Thor is, without a doubt, one of Marvel’s main men, both in comic books and on the big screen, as is evident in movie-going audiences flocking to theaters to see the hammer-wielding character in action. According to boxofficemojo.com, gross ticket sales from the three Thor films combined top nearly $2 billion. Leading the way is the 2017 release of Thor: Ragnarok, bringing in more than $844 million.
Promotional poster for the film Thor: Ragnarok, produced by Marvel Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film, released in October of 2017, is the sequel to the 2011 film Thor and Thor: The Dark World, released in 2013. This scaled-down low-resolution image of the poster qualifies for fair use under the copyright law of the United States.
The popularity of these films, as well as Marvel’s Avengers, and History Channel’s Vikings series, certainly plays a part in the growing interest in Norse history and lore. Yet, Thor’s revered status as a symbol of strength, protection and provision dates back centuries. That fact is evident in the presence and popularity of the Thor’s Hammer amulet in Viking jewelry.
To help us understand Thor and his ever-present hammer a bit better, we turned to fine art specialist Sydelle Rubin-Dienstfrey, PhD Art History, who is manager of the research and writing department at Artemis Gallery.
“The Thor’s Hammer is perhaps the best-known symbol of Norse mythology,” Rubin-Dienstfrey said. “Thor was the powerful god tasked with guarding Asgard, home of the Aesir tribe of deities. Thor tirelessly defended the Aesir from the giants, and the hammer was his trusty weapon. Interestingly, the name Thor literally means ‘Thunder,’ and Thor seemed to personify the spirit of a storm whose thunder was experienced as the resounding boom of his hammer as it decimated his adversaries.”
This solid silver Viking Thor’s Hammer pendant, dating to between 800 and 1100 AD, weighing 11 grams, has been cast as one piece with a long handle that ends in a loop for suspension. The surface of the pendant has been stamped with a unique decoration of the period – a triangle with three small raised pellets inside the triangle. The pendant sold for $1,100 in Artemis Gallery’s Dec. 2017 auction. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers and Artemis Gallery
While this image of Thor is what comes to mind when you hear his name, it is one element of a more complex role within the world of the mythology, Rubin-Dienstfrey explained.
“In addition to serving as a weapon, the Thor’s Hammer played a major role in sacred rituals related to birth, marriage, and death. Some historians also believe that rituals involving people beating hammers were intended to protect communities from evil spirits. So, the Thor’s Hammer was not only a weapon possessing the might and power of a storm but also an instrument of protection against ill will.”
With the Hammer of Thor bearing such meaning, it is easy to understand why the symbol is represented in various forms of Viking artifacts, most specifically as amulets/pendants.
In 2014, a Viking artifact reportedly from the 10th century in the shape of the Hammer of Thor was discovered on the Danish island of Lolland, and it bore an inscription. According to an article posted on www.ancient-origins.net, the text was translated to “this is a hammer,” and it was one of the more than 1,000 similar items discovered throughout northern Europe, referred to as the Mjöllnir amulets, to include such an inscription. The inscribed Mjöllnir amulet currently resides in the National Museum of Denmark.
The only Mjöllnir amulet of more than 1,000 discovered in northern Europe, to bear an inscription. Circa 10th century AD. National Museum of Denmark image
Museums and historical programs provide an ideal opportunity to gain a better understanding of Norse people, their traditions and beliefs. One such example is the traveling museum exhibition “Vikings: Beyond the Legend,” said Rubin-Dienstfrey, who attended the exhibition with her fellow staff members from Artemis Gallery.
“I think that one of the greatest things about it was that the organizers did their best to bust generally accepted myths about the Vikings that Hollywood sometimes perpetuates,” she said. “For instance, there is this misconception that the Vikings were filthy brutes. However, some of the most commonly excavated artifacts of Viking Era include tweezers, combs, razors and ear spoons. This suggests that they were fairly focused on cleanliness and grooming. What’s more, many scholars estimate that only a small percentage of Vikings were warriors. Most were artisans, farmers, and traders.”
This rare bronze Thor’s hammer amulet with stylized raven heads, circa 900 AD, sold for $190 in Jasper52’s Oct. 29, 2017 auction. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image.
The discovery of ancient Viking jewelry in a myriad of designs, created using a variety of metals and materials (bronze, silver, and stone), is another example of a culture that is more than one-dimensional.
“When one examines examples of Norse visual culture, it becomes apparent that their immense artistry defies common stereotypes of Vikings as horned helmet-wearing barbarians who went around raping and pillaging whomever and whatever crossed their paths,” said Rubin-Dienstfrey. “In addition to some stunning Thor’s Hammer pendants, we have had the privilege of handling incredible bracteate [beaten] pendants that display extremely sophisticated filigree and granulation techniques, as well. To create these works of wearable art clearly required advanced techniques and a keen sensibility.”
This coin, reportedly from that of King Regnald I of York and the Bossail Hoard, dates to 919-921 AD and bears an image of Thor’s hammer on the obverse with three pellets positioned above the hammer, a symbol not known to have been included on any other die It sold for £3,000 ($9,479) during a February 2016 auction at TimeLine Auctions Ltd. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers and TimeLine Auctions Ltd.
Although ownership of artifacts does not necessarily require one to possess an understanding of the culture surrounding it, as many will attest, the value in acquiring that knowledge is immeasurable.
“I think that collectors love the Thor’s Hammer because of its many layers of symbolism. The hammer is associated with the Norse god of thunder, lightning, storms and strength – who protected so many – so by extension, the amulet is believed to protect its wearer,” Rubin-Dienstfrey added. “Finally, the fine workmanship and immense artistry exemplified by these beautiful works make them incredibly desirable.”
Gilt bronze raised heart-shape pendant enclosing an abstract face, possibly that of Thor, substantially symmetrical, in the shape of a heart, which stood for bravery, fortitude, loyalty, and integrity. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers and Jasper 52
In case of Thor’s Hammer, there is so much more to it than meets the eye, as is the case with so many relics of centuries ago.