Skaði

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Background

Skaði is counted among the goddesses in the Norse pantheon, though not a lot is known about her. She is also numbered among the group of goddesses often known as jötunn-brides, for she is not of godly origin, but rather is the daughter of a jötunn by the name of Thjazi. When Thjazi kidnaps Iðunn and holds her hostage, preventing the gods from keeping their youth through the consumption of her apples, Loki is sent to retrieve her and bring her back to Ásgarðr. He succeeds, and Thjazi chases him back to Ásgarðr, where he is killed by the gods there. Skaði journeys to Ásgarðr, and to quench her rage the gods offer her marriage to one of them, but on one condition: she must choose which god she marries based solely upon their feet. She accepts this, but also on a condition of her own: the gods must make her laugh. Fittingly enough, the only god who is able to achieve this is Loki, who ties one end of a rope to his testicles and the other end to a goat, and has the goat pull against him. This action finally makes Skaði laugh, and she agrees. The gods are lined up behind a curtain, after which she comes out to look them over. She chooses the god with the most beautiful feet, thinking him to be Baldr. Rather, he is in fact Njörðr, the god of the sea. She then moves to his home near the sea, but the seagulls keep her awake and she cannot stand it, so they move to the mountains, where she is more at home. However, the wolves keep Njörðr up at night, and he expresses his discontent to Skaði. They decide then to split their time between living by the sea and in the mountains as a compromise, nine nights in Skaði’s mountain home of Thrymheimr and nine nights in Njörðr’s home of Noatun. This does not last, however, and Skaði is eventually separated from him.

Etymology

There are several theories for the meaning of Skaði’s name. Two theories presented in Our Troth are that her name means “shadow” or “scathe/harm,” though the book references these theories from earlier works (Gundarsson 2006). The Germanic stem of the prefix Scandi- can be reconstructed asSkaðan-, meaning “danger” or “harm”. However, the Old High German scato and Gothic skadus, both meaning “shadow,” are also linguistically close. The name has additionally been theorized to be a part of the root of the name Scandinavia, being “The isle of Skaði” (McKinnell 63). However, this theory was rejected by Georges Dumezil, who theorized that rather the first segment Scadin- meant “darkness” or “shadow,” as the region was not well understood at the time, and in the northern regions the days were largely dark for much of the year; the second segment, reconstructed as awjō, means “land of water” or possibly “island” (35).  Therefore, the name Skaði would likely come from the name Scandinavia rather than the other way around, if this connection were to be the case.

All theories of her etymological origin are plausible, as Scandinavia could just as well mean “Island of Shadow” or “Island of Danger/Harm”. Though the region itself is a peninsula rather than an island, the southern part was at one point separated from the icy northern part by a small strait (Uścinowicz 9). A lesser understanding of the geology in the north in later times could have also contributed to the linguistic root of the name. Skaði, representing the nature of Scandinavia, would fittingly be given a name describing darkness or danger.

Personality and Attributes

Skaði does not fit the gender-role view of goddesses which has become commonplace in most modern pagan circles. Rather, Skaði represents qualities and activities typically reserved for men. When she comes to Ásgarðr she is dressed in armor, giving her a much more male appearance before she sheds it in favor of marriage. The fact that she demands to choose her own husband in the first place is a contradiction to societal norms of the time, where women had a degree of input in their marriage, but the suitors were generally brought to them by them by the father after he had approved them. In addition to her role as a goddess of winter, she is seen as a goddess of hunters as well as skiing and snowshoeing, all of which were typically done by men rather than women in Old Norse society. Two of her alternative names gleaned from Gylfaginning are Öndurguð (ski/snowshoe god) and Öndurdis (ski/snowshoe lady), supporting her association with skiing (Gundarsson 2006). Also in Gylfaginning, the first book of Snorri’s Edda, Gangleri tells that Skaði travels through the mountains on skis, carrying a bow, and that she shoots game with it (Faulkes 1987).

There are no animals with whom Skaði explicitly has interactions, such as Óðinn’s interactions with his ravens Huginn and Muninn, and his wolves Geri and Freki. However, it can be implied that wolves are sacred to her through Njörðr’s complaints about the howling of wolves keeping him up at night. Even if wolves are not exactly sacred to her, she is at least comfortable with them, and they embody the hunter aspect much the same as she herself.

Sexually, Skaði is fairly ambiguous throughout the lore about her. Aside from her marriage to Óðinn, she is never described as having sexual relations other than by Loki’s accusation in Lokasenna (Hollander 1962). Her marriage to Njörðr was asexual, and her demeanor early on is much more masculine than feminine. In modern times, she is often appreciated by women who prefer masculine roles over the traditional feminine roles for women, as well as by women who prefer the same gender or are not sexually inclined. Also, in the beginning of the Volsungasaga she appears in the form of a male deity rather than female [1].

Skaði’s personality changes several times throughout the lore. Early on, she is very much a grim warrior maiden bent upon avenging her father. In her marriage to Njörðr and then later to Óðinn, she gains a more motherly aspect, both in her bearing of children to Óðinn and her interaction with Freyr inSkirnismál, who becomes her stepson (Hollander 1962). As told in both Lokasenna and Gylfaginning, it is she who places the snake above the bound Loki to drip venom onto him, in this scene reverting back to more of a grim figure. Loki’s words in Lokasenna can certainly be seen as having fueled this change, as he boasts that he was first and foremost in the battle against her father Thjazi, where he was killed.

Marriage

As mentioned in the background section, Skaði was originally married to Njörðr after coming to Ásgarðr, seemingly with the intent of avenging her father. This event presents a major change in the character of Skaði, as she lays down her arms and accepts the role of a wife among the Æsir, but it also displays an irrational choice in marriage which is doomed to fail in the end; truly it does, as she will not have sex with Njörðr and eventually Njörðr will not agree to live with her in Thrymheim for anymore than nine winters, and later not at all (Lindow 2008).

According to the Ynglingasaga, after separating from Njörðrr, Skaði marries Óðinn[2], with whom she has many children. One of these children is Saemingr, who fathers the heroic line known as the Jarls of Hlaðir in Norway; this is told in the skaldic poem Háleygjatal (Hollander 2007). Skaði’s marriage to Óðinn is much more successful than her marriage to Njörðrr, and there is much more of a connection between the two to reinforce it. Both of them have associations with death and with animals such as wolves; I will expand upon this on Skaði’s part further down. Because of this, they are much more compatible in personality than are Skaði and Njörðr, and it can be inferred that there was more depth in her decision to marry Óðinn as well.

Worship, Ancient and Modern

There is absolutely no concrete evidence supporting the historical worship of Skaði outside of Scandinavia; however, this in itself does seem to lend support to the earlier presented theory of her personifying Scandinavia. Within the region, though, it appears that she was widely acknowledged and worshipped, especially in Sweden where there are several place names theorized to be connected to her, including the historic province of Scania (modern Swedish Skåne) which has the same linguistic roots as Scandinavia (Haugen 1976). Skaði also speaks of “s and fields” dedicated to her inLokasenna (Hollander 1962). She shares many attributes with a Finnish goddess by the name of Mielikki as well, leading some to theorize that she may have originally been known by this name and then later as Skaði by the Norse after the migrated into the region (Gundarsson 2006).

In modern practice, Skaði has come to be acknowledged by the majority of the Norse Polytheist community (I use that term to denote Asatru, Forn Sed, Forn Sidr, Forn Siðr, etc.), though consistent worship of her is not as common. As the modern reconstructed religion has reached far beyond the region of Scandinavia, so too has her range of worship been expanded. Some of those who do worship her do so on a more seasonal basis, particularly during the winter part of the year when her influence can be felt more directly. Heathens who partake in hunting may ask her for her blessing of success upon their venture, and may also give offerings to her of meat from their kills. For those who do not actively hunt, but still wish to give offerings to her, game meat in general is a good option, especially of purchased from a hunter. Vodka has become a popular offering to her as well (Gundarsson 2006).

Skaði largely represents the harsher aspects of life, both the snows of winter which kill and hide the life upon the ground and the need to hunt and kill for the preservation of one’s own life. Though much of developed society has become less dependent upon hunting, there are still many who do so as a part of tradition as well as the view that what is hunted is of much better quality than what is sold in supermarkets. Many indigenous tribes widely practice hunting both out of tradition and, in some cases, regional isolation from other sources of food. However, the life of the animal is given in order to sustain other life, and the snows of winter help to purify the ground for the next growing season; therefore, Skaði represents the harsher reality which is both necessary for life and in fact helps to preserve it.

She also represents the breaking of stereotypical gender roles in society by the fact that she hunts, fights and works just as well as any man. Therefore, she functions as an inspiration and role model for both men and women who seek to partake in the more typically masculine aspects of life.

Notes:

1. Here we see a possible disagreement between sources, though in the Volsungasaga Skaði is not necessarily described as a god, but rather as a man. This could very well be a coincidence, namewise, or possibly a man named after a deity, as was somewhat common at least in part.

2. The fact that the authorship of Heimskringla/Ynglingasaga and the poems of the Poetic Edda differ has been shown to create some discrepancies between the two sources, often making it difficult to make claims with confidence regarding their respective depictions. However, there is not a direct conflict with this detail as it is not set against her marriage to Njörðr, but supposedly occurs sometime after their separation, so I have more confidence in using the interpretation.

Works Cited

Dumézil, Georges. From Myth to Fiction: the Saga of Hadingus. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1973.

Faulkes, Anthony (Tr). Edda. London: Everyman, 1987.

Gundarsson, Kveldúlfr. Our Troth Vol I: History and Lore. North Charleston, SC: Booksurge, LLC, 2006.

Haugen, Einar. The Scandinavian Languages: An Introduction to Their History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.

Hollander, Lee M (Tr). Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007.

Hollander, Lee M (Tr). The Poetic Edda. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1962.

Lindow, John. When Skaði Chose Njorðr. Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland: Essays in Honor of Marianne Kalinke. Edited by Kirsten Wolf & Johanna Denzin. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 2008. http://cip.cornell.edu/DPubS/Repository/1.0/Disseminate?handle=cul.isl/1242914156&view=body&content-type=pdf_1 (accessed October 17, 2013).

McKinnell, John. Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend. D.S. Brewer, 2005.

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