Hermod: The Brave Messenger of Asgard


Hermod (Hermóðr old Norse) is a lesser-known yet important god in Norse mythology. As the son of Odin, the ruler of Asgard, Hermod served a crucial role as the messenger of the gods. His name has been interpreted to mean “war spirit,” reflecting his association with courage and heroism. This brave god undertook the dangerous journey to the underworld to try and rescue his brother Baldr from death.

While Hermod may not be as famous as Thor or Odin today, he was an essential figure in Norse myths. Let’s explore the meaning of his name, his role as a messenger, his legendary ride to Helheim, and other key facts about this intrepid god.


The Meaning Behind Hermod’s Name

The Old Norse name Hermóðr has been interpreted in different ways by scholars:

  • It may come from the words “herr” meaning army and “móðr” meaning courage or fury. This would designate Hermóðr as embodying the “fury of war.”
  • It could also derive from “hermaðr” meaning warrior. This would literally characterize him as a “war-man.”
  • Hermóðr has also been translated as the “war-spirit,” highlighting his association with battle and heroism.

All of these etymologies underscore that Hermod was linked to concepts like bravery, strength, and valor. As the son of the preeminent Norse god Odin, he inherited some of his father’s warrior nature.

Hermod the Messenger

Hermod’s main role in Norse mythology was as a messenger. He is described as the one who ferries communications between the gods in Asgard. As the eloquent messenger, Hermóðr kept the gods interconnected through his swift travels and silver tongue.

Messenger gods like Hermod underscored the value that ancient Norse cultures placed on effective communication. His ability to navigate between realms and deliver messages with tact would have been seen as an essential skill.

In many ways, Hermod functioned as an extension of Odin himself. Since Odin is too preoccupied with ruling Asgard to play messenger, he appoints his brave son Hermod to take on this duty. Hermóðr’s role reflects Odin’s own wanderlust and penchant for traversing different worlds.



Hermod’s Legendary Ride to Helheim

Hermod is best known for taking the perilous ride to Helheim to try and retrieve his brother Baldr from the land of the dead. When Baldr is killed through trickery, the gods are overwhelmed with grief. Hermod volunteers to go to the underworld and plead for Baldr’s release.

To reach Helheim, Hermod must ride Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir for nine nights through deep, dark valleys. He eventually reaches the Gjöll bridge covered in shining gold, guarded by the maiden Móðguðr. After obtaining permission to cross the bridge, Hermod presses onward and downward into the depths of Helheim.

sleipnir odin's 8 legged horse

Sleipnir odin’s 8 legged horse

When Hermod finally arrives at Hel’s citadel, he finds Baldr sitting in a seat of honor next to the goddess Hel. Hermóðr beseeches Hel to let Baldr return from the dead. Though Hel is reluctant, she finally agrees to release Baldr if every living thing will weep for him.

Baldur by Johannes Gehrts

Baldur by Johannes Gehrts

Hermóðr’s courage in mounting the perilous ride to Helheim shows why he is considered the bravest of the gods. He succeeds in negotiating with Hel and giving the gods a chance to resurrect Baldr, showing his skills in communication and diplomacy. Though Baldr ultimately remains trapped in Helheim, Hermod won the admiration of the other gods through his valiant effort.

Other Myths and Legends about Hermod

While the ride to Helheim is Hermod’s most famous myth, he appears in some other Old Norse sources as well:

  • In the poem Hyndluljóð from the Poetic Edda, Hermod is described as receiving gifts from Odin just like the human hero Sigmund. This suggests Hermóðr may occasionally be portrayed as a mortal warrior rather than a god.
  • The poem Hákonarmál depicts Hermod welcoming the human king Hákon the Good to Valhalla after death. But it’s unclear whether he is meant to be a god or human hero in this context.
  • Some scholars link Hermod to the Danish king Heremod from Old English legend. Just like Hermóðr, Heremod undertakes a long exile, which could connect to Hermóðr’s journey to the underworld.

So while Hermod is firmly established as a god in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda from the 13th century, earlier references are more ambiguous. But taken together, these scattered myths still paint a picture of Hermóðr as a courageous and adventurous figure associated with Odin.

Key Facts About Hermod

  • Parents: Hermod is described as the son of Odin, though his mother is not named in sources like the Prose Edda. Some texts list Frigg as his mother.
  • Siblings: In the Prose Edda, Hermod is named as the brother of Baldr. Some sources also mention Víðarr.
  • Realm: As one of the Æsir gods, Hermod resides in Asgard.
  • Symbols: Hermod may be associated with spears, shields, swords, and staffs highlighting his skills in battle and communication. The eight-legged horse Sleipnir symbolizes his famous ride to Helheim.
  • Powers: As a god, Hermod possesses superhuman strength, speed, agility and endurance. He has magical abilities and special insight into diplomacy, debate, and tactics.


Hermod’s Legacy

While he doesn’t have the same modern name recognition as Thor or Odin, Hermod was an important member of the Norse pantheon. His role as messenger highlights the value Norse culture placed on courage, duty, communication, and intelligence. And his ride to Helheim remains one of the most thrilling adventures in Norse mythology – a testament to this often overlooked yet valiant god.

So next time you hear about the exploits of Odin and Thor, don’t forget about Hermod – the clever, brave messenger who traveled to the land of the dead itself in a quest to rescue his beloved brother.

The Role of Hermod as a Psychopomp

In addition to serving as the messenger of the gods, Hermod also takes on the role of a psychopomp in his famous journey to Helheim. A psychopomp is a being who guides souls to the afterlife. Hermóðr’s ride to retrieve Baldr’s soul establishes him as playing this psychopomp role.

Several key elements characterize Hermod as a mythological psychopomp:

  • He traverses the boundary between the living world and underworld. Hermod crosses the threshold into Helheim, the realm of the dead.
  • He navigates obstacles and guards to reach the underworld. Hermod encounters bridge guardians and gates as he descends into Helheim.
  • His quest revolves around interacting with the ruler of the underworld. Negotiating with Hel is central to Hermod’s mission.
  • He serves as an intermediary between the divine realm and underworld. Hermod moves between Asgard and Helheim.
  • His goal is to escort a soul back to the world of the living. Hermod aims to bring Baldr back from death.

This path establishes clear parallels with other mythological psychopomps, like the Greek god Hermes. It shows that even in failure, Hermod now takes a place among these famed guiding figures. He broadens his role from just a messenger to a being who mediates between life and death itself.

The Hero’s Journey of Hermod

Examining Hermóðr’s ride to Helheim reveals that it follows the classic narrative pattern of the hero’s journey. This archetypal story pattern was defined by scholar Joseph Campbell. It appears in myths worldwide. Let’s see how Hermod’s tale fits this universal structure:

  • Call to Adventure – Hermod volunteers to ride to Helheim and confront death to rescue Baldr.
  • Supernatural Aid – Odin lends Hermod his magical eight-legged horse Sleipnir.
  • Crossing the Threshold – Hermod crosses the Gjöll bridge to enter the underworld.
  • Trials – Hermod overcomes dark valleys, rivers, and gates to reach Hel.
  • Approach to Innermost Cave – Hermod arrives at Hel’s citadel, the heart of the underworld.
  • Ordeal – Hermod manages to negotiate with Hel despite her reluctance.
  • Reward – Hermod succeeds in getting Hel to agree to release Baldr.
  • Return – Hermod returns from Helheim having won a chance for Baldr’s resurrection.

So Hermod’s journey hits all the hallmarks of the prototypical hero’s story as outlined by Campbell. This shows how even minor gods like Hermóðr drew from universal heroic archetypes.

Hermod’s Enduring Legacy

While he faded from prominence with the end of Norse paganism, Hermod left an enduring mark on mythology and literature. Elements of his character lived on through later heroic figures:

  • As a psychopomp, he helped establish the tradition of otherworldly journeys that influenced works like Dante’s Divine Comedy.
  • His courage in confronting death inspired later heroes who bravely faced their mortality.
  • His diplomatic skills established an ideal of reasoned persuasion over violence.
  • His loyalty to family, shown in his quest to rescue Baldr, became a model of brotherly love.

So centuries later, Hermóðr’s legendary ride still resonates thanks to the timeless ideals it represents – bravery in the face of death, dedication to kin, and the power of communication. Though seldom remembered today, echoes of this intrepid messenger still persist in our culture’s mythology and values.

In epic fantasy literature, Hermod’s perilous journey to Helheim prefigured many tropes of the hero’s quest. Figures like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings mirror Hermod in their descent into shadowy depths and confrontation with apocalyptic evil. The unwavering loyalty driving Hermóðr also foreshadowed classic fantasy bonds between brothers-in-arms.

Through graphic novels and manga, Hermod’s myths are reenvisioned for new audiences. Series like Magnus Chase portrays him as a stalwart companion who guides heroes across mystical thresholds. Such retellings make Hermod relevant to readers shaped by 21st century values.

Hermod’s mythic adventure also pioneered a template for heroic video games. Titles like Hellblade see protagonists undergo a Hermóðrian journey of crossing into death’s domain to rescue lost souls. By taking on his mantle, digital heroes enable players to vicariously experience the intrepid god’s valor.

Even Hermod’s storied steed Sleipnir remains an icon of mythic transportation. Norse-themed bands extol his eight-legged mount in their lyrics, while games like Assassin’s Creed feature Sleipnir as a vehicle between worlds. So Hermóðr’s legacy lives on both implicitly and explicitly throughout popular culture today.

Hermod vs. Greek Mythology


Hermod shares several key traits with Orpheus from Greek mythology.

orpheus statue Paris

Orpheus’s statue Paris

Both journeyed to the underworld in hopes of retrieving a deceased loved one, demonstrating deep devotion. Hermod sought to rescue his brother Baldr while Orpheus aimed to retrieve his wife Eurydice.

Additionally, both relied on diplomacy, music, and persuasion to appeal to the rulers of the underworld rather than brute strength.

However, a key difference is that Hermod rode Odin’s magical steed Sleipnir on his quest to Helheim whereas Orpheus had to traverse the underworld on foot.

Also, Hermod was ultimately unsuccessful in permanently resurrecting Baldr while Orpheus was momentarily able to retrieve Eurydice before losing her again.


In his role as a messenger and guide between worlds, Hermod can be also compared to the Greek god Hermes.

Hermes Ingenui (Vatican Museums)

Hermes Ingenui (Vatican Museums)

Both served as emissaries of the gods and escorted souls to the afterlife. Hermod’s descent to Helheim mirrors Hermes guiding deceased souls to Hades.

Additionally, they both faced perilous obstacles on their journeys to and from the underworld. However, while Hermes escorted souls of the dead, Hermod aimed to return his living brother. And Hermod is portrayed as more solemn and noble whereas Hermes had a mischievous and clever nature.

So while Hermod shares traits with these two famous Greek mythological figures, his tale has unique elements setting him apart as a Norse hero.


The tale of the Norse god Hermóðr contains timeless themes of courage, loyalty, and sacrifice. Though he is not as widely revered today as figures like Odin and Thor, Hermod’s legendary ride to the underworld remains one of the most evocative adventures in Norse mythology.

His willingness to brave the depths of Helheim to rescue his beloved brother Baldr makes him the most valorous of the Æsir gods. Hermóðr’s myth reminds us that we too can achieve great things when we summon our courage and resolve to help those we care for deeply.

The devote messenger’s journey resonates across centuries, inspiring intrepid heroes in literature, music, and games who follow in his footsteps. So while we may overlook minor deities like Hermóðr, their stories leave an enduring cultural legacy that continues to shape imaginary worlds and ideals of heroism. Through his selfless quest, . Hermod emerges as one of the most admirable figures in Norse lore.

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