The 15 most fascinating mythical creatures of Norse mythology

Beyond the powerful yet fickle gods of Norse mythology, the nose sagas provide us with countless tales of legendary creatures and beings that have captured the modern imagination. 

Here we have the origins of elves, dwarves, giants, and legendary individual creatures such as Jörmungandr, the world serpent, and Fenrir, the great wolf.

We’ll start with the general races of creatures and beings before moving on to the specific legendary creatures of Norse mythology. 


Elves in Norse mythology are split into two different types: The Dökkálfar (“Dark Elves”) and the Ljósálfar (“Light Elves”).

Light elves are tall, slender beings who are said to be fairer than the sun. They would rarely interact with humans except to cure or cause sicknesses for unknown reasons. The light elves are said to live in the realm of  Álfheimr, meaning ‘elf home,’ under the rule of the god Freyr. 

Dark elves live underground and have a dark complexion, said to be “blacker than pitch.” They are said to act quite differently from the light elves. Some scholars believe the Dökkálfar may simply be another name for dwarves.

Not much else is known about their behaviors and world. They are referenced many times in both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, but often in passing.

Today’s fantasy worlds such as Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy seem to take inspiration from this dualism of elves, each having both light and dark elves.


Dwarves are described as pitch-black in complexion in Norse mythology. They dwell underground in Svartalfheim, the home of the black elves, living in a vast labyrinth of mines and forges. However, unlike current popular depictions, dwarves are never described as short in stature in the Poetic Edda

There seems to be a bit of interchangeability between dark elves, dwarves, and human corpses in the ancient works, making the lines between the three quite blurry. 

In the legends, Norse dwarves are most famous for being highly skilled artisans and smiths. For example, they forged Mjollnir, Thor’s hammer, and the chains that bind Fenrir, who broke free of all others. 

There are hundreds of named dwarves in the Poetic Edda, with some even playing major cosmological roles such as Norðri, Suðri, Austri, and Vestri (Old Norse for “North, South, East, and West”), who hold up the sky.

Also, it is said that If a dwarf stays above ground after daybreak, they turn to stone.


The jötunn, also called giants or frost giants, is a kind of rival to the gods similar to the titans in Greek mythology. The jötunn predominantly dwells in Jötunheimr. 

They are described at times as astoundingly beautiful and at other times as grotesque. Although translated as giants, they are not necessarily larger than humans or gods.

Trolls are considered a subset of the jötunn, and many other creatures are born from jötunns, such as the world serpent and Fenrir.  

Some of the gods are described as being Jötunn, such as Skaði, and others are descended from Jötunn, such as Odin and Thor. For this reason, some think it is better to think of them as another race of people among the gods rather than a kind of creature. 

They are often at war with the Gods of the Æsir and Vanir. Included among the Jötunn are Hel, leader of the Underworld, and Ymir, the ambiguously gendered first being of all creation in Norse mythology.


Valkyries are Odin’s female spirits, flying maidens who ferry the slain on the battlefield to Valhalla. 

Many stories within Norse mythology have Valkyries in love affairs with human men and assisting Odin in taking his favorite warriors to Valhalla, where they will eventually fight for him during Ragnarok. 

There’s more to the story than that, as their name means ‘choosers of the slain,’ which implies they determine who will die in battle. In fact, it was said that they used terrible magic to ensure this from time to time during major conflicts. 

Similar to the ravens Hugin and Munin, they’re parts of Odin, forming part of him even as they remain distinct.

Today, they are famous mythological beings to depict, usually as a warrior woman. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely accurate to their ancient depiction, whose more sinister side shows them to be cunning practitioners of magic.


Sleipnir is Odin’s grey, eight-legged horse. Another one of Odin’s helper spirits, Odin rides Sleipnir on his journeys through Yggdrasil’s roots and branches, leading him through the nine worlds. 

The eight-legged horse is a common creature throughout many indigenous mythological traditions. It represents the speed and power of a horse at least twice as great as any other, and in the Poetic Edda is considered the greatest among all horses. 

The origin of Sleipnir’s birth is also interesting, being born when Loki became pregnant from a Jötunn’s stallion while shapeshifting into a mare. 


The draugr were undead creatures, stronger than humans and possessing the ability to increase their size and to shapeshift. They are depicted as hideous to look at and reeking of rot and decay. They would also escape their tombs by swimming through solid rock. 

They would guard their graves and treasure, sometimes a royal palace or burial mound. 

But the draugr are not ghosts in the traditional sense, but rather reanimated bodies of the dead. In many tales, they can only be killed by the destruction of the putrid body.

In some tales such as Þórólfr bægifótr (Thorolf Twist-Foot), the draugr possess a kind of transmission of their undead qualities, turning others they attack into draugr.

Tales of their magical powers are also numerous, with some draugr shapeshifting, entering into dreams, and creating darkness in their surroundings. They also can bring disease and bad luck. 

Greedy, terrible, and unpopular people were said to become a draugr after their death. 


Jörmungandr, the “Great Beast,” “World Serpent,” or the “Midgard Serpent,” is the enormous snake that surrounds the world. Famous depictions of him have him biting his own tail as he holds up all of Midgard or earth. This is one example of an ouroboros, a popular motif. 

He is one of the children of Loki and the Jötunn Angrboða, with his sister Hel and brother Fenrir. 

Jörmungandr’s most hated enemy is Thor. They have fought several times, and when Ragnarok begins, they are fated to kill each other.

In one story, Thor fishes for the great sea serpent in the deep part of the ocean with a great ox’s head. He succeeds, and they fight when Jörmungandr surfaces, Thor using his hammer and the beast spewing poison. Luckily, the Jötunn Hymir was on the trip with Thor and cut the line allowing Jörmungandr to flee. 


Fenrir, or “He Who Dwells in the Marshes,” is the most famous wolf in Norse mythology. Born of Loki and the Jötunn Angrboða, he is the brother of the great serpent, Jörmungandr, and queen of the underworld, Hel.

Fated to be the most ferocious of all beings, the gods decide he must be bound. The dwarves forge the strongest chain ever made, Gleipnir, to bind him. 

Fenrir was suspicious of being bound by it for a ‘game’ the gods thought up to trick him but allowed it if one of the gods would put their hand in his mouth as they tied him. The brave Tyr did, knowing it would mean the loss of his hand when Fenrir discovered their trickery. 

During Ragnarok, Fenrir is fated to escape the binding and devour huge swaths of the world, with his lower jaw to the ground and his upper jaw covering the sky. Fenrir is also destined to kill Odin, whereas Odin’s son Víðarr will then turn around and slay him.

Huginn and Munnin

Huginn and Munnin are the two ravens who help Odin as part of his menagerie of spirits. Huginn means “thought,” whereas Munnin means “mind.” 

They sit on his shoulders and speak of all the news they see and hear to Odin into his ears. Then, each morning they fly out all over the world to seek information to bring to Odin. 

Due to Huginn and Munnin, Odin is often associated with ravens. The appearance of ravens after giving an offering to Odin was taken to mean he accepted it.

The reason ravens might have become such an important symbol was that as carrion birds, they could be considered to be gathering gifts for Odin after a battle. Because Odin oversees Valhalla, the land of those who died in battle, this connection makes sense.

But beyond that, ravens are exceptionally intelligent birds, and we can see that the names of Odin’s ravens represent intelligence. 


Audumbla is a mythical cow who fed the first jötunn Ymir her milk. Her name means ‘hornless, milk-rich cow.’ 

She appears in only one narrative in the Prose Edda. She is most famous for licking the salt stone that revealed Búri, grandfather of the gods. 

Her connections with Ymir and Buri place her at the beginning of creation, helping to bring into being the first creatures of Norse mythology. 

Fylgja and Hamingja

The fylgja are spirit animals that would show up after the birth of a child, typically animals that would be the ones to eat the afterbirth. 

They were said to reflect the character of the person being born. A ‘tame’ person might have an ox or goat as their fl

Fylgja, whereas a ‘wild’ person might have a wolf, bear, eagle, or serpent. 

Fylgja can also refer to shapeshifting between animals, as many mythological beings in Norse legends can do. 

A Hamingja is a kind of female guardian spirit with a similar connection to a person as their fylgja. She decides a person’s luck and happiness. 

When a person died, it was thought that their hamingja passed down to their most beloved family member, increasing their fortune over time. 

Hamingja can also appear as animals but differ from the fylgja in their different roles throughout one’s life.


Heidrun is a mythical goat described in both the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. 

She eats the buds off the tree Læraðr, producing so much mead that she fills a huge cauldron every day to provide her magical drink for all the warriors of Valhalla. She is said to produce the clearest mead and that there’s an everlasting amount. 

Her diet of buds is carefully controlled to keep this relationship going and provide for the warriors at the hall.  

Once in the Poetic Edda, the term Heidrun is used as an insult to Freyja. 


Nidhöggr, or “Curse-striker,” is the most famous dragon/serpent of Norse mythology. He dwells beneath the Yggdrasil, the world tree, and sucks on its roots. This hurts the tree deeply, threatening its ability to hold up the nine worlds of the cosmos. 

Nidhöggr, therefore, is trying to make the cosmos fall into chaos along with the other dragons. He is also thought to play a significant role in Ragnarok, where he will fly to help the Jötunn. 

Nidhöggr seems to be jealous of Ratatoskr, the squirrel who sends messages up and down Yggdrasil. Sometimes Ratatoskr sends messages for him up to the eagle in the high branches of the great tree. 

His appearance in flight with the corpses of men is meant to herald the beginning of Ragnarok.


Ratatoskr “drill-tooth,” is the squirrel who ferries messages up and down Yggdrasil, the world tree. These messages go between Veðrfölnir, the eagle who lives in the high branches on top, and Nidhöggr, who gnaws on the roots below. 

The most common theory is that he spreads gossip, and slander, and attempts to get the two to start fighting, which in turn is meant to continue the cycle of decay and rebirth of the tree.

Scholars believe his being a squirrel has little significance or is perhaps an insult to those who would spread rumors and gossip. 

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr are the goats that pull Thor’s chariot. 

Disturbingly, Thor cooks the goats and eats their flesh before resurrecting them again with his hammer. In this way, he has a daily meal available through his goats. 

In the Poetic Edda, Thor is seen finding the goats with “splendid horns” and taking them for himself. He is then later called “lord of goats.”

At the end of one story, when Loki and Thor stop by a peasant’s house, they skin and cook the goats for the whole family. The peasant’s son eats the marrow of the bone, which affects the resurrection of the goat who then has a slight limp. The boy is taken on as one of Thor’s servants. 


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Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.