… [the Norse] myths are a comment on human existence and a model of social behavior, an attempt to define the inner realities.
It as the appearance of a body of knowledge about the gods and their world brought together for purposes of memory or teaching.
We can see the myths as a vigorous, heroic comment on life, life as men found it in hard and inhospitable lands. The gods never cease their struggle against creatures of cold and darkness.
In his [Odin’s] cult and in the religion of the Vanir we see most clearly the shamanistic tendencies of northern religion, the emphasis on man’s powers to reach out beyond this harsh and limited world. Above all, the northern myths are clear-sighted in their recognition of the reality of the forces of destruction. The fight in a narrow place against odds, which has been called the ideal of heroic literature in the north, is given cosmic stature in the conception of Ragnorok, the doom of the gods, when Odin and his peers go down fighting against the monsters and the unleashed fury of nature. The depths and dark mysteries of the subconscious are given full recognition in the myths. The greatest terror to be faced, that of the disintegration of the mind in madness or death, is not pushed to one side. At Ragnorok a rich and wonderful world was shattered and the monsters had their fill of destruction. After that facing of reality, it was possible to see beyond the catastrophe and to imagine a new world build upon the ruins of the old.
It has been remarked that the favorite tales of the Germanic peoples and the Scandinavians, the most moving themes of their poetry, were concerned with the deaths of young heroes and with defeats in battle. The myths emphasize the remorseless power of fate…
Men knew that the gods whom they served could not give them freedom from danger and calamity, and they did not demand that they should. We find in the myths no sense of bitterness at the harshness and unfairness of life, but rather a spirit of heroic resignation: humanity is born to trouble, but courage, adventure, and the wonders of life are matters for thankfulness, to be enjoyed while life is still granted to us. The great gifts of the gods were readiness to face the world as it was, the luck that sustains men in tight places, and the opportunity to win that glory which alone can outlive death.
Gods and Myths of the Viking Age, by H.R. Ellis Davidson, p. 213-218