Skadi, the Skier…

Not too long ago, I lodged a post here about the (in my humble opinion) under-valued Norse God, Tyr.

Even more recently than that, I issued a post that, among other things, spoke about the Rune, Isa, that literally means “Ice,” and which can signify things like delays, blockages, and interference, along with more literal things such as ice itself, winter, snow…

Today, I’ve decided to combine elements of both of those posts to arrive at the topic for this blog entry: I’ll be discussing another under-celebrated Norse Deity, and one I myself associate directly with ice and snow and winter (although the entire Norse Pantheon was undoubtedly well-versed in cold weather…).  But so the subject of today’s post is the forthright Winter-Goddess, Skadi:

Skadi, the great Ski-Goddess and Huntress of Norse Mythology, thoroughly at home here in her element...
Skadi, the great Ski-Goddess and Huntress of Norse Mythology, thoroughly at home here in her element…

It’s important to note that the Norse Deities actually hail from three distinct, primary sources.  First, you have the Aesir Deities: this would be the leader of the entire Pantheon, Odin, and his blood-kin.  Next would be the Vanir, often described as Fertility-Deities — in the early days of the Nine Worlds, the Aesir and Vanir came into conflict, but ultimately settled their differences with a treaty and an exchange of “hostages,” with the Vanir sending to the Aesir the popular and well-documented twins, Freyja and Frey, and their father, the Sea-God, Njord.  After this development, the two groups seemed to more or less coexist in peaceful fashion.  The third source of Deities who helped to populate Odin’s Pantheon in the shining realm of Asgard would be the Jotnar (singular = Jotun), a complex race of beings also known as Thurses or simply Giants…

I say the Jotnar are complex, because, among other attributes, their physical appearances varied quite a lot from one Jotun to the next, ranging from humanoids of extraordinary beauty in some cases, to specimens who were quite bestial and grotesque in others, some of them not even truly humanoid at all (see, for example, Fenris, the great Wolf, or Jormungand, the enormous Serpent who encircles the entire Earth).  They also displayed drastic differences in size, and despite often being referred to as “Giants,” many of them appeared as quite average in their physical dimensions.  Complicating things even more, the Jotnar often possessed the ability to change their shapes and sizes at will.  And their dispositions were no less varied in nature: in general, they were viewed as hostile to Odin’s people, and were largely banned from Asgard, but there were plenty of exceptions.  Loki, for instance, the infamous trickster God and Odin’s adopted blood-brother, was originally of Jotnar stock, and some of the Asgardians did elect to marry Jotnar.  The aforementioned Vanir-God, Frey, for example, fell in love with a beautiful Jotun maid named Gerd, and even bargained away his magic sword in order to win her hand in marriage.  Skadi, then, was also originally of Jotnar blood.

Her story as an Asgardian begins with her father, a bit of a trickster himself, named Tjasse (you’ll find this name spelled in half a dozen different forms in English, and, in fact, Skadi’s, as well, is often spelled as Skade, although it’s the Skadi variant that always stuck in my head and seemed the most “right” to me…).  I won’t dwell too much on the details of this particular myth, except to say that Tjasse ran afoul one day of Odin, Loki, and another Aesir-God named Hoenir, and the misadventure eventually led to Tjasse’s death at the hands of the Asgardians.  Quite arguably, Tjasse brought his fate upon himself, but his daughter — one of those strikingly lovely Jotun women mentioned above, whose name was Skadi — didn’t see it that way.

Bearing her weapons of war — her bow and arrows, and her spear — Skadi fearlessly stormed the gates of Asgard, and demanded recompense for the slaying of her father.  Odin, impressed with her boldness and her bravery, offered to make amends by first hanging her father’s eyes in the sky as stars to honor his memory, and then offering Skadi one of the Asgardian Gods as a husband, which would essentially bring her into the fold as an honorary Asgardian herself.  Skadi seemed a bit intrigued by the possibilities here despite her initial fury, and agreed, provided the Asgardians could first succeed at the unlikely task of making her laugh (and grim as her mood was at the time, this would be no easy feat).  The Asgardians accepted, but they had a condition of their own: in the version of this tale that I first encountered as a child (told in part by a woman named Ingri d’Aulaire, who was born and raised in Norway, and seems therefore to me as fine a modern source of authority on the matter as any), the Asgardians would create a bank of fog that would cover the top halves of the Asgardian Gods making up the field of contenders from which Skadi could choose, and she would then be obliged to select a husband judging only by the appeal of his legs…

Skadi chooses a mate in rather unique fashion...
Skadi chooses a mate in rather unique fashion…

So first, by committing so intensely to the task of wringing laughter from dark-humored Skadi that he was willing to bind a billy goat by its beard to his own private parts, Loki managed, by capering about and ultimately somersaulting right into her lap, to win bright laughter from the Jotun warrior-woman.  Then, as Ingri d’Aulaire and her husband, Edgar, explain in their grand d’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, like most women walking the Nine Worlds at the time, Skadi was susceptible to the charms of Balder, son of Odin and his wife, Frigg, and she liked the idea of being wed to him.  Balder was considered a God of Light and Beauty, and he inspired longing and desire everywhere he went.  As the d’Aulaires have it, Skadi “was sure that Balder, the handsomest of the Aesir, would be the only one with legs as perfect as her own.  For Skadi, the skier, had shapely and muscular legs…

As the Aesir had succeeded in making her laugh, Skadi followed through on her part of the bargain, and readied herself to choose a husband from among the Asgardians’ ranks in the unusual fashion they’d proposed.  They conjured their bank of fog, and Skadi went up and down the line of legs on display, agonizing over the decision.  Finally making her choice, she was startled and disappointed to learn that the God she’d chosen was not Balder at all, but was rather Njord, the Sea-God who had originally come to Asgard as one of the hostages offered to the Aesir by the Vanir to help settle their conflict.  The resulting marriage was not a happy one…

Skadi and Njord: not a pairing meant to last...
Skadi and Njord: not a pairing meant to last…(artwork by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, after an original by Friedrich Wilhelm Engelhard)…

Njord was considerably older than Skadi, for one thing, and for another, neither could abide being in the other’s home for very long.  Njord was a gracious sort who wanted his new bride to be happy, but nine nights in the mountains nearly drove him mad.  His natural abode was the sea, and he couldn’t bear the absence of the crashing waves, the surging tides, the dartings of the fish and the cries of the gulls…  Skadi, also good at heart beneath her fierce warrior-bearing, was in turn willing to give seaside living a shot for the sake of her new union…but found herself as unsettled at the shore as Njord had been in the mountains.  She needed the fresh fall of snow, the cold bite of winter chill, the speed of her skis across the stark white drifts, and the icy caress of the frost.  After nine more nights at the ocean’s side, the couple came to the sad mutual agreement that the marriage simply couldn’t work, and they amicably separated…

And Skadi surfaces once more in the Norse myths, and this appearance is again a showing of the ferocity of her spirit when she feels wronged and incensed…

As I mentioned above, Loki was originally of Jotnar blood, but had been adopted into the Aesir by Odin himself via a blood-sharing ritual in the early days of the Nine Worlds.  In the beginning, while he was certainly inclined toward mischief, Loki didn’t seem necessarily evil.  As time wore on, however, his demeanor seemed to steadily blacken, and he eventually engineered the death of beloved Balder.  After much heartbreak and then a long and involved chase, the Asgardians captured him, and bound him atop sharp rocks using the entrails of his own slain son.  As a final element in this punishment, Skadi herself hung a poisonous serpent above Loki in such a manner that its venom would drip ceaselessly down onto his face — every drop that landed caused him such spasms of agony that people would feel his tremors as earthquakes for leagues in every direction.  Loki’s loyal wife, Sigyn, remained by his side, catching the dripping venom in a bowl, but periodically she would have to turn away to empty it, and the serpent’s poison would again scald Loki, causing him to buck and writhe in anguish…

Skadi, Queen of the Mountain (original artwork by Carl Fredrik von Saltza)...
Skadi, Queen of the Mountain (original artwork by Carl Fredrik von Saltza)…

Skadi, then, is actually one of the more storied Deities in the Norse canon.  Her bracing of Odin himself in Asgard to demand satisfaction for her dead father, her challenge to the Asgardians to make her laugh, her strange method for selecting a husband, the resulting abortive marriage to Njord, and her decisive place as self-appointed punisher of Loki all mark her as a strong, determined, independent Warrior-Goddess, one capable of reason and fairness, but also at times as merciless and cutting as the coldest winter wind.  A few of the Norse Deities have greater numbers of individual stories devoted to them — Odin, Loki, and Thor certainly qualify — but surprisingly few others are as well-delineated.  Like noble Tyr, Skadi is a figure who, in my mind, is deserving of greater recognition, standing as she does for such profound strength of character and will, and doing so as a female among a Pantheon whose lore seems to center much more predominantly on its male members.  Also, it can be said: I simply will often tend to feel warmly toward your basic Ice-Queen type…  Such is my natural affinity!

But so from a warm summer Saturday here in sunny Los Angeles by the sea, I urge you to consider the fierce and dauntless Skadi: Norse Winter-Goddess, and elegant, ferocious Skier-Huntress!

One thought on “Skadi, the Skier…

  1. Pingback: Aesir | Earthpages.ca

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