Two Goddesses, two fates :Íðunn and Skaði
The famous poem relating Freyr and Gerðr’s marriage provides us a link between Skaði and Gerðr since they are both Giantesses marrying one (at least) of the Æsir, the Norse Gods. ¶The myths that reached us describe Gerðr a good wife who raises no problems, while Íðunn, who will only be ‘stained’ by Giants’ world, together with Skaði will persists in providing myths of rebellion against the Æsir’s rules… what links them and makes them so enthralling.
Íðunn, who is said to be born among Elves, the trusty Gods’s servants, may strongly ressent the constraint of being in service. She will rebel at least once just before Ragnarök but, in my opinion, she did rebel a first time before. This first occurrence is presented by Snorri Sturlusson as a kidnapping called ‘Íðunn’s abduction’, the second time she obviuosly decides to jopin Giantworld, according to the poem “Óðinn’s ravens galdr” (see a commented translation of this poem at http://www. nordic-life. org/nmh/HRAFENGNEW. htm to which is associated a tale at http://www. nordic-life. org/OneDayBeforeRagnar%F6k. htm )
The present tale will describe her as a carrier of the Æsir’s destiny. She foreshows Ragnarök and I will describe her as Goddess who leads the Æsir towards the achievement of their destiny, a way of speech meaning to die in the Old Norse language. I thus see as a Ragnarök Goddess. It is traditional to present Íðunn ‘à la Snorri’ as a nice slightly stupid woman, while I see in her a subtle traitress who swindles the Æsir, themselves unable to grasp it.
Skaði was born in Giantworld and she enters our mythology right after her father has been killed by the Æsir while he was chasing Loki after he recovered Íðunn. She rebels against them in an original way, demanding marriage with one of the Æsir as a wergild (human-compensation) for her father’s death. I will present her as a knowledgeable Giantess who knows the Æsir’s destiny of and who, as opposed to Íðunn, will attempt to indefinitely postpone the time when Ragnarök happens. We will see how to Æsir them, by means of a rather low trick, will prevent her from achieving her intention, thus themselves hastening Ragnarök. It is traditional to present Skaði in a negative way, as hard to satisfy woman while I will present her as an admirable heroin whose destiny was not to save them from Ragnarök.
Íðunn is the Goddess of whom is ‘well-known’ that she is in charge of preserving the magic that protects the Æsir from aging, thus for ever delaying their death. This magic can be called ‘golden apples’ ‘herbs of old age’, that we would be now called ‘eternal youth herbs’. This last way of speech points at Íðunn as a powerful witch specialized in most dangerous ‘black magic’ since it handles life and death. This immediately puts her far from the simpleton who is often introduced to us!
We do not know how she succeeded in marrying Bragi, God of poetry, but we can well imagine how an elf, i. e. a small maidservant, could creep in Bragi’s favors. She, anyhow, did a good choice. In the old Scandinavian civilization, poetry has been deemed a frightening weapon. Of course, the mass of skaldic poetries what came to us is by itself an objective testimony of the importance attached to poetry. But there is also a myth that tells how Óðinn, in order to recover the hydromel of poetry, had to accept the supreme shame in his civilization, the one of missing a word given. I will tell it later, but here its conclusion: Óðinn’s behavior in this story shows well that he considered that poetry was the supreme means to delay the beginning of Ragnarök , i. e. the day when the forces of nature, the Giants, will destroy the civilization built by the Gods.
Then how could her become a kind of Æsir’s mascot?
Yet another old poem dating more than thousand years alludes to it, and enables us us to understand what happened. ¶First of all, she succeeded in filling a function, still empty in the world of the Æsir. We do know that the God of the man fertility, Freyr, was also the God of the vegetable fertility, i. e. he was the person in charge for the abundance of harvests. On the other hand, Freyja, the celebrated Goddess of love and Goddess of female fertility, is never described as an agricultural Goddess. I think that Íðunn did notice this anomaly and infiltrated the Æsir by adding this bond between the Gods and humankind. Indeed, our old poem written sometime around year 900 calls Íðunn as being “Goddess of the brooks of the source of harvest,” i. e. the Goddess who fertilizes harvests. To be able to become a ‘true’ Goddess, she had still to allure Bragi. For this, she made use of the frivolous aspect of this God who did not hate, in between two poems, to have fun at a festival. This is why our old poem calls her: “ beer waitress,” who helps to Gods’ meriness. It is well-known that alcoholic drinks waitresses often have a sexual role that our current morality regards as a shame. For Heathen fellows - Æsir themselves and our pre-christian ancestors - this kind of licentiousness was not sinful. The significant point was that woman and man were in agreement on what they wished to do together. Íðunn was undoubtedly responsible in the organization of the festivals. During these, sexuality can be freely expressed, and the she-organizer may have to keep a cool head to control that no one goes over the ethical rules of this Heathen civilization. ¶This delicate role is, in the old poem, indicated by the fact that she is called “the famous girl who increases the Gods’ delight. ” She has probably been a little more than what we call an ‘organizer’.
Íðunn knew how to benefit from the Æsir’s weaknesses to become an essential maidservant who has been raised to Goddess’ rank by her marriage with Bragi. We can guess that all these maneuvers were not only aimed at reaching the rank of a Goddess, as so many maidservants who acquired in this way a nobility title. Her role is so opaque that I feel justified in believing that her aim was rather the one of a revenge, as a maidservant may want to humiliate her masters. In any case, that makes of her a pitiless Germanic heroin in the line of those met in many Scandinavian and Germanic heroic poems.
Once that she was secure in her position, she awaited an occasion to be able to betray the Æsir without risk. This opportunity arose when the Giant Þjazi, Skadi’s father, whom we will later speak, succeeds in putting Loki in a position where he could ask him to meet Íðunn apart from the Æsir’s fortress. To succeed in this goal, he took the shape of a gigantic eagle and flew towards Loki. There, Þjazi was able to make Loki become mad of anger. Then, that Loki (stupidly) stroke him with a stick that remained stuck in Loki’s hand and Þjazi’s back, who at once flew away. Here is Loki untidily sagging high up, his dislocating shoulder insanely painful. When he begged Þjazi to release him, he had to strike a deal by which he would deliver Íðunn to Þjazi.
When Íðunn learned of giant Þjazi success, she waited for Loki trying to set up her ‘trapping’ in order isolate her from the Æsir. This trap was so naive - he proposed to her to show her other magic herbs ensuring immortality, as if she did not know them all - that she had to pretend being enthusiastic with this idea, and she jumped into this ‘trap’. Thus she disappeared in Giantworld.
Of course, the Æsir started to age and immediately accused Loki without suspecting that she was the one who had been able to trap him. They threatened him of death if he did not double-quick brought back their “famous girl who increases their loves. ”
Freyja lent to Loki her falcon skin with which he could fly until Gianthome. In order to counter Íðunn’s revolt, Loki chnaged her into nut and brought her back to the country of the Gods’ dwelling, Ásgarðr . A furious Þjazi rushed into Loki’s chase and caught up with him at the limit of Ásgarðr. There, it found Íðunn who violently opposed to leave the place.
The old poem clearly shows that the Æsir have not been able to directly oppose Þjazi without risking very large losses. This is why, instead of giving him a fight, they chose to trick him: They covered the limits of their dwelling with dry shavings that they kindled exactly at Loki’s appearance. He barely could could pass over the starting fire, though Þjazi, angry and arrogant as he was, jumped into the flames that spouted out exactly at his arrival and he was burnt, a death without fight nor honor.
When everything calmed down, Óðinn could question Íðunn and Loki, and his sharp spirit did not need much time to understand that Íðunn was not as innocent as believed that and he started to closely supervise her.
During centuries and centuries, Íðunn was indeed forced to go on with her role of Æsir’s entertainer. But her spirit remained awake and she was about to take advantage of the Æsir’s least weakness to turn over to the giants, as we will later see.
Skaði is a giantess, the girl of Þjazi’s daughter, who went to the Æsir after her father had been killed by them. She arrives clad into her warrior gear and calls for retribution, the so called weregild, for her father’s killing. The relations between Giants and Gods were so fraught at the time that she took the risk of being at once captured and become a slave.
Her first protection was simply to be a giantess on a war footing, obviously a dangerous warrior.
Her second protection was that the Æsir knew her for being a witch raised by Þjazi, a Giant whose magic exceeded the one of Loki. They also knew that going in or out of Gianthome demands the power of a skilled wizard (see note 3).
Her third protection was even more powerful: In the old Norse civilization, one of the holiest rules was the right to claim a compensation for the death of a relative. A negotiation took then place and either the two part s fell in agreement on the compensation, or the negotiation failed and a deadly war started. Óðinn, due to this holy rule was thus forced to negotiate with Skaði. She requested “to marry one of the Æsir of her choice, while observing her possible husbands. ”
Let us now stop for a while on this strange request. Here is the daughter of one of the most powerful giants, she certainly rich and honoured in Giantworld. ¶First of all, because of her father’s death, she non longer has a tutor who can negotiate a favorable marriage for her. She thus will be subjected to an unslackened pressure to choose a husband among Giants. S he knows that the strongest will win her and she also knows how she will be treated. The old poems show that the condition of Giantess married to powerful Giant is not at all fortunate. She also knows that the Goddesses, called Ásynjur, married or not with a God, enjoy a great independence and are treated with respect. This marriage with one of the Æsir thus offers her a honourable future. It is even a possibility that she could never have dreamed of without her father’s death. What can push her to merge with the Æsir family, where si aware that she will always be a foreigner?
Here are quite reasonable reasons… reason. She always lived under the domination of her father in an environment strained towards a supreme goal, the one to reach Ragnarök as quickly as possible in order to remove the Æsir founded order. She thus had to intend to speak about the Æsir’s destiny that leads them to death and theit ability to push back death , thanks to herbs of youth controlled by Íðunn. She obviously knows of her father’s failure to keep Íðunn, but must have noted that Íðunn is quite an unreliable an ally for the Æsir and she starts dreaming of protecting them better than Íðunn. Is this the dream of sensitive girl or a desire to play the role that Íðunn balks to hold? She is full of enough magic to forsee a future where the death of Baldr marks the beginning of Ragnarök. Or, more prosaically, was she attracted by Baldr’s portrait that Íðunn may have traced to her? In any case, she decides to marry Baldr, either pushed by her sexuality, or by desire to protect a vital pivot of the Æsir’s survival , and even perhaps by both.But I believe that she is also moved by a much less reasonable
She thus negotiates her contract with the Æsir who accepts her conditions. She guessed some of Óðinn’s trick while requiring to see these among among which to choose. But, instead of applying what Skaði implicitly required, since to seeing something is seeing the whole thing, Óðinn decided to show her only their feet. This respected the letter of the contract though not its spirit. He did not expect that Skaði could play a protective role for Baldr and decided to teach her a lesson. The one whith the most beautiful feet was Njörðr and not Baldr. So that, in order to honour it also the contract clauses, she was due to marry Njörðr.
These two there did not know much happiness together and Skaði, although she was an Ásynja, carried out a dull life among Æsir, just like Íðunn.
Finally, their destinies meet
Finally, Skaði came back to Gianthome, living her father’s house, within snowy lands and iciness. To move on her domains, she used skis, this is why she became the “ski Goddess. ” She had however gained that her married Ásynja statute ensured her freedom and protected from the Giants’ ‘feelings’. Over there, almost in a timeless universe, she awaited Ragnarök which she had vainly tried to postpone for ever.
Not before the end of times would their destinies be joined.
Long after Skaði set out again at Gianthome, great changes occurred within the universe. The Æsir then felt that that a new hostility was setting up, attacking the very bases of the divine order. Obviously all Óðinn’s care has been consumed by these disorders and he stopped supervising Íðunn. She jumped at the opportunity to escape from the Gods’s world to to return to Gianthome. Óðinn required of Loki, Bragi and Heimdall to join Íðunn to be kept informed of the Giants planning, but she refused to answer and the three disheartened Godshad to go away. All this took place just before Ragnarök that she vainly tried to hasten long time ago.
Note 1. Æsir’s e lixir of youth.
We find two versions in this way of feature Íðunn.
In Skirnisför, s. 19 (codex regius): Epli ellifo algullin are offered to Gerðr (ellifu = 11). This means: “eleven gilded (or golden) apples.”
In Haustlöng S. 9: Íðunn is called mey þás ellilyf ása = girl who_is old_age-herb of the Æsir. Elli means ‘old-age’ and lyf means ‘life’.
It is quite possible that these two ways of speech belong to two versions of the myth because we do not see how a copying error could change ‘lyf’ into ‘fo’.
Note 2. http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/HaustKennEng.htmYou will find all the kenningar describing Íðunn in the Haustlöng poem at
Note 3. The references relating to the ‘day before Ragnarök’ are given in the introduction. The quotation: “Galdr they (Loki and Bragi) sung, screamed, magics they rode” is the two first lines of s. 10 of Galdr of Óðinn's ravens (http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/HRAFENGNEW.htm )
On Skaði’s final settlement, see Grímnismál s. 11:
Þrymheimr heitir inn sétti,
fornar toftir föður.
Thrymheim it is called
Where Thjasse dwelt,
That mightiest giant.
But now dwells Skadi,
Pure bride of the gods,
In her father's old homestead.
Þrymr = alarm, noise, poet: battle.
skírr = shiny, pure, cleansed from guilt.