In Norse* mythology, the god Heimdall stood guard over Asgard, the home of the gods. He lived near Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connected Asgard to the world of humans and from there kept watch for the approach of the giants, who were the enemies of the gods. Heimdall had incredibly sharp senses that allowed him to see great distances even at night and to hear sounds as soft as wool growing on sheep or grass growing. Furthermore, he needed little sleep.
According to legend, Heimdall would one day call the other gods to Ragnarok, the final battle that would result in the destruction of gods and humans. When the giants drew near to Asgard, Heimdall would summon the gods by blowing his horn, Gjallarhorn, which could be heard all over creation. During the battle, Heimdall would kill the evil trickster god Loki and then meet his own death.
Sometimes called Rig (meaning king), Heimdall was considered the father of all people on earth. According to legend, he traveled around the earth and stayed three nights with married couples from different social classes. First, he visited some serfs, then some peasants, and finally a noble couple. Nine months after each visit, a child was born to each couple. The first was an ugly but strong boy named Thrall, who became the ancestor of all serfs. The second, Karl, was skilled at farmwork and became the ancestor of all peasants. Jarl, the last of the children, was intelligent and quick to learn the skills of hunting and combat. He became the ancestor of all warriors and nobles. The words thrall, karl, and jarl mean serf, farmer, and nobleman in the Norse language.
trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples
serf a peasant bound to a lord and required to work the lord's land
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.