Thor's iron gloves made Thor stronger than he was without them. Thor's gloves were one of Thor's three crucial possessions: the hammer Mjölnir, the belt of strength Megingjörð, and the iron gloves Járngreipr.
Added to his already formidable strength, these three possessions made Thor (god of thunder) stronger than any man or god. Even his father, Odin, wasn’t as strong as Thor when he had his gloves, the belt Megingjörð, and hammer.
Despite being an important part of Thor’s arsenal, Thor’s gloves aren’t mentioned as often as Mjölnir. Still, the existence of Thor’s gloves and their use make them an integral part of Norse mythology.
What were Thor’s gloves made of?
Thor’s gloves were made of iron.
They were called Járngreipr, which means iron gauntlets in Old Norse.
While wearing them, Thor could crush boulders with little effort. The iron gloves were sturdy with the flexibility of leather.
Why did Thor need his gloves?
There are a lot of different theories about whether or not Thor needed his iron gloves. Some traditions insist that Mjölnir was useless without Járngreipr. Other legends credit the giantess Grid lending Thor gloves and a magic belt well after Thor’s hammer was given to him by Loki.
Snorri Sturluson’s the Prose Edda is considered one of the foremost Norse mythology works of his time. In Sturluson’s account, the iron gloves were required to use Thor’s hammer. There are a few theories about why this is.
Theory 1: the iron gloves were required to wield Mjölnir
In one such theory, Loki turns himself into a gadfly, harassing the dwarves Brokkr and Sindri while they are forging Mjölnir. Biting the dwarves in the eye caused them to make Mjölnir’s shaft too short. Because of this and the weapon’s balance, iron gloves were required to wield the hammer.
Theory 2: the iron gloves helped protect Thor’s hands from Mjölnir’s force
Another theory holds that Thor’s hammer was so powerful when it returned to Thor’s hand that the force would harm Thor unless he wore the iron gloves.
Theory 3: Mjölnir was so heavy Thor could hold it only with the gloves on
The gloves were also required to throw the hammer because it was so heavy Thor couldn’t hold it without them. Given what is known of Thor’s strength, both these theories seem unlikely.
Disputing the Prose Edda’s interpretation of Why Thor needed Járngreipr
It’s also important to note that Snorri Sturluson’s account is strongly influenced by his own Christian religion. Sturluson was known to believe the Norse gods were simply kings eventually turned into pagan deities through oral traditions and superstitions. As Christianity slowly quashed the pagan religions of the indigenous people, it was common to depict gods as weak without their weapons to take away some of their power.
Viking-era art also depicts Thor both with the gloves and without while using Mjölnir. Many surviving rune stones invoking Thor feature Thor’s hammer but not the gloves or the belt.
This omission further supports the theory that the gloves were given to Thor by the giantess Grid to increase the strength of Thor’s hammer.
Thor’s gloves attestations in Norse Mythology
Thor’s gloves are not mentioned much in Norse mythology. Even in the Prose Edda, the iron gloves are given only a passing mention. Much more emphasis is placed on Thor’s divine strength, known in Old Norse as Asmegin. This strength is more commonly associated with Thor’s belt of strength.
Norse mythology consistently focuses on Thor’s strength, upholding the idea that his crucial possessions only enhance what Thor already had. It is well established in the Old Norse myths that Thor was able to kill giants at a very young age.
Since Thor was known as the strongest of men and gods, it seems logical that Thor’s iron gloves weren’t required for Thor to lift and use his hammer, Mjölnir. Looking at all the information available through the Viking ruins that survived the spread of Christianity and the oral traditions passed down through generations, it seems far more likely that the mighty Thor was able to use his hammer before owning his gloves and belt.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Jarngreipr were a vital part of Thor’s weaponry.