The handout for our January 2013 discussion:
(Compiled primarily from Arlea Anshutz’s Skadhi Page at http://www.wyrdwords.vispa.com/goddesses/skadhi/index.html
Skadi, daughter of giant Thiassi, took helmet and mail-coat and all weapons of war and went to Asgard to avenge her father. But the Æsir offered her atonement and compensation, the first item of which was to choose herself a husband out of the Æsir and choose by the feet and see nothing else of them. Then she saw one person’s feet that were exceptionally beautiful and said:
‘I choose that one; there can be little that is ugly about Baldr.’ But it was Niord of Noatun.
It was also in the terms of her settlement that the Æsir were to do something that she thought they would not be able to do, that was to make her laugh. Then Loki did as follows: he tied a cord round the beard of a certain nanny-goat and the other end round his testicles, and they drew each other back and forth and both squealed loudly. Then Loki let himself drop into Skadi’s lap, and she laughed. Then the atonement with her on the part of the Æsir was complete.
It is said that Odin, as compensation for her, did this: he took Thiassi’s eyes and threw them up into the sky and out of them made two stars. (Faulkes trans)
Niord has a wife called Skadi, daughter of the giant Thiassi. Skadi wants to have the home her father had– this is in some mountains, a place called Thrymheim –but Niord wants to be near the sea. They agreed on this, that they should stay nine nights in Thrymheim and then an alternate nine at Noatun. But when Niord came back to Noatun from the mountain he said this:
‘I hate mountains–not long was I there, just nine nights: wolves’ howling I thought ugly compared with the swans’ song.’
Then Skadi said this:
‘I could not sleep on the sea’s beds for the birds’ screaming; he wakes me who comes from the sea every morning, that gull.’
Then Skadi went up into the mountain and lived in Thrymheim and generally travels on skis and carries a bow and shoots game. She is called ski-deity or ski-lady. (Faulkes trans)
|Old Norse||Dronke translation|
|Þrymheimr heitir inn sétti,
er Þjazi bjó,
sá inn ámáttki jötunn;
en nú Skaði byggvir,
skír brúðr goða,
fornar tóftir föður
|Thudding Realm the sixth is called,
where Þjazi lived,
that giant of prodigious power.
And now Skaði builds her home,
a bright bride of the gods,
on her father’s old foundations.
|Old Norse||Larrington translation|
|Var Baldrs faðir Burs arfþegi,
Freyr átti Gerði, hon var Gymis dóttir,
jötna ættar, ok Aurboðu;
þó var Þjazi, þeira frændi,
skrautgjarn jötunn, hans var Skaði dóttir.
|Baldr’s father was heir to Bur,
Freyr married Gerd, she was Gymir’s daughter,
of the giant race, and Aurboda’s;
though Thiazi was their kinsman,
the giant who loved to shoot; Skadhi was his daughter.
Skirnismal prose opening and stanza 1
|Old Norse||Dronke translation|
|Freyr, sonr Njarðar, hafði einn dag setzt í Hliðskjálf, ok sá um heima alla. Hann sá í Jötunheima ok sá þar mey fagra, þá er hon gekk frá skála föður síns til skemmu. Þar af fekk hann hugsóttir miklar. Skírnir hét skósveinn Freys. Njörðr bað hann kveðja Frey máls. Þá mælti Skaði:||Freyr, the son of Njordhr, had seated himself on Hlidhskialf, and was gazing into all the worlds’ realms. He looked into Giant Realms and saw there a lovely girl, just as she was walking from her father’s hall to her bower. From that sight he caught great sickness of heart. Skirnir was the name of Freyr’s servant. Njordr asked him to go get Freyr to talk. Then Skaði said:|
|Rístu nú, Skírnir,
ok gakk skjótt at beiða
okkarn mála mög
ok þess at fregna,
hveim inn fróði sé
|Now Skirnir, get up
and go and request
some speech from our boy
and ask him this:
against whom in that fertile brain
might father’s heir be fuming
Lokasenna 49-52 and prose ending
|Old Norse||Dronke translation|
Létt er þér, Loki;
mun-at-tu lengi svá
leika lausum hala,
því at þik á hjörvi
skulu ins hrímkalda magar
görnum binda goð.
Light is your mood, Loki,
- you will not for long
toss so free a tail,
for on a sword
with your frost-cold son’s
guts the gods will bind you.
Veiztu, ef mik á hjörvi
skulu ins hrímkalda magar
görnum binda goð,
fyrstr ok efstr
var ek at fjörlagi,
þars vér á Þjaza þrifum.
You know, if – on a sword
with my frost-cold son’s
guts – the gods will bind me,
the first and the last
was I at the dying,
when we thrust our fingers on Thiazi.
Veiztu, ef fyrstr ok efstr
vartu at fjörlagi,
þá er ér á Þjaza þrifuð,
frá mínum véum
ok vöngum skulu
þér æ köld ráð koma.
You know, if the first and the last
you were at the dying,
when you thrust your fingers on Thiazi,
from my fanes
and fields shall come
cold counsel for you ever.
Léttari í málum
vartu við Laufeyjar son,
þá er þú létz mér á beð þinn boðit;
getit verðr oss slíks,
ef vér görva skulum
telja vömmin vár.
Lighter in your talk
You were with Laufey’s son
when you had me beckoned to your bed
- such a matter must be mentioned by us
if we are completely
to count our blemishes.
|En eftir þetta falst Loki í Fránangrsforsi í lax líki. Þar tóku æsir hann. Hann var bundinn með þörmum sonar síns, Vála, en Narfi, sonr hans, varð at vargi. Skaði tók eitrorm ok festi upp yfir annlit Loka. Draup þar ór eitr. Sigyn, kona Loka, sat þar ok helt munnlaug undir eitrið. En er munnlaugin var full, bar hon út eitrið, en meðan draup eitrit á Loka. Þá kippðist hann svá hart við, at þaðan af skalf jörð öll. Þat eru nú kallaðir landsskjálftar.||After that Loki hid himself in Fránangr’s Fall, in the shape of a salmon. The Æsir caught him there. He was tied with the entrails of his own son Nari. But his son Narfi became a wolf. Skaði took a poisonous serpent and fastened it up above Loki’s face, and there the poison dripped out of it. Sigyn, Loki’s wife, sat there and held a basin under the poison. But when the basin was full, she carried the poison out, and in the meanwhile the poison dripped on Loki. Then he jerked so violently at it, that all the earth shook because of it. That is now called earthquakes.|
Heimskringla: Ynglings Saga Chapter 8
“Njorth married a woman who was called Skathi. She would not have intercourse with him, and later married Othin. They had many sons. One of them was called Saeming. About him, Eyvind Skaldaspillir composed these verses:
his sire gat, of
with etin maid,
the time that
this fair maiden,
the skalds’ friend had.
and sons many
gat with Othin.” (Hollander trans.)
Theories, Speculation, UPG, and Modern Worship
The name “Skaði” is usually interpreted as “shadow” (as in OE sceadu and OHG scato) or “damage, scathe” (as in ON skaði ). Her name is a masculine one. Together with the story of her choosing Njord as husband, it has prompted a number of scholars (such as de Vries, Nasstrom, and Schroder, among others) to speculate that at some point she was the husband of Nerthus, and that over time Skaði and Nerthus changed sex, while Bek-Pedersen believes that the Ondurdis’s “blend of independent femininity and clearly masculine elements is mirrored in the female disir who ride horses and carry weapons.” (46) Ultimately, few scholars move beyond speculation into any sort of strong supporting argument.
Skaði’s words in Lokasenna suggest that she had a number of cult places, but because the “ska-” prefix is relatively common, it is difficult to determine just how many there may have been. Following the patterns of other gods’ place names it seems likely that locations with names such as Skadevi and Skadalund were hers; according to de Vries, most of these areas are located in mid- and eastern Sweden, while a few are in southeastern Norway.
In his entry for Skaði, Simek compares her to the Greek goddess Artemis, and he is not alone in doing so. Particularly among those who want Ullr and Skaði to be related, the tendency to make them into a Nordic Apollo and Artemis is strong. Skaði, with her harsh and warlike ways, her wearing of clothing typically worn by men, her love of hunting, and her use of bow and arrow does have some similarities to the daughter of Zeus and Leto. Also, Nasstrom notes that some male priests of Artemis castrated themselves before serving the goddess; this would fit well with theories linking castration with worship of Skaði. Artemis was widely worshiped, but unlike Apollo, who was said by the ancient Greeks to leave Delphi in the care of Dionysius in the winter while he travelled to the far north, there do not appear to be any extant myths telling of her adventures in Hyperborea or anything similar.
The Finnish Connection:
Scholars such as Mundal believe that Skaði is modeled on a Saami woman, while others, such as Steinsland, believe that she may have originally been a Saami goddess (perhaps Mielikki) who was adopted by the Germanic people. In the mythology, the giants and the Saami are often interchangeable. The Saami are characterized as being strong skiers and hunters, and Ottar of Halogaland reported to Alfred the Great that Saami women engaged in many of the same outdoor activities as the men. The etymology for the name of Skaði’s son Saeming is uncertain, but it could be Saami.
Mundal further theorizes that Skaði’s arrival in Asgard and choosing a husband from among the gods is influenced by a common motif in which a traveling hero who arrives in a giant or Saami household is invited to the bed of a daughter of the household. Skaði, having adopted a masculine role, forces the gods into a feminine role, inverting the motif, and Loki’s pain reflects the overall injury to the gods’ masculinity.
Simek flatly says that Skaði is Freyr’s mother in the entry for Skaði in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology, but in his entry for Freyr, he has no such information, instead simply saying that Freyr is the son of Njord and Njord’s sister. Freyr is called Skaði’s son (mög) in Skirnismal; though the word used may have been intended to mean stepson, she does act in a motherly fashion towards him in the poem. This, combined with her devotion to her father, has led many modern Heathens to view Skaði as one who even more than some of the other gods is concerned with kin-bonds, leading in turn to her not infrequently being hailed during Disablot-style ceremonies.
Goddess of Archery and the Hunt:
For modern Heathens, Skaði is a very popular goddess to invoke for recreational archers; my impression, based on conversations with other Heathens and on the number of essays posted on the internet about her, is that she is more frequently the recipient of blots intended to help find game as winter begins than Ullr.
Goddess of Skiing and Outdoor Sports:
Heathens who hike, camp, or otherwise spend a lot of time outdoors frequently make offering to her, and though she has not become as popular with non-Heathen winter sports enthusiasts as the son of Sif, the Ondurdis is still seen by many as a goddess of winter sports, too.
The name Ivaldi probably means “god/owner of the bow” or “god who rules in the yew tree.” While most scholars who relate this name to one of the gods attribute it to Ullr, Schroder believes the name refers to Skaði.
Loki and the Mornir:
Schroder suggests that Loki’s getting Skaði to laugh hints at some sort of castration ritual (symbolic or actual) that was required to make the great goddess of the north switch from her winter aspect to her fruitful Mother Earth aspect. He further says that the goat was originally Skaði herself in the form of an animal; the Troth has taken his ideas to justify the goat as one of Skaði’s animals, adding that the Julbok is further evidence that the goat is an animal associated with her. In a similar vein, Strom argues that Skaði is one of the Mornir, perhaps the primary one, who receive sacrifice in Volsa Thattr, seeing both the tale of the farm folk Olaf visits and Loki’s antics as being presentations of the same poorly remembered basic ritual; she further argues that the ritual in Volsa Thattr represents a hieros gamos between Freyr and Skaði (cited in Nasstrom 105). Others, including Lindow and Gundarsson, toy with the idea, but stop well short of committing themselves as strongly as Schroder or Strom.
Through some conversations with an older Norwegian woman on Beliefnet several years ago, I was made aware of a sort of game that is played in Norway usually called “Passing the Volsi” or “The Horse Game.” According to her, it’s an old traditional game only played by women, and it’s often played by a bride-to-be and her friends during a sort of bachelorette party. A suggestive object such as a carrot (or, more often in recent times, a sex toy) is passed around, and whoever holds the object must tell the others a ribald joke, poem, or story. The object of the game seems to be to shock the others or make them laugh. Davidson in The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe speaks of a similar tradition, called the Drunnir, in the Faroes in which the tail bone of an ox or sheep decorated with a ribbon is passed around. Assuming the modern games aren’t just a relatively recent invention inspired by Volsa Thattr, its existence may lend some support to the theories of Schroder and Strom.
Barbara Walker in The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, apparently working off similar theories, says that Loki’s tug-of-war resulted in Skaði’s lap being bathed in blood, thereby fertilizing her and allowing spring to return to the land. She also says that in Skaði’s identity as Mornir (which Walker translates as “troll-woman”), the goddess collects the penises of castrated heroes and is a dark twin of Freyja who is virtually identical to Hel. Unfortunately, this strange speculation has gained significant traction on the internet, and there are now multiple sites, usually without attribution, that present versions of this theory.
Unsurprisingly, the Rokkatru of the Northern Tradition embrace the ideas in these theories whole-heartedly, presenting it in the Jotunbok that when winters were bad, a young man would be chosen to castrate via livestock in order to gain Skaði’s favor. According to them, Loki’s antics were a mockery of Skaði’s sacred rites designed to help him seduce her. A consequence of Loki’s actions was that actual castration was replaced with a symbolic one.
In modern texts of Norse mythology, Skaði is most often described as a goddess of winter, snow, hunting, and skiing. Her father is a frost giant, she is connected with wild nature and icy mountain, and common skaldic references for her include Ondurdis (“ski/snowshoe lady”) and Ondurgoð (“ski god”). In this context, her marriage to Njord and their alternating abodes are interpreted as a seasonal myth; she represents the frozen ice and death in winter, while he represents the open harbors, flowing rivers, and life of summer. This is especially supported by alternate manuscript versions of the length they stay at each home. In some manuscripts, they dwell at Noatun for only three months while staying in Thrymheim for nine, reflecting the comparatively short summer in the far north.
One of the more lively etymological controversies involving Skaði has to do with the origins of the name Scandinavia. Pliny the Elder (d. AD 79) in his Naturalia Historia describes the land in the north as consisting of many islands, the best-known of which is Scatinavia. One prominent theory whose acceptance has waxed and waned over time (currently, its popularity is rather low) is that the name Scandinavia comes from *Skaðin-awjô, “Skaði’s island” or “the island in the shadow.” Other scholars prefer an interpretation of “the dangerous island,” referring to hazardous reefs around the area.
Proponents of “Skaði’s island” include Bauschatz, Schroder, and Steinsland. Bauschatz sees a possible connection between the island of Skaði and the island of Nerthus and feels that both islands are representatives of the greater goddess container, Urð’s well; as well, he believes Skaði’s name may come from Lithuanian skasti, spring, and observes “here is not only the active, lively, moving water of the well but also a kind of capricious or uncontainable movement derived from it.” (133) Schroder argues that the name is a dim survival of a very early importance of the cult of Skaði; though she once ruled the land, her worship was eventually supplanted by worship of the Æsir. Steinsland, on the other hand, claims that Skaði, a giant, represents the earth; the gods she marries represent mortal kings. Their union reflects the bond between land and lord (and incidentally creates a dynasty of Norse chieftains). The views of these authors are very popular with those Heathens who wish to create an identification between Skaði and Nerthus, thereby cleaning up the question of the parentage of Freyr and Freyja and giving Skaði a strong fertility aspect; it also enjoys some popularity with those Pagans who subscribe to the idea of a prehistoric matriarchal goddess-oriented utopia that was eventually destroyed by the rise of war gods and their worshippers.
According to Svennung (cited in Helle and Mundal), the oldest Saami songs refer to the known world as Skadesi-suolo, which can be interpreted as “Skaði’s island.” Svennung believes the name to be a borrowing through Germanic contact since the “sk-” sound is not native to the Saami language.
Scathach is a skilled warrior and magician from Celtic mythology who is known primarily for training various heroes, including Cu Chulainn. Her name means “shadowy,” and she lives in Dun Scaith (the Castle of Shadows). Walker believes that Scathach and Skaði are the same figure, a sort of destroying goddess of the Underworld.
Though she does not appear to have originally been worshiped outside of Scandinavia, the Theodish have invented an Old English name (Sceaðu, “Injury”) to call her by in their own worship.
Some of the speculation around Skaði concerns her father. Thjazi’s father is given as Alvaldi in Harbardsljoð and Olvaldi in Skaldskaparmal, names similar enough to Ivaldi that Rydberg believes Thjazi was one of the sons of Ivaldi. Rydberg argues that, based on verses in Lokasenna and Hrafnagaldr Óðins, Iðunn is Thjazi’s sister or half-sister; Thjazi was angered after the gods’ judgement of the gifts of the sons of Ivaldi and removed his relative from Asgard as a result. Though Thjazi has made himself an enemy of the gods, to honor him and his gifts, the gods make stars of his eyes and give his daughter recompense. Various versions of Rydberg’s theory have made it onto the internet, usually without attribution.
Building on Svennung’s conclusion about the meaning of Skadesi-suolo (but ignoring his belief about the name being borrowed), Steinsland speculates that Skaði was originally a Saami goddess who was incorporated into the religion of the Germanic people. According to her theories, the name of Skaði’s father, derives from the Saami fishing god, Tjatseolmai, tjatse meaning “water” or from Čáhci, “the waterman.”
A number of person belonging to the Troth “work” with Skaði regularly and believe they have gained some additional insight into the goddess beyond what the mythology offers. The Troth says that, in addition to traditional occasions to pray to her, Skaði may be asked for help when driving on snow or ice, when trying to become more physically fit, or when needing justice. Gundarsson observes that, though she herself seems interested in male partners, Skaði is particularly appreciated by women who prefer other women or who take on a “‘masculine social role.” The Troth recommends offering her iced vodka in crystal cups, and gives her colors as black, dark brown, and white. According to them, her animals include goats, wolves, and dark colored eagles.
Though there is no surviving pre-Christian myth concerning Ullr and Skaði, persons of all backgrounds continually seek to bring the two together. Rydberg argues that Thjazi and Egil are brothers (and that Egil is Ullr’s father), making Skaði and Ullr cousins. Schroder, seeing in Skaði and Ullr a Germanic reflection of Mielikki and Tapio, a married pair of Finnish winter hunting gods, tries to make them either brother and sister or lovers (or, in Vana-fashion, both). Griffis, the compiler of Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks, includes a story in which Ullr and Skaði are husband and wife with six daughters. Online, there is a very common version of the marriage of Njord and Skaði that has Skaði meet Ullr shortly after her divorce from Njord; she and Ullr, with their shared love of hunting and skiing, are soul mates and live happily ever after.
In addition to the similarities between the two, it is worth noting that Skaði in the mythology does more often have relationships with wights who are border-powers, individuals who defy typical definitions or who fit in irregularly with the Æsir. Njord’s domain includes those areas where the land and rivers meet the sea; he is a Van living as hostage among the Æsir, and his status among them is perhaps not what it would be in Vanaheim. Loki and Odin are both wights who often act in defiance of what is considered proper behavior, shifting form, wandering the worlds and interacting with men and giants, and, in Loki’s case, carving a niche for himself among the dwellers in Asgard despite his ambiguous status. Ullr is also one who, though a god, appears to stand apart from the other gods (as in the formula “Ullr and all the gods”); in this way, he would be an appropriate companion for Skaði, the giantess who receives worship and is listed among the Asynjur.
Many modern Heathens, relying on the “shadow” meaning for Skaði’s name, see her and Ullr (“glory”) as representing darkness and light during winter, with Ullr’s majesty perhaps even reflected in the Aurora Borealis. While there is some poetry to it, there does not appear to be any evidence that anyone before the conversion believed this.
Vengeance, Justice, and Reconciliation:
Because of her actions in the mythology, Skaði is a popular goddess for modern Heathens to call upon not only in matters of revenge but also when justice or an end to fighting is desired.
Non-Heathen Modern Culture:
Skaði appears in a few areas outside of modern Heathenry. A moon of Saturn and a mountain on Venus are named after her. In works of fiction, video games, or comics, when she appears, it is usually as a wielder of ice magic of some kind.
Skaði is a modestly popular name in Scandinavian countries. Most online baby name dictionaries give the meaning of the name as “goddess of skiing.”
In other Pagan traditions, Skaði is usually portrayed as either the wintery aspect of the Earth Goddess or as a version of the Maiden Warrior. She is revered by feminists of various types, single mothers, and women who have non-gender-traditional careers or who otherwise act in ways inconsistent with their culture’s gender expectations. Pagans who want to worship the old Germanic giants and their ilk may use Skaði as justification for what they do. When they are not young people who seem to want some sort of Asatru Satanism to adhere to, their beliefs often include a sort of version of Schroder’s theory of an ancient pre-Æsir cult; where Schroder’s is one in which Skaði was of supreme importance, however, the giant-worshipers tend to postulate a system in which the giants were the primal forces of nature who were worshipped by noble savages who lived in harmony with their surroundings before the civilized Æsir worshippers came along and destroyed everything.
Personal Worship and UPG:
My worship of Ullr has made me amenable to the idea that he and Apollo may be the same individual; as such, I’m willing to entertain the idea that Skaði may be related to Artemis in some fashion as well. I have no evidence or personal experience one way or the other, though, and sharing some superficial similarities by no means makes one person the same as another. I personally find Mundal’s theories regarding Skaði’s relationship to the Saami people to be compelling; given the contact between the Saami and the ancient Norse, it may be that the Germanic people found it easier to explain their understanding of the goddess in terms of a nearby culture.
Her popularity is not without its downside, unfortunately. There is a great deal of UPG and misinformation presented as ancient belief, and it can be frustrating to sift through all the dross in search of worthwhile information. The widespread repetition of the “Skaði calls herself Mornir when she goes around collecting penises” bit on the internet is especially annoying.
Skaði is an object of fascination for me, and over the years, I have begun to hail her a little more often at blot or sumbel. She is the exception to a great many rules, a wight whose very existence seems to counter many people’s ideas about pre-Christian Germanic religions. Skaði is perfect to bring up in discussion with racist and strongly folkish Pagans (the red hair and freckle folk), sexist and “gender-traditional” Heathens, people who think that only beings descended from the Æsir or the Vanir are worthy of worship, and those who believe that Jotun is a synonym for enemy of the gods. With the rise in popularity of becoming a god-spouse (or god-slave), I’ve considered declaring myself the god-spouse of the Skir Bruðr Goða. Though I do have affection and admiration for her, I would mainly do it because every god-spouse I’ve encountered who’s not in a relationship with Odin is with Loki. I could then declare that my god-wife wants me to be the enemy of the Loki-spouse and behave accordingly. While it would be amusing, I have ultimately decided against it; not only would I risk annoying a goddess I like with my presumptuousness (though I suspect my motivation would help make her less angry), but I would also perhaps be giving the false impression that I approve of the institution.
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—. (1996) Translated with commentary by Carolyne Larrington.
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—. (2007) Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume 2 Part 1: Indo-European Mythology. Translated and annotated by William Reaves.
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