Thor’s hammer in Norway. A symbol of reaction against the Christian cross?
By Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide
Old Norse religion in long-term perspectives. Origins, changes and interactions, eds. Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbert, Catharina Raudvere (Nordic Academic Press, 2006)
Introduction: In my main project, I will try to trace the chronology of the conversion to Christianity of people in southern Norway on the basis of different types of archaeological material. The Thor’s hammer is an interesting type of object in this context, because it has normally been interpreted as a reaction against the Christian cross. Hence, occurrences of Thor’s hammers are likely to say something about where and when Christianity was established to an extent that it could provoke this type of reaction, but at the same time show that the non-Christian religion was still alive.
However, there has been some disagreement as to whether or not the Thor’s hammer was a reaction against the cross. Sigurd Grieg, for instance, discovered that finds of Thor’s hammer were older than those of Christian crosses, which led him to the conclusion that the hammer is not a symbol of the conversion phase. However, recent studies of Swedish and Danish material by, for instance, Jörn Staecker and Anne-Sofie Gräslund have concluded that there are two different traditions in the use of the Thor’s hammer: an older one with several hammers attached to a ring and a younger one with a single hammer used as a pendant. These two traditions may have developed more or less independently, and the later one, the pendant, provides the best comparison with the use of the Christian cross as a pendant. In any particular district, the Christian cross is always more recent than the Thor’s hammer pendant. The hammer pendant is thought to indicate that Christianity was just becoming established, whereas the cross pendant indicates that it has reached a consolidation phase.
According to Egon Wamers, Thor’s hammer pendants and moulds for Thor’s hammers have mostly been found in southern Sweden, Denmark and the part of Germany closest to Denmark; a few in Norway and near the south and east coasts of the Baltic, and very few in the British Isles, Poland, Iceland and Russia. Only 10% have been found in graves. In addition, many Thor’s hammer rings, mostly of iron, have been found in graves from the eighth to tenth centuries in Åland, Swedish-speaking parts of Russia, and especially the Mälaren district of Sweden, where 450 rings have been found, including 58 in the Birka graves. Almost all the graves containing Thor’s hammer rings are cremations. In this paper, I will concentrate on the Thor’s hammers found in Norway.
Top Photo: Mjolnir at exhibition at Hedeby. Photo by Toxophilus / Wikimedia Commons