As I lay flat on my back, bundled in my down sleeping bag, I passed the time by counting the number of seconds between flashes of lightning and the pounding of thunder. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand… the ground beneath me shook. This was last week while I was on a backpacking trip in Canada’s rocky mountains. I was on retreat from computers, art, and inevitably Vikings, yet nature found a way of putting Norse mythology back in my mind.
It was a gorgeous evening when we hiked into Og Lake. We were in the alpine zone, too high in altitude for tall trees and so the views were open in all directions. The surface of the lake shimmered like a jewel within the wilderness landscape. As I hiked down from the Valley of the Rocks with my husband, we had the intuition to make camp rather quickly; set up the tent, pump fresh water, cook up dinner. There was only one other couple there. Our new friends were optimistic that the dark but colourful clouds were moving away from our camp.
Minutes later, hale descended from the heavens. We took shelter in our tent. A lightning storm ensued and I was uncomfortably aware that our tent was the tallest structure around. Though the hale passed, the lightning did not. The wind had completely died and the storm clouds remained trapped above the lake. I lay there with my eyes wide open for almost three hours; the darkness was completely black in between bursts of lightning. I honestly believed that this could be it — the end. Overwhelmed by helplessness, I called upon the deity I felt was the most appropriate at the time: Thor, ruler of the sky and of thunder and lightning.
In the Old Norse polytheistic belief system, the Vikings had of course, their own God of Thunder. Thor, who wields the magical hammer nicknamed Mjöllnir is generally responsible for the protection of mankind. In the Prose Edda, Thor is referred to as:
“…the son of Odin and Earth, the father of Magni, Modi and Thrud, the husband of Sif, the stepfather of Ull, the wielder or possessor of the hammer Mjöllnir, of the mighty girdle and of the hall Bilskirnir, the defender of Asgard and Midgard, the foe and killer of giants and troll women…”
And although the name Thor is derived from the word thunder, most stories and illustrations that feature Thor with lightning bolts are from popular culture, a further mythological-ized version of the god. The Prose Edda, complied by historian Snorri Sturlusson (1179-1241), is the most renowned work of Scandinavian literature. The Edda recounts the Norse creation story among other great tales, in which Thor and the other gods are humanized.
Returning to that night at Og Lake, obviously my plea to Thor worked. I am still alive to tell the story. Despite my down-to-earth way of thinking, my own fear prompted a calling for divine assistance. After all, it was a Thursday (Thor’s Day.)