Goddesses FAQ Questions about individual goddesses
The answers below are based on my personal interpretations of the available lore. They are speculation, not 'fact'. If you have an interest in the Germanic goddesses I encourage you to:
- Read the medieval primary sources (especially the Eddas)
- Read current scholarly commentary on those sources (Llewellyn books don't count!)
- Apply critical thought
- Apply personal intuition, insight, or religious experience
- Draw your own conclusions.
I'd also like to remind readers that I don't take the lore as literal or historical 'truth'. It was passed down through oral tradition by humans who may have been biased by their own subjective understanding of the goddesses. It was recorded in the Christian era by people who may have misinterpreted some parts of the heathen oral tales.
I've read that Jack and Jill from the nursery rhyme are the same as Hjuki and Bil.Is this true?
Jack and Jill went up the hill
to fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
This theory goes back to a book called Curious Myths of the Middle Ages written in 1866. In it, the Rev. S. Baring-Gould writes: "Hjuki, in Norse, would be pronounced Juki, which would readily become Jack; and Bil, for the sake of euphony, and in order to give a female name for one of the children, would become Jill." Actually, 'hju' in Old Norse is pronounced rather like the 'hu' in the English word 'hue' (certainly not with an English 'j' sound as in 'Jew'), so 'Hjuki' doesn't really sound very similar to English 'Jack'.
In The Oxford dictionary of Nursery Rhymes Iona and Peter Opie remark that "Most early quotations coupling Jack and Jill use the names in the general sense of lad and lass, e.g. Shakespeare's 'Jack shall have Jill; Nought shall go ill,' the proverb 'a good Jack makes a good Jill', and the nursery rhyme 'I won't be my father's Jack.'"
I won't be my father's Jack
I won't be my mother's Jill,
I will be the fiddlers wife
And have music when I will.
So the names Jack and Jill are certainly not unique to one particular nursery rhyme, and it's highly unlikely that all the instances of 'Jack and Jill' in early modern literature could be traced back to Norse mythology.
Besides the dubiously similar names, the only other thing the rhyme has in common with the myth quoted by Snorri is that in both cases the children are carrying a pail of water. The nursery rhyme doesn't mention the moon and Snorri doesn't mention the children falling down a hill or Jack's being injured. It's possible that rhyme preserves some elements of the pre-Christian myth that Snorri didn't mention, but there is no evidence whatsoever for this. In the days before indoor plumbing, it was quite common for children to be sent to draw water from a well and carry it home. I think that this alone is enough to account for the one similarity between the rhyme and the myth.
The poetic Edda quote seems to imply that Eir lives on a mountain. Does she have her own mountain where she is worshipped?
There's no evidence that there was ever a mountain sacred to Eir, but that's the impression a lot of people get from the Hollander translation of the Edda. The word in Svipdagsmal 35 that he translates as 'mountain' is bjarg which is more likely to refer to a hill or a boulder. The word he translates as 'dwell' is þruma which actually means 'to stand' or 'to loiter'.
According to Hollander
"Tell me, Fjolsvith, for fain I would know;
answer thou as I ask
what the mountain is hight which the maiden doth
dwell on, alone and aloft"
The Old Icelandic is for the last two lines is:
hvat that bjarg heitir, er ek sé bruði á,
I think a better English translation would be, "what the hill/rock is called, on which I see a glorious woman standing".
In any case, the woman referred to here is Menglað, and Eir is listed amongst those who sit together at her knees. The impression I get is that this 'healing rock' or 'healing hill', lyfjaberg, is either a harrow, a sort of natural rock altar, or a barrow, a raised earth tomb. People might come to either sort of place to blót (give offerings or make sacrifices to) the healing goddesses who are hanging around, spiritually, but perhaps also physically in the form of carved idols.
Later in the poem (verses 38 and 39 in my Old Icelandic edition) Svipdag asks Fjolvið whether the aforementioned 'maidens' (Menglað, Hlíf, Hlífþrassa, Þjoðvara, Björt, Bleik, Blíð, Fríð, Eir and Aurboða) protect those who blót them if they are needful. Fjolvið answers that everyone who blóts them á stallhelgom stað, at the holy-altar place, will be free from need. The term 'stall' means a heathen altar and can refer to one that acted as a pedestal for an idol.
I read somewhere that Eir was a valkyrie. Is this true?Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda contains several lists of names and synonyms used in Old Norse poetry. These lists, called Þulur, arrange things into categories, but don't give us any further information about them. The name 'Eir' appears in the Þulur in a context where Snorri lists 30 goddesses and six names for Freya and then continues:"There are yet others, Odin's maids, Hild and Gondul, Hlokk, Mist, Skogul. Then are listed Hrund and Eir, Hrist, Skuld. They are called norns who shape destiny."The names referred to as 'Odin's maids' are valkyries. In the quote above, it may look as though Snorri is including Eir in the norns category, rather than the valkyrie category. But Hrund and Hrist are valkyrie names, and we know from his remarks elsewhere that Snorri didn't necessarily distinguish between the valkyries and norns. In Gylfaginning he writes:
"These are called valkyries. Odin sends them into battle. They allot death and govern victory. Gunn and Rota and the youngest norn, called Skuld, always ride to chose who shall be slain and to govern the killings."So in the Þulur where Eir is mentioned, Snorri may be categorising her as both a valkyrie and a norn. But does this really tell us anything? We don't know why Snorri chose to include Eir in a list of valkyries and norns, or even if the 'Eir' he is referring to here is the same one whom he tells us elsewhere is a good physician.
Snorri could have had access to mythological stories about Eir which are now lost, in which she appears amongst the injured on the battlefield to either heal the wounded or relieve them from their suffering. In the later case, she would be acting as a chooser of the slain, and her name, meaning 'Mercy' would be particularly appropriate to this function. But this is pure speculation. Snorri may have included her name in the list of valkyries and norns by default, simply because he didn't know what other category to put her in.
What is the basis of the statement that Frigg was a worker in textiles?Good question. There aren't any passages in the Sagas or Eddas that actually describe Frigg in the process of spinning or weaving, but she seems to be closely associated with these activities in folklore and in romantic era depictions. (The painting on the title page of the Germanic Goddesses site is of Frigg spinning the clouds, and there is another on the Volsung Saga link from the Frigg page that shows her holding up a distaff with sheep at her feet.)
The main piece of 'hard evidence' usually cited in descriptions of Frigg as spinner is that the stars that form Orion's belt are known as Friggerock, Frigg's Distaff, in parts of Sweden. I've read versions of the folktale 'The Gift of Flax' (which appears under the Holda entry on the Germanic Goddesses page) in which the flax-giving goddess is said to be Frigg, rather than Holda. In Roles of the Northern Goddess H.R.E. Davidson states that "In Blekinge there was a custom of not spinning on Thursdays, as that was when Frigg's spinning was done." There was apparently also a Norwegian folk-belief (cited in de Vries' Altgermanische Religiousgeschichte) that chains should not be cut through on Friday (Frigg's day) because this would make the weaving unsuccessful.
I read somewhere that Fulla is a goddess of stones. I've never heard of a 'goddess of stones' before. What does that mean?It means you should always question everything you read on the web, as you have wisely done in this case! This query threw me for a loop until I put Fulla, goddess, stones into a search engine and it brought up a couple of websites that quote the following verse attributed to Gisli's Saga:
My Fulla, fair faced, the goddess of stones
Who gladdens me much, shall hear of her friend
Standing straight, unafraid in the rain of the spears...
Neither of the web pages gives a source for the translation, which is a very bad one. So bad, in fact, that it completely distorts the meaning of the passage, which has nothing at all to do with Fulla and is certainly not, as one website suggests, a prayer to her.
For those who read some Old Norse, here's the original verse from chapter 36 of Gisli's Saga:Fals hallar skal FullaThis verse contains a kenning that includes the name of the goddess Fulla, but doesn't refer to her. A kenning is a conventional metaphor that can be used in place of noun. An example from colloquial modern English is the term 'rug rat'. If someone says, "I wish those rug rats would stop screaming for five minutes," people familiar with the kenning know that neither rugs nor rats are being referred to, but that the phrase taken as a whole means 'children'. Kennings are commonly used in early Germanic poetry, and the medieval Icelandic Skalds took the poetic challenge so far as to create kennings made up out of other kennings.
fagrleit, sús mik teitir,
rekkilát at rökkum,
regns, sínum vin fregna;
vel hygg ek, þótt eggjar
ítrslegnar mik bíti;
þá gaf sínum sveini
sverðs minn faðir herðu.
The complex kenning in this verse involving the word 'Fulla' translates something like 'Fulla of rain of spear-shafts hall'. An Old Norse speaker (one who appreciated poetry, anyway) would understand this phrase to mean simply 'woman'.
The 'spear-shafts hall' is a kenning for 'hand', because in metaphorical terms, the hand is 'home' to the spear, which leaves its 'hall' when it is thrown.
The 'rain of the hand' is 'gold'. The metaphorical image of a shower of coins is still with us today in phrases like 'pennies from heaven'. Gold was distributed from the hands of the wealthy.
'Fulla of gold' means 'woman'. We still use the word 'goddess' in terms referring to various sorts of women: 'domestic goddess', 'sex goddess', etc. In Skaldic poetry any phrase equivalent to 'goddess of gold' meant 'woman', presumably because women were thought to be fond of gold jewelry. Furthermore, according to convention, the name of any Norse goddess could be inserted into this kenning. It wouldn't make a difference whether the poem spoke of 'Fulla of gold' or 'Gna of gold' the meaning in both cases would simply be 'woman'.
So why did the Skald choose the name 'Fulla' in this instance, rather than that of some other goddess? The particularly demanding style in which this verse was composed (dróttkvætt) required that certain consonant and vowel sounds be echoed within a line. In the first line of the verse (see above) the word 'Fulla' alliterates with the word 'fals' and forms a half-rhyme with the word 'hallar'. Another goddess name would not fit the strict poetic form.
For a decent translation of Gisli's Saga and a guide to the kennings in the verses therein, I recommend: The Saga of Gisli translated by George Johnston, notes by Peter Foote, University of Toronto Press, 1963.
Are Fulla and Frigg sisters?If the 'Volla' of the 2nd Mersberg Charm is indeed the German version of the Norse goddess 'Fulla' (the names are linguistically equivalent) then Fulla is Frigg's sister. This would explain why they share secrets. Snorri records that Baldr and Nanna send Odin, Frigg, and Fulla souvenirs from Hel. If we think of Fulla as Baldr's aunt (rather than his mother's servant), then it makes more sense that only Fulla and Baldr's parents got gifts, when none of the other gods did. (The Mersberg Charm also associates Volla to Baldr.)
Is Fulla a virgin?The ON word that Anthony Faulkes translates 'virgin' in the passage from Gylfaginning quoted above is mær, which can also mean 'girl', 'daughter', or 'unmarried woman'. Snorri even uses the word to refer to Frigg when he calls her Fjorgyns mær. Fulla could still be called mær if she had a fling or two. It's probably more accurate to think of Fulla as an unmarried woman living in Frigg's household than to think of her as a "virgin goddess".
How can Snorri contradict himself so blatently? In some passages he claims Gefjon is a virgin, and elsewhere says she has sons.I don't think Snorri meant to suggest that Gefjon gave birth as a virgin. In Gylfaginning Snorri identifies Gefjon's oxen as her sons by a giant. In Ynglings Saga he repeats this claim and then goes on to say that Gefjon married Skjold, a son of Oðin. Why then does he go on to say in Gylfaginning that she is a virgin attended by those who die virgins?
This passage is better translated, "She is an unmarried girl, and those who die unmarried serve her," but this doesn't help us much, since elsewhere Snorri tells us that Gefjon is married to Skjold. My best guess is that Snorri got his information about Gefjon from at least two different sources (one being a now lost poem by the poet Bragi). He may have paraphrased and copied down two legends without noticing that they contadicted. Or maybe they didn't originally contradict each other. Perhaps Snorri misheard the story which stated that Gefjon was attended by girls who died unmarried and it didn't actually mention that Gefjon herself was unmarried. Maybe there's a simple explanation, like the fact that he wrote about Gefjon in a mead-induced haze.
Is Hlín just another name for Frigg?Most scholars seem to believe this is the case. For example, in Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology, the entry for Hlín reads as follows.
Hlin: (ON, "protectress"). A goddess in Snorri (Gylfaginning 34) and in the Thulur whom Frigg installs with the task of protecting mankind. In Voluspa 53 Hlin merely appears to be another name for Frigg and in skaldic poetry Hlin frequently appears in kennings for "Woman".My problem is that Simek does not explain why he believes that Hlin is merely another name for Frigg in Voluspa 53. My best guess is that it all stems from the phrase: "Hlin's second/other [ON annarr] sorrow." If you substitute "Frigg" for "Hlin", then we can all guess what the first sorrow is: Baldr's death, whereas nobody knows the trouble Hlin's seen.
Is Iðun Æsir or Vanir? Who are her parents?The strange and obscure Oðin's Korpgalder mentions Iðun's father in the following verse:
Dwells in the dells the knowing maiden,
Fallen from Yggdrasil down, from the ash;
The elves named her Idun; she is the oldest
Of Ivalde's younger brood.
So, who is this Ivalde? Well, the name only occurs twice elsewhere in the lore.
In Grimnismal we learn that
Ivaldi's sons in bygone days
the best of ships, for shining Freyr,
the beneficent son of Njord.
And according to Snorri's Gylfaginning, "It was certain dwarves, sons of Ivaldi, that made Skidbladnir and gave Freyr the ship."
There are some interesting parallels here between Njörð and Ivaldi. Njörð is strongly associated with ships. Ivaldi's sons make a ship for Njörð's son Frey. Could these dwarves be Njörð's sons by another mother, his "older brood"?
Iðun is said to be named by the elves. Njörð's son Frey also has close associations with elves at a young age, when he is given Alfheim as a tooth-gift.
Simek suggests that the name Ivaldi might be derived from the same proto-Germanic name as Ingvi. Thus, if Ivaldi is Njörð, the title (in a different form) is then passed on to Frey.
In the Haustlong, from which most all our knowledge of Iðun derives, Frey is consistantly referred to as Ingvi-freyr. It is Ingvi-freyr who threatens Loki and makes him go steal back Iðun from Thjazi, and Freya who lends Loki her falcon cloak to assist him. Of course all the gods want Iðun back, but Frey and Freya are the ones who take direct action.
There's no direct evidence to link Njörð with Iðun's father Ivaldi but there are certainly some strong associations between Ivaldi, Iðun and the Vanir.
Nehalennia seems to be well known as a Celtic goddess. She's mentioned on several Celtic sites on the web. What's she doing on your Germanic goddesses site?
Nehalennia is a local goddess associated with a particular area of Zeeland, and it's likely that she was honoured by the locals, including members of both Germanic and Celtic tribes. A booklet called Nehalennia: Het Stenen Raadsel puts it this way:
Nehalennia [...] is native; she was already here before the Romans. She is ruler of the Schelde. She also extends her rule over the Zeeuws coast and the sea that this coast surrounds.
According to Ancestors: The Origins of the People and Countries of Europe by Martin Berg and Miles Litvinoff:
Celtic tribes, including the Belgae, invaded the southern Netherlands around 600 BC, stopping at the Rhine. Some time later, the area north of the Rhine was occupied by Saxon tribes-- the Frisii and Batavi. In the age of the Roman conquests, the empire also stopped at the Rhine, though the Romans did make expeditions beyond this line and briefly controlled the territory of the Frisii. When the Romans abandoned their territories in the Netherlands, Germanic tribes, including the Franks, moved in to replace them.
If Sif is Ullr's mother, who is his father?
Since, according to Snorri, Ullr is Sif's son and Thor's stepson, Sif must have had at least one lover prior to the god with the big hammer. The passage from Lokasenna is especially interesting seen in this context. If Sif slept with Loki before she married Thor, then she would indeed be blameless of infidelity. And if Sif were once Thor's lover, it might give him some motivation (jealousy, spite) for cutting off her beautiful hair when she married his rival. But if Sif and Loki were once lovers, does that suggest that Loki is Ullr's father?
Another candidate for a previous lover of Sif's is Hrungnir. Perhaps that's why he tries to steal her away from Thor later and why Thor and Hrungnir end up in a fatal duel. Hrungnir engages Thor in single combat. Snorri says that Ullr is especially good at single combat. Family resemblance?
Are Ullr and Skaði brother and sister?The idea that Ullr and Skaði are siblings has no basis in ancient lore, but is nevertheless a popular hypothesis among Germanic scholars. In Myth and Religion of the North E.O.G.Turville-Petre writes of Ullr: "He was not only son of Sif, but he also bore a remarkable resemblance to Skadi, the giantess wife of Njord. Both travelled on skis, hunted, and wielded the bow. Ull must, therefore, be related to Njord himself, although the two gods can hardly be identified."
The way I interpret this, Turville-Petre is arguing that since Ullr and Skaði share a number of traits, they must be related (for example, as brother and sister) and since Njörd and Skaði are related as husband and wife, then Ullr must be related to Njörd (for example, as his brother-in-law). In any case, this is a prime example of academic bluffing. There is no logical reason why the fact that Ullr and Skaði "both travelled on skis, hunted, and wielded the bow" implies that they "must be related". Plenty of unrelated human beings in Northern Europe had such things in common.
On the other hand, the fact that Ullr and Skaði had many traits in common may well have led ancient heathens to speculate about their relationship in the same way that modern scholars do. And they may well have been known to be related in myths we have lost.
Was Skaði Oðin's wife?Ynglings Saga states that Skaði had many sons with Oðin. It makes intuitive sense to me that Skaði and Oðin had a relationship at some point. Oðin seems to have a thing for Jotun women. He also seems to go for women who challenge him. He made Thiassi's eyes into stars as "compensation" for Skaði, so he obviously sympathised with her somewhat. Skaði and Oðin are both lone wanderers (among other things). Njörd complains about the howling of the wolves in Skaði's home at Thrymheim. Oðin is accompanied by wolves. Skaði and Oðin are both warriors (among other things). I can see that there might be a mutual attraction there.
So, when was Skaði with Oðin long enough for them to have "many sons" together?
The lore records the fact that Oðin was often gone from Asgard for long periods of time. For example:
Ynglings Saga chapter 3 states:
"Othin had two brothers. One was called Ve, and the other Vili. These, his brothers, governed the realm when he was gone. One time when Othin was gone to a great distance, he stayed away so long that the Æsir thought he would never return. Then his brothers began to divide his inheritance; but his wife Frigg they shared between them. However, a short while afterwards, Othin returned and took possession of his wife again."Lokasenna also makes reference to this incident, and it's clear from the lore that Oðin and Frigg had what would be referred to these days as "an open marriage". Oðin could easily had had a long-running affair with Skaði during one of his long absences.
Saxo Grammaticus tells a strange story of how the Æsir made Oðin an outlaw for ten years after his rape of Rind and during this time installed Oller [Ullr] on the highseat in Asgard.
I find this interesting in that, if when Ullr took Oðin's place, Oðin took Ullr's place, then that might put him somewhere in the vicinity of Skaði (depending on the relationship between Ullr and Skaði-- see above.) If he was gone for ten years, that could explain the "many sons".
Is Snotra really a goddess or did Snorri invent her?In his Dictionary of Northern Mythology Rudolf Simek writes: "Snotra is probably an invention of Snorri's whom he derived from snotr 'clever' and placed next to the other insignificant goddesses." Presumably, Simek bases his assessment on the fact that there is no direct reference to Snotra outside of Snorri's Edda.
However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Snotra may have been a local goddess little known outside a particular area. Snorri may have had access to an oral tradition about Snotra that is now lost. Any new evidence relevant to this question will have to come from Snotra herself.
Are Vár and Vör distinct goddesses or different names for the same goddess?My current understanding is that the characteristics Snorri attributes to Vör are actually further attributes of Vár. It seems I have some scholarly support for my experientially-based belief that Vör is not a separate goddess.
Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology states that:
"Vör occurs only twice otherwise [apart from the mention in Snorri's Edda] in kennings for 'woman' and it is not certain whether she really was a goddess and if Snorri's etymological explanation (from vorr 'careful') is correct."Cassel's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend notes of Vör:
"Snorri's etymologizing interpretation is scarcely profound, and may imply that he had no access to further material; certainly references to Vör in the written records are extremely scarce."