Jason Aaron’s time writing Thor – from Thor: God of Thunder to Thor to The Mighty Thor to Thor (again) to War of the Realms to King Thor – produced the defining version of the character. No one, at least in my humble opinion, has ever done more with Thor nor understood the character, their world, and its theological fertility more than Jason Aaron. Jane Foster lifting Mjölnir to become Thor herself was the heart of Aaron’s run. But for that to happen, Thor Odinson had to find himself unable to lift the hammer. This idea – the idea of Thor being unworthy – ties together much of what Aaron did. Its seeds were sown in his very first arc, as Thor faced the brutality of Gorr the God Butcher. Its actualization would lead to Jane lifting Mjölnir and becoming the mightiest Thor and the greatest of all the gods. Its effects would culminate in Thor Odinson’s climactic battle with Malekith the Accursed during the War of the Realms and it would shape the sort of king Thor would become.
But for all its importance in Aaron’s run and for all the love, admiration, and respect I have for Aaron’s run (as I’ve said before, it may well be the single most well-executed comic story I’ve ever read and it stands among the greatest works of fiction – in any genre or medium – I’ve ever read), I’ve never written directly about Thor becoming unworthy of lifting Mjölnir.
I’ve written about Thor’s battle with Gorr the God Butcher. I’ve written about Thor’s battle with Roxxon. I’ve written about how Jane is the mightiest Thor. I’ve written about Thor and the nature of God. I’ve written about “The Death of the Mighty Thor.” I’ve written about how the War of the Realms should be the MCU’s next big event. The idea of Thor Odinson being unworthy of Mjölnir is discussed in passing in all but one of those pieces but I’ve never written directly about it.
I’ve never written directly about Thor being unworthy.
Well, I’ve never written directly about Thor being unworthy until now. And, I’ve learned, there’s a reason for that. In that reason I’ve found Thor, the God of the Unworthy, to be one of the most important characters I’ve ever met.
“Whosoever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”
The enchantment Odin placed on Mjölnir, the Uru hammer containing the universes-wide cosmic Mother Storm, allows only those worthy of wielding such power to lift it. If you are unworthy, you can’t lift Mjölnir so the universe need never fear such power falling into the wrong hands. Much of Thor’s journey in the comics has revolved around this – as a young god, he strove to be worthy of Mjölnir and, as the Thor we know, he strives to remain worthy.
For nearly his entire publication history, Thor has been worthy. Thor is always worthy. That’s kind of his thing. Yet, in the opening pages of Thor #1 (Vol. 4), we see the Odinson kneeling before Mjölnir on the moon, unable to lift the hammer. The heartache and despair are evident on his face. He is lost. He is despondent. He is unworthy.
However, as “there must always be a Thor,” Mjölnir calls to one who is and the issue closes with a mystery woman (it’s Jane (obviously it’s Jane (we all know it’s Jane (but in the issue people didn’t know yet so I’m recapturing that moment (see? (but it’s Jane)))))) lifting the hammer to become Thor the Goddess of Thunder. Jane Foster becoming Thor, along with Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, was what brought me back to reading new superhero comic books after a seventeen-year gap. For the first time in nearly twenty years, my childhood love felt relevant again. There was something going on that I couldn’t miss. These were stories I needed to read. So with great excitement I began reading the tales of Jane as Thor and found them even better than I could have imagined.
But as I read I found myself getting frustrated whenever the narrative would shift from Jane’s adventures as Thor back to the Odinson. Odinson remained – naturally, given the comic – a central part of the story. At first, his depression gave way to anger. He raged across the Realms, looking for a fight and in his recklessness, he lost an arm. Once he hears a mysterious woman is wielding Mjölnir, he begins his quest to discover her identity and take back what is “rightfully” his.
At first, Thor sees this woman – this new Thor – as an enemy, the one who has usurped his power and made him look a fool. Ultimately, and with an act of great strength, he admits that she is worthy of Mjölnir. The hammer called to her for a reason and she answered. So, retaining his identity as “Odinson,” he leaves both his name and Mjölnir to this new Thor, saying he is worthy of neither while she is clearly worthy of both. Then he picks up his ax Jarnbjorn, his weapon before he carried Mjölnir, and he calls his goats Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, who pulled his chariot before Mjölnir let him fly, and leaves to travel the cosmos in an attempt to find some way back to being worthy.
We see Odinson reluctantly accept this new Thor. We see him travel. We see him drink (a lot). He becomes morose. He turns inward, withdrawing from those closest to him. He cuts off all his hair
because Chris Hemsworth had short hair in Thor: Ragnarök and they always awkwardly change the comic characters’ look to match the movies in an attempt to let go of who he was and begin to sort who he is. The melancholy grows yet he fights on, seeking answers. We learn the reason Odinson can’t lift Mjölnir is he’s come to believe Gorr was right – no god is worthy. As with everything Aaron did while writing Thor, it was a well-executed, thoughtful, poignant narrative.
And I wanted none of it. I couldn’t articulate this as I read but whenever the story would shift from Jane as Thor to Odinson’s quest something would itch within me. I’d sort of sigh and kinda peak ahead to see if this was a “whole issue” thing or if Jane would be back soon. When they gave Odinson his own five issue miniseries, The Unworthy Thor, I was relieved. While The Mighty Thor stayed a part of my pull list and remained one of my favorite comics each month, I let The Unworthy Thor slide by without reading it. I was happy to let Odinson do his own thing (even if Jason Aaron was writing that, too) and stay with Jane Foster. She was my Thor.
I don’t even know that my relief at splitting the characters between two titles was something I was fully aware of. I just knew something inside me wasn’t clicking with Odinson and his quest for worthiness. As a kid, Thor was second only to Spider-Man in my heart yet, inexplicably, now I was relieved whenever he was out of the narrative. It seemed like a waste of pages in the comic. We have this commanding, exciting, new vision of Thor! Let her do her thing! Why give any of her pages away to another character?? As I said above, it was natural. The story would’ve felt odd and unbalanced if Odinson was never around. Yet I wished for that all the same, even if I didn’t know why.
But Odinson would return and Jane would eventually step down (in a story far too complex and beautiful to recount as an aside here) and give the name of “Thor” back to Odinson. While his name was his once more, Mjölnir was gone, destroyed in Jane’s battle with the Mangog, and he was hardly able to lift the tiny pebble that remained of his beloved hammer. Odinson was “Thor” again but he still wasn’t worthy. Thor Odinson’s quest for worthiness would continue as he did his best to prevent the war Malekith was burning through the Realms from growing to consume all of creation.
Despite his best efforts, the War of the Realms came and raged across all Ten Realms as heroes and villains clashed on a Tolkien-esque scale. In one of the story’s many grand, climactic moments, Mjölnir returns, reforged. Much to Malekith’s surprise, it is not Jane Foster who lifts it but Thor Odinson.
As Thor walks towards Mjölnir, Malekith stammers, “No…but…you can’t pick it up…you’re not…” Reaching for Mjölnir Thor finishes, “Worthy? Then I hope I never feel worthy again, for as long as I live. It’s only the struggle that counts. ‘Gorr was right.’ But knowing that is what makes me strong. Not the hammers. Not the thunder. What I truly am Malekith, now and forevermore…is the God of the Unworthy.”
It was such a moment! A triumphant reframing of Thor tying together everything Aaron was doing theologically in his narrative! And I hated it. I mean I HATED IT. Everything inside me rejected it! I couldn’t finish the comic quick enough and, once I closed the covers, I steered clear of rereading War of the Realms. Thor is the God of Thunder! What the hell was Aaron doing?? What did that even mean?!? Ugh. UGH. It felt like my whole being writhed at that and I did my very best to forget it…even though I couldn’t and, while I didn’t want to think about it, I wrestled with how this would affect all Thor stories going forward and how it changed my understanding of all Thor stories in the past. Thor as the God of the Unworthy?!? What the hell is this?!! No. Nope. I didn’t like it. What was a brilliant, character-defining run that brought me so much joy and was largely responsible for bringing me back to comic reading had a HUGE stumble at the finish line here. Sure, there were a few more issues and the King Thor miniseries ahead but blaaaaaaaaaaaaah. How? How did this big, glaring, ridiculous, nonsensical plot point end up in the story?? Who said this was ok?!? UGH.
So I stayed away from War of the Realms. I didn’t reread it as I did Aaron’s other Thor titles. I didn’t read the final issues of Thor that followed War of the Realms and, while I did buy them, I didn’t read King Thor either. I had no desire to and I just wanted to leave this thing as far from my mind as possible. This wasn’t how I wanted to think of Thor.
A few months ago, doing research for another writing project, I figured the time had come to finish reading Jason Aaron’s run with Thor. And I figured, to do it justice, I should reread War of the Realms before reading the end of Thor (Vol. 5) and King Thor. I tried not to think of the whole “God of the Unworthy” thing but I also sorta secretly hoped that in this reread I’d find something of value. I was hoping for a way to look at “the God of the Unworthy” as I did the rest of this story. I found what I was hoping for…and I found it while I was finding out a lot about myself. In the process I didn’t just find a way to appreciate Thor as the God of the Unworthy but I realized why that bothered me so much to begin with.
Since last August – between pandemic living, the grief of losing Grandma, the absolute horrors of pandemic teaching, and a few other heartbreaking personal losses/struggles over the summer that aren’t really “blog material” – I’ve been doing two (or three, if it’s a particularly trying week) therapy sessions a week. For months it was triage, trying to figure out how to keep my head above water and working toward a light at the end of the tunnel that was impossible to see. Katherine, my therapist, is a godsend. I had hope in all of that because I knew, with her guidance and support, I’d find my path to the other side. I knew I had the strength to persevere because she was helping me learn how to access it inside myself. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas something changed. I didn’t notice it at first, but our sessions’ focus shifted. They were less about triage and they became more of a deep, experiential exploration of myself or, my Self, as may be more accurate. I’ve learned so much and the way that growth of self-knowledge has affected my ability to manage my anxiety disorder (let alone the seemingly unbearable challenges of the last year) and live a happier, healthier life has been nothing short of miraculous.
I weathered the worst five months of my life, shouldering burdens and losses which seemed impossible to carry, but now, with Katherine’s help, I’ve come to feel healthier and more balanced and aware than I’ve ever been in my life. The work we’ve been doing in our sessions is teaching me so much and, as a result, my anxiety is becoming less of an albatross around my neck and more a familiar part of myself. I’m understanding its needs and role in my life more with each session. Therapy has become as indispensable in my life as prayer. Just as I couldn’t imagine stopping my meditation nor can I imagine ever stopping therapy. It’s such a nourishing part of my life.
So, what does all this have to do with Thor the God of the Unworthy? I’ve always considered myself confident. I see it as a defining trait of mine. It’s a long running joke that I don’t feel shame or embarrassment the way most people do XD. Since beginning therapy two years ago I’ve told Katherine multiple times, just as I’ve told many people in my life many times, I’ve lots of issues within myself, lots to understand and explore, to right and reframe, but my self-confidence isn’t one. Outside of the opinion of a handful of people who I really care about, I’m bullet-proof. I’m brilliant, charming, witty, charismatic, attractive, and I know it. I describe myself like that to people all the time!
Imagine then my surprise when, turning inward and exploring my feelings during a session, opening myself to listen as I followed them down into the depths of myself, I found this sense of unworthiness. I found it as Katherine and I discussed one of the trials of the last year, a relationship lost amidst everything else and the deep wounds of feeling abandoned by someone so important to me in the midst of the worst time of my life that came with it. As we began to talk to this sense of unworthiness, Katherine asked if it would open up but only share a drop of itself at a time so as not to overwhelm my system. It did. I learned so much and learning this about myself felt so hopeful.
This unworthiness feels like an ache, a dull ache in my heart, and it’s cold. It’s cold not from the temperature but the cold of isolation, the cold of being absolutely alone. But it wasn’t that I was neglecting it. It knows that I know it’s there and that I recognize and appreciate all this feeling does within myself. Rather, that cold came from those experiences that showed it the truth of itself, that showed how unworthy – of time, attention, love, having my needs met, being heard, etc. – I was. How could I not feel unworthy, it said, having been so abandoned? The proof was in the pudding as it were. Those things happened because I was unworthy. If I was worthy, it said, I’d’ve not been abandoned.
Yet as it spoke to us, my unworthiness was hopeful. It was hopeful because Katherine knew it was there now, too. I could feel that it knew I knew it was there and that I valued and accepted it. But Katherine has the professional knowledge to let us understand and heal the wounds and isolation it grew from, which are still wrapped all around it.
As we’ve continued to explore these feelings of unworthiness within myself I’ve learned something that makes the initial surprise of finding it seem mild by comparison. It’s a web. It’s not a feeling of unworthiness nor a pocket of unworthiness born of one isolated incident, no matter how significant that wound is. Rather, it’s a web of unworthiness. It’s vast and it’s woven through everything. The wound from my feelings of abandonment this summer was so deep I couldn’t begin to address it without seeing how unworthy it made me feel. My unworthiness was no longer hidden from me but it was much larger than this one wound. This web is big, it’s old, and it runs deep.
I am learning to see it, to recognize how it feels and how it moves. I can see it in relationships (especially looking back on the poorly defined, quasi-romantic relationships of my 20’s) where I fail to advocate for my own needs and focus exclusively on the needs of the other. I can see it in how quick I am to fight any injustice I see…just so long as the slight or struggle or problem doesn’t only affect me. I can see it in how I discount my efforts in discipleship as, no matter what I do, I know I’m not living as Jesus and Buddha call me to. I can see it in how I am very comfortable owning my feelings…up to a point, but I don’t want them to be a burden to others. Even seeing my feelings as “a burden” is a sign of my sense of unworthiness.
There are times where I don’t even notice it’s there. When I first realized the “triage” work was done for the moment, I tried to cut back to one session a week. My anxiety reared and I felt a deep sense of betraying myself. However, it felt selfish. As we discussed this at work, Ashley pointed out it seemed like another worthiness issue. Ashley told me I did deserve two sessions. We were doing so much work. I’d been making such progress. I’d been growing in leaps and bounds. Ashley said it wasn’t as though I was “wasting” that session nor taking it from “someone who deserved it more.” She blew my mind. She was right. I didn’t feel worthy of two sessions a week if it wasn’t triage. In hearing Ashley say I was worthy of two sessions, relief and validation washed through me – as it did when Katherine seconded all of this in our next session. This was not the only time Ashley’s noticed my unworthiness popping up and shaping my actions when I don’t and she always gently points it out, welcomes it, and we address it. My unworthiness feels very safe with Ashley. It feels seen and accepted. It feels worthy in it’s unworthiness and that’s a beautiful gift. I’m not surprised I missed it. This unworthiness was hidden from me for most of my life! I am so appreciative, not only to see it now and have the chance to begin to understand it, but for Katherine and Ashley and my loving natural supports who have begun to help me see and attend to it.
As I reread War of the Realms, aware of all this inside myself, I understood why Jason Aaron having Thor Odinson proclaim himself “the God of the Unworthy” made me uncomfortable. Seeing my relationship with my sense of my own unworthiness, I get why it bothered me. I didn’t want to think about it at all. Unworthiness? Let’s steer very far away from that topic ok? Please and thank you. This was why I recoiled at the whole “God of the Unworthy” reveal. This was why I became uncomfortable – or “bored” and “disinterested,” as my unworthiness was hidden from me by other protector parts – whenever the story focus would shift from Jane as Thor to Odinson. This was why I skipped reading The Unworthy Thor for so long.
This vast web of unworthiness exists inside me and it has for a long, long time. I can’t yet see it’s full expanse. I’ve only just met it. It was hidden from me for decades by one or several protector parts. But now I’ve found this feeling of unworthiness, this web inside me, and it’s happy to talk. I’m doing my best to greet it, to hear it, to understand what it is, what it feels, where it grows, and why it feels the way it does.
Now I can see the beauty and the power of what Jason Aaron has done with Thor the God of the Unworthy. Thor says he must always struggle to be worthy of those who pray to him. There is so much going on there theologically – all of it as poignant as it is important – but that’s the story for another piece. While Thor says, “I hope I never feel worthy again, for as long as I live. It’s only the struggle that counts. ‘Gorr was right.’ But knowing that is what makes me strong,” my struggle is different. For me, I must struggle to remember my own worthiness. In this, Thor the God of the Unworthy has resonated with me in a way no other fictional character has or could.
I didn’t get it before. But I do now. And my unworthiness and I find a comfortable, hopeful, inspiring home in Thor.
To that end, I brought my Mjölnir up from the basement. One of the many stressors of pandemic teaching is, with social distancing bringing a constant and chaotic shifting of classrooms, I don’t have my usual classroom this year. I move from room to room. So all the stuff I normally have in my room is now in my basement. Among them is the Mjölnir I use to pound on my filing cabinets when my students need to quiet down or pay attention :D. So I brought it up to my living room and I set it in the middle of my coffee table. I want to see it every day. And, given it’s place, the handle juts up into the middle of my TV screen so I don’t just see it but I have to move it every time I watch TV, too. As my Mjölnir obviously has no Odin-crafted enchantments on it (and it’s a plastic toy (albeit to scale) I got at some Halloween costume shop years ago) I can easily lift it. I can always lift it, obviously. There will never be a time I can’t lift it. And that’s the point. My thought was seeing it every day, moving it every day would be a constant reminder of my own worthiness.
I always can move it and I always will move it because I am always worthy. It sounds silly but it helps!
Talking about it with Katherine, it turns out the idea wasn’t as silly as I thought. In doing this, in lifting Mjölnir especially when I feel my unworthiness, I am meeting my unworthiness, honoring it, listening to it, and reassuring it. Over the last two years in therapy I’ve learned it’s not about “getting rid” of my unworthiness – or my anxiety or anger or sadness or anything like that. It’s about welcoming, understanding, and loving those feelings as the beautiful part of myself they are. After all, I wouldn’t be who I am without them. Sometimes I’ll just pick Mjölnir up and feel a warmth inside myself as my unworthiness is recognized and reassured. I’ve imagined lifting it a time or two, too, when I’m “out in the world” and I feel my unworthiness ringing inside me. A few moments of mindful breathing with my eyes closed, picturing the details of my Mjölnir and it’s location in my living room and its weight and feel in my hand, and my unworthiness feels recognized and reassured in that, too.
What once was an unknown and ill-defined discomfort at a plot point in Jason Aaron’s run on Thor has finally come into the light. As I’ve met this vast web of unworthiness inside myself which runs through and touches so much inside me, I’ve found hope and light. In opening myself to this feeling of unworthiness, in touching it, recognizing it, and holding it, I’ve grown. It makes me strong. I know more of myself than I did before and I’m accepting more of myself than I did before. What once was hidden, what once haunted me, is becoming something I welcome, understand, and love. Just like Thor. Thor Odinson spent the majority of Jason Aaron’s run raging against, running from, and despairing before his unworthiness. Then he welcomed it. He validated it. He realized how essential it is to who he is, going so far as to proclaim himself “the God of the Unworthy.” While my struggle with my own unworthiness is different than Thor’s, the end result can be the same – greater strength, self-knowledge, and harmony within myself. That’s beautiful. That’s a miraculous, divine gift.
Thankfully, when I forget how worthy I am, I have a brilliant therapist, a loving collection of natural supports, and my Mjölnir there to lift – each always ready to remind me of the truth. I’m not unworthy. I can always lift Mjölnir. I will always lift Mjölnir. Because I am always worthy. Thank you Thor, for being with me on this journey – even if it took me awhile to see and appreciate all you were giving me.
Today, 7 April 2021, is the two year anniversary of my very first session with Katherine! So I felt this post a fitting one for the occasion. Katherine was there to help save me when I desperately needed it and I’ve only grown stronger, healthier, and happier since our work together began. As I’ve learned, therapy is not just for “triage” and some of the most amazing growth comes when you’re “feeling alright.” If you’ve ever considered therapy or if therapy feels like something you need or even something you’d just like to try, I offer this link to Psychology Today so you can browse detailed listings of mental health professionals all over the world :).