(Þórr, Thunar, Donar, Donner, *Thonaraz)
Of all the gods of the North, Thonar is likely to be the best-loved and, together with Wodan, is the best-known - he has always been one of the most beloved and called upon deities. He is the champion of Asgard and Midgard against the chaos and destruction of the thurses His Hammer is the sign of the true, worn as the emblem of the troth of our folk even by those who are given to other god/esses. Few indeed are those who do not hold some love for old Redbeard - the Friend of Men, the Middle-Garth's Warder, whose Hammer-blows are ever turned outward to protect humankind from all the threats beyond the Middle-Garth's walls and whose mighty mod is seen in the raging of the storms from which his name - "Thunder" - comes.
The image of Thonar as a fighter is reinforced by scholars, such as Dumézil, who try to categorize all of the god/esses into the narrow tripartite system, invariably classifying Thonar as just a warrior, and not a very bright one at that. But Thonar is more than just a strong brute who wars against chaos. He delivers the summer rains that make the crops grow; he hallows important occasions and ceremonies, and he gives strength and support to those who follow the old path.
Thonar is the son of the Earth and Wodan. He is the strongest of the gods, and, as seen in Lokasenna, the only one who can intimidate Loki. He appears as a big man with a red beard - sometimes young, sometimes as the old "Þórr Karl"; his eyes are fiery. He drives a wain drawn by the two goats Tanngnjóstr ("teeth-grinder") and Tanngrísnir ("teeth-gnasher") - like the founder of Normandy, Göngu-Hrolf, he is too mighty for a horse to bear him, and must go on his two feet or in this wagon, even when he fares between the worlds where the other god/esses ride their steeds. He wears iron gauntlets and a belt referred to as megingjörð (the girdle of main); he carries the magical staff called Gríðarvölr (Gríðr's staff). Although Snorri says that Þórr had possessed his own strength-belt and gauntlets before the giantess Gríðr gave him these items of hers, it seems more likely that she was the original source. He has a tremendous appetite for food and drink; and where-ever he is, he will come when his name is called. He is married to the goddess Sif, on whom he fathered the maiden Trude (Þrúðr); he also has an etin-concubine, Járnsaxa, on whom he fathered his sons Móði and Magni.
Thonar has often been described as the "common man's patron", which many of the folk who follow him have found accurate. As Hawkmoon says, "(Thorr's) solutions to problems are direct. If he intends to aid you with something, you are made aware of it directly. One night, after invoking Thorr, I left the blot bowl standing on the harrow with a goodly amount of stout (Guinness) poured into it (several other folk have, quite independently of each other, felt stout to be Thonar's drink - KHG). No animals were about, and the room was not disturbed. Yet, when I woke in the morning (some 6 hours later) the stout was gone. It had obviously been drunk, as there was no residue in the bottom, as there would have been had it dried up. Welcome to the twilight zone, right? Yet, in a few days, the situation that I had sought Thorr's aid for was resolved very much to my satisfaction. If that's not direct dealing, I don't know what is...I have always felt it easy to speak to Thorr. Whereas Odhinn enjoys a little theater in your ritual, Thorr seems to like it when you just say what you want and get it over with."
Although Thonar has sometimes been put forth as a rather simple god - not given to much thought, more like the giants than the other gods in his great appetites for food, drink, and battle, and hardly a match for the wits of Wodan and Loki - to see him as limited in wisdom or lacking in the rich layers of complexity which make up the other god/esses is to greatly misunderstand him. True, where Wodan is a deep-thought and devious god, Thonar is simpler and more straightforward - less prone to seek out the deeper levels of things, preferring to deal with what is already evident. Thonar's wisdom is the wisdom of common sense, which some might call the greatest of all. When Wodan sees a problem, he deals with it through subtlety; Tiw might work his way through a maze by patience and rational judgement, but Thonar simply smashes down the walls, which may even be more rational in the end - after all, everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Thonar's wisdom is seen, for instance, in the tale of his journey to the giant Geirröðr. Trusting that his friend Loki is as true as he himself (naïve, but understandable, given Thonar's own total trustworthiness), Þórr has gone off without his Hammer; but the etin-frowe Gríðr, mother of Víðarr, gives him a staff, gauntlets, and belt of might. While he is crossing a river with the help of these items, the river suddenly swells into a great flood. Þórr looks up to see one of Geirröðr's daughters standing across it, causing it to rise with her urine and menstrual blood. He then says, "A river must be stemmed at its source", and throws a large rock at her. Þórr shows a similar sort of sensible wisdom in the Eddic poem Alvíssmál, where he deals with the dwarf who has come to take his daughter by challenging the rock-dweller's wisdom. Alvíss (All-Wise), distracted by this challenge, recounts lore until daylight, when the first rays of dawn turn him into stone. Thonar's purpose here is not, like Wodan's in Vafþrúðnismál, either to learn the other's wisdom or to show off his own: he simply wants to get rid of the dwarf (presumably it is important for him to do this without breaking the frith of the Ases' Garth, where the poem is set), and does so with the simplest means available to him - letting Alvíss trip over his own knowledge. Also, we should not forget that Thonar is called djúphugaðr - the Deep-Souled or Deep-Thinker. He may not be as swift with words and subtle ploys as some deities - but his essential wisdom is no less than theirs.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are also some shamanic elements to Thonar's character. His journeys to the Outgarth, in the course of which he either battles with ill-willing wights threatening the community or brings back objects of power (the cauldron for Ægir's brewing, his own Hammer, the staff, belt, and gauntlets given him by Gríðr), are very typically shamanic activities. His possession of staff and gauntlets is particularly interesting since these are the items used by Icelandic witches in their gandreið (magical riding or wand-riding) and, particularly the staff, are generally characteristic of shamans. In one case, his reclaiming of his Hammer, Thonar even has to cross-dress as a necessary condition of his success, which is also a major element of shamanic practice. In this aspect, Loki often seems to act as his not wholly trustworthy guide/ally spirit who is native to the world beyond the garth. This side of Thonar has been little explored. It is, however, worthy of note that the Korpbron runestone (put up by a Heathen in an unfriendly area, as shown by the fact that this part of the inscription is put in coded runes inside a cross) calls "siþi Þur" - "Þórr, perform seiðr!" This suggests two things: firstly, that the image of seiðr as "unmanly" which Snorri gives us so specifically in Ynglinga saga may not have existed in Heathen times (or even as late as the period of conversion from which the Korpbron stone stems); and secondly, that Thonar had his own connections with magic.
Thonar's greatest might in the religious/ritual sense, however, was that of hallowing. The Hammer is laid in the bride's lap at a wedding "brúði at vígia" ("to hallow the bride" - Þrymskviða 30); Snorri tells us of how he swings it over the bones and hides of his devoured goats to bring them back to life and of how he blesses Balder's pyre with it. The latter mention is particularly interesting given the common use of Þórr's-Hammer amulets in Viking Age burials (see "Burial Rites"). It is Þórr, not Óðinn, who is called on to hallow the runes of the stones from Glavendrup (ca. 900-925) and Sönderkirkeby (late 10th century) with the inscription "Þor uiki (þasi) runaR" (Þórr hallow these runes); the late 10th century Virring stone ("Þur uiki þisi kuml" - Þórr hallow this memorial-marker), and the Velanda stone of the same approximate date ("Þur uiki" - Þórr hallow) (Baetke, Walter, Das Heilige im Germanischen, p. 113). These stones may well be Heathen reactions against the newly-set christian runestones; however, this does not lessen the meaning of the consistent choice of Þórr, rather than Óðinn, as the hallower of the runes. The Þórsheiti "Véurr", which de Vries interprets as "warder of the wih-stead" also appears in the 9th century Rök stone's inscription, as the cultic title of a man named Sibbi (see the discussion of the Rök stone below). The belief in Thonar as Hallower is not limited to the Norse materials, however: the Nordendorf fibula (from Southern Germany, 6th century C.E.), calls on "Wigithonar" - Hallow-Thonar (together with Wodan and "Logathore"). This suggests strongly that Hallower was one of Thonar's roles from the earliest times, and common to the understanding of all the Germanic peoples. For this reason, the Hammer-sign is used as the general sign with which true folk hallow food and drink, blessings to the god/esses, and so forth. Moreover, the hallowing performed by Thonar is not that of making something holy - blessed in the sense of being part of the Middle-Garth, but attuned to the other worlds - but that of making something wih - so filled with might that it is set apart from the ordinary world, becoming a part of the world of the god/esses.
Although always mighty among the folk, Thonar seems to have risen to his greatest heights in the latter part of the Viking Age, when he was called on more and more as the warder of the troth against the invading "God" and Christ of the South. The battle was one of "Red Þórr" against the "White Christ" - a comparison which carried a subtle insult to the latter. To be "red" meant not only literally to have red hair (a sign of fierceness, which Germanic warriors sometimes achieved through dyeing their hair, as reported by), but to be strong-willed, hot-tempered, and battle-mighty - while to be "white" could mean, as well as the complimentary meaning of fairness, to be weak-willed and cowardly (comparable to calling someone "lily-livered"). When the christian missionary Thangbrand came to Iceland (at the bidding of Óláfr Tryggvason), the skald Steinunn (who may well have been a priestess of Þórr) made several verses showing clearly that Þórr was the warder of the Heathen ways. She praises the god for wrecking Thangbrand's ship, and also says to the missionary, "Have you heard that Þórr bade Christ to a holmgang, and he did not trust his own strength enough (treytisk) to battle with Þórr?" (Brennu-Njáls saga,ch. 102) The Þórr's-Hammer pendants which are so common in the later part of the Viking Age have often been suggested to be the Heathen answer to the christian cross, just as the "Þórr hallow" runestones may have been a reaction against christian practice: it was clearly he in whom our folk trusted against all malign spiritual influences, trolls and missionaries alike. The various sagas of the two christian Óláfrs mention great statues of Þórr; although their descriptions may have been somewhat based on antiquarian fancy, Adam of Bremen's description of the temple of Uppsala also has a statue of Þórr in the highest place (above Freyr and Óðinn). Turville-Petre mentions that "the evidence of the place-names does suggest that the public cult of Thór increased greatly in Norway during the ninth and tenth centuries" (Myth and Religion, p. 92).
Much is known of the worship of Thonar. Eyrbyggja saga describes how his image was carved on the house-pillars of his "beloved friend" Þórólfr Mosturskeggi; Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar (Flateyjarbók) mentions that Eiríkr, the son of Hákon the Great, had an image of Þórr on his ship-pillar, and Fostbroeðra saga speaks of a chair on which the god was carved. One of the best-known pieces of Viking Age art is the little Icelandic statue which appears to be Þórr sitting with his Hammer on his lap; the original of this was probably carried in a belt-pouch by a worshipper of the god.
There are a couple of references to human sacrifice given to Thonar: Eyrbyggja saga and Landnámabók tell how such folk had their backs broken on a great stone. These were not, however, battle-captives or holy kings; rather, they were "sentenced to sacrifice" - that is to say, this sacrifice was probably the hallowing of a criminal death-penalty, rather than an act carried out for the chief purpose of praising or thanking the god, as was likely the case with, for instance, the Wodanic slaying of battle-prisoners. More likely was the sacrifice of goats: the account of how Thonar was able to kill his goats, eat them, and then bring them back to life again with his Hammer was probably mirrored in actual sacrifices (Simek, Dictionary, p. 321). He may have gotten other animals as well: Flóamanna saga (ch. 20) tells how Þórgils Þorðarson, upon forsaking the troth of his forebears, dreamed that Þórr visited him and was angry. That night Þórgils' best boar died; the next night an old ox of his was found dead. Þórgils would not let anyone eat of the meat, but had the boar buried - clearly seeing that the god had taken his own sacrifice.
Thonar was a mighty fisherman: his best-known fishing trip was the one on which he fished up the Middle-Garth's Wyrm ("Hymiskviða"), but he was also the one who caught Loki in salmon form. In Bárðar saga (ch. 8), Þórr appears as a red-bearded fisherman, helping Ingjaldr against a storm raised by a troll-woman.
The oath-ring was especially holy to Thonar, and many of the Hammers have rings soldered to the top - not as jump-rings for stringing a chain through, as they are set in the wrong direction, but probably as images of this oath-ring. It has often been suggested that the "all-mighty Ase" of the Icelandic oath-taking formula from Landnámabók was Þórr (though other gods, most notably Óðinn and Ullr, have been put forward as well).
The "god-nails" described in Eyrbyggja saga may well have been used for striking holy fire, and thus been likewise seen as signs of Þórr. They were set in the pillars that bore his image; one may guess that they might have been struck into his forehead, in memory of the fragment of Hrungnir's whetstone which stuck there after the god's hammer had shattered it. The Stone Age tools which the Germanic folk thought of as thunderbolts were called "Ukko's nails" in Finland - the nails of the Finnish god of thunder, who seems to have absorbed many of Thonar's characteristics. This could well lend strength to the idea that special, hallowed nails were used for striking lightning-sparks. The pairing of iron Þórr's-Hammers with miniature fire-steel amulets (see "Burials") also suggests strongly that the fire struck by flint and steel was especially holy to this god.
The Rök stone (ca. 800), though often thought to be a memorial inscription for a dead youth named Vamoþ, can also be read as an initiatory document describing the hallowing of a young man. Höfler saw it as being probably Óðinnic, due to the invocation of the great hero Theoderik. However, Theoderik is described as "þurmuþi" - "bold as Þórr" (or literally, having the mod of Þórr - it should, perhaps, also be noted that "Þórmóðr" was used as a Norse personal name as well) on the Rök stone. The last part of the inscription, as interpreted by Henry Kratz, reads: "Now let someone tell us the memorable matter, about the initiation...I shall also tell this memorable matter: which of the Ingoldings was rewarded by the sacrifice of a woman. I shall also tell this memorable matter: to which warrior the son was born. It is Vilin. He could fell a giant (iatun). It is Vilin. May much good arise from this. I shall tell another memorable matter: Þórr! Sibbi, guardian of the temple (uiuari, or "Véurr"), at the age of ninety instructed him (i.e., Vamoþ) in the mysteries." ("Was Vamoþ Still Alive?", p. 29). The references to Þórr, to the etin-felling, and the title "Véurr" given to the old Sibbi (or "kinsman", which could also be the meaning of the name), suggest strongly that if Höfler and Kratz are correct in seeing the Rök stone as an initiatory document, it described an initiation within the cult of Thonar.
Firstly, and all the way to the present day, Thonar is known as the god of thunder. Turville-Petre mentions that Old English words for thunder include "ðunorrad" and "ðunorradstefn" - Thunor's/thunder's travelling - which he compars to the Icelandic "reiðarþruma", "reiðarduna", and "reið", "which seem to imply that thunder is believed to be the noise which Thór makes while travelling in his chariot" (Myth and Religion, p. 99). His weapon, of course, is the Hammer "Mjöllnir"; the etymology of this name is not clear, but it is likeliest to be related to Slavic and Baltic words for "lightning". As early as the Stone Age, minature axes of flint and amber were being used as amulets; in the Bronze Age, we have rock-carving images of a god with a huge axe, and it is thought likely that the axe was the original weapon of the Northern thunder-god, from which the Hammer developed. Turville-Petre mentions that the Lappish thunder-god appeared on shamans' drums with either a hammer in each hand, or a hammer in one hand and an axe in the other (Myth and Religion, p. 98). The latter rendition suggests the possibility that the Lapps could have maintained the older and the newer images of axe and hammer simultaneously. Stone Age axe-heads were seen as the embodiments of thunderbolts in all the Germanic countries, and used as mighty amulets from the Bronze Age onward to protect a house against all ill, especially fires and lightning-strikes (a use which suggests that true folk might do well to attach iron Hammers to the tops of their houses' lightning rods).
To the Germanic folks, thunder had two purposes: it brought fruitfulness to the fields (Adam of Bremen mentions that this was particularly a function of Þórr, and the many agricultural place-names with "Þórr" as an element strengthen this understanding) and it showed the might of the god battling against the etin-kin. As Audthryth points out,
It is unfortunate that modern civilization is so cut off from nature and the weather. We have insulated ourself so much from the outdoors that, generally, inclement weather or a bad harvest becomes little more than a nuisance. If we get snowed in, it only takes a few days or most for the snowplows to make the roads passable. If a crop fails, it means higher prices at the store, not starvation. I think that this detachment makes it hard to remember sometimes that Thor plays a big role in both the weather and the growing of crops.
Thor was called upon by our ancestors to bring the summer rains and lightning that made the crops grow, while warding off the destructive hail. In many parts of Scandinavia, it is still believed that the grain will not ripen without the energy of summer lightning Thor is also able to quiet the seas when storms blow up. It was Thor that our ancestors called upon to calm the waves and bring them safely into port. Personally, I always feel the might of Thor when a storm blows down off the mountain or in from the sea.
The belief in thunder hunting trolls lasted a long time: a folktale from Sweden tells how a thunderbolt knocked a big black thing out of a crofter's chimney; the thing rolled off towards the lake, when the thunder hit it again and it disappeared. A man with the Sight who was there said that the thing was a troll, and that the thunder had knocked one leg off when it hit the chimney, then killed it by the lake (Simpson, Scandinavian Folktales, pp. 185-86). Thonar is best known in the holy tales of the North as the fighter of giants, without whose battles there would be no humans left on the earth: for his deeds against the wights of the Outgarth, he received several skaldic praise-poems (such as Þórsdrápa, which tells the story of his visit to Geirröðr in some of the most complex skaldic language surviving - showing that Þórr had the great respect and love of at least one of the finest minds of the Heathen era).
Despite Thonar's role as a warrior, however, he is not a war-god; he is never shown as taking part in any of the battles of humans. He is a monster-fighter only, though he can be called upon for protection in any circumstances. Hawkmoon mentions that "I frequently invoke him when leaving the house for any serious period of time (more than 1 day). Also, my Hammer (pendant) is of great comfort to me on a daily basis. Thorr, to me, is the defender of the family and the clan, and invoking him for such defense can be very powerful indeed". As one who often travels into the Outgarth, Thonar as the warder of travellers is an especially good god for wayfarers to call upon. Fairly recently, an Ásatrú woman who was normally devoted to Freyja felt a sudden urge to hang her Hammer on her rearview mirror before beginning a long night drive; on the way, she was hit from behind by a drunken truck driver and her little car was totalled - but she survived with nothing worse than a few bruises. In the old days, Thonar was especially called on against storms at sea; Landnámabók mentions that Helgi inn magri "trusted in Christ, but called on Þórr for sea-faring and hard plights" (Sturlubók 218).
Thonar is, of course, the god of might and main, and according to Hákonar saga ins goða, those who trusted in their own might and main Hammer-signed the ritual cup and drank to Þórr when others toasted Óðinn. Thonar's might is not only the might of the body, but the might of the soul and will. Something of Thonar's power can be seen in the dedication of weightlifters or other intensely physical people, who make every test of their body a test of their will - of their total being - and are always seeking to become stronger in every way. Followers of Thonar tend to be strongly self-reliant, even more so than most true folk: Hawkmoon mentions that "It should be noted that Thorr encourages you to do it yourself if you can. If you go running to him every time you have a little problem, you're likely to find that he isn't listening very often. However, if you've tried your best to take care of it yourself and can't get anywhere, he will usually help you out, although his assistance may not take the form you would like! I find that this is true with all the Norse deities, but most evident with Thonar". Audthryth concurs: "Thor can be counted on to provide strength and comfort when things get rough, though it is NOT the same kind of support that christians claim their Christ gives. To me, the christian epitome of the support they expect is the poem 'Footprints in the Sand', where their Christ carries them through hard times. Do not expect Thor, or any of the God/esses for that matter, to carry you through hard times like a weak babe in arms. I have always seen the support that I have received as more along the lines of someone watching my back for sneak attacks and making helpful suggestions."
Thonar is also particularly a god of the homestead, to be called on when seeking and blessing a new dwelling. This was done by several of the Icelandic settlers, as described in Landnámabók: Kollr (Hauksbók 15) prayed to Þórr to show him a stead, as did Kráku-Hreiðarr (Hauksbók 164) and Helgi inn magri (Sturlubók 218); Þórólfr Mosturskeggi was guided to land by his Þórr-pillars, and Ásbjórn Reyrketilsson "hallowed his land-taking to Þórr and called it Þórsmörk" (Melabók 8).
Although Thonar, unlike Wodan and Fro Ing, seldom or never appears as the father of human lines, many true folk see him as fatherly, an awareness expressed by Hawkmoon: "I have always felt that Thorr had something to offer as a father figure as well, though not the sensitive father type that Freyr embodies, nor the stern all-father of Odhinn. Rather, Thorr suggests a more average sort of father. Although frequently stern, he sometimes shows great affection, often when you least expect it. I haven't anything, really, to back that impression up, but still it persists. Certainly his fiercely protective nature suggests the attitude of a father towards his children". Audthryth adds that "one of Thor's most important roles to me is the giving of strength and support. I know that in Heathen times he was sometimes referred to as 'Father Thor', and I have always assumed that it was because of the support and 'fathering' he gives, but I have only my personal experiences to support this belief. To me, Thor has always been one of the more approachable God/esses, especially when I need strength and support."
Aside from the oath-ring, Thonar is not particularly a god of law. In her article on Loki, Alice Karlsdóttir pointed out that Þórr often sets his own understanding of what is right above any desire for order. When the god meets with Hrungnir in the Ases' Garth, he is all ready to bash the etin and does not care in the least that Hrungnir is protected by Óðinn's invitation and the laws of guest-friendliness - Hrungnir only saves himself by saying that Þórr would get no honour by killing him unarmed, and challenging the god to a duel on equal terms, which Þórr of course cannot resist. Hawkmoon points out that "Thorr's justice comes from his heart, from his moral and ethical sense of what is right and wrong. The law is irrelevant to what is fair. One has to be cautious when consulting with this Ase on matters involving harm to members of one's own family or clan, as the actions he encourages are often way outside societal law and perhaps even over-reactive (despite being awfully satisfying)".
One side of Thonar which was less needed in the old days, but is coming very much to the fore now, is his role as warder of his mother, the Earth, against all who would harm her. Hawkmoon suggests, "Thorr, being the son of the earth, has always struck me as being the perfect deity to invoke when protesting some company that's destroying the environment. It makes for a really nice combination of his origins and his protective nature". This understanding of Thonar was spoken of at greater length by Will von Dauster in his article "A Song From the Wood", partially reproduced here from its original publication in Mountain Thunder:
A good friend of this author remarked recently that a forest's health could be improved by "thinning" it, cutting down "less perfect" trees so the remaining ones could thrive. This friend is not a pagan, and suffers from attitudes developed in the 1950's, when it was assumed that humans could improve anything by applying the Scientific Principle to all aspects of our environment. That attitude also presumed that humans had an obligation and right to bring "uncontrolled nature" to heel. An attitude born of a thousand years of Christian conditioning, of the idea that the Earth was under man's (sic) domain and stewardship. The arrogance of this thinking seems never to have occurred to my friend...
Although many Asatruar think of Freya and Freyr when they think of the woods, this picture is incomplete. According to H.R. Ellis-Davidson, Thor was often worshipped in sacred groves. Oak groves are said to have been popular. Massive old oaks tell us a few things about Thor's character. Oaks are long lived, and appear to get stronger with age and weathering. They are massive, solid, and are made of tough stuff; a hardwood much prized for its strength and durability. As a long-lived, strong tree, oaks must have towered above many surrounding trees, which would in turn attract the occasional lightning strike, further strengthening the association with Thor.
We know Thor is called the "Son of Earth". This helps solidify his identification with the forest, and nature in general. It may be a good idea to look more closely at the lessons the forest has to teach, in order to more fully understand the personality, character, and priorities of Thor.
Many or most of modern Asatruars tend to view Thor as a God of order. After all, he is the defender of both Asgard and humans. How does this impute order or law to his character? In our modern, urban-oriented world, the defenders of people are, for the most part, the local police. Police work within, or should work within, the framework of the Law, a codification of abstract principles of right and definitions of wrong. If Thor is the defender of humans, and tries to do the right thing, then he must certainly be a god of law, yes?
...Asatru has at least one clearly defined God of law and justice; he is Tyr. Tyr is also a god of service, self-sacrifice, and if one might infer, patience. The stories of Thor exhibit many positive traits, but patience with the enemies of Asgard is not prominent among them. If Tyr is preeminent as a god of law and justice, and in olden times that more organized of conflicts, war, where or to whom do we look for the balancing character, the god who most involves himself with change, situations in flux, one might even say chaos? Look over the shoulder to the old man in the long cloak, looking through you with his one remaining eye from under his broad-brimmed hat...
If Odin is the god of change, and Tyr the god of law and order, where does Thor fit into this spectrum? Once again, by examining the lessons of the forest, perhaps more can be learned of the Great Defender, the Thunderer, the strongest of the gods...
The friend who would "improve the health of the forest" by killing a few selected trees does not understand what a forest is. A forest is not a park...The managed tree exhibit, with cropped grass, has as much to do with the forest as a painted portrait with the person it represents. The painter imparts her or his personality to the interpretation on canvas, much as people impart their idea of what a collection of trees should look like in a park. The painter removes or minimizes perceived imperfections from the presentation, just as the "forest manager" would remove trees perceived as defective from the woods. Just as with people, however, differences are not necessarily defects.
But what of the diseased, the dying, and even the dead trees? These are indicative of the health of the forest. "Huh?" Thinning a forest, as the friend noted, does imporve the health of the remaining trees. The problems are, who decides what gets thinned, and what is done with the trees felled by humans? Regarding the first process, there is little that can be said against the process of natural selection. Those trees which are fittest, which are best situated, which are, well, toughest, survive. Those that aren't, don't. When humans interfere with this process, the overall health of the forest is, ultimately, weakened.
But what of the trees that are dead or dying? Removing a few, perhaps for firewood or construction, is probably not harmful. Removing them all, over a period of time, however, ultimately robs the forest of fresh soil, born of the decay of the fallen trees. This, in turn, ultimately weakens the health of the forest. Deprived of the fertile soil, the nutrients needed for growth, the remaining trees are less fit to weather the vagaries of nature, of storms, winds, and disease...
Walking through the woods, one is struck by the "untidy" nature of it. Trees grow in random patterns, fall where they may, without any apparent order. Grass, flowers, and trees grow wherever they can, jutting out of rocks, even growing from the trunks of the fallen trees. While this disorder might resemble chaos, there is little chaotic about it. It is random, but follows a definite pattern of birth/growth/death/decay, a cycle which has gone on for millions of years. The order is that of nature, not humans. And perhaps here we gain some insight into the true nature of Thor.
Thor is concerned with the overall order of nature, the continuing, natural, living nature of the Earth, his - and ultimately our - mother. He is concerned with the larger patterns of life, larger patterns which within themselves allow for considerable randomness. This randomness does not in any way interfere with the progression of life, indeed, it is essential to it. Without variety, without the strict homogenity of life forms, there is almost certain stagnation, inbreeding, and eventually, death.
This can be seen in the forest surrounding this cabin. The trees that grew here a hundred years ago, the old growth forest, were strip cut. Virtually all of the local forest is second-growth. Further, since they grew relatively quickly and made for good, straight logs, the native trees were replaced with an almost homogenous planting of lodgepole pines. As a result, the forest hereabouts is infested with predators and parasites that thrive on lodgepole pines, making for a sickly and disease-prone forest. In the areas where spruce and fir trees mix with aspens, the health of the forest is demonstrably better...
Randomness within the natural order is a part of Thor. Perhaps his tremendous strength results from this working within the order of nature. Indeed, people are stronger when living in harmony with nature, not poisoning their bodies with "managed", "harmless" chemicals, pollutants, and additives. Thor is not concerned with the petty or trivial temporary order people can impose on nature, with one important exception. Forcing the forest, indeed forcing the planet's ecosystems, to conform to our expectations and demands can, as has been described, interrupt and destroy the cycles of life which keep the earth alive.
What of the needs of people for wood? Wood is an excellent building material, ideal for furniture, houses, and countless other uses. True. The key concepts are farming and sustainability. When approached with respect for the cycle of life, trees can be a crop like any other, with the exception of the slow gratification which so annoys Americans. The US National Forest Service refers to "harvesting" trees in National Forests. If they had planted them, then perhaps this would not be as absurd a term as it is in their usage. Let's repeat it: to harvest, one must first plant. The other concept, sustainability, means, among other things, without the infusion of synthetic fertilizers and poisons.
When approached with respect for the cycle of life.
This is respect for Thor, and his nature. This means that approaching the forest, the cycles of life, without respect is to disrespect Thor. This is, simply put, unwise...
Thor, like nature itself, does whatever it takes to defend the lives of the forest, men, the way of the gods, and the gods themselves. You are, one way or the other, also a participant in the cycle of life. For some, this is enough. For others, it is better to actively participate in the process, to, like Thor, and with his help, defend the random order of nature, along with people and the good name of our gods.
Thonar's great foe is the Middle-Garth's Wyrm: he once fished it up and struck it on the head, but the giant Hymir with whom he was fishing became frightened and cut the line. He will meet it at Ragnarök, and the two of them will slay each other. There is some suspicion that originally Thonar was thought to have slain the Wyrm during his fishing-trip (Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion, p. 76): one kenning for the god is "orms einbani" - single-handed Wyrm-Bane. Úlfr Uggason's Húsdrápa (late tenth century) describes him striking off its head on the waves, but Bragi's Ragnarsdrápa (early ninth century) has the Wyrm surviving: it is thus possible that two parallel versions of the story existed through the Viking Age.
As mentioned above, his chief animal is the goat. No surviving sources associate him directly with the bear, but bears, which represent strength and nobility in Germanic thought, are often thought to fit well with him. The two Wyrm-fighting stories of Thonar are also mirrored in the two versions of what Friedrich Panzer called the "Bear's Son" tale (a motif which appears in many of the stories of bear-heroes of the North such as Beowulf and Böðvar-Bjarki): in one, the Bear's Son slays the dragon or wyrm; in the other, the Bear's Son and the wyrm kill each other.
The eagle is not directly associated with Thonar in any of the surviving tales, but one of the best-known Hammers is the one from Skåne with an eagle's head beneath two great staring eyes (which remind us of the fiery glare of Þórr in Þrymskviða). A similar piece was also found at Hiddensee near Rügen. The Kalevala tells us that Väinamöinen first struck fire by striking the talons and feathers of an eagle against a stone; the tribes of Northern Asia, whose shamanic tradition may well have influenced that of the Norse, also see the thunder personified as an eagle; and Thonar's Vedic correspondent, Indra, takes the shape of an eagle as well (Unto Salo, "Agricola's Ukko in the light of archaeology", in Ålback, Old Norse and Finnish Religions, pp. 167-175). It is thus not unlikely that this bird has some ties to Thonar.
The swastika is also often seen as a sign of Thonar. Turville-Petre mentions that "The Lappish god Horagalles (Þórr Karl (Old Man Þórr - KHG)), who was adapted from Thórr, perhaps in the early Iron Age, is depicted, not only with a hammer, or two hammers, but also with a swastika. In Iceland a form of swastika was used until recently as a charm to detect thieves, and was called Þórshammar" (Myth and Religion, p. 84). It is generally accepted that this sign was the emblem of Thunar among the Anglo-Saxons (Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Paganism, p. 115), who used it rarely on weapons, more often on brooches and funerary urns. In the latter case, it may have served the same purpose as did the little iron Hammer-amulets of the Viking Age burials. The swastika has been seen as showing the god's Hammer whirling in a circle - perhaps as the sign of hallowing.
The oak is the great tree of Thonar, and has, of course, been associated with holiness since the earliest times. There is also a plant, houseleek, which bears the name "Thor's Beard" and was planted on the tops of houses to prevent lightning-strikes. In his description of Þórr's journey to Geirröðr's hall, Snorri quotes a phrase, "The rowan is the salvation of Þórr" and has the god pulling himself out of the swollen river by one of these trees; the Lappish thunder-god has a wife called "Ravdna" (rowan), which suggests that this tree may have been closely associated with Sif (Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion, p. 98).
As mentioned above, Thonar seems to be particularly fond of stout. Blessings made to him should include food as well as drink; Þrymskviða describes how he (even while disguised as Freyja) gobbled down a whole ox and eight salmon as well as all the tidbits set out for the ladies.
Audthryth (article written for Our Troth - with effort far above and beyond the call of duty to get her work to the editor in time to appear here!)
Will von Dauster, from "A Song from the Wood", in Mountain Thunder #10, Autumn Equinox 1993, pp. 7-10.
Stephan Grundy, from "The Cult of Óðinn: God of Death?"
Hawkmoon (article written for Our Troth)
Jamey Hrolf Martin, from "Thor: Scion of Asgardh", in Idunna III, 3, Holymonth (September) 1991, pp. 26-27.