Cats in Norse mythology

The Norse goddess Freya (Freyja) had a chariot drawn by two large grey or blue cats (possibly Norwegian Forest Cats) called “Gib-cats” in the Prose Edda (a collection of Norse tales compiled in 1220 A.D. by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson). They were given to her by Thor and used by Freya to travel to the funeral of her lover, Baldur. Like Bast, she was a goddess of hunting and warfare as well as a goddess of love and beauty and the cat was her sacred animal. Freya apparently had such a soft spot for cats that she would bless people who were kind to them. If there was fine weather on the day of a wedding, the bride was said to have “fed the cat well”.

Fenrir (the wolf god who was the son of Loki the trickster) was destined to destroy Odin during Ragnarök (the battle at the end of the world) but was restrained by a magical chain known as Gleipnir (“deceiver” or “entangler”) which was made of six magical ingredients: the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, the spit of a bird, and the sound of a cat walking.

Utgard-Loki (king of the Frost Giants who are the enemies of the gods of Asgard) gave Thor a number of tasks to test his strength, one of which was lifting a huge cat. When Thor was only able to lift one paw Utgard-Loki and the other giants laughed at him and said he was weak – but later Utgard-Loki came clean and admitted that the cat was in fact the serpent Jormungandr (another of Loki’s sons also known as the “Midgard Serpent” or “World Serpent” who is destined to die at the hand of Thor during Ragnarök.

As this serpent was large enough to encircle the world, the cat was a great deal heavier than it appeared and the giants were secretly impressed by his strength. The myth goes on to state that Thor’s victory will be short-lived as he is destined to take only nine steps (the number of lives of a cat) after killing Jormungandr before dying himself.

A Scandinavian Folk Tale tells of a cat who helps a poor man. The cat wins a silver castle full of gold and jewels by tricking a troll who lived in the castle into talking until sunrise, at which point the troll turned to stone. The cat then ordered the man to cut of its head. After some persuasion, the man did so, and the cat was transformed back into a beautiful princess who told him that she had been turned into a cat by the troll. The two married and lived happily ever after in the golden castle.