The northern lands are steeped in mythology and this is the theme chosen
to launch the new Nordic postage stamp alliance: Top of the World of
The Nordic region comprises Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Åland,
Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. For the first time ever, all
eight national postal service organizations have issued single-theme
stamps in a simultaneous pan-Nordic release.
Although the Nordic postal service organizations have jointly issued
a so-called Nordic stamp since 1956, the first being five flying swans
symbolizing the five participating countries, the dates of release have
varied and never before has the entire group joined hands under a single
Three releases are planned. The first is the fantastic and interpretive
series on Norse mythology, released in March 2004. Eight stamp blocks
containing one to two stamps each depicts Norse myths viewed through
the lens of each culture. The second and third releases, themes not
yet announced, are planned for 2006 and 2008.
A beautiful presentation folder features all eight stamp blocks. The
outer format is the same for all blocks. The myths are illustrated on
the stamp blocks and in the accompanying text, composed in the countries'
native languages as well as German and English.
The myths in a postage stamp
Nordic mythology tells the tale of the creation and of the world, of
gods, goddesses and divine beings, their lives and deeds. Originally,
the myths were passed down orally. Most of the written tradition that
we know today, e.g. Eddic and skaldic verse, was not written down until
the thirteenth century. The myths are rooted in a distant past and were
of vital importance to the lives of the Nordic people in the centuries
preceding the introduction to Christianity.
The 'in a nutshell' stories chosen by each country are told below.
Norway: Njord and Baldur
Though the Norse god Njord is one of the Vanir, he is also included
as one of the Aesir. (The Vanir are one of the two pantheons of gods
in Norse mythology: together with Aesir they are collectively known
as the Asa.) Njord is the god of seamanship and sailing in Norse mythology,
marshalling favourable weather and auspicious winds to assist fishermen
and seafarers. Baldur, Odin's second son and the god of innocence, beauty,
joy, purity and peace, is impervious to everything save mistletoe. The
god of mischief, Loki, gave a magical spear made from this plant to
Baldur's blind brother, the god Hod, who inadvertently killed his brother
Sweden: Meeting in Valhalla
The stamps depict a warrior riding into Valhalla, Odin's Hall, where
he will likely encounter a Valkyrie. She cradles a drinking horn and
welcomes the newcomer. The design was inspired by runestones found on
the Swedish island of Gotland.
According to the Kalevala (the Finnish national epic), Luonnotar is
the mother of water and maiden of the air. Feeling lonely and unfulfilled
she dropped into the ocean where she was impregnated by the foamy waves.
Eventually, a duck landed on her knee, looking for somewhere to nest.
Its eggs rolled off her lap and into the slimy depths of the ocean from
which their broken pieces emerged as the earth, the heavens, the sun,
the moon and the stars.
Denmark: Heimdal and Gefion
The Old Norse god Heimdal is the guardian of the gods. He dwells in
the heavens, guarding Bifrost, the bridge between Asgaard and Midgaard.
Gefion, the goddess of fertility, bore four sons to a giant. Gefion
transformed her sons to oxen and the land mass they plowed in Sweden
became the Danish island Sjaelland. The resultant hole became Lake Vaener.
Åland: Fenja and Menja
Fenja and Menja were two maid-servants. They were large and strong.
King Frode instructed them to grind gold for him. One night the sea-king,
Mysing, slew Frode. He took aboard his ship Fenja and Menja and instructed
them to grind salt. The ship sank, but Fenja and Menja continued to
grind salt at the bottom of the sea; thus explaining the salinity of
Greenland: The Moon Man and the Northern Lights
The Greenland issue differs from the others by using an Inuit legend.
The Moon Man, clad in a polar bear hide, governed human and animal fertility,
natural phenomena and even the hunting patterns of seal hunters. The
Northern Lights illuminate the night sky when the dead play with a walrus
Iceland: Odin and Sleipner
Odin is widely considered the supreme god of Norse mythology. Odin and
his brother created the world and the first people. He is omnipotent
and all-knowing. From his throne, Hildskälf, he has a view of the
entire world. Odin's steed, Sleipner, has eight legs. When the world
ends, Fenris swallows Odin(Fenris is a wolf; the son of Loki and the
Faroe Islands: Thor and Ran
Ran, sometimes referred to as 'the goddess of the drowned', was the
treacherous goddess of the seas and waters in Norse mythology. She had
nine daughters called billow maidens. So beloved was Thor by the Faroese
that they named their capital, Torshavn, after him.
To view all the stamps blocks and the folder, go to the Top
of the World of Stamps website. The stamps may be ordered individually
or together in the Top of the World of Stamps folder from any of the
participating postal service organizations: