Thor’s River

As I mentioned in my last post I’ve recently moved house. I’ve moved to the town of Thurso on Scotland’s north coast (the northernmost town on the UK mainland!). This is quite exciting for me as it’s the first time in over a decade I’ve been settled in one place – a glorious change from the nomadic lifestyle I’ve led up until now. My new home is just a few minutes’ walk away from the beach, from which, when the weather is good, I can see right across to Orkney.

Around a thousand years ago the area was settled by the Vikings whose legacy can still be felt here, and heard in many local place names. Thurso itself derives from Thor’s River, Thor being the traditionally fierce, hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder and storms. Popular accounts of Thor tend to focus on his unyielding strength and bravery, his ferocity in battle and of course his hammer Miolnir, with which he would regularly do battle with marauding giants. This take on Thor has always struck me as being particularly male, making him a powerful, aspirational figure for a Norseman setting out to raid – or to defend his lands against raiders sent by a rival Jarl.

However, digging a little deeper reveals that, as with most things about the Norse, Thor was a lot more complicated than as he’s usually portrayed. His wife Sif was an Earth Goddess and, alongside the tempests and thunderstorms, Thor also brought the rain that watered and fertilised the fields. As a result Thor was closely linked to the provision and preservation of the home. And so Thor, along with Odin, is another remnant of the Bronze Age cult of the Sky God, whose divine marriage to the Earth Goddess ensured the fertility of the land and the prosperity of its people.

In popular culture Thor’s marriage to Sif is often overlooked. Some argue that the Christian missionaries who recorded the oral traditions of the culture wanted to play up the image of him as a violent brute who sometimes dressed up as a girl, and play down the image of him as a family man. However I’ve come to believe that Thor is in many ways defined by this female presence. It gives his warlike behaviour a purpose beyond simple savagery. He fights to defend and enrich home, family and community. Just as a Norseman might aspire to be like Thor, so a fiercely independent Viking freewoman might see Thor-like qualities as making excellent husband material. He’s handsome, he’s brave, he’s paternal and he’s fiercely protective. Now that I live in Thurso, it seems only natural to somehow honour its deity namesake and heathen legacy. With this piece I want to show a young and vibrant elemental Thor as seen from a female perspective, a devoted guardian and homemaker instead of the stereotypical thuggish head-breaker.

View from Thurso Bay towards Orkney.
Where the earth meets the sky.

As ever I’m interested in your thoughts. If you want to discuss any of the ideas I’m exploring with this image, the image itself, or you just want to tell me to get on with doing it in colour – say so below!

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