Primary History

Vikings: Beliefs and stories

  • The Norse myths

    When the Vikings came to Britain, they had their own pagan religion. They worshipped many gods. The old stories they told about gods, giants and monsters are known as Norse myths. In one story, Thor, the god of thunder, tries to prove his strength to the Giant King by attempting to lift a giant cat. But he could only lift one of its paws!

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  • Norse gods and goddesses

    Odin was the ruler of the gods, and the god of magic, poetry and war. His wife was the motherly Frigg, and their son was Balder, who was kind and gentle. Freyja was goddess of love and fertility, and wept golden tears when she was unhappy. She had a twin brother Freyr, and their sacred animal was the boar.

    Red-headed Thor ruled the skies, storms and thunder. He had iron gloves, a magic belt and a hammer. People loved Thor but did not trust Loki, the mischievous 'trickster god'. By a trick, Loki caused the death of Balder.

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  • The dead and Valhalla

    A dead person was buried or cremated (burned) with some of their belongings, to take into the next world. Some Viking chiefs were given ship-burials, with treasure, weapons, and favourite dogs and horses buried with them.

    Vikings believed that a warrior killed in battle went to Valhalla, a great hall where dead heroes feasted at long tables. Odin sent his warror-maidens, the Valkyries, riding through the skies to bring dead warriors to Valhalla.

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  • Magic and monsters

    Viking stories told how people lived in Midgard or Middle Earth, along with giants, elves and dwarfs. The gods and goddesses lived in a sky world called Asgard. Linking Midgard with Asgard was a rainbow bridge.

    The Vikings told many tales of monsters, such as trolls, dragons, sea serpents, and the fierce wolf Fenrir (which the gods tried to keep chained up). Odin rode a magical horse named Sleipnir, which had eight legs.

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  • The Vikings and Christianity

    Not much is known about how the Vikings worshipped their old gods. It's thought they had 'magic trees' and perhaps wooden temples. Some Vikings may have killed captives as human sacrifices. These old pagan customs died out after Vikings became Christians. People in Britain had been Christians long before Vikings settled here in the 900s. Soon most Vikings too became Christians. Viking leaders founded churches and put up painted stone crosses. However, some Vikings continued to follow their old religion at the same time.

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Fun Facts
  • Viking warriors did not want to die in bed, because they were afraid they'd go to a foggy underworld called Niflheim. Better to die in battle and go to Valhalla.

  • Viking crosses were originally painted in bright colours such as blue, yellow and white.

  • In Viking myths winter was represented by Ymir the ice giant.

  • Vikings believed the world was flat and surrounded by sea; it was held up by a giant ash tree called Yggdrasil.

  • In Norse myths trolls could be nasty giants or equally nasty smaller goblins.

  • Odin had two ravens. Mugin and Hugin, who flew around to bring him news of the world.

  • Thor got so hungry he could eat two oxen at a meal.

  • Odin gave up one of his eyes to drink from a magical fountain of wisdom.

  • People left gifts of milk for the elves in little bowls or in hollows in stones.

  • Vikings believed a flash of lightning meant Thor had flung his hammer.

  • Vikings shared some gods with the Anglo-Saxons: Odin = Anglo-Saxon Woden; Frigg = Anglo-Saxon Frige.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

ale
A strong drink made from barley.
amber
Hardened tree sap, used to make jewellery.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A history of England begun in the 800s.
archaeologist
A person who finds out about the past by looking at old objects or buildingsthat are buried under the ground.
blacksmith
Another name for a smith. A worker who makes things of metal, usually iron.
blood-feud
An argument between two families that involves fighting or killings.
brooch
Ornament used to fasten clothing.
buttermilk
Watery liquid left over when butter is made from milk.
carving
A design cut out of wood.
charm
A magical object or words, to protect a person from harm.
chieftain
The leader of a village or small group of people.
Christian
A person who follows the religion taught by Jesus Christ.
colonize
A settlement founded in one country by people from another country.
compass
A device for finding direction (east, west, north, south).
conquer
To beat an enemy and control them using force.
Danelaw
The area of England ruled by the Vikings.
descendants
People who are related to earlier people, in a direct line.
dragon-ship
Another name for a longship.

E to G

explorer
Someone who travels to unfamiliar places to discover new things.
feast
A special meal for a large group of people.
figurehead
A carved wooden piece at the front of a ship.
Freeman
A person who is not a slave and free to choose who he or she worked for.

H to L

helmet
Hat made of leather or iron worn by a soldier to protect his head.
hoard
A hidden treasure, usually buried in the soil.
jet
A kind of black stone used to make jewellery.
keel
Long wooden bottom part of a ship, that gives it strength.
invaders
People who try to take over land from other people.
landmark
A natural feature that helps a traveller find his way, such as a mountain, a rock, an island, or a group of trees.
launch
To put a new ship in the water.
longship
A Viking ship with a sail and oars. Sometimes called dragon-ship. A Viking ship with a sail and oars. Sometimes called dragon-ship.

M to O

mail coat
Armour made from chain mail (metal rings), worn like a shirt.
manure
Animal waste such as dung put on soil to make it fertile for crops.
mast
Tall wooden pole from which a ship's sail is hung.
merchant
A trader, someone who buys and sells things.
monastery
The building where monks live.
norse myths
Stories told by the Vikings about gods and goddesses, giants and strange creatures.

P to S

pagan
A person who believed in many gods.
raven
A large black bird of the crow family.
rivets
Bits of metal hammered into holes to join ship planks or metal sheets together.
runes
The name given to the Viking alphabet.
settlement
An area where people live.
shield
A large piece of wood or metal held in one arm for protection in battle.
sickle
A curved knife used for cutting grain stalks at harvest time.
slave
A person who is not free but is treated as someone else's property.
smith
A worker who makes things of metal, usually iron.
spices
Plants such as pepper which can be used to flavour and preserve foods.
spinning
Twisting and drawing out sheep wool into long thin thread.
spit
In cooking, a rod or stick on which meat is stuck to roast over a fire.

T to Z

thatched
A roof covered in straw.
Thing
An open-air meeting where Vikings gathered to discuss the law.
trader
A person who sells goods.
turf
A layer of grass cut with roots and soil, that can be used to roof a house.
walrus ivory
The tusk, or sticking-out tooth, of a walrus (a large sea mammal), which can be carved.
weaving
Making cloth on a machine called a loom.