Beasts and Birds: The Animals Revered in Norse Culture

norse animals

When we think of Vikings, we often imagine fierce warriors, longboats, and raids across the sea. However, Norse culture was much more than battles and conquests. Animals played a significant role in Norse mythology and everyday life, serving as symbols, companions, and metaphors for various aspects of their world.

In this article, we explore the fascinating world of Norse animals, from majestic beasts to iconic birds. Through their portrayal in ancient sagas, we gain insight into the mythical world of Viking culture and the symbolism attached to these creatures.

Key Takeaways:

  • Norse animals held a special place in Viking culture.
  • Animals served as symbols, companions, and metaphors in Norse mythology and everyday life.
  • Ancient sagas offer insight into the mythical world of Viking culture and the symbolism attached to Norse animals.
  • The significance of Norse animals in Viking culture extends beyond mere physical presence.
  • Viking culture was rich in symbolism and meaning, embodied by the creatures that played a key role in their mythology.

The Mighty Wolf: Fenrir and Sköll

In Norse mythology, the wolf was a highly revered animal, embodying traits such as strength, cunning, and loyalty. Two wolves held a particularly prominent position – Fenrir and Sköll.

The Monstrous Fenrir

Fenrir was a gigantic wolf and the son of the trickster god Loki. He was feared by the gods, as it was prophesied that he would play a pivotal role in the events leading up to Ragnarök, the end of the world.

In an attempt to prevent this, the gods attempted to bind Fenrir, but he proved too powerful for them. Only the brave god Tyr was able to put his hand in the wolf’s mouth as a sign of trust, allowing the other gods to successfully bind the wolf with Gleipnir, a magically crafted chain.

Despite this, Fenrir would eventually break free during Ragnarök and play a major role in the final battle between the gods and their enemies, leading to the ultimate destruction of the world.

The Chasing Sköll

Sköll, on the other hand, was a wolf who chased the sun in the sky, representing the ever-present threat of darkness. It was believed that during a solar eclipse, Sköll had briefly caught up to the sun, causing it to temporarily disappear.

Sköll’s brother, Hati, was said to similarly chase the moon, and during a lunar eclipse, it was believed that Hati had succeeded in catching the moon.

The symbolism of these wolves in Norse mythology demonstrates the complex relationship between light and dark, and the constant struggle between good and evil.

Overall, the wolf played a significant role in Norse culture, and the stories of Fenrir and Sköll continue to captivate and intrigue us with their powerful symbolism and mythical significance.

Sleipnir: The Eight-Legged Steed of Odin

In Norse mythology, Sleipnir is the eight-legged horse ridden by Odin, the Allfather of the gods in Norse mythology. The horse’s name means “slippy” or “the gliding one,” and he is regarded as the swiftest of all horses.

According to Norse mythology, Sleipnir was born from the union of the trickster god Loki, who transformed himself into a mare, and the giant stallion Svaðilfari. Sleipnir was given to Odin as a gift and became his loyal companion and trusted steed.

Sleipnir holds significant symbolic importance in Norse mythology, representing Odin’s connection to the nine realms of the cosmos. The horse’s eight legs allow him to traverse between the realms of gods, giants, elves, and humans with ease.

As a result, Sleipnir is often depicted as a bridge between worlds, enabling Odin to travel to distant lands and carry out his duties as the ruler of Asgard. Some interpretations of the horse’s eight legs suggest that it represents Odin’s ability to travel through time and space.

In Norse artwork, Sleipnir is often depicted with a silver mane and reins, ridden by a hooded figure with a spear and shield. The horse has also been immortalized in Viking poetry and sagas, cementing his status as a cherished and revered figure in Norse mythology.

So next time you see a majestic horse with eight legs, remember the incredible legend of Sleipnir, Odin’s trusty companion and symbol of swiftness and otherworldly power.

The Fearsome Serpent: Jormungandr

In Norse mythology, the serpent Jormungandr was one of the most feared creatures of all. This enormous serpent was said to encircle the world of Midgard, with its immense length making it an imposing and dangerous foe for any who dared cross its path.

According to legend, Jormungandr was one of the three children of Loki and the giantess Angrboða. This lineage made it a formidable opponent, imbued with power and strength beyond that of any mortal creature.

Despite its fearsome reputation, Jormungandr was not simply a brute force of nature. The serpent played a pivotal role in Norse cosmology, representing the chaotic forces of nature which threatened to upset the delicate balance of the cosmos.

In the tales of Norse mythology, Jormungandr was also a symbol of the cyclical nature of life and death. As a creature of the earth, it represented the endless cycle of destruction and rebirth which characterized the Norse world-view.

Ultimately, Jormungandr was fated to play a decisive role in the events leading up to the Ragnarök, the final battle which would see the destruction of the old world and the dawn of a new era. Its involvement in this apocalyptic event cemented its reputation as one of the most fearsome creatures in all of Norse mythology.

In conclusion, Jormungandr was a complex and enigmatic creature, embodying the cyclical forces of nature and the ever-present threat of chaos in the Norse cosmos. As a symbol of destruction and renewal, it played a pivotal role in the mythology of this ancient culture, challenging those who encountered it to confront their fears and embrace the ongoing cycles of life and death which defined their world-view.

Birds of Destiny: Huginn and Muninn

Have you heard of Huginn and Muninn, the two ravens who served as companions to the Norse god Odin? These birds of destiny played a crucial role in Norse mythology as messengers and observers, with each raven embodying a distinct characteristic.

Huginn, whose name means “thought”, represents the power of the mind, reflecting Odin’s wisdom and intelligence. Muninn, which means “memory”, symbolizes the importance of preserving history and knowledge, tying in with Odin’s role as a god of poetry and storytelling.

According to the sagas, every day, Huginn and Muninn would fly out into the world and return to Odin at nightfall, whispering to him the knowledge they had gained. They also had a symbolic role, representing the constant pursuit of knowledge and the importance of paying attention to the world around us.

Interestingly, the symbolism of these ravens has continued into contemporary culture, with references in literature, music, and pop culture. They have even made appearances in popular TV shows and movies.

With their deep-rooted mythology and symbolism, Huginn and Muninn remain prominent figures in Norse culture, reminding us of the value of thought, memory, and wisdom.

The Majestic Eagle: Veðrfölnir

As you explore the enchanting world of Norse animals, you cannot miss the magnificent eagle perched atop the great cosmic tree, Yggdrasil. Meet Veðrfölnir, the eagle who observes the nine realms from his lofty vantage point. In Norse mythology, Veðrfölnir is believed to have lived on the topmost branches of Yggdrasil, along with the wise eagle who perched at the highest point.

This majestic creature is symbolic of many things in Norse culture. The eagle, with its soaring wings and sharp gaze, is seen as a representation of strength, clarity, and vision. It is also said to be a messenger between the gods and humans, carrying messages between the realms.

Symbolism Significance
Observer Veðrfölnir is the wise observer of the nine realms and serves as a symbol of knowledge and insight.
Connection to Divine Veðrfölnir’s connection to Yggdrasil denotes its association with the divine and the importance of the cosmic tree in Norse mythology.

Veðrfölnir’s appearance in the Norse sagas is limited, but its symbolic significance is evident. With its unwavering gaze and soaring flight, Veðrfölnir represents the pinnacle of strength, wisdom, and vision in the Norse mythological world.

The Elusive Fox: The Cunning Loki

One of the most complex figures in Norse mythology is Loki, often associated with the cunning fox. This shape-shifting deity is known for his mischievous nature, and his actions often lead to chaos and destruction.

In Norse fox symbolism, the fox is a creature of deceit, cunning, and transformation. It is no surprise that Loki is often depicted as a fox, reflecting his ability to change into different forms and deceive those around him.

Despite his duplicitous nature, Loki plays an important role in Norse mythology. He is a trickster and a mediator between the gods and giants, and his cunning is often used to outwit his enemies and save the other gods.

Overall, the fox is a powerful symbol in Norse culture, representing not only Loki but also the traits of intelligence, adaptability, and mystery.

The Sacred Cow: Auðumbla

According to Norse mythology, the world was created from the body of Ymir, a primordial giant. Auðumbla, the sacred cow, played a crucial role in this creation myth. The cow emerged from the ice that covered the void of Ginnungagap, licking salty rime stones and revealing the first god, Buri.

Auðumbla provided nourishment to Buri, who went on to father Odin, Vili, and Ve. In turn, these three gods defeated Ymir and used his body to create the world as we know it. Thus, Auðumbla is considered the progenitor of all life in Norse mythology, and her role in the creation myth highlights the importance of fecundity and nourishment.

The Noble Boar: Gullinbursti

Gullinbursti is a noble boar in Norse mythology, revered as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. According to legend, the god Freyr rode this golden-bristled boar into battle, and its gleaming hide shone like the sun, inspiring fear and awe in his enemies.

Gullinbursti holds a special place in Norse mythology as a symbol of the good things in life and the power of nature. It also represents the bond between gods and animals, with Freyr forming a strong connection with his boar companion.

The story of Gullinbursti serves as a reminder of the importance of respecting and honoring nature, as well as the value of strong relationships with our animal companions. Whether in myth or reality, animals have much to teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

The Cunning Squirrel: Ratatoskr

As you explore the world of Norse animals, you cannot miss Ratatoskr, the mischievous squirrel. This unique creature is always busy stirring up strife between the eagle perched on Yggdrasil’s topmost branch and the serpent coiled around its roots.

Ratatoskr’s role in Norse mythology is fascinating. The squirrel scurries up and down Yggdrasil, carrying messages between the eagle and the serpent. This constant back-and-forth creates conflict, often leading to heated exchanges between the two creatures. Some interpretations suggest that Ratatoskr’s act of carrying messages symbolizes gossip, which can lead to misunderstandings and unwanted consequences.

Despite its bothersome nature, Ratatoskr is still a fascinating and important figure in Norse mythology. Its presence in the stories reminds us of the complexities of communication and the importance of delivering messages accurately and effectively.

So, the next time you spot a squirrel running up a tree, take a moment to remember the cunning and mischievous Ratatoskr and its role in Norse mythology.


As we have uncovered in this article, Norse animals played a crucial role in both mythology and everyday life. From the mighty wolf, Fenrir, to the elusive fox associated with the mischievous deity Loki, animals were revered as symbols, companions, and metaphors for various aspects of life.

The Norse culture’s depiction of animals reflected their deep understanding of the natural world and their connection to the mythical realm. These animals were not merely creatures of the physical world but held deeper symbolic meanings that connected them to the gods and the cosmos.

By exploring these animals’ roles in Norse mythology, we gain insight into the rich tapestry of Norse beliefs and the significance of these creatures in their society. We learn about the importance of swiftness, cunning, and strength, which were all traits that the Norse people highly valued.

Overall, the study of Norse animals provides a fascinating glimpse into Viking culture and mythology. Their reverence for these creatures, the stories they told about them, and the symbolism associated with them, all offer a unique insight into the mindset and values of the Norse people. By understanding the significance of these animals in Viking society, we can appreciate their legacy and the enduring impact that Norse mythology has on our culture today.


What role did animals play in Norse culture?

Animals held significant importance in Norse culture, both in mythology and everyday life. They served as symbols, companions, and metaphors for various aspects of life.

Which animals were revered in Norse mythology?

Some of the animals revered in Norse mythology include wolves, horses, serpents, ravens, eagles, foxes, cows, boars, and squirrels.

What is the symbolism behind Fenrir and Sköll?

Fenrir was a monstrous wolf who played a pivotal role in the Ragnarök, while Sköll represented the ever-present threat of darkness as the wolf who chased the sun in the sky.

Who rode the eight-legged horse Sleipnir?

Sleipnir was the legendary eight-legged horse ridden by Odin, the Allfather of Norse mythology, symbolizing swiftness and his connection to the realms of gods and men.

What was the role of Jormungandr in Norse cosmology?

Jormungandr was a fearsome serpent that encircled the world of Midgard. It held mythical significance and played a crucial role in the Norse cosmology.

Who were Huginn and Muninn?

Huginn and Muninn were enigmatic ravens who served as messengers and companions to Odin, representing thought and memory in Norse folklore.

What was the significance of the eagle Veðrfölnir?

Veðrfölnir was a majestic eagle perched atop the cosmic tree Yggdrasil. It observed the nine realms and held a connection to the divine in Norse mythology.

Why is Loki associated with the fox?

Loki, the mischievous deity, is often associated with the cunning fox in Norse mythology, portraying his shape-shifting abilities and complexities.

What was the role of the cow Auðumbla in Norse creation myths?

Auðumbla, the sacred cow, played a crucial role in Norse creation myths as her nourishment sustained the primordial giant Ymir, leading to the creation of the world.

What symbolism does the boar Gullinbursti represent?

Gullinbursti, the golden-bristled boar, was associated with the Norse god Freyr and symbolized fertility and prosperity.

Who is Ratatoskr and what role does it play in Norse mythology?

Ratatoskr is a cunning squirrel in Norse mythology that stirs up strife by carrying messages between the eagle perched on Yggdrasil and the serpent beneath.