“A coward thinks he will live forever if only he can shun warfare.”
In medieval Norse Mythology, everyone including the gods lived with the knowledge of imminent death, yet as a society they lived courageously. If you ever wondered where heroism was immortalized as the gold standard of soldiers fighting foreign wars, immigrants going to unknown countries in search of something better for their families, and countless stories throughout the ages, look no further than Norse mythology. Although Greek mythology had more than its fair share of heroes, the heroes of those tales were blessed on a higher level. The gods of ancient Greece were immortal, nothing could harm them, and they were destined to live forever. The same is not true for Norse gods. In Norse mythology, regardless of how brave a hero fought or how powerful a god was, it was their destiny to all die. In Norse tales, gods and heroes often died and suffered, but they did so courageously. Finding victory even in death through bravery. It was written in their legacy, their fate that they would all die someday during Ragnarok, yet they all fought for survival and good. Knowing, none of it matters in the end.
The role of the gods and heroes differed very much from Greek mythology, Odin the sky-god made many sacrifices and underwent days of pain including giving up his eye for wisdom and being hung for nine nights in order to unlock magical inscriptions that he could share with the people of Midgard (Earth). Zeus on the other hand, chained the titan Prometheus to a rock when he stole fire from the gods and shared it with humanity, destined to have his liver eaten by an eagle every day and magically regrow every night. Unlike the Greek gods, Norse gods existed to serve their people.
“Brave men can live well anywhere. A coward dreads all things.”
Mythology is a reflection of the culture, troubles, and ideas of a people. Even with the knowledge of impending doom lingering overhead, the gods and heroes of medieval Norway and Scandinavia fought for what was right. Perhaps this is a result of the harsh conditions of living in the high-north sub-arctic region. Every day for them was a struggle in their unforgiving environment and the heroes of their tales acted as a constant reminder that people who fight through the pain are the true heroes. The hope of making it to Valhalla kept them going. Valhalla was the Hall of the Slain. It was a great hall overseen by Odin where heroes went to live in bliss and be honored until Ragnarok swept everything away. True heroism was understanding that in the end, you can lose, yet you do it anyway. The Greeks, acted with the hopes of internal life if they were mortal and the knowledge of invulnerability if they were a god. Norse heroes died, and their gods were doomed to the same fate. Courage came from bravery, not acts of glory. This was the basis of their entire culture, and evident in almost all their stories.
If you wish to empower people through great struggle, even with impending failure lingering overhead, remind them courage is the mark of heroism. It’s not about the glory, or the fame. Rather the knowledge that you overcame the paralyzing fear of failure that keeps so many people from acting at all. Organizations should instill this culture of sacrifice for the greater good if they want to bring their people closer together. There is a saying in the military, that you may have heard, “until we meet again in the halls of Valhalla were the brave shall live forever brother...I raise a toast for you and yours.” It’s a bond shared amongst warriors over generations, and commonly said during the passing of a warrior. Bravery is knowing you can fail and going for it anyway and honor is not about anything more than being brave. That is heroism.
“The mind knows only what lies near the heart.”