The trolls within

What can we learn from Nordic mythology today?


Photo: David Moe
David Moe followed the Zoom presentation “Troll Genesis: From Hammer to the Cross” by Britte Rasmussen Marsh as part of the online Nordic Spirit Symposium series.

Sun City, Calif.

On Jan. 14, Britte Rasmussen Marsh, a writer, researcher, and educator from Portland, Ore., gave a presentation on Zoom for the Nordic Spirit Symposium series, which she called “Troll Genesis: From Hammer to the Cross.” 

Marsh took us back in time to the origin of the universe, according to Norse mythology. It was a story of creation, the story of good vs. evil, where the gods represented good and the giants (trolls) represented evil, and where the gods were always the “winners,” and the trolls were always the “losers.”

In her presentation, Marsh artfully compared Norse mythology (Odin, Thor, and the other Norse gods) with Greek mythology and the Hebrew Torah. All were imaginary stories of creation that were passed down in an oral tradition until they were put into writing. The first known person to put the Norse stories into writing was Snorri Sturluson, who wrote down the Eddas in the 13th century in Iceland.

Marsh told the story of “The Builder,” about a giant who tried to build a place for the gods to live in an attempt to gain favor with them. Of course, the gods took advantage of the giant and killed him so they would not have to pay for the construction. 

This story reminded me of the building of the railroads in North America during the mid-1800s. Immigrants were hired to perform back-breaking labor (Europeans on the East Coast and Midwest and Chinese on the West Coast), while a few of the “good guys” got wealthy off their work.

It is the old story of good vs. evil that still exists in modern times. Of course, the “good guys” write the stories and the “bad guys” are the losers. The “good guys” wear white hats, ride white horses, while the “bad guys” wear black hats and ride black horses. In today’s mythology of stereotypes, the “good guys” are often white, and the “bad guys” are usually black, Asian, Arabs, or other minorities. 

But the real world is not a black-and-white dichotomy. The truth is that all of us have the potential to do good, while at the same time, we have the potential to do evil. Martin Luther wrote about the fact that all of us are both saint and sinner at the same time. 

I know this from my own family. My grandfather was a soft-spoken man, the father of 10 children, the town cop who took an oath to protect the town against evil. One day, however, he got into an argument with the mayor and got so angry that he went home to get his revolver to go back and shoot the mayor. As a boy, my father saw my grandmother physically take the revolver away from my grandfather.

This dichotomy of “good” and “bad” is part of our imagination, yet for many people, trolls persist in their own minds. The idea that there are good people and bad people—“winners” and “trolls”—is deeply ingrained within us, leading to prejudice, misery, and injustice. 

Winston Churchill once said that history would be good to him, because he was going to write it. We are now at a crossroads in the history of the United States. What path do we take? We must fight our own inner trolls to create a world that is fully nuanced, embracing the humanity within us all.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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David Moe

David Moe graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris, and earned his master's degree from San Francisco (Calif.) State University. He spent four years in the U.S. Navy and 32 years in the insurance business. He and his wife, Thordis, have two daughters and four grandchildren. They live in Sun City, Calif.