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In Norse mythology Gungnir was the name given to Odin's trusty spear. Being a god of war Odin was often depicted with Gungnir by his side and was wielding it in many of the norse sagas in which he appeared. This along with his single eye was often one of the ways in which the character in Viking art could be identified as the Allfather.
Odin and Gungnir
Like many of the other great weapons on Norse Mythology Gungnir was made by the Dwarves, who were famous for being master craftsmen. The spear was made when Loki cut the hair of Sif, Thor's wife, without her permission. Her hair was beautiful and golden, so both her and Thor were greatly angered by Loki's actions. After being threatened by Thor, Loki begrudgingly agreed to help find a replacement for Sif, so he travelled to Svartalfheim, the realm of the Dwarves, to procure one.
Loki commissioned the sons of the famous dwarf Ivaldi to make the new hair for Sif, in addition to two other items. They made the hair, and also crafted the greatest ship of all time, Skidbladnir, which always had a favourable wind no matter which direction it sailed. Finally they made Gungnir, the most lethal spear.
Despite these items exceeding expectations Loki was not satisfied and decided to take advantage of the situation by approaching two other dwarven brothers, Brokkr and Sindri, and challenged them to do a better job than the previous craftsmen.
The two brothers were not the types to back down from a challenge, so they got to work in their forge. First they created Draupnir, a golden ring which would multiply even nine days and produce eight more just like itself. They also created a boar with beautiful golden hair named Gullinbursti, who had the ability to run faster than any horse.
Finally the two brothers made Thor's famous hammer Mjolnir, which was the most powerful weapon in existence and had the ability to level entire mountain ranges in a single stroke. It was said that since he did not want to lose his bet Loki transformed into a fly and bit the dwarf on the eyelid, causing him to slip and making Mjolnir with its charicteristically short handle.
Upon his return to Asgard Loki gave the hair to Sif, he also gifted Mjolnir to Thor and gave Odin Draupnir and Gungnir as a gift.
Since Odin was the leader of the Aesir, the most powerful tribe of Gods, it comes as no surprise that his weapon of choice, Gungnir, was extremely deadly. The spear was said to have runes engraved along its head, which was thought to have some kind of magical benefits to the user, as runes so often did in Norse Mythology. There have been various discoveries by archeologists of Viking age spears with runes carved along their head in the same manner, perhaps in an attempt to imitate Gungnir.
Odin the wanderer (featuring Gungnir) - Georg Von Rosen, 1886
In addition to being deadly sharp Gungnir was designed to be perfectly balanced and it was said that anyone who wielded it would always hit their target regardless of their skill or strength.
In the saga where Odin discovered the secrets of runes and later gifted them to mankind he had to hang himself from Yggdrasil and stabbed himself with Gungnir at the same time as a form of sacrifice. For this reason it was common for a spear to be used when the Viking shamans would make their sacrifices to Odin.
Gungnir also makes an appearance in the saga describing the war between the two clans of Norse Mythological gods, the Aesir and Vanir. In the saga Odin lead the Aesir into battle whilst wielding Gungnir and before the fighting began he launched the spear over the heads of the enemy troops and shouted 'Óðinn á yðr alla' which in English translates to 'Odin owns all of you!'.
This practice of throwing a spear over the enemies head and shouting the phrase was also carried out by vikings before they went into battle in an attempt to mimic the actions of Odin and gain his favour in the hopes that we would grant them victory.
Odin with Gungnir displayed on the Library of congress John Adams building in Washington D.C - Lee Lawrie, 1939
In its final appearance Gungnir is wielded by Odin during his fight against Fenrir at the battle of Ragnarok. This was said to be the end of days in Norse Mythology and would be the death of the gods. Despite knowing their fate the Aesir would still decide to go into battle. Leading from the front Odin would march his Eingerjar, the slain warriors who were waiting in Valhalla, to meet the forces of chaos on the battlefield.
With Gungnir in his hand the all father would do battle with the giant wolf Fenrir. Unfortunately for the Gods they would lose this battle and Odin would be slain by the great wolf and swallowed whole. This symbolised the end of the world, and in some versions of the story the beginning of a new one.
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