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A fairly straightforward question: where do Heimdall's abilities come from?

It seems most Asgardians have a standard set of superhuman capabilities (strength, toughness, longevity, etc), and those who have additional abilities gained them either through learning skills (like Loki) or by using items (like Thor).

But Heimdall's infinitely-perceptive and infinitely-comprehending sight seems god-like, even among Asgardians. He is apparently quite unique, and the other Asgardians treat him with overwhelming respect and deference. Even Superman needs to concentrate when he listens to whispers from all over Earth, while Heimdall just casually glances across galaxies, maybe even universes, and can instantly find and understand the condition of anyone he chooses.

heimdall

The closest I've found to an answer is this line from Wikipedia:

He is the all-seeing and all-hearing guardian sentry of Asgard who stands on the rainbow bridge Bifröst to watch for any attacks to Asgard. He partly won the role through using his eyesight to see an army of giants several days' march from Asgard, allowing them to be defeated before they reached Asgard, and making their king a prisoner.

...which indicates he had his sight (or a version of it) before he became the sentry, but it doesn't say where it came from before that.

Do we know how Heimdall gained this incredible ability, in any universe/medium? And if it was innate, is there any explanation for why he would have such a colossal gift, while all other Asgardians seem cut from more of a similar mold?

  • 3
    Sword of Omens, give me sight beyond sight! – Gaius May 4 '15 at 11:55
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    I know this is an older question, but Thor: Ragnarok clearly establishes that Thor's powers do not come from his hammer. It also confirms that the sight is Heimdall's, and not tied to the role of the sentry. – KSmarts Jan 22 '18 at 17:20
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Though the legends are unclear, it is rumored historically that Heimdall is a member of the Vanir, a race of fertility gods gifted with powerful magic and the gift of foresight. They were enemies of Odin and his people, the Aesir, and once they were defeated, absorbed into the Aesir to became part of the Asgardian pantheon of deities.

In Norse Mythology:

  • The original myths of the Norse are a scattered and difficult collections of writings which contradict each other often in the same documents. So any relationships between the Vanir, Aesir and the Joten, their powers and abilities varied widely depending on who was telling the tale. Heimdall is said to have had Nine Mothers who raised him in the wilds of Jotenheim hardening him to the elements and making him as strong as the gods.
  • In Norse mythology, the Vanir (/ˈvɑːnɪr/; singular Vanr) are a group of gods associated with fertility, wisdom, nature, magic, and the ability to see the future. The Vanir are one of two groups of gods (the other being the Æsir) and are the namesake of the location Vanaheimr (Old Norse "Home of the Vanir"). After the Æsir–Vanir War, the Vanir became a subgroup of the Æsir. Subsequently, members of the Vanir are sometimes also referred to as members of the Æsir.

Other well-known Vanir include:

  • Freyja - the high goddess of the Vanir, who was associated with fertility and sexuality
  • Freyr - the high god of the Vanir, who was associated with fertility
  • Gerðr - the Jotun wife of Freyr
  • Gullveig - a mysterious figure whose death precipitated the Aesir/Vanir war (at least according to the account in the Völuspá)
  • Kvasir - the "wisest of the Vanir," who is given to the Aesir as a "pledge of peace" at the cessation of their hostilities
  • Heimdall's sensory powers are likely part of the magic of the Vanir which granted them a magical awareness of the world and magical foresight and clairvoyance. This would explain why no other Aesir (Asgardian) has such an usual powerset. Heimdall is one of the few Vanir who willingly chose to serve the Aesir after the Aesir-Vanir war.
  • Within this framework, Norse cosmology postulates three separate "clans" of deities: the Aesir, the Vanir, and the Jotun. The distinction between Aesir and Vanir is relative, for the two are said to have made peace, exchanged hostages, intermarried and reigned together after a prolonged war.

  • In fact, the most significant divergence between the two groups is in their respective areas of influence, with the Aesir representing war and conquest, and the Vanir representing exploration, fertility and wealth. The Jotun, on the other hand, are seen as a generally malefic (though wise) race of giants who represented the primary adversaries of the Aesir and Vanir.

  • The gods (both Aesir and Vanir), though immortal, were somewhat more "perishable" than their Indo-European brethren. Not only was their eternal youth maintained artificially (through the consumption of Iðunn's golden apples), they could also be slain (for instance, many were preordained to perish at the cataclysmic battle of Ragnarök).

  • While the mythological terms of "foresight, clairvoyance, and the ability to see the future" were terms commonly used to describe the magic of the Vanir, I am certain Kirby and Lee took liberties with it and gave Heimdall an even further extension of the ability to see through time and space making him a superior early warning system. It also pays homage to the mythos, elevates this member of the Vanir to a role as a protector of the Realm and likely easing tension between the remaining Vanir and Aesir factions.

In the Marvel Universe:

In Journey into Mystery #104 (1952), the origin of the Guardian of the Bifrost is told. Before there was a Guardian at the Bridge to Asgard, Odin found three warriors whose legendary capacities he felt would make them suitable for the task, Agnar the Fierce, Goltron the Agile and Heimdall the Faithful.

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Agnar boasted of his mighty lungs which would sound the Enchanted Dragon Horn, to warn Asgard of approaching foes. Goltron's warrior prowess allowed him to defeat seven of the mightiest of Asgard's foes, the Storm Giants at one time.

enter image description here

Heimdall, however having similar physical capacities to his compatriots instead talks of his superior senses. Senses he possessed before he met with Odin. They were not bestowed by the All-Father. Even Odin did not appear to know with complete certainty of the range or capacity of his powers.

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After several demonstrations, he indicates not only can he see anywhere in space but can even see through time, watching enemies approach days before they actually do. Odin sends out warriors to intercept these enemies long before they approach.

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Heimdall is granted the duty as the Guardian of the Bifrost and his exceptional senses have protected the Nine Realms from any threat he can perceive.

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We are never told if Odin needed to enhance his powers (as suggested) in any way. They appeared to be already part of the character and he is simply assigned this august duty by the All-father.

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  • Heimdall first appeared in a comic in Journey into Mystery #85 (October 1962) and was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.

  • Heimdall is portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by the actor Idris Elba.

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  • Fascinating, and very convincing. Obviously these characters are drawn from mythology, but just curious: was any of that an invention of the comics, or was it all part of the original myth? – Nerrolken May 1 '15 at 23:02
  • Isn't Odin able to do so like heimdal upto some extent in Thor 1 Odin was able to sense Thor being defeated by destroyer. My guess there are small group of asgaurdian able to do so. And heimdal has perfected his skills. – user93 May 2 '15 at 0:43
  • @What's the point of the last picture? It just repeats the one in the question (and doesn't seem to add any useful information to the answer's content to boot). – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 4 '15 at 3:25
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    Since the OP didn't bother to identify the actor in the upper frame and I make it a point of NOT editing other people's questions AND I make no assumptions of who will be reading these (everyone isn't a Marvel expert, nor aware of every actor in existence) I added the picture to go along with the name of the actor who was NOT identified in the OP's question. I simply chose to make the answer as complete as possible without having to reference another source. – Thaddeus Howze May 4 '15 at 4:15
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    You would have to show me such a granting. The issue where Odin chooses Heimdall as the guardian of the Bifrost, he already HAS his sensory powers. This is why he was chosen for the job... – Thaddeus Howze May 17 '15 at 20:22

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