Later this month, Mimisbrunnr.info will publish the first entry in an exciting new feature: Godshapes. Godshapes is a tool for artists, writers, and other creative types interested in Norse mythology and, more broadly, Germanic mythology as a whole.
For those who desire to depict the gods of the North Germanic peoples, an important question inevitably arises: how does one visualize these figures? Under the influence of Classical and Christian art (and their various manifestations in modern popular culture), many have turned to familiar models: Greek statuary, images of Christian saints, or beyond the Western canon, such as modern representations of Hindu deities. But others wonder: what do the source texts actually say about how the gods looked?
By and large, today's depictions of the entities that populate Norse mythology are highly influenced by modern popular culture representations. Consider the bombastic theatrics and wing-helmeted costumes of the Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, the primary-colored, hammer-twirling whimsy of Marvel Comics’s Thor, and the sly humor of Peter Madsen’s Valhalla comics. Such depictions have influenced generations of artists and, to some extent, one another, producing a constellation of images and symbols largely removed from the historical sources from which the narratives and figures they feature ultimately derive.
The Old Norse corpus is difficult, time-consuming, and even frustrating to approach. Bombarded with specialized terminology, a host of foreign languages featuring strange letters, and hinging on important concepts obscure to anyone but the most dedicated scholars, it’s no wonder that people rarely delve into the sharp thorns and deep thickets that make up Norse mythology’s primary sources. However, when one manages to emerge out the other end, he or she is rewarded with vivid and dramatic imagery: mysterious, laughing, and ferocious gods garbed in potent symbolism, conceptual and cosmological personifications, and visages that may not have been pictured as anthropomorphic, human-like, at all.
Godshapes examines what the sources say about how the gods look. But, to be clear, this project is not prescriptive—the goal isn’t to produce suggestions or recommendations. Godshapes is descriptive: with this feature, we hope to provide information that aids in the creative process of those who want to dig deeper.
To best facilitate this goal, entries are written in a casual and straightforward manner, avoiding academic jargon wherever possible, and providing straightforward explanations for tangled concepts along the way. To increase readability, references are built into the articles as much as possible and footnotes are kept to an absolute minimum. While Godshapes is aimed at a general, creative audience, academics with an interest in considering the corpus from a different angle will no doubt also appreciate some of the points raised in these entries.
The first entry in Godshapes is authored by Joseph S. Hopkins and Ross Downing and will appear later this month. The piece focuses on the curious case of Hœnir, a case that raises a host of questions about how the gods of the North Germanic peoples were pictured and, in turn, how that may be represented today.