The goddess Skadi has one main myth, but it is a well-developed story, spanning three generations, and involving the feud between the gods and giants. The actual story is scattered around through a variety of sources, but its outline is clear.
She was a giantess, who lived in the mountains with her father Thiazi. He kidnapped the goddess Idunn, who kept the apples of immortality for the Aesir. To do this, he coerced the half-god, half-giant Loki into helping him, but Loki betrayed him (and reversed his betrayal of the gods) by rescuing Idunn and arranging for Thiazi to die in a trap set by the Aesir.
Skadi then gathered her arms and armour and set out to Asgard, seeking revenge. The Aesir offered her compensation in the form of a husband, and Skadi set a further condition – they had to make her laugh. They fulfilled both these conditions, and threw in a third by placing Thiazi’s eyes in the sky as stars.
While the Aesir agreed to let her choose a husband from among them, they set a condition: she must choose by their feet alone. She chose the fairest, thinking they must belong to Odin’s son Baldr, but she had selected Njord, the sea-god.
As for her demand, that the gods make her laugh – she thought they wouldn’t be able to do it. But Loki appeared before her with his testicles tied to one end of a rope, and a nanny-goat bound by the beard on the other end. The nanny tried to escape, resulting in a tug-of-war, until the rope broke and Loki fell on Skadi’s knees. She laughed, and so was compensated. (Some have read this as the basis for Loki’s claim they were lovers – in most folktales, making the woman laugh is a suitor test.)
Despite all this, the marriage did not last. Njord and Skadi tried living in each other’s residences, and each hated the other’s home. So they went their separate ways, although Skadi continued to be called a goddess. (Snorri tells us this in the Prose Edda.)
The sources for this myth span several centuries, starting from the poem Haustlong, probably composed in the mid-800s, continuing through the poems that make up the Poetic Edda, and the later Prose Edda that explains them.
Skadi also had a minor role as a divine ancestor: the 1oth century poem Haleygjatal and the 32th century Ynglinga saga say Skadi was the ancestress of a Norwegian dynasty, the jarls of Hladir.
Haustlong: this poem is essentially the backstory to Skadi’s own myth. In this story, her father Thiazi kidnaps the goddess Idunn, who possessed the apples of immortality, conferring eternal youth on all who ate them. This was great for the giants, but not so good for the gods. Loki, whom Thiazi had coerced into helping him, now had to get Idunn back, betraying Thiazi in his turn. The gods killed Thiazi, lured into a trap by Loki. Happy ending? Not quite.
While the poem does not mention Skadi by name, it does allude to Thiazi’s daughter several times, either calling her Morn (a common name for a giantess) or else as the ski-goddess. Skadi plays no part in the story, although the references to her may be the poet’s way of pointing beyond his story, to Skadi’s quest for revenge and its results.
This poem has survived because Snorri Sturluson quotes it in the second book of the Poetic Edda, Skaldskaparamal, in the section listing kennings for Idunn.
Grimnismal: in this Eddic poem we learn the names of the gods’ dwellings, including Skadi’s home, Thrymheim. (Noisy-Home) She inherited it from her father, which suggests that she was an only child, or at least had no brothers.
Skirnirsmal: is a Eddic poem about the god Freyr, and his infatuation with the beautiful giantess Gerdr. Skadi appears in the preface to the poem, and seems to speak the first verse. (She asks Freyr’s servant, Skirnir, what is wrong with his master.) Skadi’s part is very small, but since the poem refers to her as his mother, it has caused a certain amount of controversy. Skadi was married to Njord, Freyr’s father, but all other sources agree she was his stepmother. The poet may have mentioned her because, like Gerdr, she was a beautiful giantess who married a god.
Lokasenna: another Eddic poem, in which Loki baits each of the gods and goddesses in turn, and they attempt to defend themselves and give as good as they get. The exchange between Loki and Skadi has three significant facts: 1) Skadi had temples and fields dedicated to her, 2) Loki and Skadi may have been lovers, and 3) Loki will end his days bound.
The first of these facts, along with the descriptions of the cult of the giantess Thorgerd Holgabrudr, points to a cult of the giants. The second, Loki and Skadi as lovers, is dubious, since Loki accuses all the goddesses of sexual looseness, and also accuses Idunn of sleeping with her brother’s slayer. He also taunts Skadi that he was in the forefront when the gods killed her father, which may have been unwise. The third refers to the binding of Loki, an important part of the Ragnarok myth since Loki’s eventual escape from bonds marks the beginning of the world’s end.
The afterword tells us how the gods captured Loki and bound him, and Skadi fixed a poisonous serpent to drip venom on his face. In a sense, Lokasenna is the end of her story, since she finally gets her revenge on the one who betrayed her father to his death. (Neither Skadi nor Njord are mentioned in the myths of Ragnarok.)
Hyndluljod: within the poem is another, short, poem sometimes called the Shorter Voluspa. It includes a list of giants, including Skadi and her father. According to this poem, Skadi and Gerdr are kin.
Grottasongr: another poem with a list of giants, this time the kin of the two giantesses who are chanting the poem. They don’t mention Skadi, but they do claim kinship with Thiazi and his two brothers, described as mountain-giants.
Gylfaginning: has parts of the Skadi myth scattered around it. In the chapter on the god Njord, it tells what happened after the two married. They took turns living in each other other’s homes, but Skadi hated life by the sea, and Njord couldn’t stand the mountains, so they split up. (In fact, it seems that Skadi took the initiative, since it says she left him and went up to the mountains.) It goes on to tell us she was the “snow-shoe goddess” and she hunts game with a bow and arrows.
Another section repeats what Lokasenna told us about the binding of Loki. It adds the detail that Loki’s wife holds a bowl over his face to catch the venom, and when she has to empty it, his shudders from the poison falling on his face cause earthquakes.
Skaldskaparamal: is the source for the Skadi myth all the way up to her marriage to Njord.
Ynglinga saga: this saga repeats the story of Njord and Skadi’s marriage, and goes on to say that after she left Njord, she and Odin had many sons, including Saeming, the ancestor of the jarls of Hladir. (It quotes the poem Haleygjatal as its evidence for this. Like Haustlong, it only survives as quotes. However, the poem only mentions Saeming as a child of theirs, although Snorri gives them many sons. There may have been other traditions about Odin and Skadi, now lost to us.)
Saga of Harald Hardrade: like the Ynglinga saga, this forms part of the larger work Heimskringla, and is mainly about the lives of kings. Harald Hardrade is mainly known for the battle of Stamford Bridge, which he lost to Harold Goodwinson in 1066. Goodwinson then lost another battle shortly thereafter to Wiliam the Conqueror, who became king of England.
Skadi plays a peripheral part in this saga – she appears in a prophetic dream:
…a huge witch- wife upon a wolf; and the wolf had a man’s carcass in his mouth, and the blood was dropping from his jaws; and when he had eaten up one body she threw another into his mouth, and so one after another, and he swallowed them all. And she sang thus: —
“Skade’s eagle eyes
The king’s ill luck espies:
Though glancing shields
Hide the green fields,
The king’s ill luck she spies.
To bode the doom of this great king,
The flesh of bleeding men I fling
To hairy jaw and hungry maw!
To hairy jaw and hungry maw!”
Skadi was known to be fond of wolves’ howling, and both witches and giantesses rode wolves as a sign of their untamed nature.
The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996
The Elder Edda: a Book of Viking Lore, Andy Orchard (trans.), Penguin Classics, London.
The Prose Edda Jesse Byock (trans.), Penguin Clasics, 2005.
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman, London, 1987.
Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson/Erling Monsen (ed.) and A. H, Smith (trans.) , Dover, New York, 1990.
Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson/ Lee M. Hollander, American-Scandinavian Foundation, University of Texas Press, 1992 (7th ed.)
Clunies Ross, Margaret, 1989: “Why Skadi Laughed: Comic Seriousness in An Old Norse Narrative”, Maal og Minne vol. 1-2: 1 – 14.
Lindow, John, 1992: “Loki and Skadi” in Snorrastefna, ed. Ulfar Bragason, Stofnunn Sigurdar Nordals, Reykjavik: 130 – 141.
McGrath, Sheena 2016: Njord and Skadi: an Analysis of a Myth, Avalonia Press (forthcoming).