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Thrymheim and Skadi

Only four Norse goddesses have homes of their own. Out of these, two are given to Frigg and Freyja, who are the preeminent goddesses of the pantheon and might be expected to own their own property. The other two are Saga and the giantess Skadi.

The latter is extremely interesting because we know that she inherited  her home, Thrymheim, from her father, the giant Thiazi. What little we are told about the Aesir’s homes suggest that they created them from scratch – that Skadi inherits hers tells us that the giants are older beings than the gods. This is why the giants were often shown as knowing the history and layout of the cosmos so well that Odin would come and quiz them about it.

We are used to thinking of giants as big, slow and stupid, but Thiazi knew enough magic to outwit both Odin and Loki, and was famously rich. He dared to match his wits against the gods’, and paid with his life.

Thiazi had no sons, but his daughter Skadi, a formidable giantess herself, inherited his property, including his homestead. This is in keeping with Icelandic law, which allowed women to inherit.

Thrymheim was in the mountains, and its name means “Noisy-Home”.1 The Eddic poem Grimnismal included it in its list of deities’ dwellings:

“Thrymheim the sixth is called
where Thiazi lived, the terrible giant,
but now Skadi, shining bride of the gods,
lives in her father’s ancient courts”
(Grim. 11)

Noisy it may have been, but Skadi was very attached to it.

The gods offered her compensation in the form of a husband for killing her father – perhaps a way of brokering peace between gods and giants. She and her new spouse, the sea-god Njord, spent nine nights in each other’s homes, and at the end of it, she left him and returned to Thrymheim.

Snorri Sturluson quotes a verse that she supposedly spoke:

Sleep I could not
on the sea beds,
for the screeching of the bird.
That gull wakes me,
when from the sea,
he come each morning.

Then Skadi went up to the mountains and lived in Thrymheim. She travels much on skis, carries a bow, and shoots wild animals. She is called the ski god or ski lady…
(Gylf. 23)

Skadi clearly returns to the “wild zone” (Larrington), although the sources refer to her as a “goddess”, which shows that she managed to have her cake and eat it. Back in Thrymheim she continues to practice the inlander lifestyle, living by hunting, like the Sami. (Mundal)

She still manages to be at Asgard when anything important happens, like the feast that Loki disrupts in Lokasenna, but clearly her heart is in the hills. (Although Njord, in a verse to match Skadi’s above, complains about the howling of wolves all night – clearly Thrymheim had no charms for him.)

As a side-note, one of the four manuscripts of the Prose Edda gives her home as Thrudheim, Power-Home. The scribe may have confused Skadi’s home for Thor‘s, Thrudvangr, Power-Field. (Simek, however, thinks it a suitable name for a giant’s residence.)

1. Or Crash-Home, or Thunder-Home.


Links:

Encyclopaedia Britannica
Keeper of Seasons Hall article on Skadi
Norse Mythology for Smart People post
The Broom Closet post

For the image at the top, click here.

References:

The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Jesse Byock, Penguin Classics, 2005.

Jesch, Judith, 1991: Women in the Viking Age, Boydell Press, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF, UK, 1991.
Larrington, Carolyne, 1992: “”What Does Woman Want?”: Maer and munr in Skirnismal”, alvissmal, 1: 3 – 16. (PDF here)
Mundal, Else, 2000: “Coexistence of Saami and Norse culture – reflected in and interpreted by Old Norse myths’, in Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society, Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference, eds. Geraldine Barnes and Margaret Clunies Ross, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney, Australia: 346-56. (PDF here)
Orchard, Andy 2002: Cassell’s Dictonary of Norse Myth and Legend, Cassell Reference.
Simek, Rudolf (trans. Angela Hall), 1996, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.

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6 thoughts on “Thrymheim and Skadi

  1. Steven M. Long (@StevenMLong)

    I find the way the Norse gods were always going to the giants for wisdom (sometimes stealing things, like the Mead of Poetry) and the dwarves for their stuff really interesting. They didn’t produce much on their own, did they? It makes me wonder what this says about how the Scandinavian people saw themselves.

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    1. solsdottir Post author

      The usual argument is that the gods are better able to make use of it. It does make you wonder about relations with the indigenous people of Scandinavia.

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  2. vikingmyth

    Nice article. Just thought I should add that the feast in Lokasenna where Skadi appears is held at Aegir’s hall on Hlésey; this island (which is also mentioned in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II and Oddrúnargrátr) is unlikely to have been thought of as part of Asgard. But yes, although Niord and Skadi agree to lead separate lives, they do seem to show up together.

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  3. Pingback: Thor, Loki and Freya: are we laughing at or with them? – WE ARE STAR STUFF

  4. Pingback: Bow-Gods: Ullr, Skadi, and the Sami – We Are Star Stuff

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