When Thor woke up, his hammer was missing. He “shook his head,” “tossed his hair to and fro” (The Poetic Edda), groped around, and finally called to Loki, saying “the God has been robbed of his hammer.” The two of them went to see Freyja (Freyia), and borrowed her feather-shirt, which Loki used to fly from the land of the Aesir to Giant-land, only to find that Thrym – “lord of the ogres” – had stolen the thunder god’s hammer and hidden it deep in the earth. It would never be taken, the giant swore, unless Freyja was brought to him, to be his bride.
Most children have an unusually intense relationship with a specific ‘attachment object’, usually a favourite blanket or a soft toy.
What makes a god a god? Without his hammer, it’s implied that Thor wouldn’t be able to defend the Aesir against the giants, and that Asgard would be overrun, but though the hammer – forged by the dwarves, and said to be able to level a mountain – is certainly important to the defense of Asgard, isn’t it Thor that does the actual giant killing? Throughout our lives we imbue objects not just with power, but with a sense of our identity: our ability to be who we are becomes connected with the things that we own – and we extend that idea to the fictional and mythological characters we create. Just as it’s natural for us to connect our identity with certain, special possessions, it’s easier for us to understand and define characters in stories and myths if we pair them with unique, personal objects. The removal (or theft) of those objects is a kind of death – a loss of self that highlights the symbolic power of our possessions, whether they’re used to define our identity (clothes, jewelry), serve as symbols of our past (photos that embody the memories they portray), or represent other people (gifts we receive – whether they are cherished or disposed of). When Thor’s hammer is stolen, the god himself is in peril: his identity is at stake.
As children mature into teens, we see possessions starting to act as a crutch for the self.
When Loki returns to the court of the gods and tells Thor of Thrym’s demand, the two of them confront the goddess Freyja, telling her to put on a “bridal head-dress,” as they are going to take her to the land of the giants. Freyja (justifiably) snorts in rage, saying “you’ll know me to be the most man-mad of women, if I drive with you to the land of the giants” (or, as I paraphrase it in my mind, “trust me, guys – this isn’t the path you want to take“). The Aesir take council, Heimdall eventually suggesting that Thor put on a bridal head-dress, jewels (including Freyja’s Brsingamen necklace) women’s clothes, and go himself in Freyja’s stead. Thor resists, but soon enough is on his way, with Loki as his maid, the two of riding in Thor’s goat-drawn chariot, heading for Giant-land.
Obviously, Thor bears no resemblance to Freyja (and the story of Thrym is a comic one), but the key to the charade, I think, is Freyja’s Brsingamen necklace – her special item, that like her feather-shirt is part of her identity, to the extent that borrowing it allows Thor – already lacking his own signature item – to blur the line between them. The identities of gods and goddesses shift over time – even their names change, as cults evolve. Associating them with specific, named items halts for a time that evolution, giving them personal context beyond just a name and a title: a picture that can be held in the mind and quickly drawn in stories and images for a period in time. Just as celebrities and historical figures have clothing and items that help us identify and remember them, Freyja has her Brsingamen necklace, Sif has her golden hair, Odin his spear Gungnir and his ring, Draupnir, Freyr has the boar, Gullenborsti, and Thor has Mjolnir.
As our lives unfold, our things embody our sense of self-hood and identity still further, becoming external receptacles for our memories, relationships and travels.
Thrym welcomes the disguised Thor and Loki to his court, but the lord of the ogres is shocked when his bride-to-be consumes an entire ox, eight salmon, all the dainties prepared for the women, and three full casks of mead. “Freyja’s” maid (Loki) attributes his mistress’ incredible hunger to the eight weeks she has starved herself, as she looked forward to the trip to Giant-land. When Thrym tries to kiss his betrothed, he recoils at her “terrifying” eyes, only to be told that the goddess hasn’t slept for eight nights, so eager was she to begin her journey. Thor’s identity (as Freyja) being verified, Thrym brings in the hammer and lays it on the lap of what he believes to be his goddess bride as a means to sanctify the marriage, upon which Thor does what Thor does best: he kills Thrym, and batters “all the race of giants,” including the giantess who had dared ask him (as Freyja) for a gift.
Russel Bilk, in his paper, “Possessions and the extended self,” (pulling from The Psychology of stuff and things), quotes from novelist Alison Lurie (The Language of Clothes), saying “…when adolescent girls exchange clothing they share not only friendship, but also identities – they become soulmates.'” The special possessions of the Norse gods define them, and in fact allow others to symbolically assume or steal their identities: the theft of Thor’s hammer is the theft of his power, even as Loki, by borrowing Freyja’s feather-shirt, takes on the aspect of the goddess – as does Thor, with the Brsingamen necklace at his throat. This idea – that the possessions of the gods define them – and hold some of their magic – is connected to the way we as human beings see ourselves, in relation to the possessions that surround and define us throughout our lives.
Though the comics and movies vary in many ways from historical Norse mythology, one thing that holds true is the connection between Thor’s identity as a god, and his hammer.