Fulla is one of the lesser-known Norse goddesses, described in the Prose Edda as Frigga’s right-hand woman. (Closest comparison Ninshubur and Iris/Hebe?) Her name means “Bountiful”. She only appears in one myth, but we do know a few things about her, thanks mainly to Snorri Sturluson’s efforts to preserve pagan lore for poets.
Fulla has a small role in the prologue to the poem Grimnismal. In it, Frigg tries to turn Odin against his protege Geirroth. Odin already made sure that his protege became king instead of hers, so she sets up a plan to put an end to Geirroth’s kingship.
She tells Odin that his protege is reknowned for his stinginess and the two make a wager about it. Frigg then sends Fulla ahead to make sure that Odin’s reception is a poor one:
Frigg sent her handmaiden, Fulla, to Geirröth. She bade the king beware lest a magician who was come thither to his land should bewitch him, and told this sign concerning him, that no dog was so fierce as to leap at him.
(As if dogs would attack a god who had two wolves as pets.) This is the only time Fulla appears in a myth, but it shows Fulla’s role as Frigg’s messenger/confidante. The Merseburg Charm below, if it also refers to Fulla, also emphasizes their closeness.
Snorri Sturluson, in his efforts to catalogue the pagan lore of Scandinavia, left us the names of many goddesses we would never have known about otherwise. The first quote from the Gyflaginning part of his Prose Edda comes from his list of the Norse goddesses, the second from the story of Baldr’s death:
Fifth is Fulla. She too is a virgin and goes around with her hair flowing free and has a gold band around her head. She carries Frigg’s casket and looks after her footwear and shares her secrets. (Gylf. 34-5)
Then Hermod got up and Baldr went with him out of the hall and took the ring Draupnir and sent it to Odin for a keepsake, and Nanna sent Frigg a linen robe and other gifts too; to Fulla finger-ring. (Gylf. 49)
That Baldr and Nanna sent a gift to Fulla alongside their gifts for Frigg points to her status within their family circle – Fulla might be a servant but she is an honoured one.
She’s also mentioned in the Skaldskaparmal as present at the Aesir’s feast for the giant Aegir (ch. 1). Snorri’s quotes from the poets include her name being used as a kenning for gold in a verse by Eyvind skaldaspillir (36-7):
The falling sun [gold] of the plain [forehead] of Fulla’s eyelashes shone on the poets’ Ull-boat [shield-] fells [arms] throughout the life of Hakon.
and one from Kormakr Ogmundarson uses her name as a kenning for “woman”:
bauð gulls Njorun auðar
mitt villat fe Fylla
fingrgoll gefit trollum
commanded the finger gold [both]
to be given to trolls – the
goddess of gold doesn’t want my riches
and she also appears (by implication) in a verse by Orm Barreyjarskald (23):
However mighty, goddess of Draupnir’s band [lady], I learn the lord is – he rules his realm – the ruler of the constellation’s path will welcome me.
Apart from the poems cited in Snorri’s Edda, a poem quoted in Gisli’s saga Sursonnar uses the name Fulla as a kenning for “woman”:
Fals hallar skal Fulla
fagrleit, sús mik teitir,
rekkilát at rökkum,
regns, sínum vin fregna;
vel hygg ek, þótt eggjar
ítrslegnar mik bíti;
þá gaf sínum sveini
sverðs minn faðir herðu.
or in English:
“Wife so fair, so never failing,
So truly loved, so sorely cross’d,
Thou wilt often miss me wailing,
Thou wilt weep thy hero lost.
But my soul is stout as ever ,
Swords may bite, I feel no smart
Father! better heirloom never
Owned thy son than hardy heart.”
Moving away from Scandinavia, a manuscript in Old High German from the 9th century also mentions Fulla alongside Frigg, Woden and the mysterious Phol. In fact, there are two pairs of women in the charm, the sun and her sister, and Frigg and her sister Volla, or Fulla.
Phol and Wodan
rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:
The verse is similar to other charms for healing horses, but it does leave us with the questions of who Phol and Sinthgunt were. I’m going to cover Sunna and Sinthgunt in another post, but Phol is usually assumed to be Baldr, although it could be a male form of the name Volla. (Leading some to assume that Phol and Volla are Freyr and Freyja.)
What’s interesting is that it shows all four female deities using magic. And while some scholars have seen the sequence as implying that Wodan was able to heal the horse while the goddesses weren’t, it could equally mean they were all chanting togeher, or that Wodan is learning from them (as Odin seeks knowledge from Saga and various volvas and giantesses). We’ll never know for sure, but we can be certain that the charm is telling us that Fulla/Volla knew healing magic.
A lot of the standard reference works on Norse myth assume that Fulla is an aspect of Frigg, although if you look at her carefuly you can see the delination of a distinct goddess with her own concerns and attributes. Fulla is connected with gold (ring, snood) and wears her hair loose lke an unmarried woman, her name means Abundance, and she carries Frigg’s casket and knows her secrets.
I think we can get at her nature by looking at her casket, or in Old Norse, eski. The Icelandic-English Dictionary defines eski as:
eski, n. [askr], an ashen box, Edda 17, 21, Fms. ii. 254, Fas. i. 237, Ísl. ii. 79; mod. spelt askja, and used of any small box.
eski-mær, f. a lady’s maid, Gm. (pref.)
Lest anyone think I’m suggesting that Fulla is merely Frigg’s maid, I’m not. I do think, however, that her position is that of a subordinate to Frigg, someone who knows her secrets and carries out her will. In fact, when I think of Fulla the first goddess I think of is the Babylonian Ninshubur, who was Inanna’s servant, rescued her from the underworld and helped her fight off demons.
The other Norse goddess who carries an eski is Idunn, who keeps the apples of immortality in hers. This suggests to me that whatever Frigg has in that box, it’s not mere fripperies, although given how powerful Freyja’s necklace Brisingamen is, Frigg’s jewels may be more than just adornements.
(And remember that letters supposedly written by Mary Stuart to her lover Bothwell became famous as the Casket Letters.)
The other use for apples is food, and apples are a fruit that can be stored. Thus Fulla’s box may well connect to her name, Abundance. Food stored in a box was food available for winter and spring when there was little to eat. I was struck by a verse attributed to Kormakr Ogmundarson, which also mentions an eski:
You do not need to bring with you
either basket (eski) or tankard
to the generous man.
Kormakr was praising Earl Sigurdr’s generosity (we’re back to that again) and his mention of an eski leads up to a reference to Thiazi, Idunn’s kidnapper. After all, we never hear of Idunn running low on apples, so we have to assume that her supply is never-ending. (Especially since kidnapping her for the apples would make no sense if they ran out.)
Fulla is an intriguing goddess, because she embodies both abundance and something more mysterious – something kept back, or hidden. We’re told she knows all Frigg’s secrets, and perhaps that is what her casket symbolizes: all the secrets that she holds, and the power that knowledge gives her. After all, Fulla is the confidential servant of the goddess who “knows fate, though she does not say [it].”
References and Links:
Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Anthony Faulkes, Everyman Press, Penguin, 1992. (reprint)
The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson/Jesse Byock, Penguin Classics, 2005.
The Poetic Edda, Carolyne Larrington (trans.) Oxford UP, 1996.
Lindow, John 2001: Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs, OUP, New York and Oxford.
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.
Sundqvist, Olaf Sagas, “Religion and Rulership: The Credibility of the Descriptions of Rituals in Hakonar Saga Goda,” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 1: 225-50.
dooley, d. Kate 2006: The Spinde Hearth: A Sourcebook for Goddess-Centered Living, Yarrow Press, Asheville-Lewisburg.
Karlsdottir, Alice 2003: Magic of the Norse Goddesses: Mythology, Ritual, Tranceworking, Runa-Raven Press.
(And my own Asyniur: Women’s Mysteries in the Northern Tradition.)
Diana Paxson on Frigga’s Handmaidens
Journeying to the Goddess
Lesser-Known Goddesses in Norse Mythology
Fulla from LadySaga
Fulla, from the Almighty Johnsons Wiki