In Norse mythology, Mjolnir is the hammer of the god Thor.
According to later Icelandic sources, Mjolnir is described as one of the most feared weapons in Norse mythology. In them it is related that it is used to defeat all who challenge the supremacy of the Aesir.
Although it is usually depicted and described as a hammer, it is sometimes referred to as a mandarin, an axe or a club.
One of the most popular myths about its origin is told in the Skáldskaparmál, where it is mentioned that the dwarves Sindri and Brok forged it and gave it to Thor as part of a bet made to them by Loki.
Mjolnir means 'demolisher', and refers to the pulverizing ability of the hammer. It is related to the Icelandic verb mölva ('to crush') and mala ('to grind').
Similar words, all stemming from the Proto-Indo-European root melə can be found in most European languages: Slavic words melvo ('demolish') and molotu (hammer), Dutch meel (grind), Russian Молот (molot, 'hammer'), Greek μύλος (mylos, 'mill'), Latin words malleus ('hammer') and mola ('mill') and English meal (grind), mill ('mill') and mallet ('mallet').
It has also been suggested that the name, apart from reflecting Mjolnir's fabulous powers, may also allude to Thor's agricultural nature, since in his early days he was a divinity worshipped by farmers.
An alternative theory suggests that Mjölnir could be related to the Russian word молния (molniya) and the Welsh mellt (both translated as 'thunderbolt'). This second theory relates to the idea that Thor was the god of thunder, so he might have used lightning as his weapon.
Mjolnir is the most fearsome weapon in the gods' arsenal and is used to eliminate anyone who attempts to undermine the supremacy of the Aesir. It is referred to as a club, an axe and a hammer.
Mjolnir possessed many magical characteristics, such as being able to strike as hard as Thor wished, from a light touch to a terrible blow that would destroy mountains.
It was also said that thunder and lightning were the result of the hammer's blow and that the hammer had the ability to shrink small enough to be stored in a robe and then enlarged for use in combat.
The Norse gods were only as powerful as the tools and weapons they possessed. Mjolnir is an archetype crucial to the survival and perpetuation of the Norse and their ways.
In the mythic context, it can be concluded that without Mjolnir, Thor's ability to maintain cosmic balance would have been constantly threatened by giants, the world serpent and reckless gods.
Mjolnir is often depicted with a curved handle. The runeTiwaz, which is thought to have been used as a symbol of the god Tyr, may also have been a way of representing Thor's hammer.
Although Thor possessed several formidable magical items, such as his chariot, his power belt and iron gloves to lift Mjolnir; it is the latter that is the focal point of many of his adventures.
Sometimes Mjolnir is used as a throwing weapon, which, it was said, would always find its way back to Thor, although it is generally used as a normal war hammer.
Possibly there is a relationship between Thor's throwing hammer and the throwing axes used by the Franks.
Certain Norse myths refer to the powers of Mjolnir to strengthen male virility and female fertility.
The most popular version of the myth about the creation of Mjolnir is found in Skáldskaparmál in Snorri Sturluson's Prosaic Edda. In one of the stories, Loki cuts the hair of Sif, Thor's wife.
The latter, enraged, makes Loki promise to get them back. Loki must therefore turn to the dwarves, called the sons of Ivaldi, who were famous craftsmen.
They create precious objects for the gods, such as Odin's spear, Gungnir and Freyr's ship, Skidbladnir. Then Loki bets his head against Sindri and his brother Brokk, that they would never be able to create objects as wonderful as those made by the sons of Ivaldi.
The two brothers accept the bet and start working. Sindri puts the skin of a pig in the forge and tells his brother Brokk not to stop blowing with the bellows until he returns. A fly, which was actually Loki in disguise, bites Brokk on the arm but he continues blowing.
Then Sindri removes Gullinborsti, Freyr's boar with shining bristles and puts gold in the forge and reiterates the order to Brokk. Loki returns again in the form of a fly and bites him on the neck, but again nothing happens and Sindri removes Draupnir, Odin's ring.
Then Sindri places iron in the forge and reiterates to Brokk not to stop blowing with the bellows. Loki, again in the form of a fly, bites him on the eyelid and begins to bleed, but Brokk does not stop.
When Sindri returns he removes Mjölnir from the forge, the handle was a bit short (it was used one-handed) and was not perpendicular to the head. Although Sindri and Brokk won the bet, Loki managed to avoid paying it, arguing that they had to cut his throat and that was not part of the bet. Brokk then sewed up Loki's lips to teach him a lesson.
The story of when Brokk gives the hammer to Thor and explains its goodness and the subsequent judgment of the gods on his work and the hammer's characteristics is told by Snorri Sturluson in the prosaic Edda.
It also tells of the duel between the mighty giant Hrungnir, whose head and shield were rocks and whose weapon was a gigantic whetstone. In the contest he throws the stone at Thor, who lunges at the giant and in the air with his hammer shatters the stone and hits the giant's skull, who collapses dead.
In Gylfaginning several adventures of Thor's travels are recounted and where his hammer was his only weapon. In the first mention of the hammer in this work, it is described as one of Thor's most prized possessions and of the fear it provoked among his enemies.
It is said that it was known to the frost giants and that when Thor raised his hammer his enemies knew they had no more hope; with it he had crushed many giants' skulls.
One of the cases described is the death of the giant who built, by trickery to obtain Freya, part of the walls of Asgard. When the giant is discovered, he recovers his original appearance and the gods call Thor who comes quickly with Mjölnir on high. With a single, accurate blow with the hammer, Thor shatters the giant's skull and sends him under Niflhel.
A use of the hammer as a throwing weapon is mentioned in the adventure Thor undertakes to fish out the Midgard serpent, Jörmungandr.
The snake bites the bait that Thor had prepared with the head of an ox, the god picks up the line to have the snake next to the boat and prepares to strike a blow, but the giant Hymir who accompanied him, fearful of the poison expelled by the snake cuts the line.
Thor, seeing the snake sinking into the depths, throws his hammer at it, but does not kill it.
One of the most peculiar uses Thor gave to his hammer was as a magical regenerating and life-giving element. Whenever Thor needed to feed himself, he killed and cooked the goats that pulled his chariot, then he gathered the bones and with Mjölnir he regenerated the flesh and gave them life again.
At the end of the work where the events of Ragnarök are recounted, after Thor's death, his sons Móði and Magni inherited the mighty hammer.
In Snorri's poetic Edda poem entitled Þrymskviða which is perhaps the most comical of Thor's trials, it is told that the giant Thrym stole Thor's hammer and then asked for the goddess Freyja as an exchange.
Loki, the god noted for his trickery, conspired with the other Æsir to retrieve Mjölnir by disguising Thor as Freya and presenting her as the "goddess" to Thrym. The latter gives a banquet in honor of the future union and naively falls into the trap.
Unable to contain his passion for his new maiden with long blonde hair, Thrym approaches the "bride" and places Mjölnir on her skirt, whereupon Thor takes his hammer, rips off his disguise and slays Thrym and the entire court of giants.
Myths, objects, and institutions revolving around Thor indicate his prominent place in medieval Scandinavia. His followers had varying influence, but the Viking warrior aristocracy was inspired by Thor's ferocity in battle.
In the medieval legal arena, according to Joseph Campbell, "in the Icelandic Things (court of law) Thor was invoked in the testimony of oaths as 'the Almighty God.'"
As emblems of his devotion, miniature replicas of Mjölnir were found to be popular in Scandinavia, where they were used in Blóts and other sacred ceremonies, such as weddings.
Many of these replicas were found in tombs and were provided with a loop, which facilitated their use. They were found in areas with strong Christian influence, including Denmark, southern Norway and southeastern Sweden.
By the late tenth century, the uniformity of the Mjölnir design increased over previous centuries suggesting that it was used as a popular accessory in defiance of the Christian cross.
The shape of these earrings varied by region. The Icelandic variant was cross-shaped, while the Swedish and Norwegian variants were arrow or T-shaped. About fifty of these hammers have been found scattered throughout Scandinavia, dating from between the 9th and 11th centuries.
A few have also been found in England and Normandy, France. An iron Thor's hammer found in an excavation in Yorkshire, dating from ca. 1000 bears an inscription preceded and followed by a cross, which is interpreted to mean that its Christian owner syncretized pagan and Christian symbols.
A 10th century steatite mold found in Trendgården, Jutland (Denmark), is notable for allowing the molding of both crucifix and Thor's hammer earrings.
A silver specimen found near Fossi, Iceland, can be interpreted as either a Christian cross or a Thor's hammer. The larger foot of the cross ends in the head of a beast, probably a wolf.
According to some scholars, a form of swastika may have been a popular variant in pre-Christianization Anglo-Saxon England, especially in East Anglia and Kent. Thomas Wilson mentions that while swastikas were "vulgarly called in Scandinavia, Thor's hammer," the symbol actually had a Y or T shape.
Stones found in Denmark and southern Sweden are engraved with the inscription of a hammer to invoke divine protection. Sometimes accompanying the engraving of the hammer are inscriptions asking Thor for help to protect them.
For example, the Virring stone in Denmark has the inscription, "Þur uiki þisi kuml," "May Thor sanctify this grave." There are several examples of similar inscriptions, each asking Thor to "sanctify" or protect a specific object. These inscriptions may have followed the example of the Christians, who asked their god for protection for their dead.
A precedent for these hammers of Thor used as amulets in the Viking Age was recorded during the period of the great migrations, among the Alamans, who took the amulets of the club of Hercules as symbols of Donar.
A possible remnant of Alpine paganism of these Donar amulets was recorded in 1897, as a custom in Unterinn (northern Italy) of carving a T on the front doors of houses as protection from evil, particularly storms.