In Norse myth Hel is a place and a person, like the Greek Hades. The word hel means “hidden,” linked to hylja, “to cover”. Lindow speculates it may have referred to the grave at first, since that is where the dead live (171). Both he and Rudolf Simek (138) seem to think Hel was just a personification of the place, perhaps because unlike Hades, she has very little myth attached to her.
After my last post, on Freyja and Odin, I had a response on Reddit that intrigued me. The poster was responding to my deliberately provocative description of Freyja as the only Vanir goddess, pointing out that there were other females associated with the Vanir or Vanaheim.
Unfortunately, the comment was lost or deleted, but they did have a point, so I decided to discuss their candidates for Vanir goddesses here.
Norse mythology has many puzzles, and one of them is the imbalance in numbers between Aesir and Vanir. The Aesir, who incude Odin and Thor among their number, seem to have many associated gods and goddesses, while the Vanir seem to have only three: Njord, Freyr and Freyja.
Fate is an important part of Norse myth and culture, from the all-encompassing poem Völuspá with its vision of creation, end times, and rebirth, to the heroic sagas whose heroes and heroines are pushed by their fates into destructive acts and violence.
Fate was not just an impersonal force, but was often imagined as the norns, women who laid down fate for mortals and immortals alike. These women were present at the beginning of the world, and at births, but people’s view of them was not sentimental.
Back in the spring I was inspired by Adam Hyllested’s ideas about the Hyldemoer to write my own post about the Elder Mother. This led on to two other posts, on rowan and birch. I assumed that I had exhausted the subject of feminine powers associated with trees, but I was wrong.
A week ago Neorxnawang passed on a link to a paper on the mysterious goddess Ilmr. She appears in a list of goddesses and another of kennings for “woman” in the Prose Edda. Her name also appears in poetry, mostly as – you guessed it – part of a kenning for “woman”. The paper, by Joseph Hopkins, suggests that Ilmr may be an elm goddess, connecting her name to the word almr, elm.
Women seem to have had their own form of genius, called a juno. (This is a contested idea: the Wikipedia article on Juno denies it completely, while the Brittanica site and the Dictionary of Roman Religion are for it.) However, enough scholars seem to accept the idea that I’m willing to see it as valid. I’m sure even in a society as patriarchal as ancient Rome women took pride in their children and their lineage, and those feelings found their own religious expression.