilance is also illustrated by his keen sense of sight and hearing. HeimdalPs horn symbolizes danger, for it is only blown in the event of an attack.

Heimdall in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Heimdall may not be as well known as some other Norse gods, even though he holds an important place in Norse mythology. Aside from illustrations in ancient manuscripts, Heimdall has been depicted by the nineteenth-century painter Nils Blommer. Heimdall has also appeared as a superhero in the Marvel Comics universe, along with many other figures from Norse mythology.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Heimdall functioned as the vigilant sentry for Asgard. Nowadays, many homes and automobiles have their own automatic sentries: security alarms. More and more suburban communities are gated and fenced and feature private security guards at the entrance. Do you think these modern “sentries” are necessary? Are they effective? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Loki; Norse Mythology; Ragnarok

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Heimdall

In Norse* mythology, the god Heimdall stood guard over Asgard, the home of the gods. He lived near Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connected Asgard to the world of humans and from there kept watch for the approach of the giants, who were the enemies of the gods. Heimdall had incredibly sharp senses that allowed him to see great distances even at night and to hear sounds as soft as wool growing on sheep or grass growing. Furthermore, he needed little sleep.

According to legend, Heimdall would one day call the other gods to Ragnarok, the final battle that would result in the destruction of gods and humans. When the giants drew near to Asgard, Heimdall would summon the gods by blowing his horn, Gjallarhorn, which could be heard all over creation. During the battle, Heimdall would kill the evil trickster god Loki and then meet his own death.

Sometimes called Rig (meaning king), Heimdall was considered the father of all people on earth. According to legend, he traveled around the earth and stayed three nights with married couples from different social classes. First, he visited some serfs, then some peasants, and finally a noble couple. Nine months after each visit, a child was born to each couple. The first was an ugly but strong boy named Thrall, who became the ancestor of all serfs. The second, Karl, was skilled at farmwork and became the ancestor of all peasants. Jarl, the last of the children, was intelligent and quick to learn the skills of hunting and combat. He became the ancestor of all warriors and nobles. The words thrall, karl, and jarl mean serf, farmer, and nobleman in the Norse language.

See also Loki; Norse Mythology; Ragnarok.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

serf a peasant bound to a lord and required to work the lord's land

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

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Heimdall in Scandinavian mythology, the watchman of the gods, said to have been the son of nine mothers.