Etins, Rises, Thurses, Trolls, and Muspilli
Anyone who has ever picked up a book on Norse mythology knows about the conflict between the gods and the giants. It is often pictured as an endless dualistic struggle between the forces of good and evil, order and chaos, creation and destruction. As always with the ways of our forebears, however, matters are far more complex than the usual view would have them...
Our forebears had several terms for the race of giantish wights. It is hard to distinguish one from another by use, as the words were used fairly interchangeably. For the sake of clarity in the modern age, Edred Thorsson has divided them thus: the very wise, powerful, magical ones are called etins (jötnar, single jötunn - "the Eaters"?), the huge mountain-dwellers are giants or rises (rísar - "giants"), the uncontrollable, hardly conscious natural forces are thurses, and "troll" is (as it was in the old days) used as a catch-all phrase for obnoxious supernatural wights. The whole lot of them are referred to collectively as "etin-kind" or "Ymir's children", as they were all born from the body of the hermaphroditic ur-etin Ymir before Wodan and his brothers slew him and made the world from his corpse.
All seem agreed that the etin-kind are basically wights of untamed nature, and can be extremely dangerous and/or destructive. As the Raven Kindred Ritual Book puts it, "the Jötunn are the Gods of all those things which man has no control over. The Vanir are the gods of the growing crops, the Jötunn are the Gods of the river which floods and washes away those crops or the tornado which destroys your entire farm. This is why they are frightening and this is why we hold them to be evil.
The Jötunn are not worshipped in modern Asatru, but there is some evidence that sacrifices were made to them in olden times. In this case, sacrifices were probably made "to them" rather than shared "with them", as was the case with the Vanir and Æsir. It would be inappropriate to embrace them as friends and brothers in the way we embrace our Gods. One doesn't embrace the hurricane or the wildfire; it is insanity to do so. However, we must also remember that fact that (although) we see their actions as bad, they are not inherently evil. The storm destroys the crops, but it also brings cleansing and renewal. We humans are only one species on this planet and in the end we are both expendable and irrelevant to nature. This is the manner in which the Jötunn act, and it is not surprising that we see this as evil
The etin-kind dwell in mountains, glaciers, volcanos, and all steads that are too wild and dangerous for humans to settle in; those who wish to see Etin-Home made real within the Middle-Garth need only look at the interior of Iceland, which Ymir's children still hold. Where they live, we cannot, and vice versa. In banishing rites, various sorts of etin-kin are also singled out as the specific wights of ill being banished.
Many embodiments of cosmic destructiveness are attributed to Ymir's children: the wolves Sköll and Hati (or Managarmr), who chase the Sun and Moon and will eat them at Ragnarök, are the sons of the Hag of Iron-Wood, who seems to be a great mother of etin-kind. The Wolf Fenrir, son of Loki and Angrboda, has already been spoken of. At the end of the age, some of the etin-kin, most particularly Loki's children and a giant named Hrymr, will fight against the god/esses: Snorri tells us that all the rime-thurses will come with Hrymr, but this is not mentioned in the poetic sources. Both in Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál, the etin-tribe as a whole seems to play little part. We know only that Etin-Home is as disturbed as the realms of the Ases and the dwarves (Völuspá 48), and troll women wander wildly when Surtr comes and the mountains (their homes) collapse (52). The chief source of destruction at Ragnarök, and the only host of foes described in Völuspá, will be Surtr and his Muspilli, spoken of at the end of this chapter.
Although the etin-kind are dangerous to humans and often work against the god/esses, they cannot be dismissed as wholly ill. The many etin-brides of the gods have already been spoken of; we will remember that Skaði's father Þjazi represented all that is most threatening about the etins, and yet she herself is, and was, worshipped as a goddess. Thonar is the great foe of etins, but has one as a concubine, and has gotten help from others (see "Skaði, Gerðr, and other Etin-Brides"). Mímir, Óðinn's rede-giver and teacher, was likewise an etin, and there is not one of the Æsir of known parentage who cannot claim kin among these folk.
The relationship between god/esses and etin-kind is often rather ambiguous: often the gods come as guests into etin-halls, sometimes even with apparently friendly intentions - although such visits usually end up with the giants dead, as at the end of Vafþrúðnismál and Hymiskviða. Although Thonar is sometimes seen as not too swift on the uptake, the great etin-slayer would undoubtedly have seen something very fishy in Loki's presentation of the "friendly invitation" to come unarmed to Geirröðr's hall if it were truly unknown for gods and giants to guest together. In fact, unless he is directly challenged, Thonar's main fault as a guest in etin-halls is his efforts to eat the giants out of house and home (Hymiskviða, Þrymskviða). However, while the god/esses and Ymir's children do not seem to be universally sworn foes, and sometimes work well together, there is always a great tension between them - and between the etin-kind and humans as well: as Þórr's explanation for why he slays female, as well as male, etins (discussed by Paxson below) points out, most of Ymir's children cannot dwell safely by human beings.
For these reasons, very few true folk have even considered working with the etin-kind, except for the odd magician who seeks them out for lore or the wilderness wanderer who seeks to bribe the dangerous powers around her/him. However, a new, or perhaps very old, glance over the etins is offered by Diana Paxson:
...Despite the gusto with which Thor bashes etins, the old literature leaves one with a curiously ambiguous perspective. Ancient and terrible the Jötnar may be, but are they simply destructive, or does the conflict between them and the lords of Asgard have a deeper significance?
As I explore the spiritual ecology of the North I have come to believe that far from being the eternal enemy, the Jötnar may have a crucial role to play in the survival of the world and its inhabitants, including human beings. An analysis of their origins and functions not only illuminates their relationship to the gods (and therefore the meaning of the Æsir as well), but suggests a new way to interpret some of the ambiguities encountered in Norse attitudes towards the feminine and the natural world.
The mythologies of other early cultures reveal a pattern which may be paralleled in that of the North. Bearing in mind that traditional cultures do not have a single, canonical, "creation myth", still, almost everywhere we find a first generation of deities who are responsible for the creation of the world, and who are later supplanted by their children, the pantheon whose worship becomes the religion of the land.
The Graeco-Roman creation myth tells how Gaia, Mother Earth, arose from the empty "yawning" of Chaos and conceived the Titanic powers by Ouranos, who suppressed them before they could be born into the world. The last of them, Kronos, attacked and emasculated his father, separating him from the earth. The Titans who were then released were powers of the sun and moon, darkness and the dawn. Monsters of various kinds were also created. Kronos (Time) married his sister Rhea (Space) and they became the parents of the Olympian gods. Eventually the gods, aided by monstrous allies and the counsel of Mother Earth, defeated and imprisoned the Titans in Tartaros. Nonetheless, the time when Kronos and the Titans ruled was considered by the Greeks to have been a golden age.
Despite the theological sophistication of Hinduism, traces remain of a pre-Vedic system in which "The gods and the antigods are the twofold offspring of the lord-of-progeny (Prajapati). Of these the gods are the younger, the antigods the older. They have been struggling with each other for the dominion of the worlds" (Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad 1.3.1. ). These antigods are sometimes called asuras (later construed as a-suras, or "not-gods"), although this term, derived from the root "to be" or Asu, "breath", was originally used to identify the most important gods. Although the asuras are seen as opponents, many among them are described as wise and beneficent and aid the gods. Among the asuras the Mahabharata includes daityas (genii), danavas (giants), kalakanjas (stellar spirits), kalejas (demons of time), nagas ( serpents), and raksasas (night wanderers, or demons). They live in palaces in mountain caves, the bowels of the earth, the sea, and the sky. They are said to be powerful in battle and magic.
In Egyptian religion, the oldest company of gods seems to have represented properties of primeval matter. According to E.A. Wallace Budge, "...in primeval times at least the Egyptians believed in the existence of a deep and boundless watery mass out of which had come into being the heavens, and the earth, and everything that is in them" (The Gods of the Egyptians, I: 283). These powers were represented by four pairs of gods and goddesses. The world as we know it was created by the action of the Khepera aspect of the sun-god, who says in the Book of the Overthrowing of Apepi, "Heaven did not exist, and earth had not come into being, and the things of the earth and creeping things had not come into existence in that place, and I raised them from out of Nu from a state of inactivity" (295). This bears a remarkable resemblance to the opening of Völuspá:
Old was the age when Ymir dwelt,
was not sand nor sea nor spray-cold waves;
there was no earth nor up-heaven,
the gap was ginn- (potential power) full
and grass nowhere.
Then Burr's sons rased up the land,
they who the well-known Miðgarðr shaped..."
Unless one is prepared to believe that the author of the Edda read hieroglyphics, one must accept this idea as a way of conceptualizing creation common to many peoples. The "inactivity" of Nu is a reasonable southern parallel to the eternal ice that encased Ymir. In both cases, the earth that we know is "lifted" into a state of manifestation by the action of a more clearly personified power. In the Younger Edda, we learn that the world was fashioned from Ymir's skull and bones, (shaped by the gods descended from the being Burr, who was) freed from the ice by the tongue of Audhumla, the primal female principle in the form of a cow.
In all of these mythologies, the elder gods are the...elemental powers. Myths about them have to do with their origins and their battles against the race of gods who supplanted them. They may be portrayed as monstrous or fair, but always they dwell in wild places - Utgard - or in the element to which they belong. Although they are the opponents of the gods, they do not appear to be hostile to men. In fact, they have very little to do with human concerns.
A number of theories have been offered to account for this cosmic struggle. A hypothesis adopted by many scholars has been that the elder deities, such as the asuras, were the gods of races conquered by the people who worship the gods. The asuras were the gods of pre-Vedic India, and presumably the Jötnar and Titans would be the deities of the pre-Indo-European peoples of their lands. However, this theory does not explain why gods and giants should differ in function.
Although some of the Jötnar are allies of the Æsir - Ægir, for instance, who brews ale in his cauldron so that the gods can feast in his undersea hall, or Vafthruthnir, who teaches Oðin wisdom - their functions clearly have to do with natural forces. Ægir is a god of the ocean; his wife Ran rules the depths beneath the waves, who are their daughters. However, it is the Van, Njorð, who watches over those who make their living on sea. Fjorgyn is Earth, but Freyr and Freyja, the alfar and ármaðr, "harvest-man", are involved to aid in farming. It is not the gods who are the personified natural forces beloved of 19th century folklorists, but the Jötnar.
The gods, be they Æsir or Olympians, can be seen as the product of evolving human consciousness. Oðin, first of the Æsir to arise, gives us the runes, the symbols and words of power by which the human intellect is enabled to comprehend the world. The Jötun expresses the natural power, while the god embodies the qualities needed for humans to deal with it. In the myths, the Æsir are able to interbreed with Jötnar or humankind. The stories of interaction between the gods and the giants can almost serve as a chronicle of the changing relationship between evolving human consciousness and the natural world.
Of all the Æsir, Thor, the thunderer and the great slayer of giants, is the most elemental. He is the Son of Earth, and his rune is that of the thurse (thurisaz). He joys in the chaos of the storm, but he can use its energy to protect humankind. But his is not a war of extermination. In Hárbarðsljóð, Thor tells us, "Great would be the clan of etins if all (the etin-women he had slain) lived; there would be no humans in Miðgarðr". As Gro Steinsland points out ("Giants as Recipients of Cult in the Viking Age?", in Words and Objects), this is not a war of extermination, but of balance.
For a long time, it was assumed that one distinction between Jötnar and Æsir was that the giants were never worshipped. However, Steinsland has demonstrated that the giants... did indeed receive cult worship in the Viking Age. She proposes that Snorri's account of how the gods gave part of the roasting ox to Thiazi while traveling to visit Utgard-Loki reflects an ancient ritual in which offereings were made to the wilderness powers... Skaði is not only the daughter of a giant, but the home she inherited from him is listed among the holy halls of Asgard (see discussion under "Skaði"). However, for the most part, the hallows of the Jötnar are to be found in Utgard - "outside the garth" - in the wilderness beyond the fields we know.
The Jötnar are elemental in character and force, associated with the regions or environments in which they live (cliff-thurses, berg-rísi, or mountain giants or trolls, rime-thurses, sons of Surtr, Aegir, Ran and the waves, etc.). They rule the realm of Nature and can thus be viewed as chieftains of the order of nature spirits appropriate to various environments: the skogsrån or "wood-rulers" of the forest, who can bestow blessings in exchange for offerings; the näckar or "nixies", sjoera, lake-spirits, and forskarlar, waterfall-men, in the water; the duergar (dwarves), who live under the earth, and the landvættir, or land-wights, for a region in general. These are what the people at Findhorn in Scotland call the devas, the spirits which inhabit and give health to the environment, ranging from entities that express the spirit of a place or a group or species of living things (such as a forest), to the spirits of individual flowers or trees. Even during the Christian period they survived in Faerie, in which noble races of elves are accompanied by all kinds of sprites and goblins. In mediæval folklore, the Jötnar devolved into hags, giants, and trolls, and their attendant nature spirits into dwarves, dryads, and the like, but they continue to dwell outside the boundaries of the human world.
But not all of the Jötnar live in the wilderness. Giantesses are co-opted into the world of the gods as mothers and mates. In fact, a majority of the Æsir are the children of Jötnar on one or both sides. Indeed, when an As or Van seeks a bride outside Asgard, his only source of mates is in Jötunheim. Scratch a goddess, and you are likely to uncover an etin-bride. The courtships of Skaði and Gerð (see "Skaði, Gerðr, and other Etin-Brides" - KHG) are particularly noteworthy, and it is significant that they are married to Vanir, the gods most closely connected with the natural world. Oðin himself sires children by a number of giantesses, most notably Jorð, or Earth, the mother of Thor, and Rind, who bears him Vali. On the other hand, those female Jötun who are not co-opted by marriage appear to be more feared by the Æsir than are the males.
The male Jötnar slain by Thor are viewed as worthy antagonists who can sometimes be tricked into sharing their wisdom or powers. But the females, even Hyrokkin, whose strength is required to push Baldr's funeral ship out to sea, evoke a primal terror. They are not only wild, but female, with all of the suppressed power of both the feminine and the wilderness. In his analysis of prayers to Thor, John Lindow identifies eight killings of female Jötnar and four of male. "Thor was the defender of Asgard, as Thorbjorn himself put it, against the forces of evil and chaos. These forces seem, in the reality of peoples' lives...to have had a very strong female component...If those who fight for order are male, then it is appropriate that those who fight for disorder should be female" ("Addressing Thor", p. 127).
At this point a good feminist should say, "how like a man", but I think that the causes of this hostility lie deeper than simple misogyny. Norse culture in general approaches the feminine with a mixture of emotions, seeing it as irrational and equating loss of (masculine) status with loss of control, while at the same time retaining the memory of a long tradition of reverence for women and belief in their superior spiritual powers. This attitude is paralleled by equally ambivalent feelings about the world of nature. Is it therefore surprising that the Jötnar - the primal powers of nature - who are most feared should be personified as female?
Female biology makes it harder for women to suppress awareness of their physical nature in the way that men often do, and though women are less likely to seek battle, a woman once enraged may fight with a fury that ignores the rules by which men like to conduct their wars (certainly some of the women in the sagas are first-class bitches, and the men might have been better off if their wives had been allowed to fight the bloodfeuds). These generalizations reflect the social stereotypes of our culture; in reality there is a considerable overlap between the genders in this regard, and intellect, intuition, and the like are uniquely mixed in each individual. Given this caveat, such social and biological factors may explain why men have tended to link the feminine with Nature, which can be both terrible and nurturing, as well as with the irrational, the unconscious, and spiritual power.
Steinsland makes a good case for the survival of rituals addressed to the Jötnar into the Viking Age. Rather than identifying this as a lingering superstition, let us consider what function retaining a reverence for powers first conceptualized at the birth of human culture might serve in a supposedly more "civilized" age. The scholars who look upon myths of the passage of power from Jötnar or Titans to the shining gods as a reflection of an historical process may be seeing only part of the picture. A more accurate way to describe the change might be as evolutionary. Evolution does imply change over time, but this change can consist of alteration within a continuing group as well as the replacement of one culture or species by another.
The human brain is an excellent example of an organism which has developed by adding new structures and functions to older ones. Most people today have access only to the newer levels of consciousness, and are disturbed by the "irrational" emotions that shake them when the older parts of the brain are aroused. In the same way, our civilization thinks of itself as "modern", and has trouble understanding the social movements that arise when deeper needs revive older ways.
A major paradigm shift in our relationship to Nature is taking place this century - a change that must occur if humanity is to survive. Ours is the first generation to be aware of the fragility of the environment. "Primitive" people retain an instinctive awareness that the only way to survive in an environment that is more powerful than they are is by learning how to live in harmony with its forces. But as civilization and the development of technology have given humans more control over their surroundings, Nature has become an adversary. In the natural world, birth and death, creation and destruction, are parts of a continuing cycle in which both are equally crucial to long-term survival. Modern man can accept this theory so long as he remains insulated from realities by his technology. But, especially in the ancient North, where the climate is unforgiving, it is understandable that in the Viking Age the world outside the walls of the garth should have been something to fear.
And yet, as Kirsten Hastrup shows in Culture and History in Medieval Iceland, access to the actual or psychic wilderness was necessary for magic. The outlaw, or "out-lier", is banished outside the boundaries of the community, and yet that position may enable him to serve it in ways impossible for those who stay safe within walls. "In the cases of both hamrammr and berserkr there is a movement, in body on the one hand, in personality on the other. Such movement seems to have been easily imagined, in a world where every man had his fylgja, his double in wild space" (p. 153).
The tension is not only between order and chaos, but between control and power. This is why Thor never kills all of the giants, why the Æsir seek Jötun-brides, why Oðin goes to Vafþrúðnir to seek wisdom - and why worship at the shrines of Skaði and other Jötnar continued into the Viking Age. From wilderness comes the energy that humans, like other species, need to survive.
What will happen if humans forget how to balance this energy? Ragnarök acquires a different meaning in each age. The Völuspá foretells a simultaneous breakdown in the natural balance and the social order. Oðin marshals the Einherjar and the gods march out for the last time to meet their foes. When all is destroyed, "the Sun is blackened, earth sinks into sea, the glorious stars are cast from heaven, steam and life-nourisher (fire) gush forth, tall flames play up to heaven itself" (57). The order of creation described in the early myths is being reversed. The world will return to its primal elements once more.
For the ancient Norse, the fear was that natural forces would grow too powerful. But science shows us that it is equally dangerous to suppress a powerful force too far or too long. The film Koyaanisqatski (Philip Glass) presented a frightening picture of a world out of balance. Whether the Jötnar are allowed to rage unchecked or suppressed too completely, disaster will follow. Today's vision of Ragnarök is of an age when natural cycles have been pushed so far out of balance that only the most chaotic and destructive of the forces of nature will remain.
Can this disaster be avoided? Early cultures, living in a world in which the seasonal alternation of birth and death was more accepted than it is today, tend to think in terms of cycles rather than of linear progression. But though the Völva foresees destruction for the gods, the victory of chaos is not final...
"She sees the earth coming up a second time from the sea, renewed-green...the Ases find each other again on Iða-Plain...and they remember the mighty doom for themselves there, and Fimbultýr's ancient runes"
The process of creation is repeated, and once more Oðin's runes give meaning to the world.
In a world of vanishing rainforests and global warming, it may seem that the Time of Earth Changes foretold by more recent prophets such as Sun Bear is unavoidable. In the long run this is probably true, for why should either a physical body or the world be expected to last forever? For the world, as for us, death should be viewed not as an extinction but as a transformation so that the cycle can begin anew. Still, just as abuse of one's body can shorten, or healthy living extend, a human lifespan, humans have the power to hasten Ragnarök or to lengthen this age of the world. With that power comes responsibility.
Environmentalists have provided us with more than enough information to start work on the physical plane, and there should be no need to repeat their instructions here. But those of us who follow the Way of the North have an additional opportunity. We are already vowed to stand with the gods - what we must do now is to understand their relationship to the Jötnar so that we do not end up sabotaging our own side.
We need the giants as we need the wilderness, as a source of the nourishment required for our physical and spiritual survival. They provide psychological stability by aligning the powers of nature and protections at the species level, for they are the spiritual ancestors of all living things. Even abandoning intellect and technology and returning to the primitive, but as we use the gifts of the gods, we should remember that even Thor does not attempt to completely exterminate his enemies. These days perhaps we ought to be supporting the Jötnar rather than fighting them.
Jötun myths have to do with creation and cosmic patterning. In recreating the myths we re-create the world. Along with the land-spirits, they shoud therefore receive offerings and honour. When we seek to work in trance, to draw on the deepest powers that lie hid in our own inner Utgards, the Jötnar may even be invoked first in the ritual.
Like other forms of Paganism, the Northern branch of the Old Religion is an Earth-religion. As Steinsland put it,
"After all, it would be more remarkable if Norse tradition should miss any ritual dealing with powers on whom the whole of existence finally depended. The giants are as necessary to the world as the gods are"
In recreating the practice of Norse religion, we should not forget to honour those powers.
As spoken of above, "troll" is a wide term. The span of beings it has been used for takes in land-wights, etin-kin, house-ghosts, unfriendly idises or an enemy's patron (Þórgerðr is called flagd, "troll-wife", by Hákon's foes in Jómsvíkinga þáttr), magicians, unclean ghosts, big ugly people, and possibly walkurjas in their most unpleasant forms. Magic is still called trolldom in modern Scandinavian dialects, and there is an Old Norse verb trylla, "to enchant", so that it is possible that the noun could have first meant only "magical being" and later been specialized into the "troll" of folklore. The matter is made still more complicated for English-speakers by the existence of a number of different non-specific terms for nasty wights, all of which are translated as "troll" or "troll-wife" in English.
The kind of wight most true folk use the term "troll" for now is an outdweller who is smaller than a mountain-giant (folkloric descriptions of trolls have them ranging from human norm to perhaps ten or twelve feet) and usually lives in cliffs or mountain crags. There is little doubt that they are of Ymir's kin; Scandinavian folk-tales collected in the nineteenth century still kept the memory of the thunderbolt as the weapon of a troll-fighting deity. The trolls can easily be seen as the land-wights of wild and rocky areas, and as such can be dangerous to the humans who come into their realm: for instance, the Icelanders who went gathering birds'-eggs on the cliffs had to be careful lest the trolls should cut their ropes. However, trolls can also be befriended; there are quite a few examples of them going out of their way to be helpful to human beings. Folkloric descriptions of trolls and their actions also have much in common with Old Norse beliefs about the draugar (walking dead), so that the troll of folktales may encompass both "jötunn" and "draugr".
The etymology of "troll" is not certain; the word is probably quite old, going back to Common Germanic. It may come from a root meaning "to roll", and it has been suggested several times that the original "trolls" were possibly first seen in ball lightning; in folk-tales, trolls often roll or whirl around to travel at inhuman speed, some by means of special "Rolling Breeches". The use of the general verb for magic may also suggest that this "rolling" or "whirling" was seen as a magical activity, which in turn hints at interesting possibilities for magical experimentation in the modern age.
Usually trolls are thought to be ugly, hugely strong, and not very bright, in spite of which they manage to breed with humans once in a while. There are several characters in the sagas who bear the name "Half-Troll", and quite a few saga-heroes, such as Grettir inn sterki, Egill Skalla-Grímsson, and Skarp-Heðinn Njálsson, who could easily be mistaken for trolls in a dim light. Troll-women are especially desirous of human men: Hrimgerðr expresses jealousy of Helgi's beloved Sváva, and there is an Icelandic folktale about two troll-women who capture a man named Jón and try to feed him up and stretch him to troll-size so that he will be of more use to them. Another Icelandic folktale has a troll-woman calling a human man to her with magic and keeping him until, over the course of three years, he has turned completely into a troll himself. Oddly, there are fewer tales of human women desired by troll-men; but one of the most dangerous insults one Norseman could offer another was to say that he turned into a woman and had sex with a troll every ninth night, as Skarp-Heðinn says to Flosi in Brennu-Njáls saga. Unbelievable as the whole idea of periodical transsexuality may seem, it was clearly considered serious in some light or other, symbolically if not literally, as there were actually legal proscriptions (in the Norwegian Gulaþing law) against the statement that a man became a woman every ninth night (Ström, Folke. Níð, Ergi, and Old Norse Moral Attitudes, p. 7).
"Trolls take you!" is a very common curse in Old Norse. This could, apparently, mean both dragging away and actual spirit possession (or at least the word "troll" could be used for a possessory spirit); in Landnámabók (Hauksbók 15) Þórleifr Þjóstólfsson was said to be "trollaukinn", which is normally translated as "possessed by a troll" (literally, "made greater by a troll", though there is also the possibility that this could be referring generally to a magical frenzy), and so was Loðmundr hinn gamli (Hauksbók 250). Whether there was ever meant to be any relationship between "trolls take you!" and the major insult mentioned above is not known, but the possibility certainly exists.
Trolls are turned to stone by sunlight, and there are a number of folk-tales about people who, chased by trolls, were only saved by the first rays of the Sun. The same happens in Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, in which the troll-woman Hrimgerðr is drawn into talking with Helgi and his man Atli, and becomes a rock when the Sun rises upon her.
There are water-trolls as well as rock-trolls: Grettir does battle with wights of this sort, and Hrímgerðr and her family specifically attacked ships in their firth. Grendel, although he is called "þyrs" (thurse) and his mother also seem to be more like water-trolls than anything else.
Occasionally trolls are also eaters of human beings, though this trait only seems to show up in folklore.
Trolls particularly dislike Christian church-bells, a trait they share with etins, alfs, dwarves, witches, and Heathens who have been up late feasting on Saturday night.
Trolls are known for stealing beer out of the brewing-house. When they offer drink to humans, it is better not to drink it; there are a number of Scandinavian stories in which a fleeing rider tosses such a draft away, but a few drops touch the horse's hide and singe the hair off it.
Quite often, trolls seem to be walking embodiments of change and disorder. Sometimes they are helpful, more often troublesome, but whatever interacts with them is never quite the same afterwards - they can be seen as smallish zones of "wild magic".
Trolls are sometimes thought to take the form of house-cats, especially while waiting for a rival to die. There are several variants on the story in which a man is coming home and hears a voice telling him to tell his cat that So-and-So is dead - and when he does, the cat exclaims in delight and flies up the chimney or out the window.
There is no evidence for worship of the trolls, but there are stories which show individuals befriending trolls, giving them gifts, or doing favours for them. If you can find a troll that means well towards you, you are lucky: an Icelandic proverb says, "trusty as a troll". When traveling in the wilds, especially when rock-climbing, it does not hurt to make an offering of food and drink to the trolls. According to Swedish folklore, a troll which takes a gift from a human is bound to help that human ever afterwards.
The Muspilli are the dwellers in Muspell-Home, the fiery southern realm. They play no part in the myths; their name is difficult to etymologize, but most suggestions have been forms of "destroyers of the world", and this seems to be their sole function. Völuspá tells us that, "A ship fares from eastward, the Muspilli shall come travelling over the water, and Loki steers: the monsters' sons fare with all greedy ones, and Býleist's brother (Loki?) fares with them" (p. 51). Snorri tells us in his Edda that Loki shall have the hosts of Hel with him, but this is not supported by his sources, as Snorri then separates Loki and his hosts from the Muspilli. In the light of Snorri's chief known material, that of Völuspá, the collective battle-array he presents - Hrymr and the rime-thurses, Loki and the hosts of Hel, and Muspell's sons with their own formation - looks suspiciously like a literary attempt to clarify and systematize the situation, especially in regards to his strong presentation of the giants as foes of the gods. Though we cannot ignore the possibility that Snorri might have had some sources unknown to us, in this case he is directly contradicted by the older material, which he actually quotes verbatim.
According to both Völuspá and Vafþrúðnismál, the chief figure of destruction at Ragnarök is Surtr, the leader of the Muspilli and slayer of Fro Ing, whose fires burn until there is nothing left to burn. Those children of Ymir who do battle with the gods - Loki and his sons - exhaust themselves in single combat: it is the flames of Surtr's sword which actually end the age.
The belief in the Muspilli as the agents of the fiery death of the cosmos may well be Common Germanic. This is suggested by the Old High German poem Muspilli: otherwise an entirely Christian poem about Armageddon, its title and the description of the destruction of the world by fire, as well as the internal use of the native word "muspilli" for the end of the world, have no parallels in Christian eschatological mythology, and very probably reflect the survival of German beliefs. In the Old Saxon Heiland, "mutspilli" appears as the personified end of the world, but in an even more Christianized context, in which the theme of fiery annihilation has been lost.
The Muspilli themselves - and not the etins, rises, thurses, or trolls - seem to be the closest thing to unequivocally destructive forces which the Germanic folk knew, the only absolute foes of all that lives and is. It is little surprise that they appear only at the end of the world, and that there is not the slightest hint that they ever interacted with the god/esses in any way, or that they were ever given any worship by humans.
Diana Paxson, "Utgard: The Role of the Jötnar in the Religion of the North", from Mountain Thunder 5, pp. 11-15.
Lewis Stead and the Raven Kindred, from The Raven Kindred Ritual Book.