Skaði, Gerðr, Earth, and other Etin-Brides
Skaði, whose name means either "shadow" or "scathe", is one of the darker goddesses of the North. She is not of godly kin, but the daughter of the etin Thjazi, who stole Iðunn and her apples and was slain in eagle-shape by the Ases while chasing Loki back. Still, not only is she counted among the god/esses, but her hall in the mountains of Etin-Home, Þrymheimr (Din-World), which she inherited from her father, is numbered among the holy dwellings in Grímnismál 11. In the same verse, she is called the "shining bride of gods", and the skald Þórðr Sjáreksson calls her "the wise bride of gods". Although place-names show that she was widely worshipped in elder days (see below), she is not called on as often now - partially because there is little known about her, partially because her beauty is a harsh one, and many folk find her less easy to love than Frija or the Frowe. Those who do love her, however, see the starkest beauty of the Northlands in her high and rocky fells, her shining ice and dark crags; to some, the sound of her howling wolves and howling wind is the fairest of all songs, and her ski-tracks through the snow the brightest of all paths against the winter's long night.
There is a certain suggestion that Skaði's gender may have been ambiguous: the name "Skaði" is a straightforward weak masculine form, which could very easily and naturally have been changed to the weak feminine "Skaða", but never was. "Skaði" also appears as a man's personal name in the first chapter of Völsunga saga. It has been suggested that Skaði was first the husband of Nerthus, changing sex when "Nerthus" became "Njörðr", but this is by no means widely accepted. Turville-Petre comments that "Skaði, with her armour and snowshoes and bow, has some of the features of a male god", and compares her to Ullr, who shares her use of snowshoes and bow and is particularly a hunting god (Myth and Religion, pp. 164-65).
Skaði is most easily seen as a goddess of winter: not only does she come from the kin of the mountain- and rime-thurses, but our earliest skaldic poem, Bragi inn gamli's Ragnarsdrápa, also calls Skaði öndurdís ("snowshoe-goddess"); and she is spoken of as "öndurgoð" (snowshoe-deity) in Haustlöng and Háleygjatal. Snorri tells us in his Edda how she "fares greatly on skies and with a bow, and shoots animals". The name of Þrymheimr, which we know to be in the mountains, suggests the ceaseless screaming of wind over the rocks as well as the howling of wolves; and there are many mountains in Norway which are snow-capped all year, so that we may guess that Skaði ever dwells where it is icy, but fares among humans in wintertime.
The tale of Skaði and Njörðr has often been read as a nature-myth, in which she embodies the ice and snow of winter and the the free-flowing waters of summer; and their might can indeed be seen in these things. Here, however, we must remember that most of the god/esses are not personifications of the natural world, but rather, parts of the natural world are shaped by the being of the god/esses and reflect the shiftings of their might.
Skaði's first appearance among the god/esses is as the Maiden Warrior: she comes fully armed and armoured to avenge her father's death. Here she is seen as very grim and fierce: when the Ases offer her weregild, the impossible condition she asks is that they make her laugh. To achieve this, Loki ties one end of a rope to a goat's beard and the other to his bollocks, then starts a tug-o-war with the goat. Their antics and his near-castration finally get Skaði to laugh; the latter aspect may also hint that she was, indeed, specifically one of the "Mörnir" or etin-women to whom the horse-phallus of Völsa þáttr (see "Fro Ing") was offered. Schröder suggests that her original unwillingness (or inability) to laugh relates to an aspect as death-goddess, for "according to Northern European tales, the dead are not able to laugh" (Skadi und die Götter Skandinaviens, p. 25). He also suggests that the goat may originally have been Skaði herself in animal-form, claiming the sacrifice which causes her aspect to shift from death-goddess to goddess of fruitfulness (pp. 25-28). As the goat is a mountain beast, an independent wanderer, and an animal which is also closely tied to traditional Yule rites in Scandinavia (see "Yule"), its connection with Skaði is not wholly unbelievable, though one may or may not choose to see the goddess in the goat itself. In Lokasenna, Loki claims to have slept with her, which she does not deny; this may also be related to the way in which he makes her laugh and thus brings her to be wedded.
Skaði's grimness is also seen in the prose tag to Lokasenna: when Loki has been bound, it is she who, as a final torture, ties the snake above him to drip bale onto his face. Her relationship with him is rather ambiguous: he has been largely responsible for her father's death, and yet it is he who makes her laugh so that she is willing to accept a wedding instead of the blood of the slain as Thjazi's weregild, and claims to have shared her bed. As her following torture of Loki suggests, her turning from death to fruitfulness is not a permanent alteration in her character: like all the god/esses, she can change her aspects at will and need.
Despite her seeming harshness and role as a goddess of winter, death, and revenge, as well as her first appearance as Maiden Warrior, Skaði also has a motherly side. Though no children were born of her wedding to Njörðr, we see Skaði acting in a motherly way to Freyr in Skírnismál, and he is called her son, though the term was probably used loosely to include "stepson", which is the actual relationship. In addition to this, she is the only goddess apart from Gerðr (see below) who is known to have been the mother of a human dynasty. Snorri tells us in Ynglinga saga that after her separation from Njörðr, she bore many sons to Óðinn. One of these sons, according to the skaldic poem Háleygjatal, was Sæmingr, the father of the Jarls of Hlaðir - an heroic line which, for several generations, staunchly defended Norwegian Heathenism against all kingly efforts to convert the land. His name may mean "son of the seed god"; which would suggest that the bond between Skaði and Wodan has something to do with the working of the Wild Hunt to make the fields fruitful; or it may mean "the grey one", which would be a clear reference to the wolf - a beast holy to both of them. Skaði's strong bond to her father is also worth marking: in addition to her decision to avenge him, we see in Lokasenna that Loki's accusations against her chastity distressed her far less than his boast that he was first among the gods when they slew Thjazi. Skaði is clearly a goddess who cares greatly for bonds of blood and troth, a warder of the kin; and in this aspect, she should be called upon when the idises are hailed.
As far as we know, Skaði was not worshipped outside Scandinavia; it has even been suggested that perhaps she was a Finnish or Lappish goddess whose cult was taken over by the Norse. In fact, there is a Finnish goddess of the wood and hunting, Mielikki, the wife of the hunting-god Tapio, but whether she is the same being as Skaði is not known. It has also been seriously put forth that the very name "Scandinavia" is derived from her own, perhaps as "Island of Skaði"; this theory is not really accepted, but has not really been disproven either (de Vries,Religionsgeschichte, p. 338). She was quite often worshipped; there are a good many "Skaði" place-names, especially in mid- to eastern Sweden and southeastern Norway. Most of these are of the "Skaði's vé" type, though "Skaði's grove" is also seen a few times (de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, p. 339). In Lokasenna 51, the goddess speaks of her rede coming from her wih-steads and plains. The "plains" were probably holy fields, suggesting that she may also have had something to do with fruitfulness. In this aspect, it is possible that she may have been seen in the North as was Holda in Germany, as the one who covers the earth with a blanket of snow to protect all that sleeps in the ground through the winter; or it may, as with Gerðr, relate to her cyclical character as the etin-goddess who shifts from being frozen to being fruitful.
In the Kantelar (a collection of Finnish folk poetry made in the nineteenth century), one song calls on the goddess Mielikki to lend luck to the hunter and strew out her gifts for him, and another asks Tapio to guide the hunter's skis. Schröder compares this Finnish pair to Skaði and Ullr (Wuldor); he also suggests strongly that perhaps the two Norse deities were originally brother and sister, children of Thjazi (Skaði, pp. 115-16). In fact, we do not know who Wuldor's father is; only that his mother is Sif, but his father is not Thonar, so (although there is no direct evidence for it) this suggestion is as reasonable as any other, especially given the close likeness between Skaði and Wuldor. If Skaði's name is taken as "shadow", then the two of them also present a polar image of wintry darkness and light, since Wuldor's name, "glory", implies brightness and has sometimes been read as stemming from the glory of the Northern Lights.
Skaði is a goddess of hunters and hence of wild beasts as well. She is also the goddess of skiers, and of those who dwell in or fare through the mountains and wild places; she can be asked to help those who have to drive on snow or ice. As a field-goddess, her feast is particularly that of Disting/Charming of the Plough, when she accepts the gifts given to her and the earth begins to unfreeze. Alice Karlsdottir also suggests calling on Skaði and Njörðr together at the spring or autumnal equinoxes, when "darkness and light are equal, and Njörðr and Skaði meet again at the turning of the year".
Like the Frowe, Skaði is a goddess of independent women; she may be seen as the especial patron of single mothers and of women who do things that are usually specified as male by society (the modern equivalent of the Norse Maiden Warrior).
She can also be called on as a goddess of justice. Though harsh, she is fair; as we see, she was willing to accept weregild and be integrated into godly society, rather than starting a blood-feud.
As the wild winter howler and hunter (as opposed to Wodan's battlefield-scavenger) the wolf is thought of as Skaði's beast because of Njörðr's complaints about the howling of the wolves in Þrymheimr. Her possible relationship with the goat has already been spoken of. There are no other animals given to her in traditional sources, but her father, like many etins, was able to take eagle-shape and to use the wind of his wings as a weapon in his flight; so there are some today who also see a dark eagle as an image of this goddess.
In modern times, the stone associated with Skaði is the natural (terminated) rock crystal, which is called "mountain crystal" in most of the Germanic languages, and was known as "ice-stone" in Old High German. Black serpentine, with its icy crystals against a dark matrix, is also fitting for her.
For calling on Skaði, crystal cups (the "rime-cup" of the Eddas) are most appropriate. It has been found that she is especially fond of iced vodka.
Colours associated with Skaði today are black and icy white.
Gerðr is Fro Ing's wife, an etin-maid won by the magical force of the god's servant Skírnir. Skírnismál tells us that she was not willing to marry Freyr: Skírnir tried to bribe her with golden apples and the ring Draupnir, and threatened her with Freyr's sword, but she did not yield until he brought a magical tine carved with three thurse-runes (thurisaz) against her, threatening that if she would not have Freyr, he would curse her with perversity and lust, and doom her to be the bride of a three-headed troll. Then she welcomed Skírnir with a cup of mead, and said that she would be wedded to Freyr in nine nights at the grove Barri.
The most usual reading of this myth is as a nature-myth: Gerðr is the frozen winter earth, whose hard crust must be broken by the "shining" Skírnir so that she can be sown and made fruitful. The name Hrímgerðr - "Ice-Gerðr" - appears for a troll-woman in "Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar", suggesting a contrast between the icy and the fruitful Gerðr. Her name is related to the word "garth", the fenced enclosure; from this, it has been taken that she has something to do with land which is settled and fenced in. The name of the grove where Freyr and Gerðr marry is Barri, which may either mean "barley-field" or "coniferous wood" (Simek, Dictionary, p. 32); the first reading matches better with the understanding of the tale as a fruitfulness-myth, the second with the poem's description of the place as a grove (lundr). In the latter case, the fruitfulness of Freyr and Gerðr would not only be that of the fields, but of the whole earth, both the wild and the tame lands. Skírnismál is one of the Eddic poems which is likeliest to have been the script for a ritual drama, as Bertha Philpotts suggests; it might have been done every year at ploughing time, mirroring the might of the goddess and god as the plough breaks the earth's soil.
Paul Bibire has read Skírnir's curse on Gerðr as being rooted in her own nature: all the things he threatens her with are characteristic for troll-women. As an embodiment of the might of the earth, she can choose to become fruitful as Freyr's wife, or she can choose to be barren, and therefore be a dwelling for trolls and the worst of wights.
The wooing of Gerðr can also be seen as an inversion of that of Skaði: Skaði is thawed by Loki's symbolic self-castration; Gerðr, by the symbolic rape of Skírnir's thurse-runes. The one etin-maid takes the gift of fruitfulness willingly; the other, because she must. If one were to read Völsa þáttr as a purely spiritual work, one might perhaps compare them to the two young women who pick up the völsi in turn: one is eager for it, the other takes it only out of need. Eventually, however, both "Mörnir" do receive the blessing, and the earth becomes fruitful.
In Det hellige Bryllup og norrøn Kongeideologie, Gro Steinsland reads the tale as also being closely tied to the ideology of Norse kingship. She sees the apples, ring, and magical stick as emblems of kingship; the threats Gerðr suffers as stemming from the belief that the king is the conqueror of his land as well as its warder and tender. Thus, Skírnismál shows not only the holy wedding of the god with the earth, but also of the king with his country (which is likewise needful to make it fruitful). She also points out that this mating, like that of Óðinn and Skaði, brings forth not a god, but the first man of an earthly dynasty - Fjölnir, the first of the Ynglings, a line which was particularly thought of as being holy. From the blending of gods and etin-maids can come not only gods (such as Wodan, Thonar and his two sons by Járnsaxa, and several others), but also the rulers who, as ritual leaders and sometimes sacrifices, bring the might of the god/esses forth in the Middle-Garth.
Gerðr is not seen in any other myths: even after her wedding she seems to have little to do with the other god/esses. No signs of a cult of hers have survived: as an embodiment of the earth, she is a goddess to be honoured, especially at Disting when the year begins to near the doors of summer again and the world recreates the myth of her wooing, but she is not otherwise called upon, except generally with the other goddesses of fruitfulness. It is, however, thought by some in modern times that one cause of natural disasters and bad harvests is Gerðr's anger at being forgotten.
The colours associated with Gerðr today are deep red and deep brown.
(Jörð - ON, Erda - Wagner)
Earth is the mother of Thonar, the daughter of the goddess Night and her husband Annarr ("the Second"). She has several other names - Fjörgyn, Hlóðynn, Fold, and Grund. The latter three simply mean "earth"; the first may possibly be related to an early Germanic thunder-god (see discussion of the manly "Fjörgynn" in the chapter on Frija).
We know that she was first made out of the corpse of the hermaphroditic etin Ymir; from this, perhaps, it can be understood that Ymir's dismemberment was also a separation into manly and womanly elements. It might be possible to reach out from this to the reading that Earth's male counterpart could possibly be Ægir, the etin of the sea (which was Ymir's blood, as the Earth was his body), though this leans out into the realm of speculation.
There is not a great deal of evidence for the worship of the personified Earth, but some traces have lived on. In one of our few surviving Norse prayers, the "Hail to Day" from Sigrdrífumál, the awakened Sigrdrífa calls on Day and Day's sons, Night and her kinswoman, and "the greatly-helpful Earth". She names these wights together with, and apparently as equals to, the "Æsir and Ásynjur". The description fjölnýta is difficult to translate simply; the latter element means generally, "helpful, good-bringing, enjoyable", and appears in Saxon English as the verb nytte.
The Anglo-Saxon charm "Æcerbot" ("Field-Ceremonies", also called "Charming of the Plough"), a sketchily christianized fruitfulness-rite, includes the strange line, "Erce, Erce, Erce, eorþan modor". The phrase "Erce, mother of earth" is confusing, and the name itself resists philological analysis; but since the next lines are, "May the all-ruling, eternal drighten grant you fields waxing and thriving, flourishing and bountiful, bright shafts of millet-crops, and of broad barley-crops, and of white wheat-crops, and of all the earth's crops," it seems the most reasonable guess that the first line was originally meant to be a call to Mother Earth, accidentally or deliberately garbled. Slightly later in the charm, a very clear call to her is spoken: "Hail to thee, Folde ("earth"), mother of men! Be thou growing in god's embrace, filled with food for men to enjoy". The last verb, nytte, is cognate to the Old Norse nýta (see above); one can see the general idea as expressing the way our Germanic forebears saw the Earth. The whole charm is, in fact, a model for the Northern relationship to the Earth: humans are responsible for helping to bring the god/esses' blessings to her, for hailing her and making gifts to her in thanks, and for carefully tending her fields and lands.
The loop of turf which was cut whole with each end still attached to the earth and carefully raised for men to creep under as part of the blood-brotherhood oath was called "Earth's necklace". There are also several references in the Eddas to the "main of the Earth" as being one of the greatest of strengths; it is clear that Thonar gets a great deal of his might from his mother. Eysteinn Valdason (a skald writing ca. 1000) called the Middle-Garth's Wyrm "Earth's Girdle", and we will also remember the little goddess of the Bronze Age who rode in a ship with a leashed wyrm beside her.
This etin-frowe is the mother of the god Víðarr, whom Wodan begot to be his own avenger. Though never counted among the goddesses, she is especially friendly to the gods. When Loki had tricked Thonar into going to the Outgarth without his hammer, she gave the god lodgings, warned him about the giant Geirröðr, and also gave him a girdle of might, iron gauntlets, and the staff Gríðavölr (Gríðr's magical staff), with which he was able to ward himself against all the attacks of Geirröðr and his daughters. As discussed further under "Thonar", these items are typical for Icelandic witches, and indeed for certain shamanic practices. Gríðr can thus be seen as an initiator and helper for those who must deal with the might of the etins and the sundry wights of the Outgarth.
Járnsaxa, whose name means "Iron Knife", is an etin-woman and Thonar's concubine, the mother of his two sons Móði and Magni who shall inherit his Hammer after Ragnarök. It may seem more than a little strange that Thonar, of all gods, should be the lover of an etin-woman; but Járnsaxa is called "Sif's Rival", so she must be very fair indeed. She must also be very strong: at three years old, her son Magni could lift a weight that none of the other gods could manage.
The etin-mother of Óðinn, Vili, and Vé (or Óðinn, Hoenir, and Lódurr). Her father is Bölthorn (Bale-Thorn). She has a brother, who taught Wodan nine mighty songs; Hollander suggests that this brother may have been Mímir. This reading is supported by the fact that, according to Ynglinga saga, Óðinn sent Mímir together with his own brother as a hostage to the Vanir, implying at least the possiblity of a blood relationship.
The etymology of her name is difficult: the likeliest reading connects it with "bark" (Simek, Dictionary, p. 36), and de Vries also suggests, among other things, the possibility that she may have been a yew-goddess (Wörterbuch, p. 34).
Loki's horrible wife (as opposed to his good wife Sigyn). Her name means "the one who brings grief"; the "Völuspá hin skamma" section of "Hyndluljóð" tells us that she and Loki got the Wolf Fenrir together, and Snorri also adds the Middle-Garth's Wyrm and Hel as their children. Possibly the best summary of her character is that given by Alice Karlsdottir in one of her many verses for "That Old-Time Religion":
Angrboda is voracious,
And her children are hellacious,
I guess Loki's just salacious,
And that's good enough for me!
Needless to say, the only use for Angrboda in a religious or ritual context is the listing of her name among those of ill-willing wights whose might one wants to banish.
Alice Karlsdóttir, from "Njörðr and Skaði: the Marriage of Light and Darkness", Mountain Thunder 7, pp. 19-21.
Laurel Mendes and the other women of Hrafnar