Soundtrack Review: Goldfinger

Composed by: John Barry

James Bond had already had two films, but 1964’s Goldfinger is what turned him into both a pop culture icon and ensured a still ongoing movie series. There was an intriguing plot involving breaking into the gold vaults at Fort Knox, the hat-throwing henchman Oddjob, and the popular, bombastic theme song sung by Shirley Bassey. I think, for all the great elements it has, the film is a bit overrated thanks to a heavy dosage of Bond villain stupidity, but its score surely isn’t. John Barry returned and established himself as the primary Bond composer. Finalizing the formula for these soundtracks, the main song was played during the opening credits.

This is a near-monothematic entry. Outside of the James Bond theme, most of the motifs are just variations of the same tune derived from “Goldfinger”. This big, brassy number serves as a fanfare for the titular villain. The lyrics don’t have much variation, but the tune and Bassey’s singing voice more than make up for this. Even the James Bond theme, showcased this time in “Bond Back in Action Again”, is woven into the title song and thus is woven into the film’s theme in most of its appearances.

There is little of the romantic writing that John Barry would later be known for. Aside from a couple sweeping statements of the main theme, there’s “Alpine Drive”, a more subdued version of Goldfinger’s theme, and “Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus”, which starts off gorgeously, but also gets into some ridiculously sexy trumpet music (only fitting since Pussy Galore is such a ridiculous name).

The highlights of the score are the brassy action cues, all tremendous in their power. These include “Oddjob’s Pressing Engagement”, which mixes the Bond and Goldfinger themes, “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox”, a highly energetic build-up piece with military percussion and a variation of the Goldfinger theme, and “The Arrival of the Bomb and Countdown”, which literally features ticking percussion at its opening. The suspense is top-notch, too, especially the escalating “The Laser Beam”.

This is widely considered one of the best James Bond soundtracks. Personally I appreciate some of more diverse offerings, but this is one of the most consistently entertaining scores by John Barry. It features one of the best tile songs and if spy action music is your thing, then this is a must-listen. It’s even more recommended if you would rather hear Bond action than Bond romance.

There are actually two different original releases. The UK version had fourteen tracks, while the US release cut out four of those and inserted a special instrumental version of the title theme. The expanded album is just the missing UK tracks inserted on the end.

Thanks to some odd contractual reasons, those Bond scores with expanded albums had to put most of the previously unreleased material on the end as opposed to being inserted chronologically, so editing and reordering is necessary if you have to have the music play in a more satisfying order.

Rating:  (original album) 8/10 (full score) 9/10

  1. Goldfinger (Performed by Shirley Bassey) (2:47)
  2. Into Miami (0:57)
  3. Alpine Drive/Auric’s Factory (4:27)
  4. Oddjob’s Pressing Engagement (3:08)
  5. Bond Back in Action Again (2:29)
  6. Teasing the Korean (2:12)
  7. Gassing the Gangsters (1:03)
  8. Goldfinger Instrumental (2:08)
  9. Dawn Raid on Fort Knox (5:43)
  10. Arrival of the Bomb and Countdown (3:25)
  11. Death of Goldfinger/End Title (2:34)

Bonus Tracks

  1. Golden Girl (2:10)
  2. Death of Tilley (2:04)
  3. The Laser Beam (2:54)
  4. Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus (2:48)

Soundtrack Review: From Russia with Love

Composed by: John Barry

The soundtrack for Dr. No by Monty Norman consisted of mainly Jamaican source music and didn’t feature much in the way of orchestral score, the one track for the James Bond theme being the only highlight on the whole album. John Barry, who had helped arrange the theme (and may have even created it himself), was chosen as the composer for From Russia with Love, based on what is considered to be the best James Bond novel and also considered as one of the best of the movies. Just as that movie further steered the franchise into its successful formula, John Barry moved the music into more familiar territory.

This is the first of the films to have a theme song that has its tune incorporated into the score. “From Russia with Love” is a love song that actually plays in the middle of the movie as opposed to over the opening credits. As a love song, its main tune is usually used as a love theme as heard in “Bond Meets Tania”. It does get usage in a couple other ways, playing mournfully in “Death of Kerim”.

The opening titles themselves are scored with an instrumental number, a fast-paced, percussion-backed cue that starts with a bombastic motif. David Arnold would later use this motif in his soundtracks for the Pierce Brosnan entries. An instrumental version of the song plays before segueing into the James Bond theme, and the opening motif returns to close it out.

The other highlight is the 007 theme, an alternate theme for James Bond devised by John Barry. It has hints of peril, but is otherwise more light-hearted than the more popular Bond theme. It would become a secondary theme for Sean Connery’s Bond, playing in all of his next entries except Goldfinger. I like this theme a lot, and would love to see another composer bring it back with a twist.

The rest of the music is not that great, but it’s a step above Dr. No’s score. There’s a little motif for evil organization Spectre that underscores their manipulative villainy and pops up fairly often (“Spectre Island”). There’s also a bit of source-style music as with Dr. No (“Guitar Lament”, “Leila Dances”), but they don’t drive out the orchestral cues. The James Bond theme itself starts to appear more in the underscore, but outside of “Opening Titles” it’s only major performance is “James Bond with Bongos”, which of course ends with some bongo beats.

This is a nice score, but pales in comparison to the most of John Barry’s  other Bond scores. Some of the underscore isn’t all too interesting either. But by no means skip it. It’s got some amazing highlights in “Opening Titles” and “007” and a solid main theme.

Rating: 7/10

  1. Opening Titles: James Bond is Back/From Russia with Love//James Bond Theme (2:24)
  2. Tania Meets Klebb (1:27)
  3. Meeting in St. Sophia (1:08)
  4. The Golden Horn (2:28)
  5. Girl Trouble (2:25)
  6. Bond Meets Tania (1:18)
  7. 007 (2:45)
  8. Gypsy Camp (1:15)
  9. Death of Grant (2:00)
  10. From Russia with Love (sung by Matt Munro) (2:35)
  11. Spectre Island (1:15)
  12. Guitar Lament (1:09)
  13. Man Overboard-Smersh in Action (2:18)
  14. James Bond with Bongos (2:29)
  15. Stalking (2:01)
  16. Leila Dances (1:57)
  17. Death of Kerim (2:29)
  18. 007 Takes the Lektor (3:00)

Soundtrack Review: Dr. No


Composed by: Monty Norman (with an assist from John Barry)

Dr. No is the sixth novel in Ian Fleming’s series of spy novels, but the first in the James Bond film series. It didn’t quite have the formula of the series down yet. There was no pre-credits sequence, no frustrated Q, and no fantastic gadgets. Also different was the outlook of the music. Compared to the big brassy and romantic scores that John Barry would make the norm, Dr. No’s score is almost entirely made up of Jamaican and Caribbean style music, much of it acting as source cues. There’s not even a proper theme song, a surety in following Bond films. The opening titles are comprised of four different tracks, cut and edited together in abrupt fashion.

The one piece of music that should please fans of the franchise’s music is the first track, “James Bond Theme”. What new can be said about this, one of the greatest themes ever? It evokes coolness, danger, and sexiness (and at times heroism). It’s the ultimate spy theme. The actual creation of the theme is without controversy. The composer for Dr. No, Monty Norman, has always been credited with its creation in every film, and still receives royalties for its frequent use outside the movies. John Barry, composer of nearly a dozen James Bond movies, claimed that he wrote the theme. It is not known if this is true, but he did arrange the theme in its jazzy form.

Outside of the first track, there is little to recommend. It’s over half an hour of what sounds like source music, much of it repeated (as can be told from the track titles) with little variation. Norman did compose orchestral music, but not much. A five minute suite of this missing music can be found rearranged by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on some of their James Bond compilations. The Jamaican music isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not something film music lovers and probably most James Bond fans would really appreciate. I do like “Kingston Calypso”, which is an eerie juxtaposition of a cheerful bouncy tune with dark, violent lyrics. Its tune actually does get twisted around in “Dr. No’s Theme”, establishing it as perhaps a villain theme. Other songs include “Under the Mango Tree”, which plays in three tracks, and the forgettable “Jump Up”.

Beware the second to last track, which is called “The James Bond Theme”, as opposed to just “James Bond Theme”. This is another upbeat Jamaican tune that does not feature the actual famed James Bond theme, though it does appear in a couple of the other tracks.

Some tracks deviate from the incidental Jamaican music. One oddity is “Audio Bongo”, which sounds like something out of an old sci-fi movie and is in fact the first piece of music heard in the film. “The Island Speaks” is a dark percussion-driven cue, not the great suspense that John Barry would come up with, but effective nonetheless.

I would recommend skipping this album. It doesn’t offer much interest and is more like those “music from and inspired by” albums which feature a bunch of songs that may or may not actually appear in the movie. If you’re in the right mood this album can be an entertaining half-hour listen, but it pales badly in comparison to future installments.

Final Rating: 4/10


  1. James Bond Theme (1:47)
  2. Kingston Calypso (2:42)
  3. Jamaican Rock (2:03)
  4. Jump Up (2:08)
  5. Audio Bongo (1:30)
  6. Under the Mango Tree (2:20)
  7. Twisting with James (3:08)
  8. Jamaica Jazz (1:04)
  9. Under the Mango Tree Instrumental (2:40)
  10. Jump Up Short Version (1:25)
  11. No’s Fantasy (1:40)
  12. Kingston Calypso (2:30)
  13. The Island Speaks (3:18)
  14. Under the Mango Tree (2:37)
  15. The Boy Chase (1:30)
  16. No’s Theme (1:57)
  17. The James Bond Theme (2:20)
  18. Love at Last (1:49)

The Gods and Goddesses of Canaan

When I started getting an interest in mythology, I started to think about the references to other gods in the Bible. I was curious to learn more about Baal and Asherah and Moloch, gods who were worshipped by the Canaanites and their neighbors and found continued devotion in the Israelites, who were always proving themselves unfaithful to their singular God. Not much information is actually known about Canaanite mythology outside of a few incomplete texts found at the site of Ugarit in Syria. I’ve decided to give a short overview of the Canaanite deities (as well as a couple human characters). I’ll give more information on those mentioned in the Bible or in the epic Baal Cycle.

The Cosmic Order

Little has been discovered about Canaanite creation beliefs. Probably like other Near Eastern cultures, it involved chaotic waters and/or darkness being fashioned into existence by a creator god. In this case, the god is El/Elyon (El means “God” in Hebrew). El was evidently the original head of the Canaanite pantheon, but was surpassed in prominence by the younger, more vigorous and active Baal. The earth itself is held on two ends by the mountains Targhizizi and Tharumagi.

While El was still at the head, three major male deities presided over the sky, the seas, and the underworld, a parallel of the Zeus-Poseidon-Hades division of rule in Greek mythology. The sky god was Baal, the sea god Yam, and the death god Mot. Unlike Zeus and his brothers, these gods warred against each other. Baal slew Yam and in turn was devoured by Mot. However, Baal would be resurrected and with the help of his sister/lover Anat, goddess of war, would subdue Mot.

Thanks to a paucity of evidence, it is hard to see where all the gods fit in relation to each other, or even if some of them were members of the same pantheon. For example, Moloch is often listed as a Canaanite deity, though he is mentioned in the Bible as beign worshipped by neighboring people groups.

The Gods



The original head of the Canaanite pantheon, El is a father god who literally shares a name with the God. He lives on the Mountain of Lel and his consort is Asherah. He is a more passive figure in the myths. The most he does is grant or deny the wishes of other gods. He resists Baal’s claim to power, but eventually upholds it. Thanks to his name, many scholars believe that the Hebrews worshipped this same god. It would certainly explain how they easily mixed Canaanite religion with their worship towards God.


Baal is actually not a name, but a title, literally translated as “lord”. When Baal is mentioned in the Bible, it could refer to several different deities. The most well-known, thanks to the portions of the Baal Cycle found in Ugarit, is Baal Hadad. Wielding the powers of the storm and ruling the pantheon (superseding El), he is pretty much the Zeus of the Near East.

In the Baal Cycle, Baal Hadad challenges Yam, who has been favored by El. He kills him and his sea serpent Lotan with two special clubs. Having acquired lordship, he has Kothar, craftsman of the gods, build him a magnificent palace made of gold, silver, and Lebanese cedar. Baal then enters into a feud with Mot. The embodiment of death kills him, but he is revived and renews his struggle. Mot finally admits that Baal is lord.

Like other chief deities, Baal has lots of children. He has twin sons Shahar and Shalim, gods of dawn and dusk. They actually have separate mothers, but Baal had sex with them both at the same time, so this somehow makes them twins. He also has three daughters associated with water. They are Aretsaya, goddess of floods, Pidraya, goddess of mist and rain, and Talaya, also a goddess of mist and rain. This trio serve as Baal’s beneficent side, blessing the earth with their powers.

Baal in the Bible can refer to many different Baals. Baal Hadad is likely one that received much worship from the Israelites, as he was a Syrian-Amorite deity. Other Baals include Baal Berith (only named in the Bible and possibly just Baal Hadad, Baal Hammon of Carthage, Baal Marqod (a dance god), and Baal Zebub of Philistia (who came to be equated with Satan as Beelzebub).

Worship of Baal was rampant in ancient Israel, and altars and idols of him were constantly being erected and torn down. In Judges 6 Gideon tears down a statue of Baal to effectively start a revolution against the oppressing Midianites. 1 Kings 18 has my favorite story of Baal. In this one, Elijah and the 450 priests of Baal have a contest. Whoever can get their god to light their sacrifice on fire wins, proving that their god is superior. The priests of Baal perform a loud, ecstatic series of rituals, all of which fail. In between making fun of them, Elijah has water continually poured over his sacrifice. Despite being thoroughly wet, it receives fire from heaven and blazes away.


Called Anath in the Bible, Anat is not mentioned too often in the word of God. There is a city called Bath Anath, “House of Anat”, and in Judges, the hero Shamgar is said to be a son of Anath, suggesting that he is not an Israelite. While her mentioning in the Bible is sparse, Anat is besides Baal the most well known deity from Canaanite mythology. She is the goddess of war and love.

Anat has both a sisterly and sexual relationship with Baal, which confuses many since she is often called the virgin goddess. Here “virgin” refers to her often youthful appearance and independence.

Anat figures heavily in the Baal Cycle. Showing her violent and pro-Baal nature. Since fragments of the story are missing, it’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind some of her actions. After the text breaks off, readers will tune in to see her slaughtering thousands of people in a valley. Why she is doing this is not known. Perhaps the people of Canaan are not paying Baal proper respect. Anat kills so many that she is caked in blood. She wears a necklace of her victims’ heads and with their hands fashions a belt. Listed among the victims is a fire goddess named Ishat. Later on, when El refuses to grant Baal his own palace, she flat out threatens to bloody his face and drag his body through the ground. Anat also helps defeat sea god Yam and absolutely brutalizes Mot, forcing him to return Baal.

Anat is sometimes equated with the goddess Asherah or the Sumerian goddess Ishtar. Like Ishtar, she can prove to be a danger to human heroes who reject her wishes. In one story, she wants the magical bow of the Aqhat, the son of the hero Danel. Aqhat refuses, even though she keeps raising her offer. He finally turns on her wrath when he makes a comment that his weapon is useless to a woman. Feeling, insulted, since she is a goddess of war, she has him killed by Yatpan (whether Yatpan is a god or human is unclear) and then fed to Sumul, the queen of the vultures. In some versions this causes darkness and chaos and Aqhat has to be brought back to life by an apologetic Anat.


Asherah is a fertility goddess, often said to be the consort of supreme Canaanite god El and later Baal, which would also make her a mother goddess. Many idols of the goddess have been found by archaeologists, which show a nude woman holding her rather large breasts.

She was a major source of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness. Associated with trees, she was worshipped through Asherah poles, which may have been designed after trees. God specifically forbade any tree to be grown near His altars, knowing that this was heavily linked to Asherah-worship. Another form of Asherah worship mirrored that of Sumerian goddess Ishtar: ritual prostitution. As well as providing agricultural fertility, Asherah was involved in motherhood and sexual fertility. Both male and female prostitutes were used for sexual worship, though whether or not they were forced is unknown. This practice too was specifically condemned by Mosaic Law.

As the highest-ranking female deity, she was given the title Queen of Heaven by the Israelites and literally was thought to be the wife of God Himself. This earned her a pole in the temple, erected by King Manasseh. King Josiah was quick to target this object in his reforms. “He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.” To this day some people believe that sexist patriarchal men had edited the Bible to conceal the presence of a female God.

Outside of her sexual relationships and prominent placement with the kings of the Canaanite pantheon, Asherah is absent from any surviving mythology.


Athtart is better known as Astarte or Ishtar. A goddess of war, love, and fertility, she was widely popular all over the ancient world. In Canaanite mythology she is the consort of El, and in Egyptian tales is a partner of Anat who is given to Set as a wife. She may have been joined with Asherah was one single goddess. Many of the Israelites, like their neighbors, also worshipped her, including King Solomon himself.


Attar is actually more of a Mesopotamian deity. He is the god of the morning star, Venus. During Baal’s temporary death, he takes over the throne, but proves unfit to rule the other gods and has to step down.


Dagon was worshipped across several religions and pantheons. Foremost among his worshippers were the Canaanites and Philistines. As a result, his role varied greatly across the different Near East cultures. In later Mesopotamia he became protective war god. In Canaan he was actually the father of Baal-Hadad, putting him in a prominent position. His function here was as an agricultural god. This passes down to Baal, who himself is involved in the fertility of the earth.

Thanks to the book of 1 Samuel, Dagon is most recognizable as the head of the Philistine gods. Seafarers, the Philistines settled on the coast of southern Canaan and adopted Dagon as their chief god. Dagon was now also associated with fish and the sea, and was depicted wearing either a scaly skirt or having the back half of a fish, basically a divine merman.

In ancient times the idols of conquered enemies were often brought back as if the gods themselves had been defeated and taken prisoner. Likewise, the Philistines bring the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of God, to Ashdod, where they set it in front of Dagon. Of course, God isn’t going to be treated like all of the other gods, so he forces the statue of Dagon to fall face-down in front of the Ark. The Philistines set it back up, only for it to fall again later, this time breaking apart. Terrified, the Philistines put the Ark on an oxen-driven cart and have it sent back to the Israelites.


Kothar-wa-Khasis is the master builder and craftsman of the Canaanite gods. He is a firm supporter of Baal-Hadad in the Baal Cycle. He fashions his two magic clubs and also builds a special palace, featuring one window through which Baal can pour rain on the earth. This window has a drawback, as Mot is able to come in through it to attack Baal. Kothar also creates a special bow for the human hero Aqhat. Kothar lives in Egypt. He was actually a minor deity in Egypt and shared many similarities with Ptah.


Also called Molech and Milcom, Moloch is a fertility god, depicted as a humanoid cow, often with a Near Eastern beard and hat. Some scholars believe that he’s actually Baal repackaged by neighboring civilizations. He’s not usually listed or mentioned in books on Near Eastern mythology, and is more identified with the Ammonites that the Canaanites and Syrians. This is because the name “Moloch” can actually refer to a whole category of gods who demand human sacrifice. Moloch itself roughly translates as “king”. The main center of Moloch worship, as far as can be discerned from Scripture, was Tophet, which was eventually destroyed by Josiah.

A god of fertility (and believed to also be one of fire), Moloch was appeased through child sacrifice. Parents would hand over their children to be placed on the idol’s hands. Heated up, the idol would then burn the child, usually an infant, alive. Child sacrifice, used with knives rather than fire, were reported to have been practiced by the Phoenician Carthaginians, who would play loud music to drown out the screams of sacrifices. There is still debate on whether this is Roman and Greek propaganda or truth, as thousands of skeletons of infants have been found near ancient Carthaginian sites. If true, this would support the idea of Near Eastern Phoenicians practicing child sacrifice.

Several other mentioned gods are very similar to Moloch in the description of their worship and were likely considered alternate names and forms of the same deity. These include Adrammelech (sun god) and Chemosh (chief Moabite deity). The Sepharvites, who worshipped Adrammelech, worshipped the similar-sounding moon goddess named Anammelech, who is also satiated with child sacrifice.


The god of death, Mot (whose name literally means “death”), is one of the three great sons of El. He resides in a dark realm and is not worshipped at all. In the Baal Cycle, after slaying Yam, Baal takes up a throne. Mot doesn’t like this, so he attacks and kills Baal. Later on, Anat avenges her brother, winnowing, burning, and grinding him. This overkill does not kill him, but he is disposed of for seven years. Baal is resurrected and they battle again, before Baal ultimately prevails and Death is put in his place.

Despite being destroyed by Anat, Mot actually gets a crush on her because of all the killing she does. He abducts the Sun and the Moon (Shapash and Yarikh), forcing Anat to pursue him into his realm. She has to beat him in eight rounds of a game to win the freedom of herself and the other two gods. She succeeds, though Mot is able to have sex with her after each round.

Some scholars believe that Mot is present in the Bible. This is because the ancient Hebrew word for death, Mavet, is similar to his name and derives from the same language group. He is equated by some with the angel of death, or the general force of death itself.



Shemesh is also briefly mentioned in the Bible, but only the name of a city, Beth Shemesh, which was taken over during the initial conquest by Joshua. Shemesh is the god of the sun. In fact, saying that Shemesh is the god of the sun would be greatly redundant, as Shemesh is literally a Near Eastern word for “sun”. In some other Near Eastern cultures he was also a god of justice. According to evidence found in Ugarit, he was actually identified as a female goddess named Shapash. In the Baal cycle she goes into grief when Baal is temporarily killed, depriving the earth of light. She is persuaded to shine again and is instrumental in searching the earth of Baal.


The god of the sea and of chaos, Yam was the first-born son of El and thus had his favor. But he was also a temperamental, angry god, raging at the presence of most of the other gods as well as the humans. He terrorized the seas through his seven-headed serpent Lotan. Yam and Lotan may also have been the same being. Baal slays Lotan and Yam with the help of two clubs fashioned by Kothar. The description of Baal slaying Lotan actually receives a reference in the Bible, as God is said to have slain the great serpent.

Other Gods

Baalit: Alternate consort for both El and Baal

Eshmun: Healing deity

Ilisha: Baal’s messenger

Kotharat: Goddesses of childbirth, divine midwives

Melqart: Patron god of Tyre and also lord of the underworld

Nikkal: Goddess of fruit and vegetation. Check this hymn to Nikkal, one of the oldest reconstructed piece of music.

Qetesh: Sex goddess who was also worshipped by the Egyptians. A surviving image shows her standing on a lion.

Resheph: Plague and war god, also the god of deer

Sedek: God of righteousness

Tanit: Carthaginian mother goddess, associated with lions

Yarikh: Moon god and lover of Nikkal


The above picture is Qetesh on a lion. To the right is Resheph, another Canaanite deity that was popular in Egypt. To the left is Min, an Egyptian god of sexual fertility (perhaps you can notice an unusual feature about him).

Human Tales

Danel & Aqhat

Danel was the wise and righteous ruler of the Haranamites. He is considered a culture hero, though the only known text about him is more about his son Aqhat. Danel prayed to El for a son. Seeing how distressed he was, El granted his wish and gave him Aqhat. Later, Aqhat was given a special bow by the god Kothar, since he and his father had shown him great hospitality. However, Anat wanted this bow and when Aqhat repeatedly refused all of her bribes and demands, she had him killed by her henchman Yatpan. Aqhat’s death caused a string of misfortunes, including a great famine. Aqhat was brought back to life, saving the world. Much of the story is missing, but assumedly Yatpan was killed, as his father swore to find the murderer and kill him.


Keret (also known as Kirta) was a noble king, but all of his wives died prematurely, leaving him no heirs. He begged El for a son. El told him to war against the city of Udum and ask for its princess. To give his victory extra assurance, Keret asked war goddess Athirat for help, promising a sumptuous tribute. Keret defeated Udum and won his bride. She bore him many children. However, he foolishly forgot his oath to Athirat. Athirat bided her time, waiting until Keret’s children were older. She subjected him to a terrible disease. Keret’s children prayed to El for help, especially his daughter Tatmanat. El wanted the other gods to show mercy to Keret, but they all refused. El intervened himself and sent a winged woman to heal the king. Keret’s troubles were not over, as one of his own sons challenged his rule, forcing him to kill his own flesh and blood to protect his kingship. After this little of the text remains. A popular theory for how the story continues and concludes is that Keret ultimately paid for shirking his promised tribute to Athirat, with all of his children save Tatmanat dying.



Coogan, Michael D. Stories from Ancient Canaan 2nd. Edition Westminster John Knox Press. 2012 (first edition in 1978)

Various, Epics of Early Civilization: Myths of the Ancient Near East Time-Life books. 2000

The Bible

Top Ten Norse/Germanic Gods and Goddesses

Of all the mythologies, that of the Norse is second to the Greeks’ in terms of influence on the western civilization, though Egyptian mythology has perhaps surpassed it in popularity over the last couple centuries. The recent Marvel superhero movies have certainly helped with the Thor franchise, though the Valkyries and several of the gods and heroes have captured public imagination thanks to the operas of Wagner. Before listing the gods, I should give a little background in how they are organized. There are two pantheons of gods: the Aesir and Vanir. There really isn’t too much of a difference between them, though the Aesir appear to be more prominent as in addition to ruling Asgard, they have the king-god Odin. According to myths, the Aesir and Vanir warred for a while before coming up with a treaty. Both Aesir and Vanir deities were worshipped by the Norse peoples. There are also deities outside of these two groups, more monster than man, such as the dragon Nidhogg and the serpent Jormungandr. The prophecy of Ragnarok claims that almost all of the gods will die in a a great final battle against the giants and a host of monsters, including Loki. This list may cover bits of German mythology, as the Germanic peoples virtually worshipped the same gods under different names.

10th. Freyr

A Vanir, Freyr is the son of sea god Njord and brother of  Freyja. Freyr and Freyja moved to Asgard following the ending of the Aesir-Vanir war to ensure peace. Freyr and Freyja are both beautiful gods, and both oversee fertility, as well as aspects of sexuality. Freyr himself is the god of male virility and good weather. Depictions of him often involve a large penis. He also owns a shining boar named Gullinbursti, who was literally fashioned by the dwarves using pig skin. Freyr once owned a magic sword that could fight on its own, but had to give it away. What brought this around was his love of the giantess Geror. He asked his servant Skirnir to get her on his behalf, but Skirnir demanded that he get the sword. Freyr agreed. This will come back to bite him later when he battles Surtur. Without his magic sword, he will fall before the fire giant.

Thanks to his association with agriculture and sexuality, Freyr became one of the most popular gods. He was even given rulership over Alfheim, land of the elves. Occasions which saw him receive sacrifices (often in the form of a boar) included weddings and harvests. There is evidence that he received much human sacrifice. In Uppsala, Sweden, worshippers used to throw slaves into a well. Whatever the form of worship, Freyr was obviously one of the most popular gods of his time.

9th. Heimdall

Heimdall is the watchman of the gods, standing guard over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that leads to Asgard. He is the son of nine mothers, however that’s supposed to work. He does not preside over any human affairs, but is nevertheless very important to the gods. He has remarkable abilities related to his guard duties. He can hear anything, and his sight is so good that it penetrates time. He is equipped with Gjallarhorn, a loud horn which he sounds whenever Asgard is in danger. Heimdall has the unenviable task of being on the lookout for the chaotic Loki, a feud which will reach a fatal climax at Ragnarok. Heimdall will sound his horn one last time as the giants invade Asgard. He and Loki will then kill each other at the end of the last battle.

8th. Eostre


Eostre is probably the least well-known deity on this list, though she did get a significant role in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. She is the goddess of spring and you can guess which holiday is named after her. There are some theories that Eostre is a Christian invention of Saint Bede, and that she is a representative of various dawn and spring goddesses. On the other hand, similar and ancient Germanic names and words among the Germanic names have been found to support her place as an ancient goddess. Eostre is associated with hares (hence the easter bunny). There are no stories about Eostre, but I do find her connection with a holiday people still celebrate fascinating.

7th. Njord

A Vanir and father of Freyr and Freyja (thorugh sister/wife Nerthus), Njord is a god of the sea, which naturally made him an important deity among the seafaring Vikings. The only significant myth about Njord is his marriage to the giantess Skadi. Thjazi, Skadi’s father, had just been killed after trying to steal the immortality-granting apples of Asgard. Not wanting to have another war on their hands, the gods agreed to meet some of Skadi’s demands for compensation. One of these was to give her a husband from among the gods, but she could only choose by looking at their feet. She chose the one with the finest feet, believing they must belong the handsome Baldur, but it turned out she had chosen Njord. This marriage proved to be difficult. Skadi’s home was in the snow-capped mountains (she doubles as a winter deity who enjoys skiing), so it was too cold for Njord. Likewise, Skadi couldn’t stand Njord’s seaside home on the beach. Thus they agreed to only spend half a year with each other. When he has been away from Skadi too long, Njord gets into a fitful state, resulting in sea storms.

6th. Hel


Hel is the daughter of a bizarre affair between Loki and a giantess (more on that later). Her upper body is healthy, but below her waist it is shriveled rotted. He face is half-beautiful and half-ugly. This frightful figure rules Nilflheim, the realm of the dead. Hel displays indifference towards both humanity and the gods, simply presiding over the dead in a gloomy afterlife (by contrast, the fate of those dead heroes is the paradise of Valhalla, which could only have encouraged the historical Vikings to pursue constant warfare in order to avoid Hel). Hel has a great hound guarding her realm named Garm. Nilflheim itself is sometimes called Hel, leading many to believe that the goddess is merely a personification of a place, much like how Hades is used to describe the afterlife in the Bible.

5th. Surtr


Surtr is a giant associated with fire, thanks to the large flaming sword he owns. He resides in the realm of Muspelheim, the land of fire. Current people think of his Marvel comics version, which is a giant, horned fire demon, but more traditionally he is portrayed as just a giant with an affinity for fire. Surtr does not really do anything notable until Ragnarok, though the gods dread his coming throughout the myths. In the final battle, he will be the most destructive force, setting fire to everything, both the realms of the gods and earth. Out of this flame shall arise a new earth. The belief that the world would be consumed by fire may have originated thanks to the Icelandic people’s proximity to volcanoes There is no mention of Surtr getting his comeuppance after burning all of creation. I put him on this list because he of all the enemies of Asgard actually gets to succeed for a while.

4th. Tyr

One of the chief war gods among the Norse and Germanic peoples was Tyr (called Tiwaz by some). Tyr was very popular, and was even in a way worshipped by the Romans, who equated him with Mars, one of their primary gods. In addition to presiding over war, Tyr is also the god of honor and justice.

Tyr’s parentage varies from source to source. He is either the son of a giant or Odin himself. His most well known myth involves Fenrir. One of the children of Loki, Fenrir was a monstrous wolf who broke every bond the gods attempted to place on him. The gods wanted to bind him because they had grim prophecies about what the beast would do to them. Finally, the dwarves constructed a magical ribbon that could bind Fenrir, but the wolf refused to let the gods use it, since he suspected that the harmless-looking ribbon was a trick. He said he would agree if one of the gods placed his hand in his mouth as insurance. Tyr volunteered, knowing that Fenrir would surely bite him once he was trapped. He bravely placed his hand inside as the wolf was bound. Angered when he couldn’t break free, Fenrir bit off Tyr’s hand. Tyr will die in Ragnarok at the hands of another great dog, the hell hound Garm, though he will take his opponent out with him.

Tuesday is named after Tyr.

3rd. Odin

Odin, or Wotan (as he is known in Wagner’s Ring Cycle), is the all-father, the ruler of the Aesir. Odin is a god of knowledge and wisdom, and also of war. In many cultures, anyone killed in battle was considered a sacrifice to Odin. Thanks primarily to the Thor movies Odin is seen as a noble, caring ruler. This is far from the way the myths portray him. He is violent, manipulative, and like Zeus always has an eye out for attractive mortal women. Speaking of an eye, Odin only has one. Hearing that further knowledge could be gained from the well of Mimir, he set out to acquire it. Mimir said he could only drink the well’s water if he was willing to cut out an eye and cast it in. Odin was willing and got his knowledge. Odin has since been known by his alter ego of the One-Eyed Wanderer, wielding a large walking staff

Odin also gained wisdom by literally sacrificing himself to himself, hanging from a tree for nine days. He refused all help, suffering until at last the Germanic runes appeared to him, along with all their secrets and magic. Odin thus gained not just more wisdom and knowledge, but mastery over magic. Thus his worshippers would also hang people in sacrificial honor to Odin, sometimes volunteering themselves.

Odin is linked to several special animals. He has two ravens, Huginn and Muginn, who go about observing creation and reporting back to him so that he might have more knowledge. He has an eight-legged horse Sleipnir, actually the offspring of Loki and a horse. Odin also has charge over Valhalla. The Valkyries, winged female warriors on horses collect many of the war dead, bringing them to Valhalla. When Ragnarok comes, these soldiers, the Einherjar, will ride out with Odin to battle the force of evil. This will not save Odin, who will be devoured by Fenrir.

Wednesday is named after Odin (or more accurately the alternate name Woden).

2nd. Loki

Loki is the most complex character in Norse mythology. A trickster figure, he plays pranks on the gods, but just as often uses his wits to aid them. His trickery eventually morphs into full-fledged villainy. Loki is the son of the giant Laufey, but for some reason was accepted among the gods of Asgard. He would play many tricks on them, but would usually find a way to fix the problems he caused. He is something of a jester figure. He amused Skadi the giantess with physical humor in order to get her through her anger. He was able to point out the flaws of the other gods with painful accuracy in the Flyting of Loki. He also fathered three horrific figures with the giantess Angborda. These included the ravenous wolf Fenrir, the great serpent Jormungandr, and the goddess of the dead Hel.

One example is the case of the apples of Idun. Having a squabble with an eagle, Loki was lifted by the bird. He learned that he had been abducted by the shape-shifting giant Thjazi. He begged to be released. Thjazi agreed, but only as long as Loki would bring Idun, the tender of the apples that give the gods their immortality, to his home. Loki went to Idun and lured her away from Asgard by saying he had found fruits more marvelous than hers. Idun fell for this and found herself imprisoned by Thjazi. When the gods started to age, they learned the truth and threatened to kill Loki if he didn’t get Idun back. He turned into a bird and flew to Thjazi’s house, where he transformed Idun into a nut so he could carry her back. Thjazi gave chase in his eagle form, but was killed in a fire trap.

After another of his pranks, Loki learned that he was to be beheaded by Thor, per the terms of a deal he had made. But he cleverly pointed out that it was impossible to take off his head without taking part of his neck with him. Thor agreed, and then proceeded to sew his mouth shut. Loki ripped his mouth open, resulting in a crooked, ugly smile. Perhaps this incident played a major pat in his most infamous scheme. The god of light and beauty, Baldur, was immune to all harm, as his mother had made everything in creation swear never to kill him. Loki saw this as a challenge, and learned that the mistletoe had not sworn such an oath, since it was so small and harmless. He created a spear with mistletoe on its tip and tricked the blind god Hod into throwing it at Baldur. Baldur was killed. Frigg learned that Baldur would be resurrected if she could convince every creature to weep for him. However, a cruel giantess refused to weep. This giantess turned out to be Loki, who this time did not seek to undo the damage he caused.

Fed up with Loki, the other gods pursued him in a long-winded chase, finally catching him and chaining him inside a cave. They placed a venomous snake above him, which drip venom on him. Loki’s wife Sigyn eases his torments by catching the venom in a dish, but sometimes it overflows, brining Loki great pain. Loki will be freed in time for Ragnarok, joining an army of giants and monsters against Asgard. Loki and Heimdall will slay each other.

1st. Thor

No Norse god is more well known than Thor, and I agree that he is the best. He is the god of thunder, lightning, and battle, and has the specific role of protecting mankind, making him far more altruistic than most other gods. He has a fiery temper, and the red hair and beard to match. His greatest weapon is Mjolnir, a great hammer crafted by dwarves. The hammer is so heavy and powerful that Thor needs to wear enchanted gloves and a belt. Thor also has a chariot pulled by two magical goats, who themselves can grow back after being killed and eaten.

Thor, along with Loki, has the lion’s share of surviving myths. One recounts his battle with the giant Hrungnir. Hrungnir lost a race with Odin and was afterwards was invited to dine at Asgard. He became drunk and began to insult and threaten the gods, even claiming to take the loveliest, Freyja and Sif, Thor’s wife, back home with him. Thor himself was gone, and was furious when he came to the hall to see his family threatened by the giant. He challenged Hrungnir to a duel, winning with a great blow to the head with Mjolnir.

Thor’s adventures could also be comical. These tales involve trips with Loki, god of mischief. Once Thor awoke to find Mjolnir missing. Loki learned that the giant Thrymr had stolen and buried it, and would only return it if Freyja was given to him as a wife. Loki informed Thor, who reluctantly agreed to disguise himself as Freyja by wearing a dress that veiled his features. Thrymr was ecstatic to have the lovely Freyja in his home, though he was baffled by how she was able to consume so much food and mead. Loki explained that she had not eaten in over a week. Thrymr than started to lift the veil for a kiss, but saw Thor’s fearsome red eyes. He backed away in startlement. Loki explained that the eyes were a result of too little sleep. Thrymr finally moved forward with the marriage, having Mjolnir brought in to sanctify it. Thor quickly took his hammer and, while still in his bridal dress, beat up the giants before speeding away.

Thor is fated to kill the great serpent Jormungandr, but he himself will die as it will poison him first. Thor almost averted this prophecy when he speared the serpent on a fishing trip. He could kill it and possibly gain survival past Ragnarok. However, his aide, the giant Hymir, was so terrified of the beast that he let it go. Thus Thor’s demise is ensured.

Thursday is named after Thor.

Five Other Notable Norse/Germanic Deities

Baldur: The god of light and beauty, Baldur was the most virtuous and beloved of the gods, and despite his death he will come back to life to lead the new gods after Ragnarok.

Freyja: The sister of Freyr, Freyja is primarily the goddess of love, sex, and fertility, though she also oversees aspects of war. She drives a chariot pulled by two large cats. Freyja is the most lovely Asgardian, and many antagonists have concocted schemes to force her into a marriage.

Frigg: Frigg is Odin’s wife and therefore queen of the Asgardians. Friday is named after her.

Hermod: This is the messenger of the gods, basically the Norse Hermes.

Sif: The wife of Thor, Sif is an agricultural goddess noted for her golden hair. Loki once shaved her head, a prank that saw him get battered by a furious Thor.


Cotterell, Arthur : Norse Mythology: The Myths and Legends of the Nordic Gods Annes Publishing Limited, 1997

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